Thursday, December 31, 2009
10. Do Make Say Think - Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Dec 1st. A nice surprise greeted me with this interesting collective of musicians. My cynicism is now greatly reduced toward large ensembles hitting the stage when they play compelling original music like this. The Toronto scene is a hot one for me.
9. Dresden Dolls - 9:30 Club - Jan 21st. The highlight of a rather corporate side inauguration party event. This simple looking duo of piano/vocals and kick-ass drums really pounded their music into me. Intense, smart and very fun.
8. Ya Ho Wha 13 - Velvet Lounge - March 27th. What could I expect from commune survivors from the band that gave us Father Yod and post-Seeds Sky Saxon songs? I was presently surprised by the exciting psychedelic jams and overall positive vibes exhibited by these three old-time members.
7. Opeth - 9:30 Club - May 13th. A little bias here, as Mikael Akerfeldt is a good friend of my friends, Comus. This band really nails compositional metal as good as anyone out there. I really felt it at this show, the second time I have seen them. Strong, thoughtful music.
6. Elliott Brood - DC9 - Nov 22nd. A great little set by a great little Toronto three-piece. I really hope I am catching rising stars here. They balance accessible pop rootsy music with psychedelic tones and gutsy rock.
5. Akron/Family - Rock'n'Roll Hotel - August 11th. I have seen them twice before, so no surprises here except for their adjustment to being a trio. Some of the whimsy was gone, but eccentricity remained within their usual great songs and stage presence.
4. Vieux Farka Toure - Rock'n'Roll Hotel - June 9th. African beats were on display, but lots of modern touches from rock, blues and psyche, too. Great guitaring easily covering any style Mr. Toure chose to play.
3. Van der Graaf Generator - State Theater - June 24th. A rare appearance by Pete Hammill and band was well worth the long, long wait. A smooth sound with very average looking gentlemen slowly unfolded into some of the most darkly intense progressive music I have ever heard. A brilliant show made better with an opening set by the Acoustic Strawbs.
2. Jay Reatard/TV Smith - Black Cat - July 5th. Truly an eventful evening for me. I got to see one of my punk heroes, TV Smith, play for the first time. Then, Jay Reatard completely lived up to his reputation as a great punk songwriter/performer and then, they all encore together playing four loud, raucous songs by the Adverts. Brilliant and so, so satisfying for me.
1. Os Mutantes - State Theater - October 7th. Like so many older acts I go to see, I mostly wanted to help complete my historical perspective of all the important rock bands of my lifetime. And sometimes the magic happens beyond that motive. This time, it did with a magical, wonderful, vibrant set of psychedelic music performed by these Brazilian masters. Knowing their history or nothing at all did not matter at all. This set was mindblowing psychedelic rock with world beat touches, perfectly delivered.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Ambition Burning - Straight ahead punk rock power trio. A woeful start where they stopped playing with an untuned bass. Then a long tuning break before the second song. Then a song they screwed up twice on, quit and played something else. Then, things started clicking and they showed a glimmer of hope. A few good burners and then a couple that sounded like Spaceman 3 which was quite a nice surprise. So there is something possible for this band. Keep practicing, guys.
Grant Hart - I had not seen my old buddy in 22 years. After a quick catching up, he hit the stage solo with hollow body guitar plugged straight into an amp. I would have preferred a full band, but his voice was good and his song writing was always good enough to work in any format. Despite the mainstream media coverage, there were no more than 30 people present, although there was the snow and the holidays and other things going on. Still, a nice delivery of some quality pop songs was evident tonight at the dark and quiet Velvet Lounge.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Scream - Happily, the Black Cat was able to move this sell-out from the back room stage to the full stage. They easily doubled the attendance with that move as the club was moderately packed in spite of the weekend of snow. The original four banged out two songs before introducing a newer second guitarist to play the rest of the way. Apparently, they are still a bit active as they had new songs to debut. I kind of assumed this was a one-off to get a paid trip back home for Christmas or something. And maybe it was as Brian Baker also was on hand for the encores adding more guitar pyrotechnics. The songs were great to hear again, always a tuneful band, the songs rocked with a mainstream style that was not pretentious. The sound started murky and confused but eventually righted itself as it often does. That distracted me a little, but the band was strong and together and the crowd enjoyed it a lot. They had a sax out for two of their more reggae inspired numbers, so lots of good variety in their set. The very bald Peter Stahl had a song about 1995 being the year of the bald singer, but I would like to see his thesis as it seemed the 80s was more where that happened. But he looked good and sounded better, so that was the main thing. The one key to Scream's success was their backing vocals (overall singing for that matter) and I had half forgotten how much that Skeeter and Franz helped move the songs along. I will happily plow through snow to see these guys anytime.
Quote of the Night: Between a couple of guys in the opener... "God those guys (Scream) got old." "Yeah, and we didn't?". I have to say Scream looked about 20 years older, two of the Rustbuckit guys looked about 35 years older.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Domino Team - Two guitars, bass, drums and two vocals with a multi-ethnic lineup. I anticipated the cliche and expected hip-hop metal, but instead got short, brutal thrash-metal bursts. Not as odd as Napalm Death, I suppose, but strong intense little bursts of power more like the NYC metal hardcover crossover bands. Amusing at times between songs, although one vocalist would not let anyone finish their sentence and you could only understand half of what was said, which was not altogether bad. The other vocalist is a bartender/manager at the Club and although that helps in booking, they delivered a solid opening band set. Just work on the patter as you should have guessed when someone yelled for the third time, "shut up and play"!
