From Aural Innovations #15 (April 2001)
Some things are delicate and beautiful. Some things are brief and awesome. And some things throw the world over its shoulder. Watch it spin in confusion. Pick it right back up. Dust it off. Then send it on its way. Dahlia was like that. Like that in many ways.
I was fiddling with the settings on my camera. Testing it out before loading it up. Checking out how the room looked through the lens.
The room was dark. The tables flickered under the soft faint light of candles. In the distant heavens above the dance floor, a mirror ball turned on its axis - spitting out shards of colour.
Spots of light brushed lightly across the canvas of patrons faces. Cherry-red stars burned in the darkness of space. Briefly growing misty tendrils of smoke. Then vanishing with a flick of an ash. Consumed by a spirited blonde. Cocktail glass poised, ready to chase the flames of the dragon.
It was Tuesday night.
It was OHM.
I walked over to Keith. As I approached the bar, I reached into the inner pocket of my jacket. Pulled out an envelope. Then served him with the contents.
"Here's last weeks photos."
"Thanks. I was looking over some of the other photos and there are a few I would like to use on the web site."
"That's fine. Go for it."
I thought for a moment. Then asked, "Someone at work told me that Jennifer sang on one of the King Black Acid albums?"
"Yeah, that's right. And it was their best selling album."
Keith nodded. Then hesitated upon reflection. "And the last one."
"Loves a Long Song."
"Yeah, that's the one."
The buxom blonde barmaid reached under the counter and served Keith another envelope.
"You forgot these last week... someone was looking at them."
Keith gave me a sheepish look. "I didn't realize until I'd left the club last tuesday that I left them behind.
Jay looks at the photos as Keith pulls them from the envelope and smiles. "Natural lighting. Great. I don't like flash."
"I don't like to use flash... it ruins the mood."
A guy at the end of the bar shoots me with a quizzical expression.
"How do you get those odd image photos? Is that a lens? a filter?"
Ah, he's peeked at the contents of the envelope. He must be an employee of the club. Someone that knows the envelope was waiting for Dahlia to return for it.
"It's a filter. I have one for 13 images and another for 7 images. I haven't quite got them down yet. Still experimenting with them. They work best with natural lighting. Flash ruins the effect. You can see how they work.
"Do you use a fish eye?"
"No. Daniel Riddle from King Black Acid would like me to. But it's an expensive lens."
"I wonder why."
"It's a novelty lens. I think it originally was made for taking weather photographs - as you can get the full sky. It's 180 degrees. If you're not careful you can get your feet in the photos as well as your subject."
Jennifer Folker walks over to the stage. Placed her bottles of water near the speakers. Then steps outside via the side glass door. I think she likes fresh air. At an earlier show she left that door open to provide a breeze while she performed.
Through the glass of the door and framework I could clearly watch Jennifer stretching. Preparing for her stage set. It must be strenuous the way she moves constantly around the stage. Dipping. Bopping. Moving in time to the rhythm of the music. The trick to photographing her is to catch her when she is almost stationary. Otherwise she is just a blur in the photos.
Dahlia attracts a faithful following. Tuesday night at Ohm is a very well attended affair. The floor fills with people dancing and watching their show. The majority of the crowd appears to be female. Very attractive females. Many of which come to dance, voice their appreciation, and give Dahlia plenty of moral support. This makes down front the place to be - you're right in the thick of all the action.
During their set, I go through my usual routine of prowling around the edge of the stage. Selecting a few odd angles here and there. Moving around and dodging the lively dames dancing on the floor along the front of the stage.
At one point during the set I lean against the pillar by the right side of the stage to take a breather. Jennifer has just finished singing one of her songs. A woman calls out to Jennifer to get her attention. Standing next to me - her arm draped over my shoulder.
Jennifer quickly moves to the end of the stage in front of us. Leans out into the crowd. Braces herself. And chats with the woman. For a few moments I am turned into an Action Man sandwich.
I glanced back at the people behind us in the crowd, with a bemused Jack Benny expression. One he would make at the audience when he thinks he's being ignored.
