Author Archives: Roger Catlin

TVD Live: Rufus Wainwright at the Music Center at Strathmore, 12/8

Rufus Wainwright is an accomplished enough figure in music, having just opened his second opera, that he needn’t have to look back. Lucky for his longtime fans that he is, marking his 20th anniversary in show business with a tour that showcases his first two albums, which made for an elegant and stirring evening Saturday at Bethesda’s Music Center at Strathmore.

With the impeccable genes—son of the wry singer/songwriter Loudon Wainwright III and Canadian songbird Kate McGarrigle—the young Wainwright has nonetheless forged his own career, with beguiling songs and strong tenor aching toward showy standard pop to such a degree that he presented his own version of Judy Garland’s 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall. (Wainwright’s heady genes will continue: He and his husband have a daughter by way of Leonard Cohen’s daughter—what pressure she will have to be a poet and songwriter).

It seems to be as interesting for Wainwright as it is for his audience to look back on the early days of the debut Rufus Wainwright and Poses. Unlike other acts who recreate old albums, he didn’t present the songs of the first in order, or even all of it (leaving out three tunes). But he did do all of Poses in the second half, in order, and without the charming and funny commentary between tunes that he used in the show’s first half.

Wainwright takes care with these songs, doing them better and with more confidence and stretching them out to such a degree that when he did the little ditty “Millbrook,” it seemed short by comparison. He had a bit to say about his mother, and his French Canadian upbringing, but little about his dad, whose “One Man Guy” he did straightforwardly, as he did on his second album.

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TVD Live: Sweetheart
of the Rodeo
50th Anniversary Tour at Strathmore, 12/3

“One hundred years from this day,” Gram Parsons once wrote, “will the people still feel this way?” Alas, he wouldn’t live to find out. Twenty-two when he wrote it, he was dead at 26. But half a century since it was recorded for a game-changing Byrds album, maybe the people do feel different.

A flop when it was released, Sweetheart of the Rodeo gained stature as the first album-length country-rock statement, creating a string of music that flourishes as Americana, and justifying a tour marking its 50th year, which made its way to the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda in a ringing show Monday.

Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman were the only Byrds remaining to perform it. But that seemed to fit—they were the only two members left in the imploding band when they started the project. They were the ones who hired the country-rock savant Parsons, who in turn helped steer the band to its rhinestone-gilded new direction.

The Byrds had dabbled in classic country previously, from the bluegrass-sounding “Mr. Spaceman” to Hillman’s “Time Between.” But it was Parsons who pulled them further, with three of his own songs as well as the wide-ranging country sampling that rounded it out, recorded in Nashville with some of its finest musicians.

In doing so, after helping invent folk-rock by plugging in Dylan, the Byrds created an honest salute to the twang and rhinestone of classic country with neither condescension nor irony; a full embrace of American ideals unusual for long-haired rockers of the day, and possibly out of step entirely with 1968, the tumultuous year in which it was recorded.

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TVD Premiere:
Luther Russell, “Saturday’s Child”

PHOTO: JIM NEWBERRY | “’Saturday’s Child’ is a track I cut with the full intention of including it on Medium Cool. In fact, it struck me as super-catchy, but just didn’t end up ultimately fitting into the sequence. It’s nice to give the 45 something special that the full-length doesn’t have…I always try and do that. Regarding the song, it struck me that a young, confident woman is like the “star” of the local bar or club on any given night, in any given town—and there’s a power in that. This song is a rumination on that, and the rites of passage we all go through when we first get out into the world in our various social scenes. These rituals are innocent, fun, yet important. And it’s all part of Rock & Roll.”Luther Russell

A fresh single often signals the direction of a new album. That may be the case with Luther Russell’s “The Sound of Rock & Roll” 7″ out today on the Portland imprint Fluff and Gravy—providing a stately, engaging, heartfelt introduction to his upcoming LP Medium Cool, due out in February.

But how good can an album be if it tosses off to a B-side something as splendid as “Saturday’s Child,” the track we’re proud to be premiering here today at The Vinyl District. To be available only as the 45’s B-side, “Saturday’s Child” is an upbeat, ringing reverie to a girl in tight jeans, who like her clothing, doesn’t want to fade away.

