With security guards taking residence around the stage, DC’s Rock ‘n Roll Hotel braced itself for an unlikely pairing of punk-rock-pop-party debauchery. “WARNING: guaranteed shit show tonight! Hope you are all ready to party….hard!” the venue wrote before the show. They weren’t kidding.
Openers Free Energy may soon have another deal to add under their belt, besides just being produced by the legendary James Murphy. Given the unadulterated rock and roll lovefest they brought to the stage, their hometown of Philadelphia may soon be seeking them as spokespeople for the city of brotherly love. The 70s loving, long-haired quintent, were unapologetic in their references to Cheap Trick and Phil Lynott, without feeling anything like a cover band. Lead singer Paul Sprangers got on stage with gangly-limbed dance moves and Johansen-esque microphone caresses. His bandmates joined in on the action, with guitarist Scott Wells parading around on stage smiling and whipping his hair, walking over to his actual brother, bassist Evan Wells, as they jammed in all their classic rock glory. Even the punk-rocker headliners Titus Andronicus couldn’t resist, joining FE on stage for a duet of Springsteen’s ‘I’m Going Down.” As Sprangers and Patrick Stickles embraced, somewhere in Philadelphia the mayor picked up the phone.
When Titus Andronicus took the stage and Stickles sounded the first chords of “A More Perfect Union’ the audience rumbled forward. Within seconds both the stage and the mosh pit-once-floor were drenched in sweat. Strickles may seem like the unlikely leader, but it is a position he doesn’t simply assume, but commands both with his intelligence and brute force. He knows his musical back-story (Well, almost. He taunted with a few chords of ‘Waiting Room’ before admitting he didn’t know the rest), his historical context (a band named after Shakespeare and a concept album using the Civil War as social commentary) and he understands how to fill the left over cracks of a disillusioned generation. Sure, there are other bands that tackle the millennial generation promised everything which then added up to nothing. But TA do it will a nihilistic this-ship-is-going-down-and-we’re-going-with-you guttural yell.
While much credit is given to Strickles, the contributions of Amy Klein should not go unnoticed. In a seeming boys-club she stomps on stage and beats them at their own game. She screams, she yells, she plays classical violin. Klein’s talents, which expand far beyond a concert hall, easily nominate her as a voice of this age in the same way Kathleen Hanna stormed the 90s. After joining in for one of Free Energy’s songs, a band member said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the remarkable Amy Klein.” Such a phrase was perhaps the only understated thing about the night. While the night certainly produced a few bruises, one simply could not shake the feeling of one big happy anarchist-punk-pop-screw the titles-family amongst all the musicians. Throughout TA’s set, Free Energy eagerly waited in the wings, bobbing their heads and heckling from the sidelines. It would hardly be a surprise if tour dates were soon released for “The Titus Andronicus Free Energy Family Band.” (Free T&A is also in the running). Yet despite any potential title changes perhaps the best note can be taken from the headliner’s namesake: “A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet”; regardless of any formalities, these guys would still rock.
Two up-and-coming bands burning up the indie rock stratosphere rocked out an energetic show last night in downtown DC. Surfer Blood, an indie rock band from West Palm Beach, Florida, and The Drums, an indie pop band from Brooklyn, New York. Both acts are part of a “surf-rock” resurgence gaining momentum throughout the indie community.
It would not be surprising if the latest tabloid were to reveal that The Drums lead singer, Johnathan Pierce, was the secret love child of a Jagger-Bowie affair or that the quartet met while rehearsing for a musical adaption of Hamlet. What was astonishing about their performance was that they managed to keep up the energy and theatricality throughout the show without coming off as kitschy or, even worse, boring. Much of this was due to Pierce, who twirled onstage like a matador, whipping the microphone around as his incendiary red flag. The audience, who paced like captured bulls before the band even took the stage, eagerly responded. Accompanying Pierce was Jacob Graham (Guitar), Adam Kessler (Guitar) and Connor Hanwick (Drums), as they began with the song, “Best Friend” and then having captured the audience appropriately dove into “Submarine.” While their heritage is a bit jumbled, with starts in Florida but claims to New York City, their influences are surely almost all overseas. In a game of Sounds Like, one would quickly produce The Field Mice, The Smiths, with a helping of New Order and the aforementioned Jagger-Swagger. When Pierce sang, “If you fall asleep down by the water, baby I’ll carry you all the way home“ and then emphatically threw his mic, it was clear that Morrissey may have taught him a thing or two, both about lyrics and social graces. And like Steven the Great, it worked.
