Category Archives: TVD Washington, DC

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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Play Something Good with John Foster

The Vinyl District’s Play Something Good is a weekly radio show broadcast from Washington, DC.

Featuring a mix of songs from today to the 00s/90s/80s/70s/60s and giving you liberal doses of indie, psych, dub, post punk, americana, shoegaze, and a few genres we haven’t even thought up clever names for just yet. The only rule is that the music has to be good. Pretty simple.

Hosted by John Foster, world-renowned designer and author (and occasional record label A+R man), don’t be surprised to hear quick excursions and interviews on album packaging, food, books, and general nonsense about the music industry, as he gets you from Jamie xx to Liquid Liquid and from Courtney Barnett to The Replacements. The only thing you can be sure of is that he will never ever play Mac DeMarco. Never. Ever.

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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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Play Something Good with John Foster

The Vinyl District’s Play Something Good is a weekly radio show broadcast from Washington, DC.

Featuring a mix of songs from today to the 00s/90s/80s/70s/60s and giving you liberal doses of indie, psych, dub, post punk, americana, shoegaze, and a few genres we haven’t even thought up clever names for just yet. The only rule is that the music has to be good. Pretty simple.

Hosted by John Foster, world-renowned designer and author (and occasional record label A+R man), don’t be surprised to hear quick excursions and interviews on album packaging, food, books, and general nonsense about the music industry, as he gets you from Jamie xx to Liquid Liquid and from Courtney Barnett to The Replacements. The only thing you can be sure of is that he will never ever play Mac DeMarco. Never. Ever.

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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 Shots: Johnny Marr at the Fillmore Silver Spring, 10/17

It must be difficult to have been in a legendary band and then try to live up to expectations when you are a solo artist, especially if you are a musician who routinely tries new things. Do you play the old stuff to keep the old fans around, or do you reject it so that your solo career is judged on its own? Johnny Marr, who played the Fillmore Silver Spring on Wednesday, seems to be one person who is successfully marrying not just those two sides of his career, but also the then and the now of his sound.

I noticed this merge specifically that night with his driving version of “Easy Money,” which had Marr’s earworm guitar riffs atop the rocking dance beat. When Marr’s old band, The Smiths, broke up, he went and played as a hired hand in a variety of other rock bands like The Pretenders and The Cribs. He then teamed up with Bernard Sumner in the ‘90s to form Electronic, whose sound had more of a focus on dance music, like Sumner’s New Order.

When he started making solo records, sometimes there were rock songs with a danceable beat, other times just straight-ahead rock songs, but always the guitar took center stage. As if to showcase the obvious, “Easy Money” was played last night in between the Electronic song “Get the Message” and the train-going-full-speed “Boys Get Straight.” It was an intoxicating combination for sure. (“You’d better be texting the words ‘That was fucking badass’ because it was,” joked Marr to the crowd.)

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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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The Best of TVD’s Play Something Good with John Foster

The Vinyl District’s Play Something Good is a weekly radio show broadcast from Washington, DC.

Featuring a mix of songs from today to the 00s/90s/80s/70s/60s and giving you liberal doses of indie, psych, dub, post punk, americana, shoegaze, and a few genres we haven’t even thought up clever names for just yet. The only rule is that the music has to be good. Pretty simple.

Hosted by John Foster, world-renowned designer and author (and occasional record label A+R man), don’t be surprised to hear quick excursions and interviews on album packaging, food, books, and general nonsense about the music industry, as he gets you from Jamie xx to Liquid Liquid and from Courtney Barnett to The Replacements. The only thing you can be sure of is that he will never ever play Mac DeMarco. Never. Ever.

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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 Live Shots: The Struts and White Reaper at the 9:30 Club, 10/8

UK rockers The Struts played to a sold out crowd at DC’s 9:30 Club on Monday night in what turned out to be a riotous evening of fun, dancing, and a big dose of the band’s new material.

The Struts’ newest release, Young & Dangerous (Interscope) is due to hit record stores on October 26 this year, while the band has already released advance singles “Bulletproof Baby,” “Primadonna Like Me,” “Fire (Part 1),” and dual versions of “Body Talks”—one of which features a really enjoyable collaboration with singer, Kesha.

I’ve seen them play live a handful of times now and any evening with The Struts is a wild ride. Their last round in DC was during the band’s two-year tour stint with the Foo Fighters performing at the 9:30 Club’s bigger and newer brother, The Anthem. A few years before that I watched them blow the roof off the Rock & Roll Hotel during a promised make-up date—both fantastic shows. Presently The Struts are a bigger and badder presence then ever before, yet with the same intention—to entertain their audience to maximum levels.

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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 Shots:
The National and
Pheobe Bridgers at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 9/28

Continuing to tour on the strength of their latest studio effort, 2017’s Sleep Well Beast, Cincinnati based rockers The National gave a passionate performance to their DC area fans in the Woodlands at Merriweather Post Pavilion among what turned out to be a monstrous two hour-plus set. 

Sleep Well Beast marks the seventh studio album for The National and along with critical acclaim from just about every major music publication, the release took home a Grammy Award for “Best Alternative Music Album” in 2017.

Their performance drew heavily from the latest record including “Nobody Else Will Be There,” “Day I Die,” “Guilty Party,” and “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness.” The National touched upon earlier records with material from 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me LP including “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” “Sea of Love,” “Graceless,” and “Slow Show” off 2007’s LP Boxer.

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