Author Archives: M. L. Rio

Low Cut Connie’s
Adam Weiner,
The TVD Interview

I catch Adam on the phone on a Monday morning, which seems like an inauspicious time to ring up a rock and roller (his manager’s suggestion, not mine). But to call Adam Weiner a rock and roller feels reductive; after an hour on the horn we’ve talked about everything and everyone from the GOP and Atlantic City to the rodeo circuit and Jerzy Grotowski. Adam himself is best known as the frontman of Low Cut Connie, whose fans range as widely as our conversation—they’ve made the favorites playlist with Rolling Stone, Elton John, and Barack Obama, to name just a few.

In the COVID-19 pandemic, the band’s famously rambunctious live shows have even been transformed for a remote audience known as “Tough Cookies,” who tune in every Thursday to Adam’s living room instead of the news. Judging by the chatter in the sidebar when I join them for the landmark 50th show, many have made Low Cut Connie a part of their weekly routine. It’s not hard to see why; in the course of an evening, Adam and guitarist Will Donnelly not only play new hits, old favorites, and fresh covers, but make up songs, eat tacos, take questions, and pull records from the shelves to share with their fans. DJ sets are dutifully accompanied on the cheese grater, Tupperware, and air guitar. It’s the closest to a house party you’re probably going to get before the year is out—defiantly joyful and deeply cathartic.

That Adam is so generous with his fans comes as no surprise. He’s always been in it for the people. “I’m from New Jersey, but I’ve lived in New York City, Philadelphia, Montreal, Austin, Memphis, and I’ve traveled throughout the US, Canada, Europe, with my music, with some measure of success for the last few years, and with a of measure of no success for many years. And that allowed me to kind of meet people eye to eye,” he tells me. “I’d play anywhere that would have me. Nobody knew me, I didn’t have any fans. If an anarchist punk squat house on a college campus would have me and feed me I would stay over.” His songs are populated by characters at once larger than life and too real to be denied—drag queens and evangelists and everyone in between. “I always feel like I want to talk about the people in my songs with a sort of fascinated and sympathetic eye from how they’re living. I get that as much from movies and literature as I do from music.”

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Suzi Quatro,
The TVD Interview

Suzi Quatro knows exactly who she is and what she wants. That’s the impression she gives, even on a crackling Skype call across the Atlantic. I spoke to her in the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, before either of us had any idea just how crazy the next six months would be. “It’s pretty scary,” she said, when I asked her how she was staying sane back in those early days. “I’m trying to be creative, I’m working on the next album with my son right now… and taking a six mile walk [with him] every day.” As she and the people who know her best readily attest, she’s always raced through life at a breakneck pace, and at 70, she shows no signs of slowing down.

In addition to working on a new album with her son, Richard Tuckey, she’s planning to put out another book, maintaining a presence on social media, and even cleaning up after herself. “Of course my cleaner can’t come so I’m going against my religion to clean it myself. I have to have music on when I clean so I’m dancing around to my Motown,” she says. “That just makes it a little quicker, when you can do the Temptations, you know? I was cheerful for about the last two weeks but that seems to have gone away…”

We chat about her other musical influences and what’s stuck with her since the Sixties: Otis Redding, Billie Holliday, Bob Dylan, and (of course) Elvis Presley. “The music that you listen to as a teenager really stays in your heart forever,” she says. “I saw [Elvis] on TV and knew I was going to do what he did.” Her preferred medium? Vinyl, of course. “Nothing quite like it. The old days you’d go and flick through the sleeves and hold it in your hands… just fantastic. There’s a whole new vibe in vinyl. It’s beautiful in its imperfection.” The same might be said of Quatro’s whole career.

She talks about her favorite tunes with the same electric energy that made her a household name in the music business in the 1970s, singled out for stardom by Mickie Most. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t… getting up and doing a number,” she tells me. “I was always a performer, always, from a little girl. And in fact that’s what I put on my first passport [with the Pleasure Seekers]. I was the only one that put down ‘entertainer’ as profession… It says a lot about my mindset back then.” This, in her own estimation and that of the friends and family who populate her upcoming rockumentary, Suzi Q, is the leitmotif of her life: uncompromising ambition. Suzi Quatro was determined to be a star.

