Sunday, June 30, 2013


This DC area band is primarily the work of songwriter Ryan Walker, who assembled a fine cast of musicians here to bring forward elements of pop, rock, folk, with some forays into country, progressive, and psychedelic modes. There are enough variations that I ended up getting deeper into the songs that were in genres I was most comfortable with --psychedlic, progressive, and the heavier songs. If the songs were stronger, the lighter folkier ones would have worked as well, but I think the Beanstalk Library is at its best, when they just cut loose and let everybody play. And when they do have a song that works, it has a great pop hook that the band is able to emphasize with strong playing. This is a well produced record that can appeal to a large fan base, but it reminds me a bit more of why I like this band live.

Songs to try out first:

Feeling My Way in the Dark - This has a classic power pop feeling to it with good guitar crunch offsetting warm vocal melody.

Mushroom Clouds - Pleasant rocker morphs into a psychedelic/progressive jam complete with organ solo.

Over - The closer is a tidy straight forward pop rocker, more of which they should be doing.


Poptronica of sorts is what I would try to call this. I am always a little bit of the toe in the water type when it comes to examine modern pop music and electronica. I like the music more often than not, but do not know it well enough to put a lot of historical perspective into a review. So, I will just sit back and say that this music warmed me throughout the course of the eleven songs. This New Zealand duo reminded me some of Purity Ring, particularly with the lush vocal hooks. I particularly enjoyed the electronic as it was orchestral in nature, but moved in subtle waves of sound rather than shocking bursts. This is smart music that touches more than it shows off. Some day I may listen to enough of this style, to be positive that this is among the finest offerings you could want. But for now, I will simply keep listening.

Songs to try out first:

Children - Lush layers of smooth inviting music roll over shorelines.

Offering - The vocal work really shines on this offering, with great closing woven patterns.

Faceless Child - The vocal here is absolutely transcendent.

One of DC's most authentic and interesting roots-folk-blues singer/guitarists has just released this fine album. He mixes instrumental finger style songs with gutsy roots numbers that display both an amazing amount of talent, but also dexterity in styles. He also adds in some banjo, which only furthers his versatility. Rarely do you see it come together so well, without heading back to the classic English scene where finger stylists embraced blues, traditional folk, and even some amazing Eastern moves. Although Jonny Grave may not be Davy Graham, he is certainly one of the best in DC if not anywhere in what he brings to acoustic music. There really is not much more to say. If you like finger style guitarists, you should listen to see exactly where he fits into your listening scheme of live and be sure to take in a live show some time, where he proves it all again right before your eyes and ears.

And as shown above catch him at Hill Country on July 4th at 9:30pm with no cover fee.

Songs to try out first:

The Hammer - The opener drops the hammer down and sets the tone.

L'Enfant Promenade - Instrumental guitar shows his superior finger style technique.

Afraid of the Dark - This is reminiscent of Robbie Basho in spirit with maybe even more technique if possible.


This DC duo is a sneaky favorite of mine. They feature a pretty basic formula of spooky gothic guitar, chilly synthesizers, and post-Sioiuxsie lead vocals. This record features four new cuts and a couple of remixes. I always enjoy them live and the first record had a nice intensity to it, even as it laid out an icy landscape. If anything, this second record demonstrates further maturity in their songwriting. They use dynamics and tension even better this time around within a broader atmosphere of sound. Although only four new songs long, the momentum builds in the manner of a band like Mono, although the vocals create something entirely unique here. I normally like this type of band, but I am liking what these two achieve a lot more than I would have guessed. I look forward to their next show.


From the Slumberland label comes this jangly west coast rock with a touch of psychedelic--sounds like a cocktail served frequently at a club near you. Yet this band manages to push things musically to keep you more on the edge of your seat than many of these 'lean back and drift away' bands. They do manage some quiet moments, but when the guitars nimbly arc their way through these simple pop melodies, things are breezy fun with just enough room for contemplation. Perhaps the vocals invoke the thoughtfulness, even with pop melodies at the core, they have a soft reflective tone throughout this entire album. They have been louder in the past from what I have read, but it is nice to see them try to make pop music interesting with slower, but very busy guitar work. I am interested in the live experience with this band.

And I will not have long to wait as they play the Comet Ping Pong this Friday, July 5th.

Songs to try out first:

Hello - Delicate crunch in the guitar with nice detached harmonies.

Bad Design - Right from the opening notes, this sounds like a lost 1967 pop nugget classic, but some careful modern sounds buried within make it perfect for today.

Shadow of Your Step - On the dreamy side of pop, but with that jangle still clearing the way on this closer.


This is breathy mood electronica. Although it comfortably fits in with many others in this genre, I enjoyed the light post-punk styled baselines driving the depth home. There were echoey guitars and breathy vocals as well as a solid beat. What really makes this work is the variety from nearly straight post-pop rockers to lush instrumental pop and different points in between. They have carefully decided on a different variety of instruments and sounds for nearly each of these eleven songs. Yet they are cohesive and squarely fit together as a complete album, where there are many highlights, depending on what your favorite genres and styles are.

See Mood Rings live at the DC9, Tuesday July 9th

Songs to try out first:

Pathos y Lagrimas - Excellent guitar and bass parts working even more extreme parts of the sonic spectrum, considering the lush surroundings.

Minor Slaloms - Nicely named tune that has a brisk downhill motion with lots of traditional pop rock moves.

Charles Mansion - it was my favorite song as soon as i saw the title. There is even saxophone.

If you lost track of DC's The Mercies, they are now known as Other Factors and have been working out of Brooklyn for the past year or thereabouts. They have always been a band to watch and now with this album, they have pushed there sound even further beyond the bounds of post punk. Musically, you can detect Gang of Four, Mission of Burma, and stylistic snippets of other great post punk bands, but there is also a lot of progressive rock history and power pop energy in here as well. Dozens of bands come to mind when I listen to them, which instead of showing them to be a derivative band, actually tells me that they are talented enough to encompass a wide array of sounds and styles into a coherent vision of their own. I have always been challenged at who they remind me of vocally, until this record finally connected with a twisted psychedelic band known as Forest (not an easy vocal style to emulate). But you need not dig out your rock history books--anyone who enjoys jagged edge guitar, intense vocals, and a powerful rock rhythm section will easily take to this band and this album.

Songs to try out first:

Needlenose - Slamming snares and feedbacks welcome you into their off kilter rock world.

Look Alive - Dirty abrasive guitar, wailing vocals, funky rhythm… you best be looking' alive.

The Perils of Ownership - Harmonies and some of the music remind me of Wishbone Ash, if they woke up from a bad dream.

Warm pop music with electronics, guitars, and drums in just the right proportions for those less-techno savvy listeners. This has strength surrounding the hooks and "Gold" has much more depth than you expect in this sort of music. If electronica-Americana could be a hybrid, this is pretty close. These four songs have a strikingly balanced taste for those of us rockers who enjoyed old school electronics outfit as well as industrial groups. Yet they easily fit in today's electronica scene and will succeed with their songwriting and excellent delivery.


I would call these seven songs an EP since they come up a bit shy of 30 minutes, but a long EP or short LP matters little these days, especially with self publishing. I have enjoyed this local band's blistering hook based rock on the live stages around town for some time now. They have a classic rock approach with soaring vocal work and loud heavy sounds throughout. In my inner circle of friends, when we hear classic styled rock music, we want our bands to stay above the REO Speedwagon line, otherwise they are dismissed. Vinyl Side danced a little with this line on the record much more than their live show (common malady when it comes to studio work) but only early on. By the time of "Drown" they had established plenty of interesting heavy moves with vocals that invoke more of the Undertones' Feargal Sharkey than they do of Kevin Cronin. So if you enjoy melodic rock music that pushes forward better than most and does not fall into sappiness, then Vinyl Side's record is worth a listen… and certainly catch them live if you can.

