Friday, August 30, 2013

Joan of Arc - Co La - After the Lights -- DC9 - Aug 29 2013

After the Lights - I love theater. I also love to read, and of course there are movies and television. For a long time, I have understood the art of rising tension and dramatic builds, seeing curved lines on a graph that illustrate the builds and drops. I love it when bands like tonight's opener have songs that they execute with an understanding of the drama they can create. Whether or not tonight's local quartet plans it this way or not, it was certainly the way it came off. They feature keyboards/vocals, guitar/vocals, cello, and drums. Early on the guitar is played so deeply, I thought it was a bass and only the tinkling right hand of the keyboardist was dancing around the upper ranges of the treble clef. The drummer worked with mallets and they created a dark ambiance. Then the guitarist moved up on the fretboard, added some welcome fuzz and they started rocking a bit more while keeping a shoegaze drone at times that sounded like a heavier Richard Buckner style. There was even a post Velvet Undergound feeling about it all, with explorations of both light and dark as the set built. Very nicely done and the smallish crowd seemed to dig in as I did.

Co La - Up next is one guy behind a table with the dreaded Mac and some electronics. Well, not dreaded for most, but it is a big challenge for someone like this to win me over, especially playing between two bands. And sadly, he did not win the battle tonight. The music was decent enough, but there just was not enough going on to want to get deeply involved. Oddly enough, the 'crowd' agreed as there were even less people than before all hanging around the perimeter going about their own business. And for once, I can not blame them. Generally, if I want to see someone leaning over a Mac, I would rather see it at my house as they try to find an Excel version that has working Macros for me. I will say that on the right bill at the U Street Music Hall, Co La would do just fine. The 21 minute set here just did not do enough.
Joan of Arc - Speaking of dramatic buildup.... this Chicago band starts with a drummer and a vocalist. The vocalist straps on a guitar for the second song and a bassist joins in. Then, for the next song a female singer jumps on stage. But not only do the different looks keep us guessing, the music is some of the more fascinating art-rock I've seen in some time. Although they don't sound like Pere Ubu, they seem to take the same approach of constructing and deconstructing rock music. Ultimately, as they do something on the folky side, they finally remind me of Akron/Family, although this band is a bit more serious and instead of really rocking out, they do more progressive runs. But there are drones, oddball chord shifts, and all kinds of great interchange between the instruments and the vocals. Somehow, the crowd really grew into a reasonably filled room by this point and they were a sharp bunch, willing to go with this very jagged flow. There were some odd transitions and the stage patter was distracting to the point where the guitarist was going all Abe Simpson on us until the drummer just shrugged and started the song before he could finish. Smart AND a fine percussionist. I see where they have played with my old pal, David Grubbs (Squirrel Bait, Gastr del Sol) which is a nice match in highly creative styling. This is not always brilliant, even with my jaw dropped many times, but it is always edge of your seat interesting. I am happy to finally catch up with this band and will gladly do it again any time.

Quote of the Night: From JofA's singer regarding the unusual crowd shifts between bands... "You're such a sneaky audience, you're so coy. I though like no one's coming to the show tonight".

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Coathangers - Teen Liver - Dudes -- Comet Ping Pong - Aug 27 2013

Dudes - I realize this is going to be a night of raw, primitive rock music, but this band's noisy din will make the next two bands sound like the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever. There is a guy drumming and contributing vocals with a couple of ladies out front on guitar and bass with some lead vocals, too. If the Coathangers remind me of the Raincoats, then this is one of those rare bands that brings back memories of the frightening Teddy and the Frat Girls. Well, not quite, as I have yet to see anything that scary in the last 30-some years. But this worked for me and was a highly appropriate opening set. It probably helped that they did not push their limits with the fifteen minutes of noisy joy they provided.

Teen Liver - Oh, a transvestite dancer named Heidi Glum lip-synched "Cherry Bomb" in between sets and did another one later. If you blinked, you missed it. But next up was a local trio made up with some members of Cigarette. This is every bit as noisy and crude garage rock, but since these guys can play, it is up a few notches from the opening set. They have the right vocal style with an Angry Samoans humor and the music is also in that vein, mixed in with some thicker punk like the Drones or some other obscure British late 70s act. There was just enough bounce in their step to keep this lively and enjoyable. They may be just another good garage band or perhaps just a wee bit better.
The Coathangers - Georgia's Coathangers are now a trio and the keyboards are not terribly missed as they still pack a wallop with their on-kilter caterwauling and rhythmic power. I have seen them many times and they never fail to deliver their brand of crazy fun that takes you back to the 'form a band and get up stage days' of early punk rock. Yet they have been doing this a while and have sharpened up quite a bit, while not losing their in-your-face attitude and energy. They even chose a brilliant cover tonight, the Gun Club's "Sex Beat", which could have been written for or by them. I can't read my notes and it appears I wrote something about 'tuning their shrapnel' which is far more descriptive than what I actually wrote. Say what you will, but if you ever liked real punk rock, this is a band you owe it to yourself to see. They filled the room with quite a few rabid fans tonight, which is impressive for a Tuesday night at a club with less frequent weekday shows.

