TOM PRINCIPATO BAND - December 15, 2010
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
Washington, DC, was freezing as I trudged down to the lovely Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center, where Oprah and Sir Paul McCartney were just honored, to see local blues legend Fender guitar player Tom Principato and his band which featured organist extraordinaire Tommy Lepson. Tom has been blowing audiences away with his guitar prowess for over forty years. He has released eighteen albums, won twenty-three Wammie Awards, and played thousands of gigs with some of the best musicians in the world, including two other DC blues guitar greats, the legendary and deeply missed Danny Gatton and Jimmy Thackery of The Nighthawks. I personally worked with him at several blues festivals in the nineties when I was doing a lot of stagehand work, and he was a consummate professional and a gentleman, and he can make his axe sing like a heavenly choir. As I looked around the venue, the turnout was sparse so far and I am shocked, hopefully the place will fill up with people before showtime because the Millennium Stage is an awesome place to see music performances – way, way better than the rooms he typically plays. The band hit the stage and opened with a swampy boogie blues number, “Baby, Where’d You Stay Last Night”, which showcased Tom Principato’s intricately played lead lines that just blow my mind. Also sounding fantastic was Tommy Lepson, and in my opinion is one of the best blues organists in the world, the rhythm section of bassist Scott Wolf, drummer Pete Ragusa, and percussionist Josh Howell chugged along like a well-oiled machine as Tom and Tommy traded riffs as he sung his heart out. The band picked the songs they cover well, because they turned out “Love Is Bloody” by The Thrillbillys' Dave Kirchen and then they played some Nawlin' blues in which Tom Principato lit his Fender guitar up, I just wish I could play like that. Tom introduced the next song “You'll Always Be A Part Of Me” as being from their forthcoming release this February and it was a slow melancholy “missing my woman” torch song and it featured Tom's best solo of the set. The band reminded me of Little Feat a whole lot in their playing on their next number “In The Middle Of The Night”, Tom Principato rocked on the guitar as organist Tommy Lepson added these wonderfully rich counter-melodies to Tom's lead riffs. Next up they did a pretty standard blues song called “Knockin' On The Door”, and sometimes I am surprised by how limited the genre can be when it comes to variations in the song structures, but the band did alright. The set continued with another new song from the new album called “Sweet Angel” and it was a pleasant number but it sounded like it could have been written by Robert Cray, however Tom played a nice outro solo that showed some soul. The band played another new song titled “Had To Let You Go” and along with the previous song, both seemed to have a heavier rock edge more than usual and it featured another great solo from Tom. The band finally got loose on a wonderful “She's At It Again” which was a nice uptempo roots rock song that was a real crowd-pleaser and the band got playful as they traded licks. The most interesting song of the night was a sanguine number called “Tango-ed In The Blues”, and the percussion accented Tom's wonderfully delicate and finger-picked guitar solo, but awfully, he reminded me of Eric Clapton's playing for just a moment. It was my favorite song of their set and Scott Wolf really shined on the bass as he played a driving lazy beat to Pete Ragusa's powerhouse drumming. They closed their eleven-song set with one final new song called “Down In Louisiana” and Tom Principato gave us one last blast of his kinetic and fiery playing on his Fender guitar, it was just amazing to hear and see. The odd thing about the show was that this was music for dancing but no one danced
OZZY OSBOURNE and HALFORD - November 29, 2010
1st Mariner Arena - Baltimore, MD
It was a gorgeous autumn afternoon when my buddy Mark Amabali and I hit the road and headed up north on Interstate 95 to Baltimore for a night of heavy metal mayhem with Halford, who is on a break from the metal gods Judas Priest, and the “Prince of Motherfucking Darkness” Ozzy Osbourne. Baltimore has always been a metal town; it was the home of the legendary club Hammerjacks for chrissakes, so the people-watching should be a hoot and a half. It is going to be like time-traveling to the long-lost land of mullets and ripped Iron Maiden t-shirts, that may sound scary but I cannot wait for the heavy metal circus to start. We arrived in Charm City as the sun was setting, we parked and strolled down to the Inner Harbor and walked to the end of the pier by the USS Constitution and smoked a joint of “Poison Sunshine” as the sun disappeared below the horizon. Next we checked out the best Barnes & Noble bookstore that I have ever been to, and then like a true rock’n’roll cliché we went to the Hard Rock Café and drank some Heinekens and ate some of their world-famous Twisted Mac while our bartender Shawn told us a story about hanging out with The Cult after their recent show at Rams Head Live! The Cult stopped by the Hard Rock Cafe and he and his buddy snorted cocaine with guitarist Billy Duffy after he bragged about having seventeen years of sobriety, the bartender then quipped, “What a hypocrite!” We laughed heartily at Billy's expense and paid our tab and began walking the few blocks to 1st Mariner Arena for the show where I scored awesome tickets to some seats in the balcony where I had a dead-on view and in Row A. Somehow we got lumped in with some injured war veterans from Walter Reed Hospital and so we were let in the building early and we got to go to our seats before everyone else, it was cool. We made our way to our seats and they were awesome but the arena was only about 60% sold, and I was like wow, I thought Ozzy would have been sold-out. We watched the people stream in with various heavy metal bands on their t-shirts and in various states of intoxication, it was quite amusing to see. Finally the house lights went down and Halford hit the stage with a wall of sound, giant riffs ripped through the speakers as Rob Halford's trademark banshee wail cut through the thunder as they opened with the title-track from their eponymous 2000 debut album “Resurrection” and singer Rob Halford howled, “I'm digging deep inside of my soul, to bring myself out of this goddamned hole, I rid the demons from my heart, and found the truth was with me from the start...” The band continued with the next two songs from the “Resurrection” album, first was a cacophonous “Made In Hell” that made my hairs stand on end and a rocking “Locked And Loaded” that featured a devastating guitar solo from Roy Z who also produced the new album and it is comforting to see that Halford does not stray too much from the Judas Priest blueprint with their twin lead guitars and freight train drums. Next they let it rip with the title track of their new album “Halford IV: Made Of Metal”, screaming guitars and thundering bass and Rob Halford screaming, “Supersonic silver flying machine, made of metal racing alien beings, supersonic silver flying machine, made of metal rides a laser beam...” I find Halford's music tolerable but something feels missing but I cannot quite put my finger on it, however the band plowed on with “Nailed To The Gun” from Rob's first solo band Fight and it was the best song on 1993's “War Of Words” album but it sounded like a Judas Priest throwaway track. They sped things up and thrashed out on another new song titled “Fire And Ice” and the playing between guitarists Roy Z and Mike Chlasciak was phenomenal as they grinded it out and Bobby Jarzombek pounded away on the drums madly with great skill. My favorite song of their set was also a new one called “Thunder And Lightning” and bassist Mike Davis laid down the fierce killer groove and Roy Z blew my mind with a spectacular display of guitar pyrotechnics as Rob Halford bellowed, “Nothing in life is free, nothing in life is easy, I'm the lightning to your thunder, can you feel it, what we got is so exciting, it's a love they can't deny...” Then it became time for the band to showcase Rob's Judas Priest past and cranked out an ominous version of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac's “The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown)” with raging guitars and booming bass and it was awesome. The band followed up with a beautiful cover of “Diamonds & Rust” by Joan Baez, and I was impressed that they played the two covers that were made famous by Judas Priest, but it reminded me of the time I saw Judas Priest way back in the eighties at the Capital Centre with Iron Maiden and they blew the electricity in the middle of the song and it took nearly an hour to get the power back on and the redneck crowd nearly lost it in the dark while waiting for them to return to the stage. Finally they performed a real Judas Priest song and they picked a good one with “Jawbreaker” from the 1984 album “Defenders Of The Faith” and Rob Halford's voice sounded great as churning guitar riffs swirled around it, but I did wonder about the whole sexual sub-text of the homo-erotic lyrics. The band plowed on into my favorite new song from the “Halford IV: Made Of Metal” album, the magnificent “Like There's No Tomorrow” with its real cool guitar riff that drove the song into overdrive as the guitarists dueled back and forth. Halford finished their bombastic twelve-song set with the second best song from the “Halford IV: Made Of Metal” album, the very Judas Priest sounding “Cyberworld” with its signature twin guitar sound and Rob menacingly singing, “Your information's what I steal, I scan you till you are unreal, transmit your power into me, cyberworld, cyberworld, I'll steal your mind, cyberworld, cyberworld, for all mankind, yeah...” I thought that they ended on a bit of a downer judging by the tone of the socio-political lyrics in the song but I really missed Judas Priest's K.K. Downing and Glen Tipton backing Rob Halford with their blazing guitars but Rob's band members did a pretty good job and showed us they are made of metal. The band left the stage and the houselights went up and as a black scrim came down I could see the crew scurrying about the stage preparing for the arrival of Ozzy and his band. Once again the houselights dimmed and a short intro movie began playing on the scrim showing Ozzy dressed as an avatar from the James Cameron movie and then as a member of the “Jersey Shore” cast and then he was a member of the “Hangover” movie cast and then he was Lady Gaga and then a member of the “Twilight” movie cast and finally he was Marvel's “Ironman” flying off into space, and it was pretty funny and then again Ozzy has always had a wry sense of humor. The scrim dropped and the stage exploded with red lights and strobes as a raging fire burned on the video screens and Gus G. played the opening riffs to the classic “Bark At The Moon” from the 1983 album of the same name and he was spectacular as the rest of the band kicked in with a fury and Ozzy Osbourne raged, “Screams break the silence, waking from the dead of night, vengeance is boiling, he's return to kill the light, then when he's found who he's looking for, listen in awe and you'll hear him, bark at the moon...” The band morphed into a dynamic “Let Me Hear You Scream” from the new album “Scream” and Gus G. proved himself to be Ozzy's best guitarist since Randy Rhoads with his brilliant playing and the sound was impeccable because you could hear every note and nuance in his guitar sound with crystal-clear clarity. Sparks flew and the sound of falling rain and a creepy backdrop appeared and Ozzy's voice sounded surprisingly good as he began “Mr. Crowley” from 1980's debut album “Blizzard Of Ozz” and the band played superbly and Gus G. let loose with a spectacular solo as Ozzy hosed the audience with blasts of water. Since they are on tour celebrating the 30th Anniversary of “Blizzard Of Ozz” the band played a mournful “I Don't Know” which was the album's lead-off track and Ozzy wailed, “People look to me and say, is the end near, when is the final day, what's the future of mankind, how do I know, I got left behind, everyone goes through changes, looking to find the truth, don't look at me for answers, don't ask me, I don't know...”, and the rhythm section of bassist Blasko and drummer Tommy Clufetos beautifully pounded behind him like the incoming tide that Gus G. made electric riffs dance upon. Being that it was also the 40th Anniversary of Black Sabbath's 1970 album “Paranoid”, the band kicked the celebration off by performing a brilliant sounding version of “Fairies Wear Boots” and Ozzy sounded great as he sang the lyrics like he lived and meant every word, except for these annoying “Hey, Hey”s that he added to the chorus. And speaking of annoying, I was quite tired of hearing Ozzy scream, “Let me see your fucking hands”, every thirty seconds in every other song he did that night. The second song they played from 1980's “Blizzard Of Ozz” was an introspective “Suicide Solution” that was driven by Blasko's thumping bass line, but I did give a little thought to those two dumbass teenaged gas jockeys John McCollum and Michael Waller from out west that blew their own heads off with some illegal handguns and their parents tried to sue Ozzy and his record label for their deaths by saying that the record had subliminal messages hidden in it telling them to kill themselves. The band proceeded into a fantastic “Road To Nowhere” from 1991's “No More Tears” and it was quite the super anthem with big guitar riffs and it was kind of like “Changes” Part Two because it was very reminiscent of the Sabbath song. Speaking of which, the band charged into the Black Sabbath classic “War Pigs” from the “Paranoid” album with great fervor and they pumped it up giving the song some added punch as Gus G. burned up the fretboard with some incredibly intricate finger-play. The low point of the night was a flaccid “Fire In The Sky” from 1989's “No Rest For The Wicked” album that was incredibly dull and ho-hum, and the band seemed distracted as they wandered aimlessly through the song like they haven't rehearsed it too much. The band completely turned things around musically with a solid “Shot In The Dark” from 1986's “The Ultimate Sin” album, the keyboardist Adam Wakeman who is the son of legendary Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman rocked the synthesizer as Ozzy heartfelt-fully sang, “But a shot in the dark, one step away from you, just a shot in the dark, nothing that you can do, just a shot in the dark, always creeping up on you, alright...” The best part of the show came next and it was well-worth the wait, the band got to show their chops on a wonderfully textured instrumental “Rat Salad” from Black Sabbath's celebrated album and the musicians took turns taking solos on their respective instruments, and Tommy Clufetos ferociously attacked his giant drum kit and played the best drum solo I have ever seen and the drum riser had risen to elevate him to center stage and then he segued into the signature Black Sabbath song “Iron Man” in which guitarist Gus G. played the riff like it was a lightning rod that danced over the throbbing rhythm section. It was quite a pumped up version that got my blood flowing as the band super-charged it so to give the song a modern edge. The band continued on with “I Don't Want To Change The World” from 1991's “No More Tears” album and it was the most pop song that they played tonight and it had a nice melody and subtle percussive rhythm that just flowed into the last song of their set, a raucous “Crazy Train” from 1981's brilliant “Blizzard Of Ozz” album and Ozzy cackled, “All aboard, crazy, but that's how it goes, millions of people living as foes, maybe it's not too late, to learn how to love and forget how to hate, mental wounds not healing, life's a bitter shame, I'm going off the rails on a crazy train...”, and Blasko played a groovy bass line that just propelled the song. The band took their bows and left the stage and the crowd was going ballistic as they screamed for more. After a few minutes Ozzy and his band returned to the stage and Ozzy said the next song was dedicated to his wife Sharon with the deepest of love, and the minute Gus G. played the opening riff the crowd was on their feet for “Mama I'm Coming Home” from 1991's “No More Tears” album, which Ozzy seemed to favor after the two celebrated albums, “Paranoid” and “Blizzard Of Ozz”, and he still sounded great and in tune as he crooned, “Times have changed and times are strange, here I come but I ain't the same, Mama I'm coming home...” They finished their sixteen-song set with Black Sabbath's “Paranoid” and the band threw themselves into it like raging maniacs and it really rocked and then they were gone and the houselights had come back up and we were walking out the door into the cold night. It was an amazing show but it could have been a little longer and I really enjoyed the Black Sabbath songs, plus the musicians were tremendous and played the songs with heart.
MATT WIGLER TRIO - November 28, 2010
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
When I was told to go check out this sixteen year old piano and organ blues player named Matt Wigler from Baltimore, Maryland, I was like – “You’re kidding me right” – but damn, I must tell you that the kid is amazing. He released his first CD “XIII” in June of 2007, when he was just thirteen (hence album title), and his second album “Epiphony” dropped in July of 2009, and on top of that he has played with some of the biggest blues players in the DMV area, Deanna Bogart, Marcia Ball, Tommy Castro, Bobby Rush, and Tab Benoit, plus he has opened for Buckwheat Zydeco, Joe Bonamassa, and the legendary Buddy Guy – all I can say is, damn I am so jealous – he is even going to be in an upcoming PBS documentary about blues pianists. All of this at the tender age of sixteen, it just blows my mind, and to top it all off, the music critics say he is going to break new musical ground in the field of jazz and blues. Well, let me tell you that I cannot wait for Matt Wigler and his trio members, bassist Scott Ambush and drummer Mike Aubin, to take the stage and show me what they got. Promptly at 6PM the Matt Wigler Trio hit the stage and his rhythm section was smokin’ hot as they laid down the tight and sparse groove as Matt’s fingers danced nimbly across his piano keys in their opening number. Bassist Scott Ambush really shined as he played his instrument as if it was a lead guitar, his playing reminded me of Stanley Clarke as it throbbed along as Matt sprinkled notes all over the composition. Their next song was a wonderful piano-driven groove about “playin’ the blues”, and his piano-playing reminded me a little bit of Pinetop Perkins in his flow, his singing voice was very pleasant and he had a wonderful phrasing. The third song in their set was the title track from his latest album “Epiphony”, it is an elegant, lounge-y kind of number that made me want some whiskey to soothe my broken heart as if I was the spurned protagonist in some dark film noir. Matt’s playing is fantastic and the agility of his fingers at such a young age is awe-inspiring. The song also featured another fantastic bass part from Scott; he seems to be the glue that brings the trio together. The next number showcased Matt’s knack for intricate piano lines that seemed to weave around the supple bass line that propelled the music along over the gentle staccato percussion of the drummer Mike Aubin. Scott and Mike left the stage, and Matt played a Charlie Parker tune in a boogie-woogie fashion, and man, can that boy get down, his two-handed lead playing is phenomenal and a joy to watch. His band returned and they launched into an experimental free-form jazz composition, in which Matt’s playing really reminded me of Steve Winwood. I really love how the band members interact with each other on stage, the way they play as a singular unit one would think they have been together for decades. Up next, was another track from “Epiphony” called “Blues In 619”, and it had a classical Chopin-esque edge to it, and featured another great bass solo from Scott Ambush. The Matt Wigler Trio closed their thrilling set with a lovely up-tempo jazz number titled “Lateral Climb” that featured Matt’s vocals and some great pointed socio-political lyrics about the futility of fighting wars over oil for faceless and uncaring corporations and how this fuels the struggles of average people trying to survive life in this modern post-digital world…”Ain’t nothing but a lateral climb.” Overall, the Matt Wigler Trio played a wonderfully inspired eight-song set that lifted me up emotionally and I would love to see them perform again, and the fact that Matt Wigler is only sixteen has no meaning at all when it comes to playing and feeling the blues.
CHELSEY GREEN AND THE GREEN PROJECT - November 27, 2010
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It was a dreadfully cold and windy night as I ventured on down to the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage to see College Park, Maryland resident via Houston, Texas transplant Chelsey Green dazzle me with her violin skills. She is currently Principal Viola of the National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic but she loves to fuse gospel/R&B/hip-hop/soft rock into her classical music groove. She is backed by a pianist/keyboardist, bassist, and drummer and they are known as The Green Project, Chelsey opened her set with an instrumental version of Rihanna's smash hit single “Please Don't Stop The Music” and her and her band transformed it into a spectacular uptempo classical piece. Their next number open with a delicate flourish by pianist Marvin and he jumped into “Beethoven's 5th” and then Chelsey made her violin sing like an angel. Next was an original which she informs us was about modern dating, especially the kind where each guy has a different name and face but they are intrinsically the same guy. The drummer Marvin Miller gave the song some pizzazz with his invigorating percussion that carried the melody round and round, and I really love the tone that Chelsey gets out of the violin. They continued on with a sensational cover of the Rufus and Chaka Khan's “Tell Me Something Good” and they slowed the song down and plumped it up and Chelsea had a very pleasant voice as she sang it. Next was another original piece called “Pizzicato” and this musical style was featured a lot in the song and it was highlighted by a beautiful piano interlude. The showstopper of the night was an exquisite rendition of Marvin Gaye's “What's Goin' On” and she accented it beautifully with her violin sounding so soulful and plaintive as she made it sing Marvin's timeless words and bassist Kevin drove the song with a marvelous bass line that was tight. Next was an original piece called “It's Whatever” and it was based on Bach's “Minuet In G” and oddly enough the song reminded me of a progressive rock piece in the vein of The Moody Blues or Kansas complete with a trippy synthesizer solo. I was thoroughly impressed by her technique and her tone was impeccable as she played her violin. Being that it is that 'special' time of the year, they finished their set with three Christmas tunes, starting with a lush “I'm Dreaming Of A White Christmas” that just seemed to float out of the speakers, and then a percussive “My Favorite Things” that was quite nice and touching, and she closed her ten-song set with the classic “This Christmas” by the late great Donnie Hathaway. Chelsey turned the song into something that was all her own on the violin, however she has a pleasant singing voice but she should stick to the violin, and the pianist Albert was outstanding on the keys as he made the melody of the song come alive. Overall Chelsey Green and The Green Project played a nice tight set of songs that covered the spectrum of music and they performed them well and they played a few eclectic covers that they made their own, and I got to say well done, and particularly Chelsey on the violin.
BAD INFLUENCE - November 20, 2010
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
As winter barrels down on the Washington, DC area, once again I am at one of my favorite music venues, the Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center, to see local blues stalwarts Bad Influence play their “jump up” style of the blues with my artist friend Tim Gable. The band was founded in 1988 by Epiphone-endorsed guitarist Michael Tash, and since then they have released three CDs, won numerous WAMA Awards, and played hundred of gigs coast-to-coast. Bassist and main vocalist Bob Maladi joined the band in 1993 and Bad Influence began to take off and they became an audience favorite at the myriad of blues festivals that are produced around the Mid-Atlantic area. They hit the stage with their instrumental intro song, and let me tell you, Roger “Pork Chop” Edsall can really wail on his harp, and David Thaler knows how to lay down the rock-steady beat as Bob Maladi laid down the deep in the pocket groove on his bass as Michael Tash’s notes danced the boogie-woogie blues on his beautifully toned guitar. He plays his axe like the psychedelic spaceman version of B.B. King, his solo during their rendition of Slim Harpo’s “Blue Box Blues” was simply gorgeous. The next song was an original called “She What”, it was a typical Chicago-style blues stomper but they added their own DC twist, and Michael’s guitar solo was my favorite of their set tonight. The next number “Close Enough” showcased their swing sensibility with some versatile playing, it even inspired one couple to get up and dance and I had my foot a’ tapping the whole show. My favorite song of their set was an original called “Night Rose”, which was about Roger Edsall’s old job of delivering liquor to Southeast DC, and the whole band shined on this one. Michael Tash played his guitar with the most amazing tone that I have heard in a long while and their set just keeps rocking as they are one of the most cohesive band unit that I have heard in a while. Their group dynamics and interplay are phenomenal, and as individual musicians their skills are awesome. I think I actually prefer them over DC’s other blues titans – The Nighthawks. Another highlight was a slammin’ “Party Party”, and it made even me…want to get up and dance. That was followed by another original from their Wammie-winning CD “Taste Like Chicken” which was written by drummer Dave Thaler, “I’m Ready To Break Out Of These Blues”. It was a traditional blues jam but played with great panache and their own unique flair – and that guitarist Michael Tash, the more I hear him, the more I love his playing, he can make his Epiphone guitar sing. He shined again during “I Know You Don’t Love Me No More”, and they slowed it down as Roger Edsall blew the most heartfelt harp solo, he can really hold some of those notes as the band laid down the sparse back-beat. Bad Influence then really blew my mind with a smoking rendition of Alison Krause and Robert Plant’s hit single “I Got A Woman”, and Roger wowed me with his slide guitar playing, and once more Michael dazzled me with an amazing string-bending note-melting guitar solo that was more Texas psychedelia than Southside Chicago blues. Bad Influence closed their twelve-song set with another traditional Chicago-style blues instrumental as Michael Tash introduced the band, and he really made me laugh as he introduced the drummer as being from Rockville, Maryland…the home of the blues. The DMV area might not be the home of the blues, but Bad Influence have definitely put us on the map.
KATHY GRIFFIN - November 18, 2010
Lyric Opera House - Baltimore, MD
My BBF Scott Parks and I had the gods on our side tonight as we jaunted up to Baltimore to see our diva Kathy Griffin, being that we are two of her “gays” it was a “must”, and because the traffic was actually quite bearable, which was a minor miracle for a Thursday night rush hour on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Thankfully Scott used to live in Charm City, so he knew his way around Baltimore as we navigated our way to the historic Lyric Opera House. The venue is quite a lovely place that was built in 1920 as an actual opera house, in fact the names of famous opera writers were painted on the walls along the length of the venue. The Baltimorons were a pretty bland bunch, even the gays were sedate and nondescript – how shocking! Kathy Griffin has really weird taste in music because the pre-show soundtrack went from Carrie Underwood to Foreigner to Bonnie Tyler, then the lights dimmed and an intro film showed on the large video screens and it featured bits and pieces of all her television appearances and cultural references about her and then Kathy danced her way onto the stage waving her hands and saying “Hello Baltimore” and that she was unveiling all-new material. She was a manic firecracker as she riffed on assorted people and topics that caught her fancy...Randy Newman and his stupid insipid songs...Baltimore's place in history...why do all the women in Baltimore have “camel toe”...and if you can't get laid at a Kathy Griffin show especially if you are gay then something is terribly wrong...then she did her wonderful parody of newscaster/pundit Nancy Grace, she did a dead-on version of her voice - “Friends, the devil is dancing tonight”...Kathy was on a roll as she let the Lohans have it, isn't Dina the worst mother in the world...and that crazy bitch Demi Lovato...her long-running feud with the Palins and that daughter Bristol has gained 40 pounds and all of them are dumb as a box of rocks...but nothing compared to Whitney Houston and her craziness and drama and that bitch will cut you, take Kathy's word...and then she does a bit about Sharon Stone doing the Gettysburg Address at the Oscars...and she was blown away by Charlie Steen and his kookoo words of wisdom...and nutball Tom Cruise's Japanese baby Suri, what is up with that...she could imagine herself being a dental hygienist if she wasn't a comic...and what the fuck is up with Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss' lip...she said her heroes were Jane Fonda, Don Rickles, Bob Newhart, and Sidney Poitier...and that Jennifer Lopez has such pretty 'ho” dresses but a terrible voice...and former Tiger Woods mistress Rachel Ukitel was always looking for an photo op and she was openly bitter about Tiger...she mused on how hot Rep. Scott Brown was yet he was stupid...and Rep. Barney Frank was getting married, can you believe it, who would marry him...and she hates it when some two-faced hypocrite tries to excuse their bad behavior by saying, “It's for the kids”, gag, as if...she had me rolling on the floor with laughter as she raged on Charlie Sheen's ex Denise Richards...Oprah and Gail go camping, can you imagine...the worst show on TV is TLC's “Toddlers & Tiaras” because they foster the worst habits in young girls as they are being egged on by their horrendous mothers, ugh but she has to watch because she wished her mother had been a pushy stage mother...and by the way, who wants to fuck Kelsey Grammar...did anyone see Babs (Barbara Streisand) on Oprah trying to one up each other and Babs thinking she has a good side, ha ha...and Gywneth Paltrow, who the hell does she think she is...she wondered about the pissed-off whores who stole Charlie Sheen's car, not once but five times and let it roll off the side of road, damn he must have pissed them off ...and her good friend Megan Mullally was wonderful but she hates being Karen from NBC's “Will And Grace”...and her Mom's last wishes for her funeral which Kathy finds wacky but she loves reading obituaries and spreading peoples' ashes...and President Bush has released his loser memoir and she refused to believe he wrote it...and she really, really hates the anti-choice people and how they claim abortionists put fetuses in mason jars...and she mentioned her new TV special on Bravo and it is called “Whores On Crutches” much to her mother's chagrin...she finished up with how weird the South is, it was fireworks, porn, and Jesus saves, and how all the men are married but LOVE cock which makes the Bible Belt so special...before Kathy left the stage she said the best way to irk the Palins was to fuck Levi Johnson and she rushed off the stage and the house lights went up and I laughed heartily because as usual Kathy Griffin was wonderful and on point and I cannot wait to see her again.
AMY SEDARIS - November 8, 2010
6th & I Street Synagogue - Washington, DC
I am at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Gallery Place on this dreary November night to see my hero Jeri Blank…oops…I mean Amy Sedaris, who is giving a book reading and Q & A session followed by meet and greet and book-signing for her latest publication “Simple Times: Crafts For Poor People”. The really cool thing is that the evening’s admission price comes with a copy of her book, and not many writers do that for their readers. Amy collaborated with longtime writing partner Paul Dinello (head writer on the “Colbert Report”) once again, and the book is a mélange of arts and crafts and recipes that almost seem to be made-up and impractical to create. The book in itself is quite beautiful and fun to look at but I cannot imagine anyone making any of the creations so lovingly displayed in the book, or much less using or wearing any of them. It feels really weird to be sitting in a synagogue waiting to see Amy Sedaris, America’s favorite weirdo version of Martha Stewart, who I am sure that her head would implode if she ever looked at Amy’s book, not that I think Martha would ever consent to looking at it. The audience is a disturbing cornucopia of hipsters, gays, and cultural voyeurs, and I cannot ever imagine being friends with any of them though. As we wait, I find myself boggled that The XX played here a few months ago, but I bet it sounded awesome. At 7PM when the event was supposed to start, the woman who was in charge of running the venue’s literary events announced that Amy is running late due to problems with her train arriving from New York City but she will be here soon…so…ugh…but hopefully she will not be later than 7:30-ish because I got things to do and places to be…someone should have planned things better…oh well…tick tock. Finally she arrived at 8PM and walked straight to the lectern on the stage and informed us that she had planned to dress up like she was on the cover of the book but alas…no make-up or fancy dress, just her all in black. She started the evening off with a crafting demonstration in which she used twist ties to make things and she made weighted book markers while engaging in witty banter, then she said it was time for Q &A and looked around the audience for the first question...she said her favorite episode on Comedy Central's “Strangers With Candy” episode was the Christmas show with her character Jeri Blank...she wants to do more acting...she still has her rabbit named Dusty but she was trimming its nails and she cut him wrong and made blood flow and it was awful...she enjoyed acting in HBO's “Sex In The City” but hated being in make-up for such a long period of time...if she was not doing what she was doing she would probably be a therapist...she wants to do a Kabuki play with her writer brother David Sedaris...she has had many crafting accidents, oddly enough...she loved Cicely Tyson's portrayal of Miss Jane Pittman and she loved her slave dresses...she loves people who use sign language to interpret events for deaf people...she talked about her childhood imaginary best friend Ricky and how he made things better for her...she said we all need to check out AmySedarisRocks.com and buy the things on her site...she loves to sing fake country music songs especially ones based on Donna Fargo's “I'm The Happiest Girl In The Whole U.S.A.”...she loves making fake phone calls on a fake phone particularly a fake iPhone...she dreams of being a waitress at some diner...one time she dressed in a 'fat suit' to fool her dad because he had said she looked fat when she was a guest on “The Late Show With David Letterman”...she said she has no plans to have babies because it causes too much pain...as Amy wound things up, she said she went on NBC's “Today” show and Kathy Lee was an out and out drunk and she got drunk from Hoda and hers breath alone...she closed with a bit on how much she liked comic Rosie O'Donnell and her in-your-face style...I really love Amy Sedaris and her seditious comedy and she had me laughing my ass off during her monologue and she bid us a goodnight and then she sat down and started the autograph section of the night. I waited until they called my number that I had been given when I bought the book at the beginning of the night, I walked up to the dais where Amy was and as she signed my book, I told her that I really enjoyed her acting especially as the crazy psychic sister-in-law in TNT's “The Closer” and I wondered if she was going to make any more appearances on the show. She said she did not know but she loved being on the show and her role was a fun one to play. I left the venue and said to myself that tonight was a good one and I think I am going home and put the “Strangers With Candy” movie on the television.
