U.S. ROYALTY - December 16 , 2011
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
As my grandmother would say, the weather in DC is enough to make a preacher cuss, yesterday was in the sixties and balmy, and tonight…fucking freezing…as I make my way to the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage to see local boys, U.S. Royalty, who are poised to be the “next big thing” out of Washington, DC. Since their inception in 2008, they have been garnishing a lot of attention for their bluesy, swaggering rock and roll and their fashion sense which garnered them a nod from GQ Magazine, which named them the “Best Dressed Band” in America because of their connection to Swedish fashion house, Gant Rugger, for whom they provided music for their commercials and promotional films. To date they have two releases, August 2009’s “Midsommar” five-song ep 7”/cd/mp3 on Engine Room Recordings, and this year’s full-length release “Mirrors” a ten-song cd/mp3 on U.S. Royalty Music that has been getting rave reviews from around the world, so maybe DC will finally get a superstar band. The hall is filling up with a diverse mélange of people, so it should be interesting to see who their music causes to flee the room, and oh yeah, I really hate people who bring children to rock concerts. It ain’t right! It is 6PM and the band takes the stage and drummer Luke Adams got things started with a sparse groove as bassist Jacob Michael dropped in with a buzz-bomb bass thump and guitarist Paul Thornley made his guitar spark and sputter as melodic riffs flew like lightening around the stage. Vocalist/guitarist John Thornton stepped to the microphone and mightily wailed “Shoo Wah Shoo Wah” in their opening song like he had just stepped out of the early seventies, U.S. Royalty reminded me of a cross between The Faces and The Rolling Stones with a touch of Southern soul music thrown in as he sang their second number, “Wild In The Street”. The third song, “Monte Carlo”, from the “Mirrors” album was my favorite one of their eight-song set. I really enjoyed the variety of musical tones that vocalist John Thornley created and played on his guitar, even though he reminded me of a cross between Jeff Beck and Keith Richards, I found his playing quite unique. Next up, was a new song called “Sleepy Eyes” from their forthcoming new album, and it showed how their sound is growing and expanding to deeper levels. Their next song, “Going Down To The Mountain”, showcased their sensational vocal interplay as the band hit their groove and John Thornley just made his guitar sound achingly beautiful as they performed a gorgeous song called “Lazy”, which surprisingly lead into a Stevie Nicks cover – “Wild Heart” – and thankfully they added the own twist so that I did not wish I was at a Stevie Nicks concert instead. I do wish drummer Luke Adams had a little more groove and swing in his playing so to really propel their music. U.S. Royalty closed their set with a swirling, stomping, swampy boogie number called “The Desert Won’t Save You” and it featured some great screams from John Thornley that had me going ‘wow’. Overall they played a quite enjoyable set of classic-sounding rock and roll that put a smile on my face and made me buy a copy of their CD.
DEVO and OCTOPUS PROJECT - December 15, 2011
State Theatre - Falls Church, VA
It is an unusually warm December evening as I make my way on the metro to the State Theatre in Falls Church to catch the leaders of 'D-evolution' – DEVO – from Akron, Ohio. The joint is packed and I find it hard to believe that this is the place where I saw “Star Wars” back in the seventies. It is cool that the place is still in action as a music venue but the bookers must have payed a pretty penny to get Devo over the 9:30 Club because ticket prices were $58 each, which is higher than usual for the place and for an extra $60 one can go to a meet and greet with the band. I guess that Nickelodeon's “Rugrats” money has dried up. The lights dim and some abysmal excuse for a band called Octopus Project take the stage dressed in third-rate high school drama club costumes and assault my ears with some electro-junk crap-a-billy meets Primus meets Karen Finley meets performance art and I am horrified. The backing musicians chaotically tried to play some semblance of music as the three females front-persons screeched and caterwauled as I prayed for them to end. There were a few people in the audience who actually applauded, I guess mental illness was a contributing factor. They reminded me of the miniature singing girls in Mothra, where was a monster when you needed one, I never thought I would ever see a band that made Bikini Kill bearable. The lights dimmed and video screen on the stage came alive and melange of Devo images through the years flashed as the band in matching overalls walked onstage and opened the set with “Don't Shoot (I'm A Man)”, the band sounded great but the vocals suck because they seem to be drowned in the mix and were hard to hear but thankfully by the end of the song it had been corrected. The band continued on into “Peek-A-Boo” with its lovely lyrics, “Peek-a-boo, I can see you and I know what you do, so put your hands on your face, and cover up your eyes, don't look until I signal...”, and Mark Mothersbaugh played a divine solo on the synthesizer as Josh Freese pounded out the rhythm on the drums. Bob Mothersbaugh played an awesome guitar intro to “What We Do” and the lyrics are still relevant to living in this world and it reminded me of The Human League. Next they played “Going Under” that opened with a raucous synthesizer line and the drummer knows how to swing and stomp as he propelled the song along and he kept the beat sharp as they performed “Fresh” with its excellent guitar riffs driving it, and oddly enough, they still sound fresh as images of bare vaginas appeared on the video and they sang, “Something in the air is telling me to go there, so I'll follow my nose, go wherever it goes...” The band was starting to smoke now as they played the driving groove of “That's Good” with lots of sexual images on the video screen, they segued into “Girl U Want” and it was the highlight of their set. Bob Casale and Bob Mothersbaugh played dueling guitars and it was phenomenal as they played some of the best solos in the set as the band backed them up so in sync and tight. They kept up the tight groove as they played “Whip It” with its stop and go beat as the audience sang along enthusiastically, “When a problem comes along, you must whip it, before the cream sets out too long, you must whip it, when something's goin' wrong, you must whip it.” Devo slowed things down a little as they launched into “Planet Earth” and the video screen showed these outer space graphics that gave the impression of floating about Earth as they went into a interlude that darkened the stage. They came back to the stage with all guitars and the band it tore up as they imploded the Rolling Stones' “(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction” and it was the best cover of the song ever. Then came the low point of their set, a rather boring cover of P.F. Sloan's “Secret Agent Man” that had the band plodding through it mechanically, but they changed it up rather quickly with the full-on rock of “Uncontrollable Urge” with its screaming guitars firing on full-barrels as the five of them began ripping off their overalls and playing like they were on fire. They played a frenetic “Mongoloid” that had them singing, “Mongoloid, he was a mongoloid, one chromosome too many, mongoloid, he was a mongoloid and it determined what he could see.”, and Mark Mothersbaugh was crawling on the ground shaking some pompoms as he madly sang the song. They kept the pace up with a furious “Jocko Homo” that they introduced by saying it was dedicated to Jerry Sandusky and they stripped off their shredded overalls to reveal shorts and knee pads and they started shouting, “Are we not men? We are DEVO!”, they launched into a Zappa-esque version of the song and Gerald Casale played a monster bass line that just walked all over you. They continued into “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA” and it featured the best guitar solo of the night from Bob Casale and then bassist Gerald Casale and drummer Josh Freese broke things down exquisitely and they wounded back up to where the band was like a red-hot locomotive coming right at you. They finished with a fiery “Gates Of Steel” that pulsed and throbbed wildly as they sang, “Twist away the gates of steel, unlock the secret voice, give in to ancient noise, take a chance, a brand new dance, twist away the gates of steel.” Devo left the stage to the deafening roar of the audience who loved every minute of it. After a few minutes the “DEVO Corporate Anthem” began blaring from the stage and they returned to play a ferocious “Freedom Of Choice” that was sensational, and then they closed their eighteen-song set with a tour-de-force “Beautiful World” as they sang, “It's a beautiful world we live in, a sweet romantic place, beautiful people everywhere, the way they show they care, makes me want to say...It's a beautiful world, it's a beautiful world, it's a beautiful world, for you, for you, for you.”. It was a thing of beauty as they stretched it out and Mark Mothersbaugh commented on the end of the war, the complexities of Mr. Potatohead, and the meaning of Christmas and the necessity of Santa Claus, and then Devo finished the song in a burst of riffs and melodies that exploded in a technicolor barrage of the senses. Devo took their bows and left the stage and the audience erupted wildly and screamed for more, but the lights came up and the show was over. I left the place exhilarated but I saw about sixty people in line to meet the band. What some people will do for money!
CHEAP TRICK and MIDNIGHT HIKE - December 10, 2011
The Fillmore - Silver Spring, MD
It is a dreary winter night as my friend Mark Amabalie and I make our way on the cold and poorly running Red Line Metro to Silver Spring to catch one of my favorite high school-era bands, Cheap Trick, at the newest venue in town, The Fillmore. I sit on the train humming…”Mommy’s alright, daddy’s alright, they just seem a little weird, surrender, surrender, but don’t give yourself away”…We arrive and jump through the entry hoops – ticket – ID – check bag – drinking bracelet – urrgghhh…the club must have gotten busted for violating some alcohol regulations, which we were informed they did when we asked our bartender as we got our first drinks. The odious excuse for a band, Midnight Hike, who I had the displeasure of enduring at Blue Oyster Cult’s show at the State Theatre in Falls Church, Virginia, back in October, are on stage flailing away at their instruments. Thankfully we arrived late and only had to be horrified by three of their songs as we waited for Cheap Trick to take the stage, I flashback to my high school years and the night my mother would not let me go see them play and she had to do it in front of my friends, it was horrible but here we are...the lights went down and out of the speakers came a radio dial sound and a blur of sounds from The Simpsons' Apu singing the “Dream Police” to theme of “The 70's Show” which they did so brilliantly. The band strolled onto the stage and immediately opened up with “Hello, There”, and Rick Neilsen whipped off a killer solo as his son Daxx provided some amazing drumming, as Bun E. Carlos is on a break, as Robin Zander greeted everyone with, “Hello there ladies and gentlemen, hello there ladies and gents. Are You ready to rock? Are you ready or not?”, and he was glammed out in a sparkly 'drum majorette' outfit and leather pants. They were off as they barreled on into “California Man” by The Move and Tom Petersson was rocking the bass so hard as I kept laughing at the many faces of Rick Neilsen as he played, and they continued with “Oh, Candy”. Rick spits into the air and catches it with his mouth then spits it in the crowd as he played an incredible diversity in licks and riffs that just blew my mind. He played his best riff of the night in a sensational version of “I Want You To Want Me” and Robin sounded great as he sang the song with heart and soul, “I want to want me! I need to need me! I'd love you love me. I'm begging you beg me...” Cheap Trick were on fire now as they played a raucous “She's Tight”, a totally rocked out “He's A Whore”, and they tore up “Downed” with a ferocity that I have not seen in them in years. Rick changed guitars to a cool square one and then they did the greatest Beatles cover ever, a heavenly “Magical Mystery Tour” that left me floored with their delivery. Before I could catch my breath they did an exquisite “On Top Of The World” with its wonderful pop sensibility and they did a great percussion breakdown in the middle of it, and had everybody singing along as Robin sang, “You're on top of the world, on top of the world, and you can't get any higher. You're on top of the world...You're on top of the world tonight.” Rick must have the most amazing collection of guitars judging by the variety of them that the guitar tech kept bringing him, I was amazed. Next they played “Borderline” and as they began the song, somebody in the audience threw a giant feather boa on the stage and Robin picked it up and put it on and vamped it up as Daxx laid down a rock-steady beat, and I hate to say it but I enjoyed him more than Bun E. Carlos. Rick was so deft on the guitar as he dazzled us with some spectacular fretwork then he said the next song was dedicated to guitarist Scotty Moore because today was his birthday and he launched into the Elvis classic “Don't Be Cruel” and Robin was sensational singing like Elvis with such ease. The highlight of the show was “The House Is Rockin' (With Domestic Problems)”, and each of them had a moment to shine on their instruments as Robin wailed, “The house is rockin', still, I gotta go in, can't find the words 'cause they're so damned tough, actin' like fool that can't get enough, trouble yeah, I can't explain what I can't see.” They performed “Taxman, Mr. Thief” with a fury that could only come from experience as they played each and every word with screaming guitars backing them up, and they segued into “Baby Loves To Rock” and Tom played his bass with the utmost skill and dexterity that blew me away. Robin Zander slowed things down as he introduced each band member to the audience and then he said it was time for their biggest hit and they tore into “The Flame” and Rick played the most incredible lead guitar that gave the song edge and it did not seem to be a 'pop song' anymore. They continued on with one of their more esoteric songs, “Sick Man Of Europe” and they sounded great as the riffs flew everywhere grinding their way into my head. The crowd was in a frenzy now as they roared their approval and Cheap Trick launched into “Surrender” with panache as Robin sang, “When I woke up, Mom and Dad are rolling on the couch, rolling numbers, rock and rolling, got my Kiss records out.”, and I was in heaven as they played it like they were on fire. Next, they started into “Gonna Raise Hell” and they performed it like they meant it as Tom's bass found its groove and played into an amazing breakdown and Daxx Neilsen pounded out a nice drum solo that did not bore me, and they finished with a crescendo of rhythm as Rick played a guitar solo that left with me speechless. They played on with a “Dream Police” that got the audience revved up as they played the hell out of the song, their passion was unbelievable as they made the song rock and they segued into a raucous “Clock Strikes Ten” as they had the place going crazy. Rick switched to his famous four-neck guitar and he was out of this world as he played it with the greatest of ease as Robin sang, “Goodnight now ladies and gentlemen, goodnight now ladies and gents, that's the end of the show, now it's time to go...”, the place was in a frenzy as they finished their twenty-two song set with “Goodnight” and then they left the stage. I was blown away by their set and I was so glad I saw Cheap Trick giving it their heart and soul one more time.
AMERICAN CORPSE FLOWER, THROWDOWN SYNDICATE, and SISTER EX - November 25, 2011
Black Cat - Washington, DC
It is the day after Thanksgiving in late November of 2011 and the mindless consumerism of Black Friday has America in its thrall as I make my way to DC landmark club Black Cat on 14th Street to visit a dear old friend, guitarist Fred E. Smith Jr., who is in town with is current band American Corpse Flower. I find myself laughing to myself in my head because his band’s name is quite appropriate for the events of the day and particularly that he is in his hometown. Also on the bill is Sister Ex and The Throwdown Syndicate, so hopefully they will be fun and interesting and a joy to see. But also on a sadder note, tonight is also billed as a tribute to longtime DJ and music scene fixture Tom Terrell, who back in the day would host “Tom T’s Turkey Trot”, a dance party that he held at the DC Space and my friends and I would dance our asses off to his cool mélange of funk, rock, jazz, and dance music that always got the crowd moving. We became friends and talked a lot about local music history and he really liked the song “Old Days” by my band Revelation…so rest in peace bro…on with the show…Sister Ex take the stage after Fred Smith made an announcement about tonight’s show in which he said his band could not make it tonight and it was his intention to celebrate Tom Terrell’s life tonight despite that. Sister Ex are a lively four-piece band who once featured bassist Steve Willett, a former band-mate of Fred Smith in Strange Boutique, and they that pump out some post-modern alternative rock and roll voiced by a tough-chick singer/guitarist Claudia Neuman who reminded me of Joan Jett way to much. Former Strange Boutique bassist Steve Willette sat in for one of their songs which all seemed to remind me of The Stooges crossed with Social Distortion, but the beat was relentless and the songs’ beautiful melodies all seemed to be overpowered by Johnny Black’s drumming as the vocals sounded like they were coming out of a well. However they had a great groove and they got my head to bounce along as guitarist Anthony Piazza grinded on like a dental drill as Jeff Welslowski’s fantastic bass lines throbbed underneath the cascading rhythms of the drummer. My favorite song of their set was called “Road To Heaven” because of the beautiful chiming guitar line that danced through the thunder. Overall, I did not mind Sister Ex but their lack of tempo change got on my nerves as their set became overly long. Here’s to hoping the next band plays more interesting music. The Throwdown Syndicate take the stage with a sonic fury, and damn for a trio they make a hell of a lot of noise that was skillfully played but lacking hooks, but the rhythm section of bassist Luis Trigueros and drummer Andy Och laid down a groove full of swagger and swing, but alas, it was yet another dental drill guitarist, James Reeves who was also the vocalist, grinded away on his axe as he did his best death metal growl into the microphone, I felt like I was at Jaxx in Springfield, Virginia, except there was no mosh pit and besides, I prefer Magrudergrind when it comes to this genre of music. When the singer James kept his mouth shut, they could pump out some swinging death metal full of hidden swirling melodies that had actual mellifluous groove to them, but the damn unintelligible vocals…garragggghhhhh…and like all death metal, their set went on way too long, and I felt like I was trapped in a blender set on puree. I really hate it when a fantastic drummer has to back musicians who are not on par with their playing skills, I wanted to run on stage and break the guitarist’s fingers while I screamed, “Enough already!”, as he droned on and on…and finally thank Satan, they were finished and the DJ segued into the Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein” and I sit at the bar drinking my Stella Artois and patiently waiting for Fred and whatever musicians he was able drummed up to play with him on such short notice since the rest of American Corpse Flower could not make it to DC. Fred E. Smith Jr. has been one of my favorite guitarist since he was in punk-funk band Beefeater in the mid-eighties, he knows how to coax some dazzling riffs out of his guitar. He starts the show with a poetic tribute to Tom Terrell as he rapped and played his guitar, then calls Danny Ingram onstage to drum with him as Tom sister tells a story about Tom and his deep love of all music, finally bassist Steve Willette joins Fred and Danny on the stage and they kick into a goth-y jam and it was kind of neat to see three-quarters of Strange Boutique onstage together for the first time in years. They haphazardly plowed through a Strange Boutique song and Fred finally explained why his band American Corpse Flower was in disarray because his bassist was in the hospital with a serious medical condition. Fred and company noodled out some freeform something or the other and Fred did play some lovely riffs, but it was horrifying to see them fumble about on the stage like they did. So I hope his bassist gets well soon and they come back and play a gig to make up for this crap. But on the plus side, I ran into a lot of old scenesters; I saw Sean Vitale of Gussound, The Factory’s Vance Bockis, Scootertrash’s Rodney Dancy, Dot Dash drummer Danny Ingram, photographer Leon, lovely sister Cat, former 9:30 GM/Tone guitarist Norm Veenstra, Thud/Tone drummer Greg Hudson and bassist Chris Raske, and DC’s original punk Grandpa Ed who try to talk my head off, so I fled the premises and took my tired ass home.
THE FOO FIGHTERS, SOCIAL DISTORTION, and THE JOY FORMIDABLE - November 11, 2011
Verizon Center - Washington, DC
It is one of those days that only comes once in a lifetime, eleven-eleven-eleven, which according to a numerologist that I saw on CBS’ “The Talk” yesterday afternoon and she said it was a special day in the grand scheme of things and that each eleven represented a door and each one of us had to pick the right one to walk through because today was the perfect day to finish or begin projects in ones’ lives. I thought how fortuitous since I was beginning a new project involving the re-mastering and re-issuing of the six-song “Final Daze” EP by my mid-eighties band Revelation, and back in the day when we used to rehearse at the Scream house in Arlington, Virginia, Dave Grohl would watch us practice and he would laugh and call us “hippies”, but he did say our song “Babylon Days” was one of his favorite songs by a local DC band. Another favorite memory of mine from that time is quite funny; my guitarist Kenny Dread and I were promoting hardcore matinees on Sunday afternoons at a lesbian bar called “The Hung Jury Pub” on H Street in Northwest Washington, DC, and one Sunday we did this show featuring Dave’s then-current band, Dain Bramage, and I usually announced each band, and beforehand Dave Grohl kept repeatedly telling me not to say, “Brain Damage”, instead of “Dain Bramage”, but before they went on to play their set, I snuck out back to the alley and smoked a little bit of ganja to chill out, so of course, what did I do – I said, “Please welcome Brain Damage…er…I mean Dain Bramage to the stage!” Dave Grohl let out an exasperated scream and beaned me with one of his drumsticks…it is funny now but it hurt then and I got revenge a few months later when my band Revelation ended up headlining over Dain Bramage at The Complex on 9th Street, NW after the promoter realized everyone was there to see Revelation so he changed the four band line-up also featuring 11th Hour and The Spastic Rats, and made my band headline and paid us $13…back to now…I hit the streets to pick up my tickets and outside, winter has descended on the city and it is chilly and windy as I make my way uptown. I reached the Verizon Center and there is a huge line for the unseated floor that was going to be the mosh pit that will be interesting to watch but thankfully my seats are close to the stage. I arrive and watch the people parade in as I look for fuckers from the old days, I reached my seat just in time to see the first band, The Joy Formidable, take the stage and launch into some grungy, ethereal-sounding rock that reminded me of The Kitchens Of Distinction crossed with Elastica. The three musicians from Wales grind out their music almost lazily as the singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan coaxed effected notes out of his guitar between actually playing notes, the bassist Rhydian Dafydd carried the melody with some gut-rumbling riffs as the drummer Matt Thomas pounded away, but without a lot of groove. Ritzy’s voice was pleasant enough, but the lyrics were indecipherable as her guitar notes hung in the air. My friend Andy Kennedy said she was like the anti-Joan Jett in how she conveyed herself to the audience. They closed their five-song set with this great song called “Whirring” which was a pounding, swirling wall of sound as they attacked their instruments. I found their set to be pleasantly enjoyable but I would not go out and buy their album. The house lights came up and I marveled at the stage set, the loudspeakers and lighting rigs were mind-boggling, the power behind them must be amazing. Next up is Social Distortion, one of the original West Coast punk bands since 1978, and it is nice to see Mike Ness back on the scene and I am looking forward to hearing their 1990 generation-defining classic “Story Of My Life”. Social D take the stage with thunderous guitar riffs as they launch into “Bad Luck” from 1992’s “Somewhere Between Heaven And Hell”, and Mike Ness looked good and sounded great as roared, “Some people like to gamble, but you, you always lose. Some people like to rock’n’roll, you’re always singin’ the blues. You gotta nasty disposition. No one really knows the reason why, you gotta bad bad reputation. Gonna hang your head down and cry…” It is awesome to see that he has overcome his addiction and prison problems because I was quite impressed by what I saw. “So Far Away” from 1990’s “Social Distortion” began pounding out of the speakers, the rhythm section of bassist Brent Harding and drummer David Hidalgo Jr. were totally in perfect sync as Mike Ness wailed on his guitar, they plowed on into a riveting “Machine Gun Blues” that is on their recently released album “Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes” and it was a typical Social Distortion thumper and it got the audience going. From the opening riff of 1990’s “Story Of My Life”, I was on my feet singing along, “Life goes by so fast, you only want to do what you think is right. Close your eyes and then it’s past, it’s the story of my life.” It totally rocked and longtime second guitarist Jonny Wickersham whipped off a fantastic teeth-grinding solo that made me say hallelujah. It is a classic example of great American songwriting, and I have lived every word. Next they launched into a bone-rattling cruncher, “Gimme The Sweet And Lowdown” from “Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes” and Mike Ness tore it up on his guitar and played his best solo of the night which gave me goose bumps. They kept the groove going with their biggest hit, “Reach For The Sky” from 2004’s comeback album “Sex, Love And Rock’n’Roll”, and it had the best rock and roll accordion solo I have ever heard…ever. Before I had time to catch my breath, they kept roaring along as they started into the best song of the evening, the title track from 1988’s “Prison Bound”, and the four of them were on fire as Mike screamed, “Well, I’m going to a place where the tough guys go and come out even tougher. A place where a man don’t show his feelings, a place where a man don’t cry…oh, I’m prison bound, I did a crime one too many times…”, Mike Ness is the punk rock Johnny Cash and you can tell that he has lived every word that he sings on stage. He stops the band and introduces everyone and tells a story about some racism that he had recently witnessed and it pissed him off so he wrote this song, “Don’t Drag Me Down” in which he succinctly says, “Children are taught to hate, parents just couldn’t wait. Some are rich and some are poor, others will just suffer more…Have you ever been ashamed and felt society tried to keep you…” from 1996’s aptly titled “White Light, White Heat, White Trash” and Mike topped it off with a heartfelt guitar solo that cut like a chainsaw through my ears. Social Distortion finished their set with a somewhat shoddy version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire”, overall, it was a pretty rocking set that everyone seemed to enjoy, and I cannot believe that Mike Ness has been at it since 1978. I hope he keeps it up for many more years because he has got something to say and he knows how to write a great song. The house lights came back up and I noticed that these two drunkenly obnoxious rednecks kept staring at this man in the row behind me, and then one of them finally recognized him as Lonn Friend the former editor of metal bible RIP Magazine, and they freaked out on him and raved about how he singlehandedly turned them onto so many of their favorite bands. Lonn graciously posed with each of them for their cell phone cameras and told them about his new book, “Life On Planet Rock”, and then he tried to go back to his daughter and her friend but they just kept babbling on and punctuating everything with “bro” and “dude” until I wanted to scream “shut the fuck up” but thankfully the house lights dimmed and the stage came alive as the trusses rotated and lights began flashing and the video screens flickered with a parade of images. The crowd started going bonkers and as I looked around, I could see that the place was full top to bottom and everyone was on their feet screaming for The Foo Fighters, the band took the stage and opened with “Bridge Burning” from their current album “Wasting Light”, it was electrifying to see someone I know headlining at the Verizon Center as he stepped to the microphone with his guitar blazing to sing, “These are my famous last words! My number’s up, bridges well, burned. Oh, won’t you let me twist my faith. It’s getting kinda late but I don’t wanna wait no more…” The place was in a frenzy and the sound was impeccable, I have never heard a band sound better in this arena as they segued into the best song on “Wasting Light”, the sensational “Rope” and I never realized what a great soloist Dave Grohl is on his guitar as he worked the stage like a maniac pacing in a cage, you could not take your eyes off him. The best part was that Taylor Hawkins is a phenomenal drummer and he gives the band their power as he pounded out waves and waves of raw rhythm. The speakers and video screens began rotating and flying above the stage like a giant transformer, it was an amazing spectacle as Dave began singing the poetic words of “The Pretender” from 2007’s “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace”, which is one of my favorite songs by them, “What if I say I’m not like the others? What if I say I’m not just another one of your plays. You’re the pretender. What if I say I will never surrender?” Dave sprinted up and down the stage like a man on fire, and it is so nice to see someone who understands the art of the fat riff because he just made his guitar scream like a banshee. The band rolled on non-stop as they cranked out “My Hero” from 1997’s “The Colour And The Shape”, and Dave is just unbelievable as a frontman as he jumped around like madman and never stopped wailing on his guitar, he never missed a beat as he ran through the crowd and got the audience to sing along at the top of their lungs, it was just amazing to see him perform with such intensity. After a series of rock’n’roll screams, Dave joked about how he has always dreamed about selling out the biggest arena in his hometown and he has finally done it, he laughed and began to play the opening riffs of “Learn To Fly” from 1999’s “There Is Nothing Left To Lose”. I loved it as he sang, “Run and tell all of the angels, this could take all night. Think I need a devil to help me get things right. Hook me up a new revolution cause this one is a lie, we sat around laughing and watched the last one die.” The band was charging full-speed ahead by now as they played another song from “Wasting Light”, the old-school punk-styled “White Limo”, it reminded me of a hardcore song from his DC days and the band was relentless especially second guitarist Pat Smear who was destroying his guitar and they rolled on with an ode to Dave’s hometown, also from “Wasting Light”, the driving ditty “Arlandria” that had Dave wailing, “You are not me Arlandria, Arlandria. You and what army, Arlandria, Arlandria. Oh, god you gotta make it stop. My sweet Virginia, oh, god you gotta make it stop…My sweet Virginia, oh, god you gotta make it stop.” Together drummer Taylor Hawkins and bassist Nate Mendel are the best rhythm section in rock’n’roll as they made the song crunch and grind as played their hearts out, I was incredibly impressed by how well the band members interacted with each other with such ease and familiarity. Even Dave stepped to the microphone and commented, “We used to fucking suck, now we shred!”, then he struck the opening chord of “Breakout” from “There Is Nothing Left To Lose” and just went crazy with the guitar histrionics as he and Taylor played off each other like Punch and Judy, and he blew my mind with his most ear-blowing guitar solo that was easily his best one of the night. After he finished the song, he made the individual introductions of each band member and I just love Dave’s sense of humor that peppered his stage banter all night, I had some great laughs. He then said Taylor was going to sing the next song, “Cold Day In The Sun” from 2005’s “In Your Honor” which he did with great panache as Rami Jaffee tickled the keyboards skillfully as he enhanced the melody. Next up was another one of my favorite songs from their extensive catalog, “Stacked Actors” from 1999’s “There Is Nothing Left To Do”, it was an awesome piece of swamp boogie on which Dave played the most fantastic metal riff that made my hair stand on end as he bellowed, “Hey, hey now, can you fake it? Can you make it look like we won? Hey, hey now, can you take it? And we cry when they all die blonde…”, guitarists Pat Smear and Dave Grohl traded licks like two boxers in the ring, it was a sight to behold and an guitar-tastic aural orgasm. It was on to my favorite song of the night, a soul-searing “Walk” from “Wasting Light”, Dave’s passion and exuberance for his music is amazing and he told everybody to “break your computer and buy a guitar” and he thanked Social Distortion and The Joy Formidable, and launched into their biggest hit, “Monkey Wrench” from 1997’s “The Colour And The Shape”, and damn, they so rock as the audience sang along, “One in ten, don’t want to be your monkey wrench. One more indecent accident, I’d rather leave than suffer this…I’ll never be your monkey wrench”, the arena was a sea of lighters and cell phone glows, as Dave played the most beautiful extended guitar break as he ran all over the stage to the cheers of the crowd as he segued into “Let It Die” from 2007’s “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace” and he kept his guitar just a ‘screaming as they flowed into the best song on “Wasting Light”, “These Days” with his most stunning lyrics to date, “These days – the stars seem out of reach. But these days – there ain’t a ladder on the streets. These days are fast, nothing lasts in this graceless age. Even innocence has caught the midnight train and there ain’t nobody left but us these days.” It flowed lethargically out of the speakers, I guess one could call it their “slow song” and Dave dedicated it to the armed forces. The crowd was loving every minute of the show and Dave announced that the next song was the first one that band learned way back in 1995 when their self-titled debut album was released, a driving “This Is A Call” that flowed into a awe-inspiring cover of Pink Floyd’s “In The Flesh” that matched the original in beauty and intensity as Dave made the arena quake with his picture-perfect guitar riffs. Roger Waters would have been proud. Dave looked out into the audience with a look of amazement as he began strumming on his guitar and singing, “I never ever thought I was looking for a wife. But I think I could love her for the rest of my life. I will love you all my life.” from “All My Life” off 2002’s “One By One”, which seemed to sum up how Dave and his band was feeling at his triumphant homecoming at the biggest arena in town. The Foo Fighters left the stage to a eardrum-shattering roar that blew my mind and left the crowd screaming for more. After a few minutes, Dave Grohl appeared on the video screens urging the crowd to cheer louder, after each roar he goaded the crowd to give more, then he suddenly bounded onto the stage and made his way to a raised dais in the middle of the arena and began strumming his acoustic guitar and began singing their single “Wheels” from 2009’s “Greatest Hits” which he interspersed with a tale of his adventures of driving around the area, smoking a bowl, and tripping out about how much things have changed, to quote him, “What the hell happened to Springfield Mall? What the fuck is the Springfield Interchange? Fuck twenty years ago! Sing loud enough and we’ll come back and play a four hour show at the 9:30 Club.” And before he kicked into “Best Of You” from 2005’s “In Your Honor”, the crowd joined him as he screamed, “Were you born to resist or be abused? Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you. Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you.” He finished the song by saying, “I’m a lucky motherfucker” and that he cannot believe that they won a Grammy for an album that they recorded for free in a garage in Alexandria, Virginia, neither can I but they deserved it. God bless real musicians who know how to play their instruments. Dave played some more acoustic guitar while singing, “False starts, young hearts got shattered. Pick up the pieces coming down around you. You ran away, ran away, it was right on cue. Can I go on and on and on and on and on again.” from “Times Like These” off “One By One”, and the rest of the band joined in as he made his way back to the main stage and the song came alive with electricity as the band pumped up the groove and they totally rocked it. They finished the song and Dave invited punk rock legend Bob Mould out to the stage and he told a story about a girl named Sandy who broke his heart, and as he was telling it, there was this girl sitting in the row in front of me who suddenly freaked out as were her two friends who kept saying, “He talking about you Sandy, OMG”, it was a trippy moment, and I must say Bob Mould is pretty scary, but he sounded great on his guitar as he began playing “Dear Rosemary” from “Wasting Light”, it was a pretty decent song but it was funny to watch Sandy sitting there totally flabbergasted for the song while her friends kept making weird noises. Dave thanked everyone on stage for playing with him, and then said he loved Tom Petty and they kicked into a raucous version of Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers’ “Breakdown”, I thought what an odd choice for a cover, but they made it beautiful and fitting. The final song of their set was a heartfelt version of “Everlong” from “The Colour And The Shape” album, and the words were a very fitting way to end their set, “…and I wonder when I sing along with you, if everything could ever feel this real forever, if anything could ever be this good again. The only thing I’ll ever ask of you, you’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when…” The Foo Fighters left the stage and I felt exhilarated from the power of their music, this was one of the most entertaining and visceral modern rock performances that I have ever been to, I guess that it helped that Dave Grohl was playing the biggest place in his hometown because that most have given him the greatest adrenaline rush of his life so he played like he had never played before. My friend and I left the Verizon Center with The Foo Fighters still ringing in our ears as I admired my new Foo Fighters tour shirt specific to this gig. I am looking forward to more fantastic music from Dave Grohl and The Foo Fighters and to seeing them in concert again in the summer. Thanks for the memories Dave.
