Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Marianne Faithfull - Birchmere - September 29 2009

Marianne Faithfull - I really did not have much expectations for this show. Marianne Faithfull gets pretty good critical acclaim as wise survivor of the swinging sixties, but I have read more about her than I actually have listened to her. She has a deep, raspy voice that is actually pretty decent once you get used to it and she does move it around as needed. She looks a bit like Helen Mirren, but the voice and style are a bit more like Marlene Dietrich. She is with a really good band with no real tricks there. She has the drummer, a bassist and guitarist who both switch from electric to acoustic and a keyboardist. The first couple of guitar solos were amazingly loud even though everyone was seated (aside from our singer), it rocked. The songs were mostly covers with wonderfully eclectic choices including Dolly Parton, Tom Waits, Randy Newman, Decemberists, Nekko Case, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Jackson Frank. She asked if anyone knew Jackson Frank. I clapped and two others on the other side of the stage clapped. I actually saw Jackson Frank a few months before he died (at a Wizz Jones show, since Frank had not played one in over 20 years at that point I think). Ms. Faithfull did some of her own songs as well and closed with one she co-wrote with Jagger/Richards, "Sister Morphine", and one they wrote for her, "As Tears go by". She encored with her "filthy song" and said she wouldn't play it at Annapolis, but thought we could handle it. The crowd did and pretty much ate up the whole set. I am convinced, nice job! And the cosmic finish happened when I got to the car and NPR popped on when I started it. The very first two words spoken were "Marianne Faithful".

Quote of the Night: Ms Faithfull had a few, but the one that drew some chuckles and applause went something like "I still regret nothing from those days. You either get over it or you die."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Faust/ - Black Cat - September 27 2009

This is the closing night of the Sonic Circuits Festival (and my second night of coverage)

Alexei Bokisov with Anton Nikkila - We have one noise manipulator with a guitarist/noise manipulator. A bit of distorted harmonica was a nice touch. It was loud, on the harsh side without being too overbearing. If you like noise...

Pekka Airaksinen - Apparently this gentleman is from Finland. He sat at his Mac notebook and played some music on it. Some decent ivory tickling amongst the other sounds. Transitions seemed disjointed, but if you don't pause between songs, I guess there is nothing wrong there. As I watched this, I realized that I may as well read my book while listening, rather than watch a guy at his computer while listening, so that is what I did.

Health - From Los Angeles, we have a full band composed of two guitars a bass and drums. One guy sang, so this was certainly had a normal look to it. Of course this band was much more daring than normal to be part of this festival, but they had a nice musical foundation to better showcase their daring moves. They showed great energy, dropped their axes and went to electronics and percussion from time to time, but kept the sound moving. Real songs, strong playing, all in all a great set--maybe a tad long, but if it's good, it works. It did.

Rat Bastard/Chris Grier/Ulrich Krueger Trio - Two guitars and a saxophone. I cannot quote the exact source, but I am sure I have read a classical music critic talking of some chamber musician strangling their instrument on some Mahler piece or whatever. That critic should see something like this where three musicians strangled their instruments for their entire set. Not necessarily a criticism on my part, although it did not show enough variety to hold my interest.

Faust - The legendary German band makes a rare appearance on these shores. They have two original members, two other full timers and a guest saxophonist that played on a few songs. They played a few recognizable songs from their back catalogue (says I relying on hopefully good memory without running to my CDs). They also did freak-out improvisations and just had fun. There was enough structure for some magical sounds to emanate as well as some outrageous things you will not see too often. My two favorites were the woman who played guitar and keyboards spending her time on the improvisation, painting a large board set up in the rear of the stage. It was quite good by song's end. The drummer had a large hunk of sheet metal he was banging on, but the best part was when he took an arc welder to it with all the resultant cascading sparks flying around on stage. I have dreadful memories of industrial education (shop) so this was exciting as long as I wasn't the one touching the tools. Kind of a small audience, but a good connection with the band made for an enjoyable set.

