Wednesday, August 31, 2011

RECORD REVIEWS - August 2011

The Wyld Olde Souls - "Ensoulment"

Well here is a pleasant surprise. This band's record label noted that I favorably compared a CD I was reviewing in Folkworld to an old Wyld Olde Souls EP that I still routinely play. I had a acquired it from a since deceased collector who tossed it in with a big order I had made. I still play it as this US east coast band exemplified the best of UK-styled psychedelic folk music. They had a rich sound with strong vocals, interesting instrumentation and even did a superlative cover of a Gwydion song, "Sun God". Well I was delighted to learn that the band was back and their new label caught my reference and sent me a copy of the new record. And they are indeed back with the gorgeous harmonies, acoustic guitars, and electric instruments. But with flute, mellotron, hurdy gurdy, and tablas, they still can put the psychedelic into folk music. Start with Chimera (UK), think of the Smoke Fairies and add a full band sound like a Mellow Candle, Americanize it a bit in the way of Gwydion and you have an approximation of the delightful sounds within this album. There are not quite the highlights here as on the previous record (a couple are close), but it flows majestically and not a wrong note is struck. This record should be grabbed by any fan of the aforementioned classic folk-psyche bands. They are one of the few that truly keep the spirit alive.

Wyld Maiden - Has a great counterpart guitar or bouzouki and violin working off of the serpentine melody with at least three killer female voices dancing in and out of the mix.

Where There is Light - Mysterious flute sounds hover over steady percussion begins this slow building song where even some electronica sneaks its way in. But fear not, it is excellent psyche-folk.

Ferris Wheel - This has all the classic sounds of the band and is even capable of approaching a mainstream pop feeling. But of course, I always think quality psychedelic folk music should be in the mainstream.

Deleted Scenes - "Young People's Church of the Air"

This local band has steadily done a nice job of combining guitars and keyboards to put forward their attractive pop-rock songs. This album showcases some of the abilities that I have seen in the live set. There is a distinct Radiohead-like quality to many of the songs with dreamy, ethereal vocals atop electronic, pop rhythms and some angular guitar. My only wish was that I could hear more of the angular guitar above the electronics which dominate. Thankfully, the guitar is present in some songs and this is mostly a bias of mine as opposed to any serious failing. The songs all work as good pop songs concerned more with creating an attractive hook then pushing people into pulsating dance patterns. There is just enough variety in the songs while still holding down a signature overall sound (see songs below). That is invariably the quality of a well done album. They sound like they should be a fixture of the vibrant DC scene.

Songs to try:

The Demon & the Hurricane - This one did have a spacey western guitar with a great dreamy landscape of synthesizer and electronics atop a trotting beat. The vocals are atmospheric and this is the cut I would put on my mixtape.

Baltika 9 - There is almost a ska-pop quality at work here. Still, the poptones ring throughout and it is a nice change of pace.

English as a Second Language - Electronics-heavy, but with a really nice pop hook and cool backing vocals. The ending ratchets it up two notches on the heavy scale.

Casey Shea - "In Your Head"

I had the pleasure of seeing Casey Shea at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel and also interviewing him. He was a bright and friendly guy and he put on an entertaining set that  really got the crowd involved. He was solo that night, but he mentioned that in New York he plays regularly with a band and that his album was recorded with them as well. Ergo, this is a full rocking album with a plenty of the classic singer-songwriter folk-rock style on display as well. It has a modern feeling, born out of a Soul Asylum type heartland sound that is as rocking as many heavy bands, but still holds on to a rootsy base. There are a few darker, quieter songs which nicely balance this nine-song album. Casey Shea has the song writing chops and a great band and have done a great job with this record. I love the Tim Buckley like cover, too. There are a lot of fine young artists in this arena, but he has the ability to turn many ears in his direction.

Songs to try:

In Your Head - The title cut has a tuneful poppy feeling, but the full-out rocking foundation of drums, bass and electric guitar won't let you settle back in your chair too comfortably.

Let It Slide - When there is as good a chord progression as that in Tommy Tutone's "867-5309", even Bruce Springsteen can get away with co-opting it for "Radio Nowhere". This sounds a bit like it as well, but the overlapping vocal work and woven guitars are more original than what the Boss came up with.

Battery - Indeed, the battery of bass and drums lays it down nicely with some wild drum work. Add ringing guitar and Shea's strong vocals and you have one great song that takes me back to classic Soul Asylum.

Paul Armfield "Tennyson"

This is the fourth album by full-time bookstore manager and part-time musician Paul Armfield. Ergo, it is not surprise that a literary theme is the cornerstone of the work. All the lyrics are from the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson. Armfield plays guitar and most of the other instruments in the mostly sparse arrangements. Song order was the first interesting thing to me with the opening number being light with bird noises--evoking a children's song. But Armfield's voice is deep with an intensity present that I was pretty sure that things would turn. And they did with the next song "Spiteful Letter". It was not all down and deep as he varied the arrangements nicely, clearly with the intent of interpreting the poetry. "Charge of the Light Brigade" has a rhythmic thrust with vocals bringing out the intensity of the battle. This record is not for people who want full flowing folk-rock and thick indie rock sounds. But if you enjoy Nick Drake's third album and the work of Leonard Cohen (all with a voice more like Gordon Lightfoot perhaps), you will hear some really powerful songs here.

Songs to try:

Poets Song - This is a poem I remember from school and the arrangement has lots of interesting twists and turns in addition to fine vocal work.

Maud - This reminds me nearly of Frank Sinatra singing in front of a solo double-bass in the sparsest of arrangements.

Voyage - At nearly 11 minutes, this has epic qualities, but it is mostly in the lyrics and vocals. The light guitar and banjo lay down a dreamwork pattern where you really focus on the lyrics.