Cloak/Dagger - A four piece from Richmond with one guitarist. Wow. The band is very smart by only having one guitar here. The guy is amazing as he can grind out rhythms and do fills, overtones and full leads and somehow keep the rhythm sound going. One of the best I have seen in this style, for certain. Rhythm section fast and good and the vocalist was strong and clear. The music reminded me of when punk split into hardcore and other (later called postpunk). The sound is from that era but they actually combined both styles into hard, fast punk rock with odd and angular moves within. Maybe a combination of Rudimentary Peni and the Proletariat? How about Honor Role and Ruin? How about I stop showing off all the obscure bands I know and just say this band is excellent, a hot and heavy creative in-your-face rock band that really struck a chord with me. Rather, they were striking the chord eight times a second with me.
Sleeper Agent! - My second time with this band and was surprised to see them headlining upstairs. Stabb quickly expresses his surprise at that as well (see below). Stabb had his usual wit which I enjoy as another old timer. When you're this old, it is wisdom I think (as I picture him wincing at that line--he has a good wince). As before, I think the guitarist is quite creative doing lots of unique things in the basic sound that is in the neighborhood of Government Issue, but not really. Probably some of the quirky moves in the songwriting feel like GI, but this band stands by itself just fine. Stabb was one of the excellent DC vocalists who all had one odd thing in common, they really didn't sing particularly well. What they had was style, presence and great delivery. I will except Peter Stahl from Scream from that description, but we'll see how he sounds this Sunday. Anyway, enough reminiscing. Much mention of the snowstorm that was just beginning to come down which clearly scared some people away. For the brave souls that came, they were treated to some great area music.
Quote of the Night: "Thanks to Cloak/Dagger, the band you people all really came to see"
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Roger Miret & the Disasters - Now we have the vocalist of Agnostic Front, playing some rhythm guitar with a lead and rhythm section behind him. The sound was again a bit off at the beginning with feedback and thin spots. The songs were a bit more Misfits-Syl Sylvain kind of numbers, but they rocked well enough. Once the sound sorted out, the band picked up steam and did a good job. Just another slab of NYC punk rock, and that is almost always a good thing.
Agnostic Front - ! What a nice surprise to get three of the original Agnostic Front guys together with an extra guitarist and Stigma's drummer. They did a couple of the classics which sounded great. After researching a bit, apparently Agnostic Front is getting back together and doing a substantial amount of touring next year in the US and Europe. If you want a dose of classic 80s, New York, this was the band to see then and I would recommend them now.
Street Dogs - "Holiday shenanigans with the Street Dogs" is how the flyer reads and that sets the attitude pretty well for this fun raucous band. This band started about seven years ago with former members of Boston's Dropkick Murphys. Irish punk rock all the way here. They have a love of the Pogues (and cover Boys From County Hell tonight) but want to play a bit more like the Ramones (OK, this is obvious as their entrance music was Blitzkrieg Bop and a Pogues instrumental). I think I saw them open for the Adolescents a few years ago and they blew me away. So tonight I expected their high energy, melodic, fun brand of punk rock and they delivered. The crowd was filled with hardcore fans and others that dug in and had a great time. The band brought a US Marine and had them set up a Toys for Tots booth in the back which was nice of them. They do charitable things and the singer was a firefighter, so they are a band you can respect or just go out and have a great time with.
Quote of the Night: from Stigma... "DC, the home of Iron Cross, Sab should be here any minute..." Such a singular DC band, that Iron Cross, you don't hear them mentioned often, but they resonate in a big way in some places.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
The Max Levine Ensemble - Revved up power pop punk that was pretty loud and assertive. The guitarist's vocals were lost early but the sound improved. The mosh pit got going and the songs were catchy. Great energy with band and crowd lead to a nice set.
The Speech discussing this benefit - I was getting this eerie feeling that I had been here before in 1987 when I lived in DC for a year. So this guy starts speaking and the feeling continues. Is this the same guy that did a benefit for Amnesty International with Scream back in 1987? As he talked about his group, We are Family, a senior outreach network organization, he did the usual nice type of speech. As he went on, the emotional intensity went up and yes, I recognize this speaker from that show 22 years ago! He then mentioned starting shows here in 1987, but I need not this evidence to realize that this is a truly odd deja vu moment. So this guy talks about being older to this good sized crowd of young people and I realize that he, myself and the sound guy are maybe the only older people here. The crowd is the exact young crowd I saw 22 years ago (with maybe a few more tattoos). The speaker went from an inclusive speech to an us/them them railing against the obvious targets and the crowd politely applauded. Where are their parents that were the last time? I am sure many have done good deeds as will many of these folks. But there is room for a lot of cynicism here as well. But I want to keep a positive vibe here (after all this is sponsored by Positive Force).
Forgetters - Right from the first note, I sensed we had a smart talented power trio here. They have some old pros from bands such as Jawbreaker and Against Me, so I was not too surprised. I really liked the strong mid tempo rock sound with clear dramatic vocals (almost TSOL like, but different). The vocal/guitarist had the challenge of segueing from the emotional positive speech to his explaining the nihilism and darker nature of their songs which was quite amusing and well done. The songs kept coming and I enjoyed them more and more. This is a very early show for this band and I suspect good things await them as they develop their audience. They have the goods to do very well.
Quote of the Night: "I got like vegan Doc Martens, they're like cool, it's like expensive, but whatever like... like... like..."
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Laughing Man - The classic power trio comes on after the guitarist plays one bluesy number by himself which features more singing than guitar pyrotechnics. The drums and guitar were pretty simple with the bass a bit more interesting. It is not technically fascinating or brazenly punk shocking or anything, so what is it. I would say it had an "outsider" "real person" concept working here. A few songs were very moving and there was just something primal and powerful when it worked. It does remind me of the mysteries of watching new bands back in the punk days when lots of people tried to do something with music. You would get some fun results. This was fun.
