Sunday, January 29, 2012

Protect-U - Imperial China - Buildings - Cigarette -- Black Cat - Jan 28 2012

Cigarette - I was quite mixed the last time I saw this collective. They had a lot of members on stage doing various things that I could not describe as busy. Tonight was similar as there is a lot of space in their music. It is dreamy with a very light touch. It has a Hush Arbors sound done at a Jose Gonzalez type volume. Or perhaps Simon and Garfunkel covering Stone Breath. As much as I am intrigued by the sound, I really thought it was more suited for a smaller room with quieter respectful fans (like the Velvet Lounge or Red Palace). The best review I could write while sitting in the back would be of the crowd noise that was twice as loud as the band (and it was not particularly disrespectful, but within the normal bounds). It is a shame because I think I could be a big fan of the music.

Buildings - No problem with volume in this set, as this local three-piece turned in yet another great set. They have not changed the formula much over the years with their instrumental angular playful version of postpunk. The guitar was busy as ever over the quick drum beats and mobile bass runs. Hey was that actually a vocal? Well, the guitarist audiblized something during one song but if you blinked, you missed it. There was one song that was a bit heavier than usual. They were playing new material off their latest album and did in fact have a few very subtle shifts in their songs which is nice--especially as an instrumental band. Buildings are always a welcome addition to any bill, and a fixture in the Sockets Record showcase.

Imperial China - I always look forward to seeing this trio. They are another key part of the Sockets Records story with another unique vision in the post punk world. The crowd is huge tonight and most of them know the importance of this label and these bands and are not just here for a Saturday night out. I have not seen these guys for a while, but they quickly remind me of all the things I like. The guitarist/singer has a table of electronics, while the bass player actually plays guitar more frequently. And the drummer pounds away nicely of course. The songs are short and more jagged and dark than Buildings. Early in the set, I am enjoying it but wondering what it is I like about this band. By the set's end, I am fully absorbed into their music which reminds me of how talented they are. On the surface, with a quick listen, the music is good. But a slow and steady diet of the music reaches a very satisfying conclusion. It is hard to define the alchemy at work here, but work it does. This is still an essential band for all of us.
Protect-U live @ VIA. Photo by Shawn Brackbill.
Protect-U - We finish with an electronica duo, oddly enough not on Sockets Records. But the two guys have done individual projects there in years past. The rhythms were nice, the bass strong and thankfully they had some nice melodies on top with a good balance going on. Again, I go into my struggle mode at watching guys behind computers and oscillators bobbing their heads up and down as electronica spews forth from the machines. I am not sure if it is worse than the stereotypical heavy metal head bob, but maybe actually I am. The music did head toward a Tangerine Dream feeling for a bit, until I remembered that I missed the guitar sound of TD. The crowd was thinning out quite a bit which may have been due to the hour or maybe there are just a lot more people like me who like the more full band experiences. Still, this was ok maybe even a bit better than that.

Quote of the Night: From Sean of Sockets Records... "It's for DC. It's by DC." Simple enough and when the music is this good and continues to succeed (and survive) year after year, we are all very fortunate to have this label.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lightfoot - Loose Lips - Ugly Purple Sweater - Paperhaus -- Black Cat - Jan 27 2012

Paperhaus - This local four-piece is rapidly becoming one of my favorites in the area. They have the skills to showcase their unique music to much broader audiences. And tonight looks like a good start there as the main stage is open for this local showcase and the masses are here. Fantastic turnout for these bands. Paperhaus begins with their Russian language song that is just as unique musically with its liquid guitar runs. There is such a witty way these guys have with pulling out completely melodic passages out of challenging guitar and bass moves. Songs start off as dreamy psyche with ionic disturbance within the molecular structure or they start with jagged rock with the dreamy psyche sneaking in underneath. Give this band a listen and I think you will be as convinced as I or at least as convinced as the supportive crowd was tonight.

Ugly Purple Sweater - This band lines up with a lead singer on acoustic guitar, electric guitar/vocals, bass, drums, and keyboards/banjo. The club is really packed now and they are treated to a band whose songs are snazzy fun. Not sure why I noted it that particular way, but it may be due to a somewhat old fashioned approach, yet their sound will easily fit in with the laziest indie rock fan. The vocals are quite distinct and dramatic. They have a flourish that is somewhere between the Decembrists and Queen (Queen may always occupy the top of that scale). I even heard some Jacques Brel for a bit, but the guitars were too rocking in that particular song. This was a very nice 34 minute set which was perfect for a Friday night crowd. This band has fine command of their interesting material and they exude both confidence and relaxed fun as they present it.

Loose Lips - I saw this four-piece once in June, 2010. While I began with interest in seeing where they were these days, we all quickly learned that this was their last show. Frankly, there is not much point in going into a lot of depth on the sound for bands finishing up their run. But they had nice catchy tunes, although it was hard to read the mostly relaxed mood on stage by some of the players. The crowd gave them a proper sendoff. Good luck on future endeavors, guys.
Lightfoot - Unfortunately I am a little gassed at this point. Gassed as in tired, but also the Mexican dinner is adding the more literal meaning here. But I do stick around for a few songs from this local outfit. There is less psyche and post punk going on here, but the cleaner pop rock songs with some nice biting guitar come off quite well. I liked the nice little shift into the Morricone/Sadies territory, and although not as heavy as the Sadies, the atmosphere created was quite vibrant. These guys drew a really big crowd tonight, so I am sure they will be back and I will hopefully be around to give a more thorough listen. I am intrigued enough for now.