Vieux Farka Toure - Cheick Hamala -- 9:30 Club - Aug 30 2011

Cheick Hamala - A large band assembles on stage. It turns out that it is led by the headliner's uncle. Eegads, nepotism in the entertainment business! No problem here however, as the band did a great job during their long set lasting nearly an hour. They had kit drums, bass, guitar, two additional percussionists, trumpet/percussion, dancer, and the uncle who played an interesting string instrument, banjo and guitar. At several points, there were four percussionists cooking up a stew with just a bass and guitar playing a simple melodic line. Other times, there was plenty of rhythm and solo moves that covered the usual suspects of West-African folk-flues, jazz, and rock. Vocals were light, spare and worked nicely as a simple accompaniment. And sometimes I wonder why you would need a dancer, but after the hour when I realized I spent more time looking at her than the rest of the band, I realized I need to stop asking that silly question. She did have some traditional moves down based on my limited knowledge of going out with someone who was in an African Dance group in Colorado 20 years ago. I was a bit worried early as the club was really slow in getting a crowd in, but by set's end, the dance floor was filled enough to look like a crowd and the people were having a great time.

Vieux Farka Toure - The son of a legend (Ali) is working his way up to becoming a legend himself. I have seen him work his guitar magic at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel in June 2009 and the DC9 (smaller stage?) in April 2010. Finally, a deserved trip to a bigger stage. Interestingly enough, his band is stripped down from 5 members to just a power trio for this show. Not that it really matters as his guitar work (like many of the great axe slingers in trios) does not need a lot of help. Thankfully, it looks like the same rhythm section who know how to rock out and handle interesting African rhythms. Even if I did not already recognize the drummer, his slinky-cut triangle cymbal is one of a kind. Unlike the expert I sat with last time, I don't know all the nuances of West African blues, although I have heard a few versions of it over recent years. It is excellent enough, but Vieux adds so many rock moves and even traces of psyche swirl, that you really don't need to be an expert to enjoy his music. It is akin to the great Turkish guitarist Erkin Koray--just substitute the ethnic source of the music and you have a great guitarist taking roots music to the rock loving world. The 100-minute set flew by and was a blast as usual. Opening band members came out off and on to dance which was cool, although the tossing dollar bills on him got tiring as it was a bit too much of the "make it rain" vibe. And Vieux's attempt at a singalong was way too complex until another guy jumped in and just did a series of "Hey-O"s which the audience happily handled. Another great set by a real guitar master who keeps the fun in the music while showing off his considerable skills. The bright future seems to be here.

Quote of the Night: Since I could only pick up 1/2 to 2/3 of the English that was said on stage due to the usual mic issues and thick accents, I will go with one of my enjoyable blistering media blasts at the Football365 web site.  And it is appropriate since Vieux Farka Toure was invited to South Africa to play at the World Cup celebrations last year.

Blame The Kid
As per usual, West Ham's departure from the League Cup on Wednesday at the hands of the mighty Aldershot was someone's fault, but it sure as hell wasn't Sam Allardyce's.

That's according to the man himself anyway, who preferred to blame the 19-year-old Callum McNaughton, who got sent off on his debut, rather than the chap who trained the squad, picked the team and decided the tactics.

Allardyce said: "We would have won the game if it had stayed 11 v 11 - that's the reality. I live in reality whilst most people in football live in perception."

So in Sam's world, 'reality' is whatever he says will happen, even if it is a speculative appraisal of what might've happened presented as stone cold factual reality, while any contrary opinion is mere 'perception.'


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Warchild - Sistered - Nunchucks -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Aug 26 2011

Nunchucks - I enjoyed their set when they opened for the Slickee Boys farewell show recently, so I was anxious to see what they could do in a smaller setting. They showed less nerves tonight as this four-piece ripped through their strong garage-rock set. The twin guitar attack really does showcase two guitars as I mentioned in the last review. Lots of creative playing off of each other as opposed of hitting the same chords (which I complained about in the acoustic set I saw the previous night). The songs were good and there was loads of fuzz drenched volume throughout. They sound a bit like the Mono Men, but lack the crisp attack. I think as they keep playing out more, they will sharpen the sound further. But they already have a bit more confidence, so things are looking up for this decent local band.

Sistered - Two guitarists share the vocal duties with a thunderous rhythm section as they shred off their shards of metallic fury. Or something like that. The pace was allegro, although it moved to presto toward the end of the set as they built intensity. Thrash metal, a bit of death metal, as they remind me of Corrosion of Conformity. I confess I have not listened to COC in 25 years or so, but I do recall meeting their drummer (Reed Mullin) who was quite friendly. The last cut was called "Graverobbers" and was really strong with a lot of creative melody lines. The vocals were a bit too throw-away early on, but that was due in part to being a bit too low in the mix--in part. This Pittsburgh band did a good job and energized the crowd which was building nicely and did not appear to be a lock-step exclusive metal crowd.

Warchild - Not to be confused with a Jethro Tull tribute band (that really does exist), this one-guitar four-piece was here to continue the shredding. And that they did. I am not sure they provided me much to add beyond their biography from their website... "DC Thrash Metal.  Fueled by Beer.  Inspired by drinking at local bars." They were legit and had a good hardcore vocal style foreshadowed by the circle-A on their banner. I was pondering who the first band was to use this. My 6o seconds of research showed that my guess of Cr@ss was correct, although the symbol was first used in the 19th Century in Spain. And although my mind was wandering a bit, the musical backdrop was a good one as this band displays all the power and fury the crowd was asking for this Friday night before the hurricane. If you like thrash metal, this band will work for you.

Quote of the Night: I missed some punchlines, so I'll go with Warchild's vocalist... "This song is a cover song. It's not by us. It's by the Cro-Mags and it's called World Peace."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Richard Buckner - David Kilgour -- Iota - Aug 25 2011

David Kilgour - Kilgour has the usual voice/acoustic guitar approach and has a second acoustic guitarist with him. Clean soft vocals and a silky song style with a bit of bite on the strum at times. The second guitarist seems to only add another 6 strings to the mix as they are often playing the same chords. I would have liked to see more interplay here, otherwise as an old road warrior guitarist told me about previously having a second guitarist... "it's just another mouth to feed". Still, the songs were worth a listen and I enjoyed the set well enough. It picked up a bit when he switched to electric and had Buckner's accompanist adding some harmonium. The sound took off at that point. The large crowd appreciated the set.

