dandelions, bulletholes and salamanders

Just wanted to let you all know, I’m sitting at my desk wearing slippers as I write this.
Last night I went to see Sarah Harmer at the Tractor, in Ballard (of all places). On the way to the show (to which I wore slippers), I was remarking how I wished all shows could be at the Tractor. It is red, and warm, and well-ventilated and clean but still worn in an old, comfortable fashion. Boots hang from the ceiling, strings of lights dot the floors and faces with color. The PA is perfect, the sound meticulously mixed, the cranberry juice is $1, and the audience is… well, it’s Ballard.
Indie rock and folk shows in Ballard tend to draw an older crowd (read as: my age) than parallel events at the downtown Showbox. In general, this means fewer annoyances. Especially at a 21+ show. There is no rampant text-messaging and cell-phone-photography during the performance. People tend to be quiet during shows and actually listen to the band — at least to the headliner. There is less posturing and Look-At-Me-ism, which results in fewer faux-vintage tees from Urban Outfitters, trendy bangs, annoying overheard conversations, visible thongs and audible gripes about being stuck standing behind the twin towers (both myself and the Boy being over six feet tall). Also, I cannot wear slippers to the Showbox.
That said, older crowds definitely have the potential to become more offensive than a night with the pubescent suburbanites — mainly because of the copious consumption of alcohol. Evidence: the Long Winters show New Year’s Eve at the Tractor. Granted, that holiday has the potential to get dicey anywhere. Young drunk people can be irritating, old drunk people can be dangerous.
So last night, the crowd at the Tractor was both older and largely well-behaved, aside from the dancing bear in front of me with a head the size of Texas — I honestly couldn’t stop marveling at the sheer girth of it — but once I shuffled past him further into the audience, he was out of sight, out of mind. During the opening set, when we arrived at the back of the club, a handful of flaming turtleneck-clad interior decorators in hip glasses were trashing some chick’s coffee table selection in her Belltown loft. They were getting quite annoyed with the singer on stage who had the gall to obstruct their urgent communication, and so raised their voices significantly with each verse. But, between sets, I navigated through the thick crowd to the center area where most patrons had decent manners.
Now in between sets, a couple behind me was on their first date. Just for the record, I was not eavesdropping; they were standing six inches away from me speaking at a conversational level. Totally fair game. They were talking about shoes.
He: So wait. Let me get this straight. All those shoes you see — in magazines, on models, whatever — those are designed by men?
She: Well, yeah — I guess. Most of them. (She brandishes her pair of Fleuvog Angels adorning her feet)
He: Then these guys don’t have to wear the shoes?
She: Right.
He: What do guys know about making shoes for a woman?
She: That’s kind of the problem.
He: So why don’t you buy shoes designed by women?
She goes on to tell him that there are male shoe designers who create comfortable shoes for women, but while making her point, she realizes that she is actually wearing boys’ shoes made by John Fleuvog because the women’s shoes he designs are not unlike cloven satyr feet and quite uncomfortable.
The guy starts on a brilliant diatribe that I wish I could produce the transcript for. He wishes women (and men) had the self-confidence to tend to their appearance in a way that made them happy, and not just for other peoples’ sake. “If you want to wear lots of make-up, wear lots of make-up. If you want to cut your hair short, cut it short. But don’t do it cause somebody else said you should, you know? Do it because it makes you happy!” I want to applaud cinematically. In my slippers.
It was a fabulous conversation, and I had to physically restrain myself from jumping in, but since it was first date (I deduce) I instead counted the cowboy boots hanging from the ceiling.
So Sarah Harmer and her band came out on stage and played a generous set, including a Shins cover, and Sarah told us how she spent last summer on a salamander survey. They’re trying to tear down this natural reserve where she grew up in Canada, because it’s a prime site for mining gravel for roads. So she spent the summer trapping and counting salamanders, in search of the endangered Jefferson salamander, because that species is protected by law and if there is a sizable habitat the land cannot be developed. She mobilized a troop of nature nerds (as she affectionately called them) who did find quite a few Jefferson salamanders. How cool is that? I love when musicians, actors, celebrities, etc. have an original cause that they stand behind, something out of the ordinary that they support, advocate and build awareness about. Beyond the clich├ęd starving children platform. Save the Niagara Escarpment. Come on! There’s an interesting article about it here.
The show was fabulous and listening to Sarah Harmer always makes me wish I could sing. I want to sing with her — not with her — I mean, I wish I could throw on the album and sing at the top of my lungs and not frighten the neighbors. But alas, it is not my gift. So I will enjoy listening. I highly recommend picking up some of her music, particularly All of Our Names featuring the song “Came on a Lion” which she did not play last night.
She and the band finished the encore without the PA, turning off the amps and the microphones, unplugging her acoustic guitar — she just sang out into the packed club, voice echoing of the walls, her band backing her with four-part harmony. Flawless.
And not a visible thong for miles.