Author Archives: Roger Catlin

TVD Live: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds at the Anthem, 2/12

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNSMuch as he wants to get away from it, The Beatles thing continues to dog Noel Gallagher, long after his band Oasis has broken up.

Of course, that group got the comparisons in part from the younger Gallaghers in the band making some boastful claims. Plus they had some great songs that held up British rock at a time when it was sinking into synths. Now on tour to promote the third album by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, which stopped at the Anthem in Washington, DC, Monday, he’s acting like a solo Beatle immediately after their breakup—downplaying the work of his old band, even though that was the stuff that really got the crowd going.

It was reserved seats all around for the Anthem show—an odd choice, since old Oasis fans aren’t quite that old yet, and Gallagher’s music maintains an edge and a rocking core. But everybody stood from beginning to end, owing to how compelling so much of his new music is.

Gallagher has always had a knack for rock-based hooks; by now he also uses that cleverness to devise songs that work because of their simplicity and the kind of repeated phrases that bolstered rock ’n’ roll from the outset. With a swirl of arresting video on a circular screen behind him, he and his various Flying Birds appeared at first as mere silhouettes against the screen before a staccato barrage of lights illuminated the musicians.

Now 50, Gallagher looks much as he always did—lean and cool in his black turtleneck and leather jacket, his hair in a Roman cut that predates the Beatles, the everlasting scowl framed by a few more distinguishing lines. His band has the power to enliven his material, expanding from a low of five on stage to a maximum of a dozen, including three backing vocalists and a three-man horn section.

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TVD Live: First Aid Kit at the Lincoln Theatre, 2/9

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNSThe strongest anthem for the #MeToo movement was written and released by a couple of Swedish sisters in their mid-20s, months before the Harvey Weinstein revelations in the New York Times last year. “I am so sick and tired of this world,” First Aid Kit sing, with a venom that is more spat than sung. “All these women with their dreams shattered / From some man’s sweaty, desperate touch.”

Played defiantly to electric guitar that’s closer to punk, the song “You Are the Problem Here” is so different from the rest of the music First Aid Kit usually play that after issuing it as a single nearly a year ago, the two left it off their most recent album, Ruins, that came out last month. Still, it was presented as a mid show highlight to their sold out show at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, DC, Saturday.

The duo of Klara Söderberg, 25 and Johanna Söderberg, 27, started more than a decade ago as teens, when they found that their harmonies matched their love of the kind of Americana and ’70s singer/songwriter era they often listened to and is reflected in exquisite tracks like “Emmylou,” which drops the names of influences like Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, June Carter and Johnny Cash in a sprightly love song. (If the Söderberg sisters knew they were in the city where Parsons first discovered Harris playing in a bar in Georgetown, they might have been excited about that).

The nod to Americana is aided by the backing of pedal steel guitar of longtime member Melvin Duffy. The addition of drums, played for the past three years by Scott Simpson, has added a more booming rock sound to First Aid Kit; it’s rounded out by Steve Moore on keyboards and trombone, which he plays more often than one might expect.

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TVD Live: The Posies
and Parthenon Huxley
at the Hamilton, 2/4

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNSFor a band celebrating its 30th anniversary of making music, The Posies initial tour of 2018 is pretty austere, featuring only founding singer songwriters Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow on electric guitars. Later this year, three of their ’90s albums, Dear 23, Frosting on the Beater, and Amazing Disgrace, will each get reissued on vinyl and CD with extras, accompanied by a tour with a fuller band—the returning rhythm section of their Frosting album, Mike Musburger and Dave Fox.

For the penultimate stop on their duo tour Saturday at the Hamilton Live in Washington, DC, though, it was just the two of them, as it was in the beginning when they were teenagers in Bellingham, WA in the late ’80s—trading tunes and harmonies. It was left to fans to imagine the bass lines or do air drums to things like the sly “Flavor of the Month,” with which they opened, or “Solar Sister” which closed the main set, and a dozen or more songs from four different decades in between.

