Sunday, September 30, 2012

Teen Mom - Mice Parade (Acoustic) -- DC9 - Sep 29 2012

Teen Mom - I have seen this local trio a few times and listened to their records and they still manage to intrigue me every time out. They do an indie pop-rock with dreamy -esque vocals and move around nimbly from power pop to psyche jams to quirky rock. Ultimately they remind me of some combination of Sebadoh and the Three O'Clock (nee Salvation Army). They seem a bit overly casual about it all, but when they lock in, watch out--you may be swallowed whole into their music. They struggled with getting enough guitar in the monitors and early on, it was not high enough in the PA, either. Someone else was on the Board, so perhaps they should use the quality House-soundman next time around (not sure if band provided or they were working in someone). Ultimately, it worked out ok, as they really hit their stride later in the set. These guys may not be for everyone, but if you have one or two bones of adventurousness in your body, give them a listen. They offer up some fuzzy yet edgy warmth.
Mice Parade (Acoustic Trio) - This self described indie shoegaze flamenco band from New York has taken the acoustic route to DC this time around. They begin with a solo vocal and ukulele song from their one female in this quartet (yes, it was advertised as a trio). Her powerful voice and delicate touch was mesmerizing and I could easily handle a full set of this. But it was every bit as fun with loads of diverse sounds when the three guys joined in. They guy in the back played xylophone and percussion with a couple of guitars and vocals going up front. One guitarist also played a percussion box. One guitarist clearly has classical and Spanish flamenco skills, although he mixed his virtuosity with some looping rhythmic playing and could easily jam to Velvet Underground songs. The male singer sounded like Bil Callahan or Richard Buckner, and musically they were in the Buckner camp which is a great place to be. Mesmerizing material here, as their 40 minute set flowed by. The xylophone reminded me of the creative touches that Tim Buckley used to employ in his arrangements. I would love to see the electric version some time, but I'll see this again any time they choose to bring it back to DC.

Quote of the Day - Sometime during the first set, a guy walked up to me and asked "Do you have a capo?"

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Frankie Rose - Lightfoot - Cigarette -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Sep 19 2012

Cigarette - There are five of these guys that play some sort of combination of rock instrumentation that may have 2-3 guitars and/or keyboards. I am not sure I have seen such instrument switching which seems more to keep themselves fresh as opposed to any real change in the sound. And that is primarily due to a very focused quiet, dreamy psyche vibe that they lock into . It is like Nick Drake jamming with John Cale's backing band while everyone is on quaaludes. The crowd grows from 20 to 40 during the set and is a little noisy, but for once I will not fault them as rarely will you hear three electric guitars play so quietly. I do like their vision, even though it does not always make for an effective set. Although I bet I would enjoy their recorded efforts quite a bit. They offer a unique sound and do manage to pull in attentive listeners who dug the half hour set.

Lightfoot - No instrumental shifts here, just three guitars, keyboards, bass and drums much of the time with some nice trumpet blasts from the keyboardist. The lead vocals are female and merged with the guitars into a nice sound that reminds me of Electric Circus, Peanut Butter Conspiracy, and even Savage Rose (although nowhere near that daring vocally--not that anyone quite hits Annisette Koppel's range). They shift around from some cool psyche garage sounds to more mainstream rock. It is quite accomplished and has just enough creativity to keep me interested, but could also pull in a really large crowd if people get a chance to hear this material. They really banged it out for 31 minutes as the crowd really picked up to 80 or more. Good vibes all around.

Frankie Rose - Ms. Rose is a former Crystal Stilt, Dum Dum Girl, and even a Vivian Girl and is beginning a ten day tour right here in DC. She has brought along a guitarist, drummer, and two ladies on bass and keyboards who start out by sharing in the vocals creating a nice three-part harmony on a near a capella song. But quickly the guitars crank up and they start rocking. There is a mainstream approach but it is more modern indie  than say that of the last band. It's not quite Brit-pop, but it is closer to that than American west-coast. She invokes dreamy qualities in the songs and her singing, although the guitars add stinging jabs to spice it up a bit. They do a cover song that probably everyone in the crowd knows but me. It sounds like Magazine at their fastest. There are some songs that remind me of the solo work of Greg Sage (Wipers). Even more than the melodic patterns, the rhythm section really conjures up a Wipers vibe with a rock steady smooth manner. The band controls the dynamics really well and that is what makes this set work. There was some annoying feedback a few times (alas, Dennis was not there at the Board), but overall the sound was decent enough. And with a building shoegaze guitar freak-out at the end, everything wrapped up nicely. This was a Wednesday night and I sensed there was not the energy that often occurs for this band, but it was a fine set and people were into it.

Promo of the Night: Don't forget... this is Sonic Circuits weekend with outstanding music happening at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, right next to the Rock'n'Roll Hotel. Carve some time into your weekend schedule for this.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Redline Graffiti - Cloudeater - Bravenoise --Velvet Lounge - Sep 25 2012

Bravenoise - I have enjoyed this Baltimore trio a few times and it was nice to see that they had some new material for me tonight. And better yet, it sounds fresh and invigorating. They still maintain their relaxed approach to rock music where they balnance R&B, classic rock, and other rhythmic forms into a nice blend. But the newer material even adds a bit of edgy space exploaration to it all. It is sublte but quite interesting. The set was solid although I thought they faded a bit toward the end. It is hard not to like these guys as they deliver the tunes and have a sense of fun on stage. They even chanelled the Smothers Brothers at one point in an improvised exchange of patter. They continue to be a welcomoe presence on any bill around here.

Cloudeater - The last time I caught a band from the deep south here at the Velvet Lounge (TeePee) I was suitably blown away. And this band from Atlanta pushed the limits even further skyward tonight. It looked like it would be a little keys/electronics heavy with a couple spots on stage set up for that, but immediately the drums, bass, and guitar lock into a sinister groove. The key/electronic guys cut in at various times as one takes over the lead vocals. He moves from a smoother Alan Vega into a very high quality style with quite a range. It seems that these parts just do not match if I try to look at it clinically, but there was never a sound out of place. I almost never discuss the overused 'synergy' concept, but we really do have it here with a lot of simple parts not terribly interesting by themselves combine into on cohesive and creative powerhouse. Imagine Muse cover PiL with Gary Numan somewhere in there. I could go further, but it would not do it justice. The reasonably sized Tuesday night crowd is as into it as I am. I hope these guys work to find their audience, because there are loads of music fans out there that are salivating for music this good.
Redline Graffiti - This local quartet is back with their usual competent set of R&B rock. They have guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards with two of the guys trading off on lead vocals. Their sound is strong an punchy and the vocals, while good, are a little soft in the mix. The keys add a nice touch and everything is enjoyable. They should spend a rehearsal working on song endings as they get a little overly casual there for music that is generally considered pretty tight. They debuted some newer material and it was exciting to see one song had some different guitar textures which took them to newer terraint. It is great to see them expanding their range and future shows and records look quite exciting. But they certainly entertained the crowd well enough tonight.
Quote of the Night: A patron coming up to me after Cloudeater's set... "You know how it is when a band has got it? Well, they GOT IT!"

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Morbid Angel - Dark Funeral - Grave - Vadim Von -- Howard Theatre - Sep 24 2012

Vadim Von - Death metal night at the Howard Theatre. Up first is a three piece with bass/vocals and two guitars. The drums look rather naked and silent up there, but drums are being played somewhere. Oh, it's a backtrack. When a crowd member asked the obvious question, the singer said "we fired our drummer for being a fucking douchebag." The thought of immortality is frankly a bit depressing as I age, but I do hope to live long enough to see the retirement of tiresome words like douchebag from the lexicon. Anyway, these guys tried but it was a flat effort. The crowd was still filing in and the lack of a drummer with them riveted to their positions did not make for much of a show here. I think they knew it and only played for 23 minutes as is. Still, the last song featured some great guitar and some real power. So there is a kernel of something they can work with.

Grave - This Swedish death metal band has been around 26 years. The one original member, Ola Lindgren, sings and plays guitar in classic death metal style. His bassist, drummer, and lead guitarist add plenty of muscle. Lead guitar work is on the shorter side and they trade tight gutsy leads at times. The band is conceptually strong with less than memorable songs, but they executed really well and got the crowd of 130 or so fired up. A guest vocalist came out for one song for the first verse of "Black Sabbath" which they embedded in one of their songs--odd but a nice change-up. Good band that I would see again.

