Thursday, September 30, 2010

Swans - Baby Dee -- Black Cat - Sep 29 2010

Baby Dee - We begin very quietly with a cello, violin and harp. Vocals join in from the harpist. Cleveland's Baby Dee have begun. The music is modern classical music that open minded people would think no differently about than the chamber music of a string quartet in previous centuries. The vocals are more unique. I thought they sounded like Comus' Roger Wooten crossed with Klaus Nomi, while trying to cover Antony Hegarty (Antony & the Johnsons). Now that I have my requisite bizarre comparison out of the way, I can get to the set. It was a very steady set with the music being clean and clear and very accessible. The vocals ultimately were interesting, although some may not think so, but a Swans crowd is as open minded a crowd as you will find for unique music. I rather like classical music and thought this was a nice way to get ready for something that will be a bit louder and a bit different.

Swans - There is a building ambient drone going on when a percussionist walks on to the stage and starts hammering a few tubular bells. After a building swirl of this, a drummer, bass player, guitarist, keys/noise/guitarist, and Michael Gira (vocals/guitar) join him on stage. It is the famous Swans sound, a pounding steady drone with just a little variance particularly in the bass and lots of overtones and interesting sounds swirling deep in the maelstrom of the guitars. This is an important band and I guess I could consider them, Sonic Youth, Das Damen, and some others as little brothers of the NYC No Wave bands. The No Wave bands were wildly original and often not terribly enduring in career length or listenability. But the next wave did produce lots of challenging music that had enough accessibility to sustain it to a wide fanbase throughout the world. Of course, no one quite hit the heights of Sonic Youth, but the Swans did quite well until Michael Gira felt he needed another direction in 1997. But he is back with new music, US and European tours and he's brought along plenty of ex-Swans in this line-up. They continue on with a steady stream of droning music with a nice feral beat. Gira's vocals are strong and interesting. If you are a Wire fan like me, you may hear sounds similar to the drones in "Pink Flag" or "Mercy". There are certainly not as many pop hooks here, but the songs really resonate. Their power and simple structures are easy to grab onto and the 80% full crowd tonight did just that. The percussionist had extra drums, a gong, and vibes to vary the sound. The keys and noise equipment was subtle and well integrated into the overall sound wall. There really is not much more to say. This band really is not as radical as some may think, but thoughtful, original and powerful. Welcome back, this was excellent.

Quote of the Night: Michael Gira after playing a shorter number... "That's our pop song. Think it'll get me an interview with Pitchfork?"

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Interview with Ed Harcourt

Interview with Ed Harcourt, September 27th at the 9:30 Club

Alas, equipment failure prevents me from offering a full transcription, but my memory and notes are both pretty good… well at least my memory. So here are Ed Harcourt’s answers paraphrased and filtered through me.

So, your thoughts of life on the road…

It is dreadful, very tiring and demanding. Of course the shows are great, but the rest of it as you know is drudgery. I have been across America a few times and all over Europe.  I have a wife and two-year old daughter now so that makes it especially tough. I am going to have some “making up” to do when I get back from this and the European shows. It was nice getting in early yesterday and seeing some of the sites since there is a lot to see here in Washington DC. We had dinner at a nice restaurant and caught the Eels show at this club, which was excellent. They are a very creative band with lots of variation in their sound.

So do you like to watch and listen to other music when you can?

Oh yeah, as much as I can. I have been listening to a lot of classical music lately, Brahms most recently. But I go through pretty varied phases. I might do a death metal phase for instance.

Does listening to other music ever interfere with your own songwriting or can it be positive?

It does not really interfere with my songwriting. Songwriting is a constant for me and I do not get conflicted. I do enjoy listening to a wide variety of music and it fits comfortably in with my own musical endeavors.

Tell me about your band, how you found them, what they bring to your sound, etc.

Raife Burchell on drums has been a friend for many years. I have gone through so many drummers and I finally just asked him to help out. Both he and Ashley Dzerigian on bass played on the album. Raife and I have been mates for so long, we can really argue at times, but that’s how it goes. I trust his abilities. With Ashley there was just a sense that she really captured the atmosphere of what we were trying to do. I can’t even explain it, but it’s more of a feeling from her playing, which goes for Raife as well. It is just something you know when you hear it.  (We go on to discuss at length that the band was successful with a good variety of songs and that these two are a great fit for his songs).  The set was a bit deep and dark tonight, but we had a few lighter cuts that hopefully offset that.

Have you varied band sizes before?

Oh yeah, we were an eight-piece band recently. I worked with my wife of the Langley sisters and others. It is good to have a variety of musical combinations.

You toured with the Gutter Twins. Was that fun or a bit crazy?

Oh, great. Greg and Mark and I are complete friends now. They are great guys, a great band. Greg and I talk regularly. And of course there were the challenges of being on the road again. In fact, getting back to the road, I got the call from my wife while I was sitting with Greg, Mark and a few others of the band. She asked if I was sitting down, I said yeah, what’s that about. So she tells me the big news of her pregnancy, which of course was amazing as I shared it with everyone. I found it interesting that here we are in this little room backstage, former junkies and cokeheads going forward with our lives.

I read that you have played with a lot of interesting people, but were a bit nervous with Patti Smith…

Oh yeah, I mean because she is such an icon. But it was great. She invited me up to play piano on “Pissing in a River”.  (I mention that she was about the most nervous performer I had seen on this stage a few years back, because she was a bit out of practice I think, but was great and was curious if he gets the usual stage nerves) Oh yeah, I am nervous before every show, but it’s the healthy kind of nerves that most people get right before they go on.

And finally, has the switch from an EMI label to a much smaller label pushed a bit more business on to you in these days of new business models?

It really is not too different for me as my manager is great at taking care of things. So not too much has changed for me, but things are certainly different in the music business. Very confusing and I have never been too good with that. But I do try to stay very active with my solo work and other projects. I have a studio where I record others now. I have also done soundtrack work, so there is plenty going on for me musically.

