Friday, August 31, 2012

AM & Shawn Lee -- Montserrat House - Aug 30 2012

AM & Shawn Lee - This was my first time at the Montserrat House, so a couple of quick notes. Doors were about 40 minutes late opening and the upstairs club does not have a downstairs bar like the Velvet Lounge or DC9, so you are left to wander. But since it is a block away from those venues, you can hang out there or any number of places. Once inside, it is a lovely spacious room with a corner stage like the DC9 with at least as much room for the crowd and maybe a handful or two more. It was a bit hot (and that was a running theme during the set), so your comfort may vary. The sound was good and well run, so I would recommend putting this club on your radar.
photo-Lawrence Watson

There was one hour-long set tonight featuring two top notch musicians, AM & Shawn Lee playing guitar, bass, and percussion with a drummer and keyboard/synth player assisting. What was interesting about this set of highly accessible pop music was the subtle diversity underneath. There were songs where you could detect a Morricone-esque Western Americana tune buried within a lush pop structure. Rather than confusing the issue, it was more a marriage of diverse yet compatible partners. As the set went on, there were many varied pop elements from the UK, America, and different eras. The keyboards and synthesizers took me back to Gary Wright, but only on his delicate side. Drums and percussion had a Germanic steadiness, but could also go into funkier rhythms when needed (particularly when Shawn Lee took his one turn on the kit). AM's vocals were clean and pulled everyone into the world of his song. Great pop music is always welcome for me when there is so much going on. But after a few songs of dissecting these fascinating elements, I spent the rest of the set just relaxing and enjoying the vibe. Although the Ozark Mountain Daredevils "Jackie Blue" startled me a bit, it was a perfect fit. The crowd grew to 50-plus and there was even some dancing amid the steady movement. The band was pleasant and had a great rapport with the crowd creating one of the more positive atmospheres you would want at a show.

Quote of the Night: AM to soundman... "Can you drop the reverb while I talk to the people so I don't sound like THE VOICE of GOD."
I wish more people would do this for between song talk. Kudos to the soundman for being on top of this all set long.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


It was a great pleasure to review one of the greats of British progressive-folk-rock, Dave Cousins, of the long running Strawbs. We spoke by phone two weeks back and below is the conversation. He is bringing the Acoustic Strawbs to the USA in September and Canada in October. Two DC area shows include the Jammin Java in Vienna, VA on September 5th and the Ram's Head in Annapolis, MD on September 9th.

Dave Hintz - I think I am like a lot of your American fans in that I didn't really discover the Strawbs until later. When I was younger I was into progressive rock and all, but you really didn't get the radio play as other bands. I had a friend in school in the mid-70s who liked the Strawbs, but because he was more of a hanger-on, I didn't trust his opinion as much. But since the late 80s I've purchased about 25 of your albums and have enjoyed your music so much. So with that, are you still meeting new fans since you are still such a hard touring guy?

Dave Cousins - Absolutely, yes. We just did a festival on Friday evening in the Midlands here and I went out in the audience after show and was chatting away to people. They were coming up and saying I have never seen you before and I am so pleased, so we get new fans all the time. And what we also get are a lot of older fans bringing their children along now. One guy brought his six year old along the other day and said 'believe it or not, my six year old son loves your music'. That must be a bit of a record.

DH - Fantastic.. that might be. I do see that more these days, but it is usually high school kids.

DC - (laughs) Yeah.

DH - It's interesting that we are still testing the boundaries of rock music--I mean folk music and blues have been gong a long time, but it's amazing that rock music has now pulled in three generations.

DC - It's astonishing. In looking back, we have a record made in 1968 that is just being reissued, in fact was never issued. It never came off. And I just a read a review in 'Classic Rock', which was a tremendous review. How do people know about all this stuff? But we love it.

DH - Right, and the internet helps people find each other.

DC - Oh yeah, very much so, but the whole world is changing. I find myself now, hearing that downloads are the thing of the future. I am suddenly beginning to realize...and friends around me who are 60 or so, are hearing 'I won't bother to buy it on CD, I'll just download.' And I think I wouldn't know how to download. I've never downloaded in my life--I wouldn't know how to go about it. But I've got my docking system on and it sounds horrible. (laughter) But people want to listen to it and it scares me to death that kids grow up nowadays thinking their MP3s are the be-all and end-all of sound quality, compressed and everything. Thankfully they are going to start bringing out MP4s which are higher quality so maybe they will get the downloads to sound like CDs. So these days, maybe the balance is being restored.

DH - I absolutely agree and even vinyl has made a comeback which surprises me.

DC - Yes. We've run our own little record company, Witchwood Media, and over the last ten years we've sold over 100,000 records which is extraordinary.

DH - Yes.

DC - And it is remarkable with the seven records... but it's astonishing to get that quantity with our own little record label.

DH - Yeah, it's great... I started in the punkrock era of the 70's where you had to do it yourself, especially in America where this was little big label interest in the bands. But now, the Do-It-Yourself movement is for veteran bands like yourself, young kids starting out, it's for everybody.

DC - Yeah, and actually the next release we are going to have is the last album we made in the 70's "Deadlines" and we have additional tracks which creates a lot of interest in that. And what I find astonishing is that in the 70s, we had seven consecutive albums in the Top 200 and we never really made it.... we were never big, we were top of the second division if you like. We are still selling a heck of a lot of records.

DH - The continued selling of back catalog records is great where people continue to go back and find great music... Let me get one question out of the way from Wikipedia. I would like to know if that is accurate that you have degrees in Statistics and Mathematics?

DC - That's right.

DH - Well, I am a Certified Public Accountant myself, so I think that's great...

DC - I've studied from a few months to three years in mathematics, I did mathematical statistics for two years, I also did psychology for a year and a couple more.

DH - But you were doing music at the same time as well, I assume.

DC - Oh yeah, I was doing music most of the time while I was at college. I ran the folk club and the jazz club.

DH - Yes of course, you know there's actually a genre called math rock which is actually probably one of the few genres that the Strawbs have not covered...

DC - We're going to do that next.

DH (laughter) - How do the songs come to you? Is it the mathematical part of your brain with patterns or is it from some other place?

DC - Some of the guitar figures come from patterns I have developed. And I have been reanalyzing them recently and find that there are definite rhythmic patterns. But mostly the ideas usually come from the lyrics first and the music comes afterwards. I wrote out a book of my collected lyrics up to the last album I did as the Strawbs (Secrets Songs & Stories). For some reason some ideas I shoot down, but 18 months later it comes together. But also timing is tough because of the tours where we are traveling  a lot. We are coming to America as you know in September and when we come back on the 27th of September, but then fly off to Toronto. There's shows in between and we just don't seem to stop. And I find that distracting from a songwriting point of view as I don't have that much time off. And I have started a new record label called Dark Lord Records and we've signed up some young bands and we are developing that.

DH - Oh really? Well, that was one of my questions--so it appears you do listen to new music then?

DC - Very much so, especially these young bands. We've got a blues band called Snakewater who have terrific reviews on Amazon. We have another sort of gothic band called Spit Like This and we have two American bands, one from Phoenix, Arizona called Chemicals of Democracy and another one from the Carolinas called Blanco Diablo and we just got a Trinidadian band that we signed up called Orange Sky. And they all have cultural differences and all have different individual styles, but astonishingly good music.

DH - Well, that leads into my next question in that it does not surprise me that you would have bands with so many different musical styles since your own Strawbs catalog is so diverse.

DC - People think we are a folk group, but we're not really a folk group. We started down in folk rock and my songs were to an extent influenced by the sound of folk music, but you know maybe for long time you can argue I was trying to write a folk song that could be sung by everybody. But the novelty of rock'n'roll itself, it (authorship) was not thought of until the royalties started to come in and I suddenly realized it was necessary to know who wrote it.  (laughter).  But modern day folk songs are Beatle songs. I mean "Yellow Submarine" is sung in (various) countries by the seaside.

DH - That's true. Folk music is the music of the era, and continues to be passed along.... Now for many of the people who don't realize this, you have had many musicians pass through the band from Sandy Denny to Rick Wakeman, Sonja Kristina... and I also learned that Lindsay Cooper of Comus was a Strawb?

DC - No that was a different Lindsay Cooper, a bass player and cello player.

DH - Oh OK! That's good to know...