Dark Funeral - Another long running Swedish metal band hits the stage with full death make-up and gear. They have a vocalist, a couple guitars and a rhythm section. Their music is fast thick noise related metal that sounds more like Swans than Metallica. It is effective for the most part. Good drumming and instrumentalists that control the maelstrom. The mosh pit which formed last set is getting stupider. Some know what they are doing by keeping it in check and picking the one stumblebum up when he goes down. But there's a couple guys running around with beer bottles. Another idiot has fists pumped and throws people around and one guy goes flying into a table. Security slowly moved in. Fist pumping idiot finally rubs someone the wrong way (after I tried to push him in the pit pointing to where he should stay). Quick fight as the idiot goes flying. Security tosses them both and I feel a bit sorry for the guy that had had enough. Security did well by 'letting them play' yet being there when needed. But back to the band. Fair enough set when I could focus on it. Musically good, lyrically... well, "666 Voices Inside" or whatever that song was reminded me too much of "100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall". Yet, the musical frenzy was solid.

Morbid Angel - Another twin guitar attack with the bass player handling the vocals. And the vocals immediately stood out as they were surprisingly interesting with some sound effect moments in between the strong more typical delivery. Good muscular attack with some interesting songs. They seem enjoyable, but I find myself watching the pit and security a bit more than I would like, so I didn't stick around for the full set. Good music tonight for the most part, but it will be interesting to see if metal is headed back to the suburbs.

Quote of the Night: From Dark Funeral... "This is our last song and your last chance to tear this place apart!" ... Uh, how about we tear your tour bus apart? This is our home--you are just a tourist with a microphone. And you come into our house and ask us to tear it apart?  (Extra credit to anyone who spotted the Coen brothers movie I am channeling)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Stars - Diamond Rings - California Wives -- 9:30 Club - Sep 23 2012

California Wives - Wait a minute, this Chicago band is lead by a singer/guitarist who left a career in medicine to pursue a life in music? I've seen the reverse of that a few times (Radio Birdman members, a drummer I know from a hair-metal band...), but this is a daring move, obvious to all. So, is he off to a good start? Well, he has joined up with a lead guitarist, bassist and drummer that work very well together. They get to tour their debut album around the country with a couple of bands that will draw in huge crowds. And they provided a solid opening set tonight with some quality songs. They merge a British dream pop style with power pop. At times they kept these styles distinct within the song, but the best songs were those that combined those elements. For example, an early song had a great power pop beat that the rhythm section locked into. The vocals were half tough, half pop/emotive. The lead guitarist contributed a long shimmering solo pattern that delicately pushed the song into newer terrain. They closed strong with a good rocker and were very thankful that so much of the sold out crowd was here early to catch their set. I would expect them to grow their audience on this tour and if they continue into the more creative side of their songwriting, they will gain the ability to draw some nice crowds of their own next time around.

Diamond Rings - Toronto native John O'Regan is Diamond Rings and he certainly commands the stage with his sharp blond haircut and all white outfit. He plays some guitar and has electronic drums, bass/keys, and keys/guitar players assisting. It takes me a while to focus as he reminds me of a possible direction my friend Gyn Cameron could have taken if he stayed with his music beyond Dementia Precox. This has a great Midge Ure-Ultravox feel to it or maybe lighter Gary Numan, along with Germanic electronica with a tall charismatic front man. OK, David Bowie certainly comes to mind by now. It heads a little into modern electronic pop (and a short rap), but retains a rather classic gutsy feel. I even like the bouncier pop tunes here. Another fine set of pop music delivered tonight that pulled the crowd in fully.

Stars - One naturally has a tendency to compare Montreal bands to Arcade Fire, especially if they have a dual male and female frontperson set-up. Yet Stars got started first and their particular brand of pop rock has an even easier style to it than that of that slightly more famous band. I wish I was a little more familiar with their music, but thankfully the sound is clean and strong tonight, so while I am listening to some nice but somewhat predictable synth pop backing, I can pick up some intriguingly dark lyrics. And the stellar vocal work also pulls listeners into their world. Clearly this is a smart band at work. In what seems to be typical local pandering, they mention how they think this is the best club they visit. Yet, their website says the same thing, so clearly they do enjoy this DC visit on their extensive tour. The sound quality, the crowd enthusiasm, and even what seems to be a more comfortable amount of space all have me agreeing with them tonight. But the crowd said it better than I ever could with a completely unprovoked sing along to one of their older hits. When pop music comes with some wit and/or creativity (and I will include the opening bands), it makes for a very pleasant evening.

Quote of the Night: From the openers... "The paper plate says 'Tokyo'."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tycho - The Album Leaf -- Black Cat - Sep 21 2012

The Album Leaf - In the stuidio this name may be more of a project for Jimmy LaValle, live this is a vibrant and intriguing full band sound. The players move around from drums, violin, guitar, bass, trumpet and keyboards. This is primarily instrumental music but there is a touch of vocal coloring and one full fledged song with lead vocals. They begin with some nice spacey krautrock and then add electonic pop with a touch of psyche ultimately invoking the post rock label if you need just one. It is reminiscent of Caribou and the really striking feature is that the electronics take a back seat to the players. The drums are repetitive yet creative. Keybaords are colorful and don't overly rely on synthesizer sounds. The pace is brisk and there is plenty of melody. A couple of the songs toward the end established a serious groove which had the large crowd entranced. It is always a great pleasure to see a fine studio band really nail a live show with energetic playing, not to mention smart lights and projections which were woven into the music and did not just blast aways images and flash. This is smart music that will pull you in emotionally as well.
Tycho - And we have another solo project from the west coast who has a full band with him as well. This time it is a three-piece with drums, bass and lots of keys/samples/and guitar. Instrumental post rock music is again the focus and these bands are a near perfect match as this set takes over the same head space as the last one left us in. The atmosphere created here has a dreamy vibe, dream-electronica as opposed to dream-pop. The rhythms are strong which is nice. The music is a little more stretched than that of the Album Leaf. That does not bring me in quite as deeply, but others may feel different. And of course it is preferable to see complementary bands stake out their own turf, and not keep everything too steady. There was an appreciative crowd that filled about 3/4 of the Black Cat tonight. And I believe they made an excellent choice for their live music tonight.

Quote of the Day: Very little from the stage, but I was so happy to overhear this scintillating item from a long conversation occurring while the opening band was weaving their magic... "I check Facebook once a month!"

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Devil Makes Three - Brown Bird -- The Hamilton - Sep 19 2012

Brown Bird - Flying in from Rhode Island, is Brown Bird who feature a guy on acoustic guitar and vocals and a woman on stand-up bass, guitar, and violin. Oh, and the guitarist uses a kick drum on several songs. So basically, there are a lot of sounds here with a full-band feeling that these two create with their skillful playing. I was initially thinking that it would be the typical folk and singer songwriting that I have been hearing oh so much lately, as I catch up my album reviews for Folkworld. But thankfully, what starts as a nice folk duo takes some rather daring turns. Sure, they handle the basics well enough with their playing and especially their harmonies, but the guitar solos and string work go into interesting realms. They soar even more majestically as a guest violinist comes out on "Shiloh" which sounds like a full Boiled in Lead style multinational jam. They went over well enough, although I was stuck in the back bar area as there were a lot of tickets sold, so it was much noisier than in the main dining area. The 'Vegas' feel of this club with its zones is something to consider when coming here. But I will certainly want to see this duo again and they are headed back to DC later this year.
The Devil Makes Three - This alt-bluegrass trio, for lack of a real genre, makes familiar yet interesting music. It's very acoustic with guitars, banjos, and an upright bass and features two male and female voices harmonizing nicely. It's hip and very up tempo, yet I hear more of the Smothers Brothers than I do of Gogol Bordello. That may be due to the Vegas vibe at this club and Vegas is where I saw the brothers Smothers once many decades ago. That is not a knock, as this has a more extreme acoustic sound not present in many of the punk-folk-gypsy outfits these days, let alone the opening act tonight. The band has plenty of fans here and plays with such skill, that they can pull the 'neutrals' into their world by banging out song after song with their peculiar good time feel. It went over quite well and the club had cleared a dance floor up front which was used by many of the people that had been crowding around the bar. So all in all, this band knows how to bring it to the masses, which is quite a challenge when you are not amped up, electronically at least.

