Category Archives: TVD Washington, DC

TVD Live Shots: Amon Amarth, Grand Magus, At the Gates, and Arch Enemy at The Fillmore Silver Spring, 10/13

The ticket said “The Raid of Silver Spring,” and that meant only one thing: Swedish metal giants were in town, bringing metal to the huddled masses of suburban Washington, DC direct from Sweden.

Going into the evening, I’d hoped to steer clear of the easy Viking clichés, but having a look around the venue, I saw fans wearing kilts and Viking helmets while carefully sipping beer from drinking horns. The bands on this Sunday night’s bill, headlined by the Viking metal behemoths themselves, Amon Amarth, traffic in the imagery, so I’ll join in. Indeed, the name of the tour, “Berserker,” is the name given to the fiercest of all Viking warriors, so anything else is pointless and not fun.

I’d need the strength of my Scandinavian ancestors to endure this assault; Grandma and Grandpa Swanson, help me out here. I’d argue it wasn’t so much a raid as recruitment, as the enthusiastic fans—packing the Fillmore to its chandelier-adorned ceiling—needed no coercion to board the ship.

Whetting our appetite for the plunder were Stockholm metal veterans Grand Magus. In a roughly 25 minute, five song set, the trio (Janne Christoffersson, Mats Skinner, and Ludwig Witt) stirred the masses with their doom/stoner metal sound, including a taste (“Untamed”) from their latest album, Wolf God, released this spring. A genuinely appreciative Christoffersson declared the Fillmore crowd the “loudest” they’d ever played for and suggested a residency right there, because who needs Vegas? The crowd roared in agreement and, during the last song of the set, sent Grand Magus off by chanting along with “Hammer of the North.”

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Independent Minded: A podcast with Ron Scalzo: Eric Astor from Furnace Record Pressing

The Independent Minded podcast features conversations with indie artists in the music and entertainment business.

Pop culture legends “Weird Al” Yankovic and Henry Rollins, indie icons CAKE, Gogol Bordello and Mike Doughty, and up-and-coming indie artists The Districts and Vagabon talk about their experiences in the business, their inspirations and passions, and their recent projects.

The podcast is hosted by Ron Scalzo, an indie musician and radio producer with 9 self-released albums and an independent record label of his own, Bald Freak Music.

Furnace Record Pressing’s Eric Astor | Episode 106 features Eric Astor, founder and CEO of Furnace Record Pressing in Arlington, VA. Eric talks about pressing vinyl, connecting with people, making sense of all the record pressing madness. Find out more about Eric and Furnace Record Pressing at furnacemfg.com

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TVD Live: Shovels & Rope at the 9:30 Club, 10/9

PHOTO: CURTIS WAYNE MILLARD | Like the White Stripes before them, Shovels & Rope bring the two person, man and woman, guitar and drums lineup to life. The exception is that they dwell more in country roots, with Appalachian gospel seeping through their down-home harmonies and lots of wistful tales of traveling on the road.

But there’s more—in addition to the drum work, Cary Ann Hearst also plays a short Korg keyboard and harmonica (sometimes at the same time). At times, she also gave up her drum seat for the guitar of her husband Michael Trent, who also switches around from acoustic and electric guitar, to drums, piano, harmonica, mandolin and keyboard.

Though the duo showed in a headlining show at the 9:30 Club in DC Wednesday that they have the kind of songs that could benefit from a larger outfit backing them, they resolutely kept it a twosome. They don’t even have a roadie handing them guitars or tuning, maintaining a busker’s approach as if they were always ready to go back to playing smaller venues or, if fortunes really change, to the streets.

But look around: It was a large crowd that came out to see them and many knew their older songs well enough to sing along without squinting at the lyrics that had been painted on five backdrops behind them—for decorative purposes only. (Also part of the stagecraft: a pair of busts covered and wrapped as if by Christo). It was a strange crowd though—one of those who fill a room but aren’t entirely quiet enough for the quietest parts, with yammering going on in corners of the room, as if the duo were there as background music for their party.

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TVD Live: Luna at the 9:30 Club, 10/5

On the various Luna tours the band has launched since it reunited in 2015 following a 10 year pause, they almost seemed miffed to have to play the old stuff fans wanted. Not that they had much new material— just an album of covers and another of instrumentals.

But now, embarked on one of those full album recitals popular with heritage groups, they seemed to have turned the corner into appreciating anew all that they accomplished. The showcase for an early show at the 9:30 Club in Washington Saturday was the 1995 album Penthouse from start to finish—though some stops have been showcasing the two prior albums, Lunapark and Bewitched, in their entirety.

