Monday, May 2, 2016

Wild Belle - James Supercave -- Black Cat - May 1 2016

James Supercave - This is a fairly new LA band with one album (reviewed here a couple days ago) and a big tour well underway. They appear quite ready for the big stage at the Black Cat and delivered a fairly strong set. It was tough to gauge the crowd, as they were kind of quiet, but with the dance moves I saw in the back and the solid ovation at the end, they appeared to have gone over well. And with pop-rock music that exhibits plenty of dance beats, it should go over with youth. Thankfully, they have some strong rock moves that work with those of us old timers whose sciatica is an excuse for us to not show our lack of dance moves. When they announced they would slow it down, they launched into a fine rocker with a great pop hook and a powerhouse ending. In fact, from that point on, they slowly built the rest of the set to a fairly dramatic finish. Well paced, well played, and well received--good job, guys.
Wild Belle - This brother and sister act handles the vocals and adds some brass and guitar to the mix along with a fine band behind them. It seems quite straight forward and fairly faultless, although it does not always stand out terribly for me. But the female vocals have a nice resonance with the right amount of attractiveness and distance blended in. They also vary the rhythms well, which helps carry the set forward. I did not last the distance, but the sizable crowd was taking to this well, which was not at all a surprise.

Quiz Answer: In answer to my previous question of who the Suuns were channeling with their photo, the answer is the Stranglers with the cover to their LP, 'Black + White'


Sunday, May 1, 2016

RECORD REVIEWS: April 2016

ALOHA “LITTLE WINDOWS CUT RIGHT THROUGH”
This one has too much of that smooth comforting electro pop sound at the heart of it all. There is some grinding electric guitar, but it is a bit too far upstage for me. Instead, the monotonous beats and the mannered vocals steer it onto a road I would rather not follow. There will be plenty of other people following Aloha as the vocals have a certain attraction to them and the melodies are there and should catch enough pop fans who want to engage in some relaxed dancing or drifting.

JAYE BARTELL “LIGHT ENOUGH”
Although Jaye Bartell has deep voice that sounds rather dark at the outset, like a combination of Leonard Cohen and Bill Callahan, the underlying music brightens things up in a surprising manner. He manages to avoid excessive darkness, as sometimes you hear that same droll childlike innocence that was in many a Syd Barrett song. Like Syd Barrett, you may just have to be in a certain mood for this as the monotony in vocal tone will be either hypnotic or frustrating, depending on your mood. As for me, I enjoyed the original approach to a familiar form and it hit me in a good spot. Any acoustic folk fan should at least give this one careful listen, as it will likely turn in to many more.

A live show may be quite interesting and you can try it out at the Rock’n’Roll Hotel on June 23rd.

Songs to start with first:

Laundry Line - delicate song with those haunting vocals.

Into Quiet - Nice backing vocals and a mix of off kilter rhythm and dreamy sounds.

The Calling - If you are still with him late into the LP, the longest song will reward you.

ROBBIE BASHO “LIVE at FOLKSTUDIO 1982”

Grass-Tops Recordings have done us another fine service here. But I am an easy mark, as they do it every time they reissue anything by Robbie Basho. This obviously is a live recording and although there are the expected sonic limitations, it is still worth the experience for Basho fans as this show features many long extended raga songs that showcase Basho’s guitar by itself, working its usual magic (aside from the occasional haunting vocal). Folkstudio was in Rome and was likely the center of fine folk activity in Italy, if it ties in with the label Folkstudio and the band Folkstudio A, which it likely does. So I appreciate seeing the worldwide connection of key folk artists as they expanded from the 1960s through the 1980s and added so much psychedelic sounds and other progressive forms to the music. Basho had the music that inspired oh so many people. Here is further proof.

BLEACHED “WELCOME THE WORMS”
There has been plenty of bands blasting out power pop tunes with punk attitude over recent decades, but there always will be room for more. And it makes sense for older bands to do something else and let younger bands take that distinctive young attitude and run with it for a while. Bleached has it down from the strong steady drums, driving bass, vocals that are both cute and tough, and raging guitars. The guitar work is a bit more distinct than usual particularly in breaks or in subtle backing washed out moments. They play with textures, while never losing the beat and clarity in their melodies. So all in all, this LA trio has enough to bring in the old timers along with the energized young crowd.

Songs to start with first:

Trying to Lose Myself Again - Powerhouse beat and cool guitar bridges.

Wasted on You - A finely balanced song of the simple and the complex natures this band plays with.

Desolate Town - I like the downer vibe here, which helps brighten up the remaining cuts.

CAVE STATES “TRUE LIFE”
This is a straight-up singer songwriter effort from St. Louis that hits a country and western button or two before settling into its easy going Americana folk style. There is quality here, but it is a bit too relaxed for me to sense any original thrust beyond the author’s personal outlook in the songs. Quiet is good, but this is the sort of record that just won’t have me coming back to it. But there is a strong fanbase for this type of music, just not here.

Songs to start with first:

No Words - Easy going, amble down the road sensation here.

Mountain - Another easy stroll, perhaps with a little elevation this time.

Kingdom Come - A touch of rock in this cut.

CRYSTALLINE ROSES “COSMIC DRIFTWOOD”
From the musically fertile grounds of Northampton, comes this fine psychedelic folk LP. Nothing freaky or too twisted here, just a lot of reliance on Indian instruments to assist the acoustic guitar led meditative drones. There are some deep and distant vocals that do not detract from the overall ambiance the instruments establish—especially on the B side. While not nearly as bold as some of the recent Robbie Basho LPs that have been rebirthed, this offers something in that direction like Ben Chasney might try if in the mood. It may be closer to In Gowan Ring and unfortunately it shares some of the cliched lyrics that remind me of those releases. Still, the music is evocative enough and stays pleasant and warm throughout, making for a fine relaxing listening experience… provided you are a psyche-folk fan of this style. But that’s me after all.

ISKA DHAAF “THE WANTING CREATURE”
This is a two man band that when they don’t delve too much into electronica (during second song) or gimmicky sound bites, comes up with some highly mystifying songs. The vocals are dreamy and the mysterious nature of most of these songs stem from their connection with sufism. There is a tranquil quality to the music that has just enough edge and attention to vocals that will keep you alert, even as you relax. This is a beautiful record that warrants several careful listens, although it will work its way into you right at the outset.

Songs to start with first:

Invisible Cities - The opener hits you with rhythm, sharp and soft mysterious vocal contrasts. Inviting to say the least.

Laura Palmer - The very name conjures up dreamy mystery and the song lives up to it.

We Are - Lovely flowing song. Allow me to drift a bit.

