Monday, October 20, 2014

Minus the Bear - O'Brother -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Oct 19 2014

O'Brother - I have already decided that the state of Georgia was a surprisingly fertile land for some extremely interesting heavy bands, Mastodon and Kylesa being the most famous of the bunch. So I am not surprised to expand my list further with these eight year veterans I am catching up with finally. They start out ultra heavy with three guitars blazing away atop the powerful rhythm section. There are strange trebly runs that invoke indie rock that has me thinking they are too indie for the doom crowd and possibly too doom for the indie crowd. But they are so good, they can probably pull in a majority of anyone who likes things heavy and creative. The vocals are surprisingly strong as the remind me quite a bit of Queens of the Stone Age at their steadiest and heaviest style. Or perhaps it is as if Josh Homme was jamming with Mogwai? There songs vary enough primarily through the vocal work, that any more comparisons are not terribly important. They impressed me a bunch and this sold out room was warm to them as well. Great start and worth the price of admission alone.

Minus the Bear - But why quit after a great opening set, when you get one of the strongest bands coming out of Seattle since a certain movement captivated the world a couple of decades back? No one was quitting as the packed house was fully engaged in this band's set. Their sound was inviting, but with a cool side to it as well, which they managed to integrate without any awkward transitions. This showed great skill as if Magazine was integrated with Echo & the Bunnymen or the Teardrop Explodes. Or perhaps Minus the Bear's neo-psyche approach is worked into strong songs that could be adapted to other rock styles? The formula is not exactly clear to me, which is always a good thing as it shows this band has confidently taken a creative path resulting in music that is so easy to get into, without being forgotten amidst dozens of other similar bands. I left completely convinced of this band's skill and power.

Photo grab of the Night... This was a facebook post from Christ Stein via Tim Sommer. It follows one of my favorite games of comparing photos in very odd ways... So here we have a fire eating bass player with a scroll eating avenger.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chomp Chomp - Sir EU - Dullard -- Velvet Lounge - Oct 15 2014

Dullard - Thankfully, this gentleman's moniker was not prophetic to what I thought of his set. And it was going to be a challenge tonight as I was hearing electronica and hip hop, usually something I would enjoy at home more than in a club. Dullard was just one guy with his computer and electronic gear, but he managed to cook up a smart set that was a pleasure to listen to. His drum programming was a bit better than average and the overall thickness of the sound worked well for me. Good job.

Sir EU - Jesse aka Chomp Chomp is working the beats for this DC area rapper. I can follow some of it well enough, but at other times the cliches come out in between the fast dialog which is less comprehensible. I am not sure there is a lot of new ground here, but I rather enjoyed a couple of his later raps as he had more interesting lines with just enough innovation on the beat. Enough of the crowd was getting into the set and he delivered the goods quickly and efficiently. So if the local hip hop scene is your scene, Sir EU should be a part of it.
Chomp Chomp - We have another electronica set which does not always excite me in the live setting. However, it seems a really good fit at the small and cozier Velvet Lounge. There was a modest crowd close to twenty who added to the comfort with a bit of dancing and a lot of support. Jesse's music began with a nice pulsating beat that never went into a more annoying throb. He kept it nimble and interesting with various melodic shifts and bursts. The real success in making this set work for me was his tracking where he shifted from darker material to brighter poppier bits before finishing with a grandiose powerhouse. This was the right setting for a pleasant night of music with enough variety to hold attention from beginning to end. So I was happy to attend.

Quote of the Night: From Sir EU... "You people are slaves, I got the microphone."

Yes, but I had the pen.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Zola Jesus plays my favorite Smithsonian Museum, the Hirshhorn this Friday, October 17th.

Minus the Bear will have me pondering their name when I see them on Sunday, October 19th when they hit the Rock'n'Roll Hotel.

Lia Ices coolly welcomes us to autumn at the 9:30 Club, on Monday, October 20th

The Drowners head to the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Tuesday, October 21st (after a meet'n'greet at Doc Martens in Georgetown earlier in the day).

Ocean Blue sails in to play the Jammin Java on Friday, October 24th. They do two shows that night and the first one is already sold out.

Wampire and Tops get you ready for Halloween at the DC9 on Monday, October 27th.

Temples is one of the best bands in the world right now. I caught them at the DC9 a while back and apparently a whole lot of people agree with me as they are now headlining the 9:30 Club on Tuesday, October 28th.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Second Hand Rose -- Atlas Performing Arts Center - Oct 10 2014

Second Hand Rose - Glam rock is one of those nearly lost arts of my youth. There were a few styles of music done then that just don't seem to create the inspiration for younger bands to follow. I think more of it is due to finding like minded musical partners as well as developing the extra layers of skill to make it work. Whatever the reason, my quests will always continue to find these lost arts. Thanks to the Atlas Performing Arts Center, they have provided me my glam fix with this wonderful band from China. For nearly two hours this band created a wild universe of glamor, hard rock, ethnic sounds, and sheer joy. The large crowd was very much into this band as there was a significant Chinese presence in the auditorium. This was rather fun as most of the stage patter was in Chinese and it was amusing to hear people laughing at jokes I couldn't begin to get. Clearly this band is big and very comfortable with their audience. That translated just fine. And musically, with guitar solos wailing away on top of a smooth active rhythm section, there were was plenty to translate to any rock fan. There was also a Dutch guy on percussion and electronics, which gave things an extra bounce. The real wild card was the guy on horns and wooden flutes. He created intense bleats that worked with the guitars, as the sound was as intense as that of the Brian Jones album "The Pipes of Pan at Joujouka". Of course the charisma and vocal force of founding member Liang Long is the commanding presence throughout the set.
I rarely wear a smile as long as I did last night, even at shows that I am enjoying. This band created a world somewhat forgotten to me, where they take the best of Roxy Music, Sadistic Mika Band. and Sweet and toss in psyche and prog moves from many of the classic bands and formed it into something magical of their own. I have had a lot of choices on my schedule and I have been very fortunate to be a bit more adventurous lately and am thrilled that I came to the Atlas tonight, a comfortable venue that will push the boundaries of the club scene into something a bit more worldly. I will be writing me more when I do my 'Ten Best Shows' column at year's end, as this one has a spot reserved there.