Quote of the Night: From the opening band guitarist... "The last time we were in DC we played in a room with five people, two of them were my parents."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

TeePee - Mittenfields - The Escape Artist -- Velvet Lounge - Sep 17 2012

The Escape Artist - In chatting with the band I learned that I had seen them, but it was over two years ago. They have a new lead guitarist joining the drums, bass, guitar/vocal line-up. Their sound has shifted lightward, but is still in the shoegaze world. I think dream-pop is the closest genre, but they have some progressive moves which make things interesting. They increase the heaviness at opportune moments and shift the guitar tones around a bit to keep things interesting. If anything, they could continue to work on creative interplay and even take this concept further. They are clearly on the right track and most modern rock fans will find something to like here. Hopefully I will have a progress report sometime before late 2014.
TeePee - The 'headliner' chooses to play in the middle tonight. They are a four-piece band from Miami that is primarily the vehicle for the songs of guitarist/vocalist Erix S. Laurent. two guitars, keys, and drums are the foundation here and there are some female back-up vocals which add a nice touch. Even if I had not heard this magnificent set by itself, I would have become interested when I saw that their listed influenced started with two murderers, Joe Meek and Bobby Beausoleil (but these are not for shock value as they made some great music). So start there and add some sort of combination of Swirlies, Feelies, Kattatonia, Neu!... oh, there's more, but it's best just to roll with these galloping beats and ferocious undercurrent to the smooth delivery of a catchy song. This band drives it home with a smooth yet action packed journey. They are touring the east coast and hopefully more of you will take a chance than the maybe 20 people did tonight. They are a well polished gem with sharp edges. I certainly hope they do this town again soon.

Mittenfields - I have not seen this enjoyable local quintet in a bit. They are warming up to get started on the recording of a new long player. And based on what I heard tonight, it will be one worth waiting for. As ever, they feature the triple guitar act where all three players are quite active in intricately working together as well as blasting out a wall of shoegaze. The drums pound away and bassist/singer Dave Mann sings atop and plays underneath. I am glad Dave can stay so active handling his part in this quality band while working on his massive festival which is coming up soon (see below). I always like the songs that this band puts out and more than ever, they sound like they could be an easy fit on Nuggets 2 (the world garage rock-pop-psyche comp). There were a few moments of tuning issues perhaps and a couple moments where the drums could sync in better, but these passed by quickly enough. Most important is picking up on their subtle moves, which are as interesting as their noise. And hopefully they'll dream up even more interesting moves in the studio. We shall see. But until then, don't miss the live show.

Promo of the Night: It is coming up on that time of year for two exciting events.

Up first is the long running Sonic Circuits Festival which features exciting experimental music in a variety of guises from challenging to accessible, yet unique. This year you can experience the incredible guitar works of Glenn Branca, the place where Thurston Moore met Lee Ranaldo oh so many years (and great Sonic Youth albums) ago. There are some Pere Ubu and Feelies veterans and interesting sounds from around the globe. This runs from September 28-30, but there are some warm-up events, as well as shows all year round.

And if that isn't enough music for you, the much newer but exponentially expanding STTPFest is bringing over 200 (maybe 300!) bands playing all in the heart of DC clubland from October 5-7. Many stages are free, some very small fees, and there are wristband packages, and loads of interesting showcases featuring the cream of DC bands and many more from cities afar, including Europe. You definitely want to check the schedule and allot at least a little time for this one.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ian Hunter & the Rant Band -- Howard Theatre - Sep 15th

Ian Hunter & the Rant Band - If I were to give you a multiple choice question on who is the oldest classic rocker of the following: Rod Argent, Ian Hunter, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards or Ringo Starr, would you get it right? Well, being that this is an Ian Hunter review you might, but I would have failed it had I not reviewed an excellent Mott the Hoople documentary a few years back. Ian Hunter is 73 years young, a year older than Ringo and four years older than Mick. Yet, you would not guess that based on the 100 minute set tonight. No breaks necessary, and a lot of dovetailing of songs into a packed set of old classics and songs from the new album that earned its standing ovations. I actually felt it started slow for a couple songs, even with "Once Bitten, Twice Shy". But by the third or fourth song, the band really started to cook and I was absorbed into their rhythms. Although he apologized (see below) for exposing the crowded theatre to a lot of songs from a new album they have not heard, this was precisely why things were so effective tonight. I am fortunate to have spent some time with the album as I have a review copy which will be getting a rave review at Folkworld (not that there is much folk here, more blues roots amidst the rock). Hunter has the entire band from this recording with him tonight and they are excellent. They feature two guitarists, keyboards, and a rhythm section allowing Hunter to play acoustic guitar, piano, and harmonica at different points. The double piano throbbing was great on "All the Way from Memphis" and the rhythm section was really driving things at this point of the set. On some of the new cuts, the band created near-pysche moments in the manner that Robert Plante's bands could bend and twist rock forms into something otherworldly. "Sweet Jane" closed things off to the delight of many, aside from myself who finds it to be the one Lou Reed song I have grown weary of. But his encores sent me off extremely happy as "Roll Away the Sun", "Do You Remember Saturday Night" and of course "All the Young Dudes". And if David Bowie had not given that cut to Mott the Hoople, Ian Hunter's quote below may have been more accurate as it helped keep 'Mott' together. Ian Hunter is a very intelligent and interesting person in rock music and I am happy that he is doing such a great job of delivering the goods in 2012.

Quote of the Night: Ian Hunter " If you don't know some of these songs, it is because they are off our new album or it's probably because you don't know who the fuck I am anyway."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Junior League - The Torches - Luray -- Black Cat - Sep 7 2012

Luray - This is the second time I have seen Shannon Carey perform her songs on banjo and vocals with assistance from an upright bass player and a keyboardist/guitar/back-up vocalist. Her songs are delicate, contemplative folk, which made a pretty poor match for the Black Cat on a Friday night. Acoustic music is a real challenge here and the Rock'n'Roll Hotel, especially on the weekends as dozens of people believe their conversation is at least equally important to what is going on onstage. Standing up front, there were like-minded fans of this music and the band did a fine job of delivering smooth, involved patterns  of thoughtful and focused folk music. Standing behind the crowd (grown to over 70) was a big mistake as the conversations just took over. There seem to be some minor tuning and equipment issues, but the band handled that well enough. I really enjoyed this fine band at the Velvet Lounge and I hope to see them in a better environment next time.

The Torches - This is a really good crowd for a local showcase and has swelled to well over a hundred making for a comfortable environment at the big stage. And this band has a nice loud active rhythm section to overwhelm the crowd noise. The rest of it is mostly acoustic but they play an active gypsy folk punk style in the manner of Gogol Bordello (I wish I had a dollar for every time I have written that phrase in the last three years). The energy is good as the drums and bass really have a pounding, throbbing style. The vocals are strong and the music is fun. There are violins, cellos, accordions and plenty more. If anything, I would like to see fancier arrangements where these instruments weave around in more fascinating patterns. But this band has good heart and makes for an entertaining Friday night set.

Junior League - And Banjo Night continues with the third appearance of this American classic sound. This time, this quintet has a sound that nicely fits in between the two previous bands. They have core rock instrumentation with violin and banjo giving off a country-rock, Americana vibe. Wil, the bassist, is doing double duty as he played the upright for Luray, but has gone electric here. He and the drummer lay a nice foundation that is controlled but allow for a relaxed, loose band feeling as the songs roll out. I really enjoy their music a lot when they head toward a 60s jam rock sound as opposed to the more mannered country songs. But it holds together well enough and they have enough good songs for just about everybody here tonight.

Quote of the Night: "Shhhhhhhhhhhhh..." heard twice during the first set. I am always happy to see that many agree with something I often complain about. The world is a better place when everyone strives for full awareness of their environment.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Parks & Passages - Berlin to DC -- Goethe Institut - Sep 13 to Nov 2 2012

Parks & Passages - Berlin Inspires Washington DC - I was happy to attend an opening day look at a new exhibit at the Goethe Institut yesterday. Although there is not an obvious tie-in to music, it does have an interesting artistic perspective concerning two interesting cities. Recently, an architect, sculptor, artist, and scholar traveled from DC to Berlin to see how Berlin has creatively transformed urban space into poetic, artistically interesting areas for public use. Specifically, they are looking at possibilities for the transformation of 75,000 square feet of unused underground space below Dupont Circle. This space has been closed off since 1961, and although there is clearly not any specific plans, this is an interesting artistic brainstorming project. Their photographic, artistic, and research results make for a fascinating display. So drop by the Goethe Institut and have a look when you are in the Chinatown neighborhood. Or head over to to special reading at 6:30pm on September 18th or a musical performance on October 25th, and some gardening discussions.

DeVotchKa - Clare & the Reasons -- Sixth and I Synagogue -- Sep 13 2012

Clare & the Reasons - Although it may have been the gold decor and decorative outfits, I would like to think that the music itself took me deep into David Lynch territory. It is as if the girl in the radiator's daughter came to fruition in the post-Joanna Newsome world. This is just a little too eerie and twisted for anyone to call it cute. Clare handles lead vocals and plays guitar or banjo with a couple of guys that bounce around between bass, guitar, and keyboards. A drummer sneaks in later on, but does not play much. At their best, they continue to lay down a hypnotic set with clean sounds that are capable of evoking mysteries beneath. Reality crept in a few times (I wondered why one of the guys' vocal mic was down a bit, until I heard his patter and realized it wasn't down enough), which was a downer, but overall the magic won out and this is a band to keep an eye on. And from what I learned, a return visit to DC may happen soon. Information forthcoming in the Recommended shows section.