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TVD Premiere: Datura4, “You Be The Fool”

PHOTO: BEN TAYLOR-VIVIAN | Old-school Australian rockers Datura4 return in April with their fourth studio album, West Coast Highway Cosmic, an ode to the open road and lost legends of rock and roll. Their latest single, “You Be the Fool,” takes us on a sun-soaked trip from the 1970s to now.

With its fuzzy blues-rock riff dipped in psychedelia, “You Be the Fool” sounds like “Roadhouse Blues” covered by Count Five. Reliable set pieces from the classic rock canon in unexpected variations make the song feel at once fresh and familiar: a wailing harmonica which might have been filched from Howlin’ Wolf by the Rolling Stones, a funk undercurrent that smacks of Stevie Wonder, a falsetto refrain which—down to the lyric “What you gonna do?”—seems to echo Gary Clark Jr. on “What About Us.”

“We’d had the main riff kicking around for a while. During our shows we’d regularly incorporate it into our extended jams of ‘Demon Blues’ from our first album. The more we jammed on it, the more I thought it would be cool to extract a song out of it,” says frontman Dom Mariani. “The verses came from another unfinished tune. I was able to marry the two together. The contrast between the straighter rocking verses and the funky blues groove of the main riff and chorus worked nicely.” Listeners will likely agree; “You Be the Fool” is eminently grooveable, and West Coast Highway Cosmic promises more good grooves to come.

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Sorry You’re Here: Beauty Pill’s Lost Record Sees the Light At Last

PHOTO: STEPHAN GIOVANNINI | “I didn’t want to put this record out,” Chad Clark tells me at the beginning of our conversation about Sorry You’re Here, the most recent release by DC-based band Beauty Pill. “It’s a pretty interesting journey.”

You’ll find the album filed under new releases in your record store or on your preferred streaming platform, but Sorry You’re Here was first conceived in 2010 as the soundtrack to a devised dance play by the Taffety Punk theatre company. The premise of tends to give listeners pause, because the text is taken entirely from real chatrooms of the late 1990s and early 2000s devoted to the subject of suicide—not how to prevent or avoid it, but how to actually do it, and why so many people felt the urge to take their own lives in the first place.

“I love the play,” Clark says. “I stand by it as a work of art.” It’s certainly not for everyone; because the text of the piece is gathered from real life—and death—online, it can be a disconcerting experience for audience members. “It’s sensitive, but it’s not a timid work,” Clark explains. “It doesn’t surprise me that it’s disturbing for some people. But artistically, at that level, I support it.” Given the difficulty of the material, his initial hesitation to release the music to a wider audience might seem obvious. “It’s not an area that I take lightly,” he says. “[But] my unease about releasing the music had a lot more to do with the fact that the style of the music deviated very strongly from what people expected from me or wanted from me at that time.”

Eventually, he decided to part ways with Dischord, not because the label imposed what he refers to as a “kind of an aesthetic straitjacket,” but because fans of other Dischord artists expected something different from what Beauty Pill had to offer. “This music is far out and away from what people thought I should be doing,” he explains. “I was nervous, I was insecure, that’s just the reality. And now I hear it, and what’s happened in the time since is people have really come around.”

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In the Light: Lez Zeppelin’s metaphysical ‘Physical Graffiti’

Steph Paynes meets me under the awning at the Gramercy Theatre, where the marquee smugly declares that Lez Zeppelin’s performance of Physical Graffiti tonight is sold out. She certainly looks like a rock star: long black hair, leather pants, sunglasses inside. She radiates cool. I feel conspicuously uncool standing beside her, but the bouncer gives me a guest pass anyway and I follow Steph into the auditorium, where a gaggle of roadies are setting up the stage rig. We trade handshakes and hellos and head downstairs to the greenroom.

The Gramercy has a tumble-down glamour about it, with that weird patterned wallpaper which could just as easily be an artifact of the psychedelic decades or the Victorian era. We make ourselves comfortable on the couch, already chatting. Steph is easy to talk to, and while I set up to record the interview, she tells me a story about how she once forgot to turn her tape recorder on while interviewing Ian Anderson—for Playboy, of all publications. “At the time they were a real magazine,” she says. Back then she was doing what I’m doing now: writing about music.

