Monday, February 29, 2016

RECORD REVIEWS - February 2016

Mmmm-mmmm, this one takes me back to the innocent days of punk rock and pop music finding a great combination post-Ramones, but not too post. It is such a good feeling to think that you can feel that innocence again, but if a band is good enough, it can be done. And Adult Books has all the requirements starting with gutsy crisp guitar lines and through on to the warm romantic vocal tones.

Songs to start with first:

Casual Wrecks - The opener is snappy and crisp with restrained Brit styled vocals pulling it back a tad.

I Don’t Think I Can Stay - The guitar is like Greg Sage covering the Saints ‘Erotic Neurotic’ with a more power pop vocal. This rocks.

Lobby Talks - Ultrafuzzy guitar and a great beat almost had me bouncing around the apartment.

If you like that 80’s styled cool Anglo dance rock approach, you may just take a shine to Brooklyn’s Bootblacks. Frankly, this sound is a bit too dated for me, although this band does it well. So if you are tired of revisiting your Psychedelic Furs albums and the like, you may want to give these fresh cuts a listen. The mannered vocals are everything you would expect with a breathy romantic feel. The beats are punchy and the washed out guitars and keys keep things moving. It grew on me a bit, I have to admit, probably due to the slightly increasing edginess in the music as the tens songs flowed out.

Alan Chapell used to be in a well received band called All the Voices. But he is here now, not quite on his own. He and producer and former Talking Head, Jerry Harrison, have assembled a strong professional band to create a big and well produced sound. I was not sure about this during the first song as it sounded almost slick enough to be a Mickey Thomas album or worse. But eventually the better songs rose to the surface and the big sound was matched by a heartfelt song. This is the kind of Top-40 material that hearkens back to days of old where not everyone who liked alternative scenes could agree on how far to go toward the pop market. I can see Chapell attracting some of that crowd, but not all of it.

Songs to start with first:

The Game - A snappy cut, well arranged, and with a compelling hook.

Heroes - Maybe not the best titled original song due to recent events, nevertheless it is catchy.

Iggy - Not the Stooges or the other one, but a snazzy brass filled rocker.

This is a tricky record. It starts kind of slow, but then lays on some incredibly excellent songs and even the lesser songs start working a bit of magic. It has a laid back pop approach, but there are firm rock moves along the poppier side of post punk with a nod to club music. But ultimately this is composed pop rock that is warm and just jarring enough to generate interest among those of us that discriminate a bit. This was a pleasant surprise and a pleasant experience. Imagine UB40 with a couple of Banshees.

Songs to start with first:

Old Casino - Better this than an old casio, the gentle hook worked, the guitar had additional bite.

A Well Adjusted Man - The Kinks may have had a more respected man, but the adjustments here create for a mysterious and sometimes stunning achievement.

Killer Swan - They had me the dual guitar opening.

Electronica is starting to turn the corner for me. Instead of dreading a review of the latest sparse dance album by a computer programmer, I am beginning to hear some of the better material. Crew Love along with cohorts, Wolf Lamb, Soul Clap, Pillow Talk, and others have crafted not so much a compilation LP, but a smooth and cohesive work. They share a lot of members, so this is hardly shocking. What is shocking was the skills they have in balancing classic Rhythm and Blues based songwriting within a strong electronica context. This works so well and the songs all flow and work off of each other. Ergo, I have no song recommendations, but just a recommendation to check out the whole album if this is an area you wish to explore. I am happy to have made the unusual journey.

This is quite likable, which is not a backhanded compliment. There is nothing overly heavy, but Deep Sea Diver’s brand of pop music flows, has edge, and great melodies. The production is top notch and the choices they make enhance the drama of the song and quality lead vocal work. What is really classy about this band is the way they vary their style enough to make things interesting, but allow the vocal work to tie it all together in a very composed and cohesive album. So even if this is not your favorite style, it is very impressive. And if you like slightly edgy pop music already, dive in deep.

Songs to start with first:

Wide Awake - A great flowing beat, almost Neu! and a cool melodic but edgy vocal line.

Great Light - They take a dream pop approach here and succeed where many ‘dream pop only’ bands fail.

It Takes a Moment - The band at their most ferocious.

Expect the unexpected is a good way to approach many artists, and Bill Frisell is one such artist. This time around the talented genre twisting guitarist has covered 16 songs from movies and television. There are multiple cuts from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘Psycho’, and three wonderful cuts from Morricone’s score to ‘Once Upon a Time on the West’. it is impossible to improve on the originals from the Morricone-Leone partnership, but Frisell shows how you can offer a great personal take on these brilliant soul embedded passages. He uses strings, female vocals—you can’t do a James Bond theme without that, now can you? There is everything from the 1 1/2 minute Bonanza theme, which is memorable fun to the 9 1/2 minutes of ‘The Godfather’. This was not just a fun set of ‘oh yeah I remember that’ songs, but good musical interpretations of a variety of themes, held together by skill and taste.

In my review duties for Folkworld, I get at least two dozen blues bands every year from every corner of the globe. Yes, the Mississippi delta provided essential music that so much of the great rock’n’roll is based on—everyone knows that. But I find it hard to find ways of analyzing the thousand bands that take a purist approach and only add a few twists. The technique varies a bit, the songwriting more, and the vocals may be more original than the usual growl. King Mud’s take on an original approach is to occasionally come up with a snappy rock song like ‘Arthur’s Hooked’ as opposed to the more traditionally based songs, which they play well. The snarling vocals, pumping rhythm section, and gritty guitars all work well with the occasional keyboard and harmonica. And the songs vary just enough from trad electric blues to bluesy rock. So throwing out the Russian Judges low score and the Japanese Judge’s high score, the rest of us have these guys in medal contention because they have just enough of that cutting edge that makes this stuff still work in 2016.

We have the first release from a fine Winnipeg band which stretches out dream pop into long psychedelic droners. The female vocals are just ethereal enough, but not as much as most dream pop bands. The guitars warble and echo aplenty and there are some stronger moments that liven this up for me. Songwise, there are a couple that stand out just enough, but it mostly about atmosphere at this point and it is an interesting enough atmosphere to take a deep breath and see what you think. I think I’ll come back for more some time.

And I will try to take in their show when they hit the DC9 on April 18th. Keep it tuned here and I’ll be reminding you.

Songs to start with first:

Summer Smog - The opener creates a smoggy atmosphere with large vocals cutting through to find the oxygen.

This is the Place - …where they stretch it out in a melodic drone.

There is no Substance Between - True of the lesser songs, but this one has some wild psycho-surf guitar as a nice surprise.

