Sunday, September 29, 2013

ZZ Ward - Wild Feathers - James Bay -- 9:30 Club - Sep 28 2013

James Bay - This UK-based singer songwriter is going solo with voice and guitar. He does get a pedal steel assist from a player from the next band on one cut, which of course adds a touch of country to the folk style that Bay presents. There is some pop and rock here as well, as it has an old fashioned British Invasion light pop style. In fact, there is almost too much of that as Bay has a bright personality, that although a positive asset, seems to to follow a very old set of standards that at least the old timers in the sold-out crowd have seen before. This is all good, just not terribly memorable.

Wild Feathers - After a hint at steel guitar, I was prepared for some country rock. Well, I got the rock part right. This Nashville quintet did not even use the steel guitar for a few songs, instead choosing to blast away with some intense rock that was closer to Lynyrd Skynrd than Tom Petty. They pulled it back a bit with a more rootsy rock/alt-country approach and they kept the crowd heavily involved the full time. They cranked it up toward the end and finished as they started, creating a strong impression of a young band that may have the goods to stick around a while.
ZZ Ward - ZZ Ward completes this young billing tonight playing cuts from her debut album and a recent EP. She may only be 27, but she first hit the stage at age 12 with her father's band, so she is far worldlier than her album output may suggest. She plays a bit of acoustic guitar, piano, and some decent harmonica and is joined by a strong and steady rhythm section and a talented lead guitarist. Vocally, she reminds me of a tough Stevie Nicks and brings in a lot of similar appeal. Yet there is more of a country blues deeper in her music, and she even covers some Son House later in the set. It is not too surprising to see the mainstream support and backing and I am happy to see that she lives up to that investment and has delivered a fine set to her fans. I am not sure she is overwhelming better than anyone I would see headlining at the Iota or Jammin Java, but that is an essay for another day. She wraps up her set early (early start tonight) to send home the happy sell-out crowd, so that the 9:30 Club can clear the club for the second sold out show tonight.

Quote of the Night - ZZ Ward... "DC, man you guys look good and it's only like 7:30"

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Blitzen Trapper - Phox -- Black Cat - Sep 27 2013

Phox - Baraboo, Wisconsin? Really? The circus town of my distant past? I did not think anyone outside of the Ringling Brothers crew was from Baraboo. This was just a short drive south from where I lived and where many of my relatives were. Of course, this creative band has moved on to Madison, akin to leaving Munchkinland for Austin. And this outfit has a fine grasp of broad, classic pop music. Almost jazz singing, but steadier more baroque pop moves are the driving force here, as the songs could exist in almost any decade in the last five, maybe eight. The band is crisp and knows how to rhythmically flow together and counter the main hooks with just enough to garner further listening interest. They stay light, but firm with assurance and conviction. Very nicely done.
Blitzen Trapper - I have seen this veteran Portland band a few times now, and have regularly reviewed their recent recordings, so I am quite familiar with what they are capable of. Yet, for someone so smooth and pleasurable, they are a slippier little bunch. They squirm away from the norms, but never so far to be evasive. Americana is likely their base, but there is so many interesting rock moves calling on different eras and sounds, as they always manage an engaging listen. Tonight is no exception as they start strong in front of a sizable crowd on the big stage. I am completely gassed for some reason, so I can not stick out the full set, but they show me that they still are an exciting live act, that is even more fun than their fine records.

Quote of the Night: From the opener... "This is a song about bad bakery products."

Friday, September 27, 2013

Julia Holter - Nedelle Torrisi -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Sep 26 2013

Nedelle Torrisi - This singer takes me back to my youth when you had the British Invasion, a few pop songs, and plenty of lounge and cabaret singers all filling out my listening environment. I am happy that the Rock'n'Roll Hotel brought these fascinating acts tonight to their club. Sure, an old dark and velvety supper club would be more fitting, but this will do tonight, first for this Los Angeles based singer. She actually leaves the violin at home, only occasionally playing a keyboard. She is accompanied by a pianist/organist and a drummer pops in for about four songs. This is light, airy music, yet rich in imagery and quiet drama. The three or four dozen people here made for a cozy environment and they were pulled into the music throughout the 38-minute set. Although the form may be nostalgic for me, the music was fresh and modern and it was welcome to see younger audiences getting into this.
Julia Holter - I also envision a dark slick club for Julia Holter, but she is far too adventurous for a jazz club, and too jazzy and bold for a simple nightclub. It is no surprise at all to learn that she is the daughter of musicians and has studied composition after hearing this set. These are amazing songs in that they are unique and challenging, yet so accessible to anyone with the slightest desire to expand beyond the basics. Holter has a great voice and plays keyboards. She is augmented by saxophone, drums, cello, and violin with musicians that clearly know their craft. Early on, there is a post-Tropicalia feeling that reminds me a bit of Karina Zeviani. I also hear a resemblance to a defunct band, the Sian Alice Group. There are many other post-rock bands out there that may be close, but not many are as exciting as what I heard tonight. They had me tripping in the same way that Spiritualized or Wire will pull me in. That makes me a major fan and I will certainly be back for the next tour through town.

Photo of the Night: I recently discovered that he truly is Dr. John (with Dr. Alain Toussaint and another more recognizable person).