Quote of the Night: From the Paperhaus bass player... "This song is dedicated to those laws that made Wikipedia shut down for a day." ...made?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Prussia - Grammar -- DC9 - Jan26 2012

Grammar - A local four piece gets things underway. The usual two guitar rock line-up with all three guys up front singing, although one guitarist takes the lead. I am guessing young, inexperienced, but with good energy. Even being a little optimistic, they quickly achieved a much higher level than I expected. It took several songs to really try to get a handle on their particular brand of quirky pop, and of course, that is good. The lead vocals have some great high pitched pop characteristics that sound oh so familiar, but I could not quite place it. Maybe Robin Zander, but tougher. Good pop in the drumming with bass lines and guitar runs moving around nicely in conjunction but with loads of personality. There's some Britpop in here along with some California pop garage touches. The third song was a cover of a local rap song which sounded more like Magazine on steroids the way they rocked with it. They next performed their toughest rock song that had a shimmering Steve Lillywhite production sound to it. And as they finished up, there were undertones of well, the Undertones (sorry). Forget the inexperience part (well they reminded us of that in the stage patter), the energy and songs are here and this is a nice little band to get behind.

Prussia - A Detroit band that is not an outgrowth of the Stooges or MC5? Perish the thought. This cannot possibly work with me, or can it? Five guys are on stage with a rhythm section, a couple of guitars, couple of keyboards and lead vocalist who mostly sticks to singing and a little guitar. The first song sounds like Jah Wobble is playing bass with the Feelies guitarists. The vocal work sounds like an odd take on Akron/Family (so that would be odder than odd). Dub-jangle twisted pop music seems to be the verbage in my mind to describe this interesting and engaging music. The songs are really pulling me in and there seems to be quite a bit of intelligence lurking within this madness (as often there is). There is some 60s psyche worked into some old pop/ rock'n'roll moves, too. Did these guys play a Lesley Gore record at the same time they were playing Public Image's second album? Another song sounded like Sounds of Salvation trying to cover Scott Walker. That is really not it either, but I do hear some things that I just can't quite name (and when that happens I usually pick an obscure band like Sounds of Salvation that readers won't bother looking up--but trust me, I don't do this too often, although I am tempted). The last comparison I come up with is the band sounds as if David Lynch is trying to score a film by acting more like Tim Burton. And since there set is only 33 minutes, they have mercifully given my brain a rest from trying to dream up more half-baked theories on where this sound comes from. But it was indeed good fun.

Quote of the Night: From the bass player of the first band after the guitarist questioned whether he should get a haircut... "Sounds like you should get your glasses cut."

February is coming! Yeah, so what. Well with the excitement of having 29 days of February, I am going to challenge myself to do 29 shows in February. Even though I know this insane and will wipe me out, I just can't talk myself out of it. There are some issues like finding a club willing to book a show against the superbowl and having theater tickets, let alone getting sick or tired or whatever. So I will probably end up short. But we'll see how I do. The one thing I am confident of is that my quote of the night at the end of the month will be "Never again."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

D.R.U.G.S. - Hit the Lights - Like Moths to Flames - Sparks the Rescue - Action Blast - My Arcadia -- 9:30 Club - Jan 24 2012

My Arcadia - Am I ready for a six-band hardcore tour sweeping through DC? Why not--it's only $15 and at the 9:30 Club. Unless, otherwise noted, the formula for each band tonight will be drums, bass, two guitars and a vocalist. This band featured the only female anywhere on stage who handled the vocal duties well enough. "So DC, are you having fucking fun?" Uh, we'll let you know as it is only 45 seconds into the show. But your sound is pretty good so far with smooth melodic ringing guitars and Pat Benatar power on the vocals. In the first three songs, I heard more requests for clapping, jumping, swaying, hands in air, etc. than I have in about three months. A decent enough 25 minutes here, but the whole thing reeks of effort, to steal a phrase.

Action Blast - "Make some noise!" greets us. No, how about you make some noise. They do with the basic formula tonight plus keyboards/backup vocals aiding nicely. More melodic heaviness with a bit more crunch than the first band. "How are we doing tonight DC?" Well you've played one verse and it sounds ok. Also it's just after 7pm. We'll know more later, ok? "Are you awake out there? Make some noise." Yeah, ok. We were instructed to yell 'Get Blasted' on the count of three and then we were to jump on the count of four or something to that effect. Unfortunately an intricate song in 5/4 was not next in the mathematical progression. Oh, this rocked ok, but is it EMO or an outgrowth of positive punk? I don't particularly care to call anything EMO, but he did mention being positive and it is on their facebook page. That's cool, but why then are you into the Deftones, NiN, Smashing Pumpkins and what no doubt is the poster child for positivity, Hatebreed? Ah well, time to stop thinking so much.