And we conclude with discussions of other bands that I have worked with and some common names we have met. Ed Harcourt is a very interesting person as well as a talented songwriter and performer. I agree with other people’s assessment that he is unfortunate not to have had breakout hits. But his body of work and recent album have succeeded in attracting a solid fan base. Hopefully it will continue to grow and he will keep delivering the music.

It was a fun chat and we could have gone on and on, but his dinner was there and it was the usual crazy back stage scene. Thanks to Ed, his manager Steve, Tim from his publicity firm—Ink Tank and the staff at the 9:30 Club.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

James - Ed Harcourt -- 9:30 Club - Sep 27 2010

Ed Harcourt - We begin with a singer/songwriter from England. In fact, we have a Harcourt from Wimbledon. There is a tennis joke in there, but few of you are as geeky as I am about tennis, so I will spare you. He lines up at piano, with an organ, some preset sounds, guitars both acoustic and electric. And for support, we have a drummer and bassist who provided some female vocal support. The music is classic singer-songwriter rock/pop music. The drummer and bass player do not provide pyrotechnics with their playing but I am quick to sense they have a great feel and sense of dynamics to create a subtle landscape to support the songs. And the songs are very good with a wonderful variety of styles from a positive pop song to dark mysterious passages. Harcourt's voice is the stand-out instrument as he has a Buckley-esque range, closer in style to Jeff rather than Tim. The third song had some really deep bass notes on the keyboards with a great murky evocative vibe from his rhythm section which allowed his voice to soar off in very clear and powerful bursts. "The Trap Door" had good guitar work with a dreamy arrangement and the usual strong vocals. There were some psychedelic loops and more interesting guitar sounds late in the set. Ultimately it was the voice and the high quality, nicely varied songs that carried the day. The filling 9:30 Club was quite receptive and much quieter than usual. Clearly, they felt the powerful atmosphere and were fully absorbed in this excellent set.

James - I would say that it is hard to believe that a group from Manchester playing oddball improvisations opening for the Fall would go on to success as an accomplished pop/rock band, but the punk scene had many of these stories. James has had a long excellent career beginning with their early releases on Factory Records. I expected a slick accomplished set which they indeed delivered. They had a full sound with two guitars at times, viollin, bass, drums, keyboards, extra percussion and some trumpet as well. Strong indie-minded pop music that rocked out with varying focus points of guitars or drums. They had some interesting violin work which made me think of The National. Their arrangements were much more interesting than that of many mainstream pop and rock bands. The vocals were prominent and this singer also had a great range. At times, it reminded me of the Decemberists with a clean melodic vocal over a great rock arrangement. They had one song that was rocking along well enough until it built into a long screaming psychedelic finish. "Just in case you thought we were a pop band". I am not even sure I needed the next heavy song they did at the end, to realize how much I enjoyed this varied set from a very accomplished band from one of the most important scenes in history.

Quote of the Night: From the opener... "We came last night to see the Eels, damn good band." I always like to see musicians enjoying other musicians' work. I was fortunate enough to interview Ed Harcourt last night which I will be writing up soon. Thanks to him and his team and the club for giving me the time.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Shooter Jennings & Hierophant - J. Roddy Walston & the Business -- State Theater - Sep 26 2010

J. Roddy Walston & the Business - Baltimore's own is touring around with Shooter Jennings, before linking up with Deer Tick in a few weeks. Both are good fits, but this one may be a bit better. Walston plays keyboards and sings lead with the usual rock trio around him. There is plenty of back-up vocals, too, in fact a bit too much vocals in the sound tonight. The drums also lacked some pop, although it was a bit better when I moved back a bit. The music was hot and exciting. Rocking, crazy barroom band styled numbers that slid into blues or Americana quite comfortably. They covered Little Richard's "Lucille" which does befit a good energized bar band. Small crowd tonight, but they did get into this band more than I thought they would so we are off to a good start.

Shooter Jennings & Hierophant - Ah, the son of Waylon Jennings who I saw in high school so many decades ago. I hear he is fairly creative and tough to pigeon hole, but even that did not prepare me for this set. He plays guitar, piano and moog and has a lead guitarist, bass, drummer, and keyboardist (organ mostly) backing him up. They come on to a DJ sample preparing for the apocalypse (of radio probably) by introducing this band. Then they play a song that reminds me of Nine Inch Nails more recent works. Intense, loud and emotional an then some. The second cut was more basic rock but nice. Next was a 3-vocal, 2-guitar scorcher. Maybe Joe Cocker, sans rasp with more killer players. Spiritualized anyone? Then there was some ramped up country rock. Now they do a song that sounds like the powerful old UK band, Steamhammer even with the vocals. Next one reminds me of Black Mountain if they were from Austin. Next, a moog intro expands into some sort of progressive opus. Man, I cannot keep up with this. And by the way, it's all great. These guys rock and the songs are really easy to get into with lots going on. Apparently, some of the crowd can't keep up either, as it seems to be thinning out a bit--at least the elder club denizens. I believe he covers his father, although I didn't pick up on the song (like I did Friday night) and the guitarist takes a turn on pedal steel. He even encored with a solo acoustic guitar effort. Man, I am so not regretting passing up on Shonen Knife now. I just find it a bit sad that this was a mismatch between band and club. It would have torn the Rock'n'Roll Hotel apart, I think, although I did like the blast coming out of the PA tonight. I hope he finds his audience and does not give up on these creative moves. There are few bands that sound like this and it is a killer sound.

Quote of the Night: Pretty quiet, so I am reminded of that Hara Arena (Dayton, OH) show I went to in about 1976 with Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter (Shooter's parents) and some up and comer named Hank Williams, Jr. As tired as I am of hearing Hank sing the Monday Night Football theme the past forever years, I would rather do that than discuss politics with him based on his recent infamous quote...
"If it wasn't for the Electoral College, Obama wouldn't be president," he said. "Let's face it. That's the problem right there."

