Thursday, June 28, 2012

Van der Graaf Generator -- Howard Theatre - Jun 27 2012

Van der Graaf Generator - I will always cancel out all other life activities for any chance I get to see this legendary and still vibrant progressive trio. It remains the 'virtually' original three members of Pete Hammill on vocals, guitar, and piano; Guy Evans on drums; and Hugh Banton on organ with a touch of synth/samples. These three may look like they just came out of my mother's retirement home, but they managed to light up this big room in a very big way. A rather modest crowd was poised and ready and clearly knew what to expect. Guy Evans had his jazzy style mixed with powerful rock moves when needed. He can spend significant time on cymbals and high hats, or using brushes and then go into powerhouse mode at an instant. Hugh Banton smoothly emits classic organ sounds and uses big old-time bass pedals to maintain a bottom. Peter Hammill's seemingly pleasantly reedy appearance graces the stage, yet that dangerous undercurrent is still there. It always will be as he could not do these songs if he lost it. He creates such a lovely landscape with plenty of sharp shards of glass and iron jutting out at every conceivable angle. He jabs at his guitar, pounds away at piano weaving intricate patterns with the other two members, and of course handles the extensive vocals. As a vocalist, he combines style and lyrical substance at extremely high ends. I may listen to Leonard Cohen for the substance and appreciate the style or listen to Tim Buckley for the unbelievable style and appreciate the substance; but I rank Hammill with Nick Cave and Roy Harper as the vocalists where both style and substance maintain such incredibly lofty heights. And at Hammill's age (this band started in 1967!), it is amazing how strong he sounds. And I was also pleased at how everything sounded in this venue. I would guess many bands mention how much they appreciate being in this historic venue (although the Bad Brains did not), and VdGG did mention that since they started in the sixties, they understood the history of this place. And although I did, too, I would be happy seeing them in worst dump around, if they can maintain this level of energy.
Set List: Interference Patterns - Your Time Starts Now - Flight - Bunsho - Meurglys III (The Songwriter's Guild) - Mr. Sands - Over the Hill - Childhood's Faith in Childhood's End,  Encore - Scorched Earth.

Quote of the Night: Peter Hammill (with wry smile) while organizing his many lyric sheets... "Although I heard the one we are doing next, we don't do requests."
Person in crowd... "We know!"

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Watershed - Erica Blinn - The Jones -- DC9 - Jun 26 2012

The Jones - I get way too many blues records to review and I always look for bands that don't try to cover the classics, either the songs themselves or the aping of the traditional style. Thankfully, the Jones play blues rock their way. It's a way that many other bands have done since the days of Blue Cheer, the Groundhogs, and tons more, but the Jones' original songs, vocals, and style are strong enough to allow them to stand out. They debuted some new songs off their upcoming album "five years in the making". One of the cuts sounded particularly good to me and I will certainly be getting a copy. The playing seemed a tad restrained tonight, but their approach was really effective in allowing me to flow with the groove they always are able to establish. Another rock solid 33 minute set by one of the more consistently fine bands you will see around here.

Erica Blinn - She is from another one of my former hometowns, Columbus, Ohio. She plays guitar and harmonica and handles lead vocals while playing with a drummer who adds some vocals as well. The stripped down format is a little thin for me here. I do see that her latest video has a full band which would be a big help tonight, but with the expense of touring, having a full band play in front of one or two dozen people in the DC9 is not always a viable option. Her songs seem pretty good in a rural blues-rock sort of way. She heads toward country, but in the Americana way and it is all balanced nicely. The performance was good, but I would be able to judge her work better via album reviews or seeing a full band, I think. Great MC5 shirt, by the way.

Watershed - Another Columbus band here, but a little better known... maybe. Watershed has eight albums out, none of which have made it my way. Two of them were on Epic Records, so they have had their moment in the 'big time'. They play a nice brand of power pop that we have all heard before many times. They seem to be building on the traditions of the Choir and the Raspberries, along with later bands like SS-20 and even Guided by Voices. That finishes my timeline with Ohio bands, and I covered all the major Ohio cities aside from Columbus (sorry, they just don't sound like Great Plains!). Two guys handle the lead vocals with the drummer adding some harmonies. It does not take too terribly long when I am finding myself sucked into their music. They do have just enough power to the pop and work in the hooks in a less obvious way at times. I can see why a major label would want to give them a chance. For more on that story, the bass player has written a book about it (see below) and NPR interviewed them yesterday, so stay tuned for that. All in all, a strong a fun set that was sadly not too well attended, but did have some major fans here.  They should probably cut the manager begging for noise for an encore as that is as passe as Epic Records, and this is the DC9 where the back stage is out front. But ultimately, the 78-minute set (!) was a winner.

Quote of the Night - From Erica Blinn (and her drummer)... "Their bass player wrote a great book available here. We've been reading in the car out loud to each other as we drive between cities--sort of a hillbilly book-on-tape."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Purling Hiss - The Young - The Convocation -- Black Cat -- Jun 25 2012

The Convocation - We can get a game of three-on-three basketball with the band playing the crowd. The soundman can referee the affair. Thankfully the loud blast of heavy music brings a few people from the bar into the backstage area. These guys are heavy psychedelic acid drenched rock. It is way too loose early on as the juices bleed all over the stage. Nothing a few thousand hours playing in the desert could not fix--it worked for Kyuss. Actually, they hinted that the bass player is fairly new. Not that this music should be tight, as room to breath is important to the effectiveness of these type of heavy jams. And the band does lock in well enough for much of the set. They even show some flashes of good songwriting such as the closer which sounded as if Blue Cheer tried to write a song like Budgie. But I can listen to this sort of music all day, so the 33 minutes tonight was loud, rocking, and fun for me. The crowd 'swelled' to about a dozen people and they were digging it as well.

The Young - This Austin quartet's name is a far better variation than all those 'Youth bands' of the punk/hardcore scene (Brigade I, Brigade II, Patrol, of Today, Wasted, Bored... etc.). But they don't appear to be particularly young, and after briefly reading a few sentences about them, I learn that they are quite experienced. This showed up in their set as they added more of a Dead Meadow sound (minus the cool undulation vibe) to the foundation laid out by the first band. This was heavy, but had some interesting song patterns with smooth style shifts. Twisted pop? Muscular Psyche? Alt Metal Sludge? All of the above? Pick your poison, as this band can deliver something cool along many of those lines. A couple songs were a bit too bland for me, but that did not disrupt the quality of the set. Well worth keeping your eye on these guys, and since they are on Matador Records, you should be hearing about them further.

