Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Gerunds - Golden City - Milk Machine -- Red & the Black - Jan 29 2010

Milk Machine - All the normal rock components were here, but some were a bit twisted. There was the bass tuba, the rhythm accordion, and the lead trumpet (with some glockenspiel). But put a guy on a drum kit behind and bang out some songs with attitude and you have good rock music. Cool stuff and fun, gutsy attitude throughout. I liked that they smiled at their few flubs and just kept going and churning out the tunes. The crowd dug them and it was a big one for this club filled out with far more than just friends of the band.

Golden City - A little slow on the start as two members took (bathroom?) breaks while they were standing on stage. It looked like a crowded airplane in this small club. But then we get underway and had a two-guitar four-piece playing good fast rock music with pop hooks--perhaps a bit straighter and stronger than power-pop. I was detecting a trace of the Undertones which was in part due to the singer's voice which wasn't as extreme as Feargal Sharkey, but it had a bit of that tone along with Ben Deily (early Lemonheads). One song had a fantastic break with staccato guitars that resembled some of the creative moves Social Unrest did long ago. Good set and enough quality to separate themselves from the herd in this vast field.

The Gerunds - Second time for me with this band, still at the Red & the Black. I enjoyed the first one a lot and this one hooked me as well. The songs are really good and the players know their stuff. The drummer has a strong precise attack. The bass player is smooth and quick. The two guitarists grind out the chords and fills in grand manner. The two vocalists play off each other very well. There is nothing not to like here. That is to say I find myself enjoying their music very much (if I may speak with a gerund). As a bonus, they invited Bad Religion's Brian Baker up to perform four (!) Dag Nasty songs which was Baker's band back in the 80s with Gerunds singer, Peter Cortner. A very nice highlight and there were a fair number of old-timers like myself who enjoyed this treat. Do see this band when you get a chance. Like the guy I was chatting with who didn't know them, you will be impressed.

Celebrity Sighting: I may be the worst celebrity spotter on the planet, but if you wear a suit of question marks, you are either the Riddler or Matthew Lesko. It appeared Lesko was enjoying the opening band with his wife. I am not sure if there is a child in the band or they just love tubas.  Or perhaps he helped get their band a government grant? This reporter did not try to find out.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Nick Oliveri - Ambition Burning -- Velvet Lounge - Jan 25 2010

Ambition Burning - Last minute addition to the bill when the original opener was too ill to work. I had seen them recently and thought there was potential amidst the rough spots. Since then, they have been rehearsing acoustically only, so they were happy to get a chance to cut loose with the volume. All in all, not much has changed. There was some good basic thrash that was mostly hardcore with metallic touches. Nice call and response vocals between two different voices. The bass player had to tune a bit much for a bass player, but the guitarist did well aside from a brief unplugging or switch off or whatever. Nice chaotic Who style ending with drums toppling over and axes swung around (but smartly not smashed as they weren't getting a lot of funds from the 12 people in attendance).  The headliner applauded them and the small crowd enjoyed the effort as did I.

Nick Oliveri - This is not exactly someone I would expect doing a solo acoustic show. However, the former bass player for Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age did a very nice job playing his brand of Acoustic Death. There were covers from his former bands, an amusing take on Dee Dee Ramone's "Endless Vacation" (as if there is any other way to play that other than amusing) and lots of power strumming and hard-edged vocals. He had his girlfriend sing on a couple of numbers which gave a little variety (and proved what his road manager said that Nick at 6'2" is the shortest person in the tour car). He even did a Roky Erickson cover, so he gets extra credit points from me. I enjoyed his good natured attitude about just having fun with the not quite 20 people that were in the room. He said somthing about a band he was joining that just finished recording in Norway. That may be a better way to go long-term, but I enjoyed this between band solo outing just fine.

Quote of the Night: "I was really bummed that I missed seeing Tad when they opened for Primus in 1991". That was from the road manager at the merch table. And when I overheard that, I had to go over and chat as I was at that tour in Denver and was amazed that he remembered the year. I may have gotten the decade wrong if pressed. Anyway, it was a nice chat with a guy who works in the business but is a fan at heart which is always nice to hear.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Cornel West Theory - Hume - Imperial China - Buildings - Big Gold Belt -- Black Cat - Jan 22 2010

Big Gold Belt - The Sockets Records showcase begins with a Brooklyn duo--woman with microphone, man with guitar and mac. They had video as well. Lighter music with more of a dreamy soundscape with some dance and psyche touches. Good vocals and very light, tasty guitar sounds filling in with the electronics and drumbeats. A good opening set.