Someone in the crowd is clearly amused by my expression.
I shrug my shoulders as if to say "Well... these things happen."
They're grin spreads even wider.
Jennifer gives the woman a hug. I am still attached. I'm the innocent victim of a drive-by hugging. After this brief huddle, the show goes on.
Jennifer sings Happy Birthday to two people attending with birthdays that night. Then she expresses a unique Birthday greeting.
"I hope you get laid! Be sure to go down on them."
Ah, there is nothing quite like a good heart felt Birthday wish.
I plan to return the following week to give Keith the photos. I also plan to take a few more photos of the images projected on the screen behind the band. They really give the photos of the band depth.
I briskly walked the remaining distance to Ohm, figuring I wouldn't run into Tommy Lee Jones on the way. The last thing I'd need now would be to be mistaken for a fugitive or an intergalactic alien on the witness protection program. I didn't need to be hunted, hounded, or harried.
As I enter Ohm, Keith spots me and nods. I peel off a fin. Hand it the the guy at the till. He stamps the underside of my wrist with a symbol. An Ahnk. The current rate of exchange for an eternity of bliss.
The buxom blonde barmaid behind the bar is wearing a cowboy hat and a t-shirt. The t-shirt has a slogan which caused me to grin:
SAVE A HORSE. RIDE A COWBOY.
I joined Keith at the bar.
"I got some CD's for you." Keith points at the sofa down by the other bar. "But first I got a meeting. I'll catch you before I go on."
"Okay. Sounds fine."
I take a long stroll down to the bar by the sofa. I order a pint of Black Butte. Then prepare to relax and just give the place a slow lazy eying over.
As I'm drinking my beer, I notice Keith walking toward the sofa. When he's almost up to me, I reach into my jacket and pass an envelope over my shoulder - real casual like.
"Last weeks photos."
Keith slaps me on the back, smiling. "You've taken more photos for me in the past month than anyone ever has. Thanks."
"Sure. No problem."
I walk away from the bar and take up a position next to the stage and just watch the images moving across the screen. A DJ is playing a lively pulsing beat while the screen comes alive in all its psychedelic splendor.
The Camel cigarette girl was already in her psychedelic splendor. Dressed in a long white skirt that seemed to glow under the lights like a marauding ghost in an ethereal mist. Her hair was an explosion of brilliant orange with red highlights. Tattoos criss-crossed her bare arms like finely spun shafts of multi coloured ivy. When her lips parted to expose her open mouth - something inside glowed. It glowed a faint eerie phantasm of light florescent-green. She was a hybrid. The wave of the future. A New Age technicolour dame. A work of art. A Dali bird.
Kaleidoscopic mandalas merged and split on the screen. Flitting and darting - love starved psychedelic amoebas performing intricate courtship rituals. Spawning even more intricate patterns.
After the meeting, Keith rushes over to the stage. Riffles through a bag and pulls out three CD's. Auditory Sculpture CD's. His latest release of his solo project.
"Great. Anymore than three and I wouldn't be able to fit them in my pocket."
Laughing, "Yeah, I know." Keith pauses a moment and gets serious.
"You take some good photos. And then there are about 5 or 6 in the group that are just STUNNING!"
"I'm trying to get some psychedelic photos. That takes time."
Keith nods. Then takes up a position at his keyboards.
Jennifer joins him for a quick chat about the set. She walks over to the mic. A few moments pass. She sways at the mic stand.
Keith's fingers dance across the keyboard.
Then Dahlia blossoms - taking full flight.
The screen behind Jennifer erupts in colourful displays. I was trying to capture her against this vivid backdrop. Trying to catch a moment of time when she was not moving too fast. Watch her make time stand still - in awe of her voice.
A woman leaned into my ear.
"Who are you with?"
"No one really.... myself."
"No, I mean what outfit?
"I'm doing this for the practice... for the band. That's about it. Normally I'm with King Black Acid."
"Is this for the new album?"
