Wednesday, April 06, 2011

We Get Out (Part One) – Mike Viola at Jammin Java

Some weeks, despite telling the visitors to Citystream DC what concerts I think are worth seeing, I don’t get out myself. Sometimes, I just stay home and listen to the music, as I am doing tonight, playing EZRA FURMAN & The HARPOONS’ “Inside the Human Body” (1) rather than moving my butt down to Jammin Java to see the live show. You could call me lazy but, since I opted to stay home and get some work done, including updating this here blog, I will not take your insult.

Besides, I was at the club last night, enjoying the delightful pop tunes of Mike Viola. He was one of my picks for this week’s Citystream column, based on the high praise of a FB friend – one I met, coincidentally, through this blog. Since we share similar (great) taste in music and she adores Viola and his previous band, The Candy Butchers, I felt it a good bet that I would enjoy him, too.
And now I am, in fact, a fan. Taking the stage alone, with just a guitar or piano to accompany him, Viola played almost two hours worth of songs that I had never heard before, and yet my attention never flagged. His writing is crisp and tight - each word means something - and he has a way with pop melody that makes it seem effortless which we all know (or should) is extremely hard to do. I was reminded, at times, of artists like Fountains of Wayne (though Viola is less sarcastic) and Harry Nilsson.
Though he was written for numerous films, and yeah, I would have loved to hear his version of “That Thing You Do!,” he rambled through his deep catalog, graciously accepted requests, and told amusing tales of teenage music geekdom. When an artist who’s been around a long time comes to a small venue like Jammin Java and the crowd is about 50 people, I flinch a little and worry that maybe he/she will be grumpy and feel unappreciated. Viola, however, was in a great mood. He had a quality, not quantity, audience – they listened intently, called out for obscure favorites and were with him every step of the way. He said it was the last night of the current tour and that the tour had been wonderful, and I believed him.

He was also a sweetheart after the show, chatting merrily with anyone who wanted a photo, an autograph, even advice on moving to L.A. I wanted to buy one of the CDs he had for sale, but had no cash on hand, so I went off to find an ATM. By the time I got back, there were only two of the half-dozen titles left for purchase. I told Viola about the preview blurb, and mentioned that, being “late to the party,” I wanted him to recommend which CD I should buy. He glanced at the merch table, saw the two lonely discs and said to forget it, he’d send me something in the mail. And he wouldn’t even take my $10, just my card.

In all honesty, I was disappointed on the ride home that I didn’t  have a disc of his to play, as I was eager to explore his material. He mentioned that he hoped to back this way for a gig in May. If he returns, count me in. Here’s me and Mike Viola, an artist I’m looking forward to getting to know…
 (photo by Lisa Winston Wilentz)