Gary Lucas has played with a wild array of people from Captain Beefheart to Leonard Bernstein and oh so many more. Just off the heels of a fine collaboration with Jann Klose, Cuneiform Records is releasing his record where he collaborates with Betty Boop. Basically, Sarah Stiles interprets the original ‘Betty Boop’ vocals from Mae Questel who was also the voice of Olive Oyl in addition to portraying the great animated flapper, Betty Boop. Lucas assembled a real jazzy rhythm section and a host of brass players and arrangers for him to lay down a firm setting for his guitar runs. But all the musicians get room to work as they match the style of Betty Boop’s era with their flashy solos. Questel’s vocals are great as she can do the overly cutesy Boop voice and smooth it out into a strong and smooth delivery worthy of any night club singer of the day. And the band has that same subtle old timey jazz feel that flows into more modern moves. You don’t need me to tell you how different this is, but I really think it will be a fun listen even if it sounds like it comes out of the left field of your listening ballpark. This was great fun for me, an old Betty Boop fan.

Amazingly, you can see this live this Saturday at AFI Silver theater with the animation on screen.

These eight songs all have an easy going pace with tones on the spacier side of indie rock and vocals that have a touch of emotion, cut with a touch of slacker pace. I hear traces of Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen in the vocals, but there is something off putting as well. And the songs aren’t anywhere in that league, although that is pretty much expected of most albums. The main problem here is the ever present lackadaisical pace that slows the body down, but doesn’t send it off to sleep in dreams, but leave in a frustrating inert state of inaction. “Roll It” was almost an exception.This is not a place I want to be.

You can see them live at the DC9 on Friday March 11th.

This electonica EP is a bit more experimental at times, although there are still enough melodies and pop stylings to interest more than the arty set. I liked the chants and percussion in ’N4’ best as that was a bit more challenging. Overall, this ends up in between catchy and different, so with feet in both camps for these six songs, Lance Neptune’s footsteps could go off in any direction from here.

Although far too steeped in the electronic pop world for my liking, Porches nonetheless is able to swing me over to their side. They simply have the ability of creating a pleasant atmosphere and nailing a simple steady pop hook with careful singing, not too over the top and not too distant. This won’t be a record I go back to much if at all, but if you like this brand of pop music, this has a lot to offer for you.

You can see them live at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Wednesday, March 9th.

Songs to start with first:

Underwater - The pop hook slowly unveils as the vocal line enchants throughout.

Be Apart - Infectious as any of the 12 songs here.

Car - A more brisk beat and flow in this catchy song.

Tortoise is a well respected post rock outfit that has had a lot of success over the years. Somehow they have never quite grabbed me the way I would have expected. But this album has some of the skills that Tortoise showcases that have led the band to a large following over the years. The middle is a little overly ambient for me, but the beginning and ending songs have a lot of bold moves showing the band’s strength, power, and clever thoughts. This makes for excellent backing music, as long as you don’t mind your attention being diverted to their sharpest songs.

You can catch Tortoise on Saturday, March 19th at the big stage of the Black Cat.

Songs to start with first:

Ox Duke - This cut has that Germanic feel that takes me back to my youth and still works today.

Rock On - A great restrained version of the David Essex hit, also well entrenched in my memories of youth.

Yonder Blue - The second cut with vocals, this has a soft psyche pop vibe that is quite pleasant.

These twelve songs are on the slippery side after first listen. They don’t fit comfortably into compartmentalization, which is often a good thing. When they work, it is all good here on this album—and that is about 3/4 of the time. The rest of the time is just a bit too slacker for me. But more often than not he either relaxes into a groove or pushes forward with subtlety and panache. There are old school funky guitars and brass as well as steady rock moves throughout. The energy is controlled, but the arrangements are varied and wide open, creating an interesting and engaging listening experience.

Songs to start with first:

Juggling Knives - A bit of swagger and more toughness in the vocals helps push this forward.

Texas Mist - This has a laconic sense of mystery working here.

Looking Up Past Midnight - Lounge room funk, quite transportive.


Garage rock is always popular, but I particularly like the Two Tens brand as they bring a significant element of 1977 punk style into their sound and rhythm. The vocals have a snarl but carry the melody well—sort of a balance between Pete Shelly and John Lydon. The guitars sound great, the drummer and bass really cook up a rhythm, full of manic pace when called upon. You still get that sixties feeling throughout and they have crafted some fine songs here. This is definitely a cut above, at least for me with my late seventies punk rock roots deeply within my being.

Songs to start with first:

Scene - The opener sets the scene. You learn what you will be getting.

Dreams - Catchy song with hearty vocals.

Rush Out - Frenzied punk beats—a riot!

When I heard the fuzzy guitar tone of the first chord, I was hooked. There is something about that sound. A fuzzy guitar lead will take an innocent and obscure folk album from 1970 from being worth $50 to $500, so it is not just me who digs this sound. But there is nothing folky about Yuck even when they slow it down in their easy going numbers like ‘Like a Moth’. More often there are power pop hooks with a gutsy fuzzy abandon that just does enough to stay in control or jangly pop rockers that retain the solid hooks. They keep you guessing with each and every song, perhaps too much for those that like a safer album. But their creativity with classic forms works well for me and this is one I will go back to often.

You will have to wait a while, but put a big YUCK on your Calendar on April 15th when they play the Rock'n'Roll Hotel.

Songs to start with first:

Cannonball - Nothing wildly original, other than their personality, just a great snappy song.

Stranger Things - Proof that the guitars can jangle as well as fuzz out.

I’m OK - The heavy and light contrasts are outstanding in this well written song.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Emmy the Great - Moonlight Mask -- DC9 - Feb 27 2016

Moonlight Mask - There is a big crowd here on a Saturday night, which does not bode well when listening to a solo artist. Sure enough, there is a ton of conversation between the music and my ears as I move around to find the least annoying spot, not that there are many choices with this crowd. I was interested as the first song had an excellent vocal melody as he deftly transitioned around the treble clef with spacey guitar and a backing track of simple drum machine and bass. But as the set went on, the songs became less interesting and worse, incomplete. He offered fragments and rather unfocused ideas for much of the remaining set, so this time I won't blame the audience for being more interested in their conversations. I can be casual at home.
Emmy the Great - The audience comes to attention for this quiet and talented trio. Emmy (Emma Lee Moss) is the songwriter, lead singer and plays various keyboards and guitars with a guitarist and a drummer who plays in the Wye Oak fashion of using one hand for drums and percussion and another for a keyboard mostly doing the basslines. It is very careful and mannered sound that unfolds into lightly lively textures that are a perfect backdrop for the thoughtful vocals that carry just enough of a pop hook to pull you in. There is richness throughout these songs and sounds, even as it seems light on the surface. Normally this is the music I prefer in the quiet late hours at home, but Emmy and the band have captivated and engaged the audience. That happened even as most of her early set featured her new album, which is not quite out yet. She promised and delivered some older favorites at set's end. This was a lovely set and I am looking forward to hearing her album this month. My guess is that it will get many, many listens this year.