Buildings - An instrumental power trio with gutsy indie rock in more of a post-rock vein I would say. Busy, active playing yet playful and interesting keeping things a bit more upbeat than downer. A bit of a Feelies feel to the set at times. Spirited, well played, enjoyable set. I would be happy seeing this band on a bill with all sorts of different style of bands.

Imperial China - Another trio, but more electronics and synthesizer and switching between extra percussion and guitars and occasional bass. More sonic landscapes but sharper edged in the percussion, guitaring and vocals. Propulsive rhythms were the driving force for their sound and it worked well for the most part. Another solid DC band here.

Hume - A four-piece this time playing a jagged Feelies sort of rock with soft vocals underneath. Two guitars that played together more than dueled. A couple of the early songs had a little bit on an over-reliance on annoying pauses all over the song. An old friend of mine, Ron House (Great Plains), used to say how much he disliked songs that did that. I don't mind nearly as much, but I see his point when it is overdone. But I am getting picky here. The band played on with a good indie rock feel, sometimes in a Modest Mouse vein or other bands of that ilk. The last few songs were janglier with some interesting rhythms and ended the set on a high note for me. There is some quality here for sure.

The Cornel West Theory - A collective of musicians and rappers doing hip hop with an interesting soulful rock backing. Rather than metal guitar work, there was only drums, bass, keys and synth-electronics which created a very nice backing to the vocals. The sound varied from fluid neo-psyche rock to a classic soul backing and some funk. It was never overwhelming but created a great bedrock for the vocals which was the usual sort of thing with some female voices joining in as the set went on. Singing and rapping also kept the songs varied and interesting. A very good DC act here that puts a lot of thought into the music as well as the lyrics. Well worth checking out.

Quote of the Night: "...University of Utah... ...Rick Majerus..." Huh? During the opening set, there was a loud conversation next to me fairly near the stage. The guy kept going on and on and I don't care how little you care about the band on stage, there is no reason to discuss anything about Utah at the Black Cat. And Majerus has not been there in over ten years although I may have misheard that one. Frankly, the only low point of the night was the really loud and constant conversations going on during all band's sets. I was constantly moving around to avoid this until I got hired to watch someone's coat for about a half hour.

Friday, January 22, 2010

We Are Scientists - Uninhabitable Mansions - Black Cat - Jan 21 2010

Uninhabitable Mansions - My second viewing of this five-piece from Brooklyn. And without looking at the previous review, I think the result was pretty similar tonight. They play a really nice ringing sort of pop music that sometimes steps up the pace or has some subtle lead noise from the lead guitarist. Good vocal interplay between a male and female voice, although the female voice was a bit soft partly due to her style and maybe a bit of soundboard issues. It did get a bit better, so the harmonies ultimately worked. Some songs were just a little too soft, lush pop which had my mind wandering more than I would have liked. Those songs were just as good, but seemed for fitting for a college radio show. Still, a good set by a good band that I cannot help liking.

We Are Scientists - Two straight nights of power-pop born out of punkrock, or something like that. This time it is an American version. We Are Scientists delivered the goods with vocal driven songs featuring plenty of riffing, inventive bass lines, and a good pop from the drummer who was doing his second show with them. The band is clearly smart and funny as their stage banter was well above average. I especially liked the guitarist mishearing (or maybe not) audience comments and twisting them into odd phrases. Very catchy songs and a very appreciative audience that almost filled the club. My home listening leans toward brooding, powerful stuff far too often. That is why it is always a pleasure to go out and just rock out, smile, and have some fun with a band like this.