Quote of the Night: From the opening band... "This is our last song... of all-time."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Geographer - GRMLN -- DC9 - Aug 26 2013

GRMLN - If you enjoy garage rock and miss Husker Du (that covers a lot of ground), then this California quartet is a band worth your listening time. They have a supremely fetching noisy pop sound with songs like they came from the younger Grant Hart. The hooks are there easily cutting through the noisy din of the two guitars. It may be a bit more noisy than they like as they are apologizing for a feedback buzz, which as is often the case is more noticeable during the breaks and blends in well enough for most rock bands when they let those power chords rip. This set showed more than just a band rocking out in a way that is comfortable for me, but to my ears also had a few songs that were well above that of established hits. So indulge yourself on some highly entertaining music that will stick with you well after the show. These guys are the real deal.
Geographer - This is their first sold-out DC show, so this San Francisco trio must be doing something right. I kind of see it and I kind of don't. They start with drums and two keyboard banks, although one guy switches to electric cello during the first song where he stays for some time. The other guy handles the lead vocals and straps on a guitar later on. They are personable and interacting with the audience who they want to get fired up because "we love DC, because you guys know how to cut loose." Really? There was some enthusiasm up front as their brand of electronic pop music did have its charm. I was doubtful at first, but the creative drumming and cello sounds went a long way to help me overcome the rather twee vocal tones and melodies. I would have liked to stay with this set longer, but there was the usual noise in the back where two guys straight from their office could not stop their loud conversation, even when another group asked them nicely to tone it down (their courteous gesture was to move even closer to me). That and the incident below was quite enough for this night.

Quote of the Night: "You'll have to come with me"... I didn't actually hear this but something like this was said after I had been watching two underage women at a booth for about half a song into the opening set before club security decided to escort them out. One of them was severely trying to keep the other one lucid and awake as she was obviously not handling whatever she was on. The club handled it quickly, not so surprisingly professionally, and was totally right in not having some underage person pass out on their premises. I think the DC9 has had enough notoriety already.

In leaving the show over an hour later, this woman was still trying to get it together while sitting on some nearby steps with her friend trying to work her through it--a pool of vomit in front of them. Fun night out, ladies--thanks for encouraging clubs to do all-ages shows. These are the nights when I realize I have been way to old for this for many decades now.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Jeff Golub + Brian Auger -- The Hamilton - Aug 25 2013

Jeff Golub, Brian Auger, Steve Williams, Conrad Korsch - Guitar, keyboards, drums, and bass respectively are the instruments of choice for this jazz combo. It is all electric and like many of the classic sounds of Brian Auger's Oblivion Express, there is a rock-jazz feeling in much of the music. The rhythm section kept the age average down for the group, although the veteran Golub is also a full generation younger than the long running 74 year-old keyboard whiz. The good news is that Brian Auger is not just the name to draw in the crowds, but also the star of the show. His work on the big old Hammond B-3 was soulful and had a bit of panache. He had an electric piano on top which he used often jumping around on his keyboards. Not even the rebooting needed for it slowed them down, as it allowed more time for his rambling, yet funny stories told with that quirky classic British humor. The rhythm section did their job well, and Steve Williams is not the drummer for Budgie, but was every bit as steady. It is rather tougher to judge Jeff Golub, the Ohio born jazz blues guitarist. He played with great care and style, but there was not much that stood out. The tough part in the judgment, is knowing his story where he went blind at an advanced age and after that stepped on to what he thought was a train, but instead fell into an oncoming train who dragged him through the station for a distance. So his frailty is understandable and in lieu of that, it is great to see him playing so well. They covered a lot of songs from Golub's ironic "Train Keeps a Rolling" album which features Auger and a few songs from the Oblivion days. Those songs had the only vocals, which as Auger states he rather rustily delivered. Another favorite of mine and the crowd was their cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Pusherman". The Eddie Harris songs were interesting, particularly as Brian Auger explained that one songs was written in fourth intervals, which was unusual and only originally intended as an exercise for saxophonists. So this was an engaging show that did not really dazzle, but had enough positive moments from some very interesting musicians.

                                  photo - John Vitesse

Quote of the Night: After Jeff Golub plugged their CD Brian Auger added... "For those of you willing to buy a CD, Jeff + I will come out and sign them (applause). No, actually as most of you know, it is the unsigned ones that are the rare ones. Anyway, we will be willing, no, desperate to sign them."

