Sunday, July 11, 2010

Faith No More @ Mann Music Center 7/3/10

Faith No More @ Mann Music Center 2
courtesy of Marcus Darpino.

As much as I would like it to be, Washington DC is not the live-music center of the universe. Sometimes to see that special show I have to hop on a jet, castaway on a boat, or hit the road as I did this past weekend to catch one of the limited East Coast reunion shows by Faith No More. These shows were limited enough (only 3) and special enough (a hell-froze-over reunion) that we thought some of our DC readers might be interested in reading about the one I attended at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia last Saturday.

When considering Faith No More and the quality of concert they put on, it is the little details that make the difference. The little details like: Mike Patton riding a fan like a horse while singing Michael Jackson's 'Ben'; an unexpected cover of Vangelis' 'Chariots of Fire' theme; song verses done entirely in flawless Portuguese on a whim; and a singing, daredevil, strip-tease atop a 30-foot rope-ladder. In other words, when Faith No More perform live there really are no such things as little details; everything about a Faith No More concert is as huge and in-your-face as it can possibly get. From Mike Patton's epic vocal range and deranged persona; to Roddy Bottum's impenetrable, wall of synth-keyboards; to Billy Gould and Mike Bordin's spastic funk; and Jon Hudson's heroic guitar riffs Faith No More's live sound is so gigantic it is almost absurd. And it would be absurd if they weren't such a tight and overly-talented group of individuals. Saturday night's concert in Philadelphia was a success on every level that treated a few thousand fans to the stellar, albeit brief, return of an old favorite and left us all longing for more from these SF Bay-area originals.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wavves & Cloud Nothings @ RNR Hotel 6/25/10

Wavves @ RNR Hotel 6/25/10
courtesy of Wavves.

While the early-week, DC-music, blogosphere is atwitter with tales of Courtney Love's awful on-stage antics at the 9:30 Club on Sunday night, Friday night's Wavves show seems to be completely off radar. This is interesting to me, because Wavves mastermind, Nathan Williams, is an equally volatile personality known for on-stage meltdowns and fisticuffs of his own. In fact, before the weekend began, the quality of the Friday night Waaves' concert at Rock & Roll Hotel was as much in question as was which Courtney Love would appear at the 9:30 Club on Sunday. When faced with the decision of which concert to attend (there was no way I was going to sandwich my weekend with potential cluster-f*cks) I used a simple calculus to aid my decision making: Courtney Love is a miserable, over-the-hill, waste of space who only ever put out one good album; while Nathan Williams of Wavves is an unpredictable, indie-genius on the rise, who cranks out infectious tunes as frequently as normal people draw breath. For me the decision was easy; both shows had the potential to be spectacular personality-based failures, but only Wavves had the possible upside of also delivering brilliant music.

Nathan Williams did not have a nervous break-down on-stage, nor did he indulge himself as the star of his own iPhone-shot reality-show on Friday night. He did talk quite a bit between songs, but then so did his rhythm section. Their collective antics were less delusional rants and more about bratty fun. Wavves did more than hold it together on Friday night. They showed up with their snotty, punk attitude and tore through an hour of great, noise-wrapped pop-music. They were preceded by another blog buzz-band in Cloud Nothings from Cleveland, who also put on an excellent set of bedroom-recording inspired tunes. Both bands combined to put on an fantastic new music showcase for the nearly sold-out crowd at Rock & Roll Hotel on Friday.

Silversun Pickups @ DAR Constitution Hall 6/23/10

Photo courtesy of
'Silversin Pickups'
courtesy of 'MudflapDC'

This was one of those concerts that make me love my job.

Silversun Pickups played at DAR Constitution Hall last Wednesday night. They delivered an exuberant display of musical joy that put a big ol' smile on my face that lasted the entire show. Silversun Pickups are a band with a great sound and a growing fan-base, and yet every time I see them perform they seem completely amazed that people like their music. It's this "they like us, they really, really like us!" attitude and their genuine appreciation for their fans, that keeps this huge-sounding band grounded and endears them to the listener. When watching Silversun Pickups perform you find yourself rooting for them to succeed while they proceed to melt your face off with their massive, alt-rock attack.