Quote of the Night: "I just heard someone say about our drummer 'he's Mark Twain!'" -- as mentioned above.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Cribs, Adam Green & the Dead Trees - 9:30 Club - Jan 19 2010

Adam Green & the Dead Trees - I thought this was going to be two different acts and from what I gather, it often is. But tonight, NYC's Adam Green fronted Portland's four-piece, the Dead Trees. The Trees had a garage rock sort of steady sound somewhere between Canned Heat and the Shins. Green had an Ian Curtis delivery that was closer to Warsaw than Joy Division. Green is gabbing semi coherently between songs explaining how loaded he is which explains much. He has energy, but a really bad habit of dropping the mic down on the ground with a loud pop, far too many times for my ears. Some songs are pretty good, the band is solid, but the singer annoyed me way too much. I've seen Guided by Voices already. There was much worse behavior there, but better music. It was not worth the sacrifice this time.

The Cribs - What used to be a three piece pop-punk band (all brothers) from the UK is now a four-piece with ex-Smith, Johnny Marr adding some strong guitar work. This is a far better gig for him than it was with Modest Mouse, in my view. The Cribs have a strong power pop sound born out of punk, perhaps, but sounding of any modern era. They have plenty of harmonies and strong, catchy songs. Sometimes, I felt it was a little too steady and lacked dynamics, but they did some nice twists and turns toward the end of their set to give me my fix of variety. Speaking of Joy Division, they mentioned playing the Black Cat the day Tony Wilson died. So Manchester rules the evening and rules it well. Good set for a good crowd that had a good time. Me too.

Quote of the Night: "Look up at me please" from the ID checker at the front door. Apparently she was trying to detect if a 45 year old man was using the ID of a 50 year old man to sneak in. Fortunately, I resembled my drivers license enough to gain entry. Or perhaps I just look 20 years old when my head is down. Are these people trying out for Airport Security jobs?

Upcoming show: Sockets Records, a local DC label, is celebrating its fifth year in existence--no minor feat these days. They have a show at the Black Cat this Friday night. The music is heavy with electronica and pop, perhaps a bit in the Animal Collective universe. Support local music is still a good motto when in doubt.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Joan as Policewoman, Carol Bui - Black Cat - Jan 14 2010

Carol Bui - The usual rock instruments with a cello, second percussionist and a second female vocalist accompany Ms. Bui on stage. They start with really cool ethnic dance tunes with lots of pace, power and melody. The second song went into some unholy triad of Smithereens, Silver Summit and the New Christs (post Radio Birdman). What the hell have we got here? Songs settled to a point where they were not messing with my brain into some really nice rock music with singer/songwriter feeling and good rhythms. There is some really exciting stuff going on and I am enjoying this much. But then a colossal bummer happens when Ms. Bui announces she is leaving DC and headed off to the state of Washington. Our loss as I would love to see more sets like this.

Joan as Policewoman - Kind of a big act with good press getting the downstairs stage at the Black Cat. So it is no surprise that is packed with a lot of fans. Joan comes out with a keyboard-vocalist and a drummer. I had not realized that she was as integral in instrumentation for her sound as she turned out to be with her guitar and keyboards carrying her songs. I knew her voice was the main draw and she used it well in her songs where she was able to show the same intensity in the louder rock songs as she did in the quietest of passages. Great dynamics, smart stylish pop songs well delivered tonight. Even a cover of Public Enemy delivered in a non-rap style. I enjoyed the set a lot more than I thought I would and am a believer in the critical success she has had.

Quote of the Night: "Oh they are done" mentioned by one of the gabby people a good 45 seconds after the opening band finished. Glad you were paying so much attention (Truth in Journalism--this quote was from the last time here, but it was better than the one I had tonight. Although tonight's opening band was much better than before, so perhaps I should not be so harsh).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Caustic Casanova / Daddy Lion / Broken Buttons - Velvet Lounge - Jan 13 2010

Broken Buttons - This IS a new year, I show up a couple minutes late and find a Velvet Lounge show actually started on time? I did not miss much and quickly got into the spirit of this first of three trios this evening. Vocals were prominent and well sung as delivered by the bass player. The guitarist some times stopped playing his angular, jittery post-punk notes to move over to a Moog. The rhythm was rock-steady with a PiL like bass sound (but faster). I am hearing some Bauhaus and Joy Division in here, so we have a classic post-punk sound, well delivered. The songs vary to where I wondered whether the guitarist is closing in on Bernard Sumner (Joy Division) or Dick Dale? No matter, a set I enjoyed and I promise to be on time next show.