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Oh so Peligroso - The OK Corral - Brittany Jean -- Velvet Lounge - Aug 24 2013

Brittany Jean - After a week off, it is high time to head back to the clubs, and the best way to get back into the scene is to start at a show with a lot of familiar faces. First up is one of my favorites, Brittany Jean, who this time is Brittany Jean the solo artist, not Brittany Jean the band. It is just one voice and one resonator guitar. Oh, but there is a kick drum used on a few songs for as she explained, some songs just had to have a beat going. Her guitar work has enough quality and her voice is strong, that she should worry not about the lack of a support group on stage with her (as fun and comforting as that no doubt is). The songs still come through loud and clear or deep and thoughtful depending on the mood. The room was filling up with 25-30 people and it did have a little too much noise, as usual, for an acoustic act, yet Brittany Jean has enough power in her presentation to cut nicely over the top of it all. This was a crisp 32 minutes and proved that she works just fine as a solo act. And with a drummer in Germany for an extended period, that may be how it is for a while.

The OK Corral - This indie trio starts off with rather typical indie rock. There is no nonsense as they jump on stage, plug in and play. Their music is also assertive and together as they have a good command of their sound. The lead vocals and occasional harmonies stand out a bit from what slips into comfortable musical territory. Although by the time the 37 minute set is over, I did hear a couple songs that leapt from the pack and showed a few versatile moves that gave a creative flair to their comfortable sounds. And if they continue to write songs like the brand new number that they closed with, things could be very bright indeed. They offered a solid reminder that you should stay with a band as long as you can and try to give them a few chances on different nights as well. I will certainly be back to see what they continue to come up with.
Oh so Peligroso - I have seen this area band a few times and have always left with a good feeling after their set. They feature guitar, keys, a rhythm section, and a lead vocalist who combine to give a sort of rock history lesson of the DC scene. You can start with the Slickee Boys with their brand of punk garage and move through just about every era of harDCore and indie music here in DC and find elements of it all alive and well in Oh so Peligroso. Call this modern garage, if you will. It is fast, fun, with plenty of catchy vocal lines, guitar moves, organ fills, all with a pummeling rhythm section that keeps it comfortable for anyone who ever liked punk rock. They even had me enjoying "Rebel Yell" far more than I would have if Billy Idol had showed up to play it. They clearly had fun on stage and had the large crowd rocking and involved all set long. This capped off an excellent evening of diverse music that was quickly and professionally delivered at the Velvet Lounge, on a busy Saturday no less. It is good to be back in the clubs.

Quote of the Night: I realize that improvisational commentary is difficult which is why we can all too easily pick on politicians' gaffes, media errors, and those horrors from the less than professional speakers with microphones stuck in front of them. But you really have to call some of these people to task even in the innocuous area of sports commentary. Take this from motormouth Joe Theismann, commenting at Washington's preseason football game on a catch by Santa Moss...

"Ever since Santana Moss came to Washington, I have felt that he had the best hands of any receiver under 6'5", who plays like he's 6'5"."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Cherry Poppin' Daddies -- The Hamilton - Aug 17 2013

Cherry Poppin' Daddies - After a lovely walk from the Kennedy Center, I settled in to this comfortable slick old school night club. And the Cherry Poppin' Daddies in their natty suits, zoot or otherwise, are the perfect band for this club on a Saturday night. They feature a core trio of rock instruments with another trio of brass and reed along with a lead singer who has the range and power to pull it all together. Actually, the band is very tight and knows exactly what they are doing. And they avoid taking a comfortable path, as they somehow manage to bring out songs from the jazz age of the roaring 20's through 50's rock'n'roll and even approach surf pop in the early 60's. They keep things swinging whether jazz, rock, or big band done small but loud and forceful. The dance floor gets a workout with a few couples or with a full floor on one that everyone knew, "Fly Me to the Moon". That song reminded me of the Bennett/Sinatra-style show from either the Rainbow Room or Las Vegas. They did two sets with a break that was a little long (45 minutes) that likely was not of their choosing. But they offered plenty of songs, styles, pace, volume for all dancing styles and all tastes. They managed to bring it all together in cohesive sound with just enough flair and lots of energy. This gave me a similar feeling of sitting at home watching an old movie or some old classic sitcom on TVLand (as opposed to watching something that embarrassed you to have lived in that era). If you want to stick to indie rock, head elsewhere, but if you want a history on how we got here, I can not think of too many bands better to see than the Cherry Poppin' Daddies.

Elikeh -- Kennedy Center - Aug 17 2013

Elikeh - The Kennedy Center has long put on free early evening shows which are perfect for exposing yourself to something new prior to going to your later event; or in this case, going out of your way to see one of DC's finest bands. Listen Local First presented this show and chose one of my favorites, Elikeh, to bring their unique blend of African and American music to a new audience. It was a big crowd as it usually is, and although a little more sedate than in a club the atmosphere was good. The band was able to fill the huge hall with their smoothly delivered original music that was right in line with what I have seen at smaller clubs. If anything, they are tighter than ever after doing this for a few years now. They manage a silky groove that to my ears is liquid reggae. Their hour long set was long on music with no filler and was a great start no matter what your plans were thereafter. It had been a while since I last saw Elikeh and I have vowed not to let so much time elapse before the next show. As with Listen Local First, I do encourage everyone to go out of your way to catch local music, especially when the band is as good as Elikeh.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Preview of Upcoming Attractions - Late August 2013

Why not head to the Kennedy Center this Saturday (August 17th) at 6pm for a FREE show by perhaps the top African-American musical fusion band, Elikeh? You can get a full night's entertainment before heading out for more.