Sparks the Rescue - Well, no mention of DC within the first notes, just attempts to get hands in the air. A fair compromise I suppose. More earnest vocals atop crunching melodic hardcore/hard rock moves. "How are you DC, having fun?" Eh. "Look to the person on your left. I want to you fuck that person in the bathroom."  Excuse me, what? Not only does that not work mechanically (short of a bathroom that could hold a five-hundred person obscene conga line), but this is 2012 kiddos. The music goes on in excruciatingly earnest fashion and I am feeling itchy for some Flipper or King Crimson or something. 23 minutes of heavy moments as the crowd is building a bit by now.
Like Moths 
To Flames - When We Don't Exist
Like Moths to Flames - From one of my former home towns Columbus, Ohio, comes this nice little variant to the sounds so far. These guys have a more thunderous Helmet-like sound. A bit more harsh perhaps, but strong, with enough melody and a bit on the dark side. And thankfully, just a normal amount of crowd pandering (a little can go a long way if you want to even do any at all). A mosh pit was going strong in the last song which had a nice taped spooky organ intro. This band rocks and I would see them again some time when they could play for more than 21 minutes.

Hit the Lights - A sixth member was aboard to pound a floor tom and add backing vocals. 30 seconds into the first song--"DC! How the fuck you guys doing tonight?" Thank you for asking, I'm getting a bit weary of it all, but the last band lit a fire under me, so keep playing please. The crowd sang along with only the mic being held out, so this band has a lot of fans here and some memorable tunes. They rocked nicely and did show that little bit of extra It rocked. "Make some fucking noise!" Yes, better than making some fucking boogers. "Let's see some fucking hands!" Right, no boogers on them either. "Sing it!" We're still in the second song. The band surveyed the crowd and it looked like about 1/3 of them have seen them or knew them well. They have played the Jammin' Java recently. "Thank you for the whoo's" Ric Flair says you are welcome. "This song is about whores" Horse? Hoarse? Hoars? 38 minutes worth this set. It rocked.

D.R.U.G.S. - Destroy, Rebuild until God Shows. Got it. Strong melodies, extremely powerful thrust from this band. They sound like a headliner for this receptive crowd. This is all in the Rise Against, Against Me model from what I recall of those shows.  "Make some motherfucking noise" after a quick two songs. Here we go again. "If you see someone not moving, push 'em down." Excuse me? Perhaps this is my cue to leave. Well, the balcony is not buying what they are selling, so I'll stick a bit. One more song. "All you in the balcony, get the fuck down here, let's have a good time. You have a good view and all, but I'm serious. Get down here!" OK, down the steps I go and right out the door. Fascist singers that were not even born when I experienced my first mosh pit (and one of my last) I can do without. I do not suffer fools, gladly or otherwise.

Quote of the Night: None of the above.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Silver Liners - The Riverbreaks - Young Rapids -- Red Palace - Jan 21 2012

Young Rapids - This local four-piece starts with two guitars, keyboards and drums. Eventually everyone sings as the drummer comes out to play bass on several songs with a guitarist moving behind the kit. This somewhat radical shift was the only real switching around they did, although the sound did not vary a lot with the keyboardist handling classic bass runs when needed. It was more of a style shift. And style was what intrigued me during this set. They started off with good classic American tinged barroom rock, hearty, rootsy, rocking.... But they kept adding intense blasting guitar and drum chaos into many of their songs. Not only is this almost always welcome to my ears, it also seemed to resonate well with the crowd. And even with several songs moving into quirky pop territory, they successfully avoided falling into the cutesy traps that doom many a band (Name names? OK, Band of Horses, Maps & Atlases...). It was Saturday night and this band warmed the crowd and then some.
The Riverbreaks - I have not seen this local band in a while and I was expecting another solid set tonight. They eventually got there, but it started a bit oddly to my ears. They have a nice array of sounds with drums, bass, electric guitar, violin, keyboards and occasional acoustic guitar. However, the first song sounded rather disparate. No one seemed particularly out of sync in the playing but it felt like the tones were so soft, the spaces were too noticeable and distracting. The soundman may have assisted things as the set went on, but I also think the songs got a little better and the band a little more energized. They are a talented bunch so they brought it home nicely by set's end. If they find a way to add some musical drama to more of their songs, this can be powerful material.
The Silver Liners - I am always happy to catch a set from this young local band and have probably caught about a half dozen by now. They were fairly accomplished from the get go, but they continue to develop musically and exude a lot of confidence these days. Rightly so, as their songs are well above the average to good material you get on the club circuit. The key is the balance of all things old and new, soft and heavy, clean and fuzzy.... While I enjoy an extremely focused band that sticks to a style or genre (if I like the genre), it can be more of a challenge to bring off the blends and combinations. But when it works, you can really generate excitement with lots and lots of people. And that continues to be the case here, as the crowded house was quite enthusiastic as if there favorite touring band was gracing our city with their presence for the first time in years. I do not like to predict who 'makes it' in this confusing business (since for every Husker Du or Nirvana I get right, there is a Ragged Bags or LoveLikeFire that I should have gotten right--damnit), but these guys have all the tools to do well. So catch them now and share the ride.

Quote of the Night: From the Riverbreaks bass player and yes, I was confused... "This song was written before I was in the band so if it sounds like it is missing a part..."

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wildlife - Tereu Tereu - Pet Parade -- Red Palace - Jan 19 2012

Pet Parade - A local four-piece with the usual two guitar/rhythm section line-up hits the stage. The three front men sing and they start off with a rather basic indie rock cut. The second cut aspires a bit more toward power pop and just as I wonder exactly how new and raw this band is, they crank it up several notches to engage in New York Dolls guitar tradeoffs. The verses were quite pedestrian, but the choruses were brilliant and the ending rocked out nicely. So there is some real promise here. The set varied a bit in style thereafter but there was a bit more assurance as it went on. A little work on songwriting in the vocal area and a full comfort with the sound they want and they could develop into a nice band. It was not bad at all tonight and the highlights were quite enjoyable.

