As a diehard new waver, I actually dislike the term “80s music,” because my genre is a growing one that started up around 1976 and continues to see new bands and innovations until this day. (New wave is indeed enjoying a major renaissance now.) Thaaaaaaaat said, everyone knows what I mean when I use the term and these parties build their set lists based on the idea that you know what they mean when *they* use it as well.
So without further ado, here is a brief tour of the major 80s parties going on in the District right now with an emphasis on what you can catch next.
About 60 people or so turned up at the Black Cat backstage Monday night to see what two well regarded Swedish rockers had to offer in combining their talents as We Are Serenades as they kicked off a US tour in DC. It turned out that indie rockers Adam Olenius of the Shout Out Louds and Markus Krunegard of Laakso were interested in making fewer fuzzed out sounds with their guitars and instead seek to build sweet harmonies armed with a largely twee-pop repertoire of… well, serenades.
The five-piece band certainly did not abandon guitars, however, as Olenius and Krunegard demonstrated the strength of their concept by trading off vocals and sharing guitar duties. But they were augmented by a keyboard, a synthesizer and drums as they offered up about 10 songs largely about being in love and appreciating nature. The two vocalists looked comfortable with their material and the five-member band seems poised for larger spaces. Olenius and Krunegard were easygoing and earnest and their vocals were perhaps the most crystal clear I’ve ever heard in the back of the Cat, making for a wholly pleasant listening experience. While all quite twee, their songs ranged a bit from familiar guitar rock numbers to more dance pop selections.
For me in their better moments, We Are Serenades get a little new wavey, almost sounding a bit like their countrymen in The Mary Onettes, although without the urgency and full-throated crooning that characterize the older band. We Are Serenade’s full-on dance number “Weapons,” for example, has a bouncy new wave synthline that makes for a pleasant distraction but it still politely invites you to come dancing rather than forcefully compelling you to do so. Their latest single, “Criminal Heaven” (which is the title track from their debut record), provides more opportunities for the duo vocalists to harmonize, which they do surprisingly well, and to generate more guitar pop.
A very sold-out show at the Black Cat Wednesday night offered two remarkably different flavors. I went into it with expectations that one band would be mediocre and the other band would be pretty good, but my expectations were reversed!
First, Denver-based pop band Tennis charmed the audience with its sweet sunny pop songs, evoking images of a journey through Americana. The sound of Tennis, made up at its core by husband and wife Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, completely recalls earlier times of simple lovesongs albeit set to Moore’s pleasing synths and Riley’s surf guitar.
I knew them as a band that tours a lot but I had low expectations. Boy, did they surprise me. The very look of the duo, even augmented by their band, evoked happy, retro feelings. Moore has a look about her straight out of an 80s high school yearbook and she sings with a lovely sophisti-pop air. To me, her voice contained elements of Kristy MacColl and Tracey Thorn, although she remained so chirpy that she would be completely at home on a twee pop mixtape with Heavenly. Continue reading →
Stockholm-based electronic duo Korallreven played their first DC show Monday night, headlining the Black Cat backstage. They were joined by openers Young Magic and Stout Cortez. Korallreven are currently on their first US tour, in support of An Album by Korallreven, out on Acephale Records.
Young Magic played an enthusiastic and energizing set. The trio, currently based in New York City is comprised of Australian ex-pats Isaac Emmanuel, Michael Italia, and Indonesian-born Melati Malay. They mixed dreamy vocals and ambient guitar with tribal-sounding rhythyms and hypnotic, thumping beats. Their performance and sound was fresh, intense, and engaging.
Swedish dreamy-electronic-pop duo Korallreven, aka Marcus Joons and Daniel Tjäder (of The Radio Dept) have announced their first US shows ever, with select East and West coast dates supporting their debut album, An Album By Korallreven, available now on Acéphale.
We Love DC’s Alexia Kauffman got the chance to ask singer Marcus Joons a few questions.
Alexia Kauffman: What music inspired you when you were growing up?
