Saturday, October 27, 2012

El Ten Eleven - Michna - Beacon -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Oct 26 2012

Beacon - A New York duo begins this evening of electronica. One guy is on the electronics table with another on vocals and occasional keyboard stabs. The vocals are rich and luxurious and really make the set come alive. The electronics are the usual beats and such with nice washed out sounds and occasional melodic niceties. There were a frew darker moments which was a good offset from some of the songs that were beginning to roll together a bit much. The closer was a real snappy song that was on the invigorating side. This was a nice little set that was well received by the crowd that was a little slow to make it in tonight.

Michna - This is a one-man instrumental show this time around. Surrounding his table of effects are two 'Rovers' who instead of maintaining security in The Village, light up in multi-colors and serve as projection screens as well. The lighting is good and the visual look of the set is the real highlight. Musically, it is all fine and well, but it takes quite a bit in this genre to get me excited. I did like that he turned some of the cliched drum machine bits into a breathy sort of beat which was warmer and opened up things musically. So, another solid job here, if not the most compelling argument to pull me further into this genre.
El Ten Eleven - One of the reasons I lift this extremely tired carcass off the couch to go and see this electronica band is that the two guys play a drum kit and either guitar or bass. There plenty of great electronic-dancey sounds as well, but these two guys bang out some crisp beats and melodies live in the moment. There is a good crowd by now as this band has won over a good share of fans with their releases and cross country tours. And this drive and energy is fully apparent in the songs. The nice grinding rock sounds with electronic highs is reminiscent of a fine local act, Imperial China. They even have moments that have a jarring quality to them, although infectious melodies are never far from the mix. I am sure these guys will be back again and with over a hundred people here tonight bringing in even more friends next time, this band will have even bigger and ever vibrant shows.

Quote of the Night: El Ten Eleven had a difficult time getting the guitar turned on right as they took the stage... "Now, let's pretend that cool intro music is still going and we just walked up."

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mono - Chris Brokaw -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Oct 25 2012

Chris Brokaw - We begin with Codeine's drummer going solo with guitar and microphone. I did not get into Codeine much back in the day but had respect from afar. And unlike many drummers (and bass players) wanting to move further upstage, he has made an excellent decision. He's got an expressive voice and a surprisingly deft guitar style. He plays folk parts, with snaky little rock runs in between the main bits, all with a sensitive touch. He clicks on a few switches and bathes the crowd in shoegaze swirls which is a good lead-in for the headliner tonight. There is a Meic Stevens quality to the electric guitar here which is a very good thing. I would gladly pay to see him play solo next time around or see what he does with a band, as this is quality music here.
Mono - Fourth time around for me with this pleasing quartet from Japan. They always manage some of the more careful building action sequences you will find. It reminds me of the BME writing style where you careful plan beginning, middle, and ending with rising and falling action sequences in a manner of sine curve. Mono has these patterns in much of their music. The newer material tonight seems to evoke classical music and compositions even more than in the past, which also stresses dynamics and building themes and such. But it is easiest to sit back and drift with the sound and let you mind go. That works best here. There were some nice roaring guitar moments as well, which never hurts anyone. The only negative is on the visual side of things. The two guitarists spend almost the entire time on the floor and the drummer was even hard to see with what had to be the tallest crowd I have ever been in. He had the gong, though, so that was easy to see and hear. So much of the focus is on bassist Tamaki Kunishi who sometimes will hide behind a keyboard. She has a gentle swaying motion while playing bass which does add to the hypnotic effect of the music, so there is that at least. At just under 90 minutes, this set flowed by neither too fast or too slow, but in character and with great style. I'll be back for a fifth time when they come back to these shores.

Quote of the Night: Chris Brokaw... "Last time I was here, I was playing guitar with Thurston Moore and he threw up right here in the middle of the stage."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Brittany Jean - Kate Moran Band -- Evening Star Cafe - Oct 24 2012

Kate Moran Band - It was a little light on the band as Kate Moran had an acoustic guitarist playing behind her vocals. But that hardly mattered, as Kate Moran displayed a nice songwriting touch through her vocals and the guitar work. There was nothing too revolutionary here, but it worked well. Some of it got lost in the noise as a really large crowd was shuffling in throughout the set, but that was to be expected at a CD release party. Maybe that's were a fuller band would have helped. There were enough people focused in to enjoy this 33 minute opening set and I heard enough to say I would gladly see them again some time.
Brittany Jean - I have long been a fan of Brittany and Brittany Jean, which as she explains IS a band. And I could not agree more, as there was a nice full sound tonight from the drums,  electric guitar, guest bass, acoustic guitar and of course vocals. Brittany seemed a bit excited and nervous tonight as a lot of friends were here for the CD release party in a comfortable, yet crowded room. The excitement/nerves were converted positively into boundless energy which made this perhaps the best Brittany Jean set I have seen to date. Her vocals were powerful when needed and pulled back when the song dictated. She has all the energy and style of an Ani DiFranco and artists of that ilk, and the songs hold up as well. The band can really push the songs out to rock levels where things almost get a bit Joplin-esque (although I may be fairly accused of having Janis Joplin in my thoughts far too much this past year). The songs kept coming and the variety among rockers and quieter folk-rock numbers was perfect to sustain a set lasting 65 minutes. The guest bassist, Kevin de Souza, was allowed a song which was actually less interesting, but the band may not have had it rehearsed as much as needed. His bass playing was the important part and was excellent throughout, as it was a nice add to the Brittany Jean band sound. This band has all the ingredients to do big things around here or anywhere. Hopefully this fine EP will get some notice and the shows will keep coming.