Tereu Tereu - I don't like to make promises, but I will promise to try to stop saying how 'over' I am with two-piece rock bands. The guitar-drums thing turned me off long ago, but I accept it now when it works. Tonight was one of those nights as this 40 minute set had plenty of quality noise and song writing to sustain my interest. These guys go in a post-Sebadoh direction like so many other bands that I cannot ever seem to keep straight in my mind (which is why my comparisons usually stray into the decades of the 60s, 70s and most of the 80s that I have down). There was plenty of jagged psyche drone moves and some crazed rock shifts that really worked well on top of the meticulously steady drumming. Vocal work was good and the songs had a subdued clarity with intense bursts of drama. Good stuff and these guys are local, so keep that name in mind.
Website Photos by  
Wildlife - From my favorite music city of Toronto comes this five-piece with a couple of guitars and keyboards. They mix it around a bit with extra percussion and a mandolin (which rocks and does not go folk). Plenty of vocal work with one guitarist taking most of the lead work. They begin by building a rhythm and adding strong ringing psyche guitars. It was intense, fun, and I particularly enjoyed seeing the drummer with a tootsie pop in his mouth for pretty much the whole set. He also jumped up and drummed on the walls and floor with plenty of energy that all of the band had. The sound was sort of a Feelies/Shins sort of combination with loads of speed cutting through the fuzz and plenty of hooks not lost in the shuffle. There were some Sloan moves in there as well in the better songs. The crowd was supportive although a bit smaller than I expected at around 30 or so, but the band was happy with the feedback and it was a good night for all. I did not detect some of the wild creativity of some of my other favorites from Toronto, but again that city does seem to require all the bands be very competent with something to offer. Wildlife lives up to those requirements and then some.

Quote of the Night: From Tereu Tereu discussing their merch... "We take credit cards now. How weird is that? It's not even punk rock, it's just convenient."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Screen Vinyl Image - Ceremony - Silo Halo -- Black Cat - Jan 18 2012

Silo Halo - This local three piece features a guitar, bass, and guitar/keyboardist. All three add lead and harmony vocals with one female voice in the mix. The first song compares shockingly favorably to Fit & Limo which I don't say too often. The quality vocal work and the easy mannered warm psychedelic feeling is the key. As the set progresses they vary the form a bit more with early Banshees guitar and varying degrees of heaviness. The keyboards were good but drum machines are not my favorite forms of percussion and they were a distraction on the lesser songs. The better songs were heavy on atmosphere and/or drive. This was an effective set.

Ceremony - Diamond blades cutting through sheet metal with a rhythm section is how this set begins. Actually it is merely a couple of guitars blazing an urban trail on the downstairs stage of the Black Cat. The dreamy shoegaze vocals are a bit too British, which normally I don't mind but seems a bit too obvious here. I was expecting them to 'stop the world and melt with you' in one song, but they sang in a different direction beyond the melody, thankfully. There is also some really annoying feedback during the quiet moments, few that they were. But with the negatives out of the way, the positives easily won out tonight. Electrifying song structure and amazing sound brought smiles throughout the club and to my face as well. There is a load of talent here and a growing cult following it appears, so it will be interesting to see how they do over a few years.
Screen Vinyl Image

Screen Vinyl Image - This wonderful local duo stayed with the tried and true approach using a light smoke machine, full projections and the keyboard banks, two guitars and one vocal. They also have a thick, powerful sound that merges melody and psychedelic overtones quite majestically throughout the set. The vocal work is moody and assured and they use percussion very well by adding sequencers and less obvious drum machine programs. The sizable crowd tonight is into it and this band seems to have firmly established its place as a pivotal area band. At least they have with me, as I enjoy them more every time I see them. Often a 40 minute set from the third band is enough, but I would have welcomed more. They are a hard band to pass on, even when my schedule gets busy.

Quote of the Day: Quiet day for me, so I again I go back to my favorite soccer/media column from Football365 for this quote from a Chinese football club owner...

Persistence: Always Works
Curious logic from Shanghai Shenhua owner Zhu Jun when discussing his club's moves for Didier Drogba.

He said: "It's like flirting with a girl. Perhaps she will resist you at first, but if you continue to ask her out, it always ends well. Never give up."

Really? In Mediawatch's experience if you 'continue to ask her out' it never, ever ends well. In fact, it ends in a slap in the face, a request along the lines of 'Text me that picture again and I'll call the police', a restraining order or a visit from a burly relative with threats to remove limbs in a less-than-friendly fashion.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Graveyard - Radio Moscow - Black Cowgirl -- DC9 - Jan 16 2012

Black Cowgirl - Slow and steady comes this psychedelic blues rock from a twin guitar four-piece. This is from the family tree set up by Blue Cheer and the Groundhogs in those psychedelic sixties. The band has the requisite acid-drenched long haired look which would be a common theme tonight. They also had the sound down nicely with good thick loud guitars. The vocals were only a bit more restrained but fit in well enough. There was almost a playfulness in the songs with the more positive elements of the sixties present. The 33 minute set picked up momentum nicely and I enjoyed the guitarists trading leads and doubling up the leads during the last jammer. They may have been a late addition to the bill, but they were certainly a welcome one for this large crowd.

