Friday, February 25, 2011

The Low Anthem - Bobby Lefkowitz - Daniel Lefkowitz -- 6th & I Synagogue - Feb 24 2011

Daniel Lefkowitz - A guy comes out with acoustic guitar, harmonica and heads to the mic. Certainly, this formula is tried and true and tonight the formula was followed. Lefkowitz had a nice resonant voice and belted out his folk songs with feeling. His guitar playing was not flashy and it may not have helped with how lightly it was mic'ed. There was a soft dullness to it. He had some tuning issues early (see below) but he had good personality throughout, so it went over well. His 25 minutes were well spent and there were some nice songs. "The Battle Hymn of the Hopeless Liberal" had some really awkward phrasing, but I think that was intentional as it really brought out some interesting humor. Songs like that could elevate this guy into bigger audiences. Nice opener.

Bobby - I thought we were going to get another acoustic outing, but instead Bobby was a full band with Vocal/guitar, Bass, keyboards, Drums, percussion, female vocals. There was a lot of instrument shifting and the two vocalists traded leads and worked together well. Early, there was some off kilter pop which was quite interesting. It sort of married new wave pop with a Joanna Newsome and Devandra Banhart duet. But more of the songs went into a dreary, yet edgy slow moving groove. A bit of amp buzzing was distracting, but the set was interesting. For a half hour, this was a nice set. For longer, I would have liked a bit more variety like they showed in the second song.
The Low Anthem - This was a band that I have heard of often enough, but have not really listened to much at all. I enjoy going into shows cold and just see what happens. Well, tonight was a pleasant surprise as I thought this band delivered a lovely 90-minute set. They began as a quarter huddled around a microphone singing with just an acoustic guitar and bit of clarinet. From then on, I am not sure they ever used the exact instruments in the same combination in a single song. They even had a fifth member jump in on about one third of the songs. There were drums, electric bass, acoustic bass, three keyboard set ups, violin, electric guitar, and saw. There were sounds I had to discuss with the guy next to me like hammered dulcimer and I think a bowed cowbell (he guessed xylophone). The keyboards were interesting and included a large harmonium with its droning wheeze. And that was what was fascinating about this band... the drone. They tackle Americana and folk and even have some rockers, but there was a moment with drums, violin, guitar and harmonium that I really picked up on the Velvet Underground. It was as if the Velvets lived on a farm rather than New York City. An interesting sound that others have tried, but was successful here because of the band's fine songs and dedication to taking their time with the pace allowing the emotions to really come through. And the variety was wonderful. They did this rocking sound with a rudimentary drumbeat that made Mo Tucker's restraint look like Neal Peart. If there was such a thing as 1/1 time, that's what the drummer was doing. But the next song had a tricky 6/8 beat, so they were keeping it simple by choice. There was one nice folky song where they asked everyone to pull out cell phones, call the person next to them and put them on speaker phone at his cue at song's end. Everyone was puzzled, but people did it and helped create something that sounded like electronic crickets. "Cool effect" as someone shouted afterward. They did a lot of songs from their new album and won over the crowd easily. This was much better than I expected and I had wondered if this band was worth the buzz. No, they deserve even more.

Quote of the Night: After his first harmonica blast, Daniel Lefkowitz said "I got the wrong harp, so I just won't play it.... It's my first time." He then had to do major tuning after that song "I made an error tuning in the warm room back there not knowing how cold it is out here. Ever fuck up a job interview?" His personality did win the day.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Los Lobos - Taj Mahal -- 9:30 Club - Feb 21 2011

Taj Mahal - The Taj Mahal trio comes out with the 68 year-old master bluesman in charge of the vocals and guitar backed by 5-string electric bass and drums. He kicks it in with a real electric bite on his acoustic guitar. He is playing finger-style with plenty of thumb and the sound is closer to a fuzzy electric guitar. His licks are hot and Mahal theatrically has to shake his right hand off to the side to cool off. The crowd, of course, eats it up. Mahal introduces his vocals on the second song. I believe his main claim to fame is not vocal or guitar prowess, but his ability to balance both at still a high level and use them with a palette of blues and world styles in a much wider manner than that of many bluesmen. Tonight, his vocals are solid, not overwhelmingly gruff, but melodic enough and with heart. He has a local guest saxophonist come on stage for a few numbers which lend even more variety to the sound. The bass player is solid and can really fill some quick runs when needed. The drummer is rock steady and holds it all together. Mahal switches guitars, but plays acoustic throughout the night. He flat picks some songs, often the steadier blues rockers.  About half way through the set he heads to keyboard and plays some nice piano with an organ solo. He is back to guitar and plays a brilliant bit of Africa-blues called "Zanzibar". Finally, he brings out a banjo which he uses both clawhammer and flat picking techniques on a couple of songs to close out a strong evening of blues variations. The crowd gave him a great ovation for this 75 minute set and the band earned it. They have to turn on the house music quickly or the demand for an encore would have continued for a while. But fear not, Taj Mahal fans, there is more to come.
Los Lobos - This venerable band came out with a line-up that featured three guitars, bass, drums, and keyboardist/saxophonist. But there would be plenty of other sounds used such as button accordion, percussion, congas, and more. This band has had steady success over the years and has come out with many fine albums. While not terribly familiar with their catalog, I did review their recent CD which I found to be excellent. Of course, they played material from that such as the title cut "Tin Can Trust" which had a steady rock groove that this band can really put out so well. The interesting thing about the set as a whole was how it built from a rather slow opener into better and better songs with so many subtle shifts in style. Yet with all the shifts in style, it was like walking up a lava field at Mauna Loa, There was always something building as you went forward. Nothing out of control or crazy, just steady music growing and growing. They mix Americana, traditional Mexican music, rock'n'roll from the 50s, 60s and beyond, folk, and blues into such an intriguing set. There are some bands that come close to the component parts, but few that can put it together as a cohesive whole. I even detected some Southern-Cal psychedelic moves at times. In the rock songs, I almost felt the rhythm was too dull, but ultimately I think they made the right choice as a great droning groove was established for the guitarists to do their thing. At the ninety minute mark, they wished everyone a good evening, but of course there were encores to come.