But Penthouse might have been the best of the three to see, featuring the band at its prime, with a lazy surf-like riff to start with “Chinatown,” then the wavy, underwater-like figure on “Sideshow by the Seashore.” It wasn’t quite the lineup the band had when it recorded the album 24 years ago—Britta Phillips played bass in place of the originating Justin Harwood, and Penthouse was the last album for drummer Stanley Demeski, who’d go on to The Feelies; it’s been the hard-hitting Lee Wall ever since.

But Dean Wareham held court front and center as he always did, with his searching, mysterious lyrics in deadpan tones and interesting guitar figures. And still with him, trading off on some guitar interplay was Sean Eden, who has been around since their second album. It’s a formidable group, who face one another when they’re sitting out sparks of elongated anthems as if they’re a jam band on long workouts like “23 Minutes in Brussels” or “Freakin’ and Peakin,’” which speeds up, slows down and speeds up again before it ends.

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TVD Live Shots:
The Hu with
Al Lover at Baltimore
Soundstage, 9/29

On a warm early autumn night, music fans of all stripes piled into Baltimore Soundstage to witness the arrival of The Hu, fresh from Mongolia, embarking on their first tour of the US. Al Lover acts as support on the tour, warming up crowds with psychedelic electronica.

Los Angeles based Al Lover opened the gig with his psychedelic and experimental electronic music. Lover has, since 2013, released a variety of projects while collaborating with multiple artists and touring extensively. His latest album, Existential Everything, was released in February, 2019. The appreciative crowd bobbed along with the beats as Lover wove a sonic web during his set, setting the tone for the headliner.

It appears the last year has been a bit of a whirlwind for The Hu. In the fall of 2018, videos for “Yuve Yuve Yu” and “Wolf Totem” were released on YouTube; as of this writing the two have garnered about 43 million views. In contrast, the population of Mongolia is just over three million.

Mixing the modern and the traditional is what The Hu really excels at here. The band consists of four core members, standing shoulder to shoulder at the front of the stage, and are backed by a touring band who play percussion, bass, and a Les Paul guitar, as western music fans would all recognize. Less recognizable is the traditional instrumentation of the core members.

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TVD Live: An intimate evening with Ken Stringfellow and Friends, Chevy Chase, MD, 9/23

PHOTOS: RACHEL LANGEThe time: 7:30 on a Monday night. The place: a private residence in Chevy Chase. Not the usual circumstances for a rock concert, but that’s the point—Ken Stringfellow’s solo tour is prioritizing “non-venue spaces,” including many private concerts and “secret shows” like this one. The fine line between public and private is a fitting leitmotif for Ken’s return to Touched, originally released by Manifesto Records on the inauspicious date of September 11, 2001. His second solo album since the breakup of the Posies, Touched is appropriately personal, and a fitting soundtrack for the deep disillusionment of 2019.

The concert is surprisingly lighthearted, despite the melancholy musical fare. Hosted by ELO alumnus Parthenon Huxley and his wife Helle, the event has the delightfully laid-back vibe of a grown-up house party—there’s beer and wine chilling on the back porch, while a fleet of folding chairs give guests who have already taken their seats plenty to look at it, whether it’s the record collection on the bookshelf or the eclectic collage of pop and high art on the walls.

At the front of the room is Ken’s improvised stage rig, which features “a real piano” (as promised by the tour webpage) against the tastefully space-age backdrop of a dark window to the backyard which reflects both the mood lighting in the living room and the neon violet glow of the WiFi router. Ken cracks a joke about this unexpected special effect between tunes—a moment which epitomizes the appeal of a private concert. There might not be much room to move, but there’s plenty of room to breathe, and Ken uses that freedom to great effect.

In addition to an impressive musical CV which includes not only The Posies but more recently R.E.M. and Big Star, Stringfellow has a sense of humor and he isn’t afraid to use it. Nothing is off-limits, either, and throughout the set he riffs on everything from Millennial entitlement to an audience member’s ill-timed sneeze. (Okay, I confess: it was me.) His performance turns out to be two parts music, one part standup routine, and sometimes both at once.

Because the guestlist is short enough that the main attraction can see who’s not here yet (“They’re a big group and they tend to travel in packs,” he remarks) the shows gets off the ground not with Touched but with requests from the audience and a new composition Ken describes as “one from the mental health files.” Nobody’s heard the song before but nobody minds, already absorbed by Ken’s uncompromising vocals and the artfully mixed metaphors which give his lyrics their distinctive bittersweet flavor.

