We Love Music

We Love Music: Sonic Highways

Foo Fighters at Black Cat

When I heard on Tuesday around noon that the Foo Fighters were going to play a club show in DC to go along with the premiere of the second episode of Sonic Highways. When the news was confirmed by the Black Cat, people left their downtown offices and headed for the 14th Street club to stand in line. By 3pm there was a line, and by 4pm, it stretched for blocks. By 5pm, all hope was lost for the second half of the line. 

When I arrived on Friday night, 90 minutes before doors, the line for entry stretched halfway to T Street. They opened the doors early, catching most of us by surprise. By the time ten o’clock rolled around, the crowd was thick and driving, as the monitors started the traditional HBO static. If you haven’t yet watched Sonic Highways, it’s something you need to see. From the Jazz Age of Ellington, to the rise of Go-Go and the bounce beat, to the Revolution Summer and the rise of DC Hardcore. Out of all of that, director Dave Grohl said, came the Foo Fighters.

It was an hour-long love letter to the DC of Grohl’s youth, the grittier, harder DC. A place where bands had to forge their own record labels to build an audience, a place where the hard scrabble of work met up with the idealism of the Capitol to influence style. From Minor Threat to Bad Brains, to all of the little single season bands that came and went like butterflies. Shirlington’s Inner Ear Studio was the venue for this episode’s recording session, where Dischord Records defined the iconic sound of 1980s punk music. The story of its owner and engineer, Don Zientara, is interwoven with the musical history of the District.

After the episode’s conclusion, the Foo Fighters took the stage and played an energetic three-hour set that spanned their twenty-year history and pretty much their entire catalog. They lead off with the first track off Sonic Highways and focused on the Chicago metro area. They followed with extended versions of The Pretender, New Way Home and Up In Arms and an extra long version of Arlandria, named for the neighborhood along Four Mile Run on the border between Alexandria and Arlington where Grohl once lived. 

RDGLDGRN at Black Cat with Foo Fighters

All Photos by Tom Bridge, Used with Permission

No one’s going to hold up Foo Fighters as if they defined an entire genre out of whole cloth, or as a groundbreaking effort, they’re not that sort of band. What they are is a damned fine group of entertainers. You need only look to drummer Taylor Hawkins, who played Friday night as if he was the living embodiment of the Muppets’ Animal. His frenetic play and mastery of his craft was absolutely electric on stage. Hawkins would take the lead on covers of Cheap Trick and David Bowie & Queen that Grohl would call reminiscent of the better art of the Springfield Keg Party band. Grohl bounced between showman and rocker, sometimes being nostalgic for the Springfield Keg Parties of his youth where, as he put it, “lesser musicians interpreted the greats”. That was shortly before they played David Bowie and Queen’s Under Pressure.

Probably my favorite moment of the night was Grohl calling up local band RDGLDGRN to the stage to make sure that everyone could do the chop in the middle of a gallop beat/bounce beat rendition of Monkey Wrench that I’m pretty sure has never been done before, and may never get done again. While the predominantly white crowd tried their damnedest, no one was mistaking the Black Cat for a Go-Go on Friday night, but that didn’t matter. 

When I was 21, and finishing college in Ohio, I took a trip with my college radio station to New York for the CMJ festival. Shows, showcases, panels, all the good stuff, set against the megalopolis’ backdrop. The weekend smelled like hot garbage, the feast of San Gennaro, and it sounded like punk rock, rock n roll, and stuff too weird to categorize. What I remember from that weekend are two things: the diavolo sauce at Umberto’s Clam House is too hot for human mouths, and the Foo Fighters’ show at Bowery Ballroom. I also determined I’d never, ever want to live in New York.

That Foos show stuck with me, not just because it was hard to get in, but because I saw someone who did what he loved, did it well, and could have a good time doing it. I saw a lot of workman-like sets at CMJ, I saw more still at the Newport in Columbus, where bands would play meaningless sets with no drive or passion. I thought that was just an Ohio thing, but CMJ proved to me that the dead-eyed musician wasn’t something limited to the Buckeye state. When I moved to DC, I was petrified I was going to see more of the same. I was thankfully wrong.

What I did see on Friday, though, was a crowd that loves this city the way that Grohl does, and that shared environment that makes this place unique. There’s no question of The Black Cat’s place in rock history, but the places that DC Punk called home are long since gone and demolished to make way for a DC that the 1980s wouldn’t even recognize. Gone are the brutalist buildings of the 60s, and the older buildings that the riots ran down, and the 70s modern that’s made way for the cranes and the backhoes of the late 90s and mid 2000s. Places like the old 9:30 Club on F Street, The Bayou, and dc space are long gone. 

