If you are a fan of country music and you aren’t familiar with Chris Stapleton, there is a void in your life that you may not have even realized was there. The Lexington, Kentucky native has written songs for some of the biggest names in country and beyond including Sheryl Crow and Adele. Having previously fronted the Grammy-nominated bluegrass band The SteelDrivers, Stapleton has broken out on his own and is making huge waves with his debut solo album, Traveller. In the midst of a string of sold-out dates, I was a traveller myself, venturing from DC, down to the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, VA on Saturday to see him first-hand.
This is not your typical FM-country radio or CMT Awards fare. You won’t find songs of cold beer and hot women, and driving through the mud to get to the lake party or other standard bro-country themes. Stapleton is honest, real, and pure, and there is no pretension to what he does. It may have been a hot, rainy night in Charlottesville, but the warm glow of good music inside the venue made everything all right.
The venue packed quickly, fans lining both floors of the theater seeking out a vantage point. The crowd was buzzing by the time Aubrie Sellers took the stage to open the show. Having paid her dues as a country music background singer, Aubrie seems poised to break out on her own in a big way. The daughter of country stars Lee Ann Womack and Jason Sellers, the twenty-four-year-old Sellers won over the audience in no time flat. Her commanding voice was damn near a dead ringer for her mother’s, with an extra tablespoon of attitude thrown into the mix.
PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | On the heels of the release of their third studio album, Best Coast took over the east coast Tuesday night as they played to a sold-out crowd at DC’s 9:30 Club. It was a familiar setting for the band who was there for the third time as headliners for a packed house, as front-woman Bethany Cosentino pointed out about halfway through the show.
Technically a duo, they were accompanied by a drummer, bassist, and additional guitarist for the live show, because it seems Bobb Bruno has yet to master playing all of these instruments simultaneously. While both members of the duo have versatile musical backgrounds, they seem to have found a groove within their surf-rock sound.
Although on the recorded tracks the vocals are usually layered beneath reverb, there were no such effects for the live show. However, Bethany’s vocals were strong enough to carry the songs without any issue. They definitely brought their A-game to the 9:30 Club, but with a casual attitude crafted by years of playing festivals and headlining shows.
In his black jeans, shirt, and beret, Richard Thompson takes the stage with an almost military look; his guitar strap could almost be mistaken for an ammunition belt. Though his age, 66, places him more in the category of grizzled veteran, few are as strong a sharpshooter as still he is on electric guitar where his distinctive style is beyond copying.
Hey, he’s even got an official title by now. Not colonel or sergeant or lieutenant, but Officer of the Order of the British Empire, one of those OBEs you’re supposed to put at the end of your name.
And though his career is pushing 50 years since his first days as a teenage guitarist in Fairport Convention, he continues to issue solid, largely ignored, solo work, such as the new Jeff Tweedy-produced Still just out this week. That’s what got him out on a tour that brought him to the Birchmere in Alexandria, Va., for the first of two nights Tuesday.
With a nimble duo as rhythm section that enhances and furthers his seemingly effortless guitar attack, he’s able to escalate his artistry on the handful of new numbers as well as providing a sprinkling of what he self-mockingly called “the timeless classics you pay big money for.”
Thompson is one of those rare musicians who seem packed with too much talent—ace guitarist, fine songwriter, great vocalist. With a bemused manner between songs, he’s a darned pleasing entertainer as well.
So there I was, in Northwest Washington, DC sitting on a sofa Big Andy’s living room on Saturday, May 9, 2015, witnessing the miraculous. Namely, the great Ed Hamell of Hamell on Trial and it was a privilege to watch him perform in a space so small. Why, it could hardly have been more intimate if we’d all taken off our clothes like the guy in Hamell’s wonderful song, “First Date.”
Hamell, in case you’re not acquainted with his work, is one of the most idiosyncratic figures on the indie scene. He’s an anti-folk folkie who can play his old Gibson at about 1,000 mph, a teller of filthy jokes who is dead serious when it comes to the state of the world and its myriad casualties, and a survivor of drug addiction who still loves whores and other down-and-outers and insists upon achieving career success on his own terms, which is why he was playing Big Andy’s living room instead of Madison Square Garden. Oh, and did I happen to mention he takes his 13-year-old son Detroit on the road with him, and even brings Detroit to the front of the stage to tell a few jokes? Hamell is truly one of a kind; a compassionate man who loves to tell his audiences to go fuck themselves, and a cynic abounding with empathy. And it’s all in good not quite clean fun, as are many of his most noteworthy songs, such as the wonderfully bilious “I Hate Your Kid.”
The first thing you learn, watching Hamell, is that he loves to tell jokes, interrupts his own songs to tell jokes, and works jokes into his songs. He also interrupts his tunes to tell hilarious true stories, about his old drug buddies and their misadventures, which include smoking cat litter in the hopes that it was a rock of crack even though they knew damn well it was kitty litter, or finding a suitcase floating at sea filled with white powder, which they snorted without effect until they found a medallion certifying the contents as the remains of some cremated somebody.
PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | How can a sneer, a riff, and a witty turn of phrase sound so fresh? They’ve been crucial ingredients for great rock for decades but Australia’s Courtney Barnett makes it sound new again with her disarming, offhand style.
The 26-year-old from Melbourne has sold out about every show she’s ever had in D.C. back from when she played DC9 to the Black Cat to this weekend’s big two night stand at the 9:30 Club.
By now she’s got such a command of what she’s doing she’s also incorporated her equally formidable skills in graphic arts that have made her album covers and posters so charming, creating (or at least overseeing) a kaleidoscope of swirling, personalized designs projected behind her trio—hand-drawn abstractions that accelerate as her band speeds up.