DC - We have had some astonishing players. As you said, Rick Wakeman played. When Rick left to join Yes, then Blue Weaver joined. Blue Weaver left us to go off with the Bee Gees Band and played on 'Saturday Night Fever' and several Bee Gees albums. When he left, we brought John Hawken in who was with the Nashville Teens and Renaissance. He blended very well with the band, but when he left we brought in the keyboard player from If... John Mealing and then we had Robert Kirbey the arranger playing keyboards with us as well at the same time with two keyboard players. And then we go to Andy Richards who you've probably never heard of, but you have the album Frankie Goes to Hollywood and the song 'Relax', you'll find that Andy Richards made an album that at the end of the 70s, but didn't come out at the time--he worked as a school teacher, but he sent the album off to Trevor Horne, the producer of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, who immediately booked us with the keyboard player for the sessions and a song of mine called 'Heartbreak Hill' were the chords they used to define the song 'Relax'. So the Strawbs influenced Frankie Goes to Hollywood through Andy Richards. Andy Richards now produces music for films, he produced the music for "Slumdog Millionaire" and he's produced the music for "Sweeny Todd" with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. And then we had Don Airey in the band who is now in Deep Purple and on top of that, most recently we played with Oliver Wakeman, Rick's son, before he left us to join Yes, keeping it in the family. And to keep it in the family even more, on our tour in November in the UK with our electric band, we had Adam Wakeman, Rick's other son who has been touring with Ozzy Osbourne's band and Black Sabbath the last eight years. So it's been an astonishing array of people playing in the band.

DH - Definitely, and although I think I know the answer to this, do you feel your sound is carefully planned out or rather that by bringing in so many diverse people, does it shape itself with all that they bring?

DC - The music shapes itself. The basic arrangements... the song has a  basic structure, but with Adam Wakeman for example, I emailed him  and said by the way we will send you a live recording of the set and you can hear what we are doing, get the chords down, but how you interpret it is entirely up to you. So that is how the band continually evolved and changed, as each musician came in, they would bring their interpretations which meant the band was continually evolving.

DH - Yes, and in the early days you had high powered producers such as Gus Dudgeon briefly and Tony Visconti. Did they push for certain directions or styles and how influential were they in the process?

DC - Well, Gus Dudgeon was our first producer and he and I fell out, if you like, because he said 'your voice is hopeless  and I'll mix it down--I can't stand the sound of it--they can read the words on the sleeve' (laughter). We fell out completely. Every track was treated as an individual track and not as a complete feeling of what the band was. So we ended up sounding like eight different bands and that's why we went off with Tony Visconti who totally understood what we were doing. And we were with him for three albums, and we would have been with him longer except that T. Rex exploded and he had to go off and do albums with them and then we had to get on to our album, so we produced that ourselves. But Tony Visconti was a huge influence on my writing. He told me 'why don't you read that book, why don't you take a look at this, why don't you think about that?' and we were great friends and I hope we work again--we got in touch in London and had chat a year ago where there was a young girl he was producing who covered one of my songs. We worked together on a song in the studio together for the first time in donkey-years which was lovely. And I hope to see him in New York.

DH - That's great. In fact, I think that may have been Kristeen Young. I know that because I wrote a review of her once and he wrote me to correct me on an interpretation. (Laughter). But it is great to encounter people with so much passion for their music like you and he. And he is such a fabulous talent. (Ed... Tony Visconti writes to correct my errant guess.... It was Debbie Clarke, signed to WEA Germany who recorded the Strawbs classic "Lay Down".)

DC - Oh he is remarkable and a fabulous musician.

DH - Right, he's a great player, too. So he understood the Strawbs, but did the record company executives and the people on the business side ever understand the Strawbs?

DC - Our English label did. A&M Records totally understood what we were about.  We had a manager who was trying to extract us from the label, and Jerry Moss said 'look we don't want to lose you, you have to get rid of your management' and I said that was impossible and we'd have to extract ourselves. And I was disappointed when we left our label--we were not major sellers, we sold a few hundred thousand albums in the USA. We were good sellers but not multi million sellers. But they all loved our music and were broken hearted when we left. And then we went to Polydor and Polydor loved having us on their label for two albums, but unfortunately they didn't have the muscle when they tried to break into America. And our last album that was released in the seventies was on Arista. Clive Davis understood it and thought it was our best album in years. But unfortunately that album (Deadlines) didn't sell and that was the end of our relationship. Then the band split up after that.

DH - And the whole breaking in the US is interesting to me since I knew of the Strawbs, but not at that major level. So did you tour as much in the 1970s as you do now?

DC - We spent at least two year years of our lives touring the US back then, when we roughly worked it out. We toured with so many bands like the Eagles, with Frank Zappa, Joe Walsh, Santana, Blue Oyster Cult, Lynyrd Skynyrd. We travelled with so many bands and then we did several headline shows ourselves. But we found we were much bigger on the east coast of America than we were in the west. So, we could sell out two nights at the Bijou in New York on the east coast and we would go play in front of 100 people in San Francisco. That was a very strange city, as I thought we would be far more popular on the west coast.

DH - Hmmm.... yeah, and that still is the case today, since you seem to stay more on the east coast and maybe the midwest when you tour.

DC - Yes we have a small niche of followers out west, maybe enough if we had the time.

DH - I was reading that in the early days of touring in England, you did a tour with Roy Harper. Did you get along well with him?

DC - Ummm, on that early tour, no (laughter). We have become great friends since. In fact we were traveling in the same truck together and the same day I finished my song, "The Hangman and the Papist", Roy finished his song, "Me and my Woman". So he looked at the lyrics and said no, I don't like that. But he didn't really like our music at that time. Later on when we toured Scandanavia together with him and we became a rock band, he said this is bloody wonderful and we became the best of friends.

DH - That's a great story about those two songs. I play those two songs all the time.

DC - So those were literally finished in a van within ten minutes of each other.

DH - Wow. How about some of the other classic folk rock artists. For instant did you play with the Sandy Denny Fairport Convention at all?

DC - No, but of course wtih Sandy Denny, we recorded our first album with her.

DH - Right.

DC- In 1967, it was called "All Our Own Work". The trouble was that she left us to join Fairport, and we had been rehearsing for about six months. We made the album and then my job was to get it released in the UK. We had made it in Denmark and by the time I had found someone to put it out, she had gone off to Fairport. So the album did not come out until later, in 1973, which was a terrible shame since nobody knew what it was. But Sandy and I and remained the best of friends until the day she died.

DH - That's good.

DC - About two weeks before she died, I went to stay with her and husband Trevor (Lucas). Their baby had just been born and I had never seen her so happy. It was wonderful. Then she died and it broke my heart. And she was a marvelous singer. And that album, we put it out like about... oh, two years ago and its sold around ten thousand copies. It has been very successful with rave reviews.

DH - It deserves them. I had to buy the vinyl copy many years ago to get it.

DC - You can buy the CD version and get some extras as well.

DH - I should update it (as I have done with many Strawbs records). I try to get both. I want to talk about your (first) solo album "Two Weeks Last Summer" (from 1972). How did that become a solo album and not a Strawbs album?

DC - Because the band had recorded the most successful UK record at the time, "Bursting at the Seams". John Ford, the bass player, didn't like "Down by the Sea".  He said 'I don't want to do songs like that--that's boring. I want to do pop songs.' And so I had written the song "Blue Angel" and there was no chance that they would record it. It just wasn't the slightest bit of interest for them to do long suites of songs, if you like. So because of that, the band split up, and in sheer frustration, I said I am going to go out and make an album on my own. So I went and made it because they just weren't interested in doing those sort of songs. I had those songs up my sleeve, recorded it, and it is still selling to this day. It gave me the opportunity to work with Roger Glover on bass, who was with Deep Purple, and Jon Hiseman on drums which opened my eyes on the potential of the band as a rock band. And after that, we brought in Dave Lambert on electric guitar and then there was no holding us back.

DH - Now was it the song "Blue Angel" the one written in a hotel room in Indianapolis?

DC - No, the one that was written in Indianapolis was "Ghosts". 

DH - Oh Ghosts was written in Indianapolis, ok, I knew it was one of the 'long ones'.

DC - Ghosts was written about the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indianapolis. We were staying in a hotel next to it and from my room I could see the angel on top. At night, it is lit with a blue light which comes through the room curtains no matter how tight you draw them. One of my kids was ill and I was trying to phone home to see if he was alright. I couldn't get through. It was a nightmare and the song turned the column into the nightmare. I climbed inside it toward the light.

