Sunday, May 29, 2011

Medications - Office of Future Plans - Buildings -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - May 28 2011

Buildings - I invariably enjoy the half-hour set that this instrumental power trio dishes out. Tonight was no exception as they had it cranked and rolling as they ripped through their intricate songs with a controlled ferocity. Their backdrop of films is good as it features a lot of motion which fits their music so well. It is progressive fluidity with a modern bite. Fripp meets Verlaine and Lloyd, speeding forward. The super heavy song near the end was nice. The crowd dug tonight's proceedings. And to close, I will mention something that no one cares about. The guitarist always reminds me of my Dutch friend, Eelco.

Office of Future Plans - I have not seen this band in a while, although I saw J. Robbins join up with his old buddies Government Issue late last year. They still line up with Robbins on guitar and vocals along with a rhythm section and a cellist who plays guitar on the last 3-4 songs. The songs are in that post-hardcore vein ala Fugazi (Ian MacKaye sighting tonight) and others. I loved the opener which had an epic prog quality with heavy dynamics and sound shifting, but was far more dark and modern sounding. I even felt an Adam Franklin vibe in a few songs with just a wee bit of psyche. They covered a song by a Japanese band, Naht, that was good. A couple of songs toward the end had my mind wandering a bit, but they closed strong. The place was nicely crowded, but well short of a sell-out. But every one was enjoying the set and focusing on the music more than most young Saturday night crowds. So kudos to the band and the listeners. Overall, this band mixes its songs nicely with some that trend toward catchy and others that are filled with dark intrigue.

2009 Tour. Photo by Renata Burger in My Photos
Medications - This trio could so easily slip into terrain that would have me bored. They play quirky patterns that I have heard other bands mangle or play so lightly and cute, that I couldn't help but get frustrated. But these guys have just enough power and creativity to push things higher and stronger than most of the other quirky pop-rock bands I see. It helps that they really have command of their material and are locked in together. Both axemen sing and that part of the music is also is a positive. They are not immediate or obvious, but most rock fans should be able to find something in the music to grab on to. The crowd had thinned just a bit even though it was not overly late, but those that stayed enjoyed this band and yet another fine showcase of the local talent we have in this area.

Quote of the night: Robbins after the applause died down and he made a comment I (and probably others) did not catch... "...your silence is deafening. Seriously, we appreciate you guys being here because you can spend your entertainment dollar any number of ways."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Scream - Off! - The Shirks -- Black Cat - May 27 2011

The Shirks - Good crowd tonight as the Shirks hit the stage. They play a really nice driving melodic brand of punk rock. I'm thinking Angry Samoans crossed with Black Market Baby, at least when those bands were at a good pace. In any case, the songs are agreeable if not quite catchy with a solid hook, stready rhythms, and strong smooth clean guitar work with only a few frills. Straight ahead, not looking back. I clocked this nice little set at 19 minutes, so need for me to pile on the verbage.

Off! - Geeze, I have not seen Keith Morris since Chuck Biscuits was his drummer. He has put together this really good band featuring Steven McDonald of Red Kross on bass, and the guitarist from Burning Bridges and the drummer from Rocket from the Crypt. The sound is vintage LA punk/hardcore formed from Morris' earliest style in Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. He still makes a great front man, although he may be the only guy I have seen with a dreadlock combover. He was working the merch table the whole night and many long time fans enjoyed getting to have a chat with him. The band was even better than I thought. These guys were not just  relying name value, but rocked out. Songs are short, although the set did go to 31 minutes with Morris spending some time with his usual fun brand of odd chatter that circled around a lot, but ultimately made a point--kind of like a mosh pit. Kudos to Scream for flying this excellent band out here just for this show. And if you missed this one, it looks like they are headed back to DC in late June with more punk old-timers, Henry Rollins and Dinosaur Jr.

Scream - The original four members apparently had so much fun the last time they did this (Dec 2009), that they are doing it again. They even played with Corrosion of Conformity the night before in North Carolina making this a mini-tour. Well, not really, but this may not be the last we see of these guys as they have been doing spot shows here and there and even have a new album coming out as well. As for this show, they looked like they were having a blast. The crowd up front was seriously energized although it quickly got polite and quiet as you moved backward. There was some equipment and tuning issues that slowed things down a bit, but that didn't bring anybody down. The band really seemed to push each other and the songs were really smoking. They have many creative little gems to choose from and filled out much of the set with the early classics. It was not always tight, but these guys can play and it was somewhat hard for me to judge, as the sound had a loud swirl which was a bit overwhelming at times. But I did not spend a whole lot of time overthinking this 70-minute set. This was to be enjoyed for its energy and I was absorbed. "Fight/American Justice" still can get me going anytime I hear it.