“I was working as a guitar player while I was writing for a long time,” she explains, when I ask how she got from there to here. “I was playing with Ronnie Spector, and I was a Ronnette, basically… odd but true.” Around the same time, she was rediscovering her love of Led Zeppelin. “After hearing so much music and playing so much music, this music just stunned me again with how really, truly great it was… So I just thought, oh it’ll be fun. I’ll get a bunch of girls together and we’ll just play this music.” Originally, her aspirations were modest; she didn’t expect to be playing more than one or two gigs a month, for “fifty bucks [and] a couple of beers.” A decade later, Lez Zeppelin has a jam-packed touring schedule and fans all over the world—including Jimmy Page. But more on that anon.

“I realized, If I’m gonna do this I really need to do it the right way,” she says. “Because if you do it badly, especially as a female musician… boy, you’ll not only be embarrassing yourself, but it would be bad for female musicians period.” Fortunately, Steph is no slouch in the rehearsal room, or as a recruiter. Finding the right women to join her on the Lez Zeppelin venture and passionate devotion to the project turned it into a phenomenon that soon surpassed her expectations. “The second we started to play out, people just lost their minds, because they really, really wanted to hear this,” she says. “And hearing it from women, who were delivering this power, was really unexpected. It was shocking people.”

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TVD Live Shots: The Winter 2020 DC Record Fair in Photos

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | The DC Record Fair, now in its eleventh year, just gets bigger and better.

Vendors arrived early to seize prime real estate before the venue opened to the general public at 11 a.m. on Sunday, January 26th, while early bird buyers paid $3 more to beat the crowds. Dozens were busy digging—upstairs and down—as soon as the doors opened. They surely weren’t disappointed: veteran vendors and freshman sellers alike brought their best discs, from high-priced collectibles to $10 must-haves.

At Penn Social, elbow room is in short supply, but most people didn’t seem to mind, gamely trading places and taking turns so everybody got a chance to eyeball everything and hopefully go home happy. The bar opened for business along with the doors for diggers to drown their sorrows or celebrate big scores.

Downstairs a rotating regiment of District DJs kept things grooving, while the coffee bar did a roaring trade in liquid pick-me-ups. Lindsey Mastis—ABC7 news anchor, vinyl enthusiast, and human pick-me-up—made the rounds, interviewing buyers and sellers and livestreaming the event on Instagram, complete with her trademark jumps for joy.

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TVD Live: Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening at the Fillmore Silver Spring, 11/26

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Usually I spend three days before a concert plumbing the depths of the band’s discography, but this time there was no need. I know Led Zeppelin’s back catalog like the back of my hand. So I walked to the venue listening to an astrophysicist with a thick Italian accent explaining orbital mechanics over a poor-quality long-distance call. I mention this interview because it turned out to be an oddly fitting warm-up act for JBLZE—it’s as confusing as it is fascinating.

From the beginning, it’s unclear what JBZLE is supposed to be: cover band? Nostalgia trip? Both at once, or something else entirely? To the band’s credit, it’s also difficult to fuss too much about this performative identity crisis. JBLZE is undeniably fun. They’ve been opening for Peter Frampton recently, and they hit the much smaller stage at the Fillmore with the same energy—they’re loud, proud, and happy to be there.

So is the audience, a mixed collection of Baby Boomers out on Date Night, parents who have dragged their children along (or vice versa), and die-hard Led Heads difficult to categorize any other way. In the queue outside the venue, a teenager chatters at her father about other concerts they’ve clearly been to together. He catches my eye over her head and shrugs, smiles. She’s got the bug. It’s a familiar scene; ten years ago it might have been my father and me.

The family resemblances don’t stop there. Jason Bonham reminisces about his own father between songs, recalling how the resurgence of analog audio led him to an unexpected discovery: that the liner notes give Bonzo songwriting credit on “Good Times, Bad Times.” “He didn’t play an instrument [besides the drums],” Jason explains, “so how did he get the ideas across?” He sang them, according to Jimmy Page, who answered this question with an anecdote about “Out on the Tiles”—which started with one of Bonzo’s old drinking songs.

