Author Archives: M. L. Rio

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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