Richard Buckner - I was pretty well blown away when I saw Buckner's set at a recent Sebadoh set at the Black Cat. Considering I have one of the best psychedelic folk record collections in the US, I could not see how I could have missed this guy after what I heard that night. In reading up on him since, I see how I may have avoided him with him being considered alt-country and even being on big labels (although that should have at least put his name in my head). But looking back at his career and picking up a number of his albums, I still should have jumped into his music many years ago. Fortunately for me and all of us, there is plenty of time to catch up as his albums are still out there and he continues to tour away. He has a new album on Merge and has a different accompanying player this time around. The sound has changed a bit into more of an acoustic approach with keyboards, harmonium, and maracas. Even if I may have preferred the sound last time, this set just reminded me further of what an amazing and varied talent we have here. The songs were just as gripping and still had that other worldly psychedelic touch along with various Greg Sage and Nick Drake feelings within. His voice pulls you in and the guitar work is great with effective looping used regularly but not all the time. There are loads of good songwriters out there like Josh Ritter, Amos Lee, and Dave Alvin, but I will take Buckner over any of them, which in part is due to the more intriguing arrangements. And it is nice to see a solid fan base here tonight, but it hopefully will grow further. There are few better out there than Richard Buckner.

Quote of the Night: I enjoyed Buckner's comment after comparing the recent earthquake with the big SF one he was in after someone shouted 'Apocalypse!'... "It's already here. Look at me... It's a personal George Romero film everyday."

But the real winner is something I overheard behind me during the opening set...  "This is David Gilmour....  Kilgore. What did I say?"

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Deb Felz Band - Mykal Allen -- Velvet Lounge - Aug 24 2011

Mykal Allen - One guy with an acoustic guitar and a voice. Agreeable sounding folk music looks to be the order of the day. So what stood out? In the second song, Allen put the capo up about ten frets or so creating a series of notes pretty high on the treble clef. His playing was quite fascinating as it reminded me of the muted sounds that Robert Fripp achieved on the first King Crimson album in the quieter moments. He also had some stinging highs contrasting with this which created a great effect and was different than the basic fingerstyle patterns. His voice was fine and his approach seemed similar to Meic Stevens, although he does not quite hit Stevens' high points and intensity. A Damien Jurado cover was welcome and the originals were good enough with a few being quite good. Fortunately he was coaxed into a longer set which made sense as one act canceled tonight.

Deb Felz Band - This is the third time I have seen the Deb Felz Band and it gets better and better each time. What is really working is that they are a full-fledged band with three people that have played together for a while. Early on, it seemed more like Deb Felz with two nice players helping out when there is a big enough stage. But now, Ms. Felz tells me they are writing more as a band and playing out regularly. She is still the focal point being center stage and handling all lead vocals and a lot of the acoustic guitar. She is flanked with keyboards/backing vocals and percussion/guitar. The new material is interesting as often times it is just Felz on vocals with keyboards leading the way or the percussionist playing a bit of guitar with some nice Spanish-style moves. There are more pop and lounge feelings mixed in with the folk and it all works out quite well. This band has got a nice sound worked out, some really good songs and appears to be flexible enough to play on a lot of different bills. Hopefully their crowds will continue to grow. But you don't have to take my word for it, as they are playing at the Columbia Heights Day Festival if you want to check that out this Saturday.

Quote of the Night: "My name is Deb Felz.... Please hold the applause." achieved as much laughter (as well as the eventual applause) as some of the jokes the band later told. It is always nice to keep it fun at the Velvet Lounge as it is a cozy listening experience.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Caustic Casanova - Southern Problems - We Used to be Family -- Velvet Lounge - Aug 23 2011

We Used to be Family - From Baltimore comes this intriguing five-piece. It is all instrumental with drums, a couple of guitars, cello, and a violin or trumpet. They are loud and strong and play with great authority. They shift tempos and volumes effortlessly and I give kudos to the drummer for the smooth tempo shifts. All the instrumentalists create their own sonic space and meander among one another with comfort and agility. They hit psychedelic space when they quiet things down and cover all kinds of interesting rock formations when they amp it up. I would say they are a combination of Kohoutek and the Klezmatics when the trumpet is out, maybe Kohoutek and Curved Air with the violin. Whatever it is, it worked magic tonight and they impressed this decent crowd of about 40 people. I will keep my eyes open for return appearances from this band.

Southern Problems - This local trio played some really nice post punk songs of the pop variety. It is a really nice sound with strong basslines reminding me a bit of the Ruts (if my memory is correct as I haven't heard them in quite a while). They were a bit loose in spots, but they opted for energy with their sense of fun keeping the proceedings upbeat. The only thing I would suggest would be rethinking the vocals. They were a bit quiet and added a sense of tentative distraction from the otherwise fun music. It was a bit like Richard Butler (P-Furs) singing at Leonard Cohen volume. Finding a good full-time singer is no easy task, so maybe some effort can be made from within. But this is still a recommended band to have on a bill for now.

Caustic Casanova - I haven't seen one of my favorite local trios in a while, so I was looking forward to this show. They immediately connected with their original brand of off-metal, slight psyche, quirky and powerful rock music. If you have not heard them, the vocals are a bit Richard Hell/Rich Stim(MX-80 Sound) in nature atop powerful drums, inventive bass lines and strong rock guitar. There are quirky angular moves in their songs that set them apart from the sludgy pack and always make them a treat to listen to. They covered the intro to Black Sabbath's "Lord of this World" but segued it into one of their songs. They finished with nice Husker Du choice, "Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill", which medleyed into something else as well. So there is plenty of playfulness here along with a great variety of heavy music and good original songs. The band was sharp and this may have been their finest show I have seen. Their energy level was about as high as I've seen. By all means, check this band out next time if you have not sampled them. You will likely see me there.

