Saturday, July 31, 2010

Michael Schenker Group - Lynch Mob - 15 Minutes - Baby Jayne - Kat Atomic -- Jaxx - July 30 3010

Kat Atomic - Yeow, so much for lasting at the back of the dance floor. The sound man behind me has the vocals high enough that the female singer's powerful bursts really pierced my ears. Whatever happened to the good old days when sound men screwed the opening bands out of full volume? Time to move back to the corner. It is a sold out show tonight, so it will be tricky. Still annoying to my ears, so I put my headphones on. Then the music starts to annoy me, so I actually turn my IPOD on. Well, that's too distracting. Pedestrian hard rock which if I still drank and plunked down $3 to hear a covers band, I could tolerate. Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker" was covered, probably other covers. The band looks smart enough and old enough not to quit their day jobs.

Baby Jayne - What ever happened to...? Well, they became a glam rock band that could have fit in at the Batusis show, but not as well as the two that played that night. It seemed a bit more Black Oak Arkansas than New York Dolls. They did a decent "Highway to Hell" and thankfully didn't cover any Baby Jane songs like "Message to Daddy" (see the movie), but the originals were all over the place. "Road Rockers" was painful, but others were quite decent. Still a bit too many cliches and inane chatter. Maybe a bit more experience...

15 Minutes - The first song sounded like a reworking of Zeppelin's "The Immigrant Song". I took me about two minutes before I was certain it was just a very similar song. They then covered "Fairies Wear Boots" by Sabbath. Coincidentally, I just saw a documentary where Black Sabbath's drummer said that was one of his favorites to play as he could do some of his jazz moves. Well, this drummer reminded me of what a drummer will do when he doesn't have any jazz moves. Otherwise it sounded nice. Oh, now we hear "The Immigrant Song" covered. I was psychically confused earlier. They did it a bit slower which was good to put a personal stamp on it. I know the next song... I think it's Soundgarden. "No Shame"? Decent. And 15 Minutes finishes with one more song completing their set in 23 minutes, shortened due to some technical issues and a late start. Fairly good set, but with loads of covers.

Lynch Mob - This band features George Lynch who is well known guitarist, although I am not up on him. He's drummer has played with Ozzy Osbourne and Foreigner, and the band is solid. Lynch can play clearly. The songs are ok, some inventive moves here and there, kind of basic hard rock. Jaxx security has me and some other people move from our corner as they had to set up a "meet and greet". Fine, whatever, I just took a seat out in the room by the door where you can't see anything and barely hear the music. And right after the set, I go back and see that they did not do anything in the corner I was at and more wisely, put the meet and greet of Lynch Mob at the Lynch Mob merchandise table some 30 feet away. Nice of these guys to all come out and chat with fans and sign CDs and at least six guitars that fans brought with them.

Michael Schenker Group - Schenker was one of my early guitar heroes in high school when his blazing style was pushing UFO to new heights. Since then, we've had Eddie Van Halen and plenty more speed demons, so there are loads of fast guitarists to choose from. Schenker still has a nice style with the speed and demonstrated it this evening. He has a solid band including the great Carmen Appice on drums. Appice looked good, but sounded kind of simplistic actually. That may be a bit harsh, but he just did not have the power and panache I used to see from him. But he's 63 and this was a bit of an all-star lineup with who knows how much rehearsal time. Speaking of which, I missed seeing the great Rev Jones (who I saw with Leslie West) who will be joining on bass for the month of August. Anyway, this was a good set and although I was not expecting much from the songs themselves, they picked some pretty good ones, so most everyone had a good time.

T-shirts of the Night: The quotes were some of the lamest, dullest heavy metal talk, so just watch Spinal Tap instead. But the t-shirts had plenty of variety. The soccer jersey of note was Aaron Lennon of Tottenham Hotspur/England which is another odd choice in this diverse area. I saw a Tattoo parlor shirt on someone in shorts that had no visible tattoos. Wait, maybe one peeking through on upper arm. An Anvil shirt, well not so odd anymore. MSG 25th Anniversary shirt was nice since this was the 30th Anniversary tour. And some ugly shirt with a long legged torso only in underwear with some message saying "Don't be gay"? on it. I am glad I did not see the front.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Batusis - Prima Donna -- Black Cat - July 29 2010

Prima Donna - The theme from "The Omen" blasts away as a twin guitar glam-rock line-up hits the stage with a sax-keyboardist being the unique feature. They start with a portion of Link Wray's "Rumble" before heading into their songs which were fairly standard hard loud glam-rock, perfectly fitting for a band opening for members of the New York Dolls and Dead Boys. The sax was a bit hard to hear through the very loud mix. The keyboards faired better, although the playing reminded me of Jennifer Miro's pounding with the Nuns, but this was more in tune. They covered Wayne County's "Fuck Off" and brought Cheetah Chrome up to do a nice "All this and More" from his old band. One more notable cover,"Keep A-Knockin'" and a windmill guitar move that would have Pete Townshend envious and the 45 minute set was over. A nice opener for tonight's show, nothing wildly original, but this was trashy fun executed very well.

Batusis - This band features Sylvain Sylvain (New York Dolls) and Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys, Jeff Dahl, Rocket from the Tombs, etc) with a couple of younger guys on bass and drums. I am perplexed at how it has taken me this long to see Cheetah Chrome play live, and for that matter any of the Dead Boys. Somehow our paths did not cross until now. Yet when our paths crossed before the show as he walked by, we kind of nodded to each other in some sort of veteran punk rock acknowledgment. I may like psychedelic music, folk music, and lots more, but there is always something about a punk rock show with the survivors that makes me feel at home. Anyway, they opened with an instrumental garage rocker. Then they did a Johnny Thunders tune "I Want to be Loved". After that, Cheetah sang "Sonic Reducer" which retained its power after all these years. The Dolls' "Trash" was next. Then another garage rocker. A surprise version of VU's "Femme Fatale" complete with audience sing-a-long with Sylvain trying to get the men and women to do different parts. It almost worked. There were more instrumentals and I believe that was "Pipeline" or something else. "Jet Boy" sounded more like Grand Funk than the NY Dolls which was interesting. Cheetah sang a great closer and the encored the Batusi theme (from an old Batman episode--probably modified a bit). The band rocked as expected. Cheetah can still rip off leads, Sylvain will be rocking into his 80s, and the small crowd (60-80) in the backroom had a good time. That is what this night was all about.