DeVotchKa - This highly successful Colorado band has had the misfortune with me of coming in well behind some other fantastic Colorado bands to my mind (Woven Hand, 16Hp, Slim Cessna, Munly, etc.). I have seen them once before and enjoyed the show, but it seemed a little on the light side. It started that way again as Nick Urata led a large ensemble into DeVotchKa's worldly music. The band is Urata on vocals, guitar, bouzouki, etc. along with drums, stand-up bass/sousaphone, and a violinist/accordion player. They were joined with a six-piece orchestra featuring more strings and some winds. The orchestra was a little too heavy early on with only the vocal work standing with it. This may have been due to the sound or song selection, but whatever the case, things moved into more interesting territory slowly but surely. The set grew steadily as the more worldly rock elements from the three standard rock instruments worked their way into the mix. The vocal work was excellent as expected and seemed to pick it up a notch as well. They even did well with a guitar that cut out. The audience picked up on it and started clapping to keep the energy until he left the electric and moved onto acoustic while keeping everything going. Nicely handled and this only continued to show the buildup of this set into a highly satisfying conclusion. This elegant sense of drams inherent in their music and their performance tonight made this an enjoyable evening. It took a while, but they have pulled me deeper into their music.

Quote of the Night: Clare... "What is a banjo in tune, but a myth."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thaylobleu - The Good Fight - The Unlikely Hero - The Velvet Ants -- Jammin Java - Sep 10 2012

The Velvet Ants - I hear plenty of early Nirvana with a bit more of a Green Day push right out of the gate with this local twin-guitar quartet. Their second song has me falling out of my chair as it is a strong cover of the Wipers' "Telepathic Love". Were any of this band alive 32 years ago when this was recorded? I know only a couple of people in the audience were around with me then. It's not like the Wipers received any of their due on the radio or the charts, either. So kudos to these guys for finding this brilliant band that I lucked into from the very beginning and still hope to hear more from. The set continues on well enough. The guitarist is Roscoe Tanner who has far fewer forced errors than his namesake tennis player.  Roscoe Tanner... really? Bizarre, but kudos to him for getting out of the hospital and doing the show even though he had to remain seated. They mentioned the bassist was filling in and perhaps with all that was going on, this was not their most powerful set, and maybe that Wipers tune distracted me too much as I was thinking of them for the rest of the set. And I did hear just a little too much Cobain at times for my comfort levels. Still, there are some excellent elements here and this is a band I would check out again.

The Unlikely Hero - Heavy rock here with some metal crunch that does not get all the way to metal but rocks very hard. The vocalist is great, although he is a bit more Steve Perry than Rob Halford, which would be a better fit. Early in the set I wonder if there are better component parts than a full band at work here. However, their enthusiasm and sense of fun won me over as they showed some skill in putting together enjoyable songs that are trying to stake out a little space in the vast musical planet. They are a work in progress but quite a bit of fun already.

The Good Fight - As Alex said in 'Clockwork Orange', "Ohhh? And what's so good about it?". I am still trying to figure that out here. These guys have plenty of energy and play agreeable pop-punk in the emo vein I suppose. There is some nice punch once in a while, although they really need to rehearse their endings. They had a few covers I think, one they said no one would recognize. I didn't either, aside from the chord progression which was lifted from the Dead Boys (or Rocket from the Tombs) "Sonic Reducer". This was good for the kids, but as Jack Rabid (of The Big Takeover magazine) said in a recent review, it is tough for those of us that grew up with punk in the late 70s to really find and enjoy a younger punk band today. But if you are young, you can do worse than this band.

Thaylobleu - If these guys had not invited me to the show, I may have called it a night prior to their set due to a busy schedule. That would have been one of the bigger mistakes I would have made in the past several weeks, as these four guys opened my eyes and ears immediately with some of the gutsier raw rock music I have heard lately. They clearly know the local scene as the second song was about the DC Space club where I saw Fugazi's fifth show many decades back. Sample lyric... "I don't remember much about it, but take me back to DC Space". Musically, is where these guys really shine. They play a tough ferocious brand of rock that reminds me more of Detroit than DC and could fit squarely in between the early scene featuring MC5, Stooges, and Death to the hardcore scene of the Fix and Negative Approach. This music is fierce, yet composed and calmly delivered. I fell it digging in deep as I formed a wry smile with every beat. The bass player plays a five-string with clever moves. The drummer is pounding away despite his seemingly effortless posture. The lead guitarist throws some creative shifts to keep my mind working while my body feeds off the volume. The singer and rhythm guitarist gives identity to each song and fills out the noise with skill and dexterity. Attention other clubs, this is the band I want to see opening up for the Mission of Burmas and Jesus and Marychains of the world. They will do more than hold their own when a powerhouse rock band comes into DC.

Quote of the Night: "That's Roscoe Tanner sitting here" Well maybe that threw me off more than the Wipers cut, as I never expected to hear those words said.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Jesus and Mary Chain - The Psychic Paramount - Vandelles -- 9:30 Club - Sep 9 2012

Vandelles - Unfortunately, I missed the opening band's set. A rare miss for me, but it happens.

The Psychic Paramount - This could be drone, but for the riffage which is fast and, of course, loud. There is a lot going on here, but I am not seeing it amount to much of anything. They are close to being something good, but this instrumental fury does not have the intricacy and drama of Mogwai, nor the song styling of power-psyche explorers like Spacious Mind among many others. Earlier today, I enjoyed 8 minutes of smooth feedback which closed out an album from a microtonal post modern blues band. That noise was far less interesting than anything in this set, but it offset some other interesting music and was more successful. I hope these guys play around with their formula a bit more, especially since one of the later songs in the set did seem to show more diversity. But I will say the only thing I disliked were the rather pointless burst of smoke at random points in the set. After all, there's nothing too terribly wrong with a noisy warm-up for tonight's headliner.

The Jesus and Mary Chain - Yes, it is loud as the apocalypse. Even in the back corner, I saw a few people with fingers in their ears and yet a surprising amount of people without earplugs. Some times I complain about excessive volume, but when it is a staple of what a band is about, then I actually rather enjoy it... like tonight. This is a pivotal band for the shoegaze genre, as most everyone knows. Although I used to listen to "Psychocandy" a bit in the old days, I really did not pay attention to them much. So I can not speak like an expert, but instead as a mild fan who respects their history and really enjoyed what these guys put out tonight. They played a 63 minute set and then a few encores to a sold-out crowd who definitely were absorbed by the loud but compelling songs. These are short catchy songs, surprisingly simple and can work as pop nuggets aside from the volume. Listening to them today, is similar to listening to the Ramones 20 years later and wondering what all the fuss was about it (aside from the fact that it is really cool music). But these guys found a way to present catchy songs in an original, cool way and they had it together tonight. And like the Ramones, they got there first. Another appealing aspect tonight, was their relaxed and positive attitude with the crowd, which does contrast with their earlier days. I really enjoyed every bit of this, but completely dropped my jaw with their set closer, "Reverence" which showed how a brilliant song played at heavy volume offers no escape as it seeps into every pore of your body. Perhaps this is more sanitary and predictable for some of their hardened fans(?), but it reminded me of how a good a band this was and still is.

Quote of the Night: Jim Reid, as they brought a (barely audible) female singer out for one song... "This is obviously a cover of 'Ace of Spades' by Motorhead."

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mission of Burma - Purling Hiss -- Black Cat - Sep 8 2012

Purling Hiss - I have enjoyed this Philadelphia trio on the downstairs stage a few times before, but this was their chance with a larger audience on the big stage. For the most part, they delivered their somewhat modernized garage blues-rock-psyche riff heavy rock with the skill evidenced at past shows. They are like Blue Cheer, but on steroids as opposed to psychedelics (well, mostly). At their best, it's easy to get lost in the riffage and dig into their sound, which also resembles a psychedelic Fang, even. A few times, they vary things with poppier hook-oriented numbers, some of which work nicely. Credible and accepted well enough by the crowd, but the intensity does translate a little better in a smaller club setting. But that should not stop anyone from checking them out indoors/outdoors or large venue/small venue. They do this sound proud.