Tennis System - Third time is the charm for me as I see one of DC's finest young bands. I am recognizing some of the songs and they are still awash with swirling shoegaze guitars and pulsating rhythms. A really fine band that should continue to do well. The only negative in the set was me as I was barely able to stay awake since I had spent two days baking, preparing and hosting a brunch for some friends earlier that day. But I could still feel the power tonight. Check out this band soon.
Ra Ra Rasputin - Sorry guys, I left early as I did not have it any me to make it a late one and the club was running a full hour after the posted times tonight.
Quote of the Night: "This song's called 6699. I think it's cool cuz it looks like quotation marks together. People thinks it's about sex... which it is." from Baywa.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Radio 4 - I have not seen this NYC outfit for about four years. I remember at the time that I respected their sound, but I just was not terribly moved. So for the first few songs, I was pleased to think that maybe I was being a little too hard on them. The sound began a bit like Title Tracks, but with less jangle and more of an early U2 rock and eventually a kind of European post-punk pop-rock sound. Further on, different songs introduced various other forms of funk, dub, garage-pop and then I remembered specifically where I had a problem with them. They are very slick and certainly enjoyable, but I just did not feel a real unified sound or a way to really bond with them. Not that it was bad set, far from it. But it really did not command an emotional interest. And the polite crowd did seemed to be little bland in response as well.
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - The sold out crowd finally filled in slowly throughout the night. Leo is a big favorite in DC and delivers great shows. This one did not begin that way as there was a serious bass problem and some guitar problems. Leo played "Dirty Old Town", and old Ewan MacColl song in a good intense Billy Bragg style. So I didn't mind the problems, nor did the crowd. The band handled it well and the set began to grow more smoothly after the first four or five songs. Leo writes some fantastic pop-punk songs and the band delivers. 90 minutes of energetic pop with lots of power and feeling. This is well beyond a simple category of power pop.
Disturbing moment of the night: While choosing a urinal, I had to pick one way too close to some guy who was using both hands to write a text message. It may be less dangerous than texting while driving, but it was creepy.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
The Happiness Project - This time a bassist/guitarist takes the lead by explaining that his project was to record his neighbor's speech patterns and compose songs off of the variant vocal maneuvering during their conversations. Alright, this sounds pretty iffy. But when he kicks it in starting with a conversation and then having a sax play along with it, it makes sense and sounds surprisingly good. The subsequent efforts go in different directions with full band interpretation, looped dialogue, and playing in between the words in interesting patterns. This really worked in spite of my misplaced cynicism. I look forward to the full band coming up next based on the creative and accessible sounds thus far.
Do Make Say Think - There is some instrument switching (as there has been already), but it is quite seamless and not manic at all. The nine members mostly play a couple guitars, a bass, two drumkits, violin, sax, trumpets, and keyboards. There is some slight group vocals more in the way of chants picked up by distant stage microphones, so we are dealing with instrumentals here. The music is diverse and very smart without being an intellectual exercise. Very catchy guitar lines and smooth brass breathing in and out between the main melody lines. Some really interesting psychedelic moves, interesting violin plucking, good drumming. In fact, if I were to compare this to Terrastock bands that I saw last year, this reminds me of somewhere between an Irish band I enjoyed immensely called United Bible Studies and a Louisville music collective Sapat. That is pretty high praise from me and I really had a great night watching these Toronto musicians. The club was crowded for a Tuesday and the patrons agreed heartily. Oh, and I now read they have worked with Akron/Family. What a surprise that great bands find each other and work with each other. Do Make an effort to see this collective.
Quote of the Night: "So this is place is hipster heaven..." from some annoying guy who talked loudly 3/4 of the way through the headliner's set.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Quote of the Night: As I wandered home from another patron - "Why didn't he say 'by the way, we're not doing that encore shit.'" Good point. They left the house lights down a bit for people to clap, then turned them up and started music. They played an hour and forty minutes, so there was no cheating there. I really respect the explanation The Wedding Party gives early in their shows that they have never played a request and don't do the cliched encores. Either play the game or make it clear what your intent is.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Elliott Brood - I am a big fan of this Toronto based trio. There last album "Mountain Meadows" is given frequent rotation in my household. The amazing thing about the live set is how the full sound is recreated. If you closed your eyes on the first song, you would swear you were hearing a raucous fully electric four-piece indie rock band. Open them, and you see three guys, two suited and one vested, playing two acoustic guitars and drums. A closer look shows base pedals and a synth/sampler gadget. They also bring in a banjo and two ukuleles in a song they call "Cooperating Ukules from Canada" as opposed to "Duelling Banjos". Great energetic dark folk with upbeat moments, twists and turns, acoustic moves, distorted electric moves, full, fuller and fullest. Great songs and a band not to be missed, on record or live.
Heavy Trash - A Jon Spencer band with a lead guitarist, upright bassist and drummer. The format moves from fifties style rock/rockabilly to an early sixties garage rock (not the psychedelic variety). Nothing psychotic and nutso, but punchy and rocking. Although this is not my favorite genre, Spencer and company execute it flawlessly and with good energy. The leads are cutting and fun. Despite the name of this outfit, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is much trashier and dirty rocking. So choose your Spencer based on your desire. You can certainly find something good in either style.
Quote of the Night: From two of the Brood... "Thanks, you guys should have been in Asheville with us last night". "Yeah, then there would been this many people there."
