Author Archives: Roger Catlin

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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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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