Quote of the Night: from the Southern Problems bass player... "WorldCom is to Enron as...Whitesnake is to Motley Crue"

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Marginal Man - Strike Anywhere - Damnation A.D. -- Black Cat - Aug 20 2011

Damnation A.D. - I started this six-night run of shows with a creative punk show this past Monday downstairs from the main stage here. That show featured three creative takes on hardcore. It appears we are back to the basics tonight. Straight, heavy, metallic hardcore here. The singer is screaming about "Decontrol" but not quite as effective as Discharge did decades ago. The singer paces while simmering away. Two guitars, bass and drums provide the thick crunching sounds. I wonder just how many layers of Dante's Hell you can navigate during this 33-minute set.

Strike Anywhere - This five-piece has the same instrumental look that all three bands will have tonight. Yet they all do something a little different. This, however, is much closer to the Marginal Man style but with perhaps even more energy. More jumping than stalking by this band as they lay out fast flowing hardcore moves with enough bite to leave an impact. Fun songs, easy to get into and most people did.

Marginal Man - This is at least the second "We're still out here" show they have played after playing their farewell show at the old 9:30 Club in the spring of 1988. I hit three big farewell shows within a few months of that one and none of them stayed retired as both Black Market Baby and the Meatmen have been back as well. But Marginal Man has been more selective and it showed with a near sell-out crowd tonight. The sound was pretty disappointing as everything sounded rather washed out and indistinct. The vocals came through, but I never felt this was the band's strong point. In fact, I think the band was comprised of some good guys with great attitudes, but musically they did not take hold with me as much as the other DC bands did from that era. There was a long equipment delay after the first song, but things picked up after that. The crowd up front was digging it, but it seemed a little quieter in the back. Hard to know if it was the sound or the laid-back crowd in general. But hey, it's for the band, for the friends and fans. And the band was playing well enough and had decent enthusiasm. It just was not the best of nights for me, but I think six nights of shows were taking their toll.

Quote of the Night: I did not hear anything beyond the ordinary, so thinking back a few shows, I did like the fair question someone asked of me "Do you make any money at this?" And everyone can pretty much guess my instant answer. "Uh, no." But I added that so many of these bands don't either, so we hopefully are all enjoying the ride. I am.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Nektar - Brainticket - Huw Lloyd Langton -- Jaxx - Aug 19 2011

Huw Lloyd Langton - The ex-Hawkwind guitarist starts off this fascinating lineup tonight. His first gesture is to put his hand over his eyes peering the landscape looking over the vast open prairies of the dance floor. No sign of life here as this club is sadly quite empty tonight. Was it the rainstorms? cover price? non-marquee names? economy? I am not sure but I do not think more than forty people were here tonight. It could have been a Velvet Lounge show. Oh well, Langton was a professional and did a 27-minute set playing acoustic guitar and singing. He did some Hawkwind covers that were not terribly recognizable in this format, but sounded good. Of the three things a solo guitarist needs, I would say his playing was his best attribute, songs and voice ok.

Brainticket - I was stunned to see this band on the bill. Their three early 70s albums were imports. Their psychedelic-progressive brand of krautrock was very interesting but didn't exactly make it to US radio. Joel Vandroogenbroeck is the only original member but does take the lead with keyboards, electronics, flute, and even a sitar outro to close the set. He his joined by younger guys on drums, bass, guitar and keyboards (Note--Kuschty Rye Ergot's John Stanton tells me these guys have backed Nik Turner's Hawkwind offshoot so they know the drill). They also employ a woman on vocals who is dressed a bit like Theda Bara with a Medusa headdress. The music was excellent and there were many of the dynamics from their records as they played driving progressive music with electric guitar cutting in nicely. Vocal moves were interesting and spacey. The crowd was small but quite responsive and the band delivered as if it was sold out. I would like to say I was waiting my whole life to see this, but I really never expected it. It was one nice chance to see some interesting music from the classic krautrock days and it all worked out very well.

Nektar - I felt kind of dumb at only owning one song by this band and not having heard anything else in 35 years of more. So I did a little web listening before the show and was surprised at how heavy Nektar were. I had mislabeled them in the lighter prog camp. And it did not take long on stage before they proved themselves even heavier still. Two original members on drums and guitar/vocals lead the way. The German keyboards and US bass player filled in nicely as well. Everyone was in great form and this band rocked hard with all the progressive complexity still present in the music. After 21 years off (recording-wise) they have four albums in the past decade or so. They played some of the recent material, but plenty of the old classic material as well. It all sounded strong and there was not a false note all night. They played for an hour and fifty minutes and maintained energy throughout--no drum solo breaks. The psychedelic light show was fun and I never lost interest once. This was epic and grand progressive music with a powerful rock foundation and killer guitar moves. I am happy for this tour as it was a great night and it has reminded me I need to shift my thinking on Nektar when I discuss great progressive bands from the early 1970s.

Quote of the Night: Huw Lloyd Langton... "This is a Hawkwind intro to a song on one of the albums I can't remember."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Smoke Fairies - Ryan McLaughlin -- Red Palace - Aug 18 2011

Ryan McLaughlin - He is from the band Typefighter, but tonight is singing and playing the acoustic guitar. I hear traces of Meic Stevens with more intensity in the voice and less spookiness in the guitar. When you have a mic and a guitar, there are about three main areas you can distinguish yourself. Songs, vocals and guitar style. With McLaughlin, his voice is what sets him apart. It covers a lot of ground with an interesting timbre to it. His guitar work is decent but nothing to comment on aside from energetic playing. His songs are good enough to give a little bit more attention to than average fare. This was a good set overall although it faded a bit due to some awkward stage patter. That's another area of elevated importance when it's just one person and one guitar. But I have seen enough to want to see his band some day.

