Thursday, March 31, 2011



The Riverbreaks are a DC area band with five members that grew up in various spots in the US. Perhaps that is why to my ear, there is not an obvious geographic placement of this record, in spite of the sound that many would place it terra firmly in the Americana camp. That is not a complaint, but a rather refreshing observation, as this music stands on its own, instead of being compared to whatever local scene or college scene dominates the area. Although Brooklyn is the classic melting pot where the the poor huddled masses of bands amass, Washington DC does have many many bands made up of diverse elements as well. "Get You Right" is the debut of the Riverbreaks and will be released shortly in conjunction with a live show at the DC9, Thursday, April 7th. I mentioned Americana, but there are moments of straight ahead rock, folkrock, and thoughtful pop music. Even more interesting to the balanced heartland feel to the record, is the timeless elements. I hear sounds and styles from the 60s, 80s, and present day music scene. The arrangements are varied and the keyboard sounds and style have much to do with that. The rhythm section is solid, the vocals assured and the guitar work is quite good. There is a ringing quality to the guitar solos and the tone varies nicely as well. The band has put a lot of thought into the writing and arranging of the songs. I think half of the songs would work about as well on acoustic guitar and voice, but it is nice to hear the expansion into a full-band format. There is a lot of quality music in the DC area, but the Riverbreaks can hold their own with anyone in the indie rock scene.

Songs to sample:

Strangers in the Hot Night - It is no surprise that this is their single. It's a great pop tune with lots of pace and one you would want to sing along to. The synthesizer is really retro (read cheesy, but cool).

Casco Viejo - Great swaying rocker with fine wah-wah pedal work by the lead guitar. A bit of Drive-by Truckers meets Steamhammer, perhaps?

Bolin Creek - Good guitar interplay in more of a classic folk-rock idiom.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lost in the Trees - Brice Randall Bickford -- Black Cat - Mar 28 2011

Brice Randall Bickford - Big lineups tonight on the smaller backstage at the Black Cat. Bickford plays guitar and sings and is joined by cello, violin, bass, keyboards and drums from what I can see through the not so surprisingly dense crowd tonight. The first song has a nice Byrdsian guitar with spacey punctuation of keyboards and pulsating strings atop a steady flowing rhythm. It is gentle in the whole, but with a steady sense of movement. Bickford's voice is rich and assured in a Amos Lee-James Taylor manner? I am reaching, but it is the focal point of this fine music. The rest of the set has a classic singer-songwriter style with moves into folkier Americana and some more lightly moving rock music. Especially impressive as this was his first show, although a quick bit of research shows that this is his first show with this lineup as he has had some previous recordings. No surprise there, as this was a mature, well received set by a talented singer-songwriter.

Lost in the Trees - I last saw this band open for Junip late last year and they did a wonderful job that night. They return with a line-up similar to what Bickford had. The bass player played some tuba and the woman doing back-up vocals had an accordion which I heard but did not see as the crowd had packed the room by this time. Ari Picker is the fulcrum for the band with his acoustic guitar and distinctive high pitch and highly emotive singing. The guitar sound is excellent as it emits an acoustic sound at the striking point, but has a great fuzz treatment as well. The string players are first rate and play with a real flourish that is not often seen in most violinists and cellists in indie rock. The rhythms are good and the backing vocals are only a bit south of Lisa Gerrard in terms of gothic splendor. The songwriting is getting better and better with some of the newer material debuted here standing out well along with some crowd favorites. I think their songs compare well enough to some of the finer original artists in this area like the Decemberists and Sufjan Stevens. Like those artists, it is the arrangements that bring them to an even higher level. Maybe it is the classical music fan in me that has me enjoying this so much, but ultimately it is the combination of quality and heart that makes this music successful and far reaching. They did their usual final number unplugged out in the middle of the crowd which worked out better than when I saw this done in the larger room. The crowd was appreciative of this, but clearly loved the whole set from start to finish. But don't take my word for it, as Bob Boilen and NPR were here to broadcast it to the world.