The encores were a lot of fun and not too much of a surprise because it was hinted earlier that we might see Taj Mahal back. No surprise that these acts were enjoying each other's company on this mini-tour, as they seem to be kindred spirits. Taj Mahal came back for some vocals and guitar with his trio also joining in on bass and congas. They ripped it up with "Born Under a Bad Sign" before doing some additional blues and Latino classics. I would wager to say that most people left happy. When you get two great acts worth seeing separately, together on one bill, it is a recipe for a great night out.
The review of this show first appeared at

Note: This was my last review for WeLoveDC. I fully support their music department headed up by Michael Darpino and will continue to read their fine reviews. I had other other issues with other people, but do encourage every music fan to read Michael and his staff's work. It is some of the best in DC.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Drive-By Truckers - J. Roddy Walston & the Business -- 9:30 Club - Feb 18 2011

J. Roddy Walston and the Business hit the stage for a nice 40-minute set of honky-tonk rock'n'roll. I saw them do a very nice job opening for Shooter Jennings and Hierophant last September at the State Theater in Falls Church. They were a great match with the headliner that night and that is also the case tonight. Walston plays the keys and handles the lead vocal duties with plenty of gusto. The guitar, bass and drums are loud and keep things rocking all through the set. It is real honky-tonk fun that is hard not to enjoy on the week-end for Americana/rock'n'roll fans. The songs are simple, straight forward and easy to enjoy. It's a Little Richard style piano that moves the faster songs and well, the piano pretty much moves all the songs forward. The only question I would have would be do these guys have the ability to play a longer set and keep the energy and variety high enough to involve the crowd? I think they have a good chance as they work hard, have a lot of sincerity and have some good songs. They are touring hard and mentioned something about a regular weekly set of shows at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel in a few months? We will have many opportunities to watch this Baltimore band grow.

Drive-By Truckers Sign to Dave Matthews' Record Label Photo by Erika Goldring

Drive-By Truckers This band has an interesting combination of critical acceptance and a huge fanbase lacking a care in the world for what any critic would say. That pretty much shows that these guys are good, they work hard, and maintain a fresh creative approach to what is a seemingly simple style. It could be simple, if their three guitar, keyboards and rhythm section fell back into an Allman Brothers model. But they have long played around with the many different angles of scorching Southern rock, alt and even straight country, Americana, and western rock'n'roll. It came together tonight like it often does at their live shows as they really alternated some loud and wild rock songs with some slower heartland tunes early in the set. The guitarists were trading hot licks and the keyboards were a little low in the mix early, but that was fixed. The sound was strong and mostly clear. It is tough for the vocals to stay with the guitars, but they did for all but the loudest sections. The band was happy with Patterson Hood saying "Goddamn, I'm so glad to be back in this beautiful place. Got to play my two favorite rooms on the East Coast. It's awesome." And although he probably had already dipped a bit into the Jack Daniels bottle that he passed around to the band during the set, I think that remark was sober enough to be believed. They played the usual variety of songs. Hood and Mike Cooley handle the majority of the songwriting duties, but bassist Shonna Tucker gets the George Harrison space on albums for a couple of songs and also got a few here tonight where she handled the lead vocals. After several songs, guitarist John Neff moved over to pedal steel guitar and some acoustic guitars made their way into the songs as well. It kept things interesting, although it was a little long for me until Neff finally strapped on a guitar again. Another personal issue for me is the quantity of Cooley songs where he employs a cliched sing-song lyrical style which has always turned me off on country music. Thankfully, he has varied it a bit on recent albums and his songs on "The Big To-Do" were very good. But the set did start to tire me out a bit as the variety was not as strong late as it was early. They did feature some cuts off the brand new album which was fun. The title cut "Go-Go Boots" had a nice murky vibe that stood out as yet another subtle combination of styles. But my criticisms are minor. This was a fun show which the sold-out crowd enjoyed as I did. The band makes a lot of records that make Top 50 lists or Top 5 lists most every time they put one out, but it is in front of the stage where the fans really get their full pleasure from this band.

