Monday, February 8, 2016

Interview with Annie Haslam of Renaissance

Interview with Annie Haslam -- February 3, 2016

Renaissance is a band with a long career and who has carved out a space in the progressive music world that is quite unique with their fusion of classical music, rock moves, pastoral folk passages, and even some forays into jazz or poppier areas. Annie Haslam is the band's dulcet voice that can quietly invite you in for a cup of tea or knock down a mountain when she lets it fly. She honored me with a few moments of her time before she and the band embark on another tour. There are just a few US dates this time around with the key one for those of us in the DC area being this Friday, February 12th at the Birchmere. Be there, they are so very worth it.
I dedicate this interview to my late friend from my high school days, Steve Andrews. I had many musical friends from that era, but we all had different favorites and Steve was the guy I would talk about Renaissance with. I miss those innocent days of discovery, but we are so fortunate that so many musicians left that keep the music going strong (along with some less innocent discoveries for the present).

ANNIE HASLAM - Oh, Hi David.

DAVID HINTZ - Hi. So how are you doing today.

AH - I just picked up my phone and it was dead, but you found me so that’s good.

DH - Oh, that was it.

AH - But I’m ok. I am in Pennsylvania and it is getting misty. There is a lot of rain coming. I’ve got about two feet of snow in the garden and it is probably going to flood around here. We’ll see (laughs).

DH - Yes, well I am just a few hours south of you and you are going to get the rain.

AH - Looks like a big band coming across, right?

DH - Yeah… did you get out of the snowstorm alright? We had a big one here.

AH - Yeah, I think we had 24 inches.

DH - That is what we had, too, and worse in the suburbs.

AH - A bit scary, but more than anything I worry about losing electricity.

DH - Yes. I lived on a mountain west of Colorado and that was a huge fear (laughs).

AH - Oh my gosh.

DH - But I was lucky. Although it constantly flickered on and off, I never lost it for more than half a day.

AH - When we had (hurricane) Sandy here, I was actually lucky only losing power for 36 hours. Some people lost it for weeks.

DH - But 36 is a test.

AH - It was.

DH - (after the usual explanations of methodology and DC Rock Live and Folkworld)… I am really curious that you have been there a while now, but how did you choose Pennsylvania for home?

AH - I married a man from Pennsylvania and I loved it so much in the area, that is why I stayed here. I go back to England for visits but can’t wait to get back here (laughs).

DH - So this will be where you stay?

AH - Oh good gosh yes. I have been here for about 25 years I think.

DH - Wow and I also hear that the northeast part of the United States is probably your largest fanbase, at least US-wise.

AH - Yes, it always was. As a band in the 1970s, New York was our biggest market and then it switched to Philadelphia. Sometimes we spent too much time there. We did go to the west coast and midwest but nowhere else. We should of done more, but it is what it is and the fans are still here.


DH - You were a favorite of mine in high school and I grew up in Ohio, but I did not get to catch Renaissance live until recent years when I’ve lived out here in DC. What about the rest of the world, are there hot spots in various countries?

AH - Yeah, Japan is where we do very well. Since Michael Dunford and I resurrected the band in 2009, and you may know or not, he passed away in 2012 unexpectedly.

DH - Yeah, I do.

AH - We were just building the band back up again, coming over here doing several east coast tours with Jon Michelle our manager from the seventies. Then we went to Japan and also went to South Korea. I have been to Brazil myself with my own band. We never went with Renaissance, though. It is a shame that the economy was pretty good there a couple of years ago and then last year it fell apart again. It makes it very difficult to take a six-piece band over there.

DH - Right.

AH - And then we toured Europe again last April and we’re going again this April. The band had not played there for over 30 years and it was wonderful. We recorded the show in London and the DVD from that show came out.

DH - Yes, it is just out and I definitely want to check that out. And you have the grinds of touring for a short US tour, but your European leg is pretty extensive and you are going with Curved Air.

AH - Yes!

DH - Was that by your invite, as I believe you are friends?

AH - Well, actually no, not friends, although we know each other, but I don’t think we played on the same bill in the seventies.

DH - Oh, alright.

AH - Obviously we know them and we were managed by the same manager at one point. The last tour we did was of fairly small venues except for the larger one in London. Actually, we played a big one in Israel and Portugal, but in order to go back and not do smaller venues again, when you have another act with you in a similar genre, you know it is a good bill and more inviting. We can get larger venues and get more people and that’s the idea, so that why that was done. I am looking forward to it.

DH - I wish you could have talked them into coming here.

AH - Yeah….

DH - But I know the economy does not make it easy.

AH - I am not sure when they have been here.

DH - Yeah, I was curious, too, but they did not have the radio play when I was younger. I discovered them myself, much later in life and would love to see them, but… anyway, touring is going to be quite rigorous anyway and I understand you had some back problems a while back, which I also have that makes it difficult for me to even go to shows some times. Are you doing ok with that these days?

AH - I am doing ok now. It started off with breast cancer in ’93 and then I got osteoporosis very very quickly, which you know is what happens with breast cancer. And I had intravenous treatments for many years, but then after about eight years I thought I needed to give my body a rest from all this chemical stuff and I did, but I didn’t replace it. Anyway, when we were recording our new album, ‘Grandine il Vento’, I was in the studio and when you are in the studio and you are tired, you kind of slouch all over the place, you know (laughter), but all of a sudden I felt a terrible pain and I got a collapsed vertebra due to the osteoporosis getting bad. I had just overdone it. I am not a very strong woman and I’m only 5’ 2” and I tend to do things that a man should do. I do things without thinking. As a woman, I have to be more careful. And so the combination of doing the wrong things and the osteoporosis, I ended up in a back brace for nine months, 24 hours a day.

DH - Oooh, that’s serious.

AH - We managed to do five dates of a fifteen date tour. We were just building our career up. It was a shame as it was a great tour, but I just couldn’t travel more than a certain time in a vehicle because it would have been too much on my back. I was in agony. I would go on stage and the pain would start coming at 9:00 at night, just as we were coming on stage. It was just the whole time every night (laughs). As soon as I started singing I was fine, you know. I am now taking another treatment which is working well. What happened with you?

DH - My back locked up a while ago and I have a lower back vertebrae problem and sciatica with numbness. I can work through it, but I have tried to walk to a show and my back partially locked, so I had to hobble back home. I really try because I know how hard it is for bands to tour and if you guys work so hard, I will do what I can to get out there.

AH - Yeah. I mean the drummers have to work so hard. I feel bad for drummers actually.

DH - Some of my drummer friends have told me that they can’t do long sets anymore (as they age). And one of the other things that I look for, especially with bands that have been around a while is how the vocals stand up. And I have to say aside from maybe Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone of the Zombies, and maybe Leslie West, I can not think of any others that can the notes with passion and the fire that you have. So how do you take care of your voice?

AH - Ummm, well I don’t smoke.

DH - That’s good.

AH - And whenever I go out to the store, I wear a mask especially when I have tours coming up, because I can not get sick. I have to be very very careful what I do. And I like to drink a bit of wine now and then, but I don’t drink too much. I am just very careful really because I love it with a passion. Someone said to me not too long ago that it was amazing that your larynx hasn’t dropped. I asked what did they mean and they said that apparently with a woman’s voice, the larynx drops and the voice gets deeper.

DH - Really?

AH - Yeah, I had never heard of that in my life. But anyway I am obviously fortunate it hasn’t dropped (laughs). And I was trained by an opera singer.

DH - Oh yes, I had read that.

AH - I use my diaphragm and I don’t force myself, I don’t sing through my throat and scream out. If you are a screamer, there is a good chance you are going to lose voice and never get it back.

