Sunday, December 14, 2008

Strip Mall Ballads/Southeast Engine/North of Canada - Red & the Black - Dec 12 2008

Another cold night in the funky Northeast quarter. I do enjoy H Street up here as it reminds me of Broadway in Denver, places that could be used for movie backgrounds from the 60s and possibly earlier in some spots.

North of Canada comes from the south part of DC and was a four-piece with two guitars. Started and finished strong with a middle that had my mind drifting a bit. Vocals were ok when they were straightforward and not straining to hit notes. Nice guitar rock at times and perfectly decent for an opener in an upstairs loft which this club pretty much is.

Southeast Engine comes from Southeast Ohio, Athens in particular--home of Ohio University. I spent a night there once in 1976. They had keys, guitar, bass and drums and kind of ran the gamut from California stylized 70s rock to more of a rootsy midwest sound. A couple of songs went a bit quiet, a couple of times the keyboardist did some honkey tonk, and once they even went part mystical ala Woven Hand. The variety and quality worked with me. Good set, not something I want to go nuts over and buy their back catalogue, but a band I was happy to see.

Strip Mall Ballads - This DC outift had some amusing songs from the lyrics I could pick out (not my strong suit). The singer played banjo and acoustic guitar with a guitarist, bassist, and harmonica player helping out. This sounded more of a talented busker playing with some other musicians who laid some notes out there without anyone really caring what the full effect was. And the effect was just a bit on the dull side for me. Nothing hdeous, just les interesting than I had hoped. I think there were some good songs there, but I would like to hear them in a different way. After writing this review, I looked for a weblink for them and found no website of Myspace page, so that kind of proves my point I guess.

Quote of the Night: "Thanks for being quiet during the quiet song" from Southeast Engine's bassist. The crowd hushed considerably when the singer was accompanied by light drumming in a couple spots which was nice as there were other times that it was the typical people carrying on loud and long conversations while the band played. I mean there are only a thousand other bars without cover charges that you can converse in along with plenty of down time between bands as well as a downstairs bar you can go. I did see less cell phone checking on the plus side, but I was kind of toward the front.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Love is All/Darker My Love/The Strange Boys - Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Dec 6 2008

A pretty nicely packed house nearly filled the Rock'n'Roll Hotel, the finest club in Northeast DC (which isn't saying much if you know the Northeast, although I really enjoy this little two block area of H street).

The Strange Boys began things with a 2-guitar, one voice jangly garage pop-psyche sound. They even covered a Nugget (I think it was Baby, Please Don't Go by the Amboy Dukes). They were a young band from Austin Texas. I thought the vocals were more Meat Puppets than Standells, but an adequate opener made a nice start to the evening.

Their touring partners, Darker My Love, were up next. They were a five piece with keys, two guitars, basic rhythm and two axemen singing. Also in the psychedelic genre, but more of a driving sound that was somewhat in the direction of Spiritualized/Spaceman 3. Really good songs, although a couple toward the end had me daydreaming a bit until their rousing closer. Very good set.

No psychedelia next with Sweden's Love is All. Do you remember the days where punk and new wave blended together into less definable categories? This band hearkened back to that era with its very snappy, jangly danceable pop-punk. The female vocals were a bit like Toyah Wilcox or a slightly lighter Pauline Murray (Penetration). The band had drums/bass/guitar with keyboards and a saxophonist making some great simple tonal thrusts as opposed to heavy soloing. Lots of energy and infectious. Great music and a great Rosemary('s Baby) haircut as a bonus.

Oddity of the Night: Leaving the club at about 12:50am, I walked passed four adult bananas walking the other way. One of them was smoking and I didn't pick up much of their conversation as it was cold and I wanted to get to my car.

Friday, December 5, 2008

O'Death/Wye Oak - Black Cat Backstage - Dec 4 2008

Two outstanding bands in the intimate backstage of the Black Cat with 80 or so patrons. A great Thursday evening as I recover from my cold.

Wye Oak was a duo with a woman on lead vocals and electric guitar; and a guy who drummed with his feet and right hand and played organ/keys with his left and did some harmonizing vocals, too. They reminded me of one of my favorite prog-folk groups, Emtidi in that they played a moody folk style with a rock background and minimal instrumentation. The guitarist really cut loose at times with riffs reminiscent or Wire's Lowdown and even some of the faster stuff from Pink Flag. Intoxicating mix of styles by a duo that knows how to make their musical points.