I’m anxious to hear the rest of Sonic Highways as the first two songs have woven in historical elements of note both into the lyrics and into the musical structure. This is the sort of ethnomusicology that I find fascinating, and that some mark with terms like “cultural appropriation”. It’s clear from the episode this week that Grohl and Big Tony from Troublefunk go back a ways, as Grohl threw a party for Troublefunk at 9:30 Club early this year, and I would argue that, if anything, Foo Fighters is working to elevate the profile of Go-Go for additional attention. My main wish is that Grohl had done this years ago before Chuck Brown had passed, as while I enjoyed Troublefunk’s contributions, Chuck Brown’s would have been a next level grab for them.

There has been a lot of (earned) criticism of the last two albums from the Foos, that neither carried enough weight to have been from the band that gave us “There Is Nothing Left To Lose” and “The Colour and The Shape” which were triumphant pieces of both good writing and rock engineering. That is not something that I can attribute to either of the tracks that we’ve heard from Sonic Highways. If they’re indicative of the rest of the album, it looks like the Foo Fighters are back to their old selves. That’s a welcome development. Look for them to play a large arena show next year (RFK stadium perhaps, given the picture of them with DC United Jerseys with #15? That would be excellent.) and I look forward to seeing them play again.

As the three hour set drew to a close, with one song left to go before last call, I wondered if Grohl would make Everlong the final song of the night. I was right. He’d done it before in New York, jumping down off the stage to play amid the crowd. Maybe it’s age and experience, maybe it’s better security, he played from the stage this time. It was no less poignant. “Everlong” was one of the Foos first hits, and Grohl credits the song with the longevity of the Foo Fighters, and much of its DNA.

At the chorus, Grohl wonders aloud, “If everything could ever feel this real forever / if anything could ever be this good again”. 

For me, fifteen years after that New York show, the answer was a resounding yes.

Taylor Hawkins fronts the Foos for a cover of Cheap Trick

Speaking of DC Punk history, tonight, at The Passenger, Brian Baker (Bad Religion, Dag Nasty, Minor Threat), Brendan Canty (Deathfix, Fugazi, Rites of Spring) and John Davis (Title Tracks, Q and not U) are holding an event at The Passenger and Warehouse Theater, with DJ sets from each, to help build the DC Punk Archives. Admission is $5, or a piece of DC Punk Scene to be donated to the event (posters, records, zines, flyers, set lists, t-shirts, that sort of thing), and there will be cocktails from Tom and Derek Brown. 

Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, The Features

Capital Chefs: Aaron Silverman of Rose’s Luxury

Aaron Silverman in the kitchen of Rose's Luxury (Photo courtesy Rose's Luxury)

Aaron Silverman in the kitchen of Rose’s Luxury (Photo courtesy Rose’s Luxury)

We’re revisiting our Capital Chefs feature with a series by music reporter Mickey McCarter. A lot has been happening recently in kitchens in D.C. restaurants, and Mickey takes a look into them from his usual seat at the bar in this series, which runs occasionally on Thursdays.

Aaron Silverman credits his neighborhood, Barracks Row in Eastern Market (on Capitol Hill), with the success of his restaurant, Rose’s Luxury.

And a desire to stay connected to that neighborhood is one of the big motivators for why the chef/owner does not take reservations, despite some controversy surrounding the policy.

“We don’t like kicking people out of their seats to sit the next person down,” Silverman told me in a recent phone conversation, “but a big part of it is that it’s advantageous to the neighborhood. All of the people in the neighborhood are at an advantage because they don’t have to drive for an hour or fly to get to us and then find out that we are full. Their risk is much lower. They can just walk across the street.”

Whether a restaurant takes reservations or no, its customers still have to play a waiting game. With reservations, they are calling on the phone every day with hopes to get a seat—four, six or eight weeks out. With no reservations, diners have the opportunity to show up that very day, but they may have to wait in line.

“Anybody who wants to be at Rose’s today can eat there today—guaranteed. You may have to get in line early and you may have to wait, but you are guaranteed to eat dinner there today if you want to,” Silverman declared. “If we took reservations only, we would be booked and there would be no way. You couldn’t just go.”

The policy of no reservations is the “lesser evil” because people who have waited can enjoy their meals for as long as they like, Silverman said.

