Thursday, November 26, 2009

Devandra Banhart & the Grogs / Dorothy and the Originals - 9:30 Club - Nov 25 2009

Dorothy and the Originals - A one woman show. She has a microphone and a macintosh. The mac pretty much runs what sounds like a click track with electronic claps which got a little annoying. She had backing vocals recorded and sang a strong lead. She ran through a song cycle about breaking up with a guy as much as I could tell. Daring, original and not overly exciting.  Decent enough and certainly fitting at a Devandra Banhart show. Turns out, this is Dorothy's first show ever, so lots of extra credit points for bringing it off.

Devandra Banhart & the Grogs - The unofficial leader of the freak folk movement is in town again with long time guitarist Noah Georgeson and a rhythm section and additional guitarist. They began with a series of folk-rock outings done in a California desert pop style with reggaeesque guitar moves. I was actually a bit disappointed as the California style of Jackson Browne and Gram Parsons was outweighing the usual Banhart inventions. The band took a break and Banhart played six songs solo or with a couple of guys on percussion. The magic began. His guitar style is something I think I had taken for granted, but it is really excellent. It is easy to want to put him aside with all the media hype he has had (and has deflected a bit), but I have enjoyed his work from the beginning. His early solo work is very Marc Bolan of the Tyrannosaurus Rex period (far different than T.Rex). He played early cuts like "Little Yellow Spider" and the updated Bolan style was excellent. I was fully pulled in during this session. I almost regretted seeing the band return, but they played more eclectic rock, folk and even jazz variations then on. Since this was a band, Banhart turned over a song to each member with one of his own in between. The drummer's song rocked the most. The least interesting was the new guitarist's song and I am not sure he really added much during the evening truth be told. When they hit a groove, they were brilliant such as their buddies Vetiver or old-timers Canned Heat could hit. None of these bands are my favorite until they really nail that psyche-rock groove. Nice build to a great finish.

Quote of the Night:  As I wandered home from another patron - "Why didn't he say 'by the way, we're not doing that encore shit.'" Good point. They left the house lights down a bit for people to clap, then turned them up and started music. They played an hour and forty minutes, so there was no cheating there. I really respect the explanation The Wedding Party gives early in their shows that they have never played a request and don't do the cliched encores. Either play the game or make it clear what your intent is.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Heavy Trash / Elliott Brood - DC9 - Nov 22 2009

Elliott Brood - I am a big fan of this Toronto based trio. There last album "Mountain Meadows" is given frequent rotation in my household. The amazing thing about the live set is how the full sound is recreated. If you closed your eyes on the first song, you would swear you were hearing a raucous fully electric four-piece indie rock band. Open them, and you see three guys, two suited and one vested, playing two acoustic guitars and drums. A closer look shows base pedals and a synth/sampler gadget. They also bring in a banjo and two ukuleles in a song they call "Cooperating Ukules from Canada" as opposed to "Duelling Banjos". Great energetic dark folk with upbeat moments, twists and turns, acoustic moves, distorted electric moves, full, fuller and fullest. Great songs and a band not to be missed, on record or live.

Heavy Trash - A Jon Spencer band with a lead guitarist, upright bassist and drummer. The format moves from fifties style rock/rockabilly to an early sixties garage rock (not the psychedelic variety). Nothing psychotic and nutso, but punchy and rocking. Although this is not my favorite genre, Spencer and company execute it flawlessly and with good energy. The leads are cutting and fun. Despite the name of this outfit, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is much trashier and dirty rocking. So choose your Spencer based on your desire. You can certainly find something good in either style.

Quote of the Night: From two of the Brood... "Thanks, you guys should have been in Asheville with us last night". "Yeah, then there would been this many people there."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Album Reviews for November 2009

Here are two album reviews of New York bands, Red Rooster who has played in DC recently and Goldspot who is playing the Black Cat on Sunday, November 22nd.

