Category Archives: TVD Washington, DC

TVD Live: The Flesh Eaters at Union Stage, 3/16

The poet and writer Chris Desjardins created The Flesh Eaters in the heyday of the LA punk scene of the late 1970s, enlisting many of his friends to be among the revolving roster in the band over a handful of albums. The most potent lineup was the one in 1981 that produced the band’s strongest album A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die that featured Dave Alvin and Bill Bateman of the Blasters, John Doe and D.J. Bonebrake of X as well as Steve Berlin of the Plugz, Blasters, and Los Lobos.

So enduring was that match of music with the poetry of Chris D., as he is known, that they were enticed to reunite occasionally for special events this century. That led to recording once more last spring for the album I Used to Be Pretty, released on Yep Roc in January, and a tour that had its penultimate show Saturday at Union Stage in DC.

It was quite a sight, this superstar lineup in a modest-sized basement club, from Alvin in his cowboy duds and Doe, solid in his bass rocking, to the behatted Bonebrake, largely handling the mallets on marimba and leaving the drums to Bateman. That light, jazzy touch from Bonebrake’s playing mixed with Berlin’s improvisational sax gave this a very different sound than what one might think of LA Punk from the days of the Masque, where The Flesh Eaters played alongside the Misfits, Dickies, and Circle Jerks.

While they packed the beat and attitude of the era, they could also groove along to solos from Alvin or Berlin. But it was all in service to Chris D., who with his bushy black eyebrows, stern profile, and balding white pate, looked like Sam the Eagle from The Muppet Show. In his baritone and poetic point of view, he called to mind another LA rock poet from half a century back, Jim Morrison of the Doors, especially in longer songs that slowly built to explosive climaxes.

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TVD Live: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song: Emilio and Gloria Estefan, DAR Constitution Hall, 3/13

PHOTO: ALBERTO TOLOT | It was the 10th Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, but winners Emilio and Gloria Estefan represent two firsts—the first married couple to be so honored, and the first of Latin heritage.

The award comes with a presentation with a big Congressional delegation in Washington and an all-star concert at the DAR Constitution Hall saluting the music, taped for public television. The last time the prize was given, in 2017, Tony Bennett mostly sat back and basked in it before coming out and slaying everybody with a few songs at the end.

But for the 2019 event last Wednesday, the couple seemed among the most hardworking on stage. In front of a big band directed by Emmy-winner Gregg Field, the two both helped open the show with “Rhythm is Gonna Get You,” and closed it with a big “Samba/Conga” finale.

In addition, Gloria came out to join some of the guests in song—with José Feliciano on one song; with violinist Sarah Chang on another; and joining her daughter Emily Estefan on a duet of a Gershwin song, “Embraceable You.” Where usually performers look up to the adjoining box to pay respects to the honoree, sitting next to the Librarian of Congress presiding, Carla Hayden, their seats were empty half the night.

That work ethic is part of the reason the Estefans were honored, of course. More than once was the story told of the Cuban natives raised with nothing, who built a Miami Sound Machine empire based on their own talents and gumption, selling millions of albums worldwide before cautious (or possibly racist) recording industry in their adopted country would give them a try.

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TVD Live: Weezer at
the Black Cat, 2/27

Days before a new album was to come out, a week before another arena tour, Weezer played the cozy Black Cat in Washington, DC Wednesday for a Sirius XM broadcast Thursday, and naturally the free ticket giveaway brought a line down the block to the venerable 700-capacity club. As well-positioned for maximum promotion as it seemed to be, Weezer itself were as comfortably disheveled as ever in their ragged, thoroughly fun and exceedingly short set.

“Welcome to the rock show in a night club,” frontman Rivers Cuomo greeted, fully five songs into the set which the audience never dreamed was already half over. “It’s how it’s meant to be,“ he went on. “Just Weezer and 150 of its best buddies!”(Whether he couldn’t see the other 550 or considered them not buddies was not determined).

With guitarist Brian Bell, Scott Shriner on bass, and Patrick Wilson, who dates back to the 1992 beginnings of the band with Cuomo, they gave a nice sampling of work from across their career, including two from the 1996 high point Pinkerton, “The Good Life” which began the show, and “El Scorcho,” which sort of defines the band’s slacker approach of that era.

Aside from the incessant XM cameras and all the attendant branding, it was a punchy show that didn’t necessarily promote The Black Album set to drop on Friday. Only the single “Living in L.A.” with its interesting elements borrowed from different sources, and the Latin-tinges of “Can’t Knock the Hustle” were part of the show.

