GEORGE CLINTON AND PARLIAMENT/FUNKADELIC - November 19, 2015
The Howard Theater - Washington, DC
It was a dreary and overcast day with smatterings of rain throughout the afternoon as I got ready to go to the Howard Theater to see the legendary funk overlord George Clinton and his band Parliament/Funkadelic in its latest incarnation tear up the stage because so many fabulous members have passed on into the great unknown but their musical contributions live on and I miss Eddie Hazel most of all. I first discovered P-Funk in the seventies when I found their albums in the cut-out bin at the Dart Drug in Manassas and Pedro Bell's fantastic album artwork caught my eye and I would stare at them for hours and when I finally had enough money to buy the albums and I was completely blown away by the music of Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, and Eddie Hazel and thus began my life-long love of P-Funk. I even got to see them back then at the Capital Centre when they had the big stage show with lasers and the Mothership for George to land on the stage. I saw them many more times over the years as their popularity ebbed and flowed until today where I find myself standing in line at the legendary Howard Theater to see them once again. The house lights dimmed and locals The Funk Ark took the stage and let loose with their brand of DC funk and they let the horns wail as the rest of the band laid down a pulsing groove that meandered all over the place. The saxophonist played some pretty intense solos that made my head explode with its kaleidoscopic rhythms but they are an all-instrumental band that could really use a vocalist or two. They were very jazzy in an almost African way as their music rushed all over me like a tidal wave as the guitarist played some soaring riffs as the percussion weaved its way through the song like they were the Grateful Dead. Their music was exciting to hear but it lacked catchy hooks and a melody and I wished they would hurry up and leave the stage. The Funk Ark played a seven-song set of their carefully constructed “hippie jazz” that only mildly interested the audience before they left the stage. The curtains came down and the anticipation went up as we waited for George and company to hit the stage. The moment finally came and the band walked onstage and they opened with the pulsing groove of Parliament's “Up For The Down Stroke” which was the title-track from their 1974 album and the guitars were soaring as they started singing, “Talking 'bout he's mad, let's take it to the stage, jack, come on, and get up for the down stroke, get up for the down stroke, everybody get up...”, and then the band was chanting “Shit, goddam, get off your ass and jam!”, and the funk was flowing as guitarist Ricky Rouse played a brilliant solo and George led the crowd in singing their favorite P-Funk catchphrases. I really liked how George made the audience part of the band by letting people sing into the microphone. A disembodied voice announced that 'we are funk as the band flowed into a raucous and driving “P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)” from Parliament's 1975 album “Mothership Connection” that went right into a brisk “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” which was the title-track from their 1975 album and they made it rock as many voices sang the uplifting lyrics as the band swirled with the enchanting melodies that took me back as guitarist DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight made his ax scream and original guitarist Mike Hampton made his howl and moan like a banshee. The band kicked back in with a forceful and percussive “Pole Power” from Funkadelic's 2014 album “First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate” and its stompin' beat and TLC-like vocals were awesome as George Clinton rasped and groaned the sassy innuendo-laden words, and then his fellow singers rapped about the power of “pussy” as they passed the microphone around among themselves. The percussive beat switched up into the soulful “Get Low” also from their 2014 album and the band stepped up the groove and the female singers wailed on some high notes until the saxophone kicked in with a brilliant solo that had notes flying everywhere and the sax player wailed beautifully until DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight made his axe sing with a thousand flying notes as his fingers burned up the fretboard. The band slowed the groove down as George Clinton talked dirty about sex and then they burst into a slamming “Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard On You?” also from their latest album and they brought the house down as they joyfully sang, “Brothers be like, George ain't that funkin' kinda hard on you, I was hard when I started, I'll be hard when I get through, for example if I had to sample some funk like you, would I be funky too, and another thing, it ain't so hard, it ain't so strange, if I could be funky like you...”, and the audience was loving it as we danced the time away. It was hard to tell who was playing what because George Clinton had upwards to twenty people with instruments floating on and off the stage, but they kept the music funky as the band jumped headfirst into Parliament's monster dancefloor smash “Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)” from their 1978 album “Motor Booty Affair” and the band got into a deep groove that made the whole place swing until “Sir Nose” appeared and let loose with his silly rap about how he can't swim but the groove was unstoppable as it flowed relentlessly into my ears, and then they morphed into a spectacularly wonderful rendition of “Flashlight” from their 1977 album “Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome”, and it had everyone singing and swaying to the tight groove as “Sir Nose” danced wildly to the sassy saxophone that squonked and squealed until the end of the song and George's son Trey Lewd rapped some outlandish flows until the band brought the song back to the beginning. The band got all soulful and deep version of “Presence Of A Brain” from Parliament's classic 1974 album “Up For The Down Stroke” and they were killer as they laid down the slow-burning groove and it was dedicated to the departed longtime member Garry Shider as they sang the melancholy words, “Have you ever felt the presence of a brain, we have all seen them standing amidst the surprise, sometimes a man smiles at what, I often wonder, you can tell he's a thinker by the far away look in his eyes, the far away look in his eyes...”, and then the band went immediately into a joyous rendition of Funkadelic's “One Nation Under A Groove” the title-track from their 1978 album and it was touching and beautiful as a multitude of vocals intertwined as they sang the potent words and the George Clinton and Mike Hampton got everyone in the audience to clap and sing along with them as the band got down and most particularly the drummer who was slamming, then some audience member dressed in a diaper climbed onstage and George Clinton just laughed and laughed as the band got into a jazzy groove for the coda as the drummer went crazy on his kit. The band went right into a riveting “(Not Just) Knee Deep” from Funkadelic's 1979 album “Uncle Jam Wants You” and it was spectacular as the rhythm section provided a taut groove for the vocals to dance acrobatically until the sax player scatted some melody lines that were almost bebop jazz in feel, which seems to be the direction that they going these days, but then they into a bit of “Freak Of The Week” as they built layers and layers of rhythm and groove that ended in an orgy of guitar riffs and licks as DeWayne, Ricky, and Mike tried to outdo each other. The band paused and George Clinton who was all dapper in his fresh suit expounded on the beauty of the funk and then they switched into the sultry and swaying rhythms of the George Clinton-penned “Vanish In Our Sleep” from the legendary former bassist superstar Bootsy Collins' 1976 album “Stretchin' Out In Bootsy's Rubber Band”, and with the female singers, they crooned the lyrics beautifully and with passion as the band laid down a deep R&B groove that rocked the house. George stood solemnly before his microphone and began intoning the “Free your mind” monologue and the three guitarists played a mind-blowing version of Funkadelic's classic Eddie Hazel guitar-infused “Maggot Brain” which was the title-track from their 1971 album that would have made him proud but they did not have his subtlety but it was spectacular anyway as the band segued into a raucous “Red Hot Mama” from their 1974 album “Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On” and the band was on fire as they raved, “Red hot mama from Louisiana, thumbin' her way to Savannah, she been cooped up too long, red hot mama lookin' to the city, taxi dancers and big time spenders, she's been groovin'...”, and Mike Hampton and Ricky Rouse's dueling monster guitar riffs was like watching an aerial dogfight as they cranked away on their axes like machines as the song segued into the classic “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” from Parliament's 1975 album “Mothership Connection” and it was a joyous celebration of life and the audience was filled with ecstasy as we got lost in the music as the band rode that rhythm until they left the stage while the audience lost their minds cheering their approval. After a few minutes the band returned to the roaring crowd and launched into the happy rhythm of “Atomic Dog” from George Clinton's 1982 solo album “Computer Games” and George happily led the audience in singing the words with such joy and abandon and George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic finished their seventeen-song set with a real rarity, the psychedelic “Alice In My Fantasies” from Funkadelic's 1974 album “Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On” and the band got it on as they chanted, “Alice in my fantasies, uh, promised to do, all kind of freaky things to me, said she would, uh, suck my soul, if I'd lick her emotion, the freak said, I would even owe her my devotion...”, and the guitars squealed, the bass boomed, and the drums drove the song with pizzazz and aplomb, and the band's synchronicity was amazing as they ended the song on the down stroke and then they walked off the stage and the Howard staff began pushing everyone out of the theater, but I walked out with a huge funky smile on my face because George Clinton and company still got it after all these years, even though their set was mostly songs from their “golden age” in the seventies, but hey...they still rocked.
PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED - November 10, 2015
U Street Music Hall - Washington, DC
It was a dreary-ass rainy day as I headed out of my house to the metro station to take a train to go meet my independent filmmaker friend Adrian Salsgiver and then we were going to see the irascible John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon and his band Public Image Ltd. play at a sold-out show at the really small U Street Music Hall and I was really hoping that it would be moved to a larger venue, but alas...it was not. I am so glad that Johnny Lydon is back on the scene with a revitalized P.I.L. and their recently-released tenth album “What The World Needs Now...”, and he has a new memoir titled “Anger Is An Energy” where I learned about him and his rather remarkable life and it was quite an eyebrow-raising tale with its caustic but genial tone and his version of the real truth. We got to the club early so we could get one of the club's all-too-few stools and we were second in the line at the door so we were very happy. We entered and found two stools and sat down and watched the club fill up with people as we waited for P.I.L. to go on at eight-ish and we listened to the DJ play a mix of reggae and dub so boringly and I was glad there was no opening act. We patiently waited until the lights dimmed and John and his band walked onto the stage and he cracked a few jokes and the band launched into the furious lead single from their new album titled “Double Trouble” with its pounding drums and thunderous bass as Lu Edmonds made his guitar screech and howl over the driving beat and it was a really cool song and the sound was impeccable as John Lydon wailed, “I want the trouble trouble trouble, on the double double double, give me trouble, and in the meantime, get a bucket, yeah yeah yeah yeah...”, and then the band moved into the vigorous beat of “Know How” also from their new album and once again Lu made his guitar wail as the band made the percussive groove throb with a muscular thrust. Next they set the crowd on fire with a wonderfully intricate and serpentine “This Is Not A Love Song” from their 1984 album “This Is What You Want...This Is What You Get” and it had the band pumping out the groove like a well-oiled machine as John screeched the biting and satirical words, “I'm adaptable, I'm adaptable, I'm adaptable and I like my new role, I'm getting better and better, and I have a new goal, I'm changing my ways where money applies, this is not a love song, this is not a love song...”, and the musicians turned the song out with a re-vamped arrangement. The guitar sound got all ominous and crunchy as the band flowed into a dark and menacing “Betty Page” also from their new album “What The World Needs Now...” and it showed a lighter side to his lyrics even as he spit them out. The band switched it up to the soulful beat of “Deeper Water” from their 2012 album “This Is PIL” and John's distinctive voice floated above the jangly rhythm as the band laid down a tight groove with deep swirling bass that just swept you away. For the next song “Corporate” also from their new album, the band got all clubby-sounding as the guitarist Lu made his axe howl and scream like a ferocious beast and the bassist Scott Firth played a sensational bass line that was deep as the swirling ocean as John growled the biting lyrics about surviving in this modern world. John sounded the best he has ever sounded in all the years he has been a frontman and he was very articulate. The band started into the scratchy guitar intro of “Death Disco” from their 1979 album “Metal Box” and the beat swayed with the audience as John's face seemed to be getting redder and redder by the minute as he screamed the words, “Seein' in your eyes, words can never say the way, told me in your eyes, final in a fade, never no more hope away, final in a fade, seein' in your eyes, seein' in your eyes, never really know, never realize...”, while Lu Edmonds spastically played some out-of-this-world fleet-fingered fretwork that just electrified me with its “dangerous” energy. Next they launched into the almost traditional groove of “The One” from their new album and the song reminded me of an ancient Celtic beat as the band sailed through the song with laid-back ease. They continued with a fantastic version of “Disappointed” from their 1989 album “9” that had a nice loping beat as the audience joined John in singing the catchy chorus, and once again the guitarist Lu was phenomenal as he wailed so spectacularly as they moved into a swinging version of “The Body” from their 1987 album “Happy?” that was rousing and exhilarating as the band laid down a fierce groove and Lu made his guitar scream and howl with precision as John and the crowd chanted, “We want your body, we want, we want your body, we want, we want your body, we want, we want your body, we want...”. The band was smokin' now as they jumped into the bouncy beat of “Warrior” from their 1989 album “9” and the band worked it and the crowd loved it and frenziedly bounced away to its infectious beat with the intricate drumming of Bruce Smith and the throbbing bass of Scott Firth. They switched it up with the soulful groove of “Out Of The Woods” from their 2012 album “This Is PIL” and I was amazed by his voice that never broke or went out of tune as he crooned the lyrics with authority and the band followed him with ease as the beat ebbed and flowed over the schizophrenic guitar riffs of Lu's spastic playing style. The best song of the night was an earth-shattering version of “Religion” from their 1978 debut album “First Issue” that had me getting chills as John Lydon used his demonic possession voice to howl, “This is religion and Jesus Christ, this is religion cheaply priced, this is bibles full of libel, this is sin in eternal hymn, this is what they've done, this is your religion, the apostles were eleven, now there's a sod in heaven...”, and Lu made some fabulous noises on his guitar over the driving bass and taut drumming that was so intense as they eviscerated religion and Satan as they ventured into a freeform jam as John said, “Turn up the bass!”, as the song collapsed in a cacophonous pile as the band members left the stage. The audience erupted in mad applause until they returned to the stage and tore into a raucous “Public Image” from their debut album as John screamed “Public Image” over and over and I could hear his raspy voice was starting to go as the band laid down a muscular groove that seemed to weave its way through the dancing crowd and the band finished their fifteen-song set with a fantastic version of “Rise” from their best-selling 1986 album “Album” that the entire audience singing along as he cackled, “Could be wrong, I could be right, could be wrong, they put a hot wire to my head, 'cos of the things I did and said, and made these feelings go away, model citizen in every way, may the road rise with you, may the road rise with you...”, over Lu's piercing guitar sound and the swaying rhythm section as they imploded the song with new vigor on their greatest “rebellion song” as John Lydon referred to it as the audience screamed “Anger is an energy” at the top of their lungs until the band left the stage and the house lights went up. All in all it was a fantastic and intimate show that rocked my world.
AN EVENING WITH WANDA SYKES and KEITH ROBINSON - November 8, 2015
The Warner Theater - Washington, DC
It was a fabulous autumn day with a bright blue sky as I readied myself to take my friend Scott Parks to see the funniest person in the world...Wanda Sykes...and tonight's show is the second sold-out performance at the historic Warner Theatre and it is basically a hometown gig in front of her family and friends so it should be a pretty raucous evening with her and her razor-sharp observational comedy. Wanda has been one of my favorite female comics for many years now and being that we are in an election period, she should have many insightful things to say about it and especially about the insanity of Donald Trump. We arrived at the theatre and walked in and found our seats in the balcony and then we got comfortable and ready to hear her truth because I am proclaiming “Wanda for President!”. We decided that we would chill awhile in the downstage lounge until it was time to go sit in our seats and we had a dead-on view of the stage from the balcony as we impatiently waited for her to take the stage...but first we had to sit through her longtime writing partner Keith Robinson's set who came to the stage and he told everyone about how he is the pickle on the side tonight. He proclaimed, “I am 100% black”, however everyone is guilty of being racist at one time or another or a “situational racist” as he likes to call it and when they are called out for “racism”, they only lose good jobs and that is just about all they lose...and he feels trapped by S.A.T. tests...and he loves old angry women...then he went on to diss Bill Cosby and how it was like watching a bus wreck as his career crashed and burned because of those 'rape' allegations...and then he pontificated on why this country needs better gun control laws because it is easier to get a gun than it is to get allergy medicines these days...and he thinks the whole world needs a mass choking for their bullshit and he finished by saying that he loves watching murder mysteries on television and the audience gave him some lovely applause as he welcomed his friend Wanda Sykes to the stage as she waved to us for welcoming her home with rapturous applause and she immediately started into her spiel by telling us about how she started doing comedy at 16th and K Streets in Northwest Washington at “Archibald's” which was a strip club besides a comedy club and she talked about her “big titties” problems...and she recently survived a bout of breast cancer and re-constructive surgery and when she took off her bra, her new titties were way to perky...and I nearly lost it when she started describing the horror of the colonoscopy...then she had some insight for ladies in their forties and that one day you are gonna pee on yourself for no reason at all...and she will lie to her wife but she is proud to be married and in all fifty states...and her kids just love the Disney movie “Frozen” but she finds it too “white” for her...I love how she paces her delivery as she worked the crowd...Wanda says she can't watch the news when the story has to involve racial politics with her wife and she can't watch “black” movies because she would just kill everybody...she said her wife's cooking sucks and because she likes to cook, she always feels like the “help”...and she really hates the Confederate flag and thinks it should be illegal and then she told us about the time her daughter inadvertently called her “Mamie”...she switched topics to how horrified she was when President Obama sang “Amazing Grace” off-key but she was glad that he supported stricter gun control laws because why would anyone need an assault rifle, and she should never have a gun ever because she would shoot people...she hates what Barbie is teaching little girls these days because they are basically a Real Housewives starter-kit...then came one of the funniest bits of the night as she said that the “Princesses” who work at Disney World have a real shitty job after they punch out and leave the premises and go back to their shitty lives after being princesses...then she took a few minutes for some political commentary and she wants Hilary Clinton to win the presidency just because at least she gets it and that Jim Webb from Virginia should use “I'm too creepy for you motherfuckers” as his campaign slogan and The Republican Party should just shut down particularly after Sarah Palin and her antics, and finally on that odious Donald Trump, she just said, “You can't do a joke on a joke!”, so she says, “Bob Saget 2016”, because that would just freak out the Democrats...she loves teachers because she admires them for putting up with other people's kids...and she suddenly added that the insanity of Presidential candidate Ben Carson saying that teachers should be given a gun...she hates cosmetics and high heels and the whole process of beautification and it always looked like these women were carrying these big bags that made them look like they were running away from home...she really wants a bedazzled fanny pack just to freak people out with its fabulousness...in another great moment, she said women really need to get it together with their strange bathroom habits because they were giving women a bad reputation and do women have to go to the bathroom in pairs...and then another slag on Ben Carson when she asked, “Can you have sleep apnea while you are awake?”, and she said she was scared of Ben Carson and his ideas....then randomly she said nothing good as ever come out of adult tricycles...Wanda had the place rolling with laughter as she paused and then she was off again about our food supply, she said we were getting “crackhead” bees from GMOs and that was freaking her out and she said, “Fuck tilapia”, because “them damn fish must have vampire teeth” and she hates them too...nowadays Wanda said she was worrying about everything and anything and the phone calls that she has been getting from her mom lately also has her freaking out because her mom is getting crazy and especially crazy about man-made and natural disasters because she thinks Wanda is there where they are and in danger until she says she is not there, then her mom will say, “Girl, I'm glad you here!”, and totally freaking her out even more ...her son is alright but he has issues with bad shit wiping and gets it everywhere and then he will start playing with his penis in public and that has her just shaking her head...all she can say is that pussy makes you crazy as she slyly winked at us...then she told us about taking her family to ski which she has never done but her wife grew up skiing and snowboarding in France and was quite good but it was fun for her to watch and only watch from the sidelines without getting wet...ever since her and her wife had children, their lives have really changed and they had to learn the ins and outs of being prepared for when your kids interrupt you during sexual activity, you got to be quick with an answer to explain what you were doing...she said she loves emojis and she uses them on her social networks all the time much to the chagrin of her wife and friends and then Wanda wrapped up her spiel on how much she loves her wife and kids and she did her signature pose of acting like her wife smoking in a caricature French style but her wife does not smoke...and the crowd just roared with laughter as Wanda Sykes walked off the stage and the house lights went up. I truly enjoyed her comedy and all that laughter put me in a fantastic mood so it must be true...laughter is the best medicine.
GARBAGE and TORRES - October 28, 2015
The 9:30 Club - Washington, DC
It was a beautiful and sunny fall afternoon as my friend artist Scott Parks and I rode the metro downtown from my humble Southeast digs to go to the venerable 9:30 Club to see one of my favorite bands ever, Garbage, and they are touring in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of their debut album and they were calling it the “20 Years Queer Tour”. This was the last night of the North American leg of their tour and amazingly they begin the European leg of the tour at The Palladium in Cologne, Germany on Saturday night. We arrived at the club and stood in a long line until they let us in and we quickly rushed upstairs to my favorite spot but it was reserved for members of their fan club so we had to find a place to sit on the side of the stage in the balcony. The opening band Torres took the stage and they were competently playing some pretty dated rock that reminded me of so many nineties alternative bands like Lush and Ride with touches of Jesus And Mary Chain but alas, their music went nowhere and I became bored with their songs rather quickly. The singer and guitarist Mackenzie Scott played these oddly tuned ambient drones that just bored me to tears because they never really became tuneful and melodic to my ears, plus the band reminded me of that girl band Haim in the way that they carried themselves. The drummer Rob Ellis got on my nerves because he was a little off the beat the whole time, so thankfully the band quickly ambled through their seven-song set that was a kaleidoscope of influences but they never really found their own sound and groove and I was glad when they finished playing and left the stage. The house crew set to work and got the stage ready for Garbage as a white scrim dropped to the floor and the audience's anticipation rose as we counted down to their arrival. The house lights went down and the scrim opened and the song or “G-side” as it is called on the nine-song bonus disc from the deluxe re-issue of their debut album and the eerie “Alien Sex Fiend” began filling the room as the band's “20 Years Queer” video intro began showing images of the band and its history in photographs and then vocalist Shirley Manson, drummer Butch Vig, bassist Steve Marker, and guitarist Duke Erickson bounded on stage and opened with a vivacious and dark G-side “Subhuman” with a vengeance and they laid down the fierce rhythms as Shirley sassily sang with her 'come hither' voice, “Burn down your idols, destroy your idols, create a scene, there goes all your reason, it's helter skelter, it's not a dream, come down from your altar, remove your blindfold, what do you see...”. The scrim dropped away and the meaty riffs of a spectacular “Supervixen” pounded away and the song's melody ebbed and flowed like the tide. Without a pause the band launched into one of my favorite songs by them, an effervescent “Queer” and they performed it beautifully as Shirley seductively crooned the sarcastic words and her voice sounded great and full and Steve's guitar playing was electrifying. The band paused and Shirley lovingly greeted the adoring crowd and she pointed out a really, really 'superfan' who always dresses like her and she jokingly said that it freaks her out as she blew her kisses and smiles. Next they played the heavily-electronic G-side “Driving Lesson” that they delivered with a snarl as Shirley's voice danced over the dense and percolating rhythms and then they flowed like butter into the ominous beat of “As Heaven Is Wide” and waves and waves of hi-speed beats rushed out of the speakers and the chiming guitars droned away like sirens as Shirley howled, “Nothing that you say will release you, nothing that you pray will forgive you, nothing's what your words mean to me, something that you did will destroy me, something that you said will stay with me, long after you are dead and gone...”. The band changed things up with the languid beat of G-side “The Butterfly Collector” by The Jam and then Shirley took the time to express the band's and her appreciation for a bunch of people who are making their tour happen and for running so smoothly and then the band kicked into a kinetic “Not My Idea” and it featured the best guitar-playing of the night as they twisted and careened through the song with razor-sharp riffs. They continued on with the pounding beat of G-side “Trip My Wire” as Shirley vented on an unnamed boyfriend as her voice floated above the screaming guitars that segued into a jaw-droppingly beautiful “Milk” that had the melody shimmering in the dense rhythm as Shirley mournfully crooned,“I am milk, I am red hot kitchen, and I am cool, cool as the deep blue ocean, I am lost, so I am cruel, but I'd be love and sweetness if I had you, I'm waiting, I'm waiting for you...”. Drummer Butch got a bit clattery on the drums as he intro-ed the deliciously dirty “Fix Me Now” and Duke played some thick and muscular guitar riffs as Butch then played some intricate percussion breaks while Shirley writhed on the ground as she wailed, “Fix me now!”, it was electrifying to watch her. She got off the ground and a roadie handed her a guitar and she started to make it scream and the band wailed on the stuttering beat of “My Lover's Box” as they intoned, “I'm afraid I'll never get to heaven!”, then the band slid into the mysterious and dark rhythm of G-side “Sleep” and then they morphed into the monstrous guitar riff of G-side “#1 Crush” and it swirled menacingly above the swaying rhythm to the delight of the audience. The lights dimmed and a flurry of electro-beats began to pulse and suddenly kamikaze guitar riffs were flying as the rhythm section stomped out the beat of “Stupid Girl” and the band's playing was spectacular as Shirley prowled the edge of the stage and sneered, “Don't believe in love, don't believe in hate, don't believe in anything, that you can waste, you stupid girl, you stupid girl, can't believe you fake it, can't believe you fake it...”, and Duke followed with some crackling guitar that just rocked as his fingers flew like lightning on the fretboard. They kept the beat driving and crisp as they played a scary-sounding “Dog New Tricks” and Duke made his axe scream so beautifully with the song's cacophony of notes, and then Shirley said the next song was her favorite one to perform with the band as they launched into a throbbing “A Stroke Of Luck” which was also the first song she wrote for Garbage in 1995 and she sounded so longingly wistful as she sang the lyrics and then the band turned it out with a re-vamped arrangement of “Happy When It Rains” that was in a punk rock style with a driving guitar as Shirley crooned the bitter words, “Pour your misery down, pour your misery down on me, I'm only happy when it rains, I feel good when things are going wrong, I only listen to sad, sad songs, I'm only happy when it rains...”, as the song segued into Duke slashing away at his guitar with a swaying ferocity as the song “Vow” convulsed with off-kilter melodies that collapsed all around them and they ran offstage in a squall of feedback. The audience went crazy and they screamed for more until the band returned to the stage and Shirley recalled a story about when her first band Angelfish was playing a few blocks away at the Black Cat and she saw a herd of rats in the alley and she freaked a little and the headliner Vic Chestnutt told her to fuck off and she went back into the club and so she decided she was going to dedicate a G-side cover of Vic Chestnutt's “Kick My Ass” to him as way of revenge and the band tore it up with raggedy guitars and clattery drumming, and then she said the next song “Girl Don't Come” was about the female orgasm and it was a taut number with a ragged guitar riff that just got under my skin as they tore through it as Shirley sang the great lyrics. Much too my surprise they changed the set list to the one for their upcoming European dates and so they finished their twenty-two song set with two newer numbers, first they played a sensational “Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)” from their 2001 album “Beautiful” and it was an electro-driven song that had a very taut beat that the band walked like a tightrope, and then the band finished with a fantastic version of “Push It” from their 1998 album “Version 2.0” and it was the perfect closer for the night as Shirley crooned, “I was angry when I met you, I think I'm angry still, we can try to talk it over, if you say you'll help me out, don't worry baby, no need to fight, don't worry baby, we'll be alright...”, over the dueling guitar and bass of Duke and Mark as Butch pounded the hell out of his drums. Garbage finished the song and took their bows to the adoring crowd as they roared for more, but alas...I hope they tour next year and play more songs from their other albums. All in all, it was a fantastic performance and they proofed they can still rock with a passion and a fury.
BABES IN TOYLAND and KITTEN FOREVER - October 24, 2015
Black Cat - Washington, DC
I recently took a small break from going to shows for my sanity and so tonight I am at the fabulous Black Cat to see those nineties “kinderwhores” Babes In Toyland from Minneapolis and I have not seen them play since 1995 when they toured with White Zombie and also playing is the relatively unknown riot grrl band Kitten Forever also from Minneapolis. In their heyday Babes In Toyland were only second to L7 in the “dirty girl music” category and even though I really loved L7, I found Babes In Toyland's Kat Bjelland' ear for melody quite intriguing to listen to as they beat their songs into submission, plus Kat hated Courtney Love as much as me. But last year they reunited to celebrate their being one of the foremothers of the Riot Grrl movement even though they really were not riot grrls per se and then they decided to keep the momentum going after original bassist Maureen Herman decided to leave the band and she was quickly replaced by Clara Sayler and vocalist/guitarist Kat Bjelland and drummer Lori Barbero hit the road and now they are here in Washington, DC on a Saturday night. The first band Kitten Forever took the stage and they are a feminist punk trio who play rudimentary punk swamp stomp as vocalist Liz Elton screamed into a microphone made out of an old phone but they really needed a guitar player, however the bassist Laura Larson was great and played some nice driving bass lines over the drummer Corrie Harrigan's terse clattering and as Liz and Laura switched positions and they told us about their socio-political views and their direct actions for change. Their music got a bit tedious and then Corrie switched instruments and played on with their low-end heavy groove, but they really needed something in the high-end blasting through the dense rhythm. They were very competent musicians as they continually switched instruments but their songs never seemed to go anywhere because they thought a guitar was “too male” for them or something. They played a pounding eleven-song set that was lively and punchy and they had a nice groove but I really wished they had a guitarist. The stage crew rushed around the stage to get it ready for Babes In Toyland and they took the stage and said hello and immediately launched into a raw “He's My Thing” from their 1990 album “Spanking Machine” that had Kat screeching, “He's my thing, stay away from my thing, why don't you get your own one around, he's my thing, he's my thing, I kept for myself and not for you, he's my thing I kept for myself and nobody else...”, and her guitar squealing over the thunderous rhythm section and Lori was fantastic as she smashed away at her drum-kit with a fury as the band went right into a throbbing “Bluebell” from their 1992 album “Fontanelle” that rocked me to the bones. Kat switched guitars and then she went into an abrasive “Spit To See The Shine” from their 1991 EP “To Mother” that swerved and careened as she caterwauled her sarcastic and biting words over the swaying rhythms that filled the room. Next they laid down the swampy beat of “Oh Yeah” from their 1995 album “Nemesisters” and it was primal and snarling as Kat spit the words at us and then they plunged into the gnarly rhythms of “Bruise Violet” from the “Fontanelle” album and she raged, “You got this thing that really makes me hot, you got a lot and more when you get caught, you got this thing that follows me around, you fucking bitch well, I hope your insides rot, liar, liar, liar...”, then she let loose with a nasty guitar solo that rattled the stage. The drummer Lori started pounding out the beat to the rollicking and thunderous “Right Now” also from “Fontanelle” and the song made me want to mosh like a idiot. They slowed down the beat for an ominous-sounding “Swamp Pussy” from their 1990 album “Spanking Machine” that pulsed and throbbed as Kat made her guitar explode with a frenzy of noise that melted into a raucous version of “Won't Tell”, again from “Fontanelle”, and it had the crowd going crazy and Kat played her best guitar solo of the night that just exploded out of her amp with ragged fury. The band then barreled through a hardcore-ish sounding “Drivin'” from their 1995 album “Nemesisters” as they played a bit of slow-fast-slow to the appreciative audience, and Kat introduced her fellow band members before they unleashed the squall of noise that was “Ariel” also from the same album and drummer Lori viciously sang her heart out over the waves of noisy guitar riffs and pounding bass, “Live somewhere in between of what, I've meant to be, pick the bones clean of angelicanteen meat, carnivaluate the short and tallerate the weak, stuck six feet sheep yr older than you look, cracked eyes black as soot...”, and I loved the fake words that they made up for this song. Then the band launched into my favorite song of theirs, the dark and gritty pulse-pounder “Handsome And Gretel” which came from the “Fontanelle” album as do the following two songs and they seemed to really favor that album on this tour. Kat finished the song with a blistering guitar solo that exploded into the frenzy of jagged notes and cacophonous screaming of “Spun” and the chaotic rhythms swirled into the pounding beat of “Pearl” that rolled right over the audience as Kat made her guitar howl the intro to a marvelous “Ripe” from their 1991 EP “To Mother” and she sang the words, “I know I know I know shut up, killer clean been a racecar on a sky-way down, I've been shown these wrong ways, I now own, I now own all these wrong ways I've been shown...”, as if they were poison dripping off her tongue and Lori tersely provided the lurching rhythm as they barreled through the song. The band let the next song “Vomit Heart” from their album “Spanking Machine” sputter and careen chaotically at a breakneck speed and then they let loose with an incredible version of “Sweet '69” from their album “Nemesisters” and it just crushed as they wielded it like a giant sledgehammer as Kat screamed and yelled until the song collapsed into a tumultuous storm of feedback and drums and percussion and it was riveting as it possessed me with its beautiful fury. The band quickly left the stage as the audience showed their roaring appreciation until the three of them returned to the stage and blew through a thunderous version of “Dust Cake Boy” from their album “Spanking Machine” and even though Kat's voice was shot, she menacingly growled the acidic words, “Oh my soul, there's a hole, oh, my soul, dust cake boy, boy, boy, woah he wavers me something, God he wavers me something, woah he fucks real mean, mean...”, and then the band wished us a good night and left the stage. I was totally blown away by their seventeen-song set of their classic nineties material but I wished they could have previewed one or two new songs but such is rock and roll. I left the club thinking I had a good time seeing Babes In Toyland and it it good to see them back on the scene and hopefully some new music will be forthcoming.
BOOK READING with PATTI SMITH - October 9, 2015
GWU's Lisner Auditorium - Washington, DC
It was a lovely clear fall evening as I headed to GWU's Lisner Auditorium to see the magnificent rock star/poet Patti Smith do a reading and book-signing event with my dear friend Holly Lemay who I have known since our days at the 9:30 Club when we both worked there. There was a weird range of people at the venue and a few of them made me wonder if they even know who she is and what she represents, but then again, they could because looks can be deceiving. Patti Smith and the event's host took the stage and Patti looked out on the audience with affection and warmth as she began discussing her new memoir “M Train” which was about freedom and how everything functions in patterns, and that loss is ever-present. She even read a passage on how she met her now-deceased husband guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith of The MC5s and she describes herself as a romantic at heart. She talked about how she loves coffee but these days she adds a lot of hot water to dilute it and she actually knows a lot about coffee beans. She said she loves “detective fiction” and particularly British detective shows and she also digs “CSI: Miami”, and she once wrote a blurb for a favorite writer and it said, “This book is too horrifying to finish...”. She told us about how she has this neurological disorder where she cannot tell her left from her right so that means she cannot drive which is why she moved back to New York City from Detroit after Fred died. She said that you should always present yourself as worthy to receive good things in your life. She then told about how she got the photograph for the cover of her new book from this young lady named Claire who “stalked” and bothered her for a photo for several weeks until she conceded because she does not really ever take photographs these days. The host thanked Patti for being her “courage teacher” which comes from Allen Ginsberg's epic poem about poet Walt Whitman who was Allen's “courage teacher”, so Patti said always work hard and be true to yourself, and do not get too entangled in the cult of celebrity. She also said that we all need to visit the Philadelphia Museum Of Modern Art, especially now that they are exhibiting a Marcel DuChamp show and she prattled on about how it is good to be alive and able to eat good pizza and that in the game of life when it comes to technical skills, they are wonderful to have but she does not have any. Her favorite relic from her life is her wedding ring that Fred her because of how it reminds her of love, but she is refusing to surrender her pen until the day she dies and hopefully not then either. Patti graciously thanked everyone in the audience for coming out to see her tonight and she was going on tour to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the “Horses” album so hopefully she will see us again in the near future. Patti stood up and walked to the edge of the stage and started singing acappella her song “Wing” and she dedicated it to John Lennon because it was his 75th birthday and she sounded fabulous and then she finished the evening with a sensational acappella version of “Because The Night” that had everybody singing along with her at the top of their lungs. Patti said goodnight and walked offstage to prepare for tonight's book signing but I already have three autographs from here so we left the venue with a smile on my face and a Patti Smith song in my heart.