Smoke Fairies - Here's another of my failed estimates at guessing crowd numbers. This female duo has made a nice name for themselves in their native England, so I thought they would draw way more than 35 people tonight. I even saw them referenced in a novel I read six months ago. But in doing quick scans of Pitchfork and Rolling Stone I think I detect a lot less coverage than in Mojo or Uncut. Too bad, as a lot of trendy people missed out on a great dose of psychedelic folk music of the melancholic variety. While free folk has been a bit overplayed, I was really impressed tonight that this duo channels back more directly to the great UK psyche-folk scene of old. The most obvious comparison would be to the UK group Chimera (not the Netherlands band). The magical female harmonies of that band were scarily similar to that of the Smoke Fairies. The ladies rarely sang individually and the harmonies danced between close proximity and more complex variants. I did rather expect that, but was surprised how impressive the guitar playing and sound was. They both played electric guitar (aside from one acoustic guitar on one song) which created the spooky psychedelic undercurrent reminiscent of a band like Stone Angel. There dark songs were perfectly countered with their dry British humour. They took some polite digs at their stops in Nebraska and said they learned that American highway patrolmen don't particularly accept being called idiotic even when they are. And they told a story of seeing a dying whale in California and added that they were afraid their songs were not depressing enough so they added the whale story. All I can say is that the subject matter of the songs may be sad and the mood chilled, but the beauty is majestic and this 65 minute had me soaring in the clouds. The great vibes from this set will stay with me for some time.

Quote of the Night: From Mr. McLaughlin "There's a funny story about how I wrote this song..." and he played the song.

And there's a hilarious story I can tell that just occurred prior to my posting this blog entry...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thundertyts - The Fed - Level 7 -- DC9 - Aug 17 2011

Level 7 - A drummer, bass player, and keyboardist immediately lay down a nice sound comprised of rock, blues, and a nice trippy piano. The first of two vocalists begins with female lounge singing. The male vocalist awaits his cue as the band plays on. Then the careful atmosphere gets a blast of hip hop when the male vocalist begins his rap. This is pretty much the formula for the rest of the night. A decent band, good female vocals, and male rap with little singing. Normally, I like it when a hip hop band uses real musicians and this one had plenty of that. But here I found the hip hop more of a distraction for a good band that may be able to do things in a better way. There was some irony in a critical rap of the hip hop business, but I could not pull out all of the words on first listen. One song really reminded me of John Hawken's playing with the Strawbs and early Renaissance. At the risk of sounding like Andrew Loog Oldham kicking out Ian Stewart from the Rolling Stones, I would like to hear this band without the raps. But truth be told, I might be in the minority on that one as crowd response was decent. This is only their second show, so we will see what happens over time.

The Fed - A power trio is up next with the guitarist handling most of the vocals. I was first interested in the bass playing as I noticed he was left handed playing a bass designed for right-handers. Not unusual there, but then I noticed the strings were for a right-hander as well. So I can add him to my list which includes Dick Dale and the guitarist for the Entrance Band as guys that play upside down. Not as tough on the bass, but still it looks a challenge. Anyway, the band does some pretty decent down and dirty rock'n'roll here. They are a bit like a punk band covering the Troggs and Brownsville Station. They lose me a bit on the jams as it is way too plodding. But when they pick up the pace, it isn't too bad. They need some work, but it could happen.
Live at the Rock 'n' Roll Hotel Cover Art
Thundertyts - This is the final show of this short-lived band with a couple of guys I have seen in Little Bigheart over the years. The guitarist will continue on in Mercies and I hope they all will stay active as they have a great modern take on some of the sounds of my youth. This band focused on jamming away at some classic underground styled rock such as Keef Hartley or Steamhammer. They laid it all out for over 50 minutes and friends and fans had a nice time. Keep me posted on any new bands, guys.

Quote of the Night: from the rapper of Level 7... "...talking to the Fed who played the Velvet Lounge recently. It's been around a while and you should go there... a lot of local bands play there, it's great... and DC-9 is great."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Six Organs of Admittance - Donovan Quinn - Lithia Corsica -- DC9 - Aug 16 2011

Lithia Corsica - A woman named Marian is the creative force known as Lithia Corsica. She plays both electric and acoustic guitar with her vocals. The guitar picking is in a dreamy style, especially with the electric creating a light ethereal backdrop. The vocals and the folk style that leans toward psyche folk remind me a lot of one of my favorites (and first time mention in this long running blog), Veronique Chalot.  Although vocally this may be a bit closer to Joanna Newsome, and the physical resemblance to Chalot is working hard in my mind. What I can make out of the lyrics shows some pretty good songwriting. The 25 minutes breezed by and Marian did a great job of getting this show started. A brief assist from a cellist on the last cut was a nice bonus.

Donovan Quinn - With a name like Donovan and going solo on stage with guitar, there are things going on in the minds of the audience before you hit a note. Mr. Quinn did not hit anywhere near the heights of Mr. Leitch, but did perform a nice enough acoustic set in the manner of very early Donovan Leitch. One song featured some nice fingerpicking that had fuzzy soft strokes with enough electric bite on the pickups when struck more firmly. It's a good sound that increased the drama of the song. The set went along smoothly enough, but was enhanced by Ben Chasny (he is Six Orders of Admittance) popping up on guitar and vocals for a couple of songs. The vocal interplay was particularly effective. Decent enough job to keep the show moving along.

Six Organs of Admittance - Ben Chasny has performed under this band name for over a decade. He has done it solo, with guests, and with full band sounds. I have seen him three times in DC, once with the wildly rocking and brilliant Comets on Fire, once with the intriguing super-trio Rangda, and once at the DC9 under his band name. He performed solo then with a guest about half of the set. Tonight was fully solo, simply acoustic guitar and microphone. Of course nothing is simple, if you have heard Chasny play. He is a guitar master somewhere between John Fahey and Robbie Basho. He also has loads of Eastern moves that have been previously used so effectively by guitarists like Davy Graham and others. Chasny really had the sound down tonight and delivered a far superior set than the last time in town (which was a good enough set I thought at the time). He had an amazing drone string that really created spacey overtones with the finger picking playing all kinds of complex runs around the drone. I am not sure I have ever heard someone quite come up with a sound like that before. His vocals were good in his usual understated way. Probably more effective than good, but the overall effect was to hit the trippier psychedelic side of his music. No surprise that he dedicated a song to the late Jack Rose, who was another one of the fine US guitarists. I was happy to see a fairly large crowd who was quite enthusiastic tonight. Ben Chasny is someone that is worth a listen in any format he plays in.