GOLDSPOT“And the Elephant is Dancing” LP

The album begins in a psychedelic folk style that is quite vogue these days. Not only is this style post-Incredible String Band, but it is also post-Devandra Banhart as well. As the song moves from its sparse acoustic guitar and glockenspiel, electric guitars and pop sensibilities come into play and take over the direction of the album. The band's style seems equally mixed from mid-period Beatles to a Brian Wilson styled American pop. They do bring in a touch of India, but it is a light one. I do enjoy how the songs are just varied enough as the album progresses to create some nice momentum builds and releases. I believe that is both a component of good songwriting and careful arrangement and production. And the sound is quite lush with some good variant sounds and instruments appearing sporadically. More ever present are the dreamy vocals that are at the forefront of all the songs. “What’s Under the House” rocks out just a bit, before the album closes with the quieter “Miss Johnson” with a banjo that I notice for the first time. This pleasant second Goldspot album could easily win the band a good and deserved following.

For you song-by-song buyers, here is where I recommend starting:

1. Grocery Store – An excellent conglomeration of folk and pop rock with just a touch of psychedelia. It captured me instantly.

2. Gopi Blues – String accompaniment quickly yields to a nice slower song with great production and a haunting background.

3. Miss Johnson – Just a nice closer featuring vocals, lyrics and light banjo.


Red Rooster is lead by the strong clear voice of Jay Erickson. He has that classic road weary voice enhanced by superior vocal style and resonance. In fact I would say it more of a relaxed understanding of the road as opposed to a weariness with it. There is a very good arsenal of players (I am writing this while watching the British soccer team Arsenal play so of course those three words pop out) behind the voice which mix a lot of styles beyond the folk base. Nothing radical, just the Americana, blues, pop, jazz, world and country touches that blend together nicely. As good as the male vocals are, the background vocals by Susannah Hornsby and the lead she has on “Borrowed Money” are outstanding and a nice change of pace. I really enjoy the interesting instrumentation and can even handle some of the pedal steel that is one of my least favorite instruments. A band that can work that in and keep me happy clearly has a fine command of its sound.

For you song-by-song buyers, here is where I recommend starting:

1. Black Point Road – A rich powerful song that even has a surprising sequencer tone within. Great song, well arranged.

2. Let it All Go – A song I remember from their recent show. Excellent mix of styles and instruments and a lovely chorus.

3. Borrowed Money – Great female folk qualities abound in this lovely song.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Jesus Lizard/Noveller - 9:30 Club - Nov 19 2009

Noveller - I get a dozen friend requests from myspace each month from solo artists from Iceland, Italy, Greece, and the US. They are ambient experimentalists that don't have a good outlet through record labels and touring, so the internet gives them a great chance to spread their music around. The music is generally nice, well composed, lush, and perfectly agreeable. I am always a bit mixed as I respect the effort, the sound is good, but it just often does not move me much. Noveller is one woman with guitar and effects and loops and could be one of the dozens described above. After playing some routine notes, she put down the guitar and began bowing what I thought was a synthesizer, but it was a Jimmy Page style double guitar on it's back on a keyboard stand. This was an act that may be ok at a side stage at a large festival, but I would have rather listened to it at home on my computer.

The Jesus Lizard
- The crowd finally built up to make a respectable showing for the comeback of the Jesus Lizard. I have only seen the band once, in their infancy when they were hastily added to a Dinosaur Jr. show in Denver where I mostly wanted to see a cool SubPop band that only SubPop followers knew much about named Nirvana. I knew the Lizard's singer was from Scratch Acid who I thought were excellent, so I had high hopes. They were great that night with an interesting rough and nasty precision with one of the worst vocalists yet best frontmen around. And after a ten year hiatus, the Lizard returned, looking only a bit older and playing with the same great style they had back in the day. What struck me was how much they reminded me of Public Image Ltd.'s Second Edition. None of the sounds were the same, but both featured ferociously intense individual singers who command attention like few others. The guitarists are both angular and original and the bassists stand out with entirely different styles. Add killer drums and you have bands that sound brilliant and original. I think the bass playing seems to be the key ingredient to the Lizard--very fluid, rhythmic and adventurous. David Yow still crowd surfs like few others, singing on cue the whole time. And a Chrome cover to boot that I was proud to recognize without seeing a set list (I recognized it instantly, but couldn't come up with the fact that it was a Chrome song until 5 minutes after it ended--oh the slow hard drive that is my brain). Great music, still fresh and exciting.