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TVD Live: James McMurtry at The Birchmere, 2/21

The stage couldn’t be much more bare than it was for James McMurtry’s return visit to The Birchmere music hall. A couple of guitars, a table with a bottle of water and that’s it.

McMurtry’s songs as well are often as stark, painting indelible scenes of domestic impasse, bleak pictures of heartland economic woe, and wistful observations about the human condition. The son of novelist Larry McMurtry has equal literary prowess, only applying them to the meter and melody of acoustic music. He sets a scene, introduces character, and defines it in a word or phrase.

He enters like the associate professor too old for this stuff; a fedora now instead of a wide-brimmed cowboy hat. His shirt is loose to accommodate maximum movement on his guitar. He began with a six-string that set a spare tone to the songs, but switched for most of the show to a 12-string, setting off cathedral-like crescendos in his soloing. It also meant he had to stop and tune all 18 strings from time to time, filling in with patter as deadpan as his songs, or in one case suggesting the crowd talk amongst themselves while he attended to the business.

With the sparse writing style of a less-kind John Prine, and moody tunefulness of Townes Van Zandt, McMurtry hasn’t had a new release for a while. Since his 2015 Complicated Game, he’s only issued a couple of tunes online, reflecting family political standoffs accurately in the 2017 “State of the Union” describing a brother. “He don’t like the Muslims, he don’t like the Jews / He don’t like the Blacks and he don’t trust the news / He hates the Hispanics and alternative views / He’ll tell you it’s tough to be white.”

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TVD Live: Chuck Prophet at Jammin’ Java, 2/15

A whirlwind tour in Spain with Charlie Sexton playing the whole of The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls may not be the best practice for a solo tour, but it may have given Chuck Prophet a little extra slashing on his acoustic guitar at the start of a quite different tour.

It was a solo excursion, though this time accompanied by his wife and member of his Mission Express band, Stephanie Finch. And it occurred at recent return visit to Jammin’ Java in Vienna, VA, which he called “my favorite club in a strip mall that formally was a Christian worship place—and I’ve played all of them!”

It was Finch’s voice that was raspy and lower than usual due to being under the weather, bringing her closer to what she said was her fantasy—sounding like Marianne Faithfull. Prophet was chipper and rocking and all around entertaining as usual.

In a generous evening of nearly two dozen songs over two sets, he offered several of his usual crowd pleasers, but in a style that sometimes didn’t have the same impact. To his anthem “Wish Me Luck,” whose titular refrain is usually offered by a couple of heavy band chords, this one only had the tiny plink-plink of Finch’s keyboard. He tried to improvise, adding a humming horn on “I Call Your Name.”

Temple Beautiful, his 2012 ode to his home town of San Francisco, continues to be a mainstay of his shows, with four of its selections featured, including that harbinger of the new season “Willie Mays is Up to Bat.” The 2014 Night Surfer also got a good sampling, with four songs including his winning salute to a key piece of band equipment, “Ford Econoline.”

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TVD Live: The Chills at the Black Cat, 2/24

PHOTOS: JON THOM MOODIE | Led by songwriter-vocalist-guitarist Martin Phillipps, New Zealand’s The Chills haven’t toured in the USA since 1996. That’s a long time. Long enough in fact that when this cornerstone of the Kiwi Flying Nun experience announced a 2019 tour of the States, high expectations were unavoidable. That’s in large part because the current lineup’s recent work, in particular 2018’s Snow Bound, has offered substantial rewards. However, it’s also true that outstanding music by veteran outfits doesn’t always fully translate to live performance bliss, making disappointment a real possibility. How’d The Chills’ February 25th show at Washington, DC’s Black Cat turn out? Dear reader, the answer is awaiting below.

It should be mentioned straightaway that when it comes to geographical sounds, the ’80s New Zealand Flying Nun Records explosion remains one of my favorites. And yet, with the exception of catching David Kilgour (twice), my up-close-and-personal experience with this scene is zilch. Talk about intensifying expectations. Understandably given the circumstances, when the opportunity arose to see The Chills at the Black Cat, my thoughts beforehand focused entirely on the main attraction and not on the opening acts, of which there were two.

Still, my friend and I arrived early, shortly after the start of the first band’s set. They were called Springhouse. It rang a bell, but at my age I’ve encountered more than a few false alarms. The music they played was solid melodic rock, moderately anthemic and more than a touch Anglo, with some interesting guitar textures. Not at all bad.

