Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Dickies - Dot Dash -- Black Cat - Oct 30 2013

Dot Dash - Rather than discuss the high qualities of this band, since I have done it many times before (Such as this review from last month), let us just say that the sound quality was quite good aside from the usual buzz that permanently resides on the big stage at the Black Cat (yet gets lost once the guitars start blasting away). Their songs were sharp and unfortunately the crowd was slow to arrive tonight with only a couple dozen there at the beginning, up to 50-60 by the time their set ended. Do come early anytime this band is on the bill and that advice goes for many of the fine bands around town. But rather than talk more about, I'll just post their latest video...

A Light in The Distance from Dot Dash on Vimeo.

The Dickies - Better 35 years late than never, as I finally catch the live act of this essential punk band. Formed in LA, the Dickies took the fun parts of the Ramones music and sped it up, amped up and applied it to fun pop originals and interesting cover songs. Stan Lee is still blazing away on guitar and the band has all their tricks with them such as gorilla masks, inflatable dolls and puppets. I start to feel silly when I realize I am watching a hand puppet mouth the words when the singer is right behind him singing into the mic. But if I was not willing to join in the silliness, I should not have come. The crowd finally built to something resembling respectable, although this band deserves far more than this, as it appears less of the younger crowd has picked up on this band's importance and brilliance. The band rattled off the songs fast and furious, with only occasional pauses for some humorous banter, with tongues practically protruding out of their cheeks. The classic covers were there from "Nights in White Satin", "Banana Splits theme", "Gigantor", a surprising Tommy medley, and much more. Catching up with both the Rezillos and the Dickies in the past year has really restored my faith in the power-pop/punk hybrid sound that was so important in the late 1970s. I love my Joy Division, and as we have all read to death, Lou Reed certainly has his place in music history. But it is also important to cut loose, let your hair down and explore the child side now and then. The Dickies give you all that and more.

Quote of the Night: From the Dickies singer... "So, Dave Grohl owns this place?... But how can he afford it?"

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Preview of Upcoming Attractions - Early NOV 2013

The prototype of all indie rock (?) Sebadoh comes our way to the Black Cat on Sunday, November 3rd and they have new music, too! 
Jenny Hval is a fascinating musician that is well worth planning your evening around. She comes to the DC9 on Tuesday, Nov 5th 

Jenny Hval "Innocence Is Kinky" (official video) from Jenny Hval on Vimeo.

The Turnpike Troubadours will crank thinks up a notch at the Birchmere on Wednesday, Nov 6th. 
Young Galaxy hits the Black Cat on Thursday, Nov 7th. 
Join me a the Black Cat on Friday, Nov 8th for a fine couple of bands on the big stage: The Blow and Love Inks. 
And pencil in Friday November 15th for the Devil Makes Three at the 9:30 Club. It is an EARLY show, so get your weekend started off with great music, and you can still catch some more music at another club later on. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ben Rector - Tyrone Wells -- Fillmore - Oct 26 2013

Tyrone Wells - Tyrone Wells is a successful singer songwriter on the rise. And in this era, instead of looking at chart positions, you can also judge success based on song placement in television and motion pictures. Wells has had a lot of this, so there is a good chance you have heard is music whether you know the name or not. And many have as he has plenty of fans in attendance who thoroughly enjoy his 43 minute set. He handled lead vocals, guitar, and a bit of piano and had a drummer and bass player who added fine backing vocals and a few other instrumental touches. The rhythm section really helped create some breadth for the music with some worldlier beats than what you would normally expect from this comforting folk-pop material. Wells seems like a sincere and likable fellow who has penned some fine songs and thankfully has assembled an excellent backing band. That combination made for a solid set that would hold its own headlining a smaller venue.
Ben Rector - Although pop-rock music is something I like, I do not often try to keep up with younger performers in this field. Ben Rector offered a reminder of the folly of this attitude. Five albums into his career has firmly placed him among some of the best of this field, at least based on what I saw tonight. Of course he has a great voice, reminding me of Josh Ritter and many more in this area. He rocks harder than what I have seen of Ritter and also reminds me of Amos Lee. But he pulls it back and offers a thoughtful contrast of songs: heavy/light, contemplative/fun, etc. He had four slick band members moving around on a variety of guitars, keys, and mandolins with a flowing rhythm section keeping things moving. The lighting was interesting with a lot of low level back lighting and it had an interesting effect of bringing the audience closer to Rector. He asked a few times to light up the audience so he could see and talk to them specifically noting some people. His personality and stage patter is fabulous and a real selling point in seeing him live. I liked his stories like his song about his whiffleball games with a lawn chair strike zone (just like I used to do) and he easily had the crowd feeling at home with him. He was hilarious in explaining the last song announcement reactions and predictable encore procedure to 'anyone who was new to concerts' and had the crowd gladly joining in with him whenever he desired. It all felt natural and enhanced his already excellent music. Ben Rector looks like he will be around a long time.

Quote of the Night: from Tyrone Wells... "Hello Baltimore and surrounding area... Silver Spring that is, not Silver Springs--they told me the plural would not go over."

And after that "My bass player is getting on me for saying Baltimore--Silver Spring!"

