Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Western Affairs - The Sea Life -- Black Cat - May 29 2012

The Sea Life - This quintet tells us they have been together for 5 years since their high school days. They are scattered among various colleges, so only get together at convenient times to play some music. Exams are over, so they make their way to this show tonight in front of a nice crowd. And how can you not like friends getting together and banging out some nice likable pop rock? They did not knock my socks off, but they were always enjoyable and a few times added some nice instrumental flourish, such as a shoegaze passage, or an intricate guitar dual. They varied the tempos and volumes nicely and had a good handle on their music throughout. The half-hour set breezed by as the club attendance continued to grow. Solid opening effort.
Western Affairs - This local trio lines up with a drums and a couple of keyboards. One of the guys moves over to guitar often, while the other handles the lead vocals. I am immediately a fan of their sound as the synthesizer cuts in like something out of early Tangerine Dream (coming to DC July 8th!). They have some computer backing, but are creating most of the sound themselves. The drums and synth combine to give this music a heft that separates them from dozens of lesser bands that may play nice dance beats, but have little to offer a listener like myself. These guys come from the post Animal Collective school and approach a Caribou-like sound as far as I can tell. But the retro sounds were great and I even heard some Tuxedomoon, which is a reference I love to make (and I am stunned at how little I hear of that band this century even when they reformed). The vocal work is good and really carries a couple of great melodic songs to high levels. They banged out a 32 minute set to a surprisingly large (over 60 folk-strong) and appreciative crowd. All the more impressive, as most or all of the band are X'ed on their hands. This was an EP release party and was festive and fun for the band, their friends, and us newcomers who were given a nice modern lush pop treat with just enough kick.

Quote of the Night: "Probably some kid." spoken after a fire alarm went off last Saturday at Aromatic. It was right as the first band was setting up and the whole ten stories of Artomatic was required to vacate. The firemen slowly walked up to check it out, as no hurry was needed as there was no sign of a problem. I assume everything got going and those that stayed likely had a great time. But I did not want to deal with crowds and really felt like a shower would be a nice thing at that point on the late, hot and sticky, Saturday night. Apologies to Screen Vinyl Image, Silo Halo, and Lorelei. But I've seen these great bands before and will again. You should, too.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fourmanchu - Stereosleep -- Iota - May 28 2012

Stereosleep - This double bill played Saturday night on the main stage of the Black Cat, so I give them both credit for providing live entertainment to those of us who don't know a holiday weekend from a Tuesday afternoon in June. First up is a four-piece band with two guitarists with one handling nearly all vocals. The instrumental intro has me thinking of some sort of Mogwai/Scratch Acid jam band covering Wire's "Mercy". They lock into this sort of psyche/dirge rock groove a few more times during the set which somehow sounds unique even though the components are likely in a thousand albums I own. But that is the nature of group music, and these guys manage some intriguing sounds. They mix it up a bit with more standard rock fair, but there is usually something creative going on or a bit of sonic energy to burn at the least. Some melodies are comfortable in a classic way, and why I am reminded of UFO, I cannot fathom, but there is plenty to digest. Even a jangle song sounded dark and murky, which is a great way to alter that familiar approach. Quite an interesting 45 minute set, this. I am glad to see these guys playing out so much. And although I am not sure they have a formal plan, that is often a strength. So with more live shows where they continue to find themselves along with thoughtful writing sessions, there is a world of potential here. And enough of it is realized at this moment, that they are well worth a look.
Fourmanchu -This band sounds more like they have a plan in place. And based on their 65 minute set, it is a plan they execute well. They also are a quartet, but with one guitar and a piano. The lead vocalist plays the piano on a few songs, focusing exclusively on vocals for the majority. And when that happens, you expect a higher quality of vocal work. That is exactly the case here as there is a Matt Bellamy/Muse quality to his singing with the band occasionally rising to that style of rock music as well. They mix it up a bit with a few slower pop-rock numbers along with some startling driving rockers. One song sounded like Budgie with smoother vocals (maybe like Iron Maiden's first vocalist, Pat), and that is not a comparison I make much. The key is that the guitarist is capable of riffing out like Wilko Johnson, although in a more contemporary manner. The rhythm section is solid and capable of banging it out like the first band, or pulling back a bit. They did a Jack White cover and a couple more as they mixed it up a bit for those that saw their set on Saturday. They should appeal to a lot of varied music lovers and can easily hold their own on a variety of bills with high quality bands. I'll be back for a future show.

Internet Fun - I did get a little tired of looking at the dead animal, the guitarist for the first band had on his guitar strap, which reminded me of seeing Ted Nugent back in the days he channeled his luncacy a little better than he does now. But what was really bizarre, was that I was reminded of this show months ago when a guy from Europe wrote me to discuss a Uriah Heep show I had reviewed. He wanted to know information from the 1976 show I had seen, as he was a Uriah Heep historian. I had a couple of things for him (as a friend met them backstage even), so we exchanged info. This was not too surprising, as I STILL get Gary Thain searches. He was their bass player who died in 1975 at the age of 27. The one real surprise was that the guy I was writing to provided me with a photo of a ticket stub for the Ted Nugent/Uriah Heep show I attended (Rex Smith was the opener).

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I have had chances to provide ticket giveaways in the past, but have been too lazy to deal with the administration of such. Well, let's try it. I have one ticket (although I could make it two if you really convince me) for the Danzig - Doyle show at the Fillmore on June 4th. All you have to do is send me an email at and complete the following sentence... Glenn Danzig is a(n) ___________. Make the answer as long as you want and I will either judge them or pick one at random (I'll do that if I know the people entering).  So Misfits/Samhain/Danzig fans, let me know if you want this chance to see Glenn and Doyle team up to play Misfits and Danzig tunes and save thirty odd dollars. I'll pick a winner Sunday and mail you the ticket or arrange or meet you at the show.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Meshuggah - Baroness - Decapitated -- Fillmore - May 22 2012

Decapitated - We begin with a Polish one-guitar quartet playing straight ahead tough metal. There is a lot of pace and they have all the chops, but ultimately it is a little dull and cliched for me. Someone is going to have to explain to me why hard as nails metal bands like shaking their hair in circles so much. The guitarist does have some really odd and cool twists in a few of his solos and they do the job of getting the crowd revved up well enough, so hey, it's an opening band at a metal show. The arena is fairly full and the crowd is actually about the most polite crowd I have seen. But they dig their metal and are stoked for what is next.

Baroness - This Savannah band also has four members, but with two guitars. They have a fascinating sound that is really hard to pin down. They begin with spooky music that goes on maybe a bit too long. Although anything beats the time I saw Type O Negative and they looped children singing 'It's a Small World' over and over for about ten minutes which seemed more like six hours (we really don't need waterboarding). Anyway, I am hearing some tuneful early Iron Maiden type compositions, but there is some classic rock ala Thin Lizzy at work, too. However, they do some psyche shifting and I am hearing something between Kattatonia and Kyless. Maybe a bit of Algarnas Tradgard even? Forget it, this band is extremely creative in pulling out whatever tricks they have learned over the years and making it work in their own style. They rock hard, but are one of the more tuneful bands you will see on a metal stage. A perfect band for metal dabblers like me, who really take to the bands that add some prog or psyche elements to move above the cliches. But they really have to rock, and these guys bring it. Kudos to the vocal work with both guitarists often singing in unison and even dovetailing each other in one song. That takes some thought, but I am not surprised anymore at what these guys can do. This was one excellent 45 minute set.
Meshuggah - I do enjoy my Scandanavian music of all varieties and I look forward to seeing what this popular Swedish death metal band is doing these days. I saw them in Denver four years ago and enjoyed the set, but it was a challenge. These guys play tough physical music and can conjure up a frighteningly steady stream of metallic jet engine intensity. They don't confront you as much as some bands do, but lock into a thick sound and manage some intricacies that I can not quite pin down. I bought a couple of their albums recently and I need to take some time to study them a bit more. I think it takes some time with this sound. But the crowd knows this band a lot better than I do and dug right in. In a first for me, I watched a guy in a wheelchair crowd surf twice. I liked the band's slower passages as it created a bit more tension in the set. And for me, the vocal style gets a bit monotonous, so the rhythm changes and tempo shifts really help the overall power of the band maintain itself over time. This is an interesting band, well worth experiencing.

