Author Archives: Roger Catlin

TVD Live: Drive By Truckers and Hiss Golden Messenger at
the 9:30 Club, 4/21

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | The Drive-By Truckers tried something bold with their 10th studio album last fall, American Band. Though the title makes it sound like a reprise of the Grand Funk hit, it was actually a collection of its most pointed political commentaries to date, challenging its Southern rock fans with issues of prevalent gun violence, racial injustice, and government censorship.

It raged against Trump’s America even before he got elected from the very state that helped elect him. And while the ratcheted-up tracks from American Band were prominent in the first of two packed nights at the 9:30 Club in D.C., they hardly challenged district politics (any more than, say, “Ronnie and Neil” did), let alone rattle the current resident on Pennsylvania Avenue less than a couple of miles away.

On Friday, Cooley played “the most science based song we’ve ever written,” in honor of Saturday’s big Science March in his “Gravity’s Gone.” In Saturday’s show, they backloaded his “Once They Banned Imagine,” about the time when Clear Channel put John Lennon’s “Imagine” on a list of don’t-play songs after 9/11, with their own cover of Lennon’s “Just Gimme Some Truth” and the Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” a couple of covers they’ve been doing on the current tour.

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TVD Live: Amiee Mann and Jonathan Coulton at the Lincoln Theare, 4/20

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Aimee Mann thinks her songs are sadder than they really are; that there’s so much psychosis on her latest album that she had to called it Mental Illness. It was as if a night of her music might result in a jump off a bridge.

“Settle in,” she warned, on the first night of her Mental Illness tour at Washington, DC’s Lincoln Theatre. But she needn’t have worried. As she was joined, song by song, by members of her backing trio, it was clear that Mann’s songs of droll observation have a lift in not just how they’re sung but by the soft punch of their assembly.

While her new album looks at different characters or situations, it does so in a harmonic way that makes whatever may be melancholy sound sweet. Its songs are built around acoustic guitar, with a slight wash of keyboards or strings, replicated on tour on synths by Jamie Edwards. Paul Bryan is a constant on bass, but drummer Matt Mayhall often seems less than fully employed.

But this is hardly mournful territory. Even when the message is blunt as it is on “You Never Loved Me,” there is a catchy melody and clever observations and turns of phrase. The largely acoustic allows her elegant songs to breathe. And it’s a good fit for a lot of the other songs from nearly a quarter century of solo recordings, from “4th of July” that began the show to “Long Shot,” the inevitable brush with success of “Save Me,” and one she said she hadn’t played for a while, “Humpty Dumpty” from 2002’s Lost in Space.

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TVD Live: Pete Seeger and the Power of Song: Tribute to a Folk Legend at the Kennedy Center, 4/15

There are so many rich stories to tell about Pete Seeger, the folk music standard-bearer who died three years ago at 94, that a Kennedy Center tribute concert to him Saturday could barely fit them—and all the artists slated to play. As it was, Pete Seeger and the Power of Song: Tribute to a Folk Legend, produced with the Grammy Museum, stretched on four hours to nearly midnight.

And still it didn’t quite provide a complete overview of the Pied Piper of folk music, whose devotion to causes caused him to be blacklisted for more than a decade. Five years before his death, Seeger sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” at President Obama’s inauguration alongside Bruce Springsteen (who of course had his own Seeger-tribute album, band and tour in 2006).

Though he’s played Seeger tribute shows in the past, Springsteen was missing from the show, though many of the more than a dozen acts were closely associated with him, from Judy Collins, 77, who began the show with his standard “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” (co written with Joe HIckerson); the surviving fellows from Peter, Paul and Mary, who made a hit of “If I Had a Hammer” and were inspired enough by the moment (and its locale) to sing a couple of new topical songs; and Roger McGuinn, who put his 12 string electric guitar to perform Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn” more than a half century ago after he made it a hit with the Byrds.

There were also close friends from the folk and banjo circuit, from Tom Paxton, now 79, who was aided by Seeger adapting one of his early songs, “Ramblin’ Boy”; and Tony Trischka, 68, the five-string ace who made a convincing case of having heard the last song Seeger might have sung on earth.

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TVD Live: John Mayer at the Verizon Center, 4/6

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | John Mayer is so talented, it’s almost stunted his career.

He has such appeal to young women with his sticky love songs, he won’t ever be in danger of losing them; at the same time, he’s such an accomplished guitar hero, he gains another group of fans who care little about his love ditties. His worst performance so far has come in being a rock star. He’s fallen into its excesses by dating celebrities, becoming a recurring item in tabloids, and giving offensive interviews.

On his new tour, he hopes to bypass all that with everything else he does so well, and it makes for a big, impressive evening. On the fourth stop of the tour Thursday at the Verizon Center in DC, he divides his show obsessively into sections so prescribed, there are titles on the screen behind him of things that would be obvious to anyone watching: The Full Band, Acoustic, a Trio set, the Encore, etc.

