Sunday, May 30, 2010

Black Dog Prowl - Niki Barr Band - Citizen* - The Killer Balloons -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - May 29 2010

The Killer Balloons - It is a night of four area rock bands, each shooting off in their own direction. We start with a local four-piece with one guitar and a vocalist. The singer immediately shows off his great pipes as he hits and holds notes with a lot of power, sort of Rob Halford an octave or two lower. The name reminds me of a harder update of the old Nuggets band, the Balloon Farm and as they play, that seems pretty accurate. They start with great garage rock but have a heavier modern touch as well. It is kind of like if Kyuss had not morphed into Queens of the Stone Age, but headed more in the direction of the Flamin' Groovies. They achieve all the bonus points I can give them for combining classic sounds in a modern framework. It is hard to do and they were a complete success. Hopefully they will keep getting the shows around here and show people what they can do.

Citizen* - The asterisk does not go anywhere and that would be a lazy way for me to describe their music. Thankfully, that was not true as this hard rocking four piece had catchy music that went somewhere. It was a bit too pretty for me, reminding me of the time I saw Rex (Smith) open for Ted Nugent back in my high school days. But these guys are much tougher than Rex Smith thankfully. The guitars rocked and the rhythm section some times had a nasty undercurrent which helped offset the sometimes overly attractive singing and melodic lines. An accomplished band and one that can be successful, but one that came a little bit short of working for my tastes.

Niki Barr Band - This band had the longest trek tonight, hailing from Baltimore, but they added yet another unique rock element to tonight's bill. They had the lead guitar, bass, and drums working and were fronted Niki Barr singing, playing guitar and a bit of keyboards. She had great energy and charisma as did the entire band for that matter. They were very together and played a heavy rock music with full understanding of punk and post-punk moves. There was some very creative guitar work amongst the steady power of the rhythm section. Edgy and assured. They had enough creative twists away from the norm, sort of in the manner of some of the Dangerhouse bands like Alley Cats or Bags had when they went off in their direction away from LA pop-punk (I'm reading a biography of Black Flag, so I'm stuck in an LA punk mindset right now). Great set and they had the club rocking hard.

Black Dog Prowl - Another four-piece with two guitars blasting away, although they started with a solo bit from one of the guitarists who was doing a rootsy rock tune. Nice move to vary things up a bit. There was a tough blues base that was sometimes obscured in their heavy sound. I liken it to what would happen if the children of Black Oak Arkansas broke up their punk band and tried to reinvent their father's music. Or maybe, they are a grungier Valient Thorr or perhaps a localized Easy Action with less John Brannon. But it is more fun for me to dream up an odd way to work Black Oak Arkansas into this write-up. But back to these guys... They played hard, played well and went over with the crowd with their good tough rock sound in what was yet another variation of the hard rock theme that four bands brought tonight. Good show.

Quote of the Night: From Nikki Barr... "Fucking is a normal, natural thing..." as she went on to explain that there should be fucking in the streets. I hadn't realized that one of John Sinclair's key agenda points from the White Panther Party's work was still in play. I met Sinclair a few years ago and he is still a sharp and interesting character.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Little Bigheart & the Wilderbeast - Red Rooster -- Red & the Black - May 27 2010

Red Rooster - I saw this band once before at this same club and opening for this same band. I enjoyed both bands and wanted to see if much had changed since then. One big change here, as their accordion player/second vocalist did not make the train, so they were playing as a four-piece.  They also had some trumpet and keyboards last time. In the end, that just left more room for Jay Erickson's vocals and allowed listeners to focus on the solid Americana songwriting. The rhythm section was solid and there was plenty of room for the banjo to carry the songs and give some creative breaks. They did a couple of covers amidst a nice full set of original songs. The crowd started small tonight and grew steadily during the set and was won over by the quality of this band. Hopefully more people will discover this band's quality effort in a very accessible musical form.