Despite an epic entrance to the anthem of Jurassic Park, the start of Surfer Blood’s set began with a bit of a fumble. “We got the song right, ” guitarist Thomas Fekete laughed, “We just fucking forgot to set up.” Brief tension circulated, but it all was forgiven when the band, consisting of John Paul Pitts, Tyler Schwarz, Brian Black, Thomas Fekete, and Marcos Marchesani, began to strum their familiar guitar stronghold. More likely a musical shift, rather than just stress from the night, lead singer Pitts traded in his usual vocals for a more ragged, almost screaming sound, displayed on songs like “Take It Easy.” It worked well.
Keyboardist Marchesan was quite the attraction; his billowy afro bouncing as he slammed the drums, shook the maracas and pounded the keyboard proving himself to be quite the renaissance man. Surfer Blood did deliver as expected, with more than a dose of Rivers Cuomo, Pavement and some Beach Boys-ian guitar rifts. Surfer Bloods’ prowess, however, is their ability to make many references, David Lynch included, and be slave to none. In one moment, Pitts is pulling out hazy synths and dance-punk on “Fast Jabroni” and in the next breath the afro-beats take over in “Take it Easy.” Just when you think you’ve pinpointed their sound, they spin you in a new direction. Towards the end of the set and with a hint of a smile, Pitts turned and walked over to Fekete and they pressed their heads together while playing complimentary guitars, seemingly gleeful. With an audience unwilling to let them go without a double encore and the ink still wet on their Warner Brothers contract, it seems like SB has a lot to smile about. And if they continue to ride this wave, so do we.
Outside of Virginia’s State Theatre, the playlist of the passing cars hummed tunes that signaled a departure from the big city. Pick-up trucks with rolled down windows blasted the melodies of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Echoing against the classic structure of the 1930s theatre, with it’s large marquee and traditional ticket booth, the nostalgic feel seemed perfect to host the sounds of Rooney, a band who seeks to breath new live into the pop-sound of a bygone era.
The night began with Cobra Collective, a punk-pop foursome whose catchy hooks were second only to lead singer Scott Westfall’s fancy footwork. Stealthily subversive, much of the band’s antics may have gone unnoticed by the younger audience. “This is a new one, but I guess they’re all new to you,” Westfall said with a cheeky smile. CC’s raw sound proved a good balance against the often patronizingly sweet Rooney, replacing what they lacked in originality with guns-blazing, 80s-punk throwbacks. Westfall slyly managed to get in his final word, placing his band pass sticker not so subtly directly at his crotch. CC seemed to be laughing at the crowd as well as themselves, letting people in on the joke if they were willing to listen.
When Rooney took the stage they were met by deafening shrieks and a fan-made flag, which front man Robert Schwartzman quickly snatched and paraded about on stage. While Schwartzman makes for an impressive game of 6-degrees (he’s a Hollywood child of the Coppola dynasty), his efforts to set himself apart with Rooney have not gone unnoticed. After a brief stint in the early millennium pop-culture mainstream, they’re looking for a comeback with their album “Eureka!” The 12-song LP does live up to the exclamation in that they seem to have discovered the often-illusive formula of how to mature with their sound. That being said, it isn’t a musical breakthrough, although that doesn’t seem to be something to which Rooney aspires.
Schwartzman needed no ‘aha moment’ to play to the crowd, something he already does quite well. Only guitarist Taylor Locke, who was prone to throw out a few casual winks to the young schoolgirls, seemed to match his antics. Credit must be given to their mastery of their instruments, and Schwartzman, aside from any bravado, did graciously take a back seat at the drums to allow Ned Brower to step in on vocals.
Declaring their roots in Americana, many of their songs reflect that image with titles like “Daisy Duke”, “Freedom Fighters”, and they also took a turn at covering Neil Young’s classic, “Rocking in the Free World.” Not unlike their openers, Rooney has the penchant for penning covertly rebellious tunes. When the band got up to play “I Should’ve Been After You” girls swooned to a perceived love song, the lyrics reveal what could only be described as the sexual conquests of an egomaniac. “I know it looks bad ’cause I kissed all your girlfriends/ But that’s what you get when you live in a small world.” Rooney is completely unapologetic in their musical throwback style, their double-entendre-drenched lyrics, and the very personas they inhabit once taking the stage.
While Rooney hasn’t found a sound that will catapult them into the realm of those to whom they aspire, they managed to play a solid, complete set and even stayed to greet fans, and their mothers, afterward. If that doesn’t say good ol’ American boys, what does?
While perhaps a forgotten memory to many Americans, our friendly nation to the north, Canada, once burned down our White House. Proving history can repeat itself, a mostly Canadian line-up (Arkells, Tokyo Police Club), and some Brooklynites (Freelance Whales), stormed the nation’s capital once again at the Black Cat Club in downtown DC. While the torch-fire was ostensibly missing, the amazing light show and raw energy made sure that sparks were flying.