Friday, June 28, 2013

One Night with Janis Joplin -- Arena Stage Jun 27 2013

One Night with Janis Joplin - This deservedly popular musical returns to the Arena Stage for one more run before this excellent production heads for the bright lights of Broadway. I thoroughly enjoyed the play last year and it was every bit as good tonight. If anything, the crowd was even rowdier and more involved, although these performers were not about to let them sit back quietly like any routine theater crowd. This is a rock and blues show with a sense of theater and storytelling infused. Very few changes have occurred this past year, as everyone is back aside from changes in two back-up singers and the horns section of the rock band. So again, I would urge everyone to see this, whether you are a big theater fan, or simply a rock music and blues lover. This show presents it all in a highly enjoyable and enlightening fashion. And the two lead singers, Mary Bridget Davies and Sabrina Elayne Carten, are two powerhouses that you will just not see every day, or every year even if you go to as many shows as I. They are amazing singers and also very interesting people, as I have had the pleasure of interviewing both (Click on their names to read the interviews). This play runs until August 11th before the Big Apple comes calling.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ha Ha Tonka - Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin - Ezra Furman -- DC9 - Jun 26 2013

Ezra Furman - We start with yet another two man group, a couple of guys from Chicago on guitar and drums with the guitarist singing. This trend has been tiresome for me since it has started, although often I am quite surprised when there is a duo who really gets me into this format. Tonight was not one of those nights. To be fair, there were moments of fun and charm in this loose garage blues rock that these two kicked up. "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" added a Meat Puppets vocal style to the White Stripes like noise underneath. The set seemed overly long for a three band line-up (and me without a timepiece), but I think I was annoyed that they began with a Link Wray "Rumble" opening and then used it as a coda to finish songs three times, all of which I thought was going to finish the set. The third time was the charm as they closed with the familiar rumbling guitar. As an opening set, it had its place.
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - This Springfield Missouri band features all the regular rock instruments and multiple singers, which makes me wonder if they can live up to their exotic name. What happens next is less exotic or wild, but more with a spirited and fun attitude as they deliver a pleasing dosage of quirky pop music. There is good drive in the bass and drums with just a bit of light guitar jangle and dueling runs to keep things a bit on seat's edge. The vocals all consistently warm and bright no matter who is singing lead. Maybe a smoother Shins? or how about a pop version of Fuschia? (which is my cheap way of paying homage to a cool prog band who just released their second album 43 years after their debut) There is a slight outsider quality to the band, which is likely based on their attitude of making this fun for them and hoping that audiences will join in. Although, they were not the headliner, I think they brought plenty of fans here tonight as this sold-out crowd was definitely joining in. This is a nice vision they have and a welcome path for me, as too often I am exploring the darker alleys of music. And keep an eye out, not only for future shows, but for a film they made of their trip to Russia where they engaged in a cultural exchange of sorts with a Boris Yeltsin foundation that liked their name--NY Post article explains further.

Ha Ha Tonka - It was hot, humid, and very tiring for me with my schedule, so I had to pass on tonight's headliner. I am sure they did well with this massive crowd that turned out on a Wednesday night.

Quote of the Night - From SSLYBY's drummer who sang some early leads... "I'm still trying to figure out how to do the Phil Collins thing."       Let's hope he stops well short of when Phil Collins figured it out.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Small Black - Heavenly Beat - Go Cozy -- Jun 25 2013

Go Cozy - This is the second time I have seen this local band in the last ten days (they even commented that they are doing a lot of shows around here). So I really don't have much to add about their basic approach as outlined here. But tonight's 38 minute set sounded excellent with the two guitars and keyboards cutting into the rhythm section perfectly with enough room for the soft vocals to shine on top. This is definitely a band to keep an eye on.

Heavenly Beat - Like all of us, I can only speculate on what Heaven is like, but I can say that in Heaven, the beat is far, far from this. First, it would not have drum machines. Even if Keith Moon and John Bonham did not make the cut, there will be plenty of live drummers there. And on earth, I still believe bands should go out and find anything resembling a good live drummer. This trio had beats and keys programmed and playing behind their two guitars and bass. They played dance music, but had a murky quality in the sound that did less to create dark atmospherics and more just to dull things down. They referenced John Popper and brought a harmonica which was a nice touch, but the set still seemed awfully flat. There did not appear to be a lot of enthusiasm in the very large Tuesday night crowd (nor the band for that matter), so in a rare moment of irony I actually went to the upstairs bar at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel to escape the large crowd and blaring dance music.

Small Black - Now this quartet showed me and this nearly full room how dance music is done. They started with a rock solid drummer and had three guys in front that handled vocals, guitars, bass, electronics, and keyboards. One guy primarily sang and carried their excellent pop melodies with style and substance. The electronic sounds were a strong part of the sound, but didn't overly dominate as they sometimes do. Guitar and bass work was crisp and everything balanced together nicely. The set flowed extremely well and you could see the dancing increase as it went on. Small Black has a great command of this style and certainly earned the respect of the assembled crowd tonight. They were looking for tunes, beats, and energy and got it all in full. And although this is pretty low on my list of favorite genres, when you have that pop connection like this, I will happily come back and take in another set some time.

Quote of the Night: From the second band... "We have an album coming out in September... or October with nine tracks. This is about the sixth or seventh best, so adjust your expectations accordingly."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Rolling Stones -- Verizon Center - Jun 24 2013

The Rolling Stones - This is my first and most likely last time in seeing this band, even though they proved tonight that it may not be their last time playing live in the USA. Charlie Watts is the oldest at 72 and he looks and sounds the youngest and freshest of any of them. Keith Richards looks a bit more like he could next appear in a zombie movie as opposed to that Pirate flick, but his playing is as crisp and soulful as ever. Even his two turns on lead vocals went extremely well. Ronny Wood is weathered and affable as always, and still cuts a great foil on guitar making this the most natural Stones guitar pairing as well as the longest running of the three. And aside from the TV screens mistake in showing Mick Jagger's age in black & white close-ups (color was so much better), his fitness, energy, and vocal qualities are amazing. So we shall see if they do this again, but most importantly, they still offer a good couple of hours of rock'n'roll for a crowd that was much broader across the generations than I was expecting.
Musically, it was loose and ragged at times, but that is kind of what we all want anyway, so there were no real distractions in these expected arrangements. And they could tighten up and keep the riffs flowing, such as on "Paint it Black" where Ronny Wood took it up a notch. "Gimme Shelter" followed as part of an awesome 1-2 punch early in the set. Basically, all the songs came off as expected so it depended more on how much you liked it to begin with. "Honky Tonk Woman" seemed a little dull to me, as it always has, but the crowd went nuts, so what do I know. I was surprised that a newer song "Doom and Gloom" sounded about as good as anything tonight. One of the highlights was "Midnight Rambler" with Mick Taylor joining in. The three guitars mad this jammer even more exciting and all three guitarists danced and slashed comfortably in a sonic space almost as big as that stage.

Their long time partner Daryl Jones was there on bass, with Chuck Leavell on keyboards, and Bobby Keys on sax. There was also another sax, percussionist, and Lisa Fisher on vocals. But many songs had just the core 5-6 members churning out the rock. The sound was arena-good and the presentation was straight-up without anything overly fancy or out of character. All in all, this was much better than I expected and probably a lot better than what few peers they have that are out there doing this. And since the Rolling Stones along with the Beatles are my first two memories of rock music, it was nice to finally get around to seeing a live show.

Set List: Get Off of my Cloud - It's Only Rock'n'Roll - Paint it Black - Gimme Shelter - Worried About You - Street Fighting Man (request winner) - Emotional Rescue - Doom and Gloom - One More Shot - Honky Tonk Woman - You got the Silver - Before they Make me Run - Midnight Rambler - Miss You - Start Me Up - Tumbling Dice - Brown Sugar - Sympathy for the Devil -- Encore: You Can't Always Get What You Want - Jumping Jack Flash - Satisfaction

Quote of the Night: Since Chris Richards of the Washington Post scooped me (in print even!) with Mick Jagger's comedy line, I will pull out this by one of my favorite guitarists Richard Thompson...
"I try to keep my ticket prices 1/20th of that of the Rolling Stones."