Quote of the Night: Sylvain after the sing along-- "God that is beautiful, better than Paul McCartney at the White House"

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Seu Jorge and Almaz -- 9:30 Club - July 27 2010

Seu Jorge and Almaz - It is at the point that I may just start seeing everything that comes from Brazil as I have not been disappointed and have often been enlightened at the exciting music that has made its way north of the Equator. Granted, I have seen some legends like Os Mutantes, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, but I was also enchanted by a female singer from Thievery Corporation who I saw years ago. And that brings us to another Brazilian singer from Thievery Corporation, Seu Jorge. He has assembled a simple band of guitar, bass and two percussionists and calls it Amaz. He sings all vocals, plays some flute and synthesizer and guitar at night's end. They hit the stage playing some incredibly droning psychedelic mind bender complete with spacey flute. This was a great cross between Os Mutantes and Dead Meadow with Ian Curtis (Joy Division) on vocals. The only problem with this was my jaw dropped so far, that it would be impossible to sustain this level of brilliance. So they pulled back a bit merely by moving more to Caetano Veloso classical/rock/psyche vibe. Samba beats, heavy guitar on occasion, great vocals--truly infectious material. Just as I settled in, they whipped another curve ball in with a cover of Kraftwerk's "The Model" which they may have learned from the original or from the Big Black version (as I did). More originals, a cover or two I did not pick up on and one more that I did with "Ziggy Stardust" sung in Portugese. Jorge did a two song encore with just voice and his guitar and a percussionist joined him on one of the songs. The band went over huge with everyone and obviously I was totally good with that. The reminded me of all my favorites from Brazil, North America and Europe. They really knew how to combine the elements into a dazzling stew.

Shirt of the Night - I am at a Brazilian show and the guy next to me is wearing a soccer jersey. No surprise there, but it's of "Bellamy"? Is that the Welsh polarizing fireball Craig Bellamy from Man City? How can that be with all the available Brazilian soccer jerseys available? Well, in looking it up at home, it may have been a DC United jersey although I don't know of a Bellamy on the roster. Anyway, the soccer jerseys are always interesting to me, but next Brazil show, please stick with Luis Fabiano or Kaka. I confuse easily.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Hoof and the Heel - Shortwave Communique -- DC9 - July 26 2010

Shortwave Communique - A local four-piece begins tonight's proceedings in front of a pretty meager Monday night crowd. They have a couple of guitars going with the rock rhythm section. The songs vary a bit from power pop to indie rock. I really liked the instrumental psyche jam the most and also found the power pop a bit better than the rest. They seem young and have a nice set worked out that will likely get better as they continue. I would recommend to work on the guitar arrangements a bit more. They creatively tried to do different things beyond one guy doing leads with one guy strumming chords, but they were too often in the upper registers with the rhythm section too quiet to hold a bottom or mid-range. Minor critique, but there are always a couple of things I may see to keep me from going crazy about a band. But I will have no problem seeing these guys again and enjoying their set.

The Hoof and the Heel - A four piece from Montreal is up next. They have keyboards, acoustic guitar along with bass and drums. The music is fairly simple with two points of focus. The first is the quality pop-rock songs that do show a nice touch with melody. The second are the consistent dual voices of the male and female vocalists. There is a nice magic to a woven vocal line with two voices together for almost the entire set. I was reminded of some of my other favorite combinations. They were not quite as overpowering as Balin/Slick from Jefferson Airplane or quite as earthy as Doe/Cervenka from X. They were somewhere in between with a good pop sensibility, showing deep feeling in one song and fiery excitement in the next. This is a fairly young band from what I gather, so it will be interesting to see how they progress. They promised to return and I just may be there the next time.

Quote of the Night: "Hoots and Helmouth" which was my response when I was asked by the doorman who I came to see. Oops, it is one of those H&H bands.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Disco Machine Gun "Zona"

It does not surprise me at all that this is an enjoyable and creative cross-genre album. I was impressed with his Philadelphia band's live set earlier this year where they fought through an iffy sound system with some energetic rock music that had several under-currents of other styles working within. They don't quite explode as audaciously as one of my favorite bands, Caverns, but they do share some creative space with them. In Caverns case, it was the marrying of classical piano to heavy metal. Here it is a violin married to progressive metal, punk spirit and even some western themes. I could try to name some other bands they sound like, but there it would be more in spirit than actual sound. OK, maybe Amon Duul II meets the Proletariat. At the end of the listen, I was quite impressed and this is one I will return to several times. Well that's not it, but you can sample the entire album and download it at the price you want to pay at:

Songs to check out...

Silver Eyes - A short appetizer that sets a table in the Wild West and prepares you for the main course which is fusion cuisine at its finest.

Homeland - I mentioned the Proletariat above as they also have a song called Homeland. This one rocks harder.

Rook Hoka-Hey - A lovely slow psychedelic rocker sounding like a metal band covering Dead Meadow.

The Mostly Dead "Slightly Alive" eps

This ep has eleven songs split among two 7" records. From song one to eleven, you get rock solid intense hardcore punk rock. I like these guys live and these records represent what they do on stage with just a bit of nice clean studio production. Zak Jordan has a classic strong voice that has better range than the guttural grunting singers that tend to turn me off. The band is fast with just enough good guitar work to stand out from the pack. I like the ringing sound of the guitars on Side One of the first ep. Lyrically they do well by covering the usual personal angst in a far better manner than most cliche ridden bands. I can be awfully hard on punk rock bands in this century as I lived with so much of this music back in its formative years. However, there is always a place for this message and energetic delivery. The Mostly Dead have all of that and enough personal style to deliver the goods.

Although all the songs play well together, the highlights for me were:

You Suck at Interventions - A great title is matched by intense music with a nice middle section that breaks a few rules.

Culture Dog - Good lyrics with that great ringing guitar work.