Quote of the Night: Patterson Hood... "We are going to do some songs from our new album, 'Go-Go Boots' which is out this Tuesday... legally."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Aunt Martha - The Last Monarchs - Thundertyts -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Feb 16 2011

Thundertyts - We begin with a power trio featuring members of Little Bigheart and Mercies. As should be and is often the case, this band goes in different direction than those two bands do. Like Little Bigheart, there is a throwback sound immediately present. Instead of heavy progressive rock, it is more in a heavy blues rock vein with a touch of sixties psyche (the heavy variety). I immediately hear the Groundhogs type sound with a touch of Steamhammer. Of their influences listed on their page, I think Hot Tuna is also a good comparison, but for some reason I always hear British bands before thinking of the Americans. Anyway, these guys are rocking hard and all three players are energized and laying down the licks, which is essential in hard rocking trios. They throw a few curveballs later in the set. They play some songs with some funkrock/R&B moves of a sort. They even had Albert Haynesworth come up for a guest vocal. Well, actually this guy appeared taller and probably hasn't called his lawyer as much as Albert has the last two weeks. But he did a nice job and it was a nice shift in style that the crowd enjoyed. The crowd started at 25 and moved up to 50-60, so it was a great start to the evening's festivities.

The Last Monarchs - Oh yes, I knew I had seen this band but could not remember the circumstances. But once I saw the drummer I recalled how I enjoyed them but how his drums were at times overwhelming. The line-up is all acoustic which certainly can cause that issue. They have guitar, violin, cello, bass with the lead vocals from the guitarist and another female vocalist assisting. They call their music folk, but you would have to call it folk-rock with the powerful drumming going on. I felt this time, the sound was more balanced with everything coming through bright and clear. The guitar strings rang out nicely and all the bowed strings were clear and interesting. The bass almost sounded electric as it had more strength than before. And that made the rhythm section that much better as the beat kept things moving at a nice clip. More songs are good than not. The additional female voice is good and reminded me of the Incredible String Band's sometime singer, Licorice. And by-the-way, Licorice (McKechnie) has been missing for decades, so if anyone knows where she is, please let me know. But for the Last Monarchs tonight? They delivered a solid set and are a band well worth seeing.

Aunt Martha - This three-piece from New Hampshire offers a slightly different take on folk-rock. They have an acoustic guitar/vocalist with a drummer and a guy who plays a bit more violin than bass and adds some vocals on a couple of songs. The music has a steadiness to it and there is some nice subtle moves within the arrangements. The guitar work is pretty simple with the vocals being more of the showcase. I thought their song "Detroit City" was accomplished in the extreme. It was quite moving and the growing crowd (maybe just shy of 90 by now) seemed to pick up on this one, as I did. Although there was an Americana feeling at times, it felt a little more geographically broad, which is something I favor at least as a nice alternative or a chance to add more original flourishes. Very interesting how you can place the final two bands tonight in the same category and have very distinctive sounds, both being successful. This set capped off a strong evening of music tonight.

Quote of the Night: From the friendly doorman looking at my ID...
"Do you have to go to school tomorrow?"
"School? I don't even have to go to work tomorrow."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Josh RItter - Scott Hutchinson -- 9:30 Club - Feb 14 2011

Scott Hutchinson - His name may not be familiar, but this Scottish songwriter fronts the very popular Frightened Rabbit. I've seen his band a couple of times and at the last show, he played a song or two by himself. It certainly showed then that he could hold the interest of a sold-out crowd, and he did it again tonight for 45 minutes. He has got fine material and took requests (most of them anyway) so the crowd was involved. Although at first request, there were many shouts which lead to his commenting "well, I didn't get any of those. You guys look like you are waiting for the Black-Eyed Peas with those Day-Glo sticks (must have been passing them out to people coming in because they were everywhere)." Eventually the requests were more audible and he did almost all of them. He has great personality and can handle a crowd with his banter. But of course, it does not stop there as his Frightened Rabbit songs are good enough to be played on one guitar with his fine voice on top. I was not surprised that this was a successful set.
Josh Ritter - I reviewed his latest CD for Folkworld and it was one of the best things I had heard of the 60 or so CDs I listened to. It made my Top Ten Folk CDs of last year, although it is not simply a folk record. Ritter is a song writer extraordinaire with Americana, folk, light rock and classic songwriter type sounds  present. He has a great voice that hits the middle range with strength and feeling. In fact, it was amazing to watch a sold-out crowd hush itself enough so he could bring it down to an audible whisper. Late in the set, he even went off mic, turned the pick-ups off on his acoustic and played to the crowd with a sing-along where you could still hear his guitar. He played several songs solo and had various band members on stage for most of the set. He had a rhythm section, lead guitarist and three guys on brass at times. The real star was the keyboardist who had really hot piano moves and played a touch of organ, too. The band was solid, but it was all about the songs. Ritter can really turn a phrase and build a melody with smooth deft flourishes. It makes it look simple, as most great songwriters do. He and Richard Thompson top my list as the best active songwriters currently working (not counting the Hall of Fame guys like Dylan and Cohen and the like whose back catalog is where their classics exist). Ritter also had great personality and energy tonight. I had forgotten about Valentine's Day as I showed up alone and thought that between Hutchinson and Ritter, I would get weary of the comments. Thankfully the humor was good and Ritter also had a feature where he read dedications from people at the show which were alternatively touching and very funny. There was even the marriage proposal with its shouted acceptance.  The best laugh was "Danielle, Josh Ritter has nothing on me." This was a good touch. It sounded like something on the Prairie Home Companion, only it was funny. He played for nearly two hours prior to the encore. His bantering and the music were balanced and of such high quality, the time flew by. Josh Ritter is one of the best at what he does. May he have continued success.