DH - OK, right. I grew up in Dayton, Ohio about 100 miles east of Indianapolis, so I am happy that Indianapolis inspired something good like "Ghosts".

DC - Do you know there is another very interesting thing about that?

DH - What's that?

DC - There's another very famous song, not that our song was as famous as this one, that was written by a piano player who used to play in a piano bar around that same circle. And he looked up one night and saw all the stars in the sky and he sat down and wrote the melody "Stardust" and it was Hoagy Carmichael.

DH - No kidding.

DC - So there were at least two songs written about Indianapolis, one is "Stardust" and one is not.

DH - (laughs) Good to know.

DC - (laughs) I think I got the short straw.

DH - Yes, the royalties for one is a bit higher than the other. But, I really love the song on your solo album--the vocal work on "October to May". Have you ever done a musical arrangement for that (ed -it's a vocal piece) or sung it live?

DC - No, but it's a good idea that we should try it because the Acoustic Strawbs have got three-part harmonies so we could do it very well. But that was just myself and Dave Lambert singing that. We were in a little village called Tiddington, which is owned by Richard Branson (Virgin Records). And there was a studio there called the Manor. So we (Branson and I) were talking about starring a record label and publishing and as we were discussing how to do it, the next thing I know he's putting out an album on his own label without consulting me which was called "Tubular Bells" (Mike Oldfield) which sold in millions. But anyway, we recorded that song and it was just myself and Dave Lambert singing and it sounded a bit Russian. It is based on a tune that is an old Russian folk song. So that is why I wanted to make it sound like a Russian choir.

DH - It does have a cathedral sound. It's a great sound.

DC - Listen very carefully on headphones. You can hear a guitar backing track.

DH - Ahh, ok, I thought there was something going on there (laughter). That is always fun when you have that in a famous song. The Mamas and the Papas have that in their hit song "California Dreaming" which was to go to Barry McGuire, but they erased most of his voice and put themselves on top because they didn't want to give the song away. But you can still hear a bit of him on the song.

DC - Oh. I have met John Phillips and spoke to him about that song. He told me how it was written in New York and he was there with Michelle who hated being in New York because it was cold and wanted to go back to California. And they went into a church and got the whole inspiration for that song in a church in New York.

DH - Quite the classic.

DC - I think they were wonderful as friends, but I never saw them live. But the sound of that was very influential when were recording with Sandy Denny.

DH - I am curious about the five-person Strawbs which I saw at the Birchmere years ago... with John Hawken and Rod Coombes. Is there any chance of bringing that back to the US?

DC - I would love to, but Rod Coombes is now teaching percussion at college and can only tour in summer or on holiday, so it is very difficult to try and get a time that he could play. And John Hawken just doesn't want to lug keyboards around anymore--he's just had enough of it. So that will never happen again.

DH - OK, but that was a lot of fun. But I do need to point out for people who have not seen the Acoustic Strawbs that Chas Cronk uses pedals for "Grave New World" and Dave Lambert plays very spirited rock solos on acoustic, so I think it is fair to say that the Acoustic Strawbs still provide a great variety of rock sounds when you play.

DC - It essentially is a rock band with acoustic guitars. We make a huge noise for three guys with acoustic guitars. People actually are astounded by it.

DH - Yes, I love what have you done with your sound.

DC - The person that was most impressed with it was Steve Hackett, the guitarist formerly of Genesis. He saw a show of outs at Hampton Court that Rick Wakeman did and he said ' how the hell do you make that sound? It's enormous, as big as Wakeman with an orchestra.' It's not that we turn the volume up, but it's the fact that for our guitars, we use a combination of a 12-string guitar, my guitar in an open tuning, and Dave Lambert in a normal tuning, but we are all playing different registers, so we get the sound of about 12 guitars instead of three. It sounds huge. We are able to weave melodic lines into the guitar playing--it's astonishing what comes out in the mix.

DH - I love what you do with "Grave New World" which is such a great song, but unfortunately the world is still a mess, so I guess you will be singing that song for decades further....

DC - There was the one time that we played it after 9/11 where we played New York about six months later. I introduced the song on stage and I can't remember what I said but I said that it is dedicated to those that died in the twin towers. And the crowd stood up and applauded like crazy.

DH - Oh yes.... I read that you recently played some shows with Ian Cutler, and for every psychedelic folk fan like myself, he's well known as the violinist in "The Wicker Man" and the band Bully Wee, so how did those shows go?

DC - Bully Wee, yes. We did a show about a month ago. It was absolutely wonderful. I enjoyed doing shows with him and in fact, I did a brand new song with him and the lyrics haven't quite been finished. He is a wonderful, wonderful fiddle player.
DH - Cool, yeah it's great he's still performing. Any other collaborations I don't know about?

DC - A ton. (laughter) And there are even more chances for these, but I rarely get the time to do it.

DH - And what keeps you going so strong for 40-some years now.

DC - I really enjoy playing, let's put it that way. The playing makes it bearable.

DH - And specifically the live performances are the joy?

DC - Very much. And the whole show has changed. I call it the Imaginative Mystery Tour. We go through the very beginning with the older songs and gradually go to the newer songs to the present day. It's great fun to do. And I've got a banjo, well waiting in New Jersey, and I just sent my dulcimer over. The audience in America hasn't seen my dulcimer in about ten years. We do "Benedictus" on the dulcimer, but it's an electric dulcimer, not the acoustic one. So, we'll do some different things and the different instruments makes things interesting.

DH - Oh very much. I have missed the dulcimer in recent years.

DC - Well, it will be there and its arrived already.

DH - Excellent. How about when you go to the studio these days. Are you working in a classic studio set-up or do you use more computers and modern technology now?

DC - Lately we have been working in sort of hybrids, really. The last was a classic analog studio--we recorded with a guy called Chris Tsangarides, a very well known producer, but he's a heavy metal producer. He's done Yngwie Malmstein, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and others. He also did the band called The Tragically Hip in Canada, an album that sold ten million copies in Canada--a huge selling record. He did the Concrete Blonde, do you remember that band?

DH - I do.

DC - So we went into his studio and he's got an analog desk and a 16 track digital recorder, actually a 24 track recorder, you can do anything. So we're recording the album all digitally but it is all mixed analog, so you get wonderful sounds. In fact, he's my partner in a new record label I mentioned earlier.

DH - Oh, excellent.

DC - Dark Lord Records.

DH - Sounds like a good metal label.

DC - (laughs) People don't understand what I'm doing, but I do.

DH - (laughs) As long as you start there, there is a good chance people will pick up on it. You mentioned a lot of your previous members in the Strawbs and although I won't ask, could you name every Strawbs member or what percentage would you get?

DC - Oh, I probably would get to 100%, but it would take an hour and half to do it.

DH - (laughter) which leads me to my next question--are you ever going to put this all together in an autobiography if you have the time?

DC - I've started it. I've knocked the chapters out and started writing notes for each chapter. But then I got to the Hero & Heroine era and it became very harrowing on a personal level so I put it off. But next year, I am going to set aside some time and do it.

DH - Ah, great, well I look forward to that for sure. One last oddball question... I am a big Premier League fan and was curious if you had a favorite football club?

DC - Well, I am going out tonight to my local pub since it's the opening weekend to the season and Manchester United will be the team.

DH - I'll be watching that here.

DC - They signed Robin van Persie and it will be really fascinating to see how he fits in.

DH - Yes, they are loaded up front.

And then it was a brief discussion of the tour which starts right here at the Jammin Java on Wednesday, September 5th. Be there or head to Annapolis on Sunday!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dead Can Dance -- Wolf Trap Filene Center - Aug 27 2012

David Kuckherman - There is a quick opening set from DCD's touring percussionist. He plays handpan drums which he discusses here and provides lots of information about at his website. The drums are like steel drums pushed outward and are tuned to a scale. They sound like a cross between a steel drum and a hammered dulcimer. He provided a quick 25 minute set of top notch percussion and even made a tambourine sound amazing for one song. He was joined by a female vocalist for the last song who would also feature on vocals and keyboards in the main set. Nice warm-up.