Purling Hiss - It has been a while since I last saw this Philadelphia trio and I recall enjoying them quite a bit. I kind of forgot how they sounded as I thought they were extreme psychedelic freak-out. But it was more garage rock structured into more compact songs. It was sludgy in a good way and there was plenty of power--not unlike a stripped down US version of Hawkwind. They played at a moderate pace and the heavy quality built as they continued. One brand new song was a bit slower and very cool. The guitar solos kept coming and coming and ultimately the best comparison I could make, might be Bevis Frond. About 35 people (finally) made their way into the show and were treated to a good 42-minute set that was on the upswing as they kept playing. And the closing number gave me some nice freak-out moves, controlled but high on the manic scale. I was not so sure at first, but ultimately I can recommend them yet again.

Quote of the Night: From the guitarist of the Convocation... "Is the sound ok? I take it you guys are in the bands playing after us, so I trust you'll know if it sounds ok."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Mynabirds - Sean Bones - Edie Sedgwick -- Black Cat - Jun 23 2012

Edie Sedgwick - What is it about this band that keeps working? I keep thinking that this is a band whose spirit would cause me to be polite (not that their sound invites that), but instead, by set's end I am thinking that this band really does have a handle on something dazzling going on. It may take a few times to see it, and I am not sure you want to overdose on their sound, but they have cooked up something gutsy and fairly original. Simply, this is punk music at its heart, and is far more punk than 75% of what you will see at Vans Warped or many other similarly sonically packaged tours. They remind me of the Angelic Upstarts trying to cover songs by the Gun Club, the Cramps, or some R&B standards. It's raw, ferocious with some effective vocal interchanges. The energy was great as they just did not stop for more than a few seconds all set, which included changing guitars (broken string I think), dropping guitars, and bouncing around with boundless energy. Fun fun fun. They have been doing this a while, hopefully it won't be stopping any time soon.

Sean Bones - From the beaches of Brooklyn comes this quartet of guitar, bass, keys, and drums. They cook up some reggae tunes more in the UB40 camp than that of Bob Marley. The are light, agreeable, but this is not exactly my cup of dishwater. The crowd was polite, but there was not much energy at work. Toward the end of the set, there were a couple of songs that were more standard indie fare which I thought were much better. I like the lighted palm tree on stage. There was that.
The Mynabirds - DC singer/keyboardist Laura Burhenn fronts this Omaha-based band com comprised of guitar, bass, drums, and another female vocalist/percussionist/trumpeter. They have a really nice approach to their pop rock songs. The vocals are clean and the two female voices contrast and combine quite well. Sometimes a male voice joins in and it is this vocal work that is solid and pushes the songs forward. The music has a key element as well, as it sits deep below the surface with a surprising dirge like style that does not drone or overpower as is often the case with this sort of playing. It reminded me a bit of Stacey Sutherland (13th Fl. Elev.) playing Wire's 'Chairs Missing' rhythm parts with something like the Indigo Girls singing on top. This is a good approach, although I would have like to have seen a few more dynamic shifts in the set. But they have not been at this for very long, so that may come in time. They are definitely worth a listen and a sizable crowd thought so as well.

Something I plucked outta Facebook...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Upcoming Event: Foggy Bottom Music Festival

Tickets are on sale now for this fun music festival on August 25th. They are cheap and this lineup is loaded with great local bands that I can easily recommend. Oh, and there is Maps & Atlases from Chicago headlining the affair. Get your ticket here at a nice low price and be prepared for a full day of great music.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Hundred in the Hands - Dance for the Dying - Vorhees -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Jun 19 2012

Vorhees - A one-woman show starts things off. She plays guitar, sings and does extensive looping with some electronica worked in as well. Nice little songs develop with breathy popesque vocals. I cannot say I am as moved as I would like to be, but I am still a tough sell for this sort of set. I appreciate the thoughtfulness to the art, but the live execution is a bit lacking. The 34 minutes were harmless enough and had their moments. The forty-odd spectators gave it all a serious listen and liked it well enough.

Dance for the Dying - I gave this synth-heavy local dance band a lukewarm review last year, but rather liked them a little more this time around. As I noted before, they have just enough toughness in their catchy pop tunes to create interest for me and make for a slightly more overall engaging set for the 50 people here. The drums are strong, guitar and bass just hard enough on the edges with tons of synth and high quality vocals, reminiscent of the Bangles with a cute side as well as some power. She can hit the deeper terrain when the song calls for it, and these sort of shifts made for a lot of interest in their half-hour set. Some of the synth moves were a little overpowering in the mix with annoying volume bursts, but otherwise the drumming kept it all moving and the pop melodies were infectious. I am growing to like this band.
The Hundred in the Hands - Looks like the electronica dance theme will continue with a drummer, a guitarist (and table of electronics), and a female vocalist on keys and more electronics. No more than a few seconds elapse, when I can quickly drop the electronica label and look at this unit as a full band with great individual components. Toyah Wilcox singing for PiL comes to mind. The drums are sharp and steady and have some electronic beats worked in as well. The synth moves  are atmospheric and reminiscent of bands from many different eras. The guitarist is profoundly banging out chords with verve and determination to push the sonic presence, yet not dominate (well not too often). The vocal work is highly styled and clean and powerful throughout. They carefully move and shift as they switch to bass or different guitar sounds depending on the mood they are after. They go a little quiet in the middle of the set before building to a roaring finish. A quiet encore completes the hour, This is a way to not only play great music, but to present it as a play with a hook in the beginning, a quiet building of tension prior to the rising drama and crescendo of a finish. Marvelous execution with plenty of heart behind it all. They made some new fans among the 60+ that were all up front in the club. Bravo.

Quote of the Day: Quiet night, so I'll pick on my favorite tabloid, the Sun with an article from last week (courtesy of

Intro in The Sun: 'Per Mertesacker has taunted Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of Germany's grudge opener with Portugal.'

Actual quotes from Per Mertesacker: "We've managed to nip in the bud any of Ronaldo's efforts in past matches against Portugal and must try to avoid at all costs one-on-one situations. He's as fast as lightning and a master of football trickery but we will be practising how to stop him."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Doozies - The Bynars - Harmonic Blue -- Electric Maid - Jun 16 2012

Harmonic Blue - I've been meaning to make it out to the Electric Maid for a show for some time. I would call it the Velvet Lounge of Takoma Park. It is not a bar, but a non-profit community space and there is only one stage and a cozy room for kids of all ages to enjoy live music. First up was a young band composed of Baltimore/College Park area players. They have a soulful rock style that is well composed and executed. It is a little safe and overly comfortable for my style, but I can not fault their execution. The bass player seems the most nimble player of the bunch, but the guitarist can really soar on the solos. Drums are solid and Vocals/acoustic guitar came through nicely in the well balanced sound. Even the introduction of a harmonica which normally has me rolling my eyes was welcome here as it gave a jagged edge to the comfortable music. 20 people grew to 30 during the 27 minute set and they were supportive of the sounds they heard.