An awful lot of the power pop came from the two old chums, who each now live as ex-pats in Europe. Their harmonies are still in check, as when they did a stunning “You Avoid Parties” away from the microphones. But to keep their guitar interplay working, they had to do an awful lot of tuning.

After they were introduced and got on stage and before nearly every song, they had to pause and really concentrate on getting the strings right. Stringfellow said it was because of their weird winter touring trajectory—the February shows jagged from Minneapolis to Seattle to DC to Austin. (Were they just bent on building up the frequent flyer miles?)

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TVD Live: David Rawlings at the Lincoln Theatre, 12/6

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | David Rawlings and his band takes to the empty stage as they would if they were around during the end of the Industrial Revolution 150 years ago or more. At the Lincoln Theatre in Washington last Wednesday, with two guys in big hats and two women in long cotton dresses, they rather resembled a rural string band that could have assembled on anybody’s porch a century ago or more, picking out music, interlocking rhythms, and singing harmonies about many of the same kinds of concerns. Americana indeed.

Rawlings may first have come to notice as the backing guitarist for his partner Gillian Welch, who, happily, is also part of the his band. But here, the smiling, good-natured Rawlings is front and center. His voice is OK at best; his songs often simple constructions. What jumps out, and what brings the audience, are his guitar solos.

He had a few guitars on hand, but mostly used one mighty mahogany 1935 Epiphone Olympic, with a sprucewood arched top. It seemed a tiny instrument – less than 14 inches wide — for all he brought out of it. With a tone midway between the high, bright sound of a mandolin and the deeper tones of a more conventional guitar, he flatpicks his way into a superhighway of inventive melody with one turn inspiring the next, faster and faster, but never losing its soul or appeal.

Applause greeted nearly every solo and the rest of the band rose to join his musicality. Guitarist Willie Watson, formerly of the Old Crow Medicine Show actually has a better voice (but is self-effacingly ineffective on bongos the one time he tried). Fiddler Brittany Haas of Boston bluegrass band Crooked Still who is often heard on Prairie Home Companion, often sounds, like Rawlings, as if she’s playing more than one instrument, the approach is so full and musical. Welch, of course, keeps the rhythm locked down on acoustic guitar and bolsters the harmonies throughout. And a couple of times, thankfully, was featured on some of her own songs, from “Wayside/Back in Time” to “Look at Miss Ohio.”

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TVD Live: Joe Henry at Jammin’ Java, 12/5

A saving grace of not exactly being a household name is the ability of fans to hear the music of someone like Joe Henry in such an intimate setting as Jammin’ Java, a strip mall oasis in a Virginia suburb outside of DC.

A hushed crowd of 100 or so is perfectly suited to the nuanced chamber-folk with a jazz flourish that Henry produces with his fine LA band. Henry’s deep voice matches his brainy songs that often march to deliberate beats. Still quite youthful at 57, he began the show Tuesday solo, deconstructing one of his most enduring, enigmatic tunes, “Trampoline.”

Then he was joined by his longtime band that includes Patrick Warren on keyboards, David Pilch on bass, the inventive Jay Bellerose on drums and percussion, and Henry’s son Levon on tenor saxophone and alto clarinet – an expressive instrument that snaked its way into a lot of songs, providing the perfect mournful undertone.

Another Henry who wasn’t a relation — jazz saxophonist Vincent Henry — sat in for a few songs and he and the younger horn man seemed to have a good time playing off of one another. It was a trip to watch Bellerose work — for some songs he’d have both sticks in one hand handling the set, while the other was reserved for tambourine. He knew when to build and when to hang back. There was nothing standard about his approach.

Henry said he was reluctant to use a gig as a way to promote new product — “and yet,” he added, before going into the first of what would be nine of the 11 cuts from Thrum, his 14th solo album, released in late October.

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TVD Live: Morrissey at The Anthem, 11/30

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | It wasn’t until the encore that fans finally tried to get on stage and embrace their hero Morrissey at The Anthem in DC.