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mudhoney - Cheap Time -- U Street Music Hall - Sep 23 2013

Cheap Time - Nice'n'sleazy rock'n'roll is dished up by this Nashville trio. It is quick to hear why they are on a bill with Mudhoney as they offer plenty of fuzz, crazed vocals, and galloping rhythms. Some of the songs went on a bit long with too much one-note vocals, but the songs and set improved as it went along. I believe their non-stop-no time for chatter approach helped keep the momentum strong. One song almost hit the heights of he Stooges Raw Power and could have been an outtake. The raucous set was over with the large crowd that filled the venue on this Monday night. One lesson to be learned is that if you don't have anything clever to say in between songs, why not keep grinding it out and build your set with non-stop energy. I started as a guy scribbling notes and finished as someone fully involved and rocking out.
Mudhoney - This completes a six-day run that started with DOA, went to Comus and Shirley Collins and now finishes up with yet another of my favorites of all-time. It is hard to write about bands that you think are so utterly brilliant. At least this time I have a little distance as I don't know anyone in the band, although like many fans I feel I do. Mudhoney's vision of a dark and dirty brand of rock music is one of the best of all-time and they still manage to deliver the goods in their straight forward full speed ahead approach decades later. Little has changed since I saw the show in New York earlier this year, although there were at least a couple unique songs from their back catalog in this set. They finished with a trio of covers from Fang, Dicks, and Black Flag that shows their excellent taste and ability to continue excellent themes. The sound was loud, almost too much, but the subtle guitar twists did manage to cut through, while Mark Arm's vocals were strong, as they can capably pierce through a fully operational construction zone. Mudhoney also banged out the music with only a few breaks. This was an early show that finished by ten, so with the fist band's 34 minutes and Mudhoney's 86, the two hours of music was probably closer to 2 1/2 to 3 for most bands. This set ripped and Mudhoney remains an essential band, one I will gladly see as many times as I can on the same tour--something that can only be said for my absolute favorites.

Quote of the Night: From a guy behind me right after the set while we awaited the encore... "I'm clapping for all you lazy motherfuckers up there!"

I agree with that as I want to say to the 'cooler than thou' types standing in front of me, that if you are done, you can go home. Yet, the encore cliche is such a bore, I understand how tiresome the role of calling the band back can be. There was certainly enough noise tonight for their six-song encore. Still, I do have an appreciation for the Wedding Present who has never done an encore and will warn people before hand.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Comus - Shirley Collins - Hladowski & Joynes -- Islington Assembly Hall (London) - Sep 21 -2013

Hladowski & Joynes - It is a rare road appearance for DC ROCK LIVE as I head to London for about 30 hours to ensure that I take in this once in a lifetime billing. The venue is a classy hall with a huge stage, plenty of seating downstairs and a balcony (about Fillmore sized). It is full of serious music lovers who are almost certainly with me in anticipation of seeing two absolutely essential artists from different poles of the UK folk scene. But first is an unknown duo for me and I believe much of the audience. We can all quickly see why they are on this bill as this folk duo has an ethereal, classic English folk style that sounds like something you would discover deep into a 1960s/1970s folk record collector's list. Hladowski offers exquisite female vocals and light percussion, while Joynes plays fingerstyle acoustic guitar with an occasional harmony vocal. If you have ever heard Joan Mills and Michael Raven, then you will have a clear idea of this sound. This duo manages to capture that ancient folk tradition where it is easy to conjure up historical images and moods captured in books, movies, Pre-Raphaelite paintings, and much more. This is a lovely 35 minute set that went over well with this wise audience. There is not much new in the music or interpretation, but there are not many performers that can capture this sound so well.
Shirley Collins - I was stunned to see the 78-year old English cultural legend (Billy Bragg's description) on the bill. I had heard she retired quite some time ago, but see that she is still performing in a different manner. Ms. Collins (actually with an MBE, I believe it is Dame Collins) is joined by actor Pip Barnes as they narrate a program called "I'm a Romany Rai". This is one of three illustrated (power point) talks that Shirley Collins performs that all relate to historical folk songs. One of the talks focus on America, where in her early years worked with husband Alan Lomax as they chronicled Appalachian Folk and Mississippi Delta blues singers and songs. That is one, but tonight it is one of her two UK programs, this one focusing on Gypsy singers and the folk songs of Southern England. She packed a lot of interesting history with some amusing stories as photos of the artists and scenes of the times flashed by. There were several recordings from these artists that they played and most of these are available on a compact disc she edited. I have read her excellent biography focusing on her work in America, so it was nice to see the same effort and detail here in this English program. There was much to take in, both in history and music, and I was rapt the entire time.
Comus - Quite simply, there is no band that plays in a traditional format that sounds as wildly unique as Comus. Rather than write a chapter on their amazing history, I would advise any serious music fan to do the research. It is a strange tale with 1971's "First Utterance" is one of the most amazing albums of all-time. They reformed about five years ago as a huge cult of fans (including me) from all over the world went to Stockholm to see their return. The overwhelming response has kept them going with spot shows in Europe and Japan and a new recording of three new songs, along with an archival suite. Although they were to play "First Utterance" in entirety tonight, I was happy that they worked in the newer material as well. As it turned out, there was an enforced curfew that did not allow them to play "Bite" and "Bitten", but the 69 minutes they played, displayed all the magic of their music and showcased the incredible skills of every member. Five of the Six members are original, with Bobbie Watson's husband Jon Seagroatt has been here all five years, covering the flute and percussion parts and even adding a touch of sax to the newer cuts. Even when they get a little lost or all have to follow lead singer/guitarist Roger Wooten's pace, they are all so skilled and know this music so deeply, they easily pull it together. Most of they time, they are fully locked in and not only are they as transportive as any band you could imagine, but they transport you to places that no bands had ever been before, and very few can get anywhere near since. The first time I saw them the crowd had a shared sense of disbelief that the show was even happening. This time around, there is more of an understanding of their present existence, but there was no less a sense of marvel at the amazing music from this extraordinary band.