 And not to Google Ads... Can you not discern between political points and making fun of political points? Who is programming your artificial intelligence, Hank Williams, Jr.?  For the record folks, Google Ads chooses all ads, not me.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Univers Zero - Miriodor -- La Maison Francaise - Sep 25 2010

Miriodor - Night 6 of my 8 nights of unique genres begins with a band that is well, kind of in the same prog genre as Magma last week. But not really, as this band has more of a jazz-prog style. At times I feel it is a Frank Zappa meets the more experimental King Crimson. They are from Quebec and play instrumental music with drums, bass, guitar, keyboards and a saxophonist who doubles on keyboards at times. The drummer and keyboardist look like brothers--maybe twins and could be the sons of Wallace Shawn. There is some rock guitar at times and the third song had some really cool funky undulating rhythms. The second to last song began with a great frenzied loop before morphing into a good jazzy rocking number. The last cut, "The Melting Point" had some pop and psyche moves within as the band really was cooking by set's end. So much so, that they were called out for a quick encore which was probably not planned. I was pleased with this set as there was always something interesting going on and the musicians seemed to challenge themselves by trying different moves and rhythms.

Univers Zero - This Belgian group describes themselves as "making chamber music for the apocalypse". I am not sure this set was that dramatic, but it was intriguing. This is their second appearance on US soil in 35 years of playing (And it is US soil legally, although it is subject to French territorial laws as it is on embassy ground--at least as I understand this). They have bass, drums, keyboards, violin, clarinet/bass clarinet, and a winds player who plays bassoon, oboe and clarinet. More instrumental music that follows in the manner of the opener, but having a bit more classical moves within. I was hearing almost a Third Ear Band sound such as their "Alchemy" album, although this sound had a bit less folk and maybe a bit more rock moves. The keyboards solo was excellent as that player seems extremely skilled. They were all very good musicians, but he really stood out. The clarinet player who was handling the talk between songs did a long intro in French where I could only pick out the words "Straight Edge" which turned out to be the name of the next song. I was listening hard to see if they were covering Minor Threat in a weird way, but alas, no. The music was high quality, but not quite as wildly compelling as what I heard the previous week with Magma. Still, it was a solid set of unique modern classical music. They succeed with fans of progressive music and classical music through well thought out songs and masterful playing. And thus, it was a fitting close for the tenth annual Sonic Circuits Festival.

Quote of the Night: From the emcee and Sonic Circuits chief... "And finally thanks to all of you. Because if it wasn't for you, no one would show up.... Yeah, I know. I haven't slept in a long time."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

500 Miles to Memphis -- Red & the Black - Sep 24 2010

500 Miles to Memphis - This band hails from Cincinnati, which is 414 miles from Memphis according to my distance calculator. The band also has Kentucky roots(routes?), so perhaps it is around 500 miles, depending on the starting point. I thought tonight's theme would be Americana, and I was mostly correct. They lined up as a power trio with a much older guy playing pedal steel guitar (There appear to be larger versions of this band--note photo for instance). The Americana part is evident in the songs which are of course rootsy with catchy hooks and steel guitar wailing away. But there is a ton of rock energy and even punk attitude and pace. I realize that the singer/guitarist looks a bit like Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, but this band sounds like it could be Green Day playing Americana with a steel guitarist. The drummer kicks up a storm and they mention he's featured in a recent issue of Modern Drummer Magazine. No surprise. The bass player does a great job, although the two songs he switches to guitar and vocals are slower and a bit more in the dull country mode. Normally I am ready to blame a steel guitar for making things too dull country, but this guy just wails away in the manner of slide guitarist and does not go for that weepy twang. I am sure that is part due to the songs, but it is skillful playing just the same. They play for about two hours and the crowd is into them throughout. It's painfully hot and humid in the club tonight as there is some renovation and a bit of expansion even taking place. Loads of originals plus decent covers of Waylon Jennings' "Good Hearted Woman" and the Beatles "A Day in the Life". This is a very enjoyable live band who is headed back here in December. Hopefully the word will spread.

Quote of the Night: Late in the show... "Any requests?"  "Air Conditioning!"

Friday, September 24, 2010

Caribou - Emeralds -- Black Cat - Sep 23 2010

Emeralds - Evening four of my eight-night journey of different genres begins with the first of two electronic pop bands. This Cleveland based trio features guys on keyboards, electronics, and guitar. They play a non-stop set where they weave their songs together with nice transitional, melodic noise. I am reminded of Tangerine Dream, who although featured lots of keyboards,also had a guitar they used for jarring effects. Emeralds lets the guitar work be a strong part of the sound which I find to be successful. They also use more pulsating sequencer rhythms as opposed to drum machine programs, which could be monotonous, but for their songwriting. I often preach variety and there was enough of that here to sustain my interest. A good effective set perfectly placed before this headliner.

Caribou: Photo by Matea Jocic
Caribou - It is nice when I "get one right". I only saw this band last May at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel (reviewed here). I dug into my crystal ball and thought that the next time through, this band should move up to a larger club. Well that, and the fact the show was a sell-out with a high percentage of rabid fans. The Black Cat filled to about 90% capacity tonight which makes me wonder how high this band can go. Based on the music tonight, the sky is the limit (or maybe Merriweather Post Pavilion). Nothing has really changed since the May review. It is the same four-piece playing in front of projected animation with some strobe effects on stage. Daniel Snaith is still the leader of this band and the mainman behind the studio recordings, but like other one-man bands (Dungen, Bevis Frond, NiN) he tours enough that the live band becomes a viable unit. He even has his bass player sing a couple of leads. The music is as good as ever with lots of dreamy dance quality to it with enough attack mixed in to keep people on their toes. And how did the crowd respond? Well, I have never heard such a rousing ovation for a recorder solo. I (of course) preferred the 2-guitar song. The crowd was not exactly subdued the rest of the time either, as feet were moving. This is one excellent band I can recommend to anyone. After all, I am hardly the expert in this field and this my third time seeing their show and it likely will not be the last. Unless the venue and ticket prices get a little to big for me.