Quote of the Night: From Lost in the Trees... "We really love playing here, as we were upstairs the last two times. It's nice to be so close." Well, enjoy it tonight, because it is the last time you will be playing a stage this small in DC. You will be headlining larger stages here and a lot of places around the world.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sebadoh - Richard Buckner -- Black Cat - Mar 26 2011

Richard Buckner -  A couple of guys hit the stage on guitar and drums. Just as I make the assumption that the guitarist is Buckner, they begin with a hypnotic Wipers-esque rhythm. There is a depth and assurity to the sound as I am immediately feeling a movement through the landscape of the music. The vocals are deep, throaty but clear. The sound settles more into a rural psychedelia with more reverb on the guitar than the vocals. The drummer switches over to second guitar and assists with the vocals at times. There is not one break in the guitar playing reminiscent of Husker Du or Honor Role. The crowd is really involved in the set, so much so, that they find ways to applaud even without the breaks in the music. I also get a real post-Velvet/Feelies vibe working here and ultimately I am in the transportive mindspace of an artist similar to Perry Leopold, one of the giants of loner acid-folk. After this well received 45-minute set, I need a break to let what I have heard settle in my mind. This was a hypnotic time that does not happen too often and I am thankful to have belatedly discovered (he has eight albums after all!) this talented artist.

Sebadoh - I have seen plenty of Lou Barlow over recent years with the very active Dinosaur Jr. along with another solo project, The Missing Men. I was quite happy to see my favorite Barlow-related band get back together for this tour. He is back with Jason Lowenstein who brought along his drummer, Bob D'Amico, from the Fiery Furnaces where Lowenstein has been working in recent years. It is a good size crowd nearly filling the room, but there is some more room in the back than there was at the Joy Formidable show the night before. Sebadoh took it easy in the beginning but slowly added some of their spicier rocking material in as the set went on. The crowd definitely took to both the rockers and the catchy pop tunes that this band was famous for delivering back in the day. This tour was to celebrate the rerelease of "Bakesale" and there was some press about this album being played in its entirety. It wasn't, but no one cared. Lou said they learned 30 songs for the tour and the band proceeded to play them in whatever order they felt like. He even laughed when they got a request for a song that he said they were playing out west but have forgotten to play in recent weeks. "License to Confuse" and "Got It" got great ovations as the opening notes were quickly recognized by most of the crowd. Jason Lowenstein switched over to guitar for several songs, but was on bass about 2/3 of the time. He sang some leads from the bass as they both did plenty of vocal work. Both Barlow and Lowenstein are fine writers and that was always part of the appeal of this band. A couple of Lowenstein's songs had a real hardcore edge in that weird Sebadoh way. It was as if the band was trying to play Meat Puppets I songs in some comprehensible way. Ultimately, this band has always been successful at being catchy and obtuse at the same time. And it worked tonight. "This is indie rock, right?" Lou asked the crowd at the end. Yes, but it is far beyond as well.

Quote of the Night: Barlow... "We're on tour to support our new t-shirt."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Joy Formidable - Mona - The Lonely Forest -- Black Cat - Mar 25 2011

The Lonely Forest - Surprisingly, this band's name has not been used by some obscure psychedelic folk group from Northumberland. Instead, it is used by a twin guitar four-piece indie rock band from Anacortes, Washington. Their first song had a strong Decemberists feel to it with vocal phrasings similar to that of Colin Meloy. They kind of went into a Shins style thereafter. And the songs were quite catchy with a nice pop-rock sensibility. The key was the delivery was full of enthusiasm, making for an engaging half-hour set. Pretty hard not to like this sort of opening set, at almost any indie show these days. Can they break out? A tour like this will certainly help their cause.

Mona - Another four-piece that is also on this package tour hits the stage for their half-hour set. Fortunately, they also had both a sympathetic sound for this tour and a quality present that made for another enjoyable set. The crowd had really picked up by now and it was going to be a crowded night. This band started a bit slowly and had some awkward endings, but by the third song or so, they really got into a good driving rhythm. There was a tad more British styled pop-rock in the approach with a ringing guitar that reminded me of the Buzzcocks playing in this interesting manner during the verses of one song. The energy eventually built in the band and in the crowd and a good time was had by most. A little tightening and better stage patter (true for both openers) will go a long way here. The foundation is good.

The Joy Formidable - There is considerable buzz about this band and from what I gather, they did nothing to hurt that at SXSW. I had other choices tonight, but I thought I would head to the Black Cat to see whether I would be catching rising stars or simply the latest hot band that I would be seeing five years later at the same club with a smaller audience. It did not take me for than a few minutes to decide that I was seeing the former. This Welsh trio came in with a wonderful faded-in sound where the volume slowly built into a churning post-punk roar. Yes, their album is "The Big Roar" which is a fair enough description of what I heard. What was really great, was that the vocal lines were dazzling sixties pop, but the music was filtered through a 1980 Manchester sound. The magical synapse of where catchy pop meets creative art is a place I am always seeking. I don't find it often, but it was here tonight. They were adding some sounds to the mix and even had a synth sound going for a bit, but all the basic component parts were clear and powerful. They hit shoegaze thickness at times, while dropping back to percussion and rhythm section moves at others. The heavy jam at the close of the set gave me the same great feeling I had watching Kylesa rip it up a few nights earlier. A couple of songs for the encore and this crowded club went home happy. They will be selling out the 9:30 Club next time, if they are not too big for that. Bet on it.