Quote of the Night: There were many but I will add another Scott Hutchinson moment as he began singing his song "Head Rolls Off".

"Jesus is just a Spanish boy's name."
"I was not trying to be funny, but I was 20 years old...It does have a serious message--songwriters are dickheads."

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Silver Liners - We Were Pirates - Time Travel -- Black Cat - Feb 13 2011

Time Travel - This had the look of being a very early show from this band. If it wasn't obvious from the set, it was tipped off right before when the guitarist tried to give me their guest list thinking I was the doorman, as I sat at a table inside the downstairs room with my notebook out looking officious. He and his rhythm section hit the stage with a modest Sunday night crowd. The guitarist sang, way too softly early, but improved due to the soundman figuring it out rather slowly. The first song had sinewy guitar runs while the second was more power riffing. Nice variance as they strove for a catchy indie rock sound for the most part. The third song, "Whiskey and Water" had the best pop hooks of their set. It was all catchy enough and although they had only 18 minutes for the crowd tonight, it was not a bad set. With work, it could evolve into something.

We Were Pirates - I last saw this band open for the Silver Liners, so only the location changes for tonight's set. I do remember them being a bit more gutsy pop than hard rock and that looked the case tonight. They kind of had a latter-day or post-Husker Du sound to them. And two songs after making note of that, they do a Pixies cover thus confirming my theory. They have twin guitars and a rhythm section with solid vocals throughout. The crowd has swelled to nearly 50 and were attentive and having a decent enough time of it all. The band got a little safe and secure by set's end and seemed almost too relaxed. I would like to see them let it rip a bit more, but I guess that was back in the days when they were pirates. All told, they are a quality band that is worth a look.


The Silver Liners - This up and coming band took top honors in the fan voting of Deli Magazine's DC Breakout Band of 2010. They finished 9th overall with local favorites Deleted Scenes taking the overall prize. The Liners line up as a five-piece with a couple of guitars and keyboards and seem to be playing out regularly. They have a strong pop-rock song with more than their fair share of hooks. Vocals can be the easiest area to grab onto during their better songs. The synth solos lend a rather 1980s quality to the music that I would frankly like to forget. But when the guitars and vocals get going above the pulsating rock rhythms, they sound pretty good. I think they are getting sharper and although they are not all the way for me just yet, they are close enough to warrant a nice fan base. And they will be testing that in Vienna this Friday at Jammin Java's Battle of the Bands show. Good luck, although I think the idea of bands battling is also something best left in the '80s.

Quote of the Night: "What are you listening to?" I got this a couple of times this week when plugged into my IPOD. I may just start lying from hereon, because if it happens to be something like Stone Angel, an obscure psyche-folk act from the UK, there are probably only a couple dozen people at most in this sharp city who know who they are (and I know 3-4 of them). I think I will pick something more accessible where the conversation can make more sense. My friend hates going at parties (usually business related) and getting hit with "So I hear you're into music, who do you likc?" "Well, I've been playing Motorpsycho and Mastodon lately" is not always good for future business, let alone immediate conversation, especially when they counter with their love of Hotel California. I hate lying, but I think I may have to come up with some cliche answer before going deep into the little known.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Postelles - Snowmine - Dinosaur Bones -- Red Palace - Feb 12 2011

Dinosaur Bones - Here is a five-piece from my personal musical Mecca that most people call Toronto. They line up with a couple guitars and keyboards and rhythm section and there was plenty of sound. They put that sound in a comfortable direction of indie rock, but they kicked it up a notch by first song's end. There was some good ringing guitar with some nice off-setting bass and rhythm guitar that showed both some nice musical ideas and good comfort between the musicians. Toronto bands seem to feature this every time. There is not really a "Toronto sound", but with so much quality music coming from that town, like my favorites Elliott Brood and Do Make Say Think, there seems to be a healthy competition for bands to come up with great music before they ever hit a stage in Toronto. No matter the cause, this band has a great approach with its mix of styles and genres and showed it off to about 50 people tonight. This is the band's third time through DC, so they are working hard on the road and hopefully it will pay off for them.