Quote of the Night: Well, I didn't hear anything of note, so this is something I read from Raymond Chandler talking about his screenplay work... "What Hollywood seems to want is a writer who is ready to commit suicide in every story conference. What it actually gets is the fellow who screams like a stallion in heat and then cuts his throat with a banana. The scream demonstrates the artistic purity of his soul and he can eat the banana while somebody is answering a telephone call about some other picture."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Swingin' Utters - The Copyrights - Have Nots -- DC9 - Sep 22 2010

Have Nots - The night is punk rock. Boston's Have Nots hit the stage and rip right into their set of high energy punk rock/power pop with touches of ska punk. Glad to see things progress from the "This is Boston, Not LA" days, as these guys sound far more LA or rather SF or UK I think. Drums were steady, the bass was playful and the guitars just cranked out tons of quick chords with the rare solo tossed in now and then. Pretty steady enjoyable set with one song at the end that really stood out as a classic of sorts. A few more of those and we may have some genius at work. But the rest of it was steady enough to make it an enjoyable start to the evening.

The Copyrights - Another two guitar four-piece lineup here. Instantly I hear a continuation of the previous sound. There was more thrust from the drums and the pace was up a notch with less ska moves and more pop-punk. The club is filling up nicely by now and the crowd is enjoying it in the usual subdued DC manner. The songs were short and were mostly predictable, but there were just enough creative twists, especially in the latter part of the set, that I ended up appreciating this band as something above average in this genre. Some nice tempo shifts at the end and they are done. Good job.

PhotoChris Gomez 07  
Photo:Chris Gomez '07

Swingin' Utters - This veteran outfit has been around since the early 90s. I first heard them when some neighborhood kids helped me with some heavy lifting and then came back to go through my extensive punk rock record collection. I played them some old gems and they mentioned this was one of their favorite bands. They sounded like good old-school punk back then and now they are considered old school punk (The opening band said the Utters probably last played here in the 70s). They line-up as a five-piece with a couple of guitars and full-time vocalist. Sounds as if Mike Ness was singing in front of a band made up from members of Bad Religion and the Dickies. There is also the looming presence of Stiff Little Fingers and the UK scene (as there was with all bands). There is enough variety in the approach and they have managed to write catchy songs over the years. The crowd is jumping and moving around finally which says more than I can. Glad to finally catch these guys, as I always like a well-done punk show and there are not as many as there used to be, even if there are more bands.

Quote of the Night: From the Copyrights singer... "This song is really old. We never play it... possibly for good reason."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Valient Thorr - Junius - Howl -- Black Cat - Sep 21 2010

Howl - Tonight is metal night, but as I would see (and could partially predict) things are not always as they seemed. The opening band is the closest to pure metal. They play it in the doom style complete with two guitars, bass, drums and harsh deep vocals. There was only a brief solo or two with the focus instead being on power chords played at medium-fast to medium-slow speeds. A strong sound throughout and I was wise to have earplugs in from the start (courtesy of Earpeace. Write them at, they are great). The stacks of amps in Black Cat's smaller backstage was a good clue of what was to come. Ultimately, the band was a bit too unvarying to me, but they seemed like a nice foursome and warmed up the crowd well enough.

Junius - After adjusting to the blast of stage lights that greeted me with this band, I focused on another four-piece lineup with two guitars. The heavy rock beat is interesting with a touch more swing to it than that of metal bands. The vocals are soaring in a way that is reminding me far more of a prog band than a metal band. In fact, I am hearing a heavy similarity to Porcupine Tree. The song structure is not quite as complex, but the sound is strong and does have some psyche touches. Geeze, I even have a weird moment where I am hearing first-album era U2 if they wanted to take a stab at hard rock. This is fun and engaging. The band has a nice command of their sound and did an excellent job. I am hooked and will be back for more when they return.
Valient Thorr - Speaking of back for more... This is the third time for me seeing these wildmen from North Carolina. They appear to be a metal band, but are far more unique than that lazy label. They have a classic rock sound more out of protopunks like the MC5. In fact, even their latest album photo reminds me of an MC5 photo. The two guitarists blaze away trading leads and doubling or just engaging in ultra-fast riffing. The bass player pounds away with them and I had forgotten how good their drummer is. They are all very good and join the wild singer in moving all over the stage. Tons of energy is needed for this music and they have what it takes. My notes merely state: 21st Century Schizoid Band. The crowd can't help but get into this stuff. The material sounds even more punk than metal on this tour, but they have carved out their own space and work the magic that they are capable of. They seem to tour all the time and have supported other powerhouses like Motorhead and Mastodon and have won me over every time out. Perhaps the time begins for them take the top spot and invite interesting acts to open for them. It is working on this tour.
Back in the USA

Celebrities of the Night: Was that H.R. here tonight checking the bands out? Good to see him around and I hope to catch him at least one more time in life. And I also spot one of the guys running the Rock'n'Roll Hotel and the doorman at DC9. Is there some sort of convention going on? Good to see people who see a lot of music come back for more when it is this good.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fitz & the Tantrums - Spirit Animal -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Sep 20 2010

Spirit Animal - We have a four-piece to start things off. The drummer has a Ramones shirt and they line-up as a Ramones four-piece sans leather jackets. Oh, the bass player does have leather but hardly reminds one of Dee-Dee. But he kicks into some rolling bass runs as the drummer pounds away with the guitarist adding some interesting tonal moves and spacey chording. The vocalist belts out good pop-rock melody lines on top of the building foundation. A bit too ambitious to expect a sing-along for the opening number, but a good tune nonetheless. There's some funk built in and for some reason, they remind me of Radio 4, but I am guessing that would fail a listening comparison test. The third song was a masterful psyche-rock fuzzy pounding song that really had my jaw dropping a bit. They had a sax player pop up a couple of times including one Funhouse-like freakout. The vocalist reminded me of something between Matt Bellamy (Muse) and Dave Vanian (Damned), which means a bit over the top while being the melodic torchbearer. This was a good set and for a couple songs, they could have been the best band in the world. (Unfortunately I have no idea if I am linking the right band above thanks to multiple choices)

Fitz & the Tantrums - I am seeing way too many people in suits hit the stage (I retired early to get away from this) as they take up places with drums, bass, keyboards, sax/flute and vocals. A female vocalist comes out more smartly dressed for the evening. They start cooking up a storm instantly. I would say the two vocalists are co-lead vocalists. Although the guy with the Bryan Ferry haircut may sing more lead, the female singer has enough voice and energy to lead over just about anybody not named Joplin (well, maybe Scott). Actually these two look like two attorneys I had lunch with the other week (haircut in her case, facial resemblance in his). Now this is dance music. No pounding electronica beats boring into your skull like some psychotic Japanes anime designed to screw with your system. This is hi-octane propulsive rhythm and rock done with style and heart. Both vocalists shine throughout and the crowd of 75-100 fans are dancing far more than at most DC shows. A cover of the Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams" works for me. They actually got the entire crowd to crouch down near the floor and spring up together. Great set by a fun, fun band.