And perhaps later that Saturday you will join me at the Hamilton for the Cherry Poppin' Daddies.

GRMLN joins fellow west coasters, Geographer for a fun show at the DC9 on Monday August 26th.

I have been a fan of the Coathangers decades before they were formed when their ancient ancestors, the Slits, Raincoats, Frightwig, and the AMA-Dots were the best of the grrrrl groups--when they were known as the girl groups. You will be entertained by this gutsy Atlanta band when they hit Comet Ping Pong on Tuesday, August 27th.

Co La starts off the electronica and indie pop on parade at the DC9 on August 29th opening for Joan of Arc.

Braddock Station Garrison - The Fed - Radiation Puppy -- Bier Baron - Aug15 2013

Radiation Puppy - First, the basics on my initiation to a Bier Baron show... It's a small corner stage upstairs from the main bar area with an odd L shape that contains a long bar and lots of pub decor and seating closer in--fairly high on the comfort scale. The PA is decent enough, although their was an annoying buzzing throughout the entire night. This Baltimore band begins with just a vocal and piano opener before the singer straps on a bass and is joined by a guitarist and drummer for the rest of the set. They have tons of energy, perhaps too much as they ask us how we are doing three times before each of their opening three songs. They play a balance of old-school rock, barroom rock, with some modern touches, but ultimately feel like a quality bar band trying to move up. That was evident when they play a completely non-ironic version of Hall & Oates "Rich Girl". Better, but wholly unnecessary was their take on Pink Floyd's "Time". They were likable enough with the crowd and this is a bar, so there is nothing wrong with a bar band opening a low-cover fee bar show ($5).

The Fed - Back to the known with this area two-guitar quartet. Well, it was more like five guitars as the singer/rhythm guitarist set a record for me (and probably him) by breaking three strings in three different songs, including the opening two numbers. His lead guitarist is a southpaw, so all the back-ups were his or borrowed or restrung or whatever, but they managed to keep the set going through it all. Their signature brand of garage based blues rock which is not quite punk, not quite pop-nuggets, not quite straight blues does come together nicely when they are on. I guess I could call them a poor-man's Graveyard which says more to the elite status of Graveyard rather than anything these guys lack. They also reminded me of the famous California Jam concert which featured heavy hitters like ELP, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath finishing the event. The Fed is the Black Oak Arkansas of that show, just an American rock band that won't reinvent the wheel, but deliver the music straight forward and with a smile, ensuring a good time and plenty of rock.
Braddock Station Garrison - I love contrasts and dynamics, which you do not often get enough of in club shows. This two-guitar local band offered up much more than I expected and had me fully involved for their nearly hour-long set. The first song turned out to be the most amazing of the night with a hypnotic groove established by the bassist and the drummer's beat something between Bo Diddley and Hawkwind. Although the vocals had a solid indie pop-rock melody, both guitars had this murky deep fuzz that had me thinking of some of my favorite drone bands. This fascinating guitar sound remained for a few songs and kept a sense of menace in the room, even though the overall feel was lighter. They moved into more positive pop-rock territory before darkening up again toward the end. The finish was a medley of two Johny Cash staples (If I gave you two guesses, you would get it right). The band is not quite at the level to bust out in any big way, but they have some brilliant ideas and are solid with their playing and songwriting. I hope they challenge themselves by digging deeper into sounds, beats, textures, and off the wall shifts, as they could become something that people would flock to around here. If not, check them out anyway as they deliver a solid set of music.

Quote of the Night: Headliner's rhythm guitarist..."We are going to do Side One of 2112 if you stick around for our encore." was among the long Rush discussion as he broke out his near-Alex Lifeson style guitar. Nice Rush patter and that is the sort of daring I am talking about, although the Johnny Cash songs certainly do appeal to a broader crowd.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Adam Ant - Prima Donna -- 9:30 Club - Aug 13 2013