Wednesday's concert was the best of the three times I have seen Silversun Pickups perform, mainly because it was the first time I have seen them as headliners. The headliner spot gave them time to stretch their legs musically which really added another level to their performance on just about every song they played. Add to this the fact that the longer set gave them the opportunity to throw some slower songs into the mix and Silversun Pickups were able to create an atmosphere that was all their own and not merely shared space with other, larger acts. Silversun Pickups were the main event on Wednesday night and they used their moment in the spotlight to truly shine.

Goldfrapp @ 9:30 Club 6/21/10

Goldfrapp @ 9:30 Club 6/21/10
courtesy of Goldfrapp.

Allison Goldfrapp, the fairy godmother of electro-pop, descended from her pink-chiffon cloud to treat us mere mortals to one hell of a concert at the 9:30 Club on Monday night. The performance was one of the first dates on her U.S. tour in support of her fifth album, "Head First", but the concert also served as a reminder to the pop-forgetful that she is the best in the biz when it comes to dreamy-vocals set to retro-chic, electro-beats. This summer is ridiculous with its schedule of electro-pop divas visiting DC. From The Golden Filter, to La Roux, to Robyn, and Dragonette each group owes a huge debt to Goldfrapp for putting the pop polish on the synth and keyboard sound that began its revival as the much harsher electro-clash in the late 90's. Will Gregory and Allison Goldfrapp, the duo that compose Goldfrapp in the studio, have been cranking out great albums since 2000, while Allison and her live band have been putting on terrific live shows full of style and originality that will be hard to forget when seeing their electro-pop descendants perform over the next couple of months. Monday night's Goldfrapp show took a few songs to really get going but once the band got into their groove it was pure escapist, retroactive, pseudo-futuristic bliss.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Golden Filter @ DC9 6/18/10

Photo courtesy of
'The Golden Filter'
courtesy of 'yousayyeah'

On Friday night, DC9 mainstay, Liberation Dance Party brought in New York's The Golden Filter for a special appearance to amp up the already crazy dance party LDP hosts week after week. Unsurprisingly, the result was an even crazier dance party. The Golden Filter delivered a killer set of sexy electro-pop to a packed house eager to dance, dance, dance! And dance they did, taking to the riser boxes, standing on the booths, shaking and grinding while the band delivered on the promise of their amazing debut album, Voluspa, with a live performance that was a delight to watch through the filter of moving bodies.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Isis & The Melvins @ 9:30 Club 6/16/10

isis @ 9:30 Club 6/16/10
courtesy of ISIS.

It all began as a simple tour announcement. ISIS playing with The Melvins at 9:30 Club on June 16th. For a few weeks, ISIS fans assumed that this would be an ISIS show with The Melvins as the opening act. Then it turned out that The Melvins were listed as the headliner and ISIS would be opening. And Isis fans let out a collective groan of disappointment. Then ISIS made the bombshell announcement that they are breaking up and that this tour will be their last. And ISIS fans took to the street: crying, breaking stuff, and banging their foreheads against walls like the Ayatollah Khomeini had just died. In reaction, ISIS and The Melvins wisely switched schedule spots for the remainder of the tour. So it was that noise-rock mainstays, The Melvins, opened for post-metal originators, ISIS, when they played together at the 9:30 Club on Wednesday night.

This Will Destroy You @ DC9 6/10/10

This Will Destroy You
courtesy of Girlie Action.

The Texan, post-rock quartet This Will Destroy You played DC9 last Thursday. As I type this review several days later, I am still reeling from their titanic performance. I am tempted to free-style gush about it here, but instead I will break the evening down into pieces to help my brain sort out the chaos that is left in the wake of their visit to the nation's Capital. In other words, rather than shout "Godzilla!" and start jabbering in incomprehensible language as I try to describe This Will Destroy You laying waste to everything in their path; I will try to provide you with a semi-coherent write-up of Thursday night's show.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Conan O'Brien @ DAR Constitution Hall 6/8/10

Conan O'Brien Legally Prohibited Tour

Tuesday night had me back at DAR Constitution Hall to witness the madcap hilarity of the Conan O'Brien Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour. I don't think I need to recap how Conan lost his Tonight Show gig to its former host, other than to mention how that extremely public NBC scheduling conflict resulted in one of the oddest forms of comedic revenge I have ever witnessed. The whole point of Conan O'Brien taking his variety show on the road is to keep America laughing while exacting sweet revenge on the ratings dead-weight that replaced him on air. For two months now, Conan O'Brien, his writers, and his band have been criss-crossing America delivering knock-out evenings of comedy and music. Tuesday night's stop in DC was no different and provided the sold-out Team CoCo crowd with a non-stop night of comedic genius.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The National @ DAR Constitution Hall 6/6/10

The National @ DAR Hall #2 6/6/10
"The National at DAR" courtesy of Samer Farha.