O'Death had bass/drums/violin/acoustic guitar/banjo-ukelele (I believe) with a couple guys singing. They may be from NYC, but are a perfect fit within the Denver sound that I know too well, closest to Slim Cessna's Auto Club in that they are frantic rootsy rockers with bluegrass and Americana touches. Very fast and catchy. They also reminded me of my favorites, Boiled in Lead, but without the world beats and Irish tunes, although WITH a white-hot violinist. The crowd was dancing and moving quite a bit more than usual. Fun band that should not be mised.

Quote of the Night: My ears were muddled and the music was loud so I'll go back to dinner at Ben's Chile Bowl where this half-nutty lady sitting next to me at the counter commented as she saw the BACK of my north-England police procedural paperback by Peter Robinson: "That's a good book". You don't say?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Karina Zeviani/Aphrodizia - Black Cat Backstage - Nov 20 2008

Ahphrodizia opened the show in front of 5 rabid fans which swelled to thirty something by the end of their set. Yoko K is the vocalist electronics whiz and she did a nice enough job with the electronics and created a harder ambient feel. Augmented with a violinist who mostly plucked lightly and sometimes inaudibly and a percussionist on bongos. Eventually a sax/flutist showed up during the set. Decent set received warmly.

Karina Zeviani is a Brazilian ex-model who sings for Thievery Corporation as well as other projects and under her name. She apparently lives in NYC and just came down for a show with a nice ensemble. A really excellent set with nicely varied songs. The Circus song was a mindblower and there was another hot song that she said she was intending to sing with Os Mutantes, but never got that to happen. A great extension of Tropacalista, I suppose, but that's kind of an obvious reference (which reminds me that I just finished Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso's book which was fantastic--what a writer). Great set which had the swelling crowd of 50-60 happy and swaying. Really a surprise hit for me. I hope her success in Turkey (crowds in the thousands) continues world-wide.

Quote of the Night: Yoko K explaining: "that we are missing a member who had to pickup his daughter, but that's ok because we're a little drunk."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Eagles of Death Metal/The Duke Spirit - 9:30 Club - Nov18 2008

A late show opening at 10pm--another double booking by the 9:30 Club. Quite crowded tonight at $15 per head, although the stage wasn't quite as far back as it could have been.

The Duke Spirit began with a gutsy British rock sound meaning the guitars were headed toward Jesus and Mary Chain although still falling short of Spiritualized perhaps. So distortion was good, but the straight ahead rock rhythms kept the songs chugging along. A cute singer with thinner Deborah Harry hair was center stage leading things. After a few uneventful songs, they threw in a Western sound and rhythm that was quite good and the set took off from there nicely. The crowd enjoyed them and rightly so. They move on to headline status later in the tour and play Letterman December 8th. Not surprising with their look and good catchy rock sound.

The Eagles of Death Metal as most would know or guess, nothing like the Eagles or Death Metal. I would say garage rock band with a dose of early punk augmented by leads straight from Black Oak Arkansas. Good humor and the erratic songs still had more good than dull. The frontman/vocalist did mention the story about Axl Rose firing them which I had heard from a friend of mine. Axl in his usual classy style, got on the mic after their set and told the crowd how they sucked and were more like the Pigeons of Shit Metal. So after a few boos from the 9:30 Club crowd, they applauded the frontman's new tattoo bearing Axl's new name for the band. Duke Spirit's singer came up to sing one song which significantly boosted the ugly rating this band generates on its own. All in all, a good fun show, far better for me than anything Axl Rose could produce.

Quote of the night: While standing in line, a woman said to a guy: "John wants to go see Ray Davies." Guy: "Who's that". Woman: "Oh, some guy from the Stranglers."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rose Hill Drive/Colour Revolt - DC9 - Nov 12 2008

Colour Revolt from Oxford Mississippi (not sure I've seen a full fledged MS band before) who I had seen in Denver earlier this year did another nice job. Grungy, hooky, intelligent rock with a bit of brooding, but not too pervasive. Solid set. If they keep at it, who knows? I did miss seeing their cover of the Misfits' Bullet. I'm not sure any of them were alive when I bought that record when it came out.

Next was a really good 70s retro rock act from Boulder called Rose Hill Drive. They were an excellent long haired three piece ala Blue Cheer, I suppose. I think the vocals which were closer to REO Speedwagon than Motorhead were the only real weakness, but not nearly as bad as REO. So a good show which the small upstairs DC-9 audience really enjoyed. Actually, it was a good crowd in a small club to be more accurate.