TITLE TRACKS, BRNDA, and ART SORORITY FOR GIRLS - October 1, 2015
MLK DC Public Library - Washington, DC
It was a dreary evening as I headed to the Martin Luther King Jr. Public Library for a celebration of the one year anniversary of the DC Punk Archive that they are celebrating in the basement with a show that featured Art Sorority For Girls, BRNDA, and Title Tracks. Daoud Tyler-Ameen of Art Sorority For Girls took the stage with his acoustic guitar and serenaded us with his plaintive voice and emotionally evocative lyrics and with his pretty decent guitar playing he let his music flow and he reminded me of the late singer/guitarist Chris Whitley's style for some odd reason. His lyrics were quite verbose and they told a good well-written story that was accented by his skillful playing as he strummed away, but I failed to see his connection to the original DC punk scene. I liked how he made his guitar sound very percussive and that gave the songs a nice groove that inspired a few people to dance but I wish he had his full band with him tonight. He played a pleasant seven-song set that was enjoyable to listen to as his nice word flow twisted its way through my ears and the song “Letter To Brooklyn” was really cool and I liked what he had to say. Next up was BRNDA who are a quartet that play loud abrasive art-rock with a lot of melody and it was full of fat guitar riffs and fast-paced drumming but the vocalist Leah Gage was hard to understand being that she was also the drummer, but their songs had a nice beat that drove them as the crowd rocked out. They reminded me of The Slits with their aggressive dance beat and spastic guitar riffs a la Viv Albertine, and then other times they reminded me of Joy Division with their muscular bass lines that gave them groove. I really enjoyed their noisy and careening songs that made me want to madly dance like an idiot especially when the song had a big chorus that was powered by the intertwining riffs of guitarists Dave Lesser and Alex Kozen, but I wished I could understand their lyrics because they sounded like they had something meaningful to say. I really enjoyed their song “Jesus Is My Boyfriend” and that most of their songs were short and concise and the clipped bass lines played by Jhn Whytefoot made me want to dance. They played an invigorating eight-song set that was lively and fun and I would go see them play live again and hopefully soon. The third band of tonight was the trio known as Title Tracks led by vocalist/guitarist John Davis and they have been playing on the local scene for several years now and John has quite a musical pedigree with Georgie Fame and Q And Not U on his resume. After a quick line check, the band launched into their power-punk with an elegant fury as the drummer Andrew Black pounded away and the bassist Michael Cotterman underscored the percussion with a pulsing bass line and John Davis grinded out electrifying riffs as he sang of his anger and disappointment with the world. I liked how their songs flowed as they thumped along at an accelerated pace and I really liked the inventive bass playing of Michael Cotterman. They were kind of the “anti-power trio” as they plowed through their set, but they never got in the pocket with a groove, however I really liked their new song “Protect Yourself” with its punchy guitar riff and quirky vocals. Title Tracks played a eleven-song set that was fast-paced and full of notes that flew everywhere but the music was kind of static and never seemed to go anywhere, but they played some nice songs that were interesting to hear. Overall tonight was a really good performance that showcased the varieties of DC punk and brought attention to the library's DC Punk Archive plus I really liked BRNDA.
LORETTA LYNN and THE VON TRAPPS - September 27, 2015
The Lincoln Theater - Washington, DC
It was yet another dreary and overcast Sunday afternoon as I prepared to go to the historic Lincoln Theater on U Street to see the legendary Queen of Country Music, Loretta Lynn and her band The Coal Miners plus her special guests, The Von Trapps who are the actual grandchildren of the singing children in the 1965 movie classic “The Sound Of Music”, and hopefully her and they will take me on a country music journey. My rather difficult momma turned me on to the beauty of her music at an early age and she took me to see Loretta Lynn perform at Fairfax High School Auditorium where they regularly held these concerts way back in the seventies when all the touring country acts would play there and I loved her simple and forthright views on life. The 1980 autobiographical movie “Coal Miner's Daughter” was a revelation and it showed that she was a real professional with something to say and she never embarrassed herself and she still made fantastic and genuine music. I will never forget when she freaked out Johnny Carson on his “Late Show” with her hillbilly palm-reading skills way back in the early eighties. Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton are the last of the the original “golden age” country musics queens since the fabulous Lynn Anderson passed on this year. The house lights went down and The Von Trapps, siblings Sofia, Melanie, Amanda, and August, and the four of them walked onstage and began to harmonize beautifully as their voices intertwined acappella gorgeously and their grandparents would have been proud. August picked up an ukelele and accompanied the others as they made their voices sound so lovely as they harmonized on the 1931 standard “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” which was made famous by Ella Fitzgerald and Melanie accented the song with some wistful melodica, and then they performed an old Jewish folk song accompanied by some gentle guitar strumming from Amanda and their voices blended so marvelously together. They kind of tripped me out with a shimmering “The National Anthem Of Rwanda” that they made sparkle and shine with their exquisite voices. They sang an original number that was influenced by the stark beauty of their hometown of Portland, Oregon and their vocals just melted in my ears, and their performance of a classical piece by Brahms was electric and I really enjoyed how the four of them structured their vocal parts and they sounded absolutely beautiful as they blended together so perfectly and the rich tones of their voices was jaw-droppingly exquisite and strangely filled me with joy as I watched them leave the stage. After awhile the lights dimmed once again and Loretta Lynn's band The Coal Miners took the stage and her son guitarist Ernest Ray Lynn took the lead on a rocking version of the Merle Haggard classic “Mama Tried” and then the band tore up Toby Keith's “As Good As I Once Was” and Ernie cracked a few Viagra jokes and then he brought his twin sisters Patsy and Peggy to the stage and they let loose with these gorgeous crystalline voices that brought depth to the country classic “All I Got To Say” and they followed that with an unbelievable rendition of Stevie Nicks' “Sara” and the band rocked it liked it was a classic country song and they kept the groove going with an excellent version of the Danny Flowers-penned “Tulsa Time” made famous by Don Williams and Eric Clapton in 1978. Peggy took the microphone and gave a loving intro for her mother and Loretta Lynn came out to the stage in a huge lilac purple ballroom dress to rapturous applause and she greeted us ever so graciously as she led the band in a soulful-feeling “They Don't Make 'em Like My Daddy” from her 1974 album of the same name, and for being 83 years old, she really knows how to take command of a stage and her voice sounded rich and honey-toned as she sang, “They don't make men like my daddy anymore, guess they've thrown away the pattern through the years, in a great big land of freedom, at a time we really need'em, they don't make'em like my daddy anymore...”, and steel guitarist Charlie Archer played an incredible solo that gave me chills as the band segued into a sassy “You're Lookin' At Country” from her third 1971 album of the same name, and the band had some great interplay with each other as Loretta sat down and got comfortable. The two guitarists, Bobby Vogel and Ernie Ray Lynn, played a mournful dual lead intro to a rather lovely “When The Tingle Becomes A Chill” from her first 1976 album of the same name and drummer Eric Kaberle kept the beat clipped and crisp as they moved onto the sassy independence-minded proto-feminist anthem “I Wanna Be Free” from her first 1971 album of the same name and Larry Barnes drove the song with his solid bass playing that propelled the groove into an elegiac Johnny Cash-penned “Blue Kentucky Girl” from her third 1965 album of the same name and steel guitarist Charlie Archer just rocked it once again with a succinct solo that erupted into a lively “You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” from her second 1966 album of the same name and she does have a way with words as she staunchly sang, “You've come to tell me something you say I ought to know, that he don't love me anymore and I'll have to let him go, you say you're gonna take him oh but I don't think you can, cause you ain't woman enough to take my man...”, and it featured some great piano from Craig Morris as the band turned the song out like they were “punk”. Loretta seemed to be having an allergic reaction to the pollen or something and she joked about ragweed as a roadie handed her a box of tissues for her dripping nose and she sang a beautiful and touching “Love Is The Foundation” from her 1973 album of the same name and it was accented by a languid melody from pianist Craig. The band kicked in with the raucous thump of “Fist City” from her 1968 album of the same name and the audience loved it as they stood up and roared their approval as Ernie Ray Lynn made his guitar howl and screech in a beautiful solo that flowed into a heartfelt tribute to Loretta's idol, the late great Patsy Cline, and she stood up to sing a stunning cover of the 1962 Hank Cochran-penned Patsy classic “She's Got You” from her 1977 album “I Remember Patsy” which she performed wonderfully and it brought tears to my eyes. Loretta sat back down and her back-up vocalist Lee Hilliard let his rich tenor voice wail on “Lonely All The Time” by The Eli Young Band as her guitarist Bart Hansen let a white-hot guitar riff just tear through the song and then he joked with guitarist Bobby Vogel about how much of a taskmaster Loretta was and then he laughed about it. The band geared up for a marvelous “One's On The Way” from her fourth 1971 album of the same name and she sounded happy as she sang, “And the White House social season should be glitterin' an' gay, but here in Topeka the rain is a fallin', the faucet is a drippin' and the kids are a bawlin', one of 'em a toddlin' and one is a crawlin', and one's on the way...”, and the band was phenomenal as they segued into the controversial and ground-breaking “The Pill” from her first 1975 album “Back To The Country” and I was amazed how forward-thinking her lyrics were for their time when they were first written. Her bassist Larry Barnes took the microphone and sang the Conway Twitty parts in “Feelins'” from her second 1975 album of the same name and I really enjoyed the jovial and lighthearted banter between him and Loretta as the band made the song have an almost rock feel to it and the band segued into the defiant patriotism of “Dear Uncle Sam” from her first 1966 album “I Like 'em Country” and Loretta's words were touching and poignant and the song showcased some lovely musical interplay between steel guitarist Charlie Archer and pianist Craig Morris. Loretta made a few more jokes about her allergen-induced runny nose as she and her band got revved up for a rollicking “Your Squaw Is On The Warpath” from her first 1969 album of the same name and I just love her witty wordplay and the band played a great break in the song that showed a lot of range as the drummer Eric Kaberle kept a nice clicking beat and Charlie's steel guitar signaled the start of a swaying “Somebody Somewhere (Don't Know What He's Missin' Tonight)” from her second 1976 album of the same name and I was blown away by how good her voice sounded as she hit the high notes. She said she was the most miserable she'd been on a stage but she was going to sing for us regardless and her son Ernie Ray joked about how he could sell her boogers on eBay and make a lot of money and Loretta cracked, “You wouldn't dare boy and do people really buy famous people's boogers on the computer...”, and with the chiming guitar of Bobby Vogel, the band launched into the very socially relevant “Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)” from her 1966 album of the same name and Loretta was stunning as she crooned, “You never take me anywhere because you're always gone, many a night I've laid awake and cried dear all alone, and you come in a kissin' on me it happens every time, no don't come home a drinkin' with lovin' on your mind...”, and then her band took over with some intricate playing as pianist Craig Morris and bassist Larry Barnes used their plaintive voices to sing “House At The End Of The Road” that was written by 4Runner which was basically Loretta's band these days and it morphed into The Eagles' 1972 country-rock classic “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and their tenor voices harmonized beautifully as steel guitarist Charlie Archer made his instrument sing like a choir of angels with Bobby Vogel's electric guitar howling away. I knew we had come to the last segment of her show when Loretta asked everyone to give thanks to the Lord and she said the next three songs would be dedicated to God and then she gloriously sang “Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven” from her second 1965 album “Hymns” and her voice was so beautiful as she sang the uplifting words and the band flowed into the riveting “Who Says God Is Dead!” from her second 1968 album of the same name and Craig Morris let loose with some transcendental piano melodies that segued into the old-timey gospel of “Where No One Stands Alone” also from “Hymns” and it really made me feel the spirit. Loretta Lynn ended her twenty-five song set with her greatest song as she stood up to sing an emotionally touching “Coal Miner's Daughter” from her classic 1970 album of the same name and you could feel that she lived and meant every word as she starkly sang, “Well, I was born a coal miner's daughter, in a cabin on a hill in Butcher's Holler, we were poor but we had love, that's the one thing that daddy made sure of, he shoveled coal to make a poor man's dollar...”, and her band The Coal Miners turned it out one last time and they were incredible as ever as they made the languid groove gallop across my ears as Loretta Lynn wished us a great night and she was escorted offstage by her twin daughters and the band finished the song with a flourish as the audience erupted in rapturous applause and the house lights went up and everyone rushed out of the theatre and on to U Street. I was so glad I got to witness tonight's Loretta Lynn show because it was just spectacular from her warm engaging voice and exceptional lyrics to the superb musicianship of her eight-piece band The Coal Miners and especially drummer Eric Kaberle whose percussion skills was what gave their music its drive. This was definitely one of my Top Ten Shows Of The Year and I was genuinely surprised by the feelings that this performance stirred in my soul but it was really wonderful to hear that her songs from my childhood still resonant with me and I have to say...God bless Loretta Lynn and her wonderful music that has stood the test of time.
TOMMY KEENE and DOT DASH - September 18, 2015
Iota Club And Cafe - Arlington, VA
It was a warm late-summer night as I headed towards Arlington to the Iota Club & Café to see one of my favorite local bands Dot Dash and legendary local boy Tommy Keene and the show should be power-pop heaven. I arrived just in time to see Dot Dash hit the stage with a subtle fury as Danny Ingram's thunderous percussion signaled the start of their emotionally powerful music that was full of snarling guitars and gnarly bass lines as the singer/guitarist Terry Banks morosely sang his world-weary lyrics of love, life, loss, and pain. Their songs came swirling out of the speakers with a raw honesty that was refreshing and Hunter Bennett drove them with his driving bass that gave the songs depth. The vocals seemed to get lost in the mix but they were insightful as ever as the band briskly plowed through their eleven-song set and they played a nice selection of their songs from all four of their albums. I just love how the rhythm section of Danny Ingram and Hunter Bennett play so well together in an almost funky way as Steve Hansgen's guitar riffs slash and burn everywhere and they do it with such nonchalant ease. My favorite song of their set was called “Flowers” and Hunter started it off with the most amazing mini-solo and he thumped that bass like he was possessed by the spirit of Bootsy Collins. It was a pretty outstanding set and it featured some incredible musicianship and great songs and I cannot wait to see them again. After their set I said hello to Danny and he gave me their set list for my review before he had to clear the stage for Tommy Keene. I have always loved Tommy Keene since the early eighties when he was in pioneering pop band The Razz but he never seemed to become a huge superstar rather than just a regional star, but through it all he made some brilliant and charming power-pop and I have been digging him and his music since 1983 when he went solo. Tommy Keene and his three-piece band hit the stage and kicked things off with a crunchy guitar riff and the band rocked out as Tommy sardonically sang the opening track “Out Of My Mind” from his new album “Laugh In The Dark” with verve while his rock-steady drummer John Richardson kept the beat and the band barreled through their set non-stop as his guitarist Steve Gerlach just blazed on his instrument on a sensational rendition of “Astronomy” from his 1986 album “Songs From The Film”. Tommy took the time to promote his new album and he played the crunchy title-track “Laugh In The Dark” and the shimmery “Last Of The Twilight Girls” and they showed a lot of maturity and growth that was surprisingly fresh and modern and the songs were quite lovely and catchy. Tommy showed some skill on the guitar as he made it ring and chime so elegantly and his songs all sounded different which was great as they stormed through a taut “Highwire Days” from his 1989 album “Based On Happy Times” and a darkly melodic “Nowhere Drag” from his 2011 album “Behind The Parade”. The bassist Brad Quinn was fantastic musician as his stuttering bass lines gave the songs a nice base for the guitarists to play off and he was great on a pulsing “Dear Heloise” from his new album. The band seemed to be playing harder than usual as their melodies and riffs intertwined with each other, especially on a morose “Compromise” from his 1996 album “Ten Years After”, and the drummer John Richardson just drove their music with his crisp and controlled playing without ever missing a beat as his frenetic style pounded out the beat to the angular groove of “When Our Vows Break” from their album “Based On Happy Times” and it was full of great vocal harmonies and melodic riffs. They totally rocked on Tommy's beloved 1982 debut single “Back To Zero Now” as his voice crooned the insightful words, “People talk in another dimension, they don't always realize their intentions, you don't wanna be somebody's hero, no, you just wanna get back to zero now...”, and the crowd ate it up when guitarist Steve Gerlach played an electrifying closing solo that just lit the place up as they segued into a rocking “Deep Six Saturday” from his 2011 album “Behind The Parade”. In what turned out to be my favorite new song was a cool and mysterious “Alone In These Modern Times” from his new album and the band was excellent as they pounded through it with a rock-steady groove that morphed into a dark and psychedelic version of Echo And The Bunnymen's “The Puppet” which came from Tommy's 2013 covers album and they did them proud. The band turned it up a bit for a stirring rendition of “Long Time Missing” from his 1998 album “Isolation Party” and it was a cataclysm of sharp melodies and angular riffs that flooded into my ears with a stark beauty that left me stunned. The highlight of the night was an incredible version of “Places That Are Gone” from his 1986 album “Songs From The Film” and the song took me back to the new wave eighties as Tommy crooned, “Because these are the places that are gone, now we can go on and on, back before you knew me well, I was trapped inside a shell,and these are the places that are gone...”, while he slashed at his guitar and I just loved it and it was just as great of a song as I remembered it to be. He has become a much heavier sounding guitarist than I remember him to be, but he was in excellent form as he played riffs, licks, notes with great skill as the band segued into an upbeat and raucous rendition of “All Gone Away” from his new album and it was like they turned into a seventies boogie band as Tommy showcased his guitar pyrotechnics. They closed their set with a spectacular version of Lou Reed's “Kill Your Sons” from his 1986 album “Songs From The Film” and I think he performs it way better than cranky ole Lou ever did, but Tommy makes the song his own as he sings the emotional lyrics with his heart on his sleeve and the band raged on their instruments before they left the stage. After a few minutes Tommy and his band returned and politely thanked the audience for being there and the band finished their eighteen-song set with a jaunty “Nothing Can Change You” from his 1989 album “Based On Happy Times” and Tommy seemed genuinely lost in rapturous delight as he made his guitar chime with melodic glory. It was a fantastic show with both bands showing their true mettle with some great songs from throughout his career and some rather skillful playing and this was one of the best shows that I have seen this year.
MADONNA - September 12, 2015
The Verizon Center - Washington, DC
It was an overcast and dreary day as I got ready to go see my “diva” (wink, wink) Madonna on her latest spectacle of a tour called the “Rebel Heart Tour” and I was excited to see her again because playing live is where she seems to really shine these days. My dear friend Scott Parks who came to visit me and see the show went with me to dinner at Ted's Bulletin on Capital Hill with some of his family and then we rode the metro downtown to the Verizon Center and walked into the human madness that swirled around us and we waded our way through the deluge and we went down to the floor to our really excellent seats that were at Madonna's feet and I was flabbergasted by it all. Then the opener DJ Sleepy Tom started spinning some retro-techno that just flowed randomly but it was kind of bland and not very exciting to hear because he did not play anything that made me want to dance so hopefully his allotted time will go quickly. I waited patiently as the crowd filtered in as the beat pumped and jumped so boringly dull as my mind reeled with my Madonna memories. I remembered how I used to “stalk” her in New York City in the early eighties at the renown new wave dance club “The Danceteria” where soon-to-be famous DJ Jellybean Benitez spun her early singles; and when I saw her with The Beastie Boys at Merriweather Post Pavilion on her first tour in 1983, and then her later record-setting world tours, and finally the house lights went down and Michael Jackson's “Wanna Be Starting Something” started blasting out of the PA and then the “Revolution” video intro appeared on the screens around the stage showing Madonna in a Japanese motif flaunting her sexuality and then a troupe of dancers marched out and lined the stage and the video showed her asking us to wake up and the real Madonna appeared descending from the ceiling in a gilded cage as the band began playing the opening number “Iconic” from her new album “Rebel Heart” and Madonna twirled and turned as she sang, “Just shine your light like a beautiful star, show the world who you are, who you are, yeah there's another part of you no one sees, there's a burning fire that's underneath, baby, don't you know you were meant to be, born to be, meant to be, iconic, iconic, iconic, iconic...” The song seemed a little self-aggrandizing but then again, she is Madonna and she took command of the stage and she launched into “Bitch I'm Madonna” also from her new album and she fiercely danced with her girls, longtime backing vocalist Nicki Richards and vocalist Kiley Dean who worked with Britney Spears, and the choreography was complex and intense and her band was tight and rapper Nicki Minaj appeared on the video screen spitting lyrics with some sass and vinegar. Her musical director keyboardist Kevin Antunes led the band immediately into a pulsing “Burning Up” from her 1982 self-titled debut album and Madonna showed off her shredding skills on the guitar as they played an updated version of the song and it totally rocked as she wailed on the guitar as the video screens burned with images of flames and I was impressed. Next eight stripper nuns marched onstage to the nasty rhythms of “Holy Water” from “Rebel Heart” as the roadies set up stripper poles for them to twirl on sacrilegiously as the Catholic Church collectively sighed with horror and disgust and Madonna declared, “Jesus loves my pussy”. It was an amazing sight to behold as she led her band in a bit of “Vogue” from her 1990 “Dick Tracy” movie soundtrack album “I'm Breathless” and the stripper nuns vanished off the stage as it became the Last Supper set and the band segued into an ominous sounding “Devil Pray” also from her new album and Madonna repentantly sang, “Take my sins and wash them away, teach me how to pray, I've been stranded here in the dark, take these walls away, I've been swimming in the ocean, 'til I'm almost drowned, give me something I can believe in, teach me how to pray...”, and the dancers posed around the long table as she confessed her sins to a priest as her band grooved behind her as she danced with representatives of each major religion until the stage darkened and the “Messiah” video interlude appeared on the screens and a lone dancer twirled in the shadows and smoke and the stage slowly morphed into a greasy garage set and Madonna reappeared and sassily sang, “Body Shop” from her new album. She asked everyone to sing along with her on the lilting title-track “True Blue” from her 1986 album and I liked how they updated the song arrangement and made it sound like a fifties doo-wop song and her dancers were decked out in rockabilly outfits and the audience loved it as she strummed an ukelele while sitting on a pile of tires. The band pumped up the swaying rhythm that was led by the succinct drumming of Brian Frasier-Moore and they played a bombastic version of “Deeper And Deeper” from her 1992 album “Erotica” as Madonna sultrily whispered the words, “I can't help falling in love, I fall deeper and deeper the further I go, kisses sent from heaven above, they get sweeter and sweeter the more that I know...”, over the subtle keyboard washes of keyboardist Ric'key Pageot. A staircase descended from the ceiling and Madonna began walking up the stairs as she crooned the melancholy “Heartbreak City” from “Rebel Heart” and her band dropped some nice and crisp R&B as she emoted her pain and she sang a part of “Love Don't Live Here Anymore” from her 1984 album “Like A Virgin” then the music tumbled and swirled into a fantastic updated version of the album's title-track “Like A Virgin” and it was a taut electro-funk rendition that made it one of the show's highlights and they finished the song with a bit of her controversial 1990 single “Justify My Love” that blended in with yet another video interlude called “S.E.X.”/”Justify My Love” and four muscular men appeared on the stage writhing on a bed as the video screens showed her more provocative images as her disembodied voice sang of dirty sex and then the band kicked back in with the punchy “Living For Love” from her new album and Madonna walked the runway set in that infamous cape but she did not fall this time as she sweetly sang the inspirational words, “Living for love, living for love, I'm not giving up, I'm gonna carry on, living for love, I'm living for love, not gonna stop, cuz love's gonna lift me up, love, lift me up...”, and this song has really grown on me with its faux-techno feel and her matador motif that she was dressed in perplexed me, and I would really like to know what her bull fetish is all about, I just find it peculiar. The surprise of the night was a jazzy “La Isla Bonita” from her 1986 album “True Blue” and Madonna and her dancers glided across the stage and her guitarist Monte Pittman of NYC's Prong fame blew me away with his phenomenal finger-picking on the acoustic guitar, and then the band broke down the rhythm into a heavily percussive Afro-Cuban jazz re-vamp of “Dress You Up” from “Like A Virgin” that turned into a medley featuring the throbbing disco-funk of “Into The Groove” also from “Like A Virgin” and the heartfelt synth-pop classics “Everybody” and “Lucky Star” from her self-titled 1982 debut album and the band morphed back into “Dress You Up” and it was an amazing performance and I love the new arrangements of her classic songs as she dance and sang with an army of gyrating dancers. A roadie handed Madonna an acoustic guitar and she started strumming and dedicated the next song to her diehard friends and launched into a remarkable stripped-down version of the title-track “Who's That Girl” from the 1987 movie soundtrack album and the band slowed the song down and that gave the words depth and some real meaning. She told us that in life you have to be tough but with a gentle touch and then she said the next song would be accompanied by video footage of her fans' artwork of her and Madonna and her band did a rocking version of the title-track from her new album “Rebel Heart” which she said was her “basic modus operandi” for her life and she wailed, “So I took the road less traveled by, and I barely made it out alive, through the darkness somehow I survived, tough love – I knew it from the start, deep down in the depth of my rebel heart...”, and the band chugged along rhythmically behind her and the Madonna artwork on the video screens was amazing and showed a lot of love and admiration for her as the lights dimmed. The final video interlude was called “Illuminati” and it showed the horrors of the world and what we can do about it as some of her dancers balanced on these flexible poles that stood way above the audience and her other dancers moved like moths fluttering around crackling flames below them and then the band joined Madonna onstage and they got the party started with a bluesy intro to the anthemic title-track “Music” from her 2000 album and it morphed into some taut electro-funk and her dancers shook their booties in a “Roaring Twenties” fashion style as the band mixed in a bit of “Give It 2 Me” from her 2008 album “Hard Candy” with its sassy hip-hop beat and the band weaved the groove into a pulsing “Candy Shop” also from “Hard Candy” and it was driving and sexy and the crowd went crazy with rapturous applause. The band segued into a sultry slow-downed version of “Material Girl” from “Like A Virgin” and it was almost a dub-step groove as she sarcastically sang, “Some boys romance, some boys slow dance, that's all right with me, if they can't raise my interest then I, have to let them be, some boys try and some boys lie about, I don't let them play (no way), only boys who save their pennies, make my day...”, and then she put on a ornate full-length veil and marched on down the runway and it was my favorite moment of the night. Madonna picked up her ukelele and she plucked it as she bitched about the institution of marriage and that she, Madonna, belongs to all of us and yet, she still believes in love and how she had invited President Obama to the show but it seems she is just a little too provocative for him and so she sang like a chanteuse on Edith Piaf's 1947 classic “La Vie En Rose” en francais and it showed her frail human side and it was quite beautiful and emotional. She made a few jokes about smoking cigarettes while talking in a weird foreign accent which I found odd, and then the band launched into a reggae-ish “Unapologetic Bitch” from “Rebel Heart” that lets the world know just where she stands on how she lives her life her way and then she waved goodnight to all of us and said, “Bye, bitches!”and ran off the stage. The house lights went down for the last time and the crowd was begged for more and her really excellent band launched into a rip-roaring version of “Holiday” from her 1982 debut album “Madonna” and she sang her heart out with the hopeful words, “If we took a holiday, took some time to celebrate, just one day out of life, it would be, it would be so nice, everybody spread the word, we're gonna have a celebration, all across the world, in every nation...”, and it was a nice way to end her fabulous twenty-one song set as the whole band and all of her dancers stood on the stage and let it all hang out as they finished the song so gloriously. I stood up and cheered because it was a tremendous show that I had just witnessed and Madonna's voice was actually very pleasant and I liked how she was talkative and engaging as she led her team of players through the well-paced Broadway-like production and outstanding choreography even though it was a bit risque sometimes, plus she had eight costume changes. I'm telling you...Madonna rocked!
REO SPEEDWAGON and ERIC SCOTT - September 10, 2015
The Warner Theatre - Washington, DC
It was the tail-end of a long hot summer and the sky was full of dark clouds ready to burst with a heavy downpour of rain as I rode the metro uptown to go to the Warner Theatre to see seventies MOR stalwarts R.E.O. Speedwagon with the relatively unknown local Eric Scott opening for them. I have never been the biggest fan of their music but I liked a few of their songs like “Ridin' The Storm Out”, “Time For Me To Fly”, and especially their “political” song “Golden Country”, plus their album cover artwork was always interesting to look at and contemplate, but I really hated their “Hi Infidelity” album and their hit songs that followed. I was going to see them back in 1981 on that “Hi Infidelity Tour” at the Roanoke Civic Center when I was going to Virginia Tech but I changed my mind at the last minute because I decided to go see The Dixie Dregs instead in Radford down the road and wouldn't you know it, the R.E.O. fans caused a stampede and mini-riot where nineteen people were trampled and injured and countless people were arrested and this was at a R.E.O. Speedwagon concert...the band least likely to cause a riot...I was glad I changed my mind and went to see hot-shot guitarist Steve Morse and his band The Dixie Dregs instead at a club called The Depot. So here I am in 2015 sitting in my seat in the Warner Theatre waiting for the show to start and I am watching the audience parade by with detached amusement as they hobbled along looking old and frail. The opening act Eric Scott was from Prince George County and he took the stage with his guitarist and he launched into his verbose and emotional singer/songwriter stuff that just usually leaves me cold, but his songs were intelligent and very jazzy and he referred to his music as “acoustic soul music” and it was upbeat and positive and his six-song set was more appealing than I thought it would be and his last number “Everybody” was actually quite nice and melodic. Eric Scott walked off stage to a smattering of applause and after a few last minute stage adjustments, R.E.O. Speedwagon hit the stage to snippets of their songs and they opened with “Don't Let Him Go” from their 1980 monster-selling album “Hi Infidelity” which went on to become the biggest selling rock album of 1981 and it had their signature but bland sound and vocalist Kevin Cronin sounded great as he belted out, “He makes you so angry, he makes you so sore, the weight may be worth it, but how can you wait anymore, when you're wonderin' what you're waitin' for, baby I don't know, but don't let him go...”, and only original member keyboardist Neal Doughty played a stunning solo on the organ as the band flowed into a rather mundane version of “Music Man” from their 1972 album “R.E.O./T.W.O.” which sounded exactly like the first song because band seemed to play by rote but they were very professional and kept it uptempo. Some brisk percussion signaled the start of the next song “Take It On The Run” from their album “Hi Infidelity” and it had a great chorus to sing along with and the guitarist Dave Amato blazed on his solo but it was in the same tempo as the first two songs but thankfully, the band changed the tempo for a crunchy “Someone Tonight” from the same album and it was a nice change of pace. Kevin joked about how he like seeing the band's name on the venue's marquee and the band jumped right into the driving “Keep Pushin'” from their 1975 album “This Time We Mean It” and there was some really great guitar interplay between Dave and Kevin as he belted out the inspirational words, “I used to be lonely till I learned about livin' alone, I found other things to keep my mind on, and I'm gettin' to know myself a little bit better, whoa, I keep pushin' on, keep pushin' on , yeah...”, and the crowd loved every minute of it. Kevin said the next song was about when he was losing his first wife to his drug dealer at the end of the seventies and it was his favorite song on “Hi Infidelity” and Neal tickled the ivories as Kevin showed his vulnerable side on the emotional “In Your Letter” and the females were just swooning over him as the band segued into a soaring “Can't Fight This Feeling” from their 1984 album “Wheels Are Turnin'” and it made the women even happier plus it was one of the original “power ballads” with its big guitar sound and hooky piano riffs and of course, really sappy lovey-dovey lyrics that you could remember and recite. They continued with a ferocious “That Ain't Love” from their 1987 album “Life As We Know It” and it featured a groovy stuttering bass line from bassist Bruce Hall that melded with drummer Bryan Hitt's crisp and taut percussion and guitarist Dave Amato played his best solo of the night as he dazzled us with his fleet fingers dancing across his fretboard with such ease as he played these amazing extended notes. Their songs were starting to sound the same as they played at the same tempo over and over and it was driving me crazy as they plowed through a pulsing “Tough Guys” from “Hi Infidelity” which seemed to be the favored album of the night as the band gave it all they got until they left the stage to Kevin Cronin who picked up an acoustic guitar and played a new arrangement of the classic “Golden Country” from their album “R.E.O./T.W.O.” and he sounded great as he strummed the guitar and beautifully sang the heavy lyrics, “Golden country your face is so red, with all of your money your poor can be feed, you strut around and you flirt with disaster, never really carin' just what comes after, well your blacks are dyin' but your back is still turned, and your freaks are cryin' but your back is still turned, you better stop your hidin' or your country will burn...”, and he sounded brilliant but I really wished they played the full electric version because it is the one truly great song that they have and I wanted to hear it in its glory but this version was pretty good. Then it was time for a big hit song to make the audience roar and so they launched into a fiery “Time For Me To Fly” from their 1978 album “You Can Tune A Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish” which was huge in my teenage years but it was full of great vocal harmonies and a searing double-neck guitar solo from Dave that led to a pretty decent drum solo and then Kevin led the audience in a rousing sing-a-long of the chorus. Bassist Bruce Hall took the lead for a loud and crunchy “Back On The Road Again” from their 1979 album “Nine Lives” and then he delivered the most interesting bass solo that was almost “progressive fusion jazz” but at the same time the band played it like it was an upbeat rocker with a catchy riff and great lyrics and it was probably the heaviest song of the night and Dave finished the song with a flashy guitar freak-out that segued into a lively “Roll With The Changes” from “You Can Tune A Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish” and it was their first song to crack the Top 40 back in the day. I used to really love this song and its wonderful lyrics that Kevin sang so wistfully, “So if you're tired of the same old story, turn some pages, I'll be here when you are ready, to roll with the changes, roll with the changes...”, and the crowd was in heaven as I looked around and I could see people mouthing the lyrics like a mantra and then keyboardist Neal Doughty and guitarist Dave Amato battled it out on their respective instruments with riffs and licks and chords and notes twirling and swirling everywhere until the end of the song and they ran off stage. The audience erupted in a frenzy of cheering and yelling for more music and I was a little surprised by the crowd's rabid response as the band walked back on the stage with big smiles on their faces as they launched into the ultimate power ballad, an overblown and bombastic “Keep On Loving You” from their beloved album “Hi Infidelity” and it was their first Number One hit single, and Kevin sat at the piano and played it like he was channeling Liberace and his voice just held the notes for so incredibly long as Dave's guitar howled as it weaved in and out of the pounding rhythm of drummer Bryan Hitt until he began making these cymbal crashes that were like tidal waves and the band went on a instrumental break and jammed out and they were sounding like a proper rock'n'roll band as they grinded out the intro to the title-track “Ridin' The Storm Out” from their 1972 album and Kevin was in his element as he wailed the words, “Ridin' the storm out, waitin' for the thaw out, on a full moon night in the Rocky Mountain winter, my wine bottle's low, watching for the snow, I've been thinking lately of what I'm missing in the city...”, and Dave let one last blazing guitar solo rip as the rest of the band rode the song out and then they took their bows and left the stage as the lights went up. I was pretty impressed by R.E.O. Speedwagon's fifteen-song set and the fact that the band has been around in one form or another since 1967 and playing to decent crowds. Bravo guys...keep it up!
