Monday, April 21, 2014

William Fitzsimmons - Howard Theatre - Apr 20 2014

William Fitzsimmons - Illness had me out of commission over the weekend, but I pushed to make it for most of William Fitzsimmons set tonight. Although I saw him once before two years ago, his talents are worth revisiting regularly. His band was an extra bonus tonight as the arrangements were fleshed out in a serious rocking style that somehow retained an extra light touch. And lightness is where to start with his delicate music. His singing is as much breathing life to the words as it is finding a melody. The guitar playing is light and the first songs I catch are worked with one other guitarist. Their interplay is well thought out as there is a lot going on if you listen carefully, yet the overall sound is comforting and smooth. The rest of his band comes on adding percussion and some keyboards or bass. He may remind you of Elliott Smith, but with full band he approached Richard Buckner, on his lighter side. It was also to see this style of music succeed in a big hall. Although seated shows usually result in a more rapt audience, even the bar area was quiet, allowing everyone to fully engage in this set. William Fitzsimmons is a man of many talents and thankfully he is sharing his musical talents with the world.
Quote of the Night: "I don't like to talk about song meanings too often, but that song was about boners. I thought it was clear."

Friday, April 18, 2014

We Are Scientists - Paws -- Black Cat - Apr 17 2014

Paws - This Glasgow trio has taken on the challenge of playing rollicking pop punk music with a fresh approach. It is a tough task making this relevant, beyond the youngest fans, but Paws makes it work. Sure the songs are good, but it is more a matter of personality and energy. They create crackling hooks but have that young energetic thrust that pushes the music out in front of where you expect it. They worked the crowd well between songs and seemed like guys you would want to hang out with and joke around with. I can see them flexing out further like other post-punk era real punk bands like Leatherface and New Model Army. But they are young still, so let's keep rocking hard and fast. They seem to love touring, so take the opportunity to obtain a welcome fix of energy.

We Are Scientists - I recall seeing this California trio, but it was long ago (over 4 years) so I thought they were good, but I did not remember their sound. Well, the sound came back well enough as they played, but once they went into their stage banter, it was the lightbulb above the head moment. Oh, these guys! Their witty and nerdy humor truly befits their band name and is a pleasure all its own. But their music made an even stronger impression on me this time around as I saw a furthering of quality power pop music into songs that had wild guitar patterns that you would not normally associate with fun positive power pop songs. There is a little Green Day here, but with Adolescents soloing carrying the verses. Wild stuff that they make seem way too easy. Unfortunately I was way under the weather tonight as I've exposed myself to a week's worth of Black Cat germs, so I had to give my throat a rest and cut out a little early. But not before I saw enough tonight of these two bands to check out more of their recorded works.

Quote of the Night: I was looking for a soccer game on TV the other day and I caught this bit from some fishing show... "I really think sometimes people over-think bluegills, I really do."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Black Lips - Natural Child -- Black Cat - Apr 15 2014

Natural Child - I might as well pitch a tent in the Black Cat with the time I am spending here lately. But if they deliver the good shows, then why not invest the time? It is another great night tonight with a couple of bands from the south delivering unique sets. Nashville's Natural Child is a throwback outlaw western rock band with traces of psyche and loads of jams. It is California Allmans with Burrito Brothers vibes. The jams are less about showcasing instrumental high spots and more about nailing down a groove that has only occasionally been done this well since 1972. Covers of Waylon's "Rainy Day Woman" and Danny O'Keefe's "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues" fit comfortably amongst their original songs. They slowed it down some at times and hit a hard spacey sound late in the set. I was not so sure about these guys at first, but their uncompromising laid back style slowly unveiled its magic and made for an intriguing 42 minute set. And I like this pairing as these bands have very different sounds, but there is an attitude and style connection.

Black Lips - I always lump this Atlanta band with Black Angels, and Black Mountain into some sort of Black Psychedelic grouping. But unlike Black Metal, this isn't a particularly accurate grouping particularly with the music these four guys deliver. It is fair to put them in the psychedelic category--heck, they even have oil and water bubble projections, but their brand of psychedelics is the harder edged 60s nuggets as filtered through punk rock. There is probably more Dickies than Chocolate Watchband, although both are strong parts of the sound. You could definitely see them as a perfect complement to the Slickee Boys. The songs are crisp with power pop moves which have plenty of fire in the guitars and rhythm section. All of the guys sing, with the drummer having the best voice of the lot. Oh and there is still that mysterious saxophonist who wanders on and off stage on call for when the song calls for a little sax heft. They are nailing it down well tonight as the large crowd is really moving. Four people even jumped on stage to dance at various points, something you don't see much around here (not that it is encouraged anymore). I have been overdue for a Black Lips fix and it is great to see that they still have the energy to dish out to a large room.

Quote of the Night: from the crowd "You just touched my friend's butt. Don't do it again." (jokingly, fortunately--it was crowded).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Odonis Odonis - Prisms -- Black Cat - Apr 14 2014

Prisms - I have not seen this local trio in three years, so it was high time for another listen--especially as they impressed me so much the previous outing. They pulled me in to their sound with the first song and kept me interested for the entire half hour set. You can instantly hear a Grant Hart styled pop songwriting with the vocal lines and overall melody, but they play it through a massively heavy guitar and Killdozer styled rhythm section. This clearly owes something to the late 80s, but has some dark metal, brutal shoegaze touches that brings it up to date. Treat yourself to a dose of heavy where you can still get real songs to groove to and check out Prisms. They are the real deal.
Odonis Odonis - Not surprisingly at all, this Toronto trio played Psychefest in Austin last year, as there sound is heavy (and I mean HEAVY) psychedelic fury. They strike me as a surf band who discovered Chrome and had the funds to buy some big amps. I keep getting reminded of Nomeansno at various points, even though there is no funk here, but some of the dark melodies that band had in their early years. There are equal parts murkiness and space exploration in this sound as guitars, keys/samples, bass, and drums crashes through sound barriers while still maintaining recognizable and interesting musical patterns. Speaking of funk, this music yanked me out of mine, which made for a vibrant exciting night. Too bad there were only a couple of dozen people here on a quiet Monday evening. But they were immersed in this vibe and were quite supportive of a unique and powerful band. I am really excited to hear their record which I will be reviewing at month's end.

Quote of the night: from a fan who in this small room could chat directly with the band... "You guys are great. No one sounds like this. That song was fucking beautiful!"

Monday, April 14, 2014

Trust - Mozart's Sister -- Black Cat - Apr 13 2014

Mozart's Sister - Lots of electronic pop tonight starting with this Montreal female duo taking the stage. The vocals are delectable and are the steady highlight in their 45 minute set. The harmonies are good and they are careful not to overuse loops. Instead, they have a pop style with plenty power and the occasional foray into more moody chanting style. I could handle even weaker cliched electronic music with vocals this good. Fortunately, they have enough pop bounce in the melodies keep things fresh and invigorating. There were moments when I could have used more variety, but eventually it came with a few dark spots and tempo shifts. This is a strong band with plenty of charm, personality, and fire. They will likely be back in the top spot next tour with plenty of fans filling the room.
Trust - And from Toronto, comes a more recognized electronic act that is pretty much one guy on the records, although he has a couple of people with him for the live shows. I thought I saw their silhouettes amidst the in your face light show blasting out from the stage. Again, these vocals are incredibly stylish, although the music is also strong and effective in the live setting. If I am not careful seeing bands as good as this will make me an electronica junkie, which has been far from the course for my life. But the singer has nearly the style of Bowie or Bryan Ferry with his own oddly nasal and sardonic voice. It is quite different but brilliantly effective in pulling the crowd into his world. The beats may have them swaying but his singing is the warm embrace that makes this all work for the sold out crowd at the backstage (although there was still plenty of space to stretch out in the back).