Snowmine - Another five-piece with an identical instrumental line-up is up next, although they played an entirely different style of music. Snowmine had a much more lush pop sound with a touch of shoegaze, dance rhythms and some edgy pop moves. They are from Brooklyn and showed that they can ratchet up the rock content as well on a few songs. The keyboardist handled the lead vocals and guided the dreamy nature of the pop song melodies they put forward. The crowd is slowly grew throughout the night and a few of them danced and swayed with the sounds. The set lacked brilliance, but was steady with a few very nice songs standing out. It is very hard to not like this on some level, as the competence is there along with a positive attitude. Many more hits than misses in this set.

The Postelles - These guys are also from NYC and followed the same type of backline without a keyboardist this time. But yet again, there were some style differences easily noted from the first two bands. They immediately began by grinding out chords with nice clean pop vocals on top. This is power-pop, but as the set went on, the Postelles were able to vary the pop sounds from just about every decade from the 1950s onward. From their cover of "Hounddog" to the rest of their originals, they displayed a subtle versatility while always keeping the music accessible and fun. The crowd was amazingly attentive for a Saturday night and was one of the more diverse crowds I have seen for lesser known bands. They clearly enjoyed this band and all the diverse music tonight. I was also surprised that the encore of the Ramones "Beat on the Brat" was one of the best received songs of the night. I should not be by now, but as someone who beat my head against a wall trying to get people to early Ramones shows in small clubs, I still have trouble with the posthumous reverence. The Postelles are touring with their debut album and if this was any indication of their sound and audience reaction, they will probably need a bigger club to hold them by album two or three.

Quote of the Night:  From the Dinosaur Bones bass player. "Does anyone have a place for us to stay tonight, just somewhere with floor space."
"Oh, you do? Great. The Gig After-Party will be at this woman's place."

This review was originally posted at We Love DC.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Courtesans - Red Sammy -- Velvet Lounge - Feb 11 2011

Red Sammy - From Baltimore, comes this interesting folk singer/songwriter (Adam Trice). He has a full band with him which is nice. In addition to acoustic guitar/vocals, there is a dobro, drums, bass or saw and electric guitar on most songs. I have enjoyed this folk-blues style when I have heard it on recordings, but it is even more fun live--especially with a full band. The band really locks down in strong repetitive, gutsy folk-rock playing. The slide moves by the dobro player are excellent and the lead guitarist gets some intriguing tones as well. Everyone moves the music forward and I was really feeling the music at a deep level tonight. His vocals are raspy and in the direction of Mike Ness after a 90 minute Social Distortion set. He can deliver the lyrics, many of which are about his native Baltimore. Graveyard Country Rock is what they call it? Yeah, that is a good quick and dirty way of describing this quick and dirty roots music. Good high quality 45-minute set in front of 15-25 people who were nice enough to interrupt their loud conversations with applause between the songs.
photo by J. Nussbaum

The Courtesans - This my second time seeing this local power trio, and their first with a new drummer. I think I liked their previous set (and I want to treat this set on its own merits, so I won't look...ok, I'm too lazy actually). They seemed even louder and more rocking this time around. They have a formula of 7 1/2 oz. power pop, 7 1/2 oz. garage rock and 1 oz. of garage soul, but maybe they didn't level off the garage rock tonight. The crowd swelled to 25-30 people and were enjoying it. It was loud and the vocals were a bit harsh early, spending too much time in the red. The soundman picked up on that and things improved in the second half. This band is not quite there in terms of commanding attention for a full set, but with a little work on the vocals during their songwriting, they can be really good. But they are certainly good enough now for an entertaining set, which they delivered tonight.

Quote of the night: Nice joke from the Courtesans guitarist:
"Anybody like Slayer?"
"Me, too."

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mercies - Jake Troth -- Black Cat - Feb 10 2011

Jake Troth - Taking the backstage first we have Mr. Troth who is solo with prerecorded accompaniment. He cradles the microphone and moves about a bit with awkward thin white duke moves. He has an excellent voice and the songs are nice lush pop tunes. There is an edginess to some of the lyrics and it is attractive music for the most part. Still, there is something karaoke about this. It is better than someone sitting in front of a Macbook, but just not the same as a band or a solo artist playing at least one instrument. But there was the bonus of a quick encore of a couple of songs with him sitting down doing some nice folkier numbers on acoustic guitar. There's some talent here. We shall see what happens next.