STYX - October 27, 2010
The Warner Theatre - Washington, DC
It is hard to believe we are a full decade into the 21st century and I find myself in the third row of the Warner Theatre waiting for Styx to take the stage on their “Grand Illusion/Pieces Of Eight” tour in which they perform their best two albums of their career in their entirety and they are both from the seventies. It was fifteen days ago that I saw Roger Waters perform “The Wall” in its entirety at the Verizon Center, and this seems to be the latest trend in rock music because whenever I look at the concert tour ads in the backs of “Classic Rock” and “Mojo” magazines there are at least three or four bands advertising such shows. It really amazes me that some of the classic dinosaur bands are still on tour over thirty years later since their heyday, especially Styx. I have this awful memory from back in 1977 when at my high school talent show one of the band dorks played Styx's “Come Sail Away” solo on the piano and all the girls cheered and cried as the boys booed and vowed to kick his ass. That incident made me hate that song for years, but then they dropped the “Pieces Of Eight” album in 1978 and the single “Renegade” became my theme song and the second riff I learned to play on the guitar right after “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath, and it was one of the few songs that I would actually cover. These old farts and geezer crowds crack me the fuck up, the guy sitting on my right I can not believe that he even likes rock and roll, I just hope that he is not a screamer like the drunk guy who yells for “Freebird” at every show. The pre-show music was a killer mix of classic seventies rock including Alice Cooper's “I'm Eighteen” and “School's Out”, which was cool since I was wearing my Alice Cooper/Rob Zombie tour shirt that I got at their show the other night at Merriweather Post Pavilion. The house lights dimmed and the video screen began showing these scrolling words like the movie introduction to “Star Wars” and they announced that the audience should reflect on the glorious artistic moments of the late seventies, mainly 1977 and 1978 when Styx released their greatest two albums. The video then morphed into a teenage boy putting their “The Grand Illusion” album on the turntable and dropping the needle on Side One and the stage came alive with Styx playing the title track “The Grand Illusion” and they looked and sounded great, especially guitarist Tommy Shaw who sang, “Welcome to the grand illusion, come on in and see what's happening, pay the price, get your tickets for the show, the stage is set, the band starts playing...”, with great panache that had some force behind it and guitarist James “JY” Young added some excellent accompaniment vocals as Lawrence Gowan played an incredible keyboard solo that defined the song as his rig spun around. For the song “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)”, their original bassist Chuck Panozzo joined the band on stage and played the signature bass line as the guitars intertwined and danced with the keyboard notes in the stunning sound. Next the band announced that this was the first time that they were playing “Superstars” in Washington and they launched into a stellar version with its marching bass line and the crisp harmonies of the singers and its soaring guitar riffs that sounded great, and on the video screen they showed all this press from the seventies, damn we dressed weird back then. Keyboardist Lawrence Gowan played an incredible intro to “Come Sail Away” and then he plaintively sang, “A gathering of angels appeared above my head, they sang to me this song of hope, and this is what they said, they said come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me lads...” and then the band let loose with some killer riffs and pounding rhythm as they played the bridge with great intensity and then they led the audience in singing along to the chorus as they faded away and the video screen showed the album being flipped over to Side Two and the band gently began “Miss America” with a soaring synthesizer line and Tommy and James charged in with intertwining and electrifying riffs that made this one of the highlights of the set. Tommy Shaw said the next song “Man In The Wilderness” was inspired the band Kansas who they had been touring with that year, and he said it was about how he felt about being famous, and then he played the most inspiring and fantastic guitar solo and the span of his fingers was amazing and he had such a light touch when he played. The band proceeded into “Castle Walls” which I find to be their most progressive song and it was the history of Europe in one song, the guitars throbbed, the synthesizer moaned, and the rhythm section pounded as Lawrence Gowan crooned, “Far beyond these castle walls, where I thought I heard Tiresias say, life is never what it seems, and every man must meet his destiny...” The band was really shining as they made their instruments hum in glorious musical beauty as they finished the album with the instrumental “The Grand Finale” and Tommy Shaw and James Young showed that the album has stood the test of time and well-worth repeated listenings. They left the stage and it was intermission and I found myself to be totally blown away by their performance; the presentation, their musical chops, and the ease that they executed their classic songs, and most of all, their virtuosity on their respective instruments, especially Tommy Shaw, that man knows how to shred on his axe. And oh yeah, as I looked around the crowd, I noticed that some idiot woman in the row behind me had her newborn infant with her – how fucked up is that – somebody please call social services. I cannot wait for part two of the show! The lights dimmed once again and the video screen lit up with a teenaged boy who put the “Pieces Of Eight” album on a turntable and dropped the needle on Side One and the stage lit up and an announcer introduced them as he was calling a fight and Styx started playing the opening track “Great White Hope” with ferocious intensity as they harmoniously sang, “Look at me, I'm the great white hope, can't you see, I'm up against the ropes, don't you know, it's so hard to cope, when you feel like the great white hope...” Keyboardist Lawrence Gowan introduced the next song as a source of inspiration to survive as they started playing “I'm O.K.” and they pounded it out majestically as “I'm Ok” scrolled by overhead on the video screen in a variety of languages, and I forgot what a great song it was and with memorable guitar solos from Tommy and James. They went immediately into “Sing For The Day” and their voices melded so beautifully as they soared in to the stratosphere as they sang,“Sing for the day, sing for the moment, sing for the time of your life, come for an hour, stay for a moment, stay for the rest of your life...” The band was operating at full speed as they morphed into “The Message” with its powerful synthesizer intro and then they performed “Lords Of The Ring” as James Young passionately sang the lyrics with heartfelt conviction as the guitars cascaded behind him and he played his most interesting guitar solo of the night. They said it was time to flip the album and begin Side Two and the signature twin guitars started cranking out the soaring riffs as they began “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)” and Tommy Shaw's piercing tenor sang, “I'll take the long night, impossible odds, keepin' my eye to the keyhole, if it takes all that to be just what I am, well I'm gonna be a blue collar man...” and he played his best guitar solo of the night, I was quite impressed as was the audience as they roared and cheered. James Young said he found the next song more relevant today than when it was first released and because there are cameras everywhere now and we must beware as he played the opening riff of “Queen Of Spades” and they proved why they are masters of progressive rock as they made their guitars sing and wail. Finally we came to the song I waited all night to hear and damn, they let it rip as they roared through “Renegade” and their silky vocals intertwined as they uproariously sang, “Oh mama, I'm in fear for my life from the long arm of the law, lawman has put an end to my running and I'm so far from my home, oh mama, I can hear your crying, you're so scared and all alone, hangman is coming down from the gallows and I don't have very long...”, and the venue erupted into one giant sing-along as Styx put all they got into the song. I was in heaven because the song has meant some much to me over the years, and I liked how they updated the arrangement to give it even more muscle because James Young tore it up on the guitar and Todd Sucher kept incredible time on the drums as he gave the song some backbone. Lawrence Gowan played a gorgeous intro on the piano to “Pieces Of Eight” as his voice gently sang the words and the guitars buzzed away in glorious beauty as they wound up the album. They played the last song “Aku-Aku” with gentle aplomb as the video screen showed the teenage boy listening to the album rather introspectively as images floated by on the screen as it disappeared into the night sky. Styx took their bows and left the stage to the deafening cacophonous roar of the audience as they begged for more music. After a few minutes Styx returned to the stage and roared to life with a raucous cover of The Beatles' “I Am The Walrus” which was quite stunning and a fitting tribute to their heroes and they finished their 20-song set with their 1981 Top Ten hit “Too Much Time On My Hands” from the “Paradise Theatre” album and Tommy Shaw sounded great as he sang with a touch of melancholy the lyrics, “I'm sitting on this bar stool talking like a damn fool, got the twelve o'clock news blues, and I've given up hope on the afternoon soaps, and a bottle of cold brew, is it any wonder I'm not crazy, is it any wonder I'm sane at all...” It was a lovely version and Tommy played a brilliant guitar solo and they left the stage one final time and the house lights went up and it was over. The show was a fantastic presentation of their two finest albums in their entirety and showed that they stand the test of time, each band member played their part with great skill and ease, and the songs still have meaning after all these years. I am normally not a big Styx fan but tonight they proved to me that they are a great rock and roll band with some great songs that will be remembered for a long time.
ROB ZOMBIE, ALICE COOPER, THE MURDERDOLLS, BLACK LABEL SOCIETY, CLUTCH, and CHILDREN OF BODOM - October 17, 2010
Merriweather Post Pavilion - Columbia, MD
It was a gorgeous fall Sunday afternoon as my concert buddy Mark and I tooled up Route 29 to Columbia, Maryland to the historic Merriweather Post Pavilion, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and Led Zeppelin played there bitches, and like a total seventies flashback, we smoked a joint of “Magic Bubba” and missed the exit to the venue and we had to take the next exit and stop and ask for directions and thankfully, we were not far. We arrived and I picked-up our fierce tickets...Row J, Seat 124, and in the center bitches...and then we strolled in the place and let me tell you – metal-heads do not age well – ARGH – the crowd is crazy: stoners, thrashers, punkers, rock chicks, sluts, drunks, and I do not know what the fuck...the people watching is fabulous because there are freaks galore. Because we had arrived a little late we missed 2Cents and Maryland's own Clutch on the second stage but we got there just as the Children Of Bodom were finishing their set of doom-laden rock and then the Half Pint Brawlers began wrestling on a ring that was set up in the back of the amphitheater. They finished with their antics and The Murderdolls started up on the main stage with their watered down glam-horror rock and they played eight songs including The Misfits' “Hybrid Moments” and thankfully they left the stage because I was not impressed by their music. A few minutes later the lights dimmed and the stage came alive with Alice Cooper and his band as they launched into “School's Out” from 1972's album of the same name and Alice twirled his baton and kicked beach balls into the crowd as he growled, “No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks, out for summer, out till fall, we might not come back at all...” The crowd was immediately in a frenzy as they continued on with “No More Mister Nice Guy” from 1973's “Billion Dollar Babies” album with guitars blazing and the pounding rhythm of the drums. The band was fired up as they played “I'm Eighteen” from 1970's break-through album “Love It To Death” and Alice prodded his guitarist into the spotlight with a bone crutch and he let a killer guitar solo rip. Next was a heavy “Wicked Young Man” from 2000's “Brutal Planet” album that reminded me of Alice In Chains and then Alice impaled a figure with a sword and people dressed as skeletons grabbed Alice and they put him in a straitjacket as the band began “The Ballad Of Dwight Fry” from the 1970 album “Love It To Death” and Alice wiggled and writhed as he sang, “I was gone for all those days, but I was not alone, I made friends with a lot of people in the danger zone, see my lonely life unfold, I see it every day, see my only mind explode since I've gone away...” I wonder what Glen Buxton is thinking...rest in peace. The stage minions brought out the guillotine and forced Alice into the slot and the blade came down and chopped his head off in one swell swoop as the drummer pounded out a crisp drum solo that acted as the intro to “Go To Hell” from 1976's “Alice Cooper Goes To Hell” album. Alice appeared with his head intact and shook some maracas and then he grabbed a fake head out of the guillotine's basket and held it high as he smacked the dancers twirling around him and the band grinded away. It was beautiful as the band segued into a brilliant “Cold Ethyl” from 1975's classic album “Welcome To My Nightmare” and Alice danced with a doll that he beat and kicked with fiendish glee and the band went right into “Poison” from the 1989 album “Trash” with ringing twin lead guitars and he stuffed his crotch and a demented nurse appeared with a giant hypodermic needle and jabbed it in his ass. Alice feigned being doped up as the band delivered a grinding version of “From The Inside” from the 1978 album of the same name and he rasped, “I'm stuck here on the inside looking out, that's no disgrace, where's my make-up, where's my face on the inside...”, and the demented nurse held up a bottle of pills and tried to force him to take one as the guitarists traded red-hot licks over the hot tattooed bassist's pulsing bass line. Alice left the stage and his guitarists went wild with soaring leads and crunchy riffs as they traded solos over the booming bass line of “Black Widow Jam” from the “Welcome To My Nightmare” album and they broke it down until it was just the drummer who delivered a blistering drum solo that had the crowd roaring with approval. Alice returned in a fierce spider suit to fiercely sing “Vengeance Is Mine” from the 2008 album “Along Came A Spider” on top of the drum riser and the band went right into a sassy “Dirty Diamonds” from the 2005 album of the same name and Alice flung beads into the audience and he playfully messed with the people in the front rows. Alice and his band was on a roll by now and they caused the crowd to erupt maniacally as the guitarist played the opening riffs of “Billion Dollar Babies”, the title track from 1973's top-selling album, and the band turned it out with a fury full of screaming guitars and thunderous drums as Alice gripped a baby doll and wailed, “Billion dollar baby, I got you in the dime store, million dollar maybe, foaming like a dog that's been infected by the rabies, billion dollar baby, rubber little lady, slicker than a weasel, grimy as an alley, loves me like no other lover...”, and finally he cut the baby in half and threw fake dollar bills in to the audience. I love his theatrics and the band launched into a throbbing “Killer” from the 1971 album of the same name and the guitar playing was fantastic as they segued into “I Love The Dead” from the “Billion Dollar Babies” album and the stage minions grabbed Alice and put him in a box from a magic act and then they plunged swords into it and they spun the box around and opened it and Alice sprang out and the band began “Feed My Frankenstein” from the 1992 album “Hey Stoopid”. A giant cyclops came out of the dark and lurched about and a mad doctor chased Alice around with a giant syringe but Alice fought him off. Alice Cooper and his fantastic band finished their seventeen-song set with the guitar-driven masterpiece “Under My Wheels” with Alice menacingly singing, “The telephone is ringing, you got me on the run, I'm driving in my car now, anticipating fun, I'm driving right up to you babe, I guess that you couldn't see, yeah, yeah, but you're under my wheels, why don't you let me be...”, and the band showed off with one last swirl of guitar and bass and drums as the music faded away. The crowd went completely wild and the noise was deafening as Alice and the band took their final bows and he introduced each one of them and then he finished by saying, “And of course, me!” and he left the stage and the house lights went up. Black Label Society started up immediately on the second stage, although they seem to have a very devout following – they won the band with the most fans wearing tour shirts competition – but I just don't get them, I guess you must be a fat stoner redneck to get them and plus, frontman/guitarist Zac Wylde was a real cunt after Ozzy Osbourne let him go from his band because he was tired of his songs sounding like Black Label Society out-takes and his bitching and moaning because Ozzy found a new guitarist Gus G. for the “Scream” album which turned out to be his best album in years, better than any of the albums that featured Zak and besides he is a racist homophobic twat. (i.e. The New Years Eve show in San Diego with Ozzy where he encouraged people to kill “fags” and foreigners) I find Black Label Society to be tedious and grinding and totally lacking melody and charm – third-rate Rob Zombie wannabes – the songs were unintelligible with undecipherable lyrics and a monotonous plodding rhythm section and guitar tones that sound like swarming insects. In my head I am screaming “Make It Stop”, the same fucking guitar solo over and over. I am glad Ozzy kicked him to the curb. Boring Ass Bitch! Enough said, so I return to patiently waiting for Rob Zombie. I have loved Rob Zombie and his music for years, ever since I saw his first band White Zombie at the DC Space in 1987, and I saw them many more times, even roadie-ed for them at the old 9:30 Club in February 1993 and I still got a set list that I got bassist Sean Yseult to sign for me with a heart that had devil horns and a tail, and in July 1995 when I saw them here with Pantera and Babes In Toyland and I almost died from the scorching heat. It must have been 115 degrees in the Pavilion and here I am waiting for him and his band to take the stage during my birthday week for the “Hellbilly Deluxe Vol.2” tour. Black Label Society finally finished their boring eleven-song set thankfully and Johnny Cash blasted out of the house system and I laughed about the strange juxtaposition of it all. I was back in my seat in the pavilion when eerie organ music began to come out of the speakers and red smoke billowed everywhere as a flaming monster glared at us and Rob Zombie and his band hit the stage wearing full skeleton costumes and launched into “Jesus Frankenstein” from 2010's brilliant “Hellbilly Deluxe 2: Noble Jackals, Penny Dreadfuls And The Systematic Dehumanization Of Cool” album. Rob Zombie was charismatic as ever as he paced the length of the stage and let his words flow, “Body of a prophet, hands of a snake, mind of a devil, walk among the fakes, as you perceive him, hallowed be thy name, into the blackness, into the vein, all hail Jesus Frankenstein...”, and Marilyn Manson's former guitarist John 5 made his guitar squeal and moan all over bassist Piggy D.'s pulsing bass line that rode the freight train drums of Joey Jordison. The band careened into a uproarious “Superbeast” from 1998's “Hellbilly Deluxe: 13 Tales Of Cadaverous Cavorting Inside The Spookshow International” album with a fiery fury and a giant monster robot appeared as the band continued on with “Scum Of The Earth” from 2001's “Sinister Urge” album and Rob Zombie climbed on top of the robot and maniacally sang the song as the crowd in front of the stage moshed like the surging waves of a hurricane. For the next song “Living Dead Girl” which is on 1998's “Hellbilly Deluxe” album, three topless goth girls took the stage and shook their money-makers as Rob paced and sneered the words to the song as John 5 made his guitar spark and sputter in a raucous display of brilliant fretwork. The band continued on with White Zombie's “More Human Than Human” from the classic 1995 album “Astro-Creep 2000: Songs Of Love, Destruction, And Other Synthetic Delusions Of The Electric Head”, and the guitar sounded perfect as it throbbed and pulsed to the cascading rhythms of drummer Joey Jordison, I was swallowed whole by the bass line and I just loved it. The next two songs were my favorites and the band launched into them with a manic fury; first they blasted “Sick Bubblegum” from the 1998's “Hellbilly Deluxe 2” album with a fiendish delight as Rob Zombie crooned, “Chew it up, spit it out, sick bubblegum, blow it up, spit it out, sick bubblegum, turn it up, push it down, sick bubblegum, shove it in, rip it up, sick bubblegum...”, and then they rocked “Never Gonna Stop (The Red, Red Kroovy)” from 2001's “Sinister Urge” album as three dancing skeletons twirled madly across the stage and Rob bellowed, “Yeah, the devil ride it down the shore, he paint the monster red so the blood don't stain the floor, in and out, real savage show, the story of the shocking sickness and watch it blow, yeah...” The band maniacally continued with another song from “Sinister Urge” called “Demon Speeding” and drummer Joey Jordison got to showcase his formidable skills with one of the best drum solos I've seen in a while as he bashed at his kit with ease. Joey bashed out the intro to “Mars Needs Women” from the “Hellbilly Deluxe 2” album and guitarist John 5 and bassist Piggy D. played intertwining riffs that soared like rockets into space as the stage went dark. The lights started flashing and pulsing while bubbles began to float everywhere and a three-armed skeleton microphone stand appeared and Rob Zombie stepped to the mic and let loose with the hilarious “Pussy Liquor” which was a new track from 2003's “Past, Present, Future” compilation album. The final song of their eleven-song set was White Zombie's “Thunder Kiss '65” from their five-star 1992 landmark album “La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol.1” and they played it full-on, this was what guitar rock is all about, and John 5 played his guitar like it was on fire and he played it like he was both of the banjos in “Dueling Banjos” from the movie “Deliverance” and then he played an inspired “Star-Spangled Banner” in a Hendrix-style that was amazing. The band went back into “Thunder Kiss '65” and played a few more bars and Rob Zombie howled, “What's new pussycat, can you dig the satisfaction, well you can't take it with you, but you can in overdrive, yeah some like it hot, yeah twisted, 1965 yeah, wow, the demon warp is coming alive, in 1965...”, and John 5 smashed his guitar to bits and the band left the stage to a crowd roaring for more. The audience was in a frenzy and cheering loudly, “Zombie! Zombie! Zombie!”, and then a screen appeared on the stage and began showing a trailer for his upcoming horror movie “Lords Of Salem” and I was quite impressed and cannot wait to see the film. The band barreled onto the stage with a throbbing “Werewolf Women Of The SS” from 2010's “Hellbilly Deluxe 2” and Piggy D. made it menacingly sexy with his seductive bass lines that slid into a howling “Dragula” from 1998's “Hellbilly Deluxe” album. The synchronicity between the four musicians was absolutely amazing as John 5's guitar and Piggy D.'s bass danced with each other as Joey Jordison's drums propelled them forward and accented Rob Zombie's vocals. They finished their fourteen-song set with a vicious “House Of 1000 Corpses” and John 5 played the most skin-crawling riff as Rob rasped, “This is the house, come on in, this is the house, built on sin, this is the house, nobody lives, this is the house, you get what you give...”. The stage went dark and Rob Zombie, John 5, Piggy D., and Joey Jordison left and the audience went wild and wanting more, but alas, there was no more, so Mark and I fled the venue and headed home happy. Overall this was one of the best metal package tours that I have seen in years, all the bands were quite pleasing and I had a really good time.
CRAIG FERGUSON and RANDY CADY - October 16, 2010
The Warner Theatre - Washington, DC
Thank God I looked at my ticket to the Craig Ferguson show at 6:30PM and realized the show started at 7PM and not 8PM as I originally thought, so I had to make a mad dash out my front door to the metro station and I made it to the Warner Theatre in the nick of time. I am so looking forward to seeing one of my comedy heroes take the stage and make me laugh my ass off in person just like he does five nights a week when you will find me in front of my telly at 12:30AM without fail to watch his late night talk show. Too bad Geoff Peterson will not be here to engage us in his witty robot banter with my boy Craigy Craig. I really enjoyed his book “American On Purpose: The Improbable Adventures Of An Unlikely Patriot” and his recent live DVD “Wee Bit O' Revolution”, so I suppose tonight will be somewhere between the two. It is a very diverse audience and I can not imagine some of them actually being awake at 12:30AM to watch his television show, so I guess there must be a lot of Tivo-ing going on. For some reason a Peter Gabriel song is warbling out of the stage speakers as I sit and wait on Craig to take the stage because I thought he hated the British. The opening comedian Randy Cady took the stage and urged us not to play with our testicles but playing with Craig's was okay, he then proceeded to yell at a woman for texting on her phone. He then went on a rant and ragged on marijuana and its' users...said remember when the rainbow wasn't gay...white guys who think they're black and say nigger in public...people who engage in backhanded anger and display thinly veiled disdain for pointless things...suicide bombers...Mexicans...said one can't torture gay guys with threats of anal penetration...women who are pierced...smokers and Marlboro cigarettes. He was a bit underwhelming and not that funny and I found him to be a bit racist and homophobic when he told some of his jokes. I was glad when he left the stage, but then Craig's leather boy dancer came out playing a flute and a saxophonist followed him on stage as Craig Ferguson pranced out oh so gayly and yelled his signature catch-phrase, “It's a great day for America.” Craig looked sharp and well-dressed as he took command of the stage with his manic style and he announced rather emphatically that “there will be cussing” and he was was off...he said he was in a heavy metal band called STAG when he was younger and he played the clarinet...the clarinet...they did not last long...he loves when dogs say “fuck” and they do, really....he cannot believe the pope wears Prada shoes and he is not gay, HA...his son Milo is stalking him to catch him cussing because he has to pay a fine into a 'Cuss' jar and Milo is making a lot of money...he recently had to have the 'sex' talk with his son and he ended up calling the vagina the 'magic baby door'...and speaking of sex scandals...Charlie Sheen, oh Charlie Sheen...can you imagine if Tiger Woods sexted...he jumped to Dick Cheney shooting his lawyer and him hosting the White House Correspondents' Dinner...and how Kate Winslet hates him, he did not know you could insult celebrities without knowing it and just because he called her fat in one of his monologues, she holds it against him...and when he gets asked what is like working for David Letterman, he hemmed and hawed and said “to joke or not to joke” is the question and then he slyly laughed...he was on a roll now and he said do you remember that goose that hit Fabio in the face when he was riding a roller coaster, can you imagine death by Fabio and the goose must have thought WTF, and to him it just proved the existence of God...Prius cars suck, they are just to quiet...Siegfried and Roy, oh what can he say about them, two gay Austrian lion tamers, what are the odds...he is glad there is no David Letterman sex tape but that J-Lo, whoever heard of a ten and a half hour sex tape...the idiot of the year has to be Miss California Carrie Prejean and her seven sex tapes...Larry King typifies punk rock, he does not brush his teeth and he can fart without breaking eye contact...he just loves Andy Rooney...and Mike Meyers...he hates bitchy people on-line, before you send something out in cyberspace, you should ask yourself three questions; does this need to be said, does this need to be said by me, does this need to be said by me now, these are questions you must ask yourself before you type something to some asshole though he must say the digital age is way too fast...do not walk like you drive...do not ever google yourself because you will always be disappointed...he laughed about when Scots get drunk vs. the English...his parents had psychic abilities, his mother read tea leaves and his father could divine water and such...alcoholism runs in his family...Dr. Phil, you dangerous fucking quack...said he could not stand him or his downhome-isms...his last joke of the night was that for Christmas he got his wife a pair of shoes and a vibrator because if she does not like the shoes, she can go fuck herself...we all laugh and Craig takes a bow and then he finishes with a spirited dance with his crew to Britney Spear's “Oops, I Did It Again” and then he left the stage. It was a brilliant show full of wit and humor that made me laugh heartily. He once again proved why he is the best late-night talk show host. I hope I can see him again!
ROGER WATERS PRESENTS THE WALL - October 10, 2010
Verizon Center - Washington, DC
It was 7:10PM and I am on top of the world because it is 10.10.10 and I am sitting in Seat 10, Row 10 (J), in Section 100 – woooo! (scary Twilight Zone sounds) and my awesome rock concert buddy Mark has lent me his brand new iPhone to take photos and video...Welcome to the machine my friend. I am all tingly as I wait for Roger Waters and his band to take the stage and perform in its entirety, the classic masterpiece album “The Wall”. I have waited years for this event; the last time was June 1980 to be exact and at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island in New York, I had just graduated from high school and “The Wall” was the soundtrack to my senior year so my stoner buddy Brian and I borrowed his mom's car and we sped up Interstate 95 to Long Island without tickets because we told ourselves the rock gods would bless us and they did of course (I still have the stub). I do wish I had a clearer memory of the show, remember it was two stoner boys and a bag of Columbian Gold – you get the picture...the thing I remember the most was when the bricks of the wall fell chaotically as the crowd chanted “Tear down the wall”, that scene is etched in my mind forever. I saw Pink Floyd several times during the 'bitter' years, 1983, 1987, 1994, and I luckily saw the Roger Waters' “Radio Chaos” tour which was tremendous, and most wonderfully, I saw Roger Waters perform three times on his 1999 “In The Flesh” tour and I got his autograph in Hershey, Pennsylvania, I got to sit in the third row at Starlake Pavilion outside of Pittsburgh, and I saw the best show of the tour in Baltimore. Regretfully I was having a dark time of my own in 2006 and missed the “Dark Side Of The Moon” tour, but here I am now in 2010 waiting for the show to begin and the soundman is playing Neil Young and I did not realize how much I dislike his music. I just noticed that there is a man pushing a shopping cart throughout the floor with a sign that says “Homeless Need Money For Booze” and I noticed that we are nearing zero hour as the loudspeakers began broadcasting a plethora of comedians – George Carlin, Rodney Dangerfield, Stewie Griffin, etc. The sound system was amazing as the comics' voices traveled around the speakers in the venue, suddenly the lights dimmed and a disembodied voice welcomed us to the show as a spotlight shown on a Gerard Scarfe figure laying on the floor center stage and a saxophone wailed mournfully and then amid explosions and pyrotechnics, the opening song “In The Flesh?” pounded out into the audience. The stage was all lit up in red and white lights with flags and banners with hammers on them and the wall was at the outer edges of the stage and you could barely see any of the musicians. Roger Waters appeared in a black leather trenchcoat like a fascist and screamed, “So ya, thought ya, might like to go to the show, to feel the warm thrill of confusion, that space cadet glow...”, and then the flashing lights and pyrotechnics made it seem like the stage was being strafed by fighter planes, there was even a plane that crashed into the wall. The band began performing a beautiful “The Thin Ice” as images of people appeared on the wall who had died in wars including Roger Waters' father, and it was a stark reminder to the men in charge who abuse their power while “skating on the thin ice of others' lives”. Roger stoically played his bass as Robbie Wyckoff sang the words with such conviction and the guitarists G.E. Smith and Snowy White played marvelously as their guitars intertwined and filled the arena and members of the stage crew slowly built the wall brick by brick. The band proceeded to a menacing “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 1)” that had Roger glowering as he sang it with such venom and images of children floating by overhead as Snowy White played a shimmering guitar solo. The stage darkened as the sound of a helicopter searching with a spotlight flew overhead as they played “The Happiest Days Of Our Lives” which segued into “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)” as large scary schoolteacher balloon figure threatened everyone as the schoolkids took the stage and sang, “We don't need no education, we don't need no thought control, no dark sarcasm in the classroom, teachers leave them kids alone, hey teacher, leave them kids alone, all in all it's just another brick in the wall...”, and Snowy White played David Gilmour's classic guitar solo with tear-inducing beauty as all the kids danced around and pointed and shouted at the schoolteacher figure. Roger Waters slowed things down and gently strummed his guitar while he plaintively sang “Mother” as he re-lived the horrors of his childhood, I totally identified with the lyrics as I listened to the words with tears running down my face, “Mother do you think they'll drop the bomb? Mother do you think they'll like this song? Mother do you think they'll try to break my balls? Oooh ahh...”, and the video showed a giant security camera that watched us all as a giant angry mother figure glared at us as the wall got higher. The band went into a gentle “Goodbye Blue Sky” as the video showed fighter jets taking off and dropping bombs that were symbols of all that is wrong and divides the world, national, religious, and corporate logos. Then the stage went dark and throbbed with sound as the overhead video screen showed two battling cartoon flowers that represented the male and female genitalia as Roger intoned the song “Empty Spaces” as the world around him self-destructed to the interlude “What Shall We Do Now?”. His fantastic guitarist Snowy White and his son keyboardist Harry Waters traded fat and dirty riffs and the rest of the band launched into a stellar “Young Lust” and Roger menacingly sang, “I am just a new boy, stranger in this town, where are all the good times, who's gonna show this stranger around, ooooh, I need a dirty woman, ooooh, I need a dirty girl...”, and female images were projected on the wall and one could see the band through openings in the ever-building wall. The various members of the eleven-piece band were beyond compare in the quality of their musicianship as they charged through the set with incredible grace, I was very impressed. A dial tone rang throughout the arena and an operator's voice spoke as the video showed a woman just loving Roger's fancy apartment with all of the guitars scattered everywhere, but he became more and more detached and isolated as he sadly sang “One Of My Turns” and it gently flowed into a mournful “Don't Leave Me Now” over the lovely percussion of Graham Broad as Roger reached his breaking point and the guitarists wailed and intertwined beautifully and a giant praying mantis-like woman with flaming red hair seductively swayed as the band began “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 3)” and the wall was fully built as Roger sat alone and sang, “I have seen the writing on the wall, don't think I need anything at all, no, don't think I'll need anything at all, it was all just bricks in the wall, all in all you were all just bricks in the wall...”, and the video projections showed people trying to pole-vault over the wall as the band interluded with “The Last Few Bricks”. Roger Waters appeared at a small opening in the wall and he mournfully sang the depressing words to “Goodbye Cruel World”, “Goodbye, all you people, there's nothing you can say, to make me change my mind, good bye...” The word 'Intermission' appeared on the fully-built wall and the house lights went up and I sat there a bit overwhelmed by my emotions stirred up by the show. After about twenty minutes the house lights once again dimmed and an unseen Roger Waters and his band returned and opened with a devastating “Hey You” from behind the stark wall as Roger sneered, “Hey you, out there in the cold, getting lonely, getting old, can you feel me, hey you, standing in the aisles, with itchy feet and fading smiles, can you feel me...” A gorgeous guitar solo soared above the rhythm and accentuated the song as the wall appeared to be splitting and suddenly it was the wall again, the visuals were phenomenal and almost overpowered the music. Two eyes appeared on the wall as spotlights surveyed the audience as the band interluded with “Is There Anybody Out There?” as guitarist G.E. Smith strummed a beautiful bridge in the small opening in the wall that transformed into a Tropicana motel room as Roger crooned “Nobody Home”while he sat and stared at a television screen with images of war on it. The band slowly morphed into “Vera” and Roger sounded so much in pain and anguish as he sang, “Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn, remember how she said that we would meet again, some sunny day, Vera, Vera, what has become of you...”, and the band segued into “Bring The Boys Back Home” as images of soldiers and their families re-uniting appeared on the wall. Roger appeared outside of the wall and matter-of-factly sang the opening words to “Comfortably Numb” and vocalist Robbie Wyckoff traded lyrics with him and he sang the wonderfully amazing words, “There is no pain, you are receding, a distant ship smoke on the horizon, you are only coming through in waves, your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying, when I was a child I had a fever, my hands felt just like two balloons, now I've got that feeling once again, I can't explain, you would not understand, this is not how I am, I have become comfortably numb...” I was getting goosebumps as guitarist Dave Kilminster played the song's signature riff on top of the wall better than David Gilmour, and Roger beat his fists on the wall until it seemed to fall and a visceral sunset appeared on the wall. A quiet keyboard line played in the dark until Robbie Wyckoff and the Lennon brothers appeared in a dimly lit corner of the stage and gently sang “The Show Must Go On” with such beautiful harmonies until the lights rose and his band was playing in front of the wall with images of fascist hammers overhead and Roger appeared in his black leather overcoat and he menacingly sang the dark lyrics of “In The Flesh” as a giant remote-control pig floated above the audience. Dave Kilminster played the haunting riff of “Run Like Hell” with skill and grace and Roger sang, “You better make your face up, in your favorite disguise, with your button down lips, and your roller blind eyes, with your empty smile, and your hungry heart...”, as a form of resistance and images of infamous dictators shown on the wall with phrases like, “I Lead”, “I Protect”, “I Follow”, “I Resist”, “I Profit”, “I Lose”, “I Teach”, “I Learn”, “I Believe”, “I Paint”, “I Kill”, “I Pay” and “Fear Builds Walls”, and they were interspersed throughout the song as “You Better Run” appeared on the wall. The show was building towards the show's grand finale as various sounds filled the arena and the wall showed the phrase, “He has a weapon as the music reached its climax.” Roger Waters said, “Don't worry, you can't trust us!”, and Robbie Wyckoff and him sadly sang “Waiting For The Worms” and the video images showed us these giant writhing worms and then Roger sang through a megaphone as the band pounded on ferociously as the video screen showed endless giant hammers marching in formation menacingly and they morphed into a gloomy gray city that was choked with poisonous pollution and then back to the giant marching hammers as the band crescendo-ed and interluded with “Stop” and then the sound just stopped as it got dark and quiet. The screen lit up and showed all these cartoon creatures writhing and twisting and a judge appeared and Roger Waters sang the lyrics to “The Trial” from the judge's viewpoint, “You little shit, you're in it now, I hope they throw away the key, you should've talked to me more often than you did, but no, you had to go your own way, have you broken any homes up lately...”, and the video continued with animation that showed a mother figure whose arms turned into a wall surrounding a child figure. Roger sounded great as the judge's voice and he ranted and raved and accusing and then everyone began singing, “Tear down the wall,” and the music went faster and faster and suddenly with a loud crashing boom the wall came tumbling down and the band went silent and then everyone in the band gathered in front of the wrecked wall and Roger Waters mournfully played the trumpet and the band joined him in finishing the show with “Outside The Wall” as he gruffly sang,“Some stagger and fall, after all it's not easy banging your heart against some mad bugger's wall...” Confetti exploded outward and drifted everywhere and fell slowly onto the audience as the musicians ended the song and Roger thanked us for coming to the show and the band took their final bows and left the stage under a blood red moon. I was completely blown away by the out of this world visual imagery and stellar musicianship of the musicians, I was amazed by how Roger changed the tone of the album from one of an anti-social screed against the boorish ways of the music industry and the fans to a beautiful tale of loss and redemption and best of all, an anti-war statement. It was a amazing re-creation of Pink Floyd's 1980 “The Wall” tour show and illustrator Gerald Scarfe's brilliant animation looked as beautiful as ever. His band was top-notch as they skillfully played their parts with grace and skillfully, particularly vocalist Robbie Wyckoff and guitarists Dave Kilminster and SNL alumna G.E. Smith. I left the arena and bought a t-shirt and walked home with my mind reeling from all the emotions that the music brought up, I was so glad to witness an amazing performance of “The Wall” and how it transformed into a masterpiece.