DH - And even people that have sung for a long time, they may lose their screams and high points, even if they retain the core of their voice. But you can still soar.

AH - Yeah and I love it with a passion. I think when you love something so much you just make it happen. I have a very strong spirit and that is how I feel, you know.

DH - Good, was that true in your youth even? Was singing always the goal?

AH - Oh no, actually. I got thrown out of the school choir when I was six for singing too loud (laughter). And then I never even thought of it. My father was an amateur comedian singer. My brother Michael ended up being managed by Brian Epstein. His voice was phenomenal.

DH - Oh, right.

AH - Yeah, his voice was a cross between Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley. You can even see a song on Youtube, Annie Haslam/Michael Haslam.

DH - I’ll do that.

AH - We did it in his living room with a karaoke machine. Oh, and I brought him over to perform with us in 1997 and it was the only time we ever performed together. We did the song ‘Somewhere Out There’ you know that song?

DH - Yes.


AH - And then, well he was the one who was the singer,my father was an amateur, and Michael was on Christmas shows for a while, on TV. I went to art school to be a dress designer in the mean time. And then I went into the business, but I had some designs stolen by this big company in London and it just threw me off it. I thought I am not doing this, and then I go into the music business! (laughter)

DH - Ha, oh yes, of course!

AH - Crazy, you go from one terrible business where people steal things to another one. But my boyfriend at the time heard me singing at a party and said that ‘your voice is special, you could be a singer’ and I thought you may be right, so I went to some talent competitions and I won them and I went for a job in a cabaret band in London and I got that job. Then the guitarist said ‘you’re wasted here. I have just seen an advert for a band and I think you should go for it. I don’t know what kind of music it is, but why don’t you go for it’. And I did and it was Renaissance.

DH - OK, that was the strange time when Renaissance changed all of its members between the second and third albums.

AH - Yeah, well we have changed a lot, you know. It is one of those things, but what does a name mean?

DH - Yeah that’s right. For bands that have been around a long time, so long as there is a focus somewhere and drive to do it.

AH - And not everyone can play this music either. You have to have the best musicians. It is not easy stuff. You give someone ‘Mother Russia’ and it’s like oh God and ‘A Song for All Seasons’ or ’Scheherazade’. We played ‘Scheherezade’ in 2013 and it was wonderful.

DH - Yes I really enjoyed that song especially. And I saw from that tour that you have been able to retain most of the members from previous tours because it could be a challenge finding the right musicians for this music for auditions.

AH - Oh yeah. It is usually by knowing other people and bringing in people we know. Rave Tesar has been with me for many years now and he’s the main keyboard player now. And we have Tom Brislin is joining us for a while—he was on our symphonic tour. And we have Frank Pagano on drums who joined us in 2009. We did have David J. Keys, but for health reasons he had to leave, so we now have Leo Traverssa (on bass) and taking Michael Dunford’s place is Mark Lambert who used to be in my solo band and he fits perfectly. He knew Michael. We started off in 2009 with the attention of bringing the whole band together, but it didn’t fit as there were too many restrictions and time that we just could not get it together for everybody to do it. But Mickey (Dunford) and I could do it, so we just took a deep breath and leased a space and things started to happen. John worked hard to get the shows for us and it was a success.
DH - The music business, as we joked about, is ever changing but has changed radically since you started. Is it tougher or easier now?

AH - Not easier. We are a heritage band now. Of course there are many more musicians that have web sites and can sell—the good thing is that if they know how to do it, they can build their own website and sell their stuff on line, go to kickstarter and get the money for an album and there are a lot of things you can do. Of course radio is so different now with DJs that can not choose what they want to play anymore. It is just big business, not like it used to be. So a lot of brilliant artists don’t get the light of day, with the exposure of the great station in the seventies. We were very fortunate. Well we were different; we are still different, there is not really anything like Renaissance. These guys can play the music wonderfully.

DH - Yes, you are not a perfect fit anywhere except under the big umbrella of progressive music.

AH- Yeah, yeah. But the music business is sad with kids that are growing up thinking everything should be free. That is hurting a lot of artists in their careers. That is sad. I am amazed I am still doing this to be quite honest, but I just love it. I don’t think I am finished yet, my voice is still quite strong. Although I am also painting, I don’t know if you read that I am a painter.

DH - Yeah and I believe you have even done some album covers.

AH - I have done a few of our album covers. But that is my big passion that I will be doing when I am not singing anymore. But right now since my voice is strong, this is what I am doing.

DH - Great, that is excellent. By the way, radio is what exposed me to Renaissance. I am curious if you have had any bad touring partners where the put you with the wrong band in the wrong venue?

AH-  Ehm, yeah, we had a couple of bands that didn’t really work… We were opening up for Fleetwood Mac in Rochester.

DH - Oh, which era of Fleetwood Mac?

AH - Early seventies and the place was packed with people that were there to see both bands. And we went on, and played ‘Ashes are Burning’ they pulled the plug right in the middle of it.

DH - Oh  geeze.

AH - Yeah, and the audience went crazy, they didn’t like that at all. And a couple of others that I don’t want to name names, but a couple of female singers in the business have been really, really nasty. Nasty, nasty, nasty (laughter). I mean I love to meet other female singers and I love to meet other musicians, female musicians, you know. But most of them just don’t want to know or do things to your face right in front of you. It is a shame.

DH - Yes, I have heard a lot about this and talked a lot of people and I think that is getting better in recent years, but not perfect.

AH - Yeah, maybe it is.

DH - When we were younger, it was like people ‘blowing someone off the stage’ and crews sabotaging things, like unplugging people and playing with volumes. I think it is improved.

AH - Yeah terrible stuff. Well we once did an odd show with Steve Martin.

Dh - Oh that is odd (laughs).

AH - Yeah, in California in a beautiful place and the audience went crazy, but he wouldn’t let us go on for an encore.

DH - Your recent album is something I plan to review as I have not heard it yet and the Renaissance DVD “Live at the Union Chapel” is the most recent release which is something I am looking forward to.


AH - Yes, these are on line at our site. Also if you should go to our Facebook pages, RenaissanceTouring and mine is AnnieHaslamArt, which has a lot of my painting on there, if you haven’t seen my paintings, that may interest you. I was over in England in July, editing the DVD, in the countryside of Cheshire—beautiful, and we did a music video out of the blue as it happened. I didn’t have the clothes for it, I would have planned it out better, but it is on the facebook page. The band aren’t on it because the band was over here, ha ha, just on my own over there, but it has Jodrell Bank, the telescope/big observatory in the background. It was shot in a barley field there, beautiful.

DH - I will. And now just a few more questions… I always curious even way back when, you used a non-playing lyricist, Betty Thatcher, for so many of your lyrics.

AH - Yes.

DH - What I find impressive and hard to do from someone on the outside is how the lyrics flowed so well within the music. How did you guys get that to work?

AH - Well, you know when I joined the band in 1971, Betty was already involved writing with Mickey and I can’t quite remember how they hooked up because she lived in Cornwall, which is where I lived in my teenage years and before I moved up to London to be a dress designer. I went to art school down there in Cornwall, too, but I never met her there. I met her when I joined the band. She is a poet, basically, and I don’t know other than we were all tuned into each other at the right time. The five people that were in the band, you know Jon Camp, John Tout, Terry Sullivan, myself, and Mickey Dunford. It was a special time. That was the time when we wrote some incredible, incredible music. And it was just that we were all connected including Betty. She was part of the flow and one album flowed into another. It was a natural progression from each album. Later on we did ‘A Song for All Seasons’ and we had a hit with ‘Northern Lights’. After that, there was a little bit of pressure on us to do something more commercial and we lost the flow I think a bit. And eventually we just lost everything and went completely the wrong way. But Betty was like I feel when I am painting. I feel like I’m tuning in on a channel, channeling it from somewhere. I believe that Betty was the same, but with words.