And to add my Grandpa Simpson/Mr. Burns story to the night, my friend Jeff Luther provides this ticket stub to a show I attended exactly 36 years and one day before this one. Three other guys named Dave and I made it out that night, a few nights after our high school graduation. With merely the servicing fees I paid for tonight's show for a seat way in the back, all four of us could have gone to this Pink Floyd show, gotten two pizzas and two or three pitchers of beer to wash it down (and maybe had 2-3 dollars left which would have gotten us ten gallons of gas for the trip home).

Monday, June 24, 2013

Man.. or Astroman? - Jacuzzi Boys -- Black Cat - Jun 23 2013

Jacuzzi Boys - Garage psychedelic nuggets are served up by this Miami trio. Yet there is a spacey quality to the music which makes sense given the first song is eight minutes long in a bit of Wooden Shjips style. This is fat, open music with room to maneuver as the vocals yelp away with just enough sleaziness within. Steady rocking fun was the band's desire and they succeeded for most everyone here tonight. It is summer and this type of music is a perfect way to get off the the hot city streets and kick it out. They summed it up in announcing an upcoming song: "Fun Time! Fun Time! Fun Time! Fun Time!"
Man... or Astroman? - This is one of those veteran bands that really make me feel stupid. I have known about them for much of their 20 year existence (with some dormant periods), but have never seen them live. The stupidity comes in when it has taken me until 2013 to see the live set, even though I have always liked their music. And the stupidity further locks in when they proceed to blow the house down tonight with some of the most fiery surf rock music you would ever crave for. They have so much pace and so many melodic moves, that the surf sounds do not dominate as they do for most bands playing this style. There are mostly instrumentals, but the vocal work is excellent as it is straight and clear leaving the reverb for the guitars. They have excellent projections which keep the sci fi themes going until the bass player takes a two song break ceding bass duties to the second guitarist. He then dons the lighted space suit for a casual trip through the crowd. Next, he hops back to stage to play a theremin in a song they jokingly called 'The Death of the Theremin" when they struggled to get it to work. Well, maybe not a joke, as they set it on fire a la Hendrix, getting an expected roar from the crowd. The Black Cat was about half full and had a great time with this excellent band that takes fun music to ridiculous heights of technique and style. This was the tour ending show, so they had the opening band come out and jam on a latter song and closed out their tour in full 'fun mode'. I hope they keep the band going for more tours as I need to atone for my years of neglect.

Quote of the Night: From the headliners... "This is a new one you have not heard unless you can warp through time--looks like a few o f you can, so we'll play the oldies for you!"

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lemuria - Chain and the Gang - Give -- Black Cat - Jun 22 2013

Give - Hardcore, straight up, no chasers. The formula has been long established, but what can a band bring into this fairly rigid concoction? Give brings the energy and just enough musicianship to make for a pretty good 27 minutes of fast, loud hardcore rock. The guitars swirl and have a metallic crunch that was enough to liven up the crowd and get the evening started. And the summer months do bring out the younger crowds which is really cool, as you see a lot of fresh faces that are respectful and enthusiastic about partaking in the live experience of seeing music made. And this band did create a nice din of noise for everyone. One song seemed to stand out to me for some reason, but mostly the vocal work and pounding rhythms were more predictable. So nothing spectacular here, but a solid delivery system for this brand of music.

Chain and the Gang - This is a four-piece all female band with one guy known as Chain co-singing with one woman. Highly rudimentary musical moves are made on the drums, bass, and guitar, and it is no surprise to later learn that this local band records on K Records. I was hoping for a little more in the way of Gun Club, but ended up with less than Tex & the Horseheads. They were far outside of psychedelic parameters with their own brand of minimalism. The male vocals took the lead and were gnarled and oddball with the female supporting vocals more natural. They looked a little like Alan Vega and Poly Styrene (much more restrained however), although this reminded me more of a pairing of Zeppo Marx and Jerry Van Dyke. If you grade with a curve toward originality points, then you definitely want to give this band a try. 45 minutes was a little long for me, but I appreciate the approach.
Lemuria - This Buffalo trio has some local ties as they have recorded with local legend J. Robbins a few times, including on their third album, whose supporting tour brings them here tonight. They are loud and tuneful and play a spirited and highly catchy brand of punk rock. Fortunately the soundman controlled the early sharp bursts, while keeping the volume which allowed the excitement to continue with allowing the songs to show off their hooks. They have almost a Joy Formidable meets Ted Leo sound, although it may be more that they look like the Joy Formidable on stage. I also detect some nice Husker Du moments where that band was finding pop music while grinding out intense rock noise simultaneously. There is always a place for bands that can cut it loose like this, but have real songs you can grab on to. The crowd was into it and it was Saturday night, so there is not much more to say. Long may they rock.

Quote of the Night: From Chain... "If you didn't see the sign over the door, it says Black Cat... that's short for Black Cat Club."

Extra Promo... I neglected to mention some of the cool shows in June, and if you don't have serious plans, you should come out to the Black Cat out to check out Man or Astroman, a very cool band...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Blank Tapes - Beach Day - Song Preservation Society -- Jun 21 2013

Song Preservation Society - Bold name from this LA based trio, but after a 39 minute set, they lived up to it well enough. I will give them even more credit for preserving the art of three part harmonies, especially as intricate vocal work is harder to come by in clubs during this century. They also employ three acoustic guitars and opt for a mandolin on a couple of songs. The players have more of a rock style as there are only brief moments of finger style, while there is frequent riffing and plenty of acoustic solos. They have some intricacies in the arrangements, but it mostly a pleasant backdrop to allow their singing to shine more brightly. They remind me some of Foley & Kavanaugh with a a bit of early Magna Carta... or much more simply, they walk the path of Simon & Garfunkel.

Beach Day - Not only is this Hollywood, Florida trio more geographically beach oriented than local band Beach Week or the highly popular Baltimore duo, Beach House, but they also have the best beach sound (with a nod to Beach Week who also has a sound that fits on a beach). This is Shonen Knife style pop music that goes deep into the fun filled 1960s while adding some power to the pop. The guitarist sings in a cute pop voice with just enough blues in there, ala Cyndi Lauper perhaps. At times, they even sound like the NY Dolls at their poppiest, although Nancy Sinatra and Annitte Funicello may come to mind more often. The guitarist looks a bit like the Alley Cats' Dianne Chai and that band is actually not too bad a comparison as the energetic pop component is similar here. It is hard not to take pleasure in this music. The band has the right idea. I think they can add a little oomph to their music, but that should come if they stay at it and keep gigging. I think a lot of bands would have a great time having them on their bill, as would the audience.
The Blank Tapes - This LA trio's set up is guitar/ lead vocals, bass/vocals, and standup drums/female vocals. There, that covers the basics. From the first note on, these three conjure up some highly individual, twisted pop music. Although they are not psychedelic folk, per se, their vocal work conjures up the likes of Tony, Caro & John or Cy, Maria & Robert. I also hear elements of Oriental Sunshine in their voices and music, which I doubt I have ever said before. They play pop music that rocks out at times, but it is so breezy and relaxed, you sometimes wonder how they dreamed this up (or how other bands failed to dream this up?). But keep listening, and smart music fans will sense that this band has a rare magic at work. They manage to make the simple feel so complex to those of us that have heard it all before. I am not sure I can recommend this to everyone on my Christmas Card list, but they probably can pull some of the most unique music fans from various corners of the sonic spectrum as anyone I have seen lately. The small-to-moderate crowd tonight seemed to pick up the vibe well enough. I hope more people challenge themselves and delve in to the Blank Tapes peculiar, yet inviting sound. It was a profound reward for me tonight.

Video and photo links to the past...

Beach Day...
Alley Cats...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Kylesa - Blood Ceremony - White Hills - Lazer/Wulf -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Jun 19 2013

Lazer/Wulf - We begin with another one of those freaky Georgia bands (also including tonight's headliner) that are making me completely rethink that state. This trio is heavy and loud with a lot of progressive post rock intricacies dancing around the powerful fast paced riffing. The drumming has some swing to it at times which helps shake the senses. There is a vocal mic that is used briefly for a few grunts and yelps until inexplicably some 29 minutes into the 31 minute set, the guitarist sings a verse. Amusing, which is perfectly ok as these guys are having fun with the music and most of the audience is, too. It was an early start, so it was good to see the eight people there at the start to expand to over 50 by set's end. I am happy I was there from the beginning as I would gladly see these guys again when next they come to town.

