Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Distillery - Johnny Grave - Parsely -- Paperhaus - Feb 28 2012

Parsely - This is a solo act from Vanessa Degrassi of the fine (psyche) folk band, Pree. She sings and plays electric guitar tonight at the Paperhaus, which houses the band of the same name (one of whom is in Pree) and regularly schedules house shows such as we have tonight. The sound is fine for this simple approach and the room is full of music fans. Her songs range from good to stunning as she lays out some nice folk music with a subtle yet jarring psychedelic touch. Her voice reminds me of Licorice McKechie and the guitar is a more ragged electric take on the sound that Meic Stevens used to get. Psyche folk fans will certainly enjoy this, as will folk fans that can look beyond Judy Collins purity. Nice set.

The Distillery - This is a trio from Toronto who are touring throughout the midwest and east coast and are just working their way home this week. They play blues music which often does not excite me, but it does not take long before I realize that this band is not just an ordinary blues band. There are female vocals, acoustic guitar, and the third member rotates between harmonica and piano. The first song showcases outstanding harmonica. This is not one of my favorite instruments, but he plays it with great control of the volume and an incredibly smooth transition between notes. Shrill this is not. The vocals are excellent and also show a great understanding of dynamics and do not go off into pseudo-Joplin territory. The guitarist is fitting in nicely until the third song when he moves to the front of the sound and shows that he is one of the best guitarists you will likely see in a while, as he has incredible speed and touch. The three of them continue on with a softer lounge jazz take on the blues. They combine great style and substance and know how to work off of each other. This was an excellent set that went over extremely well with the crowd. Yet another great band from Toronto, even if one of the members disagreed with my assertion that Toronto's bands are much better than the more heralded Montreal. He may be right, but as I see or hear bands one at a time, I still believe Toronto is as vibrant a scene as anywhere.

Jonny Grave - Grave is a local blues guitarist/vocalist who at least recently is playing out all over the area, so there is not any excuse to miss him if you like the blues. And you should check him out as his electric guitar style is quite the pleasure. He has a stinging sound with nice slide moves. His vocals are assured and he plays plenty of obscure material along with the familiar electric blues sounds. There is a slight modern spacey sound at times which is welcome to me and his set moves along nicely, also going over well with the crowd. But as he mentions, this is a sharp bunch that knows and appreciates good music. He said it was far more intimidating than most of his shows where people are drunk at the bar, checking out the waitress or TV (or cellphone). Imagine that--people actually come to see musicians play and sit/stand and listen attentively the whole time. Check out this set some time. I will likely be doing it again.

Quote of the Night: Jonny Grave during a song setting up his solo... "Here's the part where I try to outdo the last guitarist. It won't work... ...Aw shit, told ya so. Expectations low". Yes, merely a good solo (followed by a really hot one after that).

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Spirit Animal - Shark Week -- Black Cat - Feb 27 2012

Shark Week - This two-guitar four-piece comes from some beach in Connecticut. After a long noodling warm-up, I am not too optimistic. And when they kick it in an interesting garage rock spews out. It is a bit ragged early on, but really tightens up quickly. They throw all sorts of curveballs and change-ups in tempo, volume, and style. But as they seemingly meander around the beat, they showcase that wonderful innate ability to not lose sight of the song whilst they give they impression they could implode at any moment. It is the sort of excitement generated by bands like Crazy Horse, Guided by Voices or one of my all time favorites that few have heard of, Ragged Bags (not releasing a record sort of leads to being unknown). This is personal take on many forms of garage rock and musical forms from different eras. Excellent set from a band I will be keeping my eye on. They have provided many clues to the puzzle.
Spirit Animal - The drummer pounds out solid beats. The bass player has a flexible groove thing going on. The guitarist has a shimmering sound with raging power. The singer is this big intense guy who plays a synthesizer at times (once by sitting on it). They start with a snakey psyche jam, but head off into danceable music that almost rocks a bit too much for dance, were it not for their infectious melodies and intense but playful rhythms. It has been a really big and good crowd tonight, but they have really packed out the downstairs room by now. They do seem to appreciate the originality this band has and if you can handle the distinct elements in your head, the overall effect is quite pleasing. I would not likely listen to this everyday, but it is the second breath of fresh air I have welcomed tonight. It is simply great to see bands that are accomplished at their sound and have confidence and energy to present their songs. It is a winning formula repeated over and over and Spirit Animal did it again tonight.

Quote of the Night: From Spirit Animal's vocalist... "I think my shoe's untied. That's my worst nightmare. Tells you a lot about me."

Monday, February 27, 2012

hiphopmcdougal - jaysaturn - Social Repose -- DC9 - Feb 26 2012

Social Repose - Not much being booked against the Academy awards, but there is this little hip hop show at the DC9, so that is where I find myself on Day 26 of '29 Days Later'. Three to go. Let's see what we get tonight. We begin with a duo, one guy on bass and the other guy on vocals and guitar. The music is some sort of combination of dream pop and dance music. There are synth backing tracks with perhaps some vocal lines, too, so the songs may be preset, but the live element is just as strong. The band has more energy and enthusiasm than technique, but they keep things going well enough. It is a little more cotton candy than key lime pie, but cotton candy is a fun treat when you are in the mood. The lasers, strobes, bubble machine, and even the smoke machine were all adding to the fun. They covered Modest Mouse and based on his look and his great laugh, I think the bass player must be Alan Hale IV.

jaysaturn - "Repeat after me, I'm jaysaturn." "You're jaysaturn!" Well, no, the crowd  did repeat it verbatim which was one of a few disturbing moments during this duo's rap-singing set in front of backing tracks. The singing was better than the rapping, but any moments of interest were fleeting for me. The small crowd was enthusiastic enough, but not overly crazy. The formula continues. "On the count of 3, we're all going to say we love jaysaturn." Please don't. "1...2..." Really? "3". The sheep in the audience did what they do, but they were having fun. "Don't you ever compromise with society. Do what you wanna do." Uh-huh. Haven't heard that one before.
hiphopmcdougal - Another duo rapping in front of mediocre backing tracks. The sound has not been particularly good all night, but the source material on the backing tracks of this and the last duo may leave something to be desired. The rapping is pretty good here--it's as if the Dropkick Murphys abandoned their instruments and tried out some hip hop. "Make some noise!" Yeah, well, I am not in the mood. A few people are and the show goes on. Not really a bad night, but just not quite enough skill and creativity to hold my interest. But this was more entertaining than the Academy Awards and the NBA All-Star game from what I gather.

Quote of the Night: a popular singalong chorus from jaysaturn... "If you don't like it, then suck my dick." Now, let us analyze this for a second. Eh, why bother. Just watch the early Wes Craven movie, "Last House on the Left" and you will figure it out.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Elikeh - The Chariots - Malcolm X Park Drummers -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Feb 25 2012

Malcolm X Park Drummers - Five to seven drummers on various African style drums. The leader of this outfit (admitting he only leads because he is the loudest) explains three or four times that they and dozens of others go to Malcolm X Park every Sunday from about 3-9pm and just drum away. It is open and it sounds like fun. They admit they are just simply put together tonight and bang out some decent rhythms, but this won't have you thinking Osibisa. Accepted well by the crowd, there was still such amateurish endings, that there was not much reaction. However, it was an interesting opener that reminded me of the tossed together makeshift bands that would start things off at punk shows in days of old.

The Chariots - Looks and sounds like a dancehall band from the opening notes as drums, congas, sax, keys, trumpets and guitar get things going. No wait, there's a vocalist jumping on stage that came straight from a 2-Tone record album cover. So it's ska! Well done for the most part without anything beyond what you would expect, but perfect for a crowded dance floor on a Saturday night. The sound struggled a bit when they tried to rock out as it was pretty much a mudslide. But the more rhythmic moments (which was 95% of the time) sounded just fine. More heart and energy than memorable songs here, but the rhythms were good and everything felt right during their 45 minute set.
Elikeh - I am not going to spend a whole lot of time discussing the details of this band. You can read many of my back reviews (and see some blurbs at their website). I first caught this Afrocentric collective opening for the great Vieux Farka Toure a few years back. They surprised me as they were not far behind Toure in talent and songs and they have easily worked their way into headlining their own shows around here. And that has worked out fine for the band and the clubs, as this crowded evening is becoming the norm for this band. Another sign of the success was how quickly the crowd started and dancing and moving. Sure, this is Saturday night and the band was in fine form with plenty of rhythms, quality guitar work, and loads of brass and winds. But this band has a fanbase that is still growing. If you like this sort of music even slightly, do get aboard and enjoy one of the finer bands this area has to offer.