Within those frameworks, he’s free to mess around with the setlist, changing it every night since the tour began. He’s smart enough to include not only a few from his new album The Search for Everything, but songs from throughout his career. He had a splendid band, which at its heart is a rhythm section that I’d go see backing anybody—drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Pino Palladino, who made everything rock solid.

Their trio work was one featured segment of the concert and it flew from inventive blues and jazz playing to replicating some of the best of the rock trios, in this case Jimi Hendrix Experience’s, “Bold as Love.” How splendid not only to hear it played so well, but to have an arena of young people singing along to what was once considered a Hendrix deep cut.

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TVD Live: Lambchop at
U Street Music Hall, 4/1

Over its career, Lambchop has been known to travel with as many as 20 members performing its hushed, quirky, and often contemplative alt-country. At the U Street Music Hall Saturday night, there were just four.

Which was good, since the small stage couldn’t fit many more in the first place. And it suited the surprising turn for the band with its latest album FLOTUS, which is not about the First Lady at all, but is an acronym for another heartsick observation, “For Love Often Turns Us Still.”

In what sort of seems a natural evolution, its bandleader, writer, and singer Kurt Wagner has moved his moody tone poems from pedal steel guitar and piano to pulses of electronica. Layers of atmospheric sound back his own vocals which have been multiplied and broadcast through a Vocoder like device he plays like a keyboard. Sometimes you’d hear a veritable chorus of voices from stage and they’d all end up having a single source in Wagner behind his devices.

It’s not as jarring a career move as, say Neil Young’s Re-ac-tor, Joe Ely’s Hi-Res or Bon Iver’s 22, A Million. But it is still surprising coming from a Nashville guy who still wears a seed cap. And behind the electronic wash, the human heart of Lambchop and its world-weary observations about romance and the world endure. “I don’t want to leave you ever, and that’s a long long time,” he sings, when the lyrics finally come in the longest work on the new album, “The Hustle.”

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Will Sergeant,
The TVD Interview

A three-decades-old live show of cover songs from Echo & the Bunnymen, never officially released on its own, gets a lavish vinyl reissue this Spring. Run Out Groove, the label that presses vinyl reissues at the demand of customers who vote on the titles, is issuing It’s All Live Now, an album that first appeared in a 2001 box set, as a free-standing title on vinyl for the first time. It’s only the second offering from Run Out Groove after MC5’s The Motor City Five earlier this year.

Recorded for Swedish radio from a show in April 1983, It’s All Live Now is largely an album of well-chosen covers of the Modern Lovers, Velvet Underground, Rolling Stones, Dylan, The Doors, Lou Reed, Television, and a garage band from the 1960s called The Litter.

Guitarist and band co-founder Will Sergeant wrote liner notes for the package; he also spoke to The Vinyl District about the project, the Bowie song they left off of it, what else the Bunnymen are up to, and some of his other interests, from electronic music to visual art.

What do you make of It’s All Live Now being voted for vinyl release on the Run Out Grooves label?

I buy vinyl, so I’m all for it. I only ever buy vinyl. I went through the whole CD thing but never really stopped buying vinyl, or picking up vinyl on tours and stuff like that. Now it’s all I ever play, really. Whenever I buy a new record, it’s vinyl every time. I go to second-hand shops; Amoeba and all the usual places.

I’m all for it. I think everything should be on vinyl. It’s not just the sound of it. It’s the whole thing of having an album that looks great and you have all the large art work. CDs just look so crap, don’t they? I just find it’s more of an artistic item than an mp3. What the fuck’s that? Rubbish.

It’s not been on vinyl before this, right?

I think there’s probably a bootleg floating around. I haven’t actually got one, but I know that it’s around, because it was recorded for the radio, so it has reasonable quality. But this is taken from the proper tapes and everything, so it should be all right.

Can you tell the difference? Have you heard this new version?

I’ve only heard the odd track that’s been on reissues and things like that. I heard “Action Woman.” We did “Action Woman” at one point, that was on Pebbles, I think as a secret track. I heard it years ago, but I haven’t heard it lately.

Can you recall the occasion when it was recorded?

We’re always trying to find things to do that were a bit different. They were opening a bar on Bold Street, which is in the center of Liverpool, and we sort of felt obliged to do it. So we said we’d do it but we’ll just do cover versions.

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TVD Live: Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express and The Bottle Rockets at The Hamilton, 3/28

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Even as he rocks out with his band the Mission Express, Chuck Prophet has mortality all around him.

“Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins!” he declares in the anthemic title track of his latest album, which kicked off his splendid show at the Hamilton Live in Washington, DC, Tuesday. He’d return to Fuller, the forever young rocker with the forever mysterious death, in an encore of “Let Her Dance” that included quotes from “Day Tripper,” “Pretty Woman,” and “Can’t Turn You Loose.”

But before then he would note, in one of the most immediately relevant songs of 2017, how it’s been a “Bad Year for Rock and Roll,” noting how “the Thin White Duke took a final bow” and didn’t even have space for all the other musical deaths besides Bowie.

But he did find some hidden gems in the repertoire of Leonard Cohen—“Iodine,” a Leonard Cohen folk-rock number to which he gave a little extra rock, and Chuck Berry’s “Ramona Say Yes” to note the recent significant passing of this year, trying his own version of the duckwalk in tribute.

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TVD Live: Dan Baird
and Homemade Sin, Eric Ambel at Hill Country Barbecue, 3/16

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | It wasn’t just the overhyped blizzard that bedeviled gigs along the Eastern Seaboard last week. There were also more mundane barriers, like the missing drain plug in the oil tank of Eric Ambel’s Suburban that drained it just before he was to drive from New York for a gig at DC’s Hill Country Barbecue Thursday.

It put a big delay in travel plans, and caused the headlining half of the bill, Dan Baird and Homemade Sin, to go on early instead and play a few songs until Ambel and his band got there after 10. It worked out comfortably enough. The two have toured together before, and were even bandmates in the short-lived Yayhoos a decade ago.

So when the late coming openers got there, it was a very quick matter of plugging into the Homemade Sin equipment and sitting down at their drum set (which also proved that switchovers between bands need not be more than a few minutes). The two rockers are also pursuing the same riff-fueled dirt road too with revved-up Chuck Berry riffs and a kind of raucous Faces mindset making way for the kind of rock soloing that is increasingly now only heard in classic rock stations.

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TVD Live: John Doe at Jammin Java, 2/21

PHOTO: JIM HERRINGTON | It’s a long road from the throbbing epicenter of Los Angeles punk origins to an acoustic Tuesday night gig at a suburban Northern Virginia strip mall, but John Doe has made that road work for him, turning his fame in the occasionally revived X to a solid solo career of dusty, windswept Americana.

Those songs are usually served up with a wallop and a twang with a band behind him, but he returned to Jammin Java in Vienna, VA carrying only a guitar or two. He’s a big enough personality to carry it off, bringing a passion and hard-won skill on the nylon strings to create a driving sound, even when he pulled up a few from the X songbook.

Playing solo gave him a certain versatility as well and once he opened the door to requests, he played some old songs he hadn’t done in some time—some of them perfect for the barroom setting, like the swaggering “Dyin’ to Get Home” from his first solo album, Meet John Doe. Asking for requests is a Pandora’s box—he may have strayed from any intent to feature songs from his latest collection, last year’s The Westerner, but being back in the Middle Atlantic put him in mind of the days the Illinois native spent in Baltimore, before he moved to Los Angeles and helped start the punk scene he writes of in Under the Black Sun (whose audio book version was up for a Grammy this month).

His official bio talks about living in “the rural black community of Simpsonville, MD,” graduating from Antioch College when it had an outpost in Charm City and working as “a roofer, aluminum siding mechanic, and ran a poetry reading series.” Doe must have also picked up on the bluegrass roots of the region, mentioning it a couple of times and pulling up, by request, his version of Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings,” the Jimmie Driftwood oddity “He Had a Long Chain On” played with an urgency, and suggesting that the final song in the encore be picked up by bluegrass bands—the Knitters’ “The Call of the Wreckin’ Ball,” perhaps the only song around about poultry stomping.

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TVD Live: Lee Fields & The Expressions at the Rock & Roll Hotel, 2/18

Round about showtime Saturday night as the young backing band the Expressions were churning out the cool and lightly funky sounds of the past the way serious students from Greenpoint, Brooklyn could do in their matching paisley tux jackets, out came the front man in his sparkly blue tux jacket.

Lee Fields was taking that long walk down the hall from the Rock & Roll Hotel’s green room to its modest stage, but it might have been a longer walk still, back to the Stax era chitlin circuit, bringing with him the grit of a lifetime in rhythm and soul, the yearnings of its heartbreak songs, the insistence of its endurance.

It’s a long road, but Fields, at 65 or so, is the standard-bearer of a kind of soul that was swept away by disco and dance records or was otherwise relegated to the oldies bin. Like Charles Bradley or the late Sharon Jones, he’s found his niche with an ace bunch of enablers, in his case the six piece Expressions who frame his songs and keep it going as he extends the tunes, extolls the audience to clap along, or breaks it down.

The soul man is an endangered species and Fields keeps it going, not wth a lot of amped-up funkified flash, but with a smoother mid-tempo, accommodating aching ballads or promises of fidelity.

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