Quote of the Night: Keith Morris to a young preteen fan who he brought on stage... "No, I am not going to hurt you, I'm too small to be throwing my weight around". Morris reminded me of Jerry Lewis semi-coherently talking to one of "his kids" on his telethon in only a slightly less coherent manner.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Justyn with a Y - Flo Anito - Beau Finley - J Raud - Mira Yang - The Ash Lovelies -- Dahlak - May 26 2011

Although I took notes on each of the bands, I think I will scrap all the specific items and keep things general. Due to equipment failures, late coming crowds more interested in an unimportant NBA game, and other erratic behaviors, it was simply a little too difficult and unfair to try to come up with anything specific. I have only seen Justyn with a Y previously and have found his music to be quite good. Flo Anito is a good folk singer playing guitar and piano and I would be happy to see her again. Maybe the others if conditions are better. The venue was a decent Eritrean restaurant and bar, but was not equipped for serious musical events. In future, I may go there for a meal. The event was free, so only my time was invested. And that brings me to my theory. It is always a problem with a show when I spend my time working up graphs in my head (as Lisa Simpson once apologized..."I make a lot of graphs"). In this case, I envisioned the x axis being money spent on a show with the y axis being most enjoyment obtained with the investment factored in. If I were to plot all possible concerts (not just the ones I go to), I would get a inverted cosine pattern. Something like below. If you are not following any of this, then I am envious of zen simplicity of your thought process.
File:Gateway Arch.jpg

Thursday, May 26, 2011


MP3 Album Cover
I was fortunate to follow-up a fine live performance with the further listening of this album by a fine young Philadelphia band. Like the live set, the album features a fine variety of styles and moods. Kelly Ruth is the primary songwriter and handles lead vocal duties and plays a nice upright bass. She is supplemented by drums and guitar primarily with some additional instruments dancing in and out. This is quirky modern folk music that maintains some strong roots in tradition. That is a difficult balance, but it is handled smoothly with the fine arrangements and even better vocal harmonies. These harmonies give everything a "feel good" vibe that have these songs briskly dancing by. Jazz works its way into the mix as the album moves forward and there is even a "swinging London" moment in "Miss West". The closer, "When I Get Low, I Get High", brings a nice twist on the Ella Fitzgerald classic. I can recommend this for fans of snappy 60s pop-folk bands, lounge-pop crossover connoisseurs and listeners hip to the lighter side of the Akron/Family. Indulge.

Songs to try out:

Beekeeper - Truly as interesting as most anything by Joanna Newsome or any of the other nu-folkies out there.

Moscow (Brother, Brother) - A nice electric guitar undercuts the nice harmonies at work.

Miss West -- This songs shows the best of their 1960s roots, but with a whole lot more going on than just that.

Broad Ditch 
Cover Art

Remember when punk was freedom from narrow categorization? Exhilaration and liberation from the status quo (mainstream music, not the band, although yes... the band Status Quo)? Ultimate freedom of expression? Well, if you blinked in the late 70s, you may have missed that. But from time to time, and even in the olden days of rock, there have always been many bands that had a quirky charm or a radical abrasive quality to the folk and rock music they created. Some names? Holy Modal Rounders, Zappa, Beefheart, Red Krayola, Max Webster (I've always wanted to name drop this oddity), and the Contortions are some of the names that come to my mind when I hear the music of Presto Bando. There is a smooth undercurrent of a rhythm section with shards of angular vocals and jagged rock chords  on top of it all. There are moments of folk rock that are an update on the Holy Modal Rounders sound, but there is also some old time 50s rock sound in the mix although you may have to listen closely.  This DC band is worth a look and a listen for their ability to combine creativity and originality in a way that is plain fun to listen to. Lyrically, Kleenex Blues is amusing and there are many more subtle and overt moments of humor in the songs that will come out after many listens. This is not a sound for the faint of heart, but for those tired of listening to the same old minor variants on traditional genres, give this one a spin.

Songs to try out:

Best Guess - A nice flowing sound in spite of the jagged edges.

Echo Echo E-cho - This twisted rock'n'roll sound is reminiscent of the Flesheaters and their ability to take garage rock, punk rock and naive intensity and make a great rock song. Not as easy as it sounds.

Upside Down Sea - A really nice bass line flying around the steady drums and clanging chords.

With all the Americana indie rock bands and shoegaze electronica variants climbing over each other to release records, I always find it nice to find straight up rock bands who simply let it rip. Local rockers Midnight Hike do that and more here in their debut. They vary it around a bit which is always helpful with a few songs that add plenty of reggae moves. One of those, "Long Way from Yesterday" sneaks in a bit of R&B as well. The other nice element to this is that although classic rock figures in the equation, it does have enough of a modern touch to not make it a museum piece or an homage. This is a short album coming in at under a half-hour, but there is no point adding filler. This is a tight nicely produced debut as is. I think there is room to sharpen up the songwriting and there are hints of that in the closer, "Broken" which has a great building intensity to it like many a classic rock song. I look forward to seeing the live show and seeing this band's growth.

Songs to try out:

Bucket of Lies - Nice melodic rocker with a slick sound, well produced and arranged. Classic sound.

All Days - Nice screaming guitars that offer the closest 'old school' rock sound.

Broken - The closer here is a real epic rock song with good drama.

There is a sub-genre of folk music called Loner Stoner Folk. Baltimore's Red Sammy takes Appalachian, folk, and blues, and heads off in this direction while bringing it down some more. This may be wyrdfolk, although that is not to imply there is anything other worldly dominating here. This is grounded music and locks into a steady controlled pace with a basic rhythm section allowing guitars to maneuver about in their driving and sometimes snaky foreboding manner. The key is the slide guitar which pushes and pulls in a gentle, mystical motion. The vocals veer a bit too much in the Tom Waits direction for my taste (as I am mixed on Waits), but after a couple of songs, they begin to fit the music more comfortably. It also depends on the song. Fans of 16 Horsepower and Peter Walker will want to listen to this along with anyone interested in darker folk songs such as you may hear from Stone Breath or even Michael Chapman at times. There is a lot to listen to in these eight songs. I am sure I will know a lot more after several further listens.