T-Shirt spotting - I had a nice laugh at a Slayer shirt that had the usual tour dates on the back, but there were only three over-sized dates from Massachusetts shows with the line "World Tour" above them. There was some regional explanation, but a nice effect. Far better than a Night Gallery shirt that had the tour dates with "the On the Road tour" above them. Wow, they named the tour "On the Road". I would have liked to see the band meeting to see who offered up that creative gem.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Damien Jurado - JBM -- Black Cat - May 21 2012

JBM - From the Brooklyn melting pot of musical pilgrims, comes this quartet of musicians from various cities and countries. There are drums, bass, guitar/keyboards, and a Montreal born lead vocalist/guitarist/pianist/songwriter, Jesse Marchant. His voice instantly takes hold of the song with a resonance similar to Josh Ritter, but a bit more ethereal. The music is gripping wtih its folk rock pace and subtle psyche-drone techniques. This is not unlike the great Woven Hand, although it is not as dark. Very haunting material, still, and you could hear a pin drop during quiet moments, which is quite rare at the Black Cat. The band added some effective moves to these songs. At one point, the drummer had a snare beat a 1/2 note off from where it was expected. This was just jarring enough to add to the tension within the music. I highly recommend this music for indie lovers, psyche-folk fans. And as a real bonus, you will not have to wait long as they are playing a brief residency at DC9, and will be performing on June 5th and 12th.
Damien Jurado - Last seen at the Iota in June, 2010, I was looking forward to see what this fine singer/songwriter had for us on the big stage at the Black Cat. As Jurado himself mentioned, his first couple of DC shows were in front of 3 people (see below) and this was the first big stage he has played on here. Clearly, people are 'getting him' as the club was about half-full which is enough to justify the move from the smaller stages in town. And there is still plenty of great music 'to get', as the nearly 75 minute set offered loads of deeply moving songs to the responsive crowd. His voice is dazzling and reminds me of some sort of combination of Jackson Frank and the criminally underrated Bob Theil. Like those two, there is a dreamy psyche-folk undercurrent here, both in the songs and arrangements. The band is excellent, offering a surprising amount of synthesizer, including some mellotron styled runs. The songs vary a bit, rocking out even, but the dreamy atmosphere is maintained throughout. The music is a bit more rooted than Theil and some of the psychier folk artists, sort of a balance between heaven and earth, but I would not call it rootsy. They had a real Doorsian rocker late in the set before the band left him alone to play about 20 minutes of solo acoustic guitar and voice. That was a nice change-up and worked perfectly, even though many would often choose to do this material early in the set. He performed one encore, while thankfully not going offstage but simply asking if people wanted one more (even though the roar was obvious). He played it unplugged and un-mic'ed to further take the set deeper into the core of his songs. There was loads of talent and smarts on display tonight, and it appears music lovers are slowing finding their way to Damien Jurado.

Quote of the Night: paraphrasing Damien Jurado who appreciated the crowd's support... "My first tours here in '97 and '98 were in front of 3 people (guy working the door, another guy, and a soundman who walked out half-way through the set). I've recently played downstairs and didn't even know of this stage. Awesome! But that's all ok, because I'm all about the long road."

Monday, May 21, 2012

Spirit Animal - Flying Cars - Vamos -- Red Palace - May 20 2012

Vamos - From Chicago, this quartet hits the stage with a full blast of post NY Dolls punk fury. They remind me a bit of a Dayton band, the Luxury Pushers as the rhythm section pounds away and the guitar and synth/percussionist add to the mayhem. However, there is a psychedelic swirl in the guitar sound and reverb on the vocals, so there is a touch of psyche in there as well. The songs after the opener do not quite have the energy and execution needed to stand out, although a couple have a nice twisted garage punk sound that works. It did not help that at most there were 11 people (counting some other band members) and at set's end only about 5 were present. As Dickens would say, a bleak house.

Flying Cars - From NYC, comes one of those guitar/vocals + drums duos that I keep going back and forth on as whether this is a fair approach to take for a band. Ultimately, it depends on what the band has to offer. In this case, there just is not enough going on for a two-person band to succeed. And that is too bad, as there were a couple of songs that sounded quite excellent later in the set. There is some quality here and it was a reasonable listen, but I spent a lot of the set imagining one or two other musicians adding some cool things to the sound. I hope they rework this concept. If not, hey, you could do worse.
Spirit Animal - Thankfully, the bleak house has now turned into a decent Sunday night crowd of about 35-40 people. And that's not too surprising as this hard touring band has done well in DC in the past. In fact they were just here on February 28th at a fine show at the Black Cat that I reviewed here. The formula and many of the songs remain the same. These guys play a funk rock that has plenty of energy and is easy to grasp onto and enjoy. And this genre isn't an immediate sell for me. Ever since the magnificent Funkadelic turned out great psyche-funk-rock several decades back, others have tried. I really did not care a lot for Primus and even the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but loved the dark humor of Nomeansno. Spirit Animal also works for me as they have great rock moves and a nice art-punk vibe such was present in the Contortions, Devo, and the Gizmos. The funk was most present in the basslines, although he could turn on a dime and lay out a throbbing rock pattern which made for a nice shift. The drumming is steady and the guitar chirps along nicely, ready and waiting to cut into a blazing solo. The singer has loads of energy and decent style and adds some cool synthesizer sounds at times. The crowd was digging it and some of them know this music well. The 40-minute set went by quickly and effectively with enough sonic shifts to keep me interested the whole time. This band should continue to grow and is a worthy addition to the DC scene when they come to town.

Quote of the Night: Overheard from a patron... "I'm sorry for yelling so much, but just can't have sex."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Molehill - The Dirty Jacks - lushfarm -- Red Palace - May 19 2012

lushfarm - Earnest rock is the first thing that comes to my mind when this Baltimore trio starts playing. They have a reasonable take on the jangly side of indie rock. Only a few subtle moves are standing out like the way the drummer varies from soft to hard strikes as needed. They do add some  really nice heavy moves at times which livens things up nicely. They would have fit comfortably into the post Husker Du/Dinosaur Jr. scene that developed a few decades back. "Paranoid" finished things up, but it was not THAT "Paranoid", although I did detect some chord patterns from Led Zeppelin's "The Rover". All in all, a decent start to a small crowd that was a little slow to build on this Saturday night.

The Dirty Jacks - This local quintet has a rhythm section, bass, lead guitar, keyboards and a singer/part time rhythm guitarist. They hit the ground running hard with a blasting revved up pop-rock burner that whips the growing crowd into a hot mood. It seemed that there may be no direction to go but down and that was the case. It was not a free fall, as they continued playing solid rockers, but they fell into simpler patterns of good barroom pop-rock that was still well suited for a weekend crowd. The sound was a bit like a combination of Midnight Hike and the Riverbreaks (to actually reference some local bands for a change). It was not always moving me much, but I appreciated their intensity. And the closer brought things back up close the level of the opener, which proves they clearly know their strong songs.
Molehill - This Chicago quartet possesses a big sound and has a nice look as well. I was familiar with many of the songs as I reviewed their recent album here. The sound remained the same with high quality keyboard work, shimmering guitar moves, high powered drums, and steady bass moves (with strings that looked like green glowsticks). I have heard the progressive genre mentioned with Molehill, but they are far more modern than any hearkening back to the early 70s. The quality keyboards and cool light columns may have you thinking prog, but modern rock, shoegaze touches, classic powerful rhythms mix together in a very satisfying final blend. The sound is slick, but not at all contrived, thus remaining accessible and fun. They banged out 41 minutes of music with few breaks and kept the atmosphere charged for the good sized crowd that finally made its way into the club. They appear to be a band that is capable of turning a few heads if they can keep getting the gigs. They certainly have command of a sound that is familiar enough, but personal enough to draw in a lot of rock music lovers.

Quote of the Day: Well, European soccer is over for now (with a whole 19 days off until UEFA Euro starts) and since big money Chelsea (owned by Russian oil baron Roman Abramovich) overtook Bayern Munchen on penalties yesterday, I will quote from Bayern's austerity loving owner, Uli Hoeness...

"I get angry every week when I go to buy petrol,' fumed Hoeness. 'The oil mafia takes money out of my pocket to invest it in footballers. For me this stinks to high heaven and I include Mr Abramovich in all this...Mr Abramovich has put £900m into Chelsea. If he pulls the plug on them, you'll be able to pick the club up for the price of a puzzle magazine from a newsstand"

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Justin Townes Earle - Tristen -- Birchmere - May 18 2012

Tristen - First up is Tristen with full band. She plays guitar and sings with the usual accompaniment of guitar, bass, and drums. There's a wonderfully spooky beginning in "Stay" that maintains its presence even when the pop vocal line powers through. And it is not long before this style is the formula for success for this intriguing pop music. The band lays down something that might lean toward typical Americana, but stays on an ethereal plane that it is not necessarily rooted. They remind me of what a couple of my favorites, the Sadies and the Loom, are capable of. Tristen's songs are catchy, but melt into this music creating extra emotional levels for the listener to sort out. She had a slightly spacey humor working well in between songs and the 43 minute set breezed by. Yet there were plenty of distinct songs, guitar moves, soft tribal thumping, and backup vocal harmonies from the bass player to offer much to focus on. Simplicity may be on the forefront here, but there are complex moments to show that Tristen and her band have got a lot to offer. I believe most of this Justin Townes Earle crowd was picking up the vibe here tonight.
Justin Townes Earle - He carries around two names that are, shall we say, rather big in American songwriting history? Not worth debating at how much that means to him as he has had other troubling issues to deal with over his 30 years of life. Although he may not have gotten it all together yet, his songs are about as together as you would ever want. He was extremely successful tonight at pulling this near sold-out crowd into his songs. They are surprisingly short, but still nail all the points to be made. He claimed at one point that he creates composite characters mostly, but admitted on particular song was directed at an old girlfriend--"I hope it hurts." I think I detected a little more autobiographical material than he may want to admit, but I would have to study his albums further and even then only guess. Better to just join into his world for 90 minutes. He played solo for a couple songs at the start, in the middle, and one more to start the encore double. I really liked his solo playing more than the full band, which is normally not the case for me. By all means, I think having the band is a good idea, but I found his acoustic playing solid and varied with even some vocal style changes. The band was rock solid, but almost too smooth and professional for my tastes. They all seemed like great studio sessionmen and only a few times later in the set, did the drummer push things a bit. The stand-up bass was nice and he added some dramatic bow touches. The guitarist added some steel guitar and was solid, just a bit predictable I suppose. Earle was very good with the banter as he has a dark sense of humor and sounds like he would be fun to talk to, although he appears like he could get a little scary. Aside from introducing the band about six times, he commanded a lot of attention with his style. But that goes for his songs, too, as he is someone well worth a listen live or off his albums.