Radio Moscow - The club is now jam packed with denizens of the heavy rock genre (an odd mix of long hairs and short hairs and the rare in-between cut like mine). It has a nice feel to it in spite of the sardine conditions as I stake out some breathing room behind the sound board. This time around it is a similar sound as before but done by a trio. The guitarist sings in an interesting manner that reminds me of some sort of Leslie West-Brian Johnson hybrid singing through a few layers of flannel shirts. The songs seem pretty much by the numbers, although the guitar work is sharp, fast, and fluid. It gets the crowd going although the rhythm section appears more tentative to me. Ahh, the guitarist explains that these guys have been with him for about six days and 22 hours more than Chuck Berry's usual back-up band was with Berry. The guitar work continues to go over well with the crowd, but I felt they were losing a bit of momentum well before the technical problem that silenced them for several minutes late in the set. Good, but I am sure they can do a lot better.

Graveyard - The theme continues as this four-piece continues the psychedelic blues based heavy jamming theme of the evening. It does not take more than a few bars to see that these guys really have it down as the hypnotic groove established shows a full band skill that they have probably perfected over a long time. They pull it back some with some great dynamics that remind me of Opeth in a related genre. They then introduce themselves from Sweden and for the record, I wrote the Opeth note prior to hearing this. But I had read they were from Sweden a month ago, so it may have been lurking in my subconscious. Or maybe it was their look, their voices or whatever as it does not matter other than offering further unneeded proof of how music 'scenes' work out so very well. This band really establishes great tension and expectation with their songs. They have this psyche sound down in an original manner and in a different form than that of the Hellacopters. There is such a distance in their sound that rolls up from the horizon and bursts ahead with vocals keeping it personal. I am quite impressed as is the rest of this packed house. I hope to see them again next year and it almost certainly will be at a larger venue.

Quote of the Night: From the crowd when the Radio Moscow guitarist had some sound problems...
"Awkward Silence. Play Awkward Silence!!"

Monday, January 16, 2012

Oh So Peligroso - Edgewood - Technicians -- Black Cat - Jan 15 2012

Technicians - A couple of guitars, bass and drums with one guy taking the vocal duties. A familiar formula and what might be considered a familiar shoegaze sound. Except that it did not appear to be true shoegaze to me. There was certainly some Brit dream pop/rock in there, but it was quite heavy even to the point of almost being too thick and unrelenting underneath. But the strong vocal work countered that nicely and ultimately it was a rather intriguing sound that sort of crossed the Feelies with the Melvins or thereabouts. You can head over there to the site and listen to their ep and judge for yourself. I may come up with some new comparisons next time around, but I hope there is a next time.

Edgewood - Wait a minute, according to their Facebook site, this group has members from the Mostly Dead, the Goons, and Mahogany Rush? Almost as odd as the bass player from the Spice Girls joining Public Image Ltd. (but not really if you think about or especially if you heard it). The sound tonight was a lot closer to the punk bands than that of Mahogany Rush. The first song sounded like a mid-80's Dischord band covering Muse, mostly due to the intensity and range of the vocals. The third song went into a Ronnie Dio vocal style. Don't tell me Freddie Mercury is next? No, not really, just solid on top vocals that sometimes went into the more intense Dio/Matt Bellamy style. The band kept things rocking along with nice pace and power like a more modern post-hardcore band. I was not sure it would work, but the half-hour set was most successful when it chugged along at a good pace and did not try to get too big and open in the sound.
Oh So Peligroso - This band was the highlight for me at the last Black Cat birthday party showcase, so it was nice to see what they could do in a longer set. It went just under 45 minutes tonight and the band had it going great the whole time. They have an interesting murky garage sound with a certain post-punk flair. They could be the offspring of the Shadows of Knight and Fugazi. The sound was a bit tricky in the beginning but it got better as the set went on as the keyboards became more audible and the swirling guitar crisped up a bit. The rhythm section was the most creative of the evening and the vocals were solid and playful. They emit a sense of fun which is always welcome if you're not going for the Joy Division thing. The crowd was really enjoying it, although it was an odd crowd tonight with a lot of people in and out and spending too much exclusive time with the one band they came to see. It may have been 90% full if everyone was there at once, but it was usually about half full. No matter as I could just sit back and enjoy the music or try to work out the fascinating cross-genre and cross-time period moves that Oh So Peligroso was making on stage. I will keep on preaching to get out and see some of this fine local music that DC has to offer. Tonight was just one more example of the fun you can have for $8.

Quote of the Night: From the opening band and a fan...
"We have not played in two months, so if we're a little rusty..."
"Stop making excuses!"
"I'm not, I'm saying it's amazing how we're still so awesome."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fear of Virginia - The Highballers - The XOs -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Jan 13 2011

The XOs - Nothing unlucky so far today for me as I get set for another fine local showcase at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel. About 50 people join me for the opening set tonight from a local four-piece. Just one guitar with an exclusive lead vocalist. Funny how that classic a look is so less common these days. But if you have the chops that these guys have, you don't need extra guitars or lots of reverb drenched vocals. These four guys simply cut loose with heavy blues based rock that had a modern edge and thrust to it with even a couple of power pop and psyche moves disguised in there some where. The first influential band they cite is MC5 and that is descriptive enough, although I kept hearing a Doctor Feelgood sort of riffing that Wilko Johnson nearly invented. It was thicker and more modern here, but it gave me that same unrelenting crunch that moves me nearly every time. The vocals are assured, the bass mobile, and the drumming laid it down with conviction. Tight, powerful and a lot of fun. This is a band to keep tabs on for sure.