Songs to try out:

Come Back Home - This is the rockingest song with the rock steady beat and plenty of edges for the guitars to sharpen.

Camping Trailer - Evocative vocals work well here with a great musically rural landscape.

Wild Dogs - This and "Cactus Flower" are the folkiest numbers. This one sounds like a friendly song you would hear at night on your local radio station on the highway headed home. Still the lone voice, acoustic guitar and trippy background (cymbal is it?) give it unique character.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Face to Face - Strung Out - Cerebral Ballzy - The Darlings -- Black Cat - May 23 2011

Cerebral Ballzy - First up early tonight is a five piece with a couple guitars and a singer. The music is thrashed out hardcore, unvarying, non-stop. 25 minutes worth of speed and volume. Vocals a bit like Crucifix, music typical of any hardcore you can get elsewhere. I guess bands look this should take the time to explain that the next song is about not having enough money to take the train in NYC, because vocals like these are impossible to understand with the volume behind them. Of course, I would like a singer to say a song was about Foucalt's critical essays on psychiatry, but my expectations are too high sometimes.

The Darlings - The first of three California bands is next. All bands have a two guitar attack, although only the first and third bands had a sole vocalist for a fifth member. The sound was quite a bit different here with stronger songs in a Street Dogs-Stiff Little Fingers manner. Probably the better comparison is that with the many west coast 2nd generation punk bands, such as Operation Ivy who they covered. Good energy, good songs, fun set. Note to singer... Washington is a state north of Oregon, perhaps you've played Seattle. This is DC, the District, or Washington DC if you like saying Washington. Plus a lot of people live all over here, so the geography patter is something to be used like you would use red pepper sauce. A little goes a long way. And I am so sorry if we "wasted your time" (your words) because we didn't fill up every space up front. We invest the time and money if we choose to see you. You can stay home if you like.

Strung Out - There is a similar style to the last band but it everything is played one notch higher on the intensity scale. The galloping drum beats set the pace and the players are up to it. The singer has the best rapport with the crowd thus far and the crowd is responding--not too crazily, this is DC. Although one patron gets tossed for crowd surfing. I particularly like the tension between the bite of the guitars and the soaring melodic vocals. This kind of set keeps me coming back for a good punk band decade after decade. Well done, headliner quality here.

Face to Face - aka :-)2:-)... My brother recommended this band as he likes heavier music than I do, at least more frequently than I do. These guys are certainly heavy, and as soccer commentator Warren Barton says about so many wide midfielders... they have "genuine pace". They clustered their songs into 5 4-song clusters which really kept the show moving and the crowd hopping. The set was more than an hour in all and they were successful, although the quantity of music and late hour on a Monday night did tire some of the crowd. Still, a really good set by a band celebrating their 20th year (not counting a 5-year layoff "That was stupid" they proclaimed). Interesting that they went into a story how their booking agent was talking them doing Baltimore and skipping DC and taking a night off. They convinced him to set up the Black Cat and said it was so much better. So much for playing Baltimore next time. But their loss is DC's gain as this is a great band to see live if you like straight ahead modern punk rock music.

Quote of the Night: From Face to Face singer/guitarist... "So how many people came south from Baltimore tonight?" Just a couple shouts/clappers responded. "So they all lied last night when they said they'd drive down."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Blackberry Belles - Satori Trova - Strange Fur -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - May 21 2011

Strange Fur - This trio had the Americana folk thing working well right from the get-go. They had guitar and vocals going the whole way with banjo and violin mostly in support. Those two players did some accordion, glockenspiel and percussion at times as well, which was helpful in rounding out the sound. The source material seemed rather timeless and had a modern indie rock feel in addition to possibly Appalachian sources. There were 20 of us that enjoyed the set and another 20-30 that seemed to enjoy their loud conversations more than the quiet music on stage. Typical enough, and generally worse on a Saturday night. Good half-hour opener.

Satori Trova - A large band featuring drums, congas, bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar/keyboards and female vocals hit the stage. They start with a rather basic funk/R&B song, but move into some nice crossover songs during the rest of the set. I heard some straight hard rock, blues, lounge blues among the R&B moves. They reminded me of Mothers Finest (not always a compliment here) and were not always clicking. But the last few songs were really strong and this band showed me they have loads of potential. But I have a few recommendations. Although Byron Coley's point that no one should ever cover the Beatles (because he doesn't want to hear it, not that it is sacrosanct) may be too extreme, I think it is good advice. "Come Together" here only reminded me that if this band can truly come together, they can really be good. Second, do not play so much to your entourage. I felt like a real outsider and I did notice that some of the noisy people I moved away from in the first set tonight were this band and entourage. I will give you back the points I deduct, as I noticed the band and some entourage enthusiastically supported the next band. That is good as I get tired of some shows featuring band entourages that don't stay for any of the other bands. But enough advice. This is an interesting band that is worth a look now and could be really good with more gigging.

Blackberry Belles - Why do I always picture some sort of Americana band when I think of this trio? I quickly dispel this image as this trio of electric guitar/vocals, organ, and drums kick into their heavy music. This is rustic garage. Imagine 1970 when garage bands are getting better equipment and they are discovering their abilities to siphon off some R&B and soul moves and add them to their raucous approach. That is pretty much what I hear when this band lets it rip. A lot of fun to be had from this approach and they have some really nice songs that move from heavy to moderate to light, giving their set some nice variety. This band is getting good and is becoming one I don't want to miss.

