Friday, February 28, 2014

Caroline Smith - Ayo Awosika -- Jammin Java - Feb 27 2014

Ayo Awosika - She may be a towering presence on stage, but Ayo Awosika creates a friendly environment that is just what is needed on this very cold evening. She is a New Yorker originally from this area and appears to be just getting going with one EP out and an LP on the way. She handles all the vocals tonight and mostly plays keyboard, but donning a guitar for a few songs. The keyboard songs had a strong R&B flavor to them, while the guitar took it toward the light rock/singer songwriter mode. Even with this stripped down sound, the quality of the rhythm section gave this plenty of lively sound. Awosika's vocals soared and definitely starred through most of these songs. Her keyboards worked well punctuating the rhythms of her song and even her guitar work in one song had a fascinating droning style to it. Lots of fun sounds and composed songs here and she rightly got a big ovation from a big crowd tonight.
Caroline Smith - I won't complain about the cold in DC as Caroline Smith comes from Minneapolis and probably the worst thing about her lengthy tour is that she did not start it even earlier this winter. But there were no complaints from her or the crowd, as she was able to extend the warm feeling from the opening set and fully embrace it in her set. The sound is quite similar with only Smith's guitar working with a keyboardist most of the time.  There are also two female backing vocalists who add some flourish to Smith's fine vocal work. Again, the music is a mix of R&B, singer songwriter rock, along with some lounge appeal. I was reviewing a record recently and thinking how I am at the right age to enjoy the lounge music I heard as a child in the 1960s as it was jazz based, but incorporated rock as well as a certain showbiz panache. Caroline Smith is one of many artists who seems to have brought back a bit of that style, even as her music fits most comfortably in many modern settings. All in all, a fine night of music enjoyed by a large, happy crowd.
Plug of the Night: Folkworld returns! The new issue of Folkworld is out with a few reprinted features you first saw here and over seventy reviews I wrote which you did not see here. Check 'em out if you wish, because I am sure not reading them again. I am too far behind in writing the next batch.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Graham Colton - Cumulus -- Jammin Java - Feb 23 2014

Cumulus - What an aptly named band we have tonight. From the far corners of the northwest, this thick bright cloud has made its way to the stage of the Jammin Java to display its big, yet airy sound. They begin with a folk rock style but add rock elements, shoegaze guitar sounds, and some lush pop moves as well. They have an assured strong sound, yet there is much space within as nothing is too thick or heavy. They remind me quite a bit of fellow Seattle band, the Walkabouts, who are a wonderful band that Europe seems to have figured out better than the US has. Hopefully, Cumulus will take here in the states as they have all the requisite ingredients in the sound along with some good songwriting, too. They were completely worth the price of admission alone, which is a great reason why you should get to clubs early whenever possible. Thankfully, most of the crowd did tonight and were fully into this 40-minute set.
Graham Colton - Although he is a well known singer songwriter, this was my first exposure to Graham Colton. He's got his guitar on and a full band behind him with lead guitar, keyboards, and a rhythm section. It does not take long to see he has a way with a song in coaxing out comforting hooks in an appealing style. It is a little too much on the mainstream side for me, which does explain why so many television programs and movies have used his songs in recent years. But of course, there is nothing at all wrong with that and it is a great way to get your music out to the world. It is a fairly crowded Sunday evening crowd tonight (like a true road warrior, Colton double checked with the crowd to make sure he had the right day after he wished us a Happy Sunday). This was a successful set, although I have to confess that I left early as I had a long night previously and need to shake this cold I've had the past week. However I highly doubt a band this slick and with an energetic frontman in fine voice, had any slip-ups later on.

Quote of the Night: From Cumulus' guitarist after thanking the Jammin Java (and something long time readers will know where I stand)... "We played a pizza place last time. This is way cooler."

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Wood Brothers - Mutlu -- The Hamilton - Feb 20 2014

reviewed by Kyle Schmitt.

Mutlu - This Philadelphia-based singer performed as a solo act, stripping away the exotic instrumental touches that augment the songs on his EP Dreambook. His soulful voice and extroverted delivery helped make up the difference, however, easily relaying the positivity underlying his music. A gifted songwriter, Mutlu tackled broad, familiar themes on "One Life With You" and "Weight of the World". His self-described "sillier" material displayed more personality and inventiveness. "Board Games" covered "the late night, hanging with your loved one, getting freaky with it" side of such contests, and was perhaps surpassed in wit by "Caramel", which featured an audience sing-along and the sly come-on, "You know, Daddy's got to eat." Mutlu closed with a cover of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine", the most low-key song in his set but a fitting inclusion nonetheless. He sounds like he could write songs all day while drawing from a world of different influences; it will be interesting to see where he takes his talents from here.

The Wood Brothers - The Woods began their set with "Neon Tombstone", in which singer/guitarist Oliver Wood announced his desire to "be sent back to try, try again" upon dying. As an opening line, this declaration perfectly suited Wood, whose vocals give the sense of a man who's persevered through troubles unmentioned yet humbly expects something better to come his way. His playing meshes flawlessly with brother Chris Wood, who demonstrated outstanding versatility on his upright bass. Despite the Wood Brothers' considerable chops, their instrumental flourishes (from Chris Wood's funk inflections to percussion ranging from light accents to forceful stomps) were performed in the service of the songs. The brothers' harmonies were also locked in throughout the set, especially impressing on "Who the Devil".  All these elements came together on the live staple "Luckiest Man", which, along with "Postcards from Hell", showcases a man doing his best to deal with unrelentingly dire situations. By the time they finished "One More Day", buoyed by Jano Rix's insistent drums and Oliver Wood's guidance to never give in, there was no doubt that keeping on keepin' on was the Wood Brothers' only option.