DH - It just sounded so natural.

AH - Yeah, and with the new album, I was a bit concerned since I would never say I was anywhere near the talent Betty was, but it works with what I did. You’ll hear it. The first song is about Leonardo da Vinci and that may give you an idea.

DH - Do you anticipate writing further with Renaissance?

AH - Yes, we are hoping to. With the DVD out, I am doing everything now—I am basically managing the band as well at this point, so there are all kinds of different directions to go here, not musically, but different things to do. Redesigning the website… it is just one thing after another right now, but that is definitely in the cards… a turn of the cards, ha ha ha ha.


DH - (laughs) Yeah, it is a big turn for the long career you have had. A little throwback question if you will. Roy Wood is such an interesting character and he was briefly a member, but he worked with you some on your solo records. Do you have any stories about him?

AH - I was engaged to him and we lived together for four years. The guy is a genius. We are still in touch, we wrote to each other the other day. When he comes over, we meet up and have lunch or whatever. Yeah, he is a genius, there is no doubt about it. I never laugh so much in all my life when I am with him. He is such a character, he could have been a comedian. He uses that, you know, in his life and in his performances. And yet  he didn’t join the band, but did some work with us in Tuscany with us in 2001.

DH - Oh, ok.

AH - But the experience of ‘Annie in Wonderland’ (first solo LP) was incredible with him. That was when we met Paul McCartney because Paul was mixing ‘Wings at the Speed of Sound’ at the same time at the Langley Studios. He just came into the studio as I finished my vocal and he said who was that singing. And I said ‘it was meeee.’ (laughs). And he said that sent a shiver down his spine and he came in and talked to us for about an hour.

DH - Oh, great.

AH - Yeah, it was wonderful. We had a lot of great experiences. But Roy is still working and producing. His Christmas song is played every year in England. Actually, I heard it on I think it was CBS Morning Show when the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree ceremony was on and they were playing ‘I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day’.

DH - That’s surprising because he is a guy that just isn’t known in the US versus England, where his genius is understood more.

AH - I know, I mean I think he came over with the Move, didn’t he?

DH - He probably did.

AH - And he came over briefly just for 2 or 3 shows in New York in the 90s. He has not been over here much.

DH - There are a lot of bands that I discovered later in life that did not catch the breaks when they were active He was definitely one.

AH - Yeah.

DH - There are also a couple of guys I have been interested in for a long time who had guest spots on your latest album, John Wetton and Ian Anderson, who I have interviewed luckily enough. Were these guys you have known long?

AH - Yes. John Wetton did play with us. He did a few shows for us in the 70s when we were looking for a bass player, but he didn’t want a permanent job with us. But he did 4-6 shows and the Reading Festival was one of them. And then we stayed in touch and I hadn’t seen him for many years actually. I was in Japan doing an interview tour for my second solo record that started on Epic Records but went to Virgin. I went to Japan and Asia was playing in Nagoya and a guy from the record company told me and I called him. But after that we didn’t see each other until about 2003. But we’ve remained friends. And then I did some work with him for his ‘Icon’ album, some backing vocals for him. When we did ‘Grandine il Vento’ that became ‘Symphony of Light’ , we wanted to get a couple guests, so I contacted John. I had already done something for Ian a few years prior. He wanted me to join him on stage to do ‘Northern Lights’. So I thought I would call him and see if he would return the favor so to speak, I don’t mean that literally. So I felt he would probably do it, I was hoping he would and he did! And he did it and it came out fantastic. That is ‘Cry to the World’ which is the music video that we have out right now.


DH - Good, I will look at that. So is there any chance for an Annie Haslam autobiography?

AH - No.

DH - No, ok?

AH -  (Laughter) You know what? If I wrote a book I would have to write everything down and it would hurt other people and I just don’t want to do it. There is no point in writing something unless you put everything as it was.

DH - I agree with that.

AH - Yeah, so I’m not going to do it. Why drag things up from the past? You know, we have to live for this moment and plan for the future if we can. Actually right at this moment is the most important time. The past is gone, you know. And I don’t like the idea of making money on other people’s names and telling this that. It’s not me.

DH - Right. Now I’m interested in musicians, or other artists or writers that have been among your biggest influences?

AH - Oh gosh…

DH - Yeah, that’s the ‘oh gosh’ question I always ask.

AH - Well I love Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez when I first started singing. In fact when I first started singing, before I went to the opera singer, I sounded just like Joan Baez because I was singing along with her. A lot of people do.

DH - Of course.

AH - Umm… uh, of course the Beatles, I love classical music, Bob Dylan. I listened to Bob Dylan a lot in the sixties at school and the Beach Boys.

DH - Any non-musicians like from the world of art?

AH - Of course Leonardo Da Vinci. I also like Frida Kahlo, Van Gogh, Turner, Monet… I have got varied…

DH - Yeah, that is a wide range.

AH - Yeah, my paintings… I can’t explain them, you have to look at them. It is very difficult, they are abstract but everything flows in them, it is like the music actually.
DH - Well right, that is the best way. It is my job to offer explanations (or not).

AH - Yeah, if just flows out like water. I don’t even think about it while I am doing it. 
DH - It’s probably hard to estimate, but do you paint every day when you are not busy with music?

AH - When I’m not doing music like right now, I’m not painting every day as I am locked into getting everything ready for the shows and the Moody Blues cruise, and in England. There is a lot of work involved in that. I do it when I can. Funny enough, I got up this morning and I did some painting about 8:00. It doesn’t matter. If I feel like it, I will just get up and do it.

DH - Yeah, so not a set time.

AH - Yeah, I am not a set time person actually, except when I know I have to go on stage at a certain time.

DH - Understandable.

AH - Alright David. Are you going to the show.

DH - Yes, I sure hope so. It is at the Birchmere, where you were last. I have seen you there.

AH - Oh have you?

DH - Yes, and another place with the Strawbs, but I am not sure where that was.

AH - We never played the Birchmere with the old Renaissance.

DH - No, unfortunately I never saw that version of your band.

AH- So since 2009 then.

DH - Yes. I’ve reviewed you a couple of times and maybe saw you once before.

AH - Oh, ok. Well thank you very much.

DH - Thank you for your time and have a great tour. Bye-Bye.

AH - Bye bye.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Cornel West Theory - Time is Fire - The Black Sparks -- MLK Library - Feb 4 2016

The Black Sparks - This is a free show at the library sponsored by the DCPL Punk Archive. And the best way to start this off is with a real punk band playing pretty well into the 1980s harDCore style. The sound is a little murky and the vocals are too high, but I detect some good melodic moves within the opener. Another song had a strong Faith/GI sort of feeling to it which was fun. A couple of their newer cuts did not move me nearly as much. I don't think this was as fully formed as I would have liked, but it had the energy so we are off to a good start.

Time is Fire - Third time is normally the charm, but I liked this band plenty the first and second time I saw them. Now there is a new bassist tonight who did well keeping the flow of this intriguing band. The rhythms are funky and dance-able with guitar lines that work middle eastern moves into rock forms and together create the individual approach that makes these guys special. But don't forget the energetic vocals, which powered atop the music, which was better balanced than the first set. This band is working hard and playing all around town, so check them out soon.
The Cornel West Theory - This is only the second time I have seen this fine local hip hop band and I was quite impressed the first time, which was far too long ago. The band was smoking hot tonight with their two rap vocalists, powerhouse drummer, smooth bassist, and electronics/samples guy. The music mixes power with mystery and the vocalists work off each other in perfect step increasing the drama of their quickly but clearly delivered verbiage. It is great to see these guys still delivering the goods to a sizable crowd, who thoroughly enjoyed this tight well run show. There will be a lot more music here in the King Library in weeks to come and hopefully the bills will continue to be strong, but at a price of 'free', you can have a lot less talent than we had tonight and still enjoy the night.