Saturday, November 21, 2009
The album begins in a psychedelic folk style that is quite vogue these days. Not only is this style post-Incredible String Band, but it is also post-Devandra Banhart as well. As the song moves from its sparse acoustic guitar and glockenspiel, electric guitars and pop sensibilities come into play and take over the direction of the album. The band's style seems equally mixed from mid-period Beatles to a Brian Wilson styled American pop. They do bring in a touch of India, but it is a light one. I do enjoy how the songs are just varied enough as the album progresses to create some nice momentum builds and releases. I believe that is both a component of good songwriting and careful arrangement and production. And the sound is quite lush with some good variant sounds and instruments appearing sporadically. More ever present are the dreamy vocals that are at the forefront of all the songs. “What’s Under the House” rocks out just a bit, before the album closes with the quieter “Miss Johnson” with a banjo that I notice for the first time. This pleasant second Goldspot album could easily win the band a good and deserved following.
For you song-by-song buyers, here is where I recommend starting:
1. Grocery Store – An excellent conglomeration of folk and pop rock with just a touch of psychedelia. It captured me instantly.
2. Gopi Blues – String accompaniment quickly yields to a nice slower song with great production and a haunting background.
Red Rooster is lead by the strong clear voice of Jay Erickson. He has that classic road weary voice enhanced by superior vocal style and resonance. In fact I would say it more of a relaxed understanding of the road as opposed to a weariness with it. There is a very good arsenal of players (I am writing this while watching the British soccer team Arsenal play so of course those three words pop out) behind the voice which mix a lot of styles beyond the folk base. Nothing radical, just the Americana, blues, pop, jazz, world and country touches that blend together nicely. As good as the male vocals are, the background vocals by Susannah Hornsby and the lead she has on “Borrowed Money” are outstanding and a nice change of pace. I really enjoy the interesting instrumentation and can even handle some of the pedal steel that is one of my least favorite instruments. A band that can work that in and keep me happy clearly has a fine command of its sound.
For you song-by-song buyers, here is where I recommend starting:
1. Black Point Road – A rich powerful song that even has a surprising sequencer tone within. Great song, well arranged.
2. Let it All Go – A song I remember from their recent show. Excellent mix of styles and instruments and a lovely chorus.
3. Borrowed Money – Great female folk qualities abound in this lovely song.
Friday, November 20, 2009
The Jesus Lizard - The crowd finally built up to make a respectable showing for the comeback of the Jesus Lizard. I have only seen the band once, in their infancy when they were hastily added to a Dinosaur Jr. show in Denver where I mostly wanted to see a cool SubPop band that only SubPop followers knew much about named Nirvana. I knew the Lizard's singer was from Scratch Acid who I thought were excellent, so I had high hopes. They were great that night with an interesting rough and nasty precision with one of the worst vocalists yet best frontmen around. And after a ten year hiatus, the Lizard returned, looking only a bit older and playing with the same great style they had back in the day. What struck me was how much they reminded me of Public Image Ltd.'s Second Edition. None of the sounds were the same, but both featured ferociously intense individual singers who command attention like few others. The guitarists are both angular and original and the bassists stand out with entirely different styles. Add killer drums and you have bands that sound brilliant and original. I think the bass playing seems to be the key ingredient to the Lizard--very fluid, rhythmic and adventurous. David Yow still crowd surfs like few others, singing on cue the whole time. And a Chrome cover to boot that I was proud to recognize without seeing a set list (I recognized it instantly, but couldn't come up with the fact that it was a Chrome song until 5 minutes after it ended--oh the slow hard drive that is my brain). Great music, still fresh and exciting.
Quote of the Night: Yow--"Thank-you good people of Bethesda", later nods to Fairfax and Annapolis plus telling the crowd that he heard Baltimore is cooler than DC these days. I heard that once too, from a failed booking agent who had some other issues that may have lead to the failure.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Langhorne Slim - Mr. Slim gazed upon the crowd and said he was not sure why he did not come to DC more often. Actually, I though I missed a fairly recent show about a year back at the Black Cat upstairs stage. If he played or was even booked there, that explains the packed house tonight. I have seen him once before in Denver a year and half back and he really exceeded my modest expectations. He really writes great songs which is obviously a starting point no matter what else happens. I like the energetic acoustic guitar and banjo at times from the keyboardist. The solid drums and smooth stand-up bass playing are an interesting anchor. A really nice combination of players actually. There's folk, older rock'n'roll, and newer indie rock all coming together or bouncing around. Good vocals... I can't find a single problem with Langhorne Slim or both sets I have seen in the last two years. Well worth checking out then. Say no more!
Quote of the Night: "Take it however you want, but it's true in every way." from Langhorne Slim regarding Dawes, but it is a good line regarding most anything.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
The Scare - This band had two guitars and seemed to put a tiny amount of loose rock within the hardcore blast. I didn't hear as much originality as in the first band (this is very relatively speaking within the genre, but I do know the genre). The singer earnestly was doing the usual imploring the crowd to get excited, etc., which I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard that. The crowd was decent and growing, so the set went well. And kudos for the singer's correct statement that his recent thirtieth birthday meant he was about 50 in punk in years and people 40-50 were about 90. Well this 90 year old thanks him for dedicating a song to all of those older than him at the show. There were not many of us.
Gallows - We have another 5-piece, but they are a UK band finishing a US tour. If you think all punk or hardcore sounds the same, well this band did take it to a much higher level in song writing, playing and overall energy. The club was packed and very excited throughout the set. I liked the bit where the singer went from crowd surfing, to being held upside down while he walked on the ceiling. And I didn't think I would see anything new tonight! Well, then it was back to the old as the singer orchestrated a mosh pit which sent the women scurrying to the side and kept my 90-year old back well away from the pit. But this music is for the young, so I don't mind some of the "dancing", but it still brings too much jock ethos into a scene. Gallows is good, no doubt about that.