While her command empowers female fans glad to see a woman lead the way with guitar and smart lyrics, it’s still apparently an adjustment to some rock dudes, apparently, one of whom bellowed between songs in Sunday’s show: “Are you married?”
Barnett gave him a quizzical look. It was as odd as when somebody asked earlier how Bonnaroo was. “Fun,” she said, with the same odd look. “Thanks for asking.”
“It’s not that kind of show,” she said, pricelessly.
British power-duo, Royal Blood invaded the 9:30 Club last Wednesday night to play for a packed house and gave the DC audience a taste of what this musical pair from Brighton has to offer.
The formula has been done before—two band members, a guitarist and a drummer, with one of them (or both) covering vocal duties. With large scale, internationally known acts such as The White Stripes and The Black Keys operating under this model, you would think this setup would fall into the category of “having been done to death”—but the reality is that it’s actually quite the opposite. With less happening on stage and fewer individual players in the overall mix, the listener is forced to hear the personality and musical tone of just the band’s 2 players.
After all, music is sometimes at its best when it’s in its simplest form and often it just takes 2 players to get the music and the sound to where it should be. This is certainly the case with Royal Blood who are raising the bar and elevating the “simple” standard by a measurable volume.
It’s not every day that Washington, DC gets a visit from an experimental psychedelic band who blend tropical elements like cumbia and salsa into their mix, so when we heard that The Meridian Brothers from Bogota, Colombia were playing Tropicalia on June 18, we got a little excited.
And for the record, there’s no actual brothers in the Meridian Brothers. The group is a experimental-tropical music project, active since 1998 and lead by Frente Cumbiero’s guitarist Eblis Alvarez. Stripped of conventional and convenient genre tags, this group maintains an intricate balance between highly experimental instrumentation and deep-rooted tropical rhythms of the ’60s and ’70s, integrating elements of Colombian and Peruvian Cumbia, Highlife, as well as Latin-American and Argentine Rock.
The band has released over 7 albums of material. We first encountered the group’s distinct sound through some 7″ singles released on the New York label Names You Can Trust and the British label Soundway records in the last few years, but that was all we got. The promise of a tour or a chance to see them in the US was slim based on the fringe marketability of weirdo music, but the believers at Barbes in Brooklyn moved some mountains and the group’s doing a brief US tour in June with a stop in DC.
PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Paul Weller kicked off his North American tour with a little bit of jet-caused dry throat. At least that’s how he explained downing a liter or so of bottled water during his show at the 9:30 Club Tuesday.
The elegant, longtime rocker with a smooth, keening voice couldn’t quite stretch to the edges of his songs until halfway through a show meant to showcase his new album Saturn’s Patterns.
Early on, one of the new tunes, “I’m Where I Should Be” indicated his comfort for doing just what he’s doing presently: finding a sweet spot between the bracing rock that began his career with the Jam and the cooler, R&B driven crooning that marked The Style Council—without playing songs from either group.
Never mind that the foundation of his career was built on his solid work with both those long ago bands, Weller at 57 is one of those who chooses to ignore all that to concentrate on the now—or at least the material that’s been released on 12 solo albums since 1992. In D.C. he chose to go back just 10 years to his third solo album Stanley Road with “Porcelain Gods” and “The Changingman” in one of the encores.
Before Tame Impala arrived to perform on Saturday night, men in white lab coats made their way through the dim light and haze to frantically dial in effects, turn screws on a couple of machines, and make sure all the wires and plugs were tight. I’ve actually never seen stage-techs dressed like mad scientists before, but perhaps it’s what a band like Tame Impala needs to keep their edge.
When the Australia-based psychedelic-rock band Tame Impala took the stage at Northeast DC’s Echostage, they were treated with a warm welcome from an anxious audience. The fans in the first few rows even held signs bearing the title of their favorite songs. One patron in the very front even brought an impressively drawn sketch of the band’s front-man, Kevin Parker.
Touring to promote their third studio album Currents, set for release in July, Tame Impala unleashed a barrage of songs from the band’s ample repertoire upon their DC audience.
One of the most notable traits of Tame Impala’s live sound is the convergence of old and new tones. While the band is in fact manually driven, the electronics are a huge element to their style. The feel and emotion of their sound as a whole is reminiscent of eras past, with a specific nod to some ‘70s fuzz. This retro sound is carried over to the guitar parts in which some lines sear and cut right through the overall mix. The vocals follow the same method and at times lay perfectly on top of the hooky grooves.
Last Thursday night at U Street’s Lincoln Theatre, audiences were indulged by an enthralling performance from one of the greatest songwriters of our time, Mr. Noel Gallagher accompanied by his High Flying Birds.
As I arrived at the theater, the first thing I noticed was the massive crowd that literally wrapped around the entire block. The rumor was that some folks had been waiting in line since 8AM and to top things off, it had been raining heavily for most of the day. The poncho-clad crowd, many huddled together sharing tiny umbrellas, looked glum to say the least. As the soaked patrons worked their way into the theater at door time, you could see a glimmer of hope wash across their eyes as they filled the theatre and shook off the remnants of the damp outdoors. The merch line was particularly crowded right from the moment the doors had been opened, perhaps to purchase dry clothes.
With no opening act, the anticipation inside the venue was as noticeable as the rain outside. With a set time of 8:10 PM, by 8:09 the crowd was on its feet. When Noel Gallagher walked onto the stage he smiled to acknowledge the audience, and without a word went right to his instrument. Opening with “Do the Damage,” a B-side from his latest studio effort, Gallagher’s guitar sound was impressive, his tone brilliant—and better even then one could expect to hear live.