Quotes of the Night: From the opening set...

Band: "This is a new one"
Crowd Member 1: "Yeah!"
Crowd Member 2: "Yeah!"
Crowd Member 3: "No!"

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Young Galaxy - Dias -- Black Cat - Feb 3 2016

by John Miller

Dias - Resonance is funny thing, it can add to an already well established tone, or it can send audiences fleeing, hands covering bloody ears. Dias begins tonight leaning on significant amounts of resonance and at times it becomes overwhelming. Considering their avant garde, experimental bent it is not surprising.

Dias, DC locals, is a two piece; vocalist and everything else. There isn't much up on stage but fuck if they aren’t loud. Perhaps some volume control should be considered to give the vocalist some room. Sometimes it’s a chore picking her out behind all these layers. That's not to say that she is missing, just that some of the random noises spilling out of the rig tend to obscure the strongest element of the group.

As far as a general sound, Dias is by far one of the strangest acts I have seen and I say that with the utmost respect. It's odd in the best way; forcing off notes, strange delays, and pitchiness, but making those elements fit within the confines of the composition. And making those elements fit is not easy to do. With all the interesting design choices, I am surprised their timing is relatively safe. The Back Room has filled up nicely and as with most shows, the opening act has the difficult task of winning over what can sometimes be a hostile environment but Dias succeeds.

Young Galaxy - Young Galaxy is a far safer choice. A lot of the experimental is gone from earlier. While generalities remain (dancing, keys, layers) they are far more approachable. I was worried I was in for another chillwave snorefest, but this is far better. They are confident in both their compositions and ability. Generally I find that those, especially those subscribing to chillwave, tend to hide behind any number of random noises, mumbling their way to completion. Young Galaxy, while not particularly talkative between pieces is fun. People clap in rhythm and dance along; no contemplating the color of the cement floor while questioning how life has so royally fucked you, just a good time. I hear bits and pieces of Madonna, Kate Bush, and The Revolution. It isn't one overarching influence, just parts; melodies, vocal inflections, keys. Enough to know where they are coming from but not so much that it defines them. Those influences are decidedly eighties but the tone of the drums, the sound design and arpeggios are much more contemporary. I am reminded a little of a less obvious Javiera Mena.

This is one of those shows that would have completely flown over my head. It is somewhat out of my wheelhouse and even though they have been around for almost a decade, I had no idea that they existed; though I blame that mostly on my age. Well written, well performed show. Count me a convert.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Howie Day - Anna Rose -- The Hamilton - Jan 30 2016

Anna Rose - Joined by Adam Stoler on lead acoustic guitar and backing vocals, Anna Rose handles the lead vocals and offers rhythm guitar much of the time. They occasionally employ a bass drum beat whose unwavering rhythm surprisingly adds an anchor to show how interesting the guitar parts are. The lead guitar rarely mirrors Rose's chords, but locks into the vibe of the song well and can offer quiet sonic coloring to searing rock solos. Rose carries the songs further with a powerful voice that does not merely go into over the top blues style. Blues based rock music is far more the heart of their sound with only traces of folk or country here. They use effects well, again never overwhelming the listener. I loved their little nod to Led Zeppelin tossing in a passage from their interpretation of 'Nobody's Fault But Mine' into one of their songs. They also covered Dolly Parton and Warren Zevon, much to the pleasure of this large audience. This was an excellent set of music with the just the right balance of daring and comfort. Her music and live performance is a great match with a wide variety of styles and has the power and presence to move the front of the line.
Howie Day - This was more of a standard set featuring this Maine veteran on voice and acoustic guitar. His expressive vocals are clearly the star early on as the guitar playing is decent, but along more predictable lines. The songs are fine folk-pop numbers that are easy to latch on to and listen to his vocal work carry them further. The third song really awakened me to his potential as he looped a percussive pattern he created on his guitar body and continued looping tricky little guitar sounds and voice to create a mysterious and broad soundscape. I have seen this all before, but his nearly effortless way of creating magic showed why he gets the following he does. He has great personality on the simpler songs and they are all well and good. But I enjoyed the more original moves in this set.

Quote of the Night: Howie Day... "All right, I've just been playing sad stuff so far, so I'll just continue doing that."

Saturday, January 30, 2016

RECORD REVIEWS: JANUARY 2016

PETE ASTOR “SPILT MILK”
Pete Astor works the territory between Ray Davies and Bob Pollard, perhaps. There is songcraft with simplicity at work when the best of Astor’s songs ring forth. The lesser songs may be in that direction, but invoke a simple indie rock slacker folk vibe to it. The musicians sound relaxed, but have enough bite to their sound to keep it crisp and nimble, moving forward. This is a slippery record, lots of quality, but I won’t know its staying power until after a few more listens. It could go either way, but I would definitely recommend a listen.

Songs to start with first:

Mr Music - Sounds kinda classic, kinda fresh, spartan but complete. Song stories still work.

The Getting There - I love when a band has that certain ‘traveling beat’ for traveling songs.

Sleeping Tiger - Steady guitar chords atop a dreamy keyboard with fine bass and drums punctuation.

BEACON “ESCAPEMENTS”

Dreamy electro pop… this is becoming a higher and higher and percentage of offerings in the past couple of years. You need less people to work with compared to rock music, so it is like folk and hip hop, one or two people and you have a live act or an album. Creativity is even more exposed and in this case, there is enough present as there are some musical shifts beyond the expected. The vocals are pretty good with a heavy emphasis on the dream portion of things. Still, over eleven songs, they did not offer enough alternatives for me to recommend this to anyone beyond the fans. I would rather see Beacon over many similar acts who frequent the U Street Music Hall, so you should give these guys a listen, if this is your scene.

And you can do just that when Beacon appears live at Songbyrd, Saturday, February 13th.

Songs to start with first:

IM U - The opening cut sets the electro dream pop stage well, with plenty of dream.

Running Out - Diverse shifts in style and substance yet the song smoothly moves along, just not in a straight line.

Hollow - Some effective hollow silences in this song.

FIELD MUSIC “COMMONTIME”
If you enjoy quirky pop arranged with loads of creativity, then you should be on board for Field Music and their latest album. Unfortunately this type of music is more classroom material for me as the passion eludes me. I believe some passion is there in the music, unlike the cynical tripe in Steely Dan for instance. Don’t get me started there, as this does not send me into convulsions of annoyance. I even appreciated some of their sonic moments. But their core songs are working in a different dimensional plane for me. But there is a lot of talent within, so if this is your universe, take it all in.

Songs to start with first:

Trouble at the Lights - I can recommend this for its bold sound and darker visage.

HIGH HIGHS “CASCADES”
Does all dream pop sound the same? Well, like most genres, if you like it, then definitely not. But if you don’t care much for a genre, it all starts sounding the same. I am not a huge fan of dream pop, but it occasionally works its magic for me. Not this time as the songs just showcased their atmosphere and moved along a reasonable but predictable melodic line. The vocals are good but unrelentingly steady. This one is for the fans of the style, at best.

LOST AND PROFOUND “GOOD-BYE MINE”
This is an intriguing and occasionally slippery band. When they hit the right melodic notes and pull hard on the emotional strings, they can be quite profound. When they pull back and take it too easy, they lose me a bit. It makes me think this is Spriguns’ Mandy Morton’s granddaughter trying to recapture the old magic in a modern setting. This is not the first band to try for that and not the best, but they have me along for the ride in a big way when they nail it just right.