Mercies - This is my second time seeing this new local band within a week and I have now seen 2/3 of their shows to date. In spite of all that expertise, I am still trying to get a feel for their sound. And that is a good thing. They have a nice combination of sounds and songs that vary a bit, but not to a point where they lose their identity as if they were a cover band. They seemed a little stronger and more rocking tonight and I was even reminded of such powerhouse trios like the Minutemen and Nomeansno. They are not quite in that league, yet, but they have a good start at it. All three players have a good sense of rhythm and there are some nice funky pulses at times beyond their more rocking material. The crowd is enthusiastic and it is about half full, which is nice for a couple of yet-to-be-known local acts (yeah, there are a few ringers/friends I recognize from the other night, but that is good that they have friendly support). I do like their vocals and detected some interesting harmonic comparisons with them and an oddball psyche-folk outfit called Forest. Again, they are not that extreme, but it is interesting to hear all these unique elements come together like this. They played almost 45 minutes and even did an encore of Devo's "Mongoloid" which was written when both Devo and I lived in Ohio, in what appears to be a year well before any of these three guys were born. That always fascinates me.

Quote of the Night: Jake Troth told the supportive crowd that he'd come back... "if you're real quiet, I'll play one on acoustic guitar." And after two songs "I can't believe you were that quiet. Thanks." My how refreshing, that a simple reminder of crowd etiquette can actually work. There is hope for those of us that come to listen. Thanks, Jake.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gang of Four - Hollerado -- 9:30 Club - Feb 9 2011

Hollerado - Pretty meager crowd at the start of the set with some bad weather slowing things down a bit. It slowly fills during this 45 minute set, so it will be a good night. Hollerado is from Montreal and lines up with a couple guitars, bass and drums. Although one guitarist is the primary vocalist, all the others join in for some well done and important harmonies. Lots of "oozin-auz" within these rocking songs made for a strong power pop song reminiscent of fellow Canadians, the Nils. As the set went on, the quality varied a bit, but was always decent and occasionally quite good, maybe not quite up to the Nils who are one of the semi-forgotten bands that deserved more. "We're hungover today, so we're going to play less and talk more." On no, now there's a set killer, although their zoo stories were amusing. To follow the cliche, they did remind me of the old SCTV McKenzie brothers sketches. Actually, after some early talking, they opted for plenty of music, and their attitudes were positive and fun, so it made for a nice opening set.

Gang of Four - In May 2005, the original Gang of Four came to the club for one of the finest shows I saw that year. It was a sellout and the band had extraordinary energy and reminded everyone of how important they were as one of the formative bands of what would eventually be called post-punk. It is less than a sellout tonight, but the crowd looks smart and knows what to expect. I suspect many of them were here last time. Gang of Four has stayed active, but with the rhythm section retiring (and at least formerly living in the USA), they return with a new album and a new rhythm section. Now on to the live show. Immediately, there are sound issues. First, it was downright scary to hear the the cracking, breathy bursts of air coming out of Jon King's mouth. Not that I expect Van Morrison or Scott Walker when I hear Go4, but this looks bad. Fortunately it improved over the night as a combination of the soundman's work and King getting warmed up improved things a bit. Still, not a stellar vocal performance. Andy Gill's guitar was striking as ever. His angular playing was as original as anything happening back in the late seventies and still stands out. The drumming was solid and the bass playing agile. There just was not that fat bass sound of Dave Allen that was so pivotal for the band. Everything was precise and credible tonight, but it did not have that overwhelming sense of danger and power the previous show had. I think the sound was a bit off and it really did not build well until the end. It may have helped that they hit some of their classics in the encores (Return the Gift/Damaged Goods/At Home He's a Tourist), although most of the newer songs played well for the most part. I would gladly see this band again any time, but I am afraid the magic has gone. It is interesting that within the last year, I have also seen Public Image and Peter Hook playing early Joy Division. These are three of the most important post-punk bands, if not THE three most important. Only PiL had the magic, although all were enjoyable. As I say, I would gladly see these guys again and if you have not seen them, you still should. If you have seen them before, it is still a better night than much of what else you could be doing.

Quote of the Night: As I leaned against the sound booth prior to the show (with my coat behind me between my back and the wall), security came up to me...
"You have to move your coat."
"What, I can't have my coat behind me, as I stand here?"
"Oh, I thought you had it hanging there. We have a coat check back there."
"Well, can I hold it in front of me?"
"Yeah, but there's a coat check there." as he wandered off.

Thanks for the welcome guys, I have to wonder if the 9:30 Club gives bonuses for overly assertive comments (sometimes stupid) as I get more of them here than all of the other clubs I go to put together.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Talib Kweli - Von -- Black Cat - Feb 8 2011

Von - Von comes out with microphone backed only by a DJ. There was not a focus on bouncy dance beats, but more of a thunderous rumble coming out of the electronics. As someone who has been a Pere Ubu fan for 35 years, but only goes to about 2 hip hop shows a year, I rather liked this sonic approach. It also allowed a focus on the words which were pointed and direct. Thematically, Von used some Egyptian motifs in his approach which was a nice touch. Von's lyrics did remind me of the comparisons between punk rock and hip hop. Musically they are quite different, but they are spiritual brothers. Both believe in DIY and in-your-face heartfelt lyrics delivered with energy. And on the downside, it gets a little preachy and predictable. I sensed a bit of that here, but still was satisfied with the 25 minute set. The crowd was a little on the tepid side, but the people up front were into it.