Promo of the Night: Should have mentioned this earlier, but there is a long running series returning to radio this week featuring live music from area bands. Tonight Dot Dash, The Plums, and the Electricutions kick things off. I have enjoyed all of these bands in the past and this is a weekly show, so there will be a lot more to come. It's on WMUC on your radio or on-line and begins at 6pm every Sunday.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Future - Stock Status -- Jammin Java - Feb 24 2012

Stock Status - This band was a last minute replacement for a band that had a flu bug going on within. Initially, things look fine as this four piece with guitar, keyboards, and rhythm section lays out some nice little pop-prog. But then a reggae riff takes over as the vocals begin. Instrumental parts come in and they rock out a bit more and there are even some psyche moves. Plenty of jams and long songs. When they hit it, they remind me of how much I miss Mellow Candle (although they look more like them than sound like them), but there is just too much disconnected music trying to come together that has the quality, but is not terribly moving. Just as fusion is often a tough sell to a restaurant critic, it is even a harder sell to a music critic. I think playing an hour and two minutes with a start time of 10:42pm may have also been a problem.
Future - From the opening notes, I can tell this band has 'it'. There is a touch of swing in the rhythm section with great psyche-rock guitar sounds and runs. There are spacey moments, tough moments and there are even decent hooks to grab onto. Male and female vocals work their way into the songs and I almost feel a Curved Air sort of feeling (that does not happen often). There is a more rooted sound than that of Curved Air, but there are plenty of audacious moves here. There is simply more internal logic here than that of the first band. The playing is assured, bereft of cliches, and the songs sound thoughtful and composed. I did not stay for the whole set, but I definitely want to see this band again some time.

Quote of the Night: Actually this was from the previous night overheard while walking around...
"We should get the Rolls Royce."
"You don't understand, it's not that I don't want to travel..."
"You really need to hit the road..."
"You still don't understand, I'm not having a baby and buying a Rolls Royce now."

Friday, February 24, 2012

William Fitzsimmons - Denison Witmer -- 6th & I Synagogue -- Feb 23 2012

Denison Witmer - We were fortunate indeed to have such an outstanding opener tonight, for as Denison Witmer explained, this was the last show he could do for a few weeks so he could spend some time with his wife and six-week old child. Yeah, I guess! But, then it's off to the west coast to pick up more shows with his friend, William Fitzsimmons (the heartland's loss). Witmer does a stellar job tonight with just his acoustic guitar and voice. He mixes steady finger picked passages with gentle yet striking strumming moves to give his songs a flow and sense of drama. The third song was the opener off of his brand new album which I reviewed a few days back. The microphone went out right after the song was finished and Witmer lost no time in just unplugging his guitar and using the fine acoustics here to carry a Bob Marley tune he sang. The crowd hushed even more and it was a nice effect. The sound crew righted things and Fitzsimmons' pedal steel player came out for a couple of songs. His additions were appropriate as he was clearly sympathetic to the delicate touch of Witmer and did not overwhelm the songs with brazen country twang. Witmer finished solo with some more of his thoughtful songs. He looked at his phone and joked about the rudeness of that, but said he needs it as a watch as he had disturbingly bad luck with watches when he was young and stopped wearing them. Anybody else? Yes! I definitely connect with him now as I used to break watches all the time and have not worn one in over 35 years. But even if I did not connect with him that way, his songs were easy for me and the rest of the crowd to get in to. Dennison Witmer has the songs and the performing ability to hold down any stage or in this case tonight, temple.
William Fitzsimmons - You cannot miss Fitzsimmons, even in a crowded synagogue. His shaven head and huge beard create a domineering presence, which makes his soft spoken approach to delicate folk songs all the more fascinating. There is almost an American Nick Drake delicacy, but he does not quite have Drake's edginess. I would normally say that is good as it probably keeps his mental health in a better place, but he dashes that when he introduced a song about getting through his various mental health problems. And although he was doing the usual depressing song rotation, he was quite hilarious with his comments and even had a few positive numbers... "I apologize for in advance for the excessive positivity in the next song. I assure you the depressing songs will continue." Fitzsimmons rotated between acoustic and electric and had a second acoustic guitarist along with the producer of his latest album who added steel guitar, electric guitar and banjo. The instruments stayed folky with only the slightest of rock touches toward the end. Fitzsimmons joked some famous song intros including "Stairway to Heaven" and had the crowd cracking up when he actually did the beginning and first verse and chorus of "Sweet Home Alabama". He did that since his steel guitarist hates the song. He really had the crowd into it the whole way with his humor and strong, assured presentation of his songs. He did a three song encore including an acoustic trio version of "Heart of Gold" where they stood around one mic to give it a busking effect. Great show by two outstanding talents tonight.

Quote of the Night: Fitzsimmons... "Do you mind if I reach down and get a drink of beer?" As he does the lighting guy turns off the spotlight on him. "Now you will never know where I went."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Islands - Idiot Glee -- Black Cat - Feb 22 2012

Idiot Glee - One guy on keyboards, electronics, and microphone. More often than not, a losing formula for me. But we shall see. No, it's lush dull modern pop music. You really have to come up with something 'out there' to get me interested in this. Nothing bad about it, there are just so many elements of interest lacking. A couple of songs came close with some counterpoints or edginess to warrant extra involvement, but most of it just rolled along. Enough of the crowd was into it and the young guy seemed like a decent enough sort. Feel free to continue on if this works for you. And yes, I've heard of Lexington, Kentucky and your number one basketball team. Have you heard of Active Ingredients and Red Interiors?

Islands - Oh where to begin or end? The Black Cat had the back section cut off and not only were the tables and chairs up front, but they had several rows of folding chairs just behind that. Interesting as a moderate sized crowd came out and filled them quickly with several people standing behind in front of the sound table. This four piece came out and played quiet pop music with some subtle touches and evidence of some good songwriting. The vocals were good and there were some formula variances as the set went on. It was overly cute indie music at times, but good writing made it effective. Early on, these two guys in the back who were kicking me in the back often and yukking it up with loud chatter and laughter were told off by a very angry woman. I turned around and agreed with her (after giving them a couple of glares earlier, one they clearly saw). She said others agreed and a couple other people also added their agreement. Later these two started up again when the band was asking people to get rowdier or words to that effect. She stormed off in the back and I went back as well. One of the guys went back and debated with her trying to defend his position. I elected not to join in, but my position of over-enthusiasm as a part of the music is something I can live with and even like, but their loud drunken disconnected chatter is rarely something to respect and allow for. A few minutes later, the band told everyone to get up, come up front and ignore all this chair nonsense. Excuse me? Like this was not planned in advance? I'll take a wild guess and say the Black Cat does not set up this way unless instructed, unless there is some new policy I am not aware of. And you are not exactly rocking the house down. You may be north of Mike & the Mechanics or Supertramp, but not by much. And those two guys basically used that as an excuse to rant how right they were.

Quote of the Night: From the Islands lead vocalist (early on)... "...Chatty Cathy's here, seriously, shut the fuck up." Now wait a minute, were you just telling someone to shut up who was talking during your quietest song and then you want to pretend you are Neil Young and Pearl Jam later in the set? I will leave you to your scenesters until y'all figure it out.

This is day 22 of my 29 Days Later experiment and there will be conclusions to be made on my first day off. But there is one week left and my mind will be sonically overdosed some more before I know what they are. But I am getting some ideas...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tony Anthony & his Malvivants - Cigarbox Planetarium -- Black Cat - Feb 21 2012

Cigarbox Planetarium - A duo hits the stage on guitar and keyboards. There is no vocal microphones and a set list of cards on a coat hanger. But I can't quite read it from my table in the back, so I will see if I can figure it out...
Song 1 - Sounds like the lady playing organ at my old minor league hockey arena with loungey electric guitar and rudimentary drum machine.
Song 2 - Two guys from Devo playing the Munsters theme song from memory.
Song 3 - Sounded like the background from a 1958 cartoon (they mentioned it was from a Fellini film--I was close).
Song 4 - Secret Agent Man played backwards by two guys from Goblin.
Song 5 - Duane Eddy jamming with Lurch at Addams family mansion.
Song 6 - Joao Gilberto gives 1/2 hour bossa nova lesson to two talented precocious teens.
Song 7 - Michael McDonald and Skunk Baxter FINALLY play a song worth listening to.
Song 8 - Chris Spedding playing with the old guy that was on local commercials in Dayton, Ohio trying to sell us organs from BHA.
Song 9 - OK, this is "Telstar"--I know this one. It was produced by Joe Meek who murdered his landlady before turning the gun on himself.
Song 10 - David Mamet dreaming of David Lynch dreaming of writing a new soundtrack.
Song 11 - Famous Monsters of Filmland commissions Ed Cobb to develop a theme song.
And then they did a couple with Tony Anthony singing and left to gracious applause from those of us who enjoyed their highly unique take on retro sounds.
Tony Anthony & his Malvivants - Well it took some digging (about three searches and a couple more clicks) but I see that this band is also known as the Bobwhites. They are an older group playing older music. Early '60s mostly, before those damn hippies moved in. Nattily attired and in Fat Tuesday party hats (I do need to get out less so I can pay attention to what else is going on in the world), they offer up many recognizable tunes... "A Town Without Pity", "Route 66", "Mona Lisa" etc.... Two of the guys look like attorney friends of mine that I used to work with. Aside from that bit of creepiness, these guys pretty much just lay out the goods. It all sounds like it emerged from a time capsule which is the intent. The guitarist has some nice licks and everyone else holds it together. The crowd is up to 25 at its max, but there were more people dancing than crowds of 200. New Orleans may have been more hopping last night, but there was a quirky little scene right here at the Black Cat.

