Author Archives: Roger Catlin

TVD Live: U2 at FedExField, 6/20

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Playing whole albums from past catalogs is the variation that has kept arenas full for classic rock acts. It’s a way to both break from the greatest hits format and the struggle to push a new product fans may not prefer while providing a one time celebration of the past.

U2 may be one of the few acts to fill football stadiums no matter what they are doing, but celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, one of their most revered albums has made their current tour a quick sellout. Among the estimated 1.7 million fans in 33 stops Tuesday was the 45,000 or so at FedExField in Landover, MD, the stop closest to DC.

It may be easy to dismiss such celebrations of the past as rekindling nostalgia for an audience that seemed strictly on the 40 and up side. But from the rat-a-tat of Larry Mullen’s initial clarion drumming to the initial words from Bono—“I can’t believe the news today; I can’t close my eyes and make it go away”—it was clear that the messages of much of the band were just as riveting and up to the moment as they may have been, in the case of the opening “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” 34 years ago. How long must we sing this song, indeed.

The spray of songs that would normally make for the encore’s rush—“Sunday Bloody Sunday” followed by “New Year’s Day,” “Bad,” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” brought a quick urgency and immediacy to the proceedings, especially as the attack of “Bad” and its foray into Paul Simon’s “America” set its sights at the soul of the country not far from its capitol.

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TVD Live: (Sandy) Alex G, Japanese Breakfast at the Rock & Roll Hotel, 6/2

PHOTO: SONNY MALHOTRA | I wanted to see the show by (Sandy) Alex G in part because my daughter called him “the Elliott Smith of my generation.” This comparison took me aback, partly because I thought of, say, Nick Drake as the Elliott Smith of my generation. Which means I’m about two generations removed from what’s selling out the Rock & Roll Hotel these days.

There is an interesting back story to the Philadelphia guy once known as Alex Giannascoli, who only added the parenthetical aspect of his name last month. Working in a home studio he turned out a handful of albums that got wide play on Bandcamp, as well as a half-dozen other singles and EPs. The grass-roots success got him a label deal with Domino and his second release Rocket just came out this month along with the ambitious tour that’s already selling out a lot of places.

In addition to his own work, he got something of a wider audience when he started to work with Frank Ocean, a connection I still can’t quite get my head around. The guy is still only 24 and may look even younger on stage, with his raven black shoulder length hair brushed behind his ears. His recordings do denote some sensitive handling of personal material in a melodic manner. But on tour it seems he doesn’t really want to show that part of himself in front of so many people.

It’s one thing to bare one’s soul in the bedroom, mumbling personal thoughts and double tracking it; but in front of a band and hundreds of fans (S)A.G. would rather play up every rock trope of being on the road instead. So a big blast of Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway” plays overhead to start and end the show (which got some bro-tastic singalongs and high fives in the crowd). More importantly, he takes a hard-edged, turned-up-to-11 approach on stage with a backing trio that he never introduces, making him sound overall more like the Rivers Cuomo of his generation.

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TVD Live: Richard Lloyd at the Black Cat, 6/1

When Tom Verlaine brought his latest version of Television on tour last year, fans savored hearing so much of Marquee Moon, their 1977 debut that has only grown in guitar stature over the years. Good as it was, there clearly was a missing link—the guitarist Richard Lloyd, whose intricate guitar interplay (and co-writing “Guiding Light”) helped make that the classic it’s become.

Lloyd joined various Television reunion schemes over the years, but not for the last decade or so. Any replacement in Television could only hope to replicate Lloyd’s intricate inventiveness, not always successfully. Seeing Lloyd himself on tour Thursday at the Black Cat in DC was an opportunity to get his half of some of those classics—though he was clearly not as Marquee Moon dependent as the current version of his last band.

Still, the telltale opening licks of things like “Elevation,” which came mid-set, followed by the title song, “Friction” and the one song from the album that Verlaine’s Television didn’t play in DC last fall, “See No Evil” got the crowd excited. Performing with Terry Clouse on bass, Jeff Brakebill on drums, and Jason NeSmith on second guitar, Lloyd revved up those tunes on the clubs backstage that was not so different in height and size than the one they inaugurated at C.B.G.B.’s more than 40 years ago.

Lloyd has had an impressive resume since those days, playing backup on Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend, recording with John Doe, and touring with Rocket from the Tombs. He included one song he wrote for the latter that was never recorded, “Amnesia,” and a 13th Floor Elevators song he recorded for a Roky Erickson tribute, “Fire Engine.”

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TVD Live: Kiefer Sutherland at the Birchmere, 5/23

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Among the perks of being a successful actor is the ability, at the drop of a hat, to fulfill every vague rock star notion you ever had. Unlike most struggling artists, there is no barrier to hiring a decent band, recording an album, or booking a tour that sells out based simply on your celebrity, giving fans the opportunity to see you in the flesh in their own towns, even if you don’t happen to be doing the thing that made you famous—acting—but happen to be singing or playing music instead.