The Highballers - The band warned that they would be sounding just a wee bit different than the opener and that was clear enough at the outset. They said they had a low-down sound and that came out as gnarly blues rock--thick and deep with piercing lead guitar runs and dual male/female vocals. They easily handled following the powerful opening set with plenty of volume and pace to keep the house rocking. The second song moved into a psychobilly terrain which was not as fast as say a Gun Club, but had a nice Sadies feel to it. They moved around again within these styles and varied the pace and structure in nice subtle ways. Fans of the really assertive roots bands like the Knitters or the Sadies will eat this music up. There were only a few songs that seemed a bit safe, but this 40 minute set had lots of smart and fun highlights with good guitar interplay, vocal harmonies and solid rhythms. And again, here is another fine local band to keep my eye on. The crowd had doubled by set's end and had a great time as these Friday showcases have been delivering the goods for some time now. The Highballers have a debut album coming out and are at the Jammin Java soon, along with hopefully many more shows.
Fear of Virginia - A couple of guitars, keyboards, bass and drums comprises this local indie rock outfit. The sound is agreeable Friday night rock'n'roll. There is some thrust to it, but I really do not detect much beyond basic expectations and competence. The crowd is really getting into it a lot more than I am, which may be due to some regular fans and plenty of time for lubrication prior to the set. They slowed it down on a song and I finally heard the real individual skill this band can provide. The song was well written and played with great conviction. It is rare when the slower songs move me significantly more than the rockier numbers, but it happened here. Again, the crowd was digging it and it capped off a great night of music. I will reserve full judgment until the next time for the Fear of Virginia.

Quote of the Week: From my favorite futbol column at, as they remind all of us how wild the UK media is...

'Well, I Feel Slightly Bilious' Non-Football Headline Of The Day... 'Angela Merkel has the whip hand in an orgy of austerity' - The Guardian.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Drew Gibson - Wes Tucker & the Skillets -- Iota - Jan 10 2011

Wes Tucker & the Skillets - What was to be an acoustic set turned out to be a full band set, albeit with acoustic leanings. Local singer/songwriter/guitarist Wes Tucker explained that he was recording a new album with the guys in the band so he brought them along and kept the guitars acoustic and had a drummer play a percussion box. The bass and keyboards were plugged in, but kept things on the subtle side. This was a good choice as the full band succeeded in keeping things more acoustic with a slight air of mystery and longing. And although this was my first time seeing the band, this set was a nice contrast to the live LP that I recently reviewed. That electric set showed the band could really rock while this showcased the fine songwriting and voice of Wes Tucker. Not that the rock was lacking, as the acoustic guitarist provided excellent solos on a couple of occasions. The keyboards and guitar work melded together in one song to almost provide a steel guitar sound without the sometimes overbearing nature of that instrument. This was a solid set and the full room seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. I look forward to their next record and what variations they add to their next live performance.
Drew Gibson - This is the CD release party for this local artist's second album entitled "The Southern Draw" and not the southern drawl as discussed in one of the many amusing quips tonight. Gibson plays guitar and sings with a band consisting of drums, bass, and steel guitar. I was afraid of the steel guitar as it is not one of my favorite instruments, but the player did a nice job of creating atmosphere and not resorting to the sappy country cliches that take me out of the moment of the song. The drum work was also light and there was plenty of room for Gibson to focus on his songs. Ultimately I felt this was a mixed set and as so often the case, it depended on the particular song (and of course some of my biases). If I heard nothing else, the second song tonight (from the new album) was brilliant. It reminded me of the best of Lou Reed and had an old psyche-folk vibe that I recall from obscure artists like Jake Holmes, Cecil McCartney or Geoffrey. I could name drop further, but I would have to go deep into my archives to figure it out. Suffice it to say, Gibson created a haunting dramatic structure that pulled me in like the dramatic conclusion of a great film (and he confirmed it is "I Know I Miss You More, the opening cut from the new album). The middle of the set was a little more routine, but he upped the guitar noise and got a little bit more psychedelic at the end for a nice finish. I heard more to like than not like tonight, but if I only heard that one song, I would have been quite happy. The only other complaint may be going about an hour and twenty may have been a bit much for a weeknight, but people left as they needed to, so the hardcore fans enjoyed it.

Quote of the Night: From Drew Gibson... "I told my Mom that my first album was out and it was called 'Letterbox'."
"Wow, you must really love your cat!"
"No Mom, not litterbox, letterbox."

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Akron/Family - Bad Weather California -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Jan 6 2012

Bad Weather California - From my former home town of Denver, Colorado, comes this interesting quartet. It does not take long to see that they are not exactly a copy of the 'Denver sound' present in several of the more popular bands in recent times (derived from 16 Horsepower and others). They have a little of that in the mix, but they show the versatility needed to be a valuable member of an Akron/Family billing. There were lots of twists, jagged guitar moves, surf noddings, electronica add-ons all atop some interesting rhythms that went from rock to lounge soca/funk moves. Just when a groove is established, a Boris-like guitar blast comes out for a few measures. Frankly, it got a little silly trying to find all the little things evident in the music and it was far more enjoyable to just sit back and enjoy. Their 43 minute set breezed by the nearly full club gave them a deserved positive reaction. Like all good out-of-town openers, they succeeded with me in that I will gladly go see them on their own tour when they come back our way. I am also still quite happy to see how much good music has happened in Denver over recent years, as it was not that way when I first got there in the 80s.