"No. I'm doing it for myself to keep in practice and try out a few things. Experiment a little."
I changed positions frequently. Hunting for something odd looking. Something different. something dramatic. Then it just happened.
Jennifer held a flower in her hand. Held it up high. Against the screen this image of her would look wild. The screen was alive in livid bands of colour just like exploding flak in an acid skyline. This was the image I wanted to capture for the night.
I moved away from the stage heading back into the crowd. Maybe, a row or two. Maneuvering for a good position. Carefully moving through the wildly dancing dames hooked on Dahlia's infectious rhythms. Some twirling with arms held high weaving serpentine patterns in the air like rising wisp of incense. Others turning themselves into erotic blurs. Having thrown all caution to the wind.
A glimmer of silver caught my eye. I telepathically knew I was being watched. As I turned, I spotted her. Watching me watch her.
She had long blonde hair. She was dressed all in silver. Her dress was silver. Her eye shadow was silver. There were even small speckles of silver highlighting the features of her face. She was just stunning. A tightly wound super nova - emitting light - a living pulsar. She had full command of the dance floor around her. An Ohm version of Britney Spears.
Long Blonde-Silver had stopped dancing. Just watching me approach.
I fell into a close orbit while moving through the crowd. Too close.
Her eyes locked on. her smile increased. My orbit was decaying.
"I'll just cut through here for a moment." I returned her smile. My feet froze to the dance floor as she spoke. She'd gained a satellite.
"You're not using a flash!"
"No. All natural lighting."
"Are you in manual or automatic?"
Long Blond Silver gave me a studied look. Measured my words. Waited for all the ingredients to mix proper. She wanted more details.
"Well, both actually. The lens is in manual to let in as much light as I can. The shutter speed is in automatic."
She asked me a few more basic questions concerning my being there and the type of photography I was doing.
I leaned in close, right next to her ear, and explained in slow distinctive, fragmented phrases - so that she could digest and parse my sentences precisely. I was concerned she might not hear me clearly over Dahlia's music. One would hate to say something off-the-wall and have it translated into something entirely different.
I retreated from her ear and watched her eyes very closely as I returned to my previous orbit about her face.
Her warm smile remained. Intelligence sparkled across her eyes. And a flicker of understanding spread. Good! What she had heard and translated made sense to her. Made sense in a casual easy going way. Her reaction was perfect. Much better than a slap in the face or a slug from a 45.
I wasn't in need of a facial and I wasn't wearing a bulletproof vest. I certainly wasn't blonde proof! I continued talking to her.
"I crouch down low hugging the stage trying to stay out of people's view so they can see the show. So I get a lot of these worms-eye-view shots."
She laughed, "I could imagine that easily."
"My only worry is that someone will trip over me."
"You don't need to worry, I'll protect you!"
I smiled, "Thanks!"
I didn't know what else to say, so I returned to the edge of the stage. Crouched down low to the floor. Lining up several more shots. Focusing. Waiting for Jennifer to position herself in front of the screen. Trying to time myself to her movements. Hoping to catch her at a moment of rest and not when she is moving too quickly.
After a few shots I happened to glance behind myself. Looking back into the crowd. From my position I would normally see a sea of legs. Instead I only saw silver. Rippling waves of sparkling silver.
Long Blonde-Silver was dancing directly behind me and around me. She was acting as a protective human shield. Anything that could get past her moves would have to be racing by at a pretty fast clip.
I puzzled over her protectiveness. True she was effective. But one would think that a woman that looks as stunning as she does would actually attract more people to the area. This seamed like a strange paradox. I was trapped between a Dahlia and a hardcase!
Funny, you meet the nicest people when you find yourself scuttling around the floor below their knees. Perhaps it's totally non-threatening or down right amusing. This must be why Groucho Marx was always slinking when he approached women - it allowed him to come in low - under their radar.
Then again, it does make you a very easy target for dames armed with fly swatters! Luckily the cigarette girl at Ohm doesn't sell those kind of items.
Long Blond-Silver was content to just dazzle me to death.