The Thiefs - Classified Frequency -- Jammin Java - Oct 26 2013

Classified Frequency - After some time off, I get back into the swing of live music with two Saturday shows--first up, a matinee at Jammin Java who also had a morning event for kids and will have an evening show as well. But here, it is a couple of hard rocking local trios. This Maryland based band kicks things off with volume and skill. For me, it was a case of two discussion points. The instrumental breaks, solos and overall cohesiveness was good, but the songs did not quite connect with me and reminded me of early 1970s material that I could never fully get into. They have a couple that worked well and the more energized moments seemed the best. But most disturbing was that the bass player had a voice that was very close to Harry Shearer, nothing he can help and maybe that can be used to their advantage. But they did a decent enough job and could develop into a decent outfit in time.
The Thiefs - Another local trio hits the stage with a very similar old school hard rock sound. This set works a lot more for me as the songs are more direct, straight forward blasts of fun. They are a cruder version of Dust or Andromeda with good pace and power to make it all work. A lot of throwback rock bands have added punk rock pace and energy into the mix and the Thiefs display a lot of that in many of these songs. There is a polite crowd here and it is hard to fully judge bands in daylight hours, despite the club's thick curtains, but the band went over well enough. They do need to work on their stage patter a bit, but they were having fun and translated that well enough out to the crowd. They can hold their own on a good old school rock bill in this region's clubs. They rock, and that is good enough for me.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Dismemberment Plan - Deleted Scenes -- 9:30 Club - Oct 19 2013

Deleted Scenes - It is great seeing long-time DC favorites on the big stage at the 9:30 Club with a sold-out crowd that arrived on time to catch the action. And in usual fashion, the band starts out with tricky hard to define music that is so immediate, you really don't care to spend the time to figure it out. There are guitars cooking atop the rhythm section along with some strong electronic components working through one of the guitars.  The band shifts around some with one or two guitars, keyboards at times, and the lead vocalist puts down his guitar to play some sort of effects box, and quite well I might add. If you like Animal Collective and that sort of sound, you would do well to dig into Deleted Scenes, if you haven't already. They have a lot of that sort of creativity and take it in their own direction, which to me is more of a brighter path. There were moments in the set where I thought the keyboards were a bit too dominant, but they soon righted that with a blazing guitars song. They packed their 38-minute set with lots of variety that all added up to still one of the finer bands in the city that is certainly able to take it up to the next level, like say perhaps...
The Dismemberment Plan - The reunion continues as this successful band is still tearing it up for the first of two nights in town before taking on an intense little tour focusing on east coast, the UK, and the west coast. If Deleted Scenes mix it up, then the Dismemberment Plan completely throws out the rule book, while still creating highly accessible music. The first song reminds me of bland 1970s and 1980s intellectual pop music made brighter (and better) with a more modern electronic sound. Thankfully they did not stop there as the second cut went hardcore electronic dance style, but with a more refined song oriented approach. Basically, things continued like this throughout the set with lots of throbbing electronics powerfully enhancing these crafty pop songs. The vocals are clear and strong throughout and keep the hooks digging in. I think most of the crowd is like me in appreciation of the heavy sounds the band is able to employ that other pop-rock outfits may struggle with. This band has nailed a pretty interesting sound and continues to display it well.

Photo repost of the Night:

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Braddock Station Garrison -- Tree House Lounge - Oct 18 2013

Braddock Station Garrison - This is my second time seeing this fine Virginia quartet, and on a new stage for me. This band features all the basics of good power pop/indie rock with two guitars working rhythms and leads atop a nimble rhythm section. The vocals are good and the songs have that fine balance where they move and shift in different sub-styles, while never sounding like they are coming from a different band. They probably hit power-pop grooves most frequently, but can push the rock moves pretty heavy when willing. I particularly liked their cut "Any Day, Any Way" if I have that title correct. The bass line was similar to a great Mikey Offender (RIP) run in "Lost Causes" but I have no doubt no one in this band has even heard that song. The songs have quality and the guys can play. Hopefully they will continue to get the gigs all around town, as they would enhance a lot of bills. They have a new EP which I will be reviewing at month's end.
A quick note on the Tree House Lounge. If anyone remembers the old Red & the Black, it is about that size with a similar PA. There is a small stage and seating with a big bar as well. The sound is better than the Pinch and not up to the Velvet Lounge (there is a board, but settings are premixed--they were spot on tonight). It is a comfortable place that is doing a lot of booking, but is not big enough to draw top bands (although Wooden Shjips played the Red & the Black). I would recommend people keep this on the calendar as it is easy to get to in the NE--I even park in the same place I do for the Rock'n'Roll Hotel. There were other bands tonight, but it was a bit too eclectic booking for me and I needed an early night home.

Quote of the Night: From the singer to the rest of the band reflecting a classic refrain... "Play like it's Madison Square Garden."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Noah and the Whale - Dawn Landes -- 9:30 Club - Oct 16 2013

Dawn Landes - It was a tough start tonight as the doors did not open until 8:30 pm and this set started at 8:45. There was a long line as it was nearly a sell-out, so there was no way to get in on time for me. Still, the club did well getting people through quickly and I only missed 5-6 minutes with 80% or more of the crowd already in place. And it was a challenge for Dawn Landes as she has a light country folk pop sound with just acoustic guitar, bass, drums. She has a backing vocalist, not that she needed it much, as she carried her tunes with strength and conviction and still kept it warm and not too overpowering. With the crowd still abuzz, the solo acoustic song headed too close to 'acoustic death in clubland', but most of this set worked well and was warmly received by the younger and friendly crowd. So everyone may have been rushed at the beginning, but by the end of the set was sufficiently warmed up and satisfied.
Noah and the Whale - Touring their fine "Heart of Nowhere" album, Noah and the Whale come across the Atlantic to lay out their clean and focused pop rock sound to a well established fan base. They have earned the crowds over the years, by writing very catchy music that balances several styles allowing them to pull fans from many varied styles of rock or pop music. This music could easily get lost in the middle of the road mainstream, but for the quality of the songs and the strength of their conviction in the delivery. The vocal work is strong and the band mixes up instrument combinations of electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, and violins all atop the rhythm section. The violin (and vocal qualities) really reminds one of the National, although this music is a bit brighter. It is almost a bit too steady for me at times, but it is hard to find any fault in their delivery. The songs are really good and if you deliver them well as they did tonight, then this is a great band for this young crowd (and plenty of us old timers as well) to dig into to. The band seemed sincerely nice and apologized for the tight start as it was on them, as they had to get a replacement driver from Atlanta and rolled into town a little too late. One or two good songs, let alone a whole set's worth, and all was forgiven.