And thus kicks off my eight different musical genres in eight nights. Tune in daily to collect them all.

Quote of the Night: This is an actual mass email I got from someone promoting their t-shirt sales for charity...  "I just wanted to remind you that all this week (today through Saturday, September 25th)  when you purchase the special edition Cal Tort tshirt below for only $5*, we'll give you a FREE taco coupon that's good on your next visit. 

And not only will you be hailed for your fine fashion sense, but for your generosity as well--all of the profits from your tshirt purchase will go to Share Our Strength, a fabulous organization that's dedicated to ending childhood by 2015."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Magma - The Muffins - Hume -- La Maison Francaise -- Sep 18 2010

Hume - There was an afternoon session of local bands prior to the big Magma show in the evening and I just caught the last half of Hume's set. They had a couple of guitars, drums and two guests playing cello and xylophone. The guests were a nice touch and gave some extra interest to Hume's songs, particularly the cello. The band's style is sort of light shoegaze pop music with a soft high-pitched voice over shimmering guitars. This is a tricky little band and worth a look.

The Muffins - This band has an interesting history which can be read in this nice article in the City Paper. They are a veteran band born out of progressive music of the seventies. And like those bands, all these guys can play. They line up with drums, bass (and some guitar), keyboards/sax, and a winds/brass player who handles saxophones, flute and clarinet (with a brief use of voice synthesizer). If that line-up sounds a bit jazzed, it is. But there is some creative noise created and there are no really entirely safe patterns here. What I enjoy is that they succeed with the tricky balancing act of experimenting in a reasonably original manner while maintaining accessibility for fence walking listeners who live most of their life in the mainstream. No stage patter, just some interesting mime work and odd dance moves, but plenty of excellent music that went over well. Well enough to have the crowd wanting more, but due to time constraints, it had to end after their 55 minute set.

Magma - This veteran French progressive collective plays tonight in the auditorium at the French embassy which turns out to be a nice venue that also is the right size for this moderate size crowd (Hard to estimate, but it would fill the Black Cat well enough I think). They have drums, guitar and bass upstage with a xylophone/keyboards player on one side up front with a keyboardist on the other. The one male and two female singers would come to the front of the stage singing leads while going off to the side for background vocals and percussion. That was subtle, but it was a nice piece of stagecraft giving emphasis to the intriguing and powerful vocals. The first song a 14 minute workout that pretty much blew the doors down right from the start. I would liken it to some prog musicians adding a couple of prog-metal guys covering a Spiritualized song pretending they were Dead Can Dance. What a powerful beginning. That was enough for me right there. The second song was more of a dreamy progressive number with even some folk touches deeply buried within. The next bit was an extended keyboard solo. He mostly had an electric piano sound, but he had some organ sounds in there, too. They went into the next number with tons of vocal leads traded off among the three which was quite powerful and creative--kind of in the neighborhood of Renaissance's "Prologue" although musically they were closer to the Keith Relf Renaissance. They announced they would be playing their last number which surprised me since they only had been on 50 minutes. Well, maybe it could be a long song. 55 minutes later, I had my answer. Yes, long and encompassing all the creative moves from earlier in the night. My mind wandered a few times, but in a song that is longer than eight of Beethoven's nine symphonies, I can forgive myself. They came back with a much shorter encore by ended everything with a very heavy prog-rock song giving the crowd over two hours of exciting music. About as impressive a beginning to the 2010 Sonic Circuits Festival as one could hope for.

Quote of the Night: From Hume... "That song was about Death Valley. Kind of feels like that in here, huh." Yes, it did, although I did enjoy the facilities at the embassy. The afternoon sessions were in a large room that unfortunately was all glass facing to the west. So I eventually found a marble pillar along the glassed wall to lean against which helped. Some chairs may have helped as most people were sitting on the floor. Magma played in the auditorium which was nice and there was room to set up a bar and a merch table. The closing night with Univers Zero will also be here next Saturday.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

No Age - Holy Fuck - Trophy Wife -- Black Cat - Sep 17 2010

Trophy Wife - Formerly a local band, now from Philadelphia, this female duo bangs out loud rock music with drums, guitar and vocals. The guitar is heavy into power riffing in a metallic way. The drummer is quite good and really pounds out a heavy beat. The guitarist handles the screamed vocals,while the drummer does more of a sung monotone. It is all pretty addictive as it really has a gutsy feeling to it and it even gets better as the songs become a bit more psychedelic toward the end. Nice set, well received.

Holy Fuck - I saw this Toronto band at Red Rocks in Colorado at a festival a couple years back and was more impressed than I expected. Rather than electronic noodling, this four piece has a powerful sound. It starts with drums and bass that do what drums and bass do best by keeping a killer beat and solid bottom. The drums clearly start off in that Neu! mototik style that really gets a song off to a great start. There's a little variety thereafter, but that is the dominant style. The two guys up front play a variety of electronics, some keyboards and heavily distorted vocals used more as an instrument than a lead. The songs are loaded with hooks and with the rhythms, the crowd was moving a bit (this is DC, so I wouldn't call it dancing exactly). A few songs toward the end did not move me as much as others, but they momentum was still in their favor. They closed strong and while I may not exclaim their band name after hearing them, I would probably say "Man, these guys are good".

No Age - This LA trio has a guitar, drummer-vocalist, and a guy making noise at a table full of electronics. I was not quite expecting the hard edge, yet accessible songs they dealt out. It was droning, psychedelic, yet rocking and in song structures. It had sort of a post-punk sound with an early punk mentality. Intense, but lots of hooks to pull you in. Decent vocals... I am straining to find something wrong here, but I am not finding it. There are even traces of power-pop songs in here if you listen closely enough. This is a great reminder that good creative people can mix up a few classic forms and turn it into something original enough, while garnering genre-specific fans. But I am over thinking this. It rocks, it was good and the half (or more) full club at the Black Cat had a great time.

