Wednesday, November 30, 2011

RECORD REVIEWS - November 2011

The Loom - "Teeth"

It is of little surprise to me that one of my favorite bands comes to mind when I listen to the Loom. Like Woven Hand, the weaving theme is right there in the band's name. In both cases, the complex powerful music weaves in many intriguing elements to create a highly personal accessible brand of folk-rock music. In the Loom's case, they feature a fascinating series of sounds from brass, winds and banjo in addition to the rhythm section, guitar and keyboards. The vocal work is excellent with most leads from a male voice, but female harmonies and occasional leads only add to the quality. This mixture of urban, pastoral, Americana, and psyche-folk is reminiscent of some of my favorite Toronto bands such as Do Make Say Think. In all cases, the comparisons are more of spiritual tone and ultimate feeling as opposed to the specific sound.

This is powerful, exciting music when quiet or loud, grounded or psychedelic. There is no reason this band should not move up in the indie world with the far lesser bands that are there (along with the many deserved acts like Decemberists, Iron & Wine, Low Anthem, etc.). So get on board with this band now while they now begin the touring and album releases that will hopefully make them a household name.

Songs to try:

The Middle Distance - This song creates an urban psychedlia with its moving drums and wailing French Horn, along with the quick vocal work.

The First Freeze - Delicate folk song with longing brass. It does not sound like it is from the US, England, but has a more universal tone.

For the Hooves that Gallop, and the Heels that March - The title alone is worth a mention, but the song develops a quiet approach that allows for some strong psychedelic guitar moves to make their mark.

The Spinto Band - "Biba! One Island, 879 votes" soundtrack
From nearby WIlmington, Delaware, the Spinto Band comes to DC to the 9:30 Club this Thursday, December 1st. In addition to their whimsical pop music, they have released a soundtrack album for a documentary film. I will be reviewing the live show which will be my first exposure to this intriguing band, but for now here is what they did for the film "Biba!"

This soundtrack album indeed sounds just like a soundtrack album. It is instrumental with shorter mood pieces. As every aspiring soundtrack writer should aspire to, they do pull in the Ennio Morricone spirit whenever they can. "The Bandit" and "the Sheriff" are perfect examples of songs that would fit into The Once Upon a Time in the West sequel. Even the titles should have your brain turning on your favorite Morricone. But there are other styles that mix simple pop moves with a flowing rhythm that sound like they would work marvelously in a film. The "Battle Hymn of the Republic" finish shows how a simply plucked guitar can carry a nice tune while mysterious background music can push one into a dreamy environment. This all sounds quite different from the few songs I have heard from the band and it showcases both their skills and love of the soundtrack style which they have adapted to successfully. Honestly, I was not sure I would listen to this much more, but the quality of it begs for future listens, as well as the desire to pull out more of my soundtrack music.

The Fed - "Birth of the Pipesnakes" ep
If you have the longing for the classic big blues-rock sound that many bands employed from 1968 to 1972, then give these four songs a listen. I have enjoyed this local trio live and was interested to hear the studio work. They have that thick fuzzy rural base, but there is some really nice flowing guitar work. "'83" features some really clean guitar solos that stand out amidst the lovely murky vibe working. The vocal work has a classic feel and comes off as an asset and not just a tack-on, which often happens in this style of music. "Lifecycle (of an American rock and roll band)" has a snappy fun feeling to it. At their worst, these guys play solid blues rock. At their best, they add some nice psyche touches and skillful playing that transcend this classic rock music form into something fresh and invigorating.

The Jet Age - "Domestic Disturbance"

Good grind it out rock is again the musical theme here. Like the Fed ep above, this is music for real straight-on rock fans. However, this power trio delivers it in a more of a timeless manner. The blues and hard rock bands of old are within the roots of this music, but a more modern indie rock is also present. The balance is just right for those of us that have lived through both eras or those that don't care a lick for history, but simply love to rock out. The guitar solos are some of the best I have heard off any record I have heard recently featuring bands not named Opeth or Mastodon. This is a twelve song album, so there are bound to be some lesserer songs. And at times the vocal melody lines do not quite do justice to the instrumental parts. Lyrically, they have linked the songs into a theme of sorts, which is something that I tend to give bonus points for. This is a fine record and it sounds like it would be a real kick live. You can judge for yourself when they have their release party at Comet Ping Pong on December 9th.

Songs to try:

I am an Agent - Good opener contains all the successful elements the band can deliver in a real head swaying, foot tapping tune. Egad, there's even a brief drum solo!

Hey, Captain - Cool foot tapping beat, power chords and great fuzzy guitar solos. This reminds me of an unholy hybrid of Lyd and Christopher. OK, so this one is more rooted in the past (but still not entirely).

Some Nights - This has a nice poppy tone to it with just enough drive to retain their style while dropping it down a notch.

Les La Britanica - "Soft Swerve"

Every time I review a live band in the electronica or hip hop fields, I am reminded that I should probably employ more writers. I want to go to these shows and continue to expand my musical borders to the point where there are none. However when it comes to writing about them, I feel I am fooling no one. So it was with more than a little trepidation I approach a hip hop vocal duo doing their raps on top of full-out electronic music. The main success here for my personal tastes is that they do not keep things simple as I have seen with rappers that just spout out dull cliches or electronica acts that stare at a computer screen on stage. There are talented vocal moves that are quite musical without being either cliched in rap or pop. The electronics are complex enough but allow space for the vocals and the dynamics of the song. Unfortunately, some of the lyrics I could do without, but sadly I come to expect that here and in other genres as well. It is not so much being a prude as it is where I roll my eyes and say 'here we go again'. Thankfully there is enough variety, so that only happened a couple of times.

Songs to try:

Mind Control - The opener has a nice restraint to the electronics that allow the vocals to be very tuneful and emotive.

Cop Car - Vocal lines really work some magic on this one.