It’s a formula that’s worked for Kevin Bacon, Keanu Reeves, David Duchovny, Bruce Willis, Russell Crowe, and Kevin Costner. So why not Kiefer Sutherland? The star of TV’s 24 and the current Designated Survivor is spending time away from the camera on an extensive tour to promote his album Down in a Hole, produced by Jude Cole, that was released last summer. His show at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA, Tuesday had been sold out for weeks.

With a solid band behind him that handled nearly all of the music, Sutherland, 50, still carried an acoustic guitar, occasionally switching to electric, though neither seemed to add a lot to the total sound. For an actor who has built a career going from theatrical whisper to big declarative shouts—the essence of his approach to Jack Bauer on 24—there was much less range in his singing voice. His aim is to deliver the simple lyrics he devised, but it doesn’t come with much in terms of timbre or style.

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TVD Live: Pixies at the Lincoln Theatre, 5/16

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Conventional wisdom says the road from the Stooges to Nirvana went through the Pixies. And though they never broke through to the degree of some of their emulators, the driving Massachusetts band returned from a long hiatus this century to see just how ingrained their songs had become. In ads alone, their anthems got much more play than they did on radio—from “Gigantic” for iPhones to “Where is My Mind?” for both Samsung and Acura.

Following its big reunion tour in 2004 that came with just one new track, the band continues in a slightly different form. Paz Lenchantin may be the first woman not named Kim to play bass for the band, replacing original Kim Deal and Kim Shattuck, who briefly toured in her stead.

In the first of a pair of shows at DC’s Lincoln Theatre Tuesday, the Pixies had something more to prove: as much as people loved those first few albums that have become touchstones in rock—and beloved oldies dominated the generous 31-song show—many of the tracks from their unjustly ignored latest album Head Carrier from last year deserved to be played alongside the enshrined classics.

Indeed nine from the new one were played to fine effect—the same number played from the beloved 1989 Doolittle. And while their 1988 Surfer Rosa and 1987 EP “Come On Pilgrim” were liberally sampled as well, there was just a peep from their somewhat uneven initial comeback album, 2014’s Indie Cindy.

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PBS’s American Epic chronicles America’s early, raw expression
on record

When radio threatened the young phonograph record industry in American cities in the 1920s, it sent out talent scouts to rural corners of the country seeking to find local musicians who’d appeal to regional audiences where there still was no radio. They’d find local musicians by asking in town newspapers if they’d like to hear what they sounded like on record.

Setting up portable equipment in hotel rooms in Bristol, TN and Memphis, TN, the exercise also managed to widely disseminate unique music beyond the local holler, but influence American music for decades to come with the discovery of artists from the Carter Family and Jimmie Rogers to Charley Patton and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

The blues, old-time country, gospel, cajun, jug band music, Mexicali and Native American chants that were recorded in those sessions are the basis of a new four-part series on public television, American Epic that began Tuesday. It culminates June 6 with American Epic Sessions, in which contemporary artists including Jack White, T Bone Burnet, Beck, and Nas get together to sing some of these classic old tunes on a portable 1920s recording machine that was carefully re-assembled for the occasion.

A bunch of recordings accompany the broadcasts, from a 100-song boxed set of archival recordings with surprising new fidelity, just out Friday, to the upcoming American Epic Sessions featuring the contributions of Alabama Shakes, Elton John, Los Lobos, Raphael Saadiq, Rhiannon Giddens, and Taj Mahal. There is even a duet of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard before the latter’s death.

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TVD Live: Breakin’
Even Fest 2: Night One
at Songbyrd, 5/5

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | The first night of DC’s second Breakin’ Even Festival at Songbyrd looked well on its way to success Friday, making back its costs, gathering like-minded fans of melodic punk, and getting the bands all intermingling as well.

It began with a set by Flowerbomb, a Northern Virginia band led by the tiny Rachel Kline. In another era her guitar-led tunes may have been part of folk set, but she’s been supercharged by her band of Nat Brown, Dan Abh, and Charles Schneider into some dynamic tunes. In their first performance since January, they seemed stoked to be back on stage.

What would have been a fest started by two female-led bands instead led to a very different sound from the Baltimore band Dead End Lane. Lead singer Erin Demise is taking time from the band and won’t be back until the fall, so it fell to Mitch Nelson of the Gaithersburg band Brace Face to fill in. Demise’s vocals are usually aggressive, but Nelson’s aggro-rock was way over the top and the whole band in black sleeveless Ts was a little more bro-tastic than Dead End Lane may have ever intended.