Comeback of the Night... No, Led Zeppelin have not set up concert dates, but more importantly if you are in Indiana or southern Ohio, look who is back doing some shows...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Previews of Coming Attractions - Late April

Looks like plenty is going on as the blossoms peak and fade with better weather here before it goes worse in the other direction. Enjoy the outdoors and take a nice walk to one of these club shows. But first some new singles and videos from some of the fine bands headed our way.

Paws is an essential part of the Black Cat, specifically on Thursday, April 17th.


War on Drugs is embedded in the 9:30 Club on Friday, April 18th.


The Revivalists bring their New Orleans magic during the Lenten season to the 9:30 Club on Saturday, April 19th.


William Fitzsimmons visits the historic Howard Theatre on Sunday, April 20th.


Woods brings their haunted sound to the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Saturday, April 26th.


Portland's Mimicking Birds take roost at the Jammin Java on Tuesday, April 29th.


Put your money on Gambles when they visit the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Wednesday, April 30th.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

INTERVIEW with RANDY JOHNSON, DIRECTOR of "SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE"

The Arena Stage is home again to a Randy Johnson directed rock'n'roll musical. He dazzled DC audiences during two runs of "One Night with Janis Joplin" in recent years before that show moved on to Broadway. This time around it is "Smokey Joe's Cafe" which is a celebration of the songs of Leiber and Stoller, who wrote some of the most memorable rock'n'roll songs in history. I have little doubt that it will be any less enjoyable than the Joplin musical was and this is yet another opportunity for me to explore my twin loves of rock music and theater. It is a crossover that works, especially when a major talent like Randy Johnson is there to stage it. I was fortunate enough to have some time with him this past Thursday April 3rd and here is what we talked about. Oh, and the play runs from April 25th through June 8th. Tickets available through the Arena Stage Box Office.


INTERVIEW WITH RANDY JOHNSON

David Hintz - Thanks for calling in . I have been reading up on your history and I see you cover a lot of ground both in country music and rock music in the plays you write and direct. Did you ever consider a career in music?

Randy Johnson - No, I grew up listening to everything. My parents loved music. The first album I ever heard was a Dave Brubeck album when I was five years old. The second album was a Janis Joplin. They spent a lot of time in Vegas and they would take me as a child to see  Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis… my godparents were Louis Prima and Keely Smith and so I just grew up on music. But I really loved theater really early on, since I can remember. But I as I grew, I found that music really was theater. I grew up in the college of traditional musical form which certainly gave me a base to work from, but as my career developed, I really understood the form of rock'n'roll theater, and whether it is country, blues, rock, or whatever genre you are in, as theater artists you just have to work with what you identify with.

DH - Right.

RJ - And then I moved in to directing concerts, a lot of national concerts. I am looking to do what I love and live a world that I love.

DH - Was it early on when you started directing concerts or did you get your start more in traditional theater?

RJ - After graduating from college, I started as a producer. The first play I produced was 'The Normal Heart' with Richard Drefuss and Kathy Bates and then I got an offer to go to a regional theater to work as a director. The first thing I did was "Leader of the Pack" which was a sixties rock'n'roll musical and I loved everything about it. I loved the music, I loved the rhythm, the costumes, the era, and so for the next two years I developed my directorial skill by doing rockn'roll theater. I did Beehives, Rocky Horror Show… I did three productions of Rocky Horror… A fifties review, I think I've explored most forms of rock'n'roll theater and have formed my base there for a while.

DH - OK.

RJ - And it was during that time that 'Always-Patsy Cline' was born--we were doing a summer season and a classic play was booked in for the summer and nobody was coming. There was a Patsy Cline book on the table and I said to the author why don't we do a show about her and two weeks later we had created it. You know that show went to theater history and the time when I was producing it, it was the most produced play in America.

DH - Great, so you were the early force for that play. It is interesting that you started at a producer. Did you have a specific goal of doing production, direction or writing?

RJ - No, I just went where the universe called--as opportunities called, I took them. I am glad I had the opportunity to start as a producer because you can't do what I do if you don't understand the function of everybody around you. So by being a producer and learning the job as producer--no one teaches you the job of producer, there is no theater school for producing. I learned about the framework that I could develop my own theater for my work as a writer/director, so that I could understand what the parameters are. Some shows you write with the idea that it has to be affordable. So if you had asked me fifteen years ago would I be a writer/director on Broadway, I would have said NO, it has just been where it has led. It's been amazing.

DH - Yes, and do you find… I guess the classic cliche is that in movies, the Director is king while in theater, the Producer is king, which is probably exaggerated. But as a writer, is it important to be involved in two areas to keep some control or has the collaboration been easy over the years.

RJ - Of all the shows I've written, I've also directed. It is all about a complete vision for me. Once an idea bakes in my head, then I can take it to the stage. That's my process.  I write it to direct it and I've been fortunate enough to have very generous and supportive producers along the way. They have supported my vision--with 'Janis' they supported my vision from day one. You know, every producer has a right to offer their opinions and sometimes that third party vision is a help when you can take or leave their ideas, but if you are open to it you might find some magic moment you haven't thought of. So it is good to have a healthy relationship with your producer and actually with every member of your team and especially with your musical director and choreographer, because at the end of the day it is a single vision being effectuated by a a lot of people.

DH - Right. Now with Smokey Joe's Cafe', that came into theaters a little under 20 years ago, so is this a new approach to it or more where the time is right to expose it to another generation?

FJ - You know, I think the time is right to expose it to a whole new generation. I am certainly not doing what others have done. I believe when you get hold of a piece of theater that has been created before that it was created before--I mean to recreate what they did is not fair to me, to them, or to the work.

DH - Good.

FJ - I think all of us directors are visual artists and my interpretation of some of these songs will be different than someone else's interpretation. You live with the music, you find out what it means to you, you figure out what it should look like, you work with your team, and you bring it to life. Yes, it is my vision, but it is a collaborative effort and I love this music.

DH - Now how do you cast this play. Do you get the band first and do auditions go in a structured way with clear parts for each singer with multiple performances?

FJ - You find the cast first and I always like in everything I do look for the magic in each person, look for their essence and then figure out who is right for what. I would say 2/3 of my cast are local DC artists. Extraordinary talent. Two of them are from Chicago, E. Faye Butler who is a regular of the DC theater scene and Levi Kreis who is a Tony award winner for 'Million Dollar Quartet' , who lives in New York and Chicago. We're having a blast doing this together.

DH - Were there any unusual casting moves that surprised you?

FJ - No, what surprised me was that our audition here in DC at Arena Stage and our casting director did such a good job of picking people that with the twenty people that came, the first nine all got the part that they tried for. We cast it a year ago and in the year since, the surprise for me is how much these people have grown as artists. You know, in every month and year we all grow as people and artists in bringing an extraordinary effort to the stage.

DH - Great, now am I correct that there is no dialogue in between songs of this play? I am curious if you considered adding something like that as in 'One Night with Janis' or even if you are allowed to do that.

FJ - No, it made sense in 'Janis' because what I wanted for 'Janis' was to set the record straight and let the audience what her influences were, what she was about. 'A Night with Janis Joplin' was visualized as Janis's last concert before she went to LA to make the record. This is just pure joy, pure music, and it is a celebration of the catalogue of Leiber-Stoller. I think the first time I saw it was I looking for the meaning and it was what the audience makes of it. The great thing about 'Smokey Joe's Cafe' is that the journey you are taken on is the journey of your choice, as you watch.