White Hills - Geeze, I just had a typo where I had typed "Shite Hills" which proves that all slips are certainly not Freudian ("Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar"). Nothing could be further from the truth as this trio is a very interesting and enjoyable band. The rhythm section lays it down thickly with a moderate to brisk tempo throughout. The guitarist has loads of effects and some background samples that swirl together in a psychedelic maelstrom that connects most all the time. The two vocalists blend well together, but this amount of reverb, that is sort of a given. It's kind of Hawkwind/Entrance Band sort of thing with the sound winning out more than the song, aside from a couple that stood out as having some individual personality. Strong band, this as their experience shows with enough enthusiasm to make for an excellent set.

Blood Ceremony - This Toronto quartet features the usual trio and adds a woman on vocals, keyboards, and flute. They have the requisite heaviness needed tonight, but have an old-school style that stands out, although not always in a good light. I like the flute as it is nice to hear something beyond the cliches. The keyboards are ok, but the overall music is just a little too quaint for me. There is a theatrical sense that veers toward Alice Cooper. I like the variety on the bill tonight, although I am not sure I would go out of my way to see this band on their own, unlike the previous two bands. Still, they were over with the crowd in a pretty big way, so it worked well enough on a four-band bill.
Kylesa - This is the third or fourth time I have seen this Savannah, Georgia band work their brand of metal magic on a DC stage. It has been a while, which they alluded to, but they were welcomed back by a fairly full club (4/5 or so) tonight. It is a shame that the initial sonic burst was so far off from what the intended, as their soundman did not have the levels where anything went together at any sort of volume or clarity. He kept working it and it slowly evolved into that intense wall of swirling psychedelic metal you expect from this quintet. They have two drummers which is a great way for them to set the bar high for their bassist and two guitarists to work off of. Two of them also use keyboards, electronics, a theremin and some sort of upside down skateboard wired with guitar strings. When the sound got cooking, they were able to find a great balance between psychedelic swoosh and powerful metal riffing. The two vocalists work well alternating with either intensity or atmospheric touches. This is truly one of the best (sort of) metal bands working today, provided you like a little experimentation. I do have to say that because the sound threw me off so much, that only the second half of the set had me really happily lost in their music. Still, this was an excellent night of heavy rock at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel, and I would do it again if they offered it tonight.

Quote of the Day: From the opening band after their first song... "There were less of you when we started that song, so you must be breeding."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Merchandise - Milk Music - Destructioin Unit -- DC9 - Jun 18 2013

Destruction Unit - If you liked Comets on Fire, and you sure should have, and are still searching out for those few bands that can create that sort of creative racket, you best look this way. Destruction Unit has three guitarists slashing away at thick layers of sludge, shaping them into something that has form and sustance with the rhythm section powering away with pace. The vocals are highly effective in a dark Ian Curtis manner. There's some sort of Iceage/Jesus & Marychain sound working as well with a crazy Acid Mothers freakout jam at the end. If that all sounds like some crazy fun, then yes, that is exactly what it was. This Tempe, Arizona band is worth the price of admission alone.

Milk Music - The DC9 is really packed out tonight, and with three intriguing out of town bands, that is as it should be. Milk Music is from Olympia, Washington like some other band once upon a time, but has its own version of heavy rock on display. The guitars have a real punk rock crunch, while the vocals are spacey with loads of reverb. They fade out their opener with a psychedelic jam which is a real puzzler, but a lot of fun. I get the feeling that this is a punk band that is exploring psyche terrain in the manner of a Black Mountain or Dead Meadow. I am not sure it is fully formed at this point, but it is highly entertaining and there are some magical moments. A little more vocal variety may help over the length of a set as heavy reverb starts sounding like the same note over and over after a time. They did what sounded like a Johnny Thunders "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory", but I couldn't make out the chorus, so they may have just lifted the chords. It is early in their existence, and with this kind of start, they could be a serious player real soon--oh, and plenty fun for right now.
Merchandise - This Tampa quartet has an even trickier and more slippery sound than the previous two bands. The rhythm section bangs out a near motortik beat, while the guitars loosely move around in a mix of quieter arty moments and grinding passages. The beats change a bit as some songs become quite trippy, yet most have a certain odd pop flair. The vocals are delivered with a dramatic quality that I would classify as Bowie-lite, which is not a knock as they are a cut above that of most bands. There is a bit of fuzz and a playful manner as they shift around styles in a subtle manner that keeps a central control of their material. I feel a strong sense of babbling coming on as this band is rather hard to pigeon hole--always a good thing. It may take a few more times before I can figure these guys out, but based on tonight's large and enthusiastic crowd, I think we all will be getting that chance again.

Quote of the Day: "Wow, at least get my name right." from Newcastle striker Sammy Ameobi after Newcastle's newly hired football Operations President gave a press conference and misidentified him with his brother Shola (and I won't even bother with all his factual errors). It could have been worse for Sammy as here is what he called other Newcastle players:

Jonas Gutierrez - "Galteirez"
Hatem Ben Arfa - "Ben Afri"
Yohan Cabaye - "Yohan Kebab"

Source --

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Teen Mom - Other Factors - Go Cozy -- Comet Ping Pong - Jun 17 2013

Go Cozy - This local five piece has a highly interesting take on dream pop music. Each song had its own character while retaining a core sound. The core is a soft pop vocal style that carries the song forward. Underneath they vary from the brilliant krautrock jam opener to a soft funkier cut coming later. The key was in the bass lines which went from flowing to choppy (while in rhythm) along with a powerful drummer working a very small kit. The keyboards filled and allowed the guitarists to cut and slash, go with the flow or create surprising volume bursts. Very nicely done over a 39 minute set that breezed by.

Other Factors - I was thrilled to hear from this Brooklyn trio who were formerly known as Mercies, when they operated out of DC in the previous few years. They were finishing a 25-day tour through the midwest, south and east tonight before heading back to their 'new' hometown. I always thought they were a solid band and through the maturity of time and the tests of the road, they came back to DC better than ever. I sensed even more creativity in the vocal work with two lead vocalists working well together on harmonies, but cutting in and out of the song for solo moments as well. The vocal patterns were almost as varied as was in their music where they combine post punk fury with intricate pop moves at various paces and volumes. This is all heady music, but you feel it deeply as well. Imagine if Mission of Burma were covering King Crimson with even fancier vocal arrangements, with all the quality of those players.. I hope they have continued success as they have that right combination of skill, creativity, and energy to continue making great music that most indie audiences would eat up greedily.
Teen Mom - I have been long overdue in catching this intriguing local pop rock band, so I was looking forward to tonight's set. They have the two guitar rock band format with one guy handling the lead vocals. There are some of the warmer pop hooks you will ever hear that work over a rumble of sound, deep and dark, underneath it all creating a disturbing effect of the kind that is actually exhilarating. This absolutely is the kind of contrast that works in that sweet/sour manner and although the song quality varied, along with their style shifts, they really created some great alchemical magic tonight. They debuted a new song called "Waltz" which I was happy to hear was written in 3/4 time, appropriately enough. And their 39 minute set was filled with some fascinating songs that even went into odd Neil Young jams to Meat Puppets moments, but kept a strong personal power-pop style at its heart. I guess, they do power pop where there is room to breathe, which is not often done. So it is a 'three for three' nights with three quality bands that sound like they belong on the same bill, but bring their unique vision to the night.

And thanks to my buddy Davis for giving me a lift home, where the combination of late hours here and early hours for Metro would have me missing at least one full set. Thankfully at least 2/3 of the 30-40 people here had cars and could stay out late to catch everything.