Little Bigheart & the Wilderbeast - I had my choice of four shows tonight. Three of the shows featured bands I have seen twice before. I chose this show tonight for a few reasons, one of which was a personal note sent to me by the band. HINT--simple networking is a great marketing tool, folks. It is a tough business out there. Anyway, I was anxious to see how this four-piece was doing as it has been a while and they seem to be gigging pretty regularly in the area. They have impressed me since the first show and they did again tonight. If anything, they have even more confidence and strength in their execution. The music has always been somewhere between decent and very good. They play in a progressive style going back to days of bands that existed well before any of these guys were born. Prog is getting a better rap these days as people have come to understand it is not all about Yes, ELP, and the other bands that people like to make fun of. I am not sure what these guys listen to and will probably ask some day, but it is more fun to speculate. I hear some sort of Ground Hogs/Keef Hartley/Clark-Hutchinson sort of thing going which means there is a little bit of guitar-rock going on with a touch of psyche. At times, I heard an Eric Bell led Thin Lizzy (as opposed to Gorham/Robertson although the two guitarists here did do some double leads briefly). But I am showing my UK bias here, so for American influences? Oh, maybe Major Arcana, Gye Whiz, I am not sure. I just know it is fun to name obscure bands that this band has never even listened to, although some of my readers certainly have. But enough of those games. This band is good, getting better and hopefully will be playing their way into being a good draw for the local DC music scene and beyond. Do check them out some time.

Quote of the night: From the exchange between me and door lady tonight:
"Who are you hear to see?"
"Both bands."
"Well, I have to put one down."
"Well, the headliner did invite me to the show..."
Well, not OK actually. While I sympathize with the situation, it is not my responsibility to help this club (or the DC9) figure out how to allocate the small pool of money they take in. And if I know both bands and want to see both bands, then maybe these clubs should learn how to work with fractions like halves (I think they did once at DC9). I think we all learned fractions in 4th Grade. I remember one time that I could not even name a band I was seeing, as I just made a note on my calendar for a show I had researched three weeks earlier. So in future, you will get one answer from me and that is it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Holly Miranda - Grooms -- Black Cat - May 24 2010

Grooms - We begin, as we so often do, with a Brooklyn trio. The guitarist is the lead singer, although the female bassist adds some vocal lines on occasion. The first song began with a choppy post-punk sort of rhythm until it burst out into a hard psychedelic screaming guitar workout. OK, I am awake now. As the set progressed, I was really feeling a Sonic Youth sound--kind of the Daydream Nation classic rocking sort of sound (the swirling guitar and the bass lines really come close). They performed some songs from an album and debuted some new ones and it was not easy for me to judge the standouts aside from the opener. Still, this band has a good sound and some nice potential.

Holly Miranda - A four-piece this time, with Miranda on guitar, keyboards, and lead vocals. the two axemen add backup vocals throughout. Early on I was hearing a bit of a Banshees sound, although more jangly and modern. As the songs went on, there were shifts in style, but all within a clear vision. Lots of creative moves going on behind inviting vocals. I was quite impressed. The music was mysterious and transcendent. There was a decent enough Monday night crowd at the downstairs Black Cat stage and everyone seemed to be as involved as I was. She covered Yoko Ono's "Nobody Can See You Like I Do" in addition to her own originals. There was a lot to like tonight and I anticipate the stages will be getting a lot bigger for Ms. Miranda and her band.

Quote of the night: Something I have thought about often mentioned by the Grooms guitarist... "Sometimes I say thanks before anyone claps, I don't mean to..."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Medications - Imperial China -- Black Cat - May 20 2010

Imperial China - It's SRO (sardines rocin' in oil) at the Black Cat backroom tonight. I sensed many people came to see the opener or at least wanted to see both bands equally. I hope that is the case, because I have tried to alert people to how good this local band is (See my record review). They won over the crowd pretty easily tonight with their hard charging post punk guitar and electronica attack. Lots of rhythm, decent vocals and great songs that really do cause some bounce in the crowd. They may not have as singular a sound as Gang of Four, Joy Division, or Pil, but they can accompany these types of bands and hold their own. Hopefully good things will continue to happen for these three DC area guys.

Medications - This band looks and sounds familiar but I think it has been several years since I have seen them. I loved the opener with its catchy power-pop vocal hooks and nice raunchy guitar undercurrent--a great combination like peanut butter and chocolate. They are a four-piece with two guitars going at all times so the sound is strong with a small letup at times to do a poppier or more rhythmic tune. Catchy hooks are almost always present and the songs were a hit with the crowd. But based on the size, most of the crowd knew what to expect. I think a trip upstairs may be due next time the way this local band is going. Hard to beat a great local set of bands like these for $10.