Prima Donna - Kudos for choosing Ennio Morricone's "Sixty Seconds to What?" as entrance music, as it is the most audacious music he scored for those brilliant Sergio Leone westerns. After that, seeing the dress of this California quintet, you could quickly guess that we would be in for some New York Dollsian glam-punk. It ended up a lot more like the Romantics with a bit of Jennifer Miro (Nuns) piano and a touch of Factory. In fact, the singer later dedicated the set to Factory's late vocalist, Vance Bockis. This band is highly professional and has full command of their material and sound. Unfortunately, it was all extremely safe. There just was not enough sleaze, power-pop, or fiery riffs to propel this decent music forward. Ultimately, this is a fine choice of an opening band for this tour and I was left admiring their overall ability in the broadest sense, but I still wanted more.
Adam Ant - Somehow this is my first encounter with Mr. Ant, who I fondly remember hearing in college after buying his first two albums along with some singles. The band comes on first with the usual twin drumming look along with just a guitar and bass. Adam Ant makes the grand entrance in full Pirate regalia, although those darn glasses really look off. More horrifying was the sound which was a mish-mash of swirling noise and vocals that were barely audible. Fortunately by the third or fourth song, the soundman had it all figured out and Ant was in good voice as we could finally hear the evidence. Unfortunately, they did my favorite (I am hardly on a limb here) "Dog Eat Dog" as the second song, which did not come off as well as many of the other older classics littering the set. I recognized a lot more than I expected as I have not kept up after 1981, except from afar. The material in this 110 minute set was mostly strong and powerful. The lesser songs were decent and the best really rocked hard and did not fall into overly cute pop patterns. Still plenty of hooks and cool beats prevailed, but there was enough heft to keep all of the crowd going the whole night. The band had the energy the full way and Ant did not pause to chat until after about 9-10 songs rapidly fired at us. There were a lot of recognizable songs at the end and I was happy to hear "Cartrouble" which was the first single I bought of his. This was one of those shows I had slight worries about before stepping into the club, but they are but a distant memory now as he and his gutsy band proved they can still stand and deliver the goods.

Quote of the Night: From a fan getting stamped to go in... "So this stamp will let me get back in if I want to go out and do drugs?... or sex?... or maybe rock'n'roll?"

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ceremony - Ed Schrader's Music Beat - Give - Barge -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Aug12 2013

Barge - These four guys look like they are ready to jump out of their skin, they are so anxious to hit the stage. In fact, they start a little bit early, but the hardcore fans or there, so let's go! Detroit style hardcore here, with a head-bob most in the direction of Negative Approach. I have seen it all before as that was my scene oh so many decades ago. And I can be a very tough grader on younger bands rehashing the same style of songs. Yet in this case, these guys nailed it. They let it rip during their 12-minute set, which somehow did not seem short (ok playing the same amount of notes as the Eagles do in an hour will get it done at this speed). The only tiresome thing I saw was a couple of whirlwind dancers making with the propeller arms pushing everyone back a couple of steps. The world can do without the cliched skank and mosh pit moves. But the world still needs the music that Barge can deliver.

Give - This local hardcore band features the dreaded three-guitar look that scares me in a lot of genres, especially here. Fortunately this band seemed to make it work. They scored much more on the energy side of the equation than on the songwriting, but they still managed a nice variety styles within their 29-minute set. They played songs that hearkened back to straight rock, loose punk, fast hardcore, and modern dirge post hardcore/alt metal. They reminded me a bit of the band Zeke, if anyone remembers them. This good attitude and a sense of fun with their music will bring in a lot more of the skeptical crowd and should make them a mainstay in the scene. Nice job.

Ed Schrader's Music Beat - The stage is stripped back to a big bass amplifier and a floor tom with a couple of microphones. This Baltimore duo sticks with this simple formula throughout their 25 minute and rattled off many intriguing tribal thumpers. There is a raw stripped down Savage Republic or Chrome style here, with a dose of Albini dark irony in the mix. I can not quite love the sound, although I really wanted to, although there were some magical moments. Maybe one more instrument to aid in contrast would make this perfect. As it is, it still excites the imagination and is a welcome add-on to this incredibly diverse hardcore bill (proving this is not a contradiction of terms). Extra credit goes to the bass player who came up to me and said he liked my Comus t-shirt. Now that's hardcore.
Ceremony - More hardcore still with this celebrated west coast band that has done rather well for itself in recent years. They have a rather slippery style where they hint at a lot of different sub-genres, but do not comfortably sit back (or even rush forward) in any of them. Unfortunately my foreshadowing was correct as a guy was quickly taken away with a bad bloody nose and a dazed look during the first song. The crowd was up and down thereafter with mixed intensity, although they were digging into the music pretty much the full time. The band was moving well and had a pummeling rhythm section that allowed the guitars to slash away with their own particular ebb and flow. The singer went into the crowd and had a focused intensity that brought a seriousness to their music. Four very different bands tonight each with different levels of experience, creativity and sonic approach. Ceremony capped off a very invigorating evening for me and this rather large crowd.

Quote of the Night: From Give's singer... "Take a look on stage and tell me who doesn't belong?  .... Yeah, well we all belong." Good line because one rhythm guitarist had a crew cut with the other five having very long hair. It was also interesting because I thought he was the tightest musician and I was trying hard to ensure that was due to what I was hearing and not the way he looked or the way he moved.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Whirr - Nothing - Carni Klirs -- DC9 - Aug 11 2013

Carni Klirs - Overwhelming echoplex effects surround the room as this solo guitar excursion travels to parts unknown. Well, many in the audience know something of these parts as experimental and modern post-psychedelic guitarists have been doing this sort of thing for some time. Fortunately the two extended pieces Carni Klirs presents are a welcome opening to this sonically focused evening. The first cut had me daydreaming of excel spreadsheets, which was not good, but the second had me dreaming with the music--far better. It is never a bad thing to get a set like this at the start of an evening.