Quote of the Night: Oh so many, but Mr. Earle gave this one early on... "I moved away from honky-tonk after my 1st album since I didn't want to play that the rest of my life. Also, I didn't want to look out and see a bunch of square heads and cowboy hats... But I still like it and you'll see it in this one. Hank Williams got his 12-bar blues pattern from somewhere. He did NOT just make that up."

Friday, May 18, 2012

DeLeon -- Jewish Community Center (Rockville) - May 17 2012

DeLeon - I enjoyed my interview with Daniel Saks of DeLeon, who along with one other member is from the DC area. We discussed some of the bands he has toured with including one of my favorites, Os Mutantes. That triggered a memory that I may have seen DeLeon on that tour when they played the State Theatre. Sure enough, I had (in Oct 2009), although they did not have their drummer or trumpeter. They were still fun that night and I looked forward to a fuller set tonight. Alas, their drummer could not make this show (darn that having babies thing--just gets in the way of so much in life). There was still a percussion presence with a floor tom played by other members at times. The sounds were guitar or banjo with bass much of the time and trumpet and glockenspiel. All sang although primarily it was Mr. Saks with much assistance from Amy Crawford. This band takes Sephardic folk songs and updates them with occasional lyric translations and modern additions to the arrangements. That fit well into a growing style made popular from one of my favorites Boiled in Lead (who coincidentally I chatted with this week) along with Gogol Bordello, Balkan Beatbox, 16 Hp, and many more bands whose CDs regularly work there way to me. I invariably enjoy this, as I love both folk songs and older music. And when a band such as DeLeon has the talent to match the vision, then I am an easy victim falling prey to their music. Saks is a strong vocalist, as is Crawford and the evocative Spanish sounding vocal lines (sung in English, Ladino, Hebrew...) carry strong melodies and emotions. And some of the lyrics were so dark, the audience paused before clapping. Musically, the trumpet added a nice touch to the guitar/flat picked banjo and bass leadings. This was a big hall and unfortunately, the sound got lost in the space at times. The 70-80 people would have packed out the Red Palace and had a rollicking good time. Still, the audience picked up on this music and clearly enjoyed the set. They did a nice closing number featuring a bit of classic rock guitar which was memorable. Other times, they reminded me of an alternate universe where the Incredible String Band had existed in a commune in Spain instead of Wales. The music was excellent, the humor was good including a fun impromptu Q+A before the encore. They are finishing up their third album (independently--see my interview for more details) and I suspect we will be seeing this fine band again soon.

Quote of the Night: From Dan Saks and a member of the audience discussing an exotic alcoholic drink...
"Has anybody ever had Raki, like in Turkey?"
"Strong, isn't it?"
"Yeah, is that my Mom?"

Thursday, May 17, 2012

MV & EE - Marian Fahey McLaughlin -- DC9 - May 17 2012

Marian Fahey McLaughlin - It has been a while since I last saw this fascinating singer-guitarist and my vague memories are that she is somewhere near the Marissa Nadler camp. Well, close, but not quite. McLaughlin shares a great sense of storytelling and is quirky personality, but explores even dreamier terrain. She reminds me of a spacier, less trad Kay McCarthy, but is clearly ensconced in Wyrdfolk. It's not quite free folk, freak folk. or acid folk, but has that magical wyrdfolk feel where you know it when you hear it (Nicodemus, Cosmic Michael). She alternates with electric and acoustic guitar and only does a bit of looping. Heavy reverbed voice can be overdone, but is the right choice here to create a connection from song to listener. Thankfully, the soundman turned it down for the talk between songs as that can really get annoying. The guitarwork is loose and repetitive, but not droning and creates the spell necessary to offer a distinct listening environment. But I babble... I was surprised that the set lasted 33 minutes as it flew by like the fleeting dream it was. Indulge, it will do your mind good.

MV& EE - No Bummer Band, no Golden Road, just MV, EE, and a drummer. I thought they may go to a leaner folk sound with the leaner line-up, but they still maintained their classic spacey rural folk-psyche jamming sound. They may work the farm during the sunlight hours, but they are tripping out while working a SETI project at night. The female vocals of EE are the more evocative of the two. She plays guitars and lap steel and plays simple soundscape notes to enhance the spaciness. MV handles all the guitar work this time around, and I really believe he would not have handled it as well back in the early days. But now, he has a lot of folk, rock, and psyche moves and can carry the day. They were not quite as Neil Young tonight, but sounded like their Ecstatic Peace label mates, Hush Arbors. Although the medium sized crowd had a thinned a bit during their hour-long set, the remaining fans encouraged them to play one more jammer for another ten minutes. And although sometimes I duck out on encores, I was enjoying this set too much tonight. The streamlined MV & EE was a pleasant surprise and may have surpassed the sets I have seen previously in three different states.

Obit of Note: I would be remiss not mentioned the passing of Chuck Brown, a true DC legend. You can read or hear about him elsewhere with much more than I can say, but he deserves a moment or too from everyone. I was sorry to see his illness hit just before his Howard Theater show which had to be canceled. Too bad, as that would have been more the storybook ending.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Roberto Rodriguez and the Cuban Jewish All Stars -- Washington DCJCC - May 14 2012

Roberto Rodriguez and the Cuban Jewish All Stars - Tonight was where traditional Jewish music met traditional Cuban music with plenty of other influences from an all star band that hail from various corners of three continents and an island. I was expecting a good melding of klezmer melodies with Cuban rhythms with an overall jazz feel. On the simplest level, the sold-out crowd got every bit of that and then some. Rodriguez plays a drum kit that looks recognizable, but had a few twists. He had his left foot on a pedal with a cowbell and no hi-hats. He used plenty of ride cymbal and mixed his style of kit drumming and world beat percussion. His partner was on congas and their interplay was brilliant. Add the bass playing of the former player from the Tito Puente band and the rhythmic foundation was playful and rock solid. The rhythms were mostly 4/4 from what I could gather, but the three of them certainly maneuvered in complex patterns within the measure. The lead players were violin, clarinet, flute, and piano. The piano was the only instrument that did not quite cut through in the mix. But when the player switched to the accordion for a couple of songs and organ for one, he was loud enough and the playing was solid. His piano solos were clear, although he had fewer than the three people on winds and violin. The winds were effective and had an eerie quality as they were not overpowering. The clarinet player from Argentina occasionally captured that snake charming magic reaching my inner cobra. The Japanese woman from NYC on the violin had more than enough power for this band as her playing really cooked all night long. The jam packed crowd was loving it all night long and the dancing in the aisles steadily increased all night. The venue reminded me of the Scottish Storytelling Center in Edinburgh, which helps virtually no one picture what I am talking about. Basically it was a sharply tiered seated hall that fit around 260 some people. Roberto Rodriguez was enthusiastic and a great host. He leaped up at the end of one song and talked about his passion for the combination of Jewish and Cuban music (as he did in the interview I had with him last week). Early in the set, the music sounded a bit more klezmer, while later on it veered more toward Cuban jazz. But there was much more going on well beyond my simplistic descriptions. It was their variation of rocking jazz with Rodriguez playing well and pointing to soloists and doing the jazz version of conducting. They played 90 minutes of mostly instrumental music with some vocals in the last few songs from the three in the rhythm section (conga player doing more of the lead work). Simply, this was every bit as fun as I expected it to be. At worst, I figured it would be a great set of rhythmic music from skilled players. But at best, I expected to be intrigued with a few different musical forms working together, which is exactly what happened tonight. It certainly kept my mind working, but the toes were tapping, the hands clapping or tapping virtually the whole set. This is yet one more example of the fusion from sounds south of the US working with structures closer to home or in Europe and coming out in an exciting manner. Music lovers everywhere should be checking out the several acts that do this well, and those lists need to include Roberto Rodriguez.
Quote of the Night: Roberto Rodriguez discussing meeting one of his future collaborators... "In New York, I see this funky looking guy come up to me and say 'hey I like how you play'. Cool, thanks. 'I'm John Zorn'. OK (so who's that I wonder)."

Monday, May 14, 2012

INTERVIEW with Daniel Saks of DeLeon, May 3, 2012

I got a chance to speak with the founder of the band DeLeon via phone prior to their upcoming show this Thursday at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville, MD. This is yet another excellent show as part of the 13th annual Washington Jewish Music Festival.
David Hintz -  So how are you doing today?

Dan Saks (of DeLeon) - I'm doing good.