Quote of the Night: Yow--"Thank-you good people of Bethesda", later nods to Fairfax and Annapolis plus telling the crowd that he heard Baltimore is cooler than DC these days. I heard that once too, from a failed booking agent who had some other issues that may have lead to the failure.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Langhorne Slim/Dawes - Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Nov 17 2009

Dawes - Dawes is a four piece with guitar, bass, keys and drums. The guitarist sings all but one lead, leaving one for the drummer. Plenty of harmonies as well on this singer-songwriter mid-rock band. I was thinking a less California Jackson Browne with a bit more intense singing. Maybe that is preposterous, but until I work out this genre better, it will have to do. My biggest quibble was with the quieter songs. The sound seemed very out of proportion with a very fuzzy bass going with overly light keyboards and even guitar. It improved a little, so maybe the soundman caught on. But when they pushed all other instruments up some on the faster more rocking songs, all things gelled. And ultimately we have a pretty decent band here. They went over well with the large crowd that came out early tonight.

Langhorne Slim - Mr. Slim gazed upon the crowd and said he was not sure why he did not come to DC more often. Actually, I though I missed a fairly recent show about a year back at the Black Cat upstairs stage. If he played or was even booked there, that explains the packed house tonight. I have seen him once before in Denver a year and half back and he really exceeded my modest expectations. He really writes great songs which is obviously a starting point no matter what else happens. I like the energetic acoustic guitar and banjo at times from the keyboardist. The solid drums and smooth stand-up bass playing are an interesting anchor. A really nice combination of players actually. There's folk, older rock'n'roll, and newer indie rock all coming together or bouncing around. Good vocals... I can't find a single problem with Langhorne Slim or both sets I have seen in the last two years. Well worth checking out then. Say no more!

Quote of the Night: "Take it however you want, but it's true in every way." from Langhorne Slim regarding Dawes, but it is a good line regarding most anything.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gallows/The Scare/The Mostly Dead - DC9 - Nov 14 2009

The Mostly Dead - Hardcore matinee with an early start tonight. The first band kicks things off with a loud ripping hardcore song as expected. Little changed throughout the set. Although a careful listen reveals better than average guitar playing and some dynamics in the songs. Still, vocally there was too much standard young Ian MacKaye/Crucifix/pick an HC singer screaming. But this would not be any different than what would happen in the next couple of sets. A bit of a mosh pit among the young, but polite thugs which always reminds me of the destruction of the LA punk scene. Thankfully, it was just a shaking floor here at at the DC9. And all things told, this was a strong, loud, energetic set.

The Scare - This band had two guitars and seemed to put a tiny amount of loose rock within the hardcore blast. I didn't hear as much originality as in the first band (this is very relatively speaking within the genre, but I do know the genre). The singer earnestly was doing the usual imploring the crowd to get excited, etc., which I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard that. The crowd was decent and growing, so the set went well. And kudos for the singer's correct statement that his recent thirtieth birthday meant he was about 50 in punk in years and people 40-50 were about 90. Well this 90 year old thanks him for dedicating a song to all of those older than him at the show. There were not many of us.

Gallows - We have another 5-piece, but they are a UK band finishing a US tour. If you think all punk or hardcore sounds the same, well this band did take it to a much higher level in song writing, playing and overall energy. The club was packed and very excited throughout the set. I liked the bit where the singer went from crowd surfing, to being held upside down while he walked on the ceiling. And I didn't think I would see anything new tonight! Well, then it was back to the old as the singer orchestrated a mosh pit which sent the women scurrying to the side and kept my 90-year old back well away from the pit. But this music is for the young, so I don't mind some of the "dancing", but it still brings too much jock ethos into a scene. Gallows is good, no doubt about that.

Quote of the Night: "It's just a formality" from the friendly doorman as he asked for my ID. My response was that it is perfectly alright as long as you don't try to read it carefully as not only could I not pass for 21, but any court of law would laugh out of court any prosecution that used me as a test subject.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Marissa Nadler/ Alena Diane - DC9 - Nov 10 2009

Alela Diane - This is the first of two acts I have previously seen. However, there plenty of changes to make things fresh for me. Ms. Diane was with a full band for her show with Blitzen Trapper, but this time is solo for some songs and with one of her band (bass/ac. guitar) on others. She really has a great voice and can generate a really nice range while keeping the mood of the song centered. Decent guitar playing as well, as she slowly picks through her chords. All in all, a great touch and sensibility with lovely songs make for a strong set that will pull in folk lovers as well as thoughtful rock fans. A pretty good crowd for a Tuesday seemed to agree with me and fully enjoyed the 40 minute set. You could tell by the quiet as much as the applause.