Talib Kweli - This was a familiar name even to me, as Kweli has established his MC skills in many different formats over recent years. He is backed tonight with a DJ and a band comprising drums, bass and keyboards. Immediately, good rhythms from the vocals and DJ get things started as the band slowly adds its muscle during the set. Kweli's lyrical delivery is fast and on the mark. Often, the band is a bit too quiet, especially the keyboards, but the solo moments are good, especially by the bass player during a nice lounge jazz/R&B styled song. Kweli did sing some songs and mixed the pace and energy levels well rounding out the set nicely. This was a late sell-out and the crowd was into it throughout the night and there was a good vibe in the club. They attempted a version of Eleanor Rigby which was an interesting idea, but he did not know the lyrics and went nah-nah-nah to everything but the obvious parts. Funny, he he could quote his Billboard chart positions in both the overall chart and Rap chart, but he couldn't get down a couple of verses. He had to stop proceedings here and a bit later, as the DJ was having all kinds of technical problems. The sound thinned out a bit thereafter, but as Kweli said "this is why I got a band." So the rest went over well and the set was over in an hour, aside from the rapid fire encores thereafter featuring a big hit, as was obvious from the crowd. There was a minor downside as it they took an hour after the opener to begin the set and some fan said to me that she had to get to work tomorrow, so I am glad I am not the only one that suffers some of these delays. But all was well once Kweli hit the stage. He is a sharp guy and am not surprised by his success.

Quote of the Night: Kweli looked back to his band "You all ready?" Crowd: "Yeah!!!" Kweli: "I know you're ready, I'm talking to them"

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Martin Bisi - Fern Knight - The Plums -- Comet Ping Pong - Feb 5 2011

The Plums - Some time after 11pm, the band finally went from sound check to some quiet adjustments to stage volume and feedback into their music in a manner where it was difficult to say where the song began. But it quickly went from a John Cage/Terry Riley sound through a quirky lof-fi Pere Ubu sound into full fledged psychedelic jamming that ultimately reminded me of local favorites, Kohoutek. When it really moved, there was some nice motortik style drumming and a rhythmic throb of guitars reminiscent of Hawkwind. There were three guitars going along with bass and drums, so it was loud and strong with some nice wailing guitar work. They were keeping it instrumental until the end when they added some rather meaningless barely audible vocals for a few seconds. Transitions were a bit awkward, but I could live with that as they did not waste any time retuning and chatting. They added some keyboards late in the set which was more of a rhythmic sound, as opposed to any real dexterous playing. And ultimately that what it was all about--laying down a sound with power and conviction. I thought the band was successful, but I have seen it done better with Kohoutek, Mogwai and the like. I would still say  this was a nice 35 minute blast of sound.
Dances of Vice, Rebel, NYC, Aug 08
Fern Knight - One of my favorites hit the stage with the biggest lineup I have seen from the band. Margaret Ayre is the mainstay with her lovely singing and cello playing. Also in the lineup are drums, bass, guitar, violin, and flute. And that combination of sounds is perfect for psychedelic folk music, which is pretty much what Fern Knight provided tonight. They had a nice drone quality and the band used dynamics well from lighter sounds to heavier psyche-rock moments. It was a bit of a Faun Fables meets Spirogyra (with more of a Mandy Morton vocal style rather than Barbara Gaskin).  I also detected some of the folkier Amon Duul II at times which sounded great. They added some harp toward set's end, so the ethereal, mystical sounds were only enhanced. On the downside, the sound was not always balanced very well with some instruments lost at times. I did like the guitarist's wah-wah sounds coming from deep in the mix rather than powering things up front. It was a lovely effect. But then it ended. The 25 minute set was over and the night was done.

Martin Bisi - My apologies to Mr. Bisi. I left as it was very late, and from what I have learned I was not the only one to leave after Fern Knight. Not only that, I was confused by the booking and I thought he had gone on first, instead of the Plums who I did not know was even on the bill. Hopefully you can come back to a club that can get a show started earlier and allow bands to get a nice full set in.

Quote of the night: From Margaret Ayre... "it is past my bedtime."

Although the music was solid and enjoyable, tonight, I have to say that I probably will not be headed back to this venue too often, which is a shame since they book some really good bands. But the late start, casual style, and really short sets do not make me anxious to come back.