Opposition - A cool bass sound with a guitar that sneaks in from the background in its own odd way.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Health - Yip Yip - True Womanhood -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - July 24 2010

True Womanhood - I was not going to go out into the scorching heat today, but I found a ticket for this show tonight. So, into a moderately cool club to check out this local three-piece. Classic power trio instruments, although the drummer had electronic drums and also had a drum machine and sequencer going along with them all. The only woman in the band played bass and she did some reasonably steady inventive lines. The guitarist sang well and focused more on creating a shimmering sound than moving around the fretboard. They kind of reminded me of a simpler more electronic Muse, as their was a heaviness in their sound. They have some sort of post-Radiohead sound. The playing was spirited and the vocal melodies were enough to keep my interest. A nice set by this local band.

Yip Yip - From Orlando Florida comes this duo dressed in black and white Devo-like jumpers. They stand behind black boxes full of various electronic devices. One guy plays sax and does some back up vocals. The other sings lead and bashes some cymbals. The vocals are all treated and don't really move me a whole lot. I am not a huge fan of electronic dance music and there just was not enough there. A couple of songs had some snap to them between the vocals and a bit of pop working. But most just pulsated a lot with a sizable crowd politely watching (while dances were upstairs at the free more obvious electronic dance music).

Health - From the opening notes, I immediately understood how I could like electronic dance music. This LA band had a hard hitting drummer and three guys that played guitars, bass, electronic devices out of my sight line, more drums and vocals. The sound was pummeling with percussive strength and great swirling sounds. The vocals were soft and dreamy with some intense back-up noise as well. It was a nice contrast of sounds that the band had under control the whole time. They are certainly in the Animal Collective camp of using lots of electronics with real instruments and vocals staying in the forefront. And they have catchy songs. But their energy and non-stop playing really got the crowd into it and by the end of the set, there was a lot more dancing evident than most DC shows. Now if electronic dance bands play like this, I may be in attendance much more frequently than I have been thus far.

Blog Update - If you look over to the right column, I am now listing ten upcoming events around the DC area. I may not attend all of them, but I will be at a majority of them. I will add some films, plays and other events that I think are worthy of your time and money. I will update this on Saturday or Sunday. If you have a show or an event to publicize, let me know. Please support your local scene. It happens because people like us head out of our homes and take in the world, or at least a local part of it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Deer Tick - Wye Oak - Gamble House -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - July 22 2010

Gamble House - From Los Angeles comes this four piece with the usual lineup and one guy switching from keyboards to lead guitar. Only 30-35 people of this sold-out show were here at the start of the set, but it grew as expected. They were treated to some pretty decent indie pop-rock songs with just a bit of shoegaze shimmer. I liked the lead work which was more of a textural originality vs. pyrotechnic fretboard work. It was similar to the lead guitarist of a band I used to see in the area called Schwa. They won't be knocking Radiohead or Fleet Foxes off of the charts, but they do fit into this scene quite nicely.

Wye Oak - The not-so-secret secret that works for me is the combination of unique elements into ways that may surprise and offer a bit of originality within common themes and genres. Wye Oak has been an example of that since early on. They have a female voice and guitar with a unique drummer-keyboardist who plays one-handed drums and keyboards simultaneously. I have liked them from the beginning but they seem to get better and better. They really have their sound down now with lots of strong gutsy playing and surprisingly noisy moments. They shift it into a more folk-rock sound with ease and really keep the drama and edge to the music. Excellent set. I sense they are creating a bit of a buzz. I hope so, as this Baltimore duo is deserving of a world-wide audience.

Deer Tick - A New England friend of mine has extolling the songwriting virtues of John J. McCauley III for many years. He preferred the era when he performed as a folkie under this name. But in recent years, he has now had a working band that is really rising steadily in the indie scene. Hence this sold out show tonight. I hear some of the Dylan/Petty/Mellencamp touches in his songs. He does have a great ability to really integrate his singing into the pop hooks of the guitars. He is allowing the others to add showcase some soon to be recorded songs which is nice, but his songs stood out more. I was surprised he did a Tom Petty cover "Breakdown" as kind of obvious, but then I realized that the song is 34 years old! When the Sex Pistols did their take on Eddie Cochrane's "Something Else", I felt they were digging far back in rock'n'roll roots. Yet that was only 17 years back from when they were doing it. Sorry for digressing, but this is one of those moments I frequently have where time moves at different speeds depending on my age. So Deer Tick can feel free to cover ancient songs like early Tom Petty. It went over well enough, but the important point is that they write great songs themselves and have a nice style on stage. The set went over well in spite of the hot hot temperatures with all the wall-to-wall bodies in the club.

Quote of the Night: From the opening set... "We've been on tour with Rogue Wave a lot recently, but it is great to be here in.... (crowd: DC!)... yeah, DC. Happy to be here." Is this not a violation of Commandment One of Stage Patter?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

East Coast Caravan - Amber Dutton -- DC9 - July 20 2010

Amber Dutton - Well it was too good to last. From that hyper-attentive audience at a jazz club on Monday to the typical gabby cell phone gazing (eyes do not gaze upon shoes any more) club people. When I was able to focus attention on the stage, I was very pleasantly rewarded. Amber Dutton sings and strums an acoustic guitar. I would say about half the songs were very good, while the rest were decent enough. The real bright spot was her addition of Gregg Hammond on second guitar with a touch of mandolin and bass. He played acoustic but played all kinds of leads and runs with various effects. The first song reminded me of one of my favorite spacey acoustic duos, Emtidi, which is a sound I do not hear often enough. Ms. Dutton was a bit more Americana than European psychedelic folk, but the combination with Hammond made for a very entertaining set. I even heard Fresh Maggots at times (the very collectible, yet oddly named psyche-folk duo)! This set was a real treat for those of us who actually listened to it.

GW jam band East Coast Caravan.
East Coast Caravan - This area band is a four piece with two guitarists. They play very catchy pop music with a touch of roots and catchy rhythms. The guitars do a lot of interesting angular runs and work off of each other well. Frankly, the music would slip into perfectly decent music that would not personally grab me, were it not for these interesting guitar runs. I think their songs are certainly of a quality where they should attract a lot of interest. As long as they keep their edge, I will be one of those interested listeners. And they did a Stevie Ray Vaughn tune for the blues fans out there.