Facebook Grab of the Night: A new way to see a very old album cover.

Simon and Garfunkel mustache head album cover photo simon-and-garfunkel-stache.gif

Saturday, February 27, 2016


March looks busy (and I can only put up so much, so check out recommendations at the right as every few days go by). Let's go.

Lone Bellow will not actually be the lone bellow or even a lone bellow, but go hear 'em anyway at the 9:30 Club on Tuesday, March 1st.

SWMRS dgpdls into the Black Cat on Tuesday, March 2nd.

March 3rd features a unique Color Palette set at the Smithsonian Art Museum appropriately enough, along with a kickoff show previewing the upcoming Kingman Bluegrass Festival at the Hamilton. Or just go see Menage a Garage at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel.

Come see the great Kohoutek along with Boat Burning and two more at Union Arts (while you can). It will be great.

Reed Turchi heads to Gypsy Sally's on Saturday, March 5th. But there is also Prince Rama at Comet, Quilt at DC9, and too many more to name.

Ra Ra Riot will feature more of the former and hopefully less of the latter (as they usually do) at the 9:30 Club on Sunday the 6th.

Rob Crow flies into the Black Cat on Tuesday, March 8th.

Porches are not just a place to play music but a band playing music at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Wednesday March 9th.

Mount Moriah (and Skylar Gudasz) bring the mountain to the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Friday, March 11th. Or check out Cian Nugent at the DC9 that same night.

Those Darlings make up a snow cancellation at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Sunday, March 13th. Make it worth their while.

Fruit Bats flutter into the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Monday March 14th.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Color Palette - The Kickback - Technicians -- DC9 - Feb 25 2016

by John Miller

Technicians - An ambitious start for the Technicians; smoke machine and feedback. Their clean cut appearance is counter intuitive as the doom and gloom begin early. The smoke machine continues to cough at interment bursts and the room begins to fill out. It's an interesting beginning to the night; it's a sound I haven't heard for some time nor is it one that is duplicated often. They remind me of a mid-nineties band, a mid level band that had some success but we're never selling out stadiums. Something that should have been on the soundtrack to the wholly unnecessary sequel to The Crow; The Crow: City of Angels. It's telling as that particular time in 'alternative' radio was confusing and forgettable at best and I feel that sometimes The Technicians can be somewhat confusing as their sound, while proficient, can be all over the place; overtly excessive base lines, cow bells, uninspired guitar solos, screaming vocals followed by more measured outbursts. They are taking, borrowing, and grabbing from tons of resources and I am not quite sure if it has coalesced into their own unique sound yet. That said those influences are certainly interesting choices and with some experience I am sure it will he just that, interesting.

The Kickback - Lots less bells and whistles for Chicago natives, The Kickback. No smoke machine but with the time it took to set up, it felt like it there would be thousands. Lots of down time. This is fun. Nothing bad can come of good crowd work. Tonight there have been inquiries about anabolic steroids, declarations of pushups, introductions to mothers, and references to Twin Peaks. What more could you ask for? This comfort shines through in their music. It's loud and soft all at the same time. Hints of The Police and Helmet. Occasionally a keyboard, tucked away in the corner, spits out harmonies.

I have seen bands fail at getting an apathetic crowd to respond with simple acknowledgement. Color me super impressed when The Kickback convinces everyone on the floor to dance. That said I guess they most remind me of a less angsty Cursive; never taking themselves too seriously and actually enjoying playing for a receptive (and still dancing) crowd.

Color Palette - Another impossibly long intermission. I'm not faulting anyone, I just want to complain, but at least the smoke machine returned. I guess it looks cool but at some point it just seems unnecessary. I wonder what, if any, advantages to playing with a smoke machine are? I don't know what I can really add in regards to David'searlier review from last year as he nailed it on the head; warm. The music is inviting and familiar. The sound design and keyboard choices really help with that feeling of warmth; the pads are not dissimilar to a worn in couch, a sense of security. Guitar reminds me of Failure; dark, melodic, but with an unmistakably pop undertone. There is some Cure here too and that’s never a bad thing. Considering how young Color Palette is, it's amazing how polished they are. They put on an experienced, measured, and most importantly good set tonight. 
Quote of the Night - from The Kickback:
"Well we are trying to solve people's relationship problems in between songs"
"This song is about heroin addiction"

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Sister Hazel - Christian Lopez Band - Brad Ray -- State Theatre - Feb 19 2016

Brad Ray - One voice with acoustic guitar: a fine combination, but quite a challenge for an opening act at the massive State Theatre. It did not help that I was in the back end of the large balcony with dozens of conversations between myself and the music. But the PA got the songs through just well enough. Ray's voice is more the key than the guitar playing, which is rather perfunctory strumming. There were a couple of songs that had some nice surprise moments in them and all the songs seemed pleasant and thoughtful. But I would need to see this in a more up close and personal setting to really lock into the feeling.

The Christian Lopez Band - This is the second time I have seen Mr. Lopez and his band and he is still not old enough to drink. The West Virginia native is not only swiftly becoming a favorite around these parts, but is busy spreading his music throughout the country by opening for tonight's headliner, Steve Forbert, and others. He and his band are more than ready for it as the rootsy songs easily connect with a variety of audiences. He has a crack rhythm section and a banjoist, who adds female vocals to Lopez' guitar and lead vocals. It is a strong resilient sound that never quite gets overly country, but touches on bluegrass, folk rock, and rock'n'roll. He even straps on an electric guitar and cuts a tasty solo during a couple of songs later in the set. The banjo gets a focus at times, which excites the crowd and offers a further diversity during the set. The vocal work is top notch and the professionalism is quite advanced. I particularly liked how the band extended the opening passage to almost drone lengths while Lopez calmly waited until they got his monitor turned on. The crowd enjoyed the set and this band looked like they could play all night, but more was to come.
Sister Hazel - This is my first time connecting with this long running band. I only stayed for a bit, as the club was full of a whole lot of fans of all ages. You could see why this connects as the band exhibits a catchy strong rocking rootsy sound with plenty of warmth in the vocals and melodies. Guitars rock hard, so it makes for a great live act. It is a bit down the middle of a long highway for me, but I will give them credit for delivering the goods. I would be surprised if I heard anything other than the fans leaving well satisfied tonight.