DH - And where are you right now?

DS - I'm in Mexico City.

DH - Wow, ok... great. Are you playing some shows down there?

DS - No, I live here. I moved down here about nine months ago.

DH - Oh, no kidding. So how is it going down there?

DS - I like it very much, very much.

DH - Gosh (showing surprise by channeling Burt Ward). So, is the altitude a problem?

DS - You know, when I first moved here, I definitely felt it. I admit I tried jogging and it lasted just a couple minutes before I found myself gasping for air. You know, you feel like you are trying to climb the pyramids or something. And when you're cooking, actually it's hard, and with some baked items... But now, I think I've gotten the hang of it.

DH - Yes, baking is a real problem. For years, I lived in the Rocky Mountains at 8,000 feet above sea level.

DS - Oh yeah, then you know.

DH - Yeah, they even give high level baking instructions for up to 6,000 feet which doesn't help the rest of us (laughter).

DS - Exactly. I look for recipes on line and I am in a whole different stratosphere.

DH - Great... So what brings you up to the states? Are you going to do the (DC Jewish Music) Festival and some additional shows?

DS - Uh, yeah. That's where I'm from and where my friends and family are, bandmates for that matter. So I find myself there with some frequency and so when something is there, I try to schedule a few shows around it. So we've got the Washington Jewish Music Festival show in Maryland and a show in New York a few weeks later and some recording I am going to do in between and rehearsals with the band and some visiting of some haunts.

DH - OK, let's talk a little bit about your band DeLeon who I've done a little research on and I have learned something new concerning the Sephardic Jewish tradition going back to the Iberian (peninsula) area. Is that the core of what DeLeon is about?

DS - Well that is kind of where it starts. The songs we play are all kind of based on that tradition--they are old folk songs. But from there we reinterpret the songs to a more contemporary sound. Some times the melodies may change. The lyrics, I'll translate into English if I like how they sound better in English... so we take some creative liberties with these songs. But that is the idea.

DH - How about the rest of your band mates. Do they have different backgrounds that they bring to the table?

DS - They certainly do musically. I am not sure I ever had the option to have a band with people who were interested in Sephardic music as I was, let alone play it a modern format. But the band all have their own influences and when we play live, they are kind of blending their own Known influences to that sound, which I think is the strength of it. The whole idea is that these songs are songs that are worth hearing and together we mold them into a shape that makes sense hearing today.

DH - OK, now you have played with some bands that I have reviewed CDs previously... Balkan Beat Box and Gogol Bordello. And what you are also describing is something similar to when 16 Horsepower took Appalachian music and rocked it as Bordello does. So do fans from those bands gravitate to your sound and is this something that is becoming more popular?

DS - You know, we have been lucky to be on some really great tours with bands, where maybe our sounds are not exactly the same like those bands and Os Mutantes... All these band that are not exactly world music.

DH - Right.

DS - There is some sort of disparate influences used to create something that feels very 'now'. Like the Gogol Bordello tour, for example, was a fantastic tour. There fans really did take to us. I think they were responding to the exoticness and the beats and the melodies and just the energy of the band. It is going to be a roomful of people that are open to that sort of thing, you know, come ready to dance. Same goes for Balkan Beat Box crowds. So those were great tours and we had a lot of fun and we definitely picked up some fans along the way.

DH - Good. I am glad you mentioned Os Mutantes, a great band, and I love the Tropicalia bands...

DS - Yeah. Oh my God, that was a dream come true that we got that tour.

DH - That goes back to where... technically it may have begun, where world and psychedelic and rock music together in a big way.

DS - Yeah, sure.

DH - So how does DeLeon operate these days living in different parts of the world? Like you say, you will come up now and then, but do you get together easily enough for recording and do you see longer tours/shorter tours or what?

DS - Ever since I moved here, I have set up a studio. Part of the inspiration of moving here was plain inspiration, new sounds, and new influences. So I set up a recording studio in my apartment here, and I could afford a much larger apartment here than I could in New York and I have spent the last six or seven months working on our next record. And during this next trip to New York, I am going to meet the guys in the studio and we are going to lay down more stuff, vocals, some keys, trumpets, and some things like that. But the recordings about 80% finished. It's good, too, I think.

DH - Excellent. Do you have any other side project bands or solo work?

DS - I have been in a bunch of bands over the years. I have two current side projects... one is kind of on hold. I have played in a band called the Macaroons, which plays Jewish children's music. It is very part time as we are all in different bands, but we play a few gigs and festivals throughout the year. And then I am working on putting together sort of a Mexico-edition DeLeon down here, so I can have a group of musicians and continue playing shows while I am living here locally.

DH - How is the music scene down there? Have you seen many local bands?

DS - I have and I know a lot of great musicians here. I am actually going to write my back after this conversation and meet a new guy who is looks like he is going to be great to work with. The scene down here is... strong, it's very vibrant. A lot of musicians tell me that there is not the infrastructure here that there is, say in New York, between bands and small labels and blogs and things like that. But there are a lot of great bands playing in the few clubs there are. There is also some lousy ones. The traditional music scene of Mexico, you know like the Mariachi and Banda. I love that stuff. I try to surround myself with that as much as possible.

DH - Well I will monitor your efforts, because I know a lot about South American music, although it is mostly historical, but yeah, the Mexican scene does not get a whole lot of play to me, for whatever reason.

DS - There are some are some good music festivals here and this promoter, Todd P. who does a lot of things in New York is putting on a music festival in Monterrey (MtyMX), which is pretty ballsy, and will combine South American and indie rock bands and Mexican indie rocks bands... I mean there is definitely good stuff out here, it just needs a way to break through.

DH - Yes, like you said the infrastructure is so essential. So when was the last time you were in Washington DC and what club did you play?

DS - The last time I played there was the Rock'n'Roll Hotel? But it changed... No it was the Red & Black, a place upstairs.

DH - Yes, which is now the Red Palace.

DS - Yes, the Red Palace, exactly.

DH - Yes, they have doubled the size and it is a lot nicer.

DS - Yes it is, I know. We actually had a good show previously in the smaller room, too. But it is a lot better now.

DH - Especially for the touring bands as there was only so many people they could fit in before the expansion. Well hopefully some of your fans will show up for your festival appearance. I am curious if you have toured the world at all?

DS - Well, we have toured the US extensively and have played some shows in London and here in Mexico and Canada, but mostly going back and forth across the US about a million times--which is great, I don't complain about that. I can't wait for the next tour, whenever that will be.

DH - Well, I won't talk to you in a middle of a car trip, where it's fair to complain (laughter) or when you're pumping up with gas.

DS - Yeah.

DH - Next plans?

DS - Right now we are focusing on finishing up the new record and we have a link to get assistance via crowd-source to track list this new record. The basic concept is to reach out to fans of this type of music to create a playlist on Spotify, with their favorite Sephardic folk songs or songs they want to hear on our next record. Admittedly, this is a small demographic, but with people that are compassionate about Sephardic music and also technologically savvy enough to have Spotify on their computer pretty much looks like two distinct circles (laughter). But we got about 20 submissions and we recorded most of them. And we have just launched a kickstarter (kick start it below) to help fund this next album. I should add our record label went out of business right before I moved to Mexico.

DH - Ah, my next question.

DS - So this will be our first release since that and we are going to try the kickstarter thing and see if we can some support for funding it.

DH - Well yeah, good luck with that. I just got a kickstarter request (from a local band) about three hours myself. (resigned laughter). Yes, it's common. Being independent, whether you want to our not, is common these days it seems.

DS - Yeah. I thought a lot about how do it before we started the project and I think we came up with a good campaign. I didn't want to sit and be a musician just moaning.

DH (laughter) Right.

DS - So I think we went about it in a creative fashion... ... Yes, I am familiar with DC, I grew up there. It's been a while, but I still try to keep a foot in DC.

DH - Good! I have been a recent resident and lived here one year in 1987 and before that was into the midwest punk scene where I developed the indie spirit.

DS - It is an interesting music town. I don't know too much what is happening there now, but I grew up there during that punk scene aware, but too young to be going to shows. Then when I got older, the go-go scene was really strong and I went to a lot of go-go shows, which was one of my favorite areas for live music. It is still very mush like the punk ethos, very much of a DIY kind of scene.

DH - That's a great point. Chuck Brown is such a legend here, sadly with some recent health issues. But yeah, it is interesting that the punk bands from other cities do not seem to do as well touring through here, but the ethos of the scene is strong as ever. There are tons of bands, most of which have jobs, not too many that break out nationally. But the quality is really high, where covering it is so much fun. Anyway, I'll leave it with that and see you at your show.

DS - Sounds good. Take it easy.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

INTERVIEW with Roberto Rodriguez, May 3rd, 2012

This interview was conducted with Roberto Rodriguez by phone, prior to his Washington DC appearance at the Washington Jewish Music Festival on Monday, May 14th. See the festival website for details.
David Hintz -  So where are you right now.

Roberto Rodriguez - I live in the Catskill Mountains in New York.

DH - Oh!

RR - I'm in a little town called Kerhonkson, New York.

DH - Well that sounds like a nice quiet getaway.

RR - Yes, it definitely is.