Dead Can Dance - It took one of my favorite all time bands to get me out to Wolf Trap for the first time. It reminds me of Red Rocks in my old home of Colorado and it was nice to see the band draw such a large and diverse crowd for the show tonight. The crowd's diversity is especially pleasing as DCD's sound is quite diverse with its sources of ancient, classical, folk, prog, and goth music. Yet Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry harness it and create some of the most focused and lushly powerful music in recent history. I saw them before they disbanded over 16 years ago and caught them once at a reunion show at the Strathmore several years back. The news that they have a brand new album just released is great (and it is streaming in full at their site). It is nice that they are working together and releasing new material in addition to touring the globe. Yet, I have to say that the focus on newer material diminished the set tonight. I hate sounding like the uber-fan that wants to hear all the old hits, but some of the new material was not only unfamiliar but did not consistently have the power of that of the cut from Aion that they performed. Also the band was not quite as exotic and intense as in previous tours. There were drums, percussion, and two keyboards with a guy sneaking onstage to add some bass now and then. Perry and Gerrard added hammered dulcimers, citterns, and guitars as well. But would I do this show again? Absolutely, as the vocal work was every bit as magisterial as in past shows. Lisa Gerrard is amazing and few vocalists on this planet could live up to that regal blue dress and gold cape she was wearing. She looked every bit the queen, or maybe like Helen Mirren at least. Perry's voice had that soothing yet powerful presence as well. There were still many transcendent moments in the set. Although one of them was NOT inviting George Clinton to the stage (look carefully at the Wolf Trap program excerpt above). So even the third best Dead Can Dance performance was a highly enjoyable show featuring two of the more creative and talented people I have ever heard.

Quote of the Night: From a guy sitting behind me behind me some time during the 28 minutes between acts and dedicated to those that think I complain too much about late starts... "8:30 pm? Come on!"

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Black Dog Prowl - Pet Clinic - Mirror Kisses - The Unruly -- Axum Lounge - Aug 25

If you want a thoughtful analysis of the bands tonight, leave now and come back Tuesday morning for my review of Dead Can Dance. Instead, this will be a quick glance at the Axum Lounge. This is another upstairs club akin to the Velvet Lounge or the old Red & the Black. It's clean and comfortable which is the biggest positive. The sound is not dazzling but has potential to be better than the Red & the Black was, but has a ways to go to get to the Velvet Lounge standard. It is nice that the set times were listed on the website with the first two bands going on at 9pm and 10pm supposedly. And that was a downer, as the first band started at 9:49, the second at 10:59. Maybe not overly late (although I would say it is for four bands), but a lot of waiting time in a bar which is not my favorite thing to do (see below).

After the Unruly played a rather uncreative, but adequate blues based mid-tempo rock set, an electronic duo took 36 minutes to set up with a big light show curtain and frame behind the electronic drums. The booking agent should have had this act on first to get the setup out of the way and have more similar themed bands linked thereafter.  The crowd was fairly attentive which is good, but there was that weekend vibe that I am slowly finding myself not liking as there is no concept of a weekend for me anymore (again, see below). I quickly bailed on the Mirror Kisses as their retro electropop sound was really annoying me after the long wait. Sorry I couldn't see the next two bands as I think they are pretty good from what I have heard in the past.

So a mixed review for the Axum Lounge, but it does have potential as a second-tier place to play and maybe even better.

Quote of the Night: "Cheers." Well maybe he said that. This guy made a big production out of buying seven or eight shots for his friends and even ensuring a lime slice was in each tiny glass. After the toast, he downed his, immediately scrunched his face up, held his hands to his mouth to try to keep in his stomach contents and tore down the steps and outside the club. The staff got the mop out pretty quickly, although their wasn't much evidence he lost much. Just further evidence of why I need bands playing on stage, fast, furious, and timely so that I spend less time reminding myself why I can't stand sitting around in bars.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Presto Bando and more... Red Palace - Aug 24 2012

I arrived late to the show and caught the second to last of the four bands playing tonight.

The Petticoat Tearoom - I caught about 15 - 20 minutes of this set and it was pretty good. Violin along with the usual trio of rock instrumentation was the foundation here. Songs were not overly loud and had a tricky personal vibe that I will have to work out further when I see a whole set. I am intrigued enough to want that to happen.

Presto Bando - I mostly just wanted to say to the three PB'ers, but if I can take in a full set, all the better. They are as fun as usual with a good crowd here tonight. It was nice to see Corey back on bass, as the last couple times out they played as a duo. For those that haven't read my many positive words about these guys before, they have a jagged guitar, a smooth active bass, crisp precise drumming, and manically crazed vocals. It is some combination of Modern Lovers, Meat Puppets, and Magic Band (as in Captain Beefheart and the...). I do have Magic Band on the mind too much (see quote below), but Presto Bando takes its cue from some of the more original bands out there from any era and shoots off in their own fun direction. Take them in some time.

Quote of the Night: From Rockette Morton to Captain Beefheart... "If you want to quit all this damn extra-curricular bullshit and just play music and get the album done, I'll be glad to come back."

Basically, take your favorite Trout Mask Replica musician and you can plug in their name to... 'Don Van Vliet (C. Beefheart) was a bully who treated ______ harshly and cruelly and made for a horrible situation. He didn't pay ______ and although he had creative ideas, he would have been nothing without the arrangements by John 'Drumbo' French who formed the crazy snippets of brilliance into real music.'

Black Dog Prowl - Danvilles - Vinyl Side -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Aug 24 2012

Vinyl Side - I wondered what had happened to the Killer Balloons and tonight the mystery is solved as they have reappeared with a new name and a new powerhouse drummer, as they accurately describe him. They have extra power and volume throughout the set and while not having lost the garage soul feel in the vocals and keyboards, now add some heft in the guitar and drums. It's nowhere near metal, but follows a kind of classic very hard rock pattern that can veer into soulfulness and a touch of R&B depending on the song. Probably the only thing to worry about going forward, for those of us that could be found guilty of over analyzing things, is being a little lost between genres and audiences. But continued focus on songwriting and regular gigging usually allows bands to figure it out. And if they don't, they rock hard and give the audience their money's worth.

Danvilles - This was the first time I experienced this Virginia based twin guitar quartet and I walk away impressed. They rocked hard with bluesy and western swing undercurrents. At times they reminded me of thick and heavy Reverend Horton Heat, at other times it was bit more like Graveyard. The audience tonight was even more self-indulgent than a usual Friday night crowd and were pretty dead with many of them leaving after the first band played so they could continue their mundane conversations shouted atop cliched DJ noise in another locale. Or perhaps, I exagerrate. The Danvilles deserved a bit better as they did a solid job. And the 18 people that remained (from 60-70) seemed to really enjoy this set.

Black Dog Prowl - I cut out early since this band is playing in town on Saturday night and I'll check out their set then. But that gives me time to head over to the Red Palace.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Courtesans - Skribe -- Black Cat - Aug 22 2012

Skribe - Actually, it's just one Skribe, who I believe is normally a trio (if their Facebook page is still accurate). He plays what looks like a 6-string banjo about half the time and acoustic guitar the rest of the time. It's solid, hearty folk music with a rock foundation. The Facebook page mentions Langhorne Slim, which is a about as apt comparison as anything I could come up with. I particularly liked the one song where he pounded out a percussive beat on the drum of his banjo, looped it, and started adding layers of banjo along with his singing. It was a great sound. But even the more straightforward instrument and vocal songs were enjoyable. It was a nice set, and it worked well enough on its own, as well as succeeding in making me want to see his band sometime. But wait, a wayward drummer for the Courtesans has caused him to jump up and play another 15 minutes. They are really getting things going early tonight, which is odd considering it is only two local acts. But this guy is a trooper, so he finishes up a few more tunes and it is finally time for him to relax.
The Courtesans - I've seen this band five or six times now, and that makes it obvious that I like them. They did another solid job tonight and I'm not going to spend more than a few sentences on the basics of why you may want to catch a set some time. They are a steady power-pop, rock, garage trio that even has a touch of soul. There is nothing flamboyantly original here, but their personality and band identity is unique enough and focused enough to deliver a solid set every time out. The songs had a nice variety about them and it helps that both the bass player and guitarist (in this trio) share lead vocal duties. They nailed a solid 45 minute set here and the small but appreciative crowd was into it.

Quote of the Night:  From the opener... "My friend said I didn't write enough love songs, so I wrote this one that ended up about a guy being shot by an angry girlfriend."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lightning Bolt - Hume - Les Rhinoceros -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Aug 21 2012

Les Rhinoceros - I was quite impressed with this quartet when I last saw them at Paperhaus. They have toured around a bit and played DC at least once since and the only thing I can really add is that they are even better. Their fiery aggressive prog sounds morph into twisted reggae as they seem to be the missing krautrock link between the Sun City Girls and Frank Zappa. Wharped accessibility with loads of dynamics and shifts lead by a powerful drummer and really fast precise players surrounding him. There's a bit of violin, no vocals, and lots of originality. These guys are clearly on to something.

