A Night At Strange Matter… I Mean Fuzzy Cactus


Here’s the scoop from the doorman at the Fuzzy Cactus last Friday — the opening local act, Gull, is not one to be missed, and the doorman, who is also a furniture designer/maker and a VCU grad named TJ Krivankec, was surprised that so many had missed it.

The turnout was intimate on Brookland Park Blvd. last Saturday night. I arrived late, on a last-minute whim to see what was happening in the city. I told basically everyone there that it’s a lot different just showing up at my favorite venue on a Saturday night with my fingers crossed, investing $10 at the door instead of the familiar $3 from college (which was $1 per band). Not to mention, rather than making a 2-minute walk out of my dorm, I had an almost 45-minute drive past the city into what’s still a liminal space in my mental geography. North of the Diamond and in a neighborhood that is at once urban and established, quiet and residential but stratified, a little dingy—feeling very much on the cusp of an update to its facade—this strip of Brookland Park Blvd just needs Lightning McQueen to come shake things up a bit.

fuzzy cactus by Kieran Cleary
Kal Marx bandmembers after their set, from left : John Russell, Christina Puerto, and Carl Shane

If you’re like me, and you step into an unfamiliar place off an unfamiliar street—usually at night—and enjoy the feeling of encountering rattan owls, theme-curated pinball machines, a very sassy Elvis effigy, and Star Wars VHS tapes rolling behind the bar, this is a place to feel at home and unplug. You can enjoy craft cocktails and fried chicken, a signature cheap beer you might not have had before, and basically sit on that cusp between comfort and modernity. It’s a little eclectic and a lot chill. Patrons say it’s a place that is attempting to carry on what Strange Matter had made a mission of—hosting punk, rock, and noise band shows—serving a new generation of small-bill performances.

What I remember that excited me about the final Strange Matter shows was this mini-trend of R&B hipster chick DJs in white shirts and chunky Doc Martens who drew out classic 2000s dance songs into new, Purity Ring-esque evocative, contorted tunes. Now, if I can compare the Fuzzy Cactus, its spirit and decor are worth a mention since it’s located a bit of a far fling from the city campus. Strange Matter was a fixture right in the middle of things. But is it worth the trip out to this cozy satellite of city college culture?

Is it good to drop into orbit here and chill out on this vibe? Absolutely.

fuzzy cactus by Kieran Cleary
Prayer Group performing at Fuzzy Cactus

As for last week’s performances, I only heard the last song of what I could instantly tell was a well-practiced performer’s solo vocal drum performance. The bassist from Kal Marx, the following act, took it all in and let me know that Gull’s act involved experimentation with several instruments and at times just impressive vocal manipulations that transcended beyond music into experimental sound.

Kal Marx, the second act, was finishing their tour with this performance and returning to Boston. This noise band does make use of “a strong undercurrent of emotion and melody.” Lead vocals traded off between bassist John Russell and rhythm guitarist and band leader Carl Shane. The timbre of Shane’s voice is rich and woody like Van Morrison’s, and when I mentioned this after the show by the pinball machines, Russell acknowledged that Shane would be happy to hear it. Even in the basslines, where I heard warm melodies, Russell and I acknowledged a shared love of the song “Domino,” and traded gossip about the best-ever live Grateful Dead recordings. But, as Drew states, there is warmth but also no compromise of the heavy noise factor. Dylan Teggert on drums did not slow the roll of bass pedals. My initial response was amped up for the final performance, and from the well-timed and built-up leads by Christina Puerto, it’s clear to me now that this band was indeed wrapping up what was hopefully a successful road stint.

The final performers, Prayer Group, turned up the noise and, honestly, I feel like they opened a door for the reverb of Kal Marx’s performance to retroactively infect my brain. It was a whole big thing at the Cactus last Friday. I am disappointed to have missed what was called “that tantalizing possibility” that Prayer Group would “steal this show.” I can’t know, because I wasn’t on time, and I didn’t see the “legendary Richmond experimentalist” Gull start things off. Brain invaded, though, skull ringing, and tapping into my inner skatanic punk for the final set, of which the most beautifully musical component was, for me, an intimate moment staring into an incredibly musical kick drum—the final act was definitely a success.

fuzzy cactus by Kieran Cleary
My fake bike sport, Sunday in Forest Hill

I wrapped the weekend up with a bike cookout to wind down and celebrate the third edition of the Mountain Cat 100—a 100-mile MTB race in RVA to celebrate trail builders. I met someone who completed the race on a fixed gear! And in promotion of my favorite fake sport, hardcourt bike polo, white Nike sneakers at both events, metal, and sunshine made for a great weekend in RVA!

Kieran Cleary

Kieran Cleary

Kieran Cleary: works at a Taekwondo school in Midlothian. Co-writes a music blog, All Apologies. Graduated from The College of William & Mary, BA English, 2014. Volunteers for the RVA Environmental Film Festival. Likes to play bike polo and go on long walks and adventures.

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