SY SMITH - October 7, 2010
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
Recently I had been digging on this song called “Truth” and I found out that it is performed by Sy Smith, who by the way was raised here in The District and she graduated from Howard University where she received degrees in psychology and music therapy. She then headed to Los Angeles and jumped feet first into the music business, and her resume reads like a who's who in contemporary soul music. She sang back-up vocals for Eric Benet, Brandy, Chris Botti, Macy Gray, Usher, Jamie Foxx, Me'shell N'degeocello, and went on a year-long tour with Whitney Houston. She also did a lot of television work, performing with Vonda Shepherd on Fox's “Ally McBeal”, as a back-up vocalist in the “American Idol” house band, and best of all, she duetted with the legendary Al Green on the theme song for the “Soul Food” television series. And if that wasn't enough, she has written songs for Santana, Mya, Me'shell N'degeocello, and Gerald Albright, and in 2002 she was nominated for an Emmy for her song “Welcome Back (All My Soulmates)” from the HBO movie “Dancing In September” and she also wrote and sang for The Brand New Heavies on their “We Won't Stop” in 2003. She does stop there, she is also the musical director of BET's poetry show “Lyric Cafe” and she has released four albums of her original music and a live DVD...whew...girl stays busy, and now here I am waiting for her to take the Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center and for her to blow my mind with her beautiful music. Her six-piece band hit the stage and opened with a jazzy old-school number called “Push Up” that immediately had my foot a'tapping and Sy Smith stood in front of her microphone dressed all sassy as her big voice filled the venue and she soulfully sang, “It ain't nobody's business if I do.” Her lyrics were quite inventive and told a story with a futuristic soul edge to them and that seems to becoming quite popular lately (i.e. Janelle Monae). She really knows how to turn a phrase as her band kept it tight, smooth, and funky - “I'm impatient with people who couldn't care less.” The drummer Biscuit was stellar as he kept the beat flowing and the guitarist Robby MacDonald knew how to make the riffs fly like lightning. The second song “Stranger In Moscow” was a gorgeous song and the keyboardist Aaron Hartman Carter really shined as he played an almost haunting melody as Sy's voice shimmered and soared magnificently. On the next number DC soul master W. Ellington Felton joined the band and he sang and rapped with Sy, and they go perfectly together with their similar lyrical styles, it was quite enjoyable. The fourth song “I Want To Be Happy” was a lovely jazz-inflected soul number as Sy sang and scatted back and forth without missing a beat, and damn, her drummer Biscuit is good. The next number had a surf music feel to it, kind of “Pete Gunn” meets The B-52s' “Rock Lobster”, and the bassist Dennis Turner laid down a walking bass line as Sy wailed like a rock goddess meets a show-tune belter. They continued with “Fly Away With Me” which was a nice uptempo love song with a go-go kick in the percussion, I really liked her voice because it reminded me of a rougher version of Angela Bofill. For their next song Sy pretended to be a DJ scratching out a groove, then the band kicked in with a sparse beat and it was a tribute to DJs that get the floor rocking at clubs around the world - “Let me hear you say – oh yeah – that beat is making me move my feet.” Sy and her band finished their eight-song set with “I Want Your Love” and it was a sassy neo-soul vocal work-out and Sy's lyrics jumped like beans in a frying pan and the guitarist played a great riff that gave the song a little punch. She introduced the band and said how much she enjoyed playing at The Kennedy Center and then she wished us a good night and left the stage. I was quite impressed by Sy Smith's voice and her band was impressive as they backed her with great pizazz and style and I would love to see her again.
CHUCK BROWN AND HIS BAND - September 24, 2010
Woodrow Wilson Plaza - Washington, DC
It was the final show of the summer season for “Live! At Woodrow Wilson Plaza” and it was the Godfather of Go-Go himself, Chuck Brown, and the joint was hyped for the godfather to get the place jumping. It was a gorgeous fall evening as the go-go beat started dancing out of the speakers and into the ears of the gathered masses who know it don't mean a thing, if it don't got that go-go swing, and the crowd was loving it. They were dancing and swaying with their hands in the air as Chuck Brown rasped into the microphone and playing his signature sound on his guitar – a little jazzy, a little blues, and his own magic touch. The band was tight as they created a swirling mass of funky rhythm that engulfed the audience who responded in kind. I thing I love about go-go music was how it was primarily a live art-form that thrived on audience participation from the call-and-response to the name-checking and shout-outs to various neighborhoods – ride that rhythm y'all – no two go-go shows are alike. The basic song structure was there but each show was a little bit different, and that is what makes go-go feel so alive and vibrant – the pounding of the drums, the thumping of the bass, and the melody of the keys come together like a living breathing entity that swallows up the audience and then spits them out happy and dancing to the original hometown groove and it amazes me how a go-go band can turn any song from any genre into a go-go song - “Wind it up Chuck, wind it up!” It is too bad that the sound mix got kind of murky in the cavernous plaza because the vocals just floated away and I could never quite tell what he was singing, and Chuck's guitar should be louder in the mix, but that's how gigs can be in this type of setting but the go-go rhythm sounded great at least. Then the mayor-elect Vincent Gray made an on-stage appearance to say hi to the voters and Chuck and he attempted to dance with Chuck, ugh, he is so lame. I hope the band plays some of his classic songs like “Bustin' Loose”, “We Need Some Money”, and “Run Joe”. As the band grooved along, I found myself wondering what Chuck Brown says to himself when he wakes up in the morning, probably something like “I am Chuck Brown, dammit!” I wish I had his work ethic because he is now promoting his latest release, a two-cd/dvd package called “We Got This” and he is probably playing at least two other shows tonight which is amazing for a man his age. The show was a bit brief tonight but they were alright and the percussion sounded great, and I just wished that they played a bit longer.
LADY GAGA and SEMI-PRECIOUS WEAPONS - September 7, 2010
Verizon Center - Washington, DC
Let me tell you, I have had quite the musically fantastic summer this year that began in May with a performance by one of the greatest divas of the twentieth century – Diana Ross – and it wound down tonight with an absolutely stunning performance by one of the greatest new divas of the twenty-first century – Lady Gaga. I ventured downtown around 5:30PM to pick up my tickets and I was greeted by quite the spectacle of freaks and geeks and gawkers milling around the Verizon Center in their finest Gaga wear as the news media vultures babbled inanities at their respective cameras and microphones on the phenomenon that is Lady Gaga. They all seemed to use the adjective “controversial” to describe her and her antics, but then again they would not know real controversy if it dropped from the sky and crushed them flat as pancakes. I was amazed by the plethora of “little monsters” and their Lady Gaga-inspired outfits as they pranced around and posed for the cameras, for every Lady Gaga costume from one of her videos or her many television and magazine appearances, there was a fan wearing an imitation, some were tacky but some were quite spectacular. A little before 8PM, my BBF Scott Parks and I entered the venue via the “floor only” entrance and made our way to the front of the stage, and it was kind of weird to be standing on the floor of the Verizon Center without seats like we were at some giant nightclub. The opener Semi-Precious Weapons from New York City were already on stage blasting out their Iggy Pop meets Marilyn Manson thunder noise, and to quote Dick Clark on American Bandstand, “they had a nice beat, and you could dance to it.” Frontman Justin Tranter was quite androgynous as he flounced about the stage in a skin-tight outfit and acted like a cheerleader for Lady Gaga as it seemed that he mentioned her in every other sentence. He said that his band had been opening for “her” since 2006 when they played a gig together in front of “twelve fucking people and he was so glad to be here now with her and not playing to twelve fucking people!” On a side note, they were voted “Best Band In New York City” by the readers of the Village Voice last year, so they cannot complain anymore about those “twelve fucking people”, they big stars now! The rest of the band played very competently and tight, especially bassist Cole Whittle who reminded me of Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers as he spanked his instrument and made it go boom, and he screamed and uttered curious noises every so often into his microphone. Plus he was quite cute with his little side Mohawk as he bounced around the stage like an adrenalized madman. Drummer Dan Crean pounded away at his kit like a charging rhinoceros as he gave their songs bounce and groove, and he was really cute too. But however, guitarist Steve Pyne, in my opinion was the weak link in the band, he was a decent enough player but he lacked the same spark and pizzazz that the other members brought to the band’s music, his riffs just did not have enough bang to them to really light their songs up. I really enjoyed two of the songs from their set, “Statues Of Ourselves”, which had a dirge-like quality to it but it was very danceable, and the other one was my favorite song of their set, “Sticky With Champagne”, which had me bouncing madly to its slash and burn rhythm attack. Justin Tranter had prefaced this song by asking the parents in the audience to not hate him for re-introducing their kids to rock and roll. Good luck with that, my friend. Semi-Precious Weapons left the stage and the anticipation began to build in the arena as the crowd eagerly awaited for our goddess to take the stage and bless us with her glowing disco stick. The intermission seemed to last forever and finally at 9:20PM, the house lights dimmed and the scrim surrounding the stage began to pulse and glow as a giant image of Lady Gaga appeared and her voice began extolling us to be the stars of our own lives. Thus began one of the most amazing concert experiences that I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy, and while the scrim was still down, Lady Gaga began singing, “Silicon, saline, poison inject me – Baby, I’m a free bitch - I’m a free bitch – Some girls won’t dance to the beat of the track – She won’t walk away – But she won’t look back – Baby loves to dance in the dark”, as she wiggled and gyrated in a skin-tight leopard print leotard and sassy knee-high boots and like a roller coaster we were off on a magical non-stop ride. The curtain lifted and the stage lit up like a street scene with spiral staircases, two walls of provocative neon signs, and a car that a dozen or so dancers climbed out of, as her band began playing a new song called “Glitter And Grease” from her forthcoming album and it was quite the crowd-pleaser with its eighties-style staccato drum beat and Joan Jett guitar riffs, I am looking forward to its release because it was a really cool rock and roll song. As she pretended to work on the car’s engine, the stage came alive with swirling lights and dancers as the band kicked into her smash hit, “Just Dance”, which her incredibly tight band spiced up with a fatter bass line and some firecracker riffs from her amazing guitar player Kareem “Jesus” Devlin and the crowd was going crazy as they danced like maniacs, and the band kept the groove going as they pumped it up for “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich”, Lady Gaga was on fire as she sang, “We do the dance right – We have got it made like ice cream topped with honey – But we got no money – Daddy I’m so sorry, I’m so s-s-sorry yeah – We just like to party, like to p-p-party yeah – Bang bang, we’re beautiful dirty rich…”, when the music stopped Lady Gaga emphatically stated, “I want to be a Washington, DC star”, and the band launched into a throbbing “The Fame”. The song ended and the curtain dropped and some New York house beats swirled out of the massive hanging speakers, and by the way, the sound system was phenomenal, and after a few minutes the curtain lifted and the stage set had evolved into a subway station with a train car full of her male dancers in these revealing sexy/pervy white outfits and Lady Gaga appeared in a latex habit outfit that was a cross between a demented nun and Marilyn Monroe from her famous wind up the skirt photo as the band let loose the slam-dance disco beat of “Lovegame”. The Verizon Center turned into a giant bouncing mass of people as Lady Gaga screamed, “Dance Motherfuckers”, and while her dancer simulated masturbating, she brandished her disco stick and asked the audience if they had heard that she had a “pretty tremendous dick.” It was awesomely funny and then she said the next song was dedicated to all her gay fans, as the band let loose with “Boys, Boys, Boys”. This song is the one song that reminds me of a Madonna song the most, whom many of her detractors claim she is plagiarizing, I only slightly agree with this, but it still rocked with its booty-shaking beat and Kareem “Jesus” Devlin played another stellar Slash-esque guitar solo that had me thinking, “Wow! Dude can play…”. The curtain dropped once again, and some really cool house beats danced out of the speakers as giant Lady Gaga images flashed on the scrim, I love it, segue music at a rock concert. As the curtains rose, so did Lady Gaga from beneath the stage in a Darth Vader cape outfit and she was playing a mutant keytar that proved that she is a fantastic musician, the intro she played for “Money Honey” was dark and eerie and then the band kicked in with a slinky and pulsing groove as she sang, “That’s money honey – Well I’m your lover and your mistress – That’s money honey – When you touched me, it’s so delicious –That’s money honey – Baby when you tell me the pieces – That’s money honey – That’s m-o-n-e-y, so sexy…”. This was one of my favorite songs from the show, it had me dancing as I tried to avoid being knocked over by this drunken Amazon woman who was bouncing off everyone around us like a careening pinball. At the end of the song, she strutted to the end of the catwalk and announced that she had to make a telephone call, she whipped out a cell phone and dialed a number and as it rang over the PA, a spotlight focused on some guy in the audience who answered his phone and Lady Gaga asked him what his name was and then she told him that she was moving him and his friends closer to the stage and that they were going to meet her after the show. I would have fainted – lucky bitch! – And what an intro for “Telephone”. The band sounded great as the beat pulsed and throbbed with a primal intensity and the dancers jumped like synchronized swimmers and she commanded the crowd to “Put down your cameras and your fucking cell phone and your hands up! Motherfuckers…” because “I’m k-kinda busy – I’m k-kinda busy – Sorry, I can’t hear you – I’m kinda busy!” The curtain lowered once again and more funky house music and giant flashing images of Lady Gaga in assorted poses, one showed her eating a bloody human heart and another one where a woman was vomiting some kind of blue liquid on her, I thought this was a brilliant way to stage costume changes. She returned to the now dimly lit stage in a very tiny outfit and sat at her rather beat up piano and began playing “Speechless” which showcased her tremendous musicianship, she did study music at Tisch, the piano began to shoot flames which turned into a flaming whirlwind on top of the piano, and it was outrageously amazing. As she played, she digressed from the lyrics several times to comment on her pet social issues; she said, “I’m not going to prance around in underwear and a bra and not stand for something”, and then she recounted how she visited with soldiers earlier in the day and told us about meeting two female soldiers who were kicked out of the military for being gay, you could hear it in her voice that she was really pissed off about the inanity of it all and the pointless waste and ruined lives that it caused. She summed it up perfectly when she said, “I don’t mean to be a political asshole, but ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is fucked up, isn’t it?” I really admire her for her political stances and how she brings them to the masses, and she is not just flapping her lips, after each show she donates $20,000 to The Re-Generation Campaign which helps LGBT youth who have become homeless after being rejected by their families, and she tirelessly campaigns for the Service Members Defense Legal Network to help repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Her passion and conviction brought tears to my eyes – Bravo to you Lady Gaga. She lightened the mood by joking, “At least I sing live at this show.” She continued on the piano as she introduced a new song called “You And I” as the rest of the band joined her, it was totally different from her other songs, it was like a hair band power ballad without the schlock. It kind of reminded me of “November Rain” by Guns’n’Roses, the guitarist Kareem “Jesus” Devlin even pulled a few Slash-like guitar god moves, but her vocals were smoky and sexy and the lyrics were quite revealing, “There’s something, there’s something about this place – Something about lonely nights and my lipstick on my face – Something something about my cool Nebraska guy – Yeah something about – Baby you and I.” As the song ended several dancers and her strutted to the end of the catwalk and two lampshade-like structures descended from the ceiling until they reached the stage and engulfed them, the structures sparkled and glowed for a few minutes until it ascended back into the ceiling and Lady Gaga stood there in the most extravagant outfit of the evening. The dress seemed to be made of cellophane and various parts on her headpiece moved and expanded like they were breathing and the outfit made her look like some mutant lizard fish bird as she stood on a smoking platform that raised her to about twenty feet above the audience as she said, “My little monsters, you make me so happy I could die.” It was one of the most fantastical song openings that I have ever witnessed and “So Happy I Could Die” had a gorgeous melody that is still stuck in my head, and the band’s playing was divine like they were in a heavenly orchestra. While the band finished playing the song, Lady Gaga disappeared into the back and returned in a outfit that was part “Where The Wild Things Are” and part Twiggy as she started singing, “Don’t call me Gaga – I’ve never seen one like that before – Don’t look at me like that – You amaze me – He ate my heart – He a-a-ate my heart – You little monster.” The crowd was in a frenzy as the band and her took the song “Monster” to new levels and made it come alive. Towards the very end of the song, Lady Gaga suddenly screamed, “Stop the music!”, because evidently two girls had started fighting near the stage so she chastised them, “Stop fighting! Do not fight at this show! I’m sorry, but I just don’t want you to fight. This show is all about love and unity and happiness, not fighting…Only fake monster fighting.” She then turned back to the audience and asked, “Do you thing I’m sexy?”, and the crowd roared their approval as she ran down the catwalk to the stage which was once again hidden by the scrim. More segue music and flashing images until the curtain rose to reveal a forest scene complete with two giant scary trees, and Lady Gaga told a narrative about getting lost in the woods of Central Park as her friends and her were trying to find their way to the Monster Ball, and then the tribal percussion intro of “Teeth” began and I was elated, I have been waiting for this song all evening because it is my all-time favorite song of hers, and I began dancing frenziedly as she intoned, “Don’t be scared – I’ve done this before – Show me your teeth – Don’t want no money (want your money) – That shit is ugly – Just want your sex (want your sex) – Take a bite of my bad girl meat (bad girl meat) – Take a bite of me – Show me your teeth – The truth is sexy – Tell me something that’ll save me…” The band was turning it out like they were on fire, the dancers were grinding madly, and Lady Gaga was writhing on the ground as she covered herself in fake blood, it was beautifully spectacular and I loved it. The band was on a white hot roll now as they segued into “Alejandro”, the video screens had a psychedelic collage of angel wings swirling away on them and an angel statue appeared in the middle of the stage which began shooting fire out of its back, it was wild and very visceral. The scrim dropped once more, and you could feel the excitement building for her biggest three songs as the show entered the home stretch, her beautiful and head-banging violinist began playing a soul-searing piece as giant images of Lady Gaga in strange bondage gear flashed on the screens as her voice intoned, “The real truth about Lady Gaga lies in this sentence. They are the kings. They are the queens. They write the history of the kingdom and I am something of a devoted jester.” The opening notes of “Pokerface” filled the venue and the crowd exploded as she belted out, “I want to hold’em like they do in Texas please – Fold’em let’em hit me raise it baby stay with me, I love it – Luck and intuition play the cards with spades to start – And after he’s been hooked I’ll play the one that’s on his heart.” She was giving us all she had and we were eating it up, she ran to the back again as the stage darkened and she reappeared in a dress that looked like it was made out of green crystals as she made her way to the front of the stage in the dark and then suddenly a giant monster that looked like an angler fish with octopus tentacles appeared out of nowhere and Lady Gaga screamed, “Oh no, it’s the fame monster!!!” as the band kicked into “Paparazzi” as she sang, “I’m your biggest fan and I’m gonna follow you until you love me.” She fell to the ground as the monster wrapped its tentacles around her until she jumped up and tore her dress off to reveal her sparks-shooting bustier which she used to kill the fame monster. The crowd was going bananas as the curtain dropped one last time and we roared our adoring approval and begged for more, Lady Gaga, more, give us more. After a few minutes her band began playing behind the curtain and as the momentum built into a frenzied pace as the lights pulsed and the audience howled, the scrim lifted slowly as an eerie red light seeped out and there she was, standing there in the famous gyroscope dress and the beat thumped faster and faster until she started singing, “Ra Ra-Ah-Ah-Ah – Roma Roma-ma – Gaga – Oh la la – Want your bad romance – I want your ugly – I want your disease – I want your everything – As long as it’s free – I want your love – Love Love Love!” And we gave it to her in spades as we roared our approval and adoration and she told us, “Don’t leave loving me more – Leave loving yourself more!” Let me tell you, I did. I have been to thousands of live concerts over the past thirty-five years and I must tell you that this concert was one of the best ones that I have ever seen and I left the Verizon Center feeling like a better person than when I arrived there this wonderful summer evening. I kept thinking about what Lady Gaga had said when she started the show – “I didn’t used to be brave; in fact; I wasn’t very brave at all. But you have made me brave, little monsters, so I’m going to be brave for you.” Thank you Lady Gaga!
THE UNITED STATES - August 30, 2010
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It is another humid and steamy Washington, DC, summer evening and I am at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage once again to see one of the more off-beat roots rock bands from the area, These United States, who are celebrating the recent release of their fourth album, “What Lasts”, on United Interests Records. I have been hoping to see this band perform in a more upscale setting than the grungy rock clubs that they normally play around town. These United States hit the stage, and guitarist Justin Craig opened their set with an ethereal and serpentine guitar line as vocalist Jesse Elliott croaked out his downtrodden and world-weary lyrics about life on the run in an almost whisper of a voice. The band laid down a rock-steady groove that was somewhere between The Band and The Kentucky Headhunters. The drummer Robby Cosenza is quite phenomenal in the way his minimalistic playing gently propelled the band forward as the beats bobbed along in the swirling washes of Colin Kellogg’s bass lines. The guitarist Justin Craig and J. Tom Hnatow traded licks and riffs back and forth as they added some crunch to the flowing rhythm, and on several of their songs J. Tom Hnatow sat at the steel pedal guitar and played wonderful melody lines with these extended notes that just seemed to hang there in the mix for an eternity. These United States have been on the road for most of the summer and it showed in Jesse’s voice as he whispered and rasped into the microphone. Their mishmash of musical genres is intriguing as each song sounded so different, alt-country to folk to indie rock to pop, and they did it with such ease and smoothness. My only complaint was that Jesse’s lyrics were hard to understand sometimes, but thankfully, he is engaging and charmingly charismatic and draws you into the music because the rest of the band is pretty aloof, but at least they play their instruments beautifully. His in-between song banter is witty and silly at the same time; he actually made me laugh out loud several times. Their song “Biting My Tongue” was my favorite of their thirteen-song set, I loved the lyrics that he sang in it, “I’m just a momma’s boy, looking for affection, she’s just daddy’s girl, looking for affection.” The song after that had a great play on words in it, using a line from The Rolling Stones, “I can’t get no sensation”, and Justin played this awesome chiming guitar line that stuck in my head for the rest of the night. Another thing I enjoyed about their music was how Colin Kellogg played bass lines that reminded me of hardcore punk, and it added a nice edge to their music. I really like how direct and concise their songs are, and how they sound traditional but yet, they do not, as they added all kinds of quirky noises and tempo changes to their music. This was particularly evident in the last song of their set, the title track from their new album “What Lasts”. I was quite glad that I caught their set, so I bought their new CD before I left the Kennedy Center. You should check them out.
THE SCISSOR SISTERS and CASEY FISCHER - August 23, 2010
D.A.R. Constitution Hall - Washington, DC
I got a late start today because I was up all night working on my manuscript because my deadline is rapidly approaching, so I had to dash down to Constitution Hall at the last minute, and I arrived just in time to see Casey Fischer of Fischerspooner fame take the stage. He was pretty much a “tres gay” overblown karaoke act as he intoned his melodramatic lyrics monotonously at the microphone over pre-recorded tracks of minimalistic techno-disco beats. Casey reminded me of a fluffy Chelsea queen in his prim and trim shiny grey suit as he sang like he was the red-headed stepchild of Marc Almond and Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant. His angst-filled lyrics of loneliness and abandonment were somewhat depressing as his words begged people – “Look at me – tell me that I am beautiful and that you love me even though I am built to fail” – oh, grow up you silly queen! Thankfully he only sang for a brief six-song set and he was gone, but I did enjoy two of his songs, the opener “Cinnamon Toast” which he said he wrote and recorded in a hour, and a song called “Strange Bird” that I personally, really identified with the lyrics even though they were a tad morose. The house lights came up and when I looked around the venue to locate a friend, I was surprised, but not shocked, by the somewhat sparse crowd that I saw. I guess the heyday of gay pop music has passed, and besides I think that a lot of people that would have been here, are headed to the 9:30 Club to see the Tears For Fears reunion show. DJ Sammy Jo takes the stage and he immediately aurally assaults my ears with some lame throbbing disco pabulum, so I decided it is really time to go check out the merchandise booth and buy a Scissor Sisters tour t-shirt. But I am horribly disappointed because the shirts turn out to be pretty boring and plain with just their scissors-shaped logo on them, I like more colorful and busy tour t-shirts with the band’s picture and tour dates on them, so sadly I did not purchase one. I went back to my seat in the middle of the disco hurricane, and then DJ Sammy Jo played a song that I actually liked, “Bulletproof” by Le Roux, and it even got the audience going a bit as a few people began dancing. Finally it was time as the house lights went down and the Scissor Sisters sashayed onto the stage and vocalist Jake Shears immediately started shaking his cute ass as the band jumped into their opening number from their new album, the title-track “Night Work”, with gusto as Jake and Ana Matronic sexily sang, “Night work, gotta do the night work, punch that clock and break all the numbers, night work, gotta do the night work, week-day nine-to-five is over...”, however the vocal mix was atrocious at first but it got better as the show progressed. The two singers' effervescence was infectious as Jake slowly disrobed throughout the show and Ana's catty comments made me laugh as the band proceeded into a lilting “Laura” from their self-named 2004 debut album. The unsung star of the night was Babydaddy a.k.a. Scott Hoffman who was a multi-talented instrumentalist beyond compare as he jumped from keyboards to bass to guitar and back and his keyboard melody for the song was delightful. The guitarist Del Marquis a.k.a. Derek Gruen kicked off the next song “Any Which Way” with a sharp and crisp riff that just grooved in all the right places, and I think it is the best song on their new album “Night Work”, and Jake wailed in his best falsetto as the bass throbbed like a volcanic eruption. They flowed rhythmically into a pulsing “She's My Man” from the 2006 album “Ta-Dah” and Jake shined as he let loose lyrically, “She's my man, and we got all the balls we need, when you taste that pavement, you're amazed, she smells your sympathy, so bye bye ladies, may the best queen hold the crown...”, even though they are labeled “dance music”, I found them to be more traditional soft rock in the vein of Elton John or The Bee Gees particularly in their song structures. Some lasers began to shoot across the stage as the band began a slinky “Something Like This” from their recent album and it reminded me of Kraftwerk a little bit in the marching beat, and then Ana Matronic said, “I got a big surprise, we can talk about relationships, I think you'll like it,” and the band kicked off “Whole New Way” also from “Night Work” with its jaunty beat and swirling synthesizer washes, it was quite nice and melodic. Ana Matronic kept the groove going as she stepped to the microphone in her fierce skintight vinyl dress and told us that because they were playing in D.A.R. Constitution Hall she had to tell us that she is related to seven signers of the Declaration Of Independence and then she wailed about “Tits On The Radio” from 2004's debut album, and Babydaddy drove the song with a sharp and funky bass line that made me want to dance and dance. The best song of the show came next, it was a hard-rocking “Harder You Get” from the “Night Work” album, and the band tore it up with a crunching guitar and a driving bass that just did not stop as Jake gyrated and fiercely sang, “Harder you get, caught in my sweat, never too wet, to want it all, beatin' my drum, faster you're done, can't have one, you want them all...” The next song also from the new album was “Running Out” and Jake and Ana got a work-out as they sang beautifully and ran in place, they made me sweat, and Del Marquis played the most delightful and terse guitar solo that gave me chills. The song that drew in the biggest audience response was “Take Your Mama” from their 2004 debut album, and its message about coming out was heartwarming as was its gentle loping beat and fierce keyboard lines that really reminded me of Elton John. They followed that with two more songs from 2006's “Ta-Dah” album; first a really sexy and slinky “Kiss You Off” and Ana gave her best vocal performance of the night, and second a real crowd-pleaser, “I Don't Feel Like Dancin'”, and Jake sounded wonderfully melancholic as he sang, “I don't feel like dancin', dancin', even if I find nothing better to do, don't feel like dancin', dancin', why'd you pick a tune when I'm not in the mood, don't feel like dancin', dancin', I'd rather be home with the one in the bed till dawn with you...”, and he danced his way though the audience. Once he was back on the stage, he dedicated the next song, “Skin Tight” from the recent album, to his boyfriend who was a bartender at “J.R.'s”, a local gay bar, and he met him at the 9:30 Club after one of their concerts and now he is the love of his life, and then he delivered a sincere and heartfelt performance. Ana stepped to the microphone and made a few jokes and then performed “Skin This Cat” also from the new album and then she wildly danced with their background vocalists as Del Marquis played a wonderfully concise guitar solo to close the song and then they performed a touching version of “Fire With Fire” also from “Night Work”, and it was quite bold and anthemic as the audience raised their lighters to them. The low point of the night came with a rendition of “Paul McCartney” from 2006's “Ta-Dah” album that was muddled and hard to understand as Ana sang and Jake just danced wildly to the beat, but they finished their set with a pulsing and throbbing “Night Life” from the “Night Work” album and their voices blended nicely as they sang, “I was a young girl, knew next to nothing, living in the suburbs, and my heart was lusting, for a new way, and a new sound, crawled over my hang-ups, to the underground...”, and they danced frenetically and shouted “Woo! Woo!” over and over as they left the stage and the audience erupted into a frenzy of applause and cheering that rattled the rafters. The Scissor Sisters returned to the stage triumphantly as Del Marquis played the brilliant re-invented intro guitar solo to Pink Floyd's “Comfortably Numb” and the bubbly drumming of Randy Real and the gentle and flowing keyboard washes of Babydaddy merged to make a show-stopping cover song that made you forget the original. The stage became bathed in red lights as Jake and Ana brought a moment of clarity to tonight's joy and celebration as they sang “Invisible Light” from the “Night Work” album and all eight of the performers were silhouetted in the lights as Ian McKellan's recorded voice intoned about the horrors of Babylon, it was kind of depressing and brought the mood of the audience down, but that quickly changed when they charged into a raucous “Filthy/Gorgeous” from their debut album with a new arrangement that was awesome. Jake Shears ran around shaking his ass and lasciviously showed it to the crowd as Ana Matronic seductively performed fellatio on the microphone to the audience's amusement, and then they sang, “Ain't no sum bitch gonna treat me like a ho, I'm a classy honey kissy huggy lovey dovey ghetto princess, 'cause you're filthy, oooh and I'm gorgeous...”, and Del Marquis blew me away with a killer guitar solo that closed the song. It was a fabulous twenty-song set that was full of ups and downs and there was a whole lot of shaking going on, I left the venue with a smile on my face, some joy in my heart, and a kick in my step. Long live the Scissor Sisters!