THE CHARIOTS - September 9, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
DARREN HARPER'S THE DYNASTY BAND - September 8, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
LOUD BOYZ - September 4, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
SPREAD LOVE - August 31, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It turned out to be quite a lovely day after the sky cleared up and the sun came beating down in these final days of summer as I made my way to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to see new local brass band Spread Love who play horn-driven interpretations of modern urban pop songs and old jazz standards that they have perfected by playing on the streets. The band consists of five trombonists, bandleader Love Soul, Country, Mr. Fantastic, Tic, and Zebb, and a drummer Stixx and a keyboardist, plus two female vocalists, so their music should be quite interesting to hear for a brass band. The band members take the stage and their drummer Stixxx kicked a terse beat while the horns carried the beautiful melody of opening number “Oh Happy Day” on the melodious clarion blasts of the trombones that made the song swing with joy as they segued into Bobby McFerrin's smash hit “Don't Worry, Be Happy” and the drummer joyfully sang the uplifting words as the trombones sprightly followed him with the song's simple melody. Then the band turned out the legendary Duke Ellington's “Saturday Dance” and the trombones created layers and layers of crisp and clean melody and percussion and I loved how they played with each other in perfect sync as the notes cascaded all over the dancing rhythms. They played a nice and lively cover of Chuck Brown's “DooWop (Don't Mean A Thing)” and the keyboardist shadowed the horns with some groovy sounding melody underpinnings until the horns exploded in all directions with wild blasts and spiralling toots and they sounded fantastic as they segued into a swinging version of The Miracles' “I Like It Like That” that was very DC-centric and they were joined by their female vocalist who let her voice just soar. For the next original song that was called “Spread Love”, the drummer sang counterpoint to the female vocalists' hip-hop influenced style as the band played so magnificently and they morphed into a raucous and jazzy trombone workout and then they got real funky on the go-go-infused “Get On Up” and the band had the beat swinging as the vocals intertwined as they sang about fast women and easy living and the audience loved it as they clapped for their cover of The Northeast Groovers' “Slow Down Girl, You're Moving Too Fast” that had all the women swooning and screaming joyously. The horn section picked up their trombones and started wailing on Michael Jackson's “The Way You Make Me Feel” and I really liked how they carried the melody as they rolled along with graceful ease, and then the band made the rhythm jump and shake with an amazing version of spiritual “When The Saints Go Marching In” and they really made the song rock with the minimal musical accompaniment the band was providing as the bandleader Love Soul sang the words like an old-fashion fire-and-brimstone preacher and they broke the song down and turned it into a glorious sing-a-long with everybody swaying to the beat. The band kept the beat hyped in a sassy uptown groove kind of way with a nice cover of LeVert's “Casanova” and they turned it into a funky instrumental that was punctuated by these lovely trombone blasts and they followed up with a fast-paced original that was very reminiscent of the traditional New Orleans-styled jazz and it was accented by the drummer's deft percussion and rock-steady rhythm. The band finished their entertaining twelve-song set with a slow but uplifting version Bob Marley's “Three Little Birds” that took us to church until the band let loose with one last blast and they finished the song with a wonderful acappella code and then they bid us a funky good night and I left the venue and hurried off to eat some dinner.
THE BUMPER JACKSONS - August 19, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
The dark skies threatened to downpour all day but it has not rained yet as I ambled on down to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to see dancefloor kings The Bumper Jacksons play their version of American roots music. The Bumper Jacksons consist of Florida-born bandleader Jess Eliot Myhre on vocals and clarinet and band co-founder Chris Ousley on guitar and they are backed by upright bassist Alex Lacquement and drummer Dan Samuels along with trombonist Brian Priebe and Dan Hadley on the pedal steel and the band started back in 2012 and they are getting more renown by the gig and they are touring in support of their recently released album “Too Big World”. The band hit the stage and opened with a jaunty country swing number about loving a mean woman and the band was phenomenal and then they went way back in time to some almost vaudeville-sounding music that seemed like it was from the “Roaring Twenties” as vocalist Jess let the smart lyrics rip as she played a mini trombone and the drummer Dan played percussion on some strange instrument. For their next number the band slowed things down to the funeral march of “Down On The Delta” and Jess got all bluesy as she sang about the swampy beauty of New Orleans and then she wailed like famed big bandleader Artie Shaw on her clarinet and she made the intoxicating sound dance with the droopy notes of Dan Hadley's pedal steel. Jess picked up her washboard and Chris plucked his guitar strings like a jug band and the rest of the band just let loose on the lively “Hot Tamales” with the serpentine rhythms that carried the song and the audience danced like crazy and I really liked the song. They slowed things down again and Jess let her voice just ooze with the blues as she crooned “Trouble In Mind” and Dan Hadley made his pedal steel moan sadly as the other instruments squawked away and they were marvelous. Next the band played an old Appalachian traditional folk song called “Come On You Virginia Gals” but they updated the arrangement and it reminded me of a Nick Cave song as it just dripped with extended pedal steel notes. They then played an original song that sang of love and regret and Jess' voice sounded as creamy and smooth as butter as she sang the sad words that were full of hope for the future over the sparse rhythm, and once again Jess picked up the washboard and Chris mournfully sang lead on the original song “I Got My Whiskey, I Don't Need You” while he played some tasty licks on his guitar as the band chugged along behind him. The band changed things up and played the traditional New Orleans-style jazz of “Them There Eyes” and boy, did they make it swing as the musicians took turns playing extended solos and Jess was especially expressive on the clarinet as she segued into the lullaby melodies of the celebratory song “Jubilee” and their vocal harmonies were pitch-perfect. They switched the tempo to the melancholy beat of the standard “Lonesome Blues” and they were outstanding because this was probably my favorite song of their set and particularly the way Jess' clarinet and Brian Priebe's trombone instrumentally duetted with each other and she sang the words with such a sad passion. They picked up the tempo with the song “Darling Corrie” and the bassist Alex went all crazy with a pulsing solo that was invigorating and soulfully deep then Jess introduced the members of the band and the band finished their thirteen-song set with a raucous Nawlin' jazz number that just set the dancers in front of the stage off as they danced and twirled to the vaguely Cajun zydeco beat as they ended their rocking set. I really enjoyed the music because they were fantastic musicians and put on a good show but I do not think I would care for their albums.
ZZ TOP and BLACKBERRY SMOKE - August 18, 2015
Wolf Trap's Filene Center - Vienna, VA
It was an overcast and humid summer day as I headed out to Virginia on the metro to meet a friend and then we made our way to The Filene Center at Wolf Trap to see that “little ole band from Texas” called ZZ Top and their special guests southern rock upstarts Blackberry Smoke and it should be a good night to rock. I have loved ZZ Top since I was a teenager in the seventies and I got to see them on their 1976 “Worldwide Texas Tour” when they brought a little piece of Texas to the people and it featured rattlers, steers, and cactus, however I still loved them despite of that but I still hate Texas. I saw the band close out the seventies on their “Dequello Tour” and then I got into punk rock and lost interest in them but strangely enough I got to see them close out the eighties with their Miller Lite-sponsored “Eliminator Tour” with its overblown and over-the-top stage productions and their big budget story-driven videos that made them mainstream superstars as they contentiously toured with the then up-and-coming Black Crowes until they threw them off the tour for “bad” behavior and that is why I am wearing a Black Crowes shirt tonight and then I all but forgot ZZ Top and their music. However ZZ Top has had a revival in their career as they have gotten back to the basics and once again they have become “that little ole band from Texas” with a return their seventies-inspired gut-bucket blues roots and now they are rattling arenas everywhere and I am glad that I am here tonight to bear witness. First up was Atlanta's own, Blackberry Smoke who I saw with Bad Company and Lynyrd Skynyrd in 2013 and I liked their retro-take on music so I hoped we get more of the same tonight. They took the stage with both barrels blastin' as they blew through a roaring “Six Ways To Sunday” from their 2012 album “Whippoorwill” and the guitars of Paul Jackson and vocalist Charlie Starr raged over the tinkling organ riffs of keyboardist Brandon Still and then Charlie earnestly sang, “I'm gonna love you six ways to Sunday, I wanna do it like it's never been done, I'm gonna love you six way to Sunday, I wanna hear that woman speaking in tongues...”, and I was pretty impressed by them. They were a tight and pulsing amalgamation of rock and soul in the vein of Lynyrd Skynyrd or Creedence Clearwater Revival and they did it well as the band sailed through a raucous “Let Me Help You (Find The Door)” from their new album “Holding All The Roses” and they were whipping their guitars in a frenzy as they rolled into “Crimson Moon” from “Whippoorwill” and Charlie sang it with passion and his witty southern charm just oozed out of him. I really liked the singer's voice and his swaggering bravado as he began playing the big riffs of “Rock And Roll Again” also from their new album and he began howling the words, “Lit a fire under my behind, got me high and didn't cost a dime, one thing for certain I can tell you my friend, my baby made rock and roll again, yes she made me rock and roll again, now she made me rock and roll again...” The audience was fiercely rocking out to them and then the band let loose with a guitar workout full of screaming twin leads and the warm country vocal harmonies of “Good One Comin' On” from their 2009 album “Little Pieces Of Dixie” that intertwined beautifully as they moved into pretty much the rest of 2012's “Whippoorwill” album and they started off with the melodic “Pretty Little Lie” and then they showed that they have soul with a heartfelt “Sleeping Dogs” as Charlie sang, “Now you better let the sleeping dogs lie, 'cause soon you gonna understand why, and you gonna get bit right between the eyes, said you best let the sleeping dogs lie, come on yeah...”, with a sense of regret as he bemoaned unrequited love and the Paul Jackson and him showcased their skills on the guitar. The band took a few moments to switch to acoustic guitars and Charlie said the next song “One Horse Town” was a “tweener” which meant that it was a “little bit true and a little bit not” and then the band performed a lovely version of “Ain't Got The Blues” that morphed into a raucous cover of Led Zeppelin's “Your Time Is Gonna Come” and then the band jumped into their last song “Ain't Much Left Of Me” with its buzzsaw guitar riffs and Charlie rasping into the microphone, “I've been knocked down, drug out and left for dead, barely held together by a few old threads, and I'm still here, there ain't much left to see, no, well I'm still holding on and there ain't much left of me...”, and keyboardist Brandon Still showed off with a spine-chilling organ solo that weaved in and out of the tight groove of brothers bassist Richard Turner and drummer Brit Turner with lackadaisical ease as they played the band off. I was impressed by Blackberry Smoke and their skillful musicianship and songs that had something to say about the world around them, they were a pretty solid rock'n'roll outfit but I found them to be a bit tedious after awhile before they finished. The house lights came back up and I got ready to rock to ZZ Top and the lights went back down and the video screens lit up and welcomed us to the show as a montage of images flowed on by “Rated ZZ” and the band stormed the stage and opened with a taut “Got Me Under Pressure” from their 1983 album “Eliminator” and it was carried by a crisp guitar riff as Frank Beard pounded the drums like a jazz genius and I must stay Dusty Hill is really, really skinny. The band kept it at full throttle with a spectacular version of the classic “Waitin' For The Bus” from their 1973 album “Tres Hombres”, and they gave the song a new arrangement as Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill growled the words, “Have mercy, been waitin' for the bus all day, have mercy, been waitin' for the bus all day, I got my brown paper bag and my take-home pay, have mercy...”, over a tight and nasty groove with a nice staccato beat. They immediately went into a bluesy “Jesus Just Left Chicago” from their 1973 album “Tres Hombres” and the song was a slow and grinding groove with an ear-melting guitar solo from Billy Gibbons and then Frank Beard went into a spectacular drum solo that intro-ed “Gimme All Your Lovin'” from their 1983 album “Eliminator” and the women in the crowd went crazy as the band played it sharp and crisp. Billy said they were the “three same guys playing the same three chords” as he began strumming the killer riff to “I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide” from their classic 1979 album “Deguello” and Dusty kicked in with his rumbling bass as the song got nice and crunchy as they belted out, “Well I was rollin' down the road in some cold blue steel, I had a bluesman in the back, and a beautician at the wheel, we're going downtown in the middle of the night, we was laughing and I'm jokin' and we feelin' alright, oh I'm bad, I'm nationwide...”, and Billy finished with a searing hair-raising guitar solo. Next the band kicked into what turned out to be a really cool song called “Pincushion” from their 1994 album “Antenna” and it had great twin vocals that danced with the almost jam-like interplay between the instruments as pulsing graphics morphed into each other on the video screens. Billy said that the next song “I Gotsta Get Paid” from their 2012 return-to-form album “La Futura” was dedicated to The Geto Boys and rapper Bushwick Bill, also from Texas, and it was really wild that they could do a hip-hop influenced song and sound really good at it, but Dusty played a nice and slinky bass line over which Billy added a scorching guitar solo as he segued into a real cruncher of a song called “Flyin' High” also from “La Futura” and Dusty played the bass like Bootsy and it was their only song tonight that had lots of pop overtones. Then came one of the highlights of the night, a majestic cover of the 1967 Jimi Hendrix Experience classic “Foxy Lady”, and Billy said that Jimi once said he (Billy) was the best guitarist in America and then the band tore the song up as they morphed into a cover of the 1941 Robert Petway song and they got real bluesy as the groove got low-down and swampy and once again Billy let loose with a squealing and screeching guitar solo that just verified what Jimi had said all those years ago. It finally came time for the song of the night, a sensational re-vamped “Cheap Sunglasses” from their 1979 album “Deguello” that Billy bellowed the sarcastic words, “When you get up in the morning and the light is hurt your head, the first thing you do when you get up out of bed, is hit that streets a-runnin' and try to beat the masses, and go get yourself some cheap sunglasses, oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah...”, and their band synchronicity was amazing as the guitar and bass mirrored each other over drummer Frank Beard's mind-blowing percussion as they broke the song down. The band was going at full throttle now and with the clipped bass of Dusty, they exploded into a raw and grungy version of the stomper “My Head's In Mississippi” from their 1990 album “Afterburner” and Billy played his best guitar solo of the night as his fingers blazed up and down his fretboard and burned a hole in my ears. Next it was on to the only song I did not care for, a rather poppy “Chartreuse” from their album “La Futura” and all the women in the audience seemed to love it, but it did feature a groovy little guitar solo from Billy though as they segued into a raucous “Sharp Dressed Man” from their 1983 album “Eliminator” and Frank's drumming was sharp and crisp as Dusty rode his kick drum with his white fur-covered bass for all it was worth as the crowd went crazy and then Billy appeared with a matching fur-covered guitar and they ripped through “Legs” from their 1983 album “Eliminator” and Billy crooned, “She's got legs, she knows how to use them, she never begs, she knows how to choose them, she's got a dime, all of the time, stays out at night, movin' through time...”, over the driving percussion of Frank that exploded into a frenzy of notes and chords until the song collapsed into a warm swirly mess and they left the stage. The audience went wild with cheering and screaming for more and then ZZ Top returned to the stage and the second Billy began playing the opening chords of “La Grange” from their 1973 Top Ten album “Tres Hombres” and the guitar sounded fantastic as the rolling bass groove morphed into a little bit of “Sloppy Drunk Jam” and then they went back into “La Grange” and with that ZZ Top proved that they still got it as they rolled into a joyous jaw-dropping version of “Tush” from 1975 album “Fandango!”, and Billy had the whole place singing, “I been up, I been down, take my word, my way around, I ain't askin' for much, I said, Lord, take me downtown, I'm just lookin' for some tush...”, and the audience was in ecstasy as they played the song's coda and then the three of them took a bow and walked off the stage, but then they decided they would do one more song and they launched into a rough and tumble cover of the 1946 Merle Travis country chestnut “Sixteen Tons” and then Billy said good night and the band walked off the stage and my friend and I high tailed to the parking lot to retrieve his car and split. So I thought what a great performance I just saw because I had given up on them but ZZ Top proved that they are still the same “little ole band from Texas” as they ever were. Bravo! ZZ Top!
SECRET SISTERS - August 17, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It was an overbearingly hot summer day as I left the soothing coolness of my house to head to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to see the “real” country music of The Secret Sisters from the heart of Alabama with their beautiful vocal harmonies and old-school recording methods that really captures the essence of their music. The two sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers took the stage and greeted the audience with their genteel southern charm and they opened with crooner Eddy Arnold's country classic “Make The World Go Away” and their stripped-down version on the acoustic guitar sounded beautifully forlorn as their voices intertwined over the sparse arrangement and then they joked about their sisterly sibling rivalry. Next they performed a lovely rendition of their original song “Black And Blue” and it was a cool ditty about the ways of love and their vocal harmonies were exquisite as they intertwined and soared in almost raucous punk rock way. Laura joked about how sad their song selections were and said that they were going to play bluegrass legend Bill Monroe's “The One I Love Is Gone” and their vocals conveyed the lyrics with a sadness that blew my mind. They continued in this vein with a version of the traditional spiritual “River Jordan” and it was hauntingly touching as the vocals blended together spectacularly as they sang of The Lord, and then they segued into The Everly Brothers' “Lonely Island” and their version was exquisite as they sang the melancholy words with incredible skill. I liked how Lydia was very humorously self-deprecating about their lives and how they were raised by their parents in the South, and then they sang the “murder ballad” which they wrote about a town that was near where they grew up, the lovely ditty called “Iuka” and they told the story about having to kill for love as their voices wailed and soared like birds amongst the sparse guitar melody lines. They then performed their original song “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder” which comes from “The Hunger Games” movie soundtrack and it was about overcoming the bad situations one can get into like the devastating tornadoes in Alabama and that situation was the inspiration for the song and it was heartfelt and touching and their vocals were wonderfully sublime. The next song was “Dirty Lie” and it was originally written by “poor ole Bob Dylan and bless his heart” and it was given to them to finish by their producer T-Bone Burnett and they sure did because it was the best song of their set and they made it come alive with their voices. After a few more jokes about their sibling rivalry, the two of them took a Dawes song “Take Me Out Of My Mind” and made it their own and promptly messed up the vocals and they laughed happily and continued on with its haunting beauty and I was impressed because they said it was the first time that they played it live. They said the next number was their “angry song” and it was about failed relationships and it was called “Who's Gonna Love You If I Don't” and they made it rock with one guitar and their two voices and it was spectacular as they let their voices soar as they sang the bitter lyrics. The real surprise of the night was a fantastic cover of Sam Cooke's “You Send Me” and their version gave it a new edge and their vocals were serendipitous. They finished their twelve-song set with the emotionally heavy original song “Bad Habit” and they sang it like they meant it and their harmonies were just beautiful and the lyrics were so deep it was amazing. The Secret Sisters “encored” with the lovely and pastoral “You Belong To Me” and they sounded phenomenal as they sang the coda acappella with a fifties edge to it and then they left the stage to overwhelming applause and I hurried out of the place stunned because this was one of the best shows I ever saw at the Kennedy Center...The Secret Sisters were a revelation of music and lyrics.
CULTURE CLUB - August 10, 2015
Wolf Trap's Filene Center - Vienna, VA
I woke up today and found the sky full of dark foreboding clouds instead of the clear skies of the past of couple of days so I was kind of bummed because I was going to Wolf Trap's Filene Center tonight to see the legendary Culture Club with the ever flamboyant Boy George. So I met my friend Don Butler at 5PM in Dupont Circle and we drove out to the venue with our fingers crossed hoping it does not rain tonight. Culture Club have not toured since 2001 and so tonight's reunion show should be quite exciting and hopefully they will pull out all the stops and play all their hits and even some new songs. Boy George has been on a roll lately with his fantastic solo album “This Is What I Do” that he released earlier this spring doing well on the charts, but then he had to go in the hospital for vocal cord surgery this summer and his voice is in fine form now. I first saw Culture Club in February of 1982 at the Wax Museum back when liking them could get you beat up and it was a wonderfully sloppy show and Boy George blew the audience's collective mind and then they went on to superstar fame and they went on to play the Capital Centre and I was amazed by how big they got so quickly and then came the very messy decline involving hard drugs, a male prostitute, and secret gay lovers. Boy George had some success in his subsequent solo career and I saw him in November of 1995 at Lisner Auditorium for his “Cheapness And Beauty” tour which was quite marvelous and then I saw the re-united Culture Club for their last reunion in September of 1999 at Nissan Pavilion and it was quite a spectacular show and the band was in good form but then things fell apart again and Boy George got arrested for “kidnapping” a male escort and chaining him to a radiator and then he faded away from the public eye. Flash forward to today and all the recent activity that has come to their camp; first there was his critically-acclaimed solo album and then the band announced that they would be touring and releasing new music, and I was psyched as I now find myself sitting in my seat at Wolf Trap waiting for them to take the stage. The house lights went down and the audience stood up cheering as Culture Club hit the stage to a boisterous drumbeat as they opened with an updated version of “Church Of The Poison Mind” from their 1983 album “Colour By Numbers” and its rollicking beat got the crowd going as the band laid down the serpentine groove as Boy George sassily crooned, “I saw your eyes across the street, who would be the fool to take you, be more that just kind, step into a life of maybe, love is hard to find in the church of the poison mind...”, and with this performance, it is still my favorite Culture Club song. Boy George complimented the venue and its management and then the band played a really taut “It's A Miracle” also from “Colour By Numbers” and it was driven by the tight rhythm section of bassist Mikey Craig and drummer Jon Moss and the gorgeous vocals of their back-up singers as Boy George twirled and danced across the stage until he let his creamy voice take flight as it danced with Mikey's really cool bass line. The band jumped up the pace of the beat for a lively “I'll Tumble 4 Ya” from their 1982 genre-defying debut album “Kissing To Be Clever” and Jon Moss and the band played it like it was a ska tune as they got the place jumping as the band broke the song down to a sparse beat that had everyone skanking like rude boys and Boy George happily sang, “Downtown, we'll drown, we're in our never splendor, flowers, showers, who's got the new boy gender, I'll be your baby, I'll be your score, I'll run the gun for you, and so much more, I'll tumble 4 ya, I'll tumble 4 ya, I'll tumble 4 ya...” The band changed gears into a brand new song from their forthcoming new album “Tribes” and they funked it up for a raucous guitar-driven “Like I Used To” and it was almost Motown in its sound and it featured some wonderful vocals from back-up singer Zee Asha and guitarist Roy Hay let loose with an electrifying solo that made my hairs stand on end. The next song, “Everything I Own”, was a Bread cover from Boy George's first solo album “Sold” in 1987 and the band proved that they could play some authentic reggae even though the song was a MOR classic but they gave it some lilt as Boy George put some great passion into the words. The band kept the reggae groove going with another new song called “Let Somebody Love You” and Boy George led the audience in chanting, “Love is revolutionary!” as the band moved onto the soulful beauty of “Black Money” from “Colour By Numbers” and the band played it like it was an over-the-top gospel number as he duetted with vocalist Zee Asha on the deep words, “Fortunes find you, cross out every emotion, standing right behind, a shadow of devotion, somebody else's life, cannot be mine, but when you love someone, you got money to burn, do you deal in black money...”, and then she let her voice stretch into the upper octaves with such beauty as guitarist Roy Hay played some great wistful piano riffs that lingered like wisps of smoke. Boy George made a few self-deprecating jokes about pop diva Lady Gaga that were quite witty and urbane then the band got a nice slow R&B groove going for a stunning “Victims” from “Colour By Numbers” and Roy tinkled the sparse melody on the piano and George sounded great as Jon kicked up the beat for “Move Away” from their overlooked 1986 album “From Luxury To Heartache” and it was a great slice of eighties pop that was punctuated by a rather lively and punchy horn section and a fantastically funky bass from Mikey. The band kept up the fast-paced tempo with the upbeat reggae-pop of new song “Human Zoo” and I think their new album is going to be excellent and George sang the intuitive lyrics with grace and charm and then Roy blazed up and down the fretboard of his guitar like a metal god with riffs flying everywhere into the night air. The next song was the set highlight for me, a wonderfully romantic “Time (Clock Of The Heart)” which was a “Kissing To Be Clever”-era non-album single and it also had a Motown feel to it as George's creamy voice crooned, “The time has nothing to show, because, time won't give me time, and time makes lovers feel, like they've got something real, but you and me we know, we got nothing, but time, and time won't give me time...”, and the horns really shined on this song as did Zee Asha's soaring voice that made George sound even better. The surprise of the night was a gorgeous tears-inducing version of “The Crying Game” which was the Dave Berry-written, Pet Shop Boys-produced title-track single from 1992's “The Crying Game” movie soundtrack and it was absolutely amazing as it reminded me of a nineteen-fifties tearjerker ballad and Roy was on the mark with another scintillating guitar solo and I totally underestimated his skills all these years because he was shining bright tonight. George dedicated the next number to Sly Stone which was another new song called “Different Man” and it was about recovery and redemption and it was upbeat and grooving with a stylish melody accented by great guitar and George's understanding and forceful lyrics. The best song of the night was an out-of-this-world performance of “Miss Me Blind” from “Colour By Numbers” which Roy said was his favorite song to perform because it featured a fantastic guitar solo and it was nice and groovy and full of wonderful textures and the band turned it out as they made it blossom like an exotic flower. It was great to hear them do so many songs from their new album “Tribes” and their next song “Runaway Train” was one of the better ones and it featured some nice vocal harmonies from George and Zee as the band gave it a country-flavored sound that was surprisingly good and George dedicated the song to Johnny Cash. Over a slinky rolling bass line George talked about being gay in this day and age and he remembered when bring up such topics at their shows caused a hush in the audience but these days the audience response to gay issues is loud and boisterous but supportive and he loves these changes in attitudes and besides he is only gay about a half hour a week, and then the band went into a tremendous “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” from their 1982 debut album “Kissing To Be Clever” and they played it with a new arrangement that was almost gospel-like and then they kicked into a nice reggae lilt as Boy George sadly crooned, “Give me time, to realize my crime, let me love and steal, I have danced inside your eyes, how can I be real, do you really want to hurt me, do you really want to make me cry...”, and the sound was amazing especially the vocals during a pulsing dub breakdown that they finished the song with as they quickly vanished offstage and the crowd went wild with cheers and screams for more. After a few minutes Culture Club returned to the stage and waved enthusiastically to the audience and the band launched into their final song from their new album called “More Than Silence” and it was their best new song as Roy drove it with a crunchy guitar riff over the smooth groove of the band and it is destined to be a new classic. One could feel the anticipation building for what the audience knew was the next song, and it was and with a warm new arrangement they launched into a joyous version of their Number One smash hit single from “Colour By Numbers”, the perfect pop of “Karma Chameleon”, and Boy George's voice was so smooth and creamy as he sang, “Karma karma, karma, karma, karma chameleon, you come and go, you come and go, loving would be easy if your colors were like my dream, red gold and green, red gold and green...”, and the crowd was going bananas as they sang along with them. The band finished their nineteen-song set with the classic 1971 T-Rex glam rock rager “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” and the band turned it out with precision tight playing and incredible groove and Boy George and Zee Asha were just spectacular with their vocal aerobics that just gave me the chills. I left the show thrilled that I got to see them one more time and now I am looking forward to their new album.
KMFDM. CHANT, and SEVEN FACTOR - July 31, 2015
The State Theater - Falls Church, VA
It was a gorgeous summer day as I prepared to trek out to The State Theater in Falls Church to see the originators of that heavy industrial metal music, KMFDM or “Kein Mehrheit Fur Die Mitleid (No Pity For The Majority)” and back in the nineties they were sarcastically known as “Killer Mother Fucking Drum Machine” in industrial circles, and bless their hearts, they are still touring but without the legendary Ein Esche but the haughty Sascha K(onietzko) is still leading the band into the future and it seems really weird to me to see them play this venue outside the city. But first up tonight was Seven Factor from Orlando, Florida and they are a quintet that played an amalgamation of every industrial band ever down to the flying sparks of sander on metal and they grinded out the sludgy ooze with the surly over-effected guitar riffs of Animis Hall slashing away over the electronic clatter of their drum machine as they fumbled around in the near dark and their vocalist Seven Factor growled some indistinguishable lyrics and the beat was relentless as they reminded me of Skinny Puppy crossed with Laibach but they did not add much to the genre as they lumbered along with a shudder and a shake. I must say that they had the look down as they clanged along and some of the audience seemed to like them and their menacing and dark sound which was about death or something but they were not very original in its delivery. The band did hit a nice groove sometimes but they never took it anywhere as keyboardist Little Sister added some psychedelic synthesizer washes that gave their music some texture as bassist Jay Factor played an undulated bass line that drove the rhythm. Thankfully they played a short six-song set of their very unmemorable music, but hey, practice makes perfect. The second band tonight was a trio from Austin, Texas, called Chant and they are supporting their new album “Brave New Apocalypse” and they played percussion heavy tribal trance and they had this massive drum rig upstage and vocalist/drummer Bradley Bills pounded out their dark vision of the world and amid keyboardist Kristopher Robin's swirling washes, Bradley rasped his apocalyptic words and the guitarist added some searing gnarly riffs to the mix so that they reminded me of Nine Inch Nails. I liked them way better than the first band and their percussion-heavy music that just filled their songs with an overwhelming sense of dread as the guitarist played these biting leads that gave the songs a nice crusty hard edge as the words exposed the ugliness of the world and people as the stage lights flashed and pulsed ominously. Their best song of their set was called “Universal” and it had a tribal beat that the guitarist grinded like a giant beast spitting lightning and thunder and it was a cool song that had something to say, and oddly I heard some Butthole Surfers influence creep into some of their songs as they are both from Austin, but I heard some Gibby Haynes vocal stylings in vocalist Bradley's style of singing. I rather enjoyed their eleven-song set of percussion-driven music that was washed in ambient synth washes and the biting style of the guitarist as Bradley wailed, “Create to destroy” until they left the stage. The crew cleared the stage for the headliners and I noticed that the club was getting pretty full so it was nice to see that KMFDM still got it and an audience who want to see them on their “Salvation Tour”. It came time and the band hit the stage to a silly sixties pop song and like a blitzkrieg attack and with military precision the beat marched and the guitars raged with a searing metallic riff and Sascha K screamed for everyone to “Go, cat, go!” as they launched into the relentless non-stop rhythm of “Money” the title-track from their 1992 album of the same name and Sascha K rasped, “I went to school for six years but I never graduated, 'cause my parents were poor, now I'm undereducated, like so many others, all over the nation, 'cause the government is saving on public education...” The band rolled on with the fat grinding chords of “Light” from their 1993 album “Angst” and the song chugged along like a war machine destroying anything in sight as Jules Hodgson and Steve White's guitars slashed and burned over the pulsing as Sascha K and Lucia Cifarelli traded vocals over the harsh percussion. With a menacing twin guitar sound dancing with the Lucia's keyboard runs, the band assaulted my ears with a devilish “Ultra” from their 1995 album “Nihil” and they forged on at breakneck speed like a possessed speed metal band from hell as the vocalists raged and condemned the greedy. Then some robotic synth washes signaled the start of a blistering “Rebels In Kontrol” from their 2011 album “WTF?!” and the guitars sawed away and the pulsing sound was filled with strange samples of voices and noises as Lucia sang the bittersweet lyrics with a sarcastic menace, “This is radio KMFDM with breaking news, KMFDM are in kontrol of all communications media worldwide, all systems have been ripped, the internet has been shut down, all radio and television broadcasting has ceased, the military-industrial complex has surrendered to KMFDM forces...”, and guitarist Steve White played all kinds of riffs and licks and the band pulsed and throbbed with a mean groove as they crashed into “Tohuvabohu” the title-track from their 2011 album and the guitars chomped away at the melody and the guitarists Jules and Steve wailed like sirens as the beat got all tribal and enveloping the groove with a dark energy as Lucia made her synthesizer explode with sound and the audience loved it as they danced madly away. The band's sound lurched and shuddered with Lucia's haunting voice as she beautifully sang “Shake The Cage” from their 2014 album “Our Time Will Come” and Sascha K railed away behind her as the guitars raged and roared. The speed metal guitars of “Son Of A Gun” from their 1996 album “Xtort” pushed the song forward as the vocalists spat their lyrics out with disdain and the drummer Andy Selway pounded away at his kit like an earthquake. Next the band launched into the perky groove of “Last Things” from their 2003 album “WWIII” and Lucia sang it with a muted passion as subdued guitars gently propelled the song and she reminded me of Nina Hagen and it was the most pop-sounding song of their set. The band moved into the synth sounds that heralded the beginning of “Brainwashed” from their 2014 album “Our Time Will Come” and Sascha K raged about the stupidity of humans as he barked, “You have been trained to obey, unquestioningly, to only speak when asked, not see the forest for the trees, you think you've got rights, without responsibilities, you are remote controlled, being told that you're free...”, and then the guitars cut through the synthesizer rhythms like bulldozers as they slowly grinded away to the end of the song. The dark ominous beat of “Animal Out” from their 2013 album “Kunst” pulsed out of the speakers and into the venue like electric sludge and it made me want to thrash as Lucia yelped the words and the guitarists kept sawing away like they were in Metallica as she prowled the stage like a hungry leopard and the crowded loved her. The band segued into one of my favorite songs of theirs and with the right amount of vitriol, a crunching version of “Terror” from their landmark 1995 album “Nihil” and Sascha K pulled out a bullhorn and began letting us know the real truth as the song lurched forward with its raw mechanical beat and the guitars screeched and squealed and they grinded away monstrously until they morphed into the thunderous beat of “Salvation” from their 2014 album “Our Time Will Come” and Lucia and Sascha K traded vocals as their voices battled with relentlessly driving guitar riffs that cut through all the feedback and noise and burned a hole in my ears, plus it was my new favorite song by them and they really reminded me of Anthrax for some reason. That song must have revved up the band because they played their best song of the night with a menacing and dangerous edge, the maniacal “Megalomaniac” from their 1997 album “Symbols”, and the drums melded with the endless synthesizer beats as Sascha K screamed at the world for not caring about the little things in life instead of war and money and he brashly extolled his band, “This is counter culture from the underground, eternal revolution this is our sound, KMFDM better than the best, megalomaniacal and harder than the rest...”. Oddly the guitarists got all bluesy on the next number, a melancholic “World War III” from their 2003 album “WWIII”, and the crowd clapped and cheered along with them and then they exploded into a hundred mile a hour maelstrom of metal sludge that castigated the world for edging closer and closer to destruction and total annihilation as the crowd moshed away madly. The ominous chords of “Amnesia” from their 2011 album “WTF?!” began booming and Lucia crooned about living your life and forgetting everything that offends you as she danced among the abrasive notes and scorching riffs as the beat sledgehammered its way through the dense percussive grooves. Lucia played a dark synthesizer beat that lurched forward as Sascha K intoned the words to “Hau Ruck” the title-track from their 2005 album and the guitarists grinded away with lightning fast runs that crackled over the drummer's precision playing that was almost mechanical in its delivery. The band finished their set with the gut-wrenching metallic roar of “A Drug Against War” from their 1993 album “Angst” and they delivered it with incredibly ferocious speed as Sascha K screamed, “Television, religion, social destruction, sex and drugs, violent seduction, crystal dawn, ecstatic explosion, parental advice leads to mental erosion, stronger than never ever before, KMFDM is a drug against war...”, and the drummer Andy Selway pounded away at driving beat like they were Lamb Of God and while Sascha K ranted and raved about mankind's lust for war and destruction at a relentless speed until the song imploded and the band ran off stage as the audience cheered wildly for them to return for more. Eventually KMFDM returned to the stage and Sascha K gave the stage to a super-fan who got on his knee and proposed to his girlfriend and with a positive answer he raised his hands and everyone cheered and the band jumped into a manic “Waste” from their 1997 album “Symbols” that raced forward like a staggering beast and Sascha K rasped the disdainful words with Lucia singing like a heavenly angel while the crowd just lost their minds as the band segued into the percussion-heavy “Adios” the title-track from their 1998 album and Sascha K was intense as he and Lucia spit out the words and then the band finished their twenty-song set with an exquisite extended intro to “Godlike” from their 1990 album “Naive” and Sascha K and Lucia raged with the call-to-arms words, “Use the power, taste the bliss, harvest salvation, now is the time, get on the right (left) side, and you'll be godlike...”, and the band grinded away with an explosive outro until the sound collapsed and the band left the stage in a squall of feedback. I was completely impressed by KMFDM and how well they delivered the goods with their twin guitar frontal assault that left me stunned but I would have loved to hear their classic cruncher “Vogue” from their 1992 album “Money”, but overall the set showcased songs from all of their albums and they performed them exceptionally well. I did find it odd and telling that they seemed to mention the band by name in several of their songs, but aaaahh...self-promotion of your band works wonders. I bought a cool tour shirt because I have always loved the artwork that they used to represent the band and I left the venue and walked to the metro to head back to the city feeling good.
