Author Archives: Richie Downs

TVD Live Shots: Royal Blood and Mini Mansions at the 9:30 Club, 6/10

British power-duo, Royal Blood invaded the 9:30 Club last Wednesday night to play for a packed house and gave the DC audience a taste of what this musical pair from Brighton has to offer.

The formula has been done before—two band members, a guitarist and a drummer, with one of them (or both) covering vocal duties. With large scale, internationally known acts such as The White Stripes and The Black Keys operating under this model, you would think this setup would fall into the category of “having been done to death”—but the reality is that it’s actually quite the opposite. With less happening on stage and fewer individual players in the overall mix, the listener is forced to hear the personality and musical tone of just the band’s 2 players.

After all, music is sometimes at its best when it’s in its simplest form and often it just takes 2 players to get the music and the sound to where it should be. This is certainly the case with Royal Blood who are raising the bar and elevating the “simple” standard by a measurable volume.

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TVD Live Shots: Tame Impala at Echostage, 6/6

Before Tame Impala arrived to perform on Saturday night, men in white lab coats made their way through the dim light and haze to frantically dial in effects, turn screws on a couple of machines, and make sure all the wires and plugs were tight. I’ve actually never seen stage-techs dressed like mad scientists before, but perhaps it’s what a band like Tame Impala needs to keep their edge.

When the Australia-based psychedelic-rock band Tame Impala took the stage at Northeast DC’s Echostage, they were treated with a warm welcome from an anxious audience. The fans in the first few rows even held signs bearing the title of their favorite songs. One patron in the very front even brought an impressively drawn sketch of the band’s front-man, Kevin Parker.

Touring to promote their third studio album Currents, set for release in July, Tame Impala unleashed a barrage of songs from the band’s ample repertoire upon their DC audience.

One of the most notable traits of Tame Impala’s live sound is the convergence of old and new tones. While the band is in fact manually driven, the electronics are a huge element to their style. The feel and emotion of their sound as a whole is reminiscent of eras past, with a specific nod to some ‘70s fuzz. This retro sound is carried over to the guitar parts in which some lines sear and cut right through the overall mix. The vocals follow the same method and at times lay perfectly on top of the hooky grooves.

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TVD Live: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds at the Lincoln Theatre, 6/4

Last Thursday night at U Street’s Lincoln Theatre, audiences were indulged by an enthralling performance from one of the greatest songwriters of our time, Mr. Noel Gallagher accompanied by his High Flying Birds.

As I arrived at the theater, the first thing I noticed was the massive crowd that literally wrapped around the entire block. The rumor was that some folks had been waiting in line since 8AM and to top things off, it had been raining heavily for most of the day. The poncho-clad crowd, many huddled together sharing tiny umbrellas, looked glum to say the least. As the soaked patrons worked their way into the theater at door time, you could see a glimmer of hope wash across their eyes as they filled the theatre and shook off the remnants of the damp outdoors. The merch line was particularly crowded right from the moment the doors had been opened, perhaps to purchase dry clothes.

With no opening act, the anticipation inside the venue was as noticeable as the rain outside. With a set time of 8:10 PM, by 8:09 the crowd was on its feet. When Noel Gallagher walked onto the stage he smiled to acknowledge the audience, and without a word went right to his instrument. Opening with “Do the Damage,” a B-side from his latest studio effort, Gallagher’s guitar sound was impressive, his tone brilliant—and better even then one could expect to hear live.

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TVD Live Shots:
Hurray for the Riff
Raff and Son Little at
the 9:30 Club, 4/21

Last Tuesday, the New Orleans-based modern folk heroes, Hurray for the Riff Raff performed at DC’s 9:30 Club and indulged their audience with a genuine taste of real Americana.

To commence Tuesday’s performance, vocalist Alynda Lee Segarra took the stage alone and brought to life “The New SF Blues” minus the accompaniment of her band, delivering the lyrics with a commanding voice and an unassuming, graceful swagger. Segarra then turned to welcome her band to the stage for the next song with a “…here comes the rest of the Riff Raff” and smiled as the audience welcomed her and her full combo to DC.

Hurray for the Riff Raff immediately dove into the night’s second song “Blue Ridge Mountain” from their latest full length release, Small Town Heroes. The band proceeded to fill the room with beautifully orchestrated, yet simplistic tones well into the night. Despite their modest stage set up and use of only essential instruments—guitar, piano, drums, fiddle, and bass—the Riff Raff unquestionably fills the room with a very full sound. I suppose that when you use only the key ingredients to make a soup, that’s exactly what you taste the most. Point being—simple is a really good thing.

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TVD Live Shots: Priests and Protomartyr at U Street Music Hall, 4/16

Washigton, DC’s Priests eviscerated the stage at U Street Music Hall last Thursday evening with a raw barrage of songs in true punk rock form and showcased some seriously classic punk influences.

I’m not going to bullshit anyone, I am almost halfway to being a cynical old man—at least in regard to keeping up with new and flourishing underground music scenes. The fact is, I love it when I am surprised by finding a band like Priests, and it turns out I could be totally wrong about a real absence of punk rock on this planet. In fact, there is significant strength within the punk scene at the moment and there’s a healthy dose of it right in DC’s backyard with Priests.

The band was on my radar but I had never had the chance to see them perform, and I have to admit, I loved watching Priests live and I was truly taken back with the overall tone of the show. The powerful vocal screams and snarling rants from singer Katie Alice Greer were addictive, and the audience’s reaction to the band as a unit was something that doesn’t come easy—it’s earned.