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TVD Live Shots:
Alter Bridge, Skillet,
and Dirty Honey at MECU Pavilion, 9/22

On September 22, Alter Bridge and Skillet kicked off their co-headlining, “Victorious Sky” tour at Baltimore, Maryland’s MECU Pavilion, with young rock upstarts Dirty Honey in the supporting role.

Leading off was California’s Dirty Honey (vocalist Marc Labelle, guitarist John Notto, bassist Justin Smolian, and drummer Corey Coverstone). With only an EP under their belts, they’ve already rubbed elbows this year with Slash on his tour with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators as well as made the rounds of the summer festivals. While the band’s sound will likely remind fans of anyone from Zeppelin to Guns ‘n’ Roses to current rock saviors Rival Sons, it’s clear they are not out to mimic anyone. Rather, during their six-song set, they demonstrated that they’ve arrived to carry the torch of their classic rock forebearers, but in their own young and modern way. It was the third time I’d seen Dirty Honey; they keep getting better.

Coheadliner and Christian rock stalwarts Skillet excited the crowd with their super high energy and exhilarating set. I’ll admit to being unfamiliar with Skillet; the term “Christian rock” makes the agnostic in me bristle and run for the hills. I like my rock and roll dark, dirty, and demon sprinkled, with squeezed lemons my preferred imagery.

However, Skillet’s style goes over well live as their songs are melodic and uplifting, the band members charismatic and skilled musicians. It’s great fun to watch and rock out to, especially when vocalist John Cooper strapped on what could only be described as fire extinguishers to his arms and blasted water vapor in the air, or when Seth Morrison and Korey Cooper got lifted on risers. Drummer Jen Ledger smiled for my camera as she sang and wailed on the drums. They were terrific.

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TVD Live: The Long Ryders at Pearl Street Warehouse, 9/20

Before there were labels like alt country or Americana, The Long Ryders were providing the connection between country and rock with a punk punch through their very limited recording years of 1984 to 87. They proved the thread between the pioneering work of the Byrds and Gene Clark (who lent vocals on the first Long Ryders album) and Uncle Tupelo, who wouldn’t release their first album until 1990.

After the encouragement of a few reunion shows, the early lineup is back together with a solid new album, Psychedelic Country Soul, and a tour to go along with it. “It took us 33 1/3 years,” frontman Sid Griffin told the crowd at the Pearl Street Warehouse in DC Friday, making the RPM connection.

Griffin, with his grey Prince Valiant hair and sideburns looking like a cross between Bob Keeshan and patriotic Muppet Sam the Eagle, has been spending his time in the intervening decades as a rock journalist in London. But he still likes to rock out on Chuck Berry style tunes like “State of My Union.” Just as in the old days, his rock instincts are balanced by the sweet country stylings of guitarist Stephen McCarthy, the Ryders’ secret weapon, last seen in town with The Jayhawks, with whom he recorded Rainy Day Music.

McCarthy brings a tasty twang to the proceedings, smooth vocals and decent songs. What’s more, he and bassist Tom Stevens create some fine harmonies, as on “You Don’t Know What’s Right, You Don’t Know What’s Wrong.” When Stevens fronts one of his own songs, though, he both takes lead guitar duties in addition to lead vocals. Drummer Greg Sowders (an ex-husband of Lucinda Williams) looked just happy to be part of the crew once more.

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TVD Live: The B-52’s, OMD, and Berlin at The Anthem, 9/17

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | The B-52’s are marking their 40th anniversary the same way they might have celebrated their 20th, their first, or a random Tuesday—with a party.

True to their skull ’n’ beehive colors that declare “Born to Party” they got a big crowd at DC’s Anthem riled up with a freewheeling set of their catchy, deeply fun songs, heavy on the perfect first two albums but culminating in the one that gave them their biggest hit, “Love Shack.” On a packed night with properly received sets from Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and Berlin, they still ruled the barbecue once they got on.

The band is just 60 percent of what it was—but because the remaining members are the most colorful in singers Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider, and Kate Pierson it might not be as noticeable that they’ve got a wholly different back line doing most the instruments (save for the occasional bongo, cowbell, handheld synth device, and slide whistle).

And just as they did when they started this party in Athens, GA, they dressed as flamboyantly as they sang, with Wilson the costume winner in the highest beehive and flashiest jumpsuit, adorned with bat wings. Pierson may have had the same shimmery multihued dress she wore on the Whammy! cover—or one very like it—she may have shimmied the original out of existence years ago. Schneider still holds down the smarmy ringleader role, half talking his funny lines, and ad libbing a few new ones too.