DH - OK.

FJ - Interestingly enough when we were doing 'Janis' in Pasadena, Mike Stoller came to the show and he saw in the program that I was directing 'Smokey Joe's Cafe' here and he call me the next day and we had lunch that day and we became very good friends. So I was able to get the back story and the intent of these songs and get to hear first hand of what he and Jerry wanted and how they created the songs. I have been really fortunate to get to hear from Mike Stoller and get to hear from the source himself of what these songs mean to him and where they came from, within their era. That has been one of the best gifts of this project is getting to Mike and his wife.

DH - That's great. Now was he the lyricist or the musical writer, I'm not sure I ever saw that…

FJ - I think they did both.

DH - OK, they did a little of each (ed. note -- especially Mike Stoller who did both, while Jerry Leiber primarily was a lyricist).

FJ - Yeah, and their catalogue…. with their music, it the surface of it first appears, but then you realize that there would be no rock'n'roll as it exists today without the music they created. And some of their songs had impact on civil rights and the counter culture of the sixties. They really were remarkable men who left this enormous legacy. Some of these songs have been covered by over 200 artists. They've sold hundreds of millions of records. It is an extraordinary success.

DH - Yes, to me they helped define the fifties and kind of took you up to the Beatles.

FJ - Right.

DH - Although they worked quite successfully thereafter as well and if anything, is that pretty much the overall theme to pull from this? I mean you won't need the dialogue, as that will come out of it.

FJ - Yeah, I think the lyrics are in many ways dialogue. And each one of these songs is really a three-act play in itself and that is the way we are staging them. It will bring back a lot of the audience to a time in their youth when music was heard through a transistor radio or a jukebox. You know, the way we hear music today is very different than the way people heard it generations ago. Music is the soundtrack of your life and whenever you hear a song, you will go back to the first time you heard it, where it takes you, and how it makes you feel. That stays with you for the rest of your life. I grew up listening to my sister's transistor radio with her listening to "Poison Ivy" or "Yakkety Yak" or "Why Do Fools Fall in Love", so music is a time capsule. Today, if you are hearing Bruno Mars and of this generation, you will always remember where you were when you first heard a Bruno Mars song. The same with the Coasters, or the Drifters, or Elvis Presley… the impact of Leiber and Stoller on Elvis Presley, I don't think he would have had the same career were it not for Mike and Jerry's music. The number of hits they had with Elivs is uncanny.

DH - Yes, and I am looking forward to seeing this play, even if to prove that Wikipedia's statement that there is no unifying theme in the play is wrong. Clearly, there is an overall point to it all.

FJ - I think the theme is the music. It has gone on after Broadway to become one of the most successful music reviews in history and it is the longest running review on Broadway.

DH - I am also curious in relating that when I write up a regular concert review, I sometimes notice how bands construct a set by their placement of their songs.

FJ - Right.

DH - They don't just slap them together. I assume that there was careful work here, but is there any changes that take place?

FJ - No (changes from the original play). But when I construct a musical or a concert, you are creating a roller coaster ride. There are highs and lows, there are times you impact the audience emotionally, times you make them feel good, and it all leads up to the moment of the finale. It's all theater even if you write a set list for a band at a bar, there is still a cause and effect to the way you fit the music together. That is true of 'Joplin', true of 'Always' and everything I've done, there is cause and effect with the placement of the music.

DH - Does this play have a set list of songs or is there some pick and choose method of the catalogue?

FJ  - No, it is set. There are 41 songs altogether.

DH - Do you have a particular favorite or does it vary?

FJ - Uh, it varies from day to day… I love "Hound Dog", I love "Jailhouse Rock", really all of them. It depends on the hour. "Spanish Harlem" is a song that for me, when Laura Nyro recorded it in the seventies with Labelle on the 'It's Gonna Take a Miracle' album. That was one of the albums I listened to over and over again, so that particular song takes me back to high school years. I have my own history with Elvis Presley, so those songs are like coming home again. And I think that the repeat business for "Smoky Joe's Cafe" is so strong with people coming back three or four times is that they will go 'oh my god, I have to hear that song again and I want to hear that again', and I think that will happen here in Washington DC where people will see it and want to bring friends back to see it. At the end of the day, it is a real feel good show and we have an amazing choreographer, Parker Esse, who is doing a remarkable job with a whole bunch of styles that are in inherent in this musical. There is everything from rock'n'roll, that pure 50s girl group sound, and he covers the gamut successfully.

DH - Sounds great and I am appreciative with this (theatrical) approach and in thinking about this, it is a major step up from something like what a tribute band would do where they would be a band that exclusively plays Beatles songs or whatever. But I think with your work and others have brought forth the historical importance of eras or artists that is a successful marriage of music and theater. So I hope people gravitate toward it.

FJ - Thank-you, I hope so, too.

DH - I usually ask someone to pick an artist who has influenced them outside their main artistic area, but since you cover so many different areas, is there any writer or other artist that was inspirational to you when you were younger?

FJ - Well, that's hard…

DH - It is.

FJ - Well, Joni Mitchell was a huge influence on me because the way she painted pictures with her lyrics and told stories through her lyrics was profound to me. I was 18 years old and heard the 'Court and Spark' album in Paris and I heard the title song and it stunned me. Of course you bought the vinyl album in those days and we went home and I just listened to the lyrics finding someone who could think the way that I felt. Joni Mitchell was a big influence and Laura Nyro was a huge influence on me. Thinking artists, they knew what they singing about--it wasn't just pretty songs and Lawrence Welk, which has its place, too.

DH - Sure.

FJ - And there was Carly Simon who was later in high school. She sang about feelings I didn't know anyone else felt. Remarkably enough I got to work with all them.

DH - Oh! I had read you worked with Carly Simon, but all of them--that's great.

FJ - And then as far as artists are concerned, I met this artist named Robert Irwin, who is an architectural visual artist. He does installations, designs museums and a very major artist in his world. I knew him in my thirties and he made me rethink the way I look at something, so that was a very big influence on me. There have been so many others… A choreographer named Martha Clarke who took the Bosch painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights, and turned it into a performance piece. I was in New York, acting at the time, and it changed the way that I think of everything to this day. Because to be able to take that painting and bring it to life was pure theater. That's what we all strive to do with original thought. So my influences have been pretty wide as my career has been pretty wide. I have been fortunate enough to work in a lot of mediums and you bring these inspirations and muses with you as you go. We are all a result of who we've seen and who we've read before. But Joni Mitchell and Martha Clarke changed it all for me.

DH - Sure. I ask that for my own benefit as much as anything so I can connect more artists together. A couple of quick questions that you may be tired of answering, but which was more challenging, directing Mike Tyson or directing Pope Benedict?

FJ - (laughs) What was more challenging… Well, they both were unique opportunities. I love Mike Tyson. I loved working with him--he was a joy to work with. I spent time at his home getting to know him and his wife Kiki. The three of us bonded really tight from the beginning, bringing his story to the stage. You know you are dealing with history. Mike Tyson is a piece of history, pop cultural history. Getting somebody to tell the truth about themselves in a theatrical form was very, very interesting and at the end of the day, very gratifying.

Pope Benedict, you know, you got to stage a Papal Mass, and again that is history and whenever you can live in history… I'll never forget the sound of the crowd when he entered the stage for the mass. I've been and done a lot of rock concerts and I've never heard a sound like that.

DH - Ah, I've heard that about Papal appearances. Yeah.

