Category Archives: TVD Washington, DC

TVD Live: Robyn Hitchcock at the Barns
at Wolf Trap, 4/11

Age is only helping Robyn Hitchcock settle into his role as wizened surrealist singer and mystic storyteller.

More than 45 years after starting his first band, the founder of the Soft Boys who went on to fronting the Egyptians and a long, accomplished solo career is a unique troubadour—a singer who can create a splendid musical reverie of abject strangeness and splendid ’60s chords while freestyling fantastical spoken word tales between songs as he tuned.

In a nicely balanced show last week among the wonderfully rough-hewn beams of The Barns at Wolf Trap in rural Virginia, Hitchcock, 66, played guitar and sang, blew some harmonica, and began a second set at a Steinway piano. His tousled hair now white, he also divided his attire between a seasonally-attuned flowered shirt with birds on it and another that portended the coming summer, with a popsicle pattern.

Songs fluctuated from nifty obscurities to former MTV staples, with crowd-pleasers like “Balloon Man” and “Madonna of the Wasps” amid things like the opening “Man with a Woman’s Shadow,” and more recent “Light Blue Afternoon.”

The selection from his latest self-titled album is his closest stab at straight-ahead country, “I Pray When I’m Drunk,” though it sounded less so live. He had a new single he was selling too, so he sang the pleasing “Sunday Never Comes.”

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TVD Live: Nick Lowe & Los Straitjackets at The Hamilton, 4/7

Nick Lowe is calling his tour with Los Straitjackets the “Quality Rock & Roll Revue” and it’s no idle boast. The cool, memorable songs of Lowe with his smooth, elder statesman air, combined with the funhouse snarl of the twangin’ Straitjackets, in their Mexican wrestling masks and goofy stage presence, makes for pretty well-balanced entertainment. With Nashville singer Dawn Landes rounding out the bill as opener at The Hamilton Live in DC, it made for a pretty satisfying evening.

The quality descriptor, though, probably originates from Lowe’s 2013 Christmas album Quality Street, the subsequent holiday tours for which also involved Los Straitjackets, who had a couple Christmas albums of their own. When the band recorded its own instrumental tribute to Lowe, What’s So Funny About Peace, Love And… two years ago, it was practically a job application to become a permanent backing collaborator with the English songwriter.

And while their stage union surprisingly tended to slow down formerly breakneck gems like “Heart of the City” and “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock ’n’ Roll”), their entwined touring by now has resulted not only in finding Lowe songs that bring out the best of each act — “Shting-Shtang” among them — they are also creating new recordings that show how well their shared sensibilities — and love for classic ’50s pop and rock — have meshed.

On a pair of fun EPs, the latest of which is “Trombone” on YepRoc, they provided timeless sounding ballads like “Blue on Blue” as well as super well-chosen oldies, like “Raincoat in the River,” an obscure single from Aussie rocker Dig Richards that fits right in the knowing Lowe groove.

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TVD Live: Mark Eitzel, Living Room Show, Wheaton, MD, 4/5

PHOTO: MARK HOLTHUSEN | It was billed as a living room concert, and the entire Mark Eitzel tour dubbed “Living Room Tsunami.” So it was a little bit surprising when the secret DC area location, once payment was made, turned out to be an Irish bar in Wheaton, MD.

It could have been another barroom show except that the house concert vibe prevailed—a rapt, absolutely silent crowd hanging on his every word; even the bartenders refraining from clinking glasses or turning on blenders for the duration of the early evening performance.

Eitzel for his part began the show in comfortable chair surrounded by a couple of guitars, a rug at his feet, by switching on the stage lights himself from a wall switch behind his head. From there, he dived into the kind of soulful, expressive singing that marked his work since the days of American Music Club.

At 60, with his newscap and dark beard, he certainly looked at home in the Irish barroom appointed with wood and Guinness mirrors, a fake fireplace flickering in the corner. And nothing seemed missing from his rich, aching voice, made even more effective by the fact that it was unamplified for the whole of the 14-song session.

The lingering regrets in his haunting songs remained as well, from the opening “Western Sky” to the intimacy of “All My Love” (and its lyric “I’ll be the match that holds your fire”). Those were both songs from his days with American Music Club, whose music dominated the show. But he also sang mournfully of the abusive relationship described as a chain in the newest song, “Nothing and Everything,” oddly the only selection from his latest album, 2017’s Hey, Mr. Ferryman.