Quote of the Night: Brittany... "We have a surprise after this song (guest bassist), so don't leave yet--Don't leave because of my talking."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Silo Halo - The Cell Phones -- Oct 23 2012

The Cell Phones - Don't let this little innocuous name fool you. And don't let a line-up that features a female vocalist, drummer, with one guy on acoustic bass let you think you are in for a relaxing time. This Chicago band packs a mighty punch that pretty much knocks you out of your seat and keeps you there. Girl Pop meets Grindcore? Those are their words and they cover things nicely. This as what the B-52s would have been if they eschewed cute and Arri Up took the helm. Maybe if members of Swell Maps and the Cramps tried to cover the first album Meat Puppets material would sound like this. The dramatic material and the persona that these three adopt is perfect for what modern punk rock should sound like, as opposed to mohican kids deconstructing Discharge songs in order to write other Discharge songs. The drummer is hyper fast and has a nice strobe light in his kick drum lighting up their logo. The singer can really belt it out and stay on top of the volume. And the bass player can really cook up the volume with thick bass lines or simple barre chords that resonate and echo like a post-punk electric guitar. This was way fun and all the smart people who know how to make it over to Sova for free shows featuring great bands from all over the country had a great time and demanded a two-song encore. Don't miss this band again if we are fortunate enough to get them back.

Silo Halo - You really don't want to miss a Silo Halo set either as they play some highly engaging post-punk, post rock, modern psyche drone music. There are three of them who vary the lead vocal work as well as the basses, guitars, and keyboards. Drum machines lay the beat and they take off. I find this music rather dreamy, but it is pretty hard and assertive much of the time, but I like drifting off in thought to something with a little guts to it, and this music has more than its fair share. A couple of songs really reminded me of classic Sonic Youth material which should appeal to many, especially now as we all look for that musical gap in our heads to be filled. The vocals were a bit soft and lost early on, but it was minor. They sustained a solid 46 minute set which was just right, capping off a great evening of diverse, yet complementary music.

Quote of the Night: Cell Phones getting on stage, discovering two people made set lists... "You made a set list, too. Wow, they are totally different!"

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Norman Rockwell - The Family Plots - Jayme Salviati -- Jammin Java - Oct 20 2012

Jayme Salviati - We begin with a nice singer songwriter with acoustic guitar. Her voice is more the star as she smoothly works it through a range of intensities and quiet moments. She also has a stand-up bass player which is always a good touch for all but the finest solo acoustic guitarists (Basically I am saying Davy Graham was better on his own, but there are not too many guitarists at that level). Nothing flashy here, just good original folk music, well played. Members from the headliner joined in on the last cut adding some banjo, mandolin, and violin making for a friendly finish.

The Family Plots - After one of the worst intros from someone who will not have you recalling Brother J.C. Crawford, this interesting looking sextet plugs in. They take an ambient tune-up and somehow a folkesque song emerges out of it. The second cut has some brilliant avant vocal moves as a couple of back-up singers have some really odd parts. This is really hard to describe until more songs head down a more predictable 'Lost in the Trees' route. There is a cellist on stage with two guitars and female back-up singer that don't always come through much in the songs that follow. Then in an odd symmetrical move, the second to last song has some intriguing and wonderful odd rock structures in it. The closer balances things out as the opener did and I am left a little baffled. All I can say is that if this band takes some of those wildly creative moments and pushes it further out or a least unleashes it more frequently, we could have something really brilliant here. A work in progress (I hope), but one I want to keep tabs on.

Norman Rockwell - Norman Rockwell was a famous painter who my Dad met many years ago, as Rockwell provided covers for Top Value catalogs. And if you have any clue of what I am talking about regarding Top Value's business, then the bad news reveals that over half of your life is very likely to be behind you. The same sense of Americana that Norman Rockwell provided is also evident in this band, but only some. Thankfully, these guys do more than keep it that simple. They take their twin guitar and rhythm section stance with a great instrumental workout of Richard Strauss's "Also sprach Zarathustra" done 1960s style with that funky rhythm section that we all recall from those days while we were organizing our Top Value stamp books. After that, it is a steadier move to a solid Americana styled folk-rock that goes into 'The Band' territory. One guitarist breaks out a banjo and the other guitarist goes acoustic, but the sound is still quite strong. The lead vocals are excellent and the three others all back-up well. They have pulled in an excellent audience tonight, who are having a great time. And aside from some minor discomforts of my own which had me leave earlier than I would have liked, I really enjoyed the music I heard. They have a new record out and were celebrating its release tonight. Hopefully they can tour the area around here some, because I think they are capable of drawing in a lot of fans.

Quote of the Night: Brother J.C. Crawford many years ago... "I want to hear some revolution out there, brother!"

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Jezabels - Hey Rosetta! - Yukon Blonde -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Oct 19 2012

Hey Rosetta! - Due to traffic problems, the middle band starts things off tonight. This is a musical ensemble from Newfoundland. I am skeptical with the first notes as it is sounding awfully similar to veritable fleets of the fuller indie rock bands that have invaded musical shores in recent years. But casting that aside, these guys really do come up with some powerful sounds. A guitarist handles the lead duties and there is another guitar along with rhythm section, violin and a cellist who plays some guitar. I particularly like the songs where the strings are cut loose and there is lots of interesting counterpoints in this loud raucous, yet tuneful music. The thinner songs get that sort of 'same old' feeling from that you would hear from Blitzen Trapper, Low Anthem, or fill in your favorite here. Not that the songs are a problem, as they manage to express some emotional range in them. A good start tonight and thankfully most of the crowd was here to hear these songs and were into all they heard.