FJ - I found him to be very kind and he listened to you the brief time you were with him. I had Kelly Clarkson sing "Ave Maria" and he broke tradition and had her come to him and he thanked her onstage in front of a million people. I enjoyed that experience tremendously because where else to you get to live history.

DH - I had to ask that question because you are the only person in history I can ask that.

FJ - Exactly, it doesn't come up in a sentence very often.

DH - Although one more combination that I found interesting that maybe a few more people could address is that you have also worked with both Audrey AND Katherine Hepburn?

FJ - Yes. I worked with Audrey and Katherine Hepburn in the same year. I had spent time in regional theater and wanted a break from it. I had the intention that I wanted to work with stars and as fate would have it, you do get what you ask for. I got a call that Audrey Hepburn was looking for someone to help her with this UNICEF piece where she was reading passages from the diary. Six months later the opportunity came to write and direct Katherine Hepburn in a tribute to Jimmy Stewart. I spent three days at her home and that was really amazing. I still have my answering machine tapes where she would call and leave a message for me. She didn't have assistants, she did not have an entourage, she opened her door herself. I don't get nervous with the people I work with, but knocking on that door and waiting for Katherine Hepburn to open the door was a moment in time. And we had a wonderful time together--she was as honest and articulate as ever. So I got to work with both Hepburns in one year.

DH - Wow and you are still going strong and building on your resume still.

FJ - I am having a very good time.

DH - Well, we are happy to see you back at the Arena Stage and hope it is as much fun behind the scenes as it is for us out front.

FJ - I enjoy it as much as the audience does.

Delta Routine - Josh Flagg Band - Kentucky Jim Faris -- Tree House Lounge - Apr 9 2014

Kentucky Jim Faris - Kentucky Jim sings his songs accompanied by his trusty uke. He also does some covers including the ubiquitous "Freebird" with a "Stairway to Heaven" stanza starting it out. So clearly, he is shooting for a light and entertaining approach in the humorous folk arena. Well not exactly arena, as there are not a whole lot of people present, beyond the bands. He had enough wit to keep me entertained although the star of the show was his daughter who was just of walking age who showed more movement than most of the trendy crowds in front of the 'fill in the blank' Pitchfork band of the month at the cooler clubs. His daughter also navigated the Everest like step onto the stage and tumbled back out to the floor, thus making her the youngest stage diver in history. Musically this was just fine, and he had a decent mouth trumpet as well, not quite up to Victoria Vox levels, but close enough. Likable set, this.

Josh Flagg & the Obligations - The first of two twin guitar rock bands from out of town begin the volume attack. I never am failed to be impressed with the sound in the Tree House Lounge compared to other smaller venues and this band knows how to work it perfectly. Early on I thought I was getting another of the many good bar bands that every city has a plethora of. But this New York outfit kept pushing the barriers of stinging rock music and crafty songwriting. The guitarists dueled well, but never in a showy manner. The rhythm section was thick and powerful and I was even hearing the Who in one song and that was before the bassist took the lead with thick chordal passage that John Entwistle would likely smile upon. The 50 minute set went by smoothly with high quality, every song of the way. Hopefully these guys stay dedicated and continue to work together as good things should happen to bands this good.
Delta Routine - These guys hail from Milwaukee, so it is two Wisconsin bands in a row for me, a homecoming of sorts as I lived there in the sixties for a bit. These guys rock out, but go more in the direction of their accurate name--even if they do come from a place closer to the source and not the delta. Classic rootsy blues moves and hard rock tones of the heaviest of the alt country bands are part of the make-up of these songs. I hear a bit of the Elliott Brood sound, but even more variety here. They ebb and flow in various tempos and volumes and never get dull with the skillful playing that these guys employ. The music is warm, constantly flowing and evolving into a rock solid set that made for a fine ending to a strong night of music.

Quote of the Night - But first, a vow... I am going to try my best to not convince people to come to the smaller clubs and house shows any more. Yes, it will suck for the bands, but hey, tonight I got to have a focused musical experience without the distractions of jostling crowds, nearby people engaged in loud meaningless conversations, pissed off people demanding a manager, watching the bands on a TV monitor, etc., etc. -- all of this just in the last week alone. I had a great time tonight and if you want this experience, join me at these shows. But don't tell too many of the folks at the sold-out shows. It's our secret.

Oh and the quote is from Kentucky Jim Faris - "I was privileged to play at George Harrison tribute shows at Wolf Trap and the Hamilton. They were all sold out shows, pretty much like this one."

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Laura Mvula - Phox -- The Hamilton - Apr 8 2014

Phox - Baraboo, Wisconsin... I thought it was just me and the precious few who spent some of their life in central Wisconsin that had Baraboo burned into their brains. Once it is there it is impossible to forget Baraboo (BEAR-UH-BOO), far more fun to say than salsa. Thanks to Phox, the world is quickly getting to know of this town with its population of twelve thousand and World Circus Museum. They already have hometown fans spread about as several people cheered Baraboo when they announced it from the stage. And these were real connections as I saw a guy wearing a Baraboo high school t-shirt even. But on tothe music... as I said previously when they opened for Blitzen Trapper at the Black Cat last year, they play a superb brand of pop music with lounge jazz singing, all with an outstanding touch. It is even more noticeable tonight, that a band with two or three guitars, keyboards, banjo, and rhythm section working, is able to leave so much space in their songs. And that is both a great skill and strategy as it leaves room for Monica Martin's exquisite vocals. The music allows her to dial it down and use a full range and pull back into delightful softer moments. This is highly accessible music that maintains original moves and style. They are pulling in most of this sold-out crowd, who will hopefully spread the word, as Phox is back at the Hamilton on July 19th for a headlining gig. Give them a listen and you will want to be there.
Laura Mvula - I did not stick around for the headliner as space in this sold out show was not working out to my advantage. I will just leave it at that, as it was kind of a vibe thing as well as my age and schedule. I am sure she did well with so many people packing the house tonight.

Kickstarter Campaign of the Night - If you are a fan of Drew Gibson, you may want to look into his kickstarter campaign for his next album. If you are not a fan, you should be, whether you want the new album or not. Be sure to catch him in the clubs and give this a look.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Hold Steady - Cheap Girls -- 9:30 Club - April 7 2014

By Kyle Schmitt

Cheap Girls - Melodic hard rock from three guys who wear black t-shirts and drink Budweiser on-stage. Their approach was summarized early by singer/bassist Ian Graham's response to a shouted song request: "We can't play that one tonight. Fucking boring." Cheap Girls plowed through a set full of self-described "loud rock" that invited comparison to early Soul Asylum. They remained unrelenting until the semi-muted intro to "No One to Blame", during which Graham complained, "I know everyone that there's no need to know." Darker themes loomed throughout many of their songs  - "Sleeping Weather" touched on substance abuse and rested on Graham's claim that "There ain't nothin' I'm working for." He and his brother Ben (drummer) produce a weightier sound than that of a typical power trio, and guitarist Adam Aymor kept his solos focused, forgoing 10 notes when the right one would do.
The Hold Steady - The Hold Steady played a second, unplanned encore several years ago at a 9:30 show after their fans shouted down the house music cuing the night's end; when singer Craig Finn finally reemerged onstage, he admitted, "I thought we were done." Stepping back out to 70s-era Lou Reed on Monday night, Finn told the audience, "As the song says, we're gonna have a real good time together." A sold-out crowd urged him onward, shouting along with his exhortations and cheering uptight dance moves that crisscross easily from gleeful preacher to angry dad. Finn held court with his signature use of character exposition in "Big Cig" and "Spinners", the first single off the band's new album Teeth Dreams. That song features what may be the prototypical Finn lyric: "Once you're out there, anything's possible/There might be a fight, there might be a miracle." Some older material suffered, however, from the loss of former keyboardist and band secret weapon Franz Nicolay. His absence erased the stately chords in "Stuck Between Stations" and ecstatic buzz of "Stay Positive." Fortunately, guitarist Steve Selvidge added welcome grit and energy to a sound that grew too settled on the band's 2010 release Heaven is Whenever. Selvidge and Tad Kubler traded solos during "Hot Soft Light" and employed impressive guitar harmonies on "Rock Problems". And Finn paid tribute to the 9:30 faithful several times, at one point telling the crowd, "I fucking love it here." When he concluded "The Sweet Part of the City" by repeatedly proclaiming, "We'd like to play for you", the Hold Steady's fans left no doubt that they were welcome back any time.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Hi-Life Wedding - Glitterlust - Radio Feedbak - Joe Rathbone + the Mercy Alliance - EM Spencer -- Tree House Lounge - Qpr 4 2014

