The Bronzed Chorus, Mipso, Mandolin Orange, Justin Robinson
The Pinhook, Durham
Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016

Yesterday on Twitter, I spotted a rumor: That night, Twitter informed me, Ben Folds Five would reunite (again) for the second Save the Pinhook benefit. I didn’t realize this was something that people took seriously—it made zero sense—but at one point, an audience member told hostess Vivica C. Coxx that he’d bought tickets only because he expected to see Ben Folds Five.

No, Ben Folds Five didn’t show last night, but the second sold-out night to rescue The Pinhook from financial trouble still offered a respectable slate. Not sure if Ben Folds Five bro went home happy, but other folks did.

Justin Robinson, once of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, opened with what he described as “lullabies for adults.” Dressed in a suit, Robinson sat with a Paraguayan harp, strumming and singing songs that ranged in theme from the celestial (“Space is the Deepest Silence You’ll Never Hear”) to one about his great-grandmother’s institutionalization. His own songs were deeply stirring and stunning, and his cover of Bob Marley’s “Turn Your Lights Down Low” was tender and gorgeous, too. When I interviewed Robinson for a story back in the fall, he said he’d been working on new material but wasn’t sure what to do with it yet. Given last night, I’m hoping something more will come from Robinson soon.

Sound problems plagued Mandolin Orange’s short set, but the duo did the best they could against feedback and crowd noise. The duo hopped all across their catalog, and two songs seemed particularly appropriate for the evening’s mission: their own “Old Ties and Companions,” about making lifelong bonds of friendship, and the traditional “I’ve Endured.” The latter is about overcoming rural poverty, but the message of the underdog fits The Pinhook, too.

Joined by Look Homeward’s Wilson Greene on banjo, Mipso took the stage immediately after their Chapel Hill compatriots. The band had played The Pinhook once before on a benefit bill against Amendment 1; mandolin player Jacob Sharp noted that that show helped reinforce the notion that music and venues can be important outlets for activism. As with Mandolin Orange, it was sometimes difficult to hear the band over the buzz of the crowd. (Note: Those who pay for shows and make an effort to talk over them will never cease to confuse and frustrate me.)

At last, Greensboro duo The Bronzed Chorus turned the quiet bill on its head with its loud, mathy mix of guitar, drums and synths. It was a blowout end to the evening and, so far, the heaviest moment of these Save The Pinhook shows.

But the night’s real star didn’t play a musical instrument. Throughout the night, Vivica C. Coxx, The Pinhook’s drag-queen-in-residence, stole the show with her between-set banter. She hassled the bands, audience members and Pinhook owner Kym Register in hilarious measure. As she interrogated Mandolin Orange’s Andrew Marlin, I realized that The Pinhook was probably the only place in the Triangle—maybe anywhere—that something like that might happen.

There are two more Save The Pinhook shows next week—if those go as well, too, the four-show spree should push The Pinhook out of the red. The Pinhook’s crowdfunding page is still live, and there’s also the compilation of music assembled by Bull City Records, if you still want to help.