Quote of the night: from the opener... "Sorry for the technical difficulties. This song will be better." That's the beauty of electronics and minimalism--I did not notice anything.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Leslie West - Scrapomatic -- Jammin' Java - May 17 2010

Scrapomatic - This is a Brooklyn based duo, one guy sings, the other plays acoustic guitar and sings some harmony vocals. They are joined by an electric guitarist from Alabama which was a shrewd move. Musically, it is blues based with some good soulful, if not overly breathy, singing. There was a cover of a Mississippi John Hurt song, but most others were original I think. It is hard for this music to really knock my socks off as it pretty much stayed true to a overdone genre, but there was enough quality to make for an enjoyable set. And the electric guitarist was an excellent player and gave enough highlights that kept my focus on this band.


Leslie West - I first saw the Leslie West Band in high school (that is the 70s) and he played the classic rock set of the time. He was then touring with his own band and not his famous band, Mountain. He still plays out regularly with the one other living original member of Mountain. This show was a solo show I thought, but he did bring his bassist that he has worked with in Mountain in recent years. And that was good, as Rev Jones was worth a solo show in his own right. Although Jones looked like he was touring with Discharge and accidentally got on the wrong tour bus, he was an amazing player. He complemented well on his huge six string bass and also did an amazing solo of Wizard of Oz tunes and "I Can See Clearly Now" with a double slapping playing style that needs to be seen. But West still roared above this great bass playing. His guitar style still practically defines classic rock and he played it through his four cabinet amp set-up, so it roared. And I have always liked his vocals which are still very strong after all these years. He may be the only singer I have seen hit their 60s and not have a noticeable amount of restraint in their singing. He lays down a loud guitar, sings over the top and again, achieves the classic rock sound. His set featured lots of Mountain material from old and new. He did three numbers solo on acoustic guitar, although that guitar also screamed heavy rock the whole time--even while playing "Blowing in the Wind". My only criticism was that I really missed the drums on some songs. He avoided "Mississippi Queen" and some other Mountain songs possibly for that reason. He closed with my favorite, "Nantucket Sleigh Ride" which tore the house down nicely. So if you are even a moderate fan of Mountain and West, it is still well worth seeing him in 2010 and beyond. The only thing he has lost, is a whole lot of weight.
Quote of the Night: From the opener... "this song is about a night of drinking, kind of like that scene in Rosemary's Baby where she's getting raped by the devil with everyone standing around and watching." Kudos for not only the movie reference, but the strange analogy as well.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

These United States - The Mother Hips - Middle Distance Runner -- Black Cat - May 15 2010

Middle Distance Runner - This is a good local four-piece that I have seen before. Some two-guitar and keyboards switching with a rhythm section is the core sound. The sound started way too heavy with the bass but Mr. Soundman righted it soon enough. Good vocals and a power-pop pace is the key, but there is a rootsy aspect to their sound and a few numbers really rock out as well. There are some great leads and a 60's garage-pop sound that comes through as well. I would call this a successful blend of many styles and not a jumble of confusion. Kudos to the band for pulling that off. High quality sounds here, pass it on.

The Mother Hips - I purposely try not to research bands before I see them, so the unknown bands come at me fresh and allow me to enjoy the music for what it is, as well as allow me to make comparisons on what I hear and not what the magazines or websites tell me. I had no idea about this band, but they looked veteran enough and from very early on I sensed California all the way. I thought maybe they were a Quicksilver Messenger Service for the 21st century. Perhaps the Drive-by El Caminos? Priuses? What is California anyway...  Well, I was correct in that they are from California like Quicksilver. They aren't quite as jamming, but jam nicely when they choose to. Their songs are excellent and I am also reminded of Crazy Horse, although this band is tighter (who isn't?). They had some rabid fans up front who called them back for an encore even though the between set house music had started. I have seen that happen maybe twice in the last 600 sets I have seen. The encore blew the doors out like a few of their other songs and I am not sure this band can do much wrong. Great set for this veteran band.

[photo by Sarah Law] 
These United States - A six piece band with plenty of guitars and what they mention is a new keyboardist who spends a lot of time on percussion on what likely would be the older songs. The crowd is wired tonight and the club is about half full. Immediately, the band's lead guitars interact in very clever ways as they push the rock portion of this stew of Americana, indie rock and folk rock forward. All three bands are linked by these roughly similar approaches although each had their own voice. There was some pedal steel at times and even a guest musician who was on his own tour nearby was invited in for a couple of tunes where he added some lap steel. The singer was way too happy to be completely sober, but he held it together and avoided sloppiness, so it was a positive. His attitude and the feel good nature of the music was quite refreshing on this Saturday night. Again, a good variety of songs within the set, but always with plenty of momentum to keep the crowd involved and happy.  So a good night of rootsy music for me and a few hundred young folks.