In looking for a solid opener, Tokyo Police Club could not have done better with their gem of a find, Arkells. While the band may not yet have garnished their much-deserved recognition in the states, with sets like this it shouldn’t be long. Their songs invoke tales of working-class heroes, so titles such as “John Lennon” come as no surprise along with “Oh, the Boss is Coming!”, “No Champagne Socialist” and “The Ballad of Huge Chavez.” Yet, they displayed no disruptive balance of power, instead providing a glimpse of refreshing band camaraderie, with guitarist Mike DeAngelis often roaming the stage to confront others in playful on-stage duels. After closing the set, it was apparent it would be a battle for those who were to follow.
Freelance Whales took to the stage next, playing a solid set comprised of a literal musical chairs, as they constantly switched amongst their armory of instruments. The band did have one thing missing, the musical apparatus that has attained a cult-like status amongst fans: a silver tin watering can. FW sound similar to many bands you’ve already heard, often drawing comparisons to Passion Pit or the Postal Service, an appropriate evaluation as they could deviate to either fates: current sensation or one-record wonders. FW plays to the present phenomenon of artsy-folk-instrumental-synthetic-pop-rock and it seems what will come to be their greatest hurdle is not just being a great copy of all the Sufjans and Gibbards before them, but a new reinvention that seems relevant not just reformed.
As the lights exploded color and outlined shadows of the four-some appeared, pandemonium erupted. For the band that promised “a way to celebrate”, Tokyo Police Club did not disappoint. They tore onto the stage with ‘Favourite Colour’ followed by ‘Nature of the Experiment’ and ‘Not Sick’. TPC is a band made to be seen live and they truly did what they know best. Allowing for little chatter between songs, the Canadian rockers ripped through years of our collective memories at breakneck speed. For those younger in the audience, TPC’s lyrics read like an unrealized cautionary tale; for others it serves as a memoir. Backed by a stellar band and a magnetic front man, TPC’s performance shows why they are one of the best reads out on the market. While it has yet to be seen if their relevance can withstand the years, TPC are happy where they are now, ‘happy to be back’, and it’s a happiness that can’t help but be contagious. And as the crowd left etched with smiles, one thing was clear. History can repeat itself, even with the absence of fire and a building colored black, Canadians most certainly can still bring down the house.
Tokyo Police Club Set List:
Nature of the Experiment
End of a Spark
In a Cave
Citizens of Tomorrow
Wait up (Boots of Danger)
Your English is Good
Writer/Photographer: Brooks Hays
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel is located in the dare I say “hip” up and coming neighborhood often referred to as “H Street” and formerly known as the “Atlas District.” The venue is a more rough and tumble version of the Black Cat, with a rowdier clientele, limited standing room, and less bar space to track down a drink. When you do manage to lure a bartender over to your smidgen of claimed wood, he only charges you four dollars when you order a 22 oz. PBR. Like DC9, it’s rather easy to slither you’re way to the very front of the crowd, a short flip of sweat and slobber away from the lead singer. But in the case of The Junior League, that lead singer is a foxy Southern belle with mean banjo skills. Unfortunately Lissy Rosemont’s love shakin’ curves are spoken for, as she mentioned her fiance during some inter-song babble. But listeners can still close their eyes, savor her uniquely throaty and seductive vocals, flavored with a sweet Southern drawl and the smell of whiskey, and let one’s imaginations run wild. The Junior League’s sound is hard to pin down, but it’s clear that much of it is intended for a crowd willing to drink heavily and dance, preferable progressive line dancing and intermittent high kicks. The primary concoction here is a dynamic combination of country, blue grass, and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s mixed with a down-home sensibility and packaged for a swanky saloon or smoky New Orleans piano bar. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel sufficed for the night. The setlist consisted of mostly samplings from the group’s newest record *Jelly Roll*, but was seasoned with some of Rosemont’s oldest material, as well as a well-executed Muddy Water’s cover, and a rousing rendition of The Beatles’ “I’ve Got A Feeling” (also found on their recent release). While I wasn’t lubricated enough to risk the safety of my camera and let loose on the dance floor, nor familiar enough with The Junior Leagues repertoire to sing along, I’m always game for a good ole fashioned honky-tonk alt-country show, and the Junior League delivered. What I liked most about the Junior League was their ability to deftly negotiate the use and mix of, as well as transitioning among, so many different genres, from blue grass to folk to country to rock, to even jazz and the Delta blues. The group held the stage with obvious delight, smiling and laughing through the entirety of their set. Lead guitarist John Lee ripped solo after solo, and proceeded to brush off his shoulders like it ain’t no thang. All of the members of the band play in at least one other group, making it quite difficult for them to tour. But let’s hope they work out the logistics and hit another DC stage soon. I want to be there again before these guys make it to the majors.
