Richmond is warm, humid, sticky–walking feels like pressing your body through warm jelly. Cobbled roads with branching freeways and train tracks above my friends and I provide a path that leads to the Fallout. It is a dark oasis, cooling sweat and offering icy drinks. People crowd to the bar pulling back glasses and bottles wet with condensation to sate their thirst. I breathe out as I enter, thinking that the entirety of the place is haunted by every show, every event, and every willing person who’s walked through the doors to build a tribe.
It is not long before the lights fall and a smoke machine billows a haze in front of the area marked as a stage. A dozen shades of black turn and lean forward as Just Sex takes the stage and Ethan runs his hands over the keys. He picks out notes as he sings and the bassist finds the complementing melody. Ethan presses his face close to the microphone, his hair falling in waves across his sharp face. “You are who you are who you are my sweet,” he croons.
The impression is, overall, of a jazz bar after the world has ended. We are out of slow love songs, good gin, and easy days. I think about a martini but am swept away before I can make the decision as he grabs the microphone to pull it close again. His voice is haunting like wind chimes on a day when the air is still. He launches the band into a cover of Blue Monday, wrapping and entrapping himself in the cord of the mic as if he might otherwise be whisked away.
Between sets, I watch the crowd and feel watched myself. I pick out faces I know or wish I knew and trace their movements as they wind around. A new friend from Wilmington has found his way up here and we hug and chat. I feel a familiar pang of jealousy because his nails are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Wisps of smoke trail from various painted lips as we wait.
The Rain Within finds the stage in a burst of light, sound, and color. Mike, at the drums beats out a steady, stoic rhythm as Andy works his array of devices. He reaches to the mic, pulls it close and there is silence. For a moment, he fiddles with it then shrugs expressively, riding a ripple of laughter. The issue is quickly resolved behind him and he yells out ‘this is fucking live!’
The drummer acts as a stoic straight man to Andy’s antics, movement and sound crashing into the crowd and rolling over us in waves. He is infectious and laughing, reaching for the crowd and dancing away.
There’s a pause and Mike beats out a calypso rhythm as Andy fixes a mic. It pops in protest and Mike holds up his drumsticks as if to apologize. The crowd laughs, pleased and fully invested in their success. “A true pro, always,” I’m told of Andy and I can see it reflected in his every movement.
Andy jumps away from the circle of microphones and machines in front of him and is pulled back in to thrust his hands at the keys or voice at the mic. There is power and energy barely contained. By the second song, I realize I may never hear again and that’s okay if this is the last thing that fills my ears to overflowing.
Murder finishes and Andy throws horns, clearly pleased with himself–rightly so as the crowd screams their reaction. Mike mouths every lyric and someone yells for him to sing louder. Andy laughs with us, feeding off the energy. He banters, finding a willing return as he paces. I can’t stop my hips from moving or tear my eyes from him as he commands the full stage. I am enraptured by his desire to preform and pulled in by his voice. He is a cyclone of applied, controlled energy as we press forward drawn into the stage by the force of sound.
The set change is always fascinating–a stage between acts, I feel I am watching the most secret parts of magic. Stands appear and move carried by performers bustling around to find the prescribed places. They create their own sort of dance that describes destruction and creation in unequal measures. A bartender made of flame and tight denim places water on the stage.
The entirety of Fallout is full of smoke highlighted by a blue strobe. Music begins to fill the space, first angelic cries then like insects and pop rocks. I feel dizzy, almost drugged by the light and sound as Mr.Kitty presents himself to us through the haze with arms outstretched.
The lights flash and he leaps, pausing only to throw his voice through the mic or place his hands on the keys. He moves faster than the pulsing strobe throwing limbs around as he moves, illuminated in unnatural shades. My eyes can’t track what is happening and my brain fills in a fantasy of disembodied head and hands floating and thrashing in the mist.
I watch and feel he exists in a reality past my own where everything is light and sound and smoke drawn by forces I cannot see or understand. He twists and I wonder if he is manipulating the sound or if it is manipulating him, forming a new thing entirely apart from the audience. He is no more something like me than I am something like my cat. Maybe we are of similar shape but his blood is sound and his skin is light and smoke. I
As he sings, music brings the crowd to the front from where ever we’d hidden ourselves away. There is room to dance and so we gyrate, bodies moving as if drawn by a pied piper trying desperately to reach the world he describes. Smoke fills the venue over and over, masking the band before us and allowing a reveal as he bursts to the front, flailing and pulling at us.
Everything is awkward limbs disguised in smoke and light but he is the abyss we stare into and desperately wish would accept us as it’s own. The music pulses and the crowd sways, finding the rhythm as the music envelopes us.
He remembers we are here occasionally glancing up and cutting eyes, in a singular sultry motion. There’s the sense that we are watching him perform for himself alone because he adores the sounds he can force out. The end of s song finds him collapsing to the ground and he lays on the floor for long moments as the music continues–long enough that you worry the sheer exertion of existence as Mr.Kitty has finally destroyed him. But no he stands, pulled up to the keys again by forces only he understands.
He tells us this us his last song and we throw our full selves into dance and movement, begging for every last drop of the performance.
Afterwards, my friends and I mill about, finding each performer and thanking them in turn. I forget to buy stickers because I’ve bought too many vodka cranberries. I drop my phone enough times that the corner shatters. Forrest says, at some point, that you should do what you love and survival will come with it. I think that’s good advice, except that I can’t imagine I will ever be as good as he is at anything that makes me happy. I am satisfied with that, I think.
The Fallout is closing and we find our way out to the street, sobering up just enough to operate our hotel keys and find our respective beds to collapse into.