Quote of the Night: From the opening band... "This next song is based on the essays of Audre Lorde" which is something I never quite thought I would hear on stage at the Black Cat.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Amps for Christ - Kuschty Rye Ergot - Sean McArdle - Tiny Concept -- Velvet Lounge - Sep 16 2010

Tiny Concept - Tiny, indeed. A petite woman with French accent is on stage laying down guitar loops and doing some vocals and drumming on a two-drum kit. This is primitive, but artful and melodic. A cover of Devo's "Mongoloid" is done fairly straight, but more intensely than the original. Good raw punk feeling in the modern day here. Only four songs which keeps the concept tiny and working.

Sean McArdle - We have the basic folk singer/guitarist who thankfully left the harmonica at home. McArdle has lived here, but is in San Francisco I think as his stage patter rambled almost as much as he has. Actually, he was pretty sharp and amusing, although he was trying to keep it down and dish out more songs in his 45 minute set. And it was worth it. His guitar playing is finger style with some strumming mixed in. His vocals are deep and solid, but the guitar playing was kept me attentive throughout. Very flowing with some nice inventive moves mixed in with what I might normally expect. I liked the songs and would see him again any time.

Kuschty Rye Ergot - This incarnation is similar to the last one that I saw and featured John Stanton on acoustic guitar and Scott Verrastro on drums, percussion and background noise (not sure what was in that box behind the kit). I always expect good things from these two, but they may have even surpassed my expectations tonight. Stanton really brought out a great long piece that was very psychedelic folk which lead to a psyche-rock point where it stopped sounding like an acoustic guitar. This was quite reminiscent to me of some of my favorite work from Six Organs of Admittance, who I like quite a lot. Verrastro did his usual excellent job filling in the background with great sounds and powerhouse drumming. It was a smallish crowd tonight but about 25 people were digging this set. There are a whole lot more of you out there in DC who would enjoy this band, so I better be seeing you out here next time.

Amps for Christ - From California comes this three piece lead by a crazy oddball named Barnes. He was accompanied by a drummer who looked very jazzy just trying to fill in where he could while awaiting his next joint. There was a guy also trying to fill in with synthesizer or other noise gear hiding behind his open case. Barnes did some vocals and played electric guitar and electric mandola, both instruments he made from what I could tell. He makes instruments and retro amps and has done very different noise projects in the past. This one had a lot of quirky folk touches such as a Scottish song called "Silver Whistle". And any noise guy that references Planxty is ok with me. His personality was a little big for the stage and the music, frankly. It was a very odd vibe, but amusing. The set was short and very strange. Conceptually strong, but the execution required some patience for us listeners. But there were only 18 of us by this time, so it went over well enough I guess. It was interesting sandwich tonight of two tasty meats in the middle surrounded by some very light aromatic bread.

Quote of the Night: From McArdle... "It's one thing I have never been good at, talking while tuning". Hint, this is an even better line if you do it like the bass player in Caedmon by tuning in between the words you say, slowing down maddeningly by sentence's end.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

RECORD REVIEWS - September 2010

Archivists are a local four-piece with two guitarists and a rhythm section. At first listen, you could slot them into the broad-based indie rock category. And on second listen, you could still do the same. But you will also start hearing some really nice things in the songs of this band. They have a good grasp of melody and work two guitars into better than average patterns for a young band. The rhythm section is solid and the six songs here are all recorded in a clean crisp style. There are a couple of voices with one guitarist singing most of the lead parts. This ep is a nice start for a band that could fit on many bills here in DC and have some success on larger stages. There are not a lot of frills, but it is good honest rock music. Fans of the Shins, Spoon, Built to Spill, take note.

Favorite song: "J.A.H." - No, it's not a song by HR, but it does have some nice reggae/rock lines working within. But it moves beyond even that hybrid cliche with some nice psyche guitar work and a good vocal melody. Start with this one and I think you will quickly like this band.


The Spend is a one-man show from Chicago. Matt Shaw plays guitar and sings. Although the beginning point is loner/stoner acoustic folk, he brings in electric guitars and a lot of wonderful spacey effects in many of the songs. I am transported back to the psychedelic folk scene of the late sixties and early seventies with these songs and I am reminded of some obscure classics by Beau, Jeff Baker, or Peter Kelley. You want less obscure? There are touches of Nick Drake and Roy Harper in here. And this is fine company to keep, if you look at my record collection. There are a lot of pretenders out there these days in the freak folk and free folk scene, but The Spend is one of the few that really take me back to that period where a listener can get lost in the dreamy psychedelic vibe of acoustic based songs with the occasional jarring electric moments. I enjoyed the live set at the Velvet Lounge and this record shows he has command of the studio as well. There are moments where the spacey effects could be overused, but the restraint works to maintain a great atmosphere amidst the varied songs. A few of the songs work better than others and this does have a lo-fi feel at times which can be both good and bad, but ultimately this is an enjoyable album.

Songs to check out:

Acts - Spacey, trippy guitar work that will still be echoing for hours after you are finished listening.

Gills (dry) - Nice guitar work ala Roy Harper veers off into a nice folk song.

The King of Ryan Shaw - Almost reminds me of Adam Franklin with good restrained psyche-rock-folk work.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

El Ten Eleven - Dosh - Baths -- Black Cat - Sep 13 2010

Baths - We begin with a one-man show featuring a guy on vocals in front of a table full of electronics featuring various samples, synth programs and drum machines. It started with a Big Black kind of barrage, but settled into something a bit dancier. Energized music, but I was not getting into it much. Do you know that flutter sound when a CD screws up in your machine? That was used often in the mixes of these songs. Unlike the interesting sound of scratching a vinyl record, this just annoyed me. There was some good dance sounds and the large crowd backstage was appreciative, but not dancing. It ran a good 37 minutes which felt like an hour to me. If I were forced to blame either the performer or my general lack of interest with this musical form, it is probably more on me than him. Still, this style can entertain me more than this.