Hume - I have seen this local quartet a number of times and have always been impressed by the intelligent and creative sounds they manage. They have a bass/vocalist with guitar and two drummers along with various noises coming from somewhere electronic. They have always had that certain post rock vibe going, but seemed even wilder and more assertive tonight. Perhaps playing between Les Rhino and Lightning Bolt had them thinking they should step it up a notch or maybe this is what they feel like doing in 2012. Whatever the reason, they delivered a strong set that had all the intelligence and intrigue that they usually produce. There is a solid crowd stretching to the back of the club by now and they have been having fun so far.

Lightning Bolt - I have not seen this Providence bass-drums/vocals duo in a number of years. They were at a Terrastock festival in their home town and did one of their 'on-the-floor' quick intense jams in between sets by the Japanese band Ghost and the late Jack Rose. They were about the 37th band of the 38 bands I saw a the festival and I was a bit too worn out to get into their noise, especially with the interesting sounds around them. But tonight was a solid bill and they went up on stage with their amp stacks and drum kit with both myself and a sizable crowd ready. The drummer employs twisted distorted vocals to work as an additional instrument primarily and plays hyper fast, but varied. The bass player uses all kinds of pedals and distortion and has used banjo strings and a fifth string to get more guitar tones out of his bass. It is quite effective as he can pummel a bass line while adding psychedelic guitar chords and runs to their music. They control the noise in a reasonable structure that is somewhere between a song and a jam. I could almost use a slower Melvins-like dirge once in a while to break things up, but there were enough sonic shifts to really hold my interest. But it is the hyper adrenaline rush that works for me, as well as the masses up front. And the sound is quite interesting, loud, but aside from a couple of early moments of overkill, just right for those of us that like volume without wanting to be completely destroyed. They reminded me of a great low-fi punk band called the Mentally Ill, although you would have to take that sound and run it through about every effects pedal known to man to get what came out tonight. Good fun and these guys are back in Baltimore on September 19th if you missed them this time around.

Video of the Night: I really enjoyed this Caustic Casanova video and since it is a good fit with the bands tonight (as well as seeing two of their members at the show), here it is for your enjoyment.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Kennedys - Naked Blue -- The Hamilton - Aug 19 2012

Naked Blue - The first of two husband and wife duos that both feature female lead vocals and acoustic guitar, with male backing vocals and electric and acoustic guitar. This duo did have a guest cellist sitting in on all but the last couple of songs. This is the first time I have seen this Baltimore area band and they were a fine starter for the excellent headliner to come. The core of this was solid modern folk songs, but the arrangements were quite rich and occasionally delicate. The electric guitar had a spacey quality with the cello adding another quiet layer in the background. This gave breadth to the voice and acoustic work which filled this big club with an airy strength. I would certainly recommend this duo for folk fans, especially those that want a little bit more skill in the arrangement department than that of the standard singer songwriter acts.
The Kennedys - If you don't enjoy this amazing duo, you must really make a habit of wearing blinders as you search for a very limited musical genre. These two create magic onstage for folkies and rockers. Maura Kennedy could easily exist as a solo artist with her quality folk songs, strong voice, enthusiastic personality, and effective acoustic guitar strumming. She can command a stage all on her own. But why do that when your husband is a brilliant guitar stylist with a great voice of his own. The word fiery is appropriate for his style, yet does not quite give the correct image of the smooth way he plays and the steady tone that develops. He can produce sixteenth notes flying around the scale that have the same effect as a delicate chord.  They had a good sized crowd tonight which was much bigger than could fit in the Jammin Java where they last played. Although the coffeehouses are great to see this band, it is nice to see them drawing more fans. They chose to play the new album in its entirety for their first set and to 'make it up to us', do a second set of all requests which they would work out with the audience during the break. The new album sounded excellent and the only thing that lacked was the eclectic stylistic shifts that their normal sets have. But of course, all of that was there in the second set. With the new songs, the sound they created was assured and quietly powerful reminding me more of some of my European favorites like the Balladeers or Alison and David Williams (of Flibbertigibbet and Mellow Candle). With the second set, it was several covers and more shifts from Americana to psyche folk to guitar showcases. They covered Jimmy Webb and Gram Parsons before they went more into my favorite territory with their stunning version of "Eight Miles High" and "A Day in the Life". I also enjoyed the 'name that tune' riff portion where he quickly put together a few seconds from Bouree, Satisfaction, Paint it Black, Roundabout and more. Playful one moment and serious the next as they finally finished the encore with one of their own, "Stand". That is how they do things and with their amazing skills and personalities, it is why each show will have a few more people in attendance joining those that don't want to ever miss a single show.

Quote of the night: From the openers... She: " can check out my legs for bruises. He's got them, too."
He: "I'm not taking off my pants...."

To be fair, they were discussing a new wooden bed frame.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Lorelei - Deathfix - Sun Wolf -- Black Cat - Aug 17 2012

Sun Wolf - Second time around for me with this local trio that starts off as the traditional power trio before finishing up with keyboards, bass, and drums. The vocal work by the guitarist (later bassist) reminds me of Jeffrey Lee Pierce although musically the band is tighter in the rhythm section. But the guitar is loose and fun, mostly. They play some quirky post punk pop song before headed back to something that sounds between the Mekons and Tuff Darts (now I am reaching). They really hit their stride with some great garage rock songs that are not completely throwback. But then the keyboards come in and they move off again along a different route on this confusing road trip. There is a lot of good things happening, but it may be helpful to get a clearer focus on a direction. Then again, I had fun and they looked like they did, too.

Deathfix - This is also the second time around for me with this local quartet featuring some famous names including Brendan Canty on guitar/vocals and Richard Morel on keyboards/vocals. But I do not want to ignore the rhythm section as I felt they did an extraordinary job of setting the pace in this set. The early material was really hard edged and so effective with the spaces created by the bass and drums. The guitars and keys could change pace with throbbing power and keep listeners on edge for even the longest song. Great drama here with the groove they locked into. Kind of like second generation Doors and Canned Heat offspring figuring out how to bring sixties jams into post punk songs. A couple of songs at the end had me relaxing, but most of this set had me on my toes at full attention to this rapturous tuneful power.

Lorelei - It's their record release party of their brand new long player reviewed last month here. It is a record that takes a few dedicated listens to figure out the skill and originality they present. They are a bit more immediate live, as most bands are, and were cooking up a good din tonight. Apparently the guitarist/vocalist was off his game a bit due to a stomach bug, but he soldiered on with his quirky angular riffs. The rhythm section showed great skill and touch creating more unique textures and patterns than many of the post punk bands around. When they have pace, they are reminiscent of Buildings, a local band I enjoy a lot. But they vary their pace more and occasionally have a glorious blast of a shoegaze guitar solo exploding out of their songs. And they do structure the music into a variety of intriguing songs. I think any Feelies fan would easily gravitate to this music. It is not the same, but he intricacy and vibe are similar. A smart and satisfying set resulted with a good sized crowd that justified having this show on the big stage instead of downstairs. I'll be back for more.

Quotes from the XXX Olympiad: I ended up watching more of this than I expected since it was something to turn on during the day when I'm home, I did catch some good announcing quips. I am sympathetic as I often catch myself writing such brilliant sentences such as.. 'the nice guitar work resulted in a really nice song', so I appreciate that too much hyperbole and other errors will happen, still...

Badminton commentator: "Malaysia forced China into an unforced error."

and this way over the top Volleyball play by play guy... "Unforgivable Error" said three times in one match ... and ... "Russia has come back! Literally, from the grave."

Friday, August 17, 2012

Raise the Roofbeams - The Beanstalk Library - Red Sammy -- DC9 - Aug 16 2012

Red Sammy - It has been a while since I have seen this Baltimore singer songwriter Adam Trice. I do recall that the last time also featured the same Red Sammy line-up as he had tonight. While he sings and plays acoustic guitar, he has a rhythm section, and an older guy playing some great slide guitar on an even older resonator guitar (1931 vintage!). The two guitars work nicely together atop the steady rhythm section. Trice has a voice that varies between a deep folk style and that of an old bluesman. The more he varies things, the better this sounds. The songs are all solid and easy enough to dig in to. I was starting to make a note that things were almost a bit too steady, when the band slowly moved into rockier territory for the last two songs with some nice bass lines and a bit more heft. This was a strong finish to another fine set from this quality songwriter and sharp band.