The Bynars - This is a young trio from Boston of an east coast/midwest tour that features a lot of driving to cover the eight shows in eight shows. This is the second show, so these guys are fresh and energized as they unveil their layers of electronic/pop/rock. This is old school electronics with real synthesizers played for power and precision. The drums and guitar kept the rock machine going and it all came together as an edgy power-pop/new wave unit circa 1980 or so. It was catchy but hard enough and never cute. The vocal work was good if a little quiet in the mix which was a bit keyboard heavy in spots (although that was due to specific sonic outbursts on stage). We were all just getting warmed up when they had to cut it off at 17 minutes. This was due to time constraints as unfriendly neighbors will complain if shows go significantly beyond 10pm, but also due to a late start as the crowd was a little late developing. Sigh, complaint #92 about this issue. Now I am required to not mention this again for 30 days. Still, the Bynars gave a nice taste of what they are about, which is a way to treat catchy electronic music as a strong rock force and not just a rhythmic or atmospheric tool.
The Doozies - Two guitars, drums and three microphones are the vehicles for this trio to make their noise. "This is a new song." Well, it's actually a composite of just about any three Ramones songs, but that is cool by me. These guys just let it rip. The Grateful Dead sticker on the one guitar scared me a bit, but not to worry, no noodling here. And it was the other guitarist that appeared a bit more stoned than need be. They had more of the (non Grateful) Undead in their sound and even more of the Heartbreakers, that is had the Heartbreakers been speed freak stoners rather than, well, you know. They slowed it down a bit to some dirty blues rock that was not quite as effective. Keep the speed, lads, we don't want to hear things too closely here. Vocals were pretty muffled, but I think that was a good thing as they may need some work there. I enjoyed this although with their style I would have preferred this being the 17 minute set instead of the 33 minutes these guys played. And since it was 10:20, I am happy the annoying neighbors did not speed dial the police allowing the now 40 plus people here to fully enjoy their night of loud and fun rock music.

Quote of the Night: I actually had another good one from Thursday night, so here is one side of an overheard phone call at the DC9 from someone trying to meet his counterpart at the club...
"I'm at the main stage... You are not here... It's on the 2nd floor... What do you see?... Ask someone whether you are at the DC9... You paid $10 to go into a place that is not the DC9? So where are you?... The 9:30 Club, well that's close."

Friday, June 15, 2012

Marissa Nadler - Faces on Film - Marian McLaughlin -- DC9 - Jun 14 2012

Marian McLaughlin - Third time is the charm in seeing this local psyche-folkster, but then again, so were the first and second times. Pretty much the general points I made in the last review are applicable tonight. She is definitely one of my favorites in the area as she occupies time and territory that very few people are capable of, these days. Although one person who does is tonight's headliner, which makes this a very solid show for folk fans longing for the days of Joan Mills, Mary-Anne, and Licorice McKechnie (and their better known counterparts). Her guitar work is so intriguing, one minute it sounds (and appears) like the work of a consummate outsider, and the next a medieval sarabande seems to appear out of nowhere. Alas, the slow incoming crowd caused a little delay in starting with the result of still a dozen people or more missing this set. Their loss, as the couple of dozen folks that caught this set, certainly appreciated the magickal qualities it had. A couple of new songs worked their way in nicely with the others that I am starting to get comfortable with by now. Based on tonight's line-up and some future shows she has upcoming, it appears the local club promoters are beginning to understand McLaughlin's quality and appeal. Stay tuned and come early next time.

Faces on Film - This has been a band in the past, but lately and tonight it is simply Mike Fiore on vocals and electric and acoustic guitar. The guitar work is heavily treated to invoke a spacey feeling which gives a nice backdrop for his vocals which soar along, not terribly unlike Damian Jurado perhaps. He has got nice songs and a lovely style, but it did seem to stay far too much on one plane of tempo and tone for the 45 minute set. It was acting too much like an epic lullaby for me. I enjoyed it, but was struggling with keeping my eyes open. Still, this was a pleasant feeling and not boredom.
Marissa Nadler - Third time around for me with Ms. Nadler as well. I first saw her in Rhode Island in 2006 at a Terrastock Festival specializing in heavy psychedelic bands. The festival always has room for good folk artists and Marissa Nadler held her own and was quite memorable that night. She has steadily developed into a well respected artist over this time and recently released another lovely album (reviewed here). But even that was not new enough as she had two even newer songs to play tonight, one for the first time. Her voice was as ethereal as ever, with just enough grounding to show some foundation for her story telling/character songs. She brought Mike Fiore up to sing some harmony vocals on four songs which made for a nice addition. She switched from 12-string to 6 and apologized for the tuning variations needed later in the set. Haunting wonderful songs, marred only by the loud dance party going on downstairs and the clomping up and down the wood steps to the now three levels of DC9. Acoustic acts have it tough in many of the clubs here in DC. But the audience was highly focused on this engaging music and the crowd had swelled to over 40 people which is good, but could be better for an artist this talented. Hopefully things will continue to go well for this talented songwriter.

Quote of the Night: I'll paraphrase a story by Mike of Faces on Film... "I remember playing here 3-4 years ago. At that time, I was touring with a band and we were in Philadelphia. The drummer was staying with a friend, so I called to pick him up. He said he had decided he was going to culinary school. I said, 'great, glad you found something you want to do', so when can I pick you up. He said 'no, you don't understand, I'm starting tomorrow'. So, I had to come down to DC and do a set with me on guitar and playing some organ and I was not too happy about it. Somebody came to me after the show and said how much he liked my songs, but then added that maybe it would be better in more of a band environment. I was not too proud of my reaction to that, so if he's here I would like to buy him a drink.... Of course, he would probably have the same criticism tonight."

