Author Archives: Roger Catlin

TVD Live: Yasiin Bey at the Kennedy Center, 1/2

It’s been a tough year for Yasiin Bey, the rapper formerly known as Mos Def, who now also wants to be known as a former rapper. He was arrested in South Africa last January for trying to leave the country with a “world passport.” He had been living in Cape Town since 2013 and had been prevented from leaving with those papers for a U.S. tour in 2014 after a visitor’s permit expired. Now he’s been banned from that country for five years.

Nonetheless, he’s hanging up his performing life at 43—not only in hip-hop, where he’s built a solid career of brainy, nimble, conscious rap with wide-ranging backing music—but in acting as well, in films from Something the Lord Made to Be Kind Rewind.

Before he goes, he has a few things to say and has released the first of what he says will be three final albums, December 99th, last month. More significantly, he scheduled a pair of farewell concerts at the Apollo and three at the Kennedy Center.

There’s no explanation why he’d choose the staid D.C. arts center for his final stand that began New Year’s Eve and continued until January 2. But it seemed to underscore both the high level of his art and its high-minded purposes.

As he half-sung, quite convincingly, his songs of social struggle, he recalled the figure of hometown hero Marvin Gaye who helped open the Kennedy Center with his What’s Going On? tour nearly 45 years ago. But his final performance Monday, fraught as it was with history, was also a lot of fun and as solid a hip-hop showcase as you’d hope for.

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TVD Live: Old 97’s at
the Hamilton, 12/31

In the 2014 song “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive,” the Old 97’s note “most of our shows were a triumph of rock, although some nights I might have been checkin’ the clock.” Checking the clock is what playing New Year’s Eve gigs are all about. And though Texas band’s return to the tony Hamilton in Washington, D.C., was largely the relentless breakneck paced double-time country-tinged rocking their fans have come to love, there were some accommodations to the approaching midnight hour.

First, it involved lengthening their set by about a third from the night before (as they did on a similar stint at the same club the last two days of the year in 2014, and those of us who opted for the December 30 performance then adjusted accordingly this time).

To access a countdown clock just before midnight, they got the light guy to project the final two minutes of 2016 from Carson Daly’s Times Square telecast. Squeezing in one more super-fast song before the deadline, it was 10-9-8, cheap champagne in plastic flutes, and another 10 songs or so.

You get the feeling the clock is not the biggest concern of the band the other 364 days of the year, so freewheeling they are in their songs, changing up the set, and over the top performance, which saw by show’s end guitarist Ken Bethea guzzling a drink fed to him by a fan during his frenzied solo on “Most Messed Up,” the title track to the last album that capped the second set.

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TVD Live: Hayes Carll
and Allison Moorer at
the Birchmere, 12/26

Hayes Carll was stomping his way into country music success when he decided to dial it back for his most recent album, return to a quieter solo acoustic approach, and emulate once more the wry, road-weary wistfulness of a John Prine or a Townes Van Zandt. In his headlining show at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA. the day after Christmas, he even dropped the crowd pleasing “Stomp and Holler.”

Self-effacement was practically part of the set, with such songs that commented on misfires in the music business from the opening “Good While it Lasted” and “Sake of the Song” to “Drunken Poet’s Dream” and “Hard Out Here.”

Carll’s pretty funny too in his between-song patter with stories that have been burnished from a long career in bad Texas bars along the Gulf Coast. But there’s a clarity and emotional precision in his new songs from his Lovers and Leavers album that came out last April that offset them.

He’s maintained it’s not his breakup album, but there are some succinct truths about divorce, like the one he went through since his previous album, singing that he and a partner “got the life that we wanted, not the love that we need” and elsewhere, “We both said forever, forever till the end, but forever’s something different to a lover than a friend.” At the same time, there are simpler statements about the love for his son in “The Magic Kid” or the sensations of a new relationship in “Love Don’t Let Me Down.”

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TVD Premiere: Minor Moon, “Weird How We Float”

Add to the roster of acts who are mainly one person, the Chicago band Minor Moon. It’s the project of Sam Cantor, a transplanted New Englander who puts a soulful flourish into his new song “Weird How We Float” which we’re delighted to premiere today.

With its atmospheric sound and deliberate beat, the track conjures up a feeling of dreaminess as well as a certain sense of unease. Unlike the single “So Composed” released last month, “Weird How We Float” is more immediately dark says Cantor, who describes the tune as “essentially a story about someone waking up from a nightmare, and then having the realization that their current moment in reality is actually the eye of the storm.”