ERIN MCKEOWN - August 19, 2010
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
I got a late start today after another long night of researching, writing, and typing, so I had to rush down to the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage to catch singer/songwriter Erin McKeown, who hails from Fredericksburg, Virginia, which has quite the thriving music scene these days with local bands like Tereu Tereu, Ceremony, The Points, and Punk Rogers making noise around the area. Erin began her career in the late nineties writing songs while she was still in high school, and then she began recording her music while attending Brown University in Rhode Island, where she released her first two albums before she graduated and she started gigging over two hundred dates a year and doing studio work for other musicians. She was “discovered” by Ani DiFranco after she heard her first (technically second) album, “Distillation”, and Erin was invited to tour with her in 1999, and she has been working non-stop ever since. So now I am waiting for her to take the stage and fill my ears with her funky blues-inflected electrified “folk” music. Erin hits the stage and damn, she sure is tiny and tattoo-covered, but her guitar-playing is funky and dirty and thick and sexy, and her voice is smooth and pleasant and rich and fills my ears with her powerful and wry words that rhyme and wind and teach as they march out of her mouth with military precision…”Every day give me the strength of a thousand angels. Every day carry me, lift me, hold me.” Sometimes her guitar-playing reminds me of The White Stripes’ Jack White just a tiny bit, but unlike him, she can write a listenable song that one could hum along to with the hordes of lesbians that are here to see her perform. Her lyrics are intense and the breadth of her storytelling narrative is awe-inspiring as she deftly uses words to tell an emotional and heartfelt story in four minutes. On other songs her guitar-playing reminds me of my hero Keith Richards, and she has mentioned cigarettes at least a dozen times in her lyrics…um, is there a connection…LOL. She does look like a wild woman who loves her whiskey and men or women (it is hard to tell with some people these days), and she could probably kick yours and my ass without blinking, judging from her lyrics like…”To a hammer, everything is a nail.” My favorite song of her set was “You’re So Damned Flaw”, for which she got the audience to participate in with a little call and response, and then she sat at the baby grand piano and totally rocked out on the ivories as she sang the title track, “Hundreds Of Lions”, from her new album, and her melancholic vocal delivery reminded me of Marc Almond as did her sparkling wordplay in the song. She continued on the piano, playing beautifully as her fingers glided over the keys majestically in a song titled “James” which was dedicated to her hometown. She returned to her guitar and asked everybody to support the Future Of Music Coalition which has her lobbying Congress to support the arts and education, and I find it very admirable. The next song in her set was about last year’s Metro train crash on the Red Line that killed eight people, it was called “Did We Really Crash?” and her lyrics succinctly castigated Metro management and the DC government for their wanton disregard and inability to prevent avoidable failures in safety and protecting the public from such stupidity. She continued on with a song from her first (technically second) album which was about doing cocaine and being a bad girl that was set to a western swing beat that reminded me of a Brian Setzer Orchestra song, and it was quite amusing, especially since I was at the high-falootin’ Kennedy Center, and it had me tapping my toes and snapping my fingers to the beat as she sang…“when cocaine becomes a chore, and it does!”…sing on sister – I have lived it. She finished her twelve-song set with a lovely confessional number about growing up and learning from your mistakes and living the life you want to live, and it was the perfect ending for a marvelous and soul-stirring show. I just might have to catch her performance again this October at Iota in Arlington, Virginia, on her “Distillation – 10th Anniversary Tour”, and as I was leaving I picked up a eco-friendly flyer for that show, and the cool thing was that the flyer was imbedded with flower seeds that will grow when you plant it in some soil. I find that is amazing just like Erin McKeown.
DOT DASH, THE BLACK SPARKS, and THE PUBLIC GOOD - August 9, 2010
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
Once again, I am sitting with my friend Tim Gabel in the grass at Fort Reno Park eating some dinner from the Whole Foods buffet on a beautiful summer evening, and as I look around, I find myself amazed by all the punk rock parents with their little children that are milling around waiting for the first band of the evening to perform, Dot Dash, and the band features DC drumming legend Danny Ingram, who played with one of my all-time favorite local bands – Strange Boutique. They were originally named Madhouse until Prince stole their name, so they sued him and received some money which they used to pay off their debts and buy a tour van, and then the notorious rock’n’roll creep Kim Fowley wined and dined them and offered to make them stars if the singer Monica Richards sucked a few dicks to help the band get ahead, so they told him to fuck off…but I digress. Danny was one of the first punk rock musicians I became friendly with after I met him at Orpheus Records on M Street in Georgetown where he worked at in the early eighties. I was at the store one day and I was dressed in my “new wave look” and the grumpy old hippie owner was sitting at the counter and he rudely referred to me as “Boy George”, and Danny defended me and then invited me to come see his band, Madhouse, play a show at the Wilson Center…aah those were the days. His current band, Dot Dash, takes the stage and they remind me of a mash-up of The Replacements and early New Order with a touch of the DC sound. Singer/guitarist Terry Banks had an engaging voice as he wistfully sang of the plight of growing up and growing older and trying to stay true to oneself. Danny Ingram’s skills as a drummer are still quite impressive as he laid down a tight and driving groove full of tasty fills that danced in a tight embrace with Hunter Bennett’s thumping bass lines. Guitarists Terry Banks and Bill Crandall of ground-breaking eighties band, A Modest Proposal, played off each other very nicely, and Bill added some intricate and complex solos to their songs. Dot Dash had my toes tapping and my head bopping during their entire set, I was quite impressed and hope they go far. I really enjoyed the last two songs of their set, Terry sang some really cool lyrics, and two lines of his stayed stuck in my head – “You’ll never know how, you’ll never know when, again and again, just how far it’s going on” – and my favorite couplet of the summer – “I have found a means to an end, and I won’t pretend I am Gentle Ben.” I wish Danny and his band the best of luck and I hope I get to see Dot Dash perform again real soon, hopefully on the Millennium Stage and not on some late night grimy rock club stage. After I had heard that the annual free concerts at Fort Reno Park were finally happening this summer, I went to their website and checked out who was going to play when, and I read about this punk rock band called The Black Sparks where the all members were little kids and I said to myself, “This is something I got to see!” Who would’ve thunk, tween twunk twock, but I find it intwiguing – the singer Andrew Salfi is only ten years old, and the guitarists Jonah Antonelli and Sam Grove are twelve – that blows my mind. There was not any punk rock when I was that age! What is even more mind-boggling is that they have an agent, a manager, and a publicist, and they just returned to DC from a small tour. It just blows me away! What did I do wrong when I had a band back in the day? As I waited for them to begin their set, I scanned the audience for pedophiles and talent agents from Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel, or some who might be multi-tasking. During the sound check, they debated pancakes versus waffles with Marty Shepp the soundman – LOL. The Black Sparks kicked off their set sounding like a classic punk rock band from another era, and damn, they blew me away with their professionalism, their playing abilities, and especially their song structures which were concise and surprisingly catchy and they had the crowd on their feet and dancing as they sang, “It’s a nightmare falling up stairs.” If I closed my eyes and just listened, The Black Sparks reminded me of vintage Iggy Pop and The Stooges, especially when they performed their song with the chorus, “All we want is information – All we want is information!” It was a tremendous performance all around, especially the guitarists, they are going places and I expect them to play the Verizon Center eventually. Punk rock is alive and well, and I have seen the future – The Black Sparks. The singer Andrew is an engaging and charismatic little fucker and a real live wire, he is a star in the making – so move over Justin Bieber, and look out Tweenage America – here come The Black Sparks. I felt sorry for the next band, The Public Good, to have to follow an act that had just set it off and brought the house down, that can be very intimidating. I hate to say this, but they were a big letdown, and I had to make myself stay to watch their set. The Public Good played music that was pretty much straight-ahead pseudo-mainstream rock. Oddly enough though, their music reminded me of The Slickee Boys a little bit, but I found their songs to be stationary and stagnant and lacking life. I found vocalist John Elderkin’s lyrics to be clumsy and lacked rhythm and clarity, and Sam Esquith played his guitar with this annoying tone that made my skin crawl. I struggled to sit through their lackluster performance, but I did however finally have to flee before they finished their set because I could not take it anymore. All I have got to say to the guys in The Public Good, is to practice, practice, practice, and watch The Black Sparks a few more times for tips on how to really rock the house.
W. ELLINGTON FELTON - August 6, 2010
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It is a beautiful Friday evening on the banks of the Potomac as the summer crawls into the dog days of August, and I have meandered on down to the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage to see the shining star of the local poetry scene, W. Ellington Felton, take the stage. W.E.F. or “Dub Ell”, as he known around town, has been one of my favorite local poets for a few years now and with his inimitable style, he can paint a picture in your mind with his dancing lyrical flow that can make you laugh and cry at the same time. His unique voice and stage presence draws you in like a moth to a flame as he addresses love and its many complexities. He is even more compelling when he has a band backing him as he sings his amazing lyrics that can make you see your own life in a different light. W.E.F. and his band take the stage and open with a gentle jazz number that asks, “do you remember what love looks like”, as he castigates empty-headed rappers, dirty politicians, and money-hungry doctors. I really love how he expresses himself on stage with hand gestures, facial expressions, and body movements that accentuate his words. He sings, he raps, and he intones to the audience to stand up and get involved to make the world a better place to live for everyone. The second song “Postcards From The Edge” was particularly insightful and his delivery was masterful and incisive as he commentated on the state of the world from his outsider viewpoint. His band is fantastic and tight as they back him up, following him like a shadow that is in sync with every nuance of his word flow. The drummer John Lane lays down the rock-steady beat as bassist Dennis Turner propels the groove with a warm enveloping throb and guitarist Zach Cutler’s gentle riffs float melodically over the flowing rhythm. The very diverse audience is very welcoming and receptive as he urges everyone to get involved in breaking down the walls that we as a society built to keep us separated and distrustful of each other. During the song “You’re So Funky”, Zach Cutler made his guitar sing like an angel and W. Ellington Felton beseeched people to learn to communicate with each other respectfully instead of being “so funky” and complicated – “Who decided love was outdated; who decided the only way to communicate was by yelling and screaming?” It was my favorite song from his set, until they turned one of my favorite Prince songs inside out, they de-constructed and re-constructed “She’s Always In My Hair”, and it was inspired and sensational. Zach Cutler played his most intense guitar solo of the evening, and it lit my ears up, Prince would be pleased. The next song was an apology to all women who had been hurt by someone for just being a woman and it featured another killer guitar solo from Zach as W.E.F. sang, “I’m your best friend forever. We got more than a temporary thing. I just wanna be yours completely.” W. Ellington Felton and his band finished their nine-song set with an up-tempo number called “It Didn’t Occur to Me It Was a Lie”, and it encouraged everyone to be themselves and to rise above the restrictions imposed on us by society. Poet, rapper, singer, actor, and whatever else he is, W.E.F. puts his heart and soul completely in it, and he rocks because his performance put me in a fantastically good mood as I headed home. DC Rox! Save the world!
THE EVENS and THE CEPHALOPODS - August 2, 2010
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
I have been having really great luck this summer when it comes to the rain not ruining any of the outdoor shows that I have been attending over the past two months. Once again the day started out grey and overcast and threatening to rain punks and Goths any minute, but as the evening approached, the sun pushed its way out of the clouds and lit up Fort Reno Park just in time for tonight’s show featuring The Cephalopods and The Evens, which is Ian MacKaye’s current band with his wife and drummer Amy Farina. I wonder when that recently rumored Fugazi reunion show is going to happen! The first band, The Cephalopods, are a local trio who play a dirge-y and drone-y kind of music and they reminded me of Tru Fax And The Insaniacs and other early eighties DC bands. Their lyrics are very obtuse and full of non-sequitors – “Have you seen my love? It is black as death.” The vocalist/bassist Hugh McElroy, formerly of the Black Eyes, played deep bass lines that lurked around the stark and minimal rhythms that the drummer Wells Bennett skillfully played as the guitarist Fiona Griffin, of beloved mid-nineties girl band Meltdown, played gentle jazzy riffs that meandered throughout their songs like a bumblebee through a flower patch. Sadly all their songs sounded alike and Ben McElroy’s monotonous voice got on my nerves as I became bored with them as Fiona Griffin seem to play the same riff over and over. I enjoyed Wells Bennett drumming though, his playing was concise and tasteful, and he carried the band even though they were not very engaging and played as if they were in an empty room. The Cephalopods finished their set and I bought one of their CDs for my local bands music collection from their manager guy. I have been looking forward to seeing The Evens perform live all summer, but I must say that it is just so weird seeing punk rock legend Ian MacKaye being a dad as he sets up his guitar amp with his son in his arm. This is The Evens first gig in two and a half years and it is their kid’s first time seeing mom and dad play live in front of a crowd. They opened with “Shelter Two”, which is a lovely toe-tapping ditty about complacency with the great lyrics, “We keep on climbing but we never find the top, it’s all downhill from here.” Normally I rant about the horrors of lo-fi duos, but The Evens are the exception as they play their thought-provoking tunes with genuine melody and solid song structure. Their next song, “Everybody Knows (You Are A Liar)”, preached against the current wars and war-profiteers and it got the audience going and up on their feet and singing along with them. Ian’s guitar playing was sparse but melodic and Amy is a fantastic drummer and she laid down the driving rhythm full of counter-beats and staccato grooves. The best part of their music is the vocal interplay between the two, their voices merge perfectly, it is hard to believe that this is the guy from Fugazi that screamed/sang, “But you’ve got to – Give me the shot – Give me the pill – Give me the cure – Now what’ve you done to my world.”, and in Minor Threat, “I – I – I’m not your stepping stone!” I admire the fact that he stands up for what he believes is right and actually does things to change the “status quo”, and it is nice to see that just two people could play such intricate music with such direct tell-it-like-it-is lyrics that do more than just whine and not offer any possible solutions. What I find funny is that sometimes during their set, their music reminded me of a cross between Pink Floyd and Siouxsie And The Banshees, and I am sure he would hate that comparison. I really enjoyed their performance way more than I expected to, plus when he introduced their last song which was about social networking, he said something that I found really profound, “I have never seen so much communal activity done in solitude.” I must say that The Evens were my favorite Fort Reno show of the summer, and now that their son is a pre-schooler, I hope they release a new album and do a tour; the world really needs to hear their music and wonderful lyrics. Oh yeah Ian, what about that Fugazi reunion, is there any truth to it? Let us know soon!
HEART and ERICK BROWN - August 1, 2010
Pier Six Pavilion - Baltimore, MD
It has been a long time since I have seen Heart perform on stage; the last time was in 1979 at The Capital Centre in Largo, Maryland, and now thirty-one years later, I am at the crappy Pier Six Pavilion in Baltimore, Maryland, to see the lovely Wilson sisters and I am greatly looking forward to seeing them play once again. Boy, do I feel old as I sit in my ancient and uncomfortable seat and people-watch, and there is a very eclectic and diverse selection of folks making their way to their seats. I swear some of them had to use a time machine to get here because they did not look like they were living in the 21st century, and then there was the hordes of fat people and lesbians and I do not know how some of them managed to squeeze themselves into the horrendous seats at this place. I tell you, my best friend Scott Parks and I were the cutest ones here, but then again, we are in Bodymore, Murderland. But once again the power of prayer worked because the sun had burst through the scary dark clouds that were threatening to burst at any minute. I hate going to shows when it rains because I have this irrational fear of being electrocuted. The opening act, who I have never heard of, was Erick Baker who hailed from Knoxville, Tennessee, took the stage and started strumming and whining in a lame “American Idol” karaoke way. In the past few years there has been two types of performers that really annoy the hell out of me; lo-fi indie rock duos and singer/songwriter acoustic guitar-playing, overly emotive, boy-next-door types like the one on stage right now. He barely played his guitar, just some off-kilter strumming as he twitchingly danced like he has got to pee really bad. I cannot barely understand his lyrics, his voice is not that bad but he does not enunciate his words clearly so they sound all mushy. He then does the thing I hate the most – he dedicated one of his songs to his newborn son – ugh – so not rock and roll. I just wished he would get the hell off the stage and go back to Knoxville and let Ann and Nancy Wilson take the stage and rock my earholes. He finally finished and left the stage and the roadies hurriedly set the stage and a few minutes later the intro music played and Heart stepped out into the lights and immediately launched into “Cook With Fire” from the classic 1978 album “Dog & Butterfly”. Vocalist Ann Wilson was on fire as she let loose with some spectacular vocal acrobatics that just soared into the stratosphere, and her tone and pitch was beautiful as she swaggered across the stage to her sister Nancy who was nimble-fingered and deft as ever on the guitar. She played the menacing opening riffs to “Heartless” from the controversial and litigious 1977 album of the same name and drummer Ben Smith followed her skillfully as Ann mournfully wailed, “Heartless, heartless, never, never out of control, heartless, heartless, you keep on sinnin' in the name of rock and roll...”, and I found the new arrangement was crunchier than the old version as the band swirled ominously behind them. The band jumped into a re-vamped version of “Never” from 1985's “Heart” album with pizazz as Ann's voice was rich and powerful and gave the words deep meaning and the band took away the 'pop' in the song and replaced it with a 'blues' edge that was just beautiful and Nancy played a soul-shattering harmonica solo that made the song even more touching. It was back to the “Dog & Butterfly” album for a exhilarating “Straight On” and Nancy and guitarist Craig Bartok traded licks ferociously in an extended intro and then Ann blew me away with her voice as she confidently wailed, “Comin' straight on for you, you made my mind, now I'm stronger, now I'm comin' through, straight on, straight on for you, straight on for you...” Nancy then played an electrifying solo on her acoustic guitar and it morphed into a beautiful “Dog & Butterfly” that was gentle and swaying with grace and ease and Ann sounded phenomenal. Next they performed their eighties classic “These Dreams” from the “Heart” album and I liked how they updated the song and stripped away the eighties' glitz and glamour and played the song starkly with Debbie Shair's synthesizer lines gently floating along as Nancy played the melody on the mandolin and Ann strummed an acoustic guitar and sang the words with soul and conviction. The band decided to switch things up and played a new song from their forthcoming album “Red Velvet Car” called “Hey You” and Nancy sang lead as the band jauntily followed her as the words rang true, “You've been down this lonely road, you have kissed the face of sorrow, you have bought what you've been sold, but you still will buy tomorrow...” The highlight of the set was a funky and dirty “Even It Up” which was the only song they played off 1980's “Bebe Le Strange” album and bassist Ric Markmann drove the song with his serpentine bass lines that weaved in and out with Craig Bartok's lightning fast riffs and much too my surprise they mixed in a bit of The Rolling Stones' “Gimme Shelter” and they went back into “Even It Up” as they segued into the title track of their new album “Red Velvet Car” and the band was incredibly tight. The new song was a real soul-burner about a friend who comes to rescues you when you really need rescuing and the band rode the groove as Ann bared her soul as she moaned, “So pull your weary bones inside, you can sleep while I drive, watch the moonlight on the lake, I won't even touch the brake, in my red velvet car...”, and it was on to another new number called “In The Cool” which was about the night people and Debbie Shair played some beautiful keyboard lines that accented Nancy's guitar notes as Ann crooned away. They received the biggest audience response to their version of “Alone” from 1987's “Bad Animals” which Ann sang so sexily and their new arrangement made the song sound less cheesy than before, and just looking at the original video tells you why, the hair and ten tons of make-up covered up a beautiful song, and besides, the late eighties were tragic. Another set highlight was a raucous new song called “WTF” which about when you have to call someone out for something they did wrong, and Nancy and Craig dueled with crunchy intertwining guitar licks as Ann's vocals soared above them. From the opening guitar riff to the synthesizer flourishes, the song “Magic Man” from the legendary 1976 album “Dreamboat Annie” sang to the audience as Ann almost whispered, “Come on home, girl, he said with a smile, you don't have to love me yet, let's get high awhile, but try to understand, try to understand, try, try, try to understand, I'm a magic man...”, her vocals rode Ben Smith's smooth percussion as Nancy and Craig's guitar riffs gave the song some kick as they segued into “Crazy On You”, also from the “Dreamboat Annie” album. Nancy played her acoustic guitar like a rocket shooting into outer space as Ann's vocals displayed her spectacular range as she could go from a whisper to a scream in a heartbeat. They finished up their show with an invigorating “Barracuda” from the 1977 album “Little Queen” and the guitars dueled with grinding fat riffs as Ann commandingly wailed, “If the real thing don't do the trick, you better make up something quick, you gonna burn it out to the wick, aren't you, barracuda...”, the band was playing tight and sharp and they blew my mind as they left the stage and the audience erupted with applause and cheering until they returned to the stage. Heart does mostly Led Zeppelin songs during their encores and they did not disappoint tonight, they performed an absolutely phenomenal version of “What Is And What Should Never Be” and Nancy played some beautiful guitar that had the notes whirling and twirling like autumn leaves in the wind. The bassist Ric Markmann drove the song with a rock-steady throb that I felt deep in my stomach as Ann brought the song to life with her exquisite vocals that would have made Robert Plant proud. The final song of their seventeen-song set was The Who's “Love Reign O'er Me” and Debbie Shair played the most incredible keyboard intro to the song and then the band erupted into to some fierce rock and roll as Ann wailed like a banshee and their performance left me stunned. Heart finished their awesome set and the band took their bows and wished us a good night and disappeared onto their tour buses and we disappeared into the night with memories of a fantastic rock and rock show in our heads.
BACHMAN & TURNER - July 28, 2010
Filene Center At Wolf Trap - Vienna, VA
It was a perfect blue-skied hot summer evening for a seventies’ flashback with one of Canada’s finest rock and roll exports, Bachman Turner Overdrive, just Bachman and Turner nowadays, a court injunction by former band members prevents the two of them from using the word “Overdrive” in their name, so you cannot say, “BTO”, dude. I even actually DJ’ed at a “Takin’ Care Of Business” themed after-school dance when I was in ninth grade way back in 1977. It was one of the theme songs of my freshman year at my high school, and of course, the other one was Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”, I did go to Stonewall Jackson Senior High School you know. Thankfully my buddy Mark and I arrived at Wolf Trap at the right time, so we did not have to wait around too long for Bachman and Turner; they hit the stage promptly at 8PM and opened with a blistering “Roll Down The Highway”. Randy Bachman and Fred Turner sounded great for guys in their late sixties as they played their instruments with amazing dexterity and skill like a well-oiled machine. Their band was tight as they laid down the hard-driving, no-frills, working-class rock and roll that they play, particularly guitarist Brent Howard Knudsen, and even though the audience was rather sparse, we were loving every minute of it and responded in kind. The pavilion was barely a third full and the lawn had hardly anyone using it, even though they were fresh off a stellar appearance at Classic Rock's “High Voltage” rock festival in England. I never fully realized what a fantastic guitar player Randy Bachman was as he made his Les Paul sing with searing riffs and crunchy chords full of melody as they kicked the show off with a powerful “Roll On Down The Highway” from the now-classic 1974 album “Not Fragile” which was a slag on Yes' “Fragile” album from 1971. The next song, also from the same album, was a heartfelt “Rock Is My Life, And This Is My Song” that Mick Dalla-Vee played a remarkable guitar solo as Randy and him traded scorching riffs back and forth and Randy bellowed, “When we come into a new town, everybody's there, when we play our music, hands in the air...” It was Fred's turn at the vocals as he belted out “Hold Back The Water” from the 1974 debut album “B.T.O. I” that just grabbed my full attention. They traded vocals every other song for the whole concert and Randy was just brilliant as he sang the meaningful words to “Hey You” from the 1975 album “Four Wheel Drive”. It is nice when a band whose heyday was in the seventies does a new song and it is good as their old classics and “Moonlight Rider” stood on its own as it rolled forward with a driving riff from Randy that went well with Fred's tenor voice. Fred Turner was no slouch when it came to the bass, he was deep, solid, and steady as an ocean as his bass lines propelled the music forward. During their song “Lookin' Out For Number One” from the 1975 album “Head On”, Randy even got a bit jazzy on the guitar and he even scatted a bit as he sang, “And you'll find out every trick in the book, that there's only one way to get things done, you'll find out the only way to the top, is looking out for number one, I mean you keep looking out for number one...” The band plowed on with the title track from 1975's “Not Fragile” and they were on fire as they traded licks and riffs with each other skillfully as Fred sang the lyrics. The drummer Marc LaFrance, who looked rather young, was fantastic as he pounded out the relentless big beat on “Stayed Awake All Night” from “B.T.O. I” and the band just let their guitars roar. Randy Bachman used a drum stick to finger his guitar as he segued into a raucous swamp boogie rendition of The Guess Who's “American Woman” that he co-wrote in 1970 and it blew my mind. The band was sounding tight as they charged forward with a driving “Four Wheel Drive” from the album of the same name as Randy played a killer guitar solo that gave me goosebumps. The band was on a roll now as they launched into the best song that they have written in years from the new album, “Slave To The Rhythm”, it was hooky and catchy and made you want to dance as all of them sang mightily, “I said hi-de-ho, I said hi-de-ho, we all be slaves to the rhythm, and that's just they way it goes...” It was time for the best song of their set, an incredibly heavy “Blue Collar” from their first album, it was bluesy and hard-driving and Randy played a great riff that reminded me of Pink Floyd's David Gilmour's playing, in fact it was his best guitar solo of the night, and Fred wholeheartedly sang, “Walk your street, and I'll walk mine, and should we meet, would you spare me some time, cause you should see my world, meet my kind, before you judge our minds...”, and then Randy switched to the bass and Fred performed a sensational bass duet with him that gave the song a modern edge. They continued on with a pulse-pounding “Sledgehammer” from the “Not Fragile” album with Randy and Fred trading vocal lines as the guitarists slashed away behind them and then they segued into a lovely “Rollin' Along” from their latest album “Bachman & Turner” and Fred sounded like he lived every word he was singing in the song. They finished the show with one of their biggest hit singles, a soaring poly-rhythmic “You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet” from “Not Fragile” and they played a powerhouse version as Randy let the words loose, “She looked at me with big brown eyes, and said, you ain't seen nothing yet, b-b-baby, you just ain't seen n-n-nothing yet, here's something that you are never gonna forget...” Randy Bachman, Fred Turner, Marc LaFrance, Brent Knudsen, and Mick Dalla-Vee walked to the front of the stage and took a bow and the audience roared and cheered phenomenally loud for such a small crowd and their response to their music was well-received by the band as they smiled at one another and walked off. The audience began chanting for more because they knew what was coming. Bachman & Turner and the rest of the band returned to the stage and cranked out their two biggest hits from the 1974 album “B.T.O. II”; first they performed a funky and driving “Let It Ride” that crowd loved and then they closed their eighteen-song set with an electrifying “Takin' Care Of Business” that was full of soaring guitar riffs and thunderous bass lines that just rattled the venue and I loved how they extended the bridge and Randy lead the audience in joyously singing, “I love to work at nothing all day, and I'll be takin' care of business every day, takin' care of business every way, I've been takin' care of business, it's all mine, takin' care of business and working overtime, work out...” It was an excellent way to end the show as the band bid us good night and left the stage. I was glad I saw Bachman & Turner because it was great hearing the classic old songs and some cool new ones because I doubt that I will ever get another chance to see them.