Quote of the Night: from the opener... "Thanks for coming and thanks for coming out early. A lot of people won't come out early and won't listen..."  Simple quote and I've heard many variations before, but it was very much in earnest and something I firmly believe in. I once saw the Jesus Lizard and Nirvana open for Dinosaur Jr. (and unlike much of the crowd, I bought my ticket for Nirvana) and enjoyed the openers more than the headliners. That has happened countless times.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Spectrum - Screen Vinyl Image - The Vacant Lots - Kuschty Rye Ergot -- Velvet Lounge - May 13 2010

Kuschty Rye Ergot - The Velvet Lounge web site tells me "doors 7:30/first band promptly at 8:30" which translate into Kuschty Rye Ergot hitting the stage at 9:30. So it is another late night at the Velvet Lounge. Kuschty is a John Stanton (Kohoutek) collective which comes out in different forms each time I see them. This time it is just himself on guitar and synth with Scott (Kohoutek) on drums, percussion and synth. They start with a drone that may have been a bit long for my tastes, but the guitar comes out and things get interesting. Scott slips behind the drum kit and they go off for a good while on sort of a space rock jam that is quite engaging. I liked the fuller band sound I saw several months back, but this duo is quite accomplished and delivered a nice opening set that I enjoyed. These two and their trusted friends just about always deliver the goods.

The Vacant Lots - Another duo with guitar and drums. They clearly are fans of Spacemen 3 with their simple riffing in a ringing psychedelic swirl. They do play songs with vocals, although the heavy echo and loud guitar make the words meaningless. Definite drone as most songs just have one riff or maybe one adjustment. Decent enough sound, but lacking something to make me fully engaged. To be fair to this and all bands tonight, this is my fourth straight night of live music after flying back from Scotland the long way on Sunday, so this late start tonight is not exactly helping enhance my usually positive nature.

Screen Vinyl Image - Yet another duo with a husband and wife team with guitars and keyboards that they use in multiple combinations. I really liked the guy's hardcore speed riffing with the loud shoegaze sheets of sound. It really pulled me in and was quite impressive. There were more echoey vocals but good song structure throughout the set. Loud, but sweet and not painful. Great set and a band I will be keeping my eye on. Recommended for sure.

Spectrum - Pete Kember leads this four-piece band from the UK. He and Jason Pierce lead the very influential cult band, Spacemen 3. Pierce has gone on to front the brilliant Spiritualized, while Kember (aka Sonic Boom) has lead this outfit. They stick very closely with the Spacemen 3 formula which is intense heavy riffing with a psychedelic tone and undertones. I liked the theremin placed near his keyboard/mic and guitar spot which he would either reach out and use or move over with his guitar and play to it. His band members held everything together and they covered at least one Spacemen song I believe I recognized, "Revolution", and also covered one by Suicide. I thought they were quite effective and they pulled in a really good crowd tonight. Although if I had my choice, I would take Spiritualized as they breakdown many barriers between genres and do really great things. But I do not have to choose just one, so see them both whenever possible. Believe me, if they weren't worth waiting for I would have left before the set as tired as I was.

Quote from last week: Sorry, I just had a lot of good ones from Scotland including this from a breakfast/lunch place serving up bacon rolls... "Michael Jackson was so disturbed. Where was his family? I mean to color your skin, even down to coloring your scrotum. Where was his mother? Disgusting trashing of your heritage..."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Public Image Ltd. -- 9:30 Club - May 12 2010

Public Image Ltd. - After a surprisingly long hiatus, John Lydon resurrects one of the most pivotal post-punk bands ever. In fact, they may have been most responsible for coining that term with the very different and challenging albums in the late seventies and eighties. So what exactly will happen tonight? I was excited to find out, as was a near-sold 9:30 Club crowd. No openers, just a good long set with many of the key songs from many of their albums. The set list does not appear to vary much from each show and it does appear to be a tight well controlled set. Lydon is in fine voice, once he gets the requested reverb early on. The band is excellent and features the Pop Group's drummer (another early post punk band around the time of early PiL), a more unknown bassist and Lu Edmonds who has worked with PiL, Mekons and was in the Damned for about five seconds (actually longer, but we Damned fans are still bummed about the second album even if isn't as bad as it is disappointing).