DH - Great. So a few quick questions for you before your Washington DC appearance at the Jewish Music Festival. I see that music was a family tradition for you. But has it always been a personal calling for you? How early did you get started?

RR - Well, it started from my Father, who taught me the music. And from there on it just involved in many ways. In Cuba, it had a double meaning. One was music and the other was just to stay at home more, to stay more musically aware, with all the turmoil that was going on, being in a place that was not stable. That was a blessing, but kept me at home a lot. It is interesting in retrospect I can remember being around instruments, musicians, etc. My father was very involved in teaching in Cuba, so he would take me everywhere. Then of course coming over to the US opened up a whole new world.

DH - Right, and what year was that?

RR - That was actually 1970. And that was just amazing. My father was just buying old records and saying this is the greatest musician in the world--Louis Armstrong. Just all kinds of ramifications... it was just a real longing for what we were at times prevented from having in Cuba. So this was a backlash, a good backlash. Musicians were coming in and out of the house all the time and eventually I ended up with a drum set. Then it was from violin to piano to trumpet and eventually yes, the drums. And musically it all started with blues to rock to jazz-rock to everything... to Yiddish Theater at 15 to Jewish weddings... bar mitzvahs, partied, night clubs. I started early at age 14.

DH - You're actually headed toward my next question, did the branching out from a Cuban heritage happen when you came here?

RR - Well, if you really want to look at it, it is kind of the opposite.

DH - Oh, ok.

RR - It was actually classical music early on. And then, the music of my father was Cuban music. So then in Miami, it was a bit more where I was turned on to rock and jazz... all the bands I was playing in where more pop and jazz and rock. Jewish weddings were just normal work down there. So it was pretty much a calling later on, but then you know jazz was always at the forefront. We were always attuned to what was happening there. Actually I got into the University of Miami on scholarship for the jazz program and that was my first love.

DH - And jazz seems more welcoming. I have some background in the folk movements in both Great Britain and the United States. In the sixties, there were traditionalists that did not like a lot of the musical changes. Have you ever encountered anyone that had problems with you crossing over into different styles?

RR - No.

DH - That's great and I would attribute that to jazz, but perhaps also with Cuban music.

RR - Yeah, originally they both connect in the big band form and the arrangements. A lot of music was coming into the US from Cuba, but they were getting like the forties and fifties Big Bands were coming here. It was just a back and forth--how can you avoid it? We're only 90 miles away. So the influences in many ways are reciprocal. We were both gaining from each side. The passage of records coming in from Cuba was a big deal. So, it always made sense to me to keep exploring and investigating and just try to check out what is out there. It is basically a journey that is still going on. It eventually got me to New York after I had done the pop scene in Miami, the Miami Sound Machine, the Julio Iglesias, and that kind of stuff. Knowing then, I planned to find myself as a composer and go into the multicultural aspects of putting things together. That was what I was longing for... how to connect people with different cultural talents and not shun them out because it is not jazz or not rock. Jazz is a real tool for that. And blues... I have connected from Hank Williams to you name it. It is just music. It's all music. The similarities are amazing and the differences are even more amazing (laughter). You know, I've worked with John Zorn and others and have been able to explore. I wasn't aware of it, but I was in a passageway to making music that some how connected to people and that have lead to new project debuting at the Lincoln Center.

DH - I wanted to ask about John Zorn, as I am a bit of a fan. Was the experience of working with him enjoyable for you?

RR - It was a really amazing experience. We remain friends for life. I learn from him along the journey. There are challenges on the way, but we've grown up since I've first met him. You get great ideas from him and people that are original. You create a chain letter with the people you work with link by link...

DH - And he is as versatile as they come.

RR - Exactly. It's a beam of light that is not easy to find. You do it yourself as best you can with other people. A very positive experience.

DH - Speaking of versatile, describe the band you will bringing here to Washington DC. Do they have backgrounds in Jewish music, Cuban music, Jazz, Everything?

RR - Well once you are in New York, it is pretty much everything (laughter). The bass player was with Tito Puente in the last seven years of his life. He's an amazing bassist and his uncle is Minnie Minoso, the baseball player.

DH - Oh really!

RR - Yes. My accordion-pianist is an incredible musician, Uri Sharlin, from Israel. This guy can play diversity is definitely in this band. (I have) a young clarinet player from Argentina (bringing) a warm tone... M. Kuta (?)...on violin, Japanese-American--she's Japanese  and an incredible musician and I introduced her to the whole Jewish thing in New York. I have a young flute player who is an incredible player, myself, and Igor Arias, a conga player, singer from Cuba, an incredible musician. And with everybody, I call it all-World music, you know?

DH - Right.

RR - So there's plenty of Cuban-Jewish music... You know it is something that I never thought about, I never said I was going to do this or do that. John Zorn said to me...'you have a Jewish record for me.' (I thought) what is this guy talking about? I said, 'oh, I put the pieces together' and that was it. So it's been a journey, David, and continues to be a journey. Now John (Zorn) asked me to do a private record for him, like the Book of Angels. So I'll do that, then I've got a whole other thing, too.

DH - Yes, that was my next question on the upcoming projects you have next. Sounds like you have multiple projects going on?

RR - Yeah, I do have multiple projects going on, but in this sort of vein, I have new orchestra called Orchestra Faravia, that I named after my grandfather. It is basically a group of artists that have come from different places and all live in Brooklyn now. They will be debuting this month and is another New York project that has come together. Just more of that dynamic talent that is here, and I just wrote some music and am covering other music and I'm just trying to shoot the arrow... It's tricky, with even some of the Cuban players, eventually they go 'wow, this music is pretty cool, this Jewish music thing'. Everything is pretty cool if you put your head to it and you really work hard and do it. You come up with something. This new group has Arabic musicians, Cuban musicians, Jewish musicians, Greek and we all play with each other in different bands. That is the approach I am on now with projects on a multicultural level. Most of my projects involve that, like one with my wife as well. I enjoy playing all over the world with this.

DH - The versatility is amazing. Fortunately for me growing up as a rocker, I saw Tito Puente about 25 years ago and I didn't even know he was and it was like 'whoa!', he really opened my eyes. And then there is the Klezmatics, a Jewish band that plays a lot of diverse integration of things.

RR - Yeah, and like everybody rocks in their own way.

DH - Yes.

RR - It is great what you are saying, trust me, I have dissected every John Bonham beat because there was a love for the music and this guy learned from the Blues.

DH - That's right.

RR - And it all connected. It is all there, I guess I am just privileged to listen and study such music, and lately it is Arabic music which is amazing with quarter tones and the fluidity to it. So I am applying that to future projects.

DH - Ah, that's good. I know some rock drummers that have done some serious studying of Arabic music.

RR - That's the idea. It is really an amazing thing that we have to keep going.

DH - Great. Well I look forward to seeing your show. I was always try to encourage people to branch out more and I think it is great with what you are doing by combining different things and exposing audiences to different music.

RR - You know David, about ten years ago Joe Jackson asked me to play with him. He's a really incredible talent and he's got this thing for Latin music and it's passion. That's it, you have got to have passion and you can do so much. It is incredible. He was so kind, talented and open, generous... And that opened my mind in the last ten days that this is all possible, you can put it together. Others may put it out in a plastic bottle, and you go to the river and it's there. It has been a blessing to have this incredible spectrum of music.

DH - And it is our blessing, too. Thank-you for your time.

Council Bluffs - Bells & Hunters - The Resistance -- Velvet Lounge - May 11 2012

The Resistance - Arriving at 9:33 for a 9:30 weekend show at the Velvet Lounge normally invites a lengthy wait downstairs. But no! I missed about a minute of the opening song from the first band. Saints be praised, one of my favorite clubs seems to be running more efficiently every time out. And it is good news for the bands, as they can take advantage of extending their sets and not rushing so much. The Resistance did take full advantage by banging out a near 50 minute set of engaging rock music. The early sounds were smooth indie rock with a bit of guts and some shoegaze styling on the submerged side of the sound. They introduced a few shifts along the way with some outright gutsy rockers and some softer dreamier indie songs. Ultimately, I also felt a moderate tie-in to the late 80s harDCore sound. The key to making this all work was the interplay between the two guitars or the guitar and keyboard when the lead singer shifted instruments. The pummeling drums did not hurt a bit, either. They handled a blown amp easily enough and the 25-30 people present easily dug into these sounds. I will be happy to see these guys again. They seem to have a nice handle on things already, but should only get better with more songwriting.
Bells & Hunters - Another area band takes the stage with a familiar drummer I have a seen a few times in 'The Fed', here taking up the guitar and vocals. He is joined by a female singer, lead guitarist, along with bass and drums. They start with some good bluesy rock. The female vocals are deep with sort of a Screaming Females timbre. There are plenty of additional lead and harmony vocals from the rhythm guitar. Although they have a ways to go on catching a John/Exene magic, this is a very good start. The music is bluesy rock with plenty of funk moves and other sonic shifts. It is all on the subtle side and effectively creates a rock environment perfect for weekend rockers wanting to cut loose. The lead guitar work stands out and is clean, while the rhythm guitar has that classic fuzztone you want from this type of music. I don't believe these folks have been at it too long (as they are recording their second EP), but they are off to a fine start. The crowd grew to about 35-40 people, who by set's end were clearly having a great time. Sure, the beers might have had their effect by this time, but this nice classic rocking set from the Bells & Hunters did exactly what you want when you go out on a Friday night.