Quote of the Day - From me as I thought I recognized the person who took a seat behind me...

It was not terribly surprising that Thurston Moore would be here, as I recall a conversation with him many years back where Comus came up. He is a friend of a friend, so I have not chatted with him much over they years, although his musical taste is obviously quite well known publicly. He was quite happy he could attend tonight for Comus and Shirley Collins, so I'll leave with his succinct reaction after the show...

"That was amazing."

Friday, September 20, 2013

No Joy - Alex Calder -- DC9 - Sep 19 2013

Alex Calder - When your authorized biography uses a line in it like "to call his music lazy would be misdirected", you can be assured that this will be an artist that will polarize or at least confuse listeners. I would wager this live set seemed even more designed to do that than his recordings would. The Canadian Calder sings and plays guitar with another guitarist and a rhythm section. There were some decent songs and spirited playing in a light dancing sort of way, even as they followed solid rock and pop styles. The polarization occurred in two ways, both of which pushed me away from them. I had dark visions of an awful Replacements show where the drunken Westerberg and the gang played a few seconds or minutes of cover songs they didn't know for about 3/4 of their set. This time, the band did know the King of the Hill theme song which they spliced in half at different points of the set. That was ok, but I could have done without the portion of Pink Floyd's "Money". The other thing was that the vocals were all done well in one microphone with the other one set to falsetto used only for the three front people to do their stage patter, never breaking from helium registers. It was funny for 5 seconds--10 if you are less of a curmudgeon. But to give them a blurb... 'Alex Calder's set was far better than the Replacements!'
No Joy - This Montreal trio features two women on guitars and vocals with a drummer and they are supplemented by the bass player from the previous set. Immediately this has a strong rocking Sonic Youth sound. In fact, I have to look closely to make sure I am not seeing a new band from Kim Gordon. As they play on I detect some Mission of Burma in here too, as this has a brisk mobile flow to it. There are post-punk moves, shoegaze sounds, great harmonies, but the music rocks and pulls you in. They did not muck about and kept the music coming. They played for only a half-hour, although I think that was ok for this go around. I believe they may need a bit more variety for longer sets. Although there was one longer cut that had a groove that the Swans would find a way to stretch out even further into a 20 minute opus that would stay interesting throughout. So I am optimistic that this fine band will be around a while and will be getting even better.

Quote of the Night: From the bass player early in the A.Calder set (in falsetto)... "Do you guys like this music?"

If you have to ask...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

D.O.A. - Nervous Impulse -- Black Cat - Sep 18 - 2013

Nervous Impulse - This local quartet lashes into a a classic hardcore punk set with songs that show a full understanding of the style, as well as the rock hooks at the heart of the best of it. No surprise then, to learn that these guys have all been in other successful bands like the Goons, among others. So they are a perfect choice to open this night of classic punk rock. They have the musical chops to keep pace with their energy. The crowd was here early and was fully engaged in this set, as well they should. I would be happy to see them again anytime at all.
D.O.A. - This band has been far too much a part of my life to get an objective review from me. They were one of the most brilliant live punk bands in the world, maybe the best. They have circled the globe in beat-up vans and banged up equipment all held together with duct-tape and a determination to make the next town and rev up the crowd to give them a great night of music as well as to instill the desire for them to go out and actively pursue worthy goals. You don't need to take my word for it, just read Joe Keithley's autobiography while listening to the hundreds of songs recorded over the decades. In fact, it has been three and a half decades and Joe has decided the time has come to shut it down. Thankfully, he is pushing hard and touring Canada, America, and Europe before calling it a career. And thankfully the Black Cat brought them back to DC with a packed backstage room of old and young alike. The crowd was either energetic or smiling during the full of the hour set of DOA classics, as the band delivered yet again. I hardly care that the drums may have been a bit loud in the mix, due possibly to their youngest member doing one of the better takes on the Chuck Biscuits style that any of their drummers had ever done. The bass player, Dirty Dan Sedan, has been doing this for quite a while and was on the mark again tonight. And of course, Joe Keithley handled vocals and full guitar duties with his usual manner of intensity and light humor when appropriate. I normally look pretty stoic and intense even when I am enjoying a set, but tonight there was my stupid grin plastered on my face, although there was a sadness present that this important chapter of my life is closing. Joe Keithley will be writing many other chapters in politics and with his label, as well as anything else he chooses. And I will be paying attention, along with many many more.

Quote of the Night: Joe Keithley to his band mates backstage about a visit we had nine or ten years ago... "Yeah, Dave came over to my house for dinner and Monday Night Football. The Raiders jumped all over the Broncos and led 21 to 0 in the first quarter, about the last time they were good."

Man, of all of the things he has going on in his life, he gets this memory exactly right? Amazing.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Preview of Upcoming Attractions - Late September

As always, the more interesting shows will be in my recommended section on the right of the main column here. But here are some videos and audios of some of the acts that will be featured there. So peruse and enjoy.

Bleu plays the Jammin' Java on Tuesday, September 17th. This adventurous power pop singer has recorded a duet with Alexz Johnson and should bring some interesting sounds to this classic form.

DOA hits the Black Cat in their final year as one of the most important punk bands in history. Along with Black Flag, DOA taught the punk world how to tour and Joe Keithley is a world class leader of bands, labels, and just about anything else. Do join me this Wednesday at the Black Cat.