BIRDS & WIRES, THE GYPSY DEATH AND YOU RADIO SHOW, and BIG TREES IN CALIFORNIA - July 26, 2010
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
It is a beautiful summer evening for an outdoor concert, unlike yesterday and its crazy afternoon rain storm that wreaked havoc on the area and had trees attacking houses, cars, and people, it was off the hook. Tonight is the infamous “Night Of A Thousand Cakes” at Fort Reno, but I only see about a dozen cakes, and the people are swarming for a sugar fix. I bet you though, some damn fascist vegetarian brought a sugar-free, gluten-free, soy-based cake that tastes like cardboard and gives you smelly farts. The first band to perform hail from Silver Spring, Maryland, and have one of the stupidest names that I have ever heard, they call themselves – Big Trees In California – and I think they wasted more time coming up with their dumbass name than they did practicing their music for the show tonight. They have a very Southern Californian acid-rock sound circa 1966, but they were a bit dissonant and out-of-synch with each other. There was a lot of noodling guitar leads a la Jerry Garcia (the early years) going on between the two guitarists, as the drummer and bassist tried bravely to back them up. The four of them seemed to be focusing overly intently on their own individual parts that they did not interact with each other as a cohesive band. I was sitting there thinking, “What are they – some kind of an “emo-jam band” or something?” their third song was some kind of long-winded reggae song, but it was their last one because they abruptly ended their set and walked off the stage. It was the shortest set that I have ever seen at Fort Reno, but I did not mind. The next band of the evening was yet another one of those infernal lo-fi duos that are popping up everywhere these days. Damn that Jack White! This band had an even more idiotic name than the first band, The Gypsy Death And You Radio Show, what the hell kind of band name is that? This group consists of two guitarists, Emily Cahill and Alex Wilson, and a laptop drum machine that they referred to as The Robot Rock Star, and their “music”…ugh…I do not know what to say. Their songs are full of strange guitar tones and had odd song structures and they were excessively discordant. They reminded me of a mutant cross of That Petrol Emotion and My Bloody Valentine, but without the charm and melody of either band. It was just wave upon wave of creepy guitar riffs and murky vocals that were drenched in way to much feedback. My ears were suffering from their excessive use of phasing and flanging effects, and guitarist Alex Wilson had a bad cable that kept making his guitar sound go in and out. It was infuriating because I hate incompetent musicians who do not know how to take care of their equipment. I only clapped when they finally ended their wretched set. The final band of the evening is Birds & Wires and they played some quite groovy post-hardcore music that I could actually bop my head and tap my toes to the beat. Their songs had concise structuring and wonderfully muscular guitar riffs that were backed by a freight train rhythm section that really drove the songs. The bassist Brian Lombardozzi was fantastic, and he played these thick jazzy riffs that made the music surge with power. Birds & Wires reminded me of Clutch and I could see them touring together, but as a band, they need to reach out to the audience more to draw us into the music. Their only drawback for me is that the vocalist Joao DiSilva had somewhat of a whiny voice and I found it hard to understand the lyrics, which seemed to be of a political nature when I could understand them, they were quite thought-provoking and topical. I found their set to be enjoyable and I would go see Birds & Wires play again at some club downtown, but now it is time to go home and watch some WWE wrestling on the television. Oh goodness, I almost forgot to mention this – after my friend Tim Gabel and I had found a good spot to watch the bands and we were sitting there and enjoying a little dinner from the nearby Whole Foods grocery store, when but who sat down on the ground a few feet in front of us – the local legendary punk rock god Ian MacKaye and his wife Amy Farina and their young son! It always trips me out when I see people from my generation being parents, especially when they are all grown-up punk rockers, and especially if they are somebody from a band that changed my life like Minor Threat and the DC hardcore scene did for me. He seemed to be a great dad as he walked around Fort Reno Park with his son and said hello to various people in his signature hat. The kid was quite cute as he ran around playing so carefree, and then he ate seaweed chips – what kid eats chip made from seaweed happily? I guess Ian’s kid does, it is reassuring to see that Ian lives by the principles and values he espouses with his music. His wife, Amy, and he are in a band together called The Evens, and I am really looking forward to seeing them play at Fort Reno in a few weeks, I wonder if the kid is going to rock out with his parents on the stage.
POOR BUT SEXY, TINY BOMBS, and MINIATURE BEARS - July 22, 2010
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
I think today is the thirty-third day in a row that the temperature has been over 90 degrees in this endless summer of 2010, but my friend Tim Gabel and I still ventured over to Tenleytown to see the free concert at Fort Reno Park. Tonight’s show should be well worth it, headliner Poor But Sexy has a big buzz surrounding them about becoming DC’s next big thing, so I am looking forward to seeing their set. First up is a brand new DC band called Miniature Bears who had a kind of “post-emo” sound that reminded me of Guster and Yellowcard. The drummer Danny Howard was quite good and he made innovative use of his hi-hat for counter-beats in the song “Beneath”, and the bassist Eli Ferster always stayed in the pocket with him. As they played on, several of their songs had a pseudo-reggae feel to them, which had me bopping my head a few times. Lyrically they reminded me of Owl City, especially when the second guitarist Jamie Finucane switched to the keyboards to play some interesting melody lines as he sang. I would call their music “happy melancholia”, because their sound was full of odd juxtapositions like being chirpy and syrupy at the same time. One could tell the band practiced frequently because they were quite tight and fluid, especial lead guitarist Vincent Femia, they just need to learn how to project and connect more with the audience because their music is very emotional. The four musicians in Miniature Bears appeared to still be in high school because there were a bunch of kids their ages at the gig that seemed to be there just to see them play. I hate to sound like a cranky old man…but…damn…teenage America is scary. Who are these children? What are they being taught in school? Where are their parents? What is wrong with them? Why do I care? When does the next band start? Tiny Bombs from Silver Spring, Maryland, took the stage and they started off a’ blasting – pounding drums with the bassist totally in sync – crunchy guitars with soaring riffs – scream vocals with absolutely unintelligible lyrics but it was a melodic scream. I wish I could have understood what he was singing, because I would catch a phrase every so often and the words seemed deep, and he conveyed them with a lot of emotion and power. The singer informed us that he was a teacher and that back in the spring he was in the Midwest teaching, and the kids that he worked with told him about current slang words, and one of their words was “chimping” which meant to really get into something, and he urged everyone to start “chimping on their music. The song “Bird On A Wire On Monday” was my favorite of their short set, the song had a fantastic guitar riff that just slashed through the song, and to their credit, their songs had nice structure to them but they reminded me of Marginal Man immensely as they finished their set. So what is with all this eighties re-hash that is clogging up all the stages around town lately! Who knows, but I came here to see Poor But Sexy whom the City Paper described as DC’s Steely Dan, but they have my favorite local band name which is why I wanted to see them (just joking) but I also really love their song “Dance Alone”. Poor But Sexy hit the stage and their opening song is quite surprisingly sophisticated with quirky keyboard runs and cool lyrics. Vocalist David Brown and Jason Caddell traded guitar licks that were tasty and sparse and at times a touch jazzy, and David’s vocals were quite soulful at times. He announced that their next number was a new one called “Cherry Delicious”, and the band kicked into a groove that was almost funky in a Maroon 5 kind of way, but the song could have used some stronger background vocals. It has been the night of good drummers though, because Bruce Falconer kept a rock-steady beat that helped propel the songs the band played. The keyboardist David Durst can really wail on the keys as his fingers produced some quite charming melodies that carried the music. Next up was “Dance Alone”, I love this song, it has great guitar riffs that have a subversive pop feel to them, it could be a huge hit for the band. The song is very boppy and I just wanted to dance as David Brown sang, “I think college was a waste of time, fucked around and wasted our minds.” The band was tight and they had great interaction on stage as they played their nicely polished tunes, which is one of the reasons I really like them because their music is so very different from most of the other bands in the DMV area. They even had a slow jam song called “Cut That Hair” with nice laid-back riffs and vocal harmonies that were reminiscent of Hall & Oates. The bassist Brandon Kalber played some wonderfully intricate lines that weaved slinkily through their music. The singer David informed us that their next song was another new one tentatively titled “Nah Nah Nah”, and it was quite the crowd-pleaser, I love the lyrics to this song and their harmonizing falsetto vocals that harked back to another era. Poor But Sexy was like the bastard child of the Average White Band and “Love Is Like Oxygen” era The Sweet with a weird indie-pop edge, but I really enjoyed them and their music. Then they launched into my new current favorite song by a local band, “Hotter Than A Pop-Tart”, it was poppin’ and hoppin’ in an old school funk style and it really got the crowd dancing. I am going to have to go on line and download a copy because it is going to be my summer jam. As per usual for a Fort Reno show, Poor But Sexy played a way too short set, so I am going to have to see them at the Black Cat or The Rock and Roll Hotel really soon because I dig this band.
RA RA RASPUTIN, GIVE, and HIDING PLACES - July 15, 2010
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
My friend Tim Gabel and I made our way on the metro up to Fort Reno Park swimming through the soupy summer air to watch local bands, make fun of people, and check out cute emo-boys as the sun set in Northwest DC. We arrived a little late and Hiding Places were already halfway through their set so we only caught their last three songs. They were a jangly Buzzcocks-esque new wave bounce and bop around kind of band who reminded me of my college years when I spent many long nights dancing until I was sweating at Poseurs on M Street in Georgetown and the old 9:30 Club on F Street downtown. I really wished I got to see their whole set. The second band on the bill, Give, took the stage and unleashed some god-awful racket into my poor ears that made me go – WTF! They played some kind of crazy white boy basement voodoo rawk-n-roll doodoo that made me want to run away screaming and covering my ears before they bled. While they were torturing their instruments on stage, they had who I presumed were their “girlfriends” standing behind them holding up these five-foot cut-out letters that spelled out the band’s name, G – I – V – E, and this turned out to be the most interesting thing about them sadly. They assaulted the audience with jackhammer drumming, fuzzed-out Stooges’ riffs, a freight train bass roar, and a screaming Iggy Pop wailing about the stage, and it was not until the next to last song that I actually understood any of the lyrics that came out of his mouth, which actually were quite fitting in describing the horror that was Give – “I don’t give a shit!” Thankfully an earlier in the evening rain shower had delayed the beginning of the show and Give had to cut their set short, and yet when they finished people still applauded. Also thankfully, the set change was brief and my favorite local band Ra Ra Rasputin took to the stage and the audience got on their feet as the band kicked off their set with their heartfelt and engaging blend of electronica and indie rock. Many people consider them to be DC’s answer to New Order, but they are so much more than that, I admit they do sound similar to New Order which is what drew me to them in the first place, but Ra Ra Rasputin have a much warmer sound and they are not aloof and detached from their audience as New Order is with theirs. I really like their electronic backing tracks because they added great depth to their sound as Patrick Kigongo played nice hooky riffs on his guitar. The drummer Ken Quam laid down some really sweet grooves that had the crowd shaking as the bassist/vocalist Anna Rozzi kept the bottom swinging like she was playing in a seventies funk band. Brock Boss the lead singer had excellent stage presence as he danced and cajoled the audience to join in with him. His voice was very Ian Curtis meets Marc Almond, especially during my favorite song by them, “Electricity Through The Heart”, but he has his own unique quality to his voice that sets them apart from them. I liked how several of their songs had a funky edge to them which drummer Ken Quam added when he would play these dainty little percussion fills on top of the beat. The next to last song in their set had a fantastic percussion breakdown as Brock added to the groove by pounding on tom-tom drums which really got the audience dancing wildly. I love this band and I hope that they release an album really soon and I guess I am going to have to drag my tired ass down to some grimy club to see Ra Ra Rasputin perform again because they are so worth it.
THE B-52S and SUPERCLUSTER - July 14, 2010
Filene Center At Wolf Trap - Vienna, VA
Thank God for the power of prayer because it was raining like hell last night and when I awoke this morning, it was still overcast and ugly so I got down on my knees and prayed for the sun and a pair of really great seats at the show, and lo and behold, my prayers were answered. The sun came out and the tickets I received were awesome, a straight-on view of the stage and near the front-of-house soundboard. I love the sound at Wolf Trap; the all-wood structure makes the music sound rich and full of vibrato. The opening act Supercluster was an Athens, Georgia, supergroup of sorts featuring singer Vanessa Briscoe Hay of the legendary Pylon, Hannah Jones of New Sound Of Numbers, and Bryan Poole from Of Montreal. The six-piece band opened their ten-song set with the lovely “She Tried To Touch The Stars”, their laidback sound swirled about gently and reminded me of a more acoustic version of Pylon, and oddly enough, the recently revived Martha And The Muffins. Their music still had that eighties southern gothic edge to it, and you could practically smell the kudzu as the beat crept along and Vanessa’s vocals floated eerily above the swaying and lurching groove of the band. At least they did not sound like R.E.M., but I found them to be a bit lackluster and boring, and I found myself wishing their set was over and they would leave the stage. Their last songs were their most rockin’, and they name-checked several classic Athens-area bands as the launched into a cover of “Ain’t We Neat” by Athens, Georgia’s legendary new-wave band The Psi-Fix, I wished they rocked on their other songs like they did on this one song. After Supercluster left the stage, I surveyed the audience and let me tell you, it is odd how the times have changed as I looked around the venue – where are the freaks that went to the B-52’s gigs of yore and who are these fat old farts – and strangely the lawn is packed with yuppies and their fancy picnic baskets but the pavilion is barely half-full. It seems so sad, because back in the day, a B-52’s gig was an event and it was always packed to the rafters with fun-loving freaks ready to get down and party. The first time I saw them was way back on February 24th, 1979, when they played a Corcoran School Of Art graduation party with the Urban Verbs, and they were unlike anything I have ever heard before, they had quirky beats, silly lyrics, and funky clothes, played on toy instruments, and they had everybody dancin’ this mess around. In retrospective I feel so lucky to have been there when “New Wave” was “The New Wave” and everything else was dinosaur rock. A little over a year later I was off to college, Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, and one night a buddy and I decided to go to the big disco in town called After Sundown, or as it was derisively called “African Scumdown” because the DJs there played a lot of black-oriented dance music by artists like Rick James, Foxy, Heatwave, and Chic, and we were hanging out laughing at people and drinking beer, and the DJ started playing “Rock Lobster” and the crowd went crazy and when Fred started singing, “Red snappers snappin’ – Clam shells clappin’ – Muscles flexin’ – Flippers flippin’ – Down, down!”, everybody started lying down on the dance floor and writhing like fishes out of water and when Fred yelled, “Let’s rock!”, everybody jumped to their feet and went bonkers as they danced manically and I was hooked instantly and I became a New Wave fanatic. In the fall of 1983 while I was attending the Northern Virginia Community College art school in Alexandria, Virginia, The B-52’s released what I consider to be their finest moment, “Whammy!”, every song on this album is a classic, “Legal Tender”, “Whammy Kiss”, “Song For A Future Generation”, “Butterbean”, “Trism”, “Queen Of Las Vegas”, and “Big Bird”. I would dance my ass off to The B-52’s at clubs across the city, like Poseurs, Whispers, One Flight Up, Carmichael’s, Fifth Column, and Tracks, for most of the eighties. In 1985 shortly before the release of “Bouncing Off The Satellites”, beloved guitarist and songwriter Ricky Wilson succumbed to AIDS just as the band was starting to break big with the songs, “Wig” and “Summer Love”, so the rest of the band went into hiatus to mourn and heal from their enormous loss, especially his sister and vocalist Cindy Wilson. In 1989 I remember being overjoyed when I heard that The B-52’s were finally releasing a new album called “Cosmic Thing” and they were back and taking us back to the “Love Shack”, and I was back on the dance floor like I had never left it. That summer on August 17th, I saw them perform to a giant writhing mass of party people at D.A.R. Constitution Hall, and I just remember sweating my ass off in a glorious frenzy as the crowd went crazy and The B-52’s threw down. I saw them a few times after that and they were always fun but they lacked the pizazz that they had in their early years. But with the release of their new album “Funplex” which is a fantastic comeback for the band, I decided it was time to see the band and give them a chance, and I am glad I did. The lights went down and the stage came alive with color and lights as The B-52's hit the stage and launched into a sparkly “Wig” from the 1986 album “Bouncing Off The Satellites”, and it was a sensational version of a song that they have not play live since the eighties. Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson, and Keith Strickland along with their longtime rhythm section of bassist Tracy Wormworth and drummer Sterling Campbell proved why they are America's party band as they perfectly executed the songs and they flowed into a butt-shaking “Private Idaho” from 1980 album “Wild Planet” and Fred, Cindy, and Kate let us know that “You're livin' in your own private Idaho, Idaho, you're out of control, the rivers that roll, you fell into the water and down to Idaho, get out of that state you're in, you better beware...” The crowd roared its approval and Fred said the next song “Mesopotamia” from the 1982 EP of the same name was “when it was the fertile crescent and not a mess” and the band jumped into its hot and swirling rhythms with gusto as they gave us a little history lesson. They showed us why they are still relevant with two songs from 2008's “Funplex” album; first a slinky and sensuous “Ultraviolet” and then a pounding “Dancing Now” that was reminiscent of their older songs. The highlight of the set was a soulful “Give Me Back My Man” from the “Wild Planet” album that Fred accentuated with some swirling xylophone notes as Keith drove the song with some inventive guitar riffs and Cindy floored me with her powerful soprano voice plus she looked great as she sang, “I'll give you fish, I'll give you candy, I'll give you everything I have in my hand, give me, give back my man, give me, give back my man...”, and the lights and the backdrop danced to the funky beat as I lost myself in the rhythm. They moved forward into the title track from their last album “Funplex” which Fred said was about the glory of shopping as therapy and from the opening guitar riff it was a pulsing and throbbing mass of modern new wave that had the audience dancing wildly. It was on to one of my favorite songs of theirs, the wonderfully melodic melancholia of “Deadbeat Club” from 1989's “Cosmic Thing” album and it was about their early years in Athens, Georgia, when they hung out at their favorite diner drinking coffee waiting to get famous. The next song was also from the same album and it was one of their biggest hit singles, “Roam”, and its gentle loping beat celebrated doing whatever it takes to live your bliss and Keith played a wonderful guitar solo that just hung in the air like Spanish moss in the summertime. The band was operating at full groove by now as they reached back in their catalogue once again and pulled out a raucous “Party Out Of Bounds” from the “Wild Planet” album and they tore it up as Fred, Kate, and Cindy harmoniously sang, “Surprise! Party! Yeah, we just thought we'd drop in. Where's your liquor cabinet? Where's the punch? Ew, house-a-tosis! Who's to blame when parties really get out of hand. Who's to blame when they get poorly planned...”, their vocals brilliantly intertwined as the edgy rhythm cascaded behind them. They flowed seamlessly into their recent single “Love In The Year 3000” from the “Funplex” album and the tuneful interplay between Keith's guitar playing and Sterling's drumming propelled the song to make it an instant classic as Fred and Kate and Cindy traded cleverly worded sexual innuendos to the slamming beat. They kept the pace up with an amazing “Cosmic Thing” from the album of the same name, and its drum-driven rhythm just flowed as the funky bass of Tracy thumped all over the place causing the audience to maniacally dance like frogs in a frying pan as they segued into “Hot Corner” from the “Funplex” album and its slamming beat kept up the energy of the crowd as the band pulsed and throbbed like no other. Fred then took the time to introduce each band member and thanked the audience for supporting them so wonderfully for the past thirty-four years and then they jumped right into a heartfelt “Whammy Kiss” from 1983's “Whammy!” album and it squelched and squeaked as the rhythm pounded along and their voices intertwined ecstatically. They closed their set with their biggest hit single “Love Shack” from their 1989 top-selling album “Cosmic Thing” and it was a glorious celebration of all that is good as the three of them delightfully sang, “If you see a faded sign by the side of the road that says 15 miles to the Love Shack! Love Shack yeah yeah...”, and the band backed them like there was no tomorrow as they let the rhythm flow and the audience was going wild. The B-52s scampered off stage and the audience reacted like the place was full of maniacs as they cheered for more. After a few minutes they returned to the stage and finished their show with the two songs from their 1979 debut album that started it all; first a twitchy and oddly ominous “Planet Claire” with its defining keyboard sound that danced with Keith's guitar as the rhythm section throbbed and finally the New Wave classic, “Rock Lobster”, and they let it all hang out as Fred, Kate, and Cindy joyously sang, “We were at the beach, everybody had matching towels, somebody went under a dock, and there they saw a rock, it wasn't a rock, it was a rock lobster...”, and the audience exploded into a writhing mass frenzy that was just phenomenal. They finished their seventeen-song set on a high note and their sensational band gave it all they got, and it was well worth it. Go see The B-52s any chance you get.
CONFUNKSHUN, ZAPP, and SLAVE - July 10, 2010
Carter Barron Amphitheatre - Washington, DC
It is Saturday evening and the sun has been fighting with the clouds all day and I am keeping my fingers crossed that it does not rain as I sit in my seats with my buddy Ray “Da Fiddlah” Johnson at Carter Barron Amphitheatre waiting for the annual funk show to begin. This year it features ConFunkShun, Zapp sans Roger Troutman (rest in peace brother), and Slave, but Zapp is the band that I am here to see – more bounce to the ounce, bay-be! Up first is the masters of the “stellar funck” – Slave – and they kicked the show off with their slinky sexy funk with their classic song “Watching You” as the bassist slapped his bass Bootsy-style and the drummer laid down the stomping beat that reminded me of Questlove from The Roots. Next they launched into “Just A Touch Of Love” and the bassist laid down the fattest whomp’em stomp’em bass line as the singer engaged the audience in some call and response…”The roof – the roof is on fire – we don’t need no water – let the motherfucker burn – somebody scream!!!”…damn, the bass player is smoking hot as he carries the band and then he set it off with the opening riffs of their greatest song, “Slide”, and the audience were on their feet shimmying and shaking, and finally I could hear the guitarist in the mix as he wailed Eddie Hazel-style and the singer repeatedly shouted, “Make it funky.” They were on fire as they rocked the house, but much to everybody’s chagrin they had to leave the stage. I was like WTF, WHO PLAYS A THREE SONG SET!...i mean damn, that was one short set – no “Stellar Funck”, “The Party Song”, or “Stone Jam”. What is going on up in here? Suddenly P-Funk comes blasting out of the speakers as I wait for Zapp to hit the stage, their album “Zapp II” is one of my desert island discs – “Dance Floor”, “Playin’ Kinda Ruff”, “Do Wah Ditty (Blow That Thing)”, “Do You Really Want An Answer”, and “Come On” – there is no better funk – the P-Funk is still pumping as the crowd gets down to “Flashlight” as the anticipation builds. Zapp hit the stage running, dressed in dapper suits and doing the fresh choreographed dance moves as the drummer got the party started and little brother Terry Troutman gave a big shout-out to his beloved deceased older brother Roger who founded the band in 1975 in Hamilton, Ohio, and then he thanked Jesus for helping the family survive his tragic death at the hands of older brother Larry, and making it to the show today. Then the music started to flow as the band turned it out – a groovilicious “I Can Make You Dance, Sho’ Nuff” – a scorching “Dance Floor” that had the place jumping – next the drummer played a percussion breakdown as he triggered a medley of The Commodores’ “Brickhouse”, E.U.’s “Da Butt”, and Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It On The Alcohol”, as the rest of the band filled in the groove as it morphed into the song that has been stuck in my head all day – “Do Wah Ditty (Blow That Thing)” – and they stretched it out and broke it down and wrapped it around my ears and then the singer taught the crowd a dance called “The Wiggle” as the band tightened the groove back up as the singer gave the talk-box a final workout…”Let it flow – let me do my thing – doo wah ditty – blow that thing”…I was in funk heaven. Then it was time for the band to slow it down for the ladies as they kicked into “Gonna Love You Anyway” and then another talk-box with a super sexy “Computer Love” that had the crowd swaying and the fellas holding their ladies tight as the legendary Shirley Murdock joined the band on the stage and added some soaring female vocals to the mix, she was fantastic and the sax player blew the longest note that I have ever heard come out of a saxophone, I was like, DAMN!!! Keeping in the mood, it was onto a sultry “I Want To Be Your Man” that had the ladies swooning and would have put Usher and Ne-Yo to shame. After a quick costume change into big-ass afros and funky Huggy Bear pimp coats, Zapp finished their set with a full-on, booty-shaking, wall-quaking version of “More Bounce To The Ounce” that sent the crowd into a frenzy and the band tore it up as the guitarist ripped a killer guitar solo at the end of the song. I waited all week to hear this song and it was well-worth it. The audience clapped and stomped wildly for a few minutes and Zapp returned to the stage, the singer thanked the crowd for their support and told us that without us and God, Zapp would have ended years ago after Roger Troutman’s tragic death. The band kicked into “California Love” by Tupac Shakur which was based on a Zapp sample from “So Ruff So Tuff”, which the song morphed into as the band finished their set. I hope they come back to DC and play a longer show really soon. The DJ started playing again and dropped a set of mid-tempo funk and soul that had the crowd grooving and dancing. After about twenty minutes, the house lights went down and the pride of Oakland, California, ConFunkShun hit the stage in matching outfits and laid down the smooth, sexy, and suave soul groove that had everybody on their feet. I have always considered ConFunkShun to be “sophisticated make-out music” and not really my cup of tea, and to quote George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, “I like my funk uncut, the whole funk and nothing but the funk.” However the guitarist was playing some scorching riffs that seemed out-of-place from the sex soul funk that the rest of the band was playing, so for the next couple of songs I focused on his amazing guitar playing. Then the band got deep into the “make love to me, baby” groove and I became bored and decided it was time to depart in order to beat the mad rush when the sold-out show was over and the concert-goers headed home. But overall, it was a fantastic show and I really want to see Zapp perform live again. Hey Ray, I hoped you enjoyed your birthday present.
TEREU TEREU, POLICE & THIEVES, and AUTHORIZATION - July 8, 2010
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
Today is the first time that I am seeing a show at Fort Reno Park in many years, actually since July 1st, 2002 when I saw Fugazi and Quix-o-tic play before several thousand people, and before that the last time was in the mid-nineties when I used to work for Gussound and I would set up the PA system for the shows every Monday and Thursday for several summers. I always found it to be the best place to check out new and up-and-coming local bands. I decided that this summer that I was going to catch as many as possible, but sadly I missed seeing John Stabb’s new band called Sleeper Agent last week. My buddy Tim and I arrived at the park right before 7PM and I was glad to see that there were a lot of people there to see the show, especially some of the cute emo-boys that were walking around throughout the crowd. Tonight the first band to perform is called Authorization and features guitarist Jeff Barsky and bassist Dan Caldas who are former members of Black Eyes. Authorization = 2 emo-boys + 1 guitar & 1 bass add 1 drum machine/sampler and let the music play…there has been a mass proliferation of these lo-fi duos lately and I must say that Authorization is one of the better ones, but they still sounded like that they were just half of a band. I kept thinking that they reminded me of Gang Of Four or should I say Gang Of Two, and my friend Tim said they reminded him of The B-52’s. Overall their music was pretty enjoyable, but I would have liked to have heard some sort of vocal parts in the mix…poetry…nonsense words…or even sampled vocals would have brought some focus to the swirling, angular guitar riffs, and the throbbing bass lines as the drum machine clattered and the sampler let out squeaks and squelches. But I found them to be very disengaged from the audience and they really did not connect emotionally with the music. However they are a brand new band so they could evolve into a stronger and more cohesive unit because the ingredients are there. The next band on the bill is Police & Thieves – Yeah! Punk Rawk! Boys and girls! – guitars grinding, bass ominously pulsing, drums pounding as the singer Carlos Izurieta screamed and railed against society. His voice reminded me of Ian MacKaye’s a whole lot and the band sounded like Government Issue meets Social Distortion. The lyrics were deep and insightful, but I must say that the music sounded a bit dated. It is not 1987 anymore, and to quote “The Simpsons” – “Contemporize, man!” – but thankfully there is not a mosh pit going on in front of the stage. The singer’s voice is starting to make my throat hurt as he keeps getting raspier and raspier. The band is starting to make me nostalgic for the eighties, and I would really love to hear and see again some of the old-school DC hardcore bands that Police & Thieves are aping and almost picture-perfect too. But at least they were like a real hardcore band and only played a twenty-minute set. The final band of tonight’s show is Tereu Tereu from Fredericksburg, Virginia, and it is their first performance in almost a year, and it shows. Their instrument playing is sloppy and chaotic, and nobody is in sync with each other, and it sounds like they have not practiced in quite awhile. The music seems to have possibility, even though they appear to be a standard rock band hid in a wall of noise. I could only take so much and so I left in the middle of their set so I could go home and watch “America’s Got Talent”.
ANNUAL CAPITOL FOURTH with REBA GLADYS KNIGHT, DARIUS RUCKER, JOHN SCHNEIDER, and LANG LANG - July 4, 2010
The National Mall - Washington, DC
Happy Birthday America! Yeehaw! An old friend of mine called me up and invited me to come hang out with him at The West Lawn of The Capitol Building where he was the stage manager for the 30th Anniversary Capitol Fourth Concert, the one they show on PBS, I could not say no to this opportunity to be up close and personal to this huge performance that I have only seen on the television for the past twenty-nine years – I would be a fool to say no! My friend warned me to travel light (wink, wink) and to be prepared to be searched thoroughly before he could take me backstage to witness the spectacle of this event. Thankfully I timed it right and I arrived just a few minutes before everything began, and breezed through security rather easily and hassle-free. My friend retrieved me and we laughed, hugged, and called each other old, and he showed me where I should hang out and watch the show. I was pleased that my spot was next to the refreshment table and the clean port-a-potty, so I was happy as I watched my friend zip about and coordinate this huge production, it was mind-boggling. Suddenly it was go time and that C-List actor/wanker Jimmy Smits was on the microphone at the podium and he spewed some “blah, blah, blah” about America’s birthday with an annoyingly smug fake-ass toothy smile plastered on his face. Ugh, he is so odious! The horror just continued when he asked the audience to please welcome American Idol finalist David Archuleta to the stage and to please stand as he sang the National Anthem. I stood without smirking and watched him as he butchered the anthem, I mean BUTCHERED! His note killing voice has dropped a few octaves, he has gained a few pounds, his face was puffy, and he sang so emotionless that he could have passed for a wax figure from Madame Tussard’s Wax Museum. He ain’t the boy-next-door no mo’! Show biz is a harsh mistress and she is beating the hell out of him. Cut back to Jimmy Smits babbling at the podium again as I fantasized about bitch-slapping him, and then he said please welcome to the stage, “The Empress Of Soul – Gladys Knight”, so I jumped to attention and found myself a good sight line to see her sing. Miss Gladys looked good in her designer dress as she sashayed onto the stage and greeted everyone with a big hello. I tried not to think about how she wasted sixteen million dollars gambling in Las Vegas! Her voice sounded fantastic, and it was rich and strong as she belted out, “I’m leaving on that midnight train to Georgia.” The band and her segued into “Nitty Gritty (Get Right Down To The Real)” and her musicians were throwing down, the horn section was tight, and this was the funkiest performance I have ever seen at one of these Capitol Fourth concert events. In the middle of the song, Gladys slowed things down to talk to the audience about God, America, and our departed loved ones, the percussion began to pick up the beat and getting even funkier as they performed a part of “Shake Your Body Down To The Ground” by Michael Jackson and The Jacksons. It was fantastic and the band went back into “Nitty Gritty” for a few more bars and then as soon as I heard the first few notes of the next song, I was overjoyed as Gladys started singing the sixties classic “Heard It Through The Grapevine”. She worked it as the band rocked my world; it was a wonderful heartfelt performance that brought a tear to my eye. Too bad they did not get to play a few more songs, because Jimmy Smits was back at the podium rambling on about various Presidents’ quotes about the definition of America and what it means to be an American and there were lovely graphics to go with them on the giant overhead screens. I felt so damn patriotic until he said please welcome Darius Rucker! I wanted to puke; I hated Hootie & The Blowfish during their heyday, and I really hate the faux-country pabulum that he is polluting the airwaves with these days. He began singing some crappy song about…”If he got a roof over his head – and a woman in his bed – that’ll be alright by me”…gag gag gag…oh I hate his Hootie and The Blowfish rip-off ass as they began another suck-ass song that had me wishing that I was temporarily deaf. But there was a fresh new hell for me to endure, after Darius said some “I love America” hogwash, his band and he performed a cover of “Proud To Be An American” by Lee Greenwood. I almost choked on my soda, how could he, was he going to wave a Confederate flag next? Barf! Jimmy Smits was back like a fresh outback of the herpes, and he informed us that the next segment was going to be a celebration of the musical work of George M. Cohan whose music basically defined the Fourth Of July celebration and incidentally he was born on the Fourth Of July. The NSO performed his three classics, “Over There”, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, and “She’s A Grand Ole Flag”, but orchestra music like this just does not do much for me. That damned Jimmy Smits was back again and he tried to make some lame joke about Simon Cowell as he brought David Archuleta to the stage again. I am going to start calling him David The Butcher because he wrestled with the musical notes of “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King and then he slaughtered them. David will never be known as a great musician like the writer of the song, but hopefully he will be remembered as some overblown karaoke singer who died an early death. After he finished murdering the song, more lame Jimmy Smits blather, and then he brought famed classical pianist Lang Lang to the stage, who blew me away with his concise and nimble fingering. “Somewhere In Time” never sounded better, and then he really shined with an outstanding version of “Variations On Stars And Stripes” by Vladimir Horowitz. One more time with that damn Jimmy Smits as he brings John Schneider to the stage to sing some stupid song and then he led a tribute to the recently deceased conductor Erich Kunzel who led the National Symphony Orchestra at The Capitol Fourth for the past twenty years, and the NSO performed a rousing version of his favorite song, “Oh When The Saints Go Marching In”, as they bade him a final farewell. Next the U.S. Marines Drum And Fife Band played “The Washington Post March” by DC native John Phillip Sousa, but I was starting to get really bored. Finally it was the last time I had to see that moronic dolt Jimmy Smits as he brought country music superstar Reba McEntire to the stage, and girl looked good in her blinding blue sparkle dress as she sang two of her good girl country songs; one was called “If I’m Not The One Thing You’re Afraid To Lose” and the other was “Here’s Your One Chance, Don’t Let Me Down”, they did not seem very Fourth of July to me, and she seems to have issues with men or something, but her voice sounded great. I almost forgot, but I had to endure Jimmy Smits one more time as he presented Reba with the National Artistic Achievement Award, and she pretended to be interested as she smiled and dabbed her eyes. How sweet! Of course, she had to sing again, first “America The Beautiful” and then “God Bless America”, and finally it was time for the final tradition of the firing of cannons as the NSO played the “1812 Overture” as I fled the premises, all that patriotism was making me itch. Happy Birthday America!