Quote of the Night: From the headliners... "We didn't get much sleep last night. Girls kept banging on the door. We finally had to get up and let them out." rimshot, please.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Last Poets -- Blues Alley - july 19 2010

The Last Poets - This show goes in the category of "legendary artists I need to see before one of us dies". This poetry/music collective formed on Malcolm X's birthday, May 19th, 1968. Their words and musical style speaks of life in that time period, but is no less relevant today. They consist of two poets that have been with this group a long, long time and a guy playing congas and assisting with backing vocals. There were a couple very short opening acts tonight with a nice female singer/poet and a streetwise poet/rapper who roused the crowd, but was kind of cliche. That point was really brought home by the Last Poets whose material was up to the ultimate challenge by being personal, yet universal. The rhythms were wonderful and the cadence and style of the vocal delivery which featured a mix of singing and talking was dead on all night. Each piece was piercing and strong. One poem brought a woman to tears near me which was touching considering the amount of shows I go to with people yammering away in unimportant conversations or checking for that latest email which could easily wait 12 hours, let alone for the 45 minutes it would take to pay attention to someone's set. So this show really did take me back to different times. No, that is not it. It actually brought those times to me in the here and now which was exactly their point and speaks to their artistic strength. I received high class music, literature and theater all in one short set. As they left, one of the Poets stuck out his hand for me and thanked me for coming. No, thank you for continuing to bring you art to the wider world.
Quote of the Night: "You folks know what a shooting gallery is? Well, back in the day it was a place where everyone would be shooting up. They'd be sticking needles all over their bodies in search of that fresh vein they could shoot into. It was rough, but when I saw one guy pull out his dick and shoot into that, man, that was too much for me."

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Mostly Dead - Worn in Red - Drugs of Faith -- Black Cat - July 18 2010

Drugs of Faith - The first song was way too loud from this power trio. Either the sound guy fixed things quickly or the five feet I moved back helped. From then on it was nicely loud hardcore punk. Fast, strong and some good moves from Black Fag, maybe Helmet, a touch of metal, and some edgy post-punk touches. Short, sweet and a bit better than average from what I hear.

Worn in Red - Speaking of post-punk, this band really succeeded in combining hard punk rock with lots of dynamic shifts of tempo and sound. They started the set by asking how long they had to play and joked that they wanted to do their jam set like Dark Star or some shit. As amusing as that was (and impressive that they know the quintessential jam song), as the set wore on, I thought these guys were creative enough to pull off a high energy Dark Star set. The two guitars played off each other well with the rhythm section pounding and two guys trading off vocal duties. This band can crossover into other rock terrains and turn on people who normally don't care for hardcore. Excellent set and I hope to see this Virginia band again some time.

The Mostly Dead - I have wanted to see these guys again, but one of the massive snowstorms canceled out one planned show. But now there was this one and an upcoming show with Underdog that I may check out. These locals are the classic four-piece with one guy singing with the rock power trio. The vocals are good in a style that reminds me of SSD and the bass player adds some Seven Seconds like backup vocals. Musically, this was the most straight ahead hardcore band tonight, but there were plenty of songs where the guitarist added some creative touches and the rhythm section adjusted tempos nicely. So there is plenty to sustain my interest. The crowd of 40-50 people were in to it, but it was very subdued for some reason. Even I who do not prefer to have to fend off bodies hurtling toward me wanted to see a little more enthusiasm. But the respect was there, so it was still a good set.

Quote of the Night: After the opening band finished a song... "That was a little rough around the edges, but we stopped at the same time so it's ok." Yes it was ok, until you gave us the self-critique. I always get on people for apologizing and want to remind bands of what Richard Thompson has said. Whenever he flubs up on his chords, he just says that was a jazz chord. It's jazz, it forgives all. If you are a punk or hardcore band, just say that's your homage to Flipper. People will buy it. Everyone loves Flipper and Will Shatter couldn't play three note  bass line for more than two measures.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Quiet Storm Band -- EJ's Landing - July 16 2010

Quiet Storm Band - In my limited area of HUD where I had worked until 2007, I got to know only a few people who knew music well enough to chat about. I also worked with two different guys who played in area bands. One played guitar in a rock covers band and did a pretty nice job the first time I saw them. The other had a reggae band going on that was quite enjoyable as well. So I was interested in seeing one of his present gigs as a bass player with a local R&B covers band. It is always a different experience for these bands versus those that tour or get gigs at the established clubs. Here, you go out and find someone interested, invite your friends, see who shows up to drink, eat and be entertained with comfortable music. And if they do it well, it can be far more interesting than the 58th 23-year old singer-songwriter you see confessing his "personal" angst over those three or four chords again and again. The band was loaded with players, rhythm section, percussion, two keyboardists and three singers. One keyboardist used his roland well to sample voices and simulate a saxophone pretty well (as there was not brass). The fare was pretty much R&B material from Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Mary J. Blige and others. The band carried the music forward with keyboards bass and rhythms. The other keyboards and guitar provided some nice texture while the three vocalists traded leads and backing keeping a nice balance. The sound was tricky but mostly quite good with some vocals being a bit harsh at times (well sung, just coming through kind of strong). The songs veered a bit towards hip-hop by the night's end and my second straight night may have created some delirium in my mind, but I was hearing some industrial post-punk hip-hop at the end (not too crazy I suppose considering some of Public Enemy that I have heard). But this was a nice set of songs well delivered. So do check this band of some of the other bands in your neighborhood making their music or their take on some classic music.

Quote of the Night: "I don't see anybody on the dance floor and I know we sound good" good more chuckles than dancers, but no one wants to see me dance. Trust me.

Friday, July 16, 2010

George Kinney w/Kohoutek - D. Charles Speer & the Helix - Pablonious Bill -- Velvet Lounge - July 15 2010

Pablonious Bill - The name (PB) is the main guy here and his trio has the guitar and drums, with the third member playing two saxophones and a glockenspiel. The sound is kind of lo-fi, indie, folk, blues, rock, americana, etc. I thought they did a nice job of carving out their individual space in these vast realms where it could be easy to get lost. The guitarist/singer had a low-key voice, but his electric guitar was used both for chords and lead runs even during verses when desired. The sax was a little too low in the mix for me, although it did emit a ghostly presence, so I kind of liked it in the end. The drums were steady, songs were good and the band was very well received. And that's cool because these three are really low-key.