Quote of the Night: From the Belles vocalist/guitarist... "We have got a bachelorette party over here. And me, without my cop outfit."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gruff Rhys - Y Niwi -- Red Palace - May 20 2011

Y Niwi - Four guys from Wales (like Rhys) hit the stage shortly after ten and cranked out some cool sounding garage surf rock. It had all the classic moves and some of the melodies I have heard from the Surfaris, Tornadoes, and Duane Eddy. They were fully instrumental and one guitarist went to the keyboards at times to vary things up a little. But variety was not important here. They just cranked out pleasing music with great style and a friendly atmosphere. The crowd quickly warmed to the music and it was a fun half hour on a Friday night.

Gruff Rhys - Rhys hits the stage early, although I am not too worried about the hour as things are running well and there are only two bands tonight, so both have time not to have to rush their sets. And not surprisingly, the first band is Rhys's backup band tonight. I have seen Rhys once with his popular band Super Furry Animals about 5 years ago. I was not terribly impressed as it was simply nice pop music that I did not gravitate to. I tend to think I may enjoy the band more these days, so I wanted to at least stick a toe in the water with this solo show. The club is pretty full with yet another sharp respectful crowd, aside from a minor "domestic" argument occurring later. The first cut was mostly percussive with Rhys playing some lighted electronic drumsticks that made synth wash sounds as he struck them into the air. The music went a bit more song oriented thereafter with Rhys displaying his rich voice to good advantage. He can even approach the Zombies Colin Blunstone at times, although mostly it has the thicker nature of say Bevis Frond's Nick Salomon. The songs have a feel-good mood working and the band skillfully brings them forward but gives Rhys the space to carry the melodic thrust. There were touches of psychedelia and it was amusing to have him play a vinyl record of bird sounds at different points of the set. Fun set and good back and forth with the happy crowd. It may take more listens, but perhaps there is still hope for me to get into his main band.

Quote of the Night: Y Niwi played a few songs and thanked the crowd and announced there next song... "This one is called 11. We actually numbered the songs as we wrote them and just kept it that way. You see, here's our set list."


"The next song is 21" "Yeah, alright! 21!"
and the crowd at set's end... "Encore! Play #17!"

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Amor de Dias - Damon & Naomi -- Red Palace - May 18 2011

Damon & Naomi - This is at least my fifth time seeing this duo, previously known for their work in Galaxie 500. They have slowly and very quietly worked their way into my musical world with their thoughtful and contemplative songs. They came on with Bob Rainey guesting on soprano saxophone. Alasdair MacLean from the headliner guested on guitar on about half the songs. But alas, Ghost's Michio Kurihara was not on this tour. Damon did explain (see below) that visa issues prevented his appearance. Too bad, but Rainey's sax did well enough with smooth fade-in and fade-out moves which covered for some of the moves Kurihara has provided in the past. Naomi stuck with keyboards for the set while providing her usual brilliant vocals. She and Damon sing so well together and really pulled the listeners in tonight. This crowd of 50 or thereabouts was a very sharp crowd and about as hushed as anything short of a Mahler concert. This music may a bit too down in tone for some, but it is not downer music to my ears. And kudos to Damon for mentioning the tuning issues (it is really humid, it's hitting everyone in town) but soldiering on. "We could just do our Gram Parsons-Emmylou cover set. Tuning never stopped him..."

Amor de Dias - This is the US debut of a new band featuring Alasdair MacLean of Clientele and Lupe Nunez-Fernandez of Pipas. They both sing, play guitar, and Lupe adds percussion and glockenspiel. They are touring with a cellist which added a rich bottom sound to the folkish top end. It was a really nice sound with some good guitar work behind the rich vocal harmonies, yet was "savaged by Pitchfork" as MacLean mentioned. So what did Pitchfork say about their album? "It is beautifully crafted and rich in demure detail, but Street of the Love of Days is largely bereft of energy or direction." OK, I'll buy off on the lack of energy, but that is hardly the point when you are playing moody quiet music. Yes, there can be underlying tension in quiet music like Nick Drake, but it is not always necessary. Bereft of direction? That is part of those the cliched music critic lexicon that I don't touch. The band plays music to me, that is direction enough. I either stay with it or move on. And since I do agree that the music was beautifully crafted with lovely detail, I stayed with it, as did the rest of the crowd. I welcomed hearing some of the things I heard in Trader Horne (male/female harmonies), COB (mysterious origins), or early Donovan (deep quiet). And turning negative energy into humor and positive energy, they finished with "...a charming lullaby that no doubt Pitchfork will one day classify as the 479th best song written in April, 2011".

Quote of the Night: There were many as these bands were filled with smart engaging people. But Damon explained Michio's absence... "Michio had his passport stolen when he was with us in England and his work visa was in it. When at Heathrow, the US Customs officials could find the records of it, but they wanted to see the paper. Michio had made guitar picks to sell with profits going to energy concerns to get earthquake damaged areas up and running on clean energy. Michio asked the official if it was ok if he came into the US as a volunteer? Well... no. OK, how about if my earnings go to this charity? (sympathetically) Well..., maybe but you still risk being banned from coming into the US forever."

