On Sunday night The Black Angels played at 9:30 Club for the second time in six months. Last time they were in town, they opened for Black Mountain. This time at bat The Black Angels headlined the show, which gave them more time to marinate the audience in their dark psych-rock sound. The club was about two-thirds full, which made for a decent-sized crowd while leaving plenty of empty space for their guitars and vocals to swirl around in. The name of the game was “atmosphere” as The Black Angels enhanced their bad acid trip soundtracks with minimal red and purple lighting casting long shadows, occasionally interrupted by seizure-inducing strobes. The stage back-drop looked simple enough with its a wavy black and white pattern, but eventually continued the theme of acid freak-out as it created a number of optical illusions as different lights and projections bounced off of it. The best way to enjoy the show was to immerse yourself in The Black Angels’ audio-visual soup. Which is exactly what I did.
As you may have read earlier, I went down to Miami last weekend for the Ultra Music Festival. Cut Copy and Holy Ghost! performed there, but since I knew I would be seeing them at 9:30 Club on Tuesday night, I opted to skip them at the festival. Ultra turned out to be a fantastic weekend of electronic music and although I was exhausted upon my return, a part of me was very excited to keep the dancing going by going to this show.
Cut Copy are touring on their third album “Zonoscope” and Holy Ghost! are about to release their self-titled debut. Both bands have their new albums on the line, but also Holy Ghost! are trying to make the transition from openers to headliners and Cut Copy are trying to dis-spell rumblings of a band identity crisis. I expected this show to be a high-energy, home-run from both bands. Instead it was an average showing from both that made me suspect that perhaps I wasn’t the only one feeling the post-Ultra hangover.
Guest reviewer Alexia Kauffman of The Torches was at the show for We Love DC.
Melbourne’s electro-disco-pop outfit Miami Horror rocked out to a packed U Street Music Hall Saturday night.
I first heard Miami Horror last summer and was fortunate enough to catch their first DC show at U Street Music Hall last year. For that show the hall was probably only 1/3 full, but the audience was super enthusiastic and the band clearly had fun. I bought their album “Illumination” at that show and I couldn’t stop listening to it for the rest of the year. It is definitely one of my favorite albums of 2010. I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Plant, the group’s founder, last week, and you can check that out here. Now on with the show.
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.
As a metal connoisseur, I’m always looking out for the perfect show to recommend to my open-minded, indie-rockin’, metal-curious friends. These recommendations can be dangerous, though. A band could be too cheesy, too evil, too grim and frostbitten, too noisy, or too serious. Metal singers make things even tougher; growly vocals are an instant turn-off for most people.
So, when I heard The Sword were coming to the 9:30 Club, I knew this would be the perfect opportunity to enlist new members for our metal army. The Sword play “retro metal” which would fit well on the radio alongside Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. The vocals are clean; the songs are rooted in sci-fi. But most importantly, this band knows how to write a killer riff that any music-lover can appreciate. Monday night’s show was a constant barrage of excellent guitar licks, played flawlessly and cranked up loud.
Thrash veterans Suicidal Tendencies played an early show at 9:30 Club on Friday night to a small but dedicated crowd of punks, skins, skaters, and scene survivors. This So-Cal outfit that carved out the Punk-Metal hybrid sound known as Thrash nearly 30 years ago, has been hyper-active in recent years with several recordings and tours designed to remind the world of the sound that they originated and their place in music history as its trailblazer. Suicidal Tendencies made a strong case with their performance on Friday night that they deserve to be remembered as the godfathers of the skater Thrash sound.
The show was billed as Suicidal Tendencies playing material from their critically-ignored second album “Join The Army” and also from lead-singer Mike Muir’s little-known metal band No Mercy. ST recently released “No Mercy Fool!/The Suicidal Family” on which they re-recorded several tracks by No Mercy and from ST’s “Join The Army”. Was it necessary to re-record this music and tour on it? No, it probably was not. Critically, Suicidal Tendencies’ first and third album are their best and their sophomore release has always been regarded as a misstep. Critical reception is not everything though, especially for hardcore punk bands who often look to the blood and sweat of their fans as the more genuine stamp of approval. Am I glad that ST decided to re-record this material and tour on it? Hell, yes. While not necessarily the defining moment of punk-metal crossover Thrash, this material definitely represents the genre well. The new album of old tunes sounds remarkably fresh in 2010 and the show on Friday night demonstrated just how awesome Thrash can be when played well live.