D. Charles Speer & the Helix - An interesting look on stage with the bass, drums and singer guitarist nearly in a vertical line. They are flanked by a keyboardist-vocalist and a pedal steel guitarist. I mention that because raucous honky tonk Americana rocking out of the PA does work with both directions. The keys and steel guitar add the country to the mix which I thought may tire me after a while. But that never happened as the three guys in a line really kept things rocking. I thought the balance was excellent and all the musicians were first rate. I liked it best when the steel guitarist strapped on a regular guitar and they rocked even more. He even went back for a solo which was pretty cool as it had a slide-Robbie Krieger feel to it. I should warn everyone that I really have tried to get over my distaste for the pedal steel sound and have gotten much more open to it in recent years. They covered a Jack Rose/Glenn Jones (Cul-de-Sac) song which was nice, as they are one of the many bands (along with the rest of us) that were stunned by his recent death. All in all, a rousing exciting set that went over well here and would succeed almost anywhere.

George Kinney w/Kohoutek - George Kinney was a key part of the fantastic Texas psychedelic scene of the sixties. Although his band, "Golden Dawn" does not have the fame of the 13th Floor Elevators, they were right there in those important formative years. While in school, Kinney was in bands with Roky Erickson. Kinney's Golden Dawn did not make it as far due to a whole different set of problems from the same record label that handled the Elevators. Tonight's set begins just with Kinney playing seven songs on electric guitar with his vocals. He looked and sounded in great shape for a guy that has been doing this since 1966 professionally. He covers a couple of Erickson songs like "Splash 1" and "Right Track Now" (both available as Roky solo tracks on the fantastic 13th Floor Elevators box set). Kinney has a great Texas country-rock voice and plays guitar quite well. He then brings out about half of Kohoutek to join in. It was just the core playing--guitar, bass and drums which was wise to keep it true to the classic garage rock sound. They played some Golden Dawn songs of course, "Who Do You Love", and one more Roky song "She Lives in a Time of her Own". The music was really delivered with classic garage spirit. No surprise that the rhythm section was solid, but I was impressed how both guitarists played so well as if they had been together for years. Kinney took several leads himself and had a great fuzzy blues style that did have me remembering Stacey Sutherland. Clearly there was not a lot of rehearsal as Kinney was "conducting" with his hands at various times (mostly to time endings). That is just all the more impressive. I see a lot of older acts and am often impressed how good they are, and how they are mostly way beyond nostalgia. I usually expect good things when Kohoutek cooks something with a veteran band/performer, but this one was even better than I ever would have expected. Hopefully Kinney will keep playing. I am sure Kohoutek will keep doing great things around here.

Quote of the Night: from the opening band... "This next songs's called 'Repeating Myself'" Then there was a pause while an amp was adjusted. I hope you can guess what he said next.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

DC ROCK LIVE - 20 months on...

DC ROCK LIVE – 20 months on...

As my 221st review is posted, I feel the desire to explain what I am doing here. Many of you have figured it out well enough, but I get more and more hits every day. I am glad I waited, because aside from my stated reasons back in post number one, this experience has changed my outlook and approach quite a bit.

First, I should go into a bit of background. I was born in 1959, which meant as I hit the key teenage music listening years, I was into the “classic rock” era. There were still many avenues to pursue and I chose the hardest rock I could find and some progressive and psychedelic rock. Most people who liked it heavy did the Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin route and I was no different there. I also dug deeper to find Montrose, Budgie and UFO. However, my favorites were always Blue Oyster Cult who did have a selective crowd of us who thought ourselves more cerebral and more hip than our fellow high schoolers (Kind of like Rush fans, but not as obvious). Early Blue Oyster Cult was quite pyschedelic and varied. They rocked pretty hard and put on a great live show. I did not care for the country-rock scene out of California at the time, although there were some mild exceptions then and now. I had a few good friends to trade ideas with and decent enough FM radio in Dayton, Ohio. Plus, Rolling Stone and Creem magazines helped give me some ideas.

It was the magazines that aroused my curiosity about punk rock. Since I liked heavy, fast, hard rock, it was a natural move. NBC’s Weekend news magazine did a late night story featuring the Sex Pistols and the Damned. The Damned seemed cool but scary, but the Pistols rocked the house done. I decided to experiment. As I started college, I was able to find cheap promo copies of early Stranglers, Jam and Ian Dury records. The employees at the store were complimentary and I still bump into them some 33 years later. Through the combination of what you can learn in record stores (read or see “High Fidelity”) and the incredible bonding power of punk rock, I started an intimate relationship with music and a love/hate relationship with the music business.

I began buying everything I could afford that was punk rock or new wave. I caught early shows by the Ramones, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and Destroy all Monsters. I discovered the local bands like the Dates and the Rulers. Then, when a band called Toxic Reasons was added to a 1979 bill, things changed dramatically. I became their manager, which was the job you got if you were a trusted friend that did not play an instrument.  I did this for a while, released a record by another cool local band, Dementia Precox and promoted shows with these bands, DOA, MDC and others. I worked on some zines and was both a big fan and someone trying to help this vibrant exciting music be heard by the masses (or at least a few more people). I was friends with Husker Du and had connections with the Ramones and got to hang around with them some.

Even though I locked into the spirit of the times, I did not give up some of the older music I enjoyed. I also moved onward and outward and got into the grunge scene (as much as many of those bands hate the term, it is descriptive). I did not work with the musicians much anymore and slowly reverted to buying music as opposed to seeing it live, with exceptions for the best bands and those that I knew.

My next phase was to dig deeper into UK folk music. As I started buying some of my old favorites like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, I kept learning more and more about the European (and ultimately world wide) psychedelic folk scene that got kick-started by Davy Graham in 1964 or thereabouts and went strong into the late seventies, tapering off but never going away entirely. I was rabidly collecting everything and suffered the collector’s curse of thinking you are making progress toward the end of accumulating everything you need while continually discovering a larger universe of what is out there—all of which you want. Want and need become interchangeable at some point.

Moving back from the mountains of Colorado to inner city DC rekindled my love for live music. From 1994 on, I have been hitting the clubs hard trying to get current on hot touring acts, stay abreast with local bands, and catching older acts that I haven’t seen in decades, if ever. Which takes me to this blog (finally).