The Beanstalk Library -  Even seeing this band a few times already, I never seem quite ready for their sound. Frankly, I think it is getting even better although it was always pretty good. There is some of the Americana tinged folk rock that I expect, but there is much more creative rock music going on as well. They have that Neil Young thing going on, although the band seems a bit tighter than Crazy Horse (don't they all). Sure enough, they cover Neil Young's "Powderfinger" to fine effect. These guys are clearly on volume growth hormones as they not only provide foot stomping powerhouse honky tonk, but classic double-lead fury which is a part of their latest single. They seem to be challenging themselves to keep moving forward and appear to be winning. I am clearly becoming a fan of this band, check that, I'm there.

Raise the Roofbeams - This is an Album release show and it celebrates a new record that I enjoyed when I reviewed it a few weeks back. Nathan Robinson is the guitarist/lead singer/songwriter here and he also works in a fine local band, the Archivists. While that band is more indie rock, this one features a more acoustic Americana base with mandolin, upright bass, drums, and acoustic guitar. There is a touch of electric guitar and melodica tossed in, as well as harmonica. Personally, I like the Archivists a bit more, but that speaks more of my desire for louder rock (perhaps their following a raucous electric set may have reinforced that tonight). But I would not want to miss this band's live shows, as Nathan Robinson pens some mighty fine songs and the band does a nice job delivering them to the assembled fans here tonight. They remind me of Elliott Brood, who I am a big fan of, with the way they bring some intensity to what could be a comfortable, safe acoustic song. I wish there had been a little more push from the backing instrumentation at times, but that was about the only real flaw I found tonight. Otherwise, this is excellent music that is well worth a listen.

Quote of the Night: From Red Sammy noticing the empty dance floor... "It's a black sea out there, so this is dedicated to the dance's called 'Shark Bait'". Fortunately, the crowd picked up by set's end as the latecomers arrived.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Stereosleep - The Resistance -- Black Cat - Aug 14 2012

The Resistance - Word to the wise, don't tell the crowd how you will be changing your name soon and then proceed to hawk your t-shirts. Although that is something I would have been taught in business school, it matters little here at the backstage of the Black Cat as there are a healthy crowd of 40 something people well under 40-something that are here to rock. And rock they do as this band displays its skill at combining older and newer rock forms into an engaging mix for a set exceeding an hour. They embody sort of a post punk approach to rock music, but not in a post-rock way. But the more analytical I get, the more I feel I lose the spirit of this band. I feel at a gutsy rock-roots level with what I hear from this quartet sort of as if Radiohead were a bar band. There are shoegaze elements, indie stylings, and although you can trace various sounds and styles, they don't clash or dominate. If you want a sharp band to rock to, try these guys out for yourself and see what stirs in your brain. I am sure they will hit even more buttons each time I see them. I just hope they decide on a name quickly and let me know about it as I want to be at the next show.
Stereosleep - Speaking of unique modern rock bands... this is also the second time around for me in seeing yet another intriguing area quartet that combines a couple of guitars with an occasional move to keyboards. The opening cut sets the tone with bright strong guitar melodies that drop down into a thick murky chorus passage. The contrasts here are fascinating. The bass playing is loose while the guitars alternate between locked in interplay and passages where there is room to breathe. The drums pound away and there is always a satisfying vibe in each song. They are a bit slippery to take hold of, but so easy to relax and rock out with. I got vibes of the bands Death, the Plastic Idols (for some reason), or perhaps a simpler Dungen tonight which were completely different than the bands I was channeling last time. And that is a good thing that hopefully will continue as they continue to add songs to their set. There is a vinegar and oil feeling to these band members' styles that could change things radically if they make changes. Hopefully these guys will keep the band going as they have a certain spark together that would be tough to recreate. The audience showed its appreciation for a great night of modern rock music.

Quote of the Night: From the openers... "This is a song called 'Coyote' by the Lonely Forest, so please don't tell us it's our best song."

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sebadoh - Sentridoh - Circle of Buzzards --

Circle of Buzzards - I thought this duo looked familiar and sure enough this was Jason and Bob of Sebadoh (also Fiery Furnaces for that matter) doing their take on the guitar/drums duo thing. Jason sings and switches to bass as well. I did not like this format to begin with, grew to respect it when done well, tired of seeing it done so many times unless done very well, to... well, I'm not sure anymore. But this was a 17-minute tune-up that didn't inspire much, but managed to create a nice thick appetizer with a dash of creativity. So it was fine for the first course and the portion size was right.

Sentridoh - This was Lou Barlow solo on vocals and what looked like a bass ukulele which I am not sure I have seen played before. It was an inspired choice as it allowed Lou Barlow to play his songs in a unique way which played with both his guitar and bass style in a stripped down format. And his songs are quite excellent and so very well in this solo format. His quirky conversational personality was there for this set and of course the next one. He played a half-hour which was just right and the moderately sizable crowd was enjoying this and quite involved with real honest to god listening. Although no one called him on his doctrinal error in referring to the Immaculate Conception as the birth of Jesus, when it is actually the birth of Mary. That's ok, I learned all of that later in life because I wasn't paying much attention to Sunday School either.

Sebadoh - Lou Barlow is starting off a busy period with this tour before another Dinosaur Jr. tour this fall, where they will also be playing this stage. The crowd is really hot tonight, but not in any stupid sort of way, just enthusiastic and smart. Those attributes are probably part of most Sebadoh fans as the band's accessible, energetic oddball pop songs tend to attract the smarter set. They were trying to play a different set of songs since the last time they were here and they did mix it up well, although I certainly don't have that setlist in my head or on paper. They played some new songs from their 5-song EP just out. These were crisp and rocking and were as fun as anything of old. They even improved "Played with the Needle of Light" a song written on the spot as Lou was trying to explain the concept of the vinyl CD EP. Jason and Lou switch to instruments so Jason can sing and play guitar to some of his songs which are pretty rocking tonight. He also added a cut that Lou had to guess how it went as it was unrehearsed. It came off just fine, as the difference between these guys and the Replacements is that these guys go with the flow, finish songs, sound great making it up while they go along. Just reverse all of that for the Replacements for those of you who remember their awful live shows (unless you are of the camp that found that cool, but I am opening up a vat of worms here). Good fun, tonight, not terribly compelling, but I would probably get quizzical expressions from the band if I tried to use the word compelling in front of them. They rock in their unique personal manner and delivered a fun set again at the Black Cat.

Quote within a Quote of the Night: From Lou... "Did someone just 'I have sex in my life?' I have sex in my life! Great."

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Zombies - The Left Banke -- Howard Theatre - Aug 9 2012

The Left Banke - It is quite a treat to see this semi-obscure yet important sixties pop band back in action. The name is not as well known as many of their peers, but nearly every older music fan has heard "Walk Away Renee". The Left Banke is back and is performing their brand of baroque pop in a powerful way. Two original members, Tom Finn and George Cameron, are front and center on harmony vocals and a bit of acoustic guitar. Their voices are not enough to carry the leads and they were not often doing that anyway, so they have hired a fine lead vocalist along with lead guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, sample guy in the corner, and a 3-piece string section. The band was excellent and the arrangements sharp. The strings only came in when needed, although their first entrance in the second song was about three times as loud as it should have been--quickly fixed. This has been a band I have wanted to explore further, as I only knew of a few of the hits. And their material here confirmed that this is an excellent band who through managerial and personnel fiascoes deserved better. Their brand of pop has that lush orchestral feel to it that will remind you a lot of... well, the Zombies, but also even a bit of Beau Brummels and Brian Wilson as well. Still, the New York City roots are there as they do have a street do-wop toughness within the songs just as many other east coast pop bands seem to have back in the 1960s. The b-side to Renee really rocked out and they performed a good range of material from their different eras. This clean sharp 55-minute set was well received by the crowd, many of which knew this music very well.