Then the drummer came out front to play shakers for a song. Once it was over, he was announced to the crowd as what sounded like Jack Rabbit, which I thought was kind of a lame handle. After rolling it over in my head a few times, it suddenly occurred to me that it was actually Jack Rabid, as in the indefatigable publisher of The Big Takeover and oh yeah, Springhouse, I remember them now.

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TVD Live Shots: Interpol and Sunflower Bean at The Anthem, 2/15

Touring in support of their current album Marauder, Interpol made The Anthem their DC stop on this leg of their US tour and brought along with them the exuberant trio Sunflower Bean.

Sunflower Bean kicked things off both steady and sharp with punctuated guitar riffs in an ode to all things rock while fitting the evening’s bill perfectly. Front woman Julia Cumming’s bright and silky vocals paired nicely with the crisp tones emanating from Nick Kivlen’s guitar. The band’s newest release, Twentytwo in Blue on NYC’s Mom+Pop label is an addictively good listen as well.

When Interpol took the stage the venue was given a whole new persona. The disco ball that hung center stage become alive with white beams of light against a blue room. Singer Paul Banks seemed to subtlety hang over the crowd in the front row as well as the band opened with older selections “Pioneer to the Falls,” and “C’mere,” before they moved to the newer track, “If You Really Love Nothing.”

Interpol sounded wonderful from top to bottom. The band seemed revitalized delivering their new material, but ironically their set list consisted of mostly earlier songs with only a few tracks from Marauder. However, I was happy to hear their new single “The Rover” live, and also “All the Rage Back Home” from 2014’s El Pintor.

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TVD Live Shots: The 10th Annual DC Record Fair at Penn Social, 1/27

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNSSo what were you doing ten years ago? Probably not thinking of vinyl and record stores as a current concern—even if you stuck it out with our favorite medium through its less than popular phases.

Yet, there we were in January of 2009 feeling optimistic there would be an audience for a DC Record Fair which we brought to DC’s sorely missed Civilian Arts Project gallery space. And there were crowds. And lines. And a level of enthusiasm we simply didn’t anticipate …for vinyl.

Ten years on, over 1400 of you attended our now twice yearly event at DC’s Penn Social, and we’re thrilled by the continued support. Watch this space for updates on 2o19’s next DC record rummage.

This is not to say we haven’t received some criticism—yes, sometimes it’s dark, yea, a record here or there might be “overpriced,” or the crowd might be too heavy when you came by. (Hello 9:30 Club forum—we see you.) Rest assured we’re purchasing lights for the next event—however, if you can offer constructive criticism, we’d love to hear from you, either directly or in the comments. This is a community event and we’d like to hear from the community of DCRF attendees.

For now, here’s what went down last Sunday via the lens of photographer, Richie Downs.

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TODAY! The 10th Anniversary of the
DC Record Fair at
Penn Social, 1/27!

Where does the time go? The DC Record Fair turns 10 and sets up shop to celebrate at DC’s Penn Social on Sunday, January 27, 2019!

As with each fair for a decade now, we’ll have 40+ vinyl vendors from up and down the East Coast, the special DJ line up, the drinks, the food, and special book signings all designed to put a welcome hurt on your wallet or pocketbook. You’ve been warned.

Our friends at the Fillmore Silver Spring put together the above feature a while back that outshines any descriptive copy we could devise—hit play.

THE 10th ANNIVERSARY DJ LINE-UP:
11:00-12:00: DJ Aisha Karimah
12:00-1:00: Cynthia Connolly (Banned in DC)
1:00-2:00: Danny Ingram (Dot Dash)
2:00-3:00: John Foster (Superior Viaduct Records)
3:00-4:00: Geologist (Animal Collective)
4:00-5:00: Nitekrawler (DC Soul Recordings)

Mark your calendars! 
THE DC RECORD FAIR

Sunday, January 27, 2019 at Penn Social, 801 E Street, NW
11:00–12:00, Early Bird Admission $5.00
12:00–5:00, Regular Admission $2.00

RSVP and follow via the Facebook invite and watch this space for updates!

POSTER: JOHN FOSTER AT BAD PEOPLE GOOD THINGS

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TVD Live: Alejandro Escovedo with Don Antonio at City Winery, 1/15

“Are you ready for some romantic Italian music?” guitarist Antonio Gramentieri calls out to the audience.

Well, honestly, no.

The crowd at City Winery in DC was actually there for the more Tex-Mex flavored ballads and rockers from longtime songwriter Alejandro Escovedo, who has toured with all kinds of configurations over the years, from bands to duos to solo. But wanting to hire a band to back him on a European tour two years ago, he ran into an outfit from a small town near the Italian alps, Don Antonio.