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Music, The Features, We Love Music

We Love Music: Ought @ DC9 –10/16/14

Ought (Photo courtesy Constellation Records)

Ought (Photo courtesy Constellation Records)

Tim Beeler is on your stage, and he has something he wants to say to you.

Guitar in hand, sometimes he sings it to you, but just as often it seems, he speaks over the snappy art punk beats of his band, Ought.

And Beeler wants to talk about being in the moment, being in love, putting things together — but all in a perspective from “every man.” In that way perhaps, the lanky vocalist is extremely reminiscent of David Byrne or Lou Reed in his delivery.

Thursday night at DC9, Ought opened with “Today More Than Any Other Day,” an amazing tribute really to living one’s life. It’s a bit like lyrics by Byrne superimposed over melodies that could have come from Television. Musically, Ought could have sprung straight from 1977 via New York City.

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Music, The Features, We Love Music

We Love Music: Yelle @ 9:30 Club — 10/11/14

About two-thirds of the way through her set, French pop siren Yelle strides up to a platform to situate herself between the two drummers comprising her band.

Performing the bright electropop song “Tohu” from her new album, Complètement fou, she picks up a disco ball and holds it in her hands before her. Laser-like lightbeams crisscrossing the stage until this point changed direction to target the ball.

The lights scatter from the disco ball. The resulting light shower rained out over the room and the audience, and everyone was dazzled.

Yelle followed up the theatrics by bouncing right into the popular “Safari Disco Club,” the title track to her second album.

Indeed, light tricks or no, the sold-out audience was consistently dazzled by Yelle when she stopped by the 9:30 Club on Saturday, Oct. 11 in a tour supporting the latest album, released last month.

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Essential DC, History, Interviews, Life in the Capital, Opinion, Special Events, Sports Fix, The Features, They Make DC, We Love Arts

Local Indigenous Artist Showcases the Racism of Redskin

(c) Gregg Deal

(c) Gregg Deal

Those who think the continuing movement to change the name of the local pro football team is a waste of time and trivial were clearly not at the recent Art All Night event here in the District. Secreted in one corner of the venue was local Indigenous artist Gregg Deal. His project, “Redskin,” took on the racial overtones of the team moniker and projected it at his audience.

What he, nor spectators or his helpers predicted was just how pointed it ended up being.

Deal first let me know of the project in early September. What initially struck me about his proposed performance piece was the fact he was willingly subjecting himself to some serious abuse. Natives in the area–as well as those protesting football games elsewhere in the country–have always been subjected to abuses by team fans, especially if they’re open about their opposition to the name. (Witness the reactions by fans, as recalled by several Natives, during a recent taping for The Daily Show.)

So why do it, especially in an art venue? “As people of color, or more specifically, Indigenous people, we deal with something called microaggression. It’s the needle pricks in our general American society and culture that says or does things that are offensive to Natives. They’re called ‘microaggression’ because they are passive aggressive enough to get by your average person, but still aggressive,” said Deal. “For example, when I worked at the National Museum of American Indian in 2004-2005, someone asked me if I still lived in a Tipi. This would be microaggression because it’s an insane questions that is based on stereotypes, but it’s also a statement about what this person believes quantifies me as an Indigenous person.”

The term ‘redskin,’ painted faces and faux headdresses, drunken war chants – these are all examples of microaggression. Deal’s performance piece was meant to use all of these abuses, commonly found in tailgate parties at FedEx Field and used by team fans around the world, over an eight-hour period. “I ended up calling it after just over four hours,” said Deal. “All of us–my friends who were helping me and myself–were just mentally and psychologically drained from the experience.”

Bryce Huebner, an Associate Professor at Georgetown University, was one of Deal’s assistants who played a part of one of the abusive fans. “I said things that I would never say in real life, in hopes of making it clear how ugly and harmful the casual racism against indigenous people in the United States is,” he said. “I was struck by how difficult it was to start playing that role, when I arrived my heart was pounding and I could hardly speak; but more troubling by far was the fact that it became easy to continue as I started to play off of the other actors. There’s an important lesson there: if you surround yourself with people who espouse hostile attitudes, it’s much easier to adopt those attitudes yourself.”

Deal said a lot of the audience mentioned to him how truly real it felt, watching it unfold, and he agreed. “After it got rolling, the invective felt truly real, like a few situations I’ve found myself in around the District.” When I mentioned that a Huffington Post review said it was unauthentic because he had used his friends as the antagonists, Deal laughed. “They should’ve been in my place, then. It certainly felt real to me.”

