In Concert – Richmond Fontaine

Rocking Sandworm - artwork zoer

Last time I wrote about a concert here – Magnolia Electric Co.’s gig on October 12th – I found myself telling you, that one of the main reasons why I go to see a band play live, is the fact that it allows me to escape reality for a night; basically the same reason, why people go to the movies. I’ve come to think about this more over the past days and I realized that I had never consciously thought about it until that last review, which I wrote. But it is actually a very important basis on which I decide whether I will go and see a band play or not. And when I complain about too few good bands coming to perform in Vienna, it’s partially routed in my very picky musical taste, as well as in the fact, that I’d rather see just one great concert the entire year, than ten mediocre ones.

Richmond Fontaine, Vienna 09

Fortunately this year will not turn out to be „the year of the one concert“, because thankfully quite a few great bands have decided to stop in Vienna this year, among them Richmond Fontaine, who played last Wednesday, October 21st, at a venue called „Gasthaus Vorstadt“. Which is what made this concert even more interesting to me, because I’ve never been to that place before and so I found myself not just looking forward to hearing Richmond Fontaine play, but also almost childishly curious about this never before seen venue. Additionally, I had just finished Willy Vlautins last book „Northline“ that afternoon, which might be a rather meaningless piece of information, unless you knew that Willy Vlautin also happens to be Richmond Fontaine’s frontman, responsible for most of their songwriting.

Thanks to my co-blogger Martin, I had just recently found out about Richmond Fontaine and had thought that I might as well read one of Vlautin’s books, since I don’t remember another opportunity, where I’d had the pleasure of listening to someone’s music as well as having read something he or she had published. Of course that may be founded in the fact, that most of the books I currently read are authored by people who are already dead, so Vlautin’s books were a welcomed diversion in any case. I’m saying books, because I enjoyed the first novel „Motel Life“ so much that I bought the second one as well, and after having secured copies of the two recent albums by Richmond Fontaine („Thirteen Cities“ and „We used to think the Freeway sounded like a River“), I found myself headed for „Gasthaus Vorstadt“ feeling sufficiently informed and apart from that in an excellent mood.

Richmond Fontaine, Vienna 09

The „Gasthaus Vorstadt“ is located in Vienna’s 16th district, one of the less charming areas in the city, in my opinion, but as I walked from the subway towards the venue, a store like „Gringo Western Boots“ looked like a secret signpost among the Turkish Cafés and Chinese Restaurants on Herbststraße. But before I could spend too much time trying to figure out, who might be the customers of „Gringo Western Boots“, I had already reached the place I was looking for, which turned out to be unexpectedly nice, with a comfortable, almost rustic atmosphere.

From the room, where the stage was located, you could already hear Richmond Fontaine doing their soundcheck. Every now and then a band member would walk through the restaurant, it seemed as if everybody was naturally in a good mood that night. And so it was all very relaxed, no need to hurry in order to find a good spot, my friends and I could still have a beer, something to eat and an interesting conversation over politics – which is exactly what you would expect to be doing in a Gasthaus anyway. Finally the opening act – a band called Electronic Dictionary – was getting ready to play, and we moved over to the room where the stage was set, which was separated by a swing door, which in turn gave that room a kind of a saloon-like feel.

The opening act wasn’t anything that fit my musical taste, but that turned out to be a good thing, because I decided to go to the bathroom before Richmond Fontaine would play and I was lucky enough to meet Willy Vlautin on my way back. Ok, I didn’t really meet him, I kind of disturbed him, while he ate his dinner, but only because I really needed to know whether he would be signing his books after the show. Thankfully he did, as a result of which I can now pride myself with both his novels on my bookshelf signed by the author.

After another young man, equipped with guitar and harmonica, played a few songs – unfortunately I couldn’t hear his name – it was finally time for the main act to hit the stage and what followed was not only a great concert, but also another mental journey to places far away. If I were to try and describe the music of Richmond Fontaine, I would ask you to picture yourself in a pleasant room, outside it’s snowing and inside it’s all warm and comfortable. There’s a fire going in the open fireplace and you’re sitting in that room together with an old friend you haven’t seen in ages and who’d come to visit you out of the blue. You’re drinking a glass of Whiskey and this friend of yours is telling you what happened to him over those many years, where you haven’t seen each other. And that it’s been all but easy. Sure, there were good times, and he’ll tell you some anecdotes which will make the both of you smile, but there’ll also be heart-wrenching stories, which will make your eyes misty and will make you put your arm around that friend and tell him, that everything will be alright.

Richmond Fontaine, Vienna 09

And so you didn’t really notice when Willy Vlautin read a short part of his new novel to the audience, because his band-mate would every once in a while pluck a chord on his guitar and produce this particular sound, which would slowly stream through the room and turn spoken words into music and vice versa. And all of a sudden the whole audience would be transported into this room with that old friend, listening to his tales of good and bad times. After a few minutes the band joined in, the concert had officially started and you’d follow this friend’s narrative, which consisted of songs off of the last two albums mostly, some instrumental parts, quieter passages as well as really good rocking ones. Because after all, life might not always be fair, but there are still enough reasons to party as well.

Richmond Fontaine, Vienna 09

Eventually, after the concert had ended, and after one last drink with my friends, I would be walking home, after midnight, smiling to myself, because I’d just returned from one of those journeys, which don’t cost a whole lot of money, but which take you far away, without actually traveling a great distance. And I’d even returned with some souvenirs: A pretty Richmond Fontaine T-Shirt, two books that had been signed and the knowledge that even though there will most likely be only one more concert for me this year, which will be Kris Kristofferson on November 5th, I’m already more than satisfied with the concert-year of 2009.

For everybody who doesn’t know Richmond Fontaine, I can highly recommend the above mentioned albums, as well as Willy Vlautins novels. There’s a new one on the way, called „Lean on Pete“, which will be published in February of 2010.

Useful links:

Richmond Fontaine on MySpace

Willy Vlautin

Susanne, October 25 2009


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