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!"