The band was excellent and the sound was quite strong tonight. Lu Edmonds brings more of a psychedelic swirl to the songs. He rounds off some of the jagged edges of Keith Levine's early work while still retaining enough of the bite. I would say his style bridges Levine and Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers (especially latter period work). He plays bouzouki some and both he and the bass player have some keyboards going at times. All three do backup vocals at times. The rhythm section was solid and is of course crucial to PiL's sound. Lydon's voice was good, his comments amusing as usual and his political fire was still high in comments and even a few jabs slipping into the songs.

As for the songs, they came off very well. I was enjoying the entire show well enough after the strong opener "Love Song" and then they went into "Chant" and pretty much blew my mind. It is not often you can take a great song from a brilliant album ("Metal Box") and do a better arrangement, but that is what they did. The song was screaming with the vocal interplay and sounded absolutely dangerous. I rarely feel the power and danger in a rock song these days, but this one literally had my jaw dropping and my eyes widening. Stunning. And the closer "Religion" did not lose any of that power. And with a three song encore, the show came to a powerful close. Lydon promised us that we could expect more things from PiL very soon. Good. It's been overdue, I think. This show started as enjoyable and ended as essential.

Quote of the Night: An exchange between me and a guy standing next to me before the show.
"What's with the music stand (by Lydon's mic)? What is this, Chopin? I mean, he's John fucking Lydon.
"Yeah, well it's been 17 years."
"But we don't care about the lyrics. It's John freaking Lydon. He can just make 'em up."
"Maybe, but many other people use them, David Johanssen of the Dolls, Pete Hammill...
"Really? Yeah, but a music stand. I mean. John Lydon. Just make it up."

Plug of the Night: There is an open house for all DC area bloggers at the Goethe Institut at the corner of I and 7th Street in the NW. It is Monday the 17th from 7-9pm. Here is the site and you can contact Ellie Brown for more information...

I would love to attend but I will be out reviewing a guy I saw open for KISS in high school, Leslie West a the Jammin' Java in Vienna, VA. But hopefully they will do another as I do enjoy going to the Goethe for movies and Fringe events.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Buzzcocks - The Dollyrots -- Black Cat - May 11 2010

The Dollyrots - This band is a power trio with a female bassist/lead vocalist. They have a clear, clean hook oriented pop punk sound. Hmmm, kind of fits perfectly with the headliners, what a shock. Very steady sounds here with a few songs standing out more. They tried a clap along in the second song and an odd sing along that made no sense to me early on as they were trying to rev up the crowd a bit. Eventually, their music won the crowd over and they did have a good chant along and clapping song at the end. So, I would advise them to take care in how hard and early you push a crowd next time. But they kept a good attitude, so that was refreshing. I think their cover of Melanie's "Brand New Key" won over a lot of people. And they laughed off their "Spinal Tap" moment where their banner half fell down covering the drummer who still managed to keep the beat. Their music did win me over, too and I enjoyed the set. They are a good enough band to see on their own and they certainly set the table tonight for the mighty Buzzcocks.

Steve, Danny, Chris, Pete, credit: Ian Rook (

The Buzzcocks - I have not seen this essential band since the early nineties (in Salt Lake City no less) and they have taken a while to get on this side of the Atlantic for a variety of reasons. They still feature Diggle and Shelley on guitars and vocals, with Pete Shelley doing most of the leads. The concept of this tour is the playing of the first two albums in their entirety. I have no problem with that as the weakest material is still excellent. And did they ever play them as albums, as they ripped through the songs with very little space in between. Vocals were good and the sound was strong--maybe a bit too much reverb on guitars, but not distracting. Not much stage patter as they just blasted away, although Shelley mentioned "I Need" was making its North American debut which does some time happens on these "whole album" shows. Steve Diggle always looks like he is having the time of his life on stage interacting with the crowd which pretty much is because he is having the time of his life. If not for the Buzzcocks, he would be hamming it up with everyone at a local pub somewhere. Shelley is quieter, but smart and outgoing enough and when the show ended, they all worked the appreciative crowd up front for some time before leaving. But not before a few "Singles Going Steady" set of encores including: "Harmony in my Head", "Promises", "Love You More", "What Do I Get" and "Orgasm Addict". The crowd was loudly doing the oh-ohs in the songs with no prompting and really jumping around. Killer show. Welcome back to North America, Buzzcocks, you have been missed.