Other writings... I have an article in the March edition of Mortgage Banking Magazine. Unfortunately you have to subscribe to read it. I am sure all my many, many fans will jump at this one chance to see what I have to say about the Program Fraud and Civil Remedies Act or how five false signatures cost an international bank over forty million dollars even when there was never any proven fraud of any of the thousands of mortgages ultimately involved. OK, maybe not, but this gig does help pay the bills.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Jeff Beck's Rock'n'Roll Party with the Imelda May Band -- 9:30 Club - Mar 24 2011

Jeff Beck and Imelda May Band - I figured getting to the 9:30 Club around 7:45 or so would allow me to scout out a location for this sold-out show starting at 8:30. Of course by starting my review with this sentence, I would be proven the fool tonight. The place was pretty well packed and I grabbed a standing spot in the back corner of the balcony. The show then began at 8:15 which was odd as I checked the time right before I left. No matter, as the crowd was there and ready to go. Beck and company came out and lit into some old time rock'n'roll numbers with a rockabilly flavor, due mostly to the stand-up bass playing. It was classic 50s styled music with a guy singing some classic cuts including a number from "a band called the Yardbirds". It was "Train Kept a Rollin" and it was actually a bit more dull than a couple of the songs around it. Frankly, I enjoyed the old rock'n'roll homage done by the Blasters last week to what I was hearing tonight. Thankfully, Jeff Beck did punctuate the songs with some fiery guitar work which was what everyone the crowd pretty much came to see. Emelda May came out for the fifth song and the music shifted into bluesier territory and powerful lounge-jazz. "Cry me a River" was excellent. Jeff Beck went to the microphone, joking about how he could actually talk, and dedicated the evening to the great recently departed Les Paul. I am glad he explained it that way, as this show was following in the rock'n'roll stylings and lounge jazz moves of Les Paul, who played his signature guitars well into his 90s. Imelda May explained that the songs she was singing with full back-up vocals unseen on stage,were recordings she made earlier in the style that Les Paul also used. She assured everyone the lead vocal was live. She was an excellent singer and the songs were fine, yet there was just something overly comfortable about the music. Yes, I had no expectation of seeing Beck rip through Yardbirds material (I have already seen them recently with a 21 year old gunslinger doing his part), nor did I want to see any other specific historical period meticulously discovered, as I don't find any of them important enough. Oddly enough, I did see "(Pat)Travers, Bogert, and Appice" years ago in this very club with a much smaller audience. But Beck is still the consummate pro and can still play well, even if the songs did not always demand it. I think everyone from band to audience may have been better served if this show was at the Birchmere or even DAR Constitution Hall, as a more relaxed seated show for the older crowd would have been better than what I witnessed tonight. I am not sure that would have made me leap for joy at this set, but it probably would have allowed me to find it likable as the simple showcase it was. That is, until I would have considered the ticket price.
beck imelda
Quote of the Night: As I was reading a book and plugged into my IPOD while standing in the corner ten minutes before showtime, a guy stares at me for a bit. I pull down my headphones and he asks...
"You getting in some reading, huh?"
Now I actually enjoy outgoing people coming up and chatting with me, but try to have a better follow-up than this guy, please as I do enjoy talking about music or whatever. You'll see me at many, many shows and if there is enough light, the book will be in hand before the show.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Helmet - Saint Vitus - Crowbar - Kylesa - Red Fang - Howl - The Atlas Moth -- Jaxx - Mar 23 2011

The Atlas Moth - It is 6:20pm at a stripmall in Springfield, VA. There are enough people here to see the beginning of a long show featuring enough metal to reopen a Flint assembly line for a week. It is the Metalliance tour with a well booked variety of bands. First up are the Atlas Moth from Illinois. They have three guitars in front of the bass and drums, although one guitarist plays keyboards quite a bit. They succeed with the nice mid tempo droning songs for the most part. Some underlying guitar parts have a nice feeling to them. The cliched death metal screams are a bit tiresome, but that is par for the course for me. Their 20 minutes went well enough for the growing crowd.

