Author Archives: Richie Downs

TVD Live Shots: Blondie, Garbage, and Deap Vally at Wolf Trap, 8/3

When legendary new-wavers Blondie conjure a co-headline tour with ‘90s alt-rock heavies Garbage, what you get is exactly what’s spelled out on the marquee, “Rage and Rapture.” Last Thursday evening their new tour mantra couldn’t have rung any truer, even under consistently stormy skies. In fact, fans outfitted with rain gear and umbrellas saturated the lawn at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap to watch 2 of the most prominent female voices in rock music perform, back to back.

The joint tour has carried Blondie and Garbage through most major US cities from California to New York since its start in July, and perhaps this tour was a long time in the making. After all, some 11 years ago in March of 2006, Shirley Manson gave the introductory speech that welcomed Blondie into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

To get the evening’s audience primed, the tour enlisted the help of LA garage-rock duo Deap Vally. Their punky retro-blues sound was a fitting addition. When Garbage ultimately hit the stage, there was a strange tension that wasn’t released until nearly halfway through their set, evident as Shirley Manson paced the stage in short circles like a wolf eyeing its prey. She was incredibly on point, almost fierce.

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TVD Live Shots:
PJ Harvey at Wolf
Trap, 7/21

Friday evening Wolf Trap’s Filene Center played host to one of the UK’s most prolific and eclectic indie artists, PJ Harvey, who in tandem with her nine-piece band of musicians took the stage with no opener to set a mood, but a dramatic one it would become.

PJ Harvey is no stranger to on-stage theatrics, but seeing her poised and repetitive motions live is an experience all its own. Her stage presence is beyond commanding, leading her backing band in every sense—feeling every note with moves set against a thundering bass drum.

This is particularly the case in songs such as “Down by the Water” and her set opener, “Chain of Keys.” It feels as if we’re privy to a story unfolding which adds a heightened dimension to the flow of the evening, as was the case with “The Ministry of Defense.” I swear I got goosebumps as every musician on stage chimed in for the chorus’s beautiful melodies for one of the most dramatic shows I’ve seen in many years.

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TVD Live Shots:
Steve Miller Band
and Peter Frampton
at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 6/23

Last Friday evening, Merriweather Post Pavilion and the surrounding woodlands of Columbia, MD played host to two rock giants. Both the Steve Miller Band and Peter Frampton are co-headlining a joint US tour, and fittingly both artist’s catalogs are synonymous with summertime gatherings. Yes, powerhouse co-headlining tours seem to be a back as a summer trend and happily for Merriweather’s audience, the pairing of two of rock’s most prolific artists brought them a night of the genre’s most celebrated songs.

Kicking off the evening, Peter Frampton primed the crowd with his clean and precise guitar tones, his well written rhythms, and his signature voice box that still gets cheers from fans after all this time. Frampton played a solid set and sounded quite fantastic—his solo breaks on his signature Gibson Les Paul ringing through the hills. He even threw in a solid cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” as a tribute to the late Chris Cornell.

When Steve Miller took the stage, he did so quite gracefully with a rather calm walk to the microphone. Apparently Miller’s a man of very few words, short of a brief hello and introduction a few songs into his set. Getting right to it, Miller’s unassuming approach and humble stage presence contrasts with the caliber and reach his songs have attained through the years.

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Posted in TVD Washington, DC | Leave a comment

TVD Live Shots:
Royal Blood at the
9:30 Club, 6/6

Last Tuesday, DC’s music fans were treated to one of the hardest rocking, modern blues duos in the business today when the 9:30 Club hosted UK’s Royal Blood.

With all the great music that’s coming out of the hip seaside town of Brighton on the south coast of England, it’s perhaps somewhat difficult to create a unique musical identity. This however this is not the case with Royal Blood, the bass and drums duo. Band members Mike Kerr (bass) and Ben Thatcher (drums) formed Royal Blood in 2013, eventually signing with the same management company as labelmates Arctic Monkeys. Their first single “Out of the Black” was released in 2013 and was followed by their first full length album in 2014, the self titled Royal Blood—easily a career defining record. The band is currently touring to support their forthcoming release How Did We Get So Dark?, in stores this week via Warner Bros.

Royal Blood’s sound and style lends itself best to a live setting. I’m still amazed at the full tone they produce with just drums and bass. At last week’s show, the band laid down the anticipated barrage of heavy, rumbling, tones with an even more enthusiastic performance than their previous stop at the club just 2 years ago.

How Did We Get So Dark? will be available on June 16th on either signed vinyl or a super deluxe vinyl edition featuring bonus tracks.

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TVD Live Shots: Budweiser InfieldFest at Pimlico Raceway, 5/20

Last Saturday, the 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Raceway in Baltimore hosted the Budweiser InfieldFest which featured a variety of musical offerings ranging from electro-house to pop-punk—with a big dose of country-cool.

Headlining the performances for the day were country star Sam Hunt, Grammy award winner Anton Zaslavski, aka ZEDD, Maryland natives Good Charlotte and LoCash, and opening up the festivities was the Canadian country duo High Valley.

Despite the wet weather holding off through the day’s events, the rain from the night before left a muddy infield and track, as has become a tradition for the past few years. Weather aside, the crowds came in droves to bet on the horses, drink, eat some from local digs, and get their fill of live music.