HUGH CORNWALL and DOT DASH - October 21, 2011
MC's Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center - Rockville, MD
It is a pleasant and sunny October evening as my pal Dave Coleman and I make our way to the hinterlands of Rockville, Maryland, to their campus of Montgomery College and its Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center to see Hugh Cornwell of the legendary Stranglers and one of my favorite local bands, Dot Dash, who features drummer Danny Ingram of my all-time favorite local band Strange Boutique. First off, I must say, why did Hugh open his American tour all the way out here, why wasn’t it at the Black Cat or something in the city where his fans live which would explain the small crowd, it is just a question that I have. The venue itself is very nice and the acoustics are spectacular but this is one of the most sparsely attended gigs that I have ever been to, so it should be a quite intimate performance. I sit in my seat waiting for Dot Dash to get the evening off to a rocking start as they opened with “That Was Now, This Is Then”, a nice rocker that kicked off their thirteen-song set of pleasant post-punk groove with a slightly menacing edge as vocalist/guitarist Terry Banks’ hopeful but melancholic lyrics make you contemplate what the future holds as bassist Hunter Bennett delicately hammers along with his propulsive bass lines as drummer Danny Ingram rides the groove with his impeccably timed drum fills and Terry Banks and Bill Crandall’s guitars riffs swirl about atmospherically in “Learn How To Fly”. They are reminiscent of The Cure mixed with The Byrds with a bit of shoe-gazer rock thrown in for good measure. Their set featured the majority of the songs found on their debut fourteen-song cd “Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash” that was released on The Beautiful Music label back in September, including a grinding “Tragedy/Destiny”, new song “Two Octobers”, an eerie “The Past Is Another Country”, a wonderful “Dissolve”, a driving “The Color And The Sound”, and the highlight of their set a fantastic “Lateral/Vertical”. They were a delight to listen to as they continued on with their set, they finished up with a few songs from their soon to be released new album, first they played “Far Away” with its driving bass line, and then they played “Love To Tell” that had a beautiful twin lead guitar riff that just blew my mind. They finished things up with a revved up “No Reverie” from their debut album and a lovely new song from their upcoming release called “Shouting In The Rain” that summed up what they were doing. Overall, they played a fantastic thirteen-song set that I thoroughly enjoyed and I am looking forward to listening to their cd on the way home and I am hoping to see them again really soon. Dot Dash left the stage and I guess by Hugh Cornwell's request, some lovely jazz danced out of the speakers to get him in the mood or something. This is the opening night for his North American tour in support of his new album “Hooverdam” and I hope the rest of the tour is better attended than this show. He is playing as a trio featuring the phenomenal Steve Fishman on bass and backing vocals and the inimitable Clem Burke from Blondie on the drums. I remember when I discovered The Stranglers way back in the late seventies when I discovered their album “Rattus Norvegicus” and the album cover made them seem so wonderfully menacing...”we are the men in black”...I saw the most mesmerizing show at The Ontario Theatre in Adams-Morgan back on November 28, 1980 that just blew my mind and then they had their equipment truck stolen which somehow seemed appropriate for them. The three of them take the stage; Steve Fishman plays crunchy and overpowering bass, Clem Burke gets loose with sharp and tight drumming, and Hugh Cornwell plays driving insect-like guitar lines that propels them along as they kick off their nineteen-song set. They plowed through their songs with great pizazz as Hugh played piercing leads as he sang with great conviction as Chris played great chop-chop-chop drumming that propelled the songs forward; a soaring “Wrong Side Of The Tracks”, a pulsating “Goodbye Toulouse”, and a powerful and driving “Snapper”. One of my favorite moments of was in “G.M.B.S.” and Hugh played a scintillating guitar solo that made my hair stand on end and the band blazed on with a sensational “Nerves Of Steel” from “Guilty”. They then launched into the swirling psychedelic miasma of The Stranglers' “Golden Brown” and Hugh Cornwell was brilliant in its delivery and he introduced drummer Clem Burke and bassist Steve Fishman as they each got a chance to show off their musical skills as they each got to take a solo and they turned it out. They continued on into “One Burning Desire” off the album “Guilty” and I really liked the various unusual guitar tones that Hugh employed and then they performed another Stranglers' song “School Mam” but the vocals got lost in the mix and the bass tone was driving me crazy. Next they played “Rain On The River” and they were getting into it and then suddenly they blew up an amp but Dot Dash saved the day by lending them a replacement amp and they jumped right back into it without missing a beat. They finally played my absolute favorite, a searing “Always The Sun” by The Stranglers that rattled me to the core with it's emotional intensity as they slashed away at it, they segued into “Banging On At The Same Old Beat” with its haunting lyrics...”It's indisputable, it's undeniable, it's unbelievable, it's inexcusable..” They were on fire as they exploded into “Nuclear Devise” that they played with a ferocity that rocked me out of my socks. They finished their set with a bone-rattling “Straighten Out” that left me breathless and wanting more, Hugh, Steve, and Clem left the stage in a wall of feedback as the small crowd gave them a rousing ovation. After a few minutes they returned and Clem Burke kicked out a big beat as they finished their show with a sharp and tasty “Hanging Around”, and then they played what was The Stranglers' greatest hit, “Peaches”, and they turned it out with a driving beat that just rocked, and then they finished with “No More Heroes” that perfectly summed up the night with its perfect lyrics and exquisite guitar riffs. I must say that I have not been rocked like I was in a long time and his songs are emblazoned in my brain, so we rushed out of there and dashed on down the road back home to get away from some brain-less idiot who was accusing me of something or the other.
DURAN DURAN and NEON TREES - October 16, 2011
D.A.R. Constitution Hall - Washington, DC
It was a beautiful fall evening as I made my way across town to Constitution Hall to meet my BFF Scott Parks so we can get our retro-eighties groove on with glamour pop icons Duran Duran. We arrived and entered the venue, I scored a tour shirt, then we made our way to our pretty decent seats, and the opening act Neon Trees hit the stage full of retro-eighties aplomb as their flamboyant lead singer/guitarist Tyler Glenn pranced and vamped his way through their eight-song set. They were vaguely interesting as were their songs, which were a pastiche of eighties’ pretty-boy pop-rock and The Smashing Pumpkins. The highlight of the show was a stellar rendition of their smash hit, “Animal”…”Here we are again. I feel the chemicals kickin’ in. it’s getting heavy and I want to run and hide, I do it every time. You’re killing me now and I won’t be denied by you. The animal inside of you.”…, which Tyler Glenn prefaced with a story about his first girlfriend, and he made a joke about his ambiguous sexuality by saying, “Believe it or not…a girlfriend!” Musically they were a bit monotonous and their songs sounded way too similar to each other, but their drummer Elaine Bradley was fantastic and kept a rock steady beat, sadly the two guitarists, Tyler Glenn and Chris Allen, could not pull off a decent solo between the two of them, unfortunately Chris Allen’s fierce hairdo was more interesting than his guitar playing. Neon Trees left the stage and Scott and I joked about the people in the audience, some of them did not age well from when they first loved Duran Duran in their eighties heyday, and let me tell you, they have a lot of fat female fans, very scary since I doubt Simon and the boys are chubby chasers. The anticipation builds, the house lights finally drop, and Duran Duran take the stage to an orgasmic explosion of screams as they opened with a lively “Before The Rain” from their new album “All You Need Is Now”. Simon Le Bon’s voice sounded lovely as he sang, “A stormy summer is rolling closer, lighting up this holy smoker. And if this drinking could ease the thinking, I toast to my home truth with this glass…”, I think this album contains Simon’s best lyrics to date and inspirational about being strong and overcoming adversity. Altogether the sound and the lights and the visuals worked together in fantastic synchronicity and an excellent start to the show. John Taylor sounded great on his bass as he began “Planet Earth” from their 1981 debut album, the rest of the band kicked in beautifully and tour guitarist Dom Brown whipped off some sparkling guitar riffs that gave the song some added punch. Next up was the title track to their new album, “All You Need Is Now”, and I must say that this song is their new classic, Nick Rhodes led the band on his keyboards as he played phenomenally and his melody lines really stood out on this number. Their comeback had a rough start with 2009’s “Red Carpet Massacre”, but it is quite nice to see that they are on track now. They continued with another new song, “Blame The Machine”, and I am amazed by how impeccably tight the band was, and drummer Roger Taylor just laid down the crisp rhythms that really propelled this song as John Taylor rode the rhythms with galloping bass lines. The video screens flashed with futuristic graphics of a drone society that gave the song deeper meaning and an edge. As soon as I heard the opening notes of “Come Undone” from their splendid 1993 album, “Duran Duran”, I was on my feet because this is probably my all-time favorite Duran Duran song and the band turned it out as longtime backing vocalist Anna Ross wailed angelically to Simon singing, “We’ll try to stay blind to the hope and fear outside. Hey child stay wilder than the wind and blow me into cry…who do you need, who do you love…when you come undone…” As usual this song overcomes me with emotion and I was in heaven to be hearing it live, as I danced and swayed to it soul-shattering beauty. It was on to my favorite song from “All You Need Is Now”, the glorious slab of disco-funk titled “Safe (In The Heat Of The Moment)” that showcased John Taylor making his bass throb and pulse like some classic seventies funk. They segued into their first song from 1983’s “Seven And The Ragged Tiger”, their Number 1 smash hit, “The Reflex”, it had an updated intro that gave it a cool new edge as Nick played some lovely synthesizer washes as Simon sensuously cooed “I’ll cross that bridge when I find it. Another day to make my stand…oh…woah. High time is no time for deciding. If I should find a helping hand…oh…woah.” The band was smoking now and the song just blew the place up, and everybody in the audience was dancing as Simon led a clap-along, it was fantastic and I was happy as a lark. Next was probably the one song they could have left out or replaced with “Too Much Information”, a new song based on a story Simon saw in the news, “The Man Who Stole A Leopard”, but what was funny was John Taylor began playing the wrong music on his bass, and Simon laughed heartily as he informed John what he was doing who in turn made a joke and started playing the right part. They followed that with another new classic-sounding song, “Girl Panic!” with Simon singing, “A single random meeting with your eyes and I am beaten and how I am going nowhere…I know I’m going nowhere…”, and it sounded like it could have been right at home on the “Rio” album. They finished the song with a jumping rhythm section breakdown between Roger, John, and sensational percussionist Chelsea Isler who reminded me of Sheila E. in technique and style, I was blown away by this segment, it was my favorite musical bit of the show, it was tremendous. Simon left the stage and the rest of the band played this lovely instrumental “Secret Oktober” with a spine-tingling sax solo from Simon Willescroft that completely took me by surprise. Simon returned to the stage in a fresh outfit as they reached back into their catalogue for a scintillating version of “Careless Memories” from their first album, it was one of their more rocking songs of the night with some great crunchy guitar work from Dom Brown that John Taylor accented with a sinuous bass line. It is starting to seem to me that John Taylor carries the songs with his consummate bass playing, and I really love the lyrics in this song, “So soon just after you’ve gone, my senses sharpened. But it always takes so damn long before I feel how much my eyes have darkened. Fear hangs a plane of gunsmoke drifting in our room. So easy to disturb with a thought…with a whisper…with a careless memory.” They flowed seamlessly into their new single, “Leave A Light On” with Simon on acoustic guitar, and it was very reminiscent of one of their old songs and the accompanying visuals of multiple light bulbs was quite inventive. Next it was the night’s highlight, an almost magical “Ordinary World” from 1993’s “Duran Duran”, it was the best song of the night, from Simon’s exquisite voice singing, “And I don’t cry for yesterday. There’s an ordinary world, somehow I have to find…And as I try to make my way to the ordinary world, I will learn to survive…” to Dom Brown’s pitch-perfect guitar notes that swirled delicately throughout the mix. He began playing the intro riff to “Notorious” from 1986’s same-named album and John Taylor got all loose with some funky James Brown style bass playing as Simon led the crowd in a joyous sing-a-long and then they slowly morphed the funky groove into their first hit, “Hungry Like The Wolf”, the band played it all pumped-up and muscular, it was fantastic and the crowd was in a frenzy. Simon took a breath and began singing, “Reach up for the sunrise. Put your hands into the big sky, you can touch the sunrise. Feel the new day enter your life.”, and the band was smoking full-on like a speeding train, the guitar is divine, Dom’s fuller playing style invigorated the songs, and he played his most outstanding solo of the night, his controlled and deft playing really enhanced the band’s performance. As the last note of the song hung in the air, Duran Duran quickly dashed off the stage as the audience roared for more. After a few minutes they returned to the stage and launched into a riotous “Wild Boys” that had the audience going frenetic and singing at the top of their lungs, then much to my surprise, the song mutated into “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood and they turned it out. Simon thanked everyone for being such a great audience and told us about how he and the band visited the recently unveiled MLK Memorial earlier in the day and it was very touching and so they dedicated tonight’s show to him and what he stood for. They finished the show with their career-defining single, an absolutely gorgeous “Rio”, and it was a pumped-up rocking version accented by visuals of endless eyes intermingled with scenes from the original video and Simon Willescroft played the signature sax solo deliciously wailing like a wolf at the moon. Overall, this was the show of the fall and right after my birthday, in the past few weeks I got to see several of my favorite groups from the eighties perform and this show was the perfect capper. Duran Duran completely impressed me with their durability and sense of timelessness, and I hope they keep it up for many years to come.
DC SALON PRESENTS: DC SPACE DISCUSSION - October 12, 2011
Watha T. Daniels/Shaw Library - Washington, DC
I was reading the Washington City Paper the other day when I came across a small blurb that said there was going to be a discussion/preview of an upcoming documentary film about legendary landmark Washington, DC restaurant/performance space “dc space” to be held at the Watha T. Daniel-Shaw Library in Northwest DC, and so I made a mental note that I had to attend, if only to see old friends and former co-workers. DC Space occupies a warm place in my heart, ever since I first began attending shows there, starting with “The Unheard Music Festival” way back on December 17th and 18th of 1980, where it, for the DMV at least, all began for the area’s fantastic underground music scene which blew my mind when I saw all the bands that changed my life that weekend; scene originators The Nurses, generation-defining Minor Threat, the debut of John Stabb’s Government Issue, S.O.A. featuring Henry Rollins, my friend John Hansen’s band The Zones, plus The Untouchables, The Item, Wiggly Mittens, Type-O, Abbreviated Ceiling, Fluffy Pig, and the legendary Martha Hull And The Steady Jobs. As time went by I saw hundreds of bands, poets, and performance artists there, including Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Don Cherry, 9353, Strange Boutique, Fugazi, The Factory, White Zombie, Outrage, Laurie Anderson, Jim Carroll, and several bands that I worked for, Murder Ink, Saddletramp, Jimi Sin, my own band Revelation played there twice, and I worked as stage hand for Gussound at a bunch of shows, and starting in 1990, I worked there as a doorman/dishwasher/cleaner until it closed in 1992. One of my most memorable experiences was when during a “Chesapeake Revue Show”, I pulled a sword from the throat of my sword swallower friend, also on the bill was the famous Spoonman, who we allowed to park his traveling school bus at my friend Kelly’s driveway. The night arrived and I made my way to the library with my friend cinematographer Adrian Salsgiver to see what this gathering was all about, local artist Mark Eisenburg was the host and he started the evening off by introducing the speakers panel that included; Bill Warrell, who started the place, Cynthia Connelly, who booked the bands from 1986 through 1992, Lisa White, who managed Baltek and assistant booker, and Jean Homza, who as she put it, started there as a drunk then first door person and finally club manager. Jean Homza also said that Patti Smith’s quote, “I got to live an era”, helped her to get over the loss of the club that was such a huge part of her life for many years. I found that to be incredibly insightful on her part. Bill Warrell started things off by telling us about the early days of the club, when they used to loosely call it “D.on C.herry Space” because he played there so frequently in the late seventies along with other experimental jazz legends like Lester Bowie, Fred Frith, John Zorn, John Cale, John Cage, Antony Johnson, and Cassandra Wilson played her first gig there. The club’s first booker Claudia DePauw was quite adventurous, besides being one of the first spaces to book all the aforementioned acts, and some of the noted performance artists of the era, namely Tim Miller and Karen Finley. While discussing the condition of the club and its infamous downstairs bathroom, Bill noted that “dirty places were necessary to foster outside culture”. Bill then talked about when they first took over the building, on the second floor which became artist studios/rehearsal space, there was this guy who used to make false teeth up there before the artists moved in to work. Bob Boillen of The Urban Verbs reminded us of “the danger of nostalgia”. The discussion continued and Bill Worrell told about how the “dc space” used to own 10% of the original 9:30 Club on F Street, he reminiscenced about Tom of Tasty Productions who put on a lot of the underground rock shows, and the weekly “I Am I” film screenings, I saw the first film about AIDS, “A Virus Knows No Name” at one of these nights, and the night he saw HR of The Bad Brains get thrown through the glass of the front door, he finished up by saying, “the internet has de-personalized art”. After a few more words from the other panelists, and watching filmed footage from the last two weeks of the club’s existence. The meeting broke up and I socialized with several old friends including photographer Charles Steck and his wife Dot, DJ Tom Berard, musician Bernie Wandel, and Jean Homza who I had not seen since December 2001 when I stopped working at the 9:30 Club after my father became ill. Overall it was a lovely experience to talk and reminiscence and see my old friends as Adrian and I dashed away in the night after taking a few photographs.
BLUE OYSTER CULT and MIDNIGHT HIKE - October 9, 2011
The State Theater - Falls Church, VA
It is the fall of 2011 and it is “Rock-tober” as I make my way on the Metro to The State Theater in Falls Church, Virginia, to catch one of my all-time favorite bands – B.O.C. – The Blue Oyster Cult from Long Island, New York. I can still remember the day I discovered them in 1973 as clear as a bell, I had escaped from my mother’s tyranny for a couple of hours and rode my bicycle to the Harmony Hut in the Manassas Mall to look at album covers, and as I made my way down the “rock” aisle and stopped at the “B” section, Blue Oyster Cult’s brand new “Tyranny And Mutation” album sat on the new releases shelf and gleamed like a jewel beckoning me to buy it, the now iconic album cover drew me in with all of its mystical and geometric beauty, so I picked it up and felt a tingle so I immediately gave the sales clerk the four dollars that it cost to buy an album back then in the seventies and then I biked home to immediately play it because the song titles were so intriguing – “O.D.’d On Life Itself”, “Hot Rails To Hell”, and “Mistress Of The Salmon Salt (Quicklime Girl)”. I could not wait to hear them because I was really tired of “Led Zeppelin IV” that everyone was listening to at the time, thankfully my mother was in a good mood, so after giving her a quarter for the electricity my turntable used, she let me blow my mind with the unparalleled glory of the “Tyranny And Mutation” album and I immediately fell in love with the B.O.C., so I had to run out and buy their first album the next day, and every one of their albums thereafter. I was lucky enough to see them open for KISS a few years later at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, and also on the fabled “Black And Blue” tour with Black Sabbath, plus a few other times at the Capital Centre as the headliner, which as I sit here in The State Theatre I cannot believe that they used to sell-out arenas in the seventies and early eighties. As I sit in my seat in the balcony daydreaming, the opening act Midnight Hike take the stage, they are a local band that are getting a bunch of press coverage lately, and I hate to say this, but thanks to my “real rock and rock” detection meter, I could tell immediately that I would be horrified by them and their music. There is nothing worse than when competent musicians play intolerably derivative music while backing an egotistical half-assed singer. I said it before and I will say it again, “Dad Rock” blows chunks and is the anti-thesis of all that is rock and roll. The band valiantly plowed through their forgettable up-tempo rock and roll that fell flat on my ears, from the singer who wanted to be Creed’s Scott Staph, to the drummer who played the same 4/4 beat for their entire six-song set, and he needed his damn cowbell taken away from him. The rest of the band members were decent enough musicians but none of them ever really shined musically on their instruments, their various solos were so by rote, plus none of them even looked like typical rock musicians, I think I rather would have endured Nightranger or even Hanson who are playing here next week. Thankfully they have finished their set and I do not feel like wasting any more ink on them, even to be cruel…but once again…DAD ROCK SUCKS. Hopefully the set change will be brief and Blue Oyster Cult will play a rocking set so I can get the hell out of this club, which I am not a big fan of, regretfully. Back to my B.O.C. memories, throughout the late eighties and into the nineties after their arena years commercial peak, I would see them at The Bayou in Georgetown, and that hellhole Jaxx/Zaxx in Springfield, Virginia, at least once a year, and oddest of all, at this tiny club called The Old Post Office in Hilton Head, South Caroline, where the band was practically in my lap. On June 12, 1997, I saw them play at Merriweather Post Pavilion as part of the “94.7FM Presents Summer Daze” concert with Foghat, John Kaye and Steppenwolf, and The Pat Travers Band, and it was one of the best times that I had ever seen them live, and the last time I saw them was back in August of 2007 at some shitty outdoor event in Rockville, Maryland, where they were “plagued” by bad sound, but hopefully tonight will be a great rock and roll show on their part. Thankfully the set change was brief, and the house lights dimmed and Blue Oyster Cult’s intro music began as the band took the stage and opened with a driving “The Red & The Black” from their 1973 masterpiece “Tyranny And Mutation, and they still got it, sounding sharp as ever as Buck Dharma growled, “It’s all right…It’s all right…It’s all right…Yeah baby knows it’s all right…You’d kill, you maim…Ah, c’mon kill’em now…You’d kill, you’d maim…Maim’em too…Ah, break it up.” and he and Eric Bloom traded guitar licks like two mad fencers, they have always been the masters of the twin lead attack. Eric Bloom sang lead on the ironically wry “Golden Age Of Leather” from 1977’s “Spectres”, and Buck Dharma and Richie Castellano provided effortless vocal harmonies as the three of them made their guitars scream like a three-headed monster. It was fabulous as they segued into a dark and ominous “ME 262” from 1974’s “Secret Treaties” with Richie Castellano singing lead vocals that gave me the chills. Eric Bloom paused and greeted the crowd, and began singing, “Burn out the day, burn out the night. I’m not the one to tell you what’s right or what’s wrong. I’ve seen signs of what freezing their eyes went through…”, and they played “Burning For You” from their stellar 1981 album “Fire Of Unknown Origin” with such incredible passion that just took me there…I only wish that I could see them perform “Joan Crawford Has Risen From The Grave” from the same album one day. Next up, it was “Harvest Moon” from their overlooked 1998 album “Heaven Forbid”, and it was nice to hear one of their lesser-known songs and Buck played one of his best solos of the set with its jazzy edge that gave the song some dimension. The second the signature drum beat of “Cities On Flame With Rock And Rock” began, I was on my feet with the rest of the audience screaming along, “…cities on flame with rock and roll…”, it was an excellent version with a looser arrangement that had Richie playing his keyboards like a mad Mozart as Buck added these squalls of atmospheric feedback howls filled with delicate arpeggios, and latest drummer Jules Radino closed the song with a toe-tapping percussion breakdown that was quite funky actually, I was impressed. Then it was onto the heaviest song of the night, “Black Blade”, the opening track from 1980’s “Cultosaurus Erectus”, and substitute touring bassist Jon Rogers laid down this very Black Sabbath-y bass line, while Eric Bloom slashed away on his guitar, as Buck Dharma sang my favorite lyrics of the night, “I am the Black Blade forged a million years ago. My cosmic soul it goes on for eternity carving destiny. Bringing in the Lords of Chaos, bringing up the beasts of Hades, sucking out the souls of heroes, laying waste to knights and ladies. My master is my slave…hahahahahahhaha…poor fucking humans…”. It was completely blown away by the intensity and complexities of the song, and I am going to order a copy of the album when I get home, hopefully there is a re-mastered deluxe edition with extra tracks available. Eric asked us to give it up for bassist Jon, since regular bassist Rudy Sarzo is currently on tour with Dio’s Disciples who playing a tribute tour in honor of recently departed singer Ronnie James Dio. I can see how “Black Blade” influenced Nine Inch Nails, because Trent Reznor often cites this song as a big influence on his later albums. Next the band made my night with an out of the world version of “The Vigil” from my favorite album of theirs, 1979’s “Mirrors”…”…in a purple vision…”…I was completely blown away by their tightness and Buck and Eric’s guitar interplay is the best in the business. But as I sit there digging the music, I cannot help but miss all the lights and lasers, and especially the giant lurking Godzilla, that made their shows so exciting back in the day. Now it was time for Buck Dharma to showcase his aero-dynamic guitar skills with his in-concert fret-board masterpiece “Buck’s Boogie” which first made its appearance on the splendid “On Your Feet Or On Your Knees” live album from 1975 and it has been a live staple ever since. It is one of the greatest hard rock instrumentals ever, and Buck turned his guitar into a music machine and played what I can only describe as “metal jazz”, and he and keyboardist Richie Castellano traded licks like they were playing a game of dodge ball which just warmed them up for what I considered to be the high point of their set, an absolutely riveting “Then Came The Last Days Of May” from their timeless 1973 debut that brought tears to my eyes as Eric Bloom dolefully sang, “They’re ok, the last days of May, I’ll be breathing dry air. I’m leaving soon, the others are already there. You wouldn’t be interested in coming along instead of staying here. They say the west is nice this time of year.” The capper was when Richie Castellano played a breathtaking guitar solo that seemed to float in the air like smoke, I was completely blown away by this rendition of one of my all-time favorite songs by the Blue Oyster Cult because I have lived it. And now it was time for their “big two” as I refer to them, “Godzilla” from “Spectres” and the classic rock radio standard “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” from their best-selling album, 1976’s “Agents Of Fortune”, and they did not disappoint. I consider “Godzilla” to be the best “novelty” song ever, and drummer Jules Radino had his moment to shine as he rocked out with a tremendous percussion breakdown and got the crowd screaming and whistling like maniacs, normally I hate drum solos, but this one was alright, I like Jules’ style and the melodic way in which he drums. Buck Dharma opened “The Reaper” with a killer guitar intro that was amazing as he started wistfully singing, “Come on baby, don’t fear the reaper, baby take my hand, don’t fear the reaper, we’ll be able to fly, don’t fear the reaper, baby, I’m your man…”, he even dedicated it to the recently departed Steve Jobs and birthday boy John Lennon. It was a outstanding performance of a never-to-forgotten classic that is part of the American pop culture landscape forever, and Buck Dharma is a rock and roll guitar god. Blue Oyster Cult left the stage to the roars of a very appreciative audience who were all on their feet because the band brought us to our knees tonight with a sensational set. After a few minutes, the band returned to the stage, and Buck said they were dedicating the next song to John Lennon for what would have been his seventieth birthday if he had not been assassinated in 1980 by a madman, and they kicked out a raucous version of The Beatles’ “If I Fell”. Blue Oyster Cult then finished their show with a mind-shattering “Hot Rails To Hell” that showed why “Tyranny & Mutation” is the greatest hard rock album ever and that they are the greatest hard rock band America ever produced. I was exhilarated as Buck began singing, “1277 express to heaven, speeding along like dynamite. 1277 express to heaven, rumble the steel like a dogfight. You caught me in a spell, trying to leave but you know darn well…the heat from below can burn your eyes out.”. I must say that this is one of the best performances that I have seen from B.O.C. in a while, even if it is at The State Theatre, but it better than Jaxx/Zaxx or whatever the hell the place is called now. I wanted to buy a tour shirt, but they only had a boring grey one with a plain logo, so I saved my money, and hightailed back to the East Falls Church Metro so I did not miss the last train back to the city, and I hope I get to see Blue Oyster Cult once again real soon.
BRYAN FERRY and THE PHENOMENAL HANDCLAP BAND - October 3, 2011
Music Center At Strathmore - Bethesda, MD
It is yet another dreary night in the DMV, it is like we are turning into Seattle or something, but it is the perfect kind of night to see the master of the ultra-sophisticated modern rock sound, Bryan Ferry, first with Roxy Music and then with his solo career. The show is listed in the newspapers as sold-out, but I trekked out to the Music Centre at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland, anyway on the metro during rush hour because I have really good luck getting great tickets the day of the show, and once again my prayers were answered and I was blessed with a primo ticket in the front row of the orchestra section and on the aisle. I could not be happier as I made my way to my seat, and on the way to said seat, I ran into my old friend Anne and we reminisced about the old days in the eighties when we were famous Dupont Circle personalities and we laughed about a very scary un-named mutual acquaintance of ours from that era. The pre-show music was a lovely mixture of old school soul and classic Motown hits which put me in a really good mood. I love the Strathmore, the building itself is a magnificent piece of art in itself and the acoustics are absolutely phenomenal, and I cannot wait to hear some of his classic Roxy Music songs performed in the venue. I fell in love with Roxy Music over thirty-five years ago when I was in middle school and I saw them play “Out Of The Blue” on the “Midnight Special” on television and I was blown away by their freaky outfits and their music which was so different from the pedestrian arena rock that all my friends listened to back then, but also being a fan of Roxy Music got me bullied and harassed by the jocks in my high school who said Roxy Music were “queer”. So hopefully Bryan Ferry and his band will perform all my favorite Roxy Music songs like “Virginia Plain”, “Love Is The Drug”, “Avalon”, and most especially “Dance Away”, to make up for that trauma. The house lights dimmed and the opening act The Phenomenal Handclap Band took the stage and kicked things off with some groove-heavy, electronic-tinged, space-age trippy hippy rock that featured some rather lovely vocal interplay between bandleader/keyboardist/sampler Daniel Collas and lead vocalist Laura Marin. They really reminded me of a more soulful version of Hawkwind as the guitarists, Luke O’Malley and Jason Roberts, drove the music with their intertwining lead riffs, the drummer Patrick Wood kept the beat crisp and his drumming style reminded me of the Tom Tom Club’s Chris Franz which was quite evident when they played their hit single “15-20” and vocalist Laura Marin sang just like the Tom Tom Club’s Tina Weymouth. For musicianship, the star of the band was bassist Emily Panic who stood quietly in the back as her skillful playing drove the music with her intricate and serpentine bass lines that made the rhythm pulse and breath. Overall I found their seven-song set to be enjoyable, particularly their new song “Born Again” and their closing number “The Right Number” from their forthcoming album. The only thing that annoyed me was when keyboardist Daniel Collas kept playing these high-toned notes that made me cringe, but other than that The Phenomenal Handclap Band were not bad. The house lights came back up and I noticed as I looked around the venue that the show did not seem like it was sold-out as the box office proclaimed – very odd indeed. One can feel the anticipation building as the seconds ticked by, Bryan Ferry and his band are only here in the states for two weeks for the “Olympia Tour”, so I feel very lucky for this rare chance to see him perform. The lights dimmed and their intro music played as these giant video screens began flickering with fast moving images and photographs, Bryan Ferry wearing a stylish black suit and tie with a white shirt and his very sharply dressed band take the stage and opened with Roxy Music’s “The Main Thing”, the band is tight and smooth as he suavely croons, “Look at my hand. There’s a soul on fire. You can lead me even higher…the main thing…everybody knows when a good thing’s gone. You can really turn me on.” The video screens showed an endless parade of beautiful women which reminded me that Bryan Ferry has always portrayed himself as the ultimate sophisticated ladies man as they segued into a sensuous version of “You Can Dance” that really showcased Chris Spedding’s inventive guitar playing that made me sit up and take notice. Bryan said hello to everyone and longtime drummer Paul Thompson, who has backed him since 1971 with Roxy Music, kicked off a thumping “Slave To Love” and he sounded fantastic as the rest of the band joined in, plus there were these two dancers, Jade Sullivan and Marie Francis, who ran around the stage gyrating madly, it was quite peculiar and somewhat cheesy. Next up was the first of the several odd but interesting covers in the set, a very country-ish “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” by Bob Dylan, it was pleasant but I was like…get back to the originals please! Bryan Ferry sat down at the keyboards and began soulfully singing, “I would do anything for you. I would climb mountains. I would swim all the oceans blue. I would walk a thousand miles…” from Roxy Music’s best love song, “If There Is Something”, and saxophonist Jorja Chalmers let loose with a spine-chilling solo that did longtime Roxy saxophonist Andy MacKaye proud, but I did wish that he was playing here tonight. Then it was onto the second cover of the night, a hard-driving “Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan, and the guitarists Chris Spedding and Oliver Thompson played these fantastic intertwining muscular riffs that really set it apart from Dylan’s original. As soon as I heard the opening strands of “Kiss And Tell”, I was on my feet immediately and it proved to be my favorite moment of the show, Bryan’s voice was at its most spectacular when he sang, “Ten cents a dance…kiss and tell, money talks, it never lies, kiss and tell, give and take, we live and learn…”. If there ever was a song that should be a James Bond theme song in a bombastic opening sequence, this is the one, I am actually surprised one of his songs has not been used already, since Bryan Ferry is so quintessentially English. The band succinctly kept up the pace with a deliciously sybaritic “Casanova” that featured a superb saxophone solo from Jorja, and I liked how his band added their own touch to the Roxy Music numbers. Once again Bryan sat down at the keys and gently tinkled out the gorgeous melody of his biggest hit, “Boys And Girls” and languidly sang, it was quite beautiful and they flowed into a scintillating “Alphaville” with him singing, “Another night, a night in Alphaville. This time is made for love. Let’s play together in every bar and club now and forever…” as Chris Spedding finished the song with a heartbreaking slide guitar solo, and they ended their first set with, quite surprisingly I must add, a very raucous version of Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane” that Bryan managed to make Neil’s lyrics sound graceful and urbane and Oliver Thompson played a scorching solo that was his best of the night and Jorja blew yet another sublime saxophone wail that brought tears to my eyes. Bryan announced that they would be taking a short intermission and they would be back shortly to play their harder songs. The house lights went up and the young woman sitting next to me, inquired about what I was writing in my notebook, I told her that I was a music journalist that freelanced to several national and international music magazines. She told me about her sister’s band in New York City, called Religious To Damn, in which she sang about being a Afghani female rock musician and her struggle to fit in between her two worlds. Later at home, I googled them and I was quite impressed by what I saw and heard, you should check them out. After about fifteen music, the house lights dimmed and Bryan Ferry who switched to a black shirt with his suit and his band returned to the stage and opened with another archetypal Roxy Music song, “Tara”, that Jorja Chalmers began with a soaring saxophone solo, then pianist Colin Good added a dainty melody that Chris Spedding highlighted with the acoustic guitar, it was quite lovely and staying in Roxy mode, the band swirled into a chilling “Bitter Sweet” that featured my favorite verse of the night, “Well, this is such a sad affair, I’ve opened up my heart so many times but now it’s closed, oh my dear, every salted tear it wrings bitter-sweet applause, but when the show’s in full swing…”. At that moment I could not have been happier as they continued back into a faux-country vein with a sunny “Oh Yeah”, and then it was onto their fourth cover of the night, but it was the best of the seven that they played and the third one by Dylan which I guess was because of the “Dylanesque” tribute album he had released a while back, I never knew he was such a fan. But it was a darkly glorious “All Along The Watchtower” that showcased all of his musicians’ deft playing skills, especially the lightening-like guitar riffs from Oliver Thompson. Bryan Ferry made his way once more to the keyboards and began playing a soothing “Reason Or Rhyme” that segued into “Avalon”, the song that pretty much defines his and Roxy Music’s career, and he sang it like a dream, “Without conversation or a notion – Avalon, where the samba takes you out of nowhere and the background’s fading out of focus. Yes the picture’s changing every moment…”, it was absolutely fucking brilliant! Next it was a dazzling “My Only Love”, that lead into the real crowd-pleaser of the night, a effervescent “Love Is The Drug” that had the whole audience singing along, “Late that night I park my car, stake my place at the singles bar, face to face, toe to toe, heart to heart as we hit the floor…oh oh can’t you see…Love is the drug for me…”, and I was having a musical eargasm that could not be beat. They closed the set with a great rave-up of Wilbert Harrison’s R&B classic “Let’s Stick Together” that let the musicians stretch out and get loose, which even got me up and dancing until they left the stage as the crowd and I roared approvingly. After a few minutes they returned and Bryan thanked us profusely as they kicked into John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” with a muted fury and then Bryan and his band really let loose with joyous version of Sam And Dave’s classic “Hold On (I’m Coming)” that brought the house down and finished the show. Overall, it was an excellent twenty-two song set that had me enthralled with its presentation and the faultless playing of his ten-piece band, but I do wish Bryan Ferry was a bit more provocative in his interaction with the audience like he was in Roxy Music in the seventies and eighties. I bought a tour program and fled the premises and made my way to the metro to make that long trek home with “Love Is The Drug” stuck in my head.