The delectable cut has some agreeable echoes with Russell’s other current project, teaming with Big Star’s Jody Stephens in the duo Those Pretty Wrongs. Russell, a Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist, singer and writer, has also been working with Robyn Hitchcock and wrote a couple of songs for Weezer’s 2016 “white album.” Inspired by the Replacements, Russell once fronted The Freewheelers, which had a couple major label albums out and before that, was once in a pre-Wallflowers trio with their Jakob Dylan and Tobi Miller.

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TVD Video Premiere: Handsome Jack,
“Baby Be Cool”

PHOTO: GANNON TEACH | “‘Baby Be Cool’ is a light-hearted, soulful take on wanting to get your ex back if they’d only just be cool the next time around. This song always gives me a really good feeling when the horns bust in on that last chorus. We wanted the video to match the fun vibe of the song so our director Nate Chateaux came up with this cool green screen color changing effect.”Jamison Passuite, Handsome Jack

The soulful rockin’ sonics of Handsome Jack sound more like they’re from the Southern U.S. than southern Niagara County, N.Y., 20 miles east of the Falls. But that’s the origin of the rootsy and dynamic power trio who have just issued their second album Everything’s Gonna Be Alright on Alive Naturalsound records. Among its treats is the simple stomper “Baby Be Cool,” sounding like a Wet Willie outtake but with eventual Memphis-style horns.

We’re proud to debut the striking video for “Baby Be Cool,” which combines the classic hair and plaid look of the band with the bright colors of a ’70s sitcom intro, with an eye-catching typography that leans toward the late ’60s 3D cursive of old logos found on LP covers from the Flying Burrito Brothers or the Jackson 5.

But while upholding the classic sounds of rockers enjoying the blues, there’s nothing overtly retro about the band, other than the good old feelings they conjure up. They’re more like onetime label mates the Black Keys inciting something unpretentious and solid.

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TVD Live: Brian Wilson celebrates Pet Sounds at the Kennedy Center, 11/5

It’s been two years since Brian Wilson’s 50th anniversary tour of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds “final performances” commenced across the states and around the world. But the masterpiece of rock expression has never worn out its welcome. Another one of the “final performances” came Monday at the Kennedy Center, this one not only enhanced by the acoustics and decor of the Concert Hall, but with added strings and horns from the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra (the ones who weren’t being used next door at Anastasia presumably).

It gave another dimension to parts of the work, which had already been pretty well handled by the 10 piece band who had figured out ways to perform all of the xylophones, bass harmonicas, flutes, clarinets, banjos, theremin, and electric guitar that the endlessly innovative work required. Violins added an extra emotional tug to “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder),” the horns amping up an additional urgency in “Here Today.” Both pushed the existing, somewhat surprising emotional wallop further.

It wasn’t just the nostalgia of the sweet hopeful naiveté of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” it was hearing Wilson, at 76, starting these songs in his own voice with lines that maybe ring more true for him at the end of his life than they did at the beginning. “I know perfectly well I’m not where I should be,” he sings in “You Still Believe in Me” (whose title, on the part of the audience, was also still true). Or mournfully singing, “I keep looking for a place to fit in,” at the start of “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.”

In each of those songs, the higher parts were picked up by another band member. In the past, it had been Al Jardine’s son Matt. Only recently has somebody new stepped in for those parts. Keeping in the family, now it’s Wilson’s son-in-law Rob Bonfiglio, Carnie Wilson’s husband, handling acoustic guitars and doing those high parts for the tour.

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TVD Live: Elvis Costello & the Imposters at DAR Constitution Hall, 11/4

PHOTO: JAMES O’MARA | Normally super-prolific, Elvis Costello went five years between new albums recently, going so far as to tour an old album, Imperial Bedroom last year rather than release a new set of songs.

But a memoir, a health scare, and that tour with the Imposters reminded Costello how much he liked performing with the snap of Pete Thomas’ drums, the baroque inventiveness of keyboardist Steve Nieve, and the bounce of Davey Faragher. Last month, he released the new Look Now, his first album with the Imposters in 10 years, and was kicking off his tour to support the album last weekend, with his third stop at the staid DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC Sunday.

The Imposters are pretty much the Attractions with a switch in bassists from Bruce Thomas to Faragher, so there was a great opportunity to play the snarling tracks of his early years along with the quieter, generally more pop approach of his new work.