Yukon Blonde - From the left coast of Canada, through 1,300 miles of traffic, comes this twin-guitar quartet. They look fresh and raring to go after apologizing for being late, and their personality is welcomed, but not nearly as much as their intense energetic playing. This is quick, hard rocking intense playing that seems to be a nice blend of the two directions the Escovedo (Alejandro + Javier) brothers have taken over the years. I think these guys are at their best when they head toward Javier's Zeroes stylized heavy power-pop. All four of the players sing creating some catchy harmonies amid the maelstrom of guitars and power bass and drums. They did have some heartland style songs as well, especially on the oddly named "Iron Fist" (not a Motorhead cover). Then they were back to some grind it out guitar work that somehow merged the Wipers and even Sonic Youth into a hard hitting closure. I would hate to see what these guys did when rested, check that, hopefully they will return and give us an even longer set next time around. The large crowd was definitely hungry for it tonight.
The Jezabels - And to complete the international show, Sydney Australia's Jezabels are up next. They feature a great female vocalist with guitar, keyboards, and drums. The music has been a bit overly loud all night and this was the first time it was distracting. The sound was a complete mess early on, but the balances were sorted by the third song getting clarity for all the components... except for the vocals. "They need to turn up her voice--she's a great singer!" a guy next to me implored. Yes, agreed said I, as I already had made that notation in my book. I don't blame them for pushing the volume as they musicians create a slightly less dense Joy Formidable sound, but they needed to pull it back just a bit. The lead singer reminds me a bit of something between Natalie Merchant and Joy Formidable's Ritzy Bryan. The songs really do stick to you and they deservedly had a lot of fans here tonight. All of the bands tonight were loud and energetic. The Jezabels had the quality and energy to stay with them and round out a great night of international music.

Plug of the Night - If you have not already seen this site, you should really check out Showlist DC, which is the place to go to see all musical happenings in the DC and Baltimore area. Catherine Lewis does a comprehensive job running the site and even has time to post recommendations and a daily blog of reviews and whatnot. Enjoy!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Justyn & the Babys - The Letter Yellow - The Ash Lovelies - Davey Brown -- Velvet Lounge - Oct 18 2012

Davey Brown - Gritty bar-room blues rock gets things underway tonight. Good crowd for this record release party and they are enjoying the music here. Brown sings and plays a rock-like acoustic guitar style with bass, drums, and a steel guitarist who has more of a electric lead guitar sound than one of simple accompaniment. The 29 minute set breezed by, easy to enjoy, and featured good enough songs. Brown played a solo song to close and the only advice I would give would be to try to remember the first line without stopping and getting a prompt.  But it made for a chuckle.

The Ash Lovelies - I have not seen this band in quite some time and the last time was quite forgettable due to a malfunctioning PA at a rather iffy venue. But the Velvet Lounge has the sound system and experience to handle a seven-piece line-up like this. The band features keyboards, bass, guitar, synth-guitar (I believe), sax, electronic drums, and a female vocalist who shared lead work with a guitarist. The drums were played live and sounded strong with all the instruments balanced nicely into an interesting little stew. It's hard to pin down, genre-wise, and that is usually a good thing. I would say it is closest to prog folk merged with alt-pop (whatever that is). A few songs click more than others, but the 32 minute set is quite the pleasure. And as the band Dr. Strangely Strange said in a song of theirs... "strangely strange, yet oddly normal".

The Letter Yellow - This Brooklyn trio came down for the show with a connection as the bass player used to play with Justyn some time back. The guitarist handles the vocals and they start off strong with a Dead Meadow-lite vibe. It is not quite as psychedelic but has some vocal similarities and a nice lilting pace with enough rock moves to perk things up. It is a bit in the Sebadoh style at times, too. They cover Dolly Parton and do a couple other odd things which are wrong turns to my sense of direction, but close on a strong note. There are some good things within and if they keep fleshing things out, it could even get better. But it was enjoyable enough as is tonight.
Justyn & the Babys - I finally get my chance to see this band at their CD launch (my review coming up next week or so). I've seen Justyn solo acoustic and he is a solid guitarist and interesting songwriter. The band format works even better as his rhythm section features a strong drummer and a bass player who adds a subtle bottom and some good backing vocals. It also allows Justyn to play some nice jarring psychedelic solos including a bit of freak-out beyond his long intricate rhythm passages. His lead vocals have a quirky 'real' music feel that I have said previously is a combination of Perry Leopold and Cosmic Michael. I'll toss in Terry Friend tonight, just to keep my run of ridiculously obscure references coming. The set had nice edgy moments that played off the overall smooth sounds. It is a good formula that should work for them as long as they can keep these songs coming. The crowd enjoyed this, although it had thinned just a bit from its 40 or so earlier (it was pushing pretty late). This was a great Thursday night show with solid bands and an attentive audience digging the music.