Jennifer announced that Dahlia would be playing in San Francisco for the weekend. They really have been quite busy lately. Playing at Ohm every Tuesday night. Playing every first Thursday of the month at the FEZ. Then occasionally extra shows at various other local venues. Definitely one of the more interesting bands in Portland.
The house DJ for the evening started playing a heavy techno beat. The lights above the dance floor parted the crowd with brilliant beams. Meanwhile people danced like there was no tomorrow.
I packed up my camera equipment. Watched the crowd for a few moments. Then headed to the bar. Now I could relax and have a drink. After all that crouching, crawling, and crab walking around the edge of the stage by all those dancing dames'legs. -- I could use a drink!
The bar was busy. Very busy. I queued up as near to the bar as I could get. Then I was in for an long wait with all the other punters treading in the sea of thirsty patrons.
A woman approached from behind me and spoke.
"Did you enjoy yourself?"
I spun around to see who it was. It was Long Blonde-Silver.
A warm smile spread across her face, "Was this your FIRST time?"
"Oh no, I been coming to the shows for the past month. After the first show I thought I should follow up and try a few more photos."
I described my thoughts on the lighting and how I have to go about photographing Dahlia - considering how much moving Jennifer does.
During a momentary lull in the conversation, Long Blonde-Silver pointed to the far end of the bar and exclaimed, "I like that painting!"
I followed the direction she indicated. My eyes coming to rest on the painting. It was somber. Just black on white. Like a charcoal etching done in heavy broad brush strokes. It was of a woman. Her body stretched across the full canvas. Looking lonely. So lonely in fact, that even her clothes had left her. She was totally nude!
Was Long Blonde-Silver into art? Or was she into subtle innuendo? I opted for art... and quickly replied, "Oh, I hadn't even noticed that one." I paused. "I kind of like the one in the other room."
I pointed to one of a woman wearing clothes.
Long Blonde-Silver nodded. "I think they're all done by the same artist." She pointed to the painting over the sofa.
That painting for some reason reminded me of an alien visitation - after hours. It's what happens when they show up after the last call. Spiriting everything away... then dashing off into space. Dark and intoxicated. Lost in the void. Lurking somewhere in the subconscious.
"So many of the clubs around here have interesting paintings."
We continued talking for a while until an apologetic expression clouded her face.
"I'm going to have to go now.... my party is leaving."
I nodded. Looked thoughtful. Smiled and said "Have a good time."
The word PARTY had triggered a word association with FUN and FESTIVE.
She quietly reflected on my reply as she left with her party.
The party was a tall thin twenty something guy. She trailed behind him as they both faded into the crowd. I puzzled over this momentarily as I waited to catch the bartenders attention. Her party had been very well concealed during the show and while we talked at the bar.
I had moved closer to the bar and was leaning on it.
To my right I heard a woman exclaim, "My shoe's stuck in the chair." This was repeated once more. Then she came to rest against my right side.
"My shoe got stuck in the chair," she says to me.
"Oh." As far as I knew there are no chairs at this bar.
The brunette looks up into my eyes, smiling, "I bet you enjoyed that!"
"I didn't feel a thing. You landed on my camera. Not me."
She looks me over. Suspiciously. Spreads her arm out on the bar in front of me and gives me the litmus test. "My shirt's really soft - FEEL IT!"
I humour her, running my finger tips lightly along the length of her shirt sleeve. "Yeah, it is--" "SOFT. Like silk," she says. "I got it for my Birthday!"
My guess is that she took her shirt out for a night on the town. And her shirt was determined to tie one over on her. It was certainly getting it's fair share of attention - at her insistence.
"I want every bartender here to feel my shirt. All THREE of 'em."
I wondered what they've been spiking the drinks with tonight.
My bet was that it was catnip. Then again, maybe this is the after effect of Dahlia's music. Find out for yourself. Drop in on a tuesday night and experience Dahlia for yourself. You won't find a lovelier crowd of people in any other place in town. And the dames at Ohm are simply WONDERFUL.