Plug of the Night: I was happy to meet Michael Darpino between sets. He writes excellent reviews of many of the shows I see along with others I wish I had. We could have talked music non-stop for days and over time, I am sure we will. Check out his work at the link or all the write-ups at

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Caribou - Toro y Moi -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - May 10 2010

Toro y Moi - I saw this solo act recently and was pleasantly surprised to see that in the mean time, he has transformed into a three-piece band. In fact, this is their eighth show together. He has added a bass and drummer, although the bass player played a bit of guitar, too. Keyboards and dreamy pop vocals are still at the fore of this music. It is pop music with lots of dreamy echo and effects carrying it into light psychedelia. The songs are catchy and at both shows, the audience clearly gets into the music. They survived a bit of static in two songs that the soundman fixed on stage.With a full slate of gigs opening for Caribou, the future looks bright for this South Carolina band.

Caribou - Haven't caught up with these hot Canadians in a long time, very near the time they had to change their name from Manitoba due to the lawyers of the Dictators' "Handsome Dick" Manitoba making some threats. Hey Dick (nee Richard Blum), aren't you just running a bar these days? Well Caribou is doing just fine, thank-you, as the denizens of this absolutely jam-packed sold-out crowd will attest. Caribou is actually one person who is a math scholar in a family of math scholars. I will resist the urge to call this math rock (a truly odd category that makes a little sense, but kind of doesn't) and I would more easily classify it as psychedelic pop-rock. I thought he had a smaller band last time, but it was four at this show. He has a drummer, guitarist and bass/backing vocalist assisting him. He plays guitar, keyboards and drums. I thought the songs were all as strong as could be. They went from dreamy pop to edgy rock, weaving psychedelic moods in and out, varying from long jams to structured pop songs. This is really some inventive and fun energetic music. I liked them quite a bit last time. I really liked them a lot this time. Note to the Black Cat and 9:30 Club, this band needs to hit one of your stages next time as they are very steadily building a smart fan base and I don't see a ceiling anywhere nearby.

Sign from London from a Betting Parlor last week: "Make this election pay! 100 ways to bet all local and National election results."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Caedmon - Scottish Story Telling Center - May 7 and 8 2010

Caedmon - When the special and unique bands reform somewhere in the world, I try to get there if I can. When Comus reformed on a boat between Sweden and Finland, I was there. When Pentangle played Royal Albert Hall a few months later, I made the pilgrimage. The trips were magical and I would have forever regretting missing them. Caedmon with its one album issued (500 copies yet) is not going to get the Royal Albert Hall. But thanks to the CD reissue along with a live set and the internet, there was always some interest in this excellent band. They first rehearsed together a couple years ago and enjoyed it and worked on many new songs. Now they have decided to follow through on this and come out with an album soon. Along with that, they decided to treat friends, families and anyone else that wanted to make the pilgrimage to Edinburgh to two shows. This may be the only shows they do since 1978. Based on the results, I hope not. All five original members were present and were nicely supplemented occasionally by Simon's son on drums, Angela's daughter on vocals and some old friends on sax. All five members were spot on throughout the shows. They all sing and although there was some tentativeness at times and at first, their confidence grew and their magical voices came back. Angela's voice (as they even quoted the internet as saying "fragile") was still very recognizable as it kind of floats gently above the music. Jim Bisset's electric guitar was a model of compressed solos and unique coloring. Sam Wilson playing 5-string bass mostly could both ground the songs or run of lead moves of his own. Simon Jaquet grounded things in the folk camp with his acoustic guitar and mandolin, unless he felt like keeping a beat on a drum kit for the newer songs. And Ken Patterson played countless instruments in many ways with the cello and keyboards being the key sounds in the older songs. I go into a lot of detail here as the separate instruments really stand out with clear space in between. Yet it comes together brilliantly on record and in these shows. This really would not have worked with half the band. Newer members would have laid down simpler parts. These five really do put it together in such a wonderful manner like all great bands. On their website and as they discussed on stage, the categories of folk, folk-rock, Christian Rock, Psyche-folk, and Acid Folk have all come into play in discussions of the band. Thankfully freak folk and free folk are for the newcomers, because you could throw those in, too. There are elements of everything mentioned along with even some jazz, world and rock in some of the newer songs. But the category problem is exactly why they are such a success. This is also true of Pentangle and Comus and what do you know? If I had to wonder why I made such long treks for these three bands, it is quite clear. They all achieved a unique and even singular sound. The fact that is of high quality only sweetens the deal.