DIVINE WEEKS “SEE THOSE LANDING LIGHTS”
There is a strange combination of eras clashing in my head as I listen to these ten songs by a recently reformed LA band. The vocals are big and dramatic in that early 1970s fashion, yet the guitars have a slight jangle and strong indie rock vibe from more recent times. It is never firmly in one place just as there are Americana feelings, but it never settles in there too long. The melodic rock sensibility is there throughout and there is a lot to like. This band describes itself as “Classic Alternative Rock” and that is as good a three word description as you could get. It is nice to see The Adolescents’ Steve Soto playing bass here. This is a tricky record, but unique in spite of such classic forms—worth a listen.

Songs to start with first:

Rise in Love - Good chirpy guitar keeps this cut moving.

Someday (By&By) - An easy going flow and melody driven home by the rhythm section.

The Joy and the Wonder - Fine classic rock dynamics in play here.

DOOMSQUAD “TOTAL TIME”
This electronica album offers quite a mix. There are spritely pop tunes like the opening couple of numbers. The bright active sounds then stretch out into hypnotic drones on “Collective Insanity” which is more of where I want to be (listening to the drone, not joining the Insane). After that all bets are off as they change tone, pace, and density throughout the remaining songs until the finale, ‘Russian Gaze’ which seems to morph ‘Suspiria’ into the sound (always a good thing).

Songs to start with first:

Collective Insanity - Killer drone forms out of pop songs and swings the pendulum to the point of no return.

It’s the Nail that Counts Not the Rope - Thick, powerful, steady strong rock with distant vocals.

Farmer’s Almanac - A nice dreamy more relaxed oasis amidst the noise.

JAMES SUPERCAVE “BETTER STRANGE”
Debut LP here, from this west coast band—not an individual, although that would be a cool name. They have a lot of electronica, but they push it all forward in an assertive pop manner. It touches on popsike at times and has some interesting bold melodies when they nail a song. If graded on a curve for a debut album, this gets fairly high marks. There are some things to expand on, but they establish a personal approach and vary the songs enough to keep interest up.

And quick, head over the Black Cat, because they play tonight… May 1st.

Songs to start with first:

Whatever You Want - Bold electronic bursts make for an exciting opening that I will stay with.

Body Monsters - Smooth enticing pop, unlike the title.

Get Over Yourself - Fun popsike rocker.

KAREN HAGLOF “PERSEVERANCE AND GRACE”
This is a fine example of modern indie rock flair adding rootsy western music and even leaning to country on occasion. The variety is nice, but it is the calming easy going manner that manages to retain a sharp focus is what really makes this album click. The songs are mostly quite good and have a fine rhythm within.

Songs to start with first:

Cowgirl Clothes - The opener has a warm breezy style that will ease you into the album, while tapping your toe if you are like me.

Perseverance and Grace - Undulating rhythm and guitar lines serve to let the vocals float on top.

Hair Bite - Snappy rocker, always welcome in my world.

KINJAC “BROKEN MIRRORS”
This ‘band’ is a project by Michael O’Shea and it is heavily electronic based. But I had no time to be wary of this format as he immediately struck hard with sharp edged electronics, gutsy beats, powerful drumming, and chilling, edgy vocals. This is closer to Chrome than the latest danceable electronica band. Yet there is something Savage Republic about it as well with its tight dark presence. The songs sound distinct and well thought out. And for all its darkness and original approach, it is catchy and you can dance to it, unless you need the cliched throbs of modern day dance music.

Songs to start with first:

What You Find - Bold electronics, Edgy vocals, and rhythmic bursts. This works.

Champagne - The lyrics have a more traditional power and the music is there to match it.

Broken Mirrors - Like a haunted house with a clean path leading to the light.

KEVIN MORBY “SINGING SAW”
It can be a subtle choice for a folk or folk rock approach to either go languid or into highly engaging territory. It is usually down to the songwriting or arrangement creativity as to which path is followed. Kevin Morby has both of these approaches down well and when he slows it down, you are further compelled to listen to every work and each note. The moderately paced numbers are complete with sharp percussion and lots of great choruses and instrumentation going on behind the melody. I hear elements of Leonard Cohen, Jason Pierce, and a few loner folk artists from the late 60s in Morby’s music. The songs are highly effective at establishing mood and inviting keen interest from even moderately discerning listeners. And before I write myself further into a hole, just listen.

Songs to start with first:

Cut Me Down - You hear the ‘singing saw’ here amid the fine loner folk song.

I Have Been to the Mountain - Like a folkier Spiritualized.

Singing Saw - The longest song had me losing track of the time, always good on long cuts.

MY CRUEL GORO “STUFF”
Just a five song EP here, so I will make this quick. If you are like me and need a burst of melodic rock music infused with garage punk energy, then slap this baby on and take 15 minutes to go crazy, either in your head or physically. These guys infuse Green Day, Gray Matter, and the Hellacopters into a powerful burst of pleasure. I could say fury, but things are bright and almost power pop at time, were it not for the pace and guitar attack. Good ’Stuff’ indeed.

NAADIA “HOROSHO”
Horosho (Хорошо) means ‘good’ in Russian and this electronic band is all of that here on this three song EP. Although the electronic backing seems simple enough, the breaks create unique atmospheres that are surprisingly involved even though you can sense the space between the differing melodic lines. The female vocals are bright and make for a strong personal connection. This music can get over in a lot of places to quite a variety of music lovers.

PARQUET COURTS “HUMAN PERFORMANCE”

This neo-psyche west coast outfit has really collected a strong fan base in recent years. They reveal some of their magic here on this, their third LP. They have a wide arsenal of songs and styles that they integrate into a cohesive effort where their personalities shine. It is fascinating to hear the many styles from the Velvet Underground to the Mekons or the Long Ryders to the Jam. At their worst, which is not often, they go a bit too slacker for my tastes, but even then they have gutsy blasts of distortion to not let you lose attention and settle too comfortably into your couch.

See this exciting band on Thursday, May 12th at the 9:30 Club. But get there early as this is the early show of a two separate showcase evening (featuring Titus Andronicus late).

Songs to start with first:

Dust - The opener has a relaxed drive and some noisy sonic bursts to break up your relaxation.

Human Performance - The title cut exemplifies the writing skills this band has in transcending the basic popsike scene.

Berlin Got Blurry - Catchy and managing to pull in references from many eras of great music.

PET SUN “PET SUN”
This has that ‘almost British punk’ sound going for it. Back in the punk days, there were a lot of fringe bands that had the hooks, a bit of rock energy, but didn’t quite go too over the top. Pet Sun seem to embody that at times, although they push and pull at the formula to keep me guessing as each fully formed song moves by. Just as I think it might get a little too old hat for me, they throw in some surprises. It is that kind of spirit that kept me listening and keeps me coming back for more.

Songs to start with first:

Web of Man - A good structured rock song that harkens back to different eras.

Dark Planet - A moody slow song that does the change up style right.

It’s So Sweet - Good easy going garage rocker.