Quote of the Night: From Jeroen Groenwegen-Lau in answering Li Ziqiang's lyrical East/West debate... "No. Plastics were invented in the West."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sinkane - Helado Negro - Kahli Abdu -- DC9 - Oct 8 2014

Kahli Abdu - Nigerian singer Kahli Abu starts off tonight with a drummer and an electronics guy who also plays some bass. Abu also plays some synth/electronics and varies his music between raps and R&B crooning. His delivery is silky smooth in both forms and with the fine accompanying sounds, works comfortably as a full and complete set of music. This is good and better than I expected, so full credit to Abdu and his two cohorts for getting this show started off so well.

Helado Negro - I knew the name and thought I had seen him before as this sounded familiar, and sure enough I did catch a set a couple of years ago. Both times it felt a little long as the sound is almost too steady with mostly quieter moments, but overall I am quite impressed by Negro's approach. He has two electronics musicians with him who look like Christmas trees where kids went crazy with the tinsel. The music was quiet and chillingly effective, although the vocal work is what truly stands out. He has a Robbie Basho quivering approach with some experimental Scott Walker moves, although he keeps it a bit more on the straight and narrow than that. Evocative and distant settings are conjured up through this approach and I am sure he would be even more effective late at night through the headphones alone at home. But this was a club, so there was some crowd noise to deal with. The music was of such high quality to have me involved fully in spite of this.
Sinkane - Sinkane comes from Sudan through Brooklyn and has a full band with him to help concoct some of the more fascinating modern psychedelic R&B music for lack of a better term. He calls it fake jazz and that works as well as there are so many elements within these flowing jams that morph into delectable songs. It is as if Isaac Hayes worked with PiL covering Doors songs inspired by Can. I could go on, but that would distract from the deceptively tricky grooves they manage to make sound so warm and simple. This is so easy to get into it, yet with so much going on, it does get your mind spinning. His vocals cut into this music with great purpose and clarity and thus create these fine compositions. This is classy music for a modern age that completes a great night that shows how electronica and/or careful playing can create magic that will blow through any boundaries and barriers you may think you have as a listener. The packed house seemed to agree.

T-shirt of the Night - which is a photograb from Facebook, but has its place tonight and at all too many shows I attend...

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Electric Six - The Soft White Sixties -- Black Cat - Oct 7 2014

The Soft White Sixties - The first thing noticeable with this quartet is that they employ a full time vocalist, well he bashes a tambourine some, but it is surprisingly unusual to have a full time singer in the rock world at the indie level (although it will happen again tonight). The second thing I noticed was how good the rhythm section was at allowing so much room for the one guitar to be playful with the vocals carrying the melody. This worked since the bass had a very fat sound and the drumming had measured and controlled strength at the core. The guitarist also spent a lot of time at the keyboards, which added even further dimensions to these songs. He could spend much of his time in one song on fills and runs, the next on power chords, and the following song on guitar alternating with thick keyboards. The singer was strong and pushed everything up a notch as these songs worked a very broad territory. Yes, there's some soulful and psychedelic sixties elements here, but they were ultimately a rather timeless rock band with good variety and solid personality. There was a nod to an old Fleetwood Mac cut, 'Oh Well' in the final boogie jam concoction, which was quite amazing. This was the DC debut for this San Francisco band and they won over some fans and should be back for a return visit I would imagine (and hope for).
Electric Six - This Detroit band have been regular visitors to DC for a long time now and  have consistently torn it up on stage acquiring an intense core of fans. So although the big room was about half full on this Tuesday night, the intensity was like a Saturday night up front. And this band deserves a lot of fans as they have a great swagger to their highly energized rock'n'roll. They have a firm NY Dollsian based punk rock approach that is always fun, yet they add a Roxy Music flourish with their personality and synth blasts which elevates them beyond so many other decent bands. The humor was good and the singer worked the crowd nicely in the brief moments between songs. This was a blast, pure and simple, and it has been a lot of fun to see so many bands come through lately that make you feel good that you came out to experience the pleasures of live music. Electric Six is as good as that as anyone.

Quote of the Night... From the E.Six's lead singer (with tongue partially in cheek?)... "It's great being out of the midwest--fucking piece of shit."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

20,000 Days on Earth - Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market

By Kyle Schmitt

20,000 Days on Earth draws a hard target on what drives Nick Cave to write and perform. This task proves demanding with a subject whose first confession is that he ceased to be a human being at the end of the 20th century, and he doesn’t necessarily feel bad about it. His attempt to explain how songwriting is about developing a counterpoint starts with an analogy that compares letting a child into the same room “as a Mongolian psychopath” and ends with the phrase “shooting the clown.” Fortunately, directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard manage to extract some lucid explanations from Cave that illuminate exactly what he’s trying to do with his craft. His songwriting attempts to create a world of good guys and bad guys, a place “where God actually exists.” Cave even opens up about his muses: his wife (whose special moments with Cave are “cannibalized in song”) and the town of Brighton, which he claims has been “forcing its way violently” into his music. But he credits his bandmates’ collaboration for helping him transcend his limitations, and Forsyth and Pollard show how Cave’s fellow Bad Seeds bring life to new songs like “Higgs Boson Blues” and “Push the Sky Away” in rehearsals. His lieutenant Warren Ellis shines during these scenes, which feature Ellis comparing a nascent Cave creation to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long (All Night)”, presenting the singer with a well-meaning gift of firecrackers for his children, and recounting the time he made off with Nina Simone’s used chewing gum. Far milder off-stage than his live persona would suggest, Cave explains that a “psychodrama” between himself and the first few rows at his concerts supports the narrative of his songs. He says he strives to make his shows communal and transformative, claiming that, “If you can get to the center of the song, you can become God-like.” Cave comes close to divinity in a striking finale that intercuts an epic “Jubilee Street” performance with live footage of the Birthday Party and vintage Bad Seeds. A provocatively shot documentary of one of rock’s greatest creators, 20,000 Days on Earth plays at Angelika through Thursday, October 9.