Daddy Lion - Both axemen were singing in front of solid pop songs that rocked out nicely when the desire was there to take it up a notch. The first song had some really nice oddball breaks that came out of left field but that is a compliment. I did sense some good song writing in this young band. They still did three covers of songs by the Sonics (yes!), Del Shannon (fine) and Modest Mouse (well, I can't win them all--although the song was fine). Good harmonies, nice grungey undercurrent and rock moves popped in and out in this enjoyable set. The band was having fun and did a nice job of promoting their music and future show and just hanging out after the set.
Caustic Casanova - This DC band has some records out and t-shirts, so they have been around a bit. They began with a slow building psyhe-fest that ended loud and faster in a Kohoutek manner. Ergo, the Velvet Lounge is the perfect venue for this sound. They varied things a bit between psyche and hard rock with arty vocal moves reminding me a bit of MX-80 Sound (yes, I've used this reference at least three times previously, but it explains things nicely even if they are obscure).  The bass sound fuzzed out a bit too loudly at times, but it settled. His playing was quite good which acted like an extra guitar at times. They also reminded me a bit of a really nice band I've seen many times, Entrance Band. Good show all the way around tonight.

Quote of the night: "You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go DOWNTOWN". Yes, that was Petula Clark bellowing out one of my favorite songs from my youth before I knew what rock'n'roll was. Good between band music, but it really got me thinking about forgetting about my cares? I understand the sentiment, but were it so easy, Petula.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Zlam Dunk / Detox Retox - Black Cat - Jan 10 2010

Zlam Dunk -  A vocalist/percussionist is supported by guitar, bass, drums, and keys. He does a melodic punk style with tight pounding rhythms and guitaring and cool swirling keyboard playing. Really nice attack with a good 80s dance style added with the keys. A lot of sounds and subtle style shifts underneath keeps this music very interesting with each song. Nothing profound, just subtle shifts and altogether fun attitude from the band. Quite fresh and there was even an Akron/Family style a capella break in one song. These guys are from the Austin area which could help them on their way if they don't get lost in the shuffle. I hope they stick to it and keep having fun on the road.

Photos by Stas Casa

Detox Retox - There was a very large percentage of women in the crowd which had me puzzled, although when this band kicked in, I think I had my answer. The four-piece had a very pop-rock sound with attractive hooks. There was a dingy sound at first that had me disoriented a bit. It kind of helped with the rock aspect, but it was not clear to me what the intent was. The sound eventually gelled a bit better as the night went on and perhaps I got more used to their style, too. I heard an Echo and the Bunnymen vibe at times. The songs were decent enough and although I enjoyed the opening band a bit more, I would put my money on this band for a bigger audience down the road. But I am not very good at handicapping these things--which makes me the perfect A&R guy for a major label. That is, assuming that position even exists anymore.

Observation of the Night: I believe I saw someone texting with thick gloves or mittens on. Or perhaps his phone had an app that channeled directly into his brainwaves? I admit to not keeping up with these trends.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Capstan Shafts / Cheniers / The Octagon - Black Cat - Jan 7 2010

The Octagon - This band was a little tricky to figure out. One song they had some great catchy pop moves in a grunge setting which did not seem to work. Other songs were grungy rock which sounded good. Then came some average pop sounds. Ultimately, I saw enough smart songs to make it work, but the sound never quite gelled. Good effort, perhaps another night with better sound may work even better.

Cheniers - Local band that is perhaps named for local Wizards announcer Phil Chenier? I know this band never saw him play like I did, but they did choose a nice googlable name at least. I was hearing good grinding, churning moderate pace pop songs with a bit of punkrock style that was not unlike Wire. They are not anywhere near the upper echelons with Wire, but their choices in song and playing were good and quite enjoyable. And for any band that list Swell Maps as an influence, let alone even knowing Swell Maps, well they are my kind of band.