Quote of the Night: "They don't care if those 'ho's assault us, they just let 'em walk down the street, the bitches."... commentary from someone on U Street at 9:00pm as three blocks of U and Vermont were blocked off by police cruisers with officers breaking up something.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Turbo Fruits - The Danvilles -- DC9 - Oct 16 2012

The Danvilles - I really enjoyed this two-guitar rock band at the previous show, and they even seem more wonderful this time around. Their rollicking garage rock style is an easy way to connect with me and many other rock fans, but they have a few tricks up their sleeve to put them well above the many bands that follow this format. First, they manage an up-tempo style which borders on soaring off into chaos, but they still maintain control throughout. Second, they invigorate these songs with tones and textures reminiscent of the 60s, 70s, and even a few modern moves. Third, they don't take too many breaks and bang out another song after the previous one ends. The Chris Bailey styled vocals are a treat, the guitars roar, the rhythm section pounds away... I definitely want these guys on the bill the next time Graveyard comes through.
Turbo Fruits - Another twin-guitar garage rock quartet hits the stage, this time from Nashville. Immediately, there are some differences. There is a looser New York Dolls approach here with Johnny Thunders like fills poured into the quick and heavy tunes. They also remind me of a looser version of the Hellacopters as well. Nashville Pussy comes to mind, too, but they were a bit more metal and hard rock if I recall correctly. Anyway, these guys are rocking hard and have successfully pulled in a pretty good Tuesday night crowd, creating a bit more dancing and fist pumping than usual. The approach is far more memorable than the songs, but a couple tunes did show a bit of skill buried in the din. The second to last song had some long screaming guitar jams that reminded me a bit of Valient Thorr in all the right ways. I find it really hard not to enjoy this kind of energy, no matter what my mood. And they sustained it the whole way for their 55 minute set, also not always an easy feat.

Quote of the Night: As Turbo Fruits is up on stage checking monitor levels about to go on ... "Are we ready? ...Do we have time for a cigarette? ". Nine minutes later, they get it going for real.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Motion Lines - The Mean Season -- Sova - Oct 14 2012

The Mean Season - Second time around for me seeing this local trio in action. They feature a female and male voice and all three of them take turns at the drum kit with two of them on guitars, occasionally at the same time. They remind me some of the Magik Markers with a great modern take on psychedelic music in a short and catchy song-oriented format. They also ground out a nice droner ala Algarnas Tradgard or International Harvester as they could easily fool people into thinking they were from some dark region of Scandanavia. Yet they do have a warm and fuzzy style that comes out at times which really keeps one engaged during their set. This was relaxed, yet quite focused and went over well with the music lovers here tonight. This is one band to keep an eye on, as they have the goods to do some nice things around here.
Motion Lines - This local duo features a guitarist/vocalist and a second guy on bass and keyboards. They play to a drum machine, which does not excite me a lot generally, and did not do so tonight. The guitar tones and keys/synth moves were melodic and just edgy enough. The vocals were lost tonight and I am only now hearing them as I listen to some songs at their website. It is nice soft pop music with edgy undercurrents and can be quite enjoyable. Sova's PA is a bit of a challenge, but they could have played around with the volume a little and done better tonight. Still, this is a band I would see again some time. And I do recommend coming to these Second Sundays at Sova shows, as they are free and feature some very fine music every time I have been here.

Quote of the Day: from the opener... "Did you see that guy jump from Space?" which really engaged the crowd, some of whom I am happy to say were as clueless as I was about this stunt (semi-clueless as a Facebook friend tipped me off on it briefly). A sheltered life is bliss.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fujank - The Way Home - Black Checker -- Velvet Lounge - Oct 13 2012

Black Checker - This trio hit the ground running with their first song as they began with an up tempo number featuring their strong power-pop moves. The guitar has the pace and the crunch to push this along nicely as the vocals and rhythm section kept up. These guys channel the Nerves, 999, and the Zeroes along with countless other great power pop bands of all eras. They don't wimp out on the power or pace and even vary the tempos a bit for a nice well rounded set. They appear to be playing out regularly and that will keep things nice and crisp with that extra bite to pull the crowd in. Oh, and it never hurts to toss in a fun cover--Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" fit the bill nicely tonight. No wheels reinvented here, just good honest rock music with enough hooks that will keep Black Checker as a welcome addition to any bill.
The Way Home - This Philadelphia quartet has made it down here before, although this is my first time. The crowd grew during the opening set, so it's a decent sized room by now around 20 or a bit more. These guys feature guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards. The guitarist handles the lead vocals well and the full band offers solid harmonies which take theme a cut about the norm. The sound is pretty mainstream rock, akin to a solid bar band that adds a touch of soul to rock'n'roll. The better songs work well and all of these guys can play. I particularly like the keyboards as he has some flashy runs that remind me of the late Jon Lord or John Hawken flying around piano or organ. A few songs were better than others (as usual) and it felt a little long toward the end, but if you want to straight up rock music, this band can bring it. And few of their contemporaries will feature vocals of this quality and that can take you a long way from home.

 Fujank - This Maryland based band does a jazz-funk thing that I sadly could not take in due to an exhausting few days. Hopefully they'll back some time soon.

Quote of the Night: From the Way Home after a long, long introduction... "This song is called 'Summer feels like Forever'"...
   "Your stage patter felt like forever." Actually, their band members were chiding him without exactly saying that, but these guys had a great personality to them, so it was all in fun.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Torche - LTW - Disciples of Christ -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Oct 10 2012

Disciples of Christ - Call me a Doubting Thomas, but I am not sure if I am ready for this noisy blast of feedback that this trio begins with. They devolve into a death grindcore style with noise and some rhythm to hold it all together. They all sing in roughly the same tone until the end. The last song sounds very cool which makes perfect sense when I figure out it is a cover of Wire's "Pink Flag". I could deny that I liked anything about the set, but as the cock crows for a third time, I have to admit the cover song was very good and there was a certain crude effectiveness about it all. Great Wipers shirt on the drummer, too.