Editor's note... And to celebrate the rerelease of the Pop Group's vast archives of material upcoming on Freaks R Us Records (through Kartel), beginning this October 21st, here's Nick Cave talking about this important band...

Monday, October 6, 2014

King Tuff - Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires -- Black Cat - Oct 4 2014

By Kyle Schmitt (@KyleRadioviolet)

Lee Bains III and The Glory Fires were so loud I could only watch comfortably from the very back table of the Black Cat’s elevated seating area. A spirited delivery engaged the whole room, however, and this group (particularly the Williamson brothers rhythm section) ripped it up in their opening set. Birmingham native Bains wears his southern heritage and liberalism like badges, and delivered a grad school civics course onstage, tackling subjects ranging from Medicaid expansion to American imperialism in his lyrics. The song “We Dare Defend Our Rights” takes a dim view of Alabama’s state motto in the wake of the state passing its own “show me your papers” law aimed at immigrants. Bains’ lyrics link different eras by comparing “four little girls in Sunday school” with “the hijos watching Papa patted down in the blue lights and siren’s noise.” There were positive memories to convey too, as Bains sang of his father kicking back and watching 1970s stock-car races in “Dirt Track.” He delivered an unflinching look at his state’s highs and lows, then sported an Alabama baseball cap while greeting fans post-show. 
King Tuff was fittingly introduced with smoke and the Ghostbusters theme song. His crew brought a lighthearted attitude to the stage, drawing hearty approvals from a favorable crowd just by asking if they want to hear another song. Tuff sounds best while howling over his own riffage, as on “Wild Desire” and “Freak When I’m Dead”. But he showed welcome versatility when he kept the vocals subdued while imploring, “I wanna shine / so show me your secret.” While Tuff hit his highlight with a fiery “Bad Thing”, his ethos was best represented on “Biggest Hearts”. He admits to having “scraggly hair and wild eyes” while asserting that scary-looking schlubs can be the kindest and most generous dudes around. Credit for his powerful three-man set also goes to bassist Magic Jake, who threw free t-shirts to fans after Tuff broke a guitar string, and drummer Old Gary, who Tuff accused of farting black smoke. 

Esoterica: Quote of the Night goes to King Tuff after laying eyes on an Orioles fan: “I see a Baltimore cap out there … I’m from Detroit.” He then affirmed that he was here not for the ongoing O’s-Tigers playoff series, but for rock ’n roll and to party with everyone… Tuff’s merch table puts one in the mood for Halloween. There are Frankenstein and hooded skull t-shirts, the latter of which “glows in the dark” according to a saleslady wearing ghoulish green facepaint … The guy sitting next to me in the Black Cat’s street-level cafe complained that some bully was making fun of his blond mullet. An hour later, a woman took a surreptitious camera-phone shot of the haircut in question while standing 10 feet behind him.

Ex Hex - Speedy Ortiz - Teen Liver - Black Cat -- Oct 5 2014

Teen Liver - Second time around for me with this local trio and I am looking forward to it. I recognize the rhythm section as brothers from a more recognized local band. Yet, this is my band of choice as Teen Liver nails a garage punk style far better than most. It is like the vocals and songs of the Dickies with the thick murky primordial ooze of the band Crime. You can also hear that raw punk sound of the early Dicks, the Flesheaters and the Controllers, and many more bands who just knew enough about their instruments to create amazingly raw, feral rock songs with pop hooks. I will always be listening to music like this for as long as I have ears.

Speedy Ortiz - Wow, I hear about one hundred 'alternative' bands worth of sound in the songs of this twin guitar rock outfit. I could name all the suspects... Sugar, Dinosaur Jr., Minutemen, Nirvana, Sebadoh, etc., but Northampton Mass's Speedy Ortiz has their own personality and has the chops to share a festival stage with any of the bands that perfected that 'beyond punk' brand of of rock music in the late 1980s and beyond. The songs are a bit more oblique here and I am more impressed by the overall sound and skillful playing than the writing, but that may be corrected by more album listening as it may take a few spins for me. Their newer material seemed a bit more song oriented and occasionally slowed it down a bit, but there are still great guitar slashing moments that get my eyebrows up in the air. I enjoyed the 44 minute set as did the really large crowd here tonight to witness this exciting bill.
Ex Hex - This is really simple pop-punk. This trio is all female, which is nothing terribly new these days (thankfully) but I mention it since they all sing and manage to create some nice vocal variations and harmonies. There is nothing terribly flashy in their playing, but they do grab onto a groove and manage to elevate their pop songs into something a bit extra special. It is hard to see exactly why this works so well, yet it does. One thing I noted was how familiar I am with many of these songs, even though I only heard their new album one time about two or three weeks back. If that is the case, then clearly these three have a knack for writing solid pop songs that stay with you. And that will make for a great show or great album. Fun, fun, fun on this Sunday night.

Quote of the Night: And here we are with the last quote that I have pulled from Tom Hawking's article... "The 30 Harshest Musician-on-Musician Insults in History". It was a fine list with a few that will stay with me. This is number one on his list...

1. Tupac on The Notorious BIG
 - All of “Hit ‘Em Up,” really, but particularly this: “I fucked your bitch, you fat motherfucker.”

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Gardens & Villa - Sandy Alex G -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Oct 4 2014

Sandy Alex G - This Philadelphia quartet was described to me as slacker rock, which was evident from start to finish in their set. They were laid back pretty much every step of the way, yet they still managed to add many twists and turns along their meandering path to create a vibrant 41 minutes of music. They could be thick and chunky or loose and jangly with easy psychedelic vocals that carried the tunes. This was quite enjoyable and the style and band's quirky humor worked well with the crowd. There was just enough skill in the guitar runs and a few songs that showed craftiness that belied their slacker image, but they are all the better for that. There certainly is nothing wrong with developing the skills so you can relax and use them well.