I retired from my US government job at the calendar end of 2007. It took me a while to settle back in DC as I had to go back to Colorado to sell a house and get things organized. Finally in November 2008, I was ready to start my blog. There were three main reasons for doing this, listed in order of importance:

1.  I have friends scattered over the world and only a few here in DC. I had trouble remembering what bands I was going to see when I spoke with them on the phone or answered an email. A blog was a way they could keep track of what I was seeing and give them a chance to compare and contrast with what I had seen.

2.  I wanted to get in the habit of semi-creative writing. I hoped to write more substantial things some day, but needed some practice. I had been doing a lot of business writing in my career and I have seen that I still carry that style around with me. I hope to develop more artistry, although I certainly don’t mind a simple business style being an anchor for reviewing live music.

3.  I wanted to participate in the music business again. I barely understood the business then and understand it less now, but I thought doing something on the Web would allow me to learn some things about it and the Web in general.

So how are things now?

I still have those three reasons for doing the blog, but they have kind of reversed themselves in importance. I have been pleasantly surprised by the quantity of readers finding my blog with search engines and only a wee bit of word of mouth advertising. I get about 30-45 hits a day based on the last three months. It has gotten where I have to treat what I write with a lot more care than what I used to do, aside form the occasionally rushed entry. I still try to go in to a show cold and do minimal research as I write the show up and try to keep things fresh and simple. But I don’t want to seriously misstate things or turn the writing into a whining bitch session.

In fact, I write mostly positive reviews as I have profound respect for all bands and individuals who get up and play music in front of a crowd. I sometimes will get a little tired of clichés, but I try to only go off on bands that have lousy attitudes or are unfunny drunks or jerks. I may ding someone who is trying and just is not very good, but I try to keep it to why I did not like it or find a technological reason for the problems.

What exactly do I look for? It is pretty simple. It is my reaction to a live show with the band being the focal point along with the club, the fans, the conditions, everything I can think of that affects my reaction to the show. I keep things concise and to the point as much as possible for a couple of reasons. First, I am not being paid for any of this (I do get free music for the CD reviews), but mostly I find lengthy Greil Marcus style analysis way past its day. Even the great Lester Bangs may be a bit out of place today. Second, I aim to arouse curiosity for readers. There are links to myspace or band pages where a couple of clicks will let you judge for yourself. You don’t need my review beyond that. You can learn a lot more any time you want.

One thing that has changed is that I have enjoyed digging deeper into the local scene and try to find younger up and coming bands to review. They are very appreciative and are fun to talk to or exchange emails with. This does take me back to my early days trying to get 25 to 50 people to come to a Toxic Reasons show or one to two hundred to a hall show I was promoting. I was one of eight paying customers who saw Husker Du on their first Midwest tour. I became good friends with them after that and was with them many times until their demise. So a sold out show at the 9:30 will be followed by a show in front of dozen people at the Red & the Black. I do get a bit lazy about hitting outlying clubs as I enjoy walking to the U Street area clubs or doing the short drive to H Street NE.

I also will try to vary the types of music I cover. Obviously punk and psychedelic folk are the two areas I know best. But any kind of rock music works for me. I like experimental music when there is some kind of foundation. Jazz is good, but I am not an expert. I am weak on hip-hop and most dance music forms, but I appreciate the best of these or any genres. I have always said “I like the western part of country & western music” and little has changed there. Another way to phrase it is that I’ll take Austin over Nashville. And even though I like punk and psyche-folk, I can be awfully hard on young bands in those genres these days. Especially punk, where I just see too many clichés considering it is 35 years later, so there may be some tougher reviews for bands there unless they really offer something new.

So I continue on. I am enjoying keeping this blog fresh with 2-3 shows a week. There is a lot of great music here and I hope everyone who reads these reviews, will go out and support live music wherever you may live. Hopefully I can give you a few ideas and direction once in a while, too.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Northern Howl - John Bustine -- DC9 - July 12 2010

John Bustine - Perhaps the busiest folk artist working around town? Or just maybe a guy who is a part of very nice shows that I want to see as this is the third time I have caught him in the last two months. And I will happily see him again as I always enjoy the set and hear some new things every night. I thought he had strong dynamics tonight between loud and quiet, although he generally is on the subdued side of that graph. And a Peter Laughner cover? Just more icing on this tasty cake. As usual, he was well received by a smallish crowd (it's Monday).
My Photos | The Valley Session | Northern Howl
Northern Howl - From Minneapolis comes this quirky folk-esque outfit. They begin with a couple of guitars, banjo, piano and trumpet with glockenspiel, drum, accordion and violin joining in soon as there is the usual bit of instrument switching. Plenty of male and female voices make for a rich sound. In fact, they sounded diverse, but not big if that makes any sense. Basically there was plenty going on and the style shifted around a bit from folk to jazz to contemplative neo-classical (made that one up). I liked the trumpet's low volume which added a nice edge to the mix. They seemed more thoughtful and subtle than most bands and probably will get better with future listening. But I enjoyed it the first time around as well. A few of the songs did not grab me, but they quickly bounced back with either a good song or an interesting arrangement. A good start to life on the road and we will say where they go from here.

Quote of the Night: "Whoooo...Yeah..." and applause. That was from the crowd and hardly much of a quote, but it was just so funny when during one of his slightly rock-like moments, John Bustine put his acoustic guitar behind his head while playing. His Hendrix move brought a great reaction and had me grinning ear to ear.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Rasputina - Larkin Grimm -- Black Cat - July 11 2010

Larkin Grimm - Ms. Grimm is a singer/guitarist who I saw several years ago at a Terrastock festival in Providence. I remember her as being part of the waves of freak folk that was coming into vogue then. I was curious to see what has transpired since and I was pleasantly rewarded. She has added a female bass player and male drummer who add backing vocals. The drummer adds snappy percussion with brushwork mostly. The bass player lays down good background lines allowing Grimm's guitar to move off into spacey distant textural landscapes. Then, with interesting lyrical stories on top, we have very accessible songs that really stayed with me. Twisted, but catchy. An Irish harp was added at the end to give another twist and keeping off of any formula. Maybe she was this good before (lost in my mind among 29 bands I saw), but I thought she and her band mates were truly excellent tonight.

