Saturday, December 31, 2011

Beach Week (formerly Bake Sale) - Blackberry Belles - Teen Mom -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Dec 30 2011

Teen Mom - I liked this local trio the last time I saw them this past August and little changed tonight. They have smooth vocals atop a strong rock foundation. The guitar sound is instantly balanced between Neil Young and shoegaze, although as the set wears on, it takes a steadier indie rock tone, but on the heavy side. The sound is rather timeless bringing in the past, but sounding fresh and non-trendy. The rock instrumentation contrasts comfortably with the vocals and the resultant melodic music is easy to enjoy. It's akin to putting the right amount of cayenne in the dish without offending those that don't like the heat. I think a few tempo shifts or songwriting variances would bring this 34 minute set up a bit, but I enjoyed what I heard tonight, as did the moderate crowd (even discounting the obvious 'ringers').

Blackberry Belles - What is it now, five or six times? I am not sure how often I have seen them and I will only offer a brief commentary on what this band sounds like, as you should be out here finding out for yourselves by now if you have not already. It's a trio, but a unique one. The drummer is excellent, the guitar/vocals rock and wail quite powerfully and the third element is keyboards which offer bass runs, some piano and swirling organ sounds that give this band their distinct edge. Their garage rock sound has a bit more soul in it than most bands attempt. This works in concept and execution as their music has plenty of dynamic shifts to retain interest over 45 minutes. The crowd of about 60-70 was a bit more subdued than I expected, but I carefully observed them lightly dancing, head bobbing, tapping toes and listening attentively. And I certainly don't mind quiet when I see such a great audience getting into the music, so this was yet another successful set for the Belles.
Beach Week - This local trio was known as Bake Sale, but wisely chose something a little less generic. I only wished they had not used Beach in their name as that is popping up way to often. If I was starting a joke band, I would call it Wolf Beach for the benefit of those that would get my joke (although I see this name is already being used in business-sheesh, I can see why bands struggle with this). Anyway, there is almost nothing to change from what I saw last time at the Red Palace. The music is a little too light for me, but that is by design. And there is a comfort that they establish over the course of a set that I have a good deal of respect for. I also like the subtle psyche-pop sound of the guitar. I am not sure this band will knock your socks off, but you may be surprised at how much you are pulled in. They are on my 'keep an eye on' list.

Quote of the Night - While sitting on the raised concrete portion near the bar just after the Blackberry Belles set (I stood during all sets), a fellow tapped me on the shoulder...
"So you're sitting in the corner?"
"Is that what you do, just sit in the corner?"
"Well, sometimes I stand."
"I mean it's the corner, you just sit and listen?"
"Yeah, I have a bad back."
"Did you like the band?"
"I've seen them six times now, so I would say that I do."

Friday, December 30, 2011

(Stop Worrying and) Love the Bomb - The Electricutions - HIghway Cross -- Black Cat - Dec 29 2011

Highway Cross - My travels are over and I am itching to get back to the live shows, so it is high time to take in some music at one of my favorite locales. After a false start with a faulty ride cymbal, this two-guitar quartet lets it rip. The hardcore punk sound quickly establishes that is far more than cliche with the intriguing undertones established with the guitar work. The rhythm section and guitar tones define fast and furious well enough, but the really cool sounds underneath keep my brain working full-time. I am reminded of a band called NOTA (none of the above) and there are even some Die Kreuzen touches in there. Hopefully they will progress in the manner of Die Kreuzen, as their creativity could be limited if they don't take more audacious steps in future songwriting. They only played 16 minutes, so there I will withhold full judgment. However, they passed all the initial tests I set for bands dabbling in hardcore punk and I enjoyed the sound tonight.

The Electrocutions - Second time around for me seeing this band and I do recall their gutsy approach to power pop punk. Power pop is not terribly accurate as they blast through the songs is an assertive manner. Yet the songs themselves are good enough to work in a slower mode if they wanted to play that way. I am just as happy they don't as fast and aggressive music needs good hooks and these guys supply them. They are kind of like a tough version of the Zeroes and I detect some Kraut or other melodic hardcore bands in the mix as well. Toughness is good if you are looking for football, not so good if you're looking for a meal, so individual tastes may vary. I do appreciate the invariably snappy and addictive sound in this short but complete 22 minute set. There is a lot going on underneath, as there was in the opening set, but there is more flexibility on top generated here.

(Stop Worrying and) Love the Bomb - And to the stage comes yet a third DC based two-guitar quartet that works the hardcore park style. Thankfully, we are three for three tonight in bands that successfully bring some quality to the sound with nice personal touch. The success with this band is the alternating male and female lead vocals from the two guitarists. The tunes are nice and the band gallops along at a brisk pace like power pop run amok. I was less pleased with the casual lazy song endings that kept the crowd kind of flat and unmoved. But that is nothing rehearsals and more gigs cannot cure. Hopefully this band will continue to hone their craft as they have enough to work with here.

Quote of the week: My holiday travels took me to Ohio and my visit to my Mom at her retirement home. When we went to the Catholic Christmas service on site, we encountered the following between a man in a wheelchair bumping into his wife on a walker while entering the church...
"Shit, why did you stop"
"I needed to see where to go"
"Well keep moving, damn it."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011



I have long been an avid reader. For about 12 years, I have set a goal to read 50 books per year which means I have to keep up a prolific pace. So for those of you who spot me in clubs reading a book, I am just trying to take advantage of every opportunity to get in my reading time. But  be careful, it may not be me as I have seen several other people reading in clubs and who knows what some folks are reading on phones and hand held devices. I have a lot of favorite genres... film, hard boiled mystery, police procedural, fiction, and philosophy come immediately to mind. But of course I read many books on music and have a few favorites that I have enjoyed and learned from over the years. So if you are looking to use that Amazon gift certificate or if you spot one of these in a real live bookstore, I can heartily recommend these fascinating books.

1. Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad.
This wonderful book tells the tales of thirteen indie bands and their quest for carving out some space in the big bad music world. These are all American post-punk bands in the sense that they all came about due to what the Ramones and Sex Pistols and others created. The subtitle explains it all as these are "scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991". That covers the era from Black Flag to Mudhoney or Minor Threat to Fugazi to put a local spin on things. I knew only some of the stories and the writing was quite gripping as it fanned the flames of my excitement and had me cringing with sadness as at all the missed opportunities for many of these bands.

2. Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs.
Greil Marcus edited this collection of the writings of the late great rock critic, Lester Bangs. I firmly believe that older rock criticism looks pompous and somewhat ridiculous as rock music moves forward. However, Lester Bangs is the one writer whose work will stand the test of time every bit as long as the music itself. Not only did have a crazy energy and a flair for language, he had a sense of immediacy and rush to judgment that I find quite endearing (and empathize with). He would often say how he didn't like a record on first listen but found it a classic by the fifth spin. He would allow himself to buy the hype and go with the flow and see where that took him. It was a fun journey where he was able to capture the progression with insight and plenty of humor. I would skip his fiction, however, as it is not any where nearly as interesting as his reviews. There is a second collection of the rest of his writings that is also worth a look.

3. White Bicycles by Joe Boyd
I thought I knew enough about Joe Boyd. He was an essential figure in the folk, folk-rock, and psyche-folk scene of the late sixties in the UK. But he started much earlier than that with classic blues artists to a position at Newport when Dylan went electric to Nick Drake to REM and so much more. He packs in more stories per page than a good Cliffs Notes writer could do. And that is my main problem with this book... it is only 270 pages showcasing a life that deserves at least a thousand. Joe Boyd is one of the good guys that understands the business but works hard to ensure that the artist and customers are both happy with recordings or live shows. And his absolute favorite time he had was recording the Incredible Sting Band's second album, "The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion", where even the title sounds like fun (and it is a good album as well).

4. Grit, Noise, and Revolution by David A. Carson
This one is subtitled "The Birth of Detroit Rock'n'Roll". So basically if you like heavy, gutsy rock music and did or do like punk music, you really should have a full understanding of the real birthplace of punk. That would be Detroit in the late 60s and early 70s. There are a number of threads connecting punk bands, but the most consistent and important threads are those that point to Detroit where the Stooges and the MC5 made some mind blowing music that still dazzles today. This book covers the scene extremely well and goes well beyond these two bands. And the John Sinclair story as well as lesser known items are things that every music lover should dig into.

5. Hammer of the Gods by Stephen Davis
This is an older book covering Led Zeppelin and focusing on the depraved side of big rock band tours. Although virtually any book about Motley Crue or Guns'n'Roses will do the same thing (and Duff McKagan's book does quite a bit more), this book may have done it first and does it best. You can read a lot of autobiographies and biographies that follow the same pattern of success, debauchery and redemption and it all gets a little tiring (so stick to your favorite acts), but this one hits all the right notes.

6. Eye Mind by Paul Drummond

The story of the 13th Floor Elevators is so good, that you don't have to listen to one note of their music to enjoy the tale. This is also true of the documentary film "You're Gonna Miss Me" which focuses on singer Roky Erickson. This band lifted psychedelic music to unheard levels and still sounds shockingly fresh and vibrant today. But the story of the sixties and what they went through in Texas is amazing. This kind of thing just does not happen anymore which is a very good thing from a human point of view, but there is something about the art that fights its way through this mess that makes for some of the most compelling music around.

7. No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs by John Lydon

This is the story of Johnny Rotten and John Lydon the youth and John Lydon the elder. Of course there is plenty of that acerbic wit and acerbic commentary that one expects with Mr. Lydon. The stories are good from his good taste in music as a teen (Can, Van der Graaf Generator, Hawkwind) to the Sex Pitols and Public Image and beyond. Sadly Malcolm McLaren did not live to write his rebuttal to the harsh criticism of Mr. Lydon, but perhaps he really did not have a position to defend.

8. Please Kill Me - the Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain.

While the snippets of interviews edited together to tell a story is not my favorite style of writing, the technique works brilliantly here. I have read of complaints of the facts, but this is simply a collection of memories of many of the pivotal players surrounding the CBGBs scene of the seventies. McNeil was one of the founders of Punk magazine so he knows where the bodies are buried and which walking dead are worth interviewing. Entertaining and insightful, the New York scene gets a little overblown at times, but this is a must read.

9. England's Dreaming by Jon Savage.
If you prefer the British birth of punk history over the NYC history, look no further than this important book. Savage covers a fair amount of ground in full detail. His observations are sharp and his stories are gripping. He brings a better focus into the birth of punk as a result of a reaction to the woeful state of pop music and charted hits of the mid 70s and NOT the excesses of the progressive scene. I have read a lot of books on punk rock and if you only want to read one, start and finish right here.

10. Tropical Truth by Caetano Veloso.

'A Story of Music & Revolution in Brazil' is the subtitle of this fine work. Veloso wrote this in his native Portugese and of course I read the English translation. I am not sure I have read a sharper translation anywhere. This reads like the work of a great scholar and not 'the Brazilian Bob Dylan'. Although his musical career is covered, the political and social times of the country and the Tropicalia movement is the main topic here. Veloso and Gilberto Gil spent time in jail and exile due to their music and cultural importance in Brazil. It is a fabulous story and again, this may be the most literate book in my entire music collection.

And if I had more room I would add the Keith Richards autobiography, the Iggy Pop biography (Trynka), the Rick Brown autobiography of the Misunderstood (Like Misunderstood), Electric Eden by Rob Young (I think, as it's on my to read list), and others.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Woods - Purling Hiss - Mmoss - Hume -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Dec17 2011

Hume - I arrived while they were playing their first song and unfortunately not enough people were here early to see this excellent local band. They lined up with two kit drummers, a guitarist and bassist/vocalist. The guitarist spent about 1/4 of the time on his knees... and that would be 'playing' his pedals and switchboxes. They even switched microphone cords as they were treating the vocals from the stage. And even without describing the output, that probably gives you an idea of what they sound like, although each time I see them, there does appear to be some changes (at least in my memory). I would say anyone who likes Caribou and electronic-pop stylists like that would have enjoyed tonight's set. These guys are slick and compelling. The percussion really sharpened things up nicely and the two noisemakers were incredibly loud tonight. In fact, I thought the volume was causing the ceiling to peel away as flakes were slowing coming down during the set (Turns out there must have been some lingering confetti or something as this slowly and steadily went on all night). The only downer (aside from forgetting my earplugs) was that only about 15 people were here earlier enough to enjoy this. But I am sure there will be additional chances soon enough.