Mission of Burma - Is this really the eleventh year of their 'reunion'? Hard to believe as it seems like I just saw that great comeback tour. But I have seen them a few times in between as well so yes, Mission of Burma, like another great Mass band Dinosaur Jr., have maintained a great second run. Burma's records are excellent and their live shows continue to be exciting. Tonight was no exception as their 70 minute set was steadily explosive with all the power you expect and fascinating post-punk jagged hooks constantly mutating out of the volume. The trio onstage has been at it since the beginning with 'fourth member' Bob Weston (Shellac) at the soundboard handling samples and ensuring the band delivers clarity at high volume. You can come to a show like this out of respect for their particular American brand of post-punk that set the stage for Sonic Youth and others to further. But quite simply, they create a great sound for any era and whether they are playing the fine material from their new album, "Unsound", or a classic like "This is not a Photograph". Everything ran like clockwork aside from a really long discussion onstage about what to play for their 3-song encore. Fortunately they ended the summit with smiles and included the Dils "Class War" as one of the songs. I see no reason to stop seeing these guys, no matter how many times you have done it before. They have the history as well as the fresh energy to present some of the more creative rock songs out there.

Quote of the Night: From a fan next to me who pulled up shortly after Burma began... "How many songs have they played? Good! I just had to see Bob Mould, too." It was nice to see at least one person taking in two seminal acts from the early-to-mid 80s on this oddly-booked evening with Bob having his band play the 9:30 Club. Neither show sold out, and the Burma crowd maybe was only a wee bit smaller than the last time if memory serves.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Color School - Round About - Wes Tucker & the Skillets -- Velvet Lounge - Sep 7 2012

Wes Tucker & the Skillets - It has been some time since I have taken in this fine local band and I was anxious to hear how they were doing. Wes Tucker has also played solo folk shows, but he has a fine band surrounding his acoustic guitar and lead vocals and they were integrated well tonight. His vocals were warm and have that homespun feel, yet the band rocks hard but with touch. The guitarist and bassist switch off half way through the set and leads are just as intense, but in more of a classic blues bass rock than the more modern indie moves shown earlier. Drums were rock steady and the keyboards added color now and then. It's a nice contrast of sound and the songs are strong enough to keep it all together. The crowd of 30+ is enjoying it and the 50 minutes showcased about everything I hoped for--a songwriter that is worth seeing individually, but is even better with the four guys behind him.

Round About - Here is another solid local band with Baltimore-DC connections. My interest tonight was hearing their new guitarist who replaced a key element in their old band. Immediately, he was up to the task, showing off some quick fluid lead work. It was a more subtle sound than before but it was tasty rather than powerful. Either approach works as long as the songs are good, which happens more often than not with this band. Like the opening band tonight, the lead vocalist/acoustic guitarist is the main songwriter, although in this case, the bass player adds some nice style variations a couple of times (a touch funkier). The music is a bit more indie/classic rock with less Americana than previously, but still these are compatible bands. And if that was not obvious enough, the Skillets keyboardist jumped up for a few songs. This was another fine 50-minute set that was well received by the decent Friday night crowd.
Color School - Some of the crowd is turning into empty space as it is getting late (the band quipped that people were out for a pancake breakfast). Although the bands tonight did a great job of setting up and getting their sets going. This starts off quite nicely with a Flamin' Groovies power-pop style sound. The second song was particularly excellent and reminded of that sort of post modern power pop. Unfortunately, things slid back into somewhat less interesting songs and perhaps an under-rehearsed sound. Hard to know for sure and a few more people left and took some of the positive vibe with them. Still, this is a band I would give another chance to as they have some good ingredients and a few good songs.

Quote of the Night: From Color School guitarist... "Hey guys, thanks for sticking around. You already heard all the good guitar players..."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Strawbs - John Wesley Harding -- Jammin Java - Sep 5 2012

John Wesley Harding - This prolific singer songwriter was just headlining here recently with a two-hour set of his own. I enjoyed that show quite a bit, evidenced here, and was happy to see he is such a Strawbs fan as well. For as he said, "this may be the only time I stay around to see the band... well, there were a couple nights opening for Springsteen...". He's doing most of the tour with them so he can hang out with them, catch shows, and have a good time. But we also get the benefit of his marvelous songs, guitar dexterity, and hilarious wit, albeit only 38 minutes tonight. I love his new single, but why not imbed it than describe it.

He did many other favorites and had wry commentary between songs and within including the warning that he was not playing "Quinn the Eskimo" when the initial chords were pretty much the same. He displayed great flat picking technique that both rocked out and pulled back into intricate folk moves. His songs were clever, stage patter even more so. I got to thinking that it would be hilarious to have him play a show with Neil Innes, Eric Idle, and Robyn Hitchcock on stage with him. It would be hilarious but you would probably only get about 5% music and 95% comedy with those guys. Tonight's bonus was less hilarious, but more musical with David Lewis who he has written songs with on some guest backing vocals. To no surprise, everything clicked tonight with the Jammin Java crowd.

The Strawbs - After an enjoyable 40-minute chat (45! Dave Cousins corrects me later) with Dave Cousins, I was looking forward to this evening's set even more than the previous couple of shows. It was the expected line-up of Chas Cronk on acoustic bass, 12-string guitar, pedals, and vocals; Dave Lambert on acoustic guitar and vocals; and Dave Cousins on vocals, acoustic guitar, with the surprise additions of dulcimer and banjo which have been in hiding too long. They did two sets tonight for a whopping 110 minutes as they pulled out songs I have not heard in a long time (if at all) and had many stories in between as they took us through a Strawbs history seminar. The stories were great, both funny and with a little bite. Of particular interest was his stories about a Irish musician we've never heard of, Dominic Behan (sorry, I've got three of his albums). The story was on Dylan's lifting a Behan melody/arrangement for a song of his own. He's preaching to the choir here, as I've spent enough time of my own complaining about Paul Simon and Jimmy Page on these issues. Oh, and "Josephine for better or for Worse" was dedicated to Dominic Behan's wife. The dulcimer made it out for "Benedictus" and was about the only miss from the soundman all night, as it was just a little too quiet. Otherwise, the guitars were ringing away and the banjo added a nice diversity for a couple of songs. Lambert blazed away on some rock solos on his acoustic (especially on "Ghosts") while adding slide touches and some effects. The three really locked in on some intricate arrangements and filled the room. Vocally, they were also in great form and have such wonderful contrasting voices. "New World" was as good as I've ever seen it played. It was nice to see a good turnout for this powerful show and the audience enjoyed every minute of it. It does not appear that there is anything slowing these guys down yet and I am sure I will be back for another round next year. It is never too late to become a Strawbs fan, as they have been the tortoise racing the hare in one of the longest musical marathons I have seen. We know how that story ends.

Set List: The Man who Called Himself Jesus / The Weary Song / Copenhagen (for Sandy Denny) / Josephine for Better or Worse / New World / Oh How She Changed / The Hangman and the Papist // Benedictus / Ghosts / Grace Darling / You and I / Cold Steel / Shine on Silver Sun / Autumn / Lay Down... Enc: Midnight Sun

Quote of the Night: There were a bunch, but I'll pass along this exchange between John Wesley Harding and a fan making a request...
Fan: "Paradise".
JWH: Who said that (fan raises hand) Funny, I was just thinking about playing that one. Did you request that the last time I was here?
Fan: No, I haven't seen you in 7 or 8 years.
JWH: Well, fuck off then.... just kidding.
Fan: I was in Iowa then.
JWH: Oh, what part, ok. Stop now, I'll play it for you.
Fan: Thank you.
JWH: I said stop now--two syllables too many. Don't mind me, I'm just getting going."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Breton - Ambassadors -- DC9 - Sep 4 2012

Ambassadors - Brooklyn-based Ambassadors start the show off with plenty of beats. They have a drummer at the kit and a lead vocalist with a floor tom and other percussion. He does play some bass for a few songs, too. They have a keyboardist and a guitarist to round out this surprisingly heavy sound. It is mostly the pounding and intricacy of the rhythm with a bright ringing guitar sound that featured slide moves and plenty of sustain. This is all quite modern and very comfortable if you can handle the volume. It appeared that the crowd agreed as the reception was strong and seemed to truly make the band happy to be in DC, on stage, rocking away. You could not ask for much more of a positive attitude than what these guys brought.
Breton - I did not know much about this band, but when I learned a British quintet would play the DC9, I thought it would be worth a look. They employed lots of keyboards and samples, along with a drum kit, bass, and guitar. The guitarist sang played with intensity that included solid riffs or bashing around searching for colorful noise. The bass was strong, percussion clever and strong, with loads of great sounds pulsating from the various keyboard and electronic locations on stage. What was ultimately brilliant here was the variety of songs that held together in common bond. I heard Gang of Four moves, especially in the vocals although there was not as much space in these songs. Other songs went more pop, more dance, back to post-punk, all accessible yet with tons of creativity within. Finally, I was reminded when I saw Wire on their comeback fourth album which was more of an electronic gutsy dance move that did not draw much on their brilliant initial three albums. Breton is what the fourth Wire album and beyond should have sounded like. All that brilliant post-punk creativity is there, yet it is modern, fresh, and danceable. They even handled the bass player handling an err... emergency off stage by having a keyboardist switching to bass and jamming off into another song until their comrade's return. There was a modest crowd of 40-45 people, but they were all up front, having a blast and will likely be telling their friends next time Breton comes to our shores. This is yet another band playing more modern material where I expected to like a little and ended up liking a lot. Their hour here was an absolute hour well spent.