The Zombies - This is my fourth time seeing this wonderful band that although better known than the openers, also did not fully rise to the success they deserved. They had great hits, but the odyssey of "Odyssey and Oracle" is a fascinating story that Rod Argent spent a little time telling tonight. He said it still sells better today than it did then (similar to the Velvet Underground and Nico LP released one year earlier). He recounted the many bands and musicians (Paul Weller, Dave Grohl) that do cover versions of Zombies songs and mention the Zombies in interviews, who along with the many fans like were here tonight, turned what was to be a six show series in 2000 into a 12 year international touring and recording revival. And why not, when Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone still have such great voices along with Argent's keyboard mastery still intact. I did detect a little strain on the vocal highs at time, but they are also at the end of a tour and were performing songs for radio shows during the day including an NPR session with Bob Boilen earlier in the day. Still, Colin Blunstone has remarkable feel for the music and his range is beyond anything what it should be at this point. I rightly got politely reprimanded by an extremely cordial person in England for not mentioning this in a previous review, so I will make sure to make it clear this time of how great he sounds. Rod Argent is also absolutely amazing and looks like he good go for another decade at least. The remaining three members include the father and son rhythm section, featuring long-time Kinks and Argent bassist, Jim Rodford still in fine form. I like the new guitarist they have had for a couple of years. He is the balancing act between the smooth lush moves that Colin Blunstone and Jim Rodford provide and the energetic playing of Rod Argent and Steve Rodford. His guitar work goes from blistering leads to acoustic flourish, while the sound is perfectly mixed for each song. The sound was great tonight and the 100-minute set had its usual balance of hits, occasionally played album cuts, Argent song, recent songs, and even an Alan Parsons Project song of Colin's. This the fourth venue I have seen them at and it served them well in terms of sound as well as history, as they really appreciated playing in a hall that hosted so many blues and jazz artists that they grew up with. 51 years and counting... there is absolutely no reason they should stop now as long as they enjoy it as much as they appear to.

Quote of the Night: Exchange from the Left Banke members before finishing up with 'Renee'...
"Want to do the one they came to hear?"
"OK then, 'Jeremiah was a...'"

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ms. Fridrich - Luray - The Sweater Set -- Velvet Lounge - Aug 8 2012

The Sweater Set - This DC duo plays almost as many instruments as the Incredible String Band, although there is nothing quite that exotic. We have acoustic guitar, banjo, ukulele, accordion, flute, finger cymbals, and kazoos. All that being said, the real key is the twin female vocals that exude a sharp delivery with some superb harmonies. There is always a playful yet intense spirit to these songs with enough creativity to keep the interest high among this extremely large house. The only downside was the sound. At first I thought it was due to the band struggling with a pickup (that was part of it), but ultimately there was a disconnect between monitors and PA and some real feedback issues. This continued to lesser degrees during the remaining sets and there was someone new on the soundboard tonight. But as for the Sweater Set? Most acoustic fans should have a lot of fun at one of their next shows.

Luray - A debut set from a California import who expanded her vocal and banjo sound with a couple of fine musicians on keyboards/guitar/harmonies and stand-up bass. Instantly, I am impressed with the instrumental choices and arrangements. The bowed bass and keyboards provide a deep nearly psychedelic drone in the manner of a John Cale arrangement (Think Nico, but only the background). They play around with different sounds, but there is always something cool going on. As for the banjo, that is also a fine sound as it is used in a subtle folk manner and does not veer too much toward Americana. Even the bluegrass song has more subtle nuance to it than you would expect. The songs are solid singer songwriter outings and the vocal work is clean and clear, and not as exotic as the music. Great start for this band and a very appreciative nearly packed house really dug the proceedings.

Ms. Fridrich - Ms. Fridrich is the singer-pianist songwriter who takes the lead here, but the drummer also carves out important space for this duo. They occasionally employ some harmony singers, although their impact is rather minor. Instead, the assertive lead vocals are the key as they exude more of a folk-rock sensibility with a touch of jazz. There are some jazz rock moves in the way the piano and drums seem to weave intricate patterns. It's not so much in any sort of soloing showcase, but more of a pulsating rhythm. During some songs, I would have liked to hear another instrument, but then there were others where these two seemed so locked in, it may have made it worse. But I will leave those decisions to them, and say that they did a fine job tonight and concluded one of the best attended Velvet Lounge shows I have seen in a while (especially for a Wednesday).

Quote of the Night: From the two Sweater Set singers - "...was upset with me for wearing a strapless dress because she thought we looked like bridesmaids. Do we look like bridesmaids?"
"Thanks for making me feel weird."

Monday, August 6, 2012


I was fortunate to get the chance to spend a few minutes with Alexz Johnson backstage prior to her successful set at the Jammin Java. Ms. Johnson has an extensive acting resume, but is presently directing all her energies on a musical journey that brought her to town during her tour. I thank her for taking the time to chat in the usual backstage shuffle.


David Hintz - What sort of tour are you on now?

Alexz Johnson - This is the "Skipping Stone" Tour which is an EP that I did in order to start up my Kickstarter campaign to get funding underway.

DH - Yeah, it surprises me when I see how successful Kickstarter campaigns have gone for people.

AJ - Yeah, I raised about $67,000 for touring.

DH - Wow.

AJ - It's from all the fans that will come to the show from the Kickstarter network. And the EP I basically did for $300 with some friends. I reached out to some producer friends as I wanted to make it very minimal so I could tour easily.

DH - So what kind of backing musicians do you use?

AJ - This is my band here--super talented musicians.

DH - Were they on the EP?

AJ - They were not on the EP I just did, but they will be involved in the next record.

DH - Have you done a tour across the US yet?

AJ - This is my first US tour. I'm Canadian, actually, from Vancouver BC.

DH - No kidding? Home of my friend Joe Keithley of DOA, punk rock musician, agitator, Green Party politician... You don't live there now though?

AJ - I live in Brooklyn now. I basically was living in Toronto and I had a band there. And I decided to just put my stuff in storage. I was really broke...

DH - You're a musician.

AJ - I just sold the stuff I didn't need and moved to New York and have been there 10-11 months now in Brooklyn.

DH - I finally visited there and it was fun and I finally saw the evidence of that vibrant scene. I wanted to talk about the music of yours that is featured on (the US television show) Degrassi, that's the new Degrassi...

AJ - Yeah, they purchased one of my songs which is really cool.

DH - Now did they come to you for a finished product or did you write something specifically for them?

AJ - Basically, they come to me wanting something I have written.

DH - OK, so you do your own songs as you want. Will this relationship continue there or other television/movie deals?

AJ - Yeah, it is weird as a musician trying to get songs placed there (TV, movies), but it's great. But I am pretty focused on the next album right now.

DH - Sure, that kind of exposure is something that is so much more important these days with less radio.

AJ - Right, yes.

DH - So are you with a label?

AJ - Indie... no management, either. I am doing this all by myself.

DH - Cool.

AJ - Yeah, I have worked with different people, many different managers. I just feel at this point, with the position I'm in now... I don't know, I just feel like even though I've met a lot of different managers who are interested, but until I meet one that will be right for me, I don't why I would give a large percentage away, when I'm just surviving.

DH - Yes, it's a real partnership you need to consider... it is amazing how independent everything is now. I don't think you would hear someone talk this way a few decades back.

AJ - Yeah, it is a different industry now. There's no need for it--you don't need to sign a major deal any more, you know? And you want to be in a position as an artist where you have built enough that you don't have to give away as much.

DH - Yeah, I am not sure I have ever understood the industry, but if you can find the way to keep your creative space intact, then follow that path.

AJ - Yeah, and I'm not in any weird kind of rush, you know. And my expectations aren't huge either, which is why this tour has been so amazing because it's like, I don't know, but I'm just going to keep throwing myself in. I don't really know what to expect, like how many people are going to show up to each venue. I don't know, but it's been fun, just building and growing.

DH - Trying to predict markets, never easy.

AJ - And I want to get a lot better, better and better.

DH - And is that a part of doing a long tour working with a full band.

AJ - Yeah, they are amazing.

DH - I think it's a common outcome. There are really good local bands, but the ones that are road tested and have played a lot of shows over many years, just seem to have that little bit extra. It's more than just the talent.

AJ - Exactly, well hopefully you will like the show tonight.

DH - Hope so. So, who were the musical acts and bands that you grew up with and were inspired by?

AJ - I grew up listening to the Temptations, Patsy Cline, Michael Jackson, stuff like that.

DH - A good variety of styles.

AJ - Exactly. I listened to a lot of soul and Jackson Browne, Van Morrison. I started getting into stuff like Bruce Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac and Warren Zevon. You know, I was kind of like inspired by authentic artists that were doing such strong material.