Esoterica -  Approximately 15-20 fans brought a touch of Bonnaroo to the District, establishing their own hippie-ish dance section right of the stage and swaying gently under the benevolent gaze of Marvin Gaye (in poster form) … The crowd applauded for Chris Wood's own extended dance solo during "One More Day". Loose and unreserved describes it well enough … First impressions of the Hamilton: great acoustics, pleasant staff, and exceedingly fair beer prices for an upscale venue.

Gardens & Villas - Waterstrider -- DC9 - Feb 20 2014

Waterstrider - The DC9 continues to book some great shows this year, although everyone here would have been happier if they even remotely came close to opening the doors in a timely manner as the large crowd was filling in every gap upstairs, down and in between. Waterstrider got rolling quickly enough after the large crowd filed in and dug into this interesting pop music. There were two percussionists with one adding some keyboards at times, so even though things were often light and airy, there was a steady throbbing pace. One or two guitars were going, although there were only a few times where they stood out. More often, it was the falsetto vocals that soared above it all. Some songs were good, with others not resonating as well with me, although the crowd seemed to appreciate the overall sound. However, the band cut into one masterful song which sounded like an outtake form Tim Buckley's incredible "Starsailor" album. I am not sure they want to go this experimental all the time, but I was excited to hear them stretch their pop sound into territory this wild and bizarre. So credit to Oakland's Waterstrider for appealing to a broad base of listeners.
Gardens & Villas - These fellow Californians follow closely to same odd pop stylings of Waterstrider and also feature upper register singing, even less guitar, more bass, and a bit more keyboards. The guitar does not even appear until the third song, but the flute that the singer/guitarist employed early and here and there later on was a great plus. They sounded like a clever progressive outfit from the Canterbury scene when they had the flute dueling the keyboardist. Yet they changed the sound around from song to song in fascinating ways. The bass player was so heavy at times, it was nearly in the Gang of Four or Jah Wobble range. The keyboardist had some powerful moments and the rhythms were interesting throughout. These songs are fleshed out with lots of exciting moments, yet still retained a pop sensibility to grab on to (unlike some progressive bands). They had a mixture of warmth and cool that came out, enhanced by the backlighting and projections employed. I enjoyed this band a lot and I don't often and both bands impressed me more than I expected with their music resonating well with me the morning after.
Photo of the Night: Is the above photo some notebook from a Latvian news reporter? No, it is an example of my notes I take during shows. Even I can't read half of it as somehow I have lazily taken the approach that writing needs to work as fast as the brain and there is little time to waste in actually forming letters. Hard to believe I used to be good at calligraphy.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Into It Over It - TWIABPAIANLATD - A Great Big Pile of Leaves - Makeshift Shelters -- DC9 - Feb 18 2014

Makeshift Shelters - Here's a fairly new local band, at least in this combination, making a crowded room happy at 7pm. They have femvox (female vocals) as we say in record collecting lingo and feature keyboards, a couple of guitars and the requisite rhythm section. They are a gutsy rock band with plenty of pop hooks and such, but are pretty heavy with a warm thick sound. I find it hard not to enjoy music with this kind of energy if the playing is minimally competent and it was more than that here. Great start to a busy night full of bands.

A Great Big Pile of Leaves - There are a lot of quick biting guitar thrusts from the two guitarists in this Brooklyn quartet. It is a little on the arty side, but the music never gets overly precocious or aloof. Instead, the vocals are incredibly warm and the guys pull it together into a sensible and powerful package in sort of a Sonic Youth-lite sort of thing. I thought I may not like this, but instead found it excellent. I believe they could connect with a lot of music fans out there. If you like a band like Lost in the Trees, but want them to rock out more, perhaps they would create a Great Big Pile of Leaves, which is well worth jumping into.

The World is a Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid to Die - I used to think the Ray Dennis Steckler movie "The Incredibly Strange Creatures who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies" was unwieldly, but we have a new record. Also unwieldly, was the seven members flowing over the stage and onto the floor as this band created its shoegazey rock sounds. They had some of the spacey build-up sound from Mono or Mogwai, but tended to jump into the heavier songs rather than carefully work out the dynamics. That is fine, but the songs were not connecting with me as much as I hoped. There is some talent here and they connected well with some of the crowd, but I sensed it was not as many as the previous bands. This vision could work and may be just fine for select fans, just not so much for me tonight.
Into It Over It - This is a band project for prolific songwriter Evan Thomas Weiss. He is from Chicago and handles the lead vocals and guitar, but has a sharp talented band featuring guitar, bass, and drums and occasional keyboards from  a member of 'The World....' He has loads of personality and gets along well with the crowd who also really enjoy the powerful pop-rock songs that come forth. There is just a fresh feeling with this sound, even with loads of energy and quirky moves, it all flows well. The songs are fairly short, but a lot goes on within. I particularly like the phrasing in the vocals, which elevates this material into something rather memorable, even if it seems like simple fun. This is clever stuff that thankfully is not too clever for its own good and is easily accessible. The sold-out crowd had not problem latching on to it tonight.

Quote of the Night - from the openers and a crowd member...
"Thanks for coming early since none of you came to see us."
"How do you know that?"
"Oh I don't know... look at us, I mean I am using an ironing board as a keyboard stand."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Preview of Coming Attractions - Late February 2014

Here's some video and audio of evidence of what is on the DC ROCK LIVE calendar. We'll try to be at as many of these shows as possible (and even a couple more). Feel free to join us...