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Langhorne Slim - Ha Ha Tonka -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Jun 13 2012

Ha Ha Tonka - Oh, so this band is named after a state park in their home state of Missouri! With that mystery out of the way, I can focus on the set of music they presented at a crowded Rock'n'Roll Hotel. Drums, bass, electric guitar, with acoustic guitar/lead vocals are the four components of this band. A mandolin is introduced for a few songs and the drummer comes forward to join an a cappella chorus later on. Based on the above clues, I think most readers would guess that we heard a nice set of Americana. Check. However, there were some twists here an there. After the nice opening number which had good electric guitar adding to a classic vocal/acoustic melody, I was thinking how much I would still like to see more bands capture the crazed or deep intensities of Woven Hand, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, or Elliott Brood. And right on cue, the band's second song ripped into all sorts of crazy U-turns from folk to rock to psyche with powerful dynamic shifts. It was a long song and one of the better songs I have heard in some time (almost an epic Roy Harper composition). Alas, they had nothing else quite like that for the rest of the set. Still, aside from some overly simple moments, the rest of the set had some vibrant moments and maintained quality songwriting and earnest delivery. They will be back at some Virgina area shows in July, so you may judge for yourself if you are down that way. Good set, well received.
Langhorne Slim - I learned that he nearly canceled the show and was very much under the weather vocally and in general. That is too bad, as he is one of the more energetic folk-Americana acts working. I have always enjoyed his sets, and he still had plenty to offer tonight. He did apologize for his voice and although you could detect some straining and difficulty, he dealt with it and still delivered. He was just more of grizzled old blues veteran tonight. He had a drummer, a bassist playing both stand-up an electric, and a banjo/keyboardist. Even though I don't have any of his albums, I still recognized a couple of his songs from the two previous shows I have caught in the last 5 years. With all the music I pour into my head, that tells me that this guy has written some great songs. And he mixes up arrangements to make for an enjoyable live show. When the band went to electric bass and keyboards, they kicked into a moving hard rocking number that really offset the acoustic folk songs nicely. It is not at all surprising to see that the crowds have grown by about 20% each time I have seen him. And I don't think anyone felt cheated tonight.

Quote of the Night:  paraphrasing Langhorne Slim... "You'll have to help me a bit on the vocals, as I almost canceled this show due to illness because I am such a wimp. The vocals may be a bit ragged, but let's keep going here." Embarrassingly enough, I was the wimp as I left a little early as my legs were really sore tonight. I am hoping his voice didn't die on him, as he was sailing along nicely more than half way through his set.

PROMO of the Night: Bright Moments will be at the 9:30 Club on June 29th. This is a project by Kelly Pratt and features fellow Beirut band members. Here is the song "Travellers"

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Battles - Imperial China -- Black Cat - Jun 11 2012

Imperial China - Deja Vu (NOT all over again--can we retire that one, please?). I don't always get to see Imperial China frequently, but twice in one week may be pushing my interest for most bands. Not with a band as good as this. Their house show warm-up set had them ready as ever to put on a solid 45-minute outing in front of a surprisingly large crowd. Not only was it Monday night, but as the band thanked everyone for coming, they reminded us of a rather large show a few blocks away (Mogwai apparently finally appeared on about the fourth rescheduled date). So there were 1,200 noisy electronic fans at the 9:30 club and another 4-500 here. Apparently when loud, electronic music with strong guitars and cool melodies is produced, people will flock to it. And many people were here to hear Imperial China as much as Battles based on the crowd response. The two IC members did their usual shifting around between guitars, bass, extra percussion and electronics with one guy on vocals, while the third member kept up a torrid pace on drums. They really have some great songs that sneak in between the great sounds, helped by good vocal work that works its way through the heavy reverb and snaky guitar runs that give an Eastern flavor on occasion. Strong set, yet again. These guys have been a fixture on the short list of DC bands I want to see regularly for a long time now.

Battles - This trio is augmented by a rather interested set of guest vocalists. They start off with a couple of guitars and drums/percussion. There is a ton of electronics they are also working in front of a couple of large fancy screens that flash a lot of bright colorful lights. Eventually, after several instrumentals, the screens play videos featuring closeups of guest vocalists singing to the Battles' songs. I recognize Gary Numan who took this very stage last year. This was a nice feature that I have not seen employed. The music was much more fascinating for me than that of other bands of this ilk and the instrumentals were winning enough as they were. Having a drummer from Helmet helped keep things strong, but the guitars kept things more interesting than that of a band that simply relies on electronica. The opening instrumental reminded me of Algarnas Tradgard playing an Ennio Morricone arrangement of Pink Floyd's "One of These Days". I still can not quite bring myself to dig deep into this type of music, but seeing the visuals with that little extra dash of creativity this band is capable of, makes me continue to go deeper in this field. Most of the crowd knew of this band long before I, and clearly enjoyed the set tonight. Battles is off to a few more US shows finishing in Denver at the Westword Festival which I have been to a couple of times. Then it is off to Europe for more festivals where they no doubt will continue to wow the crowds.

Quote of the Day: "I'll take two triple chocolate... or rather, one, make that one!"
Sorry it was a quiet night, so I have to use an inside joke today regarding cupcakes.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Silo Halo - Ars Phoenix -- Sova - Jun 10 2012

Ars Phoenix - A Florida duo hits the stage, well rather the floor at one end of the cozy Sova upstairs living room. It is a male/female duo on guitar and keyboards respectively with the guitarist handling the lead vocals. They have programmed drumbeats and some other electronics they work from their posts and manage to create a nice thick sound between the two of them. Immediately I am struck with a Wire-like feeling mostly due to the electronic dirge melodies, but also with a Colin Newman/Howard Devoto vocal style. This continues throughout as the duo creates decent melodies that balance tunefulness and dissonance in a formula that works for me (basically don't lose site of a melody while adding feedback and white noise textures). It is very British as it reminds me of early Ultravox and many more bands from that era. But of course, this fits in well these days as this is a popular style that is easy to grab hold of when done well. And their 45-minute set did not let anyone down tonight from its opening hiss to its conclusion: Joy Division's "Transmission". The crowd was receptive and this was a nice atmosphere tonight.
Silo Halo - "This is where we have a fire alarm" Christin announces as they are seconds away from starting. Thankfully, that is not the case, unlike their Artomatic show recently. Even so, the 30-odd people could have moved out a little more easily at this cozy little place. While I do not want to see mobs of people here, I do hope that DC music lovers will be alert to this 'second Sunday' series that will continue at Sova on the second Sunday of every month. This is the second show I have attended and you get some great music in a nice atmosphere for little to no cost. Silo Halo also has pretty good sound even with the limited PA. The female vocals get a little lost in the mix at times, and feedback is always on edge, but controlled well enough. As for the band, they have a great assertive, edgy, yet dreamy sound created by three members exchanging guitars, basses, and keyboards along with lead vocal shifts. It is all comfortable and just a bit heavier than that of the first band and thankfully there are some very cool original songs they have concocted. They manage to shift light to dark with smooth transitions and balance high end melodic runs with noisy undercurrents. They are getting a bit of press and deserve all of it and more as they are a band on the rise and well worth your time and ear space.