There was no way they were going to threaten missing the rest of the show by trying it earlier. One accomplished a full hug; another was stopped before approaching. The star didn’t mind the adulation. Because he’s canceled so many planned shows in town over the years, it seemed a gift that Morrissey finally appeared at all last Thursday.

In a solid show at the big new venue in the District, the former Smiths frontman was in fine voice, shuffling up a setlist that he had been using on recent dates that emphasized his just released Low in High School but sprinkled with songs from throughout his career, including even inspirations, from Elvis Presley, whose obscure “It’s Now or Never”-like cha-cha, “You’ll Be Gone” opened the show, to the Pretenders, whose sturdy “Back on the Chain Gang” was warmly received with a sing-along.

That he hadn’t abandoned the Smiths entirely was a good thing, revving up the show cleverly with “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” and holding in reserve the sure power of “How Soon is Now?” until mid-set. By the time he ended his final encore of “Shoplifters of the World Unite,” he had doffed the buttoned jacket he had all evening, undone his white shirt and threw it into the audience, baring his 58-year-old chest. He had shown good restraint in keeping it all on until then. Beneath a picture of Morrissey coddling a colicky Trump-faced baby, he changed the chorus to “Trump-shifters of the world unite,” just a mile from the White House.

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TVD Live: Tony Bennett: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song Tribute at Constitution Hall, 11/15

The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song usually goes to songwriters. An exception came this year with the award to Tony Bennett, who as a singer over a seven decade career, has been a leading purveyor of the American Songbook in general and the music of George and Ira Gershwin in particular.

So a few Gershwin songs were sung back to him as he was honored on November 15 in an event at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC for a public TV special that will air in January. Then, after giving thumbs up to the performers from his box at the side of the stage next to Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, Bennett, at 91 ran (!) on stage and blew everybody away with his still commanding jazz vocals.

The thing about these all-star salutes that seem so common, especially in DC, is that the stars who gather are rarely in the same class person being honored; in almost every case you’d rather hear the honoree than the guest star sing his signature songs. Perhaps because Bennett was honored in a network special marking his 90th birthday last year, some of that show’s star power was missing—particularly Lady Gaga, with whom he has recorded and toured.

I was half thinking Bob Dylan and his Band would show up, since he does a Bennett number, “Once Upon a Time,” in his tour, which was just in town the night before at the Anthem. Alas, he too had performed it for the 90th birthday TV special, albeit from a sound studio in Birmingham while touring the South. The tribute did have Stevie Wonder, though, which was pretty grand. Led out to stand and sing rather than sitting behind a keyboard as he usually does, Wonder sang “If I Ruled the World” and stuck around for a duet of “What a Wonderful World” with Gloria Estefan, adding some flourishes on his harmonica. Wonder’s appearance came just after another highlight, Savion Glover doing his matchless tap, first solo and then to back Vanessa Williams as she sang “Stepping Out with My Baby.”

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TVD Live: Bob Dylan
and Mavis Staples at
The Anthem, 11/14

“Forever Young” is not a song Bob Dylan played in his first show at the big new rock club The Anthem in DC Tuesday, but it is something he embodied. Who else has so dominated American music for half a century, requiring one to venture out to see his shows with his band year after year not necessarily to hear new music, but to see how the old ones have evolved even more, even since the last time around.

Dylan at 76 does seem younger—his hair no longer hidden beneath a hat but grown out to a brown ‘fro again; his voice as clear as he wants to make it (its cragginess here and there, we see, is a choice). Behind a baby grand piano rather than an electric keyboard—and never coming close to touching a guitar, something I’m still not quite adjusting to—he dominated early solos in a setlist that has been substantially the same for much of the last year. Charlie Sexton didn’t seem to weigh in with short, stinging guitar solos until later in the show. That made the sound of the songs different, which will happen when your lead instruments are piano, pedal steel, and tom tom.