RJD2 “DAME FORTUNE”
Now here’s an electronica band I can quickly and enjoyably get my head around. These guys have dramatic bursts of sound coupled with mysterious passages and roaring percussion. There are lead guitar runs and vocals, too, so there is something for everyone. Yet it is far from excessive as the parts are all crisp and on mark. There are soulful songs and crazy experimental rockers that either can soothe your mood or get you grabbing on to your chair. Although even some of the smoother soulful vocal outings have some gutsy backing.

Get your calendar out and mark down Sunday, May 29th when this band plays the 9:30 Club.

Songs to start with first:

The Roaming Hoard - Powerhouse rocker featuring everything but the kitchen sink. Wonderful.

Peace of What - Guest vocalist Jordan Brown sings ‘land of duck and cover’ - that takes me back.

A New Theory - Crisp crazy electro rock, kind of like when Ministry was trying to bridge electronica with metal, but this leaning to electronica.

BRUCE SUDANO “THE BURBANK SESSIONS”
This has kind of a lounge rock’n’roll style. Not quite lounge jazz, but not quite bar-band rock style either. There is a smooth control to the rock music and the vocals and melodies are rather fetching. There are some light keyboards and some sleazy sax (as an old friend of mine would say). There are even reggae and Americana moves in different songs, but the overall character does not change much. This does not dazzle me, but it is a thoughtful little record with some highly likable playing and singing.

Songs to start with first:

One Beautiful Life - Putting the longest song first is bold, but this is strong and establishes the sound.

Why Aren’t You Here - Rocking, with a touch of Western Americana.

Never Too Late - A good reaggae-esque beat with tasty lead guitar lines.

SUUNS “HOLD/STILL”
I rather liked this band the last time they had an album out and a tour through town. Now, I really like this band. The live show featured a more realized sound that the band had full control of. Their new album has many fresh songs that jump out at you in odd angles that unsurprisingly flowed together in the live setting. But at this juncture, this Montreal band has got it all together with a just fresh enough approach to psychedelic progressive sounds in the 21st century. I hope to be around for the next LP and tour as well.

Songs to start with first:

Fall - Crazy wild powerhouse of an opening. This is more of an ecliipse into chaos.

Resistance - After the urge to resist is pounded into me, the latter twist is lovely.

Careful - I still like a long droning Euro-synth song.

MATT TARKA “SURELY LATE”
I have seen Matt and his local folkie approach a number of times over the years, but it has been a while and during that time he has assembled a band to infuse more rock into his songs. And he has a four-song EP to show off these results. I am quite happy with his direction as he still maintains his warm approach to songwriting and has a band to bring further life to the mix. There are catchy pop runs as well as more earthy introspective moments. The pace is moderate and even brisk on occasion, such as in ‘Very Little’.  This is a solid effort and a good direction for Matt Tarka to take his music.

See what it is like like, when Matt Tarka and band play the Iota on Monday, May 2nd. I will be there.

USED CASSETTES “USED CASSETTES”
I am not sure what South Korea thinks of this immigrant Angol-band from what looks and sounds like the classic American garage, but I am guessing they dig it. This style of rock works as well in the far East as it does in the West if it is done well, and Used Cassettes have all that is needed to deliver the down and dirty goods. There a few attributes that make garage rock good such as confidence and swagger. This band appears full of confidence and has just the right amount of swagger to not go too over the top. They back it up with some smart songwriting and clever guitar arrangements. They are not all masterpieces, but all have qualities that will attract different types of fans within the broad genre. I sense that this garage is closer to Michigan than California, so that is a subtle bonus. There is some method to the madness in this band’s music, but indulging in the madness is far more fun than dissecting the methods. So join me and just have it.

Songs to start with first:

At Barcelona - Odd to have the longest cut at 6:41 starting off the album, but the shifts and drones do get things off with creative flourish.

Wasted - Short psyche punk garage rocker hits all the right notes and then some more for good measure.

Whip of the Master - I love the way the rhythm chugs along and crazy solos and desperate vocals work out their space.

VESSELS “DILATE”
This is the kind of post rock music I enjoy. It has a strong nod to the Krautrock scene, Cluster in particular from what I hear on this extremely long player. The atmosphere is smooth, but intense and mysterious. The percussion is strong and there are some vocals at various points, which of course offer a rather striking counterpart to the steady melodic instrumental shifts. There is not much else to say, except to put it on and let it flow.

VETIVER “COMPLETE STRANGERS”
I have been following this band for some time, although not as much in recent years. Of course, as fans know, this ‘band’ is pretty much Andy Cabic, his songs and singing, along with some fine accompanying musicians. They were not terribly freak folk even as they were lumped with other friendly bands in the scene. Instead they had a slightly spaced out Americana sound. That is here as well, but they start with more electronics at work as they even more otherworldly in sound, yet retaining a well rooted approach. Yet there is odd steel guitar meets reggae moves, which don’t work so well. Vetiver has always been just about there to my mind, but they have never fully swung me over to their vision. I like the creative flourish here in some of the songs, so I am still listening, but still not quite there. But if you are a fan, I see no reason not to indulge.

Check out Vetiver at the Hamilton, this Wednesday, May 4th. I’ll bet there.

Songs to start with first:

Stranger Still - The opener will wake you up to the new vistas they are exploring.

Confiding - A nice little song that balances old and new sounds.

Loose Ends - Maybe more cliched Californian jangle rock here, but I like it.

VIVID LOW SKY “II”
This is a full album of instrumental rock music. It is big and bold on occasion, but too often is just decent guitar based rock music where you are just waiting for the vocals to give it some direction. This just does not have the audacious exploratory excitement of Mogwai and other bands in this field. ‘Low Flying Planes’ is closest with its mix of punctuating moments and thick sludgy guitar sound. I warmed a bit more to this as it went on, but there still is not quite enough or a reason to go back to it. Fans of instrumental rock should have a listen.

MARLON WILLIAMS “MARLON WILLIAMS”
After a strong opening, it turned out that there was a surprise around every corner of this album as this shifted from hard country rock to rock ballad to old time crooner to folk song, etc. There is even an indie rock feel in one song to remind you of the present day, which is helpful for this rest of this is a surreal dream with a powerful acoustic finish on pretty much all of Side B. This New Zealand artist has really connected with me here and I highly recommend giving this a thorough listen.

I highly advise heading to the Lincoln Theatre on May 21st.

Songs to start with first:

Hello Miss Lonesome - This song explodes with such a fast beat, that it is just not right to call this Country & Western.

I’m Lost Without You - Sounds like a dream of a 1962 ballad.

Strange - Twisted country folk song that is quite unique.