LTW - This is the second time around for me seeing this local noisy thrash band and it has been a while. They seem to be gigging quite regularly and it appears to be paying dividends. Their Siege-like bursts of songs are connected with droning noisy patterns keeping listeners fully engaged with their world for their short, yet effective 16-minute set. It's a bit brutal for the timid, but that is the point, obviously. I think the sound shaping is effective and with a variety of tempos, there are real patterns here with just the correct dosage. Keep it up, gang.
Torche - I am a bit surprised that I am only now seeing this hard touring band for the first time. Although from Miami (and Atlanta now), they hit DC frequently, much to the delight of their many hardened fans who have showed up in big numbers tonight. After a bit too long of a delay, they immediately blast away with noisy new-metal that is fast yet always tuneful. The guitars trade off shredding moves with controlled ringing tones and there is a hardened style in the mix for both punk and metal fans. Fans of Baroness, QoTSA, and many more even faster heavy bands would clearly want to be here. And if you are a fan of the fine local band, Caustic Casanova, they clearly inhabit the same sonic universe (no surprise to bump into CC's bass player here tonight). The rhythm section thundered on, guitars raged, and the vocals and melody lines were always present to remind everyone that these guys can write real songs, too. I am quite happy I dragged myself off the couch tonight and it will be even easier the next time these guys make it through.

Quote of the Night: from a sober guy to a drunk guy not quite getting the Icarus story right in my view... "You're like an eagle flying high in the atmosphere".

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Public Image Ltd. -- 9:30 Club - Oct 8 2012

Public Image Ltd. - Nothing beats spending a couple hours with an old friend. Although I have not had the opportunity and would have been too terrified to even say one word to John Lydon in the past, he has always been there as I've grown up. And with us both in our 50s now, I see we wear baggier shirts for comfort as well as a certain strategy. The important thing of course is that he's still getting up on stage and being himself while possessing his unique voice. His band is also excellent and they've been together a couple of years, which likely makes them the longest continuous running version of PiL. The rhythm section is as solid as ever and Lu Edmonds brings his array of Turkish instruments and guitar plugged through a massive amount of pedals and boxes creating a more psychedelic vibe with a bit less in the jagged edge department. It all clicks tonight as they mix in songs from their new album with some of their timeless classics. If anything, I wish they would rotate a few more songs in as this seems awfully similar to the last time around. But the ferocity in the medley "Bags/Chant" is worth the price of admission alone. Primal power with incredible musicianship, a lovely combination when it works. The crowd was a bit subdued but they were digging the set and were focused on the music which always works for me. I hope John Lydon can go another 50 years, although I am not sure I want to be around quite that long to see how it all turns out.

Set List: This is Not a Love Song - Deeper Water - Albatross - One Drop - Flowers of Romance - Disappointed - Warrior - U.S.L.S. 1 - Reggie Song - Death Disco - Bags/Chant - Religion. Enc: Out of the Woods - Rise - Open Up - singalong ditty

Quote of the Night: John Lydon-- "I reckon there's another 50 years in this old cunt, if only as an act of spite."

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ttotals - Closely Watched Trains -- Velvet Lounge/STTP Festival - Oct 6 2012

Closely Watched Trains - I had a chance to catch a couple acts from the Twin Lakes Records showcase event at the STTP Festival. Unfortunately I could not make it back for PG Six, but enjoyed what I saw. And the first of that was this half of what normally is a Connecticut based quartet. Although the full band would no doubt be more enjoyable, you would not know it by the fine waves of sound these two created. It was electric guitar with voice and violinist. They were skillful players and gravitated toward a lovely psyche-folk haze with plenty of bite as the songs rolled out. The label chief jumped in on drums for a couple of tunes and particularly did well with Neu! style motortik on the final number before the other two twisted into some oddball Americana turn. This set flowed and has me wanting the full band to come around some time.
Ttotals - I always hope for interesting sounds right out of the gate, when I see the overly used duet of electric guitar and drummer. Thankfully, although there is the usual blues rock in here, these guys twist it into more of a stripped down Hawkwind style vibe. The drummer works an electronics rig, so there is a lot of sound these guys put forth. There is not quite as much flourish as a Hawkwind or even Wooden Shjips, but there is plenty of creativity and dynamics between the two players. I even heard a Boris-vibe particularly in the vocals in the slower droning moments. They are from Nashville, and without a cowboy hat in sight, they are a welcome presence in any club night here at the V-Lounge or elsewhere. Great job here and the crowd was up to 15 and was likely to get a lot bigger as it was still early. Unfortunately I had to be elsewhere.

Quote of the Night: From the opener... "Thanks for being here. Without you, this would be a rehearsal."

And one more day to catch tons of bands at the STTP Festival.

Balmorhea - Wendell Kimbrough -- 6th + I Synagogue - Oc 6 2012

Wendell Kimbrough - We have a local singer-songwriter with acoustic guitar in front of a microphone. Common enough event in this or any club, but first the scenario is unique tonight. This is a 'downstairs' show at the synagogue which takes place in the foyer where you can get refreshments prior to taking the steps upstairs. Tonight, they have a small stage set up and it is standing room only. That is a concern as sight lines are not particularly great. Also, people were weary of standing for two different acts, but two acts that allow for thoughtful musical appreciation. Hopefully folding chairs will be part of future formulas to downstairs shows as more than half of the far younger than I crowd were sitting on the floor during the headliner's set. But back to the music. Kimbrough has a fine voice and can play delicate finger picked patterns as well as churning out the chords. His songs ranged from contemplative folk into various offshoots of light rock and more rhythmic oriented tunes. He invited a cellist with him for half of his 40 minute set and that gives things a kick up, including a Baba O'Reilly sounding riff. Good songs, decent arrangements lead to a nice warm-up and someone worth checking out again some time.
Balmorhea - This Austin based musical collective has a lot going on. There are drums throughout with some electronics. Basses are either electric or stand-up or used in tandem. Guitars come and go as do keyboards and there is a violin and cello that is the key to things along with propulsive keyboards. Lots of instrument switching within and between their mostly instrumental songs. There is some vocalization although lyrics are less important than the sonic effect. This is mostly modern, moderately complex progressive music that flows more than it jars. They do not seem quite as daring as Sapat or Do Make Say Think, but they nail their grooves particularly well. Just when I think this is lacking a little pizzazz, the two strings do some fun things with the keyboards pounding away. Ultimately, this was a fun live experience that kept me involved. Bands like this are tricky and worth staying with as the reward build over time.