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TVD Live Shots: Metallica at Lincoln Financial Field, 5/12

Heavy metal giants Metallica brought their “WorldWired” tour to Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia last Friday laying claim that they are still the best at what they do—music that’s faster and heavier than any other band in the business.

Metallica is one band that needs no introduction. They are perhaps the biggest metal band on the planet and their name is synonymous with thrash and metal. Through their 35+ year career, Metallica has been truly a pioneering force in music, almost solely responsible for bringing the metal genre to mass audiences in the ’80s and ’90s. And in 2017, they have only gotten better with age.

Touring for the first time since 2009, Metallica’s “WorldWired” tour kicked off in Baltimore, MD last Wednesday and was followed by Friday’s night two in Philadelphia. The band is touring to promote their 2016 album, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, their first studio effort in eight years and the band’s tenth studio album, released as a double vinyl set on Blackened Recordings.

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TVD Live Shots:
The xx and Sampha
at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 5/6

For lovers of the “dream pop” genre, I couldn’t imagine a better place to be than Merriweather Post Pavilion for last Saturday’s performance by the critically acclaimed artists, The xx and supporting act, Sampha.  

UK-based trio, The xx is touring to support their third studio album, I See You, which was released in January of this year. The band’s record label Young Turks, is an independent British label that consists of artists such as FKA twigs, SBTRKT, Jamie xx, and Sampha, their supporting act for the evening.  I See You drew widespread acclaim from critics, and the album debuted at the number one spot on the British album charts and reached number two on the Billboard 200 in the US.

Watching The xx perform live evokes just as much emotion as the dramatic tones that inhabit their recordings. The ambiance of their on-stage setup certainly creates an atmosphere all its own. Giant (moving) mirrored panels flank both sides of the stage and cover the center drum/ DJ riser to create a deceivingly infinite space. Falling smoke on the crest of the stage and deep purple lighting only emphasized the moodiness.

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TVD Live Shots: Mastodon, Eagles of Death Metal, and Russian Circles at The Fillmore Silver Spring, 5/02

Around 9:30 this past Tuesday evening, Mastodon took the stage at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD. Following openers Eagles of Death Metal would a daunting task for any band, but Mastodon embraced the challenge head first… and from the initial chord, the band went for the gut with a punch of heavy, yet immensely intricate, guitar work.

Touring to promote their 2017 release, Emperor of Sand, the Atlanta-based Mastodon is “stoner rock / sludge metal” at its finest. The riff heavy guitar attack from band members Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher is driven by the thunderous rhythm section of drummer Brann Dailor and Troy Sanders on bass. Sanders also splits vocal duties with Hinds pretty evenly throughout their set as well as on their recordings.

Mastodon’s sound could be described pretty easily—they rock… and hard. Their musicianship alone is immense and is rich in beautiful textures, rhythmic undertones, and super tight harmonic guitar runs that blaze over the top. I’ve seen Mastodon at larger venues and amphitheaters and I have to say, watching them perform in a club was a real treat. The band takes their stage volume to sonic levels and you can literally feel Sanders’ bass pass right through your chest.

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TVD Live Shots: Richard Ashcroft at Terminal 5, 3/27

Touring to support his latest solo release These People, Richard Ashcroft, former frontman of The Verve, performed at New York’s Terminal 5 on Monday evening and treated a packed house of dedicated fans to a night of music that spanned the prolific artist’s catalog—both old and new.

To say the New York stop on Ashcroft’s current tour was an excellent, flawless performance would be a dramatic understatement. Nearly every song in Ashcroft’s set on Monday had some degree of improvisation lending his live show a genuinely unique tone and experience as he led his backing band in a myriad of directions.

Ashcroft himself stated at the beginning of his set that watching some bands perform you’d do just as well watching a hologram, and given Monday’s performance, by comparison I’d have to agree. Ashcroft truly gave his New York fans a gift that will linger in memories for some time. I only hope he returns to play again.

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TVD Live: The Magnetic Fields at the Lincoln Theatre, 3/18 & 3/19

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | The Magnetic Fields has been known to write a whole lot of songs about one subject, the prime example being the epic 69 Love Songs that came on three discs and a boxed set in 1999. The 2004 album I had songs all starting with the letter i. Now, bandleader and writer Stephin Merritt accepted a more complex challenge from his record company. To mark his 50th birthday, it was suggested that he write one song for every year he’s been alive.

The resulting 50 Song Memoir, out this month on Nonesuch, was issued on five discs of 10 songs each. Its release is accompanied by a 12-city tour that brings all 50 songs, in order, over two nights at each city. Its second stop last weekend was Washington, DC, where nothing was going to stop the order of each evening—25 songs a night, no more no less. Even the death of Chuck Berry Saturday warranted only the slightest deviation from his scripted path, when he shouted “To Chuck!” before the planned performance of his sardonic “Rock ’n’ Roll Will Ruin Your Life.”

Merritt has been dabbling in stage musicals over the years—it’s a natural for his droll and melodic material. And the stage set up for 50 Song Memoir was nothing if not theatrical, with a pink-edged playroom with flowered wallpaper, festooned with all manner of toys, arcane instruments, tin doll houses, lunch boxes, robots, and animal creatures.

In the center, Merritt sits atop a red stool and reads from a music stand each confessional little reference to his upbringing. He played only fleetingly the occasional ukulele the first night, even fewer on night two, when he began with a percussive stick, affixed with bells, cymbals, a tambourine.

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