Rasputina - Melora Creager returns with a new cellist and percussionist in their classic "two cellos and drums" line-up. It has been a while, but having a baby does slow down the touring, at least for a while. She was up to her usual witty stage patter with humor that would almost work in a stand-up routine. However, the music sadly went another direction. The first song had buzzing and sounded thin. Shortly thereafter, they had to take a break as the Daniel De Jesus's cello had a broken or loose string. He worked on it but had to say he could not get it to hold or stay in tune or something. They worked on through with Creager doing two solo songs on banjo that were ok, but did not really move me as much as their regular material. The new drummer was fine, but the sound was a bit smaller as it was mostly mallets on bongos and not a full kit. Normally that may be ok, but De Jesus was fighting his cello the rest of the night trying to play things differently to keep the songs going. It looked like they were calling audibles all the way trying to come up with songs that would work. Too bad, as I really like this band. It was to their credit, that this was not a total trainwreck, but it was far from their best. The half full Black Cat crowd (maybe a bit smaller than last time I saw them here) was appreciative, so the mood was good. Hopefully there will be a next time for me.

Quotes of the night: From Ms. Grimm... "It seems there is a sadness in the house. Anybody need to come up and talk about it?" "That's better. I'm feeling you guys. You know what it is? You're not a bunch of jerks, you seem like an intelligent bunch of people."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Unrest -- Black Cat - July 10 2010

Unrest - Unfortunately, with two great shows tonight, I had to miss the opening bands which were probably pretty good at this anniversary tribute show to Teen-Beat records, a historically important DC label. No surprise that Unrest played as they pretty much founded the label. I arrived to hear ten songs plus the encores. The show was a late sell-out, but there was room to get a good view--thus enforcing my belief that the Black Cat is the most comfortable place to be for a sold-out show (aside from seated clubs). Unrest is only doing a few east coast shows for this anniversary, so one never knows if this is the last chance to see them. So there was plenty of enthusiasm in the air and the band delivered. They have a quirky style that moves from post-punk rock like Wire to odd pop songs to moody ambient pop. You can put them somewhere in the small space between the Velvet Underground and the Feelies, but I definitely felt the Wire connection (which was true of many classic DC bands). I enjoyed the set and am finally glad to have seen them, after hearing them only on vinyl, many, many years ago.

Katzenjammer - Victoria Vox -- Iota - July 10 2010

Victoria Vox - Ms. Vox is a ukulele specialist who plays at many ukulele festivals (this was news to me) among other appearances. She has some nice songs, sung with a nice voice that is balanced just right between cute and strong. The amazing talent she has is accompanying her punchy ukulele playing with her mouth trumpet (demonstrated here). She adds a bit of button accordion and has good stories in between the songs. A cover of "Psychokiller" works and she is the only performer I have seen recently that sells CDs, t-shirts and ukulele themed underwear (but the mens underwear was sold out). Hopefully, it is obvious by now, that she is quite entertaining and the very crowded club really enjoyed the set as much as I did.

Katzenjammer - I was fortunate enough to review their CD for Folkworld magazine and was pretty much blown away by how much fun it was. This band is four Norwegian women who bring a ton of energy and style while playing guitar, drumkit, piano, mandolin, banjo, kazoo, trumpet, accordion, glockenspiel, and the very large custom 3-string cat bass balalaika. David Byrne invited them over to play Bonaroo and with this night have just concluded a short big-city tour of mostly US coastal cities. The energy and charm is as infectious as anyone out there. They deftly handle loads of instrument switching with all four taking a place behind the drum kit at some point. They all take a turn at lead vocals and do plenty of choral singing, even an a cappella move. They have that crazy energy you get from Gogol Bordello, but are much more diverse in the types of music they play from folk to power pop to worldbeat to waltz to... I am not even sure I kept track well enough. I was just having a great time. And to think, I really wanted to go to this show to add my presence to a deserving band that I was not sure too many people have heard of. Well, that is out the window, as the club was very full and the crowd really dug them. Next time they return, I am sure it will be even larger. This band is going places.

Quote of the Night: Victoria Vox... "(This song is) about a sexually frustrated tugboat who wants to get it on with an ocean liner... well, you need new things to write about."

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Honeyguns - The Last Monarchs -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - July 8 2010

The Last Monarchs - The Americana look of this area band was born out in their music quickly enough. They have drums, stand-up bass, a lead vocals/harmonica/acoustic guitarist and a woman playing violin and adding some backing Femvox as we say in the record collecting business. The songs are quite engaging and I like that the violin has more of a classical approach such as I used to hear in an obscure Brit-folk band Spriguns and does not go into raging country fiddlin'. The drummer kicks butt and I know I have seen him before. Ah, in doing my search, yes I have seen this band before and enjoyed them. It did not register as last time they had a cello instead of an upright bass. But as long as they find a way to deliver these fine songs, almost any reasonable format will do. The only real negative was that some transitions seemed a bit sonically empty, so maybe a steady line-up and lots of gigging will polish some of the edges. Still, it is a good set of songs worth checking out.

The Honeyguns - The set started slowly for two reasons. First, there seemed to be a bit too much preoccupation with photos and video shoots. There were two bright white stage lights set on each front corner and one large video camera on a rolling tri-pod with a smaller camera in the back. If that was not enough, two still photo folks were running around, one with a tripod (actually appeared to have been video). This created about a six foot neutral zone that fans of the band stood behind in reasonable numbers, but appearing like herded cattle (to be fair to the crew on the shoot, they were not at all trying to be bossy or takeover the space). Second, the first couple of songs were decent but seemed a bit like Funkadelic-lite, but I was probably a little harsh as the camera set-up felt like I was participating in a videoshoot as an unpaid extra. But the crowd was filled with many friends and fans and to the band's credit, they really started mixing up their sound nicely as the set went on. They reminded me most of a late 60s band that drew from blues, rock'n'roll, soul, r'n'b, and burgeoning hard rock. So focusing on the music lead me to believe that we have a really good band at work here. The guitarist really rocks out, the bass player has flash and the drummer is rock steady. The singer is excellent although he had to fight through the mix to be heard at appropriate levels. Great heavy, catchy closing number brought on a rousing reception from the crowd. Why the sound guys started playing house music, I don't know, as the crowd did keep cheering and the band came back for a 2-song encore. So I am left with an impression of a very good band that I want to see again some time but just straight up without the lights and camera, just the action.