Les L Aye - Some more cool vocal lines with a Germanic electronica close. This is my favorite.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chameleons Vox - Black Swan Lane - Dot Dash -- Black Cat - Nov 28 2011

Dot Dash - We begin with a local four piece who clearly show this city's love of Wire. And there are indeed some songs that do remind one of Wire, which is always a good sign. But more often, this band exhibits solid power-pop tunes that rock loudly with enough hooks to keep things interesting. But they mixed it up a few times to great effect such as the oddly dark minor-chord led 3rd song which could have been off of "Chairs Missing". And they were clearly aware of the effect with their comment "back to effervescent pop" (or perhaps they said punk, but pop/punk works). I think this band is quite good and with just a few more rhythm shifts or sonic variations, they could really add some flourish to their really nice core sound. If they figure that out, who knows how good this could get? But for now, it is still an enjoyable half-hour set.

Black Swan Lane - Mark Burgess of the Chameleons helped form this band a few years back, but does not play with them now after redoing the Chameleons as what we will be seeing after this set. Instead, there have been some member shifts and this unit is going along quite nicely on its own. They have a rhythm section and three guitars going. When I was young, that usually meant southern rock, but these days it is more likely shoegaze. And after a nice steady rock beginning, the shoegaze sound did build up nicely. It was not overwhelming as the vocals were always leading the songs. The singing was in a Mark Lanegan-The National style with a touch of Ian Cutis at times. There was a little pace now and then, but steadier mood creating mid-tempo speed was the core of the formula. They were in full control of the style and after a few minutes of thinking this was merely nice, they pulled me in further. The really large crowd tonight was enjoying it as well. This is a fine band on what is turning out to be a solid bill that just about belonged upstairs on the larger stage.

Mark Burgess Book A View From A Hill

Chameleons Vox - Another one of these Manchester bands that I kind of missed over the years. I knew the name, but the sound and history was all new to me. Mark Burgess is the main force behind this and I was slow to learn that he was standing next to me during Black Swan Lane's set. It took all of my extensive investigative experience from another career to determine this. Perhaps the several people who came up to say hi and have him sign CDs and LPs helped. When he and his band hit the stage, the crowd was more than ready for some great Manchester rock. And the guys delivered in what was a sound reminding me of the early Smiths among others. I always hear John McGeoch (Magazine/Banshees) in this sort of guitar work, but Johnny Marr is perhaps the better comparison. The songs were balanced between hook oriented post punk, pop/rock and only a touch of shoegaze. What is fairly easy to pick up, even on first listen, is the quality of the song writing. Not only are the songs catchy, but there are some highly personal original moves that sneak in at various times with the phrasing and melody shifts. Add this band to my list of 'why haven't I been listening to this for the past several decades'. But that's why I go to shows of all types, to keep finding out about quality bands, both starting out and those that I have missed. The crowd was having a blast tonight and went home happy.

Quote of the night: From Black Swan Lake... "We're selling t-shirts and CDs to pay for the fuel for that big fucking tour bus out back."

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mastodon - Dillinger Escape Plan - Red Fang -- Nov 27 2011

Red Fang - A Mastodon tour seems to always have high quality and interesting opening bands (Kylesa last time) and this tour is no exception. I did see Red Fang on a huge bill of interesting metal acts that Helmet headlined and was impressed with their style. They employ the same jamming grind it out mid-tempo techniques that Kyuss successfully did (and does). They have two guitars that thicken things out and two lead vocalists that have a heavy laid back crooning rock style on one hand, with a deep dark intense voice on the other. The tempos vary a bit but never get anything near speed metal or overly sludgy on the slow end. They are from Portland, Oregon and do seem to employ some left coast moves both from the metal out there (Kyuss, Alice in Chaines, et al) as well as a strong indie spirit that seems to be a part of every band from Portland. The grooves are infectious and the 35 minute set smoothly goes by, enjoyed by the crowd which is no doubt on the smart side considering this headliner.

Dillinger Escape Plan - It is no surprise to note that this band initially evolved from a hardcore band. While they have gone through a lot of members, the general hardcore sound is still quite prevalent along with loads of metal and intricate an extreme progressive feel to many of the songs. This is a well oiled sonic assault. They manage to stay on track with their intense playing even when they seem off the rails. The energy is great and they climb and jump on amps as good as anyone you will see, while not missing a beat. Maybe the only complaint for me is the unrelenting intensity is a bit hard to take even in a 40 minute set (I had a similar problem with the Melvins who wore me out after 70 minutes). But they had an admirable sound and energy taking me back to my younger days of seeing COC or Raw Power. This band can pack 'em in on their own tours, but it's great to see them here bringing three distinct voices to this tour.
Mastodon - I was excited to see this show as I was highly impressed with their latest album. Like Opeth, this band continues to evolve and explore more progressive elements of metal. Unlike Opeth, they did not do quite the extreme makeover for this album and tour. It would not surprise me if that is yet to come as they have not been at this as long, but for now it is still the Mastodon that smart metal fans know and love. They are vocally tough and direct with even more hints at tunefulness. Musically, they are brilliant the way they all lock in and create such interesting sounds while keeping accessible crunching, speedy rock music at the core. The sold out crowd was into it the whole 90 minutes or thereabouts. They remained revved up as much for the closer as they did at the open. I give the band major credit for handling the sound system so well tonight. So many bands just pump the volume, but Mastodon created loud music that was clear and right on the edge of where it ought to be. Nothing pulsed up or fuzzed out like I hear so many times with bands that think volume is all when you have a PA like this one. The encore was fun with the other bands joining the stage to sing along. No surprise there as like I said earlier, a Mastodon tour has sharp original bands that work well together in presenting an outstanding bill. I'll be back for the next installment.

Honor of the week: I was again asked by The Deli to nominate the best 'breakout bands' in the DC/Baltimore area. This site does a great job covering several local scenes and I encourage everyone to check out their work and vote for your favorite break-out band when they post the poll (I am guessing next week some time).

