Author Archives: Roger Catlin

TVD Live: Sheer Mag at the Black Cat, 8/23

For all of the power and velocity of her screaming-mimi voice, Sheer Mag lead singer Tina Halladay can be awfully shy on stage.

Raging through the band’s headlining show Wednesday at the Black Cat in DC, she paused just once to talk, and then only to read off some info about how to aid the hundreds of protesters arrested during January’s inauguration and soon to go to trial. That brief message merged with the political underpinnings that emerge on the band’s recent full length LP, Need to Feel Your Love, starting with the bust-down-the-walls attack of their opening song, “Meet Me in the Street” and its anthemic chorus “Come on down and get in the mix / We get our kicks with bottles and bricks.”

There’s other sounds of resistance on the new work, which touches on disenfranchisement (“If you don’t give us the ballot, expect the bayonet”) and of an anti-Nazi warrior who was executed, “(Say Goodbye to) Sophie Scholl.” But what hits you at a Sheer Mag show is the overall sound—beneath Halladay’s peerless delivery are a rich array of time-honored riffs that have, since the last DC visit, broadened to include the sweet three-guitar attack.

An extra rhythm guitarist has been added to provide the basic riffs as Kyle Seely’s extends his tasty lead guitar toppings, wagging his head alongside bass playing brother Hart Seely to the joy of the music. In their shoulder length locks and mustaches, the siblings resemble a couple of dudes from Golden Earring. It’s that same kind of united rock precision that is their own musical golden ring. The extra guitarist frees lyricist Matt Palmer to move from guitar to keyboards and occasionally tambourine and other percussion.

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Hamell on Trial,
The 2017 TVD Interview

Edward James Hamell began hitting the road as Hamell on Trial more than a quarter century ago, bringing punk fervor to the acoustic guitar, with a live show that employs spoken word and comedy along with his angry and funny songs. In recent years, he’s been aided on the road by his teenage son, Detroit, who puts in his own few minutes of jokes in his set.

After a long stint on Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records, Hamell moved to New West, where he recorded 2014’s The Happiest Man in the World and is about to release the new Tackle Box on August 11. He spoke from the highway on his summer tour, talking about the new record, the new live album that comes with it, the new administration, empathy for cops, and what really makes him money on tour—paintings.

Where am I catching you?

I’m about 40 miles into Arkansas from Texas, heading East. The battle plan is to stay in Little Rock tonight and then bring my son to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis tomorrow. We played Dallas last night and then I just drove. We’ll check into a motel crazy early for us today, like 2 in the afternoon. He’s doing some blogs about the tour for a magazine and I’ll have to paint.

So you’re fitting in some tourism as well as performing.

Yeah. We do it every year. I’ve been bringing him out for the summer trips. He’s probably done 100,000 miles. He’s been coming with me since he was about seven, when my wife and I split up. He enjoys the touring. Now he comes up and tells jokes. He does this little bit in the middle. He does this comedic schtick that goes over pretty well. He has good timing. And we have a ball.

And what do we do? We always go to the Mall of America when we’re in Minneapolis; we always go to Cedar Point, the amusement park. I brought him to Niagara Falls, that was different this year. And I’ve brought him to the Grand Canyon and the Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil in Vegas. We’ve done Comic-Con. He’s a gamer too.

How old is he now?

He’s 15 now. I got him driving some of the back roads just out in Alabama. But nothing on the highways. He can’t drive yet, but he wants to. He unquestionably has the passion for it, I can tell you.

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TVD Live: Paul McCartney at the CenturyLink Center, Omaha, 7/23

Paul McCartney was just kidding a half century ago when he painted a picture of a grandfatherly existence at 64, doing the garden, digging the weeds, and wondering whether he’d still be needed. Eleven years after that artificial milestone, people very clearly need him.

And as he continues to thrill the hinterlands at 75 with stops on his “One to One” tour, arenas sell out and fans get on their feet for a wealth of Beatles songs, many of which were never performed live when the group was around. He’s not including “When I’m 64” on the current swing, which stopped Sunday at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, but he could scarcely fit it into a setlist that was already 39 songs long. Add in the wealth of his hits from Wings and solo outings, he could concoct three completely different rosters of splendid music to play.

