TVD Live: Chickfactor 20th Anniversary Celebration 4/6-4/7 at Artisphere

Gail O’Hara is a multi-talented girl after my own heart. Working for publications such as Spin, Time Out New York, and DC’s City Paper, she also co-founded Chickfactor Magazine with Pam Berry (also equally after my heart) of Black Tambourine and DC’s much-adored label Slumberland Records.

Chickfactor champions underground Brit-Pop and other indie music that might otherwise fly under the radar.  In honor of the magazine’s 20th anniversary, these two rock icons put together a smashing line-up of bands, all reminiscent of the early ’90s sound immortalized in the issues of Chickfactor.

Out of a twenty band line up split between NYC and DC over seven nights, the two night DC showcase featured five bands each night.  On Friday, April 26th, The Pines, Dot Dash, HoneybunchStevie Jackson, and Frankie Rose took to the stage. The following night, LD Beghtol (not originally advertised, perhaps a last-minute fill-in), Lorelei, Fan Modine, Lilys, and Black Tambourine were featured.

The first night was only about half full compared to the sold-out night that followed, which astonishes me because the line-up was pretty great.  The draw of the sold-out Saturday show was the reunion of Black Tambourine, who had not played a show since the ’90s, and the anticipation that the Lilys would be playing with original band in tow.

Getting out to Artisphere is easier than getting over to H Street; nevertheless, I managed to miss the opening band, The Pines.  I arrived to catch most of Dot Dash’s set.  I’ve swiped this quote off their Facebook page because I couldn’t describe them better: “A strange marriage of charming sounds ranging from power pop to mod to mid-’90s indie… a deeper level of sophistication blends them together into a bigger picture of grey-sky introspection and punk wonderment.”

Prior to their set, Dot Dash cracked a joke about growing sideburns as cool as Honeybunch’s Jeffrey Borchardt’s.  Borchardt’s sideburns were as polished and pretty as the sweet sounds coming from his guitar.  A false start had bassist Peter Reilly cracking a joke about how they were not going to play “Hey Blue Sky,” the song released on Bus Stop Records that attracted Slumberland Records to sign them. With a set so twee it would make Brilliant Colors or The Pains of Being Pure at Heart melt into a quivering puddle right before the stage, I can see why musicians and music lovers hold the band in such high regard.

Three quarters through the set, Honeybunch invited “musical encyclopedia” Stevie Jackson to join them on stage for a couple of songs, and the Belle and Sebastian singer and songwriter followed Honeybunch’s set with an utterly charming acoustic performance.

Jackson totally catered to the crowd, offering to take requests and cracking jokes between songs.  This is the intimacy that is missing from most live shows these days, the reason it’s so special to catch a basement show with such artists before they make it big, and this whole night carried this feeling of something special happening, because well, it was.

Jackson dodges some obscure song requests, choosing instead to play “The Wrong Girl.”  The guy next to me is harmonizing loudly, so much so that mid-song Jackson goes “I hear some lovely harmony out here—you should join me on stage.” The guy does not take the bait, but I wish he would have because it might have shut him up. It felt like he was trying to outshine Jackson, but that was not possible.

Jackson played a couple more Belle and Sebastian songs, including “Step into My Office,” which he laughed about coming out more glam on the album than he intended it to. Jackson then played a slower, soulful, delta-blues-inspired rendition with bluesy guitar riffs interspersed throughout the song.

After a handful of delightful acoustic songs, Jackson does what is absolutely unexpected and picks up an electric guitar and invites Honeybunch back on stage for a song he named after Gale O’Hara, “Chickfactor.” While it was no surprise that the song would be played, Jackson’s performance turned into a rock ‘n’ roll freak out, showing his versatility as a musician and proving his encyclopedic knowledge of it.

Just when I thought the show couldn’t get better, Frankie Rose’s charm blows us all away.  Though she is a little more reserved on stage, offering less stage banter, the Brooklyn artist is still a little charmer.  Sporting bright red lipstick, black lace, and ’60s mod hair, she’s a looker, and a very talented one.  Bursting forth in 2010 with Frankie Rose and the Outs, she mainly performed tracks off of her 2012 self-titled release.

Starting with the atmospheric “Moon in my Mind,” the room filled with a ’60s girl group-inspired dream-pop so beautiful I stopped taking notes. And while there’s a ton of dream-pop circulating these days, there are few more effortless than Miss Rose.  As her set slows for “A Pair of Wings,” a song so enchanting and Julie Cruz cool, I realize I am smiling from ear to ear.  I’ve been standing in heels all night, but I’m enthralled and don’t really care where I am.

Again, I arrived late on Saturday, sadly most of the way through Lorelei’s set.  I learned that I missed a cover of “Sight of You” by Pale Saints.  I’m super-sad I missed them, and I was only able to catch a few photos before they ended their set.

Fan Modine followed Lorelei with a set that kinda cleared out the room.  Not that they were entirely lackluster, but I think people might have been grabbing a drink before the Lilys. Missy Thangs of The Love Language played keys with confidence as she swooped her head from side to side to see behind her bangs.  Gordon Zacharias demonstrated his aptitude for arranging lovely indie-pop songs that are compositionally eclectic and ripe with boy-next-door charisma.

People packed the room for the start of the Lilys, or rather to everyone’s shock and likely dismay, the Lilys’ Kurt Heasley.  Perhaps if I had scoured the internet a little  more closely, I might have given everyone a better heads up, as it was stated on the Chickfactor website that he would be performing solo.  Nevertheless, the only disappointment to his set was the nonsensical, borderline hilarious stage banter that had me wondering what he’d smoked before the show.

The set was in no way a disappointment, as Heasley played a beautiful acoustic version of the usually lush “Claire Hates Me” that gave me the chills. His whole set was a Ray Davies meets Nick Drake blend of indie/folk/rock.  He mentioned playing a show at the DC Space, harkening back to the ’90s when the indie scene was bursting with similar talent to his own.  Heasley’s comment reminded me of how important this show is, in paying homage to Slumberland, Chickfactor, and a vision that shaped indie music as we know it and helped put DC on the map as one of the cities to really shape the indie music scene in the 1990s.

And then the moment we were all waiting for finally arrived. O’Hara and Barry are honored on stage with flowers and a round of applause for the audience.  We’re then invited to chant Pam Barry onto the stage.  She looks nervous and admits that the band is probably a bit scrappy, having not played in so long.  Opening with “For Ex Lovers Only,” they sound pretty good, except the vocals are low.

Barry acknowledges her low vocals before the next song but someone screams in response “louder, more feedback.”  The rest of the show is peppered with exactly that—feedback, reverb, and gloriously wailing guitars.   There is so much excitement in the audience that a mosh/dance pit breaks out toward the front, complete with a twee-looking girl in a cardigan throwing elbows and breaking out in a sweat.

Guitarist Archie Moore introduces “By Tomorrow” with a quick story of how his sister asked for the song to get “exceedingly louder,” and you can guess that’s exactly what happened. I still have goosebumps thinking about how awesome it was. Barry then delighted us with a couple covers to close out the night and the showcase, including The Ramones’ “I Want to Be Your Boyfriend” and a Strawberry Shortcake cover. The celebration continues this week with three shows at Brooklyn’s Bell House, last night, tonight, and tomorrow.

Top two photos: Shantel Mitchell | Subsequent photos: Jenn Bress

More Photos by Shantel Mitchell

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  • NancyMarion

    Sorry to be the typo police, but Pam’s last name is Berry with an “e.”

    • http://www.thevinyldistrict.com/ thevinyldistrict

       @NancyMarion Typo fixed – thank you!

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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