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Grounded and in contact: Roan Yellowthorn’s melancholy “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”

Jackie McLean knows how to make a cover—and a Christmas song—her own. Her most recent holiday single, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” arrived in stores on November 15, with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” released earlier this month.

“River” might seem like a strange choice for a holiday single. While Christmas is mentioned, it’s not explicitly a Christmas song—but that’s just what McLean likes about it. “When I’m choosing something to sing,” she says, “I try to pick something that resonates with me and my emotional landscape the most. And for me, I think most of the time I do see kind of the more melancholy side of things.”

That includes Christmas. The holiday season can highlight feelings of loneliness and isolation just as easily as it can bring people together. Putting those conflicted feelings to music can be cathartic for McLean, the voice of indie-rock outfit Roan Yellowthorn. “If I’m able to sing a sad song that taps into the bluer side, it makes me feel more aligned, in a weird way.”

Her approach to the seminal “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” emphasizes the same sense of sadness. “It definitely is a traditional Christmas song,” she says, but “devastatingly sad… I imagine it being sung by somebody who wants to return to a place that doesn’t exist anymore, so we tried to sort of do it in that spirit.” The single is a piano-vocal collaboration with keyboardist Ty Bailey, who’s usually on tour with Katy Perry. “I loved working with him,” McLean says. “I just told him I had this idea of making the song into a weird, Twin Peaks kind of trippy, sad, weird moment and he just knew exactly how to give it that sound.”

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TVD Live: Hozier at
the Anthem, 11/18

Monday night, freezing rain, and there’s a queue outside the Anthem that stretches all the way to the rideshare drop-off loop. It’s a motley group, ranging from teen- to middle-aged and representing eclectic social and sartorial demographics. There’s as much flannel as there is glitter. The line lurches along until everyone is swept inside with a wave of a security guard’s magic wand. The auditorium is a dark high-ceilinged dome, vaguely churchlike. It makes sense—an assignation in the House of God made Hozier famous in the first place.

But the people packed into the Anthem didn’t just come to hear “Take Me to Church.” They listen attentively to opening act Angie McMahon, an Australian singer-songwriter whose waifish appearance and guttural vocals are somehow reminiscent of Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith at the same time. (She’s fantastic, by the way. Folks who skipped her missed out.)

When the main attraction makes his way onstage, the audience worships him, loves every song, knows all the words. It’s not just music; it’s more like a religious experience, complete with gospel choirs and rays of celestial light. There’s something hagiographic about Hozier—a gangly bearded Irishman with the voice of a soul singer and the sublimely morbid sensibility of a Romantic poet. He seems like he’d be equally at home in an Irish bog or a boneyard in Baton Rouge, crooning to a lover or howling at the moon.

But as normal indoor concerts go, this one is thoughtful, absorbing, and impeccably produced. What’s most impressive is the cohesive artistic vision: intricate lighting cues are in constant conversation with the music, while the projections fluently transform from live feed to animation to news reels and abstract film, all designed to heighten the mood.

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TVD Live: An intimate evening with Ken Stringfellow and Friends, Chevy Chase, MD, 9/23

PHOTOS: RACHEL LANGEThe time: 7:30 on a Monday night. The place: a private residence in Chevy Chase. Not the usual circumstances for a rock concert, but that’s the point—Ken Stringfellow’s solo tour is prioritizing “non-venue spaces,” including many private concerts and “secret shows” like this one. The fine line between public and private is a fitting leitmotif for Ken’s return to Touched, originally released by Manifesto Records on the inauspicious date of September 11, 2001. His second solo album since the breakup of the Posies, Touched is appropriately personal, and a fitting soundtrack for the deep disillusionment of 2019.

The concert is surprisingly lighthearted, despite the melancholy musical fare. Hosted by ELO alumnus Parthenon Huxley and his wife Helle, the event has the delightfully laid-back vibe of a grown-up house party—there’s beer and wine chilling on the back porch, while a fleet of folding chairs give guests who have already taken their seats plenty to look at it, whether it’s the record collection on the bookshelf or the eclectic collage of pop and high art on the walls.