Gardens & Villa - The club is about half full tonight, but it would look even more full if this was the normal crowd of hangers-about. Instead, just about everyone has pushed forward as they are very much into what this fine pop band is doing. The sound is ultra-smooth from the clean soaring vocals to the shimmering pop sounds that are more keyboard than guitar all working off of a snappy rhythm section. This is a great sound that harkens back to the great 80s synth pop, but is also much smarter than some of that. The songs have hooks and just enough variety to keep me engaged. This is one of those bands that can win over a lot of fans from other genres, since they can rock out and have loads of skills. But they have plenty of their own fans here tonight and gave all of them a great Saturday night out.

Quote of the Night: From the opening band introducing their last song... "I think a lot of people are going to like this song because it's the best song ever written."

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


The fine Belgian record label Hypertension has released record number three of their five planned albums featuring two artists on one 12" record album. The first two releases were quite exciting and this delivers yet another two interesting bands that carve out significant creative space in the musical universe.

Drums are for Parades engages in trippy dark psychedelic ambiance to coin a genre. Just when you settle in, they twist the tones around to put you on the edge of your seat. Thoughtful music for the dark krautrock fans of old and new. Highly interesting and engaging, this.

Sardonis is more in the nu-metal camp. They play thick instrumentals and the first cut has a dancing folk melodic quality that reminds me of Black Sabbath meeting Circulus. I love classic melodies and Sardonis delivers them with real panache. They may need some variety as they go beyond these four songs, but this is exciting material and they likely can grow from this.

This is one tasty album. And for me, that usually means there is intelligence afoot in the songwriting with crisp mid-tempo rock arrangements. There is a lot of that here with some songs veering toward pop, but most having either a rootsy base or more ethereal rock moves. The vocals are steady with a pullback on emotions rather than an in your face thrust. The drums, bass, and guitar playing is all nimble and well done. There are even a few songs where the fuzz guitar achieves some of thickest fuzz sound I have heard, perhaps more disarming within the context of these clever songs. This is a high quality album that has me bouncing along throughout the 11 songs.

I will be out of town, but you should head over to the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Sunday, October 12th to see what these guys can do on stage.

Songs to try first:

Kings and Queens - A sharp little rock song with a cliff walking ending.

We Come from the Same Place - The busy playing is so smooth, that it flows like thick chords.

Bright Eyes - I am not sure which I like more, the call and response vocals or the fuzz lead guitar.

This Japanese band seems more psycho than psychedelic, but there is a method in their madness. Vocals pull back or scream out. Guitars slash away like chainsaws at post-punk party. The rhythm section pulsates once and then hits that Big Black overdrive next. There are quieter psychedelic moments such as in the nearly ten minute "Mukaeni Ikenai", but this is mostly a heavy affair. But there is intrigue around every corner as this band adds some extra spice to familiar ingredients. At times, it gets a little too noodling, but there is enough inner strength to keep it flowing. This is definitely a band I'll be listening to again and again.

Songs to try first:

Psychedelic Misemono Goya (reprise) - This grinder is way cool.

Slider - A lot of sliding, slashing, confrontational tones merging together into a great song.

Maki-Modoshi - Spaceman 3 gone funk? Believe it!

The Nerves are not as known as they should be, as they were an excellent LA pop-punk band. Even if you don't know them, you may know one of their songs, "Hanging on the Telephone" which was covered by Blondie. Collins was the drummer, but has played guitar, sang, written, and pretty much done it all in his solo career or with his band, the Beat. Extremely catchy music has been the connector between it all no matter what genre leaning is going on, and nothing has changed here. These 12 songs are likely to be even more hook oriented than many a modern pop album you could pull up, so give this a listen.

Songs to try first:

Feel the Noise - The title cut features rip roaring guitars with the expected pop hooks.

Baby I Want You - Gutsy vocals here to remind you that pop music can be tough and vibrant.

Don't Know How to Treat a Lady - This brings back the 60s from the Beau Brummels to the Byrds, all with a rocking drive.

There are many bands cropping up that bridge the '60s Punk' style with the '70s Punk' attack. In fact, from the Ramones onward, there was often a look back to 1960s pop and garage psyche-rock. Ex Hex captures all of this with an emphasis on pop songs played with Ramones pace. There are several shades of light and heavy shifting throughout these 12 songs, but the hooks and spirit are there in every one of them. I hear some of that charming Shonen Knife feeling here as well. The guitar work is crisp, the rhythms steady, and the vocals expressive. Add those catchy melodies and it is terribly difficult to avoid having fun listening to this music.

Catch this band this Sunday night at the Black Cat!

Songs to try first:

You Fell Apart - Real drive in this with fun lyrics.

How You Got that Girl - On the lighter side, which showcases their great pop style.

New Kid - Killer guitar runs lift this pop gem up.

Freeman is actually Aaron Freeman, who more people know as Gene Ween. With the Ween band in either hibernation or deep freeze storage, depending who you talk to, it is great to see Gene Ween active again under his real name. These songs are sometimes folky, sometimes rocky, with loads of the expected twists, turns, and even a few roller coaster dips here and there. It is a fun ride, with crazed lyrical twists to keep attention high. Even if he was humming, there are enough pop hooks and cool musical twists to keep the attention there as well. So basically this is a creative album with no loose spots or throwaway moments.

And be sure to come to the Rock'n'Roll Hotel show this Thursday night

Songs to try first:

Covert Discretion - The opening cut starts out delicately and ends with fury. Consider yourself awake.

I Couldn't Play my Guitar Like a Man - subtitle (for a while) as now he clearly can.

El Shaddai - Great Eastern moves always work with me.

Good pop moves are at work here in the writing and execution of these ten songs from this London collective. I hear elements from the Beatles to power pop to dream pop and much more in these arrangements that layer in sounds that alternately give room for the vocals and then thicken up the atmosphere to a more intense flow. There are a lot of exciting contrasts at work with smooth slightly understated female vocals pulling it together. Pop fans and rock fans that enjoy contrasting moves within an album should give this album a listen. There is a lot to like on it.