No Joy is at the DC9 this Thursday, September 19th. Check out this tune and see if you want to join the joyous music of No Joy.

Sarah Jarosz hits the big stage at the Birchmere on Wednesday, September 25th.

Nedelle Torrisi is opening for Julia Holter at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Thursday, September 26th.

Blitzen Trapper have long been one of Portland's finest. They have graced DC stages on a number of successful tours and are back with a new album at the Black Cat on Friday, September 27th.

Club Scout is an exciting 'new' local band that I enjoy a lot. I think you will,too. They will be at the Velvet Lounge on Saturday, September 28th.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Supersuckers - Hellbound Glory - Dot Dash -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Sep 12 2013

Dot Dash - This venerable local quartet has long been a solid entry on many a bill in DC and I was looking forward to seeing them again for the first time in quite a while. There are changes. They have a new album which I will be reviewing in a couple of weeks. Also, there is a new guitarist making his debut tonight. The core rhythm section along with the lead vocals/rhythm guitarist is still on hand to grind out their well aged brand of post-punk power pop. They were as tight as ever and the lead guitarist fit in well. He was no doubt playing it safe, but he was on the mark and occasionally provided a little flourish to these sharp little numbers. I like how there is room to breathe in this music that is often missing in overly precise power pop bands. Just a little jangle and undulation from the rhythm section can do a lot and these guys get it done. Oh, and a nice Crime shirt on the bassist. It makes me wonder while in all my years, I can not recall seeing a single cover of a Crime song (maybe once, but I can't place it). Step up, someone.

Hellbound Glory - These four guys immediately sound like they've earned their name. They play a mix of brazen honkytonk stompers and country rock ballads that are assertive and rocking and don't really fit country music or alt country very well. And that is to their credit as they have a fun attitude and rugged sound that brings life to a stage no matter how rocking or non-country the the other bands are. The brothers in the rhythm section play with power and intense steadiness allowing the singer/guitarist to cut loose and inject his sense of fun and adventure into his songs. There is a guy on a washboard who sings a little and his washboard is pretty much inaudible, which is no loss as far as I'm concerned. So these are simple, straight forward songs that will hit you at the gut level. They played for 50 minutes, but they seem like they could be like one of those bands of old that could play 6 hour long sets throughout the night. Hopefully the tour will go well for them and they will be back. They have the look of real road warriors, so I fully expect to see them next year.
Supersuckers - I have not seen this band since maybe their second album tour a couple decades back. They were a grungy punk band that played fast and with a bit of humor in that growing Seattle scene that they moved to from their far quieter Tucson origins. I kind of lost track as they went cowpunk and had their ups and downs as most bands do. I was not expecting much tonight, but was pleasantly surprised that they still had a fast energetic garage punk sound. There were leanings toward cowpunk, but the energy was strong throughout and there was the usual sense of barely controlled abandon here. The sound was awfully muddy at first, but the soundman pulled it together by the third song and gave them plenty of room to sound dirty and nasty, but allow us to hear it all and make some sense out of it. Mr. Edward Spaghettward is still at the top of the stage with his gnarled lead vocals and nimble bass playing. The drums are swift and the guitarists trade slide moves with bar-room solos sped up a few rpms. Good stuff, no real major reinvention or essential permanence, but a lot of fun for a night in the clubs.

Quote of the Night: From Hellbound Glory's singer while talking to the soundman regarding monitors... "Lots of me, I sound the best."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Chelsea Wolfe - True Widow -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Sep11 2013

True Widow - This Texas trio describes themselves as 'stonegaze'. I have not heard that one before, but it is a good place to start with their particular brand of sludge/drone metal. They maintain a lento pace and shine most when they sneak in some psychedlic feelings into the mix. They are warmer than others of this sort (more stoner than metal, I suppose) and have a fair command on their style. At times, I find myself drifting away but then they do enough to pull me back in. There was one cut with some dazzling harmonies that fully brought me to the exciting part of their world. From then on, they had my respect and reminded me how this sort of music should be a part of everyone's lives. Not every day perhaps, but it is a great way to drift away with thoughts and get a crunching rock environment to observe along the way. This was a good start, but I hope these three continue to expand their ideas as they could really rise to something special if they find their best and grow from there.
Chelsea Wolfe - While more often than not, a picture is worth far less than 1,000 words, I think the above photo may prove the saying true as it captures a glimpse into what makes this fascinating artist and her band work so well. But allow me to expand with another hundred words or more. After a long progressive-gothic intro, the band expands the sound with their guitar, bass and keyboard combo, and drums. Ms. Wolfe enters to add some guitar and most importantly her powerful and chilling vocals. It is impossible for someone who grew up as I did, not to think of Siouxsie Sioux at this point, but I also hear a cross between Grace Slick and Sonja Kristina (Curved Air). The air of heaviness from the first band's set is still present, but this band shapes it into a sleek, chromium plated drive shaft of sound that has an edge of the seat intensity about it, no matter the pace or volume. They have subtle shifts in their songs, yet the command of the atmosphere is as strong as any band you could name. They are cool, precise, and have a quiet intensity in their playing and vocals that builds up or drills deep. It was not surprising to see a diverse crowd of varied music lovers at rapt attention throughout this set. Chelsea Wolfe clearly has something going here.

Quote of the Night: As I walked to the club, there was this exchange from somewhere behind me...
Child: "Mommy hit me on the head."
Mom: "I didn't touch you."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Scout Niblett - Dope Body - Roomrunner -- Comet Ping Pong - Sep 10 2013

Roomrunner - Too fucking loud.