Quote of the Night: Conversation with another DC musician present tonight who I will not name as I personally like the self taught drumming style employed...
Me... "So, do you play anything else besides drums?"
Drummer... "No, I can't even play the drums!"

Friday, June 8, 2012

Presto Bando - Les Rhino - Alexander & the Grapes - Imperial China -- Paperhaus - Jun 7 2012

Imperial China - I believe I have said this before, but any show with Imperial China on the bill is going to be a good show. And tonight was further proof of my axiom. This local trio were able to bring their loud powerful sound into the living room stage at the Paperhaus (our gain, neighbors' loss). They move quickly from post rock precision to electronic melodies and lightly treated vocals, all while keeping an intensity throughout. They struggled a bit with the sound, but that bothered them far more than the assembled listeners. If I were in the band, I may have agreed, but as someone who has seen them a handful of times over several years, I had my usual great time digging into their set.

Alexander & the Grapes - This twin guitar four-piece hails from St. Petersburg, Florida and is southward bound on their east coast tour. One of the guitarists handles the lead vocals which are key to this band, as they are very song structured as they vary from power-pop to indie rock to shoegaze pop and a bit of Americana. Well not too much Americana, as the lead guitarist handles a lap steel with enough creativity and versatility to move well beyond the cliches of that instrument. i thought they were at their best when they had songs that reminded me of the Posies or Sloan and added some killer psyche/shoegaze leads. Maybe a little too much style shifting, but I think multiple viewings would cure me of that. All in all, a good set by a balanced, talented band.
Les Rhinoceros - The living room is packed, so my visuals were not too good, but this instrumental quartet seemed to feature drums, bass, guitar, and violin (maybe more there). But knowing the instruments is only slight assistance in trying to uncover this band's sound. I am immediately thinking these guys could be the sons of 50-Foot Hose, a strange psyche band that I will not name-drop often. These guys really hit the math-rock/prog sounds hard with a pummeling bass line, crisp inventive drumming, guitar jabs, and ethereal violin. Time signatures and quick pattern shifts do not phase these guys at all as they are not only locked in, but able to shift in a jazzy sort of way. And unlike a band I saw recently, they added some reggae which I thought was going to be ridiculously out of place, until they managed to twist it around to their style, while keeping listeners well advised that they were hearing reggae. This was transformative stuff here. They are off on a tour and hopefully will find an audience as they have a lot to offer.

Presto Bando - It was their side project 'Estoban' that played tonight as their bassist could not make the show. That is my made-up name and not something that will likely become routine for this trio, but this is a house show, so they went up and had fun with a set of stripped down Presto Bando songs. All the instrumentalists are excellent, but without a bass, I focused a bit more on Evan's drumming. Not only was his crisp delivery still present, but he had a little extra power that I may not have always realized before. He jumped up on guitar a couple of times allowing Brandon to go extra-crazy on vocals and add a bit of drumming as well. All the energy was there, and things were as fun as ever even as the hour was getting late (and some of their friends could not last out the evening). Another fun night at the Paperhaus where you can see great sets and chat with some sharp musicians of many genres.

Quote of the Night: A guy who I eventually learned drummed for Les Rhino... "Hi, I think you reviewed my band Me & this Army. You hated my drumming." This is reason number four of why I limit my bad reviews. He was quite friendly and we chatted a bit, as I recalled his drumming as being overwhelming, although technically awesome, stylistically fitting Opeth more than supporting the one guitarist that night. If their bass player had been present, it may have worked more. Anyway, he was awesome tonight and had a couple guys from Imperial China along with some other musicians raving about his playing later that night. And he's in 'like seven bands', so I was happy to see him use his extraordinary skills to full advantage tonight.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dengue Fever - Omar Souleyman -- 9:30 Club - Jun 6 2012

Dengue Fever - Although this was Dengue Fever's 'show', they went on first at about 8:30pm and played for over an hour. A nice crowd developed, although the stage was pushed forward. Still, they would either pack out the Black Cat or go shy of a sell-out here. So they did their first time in this club tonight. And I am not sure their soundman was as up for the challenge as the band was. It did get a little better as the set went on, but there was a gauzy softness to much of instruments and voices. Chhom Nimol is such a pleasure to listen to. Along with the late Poly Styrene, there are few small packages like Nimol that can really nail a strong attractive pop-rock song. She brings classic Cambodian pop to this eclectic group of worldly psyche popsters playing guitar, keys, bass, and drums. They have a sax player who never seems to tour with them for some reason. The crowd was a little slow in getting warmed up, but by set's end was having a good time. The newer material sounded solid and I particularly enjoyed Nimol's a capella intro to one of tunes. They played their really catchy songs like "New Year" and "Tiger Phone Card" which I never stop enjoying (listening to them right now actually). The highlight was an eight minute closer with Omar Souleyman and his keyboardist both guesting on a burning yet light psyche masterwork. The vocalists traded off verses while the band had to keep up with the pace of the Eastern style keyboard runs. They kept it together nicely, even though I don't think they played many shows together (this was their last night for now).
Omar Souleyman - I had heard of this Syrian singer and was quite interested in this set, especially after the collaboration with Dengue Fever minutes ago. It is just vocals and the one keyboardist who controlled the beats along with exotic eastern melodic keyboard runs. Souleyman is an interesting story worth checking out (at his site). He started putting together his music later in life, leaking cassettes out of isolated Syria. Ultimately, the support was found abroad and his music has now found a worldwide audience. And it is really exciting stuff with the pulsating rhythms that are not as overwhelming as electronics bands, but still capable of attracting that crowd. That is, provided they are into the Eastern melodies and gutsy folk based singing. And apparently this is an acquired taste as the crowd thinned a bit, although those that remained were heavily into this sound. I enjoyed the set quite a bit as I am a sucker for Eastern melodies. There is something to the melodies and rhythms that get my body moving far more than dance cliches do, which has always been the case no matter what popular dance music has held the mainstream in my 40 years of listening. This was a strong show tonight that may have worked better at the Black Cat, but I will be back to see either of these artists no matter where they are in the DC area.

Quote of the Night: Not much from Omar Souleyman as I am guessing he knows only a little English. But Chhom Nimol is improving every year, so... "It is great to be here, it is so quiet. Is this Wednesday or Saturday? Wednesday!"