Quote of the Night: While in line I overheard this discussion of an act I had wanted to see, but went to see Mono instead... "Jandek had some Russian guy reading poetry in Russian. He didn't sing." "Yeah, someone said it made no sense."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mono/Maserati - Rock'n'Roll Hotel - September 26 2009

Maserati - A good 4-piece shoegaze outfit with zero vocals and the briefest of vocal chatter. Good driving bass and a strong drum sound seemed to be everpresent with some shifting guitar sounds, a little feedback, a lot of distortion and some loops or electronica I detected. Pretty good melodies. File between Mogwai and Mono, in spite of the spelling.
Position the dotted box over the person you want to tag. Resize the box by dragging the borders to frame the person's face. Type their name in the input box to the right, select the appropriate person, and we'll make a link to their profile!

Mono - A Japanese 4-piece with the same two guitar line-up as the openers. I've seen the band once before on a big outdoor stage. Now, it was the intimate club packed full of fans. Mono plays shoegaze rock with lots of dynamic shifts of quiet rock and traditional Japanese melodies into intensely distorting guitar scorching. Even at its screamiest high noise level, you can still here a melody. Really great sounds. No vocals, no talk of any kind, just great music that is really worth a listen if you are at all curious to this style.

Quote of the Night - Well the bands said nothing, I didn't hear anything of note in the crowd, but on tv I heard... "Yer a cruel man, Phil". Ok, that just doesn't work in print unless you heard the soccer commentator saying it in a ripping Scottish brogue that is a bit wilder than Groundskeeper Willie.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fern Knight/Luigi Archetti/Odal/Blue Sausage Infant/Twilight Memories of Three Suns - Velvet Lounge - Sept 23 2009

This show is part of the Sonic Circuits Festival which has events in many clubs, embassies and even the Kennedy Center. The American Composers Forum has used this to showcase avante garde music and electronic music with new technologies, etc. They have expanded to become more inclusive of other styles and other crap, but we will get to that.

Fern Knight - What was to be the headliner turned out to be the opener. The three members told me they were less one member who was ill, so they decided just to do more experimental improvisation rather than their Fern Knight songs. So the version that hit the stage was an instrumental trio with violin, cello, and a percussionist. The strings were nicely treated with interesting pedal work by the violinist. The percussionist had a very small set of drums but did a nice job. All in all, it was a lovely set by 3/4 of a band that I had been quite familiar with for reasons I forget (and a couple I do remember).

Blue Sausage Infant - This was a one man and machine loop with noise effects, drum machines, synths and vocals. You know the drill. With such a limiting format, it was not bad. I suppose some will object to me calling this a limiting format as any format has lots of limits, but I really don't see this as much of a challenge. Still, this act was a bit better than most of the genre, to my ears.

Twilight Memories of Three Suns - I assume this was the band I saw next. The highlight was a guy dressed in a white plastic all covering suit looking a bit like a slimmed down Gort, I guess. He sat around the previous set confusing people who didn't see him come in as to whether there was a human in there. I will also assume that. The band took forever to set up and couldn't find some of their equipment. Then one guy asked if they should start without a band member. Were I to say what I was thinking, I would have said yes as it probably wasn't going to matter with the vibe I was getting from them. The music began, I guess, when some feedback came in. Pretty much noise hereafter from a few people doing god knows what as I was in the back and most of them were sitting on the stage. There was a guitar which didn't matter. I offer sets like this as proof of how little originality matters. I really get tired of the excuse that something isn't original. This is not truly original either, as many others have done this sort of crap. There wasn't one thing up there I heard, that anyone in the crowd couldn't have done. Profound. Let's break down the fourth wall. If that is the case, please don't leave your home next time. And as for a link, they apparently don't have a good one on the web which is good news for all, although there is something about an album.

At this point, I was bored, tired and spending time with my cat would be infinitely more enjoyable, although I was sorry to miss Luigi Archetti.