How can you beat a concert that begins with “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Junior’s Farm,” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” and chooses only the most delicious obscurities sprinkled amid the well-known anthems. The first was “Temporary Secretary,” an early stab at electronica whose performance came with graphics that aped Kraftwerk too. With a lean four piece band behind him, they were able to knock out the arena-ready themes from Band on the Run—the album most reflected in the generous show. But they also became a more spare unit, with acoustic guitars, standup trap set, and accordion to do the first thing he ever put on wax —“In Spite of All the Danger” from The Quarrymen followed by “You Won’t See Me” and “Love Me Do.”

The latter was probably the heart of the show—the first Beatles’ UK single, simply played, coming with a story about its recording (“I can still hear my nerves in my voice,” he says). More than that, it came off like any acoustic-led singalong to Beatles songs that millions all over the globe have participated in for more than 50 years—but this time with the guy who originally wrote and sang it. The degree of communal joy of the spontaneous singalong to this singular cultural moment can’t be overstated.

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TVD Song Premiere: Jimmy Lumpkin, “Troubled Soul”

“‘Troubled Soul’ is a song about empathy—putting yourself in another person’s shoes. Seeing their struggle, you can relate because you’ve been there.” —Jimmy Lumpkin

Up from the South comes the rough-hewn, heartfelt sound of Jimmy Lumpkin. The soulful singer was raised in Savannah, GA and has lived in Tennessee and Colorado but he wrote most of the songs for his upcoming debut Home in a rustic cabin outside of Fairhope, AL—a marshy, artistic outpost not far from Mobile.

“We use the word ‘home’ all the time and it means so many different things to so many people,” Lumpkin says. “But when I write these songs, I want to live in the songs.” They certainly grew out of his own experiences and recording them all back to back in Los Angeles—using analog recording techniques and a vintage machines producer Noah Shain picked up in Nashville—was an emotional time reliving all the personal moments his songs depict.

The warmth of the horns and the kick of the guitar shine through on “Troubled Soul” we’re happy to be debuting here at The Vinyl District. “Troubled Soul” howls a concern about a wayward friend as the music swells in the Southern soul tradition. Adding to the regional authenticity, Lumpkin recently announced that Duane Betts, son of Allman Brothers guitarist Dicky Betts, will be touring with his band The Revival as lead guitarist.

Home will be released on Skate Mountain Records August 4, 2017.

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TVD Live: Steve Earle and The Dukes with
The Mastersons at the Birchmere, 7/18

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | It’s a brash move to close out a show on one of the hottest days in the DC metro area with a song called “Christmas in Washington,” but Steve Earle’s career has been one of brash moves.

He started his generous show at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA., Tuesday with a handful of songs from an album that’s only been out a month, beginning with its title track, “So You Wanna be an Outlaw.” The collection followed an all blues and a lighter approach with Shawn Colvin on a duet album, he returned to ringing outlaw country, inspired by old Waylon Jennings and a couple of songs he had written for TV’s Nashville.

Backed by a stomping version of the Dukes that was sweetened by pedal steel and fiddle, he eventually brought in those early career anthems like “Guitar Town” and “The Galway Girl” (its bagpipe sounds courtesy of the keyboards). The Christmas song was less about the season and more about the chorus, “”Come back Woody Guthrie, come back to us now.” He had just lead a singalong “This Land is Your Land,” with its own new Trump Tower verse and Guthrie’s spirit was hanging in the air.

“Christmas in Washington” was written on another disappointing election 20 years earlier: The Democrats rehearsed getting into gear for four more years / Things not gettin’ worse / Republicans drink whiskey neat and thanked their lucky stars.

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TVD Live: The Zombies at the Birchmere, 7/17

Half a century ago this summer, The Zombies were in Abbey Road studio working on an album that would both break up the band and bring them back together decades later. Fifty years later, they were winding up another US tour whose center point was a group of songs from that album that only grew in stature over the years, Odessey and Oracle.

In a show at The Birchmere in Alexandria Monday, the songs soared as lovely chamber pop concoctions—“Care of Cell 44,” “A Rose for Emily,” and “This Will Be Our Year,” leading into their biggest hit, “Time of the Season.” Oddly, it was that last one that didn’t seem well executed—the handclap, drumbeat, breath that was the basis of its precise backbeat seemed shaky (perhaps because they left the handclap to the audience), the keyboard solo by Rod Argent want a little long and wandered a little far afield, the big choral singalong a bit wanting (again because of the audience).