Council Bluffs - Alas, although the crowd was having a great time, a few recent health issues along with being blasted by Opeth, Mastodon, and Spiritualized in the last 48 hours took its toll. I will certainly try to catch this band another time, especially if they do another Velvet Lounge show.

Quote of the Night: Banter exchanged when the first band's amp went down...
"We need an amp."
"Just touch it with your magic powers."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Spiritualized - Nikki Lane -- 9:30 Club - May 10 2012

Nikki Lane - This is a rather daunting task, taking an acoustic guitar on stage in front of sizable crowd at a big club with a full band coming on right after your half-hour set. But Nikki Lane has been doing this a week and is up to the task. She is relaxed and having fun, jokingly asking the crowd if anyone came to see her. Her voice is somewhere between Laura Warschauer who I recently saw and maybe Karen Dalton (although not to the level of intensity in Dalton's unique voice). The guitar playing is brisk without any particularly noteworthy features. The songs are good, solid efforts with the voice being the key area of focus. It seems I rate the audiences more when a folk performer plays to a rock crowd and I will give this crowd high marks. Crowd noise was low and attention was high, which speaks to the quality of people that find their way to the music of Spiritualized. Although I would rather see this South Carolina-born and current Nashville resident in a folk club (I doubt she would disagree), this was a fine set.
Spiritualized - Of course the positive side of having a folkie open for a full band is that the stage is already set up and the break is on the short side. A little after 9:00, the band hits the stage for its set which well exceeds ninety minutes. The band looks pretty much the same as when I saw them in Denver four years ago. I really like the subtle shift on stage where Jason Pierce is downstage left staring at the other guitarist who is downstage right, also looking sideways. The keyboards, bass, drums, and two back-up singers form an arc behind them. And the appearance of a band locked in to each others playing is the perfect look of a band, indeed completely locked-in to their sound. The mixture of folk, gospel, psychedelic, and rock sounds is so personal and unique, that the band has developed a strong cult of fans around the world. I was absolutely blown away at the previous show. But while everything sounded great early on, aside from under-mic'ed background singers, the music was not quite blowing me away. A little bit of patience goes a long way, for as the set progressed, the mesmerizing music worked its magic and pulled me in all the way. For someone who does not drink or do drugs, it takes a special artist to induce a real tripping experience. Between the pulsating back projections and the layered music, this band had me space traveling several times during the set. Actually, I grew to like the way the background singers were not overly loud with their tones and some of the keyboard sounds working barely above the subliminal level. The drums and Pierce's guitar were consistently steady, leaving enough room for lead guitar and bass runs that captured a (mostly) subtle psychedelic vibe. "Come Together" was the powerful closer and it is good advice for all of us, but this band came together long ago and continues to amaze.

Quote of the Night: Paraphrasing Nikki Lane... 'I've been opening for Spiritualized for seven days, who I've worshiped since I was 14. I have been petrified, but tonight is the first night I'm not scared, so give me a round of applause for that.'

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Opeth - Mastodon - Ghost -- Fillmore - May 9 2012

Ghost - This is the Swedish metal band, not the longer running Japanese communal masters. For this Ghost, the audacious approach is much less in the music and much more in the presentation. The incense was blazing at least 15 minutes prior to their entrance. The lights go down, the solemn liturgical music is piped in and robed figures with black masks under their hoods assume their positions at drums, bass, keyboards, and two guitars. The final figure in an old man guise, papal robes and hat comes on with incense censer. As the music kicks in, I am rather surprised at how basic and melodic things are. The vocals are quite clean in a Katatonia style, although the music is simpler metal. The band's movements are quite stylish and subdued in a church-like manner. It is actually a bit refreshing to see something theatrical that is mannered and low-key as usually it goes in the other direction and often way over the top. The keyboards assist in the droning sound at times. There is absolutely nothing brilliant at work here musically, but the style is a winner and the crowd (keep in mind, this is a smart bunch based on the next two bands) gets into this well enough. Very solid opener for this awesome bill.

Mastodon - Wow. What a co-headlining bill we have tonight! My two favorite prog-metal bands touring together and alternating the headline slots with both playing full sets. Too good to pass up even though I have seen both of these bands tour their previous albums. The US twin guitar quartet is up first and blasts through a long powerful set with very little space between the seventeen songs. Their sound is excellent again as the power always emerges from these tough looking guys. But they have great musical sensibility in the compositions and the delivery of their live set. It is comfortable, skillful music where you can let yourself go and rock out or sit back and admire the skill. This house did both tonight. These guys are road warriors and their fans don't need to hear much more from me on how good this was. They know it, and if you don't, you must not like great metal-hard rock-prog sounds.
Opeth - Apologies for the gory picture, but thanks to some excellent repair work, the Opeth show goes on despite guitar/vocalist Mikael Akerfeldt's head injury. Opeth share with Mastodon both a great style of metal and also a dedication to their live audiences, so they missed only one show in Minneapolis (under serious medical orders). Mikael and the band were in fine shape tonight as they began with several songs from their latest album, "Heritage", which is heavier in traditional prog as opposed to metal. The sound was not quite as powerful as Mastodon, but this material has more space in it. It allowed the keyboards to come through and trade some nice leads with each of the guitars. The set continued that way, but unlike the last tour through this area (Baltimore show reviewed here), they did bring out a couple of metal songs with the demonic voice. Both "Demon of the Fall" from "My Arms, Your Hearse" (I have to plug all Comus lyrics) and "The Grand Conjuration" from "Ghost Reveries" were great finishers to the set. "Demon of the Fall" pretty much sums up Opeth as they cover as many genres in six minutes and thirteen seconds as a versatile artist like David Bowie covered in an entire career. This definitely lifted the crowd. Personally I dug Heritage and I really appreciate the varied songs on their other albums (they are kind of essential). But it is good to see them mix and match their style more on this tour rather than do the full prog based song set they did last time around. But whatever they choose to do, I will be there as will a massive amount of people that have come to learn that the creativity you get at an Opeth show will yield some of the best music you will hear that year, no matter which songs they choose to focus on.

Quote of the Night: This from Mikael Akerfeldt on Tuesday from Opeth's Facebook page... "Hi guys! I'm writing from beyond the grave. Seriously, I was not in a car crash and I haven't broken my arm. All that happened is I hit my head in mastodons tour bus as I was getting a new pair of (red) underwear out from my suitcase. Wish the story was more rock and roll, believe me. Anyways I split my head open down to the skullbone and had to be taken to the emergency. They gave me a bunch of shots in the wound, cleaned me up and stapled my head shut with 8 metal staples. Head is sore and if I smile it feels like the wound is gonna burst open again, but I'll be on stage by tomorrow again. I feel extremely disappointed that we couldn't play at the myth in Minneapolis, but paramedics told me I couldn't. We will reschedule the show for our next trip to the USA. So all rumors of me being in a car crash are false. I did crash my head into a car though, well...a bus really. Sorry for disappointing our fans in Minneapolis but I hope you understand. See you next time. Best. Mikael"

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The 13th Annual Washington Jewish Music Festival 
Although the opening show was last week for the Washington Jewish Music Festival, many more shows start in rapid fire succession beginning this Thursday, May 10th with Hadag Nahash performing at the Fillmore. I will be covering a couple of the shows and will have interviews posted with Roberto Rodriguez (May 14th) and DeLeon (May 17th) here soon. But for now, here is some details about what looks to be a fascinating series of concerts, courtesy of the Chief Executive Officer of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center, Carole Zawatsky.

David Hintz -  From reading about the Festival, is it fair to say that this is the biggest festival yet?

Carole Zawatsky - This is indeed the biggest one we've had. This is the 13th year of the Washington DC Jewish Music Festival. Thirteen is a significant age in Jewish life. It is the age which a young girl or boy becomes a member of a community, becomes a bar or bat mitzvah, and in the life span of this music festival, it is the coming of age of the music and it is the largest on we've had and is a celebration of all the festivals that have come before.

DH - I was curious to find out if this was a common type of festival in a number of a cities, but is it correct that this event takes place in only a few cities?

CZ - That is correct. There are a couple major metropolitan areas that have Jewish music festivals and there are many cities that have Jewish music in their calendar of events. It is only a few cities that have a really robust festival and to that end, this festival, unlike... really the only other one similar would be the San Francisco Jewish Music Festival that looks at Jewish music in a really broad way... that allows you as the participant to truly understand that Jewish music is as diverse as music in any sphere you may listen to... that hip hop and reggae is Jewish music. Jewish music is not only sacred and liturgical music or as I've come to say, it's not your parents' Jewish music. I think this festival is an opportunity for people to truly understand the breadth of the creation of Jewish music. The opening concert Hadag Nahash (May 10th) is a phenomenal band. One of their most popular songs which translates to 'the sticker song' is a reference to bumper stickers and social justice issues. And you look at that and say that this is not different than social justice issues in hip hop anywhere else.