Mmoss - This four-piece from New England lines up with guitar, bass, drums, and flute/farfisa. I like that combination straight away and pretty much enjoy every note of this set. The guitarist sings lead and although this is some intriguing dreamy blend of assertive psyche moves, most of the songs are short and well defined. I am hearing elements of Might Baby, Pink Floyd, Ant Trip Ceremony, and even some Igra Staklenih Perli (my favorite band from Yugoslavia). Just as I note the shorter songs, they go into a longer jam. However, it could not have been too long, as they finished off their set in 22 minutes with a sarcastic comment from their guitarist to a Guitar center? Great sounds and pretty good songs, but I will need to hear a bit more. But I heard enough to want to see this band again some time.

Purling Hiss - I have seen this Phillie three-piece once before at the Black Cat, I believe, and I enjoyed the set quite a bit. They are a power trio specializing in rather powerful rock with a touch of pop. It's post punk in the manner of some of the pre-grunge bands like Tales of Terror, Green River, etc., although this is not as twisted-psyche and is more classic riffage. They differ a bit from local band 'the Jones' perhaps with this post punk meets classic blues-rock style. The vocals were a tad low tonight and it took a few songs before they hit their stride, but their half-hour went well.
Photo of WOODS
Woods - What is a four-band bill without at least one band from Brooklyn? In this case, it would have been quite nice, but incomplete. I really wanted to see this band and they exceeded my expectations and then some. There were maybe 100 people here by now, so this band does have its fans. They switched instruments a bit, but it was guitars, bass, drums, synthesizer and harmonica at times. One guitarist sang lead with a clean high pitched tone which was quite unique. It really pushed the psychedelic sound into a psyche-pop style. These were lovely little nuggets with loads of catchy hooks in addition to the vocals. The third song took a darker turn with a long jam of an introduction, but the vocals brought some light. They jammed a bit more, not quite as darkly, and this formula continued with assertive, intriguing Dead Meadow (and even mid-era Pink Floyd) like jams and more pop oriented songs when the singing kicked in. This was lovely music and just what I needed before my holiday travels. I am a full-fledged fan of this band now and I hope their recorded music is as good as this set. I am guessing, unlike some psyche bands, this translates well as these songs did penetrate pretty deeply.

Quote of the Night: From Purling Hiss after a set up of over a half-hour due to cord/amp problems... "I'm a little slow tonight. Sorry, but I had some things mess up. I'll try to make it up to you." Thanks, and after finishing Duff McKagan's quite decent autobiography where he discussed Axl Rose routinely being 1-2 hours late creating thousands of booing fans, I am not even slightly bothered by this.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


How I find new music.

There is an axiom present among collectors. That is, when you start adding to collection, you initially feel like as you accumulate your collectible, you are making reducing the amount of items in the universe. But the reality is that as you start collecting, your universe expands significantly so that you feel the endline to your collection getting further and further away.

This has happened to me often, especially as I was collecting psychedelic folk records for the past 20 years. This also applies to trying to keep up with music, both new and old and try to figure out who you want to go see live and whose record you may want to buy. There are many ways to develop your game plan for this and at a reader's request (long ago) I will write up the things I do and have done over the years to try to keep a decent knowledge base for all things musical. There will be other good ways of doing it, but I want to list out my methodology both to give anyone tips if they want them and to show how certain biases may occur.

First, one point to keep in mind. There is no way you can be expert at everything, a fact that does not take long to prove if you read enough of my reviews. I have long ago realized that I cannot keep track of everything going on in all genres of music. Even my favorite styles are impossible to have a complete handle on. I just try to relax and do the best I can. Sometimes that flies out the window when I wonder how I could have been so stupid to have missed the first 15 years of Richard Buckner's 17 year career. Ultimately I laugh at that and just look at how much music I have kept up with and stay happy with that AND enjoy a new belated discovery.

Before I list the various areas I explore for new music, let me discuss two out-dated concepts that I miss.

Twisted Shout, Denver, CO

(A) Hanging out in Record Stores - I met so many friends who were behind the counter or were just hanging out shooting the breeze at the multiple record stores in Dayton, Cincinnati, and Columbus, Ohio. Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity" captures this scene quite humorously. I remember plucking up the courage to buy a used copy of the Stranglers as my first punk rock record worrying that I would be laughed at by the clerks or other customers. Instead, the two guys behind the counter were thrilled at my purchase and said I would love it, etc. Well, I did and I also stayed pretty close with those guys over the years where before I had not said more than a few 'how are yous' to them. There are stores out there where this can be done, but they are few and far between. If you have one, use it. I still try to buy from real stores when I can.

(B) Radio - Beyond Clear Channel, I suppose there are some college radio stations still around. But I don't look for them any more, just sticking to National Public Radio for other programming and some music. I was even a punk/new wave DJ myself in 1979 and 1980, so I am sorry to see what has happened to radio. It had been important to me in the early 1970s as I transitioned from pop radio to album oriented stations. While learning to enjoy the heavy sounds of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin, I was fortunate enough to have DJs that also played Budgie, Montrose, and Rush (back when they were an opening band). Now if they had only played Van der Graaf Generator, Comus, and Pentangle, then I really would miss radio. But I don't wax as much nostalgia for radio like I do for the record store.

There are certainly web alternatives here, but I rarely explore them. If you do, I think LastFM is much better than Pandora. I've tried others, but I just do not find this important for me right now at this stage of my life. I did listen to Jack Rabid's "Rabid in the Kennel" show at times (now closing), as he is an extremely sharp historian and he has bands on to interview where they also showcase the John Peel like cuts made in a studio for exclusive airing on the radio show. I do miss John Peel and was thrilled to listen to some of his shows before he died as he was still driving all over the UK, going to shows, playing 7"s and cassettes that bands handed him right up to his last show (along with a Fall cut seemingly every show). The Steve Van Zandt show, "Little Steven's Underground Garage" is something I should listen more to.