Quote of the Night: Two people arguing about the mannequins overheard on the way home... "No, not those mannequins... the gay mannequins."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Highballers - Ian Walters Trio - Charlie and the Contraband -- Iota - Feb 20 2012

Charlie and the Contraband - Years from now when the 29 Days Later experiment is discussed (uh-huh), someone will ask the trivia question of what band was reviewed twice during that February of 2012. And the answer will be former Austinian, Charlie Harrison and the Contraband. I enjoyed the set two weeks ago at the Velvet Lounge and it was another nice ride tonight. They were down to a four-piece with a missing guitarist. But Jackson Edwards of the WeatherVanes was again on hand to add some mandolin, vocals, harmonica, and this time around... more lead guitar. Harrison has the songs, lead vocals and plays acoustic guitar. His songs are solid, a bit on the C&W side, but the Austin W side wins out and allows plenty of room for rock moves. Ian Walters joins in on keyboards for one song. Good set, good band, you won't go wrong if you like this style of music.

Ian Walters Trio - The trio consists of Ian Walters on keyboards and lead vocals along with a guitarist/lead vocalist and a drummer. Simple and effective barroom blues seems to be the formula. It is snappy and likable, but seems a little on the straight side for me. I did enjoy the keyboard work with the bass lines and overall rhythmic touch. As the set went on, the guitarist cut some nice solos and Walters had some nice skronky keyboard moves. A decent enough set, hard to criticize, but it did not elevate quite as much as I would like. This set was a good bridge tonight.
The Highballers - This is my second time in as many months seeing this 'local' five-piece. Local is where they live but with members hailing from New Orleans, Los Angeles, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Oklahoma City, geography is a just a little stretched. But they all bring their influences together in a rousing set of honkytonk rock'n'roll. They call it country, but that does not really describe it, even as they do some Gram Parsons covers and the Everly Brothers "When Will I Be Loved". Male and Female vocals trade off while the rhythm section keeps things shaking throughout. The lead guitar stands out best with an outpouring of notes running around it all. They exude a fun attitude as well and it is hard to enjoy this and get pulled into the rhythm of it all. The crowd was enjoying the night, as many wanted one last night of their long weekend. The Highballers delivered the goods.

Quote of the Night: The Highballers singer (to me after Contraband was finishing)... "Did he just rhyme sausages and hostages?!"

Monday, February 20, 2012

Scud Mountain Boys - John Brodeur -- Black Cat - Feb 19 2012

John Brodeur - I am hopeful that the age old formula of one guy with an acoustic guitar and a microphone will not only provide a nice set, but offer something at least slightly unique to the formula. The sound is good, nice songwriting, yet there are some nice shifts in volume and pace that was succeeding with me in my hopes. Brodeur has a full voice and maybe is a bit on the positive side, atlhough not entirely. Still, I heard more Dan Fogelberg than Nick Drake. The songs kept coming with the same nice shifts beyond the normal cliches of singer-songwriter folk. Ultimately Brodeur reminded me a lot of Love's Bryan MacLean and some of his home recordings released after MacLean's death. Brodeur is a fine songwriter and performer and this was a nice 42 minute opener.

Scud Mountain Boys - Alt country is a term I am not fond of. Even now after hearing a 90 minute reunion show by one of the earliest bands of this style, I am still unsure of its meaning. What I heard from the four original members of this band was a rootsy Americana folk rock combination with perhaps some country touches, but not many. They formed in the unique and fertile musical city of Northampton, Massachusetts which scores some personal points with me and makes genre classifications tougher. Joe Pernice is the name most recognizable of this band and I have enjoyed the music of the Pernice Brothers in past sets. But all four members were engaging and vocals came from many places. I would like to be more specific, but thankfully this was a pretty full crowd and it was hard to see the stage with this seated band. But that did not bother me, as I simply sat back and focused on the strong music they made. They presented it in the largo side of life with grace and careful touch. There were just enough instrumentation to offer nice counterpoints, but not too much to distract from a simple pastoral feel. They upped the volume on a couple of rockier tunes. There were also many amusing stories and quips scattered throughout the set. One of the more interesting stories was that one of the guys was friends with a guy named Zapruder in New York. Turned out he was the grandson of the guy that shot the famous footage of the Kennedy assassination. What was odd that he never heard a single word of it when he was growing up and one time came running over talking about the mindblowing documentary he saw on the Kennedy assasination--Man that's fucked up!. Uh, yeah. But anyway, this was an excellent set and the crowd really enjoyed seeing these guys together again after a decade and a half. And they were treated to a triple encore of an original tune, Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" and a fascinating slow-motion "Gypsy, Tramps & Thieves".

Quote of the Night: So many, but one of the Scuds was talking about being stuck in Dayton, Ohio (where I grew up for around 18 years of life). Odd that the crowd was kind of taken aback, so he added... "Hey man, I like Dayton... but it's a daaaark place."

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Matthew Santos - Eric Stepanian - Sweetbread Jim's -- Black Cat - Feb 18 2012

Day 18 of the 29 Days Later is the toughest yet as the cold is not quite going away yet and the Dead Milkmen show is a sell-out, I miss out on an easy going early show. But the Black Cat has something cooking...

Sweetbread Jim's - Sweetbread Jim introduces the band to us by saying he owns them and we should support them so he can move out of his mother's basement. Then he leaves. Oh, so he is not in the band and based on their name, he does own the band. There is a joke in here somewhere. No, actually they explain it further here. A woman on guitar handles all the vocals and is accompanied by bass and drums. The first song has quick jarring chords like crossing the Shaggs with the Cramps. Interesting. They slide into light lounge Americana pop jazz thereafter with occasional comebacks into striking rhythms. The vocals are good, but the overall effect is puzzling. So extra credit points for originality and likability, but maybe some more work is needed on songs and direction. But that is what Andrew Loog Oldham, or rather Sweetbread Jim, can work on next. They are gigging regularly, so we can all watch and see.

Eric Stepanian - Next is a guy from Boston with an acoustic guitar and a mic. I get more of a Jammin Java feel tonight and the Black Cat smartly put tables and chairs up front to create more of an intimate atmosphere. There was a small crowd but bigger than their downstairs stage would hold, so the set up worked. Stepanian has a rock style to his guitar work, but does not play at hyper speeds. There is a strength to the songs that work well enough in this format, but could also work with a full band. He does a Josh Ritter cover so a comparison to Ritter seems appropriate. His voice is moderately deep, flexible and only a touch of reverb. His vocal quality makes it easy to focus on the songs and roll with his 38 minute set. Nicely done.

Matthew Santos -  Hmmm, a guy who likes Nick Drake and has worked with hip hop artist Lupe Fiasco? My curiosity is up. He has an acoustic guitar along with two microphones. That mystery is solved quickly as he uses one to create interesting beatbox loops and the other one for his high quality vocals. His guitar work is also excellent as he mixes finger style work with simple chords to complex tonal landscape work. Yes the Nick Drake is in there, but there is more of a Spiritualized effect as when that band heads toward their shoegaze folk material. I am also hearing some Jeff Buckley here as well as Santos has the voice and style to carry on that sound. Oh, and about ten minutes after I make that note, he mentions that Jeff Buckley's mother wanted him to audition for the roll in the upcoming Jeff Buckley biopic. He then performed a striking "Hallelujah" which takes some guts as Jeff Buckley's version is nothing short of magnificent. He reminded everyone that Buckley did not write it (Leonard Cohen), but like pretty much every musician, he probably wished he had. Gutsy move that went over very well with the crowd. He went an hour and ten minutes and at the end, it was amazing how versatile his set was with just a few pieces of equipment (and the ability to know how and when to use it all). I enjoyed this a lot and it reminded me again how there are always new ways to combine and integrate styles and genres.

Another Obit... I just wrote this week about the founder of Destroy All Monster dying, when I just learn that their bass player Michael Davis has died. Davis was better known for his work in the essential band, MC5. I was thrilled to see the reconstituted version of the MC5 right here at the Black Cat in June, 2004. Davis and the two remaining live members had help from Marshall Crenshaw, Mark Arm, and Evan Dando (just before they let him go). It was a killer set from a band that like the Stooges, played a pivotal role in pushing rock's boundaries and influencing loads of punk rock bands. For more, read "Grit, Noise & Revolution: the Birth of Detroit Rock'n'Roll".

