PopMatters Associate Music Editor
At a quarter after two in the afternoon, the unassuming guy in black jeans, black Adidas t-shirt, and gray Izod anorak—previously seen thumbing through the store’s stacks of vinyl—climbed onto one of two amps set in the back of the shop. And with a tongue-in-cheek announcement, (“Attention Square Records shoppers…”) Chris Richards started a set of eight songs from his solo debut, Purple Blaze, out yesterday on Academy Fight Song. He recorded it as Ris Paul Ric, a pseudonym that borrows the last three letters of his first name and the first three letters of his last name.
Since D.C. punk powerhouse Q and Not U parted ways in September, Richards has been working his way across North America, playing small venues and—in the case of this Akron, Ohio stop—record stores. When Richards realized he had the afternoon free, he scrambled to schedule this in-store appearance in Akron. He commented that there was a better turnout at this event than at the Pittsburgh club he played the night before. This prompted further speculation from Richards through the microphone that he should, A) do more in-stores, and B) do more Akron shows. Richards’ appreciation of the crowd was reciprocated: the 35 or so pierced and inked music lovers lightly bobbed their heads in time with the music.
In talking with Richards, you realize how humbling it is to tour like this: a man, a car, a map. Completely free of rock star posturing, Richards is doing some serious soul searching on this go-round. The same can be said of his music. He is touring to support Purple Blaze, a quiet and haunting affair recorded and mixed earlier this year.
Armed with his black, duct-taped guitar, Richards opened the set with one of the strongest songs in his solo repertoire, “Valerie Teardrop”—a compelling number that brought to mind Gary Jules’ cover of “Mad World” in its emotional resonance and delivery. The psychedelic freak-outs that were the one-two punch of “Hanging from the Grapevines” and “Up in My Window” dissolved into a fascinating (if troubling and noisy) collage of sound.
The only true misstep was “Purple Blaze”. On record, it is a fantastic number that takes the listener through the jangly stream-of-consciousness staccato release of seemingly unrelated parts. Live, its impact is lost in Richards’ quiet, almost muddled, delivery. Back on track, however, “The Sleeparound” and “Run Up Wild on Me” energized and carried the crowd though the remainder of the set, including “Demo was a Runaway” and “Daft Young Cannibals”.
In-store appearances are a completely different beast from proper concerts, allowing the artist and the fans to interact on a more intimate level. Richards’ soft, emotional music lent itself to the setting as he delivered calming, reverb-heavy vocal lines. For on “Run Up Wild on Me” Richards recruited a willing attendee to handle maraca duties. Using an array of effects pedals spread out on an amp-high table in front of him, he shifted from one leg to the other in his trainers. Richards makes the most of the tools at his disposal—sometimes giving the amp a bit of a stomp to jar it to life with a reverb accent, sometimes raking a maraca across the guitar strings, sometimes simply moving his head to varying degrees around the microphone to achieve the perfect fade.
While Richards and I were talking after his set, we paused while he sold an advance copy of Purple Blaze. I glanced over at the CD rack nearest us and there was the 20 Years of Dischord box set, featuring a Q and Not U cut. It seemed sort of appropriate. While Q and Not U shouldn’t be forgotten, Ris Paul Ric is moving quietly to center stage.