Quote of the Night: "I ended up using 411, so I probably cost you forty dollars."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Steeleye Span - Birchmere - September 22 2009

Steeleye Span - I have to admit that although it certainly has its good points, the Birchmere is the Branson of rock clubs. Wow are these crowds getting older by the moment--you can almost see the aging right in front of you like some bad Star Trek episode. Hippies with canes? Amazing. Although I walk very quickly, I feel like I can walk twice as fast as half the crowd at least and I am not young. But anyway, on to seeing on of my favorite bands and the last of the "Big Three" of British Folk-Rock that I had yet to see (Fairport Convention and Pentangle being the other two). I see Maddy Prior on vocals and Peter Knight of violin as the key members present. Clearly that is Liam Genocky on drums who has worked with them off on for a number of years in recent times. I later find out that is Ken Nicol on guitar and Pete Zorn on bass (not Rick Kemp who was too ill). Both of these guys are from the same scene and have played with them, so this is a pretty credible line-up and even the absolutely first original Steeleye Span (present on the first album) has never played together live. Maddy's voice doesn't push too much early on but grew a bit fuller as the songs kept coming. They covered a lot of territory and to my mind, hit on some recent and/or lesser material a bit too often. I did love the old songs like "Blacksmith", "When I was on Horseback" and "Lovely on the Water" with its stunning vocals, moody folk arrangement and great mandolin by Knight. Knight was in great form on violin, mandolin and vocals and I don't think the band would work if he were to leave. They broke up the show into two sets, had some nice stage patter and played well. When it worked, it soared to the heights I look for in this music. Glad to see them finally.

Quote of the Night: Maddie Prior describing the lyrics to Tam Lin-- "...the man was a shapeshifter, so he became a snake, an ogre, a wild bull, all of these things designed to make her let go, release her love and keep the spell on. That's the sort of metaphor that speaks to my marital experiences."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Robin Trower - Birchmere - September 21 2009

Robin Trower - The old, old Birchmere crowd files in quickly and fills the place much more thoroughly than I would have guessed. Guitar nuts are roaming around photographing the set list, photographing the backup guitars and bass and comparing notes of old Robin Trower shows. This is the first time for me as I missed his arena shows in my youth. Frankly, although he is an excellent guitarist, he wrote very few songs of interest and all of them are on the album "Bridge of Sighs". But that didn't stop me from enjoying another excellent guitarist who wrote even lesser songs, Frank Marino of Mahogany Rush, so here I am. I sit near a guy with a "You Might be a Guitar Nut if..." t-shirt that had several amusing answers to that question such as "you think a G-string is made of phosphor bronze". Anyway, Trower comes on and I wouldn't recognize him in a small police line-up. But once he starts playing the facial histrionics give it away, it's him. Oh, and he does play really well and has a strong signature sound. What was interesting is that he doesn't live at his pedal box, but mostly just creates the unique sound and works with it. The band was a bit too mannered. You expect that a bit with older bands, but the singer especially did not really give the edge that James Dewar did on the early albums. The Bridge of Sighs songs were good and got the biggest ovation from the enthralled crowd, well kind of enthralled, more respectful perhaps. Good show, but not one I will repeat next tour.


Quote of the Night: "There's no opening act tonight which often happens here--one of the reasons I like this place." Well, I agree that I don't want to see a six band bill keeping me out until 2:00am, but I wouldn't mind a bit more music for $40 and I really don't need to arrive home at 9:20pm.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Hawk and a Hacksaw/Damon & Naomi/Garland of Hours - Rock'n'Roll Hotel - September 20 2009

Garland of Hours - This is the type of band I will place in my extensive psyche-folk collection even though it is not a clean fit other than the mood I get from listening. The band is a drummer and a singer/cellist who lays down a loop prior to the duo joining in. As I said, a nice mood evocative of old European village legends and melancholic tales, although the lyrics I picked up on where more modern. Nice opener.

Damon & Naomi - I've seen this duo several times. This time it was just acoustic guitar and keyboards with the excellent vocals I expect. A well received set by the small crowd and a good warm selection of songs. A cover of Leonard Cohen's Bird on a Wire closed off another solid set by this high quality veteran duo.

A Hawk and a Hacksaw - Some great world/gypsy music it looks like here. Yes, the violinist is flying and is accompanied by a trumpet, tuba, accordian, bouzouki, and some percussion now and then. Reminds me of some of Boiled in Leads forays into world music and sure enough, there's that 7/8 beat that BiL used at times. Just a bit of vocals for some nice contrast and the songs sometimes featured a different player in a lead role, so it was quite interesting in addition to being quite good. Hard to not enjoy this group.

