We Love Music: Black Hills @ Black Cat, 5/23/2012

Black Hills: Air apparent? photo by author

Earlier this week I chatted with DC-based Aaron Estes about his latest musical project Black Hills. Last night I got the chance to see the group play at Black Cat, along with openers Reindeer and The Fire Tapes.

I go to a lot of shows. I consider myself a music-lover. In my experience it doesn’t happen often that I am blown away by a band, especially one that is new to me. Last night Black Hills blew me away with their eight-song-set on the backstage of the Black Cat. Now, I wasn’t completely surprised that this happened- I was kind of hoping for it.

I first saw Estes and some of his musical cohorts perform at Run for Cover, a benefit show that has happened for many years at the Black Cat. The show featured all one-off cover bands, made up of DC musicians, to varying degrees of musical success, silliness, and spectacle. The acts Estes was a part of were far-and-away the most spectacular and musically spot-on, two years in a row: a C+C Music Factory cover band in 2010 and a Daft Punk group in 2011. After seeing him at Run for Cover I knew he was one to watch. Fast forward to last week, when I stumbled across the ad for Black Hills on the Black Cat website. After listening to the four songs he has up on Bandcamp, I was giddy.

For a frame of reference, there are a lot of musical comparisons that can be drawn to Black Hills. The influence of Air is apparent, with the lush synths/synth strings and the groovy bass, but at times I was also reminded a little of Genesis, and to make a more current comparison- Gotye.

Though Black Hills’ recorded music is produced by Estes as a solo effort, the live show includes four other very talented musicians. Estes plays synths and sings, and is backed by guitar, more synth, bass and drums.

The lush sounds heard on the recordings were brought to life onstage well, with added sparks from electric guitar, and extra bounce from groovy bass and drums. Highlights of the set included the beautiful “The Good News”, the infectious “In my Dreams”, and the celestial “Glass.” I must also admit that my heart skipped a beat (or three) when they played spot-on, gorgeous covers of Air’s “Run” and Goldfrapp’s “Clowns.”

The only disappointment was that they didn’t have any more songs to play at the end of their set. At least it gives me something to look forward to…

Alexia Kauffman

Alexia was born and raised in Arlington, VA. She has been a cellist since age four, and a lover of rock & roll soon after. The first tape she owned was “Make It Big” by Wham, and the first tape she bought was Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” and she still loves both. She was a member of local synth-rock outfit Soft Complex for several years, and has recorded with bands including Engine Down and Two if By Sea. By day she works for a non-profit distributing royalties to musicians and labels. She currently plays cello, lap-steel guitar and tambourine in the DC post-folk/Americana band The Torches.

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