E.M. Spencer - From Towson comes this tight little quartet who plays fairly straight forward rock music for the most part. The vocals are good and it is the keyboards that offer just a bit of funky counter punch that lifts the music up. Solid effort.

Joe Rathbone and the Mercy Alliance - Rathbone is a veteran and sounds like it with good songs that are a perfect fit for the bar/night club rock scene. He has assembled a fine band that offers quality 4-voice harmony on the slower cuts and kicks it up a notch for the rockers. They are slick and steady and look capable of handling just about any stage they find themselves on.

Radio Feedbak - This local band follows the pattern established tonight before we take a sharp turn for the last two bands. They have a straight enough rock sound, yet the woman on vocals has that strong bluesy rock style with pipes that elevates this into a different direction. Although her style is familiar and quite successful here, there are also guitar tones that combine to make a murky yet pop-rock sound that makes for even more of an interesting combination. A fine band that I would be happy to see again as long as they leave their annoying heckling friend home next time. It was not I that yelled shut up at him late in the set, but whoever that was, read my mind and probably more.

Glitterlust - This is my first experience of seeing this local electronic pop duo and it certainly is quite the experience. The focal point is the flaming eccentric showman vocalist who runs electronics, synthesizer and sometimes dabble in electronic percussion. But when not held down there, he is out in the crowd and dancing around or parading around in a great winged cape costume. They do live up to their name on stage and the music is fun. The key to me is the second member--a woman who plays solid crunching guitar chords which thicken things out perfectly. I recognize one cover, New Order's "Blue Monday"--a great choice that they do well with by rocking it out some (thankfully they chose the only New Order song I would recognize as I was more of a Joy Division/Warsaw kind of guy). This is crazy fun with fortunately just large enough of audience to make it worth (it was challenging in that department tonight). Keep an eye out for this band as they will elevate the spirits of almost any crowd, if they don't have them cowering in terror--they do list GG Allin as an influence (but thankfully stop way short of what he did).
Hi-Life Wedding - This is one of my favorite synth pop electronic duos. Just the combination of a woman from Missouri and a guy from Australia (and the Northern Territory, at that) connecting in Taiwan, spending time in London, all over Asia and touring the US is enough to perk my interest at what music will result. And that combo yields plenty of fine straight ahead electronic pop beats, supplemented by subtle bass and quality dual vocals. The sound did not quite bring the vocals out enough, but you could still hear the fine expansion of the musical scale that their harmonies provide. The songs are interesting and they can stretch them out a bit with some pulsating syncopated keyboard rhythms. It was a little unfortunate that for their second time in DC they were placed in the late hours after too many bands for one evening and the crowd had waned. Selfishly, that allowed me to drift into their music all the more without the earlier distractions and let their pop melodies and skilful playing to work its magic. This was a long night, but a fitting end to a night where the music got better and better.

Quote of the night: From Kate of Hi-Life Wedding commenting on seeing me with my red long sleeved shirt against the red wall... "You really blend in here."

Friday, April 4, 2014

Skaters - Team Spirit -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Apr 3 2014

Team Spirit - Rah rah! I'm not sure if these four guys did a cheerleader routine in the back before the show, but they sure came out on fire, rocking from the first note to the last. I immediately think of the Zeros as they seem to have a good handle on power pop with an emphasis on power. The two guitars were clanging around in an exciting way reminiscent of Stiff Little Fingers, too. Yet, ultimately they seem to have a handle on those punk/power pop moments that also includes style points from the Dickies and CH3. Yet the power is amped up an extra notch or two here. They had a great personality and a sense of fun was there the whole time for the modest Thursday night crowd. The singer/guitarist even went into the crowd at the end and had eveyone crouched down with them during a quieter moment before he and the crowd sprung up for the blazing finale. Well, most of them, as I don't spring up as well as I used to. This was a rousing 40 minute set that was hard not to enjoy and was just the straight forward blast of rock energy I needed tonight. The rest of the crowd seemed to react that way as well.
Nylon Guys Magazine

Skaters - Skate punk? They look like they could, although they sound like they spend more time in rehearsal than working the ramps. They continue the strong punk sounds of the opening band, also with decent melodies and fierce guitars. The singing is an interesting soulful crooning that moves into power rock as needed. The undercurrent of guitars reminds me of the Smashing Pumpkins a bit and if you cross that sound with the Dickies you will get something close. That is, until they kick into a few reggae based numbers which obviously varies the rhythm quite dramatically. But this is that pace filled punk reggae style that fits well within a rocking set. No wheels being reinvented here, just well done high energy music by solid players who have some good songs to showcase as well. This was a good fix for me tonight from these two NYC bands and a good reminder to see high energy young rock bands regularly to keep my Dorian Gray appearance fresh.

'It's all a matter of perspective' photo grab of the night:

I would give her the answer if she said she read James Thurber (or competed in Contest Speech in the 1970s).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Yellow Ostrich - Pattern is Movement -- DC9 - Apr 2 2014

Pattern is Movement - This Philadelphia duo has a sound that is hard to describe. But since that is what I am here for, let's give it a go. They have a drummer and another guy that is handling keyboards, electronics and whatever else I can't quite make out from the back of the club on their darkened stage. The sound moves from pop-rock to dream-pop to ambient to jazz-pop to avant-loun ge. Some of the vocals start of like Scott Walker, while others are closer to Al Green. Strange material indeed, but bravo to these guys for creating such challenging music. Patterns where certainly moving tonight.
Yellow Ostrich -  Apparently not even a snowstorm canceling out this show a month ago could keep people away tonight, as the DC9 was sold out with an enthusiastic crowd that easily warmed to this band. They pulled me in just as quickly as they have outstanding songs that they seem to have fun with when varying the arrangements. It's not quite as radical as earlier, but they managed to combine clean pop melodies with dirty guitar layers underneath. Other times, things would become more playful with more keyboards. The rhythms section was so steady and locked in it allowed the other instruments free reign to meander about a bit. The vocals were spot on with great melodies and a nice range. It is refreshing to see creative bands as this do well and pull in audiences that will be rewarded like this. Good things will continue for Yellow Ostrich.