Quotes of the Night: Noah and the Whale did seem like really nice guys as they were chatting about hoping to be the talisman to get the government reopened tonight (and they were). They asked the question "So we only have tonight in DC, what should we see?" and waited for answers which they listened to and commented on. This reminded me how stage patter can vary between Q+A rapport that is direct with at least some meaning and those questions that are merely rhetorical. For instance take these from the opening band...

"This is a love song, are you ready for that?"
"Does anyone like Bruce Springsteen?"
 and the ubiquitous (and of course, both bands did it tonight) "So, how is everybody doing?"

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Jacco Gardner - The Beginner's Mynd -- Black Cat - Oct 15 2013

The Beginner's Mynd - A good crowd is on hand backstage at the Black Cat ready to get this night started. A local pop-rock psychedelic act is up first and is expertly paired with tonight's headliner. This quartet has the same instrumentation as the headliner and works the same terrain. This band has a way to go to get the full ripened fruits of their labors, but they are off to a good start. They have a nice understanding and control of psychedelic pop and rock sound with screaming organ, jangly guitar, and a steady rhythm section. The vocals were not as confident and strong as needed to stay with this music. This could work, but with material not quite this bold and rocking. There were a few songs that sounded particularly good, so they clearly know how to pen a tune that will stick in the memory. I hope they continue to grow and work themselves into a strong presence on the scene.
Jacco Gardner - From the Netherlands, returning to the USA, comes one of the finest artists out there, particularly for those who enjoy psychedelic music. Gardner can play about anything, but sticks to keyboards and lead vocals, bringing along three guys on bass, drums, and acoustic guitar. Although to say he sticks to keyboards is like saying Jimmy Page sticks to guitar, as Gardner coaxes organ, synth, harpsichord, and even mellotron sounds out of them. The music is pop oriented, but heavily psychedelic making it hard to imagine you have not been transported back to 1967. I am not sure too many bands have vocals as exquisite as this. Gardner has a warm voice that caresses you into his world of gorgeous pop hooks. The harmonies are otherworldly and elevate this seemingly simple music to heights not obtained by all but the finest bands. This is sensual music that reminds me of Aigues Vives, Ferdinando-Howell (Ithaca, etc.), and the psychedelic songs of the Zombies. But pick your favorite baroque-pop, psychedelic pop group from the 60s, and jump onto the music of Jacco Gardner, a pure and natural extension. When you are this good, it does not matter what year you are in, you just absorb these brilliant little songs and dig the vibe. There were people in the crowd who looked like they were having an out of body experience, while most everyone else was digging this in a more relaxed manner. I did note a handful of other musicians who I rarely see if they are not on the bill, which is yet one more clue of how Jacco Gardner is making a big name for himself with those who really live music. Enjoy the small stage shows now, there is little chance he will not be moving up to bigger audiences once people start listening.

Quote of the Night - Nothing profound, just something to set the mood from JG... "This song is about summertime. Did you enjoy the summer this year? I did, too."

Monday, October 14, 2013

Preview of Upcoming Attractions: Late October, 2013

There are a host of fine shows coming up taking you into Halloween, even if you don't fly to London to see Roy Harper. Here are some recent video and audio highlights from bands who I plan to see or would if I could.

The Dismemberment Plan. Yes they have allowed their fans to see them over two nights at the 9:30 Club (Oct 19+20), but these should both be packed. I want to go on Saturday the 19th to catch one of DC's finest, Deleted Scenes...

Three brothers called Cardinal Sons are headed up from one of my favorite cities, New Orleans (well via Jackson, MS), to play the Treehouse Lounge on Tuesday, October 22nd (only Roy Harper would get me to miss this, well ok maybe a Wipers reunion) And they go to great pains to remind people, they are not Hanson...

Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin makes a quick return to our city at the DC9 on October 23rd

Blind Boys of Alabama have a pretty high reputation to live up to and very few people have ever left a show of theirs thinking they failed. See for yourself at the Hamilton on Thursday, October 24th.

The Thiefs have an EP release party on a sunny Saturday afternoon  (Oct 26) at Jammin Java. Trust me, it will be a dark club atmosphere inside as you here the latest songs from this local band. Doors at 1pm.

And after a matinee show, you can head over to the Fillmore and catch Ben Rector on Saturday, October 26th.

Sir Sly hits the friendly environs of the Rock'n'Roll Hotel for a Monday night show on October 28th.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Deap Vally - Justin Trawick Band -- Living Social - Oct 10 2013

Justin Trawick Band - I have seen Justin Trawick as part of his 'the 9 Songwriter series' which features rotating nine singer songwriter combinations in one fast paced entertaining evening booked at several different area venues. While I do recommend those, I am interested in seeing his fine songs in a full band setting tonight. In addition to his acoustic guitar, he has got a stand-up bass, violin, and mandolin with some backing vocal assistance from those guys as well. It is an excellent band as everybody is a top-notch player who work well together. The songs are good with playful meters and thoughtful lyrics. They range from steady Americana based folk to 'fast bluegrass'. I keep writing 'good stuff' in my notes and the word quality seems to fit with songs and players. they also keep it relaxed and fun with solos called out jazz style on some of the stretched out pieces. Justin Trawick solo is certainly good enough to go out of your way for, but do try to catch the full band some time.
Deap Vally - This LA duo has had a rather hot start to their career with shows and festivals all over the globe in the two years they have been around. And all of that, from a chance meeting in crocheting class? Weaving, sewing, music... it all goes together and these two women have a great personal take on a guitar and drums formula that can too often be tiresome. Yes, this is this is the loud grungy blues rock that you might expect when you see a drum kit and and electric guitar set up to play through two amps. They keep it more feral than flashy and bring in some of the passion of Gun Club and Mudhoney, although they don't hit the musical heights of those bands. There were a couple times I could have used one extra slide guitar, but Jeffry Lee Pierce is no longer with us and Mark Arm is busy. Most of the time, this music is just fine as is with surprisingly good drum work. I can not quite put my finger on why it is so good, other than Julie Edwards' excellent choices for arranging beats that work around Lindsey Troy's guitar. The beat is there, but it does seem like another lead instrument. Troy's lead vocals are excellent and Edwards has a good harmony voice that adds smooth dimensions to the fierce growling lead voice. They are not the best in this field (see Graveyard), but they have a lot to offer and their hour long set tonight was a lot of fun.