Dosh - Another one-man show with samples and electronica, but he played a drum kit at times and a lot of keyboards. Instrumental action going on and the music was more flowing and melodic than the first act. This suits me far more and I was getting into the tunes. Good shifts and dynamics and some well thought out songs. A smooth, successful set which did not blow me away, but had me happy I came out tonight.

El Ten Eleven - A duo hits the stage. One guy plays drums throughout while the other plays bass a guitar/bass combo (like Boris) and a slew of pedals and electronica and even a bow! They have a screen showing one camera angle on his legs and pedal work. The songs are immediate, strong and catchy. Very good bass sounds and enough highs in the electronics to balance it out nicely. The drummer was rock steady without a ton of frills. You can dance to this music (and more people did) or just enjoy the strong sounds and good hooks in the music. There are good ways to perform electronic music live to those of us not predisposed to like a lot of it and El Ten Eleven succeeded for me. And playing a new song called "Ian MacKaye was Right" actually had me audibly chuckling.

Quote of the Night: From the headliner... "You guys are a lot more fun than Charlotte last night". I will assume he was talking about the city... and I will assume he was talking about the young crowd up front and not me hiding in the back.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Midnight Spin - Caustic Casanova - Spectral Vision - Alex Vans -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Sep 10 2010

Alex Vans - We begin with a folkie of sorts. Alex Vans has the requisite acoustic guitar, voice and the dreaded harmonica. But he also switches to an electric guitar and has brought a percussionist and a female backing vocalist. I usually find that a little bit of accompaniment can bring even mediocre folk songs to life. And that happened here. As a bonus, some songs were quite engaging and well above the mediocre level (Remember there is nothing wrong with mediocre. It is above pedestrian or worse and not everyone can be Bob Dylan or David Eugene Edwards). There were some good Americana touches, nice reverb in the electric guitar, and good vocals from both singers. There was even a cool organ sample used. Nice set.

Spectral Vision - We have a local four-piece with the singer adding a second guitar to the sound. The singer puts his shades on after the sound check to go with his hat and vest outfit. Nothing wrong with dressing up if the other three guys give it a try, too. The songs begin and I am thinking maybe he should spend as much care on his vocal work. Sorry, sorry, my back pains are making me overly critical here. The songs start out with a good rocking psyche vibe that isn't have bad. They all can play and sometimes the vocals work, they just seem a bit erratic. They do a song called "Endless". Thankfully, it's not. Sorry, sorry, that line just kind of writes itself. Look, these guys can play and they have a grasp on some nice sounds here. I think it can work with some effort. If they keep working on song structure and playing out, it could develop into a pretty cool set. It's close. I will happily see them another dozen times before I see Exodus again.

Caustic Casanova - The power trio is back after a longish hiatus. They are working on a new album and brought along some new songs to go with a few of the good ones I recall from past shows. The first Hawkwind/Amon Duul II psyche jam makes way for a post 2nd album Wire kind of song with maybe a touch of Pavement? Unfortunately there are some sound issues I can't quite figure out. The guitar is too low and something is off. Oh, as I write that note, the soundman is up on stage trying to re-mic the guitar amp. The guitarist is having to do a lot of tuning early on as well. The soundman jumps up again on stage. The drummer is banging away wonderfully, the throaty bass is solid, but the guitar sound is kind of fading in and out. They soldiered on nicely and did get a thicker sound as the night went on and rocked the house pretty effectively. I liked a new song they played which sounded like Swell Maps succeeding in trying to sound like the Damned. Still one of my favorites and hopefully they will be one of yours some day soon.

Midnight Spin - Apologies to the headliner. My back is crushing me and I am just so far behind on writing up statements for a legal action, writing up 35 CD reviews in the next 3 weeks and an industry article that is 2 months overdue that actually pays real money. So I just did not feel up to staying, even though it was not overly late. My bad, some days just come to a crashing end.

Quote of the Night: From the opener... "We've got a couple more songs for you..." And then, two songs later... "We've got a couple more songs for you..." And two songs later, it's good night. Sorry, being a little anal tonight I guess.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Blondie - Gorvette -- State Theater - Sep 8 2010

Gorevette - We begin with a four piece featuring a guy on drums and three colorfully dressed women on guitar, bass and vocals. They kick it in with crunchy power-pop-punk chords and seem to have it together. As they continue, they don't take a whole lot of breaks and really nail their beginnings and endings keeping the momentum building. The guitarist is quite good and she has a touch of that Billy Zoom rockabilly, old-school rock mixed in to her style. Zoom showed how well that can work in a punk band like X and it works here. The rhythm section is locked in and the singer is good, although her voice disappears in the mix some. They cover the Buzzcocks' "What Do I Get", the Knack's "Good Girls Don't", and a Saints cover song (done Saints style) "Wild About You". No nonsense, tight hard hitting catchy punk-pop. What is not to like? I even read that they are from Detroit and work with Denniz Tek! Odd that they would cover the Saints and not Birdman, but that's no problem for me. I really was not sure at the start of this set, but was convinced by the end and the crowd gave them great props. Nice job.

Blondie - Is seeing this legendary band for the first time going to be better than seeing Akron/Family for the fourth time? That is the question for me tonight. I did enjoy Blondie back in the day and played them on my punk radio show that I had in 1979-80. But they always seemed pretty straight for the CBGBs scene, but had a nice style with catchy songs. I was happy enough for them with their mainstream success and I would always keep their songs on the radio, even if my records and cassettes were playing a lot tougher and wilder bands. Well, tonight we have three originals, Debbie Harry (of course), Chris Stein and Clem Burke. Burke looks the youngest of the bunch and I liked seeing the CBGBs t-shirt he had on. Stein wore shades the entire time, while Harry took hers off after 4 songs. He eyes looked a bit tired, but she still looks quite good, even with a belt that looked like something Ric Flair wore to the squared circle. And she is a lot older than her bandmates (Check out 1968's Wind in the Willows if you have not heard of that one). The band was rock solid and handled the pop hooks with plenty of power, really delivering a solid live set. The lead guitarist was good and he traded with Stein and even did a double lead once. The keyboardist actually brought out the Gary Wright style strapped on synthesizer/keyboard a couple times and used it well on "Call Me". They also covered all the hits I remembered. They did a four-song encore with a  nice Ramones cover, "Pet Sematary", then a Bowie cover "Heroes", a good rocker and "Heart of Glass". The crowd was jam packed and energized and easily sang along without much prompting. I also liked seeing so many women of all ages in the crowd in small groups of their own. It reminded me how important Deborah Harry was and is. All in all, this was a much better show than I expected and there was a very positive feeling tonight. I am still bummed about missing the Akron/Family, but this was the show to see tonight.