They began with the urgent call of “Private Idaho” and moved into the still topical historical footing of “Mesopotamia” that might make one forget about the saber-rattling going on in the region now. “Give Me Back My Man” still had the yearning that put a cry in Wilson’s yelp, as authentic and pleading as a country song. They had a kind of swirling backing video meant to accommodate their nightly changes in their setlist, but they put up a garish picture of a retro dial phone during “6060-842.”

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TVD Live: Billy Bragg at The Birchmere, 9/19

“Welcome to the 7:30 Club!” Billy Bragg said, at the outset of his three-night residency at The Birchmere. He was both poking fun of the Alexandria club’s famously early nights, while name checking the DC area’s other famous club, the 9:30.

It was the first of several residencies he’ll also do in New York and Cambridge, MA before doing the same in various cities in the UK. Titled “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” he’s playing exclusively from his first three albums on one night, from his next three albums a second night, and doing kind of a career overview the third.

He began with the latter Thursday and seem freed to put in a set similar to those he had been doing in recent months, with a little bit of everything thrown in for his one-man, one-guitar format. The idea behind the residencies, he said, was to find a different way of touring that involved staying in one place longer than usual, an experiment that would mean a “low impact on the environment—and the artist.”

As such, he had been in the Nation’s Capital days before his run started, in part to do promotion of his new book, his sixth, The Three Dimensions of Freedom. Which he didn’t exactly read, but explained its point of view in such detail he might as well have.

The truth is, half a Billy Bragg concert is his speaking, and while he is charming, funny and sharp political commentator most of the time, there comes a point where fans would rather hear him singing choice selections from his songbook.

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TVD Live: Peter Frampton and JBLZE
at The Anthem, 9/11

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Peter Frampton supercharged his career with a live album decades ago, so he’s going out playing live as well. In a stop at the Anthem in DC Wednesday, he seemed to have the kind of bouncy energy and joy in performance that doesn’t usually come in anything titled “Finale – The Farewell Tour.”

Frampton at 69 looks pretty youthful to hang it up, but is doing so because of the diagnosis of a rare disease called inclusion body myositis, a progressive muscle disorder. None of that kept him from leaping about and playing scorching guitar solos that veered from rock to jazz.

He began with an unusual request: that people photograph or video the first three songs only—the same kind of restrictions kept to professionals, so they could turn off their phones, stop texting and be more present for the show. A noble effort, but when he whipped out the first of the hits from his breakthrough Frampton Comes Alive! as his fourth song, the request was widely ignored.

Frampton is nothing if not a team player, showcasing the rest of his five-piece band by standing stage left, not in front of anyone. But “Show Me the Way” brought him center stage where the specially equipped rubber tube can bend his guitar notes through his vocals, which he used to such effect on the 1976 album.

The cheesy nostalgia of a Talk Box became just as emblematic of mid-’70s rock as the cherubic hair Frampton once wore. What became the hits of the live album were songs originated but largely ignored on the earlier solo albums from the former Humble Pie guitarist. The effervescent live versions made him an 8-million selling superstar that was exploited in all of the worst ways, from bare-chested magazine covers to starring in the awful 1978 movie version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. He kept touring and recording with diminishing commercial returns, but found his artistic footing playing guitar for David Bowie’s 1987 “Glass Spider Tour” and recording a Grammy-winning instrumental album Fingerprints in 2006.

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TVD Live Shots: Babymetal and Avatar
at The Anthem, 9/8

It was a theatric night with two contrasting bands at Washington DC’s Anthem, on Sunday, 9/08, as Babymetal, with Avatar, stormed the Wharf.

In Babymetal you have the perfect gateway act to the wider world of metal, and I’m glad they’re getting booked on some of the bigger American rock festivals. Judging by the crowd, their fans are more than just people who think they’re hot. To me, it seems like the obvious thing is less gatekeeping and more embracing. Besides, when was the last time your favorite burly dude band played Revention and tried to summon a dark god? Exactly.

From the moment the lights go dark and the band’s logo is projected onto the nearly bare stage, the room belongs to Babymetal. For the uninitiated, the sound is classic kawaii, a genre that features a mix of pop-ish vocals combined with thrash guitar. Leading on vocals, Su-metal is joined by Moametal and a temporary new member in impossibly intricate and impressive choreography.