The Capstan Shafts - Apparently this guy named Dean from Vermont has quietly churned out a bit of music over recent years well below the radar. He has put together this band of a couple guitarists and a rhythm section and they are playing together for the first time here (not sure if any of them have worked together in other combinations). Anyway, the vocals were good and delivered good hooks in the pop-rock style. The rhythm section was solid and the guitars were fascinating. One played garage chords as distorted as you would like while the other did some of the most oddball leads and fills I have heard. It had the jarring effect of a Tommy Hall electric jug or Pere Ubu home made synthesizer. Well, not that extreme, but it made me look up and try to make sure I was seeing and hearing a guitar. Good stuff. My notes say "Daniel Johnston backed by the Zeroes?" Maybe, I am not a big Johnston fan but it has the right poptone here, but much more control. Very enjoyable set.

Quote of the Night: From an exchange from a fan and Dean from Capstan Shafts (with apologies as I didn't hear the song title exactly.

Fan: "Fire xxxx"
Dean: "Fire, isn't it illegal to yell fire indoors?"
Fan: "Fire xxxx"
Dean: "Oh Fire xxxx"
Fan: "Fire xxxx... plus there's a fire!"
Dean: amidst laughter "Now that is illegal"

Adam Franklin & Bolts of Melody / The Jet Age - DC9 - Jan 6 2010

The Jet Age - Three piece with an active drummer, solid bass player and guitar vocalist that shined a bit more as the guitarist. I liked the sound with some good effects and good rock playing. Vocals were decent but lacked confidence at times. I was reminded a bit of Awesome Color who I like quite a bit. I sense these guys are young and still working it out, but they have got a really nice start at it. Stay at it, stay strong!

Adam Franklin Bolts of Melody - I have very slowly become a big fan of the former Swervedriver singer. His solo career is going well with a couple of albums and a couple of US tours. His music is almost a perfect formulaic balance of psyche, shoegaze, rock and pop. Only a modest turnout tonight, but a strong base of fans for him. Many people were very enthusiastic, as was I. I really enjoy his songs and the subtle jamming done around them. Every band member has touch and taste and it is such a pleasure to see them. No cynicism tonight, I will just continue to gush here.  I appreciate his work effort as much as his songs and wish him much more success.

Quote of the Night: from the opener- "...Now's the time to get your refund, but Adam Franklin is up in 45 minutes, so you may want to stick around." Please, Mr. Jet Age, show some confidence. This would be funny if it was coming from Rat Scabies or someone from that era, but dig in, rock out, have fun and apologize to no one!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Gogol Bordello / The Extraordinaires - 9:30 Club - Jan 3 2009

The Extraordinaires - Four guys with neatly trimmed beards, a funny hat, fish shaped guitar... OK, smart and funny band with eclectic style opening for an eclectic headliner. This band was good and did not grate at the nerves at all despite my cynical expectations. Nothing really grabbed me either, but it was fun with catchy enough songs and good playing. They are from Philadelphia.

Gogol Bordello - I have heard the buzz for some time, but this
is my first chance to catch them live, as they should be heard
and seen on stage. This was the second of two sold out shows
and the final show of a lengthy tour. I was not surprised to
see they had plenty of energy to burn as that is a major part of
the act. But first the lights dimmed and then they played almost
fifteen minutes of entrance music. Now I am a fan of cool intro
music, but this was a bit excessive. I heard the Pogues, a gypsy
song, reggae, a hardcore song (Wasted Youth? I am really
pissed I couldn't figure out who) and another song. So they laid
out a long recipe of what they are about in case you had not
figured that out already. Finally, they jump into the set and did
an excellent job. Seven of them bouncing around with a couple
of female backup singers popping in and out. The crowd dug
it as expected and I enjoyed it as well. However, there was
something just a little rehearsed and formal about the
presentation which kind of defies the formula a bit. Whether
that is due to playing big club (gee that has never happened
before) or just a certain comfort and limitation of a rock set,
I don't know. At least they did not line up and do a Rockettes
kick or anything like that. I find bands that are born out of
the Pogues to be a little tricky for me to fully get into and
these guys had some Boiled in Lead stylings in here too, so
in spite of their originality, it is a form where other bands
have also excelled at. But I am being a bit picky. This was
fun and the band is worth seeing for a whole lot of varied
music lovers out there.

Quote of the Night: from a line... "She's trying out for a triathalon and training with a guy who is on her kickball team." Huh?