They picked the key songs from the album. They did Aslan twice four nights (encore bonuses) which makes sense as this the song I usually select when I make compilations for friends. Sea Song set the mood just as brilliantly as the album version did. Columba's Song was a daring choice and they did mention that they used to play it really fast. Even a bit slower, it really is a one of a kind song that still amazes me. Give Me Jesus was a great cover that showed yet another of their many styles. They did a couple from their live CD and also opened each show with a song not on the CDs, but was specially written for their farewell show. It was like the classic bonus track discovery (except I can't go back to it... yet?)

The new songs they performed were varied and quite lovely for the most part. You can hear them at the myspace link. You should also check out their website and stay tuned for when their new album comes out. This band certainly deserves further recognition beyond their cult following. Although most of the audience were friends, I did chat with some older folks who I thought knew them, but instead had no idea who they were, just thought that it looked like a fun event. They were won over, too, which tells me more than I can try to analyze myself. So I will stop now, happy I came for the music and also pleased that I met the band and they were all some of the nicest people you would want to talk to. I certainly understand why everyone cannot fly around to see every interesting band, but it should serve as a reminder to always be on the lookout for interesting music and when in doubt, go for it. You won't regret it.

Quote of the night: Some friends of theirs discussion the poster that mentioned acid folk... "What's acid about it? Sulphuric?"

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ray Davies - Mark Perry? -- Usher Hall (Edinburgh) - May 5 2010

Mark Perry - My ticket said "special guests", there were no introductions, the singer/guitarist did not identify himself. He did introduce his keyboardist as Allie. Allie did introduce him while everyone was applauding at the end. But due to the noise, I heard Mark Perry. Looking up Mark Perry, he plays guitar in Canada. I do not think it was him any more than it was the Mark Perry who ran Sniffin' Glue magazine or sang for ATV. A quick websearch on this antique computer I am using yielded nothing so this is a mystery. In any event, the set was simple and fine. It was nothing where I would rush out and buy a CD, so I am personally ok without knowing his name. But it was well received and there were some decent songs. The keys were a nice plus for the arrangements.

Ray Davies - I saw this veteran back at the 9:30 Club maybe 5 years ago. I enjoyed it much and found it interesting that it was by far the oldest crowd I was with. Of course, he will have some old fans, but many of the other older acts I frequently see had a bit younger blood in the mix. Pretty similar here, but the venue was huge and there was maybe some younger blood there, too, at least a couple father/sons near me. I mention this as the Kinks and Davies music is pretty classic stuff and sometimes gets short shrift when there is discussion of the giants of the British Invasion of the sixties. The hall was pretty classy and apparently it does classical concerts and rock/pop shows. The sound was excellent and his voice is quite amazing in the timbre and hitting the notes and all that. He plays mostly acoustic guitar throughout with a touch of electric. He worked with his lead guitarist as a duo for quite a long time before bringing on his full band. The keyboardist did sneak out to add an accordian for two songs, though. I thought he may have overdone the sing-alongs by trying it with a few challenging songs. But other times, it was natural and when you are dealing with classics, some of which he is getting closer and closer to the half century mark of performances, it is only fair to allow him leeway. He did a set of songs that were used in films which allowed for an amusing Wim Wenders impersonation. Odd that he mentioned one was in Juno, yet he hadn't seen it (worth a look, I think). He even read a little from X-Ray, his autobiography. Dedications were to his brother before his closer, All Day and All of the Night (after quoting a nasty rejection label from Direct, one of the many labels that rejected the Kinks demos). He also had a dedication to the Knack (mentioning their late singer)before playing a song the Knack had covered. And the best dedication was to Alex Chilton before really rocking out. He does many of his hits as mentioned along with Lola, End of the Day, I Need You, Sunny Afternoon, etc. He covers newer songs, different Kinks and solo periods. His Irish guitarist was excellent and the songs sounded fresh. I'll leave others to discuss his brilliance in song writing with his special observations of surroundings detail, but suffice it to say, this is one great song writer who still can play and sing.