Original review appeared in WeLoveDC.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Robert Plant - North Mississippi Allstars -- DAR Constitution Hall - Feb 1 2011

North Mississippi Allstars - This veteran band starts the show promptly at 8pm with a good crowd, but with some empty seats which will be filled by set's end. It is just the Dickinson brothers tonight with no accompanying players. Cody mans the drum kit, while Luther (who also plays with the Black Crowes) plays guitar and sings. This is pretty much straight blues music, which can wear me out as I have heard so much of it over my lifetime. It takes a good player to get me excited about it and fortunately Luther is every bit of a good player. He is particularly excellent with the slide guitar parts, especially on the fast-paced solos. All of the faster paced songs were excellent. Some of the slower cuts also worked well with his straight forward vocal style. There were covers of Dylan and R.L. Burnside, who has played with this band (as has Burnside's son as well). The set pulled in the audience and was enjoyable for me, which is no small task when you play straight forward blues.
<b>Robert Plant & Buddy Miller</b><br 
/>Robert Plant & Buddy Miller backstage at the Americana Music 
Associations Honors & Awards Show September 9, 2010, at the Ryman 
Auditorium in Nashville, TN. © Erika Goldring - All Rights Reserved.Robert Plant & Buddy Miller

Robert Plant - Like many people my age, we grew up as big fans of Led Zeppelin. They had the power and the superstar aura about them. They seemed far more mystical and untouchable than many of the other big bands of their day, akin to latter day Beatles perhaps. It has been interesting to follow the individual Zep members since that time, as they have been much more down to earth in accessibility both personal and musical. John Paul Jones worked with Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age rockers, Jimmy Page plays often and is open for interviews as well as a feature role in the documentary "It Might Get Loud". Yet it is Robert Plant who has been most active with album releases. He has a ten disc box set along covering his history and has since added the award winning duet with Alison Krauss. But now he tours his latest album with another solid band called Band of Joy.

The best thing about Robert Plant's solo career is the quality of the bands he puts together. After perusing some recent set lists, I was disappointed that he was not doing anything from "Dreamland" or "Mighty Rearranger" which had great bands and brilliant songs. But this band was not only excellent at the Americana style that I had expected, they also laid down some deep, dark, swampy-psyche blues that almost rocked out as much as the Mighty Rearranger band did. They were not too far off from a more mainstream Gun Club-Dr. John unholy alliance. Ace guitarist Buddy Miller was excellent and key to the style shifts. Byron House was solid and offered a flourish at times on acoustic and electric bass. Patty Griffin offered fine vocal assistance and some acoustic guitar, while Darrell Scott played mandolin, guitar, steel guitar and banjo--sometimes two instruments in the same song. I thought the real key was the tribal thumping of drummer Marco Giovino. His style was sort of a middle eastern Scott Asheton (Stooges) that really set the tone for the others to riff onward. Plant was in fine voice and played a mean harmonica on one song. He stepped back allowing all but the drummer to have a lead vocal, but sang harmony parts throughout.

The interesting thing I found was how much more universal this music is, rather than the "British guy goes Americana" that is often mentioned. First of all, British acts not only grabbed on to American blues, but they have been working with Americana forms since the 60s with bands like Fairport Convention, Pentangle and many of the guitarists operating solo at the time. Plant was clearly a fan of that scene. But like Davy Graham, he is also pulling from the Middle East and combining everything into great bursts of intriguing songs and arrangements. He did no short of seven songs (well 6.3) by Led Zeppelin, which begs the question of why not do that reunion? Of course the arrangements here were quite different and hopefully he'll make some time to work with his former band again. But if this is all you get, it is well worth it. "Down to the Sea" was amazingly mystic, while the bluesy take of "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down" was solid. He even did one of the two Low songs from the album, which is also a credit to his ability to find great music from various places.The set was solid and if I had to pick, I would say his "Ramble On" was the best of the Zeppelin arrangements. But don't take my word for it, I counted at least 12 phone cameras recording that one, so I am sure that and much more can be sampled in lo-fi internet postings. Fortunately, the sound tonight was full-out hi-fi and much better than I expected with clarity and space for the instruments to maneuver even with the volume. The crowd enjoyed it for likely a whole lotta reasons.

The set lists seem to vary within a tight group of songs, although the encores remain the same. Set list: Black Dog - Down to the Sea - Angel Dance - Houses of the Holy - Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down - Move Up - Cindy, I'll Marry You Some Day - Gates to the City/Wade in the Water/In My Time of Dying - Satisfied Mind - Tangerine - Harm's Swift Way - House of Cards - Somewhere Trouble Don't Go - Monkey - You Can't Buy my Love - Ramble on - Tall Cool One - Gallow's Pole. Encores: In the Mood - Rock'n'Roll - I Bid You Good Night... 

Oh, and before I go, I must take issue with other websites putting the Grateful Dead's name behind the final song. At about the time the Dead started playing this Bahamian song (done many times before by other artists), a Scottish duo called the Incredible String Band incorporated it into A Very Cellular Song (in early 1968). Plant most likely heard it there first, as he was a fan. In fact, he has earned my undying respect for his attending the Incredible String Band reunion show over a decade back at a moderate sized club in Scotland. As I said, there is much more than Americana at work in this Robert Plant performance.

Quote of the Night: While quite gracious tonight, Plant offered the following intro for House of Cards... "Richard Thompson is one of the key songwriters of British music, not like Black Sabbath".  Ouch, maybe that Zeppelin reunion won't happen after all.