Marcus Joons: I remember getting touched real early by Velvet Underground, I must have been like eleven or twelve when I first came across their heroin romantic pop songs. Maybe too early. Apart from that I think that I, free from my mind, got the biggest kicks from Screamadelica, Spiritualized, everything by The Beach Boys and Daft Punk’s Homework. All of this has inspired me more to live and breathe than to make music though. Continue reading →
Justin Trawick is a local singer-songwriter, band frontman, and musical entrepreneur. In addition to his exhaustive solo performance schedule he has created a series called The 9, that packages nine singer-songwriters into one show, joining their forces to create a theatrical and diverse night of entertainment. We Love DC’s Alexia Kauffman sat down with Justin to talk about his endeavors.
Alexia Kauffman: So first can you tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do, and what is on your plate right now?
Justin Trawick: I’m a musician in the area. I’ve been doing music full-time for about four years. I live in Arlington, and I play most of my shows in the Washington, DC area, and then I go out of town, a lot of east coast shows up and down from Boston down to Georgia. And I play in a lot of cities around the country via airplane- I go to Austin and L.A. a lot. Continue reading →
At Monday night’s Black Cat show Thurston Moore dished out jokes about Dischord house, stories about Black Flag, Jello Biafra, conspiracy theories about Jimmy Carter, credited Reagan for the birth of Hardcore, and had a gin & tonic chugging contest with his guitarist. Oh yeah, and played some amazing music too.
Moore, frontman of the iconic experimental/noise/post-punk band Sonic Youth is on tour in support of his latest solo album Demolished Thoughts, released in 2011 on Matador. He brought with him fellow Matador recording artist Kurt Vile, as well as a band on his own label, Ecstatic Peace Records – Hush Arbors, which features his touring guitarist, Keith Wood. Continue reading →
Catch Chicago’s The Sea and Cake tonight on the mainstage of the Black Cat. The quartet brings soft, jazz-influenced indie rock, blending ambient instrumentals and electronics with understated, dreamy/breathy vocals. The band is currently on tour of the US in support of their ninth studio album, The Moonlight Butterfly, released in May on Thrill Jockey Records. Check out their upbeat track “Up on the North Shore” from their latest album here.
I remember when M83 released their breakthrough album Dead Cities, Red Seas, & Lost Ghosts back when I was in college. M83 easily fit in my collection with groups like The Postal Service and The Notwist, yet the album had no vocalist to connect it with mankind. The occasional words were only samples; it was like a glimpse at a dystopian future, where maybe people weren’t even around anymore. I could imagine their core member Anthony Gonzalez in his French chateau, sitting at his laptops and keyboards, writing minimalist, electronic soundtracks for lonely bedrooms.
M83 has evolved tremendously since then; while their current music retains its electro roots, it’s all in all more varied, more approachable, more poppy, more epic. Their new material makes for a hell of a live show, too. They sold out two shows at Black Cat on Friday night; I stopped by the late show to see what they had to offer. The show had exactly what I want from live electronic music – infectious beats, atmospheric lighting, and an enthusiastic crowd. Continue reading →
London-based quartet Yuck rocked out at the Black Cat Wednesday night to a sizable crowd. The band is just finishing up their US tour in support of their self-titled debut, released in February on Fat Possum Records. This was their second visit to the Black Cat; the first was in May, opening for Australian psychedelic-rockers Tame Impala. I was at that show to see Tame Impala, and had the magical elusive fortune of experiencing an opening band that I hadn’t heard before blow my socks off. I became an instant fan. Wednesday night’s almost packed house proved that they have collected quite a few fans in the past year, and they were clearly pleased with the turnout.
Head to the Black Cat tonight for young British noise-pop-rockers Yuck. Fans of Dinosaur Jr. or Sonic Youth will likely enjoy Yuck’s melodic, catchy, distortion-filled-fuzz-rock. Clearly reminiscent of the early 90s alternative noise bands, but with their own fresh take, Yuck’s live show is energetic, goofy and fun. Check out their catchy noise anthem ”Holing Out.”