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TVD Live Shots:
Jessie Ware at the
9:30 Club, 3/31

English songstress Jessie Ware graced the stage of the 9:30 Club on Tuesday night—quite literally—to perform for a sold out crowd.

Touring to promote her 2015 release Tough Love (Interscope), Ware’s performance could be described in one word for this attendee…stellar. Her emotive voice and veteran stage presence gave her every opportunity to dispatch her talents with ease. The eager crowd hung on every breath, every beat.

Wielding influences that range from pop, soul, R&B, and folk, Ware’s stage show reflects the passionate vibe of her new album, displaying her singular strength as a songwriter and performer.

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TVD Live Shots: Sylvan Esso and Flock of Dimes at the 9:30 Club, 3/12

Electropop duo, Sylvan Esso invaded DC last Thursday evening and brought their beat-driven melodies to a sold out crowd at DC’s premier concert venue, the 9:30 Club.

Touring to promote their 2014 debut album, the self titled release has already hit some pretty major milestones. The album, well received among critics, has reached #39 on the Billboard charts and has broken into the top 10 on the Independent Album charts. The duo themselves were formed in Durham, North Carolina in 2012 and consists of Amelia Meath on vocals and Nick Sanburn on keyboards and producer credits. All 10 songs on their debut album came from sessions the pair recorded in Sanburn’s apartment from 2012-2013.

If a fast rise to stardom is any indication of talent, Sylvan Esso exhibit loads of it. Selling out the 9:30 Club is no easy task and as they walked on stage for Thursday evening’s performance, the pair acknowledged this to the crowd, asking “How many of you saw us at DC9 last year?” then added, “We’re so happy to be playing the 9:30 Club!” (DC9, a venue just down the street from the 9:30, has a great and very comfortable downstairs bar and boasts an upstairs stage that is incredibly show worthy—but can only host about 200 people.)

Since performing their single “Coffee” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last July, Sylvan Esso’s climb has been steady. Bigger things are certainly on the horizon for this humble yet, compelling duo.

Flock of Dimes was the evening’s opener.

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TVD Live: Bush and Theory of a Deadman
at the Fillmore, 3/3

Touring to promote their 2014 release, Man on the Run, Bush took the stage at the Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD to a sold out crowd of eager fans for Tuesday evening’s performance.

I am a little jaded about some things. The birth of the alternative music movement is something I look at with both affection and dismay. Having been a teenager in the ‘90s, my fellow music-fanatic friends and I had to watch as the punk rock and hardcore scenes that we cared about so much laid dying before our eyes. The bands we loved and held so very dear were now exposed to massive audiences in ways we had never dreamed of at the time. Our music was becoming popular culture. It could be consumed, dissected, and imitated by the masses. It was open to be exploited. New alternative acts were sprouting up almost every week playing faster, harder, and fuzzier. The lines between popular and alternative music had been forever blurred.

By 1992, alternative music was by no means a new entity. The Seattle movement was in full swing and the album that changed everything, Nirvana’s Nevermind, had been released in the previous year. Nirvana’s most commercially successful single, “Smells like Teen Spirit” hit the airwaves in late 1991 and boasted its significance as the shot heard around the world as for the impact it had the global music climate. A new genre had been handed to the world. Alternative music was born and music culture everywhere changed overnight. Alternative bands, especially grunge acts, had taken control of national airwaves and big record labels raced and competed to sign and break the next big alternative band. All over the country, national radio stations suddenly had artist rosters that previously only existed on college radio stations. As a result, a generation of fans had been exposed to a culture that previously only existed as a “sub-culture.”

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TVD Live Shots: Echosmith and The Colourist at the 9:30 Club, 2/26

Performing for a sold out and particularly young audience, Echosmith, the four sibling indie pop act from Los Angeles, stopped by DC’s 9:30 Club last Thursday night on a tour marking some of their biggest headlining shows to date. 

Signed to Warner Brothers Records back in 2012, Echosmith released their debut album, Talking Dreams in October of 2013. They received notoriety for their hit song, “Cool Kids” which rose to #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2104 their song “Surround You” was featured in the film Endless Love and the band was named MTV’s Artist to Watch for 2104. They toured the entire length of the Vans Warped Tour in 2014 as well.

On the road with The Colourist through March, Echosmith will have stops in most major cities in the northern US before they tour Europe from April until June, and judging by the audience response on Thursday evening, these kids—Graham, Sydney, Noah, and Jamie Sierota—are indeed alright.

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TVD Live Shots: Leighton Meester at
the Birchmere, 2/18

Touring to promote her brand new release Heartstrings, Leighton Meester stopped by the Birchmere in Alexandria last Wednesday night to play for a packed house of eager fans.

The night marked the first performance on her current tour that features nine dates in total, beginning here on the east coast with a DC area date, later Philadelphia and Boston shows, and then moves west, culminating in Meester’s home state of California.

With a full five piece band in place and an acoustic guitar in hand, Ms. Meester arrived on stage, her hair pulled back simply and dressed comfortably in a plain grey cardigan and jeans and couldn’t hold back a warm, gracious smile. The audience clearly had no problem expressing their love for her either with applause and warm sentiments. In fact, I think someone in the crowd shouted “I love you, Leighton” after every song. By the end of the show she joked, “Still?”

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