Quote of the Night: from DV... "This is the part where I jump in the crowd and crowd surf and I am tempted to jump down there."  This is in reference to the odd, but cozy space that is Living Social at 918 F Street NW. They have an upstairs floor space for bands with a small bar and standing and seating room that you could get a Velvet Lounge crowd into... barely. What is odd is the huge open space in front of the band looking down on a downstairs bar with people that can look up at the show. It's the first real 'pit' in front of a stage I have seen. It is odd, but they are booking some interesting music here, so I would keep them on your calendar.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Chad Valley - Brett -- DC9 - Oct 9 2013

Brett - Thankfully a little more time has elapsed since I saw this area quartet twice in ten days some months ago. Seeing a band too often does not give them a chance to grow a little, write a few more songs, as well as give the listener more time to listen to many things in between. But it is good to see them again as they have a strong take on pop music. It is thick and loud, but more in the romance camp than in power pop. The guitarist also plays keyboards and works a lot of electronica into the songs, while the rhythm section lays it down with a firm and steady clarity. The lead vocalist has some nice power in his pipes to lead the way and bring emotion into their songs. The better songs work well for me and those are the ones that have just that extra bit of energy within or employ sharp hooks to keep me in the groove. Even if I don't want to see them every ten days, I am glad they are gigging frequently and they are a welcome addition to many a bill.

Chad Valley - This is Oxford's Hugo Manuel on vocals and with a table of electronics. He is aided by a female vocalist who adds some flourish to his pretty much straight up pop tunes. It is obviously modern, missing guitar, bass, and drums and his backing does not try to compensate for that, instead going toward the lush electronica sound. Personally, I like a full band for this music to really dig into me deeply. But there is high quality vocal work and the pop music does connect as it should. They do this music proudly and they pulled in a pretty good Wednesday night crowd, which was great considering that the original headliner Keep Shelly in Athens, was indeed kept in Greece with Visa problems. That topic stirs bad memories on an otherwise enjoyable evening.

Quote of the Night: From H.Manuel... "This is the first night of the tour, so you are privileged. We are fresh... and not sick of each other..."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Naked and the Famous - The Colourist -- 9:30 Club - Oct 7 2013

The Colourist - Pop music really pops at the 9:30 Club when a band is assertive enough. The Colourist is all of that as they have plenty of muscle behind their sweet but fulfilling music. They use a simple line-up of either two guitars, guitar and keyboards along with the rhythm section to get this done. The interesting contrasts are in the vocals. When the guitarist sings, he has a bit more of an Indie Rock and even California-Americana style. But when the drummer takes the lead, she has a strong power pop style that is so addictive when it works this well. I am reminded of Sloan and several other bands that can manage this style so well. The Colourist effectively creates a broad appeal garnering mainstream music fans along with people that have heard it all, but still appreciate good songs in classic styles. They only have an EP out so far, but with this kind of start, it won't be long before they will be back as headliners.
The Naked and the Famous - This was the second sold-out show here, a fact I had to remember when I was marveling at how excellent the sound was tonight from the first note to the last. Well duh--they had a full night to tweak the knobs and fiddle with the levels. But it sure helped bring this New Zealand band's slick urban pop sound forward. The keyboards and bass were throbbing with steady machine-like precision from their live drummer. All of this paved the way for cutting guitars and powerful vocals, mostly from Alisa Xayalith. I was reminded of a somewhat lighter Joy Formidable along with a nod back to power keyboard pop days of old. This was still a strong sound and they had a nice variety of songs where they would pull back before pushing things forward again. And I still enjoy a good light show which they had with their multiple arched rig surrounding the stage. This night was a good reminder for me, that even when I enjoy seeking out the smaller shows and dipping into the underground, a mainstream show with bands that write great songs and have a great command of their sound can make for a great evening out. It is always a good idea to challenge the borders of your listening experience... and that goes in all dimensional direction.

Quote of the Night: From the Headliners introducing a song that was featured on television.. "Do any of you guys watch TV? We are going to play a song that was on the TV."

Now, I found it funny to hear someone under the age of 60 use the term 'the TV', but I had a feeling I heard this wrong. They have a song on "The Vampire Diaries" so were they saying 'the VD'? I have neither the acute hearing or the degree of hipness in pop culture to know for sure, but mishearing things like lyrics is more fun than the real thing much of the time.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Growlers - Cosmonauts - Gap Dream - together PANGEA - Habibi - The Tough Shits -- Black Cat - Oct 6 2013

The Tough Shits - Missed them as this started and finished before 8pm. They were just here opening for Redd Kross and here is what I thought then for what it is worth.

Habibi - I really need to relearn how to print so I can read my notes. I am looking at my notes and they start with what looks like "99% nice Satan-esque vocals". That is better than anything I actually wrote, but alas, it does not describe these four (and sometimes five) women. They play a brand of noisy pop that is quite dark, but very comforting. Oh, and I figured out that 'nice Satan' translates to Nancy Sinatra, whose deep straightforward delivery is similar to the style here. There is no slick Lee Hazelwood production here, it is raw garage sound that is just north of the Shaggs (who I have on my mind as I just read that one of the Shaggs is recording a solo album!!). At times, it sounds like Marissa Nadler is singing in front of a teenage Joy Division tribute band, which was as good it sounds.

together PANGEA - From LA comes this strong quartet that takes the garage pop from earlier and punks it up some. They cover everything from the sixties and seventies and beyond in their sound and keep it all fresh and in your face. They have just enough snottiness in the vocals to keep it punk, while the guitars add enough edginess and obtuse moves to the powerful rhythm section. Franky, you can play this music competently and win me over so long as you are having fun with it. But fortunately this band has the talent to push it a little further and make themselves into something I would want to go back and see again. Hopefully this Burgerama tour, will convince many more to follow this interesting band.