Record Collecting Update - My record collection has been whittled down to 1,100 records from the 2,200+ that I had a year ago. Drop me a line if you are a psychedelic folk fan and I'll let you know what I have. Maybe in a few years, I will be following Aunt Fritzi's lead with what is left (Was she married to Mitch Miller?)...

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Unknown Mortal Orchestra -- 9:30 Club - Feb 17 2016

by John Miller

Out of four potential shows this week, only one was successful in regards to being able to review. Whether it be prior engagements, miscommunication, or outright denial, this week as been particularly trying. Tonight was no exception, however after things were quickly ironed out, entry was obtained to this evening's show at the 9:30 Club. Unfortunately due to an uncharacteristically busy Wednesday night, I was unable to catch the opening act.

There is comfort in the familiar; smells, late night snacks, music. From the opening piece, Unknown Mortal Orchestra is just that, familiar. That's not to say it feels trite or well worn; familiar doesn't always have to be bourgeois. The music builds, and vocals feel secondary. Layers of sound built on classic rhythmic patterns; building the frame before the roof. The undercurrent of the bass, coalescing with the synthesizer is a dangerous combination; familiar enough to lead the most uncoordinated to believe it's okay to try and dance. The drums too, are exceptionally steady; leading the marathon.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra is a band that is deeply seeped in nostalgia. It's dangerous; the comfort that the past provides often leads to complacency, however if properly harnessed, the familiar can be a powerful tool. There is always this sense that the synth has one of its many oscillators turned to 1978, that they lean a little too much on the occasional jam, that structurally, songs aren't challenging. But then you realize that you've been sitting here, engaged for the last hour and a half. Yes, while it is certainly familiar, they are never beholden to the past, just familiar enough to make you feel comfortable enough to make you think you can sing along. While Unknown Mortal Orchestra may have their collective head looking over their shoulder, tonight they march forward.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Snow, ice, and some other business have me running behind, but here are some of the shows on my radar screen for the rest of February:

Soul Rebels bring it to the 9:30 Club tomorrow, Thursday, February 18th.

The Christian Lopez Band last played the tiny Tree House Lounge last year, but return to the huge State Theatre in Falls Church. Find out why this Friday, the 19th.

Skylar Spence turns eyes groundward at the 9:30 Club on Sunday, February 21st.

Will Big Pink bring music from Bob Dylan? Find out at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Wednesday, February 24th.

Ty Segall is back again and there is always something new going on. Find out what at the 9:30 Club on the evening of Thursday, February 25th. Or head over to the U Street Music Hall for Pop Etc.

See if Emmy the Great can live up to her name at the DC9 on Saturday February 27th.

The Editors put on a tight set at the 9:30 Club on Sunday the 28th.

February 29th only comes around every four years, so celebrate it at the DC9 for Radiation City and Deep Sea Diver.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Renaissance -- Birchmere - Feb 12 2016

Renaissance - This is the first Renaissance performance for me since the sudden death of long time guitarist and writer, Michael Dunford. Fortunately, Annie Haslam has the strength to carry on and retains much of the excellent band that has guided the Renaissance resurgence in the 21st Century. Rave Tesar is pivotal as pianist and conductor of sorts to keep things bang on time. Tom Brislin adds keyboard and synthesizer runs and this double keyboard attack still allows the band to recreate the complexity of their music on stage with deceptive ease. Frank Pagano is also around on drums and Leo Traversa is fairly new on bass. Mark Lambert replaces Dunford on guitar and he has worked with Annie Haslam in her band, so there is at least a little comfort with this change.
But of course, it is Annie Haslam that keeps the long time fans coming back time after time. When I chatted with her last week, I was most curious as how she has been able to retain her amazing voice for 45 years now. You can read about that and more here, but in a nutshell it is clean living and operatic training. She still has that supreme power that she lets flow from a delicate style with an even keel, smooth transition. Annie Haslam believes in flow when she paints and it is also fully evident when she sings. She knows her voice and moves to and from the microphone to assist with the fading moments. There is absolutely nothing lacking in her or her band, so a Renaissance show in 2016 is every bit as vibrant and energetic as the shows of old. You can't say that too often.

I also enjoyed the set list tonight, although if they could have snuck in a couple more favorites, I or the large crowd would not have complained. When I last saw them, they did my two favorite albums in entirety, which although longer and including classics and odd favorites, really did not connect with me as much as I had hoped. Tonight, it was a great mingling of old with several new songs that hold up just as well to anything of old. No polite applause for the new stuff, while you wait to cheer for an upcoming classic. Every note clicked to tonight from the opening piano from the first song on the fist album with Annie Haslam to the long time classic encore, Ashes are Burning. Renaissance are as great as ever and Europe is going to be in for a real treat as they head over there for an extended tour with Curved Air.

Set List: Prologue; Carpet of the Sun; Immortal Beloved; Grandine il Vento; Symphony of Light; Sounds of the Sea; Cry to the World; Mother Russia; A Song for All Seasons; Encore: Ashes are Burning.

Facebook photo grab of the Day: If you like cats, I recommend the whole series of Business Cat as the subtle humor works over the full length of all panels.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ezra Furman - BRNDA -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Feb 9 2016

BRNDA - This fine local four-piece has made its presence known over the past few years and tonight showed that they still have the energy and spirit to create a vibrant set. They sometimes are a little to quirky for me, but that is more a personal preference, as many bands have succeeded with odd components (and with me as well). The core is solid rock music that has some of the style of the Talking Heads done to more of a Feelies pace and rhythm. When they display a well written song, they do sound pretty brilliant and their humor in songs like 'Serious Band' really clicks. You can't go too wrong with this band on any bill, but it was even more of a match tonight and this crowd is revved up for more.
Ezra Furman - Not so much quirky as wildly eclectic is the way of this Chicago songwriter. The songs are a wild mix starting off with Link Wray's Rumble chords and working into various forms of old and new rock'n'roll. His band, 'the Boyfriends' is key as the rhythm section can handle all kinds of classic forms through varied pace and playful runs. The saxophonist adds that old time rock'n'roll touch throughout, while the guitarist/keyboardist is quite busy keeping things fresh and vibrant. Furman has that awkward energy that keeps you attentive and he and the backing vocalists work all ends of the scale. And just when I sense a steady feel of that old time rock'n'roll, he does a Nirvana cover followed by a burning punk pop song sounding just like the Dickies. As great as that was, he moves into his slowest song of the set to follow before rocking out some more. The club was half full but packed up front and digging just about every move. Furman has toured quite a bit lately, which is wise as he is growing his audience pretty quickly. Rightly so.
GoFundMe story of the Night: As fun a time as the two bands provided tonight, I have to bring up yet another sad story to what has become a rather miserable 2016 for music fans watching so many great musicians hit the obituary page. Thankfully this sad event is well short of that and hopefully will be for a long time, but legendary DC front man, John Stabb has been diagnosed with stomach cancer. His classic work with Government Issue has reverberated around the globe and he still has been as stylish and challenging as ever with his latest band, History Repeated. I hope everyone goes to the 'John Stabb Boycott Cancer' GoFundMe page that has been set up to help his family deal with the expenses and challenges ahead. It is off to a great start, but I am sure much more can and will be added to the total. And I hope to see him back on stage some time soon, where he has given all of us so many fabulous memories. Get well soon, John!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Interview with Annie Haslam of Renaissance