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Caustic Casanova - Accidents - Oh So Peligroso -- Velvet Lounge - Feb 17 2012

Oh So Peligroso - The dreaded 'third time seeing a band' thoughts creep into my head. I tend to worry if I see a band too frequently I'll end up thinking the fresh fun I had the first time has been replaced by seeing something average that maybe was not that fresh to begin with. But then there are sets like this which allow me to appreciate a band I like even more. They came out guns blazing with a bass that was a bit too high in the mix, but eventually organ, drums, guitar and vocals caught up. The energy is here again as are the catchy songs, but I was really watching the playing. I liked how the guitar work is more runs and leads during the verses as opposed to the basic barre chords (Keith Levine perhaps?). The bass is certainly heavy enough and the organ plays can support the melody as well. That allows free rein for the guitar create unexpected sounds giving this band its unique space. The vocals come out strong and there is a sense of fun with the entire band. The give off the same vibe as the Damned often does with things close to falling apart (well, with the Damned they often did). They closed with Elton John's "Crocodile Rock" which I have not seen live since 1974 when I was in junior high school where my friends, Rick, Greg, and Jon performed it at some function. Jon went on to play in Dayton's The Lovers which were the dreaded mainstream-seeking new wave band that our band, Toxic Reasons, would have nothing to do with. I secretly rooted for them having an old friend in the band, but alas, they are but a footnote to a footnote (deservedly so after listening to what I found on the web).

Accidents - I had not seen this band before, but I trusted Caustic Casanova to invite good bands for their CD release show. My trust was well served as this band instantly created raucous rawk music that bore down deep. Buzzsaw classic hard rock mixed with thrash metal mixed with gutsy punk rock. Although, that sounds like a lot, the approach was pretty simple... two guitars blazing away with bass and drums providing the thunder and a singer with a great piercing voice and stage presence. It was kind of Street Dogs meet MC5 in a way. Now if you are NOT doing the kind of guitar work I mentioned in the first set and ARE playing barre chords, it is easy enough to make it work if you have the energy and the hooks. That was all there and the singer with his Jello Biafra/early Paul Westerberg voice singing while hanging upside down from the rafters certainly made this exciting and fun. The sizable crowd tonight enjoyed this set as much as the first one.
Caustic Casanova - Speaking of seeing bands a lot..., but actually it has been a lot less frequent the last year or so. But I was not going to miss tonight as this local trio are releasing their long awaited album (see my review). They played it in full which is a perfectly good idea as it flows so very well and showcases all their amazing styles bundled together. Old psyche, new psyche, alt metal, classic rock, dreamy prog... all with interesting slightly off kilter vocal work and slashing dynamic shifts of power and volume. The set went almost an hour and unfortunately it was getting late, so some of the crowd had filtered out. But hopefully they bought a record before they went home, as this music is strong and sounds fresh after multiple listens (at least the 5 listens I have done so far in less than a week). They are headed to Mecca (Austin) and will pick up some tour dates around that, so hopefully lots of intelligent heavy music fans will discover this band that is still a little bit too under the radar around here.

Quote of the Night: "Will you save my wall?" coming from the man next to me. He was a parent of one of the band members and of my generation. I like having people around that appreciate the value of walls to lean on and a few stools or chairs to ease the pain of aging limbs and backs.

Friday, February 17, 2012

RECORD REVIEWS - February 2012

There is quite a bit coming in this month and I needed to get it out early as there are some fun record release shows coming up (starting tonight). So here goes...

BOTTLE ROCKET  "The Wolf. The Snake. The Bear."
This four song ep is from a fine Philadelphia band that shares members with the excellent Disco Machine Gun. Since there are only four songs, we can cover them each. "Shake Shake Shake" is about as pure Bob Mould cirka Husker Du as I have heard in a while. It's not 'close your eyes and you'll swear it's them' close, but it shares the edge on the vocals with a catchy rock tune. "Smiling Wolf" goes another direction with a more audacious mix closer to what I recall from Disco Machine Gun. It's a very catchy song with a nice mix of acoustic and electric sounds. The lead vocals are sharp and the backing vocals are dreamy with the drums pounding away like those in the band Ride. But this is not shoegaze, it is gutsy rock music with very clever arrangements. "On the Floor" almost has a tough REM sound going on. This theme continues in a more creative manner in "Ashes" to close out the ep. The songwriting and vocal work are well above average here and the band rocks along smoothly. They can easily pull in the most cynical indie fan out there with this sort of quality. I look forward to their full length efforts.

DENISON WITMER  "The Ones Who Wait"
Denison Witmer is low-key. Not to say he is taking it easy as this is his ninth album in fifteen years. I have not heard enough of his earlier work, but I cannot imagine it being quite as mature as this work. Witmer sounds as if he has put both a lot of living and a lot of thiought into these songs. Playing quieter songs with little accompaniment will of course drill the focus on the songwriting and core melodies. And these melodies easily work their way into your head. Even more effective than the quality core melodies are the smart accompanying sounds. There is a light and airy feeling coupled with spacey strange sounds that keep listeners on edge. Witmer reminds me a bit more like a modern artist such as Alisdair Roberts than some of the folk-rock singer songwriters of old, although clearly the influences are also from that era. No matter the influence and comparisons, Denison Witmer has great command at expressing his music in captivating ways. I will be interested to see how he comes across live when he opens for William Fitzsimmons at the 6th and I Synagogue on February 23rd.

Songs to try out:

Brooklyn with the Highest Wall - Superb arrangements in this song.

Every Passing Day - This song has his usual laconic pace, but drums and the twang of an electric guitar build the tempo up a bit into a low-key Adam Franklin type sound. Lovely effort.

One More Day - This short voice and guitar song has a melody you can drift away with. The deft finger picking is lovely.

This local band has been under my radar until now. From the sounds on their new album, their fourth, it has clearly been my loss. I really like their approach. They use a lot of synthesizer to augment to basic rock band sounds and come up with a pop-rock balance that harkens back to previous eras, but easily fits in with modern listeners. Moira Annelin's lead vocals are excellent and the harmony vocals are carefully used. Their approach updates sixties garage-psyche-pop-rock just as what an excellent band like Circulus did with psyche-folk. In this case, I hear great psyche-pop melodies like many 60s bands did with vocals that remind me a bit of the Peanut Butter Conspiracy (a talented and oft overlooked 60s band). Sweet Interference also employs a progressive touch to their songs and if you are not careful, some thick nearly metal guitar chords will explode at you. When you have this kind of variety, you need the talent to bring it out and the songs to hold it together. Sweet Interference has all of that. The 12 songs on this album will be going on my regular rotation and I will make sure to catch the live show at Iota on March 12th.

Songs to try out:

Monday Morning Recital - The first song of an album usually has the hooks and sounds like a single. True enough here.

Damage Control - Nice catchy song with heavy moves and a duet that reminds me of the vocal work of Dengue Fever.

Minimum Wage - This starts simple and ends as complex as any prog-pop song you can think of. Great vocal work.
CAUSTIC CASANOVA "Someday You Will be Proven Correct"
Long one of my favorite local power trios, it is nice to see them realease this album. The live set has always impressed me with the eclectic manner they mix hard rock, psychedelic rock, alt-metal and quirky songwriting into an original and at times unpredictable set. They recorded this record with J. Robbins at the Board, which usually leads to good results. The results are not only good, but even better than I expected. The sound is strong with great clarity for all instruments. The guitar work is varied with plenty of psychedelic swirl mixed into thick power chords and mobil fingerwork. The bass playing is solid and even heads into John Entwistle territory at times as it thickly carries melodic lines. The drums are strong and hold it all together as you would expect. The vocal work is intense with a twisted sense of humor. At times, they channel one of my favorite hard rock art bands, MX-80 Sound. But there is an accessible quality at work as well that I also have seen in the Entrance Band, another fine modern psychedelic band. This is a highly successful effort that I have already played several times. The album flows well and there is not a bad note in the bunch.

Songs to try out:

Short Commute, Live Forever - This commute has a lot of ess curves, but it is a fun ride.

A Campfire of Your Own Awe - Quiet Sebadoh like head trip breaks up the heavy sounds.

17:59/The Unfathomable Heart - Around eight minutes of psychedelic jams lead into a an even longer song that floats over the landscape before settling into grounded fields of noise.

MOLEHILL "Equinox"
Fans of Muse, take note. Molehill offers some of the biggest pop rock on this side of the Atlantic. Hard to believe this band played the Red Palace stage as it seems designed for echoes in cavernous arenas (not entirely true as I have seen some big sounding pop bands at the Red Palace such as Crocodiles for example). But there are plenty of good indie pop moves  in these songs as well. This is appealing stuff and the ironic thing is how much this stands out from indie rock whereas when I was young, indie rock bands of today would be shocking next to the prog rock and dense pop music that held on to the airwaves. There were times when I cried out for some variety in addition to a couple of instrumental interludes, one appropriately titled "Interlude". But the for the most part this was a sumptuous meal with enough taste to keep me digging in.

Songs to try out:

No Reprieve - The big sound will hit you hard with gorgeous Matt Bellamy/Freddie Mercury style vocal work.

Almost Broken (Heroes) - Good classic rock beginning moving into epic territory as it continues.

Someone Better - I like this closer as it has some subtlety in the verses and a nice big chorus.

LENORABLE "The Prince" ep

I often find some bands remind me of Siouxsie and the Banshees and in particular, their great album "Kaleidoscope", but rarely has anything sounded like quality outtakes from that album. The vocals are a little bit edgier here, subtle but edge is there. The drums are heavy on an electronic high pitched snare, but that guitar and bass work dance around like McGeough and Severin did so well, so many years ago. But this is not merely a retro release by this DC duo. The sounds are fresh and the vocals chilling. The themes are Poe-based which is highly appropriate for their style. I liked "Ligeia" which manages to sound thick while keeping some distinct space between the instruments. over six and three quarters minutes. This three-song ep is out February 29th and is well worth a listen. And you can also see them live at the Black Cat on February 28th.