With Boris tours, Ghost tours and hopefully future D+N tours, Michio flew back to Japan.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Antlers - Little Scream -- Black Cat - May 17 2011

Little Scream - This is a woman singer/guitarist songwriter more than a band, although the three members she has assisting on guitar, keyboards and drums for the past few months may become permanent. These things could go either way and I really don't know much about this act from Montreal. Immediately, they strike me with a Kate Bush-like spacey number. They also go into quirky pop realms like the Foals or a more rhythmic Faun Fables (mostly with the vocal delivery). Happy oddballs, these four. One song even reminded me of Wire, if Wire were ever happy (in the giddy sense as Wire certainly employs dark and sardonic humor). There is a touch of Devandra Banhart in the vocal delivery as well. The music is fresh and fun and goes over well with the swelling crowd. I enjoyed it, although they went on early and played for only 28 minutes.
The Antlers - Worst T-shirt design ever. The club is over 80% packed for this growing indie band. They have drums, keyboards, and a couple of guitars with one guy switching to bass. Three guys sing, but one guy takes the lead mostly with an airy voice. The music may be closer to Super Furry Animals than Animal Collective maybe? I am not terribly up on quirky indie pop these days. They also remind me of Maps & Atlases. There are some interesting sounds and musical moves from time to time, but overall I am not feeling much a part of this. The crowd is interested, but don't appear to be very compelled by it all. I will be curious to see how a band like this evolves over time. I am guessing they will not move up like Animal Collective. But they may have enough of a creative spark to pull it off. I would have liked to do exit polls to see what the audience thought. And if I am spending my time trying to figure out all of this, then I am not getting into the music much, so I'll leave it at that.

Quote of the Night: From the openers... "I want you guys to imagine a giant baby costume playing a flute."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Garland of Hours - Fern Knight - Arborea -- Iota - May 16 2011

Arborea Wicklow Mountains, Ireland May 09.  Photo by Jay Sacker
Arborea - Between the long running tuning jokes at last night's Fleet Foxes' show (also mention in Wash. Post) and tonight's slow sound checks, especially with just two people here, I am longing for a straight-up punk rock show. Oh yeah, I tried that recently at the U Street Music Hall, but left a block and a half of fans lined-up for at least 35 minutes after the doors were supposed to open. I passed. After more delays, the soundman wanders forward and we get started. And poof! presto! voila! a little high quality music and my crabby mood has lifted. This duo immediately captured my attention and sucked me in completely for their entire set. The male half played guitar and sang a little. The female half played harmonium and various stinged instruments including an odd looking dulcimer variant. She handled most of the vocals. This was pure, classic psychedelic folk that is so refreshing in this day and age of cutesy-freak folk styled singing and playing. Their sound was akin to Shide & Acorn with a bit of Elly & Rikkert (when both sang in harmony) and her voice even reminded me of Midwinter's Jill Child. These are brilliant artists to emulate, but this duo also headed in modern psyche directions with some electric guitar work that was in the direction of maybe Charalambides before they morphed that passage into "Black is the Colour". The crowd seemed as entranced as I was and this was an extremely refreshing set for me. The only downside is that they came from Maine, so they will not be gracing DC stages as frequently as I would like.

Fern Knight - This is at least my third time seeing this collective from areas around here extending to Philadelphia. They have solidified into a six person line-up with keyboards, harp, bass, guitars, flute, violin, and female vocals. They have played with their sound incorporating folk, psyche-folk, dreamy psyche amongst others in both tight songs and playful improv. Along with Espers, they have been one of my favorites in the newer psyche-folk movement (call it whatever you like). About 30-40 people enjoyed the set tonight and there was much to enjoy. They played newer songs including a couple of brand new ones which were fun, although the last one sounded a bit like a work in progress. I particularly enjoyed a very catchy rock song that sounded like something Curved Air may have come up with (although the vocal work here was more delicate). This band continues to impress me and I will continue to be a regular at their future shows.

Garland of Hours - This three-piece had drums, an electric guitar and a singer/cellist who also played keyboards. Kudos to them for getting their set started in ten minutes, as it was getting a bit late for those needing to use the metro. The sound was not quite as dreamy folk as the previous two bands. It had a bit more guitar bite to it, but still had some intriguing psyche qualities at times. They reminded me of Rasputina, as they had the same sort of trio with just a guitar in place of one cello. Their was even a jagged Pere Ubu edge at times, but they really didn't sound like Pere Ubu, just compositionally attuned. This was an interesting set that I will probably explore further at future shows.

Quote of the Night: from Fern Knight and I paraphrase... "Could you turn down the air conditioning because there's a draft. The first song was about winter so that worked, but it would be nice to be warm." Funny, how this is the second time this club delays conditioning the air until the show begins. Ultimately it was quite comfortable here (after the ac was turned back a bit), but the early muggy night was not and it also led to tuning issues as the bands also mentioned.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fleet Foxes - The Cave Singers -- DAR Constitution Hall - May 15 2011

