The lights and fog on stage created the illusion of a misty sky behind a circular enclosure. Thin, sheer black curtains hanging between the lights created the illusion of a temple.
But the priestess of that temple was no illusion. Indeed, the sold-out crowd gathered at the 9:30 Club Monday night to drink from the altar of their chosen indie singer-songwriter heroine Lykke Li. Clad in flowing black garb, the beguiling Swede struck a moody, artistic note as she paraded and swayed through a solid 75 minutes of sadly atmospheric songs.
Li opened the show with the title track of I Never Learn, her third and latest album released earlier this year. The song, like many of her others, deals with unfulfilling or lost love — and the implication is that “never learning” equates to “never getting over someone.”
Rivers Cuomo of Weezer proves his band still has it (Photo courtesy of Firefly Music Festival)
Four days is a long time to commit to a festival, but it actually buzzes right by when you follow your festival roadmap of bands to see.
The final day of the Firefly Music Festival, Sunday, June 22, was a short day for me as my compatriots and I determined to return to DC from Dover at a reasonable time (say, around 9pm instead of midnight or later).
I’ll wrap my festival diary then with a short nod to the three bands I caught on my last day, starting with Misterwives, who performed on the festival’s small forest stage.
The New-York based quintet is a young band that’s been around for not quite a year and a half. But they got a record deal pretty quickly, even if they don’t yet have a Wikipedia page. Vocalist Mandy Lee is total sweetheart, chatting with the audience from stage and then breaking into equally sweet, fast-paced song, such as with the band’s single “Reflections,” also the title track of their only EP so far. “Reflections” lyrically reflects Ms. Lee’s sunny attitude — maybe there’s some possibilities still ahead? And it’s neo-psychedelic rythms speak to a band that likes to whip up a good dance number — a band that includes guitarist Marc Campbell, drummer Etienne Bowler, bassist William Hehi and keyboardist Jesse Blum.
Misterwives performed a bright, upbeat cover of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” which the forest stage audience embraced quite quickly. There was much dancing. Misterwives have an upcoming show where they support Bleachers at the 9:30 Club on Wednesday, Sept. 3, if you’re interested in checking them out.
Sean Scanlon, vocalist of Smallpools (photo courtesy Firefly Music Festival)
Day three of the Firefly Music Festival on Saturday, June 21, focused mostly on new bands for me — finding such new bands always is the strength of well-organized festivals.
My day began with Smallpools, a quartet from Los Angeles, and their catchy pop songs on the Firefly backyard stage. Smallpools have not yet released a full-length album, but their most popular single, Dreaming (from a self-titled EP) is a very neo-psychedelic dance number that smacks of Foster the People and Passion Pit, as many others have observed. Vocalist Sean Scanlon demonstrated a good sense of humor when recounting a protest email the band once received about its name. Apparently, someone was unhappy that Smallpools would celebrate “small pools,” which are not healthy for killer whales. In response, the band named a new song “Killer Whale.”
Smallpools open for Neon Trees in a show at the 9:30 Club on July 13, but it’s already sold out sadly!
A booming sad voice fills the air from the very first song.
“Hey now, letters burning by my bed for you.”
Melancholy yet so very strong, the voice of Hannah Reid of London Grammar is so powerful an instrument that you are forced to wonder if she could simply tour as an a cappella act and be tremendously successful solo.
But no. Given a bit of time at Monday night’s sold-out performance by London Grammar at the 9:30 Club, the gentle guitar of Dan Rothman and playful keyboards and drums from Dot Major swell under the vocals and provide each song with a full sound, as with the opener, “Hey Now.”
Dee Dee Penny of the Dum Dum Girls (Courtesy of Sub Pop Records)
The Black Cat hosted two female-fronted bands well worth an evening of listening on a sold-out Saturday night.
Blouse, a synthpop trio from Portland, Ore., recently traded their keyboards for guitars on their second album, Imperium. They opened for the Dum Dum Girls, the increasingly popular quartet from Los Angeles celebrating a third full-length release with Too True. This music reporter was pretty happy with both bands overall thanks to the shades of 80s post-punk that shown through in the music of their two sets.
Given my predilections, you’ll have to excuse me — when I first heard Blouse, I absolutely was hooked by their first album, and it’s been difficult for me to fairly judge their second by the standard that it set. I took notes during the show only to find myself scribbling praise for the songs from the band’s first self-titled album from 2011.
I single out Little Daylight, soon to release their first full-length album, Hello Memory, because they represent a kind of music I always adore — great electronic dance music with cool female vocals, as showcased by their latest single, “Siren Call.”
Nikki Taylor, Matt Lewkowicz and Eric Zeiler got their start remixing singles for the likes of Passion Pit and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes but now they have broken out as a full-fledged dreampop band with some catchy tunes that somehow bear ambient atmospherics over strong rhythms. Check out their video for “Overdose” and see for yourself.
When I first heard “Punching in a Dream” by The Naked and the Famous, I thought, “Well, what a catchy dreampop song!” The ethereal voice of Alisa Xayalith over the layered electronics struck me as a sonically aggressive take on the genre but I was comfortable with that categorization nonetheless.
Coming to know the band quite a bit better recently, I’ve come to appreciate the bite in their music that lends their sound to the more rock-and-roll bent of post-punk. Yet I’m not entirely comfortable fully placing them there myself—and this is what makes the band an exciting listen. The Naked and the Famous are different. They play outside of boundaries, and they are surprisingly versatile while doing so. This was evident in two sold out shows at the 9:30 Club this past Sunday and Monday, where the crowd fully embraced the duality of the band, dancing and singing along with great enthusiasm.
Phoenix headlined the festival (Photo courtesy Sweetlife Festival)
The Sweetlife Festival very much fulfilled the promise implied by its name Saturday, May 11, delivering la dolce vita in a well organized celebration of music and food at the Merriweather Post Pavilion.
I’m not traditionally the biggest fan of going to concerts at the DC-area outdoor pavilions — much less festivals after the chaos that accompanies the Virgin FreeFest annually at Merriweather. But Sweetlife made excellent use of the place, offering a mainstage, a “treehouse stage,” and a dance floor in the small 9:30 Clubhouse (officially, the 9:32 Club) on the grounds — all of which dissolved into an energetic performance by headliner Phoenix at the end of the night.
Food vendors, trucks and restaurants set themselves up in neat rows in various portions of the grounds and concertgoers queued up to patronize them around the clock. My companion and I parked and shuffled into the pavilion without difficulty and make our way toward lunch, pausing to check out Solange Knowles, performing an early set on the main stage. To our surprise, she struck up a cover of “I Could Fall in Love” by late Tejano singer Selena. While we didn’t really hang around to check her out, her soulful voice was crowdpleasing and the main stage attracted a sizable gathering for the time.