A word to the wise: don’t try to relive the past- you will inevitably be disappointed. In the weeks leading up to The Lemonheads show at Black Cat last Friday I was excited. Excited at the thought of hearing the album It’s A Shame About Ray performed top to bottom by the dreamy pop-rock idol Evan Dando and whoever else he was calling The Lemonheads this time around. Excited to be momentarily transported back to 1992, and the happy state that album put me in. I first heard that album when I was in middle school, and got to meet Dando several times from then on at various in-store appearances, including Kemp Mill Records in Georgetown (R.I.P.) and Tower Records in Foggy Bottom (R.I.P.). (To the kids of today- there used to be things called record stores, and artists used to make appearances/perform/autograph in them for publicity while trying to promote their albums.)
So I was a fan from a young age, and saw Dando in his prime. He is no longer in his prime. (This has nothing to do with age, by the way) I think it is partly because I was a fan since I was 12 or 13, and had seen him up close (I have a picture of 13 y/o me with Dando), that I was so blown away and shocked by the sad state he appears to be in now. But I’m trying to write a music review, so before I address the crisis that is Evan Dando, I will talk about the music. Continue reading →
Zach Condon breezes on stage before the sold-out audience with his shirt-sleeves rolled up and smiles as he takes his spot in the center. To either side of him are the five other musicians who make up the current line-up of Beirut, sharing amongst the six of them about a dozen instruments, but this one-time solo bedroom project remains clearly Condon’s band and he looks comfortable in the starring role.
Beirut’s distinctively lush and exotically-influenced style is recreated beautifully live. One notices early in the set that Condon really, truly sings more than the average male indie vocalist – and when he does it is stunning. Presumably honed by years of projecting out over the massive crowds on the European festival circuit, he fills the Black Cat with his voice. When not singing, he alternates between six-string ukelele and trumpet and, at one point, switched to piano.
There is a sophistication to the whole band’s performance that set it apart. There is a trope in concert reviewing to describe musicians as having “raw energy” or “blistering power.” That is not Beirut. Which is by no means to say they lack emotional intensity or seem unenthusiastic about live performance. Instead, the band simply seems rehearsed – not surprising given the time they have spent with the majority of the night’s songs at this point – and genuinely musically proficient and talented. Continue reading →
After their performance at last month’s Sweetlife Festival, Modern Man is something of a We Love DC staff favorite these days. After the fest, our own Tom Bridge declared, “(Modern Man) really wailed!” When discussing Modern Man in his review of the festival, Andrew Markowitz described their sound as “similar to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s harder songs with a hint of outlaw country-rock sound,” and said that out of the many DC local bands Modern Man is one he would be happy to pay a cover to see again. Thumbs up from my WLDC colleagues is enough to convince me these guys are worth checking out.
If their endorsement ain’t enough for ya, consider these two tracks Modern Man kindly gave us permission to share with you:
Bands using video projectors at their live shows can be hit-or-miss. At their best, you can have a band like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who count their projectionist as a full-on band member. He moves back and forth between four(!) projectors, mixing up a series of dark images to add to the brooding feel of the music. At their worst, you might as well stare at the iTunes visualizer on your laptop.
As I arrived at Pinback’s show on Sunday night at the Black Cat, the first thing I noticed was the projector. I had mixed feelings about how openers Judgement Day used it; it seemed gimmicky to me at first, but I was convinced by one song, where their playing synced perfectly with their video track. It was sick, to say the least; it showcased their skills as virtuosic musicians with creativity beyond musical composition. Pinback, on the other hand, wasted an opportunity to do anything exciting with their visuals. They weren’t very dynamic as performers either, so their use of a projector felt like a crutch, just to try to make their show more visually appealing.
I’m a pretty cynical guy, to say the least. It would be really easy for me to write off The Submarines for writing corny love songs. But I can’t.
I’ve seen plenty of bands that are too cool to acknowledge the audience; I’ve seen rock stars that act like gods. So it’s refreshing to see a band as humble and genuine as The Submarines. You could tell how excited the band was to play for us that night. They were pumped that they sold out the venue – the tiny, intimate Backstage at the Black Cat. I felt like we were the biggest audience they’d ever played for!