Don’t Be A Stranger
The Best Is Yet
A Curious Thing
Falling For You
Waiting For Your Love
My Demon Is Bigger Than Yours
So I Went Out
I’ve Got A Feeling
Red Is The Rose
Guest Writer/Photography: Brooks Hays
The 9:30 Club in downtown Washington DC is an amalgamation of three of my all time favorite venues: The Tabernacle (Atlanta), The Norva (Norfolk), and The National (Richmond). It may lack the intimacy of the Black Cat, DC9, or Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel, but don’t worry, the domestics are the familiar seven dollar bargain. Seriously, the 9:30 is the perfect size. It’s big enough to house a large, energetic crowd, but small enough to always have a decent view of the stage. And much like the night’s act Blitzen Trapper, the club has plenty of grungy attitude and funky character.
Opening acts are by nature hit or miss, and The Moondoggies were somewhat of an air ball. By their name, I wasn’t sure if to expect an opening band or some promo-act marketing a new TV show for preschoolers. Disappointingly, The Moondoggies were not a Nick Jr. show, they were a striving folk band that just didn’t quite do it for me. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before the true Northwest attraction took the stage. A plume of thick smoke billowed down from the top floor, and I could only assume, if it wasn’t the product of a fog machine, that it was a sweet smoke spewing from the opening of the green room. Either way, it signaled the beginning of the real rock show.
Blitzen Trapper opened with a solid rendition of Furr’s “Black River Killer.” It was a nice reminder of why I first got hooked on these fellas in the first place, and I got the sense I wasn’t the only one present who felt this way. Afterwards they announced their intention to play many songs from their just released album Destroyer of the Void. You could hear the collective murmur and mumble throughout the crowd as a few “pre-release” downloaders wondered if singing along to these new songs might publicly reveal their copyright transgressions. Thanks to the band’s free streaming of the album, it was a moot point. BT quickly moved into an electrifying version of “Love and Hate” with Eric Early channeling a bluesy David Bowie, and his bandmates providing spooky harmonies and funky tonal textures. The band went on to play almost all of their newest album (highlights being “Dragon’s Song” and “Below the Hurricane”), while sprinkling in a few crowd favorites like a pounding, pleasure-filled “God and Suicide” and a lighter/cellphone-inducing “Furr.” Blitzen Trapper doesn’t seem to have a particularly bad song, so my attention never entirely left the stage, but their collective energy seemed to come and go, catching stride for short periods, but coasting into vague disinterest and mediocrity for stretches all the same. Early’s lyrics, vocal projection, and piercing passion for song were most impressive when he turned to the piano and held the spotlight for several “almost” solo performances (I recall particularly moving versions of the “Not Your Lover,” “Sadie,” and “Heaven and Earth”). The band’s romping encore left me intrigued and anxious, as they played two lesser known tracks “Jericho” and “Big Black Bird” and closed with Wild Mountain Nation‘s funky opener “Devil’s a Go-Go”. Eric Early and friends employed a strong alt-country folk meets frolicking Honky Tonk vibe, as the band never stopped firing on it’s rock n roll cylinders. The boys from Portland left the stage on the same high note they came in on leaving the crowd and myself in a complete state of Blitzen bliss.
1.“Black River Killer”
2. “Laughing Lover”
3. “Fire + Bullets”
4. “God and Suicide”
5. “Love and Hate”
6. “Destroyer of the Void”
7. “Evening Star”
8. “Not Your Lover”
9. “Below the Hurricane”
10. “Lady on the Water
11. “Silver Moon”
12. “The Tree”
13. “The Man Who Would Speak True”
15. “Sleepy Time in the Western World”
16. “Dragon’s Song”
18. “Wild Mountain Nation”
19. “Heaven and Earth”
21. “Big Black Bird”
22. “Devil’s a Go-Go”
Dr. Dog has been a personal favorite of mine for years, but for one reason or another I haven’t been able to catch the live show, leaving them pretty high on my concert wish list. The band’s last three albums have become staples in my collection and I have had their latest album Shame, Shame pretty much playing on repeat since it’s release last month. When the band announced a show in Washington D.C., only a few hours from our home base I decided it was about time to take a trip and make it happen.