Quote of the Day: From Breton's singer discussing getting to DC, the first stop on the tour... "All the way here with missed flights through Amsterdam, Paris, we kept thinking 'we're missing Washington, we're missing Washington' but 12 hours later we didn't." ... Geeze, if this is jet lag, sign me up.

Monday, September 3, 2012


Mary Bridget Davies is the star of the musical "One Night with Janis Joplin" coming to the Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater for a run from September 28th to November 4th. Tickets are available here.

After a discussion about her trip to the vet with her dog and my cat's cardiologist, we got on to music and theater and her upcoming visit to DC.

David Hintz - I am definitely excited about seeing your play, as it should be a lot of fun. But if I can back up a bit, I know although you have been in music a long time, you are still too young for Janis Joplin to have been your first musical influence, so what got you interested in music when you were young?

Mary Bridget Davis - Actually my parents. My mother has the greatest record collection ever and my father was a musician. So I was just raised under really quality music and of course I listened to whatever was popular at the time for me, you know growing up as a teenager in the 90s and whatever. But as a basis and a foundation, I was really into 60s and 70s music as well as real blues--the original stuff.  That is where it started.

DH - So even as a teen you worked backwards to find the blues?

MBD - Yeah, absolutely.

DH - So how did Janis Joplin come to be discovered in your blues search?

MBD - Well, it's kind of like my Mom would play her albums and such, and it kind of scared me at first--hearing the screaming when I was really little.

DH - Oh right.

MBD - But then I loved it, and started singing along  and screaming along and there's something about that unbridled energy that was Janis that draws so many people--her magnetism. She was just a full, honest voice on stage and on her recordings. There is just something about her that speaks to me. You know how for many kids Nirvana was huge speaking to all the angst people out there, but Janis really speaks to the girls in that regard. Obviously it was all a generation later. You know, not current at all, but she just spoke to me that way and it is just so much fun to sing along to, let alone sing on stage to 500 people. But she just had that honesty and that raw power that really attracted me to her.

DH - Right, and you started theatrically in a play that I have not seen called "Love Janis". Was that your first experience with theater?

MBD - No, I've been acting since high school. I went on to comedy and on to the Second City Conservatory in Cleveland which was a satellite from Second City in Chicago. I took acting classes there and was in a few productions. So I was not a stranger to theater, but that (Love Janis) was how I got my actor's equity card and how I became a true-blue honest-to-goodness professional actor (laughs).

DH - Interesting, now I have also interviewed another lead from that show, a certain Cathy Richardson...

MBD - Oh yeah, I love her.

DH - She recently told me to make sure to tell you that "I love working with you."

MBD - Yes and I love working with Cathy! (laughter) Oh my god, I love her so much. I actually... this is so weird, I went to see "Love Janis" with my parents in the summer of 2001 and I saw Cathy. We gave her three obnoxious standing ovations (laughter). It was a black box theater, so it was small, maybe 250 feet, with cabaret tables in the front. So my parents and I were sitting in the front and she just blew me away and I was about 20 and just freaking out like 'oh my god, she's incredible' and then just a few years later, I auditioned for it and made it. And when I got to San Francisco, she was the main Janis and I replaced the other girl and we became friends ever since. But yeah, that's crazy--it's a small circle for sure.

DH - Yeah, it is and I don't that many interviews, but I am quickly becoming the Janis Joplin expert in DC I think (laughter). I never expected that, although I can talk to Cathy about Grace Slick about who I know a whole lot more of because of the Jefferson Airplane/Starship material.

MBD - Exactly!

DH - I am curious about the plays... is this a newer play? I realize it is totally different than "Love Janis", but could you explain some of the differences?

MBD - Absolutely. In "Love Janis" there were two actresses that played Janis Joplin. One was a straight actress who recited letters that Janis had wrote home as monologues because while Janis was riding around in SF, she kept in touch with her family and kept them apprised. She really let them know what was going on, which is amazing that someone who is a rock star is still writing home to mom and dad and looking for that approval. So that person represented the inner Janis, while of course my role as the singer was more of the public persona. I sang all the songs. It was two-act play and there were about 18 songs I believe--16 or 18, and the acts went chronologically correct with it starting in San Francisco in '66 and then ended in LA in the 70s. And with "One Night with Janis Joplin", it is a brand new production written by Randy Johnson and the approach is.... more a spectacle. "Love Janis" is more a theater piece with live music. This play is more how it would be if you went to Vegas and saw Janis, like where she would sit there and banter back and forth with the audience and tells them where her influences are and then she sings her songs. And there's only one Janis in the show and that's me, but there's another singer in the show, what I think is great is that another actress, Sabrina Carten who plays the quote blues singer who plays a revolving role where she embodies Janis's influences. So she performs Odetta and other major influences of Janis. So she also does some numbers in the play.  So it kind of shows where Janis came from and how she became Janis and her style. It's just a knock-down, drag-out... you know, there's 23 songs in the show.

DH - Oh, wow.

MBD - Yeah, it's incredible. Like I said, there isn't that much of a strict fourth wall with this show. There's a little more give and take with Janis and the crowd--definitely not to be completely quiet with their hands folded. You know, the first act ends with this huge brazen number for Janis. Everybody gets up and it is a lot of fun. It is kind of like a rock'n'roll lesson on how Janis becomes JANIS, with the full band and backup singers.

DH - Have you started at Arena Stage yet.

MBD - No, we come in about three weeks (early September) and have started getting ready. Our run starts October 4th.

DH - And you are rehearsing on it pretty hard?

MBD - Oh yeah.

DH - I am curious as to when you do a run of plays singing Janis Joplin songs, as to how you keep your voice intact. What are the challenges and remedies for that?

MBD - Well, prevention is number one. You always want to keep protecting yourself from the injury rather than figure it out after because you could do permanent damage. I believe that I am lucky enough that my voice is similar to hers--not the same as I would never ever say that, but to where I can caterwaul and scream but can bring it back to pure tones, too. It takes a warm-up and I drink tea everyday all day and stay hydrated with no alcohol, no cigarettes, no other fun stuff... you know, it's similar to being an athlete. It is a physically exhausting show. I mean I did seven shows a week with two on Saturday and that was tough. For my voice level, having all of Monday off and most of Tuesday off will really recharge that battery. By Saturday, you're not worried, but you have two shows and 'how am I going to do this', but I DID it and I only have one more. So it's kind of like a mental psyche-out, too. You know, you gotta keep your head in the game. Honey and lemon and sleep, and not staying up on the phone and skyping your friends for hours after the show (laughs). You have to protect the investment of what you do, because it's your body. And it's your whole body that affects your instrument in yourself if you're not careful.

DH - It's not a rock'n'roll tour, that's for sure.

MBD - No, I mean Janis may have done four shows a week, maybe five and the sets were half an hour, 45 minutes tops, but we have a 2 1/2 hour show (laughs). It's not like... believe me, in my early twenties, I was doing the same thing on the road--'alright that was a great show, let's party!' because being 24 is a beautiful thing and that was how old Janis was when she got started.

DH - Now you said your voice was similar, but when you first started or are doing it now, have you tried to sound like Janis or is it something you had within you and kind of merged her style with yours?

MBD - Yeah, it was definitely more about merging. I have always had a big voice and it was pretty clear. And the more I started singing along with the blues, the singers from the early days all had pretty clear voices, maybe a drawl. That's where a Koko Taylor who was incredibly strong and masculine in her singing. I started trying out those things with my voice and I could do them. There are different parts of the voice where I was listening to Janis and trying to sing along when I was younger and could not do it as my voice was not up to it. But I kept at it until it was fun when i could do it and was surprised. That's like, for example, in "Piece of my Heart", how it's got that scream at the end--I definitely do it as close to her as possible. I mean that's what people want to hear. It's almost like they wait through the whole song and then if that scream if you have it, they're with you; if you don't, then it's over. There are certainly definite things I try to keep as true to her as possible within my physical capability.

DH - That's a good point, as a good friend who is in a cover band has said that there are some songs where you have to get the solo note for note as that is what people want, while other times you can play with it and keep the spirit of the song. But the one you mentioned is definitely one people know very well.

MBD - Exactly. "(Me and) Bobby McGee", you know, and then on the other hand where you have more freedom is "Ball and Chain".

DH - Oh, ok.