The National are blowing up huge in 2010. Of that there is no question. Their latest album "High Violet" debuted at number three on the Billboard Top 200 when it dropped last month. It has been nearly impossible to avoid their massive campaign of television and festival appearances, rave album reviews in print and online, and their inventive use of web-isodes and internet video exclusives. When a band gets pushed this hard it gives one pause. Do they have the chops to back it up or is this all a smoke screen to sell shoddy product? In the case of The National it is readily apparent to the listener of "High Violet" or the attendee at one of their concerts that this is a very talented band that has hit their stride.

"High Violet" is the fifth album by The National. Their style has evolved over the years from alt-country inflected pop albums to a darker and emotionally huge sound (that frankly suits the band better). "High Violet" rounds out a trilogy of excellently written and performed albums. It is preceded by "Boxer" and "Alligator". Vocally all three albums have just the right balance of melancholy, introspection, and frustration to provide a wealth of emotion to the listener. Musically The National have become more and more interesting with each of these three albums. "Boxer" may represent a lush musical peak for the band, but it is on "High Violet" that they employ just the right measure of restraint to their large sound, lending real gravity to their lyrics.

The National performed to a sold out crowd at DAR Constitution Hall on Sunday night. Like their last three albums, their live show proved that The National are seriously talented and exciting performers. The show heavily mined "High Violet", "The Boxer", and "Alligator"; perfectly blending great songs from all three to balance moments of emotional honesty, musical cacophony, and pop brilliance. For a band that features lyrics of such introspection and woe, The National provide a surprisingly powerful and energetic concert that more than once had me thinking of The Cure and U2. After experiencing The National live on Sunday night, I imagine, that much like those two long-running and massively successful bands, The National could have a long and successful future crafting ever-evolving emotional pop music.

Fear Factory & Prong @ Jaxx 6/3/10

Fear Factory @ Jaxx 6/3/10
courtesy of Fear Factory.

Last week I took the trip out to Jaxx in Springfield to catch the industrial-metal, throw-back, double-bill of Prong and Fear Factory. Motivated mostly by nostalgia for two bands that I was a fan of in the 1990's, I trekked out to suburban VA's, heavy metal, bunker, Jaxx to head-bang and mosh with one of the most aggressive and devout crowds I have seen in a decade. The entire experience felt like I had tripped into a space-time continuum hiccup and teleported back to 1995.

In 2010, Heavy Metal is still a hugely popular genre but inside the beltway its fans trend toward a more intellectual appreciation of the heavy stuff. I would say that I fall into this camp as I greatly enjoy post-metal bands and the more experimental and envelope-pushing a Metal band gets the more interested I become. Unfortunately, DC is also home to an enclave of hipster Metal "fans" who listen to the older stuff with sly ironic grins; a position I loathe because it seems to be more about mocking the music than appreciating it. While I have been enjoying the Metal experimental frontier for years, I believe a true Metal fan's love of the genre must be founded in the classics of the genre; loud as an air raid, heavy as a ton of bricks, and finger-bleeding fast.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mono @ 9:30 Club 6/2/10

mono at the 9:30 club 6/2/10
courtesy of Mono.

I have been tossing around the word "epic" an awful lot in conversation lately when describing concerts that I have attended. I do that on occasion; get stuck on a word or phrase that is an easy descriptor. A verbal short-cut to get to the gist of what the listener missed by not attending a particularly good show. For a long time it was "rules!" and "kicked ass!". I still fall back on those now and again. It annoys me when I catch myself repeating these things over and over again. It annoys me because it slightly devalues these phrases and robs them of their power when they are truly applicable in writing. Lately my word has been "epic" because I truly feel that I have been lucky enough to recently attend some epic events. Epic in either sound, significance, or both.

Wednesday night's visit to the 9:30 Club by Japanese post-rockers Mono was EPIC. Note the use of all-capital letters. I use them because there is no other word to describe Mono's first-ever concert at the 9:30 Club and I want you to really appreciate the magnitude of EPIC-ness I am talking about here. I use all-caps in an attempt to jump-start this word that I have been over-using of late, because I have no other word to describe how huge and impressive it was when Mono performed on Wednesday night.