Songs to try first:

Tame - A touch of the whimsical Beatles pop early in this cut.

Keep Wondering - More assertive guitars add a stronger rock element, yet the vocals retain a light airy feel.

Don't You Wanna be Mine - Gutsy popsike number with some heavy sounds alternating between spritely passages.

More modern pop music for you on this album, which may be getting a bit excessive for me this month. Fortunately, Lia Ices has plenty of personality evident in her vocals and there are a variety of strong instruments percolating throughout these songs to keep me listening. This is not a style I would otherwise gravitate toward, but the sense of mystery and focus is more compelling than most of this ilk.

And try this out live at the 9:30 Club on Monday, October 20th.

Songs to try first:

Thousand Eyes - laid back journey by stream while looking at the clouds with two of those thousand eyes.

Love Ices - punchy percussion, tricky vocal effects and a nice melody add up to an intriguing song.

How We Are - Great intro passage and a nice build to this rhythmic song.

Pretty much only hardcore folkies who know their history will know how much of a compliment I am paying Itasca when I compare them to Joan Mills & Mike Raven. Yes, the female voice and acoustic guitar combo has been done often, but Itasca captures that deep woods psyche vibe that Mills & Raven cooked up so well in the early 1970s. There are moments where it gets as mystical as Book of AM and others that are a bit closer to straight folk. But nothing is terribly light here, there are layers of dreams slowing opening up in these eleven songs. This is one of the finer folk albums of the year.

Songs to try first:

Alleyway - The second cut establishes the Mills/Raven style that grabs attention.

The Hermit's View - Add a haunting flute with the haunting vocals and it's all the more powerful.

Nature's Gift - There is just a wee bit more tension with the restraint shown in the pace.

I can get pretty cynical about newer versions of punk rock these days. But when bands do it right, it still is a blast to listen to along side the classics that I still turn to. And all the better when I get to hear a great voice from the past in front of a new band that can deliver the goods. Dayton's Ed Pittman formed one of the finest midwest punk bands Toxic Reasons some 35 years ago. His new band, the New Regrets has much of the same intensity with that classic midwest straight ahead rock style that is rooted in hard rock of old, but played with punk rock pace and fury. It is especially great to hear that Ed still has the fire both in the lyrics and his voice to rouse the dead. So kick in to top gear with these five songs and reconnect to your own fire within.

Normally I run cold on electronica pop music, but Populous manages to integrate some ambient sounds and outsider bits that make this a lot more interesting than I would have guessed. There are still some songs that follow basic electropop patterns and fail to move me much at all, but with various guests and some creative touches, there may be something here that works as well for you as it does for me… and likely better. 'Vu' featuring Clap Clap and 'Quad Boogie' featuring Digi G'Alessio are a couple of cuts that work for me.

This is a surprisingly straight up pop record album. It should not be surprising, but when I don't hear much electronica, things that are overly dreamy, or any of the other modern touches, it is a bit unusual these days. Actually, there are some dreamy tones, but it still sounds almost dated in a good way. I am reminded of early 1970s which wasn't always good for pop music, but had its moments. This is not as dense as Abba, but it has some of the vocal qualities that takes me back there. It is not consistently exciting to me, but is surprisingly original and well thought out. Pop fans should definitely take a listen.

Songs to try first:

Dream the Dare - I am daring to dream this is Abba reborn.

Twins - Dancing melody with sharper vocals splitting into the mix.

Only Lonely Lovers - Breezy vocals over thicker sounds with a real feel-good vibe throughout.

I like just about every Toronto band I listen to and here is yet another whose third album is good enough to make me want to hunt down the earlier efforts and see what I missed. There are certainly some rural heartland elements at the cores of these songs, but there is a strong rock experience in most of them with huge sounds and vibrant melodic jabs working off the strong drumming. I have heard variations of this sound before, perhaps no more so than in the Decemberists when they were really rocking. I have no problem with the similarities when the music works as well as this. I would really enjoy a live show, so hopefully that is next.

Be sure to put down November 11th on your calendar as the night to see this band live at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel.

Songs to try first:

Our Love - The opener is both epic and intimate with an exciting arrangement.

Terrified - Tension created with quiet acoustic guitars battling loud electric guitars.

Not Love or Death - Strong rocker with thunderous drums.

Unlike Pure Bathing Culture, Slow Magic is clearly working in the modern electronic pop domain. The dreamy vocals are woven in between the many pulsating beats and melodies. Unfortunately, this music disarms me more than creates any magic. If your pop sensibilities run counter to mine (and in many cases, they surely will), you may want to try out this album as it has an interesting mix of sharp tones and soft textures. I like the attempts at contrast, but was still not left with enough of a change for me to fully embrace. I did rather enjoy the live effort a few weeks back.

I saw a video interview interview of Mike Patton who broke from his train of thought and said 'god, Wolfmother, what decade are we in?'. If you are someone like that who does not want to revisit the days of hard rock with younger 21st century bands, then you may not want to visit this album. But for anyone who likes that style, this fine local band dishes up some gutsy rock songs. They have the right amount of strength in guitars and the rhythm section to keep it invigorating. The vocals are good and some of the tunes stand out as well crafted songs. The recording is no frills, straight ahead with everything clear enough to get a taste of what they can do live, which is where this music plays out best. Check this DC area band out some time, hard rockers,

Songs to try first:

Don't Wanna Let It - Heavy with a good tune at he core.

Feelin' Around - Tuneful cut with some keyboards and punchy rhythms.

Poison Ida - There is some good wah-wah, but I just like the title with its hint at a certain great band.


We have eight songs here on this short LP, which offers plenty of gutsy songs from this Toronto quartet to grab on to and figure out what Teenanger is about. Their second song is called 'Sky Saxon'--now honestly, do you need to know anything more? Of course it is garage rock at its finest--complete with a wide as the world sneer in the vocals and even an extra post-punk attack in the instrumentation that has a bit more snarl than mere fuzz. There is a more deeper darker tone that fits better in to a post-punk world, so Teenanger has affected an interesting hybrid here. I think thoughtful rock fans will find something quite interesting here. I did.