At the front of the room is Ken’s improvised stage rig, which features “a real piano” (as promised by the tour webpage) against the tastefully space-age backdrop of a dark window to the backyard which reflects both the mood lighting in the living room and the neon violet glow of the WiFi router. Ken cracks a joke about this unexpected special effect between tunes—a moment which epitomizes the appeal of a private concert. There might not be much room to move, but there’s plenty of room to breathe, and Ken uses that freedom to great effect.

In addition to an impressive musical CV which includes not only The Posies but more recently R.E.M. and Big Star, Stringfellow has a sense of humor and he isn’t afraid to use it. Nothing is off-limits, either, and throughout the set he riffs on everything from Millennial entitlement to an audience member’s ill-timed sneeze. (Okay, I confess: it was me.) His performance turns out to be two parts music, one part standup routine, and sometimes both at once.

Because the guestlist is short enough that the main attraction can see who’s not here yet (“They’re a big group and they tend to travel in packs,” he remarks) the shows gets off the ground not with Touched but with requests from the audience and a new composition Ken describes as “one from the mental health files.” Nobody’s heard the song before but nobody minds, already absorbed by Ken’s uncompromising vocals and the artfully mixed metaphors which give his lyrics their distinctive bittersweet flavor.

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Play It Loud:
Rock Legends and
Lost Opportunities
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

It can hardly be coincidence that the Met’s Instruments of Rock and Roll exhibit shares a title with Brad Tolinski’s latest book, Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound, and Revolution of the Electric Guitar. While there may be a few drum kits, keyboards, saxophones, and synthesizers in the mix at the Metropolitan Museum, it’s essentially an epic axe collection, including guitars picked by such diverse players as Wanda Jackson and Eddie Van Halen. With almost two hundred objects in the catalog, there’s something here for every music lover to drool over. In fact, it’s almost overwhelming.

The rooms are dark and mazelike, stuffed with so many musical treasures it’s hard to know where to start. The longer you wander, the more holy relics you stumble upon, and the clearer it becomes what the exhibition lacks: clever orchestration. It’s an ironic oversight, considering the website’s lip service to rock and roll’s emphasis and influence on style. While the website also provides a guide to the galleries, the design scheme isn’t at all obvious in the physical space, where instruments sometimes seem to be grouped at random or simply stashed wherever they’ll fit. The exception is the “Creating a Sound” gallery, which features four stage rigs and video screens where artists appear to tell the stories behind the instruments they’ve loaned to the museum. (Particularly charming is Keith Richards’s chuckle at the recollection of the acid trip responsible for the paint pen embellishments to his black Les Paul—the poster axe for the exhibit.)

Apart from the “Creating a Sound” gallery, the most effective presentation belongs not, surprisingly, to the “Creating an Image” gallery but to Jimi Hendrix’s “Love Drops” Flying V, which is mounted to align with Hendrix’s silhouette on the wall behind it, and the double-necked Gibson EDS-1275 and striking black dragon suit arranged on a mannequin in Jimmy Page’s signature pose from live performances of “Stairway to Heaven.” There’s no ignoring that artists are unevenly represented, but that’s beyond the Met’s control—some guitar gods are more munificent than others. Considering the long history of axenapping, it’s remarkable to even see so many storied guitars together, never mind the other instruments and gig posters and musical memorabilia.

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Bernard Fowler,
In-store with TVD at
DC’s Som Records

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Bernard Fowler has been singing with the Stones since the ’80s and his CV reads like a Who’s Who of music legends. But this veteran rocker is anything but intimidating—in person he’s warm, charming, and full of great stories. Cratedigging with Bernard feels like cratedigging with an old friend, even if you just met him five minutes ago.

When we met up at Som, his most recent record, Inside Out, was up on the wall. It’s a collection of Rolling Stones songs, but instead of merely covering familiar tracks like “Sympathy for the Devil” or “Dancing with Mr. D,” Inside Out uses elements of free jazz, funk, and spoken word to completely reinvent songs you thought you knew. Nobody’s better qualified to do this than Bernard, with his impressive musical pedigree and years of personal experience with the Stones.

The day before the No Filter tour’s rescheduled stop at FedEx Field, I asked him what his favorite thing was about playing with Mick and Keef and Ronnie and Charlie. He’s got the best seats in the house, he said, with a laugh. What song would he add to the setlist, given the opportunity? “Dandelion.”

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