Nothing - This twin guitar quartet from Philadelphia takes on shoegaze with a fierce, yet smooth manner. They create a noisy and very heavy dirge with some dreamy melodic vocal work fighting its way through the guitar noise. That is pretty much what shoegaze is all about. They were particularly effective with contrasts of light and dark throughout their songs, and there was just enough variance to avoid any clock watching on my part. All in all a good set for shoegaze fans and people like me who are more on the fence and want the songs to shine. I would enjoy seeing this band again.

Whirr - The previous band walked off the stage with instruments blaring in what has become quite the cliche. However, this may be the first time I saw the previous band set up while the noise continued (at a slightly lower volume than when it started). They kind of started their set while the bass player wandered around looking for something to assist with the equipment before their three-guitar shoegaze noise took more shape. This was all very steady and very loud and unfortunately far too dull for my tastes. I am sure the reasonably large crowd tonight would disagree, but I just did not get into the dynamics of this music. There was one song that reminded me a bit of Mono, but still did not bring out the full range of dramatic building and deconstruction that Mono consistently delivers. I am glad I looked up from my shoes to see two of the guitarists moving their mouths at microphones, otherwise I would have no idea there was any singing. Even then, I could not hear it. I was warned that this band had a volume fetish and little else and I am afraid that is not far off from the way I heard it. If you absolutely love all things shoegaze, I am sure you will enjoy this band. I need more drama, more progressive moves, or more psychedelic flourish--something at any rate.

Quote of the Night - Nothing, as trees falling in forests do not make a sound with shoegazing bands playing.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Stooges Brass Band - The Good Thing -- Artisphere - Aug 9 2013

The Good Thing - It has taken me a few years, but I have finally made it out to a show at the Atrisphere. This large Rosslyn venue hosts free art galleries and stage events covering a wide range in the artistic field. Tonight's event begins with a local funk rock act taking the stage in a very long room with seating in the back and in the balcony along one side of this large (and tall) room. It takes a little while to fill up, but it is a great space allowing some seating and plenty of room for dancing. And this band gets a few people off their feet by nailing down a funky groove in the rhythm section along with the three brass players. The electric guitar brought plenty of rock moves with impressive solos that would work with just about any rock band out there. I also enjoyed the trumpeter's soloing, unfortunately they announced it was his last show with the band. The vocal work was solid and the songs resonated with the building crowd. This was a great way of getting Friday night started before having some New Orleans brass hit the stage. This is a quality band that I am sure will get plenty of shows around here and I hope to catch them again some time.
Stooges Brass Band - There is this odd little 'tic' going off in my head every time I say the name of this band as I try to avoid any thought of that certain Detroit band that has dominated my thoughts for over three decades now. But I always look forward to New Orleans jazz, although this band includes plenty of rock and even some rap moves as they walk in the modern world, while being fully aware of their tradition (hard not to in New Orleans). They only have three players on horns with two of them handling much of the vocal work as well. The constant is the sousaphone which lays down a strong bass presence throughout the set. The two drummers, one on a smaller set of congas and floor toms, establish intricate grooves that make it impossible to sit still. There is electric guitar as well which quietly churns out funk chords before unleashing some powerful solos. There may only be one sax along with either a trumpet or trombone, but the brass and reed sounds rip above the strong backing. This is loud powerful music which had a full room rocking and dancing the whole night long. This was the right space for this band and it is nice to see a classy place that is not too dinner club like (eg Birchmere, Ram's Head-Annapolis, Hamilton) not too divey or indie cool (most everywhere else). The only slow part was perhaps too much requesting audience participation half-way through their set. But that long winded stretch was forgotten as they mixed raps with classics (Bob Marley, etc.) and originals which showcased their excellent playing. That great playing is the memory that remains the next morning.

Quote of the Night: From the headliner as they were dedicating a song to New Orleans and advised everyone to come there some time (couldn't agree more)... "You can come on vacation and leave on probation."

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Poor Young Things - Harmonic Blue - Dead Professional -- DC9 - Aug 7 2013

Dead Professional - Tonight's theme is of talented musicians and the choices they make. Dead Professional is a one man band with electric guitar and voice. The first song shows off clean singer-songwriter styled rock music with a nice throaty guitar sound and strong vocal work. That remained evident throughout the set, although there were added drum tracks and recorded bits. He did a T. Rex cover which made perfect sense. The choice here is to whether go full band with this material as that is the more normal route. I would prefer that as drum machines never sound right to me except in extreme electronic acts, and even then live percussion is welcome. Yet, it is not easy to keep a full band together playing out for both artistic and budgetary issues, so there is not always an easy answer. Judging on the quality of the songs and the performance, Dead Professional has some fine material to work with and did quite well tonight. Going solo electric is gutsy, but it has worked for Thompson, Bragg, and Hitchcock, so it is well worth keeping an ear tuned to hear where this Virginia guitarist goes next.