He pointed to each Imposter as the bracing opening song featured each of them in turn—drums to bass to organ on “This Year’s Girl,” a song that felt utterly contemporary, in part because it’s been the theme song to this season’s The Deuce on HBO (which coincidentally was having its finale that night).

Looking sharp in black suit, tie and shirt and brandishing his electric guitar, the four were accompanied by the background singers from the last tour, Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee, who were left to mostly go-go dance in knee-high boots to the oldest songs since they largely featured no background parts.

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TVD Live: Take Me to
the River Tour at The Hamilton, 10/24

It’s less than a half a year to Fat Tuesday, but the heart of Mardi Gras is on the road in the form of the Take Me to the River tour. The caravan, headlined by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and featuring such figures as Ivan Neville and George Porter Jr., is built around the upcoming documentary Take Me to the River: New Orleans—a sequel to the 2014 original that concentrated on Memphis soul stars working with young hopefuls.

Both were directed and produced by Martin Shore, who introduced and played some congas in the background during the stop Wednesday at the Hamilton in DC. By now the whole “Take Me to the River” operation is meant to bolster music education, both financially and in giving talented young people a chance to get on stage to share their skills amid some legends.

In the upcoming film, it’s Irma Thomas who shows the younger singer Ledisi around one of her classics in a clip that preceded the live music. Live, it meant young performers like singer Joelle Dyson and bassist Dillon Caillouette are on board with New Orleans legends. But they could hold their own.

Dyson (at least I think that was her name; it wasn’t listed anywhere) started with a pair from Irma Thomas—the sassy “(You Can Have My Husband But Please) Don’t Mess With My Man” and the classic “Time is On My Side,” which she proves more true for her certainly than it does, for say, the Rolling Stones, who famously also recorded it.

That’s the point of this show—that the young people have time on their side to advance this indigenous soulful music. And she could have asked for no better backing band than one with Ivan Neville on keyboards, George Porter Jr. on bass, Terence Higgins on drums, and the Dirty Dozen’s Kevin Harris on saxophone. It was unclear whether it was more inspirational or intimidating for Caillouette to play his bass in the shadow of the Meters’ great bassist Porter.

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TVD Live: Guided by Voices at the Black Cat, 10/19

They were playing Captain Beyond before the Guided by Voices’ super marathon at the Black Cat Friday and that was about right: post psychedelic, pre-prog rock Brit/American mix with all kinds of fanciful medieval references. The kind of thing that GBV leader Robert Pollard would relish, in other words, or put out on his own.

Except that by now Guided by Voices is way, way beyond even Captain Beyond. At 60, with a mop of white hair, Pollard may look like an out-to-seed golf pro who might gingerly be stepping into retirement, but he may be one of the most prolific figures in rock ’n’ roll history, with more than 2,400 song titles in the online GBV database alone. While zooming through an enjoyable, rollicking set through a fraction of them Friday—a whopping 53 songs over two and a half hours—Pollard was ostensibly promoting the band’s latest release, Space Gun, its 26th or so release (Pollard also has nearly as many solo albums).

But he also was playing quite a lot from the three (!) albums the band has in the can that are being readied for release next year. “And one of them is a double album,” he added. He named them: Zeppelin Over China, Warp & Woof, and The Rite of the Ants. All of this output despite the fact of at least a couple breakups and multi-year hiatuses of the band over its 35 year career—one lasting for six years, the other for two—and a wholesale change in members backing Pollard about 20 years ago.

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TVD Live: Bottle
Rockets and Sarah Borges at Gypsy
Sally’s, 10/18

PHOTO: CARY HORTON | The Bottle Rockets have always had a flinty, no-nonsense way of expressing the very concrete things of everyday life that sets it apart from most bands.

There’s a hard-won Midwestern honesty to their hard-charging songs about defining the limitations of life and accepting them (or at least naming them clearly). And when Brian Henneman and crew have a new set of songs to present, by gum, they’re going to do them, playing everything from a new album because they’re just as proud of every song on it, and letting an audience know what exactly to expect.

At a previous headlining show at Gypsy Sally’s in DC, they played the entirety of their 2015 South Broadway Athletic Club in order, one after another before going onto their older favorites. In a satisfying show Thursday opened by Sarah Borges, they played the songs from their new Bit Logic in order as well. And though they refused to take requests from fans during the main set, they at least did throw in some old favorites in between the new ones to allow a taste of the familiar.