Interview with Annie Haslam -- February 3, 2016

Renaissance is a band with a long career and who has carved out a space in the progressive music world that is quite unique with their fusion of classical music, rock moves, pastoral folk passages, and even some forays into jazz or poppier areas. Annie Haslam is the band's dulcet voice that can quietly invite you in for a cup of tea or knock down a mountain when she lets it fly. She honored me with a few moments of her time before she and the band embark on another tour. There are just a few US dates this time around with the key one for those of us in the DC area being this Friday, February 12th at the Birchmere. Be there, they are so very worth it.
I dedicate this interview to my late friend from my high school days, Steve Andrews. I had many musical friends from that era, but we all had different favorites and Steve was the guy I would talk about Renaissance with. I miss those innocent days of discovery, but we are so fortunate that so many musicians left that keep the music going strong (along with some less innocent discoveries for the present).

ANNIE HASLAM - Oh, Hi David.

DAVID HINTZ - Hi. So how are you doing today.

AH - I just picked up my phone and it was dead, but you found me so that’s good.

DH - Oh, that was it.

AH - But I’m ok. I am in Pennsylvania and it is getting misty. There is a lot of rain coming. I’ve got about two feet of snow in the garden and it is probably going to flood around here. We’ll see (laughs).

DH - Yes, well I am just a few hours south of you and you are going to get the rain.

AH - Looks like a big band coming across, right?

DH - Yeah… did you get out of the snowstorm alright? We had a big one here.

AH - Yeah, I think we had 24 inches.

DH - That is what we had, too, and worse in the suburbs.

AH - A bit scary, but more than anything I worry about losing electricity.

DH - Yes. I lived on a mountain west of Colorado and that was a huge fear (laughs).

AH - Oh my gosh.

DH - But I was lucky. Although it constantly flickered on and off, I never lost it for more than half a day.

AH - When we had (hurricane) Sandy here, I was actually lucky only losing power for 36 hours. Some people lost it for weeks.

DH - But 36 is a test.

AH - It was.

DH - (after the usual explanations of methodology and DC Rock Live and Folkworld)… I am really curious that you have been there a while now, but how did you choose Pennsylvania for home?

AH - I married a man from Pennsylvania and I loved it so much in the area, that is why I stayed here. I go back to England for visits but can’t wait to get back here (laughs).

DH - So this will be where you stay?

AH - Oh good gosh yes. I have been here for about 25 years I think.

DH - Wow and I also hear that the northeast part of the United States is probably your largest fanbase, at least US-wise.

AH - Yes, it always was. As a band in the 1970s, New York was our biggest market and then it switched to Philadelphia. Sometimes we spent too much time there. We did go to the west coast and midwest but nowhere else. We should of done more, but it is what it is and the fans are still here.

DH - You were a favorite of mine in high school and I grew up in Ohio, but I did not get to catch Renaissance live until recent years when I’ve lived out here in DC. What about the rest of the world, are there hot spots in various countries?

AH - Yeah, Japan is where we do very well. Since Michael Dunford and I resurrected the band in 2009, and you may know or not, he passed away in 2012 unexpectedly.

DH - Yeah, I do.

AH - We were just building the band back up again, coming over here doing several east coast tours with Jon Michelle our manager from the seventies. Then we went to Japan and also went to South Korea. I have been to Brazil myself with my own band. We never went with Renaissance, though. It is a shame that the economy was pretty good there a couple of years ago and then last year it fell apart again. It makes it very difficult to take a six-piece band over there.

DH - Right.

AH - And then we toured Europe again last April and we’re going again this April. The band had not played there for over 30 years and it was wonderful. We recorded the show in London and the DVD from that show came out.

DH - Yes, it is just out and I definitely want to check that out. And you have the grinds of touring for a short US tour, but your European leg is pretty extensive and you are going with Curved Air.

AH - Yes!

DH - Was that by your invite, as I believe you are friends?

AH - Well, actually no, not friends, although we know each other, but I don’t think we played on the same bill in the seventies.

DH - Oh, alright.

AH - Obviously we know them and we were managed by the same manager at one point. The last tour we did was of fairly small venues except for the larger one in London. Actually, we played a big one in Israel and Portugal, but in order to go back and not do smaller venues again, when you have another act with you in a similar genre, you know it is a good bill and more inviting. We can get larger venues and get more people and that’s the idea, so that why that was done. I am looking forward to it.

DH - I wish you could have talked them into coming here.

AH - Yeah….

DH - But I know the economy does not make it easy.

AH - I am not sure when they have been here.

DH - Yeah, I was curious, too, but they did not have the radio play when I was younger. I discovered them myself, much later in life and would love to see them, but… anyway, touring is going to be quite rigorous anyway and I understand you had some back problems a while back, which I also have that makes it difficult for me to even go to shows some times. Are you doing ok with that these days?

AH - I am doing ok now. It started off with breast cancer in ’93 and then I got osteoporosis very very quickly, which you know is what happens with breast cancer. And I had intravenous treatments for many years, but then after about eight years I thought I needed to give my body a rest from all this chemical stuff and I did, but I didn’t replace it. Anyway, when we were recording our new album, ‘Grandine il Vento’, I was in the studio and when you are in the studio and you are tired, you kind of slouch all over the place, you know (laughter), but all of a sudden I felt a terrible pain and I got a collapsed vertebra due to the osteoporosis getting bad. I had just overdone it. I am not a very strong woman and I’m only 5’ 2” and I tend to do things that a man should do. I do things without thinking. As a woman, I have to be more careful. And so the combination of doing the wrong things and the osteoporosis, I ended up in a back brace for nine months, 24 hours a day.

DH - Oooh, that’s serious.

AH - We managed to do five dates of a fifteen date tour. We were just building our career up. It was a shame as it was a great tour, but I just couldn’t travel more than a certain time in a vehicle because it would have been too much on my back. I was in agony. I would go on stage and the pain would start coming at 9:00 at night, just as we were coming on stage. It was just the whole time every night (laughs). As soon as I started singing I was fine, you know. I am now taking another treatment which is working well. What happened with you?