Harmonic Blue - Guitar, Bass, and Drums work hard behind a full time vocalist for this surprisingly different Maryland band. Their sound is not terribly radical, but you just don't hear it that often in the clubs. They take a hybrid jazz-pop style and play highly skillful passages behind the melodies. The players are outstanding but the vocal lines had me thinking all night. The singing was mostly effective aside from a few odd trail-offs in a scat jazz sort of way. It is almost impossible for me to embrace this style, yet the players all have my respect. If I were the Machiavellian manager I would play around with the vocal lines and try a different approach, that is unless I wanted to take over mid-1970s radio where this band as is would be a massive success. Oh, and the bass player played a mean harmonica which was a welcome and surprising addition to this style.
Poor Young Things - From one of my favorite cities where I have never visited, Toronto, comes this quintet featuring three guitars. That is the first choice which always has be a bit skeptical, especially when a power-pop, surging rock, touch of punk style is what your band will present. Fortunately it works fine here in a rather surprising way. This band plays in a fairly safe format, yet the guitarists do a lot of different parts yet manage to not over complicate the song. That takes some real skill which is impressive enough, when I am not just relaxing and digging into these meaty hooks. It did not take more than about 20 seconds to be reminded of a great Montreal band called the Nils which was one of the earliest Canadian bands to transform punk into pop music at a high level. They could also move to a much tighter Dolls/MC5 sound on the wonderful "Building a Boat". Not all the songs were as magical as that, but the quality never wavered and the pace and volume was there to keep the energy in the room for the full 45 minutes or so. I will be back when they make it back through, especially if it is one of those nights where you just want to really rock out.

Quote of the Night: From Harmonic Blue's singer... "It's amazing what a hand can do."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Kris Kristofferson -- Ram's Head On Stage - Aug 5 2013

Kris Kristofferson - At age 77, Kris Kristofferson is still touring. I saw John Mayall at the same age, and the most intriguing difference between these sets is that Kristofferson does not have any band to help him on stage. It is just himself with voice, acoustic guitar, and the occasional harmonica. The most important ingredient is his vast songbook filled with timeless classics, intelligent lyrics, and catchy country folk tunes. The sold-out crowd looked like they had been following him for a long time and unless you have lived in your personal Siberia, it would be hard not to know his music and style. The main question you want answered when an older legend comes to town is can he still deliver? I have rarely answered no when I see the legends and am happy to give a positive report tonight. Yes, the voice is old and quivering at times, but still quite expressive. The guitar playing is solid with the lightly picked tunes standing out as an edge-of-your-seat accompaniment to the storytelling in the songs. He gets full credit for doing his show solo with no one to fall back on. The mistakes such as having the wrong harmonica and occasional lyrical or guitar flubs were handled with charm and humor and there were not that many of them to matter anyway. He brought out "...Bobbie McGee" early in the set and it was good for me to hear the originator perform this after hearing it a couple of times in the play "One Night with Janis Joplin". He surprised me by banging out so many short songs in his set that it seemed more like a Ramones set lists. No long pauses or stage patter, just a quip now an then and a nice technique of commenting between lyrics, such as the lint 'I don't care what's right or wrong ' or rolling his eyes at a lyric and saying how much younger he was then or that it was a true story. If you want the best versions of these songs, stay at home with your records, but if you want a warm night out with grandfatherly-like storytelling within profoundly original songs, then head out to the clubs.

Quote of the Night: "You like to spend a lot of money to see an old fart blow his nose?"

Monday, August 5, 2013

Previews of Upcoming Attractions - Early August

More assertive pop-rock from our big northern neighbors of Baltimore when Poor Young Things hit the DC9 this Wednesday, August 7th.
The Stooges Brass Band hits the Artisphere this Friday night, August 9th--and no, this is not Steve MacKay and friends, but an excellent New Orleans band who will be playing... take a guess (or click on the video).
Whirr rolls into town on Sunday the 11th and plays at the DC9
Ceremony graces the stage at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Monday, August 12th. Rock your week off right.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

America Hearts - Teen Girl Scientist Monthly - The Mean Season - Jackpot Tiger -- Black Cat - Aug 3 2013

Jackpot Tiger - The guitarist finishes up on his deep scanning of the horizon with his hand over his eyes as if longing for the first signs of land after a long trans-Atlantic voyage. But no, just a crowd of 50 or so scattered about the large space on the big stage of the Black Cat. And, of course, their voyage was the van ride from Brooklyn. They instantly lay out some agreeable enough power pop with well thought out harmonies among all four members. They have some male-female lead vocal trade-offs and some snaky guitar runs that add a bit of light post-punk/Talking Heads sort of moves. They do a ballad that reminds me a bit of the Pixies with throbbing bass and interesting cutting moves by the lead guitar. Good fun set as the crowd continues to fill in from a rain soaked night.

The Mean Season - I have enjoyed this local trio in the past and they did nothing to convince me otherwise tonight. They have a female vocalist who handles a bit of percussion with two guys who play combinations of guitars and drums which create a diverse set of sounds that some how come together. One guitar has deep fuzz groove established while the other one is a bit spacier. The vocals are clean and expressive in a Natalie Merchant sort of way, but the music is more dynamic in a quiet atmospheric way. Interesting stuff here, and well worth a listen the next time they give you a chance.

