Sarmust - This is the only band in tonight's local showcase that I have not yet seen... much the fool I have been. The exciting beginning chant over light keyboards and percussion reminds me of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, not exactly something expected from any opening band. I am almost disappointed when the guitar chimes in and the trio moves to a rock format with such an amazing beginning. Yet there should not be any reason for me to lack confidence that these guys would deliver further creativity in their music. And they did. The vocal work was somewhere between Omar Souleyman and Bob Theil, powerful expressive and at times mystical. The drummer knew how to pull back or deliver a rock beat when needed. The keyboardist had good variety with a subtle style to enhance the songs. Guitar work was jagged, rocking, and even funky at times. Simply great vibrant music that will push boundaries of even those of us who are well versed in world music. Do not stand still, go see this band the next time out.
The NRIs - And now to the known bands for me--known, respected and always enjoyed. The NRIs have solid rock songs but offer so much more to the two guitar, rhythm section lineup. Specifically, there is violin, keyboards, sax, and both male and female backup vocals to make for a full exciting set of arrangements. They use all these instruments judiciously as warm songs always come forth even with so many interesting components within. It is always a pleasure to see this band and it was no different tonight.
Black Checker - Speaking of pleasure, this wild power pop trio should be putting a smile on your face if you are listening at all. They always conjure up great pop hooks, but are adding even more energy and speed to their set. The speed is great as they maintain clarity and inventiveness keeping it all under control, perhaps teetering at the edge at times (which is more fun than never teetering at all). A recent drummer change seems to be pushing things along nicely. Everything is crisp, fun with a sense of classic pop music evident even as it is revved up to punk rock speeds and beyond. I should point out that the sonic and lighting improvements at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel aided this show as well. Soundman Dennis is just getting started with the changes and it should make for even steadier and more inventive experiences at this fine venue. And when the Rock'n'Roll Hotel delivers a great local showcase like this (as they often do), you owe it to yourself to give DC bands some of your time, as you will find it well spent.
Quote of the Night: from Black Checker after their opening cut... "That was a fast song." ...as they went into their second cut which was just about as fast.