Quote of the Night: "This song's from 1995. Were you on H Street in 1995? I don't think a single one of you was on H Street in 1995." ...Damon Krukowski

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sian Alice Group/Polite Sleeper/The Console War - Red & the Black - September 17 2009

The Console War - Two guys with electric guitars, some keyboards and one guy went to a small mismatched drum kit at times. Pretty much shoegaze rock with vocals heavy on the reverb. When the guy switched to drums, it was alarmingly powerful. Overwhelming almost, but cool. Decent and well received by a sizable crowd.

Polite Sleeper - Three piece with drummer, keyboards and an acoustic guitarist/singer. Backup vocals from the other two as well. Simple, good quality song-writer rock was pretty much the menu here. Guitarist had energy to burn and stalked about a bit like a young Elvis Costello or David Byrne back in the day. I sensed the songs were a bit smarter than average but I rarely pick up fully on that issue unless I listen to a CD many times as I really don't pay close attention to lyrics until many listens. Still, a good delivery from this Brooklyn based band.

Sian Alice Group - Wow. They delivered the knockout blow. I hadn't seen anything this dreamy cool since United Bible Studies who they reminded me of, although sounding a little more ethnically neutral. Very dreamy psychedelic post-shoegaze rock. Even some freak-out psyche moves, amazing. Female singer percussionist fronts a rhythm section, keyboardist and guitarist. I could place this between the Velvet Underground and Vetiver (which alphabetically would make them Venom, but thankfully no dull death metal here). Some small instrument shifting and a trumpet briefly work their way in, too. The small crowd ate it up. This UK band is doing a lengthy tour and hopefully they will get the needed PR before the shows as that is what brought me to this one. Truly PR I am very thankful for.

Quote of the Night: "Don't act like you don't know who I am". No, that's not a near quote from Serena Williams berating of a linesperson. It was some very loud guy in Popeye's carrying on an unwanted conversation with the cashier either trying for a date, free food or both as he was loud but unclear. The manager came out to confront him in the street after he left and all was well. Always an adventure at Popeye's.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dead Meadow/The Shirks - Black Cat

The Shirks - A couple guitars, bass and drums with some vocals. Nice revved up melodic punk. Straight ahead rocking not unlike early Misfits. Short sweet, good thrust. The set was really short but that can work to a band's favor with this sound. Ian MacKaye sighting, so there must be some incestuous Dischord tie-in. Yes, one of the band members works there.

Dead Meadow - Clearly, one of best psychedelic acts working today, this three piece rocked out a crowded Black Cat backroom once again. Hopefully they will be hitting main stages soon. They are certainly a favorite of many in the know including Nick Cave who invited him to play Australia at an ATP show with the Saints, Bad Seeds and Spiritualized among other great bands. Dead Meadow really hits a groove with great psychedelic jamming. What really puts them a bit higher than most is that there are some lovely songs to go along with the great jamming. Style and substance. Do explore this band if you have not already.

Quote of the night: I wasn't listening, so I will just comment that the Trapeze School of NY is still open and doing their work in a parking lot near where I live. There are four great locations in NYC, DC, Boston and LA. So if you want a new career or just want to brush up your trapeze skills, check it out at: It does make an entertaining site on my walks to Chinatown.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Owl City/Kate Havnevik/Unicorn Kid - Rock'n'Roll Hotel - September 12 2009

Unicorn Kid - Time to challenge myself with something beyond my comfort zone with this show sandwiched between Motorhead, Hugh Cornwell and Dead Meadow. The Unicorn Kid comes out and plays his computer. Lots of pop melodies, electronic thrust with the Kid bobbing his head whilst wearing his furry lion head hat. He is from Scotland and went over well with the excitable crowd. Geeze, they looked young. So that's why this started at 7:30 on a Saturday night (and the sold out show had a good early crowd). When the Kid asked for hands in the air, I thought I was looking the entire first issue of Dischord's first release of the Teen Idles ep. ($10 to the first person who gets the reference without looking it up). Anyway, I was as distracted by non musical issues during this set as I am writing this up. But it went over well with the crowd.