Quote of the Night: From author George Packer, reading from The Unwinding at Politics & Prose in response to the first 'question' in Q+A.... "You haven't left me much room to add thoughts." (trust me, you'll be happy I did not transcribe the question)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Round About - Wes Tucker & the Skillets -- Velvet Lounge - Jun 15 2013

Wes Tucker & the Skillets - It is always a good show when this local four piece is on the bill. The band has a breezy style which creates a pleasant environment to showcase Wes Tucker's songs. They could be considered a very good bar band with their rootsy folk rock approach, but they take command of their sound and have strong enough material that they actual rise above that sort of limited designation. They do rock, sans reckless abandon, while they maintain their brand of an Americana blues-folk base. With only two bands tonight, they get a chance to play a full set which is welcome to the couple dozen people in attendance on this busy Saturday night. This band should be on your radar, if you like this style of music. They pretty much bring it every time out.
Round About - It is not too surprising that these two bands are on the same bill, as they have a similar approach beyond the two guitar look with rhythm section. They are song oriented rock bands with a very straight forward no frills approach. Round About does not have their roots showing as much, and take a more universal pop rock approach to their songs. This is the second time I have seen them with their 'new' lead guitarist and it is refreshing that they have been able to keep the quality of the guitar solos at a high level, as that gives them just enough of an added push to make them a more interesting band. But the other component parts keep up as well as these guys know each other well and work as a solid unit, emitting some fine material. It was nice to hear some new cuts along with favorites from their recent album. And for some bizarre reason, I kept chuckling during one cut as it reminded me of a Doctors of Madness song, which is not a reference I would expect to come up with for this band. Glad to see them still playing well and it was a pleasure to spend the evening with good bands and good people.

Quote of the Night: What a way to celebrate 30 years of straight edge sobriety, then to spend it in a bar!  But that is how I have spent many nights in the last 30 years, as I seek out great music wherever I can find it. And I did the dinner and movie with my non-drinking friend the night before for a more logical celebration. Fortunately, I was never an alcoholic, so there has never been any temptation when I hit the clubs. I quit for three or four good reasons, one of which was due to straight edge movement here in DC. And I definitely am relaxed about it,in the DC manner as opposed to the Boston variation for those that remember that difference. But thanks, Ian MacKaye, for giving me one of the good reasons to quit.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Iceage - Lower - True Head - Mob Mentality -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Jun 12 2013

Mob Mentality - This is a local thrash band with a vocalist, rhythm section and three guitarists. Three guitarists. That had me thinking of how many hardcore bands I saw with three guitarists. Articles of Faith came to mind from the early Chicago scene. They were very good and their guitarists did not play the same barre chords for every song. This band played for eleven minutes and had some friends up front who enjoyed the set. Three guitarists.

True Head - There is a bit of groove in this brand of rock music presented by this DC area quintet. They give the music a chance to breathe and it works well for most of the 22 minute set. It is towards hardcore, but plays it pretty straight and mid-tempo for the most part. Not bad, but not quite at the memorable stage at this point for them, but they can get there.

Lower - This twin-guitar quartet has joined their fellow countrymen for the US tour. It is easy to see why as they share Iceage's dark, forboding, chilling intensity. But they indeed take it lower, as they churn out a slow to mid tempo post-punk series of songs. Imagine crossing latter day Die Kreuzen with Flipper and a strong dose of Savage Republic (particularly in the vocals) and you may have an idea of what this set was like. The crowd has exceed a hundred by now and seemed to receive this band well, although music this dark keeps excitement rather muted. But this was an effective set by an interesting band that I am glad made the trip over.
Iceage - Denmark's Iceage has been quite the rage with the release of their excellent debut album. They are touring it hard and pretty much push it out there with little else in this 35 minute set. I have to agree with my friend who saw them last month who was surprised at how young they looked, but marveled at how fully formed their sound was. Somehow they manage to sound both punk and post-punk at the same time with a dark intensity that will also shake you up and get both body and mind moving. The singer adds a second guitar for a couple of songs, and amazingly sounds like Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott at times, but has the moves of a classic punk singer. The band quietly but intensely churns out a hard and fast brand of rock that has undertones, overtones, and straight-up tones that hook into you with firm barbs as they steadily pull you into their world. I can't wait to see what they do for an encore, as this band is the real deal both live and on record.

Photo Grab of the Night:

Interview with Andrew Packer of GYPSYHAWK

This interview was conducted before their set at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on November 18th, 2012. Due to a hard drive crash where I lost the write-up right prior to posting, and the time caring for a sick cat, I decided to delay writing up the interview again until next they toured through the area. Well that day is here as they play with the brilliant Valient Thorr a the Windup Space in Baltimore this Friday, June 14th. Try to catch this tour there or somewhere across the US as these bands are road tested, strong, loud and proud. But back to the previous discussion when Gypsyhawk was on tour with the Sword…

David Hintz - So where were did you play last night?

Andrew - Ah, Cambridge.

DH - Cambridge eh, was it the Middle East club?

AP - That's exactly where it was.

DH - Ah, ok--lucky guess, as I don't know the area that well.

AP - That's most everyone's first guess.

DH - (after the obligatory introduction items including that we both love Denver) So you guys are from LA?

AP - Yeah.

DH - And you grew up there as well?

AP - Yeah, I'm the only one who grew up there - in Pasadena. I went to college in Santa Cruz and when I graduated, I realized I wanted to be playing music more than I wanted to be doing academics. Law school was the plan more or less, but… And the other guys came to LA in different ways. Ian moved there to go to music school at the LA Music Academy. Ron moved there from Detroit to join White Wizzard, but eventually left as he was not enjoying his time there at all. And Eric ended up in LA to join Skeleton Witch and sort of got stuck there and we eventually met each other and started a band.

DH - Was that about 4-5 years ago?

AP - Four years ago (now five at time of post).

DH - Now LA is famous for its metal scene, but what is it like these days?

AP - I don't even know, man. I think when I first moved back in like 2006, it was great with a lot of great venues, a lot of great underground venues, but since then a lot of places have shut down or clubs have given up the rock nights to do dance nights with guaranteed audiences to come. There were some really good bands, but they have either become national bands or more or less fallen apart and I don't know that much about any up and coming young kids or bands, as the promoters I knew don't really do it much anymore. So, I don't know, LA has become a better place for the so-called 'punk scene' which is actually hipsters playing Black Flag songs to the least tough kids you would ever see in your life (laughter).

DH - Ha. So you probably have not spent a lot of time there being more on the road?

AP - We have spent a lot of time on the road, as this is our seventh tour. Our sixth tour was like a month preceding this tour and it had been a year since our fifth tour. So for the past year or so, we have mostly been at home, writing the album, recording the album, and we were kind of in a weird place for a while since the album did not come out for six months after we had recorded it, so no one was hearing it, so we did not want to waste money on the road knowing that when the album came out, much more would be happening. For the most part, we stayed at home, but from the people we've been talking to the past few days, we are preparing to be pretty much on the road full-time and working on the next album when we are home.

DH - Have you been to Europe?

AP - We have been to Europe.

DH - Your last record was on Metal Blade which is interesting as it is now a mature, older label. I remember the early releases, which were so important. How is this relationship working out?

AP - It is our first record with them, our second record in total. They've been great--they are really cool people and have been treating us really well. They are making us feel like we are part of the family, helping us where they can and doing a huge press push for us. The fact that we have Metal Blade's name next to ours has done wonders for our career, you know?

DH - I do and will attest to that, since they contacted me about your show and it was one of the few metal press releases I have received and I am happy they found my name and keep me informed.

AP - Yeah, they are good at their job at pushing the band and we deal with a lot of kids and people who try to tell us that you don't need record labels any more. But it's not true, often the people saying that are not out there trying to do it.

DH - It has really reached the day where, although we had to do it ourselves in the punk scene, all genres need full options (choices) going forward. It is nice that there are so many ways to do it now. I was friends with Husker Du and when they went with Warner Brothers, many people were saying this was terrible, then Sonic Youth and Nirvana with Geffen, but it all mostly worked out (musically at least). And I assume in your case, too, that your music is in your control?