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Watermelon - Ramzy & the Brothers Handsome - Rich Mahogany -- Velvet Lounge - Nov 23 2011

Rich Mahogany - We have a four-piece (V/G/B/D) that appears to be local (and not the Irish band of the same name I found on line). The sound is pretty much funk-rock. The vocals are quite good and the music is solid with the expected rhythms. Very likable sounds, but a bit samey after a while. The instruments have a bit of an 'under glass' type sound as well. The pre-Holiday crowd is enjoying it and it is a sizable crowd tonight--so good to see that at this club lately. Oh, they tell us that this is their first show, ever. Well, my criticisms are certainly minor compared to their overall readiness to hit the stage for the first time. Nice set, guys, even the Ween cover went well.

Watermelon - The 'headliner' from New York is up next and has the same instrumentation, although there are male and female vocalists up front. They are locally born and bred for the most part and play here often, although this is the first time I've taken in their set. And it is also in the funk/R&B vein. There are some changes here from what I first heard tonight. First, the twin vocals work extremely well as often is the case. The female lead is the better up-front vocal with great power and control. The male voice is softer but harmonizes well, creating a really rich sound. The instrumentation breathes a bit more and the sounds are livelier. They avoid the trappings of the genre, by branching out a bit into a blues rocker, "Whipping Post"  (with a guest guitarist I think--I was way in the back and didn't see the full stage). They also did a cool cover of Led Zeppelin's "What is and What Should Never Be". This is an interesting band that is worth a listen. But if your feet want to move then don't think to hard, just check out their set.

Ramzy & the Brothers Handsome - The R&B theme continues on into the latter hours as this trio hits the stage. A keyboard/vocalist fronts this rhythm section with the bass player adding some vocals. The crowd tapered off a bit and some of the 'TSOL crowd' had left (not the violent kind, but had that enthusiasm and look if you follow my obscure reference). Still, it was a good enthusiastic crowd and this trio had a good powerful driving base to dance from. I was a little mixed with the keyboard approach. At times it sounded too much like Steely Dan for my liking. This is just a personal thing as I absolutely despise Steely Dan aside from a couple of songs. There were other songs in this set that did not distract me into those thoughts, so that was helpful as the keyboards were used to create varied sounds. It was also a bit late and with my insomnia and busy day ahead, I called it a night--a good night for that matter.

Quote of the Day: Happy holidays! Now off to get my jambalaya started.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Brass Bed - Presto Bando -- Iota - Nov 20 2011

Presto Bando - When I am seeing someone for the fourth time, it is pretty obvious I like the band a lot (or they open for great bands) so there is not a whole lot more to add here regarding tonight's show. But if you have not heard this trio, please get out there next time they play. Their quirky, heavy, funny brand of rock music is surprisingly original these days. This unique approach is always a bit startling, but at the onset of punk/new wave, there were a lot of bands like this that had these sharp strong jagged guitar sounds with powerful bass, punchy drums and crazed intense vocals with interesting lyrics. It was another great set tonight and the smallish crowd enjoyed it. They will be working on a new album soon which I will be looking forward to. But until then, I will be happy to see these guys at any club in the area. I will leave final word to my serious music friend from Vermont who was with me and really enjoyed their sound a lot... "Imagine if Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers were grounded in thrash."

Brass Bed - From Lafayette, Louisiana comes this interesting little four-piece giving us their take on psyche-pop nuggets. It is a little heavier than I expected out of the gate with a throbbing rhythm section lending its power to the pop-rock songs. The guitarist singer keeps things melodic and flowing while the keyboardist provides some intriguing sounds (once the sound man turned him up half way through the first song). Their were some vocal harmonies and everything was really clean and attractive in that classic pop music way. The flow of the set was interesting as it started off quite heavy and finished that way with a middle that was a little more spacey, psychedelic pop. I am reminded of a better version of an Italian band called Jennifer Gentle who I saw a few years back, as there is a bit of their Syd Barrett inspired quirkiness in here as well. The guitarist and bassist switch instruments and the bass player plays a steel guitar a couple of times which thankfully sounds a lot more like the Misunderstood than Sneaky Pete (I've lightened my dislike of the instrument when people use it more in a manner that I can get into). This was a fun set by a band did enough things well with a touch of originality as well. They did not blast into my subconscious as much as the last co-headlining show I saw here, but I am quite happy to have seen them tonight.

Quote of the Night: From Presto Bando... "This song is up for a Gap Jeans commercial."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Echo Wall - The Loom - Cat Martino - Letitia Vansant -- Velvet Lounge - Nov 18 2011

Letitia Vansant - Wow, what a crowd tonight as it is nearly wall-to-wall people here. And although it's Friday night and party time for most, they are quite respectful of a woman with a ukulele. Quickly she brought a bass player and drummer to the stage. She switched to banjo and acoustic guitar as well. Instrumentally, things were on the light side with not a lot of flourish anywhere. But the songs were nice and there was all the more space for her voice which mixed the sweet+power recipe rather well. She added a keyboardist after a few songs which seemed to be the missing ingredient to change the backing material into fuller songs. The attitude was great on stage and the crowd fed it right back, so a nice sense of camaraderie and fun was established.

Cat Martino - Funny, I was thinking of Marissa Nadler at times during this set from this solo artist from Brooklyn, and now I see she toured Europe with her. But Fursaxa came to mind more as Cat Martino used her voice as the main instrument with lovely loops. The first song was very avant space trippy which is always a great place to start in the Velvet Lounge. She plays guitar and electric piano in the rest of the songs and heads a little more toward modern folk territory. She did one cover song at the end, which if I heard correctly was the Cure's "Love Song". Someone will pounce if I'm wrong. No matter, the original material was varied and interesting. Nice set and if you want to see it again, she'll be at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel opening for the excellent War on Drugs in a couple of weeks.
The Loom - I am a huge fan of this band and took for granted that this would be a great set. It was, for both for me and the large crowd tonight. I think they are on their way to establishing a solid fan base, and it was nice to see them on the road in the midwest on east promoting their new album (to be reviewed here shortly). The album switches directions in a rather subtle way, although the set covered all compass points. Years back I felt this was a sharp Americana indie rock band with a little psyche sprinkling in their sound. Now, they seem far more urban. The roots are still there, but the arrangements and vocal qualities put them in a wonderful space between Espers and Faun Fables. Aside from the solid rhythm section, it's the additional percussion, keys and brass that really create some intriguing counterpoints to the guitar/banjo and vocal melodies. The French horn is a great touch and reminds me of the ever-intriguing Do Make Say Think. They can rock it up or folk it back, but they have a deft touch with every shift they make. It is always nice to see a band experiment so well and retain a command of a sound that you do not hear every day. The Loom does it, does it well, and hopefully the future continues to shine for this Brooklyn band.