In 2005, I saw Mono perform in a space no bigger than a living room on a patch of worn carpet as a stage. That show was my pick for best set in-and-around DC in 2005. It was an evening of true music nirvana. The intangible thing that I spend my life in search of. I was so shocked, enlightened, and blown away by that show I couldn't even bring myself to write about it for months. I was speechless. I have seen Mono perform many times since and they have become one of my favorite bands of all time to watch in concert. However, none of their shows quite matched the greatness of that 2005 set - until now.

I went into Wednesday night's concert expecting a very good show. Mono are consistent performers and I was particularly curious to hear them play on the 9:30 Club's perfect sound system. I knew this concert was going to satisfy my yearly pilgrimage to the church of Mono. But there was an element that I had not factored into my pre-show thoughts about it. Had I considered this element I would have been totally losing my cool over the prospect of this show rather than merely looking forward to it. Mono are frequently produced by Steve Albini, arguably the most precise sound-catcher in the business. I am used to hearing Mono on cheaper, dirtier-sounding club systems. A lot of their subtle brilliance is often lost in the mix at these other clubs. I had not imagined the equation of Mono's dedication to precision (even with the tiniest of sounds) plus the 9:30 Club's forensic sound system.*

The result of this combination was EPIC. First, Mono's sound filled the 9:30 Club better than just about anyone I've seen there. I mean you could practically see huge globules of sound condensing on the rafters and then raining down over the crowd. It was a physical presence that made the air shimmer. Another contributing factor to their awe inspiring sound force-field was that the club was half-full. There were not enough bodies around to absorb this sound. I was on the balcony and had room all around me. Space that filled up with Mono's sound and made you feel like you were floating.

Mono features two alien-thin guitar geniuses; an almost frighteningly focused female bass-player, and a bear-like drummer. Between the four of them they produce beautiful and intricate guitar orchestras that sway between quiet contemplative melodies and cathartic guitar-fury eruptions. When Mono open up their guitars full-throttle, for the listener, it is like trying to out-race and then being rolled over by an avalanche of sound. Mono's two guitar players represent the two general schools of thought regarding noisy-guitars. The guitarist on the right side of the stage comes from the Thurston Moore on his knees, waving his guitar around for effect, pounding on effects pedals with his fists, humping the guitar and amp school of guitar playing. The guitarist on the left plays an equally noisy but more physically restrained Kevin Shields/Jason Pierce style of seemingly effortless cool; merely tapping his pedals with the tip of his show to unleash the tempest.

Mono's drummer has always fascinated me and watching from the 9:30 balcony bird's-eye view gave me a perfect angle on all of the neat little moves he makes on the drum kit. You could hear his every tiny tap and subtle brush across the surface of a cymbal. Even underneath the many guitar assaults of the night, the drums were crystal clear in both their thunder and even more powerfully in their quiet subtle tempos. Mono's bass guitar also stood out better than I ever heard it before. There was real power to the bass sound and driving rhythms that I had never really noticed or felt at their other concerts. This amplified bass provided momentum and direction to the guitar players' epic journeys. Thanks to this, Wednesday night's concert was the most narrative of all the Mono shows I have seen before. This bass urgency added a layer of intensity to the already hugely emotional guitar work.

If you were to look around the club while Mono were performing you would see about 300 people totally dedicated to and tripping off of their sound. This was the final factor in making this the best Mono show I have attended. No one talked! Through out the entire concert, everyone was quiet and I was stunned. You really could have heard a pin drop on stage (if it was mic'd properly). I have been to a select few concerts where the crowd was this respectful to the performers.** Wednesday's crowd is the kind of crowd I wish for when seeing quiet-element bands like this. Their reverence for Mono allowed the band to totally own the club and they used it like an instrument in its own right for maximum effect.

Mono at the 9:30 Club on Wednesday night were in a word: EPIC.

* I have described 9:30 Club's sound system as forensic once before. In 2007 Isis made their 9:30 Club debut and utilized the club system with a ridiculous level of precision in sound.

** More often than not, this happens.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The 9:30 Club 30th Anniversary Concert

Bob Mould performing at the 9:30 Club 30th Anniversary concert
"Bob Mould" photo taken by author.

"The reason this is the best club in America is the people that work here. Trust me, most nightclubs are terrible places. You don't want to go there." - Neill Fallon of Clutch.