Into It Over It rolls into the DC9 tonight, Tuesday, Feb18th.

Robert Ellis will be at the Hamilton on Feb 19th. I will be elsewhere, but since some of the shows are sold out, this one would be a solid choice.

Gardens & Villa hits the DC9 on Thursday, Feb 20th and it is getting time DC should be thinking about things like gardens and villas.

I anxiously await the Graham Colton and Cumulus show at Jammin Java this Sunday, Feb 23rd.

But if you can't venture away from U Street this Sunday, then try out RJD2 at the 9:30 Club

Caroline Smith comes to the Jammin Java on Thursday, feb 27th.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Casket Girls - The Stargazer Lilies - Creepoid - Dreamend -- DC9 - Feb 16 2014

reviewed by: Kyle Schmitt

Dreamend - A disembodied, otherworldly vocal dominated Dreamend's mix, despite no one in this trio standing within five feet of the two stage-front microphones. Eventually, it became clear that these vocals - which sounded as if they were coming in via CB radio from another dimension - were emanating from guitarist Ryan Graveface. Clad in a creepy black-and-white striped mask, Graveface achieves this sound by singing into a mic that was taken from a drive-in movie theater and is now embedded within the headwear itself. Those vocals were deployed as the main melodic force in Dreamend's music, complementing a consistently driving rhythm section while often drowning out the guitar. This band is musically ambitious, building dramatic instrumental frameworks around an impossible-to-ignore primary element.

Creepoid - This four-piece Philly group was "introduced" by a punter who yelled, "They're fuckin' awesome if you haven't heard 'em!" at the end of Dreamend's set. And indeed, their brand of catchy, resilient hard-rock - two guitars, bass, and a spare drumkit featuring only one tom - was well-received by a crowd clearly familiar with their music. Their two final songs combined heaviness with atmospherics, showcasing an impressive second-gear to their sound. The band also makes good use of well-placed vocal harmonies, and scores points through drummer Pat Troxell making PA announcements such as, "If any of you are experiencing warm beers, we have cozies." Solid and likable, Creepoid has a new album scheduled for release next month.

The Stargazer Lilies - The stagelights came down, the drummer busted out mallets, and ambient noise filled the room as the Stargazer Lilies began their set. Their shoegaze-infused sound featured the two rhythm section members of Dreamend (bassist John Cep moved to guitar), with a female singer/bassist. Cep did most of the heavy-lifting here, utilizing many of the 20+ effects pedals in front of him during their set. He transitioned effortlessly between tremolo-heavy droning and synth effects, even employing a bow to strum his guitar midway through the set. The Stargazer Lilies impress when the bass is most aggressive (more of this would have been welcome), adding a menacing quality to an already-potent sound.

The Casket Girls - This group charmingly huddled up with their front-row fans before the show, combining for an all-hands-in-the-middle "1-2-3-(imperceptible)!" chant typically seen during basketball games. Twenty seconds later, they launched into "Sleepwalking", a meditation on the inevitability of death which begins with the lyrics, "There will be no starting over/it'll just be over." This mixture of sunny and spooky defines the Casket Girls' ethos. With their blonde hair and big sunglasses, sisters Elsa and Phaedra Greene proudly show off their influences, ranging from the Shangri-Las' tart 60s pop to the southern gothic of their infamously haunted home base of Savannah, GA. Their reverb-drenched vocals are unabashedly powerful, at times expanding to rival the sound of a full choir. Graveface's synths provide understated backing for the Greenes' dominant vocals and dance moves, while bass featured on roughly half their songs. Much credit goes to drummer Peter Seeba for retaining danceability even at his hardest-hitting (even more impressive considering this was Seeba's third set of the night). His stickwork and the Greenes' presentation ensured that even the weightiest lyrical content elicited joy and dancing from the crowd.

Esoterica: Graveface Records brought a makeshift record store to the venue. Their bazaar included three boxes of vinyl, assorted CDs, cassettes, buttons, and posters. There were also two unwrapped DVDs awaiting play - John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness and a partially obscured box promising "Cannibal Cat People from Outer Space" …  As the label's namesake and founder, Graveface thanked his fans for coming out both before and after Dreamend's set, which was remarkably polite and business-savvy for a man still wearing an ersatz executioner's mask … Visuals augmented each band's performance. Dreamend and Creepoid's sets took on a more sinister tone when accompanied by film clips of deranged sociopaths such as John Wayne Gacy, Jim Jones, and Bill O'Reilly … There was a kid who looked uncannily like Jason Mewes - to the point of paying unwitting homage - in his blond pig-tails and blue ski-cap. He air-drummed enthusiastically to Minor Threat's "Guilty of Being White" and David Bowie's "China Girl" in the DC9 lower-level area before the doors opened.

Editor's note -- I want to welcome Kyle Schmitt to what now is a DC ROCK LIVE team as he will assist me in reviewing the many shows happening in and around DC. Kyle brings a wealth of experience and enthusiasm into the local music scene and as you can see above, will give a vivid account of it all.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Escape Artist - Thaylobleu - Hounds of the Bordello - Sotano - Clarence Buffalo -- The Pinch - Feb 15 2014

Clarence Buffalo - I came in mid-set to this likable bar-room rock quartet. It is not entirely fair to give a full opinion, but the songs I heard were decent enough, although I had trouble finding something to differentiate them from the pack. Hopefully there will be another time to give full listen.