Indeed, the choreography is what one notices first as the trio kicks off their set with “Megitsune” and what makes the performance so engaging to watch. The three young women barely appear to break a sweat during their hour and change set, which included “Karate,” “PA YA YA,” and “Gimme Chocolate.” This, on top of Su-metal’s impressive vocals and the skill of their backing band, all masked dressed in Grim Reaper-ish garb. Hanging back in the shadows, the musicians were not intended to be the main attraction here. Nevertheless, they killed.

While it may be easy to write off a band like Babymetal as gimmicky, the skill, talent, and hard work involved here is evident and deserving of serious consideration, as the fans present at the Anthem already knew.

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TVD Live: Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins at the Anthem, 9/5

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | For a woman whose songs are so direct, and whose voice is so clear, Jenny Lewis also likes to dress up a bit. So for the stop in her “On the Line” tour at The Anthem in DC, she wore a glamorous form-hugging gold lamé dress as if it were dug out of a trunk from Old Hollywood.

Lewis, 43, began her career decades ago as a child actress (she was in Camp Beverly Hills, you know), so that might actually have been the case. But the creative Lewis likes to put on theatrical airs on stage as easily as she likes to shift musical moods.

And since she entered the music scene as a distinctive indie voice in the short-lived but beloved band Rilo Kiley, she’s tried spare folk, twisted gospel soul, irresistible straight ahead rock and now, occasionally, the kind of catchy club music that tends to come from dozens of newly arrived divas with single names.

But mostly there is that voice—so pure and so very well amplified and carried through the hall. Those who’ve complained about Anthem acoustics must not have heard this show—one of the most beautifully balanced I’ve heard in town. But her pipes were also aided by a loving crowd who remained utterly hushed as she sang, only to burst up singing along and dancing, as they were encouraged toward the end.

With a five piece band behind her all night, there were also a couple of string players on hand to begin the set with the warning siren of “Heads Gonna Roll” and “Wasted Youth”—both from her solid recent album On the Line, which should be all over the radio if radio was a thing any more.

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TVD Live Shots: dodie and Adam Melchor at the 9:30 Club, 9/6

YouTube superstar dodie, with support from newcomer Adam Melchor, thrilled a house filled with emotional young fans at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC on Friday, September 6.

England’s Dorothy “dodie” Clark, 24, began her career performing covers on piano and ukulele before moving on to write original material. Using YouTube as her platform, she’s amassed literally millions of subscribers since creating her first solo YouTube channel in 2011. Previous EPs, “Intertwined” and “You” were released in 2016 and 2017, respectively; dodie’s latest, “Human,” was released in January of this year.

It’s easy to see the appeal for the mostly (very) young, mostly female fans at the 9:30 Club. She has an accessible but somewhat ethereal stage presence, her entrance onto the stage punctuated by white lights that made her appear as if she were an otherworldly figure plopped down from the sky, yet she dressed casually and wore no shoes. Her soft voice, often drowned out by the sound of the crowd singing along with her, carries songs with relatable themes.

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TVD Live: Vampire Weekend at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 8/30

PHOTOS: JORDAN GROBE | It wasn’t quite Labor Day Weekend, but it was Vampire Weekend.

The New York band was playing its first show at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD, in nine years, as frontman Ezra Koenig recalled, and it was quite a different configuration. Multi instrumentalist and cofounder Rostam Batmanjlij split the group in 2016 following its last album, and in a seeming credit to him, had to be replaced by four musicians on stage: Garrett Ray, Will Canzoneri, Greta Morgan, and Brian Robert Jones.

It was Jones trading guitar noodles that led to a big, sprawling “Sunflower” that opened the show — so big that you might think the brainy pop group had turned into a jam band. It was the first of 11 songs from the band’s latest album, Father of the Bride which got a heavy push in the generous 28-song show. They all seemed well received (except perhaps the slowest ones) but there was a nostalgic undercurrent animating fans who cheered best their earlier songs — “A-Punk” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” from their 2008 eponymous debut; “Horchata” and “Cousins” from the 2010 follow-up Contra; and the songs with women’s names from 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City, “Diane Young” and “Hannah Hunt.”

Koenig said something about having more voices on the new album, but it’s more obvious than ever in a live setting that he is the band’s center. Morgan came down from her guitar and keyboard perch to sing a verse of just one song all night. There was surprising little vocal support from the others onstage; the big choral moments were provided via sample. More collaborative was the guitar work of Jones, who in his shorts and big Afro resembled Reggie Watts on stage, eking out electronic tones from his treated guitar.

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