So it was that the lady and I, along with four friends (sure, two of them we were meeting for the first time, but I found them wholly agreeable, so I'll be loose with the "friends" tag) found ourselves at the Buckhead Theatre on a drizzly Sunday evening. It was only 5 o'clock and the doors weren't scheduled to open until 8, so we went around the corner to a tiny Greek place for dinner. The owner of the joint was the real thing and had either no concept of or no interest in following the pacing that accompanies a typical restaurant experience in America, which was fine by me. Upon pushing together some tables for us he deduced, with no input from anyone in our group, that we wanted an appetizer and a round of waters. Out came a platter full of hummus, tabbouleh, baba ganoush and an assortment of other spreads and random vegetables, accompanied by a pile of sliced up pita on a paper plate (?), all of it delicious. And then... nothing. We hadn't seen a menu and no one bothered us for a good 15 minutes after we had eaten up our paper-plate's worth of pita. When the owner eventually came over again, we asked him if there were menus or if we just order off the pictures of food above the counter.
"Oh, you want menus?"
Um, yes please.
And then after we had looked over the menu, he tried to talk the second person who ordered the falafel gyro into getting something else. His English, I should add, was enthusiastic but broken, spoken in the way of an immigrant who has lived here probably for decades but who became confident in his language skills far sooner than he should have and makes up for it with volume and frequent laughter. We did end up getting what we ordered (which was surprising,) and it was all fantastic. It was definitely a strange dining experience, but I will absolutely go back there (Cafe Agora) next time we're in the area looking for food. Just not if we're in a hurry (although they do have takeout.)
So back around the corner through the drizzle to the Buckhead Theatre we went. Recently reopened after extensive renovation, the theater was formerly The Roxy and I'd seen three shows in that incarnation: the Verve (my first real concert, freshman year of college,) Drivin' n' Cryin' (for the second time,) and Frank Black (for the fourth time.) It's basically just been snazzied-up: new carpet throughout, fresh paint, uniformed staff (friendly,too,) and big, gleaming restrooms. Every time I end up in a place like that for a concert (meaning a place with a little class,) I think back to what I came to expect in my youth from a rock venue: surly staff, sticky floors, a thick fog of cigarette smoke, decrepit bathrooms and a sense of impending violence.
None of this was to be found at the Buckhead Theatre last night, although I doubt violence has ever accompanied the band we were there to see: Better Than Ezra. If you're like me, your memory of Better Than Ezra begins and ends sometime in the mid-90s with their radio hits Good, Desperately Wanting, and In the Blood. Actually, I do have a little more history with them, as Courtney and I caught the very end of their set at Voodoo Music Fest in New Orleans in 2001, which was the college trip from which we came home a couple. Courtney's a fan and our friends are fans (and I do know much of their first two albums by heart), so we made sure to park ourselves right in front of the stage.
Better Than Ezra were good, playing all the crowd favorites, but I honestly didn't get into it until relatively late in the set, when they broke out their fantastic cover of James' "Laid." The sound could've been a lot better, but that's a common complaint and I've heard much, much worse. All in all it was a good time and I managed to let loose with some singing along from time to time.
The highlight for me, though, was the opening act, Big Sam's Funky Nation. If I had a band, I would not want to follow them, a compliment Better Than Ezra's Kevin Griffin actually articulated on stage. It was the best opening set I've ever seen: an opening band only gets so much time to impress the audience and these five guys hardly paused between songs, ripping from one funk jam right into the next. The two guys up front on trombone and trumpet also handled vocal duties and danced almost non-stop. On top of the ridiculous level of energy, they were also amazing players, the guitarist shredding hard enough to break a string and the bass player bringing that fat-bottom sound right to the forefront. The trombone player, Big Sam himself, had some wicked dance moves and had himself soaked in a combination of sweat and the output of his horn's spit valve in the span of just a few songs: that guy really worked for his audience.
Big Sam, being from New Orleans, threw in a few rounds of Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?, a question to which I never considered a response until I found myself shouting "THE FALCONS!" They also threw in a rip-roaring cover of Hard to Handle, a shrewd move as a sure-fire way to get the crowd to sing along. I don't own a single funk album, but that kind of big-band funk never disappoints when you catch it live.
At one point during one of the many call-and-response parts of the act, Courtney found the microphone in her face as Big Sam leaned down from the stage. She had no idea (I later learned) what the repetitive three-word line was he'd been singing and so she shrank back from it, leaving me to lean in from behind and try to pick up the slack. Until she reads this, she still doesn't know what she was supposed to sing. At least one of us was feelin' kinda funky.
(And this I have to share: Blogger spellcheck doesn't like "Buckhead" as one word [or "spellcheck," for that matter.] What does it suggest I replace it with? "Fuckhead." Seriously.)