Quote of the Night: "It's just a formality" from the friendly doorman as he asked for my ID. My response was that it is perfectly alright as long as you don't try to read it carefully as not only could I not pass for 21, but any court of law would laugh out of court any prosecution that used me as a test subject.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Marissa Nadler - I haven't see Marissa Nadler since a Terrastock Festival set in Rhode Island in 2006. She was solo then and did a couple solo numbers here before bringing up a guitarist/backing vocalist on electric guitar. I believe it was a member of the band Torso, if I heard correctly. What is nice about what seems to be a simple folk show is that the sound of the two artists were quite different yet fully sympathetic. Ms. Nadler's guitar was a bit spacier with a sharp striking sound as she finger picked her way through her songs. It sounded like a dulcimer and coupled with her distant echoey voice, she really did nail a lovely ethereal psychedelic folk sound. Excellent songs, quite simply a great mood that really mesmerized the crowd. All four players hit the stage for a cover of Jackson C. Frank's "Blues Runs the Game". First, Marianne Faithfull played a lesser known Frank song a few weeks ago, and now his more famous song is here tonight. Frank is hot apparently, which is sadly late as he has been dead for ten years now. I saw him just before he died at a Wizz Jones show and he was in really bad shape. He is a fascinating figure and I enjoyed exchanging some notes with Richie Unterberger about him recently. But I ramble. An excellent pairing tonight of great, fresh music.
Quote of the Night: From Marissa Nadler "This song is appropriate as I just broke up with my boyfriend... today... Hurray? Thanks."
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Little Bigheart & the Wilderbeast - Not Wildebeest, the Australian psyche rock legends of old and now the name of at least three other bands, but a more complex named band that looks google-proof to me. These young men are a four-piece with a couple guitars, drums and a bassist who plays a keyboard additionally and I think ideally (read in a studio) would do both simultaneously. The axe-men all sing and the best of their songwriting so far seems to be in the vocal arrangements. I was chatting with the drummer who basically said this was their first real club show and they have only been writing a short time. The music is very seventies progressive with good guitar attack. Trying to find progressive comparisons is tricky and since they did a song cycle to start the set, I had roughly a Rick Wakeman feel with their music. Of course, you had blaring guitars rather than banks of keyboards, blonde hair and flowing robes. But even with the guitars it had more of that feel as opposed to the Who or Rush or the Pretty Things or others that did song cycle prog-rock themes. Anyway, this was a very nice club outing for this band. The crowd enjoyed it (even if it was jammed with lots of friends) and they can easily progress into a well liked band in DC. They are off to the studio soon and between that lesson, more gigging, more writing, we will await their eventual growth. I will stop now as there is something about progressive music that even makes me want to write like Caravan or PFM played.
Quote of the night: I can't read my writing of the quote I wanted to use (it is easier to read sanskrit) so the Red Rooster singer also said: "This is ostensibly our Washington DC CD release party." Nothing profound here, but points for using the word "ostensibly" and creating a mirror effect in the quote.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Benjy Feree - Benjy Feree sang, played electric guitar or keyboards with his wife on drums. The sound was a loose rock'n'roll, sort of old school, but not corny. It was not up to psychobilly speed, but more singer-songwriter pace. He is a good vocalist and the songs were decent. Still, there the sound was just a bit thin for my liking. The set reminded me of the late 70s punk rock days when there were not enough punk/new wave bands to put on the bill and a decent retro-to-modern act like this would be booked. Decent, but a fuller band might help next time.
Kurt Vile and the Violators - Kurt Vile starts off on acoustic guitar and brings his band out on the second. They have a drummer and two guitarists with Kurt switching to electric sometimes and one guitarist playing sax and harmonica, too. During the second song, I have a lightbulb moment, "oh Kurt Weill, I get it". I am slow tonight. The songs move around a lot from slow droning, catchy rhythms, droll vocals to lots of subtle shifts of tempo and volume. Maybe a little in the neighborhood of the Feelies? Maybe not, but close enough for my insta-comparisons. This band is clearly locked into a good light psyche rock groove and the large crowd is enjoying it (they had a crowded back room and this band is destined for upstairs next time perhaps). Very good music worth exploring further.
Quote of the Night: A fan yelling to Kurt "we like to see your face!" as he then parts his Cousin Itt hairdo a bit.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Herman Dune - Herman Dune was a duo featuring David-Ivar Herman Dune on electric guitar and vocals with a drummer as sole support. Although, to return the favor, Ms. Doiron joined in for a couple songs late in the set. It was pretty clear to me that Mr. Dune writes some high quality songs and plays them with great touch and style. The guitar playing was quite good, sort of between Robyn Hitchcock and Billy Bragg with a few amped up breaks and solos and some nice almost flamenco/gypsy type picking on one song. Good variety and every song was easy to cling on to and listen to the finish. I can't always say that, unfortunately. I am not sure what level of success Herman Dune has here, Canada, or Europe, but I do not see how it cannot fail to grow with the clear accessible quality present. I will certainly return for the next DC gig.
Quote of the Night: Julie Doiron-- "Any requests? Yeah, how does that go... something like that... Well, that's more of a rocker... Well, how about this one, it's from the same record." And right after the song - "Geeze, I asked you guys for requests and you gave me five and I just played my choice."