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Revivalists -- Velvet Lounge - Jun 5 2012

The Revivalists - Thankfully the Velvet Lounge stage has enough depth for the seven members of this New Orleans outfit. And thankfully, there was just enough room to handle the rabid fans on this Tuesday night show as the Velvet Lounge was as packed as I have seen in at least a couple years (70... 80 plus perhaps?). They mentioned this was their DC debut, although their website mentioned a show at the Kennedy Center. No matter, as they have played Falls Church and apparently many people who were at those shows made it into the city to check out this vibrant live band. They have a primarily one singer, keyboards, some trumpet and percussion, drums, bass, guitars, and saxophone. Early in the set, they vacillate between funk, R&B, with soulful vocals, and even add a reggae song. Thankfully that was the only reggae beat as I felt they were trying to cover too many forms of dance music (although they wisely did not dabble in electronica). But once they found the groove of R&B moves and flat-out burning rock, they really had my jaw dropping.These guys are as locked-in as you would ever want and can generate an amazing amount of power while keeping a groove and beat going. The sound was great tonight with a lot of instruments coming together and pushing the volume just right. Although it is still early in their career (about 5 years), it is somewhat surprising they do not have an even larger following. Good hard touring should change that, as I cannot imagine this skill and energy following a proven fan-friendly path, not exploding out to really large stages. For my tastes, the execution succeeded more than the formula, although I did find it a little troubling that the high quality soulful vocals seemed to be in a surprisingly narrow range. Of course, playing an 80-minute set before breaking to come back for some more did allow me to take in a lot of songs and variety will only go so far. I did not stay the duration as there was a disturbing amount of sweet smelling smoke in the air that seemed more than just lingering on clothes. Not cool people, although in general, this was a great crowd that were here for the music and had that great connection between audience and a sincere people's band. From the old school of Dr. John to this exciting energetic group, New Orleans can still deliver the music, far more than just the famous dixieland jazz. I really don't see how the Revivalists can fail to continue to grow their audience when they are simply this damn good.
Quote of the Night: from the sax guy... "Remember an hour ago when it was really cold in here? Well you did great, give yourselves a hand.... Well, the laws of thermodynamics helped."

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Presto Bando - The Fooligans - The Fed - Showpony -- Velvet Lounge - Jun 2 2012

Showpony - Huge crowd tonight, perhaps over 60 people greet this local instrumental trio. Instantly they remind me of a deconstructed Buildings, or perhaps that is renovated. They have some of the same sounds as that fine Sockets Records band, but are a little more straight forward. Still, as this set wears on, this band shows the strength and skill to easily handle a slot on one of those fine Sockets Records Showcase shows at the Black Cat. The drummer pushes things forward nicely and the guitar parts are pretty creative. At their best, I am just as happy I don't have a Mogwai ticket for Monday night. But other times, I realize that bands like Mogwai are pretty special. Ultimately this was a good 37 minute set that got things rolling nicely tonight. Although next time, encourage your entourage to stick around for the other bands.

The Fed - This twin-guitar four-piece continues the festivities by deconstructing pretty much everything Showpony did. But that is not a bad thing, if primitive garage rock is as regular a part of your playlist as it is mine. There is a nice thick dirty sound here with bright lead guitar runs well atop the sludge, that there is plenty of interesting musical moves to pick up on here. But ultimately, it is the blast of energetic garage rock which is where these guys can really bring it off. The songs vary a bit in quality and the higher energy numbers tend to stand out as the more exciting tunes. They closed with a real stomper and left me thinking this is the best they have sounded in the few times I have caught their set. Don't tighten a thing, guys, just keep jamming away.
The Fooligans - From the Chapel Hill, NC area, comes this power trio. Like a good meal, they bring in elements from each of the first two bands into a more unified theme. The guitarist has plenty of moves and handles most of the vocals, ceding a lead to the bass player on occasion. The rhythm section is tight enough, but rocking throughout. They do the garage rock, but have a pop component that fits in nicely. The first song reminds me a bit of the Nerves, although they tend to move to a more standard modern rock style thereafter. At their worst, they resemble a quality bar band that can play great, but are not too memorable. But certain songs do stand out and punch things up a notch or two. They broke a bass string and struggled with that for a bit determined to finish out their set, which felt a little long at 54 minutes. Still, a nice job by a decent little band from down yonder.

Presto Bando - Walking out on one of my favorite bands? Say it ain't so! Well, they won't be going on until 1am and although I am not overly tired, I'm mentally worn out with music and weekend crowds as I've endured, chipmunk conversations buzzing in my ear, a drink spilled on my arm, and a make-out session that almost spilled on to my lap (along with that drink). And... it is tough to write about the bands you like when you see them every few months. So I will defer tonight and review their show at the Paperhaus this Thursday night--a 'venue' where people listen to the bands and talk in between the sets. Novel concept.

Quote of the Night: From the Fed's singer/guitarist... "How 'bout Showpony, were they great or what? They make me want to take guitar lessons."

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Dr. John - Jon Cleary -- Birchmere - Jun 1 2012

Jon Cleary - New Orleans based Cleary comes out before the big show to bang out 15-20 minutes on the piano and rev up the crowd some. He has a nice rolling style and hits the jazzy, bluesy rocking notes with keys and voice and offered standard fare. This is in the standing area of the Birchmere, which although appropriate in accommodating a few dancers, is a bit challenging for the Dr. John peers in the crowd, being that Dr. John is now 71 years old. There are some canes and wheelchairs around. There are also plenty of umbrellas as the tornados and flash floods may have kept the crowd a little smaller than what would have been. Still a good crowd listened attentively.
Dr. John - Mac Rebennack is back with a nice little band with a big sound. He's got drums, bass, keys, guitar, trombone, and sax. There's some backing vocals and he ambles around between vocals, guitar, and keys. The band is about as New Orleans solid as you would expect and provides more funk and R&B than rock or jazz, although there is plenty of everything in the sound. The set was good, although it felt more of a greatest hits than a throwback to "Gris-Gris", supposedly unlike the recent album (which I have not heard yet). Still, the band was flexible and did some cool things like the well received trombone solo. One moment that stood out was Rebennack's guitar solo which was filled with all sorts of jarring notes and patterns and doubly stood out from the band's ultrasmooth backing. That was fun. His voice was in great shape and was clear in the mix. Although vocal quality is something I listen for carefully with performers older than me, I did have to chuckle when I realized that he sounded pretty much 70 years old early in life. It is a little more of a challenge for Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone to perform Zombies cuts so flawlessly at this age, then it is for Mac to Dr. John it up for a set. But like John Mayall, it is impressive that he can still keep it going, although it is of no surprise whatsoever that he will bring a cooking band with him. I do miss my regular trips to New Orleans. I may have even ended up there if there summers were not even worse than the ones here.