Akron/Family - I have seen these guys three times and even reviewed their last record for FolkWorld (as well as owning all the previous releases), so I am a rock solid fan who drank the kool aid (spiked with extra sugar) long ago. There is just something infectious about their overall approach of folk, psyche, and rock, with a mix of intensity and whimsy that should not work but does. They have been down to three members for some time, but there is still a ton of sound when they choose to employ it, and simple hand clapping a capella singalongs when they don't. The drummer plays a little guitar and the other two stick to bass and drums primarily, although they hit the electronics tables regularly. As a three-piece I am finally struck by how much they remind me of the Sun City Girls. They also had the crowd doing a mantra dance and chant that reminded me of Ya Ho Wa 13. And it will be a rare day indeed when I reference those bands in a review. The Akron/Family is even more accessible than those two as evident by a surprising number of youngsters tonight (which the band enjoyed seeing, too). These guys work for ages 8 to 80 and for the life of me, I don't see how more of the thousands that go see Animal Collective would not come out for this band. They have got all of that and are even more fun. This was the first show of the new tour and they showed no signs of jet lag after flying into town earlier. 95 minutes of craziness that ranged from Sister Ray sounds to songs I think I heard on the Electric Company with a stop off at a Glenrow cottage with the Incredible String Band.

Quote of the Night: From the Akron/Family... "You guys like raisin parts? Rosa Parks!"

Friday, January 6, 2012

Grey March - Dot Dash - History Repeated -- Black Cat - Jan 5 2012

History Repeated - A band name conflict has resulted in this new moniker for Sleeper Agent. The band still has the legendary John Stabb on vocals along with the guitarist from the previous version. I had not seen them in a while, but I think the bass player was newer (at least different from the guy I met a few years back). The 39 minute set tonight featured the same great sound that they have previously established. It has Stabb's signature short intense bursts of lyrics atop a mostly steady rhythm with a fascinating post punk grinding rock guitar style. It really twists around nicely reminding me a bit of Mission of Burma and even more of Proletariat. I almost want to say Flipper, but no band really sounds like Flipper and these guys are much too tight for that--closer to early Banshees perhaps. Great to see these guys continuing onward as this is a welcome sound, both familiar and unique in that very strange way. So learn the name and join me the next time these guys play.

Dot Dash - I only just saw this band in November, so for a full description, just check it out here. As far as tonight's set went, the only difference I noted was a smaller less excited audience which kept things a little low key. That's not a knock on the crowd as they listened closely and were quite supportive. It is just that the energy levels were lower which allowed me to appreciate the moodiness in some of the songs. I do enjoy this band now after several listens and they have a nice sound that works in varied settings.

Grey March - Wait a minute, this is a band from Baltimore that is playing DC for the first time in 25 years? Their last show was at the old 9:30 Club location. I will assume that they have not exactly been touring the globe in the meantime unless they truly were banned in DC. They consist of vocals, guitar, keyboard, bass and drums and offer up a thick juicy post punk sound that immediately touches on Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen, and well, yes, they could have been preserved in a time capsule for 25 years. The tom tom work of the drummer is the one thing that stands out nicely, although the Morrison/McCulloch/Astbury/Curtis vocal stylings kind of punch you in the face. The guitar sometimes breaks out with some nice moves, but everything seems rather safe and predictable. It certainly is a nice sound, but it did not move me much beyond thinking of all these other bands. Still, if you like this sort of sound, these guys are talented and capable. And there are lasers, too.

Quote of the Night: From John Stabb... "We have a mailing list in the back. We will soon have merchandise again. We do have some t-shirts for Sleeper Agent--they are a fine band from Bowling Green, Kentucky."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Garland of Hours - Gordon Withers -- Black Cat - Jan 4 2012

Gordon Withers - We begin tonight in the backstage with a cellist who plays in the excellent local band, Office of Future Plans. He plays instrumental music and uses loops and some backing tracks. There is a nice sharp sound that sticks into me which does not surprise me too much as a cello makes a better rock instrument than some people may think (from ELO to Rasputina... see Tomrerclaus for my favorite cello music). Withers plays quite well and does original songs along with Mission of Burma's "Forget". His main focus is playing several songs from his recent CD which showcase the music of the Joy Formidable. His interpretations are excellent and a smart choice as those songs have the quality to work in a variety of formats. This was a fun little set that went over quite well with the good sized crowd that more than half packed the room.
Amy Domingues and Devin Ocampo at Fort Reno, Summer 2007
Garland of Hours - I promised myself I would explore this band further after I last saw them previously and tonight's CD release event seemed like a great opportunity. They have added a bass player to the drums/guitar/voice-cello-keyboards lineup since the previous show. That bottom end helped the sound along nicely and this additional viewing resulted in me becoming a fan of the band. The playing is pretty simple in the background with a nice psyche edge creeping out of the steady rhythms. The cello runs are flowing and push melodies and counterpoints into higher ground. The female vocals are a bit light Sandy Denny in tone and lull one into a warm pool of REM sleep dreaming. However, the edgy music keeps one alert to the tunes. I am reminded a bit of Faun Fables and Windy & Carl and other intriguing modern psyche-folk bands that don't quite fit the folk element too much.  This is a strong little band we have here that could hold their own with a Joanna Newsome crowd and a whole lot of thoughtful music fans.