Monday, November 2, 2009
The Smyrk - Basic guitar, bass, drums and a vocalist band that does a pop punk thing with some fairly soulful singing I suppose. Perhaps it is emo, but I don't recognize that word as an adjective or a noun. A couple of cops were walking around, talking to bartender, soundman (?) and went into the restroom right as this started. So I was a little perplexed, early. But this band was steady enough. A couple sound issues early were straightened out quickly. A video of the band? or other things was projected on the side wall. Oh yeah, that happens at sponsored events which I really don't have a problem with, but there can be a different feeling I have found. Decent enough band, a bit clean, but strong enough sound with plenty of punch.
CSR Kidtronik - A DJ and a rapper hit the stage and do their thing. This is not a genre I am knowledgeable with, but even I know what blows. And I'm not talking about the "krak attack" they are bellowing about. "You guys like punk rock?" Well, I do, sir, but dullish cliche filled rap with f-bombs dropping and thin rhythms to cushion the fall is not my idea of punk rock. I was not alone. They were between songs trying to get a couple of women on stage, but no one would go up. It seemingly lasted for multiple minutes. Finally one woman went up and I believe security may have told her to step off. That gave the duo a chance to rip on the man for a bit. Right on! Finally, their last song drew the crowd in a bit and a very welcome "Good night, thank-you".
Living Colour - An interesting band of old that I have never seen, but had a cult following and sort of broke big with a Grammy even. They did not sustain the success and broke up for some time. Pretty much the original band is back (second bassist) and they ripped into "Cult of Personality" featuring Vernon Reid's wild guitar solo. The second song had Reid grimacing and he took a long time playing with equipment before the next song. The singer walked around looking at no one and finally talked about how the drummer could play anything from the planet. The drummer figured it out and finally started making some noise as the crowd stood there. Finally it got going again. The band had to restart two songs next. The songs were strong, fast and loud like you would expect, but this band clearly does not like each other. Years ago, I gave David Grubbs a video of his old teenage band (and great cult success) Squirrel Bait. He said he could see even then, that they were destined to break up shortly thereafter as no one was looking at each other. That is what I saw here with a few supposedly amused caustic comments by Glover early on. Then after the band introductions at the end, and apparently some mumbling between he and Reid, Glover says "You know this mic stand is really heavy enough to bludgeon you". Reid: "Yeah, well, we'll talk more next time." Glover: "You ain't gonna be around next time". These guys depart for a long tour of South America and Europe. Good luck and I hope you have a big tour bus with lots of space.
Saul Williams - The colorful rap-writer-provocateur comes out in colorful garb with a guitarist, percussionist (from second act) and an electronics guy in support. The sound is strong, not overwhelming, but punchy and accessible. He clearly has some writing skills from his raps and lyrics from what I can pick out. I am enjoying the set as is most of the crowd, but there is a rather subdued atmosphere. Williams picks up on this half way through and says that he thinks he has way more energy than the crowd and tries to ask for the reasons. He asks if we like punk rock and he thought this was a city where it was big. Well, allow me to attempt an answer. First, DC does get accused of being laid back, quiet, with lots of people at shows standing around, so this is not new. There are tons of shows here and the crowd is actually quite smart and maybe a bit jaded as a result. I would like to see a bit more enthusiasm at times, but I really don't mind how the crowd reacts if they don't make it bad for everyone else. Second, Yes DC was huge in punk history, but not quite in wave one in the seventies. In the early 80s there was Dischord and the Bad Brains who I guess you could say defined Afropunk, but I don't think that word actually works for the Brains. I will save that discussion. The thing is that it is 2009. You would need the children of these bands or a 50 year old guy like myself to show up at your show. And even if we could go back in time, the DC scene was one of the most insular scenes I have ever been a part of (and I have traveled). They hung with their friends and regularly blew off out-of-town bands or locals that were not in the clique. Third, although your set was pretty hot and well received, the crowd was pretty numbed by your opening bands. They did not set you up at all. Even when playing well, the vibe was not good and I think that permeated everyone here far worse than any corporate sponsorship.
Still, Saul Williams soldiered on, covered "Sunday, Bloody, Sunday" and more of his own songs. I did something I almost never do before writing this. I read a review of a previous show on the tour and the vibe was pretty bad in Minneapolis. The writer thought the performers deserved better and blamed it on the midwest. I agree that Saul Williams may deserve a bit better, but it is not the midwest. I think there is something challenging in trying to bring off an "afropunk" tour and you really have to get the music right among 3-4 bands to make it work. It may have worked in some city, but not here.
Quote of the Night: After telling us the song title of the third straight song named after a movie (The Evil Dead), the opening band singer commented "If you didn't know it by now, I'm a nerd".
Friday, October 30, 2009
Uninhabitable Mansions - Same lineup as first band, but with another guitar and some female vocals with the keyboards. I don't know if this a side project or a supergroup (more like a AAA all-star game as I only knew one of the three bands that these members are a part of--Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah). No matter their long term plans, they have a new album and are hitting some east coast spots. Good steady as she goes pop rock for the entire set. Some catchy lead guitar lines on two songs that almost (key word) reminded me of Thomas Mapfumo or good English post-punk work. A few of the songs were a bit too lah-de-dah, although I'm listening to a really cool song on their myspace page as I write this that is anything but. I don't want to let my bias toward minor keys get in the way of what was a good pop-rock set. You could (and we all have) do a lot worse and this band could do well at some sort of level they choose to operate at.