THE EL MANSOURIS - July 30, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
The rainy afternoon weather was clearing up and it was getting really humid as the sky gave way to the setting evening sun and so I headed to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to see local upstarts The El Mansouris perform their off-beat music on a Listen Local First DC-produced show and it should be an interesting experience. The band have only been together since February when they were one of the finalists on NPR's “Tiny Desk Contest” which is put on by local music luminary Bob Boilen of Tiny Desk Unit fame and he is a vocal champion of local music. The band featured three female vocalists, Margot MacDonald, Sarah Schaffer, and Fiona Kohrman, and some of DC's best alternative rock musicians and they provided a jazzy dance groove for their amazing vocalists to express themselves. They took the stage and with a tap of Sam Raymond's drum sticks and they were off with their ethereal pop with shimmering guitar riffs and the three vocalists' enchanting vocal harmonies and crystalline keyboard melodies that their voices danced on. Their second song was a very electronic-feeling number as Sarah played some quirky riffs on her keyboard and Fiona added some pulsing samples as the band kept a sludgy grooving moving as the female vocals intertwined and then Alex Braden played a groovy fuzzed-out guitar solo that then exploded into a clattery mess as they moved into the eerie and pastoral sounds of their third song and they floated ambiently in space as bits and pieces of the melody rushed into my ears with a really effected guitar riff chasing them as the vocalists traded sounds. The band got some nice grooves going and there was moments of melody but the song never really grabbed my attention but the vocal interplay was exquisite even though the guitarist played the same riff over and over and over and the lyrics did not really make any sense. The drummer Sam Raymond meshed well with their electronic beats and they reminded me a little of Baltimore's Future Islands in the way they presented their music. Their sixth song really went out there with its odd poly-rhythms that made it sway and shudder as vocalist Margot let her creamy voice caress my ears as the band built up layers of rhythm until guitarist Alex went crazy on his instrument. On some of their songs they reminded me of Belle & Sebastian as they performed their oddly danceable upbeat pop with their fantastic vocal interplay but the guitarist ended every song with a fuzzed-out guitar solo that was a bit annoying. The eighth song had a nice swinging sixties beat to it as produced a taut rolling rhythm for the vocals to soar over but they always seemed to rush through the song ending every time. They finished their nine-song set with an off-kilter percussive number that was about the joy of life and the pain of love and getting beyond that and their voices raised themselves to new heights as guitarist Alex played an odd riff as the song percolated with its lively rhythm that the band played in a kaleidoscopic manner that was almost psychedelic. They should be releasing their first album that they are currently recording in the fall so things are looking good for them because I really enjoyed their performance and I would go see them again.
JACK ON FIRE and POLYON - July 27, 2015
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
Tonight was the last show of the 2015 Fort Reno Concert Series which was in its forty-seventh year and it was a great selection of local bands this season and I really enjoyed myself this year, but tonight we only have two bands playing, Jack On Fire and Polyon who have been making a name for themselves around town, so it should be a good show. First up tonight was Jack On Fire who are a trio with a synthesizer/drum machine and they played danceable pop-rock with sarcastic socio-political lyrics that displayed their off-base sense of humor as the vocalist Chrissy Ziccarelli and vocalist/guitarist Jason Mogavero traded vocals that sang about such mundane things as tucking one's sheets in right but with a political edge to them. The crowd seemed to love them as they gathered in front of the stage and shaking their skinny asses like dancing fools. There was some nice instrumental interplay between guitarist Jason and their bassist Matt Laslo but I felt they were limited by their cacophonous drum machine as they performed their songs like they were the “indie Weird Al”. I found their songs' subject matter a bit tedious as they tried to make it more humorous than it actually was but the band had some nice and driving licks that bordered on funk and they played everything in sync, however I found their lyrics quite stupid and missed the point and not even that funny, even when they sarcastically sang about abortion with its driving guitar riff and pulsing bass. The band played a ten-song set that only partly annoyed me because I liked the music but I could not stand the juvenile lyrics or find the humor in them and I was glad when they were done performing. Amanda MacKaye who has headed up putting on the Fort Reno Concert Series for many years took a few minutes to thank us for our appreciation and support over the summer and hopefully they will be around for many more. The final band of the night was Polyon who were a bass-less trio led by longtime scene stalwart vocalist/guitarist Ryan McLaughlin and they played loud and abrasive fuzzed-out rock with heavily-effected vocals that I could not understand and it was full of squeaks and squelches from synthesizer player Adam Lake as they laid down a stomping beat because the drummer Brandon Korch was fantastic. There was something I liked about them because their songs were well-constructed and flowed with a nice sense of melody but there was something missing that I could not put my finger on but they had a nice groove that floated among the feedback of Ryan's guitar. However the band seemed a little limited in the variety of songs that they performed but at least their seven-song set was short and bearable as they closed with a cool number called “Blue” that had a nice feel to it and it summed up exactly how I felt as the 2015 concert series ended.
MAGNETAR FLAMES, RANCHO NOTORIOUS, and INCREDIBLE CHANGE - July 23, 2015
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
It was a picture-perfect summer evening as I rode the metro uptown to Fort Reno Park to catch my weekly dose of local rock and roll and this show featured Magnetar Flares, Rancho Notorious, and Incredible Change who are the re-vamped dance-rockers Ra Ra Rasputin and so it should be a good show. First up tonight was the Magnetar Flares and they are a quartet who play loud and crunchy rock with great sing-along choruses and lively melodies and Marty Shepp gave them some remarkably clear sound because I could hear vocalist Michael Andrews Bashan's amusing and literate words clearly, and particularly during the raucous song “Size Of The City” which was fantastic and clever. The bassist Luke Leyh was pretty good with his sparse psuedo-funk bass-playing that held the songs together as the guitarist Paul Aquilino played spasmodic riffs that dripped all over the songs and the drummer Tom Fortwengler kept a taut and simple beat. I liked the way they created multi-layered textures that gave their music a rich depth and I really liked that they really did not remind me of other bands, but they did remind me of some seventies bands in the way they played their songs. Their eight-song set was very enjoyable and original and I really liked singer Michael's voice, especially on the songs “Time” and “Magic Might Not Happen”, and the bassist Luke had a tremendous style that made the songs pop. I must see them again and soon! The second band tonight was Rancho Notorious and they are a trio that played dark and murky music with mysterious lyrics and cascading guitar riffs over a tight and pulsing rhythm section even though the drummer Brian Gibson rode his hi-hat very annoyingly. There was a couple of times that they reminded me of The Stranglers, but their songs never really seemed to go anywhere especially their slow jazzy numbers but I liked the bassist Michael Markarian's rock-solid playing that grounded the band's sound as longtime scene stalwart vocalist/guitarist Joseph P. McRedmond got a little bit carried away with his nimble and fleet-fingered playing, but sadly, all of their songs sounded the same. The three of them were very competent musicians but their seven-song set bored me to tears and I could not wait for them to be finished. The last band of the night was the former frontman of Ra Ra Rasputin Brock Ross' new band called Incredible Change and they are a quintet who play some very likeable dance-rock in the vein of New Order and they rocked it with with their incredibly delightful music, their songs were nice and fun to dance to and I really liked their upbeat energy even though they sounded just like his former band and Brock is an engaging frontman and his new band was solid and well-practiced. The rhythm section of bassist Ed Porter and drummer Rob Hart kept the beat fluid and bouncy as guitarist Greg Balleza played some nice stuttery riffs and vocalist Sarah Stevenson let her voice soared into the stratosphere. The band were just fantastic and I hope they get a lot of notice and attention because Brock Ross deserves it.
HEMLINES, PROXY STATES, and TWO INCH ASTRONAUT - July 20, 2015
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
Once again I found myself heading uptown on the metro to Fort Reno Park in Upper Northwest Washington to see some local up-and-coming rock bands have their moment in the sun as they ran about the stage setting everything up on this hot and sticky summer evening. I found my favorite spot to sit and settled in as I watched the age-old ritual of musicians getting ready for a gig to unfold as the audience slowly gathered around the stage. First up tonight was Hemlines who are a female-led quartet that played frenetic feminist punk rock that thrashed out songs that had something to say. I found their songs to be bristling with ragged riffs and pulsing bass as they careened through their set as vocalist/guitarist Katie Park screamed her political lyrics. The guitarist Ian Villeda played some sharp guitar solos that scorched my ears and I liked how their sound harkened back to old school punk rock as their righteous indignation poured out of them while bassist Dana Liebelson and drummer Julie Yoder kept a crisp groove. The crowd really loved them judging by the huge group that gathered in front of the stage to show their appreciation for their informative music that was full of catchy hooks and hummable melodies that had me flashing back to the hectic music of the eighties. Their raucous eleven-song set was inspirational in that the youth have something to say and are willing to do something about it. Hemlines were like a clarion for change and they had some good songs that really impressed me as they rocked out. The second band tonight was Proxy States and they were a quartet consisting of vocalist/guitarist Ben Crosbie, guitarist Andrew Perreault, bassist Josh Hudson, and drummer Adam Arnold and they played rock-a-billy-infused bar rock with some very effected vocals that kept getting lost in the mix on some songs. They seemed to be a new band that has not worked out all of the kinks yet because they still looked a little uncomfortable playing with each other on stage but the band does have all the right elements for being a great band. The guitarists were pretty good with nice contrasting styles and they played well off each other but the bass was a bit overpowering most of the time as the drummer hammered his way through their songs with a frenzy, and also the overly effected vocals were very annoying to my ears. I really liked their song “Change Your Mind” with its gentle loping beat as the guitars buzzed like gnats and the singer Ben poured his heart out with his intimate lyrics even though they were a little sloppy and ram-shackled. Their nine-song set had some good moments particularly the guitarists who had memorable solos but I grew tired of them quickly and wished they would just hurry up and be done with their set. The final band of the night was local faves Two Inch Astronaut and they are a trio who played some pleasant toe-tapping post-punk rock that really reminded me of Maryland's Braille Party and their music had big squealing slabs of guitar riffs backed by the crisp rhythm section of drummer Matt Gatwood and new bassist Andy Chervenak and vocalist/guitarist Samuel Rosenberg sang his songs of angst and longing as the band grinded away to a very excited crowd. I like their song structures and how the singer sang his angsty lyrics with the band pulsing and jumping with their fluid playing that bordered on jazz. The crowd loved them and they hurriedly played their seven-song set with a sad urgency that touched my heart with their meaningful lyrics. It was a really good show tonight and I hope to see two of the bands again.
DELANOS, WANTED MAN, and ALFAJOR - July 16, 2015
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
Finally it was a beautiful sun-drenched evening at Fort Reno Park instead of the usual overcast skies and thunderstorms as the bands tried to play their music without getting rained on so it should be a great night of fun and music. First up tonight was Delanos who are a teenaged duo consisting of vocalist/guitarist Jackson Byrne and drummer Mark Sullivan and they played short and sharp songs about teenage angst and the problems that it causes and Jackson's lyrics were pretty deep for a kid because they expressed emotions that showed him to be wiser than his age belies and he played pretty decent guitar as he was backed by the strident drumming of Mark and he sang with a more lackadaisical voice than Jackson. This was Delanos' first gig ever and they put on a really decent show but I wish the vocals were more forward in the mix so I could fully understand them. They played a pleasant eight-song set of Lou Reed-ish rock and roll that made me listen and think, so kudos guys, keep it up. The second band tonight was local quartet Wanted Man and they played loud and crunchy rock and roll with some driving bass lines from bassist John “Scoops” Di Lascio that were very reminiscent of old school DC hardcore as he rode the splashy percussion of drummer Rick Irby. The guitars of vocalist Kenny Pirog and his brother Anthony Pirog battled each other with a frenzy of licks and riffs as Kenny sang about living his story a la Nick Cave who he reminded me of, some of their songs had a nice swampy stomp to them and I was really impressed by the drummer, especially during the song “Medicine Man” that just stomped in a groovy garage band kind of way like they were The Cramps. Kenny had a nice loose style on the guitar where his notes seemed to drape languidly all over the song as the rhythm section made the groove just swing. I guess the punk blues are here to stay, so let those guitars grind because their love song “Desiree” was really cool. I was impressed by Wanted Man and their ten-song set of hard-driving blues that was infused with a punk rock bass sound and gnarly guitars that made me really like their songs. I must see them again! The final band of the evening was another local quartet called Alfajor led by vocalist/guitarist Ronald Soltes and they played very sixties-influenced rock that reminded me of The Youngbloods and The Turtles and their songs were well-constructed and had nice grooves that you could almost dance to because the rhythm section was jumping and the drummer had a nice sense of timing, but the singer Ronald's voice got on my nerves but he played some nice and melodic guitar riffs. They even played a song that he sang in Portuguese which was his native tongue and it was alright and it was almost jazzy in its feel as was the song “Front Door” which was the best song of the night and Ronald played a brilliant guitar solo that gave me the chills. I enjoyed their nine-song set of pretty mainstream rock but they had a nice groove that kept my attention. I really enjoyed tonight's show and feel glad that I live in Washington, DC, where I can see free shows of local bands every summer because I have been coming here for over thirty years for some great music.
NOTARIES PUBLIC, SPIRIT PLOTS, and TEEN LIVER - July 13, 2015
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
It was a typical summer evening in the city and thankfully it was not going to thunderstorm as usual as I made my way to Fort Reno Park to get my weekly dose of local music, and tonight featured the bands, Notaries Public, Spirit Plots, and Teen Liver who are very diverse in styles. I arrived at the park and found my usual spot and watched and joked around with Marty Shepp as he set up the sound system and the bands got ready to soundcheck for tonight's show. The first band up tonight was Notaries Public and they are quartet who play pretty standard college rock and roll with a political edge and vocalist/keyboardist Emily Crockett and vocalist/guitarist Peter Maybarduk traded some interesting vocals. They had a bit of a west coast sound that was full of ethereal guitar riffs and a nice bouncy beat, but their songs all seemed to sound the same. But then their freakish-shaped “publicist”stood in front of my line of sight so I lost interest in them, and it was not all because their music was dull and the second guitarist Ben O'Donnell seemed to play the same effected notes over and over and over, but their drummer Lisa Van Arsdale was pretty good as she kept the beat and she played some interesting fills as bassist Scott Ryan Charney quietly followed her with a pulsing groove. They played a seven-song set that featured some quasi-political lyrics especially during a song about the government “taking away our homes” but other than that I found them to be bland and not very interesting to see. The second band tonight was called Spirit Plots and they were a trio that played way grungier and rawer than the first band and their songs were pretty catchy with a nice jaunty beat that had me bopping my head along to the raucous groove of drummer Sammy Ponzar. Their songs were well-written and nice and concise and the vocalist/bassist David Johnston passionately sang of life and its myriad of problems and guitarist Javier Diaz had some pretty cool hooks that made me want to dance. They reminded me of The Clash meet The Buzzcocks at The Ramones' basement as they chugged along non-stop through their thirteen-song set of brisk power-punk which I rather enjoyed even though the band lacked any exciting stage appeal but the songs were good and I would go see them again. The final band of the night was noted local punkers Teen Liver and they were a trio that also played loud and aggressive punk rock that just steamrolled its way out of the speakers in the vein of the Dead Kennedys and vocalist/guitarist Perry Fustero sounded like Jello Biafra and played guitar like East Bay Ray which had a hint of surf guitar to it. Their songs were short and precise and full of political indignation but his voice was starting to get on my nerves but the drummer John Howard was an exceptional player as he kept a nice and tight beat that drove their songs over bassist Richard Howard's rolling bass lines. I really liked their deeply sarcastic lyrics and particularly on the songs “I'm Comatose” and “I'm A Creep” from their seven-song set that they thrashed out on them. I really enjoyed their set and wished they played more songs so I guess I will have to go see them play a club one of these nights.
STIFF LITTLE FINGERS and GOVERNMENT ISSUE - July 11, 2015
Black Cat - Washington, DC
It was an idyllic summer evening as I made my way down Fourteenth Street in Northwest DC to the legendary Black Cat to see Irish punk legends Stiff Little Fingers and DC hardcore gods Government Issue rock out in their old age on this lovely Saturday night. I love going to these old-school gigs because it is such a hoot seeing my peers turning into old geezers and try to do their old songs justice while still trying to impress us with their new songs without sounding derivative. I have always loved Irish punk and I really loved Ulster's Stiff Little Fingers who were always on the fringe of things singing about that “suspect device” and making that righteous noise for freedom and I even got to meet bassist Ali McMordie in the nineties when he worked behind the scenes in the music industry during his hiatus from the band plus he was really good friends with my dear friend Joyce Lacovara of Murder Ink fame and hopefully I will get to say hello. But first tonight, we have DC's own, Government Issue, and they are playing a rare hometown gig so it should be a good night. The room slowly filled up with people and I thought I recognized a few but they have aged over the years and I am not sure if I have the right name for the right face. It was time for Government Issue to take the stage and they attacked it with a pounding fury as they opened with “Religious Ripoff” from the genre-defining 1983 album “Boycott Stabb” on Dischord Records and John Stabb screeched his witty and sarcastic lyrics peppered with lackadaisical disdain over the buzz-saw guitar of John Berry, and bassist S. Dwayne Bruner and drummer Evan Tanner pulsed and throbbed with a familiar ease as they performed like a well-oiled machine as they played one blast of a song after another, from the stellar “Say Something” from the 1985 album “Government Issue” on Fountain Of Youth Records to the rager “Asshole” and singer John Stabb screamed, “He's an asshole!”, over and over with such passion and rage. Age really has improved their songs over the years because the band's playing was tight and muscular as John Stabb raged and I really cannot remember them sounding this good back in the eighties as they plowed through a raucous “Familiar” from their 1984 career-defining album “Joy Ride” also on Fountain Of Youth Records which the band followed with an angsty “Understand” from the same album. The band kept things short, sharp, and concise as the roared through their lengthy discography, they continued with a blazing “Anarchy Is Dead” and then their “theme song” “G.I.” from the 1983 album “Boycott Stabb” and the real crowd-pleaser “Teenager In A Box” from their 1982 debut 7” EP “Make An Effort” on Fountain Of Youth Records. However no one seemed to be moshing which was one of the things that I really loved about their eighties shows when the line between audience and band was blurred with their writhing bodies flying everywhere in the pit in ecstasy with the music. Their shows used to be a sight to behold but the audiences today still love them even though age has slowed them down a bit, and John Stabb was quite animated as he let his lyrics dance with the raging music and the bassist S. Dwayne Bruner was quite good as his bass lines drove the songs in their set. John said tonight's show was dedicated to bringing down that “stupid fucker” Donald Trump and then the band charged through a ferocious “No Rights” and a furious “Even When You Are Here” from their classic 1985 album “Government Issue”, and probably what was one of my favorite moments of the night, a banging “Insomniac” from their exhilarating 1983 album “Boycott Stabb” that have John screaming, “I sing about you and me, lyrics are rolling round and round, gotta get up and write 'em down, stupid assholes with big mouths, stupid screaming outside my house...”. They tore through their imperial era with a scorching “Where You Live” from their 1987 album “You” on Giant Records and a joyous and pumping “Blending In” from “Joy Ride” and the crowd loved it and John jokingly scoffed about how everyone wants to hear songs from that album as he launched into the breakneck speed of “Bored To Death” from their 1985 album “The Fun Just Never Ends” on Fountain Of Youth Records and it was fierce. They blew my mind with a stellar rendition of one of their oldest songs, “Hey Ronnie” from “Joy Ride”, and they made it sound so relevant to today's political and social issues as they worked their way through “Beyond” from “You” and “They Know” from “Government Issue” and on into a raucous “Rock'n'Roll Bullshit” and they finished their twenty-one song set with a grinding version of “Sheer Terror” from their debut EP and a brilliant “Time To Escape” from “Joy Ride” and Government Issue left the stage in a storm of feedback. The stage crew hurriedly removed their gear and readied the stage for Stiff Little Fingers who immediately took the stage to their intro music and they blasted into the title-track of their 1980 album “Nobody's Hero” with their hyped-up pub-rock with no-nonsense lyrics about treating everyone equally as vocalist/guitarist Jake Burns yelled at somebody for throwing trash onto the stage as he made his guitar grind away as he sang, “I think it's time we talked this over, I think you've taken this too far, I never wanted to be different, didn't ask to be nobody's star...”. The band immediately went into an urgent “At The Edge” also from their 1980 album and it just chugged along with its catchy guitar riff and Ali McMordie's driving bass line. The band kept up the fast pace with a dubby “Roots, Radicals, Rockers And Reggae” from their 1981 album “Go For It” and it was marvelous as they played like they were on fire and the guitarists Ian McCallum and Jake Burns absolutely rocked and the crowd loved it. Jake greeted the crowd and the band unleashed the furious track “My Dark Places” from their 2014 album “No Going Back” and he sang with incredible passion as the band raged on their instruments. The band was operating at full peak as they let loose with an anthemic “Just Fade Away” from their album “Go For It”, and then they plowed into a throbbing “Strummerville” from their 2003 album “Guitar And Drum” that lit the place up with some vigorous dancing as they sang the praises of The Clash...“You lit a flame in my heart, and it is burning still, and every time I hear you shout, it still gives me a thrill, I can see you up there, on a stage and jumping, yeah, I can see you up there, with your right leg pumping...”. The band took a few seconds to catch their breath as Jake told us about the next song “Guilty As Sin” from their 2014 album “No Going Back” which was about the history of violence in Ireland at a nice jaunty pace as they went into the traditional Celtic beat of “Harp” from their 1994 album “Get A Life” and Ali carried the song with his driving bass. Jake's voice was becoming unintelligible with his thick Irish brogue as they rocked up “Doesn't Make It Right” which was a The Specials cover from their 1980 album “Nobody's Hero” and they played it with a lot more punch and groove from the drummer Steve Grantley as Jake the words and the song seemed more vibrant than the original with his powerful voice as the audience sang along with him. They kicked up the pace with a beautiful “Bits Of Kids” from their 1982 album “Now Then...” and they rocked out with a sorrowful melancholy about the loss of life due to violence. The next song “When We Were Young” from their 2014 album “No Going Back” was about how a band can fall apart due to a difference of opinions and guitarist Ian McCallum played a nice catchy riff as Jake sang about remembering the good times and letting the bad times go, “They say that it's all over, I say like hell it is, they'll say it's self delusion, I say it's self belief, back when we were young, back when we were young...”, and the band gave it a little touch of reggae as they went into a raucous version of “Straw Dogs” from their album “Nobody's Hero” which seemed to be the favored album of the tour, and Jake railed against society with his sing-a-long choruses and chiming guitar chords. Next the guitarist Ian made his axe scream as they plowed through “Fly The Flag”, also from “Nobody's Hero”, with its catchy chorus and scintillating guitar solos that went right into a metal-ish “Tin Soldiers” from the same album and it had a nice swinging bass line that followed Jake as he shouted the words with a strident passion over the careening guitar riffs. The band finished their set with an explosive “Suspect Device” from their 1979 debut album “Inflammable Material” and the song throbbed and swirled as Jake belted out the incendiary words, “We're a suspect device if we do what we are told, but a suspect device can score an own goal, I'm a suspect device the army can't defuse, you're a suspect device they know they can't refuse, we're gonna blow up in their face...”, and I had an incredible feeling of being alive as they rocked like fuck until the four of them vanished off stage. The crowd cheered and screamed for more until they finally returned to the stage with a blazing “Wasted Life”, also from their debut album, and they showed us that they are still punk as hell as they played with raging emotions as the drummer Steve Grantley beat out the rhythm with amazing dexterity. The guitars rang out loudly as they played the last song of their seventeen-song set, a wild and raucous version of “Alternative Ulster” also from “Inflammable Material” and Jake belligerently sang the pointed words, “Is an alternative ulster, grab it, change it, it's yours, get an alternative ulster, ignore the bores and their laws, get an alternative ulster, be an anti-security force, alter your native ulster, alter your native land...”, and the audience just moshed wildly as Stiff Little Fingers laid down a crunching groove that imploded into a mass of feedback and the band said goodnight and thank you as they left the stage. I must say this was a quite enjoyable show full of melody and conviction to a greater cause that really impressed me and I am glad that both bands have kept the true spirit of 'punk rock' alive and well, and so I went home with a smile on my face and a song in my heart as I strolled down the street to the metro.
BOON, NEAR NORTHEAST, and J. FLAX AND THE HEART ATTACKS - July 9, 2015
Fort Reno Park - Washington, DC
The second show at Fort Reno Park got off to an inauspicious start with a sudden downpour that drenched everybody as they tried to cover their various pieces of musical equipment from the torrents of falling rain that rushed over the area. It finally stopped and the bands hurried to make up for lost time as they scurried about the stage setting up their gear as the soundman Marty Shepp finished with the house system. First up tonight is Boon who are a quartet who play nice and crisp rock and roll infused with touches of electronica in the vein of Baltimore's Future Islands but their singer was not as frenetic. The drummer played a laidback groove that the bassist rode like white on rice. On other songs they were more swampy twin-guitar driven and the music was more tribal sounding as they propelled the beat as the vocalist raged on the surrounding world with his overly effected voice. The band had some nice kaleidoscopic grooves that had some vaguely sixties influence as they let their music worm its way into my ears. My favorite song of their set was called "The Flood" and it was the right blend of electronica and lo-fi rock that I find intriguing and it had really colorful lyrics as the music ebbed and flowed over his interesting voice. The guitarist played some nice riffs that caught my attention as he worked his fingers to make some eerie-sounding notes. i really liked their use of atmospherics which gave them a different sound than any other band from the DMV and their seven-song set was very diverse and entertaining and I would like to see them again and I hope they have an album for purchase. The second band tonight is Near Northeast who are a trio who play traditional Americana in the vein of The Junior League Band from here. The violinist/vocalist was really spectacular in her controlled playing and singing in her clear soprano as she sang about love and loss. Their upright bassist played some powerful and riveting lines that pulled their songs together in a nice way. The guitarist seemed to be a little out of tune as some of his notes made me wince as he tried to ride the groove of the bassist. Their songs were quite nice and had something to say about life and its little intricacies and I really liked the vocalist's voice as it danced over the instrumentation and i particularly liked her exquisite playing as she played off the bass and guitar. They played a very enjoyable eight-song set that was full of emotional twists and turns as the instruments set the tone of each song but the vocalist said their forthcoming new album has a drummer and more electric instruments, but tonight the three of them were perfect as they played music ideal for a pleasant summer evening. The third band J. Flax and The Heart Attacks quickly took the stage and launched into some pretty mundane frat boy party rock and their rude fans stood in my way and blocked my view so I left and headed home.
AKUA ALLRICH - July 5, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
THE 35th ANNUAL CAPITOL FOURTH CELEBRATION - July 4, 2015
US Capitol's West Lawn - Washington, DC
Well I was busy at The Foo Fighters 20th Anniversary extravaganza at RFK Stadium for most of the day so I did not get to see this show live but it is on PBS in heavy rotation for the next three days so after I got home from the stadium, I sat back and watched the production on TV without any hassle and in complete comfort in my room. First up was that great American songwriter as he is known today, the very carefully coiffed Barry Manilow and he belted out the patriotic classic “America The Beautiful” and the carefully picked well-dressed audience just roared approvingly with red, white, and blue zeal as host actor Bradley Whitford greeted everybody cordially and he babbled some insipid patriotic tripe and then he brought vocalist Nicole Scherzinger formerly of The Pussycat Dolls to the stage to sing the National Anthem which she performed spectacularly along with the NSO (National Symphony Orchestra), and then it was back to host Bradley Whitford and his bit about honoring our veterans and their sacrifice and he announced that country superstar Hunter Hayes would be performing his latest hit single “21” and Hunter and his extra-bright and gleaming smile belted out the uptempo number about starting out as an adult and dealing with responsibility and he did it with a big smile on his face much to the enjoyment of the audience. Next Bradley Whitford brought the Grammy-winning K.C. And The Sunshine Band to the stage to perform a medley of their mega disco hits, “Keep It Coming Love”, “Shake Your Booty”, and “That's The Way”, and his band was tight and crisp as they laid down their horn-driven groove as everyone danced to the music of my favorite sex offender and man...he got fat...what happened...where did K.C. go...and then he tried to dance...the horror, the horror...next up was pop star Meghan Lindsey and she butchered Aretha Franklin's “Freeway Of Love” as she turned it into a cheerleader chant as she danced and sang in her shiny red sequined dress and she was joined by a pretty decent church choir and even they could not save the song. Next Bradley said that the NSO was going to do a tribute to “Ole Blue Eyes” Frank Sinatra on the occasion of his one-hundredth birthday and actor Robert Davi who can really sing jazz and after he gave a few words in appreciation of Sinatra and a video collage of his career and his many achievements and philanthropy was shown and then Robert did a marvelous rendition of “New York, New York” that had the crowd singing along and he had an incredible voice that had a nice tone and full of vibrato. Next renown paraplegic athlete Ronan Tynan who is considered to be an inspiration to many and surprisingly in an classical opera style he belted out Kate Smith's “God Bless America” in his rich baritone and I really impressed by his voice even on a song such as this. Next he was quickly followed by Lang Lang the world-renown pianist who came to the stage and sat down at the grand piano and performed a stunning version of the George Gershwin classic “Rhapsody In Blue” with his mastery of the piano being backed by the NSO as they turned it out with a lovely rendition of the song. The NSO took center stage and played a very nice medley of Rogers and Hammerstein classics from Broadway in a celebration of their seventieth anniversary of their musical collaboration and Nicole Scherzinger returned to the stage to sing a beautiful version of their, “If I Loved You” and it looks like the one-time Pussycat Doll is heading to Broadway and a new career as she was politely applauded for her singing as they did a bit to celebrate the Capitol Fourth's thirty-five year with a video collage of all the artists from the previous years. Finally they finished this year's celebration with a performance by country legends Alabama and they played a medley of their greatest hits including their ubiquitous smash hit “Mountain Music” much to the delight and amusement of the audience but I always hated them. To close the show they brought back Barry Manilow to the stage to sing a heartfelt “My Country Tis Of Thee” and a joyous “Let Freedom Ring” with the NSO and several choirs and I wanted to gag and then the fireworks exploded in the sky with a myriad of colors as everyone oohed and aahed over the spectacular display. Yeah! Happy Birthday America!”