DH - My back locked up a while ago and I have a lower back vertebrae problem and sciatica with numbness. I can work through it, but I have tried to walk to a show and my back partially locked, so I had to hobble back home. I really try because I know how hard it is for bands to tour and if you guys work so hard, I will do what I can to get out there.

AH - Yeah. I mean the drummers have to work so hard. I feel bad for drummers actually.

DH - Some of my drummer friends have told me that they can’t do long sets anymore (as they age). And one of the other things that I look for, especially with bands that have been around a while is how the vocals stand up. And I have to say aside from maybe Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone of the Zombies, and maybe Leslie West, I can not think of any others that can the notes with passion and the fire that you have. So how do you take care of your voice?

AH - Ummm, well I don’t smoke.

DH - That’s good.

AH - And whenever I go out to the store, I wear a mask especially when I have tours coming up, because I can not get sick. I have to be very very careful what I do. And I like to drink a bit of wine now and then, but I don’t drink too much. I am just very careful really because I love it with a passion. Someone said to me not too long ago that it was amazing that your larynx hasn’t dropped. I asked what did they mean and they said that apparently with a woman’s voice, the larynx drops and the voice gets deeper.

DH - Really?

AH - Yeah, I had never heard of that in my life. But anyway I am obviously fortunate it hasn’t dropped (laughs). And I was trained by an opera singer.

DH - Oh yes, I had read that.

AH - I use my diaphragm and I don’t force myself, I don’t sing through my throat and scream out. If you are a screamer, there is a good chance you are going to lose voice and never get it back.

DH - And even people that have sung for a long time, they may lose their screams and high points, even if they retain the core of their voice. But you can still soar.

AH - Yeah and I love it with a passion. I think when you love something so much you just make it happen. I have a very strong spirit and that is how I feel, you know.

DH - Good, was that true in your youth even? Was singing always the goal?

AH - Oh no, actually. I got thrown out of the school choir when I was six for singing too loud (laughter). And then I never even thought of it. My father was an amateur comedian singer. My brother Michael ended up being managed by Brian Epstein. His voice was phenomenal.

DH - Oh, right.

AH - Yeah, his voice was a cross between Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley. You can even see a song on Youtube, Annie Haslam/Michael Haslam.

DH - I’ll do that.

AH - We did it in his living room with a karaoke machine. Oh, and I brought him over to perform with us in 1997 and it was the only time we ever performed together. We did the song ‘Somewhere Out There’ you know that song?

DH - Yes.

AH - And then, well he was the one who was the singer,my father was an amateur, and Michael was on Christmas shows for a while, on TV. I went to art school to be a dress designer in the mean time. And then I went into the business, but I had some designs stolen by this big company in London and it just threw me off it. I thought I am not doing this, and then I go into the music business! (laughter)

DH - Ha, oh yes, of course!

AH - Crazy, you go from one terrible business where people steal things to another one. But my boyfriend at the time heard me singing at a party and said that ‘your voice is special, you could be a singer’ and I thought you may be right, so I went to some talent competitions and I won them and I went for a job in a cabaret band in London and I got that job. Then the guitarist said ‘you’re wasted here. I have just seen an advert for a band and I think you should go for it. I don’t know what kind of music it is, but why don’t you go for it’. And I did and it was Renaissance.

DH - OK, that was the strange time when Renaissance changed all of its members between the second and third albums.

AH - Yeah, well we have changed a lot, you know. It is one of those things, but what does a name mean?

DH - Yeah that’s right. For bands that have been around a long time, so long as there is a focus somewhere and drive to do it.

AH - And not everyone can play this music either. You have to have the best musicians. It is not easy stuff. You give someone ‘Mother Russia’ and it’s like oh God and ‘A Song for All Seasons’ or ’Scheherazade’. We played ‘Scheherezade’ in 2013 and it was wonderful.

DH - Yes I really enjoyed that song especially. And I saw from that tour that you have been able to retain most of the members from previous tours because it could be a challenge finding the right musicians for this music for auditions.

AH - Oh yeah. It is usually by knowing other people and bringing in people we know. Rave Tesar has been with me for many years now and he’s the main keyboard player now. And we have Tom Brislin is joining us for a while—he was on our symphonic tour. And we have Frank Pagano on drums who joined us in 2009. We did have David J. Keys, but for health reasons he had to leave, so we now have Leo Traverssa (on bass) and taking Michael Dunford’s place is Mark Lambert who used to be in my solo band and he fits perfectly. He knew Michael. We started off in 2009 with the attention of bringing the whole band together, but it didn’t fit as there were too many restrictions and time that we just could not get it together for everybody to do it. But Mickey (Dunford) and I could do it, so we just took a deep breath and leased a space and things started to happen. John worked hard to get the shows for us and it was a success.
DH - The music business, as we joked about, is ever changing but has changed radically since you started. Is it tougher or easier now?

AH - Not easier. We are a heritage band now. Of course there are many more musicians that have web sites and can sell—the good thing is that if they know how to do it, they can build their own website and sell their stuff on line, go to kickstarter and get the money for an album and there are a lot of things you can do. Of course radio is so different now with DJs that can not choose what they want to play anymore. It is just big business, not like it used to be. So a lot of brilliant artists don’t get the light of day, with the exposure of the great station in the seventies. We were very fortunate. Well we were different; we are still different, there is not really anything like Renaissance. These guys can play the music wonderfully.

DH - Yes, you are not a perfect fit anywhere except under the big umbrella of progressive music.

AH- Yeah, yeah. But the music business is sad with kids that are growing up thinking everything should be free. That is hurting a lot of artists in their careers. That is sad. I am amazed I am still doing this to be quite honest, but I just love it. I don’t think I am finished yet, my voice is still quite strong. Although I am also painting, I don’t know if you read that I am a painter.

DH - Yeah and I believe you have even done some album covers.

AH - I have done a few of our album covers. But that is my big passion that I will be doing when I am not singing anymore. But right now since my voice is strong, this is what I am doing.

DH - Great, that is excellent. By the way, radio is what exposed me to Renaissance. I am curious if you have had any bad touring partners where the put you with the wrong band in the wrong venue?

AH-  Ehm, yeah, we had a couple of bands that didn’t really work… We were opening up for Fleetwood Mac in Rochester.

DH - Oh, which era of Fleetwood Mac?

AH - Early seventies and the place was packed with people that were there to see both bands. And we went on, and played ‘Ashes are Burning’ they pulled the plug right in the middle of it.