AP - Yeah, totally.

DH - Did you have a producer working with you in a full studio?

AP - We were in a full studio and our engineer Zack Warren like sort of produced it in that he found our sound and he made us do things right and offered suggestions. But we didn't have a "Producer" producer telling us what to leave in and take out or any of that crap. The songs on the album were entirely written before we were in the studio.

DH - I have heard a little of your music, and it does seem to go not only to the early metal days, but to the classic hard rock days when I grew up in the early seventies. I am curious at how early in your life you discovered music that was older than you - as I am with almost any band a lot younger than me.

AP - (laughs) Yeah, well, my Dad was a huge Stones fan along with the Beatles and my Mom was a huge Beach Boys fan. So those three bands were always in my life growing up. When I started playing guitar around 11, I don't know when I discovered Jimi Hendrix either right before or after that, but he became a huge influence. Before I really got into classic rock or hard rock, whatever you want to call it, I was into punk bands in 7th or 8th grade, so from a pretty young start I have known how to find stuff whether rock, punk, or metal.

DH - That's right as punk is a great way that a lot of people start.

AP - Yeah, and I've always liked bands like Zeppelin and Deep Purple and such, and when I was in college, I started hanging out with some kids that were into psyche-rock, like Japanese psyche-rock. But I was also getting into stuff like Sir Lord Baltimore, Thin Lizzy, Captain Beyond, and other bands that really started speaking to me, because I've listened to a lot of techno, death metal. I like it, still like it, but it wasn't enough. It was all like brain music, and I like to feel it more than having a cerebral experience like smoking weed and say 'oh my god, how did he do that'. It's like 'no, this is rock, it's like this!'.

DH - Yeah, when I was in Denver some local metal band came back from Europe and said something like 'metal was back finally', but I wondered if it ever really left. What is your take on Metal History, does it come in and out of favor?

AP - Heavy metal?

DH - Yeah, I am not sure if it ever went away.

AP - Yeah, I think not. Everyone seems to like our sound and sometimes they are surprised at having a yearning for it. Most of the kids are playing death core or whatever you want to call it.

DH - Do you play on bills with bands like that?

AP - Yeah, we have, definitely. Especially when we have done Metal Blade showcase shows, we are like the lone rock band in the middle of the some really extreme crazy shit, which is fine. That is what has made this tour so perfect when we got the offer to finally play with such a great band (The Sword). I mean we have played with Six Feet Under, a huge band, but there fans may look at us like we are pussies. But Sword fans are going to accept it.

DH - Yes, I think so. And it is kind of interesting that bands like Mastodon, Baroness, and the Sword are getting good 'regular' media coverage to turning on many an indie fan.

AP - And they get a bad rap from some for being called hipster metal or something because are not extreme metal and that they are trying to cash in or something but there are kids who just learned about Sabbath and Iron Maiden. But they just grew up like I did, listening to all sorts of stuff. They all played in, like grind bands or hardcore punk bands when they were younger. But they grew out of that because they wanted good songs that have would be more timeless with catchy metal parts. You know it might not be the most technically difficult music to play, but writing a good song is hard (laughter). It is hard putting together really intricate riffs. I think that after year of doing music you just sort of eventually go that way, unless you are a band like Cannibal Corpse who is making money doing that, but I bet those guys have the same passion (garbled words)…
DH - I am curious if soft music is something you listen to.

AP - Ummm…. Earth (laughter)

DH - Earth! In the metal world, that counts.

AP - But yeah it goes back to the Beatles.

DH - Right, of course. I remember getting into punk because although I started with pop music, I kept going harder and harder like with Budgie or Montrose until punk came along and added speed, and then some of the newer metal acts after and it is interesting that I still like heavy music as much as when I was a kid.

AP - Yeah, well it makes you feel good.

DH - It does and it is a nice variation since I go to so many shows.

AP - Yeah, I was listening to Pink Floyd, which was a huge influence on me and King Crimson.

DH - Yeah.

AP - Those bands get kind of heavy, but they have their softer side.

DH - Yeah they will mix it up. So back to the Sword tour, have the logistics of the tour gone well?

AP - Yeah, it is perfect. We (our band) have talked for years, day dreaming, that the leading for us to tour with some day would be the Sword and it happened. It is everything I could have hoped for. They are SOOO good live, and such good guys. I mean I have seen them live before but I have not been able to sit there and study it. I see it this tour, how you take it to THAT level, how you have to be THAT good.

DH - Yes, that is interesting how you see an opening band that is really good and then you get to the headliner and it is 'oh yeah', these guys may have twenty years experience and know how to do that little bit extra and the young guys may figure it out, too.

AP - Absolutely. You know, we've been playing really solidly lately, and we've been getting better throughout the tour. (We chatted further about the tour and future plans but it is now the present so…). …we will try to write (the new album) on the road, but it is hard. All you want to do is sleep. I mean that is all I want to do if I am not in the club, doing the whole routine. But just sleeping and driving, the creative side isn't happening. I try to use my soundcheck to like find something creative that I can remember and use for later. But other than that.

DH - And the middle band tonight is on the full tour.

AP - Eagle Claw.

DH - Good name and we have two good representatives from the animal world opening for the Sword.

AP - Right.

DH - And I want to thank you for not being a wolves band or a deer (laughter) as so many bands have done in the last 5-10 years.

AP - Yeah, well although there are a lot of hawk bands, too.

DH - There's a few…, and for one last question, can you name an influence for you from the artistic world of movies, art, architecture that is non-musical but inspirational to you?

AP - Yeah, ummm… Hunter Thompson, love his books.

DH - Yes, from Colorado.

AP - Yeah, and Charles Bukowski is really cool. And Wes Anderson.

DH - You are the second person to mention the films of Wes Anderson and I don't do that many interviews.
So anyway I want to thank you for your time and have a great show and tour.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Interview with Sabrina Elayne Carten, star of "One Night with Janis Joplin", at the Arena Stage, June 21st - Aug 11th

Sabrina Elayne Carten has the daunting task of performing as several of the musical influences of Janis Joplin in the returning musical, "One Night with Janis Joplin". This piece had a great run last year at the Arena Stage and is back for another full run. As great as Mary Bridget Davies is as Janis Joplin (interviewed prior to last year's show), Sabrina Elayne Carten is equally brilliant portraying people like Aretha Franklin, Bessie Smith, and Odetta, showing the roots of Janis Joplin's artistry. These two singers will knock you out of your comfortable seats, so you have this one final chance to experience this excellent play (rock show). Ms. Carten was nice enough to spend some time with me on the phone. The following is my best attempt to transcribe the interview. A few words were garbled and I hope I got them correct, at least in spirit and overall meaning.  Tickets available here.


David Hintz - I really loved the play the last time it was in town.

Sabrina Elayne Carten - Oh, great.

DH - But I am interested in your background, which is where most interviews tend to start. What did music mean to you when you were a child?

SEC - Music was everything. I come from a musical family--my Mom sang professionally. She was a recitalist in classical music. I grew up in the church singing from the time I was about three or four years old. Music has just always been a part of my life and when it left being a part of my life, I felt empty and I needed to get back to it.

DH - Do you play any instrument or any of your family play instruments or has it always been about the voice?

SEC - No, when I was young, my sister played oboe and flute, and my cousins played guitar, bass, and trumpet. I just didn't stick with piano like my mother wanted me to (laughs).

DH -  Mmm hmmm. So what you were influences as you were starting, after you got going in the church and then got a little older, what direction did you go?

SEC - I went into classical music. From the church singing there were spirituals, as we were not a clinical gospel church. Also, I grew up by singing the chorals of Handel's Messiah when I was like 14 or 15 and that was what I just found interesting. We spent our Saturdays listening to the Met broadcast on the radio and going to musicals in the city and on Broadway and I just leaned toward classical music.

DH - Ah, and you grew up in New York city?

SEC - I grew up in New York City, born and raised in the Bronx.

DH - OK, you definitely can get a lot of music there.