MBD - There are so many versions that are out and she did it different every time. And some days I go over the top on maybe just some of it (laughs), you know, as long as you are honest with her... she would do it like there was no tomorrow. We do have a Book obviously, but that song you can make your own and there are tons of places in the show where you can put your own accent on it that treats it as her, that with my performance anyway that does not stray far from what she would have done. Or it's something that I believe she would have done it that way eventually (laughs). But with her trademark tunes, you want to deliver, like when I went to see my friend who plays for Night Ranger now and he was in Love Janis and Rock of Ages on Broadway and he came through with tickets and I went to see them--Night Ranger, along with Foreigner and Journey. Foreigner had a new singer that sounded just like the real lead singer, just as strong... incredible and we were sitting along and it was a jukebox thing, sort of an American DNA, you know, for many generation's fans. He was just as entertaining as can be and he took liberties where he wanted to do, but man when you were listening for certain things, he was right there. And then Journey, that singer was incredible. He totally spun off from most of it and then he did some things where I wondered what he was doing, like don't give up. I know how you feel-like I was saying it to his brain, like everybody wants to hear Steve Perry right now, you know? I mean we want what we want and it ends up with such satisfaction after a show where you end up with a review or with people in the lobby who stick around or who catch you at the stage door and say 'you know, I never got to see Janis live, but I did tonight and it was incredible'. And these are people who are in their sixties. They wouldn't lie to you just to make you feel better and they wouldn't stand at the stage door. So to actually accomplish winning a crowd over and letting them believe that she is in the room for a couple of hours--that's the goal. And it's cool that I've been able to pull it off thus far.
DH - That's great. Now you have also sang concerts with Big Brother and the Holding company, so how does that experience vary for you?

MBD - It's really cool because a lot of those shows are not just Big Brother on the bill, but there is a lot of different counter-culture bands, which is great because they are a wealth of knowledge. Sam Andrew is a linguist, speaks six languages I believe, if not more. He and Janis were super close friends and he tells me stories all the time. And if I do something or say something in a certain way, he's like 'oh, ok' reminding me of somebody with who I share traits. So it is really cool and I know that they understand that when I am going to go on with Big Brother, you know Janis's original band and the crowd wants to hear Janis... but you know it is kind of a Catch 22 because I love their second (studio) album "Be a Brother" (and "How Hard it Is") with Mike Finnegan singing and playing Hammond organ. He's one of my main influences and truthfully I like the album musically better than "Cheap Thrills". I love "Cheap Thrills" from the musical standpoint in their growth, they went higher. But they don't get that credit because they were Janis's first band and that is what they are most known for, you know.

DH - Yes, I'm glad to hear that for I had a little resentment unfairly given to Janis, because there were so many people that trashed the band. Well, no I thought Janis and the band worked fantastic together, myself.

MBD - Exactly, they were really cool. Seriously, that Big Brother is a great album and a few years ago with Big Brother, we were kind of nudging them 'why don't you do "Nu Boogaloo Jam" and "You've Been Talkin'..."  You know? And they actually did some Big Brother and the Holding Company tunes and I had fun with that. And they had Kathi McDonald who was their female vocalist after Janis and she was insane and incredible... but not Janis. She brought different elements to it and they made some great music together.

DH - Janis Joplin may not have been very big, but her shadow was as big as anyone's.

MBD - Yeah (laughs), a giant in that genre.

DH - I think, too, that from your description of the play, even though there is even more music, it will appeal to a lot of people who don't know much about Janis Joplin or who are a large fan necessarily as it is a full and rounded production.

MBD - Oh yeah, it's a full scale production. We start the show and It's one of the first things Janis is talking about - 'I was thinking about the blues the other day and when I first heard it...'  You know, Janis had a self deprecating sense of humor--not all the time, as she had a big ego about herself, but as a performer but she was like 'man, they all sing real good' or 'I'm just a white chick singing the blues', you know. And then it plays on where Janis is telling about herself kind of like last summer in Keith Richards' autobiography, right?

DH - Right.

MBD - Kind of in the sense that I felt like I was just sitting in the bar and he was telling me stories. You know the way the narrative flows and this has that kind of feel to it. And then it also has a huge band and it sounds awesome.

DH - Yes, you will get a little bit more here. Now, you grew up in Cleveland and then went to Kansas City. Are you headed back to Kansas City or what is next?

MBD - Well, after being on the road with my Cleveland band, we had made a connection that led us to Kansas City and I made so many friends. And the music scene there is out of this world--the live music scene for many genres, but especially the Blues. I had gotten to a level in Cleveland where I was playing all the big clubs and I had gone as far as I could go at home, so it was time to spread my wings. And I wanted to give Kansas City a shot, because when you are a home town girl, you are a 'home town girl' and they are going to root for you no matter what and I just wanted to see if it was just support or there was something to do this. So in Kansas City with friends and more musicians, I made my record out there with the band I had out there. And it has had success as it was nominated for a Pitch Blues award and I am nominated, so there are lots of great things happening. But the whole time I was in Kansas City, I was still a resident in Cleveland, trying pull of a dual residency and it just bled me dry and I couldn't pull it off anymore and had to come home. But I went out to set a goal and I did, I set the goal and I achieved it. And then I also made many friends for life out in Kansas City--good musicians and good people, so that was a great two years.

DH - Yeah, ok, two of my biggest music buddies ever live in Kansas City and Cleveland--well he grew up there and is in Vermont now, but anyway... alright, maybe this is unfair to ask, but do you have a favorite Janis Joplin song?

MBD - Yeah, there was "Maybe" which had a great chemistry from when she was with the Kozmic Blues Band. I am more of a soul singer when I'm doing my stuff--a soul/blues singer. I can rock and it's fun, but you know if I roll out of bed, the first words I'll be able to squeak out will be soul and not the screaming rock'n'roll. You know Janis is a blues singer fronting a rock band with Big Brother and then she started to develop more into being a soul singer. You know, Otis Redding and Tina Turner, and all these people--that's who  she wanted to be like.

DH - Right.

MBD - She even went and did a Stax showcase with Kozmic Blues Band and they were under rehearsed and she ended up with real bad reviews, but it was what she wanted to do. She wanted to try it with the sound of the horns and take those tunes she grew up with and she loved so much and rearrange it into something that suited her. And it really shows off her vocal control. She was not just some screaming banshee--there was a lot of skill there. And she is just real fun for me to do... beautiful and heartbreaking. Any time I sing her songs, it is like the first time I am singing them because that is how she would have done it. You never get tired of it--as soon as you do get tired, quit, because you are cheating the audience. That's my opinion. Another favorite of mine is a film called "Janis, the Way She Was" that I have on VHS tape--my parents bought it for me when I was a teenager. There is footage of her from Germany and she is singing in live and does a vocal run that would just kill somebody. It's beautiful, but it is technically difficult, you know, and I listened to it over and over as a teenager, and I can now do it on recall, although maybe it doesn't sound the same. I still really love her version of the Bee Gees tune "To Love Somebody" . It's really cool. For the crowd, they love "Piece of my Heart", "Bobby McGee", and "Ball of Chain" which I really love to sing when I'm mad (laughter) or when I've got something going on.

DH -Uhhh, yeah, I can see that extreme and I also like the other extreme like when she does "All is Loneliness". I like that one.

MBD - Exactly, that's so cool. She has got lots of great stuff, B-sides, we kind of hit on some of that in the show.

DH - Sounds great and I will be looking forward to seeing this in October. I better let you go and hopefully we will see a lot of people at the run of "One Night with Janis Joplin" here at the Arena Stage.

MBD - Yeah, I actually have some high school friends that will be there including a news anchor, Megan Hughes. She was a close friend in high school, so I am looking forward to seeking them out and meeting you as well.

DH - Yeah, that is the best thing about touring--seeing your friends and family that have scattered.

MBD - It really is. It kind of a tough road otherwise with the loneliness part. The theater is a little better because you are in one place for six to eight weeks and you'll get the same group of people--we call them showmances, and you can become best friends with somebody for that time because you need each other and you have something in common because you are performers. But once the show is over, you go back to New York, I go back to wherever and we stay friends, but we don't see each other for a few years. But the best part for a gigging musician, is when you pull up to port in town and you know people. It really helps so much, because you wonder 'what am I doing this for' and you're scraping the bottom of the barrel because the payoff as a musician is when you get on stage. The rest of it is a grind, it's hard and unforgiving--we all know better, but we sign up for it anyway. But it's nice to see familiar people that bring you back to a familiar place.

DH - Is there anything else musically we should mention?

MBD - Oh yeah, I do have an album (Wanna Feel Somethin') that is available at iTunes.

DH - Oh yes. I will listen to that some time soon and thanks for your time today. We'll see you real soon at the Arena Stage.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Abbey Road on the River - Gaylord Resort, National Harbor - Aug 30-Sep 3

Abbey Road on the River - I'll offer a few highlights here, although I did not take in the amazing amount of Beatles tribute bands from all over the world (still going on through Labor Day). I believe every Beatles album was covered at the two large outdoor stages and a couple indoors. The facility was excellent and handled the volume quite well. I am guessing that there are plenty of out-of-town fans that go to these shows with the resort hotel facilities as well as vacationers taking in some bands with a day pass. But there are Beatles fans.