Sotano - This Silver Springs outfit worked a territory that is both welcome in most bars and clubs, but also should attract the ears of those who are constantly looking for new twists. These guys start with a loose post glam rock and punk it up in the way of the NY Dolls and grind it out in a garage meets pub rock style. I was not sure they had a fully realized sound as the set started, but it made sense by the time they were finished. They went over well with the large crowd and should be welcome on just about any rock show around town.

Hounds of the Bordello - This quartet played a pretty much straight down the double yellow line brand of rock music. They have a good female vocalist, who while not having any range to speak of, had enough style to deliver the vocals well. The trio behind her was competent, although this only gelled about half of the time for me. That was in part due to the songs, but more due to a thin sound which may have needed one more instrument to give it the heft needed. But they nailed a few really nice songs, especially a particularly dark moody song that conjured up a mysterious atmosphere. The components are in place for this band to have their place in this crowded city.
Thaylobleu - It has been far to long since I last saw this interesting twin-guitar rock quartet from our fair city. They have a gritty punk style at the core, but soar off into various rock and even R&B angles that it is quite difficult to pigeon hole them. And that is always a good thing, when you are able to create your own sound in the process, which is exactly what they do. The rhythm section is steady with a good power to the drums and some nifty fretwork on the bass. The lead singer does an excellent job and adds some rhythm guitar to really thicken out the sound. The lead guitarist adds some vocals, and soars off into many different styles of leads. I detect a Dr. Know metallic punk solo in one song, while others sound more like Mick Jones. When the band locks in, they have a very thick LA creative punk style that reminds me of the Weirdos, Controllers, and many more from the early days of punk. When they add some rhythmic twists, they bring in a more guitar based Nomeansno sort of sound. This is great stuff and makes me continue to believe that these guys are quite a bit underrated around the DC club scene. I will try not to wait another 12 months before catching them again.

The Escape Artist - Unfortunately, I was a bit too gassed to last another set. I have enjoyed this band previously and promised to see how they have grown some time before late 2014. That gives me another 10 months, so hopefully I will be refreshed and recharged and ready the next time. I will say that the turnout was excellent tonight for these bands with a nice crowded room that only thinned out just before I left due to the hour (five bands in one night is a challenge, even on weekends). Clearly, the Pinch is becoming an established place to see excellent up and coming local music, along with bands that have already arrived even if not enough people have noticed.

Quote of the Night between Sotano guitarist and audience...
"Sorry, I'm having trouble with my G-string."
"Take it off!!!!"

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Black Angels - Roky Erickson + the Hounds of Baskerville - Golden Animals -- Feb 14 2014

Golden Animals - This Brooklyn trio lines up with drums keyboards and guitar and none too surprisingly establishes a warm psychedelic mood in their 31 minute set. They are a perfect entry point for tonight's show as they even display some of that Texas psyche style that shows the southwestern blues roots in several of the songs. It is not overly spacey or heavy, but loaded with atmosphere and traces of Jason Spaceman. As long as they did not drift into too much of a lounge blues sound (not too often here), they came across well.

Roky Erickson and the Hounds of Baskerville - The legend returns. And before I even start the review, I should point out it is an uneven playing field when I review Roky, as his history is so bizarre and difficult that it is a pleasure just to see him alive and functioning. If you have not seen the documentary film "You're Gonna Miss Me", I can not recommend it too strongly as it is quite compelling even if you know nothing of Roky and his music. But of course, you need to know of the 13th Floor Elevators (and his interesting latter band, the Aliens) as they made some of the best psychedelic music ever. The Hounds of Baskerville knew it all and what really amazed me is how they had Roky playing all the excellent songs from the first two Elevators albums. In the past, the sets were pretty much Aliens material and the song "You're Gonna Miss Me". There was still some excellent Aliens songs, but to hear "The Kingdom of Heaven" and the amazing eight minute "Slip Inside this House" was a blast along with a ton of material from the first two Elevators albums. Yes, Roky blows plenty of lines, but mostly through not singing them, as he figures out his cues well enough when he finds the spot in the song. He plays guitar intermittently but it is turned on and low in the mix. His vocals are high in the mix so there is no hiding there. And he started a little hoarse, but amazingly could find some of his range at some chilling moments of these great songs. The lead guitarist had all the Stacey Sutherland moves and locked in with Roky (such as you can) to keep the set going for a full 49 minutes yet. This was much better than I expected, and although he may not be able to keep this up for much longer, we are lucky to experience it while we can.
The Black Angels - This Austin band returns for the xth time (I've lost count) to DC to sell out the Black Cat yet again. And they brought Roky who they would be the first to admit was a huge influence on the psychedelic sounds of the Black Angels. Of course the Black Angels have been around long enough to implant their style firmly into the music scene, which always needs bands with this style that have their sound down so very well. There are lots of instrument shifts between members, but strong somewhat distant reverb heavy vocals, powerfully steady drums, synthesizers, echo drenched guitars, and a bass are all around to cook up this magical stew. They also add an excellent set of projections and lights that keep things very psychedelic for the eyes as well as the ears. There really is not that much more to say other than these songs are great and are played loud, yet with plenty of subtlety that the sound man manages to coax out of the PA. They are completely locked in throughout the 90+ minutes tonight and aside from a somewhat overly indulgent encore at 1:10am with a few slices of the crowd gone, they were near perfect.