Quote of the Night: From Garland of Hours... "We're not supposed to have that much fun."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

RECORD REVIEWS - December 2011

Wes Tucker and his band cover familiar enough Americana turf, but with plenty of gusto and energy to warrant further listens. The songs are solid and there is just enough variety between the heartland alt-country sound, gutsy rockers, and even a cool Isaac Hayes guitar led number to give discriminating listeners plenty to chew on. The guitar work is consistantly crisp and capable of taking over when needed. Rhythms are sharp and keyboards are welcome as this band sounds quite connected with no where to hide in this live recording. There is always some safe territory within this genre, but this band rises above often enough for me to give this additional listens. I was also drawn into the quality of the songs as opposed to just enjoying the quality of the playing which is really important for me when I listen to folk, blues and Americana based acts. And this record has me looking forward to their Iota show on the 10th of January. Try to catch these guys then or at hopefully many other upcoming shows this year.

Songs to sample:

Right Here Right Now - This gets off to a really cool start with a minor cacophony of sounds before the tune settles in. It's almost a Drumbo arrangement for Trout Mask Replica and would not likely be used on most studio recordings.

Blind Mind - The rhythms really pop and the bluesier guitar and keyboards set up the vocals well.

Let Me Know - I thought maybe my soundtrack to Shaft album snuck into my CD player here when the guitar got going. This sort of shift when well executed makes any album better.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011: DC ROCK LIVE's Top Ten shows of the Year

It was another fine year of live music. The local scene continues to produce high quality bands that play frequently with or without the many touring bands that somehow endure the expenses to make their way around the country. Well, if you're Robert Plant... Anyway, with apologies to many of my local favorites along with perennial worldly greats like Wire or Opeth, only ten can make the cut. So without further adieu...

10. Bobb Trimble/Kuschty Rye Ergot/Pablonius Bill, Velvet Lounge, June.  Kudos to the openers for getting things rolling on a high note and the enigmatic headliner followed up nicely. Trimble is a cult act all the way, but he has such a pleasant psychedelic rock/folk style, he could have easily been a bigger name. He put together a strong band and supplied his lovely music with grace and energy.

9. The Damned, Black Cat, October.  They sound better with age. I caught them in their prime once and it was pretty disappointing. But they had it working this night and laid down both their punk fury and their psyche-pop tunes with more precision than usual. Fun and absolutely scary to think that they have been around for 35 years now.

8. Swirlies, Rock'n'Roll Hotel, July.  This was another cult act that deserved better these last 20 years. They were from Boston, but are now scattered around the US and Sweden. Thankfully they included DC for just a couple of shows they did this year. They showcased their unique brand of intense shoegaze styled rock. Still, at tough act to describe, but highly rewarding.

7. Savage Republic/Tone, Black Cat, September.  Tone is one of the best in DC  and almost made this list as a headliner in April. But pair them with a surprise showing of an early dark industrial punk band that I had not heard from in decades, then you have a winning formula. The headliners were so much better than I expected--Hope they do it again some time.

6. Bill Callahan/Ed Askew, Rock'n'Roll Hotel, July.  I had heard about Callahan for years but finally took the opportunity to see him. Rarely can someone control this room with slower tempos and relatively quiet music, but Callahan managed that and then some this night. He had command of his songs and the crowd and created a hypnotic environment that stayed with me for some time.

5. Helmet/St. Vitus/Crowbar/Kylesa/Red Fang +2, Jaxx, March.  I thought I would enjoy Helmet and I did even more than I expected. I was not so sure about the rest of the night aside from Kylesa, but the top five bands all delivered excellent sets. And Kylesa's ferocious brand of psychedelic metal is becoming one of the best sounds in the metal and near metal environment. They are now on my must see list.

4. Robert Plant, DAR, February.  Plant continues to amaze me with the way he puts together gutsy and unique bands. This one surprised me a bit as I thought it would be a bit too old school blues-Americana. The rhythm section quickly killed that notion with it's fascinating psyche beats. The guitars went wild and Plant still delivers the vocals with the best of them.

3. The Sadies/Jesse Sykes, Iota, November.  This was a co-headline tour with two bands delivering sets that I would easily pay twice the ticket price to see separately. Sykes was amazing with her cool psyche-rock/folk songs. The band was quite creative and handled volume dynamics so very well. The Sadies were also loud and creative and raised their already fine songs into greater heights. Excellent bands that wowed the crowd that night.

2. Boris/Asobi Sekov/Liturgy, Black Cat, October.  Liturgy did their usual fascinating set and the Asobi Sekov also delivered a fine set. Then Boris blew the roof off which although not exactly surprising, still had my eyebrows up and jaw dropped. Their recent records showed some of their finest work and their live show is just as powerful and brilliant as ever (with the important addition of Michio Kurihara (Ghost) on guitar).This band is nothing short of stunning.

1. The Joy Formidable, Black Cat, March. I had heard the buzz, but was not prepared for the roar. How three people can lay out this much sound is amazing even with looping and other technologies. But the songs are the real brilliance in the way they can deliver the pop hooks with such a ferocious rocking approach. The band is a perfect blend of punk, pop, and shoegaze. I am glad I caught them before they take off as they have already since played the Verizon Center with Foo Fighters and Social Distortion. I am not often this surprised at a show where I am expecting it to be good.
And kudos to the Black Cat for providing four of these shows!