The Echo Wall - Apologies to the band, but there was not way they were going to start until well after one and I had my usual 20 minute walk and 20-30 minutes with my cat before bedtime. Plus Arsenal started playing at 7:30 this morning. I have enjoyed this local band and have reviewed them twice this year, so you can read about them here if you like.

Quote of the Night: Cat Martino thanking the crowd and inviting them to the merch table... "Come say hi, stay in touch, stalk me on the internet and I'll stalk you back."

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Sadies - Jessie Sykes -- Iota - Nov 17 2011

Jessie Sykes - Jessie Sykes is a woman with a guitar surrounded by bass, drums and electric guitar. It looks like Americana-Indie rock to me. And proof yet again, that I need to wait for a few notes before trying to guess the sound. Instead, they have a nice little psychedelic jam to open things. They are loud and tight, though giving everyone room to breath and establish each instrument's sound in the mix. It starts off in San Francisco psyche-land like something from Great Society but weaves the tunes into fascinating patterns like psyche-folkers Mellow Candle (mostly like the instrumental part in "Sheep Season" which is perhaps my favorite instrumental passage anywhere). There's a Bardo Pond feeling in the vocals and there are songs that manage the volume and intricacy of that band, too. But right after a powerful song, they drop it down many notches to play something folkier, but dark. The vocals are deep and down in the manner of a Bridget St. John. There is so much going on and so many things I hear, ultimately their set comes together as a superb journey through slow-fast, loud-quiet, rock-folk, with a deep psychedelic vibe throughout. Great music tonight with immaculate sound. They played as a co-headliner for 1:06 and held my attention through every note. The fairly large crowd dug it as well. Jessie Sykes and the band, the Sweet Hereafter, are from Seattle and have not played here in 5-6 years. I hope he next gap is significantly shorter. Now it is time to sample the record I bought from them. I have a feeling I will be digging deep into their back catalog as well.

the sadies
The Sadies - Thanks to my job reviewing CDs for Folkworld, I got a chance to rave about this Toronto band's last CD after ignoring them for a dozen years. Many have seen them backing Neko Case rather than in their own band, and have missed the real fun. The two guitars are phasing and blazing as they rip through an Ennio Morricone western-style instrumental to get things underway. They next go into dual singing (with a Ride like sound) while keeping the guitars blazing. The bass is stand-up and along with the drums pretty much lays down on a non-flashy foundation. They add some surf sounds as well as fast Meat Puppets styled western music. A violin comes out for a brilliant honkytonk stomper where if other country music artists could aspire to this, I could be converted. But that's the beauty of this band. They also had classic blues rock and lighter songs in the set and it all came out with their signature sound and style. They were every bit as good as I expected and then some. And although my raving over Toronto bands may be getting a little old, I will put these guys near the top of that powerful list. There is just too much fun to have and great loud and fast guitars that can carry a killer melody. Time stands still during sets like this, although my cliches keep coming. No matter, do check this band out next time around.

Quote of the Night - From the Sadies (and eerily reminiscent of last night)... "We've played 20 shows... or a week's shows or whatever with Jessie Sykes and they have been great to be around. A real pleasure to be with them, a source of comic relief especially when they fight. So this song goes out to them (applause) ...except for that bass player--I never liked him (ooohs)"

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The WeatherVanes - Benny the Band - Adrian Hardkor -- Velvet Lounge - Nov 16 2011

Adrian Hardkor - My second time seeing Mr. Hardkor, playing this time with violin and bass. Hardkor plays acoustic guitar and sings throughout. There is a nice energy to the Americana-laced folk rock songs. The accompanying musicians fill things out nicely and the bass player switching to mandolin is a nice touch. The violinist has some chops, although his fooling around with pedals created more distraction than anything else on one song. I enjoyed the third song the most and I could detect a couple others that stand out well, with others that are ok. It is a little loose by design, and a bit too loose for my tastes. But it still was a fun listen for the 44 minutes they played. They still have a ways to go, but there is a foundation present to build from.

The WeatherVanes - The headliner went up next and I thought it would be a bit more of the same. The starting point and approach was similar, although their were drums, bass, keyboards/mandolin backing the singer/guitarist. The first song showed a great dexterity with the acoustic guitar sound that had a great rock feel in addition to the Americana folk underbelly. His slide moves were clever and really livened up the song. He went to electric guitar for half of the nearly hour-long set and really had some flash moves that rocked out a lot more than I expected. The songs were put together well and always maintained a rootsy base. The keyboards gave a great high end sound, while the rhythm section was strong, but not overpowering. The band was able to raise it up a notch as a unit, which shows me they have done this for a while and have a great command of their fine material. This just may be the area's finest band at American-based folk-rock, with the emphasis on rock. They did a Tom Waits cover which fit their style and were quite funny, although I don't need to be reminded of the next band five times. The crowd of 30-ish was excellent tonight and really wanted some fun on a Wednesday night. These guys delivered.

Benny the Band - They are probably officially Benny, but it is often good to add 'the band' to common names. This is the third straight set from a flannel shirt wearing singer/guitarist with band. In this case, the band is comprised of bass, drums, and electric guitar. They have a quiet presence on stage, but work together nicely. The songs are a little more akin to the opening band at times, but there is and added rootsy rock'n'roll element. Also, the electric guitarist can play some smoking leads while grinning sheepishly afterward. They remind me of Johnny Rivers for some reason, although I am hardly a Johnny Rivers expert. Well, at least one time, I thought a song was going to break into "Midnight Special", but didn't. They had a tough act to follow but did a nice job of it. This was a great night of music and it only cost $5. Considering, this was initially my 5th choice on where to go tonight, I was quite happy.