Dope Body - Still too fucking loud, although I detect a band in there somewhere.
Scout Niblett - Here is a three piece band that is able to create drama and power through managing pace and volume coupled with transcendent vocal maneuvering. I really enjoyed her recent album, and even with only a listen or two a few weeks ago, the songs came to full life in my memory with her passionate interpretations tonight. She started with just guitar and voice for the first song, with the drummer joining her half way through the second. Another guitarist completed the line-up in third song with some intriguing snaking solos that had a cleaner contrasting tone. The vocals were strong throughout and pulled me into the magic of these songs for the entire time. It is amazing what a little control, thought, and style can do in a live musical setting. This English woman is a veteran, but is still expanding the dent in the USA. She appears to be well on her way and it would be worth your time to see if you want to be a part of it all.

Quote of the Night: Some nameless person looking at me at my spot outside the door furthest away from the PA where I could still see the stage sometime between the second and third bands... "It's so sad."

Monday, September 9, 2013

Spiritualized - Guy Blakeslee -- 9:30 Club - Sep 8 2013

Guy Blakeslee - I knew I knew this name, but it did not immediately hit me that this singer/guitarist originally from Baltimore was the driving force behind Entrance Band. And although there were many times I was crying out for some of EB's rhythm section support for his songs, his brilliance was more than enough to carry his music forward. He did employ some backings and loops with drumbeats and synth-guitar washes to give a dreamy foundation to his spacey guitar and soaring voice. This was very psychedelic, yet there was a nice pop component  in here as well (I am not sure the trendy popsike applies here). Seeing him solo reminds me of a character who recorded under the name Nicodemus--the oddball biker loner from Michigan, and not the metal band. This was a great 38 minute set and it was a shame people were still filing in. Why was this needed to begin so early if there was going to be a 45 minute gap between bands? I think I know the answer, but the people who got here early were rewarded with not only some great music, but a nice mood setting lead-in to the headliner.
Spiritualized - I have seen this band twice before. They absolutely blew me away the first time and although it is hard for me to get blown away a second time, it happened again a couple years back at this very club. Jason Pierce is back again with what looks like the same band and at least is the same lineup of guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and two female backing singers to add to his lead vocals and guitar. So could they blow me away a third time? Well, not tonight, although in trying to assess why, I think it was more to do with me than them. They still play such a warm inviting brand of psychedelic folk music that rocks out, goes soulful, and offers whatever Jason Pierce dreams up with his personal approach to a global musical stage. He does conjure up more imagery for me than that of most bands, with rolling English hills and gnarled city streets all whisking by as the band takes great care in caressing their notes. This still is a great band to see live and they did a fine job tonight. Considering very few bands create an out of body experience for me, I won't hold it against them that they are now becoming merely a comfortable high quality band for me.

Photo of the Day: Although this is a wind-up, it made me smile...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Night Beds - The Sweater Set -- Black Cat - Sep 5 2013

The Sweater Set - It is a hot and crowded backstage room at the Black Cat and there is plenty of noise coming from the bar. Normally, conditions could not be worse for an acoustic folk set, but the Sweater Set took command of the stage and the audience who in turn were fully involved with this music. Two powerful voices, perfect in harmony and equally capable to lead, were the key to making this music sing. There was guitar and banjo accompaniment with a bit of percussion, glockenspiel, and accordion at times to place something delicate underneath the soaring voices. I have not seen them in over a year and this time around the sound (as well as the rapt audience) did not let them down and allowed every quiet note to come through loud and clear. They needlessly apologized for leaving DC for the promised land of Brooklyn only to return to where they are most comfortable. We are happy to have them back and any acoustic folk act that can get a whole room quiet at the Black Cat is definitely one you should be paying attention to.

Night Beds - This band is pretty much Winston Yellen who does the songwriting, singing and guitar work. He is accompanied tonight by a drummer and a steel guitarist, which is the only real problem I had with this show. Yellen has a magnificent voice and it is not a stretch to say he is in the neighborhood of the Buckleys. If not the range, he certainly shares their ability to build and recede emotions through long and strong vocal lines. The songs are balanced between pop and alt country, which fits in with his Nashville base. The drumming is solid, but the steel guitar distracts me far more than it enhances the material. I have succeeded in accepting this instrument more than I used to, but this was a step back as its cloying, wavering moves were just too prominent in the arrangements. The songs were quite good and any of the many fans of Bon Iver would easily get into Night Beds immediately. They packed the room tonight, which unfortunately made it a little hot and stuffy. The songs and the singing were still powerful enough to distract enough from that. The sincerity in the music was effective and it was easy to believe him when he said that this was one of his three favorite places to play. Yellen is a talent, but I would like to see a fuller band (or even a solo effort) next time around. That is just me, as I would guess most of this room will return to see Night Beds in any format.

Quote of the Night: Yellen... "Is it ok if I come out there and sing a song with you"
Audience - (light applause) "Yeah".
Me - "No."