Booking Question of the Night: This is the first standing show I have done at the Birchmere since the redesign. It came off well, although they really should put some chairs in what now is the side room or bar area. There were a lot of older people in need. I am curious to see if the Howard Theatre and the Hamilton will alter Birchmere's booking policy. They will clearly lose some shows (although the State Theatre is truly more moribund than ever). I had predicted a few younger shows headed to the standing stage and indeed Blitzen Trapper is slated for a show soon. I do not see any other obvious changes yet, but I will be curious to see what happens in the next year.

Friday, June 1, 2012


THE REPTILE PALACE ORCHESTRA  "Songs and Dances of Madisonia"|imageResize.jpg|product|320|300|productPhoto1495.jpg
The Omnium label has long specialized in modern ancient world music. They have released records for this 18-year old band for much of their run, as they are a perfect fit for Omnium's 'mission'. Madisonia is apparently a mythical neighborhood in their hometown of Madison, Wisconsin that has traditional, gypsy, Macedonian, Bulgarian music filling the streets (or at least the clubs). If you like klezmer, lounge jazz, gypsy dance tunes, Arabic torch songs, or are just feeling a bit creative, you should give this record a spin. There is a fine mix of instrumentals and vocal numbers, with jazz and rock intermingled with various traditional sounds. There is a sense of fun with it all (check out Skeleton Dance) and half of the enjoyment for the band was probably arranging modern sounds from synthesizers with ouds, reeds, and strings. There is nice focus on the core themes that stay steady throughout this record, making it an easy one to put on for the full distance. You may be distracted elsewhere, but take notice of your foot tapping as this music will easily penetrate into your sense of rhythm, no matter where your brain is.

Songs to try out first:

Sev Kardesim - Emotional vocal atop a woven series of sounds with a clarinet and violin dancing around it all.

Marakebna Al Mina - Uptempo number with electric guitar and snappy near-Asian style vocals. Head bobbing and toe tapping.

Rude Oud - This is one of the more rock oriented numbers, but with a middle eastern beat and melodic pattern.

BOILED IN LEAD "The Well Below"|imageResize.jpg|product|320|300|productPhoto1496.jpg
It was a nice surprise to get new music from one of my all-time favorite bands back in 2008 with their album, "Silver". And it is great to see they still have more songs in them. There are only four of them here, but the quantity matters little, when they still have the quality and invention that they are famous for. It's 3/4 of the classic line-up with a newer drummer and another guitarist that has been with them in recent years. But let's proceed to each song:

Wedding Dress - This is a classic folk number that I have heard from at least three different artists, and probably more. I love this version with Todd Menton's fine vocals atop good guitar work and a surprisingly distinct violin part that varies between bowing and percussive plucking. The bass and drums also create undulating currents that bring nice life to this lovely classic.

The Well Below the Valley - Todd Menton brings his Irish stylings in the vocal work on this traditional number. The band creates great droning sounds with subtle drumming punctuation. It sounds like a hurdy gurdy played through a didgeridoo, if that were possible. Another strong number in this extensive BiL catalog.

Western Borders - This is a cover of a John Van Orman song and shows the more heartland stylings of this Minnesota band.

Transylvanian Stomp - But what would a Boiled in Lead record, even a short EP, be without a nice gypsy worldbeat song. This one has the exotic flair we all come to expect from this band and leaves off with a twisted, worldly rocker.

It is always a pleasure to have new/old Boiled in Lead music. If for some reason you have not heard them, yet, these four songs effectively show off their range. But head to their back catalogue quickly.

DADDY LION "Habitat"
This band used to be a staple on the DC scene when I started blogging. They had a solid indie rock style and were an engaging band. Later on, this became a solo project for their singer/songwriter guitarist, Jeremy. You have not seen this name in a while, as he is down south going for a doctorate in philosophy, if I remember correctly. He promised to stay active in music, and this nine-song album is proof of that. I am assuming he is playing everything here and has recorded it all himself on garageband. At first listen, it sounds somewhere between homemade and studio processed, as the sound is spot on. It helps that the instruments are varied and engage in a lot of band-like interplay. It is especially nice to have real drum rolls and patterns beyond boring drum machines. Some of the material sounds a little basic, but more than half of it could easily balance out albums of highly successful indie rock bands. And there is just enough bite in the delivery, along with an engaging personality that makes this not only an easy listen, but a fun one, too. I am happy to see he is keeping the musical part of his brain open, while working with it in more formal ways as well. Hopefully we'll see a DC show some time again.

Songs to try out first:

Disconnected - A solid indie rocker that has good emotional impact. Really cool background sounds with chipper guitar moves.

The Driver - This has an English rock feeling, with a great drumbeat including fancy little fills.

Survivor's Guilt - He mentioned to me that he tried to invoke the spirit of my old pals--Husker Du in some of his songs. This one could be a Grant Hart song.

GATHERER "Postcards"
This short burst of an EP gives a quick glimpse into Gatherer's brand of post-hardcore riffage. Seven minutes and fourteen seconds after clicking on song one, the four songs have blown by and you know you are hearing a locked-in hardcore band. Actually you know it when you instantly hear "It's 5AM, Wake up and smell the disappointment!" during the opening cut, "Wedding Bells". This song has some nice jagged guitar moves and keyboards working their way in for a nice concluding passage. I would say this band is more creative than many hardcore outfits working these days, but they still have the potential of kicking it up a notch or two. I would like to see the vocals become a bit more than the one-note earnest screaming that is exhibited here. As most actors know, more intensity can often be created by pulling back and saying things more quietly. This is not a problem over four songs, but I think these five guys have the capability to further their sound. But for now, the four songs are a fun blast of thoughtful noise that would easily translate well on the live stage. Hopefully that will happen around here, some day. For the record, I thought "Brittle Bones" was the most effective song, but it certainly won't take you long to try them all and find your favorite.

YOU'RE JOVIAN "You're Jovian"
I enjoyed this trio's live set earlier this year, but felt the sound was lacking in the vocal department. Thanks to careful recording, this is not a problem at all here as the breathy vocal harmonies are clear and effective throughout these ten songs. They offset the edgy guitar notes well, and the rhythm section holds everything together. The songs are interesting and the sound is familiar enough for Swirlies and Sonic Youth fans, but this band has their own twists and turns. The album goes too much into an industrial drone and electronica toward the end as if songwriting was becoming tiresome, but I appreciate the effort to do different things. That is a good sign for things to come. For now, this is a nice listen and worthy live act as well.

