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Next Time, I'll RSVP 

Lost Todd, screamin' Britneys, and Sunday night poker

Friday night, mad genius songwriter Todd Rundgren was slated to appear at the Neighborhood Theatre, with the show kicking off around 8pm (I was glad it didn't, as I arrived some 45 minutes to an hour late). I was confused when I arrived, as hundreds of folks stood around, chatting amiably. Perhaps Rundgren took an early intermission, I thought. After securing a beverage (first things first), I went to find a spot to stand. In the middle of the stage stood a lone piano in a spotlight, as well as a mic stand. After a bit, folks began to cheer for anyone backstage who appeared to approximate Rundgren's height and hair length, both of which are considerable. Eventually, Rundgren emerged from the catacombs, sporting a guitar and partially bleached hair. After apologizing for his tardiness, Rundgren broke into song, breaking a guitar string in what Rundgren says was a personal record -- about 20 seconds. After the first three or four cuts, the apologies continued. "I've got a lot on my mind," Rundgren finally conceded. "You know. . .war with Iraq, the whole Michael Jackson special. . ." Folks cackled. "But what do you care?" he laughed, gesturing at the parking lot behind the building. "You've got your SUVs!"

Saturday night, The Evening Muse held something called press appreciation night, with the promise of a free dinner and some live music. Being a writer who likes both, I decided to go. Unfortunately, being a writer, I also forgot to RSVP so I sated myself with a TV dinner and headed over to NoDa anyway, as Justin Faircloth was slated to perform a much-anticipated solo show. Much-anticipated for me, anyway. Most of the press folks in attendance (some three or so, according to co-owner Joe Kuhlmann) had already left after ravenously devouring the free grub. After an atmospheric opening set from the Liquilab crew, Faircloth took the stage to perform a set of some freshly cut, spankin' new tracks. Faircloth's grasp of the piano was considerable, especially since he was playing the thing with two hands instead of the one he makes do with in the two-man band he shares with his brother, the Houston Brothers. At one point, Faircloth asked the assembled for any song suggestions -- meaning, in theory, one of his songs. "Cover one of my songs," shouted Benji Hughes, local musician and sometime Faircloth bandmate. Without missing a beat, Faircloth launched into a credible Hughes cover before pulling the plug mid-song. It was about that time that a half-dozen or so young twentysomethings -- most of whom sported the same Britney Lite, "trailer park fabulous" look favored by every other girl in Charlotte -- came through the doors, fresh from the bluegrass show across the street. One of the more doltish ones decided to scream at the top of her lungs for no apparent reason. That kind of shrill screaming is de rigueur for gals at most of the downtown clubs, of course, since the subtle differences in pitch are the only real way to tell them apart. Yelling isn't necessarily appropriate for a solo piano show, though. "Let's get out of here," the lead hen said. "You'd think somebody died in here!" Another five minutes of yapping, and she might have been right.

Downtown Charlotte's bar scene on a Sunday night has improved a lot over the years, but you still sometimes get the sense that those out quaffing on the Sabbath are more the exception than the rule. After checking out a couple of downtown establishments, I ended up at Rock Bottom Brewery, which was showing the NBA All-Star Game on wide-screen TV. Five or six folks were checking out the game, including one girl in a tight New York Knicks shirt who smoked more cigarettes than Red Auerbach did victory cigars. Attracting a similar crowd, however, was an ESPN broadcast of world championship poker. Yes, poker -- Caribbean, Guts, and Five-card Stud. Don't get me wrong, I like poker, and even think it's a natural fit for the bar scene. But I can't help but thinking that it fits better as a participatory sport. "Bluff! Bluff! Bluff!" doesn't quite have the same singsong ring to it as "DEE-fence! DEE-fence." No matter. The folks at Rock Bottom know that if you turn on any show in a bar and turn down the sound, folks will automatically lock in on it and keep pounding down the brews -- proving, of course, who really holds all the cards.

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