Howl - This four-piece from Providence also features the death metal growling (or rather, howling) vocals. I thought their riffage was quite good. They are probably derivative, but not many bands are not in any genre, let alone a well seasoned genre live metal. The main thing was that the music was catchy and I latched on easily enough for their 20 minute set. Like the last band, the vocals came out far too loud through the PA. As I found out, this would continue...

Red Fang - I have to say that the crew on this tour along with the club are doing a splendid job of keeping things moving. There was a fifteen minute break between the first two bands and only a twelve minute break here. This is also a 2-guitar four-piece with a heavy sound. They incorporate old hard rock moves with a modern metal feeling. They kind of lost me in the middle with the sludgier portion of their set, and a sound that was coming out too harsh (critique of PA, not band). However, they closed with two ferocious, fast paced rockers. Molten metal showering down upon the welcoming crowd. Powerful enough to make this a memorable thirty minutes.

Kylesa - From the start, Kylesa has been one of the most genre-bending bands in the metal scene. Tonight's forty minute set was every bit as fine as previous times I have seen them. And they tour hard, so do try to take in their exciting act when you can. They have a couple of guitars, bass and two full-time drummers. Even that isn't enough percussion as one guitarist joins in on drums at times and the finish was four of them drumming away for the last three minutes of the set. But their are loads of great guitar moves and some keyboards/synthesizer from the bass player. They have a lot of prog moves amidst the metal and some very cool psychedelic touches as well. Their projections are extremely psychedelic and are nice in their steady feeling. It helped to have a triple projection with so much wall space in this club, that everyone was surrounded by the swirling patterns. And it is pretty hard not to get into any metal band that uses a theremin, more than once. I even detected a vocal line that practically mirrored the Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs", which worked for me. Their sound is a great merging of heavy psyche band like Black Mountain with a creative metal band like Mastodon, who they have toured with. Do catch this band in a club or arena near you.

Crowbar - Straight ahead two-guitar four-piece, here. They played 35 minutes of droning sludge metal that had a moderate pace at times and even moved into what might even be called pace. That variety helped a lot, as otherwise this long night could have been a bit long. But it must be said, that these guys do what they do well and they offered yet another variation on the metal theme which is saying something to all who think everything sounds alike. The sludge was appreciated by the masses.

Saint Vitus - Man, are these guys still around? Guess, so as the sound that greeted me from this one-guitar four-piece was the classic Sabbath-metal that I recalled from the one metal band signed to SST records way back in the days when Black Flag decided to head in that direction. They also mixed tempos well and really did have a heavy sound throughout. The bass playing reminded me of Dave Alexander of the Stooges with the drumming a bit more classic rock than that of Scott Asheton. But it was similar in the "dumb" rock rhythm section that allowed both Stooges and St. Vitus guitarists to go wild with heavy riffs and wah-wah solos. No Iggy, here, but the vocals were good and these guys won me over in spit of myself. Maybe it was the faster pace song that reminded me of the Stooges "I Got a Right" that did the trick. I am talking way too much about the Stooges, when Black Sabbath is the better comparison. But, therein lies this band's skill, perhaps. Great set.
Helmet - This the first time for me to witness this influential band from the Amphetamine Reptile days. I was into them early as I followed that label closely, yet briefly. I strayed away for a couple of reasons. First, I thought Helmet moved into a too cold and brutal sound. Second (related to first), I headed more into folk and psyche territory back then. But, Page Hamilton is back with a newer band that were quite strong tonight, especially in the drumming. They played their second album (Side B first), "Meantime", in its entirety. I was surprised to find moments of warmth in the songs. Sure, its precise, high charged futuristic metal sound is fully intact, but there is more going on than I originally thought. I think there has been a lot of bands trying to follow in this mold, or going off in other cold, bleak directions that make the originality of Helmet more refreshing today than even back in their heyday. Whatever the case, their hour long set had time for a few other songs along with this album and the the crowd was eating it up. Page Hamilton is only 50 and looking and sounding quite healthy, so hopefully they can keep working their magic for years to come. They have earned their creative niche in history and bring their great sound to this century as well.