Friday, October 5, 2012

One Night with Janis Joplin - The Arena Stage - runs through Nov 4, 2012

One Night with Janis Joplin - I have been going to the theater for over 40 years and still regularly attend many different performances throughout the year put on by many different companies. And although I am happy to expand my blog into covering additional events in the artistic world of DC, this play is a perfect for this blog as it has the full feel of a rock show.

The one night with Janis Joplin is simply Janis belting out her songs with some explanation of her life and influences as she comfortably interacts with the audience. There is precious little time spent on childhood trauma, the hippie scene, or psychological issues. Instead, it is more focused on her songs and the influential songs of the past and of her contemporaries. And that is a big success of this play as these influences are brought to life by a second actress/singer who handles Arethra Franklin, Odetta, and Bessie Smith among others.

Mary Bridget Davies nails Janis Joplin in body language, style, and of course, voice. She keeps everything conversational and upbeat and really manages to pull the audience in. The songs are powerful and as she told me in an interview, she takes care to present a song like "Piece of my Heart" in the exact manner of the known Janis Jopliin version. But she will then roll out "Ball and Chain" with whatever unpredictable and unbridled passion she can summon up. She maintains great energy throughout this active performance where she only gets the benefit of one intermission and a few short breaks off stage. She delivers the famous screams as well as the tender moments with great effect which really helps give a depth and diversity to the music.

And speaking of diversity, the key to the success of this play may be in the second singer known as 'Blues Singer' played by Sabrina Elayne Carten. It allows further diversity of musical style, yet as the songs are Joplin influences, is fully tied in to the overall theme. Ms. Carten's operatic voice is amazing and she gets to really have fun with her range as she gets to play different singers from different eras and genres. I particularly liked her Odetta piece where her costume and expression had me instantly feeling Odetta before she sang a note. The Arethra Franklin song that Janis Joplin joins in on was one of the real show stoppers. This character from writer/director Randy Johnson really creates an exciting flow of the overall production.

Rounding things out are three backup singers and a nine piece band. The band does a fabulous job with a great psychedelic vibe and heavy rock moves, but can shift immediately into blues rock, R&B, and lounge style blues. They all get to show off solos and along with the rhythm section, two guitars, and keys, there are a couple of trumpets and a sax. They play loud, but not deafeningly so which helps pull in a full audience of rock fans as well as musical theater lovers who know little of the difference between Big Brother and Holding Company and the Kozmic Blues Band. The stage is simple and clean, but with stairs leading to a platform and a fancy scrim/projection screen, there are a lot of thoughtful embellishments tastefully employed. Psychedelic lights are also only briefly employed, as the stage belongs to the musicians and singers.

This was enjoyable the whole way through with its breezy positive spirit. The surprisingly enthusiastic audience was fully engaged and was having much more fun than many of the rock audiences I see in clubland. By all means, head over to the Arena Stage for this excellent production.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Dig - The Sea Life - The We Shared Milk -- Red Palace - Oct 3 2012

The We Shared Milk - Man, is that an awkward 'the' in their name. Bursts of volume from this Portland, Oregon trio quickly make me forget about that and focus on their rather intriguing music. Just when I think this is rather basic indie rock, the guitarist blasts away into some fuzzy sludge and has me scratching my head. This sounds a bit like Dinosaur Jr., if the three guys went to their second instrument of choice. Some of this is straight forward enough rock, but there's the occasional menace and snarl which really forces a sharper focus. 27 minutes worth of music and I'm still curious but very interested. If this were a recipe, I would tweak the spice of the vocal lines which don't always seem to match up with the music. Otherwise, these flavors are vibrant and exciting. The early crowd was rewarded here tonight.

The Sea Life - There are an awful lot of people on stage with drums, bass, keyboards, and three guitars. Various members sing with occasional success in the harmonies. Musically, this Maryland band plays a classic-to-modern pop style that works well enough. It rather depends on the song as a couple seem to rise up to something special with others that allow my mind to wander too much. If this were a recipe, I would remove a couple ingredients as I am not hearing the value of so many instruments in the end product. Some of their endings were a little rough and too casual for my liking. But the music was good enough and I particularly enjoyed a song that had a similar melody and playfulness of the Flamin' Groovies "Shake Some Action".  They have a new album out next week and play at the Black Cat on October 13th, so you can judge for yourself.
The Dig - And if this Brooklyn quartet was a recipe, I would share it with all and cook it up and serve it with a smile. These guys played a strong and personal brand of pop music that was heavy with rock power, shoegaze swirls, and tricky instrumental shifting. The vocal work is dazzling with the bassist and guitarist sharing lead duties and harmonizing well with their varied textures. The rhythm section is the key foundation element to keeping things fresh and interesting as the bassist really lays down throbbing lines and the drummer is sharp with his powerful punctuation. The guitar moves in and out of loud-to-moderate volume bursts and the keyboardist deftly switches back and forth to a second guitar, even in the middle of several songs. I saw these guys years back when this was the Red & the Black, and it appears that they have grown some fans by now with 40-50 here this time. The spirited crowd rightfully dug everything this band dished out in the 54 minutes on stage and they yelled loud for an encore through the house music, which is a rare for the DC club scene. The recent album I reviewed here was quite good and the live show is even more amazing. This was night one of an extensive tour and hopefully the audience will be growing at each and every city.