Future of the Left - A Welsh power trio is the future of the left and although the future was in doubt early for me, I left with not a worry in the world. The opening cut sounded like some post-metal outfit that reminded me of the band t-shirt the opening band bassist had on -- Rage Against the Machine. It was hard, heavy, abrasive, a bit angular and sometimes with dance/hard hip hop rhythms. Or so it sounded to me. I was ok with this, but it wasn't moving me a whole lot until it kept getting better and better and I was getting more comfortable with the sound. And, these guys had to be the funniest band I have seen since The Stupids. But these guys were smart with really clever British humor. Maybe the six night Monty Python documentary I just viewed had me primed for the unique humor, but it worked. And the last song was a scream with an ending that has been done in this manner, but not quite this way. The guitarist left his guitar on the floor to feedback, fiddled with a synthesizer, then kept moving the cymbals that the drummer was trying to hit and dismantling the kit spreading it around the stage. The bassist is in the audience with and without bass. The drummer moves upstage and tries to stretch and reach as many cymbals as he can while everything finally fades away. Dramatic, powerful, great conclusion.
Quote of the Night: A transcription of Future of the Left would be great, but I'll just use this - "On this song, we take our cue from Genesis.... Really. We might shave our drummer, maybe make him marry a young asian woman. Then act in several bad films..." and on and on....
Monday, October 26, 2009
Wooden Shjips - With the recent demise of Dickie Peterson from Blue Cheer, it is only fitting that these San Francisco psychedelic jammers come to town. I saw them previously outdoors at Terrastock last year and enjoyed it, but something didn't quite work. Tonight, they were in a dark and (too) small club and the psychedelic sound was much more explosive and fun. They are closer to Hawkwind than Blue Cheer and feature a really primitive driving rhythm section, especially with the minimalist drums. Keyboards thicken the mix and the guitarist jams along, singing now and then and going into freak-out fuzzfest solos when the time was right. I now see why the band generally gets favorable press. They have locked into some classic sounds, but do them in their own personal way.
Quote of the day: "Thanks for coming. This is day 17 of our first US tour. It's kind of beating us senseless so thanks" from the opening band.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
The Gerunds - The first thing that struck me was a good Buzzcocks style sound, a bit dirtier perhaps, but strong and solid catchy hooks. The vocals threw me off into unknown territory. There were two primary vocalists and some back-up elsewhere. A very interesting clash of styles that was tricky to grasp but ultimately quite rewarding and unique. I could go into one of my long rants about "originality" but here is an example of good catchy rock music with a personal and original approach. No wheels reinvented, but a unique quality band that had the packed club involved from the outset. Nice Raymond Chandler references, too, so smart as well. But with a name like the Gerunds... The singer is from Dag Nasty many blue moons ago and they covered one of the old songs that I was surprised to instantly remember. Excellent set.
King Giant - Five bikers get plugged in and light the stick incense on the stage. So what do we get here? Well before the notes come, the singer says the first song is "Lady Whiskey". Hmmmm, could it be southern jam rock? maybe metal? a cover of Wishbone Ash? No, now the incense is getting to me. Well, it was metal/hard rock. Sabbathy type licks a bit steadier and unvarying. As the set went on, I did feel that things were much too steady. A good strong sound for fans of this genre, but no real variance. Not every band can be Opeth or should be Opeth, but I would have liked a bit more, especially since the set seemed long to me.
Kung Fury - The show was running a bit late, the set up was taking a while and finally this three piece kicks in and opens with my favorite Antmusic song, "Dog Eat Dog". A pretty dingy rocking version of it, though which set the tone for the originals. Decent, dirty hook oriented rock'n'roll not unlike Bobby Steele's post-Misfits band, the Undead. The sound wasn't quite as good at least at the start of the set. The vocals were a bit low and murky and the guitar didn't really punch in until after a few songs. The crowd gave them good feedback after initially appearing to peter out quite a bit (some did leave since it was after 12:30 when the set started). Like the Undead, this band isn't instantly accessible but there is a germ of an idea here. I will stay tuned for more.
Quote of the night: "John's wearing his speedo and Trevor has his arm around him and I say 'Trevor, did they catch that on camera?'"
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Port O'Brien - The surprise hit (for me at least) of last years Monolith Festival at Red Rocks in Colorado. They seemed to have lost the Neil Young type lead guitarist but still had a couple of guitars and banjo along with the rhythm section. The lead singer does a nice job and ultimately they produce a loose, jangly folk rock/americana blend that really works for me. They have above average songs and play a loose, fun style that is in the direction of Akron/Family but doesn't quite get that crazy or to that height. Two albums out and good things ahead for this band. I sense they already are doing pretty well across the Atlantic. Check them out.
Sea Wolf - A couple of guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and cell/keys. Lighter touch present with this band. Nice songs with good low-key vocals. This is the sort of band that I would need multiple listens to appreciate fully I think. As it is, I liked it well enough, but it didn't compel me to explore much more than this. Plus I have now added it to the list of Wolfmother, Wolf Eyes, Wolf Parade and many more where I have stopped trying to figure out which wolf is which. Even the owl bands confuse me, so I have had enough wolves for one lifetime. Still, nice set.
Quote of the Night: From the Port O'Brien lead singer... "We were in Baltimore last night and my parents showed up by surprise from the west coast. They're here and I thank them for coming
Monday, October 19, 2009
Art Brut - I tend to get a little skeptical about bands that become critical darlings whether they are behind it or not. But after a few disappointments, I feel like I am on a positive roll. First Wavves was great and now Art Brut was completely deserving of the press I have read. The five piece band with a couple of guitars and no keys came out rocking with a cover of Roadrunner that morphed into another song. The songs kept coming with sort of a garagey take on those late seventies punk-new wave crossover bands. I am thinking Adam Ant or the Cleveland-to-Indiana scene, but with a rocking garage feel as well. Great humor, abundant energy, killer hooks and strong playing. Flat out fun with post modern comments from the clearly intelligent and humorous singer. The crowd definitely got into it and the only problem there is that the club was only half full, if that. Go see Art Brut and have some real straight ahead fun. I know I need the fun fix as often as I can get it.