Photo of the Day:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

together PANGEA - Mozes and the Firstborn - The Sniffs - The Rememerables -- Black Cat - Feb 11 2014

The Rememerables - This twin guitar DC quartet seems to be rather quiet on the Web based on my quick search (post review note--thnx for the link). Nothing quiet about their set as they had a thick and meaty guitar power atop a strong rhythm section with a wailing vocalist adding some classic rock moves. It would almost go to emo, but the band is way too tough for that. Ultimately, they reminded me of something like Anti-Pasti meets Kraut. I thought that may be too glib, but as each song went forth, I think that covers it. This was a decent 22 minutes.

The Sniffs - This local trio stayed in the same vein as the opener, although took it more to a punk power pop song oriented style. At their best, they reminded me a bit of DOA. The rest of the time it was music I've heard variations of for over 35 years. There is enough talent here, but it did not seem to gel tonight in these songs. The crowd was flat as well. They are a decent band, but I will probably need more than a sixteen minute set to have a stronger opinion.

Mozes and the Firstborn - The next band on our long bill tonight takes the basic sounds of the opening bands and transforms them into something terrifically powerful and unique. I thought of a triangle of bands: Mudhoney, Graveyard, and Jacco Gardner, all occupying the corners with their extreme talents and this band right in the middle being pulled in various directions depending on the song. They held it together no matter which direction they leaned with fascinating lead guitar work and crafty songwriting. There were a lot of pop moves here, but the creativity kept it fresh and interesting. They went over quite well with the large crowd tonight and being that this was their first time in from the Netherlands, they should be happy they have made the trip to do a full tour with the headliners.
together PANGEA - This is my second listening to this LA uptempo psyche-punk-garage quartet and they are even better this time around. They have a gonzo attack, but they never let things go too loose, but keep that great garage spirit going. They sort of take the things the Angry Samoans were doing and push it a bit further into the classic LA psyche scene. I think Los Angeles has had a lot of bands that have worked with that great 1960s scene and integrated the sound into modern idioms. The crowd was enjoying them early in the 35 minute set, but by the end they were dancing and bobbing around crazily like it was a Friday night and not a cold Tuesday evening. together PANGEA is now a name that will stay on my radar for as long as they are around. Although they play a style of music that is a fairly easy sell for me, they do it extremely well with a lot of personality, too.

Quote of the Night: from the headliner and a fan...
"This is a new song and it is a sad story."
"But it totally ROCKS!"
"You don't know that... but it does."

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Lanterns on the Lake - Boxelders -- U Street Music Hall - Feb 8 2014

Boxelders - This is folk rock on the light side. I should say light on the rock side, as this trio shows great depth in their creation of a haunting atmosphere. There are drums, electric piano, and acoustic guitar behind the two voices. The drummer also plays some electric guitar which is more atmospheric than rocking and frankly, was not as effective as his percussion moves. These guys are from Baltimore and are playing songs from their forthcoming first album. They show a lot of maturity for being newcomers (at least as this band) and I look forward to their record, if it is anything like their live set. They have great songs an a firm grasp on pulling emotion from their lyrics through quality vocals and assured playing. This was a fine opening set.
Lanterns on the Lake - This quintet is from Newcastle and I hope they do a lot better than the Newcastle football club did against Chelsea earlier today. That was not too high a bar to clear, but this band soared over it with confidence and style. They began with ethereal folk rock with their female vocalist at the piano surrounded by bass, drums, violin, and electric guitar. The guitarist was bowing vigorously, creating two bowed instruments on each side of the stage enveloping the direct sounds with their eerie churning drones. The next song was meatier showing that this band can rock out with the best of them, yet not losing their atmospheric vocal core. The set continued with a mix of transcendent folk based songs and thoughtful folk rock cuts that all continued to work together and build the musical world of their creation. They had full understanding of how to build to crescendos and expand the drama of a song to a set. They reminded me of a folkier Jesse Sykes, and although there may be other comparisons, this band has full command of their sound. The moderately large crowd seemed to agree. They apologized for looking so haggard as they are at the very end of a large tour, but no one agreed with them on that point and they certainly didn't show it in their music. I am sure they will be thrilled to get back home, hopefully happy that for their efforts they have certainly expanded their fan base for their excellent music.

Quote of the Night: On the sidewalk walking to the club... "Do you like it when people pretend that there is not a party going on?"

Friday, February 7, 2014

Drowners - Big Air -- DC9 - Feb 6 2014

Big Air - Straight away, I receive a blast of Detroit Rock City, not the Kiss variety, but that of the Sonic Rendezvous Band--hard rock, ferocious fuzz and pounding drums with a thick melodic vocal that you can grab on to. Too bad I am missing the thunderous bass as this is yet another guitar/drums duo. There are songs where it is fine as is as they are both strong players and have some memorable tunes that kick it up several notches. Yet this could be even more powerful an act with just one more ingredient, which hopefully will be the case some day. These guys are from Charlottesville, Virginia so I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more of them if their energy to travel around a play live is matched by what they do on stage. The large crowd was digging the sounds, which was nice to see as this was a young enthusiastic crowd. In fact, this demographic has me baffled as I count forty people crowded around the front of the stage and there are only two guys. Of the people hanging around back and coming in, it's more balanced, but I haven't seen this kind of discrepancy since the early midwest hardcore days (which of course was reversed). No complaints mind you, as the band and audience connected making an outstanding vibe for the evening.
Drowners - This Welsh/NYC band (with a logo that riffs of the theme of my old charges, Toxic Reasons) is off to a roaring start on the first night of their tour as the crowd has just about filled the DC9 and is pretty much all smiles and enthusiasm as they begin their set. They only have about a half hour of material but it is a strong brand of pop-punk meets classic rock meets gutsy power pop. Clearly their album must be as strong and immediate as many in the crowd know the songs. The vocals are in a romantic pop punk format, while the guitarist has a variety of sounds with early moves reminiscent of Andy Summers of the Police. They said they pretty much did their whole album out of order, but I have to give them great credit as they shifted from catchy songs with playful guitar to their faster, heavier songs by set's end. This was excellent use of rising intensity akin to the rising tension you seek in drama. Yet they kept in fun and playful, working with the crowd a bit, but not taking too many breaks from dishing out these fine songs. This band is clearly destined for big things and I don't think they could have asked for a better start to their lengthy US/Europe tour than tonight.