THE FOO FIGHTERS, BUDDY GUY, GARY CLARK JR., HEART, JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS, LL COOL J, TROMBONE SHORTY AND ORLEANS AVENUE, and RDGRNGLD - July 4, 2015
RFK Stadium - Washington, DC
DARKEST HOUR, DEAD TO FALL, and LOUD BOYZ - July 1, 2015
Black Cat - Washington, DC
Once again it was an overcast summer day and it rained a little bit as I was walking to the Black Cat for a night of super-heavy metal with local legends Darkest Hour who are performing their classic 2005 album “Undoing Ruin” in its entirety to celebrate the band's twentieth anniversary and they are accompanied by the Loud Boyz and Dead To Fall, so it should be quite a night of noise and mayhem. Darkest Hour are one of the leading proponents of the local burgeoning doom/stoner metal scene along with Pentagram and The Obsessed and I have been digging this kind of music since its inception in Southern Maryland in the late nineties and I am glad the rest of metal nation are catching on to its dark and demented beauty. First up tonight is locals Loud Boyz who I last saw opening for The Buzzcocks so I am interesting in seeing if they have improved and thankfully, they have gotten tighter and more consistent in their playing as they assaulted my ears with their twin lead guitars of Rory Sheridan and Alex Anderson as they barreled through their set which was totally different from the last time I saw them. The guitars were really good as they rode the frenetic rhythm section of bassist Mitchell West and drummer Devin Cassidy like a bucking horse as they plowed on relentlessly and vocalist Kenny Brown worked the stage. They played a few songs from their forthcoming album “Tough Love, Hard Feelings” on Cricket Cemetery Records and they were pretty decent and well-constructed and they even had some groove but there still was not much variety in tempo and chord patterns but the drummer was fantastic. The Loud Boyz played a nine-song set of pile-driver metal that was sludgy and driving with the guitars in all the right spots and they were quite enjoyable this time. Next up was Dead To Fall from Chicago who broke up in April of 2008 but they are doing a small reunion tour for their friends Darkest Hour and they took the stage in a blistering barrage of screaming guitars and a thunderous rhythm section as they pummeled their songs to death with their intense grind and as usual, you could not understand the lyrics of vocalist Jonathan Hunt as he growled them with an animalistic menace. The guitarist Logan Kelly bludgeoned any melody out of the songs as the killer rhythm section of drummer Timothy Java and bassist Chad Fjerstad drove the beat at breakneck speed but their sound got really tiring after awhile. All their songs seemed to sound the same and they ran into each other but the bassist kept remarkable time as he played like a metronome, and of course the vocalist was unintelligible. Their regular guitarist Phil Merriman could not play with them tonight because of a prior commitment and the band was going to cancel but they could not cancel out on theirs buds Darkest Hour. The band seemed to grind on and on and their songs seemed to have no structure as they barreled through their set at impossible speeds. Their best song of the night was a blistering “All My Heroes Have Failed Me” with its catchy chorus, “All my heroes have failed me, and all your heroes will fail you, give up hope, give up all fucking hope, give up hope, give up all fucking hope...”, and it had some intense start/stop breaks as it careened through my ears. They seemed to be very limited in their songwriting as each song just flew by at incredible speeds and guitar riffs flew everywhere and the mosh pit was going mad as the bodies flew in the air. Dead To Fall played a twelve-song set that grabbed you by the short hairs and did not let you go as they pounded and grinded away at impossible tempos but they left me cold as they finished their set and I was sort of glad when they finally stopped playing their instruments. Finally it was time for the headliners Darkest Hour to perform their first charting album on Billboard's Top 200 Albums in its entirety, the genre-defining 2005 album “Undoing Ruin” on Victory Records, and the band hit the stage while ominous intro music swirled in the air and the crowd went crazy as they launched into their furious music that was so well-crafted as they surged with the relentless beat of their dark metal that put the others to shame. They opened with the blistering leads of “With A Thousand Words To Say But One” and vocalist John Henry raged, “And to reflect is to regret throwing it all away, and apathy, my one-way street, it took so much from me, separated by this divide I created through my fears, and in your tears you tried to show blind eyes and tell deaf ears, we can keep healing...” He continued with his vicious words about the horrors of the human race and the drummer Travis Orbin was phenomenal on the double kick drums as they rolled right over the audience with their sonic assault on the rest of the album's songs, “Convalescence”, “This Will Outlive Us”, “Sound The Surrender”, and a glorious “Pathos”, and the crowd was eating it up. They were actually quite melodic for their genre as they plowed mercilessly into the killer song “Low” that had vocalist John Henry spitting the words, “Injected venom, sucking the life from us, away for eighty days, it's white noise, just white noise, staying awake for the music's sake, they say they listen but never hear a thing...” The band kept it at full-throttle as they raged on the rest of the album, “Ethos”, “District Divided”, “These Fevered Times”, “Paradise”, and the dueling guitars of guitarists Mike Schleibaum and Mike Carrigan were incredible and they were in sync with the rhythm section of bassist Aaron Deal and drummer Travis Orbin as they hit the nice groove of album closer “Tranquil” as vocalist John Henry screeched the words, “This decaying flesh is coming back to life reanimate me give me, a chance and I'll be right here where the sun hits the sea watching, these waves wash the pain away and it will radiate so brilliantly that...”, while guitarist Mike Schleibaum played some nice gentle interludes that balanced out the pounding passages when he just hammered the guitar. Somehow I think that Metallica would sound like them if they had not gone mainstream and the guitarists traded some amazing licks that showed why they are the masters of doom as they played an ominous “Devolution Of The Flesh” from their 2009 album “The Eternal Return” and a gloomy “An Epitaph” from their 2001 album “So Sedated So Secure”. They were an unstoppable force as they played like demons and they made thunderous riffs fly everywhere, and the singer brought guest ex-guitarist Fred Ziomek to the stage and they launched into a fiery “For The Soul Of The Savior” from their 2000 album “The Mark Of Judas”, and John Henry roared, “That's all right because you wish you were dead, you live life with a hex, over your head, a savior's mouth with a serpent's tongue, but don't forget you're like this with the chosen one...” Next the singer brought guest ex-guitarist Kris Norris to the stage and he played the incredibly fast intro to “Doomsayer (The Beginning Of The End)” from their 2007 album “Deliver Us”, and then the band played a new song from last year's “Darkest Hour” album on Sumerian Records called “Rapture In Exile” that relentlessly assaulted my ears. The band finished their seventeen-song set with a scintillating “The Sadist Nation” from their 2003 album “Hidden Hands Of A Sadist Nation” and it seemed to be the perfect song to close the evening as vocalist John Henry maniacally railed, “One nation under the gun, where forward thinking is shunned, a morbid tradition, of archaic value systems, where justified, is just another pride, under the surface lies, a holy plastic empire, with guarded fences...”, however all their songs seemed to get mired in thrash metal cliches sometimes and I wished they employed more tempo changes but the guitar playing was out of this world even though I could barely understand the singer's words. I really enjoyed their playing of their album “Undoing Ruin” in its entirety and their favorite songs from their other albums plus I was glad they let some of their previous guitarists join them on the stage in the celebration of their twentieth anniversary because they rocked like fuck. I tell you, playing at such speeds for twenty years must be brutal on the body.
BASEMENT JAXX and DJ OZKER - June 30, 2015
The 9:30 Club - Washington, DC
It was a lovely summer afternoon in the city with just a hint of rain in the air as I started on my way to the legendary 9:30 Club with my friend music producer DK Phoenix to see the wonderfully soulful Basement Jaxx led by Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Burton perform live before they have to go back home to England and hopefully it will be a house-tastic party with a lot of dancing and unbridled joy for everyone. I loved them way back in the nineties during the rave craze when they tore up the dancefloor and the dance music charts with their fantastically funky singles - “Red Alert” - ”Remedy” - ”Romeo” - ”Where's Your Head At”. Then I was quite surprised when I heard they have a new album called “Junto” and they were touring with a twelve-piece band and they were playing a gig at the 9:30 Club in a rare club appearance and I knew I had to be there. This past Sunday they played the legendary Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and then they were playing here in Washington at the club and I found it quite odd that there was such a disparity in the venues but I guess that we are pretty lucky to see them. At 8:15PM the opening act DJ Ozker took the stage and laid down a pretty homogenized mix of house, techno, and electronica that just did not hold my interest very long as the beat winded its way through the dense percussion as he tried his best to make it interesting with all kinds of DJ tricks but it lacked substance as the beat went on and on and on without playing any real songs, and some of the people in the audience were dancing to the music like they were lumbering Frankensteins as they stumbled around in a hilarious matter. Ozker finally ended his set and I could not for the life of me remember one single song and I was glad when his set was finished. He left the stage and the crew got the stage ready for Basement Jaxx to rock the house. Basement Jaxx took the stage to the strands of Johnny Nash's “I Can See Clearly Now” as the band opened with a crunchy “Good Luck” from their overlooked 2004 album “Kish Kash” that was led by the percussion of the drummers as the vocalist Lisa Kekuala wailed the lyrics, “Tell me tell me is life just a playground, think you're the real deal honey, and someone'll always look after you, but wake up baby, you're so totally deluded, you'll end up old and lonely, if you don't get a bullet in you head, good luck, good luck...”, and the whole band was dressed in psychedelic outfits as they made their instruments sing in unison. The band got immediately into a deep groove as they rocked on a funky “Unicorn” from their 2014 album “Junto” and they got the whole house shaking to the rhythm as the vocalists sang their hearts out and they flowed into the smooth groove of “Power To The People” from “Junto” that really showed the real power of music as everybody danced and smiled happily in unity. Next the band launched into a raucous “Red Alert” from their 1999 debut album “Remedy” and they performed it wonderfully as the vocalists joined their voices as they sang, “Red alert! Red alert! It's a catastrophe, but don't worry...don't panic, ain't nothin' goin' on but history, yeah, but it's alright, don't panic...”, and the crowd was in ecstasy as the rhythm swirled and pulsed as two dancers twirled about the stage in fluorescent colored outfits as the band let loose with waves of percussion and synth washes that exploded all over the place. They followed that with a couple of songs from “Junto” as two lovely Asian singers walked onstage and began singing the lovely “Taiko” from their “Junto Club Bonus Tracks” EP and the intricate percussion-playing propelled the song as the crowd bounced to the beat and the band segued into the percussion-heavy “Back To The Wild” from “Junto” and the drums were relentless as they pounded away over the guitarist's mute lead riffs. Vocalist Lisa Kekuala and her back-up singers returned to the stage and the band let loose with the chaotic rhythms of “What's The News” also from their album “Junto” and the beat got really house-y as the guitarist laid down some red-hot funk licks as the girls walked and strutted to the blasts of the trumpet, and then they got even deeper in the groove with a sassy mash-up of “Oh My Gosh” from their 2005 album “The Singles”and ”Everybody” their 2006 album “Crazy Itch Radio” and two songs went well together as the band made the song pulse and throb and the audience was locked in a groove with them as their two dancers worked their bodies. The band slowed things down for a bluesy “Never Say Never” from “Junto” and they had a rapper deliver some righteous words and then the girls harmonized on the words, “Oh, never mind, we tried, we loved, we conquered, I won't forget, the taste, oh no, I'll never say never again, I'll never say never...”, and the band picked up the pace as the driving rhythm percolated and sent the crowd into a dancing frenzy. With some random trumpet blasts over a sparse groove the band rocked into a fabulous “Romeo” from their 2001 album “Rooty” and then the vocalist sang a bit of the melody to Judy Garland's “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and I really liked their new arrangement which was in the gospel vein as they sang like a church choir. Next the band got into the island-infused Afro-Caribbean riddims of “Summer Dem” from “Junto” then the rapper using patois let the words of “Jump'n'Shout” from their 1999 album “Remedy” flow, “But some a fool never know di rule, dem never did go to Basement Jaxx school, be we's willing fi teach dem fi a shilling, make sure he's not di next victim in a killing, cos we have di knowledge we go a good college, A+ in a history and home economics, and wi love music that's why wi bust up di garage...”, and then the rapper urged the crowd to jump and bounce to the busy groove that filled the room but the percussion got very clattery and then a ballerina plied and pirouetted across the stage to the lilting melody of “Buffalo” from their album “Junto” and then the band segued into the gorgeous “Raindrops” from their 2009 album “Scars” and the singer's voice was exquisite as it wrapped itself in the song's gentle pastoral melody and the female singer led the band into a New Orleans-style musical workout of Judy Garland's “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and she let her voice rip as the song rocked and rolled in joy like they were at church. It was wonderful as they morphed into the deep dub of “Rock This Road” from “Junto” and it was full of intricate percussion and soaring vocal harmonies punctuated by the staccato blasts of a trumpet as they sang, “Let's rock this road together, I'll make it good for you boo, let's rock this road together, is there something I can do, oh save me from myself, I'll make it good for you boo, let's rock this road together, are you feeling it too...” Basement Jaxx then set the party on fire with a raucous version of “Do Your Thing” from their 2001 album “Rooty” that transcended musical genres as the band got loose as they sang and played the song for all it was worth as the percussion whirled and twirled it into a strutting house beat over some pulsing keyboards as they flowed into a thumping “Fly Life/New Techno Pumper/Zadok” which was a mash-up of songs from 1997's “EP 3” and “Junto” and a “Remedy”-era non-album single and it was a tribute to house music and jacking to the beat and the keyboardist Simon Radcliffe got busy on his gear letting the house rhythms flow as the crowd danced themselves into a frenzy until the band finished the song with a classical flourish and the guitarist went crazy on his Stratocaster with some wild riffs and licks and then they exploded into a fantastic “Where's Your Head At?” from “Rooty” and the band rode the groove with wild abandon as the rhythm stomped on everything and the vocalists sang, “Where's your head at, watch it, where's your head at, we can't live on, live on without you, we can't live on, live on without you, watch it...”, as guys in gorilla suits danced wildly about the stage until the song collapsed with exhaustion and Basement Jaxx left the stage to wild applause. After a few minutes the band returned to the stage and played a lovely acoustic version of “Rendez-Vu” from their album “Remedy” and the vocalists chanted, “I've got you in my heart, I got you in my head, your magic surrounds me, I've got you in my heart, I got you in my head, let's make a rendezvous, I've got you in my head, let's make a rendezvous, let's make a rendezvous, let's make a rendezvous...”, and then keyboardist Simon Radcliffe introduced the band to everyone in the audience and then they moved into a gently rolling “Mermaids Of Salinas” from “Junto” and then they closed their twenty-three-song set with an earth-shattering version of “Bingo Bango” from “Remedy” that had the whole house dancing in total ecstasy and joy. Basement Jaxx's Simon Radcliffe and Felix Burton bidded us a fond goodnight and left the stage and I was amazed by their performance from the music to the eye-opening graphics and costumes that they presented so well. I am so glad that they survived all these years and are still producing new and exciting music for us to love and appreciate while dancing our asses off.
JODY WATLEY - June 24, 2015
Howard Theater - Washington, DC
It was a beautiful summer day as I headed out to see the ever so lovely Jody Watley at the beautiful Howard Theater, and when my friend and I arrived there, we were given great seats way up close so I can hopefully get a great photograph of her. I brought my friend DK Phoenix with me and his friend DJ Lisa Moody was spinning some upbeat disco-house-funk before Jody Watley and hopefully Lisa' friend and “The Girl Squad” compatriot Ultra Nate will be there with her in the booth hanging out and hopefully I can meet her because she is one of my musical idols and by the way, I did. So we sat and chilled and grooved to Lisa' music selection as we waited for Jody to take the stage and amaze us with her voice. I have loved her voice since her formative years with the legendary Shalamar and I loved her eighties output because she always made the songs interesting plus I really loved her incredibly uplifting version of Madonna's 1983 classic song “Borderline”. So I cannot wait for her to take the stage and finally it became show time and the curtains opened and the intro music “Paradise” played and the audience screamed and her former band Shalamar appeared on the video screens and Jody Watley and her band hit the stage and opened with a pumping “Right In The Socket” from Shalamar's 1979 album “Big Fun” on Solar Records and they laid down the slick funk and her voice sounded great as she passionately sang, “Blackouts don't mean a thing to me, you generate all the life I need, your lips glow with electricity, we got our private source of energy, right in the socket, right dead in the socket...”, and with those words the band moved into a fantastic version of “Take That To The Bank” from the band's 1978 album “Disco Gardens” also on Solar Records and it had a fantastic driving bass line that flowed into the sophisticated funk of “The Second Time Around” from the album “Big Fun” and the band was spectacular as they brought new life to the song as Jody crooned, “The second time around, I'm gonna keep you mine the second time, baby, the second time around, I'll know what to do, just as long as I'm with you...”, and then they segued into “I Owe You One” also from the “Big Fun” album and they pumped out the crisp and tight rhythm as they flowed into a sultry “Make That Move” from 1980's “Three For Love” album on Solar Records and her band was throwing down as she belted out, “Make that move right now, baby, you only go out once in a lifetime, make that move right now, baby, the longer you wait on love, the more you'll be without it...”, and she just oozed sexuality as she lasciviously sang “Full Of Fire” also from the “Three For Love” album and she had excellent accompaniment from her band members and she joked about how her ex-husband used to call her “Sherlock” when she thought he was up to something and then her guitarist played an incredible solo that was full of depth and really shined. Then the band picked up the tempo with a lovely “I Can Make You Feel Good” from 1982's “Friends” album on Solar Records that just bopped along as Jody just sang back-up to her male singers Nate Allen Smith and Rosero McCoy as they showed off their dance moves, next they played a sensational version of one their biggest hits, the dirty funk of “Dead Giveaway” from 1983's “The Look” album also on Solar Records and the two male singers' voices made you feel the song and the guitarist threw-down once again and then the band turned it out with a fantastic rendition of their greatest song “A Night To Remember” from the “Friends” album and they had the audience rocking as Jody Watley danced and sang to the beat, “Celebrations and my heart could stay united, and there's nothing in this world to come between me and you, we're together and it keeps me so excited, to think of what the power of love can do, ooh...”, then she left the stage so I guess the Shalamar part of the show was over. The video screens began to show a video montage of Jody Watley in her heyday glory as the band jammed and grooved until Jody returned to the stage in a stunning dress and then they proceeded to blow me away with a fantastic “Looking For A New Love” from 1987's “Jody Watley” album on MCA Records that she delivered with sass and sex appeal as the band pumped the crisp funk tightly behind her as she belted out, “You know that I needed you, you know that you meant the world to me, you know I had to have you, now I'm gonna find somebody new, I'm looking for a new love, baby, a new love, yeah, yeah, yeah...” The band flowed into a slinky “Some Kind Of Love” also from her debut album and it just oozed with sweaty passion and she continued with her hit songs as she did a phenomenal vision of “Don't You Want Me” also from her debut and she sashayed and flirted her way through the song as her band pumped out that classic Jody Watley sound and then they segued into a scorching “Friends” from 1989's “Larger Than Life” album on MCA Records and it had the whole audience singing along with her, “Friends will let you down, friends won't be around, when you need them most, where are your friends, yeah, friends are hard to find, friends, yours and mine, I'm talkin' bout your friends...”, and the energy was fantastic and uplifting in the most magical way. Jody slowed things down a bit and the band played some sultry R&B and she crooned “Everything” also from the “Larger Than Life” album and it was touching and beautiful as the audience gave her so much love in return. She kept things in a mellow groove and the band played a lovely and emotional “Bed Of Roses” from 2006's comeback album “The Makeover” on Avitone Records and it was exquisite and dreamy as she talked about love and loss and pain and then she sang an acappella version of Madonna's “Borderline” also from “The Makeover” album that was so cool as she almost whispered, “Something in the way you love me, just won't let me be, I don't want to be your prisoner, so baby, won't you set me free, stop playing with my heart, finish what you start, when you make my love come down, if you want me let it show...” Next Jody led the audience in singing a delightful “I Want You” from 1991's “Affairs Of The Heart” album on MCA Records and it was almost a freeform scat version and the band stretched out with some intricate solos and then they played her new single “Sanctuary” from 2014's “Paradise” album on Avitone Records and it was a cool slow jam as the groove flowed and Jody sang, “There's no place like home...” Then the band got real funky and Jody wailed on a beautiful and heartfelt “Still A Thrill” from 1987's debut album and it was deep and swinging as her band rocked it as singers Nate Allen Smith and Rosero McCoy shook their bodies to the beat and Jody brought several audience members to the stage to dance with her as she crooned, “Late around midnight, when you're holding me near, it feels so good to me, feel like crying those tears, it's still a thrill, when you hold me, it's still a thrill, when you're loving me, thrill, it's still a thrill...”, the band finished their sixteen-song set much to the joy of the audience and took their bows and Jody Watley wished us a beautiful night and left the stage and the house lights went up as we applauded and cheered. I was really impressed by her and her band and how well they played all of Jody Watley and Shalamar's songs and I hope that I can go see her again in the future.
LOUIS WEEKS - June 23, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It was an overbearing hot day as I meandered my way to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to see the Listen Local First DC-promoted show with local wunderkind Louis Weeks and his band and they will be delivering a set of his riveting symphonic soundscapes. Louis Weeks is from Baltimore but is now based in Washington and works his day job at production company Clean Cuts where he is a staff composer writing jingles and television soundtracks but at night he plays his wonderful original music at the clubs and stages around town. Louis and his band took the stage and opened with a gentle lilting sax riff and delicate synth washes as the song built to a climax and the drummer Matt Honor kicked into a nice bouncy 4/4 beat as Louis bared his soul with his introspective lyrics from his latest studio album “ha-ha”. I really liked the second song called “Fire” because of its quirky beat and Ethan Helm's driving saxophone and it reminded me of Martha And The Muffins as guitarist Noah Berman played a nice and jazzy riff full of notes that flew everywhere. I really liked the song structures that he used as the music just floated along like a dream and he sang with such emotion in his voice. The guitarist Noah played the most intricate and dense melodies that reminded me of a “jam band” as he wailed and soared on his guitar and it danced with the lilting notes of Ethan's saxophone as they encompassed many genres of music styles and built the song up until it exploded in a frenzy of notes. The drummer Matt had a nice playing style that was very jazzy and full of odd time changes as he plowed along through their set. Louis Weeks introduced the other members of the band and he talked about how he writes jingles for ad commercials for some very strange people and it affects his music and then he went right into the next song called “Fold” from his first album and it was very melodic and laidback and featured some unusual percussion as the sounds of the saxophone swirled everywhere trailing his ethereal voice as he sang about the trials and tribulations of life and then he sang the most beautiful song called “Anna” that made me want to melt with its shimmery melody. Louis Weeks and his band finished their ten-song set with the pastoral “Coming Like The Tide” that had its scintillating rhythm ebbing and flowing like the tide and he wore his heart on his sleeve as he crooned the song's deep lyrics. Overall they played a nice and pleasant set which was a wonderful respite from the overbearing summer heat and layers of music washed over me in the warmest way that quite enjoyable and I loved their songs. I left the Kennedy Center with a smile on my face until I realized that I had to walk to the metro in the rain that just started the second I walked outside.
AN EVENING WITH BETTE MIDLER - June 22, 2015
Verizon Center - Washington, DC
It was a hot and muggy day as I hurried downtown to pick up my ticket to Bette Midler's “Divine Intervention Tour” concert at the Verizon Center and since it was her first arena tour in ten years, I just had to be there for her show. Later in the evening I returned to the Verizon Center and I entered the venue and made my way through the aging masses and I found my seat which was quite good actually. I have been digging the Divine Miss M since her heyday in the seventies when she sang at the uber-gay bathhouse The Continental Baths in NYC where she was backed by Barry Manilow on the piano to her star-turn in the Janis Joplin-inspired “The Rose” and I just loved her and then when she upstaged Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones on SNL with her version of their song “Beast Of Burden” and then she went and became an award-winning actress and had many hit movies. Nowadays I can see her influence in Blondie's Debbie Harry to pop princess Miley Cyrus and so I am glad that I am seeing her perform tonight. As I waited a large faux-marble scrim covered the stage with an image of Michelangelo’s famous touching fingers from The Sistine Chapel's ceiling on it that guarded the stage and then the lights dimmed and some intro music began playing as the scrim with Michelangelo's painting on it showed an image of Bette and then there was thunder and lightning and a tornado and suddenly the stage appeared and there was Bette looking great and singing the lovely “Divine Intervention” from her new album “It's The Girls!” and she sassily sang, “Yes, I live for your applause, I'm a sucker for a cause, so tonight, your lucky star is in ascension, yes, it's time, for some divine intervention...”, and her twelve-piece band just rocked. She made some witty comments about growing old and what it brings and then she launched into the uptempo “I Look Good” also from her new album and all the while she was still cracking off-color jokes as her band grooved like a swing band from yesteryear as they morphed into a jaunty “I've Still Got My Health” from her 1988 movie soundtrack album “Beaches” and she was just so witty and verbose. Next she performed the first song that got her mainstream notice, the bubbly “Do You Wanna Dance” written by Bobby Freeman from her 1972 debut album “The Divine Miss M” and it became her first Billboard Top Twenty hit, and she sang it so sultrily like a seventies disco queen as she ran off stage for a quick costume change and she returned to do a glamorous version of “Throw It Away”, also from her debut album, and she belted it out like she was a WWII-era chanteuse, “I think about the life I live, a figure made of clay, and think about the things I lost, the things I gave away, and when I'm in a certain mood, I search the house and look. One night I found these magic words, in a magic book, throw it away...” Bette stopped the band and she talked about all the female singers that came before her and then she name-checked all these famous girl-groups as she jump-started her band as they played “Tell Him” by The Exciters from her new album and Bette had her fabulous back-up singers just a'rockin' as they sounded great as they made the song sound just like a classic song from way back then Bette and her girls crooned a sensational version of The DeCastro Sisters' “Teach Me Tonight” that she also covered on her new album and then her sax player blew an out-of-this-world solo and her voice sounded wonderful. She made a joke about Kid Rock and his political positions and then she and her band blew me away with a sensational version of TLC's 1990 smash hit single “Waterfalls” also which was from her new album and it was absolutely amazing as it turn into a powerhouse vocal workout as she gallantly sang, “Don't go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to, I know that you're gonna have it your way or nothing at all...”. Bette told some more jokes about the horrors of social media as her girls followed after her as she madly paced about the stage with a fancy divan and a oxygen tank as she joked about those Krazy Kardashians and how they built a fortune that started with a sex tape and she joked about having sex with Nixon, Putin, Chris Christie, Dick Cheney, Tom Brady, Mitch McConnell, and Bruce Jenner, plus “dix pix” are so undignified and then the band kicked with the bombastic eighties power anthem “Everybody Knows” which was written by Leonard Cohen and only performed on this tour and Bette got quite a vocal work-out as she let her pitch-perfect voice soar. Next she performed a phenomenal version of Randy Newman's “I Think It's Going To Rain Today” from her 1988 movie soundtrack album “Beaches” and she belted it out with some deep emotional impact as the band let the rhythm flowed behind her and they segued into a musical tribute to the 1993 hit movie “Hocus Pocus” and got a bit funky on the instrumental movie theme while Bette disappeared and quickly returned dressed in full witch regalia and the band began the darkly swirling “I Put A Spell On You” which was written by fifties rocker Screamin' Jay Hawkins and it was also from the “Hocus Pocus” soundtrack and she gave pop diva Annie Lennox who recently covered the same song a run for her money as the band rocked and rolled and Bette wailed like a diva and then she made a few political jokes about our leaders and then the band got all funky and jazzy as they played her comical medley from 1972's album “Bette Midler”, a rather lively “Merrie Melodies/Yakety Sax/Optimistic Voices/Bird In The Hand/A Visit From Soph/Merrie Melodies” that had Bette running about the stage telling one-liners and being chased by a large dancing egg and a Benny Hill chase routine and then the stage area morphed into the chic Club Canary with its jungle motif and Bette sassily sang “Bird In The Hand” and she did her famous Sophie and Ernie schtick in a fabulous bird dress which made her slick sexual innuendos even funnier. She then changed into her famous mermaid character and then she disappeared and a short film began showing on the video screens that was an obituary for the mermaid as it showed the many sides of her life. Bette and her band returned and kicked in with an uptempo “Beast Of Burden” by The Rolling Stones from her 1983 album “No Frills” and she belted out the emotional words, “I'll never be your beast of burden, my back is broad but it's hurting, all I want is for you to make love to me, I'll never be your beast of burden, I've walked for miles my feet are hurting, all I want is for you to make love to me...”, and the band performed it with real warmth and pizazz and the guitarist played an incredible guitar that was electrifying and gave me the chills. She slowed things down to perform a lovely “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” by Ella Fitzgerald from her 1990 album “Some People's Lives” and she sang it so elegantly and beautiful and her pianist threw down on the most sensational solo that rocked my ears like a modern-day Chopin as the song morphed into “The Rose” from her mega-hit 1979 movie soundtrack album of the same name and she sang it with such overwhelming emotion it was so touching and she turned it out as she sang like an angel and the crowd just loved it as they raised their lit up phones en masse as it turned the arena into a sparkling sea as the pianist then changed the song into her greatest single, an emotional “From A Distance” penned by legendary songwriter Julie Gold for her 1990 album “Some People's Lives”. Bette turned the song into a tour-de-force as her voice raced up and down the scales with perfect pitch as she wailed, “From a distance the world looks blue and green, and the snow capped mountains white, from a distance the ocean meets the stream, and the eagle takes to flight...”, and she sang it like she meant every word. The Divine Miss M closed her set with a soul-stirring and bluesy version of “Stay With Me” from her 1980 album “Divine Madness” and she belted it out beautifully as she acted all dramatic and emotional and then she explained to us what the song meant to her as she walked off the stage and into the darkness. After a few minutes Bette returned to the rapturous audience and performed an absolutely amazing rendition of Roger Whittaker's “Wind Beneath My Wings” from her 1988 movie soundtrack album “Beaches” and she was spectacular as her voice took me places and I must say that she is a true diva in every sense of the word. She thanked the audience for coming to the show and she and her band finished their twenty-song set with a raucous rendition of The Andrew Sisters' “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” from her 1972 debut album “The Divine Miss M”, and Bette said this was the song that started it all as she belted out the sassy words, “A root, a toot, a toodli-a-da to toot toot toot, he's blowin' eight to the bar, yeah, he can't blow a note if a bass and guitar isn't, woah, with him, and the company jumps when he plays reveille, he's the boogie woogie bugle boy of Company B...”, and the band turned it out one last time and they let the music groove and flow while Bette Midler introduced the musicians and then she bid us goodnight and left the stage. I was blown away by her performance because I came to the show expecting a cheesy production but instead Bette and her band gave me a show that was exciting and uplifting with a killer well-paced flow of her best songs and she put on one helluva show. Hats off to you, The Divine Miss M!
BLUE OYSTER CULT - June 19, 2015
The State Theater - Falls Church, VA
So here I am going to see Blue Oyster Cult yet again because they are my “comfort food” band and I have loved them since the early seventies when I saw them play at the Capital Centre and their music just makes me feel warm and safe like comfort food does to other people. I just saw the band in February at the Tally Ho Theater in downtown Leesburg and they were smoking hot and delivered a stellar set of molten hot songs that I just cannot get enough of them performing live. Since the death of founding guitarist Alan Lanier last August there are only two original members left in the band, guitarist/vocalist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser and vocalist/guitarist Eric Bloom, but they do the band's legacy proud with the newer members particularly Richie Castellano who is a phenomenal guitarist in his own right, but I do miss those Bouchard brothers. They seem to tweak the set list each time that I see them and this go round it seems they are playing the classic “Joan Crawford (Has Risen From The Grave)” from their 1981 album “Fire Of Unknown Origin” according to recent set lists on setlist.fm, however I totally love the song and I cannot wait but alas, it turned out they were not playing that song tonight. So I found a seat in the balcony and waited for the show to begin as I counted down the minutes. A pretty decent-sized crowd had showed up for Blue Oyster Cult and they started to get antsy waiting for them but then finally the house lights dimmed and the band hit the stage to their eerie-sounding intro music and launched into the slashing riffs of “The Red And The Black” from their 1973 album “Tyranny And Mutation” and they were off in a guitar frenzy as vocalist/guitarist Eric Bloom sang the bizarre off-kilter words,“Canadian mounted baby, a police force that works, red and black, that's their color scheme, get their man, in the end, it's all right, oh yeah my honey knows it's all right...”, and guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser finished the song with a mind-melting guitar solo as he led their guitar army into a fabulous rendition of “Golden Age Of Leather” from their 1977 album “Spectres” as Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom harmonized together so beautifully as they sang the opening toast and wielded their guitars with a controlled fury as the band rocked with intricate riffs that flew everywhere. They went right into a pulsing “Burnin' For You” from their 1981 album “Fire Of Unknown Origin” and the crowd loved it as the band performed in perfect sync with each other as they transmitted waves upon waves of guitar riffs that seared themselves on my brain and sounded gorgeous to my ears. Next they played a rather menacing sounding “Career Of Evil” from their wonderful 1974 career-defining album “Secret Treaties” and you felt every note as the song started to swing in an almost funky way as Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom growled the words, “I plot your rubric scarab, I steal your satellite, I want your wife to be my baby tonight, I choose to steal what you chose to show, and you know I will not apologize, your mine for the taking, I'm making a career of evil...” Buck Dharma stepped to the keyboards and played the dramatic intro to “Harvest Moon” from their 1998 album “Heaven Forbid” and Eric Bloom passionately sang and played the song's haunting guitar riff as the rest of the band grinded along behind him and he traded riffs with guitarist Richie Castellano with deft skill. Buck returned to his guitar and he and the band launched into an deceptively upbeat “ME 262” from their album “Secret Treaties” as they sang rather tongue-in-cheek, “Goering's on the phone to Freiburg, say's Willie's done quite a job, Hitler's on the phone from Berlin, says I'm gonna make you a star...”, and the band stretched the song out with some scintillating solos as they let Buck lead the charge on “Buck's Boogie”, a live standard to this day and it was on their 1975 live album “On Your Feet Or On Your Knees”, and the band was spectacular as Buck made his guitar explode with sound and Eric got wild on the keyboards as they traded riffs and licks that wrapped my ears in a cavalcade of music that sounded amazing. Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser introduced the rest of the band and thanked them for their services and then they started playing a razor-sharp “Black Blade” from their 1980 album “Cultosaurus Erectus” and Buck told the story of the song and the ace rhythm section of bassist Kasim Sulton and drummer Jules Radino laid down a thick slab of percussive rhythm as the guitars soared into the stratosphere and Buck was incredible as he made his axe scream and howl as he rasped the insightful lyrics. Buck returned to the keyboards and started tinkling the opening notes of “Then Came The Last Days Of May” from their brilliant self-titled 1972 debut album and he mournfully sang the sad elegiac words, “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, that's what they say...”, which told the heartbreaking story of the trials of some young men who were looking for a good time by buying some marijuana to sell from two men in the desert and the story ends badly and the guitars battled with glorious searing riffs and Richie really did a good job on the guitar and then Buck got to really shine with an exquisite solo that was a real showstopper. The band took a pause and the audience started clapping wildly as the band began the thunderous pounding of the crowd-pleasing “Godzilla” from their 1977 album “Spectres” that just floored the place as Jules Radino laid down its big beat as everyone sang along with the band as the guitars intertwined all over the driving rhythm as Kasim Sulton made his bass stomp and it was deliriously wonderful as Buck lead the band through a medley of Kasim's greatest hits with other artists, “I Hate Myself For Loving You” from Joan Jett And The Blackhearts, “Bang On The Drum All Day” by Todd Rundgren, and “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” courtesy of Jim Steinman and Meatloaf, and he played a jaw-dropping bass solo that had the crowd cheering him along and then Jules played the obligatory drum solo that pounded and crashed like the waves in the ocean with its relentless percussion until the band returned and they reprised “Godzilla” and Buck jammed on some cool guitar-tronics that morphed into their greatest hit “(Don't Fear) The Reaper” from their 1976 album “Agents Of Fortune” and they turned it out as the guitars sang like mad birds and Buck coolly sang, “All our times have come, here but now they're gone, seasons don't fear the reaper, nor do the wind, the sun or the rain...we can be like they are, 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...”, and it was the best version that I have heard in a few years as they played beautifully and so tight. The band left the stage and the crowd brought them back with their joyous cheering and they let loose with a grinding and raucous version of “Hot Rails To Hell” from their 1973 album “Tyranny And Mutation” that just exploded all over the place with riffs and licks and notes that set my ears on fire. Blue Oyster Cult finished their thirteen-song set with their signature closer “Cities On Flames With Rock And Roll” from their 1972 debut album and all the musicians put their hearts into it as they rocked like there was no tomorrow as Buck and Eric empathetically sang, “My heart is black, and my lips are cold, cities on flame with rock and roll, three thousand guitars they seem to cry, my ears will melt, and then my eyes...”, and those words seemed to be the perfect ones to end the show. The band put their instruments away and took their bows before the rapturous audience and they walked off stage and Joel and I hurried out of the venue to his car and we head east back to DC. Blue Oyster Cult proved once again that they still are America's finest intelligent hard rock band as they approach their fiftieth anniversary and they still can play their amazing catalog of songs with skill and joy.