WYLDER “RAIN AND LAURA”

This local outfit (Fredericksburg, VA) has an earthy rock approach with plenty of folk moves, even as the drums push the pace a bit beyond a walking speed. There are some big vocal moments that sound more pop rock than folk rock, but they tend to straddle this line much of the way here. Ultimately this is a slick and together sound that follows in the Fleet Foxes era of pop music from the sonic heartland. The violin is particularly helpful in giving Wylder their edge and there are moments of creative spark that stand out from the pack. They should do well with this, although it is a crowded field.

Songs to start with first:

Swells - Good rootsy punch with violin fills.

Snake in the Grass - This is heartier folk rock, a bit more acoustic even.

Bitter - Song balanced their approach well and struck deep.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

PREVIEW of COMING ATTRACTIONS - Early May 2016

May I entice you with the following choices...

James Supercave spelunks their way in to the Black Cat on Sunday the 1st--that is tomorrow!


Vetiver moves to the Hamilton on Wednesday, May 4th. Or if you want a grittier club, try Hello Ocho at the Velvet Lounge.



Woods was brilliant at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel last time through. They are back on Thursday the 5th.


Cate LeBon makes DC a regular stop and does so again at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Saturday, the 7th.


Ought aught to be pretty great when they play the Black Cat on Tuesday, May 10th.


The Parquet Courts AND Titus Andronicus come to the 9:30 Club on Thursday, May 12th. What an awesome bill--too bad it is two shows that are separately ticketed (as early and late shows), but I still may do both.



Kick back with the Kickback when they hit the DC9 on Friday the 13th.


The Kills and LA Witch make a potent concoction at the 9:30 Club on Saturday, May 14th.



Thursday, April 28, 2016

Suuns - John Congleton -- DC9 - Apr 27 2016

John Congleton - Not only does John Congleton have an incredibly long and varied list of musicians that he has produced and engineered for, but his own music conjures up an incredibly long list of obscure acts that he somehow fits in with. He is on vocals playing acoustic and electric guitars with one key ingredient, a fellow at synthesizer. The guitars are sharply pummeled with oddball chords or worked into twisted spooky arrangements. The synthesizer and electronic parts are carefully worked in at various volume levels with great care and superb touch. His vocals are intense and have me listening more closely than usual. So who I am hearing? Is it Billy Childish with Claudio Simonetti? Perhaps TV Smith with Brain Eno? Maybe this is Suicide playing different instruments? I think it is actually the sons of Cosmic Michael and Nicodemus here on Earth to take us to the next level of accessible outsider music. Whatever it is, it is unique, exciting, and has easily won over the smart little crowd tonight. I am happy.
Suuns - I have liked this band previously, but after tonight, I really like them a lot. It could have something to do with them, but it is almost certainly me, for while this band is immediately interesting, I think their music ages well after spending some extra time with it. They began tonight's tight set with an easy going spacey sound that builds into their thick sound of two guitars, keyboards and drums. Three guys sing with one guitarist taking the lead. I particularly like how they rarely 'come up for air' and just keep the music coming. It has a certain krautrock brand of psychedelia and just keeps coming at you. It is far from jamming however, as the songs are clear and distinct, as throbbing and as droning as they may be. As the set moves on, you hear some of the more song oriented psychedelic-meets-shoe gaze styled music from yesteryear, although they don't quite fit that camp either. They have some hardened fans here tonight, but the word needs to spread further. Suuns is offering up a solid dose of 21st century psychedelic music--more grounded than most, but with plenty of room for mind expansion.

Trivia Bonus Question - What album cover are Suuns recreating in the above photo? Answer forthcoming.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

We Banjo 3 - Charm City Junction -- The Hamilton - Apr 26 2016

Charm City Junction - This Baltimore quartet starts off the banjo night with said instrument along with standup bass, accordion, and one fellow switching between mandolin and violin. Of course, as you can guess from that instrumental array, we should call the last instrument a fiddle. These guys proclaim that they will show the connection between Ireland and bluegrass through way of Appalachia and they back that up with a nice varied set of tunes. There is also a balance between instrumentals and songs with vocals. The vocals are not terribly strong with the instrumentals faring better. They play well and do some playful runs that are easy to enjoy, but there is not a lot of power and drive at the core. All in all this is a likable opening 45 minutes, but I would like a bit more fire from a lineup like this.
We Banjo 3 - This Galway band wastes no time in reminding the cynics that yes, they know there are four of them and there is only one or two banjos at most. All the better, as the banjo, the mandolin, the acoustic guitar, and the violin all create a rich sound brilliantly shaped by these masterful musicians. They lock in, but still allow room for each instrument to breathe and resonate, even while they play their fastest passages. They have Irish music nailed down, but also explore American music as the opening band did and created a variety of moods within these forms. The vocals were strong and the band was so sharp, that they did not need to do much prompting to get the audience clapping or singing along. There was even a dance company that came out during some of the reels. I definitely need a fix of Irish music now and then and it is all the better when you catch a group doing it this well. And it is good to see that after playing for the President and various dignitaries in DC a month ago, that they returned to play for the rabble, or at least a crowded club. They fully deserve these wide audiences.


Facebook Grab of the Night: Keeping the Celtic theme, although from a different universe altogether:

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Into It Over It - The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die - The Sidekicks -- Black Cat - Apr 23 2016

by John Miller

The Sidekicks - It's low key tonight, despite the crowd. Everyone seems so polite. Even the conversation is kept to a minimum in between songs.  The Sidekicks start with a crunch reminiscent of Domestica era Cursive. Though the similarities end quickly; it's far less serious. It's bright, a la Promise Ring, Everything Hurts. Yet as the set continues there are small moments when Tim Kasher's influence returns. The way the two guitarists play off one another, this minor scale crunch, it's decidedly late 90s. Sidekicks are supporting their first album with new label Epitaph, Runners in the Nerve World. The newer pieces are far less concerned with casting a wide net. Specifically, the vocals have changed; before bouncing off one another, both guitarist harmonized, the vocals, now handled by Steve Ciolek are almost sung in falsetto. It's a change for sure. The songwriting is more complicated as well. There is a lot more going on with the guitar parts than the previous pieces. They end with a cover of People Who Died: seems appropriate considering the news.

The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die - Whoa, that beats the former band with the longest name title holder, And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead. The name encapsulates the band perfectly, there is an exceptional amount things going on tonight. I count no less than seven members. What's weird though is that are quite reminiscent of The Black Clouds but even with the seven members, I don't think they come close to the amount of noise at a Black Clouds show. This is almost a throw back to early 2000s; the quiet, scream aesthetic, the earnest vocals. It should be said though that the way one of the many guitarists (I think there are three but there could be more) plays pitch games that make the instrument sound like it is dying. But the actual song structure, at least musically feels more in tune with something that purposefully avoids vocals; like Pelican. Their songs are soft, spacey, melodic, though it always feels as if that could change at any moment. There this sense of dread that follows them; it's all about to go to shit. The way things build up and then suddenly become calm, soft picking leading to a deluge of power chords, sudden crashes followed by pads.  I can't help but come back to The Black Clouds; these two need to tour together, it would be the perfect marriage of doom and gloom.