Quote of the Night: Chasny after a couple guys made requests... "Yeah, well I can't get out of this last song--My guitar will get pissed."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Mostly Dead - Canons - Voyage in Coma -- Aug 15 2011

Voyage in Coma - This five-piece lines up in front of stacks of Marshalls with a couple of guitars, rhythm section, and vocalist/provocateur. I knew we would likely have an interesting punk show tonight, but it became a really good and interesting punk show quite quickly here. This band was a perfectly balanced shoegaze/hardcore band and I have not quite heard anything like this. More importantly, it was really good. Back in the early 80s I probably knew of over 80% of the hardcore bands with records and no one came up with something like this. Of course, My Bloody Valentine was not around either so new sounds were still forming. These guys combine all of this nicely and delivered a sharp, loud and exciting 25 minute set. I will be keeping my eyes open for future shows.

Cannons - This is one of those trios where all three guys really have their chops down and contribute more than they might if they were in a five or six piece band. And this Philly outfit may write about the most creative punk/hardcore band I have seen in a while. The first song had all three members taking a lead vocal spot in the song. The melodies shifted, punk speed and power was there, solid rock underpinnings present... bases covered and playing field expanded here. They reminded me of Mission of Burma with more of a California punk sense of melody. Perhaps the children of Ruin..., my favorites from Philadelphia who never quite put it altogether as they could have. Hopefully this band will, as their brand of post-punk (not the traditional use of the term) is quite exciting... and it rocks.

The Mostly Dead - For two weeks I was planning on seeing 10,000 Maniacs until this smaller (but well attended) punk show pulled at me like punk shows generally do. I have always found the Mostly Dead to have a great traditional hardcore punk sound, but with enough creative touches to make them one of the more unique bands on a given night. But tonight, they were the one band closest to tradition, but still had their great personal touch. And kudos to this band for choosing such great bands to play with. As for the Mostly Dead sound, I always enjoy Zak's raspy vocal work that has loads of power and energy on top of the thick slab of music. The drummer is solid, while the guitarist places some nice touches within the usual power chords to keep attention levels high. Their new bass player adds some great energy to the proceedings as he looks like he's having a blast. They built the energy level of their set nicely by getting slightly into each song just a little bit more than the last. After their half-hour set based on the ovation I heard (now and for the earlier bands), I am sure the crowd was quite happy they came to the Black Cat tonight.

Quote of the Night: "I got my allowance" overheard discussion between a couple of youngsters with Xes on their hands standing near me. Although that's just one more thing to make me feel old, I am actually quite happy seeing so many Xed out kids in club audiences these days. Live music is still a great pursuit.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Silver Liners - Council Bluffs - Brittany Jean -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Aug 13 2011

Brittany Jean - I have not seen Ms. Brittany Jean in a while, nor her three-piece band also named Brittany Jean. It looks like the same trio with Brittany singing and playing acoustic guitar, a guy on drums, and a guy on electric guitar. They begin with a familiar cut, "Paris Stairs" that you can hear at their website. They have a classic singer-songwriter style that is folkie but with plenty of intense rock moves as well. The drums are strong and the electric guitarist has a great style of playing interesting tonal patterns or choosing off-setting chords which subtly create a more ambient environment. I believe the last cut had a section where his finger picking created a psychedelic violin like sound. But the vocals and songs shine strong and clear throughout. They are immediate, heartfelt and about anything you would want from this style. I don't see a whole lot less here than from platinum selling artists in this field (if sales are high enough for platinum these days). Oh, and the new material sounds quite good, especially the rocking closer.

Council Bluffs - This four-piece hit the ground running and did not let up a bit for their 42-minute set. Twin guitar blasts are clearly in a hard rocking-power pop hybrid with catchy vocals and songwriting that heads toward Buzzcocks territory, especially in the vocal phrasing. There is a lot of this out there and even the low end of it is a lot of fun. Fortunately this is above the average with some nice guitar jabs and sinewy lead runs punctuating the flowing rock crunch. There is some classic rock within, but the pace and energy are always there so everything is fresh and enjoyable.

The Silver Liners - This is my fifth time already and although it gets a little tiring trying to come up with new things to say about a band's music, I am sure I will be back for shows number six, seven.... I recall thinking that the last show really was a step up for the band. Initially, they seemed to play awfully good and catchy rock music that had a mainstream appeal, but was interesting enough at the indie level. They then went on to prove that plenty of practice and regular gigging can work wonders for young bands. They now have a strong edge to their music and audiences can feel the comfort they have working with each other and delivering their quality tunes. And clubs are discovering this, too, as the band drew more than 100 people tonight. They have gone from playing to their friends to playing for a real fanbase. It's a deserved reward and hopefully will continue as they keep honing their craft and working the clubs. The new keyboard player seemed to fit in well, although the sound tonight was a little iffy at first, but worked out better as the set wore on. Even the cover of "Burning Down the House" showed a nice personal touch as I actually enjoyed their version more than the original. Another fine night with more to come as I'll have to come up with some new ways to review this band. But for now, just head out to their show and enjoy.