Quote of the Night: There were many good ones, but I missed a few lines so I'll paraphrase The WeatherVanes singer... "Thanks to Adrian Hardkor, is he here? (no). Those were very kind words... considering he's such a dick. Someone stop me if you see him coming..."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tinariwen - Architecture in Helsinki - Sophie Hunger - Dom - Lo Fi Fnk -- 9:30 Club - Nov 15 2011

Lo Fi Fnk - From Sweden comes this synth pop trio with vocals, a couple of keyboards and drums. There is some brief bass for a bit as well. Alas, their 32-minute set was played to a crowd about the size of the Velvet Lounge due to the quantity of bands on the bill tonight. This is pleasant synth pop with nice vocals. The band has some nice energy, particularly the guy on keyboards (mostly synth). My favorite part was when he jumped off the stage and bowed or shook hands with everyone on the dance floor. It was pretty much a football line-up at that point, although there were a few of us in the balcony, too. Nice enough music, not too dazzling and quite hard to rate with this crowd. My guess is it would have been more fun at the DC9, but I would not be raving about the set.

Dom - Now this is exciting--it's Dom, the band that brought us one classic underground psyche record in the 70s called "The Edge of Time". No wait, it's just five guys from Massachusetts. This also has a nice polite pop element to the sound, but it rocks out more. Well, guitars will do that won't they. At their best, they had a handle on the poppier moments heard on the Nuggets compilation. There was also even a touch of drone in one song. Interesting enough for me to catch a return show some time. The crowd still is slow filing in as this set at least started at the normal Birchmere time (7:34pm). At least a full football or soccer game could now happen on the dance floor.

Sophie Hunger - Sophie Hunger starts the show off with a solo vocal that is pretty high on the Mesmer scale. Her two band members accompany her on all but one of the songs thereafter. Sophie adds a bit of guitar and keyboards to some of the songs. Her keyboard playing is excellent and probably could be featured more. But it really did not matter as the three of them created a fascinating array of sounds that really blended together. One guy focused mostly on guitar while the other had trombone and percussion going most of the time. There was some flute and backing vocals, too. There is an exotic European feeling present and indeed they are from Switzerland. Since Switzerland has French, German, and Italian roots depending on the part of the country you are in, I would guess there was more Germanic approach here with a bit of Italian. Quick research shows she was born in Bern which is closer to the France/Italy borders, but she also lived in the more Germanic Zurich and the even more Germanic Bonn (as well as London). But enough off the roots, the presentation tonight was breathtaking at times and solid throughout. The sound was folk, both gothic and traditional. There was a jarring yet successful Americana/folk song as well. The crowd was finally growing into, well a crowd and you could sense the growing excitement they were feeling with this set. It was accessible, yet daring in many spots. This is her first US tour and if she does anywhere near as well in the rest of the cities, she should have a great future here. It was obvious to all as she took the time to say "thank you for being so kind. It's like you were hired... but you're not."

Architecture in Helsinki - I was only in Helsinki for a few hours and I don't remember the architecture. It was a cold, quiet, dreary Sunday morning and the one thing I noticed was people walked with the poles used for cross country skiing, even when on sidewalks and paths. But this band has nothing to do with that as they are from Melbourne, Australia. There are five of them and I am not going to document the instrument switching but keyboards dominate the guitars. Bass and drums are around, too. Lots of vocalists (one female) are used with leads and harmonies varying nicely. This is slick electro-pop. Frankly, it sounds like a lot of other bands that I never listen to in depth. For once, I see a band from Australia that has not heard the Stooges. I regret not following this type of dance/feel good music when I was younger, but it does not serve much of a place for me now. The crowd was somewhat into this, but it was mixed until the rousing closer where even I could detect the excellence. This is a baffling bill as if this band were touring with the two openers and Sophie Hunger was with the headliner. It's also a lot of music, but there is still time for one more band...

Tinariwen - This band certainly looks like it came straight from the deserts of northern Mali. There is a buzz about this band and African music has really given us some exciting touring bands over the years, so there finally is a good crowd. They have one percussionist, bass, backing vocalist, electric guitar, and lead vocals w/acoustic and electric guitar. The sound is familiar if you follow either generation of Toures along with other music of that region. It is well done and sounds great in the club. The only problem I am feeling is that they lack the guitar excitement of the Toures, as well as the intense songwriting of a Thomas Mapfumo, or even the vocal prowess of a Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Rather they cozily fit in between it all. I should listen more as I am trying to figure out if I'm worn out by all the pop dance music I've heard tonight, or they simply don't have that extra gear needed to lift me to higher planes. They did manage some nice grooves with their songs and reminded me of the African version of Canned Heat or other cool easy going psyche acts from the past. A solid band for sure, just one I will have to give a little more thought and listening to.

Quote of the Night: From the 'Yeah, we've heard of it department'...   Sophie Hunger - "We are a band from Switzerland, a small country in Europe."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Gringo Star - State Department -- Black Cat - Nov 13 2011

State Department - It has been a while since I last saw this local four-piece (Seems I have written that more than a few times lately). Without looking at what I wrote, I recall that I liked them, while sensing that it was early in their career and there was room to improve. And as often the case, the improvement seemed to be on schedule tonight. They featured a solid full-time vocalist and the normal power trio behind him. The early songs mixed grinding early garage punk with some funkier songs. It was all gutsy heartfelt rock music at the core with a gorgeous droning roar (or roaring drone) carrying "The Devil is in the Details" to great heights. Perhaps not unlike the Banshees led by Nick Cave? The guitarist and bassist traded instruments and within a few notes my memory came back in full. Oh yeah, this is the part where they switch to a classic post-punk sound merging Gang of Four and Public Image moves and sounds. It is quite good, although it does disconnect things a bit. If I were a major label A&R guy, I may have a problem with this approach. But since I am a variety seeking music fan, I enjoy them bringing me lots of good songs in different styles. This band is welcome on any bill I attend and they had some nice crowd support tonight from the 40-50 attendees.