Songs to start with first:

Superhuman - The opener has a delectable melody line, familiar enough but effective.

Iodine - Kind of quiet in the beginning but with the instrumental build and gospel like backing vocals, this became big and bold.

Bad Sister - Great vibe here, with its classic British folk ballad style at work. Wring out that emotion.

JACOB METCALF “FJORD”
This a full bodied folk album, or a classic singer songwriter outing to put it another way. Vocals and acoustic guitar take the lead, but there are many more sounds and arrangements among these eleven songs. This one took a while before it started to work a bit of magic. The vocals are decent but predictable. The music less so and where there is some thoughtful layering or creative songwriting twists, there is some real excellence here. A mixed bag for sure, but worth a study.

Songs to start with first:

Cut Your Ties - I like the way the strings build this up late in the song.

Fjord - Icy themes and cool brass work together to establish the mood.

Traffic - Here is a song where I think the acoustic guitars shine in a well written song.

NIGHT BEATS “WHO SOLD MY GENERATION”
There have been a few generations since the brand of psychedelic music that Night Beats is closely attached first began. This has all the earmarks of early Vox amps with enough watts to pummel your eardrums and guitar pedals with reverb you will be hearing the next day. These guys have the sound but also the songs sounding almost dead in between the thick power of Black Angels and the quirkier songs of Dead Meadow. Yes, I am a total mark for this sound, but it is the songwriting here that will make me come back for more, just as it does for the bands I mentioned. And being from Seattle if you enjoyed the neglected classic album from Truly, you will likely fall in love with this one.

Songs to start with first:

Power Child - Distant guitars and in your face vocals make for a post punk psychedelic sound.

Sunday Morning - Not the great Lou Reed song, but like that one a little lower key than the rest with a killer melody.

Shangri Lah - Galloping western styled melody with some Flamin Groovies style guitar counters. Groovy.

CIAN NUGENT “NIGHT FICTION”
If there is such a thing as lounge folk rock, Cian Nugent just may be able to write the formula. But he moves beyond that or any formula with his rambling electric guitar and thoughtful singing. He even nails a nice fingerstyle instrumental with ‘Lucy’ to show he can go coffee house folk any time he would like. And he can also stretch out into a long steady rocker. This is the eclectic loner original style of folk music I like, something slightly outsider with no barriers in the approach. Nugent is carrying the classic psyche-folk tradition into modern and more unique territory. As a bonus, he is from Ireland and not related to a certain 2nd Amendment lunatic guitarist.

Songs to start with first:

First Run - Reminds me of an American take on Meic Stevens electric folk with just a hint of psyche.

Shadows - Steady bleating of brass on this eight minute epic.

Year of the Snake - Speaking of epic, this rocker clocks in at 11:40 with its Feelies meets Kurt Vile beat.

PROMISE AND THE MONSTER “FEED THE FIRE”
To answer my earlier question, NO, all dream pop does NOT sound the same. Even if the sounds may be similar, there are bands that work the form with a sense of majesty and vision that reminds you of why the genre has a strong fan base. Promise and the Monster are clearly one of the best in this arena. Their gorgeous female vocals could work in a number of places, but set them atop the atmospheric guitars, synthesizer washes, smart percussion, subtle bottom, and you have a monster of a band that exceeds even the most optimistic of promises. There is a strong gothic feel and a pounded out flexible metal style, the type of which excels in their native Sweden. Whether metal, folk, pop, or progressive, there seems to be a magic connection in Scandinavia. But even if you don’t buy that theory, I would recommend buying this and establishing your connection to this excellent music.

Songs to start with first:

Feed the Fire - Great melody will suck you in and hold you tight.

Hunter - More sumptuous sounds with the second song. I am hooked.

Hammering the Nails - Nice mysterious guitar line. Look, don’t stop with these, just listen to the whole LP.

SPACE CREAM "PTERODACTYL SKY"
There are eight songs on this LP, but this is not an album to pick and choose as the band has created a large concept album here. The storyline concerns a ’sex positive female revolutionary’ so this is a good combination of themes of Cafe Flesh and Barbarella. The great thing about this concerns the glam progressive moves the band relishes. If this type of big, bold, and brash sound is not required for concept albums, it probably should be. There is even some punk attitude within and it is nice to see the Screamers’ Paul Roessler engineering this beast. The other selling point is the amazing vocal work of Savannah Pope who can carry her tones about the din and pull back into a heart grabbing acoustic moment. Musically, this is fun, although a bit more creative flourish would help. It is there at times, but falls back into safe classic rock forms a bit too much. But that is a minor quibble, as this is a fun record for fans of ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ and even me, who thinks that is a bit overrated.

RADIATION CITY “SYNESTHETICA”
Nine songs of electronic pop are not always to my liking, but this band has plenty of bite in the welcome guitar. It is instrumentally thick, which meets with my approval as well. Add female vocals and, well, you just might make me a fan of this genre yet. The key to any genre is writing great songs. I am not sure this band is at the ‘great’ level, but they write good enough songs to keep me from even thinking about looking for the fast forward button. There were a few songs where my mind drifted, but most had some variations and thick production, which kept my focus. The songs are distinct enough, but I preferred listening to the whole album irrespective of song titles. So put it on and sit back for the fun.

See them live at DC9 on Monday, February 29th.

THE RECORD COMPANY “THE RECORD COMPANY”
Electric Blues Rock is the Genus here, with a species that moves into spare territory focusing on electric guitar, drums, just enough tasty bass and bluesy singing that has a full understanding of post British Invasion blues. But there are forays into older rock’n’roll moves that balance this between fairly new, old, older, and oldest variants of blues rock’n’roll. It is hard to argue against the style. The trick is to do it well and these guys do.

And if you want to catch them live, hurry to the Rock’n’Roll Hotel TONIGHT, Saturday Jan 30th.

Songs to start with first:

Off the Ground - The opener has a brisk mobil approach in the music that transcends the basics.

Rita Mae Young - I like the drumming and the spaces between the instrumentation and vocals.

Feels So Good - A fine rock’n’roll number here. It’s a gas.

TY SEGALL “EMOTIONAL MUGGER”
Maybe some people have been tired of the quantity of Ty Segall press in recent years, but I can not fathom getting tired of the music. Like a similar crazed song-a-holic Robert Pollard, he still has a way with a hook and manages many different ways of getting his music out there. I think he has even steadied his pace a wee bit, but if he has the energy and the songs, why not keep moving? This time around, he is combining some of the dense electronica of Nine Inch Nails to his power pop sensibilities, along with his psychedelic flair. Balancing quirky and heavy is a unique approach that only a few dare try and he has fully succeeded with that here. A true pleasure.

Songs to start with first:

Squealer - The opening cut is catchy and establishes the sonic themes for the LP.

Emotional Mugger/Leopard Priestess - A long hard hitting rocker, still with some quirky bits.

Candy Sam - This rocker is catchy with a great Ron Asheton style lead guitar intro.

SHOOTING DOWN ASTEROIDS “FINE. WELL…”

by Kyle Schmitt
This album is a solo recording project from Carlos Martin Vizcarra, who has since recruited a four-piece band to play shows under the Shooting Down Asteroids banner. Vizcarra’s vocals dominate the mix, with bright, clear production making these songs immediately accessible. The synth-driven “100 MPH” showcases the album’s combination of wistful lyrics and upbeat, poppy instrumental playing. Backing vocals help to build a restless atmosphere in “Phosphorescence”, while a simpler, straightforward accompaniment suits “Chicago” just as well. Switching gears, Vizcarra effectively channels his anger at science-denying politicians in “Drown”, warning that “our sinking ship is burning, and we’re all going to drown.” Vizcarra crafts some pleasing songs on this record, and his pop sensibilities create intrigue in how these elements would come together in a live setting.