First up for me on the big stage for me was Britbeat a Chicago quartet where all four guys had English accents and the bass player played left handed. They finally got rid of leather coats late in the set as there was still plenty of daytime heat about. The sound was good on the big stage and I liked the 'George Harrison' guitar sound. They were playing the early works since this was the 50th Anniversary set. Not bad and well attended.

Jefferson Starship - It has only been 5 1/2 months since I last saw and reviewed this legendary band, and I was not expecting much to change. But there was a new guitarist as Slick Aguilar was to ill to make the trip. Singer Cathy Richardson's guitarist from her band the Macrodots filled in admirably. Actually, Jude Gold did a superb job handling the leads like he'd been there as long as Paul Kantner. Their sound was big and filled the open air quite well. My only gripe would be some odd early mixing of the vocals where Paul Kantner's smoky growl was much too high for even Cathy Richardson and David Freiberg to compete with. But this was fixed quickly enough and the two lead singers did their usual great job. The set was well attended by various Beatles fans and more than likely a few people that went out of their way to see this great band. Cathy Richardson who has done plenty of Joplin and Slick over the years got to show off her inner Joe Cocker in an encore featuring a lot of the Beatles bands' singers joining them onstage. Fun show on a nice cool late summer evening near the shore.

Set List: Volunteers - White Rabbit - Crown of Creation - Count on Me - Fresh Air -Wooden Ships - Find Your Way Back - Get Together - Miracles - Jane - The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil - Somebody to Love -- E: A Little Help from my Friends - E2: The Other Side of this Life

Beatle Jams with Cathy Richardson - Paul Kantner rested on Saturday, but about every other Starship trooper including David Freiberg got out for this set along with a couple of guests. Richardson and Freiberg shared many lead vocals with good versions of Get Back, Come Together and Helter Skelter. They also did things their own way like an old SF jam band tackling covers. The opener Eleanor Rigby was done in an old R&B/Blues style. With all the bands trying to nail Beatles versions to a 'T', this was a good set to break things up a bit. And even with minimal rehearsal, they did a nice job and went over very well.

Abbey Road Live - I stuck around to see this Athens, Georgia quartet play Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in its entirety, although I did sneak over to the other stage to see a Japanese Beatles Tribute band play some of the early material. But this Georgia band did not do things in a lazy fashion here, they had a string section and four horns to bring the album to life. They did well, although their vocal work was a bit soft at times. The highlight was a fantastic "Within You Without You" where they played a killer sitar and tabla. They then took a break before they were performing the Abbey Road album later in the festival.

I am not sure I could have handled a full long weekend of this, but it was well run and good fun if you found the sets that worked for you. And it is apparently put on a couple times a year in Louisville, KY and here. They know what they are doing and draw a pretty good mix of an audience, too.

RECORD REVIEWS - August 2012

This pop music has a pretty high IQ.  While I sometimes have trouble choosing pop music over the heavier and deeper alternatives, it is so refreshing to listen to well executed pop music. Boston's The Grownup Noise offer up 12 solid pop-rock nuggets that flow together into an enjoyable and cohesive album.  Guitars, keyboards, and strings mix together in interesting patterns that kept me alert and involved throughout the twelve songs. The opener has a good rock beat with a solid pop melody and a light touch. "Flower" has the sort of arrangement that shows their skill in using a jangly guitar with a flowing violin and allowing the vocal and rhythm section to bind them together. This is definitely a record I will keep within reach for when I sense I am delving too deep into the darkside.

Songs to try out first:

"Anthem for Second Place" - Maybe the most dense arrangement, but a great pop melody is not lost here.

"Six Foot Solemn Oath" - Breezy 1960s stylings with male and female vocals alternating. Nice touch on the piano and a surprising shift late in the song.

"Gone is a Four Letter Word" - Another long song with a lot to say lyrically and musically. Almost more of a short story than lyric.

Eleven songs of loner folk music here. Normally it is called 'loner stoner' folk music, but there seems to be more of a sober clarity here. Only the artist knows for sure, but at any rate, there certainly is plaintive lonesome singing atop guitars, distant harmonicas, and bottleneck chords sliding off deep into the desert horizon. The vocal work is different, but I get the same general vibe that I get when I hear Baltimore's Red Sammy. The moody world created here stays in a hazy focus throughout the eleven songs. My only issue may be the steadiness of it all. It's like a long drawn out passage in a Sergio Leone film, that while may be ten times as long as comparable scenes, but lacks the uptempo change of pace at the scene's end. But I still find lots of colorful moments in this album.The album has a bit of a collage puzzle where I believe the song names are present. So I will skip the individual songs but recommend a listen for loner folk fans.

Although this is a five-song EP, it is a flowing work that works nicely in its entirety. There are enough shifts in style for song delineation amongst these instrumental pieces, but the weaving of guitars, percussion and some piano is pretty consistent. They certainly create some dynamic tension in the manner of Mogwai or Mono, but don't ever quite explode into a wild finale. Instead, the dynamics are subtle yet still within upon careful listen. There is a smooth melodic feel to the material that does not take it too far into post rock terrain. Rather, this is a grounded soundscape that is easy to dig into and ride the course with. This is just a duo producing these sounds, although live they have been joined on drums by Davis White of Lorelei, which certainly would be a sympathetic band to Sansyou. So check out this band some time soon if you enjoy Lorelei or any of the other creative post-rock bands.

These guys say they are influenced by Shellac and the Dillinger Escape Plan. So basically, the question is do they live up to those bands in the creative noise department?  The answer is yes. The bass player does lay down a thick line like that of Big Black with the guitars screeching about or laying out overpowering chords. Hardcore style vocals and gutsy drumming that allows some space rounds it all out. These guys are from Belgium and the best comparison I can make is to that of their country's footballer Marouane Fellaini. Both the band and player have an intensity and aggressive approach that threatens to dissolve into chaos at any one time, but they both have the skill to keep it all together. I will say that I like this as a five-song EP and wonder if maybe a long player might be too draining to listen to, unless they threw a curveball or two. Still, when in Belgium, I would head to the club to see these guys.


I guess if you are sitting on your front porch of some rural farm and you want to pick up some instruments and have some like those Straycat fellas or those Gogol Bordello guys. Then slow it down to relaxed speed and keep it simple on some acoustic instruments with the humor up high. Maybe this is alt bluegrass/country, oddball country, or something new? Actually it sounds like guys that used to play electric music, but want to dig in and get to their roots. No matter what the real story is, these guys have a gutsy original and authentic album here. It's not a style I listen to frequently, but it is close enough to some of the intense folk music I listen and it sounds like it would be an absolute kick to see this live. And although I'll list some of my favorites below, I did find listening to all twelve songs uninterrupted had me fully absorbed by album's end and is the best way to become a part of their world.

See the Devil Makes Three at the Hamilton on Wednesday, September 19th.

Songs to try out first:

Gracefully Facedown - Nice mandolin solo and just a perfect title with amusing lyrics that live up to it.

Johnson Family - Here's the stripped down Gogol Bordello vibe for those of you that think I'm crazy (I am, but I will say under oath that I detected the Gogol Bordello thing in their music before seeing on their site that they are opening for Gogol Bordello).

Help Yourself - Cool twisted electric solo and some great early Dylan/Arlo Guthrie style story telling.

This is my month for smart pop both in clubs and on record. This band has all of that, but adds at least an equal measure of modern rock music. The guitars are brisk when they weave around with the keyboards and rhythms for pop dance music, but also add jarring chords to give rock fans a welcome jolt. There is some light fare, some more danceable than others and the variety is appreciated here. Only a couple songs do not rise the high standards set by the majority of the cuts, due to a bit too much reliance on a simple mainstream pop rock sound. But they pull discriminating listeners right back in with a vibrant guitar solo like that in "Zeroes" or the twisted patterns in "Lonely Gun".  I did not put "Lonely Gun" on the songs to start with list, but it may be one you want to finish with. It has such a unique feel to it and promises an interesting delivery live. And perhaps I'll be reporting on that soon as...

Minus the Bear will be at the Fillmore on Tuesday, September 25th.

Songs to try first:

Lies and Eyes - Great sounds and textures abound with all kinds of pace and power underneath hooky vocal work. Challenging and fun or should I say, challenging IS fun.

Toska - Guitar reminds me of real early U2, with keys and synths drawing from other early 80s bands while still sounding fresh.

Heaven is a Ghost Town - Has the feel of a popular single with some nice instrumentation kicking in near the end.