Quote of the Night: From Yellow Ostrich... "These TV screens are ridiculous. I can't help but watch myself, it's so captivating."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dream Theater -- Lincoln Theatre - Apr 1 2014

Dream Theater - This famed progressive metal band should be right up my alley, but I have just never been able to fully warm to them. And tonight, there were a few times it came close, but mostly there was that distance maintained, which I call respect for a band that does not quite pull me in all the way. They have a great visual show with projections and lights that blend together and wrap the stage with color themes and various images. The sound is loud and powerful, of course, and seemed to work well tonight. It is my first time in the Lincoln Theatre. It's old but interesting and I hope it works out well. It reminds me of the Hammersmith Apollo with the big balcony and old seating. The band enjoyed it as they dug into their signature sounds of high quality guitar work, stirring vocals, solid bass and drums, and plenty of keyboards that offer a lot to the sound, but leave plenty of room for the guitar. It was funny to read their Wikipedia article to see that they began with covers of Iron Maiden and Rush, since those were the two bands I heard tonight in their music. I was expecting more of the prog Rush, but Dream Theater was pretty heavy with strong Iron Maiden like moves in their songwriting. I thought they drifted a bit with slower material and had the expected long solos from various members, which reminded me of rest holds in a long pro wrestling match, but the fans enjoyed them here (more like the spots in a wrestling match). The guitar soloing definitely showed why John Petrucci is considered one of the best. The fans were digging the show, although my favorite moment was a polite rebuke from the singer early in the show. When I came to the arena, the ticket takers mentioned there was to be no recording at the show. I quickly counted six phone cameras up just in my upper left section of the balcony and had a chuckle. The singer then took an early break between songs to mention that we all paid for our tickets to watch a show, so why not just use our eyes and keep the technology on hold for the show. This got a fair amount of applause (certainly from many of the people behind the people holding up their phones). OK, by me, especially at larger shows by bands with great sound and plenty of quality released music already. The fans were digging the show tonight and rightly so. I am struggling to come up with a fair conclusion as I was distracted as I will explain in the next paragraph...



Tribute of the Night -- I am still quite saddened by the recent death of former DOA guitarist Dave Gregg. He was about my age and apparently had a heart attack. I had not seen him in decades which is unfortunate as he was always one of my favorite people when he came to town. He was just the friendliest guy you would ever want to know, as well as being a blast to watch on stage. Two moments stand out for me. One was a jam session at Skyp Krantz's house in Dayton when DOA was in town hanging with their Dayton buddies. Joe Keithley was on bass with JJ Pearson from Toxic Reasons on drums. That left Dave Gregg and Toxic's Bruce Stuckey to battle each other by taking off on some punk or hard rock classic and then dueling it out with their playing and guitar hero antics. They were hilarious and everyone was having a blast. Next I remember a DOA show here at the old 9:30 Club back in 1987 when I briefly lived here. I sat at the bar and chatted with Dave before the show. At one point I asked him if he ever thought about quitting it all. He immediately answered 'every single day'. We then kicked around various themes off of that on what to do with your live, how to enjoy it, stay fresh, and much more. As I planned my early exit from my former career and now that I think about quitting this blog 'every single day', I am forever reminded of our conversation. So Dave Gregg has always been with me and will continue to be here, both when I listen to my classic DOA songs, and every time I think about how to redirect myself in life.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

RECORD REVIEWS - MARCH 2014

There was a digital pile of albums coming in this month. I hope I did them justice, as I don't get to spend the time and verbiage I would like on them. But this is the digital world, so if something even slightly catches your interest, give these a listen (there are some real gems in here).

BRITTANY JEAN + WILL COPPS "PLACES"
This is music that flows in a steady stream with the sounds of waves and nature both explicitly and implicitly apparent in the mix. It is quite a step for Brittany Jean, who has long been a top songstress in the area. This time, she and her long time percussionist Will Copps have taken dream pop and merged in psychedelic folk into something closer to dream folk. This music gently rocks you to a hypnotic state as if you are only just using your senses to take on the limited beauty of your surroundings. Keyboards, guitars and various droning sounds are integrated to form a cohesive unit allowing Brittany Jean's voice to stay on high. These two have known each other a long long time and have made a lot of music together. Now they are separated by the Atlantic Ocean, but have left this musical pathway to connect with for themselves and their listeners.

You can see Brittany Jean with the excellent songwriter series at the Epicure Cafe in Fairfax on  April 12th.

Songs to try first:

Beneath the Crest of the Sea - Even as the vocals soar to intense heights, they maintain a certain delicacy.

Sandbridge - This songs soars into new age territory, not a dirty word in my book, as long as you stay away from cliches, which this admirably does.

The Smoke and the Snow - Lilting and then some.

CAPTAIN COUGAR "Ã…KERBLOMRORELSEN"
Despite the band name and album title, this is heavy on a rather stark sound of female vocals over piano. Yet the moments of full band production do show up nicely at various times and are almost a bit shocking, but powerful. The vocals got so intense at one point, it seemed like the record was stuck. And the songs are about a Finnish cult leader, which sounds like a fascinating story. There is some ambient backing that is lighter and spacier at times as well. There is plenty to like here in the classic folkrock world, and although the songs are good, they do not always stand out on their own any more than many other fine bands. Yet, those little surprises just around the corner are what makes this album such a pleasurable outing. It is always a pleasure to find such fascinating albums like this.

ELEPHANT "SKY SWIMMING"
This is rather lovely pop music with strength of sound, but less so in pace. There is a shimmering British steel popsike, post punk root in there at times. Yet I detect west coast pop moves in here as well. The female vocals are breathy and deliberate and snakily work their way into your brain always at an angle that is tricky to fully grasp. The pop melodies prevail in the end and stay with you in all their depths of ambiance. I appreciate this music quite a bit and a few more listens will likely have it sink in even further.

Songs to try first:

Assembly - The opener has a lovely pop vibe with a psychedelic farfisa dueling some synth theremin sounds.

Elusive Youth - Ah that it is… this theme plays out less elusively as the pop hook will warm you.

Torn Tongues - There is a little more snap in this rhythm and the vocals work off it well.

LA FEMME "PSYCHO TROPICAL BERLIN"
Fresh off their vibrant showing at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel, I am now treated to their 20-song double LP. There is still plenty of the excitement evident here on the record. The Italian western soundtrack music meeting psychedelic pop music is even more pronounced here as they have established a fascinating duality between propulsive keyboards and scene setting guitar textures. But they move beyond this into many various other soundscapes including the wonderfully wild and creative Saisis la Corde, which conjures up vivid surrealistic dream settings. Fitting that there is a fine song called "Witchcraft" as they must be employing their own brand as they conjure up such interesting songs with fascinating rhythms under it all. Sure, twenty songs is a lot (although their may be bonus EP material here) and they are not all magic, but there is nothing overly dull anywhere. It is just a matter of how many you really enjoy. And for me, it was a good 50% of these songs from this well named album.

Songs to try first:

Amour dans le Motu - A dark undercurrent to a bright melody and brisk beat. This covers the ground this band walks quite nicely.

Sur la Planche 2013 - It's like a pop song by Simply Saucer with a French pop singer on vocals.

Saisis la Corde - Great vocal melody and circus keyboards with surreal backing sounds. Crazy good.

DOUG GILLARD "PARADE ON"
If I was going to bat against Doug Gillard with the bases loaded, he would have made me look like a fool as he struck me out on three pitches. Yes, I realize it was his former band mate Robert Pollard who was the talented pitcher (once tossing a no-hitter in college), but Doug Gillard threw some dazzling curveballs to start off his album before bringing the heat. The early songs offer a glimpse of sixties style pop music with just a hint psychedelic style as if it was played by a hip lounge singer viewed through a fun house mirror. Just as I was struggling to find the words to describe this surprising turn of events, Gillard then hits me with several songs of varying intensity, yet all with the same edgy pop sensibility that is more in line with what I expected. His songs remind me of Wire, when they are at their poppiest and aren't going deep into the somber areas that they often explore. This is a fascinating record, with fairly simple hooks delivered from strange angles. I have always sung the praises of Doug Gillard's ability, but he even takes it higher this time around with this excellent new record.