Overall, the group known for its bad timing (they broke up before “Time of the Season” became a hit and wouldn’t reform to tour or otherwise capitalize on it) sounded extraordinarily great. That’s because the vocals of lead singer Colin Blunstone, operatic and high ranging, seemed untouched by the passing years, perhaps because he’d been resting it so long. Argent’s voice wasn’t bad either, though he hid it most of the night, even on songs from his project following the Zombies, also called Argent.

There was more British rock royalty in this small unit: bassist Jim Rodford, who had co-founded Argent, went on to play with the Kinks from 1978 until the band stopped touring in 1996. He also spent time in versions of the Animals and the Swinging Blue Jeans. He’s 76; Argent and Blunstone are 72. The two younger members of the band, drummer (and son) Steve Rodford and guitarist Tom Toomey—both seemed to have white hair in sympathy with their elder bandleaders.

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TVD Live: NRBQ at the Amp by Strathmore, 7/15

It was a shock six years ago when the newest incarnation of NRBQ was actually something that had been touring as the Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet.

Adams had been the mainstay of the Q since the start, more than 50 years ago now, but still. NRBQ had been on a hiatus for a couple of years because of Adams’ stage four throat cancer. Longtime fans were still ready to object to his seemingly arbitrary unveiling of a new group of younger musicians under the venerable name. And then it turned out, hey they were pretty good.

The 2017 version of Q that played the Amp by Strathmore in North Bethesda Saturday night were able to conjure up the spirit of daffy joy and unpredictable musical tangents for which the band has always been known.

Adams, at 69, is still the center of this musical maelstrom, calling out songs and attacking his keyboards with fists and karate chops with an electric fan blowing back his trademark bangs and hair, now turned grey. It looked like he was riding a horse more than playing an instrument half the time.

He wasn’t singing quite as much, either because of the bout with throat cancer or because this was the end of a tour that included a swing through California. But he was full of music, playing more than 30 tunes that included Q favorites, catchy newer ones from the new lineup and oddball covers.

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Steve Earle,
The TVD Interview

Since his memorable debut more than 30 years ago with Guitar Town, Steve Earle’s musical career has included country, rock, folk, bluegrass, blues, and a duet album last year with Shawn Colvin. He’s also written books, been an outspoken advocate for progressive causes, and appeared in highly regarded TV shows from The Wire to Treme. It was a pair of songs he wrote for TV’s Nashville, though, that led him to the country on his latest album, So You Wannabe an Outlaw, out this summer on Warner Bros. Records. That and thinking about Waylon Jennings, who died in 2002 at the age of 64.

Earle’s been in the news lately for gossipy items. Divorced from his sixth wife, Allison Moorer, who he famously said went off with a “younger, skinnier, less talented singer-songwriter,” Earle then appeared at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic this month, where that songwriter, Hayes Carll, was also booked. The latter debuted a new song interpreted as being about Earle (”I think she left you because you wouldn’t shut your mouth” was its lyric), while Earle for his part was content just to mow the crowd down with the latest version of his band, the Dukes, which he says is his best ever.

Earle also collaborates with Nelson, Miranda Lambert, and Johnny Bush on the new album, his first for Warners since El Corazon 20 years ago. Earle, 62, spoke from the tour bus while awaiting sound check at the Dallas House of Blues a few days after that picnic in question.

Tell me about the band touring with you this year.

It’s the band that’s on the record. It’s a band I’ve had. The bass player Kelly Looney has been with me since Copperhead Road in 1988. Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore, who are the guitar player and the fiddle player, who are married and also make records of their own as the Mastersons, have been in the band eight years this year.

We did change drummers two-thirds of the way through the tour, just before we went to Australia on the Terraplane cycle. That’s Brad Pemberton, the newish drummer and played on this record. He’s from Nashville. He was in the Cardinals, Ryan Adams’ band for 10 years.

And then we needed steel guitar for this record. The songs I was writing I knew that was something that I needed to do. At first I thought well I’ll just bring in a ringer and find a kid somewhere but before we were scheduled to record, I was talking to Charlie Sexton, and he told me about this kid who lived in Austin, which is where we actually recorded the record. His name is Ricky Ray Jackson, he’s from Dallas originally. Chris and Eleanor had used him by happenstance on their record. They recommended him too. So I called him and asked him if he wanted to do the record and this tour and be in the band, and that rounded it out.