The Fed - The Swinging Chalupa Sisters -- Wonderland Ballroom - Feb 16 2012

The Swimming Chalupa Sisters - This is my first time at this 'ballroom' and I am not exactly expecting a ballroom. What I get is a upstairs/downstairs bar/restaurant with a small stage upstairs. It's like the Velvet Lounge with a smaller stage and a bar in the back. It is quite crowded, so it is a popular enough place and with a couple bands (and a DJ I skip) tonight with no cover, the crowd is relaxed and having a good time. The 'sisters' are up first and feature only one woman on vocals and percussion. They also have a guy playing banjo and handling a lot of the vocals. The final member is horse looking resplendent in his suit and hat. It is a male horse and the full length mask is actually quite impressive. Obviously this is planned to be light and entertaining and it succeeded in a light way. Bluesy country & western with a backwoods feeling is the main course. The horse's electric guitar work was nice when it was featured. The songs were homey but did not sound too terribly strong. The main problem was that the PA delivered soft fuzzy vocals. Likable enough for the price, although I could have done without the Steely Dan cover. Although Steely Dan covers work with me better than the originals.
The Fed - I've listened to this local 4-piece's brand of garage rock in the past, both live and on record. They had some rough spots live, but the recorded music showed some nice ability. They have two guitars with a rhythm section. Unfortunately, the sound tonight is going to make it impossible to really get a full feel for what they are doing. They do push their sound as well as they can by banging out some decent rockers. And it is playing shows like this that will help them get things together and find their best songs and arrangements. Overlooking the sound quality, the music was enjoyable enough and the crowd was quite respectful of getting decent music for no cover (as well they should). Ron Paul may want to eliminate 'The Fed', but I never did like the gold standard. Garage rock is much more fun than precious metal.

I stumbled upon this review of another band called Fed and I would like to point out to the other writer that while he may be thinking he is complimenting this band by saying they are not a garage band, he in fact has doomed them to the dull mainstream wannabees they are. "Well-crafted modern rock" is what they call it and that is a description I hope to never use, even for those bands that play well-crafted modern rock. I'll stick with DC's Fed and all the other bands that come from the garage.

Quote of the Night: From the horse... "This is not a gimmick. This is who I am!"

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Angela Bofill Experience featuring Melba Moore -- Birchmere - Feb 15 2012

The Angela Bofill Experience - Angela Bofill suffered a couple of major strokes in 2006 and 2007. She has fought through paralysis, loss of speech, singing, etc. This is a unique show where she has her band play with a couple of guest stars, Melba Moore on vocals and Dave Valentin on flute. Ms. Bofill comes out for much of the show to sit and tell stories, banter with the players and the crowd and listen to more of her songs performed by Melba Moore and the band. Dave Valentin does some jazz numbers early on, but did not stay for much of the set. The band is simple but talented. It is just drums, bass and keyboards. They all do some soloing early on and clearly have the chops. Melba Moore comes out to do a couple of songs before she introduces Angela Bofill who makes the long walk to her chair on stage only needing a cane. The crowd is into all of the performers and how could they not appreciate Angela Bofill's recovery. This certainly is different, but it makes perfect sense, especially since Angela Bofill was a talented songwriter and not just a singer and can discuss her songs. And it is good to see that she has come this far and retains a postive attitude where she can have such good conversations with style and even some wit. Melba Moore has gone through many problems of her own, but she still has the pipes at age 66. I think she held a note longer than I can hold my breath. Her range lacked a little of the middle, but that hardly mattered as she was amazing at the high end which is usually the place singers pull back. The songs were very good, the band was solid and the large crowd had a good time. But how could they not with this positive vibe and talent level? I could go on, but you can check out her web site to learn more of this positive story.

Quote of the Night: Angela Bofill discussing her speech therapy... "I've even practiced a song, "Happy Birthday". I gotta start somewhere."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Slow Club - Airwaves - Young Rapids -- DC9 - Feb 14 2012

Young Rapids - I saw this local four-piece band less than one month back opening for the Silver Liners at the Red Palace. They were good then and it was more of the same tonight. Quirky pop with world weary vocal lines start things off. A bit of west coast jangle creeps in by the third song. Vetiver trying to cover Wye Oak? They were going over nicely with the large crowd tonight which was nice to see. They finished with a rousing rocker that has me salivating for the next set. They are playing to some nice crowds on these underbills which hopefully will lead to more success.

Airwaves - Basic two-guitar four-piece with the female guitarist handling the vocal duties. I am hearing a bit of Eleanor Friedberger early on. The rhythm guitars are striking, the bass runs playful and the drums lock in with the rhythm guitar work. I really do need to learn to write notes I can read, as I doubt I meant to say they played a smut-pop-indie sort of thing. I believe I meant smart. Notes or no notes, I can still recall the striking rhythm guitar runs that kind of reminded me of Wire, but a bit more modern or something. That offset the breathy slightly flat and down vocal style that reminded me a bit of Faun Fables, but musically was a different thing altogether. A couple of false starts as things were almost a bit too casual at times, but the overall quality made it easy to overlook that. They almost hit some cool drones, but the songs did not extend into any real length to call it drone rock. Hope they keep the good attitude, tighten things up a bit, and stay at it. Watch out if they do.
Slow Club - This was on my calendar and I had no idea why I wanted to see a band called Slow Club at the DC9 tonight. But I like surprises (some times) so I am game. Apparently this is a duo from Sheffield, making their first US appearance (with a rhythm section helping out). Well, I am glad I can say I was there if they go on big things. They begin quiet and folky but add a lot more rock as things move forward. The songs remind me of Arcade Fire--as if half of that band were playing them. The dual male/female vocals are the highlight and obviously a key to the success. They also hit most of my major buttons with strong arrangements and some really nice dynamic shifts. There are also elements of Joy Formidable, but again it is on the lighter side. The crowd is digging this and it would be rather hard not to, unless you went to the wrong club. But Slow Club had the songs and style to continue the great atmosphere started with the first two bands at the DC9 tonight. If the rest of the tour goes this well, expect Slow Club to be back again. As for big things? Not yet, but not impossible.

Quote of the Night: From Slow Club... "Has anybody seen us before?"
one person cheering.
"Really, where?"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Doomtree - F. Stokes - Educated Consumers -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Feb 13 2012

Educated Consumers - Day 13 of this fully booked experiment called February where I am doing a show a day. A night like this pushes me into little explored terrain such as hip hop, which is good. Keep in mind, this would be like many of you trying to review Val Lewton movies or Jim Thompson novels. Although a few of you may be up on that, most of you would not do a lot better than I in the hip hop world. But I'll try to learn by doing. So with that, we have a rapper and a live drummer who also pushes some buttons for electronics. I like the live drums and the raps are fairly fast and fluid enough. The topics are interesting, as they are fresh. I really tune out the cliches in this world and I really did not detect any in this set. The best topic was the wimpy way people in DC handle winter. That has been overdue for a song or a rap. Fresh and a nice start.

F. Stokes - This is just one guy on stage with a great crescent moon hair and beard combo. The electronics are not overwhelming which is fine by me if he is up to handling it mostly on his own. He was. Again, the topics and lines I pick up on show a much better intelligence and broader ability to communicate than what one may expect. He had a hilarious Rhianna story which lead into a rap over electronics that for some reason he mostly repeated without the electronics. I liked his attitude and positive vibe that he embraced. He was warm and the crowd connected easily with his raps and banter. And this crowd in near capacity at this point and have a nice balance of enthusiasm and respect. Good night so far.
Doomtree - We start with Doomtree's Lazerbeak doing about a ten minute solo electronica set that is certainly heavier than anything thus far. He tells us that the rest of Doomtree will join in for a two hour rap party. That may be a bit much for me with my cold, but I will certainly stick for some of it. There is one more guy on electronics and one men and one woman doing the raps. It has more energy than anything thus far and the crowd is pumped. There are at least two great rappers up there and one or two that are ok, but I really don't understand the need for so many. The rock comparison would be like the time I saw the Brian Jonestown Massacre playing at some festival. Although I liked a song they were playing, never had I seen four guitars that sounded like one. It was really distracting. I would much rather see the Screaming Females guitarist sound like two guitarists, not even using loops. But aside from this, Doomtree was doing well. There was a rap/song lead by the female rapper that had a lot of musical drama going on which was a nice change from the expected styles. What I saw of their set did not overwhelm me, but like the earlier acts, they kept a good vibe going. A pretty good Monday, all things considered.