This California trio has a great command of that state's tradition of marrying power pop and punk rock. Sure the hooks are here with great driving guitar and potent rhythm section, but the vocals also carry this forward with class. Just four songs here, but that was more than enough to get me hopping around and shaking my head to these lovely songs. They have that perfect balance of accessibility and edginess that I really hope to hear when I want to have fun and rock out (without turning off my brain). Ted Leo fans, check this out.

Even lo-fi punk can go a variety of ways. This Memphis outfit has a twisted psychedelic approach at times with arty guitars fed through harsh blender pre-amps. Twisted vocal work and oddball melodies complete the picture, as much as it can be. It is as if Chrome added members from Man or Astroman and Pere Ubu and let them cut loose with their signature sounds. In other words, an interesting album we have here. Not for everyone, nor should it be as that is what makes it fun. I recommend listening to all of it as this style sounds well enough early on, but the full effect is a winning formula that may have you hopping about the room by the time it finishes.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Preview of Coming Attractions: Early October, 2014

Dive into Fall with some of these offerings...

The Walkmen saunter on in to the 9:30 Club on Friday, the 3rd.

Gardens & Villa blooms at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Saturday, the 4th.

Ex Hex heads a great bill with Speedy Ortiz and locals Teen Liver at the Black Cat this Sunday, the 5th. Be there

yMusic heads to the Hamilton on Monday, October 6th and the answer will be obvious.

Get your groove on with Sinkane who comes to the DC9 on Wednesday, Octobeer 8th.

Second Hand Rose comes all the way from the far far East to play the Atlas on Friday, October 10th.

Landlady leases space at the Black Cat on Monday, October 13th.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Onward Chariots - J. Lima Foxtrot -- Galaxy Hut - Sep 28 2014

J. Lima Foxtrot - These are early days for this interesting Virginia outfit. They feature a couple of guitars with lead female vocals and backing male vocals. There is a rhythm section and some synthesizers used by the guitarists. The synthesizers work with the guitars in an interesting (and occasionally fun and cheesy) manner to bring out older and newer pop forms. The sound was slow to develop as nothing seemed to be balanced and even cohesive early on. After a short delay, the sound man sorted it out and corrected the biggest problem by elevating the lead vocals. The songs were more impressive after that and some of the guitar moves were pretty cool. You could see some of the uncertainty in the playing (endings are always a giveaway) but again it is early days and there is some promise here for sure.
Onward Chariots - I have not seen this Brooklyn quartet for a while, which is my loss as is a pleasure to catch a live set from this quirky pop band. They have a new bass player who fit like a glove with the drummer and lead guitar leaving singer Ben Morrs to add a variety of keyboard runs and/or guitar to the songs. All of the interesting pop moves are there which range from arty to fresh and innocent. There is also plenty of place and strong rock moves in many of the songs as their set shines with variety as well as personality. The breezy style with the Jonathan Richman charm works well here in this cozy environment. The Galaxy Hut only holds 66 people and the few dozen who were here tonight dug into the music and had a fine time. Do seek out this band on one of their regular trips to our area, as they have an approach that could well delight you.

Quote of the Night: I head back to the Tom Hawking List of the 30 harshest musician on musician quotes and this maybe number 2 on his list, but it's number 1 for me...

2. Anton Newcombe on Eric Clapton
, “People talk about Eric Clapton. What has he ever done except throw his baby off a fuckin’ ledge and write a song about it?”

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Slow Magic - Kodak to Graph - Daktyl -- DC9 - Sep 23 2014

Daktyl - Perhaps my re-entry into the club scene after a week off would have been better served at a rock show and not three solo electronica acts. This first set featured a lot of sampled vocals and music that went from a dull lush to a better thicker sound. At the half-way point, a guy I know came by and wondered exactly how I was roped into this tonight.

Kodak to Graph - More solo electronics with a little better effort in the building of the layers of sound. The dancing picked up as well, as the club was filling rather well. So the crowd was happy.
Slow Magic - I have heard the most recent album and will review it next week, so I knew a little of what to expect. This is the most fully formed music in my book and I did enjoy the live percussion he was energetically engaged in. He also had a cool mask that lit up and changed colors, so the visual of a guy at a table was enhanced. Good energy here and the crowd picked up on it. As I have said before, this style can work for me, but it has to be done really well. Still, if there is anyone out there that can write about this music in a modern context, send me an email as my regular readers deserve something I am not sure I will ever be able to provide.

Photo Grab of the Night: This one has been around a while, but fits...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Justin Townes Earle - American Aquarium -- Sep 16 2014

American Aquarium - This Raleigh band features a whole lot of guitars. The lead vocalist plays acoustic in front of two electric guitarists and one steel guitar who occasionally dabbles with keyboards. There is a rhythm section as well, and initially I am rather surprised that so many instruments creates such a light sound. Eventually the arrangements improve and take shape with a certain finesse as they enhance the rootsy songs. I prefer the keyboards over the steel (as usual) as they offer something different to work under the swirling lead guitars that elevated a few of these songs into something quite cool. They had a long set of 47 minutes to showcase enough quality to get the audience sufficiently warmed up with more than a few of them likely becoming new fans.
Justin Townes Earle - I've enjoyed Earle's music for some time now. His dark, wry style with a deep mean streak makes his hybrid of country-folk-roots music edgy and exciting. Tonight, he has a rhythm section and guitarist/steel guitarist whom I recognize from a previous tour. The band is solid and fully engaged in the dark yet attractive atmosphere of the songs. Initially, the sound was not there as the vocals were not coming through (kind of important here). The soundman righted that issue quickly enough and there were no distractions thereafter, as the set flowed smoothly. I like the edge of these intense songs with such smooth stylish delivery as that contrast keeps my mind fully engaged, unlike many other bands that play in this general style. Earle's songs are rather timeless and don't comfortably fit any genre or place, which makes them all the better for it. This is the first of two nights and if you have not experienced him on stage, you should head on out to the Birchmere tonight. He's always worth the effort.