Not only did they manage to bring a full sound to back Escovedo’s songs, they helped inspire his new album The Crossing. Where once it might have been the story of a Mexican-born kid hitchhiking his way from Mexico to an LA amid the punk boom, now it’s about a trip by young Diego and Salvo, who meet while working at Salvo’s uncle’s Italian restaurant in Galveston. The two share a love of punk rock, beat writers, and filmmakers like Antonioni.

And they go off to LA, “looking for an America they both believe exists,” Escovedo explains. So while it’s not exactly about immigration, he goes on, and more about two kids going after something better. There a number of similarities in the two cultures, as he notes Southern Italy has its own immigration from the African countries south of it.

Escovedo by now has accomplished a lot, produced a lot of great music, and even survived Hep C (he shows a PSA to raise the issue), so concept albums come to him now fully formed. And as a performer who has enjoyed collaboration with others, the international alliance suits him well.

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TVD Live: Jon Spencer
& the HITmakers at the Black Cat, 1/12

When Jon Spencer took the stage arranging his amps before his latest band started playing Saturday night at the Black Cat in DC, nobody much responded. Maybe they didn’t recognize him with glasses. But when he doffed the glasses, Clark Kent-like, suddenly he was the mercurial rocker, with an Elvis Presley voice, a rock ’n’ roll soul and manic psychobilly punk style.

Once part of such bands as Pussy Galore, Boss Hog, Heavy Trash and the epic Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, he now fronts a trio modestly called The HITmakers. As such, the bulk of his set came from playing all 12 tracks on the recent Spencer Sings the Hits he recorded in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

“Ready for more hits?” he’d say mid-set, with no little irony. As influential as he’s been on rock’s underground, he’s never come close to having a hit—even if his sounds helped power a recent Hollywood hit, Baby Driver. But what he did was hard-hitting, that’s for sure. The tight circle of the band had Sam Coomes, of Quasi and Heatmiser, on keyboards, and the young M. Sord on drums, augmented by the unusual percussion by onetime Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert, who spent time in Pussy Galore with Spencer.

People talk about the gritty, piston-beats of industrial Michigan coming through its home-grown rock, but here was Bert wailing away on what looked to be an old Chevy gas tank with a pair of hammers. (On the album, the equipment is identified as “gas tank, strut spring, brake rotor, metal table, ventilation duct, unistrut, 2” EMT conduit, ball peen hammer”). Its distinct ping plays off Sord’s cellar-floor boom but helped conjure the heavy beat that’s always been a part of Spencer’s innate swagger.

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TVD Live Shots:
Rayland Baxter and Illiterate Light at the Hamilton, 1/12

Opening the night for Rayland Baxter’s “Wide Awake” tour, two-member experimental rock band Illiterate Light took the stage. Taking in Jake Cochran’s minimalist drum setup and John Gorman’s synth base, it was easy to anticipate not hearing anything that might fit the evening’s expectations.

But well before the show, the pit was packed with fans who were ready to see them. You could chalk it up to the fact that they hail from nearby Harrisonburg, VA, but you’d be mistaken. Once their set started, the sound and energy that came from these two was entrancing. They had clear chemistry on stage, each carefully watching the other to perfectly time their rhythm and harmonies. But most impressive was their ability to turn up the volume, with Gorman stomping the synth base and nailing guitar solos while Cochran’s sang (screamed?) in a way that can only be described as primal.

They were a perfect opener for Baxter, who wasted no time taking the stage and harnessing that energy. Long-time listeners may be more accustomed to songs like “Olivia” and “Yellow Eyes,” both low-key alt-country songs that are excellent, but more suitable for a quiet evening in than a rock show. Opening with the first song from his new album, Strange American Dream, Baxter left anyone in the crowd expecting a quiet set—at least in this listener’s case—pleasantly mistaken. However, after about an hour, the 6-piece band left the stage, turned down the lights and sound, and left Baxter alone to do what he does best.

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He’ll outlast us all:
Dead Eddie lives!

“Eddie was the consummate front man,” explains Kenny Inouye, guitarist for seminal DC punk rock band, Marginal Man. “He was out in the audience working the crowd… some guys come off like they’re trying too hard when they do stuff like that, but for him it was like it was the most natural thing. Imagine Iggy Pop going out in the crowd and alternating between doing the songs and engaging the crowd in conversation between the songs.” “Is there such thing as a secular tent revival rabbi? Because I swear, I’ve seen one,” states longtime friend/fan Ben Gilmore.