Quote of the Night: Interplay between Saint Vitus singer and fan...
"It's a pleasure to be back in this neck of the woods."
"You already said that!"
"No I didn't, it was (our guitarist)."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

DeVotchKa - Mariachi El Bronx -- 9:30 Club - Mar 22 2011

Mariachi El Bronx - Yes, it is clear from the opening notes, that this is indeed a mariachi band. Acoustic guitars, an acoustic bass as big as the player, Trumpet, Percussion and a violin are the instruments of choice. A vocalist comes out after a few instrumental minutes. He is in full uniform as is the rest of the band. The percussion sets a nice tempo which everyone follows well enough. The trumpet stands out with lovely flourish throughout the set. The lyrics seem to be a bit more modern than the otherwise traditional sounds. And as I learn later, that is no doubt due to this being a side project of an LA hardcore punk band, The Bronx. Oh, so that explains his dedication of the last song to the punk rockers out there. From the sound of the finale, I thought I may have misheard him saying polka rockers. But these guys are punks having fun with traditional sounds and keeping it toward the traditional rather than trying to jump on a hybrid Gogol Bordello-like bandwagon (not that that is a bad place to be, but so many bands are already doing that). A good 45 minute set that was fairly received by the building audience.

DeVotchKa - As someone who lived in Colorado for nearly 20 years and is a huge fan of the Denver sound of bands like Woven Hand, Slim Cessna's Auto Club and, of course, 16 Horsepower, I surprisingly have not seen this, the most famous of the recent Denver bands. Their music is an interesting blend of worldly influences and catchy indie pop-rock. Tonight they lined up as a five-piece with a ton of instrument switching to the point where I am not sure there were two songs using the same combination of sounds. There was generally a rhythm section, although the bass became a lighted sousaphone at times. Guitars, keyboards, accordions, percussion, theremin and violin showed up often. They played in front of three projection screens, although the real highlight was the circus act. Two women ascended a pair of flashy ribbon-rope structures hanging from the ceiling. They then went into a choreographed performance of acrobatics and aerial movement. This was a good routine, looked dangerous, and was a lot more fun than I had first imagined. Musically, the band is just a little too safe for my liking. I think the live show did a lot more for me than their recordings, as the drummer was excellent and kept things moving nicely. They hit a good groove that reminds me of a combination of Los Lobos merged with The National. I am glad to finally see them and it was a decent enough live show that I can recommend to other DeVotchKa fence sitters. And there were over a thousand happy listeners here in DC.

Quote of the Night: From the opening band... "This is a song about a prison. It goes out to all the hardened criminals... Yeah, a female criminal! There is no prison like a female prison."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dark Sea Dream - 28 Degrees Taurus - Night and the City - Phonic Riot -- Velvet Lounge - Mar 18 2011

Phonic Riot - Another late Friday night at the Velvet Lounge and a very full club is raring to go with some live music. At 10:45, a guitarist/vocalist and drummer hit the stage. The drums were solid and the guitar playing quite rudimentary but cool. Her vocals were a bit too loud, but pretty good. They had a really nice style to them that was hard to place. It had a raw Cramps feel, but not in that style. More like Siouxsie Sioux singing for Alternative TV in 1979. I thought the set was quite strong, but the band may have a tricky time doing much more than this. The second to last song was well written and shows some potential for future growth and direction. Here is a band to keep an eye on, for certain.

Night and the City - This local four-piece also had female lead vocals from the bassist along with guitar, drums and keyboard/guitarist. Both guitarists sang some backing and lead vocals, too. They create some nice sounds and drones and are moderately tuneful, but there is not much going on at the heart of it all. The third song was not bad, but it sounded like something Sonic Youth rejected for Daydream Nation. The vocals were a bit flat and dull at times, but sometimes a nice punch was delivered with the sound. For now, I will stick to the Jules Dassin movie, but there may be hope here.

28 Degrees Taurus - A power trio from Massachusetts is next with more female vocals from the bassist. It is a bit more of the Kim Gordon style at times, but at a dreamier pitch. The guitar is loud and raucous with a nice shoegaze swirl going on. In fact, it did go on and on and on, perhaps a bit too much. A little more variety may help things. They did try some variety in the middle of the set, but they kind of lost the formula some how. It was quite alright to slow it down a bit, but it did not click as well and they seemed to lose a bit of confidence. They also lost some audience as the club's 70-80 people had cut back to about 35 at the peak here. Perhaps that proves my point about these late shows, but I'll need more evidence to be sure. They picked it up a bit and the drummer was flying on the second to last song they did. There is work to be done here, but there were good things in this 40 minute set and it was fun.