Pithy sidebars will have to wait. There is a line behind me, so I must leave.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Stooges - Suicide -- Hammersmith Apollo - May 3 2010

Suicide - The line to get in was crowded with really old weather beaten guys who clearly look like bare minimum survivors from the punk era. Really a good vibe which you can see at other Stooges shows, but not with this concentration thanks to the great London punk scene. When I hit my balcony seat, it was a bit more diverse with a couple of younger Italian guys next to me and some people in front who I would've guessed were Deadheads if not for their stooges t-shirts. Anyway, the pre-punk electronic confrontationalists from NYC hit the stage. They do their first and pivotal album in full with Martin Rev running keyboards, electronics and loops and Alan Vega at the mic. I was not expecting the intense club shows they used to do due to the venue size and maybe their age, the music did the job more than well. The sound was great with lots of throbbing electronica. The Italian guys among others around me left to take a break or whined about things before going. The music still has the power to confront and annoy and be very cool and interesting. I enjoyed it and I did see at least two Suicide t-shirts. So some people enjoyed it and got and the others didn't, which just left us more to "get", if you get my meaning.

Iggy and the Stooges - I saw the reformed Stooges a couple of times when they toured a few years back and caught Iggy and Ron separately in the old punk days. The recent shows were spectacular, absolutely monumental achievements that I am so happy not to have missed. Ron Asheton's death was a sad blow to their continuation, except for one odd deja vu situation. Iggy wanted to work with James Williamson prior to their third lp, Raw Power, and up pulling the Ashetons in for that effort. Ron did not want James as part of the new Stooges, although James was willing to do some work. Then Ron dies and James gets offered a good early retirement package (like I did). So now, Mike Watt fills in for the second deceased bass player (mayber third.. Recca, Zettner?) and we have the new Raw Power lineup. They were here to play the album in full starting with the title cut, then proceeding pretty much in order. The crowd was pumped and the band was hot. Iggy was Iggy and I was impressed that the voice and energy was good on the second straight sold out night. He did not do two shows in a row on previous tours. But he was up for crowd surfing dives, crazed dancing, fans on stage, all their classics. And how he manages those pants, I am not sure I even want to know. I was getting such a unique feeling with the second Stooges version. Although, it is not my favorite version, it is a fascinating different style very key to Detroit rock I believe. After the album, they just continued to let it rip with Cock in my Pocket/I Gotta Right/I Wanna Be Your Dog/1970/LA Blues/an instrumental maybe from Kill City/Beyond the Law/Open Up and Bleed. Awesome songs, enough from the earlier albums and killer material from the unreleased or oddly released stuff of the later era. I was dearly hoping for Open Up and Bleed which is only available from live shows and was thrilled when they went into the snake charming riffs. They encored with Fun House and Kill City which is a nice funky combo to send everyone home with. Glourious, essential music. Mike Watt is kind of the guy people like me from my era look up to as getting to live out his/our fantasy. At the end of the night, he took his bass in one hand and pumped his fist while jumping up and down which was the perfect meeting of minds with me. Do see this band when they hit the States, hopefully later this year.

Signs surrounding the Show:  Ever observant of quirky coincidences, I did spot a scalper selling Stooges tickets while a pizza delivery guy rode his bike by with the oddly worded "Raw Pizza" on the box on the back of his bike. Then on the train to Edinburgh after the show, I saw a billboard for an insurance company with two crazy looking individuals and one of them had to be Iggy. If not, he could win a lawsuit, especially in the UK.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

DC ROCK LIVE on the road...

Greetings all. I am taking the act on the road tomorrow flying to London to see the Stooges with Suicide at the Hammersmith Apollo. Then it is up to Edinburgh to see the Caedmon reunion shows (first in 32 years). I will try to post from the UK, but if not, you'll get the writeups on May 10th. And then, it is a lot more DC shows.

It has been eighteen fun months of doing this blog and I plan to keep going strong. I was going to write an autobiographical piece but I get depressed before trips and wasn't up to it (yeah, I know, that sounds opposite of the way it should go). But I'll get some more things up this month and may try some other ideas.

So keep rocking in DC. I'll be back in time for the Buzzcocks and PiL and the great local scene..