Gringo Star - From Atlanta comes this four piece with two guitars, bass and drums and the occasional switch to keyboards with all kinds of instrument trading throughout. The keys here are the vocals. A couple of guys trade lead duties and all three up front harmonize well. The sound is nice early pop garage with plenty of gutsy psyche-rock underneath. The first song is striking with its pop harmonies and the look on stage is pure Beatles with Paul and George leaning into the same mic while John sings lead off to the side. The hooks are plentiful and there is plenty of good garage rock underneath to keep things just heavy enough without losing the pop. This approach reminds me a bit of the an old Montana band called the Frantics which have a really cool obscure album out there. Nice lighting from the stage adds to the classic psychedelic feel. The last song also reminded me of the Groupies' "Primitive" (see Nuggets compilation... see and listen to full compilation often). It is really hard to do a poor job at this sort of music. The real question is whether you do it really well and offer a unique take on things. I hear the quality here more than the unique. But in days where vocals are often an after thought, these guys are on the high end of the quality side. Their tour is almost over and hopefully there were a lot of people like me who will now remember a very nice band with a name that is really easy to remember.

From the 'Not exactly my intended audience' department... I frequently look through the search phrases that lead people to my blog and find some interesting and amusing results. I will try to write them down for future reference. However, there was an old show that attracted some very odd searches every now and then. It was a show I reviewed here at the Black Cat that featured, No Age, Holy Fuck, and Trophy Wife. I'll let your imagination be your guide to the keyword searches that lead certain internet explorers to my review.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Medications - Cloud Nothings -- Black Cat - Nov 10 2011

Cloud Nothings - I enjoyed this band some time ago, but it has been a while so I am curious to see what has transpired. Not much, just some ferocious jaw dropping noise that explodes off the walls and assembles itself into shockingly melodic and tuneful songs.They had a strong and fast garage approach in the past that was significantly better than their peers, but it's up even another notch this time around. Kind of like what I (and everyone else) mentioned in reviews of Liturgy, the rollicking drums are what really elevate things here. But with this band, the guitars and bass are up to the task of also providing stunning sounds at varying high speeds. They create such dirty beauty with thick sludgy sounds at high speeds where it is difficult to tell if the core tones or overtones are providing the melody. Imagine Stiff Little Fingers, Sonic Youth, and Social Unrest all in a blender poured over the children of the Count Five as they cover the Dickies (or Comets on Fire at times). Even a broken bass string didn't slow them down much as the remaining three did an older tune that wasn't on the set. And things were back to extraordinary for the next number. Even the more basic garage pop-rock tracks were still excellent and gave a nice variety. Keep an eye on this band, they may be breaking through.

Medications - I have also enjoyed this local trio a few times prior to tonight. And again, the first song amazed me in its assertive power and fascinating off-kilter melody construction. Am I just in a really good mood tonight? No, quite the opposite, so both these bands are reminding me why I head out the door after a bad day. Great live music can really lift you up and Medications are doing exactly what they advertise. I was thinking of heading upstairs for the Sea and the Cake (in one of those infrequent double bookings) or the DC9, but am convinced I made the right choice. Medications performed many creative songs and varied the components quite well while maintaining their personal approach. They sound like they could fit into quirky and creative indie rock, but they just have a way of emitting more jagged progressive moments and twisted moves than even most indie rock bands do. I would say that about half the 55 minute set was filled with excellent songs and the other half were filled with cool jams. Most of the time I can have a band's sound down easily 1/4 or 1/2 way through the set. This one took the distance and multiple listenings would be ever better. They did a great job tonight in front of a good crowd and even did a legit encore from the folks that were not too cool to clap and holler.

No quotes, but my usual plug for my CD reviews in Folkworld magazine. Issue 46 is out with loads of CD reviews (even a few DC acts I slip in) along with some reprints of the folkier shows I have reviewed here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Purity Ring - Doldrums -- Black Cat - Nov 9 2011

Doldrums - I decided to take the road less traveled tonight and hit some electronica acts at the backstage of the Black Cat. First up is a Canadian guy with a sampler/electronics board and a microphone. I enjoy the opening souds which are spacey and filled with chants before some real intensity sets in. More pop moves and even some tropicalia beats and sounds sneak in as it gets a bit more dance oriented. But sonic strength seems to dominate more than dance beats. The vocals are good--real waif like singing with pop hooks but a subtle edge much of the time. Between the vocals and the crunching sounds, this interests me a lot more than DJ styled dance grooves. And there was not much dancing going on but the really large crowd clearly enjoyed this. I cannot pretend to be an expert in this genre, but I knows whats I like and I like this just fine.

Purity Ring - This appears to be a project of Megan James of Gobble Gobble. She is the singer in the picture above and is accompanied by a guy I presume is Corrin Roddick from that same band (again, my knowledge is slight and research limited). He handles all the samples and beats and she focuses on the vocals. And once again it is the vocal quality that creates the originality and interest for me. If anything, the music is pretty basic and does not offer a lot of variety in the sound. Although the variety in the types of songs more than makes up for the sonic steadiness. They go from icy pop to brighter numbers with ease. There are some gutsy songs at the end that change both tempo and mood, while James' Toyah Wilcox type voice stays strong in directing the songs forward. They are at the end of a long tour and still delivered a great half-hour set. The crowd loved it and was only disappointed when they came back and said they could not encore as that is all they had set. Ah, now there is a time where sampling can't replace the live guys. But as long as there is this kind of originality and quality vocal work, I may yet be seeing more of these electronica bands.

Quote of the Night: From the opener... This kind of music is popular in Canada, I swear."