The Cave Singers - Hmmmm... Three guys in beards on drums and a couple of guitars, opening for the Fleet Foxes. Sounds like they could sound like a few thousand other bands in this day and age with an Americana-blues-singer/songwriter style, cliche all the way. But wait, giving this a fair listen, I quickly readjust my cynicism into accepting an increasingly interesting sound coming my way. Yes, there is only so much originality here, but the talent is there and the songs are good. More importantly still is they wrap in some of my favorite influences into the mix. The one vocalist (despite the plural nature of their band name) has a voice like Pearls Before Swine's Tom Rapp (without the lisp) and the music comes off like 16 Horsepower. I would also liken them to Elliott Brood, who I enjoy quite a bit as well. This is good company as the music is vibrant, sometimes dark, with some bite and purpose to it.  In this genre, you can lean back on your heals and lament or lean forward and dig in with something to say. This band leans toward the latter which works for me and worked for the growing crowd tonight. Why so many people came late on a Sunday night is beyond me, but once everyone settled, they were quite supportive of this solid band.
Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes - Generally I really do not care who is at the top of the charts or who has the critical buzz this week. However, I do feel I have to pay a little bit attention and try to sample those bands that seem to both gain critical accolades and sell plenty of product and tickets. Fleet Foxes was one of those bands that I quickly enjoyed and I believe only the Decemberists would rank any higher on my small list of critical darling/fan friendly bands. There is just something about the combination of songwriting and arrangement that works for this band. So I am interested to see how it translates to the big stage, as they have quickly moved well above the 9:30 Club. The beginning instrumental number was a magical Pentangle-like moment with double bass, three guitars, drums and mandolin. They then went into their songs where vocal work is the key. I knew harmonies were important to the band, but seeing the three and four-part harmonies performed so well and so frequently really did confirm how good this band is. They also switched around instruments where they had either no bass, or two basses, bowed basses and guitars, flute, sax, keyboards and mandolin switched mid-song, etc. During the sax song, the keyboardist was playing what sounded like a mellotron. I don't hear this combination at all, unless I am playing my King Crimson discs at home. With just two albums out, they played plenty of songs from both in their set (short of 90 minutes prior to a couple of encores including Pecknold's solo "Oliver James"). "Your Protector" is my favorite song and they captured that mysterious undulating beat well tonight. The material from the new album sounded good and added to the variety that the band produces nicely. Robin Pecknold clearly leads the way and has an engaging personality. The drummer and key vocalist, Joshua Tillman, offers a very droll wit to nicely offset Pecknold's looser, hippier style. The crowd was entranced throughout the set, and although the band did not blow my mind, they did pull me into their songs and created a great landscape to explore tonight.

Quote of the Night: There were a lot of tuning jokes from the Foxes and the crowd, hence Tillman's... "No one understands the meta-spectacle we are trying to do with the tuning. It's like a reverse spectacle. We need to get jumbotrons showing everyone's hands tuning."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Echo & the Bunnymen - Kelley Stoltz -- 9:30 Club May 11 2011 (Executive Summary)

Blogspot underwent some maintenance and either lost my review or will put it up later. Hopefully they will put it up, as I don't want to rewrite it. For now, here's the short version of what happened...

Kelly Stoltz - I enjoyed Stoltz's set quite a bit. Good songs and some nice playing on his part with a quiet but sharp band behind him. Crowd was a tad muted, but they seemed to like it.

Echo and the Bunnymen - I only stayed for 5-6 songs as the stage lighting had blinding flashes that bored into my brain. Even an hour later it hurt to blink and gave me a headache. Really stupid lighting effect and the rest of the lighting was no better. It was not as bad when I went to the floor, but it was jammed and the headache sent me home early. They sounded decent enough when I could focus on the music.

The Besnard Lakes - Wintersleep - Loose Lips -- Black Cat - May 12 2011

Loose Lips - I believe this is the second time I have seen this local band. They line up as a three-piece, but mention they are missing their lead guitarist, so after a couple of songs, they add guest musicians. Initially, the trio does just fine with nice punky melodic indie rock, perhaps in a Ted Leo manner. The first guest played trumpet which was a really cool addition to the guitar rock sound. Next up was the guitarist from Detox Retox who stayed for the remaining three songs. He added just enough to show me that the four-piece sound is preferable, but not essential as the Lips have the songs and the ability to deliver them with pace, strength and feeling. They had a third guitarist and female vocalist jump up to do the final song. Based on the first few measures, I thought they were doing Neil Young's "Down by the River", but just before the vocals I realized I was wrong and it was actually "Cowgirl in the Sand". Close enough for rock'n'roll. Good set tonight at the smaller and rapidly filling backstage.

Wintersleep - Somehow I have missed this Halifax band over the last ten years. And by this 45 minute set's end, it is apparent that missing this band has been much to my detriment. The five guys on stage delivered some of the best songs I have heard on a small stage. The set reminded me of a good REM album, 2-3 superior rock songs with amazing hooks along with several other songs that vary the style a bit and are solid enough on their own. They use some nice dynamic tempo shifts a few times that are not often completed this successfully. This music would fit in well with just about any of the major bands in this style such as the Decemberists, Iron and Wine, or Midlake to name a few. As the room swelled to near capacity, the ovation got louder and this band earned it easily.
The Besnard Lakes - Also from Canada, but from the bigger Montreal scene, comes the Besnard Lakes. A couple of guitars, bass and drums is all, although there is some noisy undercurrent controlled on stage. My first impression is that this is a shoegazey hybrid of indie-rock, pop, and heartland. It smoothly moves in and out of categorization which is always a positive for me. Each song moves at its own pace and with its own level of noise. The male and female vocals are a key focal point in many of the songs. The male voice is actually higher pitched reminding me of Antony Hegarty. Maybe they are a more shoegazey Porcupine Tree? Well, add some rustic North American touches and you may have it. They keep it dark ("too dark" they mention at one point as they couldn't see anyone out there) and mysterious on stage with a bit of smoke and some stage lighting that adds some color and most importantly does not blind me tonight. Dreamy, spacey songs work their way out of this environment and are a challenge to grab on to, but ultimately are accessible. They kept my mind at work throughout their long set. This is an intriguing little band that I would be happy to see again some time. They sound like they can cover a lot of interesting sonic territory.