Deal (seated) in the middle of his "Redskin" performance. (c) Darby

Deal (seated) in the middle of his “Redskin” performance. (c) Darby

Tara Houska, a board member of Not Your Mascots and a big proponent of the name change movement in the District, was one of the audience members. “The experience of watching Indigenous-based racism being hurled at a Native was difficult, to say the least,” she said. “Some of those phrases hit too close to home, and brought me back to moments in which I’ve experienced racism. At times, it was hard to keep in mind that it was a performance. I wanted to yell at the antagonizers to back off, and felt the hurt Gregg must have been feeling.”

Both Houska and Deal were also participants in the recent Daily Show segment that showed a panel of team fans and a panel of Indigenous people who, after separate discussions, confronted each other through the show’s direction. The segment has had mixed reaction in the press, with a lot of sympathy generated for the four white fans (who all self-identified as some fraction of various tribes, but with no real knowledge of their heritage – or, in one case, how generational fractions work). The incidents taped at FedEx field later between some of the Native panelists (specifically, the 1491s) and fans weren’t shown, which is unfortunate.

“Honestly, both the Daily Show and my art performance felt very similar,” said Deal. “The racism against Indigenous people in this country is so ingrained it it’s culture that the only way a team could exist as a mascot (which is defined as a clown, a court jester, by the way…nice ‘honor’) in the first place. The Washington Redskins–and other Indian mascots–are a really good illustration of not only how disconnected America is from it’s own history, but how disconnected it is from the issue of equality towards Indigenous people is. We are literally sitting on an issue where a significant amount of this country’s Indigenous are saying ‘it’s offensive’ and the answer is ‘no, it’s not offensive at all!’”

Gregg Deal with "Colonialism"

Gregg Deal with “A Nice Can of Colonialism”

Deal went on to say the whole movement to change the name isn’t really about offense, but about equality. “What you’re looking at is the tip of a very big iceberg of issues that are simply illustrated by this specific issue. The fact that we don’t seem to own our identity enough for someone to allow us to assert that identity appropriately, but that a corporate sports team is making billions from our image and likeness and has the audacity to fly it under the flag of honor is insanity,” he said. “Let’s be honest here, it’s not about honor, tradition, or any other lame excuse Dan or his constituents are saying. It’s about money, and the fans have all bought into supporting one of this country’s financial top one percent.”

Houska felt that Deal’s passion really came through in his performance piece, and she applauded him for taking a stand in such a public way. “I think it was a very in-your-face method to get locals aware that Natives experience racism, including the racist imagery and name of the Washington team,” she said. “We have all experienced being belittled and told to ‘get over it.’ I hope that people walked away with a sense of understanding that microaggression is a very real and damaging thing. And how it feels to be deluged by caricatured Natives via the Washington football team and having no say in it, despite being the subject of that caricature.”

Deal agreed. “I believe the term REDSKIN, if it belongs anywhere…it belongs to Indigenous people. In the same way the Black community essentially own the N-word,” he said. “While there are different schools of thought on that word and it’s usage in the Black community, it’s understood that if you use that word outside the Black community, you’re a certain type of person. The word ‘redskin’ belongs to us, and it’s not up to [non-Indigenous people] how it’s used.”

For more information on the name change social media movement, visit Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, Not Your Mascots, or follow the #changethename hashtag on Twitter.

Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, The Features

Capital Chefs: Alex McCoy of Duke’s Grocery

Alex McCoy at the bar in Duke's Grocery

Alex McCoy at the bar in Duke’s Grocery

We’re revisiting our Capital Chefs feature with a series by music reporter Mickey McCarter. A lot has been happening recently in kitchens in D.C. restaurants, and Mickey takes a look into them from his usual seat at the bar in this series, which runs occasionally on Thursdays.

Alex McCoy, the chef and co-owner of Duke’s Grocery, really doesn’t like to make a dish unless he’s traveled to its country of origin.

“You can go online right now, and if you want to learn how to make Indian food, you could spend hours and hours and hours watching videos and tutorials and reading up about it,” McCoy said.

“Twenty years ago, in order to do the same, you would either have to live in India or work with an Indian chef,” he told me one recent sunny afternoon while sitting on the patio of his East London-inspired bar and restaurant.

McCoy believes there is an element of authenticity to the latter approach, which he takes very seriously. For example, the young chef very much enjoys papaya salad, and perfected his own after travels to Thailand. While anyone may look up how to make a papaya salad, it’s a totally different experience to experience the food directly from a street vendor who has lived with the dish her entire life and who has made it in front of you, he said.

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