Dark Sea Dream - Back to the local scene as Dark Sea Dream sets up its massive backline to support the two guitars, bass and drums. It took 28 minutes tonight which meant they got rolling at 1:33am. I enjoyed their sound the last time I saw them, but they couldn't get rid of a buzz and had trouble with the sound. I still heard a buzz as they got started tonight, but it quickly blended into the massive volume they produced. They basically are out to blast away at high volumes and create a psychedelic sheet metal ambiance where interesting sonics weave around in and out of the maelstrom. And they succeeded quite well tonight for the 25 people remaining. The vocals were barely audible, but they are just another instrument anyway. All but the bass drum were drowned out early although the soundman was able to get the drums up a bit as the set went on. They are an interesting band to experience. They seem to be getting a good handle on this sound and things look promising for them, if conditions improve for these late night weekend bills.

Quote of the Night: Interchange between opening band and crowd after a minor false start by the drummer:  "Sorry about that."... "We're cool."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Blasters - Billy Coulter -- Iota - Mar 15 2011

Billy Coulter - Local singer/songwriter Billy Coulter starts the show tonight with two accompanying musicians on acoustic guitar and bass. He is playing guitar and sings all the songs aside from one by the bassist. I like the guitar interchange with most of the solos played on the acoustic which gives it more of an ethereal feel. There is a gentle quality to the rock songs, most likely due to the lack of a drummer. He does "Ring of Fire" but his voice is a bit soft for that number. His voice works well for just about everything else including a cover of Nick Lowe's "Without Love". His originals are good enough to back up the various awards he has received and mentioned a couple of times. Solid 45 minute opener to a pretty packed house on what is Iota's 17th birthday.

The Blasters - Lots of people in the crowd looking like they were auditioning for extras for "The Wanderers" along with plenty of average looking types wanting a dose of roots rock'n'roll. The Blasters have been doing that a long time. Dave Alvin is long gone into a solo career and occasional spots with the Knitters (my preferred way to view his excellent guitar work). But that leaves brother Phil and the old rhythm section along with a recruited lead guitarist who more than holds his own. I have never seen these guys, although I have heard the recordings off and on in the past. They do that 50s/early 60s style rock'n'roll as well as anybody. I don't think it was much different tonight as Phil Alvin had the energy and voice. They may not have had quite the power and pop that they had in their youth, but few do. This is not my favorite type of rock music, but like any musical form, it is always worth hearing the players that do it the best. The Blasters still bring it. They may not have the fan base, the critics thought they deserved, but the fans filling out the Iota had a good time on this Tuesday night.

Quote of the Night: "If I knew the winning lottery numbers, do you think I'd be answering the phone for $12 an hour?" Billy Coulter's (desired) answer to the frequent callers seeking lottery success when they called him at his job at the Psychic Friends Network.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kohoutek - Luger - Caves Caverns - PJB -- Velvet Lounge - Mar 12 2011

PJB - The acronym is for Psychedelic Jam Band, although the music seems only slightly psychedelic to me and there is not a whole lot of jamming. But it is a band as there are two members on stage with keyboards. One with a microphone and one with a computer. The guys intensely pore over their instruments, so much so, it is hard to tell when one song ends and another begins, not that that matters a whole bunch as the music is melodic more than ambient. The crowd of about 20 does want to show their support when they sense a break. There are icy vocals throughout which is a nice touch. They sound a bit like Robert Wyatt with a rod up his butt, which is a compliment. Not a bad start tonight for this half hour set except for just one problem. The show began at 10:15 and my stomach is spraying acid throughout my entire digestive system, so I may not be long for this evening. These late starting shows tend to wipe me out with far more regularity these days.

Caves Caverns - It took 45 minutes to set up the second of the four bands, although actually they could have started a little earlier. The smoke machine heavily cranked out its product at 11:23, so I guess the set begins. The four-piece cranks out a nice psychedelic swirl of noise. This is more of a psychedelic jam band. Nice lighting and decent enough on the musically accessibility scale. Still, a bit too loose and obvious at times. They had a bit of sax and extra percussion and just as some variety kicked in, they ended the set after 16 minutes. Hmmmmm... I sense a disproportionate amount of times between sets as opposed to the actual sets. Again. Late start? Four bands?

Luger - From Espana, comes these five guys raring to crank out their psyche-rock set. They have drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, and a percussionist hitting a metal table and floor tom. The bass player sings throughout and along with the solid pulsating rhythms, the music stays in a solid rock foundation. It does have a wonderful hard psychedelic feel throughout. My first thought is Flipper on krautrock? Well, I am not so sure about that, but there is a propulsive krautrock style and the music is steady, heavy and even rather playful almost. Hawkwind is another obvious comparison. They do have a nice style beyond the cliches of psychedelic rock. Very cool sounds, the keyboards are powerful, the guitar chords are ground out with passion, and the vocals are good on top of the rock steady percussion. The audience was pulled into their world and that is what you want from a set like this. Now off to SxSW to see if they can carve a little space in Austin.