Marissa Nadler - I haven't see Marissa Nadler since a Terrastock Festival set in Rhode Island in 2006. She was solo then and did a couple solo numbers here before bringing up a guitarist/backing vocalist on electric guitar. I believe it was a member of the band Torso, if I heard correctly. What is nice about what seems to be a simple folk show is that the sound of the two artists were quite different yet fully sympathetic. Ms. Nadler's guitar was a bit spacier with a sharp striking sound as she finger picked her way through her songs. It sounded like a dulcimer and coupled with her distant echoey voice, she really did nail a lovely ethereal psychedelic folk sound. Excellent songs, quite simply a great mood that really mesmerized the crowd. All four players hit the stage for a cover of Jackson C. Frank's "Blues Runs the Game". First, Marianne Faithfull played a lesser known Frank song a few weeks ago, and now his more famous song is here tonight. Frank is hot apparently, which is sadly late as he has been dead for ten years now. I saw him just before he died at a Wizz Jones show and he was in really bad shape. He is a fascinating figure and I enjoyed exchanging some notes with Richie Unterberger about him recently. But I ramble. An excellent pairing tonight of great, fresh music.

Quote of the Night: From Marissa Nadler "This song is appropriate as I just broke up with my boyfriend... today... Hurray? Thanks."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Little Big Heart and the Wilderbeast/Red Rooster - Red & the Black - Nov 7 2009

Red Rooster - Salt of the earth Americana band with lots of musicians on the small R&B stage. The acoustic guitarist sang most lead vocals with the female accordianist chipping in some lead and a lot of harmony backup vocals. There was also bass, drums, banjo, trumpet and percussion and a keyboardist who was sitting in with no prior rehearsal. I sometimes get a little nervous with Americana, waiting for the songs to annoy me. But the lack of a pedal steel guitar and lack of corny sentimental twang kept me immersed in the music. The woman was Susannah Hornsby who wore a 1986 Bruce Hornsby tour shirt. Seems like I need to do some research. 20 seconds later and yes, she is the niece of Bruce Hornsby. She was a good vocalist and the lead singer had a very rich voice which steadily brought the listener in. Less interesting was the cover of "Midnight Special", but the crowd liked it and it gave the set a bit of diversity. The club was packed solid and enjoying every minute--rightly so. This band should win over people who don't think they like roots music.

Little Bigheart & the Wilderbeast - Not Wildebeest, the Australian psyche rock legends of old and now the name of at least three other bands, but a more complex named band that looks google-proof to me. These young men are a four-piece with a couple guitars, drums and a bassist who plays a keyboard additionally and I think ideally (read in a studio) would do both simultaneously. The axe-men all sing and the best of their songwriting so far seems to be in the vocal arrangements. I was chatting with the drummer who basically said this was their first real club show and they have only been writing a short time. The music is very seventies progressive with good guitar attack. Trying to find progressive comparisons is tricky and since they did a song cycle to start the set, I had roughly a Rick Wakeman feel with their music. Of course, you had blaring guitars rather than banks of keyboards, blonde hair and flowing robes. But even with the guitars it had more of that feel as opposed to the Who or Rush or the Pretty Things or others that did song cycle prog-rock themes. Anyway, this was a very nice club outing for this band. The crowd enjoyed it (even if it was jammed with lots of friends) and they can easily progress into a well liked band in DC. They are off to the studio soon and between that lesson, more gigging, more writing, we will await their eventual growth. I will stop now as there is something about progressive music that even makes me want to write like Caravan or PFM played.