DH - OK, can you give me one person that is inspiration to you from the artistic world, not from music, such as an author or a film director or whatever. Take your time on that and more than one is fine.

AJ - Wow, yeah... Richard Avedon--he really inspired me with beautiful photographs.

DH - Oh, yes.

AJ - He was great. I also find Diane Keaton amazing, too.

DH - WIth Avedon's visual prowess, that makes me curious as to how your song writing works.

AJ - Strangely, it depends because I kind of want to write stuff about people in a not so straight forward way.

DH - Do you write on guitar mostly.

AJ - Yeah, but other times if I am writing, I will write some sort of creative rhythm first. And when I write, I don't start the song thinking I'm going to write a song about 'this' right now. I just kind of play around with words and work with the tone of the words which may fit nicely with a melody and I'll try to find a way to carve a sentence to what came out naturally. That is 'sometimes' how I write a song, like working with the word 'Chicago' in a song .

DH - Yeah, I saw a documentary on Black Sabbath on how they would jam and crazy Ozzy Osbourne would have a germ of an idea and just improv lines whether they made sense or not just to get the rhythm and meter down. Then the bass player would finish the proper lyrics. Yet it was amazing since as you say, you just filling in gaps with whatever works or doesn't

AJ - Exactly.

DH - What is next for you.

AJ - I'll have to look at my phone. Atlanta. Chicago? Oh, Nashville. Then I go to the west coast with my home town, Portland, Seattle, LA...

DH - All those cities with big spaces in between.

AJ - Yeah, BIG spaces in between.

DH - Is it all by van or do you have a flight or two?

AJ - No, we got a van in the back and we're doing it all by van, which is really fun as this is my first tour experience.

DH - It may eventually get old, but the live shows are always a reward for those that persevere.

AJ - Yeah, you feel very free and it ends up being an emotional time.

DH - Are you touring with any band for any length of time on this tour?

AJ - There was a potential for that to happen, but it didn't. I had some friends in a band that have gotten opening slots..

DH - Oh good, that is a benefit to travel of seeing friends and relatives, let alone playing a show with them.

AJ - Right.

DH - So what is the timetable for an album?

AJ - Probably February or March next year. Maybe even January.

DH - Super, I look forward to that. Have a great time tonight!

AJ - Thanks.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Cathy Richardson - Cyrenic - Zahra Universe -- Empire - Aug 3 2012

First time in the Alchemy Room of the new and improved Empire (formerly Jaxx). The Alchemy Room is the front area where they still have a bar and some of the seating they had before. It's name perhaps comes from the Escher prints adorning the walls? Well that's a stretch, but booking this area is a very good idea because you can get almost as many people in here as you can at the DC9, while you save the large stage for the big acts. It works for the Black Cat at least.

There was good attendance for the near-6pm start as Erin Kuhn, Alex Lease, and Roryn Feller all played short acoustic guitar and vocal sets. They were a bit rough, but decent enough with Lease being the most interesting to me. There was the usual shuffling in and out of friends and families that often happens, but the room stayed crowded all night. I found it a little odd that most if not all the performers did not stick around for the headliner and other acts as they all could have learned some things this night.

Zahra Universe - A bit of equipment for this set, as there were a few drums set up along with a keyboard for Ms. Universe who also sings. There was also and acoustic guitar in the mix. Initially, I didn't think it was coming together too well, although it was nice enough pop-folk music. As the set went on, with one song featuring guitar and another a solo keyboard, Zahra Universe showed off her vocal strength to great effect. And she is off to Paris to record a song for the African Cup of Nations (the soccer tournament if I heard this right), so like Rodriguez (playing 6th+I on the 30th), she may be a surprise hit in Africa while still finding her audience here. The talent is there to find a good sized audience and hopefully next time I will get to see more than the 23-minute set tonight. And credit to her for staying around and chatting with Cathy Richardson after the show as there was some common ground between these two excellent vocalists.

Cyrenic - This four-piece from Frederick, Maryland, is fully acoustic, but has two guitars, bass, and congas. They cook up a great sound and one guitarist played acoustic leads which were a nice addition. The rhythm section was spot on and the songs and singing of Brian Zuckerman showed mature and depth. He had a Fred Neil quality in his voice and a good sense of drama to the delivery. The crowd was as noisy as a Black Cat Crowd with some Pitchfork 8.0 or better band playing, so I could not quite lose myself into this music as much as I would have liked. But considering that and only 22 minutes of playing, they still earned a spot on my list of 'need to see again' bands.

Cathy Richardson - I am quickly coming up to speed with the excellent work of Cathy Richardson. I had a chance to interview her earlier this year and then catch a Jefferson Starship show where she serves as their lead singer. But she has another band called Macrodots that sounds quite interesting, as well as solo and band work featuring her original material. Tonight, it is a solo acoustic guitar and vocal setting, although she brings her 'magic box' of backing tracks that features choral arrangements, beats, and some string arrangements among other things. These sound are all fairly subtle as her acoustic guitar playing is strong and pushes the music forward. And then there is her voice which everyone in the world will expect to be great, since Ms. Richardson has both followed Grace Slick in an immortal band as well as sang the Janis Joplin catalog in the musical, "Love Janis". The great thing about this 65 minute set was how varied the songs were. There were some that touched on rootsy even country moments like a Bonnie Raitt, with others that went into powerful blues singing. Ultimately, rock music was most prevalent, but there were both classic singer-songwriter style present and moving to modern moves with the brilliant song, "Tiny Particles". Maybe it was that Who-"Tommy" jean vest she was wearing, but she did invoke some Pete Townshend rhythm guitar and pop composition moves a couple of times. There was a long, but excellent childhood story she told over guitar before it morphed into a rewarding song. The few people that had not been fully pulled into this set were now fully absorbed. She changed tunings, added some psyche effects, proved how she would be hired to sing Joplin with her killer take on "Aquarius", before finally blasting out "Somebody to Love". I expected this to be good, but the heights were even larger and the variety greater than I had imagined. Cathy Richardson is definitely someone to catch in any of her solo or band projects.

Quote of the Night: Cathy Richardson "I have a merch table in the back where you can get 'Delusions of Grandeur', the greatest album ever...please support my delusions."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Alexz Johnson - Eileen Graham -- Jammin Java - Aug 1 2012

Eileen Graham - Ms. Graham plays piano and handles the lead vocals, while a guy named Brian plays acoustic guitar. A few back-up singers join in later in the set, but their impact is minor. Rather, this is fairly direct singer-songwriter material sharpened up with just enough pulsating sounds between piano and guitar. At times, the piano will cut back allowing the guitar to carry the weight of the song, so there is enough variation here. It is all pretty pleasant with the vocals of enough quality to handle the limited accompaniment. One song needed a delayed restart as her computer's batter lost power and her keyboard cut out. Computer? Battery? I was not hearing the need for the computer, and why she would not plug in to an outlet is probably a mistake she won't repeat. A little rewiring by the soundman and we are good to go. The set became a little ragged by the end as if this threw her a bit off her game or perhaps the earlier songs were more interesting. Still, it was an effective opener and the large crowd was appreciative and fully absorbed.

Alexz Johnson - I chatted with Ms. Johnson for a bit before the show and will post an interview soon. Her youthful charm belied the sharp, intelligent set that came next. I expected a pop-folk-rock hybrid of sorts but heard more of a powerful, hearty R&B/rock set. There were some pop moves, particularly in the lovely second song, although there was a lot interesting technique within as smooth adjustments transitioned the snappy moments with deeper passages. The band was a sharp professional crew with guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards. They all added back-up vocals which did lighten the sound a bit, as Alexz Johnson had a powerful voice on top of it all. She wears her influences well, with Jackson Browne songwriting, Motown and Patsy Cline style singing, along with a sharp band to keep things rocking for both young and old crowds. The songs were shorter than I would have guessed, but that is something that also feels more old-school to me back in the pre-jam sixties where even the pop music that was more R&B based would cut to the quick and deliver an immediate complex hook in a tight little package. I appreciated that as there were no histrionics which is something that could easily have been employed when you have a powerful voice like this. Never overly cute and always intelligent without lacking the emotional connection, this hour of music worked for just about everyone here. The title cut of her EP "Skipping Stone" was a powerful ballad and would be a great place to start for anyone interested. She will be continuing on her coast to coast tour before working up a full-length album for early 2013.

Quote of the Night: Eileen Graham... "Obviously, this is crowd surfing kind of music, so feel free."