Here is my  methodology for keeping track of the DC live scene, which I will discuss before my more general ways of discovering new and old music.

(1) Club advertisements - I glance at the ads in The City Paper (more thorough than the Post) and carefully review Club websites that I have bookmarked. I then add the most interesting dates to my calendar. Most of them have descriptions and/or links to band pages, so a few clicks and I can sample a band to see if the description of 'modern psychedelic brilliance' really fits. Don't forget to look at the hardcopy advertisements on the table at the Black Cat and if someone hands you a flyer after the show, take it as it just may have a nice event at a location you have not heard of and can't afford to advertise in papers.

(2) Hard copy media - I still read papers. Friday's Washington Post and the City Paper both provide a lot of information on some of the events going on that are worth checking out. I often will see a band that someone briefly writes up as sounding like some of my favorites and if the day is free, then it goes on the calendar.

(3) Publicity agents - This is something that I use more and more as I get more readers. There are several PR agents (and some record labels) who alert me to news of their artists and tours to DC. Not only does this help alert me to interesting bands, but I often get comped for the show. i will try to promote it and occasionally do interviews as well.

(4) Local bands - One of the surprise pleasures of doing this blog is the connection with the local scene. I had not forgotten how rewarding it was for me to be part of the punk rock scene so many years ago. But I thought I had outgrown that and was content just being on the outside of this difficult business. However, the up and coming bands are far more interested in what I do than the big time headliners rolling through. And that has translated to me getting to many of the bright and talented musicians in DC and beyond. I have been able to learn and relearn a lot of things this way. But as far as identifying music, there is one important item I have noted. Some of the local bands are particularly cognizant of working with great area and touring bands. I have tremendous respect for a show with Kohoutek (and the related)Kuschty Rye Ergot) and the Mostly Dead, since just about every time I see them, I am exposed to other fascinating bands on the bill. There are many more examples of this, just pay attention over time and it can become clear.

(5) Opening bands - Always come early and watch the opening bands. It gives you exposure to bands that you will see headlining, perhaps quite soon.

(6) DC blogs - I read three blogs and know a couple of the writers. First, Michael Darpino does not write as much as he used to, but he is still at We Love DC and still has a keen grasp of the excellent music coming through this town. Megan of Fuzzy Logic is doing some booking these days, but that does not stop her from regularly posting live reviews, interviews and record reviews specializing in DC, Richmond, and beyond. I don't know the folks at the 1st Five, but they post a lot of good fresh information on DC music. There are some good national blogs, but I don't hit them regularly enough, although I wish I had the time or discipline.

Next up are my general ways of finding new music. Some are obvious, although personal choices will vary. But there are a couple of really interesting ways that have helped me discover some great music that I would have never heard otherwise.

(I) Magazines - As a youngster, I lived off of Rolling Stone, Cream and Circus magazines. In college, I started a 20-year reading of the Village Voice which had great music and film sections. Now, I read Mojo and Uncut regularly along with Jack Rabid's The Big Takeover. I highly recommend Jack Rabid's long running zine turned major magazine. It only comes out twice a year but is jammed with tons of reviews from thoughtful and enthusiastic fans. The interviews are priceless as they actually showcase a fun conversation among friends as opposed to many of the major magazines featuring cold and dreary back and forth cliches. I look a bit on-line at these and other sites, but I like a good paper magazine kicking around the house. I really don't do Pitchfork or the Brooklyn Vegan as much as I should, but I do check in on specific bands at those and other sites.

(II) Festivals - I have not been to the major festivals such as Coachella or Bonaroo, but I have gone to smaller festivals which were great as they did not have the unwieldly crowds. Unfortunately many of those  such as Terrastock don't have the funds to keep it going. Hmmm... small crowds, great bands from around the world, it appears that business concepts still rule the day. There have been some nice psyche festivals in Austin and there are ATP events which have been pretty exciting in the past, but most seem to occur in England these days. But there are smaller festivals to try to hunt down, so keep your eyes open to all the media sources and you should be able to find them. And if you have the stamina for the bigger festivals, go for it. The side stages will offer some exciting surprises.

(III) Forums - I have been on excellent psyche-folk forums that have faded away but I do keep me eyes on a couple including the coverage of progressive music and one on Dag Nasty which covers punk rock pretty well. My brother just gave me a link to Punknews which is pretty cool. There are some good progressive sites as well, as progressive fans do the detail with frequency.

(IV) Record Collecting Conventions and Newsletters - I was surprised at how much my breadth of knowledge expanded when I started getting lists from sellers. Sure, I expected it in the areas I was collecting, but scanning through a good list with descriptions gave me a lot of knowledge of rare and interesting bands from all over the world and in every genre. My favorite convention is the biannual convention in Utrecht, Netherlands and have had a lot of fun at this massive event. There are some good ones I know of in Austin and New York City if you want to stay on this side of the Atlantic. And my buddie, Hans Pokora, puts out some great collecting books with full album cover photos and basic information for you to start research. There are others (many out of print) that have been great to work off of. This may be another article.