Gap Dream - Also from California, comes this trio on guitar, bass, and keyboards/electonics/vocals. They keep it in the garage psychedelic world, but go into a more electronic direction. I was skeptical, as I  was thinking this was merely taking me back to the old days of the Flying Lizards or other interesting new wave bands. But it did not take long where the bass player hooked me into his groove. The guitarist was also locked in jabbing away with various noisy thrusts. They gave plenty of room for their third member to play with his sounds and beats and handle the vocals. Ultimately, this reminded me more of a less extreme Wooden Shjips and was quite impressive.

Cosmonauts - This twin guitar quartet has a 12-string mixed in with a six, which creates that classic ringing sound. But they don't exactly sound like their fellow Californians, the Byrds, but employ a more British sound circa Echo & the Bunnymen era. They have that same Bunnymen psychedelic rock approach that is easy to slide into and enjoy. They had it going to near hypnosis levels, and although these 20-minute sets were generally a little shorter than I wanted for so many good bands, it actually served the Cosmonauts well. In future, I would like to see a touch more variance in their songs, as I believe they have the skill and players to create some more challenging music. Maybe it is there already, as you can only do so much in 20 minutes.
The Growlers - Last up comes the first band that seems completely misnamed. I hear nary a growl all set, but instead way too much reverb. They employ a full time vocalist who sounds like he can sing, but the reverbed voice is lost in the two guitars. This was a serious sonic whiff here tonight, which was too bad as they have an appealing low-key take on psychedelia. Maybe it is even too low key, as I feel I am seeing Jimmy Buffet's stoner kids in a band. This is probably a good band, but I just could not get past their sonic choices tonight.

Quote of the Night: Last thing I heard from gabby people I walked away from so I could focus on the music... "Like, he's from Texas, so he doesn't understand sarcasm".

Friday, October 4, 2013

Richard Pinhas - Semisolid - hBar - Ghosts of the Holy Ghost Spermic Brotherhood - Fast Forty -- Atlas Performing Arts Center - Oct 3 2013

Fast Forty - My annual trek (all of 2 1/2 miles) to the Sonic Circuits Festival has a busy line-up tonight. First off is a one-man band of electronics and percussion with some vocals. The first cut creates a decent atmosphere with electronics and samples, while the second one goes a bit industrial. It's all fair enough, although there is not much visually to cue in on. The third cut adds even more bold variety as it is a protest song complete with lyrics and percussion on a cymbal and hi-hat. Not a bad little opener.

Ghosts of the Holy Ghost Spermic Brotherhood - This trio features two percussionists and one guy on odd horns that feature a sax and a horn similar in sound to what you would hear on 'Brian Jones presents Pipes of Pan at Jajouka'. The percussion is far too much rubbing on the skins creating that annoying noise of rubbing on a balloon. Sure enough, after I make that note, they actually pull out a balloon and make noise with it. I like the horns as they manage to create a mystical bed that is comfortable enough, were the percussion more interesting.

hBar - One guy on flute and one guy on computers slowly build up into some intriguing music while videos show off even slower builds of colors into forms. They played for 33 minutes straight and it never got dull as they managed the pace extremely well and had interesting sonic components that kept me involved.

Semisolid - Ah yes, this is Chester Hawkins, who used to work under the name Blue Sausage Infant, but now that he is all grown up, he is semisolid. Thankfully, nothing else has changed much, as he always managed to pull me in to his fine music in the many times I have seen him here or at the Velvet Lounge. He has visuals, the seizure inducing kind he says, so at times I do close my eyes and drift off with the music. Drifting off is easy to do as he has some nice melodies worked into drones and trippy spacey sounds. Everything flows and is easy to grab on to for the novice experimental music listener or the veteran. His thirty-minute set was a pleasure the entire time and I would highly recommend seeing him some time, when he plays around the DC area. And he did not even need the bonus points I would give him for the Motorhead t-shirt.

Richard Pinhas - I enjoyed his recent album on Cuneiform (reviewed here), so I was looking forward to the guitar stylings he would give to us tonight. I was not disappointed as he quickly laid down several loops of varying tones, while nimbly moving about the frets in clever ways. It was more about the sonic structure than any fiery fingerwork, however. Everything was smooth, but firm with a lot of structure to grab on to. While I was glad the set did not head off into ridiculous watch glancing lengths, this set felt a bit short at 23 minutes. His playing and layering techniques were of the quality, that he could have kept this fresh for much longer. He is well worth a listen to guitar fans who want to explore well beyond the basic sounds.

Quote of the Night: overheard conversation from someone interrupting a long conversation...
"How do you guys know each other?"
"Actually, we don't."

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Upcoming Highlights for early October

Burgerama's Cavalacade of Stars comes to town this Sunday, October 6th at the Black Cat... and with six bands, surely there are a fair amount of stars there for your hard earned cover fee. The Growlers headline, but check this out from together PANGEA

Odesza plays the U Street Music Hall this Tuesday, October 8th.

Chad Valley is from the real Oxford (England, not Ohio or Mississippi) and comes all the way to the DC9 on the 9th of October.

Join me at the Living Social venue to see Deep Vally on Thursday, October 10th. Based on this video, I'm hooked!

Menomena is opening for Portland's Helio Sequence on the big stage of the Black Cat, Sunday, October 13th

Jacco Gardner is one of the best things out of the Netherlands since Group 1850. He has won over a lot of people in DC at a previous show. Catch him before he and his band get way to big for the DC9. The show is Tuesday, October 15th.

Noah and the Whale will no doubt be an excellent show at the 9:30 Club on October 16th, but judge for yourself from this video released earlier this year...

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

RECORD REVIEWS - September 2013

It is a barely controllable madhouse of new music around here--no shutdown of bands releasing interesting music going on in this town and beyond. Enjoy the exploration of new music, the journey has its rewards (even if this one is a little long)...