Quote of the Night: From the openers... "Now we'll play a song that's older than you are, because it's older than we are." Thanks guys, I am glad someone recognizes this as that issue constantly pricks my mind as I hear some young band cover the Misfits. But tonight it was Richard Hell's "Love Comes in Spurts" which took me back to seeing Hell and the Voidoids in Dayton nearly 35 years back.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Black Clouds - Tone - Highway Cross -- Black Cat - Feb 1 2014

Highway Cross - I thought this band sounded familiar and I see that I did catch a set a couple of years back. I enjoyed the creativity they employed while dishing out a short set of hardcore punk songs. It was quite similar tonight, although I thought they were extra special here. They only play for 17 minutes, but do not spend more than a few seconds (if that) between songs. The songs are loaded with energy and strong sonic patterns working between the two guitars. The lead guitarist does an awful lot beyond the expected solos. The opening number's chord patterns reminded me of the Bad Brains' "Don't Bother Me". That formative harDCore sound mixed with that of Chicago's Effigies is what I was hearing here tonight. And the sound was crisp and powerful in the big room of the Black Cat. I will try to see this band a little more frequently as they have great understanding of their genre and are willing to push out more than most.

Tone - I was chatting with someone about how I see a band and don't realize until the next day that I have seen them once, maybe twice before. I see so many bands that sometimes my brain is a disorganized mess. But with DC's Tone, the first time I saw them provided a permanent memory of the brilliant sound they conjure up. I have enjoyed them a lot in the subsequent shows and now after tonight's 51 minute set, I have to conclude they are an essential part of the DC music scene. They still perform instrumental music with three guitars and a rhythm section. And although the term shoegaze will quickly come to mind, it is important to state how much these guys really rock. The drummer provides rollicking beats which don't anchor the sound as much as kick it forward. The four axes all work powerfully off of the beat to do textural work, sonic exploration, and engage in fierce rocking riffage. There is loads of melody and distinctions between songs. If you like Mogwai or Mono, Tone offers nothing less than those giants of the field. But they also add a ferocious rocking quality like Kinski at times. If you are someone who has not experienced this band by now, then you need to hop aboard. Bands do not last forever.
Black Clouds - This DC trio works the same terrain as Tone with loud roaring instrumental music. They have some synth sounds worked into the guitar, bass, and drums and blast away their brand of thick and powerful shoegaze rock. A nice touch is the spiffy light show which shoots out of various points of the stage amidst the smoky atmosphere. They have some intricacies noticeable, although I would still like to see more in the songwriting. Although to be fair, they don't have three guitarists on stage to play off each other. They did a fine job tonight and the Black Cat had a few hundred people here that supported local music that could easily play on any world stage. The crowd left happy and I had a great night from start to finish.

Plug of the Night: Although I thought my festival days may be behind me, I am tempted to do Cropredy this year (helps that I may have a place to stay two fields over from the rural locale). There is a fine line-up, although if you don't want to go to England, you will be able to see Steve Hackett in DC at the Lincoln Theatre as he kicks off his US tour on March 26th.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

RECORD REVIEWS - January 2014

I almost thought this was going to be heavily keyboard or electronically oriented pop music, the way this album began. That was in major part to the ethereal dreamy vocals here. But the percussion and twang in the guitar takes this into exciting full band territory. The vocal work consistently establishes the atmosphere and the songs work up enough magic to keep you wanting more as the album proceeds. This is a fine band in the quieter moody areas of pop music and I would rather see them succeed over the more cliche ridden bands who keep it overly simple. The slight edginess here makes all the difference in bringing it home to the discriminating listeners.

Songs to try first:

Lost Boy - Great guitar work adds a subtle layer to this dreamy song.

Airwaves - The percussion stirs up the energy and the guitar follows nicely as the dreamy vocals pull it back a bit.

Colours - Yet another lovely song, heck they are all good, don't stop with these three.


This one starts slowly, but gets better. Maybe I've moved beyond the age of irony, but I expected more percussion out of a band called Cymbals than the drum machines here. At times, it was there, but electronic pop moves with plenty of synthesizer is more of the format here. The title of this record comes from a book by a Princeton academic regarding the paralysis caused by things being 'too complicated'. While I can empathize with that feeling, that 'throw in the towel' attitude may be partly to blame for the lack of deep energy and conviction toward something here. Instead it is an academically musical rendering of going into your shell. I am being a little harsh as there is some good music here and they likely have plenty of fans. I think their theme was too much of a stone tied around the band as they worked their way uphill (to mangle a metaphor or two).

Songs to try first:

You Are - The dreamy pop hooks start to kick in here, and I hear some cymbals.

The 5%The Fracture of Age - These connected songs cooks up a nice synth pop vibe.

Like an Animal - This songs sounds meaty enough for me to take hold of, even as it swells to nearly nine minutes.