Into It Over It - In between asides Evan Thomas Weiss sings his first song. It's a quiet acoustic piece. He sweeps along the strings as he jokes with the audience. The remainder of Into It Over it slowly files in behind him before letting us all know that this is going to be a good one. Singalongs quickly follow. Evan is supporting his newest effort Standards, which was released earlier last month on the 11th. The set reminded me a lot of the latter emo scene as well, the more radio friendly era; like a less angsty Thursday combined with a quieter Taking Back Sunday. It’s weird how these genres cycle around and as I get older it feels as if those cycles are shorter and shorter.  Into It Over It, reminds me a lot of Titus Andronicus, who I saw late last year, especially the vocal styling. There is an earnest quality that causes each piece to feel like it was written specifically for each individual fan. That quality, being so earnest, yet being relatable, is such a rare quality. It's really quite good.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Wylder - Justin Trawick - Annie Stokes -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Apr 22 2016

Annie Stokes - Actually it is the Annie Stokes band which is good since it is Friday night at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel where acoustic music usually turns into a chorale of conversation. As it is, it is still not enough volume to drown out the crowd. The electric guitar and rhythm section do add enough to push this folk rock forward and into a decent live sound. Annie Stokes leans toward blues at times, but then adds a touch of Country&Western in another cut, which adds to the variety while keeping her personal style intact. There is enough of an emotional core in the songs to make Annie Stokes and her band worth another visit for me.

Justin Trawick - Trawick plays in various combinations around town and tonight he has a standup bass, violin, and mandolin accompanying his vocals and acoustic guitar. It is a bit too acoustic to fully cut through the crowd noise, but the strong lead voice and full four-man chorus helps out quite a bit. These guys can play and the mandolin and violin solos show off some flashy technique. He brings up some guests at the end, but it is still a bit hard to focus fully on the music with the Friday night crowd.
Wylder - This local band formerly known as Save the Arcadian is celebrating their new album tonight (which will be reviewed here in a bout a week). They have a bold sound that pushes what others may call folk-rock into bigger pop rock areas. They are slick and professional and I like their sound tonight even more than I did on their album as everything was balanced nicely. They have a violin, which always adds a good dimension for a rock band as well as keyboards and the usual guitars, bass, and drums. It is still outrageously noisy in the back, so I move a bit closer, although there is a sizable crowd packed in tonight, which bodes well for this band. They appear to have the drive to back their big sound with a strong effort on stage, which mains they could well obtain some national prominence. Time will tell.

Photo Grab of the Night: This looks like an old typesetting error from the days when people typeset.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Sam Cohen -- Black Cat - Apr 20 2016

by John Miller

Sam Cohen - Part of my reasoning for seeing Sam Cohen this evening was that I wanted to see a peer that was successful in their given profession. Not just on an artistic level but a professional level. Sam has written for the likes of Norah Jones, Shakira, the Banana Splits, and countless others. He has played with Bob Weir and was the musical director for the Last Waltz as well. His professional credits are just as lengthy as his musical and it isn’t often that an artist can straddle that line and continue to work consistently for the better part of 15 years.

Sam’s voce is distinct in the way he emphasizes certain vowels. The way he draws out his vowels, the ‘ahs’ and ‘ews’ reminds me a lot of a younger Bob Dylan or even better, Tom Petty. Most would call this psychedelic or psychedelia and I'm not sure that's really right. Sure there is a presence of haze, one that seems to linger especially when he leans on his effects but I would characterize as something that is definitely retro with breezy sixties flourishes, cool Americana. His guitar work is really something.  The ease in which he plays is interesting. Usually those that play with heavy effects seem to have a very serious intensity; each bend, each, pull off looks painful. Slamming feet on pedals like putting out fires. It's not present here. The casualness as Sam goes from effect heavy riffs to clean is almost seamless.
  
The set starts bright, calm and the musicians don’t seem to be particularly worried about the very sparse attendance. It does not go unnoticed as Sam asks us all to text our friends to come down to the show. I can understand where the psychedelic comes from as the first two songs lean quite heavily on the keyboards. They are turned up and the hooks are emphasized. But as the set continues, the keys fall further into the background and there is an effort to really showcase Sam’s guitar work for the rest of the set. They play more of a supportive role, accenting those guitar lines with their own sort of haze; sustain and pads (though at some points I find it hard to distinguish the two). The bassist plays on a Hofner. It fits with the sixties vibe Sam is so often compared to. And it works well, really well. I often found myself singling out his playing. It complemented the complicated guitar pieces while maintaining the rhythm with the drums. Speaking of which, last night was the drummer, David’s birthday. Sam made it a point to say it several times during the set, so even though you probably won’t read this, happy birthday David. The set ends about forty minutes later. They close with a longer piece that allows Sam to really go wild on his guitar. His head rocks back and forth with the short, quick bursts of the bass and drums. I think I would have been disappointed if I hadn’t seen him get lost in a solo tonight.

Ultimately the set had this casualness that you don’t see too often. It’s kind of difficult to explain, like Sam and his band were okay with everything in front of them and everything that could come their way. Like, you want to go grab something to eat casual. It doesn’t really matter if we eat or not, everyone is okay with just relaxing but if we eat, that would be nice too. Everyone just seems really content with where they are and would be just as content with greasy food as they would with playing a marginally crowded club on a Wednesday night. It’s cool.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Ballroom Thieves -- Jammin Java - Apr 19 2016

by John Miller

The Ballroom Thieves - It’s not often that I feel as if I get what’s happening on stage. That’s not to say that I can’t understand or interpret what an artist is doing, it’s just that tonight I feel as if The Ballroom Thieves presented a fully formed vision; one with subtle hints as to what’s to come in their future. The Ballroom Thieves, a folk trio from Boston, are accompanied by a fully fledged string orchestra this evening. There must be over twenty people on stage, all with instruments of varying sizes. I'd be lying if there wasn't some trepidation. It's an intimidating setup, one that was far from expected. It's ambitious to say the least. They are backed by the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra; an outfit not dissimilar to the School of Rock. The group tonight consists of about twenty teenagers conducted under Kevin Oates. The group does an excellent job of really pushing The Ballroom Thieves’ agenda tonight, making their pieces cinematic in scope.