Thurston Moore Musicians and writers Thurston Moore and 
Byron Coley appear at Strand book store on July 30, 2008 in New York 
Thurston Moore & Byron Coley Visit The Strand Book Store

The main thing is to keep having fun with music. One minute, people are chatting with me and I am exposing them to all sorts of new and old bands that they should explore and I can pull on nearly 40 years of work which show me off as a bit of an expert. Then perhaps the next time, my friend and I can go over to visit Byron Coley and Thurston Moore and after the conversation gets going, I will end up feeling like a 12-year old who only follows Top-40 radio. Well, it really was not that bad, but it was intimidating and when we were debating the qualities of the Gwydion album "Songs for the Old Religion", Byron slipped away to bring in a sealed copy of this 1974 rarity. So I guess the last point to be made is to hang out with knowledgeable people and don't be shy. Share what you have and keep an open ear and mind for what they talk about. If you spot me at a club, come up and chat with me between bands. I love to talk music (and it is easier than writing about it).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Deathfix - Sunwolf -- Black Cat - Dec 14 2011

Sunwolf - The world does not have enough bands with the word wolf in them and we have a local version this time. And there name is more distinctive than the confusing Eyes, Mother, and Parade variants of years past. This is a power trio and they do deliver considerable power. It's noisy rock with lots of volume and enthusiastic playing. The second song started with a riff like Husker Du's "Girl Who Lived on Heaven Hill" before settling into a more dirge-like sludge slinger ala Crazy Horse. They reminded me of Honor Role, an old and interesting band from Richmond, in the way they kept a lot of noise going between songs and had a nice intensity to it. There was a bit more art in Honor Role and more power here. There was a distinct garage feel as the set wore on and the enjoyability factor kept moving up and up. The 35 minute set moved me from thinking this a good, but nothing fancy band to a fun powerhouse that I want to see again. Noisy rock lovers should join me.

Deathfix - Some big names in the DC scene are behind, or rather, out front for this new band. Brendan Canty, Fugazi's drummer comes downstage with guitar and vocals this time around. Rich Morel, who works a lot with Bob Mould, is on hand with keyboards and vocals in tow. Filling in on bass and drums were Mark Cisneros and Devin Ocampo of the very fine band Medications. So, a nice little crowd came out to the backroom tonight, which is no surprise. After a couple of songs, I was trying to figure out how I was going to say that these so-so pop-rock numbers were nice but did not do a lot. The third cut then went into a Sebadoh meets Magazine styled long jam that really brought them up several notches. Morel's deeper Devoto styled vocals added a nice mystique. After that, they won me over easily with a strong set of long cuts that had great psychedelic moments along with lots of great post punk hooks like a certain band mentioned earlier. They have plenty of material that worked in this 45 minute set and have a style that although similar to plenty of other bands, has enough interesting keyboard sounds and propulsive rhythms to sound quite refreshing. They looked like they were having fun (Canty especially) so I hope they stick around and grow this thing a bit.

Quote of the Night: I completely thought I misheard the opening band say... "You guys are far away. Danny said it's like an aardvark. Is that why?" But then the aardvark vs. anteater discussion came up later, so I am now intrigued at what I really missed. And apparently I will have to space out my mind a bit more if I plan to come up with a good non sequitur.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

WeatherVanes - Wiley Sonic -- Hard Rock Cafe - Dec 13 2011

Wiley Sonic - This is the first time for me seeing this band and the first time I have taken in a show here at the Hard Rock Cafe. This is only a few blocks from where I live, so it is hard to pass up a show. The band is pretty straight ahead rock and features a couple of guitars with a rhythm section. All the three of the guys up front take a turn at lead vocals. Actually the infrequent vocals from the bass player resonate highest with me, but I have to say, the PA here does not offer me a fair assessment of this band. The vocals were not coming through well at all. The guitars were a bit compressed, but at least everything else was balanced nicely. The extremely high room does offer a challenge, but I think just slightly better equipment would have helped a lot. Otherwise, it was akin to a comfortable Birchmere Jr. type setting with dinner and seating and lots of music lovers. This was also a charitable event with multiple charities involved and the bands tonight earned their spots with their work, so kudos to them. I will be checking out Wiley Sonic's brand of straight-ahead rock some time next year hopefully. But for now, their mixed set showed just enough bright songwriting particularly in the latter songs. And although the guitars of Prince, Izzy Stradlin, Motley Crue, and Aerosmith hovered above them, I would say that even their worst song tonight was better than the best song of one of these artists.
The WeaterVanes - I just saw them recently and really enjoyed their set as you can read here. This local four-piece has an Americana rock approach with folk, blues, and alt-country touches. Their sound and lead vocals were better early on as they were a bit more acoustic for one thing, although they vary electric/acoustic and keyboards/mandolin nicely. Still, when the bass player chatted with the crowd, I couldn't hear a word. But their skill came through all right tonight. I will defer to a future show to discuss them further and that will be upcoming in January. Look for them then and beyond and further kudos for doing this charity show. I can certainly put up with lesser sound to attend events like this. I had a really nice time and hopefully more things like this will be happening in my neighborhood and beyond.

T-shirt of the Night: (actually from the previous night)... I spotted a guy whose t-shirt had a fascinating design. It was the Black Flag "Everything Went Black" cover with the shears. This was the album that came out during the long momentum killing time when Black Flag and the Unicorn label were involved in litigation following the first album. They put out this album with no mention of Black Flag, but the four bars logo. The t-shirt tonight had Black Flag's name on it. Although, the suit is long settled (and why Black Flag ever dealt with Unicorn is still a mystery to me), it really startled me to see this updated cover. It is amazing how some things stay with you and such minor things trigger such long winded memories.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Street Dogs - Off with their Heads - Murder the Stout -- Black Cat - Dec 12 2011

Murder the Stout - 'If you like the Pogues...' is an easy description for many bands out there and it sums up the sounds of this Houston based international band quite easily. They line up with drums, stand-up bass, a couple of guitars, banjo, whistle, and accordion/lead vocals. The singer is from Scotland, so there is plenty of authenticity in the music, but the execution is what is more important. These guys deliver the goods. The sound was a bit murky up front, but moving back a bit and allowing the soundman to tweak things quickly had all the elements coming through nicely. I enjoyed the set although it was a bit too unvaried at times (the Pogues do lots of tempo and international twists for example). But with a band under this moniker, it is no surprise to hear the closing songs of "Nancy Whiskey" and "Streams of Whiskey" carrying the night forward.

Off with their Heads - This trio simply kicks out the jams in classic bar-room punk rock fashion. Instantly, I sense that these two bands represent the two poles of tonight's headliner where the Street Dogs take these ingredients and amp it up a notch or two. The guitarist handles the lead vocals and scares me with his style in that it is similar to my old friend and cohort Ed Pittman of Toxic Reasons. Everything from vocals to axes is nice and throaty with fast drums galloping along. They keep the breaks and silence between songs minimal if employed at all which is the sign of a solid, competent band. Again, the only gripe would be the one-note tempo and song structure (aside from one song) which can be a challenge for a 40-minute set. Still, it was fun and the growing crowd was into it well enough.