Quote of the Night: The opening rapper introducing his drummer... "He used to drum with the Kings of Leon--he still wears the shirt."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Your 33 Black Angels - In Your Memory -- Velvet Lounge - Feb 12 2012

In Your Memory - I got there a little early so I caught some of the soundcheck. Check that, this is the Velvet Lounge, so I got there on time, waited, they let me go up well before the show started allowing me to listen in. The soundcheck was excellent and I love the two distinct guitar styles. When the show began, it was a bit of a blast of guitar noise, thundering bass and drums that did not always connect. They got it together nicely thereafter but they clearly are a little raw at this point. But that is all forgivable as the guitarwork is loud, fast and complementary. It was like Serj Tankian (System of Down) on one side and Vernon Reid on the other. The bass player sings and keeps it deep and steady. The drummer does well with the beats, although some of the breaks sound a bit out of place. They do need some tightening, but that will all come with more practice and more gigging. They call themselves alternative metal or progressive and if that sounds good to you, then I advise watching this band's progress. They just may get it together and become something special. They are starting on the ground floor and that is where most people do indeed begin.
Your 33 Black Angels - Roky Erickson crooned that is a cold night for alligators, and that was also the case for music fans around U Street tonight. the crowd 'swelled' from 2 at the beginning of the first band's set to about 12 when this Brooklyn collective hit the stage. Thankfully the Velvet Lounge has a big enough stage to handle the three guitars, keyboards, bass, drummer, and vocalist. The keyboardist plays one of those Gary Wright handheld pieces that gives a guitar look. So of course there is a full sound and fortunately there is a lot of cool sounds fading in and out of the songs. There is kind of a semi-rural psyche feel that you can get in MV & EE and maybe a touch of Hush Arbors. I heard a couple of tunes that could have started with 16 Horsepower, but this band brings in more rock and psyche-pop moves. The indie scene should go for this, as it feels modern enough. But I really enjoyed the waves of sounds that danced around different genres and eras and followed good song writing patterns. I've said that about many bands before and the key to the success is having the songs and the confidence and this band had enough of both. The singer must have borrowed Stephen Stills' fur coat from the Big Sur show. Fortunately no hippie was present to harass him about it. He had a good low-key, but intense style and swapped spots with the guitarist on one song who had a more out front garage rock approach. Good swirling sound with the guitars and keys and some quality jams that were not overly extended as they had the songs. Good show, but hopefully the weather will cooperate for the rest of their tour. Fortunately they are headed south for a bit. They are accomplished and unique and I would be happy to see them again some time.

Quote of the Night: From Y33BA... "You know it's weird because it as cold down here s it is in New York... especially in this room."
Yeah that little space heater in the back looked severely lacking in confidence.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Rail Runners - The Blackberry Belles - Jackie and the Treehorns -- Red Palace - Feb 11 2012

Jackie and the Treehorns - Rather basic looking rock trio here, in fact it looks like the Stern Brothers in the old band Youth Brigade (now in the AARP). The sound is much more arty indie rock and just as I am thinking it is nice simple material, the guitarist throws a curve ball by finding some deep dark psyche chords to add in. It continues on in an arty indie rock manner, but there is often this under-lurking sound as well as some songwriting twists that keeps this listener on his toes. The songs are tricky and the style is sometimes easy to grasp, other times not. The bass parts often are in the quiet Joy Division songs direction with soft highs and plenty of space. Although the songs lean more to the Fall perhaps. Intriguing set, not always a success, but utterly fascinating at times and worth another look for sure.

The Blackberry Belles - Regular readers know I am a fan of this local trio and you can go deep into the archives for show reviews, album review and interview if you like. The garage-soul-rock sound they create is retro but unique to this day and age. Out of the gate, I could not hear the keyboards, although it faded in during the first song. The sound was exceptionally soft tonight for some reason. They were politely asking for all kinds of monitor adjustments and I felt like asking for some PA adjustments as well. They were not served well tonight. There was also a little less energy than I am used to for a Belles set. Interestingly enough, it allowed the slower more relaxed songs to come through better than in the more raucous sets. However the rockers did not explode as they usually do. The guitarist/vocalist was recovering from a nasty bug, which I am so far fighting off a bit myself, so maybe both of us being less than 100% may have made things a little less vibrant tonight. Still, good songs and a great sound when the PA pushes it forward make this a band you should check out next time (where they are opening for a pretty good touring band--stay tuned).
The Rail Runners - These four guys from Alexandria play light lounge soul-funk. Parliament-Funkadelic they are not and that makes it a rather tough sell to me. They have bass, drums, guitar and organ and are mostly (all?) instrumental. The lack of vocals coupled with the relaxed style make this too much background music for me. It's nice club music for Saturday night dancers, so it has its place. It is just not something myself and I think a lot of rock music fans will really want to go out of their way to see. I did leave early tonight as I sensed the simple professional approach would continue without much variation. My throat does need a little extra rest tonight.

Quote of the Night: From the opener... "We will dedicate this set to a Woman from New Jersey who we have just learned died earlier today." Patti Smith? Say it ain't so! "So we dedicate this set to Whitney Houston by playing a full set of her covers." Do NOT do that to me, guys. In fact as they said more someone said "Not funny." and later when they brought it up, the drummer said "Too soon." Sage advice from the guy behind the traps.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Grey Area - 19th Street Band -- Strathmore Mansion - Feb 9 2012

19th Street Band - I need to start paying more attention to the Strathmore. Their Friday Night Eclectic series is a nice outlet for local bands and the venue is fun to hang out in as there is a bar for those in need or want, but there are also relaxing rooms to hand out in, often with an art show exhibited. The stage is nice with reasonable room to view/dance or whatever, and the crowds have been strong the two times I have been here. First up is local trio that combines Appalachian folk, Irish barroom, Americana, and a touch of bluegrass/country into an appealing mix. You cannot fault their enthusiasm and their playing is also up to the task. The violin (ok, fiddle then) comes across nicely as does the stand-up bass. The acoustic guitar sometimes gets a bit lost in the mix, but it is mostly use to bang out the chords keeping a rhythm going. They all take some leads with the Irish born guitarist getting the lion's share. I kind of wished for a touch more Irish in the sound, but that is their choice. They went a bit long for me at over an hour, but they did a really nice job and I probably would not have complained about that except I have a sore throat and I think I'm getting something. Bottom line -- a fun barroom weekend combo here.
The Grey Area - This local rock duo features full bodied electric guitar/vocals with drums. The psyche-rock guitar moves and pummeling drums is pretty much cooked to order for me. They throw a lot of curve balls early which is impressive for a duo. It is part in the songwriting and part in the guitarist controlling his sound nicely. The vocals remind me of someone -- well, maybe  a light Feargal Sharkey (Undertones). There are others like this and I only wish I could remember them. Along with the shifts of sound, the drummer moves the tempo around nicely and the songs create their own little world nicely. I lean toward the heavier and I particularly like the psyche-prog workouts that are not ridiculously heavy, but rather crafty in their execution. Some of the lighter songs have a nice dance feel which is always good for a Friday night show. The crowd was enthusiastic and some of the shape shifting songs have me interested in seeing this band continue to develop. I did miss one extra instrument at times, either a booming bass or an offsetting keyboard or flute, but some songs had enough going on with the effects off the guitar to make it work. Keep an ear on these two.

Obituary of Note - I was glad to see that the Washington Post had a nice obituary for artist Mike Kelley this week. He was known for his art, but I will always recall his formation of an interesting band called Destroy All Monsters. They were from Detroit and began, like the Stooges, by playing vacuum cleaners and other appliances at odd art-rock shows. Kelley and others left as the band added Ron Asheton of the Stooges and Michael Davis of the MC5 and obviously became more rock oriented. I caught this version a couple times live as they were a nice bridge from the old Detroit scene and the burgeoning punk scene in the midwest around 1980-81. So thanks for all your work, Mike Kelley.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Max Levine Ensemble - Traveling - Spraynard -- Black Cat -- Feb 9 2012

Spraynard - A Westchester, Pennsylvania trio starts it off tonight backstage at the Black Cat. Aside from five of us, everybody moved up front without being asked--a rarity these days at smaller shows. Well this is a punk show with plenty of Xes on hands, so the energy should be up tonight. Earnest pop punk is the formula with clean vocals and quick power chords. Nothing terribly distinct here. They tell a story about dropping out of school to play a video game. The bass guitar goes out giving them more time to talk, making the need to mention they dropped out of school quite superfluous. This is one is for the kids, after all they are young guys. Well the guitarist has a rather natural tonsure developing that could lead to an audition with the Monks. Lah-dee-dah hardcore continues. 21 minutes later, they leave to a polite reception.

Traveling - Hmmm... Traveling from Bloomington, Indiana? Reminds me of the time I was watching THE Damon Bailey begin his famed career for Indiana U. It was in Maui and we all awaited the coming of the young man that local writer John Feinstein had made famous years before when he wrote that this 8th grader was coveted by major university basketball programs. Alas his first act with the ball matched the name of this band and his career did not get a whole lot better after that. But I digress... Seriously, this trio has got it working. They lay out 25 minutes of power-pop punk with enough pace and power to bring in the hardcore kids and good melodies to pull in the agressive pop-rock fans. The female guitarist handles the lead vocals nicely with the bass player assisting. Solid drums and we have a nice little band with a winning set. A little 'same old' in the song writing, but that would be more of a complaint in a longer set. I had fun, it seems we all did.