Quote of the Night: From the Sea Life... "This is an old song I wrote about six months ago."

Monday, October 1, 2012

RECORD REVIEWS - September 2012

Brittany Jean has been a welcome presence on DC stages in recent years and with her second EP, she again she proves she has what it takes in the studio. As often the case, there are multiple components at work. Her singing and songwriting is top notch and is capable of holding its own when she performs solo. Her Americana folk starting point quickly transitions into full blown rocker when the band kicks in. And that is the key component here--her band is top notch and can pull back and push forward with comfort and proficiency. The five songs here clock in over 26 minutes so there is plenty of room for the music to move around into different textural realms. It is always moving and with the vocal work, always easy and a real pleasure to listen to. This music can hold up with the best singer songwriter material that exists in the indie rock/folk rock world. Hopefully enough of you will give this a listen, hit the clubs when she is playing and tell ten friends what you have heard.

New Jersey hardcore makes its way to my ears with this new six-song EP. After a spacey introductory song "Give In", they blast away in their comfort zone of melodic, fast paced, earnest and intense hardcore. Although we have heard this all before, and I am a very tough sell for this style as I have been hearing it since it was invented, I have to say these guys have added just enough crafty moves in creating hooks and fancy fills that I easily lose my skepticism. The rhythm section pops with the drummer rolling through some tricky little ear catching moves. The guitars blast away but instantly pull back into quieter moments or biting little fills. Vocals are solid as you expect for this genre, when done well. They are road veterans and have some popularity overseas. Hopefully they will make it to DC, although with the way hardcore is booked around here, maybe a trip to Baltimore will be needed.

I was worried when this band wrote me reminding me of a previous show of theirs at the old Red and the Black that I had reviewed. Fortunately, when I looked it up, I found that they were the band I enjoyed and not a rather awful Boston band who cleared the room and is likely long gone by now. Thankfully, the Dig is still around fashioning crisp modern pop music that will easily hook you in or knock you back (as in "Police Car"). Overall, this is attractive 21st century music that is played straightforward with only a wee bit of elecronotrickery here.The spirit is strong and the music stays with you. And I hope you check it out for yourself in just a few days...

The Dig plays the Red Palace on Wednesday, October 3rd. 3 bands, ten bucks--go for it!

Songs to try out first:

Black Water - Vocal line reminds me of a sixties pop song while guitar offers nice contrast before the lush chorus.

I Already Forgot Everything You Said - Quite simply, an addictive little pop melody with a touch of noisy guitar.

Help Yourself - Cool twisted electric solo and some great early Dylan/Arlo Guthrie style story telling.

Police Car - Great ringing guitars with some added rhythm section power. The vocals are up to it.


Ahhh... this takes me back to the fun days of early punk rock before things got too sub-genred. In those early days, the heavy bands shared stages with dancey or abrasive electronic bands--Suicide would play with the Ramones and Blondie, etc. Nervous Curtains could fit in perfectly in those days, but also are well established for these days where electronica is popular, but people still want the heart and guts of rock music. There is some variety to the sounds which is always a good formula. I particularly like the piano in "It's the End of Eternity" and latter songs which reminds me of some of the latter Trent Reznor material I heard a few years back. The album has an interesting flow to it where it hits the ground running full speed and drifts off more in latter songs allowing a contemplative finish. I like the theatrical style pacing in a record album and these guys have done that with good songs that are tracked in a meaningful manner. Next, let's see what they can do live.

Nervous Curtains play at Sova on Friday, October 5th with the always excellent Screen Vinyl Image. I'll be there and it is a FREE show, so get there early.

Songs to try out first:

Moody Photos - Immediately, the rhythm section and keyboards set up a dark and intriguing backdrop for the singer to show some passion and intensity.

Come Around Viral - Great vocal shifts from intense verses to an eerie chorus all atop killer beats and synthesized atmosphere.

Something Sinister - Although this title sums up much of this record, this invokes that sort of feeling... dare I say sweet?


If Ride were to reform and jam with Wooden Shjips. And then maybe they could write some songs with their kids, since this one sounds like a modern psyche record as opposed to something overly old school. There are elements of both as you would find with Crystal Antlers or maybe Oneida. "Nocturnal" even heads off into Jesus and Marychain territory with the breathy vocals and churning rhythm featuring clanging guitars. There is not any false notes on this record. Although they don't vary things too terribly far, there are distinct feelings within many of these songs and a smooth delivery throughout. No doubt this would be an excellent live show, hopefully with the appropriate spacey lighting or projections.

Songs to try out first:

I'm Way Ahead of You - Chilling guitar riff with buzzsaw second guitar over tribal thump and spooky vocals. What is not to like?

Strange Girls (Don't Cry) - This one moves.

Into the City - Too many cool things going on here with musical reference to about every decade since the sixties. Throbbingly rocked out.