Quote of the Night: Interesting exchange from the Door personnel to a group of three, one underage (more paraphrasing than actual quotes due to length). "You Can't leave the premises after you've gotten stamped." Why is that? "It's the law, liquor license controls" But what is the reasoning? "Once stamped, we are responsible. If you were to come back drunk and discovered here, we could not defend ourselves" Can we leave to go eat and buy another ticket then? "No, it doesn't work that way. The same issues apply. You can eat at our cafe through there or go up to the club. That's it".
Saturday, October 17, 2009
The Raveonettes - The duo returns after playing the Black Cat last time (see far below) and achieves the elevated status of the 9:30 Club for this tour, albeit with the stage pushed forward to the edges of both side bars. The crowd did fill in to make for the desired sardine look that the 9:30 prefers as opposed to giving people room to maneuver and not have purses rammed into their lungs. But I digress. The Raveonettes came with a rhythm section with drums heavily treated to sound nearly electric. There were some things going on in the background more than just guitars, but it was mostly subtle. Vocals and catchy songs in lusch psyche setting are the reason to come and the band delivered. A really nice combination of simple well worked sounds form a reasonably fresh result. Happy times, good light show, sound wasn't fully to my liking as there was too much bass throbbing early, kind of like when the car comes up to you at an intersection and the hip hop bass rattles the newspaper boxes next to you. And note to the manic guy I've seen at other shows. I love the enthusiasm of your pogo and long arms in the air. But lose the high pitched yelps that you do in triplets, timed with the music. Kind of painful and weird. But keep the enthusiasm, it helps at laconic rock shows.
Quote of the Night: From the Black Angels guitarist- "Has anybody got a snare drum? Got a huge hole here. Anyone?" Duct tape to the rescue, but a couple songs later they pulled it up and it was more hole than head at that point. Raveonettes road crew to the rescue and the replacement saved the set.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Six Organs of Admittance - I admit to being a big fan of this Ben Chasny effort which is basically him on guitar and vocals doing solo material or collaborating with others. Chasny plays excellent acoustic guitar and is quite versatile covering Eastern modal patterns as well as other fingerpicking acoustic styles. He sang more times than not and it was somewhat an extension of the first act in style. He was also joined by a second guitarist on song four for the remainder of the set. I found it easy to be involved in his music which is the way I feel about his records as well. An excellent second act to tonight's play with an appreciative and very large audience filing in.
Om - Om was formed when a metal band split up and the two members of the rhythm section created this experimental psyche minimalist concept. They have two albums out and they are successful in creating their own brand of psyche-drone power. The drummer, who had changed between albums, was quite creative with his cymbal usage. The bassist was solid and they had a third guy sometimes help with extra sounds which is fairly important as minimalism can only take you so far. I believe it was the guy in the opening set, but the club was jammed and the stage was dark and sightlines are not good at the DC9 (hence the tvs they install so people in the back can at least see something). Anyway, there were some major fans and the set went over well. To be honest, I thought it lacked something that I can't quite finger. It was just missing some sort of spark that would put me more in their world. The songs were good, but personally, I find listening to the albums the better choice for their sound. Maybe it was the one guy who yelled more than once to "turn it up" and "louder". Normally, I would roll my eyes, but he may have been right this time. I think this music needs to rattle your bones a bit more.
Quote of the Night: From the guys talking movies behind me-- "I can live with a Tron sequel". Yeah, me too. There's lots of movies I live with that don't live with me.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Renaissance - To celebrate the day of my first half century on this planet, I indulged in seeing a band I really enjoyed in high school, yet had never seen before. The band is still lead by the two key ingredients, Annie Haslam on vocals and Michael Dunford on guitar. Coming on to excellent entrance music, the two are joined by a drummer, bassist and two keyboard players. It quickly becomes evident that having two keyboard players is a great idea as they can get piano, harpsichord, organ and synthesizer sounds out in great quantities to really fill out the songs and give a full rich sound to the songs which the quite large audience knows all too well. Haslam is in excellent voice and the players all do a great job. I think if I had tried to write the set list, I would have gotten 8 or 9 of the 10 songs selected. I am glad they did three off of my personal favorite, "Turn of the Cards" when I would have guessed one song. "Prologue" at the outset and "Ashes are Burning" as the encore both featured a lot of creative almost jazzy and rock touches that may surprise those that expect the pastoral classical folk rock that Renaissance mostly represents. Great set.
Quote of the Night: Annie Haslam - under her breath, but audible "shit, oops, sorry. I actually let two "shits" slip during a live radio interview this morning before they cut me off. It was just too early in the morning..."
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Dinosaur Jr. - This is the third time I have seen them since their reformation and I got the usual guitar based music I would expect. Since they are carrying on quite enthusiastically, I wanted to hear the new material more than the old this time around. I found it quite excellent and every bit as enjoyable as the older classics. The band has graduated from selling out the Black Cat to playing the larger 9:30, albeit with the stage moved up. Good crowd showed up which makes me wonder why we can't have a little more room in the back to not jostle each other when the club creates that extra space behind the stage. I'll save that discussion for later on in this blog. Good show, but there was a sense of quiet. That may be due to the real excitement I saw just the night before, but Lou Barlow commented that he always forgets how still a DC audience is. He was not criticizing per se, but I think there was just a bit less energy here than at other shows I have been at recently.
Quote of the Night: Lou Barlow, early in his first band's set-- "I think this is being taped for an NPR radio show, that's just great, wonderful." Then just prior to last (and good rocking) song - "I would like to ask NPR to erase this whole show and never have it aired".