GEORGE THOROGOOD AND THE DELAWARE DESTROYERS and TOM HAMBRIDGE AND THE RATTLESNAKES - October 2, 2011
The Fillmore - Silver Spring, MD
It is another dreadful, dreary, rainy Sunday night and I am back at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland, to catch the kings of the bad-ass blues, George Thorogood and The Destroyers, who I have not seen since the mid-eighties, when I last saw them at The Bayou in Georgetown where they seemed to play at every three months when they were basically the house band for DC101, where you were guaranteed to hear “Bad To The Bone” and “Move It On Over” at least three times a day. It is nice to see that George Thorogood and his band are still flogging the mid-Atlantic area club circuit, and since the blues revival is going full-swing, there should be a pretty decent turnout, even though the club was giving out complimentary tickets at the door when I left the Tom Tom Club/The Psychedelic Furs’ show the other night. I am starting to like The Fillmore, but you cannot see shit from the balcony, and I would hate to be here at a sold-out show. I love that shows are prompt here and at approximately 8PM, the opening band Tom Hambridge And The Rattlesnakes take the stage and even though they were a bit cookie-cutter blues, vocalist Tom Hambridge had an intriguing attitude and a sense of humor that is lacking amongst blues bands today. Tom has quite the music CV, he wrote award-winning songs for B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Chuck Berry, and Lynyrd Skynyrd to name a few, even won a 2011 Grammy for producing Buddy Guy’s “Living Proof” album. His band featured Tom MacDonald on bass and Jimmy Scoppa on guitar and they kicked it as Tom Hambridge produced some phenomenal rhythm and percussion on just a snare drum and a cymbal as he sang his heart out. They sounded like a weird mélange of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Ten Years After, and The Stray Cats, it was nothing that exciting but they were pleasant to listen to, way better than that soul-less hot-shot guitarist Joe Bonamassa who seems to be king of the “blues-rock” hill these days, however you do not want to look at them, they got beat with the ugly stick twice. I guess that is why they got “da blooze”, and not the real blues, they seem to be doing well on the blues festival circuit. They plowed through a fast-paced obligatory six-song set, the best two songs were a lively drinking ditty called “Shot Glass” and their closing number “I Got Your Country Right Here” that was like a mash-up of Kid Rock meets ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd with Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker” guitar riff thrown in for good measure, and they happen to be going on tour with ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd next month. Overall, they were bearable when it comes to bar bands, but they will always be an opening band. After they finished their set, I went to buy this bad-ass George Thorogood tour shirt, and as I was standing in line at the merchandise booth, Tom Hambridge was signing autographs and when I reached the counter he reached towards me to sign something and I declined and we both felt odd as the merch guy laughed out loud. I hurried back to my spot where my friend Mark Amabali was waiting just in time to see George Thorogood And The Destroyers take the stage and open with a bone-rattling version of Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Rock And Roller”. The band was smooth as butter as saxophonist Buddy Leach and rhythm guitarist Casey Carleton played well off each other, and George whipped off one hell of a guitar solo that gave me the tingles. Sticking with the classics, they played their definitive version of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” that sounded great as ever as the two large video screens on the stage displayed some cool graphics that really made the song pop. George welcomed the audience and made some jokes about his recent arrest, and then bassist Billy Blough and drummer Jeff Simon laid down a tight rock-steady groove that exploded into Tommy Tucker’s “Hi-Heel Sneakers”. I just love how George plays the guitar as he slowed things down and plucked out the riff to “I Drink Alone” and it had the whole audience raising their drinks to him. Keeping up with the theme, George did an extended solo intro to what I call his “Stairway To Heaven”, a blistering version of John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” that was impeccably delivered with great aplomb, which he ended by telling everyone not to drink and drive, which made me laugh. They followed that with a jaw-dropping version of Johnny Cash’s “Cocaine Blues” that George dedicated to Johnny, and it made me glad that I was not a cocaine addict anymore. The band is chugging away now as they switched up to some tradition jump up blues, a cover of Willie Dixon’s “Seventh Son” that showcased George’s deft finger-picking which just amazed me. Then it was on to the second original song of the set, “Get A Haircut”, that George told us was for the “sophisticated rock fan” before he began wailing, “Get a haircut and get a real job…” I love his tongue-in-cheek humor that he delivers with a wry smile that makes me smile, but he sure does work up a sweat onstage because his shirt is soaked as he just makes his guitar sing. It was on to the final original song of the night, and I forgot that they play mostly covers, as they launched into the song that made him famous, “Bad To The Bone”, and it was a killer delivery of a classic. George Thorogood is blowing me away with his playing intensity, his finger-picking is amazing because I cannot imagine what his finger calluses are like and his voice still smokes after thirty-five years of being on the road. Sax player Buddy Leach knows just where to play his tasty saxophones fills as George played his best slide solo of the night, I was completely blown away. The audience began chanting for Hank Williams’ “Move It On Over”, and the band obliged with a stellar version that was smoking hot as they made George shine with his impeccable slide guitar skills, and let me tell you, what a set closer it was, I was half-expecting his guitar to catch on fire. They left the stage to an enthusiastically screaming crowd, which was quite loud for the over-35 set that made up the majority of the audience. George Thorogood And The Destroyers strolled back onto the stage, and kicked into another Willie Dixon cover, a rocking “Tail Dragger” that gave rhythm guitarist Casey Carleton his moment in the sun as he played an exquisite and sublime solo that really impressed me, while George who was looking dapper in a fresh shirt and a fedora picked up his guitar and the band segued into Joe Jones’ “You Talk Too Much” in which Buddy Leach blew one last killer sax solo as George and the band left the stage once again, but returned quickly to finish up with a stirring rendition of Elmore James’ “Madison Blues” which was a great way to close the show. Overall, this was one fantastic and uplifting show that proves the blues are alive and well, and I would love to see them perform again
THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS and THE TOM TOM CLUB - September 30, 2011
The Fillmore - Silver Spring, MD
It is the last day of a very dreary September in the Autumn of 2011 as I make my way on the nerve-wracking Red Line Metro to The Fillmore in Silver Spring for the second time this week to see not one but two of my favorite bands from the eighties, The Psychedelic Furs and The Tom Tom Club. It is amazing that both of these bands are still kicking it, but I am looking forward to seeing both of them perform tonight. The last time I saw The Tom Tom Club was way back in May of 1989, when they took over The Bayou in Georgetown for four nights, where they even re-decorated the club like a psychedelic day-glo beach party for the run. So I am so looking forward to seeing them after twenty-two years because I have a feeling that they are going to be fantastic as ever, and boy, were they. The band took the stage with a raw funky fury sounding tight and fresh as they opened with “Who’s Feelin’ It” from their 2000 reunion album “The Good, The Bad, And The Funky” and Tina Weymouth was a vision as she spanked her bass and soulfully sang and she greeted the audience and thanked us for helping them celebrate their thirtieth anniversary. She is one of my all-time favorite bassists, she played a delicious intro to “Punk Lolita” from The Heads’ “No Talking, No Head” 1996 album which Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano originally sang and she dedicated the song to them and “all the ladies in the house”, but Tina ruled as she belted out the seemingly autobiographically lyrics, “She was a punk Lolita, C.B.G.B. era. Holes in her stocking, nothing is shocking. Down at the heels, had what it takes to feel. She could rock the world. She was a punk rock girl, ooooh…” Tina Weymouth and drummer/husband Chris Frantz seem to be psychically connected because they just stayed in the pocket, they could pass for a classic seventies funk band rhythm section if you close your eyes. They did have a “turntablist” on the stage with them though and I will hold that against them, but not really, Kid Ginseng was not that annoying and did not distract me from the beauty of their music. Percussionist/keyboardist Bruce Martin kicked off the next song, “The Man With The Four-Way Hips” from their 1983 album “Close To The Bone”, with a fabulous percussion intro that got the audience dancing, but the guitarist Pablo Martin could have played a little more aggressively to make the song really shine. I did get a good laugh as I watched this obviously drunk guy do his best “Elaine Benis” imitation as he flailed wildly to the song, he was quite funny. The band continued on to “Suboceana” from their classic 1988 album “Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom” and keyboardist/percussionist Bruce Martin played a great menacing melody as guitarist Pablo could finally be heard in the mix with a really cool grinding riff as Tina crooned, “Trust me, just trust me, I live in your mind, I’ll be your dream master. All of us know this, we’re going inside, this is your life after…boom boom chi boom boom!”. But I really miss their fantastic original percussionist Steven Scales, he really made their music come alive with his inventive percussion skills. Right before they started the next song, “L’Elephant” from their debut record, Chris Frantz gave a big shout-out to local legends The Urban Verbs, then they played a jumped up arrangement of the song that made it sound scarier than the more light-hearted original version, but I did miss Adrian Belew’s swirling guitar riffage. Tina was just lovely as she sang “en francais”, “C’est la guerre, la guerre des hommes, ils se sont disputes. Tout autour, ils veulent tuer…tuer, tuer, tuer, tuer, tuer, tuer, tuer, tuer…”, and that seamlessly flowed into a beautiful version of “On And On” also from their debut. It still sounded as fresh as ever, and keyboardist/percussionist Bruce Martin really let loose as his fingers danced across his keyboards, I was really impressed by him. Then Tina asked the audience to give it up to their second guitarist Victoria Clamp who was a local girl from Mclean, Virginia, it is always good to see a local musician make it big. They flowed seamlessly into “Don’t Say No” from “Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom” album and Pablo Martin played his best solo of the night as his fleet fingers caressed his guitar. The vibe in the club was fantastic as everybody danced their asses off. Tina announced it was time to introduce everybody on the stage and they each took a bow and they proceeded into the most exquisite “Genius Of Love” that sounded perfect, and Tina spanked her bass like Bootsy on fire as she wailed and name-checked their musical heroes, “Whatcha gonna do when you get out of jail? I’m gonna have some fun! What do you consider fun…fun natural fun…we took cocaine and went insane…Bootsy Collins…Smokey Robinson…Bob Marley…Sly & Robbie…Bohannon…James Brown…” The joint was jumpin’ as they were pumpin’ the funk as they launched into a funktastic version of “You Sexy Thing” that they gave a sassy cool new arrangement that made it hard to tell it was a cover of a Hot Chocolate song. Guitarist Victoria Clamp sang lead vocals and she reminded me of a young Debbie Harry. The band was full-on smokin’ as they rolled into “Wordy Rappinghood”, and they were turning it out as Tina sneered into the microphone, “It’s a rap race, with a fast pace, concrete words, abstract words, crazy words and lying words, hazy words and dying words, words of faith and tell me straight, rare words and swear words, good words and bad words…what are words worth…what are words worth…words…e e e e e e e e!”, it was incredibly delicious and funky as fuck. The band left the stage and the crowd went bonkers, I was in heaven, and when they returned to the stage and began the opening notes of their classic Talking Heads cover of Al Green’s “Take Me To The River”, I was ecstatic and the song sounded fucking amazing. The Tom Tom Club closed their joy-inducing set with a riveting version of “Psycho Killer”, they funked it up, they flipped it inside out, and I was completely blown away. I could not even tell it was originally a Talking Heads song, and all I got to say is…Fuck David Bryne…”I can’t seem to face the facts. I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax. I can’t sleep ‘cause my bed’s on fire. Don’t touch me I’m a real live wire…Psycho Killer…Qu’est Que C’est…Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa…Far better…Run run run run run run run away…” They wound the song up with a fabulous outro and then they left the stage all too soon, but what a set. The house lights came up and the roadies ran onto the stage to make the set change, and as I purveyed the audience, this one woman’s whiny voice began drilling into my ears, and I must say that there is something very wrong and not very rock and roll about having to have to hire a babysitter so you can attend a rock concert, and I really do not want to hear you whine about it to your equally vacuous friends. Mom and Dad rock sucks! But back to why I am here, to rock out to The Psychedelic Furs, who I have loved since their self-titled debut album came out in 1980 and I have seen and worked for them many times since then, I interviewed former guitarist John Ashton and wrote an article for long-defunct local music publication ROX Magazine, and I was lucky enough to work as a loader/stagehand for them several times at both 9:30 Clubs in the nineties, and now here I am in 2011 waiting to see them once again during their 35th Anniversary Tour and I am hoping that they play all my favorite songs from their back-catalogue. The odd thing is that I cannot believe that some of the people in the crowd have ever listened to The Psychedelic Furs, or maybe I am just getting old and cranky and somewhat intolerant. The house lights dimmed and some weird and eerie intro music drifted out of the loudspeakers as the band took the stage and opened with a melancholic “Like A Stranger” from their 1983 album “Mirror Moves”, Richard Butler looked like a emo-professor as he raspily crooned, “Nothing goes on today she says, all of our running ‘round to get away, yes and it’s complicated…”, and saxophonist Mars Williams wailed his soul out with a scintillating solo that set the pace for the evening. They continued on into a heavenly tour-de-force “Forever Now”, the title track of their 1982 release, and I could not believe how great Richard’s voice sounded as the rest of the band lurked in background lights and Mars wailed on his horn, it was sensational. The surprise of the night was a heavy and menacing “Believe” from Love Spit Love’s “Trysome Eatone” 1997 album, which was the Butler brothers nineties band that I worked for twice at the old 9:30 Club and I was not really impressed by them. But the song sounded fantastic tonight as sax player Mars Williams and guitarist Rich Good deftly traded licks, I was quite impressed. Richard picked up a megaphone and began intoning “There’s danger, I believe it, wake up it’s a fight, love me now forever, the war’s on, it’s now or never…”, from “Danger” on “Forever Now” and featured yet another incredible saxophone solo from Mars Williams, who in my opinion holds the band together with his exquisite playing and sense of timing. Next up was my favorite track from “Mirror Moves”, the wonderfully dangerous sounding “Alice’s House”, I just love how deep and insightful his lyrics can be with just a few sentences conveying such profound meaning. The band flowed effortlessly into their biggest hit single, “Pretty In Pink”, and the audience went wild, and it was the only song they performed from their 1981 album “Talk, Talk, Talk”. It was sensational, and I just love the way he sings, world-weary but defiant at the same time, plus for being a thirty-year-old song, it does not sound dated. The band was on a roll now, the rhythm section, bassist Tim Butler and drummer Paul Garisto, was throbbing as Richard rasped, “In my highwire days I can see all the way. I see through the games you play in my highwire days…”, and Rich Good was making his guitar notes carry the melody as it slowly morphed into “No Easy Street” from “Forever Now”, and the song sounded impeccable as it flowed into my favorite number of the evening, “Heaven” from “Forever Now”, which contained these memorable lines, “There’s too many kings, wanna hold you down, and a world at the window gone underground. There’s a hole in the sky where the sun don’t shine, and the clock on the wall, it counts my time.”, and I must say that Rich Good is the perfect replacement for John Ashton, who helped create their signature sound and I do greatly missed his presence. Finally they played something from their 1980 self-titled debut album, the achingly beautiful “Wrong Train”, in which Richard sang his most soulful vocals of the night, and keyboardist Amanda Kramer had her moment with an ethereal melody that stuck in my head all the way home on the metro train. I must say that Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker and that whiny wanker Morrissey owe him for their careers. But I do wish that Richard was a little warmer, because there was very little stage banter, and he seemed to be distantly aloof and disinterested. Next up was one of my favorite songs from the eighties that I always loved to sing along to…”There’s a heartbreak beat down on my street…”…the chart-topping “Heartbreak Beat” which was the only good song on their widely panned and disparaged 1986 album “Midnight To Midnight”, even the band hated it but it was their biggest commercial success. But they gave it a new arrangement with a different guitar sound that made the lyrics stand out in a very emotive way and had me singing along like I was back in the eighties practicing singing in front of my mirror. Without stopping Richard began singing, “It’s raining in my head, but no tears come down. And I’m dreaming of you until sleeps come down…” which comes from “Sleep Comes Down” on “Forever Now”, and the band sounded fantastic as Mars played his saxophone like an old jazz cat, but oddly they reminded me of “Wish You Were Here” era Pink Floyd on this song as they ended their set. Richard said goodnight and The Psychedelic Furs left the stage, but thankfully they returned a few minutes later and encored with a dark and swirling “Only You And I”, the fifth song they played from “Forever Now”, next was a swaggering and driving “All That Money Wants” from their 1988 album “All This And Nothing”, I love how the lyrics are so visual and practically paint a picture in my mind, and they finished with a joyously somber “The Ghost In You” from “Mirror Moves”, also the fifth song that they performed from that album, and Richard Butler seemed relieved as he sang, “Inside you the time moves and she don’t fade, the ghost in you, she don’t fade…”, the crowd cheered wildly for more, but alas, The Psychedelic Furs left the stage and the house lights came up and people began filing out of the venue. Tonight’s show was a fantastic trip down memory lane, but the Tom Tom Club really outdid themselves and sounded fresh as ever, and even though The Psychedelic Furs played a great set, I did find them little detached from the audience and I wished they had played “Into You Like A Train” and “President Gas”. How could they leave them out? Oh well, it was time to go home and write this review.
BLONDIE and LISSY TRULLIE - September 20, 2011
The Fillmore - Silver Spring, MD
I spent the entire day writing and anticipating spending the last day of summer rocking out with my high school heroes Blondie, who today consist of Debbie Harry, guitarist Chris Stein, and drummer Clem Burke, and augmented by several excellent sidemen since they have had acrimonious relationships over the years with the other three original members, bassist Nigel Harrison, guitarist Frank Infante, and keyboardist Jimmy Destri, which came to a head when Debbie refused to allow them join the band on stage at the 2008 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony And Concert. It was ugly as the barbs flew back and forth between the two parties, I felt sorry for them, Debbie can be such an ice-cold bitch sometimes, she should have been gracious enough to let them join in for a few minutes, they did help get Blondie there. This show must be the fiftieth time that I am going to see them in concert since the late seventies, I saw them at CBGB’s, The Bayou, RFK Stadium, Merriweather Post Pavilion, 9:30 Club, Capital Ballroom, Ram’s Head Live, and The State Theater. It is pretty amazing that they are cranking along and have a new album, “Panic Of Girls” that features relevant and enjoyable music. This is my first visit to tonight’s venue The Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland, which just opened for business last week, and once I got there, I initially found it to be a rather nice place with a pleasant staff and it still had that “new club smell” to it as I went upstairs to find a good spot to watch the concert. Local girl Lizzy Trullie and her band opened the show with their upbeat indie rock that reminded me a whole lot of another local musician, Tommy Keene. They played a mostly enjoyable nine-song set that the audience responded to quite well. Their music sounded like an updated version of eighties’ new wave, the female guitarist Alex Leevitz was a wonderful musician who played her notes with great control and she vaguely reminded me of Television’s Tom Verlaine. My only complaints are that the songs all somewhat sounded the same and had similar song structures, and the drummer Ben Franklin Marshall was a tad heavy-handed and a few times he overpowered the melody. But other than that, Lissy and her band rocked and made me feel like dancing. Lissy informed us that the band is now based in New York City. So I wish them the best of luck and I would enjoy seeing them perform again. The house lights went up and so I perused the audience impatiently waiting for Blondie to take the stage, and I found myself to be horrified by what I saw, and wondering if I have aged that bad! Suddenly the lights went down and the band walked onto the stage and drummer Clem Burke kicked things off with a sassy drum beat as vocalist Debbie Harry strolled onstage with flowing white hair and an outfit that was like a military-inspired prom dress complete with epaulettes. They kicked things off with a raucous “Union City Blue” as Debbie wailed “Oh, oh what are we gonna do? Union, Union, Union City blue, tunnel to the other side, it becomes daylight, I say he’s mine.” and their new keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen sounded great as he played the song’s signature riff. Then it was onto their classic reggae-inspired “Dreamin’”, that made the crowd roar as the band sounded pristine and Debbie’s voice was ageless and impeccable as ever. Even Chris Stein seemed to be playing more aggressively on this tour because on previous shows that I saw in the late nineties and two-thousands, recently departed guitarist Paul Carbonara seemed to do all the heavy lifting so to speak, but I said it once and I will say again – Chris Stein is turning into departed Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia – and now he is starting to look like him too. Next it was on to a scintillating version of “Atomic” complete with a sharp and crisp up-dated intro as Chris whipped off a fierce lead on his guitar, then their new guitarist Tommy Kessler goes all “Slash” in the coda, which was pretty cool as he played his guitar behind his neck. Debbie welcomed everybody to the show and said it was time to sing “Happy Birthday” to their #1 fan Barry Kramer who manages their web site. She said it was time for a new song and started singing, “Cause now it’s D-Day, I’m ready to invade, make a mess of what’s left of your limited privacy…”, as the keyboardist Matt rather impressively rocked out, plus it was really nice to hear Chris’ guitar more in the mix. The band was smoking hot as the opening chords of “Call Me” sashayed out of the speakers and fired the crowd up, this song is one of the best moments of the night. It is amazing that their old songs truly sound ageless and timeless and Debbie Harry’s voice is blowing my mind in how good it sounds at the age of 66! Once again the keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen plays a wonderfully slinky solo on the keytar, and they continue on to another new song, “Love Doesn’t Frighten Me” which Debbie sang so soulfully, and they just flow non-stop into an impeccable “Maria” that she sang with all her heart until it was time for Tommy Kessler to play his best solo of the night, and Debbie left the stage to change outfits. She returned to gloriously sing, “You told me you were done with her and I believed every word and now I wonder what I heard…oo ooh!”, which comes from my favorite song “What I Heard” on their sensational new album “Panic Of Girls”, and Tommy whipped off another killer riff that really added punch to the song. The band continued with a few more new songs; a quiet and slow “China Shoes”, “Wipe Off My Sweat” which featured some lovely flamenco-inflected guitar, and a terribly cheesy song called “Horizontal Twist” that had Debbie removing the lower half of her dress and doing this funny dance that reminded me of the episode of “Seinfeld” in which Elaine did this seizure-like dance at her office Christmas party and prompted everyone to mock her, I could not help from laughing to myself. It seemed to me that they were playing too many new songs in a row because the audience was starting to lag, but next was yet another new song, “Mother”, and happily it is one of the best songs on the new album, and the band really sparkled as they segued into their seminal hip-hop and rock cross-over classic, “Rapture”, and Debbie Harry showed why she is the best female rapper in the business as she rocked the mic with, “Well now you see what you wanna be, just have your party on TV, cause the man from Mars won’t eat in bars when the TV’s on, and now he’s gone back to space where he won’t have a hassle with the human race, and you hip-hop, and you don’t stop, just blast off, sure shot cause the man from Mars stopped eatin’ cars and eatin’ bars, and now he only eats guitars, get up…”, and Chris Stein blasted off with a crunchy guitar solo that left me stunned as the song morphed into a cover of Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right” which made me laugh and shake my head at the same time. The band did not miss a step as they jumped into “One Way Or Another” and Tommy Kessler made the song more muscular as he played this monster riff that made the crowd go crazy as Debbie led the crowd in a sing-along, “One way or another I am going to find you, I am going to get you…”, I was in heaven as I sang along also. The band left the stage as the crowd roared for more, and after a few minutes they returned and Chris Stein let his guitar squeal as they attacked with a pounding version of “Put Your Arm Around Me” by the late great asshole genius Johnny Thunders that left the crowd guessing, and Matt Katz-Bohen started playing this fabulous synthesizer intro that took me a few seconds to recognize as it transmuted into their #1 super hit “Heart Of Glass” and they made that song come alive, and then they waved goodbye and left the stage and I was aghast…NO “Hanging On The Telephone”…I was flabbergasted because I was really hoping to heard it tonight, but oh well, they did play one of the best shows that I have seen them play in a while so I cannot be happier…but before I go I must mention that right before the encore, I had moved down stairs and decided that The Fillmore was not as cool as I thought, there were weird echoes in the corners, a whole lot of bad sight lines…who puts seats behind the main speakers…so I decided the club reminded me way too much of the now-defunct Georgetown club, The Bayou, and that club was always a pain the ass. I am not one for after-show mingling these days, one of those horrors of growing old in the rock and roll world, so I fled the premises and made my way to the metro station and rode in silence back to my humble abode.
J. MASCIS - September 7, 2011
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
STEVIE NICKS and MICHAEL GRIMM - September 3, 2011
Jiffy Lube Live - Bristow, VA
It is the last big weekend of the summer and my friend Sean Bush and I trek out to the Jiffy Lube Live (formerly Nissan Pavilion) near my childhood hometown of Manassas, Virginia, to see one of my favorite rock divas – Miss Stevie Nicks. We had a pleasant ride out to one of my least favorite venues in the area, it is a general pain in the ass to get to and a decent beer costs eleven dollars per bottle and five dollars for a soda, talk about usury. Tonight’s opening act is Michael Grimm who won last year’s “America’s Got Talent” competition on NBC, so I am kind of horrified about what to expect from him because I thought he was dull performer and had an terribly uninteresting voice that was hard on my ears when he was on the show. Michael Grimm and his band hit the stage at eight PM exactly and launched into their derivative bar band rock that reminded me of everybody from The Allman Brothers Band to Steve Winwood in his eighties pop-radio period. He was backed by some very competent musicians who laid down a innocuous groove as Michael Grimm picked at his guitar and his rather reedy voice rasped out some unintelligible lyrics. His original songs were indistinguishable from the cover songs that made up most of his eight-song set, his song “I Am” was particularly atrocious and made my ears hurts. Between songs he said his new album was produced by Don Was, and I find it hard to believe that he saw something worthwhile in Michael Grimm, the record company must have paid him a truckload of money, because Michael Grimm is not worthy of being included with some of the other bands on Don Was’ resume. First he butchered “You Don’t Know Me” by Ben E. King, and then the blasphemy of blasphemies, he and his band absolutely desecrated Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” to the point that I wanted to run on stage and yank the guitar from his hands and tell him to stop it – just fucking stop it – I wish Ronnie Van Zant was here to kick his ass for raping his song. His set just plodded on for what seemed to be an eternity, and besides, if I wanted to see a cover band I would go to a bar and not a venue like this. I sat patiently waiting for the set change to be over with, so Miss Stevie Nicks can rock my world and Waddy Wachtel to blow my mind with his beautiful and intricate guitar-playing. The pavilion was almost full, however the lawn was closed, but it is nice to see that Miss Stevie can still draw a big crowd, as we wait you can feel the anticipation building. As the house lights begin to dim, Missing Persons’ “Destination Unknown” plays as the intro music and Stevie and her band took the stage and as soon as the opening notes of “Stand Back” ring out, the crowd jumps to their feet and roar, and Stevie sounded great as she sang, “Stand back, stand back, in the middle of the room, it’s alright, it’s alright, to be standing in a line, standing in a line, I would cry.” Waddy Wachtel has become one of my favorite guitar player and he has been writing and performing with her since 1971, and then he let loose with a killer slide solo that sent chills down my spine and amazement that he seems to do it with such ease. Next was a new song “Secret Love” from her recent Dave Stewart-produced album “In Your Dreams”, and it was nice to see a classic artist still on the road and playing new and relevant songs and just not be a nostalgia act, and particularly since the new song translate well to the stage. I was never that big of a Fleetwood Mac fan but I always enjoyed it when Stevie performed her own versions of their songs, and she did not disappoint tonight when they kicked into “Dreams”…Thunder only happens when it’s raining. Players only love when they’re playing. They say, women, they will come and they will go. When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know, you’ll know.” Another new song followed, “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream)”, it was dark and eerie, and perfect for the “Twilight”/”True Blood”/”Vampire Diaries” generation, but the drums sounded amazing as the band segued into a trippy intro for the classic Fleetwood Mac song “Gold Dust Woman” which they played with a wonderful re-vamped arrangement and Waddy played his best solo of the night as Stevie did some weird spastic dance while twirling around Waddy as he played his guitar. Stevie slowed things down to talk about her visits with our wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC, and how we all should take some time and help the Wounded Warrior Project, and after she told the audience their web site address, she joked, “What the hell does org mean?” Waddy began playing this great doomy guitar riff for another new song, “Soldier’s Angel”, and Stevie sang it with such conviction that she brought a tear to my eye, and in the same vein, they proceeded into “Annabel Lee” which is based upon an Edgar Allen Poe poem, it was a little morose but it had a great beat that kept my toe tapping. Finally they reached the new song I most wanted to see tonight, and which I think is her best one in years, “For What It’s Worth”, and with the cool graphics of the music video playing on screens behind her, she beautifully sang, “You said, even if I left my girlfriend, packed up my stuff, loaded up my car, drove down to your house with good intentions, come thru your door, for what it’s worth.” Michael Grimm joined her with an acoustic guitar, so I kind of blocked him out of my ears, while I got my groove on to my favorite song from the summer as her band played sensationally, especially bassist Al Ortiz whose bass lines gently underscored the melody lines played by rhythm guitarist Carlos Rios and organist Ricky Peterson. They followed that wonderful performance in what I considered to be the best moment of the show, as the keyboardist Darrell Smith played an elegiac piano intro, Stevie Nicks did her signature dance twirl and Waddy strummed the opening chords of “Rhiannon” and the crowd went crazy and screaming at the top of their lungs. I thought the woman sitting next to me was going to have a seizure. Stevie looked almost angelic in the lights as she cooed, “All your life you’ve never seen a woman taken by the wind. Would you stay if she promised you heaven? Will you ever win?”, and also with this Fleetwood Mac song they changed the arrangement and slowed the tempo down which made the lyrics much more touching, and Waddy played yet another tasty solo that accented the words superbly. The band left the stage and Stevie talked about her family and especially her father of whom she said the next song was his favorite one that she sang, Waddy joined Stevie on stage with an acoustic guitar and they performed a chilling rendition of “Landslide” as the video screens showed a slideshow of photographs of her childhood years and her family. It was incredibly touching and made the song even more beautiful. The band returned to the stage and they launched into another new song, “Ghosts Are Gone”, and it was the heaviest song of the set, musically and emotionally, and Waddy used a slide to make his guitar squeal and scream like a widow at a funeral, it was fantastic. Next Stevie brought her vocal coach Steve Vasquez to the stage, she said he helped her to save her voice from the ravages of her former cocaine addiction after she had become clean in 1997. Together they started singing one of her biggest hits, her duet with Don Henley, “Leather And Lace”, and it brought the house down. Stevie took the time to introduce the band, especially her two back-up singers, Lori Nicks and Sharon Celani, who both have been with her since the late seventies, their voices were perfect complements to Stevie’s inimitable voice. The drummer Jimmy Paxson and percussionist Lenny Castro took center stage with an extended percussion solo that became a bit tedious after a few minutes as they battled back and forth until Waddy Wachtel returned to the stage playing the famous stutter-stutter guitar intro to “Edge Of Seventeen”, and he stretched it out into a loose but edgy jam. Stevie walked on to the stage and began wailing, “Just like the white winged dove…sings a song…sounds like she’s singing…whoo…whoo…whoo!”, and the place erupted as the band played like their lives depended on it. Stevie Nicks and her band left the stage to the roar of the crowd, but they returned quickly to encore with a rather mellow ballad, “Love Is”, which I found to be a bit anti-climatic compared to the rest of the set. However this was my favorite show of the summer, and Waddy Wachtel is my favorite live guitarist right now. To beat the crowd after the show ended, Sean and I hauled ass to his car which luckily we were able to park in the handicapped lot because he still had his mother’s handicap pass from when she was ill last year before her death, but as we were getting ready to pull out of our space, a parking attendant told us we had to wait a few minutes to let Stevie Nicks’ vehicle pass. A white SUV and several police motorcycles sped by us and we immediately got behind them as they drove away, and luckily we ended up following them all the way to Interstate 66 and laughed about “being part of her entourage” until they got off at the Manassas exit and disappeared into the night.