Usually with folk shows the talent is fighting over the sounds of the kitchen; an ensemble of broken dishes and silverware emphasizes the spaces and pauses. That's not the case tonight; immediately the sheer volume overtakes me. Everything is amplified. The resulting compositions sound as if they are part of a larger piece, like a film or hour-long drama and ultimately that raises a couple of interesting questions; firstly does the orchestra with their volume and emotion drown out the smaller subtle parts of songs? With the additional backing, initially it felt as if that may be the case, ultimately though I feel as if that was part of the plan. While we may not be able to hear every slide, breath, or legato, we instead are forced to envision these pieces as something that is greater than the sum of its parts. I was especially worried about the vocals but all three members performed with exceptional gusto. In fact, the vocals were some of the strongest both in volume and emotion that I have heard regardless of genre. The other question that the orchestra backing had me thinking about was about honesty; meaning was their addition unintentionally weight or emotion to The Ballroom Thieves songs? Fortunately the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra took some time to allow the band to breathe on their own midway through the set so I could answer that question.
Initially, guitarist Martin Earley does most of the heavy lifting. His quiet finger picking slides across his acoustic, offering a nice juxtaposition to his strong vocals. Earlier I suspected that the band might be compensating for the orchestra but that was not the case. And as the set continues each member is highlighted as they each take the lead. As they continued, I was surprised how little we heard Calin Peters play her cello. I imagined that we would hear more of that particular instrument once the orchestra left.  When there is but one cello player amongst the typical, it is easy, at least sonically, to pick it out and understand what it is that it adds to the compositions. The anger, rage, confusion, and sadness can completely change the dynamic of a song or even an entire album (see The Ugly Organ). Here Calin has to compete with an entire string orchestra. So aside from a few flourishes any addition that she brings to the pieces is ultimately enveloped by those that play as back up. Fortunately though, she finally picks up here piece and let's go.  It works well with the last piece; Martin finally gets to pummel his guitar and Calin gets to add the flourishes I wrote of earlier.

And it is that last piece that they play without the orchestra that is their strongest. I was surprised with the energy coming from just a bass, tom and crash. Devin does an excellent job of getting the most out of his handicapped set and it really worked well. With some of the earlier pieces it felt as if the backing could be interchangeable, each member a soloist; but without relying too heavily on one particular member the piece really stood out as something important.

The orchestra returns and the score continues; the beat of the drums floods the orchestra. Playing the theme to Game of Thrones reinforces the idea of the cinematic. At this point, I feel as if this idea of cinematic is intentional. Though I am not one for medieval fantasy and dragons, small tours showcasing the power of your songwriting backed by an orchestra is a strong way to sell yourself. The dragon talk continues as they close the set and at this point it seems safe to say that, the band too, feels something cinematic about tonight too. I can see it, there are dragons in their future, and all they need is a good agent. Game of Thrones, How to Train your Dragon, this is folksy traveling music with a little bite. If The Ballroom Thieves are not scoring some medieval adventure in the next decade, then I am not a marginally talented, unemployable, tolerated writer. Get on it guys.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Dandy Warhols - Seratones -- 9:30 Club - Apr 17 2016

Seratones - This is unique--a band from Louisiana sounding like they are from Los Angeles. The swamp rock sound is bit more muted with this band, which makes sense as they are from Shreveport, but they still sound like a tougher Gun Club merged with the Alleycats and the Bags. They are a four piece with a strong rhythm section, a tough and interesting lead guitarist, and a powerhouse female vocalist who adds plenty of rhythm guitar. She reminds me a bit of Dorris Henderson taking a gutsy voice that could easily move into blues, lounge jazz, or folk depending how she plays it. She goes for power here with plenty of control of the emotional swagger in these songs. This flat out rocks with pace. Finally, when singer AJ Haynes puts down the guitar for the last song and takes her mic into the crowd to sing and dance on the closing number, the gathering crowd whoops it up and is clearly stoked about being out for a night of rock'n'roll.
The Dandy Warhols - Time flies... this venerable band has been around 22 years now and this is just the first time I have taken in a show. Their sound shifts from the strong rock opening into that easy going psychedelic pop rock that they have been doing pretty much all of this time. With a firm grasp of a melody, they engage in a relaxed but highly thoughtful way of creating an atmosphere that makes their set every bit as powerful. There are harder psyche bands, as well as those that go deeper into popsike. The Dandies keep it in between, invoking some droning/jamming moves, but retaining the clarity of their individual songs. They mix it up well early on, with Courtney Taylor-Taylor even taking a solo turn with 'Every Day Should be a Holiday' getting the crowd to sing along. The second half of the set slowed a bit making me wonder if they should have mixed up their set list a bit. But they quickly picked it up with some strong finishing songs including a wild psychedelic outing with trippy chanting greatness. This band is a solid unit that knows what they want to do and I hope they want to continue to create their music for another couple of decades. I can't see there fans drifting away, when they continue to play this well.

Facebook Grab of the Day:

Saturday, April 16, 2016

HalfSpeak - Jessica Fichot -- Tree House Lounge - Apr 15 2016

Jessica Fichot - From Los Angeles via France comes this tantalizing singer songwriter who occupies a space that is as wide as the world. As she said late on, I sing in French as that was where I was born, in Spanish since I live in LA, in English because I know that as well, and Russian because I can. Add some Chinese culture from her mother's heritage as well as songs and styles from the 1950s to present and you have as diverse a body a work as you will find. Enjoy a trip around the world for a modest cover charge! Along with her vocals and accordion, she has a band that offers acoustic guitar, stand-up bass, and saxophone/clarinet. While there is a lounge jazz-folk-rock sound at the core, there are many gypsy elements at work and songs that delve into deep areas while others just cut loose and offer up the fun. Her lovely undulating voice rolls around the punchy guitar and bass with the brass and wind instruments winding around the song. And even though it was very early evening with only a dozen or so people here, I have rarely seen a crowd as eager to join in on clapping and singalongs. Keep your radar working in case Ms. Fichot returns for another visit, as you will really have to try hard to not have a highly enjoyable time listening to her set.

HalfSpeak - In typical Tree House fashion, we get the second of four diverse bands, although this will be my last for the evening. This trio offers up a hard dose of powerful rock music yet there is some sort of hardcore punk infusion in there, although it would be wrong to call it that. I was kind of thinking Ch. 3 but since I learn that they are brothers perhaps the LA version of Youth Brigade is the more accurate comparison. These guys can play, but there is something that just is not quite working correctly. It is very hard to pin down, although if pressed I would say that their writing needs work and before even that, there needs to be a better focus on an overall approach. There is plenty of potential here and it is likely early days for them. So I would not mind checking in on the progress down the road a ways.

Facebook Grab of the Night: If you ever needed proof of inflation, here is a price sheet of what the UK bands of 1969 would cost you to book. I know getting Pink Floyd for just under $400 will have you digging in your wallet, but that could work.



Friday, April 15, 2016

PREVIEWS of COMING ATTRACTIONS - Late April 2016

Busy, busy, busy. See as many of the below as you can. I'll try.

The Dandy Warhols are still going strong as will no doubt be evidenced at the 9:30 Club this Sunday night. Be there, dig?


Living Hour occurs at the DC9 on Monday, April 18th.