Sorry to be the curmudgeon, but I would like to see the 'go into the middle of the audience and sing off microphone' to be retired.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Magik Markers - Troll Tax -- Black Cat - Sep 4 2013

Troll Tax - This local band tells us their name is wrong and they are actually Robo Superstar. Ooookay, that and other inside jokes sail right over my head. I hope their friends are enjoying the stage patter as little of it makes any sense here. Fortunately, when the music kicked in, they were quite good... until that fell apart. The guitar, bass, and drums laid down a foundation of brisk garage punk. That left room for dual vocalists, male and female, to playfully spar while a keyboard dotted the i's and crossed the t's. They really nailed a Rezillos sound with the vocals and pop-punk hooks, while one song had a guitar solo straight from the Pete Shelley soundbook. This never goes out of style when it works well and over half of this set was excellent. They had some equipment snafus, a couple of lesser songs, and also started switching instruments creating a situation where the drums could have been better played by about half the audience. I don't know if switching instruments really adds much in most cases or just lets musically talented drummers get a chance on guitar. Still, I do not want to lose focus on this being a fun band with lots of good qualities. Hopefully they can find a way to keep their breezy attitude as they tighten up a bit.
Magik Markers - This is the fourth time I have seen this intense trio, now from Northampton, MA I hear from my sources up there. They have come a long way from that first tour with Sonic Youth in 2004. Back then, they impressed the large crowd with the energetic and intense focus of Elisa Ambrogio and her band. They have taken that start and focused it into an even stronger musical vision, that although draws on a lot of the NYC No Wave movement like Swans and Suicide, easily remains something personal and profound. They retain their intensity while moving with it into drones that shine with crackling drum beats, odd guitar moves, and vocals that pull back and thrust forward with equal drama and passion. Quite unlike the Swans, they continue to do this in short sets--playing for 42 minutes tonight. But that seems right to me as they allow you to focus on every song, such as the opener which sounds like Bardo Pond's hit single that they will never write to the closing guitar noise and rhythmic throb. Not every music lover has it in them to link up with music like this, but the crowd tonight did and the Magik Markers continue to reach those distant points that make for such satisfying connections.

Quote of the Night: From E.A.... "Accuracy and professionalism--these are two words when said, you immediately think of Magik Markers."

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Preview of Upcoming Attractions - Early September

Night Beds come backstage to the Black Cat this Thursday, September 5th.

Scout Niblett hits town with some energetic music from their recent album and will be at the Comet Ping Pong on Tuesday, September 10th.

Chelsea Wolf is yet another of those 'wolf' bands, but one of the more deserving of your time. Spend it this Wednesday, September 11th at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel.

Hellbound Glory heads to town to play with the Supersuckers on Thursday, September 12th at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel. Be sure to get there early to see DC's Dot Dash for what will be a great show front-to-back.

Monday, September 2, 2013

RECORD REVIEWS - August 2013


This local metal band delivers seven mostly instrumental metal burners which should be of great interest to alt metal fans. They do sneak in vocals, especially in the brilliant "Malachai's Lament" which mixes on psychedelic moves with heavy hooks and ethereal vocal work. There are progressive moves that almost move into fusion territory, yet the heavy rocking base is always there to anchor these songs into a cohesive album. I am a sucker for acoustic moves on heavy albums and not only does "las arenas lobo" meet that need, it almost sounds like an unfinished them from "Forever Changes". Although the vocals work so well and would be welcome to be used even more, the instrumental creativity is high enough to last for a whole album or live set. Although they mostly keep the approach rather straight forward, if (like me) you are a fan of local acts like Caustic Casanova, Murder Troy, and Borracho, then Admiral Browning will be right in your wheelhouse and offers a lot of potential live and for future records.


I first saw Aisha Burns play in the interesting Austin collective Balmorhea. They had a lot of dense instrumentation and Ms. Burns' violin and electric guitar were an integral part of their unique sound. As is usually the case, a solo effort from such a dynamic group features more stripped down music. That is preferable here as it allows more time with her fascinating vocal range that can soar high in the treble clef or quickly drop into a husky alto reminding me a bit of Phoebe Snow or Joan Armatrading. The guitars, violins, and other light instrumentation are delicate and airy creating a mystical back drop that although has elements of her home base of Austin, can extend to the more mystical Brit-folk vistas created by the likes of Bridget St. John or Joan Mills. Yet there are some string arrangements and droning tones in "Requiem" which alter the formula while staying true to the style and theme. This is a full nine-song album and although I usually recommend individual songs, her style is most effective and mesmerizing if the album is played in full. This one has already made it through the relisten stage and is destined for many more in this household. I highly recommend you get the music of Aisha Burns into your life as well.

Powerful rock with real garage punk attitude is never unwelcome in this house, especially with female vocals that soar Pauline Murray (Penetration) like while pulling back to a low snarl as well. The guitar noise is particularly special in surrounding the voice with furious waves of semi-melodic noise. If you ever wanted to imagine what your favorite shoe gaze band sounded like if they played hardcore than this is your record. If you want to cross Joy Formidable with Ice Age you get something in the ballpark. There are only three songs here, so they will have to prove a bit more to be fully included in a grouping with those two previous bands, but this is a nice start.

Is this power pop? I suppose so as it emits a certain Husker Du/Nils/Lemonheads feeling much of the time. But like those bands, Club Scout understands punk and post-punk moves and is not afraid to stray from their catchy melodies to something interesting and daring. The music is just busy enough to offer a lot more to listeners that want more than 1-2-3-4, yet these songs are still as catchy as anything you may have heard on AM radio decades back. This band has clearly worked hard on their song craft and have not rushed into recording the first thoughts in their brain. There is evidence on nearly every song of some creative spark that you would not expect in the first draft. This flows with no loss of energy and has just enough shifts of style in a few places to prevent any monotony, if for some reason you spend hour upon hour listening to bands in this broad genre. This is an excellent band that should be due for a break out here in DC and beyond. Don't wait until the train is full.