WEIRD AL YANKOVIC - June 18, 2010
The Warner Theatre - Washington, DC
Who knew going to a “Weird Al” Yankovic show would be so damn weird and since when did it become a family-outing occasion!?! How do children born in the late nineties even know about him? Does he have a children’s show that I have never heard of or what? And dear God, he has got some freaky-ass fans walking around the Warner Theatre, including one serial killer/child molester-looking guy who could pass for his brother, and he was wearing a decrepit 1994 “Touring With Scissors” t-shirt while carrying five brand new tour shirts that he had just bought from the merchandise booth that also was selling Weird Al Trading Cards, yes, you are not hallucinating – Weird Al Trading Cards – WTF! And surprisingly, there are quite a few women at the show, and some were “hot” by straight guy standards, what is that about? Does Weird Al get groupies? I used to love him in the eighties; I would always see the parody videos of current pop hits like “I’m Fat”, “Eat It”, “I Lost On Jeopardy”, and my personal favorite, “Like A Surgeon” (which years later when I was a VJ at this gay bar dive called The Fireplace, I would love to play it back to back with Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” – people loved it) at this gay disco in Dupont Circle called Badlands. The lights dimmed and a video screen began showing a melange of images of how “Weird Al” influenced pop culture from his appearances on Johnny Carson and Jay Leno to The Simpsons to his numerous videos, the band took the stage and opened with his Lady Gaga parody “Polka Face” from the upcoming album “Alpocalypse” and his band plowed through a plethora of today's hits including Britney Spear's “Womanizer”, Dead Or Live's “You Spin Me Round”, Justin Bieber's “Baby”, Pink's “So What”, Katy Perry's “I Kissed A Girl”, The Owls' “Fireflies”, Jamie Foxx and T-Pain's “Blame It (On The Alcohol)”, Ke$ha's “Tik Tok”, and finally Lady Gaga's “Poker Face” and I was amazed by his band's sharp playing and their ability to change tempo on a dime. I laughed as he sang the brilliant lyrics and made them flow together like they were meant to be. Next they performed a twitchy dance number called “You Make Me” from 1988's “Even Worse” album that they played as if they were Oingo Boingo and the drummer took a few minutes to pound out an extended drum solo like he was a rock star in a rock'n'roll band and then they segued into “Good Old Days” also from “Even Worse” which was about being a psycho and it was a nice mid-tempo number. The lights dimmed and the video screen showed “AL TV” and it showed a bunch of images involving “Weird Al” including him as Eminem performing “Lose Yourself” and as Homer Simpson in his “grunge” year. So much to the delight of the audience, “Weird Al” and his crack band rocked a parody of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” called “Smells Like Nirvana” from 1992's “Off The Deep End” album and he gleefully sang, “What is this song about, can't figure any lyrics out, how do the words to it go, I wish you'd tell me, I don't know, don't know, don't know, don't know, oh no, don't know, don't know, don't know...”, and there were images of Robert Plant, “Space Ghost”, Mariah Carey, and Jimi Hendrix on the video screen for some reason. The band switched gears with a light-hearted pop song called “Skipper Dan” from the soon to be released album “Alpocalypse” and they performed it like a cross between Beck and Prince and it was told from the prospective of a tour guide on a jungle river cruise and it was pretty hysterical and for some reason the video seemed a little fixated on Jessica Simpson as the band segued into the biting words of “You're Pitiful” which was a parody of James Blunt's “You're Beautiful” and he sang it so tongue-in-cheek as he wore a “Atlantic Records Still Suck” t-shirt and then he said if Madonna could re-invent herself every year then he could re-invent himself every twenty years or so because you have to just to keep up with today's music trends, you just have to stay current. The band and “Weird Al” changed costumes into these Devo-esque jumpsuits and they mimicked Devo as they performed the title track from the 1985 album “Dare To Be Stupid” in a dance-y new wave style and he made fun of Cher and our relationship to germs and our world. They went immediately into “CNR” also from the upcoming release “Alpocalypse”, an over-the-top loving tribute to actor Charles Nelson Reilly that was set to a disco beat as “Weird Al” expressed his respect and adoration for the actor, plus it was quite campy as was their next song, “Let Me Be Your Hog” from the “UHF” soundtrack. One of the highlights of the set was an excellent parody of Green Day's “American Idiot” called “Canadian Idiot” from 2006's “Straight Outta Lynwood” and it was pure pop-punk genius as he poked fun at Canadians Avril Lavigne and Alanis Morrissette, and then he was on to “Futurama”, “Friends”, The Flintstones”, “King Of The Hill”, and Johnny Carson. The band moved on to a slow and sexy R&B number called “Wanna B Ur Lovr” and “Weird Al” was getting down and sexy as he crooned, “Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk by again, my love for you is like diarrhea, I just can't hold it in...”, and I just love his sense of humor. The stage lights dimmed once again and the video screen showed a hysterical bio-pic parody of “Weird Al” Yankovic's life from his birth to his imaginary death and it was just packed full of laughs and chuckles as it showed the events that made his life so interesting. His band returned and Jim West was an excellent guitarist and he jumped genre to genre deftly as they launched into a mega-medley of parodies and covers featuring a wide variety of musical styles, and they started with a crunchy “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits that mocked “The Beverly Hillbillies” and that flowed into a raucous old-school style of hip-hop as he lasciviously rapped “Whatever You Like” by T.I. and he flowed into a gut-busting funny parody of T-Pain's “I'm In Love With A Stripper” called “I'm In Luv Wit Da Skipper” which was about the skipper on “Gilligan's Island”, and how he writes these parodies blows my mind. “Weird Al” has mad skills. The band changed tempo to a R&B beat and they performed Usher's “Confessions Part II” as “Confessions Part III and it was hysterical as they segued into the fabulous urban-pop dreck of N'SYNC's “I Want It That Way” with a ditty called “I Bought It On E-Bay” complete with group harmonies from his band. It was on to the funky rock groove of The Red Hot Chili Peppers' “Under The Bridge” and “Give It Away” with a number called “Bedrock Anthem” that showcased Steve Jay's outstanding bass playing as “Weird Al” praised the beauty of “The Flintstones” and their far-reaching influence by screaming “Yabba yabba dabba do” over and over while flailing about the stage. They continued on with the now classic parody of Queen's “Another One Bites The Dust” called “Another One Rides The Bus” that brought tears to my eyes from laughing so hard as they smoothly went into “Ode To A Superhero” which was based on Billy Joel's “Piano Man” and he gleefully sang, “Sling us a web, you're the Spider-Man, sling us a web tonight, cause we're all in the mood for a hero now, and there's evil doers to fight...” The band was in a groove now as they performed much to my amusement, a lovely ditty called “Trapped In The Drive-Thru” that was based on R. Kelly's “Trapped In The Closet” and it was an incredible parody full of pathos and drama just like R&B singer/sex criminal R. Kelly's life and “Weird Al” showed us why he is the king of musical parodies. His band was sensational as they jumped tempos and styles at the drop of a hat and they went into a fabulous parody of The Presidents Of The United States' classic power-pop hit “Lump” by making it “Gump” and extolling the cinematic glory of Forrest Gump and it made me laugh my ass off. They finally finished the mega-medley with a crowd-pleasing “Eat It” which outshined Michael Jackson's “Beat It” with its originality and the spectacular fretwork of guitarist Jim West and “Weird Al” cleverly sang, “Don't wanna argue, I don't wanna debate, don't want to hear about what kind of food you hate, ooh, you won't get no dessert till you clear off your plate, so eat it, don't you tell me you're full, just eat it, eat it, eat it...” The band was smokin' now as they hit the home stretch with his biggest and funniest hits, first up was “Craig's List” from the “Alpocalypse” album, an inventive parody of The Doors' music and even Doors' keyboardist Ray Manzarek played with “Weird Al” on the album version, it was reminiscent of about seven Doors songs and the video screen showed “Weird Al” getting coffee, hanging with Snoop Dog, screaming at his cellphone, going on “Celebrity Deathmatch”, and his cartoon alter-ego arguing with Cleveland Brown of the “The Cleveland Show”, it was an odd melange of images but they somehow fit the theme of The Doors' music. Next the band performed an excellent version of “Amish Paradise” from 1996's “Bad Hair Day” album which was a clever parody of Coolio's “Gangster's Paradise” complete with haunting keyboard lines and throbbing bass as “Weird Al” plainly sang, “Then tonight we're gonna party like it's 1699, we been spending most our lives, living in an Amish paradise, I've churned butter once or twice, living in an Amish paradise...”, and it was one of the funniest things I have ever heard. The highlight of his set was a spectacular and witty “White And Nerdy” from the “Straight Outta Lynwood” album that parodied “Ridin'” by rapper Chamillionaire as “Weird Al” deftly rapped, “I'd like to roll with the gangstas, although it's apparent, I'm too white and nerdy...”, and then “Weird Al” donned a fat suit and turned it out with a superb “I'm Fat” from 1988's “Even Worse” album in which he parodied Michael Jackson's “I'm Bad” and he even executed the dance sequence with great style that mirrored Michael Jackson. The guitarist Jim West played a sensational guitar solo that just dazzled as everyone danced their way off the stage and the audience went wild and demanded more. After a few minutes “Weird Al” and his crack band returned to the stage and they played a delightful “We All Have Cell Phones” that was based on an idea that R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe gave “Weird Al” during an interview. The band wrapped things up with a spectacularly over-the-top version of “The Saga Begins” from 1999's “Running With Scissors” album and it re-told the “Star Wars” saga as if it was Don McLean singing “American Pie” and it was hysterical telling as “Weird Al” sang, “Oh my my, this here Anakin guy, maybe Vader some day later, now he's just a small fry, he left his home and kissed his mommy goodbye, sayin', soon I'm gonna be a Jedi, soon I'm gonna be a Jedi...”, but it seemed to go on forever but the crowd loved it. The band segued into a raucous “Yoda” from the ground-breaking 1985 album “Dare To Be Stupid” and it was a thunderous parody of The Kinks' “Lola” with this lovely acappella bridge where “Weird Al” and his background singers wailed, “Well, I won't forget what Yoda said, he said Luke stay away from the dark side, and if you start to go astray, let the force be your guide, oh, my Yoda, yo-yo-yo-yo Yoda...”, and they were amazing with their voices and then the band broke back in and they finished the song to a great applause and “Weird Al” and his band left the stage and the house lights went up. I kind of sat there stunned by the beauty of it all. I never thought I would have enjoyed his performance so much, it was witty, clever, and quite deep, and the lyrics were complex and emotionally impacting to a degree that I would never have dreamed possible for a parody song. Bravo to you “Weird Al” Yankovic.
LLOYD DOBLER EFFECT - June 17, 2010
Farragut Square Park - Washington, DC
I have been seeing this band’s name in the local press for quite a few years now, and I have always found their name to be intriguing, so when I saw that they were playing in the Farragut Square Park for free, I decided not to waste this opportunity to see Lloyd Dobler Effect play live for once. I really hate getting all-geared up to go to a club to see a band’s performance, pay to get in and pay for overpriced alcohol, and have to deal with intolerable people, and then the band SUCKS! It is the worst! So that is why I love opportunities like these because if the band is terrible, I have only wasted money on the fare for the underground nightmare known as the Washington, DC Metro system. It is another typical afternoon in DC, life-draining humidity and brain-melting temperatures, and I arrive at the park with my friend Tim Gable, to try and see some rock and roll without dying from heat exhaustion. The Lloyd Dobler Effect takes the stage and I am immediately disappointed by their pseudo-psychedelic weenie white boy frat rock. Even though they hail from Silver Spring, Maryland, their overall sound is very reminiscent of what I call the Piedmont Sound – Everything, Fighting Gravity, Pat McGee Band, Emmet Swimming, and the abhorrent Dave Matthews Band – and for the most part, this genre bores me to tears. During my eleven-year tenure at the 9:30 Club, I had to endure multiple performances over the years by the aforementioned bands and it is no wonder that most of the DMV’s rock bands are sadly overlooked by national and international audiences. The band members earnestly played their music as they jumped around like hyper-active Jack Russell terriers, and it did not help that they were plagued by a spotty sound system. Lead singer Phil Kominski was just too perky for his own good as he flailed on his guitar and sang about all the girls who have broke his little heart. Lead guitarist Chris Bruno (not the actor who plays the sheriff on “The Dead Zone” – hahaha!) attempted to be a guitar god but his leads never seemed to go anywhere besides being buried in the mix. By comparison the rhythm section was a whole different story, bassist Patrick Hughes had a nice groove in his playing and he stayed in the pocket with drummer Donnie Williams, but the star of the show was their percussionist Rusty Williams who played some wonderful fills and even got a little funky in a DC go-go style on a few songs, which really impressed me despite the whiny soul-less vocals and lackluster guitar playing. Maybe it was because they had to play two fifty-minute sets and so they had to fill them out with cover songs, but it seemed like that they played way too many of them, especially a horrendous version of that eighties’ classic shlock-pop standard “Take Me On” by A-Ha from Norway. Who the hell covers that odious song anyways? I hope “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger is not next! If you are going to cover a song from the eighties, play something that has meaning and stands the test of time, and more importantly, pick a song by a band that you cannot go see on the latest nostalgia tour winding its way across America. Overall, it was not that they were terrible musicians but that they just play terrible music, and I have no desire to ever hear them perform again. The Lloyd Dobler Effect finished their first set and Tim and I decided we had to get the hell out of there before they started playing their second set. But if you are a boring, middle of the road, white nerd, you will love them!
JAH WORKS - June 10, 2010
Farragut Square Park - Washington, DC
One of the best things about living in Washington, DC, in the summertime is that the city comes alive with music, and that on any given night, it is possible for one to catch a multitude of musical performances at various venues around the city and a lot of the times – for free. One can go to The Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center, Carter Barron Amphitheatre, Fort Dupont Park, The Sylvan Theater, The Ronald Reagan Building, Volta Park, The National Gallery Of Art, American Indian Museum, The Sculpture Garden, and Farragut Square Park, where I am today to catch a performance by Jah Works, who are from down the road in Baltimore. They are playing as part of the Golden Triangle Summer Concert Series to help bring business to the neighborhood. I mostly hate outdoors shows like these, the production values suck, the wind blows the sound around, the tall buildings create weird echoes, the intrusive sound of the traffic, and there are bugs and children to annoy me, and I can never find a shady spot out of the direct light of the setting sun, and worst of all, I have to sit on the ground. I complain a whole lot, don’t I, but when it comes to my music…but anyways, back to the show at hand. Jah Works have been performing around the DMV since 1993, and have built a steady following, they have seven albums, two live albums, and a Wammie for best reggae group under their collective belt…but I find them to be mediocre at best for playing what I call college beach reggae. The musicians play very competently, especially drummer Jonathan Pang, he knows how to keep a lively rock-steady beat, and also the keyboardist Brian Gorman played some lovely melodies, but guitarist Kevin Gorman was lost in the mix somewhere because I could barely hear him and bassist Mark Hamilton just never seemed to put in any whoomp in the groove. But it was the two front men who really got my panties in a twist – Natty Roc kept blowing his out of tune saxophone at the wrong time in the song and then he would let loose with some unintelligible dancehall patois, and finally that leaves us with main vocalist Eric Vincent…oy…I hate to say something racial, but…white people do not make good front people for reggae bands…his voice kept reminding me of Dave Matthews and Rob Thomas from Matchbox 20 and I wanted to wretch as him as his band played their pretty but soul-less reggae music that never seemed to go anywhere or really inspire the rather decent-sized crowd to get on their feet and dance. Way back in the eighties when I used to work with HR and The Bad Brains, Zion Train, and my favorite local roots rock reggae band Michael Enkrumah And The Israelites, what I loved about them was the spirituality and political activism that they imbued into their music, Jah love you know mon, but with Jah Works – there was spirituality or politics, it was just, “let’s party and meet girls” – it was horrifying. I do not listen to much reggae these days, read my HR interview for more background, but being gay and reggae culture just do not go well together – those rastas do not like gays or “battyboys” in rasta-speak, and they actually encourage killing gays in many songs and interviews. But on occasion, I still enjoy listening to Peter Tosh, Peter Broggs, Black Uhuru, The Mighty Invaders, Third World, Mutaburuka, Yellowman, and Bob Marley And The Wailers, whose song “Is This Love”, Jah Works butchered in their set. Thankfully their first set of the evening was over, and I decided that I did not want to hear Jah Works play their bland college beach reggae ever again, so I left before they began their second set. Praise Jah!
RUDELY INTERRUPTED - June 7, 2010
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
Thank God that lately every time I come to The Kennedy Center to see a performance on The Millennium Stage, the weather is nice and this evening is no exception. Tonight I am here to see Rudely Interrupted, who is an indie rock band from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, and they are quite unique in the fact that five out of six of the band’s members have some form of physical and/or intellectual “differences”. Oh this age of political correctness! In fact this performance is part of the 2010 International VSA Festival – Arts and Disability Show that is being held from June 6th through June 12th here at The Kennedy Center, the festival features over two-thousand participants from all over the world and was founded by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith to provide arts and educational opportunities for people with disabilities and access to the arts for all through awareness. Rudely Interrupted was founded in 2007 and their sound has been described as “Joy Division having a Gary Numan party while eating pitch-perfect cookies”. In December of 2009, a documentary about the band was broadcasted on ABC-1 TV in Australia and it garnished rave reviews and gained international exposure for the band and soon afterwards they were touring the world and performing to sold-out audiences. They released their first album “Tragedy Of The Commons” in May of 2010 and their lead-off single “If You Wannit” is the theme song for Scope Mouthwash’s “See The Person” campaign. Inside my head, I have South Park’s Eric Cartman screaming, “Cripple band…cripple band…arrghh!” The people sitting around me would be horrified if they knew what I was thinking, but I was ready to rock anyway and Rudely Interrupted take the stage and open with a song that reminds me of “She’s Lost Control” by Joy Division and hence their descriptive little promo blurb. The vocalist/guitarist Rory Burnside, who was born without eyes and has Asperger’s Syndrome, sings about wanting to meet a girl who wants to marry him as he beautifully finger picked his guitar. Autistic drummer Josh Hogan’s almost manic propulsive percussion drives the second song, “Great Loss”, and Rory’s optimistic but slightly melancholic lyrics are very insightful and enjoyable, and I found his between song banter of goofy jokes to be quite endearing. Rory told us that he came up with the band’s name because he feels that his Asperger’s very often “rudely interrupts” his life. Guitarist and backing vocalist plus band manager Rohan Brooks seems to be the glue that hold the band together; he met Rory at a barbecue party that Rory’s father threw and Rohan decided that they should start a band. He met the other members through a disability assistance service that he worked for, and started the band as a form of musical therapy for them, but after a few rehearsals Rohan felt compelled that he needed to share Rudely Interrupted with the rest of the world. The third song in their set is “Close My Eyes”, and it is their new single and the video for the song just premiered on MTV, and I find it to be a real pleasant toe-tapper and Rory has very Ian Curtis overtones in his voice. The music lumbers along almost chaotically, but it is very engaging and makes me want to pogo dance like I was in London, England, circa 1980, at the Marquee Club. The synthesizer player Marcus Stone, who amazing is deaf and also has Asperger’s Syndrome, bathes the songs with sprite washes of sound that softens Rohan Brook’s angular guitar riffs. Bassist Sam Beke, who has Down’s Syndrome, decides it is time to don a goofy devil’s outfit (horns and cape), and newest member Carla Stevenson takes over bass playing duties with gentle aplomb. As they continue on with their set, the band sounds more like a rough-edged New Order than Joy Division to me. Sixth band member Constance “Connie” Kirkpatrick is legally blind and has Down’s Syndrome, and she never lets up on her pink tambourine, and I mean NEVER lets up! When Rory Burnside introduces the band, he refers to her as the “human metronome”, and that she is the one with that damn pink tambourine. My only complaint about their set is the lack of tempo variation in the music, because the drummer Josh Hogan pounds through every song exactly the same way with military precision. Their next song “In Our Dreams” sums up what this band has achieved and how they rocked the world and made their dreams come true while overcoming their “supposed” flaws and disabilities – I mean the singer has no eyes for chrissakes – “No fucking eyes” as Eric Cartman would say! Their last original number of the evening is “Don’t Break My Heart” from their first EP, and it is my favorite song from their set, and it reminds me of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, plus it has a great chorus where Rory Burnside intones, “No function, no function, no function”. Rory Burnside announces that their last song would be a cover, and Rudely Interrupted launch into a rather lovely version of “Melt With You” by Modern English. I am so thoroughly impressed by this band, and it just blows my mind with what each individual member of Rudely Interrupted have achieved. I wish them the best of luck and I am going to go home and legally download a couple of their songs.
DARRYL HALL & JOHN OATES and MUTLU - June 6, 2010
Pier Six Pavilion - Baltimore, MD
I went to sleep last night with Hall & Oates’ “Maneater” stuck in my head, “Oh, oh, here she comes, watch out boys, she’ll chew you up, she’s a maneater”, and I said a prayer asking God to make sure it did not rain at tomorrow’s Daryl Hall and John Oates show at the Pier Six Pavilion in Baltimore, Maryland, because the weather had been terrible over the past couple of days, and I really hate going to shows when it is raining. I have an unnatural fear of getting electrocuted at a concert ever since I was shocked and thrown several feet in the air while trying to unplug an ATM machine that was sitting in a pool of dirty water at a rained-out Radiohead show being held at Bull Run Park in Manassas, Virginia, back in the mid-nineties when I worked for 9:30/I.M.P. Productions. The next morning when I woke up and looked out the window, things did not bode well, the sky was dark and ugly and threatening to rain at any minute. I turned on the telly and turned it to The Weather Channel and the very scary-looking announcer said that the clouds would clear up in Baltimore around dinnertime; I crossed my fingers and muttered to myself, “they better be right”. My best pal and frequent concert buddy Scott arrived at my house to pick me up around three o’clock in the afternoon and we began our journey north to Charm City under the ominous grey sky. But miracles of miracles, a few miles outside of Baltimore I noticed a slowly widening patch of blue sky over the city, things were looking up as we drove into the Inner Harbor area of the city and we made our way to Little Italy to eat at my friend’s favorite Italian restaurant Chiapparelli’s on South High Street where we ate some heavenly bread, some absolutely divine calamari, and two very delicious pasta entrees. We finished eating and left the restaurant and lo and behold, the sun was shining and the sky was blue – damn, a weatherman who was right for once. With a big satisfied smile on my face, we wandered back over to the Inner Harbor and the Pier Six Pavilion as the evening was turning out to be a perfect night to see a rock and roll show. Pier Six Pavilion was originally built in 1981, and re-built larger in 1991 and has played host to a lot of great bands, but the venue seems to be a bit more “country fair” as compared to the surrounding ultra-modern hi-rises and post-modern sculptures. I think it is time for a little renovation and updating; install some video screens, a nice multi-directional sound system would be nice, but most of all, some new seats because the current seats are terribly uncomfortable, and damn, the people around us are ugly and poorly dressed, up here in Balmer. We have not seen a single cute boy yet! Scott and I found our seats just as the opening act, singer/guitarist Mutlu who hails from Hall and Oates’ hometown of Philadelphia, took the stage and he played a pleasantly brief five-song set on his acoustic guitar. He has a nice voice and his lyrics are upbeat and positive, the songs “Weight Of The World” and “Shaky Ground” are quite lovely, and he told us that Hall and Oates’ recently deceased bassist and music director, T-Bone Wouk, had just finished producing his new album and he will really miss him and he dedicated his final song to him, a touching cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”. Mutlu left the stage and I am so ready to see Hall and Oates, my mind is whirling – what will they open with – will they play all my favorite songs of theirs – and damn, I hate these fucking seats, my ass hurts. Almost immediately after Mutlu finished, Daryl Hall and John Oates and their band take the stage and they opened with a reggae-fied version of the song that was stuck in my head when I went to sleep last night, “Maneater” from the smash 1982 album “H2O”, and immediately the audience was on their feet cheering and dancing and I was singing along with the band because I love that song. Saxophonist Charlie DeChant blew a sensational riff that just floated through the song like a gentle breeze as he and the band flowed into “Family Man” from the same album, and Daryl and John harmonized beautiful as they sang, “She wore hurt surprise, as she rechecked her make-up to protect herself, dropped her price and pride, she made it totally clear that she was his for a night...” The band was spectacular as they played together like a well-oiled machine, particularly the new bassist Zev Katz who added a deep and funky groove to the mix as they charged into “Out Of Touch” from 1984's “Big Bam Boom”. Daryl Hall was intense as he soulfully wailed the lyrics as John Oates followed him with a tasteful guitar riff, and the synchronicity between the two is out of this world. They followed that with a marvelous version of “Say It Isn't So” from 1983's “Rock'n Soul” album and Charlie DeChant played a lovely saxophone solo that just danced over the pulsing rhythm of drummer of Shawn Pelton. They decided to reach into their back catalogue and delighted us with a charming “It's A Laugh” from the 1978 album “Along The Red Ledge” and Eliot Lewis dazzled us with his deft keyboard playing as Charlie DeChant blew another sensational saxophone riff that weaved in and out of the torrent of notes. John Oates stopped the music and he told us about their new box set “Do What You Want, Be What You Are” and that we should run out and buy it, and then he said here's two songs from their classic 1973 album “Abandoned Luncheonette” and they performed a melancholy “Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song)” and it featured yet another killer sax solo from Charlie DeChant that just carried the song. They followed that with the highlight of their set, a heart-wrenching “She's Gone” and guitarist Paul Pesco livened the song up with a searing solo and Daryl Hall soulfully crooned, “She's gone oh I, oh I, oh I, I'd better learn how to face it, she's gone oh I, oh I'd, I'd pay the devil to replace her, she's gone, oh I, what went wrong...” It was a tremendous performance and the band was in total synch with each other and that showed in their playing of their instruments, and Daryl Hall and John Oates really shined in their showmanship. Daryl sat down at the synthesizer and began making weird noises that morphed into their huge hit “Sara Smile” from 1975's “Daryl Hall And John Oates” album and their heartfelt delivery of the lyrics that just overwhelmed me with emotional intensity and John played some searing guitar riffs as they segued into “Do What You Want, Be What You Are” from 1976's “Bigger Than Both Of Us” album that featured a dazzling keyboard solo from Daryl Hall and an amazing sax solo from Charlie DeChant. They finished their set with “I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)” from 1981's “Voices” album and from the very second I heard the signature keyboard riff that opened the song I was on my feet and dancing as they sang, “I, i-i, I'll do anything that you want me to do, yeah, I, i-i, I'll do almost anything that you want me to, ooh, yeah, but I can't go for that, nooo (no), no can do...” The band was impeccable as the percussionist Everett Bradley and guitarist Paul Pesco got a workout as they intertwined throughout the rhythm. The band quickly left the stage and the crowd went crazy and cheered until they returned and encored with “Rich Girl” from the “Bigger Than The Both Of Us” album and they turned it out with a cool re-vamped arrangement of the song. They immediately jumped into “You Make My Dreams” from the “Voices” album and the song swirled in chaotic rhythms as John Oates just played some electrifying guitar riffs until the band left the stage again. The entire audience was up on their feet screaming and yelling even louder this time until Daryl Hall and John Oates and their band returned one more time and much to my joy, they launched into a riveting “Kiss On My List” from the “Voices” album which they played three songs and the rhythm section was laying down complex poly-rhythms as the guitars soared above them. Daryl Hall and John Oates thanked everyone for coming and for how much they appreciated their music and that they love making music it for us. Immediately they jumped into their smash 1981 hit single “Private Eyes” from the same-named album, and Daryl Hall just emoted, “I see you, you see me, watch you blowin' the lines when you're making a scene, oh girl, you've got to know, what my head overlooks the senses show to my heart, when it's watching for lies, you can't escape my private eyes, they're watching you, they see your every move...” The band members each took a turn showing off on their instruments as they rocked an extended instrumental break and then Daryl Hall sang the last verse and the band played the coda and Daryl and John wished us all a good night. It was a pleasant fourteen-song set but I wished they played a little longer, especially some of their newer songs. The band played well together and their sax player Charlie DeChant really shined when it was his turn to solo. Even though the band started the show with the vocals a little murky in the mix, they finished up with a crystalline sound as their voices told us their story.