What is this storm? It could be the collapse of the environment, but many may also interpret it as the political nightmare that occurred since the track was recorded. Literally or metaphorically though, “the water is rising.” But can we change this distressing situation, or are we destined to be swept up in it? “The chorus,” says Cantor, “is about the uncannily mundane feeling of how, even when we are immersed or complicit in the things we despise, at most we still ‘float’ along.” (Still, it comes with a strong guitar solo.)

Minor Moon also features a trio of other Chicago musicians—Nathan Bojko on drums, Michael Downing on bass, and Colin Drozdoff on keyboards. “Weird How We Float” is from the upcoming EP, “What Our Enemies Know,” due in stores January 20 on Ruination Records (a label name that furthers the sense of doom).

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TVD Live: The Smokey Robinson Gershwin Prize Tribute Concert at DAR Constitution Hall, 11/16

Bob Dylan confirmed this week he won’t be going to Sweden next month to pick up his Nobel Prize Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American songbook.” But you better believe Smokey Robinson, whom Dylan once listed as a favorite poet (though the quote “America’s greatest living poet” appears to have been fabricated) did show up for his 2016 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Two days of events this week culminated Wednesday night in a tribute concert at the DAR Constitution Hall being taped for a Black History Month PBS concert special to air next year.

For most of the 100 minutes, Robinson could sit in what looked like a throne on the side of the stage, beneath a golden replication of the Gershwin Prize medal, which has been previously given to Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, and Hal David, Carole King, Billy Joel, and Willie Nelson (and, notably, not Dylan). It wasn’t quite Kennedy Center Awards-level artists who came on stage to honor him by singing his songs. In fact, several warranted a shrug.

And by the time Robinson took the stage at the event hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, he smoothly sang just one of his songs, “Being with You,” infused with a Spanish verse, along with one Gershwin classic, “Our Love is Here to Stay,” before bringing out the night’s cast for a sing-along to “My Girl,” which he had written for the Temptations. It wasn’t the first time Motown artists have flirted with the Great American Songbook. Label founder Berry Gordy has often tried to bring a sophistication to his roster of stars by having them sing at supper clubs or, in the case of Marvin Gaye, record an album of standards.

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TVD Live: Elvis Costello & the Imposters at the Warner Theater, 11/3

When Elvis Costello has ventured out without an album to support, the super-prolific songwriter has left his setlist’s fate to his always-entertaining Spinning Songbook wheel of songs. Currently, he’s taken the wheel himself, by featuring one fabled album from his career and building a show around that in a tour titled “Imperial Bedroom and Other Chambers.”

While he manages to cover the bulk of notable work, which his record company labeled “Masterpiece” upon release (to his embarrassment), Costello varied from other recent full-album recitals from Brian Wilson to Bruce Springsteen, by dropping a couple of its 15 tracks and spreading them around a very generous set that offset the contemplative Bedroom songs with early career blasts and crowd favorites.

Most all of it stayed well into the past. Aside from a trio of fascinating songs from an as yet unproduced new musical based on Budd Shulberg’s A Face in the Crowd, his newest recorded offering was one from his decade-old collaboration album with Allen Toussaint. Nostalgia might have been a little on the mind of the performer, as he bounded on stage in red hat to match his red Gibson guitar, fronting a lean trio that featured two of his longtime Attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas as well as two backup singers.

“It’s been 38 years since we last played the Warner,” he said early in the set, referencing a set so significant, it was released on CD three decades later. “Back then we’d play 25 minutes of music that on a good night we’d get down to 15.” He made up with it Thursday with a near-Springsteen sized set of three straight hours and 34 songs all-told, from the rarity that opened it, “The Town Where Time Stood Still,” to the anthem that closed it, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding” — his one cover song of the night that he had also long since made his own.

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TVD Premiere:
Nadia Washington, “Hope Resurgence”

In these disheartening, divisive times, Nadia Washington offers inspiration in her jazzy, soulful new tune, “Hope Resurgence.”

A singer songwriter from Dallas who currently lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Boston’s esteemed Berklee School of Music, Washington has previously performed with Esperanza Spalding, Lalah Hathaway, and George Duke.

She was backup singer and songwriter on Diane Reeves’ 2014 Beautiful Life which won a Grammy for best jazz vocals. More recently, Washington was part of this summer’s Blue Note compilation, Revive Music Presents Supreme Sonacy Vo. 1, writing and performing alongside Ray Angry of the Roots.

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Kevin Haskins,
The TVD Interview

The post-punk band originally lasted only five years, but the work of Bauhaus continues to have an influence on a host of bands that would come after them. Drawing on the darker sounds of The Velvet Underground and glam, Bauhaus was credited with starting goth rock, possibly because its groundbreaking first single in 1979 was the nine-minute “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” about the chap who played the most famous vampire.