This week the 9:30 Club was completely transformed by the will, voice, and performance of Jonsi for two nights in a row. This tall, elf-like, painfully shy vocalist stood center-stage surrounded by a four-piece band of multi-instrumentalists whose unusual instruments filled the stage. Behind them and flanking the stage, beautifully produced video elements were projected onto screens in concert with an expertly staged light show to re-invent the club’s space in a way I have rarely seen before. The combination of the show’s next-level theatrical production values and the truly beautiful yet bizarre music made for two of the most audience enveloping, emotional performances I have seen at the 9:30 Club in 15 years.
If you are at all familiar with Jonsi’s original band Sigur Ros, you probably have an idea of how BIG he thinks when it comes to his music and extravagant live performances. Jonsi debuted his solo album earlier this year and has been performing various manifestations of this show with his incredible backing band at outdoor festivals, proper theaters, and large nightclubs. His show adapts well to whatever environment it finds itself in. I saw Jonsi perform at the Coachella Music Festival this past Spring and his performance there was so powerfully unique that I described it as “so other-worldly that I don’t even know if it took place in the same time-space continuum as the rest of the festival.” Allow me to expand on that idea when I describe the two shows at the 9:30 Club earlier this week. Jonsi’s musical alchemy somehow managed to transport the entire club and everyone in it into some sort of shamanistic pocket universe for an hour and a half each night. Both the performance and the performance space became enchanted by Jonsi and his band until they returned the club safely to its perch at 815 V St. promptly at 10:30 each night.*
Imagine being trapped inside a tiny unit at a self-storage building that is on fire. You are trapped inside this 5×8 corrugated metal coffin and it is filling with smoke. Imagine yourself panicking, pounding on the walls, walls that keep getting hotter and hotter. You are roasting. Your sweat stings your eyes and soaks through your clothes. Now hear your own cries for help bouncing off of the burning walls, listen as the echoes turn into screams. Welcome to the existential terror that is seeing SWANS in concert.
Michael Gira, the spiritual leader of the group, has pulled together a new aural torture squad under the SWANS moniker after nearly 13 years of inactivity. SWANS are legends of the New York, post-No Wave, noise-rock scene. Gira used the group to explore a broad range of psychological torment music during their original run from ’82 to ’97. Rumors had been circulating the web for about a year that Gira was putting together a new SWANS line-up and album. By the Spring, we had confirmation in the form of some demo recordings appearing on his various websites. Last month SWANS released a very strong new album entitled “My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky”. On Wednesday night, at the Black Cat, Michael Gira and his SWANS performed their second concert of the 2010 reactivation tour. It was an experiment in terror that the crowd of devout fans and the sonically curious happily subjected themselves too.
courtesy of No Age.
While most of DC’s indie-music listeners were reliving past glories watching Superchunk over at 9:30 Club on Friday night, a decent-sized and enthusiastic crowd were dancing the night away to the two of indie-rock’s new breed: junk-techno technicians Holy Fuck and noise-pop purveyors No Age. This show was one of the more interesting stylistic pairings in recent memory with both bands offering radically different sounds while occupying the same altitude of on-the-rise status.
Both Holy Fuck and No Age are touring in support of their third albums, which technically makes them both indie upper class-men, but their noise aesthetic and DIY approach to everything has possibly held them back from tapping the meteoric-rise success model that is being employed by their more pop-oriented peers. In other words, No Age and Holy Fuck are relying less on internet buzz and more on old fashioned word-of-mouth to garner a fan base. Something that No Age should be receiving in spades if they continue to perform at the level they did on Friday night.