THE STRANGE LOOPS - May 30, 2010
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
Once again I am at the Kennedy Center on the Potomac River and for the second day in a row, it is a gorgeous spring evening with a cloudless sky of the purest azure and I am looking forward to seeing the indie power pop of The Strange Loops. Nineteen-year old twins’ vocalist/guitarist Spencer Ernst and bassist Maxwell Ernst met pianist/drummer Dylan MulCahy in the summer of 2007 and they played a few gigs in the area as Trustfall, but after a couple of months Dylan moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to attend the University Of The Arts. The Ernst brothers trudged on, but thankfully in October of 2009, Dylan moved back to the DC area and they reformed as The Strange Loops and took a residency at The Strathmore Music Center to hone their chops. The three of them take the stage and jump right into their set with a song called “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” that had a wide-eyed innocence about being in a band and writing a happy song that makes the pretty girls dance and the band a whole lot of money. The next two songs, “Tomatoes” and “Pretty Kisses”, were new compositions and they reminded me a whole lot of bands like The Bongos and The Plimsouls. Spencer’s guitar playing was sharp, clean, and angular, and reminded me a bit of the late, great Alex Chilton’s style. Maxwell’s bass was deep and subtle as he stayed in the pocket with Dylan’s light and agile drumming. I really liked the upbeat sincerity of their lyrics, and you could feel the innate fraternal, almost telepathic, bond between the twin brothers and with Dylan as the perfect beat-keeping foil, it seemed like he anticipated every note that Spencer played on his guitar. The next three songs in their set, “Dust”, “Horizon”, and “Find My Way Home”, gently swirled about my ears like leaves blowing in the wind. Their vocal interplay was eerie in how well they sounded like one voice, and Spencer could really play some intricate runs on his acoustic guitar that were quite nice and full of melody in a John McLaughlin kind of way. Spencer said the next song that they were going to play was brand new, it was called “Streetlight” and it had a power pop feel that was very reminiscent of Doug Feiger and The Knack and early Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. The Strange Loops finished their set with a very Tom Petty-esque rave-up in which Spencer sang, “This is not the way it’s supposed to be – working in a factory!”, and then he wailed on his guitar with his best solo of the evening, and Dylan finished the song with a lovely piano bridge. Overall I was quite entertained by their music, and I think that in a few years The Strange Loops could be quite popular and playing Constitution Hall or a bigger venue. Keep playing boys!
THE SPRING STANDARDS - May 29, 2010
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
As I rolled up to the Kennedy Center, I thanked God that once again it was a beautiful evening to enjoy some alt-country rock with some exquisite three-part harmony vocals and talented multi-instrumentation between the three band members of The Spring Standards. The group features James Cleare and James Smith rotating on vocals, bass, guitar, kick drum and hi-hat, and the lovely Heather Robb on melodica, keyboards, glockenspiel, and snare drum. But what I find to be really amazing about the band is their fierce sense of independence; they have no label, publisher, distributor, manager, or agent, and yet they sell lots of CDs and managed to tour with such diverse acts as Squeeze, The Old 97’s, Marc Broussard, The Clarks, and indie darlings Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers. After they released their debut EP, “No One Will Know” in August of 2009, the band somehow managed to make their national television debut on NBC’s Late Night With Conan O’Brien. The Spring Standards opened their set with a gentle acoustic number and their vocals intertwined as Heather Robb added assorted musical flourishes on the melodica and glockenspiel. The three musicians’ interaction was quite pleasant and mellifluous as they sang and played their instruments, plus they each seemed to be playing more than one instrument at a time on some songs. The band was very personable as they thanked the Kennedy Center for being so nice to them as opposed to the normal “endearingly grimy” venues that they regularly play. James Cleare made a few more jokes about the giant JFK head in the foyer, and oddly, his plans to steal one of the giant chandeliers hanging above the audience. They continued their set with a gorgeous shimmering song called “Sharks”; and the next song really highlighted the Dylan-esque influences on their song structuring, which was accented by James Cleare’s skillful harmonica playing. James Smith started the next song with some bird-like whistling and when he began singing; his voice was very plaintive in a Hank Williams Sr. kind of way. The band’s sound reminded me of some of the neo-psychedelic folk rock that was coming out of Los Angeles in the late eighties and early nineties, particularly Dream Syndicate and Opal. The next song was called “Trouble” and it was my favorite one of the evening, and their tour manager/roadie/sideman Noah Goldman added some nice guitar riffing to the mix which gave them that full “Brooklyn” sound that is popular on the indie charts right now. James Smith began the next song, “Take A Walk In My Shoes”, with a jazzy trumpet solo, and Heather Robb kicked in with some rather delicate playing on her keyboard as she sang the deeply emotional lyrics in a cabaret style that really showed off her vocal range. James Cleare informed us that Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young is their all-time favorite group, and then they launched into a rather lovely rendition of Neil Young’s timeless classic “Helpless”. Their three-part vocal interplay was perfect for this song; they actually made it sound a bit more down to earth and ethereal as to Neil Young’s more detached and laconic delivery. After the extended applause died down, James Cleare invited everyone in the audience to come see them again at DC9 on Wednesday June 2nd, and that this was their last number. It was called “The World Unravels” and it had a hauntingly stark melody as Heather Robb sang, “I’ve been known to hide from the people I love, so say the words I see behind your eyes.” Those lyrics stuck in my head as I left the Kennedy Center and headed to the metro to get my tired ass home, but overall it was a very enjoyable performance and I would go to see them play again.
AN EVENING WITH DIANA ROSS - May 25, 2010
Music Center At Strathmore - Bethesda, MD
THE SHARON CLARK QUINTET - May 20, 2010
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
Finally a sunny spring evening after a long stretch of chilly, rainy and damp days and I am at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage to see The Sharon Clark Quintet perform as part of the 15th Annual Mary Lou Williams Women In Jazz Festival. This festival celebrates the life of Mary Lou Williams, who is considered to be the first female jazz musician to make a name for herself and gain the respect and recognition from her male peers and the leading music critics of the time. She was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1910, and at a very early age she became a gifted pianist, so gifted in fact, that by the age of fifteen she was performing with DC’s own Duke Ellington. Over the ensuing years she composed and arranged music for Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Earl Hines, and Tommy Dorsey, and she mentored be-bop jazz legends Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. She worked non-stop, recording, performing, educating, and inspiring other women to pursue careers in jazz, she did this until her death from colon cancer in 1981. In 1996, the Kennedy Center held the first festival to recognize and celebrate the life and music of Mary Lou Williams, and I am here celebrating her legacy by seeing Sharon Clark. She has been a longtime favorite of jazz aficionados in the DMV, many local critics and music lovers consider her to be on par with the Divine Sarah Vaughn, and my personal favorite, Miss Lady Day Billie Holiday. In fact in August of 2007, she captured the top prize at the Billie Holiday Vocal Competition in Baltimore, Maryland. Sharon sings regularly at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Southwest DC, and she also performs with the fantastic tribute show to female jazz legends, “Sistas Can Sing”, at National Harborplace. As I wait for the Sharon White Quintet to take the stage, I noticed that the pre-show programmed music is a surprisingly hip mix of jazz, drum’n’bass, reggae, and funk, and I quite enjoyed it. But then much to my abject horror, a fat giant cripple sat down in the handicapped section in front of me, and it was as if someone had built a brick wall in front of my favorite seat with the great sweet spot for hearing impeccable sound. Luckily I could move over two seats because I did not want to miss a second of seeing Sharon Clark. Her drummer Lenny Robinson kicked things off with a snappy little jazz beat, next upright bassist Michael Bowie added a deep in the belly bottom, and then pianist Chris Grasso sprinkled on some dancing melody notes, and finally Paul Carr added the pizzazz with his saxophone, and then Miss Sharon hit the stage a’ wailing with her gloriously rich voice. She sang and scatted like she was Ella Fitzgerald in her prime with her opening number “Ride’m High Cowboy” from the Abbott and Costello movie of the same name. next she did Lena Horne proud with an elegant rendition of “I Could Have Told You So”, and Paul Carr played a brilliant saxophone solo that highlighted the melancholia of the song as Chris Grasso closed the song with a nimble piano coda. A big surprise was their version of the Doris Day classic “My Secret Love”, and let me tell you, her band is tight and in sync, and drummer Lenny Robinson played a real toe-tapping breakdown of the rhythm, and Sharon started scatting again. She really has got it going on, and you would have never thought it was a Doris Day song. The next number was just Sharon and her bassist Michael Bowie, she sang, “A foggy day in London…shoo do bee do dah shoo be doobie dah”, as he played a thumpa thumpa walking bass line to accompany her. If the Doris Day cover blew my mind, then her version of the classic Carpenters song “Rainy Days And Mondays” absolutely devastated me. It was dedicated to a dear friend of hers who had died just last night and had been looking forward to seeing her perform at the Kennedy Center, as she sang the song it brought tears to my eyes, and hers, it was a real showstopper of a performance. Karen Carpenter would have loved it! Her band’s playing was impeccable as they jumped into a uptown dance beat, as Sharon wailed, “Imagine my frustration with no invitation to dance”, the song got the audience clapping and whistling as Paul blew another fantastic saxophone solo and Lenny played a tight and concise drum solo. Next up was “Tenderly” by the legendary Nat King Cole, she sure knows how to make a song her own as she rips your heart out with her emotional vocals. After they finished the song Sharon talked about how the band and she recently played in Turkey and Russia and what a treat it was to play to an audience that loved and respected jazz as much as they did. Sadly she had to say that the next song was the closing number for the evening, and that it was first made famous by Sarah Vaughn and they launched into “Just A Little Lovin’ (Early In The Mornin’)”. Chris Grasso was fantastic on the piano, but saxophonist Paul Carr was the crowd favorite as he wailed magnificently, then the band slowed the tempo of the music down and Sharon introduced each of the musicians in her band to the audience, and they each played a small solo break on their respective instruments. Sharon Clark let one final scat riff rip before she bade us good night and left the stage. Overall it was the best show that I have seen on the Millennium Stage since I saw the Manhattan Transfer play on it last year. I would really love to see The Sharon Clark Quintet perform again real soon.
CRASH ENSEMBLE - May 6, 2010
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It was a gloriously beautiful day and I arrived at the Kennedy Center early so I could sit outside in the sunshine and watch the crew teams practice rowing on the Potomac River. As I sat outside on the riverside terrace, I watched a mama duck and her ducklings frolic in a fountain, they put me in great mood to watch Crash Ensemble from Ireland perform their unique blend of chamber music and electronics. Composer Donnacha Dennehy, conductor and pianist Andrew Synott, and clarinetist Michael Seaver founded Crash Ensemble in Dublin in 1997, and they achieved immediate success with their modern neo-classical music as they went on to take Europe by storm. The musicians took the stage as a ten-piece ensemble featuring two violins, bass, cello, guitar, piano, drums, saxophone, flute, and trombone. Their first piece was written by composer David Lang and it had a decidedly Phillip Glass edge to it, but it also reminded me of the music of the more outré ambient groups like The Future Sound Of London and Autechre. Their second selection was a piece written by longtime Kronos Quartet associate and noted minimalist Terry Riley and it had a bluesy Miles Davis feel to it, and as the piece progressed, the tone became ominous sounding as the guitarist played these droning extended notes. Their music would be perfect for the soundtrack of a creepy European psychological horror thriller film by Dario Argento. The guitarist was phenomenal; his playing was very reminiscent of Roger Waters to me, especially in the way he bent notes. This selection was performed in three movements and at various points, the music brought to mind, Duke Ellington, Steve Reich, Edgar Varese, and oddly enough Edgar Froese and the work he did with Tangerine Dream. Crash Ensemble composer Donnacha Dennehy wrote the third selection and then each band member got a moment to shine on their respective instruments, but the composition seemed a bit repetitive and overly long. Their final selection, also written by Dennehy, featured traditional Irish vocals that sounded mournful and melancholic as the various instruments sounded almost ethereal as they provided accents to the vocal parts. The guitarist played an arabesque riff that became stuck in my head; he was by far my favorite musician in Crash Ensemble. Their set ended abruptly and they quickly stood up and bowed and departed the Millennium Stage. I thought to myself, how odd, as I walked out of the Kennedy Center and into the evening and the bright setting sun with my newfound respect for “Chamber Music”.
EARTH DAY CELEBRATION CONCERT AND RALLY - April 25, 2010
The National Mall - Washington, DC
I often sarcastically tell people that one of my goals in life is to leave the largest carbon footprint ever, because if the earth is melting from global warming and all of our piles of trash are becoming giant ticking time bombs full of poisonous methane gas ready to kill us all, then I might as well party like it is 1999. So I wandered on down to the National Mall to check out the 40th Annual Earth Day Concert and a “rally”, woo wee – go Earth! I do not mean to sound like Mr. Burns, but those “damn tree huggers” really get on my damn nerves sometimes…whine whine whine…we are killing Mother Earth with our factory-made poisons…save the dung beetle…do not eat meat…no blood for oil…whine whine whine – Shut up hippies! I got off the metro and waded through the throngs of idiot tourists and their noisy pig children loitering on the Mall like it was their backyard, it was overcast and humid…why, oh why is Al Gore right? I reached the performance area and luckily I found a nice vantage point close to the stage and a giant video screen, on which a parade of talking heads babbled about saving the planet and the virtue of being “green”…oh gag me with a plastic spoon. As I waited for The Roots to take the stage, who are the only reason I dragged my ass down here in the first place, I observed the sea of humanity surrounding me and I was horrified by what I saw. A plethora of young America rudely stumbled about and careened into me like I was a bumper in a giant pinball machine, and the odors I had to endure, good God…is not cleanliness next to greenness…and to top that off, it seemed like that they all had a disgusting cigarette dangling from their mouths as they screamed, “Save the planet – Go green!” Oh shut the fuck up, you stupid brain-dead morons! I may not be a gung-ho “go green” kind of guy, but there is one thing that I absolutely do know, and that is that you CANNOT live the “green” lifestyle while puffing on poisonous cancer-sticks polluting themselves and the environment. What is wrong with these people? Thankfully, The Roots walked out onto the stage and…the sun came out from behind the ominous black clouds that had me a bit worried…I hate getting rain on me, especially in the middle of a drunken crowd. Back in 2008, The Roots were scheduled to headline that Earth Day concert, but a monstrous thunderstorm washed everyone away, but they got lucky this year. But I read in the Washington Post the next day, that shortly before I arrived, The Roots had started playing their set and suddenly the sound went out and they had to leave the stage while the sound crew sorted things out. These days I am not a very big fan of the current crop of hip-hop stars…Jay-Z, Eminem, Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne, Flo Rida…they can kiss my skinny white faggot ass. All of them all bitches! But on the other hand, the hardest working band in show business, The Roots from Philadelphia rule…they are one of the best live bands out there right now and Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson is a fantastic bandleader and drummer, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter can drop some intricate rhymes, bassist and “token white guy” Owen Biddle lays down deep and smooth bass lines, and my favorite member, Kirk “Cap’n Kirk” Douglas makes his guitar sing like an opera diva. Jimmy Fallon’s late night show would totally suck without them laying down the grooves five nights a week for him. The Roots return to the stage with gospel soul legend Mavis Staples, and she let it rip with a deep soulful wail as she sang for Mother Earth, next emo-toad Patrick Stump from the odious Fall Out Boy attempted to croon his way through the Bobby Womack classic “If You Think You’re Lonely Now”, let me tell you – the horror, the horror – thankfully the inimitable Booker T sans The MG’s joined The Roots on his Hammond organ and they rocked out on a funked-up version of his signature song “Green Onions”; then British neo-soul singer Joss Stone strolled on stage to sing a pleasant cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”, The Washington Post described her as intolerable – she is no Dusty Springfield but she is not that bad, next hippie god and guitarist Bob Weir from the legendary Grateful Dead came out and played a rousing version of “Dancing In The Streets” by Martha and The Vandellas, this song really got the crowd going as everybody began dancing, even me, and finally Robert Randolph came out and joined the band on the lap steel guitar and he led the band in a scorching rendition of the Jimi Hendrix Experience classic “Purple Haze”. It was spectacular and Robert Randolph made that lap steel sing like a screaming Stratocaster guitar. I was hoping for more but everybody suddenly left the stage and President Obama’s head and giant ears filled the giant video screen and he babbled some kind of “message of hope” to the adoring crowd. A few more speakers said something about something, but I was not paying attention, and then that ass James Cameron and a few of the stars from that overblown crap-fest of a movie called “Avatar” came to the stage. He babbled some shit about becoming educated on climate change and becoming active in one’s community and planting trees. Then he had the unmitigated audacity to say, “Avatar is cool, it touches the heart, but it doesn’t tell you what to do.” Puke! Sadly I missed eighties revivalists Passion Pit, emo-junk Honor Society, salsa icon Willie Colon, and most regrettably, reggae legend Jimmy Cliff and I heard he played a tears-inducing version of “Many Rivers To Cross”. I saw some dreadful people dressed as the blue creatures from “Avatar” walking around and posing for photographs; so I decided it was time to get the hell out of there before the next two acts played on stage, and besides the anemic music of John Legend leaves me cold, and DO NOT get me started on that douche Sting. I hate Sting and the cancerous growths he calls songs, I hate him and his music more than you can ever imagine, I rather listen to Justin Bieber. But overall, I had a pretty pleasant musical interlude on the Mall, The Roots rule of course, and I do hope the world sticks around for a few more years or at least until after I get to go see the Lady GaGa concert at the Verizon Center in September.
PRIMITIVITY - April 11, 2010
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It is an amazingly beautiful Sunday evening and I land at the Kennedy Center to see local group Primitivity on the Millennium Stage. It has been a while since I have seen a performance here, and sadly, construction equipment has disrupted the ambiance of the room, so ugh! Primitivity is a cello and percussion ensemble that mix classical music and heavy metal into a hybrid known as “cello rock”…stop scratching your head, there are worse hybrids, hick-hop for instance…but man, this band rocks. Their debut album “Plays Megadeth For Cello” is incredible; their version of “Hangar 18” is way more intense than Megadeth’s original version. The band consists of cellists: Loren Westbrook-Fritts the band leader, David Teie who performed with Metallica on their “S&M” tour and on the official DVD release of the concert, Kristin Ostling who plays with the Cashmere Jungle Lords from Richmond, Virginia, and Mauricio Betanzo, and drummer Robby Burns who provides the back-beat. Primitivity took the stage and Loren opened their set by making his cello sound like a screaming Stratocaster guitar as they launched into Megadeth’s “Symphony Of Destruction”. The next song was an original composition named “Convergence” that sounded like it would be right at home on the 98ROCK play list. Some of the sounds that Loren coaxed out of his cello were mind-boggling. This was followed by another original piece called “Rebuttal” and it was exquisite, almost ethereal, in fact I found myself wondering what the song would sound like if it was performed by a metal band with screaming guitars and throbbing bass. Next up, was a soaring interpretation of Apocalyptica’s “Fantamo” that they performed as if it was written by Ludwig Beethoven, and this was followed by my favorite compositions of their set, “Overdrive” and “Sacrifice”. These two songs were wonderfully driving and propulsive, but at a tenth of the volume of a traditional heavy metal band, the juxtaposition of the two musical forms melded perfectly on these two pieces. I tell you, Loren is the Yngwie Malmsteen of the cello! The tones he created on his instrument were mind-blowing to the ears, and if you close your eyes and listened closely, you would swear he is playing a guitar. David, Kristin, and Mauricio backed up Loren fantastically as they provided him heavy metal thunder in a cello style, and drummer Robby kept the pace going as Loren turned his cello into a guitar and let the riffs fly. They performed two more originals, “Forgiven” and “Transcendence”, and then came the “coup de grace” of the evening, a blistering cover of Metallica’s “Master Of Puppets” that had me banging my head, throwing the horns, and singing the lyrics, “Come crawling faster. Obey your Master. Your life burns faster. Obey your Master. Master.” It was really wild to see the variety of people in the audience grooving to cellos playing heavy metal, because I am quite sure that I was the only one in the crowd who had been to an actual Megadeth or Metallica concert. Primitivity finished their awesome set, I clapped enthusiastically, and I bought their CD “Plays Megadeth For Cello” and headed home wondering what Black Sabbath’s songs would sound like performed by cellos.
CHEECH & CHONG and SHELBY CHONG - April 1, 2010
The Warner Theatre - Washington, DC
SALT'N'PEPA, DOUG E. FRESH, SLICK RICK, BIZ MARKIE, and BIG DADDY KANE - March 19, 2010
D.A.R. Constitution Hall - Washington, DC
ALICE IN CHAINS and MIDDLE CLASS RUT - March 3, 2010
D.A.R. Constitution Hall - Washington, DC
It is a dreary, rainy, and gloomy day, which is quite appropriate for going to see one of Seattle, Washington’s finest music exports – Alice In Chains – who have risen from the dead after the untimely and tragic demise of vocalist Layne Staley – the man in the box indeed. I was one of the first music journalists outside of the Northwest to write about them in the fall of 1990 after they were signed to Columbia Records. Howard Wuefling noted DC musician from legendary punk band The Nurses, had become a promotions rep at Columbia Records, and so he hooked me up with free CDs and interviews with assorted Columbia Records acts for the articles that I wrote for the now-defunct ROX Magazine. I did a phone interview with Jerry Cantrell who was quite verbose and had a lot to say. A few weeks later on November 20th, 1990, I saw the band performed a fantastic set at Hammerjacks in Baltimore, Maryland, as the opening act for Iggy Pop on his “Brick By Brick” tour. Alice In Chains are one of my favorite bands from the nineties. I worked with them at the July 20th, 1993 Lollapalooza show at Lake Fairfax in Reston, Virginia, and luckily I got to engage in some deep conversations about modern art with their original bassist Mike Starr. But as Aprilwine sang, “Rock’n’Roll is a vicious game!”, and Layne became its victim on April 5th, 2002. A very sad loss, but time goes on, and now I am sitting in fabulous seats on the center aisle at Constitution Hall waiting for the re-born Alice In Chains to rock my world. Their new singer William DuVall is a great addition to the band, I absolutely love their current album “Black Gives Way To Blue”, and not many bands get this lucky after losing an iconic lead singer in tragic circumstances. Only AC/DC comes to my mind and oddly their stories are very eerily similar. The house lights dimmed and the opening act, Middle Class Rut, exploded on stage with a spastic guitar riff drenched in assorted effects, as the drummer attempted to do a bad imitation of Dave Grohl, but he had no sense of rhythm as he chaotically bashed on his drum set. The guitarist slash singer made a whole bunch of noise as he sounded like Perry Farrell singing with a toothache. As they pummeled through their so-called songs, I sat wondering which hellhole town they could possibly be from, and then the singer slash guitarist said they were from Sacramento, California, which explained it all. Ugh!!! – I hate two-man bands and to paraphrase The Simpsons’ Mr. Burns in the episode where The Ramones played his birthday party and they insulted him with a rude version of “Happy Birthday”, when he turned to Mr. Smithers and told him, “Have The Rolling Stones killed.” – “Mr. Smithers, have The White Stripes killed!” Middle Class Rut left the stage in a squall and I could not have been happier. Thankfully I did not have to wait too long during the set change for Alice In Chains 2.0 to take the stage, and boy did they deliver a monster set of super-charged grunge and roll. They kicked the show off with “All Secrets Known” from their stellar 2009 album “Black Gives Way To Blue”, and they sounded fantastic. Jerry Cantrell is one of my all-time favorite guitar players and he was letting the riffs fly as he launched into the opening riffs of “It Ain’t Like That” from their 1990 debut “Facelift”. It still sounded fresh for being almost twenty years old. Next was a grinding “Again” from my favorite album of theirs, 1995’s “Alice In Chains”, Jerry and William’s vocal interplay was exhilarating, “Hey, I bet it really eats you up, again, again!” Then it was my favorite song from their “Black Gives Way To Blue” album, “Check My Brain”, and William DuVall really shined on this song, his vocals are a perfect match for Jerry’s frenetic fretwork. All of William’s hard work in the eighties and nineties with bands such as controversial Atlanta hardcore punk legends Neon Christ and hard rock band Madfly which featured American Idol reject vocalist Nico Constantine, and he also won an ASCAP Award for co-writing “I Know” for fellow Atlanta musician Dionne Farris, really paid off in getting him here tonight. The drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez really shined on the next song, a gloriously dark version of “Them Bones” from 1992’s “Dirt” album, they made it shudder and shake ominously like it was going to consume the audience. Next up were “Dam That River” and “Rain When I Die” from 1994’s “Jar Of Flies” EP, and they rocked them, I am so glad they have become such a cohesive unit. The band was cooking now, roaring like a big giant jet engine as they played, a grinding “Your Decision” from “Black Gives Way To Blue”, a creepy “Got Me Wrong”, which is my favorite song from 1992’s “Sap” EP, a skull-crushing “We Die Young” from 1990’s “Facelift”, and a somber “A Looking In View”. I was sitting in my seat totally blown away by their beautiful sound, and Jerry stopped things and asked everybody to remember their fallen friend Layne Staley as he dedicated “Nutshell” to him, and his guitar playing was exquisite and brought a tear to my eye. Alice In Chains raged on with two of their newer songs, a swirling, pounding, and strangely hypnotic “Acid Bubble” which was accompanied by some particularly awesome lights and floating visuals, and a crunchy “Lesson Learned”, which was followed by my favorite vocal performance of the evening, a searing “Love, Hate, Love” from “Facelift”. Jerry and William’s guitar interplay really shined during this song, and the way they segued into “Would?” from “Dirt” was almost classical in its delivery and arrangement, and they tore it up. Alice In Chains had left the stage by the time the squall settled down and the crowd and I exploded with screaming adulation. After a few minutes the band returned to the stage and William DuVall told us that he felt really lucky to be in Alice In Chains and to be playing the sacred ground known as Constitution Hall where he saw Frankie Beverly and Maze with his parents in the seventies before they moved to Atlanta, Georgia. He pointed out his brother in the audience and I held my breath in anticipation for the encores. I was crossing my fingers in hope that it would be their masterpiece “Man In The Box”. The second Jerry Cantrell’s pick strummed his guitar; I knew it was the song that I waited all night to hear – “I’m the man in the box – buried in my shit – won’t you come save me, save me – feed my eyes, can you sew them shut? – Jesus Christ, deny your maker – he who tries, will be wasted – feed my eyes now you sewn them shut.” – Rest in peace Layne. They played a sensational earth-shaking version, Jerry’s guitar playing was out of this world, and even though he just said he was recovering from food poisoning, it was impossible to tell. Alice In Chains closed the show with a raucous version of “Rooster”, which seemed to really sum up what the band had been through and survived to keep the music flowing like beautiful sludge after all these years. I left the venue feeling uplifted and my ears ringing and I was looking forward to see them playing live again real soon.
AN EVENING WITH YES - February 15, 2010
The Warner Theatre - Washington, DC
Here I am at the venerable Warner Theatre on the corner of 13th and E Streets, NW, in downtown Washington, DC, and it is one of my absolute favorite venues to see live musical performances. Tonight I am seeing the legendary YES on the 2010 winter leg of their “In The Present” tour, which is amazingly enough, in the middle of their 42nd year as one of the world’s premier progressive rock bands. Back in the summer of 2009, YES and ASIA, with guitarist Steve Howe doing double duty, they were supposed to perform at one of the National Harborplace’s Sunset Concert Series on July 15th, but just as YES began playing their first song, the thunder boomed, the lightning crashed, the rain fell in torrents, and I got soaked to the skin as everybody frantically scrambled for shelter from the storm. So, no YES! Then sometime in December I saw an ad in the City Paper that announced that YES would be playing at The Warner Theatre on February 6th, 2010, and so naturally I was excited to finally get a chance to see them again. So what happens, the biggest snowstorm since 1888 buries the city under two plus feet of snow, and so once again, no YES! I rightly assumed that the show was postponed, but I did not hear any news on the re-scheduled date. It was by mere happenstance that I found out about the new date of the show one day before the re-scheduled show, and after a bit of scrambling I scored a prime ticket in the third row. I was psyched because I have not seen YES perform since their “90125” tour in 1983. The view from my seat was spectacular as the house lights dimmed and the stage blossomed with lights and the band took the stage. They launched into “Siberian Khatru” with great aplomb, and damn, the rock superstars of the seventies are getting old, or being replaced by one of their kids, or in the case of Jon Anderson, by someone discovered on YouTube singing in a YES tribute band called Close To The Edge in Canada. In June of 2009, longtime vocalist Jon Anderson told Classic Rock magazine that he felt the band was being “disrespectable” for going on the road without him. He says, “The band recruited a guy from a Canadian YES tribute band and went on the road with him. I felt they could have waited until I’d recovered. I’d actually been ill for about five years and it got to the point where I couldn’t continue. I had to take a complete rest – and ended up having six operations. I said to them I was available, but they said they were contracted to Benoit. It’s a complicated situation. I think it’s inappropriate and not respectful to the fans. People have bought tickets thinking I’m performing on the tour. I would like everybody to know that, as much as I wish the band well, they should not tour as YES. The fans should be advised that I’m not part of the tour.” In response to this, bassist Chris Squire told Cleveland’s The News Herald, “Obviously, Jon has a great voice, and a lot of people love it, but the logistics turned out that if they want to see YES at all they’re going to have to see YES with Benoit because he is doing the job at the moment that quite frankly Jon can’t do because of his respiratory problems. And I’m sure one day he’s going to recover from that and then I’m sure there’s a certain point in time when we’ll do something with Jon again, but I don’t think he’ll ever be physically where we can do the hard grind of long-term touring schedule. But I’m sure we’ll find something to do.” Well, it sounds like whiny old geezers to me. Sad isn’t it, being jacked by the band he co-founded way back in 1969. During their heyday back in the seventies, I swear they played DC every three months, and a lot of times in the round which I hated, but they always had a great light and laser show to entertain the tripping masses who really love YES’ sonic landscapes. Some of the old magic was still there as guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Alan White and band co-founder Chris Squire got into the groove of things, and the sound was really fantastic where I was sitting, which really enhanced the experience. I was quite pleased that the next song was “I’ve Seen All Good People”, it is my favorite song by them, and it sounded great, especially the vocal interplay between Howe, Squire, and David. But…that Benoit David is no Jon Anderson, he sang all the parts all right, but he was missing something…his vocals just did not soar like Jon Anderson could do with his voice. Also I found him to be a bit twitchy and arrhythmic, he seemed so out of place with the old British guys that were on stage with him, even more so than Rick Wakeman’s son Oliver who was currently playing keyboards for the band looking like a reject from a mid-nineties goth/industrial metal band. It was on to “Tempus Fugit” from their fantastic 1980 album “Drama”, then Steve Howe played a blazing guitar intro to “Onward”, and next, very much to my surprise, they played “Astral Traveller” from their 1970 album “Time And The Word” and “Yours Is No Disgrace” from their 1969 debut album “Yes”, which Alan White started off with a pleasant little percussion and drums section. Oliver played some nice keyboards in “And You And I”. Then, to me, the best part of the show occurred when everyone but Steve Howe left the stage, and he played the most ethereal acoustic guitar interlude, it was great. It was time for their one and only “hit”, 1983’s “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”, and it was not half-bad, the arrangement was beefed up a bit, and it did not annoy me as much as it did in the eighties. Especially one time, when some college friends and I ingested some very potent purple blotter LSD and we were sitting in my one-time girlfriend Sofi Gobena’s car, I was trying to find some good music on the car radio and it seemed that “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” was on every station and we could not get away from that insidious song no matter where I turned the dial…or maybe it was just the acid…enough with the flashbacks. The band was warmed up real good now and they launched into a lovely “South Side Of The Sky” from 1971’s “Fragile” album, and then came their masterpiece “Machine Messiah” from 1980’s “Drama” album. But there was a moment when the song sounded an awful lot like Pink Floyd because I found myself humming “Tear down the wall – Tear down the wall” to myself, or maybe it is the other way around. The crowd and I were in heaven as we roared our approval. Chris Squire, who I personally found a bit snooty and pompous, kicked into a rumbling and throbbing bass workout that suddenly evolved into an exquisite “Heart Of The Sunrise”. One could see that the band members were getting into it, especially since the enthusiastic crowd response seemed to be fueling them along. YES left the stage and the crowd went bonkers, after a few minutes they returned to the stage to perform their last song of the evening, the classic rock radio staple “Roundabout”, and it was a stellar version, the crowd loved it. After they finished playing, they bowed to the audience for a few minutes, and vanished. The crowd roared for more but the house light came up, a few of the super-duper YES fans looked a bit perplexed, but then I overheard one of them say that they were supposed to play “Starship Trooper”, which would have been great…but oh well…I made haste to the exit because I find hardcore YES fans to be old and creepy, but overall it was a great rock and roll night for this old geezer.