Monday, November 7, 2011

Wu Lyf - Crystal Antlers -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Nov 6 2011

Crystal Antlers - I was torn between this show or seeing Anthrax up in Silver Spring. Since all Metro trains stopped at Fort Totten that night, I did not bother investigating other ways to get there, instead opting for this show with bands I've heard of, but have not heard a note. It took about 5, maybe 10 notes into this when I realized I had lucked into the right choice. Boom! Comets on Fire reborn! My, how I've missed that band. These guys line up with drums, keys, guitar and a bass player that handles the lead vocals. After a nice spacey easing in to the first song, the sonic power exploded into psyche guitar, wild anguished vocals, ripping drums, and synth/keys with real heft. They dropped it down a notch and showed some prog moves not unlike my favorite heavy progsters--King Crimson and Opeth. Pulverising prog and psyche continued with a modern touch. There are even some nice pop hooks buried within and the vocalist can carry a tune and not merely scream intensely. There was also a touch of sonic follow-through from last night's headliner, the Blackberry Belles along with some of my favorite intense European acts like Aphrodite's Child or maybe Mynd Music? Compare it as you like, it all worked extremely well with the large crowd tonight. I only wished it was a bit more than the 31 minutes, but I am happy as I have a new favorite band.

WU LYF Press Photo, NY, Paul McGiver

Wu Lyf - Wikipedia says the band describes their music as "heavy pop". That's a good place to start as I see two things I truly like about this band. They hail from the fertile ground of Manchester, England but don't sound like a clone of any of the great band there, but more of a talented and smart progression. The second thing I like is the really divergent styles at work. The music is dream pop with plenty of bite at times, but the vocals are harsh and edgy (thus giving the heavy to it all). They remind me of the Troggs' Reg Presley singing for Midge Ure's Ultravox! The music does shift around nicely from song to song which is great as the rhythmic pop elements could get a little routine. They do just enough to rise above and with the intense vocals that seem to bring in shoegaze and post punk intensities, they really deliver fascinating music. It is more to their philosophy that reminds me of the shift made by Jason Pearce from Spacemen 3 to Spiritualized. This music was not nearly as immediate as what I enjoyed from the opener, but it really created such an intriguing vibe, that I would like to take it in again some time. It's catchy and only briefly too safe, but I think many listens will bring out some of the genius they seem to have. A nearly full club had a mix of intense fans up front and intrigued people like myself scattered around in the middle and back. Tonight was another reminder to take in new sounds as it is amazing what you can discover.

Quote of the Night: From the opener... "Hey Lighting Man, what happened to the strobe lights? Do you expect us to entertain just with our music?"

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Blackberry Belles - The Dirty Names - The El Rays -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Nov 5 2011

The El Rays - This is the first of what turned out to be an interesting night of local and area bands doing their version of three unique sounds of the 60s garage rock scene. First up are these five players on guitar, bass, drums, saxophone and farfisa. Instrumental surf music is served up with style and skill. Things are kept simple and direct with leads from the sax and guitar. The sax is key to things sounding a little more worldly and beyond the cliche of this sound. They end up with a sound reminding me of the Monomen's instrumental album of many years back. But it is not that heavy and heads toward Dengue Fever's LA garage leanings. I am not sure what the cover to original ratio was, but "Pipeline" is easily recognized by probably about all of the 35-45 present. Three were using sheet music, so maybe things are a little new here, but the band was together and fun. It is really hard not to enjoy this style of music, especially on a Saturday night. But I would be happy to see these guys again any time.

The Dirty Names
- This Annapolis band says they play rock'n'roll. They proceed to give many fine examples of this throughout their 43 minute set. I was a tad worried when the first song sounded like they could have played it opening for REO Speedwagon in 1975. But they would have blown REO off the stage with it, so that worked out ok. They then dug back into the early 60s, later 60s and pretty much took lots of inspiration from classic and garage rock from several eras and just blasted it out in their own manner. Loads of power and skill here, not a whole lot of tricks which is clearly by design. It takes guts to play things straight these days as opposed to trying to add the latest Band of Horses style or whatever else is hip. These guys have not only the skill, but the moxy needed to bring it home. They are off on a tour of the south and if they get crowds like tonight (swelling to nearly 100 by now), they should do very well.

The Blackberry Belles - Regular readers know I have reviewed this band many times and interviewed them once, so I already know I will enjoy tonight as long as something bad does not happen. Pause. No, nothing bad happened, aside from choosing that as my first sentence. For those of you that have not seen this act, it is a three-piece with guitar/vocals, drums, and keyboards that yield organ, piano, and keyboard-bass. The sound is soulful rocking garage from the late 60s and early 70s. The band has a great approach and locked into their music well tonight just as they have many times previously. The vocals were a bit subdued in the mix, but otherwise the sound was strong (as it was all night). They brought up the Dirty Names' bass player to do "Going Home" which was a lot of fun and as rocked out as expected. All in all, a fine hour long set that gave a third variation on 60s garage bands. All genres have their unique subsets and tonight was a fine example for those of us thinking of these things. For the others that wanted to rest their brain and just rock out on a Saturday night, they were happy as well.

Quote of the Night: From the crowd during the opening band... "Kevin Eubanks, eat your heart out."

And apologies for the annoying floating text that I cannot find. Debugging will happen soon.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Scratch Acid - The Kepones -- 9:30 Club - Nov 4 2011

The Kepones - Tonight is the first DC show for this Richmond band in 11 years. I am not sure they have done a whole lot of anything in that time as their web presence was on the meager side. But they hit the ground running tonight with a moderate to quick paced sludge filled rock'n'roar style that is a perfect fit with the headliner. Tough as nails the whole way through, but melodic enough to allow one to stay with them. This reminds me of what Tales of Terror was doing by laying the foundation for grunge, allow this lacks a bit of the swing. I won't recall the songs, but the I will recall the blast as these stylists got the job done tonight. The crowd dug it as well.
Scratch Acid

Scratch Acid -I never got to see these guys back in the day, even though I knew their Rabid Cat label mates, the Offenders, rather well. While the Offenders followed the hardcore path, these guys were doing something quite different along the lines of Flipper, the Butthole Surfers among the notable others. I instantly recalled the second song "Mess" and thought that would be the only would I would recall, although a few more were buried deep in my memory. The band was pretty much nailing their signature sound which is a more rudimentary brutal version of what Yow and Sims later would do with the Jesus Lizard. That band had more angular moves, where this one had more twisted noisy chords. They were loud and powerful tonight, although it was the vocal thrusts where I needed my earplugs to parry away the pain. Yow was stalking the stage well and there were plenty of fans excited to hear this band, many for the first time I imagine. The crowd may have been just under the JL's crowd, but not by a whole lot. And the 65 minute set was a blast. Both the guitarist here and in the previous band just let it rip without any fancy pedals/effects board. But I really enjoyed the first of a three-song encore where I named that tune by the second line although I recognized it quickly as something I owned. It was "Damned for All Time" from Jesus Christ Superstar and it was surprisingly effective played mostly straight within the Scratch Acid sound. My final thoughts are of how surprisingly normal this all sounds. They were really quite daring at their time, yet now like so many bands that push the envelope, the sound is part of the foundation for a sprawling complex.