SEC - Yeah, lots of music. Of course, we also listened to Motown and I would have the Jackson 5 poster up on my wall as a kid and I would listen to a lot of band music as I got older such as Graham Central Station, and such.

DH - Great band, definitely. How deep is your connection to the blues? Did that come later on as you were coming of age?

SEC - It came later on. I started listening to it, as my father had listened to a lot of it. He would listen to Muddy Waters and Dinah Washington, you know. I guess that was my first taste of blues music. And I enjoyed it! And then as I got older, I would be doing an opera and there would be a blues club and a lot of my friends would tell me to check it out.

DH - And how about Janis Joplin, when did you first experience her music?

SEC - I listened to Janis, probably by accident from one of my older cousins. It was a great musical experience in my family, since they would listen to everything and finding enjoyment in lots of different forms of music. So, it was not uncommon to wake up in the morning and Leontyne Price might be playing and some time in the afternoon, it could be Janis Joplin or Fleetwood Mac. It could be anything.

DH - Right, now on to your extraordinary technical gifts. Did you have a lot of training, especially to get ready for the Opera?
SEC - I went to school and majored in Math, but I always sang, too. I had private teachers, you know, I studied voice in New York, and was able to get an interest in something bigger. One coach led me through a lot of different voice lessons bringing technical aspects together and I was lucky enough to have teachers who worked on enhancing the gifts you already had, instead of putting you through things that you do not. And so doing it that way gave my voice a chance to develop on its own and go in the direction it wanted to go to.on its own. My mother didn't feel that at 18 or 19, you were ready as a singer. She felt that you needed to your voice bloom and blossom in a way that it naturally wanted to go and then enhance what is there.

DH - Actually that sounds like a pretty good philosophy, especially with the kind of versatile singing you do.

SEC - I think when you first start singing with voice lessons, you want to avoid learning how to do imitations.

DH - Ah, right.

SEC - You learn how to imitate sound and you need to give your voice time to figure out who it is. And even still, I don't sing now the way I did when I was 21. The voice is different and changes every few years. i try to constantly stay in some kind of study situation with a voice teacher who provides recorded lessons when I am on the road. And when I am home, I try to get one or two lessons before I have to go back on the road again just to keep checking to make sure everything is ok. If you can pick up from a technical standpoint, you know, breathing habits or valleys in bad places that may not sound bad, but they confuse the technical aspect of the instrument. And you gotta keep it together ALL the time.

DH - Definitely. How about on the acting side of it? With your work in opera, they must have pushed the acting aspect with the music.

SEC - Oh yes, even if you are on stage or you are just performing an aria, you have to find a way to get in tune with the words and to actually make the music leap off the page. You can sing every note, but to really understand the music is the job and you can make the music live and then the listener can feel the joy, can feel the pain, can feel the excitement of the moment. You must learn to feel that emotion with your voice and your body, so when you look, use hand gestures… you know my voice teacher in the early days would say 'I don't want you waving your arms around, you use your voice and understand what you are singing, make it mean something, make it related to you.' At least get it to where you can understand--like he said to me when I would sing the part of a mother, well you don't have any children, but there is something you can relate that to. You have to do that at all times. Otherwise you will just be on autopilot just singing a song. It has to have a back story, even if you invent it.

DH - uhn huhn

SEC - You know sometimes you may be in a wonderful relationship and never have a break-up and you have to sing a song about heartbreak. So you could invent a story and it doesn't even have to be about a person, it could be your car not starting. How that made you feel-it just has to be something tangible that you understand. Even if other people thought it was ridiculous to think it that way. But you want to make it real to the other person. So they can hear it and relate it to their own heartbreak. They are with you in that moment.

DH - That sounds like classic method acting.

SEC - Yes.

DH - And how familiar were you with the parts you have to play in 'One Night with Janis'--when I interviewed Mary Bridget Davies last year, she said that although she knew Janis Joplin (musically), she did not want to do an impersonation. Now you have the more difficult role of having several famous singers to do in 'One Night', so how do you approach that?

SEC - Well from the very beginning, Randy Johnson our Director and writer, was really adamant that he did not want imitations because it was not a tribute show. He didn't want people to feel like they would be just listening to tracks of them singing. You know, he wanted really understand who these artists are. Especially in my case, understand who these ladies are because they are all so different but there is still a common thread. And so I took time to learn the basics about their lives, the time periods--and I did not just listen to them, but artists similar to that time period within that genre. So if I were to work on Bessie Smith for example, I would listen to her, to Dinah Washington, and I listened to BIllie Holliday. I would look at these women, the political climate of their times, what they may or may not have had to deal with in doing similar traveling as African-American women.

DH - Right.

SEC - In a time period where you know, they may have been singing in a club, but had to sleep in the car because they couldn't stay in a hotel. Or they sang in a club and had to drive 200 miles to the nearest hotel where they could sleep for the night. So I would listen to the pain of that time and try to bring it back into it. I always wanted to keep in the back of mind that yes, but it may have been a painful time, but they had a lot of pride in what they were doing. You know, they were proud of the music they were creating and the music that they were sharing. You know, you look at Odetta and the folk music which is basically an early kind of gospel.

DH - Yeah.

SEC - This leads itself much more to traditional Negro spirituals. So you want to go about it that way. Then for Aretha Franklin, now you jump ahead 30 -40 years with all the changes. African-American women are stronger, there are more  of them out there in the business, they are on TV, they are bigger personalities now because they can be. And so I spent a lot of time listening to her music then to understand phrasing and rhythm and take that and mold that to what was comfortable to me and what I thought portrayed them in a great light. And I did not want to be accused of being an imitator as I did not want to imitate those fabulous singers.

DH - Right.

SEC - Each in their own way were amazing and I think Mary (Bridget Davies) and I are amazing in our own way and she is NOT a Janis impersonator. She brings herself to the stage every night and I try to bring myself to the stage every night.

DH - As far as I saw, I think you do that. And I may be an old folkie, but I think your Odetta is the one that does it for me. That is pretty magical and does recreate the early folk era and like you say, with the spirituals, too.

SEC - Thank-you.

DH - Yeah, was it harder to get handle on any particular one of them or was the process the same for all?

SEC - Oh, it is a process that is the same for all of them, but I want to say what might have been the hardest of all them might have been Aretha and Bessie Smith. I wanted be true to Aretha's stylings and not imitate her look. So I had to find my own look through that music.

DH - And the Aretha song (you do) "Spirit in the Dark", of course you sing as a duet with 'Janis Joplin' and is that like the show stopper every single night you do it (laughter)?

SEC - Every single night (laughter).

DH - Yes, that is an amazing number. It ends Act One, so it was expected to be a big number…

SEC - Yeah, any time we do it, when we first started and we put it at the end of Act One, the first time in front of an audience, we knew we had something really great. It was a great idea, of course it is a fictional moment, but it plays off itself perfectly.

DH - Right… so what do you do to keep your voice in shape when you do so many shows on a long theatrical run?
SEC - Well, I try to get my voice training. I have to warm up and avoid singing cold. I always, always warm up for a half hour or 45 minutes before the show. I start off doing some easy vocal exercises throughout the day, just a little bit here and there. You want to be able to move your voice the way you want to move it and not the way you have to move it because you didn't do something. So I will also get my body moving, do some weights, get on the treadmill and then eat correctly and you just want to keep it together… keep it warm, try to keep your allergies down, and you hope for the best. You can keep your trumpet in a case and protect it from the rain, but your voice is out there.

DH - A little tougher.

SEC - It is in your body. They tease me all the time because I will say 'ooh the night air, I gotta get inside'. And they laugh, but now Mary understands that. (laughter). She is now saying it, too, the night air...

DH - Now with this play, is it tougher than an opera run, or can an opera run ever have as many shows as this?

SEC - Oh no, opera could never do eight shows a week. So this is a harder schedule, but you get used to it. I have done a lot of other vocal stuff. I did Showboat on a National tour and did eight shows a week, I've done a few things where some opera companies do a lot more performances where there are maybe fourteen performances in the space of three weeks. But that is a lot of performances. Here, you know it is eight shows a week, so you prepare yourself accordingly.