Quote of the night: I can't read my writing of the quote I wanted to use (it is easier to read sanskrit) so the Red Rooster singer also said: "This is ostensibly our Washington DC CD release party." Nothing profound here, but points for using the word "ostensibly" and creating a mirror effect in the quote.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Kurt Vile and the Violators/Benjy Feree/The New Flesh - Black Cat - Nov 5 2009

The New Flesh - This band named for the last three words uttered in David Cronenburg's Videodrome (my guess) is similar to the movie in that it is an interesting misfire. Unlike the movie, it's not overly creative, but is certainly enjoyable for noise-rock fans. The two guitars, bass and drums let forth a steady swirl of noise in the general neighborhood of songs. Some good pummeling, but the drums were a bit muddy although the sound improved a bit as it went on. The vocals never really did, but they seemed secondary anyway. At best, I experienced similar feelings as to when I listen to Sister Ray (the song, not the band). Yes, and here's the obligatory, unplug things as you leave guitars feeding back. Seen it many times and Mogwai did it best.

Benjy Feree - Benjy Feree sang, played electric guitar or keyboards with his wife on drums. The sound was a loose rock'n'roll, sort of old school, but not corny. It was not up to psychobilly speed, but more singer-songwriter pace. He is a good vocalist and the songs were decent. Still, there the sound was just a bit thin for my liking. The set reminded me of the late 70s punk rock days when there were not enough punk/new wave bands to put on the bill and a decent retro-to-modern act like this would be booked. Decent, but a fuller band might help next time.

Kurt Vile and the Violators - Kurt Vile starts off on acoustic guitar and brings his band out on the second. They have a drummer and two guitarists with Kurt switching to electric sometimes and one guitarist playing sax and harmonica, too. During the second song, I have a lightbulb moment, "oh Kurt Weill, I get it". I am slow tonight. The songs move around a lot from slow droning, catchy rhythms, droll vocals to lots of subtle shifts of tempo and volume. Maybe a little in the neighborhood of the Feelies? Maybe not, but close enough for my insta-comparisons. This band is clearly locked into a good light psyche rock groove and the large crowd is enjoying it (they had a crowded back room and this band is destined for upstairs next time perhaps). Very good music worth exploring further.

Quote of the Night: A fan yelling to Kurt "we like to see your face!" as he then parts his Cousin Itt hairdo a bit.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Herman Dune/Julie Doiron - DC9 - Nov 3 2009

Julie Doiron - Ms. Doiron plays folk songs with an electric guitar and no one else until the last couple songs when the headlining duo join in. She commented more than once that a certain song would sound better with a full band, and I did agree with her on some songs. However, the set was still successful on its own as she had a good voice that was cute but not ever too cloying or precocious. She also claimed she talked too much and indeed went on to prove that. The songs were good, probably above average if I were to see 100 acts like this. Nice opener that set the stage well for what was to come.

Herman Dune - Herman Dune was a duo featuring David-Ivar Herman Dune on electric guitar and vocals with a drummer as sole support. Although, to return the favor, Ms. Doiron joined in for a couple songs late in the set. It was pretty clear to me that Mr. Dune writes some high quality songs and plays them with great touch and style. The guitar playing was quite good, sort of between Robyn Hitchcock and Billy Bragg with a few amped up breaks and solos and some nice almost flamenco/gypsy type picking on one song. Good variety and every song was easy to cling on to and listen to the finish. I can't always say that, unfortunately. I am not sure what level of success Herman Dune has here, Canada, or Europe, but I do not see how it cannot fail to grow with the clear accessible quality present. I will certainly return for the next DC gig.

Quote of the Night: Julie Doiron-- "Any requests? Yeah, how does that go... something like that... Well, that's more of a rocker... Well, how about this one, it's from the same record." And right after the song - "Geeze, I asked you guys for requests and you gave me five and I just played my choice."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Saul Williams/Living Colour/CSR Kidtronic/The Smyrk - Black Cat - Nov 1 2009

THE AFROPUNK TOUR sponsored by Budweiser and Converse

The Smyrk - Basic guitar, bass, drums and a vocalist band that does a pop punk thing with some fairly soulful singing I suppose. Perhaps it is emo, but I don't recognize that word as an adjective or a noun. A couple of cops were walking around, talking to bartender, soundman (?) and went into the restroom right as this started. So I was a little perplexed, early. But this band was steady enough. A couple sound issues early were straightened out quickly. A video of the band? or other things was projected on the side wall. Oh yeah, that happens at sponsored events which I really don't have a problem with, but there can be a different feeling I have found. Decent enough band, a bit clean, but strong enough sound with plenty of punch.