It has been too long since The Charlatans UK have played in DC. Too long since I have seen one of my all-time favorite bands. That is what I was thinking as I made my way up the stairs at the Black Cat on Thursday night. When I got upstairs, the Black Cat was seriously empty, so empty in fact that I was beginning to worry that The Charlatans’ forthcoming performance might suffer from the lack of energy in the room. As I easily took position right in front of the stage, I began to wonder, has it been so long since The Charlatans played DC that people have forgotten them? Slowly but surely dedicated fans of The Charlatans and Brit-pop enthusiasts began to fill in around me, but every time I glanced toward the back of the room, all I could see was emptiness. Where are all the people?
Thankfully, by the time Tim Burgess and company took the stage, the crowd had swelled to at least give the illusion that the room was as full as these Mancunian candidates for longest-running Brit-pop band deserve. The Charlatans may be at a point in their career where they don’t really care who shows up anymore though. Thursday’s wonderful show proved that be the turn-out large or small, they are putting on a great show either way.
At home in the UK, The Charlatans are still stadium-filling, festival favorites. In the US, where they never really ‘broke through’ like genre colleagues Blur or Oasis, The Charlatans have always been a specialty club act. I’ve seen them rock the 9:30 Club to adoring crowds several times. Their current tour comes after back-to-back canceled tours, and two albums that did not receive major release in the United States; in other words a 4-year absence from U.S. pop-consciousness that judging from Thursday’s turn-out may have finally marginalized them to being purely a nostalgia act.
Of course, any fan of The Charlatans that is reading this is probably cursing at the computer screen right now. I know I would be, because the case for The Charlatans’ originality and vitality as a group is especially strong when considering their new album “Who We Touch”, which drops in the US today. The new album ushers in yet another series of slight stylistic shifts that show off the versatility and enduring-nature of The Charlatans as a group. The new album is thankfully receiving major distribution in the U.S. and the band has finally physically made it to our shores to play some shows in support of it. Whether people show up for them or not remains to be seen. In DC on Thursday, a medium-sized crowd showed for what I am calling “the best show of 2010 that almost nobody went to”.
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of The Wedding Present’s seminal, break-up album, “Bizarro“; and to celebrate, band founder David Gedge is touring the U.S. playing the album in full. On Friday night The Wedding Present stopped in at The Black Cat to play a handful of non-“Bizarro” tracks and then the album proper from beginning to end. While the current Wedding Present line-up skews slightly younger than the blokes that originally played this material, the crowd on Friday night was definitely composed of first generation fans judging by the abundance of middle-aged and soon to be middle-aged men in attendance. It was certainly a night for reliving passionate youth for many as “Bizarro” is one of the great relationship-angst albums of all time. So great in fact that Gedge’s heart-wounded lyrics can still inspire a crowd of grown men to scream along with him even now, twenty years removed from the soul-crushing trials of youthful romance and the debut of the perfect soundtrack for them.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club rumbled into town on Monday night to subject a sold-out 9:30 Club to a shock and awesome display of rock-n-roll annihilation. Touring in support of their latest long-player, “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo“, BRMC embraced that album’s raw power style to play a set that was fast, loose, and loud. So loud that it often felt like the band was testing the audience’s commitment to BRMC’s maximum rock approach. The noise assault drove fans out in staggered waves through the set but left behind a sizable core of diehards to truly enjoy the display of sonic audacity and seemingly-effortless talent being unleashed on stage. Being a long-time BRMC fan, I was a bit shocked at the levels with which they could still manage to surprise and impress. After many years of watching Black Rebel Motorcycle Club perform, their Monday night, aural brainwashing made me feel like I was seeing the band for the first time all over again.