SWEET LU OLUTOSIN - June 10, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
Today is the kick-off of the city-wide 2015 DC Jazz Festival and venues in the area are hosting a variety of bands and performers and tonight I am at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to see Sweet Lu Olutosin and his all-star band play some cool jazz on this hot summer evening. The members of the band have quite a pedigree between them and they have played with everyone from Dakota Staton to McCoy Tyner and all of them have graced stages all over the world. The band was led by vocalist Sweet Lu Olutosin and featured Elijah Jamal Balbed on saxophone, Thad Wilson on trumpet, Antonio Ciacca on piano, Herman Burney on bass, and the marvelous Petey Smith on drums, and it is the second time this week that I am seeing Elijah and his sax. The band took the stage and Antonio Ciacca led things off with bright and sprightly keyboard run as the band flowed behind him and Sweet Lu's creamy tenor crooned the delightful “Malcolm's Song” that Elijah added some soulful saxophone to give the song some edge. Sweet Lu then took a few minutes to introduce each of his band members to the audience before he launched into the original ditty called “Sweet Lu's Blues” and I really liked his phrasing and delivery with his nice masculine voice that made him stand out in the jazz world and the musicians traded some awesome licks especially Herman Burney who really shined with a wonderful bass solo that accented the spry drumming of Percy Smith. Next the band went into a lovely piano-driven etude that morphed into Duke Ellington's “Mood Indigo Blues” and Sweet Lu added a new edge to the song with his rich tenor voice as Thad Wilson's trumpet wailed so melancholy until Elijah Jamal Balbed finished the song with a delicious saxophone solo that made me want to cry for joy. They picked up the tempo with a dance number written by pianist Antonio Ciacca and Sweet Lu added some sassy lyrics and his wonderful voice just soared as he sang the words as the trumpeter and saxophonist traded riffs. The band brought new life to a Herbie Hancock-penned number called “Driftin'” and it was dedicated to legendary local jazz bassist Butch Warren and it just 'swang' with a real groovy groove that was quite infectious. The next two songs they performed were dedicated to centenarians Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday, and first they played a nice crisp “A Little Moonlight” and Sweet Lu did Frank proud with his lively interpretation and especially when he let loose with some melodious scatting that blended in with the driving instruments and once again Antonio Ciacca shined on the piano as did Percy Smith when he solo-ed with an intricate drum solo, then the band went into Billie's “Dream A Dream” and Sweet Lu sang it with such pizazz and style over the lovely instrumentation and it was a wonderful interpretation that had real soul and depth. They brought a guest saxophonist Skip Pearson from South Carolina to the stage and they played a be-bop number that just had the right amount of swing as the words to the song rolled off Sweet Lu's tongue as he sang about a real good-looking woman as the band let the music flow. The band finished their nine-song set with an original song called “Mama Cita” that accented the Afro-Cuban influence on modern jazz and they had the beat just jumping and swinging as Skip Pearson wailed on his saxophone. It was a really excellent show and the audience and I just ate it up as we burst in applause for their amazing performance.
THE JOGO PROJECT - June 8, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It was one of those days with a fast-moving thunderstorm passed through the area on this early evening and thankfully I was inside The Kennedy Center watching the band sound-check when the rain hit. Tonight The JoGo Project is playing and my my, the band has grown in size since the last time I saw them play the Millennium Stage and they sounded even more textured and dense in their sound than ever before. The JoGo Project hit the stage and opened with a gentle but rocking groove as vocalist Isaac “Izzy” Bell introduced the various band members as each of them walked onto the stage including special guest Warren Wolf on the vibraphone and they kicked out some smooth jazz stylings over drummer Dante Pope's succinct percussion and each musician got a chance to showcase their talent. For their next song vocalist Izzy told the story of legendary bandleader Chuck Brown and go-go music and then he led the band in the various types of go-go music and he led the crowd in a little bit of call and response as the band grooved behind him. The band brought vibraphonist Warren Wolf and tap dancer Joseph Webb to the stage and then they gave some new life to Count Basie's classic “Que” and with a sparse beat they let Warren shine on the vibraphone as the band got into a nice shuffling groove led by Elijah Jamal Balbed's smooth as silk saxophone and the song was brightened by Joseph's spectacular tap-dancing. Next the band got raw and loose with Roy Ayer's “Searchin'” and the music flowed mellifluously as vocalist Izzy spread the truth over the deep shimmering bass of Eliot Seppa then Elijah Jamal Balbed brought vocalist Jocelyn Imani in her gorgeous yellow dress to the stage and she beautifully sang Michael Jackson's “Rock With You” with a kicking go-go feel to it as the band got down with it as the song flowed into a jaw-dropping cover of Lourde's “Royals” that just rocked with some go-go swagger and then they morphed into a sultry version of soul songstress Jill Scott's “What Is Love” and they really rocked it as the rhythm section of Eliot and Dante along with percussionist Jon Lewis gave it some fierce swing that just turned it out. Next the band brought go-go legend guitarist Frank “Scooby” Sirius to the stage and he led the band and the audience through several familiar go-go chants as he made his guitar sing with a little bit of twang and the band pulsed and throbbed with Mark Meadows' intricate keyboard lines and Deante Haggerty-Willis' crisp and funky guitar and it featured a brilliant trumpet solo from Brad Clements plus the others held their own as they stretched it out as they sang, “It don't mean a thing if it don't have that go-go swing...”. The JoGo Project closed their nine-song set with some raucous old school go-go and they asked if we “want to go-go” as the band plowed through some of DC go-go greatest hits...Trouble Funk, Rare Essence, Petworth, Northeast Groovers, E.U., Junkyard Band...and the audience was loving it as they danced in the aisles like mad until the band finished and bandleader saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed wished us good night and thanked us for our support. I was totally blown away by tonight's performance and their interpretation of go-go and jazz playing together in perfect harmony and I really hope to see them again real soon.
WIRE and JULIAN LYNCH - June 6, 2015
Black Cat - Washington, DC
It was a lovely warm summer evening as I walked up Fourteenth Street to the illustrious Black Cat to see one of the best punk bands ever to come from England...the ever-changing Wire and their opener Julian Lynch. Wire was formed in October of 1976 and their debut album “Pink Flag” is arguably the best debut album from the first wave of English punk bands. They put out two more ground-breaking albums then they broke up in 1992, after several years they got back together in 1999 and have released lots of music of many genres and forms and now they are touring for their brand new fourteenth album “Wire” and tonight they are playing the Black Cat. The opener Julian Lynch hit the stage with his guitar and his pile of electronic equipment and he was off making his strange music that reminded me of Gong's Steve Hillage with its long-winded drones of sound and tinny percussion and convoluted vocals. His music whined and wheezed like an old asthmatic crone as it careened and lumbered through the dense notes and riffs in an almost unbearable way. His five-song set was just atrocious and sounded like one long boring song that never seemed to go anywhere and I was glad when he was finished. The crew quickly readied the stage for Wire and they hit the stage with the gently clattering of “Blogging” from their new album “Wire” on Pinkflag Records that set the mood for the evening as the music they made sparked and sputtered as vocalist/guitarist Colin Newman sarcastically sang, “Voting by proxy, buying online, selling on eBay, all that is mine, BlackBerry hedge fund, new Apple's divine, dream time destruction, outback becomes mine, blogging like Jesus, tweet like a Pope, site traffic heavy, I'm YouTubing hope...”, and their new guitarist Matthew Simms made his guitar sound like it was falling apart as they went into the chunky rhythms of “Joust & Jostle” also from their new album as all kinds of jagged riffs and obtuse melodies filled the song in a whirlwind of sound. Next they got a nice melody going that was driven by the subtle drumming of Robert Grey and they made “Boiling Boy” from their 1988 album “A Bell Is A Cup...Until It Is Struck” still sound fresh after all these years with cascading guitars and relentless rhythms and it was quite beautiful to my ears. The band continued with a brisk “Silk Skin Paws” which was the title-track from their 1988 EP and its angsty lyrics that had Colin barking, “Silk skin paws, hang by both feet, embracing the world, hang the expense, Breuel's cut corners, wring out the senses, I have nothing like it, I've seen nothing like it...”, as the chiming guitars soared above the pulsing and intricate rhythms of the drummer Robert and then guitarist Matthew Simms played a scorching lead on his axe then they segued into a brand-new unreleased song “Wolf Boar” that laconically told of life's little disappointments over a surging guitar riffs. The band kicked up the tempo for a brusque “Mekon Headman” from their 2008 album “Object 47” and the guitarists flailed away as bassist Graham Lewis sang the song so dispassionately over his grinding bass and the drummer's taut percussion. They then launched into an Americana-sounding song called “Burning Bridges” from their new album “Wire” which they featured for the next couple of songs and Colin let the sarcastic words drop from his mouth like poison over the rather beautiful melody the band was playing and they plowed through the disjointed rhythm of “High” and a pulsing “In Manchester” that had a nice quirky edge to it as the band chugged on in a melancholic way as Colin wistfully sang of his hometown, “I don't yet know how my story will end, dead or in prison or completely around the bend, a strong punch was essential, dust heads exploded, in Manchester, in Manchester...”. The band really shined on “Sleep-Walking” as they played these lurching slabs of noise and the guitars sliced away at the lumbering rhythm as Colin sang the words with a controlled fury, and they kept things rolling with a touching “Shifting” that had these winding guitar leads that were all serpentine and eerie as I listened awestruck. For the next song “Stealth Of A Stork” from their 2013 album “Change Becomes Us”, they returned to their punk rock roots and pounded out the terse beat that reminded me of The Buzzcocks and the drums and guitars pounded relentlessly as they moved into the menacing beat of “Split Your Ends” from their new album that just propelled itself into my ears with its creepy guitar riffs and Colin's eerie voice singing, “Shooting through the shooting forests, on the move and in the hunt, free to catch fresh scents, the dog flanks, mend your ways but split your ends...”. Colin began making weird gurgling sounds with his guitar and then he burst into the gnarled riff of “Octopus” also from “Wire” and the band just pounded away as he sang over the biting guitars. The next song “Blessed State” from their 1979 album “154” started with some nice open chords with Colin intoning the hopeless lyrics as Matthew made his guitar wail with a lovely melody until it turned into a fuzzy roar and Colin's vocals kept reminding me of Joy Division's Ian Curtis. The band finished their set with two songs from their new album, they slowed things down for a mellow “Swallow” and then the drummer Robert kicked in with some punchy percussion and Matthew had guitar riffs flying everywhere as Colin sang the thoughtful words until the beat exploded into a noisy cacophony that ended the song and they went immediately into the thunderous “Harpooned” that just erupted with buzzsaw riffs and a shuddering bass line as Colin railed against the stupidity of mankind, “I'm worried, I'm worried, there's cause for concern, I lit the touch paper and it started to burn, I'm worried, I'm worried there's cause for concern, ignited and cornered, there's nowhere to turn...”, then the song just collapsed in a cacophonous pile of feedback and noise as they put their instruments down and left the stage. After some cajoling from the crowd Wire returned to the stage and let loose with a marvelous version of “Brazil” from their 1977 debut album “Pink Flag” with its punk rhythms and even more jagged buzzsaw guitars that went right into “Adore Your Island” from their 2013 album “Change Becomes Us” with its clever dual guitar leads and earthshaking drums that made a lot of noise and racket. They ended their twenty-song set with the big riffs of “Used To” from their 1978 album “Chairs Missing” and Colin sadly sang, “Does nausea ensue when you chance upon, a memory of someone you used to know, does warmth increase when the pulse is strong, but the response is weak, you used to know...”, and the band bashed out a few more riffs and then they waved goodnight and walked off the stage as the audience wildly applauded and cheered and I hurried out the club and jumped in a cab and headed home. It was a great show but I wished they played a few more older songs, however their musicianship was excellent and their new songs had a nice gritty edge to them that held my attention. Older farts do rock!
THE B-52S and BERLIN - June 5, 2015
Filene Center At Wolf Trap - Vienna, VA
It was a dreary overcast day in the Nation's Capitol as my friend Don Butler and I drove out to Wolf Trap's Filene Center to see that venerable institution known as The B-52s and the return of that sex vixen Teri Nunn and her modern-day Berlin play their music and be transported back to those magical eighties went I was young. I really hate coming out here to Wolf Trap because it is such ordeal to get here but it is a nice place with some fantastic acoustics so the show should be good and I have excellent tickets for tonight's show. We reached the venue finally and found a good parking space for a quick exit later and we sat for a few minutes and watched the people walking by us because they are always interesting and bizarrely dressed at a B-52s concert. We went in a grabbed a bite to eat and patiently waited until it was time to sit in our seats. I hope that Berlin puts on a good show because outside of vocalist Teri Nunn, they are basically a new band but I previewed the set list and they seem to be only doing old songs from the eighties that were written by original members John Crawford and Dave Diamond because I guess you have to make the audience happy. So Teri Nunn and her band Berlin hit the stage, first the drummer Chris Olivas kicked a beat, guitarist David Schulz added a nice swirl of notes on the synthesizer as Teri Nunn led off with “No More Words” from their epic 1984 album “Love Life” and Teri''s voice sounded great as she sang, “You're talking, it sounds fair, you promise your love, how much you care, I'm still listening and still unsure, your actions are lacking, nothing is clear, no more words...”, and she still looked great and was sharply dressed as her band segued into a haunting “The Metro” from their 1982 debut album “Pleasure Victim” that they delivered with a crisp and taut synth line that floated above the almost mechanical percussion and guitarist David Schulz played some deliciously searing riffs. Teri expounded for a while on Bruce Jenner and how the whole transgender issue was interesting and then the band jumped into a new song called “Animal” which was the title-track from their 2013 comeback album and it was pretty good with some really cool and intricate percussion that swirled in the synth melody line over a staccato guitar riff as Teri moaned, “Can you feel the animal, I feel it when you touch my body, I'll leave you lying on the floor, when I've had my fill of you, oh, oh, oh...”. The crowd perked up for a sensational “Masquerade” from their debut album that really swayed with a killer groove as Teri's voice soared into the stratosphere, and then she made everyone in the crowd laugh when she said the next song was about her crazy mother and it was a down-tempo number call “Mom” from their “Animal” album and it had some insightful lyrics and some beautiful piano playing from guitarist David Schulz. They brightened the mood by inviting some VIP audience members to the stage to dance to “Dancing In Berlin” from their 1984 album “Love Life” and the band rocked out on this synth-pop nugget full of big drums and cascading synthesizer riffs. The surprise of the night was a re-vamped version of “Sex (I'm A...)” from “Pleasure Victim” that was more playful than the original and I liked how the guitarist's vocals of “I'm a man...” counter-balanced Teri's sultry vocals as she cooed, “Skin to skin, tongue to oooh, come on honey hold tight, come inside, it's a passion play just for you, let's get lost in that magic place all alone now, drink your fill from my fountain of love, wet your lips...” Next she brought the house down with her spectacular vocals on “Take My Breath Away” from their 1986 album “Count Three & Pray” and she walked out into the audience to sing and her band laid down a solid groove and it was gorgeous with bassist Carlton Bost adding a lovely bass melody to it. The band finished their nine-song set with a raucous cover of Jefferson Airplane's 1967 psychedelic classic “Somebody To Love” and the band did a remarkable job of turning it into a synth-pop “tour-de-force” and then they left the stage in a flash and the crew set to work. The crowd's anticipation was slowly building up as the crew got things ready and suddenly the house lights went down and The B-52s hit the stage full-force as they opened with a sensational “Pump” from their 2008 comeback album “Funplex” and as new guitarist Nick Lashley wailed on a pulsing riff, the three vocalists Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, and Cindy Wilson wildly sang, “I look at you and I'm ready to pump, luminous heartthrob ready to jump, mama's dancin' with jellybone, you better watch out, take you to the freak zone, pump it up, give it up...”, and the band flowed right into the mad rhythms of “Mesopotamia”, the title-track from their 1982 EP, and Kate sang the lead with heartfelt passion as their longtime rhythm section of bassist Tracy Wormworth and drummer Sterling Campbell got real funky and locked in the pocket and they segued into “Private Idaho” from their 1980 album “Wild Planet” and I loved their intense vocal interplay with Sterling's sprightly percussion backing them. They outdid themselves with a scintillating version of “Lava” from their eponymous 1979 debut album and Fred's raspy tenor soared on the double-entendre laden lyrics, “My body's burnin' like lava from Mauna Loa, my heart's crackin' like a Krakatoa, Krakatoa, east of Java, molten bodies, fiery lava, fire, fire, burnin' bright, turn on your love lava, turn on your lava light...”, and they followed that with a sparkly “Dance This Mess Around” also from their debut album and Tracy's rumbling bass had everybody jumping to the beat as Cindy sang lead this time and she introduced the next song as the last one that the band recorded with her deceased brother guitarist Ricky Wilson and they went into a wonderful “Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland” from their 1985 album “Bouncing Off The Satellites” and their voices bounced off the taut rhythm with its driving bass line and elegant keyboard washes from tour keyboardist Paul Gordon. Kate joined Cindy to sing a tremendous “Roam” from their 1989 album “Cosmic Thang” and it was probably the highlight of their set for me and Nick had a nice chiming guitar that drove the jaunty beat as it morphed into a fantastic “Legal Tender” from their 1983 album “Whammy” and Kate and Cindy wailed in harmony, “We're in the basement, learning to print, all of it's hot, 10-20-30 million, ready to be spent, we're stackin'em against the wall, those gangster presidents...”, as the song pulsed and throbbed with serpentine keyboard runs and a muscular bass line and the band members looked really happy as they let the rhythm flow. Next Fred took the lead on a bouncy “Party Out Of Bounds” from their 1980 album “Wild Planet” that really got the audience dancing and their rhythm section was untouchable as they laid down a stellar groove that totally rocked and they went right into a futuristic “Love In The Year 3000” from their 2008 album “Funplex” and their harmonies were impeccable and I love the lyrics to this song. For their next song “Is That You, Mo-Dean?” from their 1992 album “Good Stuff”, the band got a nice down-tempo groove going as Fred and the girls joyously sang the words, “Movin' through the spheres, faster than light, on our way to some planets that were outta sight, we said space driver, give it a spin, and take us to some places, we ain't never been...”, and I must say their vocal harmonies are one of the best in the business. The band caught me by surprise with what turned out to be my favorite song of the night, a scintillating version of “6060-842” from their classic 1979 self-titled debut album that had the whole audience dancing wildly to the nice and crunchy playing of guitarist Nick Lashley as it danced with the impeccable drumming of Sterling Campbell and then they segued into the biting guitar of “Whammy Kiss” from their 1983 album “Whammy” that bassist Tracy Wormworth accented with her ocean-sized bass throb that flowed subtlety through the lively and intricate rhythms as Fred Schneider fiddled with several electronic gadgets that made strange noises and then he introduced the band members to the audience with great love and appreciation for each of them especially Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson. Much to the delight of the audience, the band let loose with a funky, sassy, and loose “Love Shack” from their 1989 album “Cosmic Thang” and the crowd sang along gleefully as Fred and Kate let the words flow, “I got me a car, it's as big as a whale, and we're headin' down to the Love Shack, I got me a Chrysler, it seats about twenty, so hurry up and bring your jukebox money...”, and Nick played a great chugging riff as the band stretched out into a freeform jam that had the crowd rocking as Fred, Kate, and Cindy left the stage and the crowd went crazy as they cheered for them to come back and sing some more. They reappeared and the band unleashed two crowd-pleasers from their debut album, first a loose and silly “Planet Claire” with its inane chorus and then they finished their sixteen-song set with a stellar “Rock Lobster” that had the three of them dancing and singing, “Boys in bikinis, girls in surfboards, everybody's rockin', everybody's fruggin', twistin' 'round the fire, havin' fun, bakin' potatoes, bakin' in the sun...”, and The B-52s rocked like a madcap Beach Blanket Bingo movie set as they turned the song out and they finished the show with a few bows to the adoring audience and they walked off stage and the house lights went up and the Wolf Trap ushers practically pushed us out and onto the lawn area where we quickly hurried out through the gates staying head of the crowd so we would not get caught in a mad parking lot jam. We jumped into our car and sped on our way singing “Rock Lobster” and thankful that we got to spend the evening grooving to some great music. The B-52s and Berlin rock!
DEATH and OBNOX - May 28, 2015
Black Cat - Washington, DC
It was a rather humid day as I made my way to the Black Cat to see proto-punk legends Death who hail from Detroit and up-and-comers Obnox from Cleveland and it should be a bone-rattling treat. Death are considered by many to be the first punk band when they formed in 1971 after seeing The Who in concert and they switched from the funk they were playing to the future of punk. Clive Davis was interested in signing them but the band adamantly refused to change their name so Clive lost interest and the band broke up in 1977 and they switched to being a reggae band until older brother guitarist David Hackney died of lung cancer in 2000. Then in 2009 indie label Drag City Records re-issued their first album “For The Whole World To See” and it received belated accolades so the remaining members, younger brothers bassist Bobby and drummer Dannis Hackney reformed the band with hotshot guitarist Bobbie Duncan and they released more music on 2011's “Spiritual * Mental * Physical” album and they have been playing to enthusiastic audiences around the world ever since. The opening band tonight was Obnox and they are a trio from Cleveland, Ohio who play loud grinding music that is somewhere between punk and metal and hip-hop but they seemed to lack focus because they were all over the place. Their songs meandered about as the drummer kept a pretty sturdy beat that held the band together. The vocalist/guitarist Lamont “Bim” Thomas was an engaging frontman but he was hard to understand when he sang his rather pointed socio-political lyrics and thankfully he never sounded like HR from The Bad Brains which unfortunately all “black” punk bands are compared to these days. The keyboardist played some cool riffs that just grinded and crunched over the drummer's blistering percussion, and they even got a happy sing-a-long beat happening with my favorite song of their set, a raucous “Saturday Night” that put me in a good mood with its infectious beat. The band incorporated some go-go groove into one of their songs and it was pretty good as Lamont sort of “rapped” some insightful lyrics about interpersonal human relations and they really rocked hard on a number called “I'm Bleeding” which was about America's tumultuous history of race relations. They played a nineteen-song set that was a bit ramshackle in some parts but overall Obnox delivered a set of raucous music that was quite pleasing to my ears so I hope to see them again real soon. The crew hit the stage and got it ready for Death and the band walked on to the stage and roared to life as they opened with a scorching “Views” from their previously unreleased 1977 album “Spiritual * Mental * Physical” that was finally released in 2011 on Drag City Records and Bobby Hackney made his bass throb as he sang the song with undeniable passion and the band morphed into the trippy “Keep On Knocking” 1974 debut album “...For The Whole World To See” that was re-issued by Drag City Records in 2009 to great acclaim and it had the crowd singing along with them with gusto, “If I can remember, it was you who didn't wanna see my face, if I can remember, it was you who put me in my place...”, and the three of them made their instruments howl like banshees. They paused a second and then they launched into a guitar-driven “Let The World Turn”, again from their debut and Bobby sang every word like he lived it and meant it as guitarist Bobbie Duncan made his instrument screech and scream like an full-frontal air assault and then they went into a bridge that started out pastoral and gentle and then the band exploded with searing riffs and a bottomless bass groove that rode the pounding drums of Dannis and Bobbie played a magnificent solo to finish the song. Next the band played a song about their love for the Lord Jesus Christ and then they were off with an uplifting “State Of Mind” from their previously unreleased 1977 album “Spiritual * Mental * Physical” that was finally released in 2011 on Drag City Records and it opened with the intro to Marvin Gaye's “God Is Love” and the song fluctuated from hard to soft and back as they joyously rocked out and I could hear how they influenced every one from The Bad Brains to Living Colour to Fishbone and even Limp Bizkit. They turned it out on a funky “Freakin' Out” from their “...For The Whole World To See” album as the drummer Dannis pounded out the groove and the bassist Bobby rode the rhythm and the guitarist Bobbie made his guitar explode with fire-breathing riffs that segued into a haunting “You're A Prisoner” also from their debut album. The band changed tempo and went into a pulsing “Where Do We Go From Here” which was also from their first album and the guitarist was fantastic as he kept changing tempos as the bassist followed him as he wailed the lyrics, “All you timeless children, choking gangsters and flashbacks, trying to get ahead, what makes you think I can see you, what makes you think I believe you...”, as he made his bass pump with a deep groove. The band gave a big heartfelt thank you to the people of Washington for welcoming them with open arms and then they exploded into a fiery “Relief” from their new album “N.E.W.” on Drag City Records and it was killer as the band made the song come alive with scorching riffs and intricate licks that just swallowed my head. They continued on with another song called “The Times” also from their new album and it was an uncut gem of mad riffage and controlled anger that made me feel alive. Next they played the song that started their whole journey, the genre-defying “Politicians In My Eyes” from their 1974 debut album “...For The Whole World To See” with its taut bass line that was driven by drummer Dannis Hackney's crisp playing and guitarist Bobbie Duncan's tight and intricate finger-work, and man, can the bassist Bobby Hackney scream as he raged, “They could care less about you, they could care less about me, as long as they're at the end of the place they want to be, they're always wearing false smiles, I guess it goes with the style, politicians in my eyes...”, the song was completely enthralling and still fresh even though it is thirty-five years old. Death left the stage but the audience roared until they came back and launched into another new song called “Playtime” from the “N.E.W.” album and it had a spectacular swing to it as they made their instruments scream and they went into another new song from “N.E.W.” that was actually written by their deceased brother guitarist David Hackney in 1975 and the song “Story Of The World” rocked with incredible feeling as Bobby growled, “This is the story of the world, where hide and seek's a way of life, hide from everything that's real, and seek what others say is right...” The band were amazing with some incredible musicianship and great stage presence especially from the vocalist/bassist Bobby Hackney in the way he sang and commanded the attention of the audience. They dedicated the last song of their thirteen-song set to the legendary recently deceased B.B. King and they laid down the hard-rocking blues of “Can You Give Me A Thrill???” from their “Spiritual * Mental * Physical” album and they just let loose with some incredible music that blew my mind. Death are a lost classic that should be re-discovered by everyone who loves music. This was one fantastic show and I hope to see them again.
BUD'S COLLECTIVE - May 24, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
This was a fantastic kick-off weekend for the summer concert season and tonight we started with the almost local bluegrass band from West Virginia called Bud's Collective and they have been making a name for themselves on the local music scene since they were formed in 2012 and now they are playing the Kennedy Center. The band consists of vocalist/guitarist Buddy Dunlap, bassist Cody Brown, banjo-player Gina Clowes, and Buddy's little brother Jack Dunlap on the mandolin, and they released their first studio album this past spring and they have been thrilling audiences everywhere that they played ever since they won first place in the DC Bluegrass Union Mid-Atlantic Band Competition in 2012 with their inventive style of bluegrass. The band took the stage and opened with a number from their latest album as their voices harmonized beautifully as their instruments played their intertwining melody lines. They moved on to a swampy cover of the 1956 bluegrass standard “Ruby” by The Osborne Brothers that they breathed new life into as Jack Dunlap really shined on the mandolin. The band pumped things up with a banjo-driven ditty called “How Mountain Girls Can Love” that featured Gina Clowes on the banjo and she was fantastic as she burned up the fretboard with a frenzy of notes. Bandleader Buddy Dunlap thanked the audience for their enthusiastic appreciation of their music as they launched into an original composition from their forthcoming album called “Sweet Dreams Of Cincinnati” and it featured a marvelously melodious solo on the mandolin from Jack that just seemed to float in the air. Next they played that obligatory Grateful Dead cover from their new album and it featured lightning fast picking from each of the band's members as they gave the song a new edge, and their vocals harmonies and skill on their instruments was beyond compare as they made them sing joyfully as they made notes fly everywhere. Buddy took the lead on the next song “I'm Sorry” from their new album and it was a languid apology to, as he said, “an unknown woman that he had hurt” and he topped it off by finger-picking an exquisite guitar solo. They followed that with a fantastic cover of Jimmy Driftwood's 1959 classic “Tennessee Stud” that was highlighted by the bassist Cody Brown's intense playing that was deep and in the groove as the banjo danced all over it as Buddy sang the melancholy lyrics and then they performed a lovely cover of “Lost River” by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with its descriptive words and spiralling mandolin melody lines and their voices soared beautifully together as one as I got lost in the song's melody. The next number the band played was written by mandolin player Jack Dunlap and it was an instrumental called “Monterrey Jack” and it featured some incredible playing from Jack who made his mandolin sound like a guitar and then they blew my mind with an out-of-this-world cover of Tom Petty's “Last Dance With Mary Jane” that made me forget that he wrote it and they gave a completely new side to the song as Buddy and Jack played intertwining melody lines with grace and skill. Then they outdid themselves on the classic 1938 Flatts & Scruggs bluegrass standard “Salty Dog Blues” just to show us just how much they are steeped in traditional bluegrass and each of them was spectacular on their respective instruments and then they got a bit more country-sounding with a cover of Del McCoury's version of “Rain And Snow” that reminded me of my childhood in the foothills of Virginia as the melodies soared like birds flying into the sunset, and most amazingly, they did it without any drums or percussion. They finished up with the 1971 John Prine classic “Paradise (Muhlenberg County)” and Buddy's voice just carried me away as he sang the poignant words, “And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County, down by the Green River where Paradise lay, well, I'm sorry my son but you're too late in asking, Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away...”, and they ended their fifteen-song set with a picture-perfect rendition of the Pure Prairie League's “Aimee” and the band did it justice as they slowed down the arrangement and made the melody get caught in my ear as it floated above the audience so beautifully and I found myself humming it as I walked out of The Kennedy Center. This was a truly great performance by Bud's Collective and one of the best that I've seen on the Millennium Stage which has been really rocking lately to some great acts.
DOT DASH - May 9, 2015
Adams-Morgan 18th & Columbia Road - Washington, DC
MINISTRY and SIXXAM - May 5, 2015
The Fillmore - Silver Spring, MD
We seemed to get an early taste of summer on this lovely temperate day and I rode the Red Line metro to The Fillmore in Silver Spring to see the venerable Ministry for their supposedly last album and tour, but that could just mean that their frontman Alien Jourgensen is turning into the Cher of the goth/industrial circuit. His longtime musical partner and collaborator guitarist Mike Scaccia died of an onstage heart attack while playing with his band Rigor Mortis in 2012 and his unexpected death devastated Alien and caused him to end the band Ministry but he doing one last tour before he pulls the curtains on the band. Ministry is known as one of the original progenitors of “industrial music” even though they started out as a fey synth band but they were so much more. I worked with them several times during their “imperial” period when they were stumbling around the world in a drug-induced haze but they still electrify audiences everywhere, once I was working at the 1996 Lollapalooza Festival doing stage-work and Alien Jourgensen and Ministry were playing and when they performed Black Sabbath's “Supernaut” they gave me one of my favorite rock and roll moments ever as the mass of people bounced and moshed themselves into a frenzy as the band torn through the song. The sight of it was amazing and then I got a photograph of Alien careening through the rather muddy backstage area on a golf cart until his brand new leather cowboy hat flew off his head and landed in the mud and he freaked out. Fast forward through crushing heroin addiction and near-death experiences and a rather insightful but rude autobiography last year to today as I stand around waiting for the show to start. First up was openers Sixxis and they are a quintet from Atlanta, Georgia who played some doomy thrash with some nice guitar work that was catchy but the vocals were lost in the murky rhythm. They kind of reminded of Black Sabbath but then again most hard rock bands do. The vocalist Vladdy Iskhakov also played the keyboards and he added strange little hooks and melodies and vocal samples to their plodding music about the end of the world, however the band sounded exactly like a thousand other hard rock bands and most particularly Maryland's own powerhouse Clutch, so I grew bored by them after a few songs into their set but the guitarists Paul Sorah and Cameron Allen did play some interesting riffs that caught my ear, but the drummer JBake never got into the groove with the bassist Mark Golden's fluid lines that carried their songs. I did like the song from their latest video called “Rollercoaster” with its progressive metal influences and it featured a violin solo from the singer that was not half bad. Sixxis played a ten-song set of mediocre music that had moments of quality playing but they were a little too derivative for me to enjoy. Good luck though! The stage crew set to work quickly as they made the stage ready for Ministry and their legendary frontman Al Jourgensen and I must admit I was a little excited for them to take the stage and hopefully rock me. They hit the stage to the relentless beats of their intro “Music Of Hate” as images of drugs and guns floating in rolling clouds appeared on the video screen as the drummer Aaron Rossi began pounding away furiously and the band burst into the ominous rhythms of “Hail To His Majesty (Peasants)” from his 2013 album “From Beer To Eternity” and the words “Sick Man Dick” appeared on the video screens as the synthetic beat marched relentlessly as the guitarists Sin Quirin and Cesar Soto skewed it with raging riffs as Al Jourgensen wobbled about the stage ranting and raving as the band let controlled thunderous waves of rhythm roll over the audience and then they launched into a vicious “Punch In The Face” also from “From Beer To Eternity” and Al menacingly growled, “Nothing satisfies like a punch in the face, nothing quite like another punch in the face, nothing gets me hotter than a punch in the face, nothing like a slaughter with a punch in the face...”, and then the band rolled right into a scorching “PermaWar” which was my favorite track from “From Beer To Eternity” and it pulsed with a menace as he sang of how the powers that be let us stay in a state of perpetual war for profit and the guitars grinded and screamed over the fat percussion and Al looked hellish and world-weary and you could hardly hear his vocals. Al greeted the audience and thanked us for coming and the band exploded with a taut “Perfect Storm” with its dire warning of the impending apocalypse over a thunderous groove as then they went into yet another song from “From Beer To Eternity” in which he eviscerated Fox News with a song called “Fairly Unbalanced” and he raged, “No more, no more, no more hate machine, no more right-wing extreme, no more stupidity, no more Fox TV, fairly unbalanced, fairly unhinged, in the right-wing fringe...”, and the band just pounded away as riffs and licks flew everywhere and the video screens showed swastikas and Fox anchormen with their sickeningly fake smiles as the band played 200 MPH as they beat us into submission and they forged on with a diabolical “Rio Grande Blood” and a brutish “Senor Peligro” both from their 2006 album “Rio Grande Blood” and the second song was powered by his fleet-fingered guitarists Sin and Cesar and his cacophonous rhythm section featured the jazzy stylings of bassist Tony Campos who gave the songs their edge. The band kicked back with the plodding “Waiting” from their 2004 album “Houses Of The Mole” and then the guitarists raged with a maniacal intensity as Al railed against the world and then guitarist Sin Quirin played the absolute best solo of the set as they morphed into the best track on “Houses Of The Mole”, the beautifully wrenching “Worthless” and Al screamed, “Hate yourself, self preservation, torture yourself, 'til the systems cracks, despise yourself, you're worthless, you're worthless, you're worthless, you're worthless, you're worthless...”, and it was very cathartic as the band grinded and trampled the song into little pieces and they raged on with those unstoppable rhythms and stinging guitars as they careened into an electrifying “Watch Yourself” from their 2007 album “The Last Sucker” and it was a valid condemnation of our privacy-less society that was driven by the searing leads of his two guitarists and Al's raspy vocals and wry humor, and keeping with the pattern of playing two songs from each of their recent albums, they followed up with a volatile “Life Is Good” that just churned away over a propulsive electro-beat and stun-gun guitars. Al talked about how we as a country have been talking about the same bullshit for twenty-five years but not doing a damn thing about it as the band pumped out the big beat and lurching guitars of “N.W.O.” from their 1992 album “Psalm 69: The Way To Succeed And The Way To Suck Eggs” with a passion that I found admirable as he spit out the words, “I'm in love with this malicious intent, you've been taken but you don't know it yet, what you will know must never live to be found, 'cos it's the subject of the eyes of the clown...”, and keyboardist John Bechdel made the rhythm pulse and throb with quirky keyboard runs as they continued on with an exhilarating “Just One Fix” from “Psalm 69”. I was blown away by how powerful its message still is and the crowd was losing their minds in the mosh pit frenzy. The band was on fire now as they launched into the staccato syncopation of “Thieves” from their 1989 album “The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste” and the guitarists played with lightening-fast military precision as the crowd went crazy in the pit. Al said the next song summed up his music career as the band exploded with an explosive “So What” from their 1989 album and riffs and samples swirled about madly as Al rasped, “So what? So what? So what? So what? Die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, so what, it's your problem, to learn to live with, destroy us or make us saints...”, and these words explained a lot about Al Jourgensen and what he thinks of himself and his creations and the band seemed to play forever and then suddenly they left the stage and the crowd roared for more. Ministry and frontman Al Jourgensen returned to the stage and they capped off their sixteen-song set with a dark and eerie “Khyber Pass” from their 2006 album “Rio Grande Blood” that was full of muscular riffs that danced with the rhythm section like a typical thrash metal song as Al gargled the words and then he dove into the audience much to the chagrin of security while the band grinded out the last few drops of music that fell out of the guitars to the last drum beat. The band disappeared in the back as the rising house lights almost blinded me and their outro song “Enjoy The Quiet” played as the club staff pushed us out the doors and into the night. Tonight's show by Ministry was remarkable in the fact that Al Jourgensen is still alive and kicking after all these years with his history, I was quite impressed by his newer music but I really wished he played “Halloween” or his brilliant cover of Black Sabbath's “Supernaut” but it was a damn good show anyway.