RETURN TO FOREVER and ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA - August 9, 2011
Merriweather Post Pavilion - Columbia, MD
It was a partially cloudy summer day as my buddy Dave Coleman and I tooled up to Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland, and the traffic was abominable on the Beltway. It seemed that it took twenty minutes just to go each mile, but we finally made it to the venue, and I must say that Merriweather has really changed over the years, particularly since 9:30/I.M.P. Productions bought it. I like how they decorated the site with sculptures and log furniture, but paying twelve dollars for a cheeseburger and a Dr. Pepper is ridiculous and wrong, (insert anti-Semitic joke here), owner Seth Horowitz should be ashamed of himself for these exorbitant prices. I picked up our tickets from Will-Call and we made our way to our rather decent seats and waited for Frank Zappa’s kid Dweezil to take the stage with his latest group Zappa Plays Zappa, which plays the best of his father’s musical works since his own music is so dreadful that nobody wants to listen to it, but he is a phenomenal guitarist and it helps that he was mentored by Steve Vai. So I guess you got to do what you got to do to make a living. Zappa Plays Zappa hit the stage as an eight-piece and I was impressed by their tightness and intensity, and each musician played their part with great skill and clarity as they open with “Heavy Duty Judy” and “Cheepnis”. Vocalist Ben Thomas did an admirable job singing Frank Zappa’s words, he is no Ike Willis, but he delivered the vocals with a great passion. I was most impressed by drummer Joe Travers, who did a remarkable job holding down the beat and propelling the band as the other musicians unleashed their surging melody lines, particularly saxophone player Scheila Gonzales and xylophonist Billy Hulting. Dweezil’s guitar playing was impeccable as he matched his father’s playing note for note as he made his riffs soar into the stratosphere, particularly during “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?”. I was really pleasantly surprised when they played a spectacular “Dancin’ Fool” being that “Sheik Yerbouti” is my favorite Frank Zappa album. The singer Ben Thomas jumped into the audience and danced idiotically and asked people all sorts of inanely ridiculous questions. The band stretched it out with bits and pieces of other songs, particularly “Fifty-Fifty” and “Zombie Wolf”, and then they dove right into “City Of Tiny Lights” and they turned it out. It was during this song that Dweezil played my favorite guitar solo of the night, notes flying everywhere, it was exquisite, and Scheila Gonzales followed it with a soul-stirring saxophone solo. I really enjoyed how the band expanded and improvised on FZ’s original compositions. The band kept on rolling with a tight and funky “Po-Jama People”, an exquisitely jazzed-up “Big Swifty” which featured the only megaphone solo that I have ever heard, and then it was time for the other musicians to have their moments to shine, starting with an awesome bass solo from Peter Griffin, then an inventive drum solo from Joe Travers, and finishing with a sweet solo from second guitarist Jamie Kime. Next it was on to a picture-perfect “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow” with a squonky guitar solo from Dweezil that had my ears spinning, they performed this as a suite with “Nanook Rubs It” and “St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast” and Dweezil truly shined on his guitar as they finished their set with “Rolio”. It was a very enjoyable twelve-song set that was a great tribute to his father and his brilliant musical compositions, and the band was just phenomenal, this is how something like this should be done. Hopefully the set change will be brief and Return To Forever IV will hit the stage with all guns blazing as the five of them let loose with their inimitable jazz-fusion that has been the blueprint for so many bands since their inception in 1972, and besides, I cannot wait to see the god of the bass himself, Mr. Stanley Clarke. The house lights dimmed and the silhouettes of the five band members, keyboardist Chick Corea, violinist Jean Luc Ponty, guitarist Jack Gambale, bassist Stanley Clarke, and drummer Lenny White, appeared over-sized shadows on a scrim as they opened with an exquisite “Medieval Overture” from their genre-defining album “Romantic Warrior” (1976), and I have never seen a group of musicians who were more in sync with each other than these five. Chick Corea just shined on the keyboards as his melodies danced with Jean Luc Ponty’s angelic violin as Stanley Clarke’s bass lines flowed like the ocean as Lenny White pounded away like the waves on the drums and Jack Gambale let the notes fly off his guitar like the ocean spray. They segued into “Captain Senor Mouse” from my favorite album of theirs, “Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy” (1973), Chick’s fingers are nimble as ever as they flow across the keys, Jean Luc is a phenomenal player with an unbelievably deft touch that produces such brilliant tones on his violin, and Stanley, my favorite bassist next to Bootsy Collins, the precision of his playing is as if he was a surgeon. However, I did find Lenny’s drumming a bit too clattery sometimes, and the guitar was way too low in the mix; these were my only two complaints about their performance, because other than that, the virtuosity and timing of the musicians was impeccable. Next they played an ear-melting rendition of “The Shadow Of Lo” from the “Where Have I Known You Before” (1974) album, and Jack whipped off his most brilliant guitar solo of the evening. Stanley Clarke is an unstoppable bass machine that brings all the various parts together, whereas the band could go from hard and heavy to light and airy in a heartbeat, especially during the interplay between Chick Corea and Jean Luc Ponty. Then they could switch up to being all funky and psychedelic as the music swirled around like smoke from a bong, Stanley was whomping his bass like a jazzy Bootsy Collins and the melody that he coaxed out of his instrument was mind-boggling. I was quite surprised when they played a sublime and ethereal version of Jean Luc Ponty’s “Renaissance” from his classic “Aurora” (1976) album, and it featured Stanley on the upright bass, and the musicians traded solos with the greatest of ease, and then Stanley exploded with his best bass solo of the night which included him playing his upright bass like a drum as it flowed into a raucous “Dayride” from the “No Mystery” (1975) album. Lenny White grabbed a microphone and went on an odd rant about the horrors of today’s boy bands, and proclaimed that Return To Forever is a “man” band as he laid down a sensual percussive intro to “After The Cosmic Rain” from “Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy” (1973). But I must say that Stanley Clarke is the hardest hitting bassist I have ever witnessed, his poor hands must hurt constantly. The venue’s sound system sounded better than usual, each instrument sounded crystal clear, and my ears were loving it. Jean Luc Ponty stepped to the microphone and urged the audience to applaud for Zappa Plays Zappa being a great opening act and how he is forever grateful to Frank Zappa for helping him launch his music career. Chick Corea said it was time to slow things down, and they began playing a dreamy and exotic “Romantic Warrior” from said album, and Jack Gambale played some Segovia-like acoustic guitar that was so delicate and beautiful as it segued into a gorgeous “Spain” from their debut album “Light As A Feather” (1972). Their closing number was a magnificent surprise as Stanley Clarke played the opening notes of “School Days” from his landmark album of the same name, and the crowd finally got on their feet to dance a little bit, it was an exhilarating performance by five musicians still in their musical prime even though all the music that they performed tonight was at least thirty-five years old, which showed that their songs stand the test of time beautifully. Overall, it was a wonderful way to spend a summer evening and I rode home with a smile on my face and a fabulous new Return To Forever t-shirt.
THE EVENS and LAUGHING MAN - August 4, 2011
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
It is the last show of the summer at Fort Reno and my friend Adrian Salsgiver and I arrive to the park early to have a little picnic and to cattily comment about people as they arrive for the show. We watch The Evens do their sound-check and they sound fantastic, it is hard to believe that it is just the two of them. I hope they play some brand new songs tonight. The opening band, Laughing Man, set their equipment up and they have a whole plethora of instruments like trombones and cellos on the stage, so they should be interesting to hear tonight. Laughing Man are one of the leading proponents of the DMV’s burgeoning “Afro-punk” scene, they take the stage as a trio with a fuzzed-out guitar sound and a sparse rhythm section that had a jazzy be-bop quality to bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Michael Harris’ delivery. Brandon Moses’ vocals were interesting as he bemoaned the inequalities of life. I saw them perform earlier this year opening for Ra Ra Rasputin at St. Stephen’s Church and they were enjoyable and energetic at that show. The beautifully melodic “Love Language” was my favorite of their 11-song set, and on the sixth song “Nagasaki” , a cellist, violinist, trombonist, and trumpeter joined the trio to flesh out their sound on the next two songs, however all their songs have similar song structure so it just made them sound noisier. Laughing Man finished their set with two songs from their forthcoming album which were more coherent than their older songs. They finished their set with ten people on the stage as they kicked it out with a blues-based musical explosion as everybody attacked their instruments. It was a fantastic end to their time on stage. Laughing Man clear the stage and Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina set up their gear including their quaint little lamps that give the appearance that you are in their living room. After a short delay, The Evens finally take the stage and Ian begins ranting a bit and says “What a terrible decade!”, and the two of them begin playing “What’s The Point”. I love how Ian and Amy’s voices harmonize together, and her drumming perfectly accents his intricate guitar playing as his words chastise us for not living up to our potential…”if you ignore your heart, things will fall apart.” I almost laughed hysterically when a mosh pit started and it was all little kids. Overall I found their ten-song set inspirational and Ian has come a long way from his days in Minor Threat, and most impressively is the great tones that he plays on his guitar, they are almost jazzy!
TITLE TRACKS, OFFICE OF FUTURE PLANS, and THE AKOMBA DRUMMERS - July 25, 2011
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
This is one of the shows at Fort Reno this summer that I have been looking forward to seeing, more specifically, Office Of Future Plans, which features J. Robbins of Jawbox fame, who are one of my all-time favorite DC bands. The day started out quite overcast and threatening to rain any minute but around 5PM the sun began forcing its way out and turning the evening into a quite pleasant end to the day. First up is a ten-piece percussive ensemble, The Akomba Drummers, who perform using traditional African drums and other types of percussion instruments to celebrate life with traditional West African music forms. They kicked off their set with a groove called “Koo Koo” that is a Gucina tribal song that commences the start of the fishing season. They are one of the more diverse groups that I have seen perform at Fort Reno, however endless percussion just gets on my nerves even if drummer Ken Quam from my favorite local band Ra Ra Rasputin is playing with them. The musical skills of the band’s individual members was very competent and inspired, but they did not play songs as opposed to grooves that went nowhere, so I must admit I was glad when they finished their set. I have been looking forward to seeing Office Of Future Plans here at Fort Reno because I do not want to see them at some grungy club where they normally play. After an extended delay, Office Of Future Plans, finally started their set with their muscular post-hardcore music that J. Robbins always shines in with whatever band that has been in, be it Jawbox, The Channels, or Burning Airlines, and today is no exception as he made his guitar pulse and grind as his plaintive voice lamented the ways of the world as he tried to age gracefully. Brooks Harlan’s bass playing was deep and melodic as it meandered through Darren Zentek’s tight and sparse drumming. Guitarist/cellist Gordon Withers played some crunchy and biting leads that underscored J. Robbins’ sometimes delicate but hard rhythm playing. I found the band’s use of a Casio keyboard to accent the drumming with its programmed rhythms to be very inventive and added a lot of texture to their music and the cello that Gordon Wither’s played on a couple of songs was fantastic and innovative. Their second song contained the best couplet, “Are you victim of your shipwrecked life? Is it so hard to live in your skin?” During their fourth song the electricity blew and it seemed that some idiot had pulled the main switch, but thankfully the electricity was quickly restored and they played two more songs from their forthcoming album on Dischord Records. Overall their six-song set rocked, particularly the last song “Harden Your Heart”, but I really want to see Office Of Future Plans play a full uninterrupted set now and so I might have to go to a grimy club to see them perform. The Title Tracks were scheduled to play here a few weeks ago but that show was rained out, so hopefully they will be able to rock out tonight. Thankfully they got to hit the stage this time to unleash their highly enjoyable melodic music that reminded me of The Replacements from Minnesota. The bassist Michael Cotterman was a fantastic musician with his melodic and driving bass lines that swam through Andrew Black’s propulsive drumming as John Davis’ impassioned vocals gave life to his insightful and wry lyrics. It is nice to see a band perform in sync like a well-oiled machine, particularly during my favorite song of their set, “Winners Cry”, which had a fantastic guitar riff that swirled delightfully in my ears. I find John Davis to be an engaging and entertaining musician, however I enjoy the music of The Title Tracks way more than that of his previous bands Georgie James and Q And Not U. So hopefully I can catch them and Office Of Future Plans playing live again real soon.
SPRCSS, THE AMBULARS, and FELL TYPES - July 21, 2011
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
We may be in the middle of a nationwide heat wave but that is not stopping me from making my way to Fort Reno Park to catch my bi-weekly serving of local music. I arrive and find a nice shady spot to watch tonight’s show, so far the gathering crowd is small, but I do catch a glimpse of noted local musician Ian Svenonius scoping the scene out in his usual freaky outfit, and as usual, the MacKayes are there, sister Amanda who manages the shows which I must say she does quite well and for many years, and her brother Ian and his significant other Amy Farina and their seemingly always happy son. I am looking forward to seeing their band, The Evens, on August 4th closing out this summer’s concert series. My…I am getting sidetracked…The Fell Types are now on stage playing an intriguing blend of post-modern musical styles. They remind me of a weird cross of early Joy Division and DC’s own Jawbox with a Pete Shelley of The Buzzcocks singing, but I did find their music interesting and their melodies unique. I do not know why, but lately a lot of the newer local bands remind me of Jawbox…very odd indeed. I am really enjoying the Fell Types, for a trio they play some very expansive and varied music full of melody, but I wish I could understand what the vocalist/guitarist Carni Klirs was singing about so forcefully. The bassist Diana Vashti is quite a strong and inventive player with deep and driving bass lines that propelled drummer Matt Wood’s rhythm as vocalist/guitarist Carni Klirs’ rode it like a surfer with his scratchy guitar lines. Overall I really enjoyed their six-song set, especially the instrumental number that they closed with and I hope to purchase some of their music for my collection. Thankfully the crowd has gotten much larger for The Ambulars, who I hear are quite a good band. It seems to be the summer of trios at Fort Reno Park this year, but I guess that it is better than all the bass-less duos that played here last summer, excluding The Evens who rule! The Ambulars kicked off their set and they reminded me of the first band but with a little more punch and less melody, plus they also reminded me of Jawbox but crossed with X. They were not as good as I was led to believe, the guitarist Mike Cantor was a bit sloppy and the drummer Andy Friedman was a bit clattery, but the vocalist/bassist Jen Twig laid down a real solid groove and I really liked their passionate lyrics. However their songs were all similarly structured so I kind of became bored of them rather quickly and my attention wandered to all the ants trying to crawl on me much to my chagrin. Overall their eight-song set was a bit lacking in originality and spirit, maybe it was because the band members were not very engaging and the guitarist seemed to have a little bit of an attitude or maybe it was the heat…who knows…and musically their sound did get a bit emo-sounding towards the end of their set. The third band SPRCSS took an excessive amount of time to set their equipment up and get started, but they finally got it together and sadly I found their music to be a bit too abstract and the lyrics seemed to be overly political with an anarchist-bent. They reminded me way too much of Baltimore’s Lungfish, and so I tired of this band rather quickly. Their sound was too chaotic and they were having a lot of trouble with their gear which kept making weird noises, and then they asked if they could borrow a bass from one of the other bands… so unprofessional and ill-prepared…things kept going downhill from there and so I had to leave.
THE NRI'S, THE GIFT, and THE UNION OF SGT. TEDDY - July 18, 2011
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
It was time for yet another trek uptown to Fort Reno to catch a couple of local bands as per usual in the summertime, and today was the start of another heatwave and I am feeling cranky, so the bands tonight had better rock my world. First up is The Union Of Sgt. Teddy and they are a trio that appears to be in their teens but then again this is the perfect place for them to get exposure so this should be interesting. They kicked the evening off with some melodic indie rock and the song was called “You Make Me Wanna Cry” and it was decent sounding for a young band. The band was like a weird mix of Owl City and The Breeders, heavy but with a melodic pop feel to the songs. The vocalist/bassist had a pleasant voice and he sang clever lyrics but the songs were brief and they were structured a bit chaotic and as they say, practice makes perfect. The guitarist had some nice and quirky sounds as he played, but his overall grasp of the guitar was lacking, sometimes he seemed unsure on what he should play, but the drummer was actually quite good with a nice sense of timing and rhythm, particularly during their eerie version of The Beatles' “Dear Prudence”. They only played a six-song set so they did not overstay their welcome because their songs did sound all the same and were beginning to get on my nerves. They are young, so hopefully they will grow and improve as a band. Next up were The Gift and they were another female-led trio and they kicked out some compelling post-hardcore that inevitably reminded me of DC band Jawbox. The lyrics were hard to understand because they were screamed half the time. Each song was preceded by a pre-recorded snippet of movie dialogue but they never seemed to have any connection to the songs. I became bored with them after a few songs, but there were a quite few people at the front of the stage listening to them rather intently. The vocalist/guitarist Beck Levy did have a couple of interesting riffs, and the bassist/vocalist Henry Mesias played some pretty standard doom'n'gloom bass lines, and once again the drummer was the best musician on the stage as Mickey Thibodeau spryly kept the beat thumping along as the other two did their thing. Thankfully it was another brief set as they only played seven songs that pretty much all sounded the same, but they could become pretty popular with the semi-depressed young'uns. I have heard a lot about The NRIs and I found some of their music interesting judging by the songs I heard on their website, and there are not many Indian (Hindu) fronted bands in the area, and Nayan Bhula is a pretty wicked guitar player. They are a six-piece band who played some pretty standard bar rock and oddly they reminded me of The Slickee Boys with a violinist. They appealed to the older people in the audience but the kids were completely bored by them and began running around and making noise. The various band members were quite competent especially the violinist Melanie Papasian and bassist Jesse Bergman who interacted well with each other, but guitarist Gabriel Fry kept reminding me of The Dave Matthews Band and I was just turned off by that. The keyboardist Audrey White had some nice melody lines throughout their set, and drummer Shawn Leonard would start some nice grooves but the band never seem to take them anywhere. I stayed for four or five songs but they just did not hook me so I left and headed home somewhat disappointed, but I hope that the next Fort Reno show is much better than tonight.
SOUNDGARDEN and MARS VOLTA - July 12, 2011
GMU's Patriot Center - Fairfax, VA
It is yet another hot summer day and I am off to see another hot band way out in Fairfax, Virginia, at the Patriot Center on the George Mason University campus. I like seeing bands here, the acoustics are nice but I hate the trek out here, the traffic is atrocious since we have to arrive during rush hour. We finally made it and the tickets that were left for me had a really good view of the stage as I sat and waited for the show to commence. The crowd was pretty interesting but predominately male, and those nineties kids are not aging well, they all seemed to be getting fat and bald and even more slovenly. Let's hope the band members fared better, and speaking of that, I cannot believe I am at a Soundgarden reunion concert. I guess that time does heal all wounds because their break-up in February 1997 involved beating each other bloody backstage at their last show in Hawaii with opening act L7 watching and laughing at them until things became bloodier and got out of hand. I look up from my writing and The Mars Volta's crew are readying the stage for the band, so the festivities should be beginning real soon. I do not know much about The Mars Volta, but I read that they were personally chosen by Soundgarden to open for them, so they should be, at the least, interesting. The Mars Volta took the stage to the strains of Bolero and they were looking like a bunch of emo rejects as the guitarist Omar Rodriquez-Lopez began choking his guitar as the bassist Juan Alderete played one long D note and the rest of the band pounded out their jarring discordant psuedo-grunge that was overly-effected as the vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zarala wailed unintelligibly in the microphone as I kept waiting for the guitarist to play an actual note. The singer sounded like a castrated Robert Halford of Judas Priest and spent more time posturing and posing and fixing his hair and doing fancy twirling trick with his microphone stand. The drummer Deantoni Parks was not bad but it seemed like he was playing with a different band that was not the one on stage with him. There were two keyboardists, Marcel Rodriquez-Lopez and the vocalist, on the stage but for the life of me, I could not tell if they were actually playing anything because the sound system was really good. Hopefully this horror show will end soon...please...I have never heard such utter crap. For their last song they brutalized “Broken English” by Marianne Faithfull and they finally finished and thankfully so, because I would not have been able to stand it anymore. As I watch the crew re-configure the stage for Soundgarden, I remember the first time I saw them at the original 9:30 Club on F Street and they were like one giant sweaty hairball that pulsed and throbbed like thunder as Kim Thayil made his guitar spray lightning and Chris Cornell howled like a herd of copulating cats. But my favorite time was on January 18, 1990, and they were playing the long-gone club The Bayou in Washington, DC, on a bill with Faith No More and Voivod, and during “Big Dumb Love”, Chris Cornell stopped in the middle of the song to announce that Mayor Marion Barry had been busted smoking crack at a downtown Ramada Inn and the audience erupted in cheers just like right now as the house lights go down and Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, Ben Shepherd, and Matt Cameron take the stage awash in twirling white lights as Soundgarden launched into “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” from 1991's “Badmotorfinger” album with great bluster. Kim Thayil's screaming guitar leads scorched my ears as Chris Cornell moaned, “Is it the sky, is it the sky, looking to the sky and down, searching for a ground, with my good eye closed...”, and it was a fantastic way to open their set after so many years away. The band plowed into “Spoonman” from 1994's “Superunknown” album and Ben Sherman's bass playing was phenomenal as he pulled everything together with his exquisite bass lines. Kim Thayil played this amazingly thick riff for “Gun” from 1988's breakthrough album “Louder Than Love” and Chris Cornell's voice wailed with such anguish that it just broke my heart as he sang the insightful lyrics. Matt Cameron was a beast as he beat his drums into submission as the band played “Let Me Down” from “Superunknown” with a relentless ferocity as the drums drove the band straight into “Jesus Christ Pose” from the “Badmotorfinger” album and Chris was brilliant as he roared, “And you stare at me, in your Jesus Christ pose, arms held out like you've been carrying a load, and you swear to me, you don't want to be my slave...”, the power that they get out of their guitars is mind-blowing. Without missing a beat, the band was relentless as they played a sensational version of “Room A Thousand Years Wide”, also from “Badmotorfinger”, and Kim's fingers were burning up and down his guitar neck as fast as lightning. The band was on fire now as they played an explosive “Blow Up The Outside World” from 1996's “Down On The Upside” album and the range of Chris Cornell's voice was awesome as he went from a whisper to a growl to a roar to a wail to a scream all in one song and it was beautiful. They continued with three songs from the “Superunknown” album; a pounding “The Day I Tried To Live”, a doomy and psychedelic “My Wave”, and finally a gripping “Fell On Black Days” where Chris let loose with a demonic howl, “I'm a search light soul they say, but I can't see it in the night, I'm only faking when I get it right, when I get it right, 'cause I fell on black days, I fell on black days...” as Kim Thayil made his guitar squeal and screech chaotically and Matt and Ben bludgeoned the dark groove. Matt Cameron took over the groove and thumped his way through a fast and furious drum solo as the others took a quick break, they soon returned and played a fiery “Ugly Truth” from their 1989 “Louder Than Love” album, and the song sounded great after all these years. Chris joined Kim on the guitar and they had a thrilling duel of electrifying solos as the band morphed into a pulse-pounding “Loud Love” from the same album that featured Kim's best guitar solo of the night, my ears were scorched. The band took a breather and jumped right back in with a crunching “Outshined” from the “Badmotorfinger” album and it rocked and Ben drove the song with a serpentine bass line and Chris outdid himself with the best vocals of the night as he wailed like there was no tomorrow, “Show the power child, I'd like to say that I'm down on my knees today, it gives me the butterflies, gives me away 'til I'm up on my feet again, I'm feeling, I'm feeling, outshined, outshined, outshined, outshined...” The band decided it was time to reach back to their 1988 debut release “Ultramega OK” and they played a soaring “Flower” and then they jumped to a raucous and dark “Rusty Cage” from “Badmotorfinger” that rattled the arena with the battling riffs from Kim and Chris' guitars. It was time for their biggest and only hit single and they delivered it like a punch to the face and the band roared through “Black Hole Sun” from the “Superunknown” album with a melancholy panache as Chris Connell moaned deliriously, “In my eyes, indisposed in disguise as no one knows, hides the face, lies the snake and the sun in my disgrace, boiling heat, summer stench, 'neath the black the sky looks dead, call my name through the cream and I'll hear you scream again...”, and it was sensational and reminded me of why Peter Frampton covered it so beautifully as an instrumental on his recent tours. The band was fired up now as they wildly careened through “Burden In My Hand” which was only the second song they played from the “Down On The Upside” album and they went right into “Superunknown” the title track from the album of the same name and it was another show favorite as Kim Thayil made his guitar rumble like an earthquake as Matt Cameron made his drums crash all around Ben Sherman's thunderous bass lines. The band plowed on through a merciless “Fourth Of July” from the “Superunknown” album and they finished their electrifying set with a face-shredding “Face Pollution” from the “Badmotorfinger” album as Chris screamed, “Now I'm in the mirror, now it's getting clear, I fear that I'm in now, I'm into plastics, now I've made a mask, it looks like fish heads, but I don't feel like feeling, I don't feel like feeling, I don't feel like feeling, feeling like you...”, and the rest of the band played like it was their last song they were ever going to play and then they left the stage in a squall of feedback. The crowd went ballistic and they screamed for more, louder and louder, and then the audience began stomping and yelling for Soundgarden until they came back onto the stage. The band launched into “Beyond The Wheel” from the “Ultramega OK” EP and bassist Ben Sherman vamped it up with a goosestepping beat and they segued into two songs from “Superunknown”, an ominous “Mailman” and a poignant “Like Suicide” that showcased a variety of riffs from Kim Thayil as he dazzled us with his deft fingers. Soundgarden closed their show with a pulsing and throbbing “Slaves & Bulldozers” from the “Badmotorfinger” album and it was a glorious way to end their set as Chris Cornell wailed, “So bleed you heart out, there's no more rides for free, bleed your heart out, I said what's in it for me, what's in it for me, what's in it for me, what's in it for me...”, and Kim Thayil made his guitar squeak and squeal and shudder as the rhythm section pounded away. They finished the song in a wall of feedback and they quickly left the stage without a word. The twenty-four song set was all old songs and they delivered it with tremendous energy and skill, but I am looking forward to their new album “King Animal” and hopefully they will tour and I can hear some new songs with the old songs. However the show was wonderful and full of dark and seething music that made my black heart sigh!
AMERICA HEARTS and CAT JACK - July 11, 2011
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
It is a dreadfully hot summer day as my friends and I make our way to Fort Reno to see the Thursday night show featuring Cat Jack, a local “tween” punk band...yep, tween punk, you heard right...and I must say it blows my mind too, there were no eight and nine-year-olds punk rock musicians when I was nine-year-old, but this is the modern world and Cat Jack actually rock. Jackson the vocalist/guitarist was surprisingly professional and entertaining, and the songs are well-structured and performed very well for being such young kids. The lyrics were well-thought out and articulated and he tried to sing them in key, which is better than a lot of older musicians I have had to work with. His little brother Zach was phenomenal on the drums and he kicks the asses of most local drummers that I have seen of the past thirty years. They played a wonderfully entertaining twelve-song set that amused me to no end, especially the songs “Grim Reaper” and “Cowboy Fight” and most of all on my favorite summer jam “Crocodile Tears”. The audience responded amazingly well and these youngsters could be future stars one day. After a brief set change; America Hearts take the stage and they are a pleasant four-piece whose music reminded me of LA post-punk, sort of X meets Green On Red, vocalist/guitarist Jess Matthews had a nice voice as she sang her tales of woe and irony. The rhythm section was a bit out of sync due to drummer Justin Moyer's sloppy flailing that caused the bassist Olivia Mancini to be continually lost. The lead guitarist Mark Cisneros had a few nice riffs, particularly on the song “Be My Jones”, but most of their songs sounded the same and I could not wait for them to be finished. A big dark cloud blew in the area and it was starting to get windy and blowing the equipment across the stage and it started to rain madly so the gig was canceled and Title Tracks did not get to play their set so I ran to the metro and headed home.
LAKESIDE, BRICK, and BT EXPRESS - July 9, 2011
Carter Barron Amphitheatre - Washington, DC
Every summer I look forward to going to Carter Barron Amphitheatre for its annual old-school seventies funk show, and there are actually two this year, and tonight features Lakeside, Brick, and BT Express and next week is Cameo and the Clones Of Funk. With the Smithsonian's Folk Life Festival Celebration of Rhythm & Blues music on the National Mall, July has been a very good month for the funk. It was a quite lovely summer evening as I waited in the line to enter the amphitheatre to get my groove on to some old-school funk from when I was in high school and I used to hang out with the “colored” girls as my gramma used to call them, and everyday after school they taught me the latest dance moves as we listened to WPGC on my little portable Panasonic radio. I loved Brick, and their singles “Dusic” and “Dazz” were my jams, I could shake my skinny cracker ass to them all night long. I sat in the exact same seat I sat in last summer for the ConFunkShun, Zapp, and Slave show, and I watched the people streaming in and there are very few people under thirty-five and I think I am one of four white people up in here which amuses me to no end. There is not as much high fashion as I was expecting to see, but some people were flashing a little bit of the freak style. So I sit patiently waiting for the show to begin and hopefully promptly at 7:30PM BT Express will take the stage and urge us...”Do it, do it, do it til you're satisfied...”. Originally hailing from Brooklyn, New York, and dropping the funk since 1973, BT Express hit the stage full-force with “Peace Pipe” and the band was tight and alright, pumping out the syncopated boogie. The tenor saxophone player Bill Risbrook was incredible as he laid down the fierce melodic runs on top of the cascading rhythm as the keyboardist and guitarist Richard Thompson traded riffs. The vocalist Valerie Adams had a beautiful alto voice that complimented the bassist Louis Risbrook's booming baritone wonderfully as her voice sailed into the upper octaves, plus she was quite sassy as she worked the crowd especially during “Sweet Thing”. Then the funk got funkier as they launched into “Do It ('Til You're Satisfied)” and the bass was river deep as it did the bump and grind to my mind in double time and the song got the crowd on their feet as the band rolled into “Express” and the groove was on fire now as the band flowed as one. It was a brief five-song set but it packed a wallop and I thoroughly enjoyed BT Express and I would love to see them do a longer set. The music between the bands' sets was funkier than a skeeta's tweeta tonight because I am in funk heaven. I have been waiting years to see this band play live and the anticipation is building until Atlanta, Georgia's favorite sons Brick since 1972 and they hit the stage blasting full-force with “Get On Down (Sweat Til You Get Wet)” and they were off and running. The guitarist Reginald Hickman wailed like Eddie Hazel on an upside-down left-handed guitar that he played right-handed, it gave him a very unique tone and he melted my ears with his ferocity. The horn-player Jimmy Brown jumped nimbly from flute to saxophone to trombone and singing in between his horn runs. The rhythm section of bassist Raymond Ransom and drummer Victor Alexander was impeccable on “So Happy” as they stayed deep in the pocket as keyboardist Darryl Sloan gave some melody to their groove and Reginald Hickman kept shredding on his guitar with the most amazing riffs. They played a lovely rendition of Louis Armstrong's “What A Wonderful World” that kind of took the audience aback but they funked it up and got everyone dancing. Then things really got going as they let loose with their smash hit “Dusic” and they stretched it out as Jimmy Brown blew a fantastic flute solo as the band got down and Reginald played the best guitar solo of the night as he let the notes soar and melt into my mind. After a few minutes of technical difficulties, Brick got the groove back on track with a scintillating version of “Dazz” that had the whole audience singing along...”Everybody go on and dance if you want to, music makes your body move, well all right...”...and it was their moment to shine as the band stretched it out, flipped it upside down, and turned it inside out and one of the funkiest songs of the seventies became even funkier. Jimmy's versatility on his horns was awe-inspiring as he switched back and forth from flute to saxophone and the guitarist burned like a comet throughout the song and then they abruptly left the stage. I mean damn, the sets are way too short here and the classic funk bands never seem to play anywhere else in the city, not even D.A.R. Constitution Hall, I wonder why...probably because of idiot promoters and their shady ways. Only one band to go, Lakeside who are from Dayton, Ohio, and they have been on the scene since 1978, the musicians began reaching the stage as a voice-over began asking Jerry Springer-type questions of the crowd as helicopter sounds whirred overhead and then the band kicked in with a long and funky intro that featured spectacular percussive interplay between drummer Fred Alexander and percussionist Fred Lewis as the rhythm erupted into their party jam “Raid” and the audience was on their feet just dancing and shouting out the words. The bassist Marvin Craig was great as he propelled the song along with these deep bass lines that just rumbled the place. Longtime vocalist Thomas Shelby thanked everybody for coming and he said praise God for blessing them all these years, and then the band kicked in with the ferocious funk of “It's All The Way Live” and it still sounded dynamic and fresh. Stephen Shockley wailed brilliantly on the guitar as he made the notes dance wildly about the stage like fireflies, I must say that they play a darker and murkier funk than the other bands tonight. They played a surprisingly good cover of The Beatles' “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” that had everyone grooving to the beat as they turned it out by making it funky and nasty. The band was incredibly tight and well-rehearsed and they launched into a spectacular “Something About That Woman” with a grinding guitar solo from Stephen Shockley that danced with the pulsing rhythms of the percussionists as the keyboardist added squeaks and squeals to the mix. Lakeside finished their short set with a dazzling version of their mega-hit “Fantastic Voyage” that had the whole audience in funk heaven as they danced wildly and free of their constrictions and Marvin Craig was sensational on the bass as the rhythm flowed ecstatically and once again Stephen shredded on the guitar giving us a phenomenal performance. Oddly, Lakeside just left the stage and that was the end of the show and everyone stood around thinking 'what the fuck happened' and began walking out. I was thoroughly impressed but I could not believe how short the sets were, oh well.
