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.