Kohoutek - Sadly, my health was deteriorating too much to stay for one of my favorite local psychesters. I am sure they did their usual brand of dynamic instrumental psychedelic rock and brought the evening to a satisfactory ending. Next time I will bring my antacids and try to survive the evening. There is always a next time for me with Kohoutek.

Quote of the Night: "Well, I have to say I came here because of the price". A guy in the crowd explaining why he was at the Velvet Lounge when he was in the mood for live music, but was not sure where to go. Nothing wrong with that answer. Although, I some times have issues with this club (I have some issues at every club), how can you beat 4 bands for $8 including one from Europe?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Your 33 Black Angels - Apollo Heights - Caustic Casanova -- DC9 - Mar 10 2011

Caustic Casanova - It's been many months since I have seen one of my favorite local trios. They have been busy recording and are starting to play out again. The key to their success is the diversity in their sound. Just when you pigeonhole them in a genre like psyche, indie rock, metal or whatever, they twist their sound around in another direction. They may be a bit too slippery for some listeners, but it keeps me coming back for more. I have found that by the third time I see a band, I run out of things to say unless they have some interesting new material and sounds. These guys generally succeed at this and did so tonight as well. They sounded strong, controlled feedback well and came up with a modern take on an American post-hardcore reminding me a bit of Happy World or the Undead (Bobby Steele). Well, if that is too confusing, note that they did well covering a Death from Above 1979 song. Good half-hour set to get this show rolling.

Apollo Heights - Three guys jump on stage with guitars and play an instrumental opener to a backing rhythm track. Nice simple pop guitar parts on top of a subversive shoegaze undercurrent. From then on, they cut back to two guitars with the third member handling lead vocals. Their record is called "White Music for Black People" which probably describes their intriguing mix of music as well as anything. As their set continued, their vocal power and dense instrumental contrasts really built into something extraordinary. There were U2 styled guitar tones mixed with spacey rocked out moves of Swervedriver or TV on the Radio. This is a very intriguing band and was a whole lot better than I expected from the opening notes.

Your 33 Black Angels - Also from New York and touring with Apollo Heights, this four-piece lines up with a couple of guitar/vocalists and a rhythm section. They start with something akin to alt country which really sounds odd to me. They follow it up with a very likable power pop number that has a great punch to it. For the rest of the 45 minute set, they varied the songs between rockers and some sort of odd Americana/singer-songwriter style that really did not connect with me. Part of it was the drumming worked well for the rockers, but didn't lift the other material. But I am not sure the other material was where this band should go anyway. Even when I preach diversity like I did above with Caustic Casanova, it only works if a band can come up with the songs and riffs to make it work. At best the Americana songs sounded like the Meat Puppets covering Mighty Baby, but it just was not consistent. This set was a tale of two bands and I was far more appreciative of the rocking power pop band I saw for about 20 minutes of this set.

Quote of the Night: From C.Casanova's bass player... "we even worked in a Blue Oyster Cult riff" as he related to me after the set knowing my love for that band. Well, since it was from Godzilla, I am sure I was not the only one who easily spotted it. He went on to say that when they are playing, they hit points where riffs from classic songs fit in well, so they have fun with tossing them in. Sounds like a nice approach to me.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Robyn Hitchcock & Joe Boyd -- Birchmere - Mar 9 2011

Robyn Hitchcock and Joe Boyd - This was the most expensive book reading tour I have ever attending, but of course there was some music tonight as well. Yet I still would have attended even if Robyn Hitchcock had left his guitar home. Hitchcock is the wittiest musician I have ever seen when it comes to stage patter and between song stories. Add him to a book reading by Joe Boyd, whose "White Bicycles" is one of the best rock music books you can find, then you have a great evening of gripping story telling and song. Hitchcock began with a song which got things rolling nicely and they continued with Boyd telling stories and reading passages from his book followed by Hitchcock covering a song by the person or band that Boyd had just talked about. Hitchcock's own songs are some of the finest out there, but it was a lot of fun seeing him play all of these different songs with his own unique interpretations. And the songs were diverse as Joe Boyd has worked with a fascinating variety of musicians from classic blues musicians to Dylan to Pink Floyd to psychedelic folk bands to REM. In fact, I was trying to think of other people in the music business who have been involved with promoting so many brilliant and varied musicians. Yes, his boss Jac Holzman of Elektra would be one, although being head of a huge label would allow one to accumulate a wide array of talent. Boyd was the guy out in the field finding it and promoting it. Probably the best comparison I can make would be to John Peel, the late great DJ who was always able to find musical gems long before the rest of the world caught on.