Street Dogs - It's taken me to the seventh time that these guys have toured the Holiday season to realize this is a regular thing. I have seen them a couple times before and it is hard not to like their urban Irish bar-room brand of punk rock. They are lead by everyone's favorite fireman, Michael McColgan, on lead vocals (formerly with the Dropkick Murphys). He has as powerful voice as he does presence and is simply a lot of fun with plenty of heart for social causes as well. They have fast and wild material that they constantly nail as these guys can play. They do vary up their songs, add some acoustic guitars, get plenty of guest musicians from the opening band and in the area to help as well. There's a "Dirty Old Town" cover along with a Joe Strummerized version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song". They were thrilled with the turnout and energy for a Monday night and it was a good crowd about half full (back section closed but packed up front). Although I feel I have seen these guys enough, their timing always seems to work to where I can use that extra shot of energy before the holidays. So I will likely be back and if you haven't experienced them, it should be something done once at a minimum.

Quote of the Night: The bassist had to switch basses after a mostly acoustic slow number and related what his guitar tech told him... "How the fuck did you break a bass string on that song!?"

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Vanilla Fudge -- Birchmere - Dec 9 2011

Vanilla Fudge - And yet another band of my youth hits the Birchmere stage to finish out an east coast/midwest tour. The last time I saw this band was when they played with Canned Heat, Mountain, and Pat Travers (who worked with Appice/Bogert to cover Beck songs, Cactus songs and all kinds of oddities) at the 9:30 Club. That show was half the cost of this one and only had about 1/4 of the people. But that is why booking club shows is best left to those with the guts (and deep pockets) to do so. I was worried with a slow early turnout, but ultimately it was a good sized crowd who cautiously welcomed back 3/4 of the original Vanilla Fudge.  Interestingly enough last time through it was Carmine Appice and Mark Stein with Tim Bogert. This time, Tim Bogert made way for a new touring bassist, while Vince Martell is back on guitar. I was most interested to see if he still had his chops and was pleasantly surprised. I was less surprised with the others as they have all aged well and the playing was sharp and most important heavy. It has been 45 years for this band and they celebrated by playing the first album in its entirety... well, save for a certain memorable hit that was saved for the closer. They also delved into latter work which still included mostly covers. Probably the lack of memorable original songs is the one thing that keeps this band from being mentioned with some of the other giants. But their interpretative ability is strong and they really added such heaviness to rock music in the late sixties while keeping soulful vocal stylings and interesting organ-guitar interplay. Kind of like seeing Carl Palmer in any band (like Asia where I don't know if I was more shocked that I actually went or that I actually mostly enjoyed it), Carmen Appice is worth a look anytime he shows up. He did his usual well received drum solo with lots of flash and power. He is a real showman as well as he came up with just sticks and a microphone and had the crowd clapping to his stick rhythms as they increasingly became more difficult. I also liked his lighted drumsticks used earlier. He was one of our favorite drummers among my high school circle of friends and it is great to see him in such great shape. Mark Stein on the organ and vocals is also looking way to young like his curly haired Zombies counterpart Rod Argent (although he isn't spending time with Argent in the gym). Vocal work from all four of them was very strong, which is often where the signs of aging show up first. These guys sound like they have many years left. And the played about an hour and fifty minutes without taking a break which was impressive. I expected a good show and ended up with a very good show tonight. The crowd increasingly upped the applause which showed further evidence that these guys were 'on' tonight.

Quote of the Night: Mark Stein after struggling with his vocal mic... "We'll do a lot from our fist album which recently went platinum... which means we afford a new mic stand."

Friday, December 9, 2011

Beady Eye - Black Box Revelation -- 9:30 Club - Dec 8 2011

Black Box Revelation - I cringe a little bit as a duo comes out on guitar and drums. I don't know why, as I have long given up my reluctance to accepting these down-sized bands. Some work a lot better than others, so I allow myself a bit of skepticism. But this Brussels-based duo succeeds pretty quickly with me by playing sharp garage blues rock somewhere in the obvious neighborhoods of the White Stripes and the Black Keys. The guitar work was excellent and the sound was dense, fuzzy and reminded me of a simpler Mudhoney at times. The drums were pretty basic, but he had that extra pop that kept things moving forward. And the last spacey psyche-out rocker showed plenty of pace and excitement making this a very enjoyable set.

Steve Gullick

Beady Eye - Aside from hearing some middling mainstream rock songs, the only thing I recall about the band Oasis was those wacky feuding Gallagher brothers. But when I imagine myself of my four best friends working with our brothers, then what is to make fun of? Well, we probably would not have made it quite so public. But hey, Oasis is done, the brothers have their respective musical projections and this one seemed just a little bit interesting to me. Liam Gallagher is the voice and this line-up has many of the most recent Oasis players aboard within its 2-guitar, rhythm section and keyboards player combination. The lighting is stark white for the first song with film studio type lighting on stage. Later, colors are carefully used for each song with various rear projections of slides and film. It was a slick look for slick music. Despite one of my friend's specific assertions of my knowledge of British rock, I really don't know Oasis well enough to compare. I never really enjoyed a lot of that era's music, but I did get some of the same vibes here tonight as I have had from Echo and the Bunnymen and the Smiths. These are sharp pop rock songs with plenty of guts and traces of psychedelic moves. The pace is varied nicely and it is all easy to get into without feeling too cliched. Even the less moving tunes were well done and there were only a couple of those. Most rocked nicely with strong vocal work and slick sound. It was a bit short of a sell-out, but close enough for everyone to be happy. I am not sure this band has quite the moxy to drive people into a frenzy, but they really delivered a positive set that most people went home happy with their time invested.