Entering the vast Anthem stage to the sounds of guitarist Stu Kimball, improvising “O Shenandoah,” the band kicked in with “Things Have Changed,” the 2000 song that earned him the Oscar he appears to have on display on an amp. The song seemed propelled on kind of a cowboy beat that seemed to fit with the matching Western suits the band wore (black hats on the left, hatless on the right).

It’s an occupational hazard to pluck out lyrics of a Dylan song to clarify what’s happening. In this case it’s “I used to care, but things have changed.” And in the second song, a further kiss-off to those who would be too fervent a fan: “I’m not the one you want babe, I’m not the one you need.” Add this to the fact that he never speaks to the audience or acknowledges them in any way and you might think he doesn’t like what he’s doing.

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TVD Premiere: Kate Tucker, “In Your Arms” Single and its Virtual Reality Experience

PHOTO: JESSIE ENGLISH | For the first single from her upcoming album, Nashville-based singer/songwriter Kate Tucker goes both back in time and forward.

In the unexpectedly upbeat “In Your Arms,” which we’re proud to debut today at The Vinyl District with its free download below, Tucker and her co-writer Kenny Childers take inspiration from one of the deadliest and suppressed chapters in American history, the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots. What ended with the death of 300 people, the burning destruction of more than 35 blocks of the wealthiest black community in the nation, and more than 6,000 African-Americans jailed for more than eight days, was left out of history books and not discussed by survivors.

It was only at the 75th anniversary of the event that a state commission was formed to study it; its report didn’t come out until 2001, concluding that the city had conspired with a white mob against the black community, and that reparations for the survivors and their descendants were recommended.

As huge as the event became, it all began with a Memorial Day elevator ride that involved a 19-year-old shoeshine and a 17-year-old female elevator operator. The interaction between them was never determined. “We were in this phase where we were mining stories from 20th century American history that had been for various reasons, obscured,” Tucker says. “We tried to write within the narrative of what we were discovering. What would it have been like to have been the girl or the guy in the elevator in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 31, 1921?”

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TVD Live: Pere Ubu
and Johnny Dowd at
Hill Country Live, 11/9

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Pere Ubu as a band predated the American punk explosion, which nonetheless gave context to its fierce, bare-boned recordings. And though it remained associated with the explosion of bands at that time, Pere Ubu the band always seemed more an extension of the kind of outsider, rough-edged cadre of blues shouters, poets, and hipsters that grew from jazz and blues to the Beat poets, with its only remaining figure David Thomas continuing in the tradition of  Lord Buckley, Captain Beefheart, or Tom Waits, shouting out observation and complaints amid keening choruses done in his unique style.

That Pere Ubu is still around at all by now, nearly 40 years after groundbreaking early albums like The Modern Dance and Dub Housing, is kind of a gift; that it continues to record such consistently strong material, on 2014’s Carnival of Souls and the new 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo, is almost a miracle.

It comes on the weary shoulders of frontman David Thomas, who in his black hat and cane, presents himself as a somewhat menacing figure. At the Hill Country BBQ in Washington Thursday, he could be seen standing outside the restaurant in the rain before the show, scowling like a gargoyle.

Five musicians were already at work when he found his way to the stage slowly, plopping down on a chair and leaning into a well-lit music stand holding his lyrics. He’d put on his reading glasses and began, with a voice unlike most in music—the kind of squeal of a wounded animal who’d been prodded too much.

The approach worked because he had a really solid band behind him. It began with the stinging guitar of Gary Siperko, able to carve out surf to funky chords. Longtime bassist Michele Temple worked well with hard-hitting drummer Steven A. Mehlman. The whole sound was sweetened by the experimental flourishes of Kristoph Hahn of The Swans on pedal steel guitar, and especially Robert Wheeler, working both an old ElectroComp 101 synthesizer, looking like an old telephone switchboard, as well as a theremin. Not only did it add interesting electronic texture to the sounds, it also provided the unusual sight of Wheeler playing an instrument as if he were doing tai-chi.

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