Teen Girl Scientist Monthly - The crowd has doubled by now and crowds up front giving plenty of intimacy for this well named New York City collective. They have a highly energetic brand of power pop with a refined hard edge to it in the manner of the Rezillos. They are not as punk as that with one power-chord guitar at work here and two keyboardists going at it nearly full-time. Good Male and Female lead vocals with both alternating moments and harmonies in balance. The rhythm section cooks along to ensure that the pace is kept up from everybody, which makes for a fun rocking and dance-oriented set (were this a dancing city). I saw this band at the Velvet Lounge last time around and they look like they are building a fan base, and with their energy and personality, they should continue to do well. And even if I did not like their music, they would get loads of extra credit points for their name.
America Hearts - First time around for me seeing this local twin-guitar quartet with female vocals on top of the pop-rock stew. I wish conditions were more ideal for an assessment as I have been up for 20 hours now and I am not sure even a Led Zeppelin reunion could keep me going much longer. I was still able to appreciate this band's very basic by the numbers approach to pop music with a rock foundation that reminded me a bit of a milder Alley Cats... or perhaps Motels? Pearl Harbor? I don't quite remember all those bands' sound, but America Hearts does seem to fit well in this grouping. I will need another show to dig in deeper to their songs, but there is enough appeal here and desire for me to come back with a fresher listen. The crowd was enjoying the band, as they had enjoyed all of them thus far, so this was a good finish of a night of bands who are working to make names of themselves and proving that there are valid reasons behind this desire.

Quote of the Night: Recent quote from Swedish soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovich when asked what he had bought his wife for her birthday.... "Nothing, she already has Zlatan."

Thursday, August 1, 2013

All Star Jam Session for Mali with Vieux Farka Toure -- Liv - Jul 31 2013

All Star Jam Session for Mali - This event was organized by Massama Dogo of the excellent local band Elikeh. They have opened for legendary Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure at some of my favorite shows in years past and have become friends (and brothers). So Massama invited Vieux to DC to work on getting a Malian charity going to help that country get back to stability and reestablishing itself as the center for some of the finest music in all of the world. The show tonight featured dozens of musicians from area bands, mostly African based, that recombined into unique combos to play a few songs and allow a few guests to pop in and out. The quality was quite high as they spent some rehearsal time and had the right amount of loose jamming mixed in with tight rhythms and controlled soloing. I will loosely mention the five variations presented here to keep in the spirit of just having a great time while doing something for Mali. There were three full hours of music, where it is probably best not to put in writing the exact time the event ended, as it was too hard to stop playing with so many fine musicians to showcase.

                                         photo courtesy of Leyou Gennene via FBook

Group 1 featured a majority of members from Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band, who have been gracing stages in the DC area for some time now. They were joined by members of Elikeh, Funk Ark, and ace guitarist John Lee. Some good rhythms (pretty much a constant tonight), nice organ solos, as well as brass and guitar gave heft to these feel-good songs. The trombonist for Black Masala jumped in a couple of times.

Group 2 featured local singer songwriter Nila Kay, joined by Elikeh's rhythm section and another guitarist. She showed about as much diversity as possible in her 14 minute 3-song set starting off with a quirky pop/power-pop oddity that had fascinating hooks twisting in and out. Next was a loungier blues and to finish if off, there was a ripping Bo Diddley beat for the final rocker. She is certainly someone to watch if this is any indication of the diverse and creative directions she is capable of.

Group 3 feature a bit more of the Elikeh band assisted with some Chopteeth members and an extra guitarist, Jaja Bashengezi. Then one more guitarist, Vieux Farka Toure also joined in as this short set was rocking hard while keeping up a good personal R&B flavor deep in the groove. The searing guitar solos were the highlight of course, but the whole band really pushed things up a notch.

Group 4 stripped it down to John Lee on guitar, with a guest bassist for most of the set and a drummer. In front of this Elin Kathleen Melgarejo of Alma Tropicalia and as the name suggests, this brought in a bit of Brazilian Tropicalia into tonight's blend. It was very Gal Costa-like, such as the period when someone like Os Mutantes backed her. In fact, they finished with "Bat Macumba", Os Mutantes' most party-friendly song from their canon.

And finally, Group 5 featured Cheick Hamala Diabate with members of his band among others from the previous bands. He played banjo and and a West African lute called a n'goni, which was electrified. And good thing too, because at times he was surrounded by Vieux Farka Toure and his guitarist battling it out at high volume (see photo above). They did bring it down some with Toure leading a song that was reminiscent of Skynyrd's "Simple Man" surprisingly enough (and perfectly fine by me).  Diabate is an impressive artist and gave the evening a classy finish.

While it was almost impossible to find fault with something so well intentioned, even a 'music-only' person would have been impressed by this amazing array of talent who were able to play together so well tonight. So please support these bands as they play around DC and of course, support Vieux Farka Toure and his charity work for Mali.