"I can not imagine a DC without the 9:30 Club. It is unimaginable. It's just unimaginable" - Mark Noone of The Slickee Boys.

"I love the fact that I'm from DC!" - Henry Rollins

"Let's kick on the way back machine and get this thing over with." - Bob Mould.

One of the truly singular music events I have ever attended took place on Monday night at the 9:30 Club. It was a special free concert held in celebration of this legendary club's 30th anniversary. The night was also a celebration of the people who work (and have worked) there, the icons who got their start there, and the wonderful music that has been played there over the last 30 years. The night was full of anecdotes and music from 13 bands and artists that have strong ties to both the old and new 9:30 Club locations. For some the evening was a living, breathing, crash course in DC music history; for others it was a fun and at times even emotional trip down memory lane.

The 9:30 Club (original location) is the nightclub I cut my teeth on when I moved here in 1993. Within a few days of arriving I was catching my first show there (British twee-band Heavenly); and in the months and years after many, many more shows followed. I took a date there to see The Boredoms and she left with a black-eye. My little brother did his first stage dive when I took him there to see Helmet. I was completely enthralled with industrial music after hearing Einstruzende Neubauten on the PA before the melodramatic, dynamite-strapped Sheep on Drugs brought the house down with their industrial-dance mayhem. The old club opened my mind to most of the music that I still passionately love today.

The V st. location is without a doubt the best club-venue in the country. I've been to venues all over the U.S.A. and it always comes back to the 9:30 Club's awesome sound-system (which I have written/gushed about at length over the years). Seeing a concert at the 9:30 Club is a sublime experience for a die-hard music fan. Perhaps none more-so than the amazing show that club-owner Seth Hurwitz treated dedicated DC music fans to on Monday night.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra @ The Black Cat 5/19/10

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra at Black Cat 5/19/10 courtesy of Silver Mt. Zion.

The latest name variation and line-up incarnation of Efrim Menuck's Canadian post-rock outfit, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, played to a sparsely attended show at the Black Cat on Wednesday night in support of their latest album, "Kollaps Tradixionales". Too easily dismissed by many music fans because of its off-shoot from Godspeed You Black Emperor status, Silver Mt. Zion is in its own right one of the mightiest live post-rock acts going. A fact that they proved again and again during their amazing set on Wednesday night. This show was so damn good that I actually felt bad for the nay-sayers, the second-guessers, and the lazy who missed out on Silver Mt. Zion's unique and powerful performance.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Spectrum @ Velvet Lounge 5/13/10

spectrum at velvet lounge
courtesy of Spectrum.

It was a psychedelic throw-down at the Velvet Lounge on Thursday night when Spectrum dropped in to kick-off their current U.S. tour. In what is easily the best live set I have personally seen performed at the Velvet Lounge, the equipment heavy 4-man unit turned the tiny stage into their own personal sound laboratory and dazzled the small but dedicated crowd with an explosive evening of controlled feedback and groovy repetition.

For the uninitiated Spectrum is the most traditional of the many music projects led by Peter Kember aka Sonic Boom. Sonic Boom was one of the members of the hypnotically brilliant Spacemen 3, a legendary UK guitar band from the 80's underground. Since Spacemen 3's demise in the early 90's, Sonic Boom has been pushing the envelope with experimental projects like Experimental Audio Research and Spectrum. The material Sonic Boom records as Spectrum began with a sound very similar to his former band but quickly evolved away from guitars and for many years became based around vintage keyboards and organs. His music has always maintained a 'head' music atmosphere even with the move away from guitars and feedback into tone drones and synth symphonies. On Spectrum's latest EP, "War Sucks", the band's sound seems to be cycling back into guitar freak-out territory. I first saw Spectum at All Tomorrow's Parties NY in 2008. The set was an equal mix of keyboard and guitar manipulations that also featured a nice dose of Spacemen 3 songs. The whole 2008 set was a laid-back fuzz-fest. So it was with the new EP and the 2008 show in mind that I went into Thursday night figuring the concert could go either way. In other words I didn't really know what to expect.

Public Image Ltd. @ 9:30 Club 5/12/10

Public Image Ltd. at 9:30 Club 5/12/10
courtesy of PiL.

"Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch." - rumored FDR quote about Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza GarcĂ­a.*

I couldn't help but think of this quote as John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten aka "Uncle John" took the stage at the 9:30 Club on Wednesday night. Lydon is one of the ultimate love/hate figures in music history. For every brilliant stroke like the Sex Pistol's 'Bodies' or PiL's 'Rise' there is an equally hypocritical public statement or ticket price outrage to offend anew. So I was not very surprised when a lot of professed fans of Public Image Ltd balked at attending Wednesday night's concert. After all it was over-priced and the quality of a reformed (not reunited) PiL was a huge question mark. Lydon has a lot of audacity expecting sold-out crowds 18 years after the band's last performance or album, especially after the radically mixed reviews received for the Sex Pistols reunion tours of the late-90's and mid-00's. And yet there I stood with a club full of people anxiously waiting for Lydon to challenge us with his noisy, confrontational, anti-pop onslaught. As I stared at the giant PiL banner behind the stage and the growing crowd I thought, John Lydon is a son of a bitch, but (if you love his music) he's our son of a bitch.

For me, with regard to bands, front-men, legends, and their egos, it boils down to music first, personality second. I worship the Sex Pistols and think that Public Image Ltd. was one of the most inspired and brilliant career/style shifts in music history. Lydon's ego aside, I was on-board for this show from the get-go. My two-song preview of PiL at the Coachella Music Festival left me confident that Public Image Ltd.'s 9:30 Club show was going to be something special. I had no clue just how special this show would turn out to be.

Buzzcocks @ The Black Cat 5/11/10

Buzzcocks at The Black Cat 5/11/10
courtesy of Buzzcocks.


Buzzcocks launched the U.S. leg of their "Another...Bites Tour" at the Black Cat on Tuesday night with an exuberant set of their classic, reverb-drenched, pop/punk, sing-a-longs. Since their early-90's revival, original members Shelley and Diggle have been performing non-stop in the US and UK. Right up there with Stiff Little Fingers, Buzzcocks are one of the longest running and quality-consistent graduates of the original UK Punk class. To mix it up on this tour the band are performing their brilliant first and second albums back-to-back (both released in 1978) along with "other hits". While album-entirety shows are becoming quite trendy of late (not that I mind), for Buzzcocks I think this dual-album attack is a great move. As their legacy becomes tied more and more to their ability to write amazing singles (as collected on the essential "Singles Going Steady") this dual album tour is here to remind us that Buzzcocks were also responsible for crafting some brilliant albums; each with an energy flow, sonic imprint, and lyrical themes that deserve their place in rock history as well. Actually Tuesday night's show did much more than gently remind us of this fact; in typical Buzzcocks pop-roar fashion the show served as a blaring klaxon alarm that made the relevance of "Another Music in a Different Kitchen" and "Love Bites" impossible to ignore.

Echo & The Bunnymen @ The Black Cat 4/30/10

Echo & The Bunnymen, Ian McCulloch, Will Sergeant
courtesy of Echo & The Bunnymen.

Echo & the Bunnymen played to a sold out Black Cat on Friday night. It was a rescheduled date from their canceled Fall 2009 tour.

Ian McCulloch wore sunglasses and a long coat over his sweatshirt. He smoked many cigarettes and told many, many indecipherable anecdotes. His singing voice sounded spot on and mentally he held it together through most of the set (contrary to what I have heard of earlier Bunnymen tours this century). It was during the encore that Ian began to ramble on with medleys and tributes that stretched some of Echo's best songs to their breaking points. I won't say that this aging post-punk genius isn't due his eccentricities though. All told, minus the encore nonsense, he gave us an excellent show chock full of fan favorites. Original member Will Sergeant was there too, killing it on guitar. The backing band was very tight. If you closed your eyes you would think you were listening to the 80's line-up. Except for the keyboards which seemed to disconnect slightly in the set's later half.

I last saw Echo & The Bunnymen play in 2003 in Spain in front of a massive crowd (50k?) at the Festival Internacional de Benicassim. That show was totally rock star. It looked and sounded epic. Friday night's show was intimate and informal. Ian and the band hardly seemed to be putting on a show at all. The feel was very relaxed as if the band were playing for old friends rather than paying customers. Judging from the very warm reception the band received, in a way I guess they were.

The Rock Bottom Remainders @ 9:30 Club 4/21/10

The Rock Bottom Remainders at 9:30 Club 4/21/10
courtesy of The Rock Bottom Remainders.