Quote of the Night: From B.Lakes... "Our humor is at B level tonight. Sorry, maybe because it's Thursday. If it was Friday, we'd really be funny."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dirty Beaches - Ice Cream - Holy Mtn -- Black Cat - May 9 2011

Holy Mtn - Not the Jodorowski film here, but rather a four-piece featuring guitar, bass, keyboards, and keys/electronics/vocals. The first song was a real grabber as they had a great balance of old-school progressive sounds, modern electronics and a British postpunk vibe. Great complexity and a strong sense of motion came through. They then mixed it up a bit, to somewhat of a lesser effect to my ears. They got a bit more rhythmic in a ska-like fashion, but it was not ska. The vocals were decent, but they had a bit of that strong David Byrne/Ric Ocasek sound which can be a bit tiring without some variance. Some of the songs were decent and had a nice flow to them. The closer was a rouser and it shows me that they probably understand their best material. It is now a matter of playing and writing and they may do just fine.

Ice Cream - A three-piece is next with guitar/vocals, bass, and drums. They use samples and some tracks underneath their playing which really muddied up their sound. They got a little better as the set went on, but their sound was highly distracting. They played indie rock and nearly math-rock (I really don't like that term) at times, but it was hard to really hear what they were doing. Precision and fuzz are an intriguing combination if you can pull it off. It didn't happen in this set. I think the soundman didn't help matters, but it was more a matter of the underneath sounds and the feedback and reverb choices the band made. And apologies if I linked to the wrong band, but there is more than one Ice Cream, let alone all the other search results that are going to come up. Hopefully they will keep working. I advise honing down their skills on vanilla first.
Dirty Beaches - This is just one guy from Canada with a guitar, microphone and some recordings. A spotlight hits him as the music starts. He holds a microphone for his vocals and puts it down when he plays guitar. The background loops are mostly guitar with some rhythms at times. As simple as this approach is, the effect is amazing. He instantly reminded me of Suicide (the band, fortunately) with a bit of Nick Cave intensity. He even had some of Alan Vega's high pitched yips in his second song with nice jangly psychedelic guitar underneath. It was very much like Suicide's "Ghost Rider" but not in an obvious derivative way--well maybe a bit. He did a cover of a Portland musician known as Mattress, who no one admitted knowing. The happy crowd had swelled from the 20-40 earlier to well over 60, as the backroom was nearly 2/3 filled. He ended with a couple of crooners which reminded me of Dean Stockwell in David Lynch's "Blue Velvet". A different kind of psychedelia here, with an arresting low-key performance. This was very interesting and unlike the first two 30-minute sets tonight, this one flew by and had the crowd wanting more.

Quote of the Night: From the Dirty Beaches guy who said good-night, started to unplug, heard the cheering, smiled and played one more... "I am never comfortable with encores. People tell me I should leave the stage, but that is so stupid."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Riverbreaks - The Siler Liners - Presto Bando -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - May 6 2011

Presto Bando - This is my second time seeing these three intriguing musicians. Unfortunately, the locals were not ready to get that early weekend start as the crowd was between 10 and 20 for the set. That was still enough of a sample to see the same phenomenon happen that I saw last time. This band's original, interesting style takes a few songs to get used to. But when you do, it is highly rewarding and quite a lot of fun. It is easy to see the crowd response increasing as the set goes on and that happened among the faithful here tonight. I still hear the Beefheart and maybe more of an Akron/Family at their craziest and not their heaviest. These guys would have done well in the old New York punk/no wave scene with James Chance-like vocals and quirky rhythms and melodies. There is more fun here, as opposed to the no wavers and the guitarist even had some moves that reminded me of the John Cleese funny walks. They play around town regularly, so if you haven't had your initiation, do so soon.

The Silver Liners - Generally, I get a little tired of writing about bands from the fourth time on. This is the fourth time for me seeing this five-piece and to my surprise, I am happy to add another review. Basically, I think this is the best set I have seen from the band. I have always found them a good quality band with nice pop rock hooks, but found just a little something lacking. Tonight, they had all their fine songs on display, but added a gutsy edge that brought them to a higher level. When bands have the songs and skills, it usually is a matter of time before the gigging and rehearsals move them to a higher plane. It seems to be working for this band and the swelling crowd of about 60 enjoyed it, but were a tad restrained tonight. This is always a pleasant band to see, but now I can recommend making an effort to make sure they are on your listening calendar some time soon.

The Riverbreaks - I enjoyed this local band's album, reviewed here earlier, but have not been able to catch the full set until tonight. They had their usual instruments (1-2 guitars, rhythm section, keyboards) and were augmented by a guest violinist for a majority of songs. That was a nice touch and hopefully they can do a bit more of that down the road. The early part of the set was a little too light for me and focused more on dance music. But the crowd went for it, and I have to say that it was the correct choice for the band. It pulled the crowd in and was the right move for the third set on a Friday night. It shows how sharp these guys are and the flexibility they have in their music. As the set went on, more of the Americana-pop-rock songs came through. They debuted a song which had the usual high quality craftsmanship on the structure, but also rocked pretty heavily with a nice finish. I see no reason this band will not continue to do well, as they have both the brains and the ability to create music for people to want to go out of their way to listen to.

Quote of the Night: from the headliners regarding their guest musician... "She just got a pick-up for her violin that's over 150 years old--just to play for you tonight".