Their CD release party is at the Velvet Lounge on Saturday, September 28th. For $10, you get three bands and Club Scout will also include a CD for you. Why would you go to another club?

Songs to try out first:

Jersey Wall - I will start with the closer. It will be tempting to play this gem first, but let the band's magic work before this epic track finishes the album.

Watch the Kids Cross the Crosswalk - They offer a fascinating alt-rock change-up here that works extremely well.

Saw You with Devon - Striking guitar chords surround edgy vocals in this stirring little rocker.

This sounds like it would be a pleasure to hear this band live. The record is another matter. They play an agreeable indie rock with spacey vocals and guitars with a mixture of fuzz and jangle. They approach shoe gaze, quirky folk, but unfortunately seem to float away from anything substantial to grab on to. I often find this style of music frustrating, although it can be quite popular. It is akin to wanting to get wild at night and laugh and raise a ruckus while your friends just want sit stoned out of their mind. They may be able to cut loose live, but they played it too safe and straight forward here.

But see for yourself as they hit the Black Cat on Tuesday, September 3rd.

Songs to try out first:

Nature's Cup - The electric guitar breaks out nicely from their comfortable rhythm and melody.

Here and There - Real outsider folk rock with this strange little song.

World Without Love - Vocals in harmony and rounds with a goofy smile instrumental side of the melody.

I have enjoyed this band's live set at the Black Cat previously and was looking forward to their third album. Their name instantly throws down the gauntlet as to declaring to use their sense of humor in their songs. They eschew jokes and keep a playful tone throughout their tunes in an Akron/Family atmosphere. They range from early 1960s space rock/pop to heavier psychedelic nuggets. They never lose their masterful hooks no matter how heavy vs. spacey or light vs. dark they choose. There is a circus feeling of some ancient time where the the world is mysterious and larger than life for the child within. It could be scary, but there are smiles and good vibes all around, so you keep moving among the light an bustle. I am completely enchanted by album's end. This is brilliant work and so much more superior to what passes as the new psychedelia these days. This album is not due out until late October, but I could not wait to give this a listen and write a review. So be patient, and in less than two months, go nuts and give this one a listen and hope they head back to a DC club soon.

And it appears that the Black Cat may open their doors again for band and fans alike on November 21st.

Songs to try out first:

Find a Love - A Twilight Zone calliope sound morphs into a playful pop psyche nugget with extreme head swaying.

Want Some - If Joe Meek had not have killed his landlady and then himself, he might be around to produce a song like this.

Looking for More - Italian Western music through a thick have of opium mist.

This band could be the Joy Formidable (and I honestly did not know they were from Cardiff when I first listened and mad this connection), had they spent a little more time in the garage and worked on a slightly less shoe gaze, but just as heavy approach. There is that same dichotomy of cute pop mixed with ferociously noisy guitars, bass, and drums. It is a very inviting style and Joanna Gruesome manages it well. There is a post-hardcore feeling at times and glimpses of psychedelia dotted about. Basically, this band has a firm grasp on a few different styles and adjusts their playing to the mood of the song. The compare and contrast nature of styles in these songs is fascinating and should hold interest for many re-listens.

Songs to try out first:

Sugarcrush - This well named song is sweet with a monster kick.

Lemonade Grrrl - I don't know which I like better, the dual vocals or the rapid fire drums (ok, I do, it's the drums)

Graveyard - This starts of as a creative rock song and all of a sudden a hardcore powerhouse emerges. Great sounds and contrasts.

After a couple of cuts, I felt we were in for a nice solid pop record where the nasal-cute vocals may turn off some, but be welcomed by others (I like them). It was the third cut, "Sun Medallion", where my jaw dropped. This was a wild foray into psychedelic pop that had was full or surprise and wonder. It reminded me of Jacco Gardner and I only wished they would have done more of this. Even without this song, this is a decent enough pop work with a bouncy step and a quick beat. They do generate a certain flair in their songs and I think it will take additional listens to fully figure out the intricacies of this simple music that is far from simple. They claim this is pure Vermont Rock and Roll record, and like staking your flag on a tiny island, they have claimed their territory, accurately from my experience. Like many of the great garage bands of the past, this album may be listened to in order to find the singles or favorite songs and add them to your playlist (apologies for the time loop).

Come out to the Black Cat for a killer show with King Tuff, Wavves, and the Jacuzzi Boys. It's Saturday, October 5th.

Songs to try out first:

Sun Medallion - The opening sounds before the vocal melody starts are amazing, and then the song stays at a high level. And I see they agree with me on this being 'the song' as they have a video of it on Rolling Stone.

Ruthie Ruthie - A noisy little rocker that is still catchy pop as well.

Kind of Guy - No surprises here, just a solid powerful psyche rocker.

This highly British-styled dream pop band has some real strength within their songs. The vocals steadily deliver floating passages somewhere between Syd Barrett and Ride. Yet the music, mices west coast jangle and modest post punk guitar above crisp percussion, much of which by Lorelei's Davis White. There are lovely electronic synth touches weaving their way into the sound that help build up a thick sonic environment that is still light enough to float away with. Actually, the best comparison I can make is to an obscure band called Folklords who had this similar sound but kept it a little lighter in the psychedelic folk style. So in all, this has some interesting melodies and sounds combined in a way to connect with the listener on some level and may just take you to some surprising places.

Come see them at the Galaxy Hut in Clarendon for a cozy show on Sunday, September 29th

Songs to try out first:

Stanley Milgram Experiment - The opener establishes the lush pop atmosphere with nice propulsion of the connective instrumentation.