Jello Biafra will turn 52-years old in June but you wouldn’t know it from listening to his new album “The Audacity of Hype” or by watching his punk-as-f*ck live show. Fueled by a combination of unyielding political outrage and a bottomless reserve of poetic wit, Jello Biafra has been calling it like he sees it to anyone and everyone who will listen (and sometimes to those who refuse too) for over 30 years. Biafra’s various political platforms have included his legendary, California, punk band, The Dead Kennedys; numerous musical collaborations, several spoken word tours, and most recently his first ‘official’ band in 25 years, The Guantanamo School of Medicine.
courtesy of Editors
Editors made a glorious return to the 9:30 Club on Sunday night playing to a sold-out house of enthusiastic fans and soon-to-be converts. These dark, Brit-pop masters treated the crowd to a set mixing their passion-fueled back-catalog with their synth-focused latest, “In This Light and On This Evening“. The transitions between the new and old songs were not always the smoothest, but the sheer power and presence of one of the best performing bands around was more than enough to carry the crowd and the evening.
I have seen Editors on every tour and was particularly taken with their debut opening stint for Stellastarr* back in 2006. Since then Editors have put out a second great album of passion-pop, seen a ground-swell in popularity, and most recently embraced a dramatic stylistic shift on their new album. I don’t think anyone was expecting their hard left-turn into synth territory but it does not feel entirely out-of-place either. Tom Smith’s deep vocal style and the band’s over-all darker tone adjusts pretty easily from their trademark guitar to the new album’s near Gothic synth. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t skeptical going into Sunday’s concert. In fact I was not really sold on this synth-shift based on my album-play-through and I was hoping for this concert to provide me a final verdict on how I really felt about it.
courtesy of Tortoise
Indie-rock elder statesmen Tortoise played the Black Cat on Tuesday night and treated the modest-sized crowd to a set that was representative of their career modus operandi. Somehow their set managed to be simultaneously laid-back and intense in a way that was as mind-boggling as it was enjoyable. Covering the lion’s share of their latest album “Beacons Of Ancestorship” Tortoise once again displayed their utter mastery of genre collision and band member inter-play.
A lot of articles online hail Tortoise as the “godfathers of Post-Rock” and while I don’t particularly agree* I do recognize and enjoy the sea-change impact that they had on indie rock in the mid-1990’s. No one on the indie landscape does quite what Tortoise does in practice or in sound. They are the ultimate instrument playing genre colliders. Tortoise does with instruments what DJs can only dream of doing with an arsenal of samplers; Tortoise swallows difficult genres (Jazz, Krautrock, Prog-Rock, Dub, Punk, the list goes on…) and reconstitutes them into insane progressive mash-ups that evoke their influences in brilliant, discordant, and challenging ways. The fact that they can do all that and still lay down a deeply enjoyable jam is Tortoise’s own special brand of genius.
Jenny Owen Youngs is young, oh so hipster, and she’s got something to say to you. Which may or may not be a joke, depending on whether she’s singing or talking. Her songs are sweet, thoughtful, and melodious love songs (mostly), but as soon as the music stops, all seriousness gets set aside. Even her introduction of her band-mates (her drummer has some bold eyebrows, apparently) and comments on the insane heat at Rock and Roll Hotel (exchanging moist DNA with the crowd) were delivered with the kind of deadpan wit that I love. Especially with the kind of heat we were dealing with, we needed a little humor to keep punches from being exchanged instead of just sweaty DNA. Continue reading
They Might Be Giants by La Tête Krançien
In my younger years I spent a lot of time listening to cassettes in my room, on my walkman or in the car. If you’re like me, They Might Be Giants 1990 release Flood was among the most played and beloved albums in my collection. I learned all the words and the trumpet parts, which have stuck with me from childhood through adulthood. This past Friday, I was able to show off these skills (sans trumpet) when They Might Be Giants headlined the 9:30 Club to perform the album in its entirety.
This show, along with a handful of other dates this fall, features the band opening for themselves with full-album performances, most notably Flood and Apollo 18 (the following night they performed Apollo 18 back in New York). This comes right in time with the increasing trend of artists who have long-standing tenure in the music business to perform some of their greatest albums. This fall, Built To Spill and the Meat Puppets toured together doing much the same concept, and London-based All Tomorrow’s Parties has been hosting the Don’t Look Back concert series since 2005. On this cold Friday night however, Washington, DC was host to a special night of music. Not generally done outside of their hometown of New York City, They Might Be Giants are looking back and paying homage to their most successful record to date. Continue reading