On Wednesday night, at the 9:30 Club, I went one of the weirdest concerts I have ever attended. The Rock Bottom Remainders have to be one of the most unique and unlikely cover bands of all time. The band is composed of best-selling authors turned amateur musicians, who live out their collective rock-star fantasy by performing less-than-perfect versions of rock-n-roll classics while occasionally wearing wigs, costumes, and silly hats. We are talking about book industry heavy hitters like Scott Turow, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, and Mitch Albom. As MC Roy Blount Jr. joked they are the only band that has sold more books that The Beatles.

I first heard about The Rock Bottom Remainders in the 1990's while working at Reprint Bookshop, a wonderful and now sadly closed independent bookshop. The band had a kind of mythical status as stories of their rare sightings were told by my co-workers as if they were akin to the Loch Ness Monster or Big Foot. I have always been curious about this literary rock band with a rotating line-up of best-selling authors (at one point even Stephen King was a member!), but I never thought that I would have the opportunity to see The Rock Bottom Remainders perform.

Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival 2010

Coachella Music Festival Banner courtesy of Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.

Everyone knows that sometimes the best way to appreciate where you live is to get away for a little while. It is also true that sometimes the best way for a music critic to reboot his love of music is to attend an awesome music festival without an impending review deadline hanging over his head. This past weekend I did both when I attended the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, California.

This was my third Coachella (2004, 2007*, 2010) and I think it is without a doubt the best music festival in the United States. After a three-legged, 12-hour journey by plane, I made my way into the California desert to enjoy some of the best music on the planet for three days. The weather was beautiful, the music was excellent, and I got the re-charge I was looking for. I decided to write mini-reviews of the bands I caught and to post them here for those who follow my music writing. Keep in mind, I was focused on enjoying the music this weekend without my reviewer's hat on. So these little reviews are more personal and less detailed write-ups of the bands I saw over this great weekend.

Red Sparowes (+) @ Rock and Roll Hotel 4/11/10

red sparowes at rock and roll hotel in dccourtesy of Red Sparowes.

It is always difficult deciding how to start a post-rock concert review. This massive, instrumental genre has no convenient entry-point for the uninitiated and for those who already are, the music is usually so personal that any attempt to describe a particularly beloved band will fall short of the high expectations. I say this as someone who both reads and writes a great deal about music, and happens to have some very personal opinions about my own favorite post-rock bands. It is with this in mind that I am challenged to review Sunday night's spectacular Red Sparowes concert at Rock and Roll Hotel. So, I will take the easiest route and start from the top.

The Wedding Present @ The Black Cat 4/9/10

The Wedding Present play Bizarro at the Black Cat courtesy of Frank Bors Jr.

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.

Serena Maneesh @ DC9 4/7/10

Serena Maneesh
courtesy of Serena Maneesh.

Norwegian, neo-shoegazer, wunderkinds Serena Maneesh (finally!) returned to the DC area on Wednesday night when they played a painfully short but brilliant set at DC9. It has been four long years since Serena Maneesh first brought their mammoth live sound to our area; when they played to an embarrassingly small crowd at the State Theater in 2006. I was one of the lucky few in attendance that night and I have been a babbling fool about this band ever since; singing their praises every time the shoegazer revival is up for discussion and playing just about every track off their first self-titled debut at my DJ nights over the years. If you read my original review and then their #2 spot on my 2006 best shows list, it is obvious how taken I was by their My Bloody Valentine-esque approach to live performance. The State Theater show is one of the best shows I have ever attended. Hence my many years of agony awaiting their return.

Jello Biafra & The Guantanamo School of Medicine @ Ottobar 3/28 & The Black Cat 3/30

Jello Biafra with Marcus, Craig, and Michael Darpino"Jello Biafra with the Darpino brothers" - courtesy of Maribeth Darpino.

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.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ 9:30 Club 4/5/10

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
courtesy of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

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.

Muse @ The Patriot Center 3/1/10

Photo courtesy of
'Muse - Patriot Center - March 1, 2010'
courtesy of 'Mrs. Gemstone'

Even though I consider Muse one of my favorite bands, I have written very little about them over the years. The majority of the 6 times I have seen them perform took place far away from DC and therefore the majority of their shows did not end up reviewed on any of the DC sites I write for. It is fitting that Monday night's show at George Mason University's Patriot Center is the one to finally get a feature review out of me. Fitting because it was without question the best performance of theirs that I have seen. Fitting too because I have followed this band since they first washed up on American shores and have witnessed their progression as a live act. Over the seven years or so they've been touring here, Muse have not so much shown an evolution as performers as they have consistently demonstrated their massive power as a live act; an act so huge that whatever stage I saw them on seemed tiny in comparison to their unbridled, power-pop fury. With each tour, each stage got a little larger, and Muse seemed one step closer to realizing their master plan of becoming the best live band on the planet. Having seen them on Monday night, I think it is safe to say that they have finally realized that master plan.