DH - Umm hmmm, now how on earth did you get on the 'Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth' show. Did I read that correctly?

SEC - Yes, yes, Randy Johnson our director co-wrote that with Kiki Tyson, Mike Tyson's wife. When they got ready to put that show on, he said 'we need some music'. We need to have something else happening to give Mike a chance to relax and it will join all these stories together. And one day, he called me and asked what are you doing? And I said 'oh I'm working' and he asked if I had a gig and I said no, so he asked if I wanted to come out to Vegas that Friday. I said 'sure' and I went out there and met Mike Tyson, Kiki Tyson, and the producer and they liked me and I went back to Vegas three weeks later, where we did six performances at the MGM Grand and in fact the musical director, the drummer, and the bass guitarist are all from our band in 'One Night with Janis'.

DH - Oh really-ok.

SEC - Yeah, so we were all out there. It was a great experience and it was a lot of fun.

DH - And although he has done that version elsewhere, it sounds like that would be the version of the play I would want to see (chuckling).

SEC - Right, I think the reviewers in Vegas thought we did a great job and I think we put it together, it went well, and it enabled him to keep it going. So we wish him well.

DH - Great. And what is the American Spiritual Ensemble?

SEC - Ah, the American Spiritual Ensemble is a group out of Lexington, Kentucky. It was founded by Dr. Everett McCorvey who was Director of the Opera at the University of Kentucky. And he decided the Negro spiritual and gospel music were getting confused and people thought they were the same thing and he said they were not and decided to form this group around African-American opera singers who perform and keep the Negro spiritual alive.

DH - OK.

SEC - We go out on tour probably three or four times a year. We have been to Spain, we have something in Ireland in a couple weeks, we went down to Costa Rica, we've been a lot of different places. It is an amazing group of friends who are from all over the world--the Met, the Los Angeles Opera, and many more. It is just a great organization of about maybe 20 people… there are 100 people on the roster, but we usually tour with about 20.

DH - So it is an ongoing entity with a collective of artists. I'll keep my eyes open for that one.

SEC - I think you would enjoy it. It is really fabulous.

DH - It sounds great. So what is next for you after this play is finished. Do you have anything lined up yet?

SEC - Well, I think we are still moving on with this play!

DH - It has obviously done well, since it is getting a good return run here.

SEC - Yeah, at the Arena Stage next, then off to Kansas City, and San Jose after that, and then hopefully New York. That is what we are hoping.

DH - It is really good, and although I never saw (a different play) 'Love Janis', what I like about this play is how your character is so important because of the contrast/comparisons in history of the music you do along with that of Janis Joplin.

SEC - Right, and I like how our play does not dwell on the darker side of life, her drug addiction and everything and I don't think that is important. I think with the creation of reality TV, everyone wants to see the sad part of someone and I think the main thing about Janis was and is her music.

DH - Right.

SEC - Her music has transcended her death. Her music changed the dynamic of women in music. I mean, there was this happy go lucky '50s music and she was that woman who got out there, wore pants on stage, and sang about things that weren't being talked about. And also keeping a lot of music that was being recorded by black artists and giving it a new spin. But never denying the fact that they were done by Big Mama Thornton, or done by Aretha Franklin.Janis made them famous, but these tunes existed prior to her ever performing them. So this is a great way to see that all music influences everyone. You may not even know it, because I feel like some of these women are like Janis' alter ego. This is the music that runs through her head. This is the music that shapes who she was as a performer. I think what you listen to definitely does that. I listen to a mix of a lot of different things, but I have my favorites, I like Streisand, you know more legit, quote unquote, voices. Because I felt my voice lent itself to that. So I began to understand that a lot more and this opportunity helped me explore and find other things that I could do with other music that I love. I might have thought that's not for you, you can't really do that, but it turn out I can! (laughs)

DH - Yeah, that is kind of similar to when I talk to young musicians and I do all this name dropping of older bands they have never heard of from thirty years ago that was roughly doing something like they are doing, they actually enjoy that. Whether it is history of what they have known or what they discover, they see how they kind of fit into it all. It is an amazing fabric--really, the 1960s was where a lot of that started with the guitar bands from England and Janis Joplin on the west coast with the American blues turning into rock'n'roll.

SEC - Right, it changed… I mean, blues and Negro spirituals, both rock and blues come out of Negro spirituals, which is the only real indigenous music from the United States. Most everything else is from Europe, you know, but with music of Native American Indians and then the music of American slaves that changed the dynamic of music. I mean Gospel was created way after the blues, because they realized that the blues music was keeping the kids from coming to church, and so you got blues musicians who came into the church to do music, or came out of the church to go to the club. So they formed this into gospel music, taking these chords and making gospel chorales out of which had been called the Devil's Music. But they saw that that music brought the people in. And if we can bring you in with the music, then we can give you the word of God at the same time.

DH - (laughs) That's right, classic.

SEC - So now you've got the Stones who love Muddy Waters, go on shaping it and you've now got another genre of music, now you've got rock'n'roll coming on and so forth.

DH - It is great to hear so much history from you. It sounds like you've done your homework over many years now,

SEC - (laughs) or a quick study in a few months!

DH You talk the part well, Professor. (laughter). So in conclusion, the play is here at the Arena Stage for nearly eight weeks (June 21st to August 11th) and I plan to come out and see it again. I am sure it will do well.

SEC - Oh, tickets are going fast. My family is from Virginia and my cousin was telling me that many relatives are coming to various shows, but much of July was already sold out and such. So we are excited about it and (the Arena Stage) is a great theater and we hope for a great second run there.

DH - Well I had a blast time. Thank-you!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Screaming Females - Pygmy Lush - Priests - Jail Solidarity - Cane & the Sticks -- St. Stephens Church - Jun 8 2013

Cane & the Sticks - This is a tapas menu tonight with a lot of bands packed into a pretty tight time-frame at this venerable indie site. The first band is a local trio that I have not seen in a long time. They still have a great sound like I recalled and the songs vary from psychedelic swirl to heavy riffing. The rhythm section maintains a nice groove for the guitarist to ride high as they go into a tighter thrashier sound. This was a delicious opening bite for the fifteen minutes they were on. Hope the next delay is not as long until we meet again.

Jail Solidarity - I had absolutely no use in seeing these three people unload their catharsis for the 24 minutes they were on stage. This was painful and only reminded me of other ways to make these feelings work musically.

Priests - This is a raw primal hardcore punk band that has some fascinating components deep within their sound. The drumming is solid while the guitar and bass seem to phase in, out, and around the basic structures they set up. The vocals are as expected and these 24 minutes did show off a lot of deep well worked out moves. Hardcore music can still sound fresh if you know what you are doing and these four have it down. The only misstep was that the singer thought they were done one song early, and after hearing the closer, I think she was right. But I heard plenty of excellence before that.

Pygmy Lush - From Sterling, comes this more traditional hardcore punk band with a couple guitars, vocalist, and rhythm section. They had a rock heaviness to the sound and kept the tempo down from the real thrashers. It was a good sound, but due to the oversaturation of bands tonight only played for 14 minutes. You don't really want one hour plus sets with this music, but I would have liked more than a taste of this.
Screaming Females - This trio from New Jersey has toured hard and found their way to a solid fan base pretty much everywhere by now. They have played here many times to large crowds who easily get into their straight ahead rock sounds with plenty of punk attitude within. Marissa Paternoster is still one of the most amazing guitarists on a stage that will you see in this day and age. She also has a powerhouse voice and a great rhythm section that thickens the sound to let her deftly move from rhythm playing to shattering lead runs in the blink of an eye. The changes were quick tonight between bands, so they had time to do a full set, although the sound did them no favors with a muddling of their four components. So although the uncomfortable (hot) conditions and the sound were negatives tonight, the band still had the energy and skill to make a good set out of it all. They are one of the best live rock bands working the road these days and are worth a look if you have not discovered them yet.

Quote of the Night: From Pygmy Lush singer... "I work in day care. It's good work. Don't put your kids in day care."