Thanks to the 9:30 club’s start time namesake, most of the sold out crowd arrived early enough to catch the opening act Deer Tick, who’s strong opening performance no doubt sold a few pre-orders of their upcoming album The Black Dirt Sessions. When Dr. Dog took the stage around 10:45, the next two hours flew by in what felt like dog years (or hours). The band’s fun, high energy sound that is ever present on their albums, was only escalated in the live show. As expected, the setlist put the spotlight on the new album Shame Shame, but wasn’t without it’s fair share of favorites from albums past including “The Rabbit the Bat and the Reindeer”, “The Way the Lazy Do”, “Hang On”, and “Die, Die, Die”. The encore even featured a surprisingly heavily requested “Heart it Races” much to the delight of the up-front fans.
For a band that draws so many comparisons to bands like The Beatles and Beach Boys, who never played most of their best material live, Dr. Dog sure does put on quite the concert. Their live show is actually quite ambitious, and doesn’t shy away from the harmonies and details that make their albums great. There is a certain intensity in the live performance that adds another dynamic to this excellent group of songs. I left the show loving the tunes from Shame, Shame even more, and the great performances of old favorites left me wanting to dig back into the older discs.
Somehow managing to exceed my impossibly high expectations, this turned out to be one of the best shows I have seen in quite some time. Simply put, a Dr. Dog show is an absolute blast.
When it was announced that My Morning Jacket would be playing some U.S. spring shows, I instantly went to their site to scope out dates near my home base in the 757. After lead singer Jim James took a spill off a stage during their 2008 tour, causing them to cancel a show at Richmond’s The National, I have anxiously been awaiting my opportunity to soak in MMJ’s live show as opposed to monthly viewings of their concert DVD, Okonokos. Fortune smiled on me when I saw a weekend show at Maryland’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. Tickets were purchased, hotels were booked, ride arrangements were made and a rock and roll prayer went out to keep Jim and company safe in avoidance of yet another cancellation.
My Morning Jacket’s sound is purely American with hints of blues, country, and rock, so it was fitting that they brought a piece of American musical history on the road with them. New Orleans’ own Preservation Jazz Hall Band. Their 30-minute set included a visit from Mr. Jim James himself as he sang vocals through a giant megaphone ala a carnival barker. They closed their set with “St James Infirmary Blues”, an American folk song made famous by Louis Armstrong and covered by dozens of artists ranging from The White Stripes to Van Morrison.
It was fitting on Derby Day that the boys from Kentucky took the stage at 9pm accompanied by the “Call to the Post.” That was slowly transitioned into a cover of The Who’s “Eminence Front”, which grabbed your attention both sonically and visually with its gradual climb into guitar anarchy before a smooth transition into One Big Holiday off of the 2003 classic, It Still Moves. 12 of the 22 songs played came off either It Still Moves or 2005’s Z.
After a blistering version of “Off The Record”, Jim commented on the audience’s enthusiasm by saying, “that’s what the fuck I am talking about, it’s good to hear a crowd with some life”. The band soaked up that energy with extended versions of “Mahgheeta” and “Steam Engine” (with Jim donning a vampire-esque cape at one point). They also paced the set with tracks like “Tonight I Want to Celebrate With You”, “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” and “Golden” all featuring guitarist Carl Broemel on slide guitar. Carl was given his opportunity to further shine when he took lead vocals on a track of his titled,” Carried Away”. “Carried Away” is a slower number that really set the stage for the screaming finish which included “Smokin From Shootin” transitioned into the end of “Run Thru”, “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt 2” and the set closer, “Anytime”. A brief respite for the band preceded their four-song encore. “Wordless Chorus” kicked off the encore and the crowd screamed the lyric, “we are the innovators” as if it were a life anthem. Great moment in the show. The Preservation Jazz Hall Band accompanied the guys for the last three songs of the night which included a cover of Al Johnson’s “Carnival Time” (a Mardi Gras standard) and a drenched-in-horn “Dancefloors”. Jim lamented about the venue’s 11:00pm curfew before he and the band ripped into closer, Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up”. If not for the curfew, I think the band may have played well into the next day. As thousands left the venue, it was quite clear that MMJ’s reputation as one of the best and hardest-working live bands in rock had been solidified.
Eminence Front (The Who)
One Big Holiday
Off The Record
Tonight I Want To Celebrate With You
What A Wonderful Man
The Way That He Sings
Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
Carried Away (Carl Broemel)
Smokin’ From Shootin’ -> Run Thru Reprise
Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2
Carnival Time (Al Johnson)
Move On Up (Curtis Mayfield)
Also, thanks to the band’s fan friendly recording policy, and the good people at archive.org you can stream full audio from this show for free here.
Article by Guest Contributor Parker Pinnell
Photos by Lila E. Perilloux