Operators either perform surgery or take calls at the DC9 on Tuesday the 19th. Or sneak a dance in at the Jammin Java when Ballroom Thieves play there that same night.



Sam Cohen hits the Black Cat on Wednesday, April 20th.


Is Wylder wilder than most bands? Find out at their record release show at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Friday, April 22nd.


American Television and Dot Dash will no doubt put on a fine show at the Velvet Lounge on Saturday the 23rd.


Marc Erelli comes to the Iota on Sunday, April 24th.


See if We Banjo 3 plays 'We Be Soldiers 3' at the Hamilton on Tuesday the 26th. I am guessing they don't, but I may want to see the full set just the same.


Suuns bring the fuun to the DC9 on Wednesday, April 27th.


Bunny Wailer brings his legendary sound to the Howard Theatre on Thursday, April 28th (still kicking myself for not being able to fit an interview into my schedule).


Elliphant stomps on in to the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Friday, April 29th.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Joy Formidable - Everything Everything -- 9:30 Club - Apr 13 2016

by John Miller

Everything Everything - The band are supporting their third release, Get to Heaven tonight, opening for headliners The Joy Formidable. And judging from the significant amount of praise the album has received, they are destined to be Great Britain's next big thing (though the English seem to anoint that title on at least three separate bands a year). The looping and heavy use of computers, get the crowd riled up almost immediately. It's an interesting set up; there are no less than three keyboards that layer their compositions; a mix of progressive, pop, hip hop, and EDM. The guitars are rich and approachable. Unlike the more complicated keyboards, they keep Everything Everything grounded ; an anchor of sorts that prevents the group from floating away with the occasional glam inspired solo. The drums too, are often just that, approachable. The prog-rock leanings would lead one to believe that wouldn't be the case but the multiple keyboards take care of the more frantic and progressive. On more than one occasion, I hear patches that feel as if they were directly lifted from Yes or King Crimson. The slow, deliberate synth sounds often find themselves leading into repeating arpeggios. Jonathan Riggs, the lead vocalist, has quite the impressive range, often singing in a strong falsetto. He is reminiscent of Patrick Stump though relying less on his nasal cavities and you know; better. His range is impressive to say the least. The melodies are often complex; moving from mouthfuls, to the sparse. In fact everything is complicated. There is so much going on but the truly amazing part is despite the tendency for some progressive acts to have their heads far up their collective asses, Everything Everything somehow makes their songs approachable enough to clap along to, dance to. 
The Joy Formidable - A half note, followed by triplets; repeat. It's simple, more so than anything from the previous set. It's as if The Joy Formidable are letting the audience know this is what we plan to lean on, so get prepared to dance. And that simple phrase does just that, repeats; something to hang on to while the guitars and drums kick in, something to fall back on just in case. The second song begins much as the last did; with a simple phrase. It is surprising that the two were played back to back. Is not often that you hear songs so similarly structured played in quick succession. Their next piece quickly explodes, the hand holding comes to an end as the drums crash. And just like that we are off to the races. The solos were particularly inspired. I tend to be partial to acts that talk in between songs. I love the stories, especially those that border on nonsensical, ones that, at best, have a questionable connections. The Joy Formidable are in rare form tonight, often rambling on for several minutes in between songs (topics range from Cuba to dog biscuits). Suffice it say, the soliloquies were varied tonight. I may be remembering the band wrong, but The Joy Formidable kind of remind me of 90s one hit wonders, Republica. I know that may be an easy comparison, considering both are female led and English but there is something about the occasional distortion and undeniable pop layered with loud guitars and booming drums. And I don’t mean for the comparison to come off as disparaging, it’s just the first thing that came to mind. Though as I continue to think about it, I may be wrong. Regardless, it’s a good set and a nice compliment to the more complicated structures from earlier.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Algiers - Sunwolf - Burn to Shine 6 -- Black Cat - Apr 12 2016

by John Miller

Burn to Shine 6 - Burn to Shine is an anthology of short films curated by both Christoph Green and former member of Fugazi, Brendan Canty (the former directing each film in the series). The idea began over a decade ago; the first in the series highlighting Washington DC and since 2004, six have been filmed. Tonight is the third stop of a small six date tour before the sixth film (shot in Atlanta on a sweltering late July day) is released nationally. Each piece begins the same; a group of artists converge on a house destined to be demolished. There is no real narrative to speak of as each band plays one song; a brief interstitial separates them. And each film ends the same; the house is ultimately demolished. These films serve as picture, a brief moment in time, for each respective city’s musical landscape. They act, not only as anthropological pieces, but also eulogies; each film highlighting a vibrant, lively scene shortly before their demise. Before tonight’s festivities, I familiarized myself with the series and watched the Chicago film. It was good; however I didn’t truly appreciate the impact until watching the Atlanta piece tonight. Everything really came together during one of the last shots; Green holds the camera on the teeth of a bulldozer as it slowly stabs this house. He waits for what feels like an impossibly long time until those teeth finally penetrate the structure, then quickly cuts to the home’s insides spilling out. This house was a home just a short moment ago. It’s painful to watch.

Sunwolf - Sunwolf has the dubious task of beginning the musical part of the evening. Locals from DC, this trio also has a Fugazi connection. Sunwolf is built, as I imagine most local bands are, with the pieces of other local bands; singer/songwriter Kalani Tifford recruited both Tom Bunnell from the Felt Letters and Jerry Busher from Fugazi. It's a quick set. Despite the film running a little long, Sunwolf finish their set within half an hour. It's a mix of garage and power pop. The compositions are quick, catchy, and with a more receptive audience, singalongs wouldn't have been out of the question. Following the movie was no easy task; about half the room emptied after its completion and the remaining half seem somewhat distracted from what they just saw. Something is definitely missing from the set and I don't fault Sunwolf. It's tough to follow a piece seeped in nostalgia but they power through it and their music does a good job of trying to lighten up the room again. The last piece is different; they slow things down as the reach the halfway point; quick chords become long, sustaining, whole notes. The drums though continue their steady beat, almost as if they are leading the guitar, a crumb trail back home.
Algiers - The evening ends poetically; despite the good intentions, serving “as a time capsule of that scene on that particular day in that particular city, and as an epitaph for the building the performances take place in”, the Burn to Shine series can be quite depressing. With each film, we witness not only the death of a home but too the death of these very close, amazingly talented communities. As the teeth of the heavy machinery cut into the walls of these homes, Green closes a door. While that particular moment in Atlanta may have died almost a decade ago; Algiers lets us all know that Atlanta still has a lot to offer. Algiers is more rhythmic than anything featured in the Burn to Shine piece this evening. The beats, the constant thud of the drum and the accompanying computer, seep through, and wrap their way around each member. Like the movie, interstitials play a part in Algiers' set. Each piece begins with something out of a Tangerine Dream score. These are quick, progressive pieces that set the table for the songs that follow. It works well and reminds me of Zechs Marquise as well. Algiers, in particular, is a pleasure to watch as the passion for what they are doing is hard to ignore. Usually that passion is most clearly seen in lead vocalist, Franklin James Fisher. It’s worth noting that his melodies are particularly strong. Since the compositions tend to emphasize rhythm, Franklin is often left alone to do the heavy lifting and he does not disappoint.  It's a shame that the room remains sparsely attended. Both bands have put on excellent and varied performances.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Martin Barre -- Ram's Head On Stage - Apr 11 2016