Quote of the Night: "Yeah, we know this guy."  From the helpful staff at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel. Where this an actual hotel, I would have been well served to just get a room here the past 4 nights. But a different set of clubs coming up this week.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tally Hall - April Smith and the Great Picture Show - Casey Shea -- Aug 12 2011

Casey Shea - I enjoyed a long chat with Casey Shea before showtime (and an interview write-up will follow some time this week). He mentioned that since he was touring without his band and that the headliners drew a rather rowdy excited audience, he had to up his energy and not just sing his somber songs. Mission accomplished. Shea was funny, had command of his material and easily pulled the audience in with humor and participation. Oh yeah, his songs are really good, too. And they were not all somber, but after drawing laughs and shouts, the audience was very attentive when he did switch gears. It was all seamless and his vocal work was commanding and well worth the listen. He had a little bit of the Devandra Banhart look and (less warbly) voice, but was much more energized and playful. His set flew by and really got the crowd warmed up. Hopefully we will be seeing him again and maybe with a full band. He certainly is worth a look in any form and in any club.

April Smith and the Great Picture Show - April Smith sings and plays guitar. Her Great Picture Show is comprised of drums, stand-up bass, guitar/mandolin, and keyboards. It is a smartly dressed group who play smart music. The singer songwriter material is there, but the rhythm section really has that old time rock'n'roll beat working well often. There are lounge aspects and something I will call refined gypsy? This highly accessible music fits nicely between a lot of styles and is quite comforting with just enough energy. The keyboards had a dream-pop quality at times. The band went over well with this full Friday night crowd. The club was buzzing and having a blast and if they didn't listen carefully, they may have missed the twisted and intense lounge-esque version of "Whole Lotta Love".
Tally Hall - Somehow this band has slipped below my radar (not the first nor the last time for that) over the years, but this Ann Arbor collective has a solid cult following. Their fans were ready tonight and the band delivered a supersmart pop set. I do see pop variations, but these guys were about as pure pop as anybody. They had 1-4 vocalists working at all times with guitars and keyboards laying out classic Britpop, American pop-rock, and a touch of psyche. I was chatting with one fan telling me about the Beatlesque style they employed (with the psyche concept touches on the new album). I clearly heard all that, but the overall songs reminded me of the Rod Argent/Zombies style of writing. But it was a lot more than just style, as the songs were really strong and at a very high level. I think this is a great achievement with such a well-worn style that is a lot more difficult to add something to than you may at first think. And it is always nice to hear a theremin, played by a contest winner from the crowd (marking the second time I have seen a contest winner play a theremin onstage--a few years ago Ian Gillan had someone come up and play it during "Smoke on the Water"!). And after the band debated whether "Free Bird" was literal or a metaphor, they closed out with a few more pop tunes and sent everyone I observed home happy.

Quote of the Night: Casey Shea hit a power chord and went to his knees gazing to heaven, right hand straight up in the air and held it until the crowd couldn't hold back the laughs.  "Hope you all got your pictures for those of you who are a little slow looking for that great action shot".

Friday, August 12, 2011

North of Canada - Transient Attack - SoSoSo -- Red Palace - Aug 11 2011

SoSoSo - I just saw this trio a while back and thought they were ok. After the first song, it seemed more of the same, but then the guitarist and drummer switched places for the rest of the set with things falling into place. Both of them sang but the full-time guitarist did a tad better with the lead and the full-time drummer did a nice job on the beats. However, the bass player stood out most with some smooth lines and colorful runs. The sound was power-pop and indie rock combined nicely into a mostly propulsive result. They did vary tempos a bit, but like usual for me, the quicker stuff worked best. Nice energy, good attitude and I think a better performance than last time. They proved themselves to me tonight.

Transient Attack - This was a twin-guitar four-piece that began with a Gang of Four type song that had a lot of space for guitar jabs, but ultimately lacked Gof4's dramatic impact. The sound thickened out some thereafter but still was not quite coming together. The sound was a bit off with the lead guitar barely audible and maybe even too lightly played. Then all of a sudden, it was even too loud for one song, before things evened out a bit. There were some nice off-kilter moves by the band, so there is an approach they take that would be welcome when it comes together. And the jangly, bluesy number was good. But, I just don't think it gelled tonight and the crowd of about 30 was pretty quiet.
The Red and the Black - December 2008 by

North of Canada - This was their first show for a year and a half? Not bad in the end as they seemed poised and ready to deliver the goods. The local twin-guitar four-piece had a very balanced sound featuring pop and rock moves that was not too heavy and not too light. The two vocalists were interesting. Often the first note sounded odd, but it quickly moved into an interesting register that offset the music nicely in a quirky way. At times, they sang together well doing different patterns. It shows me that there is some care in the songwriting at work. There was a lo-fi 60s garage pop-psyche feeling present which I always welcome. There were a couple of songs that reminded me of the Grant Hart school of songwriting with a vocal style closer to Swell Maps. The band played together well with the whole sounding better than the sum of its parts, which should be the goal of most bands unless they have someone named Hendrix in the band. More shows and more songwriting should continue to help this band along. But for now, they lay out a pretty nice balanced rock set.

Quote of the Night: From No of C... "We'd like to thank you all for skipping "The Jersey Shore" for us tonight". You are welcome, and some day I'll try to find out what that is. (I know, it's a television show, but I have no idea what it's about and this is an area I prefer to keep my ignorance as long as possible).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Kurt Vile - Woods - White Fence - True Widow -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Aug 10 2011

True Widow - We start things off at 7:20pm with this Texas trio. Only 20 people are here at the start, but it more than doubles by the time the band finishes its half-hour set. This is even a bit early for me, but they have four bands for this Wednesday night. This band instantly sounds like the Melvins covering Dead Meadow. There is not much variance beyond that as the set continues, but that is perfectly acceptable to me. They deliver a great thick droning sound with some interesting melodic moves. The vocals have that introspective psyche-feel. I think they could continue to work on the integration of the two voices used tonight. Room to maneuver perhaps, but a really nice set as it is.

White Fence - This twin-guitar four-piece hits the stage running with an opener that has powerful jangly fuzzy guitars atop a solid rock foundation. The hooks were classic and the vocals were solid. The third song went in a spacier direction but with plenty of drive similar to the Wipers "D-7". Maybe it's closer to "Youth of America" as covered by the Black Angels. Although from California, I detect Texas psyche stylings like that of the Golden Dawn (a rather forgotten band as good as the 13th Floor Elevators). A few songs settled into a simple comfort zone, but there were more than enough that had me fully absorbed. They closed with another powerhouse showing me that they have a good understanding of their best material. That usually means more good things are coming. I look forward to it as this band really pushed all the right buttons during their 40 minute set. Fun, fun, fun.

Woods - This is a five-piece I believe, as I am having trouble seeing now as the club is pretty well jammed up as I expected. They have a couple guitars and some electronica and the usual rhythm section. One guitarist is singing with a really high voice. My first thoughts are that they are Vetiver trying to write Brian Wilson songs. Then just as I am thinking how I might lump them in the Maps & Atlases/Band of Horses category or come up with a stupid analogy with a couple of my favorite bands like 'I can't see the Woods but for the Forest and the Trees'; I then get tossed one of the biggest curveballs I have seen. They start adding electronica, which usually I would label and detraction, but it works magnificently here. Then, they bring in more jamming psychedelic guitars and start doing all kinds of wild songs that remind me of early Brian Eno, Wooden Shjips, and all kinds of great psyche rockers. They added some more of their soft rock songs in the set, but they really mixed things up well and it really came together. Fascinating effort and approach and it was nice to see it work so well in a long set (50 minutes). In fact, a longer set allowed it to work better, so I am happy this show started early and allowed this band (and all bands) to bring out their full bag of tricks and not have to cram in a few songs to fit a tight schedule. But as for Woods? Rarely have I turned the corner from unbeliever to serious fan so sharply during one set. Great job.

Kurt Vile & the Violators - Third time in three years for me. I was wondering when all the press attention and (more importantly) quality music would lead to larger shows. Well tonight was a step up, and although the three opening bands were worth the price of admission, the full house was treated to an excellent Vile set. As I have said before, Vile and his band can really cook up some psychedelic-folk-rock sounds. Vile's songs have good depth to them as well and work out extremely well as either solo acoustic numbers or full blown electric rockers. And he and the band did both tonight. If the Meat Puppets tried to shoot for the Pearls Before Swine type song, it may sound like this (or perhaps it is the hair style here that has me thinking Meat Puppets). I will even forgive Vile the theft of Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" on one song where I just couldn't stop my brain from singing along with the Bowie lyrics. I don't think I would have missed the connection, but having finished Paul Trynka's Bowie biography and in the late part of Tony Visconti's autobiography, I have Bowie on the brain. I still rate Vile as a very good songwriter and his music is a fine continuation on that path that Dylan (and others) began blazing years ago taking folk and rock into a scenic direction forward. I almost did not go to this show as I thought I may have seen enough of Vile recently. Not so, I will be back riding the "Freak Train" again if possible and it will probably be on an even bigger stage.

Quote of the Night: Vile, after delivering a semi-audible con-job story: "... Psyche!"  Psyche, indeed.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mittenfields - Mean Ideas - The Plums -- Black Cat - Aug 8 2011

The Plums - Second time around for me and this time, Martin Bisi is no where in sight (and I hope that very few people get this joke since it is at my expense). The band starts well with two guitars blaring away, bass and drums pounding out a nice krautrock rhythm and a welcome cellist sawing his instrument in half. It is not too long where I am pining for the days when soundmen screwed the opening bands on volume as it is loud and my earplugs are safely secured on my desk at home. The faster rhythms descend into some less interesting noise reminiscent of that very long filmed Velvet Underground rehearsal mercifully broken up by the police. DC's Finest are not here tonight, so the band plays their "song" for the entirety of their half-hour set. Noise bands tend to lose me when they don't have real songs or sustain my interest with strong dynamics. This band does have some nice moments, but I would prefer Mogwai, Bardo Pond, Kohoutek, Paik, and a few others.

Mean Ideas - A couple of guitars, bass and drums and most importantly male and female vocals trading and sharing lead duties with the drummer joining in at times. I stress the vocals here, as they are what really make this band required listening for me. They hit vocal power and style heights that take me back to Balin/Slick of the Airplane and the vocals of the Peanut Butter Conspiracy (a band that is actually a lot better than their name). In fact the band has a lot of the rock styling of PBC with a dose of Quicksilver Messenger Service thrown in to give the required tough guitar sound. I do enjoy the guitar sound here as it is rock-strong with only a cinnamon like hint of shoegaze swirl deeper within. A couple of the players here are in the NRIs, another fine local band. This band has the songs, the sound and plays and sings together like they've been doing it a long time. They delivered tonight.

Next up is a stand-up guy delivering sit-down material. I am not sure where this is going, but after losing interest in the content and the delivery I go to the trusty IPOD and listen to... Jethro Tull. Well that's a band that would send many rock critics to the worst Fringe act in the country. While I ponder this, the guy introduces the headlining band...

Mittenfields - The crowd has been sizable all night with the backroom about 80-85% full. They instantly take to the Mittenfields sound. Although shoegaze is the key, I am struck with the classic rock foundation present. The rhythm section is surrounded by three guitarists who do head off to the stratosphere with regularity, but there are great rock sounds and good song structure as well. The bassist handles vocal duties and supplies good energy throughout. He and the drummer always keep the set moving forward with significant thrust. One guitarist off to the side physically reminds me of the recently departed Mark Tulin of the Electric Prunes and the music tonight does fit right in with the "Get Me to the World on Time" spirit of the Prunes. The band is loud, but stays out of the pain range which allows more focus on the songs which show enough quality that they could even stand a lighter treatment if desired. But why do that, when you can create the exciting guitar work that this band accomplishes. This was a solid set tonight and I plan to see them again as they have the skills and energy needed to become a fixture of the DC scene.

Quote of the Night: From the Mean Ideas after a long outro... "It's a set full of closers, ladies and gentlemen". True enough, but I'll recommend Major Stars, my favorite band for turning rock ending moves into whole songs.