Quote of the Night: Justin Townes Earle talking about how he probably will never write happy songs... "One of the worst things in the world is a song that feels better than you do."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ty Segall - Wand -- 9:30 Club - Sep 15 2014

By Kyle Schmitt

Wand - A spare drum kit was shoved to the front of the stage despite the headliner’s kit not even being assembled. Four guys came out to begin and end their first song with white noise, throwing in a noisy screech mid-tune for consistency’s sake. The singer/guitarist and drummer seem to drive this train, to the extent that Wand almost seems like two separate units (this may be due to the singer standing stage left, territory Ty Segall himself would later claim). Traditional song structure was thrown out for this set, as the singer only spoke when he had something to say. Wand possesses an insistent quality to their music, and sparsely applied vocal melodies and guitar shimmers augment an unrelenting sound. Their set ended with accordant heaviness and the drummer bashing his ride cymbal like an eight-year-old killing a piƱata. 

Ty Segall - With his band looking vintage western glam, Segall kept the crowd physically engaged throughout his set. His four-piece tore into “Susie Thumb” and “Thank God for Sinners”, inspiring handclaps and eventually much stage-diving. Maintaining fire throughout his performance, Segall makes it through at least one verse per song before succumbing to his id and facing side-stage to launch another joyous solo. Segall took on a directorial role with some fans, plotting the journey of one crowd surfer from the front of the stage to the venue’s rear, and then rooting on the man’s subsequent return with cries of “Bring him back!” He concluded his encore by thrashing through “Girlfriend” and - what else? - completing his third stage dive of the night. While the man has released enough material that even the great Manipulator isn’t necessarily a career peak, Segall ensures that anyone who catches him live will stick around for his next move.

Esoterica: While others were throwing their bodies off the stage, one enterprising fan tossed a notebook at the band. According to Segall, “I would read it out loud, but it’s personal.” … His “manager” Jimmy introduced the band onstage, claiming he discovered the band in a Jupiter saloon and paying tribute to DC owning his favorite basketball team, the Washington Generals …


Here are some of the fun and intriguing shows that I hope to see coming to a DC club near me and you.

Justin Townes Earle brings his interesting perspectives and great songs to the Birchmere for TWO shows, tonight and tomorrow, Wednesday the 17th.

There's an important show by the Mix at the Electric Maid tonight (Tuesday the 16th). They are a German band filled with disabled members speaking out for all people with autism and other disabilities. And from what I hear, the show will be featuring lots of ABILITY.

Beverly with DC favorite Frankie Rose in the band will be at the 9:30 Club on Wednesday, Sep 17th.

Masterson plays the Jammin Java in Vienna on Friday, Sep 19th.

The Growlers return to the Black Cat on Saturday, Sep 20th.

Holychild takes stage at the 9:30 Club on Monday, Sep 22nd.

Slow Magic works its... er, tricks at the DC9 on Tuesday, Sep 23rd.

Slow Magic // Girls - Live On Tour from SneakyBoy on Vimeo.

Pure Bathing Culture and Tennis play a few sets at the 9:30 Club on Thursday, Sep 24th.

Bo Ningen plays with Kasabian on Sunday, Sep 27th at the 9:30 Club.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Man... or Astro-man? - The Pack A.D. - Wray -- Black Cat - Sep 14 2014

Wray - A Birmingham trio is up first, and despite the working in of a ferocious shoegaze sound, this is actually the Alabama side of Birmingham, not England. The vocals are where the floating dreamy ambiance occurs. Underneath is a ferocious churning rhythm section and grinding guitar moves that is quite exciting. At times it shares a droning feel, although it is quite busy so it has a different feel. The audience is probably not digging in as much as I am, but there are clearly many people up front that are hooked. I love the brisk and punchy energetic sounds rolling on and on, unyielding. If these guys can work up a few more creative flourishes, they could have something really great. As it is now, it works for me. And post first draft review note... The band accurately describes their sound on Facebook: powergaze.

The Pack A.D. - Yet another guitar and drums duo, this time it is all female with both chipping in on vocals. There is a primitive punk beat within this fierce blues-rock structure in a manner you would expect. They have a fine personal style that makes this cliched format work a bit better than most. Still, it is that guitar and drums thing I have heard too many times to get terribly excited about. One more instrument would add a lot. These two are talented and it is a decent set as it is, but I would like to see more next time through.
Man... or Astro-Man? - These guys tore it up last time through, in one of the best shows of the year. Tonight, it was not quite in that league. I was pretty tired from my schedule, so between that and this Sunday night, I think the edge was off a little. But the band somewhat agreed telling the crowd that they gave themselves a high C grade after a few songs, where they had broken strings and other problems. It was also the last night of the tour, so I was not the only tired one in the room. Yet even with these problems, the songs were still pretty awesome as this band plays some of the more creative and ferocious variety of surf-garage rock that you will ever want to hear. So they still gave me a good kick in the butt with their pace and power and had wild melodic runs zipping around my ears the entire time. This is one of the most reliable bands to deliver a fun high energy set, and even with a few screw-ups, they did it again tonight.

Quote of the Night: Three left in the countdown to finish off the list of worst musician on musician quotes compiled by Tom Hawking.