Plug of the Night: Forgot to post this and it features bands I have seen before and recommend. And although I may not be able to make it, The Jet Age, Deathfix, and the Mean Ideas are playing Comet Ping Pong, tonight, Dec. 9th. Check it out if you want to see some excellent local music.g

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Earth Alien Hybrid - Satori Trova - Hott Tubb -- Velvet Lounge - Dec 6 2011

Hott Tubb - A rock band sandwich on electronica wry tonight. This Philadelphia duo starts things off surrounded by a mass of old analog amps and whatnot. One guy is on keyboards and the others plays guitar and handles some electronics. They both add vocals to the mix. It is plenty loud and rhythmic with reverb drenched vocals. Normally reverb covers a multitude of vocal sins, but in this case, the vocals did shine through well enough on their own to be considered an asset to the songs. I was getting a bit worn out from the din as often happens during these sets, but they won me over with their final two songs. The vocals were soulful and there was a touch of R&B in the guitar. Good songs, so there is hope for me yet finding more in this genre. They went over well enough with yet another nice weekday crowd at the Velvet Lounge.

Satori Trova - This is the second time seeing this up and coming local band. They bring an interesting array of sounds with the usual core rock trio of instruments along with keyboards, saxophone and a sole lead vocalist. It struck me how much more they commanded their sound tonight. The rhythm section lays down a clean beat with the guitar and keyboards creating some sonic treatments that is more psychedelic than shoegaze, but with plenty of rock and rhythmic chops to it as well. There is a lot to dig into here and the vocal work gives the songs a good sense of separation from each other. The crowd is having a great time and it has swelled to at least 40 by now. That is more than came to see Grant Hart and Nick Oliveri combined from shows about a year ago. Of course Nick Oliveri would be happy playing here for a couple years as opposed to where his next gig may be. The band's stage patter needs some work, but if that's the most negative thing I take away tonight, then this band did well. And they survived some mic problems and other sound issues like pros. They are spending a bit more time in the studio than on stage these days and it will be great to see what they come up with. Based on the old and new songs I enjoyed tonight, this is a band to keep your eye on in 2012.
My Photos by
Earth Alien Hybrid - We finish with another electronica duo, this time from somewhere in the DC area. They win the award for best web site I have visited with nice animation and just enough information. One tidbit that I learned and liked is that they loop everything they play and do not use samples. That made sense as some of the keyboard bits started simply and got a bit more dense as the set went on. The second member played electronic drums, which I find so much more welcoming than drum machines. He also looped some beats and came out to do vocal work out front. The vocals were nice and twisted which also brings them out from the pack. They were in a talk-sing intense style, not unlike those of MX-80 Sound (a band I reference way too much, but I was just talking about them with a friend from Mass an hour before the show). There was room for some more interesting sounds and melodies in the songs, but these guys have the right idea in providing an entertaining set.

Quote of the Night: From the opener referring to the sound check or concepts beyond?
"Don't worry. It will all be over soon."

Monday, December 5, 2011

Touche Amore - Pianos Become Teeth - Seahaven -- Red Palace - Dec 4 2011

Seahaven - Looking forward to a night of punk rock or hardcore or whatever these three bands concoct here at the Red Palace. There is a large crowd here early as crowds with 'x'es on their hands know how to show up and support their bands. But there are a few old fogies joining me to take in this LA four-piece. The first song is surprisingly basic rock without a lot of flourish or character. The second song was much improved with a power-pop/punk combination that elevated things up a bit. Unfortunately, the rest of the set only infrequently achieved that level. Nothing terribly wrong, just basic rock music that needs to work itself out in LA clubs like the Velvet Lounge (or the Red Palace) before it hits the other coast. Hearing lyrics like "I'm just a rat in a maze" did not only hit my cliche switch, but had me wondering when my next night off would be.

Pianos Become Teeth - Trying to avoid becoming too crabby as the club is finally pumping in a little cool air for this excitable crowd, this Baltimore five-piece is ready to rock. And rock they did as my mood brightened considerably. Clearly, right from the outset, these guys were on to a very clever sound. They combined hardcore and shoegaze in a perfect balance of intensity and intrigue. It was akin to the offspring of Mogwai and Gray Matter (well side 2 of record 2 at least). Lots of great shifting melodies and powerful rhythms kept this set flowing really well as the crowd was more amped up than usual. This was highly engaging music and they sucked me right into their controlled maelstrom. A more modern comparison maybe if you combined Tone with the Mostly Dead (of course seeing two of the latter band in the crowd had me thinking of them). No matter, this was an excellent set and showed me what modern hardcore can do when the bands have some creativity.

Touche Amore Group Photo
Touche Amore -  Speaking of creative hardcore, this LA quintet offers yet another example tonight. Not so much shoegaze here, although guitars have a rich sound. But there is more creative songwriting than I would expect to hear from a hardcore band (or indie rock band for that matter). This sounds every bit as strong as the best of the classic harDCore era from here to the west coast, yet there is a modern fresh appeal as well. Crowd surfing, sing alongs, intense but not violent pit... all the usual accoutrements made for a fun time.  I even heard some Neil Young in the quieter moments, few that they were. The front man was excellent although it did get me thinking that all singers tonight were a bit one-note in spite of the creative moves in the song. But that is true for a whole lot of bands in any genre, so it was not a real negative. And with the front man intensity used to work the crowd, it's more of a positive anyway. But enough mental meanderings, this set rocked along and kept my mind active, too. That is on the high end of what I wanted tonight.