I mean, I’m sure we weren’t, considering their profile. The Submarines rocketed to fame by getting their songs into iPhone commercials, and TV shows such as Gossip Girl, Grey’s Anatomy, and Weeds. Their synth-infused indie pop provides a background of optimism, although the cheery vocals mask the heartache hidden in the lyrics. It’s hard to ignore their similarities to The Postal Service – bright, well-crafted pop songs with male/female vocals. Continue reading →
Wire played at the Black Cat on Thursday night for an adoring crowd of older fans and hardcore music geeks. They are touring on their excellent new album, “Red Barked Tree”. The new album was featured heavily on Thursday night, but Wire also offered up a sampler of the many phases they have gone through in their 30+ years career. The show was an interesting blend of energy levels and quality as the many sounds of Wire don’t always fit neatly next to one another. This was my first time seeing Wire in concert; while I walked away satisfied by the show, it was not the knock-out performance I was expecting.
If Wire will be remembered for one thing, it will be that they always did things on their own terms. One of the most important bands in the punk to post-punk transition, Wire harnessed the energy of ’77 UK punk to fuel their strange creations. Along with peer-bands like Magazine and Joy Division, they helped herald in a new era of unconventional sounds. Never satisfied being pigeonholed by the critics as “this type of band” or “that type of band”, Wire shifted gears many times over the years. From punk to post-punk to pop to industrial and so on, Wire were and still are always in a state of flux. While this is the thing that makes Wire such a satisfying and exciting band to listen to at home, I’m afraid it held their live show back a little bit on Thursday.
Remember when there was that early to mid-00′s wave of pop bands masquerading as post-punk revivalists? Of course you do. Well, while most of those bands have already run out of steam, first wave post-punks like Wire have been going strong for over 30 years. Kind of puts the more recent generations to shame a bit, don’t it? I mean where is their commitment? Not to mention their innovation, experimentation, and/or stamina?!
Wire are one of the holy trinity of bands that mutated punk into post-punk in the UK back in the golden age and they have been mutating their own sound going on four decades now. Four! Their latest album, “Red Barked Tree” is phenomenal. During a conversation I had at the recent Gang of Four show, I said that Wire’s latest sort of had no right to be as ridiculously good as it is. I mean, c’mon guys, you’re making the kids these days look ridiculous. Where do you get off releasing an absolutely vital recording this late in your career? Put “Red Barked Tree” up against some of Wire’s earliest and best work and it doesn’t sound like they’ve aged a day. This concert is going to be fantastic!
On Saturday night at the Black Cat, legendary Dutch post-punk group The Ex treated DC fans to an energetic run through of most of the songs off their latest album, “Catch My Shoe”, a Hungarian folk song they used to do with Tom Cora, and a cover of the Konono No.1 song “Huriyet”. The Ex have been a band for over thirty years and while their line-up has changed many times over the years (most recently with a change of lead singers) the band has always maintained core values of improvisation, collaboration, and blistering guitar action. It was this third value that was most prominently on display Saturday night.
Andy Moor, guitarist in The Ex since 1990, lives in the Netherlands; his adopted home ever since he accepted the invitiation from The Ex to join their ever-changing ranks. I have been a fan of The Ex since high school, which means I have been a fan of theirs for (ahem) quite some time. The Ex are playing at the Black Cat tomorrow night and I thought it would be a fine opportunity to interview Andy about one of my favorite bands.
The first time I tried to call Andy, he was sleeping off jetlag having just returned from Addis Ababa. The second time I tried to reach him, he was out for a bike ride. The third time, he was on a boat ride with visiting family. I guess that’s what I get for expecting a so-called “anarchist” to stick to a schedule! Andy and I finally connected via Skype on the fourth try and we proceeded to have an epic conversation about some of Andy’s side projects, The Ex’s rich history of collaboration, the recent departure of G.W. Sok (the group’s lead singer for 30 years), the band’s excellent new album “Catch My Shoe”, and that pesky “anarcho-punk” label that follows The Ex everywhere, much to their chagrin.