AN EVENING WITH KATHY GRIFFIN - January 23, 2010
D.A.R. Constitution Hall - Washington, DC
Time for the gay scream – aaahhha! Kathy Griffin runs out on the stage and we are off on a whirlwind ride – zero to sixty in thirty seconds – Kathy knows how to pull you in and fill your head and ears with her sensational stories about her life on the D-List and beyond. As usual Kathy gives a big shout-out to her gays, then the straight ladies, and then the Susie Orman-loving dyke girls, and then finally she yells for the straight guys to wake up and that she will call for them when she thinks they will get her jokes. Everybody hollered, we were ready to laugh our collective asses off! Her first target was that bitch Heidi…Speidi…Mrs. Pratt…who the fuck knows but Kathy let it rip and who better than her, she is a nip/tuck veteran and she had the scars to prove it. And yeah, why the hell does a twenty-three year old need to get her chin sanded down anyway. A great thing about Kathy’s set was how she now peppers it with all kinds of sound effects, like belt sanders and such. She started talking about how her audiences in Washington, DC, were so well-dressed and smart, which was totally different from her average audiences around the country, especially in LA where smart and well-dressed do not go together. Ever! Next she got to the hot topic that I wanted her to talk about, her adventures with Anderson Cooper on their New Year’s Eve special on CNN, and the little faux-pas that got her fired. First she told us about the “morals clause” in her contract that said if she used foul language, she had to give the money they were paying her back; and that put her in quite the quandary because she loves money and hates to give it up. Kathy said she was having fun trying to provoke Anderson to say something bad, and they got on the subject of Balloon Boy and his psycho-dad Richard Henne and were wondering why in God’s name would they name the poor child, Falcon, and Kathy started mocking his Japanese-born mother on how that when she said Falcon, it sounded like she was saying “fucking”. When suddenly Anderson’s Blackberry started buzzing like crazy, he took the call, and evidently the powers-that-be decided Kathy cursed and she had to give the money they gave her back. She said she did not care and she told us that she probably did it on purpose anyway. But she said the best part was that at the end of the gig when she noticed that Anderson had received another telephone call, and heard him say that he would ask her, but Anderson saw her watching so he handed his phone to her and his mother Gloria Vanderbilt said hello and invited her over for tea. Lucky bitch! Next she told us about getting a role on NBC’s “Law And Order: SUV”, as her mother Maggie calls it, and she gets to play an activist granola lesbian which she loved doing. I assume it will be aired in the spring during “sweeps week”, so yea for Kathy. She said she could see why everybody, men and women alike, want to fuck Alexandria, Virginia native Christopher Meloni, but he kept yelling at her for missing her marks because they had to keep re-shooting their scenes. It had been a long time since she worked on “Suddenly Susan”, and of course, she was rusty. She said the best thing about the experience was going to Liza Minnelli’s apartment and sitting in Liza’s bed and rehearsing her lines with Liza. Again, lucky bitch! Next Kathy was on to the Queen of America, Oprah, who I personally hate, abhor, loathe, and despise, but Kathy loves her, she gives her a whole chapter in her bestselling book, “Official Book Club Selection”. Kathy said she really loves Oprah these days since she is back to being “Big Fat Oprah”, and hopefully she sat on all the other Oprahs and killed them. She loved the episode of her talk show where Oprah and Gayle went to the Texas State Fair, worn big cowboy hats, and ate deep-fried butter. Ugh! And she loved the episode with that “crazy witch” Sarah Palin and her “baby mama slut daughter” Bristol…the horror…but since she referenced the Palins, she brought up her “beau” Levi Johnson, who she said she really respected because he was not afraid to stand up to the Palins and their bullshit. Some of my other favorite moments were when she said A&E’s “Hoarders” was her porn…or that Ryan Seacrest must have his hand up Dick Clark’s ass, but “oh, she was okay”…that she wanted a smart nerd in the White House…and what “a total fuck-up” that John Edwards was, and his baby mama, what white woman has a black woman name like Rayelle…and you cannot forget her favorite target, her mother Maggie, and how she was getting out of hand by always playing the “age card” to get her way, and all because we, the audience, had made her a superstar. Kathy told us that she put her in a luxury apartment that cost $13,000 a month. Damn! She concluded the show with a joke about Donald Trump and how his pubic hair had the same haircut as his head. Eww!!! Kathy walked off the stage and we roared our approval. I really enjoyed this show much better than the last time I saw her in September of 2007. It was kind of nice not to hear about Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, or Clay Aiken. Scott and I left Constitution Hall with great big smiles on our faces. We love you Kathy Griffin, keep us laughing girl.
SHERYL UNDERWOOD and KYLE ERBY - January 16, 2010
DC Improv - Washington, DC
Holla! Sheryl Underwood is in town for MLK Day to make us laugh and to help us to grow into better people with her unique sense of humor and perspective as a God-fearing, staunch, black Republican who loves to suck a big black dick. Talk about a contradiction in terms, but somehow it works for her. My BBF Scott and I rolled into the DC Improv, a Washington institution since 1992, just in the nick of time to catch the show; parking is a bitch on a Saturday night in the Dupont Circle area. The club was packed with a sold-out crowd, but we were seated at the last two available stools so we had an excellent view of Sheryl. Her act is a combination of humor, testimonial, therapy, and a good old-fashioned gospel church revival meeting, but she does not come across as preachy and judgmental, as others in this position tend to do. I cannot believe what a foul mouth she has, and Lordy, she can cuss up a storm; but as a non-African-American I found her excessive use of the word “nigger” very disconcerting, because even the great Paul Mooney has dropped the usage of that word in his act, and his old act was pretty much based on that word. Sheryl, herself, said her show was a black empowerment meeting besides a comedy act and for us Caucasians and such in the audience to talk amongst ourselves during that part of her act. Other than that, I laughed my ass off at her high-velocity comedic observations and pronouncements. Once she gets started, she is like a high-speed freight train, the jokes and political humor do not stop coming. Some of the things I learned were: she hates, I mean, HATES the Clintons…but she loves, I mean LOVES the Obamas, and she is a Republican, what the fuck, the other Republicans hate, really truly deeply hate President Obama and everything about him…she thinks the Obamas’ dog Bo Diddley is beyond funny, she had a whole bit about Obama trying to find the dog on the White House grounds as he ran around yelling, “Bo Diddley where are you?”…she wants all pedophiles put to death, no ifs, ands, or buts…everybody should stop having bastard children…she really, really, really hated the movie “Precious” because she lived it and did not need to see a movie about it, and she also hated the movie “The Blindside”, especially the part where the kid said that he never had a bed before, but she loved Disney’s “The Princess And The Frog” and she felt that it made little white kids more accepting of black people because they live anything Disney…my favorite bit was when she talked about how black people have “Negro talk” for amongst themselves and “White talk” for when they are around Caucasians, I see it here all the time living in Chocolate City. She finished her set up by urging everybody to donate money to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, and for everybody to try to be better people. The house manager kept waving the “leave the stage” light at her, but she said she had a little more to say. She launched into the most extremely sexually explicit bit urging the women in the audience to suck their men’s dicks often and with as much skill as possible and to give them “rim jobs”, or “tossing the salad” as she heard it was called, but she said, “You better wash the lettuce first!” We all howled and cheered madly as she left the stage so she could go rest up for her ten o’clock show. Scott and I left the crowded club with big smiles on our faces, because Sheryl Underwood simply rocks.
PINK and THE TING-TINGS - September 28, 2009
GMU's Patriot Center - Fairfax, VA
JUDAS PRIEST, KIX, and POP EVIL - August 22, 2009
Merriweather Post Pavilion - Columbia, MD
AN EVENING WITH WANDA SYKES - August 21, 2009
The Warner Theatre - Washington, DC
PINETOP PERKINS and THE NIGHTHAWKS - August 15, 2008
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It has been a while since I went to see one of the free Millennium Stage shows at the Kennedy Center, not since I saw French ska band Babylon Circus at the beginning of the summer. So when I read that former Muddy Waters sideman, the legendary King Of The Boogie-Woogie Piano, ninety-five years old Pinetop Perkins was going to perform with The Nighthawks, I knew I had to get my tired ass down to the Kennedy Center. The show tonight is being held in the Terrace Theater, which is very nice from a technical standpoint, so the sound should be fierce. Before the show started, there were what I suppose you could call dance lessons that were supposed to teach you how to sway and dance to the blues, I did not see the connection to Pinetop Perkins, I just wanted it to be over. I came to hear the blues, man! Finally the venerable Kings of The DC Blues, The Nighthawks, took the stage and started things off with their classic song “Trying To Get You”, and the sound in the Terrace Theater was utterly phenomenal. The Nighthawks kept the boogie thumping and the crowd jumping with their patented up-tempo blues, plus it sounded like they cleaned it up a bit for the uptown Kennedy Center crowd. Their guest piano player Bill Douglas could play like Little Richard, and Mark Wenner’s harmonica playing was really sweet, it almost sounded like he was wailing on a guitar. Speaking of guitars, Paul Bell played his parts with military precision but they lacked shine, which is why I think they never really busted out nationwide. I like how they rotated singing duties but I wish they rotated the tempos, the constant 4/4 beat from the drummer Pete Ragusa was getting repetitive, c’mon boys, like the song says, “Bring it on home!”…get down and dirty and feel the blues man…now they are pumping it up with some boogie-woogie, “See that you be back home in thirty days”, man that Bill Douglas can get down on that piano. Why is that at every single blues concert there is a scary, escaped mental patient-looking weirdo who never stops dancing like he is having a stroke for the entire gig, at least he is not standing in my way at this show. The “’Hawks” are getting warmed up and the groove is getting tight as they wail, “A pretty girl, a Cadillac, and some money”, in a sweet little swing ditty, then they are off into a straight-up blues stomper that was perfect for driving down the highway at seventy miles-per-hour with the top down and the stereo cranked full-blast, and damn, once again I must say, Bill Douglas can really boogie-woogie on that piano. Then the moment came and Mr. Pinetop Perkins entered the room dressed to kill in a crimson red silk suit, red felt fedora and matching red socks and patented leather shoes, he sat down at the piano and he let his fingers do the talking. You can hear why he was Muddy Waters’ main piano player; it was awesome to hear some real straight-up boogie-woogie blues from a master. With The Nighthawks backing him up, he began playing a “down’n’lonely, woe is me, my woman done me wrong” song with some incredibly soulful playing that reminded me a lot of Ray Charles. The boogie-woogie blues kept flowing with “Down In Mississippi”, his playing was impeccable and very intricate, it is totally amazing that at ninety-five years of age he is still a “mofo” on the ivories. He pounded on the piano keys as he led The Nighthawks into “Got My Mojo Working Baby” and the blues was getting’ funky up in heah, Pinetop was kicking it out and his sense of timing was out of this world, almost supernatural. At the end of the song, Mr. Pinetop Perkins stood up and said thank you and his assistant led him off the stage. I was in blues heaven as The Nighthawks played an outro piece as the audience cheered for more.
THE COMMODORES and EVELYN "CHAMPAGNE" KING - September 12, 2008
Woodrow Wilson Plaza - Washington, DC
It is another rainy Friday evening down at the Woodrow Wilson Plaza for the second show in the DC Grooves concert series, and this one is featuring disco sensation Evelyn “Champagne” King and the legendary seventies funk superstars The Commodores sans Lionel Ritchie. Last week’s show with Ashford and Simpson was quite lovely despite the drizzling rain. Thankfully there is no annoying radio DJ bantering inanely and cajoling the crowd like a babbling idiot, but this group of people is much more eclectic than last week’s audience as we impatiently stand and wait for the show to start and finish before the rain starts pouring down. Finally a DC Arts commissioner walks onto the stage and makes a few announcements and pertinent thank yous’ and he brings Evelyn “Champagne” King to the stage and surprisingly she has no band backing her. She sings with pre-recorded backing tracks as she kicked off her set with her huge eighties hit “Love Come Down”. The PA sound was much better this week, what a difference a sound company can make. Her voice sounded great, after she sang that song she told the audience about her new album, which is dropping on September 19th, and it is titled “Open Book”. She launched into her Number One song from 1979, “Dance, Dance, Dance”, and it sounded good for its age and the era it came from, and as she said herself, “You should remember this from Soul Train!” the music had me bopping my head and tapping my toes to the beat. Next she said she was going to sing the title track, “Open Book”, from her new album. Evelyn said it was about the trials and tribulations in her life; she lost a baby in 1989 and her parents and brother died in 1997. It was a nice down tempo introspective tune about what was going on in her life. She brought her husband Freddie Fox to the stage to join her with his guitar on their re-vamped version of Frankie Beverly and Maze’s “Deep In My Soul”, it was very “Quiet Storm” sounding, but his guitar playing was quite nice. He has his own album, “Feeling It”, coming out in October. Evelyn had everyone in the audience say “Thank You” to Freddie, and then she said, “It’s time for the song that made me famous in 1977 when I was sixteen years old, I was a maid and I was cleaning the men’s room and vacuuming and singing Sam Cooke’s “Change Is Gonna Come” and this man said he was going to make me a star and two months later I was in the studio and on my way. She began singing “Change Is Gonna Come” a cappella and the music kicked in and she let her voice soar, it was spectacular. She finished with a really fierce version of “Shame” and even finished the song by playing a cool percussive break on the conga drums. It was a short set but it was really cool, and it is nice to see her still performing after all these years. After Evelyn “Champagne” King’s set, another speaker came onstage and made some announcements and then suddenly he invited several people to join him and began hosting a mini-singing contest with them. The third female contestant sang a very nice a cappella version of “Last Dance” by Donna Summer and she won by the audience’s applause. Then we all waited impatiently between the raindrops for The Commodores until the crowd started chanting for them to take the stage. The Commodores appeared on the stage in a cloud of smoke and flashing orange and magenta lights, as a voice announced, “Welcome to Commodores’ Country”, and they kicked right into “Sanctified”, a great up-tempo funker that got the crowd going with its thumping beats and swirling guitar licks. Immediately they jumped into one of my favorite songs by them, “Too Hot To Trot” from the “Thank God It’s Friday” movie soundtrack, they kicked it out and the trumpet player blew a fierce solo during the bridge, and it was onto their classic worldwide smash hit “Easy”. It sounded great, their delivery was impeccable and the guitarist J.D. Nicholas played a fantastic solo break that was quite gorgeous. Next up was “Just To Be Close To You”, which is one of the first songs that they recorded in the studio and the first one to win an award according to the singer. It is one of those “grab your lover and hold them close” songs that had the audience swaying along as they played on into “Oh Sweet Darling”, which turned into an extended jam as vocalists William King and Walter Orange got everyone to put their hands in the air and to bend and dance and to say hello to the stranger next to them. It was very nice and heartfelt and it felt good. They continued with their best-known love songs; “Sail On” which had a wonderful Hendrix-esque guitar solo at the end, “Crazy In Love Over You”, and the one that got the women screaming, “Lady (You Bring Me Up)”…”Lady, you bring me up when I’m down, maybe you’re gonna change my life around.” Then, much to my surprise, they performed their classic 1974 instrumental “Machine Gun”, it was funky and fresh as ever and the band really shined on this number. The main singer William King stopped the music and said it was time to introduce their backing band The Mean Machine and the other two Commodores, Walter Orange and J.D. Nicholas, he told the crowd what a great city that The District is and how they love playing here. He told us how since they were in DC for four days, they were able to visit and bring some cheer to the wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital, and they were lucky enough to have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to lay a wreath at The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier, and most of all, how moved they all were by these soldiers’ sacrifices for our country and our freedom. It was quite touching; they even had some military general come on to the stage so they could thank him and all the soldiers in front of the audience. Finally, Walter King said it was time for more music, I was psyched, I knew it was time for their big three super hits, and first up, was that classic wedding song, “Three Times A Lady”, I call it that because I cannot tell you how many times I had to play this song when I was a wedding DJ…”Once, twice, three times a lady”...and the crowd roared appreciatively. Second was my all-time favorite Commodores’ song “Nightshift”, and they turned it out, and when they reached the part in the song when they sing of DC’s own Marvin Gaye, singer William King sang a medley of Marvin’s songs quite beautifully, and then the other singer Walter Orange sang a medley of Jackie Wilson’s songs, and then it was back into…”Gonna be some sweet sounds coming down on the nightshift.” It was fantastic and I cheered loudly for them, and then the opening guitar riffs of “Brickhouse” boomed out of the speakers…”A matter of fact that lady’s stacked…” The crowd was going crazy, everybody was dancing and hollering, it was wonderful, the glorious beauty of music being the greatest uniter of people. The show ended and I walked home with a great big smile on my face as I hummed “Nightshift”.
ASHFORD & SIMPSON and KISS MY JAZZ - September 5, 2008
Woodrow Wilson Plaza - Washington, DC
When I awoke this Friday morning, I looked out the window and it was cloudy because it is the beginning of hurricane season and tropical storm Hanna was churning away down south and I knew the rain was coming. But the other day while I was skimming through the local newspapers, I came across an advertisement for “DC Grooves”, which is an event presented by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which said “Come Celebrate September” with three FREE high-energy Downtown DC dance concerts on Friday evenings at 7PM. The first show was going to be soul legends Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson performing their greatest hits, and I love old school R&B/Soul/Funk music, plus I never was able to see them in concert during their heyday when they played at D.A.R. Constitution Hall regularly. Normally I hate going to see bands perform when it is raining, particularly at outdoor venues, but I was hoping the rain would hold out until after their gig was over because I really wanted to see them perform their smash hit “Solid”. I leave my house and meander down to Thirteenth and Pennsylvania Avenue to, of all places, The Ronald Reagan Building, it was getting cloudier and damper by the minute and I was so glad that I was prepared with my umbrella-ella-ella. I arrived at Woodrow Wilson Plaza and I could hear some fool babbling on a microphone and as I got closer, I could see that it was some annoying DJ from WPGC-FM 95 named Shaq and he was asking trivia questions and giving out prizes…oh, I just wanted him to shut up and get on with the show. But some city commissioner took over the microphone and rambled on and thanked a whole bunch of people for helping put on the show and then he brought to the stage some female singer who introduced herself as Kiss My Jazz and that she would be accompanied by guitarist Dave Crosby, and I am sad to report that they were kind of lame as they butchered several standards and mutilated Bob Marley and The Wailers’ “Buffalo Soldier”. Dave Crosby seemed like he was pecking at his guitar like a drunken chicken, I was horrified being that I am a guitar player myself. Kiss My Jazz finally finished up their mercifully brief set, but the wind had started blowing and it started sprinkling raindrops on the plaza, I let out a big “Ugh” as I opened up my umbrella-ella-ella hoping that the show would not be rained out. Thankfully Ashford and Simpson’s band made their way to the stage rather quickly and tuned up, and some announcer shouted, “Please welcome Ashford and Simpson to the stage!” Their band kicked into their patented silky sweet funk groove as Nick Ashford bound onto the stage wearing his trademarked ultimate soul brother lover look and Valerie Simpson seemed to flow on to the stage with a sassy full-grown flair but her attitude appeared to be a little more light-hearted because she always used to look so serious in her demeanor. My friend Angela Bofill told me that the two of them used to have some knock down drag out fights when they were in the studio. But they kicked their show off with “It Seems To Hang On”, the band sounded great pumping out that boudoir funk, all funky and sexy and sophisticated and raw at the same time. Nick Ashford introduced their next song, which was their very first hit that they had written for Ray Charles, the classic “Let’s Get Stoned”. He joked that he hoped they did not get arrested for performing it since they were in the Nation’s Capital, they did not wanted to get busted, but they were going to play it anyway. It was a fantastic rendition, funky, bluesy, sassy, and made me wish I could light up a big fat joint right there, but alas I did not want to get arrested either. Nick continued regaling us with how “Let’s Get Stoned” got them noticed by Motown Records honcho Berry Gordy and he invited them out to Los Angeles. They flew out to California and he offered them recording contract but he told them that they could not write anymore drug songs because Motown Records was about family. Nick and Valerie went back home to New York City and hole-up in their studio for a few months until they had written some songs, and then at their own expense they flew back to Los Angeles and presented their new songs to Berry Gordy and he immediately put them to work and the rest of history. They launched into their parade of hits that they wrote for some of R&B and Soul music’s greatest stars like Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Luther Vandross, and Gladys Knight and The Pips – “The Boss”, “I Am Every Woman”, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “You’re All I Need To Get By”, “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, and “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” – it was awesome and the band was tight and sounded good despite the crappy sound system. Valerie really shined when she played some really nice piano parts on a couple of the songs. Finally it was time for their classic Time/Life song that everyone has been patiently waiting for to hear, especially myself, their grand finale – “Solid”. But first Nick had to tell everybody that they had to go register to vote so we could help change the country by electing Barack Obama as the first black President, and they played their hearts out…”Solid. Solid as a rock…ah ah ah…Solid!”…but they changed the chorus to “Solid as Barack!” at the end of the song, which after Ashford and Simpson finished their set, became stuck in my head as I walked to the metro in the rain because it started pouring just as they left the stage. I was so glad that I was finally able to them perform live on stage before his untimely death in August of 2011.
BABYLON CIRCUS - April 21, 2008
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
La musique ye-ye dans la maison – tres bien!!! It is 6PM on a rainy Monday evening in Washington, DC, and since the lay-out of the District of Columbia was designed by a Frenchman, it seems fitting that the French band Babylon Circus would make their American debut here. The band takes the stage with brash aplomb and launches immediately into their upbeat politically-infused ska/punk/dancehall music. Normally the shows on the Millennium Stage tend to be a bit on the staid side, but tonight there are a whole bunch of kids in attendance and the immediately enliven the show with their boundless enthusiasm and energetic skanking. Babylon Circus is a ten-piece band with quite the personality. The front man David Baruchel is quite funny and engaging, he was constantly in motion as he cajoled the audience to dance to the jamming musical blend that his band delivers tight and bouncy. The horn section blows like an old-school gypsy band; trumpeter Laurent Sedente sounds like a Dixieland Chet Baker and his tone is quite pleasing to my ears. The song “Mr. Conqueror”, which is about European imperialistic abuses in Africa, possessed some very insightful lyrics that were sung without being condescending. The rhythm section is incredibly tight as they pound away without overpowering the rest of the music. The singer David Baruchel is quite the whirlwind as he put out a massive amount of wonderfully positive energy that kept the lively crowd jumping and clapping and hollering along with the band, “Hey…Hey…Hey…Hey…Music and noise!” I do wish the guitarist George Chaccour was much louder in the mix, because he was hard to hear sometimes. My favorite song of their set is titled “Lost In The Jungle” even though it reminded me of The Clash on their “Sandinista” album a little too much. It throbbed and pulsed and I could actually hear the guitarist George for once and the front man David added a little rhythm guitar as the rest of Babylon Circus worked it out with trippy guitar squelches and synthesizer washes…”awesome…tres bien”…during the coda the saxophonist Christophe Millot squonked out this sound that had me going “wow”. Occasionally the keyboardist Olivier Soumali would play these melancholy runs that reminded me of Chopin’s “Nocturnes”, they were quite beautiful in their understatement. Overall, I found their Franco-ska/punk/dancehall sound more appealing than their American and British counterparts like The Specials, Madness, The Toasters, The Pietasters, The English Beat, and so forth. Babylon Circus’s onstage antics were very reminiscent of the pantomimes of Marcel Marceau, and the sheer goofiness of it all was quite charming. All had a good time tonight, and hopefully they will play the Black Cat or Rock And Roll Hotel sometime this summer so I can go see them again. Tres bien. Adieu.
STEVIE NICKS and VANESSA CARLTON - July 10, 2005
Jiffy Lube Live - Bristow, VA
BEN FOLDS, GUSTER, and RUFUS WAINWRIGHT - June 29, 2004
Filene Center At Wolf Trap - Vienna, VA
What a fantastic night for a concert at the acoustically marvelous Wolf Trap Filene Center in Vienna, Virginia, the sun was shining, the temperature was fabulous, and the crowd was whiter than Christmas in New England. But that just means the crowd was young, pretty, and very well-behaved, because they were psyched to see their heroes Ben Folds and Guster perform their favorite songs. My best bud, Erick Thornton, and I walked around the grounds making fun of people and laughing, at least the beers were cheaper than most of the gay bars I go to downtown. The current darling of the music critics, Rufus Wainwright, hit the stage whilst sitting at his grand piano and opened with a song that reminded me of a call to worship by a Muslim imam with its Middle Eastern-sounding piano chords, which is a contradiction in terms because stringed instruments are forbidden in Islam. I must say that Rufus is a fantastic pianist with great control and timing, but sometimes his nasally voice really grates on my nerves, it is a bit too…dare I say…faggy…and before you bitch – I can use that term being that I am gay…while on stage, he referred to some of his singing as vocal acrobatics. What!?! However, I do like his lyrical wordplay because he does have something to say and I appreciate his honesty and forthrightness about being gay and a former crystal meth addict. His guitar playing and technique could use some improvement during when the members of Guster joined him onstage for the song “One Man Guy”, which added some much-needed punch to the arrangement. He played a great version of his current single, “Wanton”, and a lovely rendition of “Complainte De La Butte”, his track from the “Moulin Rouge” soundtrack which he delivered “en francais aussi”, and then it was on to the obligatory anti-Bush/pro-freedom song called “Gay Messiah” that had the crowd singing along. His mother Kate McGarrigle joined him on the stage for a rather lovely rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. He made a few oblique references to Judy Garland, I guess because they were both junkies…oh strike that, just being bitchy…A few years back, I was the DJ at his show at the 9:30 Club when he was touring to promote his first album, “Rufus Wainwright”, and his performance was weak and scattered, but this time he was more engaging and listenable. I hear rehab can do that for you, especially when it is successful and you realize just how precious life is. It is nice to see a “tina-head sex freak” get his act together and come back a stronger person and performer, but I have had just enough of Rufus after twelve songs. Some rather obese woman sat next to me and I realized just how small the seats are here at Wolf Trap. Maybe they should have a “fat” section with larger seats for these people so they do not have to sit next to me…and damn, there are some hot boys in the crowd tonight who I rather have sitting next to me. The Clash’s “London Calling” is playing now on the PA during the intermission and it is making me feel a bit old, but Guster will be on momentarily to make me feel young with their upbeat pseudo-hippie jam rock. Opening with “Ramona”, a wonderful song with a gentle sway and tasty little guitar licks. The drummer Brian “Thunder God” Rosenworcel just blows me away with the fact that he plays all of the percussion parts with his bare hands for the band’s entire set and it is even more amazing that he has been doing it for at least the past ten years. I hope he has got a good hand doctor because all that pounding with his hands will catch up with him one day. Ryan Miller’s voice has a very endearing quality to it, warm and friendly like a gentle summer rain and his between song banter is witty and sassy as they plow through their repertoire…”4-3-2-1 Barrel Of A Gun” – “I Spy” – “Backyard” – and my personal favorite song of theirs, “Amsterdam” with its fabulous chorus…”Gonna write you a letter, gonna write you a book, wanna see your reaction, wanna see how you look”…plus, Guster is really putting some muscle into the song with a pumped up bass line and this incredible staccato guitar-picking from Adam Gardner. It was much better than the album version; they followed with “Airport Song”, a haunting piece of music that had the crowd throwing ping-pong balls in the air, on the original version on the “Goldfly” album, you can hear a bouncing ping-pong ball at the end of the track. The audience loved every second of it, but then they broke the groove with a slow-ish number “Two Of A Kind”, all around us straight couples started cozying up to each other and kissing and hugging like it was “their” song – gag me! The lights were providing great accent to the music, kudos to the lighting guys because tonight’s lights were much better than when my great friend comic Erick Thornton and I saw them perform with The Thorns at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on August 16, 2003 last summer. Adam Gardner’s guitar playing is very unique with lots of off-kilter licks and swirling riffs. “Happier” was next, it’s my second favorite song by them…”one more inch, you son of a bitch”...it makes me smile as Guster continues on with their set. They get to my third favorite song by them, “Demon”, with its awesome guitar riff that had me air guitaring along with them. Perennial crowd-pleaser “Fa Fa Fa” is their set closer and the audience sang along at the top of their lungs. What a great set and they played my top three favorite songs from their catalogue, I could not have been happier. The house lights dimmed and it felt like the crowd was surging forward towards the stage like a tsunami as Ben Folds strode out on stage waving at the crowd, he sat down at his piano and immediately launched into “Always Someone Cooler Than You”. I love his biting and incisive lyrics about people and their petty little ways. Ben is always spectacular in his piano playing as he played the intro to “Zak And Sara” and everybody rose to their feet and began singing along with him. Next was the lovely ditty “One Angry Dwarf”, then “200 Solemn Faces”, followed by a really cool new song called “Speed Graphic” that had a really great riff. Ben got all mushy as he babbled on about his four-year-old twins as an introduction for his song “Grace” that was dedicated to them. It was a rather boring song and besides I hate children. Why do artists always lose their edge after they have children? He stood up from his piano and did this goofy dance and then he asked the audience to give it up for his pal Rufus Wainwright, and then he launched into one of my favorite songs by him, “Never Gonna Dance Again”. They performed it well together and then very oddly and to my amazement, they sang “Careless Whisper” by George Michael, which Rufus sang quite nicely I must add. Then it was on to “Philosophy” and “Army”, where he extolled everyone to eat their vegetables, floss, and to buy low and sell high. “Army” was highlighted by a really “bitchin’ horn section” to quote Ben. Next up was the audience participation segment of the show where he had everybody yell, “We are not bitches and whores!”, after which he played “I Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”. Ben then informed us of his forthcoming release, a new EP “Speed Graphic”, with this sweet song “Julie” that had this really cool piano break that was very Chopin-esque in its delivery. He then started thanking everybody, which meant it was the last song before the encores, and he said, “Please welcome my friends Guster to the stage!” They kicked into “The Ultimate Sacrifice” that Ben Folds sang in a wonderfully amazing falsetto, Adam Gardner played a squealing lead guitar, Ryan Miller banged on the piano, and Ben Rosenworcel pounded away on the drums, it was intense, and then Ben climbed on top of the piano and started writhing and wiggling about like a stripper having a seizure as he kept screaming, “Rock this bitch!” over and over. The crowd roared its approval as the stage darkened and the band left the stage, the audience kept screaming for more. After a few minutes Ben returned to the stage and started playing “Evaporated”, it had a wonderful gentle piano and flowed seamlessly into “We Took A Trip And Found A Tree”. When he finished playing he called Rufus Wainwright and the boys in Guster back to the stage and they all took a bow. The house lights came back on and Erick and I fled the premises in a flash to beat the parking lot madness, all in all it was a great summer show.
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