Quote of the Night: I didn't come up with anything good today, so I am going to reach back to Junior High School. The year is 1973. We made our way to English class before our teacher who was feeding her nicotine habit in the teacher's lounge. A real hard case student lit a cigarette in the room stinking it up. When Mrs. Reese came in, we all made fun of her bringing the smell into the room. She denied that there was a smell and brought in a male teacher to enforce that point of view (ok, lie). Mr. Blair comes in and tells us all to settle down as there was no smell. Then my buddy Steve kicked in..
Steve: "Oooh, sure that's right."
Mr. Blair: "Shut up! or I'll cut your hair."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pree - Paperhaus - Br'er -- Red Palace - Dec 3 2011

Br'er - From Philadelphia comes this three-piece or thus my notes read. I am not sure how long it was until I saw the guy on the floor twiddling some knobs. He was easier to spot when he stood up and played a bass clarinet or something akin to that. And not much else fit the standard rock band here, either. There was a cello and violin going the full time with the final member handling lead vocals and playing harmonium with a touch of guitar. The music was linear enough with a spacey feel in a non-psychedelic manner. They reminded me a bit of Baby Dee who opened for the Swans when they were last in town. This band would be a great fit with Michael Gira's Angels of Light style or any scene with roots in the Velvet Underground. A nice low key mood was present with lots of intriguing sounds from busy to quiet working their own sense of drama. It was a little rough on the edges (endings) but quite smooth and interesting throughout their half-hour on stage. A solid opener for the growing Saturday night crowd.

Paperhaus - Even with the more standard two guitar and rhythm section look, there is a lot of non-standard music that comes from this local four-piece. They begin with a great spacey trip down a Greg Sage highway which is pretty much a lonely desert road filled with plenty of guitar interplay. After that they hit the city with strong folkish rock with lots of jangle and mandolin style guitar plucking. Most of the set did feature really nice guitar interplay with chords, leads, interesting little runs and lots of creative relish. It had nice garage sensibilities with both the fuzz and tuneful songs. At times it sounded like Sebadoh was covering the Minutemen as the loose and precise seemed to coexist nicely within this talented band. The sound tonight was a big improvement from the last time I saw them as everything was balanced perfectly and all four players sounded great together. They all even had some lead vocal time as well which only added to the nice mixture of styles and textures. They finished with another excellent song in the style of the opener, as they jumped back on that mystical highway to head off to the sunset before their next returning show. Sometime soon, I hope (late January if I heard correctly) as this was a lovely, perfectly flowing set.

Pree - It is high time I caught up with this local four-piece. They play a modern free folk/rock based sound that I try to stay current on. What is nice about their sound is that they have moved well beyond the cliches of this genre (which developed far too quickly) and play all sorts of original songs with lots different instruments and most importantly, plenty of personality. There are guitars, keys and a rhythm section mostly going on all songs, but flute, glockenspiel, percussion, and the first bowed saw I have seen since my days in Denver. There was a sizable crowd tonight that was very supportive (as they were for all the music tonight) and Pree was quite thankful as they mentioned many times how happy they were to be home after a good 2 1/2 months on the road doing around 50 gigs. There was an annoying buzz popping into the mix that no one was sure where it came from, but the sound person got it under control. The band had a really nice spirit and the rhythm section gave things a lift nicely even as the two guys traded places for a number of songs. So yet more great DC music tonight with the added bonus of a lot of bands in the audience, which means I will be taking in their sets as well when I get the chance. Because if they were sharp enough to be here for these sets, then they probably have something great to offer as well.

Quote of the Night: From the multi-lingual member of Paperhaus when asked to tell a joke in Japanese (instead of Russian or English which was offered) ... "The Japanese have a different sense of humor. 'Thank-you' is ending of a good joke."

Friday, December 2, 2011

Jukebox the Ghost - The Spinto Band - Deleted Scenes -- 9:30 Club - Dec 1 2011

Deleted Scenes - I have enjoyed this local band in the past, but it has been a while since I have taken in a show. After about two minutes, it was apparent this was a big mistake. The opener had a great droning quality with an intriguing mid-tempo beat and unique hooks. After this, I heard a bit more of the gnarly pop music with strong vocals and drumming which is more of what I expected. But they continued down a path where they were able to breathe life into every unique song they presented. This was the sign of a band that has moved up a notch and can score across boundaries, both genre and geographical. Hopefully this tour will help prove that point. So if you have not seen these guys in a while, or not seen them at all, give it a listen. There is a lot of creative workings in their set.

The Spinto Band - I just enjoyed their recent soundtrack album which was not much like their regular set as it turned out. But that is ok, as these guys do pure pop for now or then people. It touches on power pop, but it is lighter focusing on vocal work and interesting guitar moves that were not overly angular. It was more of a Zombies (especially Colin Blunstone) type sound. The hooks were able to pull grins out of me (no easy task this week). The keyboards had a nice effect coloring the songs and adding depth to the light approach. They had a nice kazoo and synth drum intro which I wanted to write about as that will likely be the only time I ever say that (and I repeat myself enough other places). They even had a lounge pop feeling with a few songs that worked well because the songs were so sharp and hooky. Thinking back, I really liked pop music as a kid and I am liking it as I age. It may have slipped a bit in the young adult years, but not really as even with a lot of punk bands, pop moves were key. There are a lot of variants to it, and the Spinto Band offers up their particular successful formula. And the sizable crowd tonight was supportive of that.

Jukebox the Ghost - This local trio is getting awfully big, if that was not obvious just for the fact of this headline show. But the local crowd showed up and was excited to see the set. And rightfully so, because they continued the fun by adding onto both the indie spirit of the opener along with the pop hooks of the second band. They line up with keyboards, guitar, and drums with traded lead vocals and harmonies. Entering, the stage, they all took positions with an instrumental beginning. Something seemed off and the keyboardist walked to the back of his bank and found a loose plug on the floor, picking it up and pointing at it with an milder Archimedes look. Plugged in, they went into a nice pop tune. The second cut was an absolute stunner that reminded me of the best of the Decemberists with all kinds of creative sounds coming from just three people. There were a couple more rocking variations amidst the mostly pop songs which did make for a full involving set. The pop was a bit more in the Herman's Hermits/Lovin' Spoonful more often than the Zombies/Raspberries, but that is not all bad. And those intriguing rockers really made the straighter pop more interesting. I also enjoyed the keyboardist's skill which was a bit higher than most of the people you see on keys these days. Pop music is still a great pleasure of mine and all the bands delivered fine sets this evening.

Quote of the Night: One of my favorite filmmakers just died. Ken Russell was not always brilliant, but his films were always fun and challenging. Here's a nice quote from him:  "This is not the age of manners, I want to shock people into awareness. I don’t believe there’s any virtue in understatement.”

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."