I was a bit worried this might be too warm and fuzzy in the British pop style for me, but thankfully there is enough bite to make it palatable for those in want of rock. It is not dissimilar to early U2 in that regard. There remains an attractive flowing pop sensibility through the album, which should garner a lot of fans from the indie world. I enjoyed it in small clusters, but found the whole to be a little too much on one plane of sound. There were some songs that had more striking back-up vocals and the occasional guitar run that stood out and I hope they do more of that in the future. There is a slow build of volume over the course of the ten songs may be a start of that future. Until then, this is a good document of a band who can push their emotions out through vocals and guitar in an engaging manner.

Songs to try out first:

Dandelion Wine - When in doubt, start with the opener which opens up with jangly pop rock with lush vocal harmonies and some cool songwriting twists.

Summer Swell - If summer swells were this pleasant, we would all be glad to be caught in them.

Young and Dumb - Has a thicker, more rocking shoe gaze element in this one.

I was a big fan of Portland, Oregon's the Decemberists. I also enjoy Blitzen Trapper who is still quite active with this, their seventh album. After some interesting experimenting, like the Decemberists, they initially appeared to be taking a trip back to more stripped down roots music, also like the Decemberists' last album. But although the vocals and melody lines go heavy into the Americana style, the arrangements slowly evolve into more experimentation, which is what most Blitzen Trapper fans want from the band. There are many interesting strings and keyboards that work their way into the song in strange and memorable ways. And as the album progresses through the twelve songs, each builds from the last with an additional layer of sound. This keeps up through Heart Attack, before the last two bring it down a notch into a cool down period. So I am left with a fascinating album that is a lot smarter than I am and will get a few more listens before I figure more of it out. The songs are good, but the tracking is absolutely masterful. And although, I list my three favorites below, this one should be listened to front to back in one sitting. And live, they still rock even harder.

Songs to try out first:

Thirsty Man - Intriguing instrumentation used, which creates a more otherworldly Americana.

Necky Tatts, Cadillacs - This could be the Holy Modal Rounders except for the high quality vocals.

Heart Attack - An out and out progressive jazz freak-out, rode with a tight grip on the reins.

If you like punchy electronic pop music, then you may want to listen to the Blow. You will have to endure cute vocal technique, so there are a couple of elements that may work perfectly for some, but turn off other listeners. There appears to be more thought in the rhythmic thrust of the electronic shards, but this does not do enough instrumentally to interest me as much as I had hoped. I appreciate the vocal style and the lyrics during the times they dug in and told an interesting story. If you like electronic music, especially the whimsical pop variety, I would think this would be a worthy album to add to your collection.

Songs to try out first:

A Kiss - The vocal lines work the most magic here on this album.

Invisible -Punchy.

Hey - Nice throbbing synthesizer and voice with light percussion--almost nostalgic in tone.

I generally try to listen to new bands, either on record or on stage, without reading much about them ahead of time. Often, I get a few sentences description and learn just enough to whet my appetite. Unsurprisingly, it is not often does that the description fully agrees with my reaction. But this time, when I recalled that the promotional material said this band was like a warm Crazy Horse, I think they nailed it. They are a little tighter and steadier in the rhythm sections, but the fuzzy guitars meander around the melodies quite comfortably and effectively. The vocals are clean and have a savvy timeless sound to them. They have a post modern feel to Cray Horse as I detect sounds of Honor Roll and other post-punk rock acts in here as well. This goes down like a honey and yogurt drink and is well worth a listen.
Songs to try out first:

Fleece - The immediacy of the guitar sound should pull you right into their world.

Null Set - Strong song with great vocal work and a killer guitar solo.

Full of Life - Killer bass line and a hip atmosphere, daddy-o.

The name implies psychedelic rock and this album does not lack for that. Actually, these nine songs are more psyche-pop nuggets as opposed to tripping journeys. The vocals are a bit on the laid back side and don't always keep up with the music. The guitars can get quite heavy even as the overall songs still have a slow head bobbing happy-psyche vibe (the opening cut is called "Yuppies are Flowers", so you get the idea). Still, just as you settle in with the songs, they stretch out a couple cuts to out and out rock jams. There is just enough variety here to bring a sparkle to the whole of the album. It is not a mindblower or pop classic, but it is a good listen.

Songs to try out first:

Rowdy Gaze - The guitars blaze away nicely on this rocker.

Stay, Don't Say - The vocals work well on this dreamier pop tune that flows into the longest cut on the album.

Runnin on the Moon - Lovely grinding guitar with horns reminiscent of the Saints augmenting the rock tones with Saints-like sneering vocals (yet it doesn't sound like the Saints, more like Spiritualized)

If you like your folkrock gnarled and twisted, then this solo project of Foxygen drummer, Shaun Fleming, may be just the music to have with your afternoon tea. Nah, take this out to the garage so that the twangy guitars, sharp vocals, and farfisa blasts don't disturb the house plants. This is easy to get into for the adventurous listener, as it combines forms and twists melodic passages in strange ways that satisfy on at least a couple of levels. Standard listeners will find it too weird, while experimental fans will find it too cute and catchy (although most should still find plenty to like). As long as there are enough good songs, I like it when bands meld the weird into standard forms. Diane Coffee is successful here, really as much as Foxygen.

Songs to try out first:

Hymn - Great opening staircase into this strange world. Where would be without David Lynch?

Tale of a Dead Dog - Lovely acoustic guitar work, with some strong harmonies and songwriting twists to spice things up.

That Stupid Girl that Runs a Lot - There is even some Fifty Foot Hose or Joseph Byrd moves in this psyche-popper.


If you could not tell that the guys in Dot Dash were veterans of classic DC bands and beyond, then the albums title and songs such as "Ghosts of the Past", "Hands of Time" and "Bloom-Decay" should give you a clue. Thankfully, they are too good of a power pop band to take those titles into a pessimistic direction. Instead, this is a mature album for those of us that have been there for a long time that infuses strong song craft to reach people of all ages. The production is top drawer with great clarity of all instruments. I am quite please with that, as this is a band whose live shows have me watching all four members execute their parts. And it comes together yet again.