CSR Kidtronik - A DJ and a rapper hit the stage and do their thing. This is not a genre I am knowledgeable with, but even I know what blows. And I'm not talking about the "krak attack" they are bellowing about. "You guys like punk rock?" Well, I do, sir, but dullish cliche filled rap with f-bombs dropping and thin rhythms to cushion the fall is not my idea of punk rock. I was not alone. They were between songs trying to get a couple of women on stage, but no one would go up. It seemingly lasted for multiple minutes. Finally one woman went up and I believe security may have told her to step off. That gave the duo a chance to rip on the man for a bit. Right on! Finally, their last song drew the crowd in a bit and a very welcome "Good night, thank-you".

Living Colour - An interesting band of old that I have never seen, but had a cult following and sort of broke big with a Grammy even. They did not sustain the success and broke up for some time. Pretty much the original band is back (second bassist) and they ripped into "Cult of Personality" featuring Vernon Reid's wild guitar solo. The second song had Reid grimacing and he took a long time playing with equipment before the next song. The singer walked around looking at no one and finally talked about how the drummer could play anything from the planet. The drummer figured it out and finally started making some noise as the crowd stood there. Finally it got going again. The band had to restart two songs next. The songs were strong, fast and loud like you would expect, but this band clearly does not like each other. Years ago, I gave David Grubbs a video of his old teenage band (and great cult success) Squirrel Bait. He said he could see even then, that they were destined to break up shortly thereafter as no one was looking at each other. That is what I saw here with a few supposedly amused caustic comments by Glover early on. Then after the band introductions at the end, and apparently some mumbling between he and Reid, Glover says "You know this mic stand is really heavy enough to bludgeon you". Reid: "Yeah, well, we'll talk more next time." Glover: "You ain't gonna be around next time". These guys depart for a long tour of South America and Europe. Good luck and I hope you have a big tour bus with lots of space.

Saul Williams - The colorful rap-writer-provocateur comes out in colorful garb with a guitarist, percussionist (from second act) and an electronics guy in support. The sound is strong, not overwhelming, but punchy and accessible. He clearly has some writing skills from his raps and lyrics from what I can pick out. I am enjoying the set as is most of the crowd, but there is a rather subdued atmosphere. Williams picks up on this half way through and says that he thinks he has way more energy than the crowd and tries to ask for the reasons. He asks if we like punk rock and he thought this was a city where it was big. Well, allow me to attempt an answer. First, DC does get accused of being laid back, quiet, with lots of people at shows standing around, so this is not new. There are tons of shows here and the crowd is actually quite smart and maybe a bit jaded as a result. I would like to see a bit more enthusiasm at times, but I really don't mind how the crowd reacts if they don't make it bad for everyone else. Second, Yes DC was huge in punk history, but not quite in wave one in the seventies. In the early 80s there was Dischord and the Bad Brains who I guess you could say defined Afropunk, but I don't think that word actually works for the Brains. I will save that discussion. The thing is that it is 2009. You would need the children of these bands or a 50 year old guy like myself to show up at your show. And even if we could go back in time, the DC scene was one of the most insular scenes I have ever been a part of (and I have traveled). They hung with their friends and regularly blew off out-of-town bands or locals that were not in the clique. Third, although your set was pretty hot and well received, the crowd was pretty numbed by your opening bands. They did not set you up at all. Even when playing well, the vibe was not good and I think that permeated everyone here far worse than any corporate sponsorship.

Still, Saul Williams soldiered on, covered "Sunday, Bloody, Sunday" and more of his own songs. I did something I almost never do before writing this. I read a review of a previous show on the tour and the vibe was pretty bad in Minneapolis. The writer thought the performers deserved better and blamed it on the midwest. I agree that Saul Williams may deserve a bit better, but it is not the midwest. I think there is something challenging in trying to bring off an "afropunk" tour and you really have to get the music right among 3-4 bands to make it work. It may have worked in some city, but not here.

Quote of the Night: After telling us the song title of the third straight song named after a movie (The Evil Dead), the opening band singer commented "If you didn't know it by now, I'm a nerd".