Songs to start with first

Anything - The synth arrangement lends tension to a song about a compulsion to reunite with someone.

Fireflies - Vizcarra’s smooth vocal style blends well with the acoustic guitar backing.

Chicago - A Windy City road trip (the “baddest place I have ever been” in winter) allows Vizcarra time to muse on the state of his relationship.

SKYLINE HOTEL “SPARKS OF LIGHT”
Here is a local pop duo out with a four song EP with bright catchy songs and a varied sound. They go from big and busy in the pacy ‘Make me Sway’ to the easy going soul pop touches in ‘Winter’s Warmth’. The final song ‘A Love I Won’t Mind’ is the most accomplished to my ears, as they balance some quick rock moves with the warm pop style that is at the core of their music. If you prefer a smarter brand of pop music that is smooth at heart, but filled with rock energy, then Skyline Hotel should be on your itinerary.

SONNY SMITH “SEES ALL KNOWS ALL”
“Now I’ve never made any money… at my writing.” That is the opening line of the second song/story called ‘Broke Artist’ and I have already figured out that there was no way Sonny Smith was going to make any money at his writing, at least with these short stories set to odd backing music, sometimes lounge, sometimes country. I really hope ‘Broke Artist’ is an ironic commentary on the nature of pretentious artists seeking out a living with their rubbish that they believe moderate to mass audiences should be supporting. If so, he nailed it. There may be an audience for this, although the larger one would be for his band Sonny and the Sunsets who are also not an act that I will advocate. I am an avid reader and even if I read this as prose as I would much prefer, I would not care at all for Mr. Smith’s storytelling. It has that faux arty feel enhanced by his laid back approach. There are far more interesting observations and far more interesting observers in life.

TEDDYBEARS “ROCK ON”
This Swedish outfit looks a lot like the Residents with Bear-heads instead of Eyeball-heads. Sonically, there is something similar as well, although the Residents exploded out in their own weird direction whereas Teddybears let several forms of music implode into their black hole of a world. There is thick powerful electronica at the rocking heart of this with plenty of reggae, pop, rap, and rock forms fighting for priority. As I say so many times, this is not my area of specialty but if I were to venture more into modern electronica and hip hop, I would hope people would be as creative as this. It is an original and entertaining album at its worst.

Songs to start with first

Rock On - The opener is far from David Essex but has an innocence to it that makes you want to hear more.

TBYEH - The second cut explodes with power and rhythm and sets the tone for the album.

Marathon Man - Papa oom maw updated.

TORRES “SPRINTER”
Torres put on a magnificent show a few weeks back at the Rock’n’Roll Hotel as they were finishing their US tour in support of this album. So it is hardly a surprise that this is a brilliant work on its own. All the dynamics of the live set are evident with even more quiet moments developed in the studio. The vocals are transportive in the way of dream pop, but more the converse of that. Not exactly a nightmare, but more like a surrealistic Twilight Zone journey like the dream in Eraserhead or the dream that is Erasherhead. This is one of those albums bands should study to try to improve their creativity in arrangements and song structures. There are many other albums you can do that to, but this one will have you fully absorbed emotionally even as you try to be intellectual about it all. Proof again that Torres is one of the best bands out there.

Songs to start with first

Strange Hellos - Just another accurate title, as this opener will spook you with its quiet opening before the roar comes in.

Son, You are No Island - Thematically attached to psyche folk, but this band is it is own unique rock world.

Sprinter - The title cut is a magnificent song in a bold classical sense.

WALL OF TROPHIES “HELIOGRAPH”
I used to like a band called Lovelikefire who had a rich and thick pop music style combined with a unique charm that elevated the expected cliches into something special. Wall of Trophies has captured much of that here and it is all the more amazing as this is the band project of one of my local folk favorites, Brittany Jean, working with long time collaborator Will Copps in this new style. The sound fits comfortably within many albums that you have heard before, but when they add their personal shape to the mix and add enough variety to the songwriting, well, they’ve created an album you can come back to many times. I would like a bit more variety to make it more a classic listening experience, but I believe it should wear well for quite some time as there is not a bad note in the bunch. I think any electronica fan would be happy with the extra work here in melodic construction and singing. And it will be exciting to see this in a live context some time, hopefully.

Songs to start with first:

Everything - The opener will either pull you in or not. If so, proceed onward.

Heliograph - The title cut has a more mysterious mood to it and the vocals are quite intense and attractive.

Debt - I love the acoustic guitar introduction half way through. This is the creative flourish I crave.

VAN NORDEN with AUBREY RICHMOND “THE SPACE BETWEEN”

Vancouver’s Walter Van Norden meets Los Angeles’ Aubrey Richmond and musically the result is a western, rootsy stew of pleasant songs with a core strength and flowing arrangements. Aubrey Richmond adds some thoughtful vocals and some fine violin moves throughout the album. Although it is western in overall style, there is more of a universal time and place here. Ultimately, the songs have character and quality of varying degrees with the overall effect being strong enough to make this worth checking out. This would resonate strongly with my Folkworld readers.

Songs to start with first:

First - The folk rock vibe with a country roots feeling is the setting for an attractive song.

Tsunami - I get a feeling from folkrock’s ‘golden age’ of the late sixties here.

Nothing Less- Stay to the end, because this a heart wrencher.

WOLVERTON “THINGS LEFT ON EARTH”
I really enjoy this San Antonio collective who have the basic style of the Cowboy Junkies, but dig deeper in the psyche-folk world (while not losing their American roots). The electric guitar is mysterious and tasty, while the piano works off of it really well. Add a busy bass, female vocal harmonies and you are starting to work toward Mellow Candle. They are not that audacious—few are, but they work some of the same exciting sonic terrain. I have just one complaint. There are only four songs on this EP. But there is not one ounce of body fat on this mesmerizing music, so whether an EP or an LP, I will leave it to them to decide how much of their excellent music they wish to unveil at one time.

YOUNG GALAXY “FALSEWORK”
This is ten songs of electropop. The vocals are good, but I have heard it before with more interesting backing. The backing is bubbly and hits many of the right pop notes, but I am too old to dance. This group is from Montreal and is a good reminder of why I much prefer Toronto, when I seek out Canadian music, despite the former’s recent reputation.

If you enjoy this style, go check them out at the Black Cat this coming Wednesday, February 3rd.

Friday, January 29, 2016

PREVIEWS of COMING ATTRACTIONS - Early February 2016

We were all snowed out of some decent shows, but there are always more on the horizon. Here are a but a few on my short list.

Young Galaxy comes from a far ways away to play their electro-pop at the Black Cat on Wednesday, February 3rd.


See if Wylder is all of that at the DC9 when they play Weezer's 'Blue Album' LP in its entirety with their personal twists and turns. It happens on Saturday the 6th.


Ezra Furman was here recently, but did well enough from my point of view to warrant another quick hitter at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Tuesday, February 9th.


Renaissance still features the amazing voice of Annie Haslam and some of the most intricate music out there. Hear it for yourself at the Birchmere for the first of just four US dates before they return to Europe.


The Devil Makes Three returns to the 9:30 Club on Saturday the 13th, but if you don't have a ticket, you'll have to buy one for their second night on the 14th. And if you still want to go out on Saturday, follow the Beacon to the Songbyrdt.