Quote of the Night: I just was about to leave at 9:42pm as a non-related late show was schedule later. The band was thanking the crowd and was wandering off as the house music came up when someone just came in and while putting his ID back in his wallet, looked up and with eyes growing larger stated... "Oh my God, that's fucking bullshit."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Opeth - Katatonia -- Ram's Head Baltimore - Nov 1 2011

Katatonia - It is a reunion of sorts for me tonight. In early 2008, I flew to Stockholm to board the Melloboat and enjoy a two night cruise to Helsinki with lots of great music. I would not have gone, were it not for the reforming of Comus for their first show in 35 years, but it also introduced me to two metal bands, both of whom are finishing a tour together in Baltimore tonight. Sweden's Katatonia impressed me then with stylish vocals set to quality northern metal. Within a few songs tonight, the style seems to have shifted a bit more psychedelic. There are nice dark undercurrents in the music with the vocals still front and center. The guitars seem a bit muddier and more compressed than they would have been designed, but I am in a back corner and I am thinking the sound is not too hot in some portions of this venue. The set is going over well and the crowd is probably pretty sharp for this billing. Since it was the last show of the tour, they ran through crew credits and then had some fun changing things around a bit with a different vocalist singing death metal tunes from 1993 and thereabouts. The set began early tonight and gave them 56 minutes to show their present direction as well as some old classics. They are clearly in that ever expanding camp of metal bands that have feet firmly planted in other related genres.

Opeth - Speaking of related genres... Opeth have long been one of the finest compositional bands in the metal field and have used folk elements and progressive moves for many years. I was curious to see how the crowd would react to the brand new material which is as progressive as it gets with arguably no metal in any of the songs. They begin with the newer material which goes over well from what I can hear. The fascinating thing was that when they dug out lots of cuts from older albums, they chose the most progressive or folk oriented cuts. The demon voice did not appear in the nearly two hour set (I did not stay for encores, so perhaps Mikael summoned up the beast). There was some back and forth with the crowd, with Mikael Akefeldt coming up with the better punchlines or just telling them to shut up. But the humor was good and I did not sense that too many people were disappointed. The acoustic guitars made a long appearance, but the crowd stayed with it the whole way. And ultimately the set was quite rewarding. I think I enjoyed the sharper contrasts I saw in the last tour a bit more, but I think what I really enjoyed more was the stronger sound at the 9:30 Club, as the sound was again too compressed from where I was standing. Late in the set, the crowd clapped along with a conga bit without any encouragement from the stage. That felt good, as the crowd indeed proved itself sharp and willing to follow this extremely and versatile band in whatever direction they wish to go. There is so much skill here, that I would not dream of jumping ship. If anything, I will settle in for an even longer voyage.

Quote of the Day: I paraphrase Opeth's Mikael Akerfeldt as he spoke about eye contact he does from the stage and how as a fan he always felt he was being looked at by the band...  "I was in a club watching Dee Snider with his SMFs band and there were only a few people there, but they were all about five meters in front of me as I stood in the back leaning against the wall. Dee Snider then looks at me and says 'You motherfucker, why aren't you having a good time like the rest of them.'"

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dead Meadow - Blackbells -- DC9 - Oct 31 2011

Blackbells - This 2-guitar four-piece comes from Brooklyn. I haven't written variations of that sentence at least a hundred times, eh? The sound is strong and the vocals are good and earnest. They seem to balance indie rock and mainstream rock evenly. The opener seemed pretty basic, but the second cut showed some skilled songwriting with interesting counterpoints and sneaky lead runs early in the song. Competent in the extreme, but sometimes a bit lost in the basics. Just when I begin to drift, they nail a nice original song to bring me back into their sonic world. The vocalist went back to join in on drums for one cut with the lead guitarist blasting away. These kinds of moves and the skillful songwriting elevated these guys beyond the mundane. There is a mainstream appeal that could either explode these guys into a strong fanbase, so it will be interesting to see if they can continue to improve their set. Creativity, hard work, exposure--all the usual stars will need to align. But for now, nice job.

Dead Meadow - This former local band, LA based for some time now, is finishing a tour with Black Angels that paired off two of the lesser known, but extremely exciting accessible psychedelic rock bands. It was only Dead Meadow tonight and again they still play to about 10% of the audience they deserve. But that 10% is a sharp crew that knows and appreciates how good this band is and their enthusiasm made for a fun night. The sinewy bass lines are there, as are the fuzzy guitars, appealing vocals, and some of the more powerful moderate tempos you will groove to. Their original drummer is back in and has not missed a beat. I found myself making an odd comparison to the Stooges 1st album--second side in particular. It is not exact, but there is a shared rudimentary beat that has some quiet intricate touches. The basslines have some similar moves, although there is more touch here. Add some wah-wah and you have quieter updates of "Ann" or "Little Doll". Anyway, that is my new take on this brilliant act for this evening. My only criticism is the lack of a new album. No doubt they will be roaring through again sometime soon with lots of new songs to devour. Hopefully Jason Simon's grandmother enjoyed the show as much as I did.

Quote of the Night: My own quote on the walk over... "What the hell is going on tonight?" Duh, it's Halloween--my memory grows shorter and shorter. It was nice to walk among the kids, as I have only had to open my door two times to trick or treaters in 30 years due to some remote or secure homes.