DC ROCK LIVE – 20 months on...
As my 221st review is posted, I feel the desire to explain what I am doing here. Many of you have figured it out well enough, but I get more and more hits every day. I am glad I waited, because aside from my stated reasons back in post number one, this experience has changed my outlook and approach quite a bit.
First, I should go into a bit of background. I was born in 1959, which meant as I hit the key teenage music listening years, I was into the “classic rock” era. There were still many avenues to pursue and I chose the hardest rock I could find and some progressive and psychedelic rock. Most people who liked it heavy did the Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin route and I was no different there. I also dug deeper to find Montrose, Budgie and UFO. However, my favorites were always Blue Oyster Cult who did have a selective crowd of us who thought ourselves more cerebral and more hip than our fellow high schoolers (Kind of like Rush fans, but not as obvious). Early Blue Oyster Cult was quite pyschedelic and varied. They rocked pretty hard and put on a great live show. I did not care for the country-rock scene out of California at the time, although there were some mild exceptions then and now. I had a few good friends to trade ideas with and decent enough FM radio in Dayton, Ohio. Plus, Rolling Stone and Creem magazines helped give me some ideas.
It was the magazines that aroused my curiosity about punk rock. Since I liked heavy, fast, hard rock, it was a natural move. NBC’s Weekend news magazine did a late night story featuring the Sex Pistols and the Damned. The Damned seemed cool but scary, but the Pistols rocked the house done. I decided to experiment. As I started college, I was able to find cheap promo copies of early Stranglers, Jam and Ian Dury records. The employees at the store were complimentary and I still bump into them some 33 years later. Through the combination of what you can learn in record stores (read or see “High Fidelity”) and the incredible bonding power of punk rock, I started an intimate relationship with music and a love/hate relationship with the music business.
I began buying everything I could afford that was punk rock or new wave. I caught early shows by the Ramones, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and Destroy all Monsters. I discovered the local bands like the Dates and the Rulers. Then, when a band called Toxic Reasons was added to a 1979 bill, things changed dramatically. I became their manager, which was the job you got if you were a trusted friend that did not play an instrument. I did this for a while, released a record by another cool local band, Dementia Precox and promoted shows with these bands, DOA, MDC and others. I worked on some zines and was both a big fan and someone trying to help this vibrant exciting music be heard by the masses (or at least a few more people). I was friends with Husker Du and had connections with the Ramones and got to hang around with them some.
Even though I locked into the spirit of the times, I did not give up some of the older music I enjoyed. I also moved onward and outward and got into the grunge scene (as much as many of those bands hate the term, it is descriptive). I did not work with the musicians much anymore and slowly reverted to buying music as opposed to seeing it live, with exceptions for the best bands and those that I knew.
My next phase was to dig deeper into UK folk music. As I started buying some of my old favorites like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, I kept learning more and more about the European (and ultimately world wide) psychedelic folk scene that got kick-started by Davy Graham in 1964 or thereabouts and went strong into the late seventies, tapering off but never going away entirely. I was rabidly collecting everything and suffered the collector’s curse of thinking you are making progress toward the end of accumulating everything you need while continually discovering a larger universe of what is out there—all of which you want. Want and need become interchangeable at some point.
Moving back from the mountains of Colorado to inner city DC rekindled my love for live music. From 1994 on, I have been hitting the clubs hard trying to get current on hot touring acts, stay abreast with local bands, and catching older acts that I haven’t seen in decades, if ever. Which takes me to this blog (finally).
I retired from my US government job at the calendar end of 2007. It took me a while to settle back in DC as I had to go back to Colorado to sell a house and get things organized. Finally in November 2008, I was ready to start my blog. There were three main reasons for doing this, listed in order of importance:
1. I have friends scattered over the world and only a few here in DC. I had trouble remembering what bands I was going to see when I spoke with them on the phone or answered an email. A blog was a way they could keep track of what I was seeing and give them a chance to compare and contrast with what I had seen.
2. I wanted to get in the habit of semi-creative writing. I hoped to write more substantial things some day, but needed some practice. I had been doing a lot of business writing in my career and I have seen that I still carry that style around with me. I hope to develop more artistry, although I certainly don’t mind a simple business style being an anchor for reviewing live music.
3. I wanted to participate in the music business again. I barely understood the business then and understand it less now, but I thought doing something on the Web would allow me to learn some things about it and the Web in general.
So how are things now?
I still have those three reasons for doing the blog, but they have kind of reversed themselves in importance. I have been pleasantly surprised by the quantity of readers finding my blog with search engines and only a wee bit of word of mouth advertising. I get about 30-45 hits a day based on the last three months. It has gotten where I have to treat what I write with a lot more care than what I used to do, aside form the occasionally rushed entry. I still try to go in to a show cold and do minimal research as I write the show up and try to keep things fresh and simple. But I don’t want to seriously misstate things or turn the writing into a whining bitch session.
In fact, I write mostly positive reviews as I have profound respect for all bands and individuals who get up and play music in front of a crowd. I sometimes will get a little tired of clichés, but I try to only go off on bands that have lousy attitudes or are unfunny drunks or jerks. I may ding someone who is trying and just is not very good, but I try to keep it to why I did not like it or find a technological reason for the problems.
What exactly do I look for? It is pretty simple. It is my reaction to a live show with the band being the focal point along with the club, the fans, the conditions, everything I can think of that affects my reaction to the show. I keep things concise and to the point as much as possible for a couple of reasons. First, I am not being paid for any of this (I do get free music for the CD reviews), but mostly I find lengthy Greil Marcus style analysis way past its day. Even the great Lester Bangs may be a bit out of place today. Second, I aim to arouse curiosity for readers. There are links to myspace or band pages where a couple of clicks will let you judge for yourself. You don’t need my review beyond that. You can learn a lot more any time you want.
One thing that has changed is that I have enjoyed digging deeper into the local scene and try to find younger up and coming bands to review. They are very appreciative and are fun to talk to or exchange emails with. This does take me back to my early days trying to get 25 to 50 people to come to a Toxic Reasons show or one to two hundred to a hall show I was promoting. I was one of eight paying customers who saw Husker Du on their first Midwest tour. I became good friends with them after that and was with them many times until their demise. So a sold out show at the 9:30 will be followed by a show in front of dozen people at the Red & the Black. I do get a bit lazy about hitting outlying clubs as I enjoy walking to the U Street area clubs or doing the short drive to H Street NE.
I also will try to vary the types of music I cover. Obviously punk and psychedelic folk are the two areas I know best. But any kind of rock music works for me. I like experimental music when there is some kind of foundation. Jazz is good, but I am not an expert. I am weak on hip-hop and most dance music forms, but I appreciate the best of these or any genres. I have always said “I like the western part of country & western music” and little has changed there. Another way to phrase it is that I’ll take Austin over Nashville. And even though I like punk and psyche-folk, I can be awfully hard on young bands in those genres these days. Especially punk, where I just see too many clichés considering it is 35 years later, so there may be some tougher reviews for bands there unless they really offer something new.
So I continue on. I am enjoying keeping this blog fresh with 2-3 shows a week. There is a lot of great music here and I hope everyone who reads these reviews, will go out and support live music wherever you may live. Hopefully I can give you a few ideas and direction once in a while, too.