DH - You had your May 3rd show at the Strathmore?

CZ - We have worked with them on many occasions and it has always been a wonderful partnership.

DH - Yes, it is a great facility, definitely...

CZ - And I'm thrilled that we're working with the Fillmore.

DH - Oh yeah. That's right and that is the first time?

CZ - Yes...

DH - (laughs) But of course, they haven't been around that long.

CZ - It's really fabulous to have this relationship with a new venue. And again, for the Washington Jewish Music Festival, this is music that cuts across all cultural barriers (and breaks) any notion of music for a particular group.

DH - I understand that last year you had a band that I saw 20 years ago or so, the Klezmatics, who famously taken klezmer music and pushed it into jazz and rock boundaries and it seems this year more than ever, there is an integration of other cultures. Is that something that always been a part of the festival or is it something that is expanding?

CZ - It has always been a part of it, but you are absolutely correct. It has expanded and when we have Roberto Rodriguez and the Cuban All-stars, to me that is a tremendous people understand that the music of Cuba and Roberto Rodriguez is every bit as Jewish as sacred and liturgical music. Jews have lived all over the world throughout history and have always both created culture and have been impacted by the culture that they are surrounded by. And the music is a reflection of that in the same way that every other art form reflects that. So this year we do have thirteen different musical events for the thirteenth festival and Lili Kalish Gersch who is the Director of Music, Literary, and Dance here at the Jewish Community Center did an outstanding job programming a really broad range of musical events.

DH - That is definitely evident and I will be taking in a couple of the events including Roberto Rodriguez who I just interviewed. He was a very impressive guy and I am very much looking forward to that.

CZ - Great! I do want people to understand that this is a celebration of thirteen years. I love the idea of having this kind of exuberance, delight and surprise. And when I was thinking about what do you want the Washington Jewish Music Festival to reflect, it is really that... surprise, delight and exuberance.

DH - And those are good themes, especially for people like me who go to so many shows and want to avoid the simple and conformist sorts of acts.

CZ - You mentioned the Klezmatics and Alicia Svigals who was one of the original members of the Klezmatics is doing a new score and playing for a silent film on the closing night at the festival.

DH - Oh, yes. I have seen something like that at the Denver Film Festival. That is always an interesting thing to see.

CZ - Right, so you take this very traditional art form--a silent film, then a sentimental art form--Klezmer, the notion or reinventing  and re-imagining and pushing art forms forward. And this Festival is a wonderful model of that.

DH - I hope it goes great this year.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Acid Mothers Temple - Phantom Family Halo - The Clang Quartet - Buildings -- Red Palace - May 4 2012

Buildings - The trio becomes a quartet tonight with a keyboards to go with drums, guitar, and bass-like guitar. Amazingly the show starts at 8:37 which is not a bad idea with four acts on the bill tonight. They rip through a pacey 22 minutes and have full command of their enjoyable sound as usual. Aside from some sonic vocal enhancement in the last number, they play quick intricate instrumental music. Even the drummer has a quick jazzy style that dances in, out, and around the two guitar lines. There is always a playful feel to their King Crimson-Porcupine Tree styled active progressive lines. In part due to the projected images, but also the quick floating sounds, I always am reminded of the movie Koyaanisqatsi. Aother fine set unfortunately missed by a sizable chunk of the crowd who expected them to play second or expecting nothing going on before 9:00pm. But I am sure they shall return as they are a fine staple of our local scene that never ceases to leave me pleased with their set.

The Clang Quartet - Plenty of clang, but thankfully there was just one of them. I used to proudly own a vinyl copy of Lou Reed's 'Metal Machine Music'. Its one hour and fifteen minutes of feedback did not often make it to my turntable for than a few minutes at a time, but it did and does have its place in the universe. Combine this sort of thing with Zev, the crazed pots and pans percussionist, and you get something akin to the set that took place to the side of the stage. Thankfully he did it on the floor allowing quicker set ups and less time between acts to keep the night flowing well. He actually used drums, cymbals and a small gong and had the feedback turned off, so I give him credit for varying the sounds a bit. Still, at 23 minutes it was a bit too long. Perhaps 23 minutes too long for some, but maybe 5 minutes long for me. He had masks and props which were colorful and I liked the diarama he wrapped himself in. There were various religious statements that I chose not to even bother trying to interpret (easy enough at his websites). That's kind of been done to death the last few millenia. The crowd mostly enjoyed it (you would say he had energy and conviction) with a few wandering off to the more relaxing downstairs bars.

Phantom Family Halo - While not at all surprising that a Brooklyn psyche band would be on tour with the Acid Mothers, I am thrilled to be able to compare them to a couple of bands never mentioned in this column, despite the vast quantity of psyche bands I see. After a shadow puppet entrance, the band takes their places with a couple of guitars, bass, keyboards/sax, and two drummers (one stand-up with kit components). The first couple of cuts hit me with the exciting twisted nature of Serpent Power and Fifty Foot Hose. This psyche terrain has a heavy feel while still retaining a sense of space, both of the vacuum variety and a bit of the sci-fi type. A bit of art shifting among the shapes seals the deal as these guys prove themselves to be careful practitioners of thoughtful psychedelic music. They next head off a little deeper into Kohoutek territory and by the third or fourth song I make a note that the sax combined with a heavier sound is clearly in the Hawkwind camp. No sooner than I make that note, than they rip into a great version of "Masters of the Universe". I loved their sound in the way that the guitars were plenty heavy but were balanced and the 39 minute set flew by. I will be first in line the next time they are on a bill.
Acid Mothers Temple - This Japanese quartet returns as a quintet (this must be fool the reviewer with band lineups night). The long running collective four return with an additional guitarist. The set follows their classic format of long songs from recent albums (first new, then the second most recent) before going into their tempo increasing freak-out closer. Last time around they were tight against a curfew and did not play an hour. This time, they kept it going for around 80 minutes with only a couple breaks. The bass playing is still the most amazing part of the music, although Kawabata's killer guitar runs are essential. The second guitar is more textural and he was moving deftly around the fretboard in unique patterns that make this music even more rich and complex. He allows the synth player to stay full time there rather than playing guitar as he did in the past. The drumming is simple and steady in a Charlie Watts manner, making it easy for these guys who know each other extremely well to work their instrumental magic. There are some limited vocals which enhances a couple of the tracks, but is also a sound and rhythm add-on. Like Kohoutek and a lot of heavy jamming psyche bands, their recordings are good, but the live show is great. It was great to see a packed house grooving to this long running, hard touring band tonight.

Quotes of the Night: From a certain person after the the Clang Quartet... "How are you gonna put a positive spin on these guys? I'm gonna get up early in the morning because I wanna see that."
Hopefully I was up for the challenge...

Second Quote: From Acid Mothers' guitarist Kawabata as they were doing the line check... "Could you lower everything in my monitor? Too loud."  Note - This one is dedicated to my handful of readers who were at the last Terrastock Festival in 2008 and will quickly chuckle at this quote.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Big Ugly Purple Sweater - Southwork - Presto Bando -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - May 3 2012

Presto  Bando - Here we are again with my favorite whacked-out trio. Only the music is whacked out as these guys have an intellect and creativity along with the musical chops to turn the crazy into routine. Well, not exactly. It still takes a little bit desire on the listener's part to engage oneself in this fascinating music. But that goes for everyone even remotely adventurous and anyone beyond those looking for straight pop or the sheep following the latest trend. 27 minutes of twisted fun was delivered to 30-some odd people who wisely arrived early. They played their new ep which featured slightly shorter songs that were compact, but had lots of melodies and little runs going on. They brought a smile to my face several times and I think that's why I chose this show to go to tonight (among at least three others of interest)... FUN.

Southwork - Continuing the fun theme was this Philadelphia seven-piece rock band. The three horns and keyboards worked behind orange and blue paisley bandstands which gave off a whimsical formality to their set. I was expected more dancey sounds, but there was actually more of a driving quality to much of their music. Eventually some more rhythmic components came out in the songs as they kicked on a bubble machine. Balloons followed and the crowd was enjoying the set. The songs could use a little sharpening but this had more than a fair share of quirky fun and again, light fun works for me tonight.
Ugly Purple Sweater - Why did I write down 'Big Ugly Purple Sweater' in my notes. I have seen this band and I should know their name by now. Maybe it was a subliminal reminder that this band has the potential to make it big. I was chatting with someone before the show who felt their singer is one of the best in DC. He is absolutely correct as the lead vocals are some sort of merging of the Decemberists' Colin Meloy with Freddie Mercury and Ray Davies. Frankly, with so many excellent musicians here and in other major cities, the really good vocalists are one key area where a band can stand out. Of course, you need the songs and this band delivers the goods there as well. They engage in some daring pop moves like the Feelies, but things are a bit bouncier and up-front. The rhythms establish that bouncing, floating quality and I detect a 3/4 beat a few times which may have something to do with it (I'm hardly a musical expert, but I like to find the beat). They did a really nice twanged-out song that was a pleasant curve ball and kept the playful songs coming for over 50 minutes. This band could easily fit in with one of the more pop-oriented SubPop bands. The crowd had built to over 50 people who hopefully will take their enthusiasm home and convince a friend to come back next time for this band, as well as Presto Bando.