Songs to try out first:

Sedimental Doubt - Nice catchy little modern rock beginning slowly hints more into the sounds to come later in the album. A good way to start an album.

And Now - I love the 60's lite-psyche vocal harmonies and the rock solid indie rock beat.

Harmonic Minor - This is a nice blend of Sonic Youth and Hush Arbors with jagged post punk crust surrounding a smooth filling.

LABASHEEDA "Castfat Shadows"
Ah, this takes me back to the early days of post-punk when we did not know what post-punk was. This band combines simple punk rhythms (with energetic drumming), edgy guitar with droning stylings, and chilling female vocals that have just a touch of snarl. There is a mixture of songs where there is some cool distance along with a few that are cozier with more pop hooks and even some violin. The vocals move from distant to immediate and are delivered in a Kim Gordon style, if she were channeling Ari Up. Although the songs vary a bit here and there, the band identity is strong and consistent. This sound is not for everybody, but for someone like me who really enjoyed the bands that tried to go in different directions yet retain their position in the 1979 punk scene, Labasheeda offers a lot to enjoy. I am quite happy to discover bands breathing life into this kind of music.

Songs to try out first:

Castfat Shadows - One guitar noodles along in the high register with another striking jagged chords. The vocals are twisted and everything meets in an psychotic middle. Intensity established.

Double Exposure - The poppiest song with nice vocal turns and some fabulous violin.

On Tippy Toes - The most punk song of the album. Great raucous music with a nervous Siouxsie Sioux vocal part (yes, you have pretend that Ms. Sioux was ever nervous).

There is always something interesting going on in a Presto Bando record or performance. Always. Their oddball moves do not always put them at the top of my listening list, as I feel I have to be mentally ready for them. But when I am, they are consistently one of the more interesting listens available. This 5-song effort features more immediately accessible material than I may have guessed. Still, there is the intense vocal work on top of arty guitar moves, mobil bass, and crisp drum work. The elements all work together in driving way that rocks out while maintaining a high level of arty creativity. And even though they are tough to pigeonhole, the first song conjures up clear visions of Pere Ubu in their 'Dub Housing' era. This is evident throughout the EP, although they twist the songs around in different directions. Although there are some bands that these guys (barely) sound like, there are not any around this big city. They play out regularly enough, so I invite you to experience this unique brand of music soon (that's polite-speak, for get your ass to a Presto Bando show, NOW).

I just saw this young upcoming band put on a solid performance at the Black Cat this week. They were celebrating the release of their first six song ep. And the music is worth celebrating as they can be proud of their accomplishment. It is a solid foundation on which to build their sound. They are likely not fully where they want to be, but this has enough good dreamy pop music get local fans interested. As I mentioned previously in the live review, there are a lot of interesting bands from the Animal Collective/Caribou style working these days (not that I know many of them) and it is important to make a distinction. That may be the one area to work on for these guys. They can craft a really lovely song like "Laura" or do some interesting sonic things on "2000", but I hope they continue to take some chances with their music. I detected more edgy spontaneity at the live show than on this release, but that is often the case. With their strong vocals and a good sonic palette, I believe they can take this decent starting point and continue to work up some memorable songs. Stay tuned...

From the very beginning, Marissa Nadler was an important artist. At least to those of us looking for sincere practitioners of personal psychedelic folk music. There is only the aroma of psychedelia, as this is a folk sound that is capable of transcending into the more magical psychedelic planes. Simply put, she creates powerful heart tugging music that balances both aloof and personal, chill and warmth, along with delicacy and strength. It is not a tightrope walk, but more of a composed routine on a balance beam--Full on art in the control of a master craftsman. Nadler has presented eight songs in just over 33 minutes, which is plenty to dig in and digest. As with her live sets, the focus is on her magical voice and delicate acoustic guitar. The musical additions here are perfect choices with backing female and male voices, percussion, keyboard and synthesized touches, and a bit of strings. Ultimately her voice still is the fulcrum to it all. She reminds me of the vocalists from the Dutch band, Chimera or the Welsh band, Pererin. They have more full band sounds, but also work the same territory somewhere off in the stratosphere. The only criticism is that this album is simply too good in the beginning. The songs taper off a bit on 'Side 2'. And if that's the only thing I can come up with, you can believe this one will get steady play in this household.

Songs to try out first:

The Wrecking Ball Company - Slowly picked guitar lays foundation for her most moving vocal work.

Love Again, There is a Fire - This is the most haunting song on this album, and many more, due to the great vocals, both lead and backing. The piano is a great choice.

Christine - Nice guitar work and a superb melody.

Simone Felice - Simi Stone -- The Hamilton - May 31 2012

Simi Stone - We begin with a half hour set from one member of the Simone Felice trio that will be playing later. Simi Stone thankfully offers a warmer set than the cool atmosphere in the club tonight. Partly due to the small attendance (50?), but mostly due to the air conditioning, one of the more comfortable DC clubs is anything but. She plays a violin and acoustic guitar while displaying a strong voice. I felt her quieter moments were quite nice, as her more powerful vocal notes tended to overwhelm and would have worked better atop a full band. The violin sounded great and this was a nice warm-up. Well, it would have been if the air conditioning was not so...
Simone Felice - The talented Felice Brothers have been worth following in their relatively short existence, as they have quickly established themselves as thoughtful writers and performers of rootsy folk rock music. Simone Felice's talents were a little too much to stay behind a drum kit, so he has moved forward with the Duke and the King, and now simply playing solo. Well not quite solo, as he had Ms. Simi Stone on backing vocals and violin along with a drummer. That was just the right formula to add to his vocal and guitar work. He alternated between a lovely sounding hollowed body electric and an acoustic 6-string. The show may have crept up to 60 people and had a weird vibe in that big room. I felt like I was watching an episode of Austin City Limits while at home on the couch. That was enhanced when I noticed the TV sets they have for the two distant bar areas had not only nice close-ups of the stage but multi camera shots with two angles of Simone Felice superimposed into one image. A lot of effort here, when you could sit close enough like you would if you were at the Red Palace (provided there was seating of course). Simone Felice, like most quality performers, played as if he were communicating to each person in the crowd individually. His songs were thoughtful and his explanations were light and playful, even for the darker numbers. I was hopeful for a bit more variety of tempos and eventually there was just enough. He dedicated the last couple of songs to his recently departed 'neighbor', Levon Helm, with the second one being the classic "Knockin' on Heaven's Door". This was a quality effort by Simone Felice in a club still trying to find its place in the DC music scene.

Quote of the Night: Simi Stone... "This song is about someone who is alive."