You can come see him open for his old band Guided by Voices at the Black Cat, May 24th, but only if you have a ticket because this sold out early. If ticketed, do not be late for Doug Gillard.

Songs to try first:

Angel X - Fabulous throw-back pop, with a touch of popsike and spiced with a lounge grace.

Upper Hand - The shortest song will have you bouncing along with its amazing hook.

Overseas - Almost into Wire-like pop territory with edgy guitar chord strummed out incessantly.

HORSE THIEF "FEAR IN BLISS"
I like this band's style. Bands that operate in the indie rock idiom featuring at least a degree of Americana better have style. Oh, and of course songwriting skills are rather essential and these guys have the ability to create different tempos and textures within a songs to pull it together. That along with their warm vocals and stylish guitar tones take them to a fairly high level. Most of these songs offer up thoughtful moments showcasing both technique and feeling. Only on occasion, does this slip back into perfectly decent yet predictable moves. For the most part, Horse Thief has established a strong presence in this field.

Songs to try first:

Devil - The smoothly descending vocals wrap around you like a warm comforter.

Already Dead - Lovely acoustic guitar in this middle of the album song, which is a good change of pace.

Let it Go - The strongest rocker on the album, and thus always welcome to my ears.

JOHN THE CONQUEROR "THE GOOD LIFE"

If you are going to do the blues, there are a few directions that still work pretty well. Fortunately, John the Conqueror takes one of these routes. He has a loose honky tonk foot stomping style with a band that swings. The vocals are rich and road worn, but with strength and clarity. The guitars bounce around off of each other well and make for a good listen on this album. I always make time in my day for this kind of quality.

Songs to try first:

Mississippi Drinkin' - They create a true murky swampy feeling on this twanged out mid tempo rocker.

Golden Rule - Good dual guitars in the Allmans/Rolling Stones tradition.

John Doe - A slower bluesy folk styled number with a cool pipe organ behind the guitar.


LITTLE TROUBLE KIDS "HAUNTED HEARTS"
More crazed music from Belgium found its way over the ocean and into my inbox. While not as fiercely rocking as some of the neighboring music, Little Trouble Kids have some intensely dark moves at work here. Simply put, I hear a goth minimalism that sort of combines Siouxsie and the Banshees with No Mercy (an odd little San Francisco outfit from way back). This is highly primitive in the beats, but sleek and modern in the architecture of the guitars, haunting vocals, and various other sounds. They are capable of moving from the desperation of the title cut through the more reflective "For as Long". I enjoyed many of the delicate songs, although I felt more bursts of Swans-like loud moments may aide the overall effect. Still, another fine little album from that lovely little country between France and the Netherlands.

TONY MOLINA "DISSED AND DISMISSED"
If you like power pop with a slacker mentality and a Guided By Voices sense of editing, Tony Molina may have just the ticket for you with these 12 songs. But as they all add up to a grand total of 11:28 (59 seconds longer than 'The Musical Box' by Genesis), it all seems too short and incomplete, so therefore my review of this will be…

THE MOSTLY DEAD "WILDERNESS"
You may be a hardcore punk band, but the laws of physics are as true for you as everyone… you will age and entropy may set in. One great way to adapt and evolve and thus avoid entropy, is to reshape your sound. You don't have to reinvent yourselves or go from the Dils to Rank and File, but keep thinking and experimenting and see what you can come up with. Clearly, the Mostly Dead has done all of that as they charge forward. Their core hardcore intensity remains and their subtle post-hardcore creativity is far more in your face this time around. Most of these songs have great thought behind them and within and could easily be interpreted by bands from punk scenes to metal. I sometimes share the feelings of many of people that 'were there' for punk rock in the late seventies in wondering if there is anywhere to go with this music. Fortunately, there are many interesting paths that skillful bands can take and the Mostly Dead have clearly blazed a trail for many bands to follow with this record.

Songs to try first:

WEA - Imagine Mark Arm singing for Terminus in this powerful song with real hooks grabbing at you.

The Body - Attention hardcore-metal crossover fans, please put this band on your radar. They have something for everybody.

This is Why I Have No Friends - Just when you think they may not be able to come up with another epic blast, the closer smokes you off to the bliss of heaviness.

MOUNT CARMEL "GET PURE"
I guess one way of getting musically pure if you grew up in the early 1970s as I did, is to get back to basic hard as nails blues based rock music. This is the Mount Carmel way. Bluesy vocals, thick bass, steady drums, and a fuzzy electric guitar that has enough versatility to carry the day. They have all the chops down well, although I don't sense that little bit extra that carries this to the next level of vitality (such as Graveyard or anywhere even close to that). So if you really miss this style and want to see what one band does with it, feel free to have a listen. There just is not anything here to make me want to come back for more, even if I would not leave the room if they were up on stage.

THE POLKATS "LIVE FROM HIGHLANDTOWN"

This Baltimore band was a pretty big deal back in the 1990s. Everyone who was anyone seemed to think so, except the business men, so the band splintered off into many mostly successful adventures. They did a reunion show a couple years back and they are back to stay now, yet again. To celebrate, they have released this live show since they were pleased with the recording. And they should be as the sound is excellent and the energetic playing is pretty much on the mark throughout these 20 songs. Yes, there are polkas, but there are plenty of fun toe tapping rockers as well. The accordion is pivotal, of course, but the guitar playing is also excellent. The rhythms are strong and there are some traditional instrumentals in here, as well as a few covers from the likes of Taj Mahal for example. This is a sharp band that will energize about any room with a stage. Hopefully their rebirth will bring them here to DC some time. Until then, when in Baltimore, give these guys a listen.

And the big kickoff show is at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore on April 19th.

SCHOOL OF LANGUAGE "OLD FEARS"
There are mismatches of two perfectly fine individuals who are incompatible together. And that often happens between band and reviewer. This is one I probably am not equipped to give an opinion on. Although School of Language's light electronic pop moves with soulful vocals should appeal to people, there is not hope for me. These sound like bad Bowie outtakes with Daryl Hall singing and not Bowie. This apparently is a solo project from a guy (David Brewis) from Fields Music, who are well regarded as pop deconstructionists. Well someone needs to reassemble this and then I'll give it further listen.

MISS SHEVAUGHN & YUMA RAY "LEAN INTO THE WIND"

There is just a wee bit of spacey modern feeling to this highly westernized country and western rock sound that this band has concocted. There is enough twang, organ, and blues moves to keep this well beyond the cliches of any one genre. And they do the foot stomping rock thing pretty well, too. I like some of the moodier bluesy pieces with the powerful vocal work and deft instrumentation. "When the Pumps Run Dry" has this laid back feeling, yet combines it with Shooter Jennings/Hierophant styled gigantic rock moments as well. I was really expecting a likable album here. Instead, I got a powerful crossover album filled with excellent songs that refuse to bend to any one genre. They excite the senses and stay with you long after they finish playing.

They will be here at the Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival on Saturday, April 26th.

Songs to try first:

Election Year Blues - Lilting tempo is perfect for organ and guitar interchange and dual vocal work.

Lone Star Souvenir - Slow dreamy song that has a classic rock by way of big Texas barroom vibe.

When the Pumps Run Dry - A classic rocker, psychedelic at times, with great high volume guitar crunch.

SOFTSPOT "MASS"
I thought this was going to be just another decent ambient pop electronica effort. But Soft Spot hits just that with a delicate yet smartly rocking set of songs that do more than twist songs around whilst delivering edgy vocals. They take the pop format and add a space conscious psychedelic twist as the trail blaze their way through the old western plains and deserts… or something like that. Suffice it to say, that they are heavy on atmosphere, but create dramatic tension as they build a song from ambiance to pop rock. It is a neat trick and this album could just surprise you as it did me.