THE BLACKBERRY BELLES, CANE AND THE STICKS, and WILD FRUIT - July 7, 2011
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
Going to Fort Reno is one of my favorite things to do in the summer, so here I am at the third show in the 2011 Series to see The Blackberry Belles, Cane And The Sticks, and Wild Fruit. I am not that familiar with any of the bands, but I see a few geezers that I vaguely recognize from bands in the eighties and nineties when I was one of the kings of the scene and they all seem to have small children following them and so we shall see. The first band Wild Fruit take the stage and they are a quite melodic post-hardcore trio that remind me of Jawbox meets Television. The singer/guitarist Andy had a pleasant voice as he sang his tales of woe and regret with some really clever lyrics which impressed my literary mind. Franck Cordes the bassist/keyboardist took over lead vocals on a few songs and...he is a great bass player but he should have kept his mouth shut and let the guitarist sing. The best thing about this band was the female drummer Renee who kept the beat driving but laid-back enough that it did not overpower the sparse guitar and emotive vocals. All three of tonight's bands have female drummers – girls rock ok. Their nine-song set was quite enjoyable and I am going to try to acquire their soon-to-be obsolete CD. It must be post-hardcore trio night because Cane & The Sticks is also a three-piece featuring Peter Hayes formerly of the High Back Chairs on vocals and guitar, Arthur Noll on bass, and Liz DeRoche on drums. After a rough start with the sound, the band kicked into their post-modern retro-Sixties garage rock, a kind of The Fleshtones meets The Stooges groove, but I thought Peter's guitar sound was overly effected and practically drowning in reverb but I still enjoyed them and the song “My Baby's Grave” had this great line that is stuck in my head, “out of the groove and into the grave.” The rhythm section was tight and throbbing and it made me want to get up and dance, but I wish the guitar did not have so much feedback and static interference because Peter got drowned out a few times by the rest of the band. I really enjoyed Arthur's bass playing because sometimes it seemed that he played it like it was a lead guitar. Overall I liked them but I would not be pressed to see them again though. The Blackberry Belles took a while to set their equipment up but they had an interesting set-up for a trio; an organist Jesse Hooper with a Leslie amp instead of a bassist, but I hope they do not sound like The Doors without Jim Morrison, vocalist/guitarist Tony Blankenship who was pretty nondescript, and drummer Alison Krayer who kept the beat very competently. They were a total Sixties flashback band that reminded me of the kind of hippie band that one would see in a bad Roger Corman movie. They were pretty competent musicians but like the previous two bands it was the female drummer who held the groove together with tight and precise percussion. But otherwise I found them to be derivative and they failed to keep my attention, because there are a million other bands in this genre and they just did not stand out.
FRED WESLEY AND THE NEW JBS - July 6, 2011
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
Oh lord...It is a scorcher of a day in the summertime in the city as I wait on DK Phoenix, one of the artists on my Deluded Recordings label, to meet me in Dupont Circle so we can head on down to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to catch the legendary Fred Wesley And His New JB's throwdown some hot horn-driven funk on this hot-ass day. While I am waiting I find myself remembering the time I was DJ-ing a Maceo Parker show at the 9:30 Club back in 1999 and I started playing “Doing It To Death Part 1” by Fred Wesley And The Horny Horns when all of sudden my front of the house sound was cut and I could hear the notoriously cantankerous Maceo Parker screaming, “Turn off that James Brown shit! I don't want to hear none of that motherfuckin' shit motherfucker!” I felt like screaming, “It's not James Brown. It's your friend Fred Wesley, motherfucker,” but I thought better of it because he was big and scary and cranky from having to perform to stupid “nouveau hippies”. Guess I would be pissy too, but I had to beg to get the speakers turned back on by promising to play only jazzy hip-hop – what an ass though! So here's hoping that Fred Wesley is as lovely as a gentleman as I have heard that he is. We get to the Kennedy Center and I grab us some beers and we watch the band soundcheck, it was nice to get a preview of the set and it sounds like they are, and to quote George Clinton, “gonna tear the roof off the sucker.” We sit in my favorite seats and waited for the show to start...the bassist Wayne Dawson kicked things off with a shake your tail feather groove then the drummer Bruce Cox added some beat and the guitarist Reginald Ward and the keyboardist Barney McAll dropped some melody on the groove as the three horn-players, saxophonist Ernie Fields, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, and trombonist Fred Wesley, joined them and music just flowed as my body began to vibrate to the funk. Trumpeter Freddie Hendrix knows how to wail on his trumpet as Fred Wesley accented the groove with his trombone, and Reginald Ward let loose on his guitar while Barney McAll let his fingers fly like magic on his keyboards. The tightness and seamless instrument interplay of The New JB's blew my mind, each one of them shined with incredible virtuosity as they performed like one entity. Normally I find trombones to be a bit dull, but Fred Wesley brought a sense of fluidity and melody to his instrument that it is hard to believe that he is playing a trombone. Ernie Field's saxophone skills are beyond compare, his playing is sensual yet sassy and raw and it exquisitely danced with Barney McAll's delightful keyboard runs. But the star of the band has to be Wayne Dawson and his bass-playing that was hard and soft, dark and light, and earthshaking with a fantastic sense of melody, especially during “No One But You Babe”, and it would have made Bootsy proud. Drummer Bruce Cox played an inventive percussive intro to “For The Elders” which was dedicated to the great funk and jazz musicians who are no longer with us. They even managed to slow the groove down to a simmer to play their “one and only love song” titled “Ooh Baby” in which Fred Wesley made his horn sound delicate and mellifluous as he played. My favorite song of their set was “Breakin' Bread With Mama”, and it was one of the few songs with vocals. It was loose and funky and full of swing and Reginald Ward had a fantastic guitar solo full of wah-wah's and got all psychedelic like Hendrix and then the funk really started to flow when they launched into “Pass The Pease” and I wanted to jump up and get my freak on because they were the funkiest thing I have ever seen up in the Kennedy Center and then they broke out into the classic “Funky Good Time” that got the joint jumpin' as the band got dirty deep especially Ernie Fields on his saxophone and he was putting Maceo Parker to shame. The funk kept flowing as they wound up their sensational nine-song set with a scintillating “We're Gonna Have A House Party” that brought the place down with its screaming saxophone. Fred Wesley is one of the true originators of the funk and he and his band brought it tonight and I was so glad I was there to revel in the music.
MARTHA REEVES - July 1, 2011
National Mall - Washington, DC
It was a hot and overbearing day as I wandered about the city and as I was crossing the Mall I stumbled on to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and I saw a large tent with a crowd around it and I was amazed to discover that it was a “R&B Music Celebration” and Martha Reeves was the featured act so I decided to stay. Martha Reeves had just taken the stage and she was fantastic as she performed several classics from the era as well as her own hits with The Vandellas. She still was quite charismatic and a joy to watch as she performed each song with passion and love, especially “Dancing In The Streets” and she had the whole crowd singing along with her. The band was quite tight as they laid down the groove and punctuated it with saxophone wails and guitar licks. Martha's voice was in fine form as she thanked all the performers that came before her and the ones that are going to come after her. She even thanked the Grateful Dead and Mick Jagger and David Bowie for covering “Dancing In The Streets” and spreading its message even further. The audience really dug the music and its message and they showed tremendous love for Martha Reeves and her band as they kicked it out with passion and a love for the music because it is the international language that transcends all barriers and brings us together. I really enjoyed myself and it was nice to see all the different kinds people coming together to enjoy music and have a good time with each other. Martha Reeves is a national treasure and should be treated as such for her contributions to American pop culture and beyond. I walked home with a smile on my face and a song in my heart, thank you Martha Reeves.
BEASTS OF NO NATIONS, RAILSPLITTER, and VALLEY TOURS - June 27, 2011
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
It is an overcast and humid summer evening as I make my way to Fort Reno Park for the kick-off concert of the annual summer concert series. I did not recognize a lot of the bands on the schedule so it should be a pretty interesting summer. On a sad side note, my friend Tim Gable who was my frequent companion to Fort Reno shows last summer, died of a rare form of cancer this past March and I miss him being here with me, he always had insightful things to say about the bands. The first band tonight is Valley Tours and they take the stage over thirty-five minutes late, and they are pretty young and they look like they are still in high school and tragically they remind me of Vampire Weekend but with interesting and complex lyrics. The vocalist/guitarist had a pleasant voice but his guitar playing was a bit lackluster, it was very punchy and never seemed to go anywhere. The keyboardist was the most interesting of the group and played some really lovely runs that were sixties-influenced, the drummer Davis Connors was kind of jazzy in his playing but the bassist and the second guitarist were lost in the mix somewhere. They played a consistent, tight, and tuneful nine-song set that I did not hate but they did not blow me away either but I can see them going places with their their sound. Thankfully the set change was brief and Railsplitter launched into their melodic post-post-hardcore that reminded me of Clutch but with less filling. The vocalist/guitarist was basically indecipherable as they plowed through their seven-song set, but the guitarist whipped off some pile-driving riffs as the bassist tried to keep up with the drummer who seemed to be chaotically bashing away at his kit, and it turns out he is a substitute because their regular drummer is injured. But the singer said this was their farewell gig because he was moving out of town which was a good thing because I find them rather monotonous, so I wish them good luck in their future endeavors. Since the show was running late Beasts Of No Nation had to hurry to set up and beat the curfew, they played traditional punk rock that was fast and pounding with rather depressing lyrics but they were kind of dull and all their songs sounded the same so I got bored and left early to go home. I hope the rest of the summer is more exciting than this first show.
PETER FRAMPTON - June 23, 2011
Filene Center At Wolf Trap - Vienna, VA
It is an overcast summer evening as I sit in the balcony at Wolf Trap for the very first time, and the seats are spectacular and dead center and I cannot wait until the show starts. There is quite the eclectic audience here, from geezers who like they should be at a Bach recital to overgrown fan-boys to high school-aged classic rock fans all giddy in their newly acquired Frampton tour shirts. There is a video screen onstage endlessly informing me that for thirty-five dollars I could buy a recording of tonight's show and I would also get a hour-long rock-umentary about the making of “Frampton Comes Alive” which is what the band is performing in its entirety to celebrate its 35th anniversary. I saw Peter Frampton at the Cap Centre in 1977 but I do not recall much about it, being that I was high on Columbian Gold, and I saw him play guitar with David Bowie on the “Glass Spider Tour”. So tonight should be a treat for my ears because he quite skilled at playing the guitar. They just announced five minutes to showtime...the video screen announced that this was “Frampton Comes Alive: 35” and him and his band take the stage and the crowd roared and immediately I recognize his signature tone as they kick into “Something's Happening”. His band is tight as he plays some scorching leads...damn he still got it...I wonder if he misses his gorgeous hair from the seventies...he even jokingly attempts to recreate the between songs banter as they, to quote Peter Frampton, “get funky” with “Doobie Wah” and he really shined on his guitar as his four-piece band do an excellent job backing him. They slowed it down a bit with a gentle and melancholic “Lines On My Face” that he played a beautiful jazzy lead style throughout the song as the video screen showed these great old photographs of him in the seventies. It was time to get the old talk-box out and he played his first big single “Show Me The Way” and it was wonderful and it still sounded great after thirty-five years. I just love that talk-box sound. He then said it was time for some rock'n'roll as the organist Rob Parker played the opening riffs of “It's A Plain Shame” and he made his guitar shudder and smoke. The band leaves the stage as Peter Frampton tells us about how the LP was pressed with the songs in a different order so they could fit on the record and how he thinks the band is doing yoga since no one smokes or does drugs anymore and then he played a lovely rendition of “Wind Of Change” on acoustic guitar, then he switched to the electric guitar and continued with “Just The Time Of Year” that was left off the original vinyl release but it is on the re-mastered deluxe edition. His guitar playing has greater clarity on the acoustic guitar than when he is playing an electric one. He continued solo acoustic with “Penny For Your Thoughts”, a brilliant instrumental that reminded me of Richie Blackmore's version of “Greensleeves”, and it was on to “All I Wanna Be (Is By Your Side)” and it really got the crowd going and singing “All I wanna be is by your side”. It was time for the band to return to accompany Peter Frampton on the next big hit single that all the women love, “Baby I Love Your Way” and the whole audience sang along and keyboardist Rob Parker played a beautiful solo as all the couples in the crowd hugged and swayed to the rhythm. Rob Parker played an incredible intro on the Hammond organ as the band revved back up for “I Wanna Go To The Sun” which was one of my favorite songs of the night as Peter played one killer solo after another as they kept the pace up with “Nowhere's Too Far (For My Baby)” and it had great psychedelic visuals that kept the mood heavy as they segued into “(I'll Give You) Money” and Peter electrified me with his stellar riffage, this song showcased all that is fantastic about his guitar playing, he had that guitar singing. It was time for smash hit single Number Three, “Do You Feel Like We Do”, and the crowd was exhilarated as the opening riff charged out of the speakers and the audience came alive and loudly sang, “Do you, you do, do you feel like I do...”, and remarkably the song did not sound dated, there was another great Hammond organ solo from Rob Parker and they showed Frampton's cameo on “The Simpsons” and that made me laugh. Then he tore it up on the talk-box and he was having fun with it and it was just amazing. Peter Frampton said normally they would leave the stage, do some drugs, and return for encores but tonight they would just play them, starting with a classic song from his Humble Pie years, “Shine On”, and it was a rager and it was straight into “White Sugar”, a cool anti-cocaine song even though at the time he was a full-on addict...”as evil as the day you were born...”...and then they launched into a funkified version of The Rolling Stones' “Jumping Jack Flash” that was quite good and it blew away the original as Dan Wojonowski drummed frenetically driving the song. Peter announced that they were going on a twenty minute break and they would be back to rock some more. As I waited, the intermission music was some really old school blues that sounded great on the PA. The band returned and started things off with “Asleep At The Wheel” from 2010's “Thank You Mr. Churchill”, and it was a dark and brooding number about the condition of the world with yet another killer riff from Peter Frampton that was very David Gilmour-ish. Next up was a song about “the greedy pigs who took our money away” called “Restraint” also from “Thank You Mr. Churchill” and he eviscerated Wall Street and its minions, they followed that with another Pink Floyd-ish instrumental song called “Float” from the fabulous Grammy-winning album “Fingerprints” (2006), I do not know where Peter comes up with all of his riffs but he has yet to repeat himself and he had great interplay with guitarist Adam Lester and long-time bassist Stanley Sheldon. They continued in the instrumental vein with a fierce “Boot It Up” that had a great organ part from Rob Parker, and Peter introduced the next song by saying, “I stopped singing and they gave me a Grammy and I was a bit upset,” and the band launched into “Double Nickels” from the same album and Adam Lester tore it up on the slide guitar. Peter introduced the next song, “Vaudeville Nanna And The Banjolele” from “Thank You Mr. Churchill”, and he said it was about learning to play the guitar and it was very country-esque in its delivery and it was a introspective look back on his life as he showed pictures of his parents and him as a child on the video screen. Oddly they decided to do “All I Wanna Be (Is By Your Side)” again as an electric version but I preferred the acoustic version earlier in the set as they grinded it out. It was back to the acoustic guitar for Peter during the brilliant “Suite Liberte” from the “Thank You Mr. Churchill” album, I love his clarity on the acoustic guitar as he played the lovely and gentle instrumental and then he switched to the electric guitar and got all blues-y in a B.B. King style as he thrilled us with some wonderful note-bending and he jammed with Rob Parker as he made his Hammond organ explode all over the place with whirling notes. Peter reached into his back catalogue and pulled out a raucous “Four Day Creep” from 1971's “Rockin' The Fillmore” album that they just turned it out with Adam Lester singing lead, and the heavy blues never sounded better and the juxtaposition of Humble Pie performing on the video screen was intense. We were near the end of the show and Peter and his band rocked the instrumental “Off The Hook” from 1994's “Peter Frampton” album and they just blazed through the song, and they finished with an instrumental version of Soundgarden's “Black Hole Sun” that just blew me away as they careened through the song with riffs and licks flying everywhere as Peter used the talk-box to repeatedly intone, “Black hole sun, won't you come and wash away the rain...”, and Peter Frampton and Adam Lester played gloriously intertwining guitar leads that made the song more haunting than the original. The band took their bows to a rapt and cheering audience as they said goodnight and left the stage, but they came back and finished with a sensational cover of The Beatles' “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from 2003's “Now” album and Peter made his guitar gently weep as he played like it was his last time and I was blown away as he left the stage. We hurried back to the car and left the parking lot before the crowd got a chance and we hit the road happy as a lark from the wonderful show we just witnessed. I must say that Peter Frampton is a guitar god and he and his songs have stood the test of time.
SADE and JOHN LEGEND - June 22, 2011
Verizon Center - Washington, DC
The summer has officially started and so I slept in late to prepare myself to revel in the glory that is Sade's voice and her presence and her poise. This is her first tour in ten years and I cannot wait to see her. The Verizon Center is full up and it is nice to see that she can still draw crowds to see her and her sensational band perform her myriad of wonderful songs. The odious John Legend was the opening act so I took my sweet time getting to the venue, but I still had to catch his last couple of songs and they were just horrifying as I stood in the foyer listening to them, so I only heard his flat and lifeless soul-lite music, and I felt vindicated that the audience showed little enthusiasm for his music. He and his band finished their set and left the stage and the house lights went up, and I entered the arena and I found my seat and watched the stage crew prepare the stage for Sade and her band. It was an interesting set-up, the stage was barren and the drums and amps appeared to be hidden in openings in the stage as a huge scrim hung in front of everything. It should be interesting watching things unfold on the stage from my seat where I could watch all of the action on the side of the stage where the monitor guy and the instrument techs scurried around getting ready for the show in the dim lights of their banks of computer screens. Oddly the crowd was sitting in their seats quietly, but you could feel the anticipation building...I cannot wait...I have been waiting for this show since she released her “Soldier Of Love” album last year...so here we go...Bob Marley began to sing “Don't Worry, Be Happy” out of the speakers and it faded away and suddenly the scrim was sucked away and Sade appeared rising out of the floor in a black dress and red lipstick and the band did the same and they jumped right into the title track from her new album, “Soldier Of Love” with a militaristic drum beat and swirling keyboards as Sade seductively sang, “I am love's soldier, I wait for the sound, I know that love will come, I know that love will come, turn it all around...”, and Ryan Waters accented the song with staccato riffs from his guitar that gave the song a lovely edge. Sade thanked the audience for supporting them all these years and the band began “Your Love Is King” from 1984's “Diamond Life” album and Stuart Matthewman played the most gorgeous saxophone that bobbed in and out the song with ease and grace. Next up was my favorite song from 1992's “Love Deluxe”, the shimmery “Kiss Of Life” with its wonderful saxophone that guided the song as Sade languidly crooned, “Wasn't it clear from the start, look the sky is full of love, yeah the sky is full of love, you gave me the kiss of life, the kiss of life...” and the video projected a woman frolicking in the flowers and Paul Denman propelled the song with his percussive bass playing that he turned into a gentle lope as he morphed into “Love Is Found” from 2011's “The Ultimate Collection” and it had a great video of two giant black and white male and female silhouettes dancing as Sade sang her heart out and Stuart played this great almost doom-like guitar that carried the song. They slowed things down with a rapturous “In Another Time” from “Soldier Of Love”, and Paul Denman switched to the upright bass as Sade sat beside the keyboardist Andrew Hale who gently tickled the piano as she intoned the words and Stuart succinctly played the saxophone as it wailed mournfully over the rhythm. The stage dimmed and the video showed a cityscape lit up with neon lights as her band laid down a smooth and tight groove that exploded into a sensational “Smooth Operator” with Sade sensuously cooing, “A license to love, insurance to hold, melts all your memories and change into gold, his eyes are like angels but his heart is cold, no need to ask, he's a smooth operator, smooth operator, smooth operator, smooth operator,...”, and bassist Paul Denman rocked a fierce bass solo and Sade bowed to Stuart Matthewman after he played the most gorgeous outro on the saxophone. Without taking a breath, the band launched into “Jezebel” from 1985's “Promise” album with its gentle swirling beat and saxophone introduction as Sade sat on the edge of the stage and mournfully wailed its sad lyrics. Andrew Hale played the keyboards like an old jazzman and he played these notes that just hung in the air accenting Sade's voice beautifully and Stuart played them out with the saxophone. The scrim was dropped and the video showed a barren country road and the band and Sade was lit in murkiness as she sang “Bring Me Home” from “Soldier Of Love” and her voice was melting like butter in my ears as the video images followed the lyrics. It was very David Lynch-ian and mysterious and it was a exotic sight to behold. A red curtain dropped down and framed the band as they launched into a beautiful execution of “Is It A Crime” from 1985's “Promise” album as Sade soulfully sang, “Is it a crime, is it a crime, that I still want you, and I want you to want me too...”, and the saxophonist Stuart wailed sensationally and Ryan Waters played his best guitar solo of the night. A sign dropped down with “Sade Live: Tonight In Concert” and they coolly began to play the title track “Love Is Stronger Than Pride” from the 1988 album of the same name and drummer Pete Lewinson played wonderfully as his drums underscored the groove as the band segued into “All About Our Love” from the 2000 Grammy-winning album “Lovers Rock”, and I love the sparseness of the sound and Stuart Matthewman played a wonderfully deft solo as a helicopter sound echoed above the crowd. Stuart played the menacing guitar riff that opened “Paradise” from the aforementioned album and the band funked it up a bit and they sounded great as Sade moaned, “I'd wash the sand off the shore, give you the world if it was mine, blow you right to my door, feels fine, feels like you're mine, feels right, so fine, I'm yours, you're mine, like paradise...” The backing singers wore matching suits and they danced with Sade until she left the stage after a few minutes. The band continued on with “Nothing Can Come Between Us” also from “Love Is Stronger Than Pride” and Leroy Osbourne and Tony Momrelle, the background vocalists, sang lead as they interacted with the audience and they managed to get them to sing along with the band. Sade returned to the stage with long hair and wearing a beautiful gown as the video screen was showing tree branches that started moving in the wind as Andrew Hale played a haunting piano intro as Sade solemnly sang “Morning Bird” from the “Soldier Of Love” album and falling bodies appeared above the stage as the band morphed into “King Of Sorrow” from 2000's “Lovers Rock” album and it was just beautiful and eerie and it is amazing how the band plays as one. The band was cooking now and they jumped into a pumped up arrangement of “The Sweetest Taboo” from 1985's “Promise” album that got the joint jumpin' to the intricate percussion breakdown of Karl Vanden Bossche and Pete Lewinson and Sade poured her heart out to us...“You give me, give me the sweetest taboo. You give me, you're giving me the sweetest taboo, too good for me...” as the rest of the band played the lovely melodies that give the song life. They flowed into “The Moon And The Sky” from the brilliant “Soldier Of Love” album and Sade commanded the stage with such a poise as she shimmied and sang and the band played remarkably as they found the perfect balance of melody and groove. The band vanished and Sade stood at the edge of the stage all by herself as strings and keyboards droned in the background and she was standing in front of a blinding golden orb projected on the scrim and she mournfully wailed the lyrics of “Pearls” from 1992's “Love Deluxe” in such an achingly beautiful manner that it brought teardrops to my eyes. The band rejoined her and they rocked out on “No Ordinary Love” from the same album and Stuart Matthewman played a delicious guitar riff that permeated the song and Sade was just belting out, “This is no ordinary love, no ordinary love, this is no ordinary love, no ordinary love, when you came my way, you brightened everyday with your sweet smile...”, but they had this flashing strobe light that drove me crazy though. The band stretched out with an intense percussive breakdown that was groovy and ended in several blasts of confetti that sprayed everywhere and then they slowed it down and Sade thanked us for being such a great audience and then she introduced each member of the band with great intimacy and camaraderie, it was quite nice. Sade and her band marched off the stage to the roaring approval of the audience and they returned a few minutes later to encore with “Cherish The Day” from “Love Deluxe” and the band was spectacular with a New York City background on the video screen and Sade was dressed in this divine red gown as she was elevated on a tiny square riser twenty feet and the scrim dropped and they were lost in the cityscape and Sade extolled us, “I cherish the day, I won't go astray, I won't be afraid, you won't catch me running, you're ruling the way that I move, you take my air, you show me how deep love can be...” When they finished Sade bid us goodnight and she said, “It may be a long time until we cross paths again.” It was a tremendous and heartfelt way to end the show and you could see the love shared by Sade and her audience. I felt invigorated by my Sade concert experience as I walked out of the arena and I bought a t-shirt and left. The concert was amazing and well put together and you got your money's worth, it was twenty-one songs of pure pain and joy and salvation and redemption that touched my very soul.
THE FUNK ARK - June 19, 2011
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It is a cloudy hungover day in the nation's capital as I sit quietly in my seat at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage waiting for DC's own Funk Ark to light the day up as they kick off their tour in support of their just-released debut album, “From The Rooftops” on ESL Records which is ran by Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation. The Funk Ark is the band-child of keyboardist Will Rast who is one of those 'always working' musicians, he just finished up with being the bandleader for the legendary James Brown and The JB's, but without James Brown of course, on their “All-Star Soul Revue Tour” that played at D.A.R. Constitution Hall on June 4th with Eli Reed And The Paperboys, and he has worked with local stars Mya and Raheem DeVaughn. The musicians in Funk Ark come from a wide diversity of musical backgrounds and they came together to laid down some funky-ass, horn-driven grooves. Their opening number was a solid instrumental that showcased Joe Herrera's sassy trumpet and Matt Rippetoe's languid saxophone and the rhythm section kept the beat popping as keyboardist Will Rast led his band through a super-funky workout, guitarist Greg Loman kept the groove hot with his driving staccato riffs as Marc Blackwood laid down slabs of booming bass lines, and the newest member, Lee Darn, was a solid but sparse drummer, but the percussionist Matt Frebo more than filled the groove with spry and lively conga-playing. One thing I must say, is that the funk is not supposed to be mute, and yelling out “El Beasto” a few times does not count, because some fierce vocals with meaningful lyrics would set them apart from the rash of Afro-funk bands that have become popular in the region over the past couple of years. Will Rast is a tasty and succinct keyboardist and I can see why a lot of musicians would want to work with him. Overall the band seemed to be a cross between Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return To Forever, but it was very enjoyable to listen to but I will not give them high marks for originality and the songs all seemed to end abruptly. Their song “Hey Ma Jah Ja” was my favorite of their ten-song set, and Matt Rippetoe had a wonderful saxophone solo that just wailed and Greg Loman tore it up on the guitar with a nice dirty solo, and they rocked the title track from their new album “From The Rooftops” and it had the band funking out as Will Rast's hands skillfully danced across his keyboards, however I realized he was a clone of Booker T from Booker T And The MG's, albeit a good clone but a clone none the less. It is no wonder that I never felt any real and genuine soul, just a really good facsimile like pyrite, but I want real gold because after a while I became really tired of the endless solos that they played. But it was a very good show and I left the Kennedy Center with a smile on my face.
THOSE DARLINS - June 15, 2011
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It was a lovely spring evening as I made my way down to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to catch current critical favorites, Those Darlins, do their thing playing songs from their groovy new album “Screws Get Loose” that has caused the Rolling Stone to called them “a band to watch in 2011”. They are called 'cow-punk' with a touch of 'dirty south' garage rock and it has become quite popular on the Memphis, Nashville, and Atlanta scenes. The three Darlin sisters formed the band in 2007 with drummer Linwood Regensburg and they have released two albums and three 7”singles and they have been on the road constantly since then. So I sit waiting for the band to take the stage and I was wondering how many people in the audience are going to get up and leave, especially the church ladies next to me, the band took the stage and opened with a deliciously languid swamp beat with the lead singer/guitarist Jessi spewing her terse and insightful lyrics. They reminded me of Wanda Jackson crossed with The Cramps while dressed like The Go-Go's. Their second song “Be Your Bro” was quite fun and insightful to what boys really want from girls and what girls are willing to give, and they sang, “I just want to be your brother, you want to be my boyfriend, I just wanna run and play in the dirt with you, you just wanna stick it in...”, boy, do they know how to read men. Drummer Linwood Regensburg was a sparse minimalist beat-keeper but he kept the groove flowing as Kelley followed him with deep loping bass lines that reminded me of The B-52's, however the guitar playing of Jessi and Nikki was rudimentary and heavily effected but it was effective in conveying a sense of urgent angst that permeated their lyrics and music. They had a few moments of technical difficulties with the bass rig that when they fixed it, the repairs ended up making the bass sound boom-y. My favorite song was “BUMD” which had great vocal harmonies and reminded me of The Runaways but at the wrong speed – 45RPM on 33.3 RPM. Another great song was “Tina Said” with these lovely lyrics that told a story and they were delivered with intense sincerity. I just wished that they were more accomplished guitarists and could whip off some rip-roaring leads but they were still entertaining even though I could hear them breaking into The Go-Go's “We Got The Beat” any second. They kicked out a raucous version of Garland Jeffrey's “Wild In The Streets” that was quite impressive, and another cool song was “Prank Call Me Anytime” and it actually got people up and dancing which is rare for the Kennedy Center, and they made me chuckle with a ditty called “You Give Me Hives” with its killer guitar riff. I wonder what kind of boys played with their hearts and emotions. They closed their sixteen-song set with the title track from their new album “Screws Get Loose” and Elvis Presley's “Shakin' All Over” and they delivered them full of vim and vigor and pounding drums. I found them to be warm and engaging and they had my head just a'bopping to their catchy beat, so a good time was had by all.