DH - Oh  geeze.

AH - Yeah, and the audience went crazy, they didn’t like that at all. And a couple of others that I don’t want to name names, but a couple of female singers in the business have been really, really nasty. Nasty, nasty, nasty (laughter). I mean I love to meet other female singers and I love to meet other musicians, female musicians, you know. But most of them just don’t want to know or do things to your face right in front of you. It is a shame.

DH - Yes, I have heard a lot about this and talked a lot of people and I think that is getting better in recent years, but not perfect.

AH - Yeah, maybe it is.

DH - When we were younger, it was like people ‘blowing someone off the stage’ and crews sabotaging things, like unplugging people and playing with volumes. I think it is improved.

AH - Yeah terrible stuff. Well we once did an odd show with Steve Martin.

Dh - Oh that is odd (laughs).

AH - Yeah, in California in a beautiful place and the audience went crazy, but he wouldn’t let us go on for an encore.

DH - Your recent album is something I plan to review as I have not heard it yet and the Renaissance DVD “Live at the Union Chapel” is the most recent release which is something I am looking forward to.

AH - Yes, these are on line at our site. Also if you should go to our Facebook pages, RenaissanceTouring and mine is AnnieHaslamArt, which has a lot of my painting on there, if you haven’t seen my paintings, that may interest you. I was over in England in July, editing the DVD, in the countryside of Cheshire—beautiful, and we did a music video out of the blue as it happened. I didn’t have the clothes for it, I would have planned it out better, but it is on the facebook page. The band aren’t on it because the band was over here, ha ha, just on my own over there, but it has Jodrell Bank, the telescope/big observatory in the background. It was shot in a barley field there, beautiful.

DH - I will. And now just a few more questions… I always curious even way back when, you used a non-playing lyricist, Betty Thatcher, for so many of your lyrics.

AH - Yes.

DH - What I find impressive and hard to do from someone on the outside is how the lyrics flowed so well within the music. How did you guys get that to work?

AH - Well, you know when I joined the band in 1971, Betty was already involved writing with Mickey and I can’t quite remember how they hooked up because she lived in Cornwall, which is where I lived in my teenage years and before I moved up to London to be a dress designer. I went to art school down there in Cornwall, too, but I never met her there. I met her when I joined the band. She is a poet, basically, and I don’t know other than we were all tuned into each other at the right time. The five people that were in the band, you know Jon Camp, John Tout, Terry Sullivan, myself, and Mickey Dunford. It was a special time. That was the time when we wrote some incredible, incredible music. And it was just that we were all connected including Betty. She was part of the flow and one album flowed into another. It was a natural progression from each album. Later on we did ‘A Song for All Seasons’ and we had a hit with ‘Northern Lights’. After that, there was a little bit of pressure on us to do something more commercial and we lost the flow I think a bit. And eventually we just lost everything and went completely the wrong way. But Betty was like I feel when I am painting. I feel like I’m tuning in on a channel, channeling it from somewhere. I believe that Betty was the same, but with words.

DH - It just sounded so natural.

AH - Yeah, and with the new album, I was a bit concerned since I would never say I was anywhere near the talent Betty was, but it works with what I did. You’ll hear it. The first song is about Leonardo da Vinci and that may give you an idea.

DH - Do you anticipate writing further with Renaissance?

AH - Yes, we are hoping to. With the DVD out, I am doing everything now—I am basically managing the band as well at this point, so there are all kinds of different directions to go here, not musically, but different things to do. Redesigning the website… it is just one thing after another right now, but that is definitely in the cards… a turn of the cards, ha ha ha ha.

DH - (laughs) Yeah, it is a big turn for the long career you have had. A little throwback question if you will. Roy Wood is such an interesting character and he was briefly a member, but he worked with you some on your solo records. Do you have any stories about him?

AH - I was engaged to him and we lived together for four years. The guy is a genius. We are still in touch, we wrote to each other the other day. When he comes over, we meet up and have lunch or whatever. Yeah, he is a genius, there is no doubt about it. I never laugh so much in all my life when I am with him. He is such a character, he could have been a comedian. He uses that, you know, in his life and in his performances. And yet  he didn’t join the band, but did some work with us in Tuscany with us in 2001.

DH - Oh, ok.

AH - But the experience of ‘Annie in Wonderland’ (first solo LP) was incredible with him. That was when we met Paul McCartney because Paul was mixing ‘Wings at the Speed of Sound’ at the same time at the Langley Studios. He just came into the studio as I finished my vocal and he said who was that singing. And I said ‘it was meeee.’ (laughs). And he said that sent a shiver down his spine and he came in and talked to us for about an hour.

DH - Oh, great.

AH - Yeah, it was wonderful. We had a lot of great experiences. But Roy is still working and producing. His Christmas song is played every year in England. Actually, I heard it on I think it was CBS Morning Show when the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree ceremony was on and they were playing ‘I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day’.

DH - That’s surprising because he is a guy that just isn’t known in the US versus England, where his genius is understood more.

AH - I know, I mean I think he came over with the Move, didn’t he?

DH - He probably did.

AH - And he came over briefly just for 2 or 3 shows in New York in the 90s. He has not been over here much.

DH - There are a lot of bands that I discovered later in life that did not catch the breaks when they were active He was definitely one.

AH - Yeah.

DH - There are also a couple of guys I have been interested in for a long time who had guest spots on your latest album, John Wetton and Ian Anderson, who I have interviewed luckily enough. Were these guys you have known long?

AH - Yes. John Wetton did play with us. He did a few shows for us in the 70s when we were looking for a bass player, but he didn’t want a permanent job with us. But he did 4-6 shows and the Reading Festival was one of them. And then we stayed in touch and I hadn’t seen him for many years actually. I was in Japan doing an interview tour for my second solo record that started on Epic Records but went to Virgin. I went to Japan and Asia was playing in Nagoya and a guy from the record company told me and I called him. But after that we didn’t see each other until about 2003. But we’ve remained friends. And then I did some work with him for his ‘Icon’ album, some backing vocals for him. When we did ‘Grandine il Vento’ that became ‘Symphony of Light’ , we wanted to get a couple guests, so I contacted John. I had already done something for Ian a few years prior. He wanted me to join him on stage to do ‘Northern Lights’. So I thought I would call him and see if he would return the favor so to speak, I don’t mean that literally. So I felt he would probably do it, I was hoping he would and he did! And he did it and it came out fantastic. That is ‘Cry to the World’ which is the music video that we have out right now.

DH - Good, I will look at that. So is there any chance for an Annie Haslam autobiography?

AH - No.

DH - No, ok?