It’s the best band I ever had. We kind of peeled the paint off the wall at the Fourth of July picnic the other day, it was really good. We did the first full show in Houston two nights ago and we’re playing a gig there and heading East. I’m really proud of the band, and it’s exactly the band that you hear on the new record.

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TVD Live: Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie, The Wallflowers at Wolf Trap, 6/26

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Of the many incarnations of Fleetwood Mac since 1967, the most popular by far is the California version ushered in by the addition of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Probably because they sold 40 million copies of their self-titled album in 1975, and because people loved Stevie. It was Buckingham, though, who brought a new songwriting touch and production texture. By the time those two joined, Christine McVie had been in the band five years and was already a growing presence with her own distinctive pop turns.

Since both Buckingham and McVie were such forces for new music for Fleetwood Mac all these years later, you’d think they’d just save any new song ideas for perhaps a group album to accompany a supposed Mac farewell tour next year (certainly no new recordings were released in conjunction with their last 2014 tour). But the two released their Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie album this month under their own names and are backing it with a tour that made its fourth stop Monday before a very forgiving audience at Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA.

The two—Buckingham, 67, looking very much the same as always; and McVie, elegant and super slim at 73—entered the stage hand in hand, as if they were nearing a cliff edge from which they’d jump. And things started shakily enough, with Buckingham relying on his fussily played acoustic on much slower renditions of familiar songs, from the opening ‘Trouble” to his fingerpicking showcase “Never Going Back Again.” McVie for her part there did “Wish You Were Here” from the 1982 Fleetwood Mac LP Mirage. Both had a little trouble finding the right key to start songs and were never as smooth vocally as they had been on record.

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TVD Live: Alejandro Escovedo, Sammy Brue
at The Birchmere, 6/24

PHOTO: TODD V. WOLFSON | Alejandro Escovedo brings a lot of talented approaches into one rock figure. His show at The Birchmere in Alexandria Saturday had aspects of both his hard rocking post punk career and also his quieter acoustic material. In both, he was backed by a talented three-piece, who wailed when the electricity was full and sat with him when he grabbed the acoustic.

Bringing a variety of influences into his music, from rock, to Texas songwriter traditions, to country, punk, and Tejano, Escovedo seems to have been super-energized since a life-threatening health scare 14 years that also sidelined his music for more than a year.

With the proverbial new lease, he seems at 66 unleashed on stage, and appears as youthful as the other new additions to his band, bassist Aaron McClellan and guitarist Nick Diaz, who added soaring solos in a number of songs. Longtime associate Scott Laningham continues on drums. Too bad it’s not the all-star backing band he had last spring when touring his latest album Burn Something, which featured Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey on guitars and co-writing.

But Escovedo’s plenty able to do these things without them, so he started with rockers he recorded from the last few albums, “Can’t Make Me Run,” “Dear Head on the Wall,” and “Shave Cat” before pulling up a chair and considering some of his oldest songs dating back to “Five Hearts Breaking,” which came alongside a long monologue about the old country musician who inspired it. It was from his first solo album, Gravity, now marking its 25th anniversary.

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TVD Live: Elvis Costello and Imelda May at Wolf Trap, 6/22

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | At a time when heritage artists have been distinguishing their tours with reverent presentations of their classic albums, playing them in strict order, one side and then the other, Elvis Costello has found a more flexible vehicle in a tour to celebrate his 1982 Imperial Bedroom.

A landmark album in his rich period of complex pop, it’s provided him with a playground, not only to revisit most (but not all) of its songs, but to veer off into other parts of his career. That means some of the early hits with the Attractions that are staples of his live shows, but also a couple of intriguing but as yet not recorded songs he wrote for a musical version of “A Face in the Crowd.”

Still, that means his generous show with the Imposters at Wolf Trap Thursday skipped pretty much everything from his last 17 or so studio albums, dating back to 1986. Costello, 62, already played the tour in the market back in November, but had some new tricks up his sleeve for the outdoor venue whose ambience on a hot summer night he likened to “the tropical bird house at Regent’s Park.”

Preparing a DC setlist, he said, “every song sounded like it was some bad satiric revue.” He toyed with playing “Waiting for the End of the World,” for example, or “Brilliant Mistake.” He ended up marking the political moment with “Accidents Will Happen.”

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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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