Editors @ 9:30 Club 2/21/10

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.

Tortoise @ The Black Cat 2/16/10

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.

The Cribs @ 9:30 Club 1/19/10*

courtesy of The Cribs.

The Cribs treated DC to a fantastic evening of guitar-driven Brit-pop at the 9:30 Club on Tuesday night. Sporting their new 4-man line-up (now including pop-guitar legend Johnny Marr) The Cribs impressed and entertained the crowd of die-hard fans with a set heavily featuring material from their two most recent (and best) albums. While they did not stray very far from their musical comfort zone, the band did put on a dazzling display of their strengths that made for one of the most fun shows I have seen hit DC in quite some time.

Adam Franklin & The Bolts of Melody @ DC9 1/6/10*

courtesy of Adam Franklin

On Wednesday night, DC9 played host to Adam Franklin & The Bolts of Melody as they made DC the second stop of their month-long American tour. The small venue proved the ideal spot to observe and enjoy Franklin's guitar alchemy and emotional vocal delivery up close and personal. The band put on a really special set for the modest-sized crowd of Swervedriver fan-boys and guitar-geeks who braved the winter's chill to catch this mid-week show.

This is where every review and article on the planet about The Bolts of Melody offers a quick rundown of Adam Franklin's prolific career. If you don't know the man you can read about Swervedriver (personal favs of mine), the interesting Toshack Highway project, and Magnetic Morning on your own dime. For our purposes what is really important is that after many years of self-imposed exile from effects-pedal, guitar work Adam Franklin, one of the very best, has returned.

Arctic Monkeys @ 9:30 Club 12/8/09*

Arctic Monkeys Tickets
"My Arctic Monkeys Tickets" courtesy Greta Kauffman

Arctic Monkeys made their return to the 9:30 club in a rip-roaring fashion on Tuesday night with a set-list that mixed their trademark hyper-pop with their new album's dedication to song-craft and musical exploration. The effect was at times lost on the sold-out crowd but the combination of their good-will towards these Brit-pop phenoms and the lads' savvy use of radio hits peppered through-out kept the good times going for all. I was extremely pleased to see this young band so committed to their artistic development in a live show when so many other young acts fall back on crowd-pleasing when faced with sudden global levels of success.

I last saw Arctic Monkeys at the Coachella Music Festival in 2007 on the "Favourite Worst Nightmare" tour. The band in '07 was confident and beaming, clean-cut in hair and dress. Their set then was a barn-burning bit of guitar-driven Brit-pop that left everyone smiling. A great time but somewhat disposable on an artistic level; really a reflection on their sophomore album which to this day feels like a minor offering compared to their blisteringly awesome debut. Since I last saw them play, Arctic Monkeys have gone on to become one of the biggest bands in Brit-pop and have toured the world several times over; lead singer and songwriter Alex Turner put out an excellent 60's pop-inspired side-project (The Last of the Shadow Puppets); and the band has produced "Humbug", easily their most adventurous and daring music yet. The lyrical risk-taking and musical development on "Humbug" is a breath-taking statement by the band that they are serious craftsmen and represents their evolution from being the latest Brit craze to being vital musicians in a landscape full of one-n-done, Ipod commercial composers.

The Five Best Concerts In And Around DC For 2009

courtesy of 'bormang2'

One of the things that I am most excited about my return to blogging is that I have the opportunity to continue my year-end tradition of recapping the best concerts that I saw in and around the DC area.

For the uninitiated, this is a list of the best performances by musical acts that I saw in 2009 in the DC area. The list is based on individual sets rather than total concert line-ups. I consider any concert that I can drive to and back from in one night to fall within my radius of coverage. I'm keeping the list to 5 shows from now on because I catch great concerts all over the country and think I should only list the local cream of the crop. In other words, these are five DC area shows that can hang with the best shows in the country.


I have decided to post all of my We Love DC concert reviews here as well. Enjoy!