SHEILA E. - April 30, 2015
The 9:30 Club - Washington, DC
It was a mixed bag of a day for weather as I ambled down to the Howard Theater to see the sensational Sheila E. and her fierce band tear it up and my friend music producer DK Phoenix and I met up at the venue and stood in line for what seemed like forever. We finally got in and got a great table with a fantastic view and we settled in and had a bite to eat of their mediocre food and began patiently waiting for the show to begin. I saw Sheila E. perform live last year at The Birchmere in Alexandria and she threw-down and her band was phenomenal, so tonight should be just as good but I hope they change the set list a little bit. Sheila E. and her band hit the stage and they opened with the sassy “Samba (Interlude)” from her 2014 album “Icon” and it pulsed with tribal rhythms and electronically-altered vocals as the band jump-started the groove with a slamming coda as they segued into a rocking “Leader Of The Band” also from “Icon” and the band was tight and crisp and Sheila's vocals sounded great as she sang,“The leader of the band, take your lighters and raise them up if you wanna party like history, the leader of the band, if you wanna then raise them up everybody come and party with me, that's right...”, and she laid down a percussive groove on her drums that was punctuated by the brilliant saxophone playing of Eddie M. Sheila slowed things down for the next number as she and her back-up singers harmonized angelically in a doo-wop style as the band got into a smooth as silk groove and then they kicked in with some swinging rhythms as they jumped into the beat with an invigorating “Old Skool” also from her latest and they made it rock and Sheila said, “There's no auto-tune here!” before she wailed away with some amazing notes. Sheila then said that the Howard Theater was one of her favorite places to perform and then she gave a gushing fan a pair of her drum sticks and her autograph and then...everybody wanted one and she was besieged by rabid fans waving pieces of paper for her to sign. Next Sheila picked up a bass guitar and began playing the intro to “Lovely Day” from “Icon” and she was slapping that bass as the band played the laidback Prince-influenced groove as she sang the upbeat lyrics. And finally she reached back into her catalog and the band and her let loose with an incredible “A Love Bizarre” from her 1985 album “Romance 1600” that had the crowd on their feet dancing and loving it and the dense rhythms twisted and turned as Sheila emotionally sang, “The moon up above, it shines down upon our skin, whispering words that scream of outrageous sin, we all want the stuff that's found in our wildest dreams, it gets kinda rough in the back of our limousine, that's what we are, we all want a love bizarre...”. The band went into a really lovely jazz interlude and her longtime back-up singer Lynn Mabry sang a little song that she dedicated to the Howard and then with her voice moaning sassily she sang, “One nation under a groove, getting down for the funk of it...”, from back when she used to sing with P-Funk's George Clinton and she sang bits of other songs she sang on and it was quite impressive. Next Eddie M. blew a mournful wail on his saxophone as the band followed him with some upbeat groove and melody that was spectacular in its execution and Sheila led the audience in some rhythmic hand-clapping as she rapped/sang the ending of the song as the band landed on that down stroke. Sheila E. picked up her beautiful guitar that Prince gave her and she walked into the audience and stood in the middle of the room and she played a beautiful intro to “Rockstar” from her album “Icon” and she played it with such emotion that it brought a tear to my eye and it was rather touching as everyone was running around and taking pictures and then she wailed on a scorching fleet-fingered solo as she made her way back to the stage. As the audience roared, Sheila and her band got raucous and rowdy on a vibrant “Fiesta” also from “Icon” and they rocked like fuck with riffs and rhythms flying everywhere with the song's big beat until Sheila took an amazing percussion solo break that blew everyone away as the band slid into a sensual “Erotic City” from the 1983 Prince single she sang on and the band played its taut rhythm with skill as Sheila sexily sang the suggestive lyrics so delightfully. They morphed into “Holly Rock” from the 1985 “Krush Groove” movie soundtrack with its joyful rhythm and fantastic keyboard lines from Mike Blankenship that made the band smoke as Sheila cooed, “Sheila E.'s my name, Holly Rock's my game, I'm funky as I wanna be, line up a hundred, I swear to God, I'll rock until you just can't see, mass appeal, a little-girl's smile, I'll make ya happy...”, and that she did! The band went right into an upbeat “The Belle Of St. Mark” from her 1984 debut album “The Glamorous Life” and bassist Raymond McKinley played an almost rock-a-billy groove that made the song swing as Sheila led the audience in a sing-a-long and then her guitarist Bobby G. burned up his fretboard like a metal god with molten riffs. Sheila E. and her band left the stage to rapturous applause and after a few minutes they returned and she spoke about how she is so grateful for how we (the audience) make her feel so good, and the band launched into the wonderful torch song “Hold Me (Every Time I See Your Eyes)” from her 1987 album “Sheila E.” and the emotions were palpable as she sang her heart out. They burst into the fiery salsa of “Mona Lisa” from her fabulous 2014 album “Icon” which she featured a lot of its songs in her set tonight and the crowd was eating it up as they clapped and danced ecstatically. The band finished their thirteen-song set with the guitarist Bobby G. doing a fair Jimi Hendrix imitation with his axe as the band let loose with a spectacular version of the title-track “The Glamorous Life” from her 1984 debut album that left me breathless as she coyly sang, “She wants to lead a glamorous life, she don't need a man's touch, she wants to lead a glamorous life, without love, it ain't much...”, and her band got a workout on their instruments as they all played one last solo before they finish for the night then Sheila E. capped it all off with a ferocious percussion breakdown that was out of this world and it proved she is a musical genius. Sheila gave us one last wave and she disappeared in the back and DK Phoenix and I disappeared into the night with memories of a phenomenal show.
SPANDAU BALLET - April 28, 2015
The 9:30 Club - Washington, DC
It was actually quite a lovely day as I ventured down to the 9:30 Club to see the recently reformed Spandau Ballet on their “Soul Boys Of The Western World Tour” that was re-scheduled from February 9th of this year and I was somewhat excited to see them after all these years since their eighties heyday. The crowd was a cross-section of people and I did not know that Asians have a real fondness for them and their music. I found my favorite spot and made myself comfortable as I watched the crowd mill in and mingle and I wrote this to distract myself from their idiocy. There is no opening act so they should be able to play a nice long set, and the band took the stage and opened with a joyous “Soul Boy” that was a new song on their 2014 best of album “The Story: The Best Of Spandau Ballet” and it was filled with tribal-like beats that underpinned the gorgeous synth lines as Tony Hadley sang the words with passion, “I was a soul boy through the western world, when I looked in your eyes, looked in your eyes, I was a soul boy through the western world, nearly died in your arms, I died in your arms...”, and the band gently pulsed behind him as Steve Norman blew a lush saxophone solo until guitarist Gary Kemp let a fantastic solo rip. The band rode the synth glisses into a raucous “Highly Strung” from their 1984 album “Parade” that Gary brightened with his clever guitar fills as Tony sang of his appreciation of a certain kind of woman and they went straight into the lovely “Only When You Leave” also from “Parade” and it just flowed like an old Motown song that was undercut by Steve's spirited saxophone playing and Gary's tasty guitar licks. The band took a pause and Tony greeted the audience and then they slid into the subtle rhythms of “How Many Lies” from their 1986 album “Through The Barricades” and once again Steve's saxophone drove the gorgeous anti-love song as Tony crooned, “How many lies must we tell, how many lies must we see, how many times must we say it's for the best, and leave truth as the casualty, how many times must we say it's for the best, and leave nothing yeah...”, and his voice was in full form as he sang from his heart. Gary gently played a beautiful intro on the keyboards to “Round And Round” from their album “Parade” and drummer John Keeble kicked in with a rock-steady beat and the band had the whole audience swaying to its dreamy groove and it was one of the best songs of the night. Tony told us about about their recent documentary “Soul Boys Of The Western World” on their rise to fame and their history from London in 1979 when they formed the band to today, and then they launched into the melancholy melodies of “This Is The Love”, a new song from their 2014 best of album “The Story: The Best Of Spandau Ballet”, and it showcased each member as they played beautifully as the languid rhythm caressed my ears and the band segued right into another new song, “Steal”, also from the best of album “The Story: The Best Of Spandau Ballet”, with its lush rhythms and “pull you closer” lyrics that Tony sang so gorgeously that Steve punctuated with his best saxophone solo of the night as its melody danced over the drummer John's succinct playing. They got the crowd jumping with a funky version of “Chant No. 1 (I Don't Need This Pressure On)” from their 1982 album “Diamond” that was driven by Gary's tight and funky guitar as Tony wailed, “I checked the time, it was almost time, a curious smell, an intangible crime, I'm washing my clothes, but the stain still grows, cover your eyes, the stain still shows...”, and that was followed by yet another brilliant sax solo. Tony took the time to pay tribute to the brilliant star-maker Steve Strange of Visage who recently passed and in honor of him and his now-legendary club Blitz where their scene started with the release of their 1981 debut album “Journeys To Glory” and they cranked out a sinewy “Musclebound” from said album and they interspersed that with other songs from that album like an elegiac “Reformation” and the country-flavored “Mandolin” and they flowed into a hyper “Confused” that slowly morphed into a brilliant “The Freeze” and it was really cool as Tony crooned, “Blue sing la lune sing lagoon, these visions are making me stay, the artist pretending it's art, the question is where do you, do you pay...”, and it showed their versatility as they pulsed and throbbed through their early career and the songs still sounded fresh as the rhythms flowed and danced with the audience as they plowed through a marvelous “To Cut A Long Story Short” from their 1981 debut album with its signature hook. Next they launched into the dirty funk of “Raw” from their 1989 album “Heart Like A Sky” and the band and particularly bassist Martin Kemp made the groove roll right over the audience as Steve's saxophone and Gary's guitar battled it out like kamikaze pilots. The tour keyboardist kicked off the next song “Glow” which was a non-album single from 1981 and he locked in with the drummer John and Steve's percussive saxophone fills with style and panache as they made a mighty groove until they left the stage to Gary who deftly played a double-neck acoustic guitar on a sensational “Empty Spaces” from their 1989 album “Heart Like A Sky” and Tony gently whispered“Once there were times, love when we could touch the air between, and out across this room we'd fill the space with all our skins, and if we just touch hands, life would shine with electric dreams...”, and he sounded great as he crooned the touching words and his voice just soared as the band returned and segued into an acoustic “Gold” from their classic 1983 album “True” that had the whole crowd singing along with them. The band revved back up and they took us on a sonic journey with a tremendous rendition of the title-track from their 2009 reunion album “Once More” and it was just beautiful and Steve added some nice saxophone flourishes as they moved into a wonderful “I'll Fly For You” from their 1984 album “Parade” that was lush and dreamy as Tony sang, “Because I've nothing else here for you, and just because it's easier than the truth, oh if there's nothing else that I can do, I'll fly for you...”, and the band smoothly cruised through the song as they made their instruments hum like a well-oiled machine and Steve blew his best saxophone solo of the night as did Gary with a fiery and scintillating guitar solo. The band was quite pleased with themselves and it showed as Tony introduced each of the band members and how much he appreciated them and their contributions to Spandau Ballet over the years and then they jumped right into a sassy funked-up version of “Instinction” from their 1982 album “Diamond” that lurched and lumbered as Tony sang like a modern-day Frank Sinatra and they followed that with the sharp and crisp electro-funk of the dance-floor thumper “Communication” from their 1983 chart-topping album “True” that had the crowd singing along with them and Gary was particularly spectacular as he made his guitar squeal and howl as they segued into into to the warm soul of “Lifeline” also from “True” and the band was on fire as they laid down an incredible groove and then they burst into their biggest song, the timeless title-track “True”, and the crowd just loved it as Tony belted out, “So true, funny how it seems, always in time, but never in line for dreams, head over heels when toe to toe, this is the sound of my soul, this is the sound...”, and the audience hung on to his every word and the band played every note perfectly and Steve and Gary traded amazing riffs on the sax and guitar that gave the song a beautiful urgency and the crowd erupted in adoring applause as the members of the band left the stage. After a few minutes, Tony Hadley and Gary Kemp returned to the stage and performed a melancholic rendition of the title-track from their 1986 album “Through The Barricades” and Tony's voice sounded amazing as Gary's gentle strumming accompanied him on the acoustic guitar and then Steve Norman strolled on stage while blowing a lovely clarinet solo and then the rhythm section of bassist Martin Kemp and drummer John Keeble joined them on an utterly sensational “Gold” from their truly classic 1983 album “True”, and Tony Hadley never sounded better as he sang, “Gold, always believe in your soul, you've got the power to know, you're indestructible, always believe in, because you are gold, I'm glad that you're bound to return, something I could have learned...”, and these words seemed to say it all about tonight's gig. The band ended its twenty-two-song set with a bang and a killer guitar solo from Gary and then they thanked us for our support over the years and the band wanted us to know how much they love what they do and proved they are like a fine wine...they get better with age...and I was really impress by their performance and I forgot how much I used to love them back in the eighties because I knew every song they played tonight. I hope to see them again.
BOURGEOIS BLUES: A TRIBUTE TO LEADBELLY featuring JONNY GRAVE, JESS ELIOT MYRE, BRIAN FARROW, TOM MITCHELL - April 12, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It was an absolutely gorgeous spring day as I wandered about downtown Washington as I made way towards the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to see “Bourgeois Blues: A Tribute to Leadbelly” featuring local blues upstart Jonny Graves, Jess Eliot Myre of local faves The Bumper Jacksons, world-renown jazz bassist Brian Farrow, and guitarist Tom Mitchell of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks fame. Leadbelly was probably the first world-famous bluesman and his songs are now part of the American Songwriters music catalogue and tonight we will hear some beautiful interpretations of his songs. First up was Jonny Grave leading the band in performing a languid version of “C.C. Ryder” and Jess Eliot Myre added some nice clarinet fills and Brian Farrow held the bottom with some throbbing upright bass lines. Next Tom Mitchell sang lead on “When I Was A Cowboy” as the band provided a deep bottom with Jess' washboard and Brian's succinct bass playing as Tom and Jonny's guitar sounds intertwined as they finger-picked the notes. Brian Farrow took the lead vocal on a majestic “In The Pines” and it was a slow and loping number that just creaked and moaned as Jess played a sad and lonely clarinet solo, then she took the lead with a song called “Take This Hammer” that despite being up-tempo it had a very dark side about murder and mayhem and Tom played a nice solo that had his fingers flying across the fretboard as he battled Jonny's more grounded and fluid guitar playing. Tom returned to the lead with a song called “The Midnight Special” which was probably his most enduring song and they played it beautifully as their vocals harmonies soared over the subtle bass and melodic clarinet runs. Brian returned to the lead to sing about Lead Belly's “Bourgeois Blues” that he wrote about the time in 1935 when he and noted musicologist Alan Lomax and their wives were in Washington and they could not find a place where they were allowed to eat together and then Lead Belly could not find a place to stay the evening and he wrote the song to express his anger and frustration at society and its racial politics but he recorded it until 1938, and Brian, Jess, and Jonny used their voices to get an almost drone-y groove going as the melody flew everywhere. Jess stepped to the lead and she divinely sang the song “Every Once In A While” acappella with the other two and their voices rose so hauntingly and then Tom sang “John Henry” with a touch of authenticity as he rasped the storytelling lyrics of his personal favorite American folk song. Then came the best song of their ten-song set, Jess delivered a phenomenal version of “Gallows Pole” which was made famous by Led Zeppelin, but its tale of jail, woe, and strife was touching delivered as they each played scintillating solos on their instruments that made the song even more beautiful. Their final song of the evening was a sensational version of “Goodnight Irene” and the four of them performed it beautifully and Jess' clarinet solo was tremendous and their voices sounded angelic as they harmonized with grace and ease as they finished the song acappella and then they took their bows and left the stage. The audience erupted in some pretty loud applause and cheering and I was impressed by their tribute to an American musical legend Lead Belly and I went home with a smile on my face and a Lead Belly song in my heart.
THE TING-TINGS and KANE HOLLER - April 11, 2015
The 9:30 Club - Washington, DC
It was a wonderful spring day as I began my journey to the 9:30 Club to see the early show with Kaneholler and The Ting-Tings from London who I had last saw perform in September 2009 when they were opening for Pink on her “Funhouse Tour” at the Patriot Center. Their new album “Super Critical” is a complete change in direction for their music, they went from abrasive pop-punk to a more mellifluous funky soul groove that I found to be delightful to my ears, especially the dance track “Wrong Club” with its sarcastic and biting indictment of modern EDM culture. But first tonight we will see the duo Kaneholler from California via Boston, Massachusetts and they consist of vocalist Chelsea Tyler, the daughter of Aerosmith's flamboyant frontman Steven Tyler, and multi-instrumentalist Jon Foster and they are promoting their new EP “Vol. 1” that comes from their album that they are delivering in three parts over the spring and the duo is considered “electro-soul” by the music press so they should be interesting to see. Kaneholler took the stage and with a push of a button swirling synth sounds rolled out of the speakers and vocalist Chelsea Tyler seductively sang over the gentle flowing beat and her words filled my head as smoke filled the stage. Her musical partner Jon Foster laid down a nice funky electro-groove as they played the song “Someone New” with its soulful feel as she wailed away like an old blues diva. They were kind of like trip-hop meets the blues at Jill Scott's house. They made some great music without any real instruments just their electronic gadgets and they managed to sound like a full band onstage as they picked up the tempo with a song called “Take Me” that had a real nice dance groove to it as the crowd got into the rhythm as the electronic beats spun around and around and then they morphed into some straight-up techno that made me want to rave as she sang of looking for love as the pulsing beat pumped out of the speakers. Kaneholler finished their eight-song set with a real uptempo number that had the audience madly bouncing away as Chelsea sang, “You ain't seen nothing yet...”, but I was more than impressed by their songs and performance as they left the stage. The audience milled around anticipating The Ting-Tings as we all waited impatiently until vocalist/guitarist Katie White and drummer/guitarist Jules De Martino walked upon the stage and picked up their instruments and they opened with “Do It Again” from their current album “Super Critical” and its aggro-funk immediately got the room moving and Katie played pretty good guitar as she sassily yelped, “Stop short, do it again now, restart, do it again now, we love do it again now, go do something wrong, do it again now, do it again now, pretty sure I'd do it again now, do it again now...”, and Jules kept a sparse and taut beat. The band flowed seamlessly into a jaunty “Shut Up And Let Me Go” from their 2008 album “We Started Nothing” and they delivered it full of sass as it pulsed and throbbed and the crowd was losing their minds and then they did a disco-flavored percussive breakdown that was buzzed by battling guitars as they careened into the lumbering “Hang It Up” from their 2012 album “Sounds From Nowheresville” and Katie White rapped the lyrics with its chaotic swirling beats as she ran about the stage. Next the drummer Jules De Martino kicked into the dirty gut-bucket electro-groove of “Great DJ” from their “We Started Nothing” album and the song came alive with the driving riff of Katie's guitar and the crowd danced wildly to the tribal rhythms. The next song was one of my favorites from their set, the new wave cool of “Communication” from their “Super Critical” album and it sounded really cool as the synthesizers gurgled along to Jules as he banged out the beat and it sounded like a classic eighties song and Katie's voice sounded great as she sneered, “Don't you know that, I've got communication, oh I've, I've got communication, I'm not with it and you're not with it, but I know that I know...” I was really impressed by Katie's guitar-playing skills as she pounded out the riffs of “Give It Back” from their “Sounds From Nowheresville” album and she gleefully sang the words as Jules kicked in with the frenetic beat as the energetic crowd bounced like crazy. One of my favorite moments of the show was when the band kicked into their 2007 debut single, the sixties-influenced “Fruit Machine”, and Katie slashed out these fiery riffs and she soulfully cooed the words, “You keep playing me like a fruit machine, putting in change systematically, winning streak that you had over me, has turned into your broken tragedy...”, and then she delivered a mad guitar solo worthy of the heaviest of the heavy metal bands. Jules continued with the relentless rhythm of “Only Love” from the “Super Critical” album and he drummed with military precision as Katie sang the words over the sparse and brittle percussion and she has become quite a good guitarist since I last saw them in 2009. From the second the band started into “That's Not My Name” from the “We Started Nothing” album, the crowd was hyped because from the first beat of the drums they knew what the song was and they just loved it as she belted out, “They call me hell, they call me Stacey, they call me her, they call me Jane, that's not my name, that's not my name, that's not my name, that's not my name, they call me quiet, but I'm a riot, Mary-Jo-Lisa, always the same, that's not my name...” The drumming was tremendous as Jules gave them a work out and the swirling ball of pulsing sound they created crescendo-ed into a mass sing-a-along that was just fantastic as they segued into a glorious “Wrong Club” which is the lead single from their “Super Critical” album and a big dance-floor smash, and it is my favorite dance track of the year so far, Katie played a old-timey blues riff on her guitar and it was accented by a really cool synth riff that gave it that eighties feel and it was the highlight of the set because she belted out, “Oh, hey, I'm in the wrong club, listening to this shit, oh, hey, I'm in the wrong life, someone get me out of it, oh...”, and she did it with a raw unbridled fury that exploded with her guitar as she got real funky playing some taut riffs and she battled with their tour DJ in an eighties-style work-out as he made the turntables jump. Katie asked the light guy to bathe the stage with the nastiest green that he could find as Katie and Jules got funky on the guitars that powered the song “Green Poison” also from their new album and it was cacophony of roaring guitars and when the din died down the band burst into the ice cold techno of “Hands” from their “Sounds From Nowheresville” album and it was full of sputtering loops and a drone-y synth beat as Katie made some interesting sounds on her keyboard and the melange of sound and melody rained on the audience as the sound ebbed and flowed all around us like the tides and then they kicked in with the drums and guitar and totally raged as Katie sang and they finished the song lost in ecstatic musical glory. The Ting-Tings finished their thirteen-song set with the title-track from their new album “Super Critical”, and started it with Jules playing a sparse beat on the drums and Katie gently plucking on her guitar until they let it soar into a fantastic anthem as Katie plaintively sang, “Super critical girl, taking over the world, super critical world, taking over the girl...”, and it turned out to be a great song with a nice break where Katie battled with their DJ as he did some great scratching on the turntables and she finished the song with a scorching guitar solo until the lights and sound faded away and the audience showed them how much they love The Ting-Tings with some rapturous applause and the lights went up and the staff ushered us out of the doors so they could get ready for the late show. However it was a spectacular show that had great songs and they were fun to watch, so I went home with a happy smile on my face because I love The Ting-Tings and their fresh and original music.
QUILT - April 8, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It was a dreary overcast day as I headed to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to see a fine rock group from Boston called Quilt who have been around since 2011 and they are now touring for their new album “Held In Splendor” on Mexican Summer Records that they recorded in a month in New York City and they are quite pleased with it. Quilt take the stage and they opened with chiming guitars and a swirling rhythm section as they beautifully harmonized the words. The vocalist/guitarist Shane Butler was kind of psychedelic as he played florid riffs and licks as the other vocalist/guitarist/organist Anna Fox Rochinski tinkled out a kaleidoscopic melody line and the drummer John Andrews kept things moving at a decent clip. Their music was somewhere between Galaxie 500 and Fleetwood Mac as they used their music to spin tales of love, loss. And regret, plus they seemed rather influenced by sixties guitar-pop that ran through their songs. Singer Anna had a pleasant and mellifluous voice as she impassionedly sang the thoughtful words to their songs with an almost dream-like quality as guitarist Shane played some really cool intricate riffs that just pulsed with electronic effects that gave their sound a futuristic edge. Their music had a nice laid-back groove that bathed the audience in waves of lush sound, but the only thing that was a bit annoying was all their songs seemed to sound the same but they were really good musicians. I also liked how the guitarists Anna and Shane built layer upon layer of dense sound that pulsed and throbbed with all kinds of interesting chord progressions that went in all directions. The drummer John was quite fantastic with a great sense of timing as he kept a sparse and taut rhythm as the bassist Keven Lareau played these surging bass lines that washed all over the vocals and guitars like the tide. They played very well together as the band's sound flowed like a river as they played their music for us, and I just wished they were a little more interactive with the audience instead of standing there and looking lost. Overall their thirteen-song set was a treat to hear as their songs unleashed a plethora of quirky riffs and lovely melodies that just soothed my weary soul. I really enjoyed their performance and their songs and the way their voices blended together so nicely because I would love to see them again in a club with a more lively audience.
WAXAHATCHEE, THE GOODBYE PARTY, and NOX - April 7, 2015
Black Cat - Washington, DC
Springtime was happening full-force in the city as I trekked uptown on the metro to go to the Black Cat to see local upstarts NOX, who are an all-female punk trio, and The Goodbye Party open for indie-darlings Waxahatchee. It should be a night of guitar-driven punk-pop and hopefully I will like some of it. Locals NOX took the stage and opened with a giant fat riff from vocalist/guitarist Anna Wilson as the drummer Claire Lewis pounded away over the subtle bass line of vocalist/bassist Stella Green as she sang her questioning lyrics about the horrors of life. I liked how they played together with ease as they laid down a nice flowing rhythm that the guitar danced on with Anna's controlled playing and I really liked their vocal harmonies because they were even-toned and easy to understand. Their songs tended to be short and concise but they all had a catchy riff and a bouncy beat and on a few songs they were a bit jazzy in their playing, especially the guitarist who played some wonderful clean melody lines. They surprised me with a surprisingly good cover of Blondie's “Hanging On The Telephone” that showed that they were actually very good musicians. NOX played a rather enjoyable nine-song set that was full of drive and melody and most importantly, songs with clever lyrics. Kudos to the band! Next up was the Philly-based duo of vocalist/guitarist Michael Cantor and drummer Joey Doubek who along with their three-piece back-up band are The Goodbye Party and they are on tour in support of their latest album “Silver Blues” and they opened their show with a sustained long drone-y note as the vocalist intoned some unintelligible sounds into the microphone as the drummer Joey pummeled out the beat to their sullen words that followed. The band played nicely together and I really liked the bass lines and their sound was very sixties-influenced in their feel and song structures and their vocal harmonies were cool but I wish the vocalist was a bit more intelligible because I could barely understand him. They seemed to have potential but all their songs seemed to sound the same and bit self-indulgent and they all had the same song structures. I guess they are what you would call “post-emo” which means that they have aged and are not so angry anymore but I grew tired of them rather quickly as they droned on and on for what seemed to be the same song for their entire time on stage. The Goodbye Party played a ten-song set that was competently played but the songs went nowhere and they did not draw me into their groove. The headliners Philadelphia-based Waxahatchee featuring Alabama-born, hence the name, vocalist/guitarist Katie Crutchfield went on with her band as the opening synthesizer riff heralded her to the stage as she moaned into the highly-effected microphone with her ethereal voice on their first song “Breathless” from their just-released album “Ivy Tripp” on Merge Records and the band kicked in as she sang her self-empowering lyrics about life, love, and loss, but she was very reminiscent of so many other people especially PJ Harvey and Kristen Hersh and Tanya Donnelly of The Throwing Muses, but other than that she was a captivating performer and quite entertaining as they celebrated their new album that was released early today. The bassist Katherine Simonetti played some nice rolling bass lines that seemed to carry most of the songs that they performed in their set from the new album and 2013's “Cerulean Salt” album on Don Giovanni Records, but the drummer Ashley Arnwine was a little lacking as they blazed through their songs like “Under A Rock”, “Misery Over Dispute”, and “Poison” But Katie's singing was heartfelt and full of passion as she sang of life's little foibles in the songs they played like “Lively”, “The Dirt”, “<”, and “Waiting” and she did it with a passion that transcended her band's skills, however guitarist Keith Spencer played a nice crunchy solo in the song “Brother Bryan” and Katie's twin sister keyboardist/guitarist Allison Crutchfield broke out in a great keyboard run that was intricate and space-y on the song “Grey Hair” and had me tapping my toes. I liked how their songs had a vague “pop” feel to them without being “pop” especially the songs “Air”, “Coast To Coast”, and “La Loose”, and the bassist Katherine Simonetti just rocked her instrument and giving the songs that right feel. The guitarist Keith Spencer played some fiery riffs that followed Katie as she sang “Peace And Quiet” and the raucous closer “Bonfire” on which she really shined as Keith provided crunchy bursts on the guitar and the band's voices went well together as they harmonized like angels in a choir. The band left the stage to wild applause and they came right back and launched into the song “Summer Of Love” and they gave it a groovy psychedelic feel and Keith and Katie got their guitars squealing as they traded riffs over the swampy groove that Allison and Katherine laid down for them. The band finished their seventeen-song set with their now-classic power-pop song “I Think I Love You” which was the only song that they played off 2012's “American Weekend” album on Don Giovanni Records and it set the crowd off as they danced ecstatically until they walked off the stage. For a show that I was sent to on a whim, it was an enjoyable performance and now I really love NOX.
DAVID TEWKSBURY, BEN EPPARD, JASON BURK, COLOR SCHOOL, and PAOLO FRANCO - April 5, 2015
Iota Club & Cafe - Arlington, VA
It was a pleasant Easter Sunday evening as I trekked out to Iota Club & Cafe in Arlington to see local band Color School and they are a trio that features guitarist/vocalist Jerry Hergenreder formerly of the band Dream Kitchen and my old friend bassist Charles Steck of High Back Chairs fame and drummer Bill Kalish, plus they are playing with four Charlottesville-area singer/songwriters which I thought was strange for them but hey...a gig is a gig is a gig. I arrived at the club and the first act was Jason Burke and he played and sang some pleasant up-tempo songs with his nice baritone voice and he played the guitar pretty decent, and his lyrics were interesting and he had a few clever turns of a phrase that he delivered nicely but nothing really stuck in my head. Next up was Paolo Franco and he delivered a set of well-constructed songs that sounded like a cross between The Band and The Grateful Dead and his playing was nice and lively with lots of time changes and a decent flow to his lyrics but I wished he had a full band backing him. He was really good at finger-picking as the crystal clear notes floated throughout the room and he beautifully sang a melancholy song about missing a departed friend. He played a brief but invigorating six-song set that was full of cool guitar riffs and licks that kept my attention for his entire set. My friend Charles Steck and his band Color School took the stage and they opened with a nice gentle and loping beat as guitarist Jerry Hergenreder played bright and jangly notes on his axe and he sang with his pleasant and mellifluous voice as he played some nice solos that had soul and groove. Their songs had some insightful and deep lyrics about the agonies of love and oddly they reminded me of The Monkees and other sixties bands with the way the drums were paced and the vocal inflections of the singer Jerry as he played big riffs on the guitar. Charles Steck has always been one of my favorite local bass players because I liked his deep driving bass style and he shined on their song “Spies” as he gave the song some swing. The drummer Bill Kalish had a nice laidback style that was sparse but with the fills in all the right places that drove the music perfectly. I could hear all kinds of influences swirling underneath their songs like country, rock-a-billy, roots-rock, and straight up pop, but I liked how they influenced their songwriting, especially the tightly-controlled drumming that Charles drove with his propulsive bass playing and I liked the songs he sang lead on which was a great contrast to Jerry Hergenreder's more forlorn-sounding voice. Color School's nine-song set was quite a delight with the band's brilliant and succinct playing and clever lyrics that made for a great rock and roll show. I told the band how much I liked them and their music and then I hit the road to ride the metro back home and to bed.