Protomartyr always strokes my imagination when I enunciate their very name. Hear the sounds at the Black Cat on Sunday, February 14th.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Torres - Palehound -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Jan 19 2016

Palehound - From the fertile ground of Massachusetts comes this trio featuring bass, drums and guitar and vocals of Ellen Kempner. She leads the band in a sort of folk based rock with a deep melancholy and slight psyche vibe that is often tugs on New England musicians. The band is smart and restrained although they can ratchet up the noise and pace when the fire is stoked. And these dynamics are the key for success here. There is likely a lot deep within this music lyrically, but I would have to study the record more for that, as that is not fully evident in the live experience; especially with these delicate and sometimes overly breathy vocals. Arty and precious? No, not too much. This band has enough bite and creativity to warrant further study. And a large crowd gave them a lot more quiet attentive listening than most crowds would, so they are clearly connecting with these fine songs.
photo: Nick Helderman

Torres - It is nice to see follow up on a band I predicted great things for and to see some of the great things starting to happen. This DC9 show was about 3 years ago and I clearly felt there was something excellent happening then that had me both perplexed and enchanted. Tonight, there was even more going on as Torres has full command of the delivery of these excellent songs. There are two guitars, drums, and keyboards like before with bass notes coming from keys, although there is much more atmospheric moves from the keyboardist along with her stellar supporting vocals. The two female vocals work together to push and pull on the dreamy vocal style, but stretch it steadily into tougher territory, while not losing the emotional connection. The music is rich and sumptuous and they can even manage a creative droning style that still retains a pop melody at the core of the song. It finally hit me later in the set just how much this band reminded me of Siouxsie and the Banshees, a band I dearly loved and not too many bands can sound like. But with the tribal thump in a few of the songs, the soaring vocals and creative music that was lush but always with an underlying edge, it reminded me of just how much we needed the Banshees back in the day. But in this day and age, Torres is the band to take notice of. They filled the room tonight, so plenty of people are already on board. I will consider this band a must see every time they come to town.

Photo grab of the night: 2/3 of Red era King Crimson photographed as Robert Fripp and John Wetton meet for coffee. Get Mr. Bruford in and let the music rip.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

PREVIEWS of COMING ATTRACTIONS - Late January 2016

Still in relax mode after the intense Bowie music last Thursday, but I will be hitting the clubs again. Here are some of my choices. Join me if you can.

Torres rolls into the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Tuesday the 19th.


Bayonne was not born on the Bayou, but brings it to the Black Cat on Wednesday the 20th.


Sean McVerry makes it over to the DC9 on Thursday the 21st.


Those Darlins join the rest of us dah-lings at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Friday, January 22nd. "Indefinite hiatus" to follow for the band.


Miami Horror (is there any other kind?) brings their scary sound to the 9:30 Club on Sunday the 24th.


Wet is hopefully literally not that at the U Street Music Hall on Wednesday, January 27th.


Two choices for Saturday night the 30th include AMFMS at the DC9 or The Record Company at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel. Not sure who will win my vote, so I'll check these videos and ponder further.


Friday, January 15, 2016

Holy Holy (Woody Woodmansey, Tony Visconti, and guests) - Jessica Lee Morgan -- Birchmere - Jan 14 2016

photos courtesy of Davis White

Jessica Lee Morgan -  Opening the show is a singer on acoustic guitar and vocals with a bass player. But this is a special night, so it is not just any singer, but the daughter of Mary Hopkin and Tony Visconti. Ms. Morgan has a fine voice, a bit tougher than her mother's, whose work I quite enjoyed. The early material in the set has a folk to folk-rock appeal, with just a twang of country roots at brief intervals. She plays a decent guitar and can really rock it out acoustically when the fire builds throughout the set, and her voice can also bring it up a couple of notches to match. The bass playing is sharp and on point and Ms. Morgan adds some jingle and percussion with special attachments to her feet, which fortunately I can spot from my first row vantage point. She adds a fine cover of the song 'Under Pressure' that David Bowie wrote with Queen, two of her favorites. The crowd enjoyed this and all of her set for that matter as this was a great beginning to a very special night for all of us both on my side of the stage and for those on it.

Holy Holy - Although this was a show I was looking forward to anyway, this past Monday's news of David Bowie's passing pushed this night at the Birchmere into a spiritual odyssey of sorts. But as Woody Woodmansey and Tony Visconti pointed out before the show, although their tour has shifted into nearly unfathomable territory, the show goes on and everyone should just join in and have a great time tonight. My feelings are perplexing and jumbled throughout the night, but the easy part of this review is the music. It was brilliant.
The lineup featured the original rhythm section (and producer) of 'The Man Who Sold the World' so they played that album in its entirety to start the show. I saw a discussion (one of oh so many this week) of how this album may have been Bowie's heaviest. If I had any doubts, this band proved the point with a ferocious sound that rippled through all my fibers. Woodmansey is still a powerhouse that can anchor any strong rocking band. Visconti is a sharp player whose lines are an attempt at emulating Jack Bruce, as Mick Ronson desired back when this was recorded. On guitars tonight we have James Stevenson, which is a real treat for me as he was the original guitarist in Chelsea whose early singles were an essential part of my punk rock record collection. He offers a real sonic flair and style to the music. Paul Cuddeford, a genius studio guitarist/composer, has a ferocious gutsy attack as he plays with precious few pedals through his Blackstar amp. The tough and the attractive team up in double leads, alternate leads and bring so much life to Mick Ronson's creative ideas. Berenice Scott handles keyboards with a fine touch, and Terry Edwards plays 12-string acoustic and adds tasty saxophone as needed. Jessica Lee Morgan is here for backup vocals and also one lead. The unenviable task of lead vocals goes to former Heaven 17 singer, Glenn Gregory. He has a great voice and keeps it clean and precise, handling the nuances well. I did not see Bowie but heard his vision in the singing and certainly felt the power of Bowie's songs with this fantastic band.
They did not stop with just this album as they filled out their long set with many other Bowie songs from the Spider from Mars era such as 'Sufragette City', 'Time', 'Changes', 'Life on Mars', 'Rock'n'Roll Suicide', Five Years, and many more. 'Moonage Daydream' is perhaps my favorite from that era and while I am not sure I went into an out of body experience, I am not sure exactly where I was during this. Some songs brought out wonderful rock music feelings while others had me pondering the underlying sadness of the occasion. But Tony and Woody were right, this was a night to let it loose, join them in having fun celebrating this brilliant one of a kind music. Absolutely stunning.
Quotes of the Night: A few minutes before the show, Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey came out to talk about the difficult decision they had to make earlier this week to continue with the Toronto shows, the Birchmere show, and the rest of the tour...

Tony Visconti - 'Monday was the worst day of my life, for many of us... we are musicians, we can not sit and not play music. And music heals a lot of pain.

Woody Woodmansey - 'So the rule is anything goes. It helps to play it.'

AND, as a bonus, DC ROCK LIVE writer Kyle Schmitt also attended and has this to report:'

Holy Holy
Birchmere / January 14, 2016
By Kyle Schmitt

This David Bowie tribute served as a celebration just three nights after bassist Tony Visconti endured what he called possibly “the worst day of my life.” But as the long-time Bowie producer argued on-stage before the show, with Spiders from Mars drummer Woody Woodmansey standing by his side, what else were they to do as musicians but to keep playing? The two formed half the ensemble that produced 1970’s The Man Who Sold the World (Visconti said that he and Woodmansey roomed together during its recording), which Holy Holy played in its entirety. And they set a defiant tone early, with Woodmansey telling the audience that rules didn’t apply on this night. The reunited bandmates showed impressive chemistry on the should-be classic “Black Country Rock” and the epic “The Width of a Circle”, which provided a showcase for guitar talents James Stevenson and Paul Cuddeford. Singer Glenn Gregory strutted capably through the material, keeping a positive face on what could have been a maudlin experience even when delivering the homicidal fantasy “Running Gun Blues”. His charisma shone brightest on the lusty rocker “She Shook Me Cold” and the piano-driven “Time”.  Gregory was spelled halfway through the set by Jessica Lee Morgan, who performed a gorgeous rendition of “Lady Stardust”. 