Quote of the Night: from Presto Bando... "We are going to play our EP, but in reverse order, so be careful and listen for a message from the devil in it."

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bob Schneider Band - Laua Warshauer -- Birchmere - May 2 2012

Laura Warshauer - I was certainly looking forward to this set after my chance to chat with Ms. Warshauer the other day. She came out with two other musicians on viola (electric and traditional) and acoustic guitar. She played guitar on most songs and had plenty of harmony vocal assistance from both musicians. The guitars sounded great together as there was both finger style and picked rhythms employed. And a viola is always a great choice for a small line-up as it is able to reach down into some rich lower notes, while still able to handle higher lead runs like a violin. This was complex enough to offer instrumental flourish, but still allowed acres of space for Laura Warshauer's powerful voice. She does remind one of Cyndi Lauper with her power and resonance (not to mention the Jersey accent when she speaks, yes it's not Brooklyn but it's in the ballpark). Warshauer's songs are not pure folk, but have more of a rock ballad feel in the classic singer-songwriter style. She has a great feel for the flow of her songs and can build the intensity with subtle volume shifts. The 30 minute set breezed by and made a good connection with the crowd, a few of which have heard her previously in Annapolis and a recent show in Baltimore. All was well enough, but she blew me away with a solo voice and guitar performance of "Rockstar" a song of hers that has some crazy cool vocal lines that I have not ever really heard before. Great finish for a fine set.
Bob Schneider - Add another excellent musician to the list of names that I take me decades to pick up on. Bob Schneider has had a long career with diverse bands and is now into his second decade as a solo artist. The diversity shows as it is tough to pin down a specific style, yet everything flows so very well from song to song. He has a full band that covers drums, bass, lead guitar, and a guy that plays keyboards, brass and accordion. He begins on piano and his voice reminds me of a cross between Mark Lanegan and Morphine's singer. Blues is evident, but that does not seem quite right. He switches to guitar and the second cut had some blasting rock moves screaming out from quiet moments. Brilliant dynamics that took me to the edge of my seat. He and at least some of these musicians are from Austin and there is plenty of that diverse western feel in these arrangements, but the songs go off into whatever sonic space and history they like. There is a lot of quiet intensity here and sometimes I am not sure if I am hearing something akin to Nick Drake or Nick Cave. He has both a dry and overt sense of humor and is fun to listen to, and anyone who references Shields + Yarnell is pretty hard to ignore (he and the keyboardist had a short robot contest). Powerful music that held my attention for the full 90 minutes (plus encore). It was a tricky choice of shows tonight, but I am very happy with the choice I made.

Quote of the Night: Bob Schneider... "Originally that song was going to be about an arc of semen. But then it changed to something else a little less esoteric. Some times I have some bad ideas."


ROTARY CLUB  "Second Year in Swine"
Even before I learned about the Boston connection with the chief songwriter, I heard a Sebadoh sound in the opening cut. But Rotary Club sounds far more Type A personalities with the vocal work in their songs. Still, there are plenty of introspective moments on these songs as well. And although this band based out of Brooklyn fits comfortably in the indie rock realm, there are plenty of propulsive songs that twist and turn away from the crowded pack. "Capsule" as mentioned below reminds me a bit of the Pixies' "Gouge Away" but with more restraint. This band's ability to stand on the precipice of abandon,  yet maintain the integrity of the song is what makes them intriguing. The band's producer is Tony Maimone, who played bass for the brilliant Pere Ubu, and who knows his way around a studio. Whether he inspired some of the quirky moments here, or (not so) simply knew how to help capture them does not matter as long as they come through loud and clear. I hear urban twists and rural twang working their way together in unique ways (even some Meat Puppets moves in here). A local bonus is that Gordon Withers (of local greats Office of Future Plans) plays cello here. This is one sharp band and they have made a fascinating record that can only provide even more unique layers to uncover as I listen further. And listen more, I shall. Now, if I can stop kicking myself for missing their local appearance here a few weeks back.

Songs to try out first:

Diminishing Returns - Lovely vocal melody with alternating guitar and bass punctuation, and are those tubular bells I hear? This is an extremely catchy song.

Multicolored Rings - Long flowing song with stinging guitars, low rumbling toms, and a strong vocal. The chorus is a nice surprise, too.

Capsule - There is that great sense of psychedelic landscape conjured up in this song with moments reminding me of a blending of the Pixies and the Flaming Lips

JEFF BEAM "Be Your Own Mirror"
Following a great Velvet Lounge performance, I have the privilege of consuming Jeff Beam's recent solo effort. Although he plays with a band called Milkman's Union, he has found time to record this fine album. He gets a little help from his friends here and there, with a bit of emphasis on strings. Reviewing his live performance, I made the main point of saying that I really liked this 'real person' gutsy brand of psyche-folk a bit more than the 'finding your inner hippie' stylings of Devandra Banhart or Joanna Newsome. I should explain that I think those two have done some great things, but their style has been aped far too frequently by lesser talents fiddling about with their twee, overly cute variations. The free folk movement got a little ahead of itself and seemed to recede as quickly as it came about. Thankfully, there are additional ways to relive some of the great psyche-folk sounds of the past with newer artists like Jeff Beam who by no means are merely copying the Incredible String Band or Stone Angel. Beam has plenty of jarring electric guitar that cuts through the spacey rhythms and ethereal falsetto vocal work. There are twists and turns along this pleasantly paced trip through folk and rock paths that will have you coming back for several relistens. Even if psyche-folk is not as deep in your DNA as it is with me, you should still find great melodies and plenty of style to keep your attention.

Songs to try out first:

Hospital Patience - Syd Barrett meets the Hush Arbors done in andante at the beach on the clouds.

Part One - Much more heaviness in the spirit of Mighty Baby as opposed to the loner stoner folkies.

Congratulations on Your Latest Achievement - Delicate acoustic guitar, strings, electronics... Did Neu! ever try psyche folk? No, I didn't think so, but...

TEEN MOM "Mean Tom"
I have enjoyed the personal approach that Teen Mom has taken in their sound the few times I have seen them. They go for a dreamy pop sound with just enough bite to keep a rock fan like myself listening. This six song ep captures their diverse elements and offers strong production to strengthen the diversity while keeping it unified. The first song "You and Me" captures them as I remember them with a really nice hook and involved vocal tones. The second tune "Always Happy" seems to go into a non-descript pop locale before some strong fuzzy guitar roars into the picture. This is the contrast that is hard to pull off, but they manage it with great skill here. The next few songs are a bit more locked in with a shoe gaze feeling worked into the mix. "Say My Name" has a lovely flowing melody that is as inviting as anything they have put out. "Gehry" has a more standard pop sound and finishes things off on a snappy note. The vocal work reminds me a bit of the Three O'Clock and maybe there is a touch of the old paisley scene in here in general. Whatever Teen Mom has in their DNA, they represented themselves well with this fine EP.

NORTH OF CANADA "Every Seahorse Could be Different"
This sharp local band has put out a short album or a very long EP depending what you want to call seven songs totaling more than a half hours worth of music. The band instantly grabs hold of whatever pop affectations you have with their opener, "Modern-day St. Peter". The two vocals weave together in a slightly ajar manner, and when you couple that with the rock and pop moves on guitar, they create one of the sharper hooks you will hear. "Let's Go Out Tonight" starts off even more rocking, but vocally goes into an agreeable pop mode. The songs shift around nicely throughout this set and although some work better than others, there is always a good rock vibe or pop hook that keeps the interest level high. And "Falling Down" closes things out wonderfully with its gutsy raucous chorus and descending guitar chorus. This local band may be aiming for north of Canada, and to me that means they are trying to stay north of some of the great pop/rock bands from Canada like Sloan or the Nils. As long as they can play songs that have me thinking of those two great bands, they are doing something right.

SILO HALO "Night and the City"
This local band is on the rise and seems to be doing everything right. I have seen them live a couple of times and was quickly impressed by their original twists and turns in the modern psychedelic underbelly of deep and dark indie/shoegaze music. And if anything, this first album is even more impressive as they have succeeded in capturing their live magic in these eight songs. They have been on bills with Screen Vinyl Image, and it is easy to hear that they are blood brothers and sisters in a shared sonic universe. You may hear something akin to Wire, Sonic Youth, School of Seven Bells, Big Black... you get the idea. But while the sound is familiar, the full approach is personal and powerful. This music oozes artiness in the right way by avoiding pretension and staying focused on creative accessibility. There is a history of these sounds are present that is being shaped by three creative people. There is a buzz to this band that is quickly spreading. Latch on quickly or it might go by you.

Songs to try out first:

Out of your Fugue - This has that magical weird psyche folk English vibe going on that I get when I listen to Ferdinando/Howell bands (Agincourt, Ithaca, etc.), yet it is more modern and sharply attuned.

I'm Still Slamming My Head Against a Brick Wall - Despite the great title, this song rocks hard, steady, and fully in control with silky vocals.

Night and the City - I conjure the forlorn look of Gene Tierney as she listens to the hopeless schemes of Richard Widmark in this heavily atmospheric instrumental.