Songs to try out first:

Ghosts of the Past - The opening cut has tremendous sound and a great hook with a lyric that hits home for this old punk rocker.

Bloom-Decay - The power pop guitar sound almost goes shoe gaze toward the end, with a nice steady build.

A Light in the Distance - Great guitar sounds on top of a driving beat, as they really channel Wire here.

This is not a local band that I am familiar with from the club scene, but based on this ep, I hope to see them some time soon. They have an indie rock approach but show a maturity with songwriting, arrangements, and production that makes this a cut above. To start, there is deep steadiness in the rhythm that has jabbing drums and guitars that creates a tension between sharp and smooth. They have horns and big guitars that elevate the songs during key moments, mixed with the ability to pull back when desired. They really bring it down into some nice folk moments such as the short instrumental "Yellow Brick Road". But with songs like "Feel the FIre" and "Blow up Radios" you can get the idea that their big sound is the more prevalent one. These six songs make for a fine record. As they continue, they could work on getting a bit more of a personal approach in their music--easy for me to say, far tougher to do. Yet that is the way to continue to stand out from the crowd.

There is a moody, rootsy feeling in this personal singer songwriter material, yet the arrangements sparkle with just enough surprise to move well out of any simple genre stereotyping. The vocals are extra haunting with female backing vocals and harmonies adding to the rich tenor of the lead vocals. Guitars have just enough fuzz and rock touches to push out nicely, while settling back in the mix to allow creative use of space and other instrumental flourish. There is a warm psychedelic vibe throughout, but it is not overbearing so it is barely noticeable for those that just want to follow the story of the song. At times, it slips a bit into what a whole lot of other singer songwriters that have at least one foot in the 'wyrd' camp are doing, but the arrangements here will have me playing this album a bit more often than most.

Songs to try out first:

Criminal Makeup - Lovely thick fuzzy guitars soar around the melodious vocal line for a smooth intensity.

Neo Pagan Lovesong - A lot of vocal variety here with a pleasant guitar line.

Doors - While not quite as psychedelic as the Doors of the Moody Blues' "House of Four Doors", it still sounds great.

It amazes me how many bands were able to sound like this in the late 1960s and early 1970s. People were shooting for the moon, or at least George Martin style production as they created so many great songs, some famous many not so. Even as it is easier and cheaper to record quality work these days, it seems there are not many bands that have sufficient imagination when it comes to intricate and well thought out arrangements. Enter the Netherlands' Jacco Gardner. They bring back and update wonderful memories of the Zombies, July, and the many European style pop-rock groups that embraced psychedelia with a child like playfulness and whimsy. This is more "Alice of Wonderland" when you were eight years old and not as much as when you were 18 listening to the Jefferson Airplane; although there are elements of both. From voice to guitar to percussion to mellotron, the sounds here all tie together with playfulness and purpose. It is hard to pick out a favorite as they all blend together well, even though they do not get tedious or overly repetitive. If this sound were easy, more people would be doing it. I am happy that Jacco Gardner has the vision and takes the time to bring it out so well and not settle for something safe and simple.

I loved this band the first time I saw them, so join me at the Black Cat on Tuesday, October 15th for another exciting set.

Songs to try out first:

Clear the Air - The opener begins with majestic production and a song to live up to the sound. Timeless and enthralling.

Where Will You Go - Acoustic guitar sets the fluid pace as the pop song works its way in and out.

Chameleon - Nice range of pop and rock covered here, with a mysterious vocal pattern and gorgeous harmonies.

Do not file this record under 'solid professional indie rock' too quickly. Although the warm rock sounds fit in with many successful bands of this ilk, there is a lot more going on here. The Lonely Forest leans toward Americana without ever getting there. They invoke melodic progressive passages that range somewhere between early Styx or Golden Earring. They invoke Britpop moves without ever really sounding very Britpop. You can't quite grab on to this music, but it is easily digested. All their songs have pop hooks, but play off them in different ways which makes for a full engaging listen through all eleven songs. They come close to cute pop, but have enough twists to bring it back from the saccharine edge. Usually it is the cutting music that takes the edge off the sweet lyrics and vocal tones.

Songs to try out first:

Pull the Pin - The opening cut starts off fresh and simple before strange elements flow through the cracks making for a creative indie rock song.

Fire Breather - A nice little pop song gets some fierce guitar cutting through pushing the vocals out further and further.

Neon Never Changes - This lush intricate pop song owes as much to the old progressive scene as it does to Radiohead.

Yowzer! When someone tells me that they have a power pop record for me to review, I think how nice it will be to hear some good tunes with nice hooks and just hope that the guitarist is allowed to cut loose a little. Well, Terry Malts cut the brakelines for every player in this band as this has some serious power and thrust. The band rocks with much abandon and great thick sounding guitars. The vocal lines are slightly disinterested, yet tuneful in a post-punk manner. This is so welcome in the world of emo and earnest punk yearning for something better. Well, the something better has arrived in these eleven songs which will take you back to punk rock without cringing at any nostalgic moves. The may be 'comfortably dumb' as one song is titled, but they are far smarter than the average band who tries to tackle punk moves in 2013. Thank-you Slumberland Records, for continuing to release music from this vibrant San Francisco trio.

Songs to try out first:

Two Faces - Right out of the gate, this is a blast of fresh air that I want to hear again and again.

Life's a Dream - Nearly a hardcore blast, this.

Comfortably Dumb - More pop on the vocals, but more noise on the guitars--quiet noise. The steady rhythm holds it together.