Composed of singer Peter Murphy, guitarist Daniel Ash, and brothers Kevin Haskins on drums and bassist David J, Bauhaus reunited to great acclaim just twice—in 1998 and again at Coachella in 2005. 

Fitting for a band named after an art movement founded 60 years earlier, Bauhaus left behind a visual trove that included not only its striking logo, but various flyers, posters, and cover art along with a load of unseen sketches, photos, and set lists. Many of them are jammed into the new coffee table book, Bauhaus Undead: The Visual History and Legacy of Bauhaus. Its author is drummer Haskins, who would go on to join Ash in Tones on Tail, and with David J joining those two, the band Love and Rockets which lasted three times as long as Bauhaus. 

We talked to Haskins, 56, from his studio in Los Angeles, where he’s lived for 25 years about the book, Bela, his beats, and Bauhaus.

There have always been a lot of Bauhaus fans in L.A., right?

Yeah, there are. Actually, last Halloween, Daniel and I DJ’d at a bar in L.A. and there was a line around the block, people couldn’t get in. So we do have a good fan base here, yeah.

Halloween is the time for “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” after all.

You always hear ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ on the radio. And we get offers to perform and DJ around this time. So yeah, I guess people think about us around this time.

What’s the story behind that song? It may be your best known, but it was also your first. How did that come about.

Well, David had just joined the band and we hadn’t rehearsed with him at this point. He called up Daniel the night before the first rehearsal and told him he had this lyric about Bela Lugosi, you know, with a vampire theme. And Daniel said, well, that’s good because I came up with these haunting chords today, so maybe those two things will go together well. So we got to rehearsal, David gave Peter the lyrics sheet, Daniel started playing the haunting chords, and David started looking around for a bass line.

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TVD Video Premiere: SIRES, “My Everything”

With a booming drum beat that goes back to early rock, covered by overlaid choruses and harp strings, the new track from the Iowa band SIRES carries legacy in its sound, even as its big production video looks at something more modern—cyber bullying and its effects.

SIRES is a band from Waterloo and Des Moines (to name two towns two hours away from one another) that is headed and named after lead singer and guitarist Dylan Sires (they couldn’t very well call themselves Dylan now could they?) Soul for Sale, the new 11-song album from the trio that used to be known as Dylan Sires & Neighbors, has an interesting mission.

“I explore my seven deadly sins and turned them into pop songs,” Sires says. “Each track was made with the intent of creating my own version of a hit song, hence Soul for Sale because it’s absolutely true. This album was made to be heard.”

Further, he adds, “If I had a soul to sell, it’d be on Amazon.”

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Everything is different: The Posies are touring on their own terms

Sshh! The Posies are in the middle of a US fall tour, but they won’t say exactly where they’re playing.

Their website lists the cities they’ll play, but not the venue. The address of the shows, which could be at a variety of types of places from homes to offices to record stores, are given only to ticket holders not more than 24 hours in advance of the show. The unusual pop-up tour is part of a general drift of the beloved Western Pacific power pop band started by Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer to a more off-the-grid, D.I.Y. mode of music making.

Already, their recordings, the latest of which is Solid States, was made available through a kickstarter type site called My Music Empire, and they crowd-funded the cover art through a contest to fans (the winner got $500).

But as the band endures lots of change—from Auer and Stringfellow moving to France, to the addition of new drummer Frankie Siragusa after the unexpected death of Darius Minwalla last year—they’ve shifted their sound as well, from guitar to more electronic shadings. We talked to Stringfellow from France just before the tour began.

Tell me about the secret shows.

Basically it’s pretty cool. We charted out an alternative way to tour that’s extremely D.I.Y., that doesn’t require us to use the club circuit at all. That doesn’t mean that we only play house shows. We do play those, but we also play places that I think are more interesting. We build each show from scratch, we bring our own P.A. and set up and everything. They have a very homemade feel and they’ve been working out great for everybody—both the audience who love the novelty of it, and the fact that for once it’s not a gross smelling bar where the show starts at one in the morning or whatever. I think that paradigm has lost a lot of romance for a lot of people.

Our shows seem to be romantic for people, us included. They end up being secret shows, where we don’t tell people the venue until the last minute, sort of by necessity—some of these venues are a little sensitive. We’ve had multimillion-dollar homes that we’ve played in and things like that. We want to be careful and have a little bit of control about who actually shows up and make sure that only the people who are supposed to be there are there.

But the byproduct of doing the shows that way and keeping the venues secret is a little bit exciting. It’s a little like a treasure hunt. People don’t know what’s going to happen. And they love that, because so much of modern life is controllable and predictable and certain.

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