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TVD Live Shots: Jawbreaker, War on Women, and Pohgoh at The Anthem, 3/28

If you had asked me prior to Jawbreaker’s show at The Anthem in Washington, DC last Thursday evening (3/28), I would’ve told you that I didn’t really know how to feel about it.

I’m sentimental, sometimes to a fault. I left Jawbreaker back at the old Black Cat in the ‘90s when everything about the band was perfect. The thought of seeing a band that I cared about so much at a huge, more commercial venue brought out the old punk-ish, snobby attitude in me. I mean come on, the band’s rich history includes all the hallmarks of DIY to their core, so it’s a little weird to see them at Anthem’s 6,000 capacity room—but what the hell, it’s happening all the same.

I really have nothing to bitch about. I am super fortunate that I was able to have seen Jawbreaker play numerous times in the 1990s during the height of their punkdom at clubs like DC Space, Black Cat, and even once at ABC No Rio in New York City. Thursday, I got to see them play DC again after more than twenty years since their last show here, and I’ll certainly take it.

Jawbreaker’s long hiatus was due to a falling out between bandmates Schwarzenbach and Bauermeister which led to a really ugly breakup, including a good old fashioned fist fight between the two during a tour. The dissolution of the band came at the oddest of times for Jawbreaker, just after they had signed to a major label and were earmarked for certain commercial success.

During their extremely long career pause, Jawbreaker never left the hearts of their core fans. Their musical and lyrical style is so unique to their genre, and it’s clear that they have influenced many bands that have followed—acts like Fall Out Boy, Face to Face, and My Chemical Romance to name a few. In 2017 Jawbreaker was announced as the headliner for the final night of Riot Fest in Chicago, and instead of a one-off reunion, Jawbreaker just started playing shows again leading to their current East Coast tour.

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TVD Live Shots: Maggie Rose and Them Vibes at U Street Music Hall, 3/16

Last Saturday evening, singer/songwriter Maggie Rose brought her soulful brand of rock to the stage at U Street Music Hall, along with fellow Nashvillians Them Vibes.

This show marked a homecoming of sorts for Rose. The now Nashville based starlet is originally from Potomac, Maryland where she began performing on stage at the age of sixteen with the B Street Band, a prominent area Springsteen cover band. Since then she’s made her way to “Music City” under the advice of Sony Records executive and music producer, Tommy Motolla.

Rose has since gone on to share the stage with some pretty big names. She’s served as tour opener for country music legends Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, and has shared the stage with Sheryl Crow and Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead. Her current tour has her on the road with labelmate Kelly Clarkson, whom she opened for in Connecticut the night before her UHall show.

Just one song into her set I knew it was going to be a very good night. Her years of experience are certainly obvious on stage, but her talents as a songwriter couldn’t be more apparent. In fact, Rose has worked on several national ad campaigns that may have already seeped their way into your consciousness—the most notable being her version of “Old MacDonald,” juxtapposed as “a tribute to the women who are rewriting the rules of farming,” for Land O’ Lakes.

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TVD Live: Todd Snider
at The Birchmere, 3/18

Todd Snider walks on stage in a goofy hat, trusty guitar, barefoot, but also with his equally raggedy dog, Cowboy Jim, who promptly lies down and listens to these songs and stories one more time.

“A dog! How folkie is that!” Snider exclaims to the appreciative audience at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria and starts in on one of his newest songs, a talking blues about television, reality, reality television, and our current situation (“Reality killed by a reality star”). It was so up to date it even had a commentary about Michael Jackson (“Reality killed that video star”).

Snider, 52, likes to take apart traditions even as he is extending them, so he took time to explain the rules of the talking blues format (“All you gotta rhyme is a line or two”) within the song. And the format seemed just right for him as his shows are a mix of songs with sometimes equally long stories. And if the songs are old favorites, some of the stories are too. They get their own titles on his live albums, and his audiences laugh anew at each one.

At least the audiences don’t (yet) yell requests for certain stories. But they’re full of song requests, and half the show Monday seemed full of songs that dated back a quarter century or so from “Alright Guy” and “Beer Run,” his most obvious and most popular, to “Play a Train Song” and “Statistician’s Blues.”

Snider first came to fame in 1994, with an offhand rock commentary, “Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues,” about a band too cool to play a note. But that song’s been left off his list and from the requests.

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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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