Quote of the Night: "Day-O!" The Honeyguns singer had a good call response thing going and they kind of jammed a bit, but not all the band members had it figured out. Still fun and it could be worked further. And it was a better improv cover song take than anything the Replacements ever did.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

July Record Review -- All Over Everywhere "Inner Firmaments Decay"

All Over Everywhere "Inner Firmaments Decay"
Emkog Records, 2010

This lovely record floats between the simple categories of folk, psychedelic folk and dream pop amongst others. Megan Wheatley's vocals carry forward shining melodies with no less than nine supporting players offering all sorts of evocative sounds, including the usual pop rock instruments with lots of strings and winds. There is strength in the songs delivered with great care not to overpower. I see they list Kate Bush as an influence and I hear a bit of that with the creative way they construct their songs and bring the listener into a very real experience, beyond twee and short of over-saturation. I also see their music as being a broad part of the modern scene of folk offshoots like Joanna Newsome. I hear classic psyche-folk elements, but the arrangements seem a bit more modern. There is even a classic progressive-metal atmosphere in the 10 1/2 minute closer, "Gratitude" (that is atmosphere, not heavy guitar sound). This is what excellent bands do--draw from the past, move forward, and make simple categories meaningless.

Songs to sample (in addition to the epic closer mentioned above...

"Art of the Earth" - Sets the tone, creates the aural landscape for this cohesive album.
"The Shroud" - Good building of edgy intensity with layers of sound.
"On a Dark Street" - I would not call this "the single" (passe term by now) but this has a very nice hook to it.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Unthanks - Colleen and Paul -- Iota - July 3 2010

Colleen and Paul - This is a duo with acoustic guitars and microphones that additionally have one guy playing electric bass. Apparently they also work and record with a full band, but with touring prices these days, they are hardly the first to strip it down a bit on the road. I was expecting folk or folk-rock and got only a little of that sound. They went more into a pop or pop-rock format with the rhythms and feel of the songs. The guitars sounded well together with Paul playing some nice acoustic leads that gave an almost mandolin-like quality to the sound. And their harmonies were fine as expected. They have the bonus of being from Toronto, but I do not think they quite rise to the ridiculously high bar I have set for Toronto acts. But there is a lot of room below that high bar for quality acts and they are all of that. Their stage patter was somewhere between Sonny & Cher and Mitch & Mickey (A Mighty Wind).

The Unthanks - The Unthanks are a highly regarded folk duo from Northumberland which is way, way up in northern England (north of Newcastle). They have been nominated and won awards from different sources in the UK for their excellent modern take on traditional Briish folk music. Their set showcases both their talents and their approach by offering great original songs, traditional songs, along with covers of Robert Wyatt and the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. The sisters have exquisite harmony reminding me of when Maddy Prior and Gay Woods were in Steeleye Span together. They also add some clog dancing during a few songs both out on the club floor as well as the mic'ed stage. They were accompanied by keyboards most prominently with the steady string arrangements featuring cello and violin. Two other guys rotated between drums, bass and guitar. There is a lot of space in some of the arrangements reminding me of John Cale styled productions--had he produced something by Shirley Collins in some alternate universe. One highlight for everyone was when the sisters went out on to the floor and sang "John Dead" (from their first album) a cappella. The real magic to this was that I have never heard a crowd so quiet with people even trying to keep from creaking their chairs. The crowd loved the set and the only downer was that there were not much more than 50 people here. Hopefully the US market will grow to levels similar to the UK and they have toured here more than once, so we shall see. Count me in as a serious fan.

Quote of the Night: "Me and Becky are sisters if you haven't figured that out and Unthanks is our real name, unfortunately. We blame our dad."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

US Royalty - Dinosaur Bones -- U Street Music Hall - June 30 2010

Dinosaur Bones - I am developing a rule stating that I will not pass up seeing a Toronto band. I have seen so many fine offerings, that my expectations were maybe a bit high this time out. We have a five-piece with full-time keyboards and a part time rhythm guitarist who handles all vocals. The sound is mid-tempo indie rock and immediately did not stand out in any way other than hundreds of other bands. However... As I continued to listen, the songs got a bit more complex and I sensed an interesting interplay between the bass and the lead guitar. The bass playing had kind of a pulsating Jah Wobble quality to it, although it was not as loud in the mix (as if that could ever happen). The lead guitar had a subtle hard clanging style which goes in a different direction. The keys and drums were solid and the vocal lines carried a fairly straightforward melody. So I saw an anchored pop-rock song in the middle surrounded by the bass and lead guitar and two different sides playfully twisting and turning me as they moved forward. Maybe I am watching too many futbol formations at the World Cup, but I liked this band's geometry. A pleasant surprise that bears further listening and keeps my faith in the high quality of music coming out of Toronto.

US Royalty - A good crowd had fully developed for this local band. They go five strong, although the keyboardist sits out a few numbers leaving the basic core musicians. The lead vocalist plays some guitar, although it was a bit buried in the sound. And that was the main problem I had here. The sound was quite loud and the club did seem to have more concrete and hard surfaces than most. The vocals were bouncing around a bit at too high a volume with plenty of loud guitar as well. It was not terrible, just a bit off for me. But the band itself was rock solid. They have sort of a mainstream indie rock sound, but plenty of good hooks and guitar work to hit high marks. They had a guest violinist pop up to add some nice color to one of their Americana-esque tunes. So there was also enough variety in the songs to make for an entertaining set. Although there was one song that kind of hit the cliche rock'n'roll lyrical moves which I have heard way too many times, but to be fair I could not make out all of the lyrics. We have a very solid quality band here and I hope to see them again some time as they are definitely worth another listen.

CD Reviews: Issue 42 of the long running Netherlands magazine, Folkworld, is now on-line. I have a boatload of CD reviews in the English language section. Obviously folk is the focus, but there are some rockers and other oddities so check it out. I review CDs for my site and this magazine (also had reviews in issue 41), so contact me if you want your current product reviewed.