3. Morrissey on Brett Anderson
“He’ll never forgive God for not making him Angie Bowie.”

Sunday, September 14, 2014

King Crimson -- Kimmel Center (Philadelphia) - Sep 13 2014

King Crimson - A train trip to Philadelphia is a small price to pay to see a full-band (and then some) King Crimson performance. The striking sound is evident before they hit a note as there are three full drum kits downstage to be manned by longtime Crimsonite Pat Matstelotto, Bill Rieflin (REM, NIN), and Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree). Rieflin has some electronics.synthesizer he works at various times while the other two engage in percussion beyond their kits. They vary the sound from a three-part barrage to intricate weavings of individual drum patterns. It all works even better than I expected, especially since this is a heavy set. The four players upstage are Robert Fripp of course, joined by Jakko Jakszyk on guitar and vocals and flute, veteran cohort Tony Levin on basses, and classic era band member, Mel Collins on saxophones and flutes. The players were all brilliant and even with all the heavy percussion and strong songs, there was clarity throughout. Collins and Fripp were on opposite sides of the stage each blasting away and tonally meeting to the point that their instruments sounded nearly identical at times. There were older cuts as well as new, instrumentals as well as vocal workouts, all of which worked in balance. Jacszyk's vocals were powerful and Levin offered some effective harmony in a few of the cuts. This was a majestic hall with four levels of seating (reminding me of the Strathmore) and showcased the band perfectly. The crowd around me was fully engaged throughout, some traveling much further than I to attend. Considering Robert Fripp was quoted in 2012 with "my life as a professional musician is a joyless exercise in futility", there are a whole lot of people thankful that he has soldiered on and surrounded himself with people who obviously took great joy in playing tonight. Mel Collins not only sounded brilliant, but was all smiles acknowledging the crowd afterward. It would be easy for Robert Fripp to pack it in, but thankfully he assembled this great crew to put out a powerful 2-hour set that just about everyone will remember for a long time.

Set List (from as I didn't take notes, but it seems correct)...
Lark's Tongue in Aspic, Pt 1, Level Five, A Scarcity of Miracles, Pictures of a City, One More Red Nightmare, Hells Bells, The Letters, Sailor's Tale, Hell-Hounds of Krim, VROOOM, Coda: Marine 475, The Light of Day, The Talking Drum, Lark's Tongue in Aspic, Pt2, Red, Starless, Encore: HooDoo, 21st Century Schizoid Man

Quote of the Night: from the usher in my front section... "What is it with all the men here, I've never seen so few women!"

We chatted a bit more as I chuckled and looked around and noticed he was correct (making me feel like I was in a high school science club reunion). Although the numbers did improve as the final seats were filled, I was thinking that although some forms of music started male-heavy but adapted over the years (punk, metal), progressive music may still a domain mostly for the guys. And perhaps the heavier rocking prog bands are even more the model, as I believe Rush may have ratios like this. Thankfully more women drifted in with some taking seats near me and were digging everything every bit as much as the guys. There were even some younger fans as well, so all is well in the end.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Revely - The Deep Space Network - Eileen Graham - Jann Klose -- Ebeneezers - Sep 12 2014

Jann Klose - This is my first trip to Ebeneezers Coffeehouse and based on tonight, it will not be my last. And if they continue to book great acts like this German-born, international traveler Jann Klose, I will be back plenty. Klose has one of the best voices you will find in the clubs. He plays a strong acoustic guitar, which is mostly plucked, with an occasional foray into fingerstyle. After hearing a few songs, it is no surprise to learn that he was cast as the voice of Tim Buckley in a recent film about Tim and Jeff Buckley, as there are few voices that can get anywhere near that of Tim Buckley (who is also an absolute giant that more people need to listen to). Klose did a great version of Tim Buckley's "Song to a Siren" and although his voice is a little different, he exploded into a sustained high register at the end which had the audience gasping. The audience was completely enchanted and enthused by this set and I don't know who was more surprised, Klose or myself. It was a great crowd that even started clapping along to a song near the end causing Klose to raise his eyebrows and comment that he didn't even have to say anything. Jann Klose's folk style is too powerful to be contained in just that genre. He is a fine songwriter whose powerful presence should win over just about any audience on any stage.

Eileen Graham - Local singer songwriter (and voice coach) Eileen Graham is on piano and vocals with Luke Brindley assisting on guitar and electronic kick pad. Sadley, there was a cord or amp problem that snuck in and out of the set at various times, but the musicians soldiered on and it wasn't that bad until the final cut, which wisely turned more into an acapella outing with the audience clapping along to help it out. And again, the audience was enchanted by Graham's set which featured many fine songs in a classic singer songwriter style that was rock, pop, folk, slightly rootsy, all quite warm at the heart of it. The guitar parts added fine tonal coloring often in the way Michio Kurihara adds color to the songs of Daman & Naomi. This set reminds me a lot of that, although Graham's voice is much more powerful. I enjoyed her music and the arrangements were crafty and worked well in this comfortable live setting.

The Deep Space Network - This Fredericksburg Virginia band is not the space rockers like Hawkwind or Spacious Mind that I had hoped for and instead, display a rather clean attractive pop rock sound. It is a little too pretty and controlled for me, but they do it well. The audience who is sticking around through the many styles of music tonight is taking to the tunes well enough and the band is friendly with a touch of humor as well. The sound did not work well enough for me. The drums were too dominant in the mix and the fuzzy bass thickened things in a muddy sort of way. Whether it was that the guitarists' amps were pointed backwards or whatever other choices were made, that sound was a bit too compressed. But they played hard and had a song or two that worked and others that had my mind wandering. Still, this is a fine band for this style.
Revely - This area quintet is fairly described as a Christian rock, but don't turn off your brain just yet. Christian folk and rock were quite decent and downright exciting back in the 1960s and 70s. Then it got awfully cliched, but it is good to see again, in various forms (and frankly in various faiths if you listen around the world). I was in the back of the club and the sound was a little better, although this band did not shoot for quite the power of the previous band. The vocals were a tad slight, but the music was pretty solid rock music that was light enough, but with some gutsy guitar work on occasion. I left a little early, but it had little to do with the band as they were doing a decent job.

I did enjoy the night and this club is one to keep on your radar as it is a comfortable room and had one of the brightest and supportive audiences I have seen in some time. It may have had something to do with the choice of beverage...

Quote of the Night: And one more from the nastiest musician on musician insult compilation...

4. Elton John on Keith Richards
“It’s like a monkey with arthritis, trying to go onstage and look young.”