AH -  (Laughter) You know what? If I wrote a book I would have to write everything down and it would hurt other people and I just don’t want to do it. There is no point in writing something unless you put everything as it was.

DH - I agree with that.

AH - Yeah, so I’m not going to do it. Why drag things up from the past? You know, we have to live for this moment and plan for the future if we can. Actually right at this moment is the most important time. The past is gone, you know. And I don’t like the idea of making money on other people’s names and telling this that. It’s not me.

DH - Right. Now I’m interested in musicians, or other artists or writers that have been among your biggest influences?

AH - Oh gosh…

DH - Yeah, that’s the ‘oh gosh’ question I always ask.

AH - Well I love Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez when I first started singing. In fact when I first started singing, before I went to the opera singer, I sounded just like Joan Baez because I was singing along with her. A lot of people do.

DH - Of course.

AH - Umm… uh, of course the Beatles, I love classical music, Bob Dylan. I listened to Bob Dylan a lot in the sixties at school and the Beach Boys.

DH - Any non-musicians like from the world of art?

AH - Of course Leonardo Da Vinci. I also like Frida Kahlo, Van Gogh, Turner, Monet… I have got varied…

DH - Yeah, that is a wide range.

AH - Yeah, my paintings… I can’t explain them, you have to look at them. It is very difficult, they are abstract but everything flows in them, it is like the music actually.
DH - Well right, that is the best way. It is my job to offer explanations (or not).

AH - Yeah, if just flows out like water. I don’t even think about it while I am doing it. 
DH - It’s probably hard to estimate, but do you paint every day when you are not busy with music?

AH - When I’m not doing music like right now, I’m not painting every day as I am locked into getting everything ready for the shows and the Moody Blues cruise, and in England. There is a lot of work involved in that. I do it when I can. Funny enough, I got up this morning and I did some painting about 8:00. It doesn’t matter. If I feel like it, I will just get up and do it.

DH - Yeah, so not a set time.

AH - Yeah, I am not a set time person actually, except when I know I have to go on stage at a certain time.

DH - Understandable.

AH - Alright David. Are you going to the show.

DH - Yes, I sure hope so. It is at the Birchmere, where you were last. I have seen you there.

AH - Oh have you?

DH - Yes, and another place with the Strawbs, but I am not sure where that was.

AH - We never played the Birchmere with the old Renaissance.

DH - No, unfortunately I never saw that version of your band.

AH- So since 2009 then.

DH - Yes. I’ve reviewed you a couple of times and maybe saw you once before.

AH - Oh, ok. Well thank you very much.

DH - Thank you for your time and have a great tour. Bye-Bye.

AH - Bye bye.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Cornel West Theory - Time is Fire - The Black Sparks -- MLK Library - Feb 4 2016

The Black Sparks - This is a free show at the library sponsored by the DCPL Punk Archive. And the best way to start this off is with a real punk band playing pretty well into the 1980s harDCore style. The sound is a little murky and the vocals are too high, but I detect some good melodic moves within the opener. Another song had a strong Faith/GI sort of feeling to it which was fun. A couple of their newer cuts did not move me nearly as much. I don't think this was as fully formed as I would have liked, but it had the energy so we are off to a good start.

Time is Fire - Third time is normally the charm, but I liked this band plenty the first and second time I saw them. Now there is a new bassist tonight who did well keeping the flow of this intriguing band. The rhythms are funky and dance-able with guitar lines that work middle eastern moves into rock forms and together create the individual approach that makes these guys special. But don't forget the energetic vocals, which powered atop the music, which was better balanced than the first set. This band is working hard and playing all around town, so check them out soon.
The Cornel West Theory - This is only the second time I have seen this fine local hip hop band and I was quite impressed the first time, which was far too long ago. The band was smoking hot tonight with their two rap vocalists, powerhouse drummer, smooth bassist, and electronics/samples guy. The music mixes power with mystery and the vocalists work off each other in perfect step increasing the drama of their quickly but clearly delivered verbiage. It is great to see these guys still delivering the goods to a sizable crowd, who thoroughly enjoyed this tight well run show. There will be a lot more music here in the King Library in weeks to come and hopefully the bills will continue to be strong, but at a price of 'free', you can have a lot less talent than we had tonight and still enjoy the night.

Quotes of the Night: From the opening set...

Band: "This is a new one"
Crowd Member 1: "Yeah!"
Crowd Member 2: "Yeah!"
Crowd Member 3: "No!"

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Young Galaxy - Dias -- Black Cat - Feb 3 2016

by John Miller

Dias - Resonance is funny thing, it can add to an already well established tone, or it can send audiences fleeing, hands covering bloody ears. Dias begins tonight leaning on significant amounts of resonance and at times it becomes overwhelming. Considering their avant garde, experimental bent it is not surprising.

Dias, DC locals, is a two piece; vocalist and everything else. There isn't much up on stage but fuck if they aren’t loud. Perhaps some volume control should be considered to give the vocalist some room. Sometimes it’s a chore picking her out behind all these layers. That's not to say that she is missing, just that some of the random noises spilling out of the rig tend to obscure the strongest element of the group.

As far as a general sound, Dias is by far one of the strangest acts I have seen and I say that with the utmost respect. It's odd in the best way; forcing off notes, strange delays, and pitchiness, but making those elements fit within the confines of the composition. And making those elements fit is not easy to do. With all the interesting design choices, I am surprised their timing is relatively safe. The Back Room has filled up nicely and as with most shows, the opening act has the difficult task of winning over what can sometimes be a hostile environment but Dias succeeds.

Young Galaxy - Young Galaxy is a far safer choice. A lot of the experimental is gone from earlier. While generalities remain (dancing, keys, layers) they are far more approachable. I was worried I was in for another chillwave snorefest, but this is far better. They are confident in both their compositions and ability. Generally I find that those, especially those subscribing to chillwave, tend to hide behind any number of random noises, mumbling their way to completion. Young Galaxy, while not particularly talkative between pieces is fun. People clap in rhythm and dance along; no contemplating the color of the cement floor while questioning how life has so royally fucked you, just a good time. I hear bits and pieces of Madonna, Kate Bush, and The Revolution. It isn't one overarching influence, just parts; melodies, vocal inflections, keys. Enough to know where they are coming from but not so much that it defines them. Those influences are decidedly eighties but the tone of the drums, the sound design and arpeggios are much more contemporary. I am reminded a little of a less obvious Javiera Mena.

This is one of those shows that would have completely flown over my head. It is somewhat out of my wheelhouse and even though they have been around for almost a decade, I had no idea that they existed; though I blame that mostly on my age. Well written, well performed show. Count me a convert.