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!