But as for this evening, the Birchmere audience was entertained with eight Robyn Hitchcock songs, lots of Joe Boyd stories, along with some Hitchcock quips and interludes. Hitchcock asked Boyd to talk more about the Jim Kweskin Jug Band as he knew the name, but not much detail which lead to some interesting unplanned stories. And o as I am likely the one person in the USA with the most written information on the Incredible String Band, I really appreciated Joe Boyd's passionate reminder to the audience of how good they truly were. If you are reading this review, his book is a must read. And this presentation is a great way to enhance that reading.

Set list: Original tune/It's All Over Now, Baby Blue (Dylan)/My White Bicycle (Tomorrow)/Chinese White (ISB)/I Can Hear the Grass Grow (The Move)/Reynardine (Fairport Convention)/River Man (Nick Drake)/Arnold Layne (Barrett/Pink Floyd)

Quote of the Night: It was a night of quotes, but I liked Joe Boyd's story where David Hidalgo of Los Lobos said to him that to thank the members of Fairport Convention for releasing the UK folk rock classic "Liege & Lief" which was so inspirational to him because if he had not heard it, he would still be playing heavy metal in East LA.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Drawbridges - Courtesy Tier - The Yes Way -- DC9 - Mar 6 2011

The Yes Way - This 2-guitar four-piece from Brooklyn (sounds familiar already) came on with a nice delicate pop rock that had signs of shoegaze, but did not really head in that direction. Steady drums and a funky bass allowed the guitarists to dance around the melody with interesting moves. The bassist and guitarist switched after a few songs and the set got progressively heavier. Perhaps there was more switching, but the stage lights went out for the rest of the 45 minute set and came back on right at the conclusion. The darkness did allow me to focus more closely on the music which was ultimately rewarding. The band starts off in a kind of guitar based Caribou sound, but has lots of interesting moves with personal touch and feeling. Good songs and a confidence in the playing make for a successful set. And bonus points for having one member's grandparents present showing that older folks can rock out and that I was not the oldest person in the club tonight.

Courtesy Tier - Another Brooklyn band with just a guitarist/vocalist and drummer this time. I immediately think White Stripes, which is a safe guess. The other no-brainer is that the drumming will be better than the White Stripes and the guitar work worse. With the obvious out of the way, I get down to the sound. There is an annoying buzzing between songs and during the quiet moments. Fortunately, those were few as the guitarist created a nice thick sound that sounded like synth-guitar at times. The drummer was strong and the songs rocked out nicely with some very good psyche-drone jams that I enjoyed. The songs and vocals were average, so I see some room to improve and perhaps a fuller band with the right members may create some fun dynamics like I saw in the first band. Still, a good live set that eventually won me over well enough for tonight.

Drawbridges - We finish at the DC9 with a local five-piece. This is the first time I have returned to the club since the fateful night where I saw Agnostic Front. It looks a little refreshed, although they had done a redesign a few months prior to their closing, so I don't know how much is new. It is still the same set-up. The crowd was a little sparse, but it was Sunday and I think it will take the club a little time to get fuller audiences. We shall see. Anyway, This band has drums, bass-vocals, guitar, keyboards and cello. The first song sounded a little odd with the instruments a bit too separated and at odd volumes in the mix. The song was good and thankfully the woman at the board and the players got it together quickly thereafter and things worked out very well. The instruments merged together well with some nice creative patterns, with the cello helping forge an original identity. The keyboards were a bit more for sound thickening and even the guitar did that at times. The songs were generally creative explorations in an indie rock style, but also with throwbacks to a bit of classic rock. I did not have a good comparison, although during one song I had a feeling that the sons and daughters of Quintessence were playing their father's music in today's style. I also felt a bit of San Francisco classic psyche in some of the more jamming moments. Drawbridges are a nice addition to the scene and they look to be capable of improving as they continue to play out and acquire full confidence in their voice.

CD Reviews: Months and months of CD reviews have now been published in the latest edition of Folkworld magazine. Take a look and see how I try to distinguish the many blues band's CDs that I listen to. If anyone has any idea of how to review a blues band in 2011, please let me know. Anyway, click on CDs and start at Stevie Palmer and continue to Victoria Vox. Kudos to anyone who makes it all the way through.