The Max Levine Ensemble - I don't think I have to write much more about this long standing local punk trio. They have put on a great set every time I have seen them, which is why I am back tonight. It has been a while and I am not quite clear in my memory of how I felt before, but very early on this set seemed like they were more on fire than ever. This was 30 minutes of intense power without losing sight of the many fine melodies in their songs. They sort of combined the earlier bands' styles and amped it up a couple of notches. The rhythm section was hyper energetic and roaring along with plenty of gutsy guitar work with even a bit of jangle in there. The crowd was into it and there was a lot of pogoing, which is always preferable to the macho mosh pit. And crowd surfing downstairs? That is a rarity, but understandable. Riff, melody, and the roar. This still works for me. I can imagine it worked for all the fans around the country that saw them on their recent tour. Nice to have them back and they are dong more shows around town.

Quote of the Night: From TMLE... "We would like to dedicate this song to out long time roadie who has been with us the last several weeks."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bravenoise - Satori Trova - Dos Osos -- DC9 - Feb 8 2012

Dos Osos - The guitar - drum duo hits the stage and I notice the guitar is acoustic. In chatting with members of the next two bands, I was alerted that based on the soundcheck (and further knowledge) this was a set not to be missed. The beginning was nice and spacey, so I was hoping for perhaps a little psyche with my folk? One can hope. Well not at first as things actually got more heated up immediately after. And I was quickly mesmerized into following the stunning powerful sounds coming out of this acoustic guitar. The drummer is pounding away nicely and even a few disjointed moments in the first song, were not going to curb my enthusiasm. Everything was tighter thereafter and the sounds and more importantly the playing was simply amazing. I'm looking for some precedents here, a bit of Perry Leopald's second album maybe? Perhaps my South American psyche records? Actually they are closest in spirit and sound to a band called Voice of Seven Thunders, but they have their own sound and vocal style. Some of the songs stopped on a dime and went into intricate folk finger picking before building back up. I was talking with the guys about Opeth before the show and it was hard not to think of the times Opeth straps on acoustic guitars and sounds a bit like this. Brilliant stuff. Maybe my jaw won't be dropped as far after the third time seeing these guys, but I bet I will still be as impressed. I think the guitarist Avi for Satori Trova raved about them quite accurately during his set , "That was the first prog-rock acoustic duo I've seen in my life!"

Satori Trova - Third times the charm? I'm not keeping score (well I am, but I am not going to look and verify), but I think this is my third time seeing this local collective. They line up with a full house of a band featuring a solid rhythm section, creative guitarist, cutting sax and keys, atmospheric keyboards/guitar, and a fine vocalist. The crowd has swelled quite a bit (your loss on missing the first set, but you will still be getting your money's worth). The band continues to hone their sound which smoothly moves from jazz to indie rock to older rock with that good lounge feeling. I hope most people realize that although lounge used to be kind of an insult, when done well it creates great atmosphere. And that's what the band delivered yet again with plenty of good cutting guitar and sax solos. Not only do I think the band is growing in confidence, but I think this is one of those sounds that gets better for me the more times I experience it. Some sounds are immediate (see above) while others get better after several listens (I hope this has happened to everyone with that certain record that grew into a favorite over time). Another nice sign is that I enjoyed some of the slower numbers, as with lesser bands, I would want more speed or power. Catch these guys when you can and do it more than once and you should be rewarded.

Bravenoise - This is a trio from Baltimore, but apparently since they are buddies with the guitarist from the opener, he joins them for a majority of their set. The first cut had me into them quickly enough with a reminder of Mighty Baby and a vocalist sounding like the guy from the Groundhogs. The set moves a little bit more into familiar territory covering indie rock with some light dancey rhythms going on in the rhythm section. Both guitarists are good and they do some really cool things together on occasion. These are catchy songs that can bring a light smile and a bit of dancing or toe tapping and a bit of swaying if you are like me. They do bring out some more timeless measures into their sound which is where they do strike me as a potentially very good band. That is part good songwriting and part the interplay between the guitarists. I would need to see them as a trio to fully get the feeling of this band, but as long as that guest guitarist is around, there is no point in that. But based on what I heard, I will be wanting to see this band again in any combination.

Quote of the Night: From the singer/guitarist of Bravenoise... "I have to get up early and teach middle school tomorrow."
"What subject?"
"It's going to be a computer lab tomorrow.... Only teachers know what I'm talking about."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Geogre Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic -- 9:30 Club - Feb 7 2012

George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic - What more can you say about this show? Of course the collective of 15-20 people roaming around the stage are going to put out a long set of great music. That is pretty much a given, which is why they still pack the house at a moderately sized ticket price. Sadly, Garry Shider is no longer with us to supply his antics, but a lot of the key players are still aboard. George Clinton was a little surprised dressed in a nice suit with a stylish hat and someone on stage even reminded us of that in case we were expecting the rainbow afro. Clinton later changed into some cool but comfortable garb. Early on, he really reached deep for his growling vocals. They just jammed and jammed with various recognizable cuts worked in. They reached "Maggot Brain" 65 minutes in and had either only one or two breaks before that. Michael Hampton was on board yet again to deliver the searing guitar solo that Eddie Hazel originated. I am not sure they could ever get away with playing that magic moment. Well, they probably could since everything else is so much fun, but I among many would miss it. Unlike early in the set when some guys in front of me were giving the Dio Metal Appreciation symbol, this song earns it. And of course that is why I come back to this set often. Clinton and company have a genius for combining genres into their brand of funk music that works so well live. The controlled chaos onstage is always under control with masterful players rotating in and out of the spotlight. It is fun and if you've never been, do it before other key members die or retire.


Quote of the Night "I got nothing." That's me. I'm a bit stressed with today's schedule, so I can't go find a good one and they were all the usual ones last night. But I had two last night, so expect more from me tomorrow as the Show-a-day schedule continues.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Matt Tarka - Charlie and the Contraband - Double Saginaw Familiarity -- Velvet Lounge - Feb 6 2012

Day 6 -- 29 Days Later...  One of the joys of early retirement is recapturing so much freedom. I do some consulting work primarily for extra $$$, but I am also helping out some friends establish what will likely be a successful company. Still, I dont' like the days like this that sour my mood when a late meeting pretty much forces me to change my schedule and miss the Yardbirds show at the Birchmere. I mostly wanted to see how drummer Jim McCarty introduced Dazed and Confused after we exchanged some polite emails on the subject after a previous show at the State Theatre. It involves the fascinating saga of Jake Holmes and songwriting credits. Here's the story, it is a good one. But hey, there's a nice show at the Velvet Lounge tonight, so let's get started.

Double Saginaw Familiarity - This is one guy with guitar, one mic, and looping technology. He plays in a band which is immediately evident with the songs presented. Although the songs have a moody indie rock feeling that cry out for a full band, he uses the loops well and is an effective player that this ends up working quite well as a solo presentation. The songs are low key with a nice clarity. I like the fuzz tones and he even works in multiple loops that do not ever get muddled. He played a long 44 minutes but the set worked quite well while he played and avoided his lengthy chattering. Actually that was fun, but as he says: "I like to establish credibility when I play and destroy it in between songs."

Charlie and the Contraband - We have a full band this time around. Charlie plays acoustic guitar, sings and provides all the songs. He is accompanied by an electric lead guitarist, a rhythm section and Jackson Edwards of the WeatherVanes who provides vocals, steel guitar, mandolin, and harmonica. Charlie is a Texan playing Texas music for DC. It is country and western, but since it is on the western side of that equation, I am liking it. The set is really brought to life by this high quality band he has with him. The honky tonk rocking tones are there throughout the 45 minutes. My toes were tapping and the songs were easy to immerse yourself in. This band has the sound down to where the fence sitters for C+W or alt country should be able to have a great time hearing this set. I did.
Matt Tarka - We are back to a one-man act to finish up the evening. Tarka's formula is to keep it simple and direct. He sings, plays acoustic guitar and that is it. The chords are simple and strongly hit featuring plenty of barre chords. This is a style comparable with a lot of rockers turned folk artists such as Kevin Seconds and TV Smith. I am reminded quite a bit of TV Smith with the powerful direct acoustic guitar and the moderately high pitched voice that also shares the direct intensity of the guitar. If you are looking for technical prowess, well I saw a lot of that this weekend, but if you want some good songs put forward sincerely, Matt Tarka's set will do the trick. There was a small but decent crowd tonight at the Velvet Lounge--after all it is a Monday. And after three long solid sets, I was not missing the Yardbirds at all.

Quote of the Night: Right after the first set starts, someone comes up to me and asks... "So are you just sitting here in the back and listening?"
"I was just reading your blog about that guy that asked you that at a previous show."
Kudos to Jackson Edwards for catching me off guard with that deja vu joke. It helped that I did not recognize him with his slightly longer hair and the dark Velvet Lounge ambiance. Well done, sir!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Madonna -- Superbowl - Feb 5 2012

Madonna - Since no one booked anything opposite the Superbowl, I flew to Indianapolis to check out the Madonna halftime set. Of course, by fly, I mean I sat on my couch and scribbled some notes. I actually could have gone to a hip hop show at the 9:30 Club starting after the game, but I already had this idea. Kudos to them for putting out some music tonight.