Gutter Twins/Afterhours - Black Cat - Nov 7 2008

Afterhours began with a few utterly brilliant songs before fading into mere decency, only to kick it up a bit at the end. Overall, an eclectic and exciting show with some good songwriting and a style that varied from Beefheart meets Velvet U. arrangements to simple pop-rock. The band is from Milan and was worth seeing all by themselves. A great opener that I hope makes it back to this side of the Atlantic.

Gutter Twins are Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan who spent some time in the gutter between their bigger success, Afghan Wigs and Screaming Trees respectively. Mr. Lanegan helped form Queens of the Stone Age and some great duets with Isobel Campbell as well. They rocked more steadily and consistently than the opener which was both good and bad. Ultimately, the sound grew on me and overally left me happy with their set. The crowd enjoyed it and it was a solid night at the Black Cat.

Joan Baez - Birchmere - Nov 6 2008

A very happy Joan Baez played the second of two nights in front of a very happy Birchmere crowd two days after the election. The genteel supper club atmosphere of Alexandria, Virginia's Birchmere is a good venue to see Joan Baez in her fiftieth year of performing. The voice isn't as strong, but it never really was, was it? Still, she looked great and still had a solid voice and excellent songs to sing. Stage patter was great with a very funny joke, amazingly enough. She covered more songs by Donovan than by Dylan, although Steve Earle (her most recent producer) had more songs on display.

Ms. Baez was augmented by guitarist, acoustic bassist, and a violinist/mandolin/accordian player. Actually they all switched around a bit and took a break so Joan could sing Diamonds and Rust and a couple of others with just her voice and guitar. Nothing off-the-charts unexpected going on, nor would anyone expect there to be anything other than solid rendetions of well known songs and some newer material.

An enjoyable show by a legend in a great post-election timeframe. Catch her before she's doing this 60 years.

Bad Brains/Dub ?? - 9:30 Club - Nov 4 2008

Ok, I gotta take better notes and get these posts in more quickly. A Brooklyn dub band that was more dub-rock than dub-reggae opened. A powerful three-piece supplemented with computer generated sounds did a really good job keeping a dub rhythm going while rocking out and sometimes hitting some reggae chords. I believe they often played with the Bad Brains and they are worth seeing with them or on their own. Good fun.

Bad Brains began with a few of their shredding early burners and pretty much whipped the up-front crowd into a frenzy. The rest of us on the perimeter or in the rafters watched HR closely to see if we were going to get another stunning Bad Brains show (I've seen five including one on their first tour) or a train wreck. HR just isn't all mentally there in the Daniel Johnston/Roky Erickson manner. I think he's in a little better shape than them, but I wasn't so sure as he couldn't or wouldn't sing on most of the uber-fast songs in the set. He would intorduce the title of each song probably for his benefit as much as anyone's. Once he proceded to immediately sing the previous song (Sailing On).

However, the reggae and the medium paced numbers (like from I Against I) were very successful and HR's voice was decent. I would say he enjoyed those songs more, but he was smiling all the time in a way that my brother described best (from the New York show) as a cross between Mr. Rogers and Willie Wonka (Johnnie Depp variation).

The band still was supergreat and ripped all evening long. The sound was a little shiny wall-0f-sound as opposed to the individual attacking styles that they tightly put together in the early days.

So, what to make of this? I am glad I saw them one more time. I really enjoyed the songs and HR hung on well enough to allow me to focus on the music sometimes. But compared to those utterly brilliant shows in the past, this was a far cry. Worthwile, but it may be my last time to honor this brilliant band.

Woven Hand/Silver Summit - Iota - Oct 17 2008

Silver Summit opened things up in a club I wish I could like better. It's small, but adequate for the right acts. Sound is iffy and the people talking at the bar can be very loud and distracting (Ask Teddy Thompson who did not enjoy his set a few years back).

Silver Summit is an interesting collection of musicians from Brooklyn. Three females and a couple males play all kinds of strings with a drummer. Very psychedelic, ambient but both a bit edgier and some good Asian traditional folk working within the songs. A really excellent set. I hope to see this band again and recommend them highly.

Woven Hand is one of my favorite bands working today. They were formed out of the ashes of 16 Horsepower which was the forerunner of "the Denver sound" which was sort of a Gothic, twisted, psycho-Americana movement that was anything from dark folk to crazed neo-bluegrass rockabilly.

Woven Hand started pretty much as David Eugene Edwards playing solo with friends. He was the singer/main songwriter for 16HP and continues to be the main songwriter here. Woven Hand was a three piece with Mr. Edwards playing with a rhythm section he's used in recent years as more of a fulltime band. He's backed by Ordy Garrison (formerly of Slim Cessna's Auto Club) on drums and Pascal Humbert (16HP) on bass. Previously they played with a Norwegian lead guitarist, but this time it was Edwards' banjo and guitar carrying the melodies.