Hailing from the Garden State, just outside of the Big Apple’s city limits, Edward Wilchins has been a member of hard rock bands Dead Eddie and 555 and a solo artist and session guitarist, playing the East coast from Atlanta to Boston. Dead Eddie was born after landing a gig with some fellow students at the Rathskellar at DC’s George Washington University in the late ’80s. Eddie, having suffered from Crohn’s Disease since childhood, was in the hospital and wasn’t sure he’d make the show. However, the show did go on and the band now had a name, Dead Eddie, and Eddie, a lifelong moniker.

A new local DC zine described them as the Rolling Stones on speed with Keith Moon on drums as Dead Eddie continued to play nightclubs throughout DC and Baltimore, including DC Space and 15 Minutes, also recording an EP (“Dad’s Sleeping,” 1990). However after 5 years as a regional band, Dead Eddie, the band, had run its course.

Dead Eddie, now solo, launched into doing studio work, and as an extra guitarist with touring bands. Then in early 1995, Jesse Boone, an old buddy from his GW days, called Eddie to record a few solos with his band. 555 were recording at WGNS studios in DC and at the time were composed of Jesse on guitar/vocals, Valente Miranda on bass, Mike Paggealogos on drums, and Steve Scharf on vocals. Eddie ripped out guitar solos for two songs, “Underwear” and “Green Monkey,” both in one take, for their soon to be released LP, Squirrel Covers. Jesse recalls, “They were great recording sessions with mostly full live takes and minimal overdubs.  There were also long days and endless nights of partying and soon we were forced to complete the record at Uncle Punchy Studios.”

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TVD Live: NRBQ at the Hamilton, 12/28

Those who haven’t seen the long-running NRBQ for a decade or two (or five) might have been surprised at the pre-New Year’s show at the Hamilton in DC to find that it is almost entirely a different band.

And while it may be unsettling for fans of Joey and Johnny Spampinato, the late Tommy Ardolino, or even Big Al Anderson, to see their wholesale replacements, the younger members miraculously seem largely as skilled and certainly steeped in the unique sensibility of the band, ready to rock, croon old pop, or take off on free jazz at will.

Born since the band was conceived, talented guitarist Scott Ligon, bassist Casey McDonough, and super young-looking drummer John Perrin could have been raised in a lab to take the mantle of the quirky, fun-loving band. Even the singing voices of Ligon and Perrin seem pitched at about the same light timbre of Terry Adams, who at 70 is the sole connection to the beginnings of the band more than a half century ago.

Still holding down his side of the stage, manically attacking the electric piano or clavinet, smiling goofily, his hair spilling from beneath a molting straw hat festooned with a band of flowers, Adams still brings the bulk of the band’s cockeyed personality. At the same time, his keyboard playing is a marvel in its accuracy (despite looking like he’s only freely pounding).

The wild man had formed what he called the Terry Adams Rock and Roll Quartet more than a decade ago with Ligon, but abruptly re-christened it NRBQ, seemingly single-handedly reigniting the storied band that stopped performing in 2004.

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TVD Live: Margo Price and Lilly Hiatt at the 9:30 Club, 12/27

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNSTo start her short tour leading up to New Year’s Eve, Margo Price rewrote the old Loretta Lynn tune “One’s On the Way.”

Fitting, since she’s showing off her own pregnancy—five months along—with husband and band member, Jeremy Ivey. But she’s also topical enough to adapt that old country hit (written by Shel Silverstein) so that Beyonce and Cardi B replace references to Liz and Jackie, while some lines from the 1971 original certainly still hold up 47 years later (“the girls in New York City, they all march for women’s lib”).

Price, 35, was glowing in her tour opening date in DC, perhaps because of her bump beneath her guitar, but also beaming from reaching her heights. She was happy to be headlining the storied 9:30 Club and basking in her first Grammy nomination she’d been given a couple of weeks earlier. It’s for Best New Artist, which is kind of a laugh for someone working for a decade, finally attracting a wider audience with two strong albums on Jack White’s Third Man Records. But deserved nonetheless.

Price is a fierce artist who seems country to the core and yet dismisses entirely the bland commercial hybrid of contemporary country radio (which seems to have ignored her in return). Behind her strong, clear voice and no-nonsense performing style, she’s got a solid handle on songwriting and even introduced a new song, possibly the only one to combine the legacies of John Lennon, Elvis Presley, and Martin Luther King, “Long Live the King.”

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