Friday, May 6, 2011

Holy Grail - Cauldron - To the Teeth -- Red Palace - May 5 2011

To the Teeth - I like to go into shows cold, with only the research or experience necessary to get me to the show in the first place. A nice naive fresh listen is always best. I will research a bit before writing so as not to look quite as foolish as I could. I was pleased to see that my very first notation on this band was "these guys are so new, they don't even have a bass player yet". Turns out, this was indeed their first show. They had a vocalist, a couple guitars and a drummer. They were young and raw, but put on a nice pleasant set. Of course they have a long way to go, but the drumming was quick and the vocals assured, if not cliched (as I can say of at least 80% of metal vocalists). The guitarists did sound like they were working on compositional moves ala Opeth, so they are on a good path as far as I can see. The drummer was left-handed and playing a kit set up for a right hander, so that was interesting to watch (although not as mind numbing as Dick Dale or the Entrance Band's guitarist who do something akin to that). The small crowd was respectful and the band rightfully had a good time with their set.

Cauldron - Next up was "Uldro" as their massive backdrop showed in between the backline stacks. This power trio comes from Toronto and did close with a Rush song (sorry, couldn't get the title). Their half-hour set had an interesting mixture of west coast metal styles, slightly glam, but plenty fast and strong. Still a small crowd of 25-40, although they were quite supportive as metal crowds usually are. I liked the contrast between the clean stylish vocals and the murkier guitar sound underneath. Solid set, if not spectacular for me.

Tagged Photos by Kelly Lebron
Holy Grail - From El-Lay, comes this five-piece that shows their greater Los Angeles roots. The double leads come fast and plenty and the lead vocalist is a fine screamer. The bass player lays it down nicely, even if he does look like a Marshall Tucker roadie. No big deal, but the look seems important here right down to the singer's studded arm bands. Speed, energy, metal cliches... all the usual was present here tonight in a slick little package. I did like the new guitarist's spidery fingers flying around on his solos. All was agreeable, just not quite up to the elite levels of some of the other metal acts I have seen in recent months. But a good nation-wide tour is a way to pay your dues and toughen up for the next round of writing.

Quote of the Night: From Cauldron... "This one's for all you street walkin' hookers out there. We know you got 'em." Yes, well they aren't here tonight, actually it's a bit early for them and they have been regulars in my neighborhood for over a quarter of a century. I don't see them much in the NE.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Asia -- Birchmere - May 1 2011

Asia - This is nostalgia for a life I never lived. Asia came on to the scene way too late of me, immersed as I was in all things punk and hardcore. But I never gave up my prog roots and I had tried out John Wetton's UK band which was less than satisfactory. By the time Wetton got together with Carl Palmer (of ELP who I did like) and Steve Howe and Geoff Downes (of Yes, who I really didn't care for), I was not paying attention. But the public did and Asia went on to big things (and they had a great logo). But in 2011, I could not name a single song title or even hum a tune of theirs. So why show up? Well, I am still kicking myself for not catching Carl Palmer a few years back playing ELP songs instrumentally with a guitarist and bass. I have seen him once when I was in high school, but I had not ever seen the versatile bassist from King Crimson's "Red", nor the guitarist on "My White Bicycle". So on to the show... They all look good, Palmer looking surprisingly young with plenty of muscle. Wetton has a slight paunch, while Howe looks even thinner and looks ready to be cast for American Gothic (see below). They all have good hair, but most of all, they still can play. "Holy War" really featured Palmer's drumming and led me to believe I was not the only one in the audience that wanted to see what he could do (well we knew would he could do, but has he still got it?). Palmer's powerhouse style really propels what are otherwise simple mid-tempo pop-rock songs into something that is worth listening to. Howe is a solid guitarist still with a nice fluid style. Wetton sang well enough and at times showed a little flash on bass. I thought there were some odd thrusting sonic moments, but then noticed he was playing some moog pedals. Downes did a good job and was versatile, but the songs required that "special" 80s keyboard sound which just does not hold up too well for me these days, either on stage or on various movie soundtracks from those days. But they never bored me as there was enough rocking music that held my attention with the occasional strong song actually standing out ("Time Again" rocked). The drum solo took me back to the California Jam and I even recognized some of Palmer's trademark moves--snare vs. double kick battles, loads of cymbal tonal work and he even had the double gongs. He brought the house down. Howe's earlier solo portion started with an acoustic guitar where he and the crew could not get amplified. He mentioned that he was wondering if they could go acoustic with the size of the club... Huh? This is a lot bigger than Ram's Head where they also play, but certainly smaller than the arenas he has been in. Anyway after he quietly told the crew "This isn't going anywhere, we'll have to scrap it", he popped his electric back on and played a couple of tunes. The first one reminded me of a cross between Duane Eddy and Howe's own older style while in Tomorrow. He then did a Richard Thompson-like intelligent rocker with plenty of quality riffing. Considering the set was identical to a recent show (minus one song), this "impromptu" (as he said) duo was actually a lot of fun and quite welcome. Wetton and Downes also did a solo bit, so all members had equal rests. Conclusion? Asia fans had a great time and even a less-than neutral listener like myself had a decent enough time. It was worth seeing these guys and it is good to see that their four unique personalities can work together so well.

Set List: I Believe/Only Time Will Tell/Holy War/Never Again/Through My Veins/Howe solo/Don't Cry/The Smile has Left your Eyes/Open Your Eyes/Finger on the Trigger/Time Again/An Extraordinary Life/End of the World/The Heat Goes On (Palmer solo)/Sole Survivor/Go?/Heat of the Moment (OK, I do! remember Heat of the Moment)