Monday, February 13, 2012


The Lemon Society is one of my favorite nightlife spots in Palencia (see its listing my "things to do in Palencia when you're (not) dead" entry). The inexplicably English-named watering hole, with its colored lights, sleek bar, and menu scrawled in crayon on the wall, is funky enough to appeal to me but trendy enough to attract a crowd of late-20s-to-late-30s Palentinos on almost any night of the week. It is a lovely size for cozy conversation; I enjoy its reasonably-priced local wine selection, served in oversized glasses; and (perhaps most importantly) it is one of the foremost venues for live music in the city.

At least once a week, The Lemon Society plays host to one of the many small-time rock, pop, folk, or blues bands currently touring around Castilla y Leon. I've seen classic-rock tinged duos, punk-pop outfits, and even once a Louisiana-style-blues band imported from Tennessee. Often these bands are only stopping in a few places in Castilla y Leon-- Burgos, Salamanca, Leon, or Valladolid (all much bigger cities), and Palencia. I'm convinced that the Lemon Society has something to do with that, and I'm grateful.

This past weekend's concert lived up to my Lemon Society standards. The artist was the lead-singer of a much-loved pop-rock band from the 80s and 90s called The Lemons (strange name coincidence.) Everything seemed to be well-balanced that night: I went to the show with a group of friends, a mix of Spaniards and foreigners (which I find is often hard to maintain in a ceaselessly foreign environment where spending time with other visitors can be almost too easy.) On other nights the bar had been suffocatingly full, but tonight the crowd level was perfect--large enough to transmit excitement and energy but still with room to breathe. The green and purple lights threw shadows on excited faces as we waited for the show to begin.

It was during that waiting period that I noticed that the atmosphere in the bar differed from what I'd experienced at other shows I'd seen there. Unlike me, it didn't feel like these were people who had just popped in to see who might be performing tonight. They were there with purpose, with expectation. When, a few minutes later, the singer appeared and began to work his way through a lush acoustic guitar-and-harmonica set, they all seemed to stand up a little straighter. And then something happened that I'd certainly not encountered before: as he reached the chorus of his first song, I heard voices joining in all over the bar. Quiet voices and rough voices, from the perfectly-coiffed fashionistas to the boisterous drunk in flannel at the front. I'm always a fan of a sing-a-long, so I closed my eyes and let the sound wash over me.

The set continued: a quiet ballad segued into something more fast-paced and rollicking, and the crowd went along for the ride, clapping and swaying. The energy in the room was palpable. Looking around, it seemed like an awful lot of people were smiling. I couldn't figure it out-- how did everyone in this bar know the lyrics to all these songs? I finished my wine and leaned over to teach one of my Spanish friends the word "sing-a-long." In return, she offered something of an explanation. These songs, she said, were beloved covers from the 1980s.

"In the 80s, after Franco, pop was one of the first arts to recover. Everyone was crazy for music in those days. Those songs brought people together. A lot of people still remember the words." She smiled. I noticed she was tapping her toes to the beat.

The concert was winding down, and I had an early train to catch the next morning. But for a few moments more I sat bathing in the sound of voices raised in unison, now seeing the proceedings from a new perspective. People here are loathe to discuss that part of their history, but (or perhaps thus) I am often surprised by how the specter of Franco still lurks. He's still here, in more than just bad memories-- he's present in the way people think of themselves, their religion and their country; in the absence of nationalistic fervor or even flags (an attitude which for me is reminiscent of Japan) -- and even in something as small as a singalong in a crowded bar.

More thoughts on this to come, I expect.

No comments: