Monday, October 31, 2011

Fuxa - Kuschty Rye Ergot - Teething Veils -- Velvet Lounge - Oct 30 2011

Teething Veils - This is a one-man show with vocals and electric guitar. It begins with a moderate tempo that induces a light psychedelic rock feel akin to Richard Buckner. Vocally, it's closer to psyche-folk mast Mark Fry. After a couple wobbles, this music settled nicely. The second cut was almost pure-psyche folk magic in the Mark Fry style once again (perhaps a little tougher). He did an excellent cover of the Ramones "Pet Sematary" and his original songs were easy to get involved with. This was a lovely set that flew by. When I fall into a trance like this, these 32 minutes feel more like 10.

Kuschty Rye Ergot - I am not sure the world needs another review of this band from me, but people do stumble on these reviews for the first time, so I will still do a simple review and remind people that this is a band they should check out some time.  They create an excellent psychedelic sound that can twist and turn within many musical forms from Eastern to Krautrock, and then some. They lined up as the core three-piece that you always see here and in Kohoutek. They had great touch tonight and kept it a bit more on the deep side of things with a touch of garage sneaking in. But as one person summed it up best when he shouted after the set "Thank you for taking me to space."

Fuxa - This is pronounced fuchsia which creates much confusion among those of us that adore a certain early 70s UK album. Instead, this is a duo from Detroit who play synthesizers, keyboards and electronics. It's simple enough, but I found the set extremely effective in the way they moved along a time line. Early on, I was reminded of my parents' instrumental albums which created some of my initial excitement for music. Although Fuxa's sound was soft and clean, there was a disturbing David Lynch mistrust of suburbia underneath. They moved further into the 70s with a cover of Suicide's "Cheree" and had songs that reminded me of both Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. If I had been in a bad mood, I may have blown this off entirely, but a relaxed listening had my mind moving with every song. Thus, an effective set that turned out a lot better than I had initially thought. But I would like to ask the one member (formerly of Windy & Carl) with a microphone to somehow get the reverb off when you talk to the audience. I understood precious little of what was said and it would have been nice to have your friendly interaction. Frankly, at the Velvet Lounge in front of 20 people, it would have been clearer if you had stepped aside and just talk to us. But when the music flowed, life was good.

Quote of the Night:  From the opener... "It's not Halloween without the Ramones."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

RECORD REVIEWS - October 2011


Spoonboy - "The Papas"

Spoonboy are a nice little power pop/punk project from David Combs of the long running DC favorites, the Max Levine Ensemble. As expected, these are catchy songs in a grungy little punk sound. The sound is quirky and the singing is akin to a chippy Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks. There is much in the direction of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, but it does not quite achivee those heights. There are a few engaging songs that have me interested in listening further. The songs' themes are geared a lot toward youth from what I can pick up and occasionally show off some good poetic storytelling. I try to see the Ensemble whenever I am able, and Spoonboy would also provide an engaging set.

They also have released this album in both electric and acoustic versions. I prefer the electric on most of the songs (with that usual Billy Bragg/Ted Leo style that electric invokes), but the acoustic works better at times. If this were designed as a tighter release, it would probably be best to mix and match which would make one stronger album. But this is all on Bandcamp, so everything is available for you to decide for yourself. And it's free, so take a listen here.

Songs to try first:

Gerald Lee Palmer - Classic story told with a nice pop melody and a little bite in the guitars.

Sexy Dreams - Another amusing story set to music to bob your head to or tap your toes to.

Mamas and the Papas - An ambitious arrangement that works well with its Roy Harper-light singing quality.

Peter Maybarduk "A Ring around the Atlantic"

ring around the Atlantic Cover Art

Peter Maybarduk is a fine local musician that will play solo folk shows or full-band folk-rock sets. This album is even more complex and interesting than his live sets. The title cut has a great rhythm with lots of intriguing instrumental moves. His voice is a nice soft topping and reminds me of Feargal Sharkey of Ireland's Undertones. I was thinking that the vocals may be the only comparison to the pop-punk of the Undertones, but actually there are many energetic songs here that have that great youthful spirit and energy that the Undertones had. There are also folk moves with acoustic guitar or piano provided the light accompaniment to the vocal melodies. J. Robbins is on hand to produce and that is always a positive. They have put together a lovely variety of songs where there is something new going on from song to song, but it manages to stay connected and focused. My only criticism would be that some of the lyrics are a tad strained, but that is an error of ambition, so it does not affect my desire to return to this interesting album, available here at Bandcamp.

Songs to try first:

A Ring Around the Atlantic - Done in two different styles. The first one is a gem of a rocker.

Touched by Fire - Great grinding guitar rhythms with lead and backing vocals dancing around in different patterns. Energy to spare with plenty of hooks.

Something to Believe - Good simple power pop. And when power pop is good, there is not much more to be said.

Boris - Asobi Seksu - Liturgy -- Black Cat - Oct 29 2011

Liturgy - When I last saw this four-piece at the DC9, I was impressed with the band's fascinating controlled thrash metal drone style. But what really stood out was the drummer with his speed and nimble movements. Fellow blogger Michael Darpino mentioned that when he first saw them, that was what really impressed him as well. And now, Greg Fox is making one of his final appearances on drums with the band. I learned this recently when the New York Times ran a feature story on Greg Fox. Apparently he will be doing electronica and drum for another band. If he was only doing electronica, I would be disappointed as his drumming skills are too good to go to waste (remember what happened to a great drummer named Phil Collins). But we shall see where he is headed down the road. For now, Liturgy did a smoking half-hour set complete with chant vocal loops recreating their twist on a Gregorian chant. Sheets of metal from the two guitars and bass with screechy vocals and those wonderful drums all came together with various tones and overtones like some unholy alliance between Opeth and the early Meat Puppets after attending a few lectures from Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. I hope the band continues on. I don't envy the task of the new drummer, but these guys manage a great control of an intriguing sound, so it will likely continue to be a powerful set.

Asobi Seksu - This New York band (who wisely changed their name from Spotfuck) has been around a little longer than I expected. It was nice to catch up with them as they delivered an enjoyable 47-minute set tonight. They have a female vocalist who has some keys/electronics she uses regularly. After that, it is the usual guitar, bass, drums setup. They look like a favorite of mine, SF's Lovelikefire, and have a little bit of the same sound, although there is a striking difference within this band. The trio plays a powerful shoegaze sound that really roars up a storm. The singer has a dreamier pop style that contrasted nicely and was more starkly varied than other bands of this style. It all worked well enough tonight and for those that were not sure what slot to fit this band into, a Jesus and Marychain cover told the rest of the story. They struggled a bit with the sound and had to take a long time for a sound and line check (see below) as there were some setup problems tonight with the doors opening only just before the show was due to start.

Boris - I suppose I should not worry about Michio Kurihara (Ghost) showing up to assist on guitar with the three members of Boris as he seems to do it every time, but he did have some Visa problems that prevented him from playing with Damon & Naomi the last time through. He's here, so the line-up is complete. They have a two new discs out (one heavy, one light, although lines are blurred of course) and they played a nice selection from the new along with plenty of the old. And now the simple statement on this show... I believe this may be all the proof I need to say that this is the best live band anywhere. I like a ton of bands, but this band takes their very good records and brings them up to ridiculously high levels of volume, intensity, and passion when they hit the stage. They mix their styles so well and do not shy away from blasting away at a total drone for several minutes of their ninety minute set. The guitar sounds contrast nicely with Wata's deeply imbedded rhythms setting up Kurihara's wah-wah workout. And Takeshi's double necked axe featuring bass and guitar is there to add a third guitar when desired. They take a low key approach aside from Atsuo's crazy fun drummer personality which is a nice spicy addition. The lighting is excellent with dramatic back lighting and side lighting used more than spots. There is plenty of smoke and the effect is so much better than most bands. But the music is a beast all its own, yet somehow they harness it just enough to control the chaos and present the magic to the large club crowds. Simply not to be missed.

Quote of the Night: From the singer for Asobi Seksu after some annoying feedback... "Can we please make that stop. Please, it's very painful."  Thankfully it only happened a couple times that I noticed, but I appreciate the effort. Loud is wonderful, but some sounds are truly painful.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Naked and the Famous - The Chain Gang of 1974 - White Arrows -- 9:30 Club - Oct 28 2011

White Arrows - Taking the stage only a half hour after the club opened is this LA-based 5-piece. They feature a couple of guitars and a keyboardist/eclectronica guy. The immediately striking feature, which really becomes the most fascinating part of their sound is the vocal work. One guitarist takes the first lead and sings a lot like veteran LA speed punks, the Dickies or Skafish. The band engages in far more of the dreamy and edgier brands of west coast post punk psyche such as the 3 O'Clock or maybe even Dream Theater. As the songs roll along, the keyboardist has a dreamier vocal style and the combination and contrast of vocal work and even the music is quite vibrant. Just as you relax with one vocal line, another one twists you around. The guitars always have an edge that sometimes stays in the background, but can jump to the fore and dominate. Yes, it was dancey and fun, but a lot to listen to which is vital for me interested in dance music. Alas, the club was only about half-full with the tight scheduling, and although some people were probably in need of some time to figure out the contrasts here, the band did build crowd support during their allotted 27 minutes. This was a fine set and is clearly a band to watch.

The Chain Gang of 1974 - From my old home town of Denver, Colorado, comes a band that has nothing to do with 'the Denver sound'. Instead, this four-piece is a solid fit on this bill with its Brit-pop dance electronica rock sound. The first song is pretty fabulous as the guitar work is straight out Led Zep's "The Immigrant Song". The vocals come in a bit like Bauhaus and some other Brit crooners where I know the sound, but I don't know their names. The second cut vocals went more of a Howard Devoto/Magazine style where the irony comes out nicely. But then, they slid into more comfortable brit-pop again. When it rocked a little harder, my interest was higher, but that was not quite often enough. They went over well enough with the crowd, but the support kind of waned as things got more predictable. I think there is some real potential if they can focus on their sharper, edgier, more original songs. Still, a modestly enjoyable set tonight to set up the headliner.

The Naked and the Famous - It is great to see this band make their way from New Zealand to these shores, but based on their popularity and tonight's sold-out show, there is no label underwriting needed here. This five-piece has a full command of their sound and the crowd is stoked. The two vocalists, male and female, work together (or apart) beautifully and bring the life into the music. The electronica and human beats and rhythms seem a bit basic to me and I could really do with out the bass note pummelings that throb deep within my body. I know some people really enjoy that, but it always seems distracting to me. The hooks in the songs are really excellent for the most part and that is why a band should achieve success. It's pretty easy these days to play dance beats, but it still requires skill to hook a crowd in and deliver vibrant vocals. A quick glance at the music I normally go see will show that this pop-rock-dance style is not something I am expert in. But I always enjoy trying to find the better or best of other genres. This band earned my respect tonight. As for the other 1,200 people, I think most of them already knew that and were just thrilled that the band delivered a great live set, playing the music they already loved.

Kudos to... the 9:30 Club for a relaxing enjoyable evening without their usual children running around nagging on every minor or perceived infraction. This was a good crowd tonight and security was there, barely visible, and not needed.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Beasts of No Nation - LTW - The Mostly Dead -- Red Palace - Oct 26 2011

The Mostly Dead - Regular readers will know that this is one of my favorite area hardcore punk acts, so unless they really slip up, they will be getting praise in this column. No slip-ups tonight, as their music was tight and strong and they did a great job building their 26 minute set by playing their most boundary stretching songs toward the end, which was a good touch. It was interesting to see their long time bass player back in the fold, although he has to trek down from Brooklyn to play with the band these days. The one 'game' I tried to play with myself is imagining the best era and city each of these bands would be a part of in punk/hardcore history. I came up with early 80s Boston with nods to the Freeze and even a little Proletariat of Mission of Burma tossed in. The only negative was that the crowd was slow in getting into the club and ended up about 20 or so. But they seemed to dig it as did I.

LTW - This is a local four-piece hardcore thrash band with a similar vocals, guitar, bass, drums line-up. The guitarist looks like he's 14, the drummer 41 (not really, just the shaved head and dark rimmed glasses look). There is a really bad feedback buzzing coming from their massive amps, but it is completely unimportant when they play as they just blast through the typical thrash songs. My placement of these guys is latter day Boston. Siege anyone? I barely remember that band, but they came to mind. These guys could also be post-Negative Approach (although they were in my mind as NA was the between band house music). The crowd had doubled by now, but if they blinked they may have missed this 13 minute set. I don't see an obvious web link and I will avoid the temptation to send you the LTW Band that stand for Light the World (ed.-corrected per comment)

Beasts of No Nation - I saw this solid local band about a year ago opening for the Zeros at the Velvet Lounge. I recall enjoying them, but the set went by pretty quickly. Even though it was only 25 minutes tonight, that was plenty of time for this four-piece to showcase their excellent assertive songs. It's hardcore and punk and heavy and tuneful. They loosen things up a bit at times and the guitars play together nicely as opposed to just pummeling each other to new heights. Hard to fit these guys in to any place and time, but I heard elements of the Offenders from Texas, but their was a sense of melodic hardcore punk from 80s LA in there, too. The main thing was that these guys deliver high quality songs that you can choose to think about or just rock out to. Hopefully, you'll keep your brain on as you will be rewarded more. Intriguing crowd tonight in that they were kind of mature and reserved for such a heavy show (thankfully they were not as 'mature' as I am in regards to this euphemism). I hope I don't wait as long for the next show as I do feed of these short bursts of energy. And these guys do it as well as anybody.

Quote of the Night: From LTW between songs... "Don't clap." Really? - then don't pause. Is your next song going to be about No Rules? But seriously, he makes a good point. This band like others in even radically different genres are presenting an overall sound and approach in a short set. It's not about playing a series of songs with their individual hooks, so I agree with him in spirit.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ani DiFranco - Anais Mitchell -- 6th + I Synagogue - Oct 25 2011

Anais Mitchell - We begin with a singer/songwriter on acoustic guitar, just as we will have for the main act as well. Ms. Mitchell has a nice soft strum which she hits with an impact that creates a little tension even with the softer string sound. Her tight and strong voice clearly delivers her lyrics and is easy to listen to. I like that she has some longer songs and seems to tell a story quite well. I think that is her strength more than her poetry, perhaps. Although to be fair, it is hard to give a good analysis of this at a live show, although any cliches do tend to jump out. She did songs from a folk opera she wrote which sounds very interesting. She did well with the crowd in her solid half-hour set and succeeded with me in that I not only enjoyed the set, but am curious to hear more of her work in full.

Ani DiFranco - Amazingly enough even with all the folk records I review, I really have not heard a lot of Ani DiFranco music over the years. I always knew she was somebody I should listen to further and a show in the synagogue is as good as place as any to become familiar with her music. She has a lot of energy tonight which I am guessing is the norm as she seems to have a good personality for going solo. The songs are good with solid vocal dynamics that really highlight the qualities of her writing. He guitar work is well above what I normally hear as well. She really sounds more rock than folk and has all kinds of fills and runs that you don't usually hear in a folk set. The ninety minutes flew by with great music, nice stage patter and even a couple of songs with Anais Mitchell helping out (first on vocals, then on vocals and guitar). The guitar tech was ready with a new guitar for each song due probably to alternate tunings as well as DiFranco's forceful playing style. Great energy, nice songs and a set that she said would be entirely different from the one she would do the next night if anyone was coming to both sold-out shows. That is the sign of a pro who treats her audience well. It took me a while, but I am glad I finally caught up with her. And I would guess she'll still be moving at a fast pace hereon.

Quote of the Night: Ani DiFranco does the usual protest songs and they are fine, but she made this comment... "Do you believe this Congress? I mean, there ought to be a law where we could impeach them for not letting the President do anything."

Really? Is this something you also said 5-10 years ago? You might want to take a look at fascism more closely. It is great when you have someone good and who you like in the job, but watch out when you don't. See the Roman Empire for the pluses and minuses once Caesar overtook the Republic.

But of course, I think everyone understands this frustration.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blitzen Trapper - Dawes - Smoke Fairies -- Black Cat - Oct 24 2011

Smoke Fairies - My favorite band of this incredibly good three-band bill hits the main stage at 8:32pm for their half-hour set. I reviewed them earlier this year and the sound was similar so you can read further about the band here. It was fitting that Bread Love & Dreams was playing on my IPOD when they went on as that era of Brit psyche-folk is right were this duo is at home. The good thing about being on this tour is a chance to expand their audience in the US. The bad thing about being on this tour is playing to indifferent indie rock fans in a really large room as people are still filing into the club. The club was less than half full at the start and more than half full at the end. The other issue is the delicate two electric guitar and two voice harmonies work a lot better in a smaller room. If ever the powerful mysticism created by this duo will get spoiled, it will be in a rock club with the usual high percentage of gabby pretentious people who have little interest in digging into something new. But that was the only negative here as the duo did their usual excellent job with their distant wistful songs. They have been touring hard, so I hope it will pay off and they can come back next year with another album and lots of new fans. And hopefully it will be in a dark moderate sized room with oriental rugs thrown down for people to lay out and absorb this transcendent magic.

Dawes - This four-piece is co-headlining on this tour and played a full hour-long set. They fit in with the California style of Americana and you would probably get the same feeling here as you would at a Band of Horses/Low Anthem/Gary Louris show as well. Steady rhythms and nice keyboard punctuations add to the vocal and guitar melodies. The guitar work is sharp and goes from simple runs to more jagged Neil Young moves at times. Their are some nice pop hooks and one song had me really thinking I was listening to Colin Blunstone sing a new song with the Zombies. They had a singer named Johnny Corndawg join them for a couple of songs. I was skeptical but the first one was excellent. The second one was a cappella and a little more bland, but it was a nice touch. Things like this are fun for the band and for those of us that see a lot of bands and like a few surprises beyond playing the latest album and a few hits. There are an awful lot of bands that sound like Dawes and several I like better. But there are a significantly larger number that I do not like as well.

Blitzen Trapper - These five guys are a good partner for Dawes, especially on this tour since their latest album has an even rootsier Americana approach than their previous album (both of which I reviewed for Folkworld magazine). After a couple more recognizable cuts, the band cut into their new one and really brought the songs to life. It really enhanced the songs tremendously and was a good reminder of why you should see a band live when you can. There are many albums that are good and you can recognize quality, but some do not fully resonate with you to the point you want to play them over and over. Usually, as what happened here, the live setting allows at least the better musicians to have some fun and pump some volume and maybe even a bit more heart into the material. At least that is how I felt with what I was hearing tonight. Blitzen Trapper remains a favorite of mine on the indie circuit as they have a great balance of creativity and gutsy heartland style . And this was a sell-out, so I am hardly telling too many people anything they don't already know. Funny though, there was a lot more space tonight than there was at the Damned show which was not sold-out (although it may have eventually sold-out with the walk-up crowd).

Quote of the Night: Well earlier in the day as I went to get my cat his heart pills...
"Here's a prescription for my cat."
"OK, your cat's birthday?"
"Uh, no one knows, probably April '04"
"And he's in our system?"
"Yes his name is Tam Lin, but should be under my name."

"No, it's not there, maybe under T... no, is Lin his last name?"
"Well, no but try that."
"Here it is in L... Tam Lin"

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Damned - The Legendary Shack Shakers -- Black Cat - Oct 23 2011

The Legendary Shack Shakers - "The Damned asked us to be here. It's blues stuff, so try and get into it". Hmmm... if you have to explain it... I am not sure what feedback the singer was getting up front, but it was odd that not only did he say that early, he again mentioned that the Damned invited them and they were on the full tour. This is 2011 after all. If it was 1977, yes, they would have been gobbed off the stage at first sight of the stand-up bass player. Still, this sound did challenge a few people. It was uptempo punkabilly rock'n'roll that reminded me of some of the Denver sound bands, but not as complex. The rhythms were classic and the singer played some mean harmonica. The real fun was in the guitar work by the former soundmeister from the Jesus Lizard. I did not know that early in the set and was thinking it sounded a bit like John McGeoch (Banshees, Magazine) on steroids. He provided similar sharp edges that were heard in JL, while playing some nice punishing chords as well. This was fun and maybe some people were looking at their watches for this 45 minute set, but I was not one of them.

The Damned - There are some very unpredictable moments that make me feel really old in a crushing way. The latest was seeing that the Damned were playing on their 35th Anniversary tour. The math may be the same, but the Zombies 50th year did not bother me at all. But the Damned helped me get into punkrock with their dangerous performance (along with the Sex Pistols) on NBC in the nascent days of punkrock. But to heck with all that, there may have been a late sellout or something very close with two generations of fans and plenty of people in between. The Damned decided to play their first and fourth albums for the tour. I would have chosen the first and third, but the fourth was the next best choice. They ripped through the first album and aside from the usual slow moves from the soundman, the songs were ripping hard and fast. But this is the Damned, so there was a delay as Captain Sensible switched guitars and could not get it working quite right much to the amusement of Dave Vanian. But by "Born to Kill" they were flying all the way to their great rendition of the Stooges "1970". They did the songs in order and then it was break time after this 36 minute set. They came back and played an album I liked but have not listened to in years. I recall that I loved the first two songs and it was spotty thereafter. And aside from needing a couple of lines to get the harmonies right in "Lively Arts", they did great on those songs. They then proved me wrong by reminding me that I did like Side One a lot, but didn't always flip it over. Side 2 is spottier and led to the their pop music direction, but sounded great tonight. And "History of the World" is a very well written song, so my memory was being sent on a marathon and not merely jogged. I was surprised that they did the sidelong Side 3 song on the special two disc set. I thought it was akin to the dull Love song that lasted a full side, but again it worked tonight with lots of dual psyche keyboard moves. And after a couple of encores from their third album, they called it a night leaving a very happy crowd behind. The Damned were a brilliant punk band, yet changed their style steadily through at least five albums through new members and desired genre additions and shifts. It still works well in 2011 in whatever format they deliver it and I will be with them as long as they care to keep it going.

Quote of the Night:  "What are you doing over there... you lazy bastard."  Captain Sensible making fun of the keyboardist Monty Oxy Moron (who looks a bit like Rob Tyner, but is more a fall guy like Marty Allen). He had to stand there for the first album with no keyboards and sing a couple of backup lines now and then.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dum Dum Girls - Crocodiles - Royal Baths -- Black Cat - Oct 22 2011

Royal Baths - This four-piece instantly reminds me of some sort of Dead Meadow-Gun Club hybrid. That is a great place to be, but they are nowhere near the rarified air of those two bands. The songs just are not there, but the spirit and sound are quite good. They use a primitive beat with lots of slide guitar and interesting tones using space more than thickness. Some songs were good and I liked one later in the set where the guitars were trying to choke the life out of each other. They closed with a really nice groove established and showed a lot of promise. This Brooklyn group sounds like they are capable of producing some really nice music. As I often state, regular gigging and focus on the writing could yield some mighty powerful dividends.

Crocodiles - This is my second time seeing this west coast band as they did a great job on a great bill at a previous show at the Red Palace. That whole show blew me away, but these guys who were also on the middle of the bill came off best. They are a five-piece with keyboards and a vocalist who plays a second guitar at times. The sound is balanced between psychedelic, shoegaze, Britpop, and good old straight ahead rock. This is a powerful band that will not be playing in the middle of the bill too much longer, unless the Foo Fighters are on top. They have great songs and an absorbing sound plus the requisite confidence to really take command of the stage and deliver. The only thing that did not work was their dark stage and projections which did not look like anything with the set-up. It allowed a massive amount of shadow puppetry that went on and on and on with several people in front of the soundboard. You know, shadow puppetry like sex or saying your social security number allowed, is just something that should not be done in public.
Dum Dum Girls - Also from the west coast, these Sub Pop recording artists line up with a couple guitars, bass and drums. There is a bit of shoegaze swirl, but it is more of a backdrop. Instead, it's an interesting mix of pop music with grungy medium tempo riffing and dreamy vocals. It almost is too laid back at times, but the songs are quite engaging. It is interesting that the band has succeeded as well as they have with such a simple steady approach, but there may just be enough in the songs to justify it. It was a little hard to detect in the live setting following the Crocodiles, to my ears. But this band is worth a listen and they drew a really good crowd. While I was not dazzled tonight, I think if I gave them enough listens, I would become a bigger fan. At their best, they reminded me of a female Ride and like a lot of people, I really miss Ride.

Quote of the Night: From an exchange I had with my concierge at my condo where I am reminded I need to enunciate...
"The trash chute is blocked up."
"That's because of Homecoming at Howard University."
"No, the trash chute."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wild Flag - Eleanor Friedberger -- Black Cat - Oct 20 2011

Eleanor Friedberger - I have seen Eleanor F in Fiery Furnaces on three unique occasions. That band really varied their approached in subtle ways in each of those tours. And now that she is active as a solo artist, there is yet another variation. The voice is the same, the songwriting within that range, but there is more of an interesting rock push with the assembled players tonight. The second song was interesting as she reminded me of Patti Smith's imaginary sister--the quiet studious one that stayed in the background, but had a lot of the same poetry and vision. This band was also in that direction with a Lenny Kaye-like garage sensibility, but with a bit thicker sludgy component. They maintained this light psychedelic sound throughout the 43 minute set and it was quite fetching. It was similar to the (little known work) of Bobb Trimble, who played DC earlier this year. All in all this was a solid set by smart people who have enough quiet passion for their music to make for an interesting listening experience.

Wild Flag - Sold out tonight as this band has had significant buzz from before their first tour. This is their second time around the country as this four-piece from Portland, Oregon and DC continues to solidify their presence in the indie music scene. They have a great tribal thump at times, with solid rock drumming throughout. The keyboards are a nice touch and keep the bottom for the two guitars to flail away in the manner of many a post-punk band. Although it's hard to resist comparing all female groups to other all female groups, it is just as hard not to think of the Raincoats and the Slits as I listen. But Swell Maps, Public Image, and many of the mostly British post-punk bands are also here in the sound. The good cuts are good and there is nothing bad--aside from some feedback that was more painful than planned. At times, I did drift off into wondering why exactly does this good band achieve a sell-out, while I will be seeing some great bands over the next few weeks with smaller audiences and smaller clubs. But I will complain about that later. Fortunately, Wild Flag snapped me back to attention with a song that reminded me of Mudhoney playing with a swirling 13th Floor Elevators vibe. That is not easy to pull off, but they did it. They played a new song which didn't sound too terribly new as Wire also did a song called "Three Girl Rhumba" with a similar beat singing "Nothing is nothing" But after that distraction, they played a long brilliant freak-out jam that was two parts Velvet Underground, one part Doors. This completed their hour long set prior to encores (Ramones and Television covers were a nice touch) and abated my cynicism. They delivered.

Quote of the Night: From Eleanor Friedberger... "All right, this is a slow song... very serious."

That got me thinking. When does a moderate or fast paced hard rocking band do a slow song and have it be fun or frivolous? I don't think it happens often. Led Zeppelin's "D'yer Mak'er"comes to mind, and although many heavy bands have done slower reggae songs, they are not often frivolous. Maybe the Who's "Tattoo", not quite frivolous, but light and fun compared to their faster, harder approach.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stephen Stills - Josh Hisle -- Birchmere - Oct 18 2011

Josh Hisle - 24 minutes of warm-up presented first for this sold out crowd. But in case I am misunderstanding something, Hisle reminds the crowd that although he knows they all came to see him, Stephen Stills will be up later. He had trouble figuring out why Stills' bus kept following him around on this tour. Hisle's lightly humorous side worked well as he delivered solid folk and blues songs on acoustic guitar and voice. He played a piano once which was a nice break. The one hiccup was the break after the first song where he had a marine buddy of his come up onstage and propose to his girlfriend with the requisite oohs and ahhs from the crowd. Frankly, I have never understood why people want to share one of their most intimate moments of their lives with hundreds or thousands of total strangers. Isn't this rather Kardashian? Well, ok, the Kardashians don't ever seem to go away.

Stephen Stills - Like many people that follow current music, The Y in CSNY is the one artist I am a big fan of. David Crosby had one great solo album and worked with some great musicians. Graham Nash is a talented singer but more importantly a class guy that seems to work with people well. Stills and Young were and are the largest talent in that quartet. Their rivalry/friendship has been interesting to follow for many decades now. As I said, Young is the guy that interests me and most people. I have always respected Stills and was actually looking forward to seeing him in this intimate setting (especially compared arenas). He brought a 3-piece band with him on drums, bass, and keyboards. Stills also did several solo songs on acoustic and even brought out Hisle on guitar as he worked the piano. Early and often, Stills showcased a rather ravaged voice. Their was always a huskiness in it, so it was not too bad, actually. It was akin to aging bluesmen who still push through rough spots (shockingly he sounds a lot like my buddy Ed Pittman after a hard day which was most days). His guitar playing is still excellent. I used to quip recently that his dedication to his health with the weight he's lost would have the upper decks of CSN shows confusing him for Young instead of Crosby. But he almost looks as healthy as Graham Nash tonight, so that is great to see. And even with a break, he seemed pretty sharp for the full ninety minutes he played plus his Buffalo Springfield encore. He pretty much covered the hits and did a long medley of some CSN material (did some whole songs as well). The band seemed very professional and intentionally took a back seat, but kept things slick and moving. When introduced, it turned out to indeed be a slick bunch of pros. I did not know the keyboardist from NY, but drummer Joe Vitale and bassist Kenny Passarelli go back to my Joe Walsh days from when I was in high school. They've played with Stills, CSN, and lots of other top acts. Stills was amusing and he had a bit more caustic to him than wit, but it was funny (at times in a more organized Grampa Simpson sort of way). And it was nice to see him tough it out. His strong attitude and drive allowed him to push forward, take no prisoners, and bang out his music. The jazz and blues portions quieted things down a bit, but "Love the One You're With" had a lot of people out of their seats and dancing. At the Birchmere, that's a pretty good sign of a successful night.

Quote of the Night: I will paraphrase Stephen Stills' response to a guy yelling out a request... "Gabba Gabba whatsat?" There are a couple problems here. First, you are way back there and the mic is up here. Second, I'm f'n deaf. I can hear busboys make every single noise but I can't hear the name of the person across the table from me. Man, and is this the best we can do (as he pulls out his earplugs). I mean its 2011 and this is all we can do?"

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Casiokids - Hundred Visions -- DC9 - Oct 17 2011

Hundred Visions - This two-guitar four-piece comes from Austin to start off tonight's show. I know nothing about them but am instantly impressed with their nice ringing pop-rock sound reminiscent of Sloan with a more driving rhythm section perhaps. I have to say the second song blew me away and had me at full attention the rest of the set. There was a powerful garage-pop feel with driving guitars that reminded me of some sort of Ramones/Wipers hybrid.  There is strong lead vocal work on top of the steady throb of a rhythm with good guitar work that is not flashy but extremely effective in their respective parts. The full modern feeling to it also had a bit of the west Texas vibe comes through as well. Rarely are bands as immediate to me as this one was. The good size crowd was sharp enough to let this hard edged power pop work its magic. I wonder if these guys liked the Big Boys? I am sure they did or would like the Zeros, as that may be the closest band I can think of to this mostly original take on a classic form. There are a lot of interesting shifts here, but the core musical themes and structure hold it all together. At set's end, someone behind me said "that's awesome", which is all that was the only needed review for those of us present.
Photo by Pavla Kopecna

Casiokids - Norwegian synthpop? This was not exactly my idea of an essential show. But with the first band already earning every bit of my small price of admission, I viewed this as a bonus. The band has a standard rhythm section and one additional stand-up percussionist with a number of drums. The other three members rotate steadily with guitar and synthesizers. And two of the guys handle the vocal work. They have just arrived from their long flight, so they admitted feeling strange, but thought that may make for a fun set. Well, if that was any part of the formula, it worked. They were indeed pop oriented with plenty of synth, but there was a krautrock undercurrent and a lot of old-school prog sounds as opposed to modern electronica squeaks and squawks. And they managed to avoid the cheesy 1980s synth sounds that sounded dated by the 1991. There is a rich history of progressive music in Scandinavia and you never quite know what each band from there will take from their folk heritage, metal scene, or progressive history. If you have not explored Scandinavian rock music, you are missing quite a bit of history. Further, it seems every unknown band from Sweden or Norway that comes my way is routinely surprising me with their quality. There are some really catchy songs in this set and the crowd moves more and more as the hour long set continues. Graceful music this, but with plenty of spleen. The only thing I could criticize was a 'samey' quality late in the set, but they blew the doors down with their closer which fixed that quickly. I am so happy that I decided not to take the night off and it was a good reminder to always mix in surprise shows with the known quantities. This band is only hitting a few east coast cities, testing the waters for hopefully more visits. I think they are well on their way to establishing themselves on the east coast and hopefully can find receptive audiences like tonight throughout the US next time.

Quotes of the Night: Considering English is probably the Casiokids singer's third language, I was amused by two of his comments...

"This is our oldest song from our first album. A fun fact is that this son was in a pizza commercial in Hawaii" (anyone who uses a term like 'fun fact' scores lots of bonus points with me)

"In 2012, the Olympics will be in London, so we wrote a song about the Olympics. Hopefully we'll be invited to play it during the opening ceremonies. Plan B (laughter)... will be to play it in a small club in London around that time."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Yngwie Malmsteen - The Jones -- Fillmore - Oct 15 2011

The Jones - This is my second time seeing this local trio, although this is quite a step up from being the first opener of a three band bill at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel. The Fillmore is a slick and sizable place similar to the 9:30 Club, although more similar to the other Fillmores or House of Blues showcases around the country. The balcony is closed but the floor is plenty crowded for the Jones' set. I compared the Jones to Blue Cheer and the Groundhogs before and that brand of psychedelicized grind it out blues rock is still present tonight.They really can lay down a groove with the guitarist vocalist employing good breathy vocals sounding a bit like Black Mountain perhaps. His guitar work is a bit better than first glance as he uses effective riffs, quick leads and fills with a great control of tone. I am carefully observing the crowd to see if the mass of rock fans here to see a shredding metal guitarist will enjoy a different style in the opening set. It was nice to see that so many people did enjoy this strong set. The amount of increased head bobbing, applause, and the occasional nods between friends looked as if the Jones style and abilities can translate to a whole  lot of rock fans. This is an excellent band that I will be happy to see on a wide variety of bills.

Yngwie Malmsteen - One of the more famous metal shredders is here with keyboards, drums, bass, and a vocalist. The more important stats are in the backline. The bass and keyboards have basic stack amps and the drummer is shoved a bit off to that side to make way for no less than 26 Marshall heads and 14 Marshall cabinets. There are few more heads near the PA column as well. Only seven heads are turned on and there is one microphone on one of the cabinets for the PA. This wallpaper look seems a bit much for anything shy of a Woodstock performance (even then, the PA is obviously the key), but I only now understand the excess when I go to the Marshall homepage. Yngwie Malmsteen models instantly pop up and are featured front and center. OK, so what comes out of these amps? The expected shredding metal guitar, fast and furious, and played with a lot more abandon than control. Although when he stands still and focuses, he nails all his runs with great control. Otherwise during the rhythm parts, he enjoys running around firing out the never ending supply of picks to the crowd, spinning his guitar around, tossing them to his guitar (pick) tech, and putting his hair in front or behind his head. It is not much of a surprise that the vocals are a bit buried in the mix. Although the sound gets a little steadier and louder as the night goes on. The songs are not terribly memorable and are in the Iron Maiden vein I suspect, although my metal knowledge is limited toward different directions in the metal spectrum. There are lots of solos are lead runs with some of the instrumentalists as the singer gets lots of breaks. After the Star Spangled Banner (where have I heard that before on electric guitar...), they do kick into some tougher songs which I enjoy a bit more. But it goes on for quite some time and the spectacle kind of wears off. The crowd is enjoying the set as it is slick and if you really want to see flash guitar, then this guy is your man. I did enjoy this at times, but smaller doses of the flash, and a focus on the stronger songs in perhaps a shorter set would be more to my liking.

Quote of the night: After a loud whistle from the back, the headliner's singer quipped... "Did that clean your ears out?" I am happy that someone else finds these whistles more painful than all those Marshall stacks.