Madonna had an Egyptian theme going at first, was stylish and modestly costumed as were all the dancers. I was interested to see her and all the female dancers do everything in heels, while the men get gym shoes. Maybe that goes on all the time, I don't really know--I'm kind of out of my comfort zone here. Like in recent years, the lights and animation around the staging is excellent. I liked the guy's low wire act. More themes came in the form of cheerleaders and marching bands before the finale with Madonna in a full black gown and a full choir chiming in. Everything was slick and successful and this makes a lot more sense than aging rock acts or the Blackeyed Peas. I am not even going to reopen an old argument among friends between the hideous performances of Elvis Presto and Up with People. But if you want to revisit the horror, try out this portion of the worst half-time show ever.Event of the Night: Deli Magazine named Deleted Scenes as DC's breakout artist of the year for the second straight year. This is truly one of the slowest breakouts I have seen, but the way the music business is these days, it makes a lot more sense the more I think about it. Anyway, they are a fine band hopefully they and many of the other bands will break out enough to get off this list next year. Anyway, here's the list and it is a good reminder of how many bands I need to get out and see this year. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Kennedys -- Jammin Java - Feb 4 2012

The Kennedys - When I review a crop of CDs for Folkworld Magazine that offer a nice take on the Americana folk scene, I often wonder if I am not hearing the great artists when everything I hear seems stuck in various degrees of 'good'. It did not take more than a few songs tonight to see that the Kennedys are a great folk-rock duo that easily rise to the great artists level. The Kennedys are a married couple (looking a lot like Damon & Naomi) with Maura providing most of the lead vocals and Pete providing incredible instrumental prowess on a hollow body electric guitar. They start with a number that is a little country, but there is a lovely pop chanteuse quality there. Their songs shift around a bit to folk-rock, early 60s rock and roll, California folk-rock, British folk-rock... etc. etc. The quality is amazing. Maura has a lovely voice, the guitar work is clean and supportive. But when it comes to solo time, watch out as Pete Kennedy consistently nailed speedy solos filled with soft notes that flowed rather than pierced. Dave Alvin comes to mind. The set moves into some brand new songs that they have never played live. Maura described them as kind of Petula Clark or Dionne Warwick, and yes that hip but not overly counter cultural 60s sound is there. Few bands can really pull it off well, but it worked so well tonight. They take a break after one set and mingle in the crowd taking requests.

The second set is filled with several requests many covers, and even some new songs. They do a medley of Bach to "8 Miles High" to Gershwin I believe. The tail end of the Byrds song had a ukulele solo which extended through the Gershwin. Let me just say simply, that ukulele solos should never sound this good. I realize the instrument is popular now and does work quite well, but it just should not be creating such great tones even with the nimble finger work here. Amazing. "A Day in the Life" worked very well. Normally I would have been surprised, but they have already won me over with their talent and intelligence (not to mention nice humor). A quick encore and they are off to continue the tour and prepare for a long European run with Nanci Griffith who they work with as band members along with being the opening act. The Jammin Java was full of fans that were rightly supportive of this band and would be no doubt asking me where I have been all the while the Kennedys have been working their magic. Well, add this band to my long file of 'Better Late than Never'.

Quote of the Night: from Pete commenting on the only technical screw-up... "I thought I'd put the set list on this (I-Pad) tonight only I forgot to change the settings so it would not turn off after 15 minutes. So three songs in and boom, it's gone."

This is the first time I have seen the I-Pad used. It was joked about throughout the night as they did use it a bit to refresh their memories on the new songs.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Kathleen Edwards - Hannah Georgas -- 9:30 Club - Feb 3 2012

Hannah Georgas - The first of two Canadian singer-songwriters begin the Friday night festivities at the 9:30 Club. I don't know why I  thought it might be a small turnout, but a fair amount of people are here (and it will eventually grow to a sizable crowd). Georgas plays electric guitar and has a guy also playing electric guitar, keyboards and various loops and drumbeats. They begin with an interesting throbbing loop which creates a sense of unease as the guitars ever so slowly join in. This is the sort of drama that I wish more bands would bring to their songs (like Kohoutek or Mono on the psyche circuit). The second song had a duller drum beat and was so-so at best. The duo quickly regained their footing with really nice electric guitar work that created lovely tones for Georgas to sing her songs on top of. She had a good voice pleasantly dancing all over the treble clef, and the songs seemed solid, but due to the careful arrangements and skilled playing, this set was a cut above what I expected.
Kathleen Edwards - Next up is yet another Canadian singer-songwriter. This time there is a full band, so maybe it will rock a bit more. Edwards has been on the scene for about a decade and has established herself well, so this should be a pretty slick outing. The opening number rocked in sort of a country-rock manner--kind of safe, but a fair enough. The second song woke me up out on any complacency I was anticipating with a really strong and deep feel present in her brilliant songwriting. As the songs keep coming, I am wondering if I could not compare her to a strong writer like Josh Ritter who capably delivers great songs. Well, I am not sure if the songs are quite as good, but the delivery is significantly better as this band keeps moving in and out of heavy rock, folk rock, and some fascinating psychedelic guitar solos. This is very Neil Young at some points and it is cool to see the lead guitarist get plenty of time to cut loose. About 45 minutes in, she lets the band rest and the audience settle back as she sings atop of her acoustic guitar. But they are all back quickly enough and get the second half really rocking. Hannah Georgas comes on many times to add some lovely backing vocals and the guys help out with the singing as well. This set really moved me much more than I had expected and this is exactly the kind of show I hoped for when I planned to do 29 shows in February. Although nights off are nice, tonight reminds me of the many great artists you can miss out on when you don't challenge yourself to try something new.

Quote of the Night: Edwards... "I want to say that this song is not about being married and then not married. It's about finding yourself on the streets of Calgary, barfing your guts out."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Wild Fruit - You're Jovian - Rocket Boat -- Black Cat - Feb 2 2012

Rocket Boat - We begin with a band making its debut! That got me wondering how many debuts I have seen over the years... Toxic Reasons, Sluggo... I can't recall if I was at Fugazi's first or fifth show, but in looking at their rather daunting archive of shows, I believe it was the 5th at DC Space. The Sluggo show was great as they were kids from ages 14 to 17 opening for the mighty Discharge. We laughed before the show how they might blow Discharge off the stage. Amazingly, they did. Anyway, this debut features a singer/guitarist who is grayer than I am, so I expect a more veteran sound. He and his rhythm section along with two more guitarists did deliver a solid half-hour set. They maintained a deliberate pace throughout and the better songs were easy going early-70s styled psychedelic numbers like that of Relatively Clean Rivers, but perhaps a bit more ethereal. They went over nicely and I would be happy to see them again some time.

You're Jovian - My immediate concern is whether I have ever heard of a band name with 'You're' in it. Nothing comes to mind and this trio quickly has me focusing on their music as it is loud and interesting. There are influences here, but it is hard to pin down. I am hearing Mission of Burma or maybe even a touch of Sonic Youth, but that is not quite it. Their Facebook page helps me out as I write this with a nod to the Swirlies! I enjoyed their show and the talk I had with Damon Tutunjian last year and their unique sound does appear to be a big influence here. I also hear some Hush Arbors and Grails and other modern hard, edgy, psyche sort of acts. The vocals are a bit too soft and really get lost in the strong sound--they remind me more of Bruce Dern than anything else. This a tricky little set to get into. I like the sound, but there are some missing elements, something really dynamic to explode into different directions. It's primarily the vocals, but just a little bit more spice could turn something good into something great.
Wild Fruit - I get really frustrated when I have one of those 'Oh yeah, I HAVE seen this band' moments. It is even worse when I am not sure until well into the set. But I indeed have seen and enjoyed this quirky trio's take on modern garage rock. The guitarist/vocalist played bass in Rocket Boat and he did switch to bass for a few numbers here with the guy that looked like Leonard Maltin. There was an interesting shift when the bass player here played a few songs on guitar. The music was a bit livelier with the vocals deeper and darker. It was a nice contrast which you should get from people switching instruments, although it amazes me at the times when it does not matter a bit. There was a bit of a Crazyhorse covering Velvet Underground feeling at times which was a very involving sound. A bit of dirge here, a bit of jangle there. The set grew nicely over the 37 minutes and had me in a good place. Nicely done.

Quote of the Night:  Well, it was in Spanish, so I'll just relate the incident. While eating at a good Central American restaurant on 14th street, a moderately loud discussion near-by got out of hand with a woman and man arguing. The two women serve crew kept trying to restrain her as she began to 'swing like a girl' at the guy who was generally staying out of it, but didn't leave, sometimes mouthed off and had a stupid grin on his face too often. This went on and on, back and forth as they pulled her away and she came back. The guys finally came out and got her back in the kitchen before leaving. When she walked by, she was three sheets to the wind. The one thing that interested me about this is event as how infrequently I see it in clubs compared to days of old. Keep up the good work, music fans.