THE GO-GO'S and THE DOLLYROTS - June 10, 2011
Filene Center At Wolf Trap - Vienna, VA
It is a gorgeous late spring evening as I sit in my favorite seat at Wolf Trap waiting for one of my favorite eighties band, The Go-Go's, to take the stage on their “Ladies Gone Wild Tour” to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their classic debut album “Beauty And The Beat” that was recently re-mastered and re-issued with a vintage live CD from the Metro Club in Boston in 1981. Getting here was a great annoyance, the Metro was a living nightmare full of incompetent idiots as I trekked to the Vienna Metro to meet my friend Eric Boucher and then we would drive to the venue. Wolf Trap is perennially one of my favorite summer sheds, it kicks Nissan Pavilion's, oh I mean, Jiffy Lube Live's ass...snicker snicker. I am kind of psyched for this show, I just finished reading Belinda Carlisle's memoir “Lips Unsealed” and the book gave me a whole new perspective of her and The Go-Go's and their place in music history, and damn, those bitches could party, and Belinda became a study in hardcore addiction and then becoming functionally clean and sober. This show was supposed happen last summer and it was billed as a farewell tour but bassist Kathy Valentine broke her leg and the tour was postponed. So now they have re-scheduled the tour for this summer but they decided they were not ready to say farewell and quit playing so they are staying on the road, and now there are rumors of a new album – so wow – what a long strange trip it has been. So now I sit and write and wait for The Dollyrots from Los Angeles to rock the stage with their nouveau retro pop-punk, the singer/bassist Kelly Ogden reminded me of the mutant daughter of Debbie Harry and Joan Jett, which incidentally whose label Blackheart Records released two of their albums. Their opening number “Some Girls” was a real rock'em, sock'em punk rock ditty that reminded me of The Ramones. The guitarist Luis Cabezas looked like the typical Sunset Strip junkie boy axe grinder but he did not play like one because he could play more than three chords. The drummer Chris Black kept the beat driving but he was a little light on texture and tempo changes. Tonight is their last night on tour with The Go-Go's, and they seemed to be rocking a little harder than usual. My favorite song of their eight-song set was a thumper called “Fight Like Jackie Chan” that was dedicated to Kelly's mom and The Go-Go's and they finished up with a fantastic cover of Joan Jett And The Blackhearts' “Bad Reputation” that just rocked. The Dollyrots left the stage and now I wait patiently as the crew makes a quick set change, The Go-Go's set was sparse and bathed in magenta and aqua lights and ready for them to rock the audience. Suddenly their intro music blared out the speakers and The Go-Go's walked out on stage and they jumped right in with an exhilarating “Vacation”, the title-track of their 1982 album, and Belinda Carlisle sounded great as she joyously sang, “Vacation, all I ever wanted, vacation, had to get away, vacation, meant to be spent alone...” and Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin traded licks on their guitars and the rhythm section of bassist Kathy Valentine and drummer Gina Shock kept the beat bounce-y and bubbly. They kept the groove moving with “Tonite” from the “Beauty And The Beat” (1981) album with its great vocal harmonies that interplay so nice and Gina's drum sound was fantastic, and Gina's from Baltimore and so she has a bunch of overzealous relatives in the audience. They followed that with “How Much More” from their debut and Charlotte is a bad-ass guitar player as she is stoically standing there flinging riffs into the adoring crowd as they flowed into “Get Up And Go” from the “Vacation” (1982) album and Gina gets to play a great percussive breakdown that really drives the song and makes you want to dance. Next they covered Belinda Carlisle's “Mad About You” from her 1986 solo album “Belinda” and they rocked it up and delivered it like a knock-out punch as Charlotte put her guitar on 'stun' and played a stunning array of riffs and Belinda sultrily sang, “I'm mad about you, you're mad about me, babe, couple of fools run wild, aren't we, pushing the day into the night time, somewhere between the two, we start to see...”, and the performance was awesome enough to make it a highlight of the show. The band had hit its stride by now and they went back to the “Beauty And The Beat” album and played the track “Lust To Love” beautifully as the ominous bass of Kathy lumbered along as Charlotte and Jane made their guitars flutter about the driving rhythm. Then they played The Rolling Stones' “Mother's Little Helper” with great panache and they blew The Stones away with their originality and style and Charlotte, who has been MVP tonight, played a scorching riff that just blew me away and Belinda could not have been more sassy. Charlotte slowed things down a bit to open the next song “Automatic”, which was another favorite off the “Beauty And The Beast” album, with a fantastic keyboard line that gave the song a great little groove as Belinda crooned, “Quiet now, still of night, inside fire burnin' bright, right moment, layin' down, oh, still no sound, it's all automatic...”, and from the same album, they segued into a melancholic “Fading Fast” and there seem to be a little truth in the lyrics because you could tell they lived it. Surprisingly they played “Cool Places”, a song that Jane Wiedlin did with Sparks on their “In Outer Space” (1983) album and then The Go-Go's covered it and released it as a single, and they gave it a nice and sassy new wave make-over with jangly guitars and vocal harmonies that just made you dance and everyone in the audience was. The highlight of their set was a throbbing “This Town” also from “Beauty And The The Beat” and Belinda menacingly sang, “This town is our town, it is so glamorous, bet you'd live here if you could, and be one of us...” Jane was fierce on the guitar as she traded riffs and licks with Charlotte in a moment of fabulous guitar interplay that was transcendent and Gina Shock was phenomenal as she laid down the powerful rhythm with quiet ease that made the song just rock. They rolled on with a caustic “Unforgiven” and it was the only song they did off their 2001 reunion album “God Bless The Go-Go's” which was too bad because it was a good album, and then they performed “The Whole World Lost It's Head” from their 1994 “Return To The Valley Of The Go-Go's” reunion album, and it was nice that they still could write a good pop song after all these years. The Go-Go's were in the home stretch now and they finished with three classic songs from their 1981 masterpiece album “Beauty And The Beast”, first they rocked out on “Our Lips Are Sealed” and the vocal harmonies were exquisite and their voices intertwined coyly as they sang, “Can you hear them, they talk about us, telling lies, well that's no surprise, can you hear them, see right through them, they have no shield, no secrets to reveal, it doesn't matter what they say, in the jealous games people play, our lips are sealed...”, they continued with a raucous “Skidmarks On My Heart” that it seemed like they had ESP-like interaction as they played better than I ever saw them, and finally they played a ferocious “We Got The Beat” and Charlotte Caffey outdid herself on the guitar and Kathy Valentine thumped the bass subtly but it was the bomb as she drove the song with Gina Shock's percolating rhythms on the drums backing everything up beautifully. The Go-Go's left the stage as the wild audience roared thunderously and screamed for more, and it was kind of surprising since the venue was only about two-thirds full. After a few minutes they returned to the stage and Belinda Carlisle introduced the band members and then they kicked things off with a sensational “Beatnik Beach” from 1982's “Vacation” album and everyone was dancing like crazy as they segued into “Head Over Heels” which was the only song they did from 1984's “Talk Show” album and they had The Dollyrots come joined them on stage and everyone sang, “Head over heels, where should I go, can't stop myself, outta control, head over heels, no time to think, looks like the whole world's out of sync...” They each took turns taking solos on their instruments and Charlotte finished with one last killer guitar solo that reverberated through my skull like a bomb as they finished their nineteen-song set with “Fun With Ropes” that they only do as a live song and they let it rip with a tender ferocity as they said goodbye and see you next time. The Go-Go's left the stage to explosive applause and Eric and I headed to our car as quick as we could to beat the rush and we headed home singing “We Go The Beat” with smiles on our faces.
THE MEDICATIONS - May 29, 2011
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
I have been hearing about this band for years, but I never got around to seeing them perform because they were part of the Black Cat emo crowd and I was from the 9:30 Club druggy crowd and just like in high school...clique lines are not crossed. The Medications were formed in 1992 from the remains of Faraquet, guitar/bass player Devin Ocampo and bass/guitar player Chad Molter, as an outlet for their more pop-oriented music with intense and political lyrics. Devin also played in noted bands Beauty Pill and Smart Went Crazy who put a few records out on Dischord Records. Drummer Andrew Becker quit the band in 2007 just as they began work on their masterpiece “Completely Removed”, luckily they acquired drummer Mark Cisneros to round out the band and complete the album and it was eventually released in April 2010 on Washington DC stalwarts Dischord Records. As I sit waiting for the band to start, I have my first Ian MacKaye sighting of the summer and his wife, The Evens drummer Amy Farina, and child in tow, he does own the record label that their records are released on. The audience is quite diverse but I wonder how many of these geezers will run away when they start playing their power-chords and insightful lyrics, they are playing at the Black Cat tomorrow night and I will take the Kennedy Center over the Black Cat anytime. The Medications take the stage and their sound is a bit chaotic at first, particularly the vocal interplay, but the sound guy got it together by the second song. The band reminded me of a weird amalgamation of surf rock, British New Wave, and Fugazi. Mark Cisneros is an excellent drummer who kept the tempo solid and gave structure to the other two's somewhat sloppy playing, the guitarist Devin Ocampo more than the bassist Chad Molter who laid down some interesting and quirky bass lines, even though their songs did seem to sound the same. The band did lack personality though, so I became easily distracted, but I did find their lyrics to be heartfelt and literary, I just wished they projected to the audience more to keep my full attention. My favorite song of their nine-song set was “Exercise In Futilely”, it had very engaging lyrics and in synch vocals and a nice driving rhythm as the guitar notes swirled about sharply. I think some more instrumentation would have fleshed out their sound and made them less jarring and angular. Even though I, for the most part, really enjoyed their set, I do not think I will buy their music or feel the urge to see The Medications play live on stage again.
BEACH FOSSILS - May 28, 2011
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
LADY GAGA - May 27, 2011
Central Park Soundstage - New York City, NY
THE SWEATER SET - May 26, 2011
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
FATHER FIGURES - May 11, 2011
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It is a quite lovely day as I rush to the Kennedy Center to catch Father Figures on the Millennium Stage, they are stalwarts of the burgeoning Brooklyn abstract indie music scene where they are affectionately known as “zombie jazz” and for their willingness to play anywhere and anytime. Father Figures take the stage and launch into their lumbering and somewhat chaotic and supposedly improvised jazz-rock fusion that reminded me of be-bop on crack. Keyboardist Ross Edwards was very adept and nimble-fingered as he let the notes fly in a style very reminiscent of Thelonius Monk, Spencer Zahn played his upright bass subtly as he underscored the groove, but I found Ian Chang's drumming to be heavy-handed and a bit cacophonous, and in my opinion, prevented the band from really getting in the groove. The dueling saxophones really drove the band's songs, especially Jas Walton, who's melodic playing kept me interested in their songs. The other saxophone player Adam Schatz and leader of the band was a bit rougher player but I enjoyed the effected sounds he played on a sampler keyboard and a voice modulator because they really reminded me of “Birds Of Fire” era “Mahavishnu Orchestra in the way their sound ebbed and flowed while filling up the space between the notes. But I must tell you that all instrumental bands get a bit monotonous after a while, there is no one to articulate the stories that the music was trying to tell. Halfway through their set about half of the audience got up and left, at least they waited until the song was over, but they do need to project more to keep the audience interested, their pleasant better than average instrumental skills without a focal point was not enough. It is no wonder that they mostly play basements and dives where they could become background noise to 'hipsters' drinking and pretending to be intellectual. The annoying drummer is starting to grate on my nerves with his lack of groove, maybe it is because he is Asian but who knows, they are not known for bending funky. The harder they tried to swing the more ramshackle they sounded. The most interesting numbers in their set were the last two, first “Somebody's Watching The Material Girl” where they had a wonderful dueling saxophone run as the piano notes danced between the saxophone squonks, but the drummer trampled over the saxes with his abrasive snare drum sound while the rest of the band careened along in a be-bop frenzy and then the last song “Neurogasm” blasted away like an out of control rocketship with notes flying around like sparks. I am still undecided if I like them or not because the drummer got on my nerves so much, maybe they are more amusing to see while drinking in a dank and dark hole in the wall, not that I want to find out.
CAROLYN MALACHI - May 8, 2011
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
I greeted the new day feeling a bit angst-y as the baby birds that live in a nest in my house’s eaves jolted me fully awake with their incessant hunger-fueled chirping on this Mother’s Day 2011. So I got up and ate some delicious fruit and re-watched some of HBO’s “Lady Gaga: Live From Madison Square Garden – The Monster Ball” concert that premiered on television the night before, and Lady Gaga’s fantastical performance put me in a good mood and ready to go see Carolyn Malachi perform on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. Carolyn is a native of Northeast DC and the great-granddaughter of noted jazz pianist and music arranger John Malachi, and she started performing in 2005 at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, where she was going to college. She went on to release two critically-acclaimed albums, “Revenge Of The Smart Chicks” and “Revenge Of The Smart Chicks II”, and she also founded the Smart Chicks Network to help women in the arts. In 2010 she released her “Lions, Fires, & Squares” 6-song EP and the song “Orion” from that album earned her a Grammy nomination for “Best Urban Alternative Performance”. This really uplifted her spirit because earlier in 2009, she lost everything that she owned and on top of that, she was in a very bad relationship, but she overcame these setbacks and tonight she is strutting onto the stage in 'haute couture' looking all sassy as her band laid down the tight hip-hop influenced jazz-pop fusion and her voice…it is Angela Bofill meets Jill Scott with an inventive twist. Her band was led by keyboardist/producer James McKinney and he filled the songs with melody as his fingers danced across the keyboard and Carolyn Malachi’s voice skipped and soared over the music as she wailed “Let’s get sexual.” The second number was dedicated to the soldiers fighting in Afghanistan on this Mother’s Day and Tarus Mateen’s thick loping bass lines propelled the music along as Carolyn sang for us to pray for and remember them each and every day. Next up was a jaunty South African-infused song that had her singing, “I’m walking with diamonds on the soles of my feet”, and she even let loose with a nice little rap – she served poetry that said it right. Djembe player Jabali Exum kept the beat lively with his tasteful drumming and percussive accents. The next song was quite a surprise, Sarah Vaughn’s “Lover Man”, for which her great-grandfather John Malachi wrote the original arrangement, but Carolyn and her band performed it as a minimalist down-tempo torch song and it was exquisite and achingly beautiful as James McKinney made his grand piano sing gloriously and her voice melted my ears as she sang the lyrics with heartbreaking intensity – that is a lot of adjectives but their version deserves every one of them because let me tell you…girl can sing…and pitch-perfect too. They followed that with a “pop” ditty called “Hold On Hope” that I could see Josh Groban singing to the masses. One consistency about the band that I noticed is that Nate Jolley is a tremendous drummer and his deep in the pocket playing kept the bass and keys in harmony with Carolyn’s voice. The only thing missing from the music was some sweet guitar licks, the show program listed a guitarist but I guess something must have come up because he was a no-show. The next song was an inspirational number written for her former drummer Danny, hence the title “Danny’s Song”, and it had a gentle loping beat as Carolyn sang that things can get better if you let them and Tarus accented the song with a soul-stirring bass line. They followed that with a song dedicated to the mothers of the world and it reminded me of a song that the Dave Matthews Band or Sting would perform, except for Carolyn Malachi does not disgust me and it really got the crowd clapping along to the music. She closed her set with a jaw-dropping version of her Grammy-nominated song “Orion”, and it really showcased the range of her angelic voice as she sang about the search for balance in life and love, which she told us her father taught her was the key to life – BALANCE. Carolyn then thanked everyone involved in putting the show on as the band played some bebop-y outro music. Overall, her eight-song set was a perfect way to spend a Sunday evening, and I recommend that you check out Carolyn Malachi and her music immediately.
KYLIE MINOGUE - April 30, 2011
GMU's Patriot Center - Fairfax, VA
It was a bright spring Saturday afternoon with a sky full of strange clouds as my BFF Scott Parks and I took our leisurely time drifting towards Fairfax in Virginia and the Patriot Center on the George Mason University campus while hoping a tornado doesn't carry us away to Oz, which is quite appropriate being that we were on our way to see Australian Kylie Minogue on her “Aphrodite Tour” and the audience was going to be predominately “friends of Dorothy” camping it up and having a gay old time betwixt the bemused Australians and disgruntled Europeans. Americans just do not love Kylie like the rest of the modern world. As we sat in the parking lot waiting for the “proper fashionable” time to enter the venue, five buses full of my fellow homos pulled up and off-loaded them, and lordy, some of them queens were so flaming they could be seen from space. Thank God I have never been that “gay” and I am pretty damn gay. I was quite amused by the looks on the faces of Kylie's heterosexual fans and the venue employees, and most of all, the police officers who were visibly laughing and pointing at some of the more flamboyant queens. Scott and I found our lovely straight-on view of the stage just as DC's own self-appointed best DJ, Ed Bailey, began his set of super-gay-friendly non-stop thump-a-lump disco music full of train wreck segues of conflicting music styles that made me feel like I was at some gay high school dance – super ugh! I actually cannot wait for Kylie Minogue to take the stage so Ed Bailey will stop and the clock is ticking down as these queens scare me more by the second. The house lights dimmed and a Greek temple set appeared on the stage as her dancers twirled all over the place and there were dancers suspended from the ceiling doing acrobatics, it was quite amazing and a sight to behold. Kylie Minogue entered from underneath the stage dressed as a Greek goddess and came down a flight of stairs and the band kicked off “Aphrodite” from her new album with a flurry of crescendos as Kylie sensuously cooed, “Oh, I'm fierce and I'm feeling mighty, I'm a golden girl, I'm an Aphrodite, alright, alright, yeah, yeah, hey...” The band smoothly segued into “The One” from “X” (2007) and it was a delightful version with half her band strumming harps like they were in a heavenly choir. One of my favorite songs of the night was “Wow” which was also from “X”, and it had a lovely melody that was driven by a fantastic bass line that danced over cascading rhythms that the drummer provided with skill and ease. Next they jumped into another new song called “Illusion” and it had an arabesque feel as Kylie appeared riding on a Pegasus carousel horse as she soulfully sang, “This situation's taking over me, can't you see, I'm in trouble, infatuation's got a hold on me, a jealousy, I'm not myself at all, I'm surrounded by confusion and I'm lost in this illusion...” The accompanying visuals and lights were awesome as they added great accents but I noticed that the beat has not changed one iota since the show started. Kylie was brought on the stage in a chariot by four Roman slaves and she performed a disco-infused “I Believe In You” that was on “Ultimate Kylie” (2004) and it was written by The Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears, and the dancers engaged in some horrible dancing that looked that looked like they were having seizures. Her current single “Cupid Boy” followed and it was very New Order in its sound with its booming bass and fluttery guitar line, and there were four boys hanging from the ceiling and they performed flying acrobatics to our amazement. They began a pulsing “Spinning Around” from “Light Years” (2000) and the beat still has not changed yet and it made the seats vibrate and it was driving me crazy and I felt like I was at sea, and the dancers looked like bent paper clips as they danced on the stage. The band had hit their groove as they flowed into another new song, “Get Outta My Way”, and it was propelled by a driving rhythm and a pulsing melody as Kylie sarcastically sang, “What's the worst thing that could happen to you, take a chance tonight and try something new, you're getting' boring, you're, oh, boring, and I don't recognize the zombie you turned into...” The band was going full-force as they delved into Kylie's back catalogue and performed a sparkly “What Do I Have To Do?” from 1990's “Rhythm Of Love” and then they jumped back to her new album and played a delightful “Everything Is Beautiful” and it merged into “Slow” from “Body Language” (2003) and it was a very sexy number as Kylie vamped it up and finally the beat has changed unlike Kylie's outfits with each one being more extravagant than the last one. The audience was loving every minute of the show as they screamed and hollered for Kylie, and her and her dancers performed a great dance sequence for the opening of “Confide In Me” from “Kylie Minogue” (1998) and it reminded me of why I wear my sunglasses after dark, however the vocals were drowned in effects and they became lost in the mix. The surprise of the night was a rock'n'roll rendition of “Can't Get You Out Of My Head” from “Fever” (2001) and it was my favorite song of the night and Kylie was wearing this wonderful silver Mylar dress as she sultrily sang, “I just can't you out of my head, boy, your loving is all I think about, I just can't get you out of my head, boy, it's more than I dare to think about...”, and the guitarist stepped out of the shadows and let loose with the most amazing solo that really impressed me. This must be the “rock” segment of the show because the guitarist played another scorching riff as he intro-ed “In My Arms” from “X” (2007) as a video of an eight-armed woman played on the screen as Kylie and her dancers worked the stage. High above the stage there were embracing white-winged dancers swayed and they began “Looking For An Angel” which was the best song on “Aphrodite” and cool graphics spun around and around on the video screens and the same beat was back and a flying angel boy descended to the stage and the band began playing a pleasant cover of The Eurythmics' “There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)”. Kylie doesn't have the range of Annie Lennox's marvelous voice, but she has catchy style and delivery, but her background singer just blew her away as she out-sang her. Kylie took the time to introduce her band and her dancers then they performed a mash-up of “Love At First Sight” off “Fever” (2001) and “Can't Beat The Feeling” from the new one and it was alright and rocked the house. I noticed that Kylie's speaking voice was way different from her singing voice when she talked as she led the audience in a giant raucous sing-a-long. The lights got dark and melancholy and she said the next song means a lot to her, and it was Prefab Sprout's “If You Don't Love Me” and it was sad and down-tempo but it showed the weaknesses in her voice and a bad choice for a cover. The dancers gyrated fantastically in an opening dance to older song “Better The Devil You Know” from “Rhythm Of Love” (1990) and the production was great, but the costumer really likes to overuse feathers because Kylie looked like a bird as she warbled, “I'll forgive and forget, if you say, you'll never go, 'cos it's true what they say, it's better the devil you know...”, and I realized just how bland and tepid her music is and her fans are kind of pathetic. The band actual showed a little soul by playing a funky intro to “Come Into My World” from “Fever” (2001) and Kylie twirled about the stage and sang like she was a gospel singer and she slowed things down and she told about visiting the White House and what a tremendous thing that was, and then she launched into a cover of Nerina Pallot's “Better Than Today” and it had some great guitar that gave it punch. The last song of the night was a sweaty “Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)” from “Aphrodite” and it got the audience dancing and screaming as Kylie wailed, “All we need is love in this life, it's true, all I need is the love I get from you, and I wanna scream it out, if you hear what I'm sayin', put your hands up if you're feelin' love tonight...”, and the crowd was in a frenzy as they cheered loudly as Kylie took a bow and she and her band left the stage. People were going wild and Kylie and her band returned to the stage to uproarious applause as they began “On A Night Like This” from “Light Years” (2000) and they were getting loose onstage as the music jumped and pumped as they segued into the show-stopping finale of “All The Lovers”, and this was the tenth song from the “Aphrodite” tonight, and the band was sounding excellent and tight as Kylie beautifully sang, “All the lovers that have gone before, they don't compare to you, don't be frontin', just give me a little bit more, they don't compare, all the lovers...” It was an appropriate way to end such energetic twenty-four song show with all her dancers working it as she stood amongst them just singing away. Even though her music was sugary and bland, it was joyous and fun evening, but I had to get away from all these...faggots...so Scott and I blew out of the parking lot in his car and rushed on home with “Can't Get You Out Of My Head” pounding away in my head much to my chagrin.
RUSH - April 22, 2011
1st Mariner Arena - Baltimore, MD
It's another schizophrenic weather day, yesterday was nice and sunny and today is rainy and overcast as my concert buddy Mark Amablie and I are heading to Baltimore's 1st Mariner Arena to see Rush on their “Time Machine World Tour” and it features them playing “Moving Pictures” in its entirety. The show is supposed to be twenty-six songs performed in two sets so it should be a wild ride through their catalogue. It cracks me up that their audience is still predominately male and the Rush nerds are out in full force tonight with their devices and gadgets and dissecting everything that is Rush. The houselights dimmed and the stage was a retro-futuristic set of vintage radios and vacuum tubes and a giant video screen that showed a film of the members of Rush dressed in weird costumes and being strange and they started playing “Spirit Of The Radio” from 1980's “Permanent Waves” album and drummer Neil Peart was fantastic as he pounded his drums skillfully and Geddy Lee sang, “Begin the day with a friendly voice, a companion, unobtrusive, plays the song that's so elusive, and the magic music makes your morning mood...”, and what a great song to open their set. Geddy's voice started out sounding a bit rough but it was balanced out by their excellent sound system as they performed “Time Stand Still” from 1987's “Hold Your Fire” album with his soaring vocals and Alex Lifeson's rapid fire guitar riffs. They continued on with “Presto”, the title track of their 1989 album, and Alex was awesome as he played his guitar like no other and his tone was great as they skillfully moved onto “Stick It Out” off the 1993's “Counterparts” album. They were showing these really cool videos especially one with a boy in a chair writhing like a snake and the great heavy guitar sound was swirling all about the stage making it Alex's best solo of the night as it chugged along beautifully while it danced with Geddy's daring bass lines and he bellowed, “Stick it out, don't swallow the poison, spit it out, don't swallow your pride, stick it out, don't swallow your anger, spit it out, don't swallow the lies...” Alex picked up a bouzouki and he played an outrageous solo as they cranked out a stellar rendition of “Workin' Them Angels” from 2007's “Snakes & Arrows” album and Geddy Lee was exceptional on the drums as he made poly-rhythms appear everywhere. Next they performed a throbbing and pulsing “Leave That Thing Alone” from 1993's “Counterparts” record and it was a very nice instrumental with an almost funky bass line that drove the song as Alex flung riffs left and right on his effected guitar, and they went right into “Faithless” from 2007's “Snakes & Arrows” album and they played it flawlessly. Rush decided to give us a little taste of their forthcoming new album “Clockwork Angels” with a touching rendition of “BU2B” and you could hear the melancholy in Geddy's voice as he sang, “I was brought up to believe, the universe has a plan, we are only human, it's not ours to understand, the universe has a plan, all is for the best, some will be rewarded, and the Devil will take the rest...”, and Alex was very Led Zeppelin-esque in his guitar-playing and it was very reminiscent of the energy of the “Physical Graffiti” album and he finished the song with a brilliant solo as the radios scattered about the stage began smoking and pulsing with light. Rush then played one of my favorite songs by them, “Freewill” off the “Permanent Waves” album from 1980, and it sounded more aggressive than the recorded version and it had a fierce guitar solo that had Alex's fingers flying up and down his fretboard and Geddy can still hit the high notes when he sings, and it was a real crowd-pleaser. They flowed into “Marathon” from 1985's “Power Windows” album and at the beginning of the song a loud boom from the stage made me jump out of my skin, but the song rocked and Alex is a much better guitar player than I remember him to be. They finished the first set with a grooving “Subdivisions” from 1982's “Signals” and Geddy Lee started the song off with an intricate keyboard intro and then he switched to the bass and sweetly sang, “Subdivisions, in the high school halls, in the shopping malls, conform or be cast out, subdivisions, in the basement bars, in the backs of cars, be cool or be cast out...”, and it was another highlight of the show for me and I noticed that Geddy had stubby fingers which made his playing even more amazing. They announced that they were taking a small intermission and then they would be back to play their masterpiece of an album, “Moving Pictures” from 1981 and a few other songs, the audience erupted in a frenzy as the house lights went up and everyone had that blown away look on their faces. After about twenty minutes or so the house lights dimmed and a movie began to play on the screen that showed the members of Rush dressed as their alter-egos and they flipped through various looks and then they began the “Moving Pictures” segment with a stellar “Tom Sawyer” and Geddy howled, “Today's Tom Sawyer, he gets high on you, and the space he invades, he gets by on you, no, his mind is not for rent, to any god or government, always hopeful, yet discontent, he knows changes aren't permanent, but change is...”, and they played with their alter-egos in the movie like they were on the stage. They proceeded with “Red Barchetta” and the band was in the groove now and Alex played an awesome guitar part and they continued into “YYZ” which sounded like a jazz-fusion number as Geddy played his bass like he was Stanley Clarke and the lights were beautiful and full of depth as they accented the music. They launched into my second favorite song of the night, “Limelight”, and the guitar sounded crisp and crunchy as Alex shredded away and Geddy wailed, “Living in the limelight, the universal dream, for those who wish to see, those who wish to be, must put aside the alienation, get on with the fascination, the real relation, the underlying theme...”, it was touching and Neil Peart's lyrics were on point as he pounded away on his massive drum set. Geddy began the next song, “The Camera Eye”, with a lovely keyboard intro that wound its way through the rhythm with its thunderous drums and Geddy's tireless bass as the song morphed into “Witch Hunt” with its driving riffs from Alex's guitar. They finished playing “Moving Pictures” with a pulsing “Vital Signs” and Neil's drums triggered synthesizer parts that just swirled away and they had this weird-looking lighting rig that moved and turned into a giant spider as Geddy crooned, “A tired mind becomes a shape shifter, everybody need a soft filter, everybody need reverse polarity, everybody got mixed feelings about the function and the form, everybody got to elevate from the norm...” They finished playing “Moving Pictures” in its entirety and it was a spectacular rendition and a brilliant performance, and they jumped right into a new song, “Caravan” from their forthcoming album “Clockwork Angels”, and it seems that their new songs are really heavy with a little nu-metal influence from the likes of Tool and Disturbed but it was a great song and another set highlight. It became time for that dreaded moment in rock and roll – the drum solo – so go Neil Peart go, at least I got to sit down to rest my tired feet, but the drum solo was not too horrible on my ears. Neil was surrounded by drums of all sizes and I don't know how he reached his seat in the middle. His drum solo was almost like be-bop jazz as he laid down poly-rhythms upon poly-rhythms and he triggered samples and even did a bit of “Love 4 Sale” from “Clockwork Angels” as he went genre to genre, and it was quite amazing to behold. Alex and Geddy returned to the stage and Alex plucked an acoustic twelve-string guitar as he intro-ed “Closer To The Heart” from 1977's “A Farewell To Kings” album and it was full of intricate and delicate guitar riffs and Geddy played a beautiful bass line as he sang with great emotion, “You can be the captain, and I will draw the chart, sailing into destiny, closer to the heart, yes closer to the heart...”, and I was tremendously touched by the lyrics and his smooth vocal delivery. Then it became time for the moment everyone was waiting for, Rush grandly performed “2112 Part 1: Overture” and “2112 Part 2: The Temples Of Syrinx” with all the pomp they could muster as they roared through the pieces with screeching guitar and pulse-pounding bass and driving drums and I was on the edge of my seat as they screamed, “We are the priests of the temples of Syrinx...”, and it was highlighted by these great graphics on the video screen and the audience went crazy. Rush finished their set with a rousing “Far Cry” from 2007's “Snakes & Arrows” which I found a bit weird to follow up “2112” with, however the crowd was in a frenzy now as they whistled and screamed for more as they left the stage. The audience went bananas and Rush returned to a hero's welcome as they lit the stage up with a marvelous “La Villa Strangiato” from 1978's “Hemispheres” and Alex Lifeson was outstanding on the guitar as riffs cut into the air. Rush finished their twenty-six song set with an out-of-this-world version of “Working Man” from their 1975 debut and Geddy Lee gloriously sang, “It seems to me I could live my life, a lot better than I think I am, I guess that's why they call me, they call me the working man, well, they call me the working man, I guess that's what I am...” It was the perfect song of a perfect night to end on as they played their hearts out and we loved every minute of it as we cheered our hearts out for them. The house lights went up and we stood there just blown away by what we saw as we headed out of the arena to our car.
MAIMOUNA "LUNA E" YOUSSEF - April 19, 2011
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
Spring has finally sprung and I find myself sashaying down to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to see Maimouna Youssef or “Luna E” as she is known in the hip-hop world and she has made a name for herself starting at an early age when she joined the DMV theatrical troupe “Uprising” and that led to lead roles on Broadway. In 2002 her cousin Omari “Aziz” Forman-Bey and she formed the jazz/hip-hop/R&B band Cirius B and lit up the local Baltimore music scene with their “Subversive Activity” album and their invigorating and uplifting stage shows, Luna E even won FOX 45's “Baltimore Idol” contest. In 2004 se re-located to Philadelphia to work with the legendary Roots and recorded the Grammy-nominated single “Don't Feel Right” and she went on to record with a whole plethora of artists such from Nas, Zap Mama, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Angelique Kidjo to Brian Wilson and Wilco. She is currently in the studio to record her debut album but she took some time out of the studio to rock the Kennedy Center. Hip-Hop shows at this uptown venue crack me up but at least there no thugs lurking in the shadows. It is 6PM and Luna E and her eight-piece band take the stage with a gentle jazz beat and a wailing saxophone as she introduced her band and then she let her voice moan ethereally as she scatted as if her voice was raindrops falling gently into my ears as the band underscored her gorgeous singing and the three backing vocalist had all sorts of interesting counter-vocals. The band flowed seamlessly into a reggae-influenced song called “When Music Breathes” that just lifted me into its swirling beauty as she told us to “believe” and the saxophone closed the song out with a heartfelt blast. The drummer Biscuit was a beast as his melodious beat-keeping drove the band. Next they got the hip-hop groove pumping and Luna E let her skills show as she let the knowledge flow telling the slackers to get it together. She started rapping about the research she had been doing – the effects of fluoride, genetically-modified food, and using prisoners as test subjects – and it turned out to be the highlight of her fantastic set and the band played a beautifully menacing groove that reminded me of Gil-Scott Heron – so preach on sister. The next number was a folk-y blues song that was just her and her mother and acoustic guitarist John Pollard and I was underwhelmed in comparison to her other songs. Next up was an old-school gospel-blues wailer that was punctuated by a fierce harmonica, the title track “Black Magic Woman” from her new EP and it smoked, it made me want to jump up and shout “Amen!” - she referred back to her research and this company called Monsanto that produces genetically-modified seeds that modify the soil to make it addicted to the seeds as if it was crack...like OMFG...I thought as she sang about it in a modified version of the Black-Eye Peas' “I Got A Feeling” that was raucous and made you want to jump up and down. They closed their eight-song set with a stellar rendition of Nina Simone's “A New World Comin'” that gave me the chills as Maimouna “Luna E” Youssef lost herself in the lyrics of the song so beautifully, after she finished, she bowed and left the stage and the audience cheered and I slipped out.