Songs to try first:

You Yours - The edginess spills over in just a few spots on this one.

Black Room Blues - The most atmospheric song here--Greg Sage like desert guitar work.

Pickup Lines - Great building drama and nicely traded male/female vocals.

SONTAG SHOGUN "TALE"
This is a little overly ambient for my liking. There is too much of the real world sampled in some of the cuts. However, when they go into a dreamier psychescape that is reminiscent of Fit & Limo as in "Let the Flies In", this album comes to life. So this was interesting enough, and effective for genre fans.

If I was not double booked already, I would be curious to see what they do live when they come to the Union Arts on April 26th. 

THOLLEM/CHASE "DUB NARCOTIC SESSION"
This certainly is a session, but expect free jazz at its freest, and not Sly and Robbie laying down a hypnotic reggae beat. It is piano and drums, a wickedly percussive combination. And although there are plenty of melodic moves on the piano, it is struck as a percussion instrument throughout the session. I also like the excessive use of the damper pedal much of the time as that was the way I played (or rather attempted to play). There is also a lot of pace and intensity, so this works for jazz people that like rock and maybe more importantly, vice versa. There is nothing relaxing here and I enjoyed it, although I will be more interested in what my jazz buddies would say, as to my thoughts.

You can check them out Thursday, April 3rd at Union Arts DC.

TRUST "JOYLAND"
There is some real bounce in the step of the electronic pop music that Trust comes up with here. Yet it is the vocal stylings that really have me wrapping my arms around this music. It does not sound like Bowie, but I sense some of that same stylistic vibe with command of the sound. The shifts of emotion and pace is also good with both male and female vocals working off of each other. Bands like this are a big help to me in enjoying the link between the rock music I am comfortable with and modern electronic bands.

Songs to try first:

Geryon - This is a song where you can engage in serious head bobbing and not look like an idiot.

Capitol - This has the bounce, but great style in vocals along with some interesting effects.

Four Gut - A more distant, older vibe at work on this one, with good rhythms.

TWEENS "TWEENS"
If you miss the female vocal lead punk power pop sound of the Rezillos or X-Ray Spex, then tune into the Tweens. The vocals also have a bit of the Joy Formidable's Ritzi Bryan in them. Yet the guitar, bass, and drums are more out of the classic punk sound. The bass even comes close to the throatiness of the Stranglers with pummeling drums pushing it forward. The guitar chords crunch away leaving lots of room on high for the vocals. The melodies are there, delivered in pop garage punk style that is ever welcome when it as good as this. It simply all comes together here for this Cincinnati band and I will be listening to this one a lot more.

And if you make the trek to Baltimore, you can see them at the Gold Bar on April 2nd.

Songs to try first:

Bored in this City - Wonderful opening cut has the vocal spunk and glorious guitar and bass moves.

Be Mean - Another really cool song that has me bopping around.

Rattle + Rollin' - Ferocious instrumental attack and still a melody to latch on to.

THE WHOCARES "NOW IN FULL STEREO"
This is one tough band and another exciting band from Belgium. Fortunately, they also have some interesting songs here delivered with a punk bar-room rock hybrid that sounds highly familiar, yet hard to place. It is sort of like the pub rock to punk rock change that occurred in the mid-1970s, although this has further rock moves in there as well. I could have used a bit more variety, but if you like it straight ahead, this will deliver the goods and it certainly entices me to hope to catch a club show some day soon.

Songs to try first:

The Dark Side - A tough vocal on top of a tough song, still with a pop oriented hook.

What You Want - Some real song craft in this tune, with all the requisite power.

Shakedown - a lowdown bluesy tough song fitting its title.

WITHERED HAND "NEW GODS"
A few notes in to this and I was getting ready to write my standard indie rock/Americana band review. Everyone who reviews records these days should have this boiler plate ready. Fortunately, the opening cut rocked along with a brisk pace and the song itself was one of the catchiest ones I have heard in weeks. The rest of the album holds up nicely as the songs vary from smooth crisp rockers to more reflective numbers. The lyrics at times come out a little too forced, but there are enough phrases and subjects that are worth paying attention to. I would say it is more story oriented than poetic. The production is solid and the arrangements interesting which helps bring this to life as an enjoyable album. So no 'sounds like everyone else' boilerplate here, give it a listen and let it stand out for you.

Songs to try first:

Horseshoe - The opening cut had me singing along with it well after it ended, so yes it has a monster hook.

King of Hollywood - Smooth but rollicking licks carry this along.

California - a spacey pop folk vibe is a nice surprise in the middle of the album.

WOODS "With Light and With Love"

This band really nails the American version of psychedelic folk with plenty of personality and style. They comfortably move from freaky Tim Buckley moves into grin inducing pop ditties. Everything is so fresh and feel-good, you will forgiven if you lean back and not go deep into their trippy instrumental excursions. Even when they are not on full sonic exploration, they have little tonal coloring working with their scrumptious melodies. This is a class band that is fully deserving of the buzz and should get even more popular.


And you can catch Woods at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Saturday, April 26th.

Songs to try first:

With Light and With Love - At 9:08, you expect something interesting and get it. A great song AND a wild jam.

Twin Steps - Some searing electric guitar spices this one up.

Feather Man - This one takes me back to 1970 in Wyrd England with wonderful guitar sounds and folk melody all twisted out at the close.

WYRD VISIONS "HALF-EATEN GUITAR"

If the band name and title don't make it obvious to you, then yes this quite psychedelic. But of course we have to explore further into what this band is going for. They are actually heavily acoustic and go for a mantra chanting brand of psychedelic folk that reminds me quite a bit of Stone Breath. Yet there is more primitivism at work here and at times heads towards a Six Organs of Admittance "Dust & Chimes" era style. I say 'they' but this is actually a rescued album from a Swedish-Canadian musician from Toronto that was recorded in 2006. There are five songs here that clock in over 40 minutes and the tempo does not vary much, although the songs exhibit a separate personality in each case. And if you need your electric fix, the last cut offers two guitars weaving a ten minute pattern with some other sounds worked in. This material rarely fails to interest me and just when I think it might not be pulling me in, I realize the song is over and time momentarily stood still. So obviously, it hooked me and has the power to pull in just about any psyche-folk fan.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Preview of Coming Attractions - Early April 2014

Yellow Ostrich returns to the DC9 On Wednesday the 2nd as the previous show was snowed out (Don't tell them it snowed this past Sunday).


Team Spirit overtakes the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Thursday, April 3rd.


One of my favorites Hi-Life Wedding hits the Tree House Lounge amidst their world wide travels to get this weekend started off right on Friday, Aprl 4th.


Another of my favorites--Baraboo, Wisconsin's Phox comes to the Hamilton (with Laura Mvula) on Tuesday, April 8th. They are really hot and who doesn't like to hear or say the word Baraboo? (let alone visit there as I did oh so many decades ago).


Dave Hause calls the DC9 hom on Wednesday, April 9th.

Luther Dickinson fills the Howard Theatre on Saturday, April 12th.


Trust in the Black Cat on Sunday, April 13th.


Odonis Odonis comes to the Black Cat Black Cat on Monday, April 14th.


And since everyone has their taxes complete and filed, there is no excuse for not going to one of two shows on Tuesday, April 14th. Try out I Break Horses at the DC9 or check out Natural Child opening for the excellent Black Lips at the Black Cat.