SAMUEL PRATHER AND THE GROOVE ORCHESTRA- March 28, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It was one of those days where the sun was shining beautifully in the sky but down here on earth it was cold and windy as I made my way to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to see local jazz and soul legend Samuel Prather and his band Groove Orchestra so they can make my day with their groovy music. It has been a real “arty-farty” day for me in that I started things off with a visit to the Phillip's Collection in Dupont to see the Man Ray exhibit and it turned out to be quite extraordinary with some mind-blowing eye-popping art on their walls. I arrived at the Kennedy Center a little bit early today, so I had some time to kill and I walked around the place and went up on the roof and checked out the incredible Washington vista. It was finally time to find my way to the Millennium Stage and sit in my regular seat and watch the show and Samuel Prather and his band took the stage and opened with the funky “Blues For Clyde” that they dedicated to James Brown's drummer and the vocalist Micah Robinson added some JB-styled vocals squeals as my favorite local saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed wailed on his horn like Maceo Parker and the drummer John Lamkin III got down with some amazing swirling and dancing poly-rhythms and trumpeter Clarence Ward blew some clarion blasts in-between the beats. Next the band ventured into Afro-pop with a tribute to Fela Kuti with a number called “Fela Snarky” that was driven by a pulsing bass line from Tyler Sherman and Samuel Prather got all wild on the piano making beautiful runs fly everywhere as they danced with the squawking horns and playful percussion. Vocalists Christie Dashiell and Micah Robinson came to the stage and the band let loose with their more soulful version of Michael Jackson's “I Wanna Be Where You Are” and Samuel gave the song a luxurious jazz sheen with his piano as the two singers duetted on the lovely words and their voices intertwined beautifully as the band kicked out a laidback groove and Samuel's fingers danced across his keys with ease. Samuel wished his young daughter happy birthday and the band let flow a song called “Uncontainable” and it had a nice smooth jazz feel to it as he made his piano sing in-between Elijah Jamal Balbed's wailing saxophone. Samuel had a deft touch that just made his piano sound so nice as the melody lines drifted into my ears. Next the band ventured way down south and let loose with some hot Latin jazz in a song called “Carnival Di Panama” and vocalist Christie let her voice was so smooth as it melted in my ears and Samuel played another outstanding piano run that was full of dancing melodies and spicy pizazz and then Christie let loose with some amazing scat that showed off her range and the drummer John Lamkin III and percussionist Dante Pope laid down a fierce groove that had the whole place rocking as pianist Samuel got down on it with his magical fingers. The next song was “Someday We'll All Be Free” by the late legendary Donny Hathaway and Samuel delivered a touching vocal interpretation as the band jammed on a gentle groove behind him and Clarence blew a sensational trumpet solo and the song sounded beautiful and holy as they played the coda. They went right into a lovely ditty called “Time Flies” which was about just how fast time really flies and passes us by and vocalists Christie and Micah traded back and forth some thoughtful lyrics as the band laid down a cool neo-soul beat that ended with a funked up coda that just rocked. Samuel Prather and his Groove Orchestra finished their eight-song set with the showstopping “On The Big Stage” and it was propelled by Tyler Sherman's funky bass line and the rest of the band added bits and pieces of melody and rhythm as Samuel tore the piano up with some nimble playing as he accented the song with some electric piano and then that was capped by guitarist Samir Moulay's nimble fingers as he made his axe wail as the band got real funky as they ended the song with a scintillating saxophone solo from Elijah Jamal Balbed. It was a tremendous show with some phenomenal musicianship that just blew me away, and I hope to catch them again real soon.
THE GIFT - March 16, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
Spring has begun to arrive in our lovely city by the river and I wandered down to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to see the Portuguese band The Gift who are the biggest band in Portugal and they have won several awards and praises from the music industry. The band is here as a part of the “Iberian Suite: Global Arts Remix” celebration that brings attention to the artistic contributions of the people of that part of the world. The Gift have been together since 1994 and they have released several award-winning albums including their latest one called “Explode” that is winning them a worldwide audience. The band hit the stage at 6PM and opened with an ethereal song with driving drums and the singer Sonia Tavares sang in a torch style as the music rose and ebbed behind her. The pianist Nuno Goncalves' fingers glided deftly over the keys as he brilliantly let his melody lines weave in and out of the thunderous rhythm. The singer Sonia reminded me of Nina Hagen in the way that she used her voice as the band laid down a taut rhythm full of meandering guitar riffs and soaring keyboard melodies that swirled in my ears. Next they launched into a beautiful symphonic song from 2001 called “Butterfly” and it was full of layers and layers of notes and riffs as Sonia's voice soared above the music and once again the pianist Nuno and guitarists Miquel Riberio, Joao Paulo Almeida, and Israel Pereira took turns cranking out scintillating solos. They then played what they referred to as a “pop song” called “Made For You” from their 2011 album “Explode” and Sonia's voice was wonderful as it gave the song some punch and the band raged behind her with a subtle groove that segued into a lovely song that was musically very sparse but driving as she sang, “She's doing it for love...”, and it was my favorite of their set even if her voice really reminded me of Nina Hagen's voice, which is not a bad thing but...their next song got a little dance-y as the band laid down a clattery groove led by drummer Mario Pinto as Sonia let her voice stretch out with amazing bravado and the band chugged along to his fantastic drumming and the singer finished the song by her wailing on a big chorus full of passion. The band continued with another modern dance beat but it got a too little clattery sounding to me as the musicians added some hip-hop elements to the song that they topped off with a brilliant lightning-fast solo from guitarist Miquel Ribeiro. The keyboardist John Goncalves and singer Sonia played a charming love song that she sang in Portuguese as the rest of the band added little flourishes of percussion, then the full band kicked back in with a gorgeous song called “The Race Is Long” from the “Explode” album and it was full of symphonic washes as the vocalist let her voice soar as she sang the deep and meaningful words over the big beat and intricate melodies of the band. Sonia took some time to introduce the band members and then they played the last song of their ten-song set and it reminded me of a U2 song with its big choruses and The Edge-like noodling guitar riffs but they played it with great zeal like they did their whole set. They were a great band and I was surprised that I never heard of them before and I hope they develop a huge following here.
GANG OF FOUR and P.A. TELEVISION - March 3, 2015
The 9:30 Club - Washington, DC
I really really hate going to rock concerts in bad weather and especially in the winter which has seemed to overstay its welcome and it has been just dull and dreary, but there is no way that I am going to miss the funky agit-pop of Leeds-bred Gang Of Four even if they are down to one original member, co-founder guitarist Andy Gill, because the other co-founder vocalist Jon King who wrote their caustic lyrics had just recently quit the band, but at least Andy wrote all of the music. Early today I sat around my house listening to old Gang Of Four records and hoping that they would play my favorite songs from the eighties but this is a tour in support of their just released new album “What Happens Next” so they will probably feature a lot of new songs because they do not like nostalgia but we shall see. I took the metro down to the 9:30 Club and it was only the second time I have been there since my tumultuous departure from my employment at the club in 2001, so it should be interesting to see who I run into as I move about the club. I arrived and found an excellent stool in the upper bar area that was dead center in the sound and I sat quietly writing as I wondered where everybody was because the club was pretty empty, maybe it was the dismal weather or something. So I sat and reminiscented about the time I saw Gang Of Four on their “Hard” tour on October 19, 1983 at The Wax Museum in Southwest DC and at the time I was friends with then-bassist Sara Lee because I knew her from her NYC band The Raging Hormones and the band was tight and crisp and they played a phenomenal set that brought the house down...aah...those were the days! As of late I have been hearing a lot of bands whose sound owed a lot to Gang Of Four, but then I heard that they had a new album coming and they were going to tour the United States by kicking it off at the 9:30 Club. I knew I had to be there! Finally it became time for the opening act Brooklyn-based Public Access TV to take the stage and they laid down a nice solid groove full of that retro-new wave sound complete with concise little guitar solos and cool harmonies that showed why they are the “hottest band in NYC” according to Paper Magazine. They seemed to dress like The Ramones, wry lyrics by Lou Reed, and the pop sensibility of Blondie, because their music sounded like an amalgamation of famous NYC bands but with their own take on things. They played their first single “Monaco” and its quirky beat propelled the music and it made me want to po-go dance to the bassist Max Peebles' succinct playing style. The lead guitarist Xan Aird played some real hot melody lines that sawed through their music like a rusty chainsaw which was pretty good but I would not say that they were the “hottest” band in New York. The band played a nice eleven-song set that featured vocalist John Eatherly's rather funny and quip-laden singing style and Pete Starr's bouncy percussion, but their songs could have used to some big sing-a-long choruses and the singer could have stood in the lights and been more engaging with the audience. My pal Tom Berard began DJ-ing while the crew were re-setting the stage and he spun a nice blend of music that got the crowd super-hyped for Gang Of Four. The lights went down and the band took the stage as some intro music played and then mad synth loops began to play as the bassist Thomas McNeice added an eerie throb and the vocalist John “Gaoler” Sterry stretched his voice as he sang the first song “Where The Nightingale Sings” from their new album “What Happens Next” and his voice sounded nice as he sang the politically-charged words, “Turn your back on London's bitter pride, in melancholic isolation, force-feed yourself sentimentality, with golden age mythology...”, and Andy Gill added some angular riffs and noisy squeals that segued into the crunch of “Not Great Men” from 1979's genre-defining album “Entertainment!” and Andy again made his guitar scream and moan with some frenetic riffs as bassist Thomas tore his bass up as it whipped the song into a frenzy. The band went right into “I Parade Myself” from 1995's album “Shrinkwrapped” with its insightful lyrics about self-worth that was fueled by a sharp back-beat and John did the words justice as he crooned, “Look at me, ain't I fine, brand new me, dig my mind, I parade myself, one on one, I am nouveau, here I come, there I go, I parade myself...”, and Andy played some razor-sharp guitar leads that blew me away. They paused a few minutes to catch their breaths and then they played a noisy intro to “Paralysed” from 1981's genre-defying album “Solid Gold” as Andy intoned the mantra-like chorus over a taut beat and then they made the beat bigger as they began “What We All Want” also from “Solid Gold” and the drummer Jonny Finnegan laid down a phenomenal groove that was propelled by the bassist Thomas' sinister throb and Andy's scratchy guitar riffs. With squeals of feedback they launched into the ferocious funk of “Anthrax” from the album “Entertainment!” which was their anti-love song that compared the feeling of falling in love to contracting the disease anthrax and the band provided a taut rhythm for the vocalist John to yelp, “And I feel like a beetle on its back, and there's no way for me to get up, love'll get you like a case of anthrax...”, while Andy did unnatural things to his guitar and it was brilliant. Next they plowed into the frantic agit-pop of “Damaged Goods” also from “Entertainment!” and the song was one of the highlights of the set as they continued with the dark beat of “Stranded” from their new album with its haunting and angst-y vocals that were backed by a dirty guitar riff, and it was a nice song and I liked it. Then the drummer Jonny had his moment to shine with a fantastic percussion breakdown that intro-ed the fabulous “Do As I Say” from 2011's comeback album “Content” and the song pulsed and swirled around the venue like a disjointed funk song from the seventies. The band picked up the tempo with the big saucy groove of “At Home He's A Tourist” which is my favorite song from their “Entertainment!” album and it was driven by some great propulsive drumming as Andy and John traded sarcastic vocals, “At home he feels like a tourist, at home he feels like a tourist, he fills his head with culture, he gives himself an ulcer...”, and then they segued into a raucous “Isle Of Dogs” from their new album and the band lumbered through the song as it swayed like a drunk ballerina and overwhelmed my senses particular the bass playing which was exceptional. The band locked into a fierce dance groove as they kicked into an exhilarating “To Hell With Poverty!” from the 1982 EP “Another Day, Another Dollar” and vocalist John Sterry got the crowd jumping wildly as he sang the meaningful words that he roared with an angry passion, “In this land right now some are insane, a million charge, to hell with poverty, we'll get drunk on cheap wine, to hell with poverty, the check will arrive, we'll turn to boast again...”, and the audience ate it up as the members of Gang Of Four left the stage to very appreciative crowd. After a few minutes the band returned and Andy Gill said they were going to play a couple of old songs and they launched into a spastic “Why Theory?” from 1981's “Solid Gold” album with its disjointed and heavy beat with gnarly guitar riffs spilling all over the spectacular rhythm section and the singer's soaring melodies, and then to the audience's joy, the band performed a gorgeous re-vamped “I Love A Man In Uniform” from their 1982 album “Songs Of The Free” that was fitting for the times and the band played like a fine-tuned machine as the song oozed out of the speakers. They finished their fifteen-song set with an excellent “Return The Gift” from 1979's “Entertainment!” album which was a pretty traditional rock song that the vocalist John dressed up with sneer as he sang, “Everything will stop your new changing, the grid will be filled, go to Scotland no obligation, we'll send you an invitation, we'll send you an inside shower...”, and the bassist played a taut bass line that carried the song to its end. The band took their bows and ran off the stage to the thunderous applause of the audience and I was thoroughly impressed and so glad I came to see them play some of their best songs after nearly thirty years.
TWO INCH ASTRONAUT, ALARMS & CONTROLS, and FRENCH HORROR - February 27, 2015
Comet Ping Pong - Washington, DC
It was a dreary cold winter night as my friend Joel Sklar and I trekked up Connecticut Avenue to Comet Ping Pong to see a local post-punk show and since we were running late much to my chagrin we missed the first band French Horror who featured drummer Jim Spellman of Velocity Girl fame and Minor Threat/Dag Nasty/Junkyard superstar guitarist Brian Baker, but I guess I will have to catch them at a later date. But I got there in time to see Alarms & Controls play their post-modern post-punk angst-laden rock that reminded me of Gang Of Four and Fad Gadget as they cranked out big guitar riffs and disjointed beats with lyrics about the futility of adult life. The guitarist/vocalist Chris Hamley and bassist Arthur Noll battled it out with clashing angular grooves that cascaded over the throbbing percussion and the drummer Vin Novara was kind of jazzy in his playing as he rode the thunderous groove as they played songs from their recent album “Clovis Points” on Lovitt Records. Sometimes a few of their songs had a “funk” feel to them, albeit the “funk” was buried under a ton of feedback and noise and on other songs they had a blues edge to them particularly when they sounded like early Jesus And Mary Chain, I just wished one could understand the vocals better but other than that, their sound was excellent as their music accosted the audience. I liked their song structures because they were kind of like free-form jazz as the guitar and bass traded riffs like they played for Miles Davis in the seventies but with way more volume, and the songs were full of catchy hooks that made the music move as they played all these notes that seemed to keep coming and coming. Alarms & Controls played an eleven-song set that was quite enjoyable and I liked the bigness of their songs and I think they have gelled as a band and have gotten way better than when I saw them last summer. They finished their set and left the stage as the sound guys quickly changed amps and drums for tonight's headliner Two Inch Astronaut. The band kicked their set off with some quirky beats and interesting riffs and the vocalist/guitarist Samuel Rosenberg sang with dispassionate disdain for the status quo as melodies began to appear in the song as the drummer Matt Gatwood's percussion lumbered along like a low-budget Soundgarden. I liked the angst-y vocals and their guitar sound was somewhat similar to the LA metal sound, and they made a lot of noise for a trio as they plowed through their set and they flung riffs and licks everywhere as bits of melody burst through their dense music. The bassist Andy Chervenak was quite adept at providing a muscular groove for the guitarist to make his axe dance upon as the drummer pounded out a steady rhythm that bowled over everything in front of it like a freight train. On a couple of their songs the band got real melodic in the traditional rock and roll sense but Two Inch Astronaut were pretty decent though and the beat ebbed and flowed as the vocalist/guitarist sang with real passion. They are one of the better bands that have popped up on the scene in recent years as they try to forge a new DC sound. I will probably see them again because I like their songs and the interesting way that they play them. They played a marvelous seven-song set where each song stood on their own and held my attention. I love coming to see small shows here at Comet Ping Pong and the sound was excellent and I had a really good time.
URIAH HEEP - February 24, 2015
The Birchmere - Alexandria, VA
It was a cold and blustery winter day as I headed out to The Birchmere in Alexandria by metro all by myself because none of my friends wanted to go see the legendary Uriah Heep as they fast approach their fiftieth anniversary in 2019 and founding member Mick Box was leading the band into the future with their surprisingly good new album “Outsider”. I have not seen them play live since their heyday in the seventies when they toured with Long Island's Blue Oyster Cult with whom they shared management and they rocked their shows and the other bands said that they were impressed by their unparalleled professionalism, and they still play to arenas and stadiums in Eastern Europe and Asia, in fact they just got back from playing concerts in Russia and Israel and then they were a part of the sold-out Classic Rock Legends cruise in the Caribbean. Recently I saw them mentioned in one of my favorite music magazines, Classic Rock and the companion CD had a new track from them that just rocked with a passion, so I decided that I had to see them live one more time and when I saw that they were coming to The Birchmere in November of 2014, I knew I had to be there and then they unexpectedly postponed their show to February 2015 so now I find myself wanting to see them even more and I cannot wait for them to hit the stage tonight. I hope they play the title track from their most noteworthy album, 1973's “Demons And Wizards” but I got a peek at their set list and the song was not on it...oh well. At 6PM we were let in the performance area and I was able to get a table in the middle of the room and close to the stage and I sat their and waited until Uriah Heep took the stage and they opened with a pummeling drum intro from Russell Gilbrock and then Mick Box kicked in with a soaring guitar riff that drove the new song “Speed Of Sound” from the 2014 “Outsider” album with enthusiasm and passion as the vocalist Bernie Shaw sang, “Sometimes I can't keep my feet on the ground, I can't let go, my world is spinning at the speed of sound, I can't let go...”, and Mick finished the song with a scintillating and fiery guitar solo that segued into “The Hanging Tree” from 1977's “Firefly” album with its staccato beat and crunchy guitar riff that Mick played with ease as the vocalist hit some incredible notes. Next the band played a big riff eighties song called “Too Scared To Run” from the 1982 album “Abominog” and Mick and keyboardist Phil Lanzon played off each other skillfully without being too bombastic as bassist Davey Rimmer laid down a deep pulsing bottom and once again Mick Box finished the song with a killer guitar solo. They played another new song called “The Law” off the “Outsider” album and it was a well-paced thumper that just throbbed just right as Mick put the band through their paces with a bunch of tempo changes as he executed an excellent razor-sharp solo and it still sounded incredibly fresh and up-to-date and the audience loved it as they segued into the title track from the new album and of course, Mick made his guitar wail brilliantly. Next the band started off with the keyboardist Phil Lanzon deftly dancing his fleet fingers across the keys until the vocalist Bernie Shaw stepped in and opened up his throat and wailed as they laid down some soaring prog rock and they performed a gorgeous version of “Sunrise” from the monumental and career-defining “The Magician's Birthday” album that was released in 1972 along with their other monumental and career-defining album “Demons And Wizards”, but Bernie was fantastic as he howled, “Aaah, aaah, aaah, aaah oooh, sunrise, bless my eyes, catch my soul, make me whole, again...” and the vocals were incredible to hear. The bassist Davey kicked off the next song by playing the sweet and funky bass line intro to one of my favorite songs by them, “Stealin'” which was from 1973's “Sweet Freedom” album, and then the keyboardist Phil added his wailing melody line and Mick tore up his guitar with piercing riffs flying everywhere in between the song's clever words. The band was on a roll now as they launched into a majestic version of “The Magician's Birthday” from the album of the same name and they played it with all the bombastic pomp it deserved as each musician played complex melody lines that weaved and winded their way through drummer Russell Gilbrock's dense and percolating percussion as Mick Box led the band through numerous time changes, and the keyboard solo was out of this world and then Mick made his guitar squeal and sparkle with just the drummer backing him as he finished the song. The band paused and the vocalist Bernie made a few remarks about the legacy of Uriah Heep and how he was glad they were still recording new music for us such as the next two songs that they were going to play for us, first they started playing my favorite track from their new album “Outsider”, a jumpy and raucous number called “One Minute” that had the band hitting an almost funky back-beat as vocalist Bernie Shaw told the story about finding peace and love in this world as he sang, “Standing on the corner, written in the snow, did I make the right decision, not sure it's way to go, I'm lookin' for connection and now I'm here to stay, you gotta give it one minute, one hour, one more day...”; they continued with the next new song called “Can't Take That Away” that was driven by Russell Gilbrock's propulsive drumming as Mick let his guitar sing and the band throbbed away behind him. The keyboardist Phil Lanzon took the lead as he played a melodic intro full of notes that swirled everywhere for Mick to lose himself in his incredible playing as he made his guitar wail and scream until the band kicked into an elegiac “July Morning” from 1971's “Look At Yourself” album and they gently back the vocalist with the song's bounding rhythms and soaring leads that gave me the chills as Mick played out the song with such grace as the guitar faded away. Mick said the next song was a “happy hippy” song and he started strumming an acoustic guitar as the vocalist Bernie singing the ageless classic “Lady In Black” from 1971's “Salisbury” album and the rhythm section gently jangled as his voice took flight in the words, “And if one day she comes to you, drink deeply from her words so wise, take courage from her as your prize, and say hello from me...”, and then he led the audience in singing along with him and the band finished the song with a flourish as it crescendo-ed and faded out and the band left the stage. After a few minutes the members of Uriah Heep returned to the cheering adoring crowd and immediately launched into “Easy Livin”” from 1972's masterpiece “Demons And Wizards” album and the whole audience was singing, “Waiting, watching, wishing my whole life away, dreaming, thinking, ready for my happy day, and some easy livin'...” It was a great way to end their thirteen-song set as the houselights went up and the band took one last bow and greeted fans as they left the stage. Who would have thought that Uriah Heep would still be rocking it after all these years! I was glad I made the trek out to The Birchmere to see them.
AN EVENING WITH CRAIG FERGUSON - February 7, 2015
The Warner Theatre - Washington, DC
BLUE OYSTER CULT and THE SMALLWOOD BROTHERS - January 31, 2015
Tally Ho Theater - Leesburg, VA
TARUS MATEEN AND WESTAFROEAST - January 28, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
I bundled myself up in several layers of coats to face the drearily cold Washington evening and I made my way on the metro to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to see Tarus Mateen and his band WestAfroEast lay down their brand of dark and murky jazz-funk with an African slant. The bassist Tarus Mateen is one of the best in the world and his range is incredible and he has played with everyone from jazz greats Betty Carter and George Benson to hip-hoppers The Goodie Mob and Outkast to reggae greats Judy Mowatt and Sly and Robbie and he has guested with many others on their albums and concerts. So tonight the band took the stage and the drummer Umar Mateen started tapping the beat and then his brother saxophonist Radji Mateen strolled onstage gently wailing away on his horn as his younger brother bassist and bandleader Tarus Mateen entered and he introduced the members of the band and then he got busy on the bass as he let loose with a cavalcade of riffs as he scatted into the microphone. The band laid down a nice hard jazz groove and Tarus made his bass pop as they made the jazz flow as the instruments played off each other especially the guitarist Samir Moulay who shined with some tasty riffs. I liked how each musician played with complete control of their instrument as the music swirled and dance into the concert hall. The next song they performed was called “Mercy” and started with a taut funk bass line that reminded me of Bootsy Collins until the rest of the band kicked in with a solid groove as the saxophonist Radji Mateen wailed away with crystalline sound as he floated above the pulsing rhythm and the guitarist Samir took the lead with some nice jazz riffs that had me tapping my toes until the keyboardist Hope Udobi took the lead with a riveting melody line while the whole time the drummer Abdu Mboup kept amazing time with his percolating rhythms and tempos. They switched the mood up with some uptempo percussive Afro-beats that just galloped off the stage as each of them blended their intricate playing into a creamy groove that just made me want to dance. The skillful interplay between the musicians was outstanding as they grooved along to the exquisite djembe playing of drummer Abdu that led to the most intense bass solo from Tarus as the audience joyfully clapped along with the band. Next the band moved into some reggae and they skanked away with the lighthearted and bouncy percussion as the drummer laid down a crisp groove so the saxophonist could wail away on the island rhythms and the guitarist outdid himself with a lovely scorching solo with stretched out notes that flitted across the stage as the band languidly followed him. Tarus Mateen and WestAfroEast closed their six-song set with some trippy pseudo-psychedelia that had some sensational bass playing from Tarus as he solo-ed with deep intensity until the band kicked in with some uptown jazz that just flowed into my ears, and especially the saxophone solo from Radji Mateen that was followed by guitarist Samir Moulay's fleet-fingered playing as he gave the song some bite with his gnarly riffs and the band ended the song with a breakdown that led to Hope Udobe's delicate piano melody that was just beautiful as they finished. I was blown away by their performance and I loved every second of it because each musician was just fantastic and the songs were out of this world and I would love to see them again and again.
BOOTSY COLLIN'S RUBBER BAND - January 23, 2015
Howard Theatre - Washington, DC
CHELSEY GREEN AND THE GREEN PROJECT - January 17, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It was an almost pleasant winter day as I hurried to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to see one of my favorite local acts, Chelsey Green and The Green Project, and it was her second appearance of this stage and I was psyched! Chelsey Green has been playing the violin since she was five years old down in Houston, Texas and then she moved to Maryland to further her musical education at the University Of Maryland. Over the past couple of years she has played everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the David Letterman Show to the Blue Alley and The Howard Theater and she has performed with a lot of artists like Black Thought and Questlove of The Roots, Maysa, Denyce Graves, and Reuben Studdard. She recently released her first full-length album, “The Green Room”, which reached #7 on the iTunes Jazz Albums Charts and #22 on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Albums Charts and she is showcasing the album tonight. Chelsey Green and her band hit the stage and she made her violin sing beautifully as she played the melody line of their first song, “These Are The Things”, and it soared and crescendo-ed with an elegant grace and her fantastic drummer Brian “Spyda” Wheatley kept a terse and percussive beat that just drove the song as her playing became almost frenzied. Chelsey warmly greeted the overflowing audience and she introduced the band and told us why she loved the color “green” so much, and then she launched into a mash-up of Rihanna's “Diamonds” and a piece by the composer Pacobel and it was tremendous as the two melodies merged and danced together and her pianist Lorenzo Johnson was excellent as he filled the spaces between Chelsey's violin notes. It was beautiful and it made Rihanna's song so much more. Next they played a song from their first EP “Still Green” called “Groove Ready” and the band rocked it as Chelsey bounced between R&B and jazz with a touch of funk and she made her violin wail as if it was a vocalist and the song featured a wonderful rhythm section that just flowed as the two keyboardists, Lorenzo Johnson and Ignatius Perry Jr., traded riffs and bassist Kevin Powe Jr. pumped his instrument were exceptional on this song. The band continued with a song from their new album “The Green Room” called “Road Trip” and it had a very southern feel to it and each of the musicians traded riffs and melodies with the bassist underpinned the beat with walloping bass lines and Lorenzo played a space-y keyboard part that reminded me of P-Funk's Bernie Worrell and Chelsey finished the song with some very psychedelic-effected violin riffs that just made the song come alive. Chelsey took some time to talk about how they work with the youth in the schools and tell them that live music is alive and well and that you do not need a computer to make music, and then they proceeded into another song from their new album called “Pizzicato #3” that beautifully expressed longing and loss as she finger-picked a haunting melody until she picked up her bow and really rocked it. She put down her violin and grabbed the microphone and gently sang of the constant changes in life with the lovely ditty “Falling Leaves” as she very soulfully mourned the loss of a lover and Ignatius tore his piano up with the most ferocious melody over Spyda's driving percussion. The band segued into the gently rushing rhythm of the song “One AM” from the new album and it was a lovely song with swirling melodies that danced over Spyda's succinct drumming, plus I really liked how Chelsey used her effects pedals to give her violin sound some punch as she played from her soul as they finished the song with a little bit of Floetry's “Can't Help It”. Chelsey and her band ended their eight-song set with a mash-up of Beyonce and Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, and “Crazy In Love” never sounded better and it actually made me appreciate the song's melody as they mixed in bits of Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder's music. The drummer Spyda was just phenomenal as he kept the beat so that Chelsey could make her wonderfully melodic violin playing soar and I was once again thoroughly impressed by Chelsey Green and The Green Project and their wonderful interpretations of popular songs that for the most part they improved upon them and she has great stage presence and I will have to go see them again.
JUNGLE FUNK - January 14, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It was a dreary winter day as I headed to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to see virtuosos supergroup Jungle Funk and the band features drummer Will Calhoun and bassist Doug Wimbish from the legendary group Living Colour and vocalist Vinx De'Jon Parrette who takes his vocals to a new level with some electronic wizardry. The band took an awful long time to soundcheck and I did not get to my regular seat until way after 5:30PM which is the standard time for the audience to be let in the seating area so I guess they are a bit frazzled and tired from Living Colour band practice for a national tour they are undertaking in February. The program says that their music is DJ inspired so I guess that explains their lack of guitars and keyboards but they look like they can rock it anyway. Jungle Funk take the stage and announce themselves and kick into a space-y intro for their first song that reminded me of drum'n'bass in the way that Will played the drums and Vinx let his warm soothing voice intone some vocal lines as they pushed through the dense rhythm and Doug played his bass like no other with all kinds of glisses and intricate runs that made it seem like he was playing a guitar. Vinx joked that this was the cleanest place that they ever played in as they launched into a laidback number called “Still I Try” which was about a girl as the band's gentle rhythm hit a groove and Doug made his bass go wild with all kinds of strange noises as he rode the percussive groove ably supplied by Will. I was amazed by Doug's skillful bass playing as he played the riffs like a guitarist. They got back into the drum'n'bass groove with a the song called “Worship” and Vinx's voice soared above the music like beautiful birds flying into the sunset as Will and Doug propelled the beat with their incredible musicianship. Next they performed a “love song” called “I Can't Stand Your Lovely Face No More” and it had a nice neo-soul groove that just bounced along to Will's bubbly playing and Doug's languid bass line as Vinx scatted away at the microphone. I liked the easy report between the band members and all their jokes about being old that were quite funny. On the next song they got all psychedelic and trippy as they sang ”Making My Own Reality” and Doug got all space-y on his bass as Will pounded the drums into submission until they went into a jazzy interlude with Vinx making all kinds of vocal sounds with his effects as the band added layers of rhythms and percussion to the sound. The highlight of the show came next as Doug delicately played his bass and the melody line was gorgeous as he played one of the most beautiful bass solos I ever seen as he laid down layers of melody that made me once again think he was playing the guitar. It was spectacular as notes floated everywhere and Will returned to the stage with a djembe and then they kicked into a trance-like world beat and they took me on a hypnotic musical journey and then Vinx jumped in with his mind-blowing electronically-altered scatting as the band laid down a sparse groove that made me think of the music of Seal and Sting. I was completely blown away by Jungle Funk as they played their seven-song set with a fire and passion that rocked me and I wish Will and Doug the best of luck on their upcoming Living Colour tour and I hope they release some new music.
SOULE MONDE - January 9, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It was a dreary frozen winter day as I made my way to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to see Soule Monde who are a drums and organ duo made up of Russ Lawton and Ray Paczkowski and they are the veterans of the local Vermont music scene who have played with the Trey Anastasio Band who are an off-shoot of jam band Phish. In this project they play jazzy funk that pushes the envelope with their improvisation skills. The two of them take the stage and Russ kicks out a 4/4 beat on the drums and Ray gets all funky on his various keyboards with swirling waves of melody as Russ stayed deep in the pocket as he propelled the rhythm along with his precise drumming. Ray played all kinds of melody lines on his keyboards that seemed to transverse genres as his playing reminded me of P-Funk legend Bernie Worrell with his jazzier fills and Sly Stone on his more soulful fills and they traveled around the musical world as they added various nuances to the basic groove that they laid down with ease. The drummer Russ kept a rock-steady beat throughout their set as Ray worked his magic on his organ and assorted keyboards until they just exploded with notes and melodies. They jumped genres and styles effortlessly as they went from soulful country funk to island funk to gritty urban funk without ever missing a beat but I really wished they had some other musicians onstage with them to flesh their sound out so they did not seem like they were having a really good rehearsal session that bordered on tedious instead of playing a show. Occasionally Ray's playing reminded me of the fantastic Booker T with the way that he placed the notes in the song structure because I kept hearing the melody of Booker T And The MGs' sixties soul classic “Green Onions” in everything they performed, but Russ was a really good drummer as he kept the songs tight as he pounded away with his deft touch. After a while it seemed that they just played the same song over and over with various differences in the nuances that each song tried to convey, even when they got a little psychedelic and trippy with their funk. Sometimes their tunes bordered on “world” music as the two of them got a bit tricky in their tempo changes and Ray stretched his melody lines out but Russ kept him in check with his sharp and crisp drumming. On one of their songs Ray reminded me of Stevie Wonder from his classic “Songs In The Key Of Life” period because he would play these organ riffs in a way where I half-expected them to morph into the Stevie Wonder chart-topper “Superstition”. Overall Soule Monde's eight-song set was pleasant to listen to but I missed the vocals and guitars and most all, a real funky bass so it felt like I was watching a rehearsal practice but they put me in a good mood with their upbeat music.
ULTRAFAUX - January 6, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
It was the first snow of the season so I had to trek through the wintry mess to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage to see Baltimore band Ultrafaux play their instrumental gypsy jazz to soothe my harried soul. Ultrafaux are a trio comprised of two guitarists, Michael Joseph Harris and Sami Arefin, and bassist Eddie Hrybyk, and they play powerful and melodic music that just thrills the soul. The trio takes the stage and they launch into a stirring number full of cascading rhythms and intense intertwining guitar riffs that seemed to drive themselves with the percussion of hitting the notes. Michael and Sami traded powerful riffs composed of a multitude of notes that conveyed a sense of beauty in the swirling music, Michael played some muscular and flowing guitar as he played each note and Sami followed him with counter-melodies that made the songs come alive and Eddie followed them with a groovy soulful bass line that had a life of its own. They were playing in sync with each other in a way that was phenomenal and almost psychic and especially the bassist who brought the spiraling melodies of their all-original compositions together with a touch of familiarity. The three of them were really good at their instruments as they played layers upon layers of guitar lines that were full of soul and life. They debuted a new song called “Hot Feet” about dancing to some good ole swing music and it was quite enjoyable as they made the notes writhe and wiggle all over the place and so I got the song stuck in my head as Michael picked some beautiful melody lines on his guitar. The band played some genuinely inventive runs on their guitars as bassist Eddie pushed them along with his ocean-sized riffs as the melody just bounced across my eardrums. They debuted another new song called “Madness Is Waltz” and it was full of counter-melodies that twirled around the solid bass lines of Eddie with the deftness of ballet dancers. Their rather lively playing reminded me of guitarists John McLaughlin and Al DiMeola from their vibrant late seventies/early eighties period with their two very distinctive styles merging as they made notes that flew everywhere. However, as usual I became bored of their instrumentals and I wished they had some vocals to accompany their music which was so full of life that one had to shout about it and their music's diverse influences made you want to hear some vocals expressing this joy. Overall I found their eleven-song set quite inspirational and full of melody that was driven by the bassist Eddie Hrybrk's exquisite playing that united the two guitarists, Michael Joseph Harris and Sami Arefin, in swirling majesty despite the lack of vocals. Ultrafaux finished their set with a song that they almost left off their debut album called “La Moushe” but it proved to be one of their most popular songs and they zipped through its intricate rhythms and melodies and its pulsing bass line, and I just loved it. Their last number of the evening was called “Dom Eve” and it was a classically-informed song that swirled in my ears magically with its dual lead lines and a very percussive bass line from Eddie. All in all, it was a fantastic show of dazzling guitar-wizardry and well-written songs and I would not mind seeing them again.
WYTOLD - January 2, 2015
Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage - Washington, DC
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