It takes mere seconds into Willie Mason's music to realize you will be on a deep contemplative journey. His rich sonorous voice is nearly overwhelming, but for the extra sting on the acoustic guitar and intriguing sonic backscapes. He reminds me of Mick Softley from the older UK folk scene, who also had a striking voice and the ability to arrange some interesting folk-rock music. But as I listen further, he even adds to the pure American folk singer by traveling the way of the Incredible String Band with their brand of magical child-like innocence mixed with the visions of the mystic on the mountain. They were indelibly British, but Mason manages to bring this into the heartland. He is not quite that profound (few are) but there is such a quiet sense of daring here, that it plays so well to those of us that think we have heard just about everything this genre has to offer.

See Willie Mason this Thursday, October 3rd at the Black Cat.

Songs to try out first:

What is This - What is this indeed--just let this opening cut flow over you before settling into this album. Then listen to them all, there is not a dud in the bunch and your favorites may be different than mine anyway (to state the obvious). All eleven cuts are excellent. This is full album listening--no short cuts.

This DC area power pop/indie rock band has put forth a fine record, which should carve a space for them in this busy scene. They balance pop hooks with smooth guitar lines that either jangle or power up and even go acoustic at times for a variety of sounds and moods. The songs flow smooth as a river with a band that works well to leave and fill gaps at just the right time. The noisy guitars in the six+ minute closer make a welcome end to the record and will stay in your mind with an invitation to replay soon. And it has been a while since I have seen them on stage and I am even more interested now to see if this cohesive sound will work live and in person.

Songs to try out first:

Colorful Realms of Living Rivers - The opening cut greets with a fulfilling jangly rocker.

Sunday Morning - No Lou Reed in sight, but a lilting vocal line and some great brass which makes this one sound big.

Break My Heart - Hard rocking power popper has the pace and gutsy guitar sound with a great pop melody in the vocals. I wish there were still hit singles as this would have a chance.

Although you can place Richard Pinhas safely in the experimental guitar category, there is an engaging jazzy rock style flowing through his music. It is noisy, yet there are melodies to grab on to a crisp drum attack to keep you in step. Pinhas is capable of pushing and molding noisy guitar runs in a quick pace or pulling back into an atmospheric and more ambient soundscape. If you are not a fan, these long explorations may get a little tedious, but there is always enough going on for me. The drums also create a musical base that keeps my listening more attentive than usual. Pinhas creates an environment where you can balance active and passive listening and feel fully involved with the emotional output from this music. It is a fine line for me and he succeeded walking it in perfect balance. As a side note, he even had me wondering whether I prefer his simple instrumental titles such as "Drone" and "Moog" to that of, say Kinski's "The Wives of Artie Shaw" or Mogwai's "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead". You make the call, I'll just drift a little while more.

See Richard Pinhas at the Atlas Performing Center this Thursday, October 3rd.

Anthemic hardcore will never die. Bands like Save Your Breath will always come along to bring their energy and conviction, rearrange the melodies, and play fast and tight. Thankfully this Welsh band has enough songwriting and vocal harmonies to bring more pop elements into the songs without going all emo on us. Still, I would recommend this more for the younger set. I have seen it all before and it just is not fresh enough for me anymore. If I had to single out a song to get a good grasp of the band at their best, it would be "Find a Way". Start there and if five songs later it still sounds lively, then go all in for Save Your Breath.

This EP features five rather unique songs surrounded by a bit of electronic mood setting. They range from rave-up crazed folk rock of the Akron/Family variety to contemplative folk of.. well, a whole lot of bands. There is instrumental folktronica of sorts and even things covering all points between. There is not enough here for me to really get a feel for who Softly, Dear truly is. There is enough here to see that they have a lot of interesting ideas delivered with strong vocals, solid instrumentation, and clever arranging to make for a band to keep an eye on. Plus, the live show looks like it could be very interesting. They are from the lovely Eau Claire, Wisconsin (I used to live near there), so hopefully they can manage their way east some time soon.

This band has somehow managed to marry the current style of Americana indie rock with early 1970s progressive music. There is even a little funk in the keyboards at times. But the most interesting aspect is way guitars and brass will explode in gigantic proportions to the intimate vocals and core of the songs. They somehow manage this style over thirteen songs and still manage to create subtle gasps as they blast away for a few bars only to pull back into an intimate song. Akron/Family is capable of this style, but Typhoon keeps it a little tighter and grounded, maybe a bit too much in some songs as the lesser songs lack the sparkle. Still, the highlights are always just around the corner with this band and the songs would not be too bad if they were merely busked by a singer with an acoustic guitar. I am not sure how this plays live, but they certainly put some thought and creativity into this recording.

You can try it and see at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel Wednesday night, October 2nd, but only if you have a ticket.

Songs to try out first:

Artificial Light - There is fireplace style storytelling at work with the vocals, but some big progressive sound coming in late. Big and intimate?

Young Fathers - Lots of diversity in this song with some excellent backing vocals contrasting nicely.

Dreams of Cannibalism - Just a fine song with a fine title.

Three short songs here, but what is lacking in volume is made up in density. The production on this lively pop-rock outing is top notch, beginning with the driving bass, crisp drums, spacey guitar, and lush vocals. It all fits together well as it journeys over well travelled terrain. The brightness in the guitars and throbbing bass combination is enough to win me over for further listening. I am interested enough to keep the name Yonder in the Rolodex of my mind. They are Seattle based, so it may take a while to get to east, so stay tuned.

This is pop music that rocks just enough. Although Yuck is from England, it is not as deeply into the lush Brit-Pop as I imagined. It is lush, as the vocals are smooth and high pitched, but the music has a more straightforward rock tone with some lighter touches on percussion and some brass coloring. There are clear favorites for me, but even the lesser cuts show an intelligent brand of writing and move me less due to the simplicity of the style. When they nail it on the better cuts, they prove to be crafty songsmiths that can cut through stereotypes more with skill than audacious originality. They just have that certain feel of a band that can be really successful.

Songs to try out first:

Out of Time - Or perhaps timeless pop melody integrated perfectly here.

Lose My Breath - A bit more guts in this song, with no less of a pop hook.

Middle Sea - The smoothness in delivery is still there, but this one rocks.