Story of the Night: Blondie played "Hanging on the Telephone" as their second song tonight. I lot of people may not realize this was a cover song from an LA power-pop/punk band, the Nerves (written and recorded only about 2 years prior to Blondie's version). Jack Lee was credited properly, but I learned a funny story from Nerves members courtesy of Jack Rabid's great magazine, The Big Takeover. The Nerves were struggling as all punk/new wave bands were trying to promote themselves with every trick they could think of (oh, those memories...). They were able to get a cassette or record of their songs through channels to Blondie in hopes they would like it and have them as opening band. It certainly made sense as both bands clearly mined the same territory and did it well. They got some feedback saying that the band thought it was the worst thing they had ever heard. Years later, one of the Nerves caught up with Blondie's manager and was just curious to see if that was actually a real quote, thinking that they were just being blown off. Unfortunately, it was true that the band actually had listened to the songs. Yet somehow one of them became a Blondie hit.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Rangda - Major Stars - Kohoutek -- Velvet Lounge - Sep 4 2010

Kohoutek - Another searing set by one of my area favorites. I have reviewed them many times and most always have enjoyed their work. Nothing changed tonight, although the line-up adjusted by not having a saxophone and having a second guitarist (not counting the one lying on the floor that the guy who sits on the floor bangs on) join in. I believe this additional guitarist was in previous line-ups. The extra guitaring filled out the sound more and created a thicker, stronger sound. There was also plenty of melodies and musical moves within the noise which is why they succeed with me. Good stuff and a good crowd tonight was into it.

Major Stars - I have only seen this Boston band at two Terrastock festivals on big stages. They were fun both times, but not as memorable as some of their surrounding bands. I don't know if it was the more intimate club, but I enjoyed this set more this time around. I appreciated the vocals and rhythm section even more, which takes some careful listening as there are three guitars blasting away the entire set. If you want screaming guitar madness, this is the band. The sound is based in classic rock guitar form and not noisy atonal weirdness. In fact, I can never figure out if their set is an homage to classic rock guitar histrionics or a parody. Either way it works and is quite entertaining.

photo by Joe Mabel

Rangda - This is a very interesting super-group trio for fans of creative guitar work. So why not start with drummer Chris Corsano who has played with Thurston Moore and other interesting people. He was very quick and had a jazzy style tonight. He was easily a good fit. One guitarist is Ben Chasny who I have seen twice before in his long running excellent band, Six Organs of Admittance, and in the brilliant and missed Comets on Fire. He brought all his eastern styles and moves that fit comfortably in folk one moment and searing rock the next. The second guitarist is Richard Bishop who I have seen with his brother on a tribute tour to their late bandmate from Sun City Girls, Charles Gocher. I also saw the Sun City Girls way way back in the day on their first US tour. So it is fitting that I see these guitarists in yet another unique format tonight. Bishop can play just about anything and not surprisingly, seemed perfectly at home with his band mates. The material was psychedelic in a moody improv manner with plenty of Eastern moves, jazz, folk, rock, post rock... Just pick whatever categories you like, there are likely some elements within. Basically, it is two of the most creative guitarists out there doing their thing and making a fairly full Velvet Lounge crowd happy in the process.

Quote of the Night: More from Ginger Baker's "Hellraiser"... "As I put the money for Bindon into a brown envelope, Liz said, 'Here, I've got something to go in with that.' And she produced a rune written in red ink that we slipped n between the twenty-pund notes. 'When that bastard gets the money, he'll get more than he bargained for,' she snarled. 'He's going to get severly knifed!'
'Bloody good!' I replied."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fu Manchu - Black Tusk -- Black Cat - Sep 2 2010

Black Tusk - I immediately realize that I forgot both my glasses and my earplugs. As I went up close to the stage to see, I saw two double stacked Marshall amp set-ups and a very hard looking power trio plugging in. Eyesight will have to suffer, as I retreated to the sound board. The band kicked in and did indeed play a loud, hard set of metallic thumping. The songs were not at all memorable, but the sound was clear and strong and melodic enough to leave a good impression. It may have been a bit short of a band like Discharge, but in the thrash metal world. Great props to the band for taking limited breaks between songs, even while changing instruments. They had their sound down and put on a powerful display. I won't argue with this band as a worthy opening act for a heavy show. I think this Savannah trio will do well with heavy touring.

Fu Manchu - Apparently the estate of Sax Rohmer has not caught up with this California four-piece. So they continue to unleash their take on metal on this cross country tour. They have a nice sound that is a bit quicker than the Melvins, but not into the speed metal scene. They focus on power, good songs and at times some very creative vocal work. The first song was exceptional in the vocals area with two distinct voices and subsequent harmonies. I wish they would have done more of that and this would have been a rave review. It is still a positive review as the songs were good and the sound was rocking. The half-full club did have a good fan base for these guys and they played off of it well, including the playing of a bass line from Think Lizzy's "Jailbreak" which someone requested. I heard some Sabbath and Kyuss riffs and I even thought I was seeing David Eugene Edwards (Woven Hand/16Hp) fronting a metal band which worked. It got a little tedious for a song or two late in the set, but still an band worth checking out if you like these sort of sounds.

Quote of the Night: From Ginger Baker's autobiography, Hellraiser ... "When Cream folded, I got back into my drub habit big time, but Dr. Robertson helped me get clean again by prescribing Physeptone. It is a good way to come off and I did it 29 times in all over a period of 21 years!"