Trading up: Things keep getting better
Ezra Hamilton and Friends
at Atomic Burrito
Friday, May 21
"People just don't understand it here," he said brushing the hair on his face with the palm of his hand. "I'm from California, San Francisco born and raised. Third generation. Out west, the burrito is a way of life. It's just what we do... it's what we think of when we think food." He paced as he spoke.
"Welcome to the East," I said with a thin grin. "What brings you here?"
"I come here at least once a day. Mostly for lunch. I heard there was music here tonight, so..." He trailed off.
We had both been waiting in line for the bathroom for so long that I almost forgot I needed to use it. I also forgot why I was feeding this conversation. I was only half listening. My attention was being divided by the music coming from the front of the bar-staurant. I decided to clarify my question anyway, "I mean, what brings you to Charlottesville?"
"I was priced out of my home in San Fran. Three generations on the same block and poof, just like that, can't afford it anymore."
He ignored my question. I didn't ask or care why he left San Fran. I wanted to know how he ended up here. My patience was thin, and my bladder was full. There were people blocking my view of Ezra– whose playing and dead-on accompaniment were the only thing keeping me sane, awake and dry. I needed to move.
Cell rings. I excuse myself from SanFranBurrittoMan.
"Are you out of the bathroom?" she asks rhetorically. "Meet me by the front door. I bought you a drink."
Exit the bathroom scene.
I find my friend, a fresh drink, and a place to sit at the front of Atomic Burrito. I'm also in perfect view of Ezra and his stable of loyal players. Even better is the direct view of the drummer, who, because of lack of space, had traded his drums for a drum machine just big enough to sit on his thigh. I've seen him work a drum set in the past, and to say I was impressed would be an understatement. But here this man is tapping out beats and filling in time with the music with the fluidity of a professional stenographer, and I couldn't believe the rhythms weren't pre-programmed.
Ezra's vocals didn't have to compete with the compressed digital drum sound. This made it easy to relax with his songs and really explore the vocal subtleties. Also benefiting from the synthetic percussive tones were the guitars, duties shared by Ezra and Joe Lawlor, whose tones sat beautifully together.
Lawlor never ceases to amaze me with his ability to play just the right thing. He plays the notes you want to hear and he concocts riffs that other guitarists wish they could claim.
All that and Ben Jacobs on bass pretty much was enough to keep me there until they finished playing. I probably could have left a happy man after hearing the quartet cover Sade's "No Ordinary Love," but I figured it best to stay and not miss the rest of the show.
I sat and wondered if BurrittoMan thought the burritos here were as good as the ones out west. I seriously doubted it. It's like buying Philly Cheese Steaks in Virginia– they just aren't the same as the ones from Illadelph.
But the good music doesn't change wherever you go. Ezra Hamilton and Friends are a phenomenal group of musicians. They're great here, and they'd be great anywhere. I wondered if BurritoMan even noticed.
In life, you never lose, you just trade one good thing for another.
Ezra Hamilton and Friends
PHOTO BY DAMANI HARRISON