Kate Havnevik - Kate plays acoustic guitar and sings with some pop recordings playing in the background. She is from Norway and had a Coco Rosie light kind of sound (with me, that is a compliment). This was lightly enjoyable, although the crowd seemed to like the more up tempo styling of the first act. God, this crowd is young, but teen. What television show is breaking these acts? I don't have kids and am not up on youth culture. I do feel it's kind of cool to infiltrate this type of show at an indie level at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel as opposed to seeing Hannah Montana at the Verizon. That is refreshing in a weird way.

Owl City - Ok, I can no longer hide my mistake. I thought I was buying a ticket for Owl Service, an interesting UK folk band. So I confused the owl bands. I have long since given up trying to figure out the differences between wolf bands (Wolf Eyes, Wolfmother, Wolf Parade, etc.) and am getting to the point of skipping all animal bands. Animal Collective is ok because they cover the entire kingdom, although I've seen them twice and am less interested in seeing them again. Anyway, Owl City did come out with a real band as well as some electronics, so that was nice. Some good pop melodies here, quite polished and nothing wildly original. The soundman was pumping a pedal plugged into the sound board, but I couldn't here what resulted. A bit of violin was nice and a real drummer. The crowd dug it and all in all, it's good to balance my diet by having this between Hugh Cornwell, Dead Meadow, movies like The World's Greatest Dad and In the Loop and books about corporate fraud.

Quote of the night: "Oh my god, I feel like I'm actually cool." from one of the half dozen people my age present in the club (later it went up by a dozen or so). I guess most were here as chaperones and drivers.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hugh Cornwell/Dennis Kane - Black Cat - September 10 2009

Dennis Kane - It's a CD release party and we are all invited for the $12 cover at the backstage at the Black Cat. Dennis Kane plays electric guitar and sings with a drummer and another guitarist. It starts off as a perfectly decent indie rock set with just enough bite and some fair songs with catchy enough melodies. And as good bands generally do, they have me feeling better by the end of the set than at the beginning. Not off the charts, but a likable set, just a little hard to distinguish from the crowd. Good reception by the 40-50 present.

Hugh Cornwell - I last saw Cornwell with the Stranglers in November, 1980. I had pulled an all-nighter the previous night and had no sleep time. After the show, I nearly killed myself on the 50 minute drive back to Oxford as I was dying to fall asleep after 40 hours. But my memories of the show are very good, so it was obviously worth it. Hugh was looking a bit older (imagine that after 29 years) but in good shape with a younger rhythm section behind him. Even in the newer material, he had that jagged guitar style with the flowing bass lines running up and down the scale. It is still a good sound. The songs, like some of the Stranglers older material (including "Walk on By" a ripping Bacharach cover they used to do), sometimes got a little downer and dreary but in a numbing sort of way, not a strong negative. He did chip in some Stranglers and they closed (early I thought) with a ripping "No More Heroes". The 50-60 in the crowd gave them a strong ovation and they came back with a six song encore including "Peaches" and finishing with the full version of "Down in the Sewer". Very good set. I hadn't realized how much I missed this sound. Recommended while you can get it, although this may be it as it is his first tour in the US in ten years.

Quote of the Day: The opening band did the usual thanks to the headliner... "...happy to opening for Hugh Cornwell. We saw them in the soundcheck and they sounded great...". A perfectly nice quote from someone who wasn't born when I saw the Stranglers and probably had to be told who they were when told of the show. Nothing like feeling old and obscure or at least being reminded of it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Motorhead/The Reverend Horton Heat/Nashville Pussy - 9:30 Club - September 8 2009