8239 - This really connects on that light British rock level.

Where the Crow Flies - This has the most contrast between dream pop an jangly rock of anything I've heard.

As most of my readers know, I really worry about two-instrument bands like the guitar/drums combos that have bread like rabbits since the White Stripes. But fear not, when you get it right, I will be first in line to applaud. Scout Niblett has it down with her intense vocals that maintain a certain mystery and delicacy atop her intense and bluesy electric guitar. There are drums working there way in much of the time and some stings as well. This could be folky singer-songwriter indie rock type material if the desire was there to play it safe with comfortable sounds. This is far more sparse and even with all the sharp edges evident, there is plenty of space to relax and float into this musical environment that Scout Niblett manages to concoct.

Come see Scout Niblett at the Comet Ping Pong on September 10th. I'll be there.

Songs to try out first:

Gun - Right out of the gate, she aims her musical gun at you at let's you think a long time before the trigger is squeezed.

Can't Fool Me Now - Dreamy indie rock? That doesn't begin to describe this fascinating hybrid song.

Could this Possibly Be - If this query is on whether this is the most ferociously intense song, then it is yes.

This is the fourth album from this prolific English rock band and the first one I have listened to all the way through. This is a very solid production with intricate playing and studio work. The vocals are emotive in sort of a Bono way and the band sounds like they could be from anywhere. That can be a strength or a weakness depending on your perspective. I don't mind it here, although at times I would like to see this band do some more daring material. The material is far more intimate than U2 or any of the 'big' bands as Noah and the Whale still maintain a fairly independent approach to mainstream rock music. It is a bit clean for me at times, but I would expect this to reach a broader base of music lovers more than many of my personal favorites would. This should (and no doubt will) find the largest audience of anything I have reviewed this month.

They will no doubt sell a lot of tickets for their 9:30 Club show on Wednesday, October 16th.

Songs to try out first:

Heart of Nowhere - The title cut is a smart rock song that drips with fine production.

All Through the Night - A prolific rock song that has a grandeur to it, with the slightest trace of grit.

One More Night - Story telling lyrics are more involving than most with a melody to match.

Calling this folk rock would understate the delicate folk nature of the singing and guitar work. But there are bass and drums that keep an easy going rock beat throughout these ten songs. The folk moves are strong and this does not head off to a Californian singer songwriter style. There are some modern touches with the electronics, but this is infrequent. Vocals and guitar star in their own quiet manner. I am not sure if they really are from Beaver Island Michigan which is a tiny island west of Sheboygan and southeast of Marquette, but that quiet out of the way isolation is evident in these songs. This could make Bon Iver's cabin songs look like urban dance music. No matter the background, the music here is steady and will pull you into its world until it gently relaxes its hold with the soft piano strikes in "Gravity's Rainbow". Although there are subtle adjustments in instrumentation, I still would have liked just a bit more variety and contrast personally. Although there is enough quality to sustain a full absorbed trip with this record, I would hope the next one would do some different things. But that is getting way ahead of myself.

They are scheduled for DC at the Velvet Lounge on the 13th of October.

Songs to try out first:

The Landlord - There is simply a classic folk feeling with only the slightest rock feeling.

Greatest Living Author - The longest cut also has an intriguing journey with odd, yet simple percussion moves breaking it up.

First Flight - The nicest melody with some bouncy piano and crisp drumming.

I rarely hear good attempts to marry folk and electronics into this genre known as folktronica. I was worried that this album may head too much in that direction. Thankfully, Jonathan Rado of the fine band Foxygen and Cara Robbins quickly dispel this notion as each song takes on wildly new directions exploring a minimum of three dimensions. This is truly psychedelic music, not only with fuzzy guitars, echoey voices, and trippy songs, but also with the sheer variety of styles and wild shifts song by song. "Dance Away Your Ego" is a whacked out early sixties electronic piece placed in between two scorching fuzzy rockers. Then it is on to the outsider folk of "Faces" before it descends down the electric vortex. Maybe this will be too much for some, but I can not get enough of it. Good grief, there is even some reggae here, actually a bit on the dub side. This one is set for multiple plays in this household and if there is an ounce of daring in your DNA, then you should do the same.

Songs to try out first:

Hand in Mine - Glorious song with male/female call and response vocals in Joe Meek like song if he was still in the producer's chair.

Looking 4a Girl Like U - Tripped out vocals, psychedelic guitar and a slow and steady pace explore the space between Eraserhead's Girl in the Radiator and the space beyond.

Would You Always Be at Home - Amidst the weirdness, here's a hit single--I"m just not sure if it's a hit in 1967 or 2013.

There is some fine post-hardcore snarl here, both in the guitars and vocals. This LP follows reasonably melodic principles but has everything going 90 mph along cliff's edge. The rhythm section bubbles up with an oily goo that is both quick and thick. The vocals remind me a bit of the Proletariat, good, but are sometimes grating with their invariant upper register snarl. Still the sheer determination combined with some inventive musical twists propel this music forward and make for some engaging listening. I really enjoy how punk and hardcore have evolved in some bands' hands, and would like to see DC clubs give touring bands like this a night in town instead of the frequent Richmond to Baltimore route that seems to be connected by the hardcore highway. Hopefully this Brooklyn trio will make it down to a club near me.

Songs to try out first:

Knifeback City - This is some truly gnarly post punk guitar work.

Plastic Vampire Teeth - Kind of a classic punk rock vibe working here with catchy chorus.

Have Some - The opening guitar line won me over immediately.