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TVD Live: Brian Wilson Presents Pet Sounds: The Final Performances at the Lincoln Theatre, 5/3

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | What began last year as the 50th Anniversary World Tour of a masterpiece that never had a tour in its time is still on the road, out so long it’s now called “Pet Sounds: The Final Performances.” It circled back to the D.C. area Wednesday for the first of two nights at the Lincoln Theatre and fans couldn’t have been happier.

Brian Wilson, who turns 75 next month, has been through a lot in his life and, as depicted in books and the movie Love and Mercy, alternately under the control of people who didn’t have his best interests at heart (Murray Wilson, Dr. Eugene Landy) and has found people now who do (his wife and a devoted band). Luckily for fans who love his classic work, he’s fallen in with musicians who love his work just as much and things no fan could have dreamed—touring at all, let alone playing the whole of Smile or Pet Sounds—have happened.

The music itself soars. Not only Pet Sounds, which top to bottom is a classic, replicated lovingly down to bicycle bell, French horn, bass harmonica, and theremin, but a full concert’s worth of extras that might otherwise have filled a nostalgic night.

The show’s first act from the dozen well chosen players consists of Beach Boys classics from “California Girls” to a bunch of car songs (“I Get Around,” “Shut Down,” “Little Deuce Coupe’’—featuring the most complex automotive descriptions ever allowed into the Top Ten). Crucially, instead of “Kokomo” or whatever crap Mike Love is singing in his fake Wilson-less touring Beach Boys, here are well-chosen rarities. The show begins, for example, with “Heroes and Villains,” but the version with the “Cantina” insert—as was recorded for Smile.

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TVD Live: Tommy Keene and Ivan Julian at the Black Cat, 5/4

A couple of DC-bred rockers returned to town Thursday for a show at the Black Cat’s backstage, the culmination of a short duo tour in which they both traveled light—with only their own guitars. It helped that they brought with them careers’ worth of pedigree and songs that still worked quite well.

Headliner Tommy Keene’s energetic rock rang true with just a voice and chords bristling from a 12-string acoustic and, later, an electric guitar. It was same for the opener Ivan Julian, back on the road for the first time since cancer laid him low last year.

Julian, in his wild Afro not looking that much different than when he was founding guitarist in Richard Hell and the Voidoids, began the show, sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar. Even though they’d played nine previous dates, he seemed to be still working things out on stage, ignoring a set list and traveling through his career and his songs he liked.

To show the fingers still worked, he picked out Peter Green’s “Oh Well” to start, and moved right to “Walking on the Water,” the John Fogerty song that appeared on the first Voidoids album. He included a few tunes from his last solo album from 2011, The Latest Flame, including “Hardwired” and “You Is Dead,” and a couple basic rockers from the band he had with Alejandro Escovedo in 2014, The Fauntleroys, “(This Can’t Be) Julie’s Song” and “Suck My Heart Out with a Straw.”

Julian could have sat there and told stories, though, from his early days as a teen touring with the UK band The Foundations (“Build Me Up Buttercup”), sitting in with the Sandinista!-era Clash (“The Call Up”), touring with Matthew Sweet for Girlfriend, playing in Shriekback, and producing a pair of Fleshtones albums in recent years.

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TVD Live: Arto Lindsay at the Black Cat, 4/29

One of the pillars of the New York’s no wave era, Arto Lindsay’s frantic guitar playing straddled punk, art rock, and free jazz. He’s also been part of the Lounge Lizards and the Golden Palominos in his time. But for more than 20 years, he’s been recording on his own, inspired by the music of his childhood, growing up in Brazil with missionary parents. The sambas and easy rhythms suddenly broke for the jagged guitar for which he was known. And yet they all worked together somehow.

Back with his first album in 13 years, Cuidado Madame on Northern Spy, he’s also out on an extensive tour for the first time in just about as long. His stop at the Black Cat in D.C. Saturday was home base for Beauty Pill, who opened and arranged for the tour.

With the foundational work of longtime bassist Melvin Gibbs, and the inventive drumming of Kassa Overall diving into the trancelike rhythms of Candomblé, there was a dance vibe to a lot of the show, helped considerably by the funky and fairly experimental keyboards of Paul Wilson, who was often grinning at what they were putting down.

But it was the man fronting the quartet that was the main focus. Lindsay, at 63, looks like the professor that’s gone off the deep end, with spectacles, tousled thinning hair, and a beatific smile, with little care for stagecraft and a getup that emphasized the looseness of his musical approach. He had flip flops on his feet.

Clearly not a multi-tasker, Lindsay often folded his arm on his guitar when concentrating on vocals; and kept silent when he let loose on his electric 12-string. His vocal approach is a reedy, soft ballad style not unlike that of Chet Baker, spitting out often incongruous phrases, thought-provoking questions and bits of poetry along the way.

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