Nashville Pussy - Ok, so this guy in line is giving me a hard time (with humor--see below) and he gives me a tip that I should stand on the right side of the stage up front for this band. So I do so as the crowd is slow to build to its ultimate near sell-out size. Was his reasoning:
(a) The lead guitar sound will come through clearer?
(b) The lead guitarist has the best rock moves?
(C) Both a+b
(d) The blonde female lead guitarist has large barely covered breasts.
(e) He will be on the left and he doesn't want to see me nearby.
My answer is (b), but since he was a beer drinkin', foot stompin' guy in a Sturgis t-shirt, I'll let you guess which is his answer. Anyway, the band crunched through some good southern fried sleazy blistering hard rock and was quite good. The lead guitarist was the spirit of the band (a four-piece, 2 guys, 2 women). The male vocalist/rhythm guitarist didn't really stand out to give me much more than an entertaining set, so I don't sense anything really big here (as opposed to Valiant Thorr who I saw with Motorhead last year and I really thought did this a whole lot better). But they did rev up the crowd and were a strong effective band to start the show.

The Reverend Horton Heat
- The Reverend plays guitar and sings in front of a drummer and a stand-up bass player and has been doing this for quite a while now. I wasn't sure if it was a good fit at a Motorhead show, although I do notice an older more varied crowd than for the Opeth and Mastodon shows at this club. And now that I think about it, I wasn't even frisked tonight, so the 9:30 trusts us Motorhead-heads more than the modern metal followers. The Rev does a great psychobilly through a Texas juke joint style. In case you weren't sure, he revs it up best in a song called "Psychobilly Freakout". The band was hot, the crowd was into it and all was well and everyone was happy. So quit yer worryin', son.

- The trio came out with classics like Iron Fist and Stay Clean before mixing in old and new. No matter the song, the strength of the band's sound always came through loud and clear. It's fascinating to see one guitar and bass create the thick sonic soup that this duo has been doing for a quarter of a century now. Lemmy is actually closing in on 40 years soon and still sounds like he gargles with battery acid (as my friend said in 1982). A really great hard rock band that belongs at the pantheon for me along with Black Sabbath and Metallica in the history of metal/hard rock. Motorhead isn't exactly metal, has attitudes of punk even, but is a can't miss band if you want it loud and heavy. The drumming didn't seem quite as strong this time and it was explained that this was the first show for Matt Sorum (G'n'R/Velvet Revolver) who was filling in for Mikki Dee who was off in Malaysia shooting a reality show for Swedish tv. Huh? He did fine, but the breaks weren't quite as smooth as I saw last time. Barely worth a mention.

Quote of the Night: "Are you sure you are in the right line with that book on finance?" from the Sturgis biker guy behind me giving me crap about the ever present book I carry with me everywhere. No problem, bud, I was following Motorhead when Larry Wallis of the Pink Fairies was their guitarist and they were releasing singles on Stiff Records along side label mates, the Damned and Elvis Costello.

Bonus Quote: As I walked home, some nice young ladies in a car at the light at the corner of my condo, were wishing me well and the passenger asked if I knew where K Street was. "You're on it" was the obvious reply as she tried not to look too sheepish. That's the second time I've given this type of answer in the last few months.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Slickee Boys/Girl Loves Distortion - Black Cat - September 4 2009

Girl Loves Distortion - Three piece with a bass player that used a keyboard briefly. The female drummer had some good pop to her rhythms and shared vocals with her two compatriots. They switched around on instruments and unless I missed something, this was the first time I ever saw a right handed bass player switch to left handed guitar. Interesting move and an interesting band. They moved around a bit from psyche to pop to rock to post punk. They seemed smart enough to pull from several decades of influences. The set was slowed by some duller songs in the middle, but they can certainly grow out of that. Good start.

Slickee Boys - I certainly did not have to take any notes on this venerable DC act. I know it well and they don't change much in their annual or biannual show in DC. A great band that formed in the seventies punk era that played the garage punk style of the sixties with the energy and ferocity of the present times. It's a bit like the Dickies going a bit more garage. This was as good as any show I've seen from them in recent years. The guitarists, Kim Kane and Marshall Keith were ripping it up and Kim Kane is always fun to watch. All of them looked to be having a great time and the singer Mark Noone said they were having more fun than anyone there. Infectious fun for all those that didn't run out of town for the labor day weekend.

Quote of the Night: "This is our dance number because we know people in DC love to dance, they just hide it" from the GLD drummer with a nice nod and a wink.