Richmond Re-Punks Tim Barry
The first snow flurries of the year drifted through the glare of Broad Street lights as I approached the door of Books, Bikes and Beyond. My work schedule had forced me to arrive late for the Flying Brick benefit show, and the final act, Tim Barry, had just begun to play.
Tim Barry is a sort of local celebrity in Richmond, especially in the music scene. He’s best known for his writing and vocal work with Avail, a noteworthy anarchist punk band that has left a legacy not just of music, but of iconography to the city. To score Richmond scene-points, be able to spot and identify the minimalist drawing from the band’s 1994 release Dixie in tattoos and stencilings:
Barry is definitely one of those people who is difficult to pin down with a simple stereotype. Tonight, he sort of looks like someone you would expect to see in the aisles of a hunting and fishing supply store. He sports a black t-shirt and a camouflaged cap pulled low over two days worth of stubble. His eyes are unbearably intense. Combined with his muscular build and high-energy performance, he’s an almost intimidating presence.
The quirks and nuances go a little deeper than appearance. I’m not sure how many other anarchists read the New Yorker and work for ballet companies in their down time, but I’m willing to bet the number is small.
Avail unofficially broke up in 2008, but Barry has been doing solo performing since 2005, and released his third full-length album, 28th & Stonewall, earlier this year. He’s traded up punk for folk these days. The high-speed, distorted electric guitars have been replaced with less-frantic acoustic strumming. The rapid fire phrases abandoned in favor of strong narratives that take their time.
It was tonight, in Richmond, that he would play the final show on his 2010 tour schedule, which took him all over the east coast and into Canada. I was happy to be there.
Over the course of the night, it became apparent that he felt the same way. Home was in his blood, and we could tell that he was glad to be back in the River City, singing about things that matter to us. Here, the songs were resonating through the crowd in a way that they couldn’t elsewhere. Here, the stories were our own.
“Does anyone know the name Gabriel Prosser?” one of Tim’s newer songs asks, and in unison the crowd sang the name with him. The chant was not just mimicry. It was an answer to the question: We know his name! We remember his betrayal! We celebrate his courage!
And how could we forget? Some folks in the room had, not 2 weeks previous, laid their bodies motionless on the VCU Compass to protest the school’s refusal to memorialize the slave burial ground where Gabriel was executed, using it for a parking lot instead. Before the song, Tim praised the positive press that came out of the incident:
He pauses again to talk about the goings on with Monroe Park, and the need to secure it as an open, public place during the upcoming renovations. I look around and see at least four other people who have been involved in the Monroe Campaign. Barry has been singing about Monroe for years since Avail’s 1996 song, titled simply Monroe Park:
riot at Monroe / nowhere to roam / forced into place / down home bench life / high class eye sore / fall migration / those to impress / a community is community-less / riot at Monroe
Monroe has seen no riots in recent memory (that I’m aware of). But a “high class eyesore” it is, with the half-million dollar Prestwould Condominiums next door a leading voice in the demand that the park be gentrified of the homeless and working poor. Some of us in the room had been pouring ourselves into that struggle, and just to hear our concerns echoed in this setting was rejuvenating.
There was something happening here, some energy feedback loop circling the room. Quite literally, in one sense; even the physical arrangement of the audience eventually formed itself into a circle, with Barry and the violin accompaniment of his sister Caitlin pacing about the center.
The energy and passion he was putting into the performance was unmatched by his recordings. There was simultaneously a sense of conviction and community.
And then it hit me: Richmond was bringing back the punk in Tim Barry. This was a punk show. Sure, the audience wasn’t wearing mohawks or spikes or chains. They weren’t moshing or stage diving. The instruments were acoustic. But in their tones and in the voices of everyone present was a rejection of the current world for a new one.
Maybe – and I can only hope – the show also brought out the punk in Richmond.