YES - April 4, 2011
The Warner Theatre - Washington, DC
How fortuitous that spring finally comes to Washington, DC, and I find myself at The Warner Theatre to see prog-rock gods Yes perform there once again on their recent “Rite Of Spring Tour”. It blows my mind that Yes have been performing live consistently for the past forty-three years and they still can draw an enthusiastic crowd albeit they are at The Warner instead of the arenas that they played in the seventies and eighties when it seemed like they were playing the Capital Centre/USAir Arena every spring and fall ad nauseum. The crowd is quite diverse, young to old, and there actually three African-Americans in the audience who were totally rocking out to the band’s music; I have been attending Yes concerts since the seventies, when the only black people you saw were the crowd security guys and the concessions vendors…the times have really changed. The house lights dimmed and strains of Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite Of Spring” poured out the speakers as the band took the stage and opened with “Parallels”. The initial sound was a bit sketchy with feedback everywhere but the FOH soundman soon tweaked the system and the band sounded really great. I have really come to appreciate what a fantastic guitarist Steve Howe is, because he sounded fantastic, and singer Benoit David seems to be really fitting in with the band even though he is the most personality-free vocalist I have ever seen, but his voice sounded lovely, he sang the songs pitch-perfect but do not tell Jon Anderson. There is great clarity in the playing between the musicians, almost supernatural because they rarely looked at each other. Former member Rick Wakeman’s son Oliver’s keyboard playing was particularly wonderful as his fills danced in between Steve Howe’s ethereal guitar notes as they played an elegant “Tempus Fugit”. After Benoit over-thanked the audience for our love and appreciation, they blew my mind with a driving version of “Yours Is No Disgrace” from their 1969 debut album; the interplay of their vocal harmonies was sensational, as was the playing of bassist Chris Squire and guitarist Steve Howe, who sounded particularly Hendrix-esque during his guitar solo. Next, they slowed things down a bit with a somber “Soon” as Steve Howe accented the song with some very lovely steel pedal guitar, and then it was time for one of my favorite songs by them, “Close To The Edge”, and they set sail on a musical journey that was awe-inspiring. I just love the intricacies of their song structures, and I can see how they influenced modern trance music and The Orb in particular. Now it was time for Steve’s extended guitar solo segment on an acoustic guitar that he plucked with amazing dexterity as his fingers danced up and down the fret board like a mad genius as he segued into “To Be Over”, I must say though, for being able to make such beautiful music on the guitar, he is one of the ugliest guitarists in the world and I have seen the guys in Slipknot without their masks. The rest of the band returned to the stage and they launched into an exquisitely beautiful “All Good People” which they augmented with excerpts from “Your Move”, and it turned out to be my favorite performance of their set, and it really got the audience rocking and singing along and without stopping the band continued into their cosmic masterpiece “Machine Messiah” which I thoroughly enjoyed, even though Steve Howe’s riffs kept sounding like David Gilmour on “The Wall” album. The band was driving along at full-force now, as the opening riff of their only “pop hit”, “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”, flew like a graceful bird out of the speakers and the audience jumped to their feet cheering loudly, and it seems they have changed the song arrangement a bit by making it sound more like vintage Yes by rocking it up and diffusing the Trevor Horn eighties pop sound and once again Steve Howe let loose with yet another stellar mind-boggling guitar solo that had my ears melting with its ferocity. Benoit David and Oliver Wakeman left the stage as the original as the original three Yes members started grooving on a really jumping version of “Long Distance Runaround” that showcased their unparalleled instrumental interplay as a trio. The song soon mutated into a fantastic drum solo by Alan White that morphed into a Chris Squire bass solo workout like no other that I have ever witnessed as he breathed new life into “The Fish” and then drummer Alan White re-joined him as they interlude into “On Silent Wings”. The other two returned to the stage and the five of them began playing their over the top futuristic opus “Starship Trooper” and it brought the house down in rapturous applause, the song was an awesome mix of sound and visuals, which were spectacular and complimentary to the music throughout their entire set incidentally. Towards the end of the song, they slowed the music down as vocalist Benoit David name-checked the guys in the sound crew and thanked them for their services because tonight was the last show of the tour being that Steve Howe was due to spend May and June on the road with the original line-up of Asia. They finished “Starship Trooper” and left the stage to thunderous applause, I thought this show was way better than their show here at The Warner during the “Snowpocalypse” of 2010. I decided it was a good time to go buy a tour t-shirt while the audience cheered for an encore, and luckily I bought the last large shirt which now has shrunk to my proper size after the first wash. The band returned to the stage and launched into their crowd-pleasing classic “Roundabout” and it sounded as good as the first time that I heard it in my best friend’s blacklight-lit basement while we took bong hits of Columbian Gold back in my high school years in the seventies. It is great that Yes work hard to please their fans by playing their classics, but it would be nice if they played one or two new songs. Maybe next time, because according to guitarist Steve Howe they are planning to release a new record in the near-future and it is supposed to be in the vein of their “Close To The Edge” album. If Yes tour again I will probably go see them perform again, which is odd to me because I really do not listen to them at home, but I really enjoy going to their shows immensely. They left the stage and I left the building and headed home quietly humming “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” to myself.
ASOBI SEKSU - March 27, 2011
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
I woke up today still very elated from last night’s Elton John concert in Baltimore, but it is on with the show, so I called up my keyboardist buddy Eric Boucher and invited him to come to the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage with me to the see indie music’s current critical darlings Asobi Seksu from New York City, who are currently on tour in support of their fifth album “Fluorescence” on Polyvinyl Records and their name is Japanese slang for “playful sex”, rock the Kennedy Center with their brand of “dream pop” as the mindless music pundits call it. The band took the stage in a squall of swirling feedback…a la My Bloody Valentine…as the guitarist James Hanna flung minor chords drenched in feedback seemingly randomly, but they were actually well-placed in the song structures. Yuki Chikudate who sang and played keyboards reminded me of Bjork in the way she projected her vocals and carried herself while her keyboard added melody to the driving throb provided by the crack rhythm section, bassist Billy Pavone played low and deep with an almost funky edge and extremely exceptional drummer Larry Gorman played sparse and tight but brought focus to the controlled sonic chaos of the rest of the band. Yuki played some wonderfully quirky keyboard lines, particularly during my two favorite songs of their set, “Strawberries” and “My Baby”. I really love bands that play the Millennium Stage and scare away the “no life” old people that always seem to be lingering around the Kennedy Center muttering and talking to themselves. I do wish that the guitarist James reeled in his overuse of the reverb pedal and their soundman seemed to be a little deaf from being on the road for the past month because the volume was just a hair too loud and it obscured the band’s gorgeous melodies. But as I studied James’ playing, I began to think that all the noise was hiding his lack of virtuosity in overuse of his pedals and effects, because sometimes it seemed to me that he was just strumming his guitar without actually playing any notes. But none the less Asobi Seksu played a highly enjoyable eleven-song set that they closed with a rather stomping cover of “Never Understand” by Jesus And Mary Chain from their classic “Psychocandy” album.
ELTON JOHN AND HIS BAND and LEON RUSSELL - March 26, 2011
1st Mariner Arena - Baltimore, MD
It is one of those deceptively beautiful days where the sky is blue and clear but there is a chill in the air and it is supposed to be spring for Pete’s sake, however alas…I met up with my buddy Dave Coleman and we trekked up to Baltimore from DC on the BWI Parkway and the ride was wonderfully uneventful as we jammed to the new re-issue of The Blues Magoos’ “Psychedelic Lollipop” on Sundazed Records. We reached the First Mariner Arena and I picked up our tickets which were killer, Row D, Seats 10 and 11 in the center – I nearly plotzed. Since we had time to kill we walked around the Inner Harbor and made our way to historic Fell's Point where we ate our dinner at Jimmy's Restaurant and had a real down home Balmer-style meatloaf dinner with mashed potatoes and beets and let me tell you, hon, it was delicious. We meandered back to the arena and we made our way to our seats, and let me tell you – we were close – Elton's piano was about fifteen feet away. As we sit and marvel at our luck and we wait for the show to begin, I purvey the arriving crowd and it is one of the most diverse audiences that I have ever seen. The house lighted dimmed and Elton John and his band walked onstage and took their places and opened up with a brilliant rendition of “Funeral For A Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)” and Elton proved why he is a piano god as his fingers danced across the keyboard beautifully as he sang, “And love lies bleeding in my hand, oh, it kills me to think of you with another man, I was playing rock and roll and you were just a friend, but my guitar couldn't hold you, so I split the band, love lies bleeding in my hands...” The next song “Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting” was dedicated to his Baltimore-born keyboardist Guy Babylon who died in September of 2009, and the band turned it out in his memory as they played in perfect synchronization and they are remarkable tight. They proceeded on to “Levon” which they updated the arrangement and it was magnificent as Elton dazzled on his piano and the rhythm section of drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Bob Birch was giving the song a whole new edge with their inventive playing. Next up was a fabulous “Madman Across The Water” that was wonderfully languid as Elton played an extended piano break and drummer Nigel Olsson is still on it and Davey Johnstone still rules on the guitar as he played a fantastic groove that Elton's voice rode as he crooned, “I can see very well, there's a boat on the reef with a broken back, and I can see it very well, there's a joke and I know it very well, it's one of those that I told you long ago, take my word, I'm a madman don't you know...” The band continued with a maudlin “Tiny Dancer” and Davey Johnstone played a scintillating slide solo on a double-neck guitar that twirled and swirled in Bob Birch's bass thunder that led into a “Philadelphia Freedom” that was over-the-top and bombastic. The background singers were getting a work-out as their voices followed Elton with ease, Tata and Rose Stone of Sly And The Family Stone fame were outstanding as they made their voices soar and echo Elton's voice with grace and skill as he sang, “'Cause I live and breathe this Philadelphia Freedom, from the day that I was born, I've waved the flag, Philadelphia Freedom, took me knee-high to a man, yeah, gave me peace of mind, my daddy never had...” They went on to perform a stellar “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” with new keyboardist Kim Bullard accenting the down-stroke with great skill as Elton played the lead lines on the piano, and then they performed one of my favorite Elton John songs, the heartwarming “I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues” and it brought tears to my eyes. Then the band launched into a sensational version of “Rocket Man” with a new arrangement that highlighted the intricate melodies as Elton belted out, “And I think it is gonna be a long long time, till touch down brings me round again to find, I'm not the man they think I am at home, oh no, no, no, I'm a rocket man, rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone...”, and the audience was singing along at the top of their lungs and I was surprised that I knew all of the lyrics and Bernie Taupin wrote for it for Elton when he was at his worst on cocaine and he was oblivious to its meaning, Elton must have been so high. The percussionist John Mahon was deftly sensational as he played layers upon layers of poly-rhythms in an extended coda as the bassist Bob Birch just rocked a solid bottom to the end of the song. Some roadies rushed onstage and quickly set up another grand piano for Elton's special guest Leon Russell and they played the songs from their album “The Union” and they started off with a blues-y “If It Wasn't For Bad”, which went into a country-esque “Hey Ahab” that had a nice solo from guitarist Davey Johnstone, then a lovely “Best Part Of The Day” and Leon Russell looks really frail but his voice sounds good. The band sounded sharp as they played like they were an old country-rock band as they let loose with a gospel version of “Gone To Shiloh” and then they rocked out to the best song of the segment called “Monkey Suit” as Elton and Leon traded vocals, “Look at you in your monkey suit, driving south, nothing left to prove, you come back here in your cowboy boots, dressed to kill in your monkey suit, every pose you strike, every frame they shoot, shows you dressed to kill in your monkey suit...”, and they had everyone on their feet clapping and singing along happily. They continued on with a mournful “When Love Is Dying” and Elton and Leon played their pianos like they were dueling and then the rhythm section slowed things down as Elton introduced everyone in the band and they jumped into a raucous “Never To Old (To Hold Somebody)”. Elton and Leon finished their segment with a beautiful and heartfelt “A Dream Come True” that they traded vocals back and forth, “I can hear your heart pounding in my ear, now I feel the sound and the time is near, I feel the taste of all the things you do, now the time has come, I know you're a dream come true...”, and the band laid down a sweet groove as the lyrics touched my heart. The roadies rushed back onstage and removed Leon Russell's piano in seconds flat and Elton and his band kicked off the second part of his songs with an introspective “Sad Songs (Say So Much)” and Elton sounded melancholy as he sang beautifully and Davey Johnstone once again played an elegiac guitar solo take gave me the chills. The percussionist John Mahon played an extended intro that added groove to “Take Me To The Pilot” while Bob Birch propelled the rhythm along with these wonderful loping bass lines that segued into my favorite song of the night, “Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me”, and his band were brilliant as I stood there with teardrops on my face and Elton sang with such hope in the words, “Oh, don't let the sun go down on me, although I search myself, it's always someone else I see, I'd just allow a fragment of your life to wander free, cause losing everything is like the sun going down on me...” For the next song Elton sat at the piano all by himself and sang “Candle In The Wind” with such emotion for every person who ever died that I was overwhelmed and being so close to the stage was tremendous, he proceeded with a vicious “Burn Down The Mission” and the band was stunning as they delivered riff upon riff that rushed off the stage with a fury. The audience was just giving it up for Elton John and then he said it was time for his biggest hits as he gleefully started playing the opening notes of “Bennie And The Jets” and the band rocked like there was no tomorrow as Davey Johnstone made his guitar howl and Elton madly sang, “Say, Candy and Ronnie, have you seen them yet, but they're so spaced out, Bennie and the Jets, oh but they're weird and they're wonderful, oh Bennie she's really keen, she's got a electric suit a mohair suit, you know I read it in a magazine, Bennie and the Jets...” It was just a brilliant performance and I danced my little ass off with wild abandon. Without taking a breath they launched into a raw and sassy “The Bitch Is Back” with Nigel Olsson playing the drums so inventively as he pushed the rhythm like a freight train and the band segued into a “Crocodile Rock” that was rocking and rolling like nothing else, and the audience had a giant sing-a-long that was so intense and it even made the band members smile as they left the stage. Elton then took the time to sign all of these autographs for the people lining the stage and it was incredible how many he signed in a short period of time. After a few minutes the band returned and they played “Your Song” so beautifully as Elton melancholically sang, “And you can tell everybody this is your song, it may be quite simple but now that it's done, I hope you don't mind, I hope you don't mind that I put down in words, how wonderful life is while you're in this world...”, and guitarist Davey Johnstone played the last few notes gorgeously as they hung in the air until they disappeared. The audience erupted with such love and emotion as they screamed for more but Elton and the boys took their bows and walked offstage and the house lights went up. I sat stunned for a few minutes to let the place clear a little, but this was one of the most emotionally fulfilling shows I have ever seen and Elton John could not have picked a better twenty-six songs to share with us and many thank you's to Bernie Taupin for writing his brilliant lyrics for Elton to channel and deliver so beautifully. Dave and I hurried into the cold night to his car and we drove home in the dark all warm and fuzzy from the show and I know I will never forget this concert experience.
JOAN RIVERS and BRAD ZIMMERMAN - March 24, 2011
Music Center At Strathmore - Bethesda, MD
I have been looking forward to seeing Joan Rivers at, of all places, The Strathmore Music Centre in North Bethesda, Maryland, I love hearing low-brow comedy in a high-brow venue, and I cannot wait to see the looks on some of the blue-hair faces when Joan lets the blue language rip...LOL...LMAO! My love of stand-up comedy began back in the seventies with my paternal grandparents James and Hannah Riley, my grandpappy used to play me his Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor, LaWanda Page, and Dolomite comedy records and my grams and I would watch the daytime talk shows together and Joan was a very frequent guest and I fell in love with her biting and sarcastic humor especially when she guest-hosted the “Tonight Show With Johnny Carson”. I even loved her ill-fated “Joan Rivers Show” on the FOX Network, and the time that Boy George was a guest on her show and when Joan asked him why he thought he was famous in the U.S., and he replied, “America knows a good drag queen when they see one”, that moment will live in my brain forever. The house lights dimmed and the announcer ran down a list of things to turn off: cellphones, Blackberrys, fax machines, iron lung so there is no hissing...and then a jazz sextet takes the stage to provide a soundtrack for Joan to walk on stage and say hello and she introduced her opening act Brad Zimmerman who looked like a serial killer priest except for the fact that he was Jewish...oy vey...is Bethesda part of the “borscht belt”...he began an onslaught of Jewish mother guilt jokes and way to many jokes about being a bad waiter. He said that he was George Carlin's regular opening act, I guess it was because he made Carlin look really really good by comparison. I found his passive-aggressive downer comedy to be some what off-putting and short on wit and I was glad when his time was up. Joan Rivers hit the stage like fireball and she was off and running; she hates midgets, I mean hates them...what do they call a midget with Rhea Perlman – Danny Devito...she hates Hollywood icon Liz Taylor and called her a fatso...she hates old people...that Lady Gaga, she is ugly and lucky and she makes Barbara Streisand look pretty...and she hates Stevie Nicks and Diana Ross and Naomi Campbell...but she loves her gays, they are so stupid that they will laugh at anything...she hates Oprah and Barbara Walters and lesbians because they don't laugh and the Chinese and Renee Zellweger, oh god, she despises her and her flat “acting”...and why do rich men always marry in the same order, first they marry their wives and have kids then they leave them for a bimbo and marry her and then they leave the bimbo and they marry a Chinese girl, what is wrong with them...she hates old people because they are always sitting in their damp, ugh...and she hates Al Roker and cripples because ramps just ruin good architecture and she hates Paul McCartney and Heather Mills and the movie “The King's Speech”, what bullshit...and dear God, does she hate Helena Bonham Carter, she looks like her dresser is a three-years-old...she hates Chaz Bono and she is her god daughter, oy, Cher must be horrified because Chaz is ugly if she is a man or woman or animal...she hates the blind because they are so selfish and when's the last time one gave you a compliment...she hates charity letters and celebrities who have children and the Kardashians, poor hairy bastards, their depilatory needs must be astronomical...she hates when she hears the word 'osteoporosis' and cancer and Valerie Bertinelli and her fat ass plus she hates Jenny Craig and fat people stuck in a trailer in the middle of nowhere watching her commercials for fat loss and their whole thing of making portions equal contracts, what the fuck...she hates thin people and Olivia Newton John and celebrities who do charity work for photo ops and she really hates that Sean Penn...there are three things that you can see from the moon – Grand Canyon – Great Wall of China – Gayle kissing Oprah's ass...she hates Goldie Hawn and the fact that vaginas drop with age and people who have sex in the bedroom and watch television in the living room, that is so wrong, should watch television in the bedroom so when your husband is fucking you, you can watch it until he is done...she hates Ellen DeGeneres and Julie Andrew and Angelina Jolie and poor Jennifer Aniston can't keep a man because she doesn't douche and Mother Teresa stank and she hates Jackie O and Mariska Hargitay...and do not swallow cum because it is 146 calories and it is two points on the Weight Watchers chart...she hates Dr. Ruth because who would want to fuck her and what does she know about sex anyway, just learn to fake orgasms, say oh, oh, oh, and you are done, it's just common courtesy...she hates Betty White and June Allyson and Jamie Lee Curtis, she is such a trannie and she hates Sally Fields and Charlie Sheen and that slut Monica Lewinsky...she hates Viagra because it extends horrible old men's sex life and who wants that crawling and pawing all over you...she hates Suzanne Sommers and farts and she loves to hate QVC and their jewelry but it has made her rich and God bless child labor...she hates Kirk Douglas and she hates the movie “Black Swan” and she could not believe that was Meryl Streep playing “Precious” in that movie about the poor black girl...and she hated when Michael Jackson died because she wished she had a son so they could make some money...she hates Dick Clark and Larry King and Michael J. Fox and the Jews did not kill Jesus...they just watched...and finally she hates the terrorists because they dress so badly...and Joan Rivers was done with her set and the audience was howling with laughter and as the band played her off the stage she was handing out the potted plants on the stage like they were parting gifts. I made my way out of there and headed home and I found myself laughing and as I remembered what Joan said, “I hate everyone, starting with myself.”
PUNJABI MC - March 20, 2011
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
RA RA RASPUTIN, TITLE TRACKS, LAUGHING MAN, and THE CHENIERS - February 26, 2011
St. Stephen's Church - Washington, DC
It's a chilly mundane night as my pal Jasper and I make our way to St. Stephen Church to see a four band bill featuring my favorite local band Ra Ra Rasputin. The show is being put on by Positive Force DC and this show is a benefit to raise money to buy a permanent sound system for the venue. Thankfully the first band went on promptly at 7:35PM and they are an up-and-coming post-punk trio called The Cheniers and they are reminiscent of early Gang Of Four and Mission Of Burma. The bassist Ben Vivari is fantastic as he plays throbbing and propulsive bass lines that underscore the jagged angular riffs of vocalist/guitarist David Malitz as he drones on almost incoherently into the microphone, and the drummer John Masters kept the beat chugging along without being too overbearing, plus he was cute. The last two song of their nine-song set were my favorite and one had a funny title...”Eat Shit! Eat Garbage! Get stoned!”...overall I really enjoyed them and with a little practice to tighten up their song structures and strengthen their stage dynamics they could reach a bigger audience because they seem to have something to say and some nice songs to share. Next up is another local trio called Laughing Man, whose members are African-American which is inconsequential but it is always nice to see some black rock and rollers, the guitarist Brandon Moses began their set solo as he sang plaintively about standing on your own two feet. The rhythm section of bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Michael Andrew Harris joined him on their second number and they kicked into an avant-garde jazz meets rock-a-billy with bits of country music tossed in to make their groove as the guitarist Brandon strummed out these off-kilter riffs especially during my favorite song of their set, “Candy Coated”, which contained various elements that reminded me of Sonny Sharrock and Ronald Shannon Jackson who I saw with Outrage years ago at the Kitchen on Avenue B in New York City. The only drawback to gigs here is that the PA does not project vocals very well and I found myself straining to understand what he was singing about. Overall I really enjoyed their seven-song set particularly their last song which was played in a 3/5 time signature and was a strange melding of progressive, punk, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra because the bassist Luke had some Stanley Clarke-esque riffs that made the song lumber along as Brandon's guitar sputtered and squeal until they burst into a Beatles-like break. Overall it was a great seven-song set and thankfully they did not sound like the Bad Brains or Living Colour...LOL...just kiddin'. The third act Title Tracks features John Davis of Georgie James fame and they hit the stage with a mellow fury but the PA just does not project the vocals enough so one can clearly understand vocalist/guitarist John Davis beautiful and heartfelt lyrics but the band sounded good. The bassist Michael Cotterman plays like he is in The Ramones but with way more intricate bass lines that perfectly compliment the four on the floor drumming of Andrew Black. Thankfully the soundman tweaked the sound board and the vocals became more understandable. I really liked how concise and tight their songs structures were especially since most of their set was new songs from their forthcoming album called “In Blank” due out in April. I really enjoyed the songs “Light Sleepers” and “Winners Only”, and John Davis has a very pleasant voice that blends well with his clean guitar lines, and they really reminded me of a much more cohesive and melodic version of The Replacements. Overall it was a quite marvelous and tuneful ten-song set that thoroughly entertained the crowd and me and I hope they to expose their music to a much larger audience with their forthcoming new album. Finally it is time for my favorite local band Ra Ra Rasputin and it is the second time I got to see them this month and I have listened to their recent album practically every day because their song “Stereo Cutter” has been my theme song for the winter. They may wear their Joy Division/New Order influence on their sleeve but they are one of the most original bands to come out of DC in a long time and the second they hit the stage the audience lit up and the bodies started grooving and moving. I just love everything about their beats and rhythms; Patrick Kigongo's searing guitar riffs, Brock Boss's charming goofiness and lovely vocals, Anna Rozzi's swirling synthesizer lines, and Ken Quam's booty-shaking percussion...fuck...I don't know why I like them but they just fill me with joy. They really shined tonight on a powerful and muscular “Electricity Through The Heart” that had me and the audience dancing our asses off. It was really awesome how Patrick switches so deftly from guitar to bass in which he made the song come alive. They blew me away with the giant funk of a unrecorded song that had hints of Gang Of Four but with a kinder gentler edge filled with warmth instead of British coldness. I love how this band can work a percussive electro-groove as they plowed through their eleven-song set with great ease. They finished and the audience was sweating for more but it was the end of the night and so I went home. The shows at St. Stephen's Church are always laid-back and wonderful and I appreciate their efforts.
KATHY GRIFFIN - February 25, 2011
Kennedy Center Concert Hall - Washington, DC
Ooh wee...What a whirlwind super-gay weekend that I have been having...last night I saw The Scissor Sisters and Mother Monster, herself, Lady Gaga, and now tonight, Miss Kathy Griffin at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall...and ooh...the girl has gone uptown. She ain't on the D-List anymore! I just recently saw her at The Lyric Theatre in Baltimore on November 18th which was barely half-sold but she was a riot, thankfully tonight is sold-out and the venue will be full of laughter and she have a full range of topics and celebrities to eviscerate as I sit and patiently wait and people watch. It is very interesting to see how her crowd has evolved from being heavily gay in the beginning to it being about one-third gay these days. The show began once again with a video collage that I would love a copy of because the girl gots it going on. Kathy Griffin takes the stage and she apologizes for her camel toe for she was at the Lady Gaga concert and her insane fans scared the hell out of her with their “we are hot and we were born this way” attitude, but she was too because she worked hard for it, damn it. She was off and she had many targets...The Salahis, oh poor Tareq...Charlie Sheen, and because he sucks and is in the public eye, she can make all fun of him all she wants, and some of her favorite quotes of his, “winning”, and “tiger's blood”, good lord...she got a lot of shit for her “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” routine episode in her award-winning reality television show “My Life On The D-List”...deaf people just grind her nerves so she tests the show's deaf interpreter with some nice profanity and she tells about how there were deaf people fighting each other right in front of her at the Lady Gaga concert, can you believe it...Real Housewives' Camille Grammar, I'm someone's bitch but I don't know who...she loves hanging out with big-time journalists because Wolf Blitzer is such a drunk and might tell something he should not...and politicos, Scott Brown what can his abs do for you and Michelle Bachman, did not the Bible say you are supposed to burn a witch and were you born a bigot or did you grow into one, and what the hell is wrong with Lindsey Graham. She decided to change targets and so she talked about going to the Grammies...seeing Clive Davis and Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown was surreal and that Paula Abdul she is crazy and she works her ass off as does Margaret Cho who was having a blast and then she sees the Black Eyed Peas' Fergie and Kathy says I have been meaning to call you about your figure...she also saw Joey Fatone from N'Sync and then Bobby Brown joined the Black Eyed Peas and you could see his 'gunt' or his belly flopping over his penis...I laughed hysterically...Kathy says she has a new special on Bravo called “50 And Not Pregnant...she could not kept her eyes off the bloated gut of John Mayer that dirty whore because you can get crabs just saying his name and she was onto Dionne Warwick who she says is a national treasure...R. Kelly what a pervert...and that darn Whitney Houston, have you ever seen her do her psycho dance, and the way that Kathy sees it, her wig is like her mood ring and how sweaty looking she is controls her wig and to add to that she is wearing a see-thru dress...She got to go to New York City and she ran into that toe-sucking freak director Quentin Tarantino and she hung out with her comedy hero Joan Rivers and she saw that weirdo actress Uma Thurman and she can change her accent for no reason and she can't be funny and beautiful and she was at Comedy Central's Comedy Roast with Kathy Griffin and Kathy was making jokes about John Travolta being gay and she made Uma angry with the jokes and Uma said she was going to call off the roast...please sneered Kathy...she had enough problems dealing with a drunk Michael Madsen...Uma announced that she just got an e-mail from John Travolta and Kathy replied that it must say “I'm gonna fuck you in every room while you give me a massage”. I was rolling on the floor with laughter, Kathy is just brutal when her sights are set on you and she was back to “The Real Housewives” and that loon Michelle Salahi, she is one who enjoys her insanity...Kelsey Grammar, he was the Charlie Sheen of his day and he is a pig...and that Andy Cohen of Bravo Television is a cross-eyed bitch...Nicole Ritchie...her mother Maggie is such a star these days...and the Palins, Kathy feels that Jesus wants her to torment them as punishment for being so stupid, and the daughter Bristol, Kathy joked about her being the 'white' Precious and then Bristol made some rude remarks to her and she got death threats from tea-baggers, people from The Tea Party, and then Kathy told about how they were booked into this hotel at the same time and Sarah Palin found this out and she moved to a new hotel to get away from her...she laughed at her own joke and she lost her place so she jumped to Bill O'Reilly and his crazy self and just to rile her he named her mom as “Patriot Of The Week” for putting up with her humor...and speaking of right-wingers, Ann Coulter is a crazy and evil bitch...Kathy finished her set by exclaiming, “That's enough crazy!” and she took a bow and she ran off stage and the audience exploded with applause because she told the truth and made you laugh at the absurdity of it all
LADY GAGA and THE SCISSOR SISTERS - February 24, 2011
Verizon Center - Washington, DC
What a day it has been as I ran around like a headless chicken trying to get things done, the day has finally wound down and I picked up my fantastic tickets to Lady Gaga's “Monster Ball” and called my best friend Scott Parks to share the good news. We arrived at the very crowded Verizon Center and made our way through the sea of “Little Monsters” to our seats just in the nick of time to see The Scissor Sisters take the stage to deliver a short set of disco-funk that had the crowd dancing in their seats. It was really cool to see a 'gay' band open for Lady Gaga, even if they only got to perform six songs. They opened up with “Night Work” which is the title track from their latest album and their throbbing music took the place by storm as vocalist Jake Shears pranced and yelped and cajoled the crowd to have a good time and the other vocalist Ana Matronic was the perfect foil to Jake's campy outrageousness. They continued with “Any Which Way” and its manic sexiness and the squealing guitar of Del Marquis that drove bassist Babydaddy's disco rhythms as Ana Matronic's cooed over the beat all sassy and sexy. Sir Elton John helped to write the next song “I Don't Feel Like Dancin'” from “Ta-Dah” and his influence showed in the luscious keyboard lines that J.J. Garden played as drummer Randy Schrager laid down a subdued but driving rhythm. Another new song followed called “Running Out” that had Jake Shears almost running as he sneered and sang, “We're running out of money, of each other, of confidence, we're running out of drugs, of patience, of air, we're running out...”, and I must say that he was over the top in his emotional singing. Next they performed “Take Your Mama” from their debut album and it was alive with life as it flowed with joyous percussion and Del's sharp guitar riffs as Jake and Ana gleefully danced and sang, “Gonna take your mama out all night, yeah we'll show her what it's all about, we'll get her jacked up on some cheap champagne, we'll let the good times all roll out...” They finished their brief six-song set with a raw “Filthy/Gorgeous” from the “Ta-Dah” album that just oozed dirty and nasty sex and the band got all funky and filthy as their propulsive rhythms swirled around the venue and the audience roared their approval and then The Scissor Sisters were gone and the house lights went up. I was quite impressed by The Scissor Sisters and their brand of funky music and they got me itching for Lady Gaga and thankfully we have seats this time because last time she played I was standing on the floor and I had to be on my feet for the whole set. The stagehands scurried about the stage clearing the opening band's equipment and setting up for Lady Gaga and then they dropped a scrim and the countdown began to her hitting the expansive stage to rock us. A few minutes passed and then the house lights dimmed and a film began playing on the scrim of images of Lady Gaga jumping and posing for the camera and she began wistfully singing “Dance In The Dark” as the scrim fell and she cooed, “Baby loves to dance in the dark, 'cause when he's lookin' she falls apart, baby loves to dance in the dark...”, as she danced and twirled her way to the front of the stage with grace and panache. She continued with “Glitter And Grease” as the stage lit up with neon and her dancers gyrated suggestively and her fantastic band segued into “Just Dance” and she played the intro on the keyboards that were built into her prop car and then Kareem Jesus Devlin thrilled the crowd with an extended breakdown on the guitar that had him shredding notes left and right. Judy Kang stepped up to center stage and blew my mind with a violin solo that sounded like a guitar as the rest of the band launched into “The Fame” and it was wild and driving as they grinded out the song and Lady Gaga twisted her body all over the stage as she sang with such emotion. Everyone ran off the stage and the scrim returned and it showed a puke movie of Lady Gaga that was kind of ghastly as images of flying vomit going everywhere and Lady Gaga returned dressed in a futuristic nun's habit as she led her horde of dancers and the band began to play “Love Game” and they turned it out and Lanar Brantley played the bass like a beast with these thundering bass lines that rumbled through out the arena as Lady Gaga sneered sexily, “Let's have some fun, this beat is sick, I wanna take a ride on your disco stick, don't think too much just bust that stick, I wanna take a ride on your disco stick...” She sang “Happy Birthday” to one of her “Little Monsters” and suddenly a metro railcar appeared on the stage and Lady Gaga and her dancers climbed abroad and it shuddered and rattled as they danced wildly as Lady Gaga suggestively sang a light and poppy “Boys, Boys, Boys” which she dedicated to all the gays of the world. She picked up her keytar and she played a sensational solo that proved she has the chops of a real musician even though she plays “disposable pop” for the masses and the band roared to life on a sassy “Money Honey” and Lady Gaga changed into a gorgeous black bikini gown combo and she sashayed about the stage like a diva as she sang her heart out. She began talking to the audience and she said she was going to call an audience member and they were going to meet her and she called and a scream was let out in the crowd as this person answered the telephone and Lady Gaga said hello and invited them to better seats and then she started singing “Telephone” and Beyonce appeared on the video screen and she sang along with Lady Gaga, it is amazing what you can do with technology these days. Lady Gaga then sat down at the piano and a fire tornado whirled away on top of the piano as she played like a madwoman, she even used her foot as she sang the new song “You And I” passionately, “It's been a long time since I came around, been a long time but I'm back in town, this time I'm not leaving without you, you taste like whiskey when you kiss me, oh, I'll give anything again to be your baby doll, this time I'm not leaving without you...”, and Kareem Jesus Devlin and Ricky Tillo traded guitar licks like they were Slash and Izzy from Guns'n'Roses, it was beautiful and amazing and this was my favorite song of their set. A weird cylindrical contraption on a riser appeared in the center of the stage and they showed a film of a demented tornado destroying everything on it as Lady Gaga disappeared into the cylinder and then she reappeared wearing this bizarre fish-like cellophane dress that had moving fins as the riser rose up and she belted out a heartfelt “So Happy I Could Die” high above the audience with swirling lights and billowing smoke everywhere and the harpist Rashida Jolley played an incredible outro solo that was so ethereal and she's from Washington, DC. She descended back to the stage and she disappear again behind the cylindrical curtain and the lights darkened and another film appeared on the lowered scrim of thousands of hands raised in Lady Gaga paws-style and making noise and then she appeared in a mask outfit dripping blood and suddenly she was in an ominous forest walking alone with some dancers and she screamed and rolled on the ground as she sang “Monster”, it was fantastic to watch her give so much of herself. The next song started with drummer George McCurdy playing the wonderful poly-rhythms with this post-modern apocalyptic feel to them as he sent out waves of percussion until “Teeth” emerged with the driving keyboards of Brockett Parsons and Joe Wilson leading the way and Lady Gaga cooed, “Take a bite of my bad girl meat, bad girl meat, take a bite of me boy, show me your teeth, I just need a little guidance...”, and the rest of the band was consummate in the way they grooved and synced as the music just flowed out of them. She said that Jesus must love everybody as the song went to a percussive breakdown as Lanar Brantley made his bass walk and talk as he played one of the most scintillating bass solos I have ever witnessed. Lady Gaga started praying and violinist Judy Kang played this beautiful solo as this statue of an angel appeared and Lady Gaga began singing begrudgingly “Alejandro” and the statue burst into flames and she writhed and cavorted on the ground until the lights dimmed and another film appeared on the scrim with Lady Gaga reciting the manifesto of the little monsters over and over in some kind of S&M setting. The scrim dropping and the band kicked into “Poker Face” and Lady Gaga sang in a tongue-in-cheek style, “I wanna hold them 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...”, since this was one of her biggest hits the venue was going crazy and acting manic and dancing wildly as the lights dimmed and the scrim appeared and showed a weird film of Lady Gaga playing with all kinds of guns. She reappeared in a shimmering green dress that appeared to made of large crystals in front of this giant carnivorous tree and she soulfully sang “Paparazzi” as the tree branches reached for her until it grabbed her and pulled her in until she escaped and the the green dress was ripped away and she had a one-piece on with a bustier that shot sparkly flames out of her breasts. She raged at the huge tree and then she shot flames at it until it died and she was taken into the floor and she disappeared and the audience erupted with screaming and crying and thunderous applause until Lady Gaga and her band returned to the stage and she was wearing her silver gyroscope dress and began tersely singing “Bad Romance” like her life depended on it and the band just threw down tight as fuck and notes and riffs furiously flew everywhere. It was amazing and glorious and we came to the last number of her nineteen-song set, a joyous “Born This Way” with a choir singing a cappella, “It doesn't matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M, just put your paws up, 'cause you were born this way, baby...I'm on the right track, baby, I was born this way...”, and then the band kicked in and it turned into a raucous celebration of life as everyone dance and sang until Lady Gaga thanked the audience and wish us a good night. The house lights went up and everyone was smiling with a stunned look on their face as they filed out, Scott and I made our way out and I bought a tour shirt and we fled into the night to our car and we went home exhausted and happy from what I must say was the best live performance I have seen in years. Cheers Lady Gaga
ASHERU - February 18, 2011
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It was a wonderful spring-like day but I am feeling kind of cranky as I made my way to the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center to catch local hip-hop superstar Asheru or Gabriel Benn as his mother calls him, and he is not your typical rapper. He has been teaching in the DC Public Schools System for the past fourteen years and it is where he has founded two groups, Guerilla Arts and H.E.L.P. (Hip-Hop Educational Literary Program), and they have helped many children further their education and improve their lives. He garnered high praise from President Obama and Professor Cornel West, and he has won a Peabody Award in Journalism in 2006, and he also won a Peabody Award for his contributions to cartoonist Aaron Magruder's “Boondocks” and he performed the theme song and he is a proud husband and father of three...whew...some wannabe foul-mouthed gangsta rapper he is not! Asheru has made quite a name for himself on the local hip-hop circuit with Eighteenth Street Lounge Records and my faves Fort Knox Five and he has released ten albums since 2000. I am looking forward to seeing Asheru and his band rock the Kennedy Center with some fresh hip-hop. As a MC, Asheru has pretty decent lyrical flow but his stage persona is a little flat but his band was incredible, the keyboardist Lorenzo Ferguson tickled the keys like Chick Corea and the drummer Biscuit kicked it like he was ?uestlove from The Roots and the bassist Kush laid down a nicely understated groove. As for Asheru's lyrics, I found them to be informative and articulate and most of all they were relevant and his songs' choruses always had a catchy couplet that just stuck in your head like, “That's the way we display – where u from...” Sid Barcelona from Fort Knox Five enhanced the show with his visuals that he projected on a nice large screen and the images really complimented Asheru's more overtly political lyrics, particularly during my favorite songs of their ten-song set; a raucous “Revolution” and a techno-influenced “Full Swing”, and the song with the best groove, the funky “Truly Unique”. It was weird watching how hip-hop translated to the Kennedy Center audience as everyone sat sedately bopping their heads instead of the bouncing crowds at clubs and festivals. After the song “Truly Unique”, Asheru brought Lady Alma from Philadelphia to the stage and she wowed the audience with her Patti Labelle-esque vocal acrobatics for the two jazzy numbers she did with Asheru, particularly on the song “Green” which featured some lovely Ella Fitzgerald-worthy scatting. Another highlight of their set was a funky old school style number called “Clay Davis” that pulsed and throbbed with manic sexiness, and the keyboardist Lorenzo Ferguson was wearing a Stax Records t-shirt which was really cool. They closed their set with the award-winning theme song from the “Boondocks” that was funky and driving and had the audience clapping along with it. Overall Asheru and his band was the most that I have enjoyed listening to hip-hop in a really long time because I really do hate Eminem, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil' Wayne, Rick Ross, etc.