Woven Hand's music is more intensely personal than 16HP with a more sparse architecture and intricate lyrics. But they rocked hard at times and kept the mysterious spirit of their music alive and well. Great songs which captivated the audience throughout. The band is huge in Europe and hopefully can continue to grow their base here.

Highly recommended both live as well as their recordings, which should be tried out soon if you haven't already.

Wire - 9:30 Club - Oct 11 2008

A band who's name escapes me opened proceedings with instrumental music featuring four wailing guitars, a couple of drummers and others creating ambient psychedelia which worked quite well. Enjoyable and worth seeing.

Wire came out with three original members, all but BC Gilbert (guitar). They featured a lot of newer material which was edgy and pretty decent in that it hearkened closer to Chairs Missing and 154 as opposed to the much more inconsistent middle period. They did slowly work in songs from all three albums and did two two-song encores with a blistering 12xu finishing off the evening. They cut loose and attacked the material much better than I thought they would.

This was far better than the reemergence into the scene at their 1987 show I witnessed. At that show, they had a new (fourth) album out which was pretty much all they played not touching a note from their classic first three lps. They did give the attendees a nice opener in a band called the Ex-Lion Tamers whose set consisted of playing the Pink Flag album in its entirety in album order.

So a good show with expectations a bit lowered based on my experience. I am surprised to read some comments expecting more older material. We were lucky to get what we did, and more importantly, they had the spirit of the old material more in place than they did in the late 80s and 90s.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds/Kid Congo Powers - 9:30 Club - Nov 6 2008

I am more familiar with Nick Cave through his earlier band, The Birthday Party, and even his raw punk debut in The Boys Next Door (music available in a few places). This was the second of two sold out shows at the 9:30 Club.

Kid Congo Powers began with a short set of eclectic material that is a far cry from his Gun Club and Cramps days but occasionally rocked at that level. I wasn't really expecting too aggressive a set and the band did a decent enough job of keeping things inventive and fun for the ever growing sardines in the crowd (this club is a bit challenging for me when it's sold out). Good opener from this former Bad Seed.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Nick Cave had a lot of energy as he menaced and stalked the stage while keeping a good sense of humor and class with every move. The band was excellent as expected and even a completely failed attempt at one song at the piano, didn't detract from the energy and quality of the songs. It was good to see an assertive, fun set from this outfit. Recommended highly.

The Known Unknowns/Lovelikefire/Friends of the Library - The Red & the Black - Nov 7 2008

A nice set of bands at the tiny club in the Northeast. I mainly went to see Lovelikefire who are a fabulous band from San Francisco who I saw twice in Denver. They are one my "discoveries" this year who I think can make it big if things break right in an industry I have trouble understanding these days.

Friends of the Library had some nice songs that rocked lightly. They seem a bit on the raw side but were enjoying the experience. The female vocals were a little thin, a bit due to the sound, but mostly due to a tentative singer who will probably find more confidence over time. An enjoyable band that may get better in time.

Lovelikefire is a four-piece with the usual guitar/bass/drums and a female singer/guitarist/synth player. Ann Yu is a killer singer with great personality and stage presence. She is the focal point whose vocals can soar majestically over the strong musical backing. The rhythm section is deceptively good doing a lot more than I first guessed. The guitarist brings a great British post-punk style in the manner of John McGeoch (Banshees/Magazine) and mayber a bit of Johnny Marr. The overall sound is a very accessible pop-rock that does much more than that category generally allows. They have two self released eps and are now signed to a European label with an album release next year. They've toured hard and hopefully things will payoff for this fun, exciting band.

The Known Unknowns are a local band that plays around the area. They have a good smart rock sound, but their songs just don't grab me as much as I like. I will happily sit through their set on the underbill, but probably won't go out of my way to see them on their own. They have potential, so I'll stay tuned. Check them out for yourselves. They are certainly accomplished enough to appeal to the college rock crowd (if I may stereotype which all categorization does).

DC Live

Greetings all. This is the blog to get full reviews of all the great music happening in Washington DC. I've been going to see bands perform since the early seventies and have logged over 1,000 concerts, shows, gigs, sets, and jams. I've just moved to Washington DC where I have lived previously and wanted to lay down the results of the great music happening here to help the bands in whatever small way possible. The music industry is really tough and it's important to support the touring bands and frequent the local clubs. Enjoy!