But the charm of the band is that everything they write about is already familiar, from the frustration of a non-moving Interstate (even in Missouri) on “Highway 70 Blues” to the pleasures of tinny radios in “Lo-Fi.” He may dismiss the digital culture on the album’s title track, but he admitted in the show that crowd-sourcing encouragement online led to writing another song, “Maybe Tomorrow.”

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TVD Live: Death Cab for Cutie and Charly Bliss at The Anthem, 10/17

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNSDespite its jokey name lifted from a Bonzo Dog Band song title, Death Cab for Cutie have been releasing intriguing, largely wistful albums for 20 years now. Their latest, Thank You For Today, its ninth, continues the traditions of complex, brainy lyrics often reflecting loss and heartache, in catchy little melodies.

The band’s big show at The Anthem in Washington, DC, began like the album, with the neo-electro approach of “I Dreamt We Spoke Again,” a haunting vision wrapped in a precision dancefloor sound. As the first tour and album following the departure of guitarist Chris Walla, you might think they’d all gone to keyboards considering the single guitar approach. But Dave Depper and Zac Ray switch back and forth between keyboards and guitars, as the songs require.

Death Cab is all still entirely the showcase for Ben Gibbard, the singer and songwriter who began the band as a solo project. The songs and show swirl around his singular vocals and the kind of word arrangement that not only stick in the minds of fans, but cause them to shout them out. As in “Title and Registration,” as Gibbard begins a soliloquy about the glove compartment: “Inaccurately named … cause behind its door there’s nothing to keep my fingers warm.” There he finds an old photo that reminds how “our love did surely fade.”

Gibbard, like his band mates, switched between instruments as well, from the guitar on most songs, to an upright piano situated at the rear of the stage, to songs like “60 & Punk,” in which he berates an unnamed former hero for current drunken behavior, which he just sang into a microphone.

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TVD Live: Josh Rouse
and Grant-Lee Phillips
at Pearl Street Warehouse, 10/13

For a joint tour that ends in a collaboration, Josh Rouse and Grant-Lee Phillips don’t look like they’ll immediately go together. Rouse, in a three-piece suit and tie, travels in a breezy, sophisticated kind of guitar pop bordering on light jazz. Phillips growls and rocks in a manner suited to his old band Grant Lee Buffalo.

But there is a mutual respect and an adherence to songcraft and turn of phrase that makes theirs a more natural pairing than one would expect. In a Saturday night stop at the Pearl Street Warehouse in Washington, D.C.’s year-old Wharf district, the two worked individual sets on the barest of stages. Aside from a couple of wedge monitors and a tuning pedal, they had nothing else. Not additional guitars for the empty holders behind them. Not even set lists. That may have meant more freewheeling performances than usual, open to requests or songs they hadn’t played for a while.

Phillips took the stage feeling feisty, wisecracking between songs, and starting with a couple from his latest album, Widdershins, before moving back to his third solo album Virginia Creeper with “Far End of the Night.” There were a trio of songs from the ’90s band he led, Grant Lee Buffalo, invigorating the middle of the set. But he largely dwells in a folkie realm these days, with impressive fingerpicking skills behind his deft lyric touch. He reached a high point with songs like “Buried Treasure” and “San Andreas Fault,” and in between played a couple of requests, “See America,” which he probably would have played anyway, and “Lily-a-Passion” which he probably would not have.

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TVD Live: The Jayhawks and Harrow Fair at the Birchmere, 10/11

Talk about rainy day music. The last licks of Hurricane Michael were blowing rain into Virginia soaking the night of The Jayhawks’ return to The Birchmere. And it was the band’s 15 year old album, Rainy Day Music, that dominated the generous 24-song show.

Not just because it contains a lot of the band’s strongest tracks, such as “Stumbling Through the Dark,” “All the Right Reasons,” “Tailspin,” and “Save It for the Rainy Day.” It was also heard a lot because guitarist Stephen McCarthy had driven up from Richmond to join them on several songs. He was with the band right around that era, and the more twangy style from the former Long Ryders guitarist lent a more country bent to the show—though he only brought along his electric, not his steel guitar.