DEEP RIVER - February 17, 2011
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
Finally winter begins to loosen its grip on the Washington, DC area, so I am smiling as I make my way to the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center to see 'power-folk' trio Deep River who are based in Vienna, Virginia, and they play what they call “Front Porch Pop” and they feature local legend and Jammin' Java co-owner Luke Brindley on guitar and vocals. They released their debut album “Ten Mornings” on Go Team Records back in November 2010 and according to the program they are performing the album in its entirety which is quite trendy these days. Deep River take the stage as a quartet with Nate Reed on drums and I find that “Front Door Porch” is a very apt description of their music which is gentle but strong and Bryan Dawley adds bass grooves that caress you like a summer breeze and the drummer's rhythms buoy the melodies like water lapping against the shore as vocalist Rachel Beauregard's wonderful soprano soars above the music and Bryan harmonizes with her pitch-perfect voice plus she is a great harmonica player adding lovely flourishes to the mix. But best of all is Luke Brindley's deft guitar playing that weaves in and out of the music and it cuts you like butter melting on a sunny summer afternoon. Rachel, who is also an actress, told a story about how she was once in Ireland doing a play and how the local slang can be very confusing and mean different things because her Irish landlord kept offering them 'crack' and that just freaked them out until they found out that 'crack' means to have a good time in Ireland. Their eleven-song set was quite pleasant on the ears, particularly the songs “Shine” and “New Set” and they really shined on “Saturday Night” where Rachel really let loose with her voice as she got the crowd going and singing the words. The funny thing is that I do not hear anything resembling 'folk' music as they are described, they are more 'adult contemporary pop', but they were extremely enjoyable anyway. My favorite song of their set was “On Your Side” and it was the most rocking song of the night with its big guitar riffs, I could hear it being played on Modern Rock DC101 along side bands like Paramore and Evanescence or Florence and The Machine. Another great song was “Wrecking Ball” and Rachel added some nice percussion to the song with a tom-tom drum, and they finished their set with a Beatles song called “Going Home” that they made their own with beautiful vocal harmonies that carried the melody home. Deep River delivered a fantastic set of mellifluous songs that touched your soul and I would love to see them again because they were delightful.
DADDY LION, BELLFLUR, and SCREEN VINYL IMAGE - February 11, 2011
Mansion At Strathmore - Bethesda, MD
For the second Friday in a row I take the Red Line to the Grosvenor/Strathmore stop and make my way up a hill to the Mansion at Strathmore for their weekly Friday Night Eclectic event and tonight they are featuring what they term 'indie rock' and they are featuring three local-area bands, Screen Vinyl Image, Daddy Lion, and Bellfur. I stumbled across Screen Vinyl Image on MySpace while researching DMV bands for my book, and I found them to be quite intriguing in their music and artistic philosophy. The first act Daddy Lion was a lo-fi solo act consisting of Jeremy Joseph's garbled warbling accompanied by his random guitar strumming pumped full of overblown effects effects that just did not hide his lack of virtuosity or basic guitar-playing skills for that matter. Thankfully his set is going to be short because he kept performing the same song over and over and he was ever so clumsy as he drove everyone out of the performance room. The surprise of the evening was Bellfur who blew me away with their multi-layered pseudo-ambient 'dream pop' as it is called by musicologists these days. They are a seven-piece band and they are one of the most cohesive units that I have seen in a long time. They combined programmed beats and samples with live instrumentation in a lovely mellifluous way that held me in rapt as they played their set. The guitarist Patrick Edwards and the violinist Emily Hsu each shined on several songs with their fluidity of their riffs as they danced on top of the rhythm, Hunter Sapp's drumming blended well with Carlos Gonzalez and Tom Longobardi's programmed beats with great dexterity because neither overwhelmed the other, and I found their song structures to be very traditional but abstract at the same time. They played several songs from their debut album including “Last Quarter Of The 20th Century Blues” and “The Rhythms Of Waking And Sleeping” and I was so impressed I had to buy it. I really enjoyed their set and I will go to see them again. The final act of the night was Screen Vinyl Image who were are a duo featuring Jake Reid on vocals and guitar and his wife Kim Dodd-Reid on vocals and synthesizer and drum machine and their music was waves of thundering guitar riffs over a clattering percussion as they sang like they were in physical pain. They played about half their set and I decided could not take the brutal guitar slashing and the rapid-fire rhythm anymore and fled the premises and took the train home as I let my ears cool off from Screen Vinyl Image who were all style and no substance, how could anybody listen to their music I ask!
TED GARBER - February 10, 2011
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
Another dreary day in the Nation's Capital and I find myself running late but I make it to the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center just in time to find a seat as local up-and-coming singer/songwriter Ted Garber, the son of DC legend Holly Garber, took the stage to play his Americana Blues Rock as he terms it. He sometimes performs with a full band but tonight he is performing solo with his acoustic guitar, a harmonica, and his oddly interesting voice. His guitar-playing is pleasant and had me tapping my foot, particularly to his third song of the set, “Waste Some Time” from his last album “American Rail” which was recently nominated for a Wammie for “Album Of The Year” and two other categories, so good for him. His next song “Another Monday” was my favorite one of his eleven-song set, he played some real tasty licks on his guitar as he sang about an over-worked waitress at a Denny's in Ocean City, Maryland, or the “Redneck Riviera” as he called it, and his lyrics reminded me of a more verbose John Mayer. He then proceeded to demonstrate a loop pedal that he used to accompany himself while he play the guitar and it was rather cool. He is also pretty good on the harmonica that he used to accent his guitar-playing to a nice effect, and the loop pedal made his guitar almost sound like an electric one. He told us about being one of the six 2011 Artist-In-Residences and he was getting ready to release his new album “Live At Strathmore” in the spring...busy guy. The sixth song of the set, “Plastic Bag”, really showcased the inventive wordplay in his lyrics, which was what most impressed me, and he kept it up in his next number “Sunshine In Your Heart”. I would really love to see him perform with a full band as to give his lovely songs some real depth. Overall his eleven-song set was a toe-tapping good time and took what I consider a worn-out genre and gave it a fresh edge with his inventive use of the loop pedal and his insightful and positive lyrics about being a better person. Good job Ted Garber!
RA RA RASPUTIN and HUME - February 4, 2011
Mansion At Strathmore - Bethesda, MD
So I trek on up to the Grosvenor/Strathmore Metro station on the Red Line to attend my first Friday Night Eclectic at the Mansion at Strathmore to see my favorite DC band Ra Ra Rasputin and another DC band that I have been hearing a lot about recently called Hume who are considered DC's leading progressive rock band. I saw Ra Ra Rasputin at Fort Reno Park this previous summer where I came to adore them especially their song “Electricity Through The Heart”. Since the last time I saw them, they have released their debut album and are working their way to fame and fortune, hopefully, because they are a DC band that really deserves it. Meanwhile as I wait for the show to start, the venue is rather cool, it is a colonial-era mansion that was basically turned into an art gallery. There is some rather lovely art on display and it makes tonight a rather unique setting for a rock and roll gig. Hume take the stage and damn, they sure do reminded me of mid-period King Crimson when they start their set, but as they played I found they actually reminded me a lot more of Gentle Giant and more particularly their song “Two Weeks In Spain”. I have always found that bands with two drummers tend to be very compelling as that each drummer plays counter to each other and it makes the rhythm more expansive and textured. The vocalist/bassist/guitarist Britton Powell played his bass very stealthily as he add riffs between the counter beats of the drummers Wilson Kemp and Joey Doubek. The guitarist Peter Tran reminded me of Adrian Belew in the way that he layered and textured riffs and licks against the onslaught of the drumming. Their set was quite brief, only a half-hour, but it did get me interested in seeing them again. Ra Ra Rasputin took the stage rather quickly and launched into their electro-rock with an intensity as they grooved and the audience danced wildly. They played most of the songs off their recently album, “Stereo Cutter”, “Neon Scythe”, “Fit Fixed”, “Accumulator”, and they played a heart-stopping beautiful version of “Electricity Through The Heart”. Brock Boss was an excellent frontman and his melancholic voice was perfect as he intoned his lyrics and Anna Rozzi complimented his voice in an almost quirky way as she bounced around and poked at an synthesizer occasionally and triggering complex synth patterns while she sang. Patrick Kigongo, also of The State Department, thrilled and amazed me with his unique guitar-playing that was full of riffs and licks that danced all over the place. Ken Quam kept the beat sensationally as his drumming was sharp and crisp and blended in with the synth tracks gracefully, and his fills were well placed with their terseness. It was a phenomenal show at an unique venue and they drew a pleasant crowd to the middle of the suburbs. I even bought their CD so I can enjoy their music wherever I go.
ROBERT PLANT AND THE BAND OF JOY and NORTH MISSISSIPPI ALL-STARS - February 1, 2011
D.A.R. Constitution Hall - Washington, DC
It is another dreary Washington DC winter night as it softly drizzles before another big snowstorm is suppose to hit the area. I hurry to D.A.R. Constitution Hall to see Robert Plant and The Band Of Joy and after a small snafu at the box office I get my tickets and my friend and I get to our seats just in time to see opening act The North Mississippi All-Stars take the stage with their white boy hippie version of the Delta blues. I am getting really sick of guitar and drums duos – curse that Jack White and The White Stripes – but as it turns out they were not too bad. They played a pleasant nine-song set that ran the gamut of Delta-style blues, and it was just dirty and gritty enough for me but they play just a bit too clean. The guitarist Luther Dickinson was very deft and nimble on his guitar, well nine guitars to be exact, each one had a different tuning for each song. The drummer Cody Dickinson kept a good rock-steady groove, he even played a lovely introduction on an effected-out washboard that was very psychedelic. They played a few songs from their brand new album, “Keys To The Kingdom”, plus a cover of Dylan's “Oh Mama”, and the highlight of their set was R.L. Burnsides's “Old Folks Boogie”. The North Mississippi All-Stars were enjoyable but I would not buy one of their albums or go see them again. They finished their set and quickly left the stage and the wait began to see a legend perform. It is hard to believe that it was almost thirty-four years ago that I saw Led Zeppelin on May 26th, 1977 in a cloudy haze of cannabis smoke at the Capital Centre and I remember vividly being blown away by Jimmy Page in his white dragon suit with his double-neck guitar that he made sing like a chorus of angels. Over the years I saw Robert Plant a few more times, I particularly remember the “Now And Zen” tour in 1988 and the spectacular Page/Plant tour for the “Walking In Clarksville” tour in 1998. I would have loved to been at the O2 Arena in London on December 10th, 2007 for the Led Zeppelin reunion show in honor of Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records but circumstances prevented me. The lights went down and the crowd roared ecstatically as Robert Plant and The Band Of Joy took the stage and they launched into a wonderful re-working of Led Zeppelin's “Black Dog” with Robert's unearthly wail that so beautifully sang, “Hey hey mama said the way you move, gon' make you sweat, gon' make you groove, ah ah child way you shake that thing, gon' make you burn, gon' make you sting, hey hey baby when you walk that way, watch your honey drip, can't keep away...” They continued on with “Down To The Sea” and Darren Scott played his guitar wonderfully as they segued into “Angel Dance” by The Los Lobos and Robert's voice sounded great as he hit the high notes with ease. Next they blew everybody's minds with a re-vamped cover of “Houses Of The Holy” by Led Zeppelin that Buddy Miller lit up with his inventive guitar-playing as it playful danced with Byron House's booming upright bass lines, and it had a wonderful folk-y feel to it that one would never guess it was a Zeppelin cover. The band seemed to be doing a lot of covers tonight and the next song was one by Uncle Tupelo and it was called “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down” and it lurched and lumbered as Robert sang his heart out as he extolled us to return to God. Patty Griffin who was the band's background vocalist stepped up to the front microphone and she was spectacular as she sang her own song “Move Up” with the beautiful lines, “Well, I believe in my soul, and I'm going on home, hallelujah, oh lord, I'm moving, move up, when this life is over, I'm going to stick my sword in the sand, I'm going to go on home to Jesus...”, and the band's amazing delivery brought tears to my eyes. Robert Plant added these fantastic background vocals that complimented Patty Griffin's voice in the most ethereal way as they rode on Byron House's bass as the segued into a lively “Cindy, I'll Marry You Someday” and they continued with a medley of “Twelve Gates To The City”, “Wade In The Water”, and “In My Time Of Dying” that was like an old as the hills Appalachian folk song as Robert, Patty, Darrell and Buddy created with their voices these complex vocal harmonies that left an eerie impression on my ears. Darrell Scott stepped up to the front microphone and laconically sang “A Satisfied Mind” by Porter Wagoner like it was an old country song with guitar notes just hanging in the air. The band stayed in the same vein with a gloriously melancholic “Tangerine” by Led Zeppelin that gently swayed and floated away on a long-lost melody as Robert sadly crooned, “Measuring a summer's day, I only find it slips away to grey, the hours bring me pain...” The band was in the groove now as they sauntered through Townes Van Zandt's “Harm's Swift Way” and a raucous “House Of Cards” by Richard and Linda Thompson with incredible ease and beautiful guitar riffs were flying everywhere. Buddy Miller took his turn at the front microphone and he lead the band in blues-y cover of his song “Somewhere Trouble Don't Go” and he rocked my favorite guitar solo of the night as he wailed away and then Robert Plant let loose with a chugging along harmonica solo that left me breathless. The band then did a cover of Low's “Monkey” and Buddy played a great effected-out guitar that gave the song a scary edge, and then Bryon House proceeded to play a fuzzed out intro on the bass to Barbara Lynn's “You Can't Buy My Love” and the band exploded with a muted fury as the song told a fabulous story. My favorite number of their twenty-one song set was an almost unrecognizable “Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin that the band played all trippy and slow with Robert yelping, “Ramble on, and now's the time, the time is now, to sing my song. I'm goin' 'round the world, I got to find my girl, on my way. I've been this way ten years to the day, ramble on, gotta find the queen of my dreams.” I almost liked their version more than I did Led Zeppelin's original and then they segued into “Tall Cool One” that Robert Plant delivered with cool detachment and Buddy Miller finished the song with a sensational guitar solo that gave me goosebumps. They closed their set with a dramatic re-working of Led Zeppelin's “Gallows Pole” that was awe-inspiring as Darrell Scott played some wonderful mandolin that had amazing notes flying wildly into the night as the audience cheered for more as Robert Plant and his band-mates took their bows and walked off the stage. After a few minutes they returned to the stage and played “In The Mood” and I was blown away by the ferocity of the song as Marco Grovino laid down a rock-steady percussive groove that has been his trademark since the start of the show. Robert Plant and The Band Of Joy ended their superb set with an out-of-this-world version of Led Zeppelin's “Rock And Roll” that had me going “OMG” as Robert Plant wailed, “It's been a long time since I rock and rolled, it's been a long time since I did the stroll, ooh, let me get it back, let me get it back, let me get it back, mmm baby, where I come from...”, and shivers just went up and down my back from his ethereal voice as Buddy Miller played the most beautiful guitar solo that added texture upon texture to the song. I was amazed by their version as they gave it new life and they finished for the night with The Grateful Dead's “And We Bid You Goodnight” that they did in a gospel a cappella style as each musician put down his instrument one by one and joined in with until it was only their voices bidding us goodnight. I sat there stunned by their visceral performance for a few minutes then I slowly exited the venue wishing I could see them again. Robert Plant was just wonderful and I hope that he keeps it up for many more years and continues making music that touches people. Thank you!
LUCKY DUB - January 15, 2011
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
I am having quite the musically diverse weekend, last night I was a hardcore/grind-core show at St. Stephen’s Church in Northwest DC and tonight I am at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage to see Lucky Dub, an up-and-coming roots rock reggae band that has taken the DMV by storm. Formed in late 2007 on the campus of George Washington University by vocalist Gordon Daniels, the band grew into a ten-piece group that made a name for themselves with regular gigs in the DMV area at the Black Cat, The 9:30 Club, Iota Club & Café, and Jammin’ Java. The band hits the stage in a flurry of gentle reggae riddims that immediately lights the audience up; even I got a smile on my face and bobbed my head to their heartwarming and joyous music and Gordon Daniels’ uplifting lyrics. I normally only like old school reggae like Peter Tosh, Third World, The Mighty Diamonds, and Black Uhuru, but Lucky Dub have an infectious quality to their music that I really enjoyed. The keyboardist Davey Knific was sensational, very deft and nimble fingering, which seemed to hold the band’s groove together as his keyboard runs seem to tie the music together. The horn section I cannot say enough about, they were tight and their riffs danced across the rhythms as they beautifully accented each song, especially the trombone player who brought a great sense of melody to each song and trumpeter Kym Clark played some wonderful solos on the flugelhorn. The front man Gordon Daniels is very engaging and has a pleasant singing voice as he delivered his positive and inspirational lyrics about surviving life with a smile on your face. The band jumped from reggae to psychedelic rock to ska to alt-country without missing a beat, their playing was impressive and I can see them becoming huge when their debut album “Never Give In” comes out this spring. Lucky Dub played a fourteen-song set that I thoroughly enjoyed, particularly the songs, “Take It Easy”, “Every Day I Rise”, “What You Gonna Do When The Devil Comes”, and the title track of their forthcoming release “Never Give In”. One of the best moments of the evening was watching a little four-year-old boy dancing madly and getting his groove on and annoying the hell out of the usher whenever he would step an inch into the aisle for a second. It seemed a bit ridiculous on the part of the usher but I guess she had a job to do, but I bet his parents loved it, because he was going to sleep good tonight. Lucky Dub put on an excellent show and I would actually go see them again because they kick the ass of the current king of the multi-racial reggae band scene – Jah Works from Baltimore, Maryland. They closed their set with a new song “Freedom Man” that really got the audience going, which was huge in fact, one of the biggest Millennium Stage crowds that I have seen in a while. The band broke down into a freeform percussion jam that elicited lots of cheering and yelling for one more song, but there are no encores on the Millennium Stage. So get off your lazy asses and go dance to the music of Lucky Dub at a club near you.
MAGRUDERGRIND, LEMURIA, PULLING TEETH, GIVE, and HOT MESS - January 14, 2011
St. Stephen's Church - Washington, DC
Well, let me tell you…I have not been to a punk rock hall show since the mid-nineties, particularly a Positive Force hardcore show at St. Stephen’s Church, which is where I am right now waiting for the future of rock and roll to take the stage and “wow” me. I used to work this stage as a roadie/gofer quite a few times in the early nineties with Gussound at Positive Force shows, and it is good to see that they are still around helping various communities in their times of need. Not that I am a vegan, pacifist, straight-edge kind of guy myself, totally opposite in fact, but I support their right to co-exist and espouse their beliefs, but…I am still going to eat ham…yum…and dream of assassinating idiots…but back to reality…getting old really sucks when there are no chairs for sitting…aah, to be young and free and full of hope. Thankfully a lovely young gentleman, who seemed to be sensing my discomfort, offered me this random plastic chair that he was sitting upon. I must say, how very nice of him, I love young people with manners. The first band on the bill tonight is a local all-girl hardcore band called Hot Mess, and unlike other cities’ hardcore scenes, DC’s scene has always had a strong female presence dating back to the late seventies with Sharon Cheslow’s Chalk Circle, and the early eighties with The Nike Chicks, so it is good to see that the tradition is alive and well. The room is starting to fill up with people as I waited to be rocked. Hot Mess take the stage in a squall of sound and launch into a rudimentary plod as the singer KC wails the angry girl punk rock blues…”You look so fucking good”…I feel like I am flashing back to the early eighties and I am at the Wilson Center seeing Void or Artificial Peace. I find them quite enjoyable in a weird way, and let me tell you, the singer KC, she is “bad-ass”, and I would not fuck with her. It is nice to hear some vintage sounding hardcore these days; the bassist is an excellent musician with the great big thundering bass lines. The funny thing though, is that even in this heavy PC environment, I overheard these three guys mocking them for being girls who play hardcore, and one of the “boys” even had the audacity to say, “They’re only good enough to be an opening band!” Well, fuck them, I found Hot Mess’ seven-song set to be a blast of fresh air in a tired and dull emo-scene. The drummer can really pound her kit as she propelled the beat into my head, and the guitarist Jaime strangled her guitar wonderfully. I wish I could still mosh, but that does not fit in with the post-stroke lifestyle, and the front of the stage crowd engaged in some tepid moshing but there was not any energy in it…oh, the times had changed. I hope the stage change-over does not take forever , the doors opened at 6PM, Hot Mess did not play until 7:15PM…I absolutely hate that shit – start on time please! Next up is Give from Annapolis, Maryland, whom I saw this past summer at Fort Reno and I was not that impressed with them. I hope they have improved their performance skills and that they do not bring out the giant letters spelling out their name like they did at that Fort Reno show. Give start up and they play a much more melodic style of hardcore punk than Hot Mess, their guitar sound verges on metal but it is still somewhat basic and sadly, they were just as I remember them from Fort Reno, the vocalist is still atrocious but not as horrible as last time so I guess that is an improvement. Finally some moshing starts up but the boys are so lame about it; it looked like they were flailing about like they were having epileptic seizures. Both of the guitarists played alright, a bit Judas Priest-y though, but that damn singer just makes me cringe, but not as much as last time I saw them. The drummer seemed to be just bashing at his kit rather than playing rhythmically, and the bassist was just lost in the mix somewhere. I found their eight-song set to be too chaotic and monotonous to be enjoyable and I will not be seeing them anytime soon if I can help it. I did like the last song of their set but I am still glad they have finished playing. The place is full now, the show actually sold-out, which is cool to know that the underground scene is alive and thriving. Next up is Baltimore’s Pulling Teeth and they deliver that sludgy and doom heavy sound that Charm City is famous for these days. The singer Mike Riley is a little wisp of a boy and the voice that came out of his mouth was damn scary and the drummer Alex Henderson played some amazing counter-rhythms and staccato beats as Domenic Romeo and Danny Parker’s guitars screamed like they were burning in hell, but they did sound like Black Sabbath on speed. The bassist Chris Kuhn had a wonderful doom’n’gloom throb that just filled the room and made the boys mosh like they were being electrocuted. Alex Henderson and Chris Kuhn are a fantastic rhythm section, the best of the night in fact. Pulling Teeth played a fantastic nine-song set that I found invigorating and better than most of the other bands in their genre – grind-core is here to stay. Positive Force founder Mark Andersen took to the stage and thanked the crowd and everyone involved in putting on the show, and how tonight’s gig showed him that punk rock is not dead, no matter how many bloggers say it is, and even though he was an “AARP-eligible punk rocker”, the music and the community still made him feel young. He finished up with a brief description of the senior citizen assisting organization “We Are Family” that tonight’s show benefited, so kudos to you Mark Andersen. Lemuria, an indie-pop power-punk trio from New York City took to the stage and I found their music to be somewhat catchy and very, very different from the other bands on the bill tonight. They reminded me of the late-eighties west coast sound that was made popular by bands like X, Dream Syndicate, Green On Red, and The Smithereens. Their less aggressive sound totally changed the vibe of the room as they slowed things down. Lemuria really did not do anything for me, their songs had a nice beat to them but their melodies were not as catchy as the music press has made them out to be. I found them to be plodding and whiny, plus I could not understand a single word the marbled-mouth singer slash guitarist sang and their song structures just rambled and became very tedious. Their ten-song set was not over quick enough for me, but Lemuria seemed to have more than a few fans in the audience (but not me) who responded well to them, so good luck! Finally it was time for the band I came to see, Magrudergrind, they are the kings of the local grind-core scene, and when I first heard them a few years ago, the beautiful ugly music noise scared my ears. If you hate your parents or your neighbors or whoever, this is the band to play very loud and frighten the hell out of them. I thought Lemuria were the headlining band, but it comes as no surprise that Magrudergrind were bumped to headliner because they seemed to be selling the most merchandise at the tables in the back, particularly their new 10”vinyl EP “Crusher” on – if you can believe this – the Scion Audio/Visual record label for which they received a lot of flak from grind-core purists who called them “sell-out whores” and other ugly denigrations. It all seems rather pointless to me, those people should be glad that someone is helping bands to release their music which otherwise most of these kind of underground bands could not afford to do themselves. Rock the world by all means necessary, bitches! Your jealousy is ugly. The trio took the stage with a fury as they let loose with their ungodly racket that most people would not call music. I admit that some grind-core sounds like someone yelling at a vacuum cleaner, and I find that I rather listen to the studio-produced albums than the raw live setting. The singer Avi Kulawy is visceral as he screams, grunts, cries, wails, and gets all guttural as he lamented the state of the world, drummer Chris Moore viciously pounds away at his drum set as he mixes and matches diverse rhythms – punk, doom, hardcore, and to the horror of some snooty turd purists, break-beats, and guitarist R.J. Ober attacks the beat as if he wielding a rusty chainsaw. Such beautiful horror! Their set flies into your ears and beats you to a pulp, some songs are only thirty seconds long, and others seem to just be distortion and strange squeals with random spoken phrases mixed in, and others almost seem to be traditionally structured rock songs with a twist. The mosh pit was a mad frenzy of bodies flying everywhere; it was one of the wildest mosh pits that I have seen in decades. Plus the drummer Chris Moore announced that his parents and his tenth-grade English teacher were there after he had thanked about a million people which made me want to scream, “Shut up and play!”, and when I looked up at his parents and teacher in the balcony, they all had very bemused looks on their faces as they surveyed the spectacle below them. I guess they should be proud, because he could be in a band called Dying Fetus or something worse. Magrudergrind are one of the heaviest bands I have ever seen and I think I will have to come see them again on March 12th when they play St. Stephen’s Church again with the legendary Dropdead, who are playing their first DC gig in ten years. I really want to thank Positive Force DC for hosting such a fabulous evening of music and merriment because I had a fucking fantastic time, so keep up the good work.
LOWER DENS - January 2, 2011
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It is yet another dreary and freezing day in Washington, DC, at the beginning of a new year and a new mayor – oh joy – and so I got bundled up to venture downtown to the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage to see the best new band out of Baltimore, Maryland – Lower Dens, whom specialize in post-modern drone pop with a retro-eighties feel that is highlighted by Jana Hunter’s unique and unearthly voice and her dangerous and somewhat unintelligible lyrics. The band was formed in 2009 and they have just released their debut recording “Twin-Hand Movement” featuring eleven songs that will melt your brain with their beautiful ugliness, plus they have just returned from a successful European tour. As I waited for the band to take the stage, I looked around at the audience and I laughed to myself because some of them are going to be quite scared by Lower Dens when they start playing their dense music. I am looking forward to see how many run away after the first song. The lights dim and Lower Dens open with their future-classic “Blue & Silver” and it reminds me of so many bands at once – Kitchens Of Distinction, Velocity Girl, Jesus And Mary Chain, Joy Division/New Order – but Lower Dens have a less raw but more elegant approach. The drummer Abram Sanders laid down the sparsest rhythm as the bassist Geoff Graham played some very subtle and intricate bass lines as vocalist/guitarist Jana Hunter and second guitarist Will Adams traded way-effected guitar riffs that just seemed to float in space as Janna intoned dark lyrics about surviving daily living in this world. The only thing that bugged me was that they played like they were in an empty room and they did not care if the audience was there. I like a little interaction between the band and the audience, a little in-between songs banter about song titles, members' names, or even just a little hello would be nice, but thankfully the music was quite engaging. I love the lethargy of their sound and the way the guitar notes seem to just hang in the air, but I wish Jana's vocals were more articulate and easier to understand. My favorite song of their sixteen-song was a lovely ditty called “Someday You Will Trust Me” that had a lovely drone-y lilt and it was the closest song to actually being 'pop'. Their set did meander a bit too long as their songs began to sound the same and finally the bassist Geoff Graham acknowledged the audience with a 'hello and thank you'. Lower Dens ended their set with a cacophonous implosion of riffs, loops, and bass throb, and shadowy rhythms that died in a squall of feedback. I was thoroughly impressed by Lower Dens and I was glad I did not have to see them in some grungy nightclub.
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