Much of the fun came from watching Woodmansey perform his drum parts on songs that influenced a generation. His stickwork propelled “Changes” and “Ziggy Stardust”, and a mid-set drum solo elicited a standing ovation, to which Woodmansey responded by throwing up the sign of the horns. Holy Holy concluded its set with a joyous “Suffragette City”, which was capped off by the audience joining in to scream the “Wham! Bam! Thank you, ma’am!” kiss-off. That singalong was a fitting end to a night on which at least two groups of grown men embraced while gushing about the show they’d just seen. Though the Blackstar could not be seen, his light will never fade from view.

Skyline Hotel - Broke Royals - Lookout Gang -- DC9 - Jan 14 2016

by John Miller

Lookout Gang - It's bright, dancing, hips swaying, certainly different than what I have come accustomed to at DC9. The five piece straddles this odd line between early aught's garage pop revival, radio friendly rock, and Jon Spencer's Blues Explosion. A mix of covers and original pieces, it's a good choice to get this release party for Skyline Hotel started. The levels are exceptional too. I hate to belabor a point but I have been to so many shows with shitty levels that it does feel necessary to point out that I can hear things clearly, though DC9 seems to always be on point when it comes to levels so really it shouldn't be a surprise. It's light and easy with enough familiarity to keep everyone loose.

Broke Royals - The loose theme continues as Broke Royals take over for the second of three sets. It too is a mix of original material as well as covers (I Can't Feel My Face, The Weekend). If you are in a band and want get the crowd moving, play something by The Weekend; as everyone, especially those working the door, lost their shit. I don't mind covers but this one felt pandering; they immediately ask the crowd to participate in the following piece. I found it interesting that they played with a backing track. Consisting mostly of ethereal tones and keys, it wasn’t anything too difficult so I am surprised that they haven't found a fifth member to join them. But I digress. The crowd work is a little strange too. All of this feels formal and professional; almost scripted. The matching vests, ties, and blue jeans don't help; like a business casual Ramones. I get it: at the end of the day, as a semi-professional band some money would be nice. Promotion and a specific look certainty help solidify a band's brand (again The Ramones) and let's be honest, most of these shows are just one big commercial for whatever their newest album is but there is a fine line between selling your brand and begging for it.

That said, like Lookout Gang before them, Broke Royals does a great job of keeping things light and easy before the headliners. As you can probably imagine, it's quite crowd friendly; nothing too quick or depressing, a nice mid-tempo rock. Ultimately I found the music to be somewhat uninspired, however as I mentioned earlier, they could probably sell fart filled paper bags. Very professional.

Skyline Hotel - The room has filled out for Skyline Hotel. It nice; casual conversation, some dancing, couples at the bar, a real bar feeling. Unfortunately I only caught the end of their opening song but what I did hear was really interesting. The piece leaned on the keys, rather the keys were front and center. It was surprising considering the pieces that followed were much more guitar driven. It had hints of early nineties Nintendo compositions. Skyline Hotel is a four piece, lead by an acoustic, something I don't think I've seen in a long time, like a really long time. Musically, the themes that started the evening continue; it's a mid-tempo, easy going sound. The electric guitar work is exceptional. It doesn't over power the compositions but when they call for it, the solos are front and center. Really nice, they fit. It's rare that you hear solos composed this well from a smaller band.
I'm not quite sure what I caught at the beginning because as the night continues, the music never really comes close to what I thought I heard. Sometimes that mid-tempo slips into jam territory, before finding themselves right back where they started and perhaps that is what I caught earlier, the end of a short improvisation. And as with the electric, sometimes they too lean on that acoustic. It's nothing too surprising as the parts that do lean on that acoustic are generally quiet, a tinge of regret. Honestly I find the louder, quasi jamming stuff much more rewarding but the songs are all composed well, so even if one song leans on any one particular instrumentalist, it never leans on them so much that it is detrimental to the composition.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Metz - Bully - So Pitted -- Jan 11 2016

So Pitted - This trio has me perplexed a bit with their sound as it appears to be two guitars and drums, yet a bass sound is clearly a part of their roar. I now read that the one guitar that is clearly doing deep things is played through a bass amp, so that explains some of what this odd Sub Pop band from Seattle is doing. Their song approach is primitive punk in the style of Flipper but lacking that band's brilliant and confused creativity. The early songs are powerful and challenging but they fall off a bit when the drummer and guitarist switch roles. They switch back and it picks back up quite a bit, so I clearly have a favorite lineup here. I don't think they are quite at a high enough level for me to climb aboard their rise, but they have the right ideas at the heart of their sound and I will stay tuned.

Bully - I just saw this Nashville quartet late last year and they mention that this is in fact their third time here. They may be touring hard, but they are young and breaking out with their first album due this summer, so why not hit the road hard. It is likely paying off as they seem all the more in command of their powerful sound and delivery of their catchy music. It could be a power pop punk hybrid, but it just never quite hits the power pop buttons. Yet somehow it is very hook oriented. They always maintain plenty of sting in delivering the melody and Alicia Bognanno's vocals are quite dynamic. The guitars trade off well and they can push the envelope with the pace and power. This band is doing everything right and will no doubt catch on, we will just wait and see as to the level they reach.
Metz - And yet another high quality band from one of my favorite music cities, Toronto. And keeping in fashion, they don't sound like a Toronto band, mostly due to a lack of a 'Toronto sound'. It is more a matter of a big city with a lot of great bands pushing themselves to be as great as possible. Metz does this in the manner of Iceage with a blending of punk rock and post punk sounds and songs. They have a full table of pedals and effects placed behind the soundboard that assists the on stage effects in creating a swirling mysterious atmosphere for the three guys to work their powerful songs into. Their music sounds so familiar, but it is hard to pin down and the band varies their pace just slightly to keep me further out on the edge. I detect a Stains meets Rudimentary Peni approach with songs working in a Mission of Burma sonic world (yeah, that simple, right). There is strong and controlled abandon throughout and any heavy music fan should be aboard this fast moving train.

Quote of the Night: I will leave the quotes to others regarding David Bowie. I will share Roy Harper's post below and link the BBC's article featuring a ton of tributes such as Brian Eno and Tony Visconti (who will be in town Thursday with Woody Woodmansey at the Birchmere for what will now be a profound show).
 
Roy Harper -  When I first met David he was performing mime. In that respect he never changed. His life was one long brilliant mime. His various personas were the equal and musical equivalent of his favourite, Marcel Marceau. He mimed many of his contemporaries without really ever copying them. His particular genius was to see an attitude, feel an inspiration, delivery or emotion in someone and be able to replicate and transgress that in an often superlative way of his own, which could not only give added insight to that source, but often lend it a satyrical edge, a playful touch or an irony. Back in the day, he sold me a pair of Tibetan boots he’d got from a monk. He was more broke than me, and I gave him a ten bob note for them. He was gigging with just an ageing Grundig tape recorder at the time. The boots were really uncomfortable. The soles were made of wood and didn’t bend. They only lasted for a couple of years. Wish I still had them. Wish we both still had those gigs to do.
(Photo credit Ray Stevenson)(text from Roy Harper's Facebook page)