This is more psychedelic pop music from California. Although that may cause some listeners to roll their eyes and murmur 'here we go again', I am always willing to lap this up, being dramatically far from my saturation point. Morgan Delt takes the 3 O'Clock starting point before heading through Jacco Gardner modernity and constantly plays with sound in unusual electronic bursts along with twisted classic sixties psyche guitar moves. There is a lot going on in this production and although it massages sounds I have heard many times in the past as well as in the past year, the abundance of atmosphere and the smooth contrasts in sound is such that I can live in this music for a very long time.

Songs to try first:

Beneath the Black and Purple - This could almost be from the Electric Prunes if they were produced in a modern fashion.

Mr. Carbon Copy - Dreamy popsike with Syd Barrett moves buried in there poking above the surface.

Sad Sad Trip - I don't know, I'm smiling through this song and all of this album as it all plays through splendidly.

This six song EP is pretty much a solo electronica effort. The best two songs feature the guest vocals of Natalie Beridze (TBA). She has a reflective style that matches the drama of the dreamy music. Even as you can drift away in the washes of tuneful sound weaving in and out, Beridze's vocals jolt you back to attention in a quiet sort of contrast. As for the other four songs, they are effective low key electronic mood setters with some guitar among the beats and synth washes. I did like the beats in "Afterglow" as it changed the mood smartly. There is a touch of vocals in one other cut, but I would like to hear a lot more from Natalie Beridze for this to fully work for me. Although most electronica fans should be pleased with the whole of this record.


If dreamy electronic pop is desired, Sweden's I Break Horses should be on the call list. The vocal work is dreamy and ethereal throughout and the keyboards and rhythms mix ambiance with solid melodies and steady patterns of beats. It is all effective enough, although the variety is lacking. Dreamy music is fine by itself, but it helps immensely if there is enough rising and falling tension to keep the dramatic thread going. They come close with some inventive rhythms on "Weight True Words", but hopefully they will do more next time. Electronica fans should enjoy this one, and there are some catchy songs that could resonate among the masses.

Get your taxes done and head over to the DC9 on April 15th to see this band. I'll remind you again in a few months.

Songs to try first:

You Burn - The vocals are so thick and creamy in the mix.

Berceuse - This has a sense of mystery between backing vocals and keyboards that sets the tone.

Medicine Brush - This conjures up progressive synth bands of old.

I am glad indie rock can still sound so pleasant and fresh. They do this not only through good song writing, but with an intelligent variety of arrangement shifts that include strong rockers and slower dream pop moments. There is even a touch of folk, but not much of the Americana that seeps into many an indie rock band. Instead, this is balanced rock independent of a clear geographical center. Such that the band is adventurous in exploring arrangements, makes this a real treat.

And they hit town on Tuesday February 18th at the cozy DC9.

Songs to try first:

A Curse Worth Believing - They have a delicate song and incorporate dreamy moves with a rock foundation. Well thought out arrangement.

Spatial Exploration - Strong rocker with jangly moves and some nice changes.

No Amount of Sound - No amount of sound will ever get me tired of combining loud and soft passages in a song.

This band initially takes shoe gaze style and stretches it out into folk and indie rock territory. But more often than not, the heavy sounds stay deep in the background and the piano and voice lead the way through the melody. Although the vocals are female, this reminds me quite a bit of Antony and the Johnsons. They maintain a dreamy, yet dramatic appeal throughout the album. It begins with a strong cut, pulls back and slowly builds the drama to a satisfying conclusion. Well done, I look forward to hearing more.

And that opportunity presents itself at the U Street Music Hall on Saturday night, February 8th.

Songs to try first:

Elodie - The opener showcases a strong rock sound creating a large universe for them to explore.

The Ghost that Sleeps in Me - Delicate piano led tune with otherworldly vocals.

Another Tale from an English Town - Steady drama building in the music as the chorus floats on and on and on...

If you want your pop and rock a little more on the smart side, you may want to give Novakaine a spin. They are not pretentious math rockers, but they manage to make engaging agreeable rock music with just enough power pop along with a lot of clever songwriting shifts. They proved to me they could deliver the rock on stage recently, and they do well in the studio here (although there are a few live cuts so you can hear some raw songs, too). When they really click, they have that little extra snap in the vocal delivery, drum beat, and guitar chord that you feel in your body. So with mind and body aligned, this is an area band to keep an ear to.

Songs to try first:

Come Up - The opener shows how they not only can concoct a catchy tune, but present it with creative melodic shifts.

Small Claims - Snappy rocker.

The Woodman - Live recording of a song that features some fine layering of dramatic tension.

This is fun. The live show was excellent and well attended and the debut album lives up to the excitement I saw on stage. The band churns out catchy garage power pop with a fuzzy guitar roar atop a crisp rhythm section. The vocals are laid back, but push just enough to show some emotion when desired. They remind me of a grungier Dinosaur Jr. with more garage echo and less guitar soloing (loads less). The songs are short, yet effective. This band gets to the point and establishes a sound and style that is familiar yet personal. Most important, it is fun. I know I said that, but you really should add this to your life.

Songs to try first:

The Gap - The opening cut has all the garage power pop moves with droll vocals cutting through gauze coated sound.

Black and Studs - My favorite with its crunch in guitar and pummeling hooks churning away.

Shithead - Not about Joey, but a catchy Ramones meets Naked Raygun vocal above a ripping pop rocker.