IAN ANDERSON "TAAB2 - Thick as a Brick 2"
Get ready, it is a music critic writing about Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull.... Nothing has been more tiresome for me than reading the dozens of cliched critical barbs against various progressive bands especially those directed at Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson (including one just a few months back in Uncut). And now we have the sequel to the most progressive Tull album, "Thick as a Brick". Well, I will be happy to parry away the critical bricks hurled at Tull fans as I have always liked Ian Anderson's songs and Tull's music. "Thick as a Brick" was a good, but busy record musically with side long tracks telling the story of Gerald Bostock. Now it is 40 years later and Ian Anderson has some catching up to do. The story telling is fine, if not a bit predictable, but it flows well. Musically, it is fun with reference points to the original album and even some other Tull songs. None of the older or recent Tull players, so as in the live tours, Ian Anderson performs under his own name but with a very Tull-like band. These players know the Tull material and bring the same progressive spirit and skill of that of the original. The music zips around with glee and pulls back to quieter songs when desired. Skillful and a good listen, and sequels are more interesting when there are many years in between.

This is music of the flute. It is African influence jazz rock for the most part drifting between traditional songs and chants and a lighter jazz rock. This South African performer helped close out the World Cup and has toured four or five continents, although he is certainly not a household name on this one.That could change if he were to get the right shows here as the combination of worldliness and tuneful melodies could work its magic on the right crowd. And as a hack flute player myself, I always appreciate a well-played flute in nearly any genre.

Songs to try out fist:

African Hornpipes - This gets the African theme off to a great start.

Mama Tembu - This South African is done with a reggae arrangement and a fine lead vocal. Interesting crossover.

Fire Drill - Crisp jazz number featuring a rap and vocal noise while playing flute (made famous by Ian Anderson) Believe me, it's harder than it sounds.

30,000 MONKEES "Womb Eater, Wife Beater"
I have been getting quite the complement of Belgian folk and rock bands in the last several months. My viewpoint is still rather limited after only spending one day in Antwerp, but there appears to be a lot going on in this small but active country. 30,000 Monkees offers a twisted art metal post punk attack on the senses. This is more of a metallic approach to the music of Birthday Party as opposed to the crazed garage attitude. There is precision and creativity as the music grinds forward and there is a bit of the garage bluesiness in a couple of the songs ala Birthday Party or even Mudhoney. But then it is off to some combination of the Melvins and Swedish prog metal. Some of this is perhaps a bit too much in the dirge direction, but as they continue to write songs based on the highlights here, they can come up with something special. When I try to find new aggressive loud music, this is the sort of sound I hope to discover--something that rises above the cliches but keeps melodic power in there somwhere. This EP meets the test. I am definitely checking out the club scene the next time I am in Belgium.

Glenn Branca Ensemble - Isabelle Duthoit & Franz Hautlinger & Zsolt Sores - Alec Redfearn & the Eyesores - Stylus!Black!Factory! -- Atlas Performing Arts Center - Sep 30 2012

Stylus!Black!Factory! - This 27 minute set featured an electric cello, an electric guitar and 8 people at tables with at least seven turntables. The front duo cooked up some nice loops and sonic passages, but the stylus part seemed lacking. After standing around a bit, the DJs popped the turntable arms up and down on the records occasionally flipping them over. One guy picked up the record and returned it to its same side for some reason. The front duo continued to make some nice noise that had enough of a theme and style to it to hold interest. Reasonably good starter here, but the stage could have been a lot less crowded.

Alec Redfearn & the Eyesores - Alec Redfearn comes from Providence, which is where I visited once to attend a Terrastock festival featuring innovative psychedelic bands from around the world. Based on this set, Redfearn and crew could easily be one of the best acts at this sort of festival. He mostly plays accordion with a french horn player, keyboardist, drummer, electronics guy, and a fellow on stand-up bass. They play well composed songs and create amazing sounds. The keyboards are played with pulsating precision while the electronics guy comes up with hard edge sounds that usually come from electric guitars. There is great timing and originality throughout. The male and female vocals are magical and ultimately I am trying to put together an audio picture of Faun Fables, Kate Bush, and Hush Arbors. Geeze, there are even some Vincent Crane organ moments. Great, great set by a band that hopefully will come back some time soon.

Isabelle Duthoit & Franz Hautlinger & Zsolt Sores - If you are deep in the experimental camp, then you may have liked this. I thought it pretentious and tiring. There was a woman with a unique voice that summoned quiet nearly inaudible sounds from deep and that part was interesting for a bit. A trumpeter and violinist joined in without actually playing much, although the trumpet sounded a bit interesting by the end. Mostly it was rubbing things on the floor, blowing on things and improvising something 'original' even though this sort of thing has been done to death. Yes, so have Ramones and Rolling Stones copycats, but I will always take more pleasure in that. I am afraid I need more of a foundation for the experimental music that moves me. Some people did enjoy this and art has gotten to be pretty much what you want it to be, so judge for yourself.

Glenn Branca Ensemble - Mr. Branca tells us he is 64 this coming Saturday and he certainly looks the part of the master conductor role he plays tonight leading a drummer, bassist, and four guitarists in a set of several of his compositions. It is all electric and loud, although we won't need our earplugs he tells us (it's probably borderline for some). There are no pedals, just strong clean sounds with a powerhouse drummer and players that work off of sheet music and focus on the tricky interplay with the timing of their strikes. It is all rhythmic, dense and ultimately quite interesting. You certainly see the genesis of Sonic Youth, Swans, and many other bands that have come since Branca arrived on the NYC scene long ago. They survive some broken strings which delay things at times, but the players are composed and banging it out nicely. The music has that same sort of combination of classical music and loud rock that I first heard with King Crimson performing Gustav Holst's "Mars". There was a nice composition he wrote for Steve Reich's 70th birthday even though "it doesn't sound like Steve Reich and he probably didn't like it". I have listened to Branca and known about him since the early 'no wave' days, so it was nice finally to share a brief moment with the music live. And I will conclude by agreeing with his quote below.

Quote of the Night: Glenn Branca coming on stage "Beautiful Night--absolutely beautiful."