Still, the combination of frontman Gary Louris on acoustic, newest member John Jackson on mandolin, and McCarthy on electric made a strong stringed front—just as the combination of Louris, keyboardist Karen Grotberg, and drummer Tim O’Reagan on vocals created ringing harmonies.

The country slant had Louris surprise Grotberg by suggesting the straight country cover they occasionally do, “I’m Down to My Last Cigarette,” on which she shines both on voice and honky-tonk piano. There was country too in the Dixie Chicks and Natalie Maines solo songs that Louris co-wrote that they also recorded for the newest Jayhawks album, Back Roads and Abandoned Motels.

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TVD Video Premiere: Walter Salas-Humara, “She’s A Caveman”

PHOTO: JEAN FORDYCE | Longtime rocker Walter Salas-Humera strikes a prehistoric club for gender equality in his new video “She’s A Caveman.” The frontman of The Silos, who has also had a long solo career bridging rock and Americana, presents the tune on his latest solo album Walterio, out on the Hoboken-based Rhyme & Reason Records.

In the new video, which we’re happy to premiere today, he blends clips from old caveman movies like Eegah! with stop-motion clay animation and his own visage, playing and singing alongside the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, looking, at 59, like George Harrison’s dad.

Salas-Humara has written with people from Alejandro Escovedo to novelist Jonathan Lethem. But on “She’s a Caveman,” composed at the Steel Bridge Songfest hosted by Timbuk3’s Pat MacDonald in Wisconsin, he found a 15-year-old co-writer, Tari Knight. “He came with some fantastic lines,” Salas-Humara says. “My favorite is: She can hunt and gather me/ She can carry me across her land bridge.”

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TVD Live: Gaz Coombes, Caleb Elliott, Kiki Wilder at City Winery, 10/4

When Supergrass called it quits in 2010, frontman Gaz Coombes kept going with a series of solo albums that showed how strong he was at songcraft and increasingly, how talented he is at producing it.

In his solo show at City Winery in Washington, DC on Thursday, he showed how he can do many things well at once, infusing his songs not just with guitar, but with effects laden loops, tapes, backing tracks, and percussion.

It added a depth (if a bit of robotic certainty) to his solid Britpop songs, which might have come across just fine with only his guitars and distinctive vocals, a yowl that sometimes brings to mind Thom Yorke of Radiohead depending on the song. That happened when he stuck to acoustic guitar to sing his salute to his autistic daughter, now 15, in “The Girl Who Fell from Earth.”

With a sprinkling from his three solo albums, the 42-year-old Coombes, still rocking the fuzzy sideburns, didn’t bother to dip into the Supergrass song pool until the last song in the encore, a version of “Moving” that had fans standing and singing along.

Truth to tell, Coombes had asked the crowd to stand for the stirring final song in his set, “Detroit”—it’s weird for a rock ’n’ roller to be playing essentially a seated supper club. But they were glad to do it.

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TVD Live: Liz Phair and Speedy Ortiz at the 9:30 Club, 10/3

PHOTO: ELIZABETH WEINBERG | Liz Phair looked happy and perky as she took the stage at a sold-out 9:30 Club last week to reignite memories for the audience—and of her own past memories at the storied DC club.

After this year’s quarter-century salute to her big splash, Exit in Guyville, Phair at 51 seems resigned to becoming the nostalgia act her audiences demand of her, playing seven of the 18 tracks famously purporting to be answers to the songs on Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street. They were well sprinkled through the set, sparking the crowd when their familiar guitar riffs began.

But there was just one new song—an acoustic-backed ballad about “what else? heartbreak,” she said, nothing from her last album, 2010’s Funstyle, and just one from the one before it, 2005’s Somebody’s Miracle.

Fun as it was to hear the jolt of things like “Supernova” and “Extraordinary,” there was something reserved about her oldies performance. Prim in leather pants and accent jacket, she played the cool aunt, but not so much that she ever broke a sweat. In front of a largely generic four piece band that received only cursory intros, she not only had her guitar tech adorn her with each song’s instrument, he had to plug her in as well.

The set decor was top to bottom fake topiary, presumably owing to the “Amps on the Lawn Tour” theme. But plastic nature only helped underscore the lack of real grit in the performance.

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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