There is some sort of slacker punk - industrial thing going on in these eleven short songs. This may be somewhere between Chrome and the Monochrome Set, but I am not really sure. I do recall the early punk new wave days where synth bands could be down and dirty, without going to the extremes of Suicide, which few people would dare travel even if they could. There is a deliberate mid-tempo speed that they maintain here which really sends me back to those days when punk music was not always hyper fast or loud. There is also a Swell Maps vibe at work here, although these songs are a bit more straight forward. I really enjoyed this throw back lo-fi direct approach that Pow! manages here. Even with all the comparisons I make, it is fairly unique for this century.

Songs to try first:

Vertical Slum - Successful merger between punk and psychedelia.

Switchboard Scientist - Cheesy synthesizer sounds great here in this head bobbing pop punk ditty.

Shoes - almost as much a power pop song as the band known as Shoes, but still with Pow!'s laconic style.

When I say something is lo-fi garage rock, I usually am not trying to describe a sound this low down and dirty. There are precedents for this sound with Jon Spencer, Birthday Party, etc., but this is still fuzzier, nastier and simple--more like the punk band the Mentally Ill were trying a rougher version of the blues. These guys make the Count 5 look like Gentle Giant. 8 of the 10 songs clock in under 3 minutes, which is preferred as the 6 1/2 minute "Get Up" puts me down. Normally I pick out my favorites, but it does not matter much here. You either get in the mood to put this on or not. I do not often reach for music like this (especially when I can grab the Birthday Party or Chrome and others), but I like what the Traps are doing and would love to see it live some day. Look for me as I'll be the guy with the wide eyes and jaw dropping grin.

Here's another electronica entry with some interesting sounds and melodies, yet once again I gravitate to the songs where there is a "featuring fill-in-the-blank quality lead vocalist who lends some firm direction to the song".  At least when they feature fine singers as opposed to cliched rappers (this record balances the two). The electronica has some whimsical moments mixed in with world-wide motifs from east to west and is not bad. It goes on a bit long for 16 songs, all the better if you really enjoy this sort of thing. I enjoyed 37.5% of it and respect the effort for trying out enough different things, that everyone should like something. Your pleasure percentage may vary.

There will be plenty of fans for this band at the 9:30 Club on Sunday, February 23rd.

Songs to try first:

Temperamental - Phonte Coleman's soulful vocals atop a mysterious Eraserhead like environment.

Her Majesty's Socialist Request - Eastern modal moves atop tricky rhythms and movie soundtrack shifts into strange commercial territories.

Love and Go - Smooth singing and particularly skronky sounds make for an interesting combination.

There is a slacker element in here, but there is also an undercurrent of power rippling through the rhythm section and ringing guitars. The vocals are easy going and they achieve a presence that almost clashes with the music even as it locks in. I have heard all of these sounds before, but this band has put together something that is quite fascinating even as it is fairly easy to grasp. It's slow and heavy with occasional tempo adjustments into mid-tempo. It seems fast, but they always manage a churning clarity as the music chugs along. It is not a steady build into the creation of an exciting album, but more of a spotty affair. That said, the highlights are worth it and the approach is an interesting one. Weezer fans can let me know if this anything like they were--it might be, but I never explored that band enough to say for sure.

Songs to try first:

Keep the Ships at Bay - This reminds me of psychedelic Boris Light as it has melody and heavy riffs.

Fight the Babysitter's Boyfriend - No better than most here, but hearing this title in the chorus is worth bonus points (and then more points for 'Thighmaster').

See Right Through - This is the catchy hit single, were there still such a thing.

I am happy these European psyche and post punk bands keep finding me. I am enjoying some very cool records, often performed in styles that just don't come around to the clubs as often as I would like. The White Kites are from Poland and have spent a lot of time and creative thought crafting a psychedelic record that invokes theatrical pop rock moves as opposed to sonic science fiction exploration. This is highly reminiscent of July or Tea & Symphony and there is probably as much of a progressive feeling here as there is psychedelic. Like the latter band I mentioned, the songs are not as memorable as the overall style. As a whole, the album is quite good and the vision is such of the type that bands do not seem to strive for as much these days. I would argue that this sound is timeless and not dated, even though it feels late 60s/early 70s, but really does not belong to that time period either. The White Kites are adventurous and have successfully formed a fine album out of their thoughts and concepts.

Songs to try first:

Arrival - Wow, right at the opening you get the Sgt. Peppers/July/Tea&Symphony psychedelic production.

Stowaway Sylvie - Breezy psyche likes July tries to do the Kinks (which they did pretty well anyway).

When Will May Return - A bit of popsike here that is playful yet strong.

There are bands that seem to enjoy writing songs that grow out of a lifetime of experience listening to radio and records that cover a wide variety of rock music from many eras. These bands, like Yuck, then find their creative muse, plug in, and play. The result here is pop music that leans toward modern with its dreamy, yet thick and occasionally heavy guitar and rhythm section sounds. The vocals are strong and emotive and Smiths and post-Smiths fans should find a lot to like here. The melodies and vocal strength is something that has been a part of pop and rock music for a long time. Yet this is still a fresh take on the form as the energy and skillful delivery is above that of most bands. I am left with a relaxed feeling after listening to this album and feel like I have explored some depth of feeling rather than merely listened to some catch pop songs. This one snuck up on me due to the skills of this band.

Join me at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel to see Yuck on Thursday, February 13th.

Songs to try first:

Lose My Breath - Infectious pop that is heavy enough for rockers, somewhat in the neighborhood of Adam Franklin.

Middle Sea - These guitars have some serious heft and the song is still catchy, in the neighborhood of Husker Du.

How Does it Feel - Grand arrangement with brass and other thick sounds and the song is bold enough to make it work.