Martin Barre - When a band gets me to travel out of town (Annapolis) just four months after I last saw them and if you know my intense dislike of travel, then you can easily conclude I am a big fan. That said, I was interested in what this new tour had to offer as Martin Barre and his band are delving deeper into the US at the start of this more intensive tour. The previous Jammin Java show was surprisingly excellent, exceeding my moderately high expectations. I also really enjoyed interviewing Martin Barre six weeks back as he was easy and fun to talk with and had several insights into the music business and furthered my Jethro Tull knowledge base.

Tonight it is the same great band as it has been for over a year now. George Lindsay anchors it all on drums and you may not notice him with all the talent downstage, but when I listen carefully I noticed he has just enough artistry to add some subtle touches which add to the song's complexity without getting in the way of the main thrust. Alan Thomson plays bass, some slide guitar and mandolin and is a brilliant progressive player with a quiet fluid style that has worked in the past with such diverse artists as Rick Wakeman and Bo Diddley. So it is easy to see why it works here so well. Dan Crisp provides the vocals and very effective second guitar where he can solo and work around Martin Barre's moves to add an extra layer of excitement to the song.
Of course, the large crowd tonight is excited to see Martin Barre and were not disappointed. Not only was Martin in top form with his playing and creative reworking of Jethro Tull songs, but his energy levels were way up there and between the crowd and the band, this Monday night show was even hotter than the previous show I attended. And it is all the more impressive at a seated club like this one. There were more originals worked into the set and they were accepted well, as the bluesy rock base of each one had plenty of fire within. Of course, the Jethro Tull catalog was explored with fairly faithful renditions (albeit still reworked for two guitars) to songs like a mandolin jig that becomes 'Hymn 43' or the originally mandolin based 'Fat Man' which now becomes guitar based. Even the encore 'Locomotive Breath' which although not one of my personal favorites (especially without the great piano intro), becomes a fresh invigorating version with guitar moves that snake around with dramatic flair until a new beast is formed.

This was a blast for me and you could feel the excitement level rise throughout the night, so this is not a band to be missed if they head to your town or when they return to our area.

Quick plug of the Night: I may not like to travel, but am happy to have attended the Utrecht Record Fair in the Netherlands on three separate occasions (it is a multi-day effort). The 45th fair is this weekend, so if you are anywhere, check it out. It is in a event to behold.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Dolly Rockers -- The Commune - April 8 2016

by John Miller

One of the most painful experiences driving in the city has to be the rush to park, finding said parking blocks away from your destination, and finally seeing all the open spots that you missed as you curse yourself run/walking to the evening's ending. 

Tonight's sparsely attended show comes from The Commune, a house that hosts random gigs for artists ala the now defunct Paperhaus. The venue is located in a small basement off of 15th Street about 2 blocks of southwest The Black Cat. I talked with the showrunner briefly and even though it was somewhat hard to get straight answers (alcohol may or may have been involved) it sounds as if The Commune is open for business. So, while the space may not be the biggest and the PA isn’t the best, there is a space out there for local artists to showcase their work.
Eric from The Dolly Rockers contacted us and I decided to make the trek out. That said if any of you are in a band but lack proper PR, please contact us and we will be happy to come out if our schedules permit. So this is definitely a new thing. Uncertainty dominates the laundry room. Sound check takes a good twenty minutes and the levels are really right but it's a laundry room in the basement of a row home, so I imagine everyone is doing the best they can. More sound checks in between songs. It's trying but with time this stuff will all fade away. The Dolly Rockers, a five piece from Virginia, begin tonight. I can't tell if they are just starting out or not. It's a moderate rock, a little dirty, not a ton of energy is coming from the support. It's a new thing though so perhaps with time the support will match that of the lead singer. Despite the lack of enthusiasm from this small crowd, Eric tries his best to own the room, however its difficult as tonight skews a lot older than I had thought it would (I saw someone nursing their sore knee after a set). Flailing and just moving. When he isn't taking the lead the energy definitely takes a hit. Far be it from me to make suggestions, but when as a band, you have found someone that clearly doesn't give a shit, you lean on that. It's about making a connection with the audience, not giving everyone ample time to do their thing. Forget that noise. People want to see the guy that strains his vocal chords, moves, shakes his fists at nothing, and sweats. Case in point, Going Crazy was exceptional. While sonically, no new ground was necessarily broken, the performance was particularly good.

The night continues much as it started; newer bands playing short, cramped sets. I know all of this sounds somewhat negative, but this is what you sign up for when trying to make it; smaller, cramped gigs. Later on I spoke with Eric about the set and the scene in general. I tried my best to rely some of the little experience I have. We both came to the same, tired conclusion; it’s tough in DC.  

Phil Cook - Dead Tongues -- Black Cat - April 8 2016

Dead Tongues - OK, first let's get the pet peeve out of the way. I don't like the trend of band names for solo projects, although there are complications making this far from a hard and fast pet peeve. Ironically although this is a solo banjoman/guitarist, Phil Cook will next play with a a full band. Anyway, there is some help half way through the set when a keyboardist comes out and adds some organ. That fills it out a bit, but it is still a sparse rural Americana folk at work. There is some blues moves as the resonator guitar has a lot more going on than the more average banjo playing. The vocals of Ryan Gustafson carry his songs further with style and deep thought within. It's a little too laid back for me, but no real faults here.
 photo: David Tanner

Phil Cook - Phil Cook was just here at the DC9 and I made up for missing that show by coming around tonight. I was joined by many, many more than could fit into the DC9, so Phil Cook's personality and great music is really catching fire around town. No surprise as he was in the fine Megafaun and other bands with various Bon Iver comrades. He has got a full band with him called the Guitarheels and they are fully locked into his musical lead. Early in the set, Cook explains that his brain works at the speed of his music which is a midtempo groove that is active, and engaged, but not out of control. It is a good place for your brain and his guitar work makes it a fine place as well. He and the band can really jam well, but they stop well short of being lumped in with jam bands as the songs are strong and balanced with guitar leads and the various choruses and verses. But it is the overall warmth and musical groove that keeps this set engaging from beginning to end. This is definitely music to see in a club and it can really brighten your evening.

Facebook grab of the Day: Since Phil Cook is a 'science guy' when not rocking out, this is appropriate: