Author Archives: Allison Grossman

TVD Live: Ex Hex at
the Black Cat, 5/1

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Even before the release of their debut full-length album Rips this past October, local DC rock trio Ex Hex had been labeled as “fun.” The reputation formed during interviews and at their first shows, and came out in their early music. They play with this lighter side on Rips while still showing off the immense rock and roll experience of each band member. Dance glam and catchy pop tunes meld seamlessly with harder punk-inspired riffs and no holds barred guitar solos.

So it was no surprise that the band’s hometown crowd at the Black Cat last Friday night was waiting impatiently for the dance party to start. And when guitarist and lead singer Mary Timony (Autoclave, Helium, Wild Flag) and bassist Betsy Wright (Childballads, the Fire Tapes) came out in matching black sequins, with drummer Laura Harris (The Aquarium, Benjy Ferree) following close behind, it certainly looked like they were ready to have some fun.

But the party didn’t quite start right away. Timony launched right into “Don’t Wanna Lose,” the opening track off Rips. The sound was off with the vocals too quiet and the reverb too heavy. The noteworthy energy that makes the album so addicting was missing.

But a few songs in, something changed. The sound had been fixed, and the band members seemed to loosen up and started filling the space.

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TVD Live: Chrissie Hynde at the Lincoln Theatre, 11/7

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | If you’re under a certain age, you might be forgiven for wondering why anyone would go see Chrissie Hynde today. At 63-years-old, after decades of fronting the Pretenders and only just releasing her first solo album this summer, it would be easy to assume Hynde’s voice is shot, her songs dated, her energy low.

You would be wrong.

Playing a mix of material from her solo debut Stockholm and classic Pretenders hits, Chrissie Hynde proved that she’s still at the forefront of making and performing genuine rock and roll. With a voice that is somehow still pristine and a look that screams anglophile musician, there is no doubt that she retains her position as rock royalty.

Shortly after the lights dimmed at the Lincoln Theatre on Friday night, with Sam Cooke’s version of the “The Great Pretender” playing on the soundsystem, Hynde swaggered on stage to an overwhelming roar of excitement from the audience.

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TVD Live: Pete Yorn
at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, 11/2

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | On Sunday evening, an enthusiastic crowd gathered for an early show at Sixth & I historic synagogue where Pete Yorn‘s banter and rock- and folk-inspired music lived up to the tour’s claims of “You & Me Acoustic.”

Yorn, dressed in slim jeans and a plaid shirt, his shaggy hair obscuring his eyes, sauntered through the pews from the back of the room, climbed on stage and perched on a stool, where he sat alone with a couple of guitars and a harmonica.

He is unassuming in person, and seemed genuinely excited by the crowd’s energy. Looking around the venue as many artists do, perhaps a bit perplexed finding himself in a synagogue, he remarked, “This isn’t the 9:30 Club. This is something else.” It was just the start of an unusually intimate show. Without a band backing him, Yorn took advantage of his freedom. He was relaxed and playful, offering anecdotes and sound bites throughout a set that spanned his entire catalogue, and more.

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TVD Recommends: Pete Yorn at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, 11/2

With its soaring ceilings, domed roof, and rows upon rows of pews, there are some acts that seem ready-made to perform at Washington, DC’s Sixth & I historic synagogue. Pete Yorn’s “You & Me Acoustic” tour is surely one of them. Yorn is bringing his guitars and folk-inspired catalogue to Sixth & I on November 2 for a stop on his first-ever solo acoustic tour.

Yorn hasn’t released an album under his own name since 2009, which saw an astounding three Yorn albums, including a set of duets with Scarlett Johansson. Fans can rest assured that he has a new solo album on its way, but while he’s finishing up his next release, he decided to take some time off for this tour.

Johansson isn’t expected to make an appearance at Sixth & I, but it doesn’t mean their songs are off-limits for the show—and the same goes for his work with The Olms, Yorn’s side project J.D. King; his past records, including his 2001 hit debut musicforthemorningafter; and even new material. Yorn has said that he’s playing without set lists and taking requests, seeing what works for each night.

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Kitten (with a whip): Chloe Chaidez and the ascent of Kitten

Chloe Chaidez is wise beyond her years.

For those new to Chaidez’s band Kitten however, it might be hard to break through what’s on the surface. The line of 18-year-old fangirls in midriff shirts and fanboys in neon tank tops lining up outside the venue hours before show time could easily be a sign that Kitten is just another passing fad. Chaidez’s relative youth, all of her 19 years, might certainly be mistaken for naiveté. It would also be easy to assume that her father’s background in the LA punk scene is the only reason she’s around. Or, the ogling 30- and 40-year-old men at her show could distract from the brilliant music she’s creating.

But more than anything, each of these pieces offers a glimpse into the music that Chaidez creates as the band Kitten. At age 19, Chaidez has years of experience under her belt but with energy and youth to spare. It is a powerful combination.

After five years opening for the likes of Paramore, the Neighborhood, and Charli XCX, Chaidez has finally stepped out on her own. She completed her first headlining tour as Kitten this summer in celebration of the June 26 release of Kitten, the band’s first full-length album. It is an energetic ode to rock and dance music of years past. But on the LP, as much as in her renowned live performance, Chaidez makes the sound her own—energetic, charismatic, and thoroughly modern.

Midway through her summer headlining tour, Chaidez lounged in her dressing room in Washington, DC’s Rock and Roll Hotel a few hours before her set, discussing her new album, her musical influences, and what fans can expect down the road. Her eyeliner was heavy and smudged and her hair piled up in a messy bun. She sat with her legs propped up on a coffee table or tucked beneath her, her massive black platform shoes discarded on the floor.

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TVD Live: Camera Obscura at the 9:30
Club, 7/18

PHOTOS: NICK NEMPHOS | On Friday night, veteran act Camera Obscura brought their dreamy indie pop to an adoring crowd at the 9:30 Club. It was a show with few surprises and a couple of standout songs, but one that fulfilled the longing of fans to bask in lead singer Tracyanne Campbell’s beautiful, distinctive voice and to sing along to the band’s familiar love songs.

If you’re a fan of indie pop, or beachy, breezy pop with a little soul, or catchy pop songs with a strong brass section, or any combination of the above, you’re going to enjoy a Camera Obscura show. It doesn’t hurt that all Camera Obscura songs sound exactly like Camera Obscura. While each record might lean on electronics or add an orchestral arrangement or stronger beats, the underlying vibe backed by Campbell’s incredible voice remains constant.

For other bands, that could be their downfall. But with Camera Obscura, it is exactly what has kept fans around after five studio albums spanning more than a dozen years—and it’s why the 9:30 Club was packed on Friday.

The crowd leaned older than many 9:30 Club shows. And just three songs into the set, when the Glasgow-based band dove into “Let’s Get Out of This Country,” the title track of their 2006 breakthrough album, the cheering and singing made it clear that the audience was made up of longtime fans.

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TVD Live: Hamilton Leithauser at the Hamilton, 7/13

PHOTOS: NICK NEMPHOS | On Sunday night in Washington, Hamilton Leithauser reintroduced himself to fans as a solo artist. In a short set showcasing his debut album Black Hours, the former Walkmen front man proved himself as a musician worthy of his own following, with a vision all his.

But before we get to that, a note on the venue. For those used to the 9:30 Club or Black Cat, seeing a show at The Hamilton in downtown DC is an alien experience. When I sat down, the couple next to me was finishing their sushi and cheese board, while those on the other side ordered pizza and edamame. It’s not exactly the beer-stained floors of DC’s classic concert venues, but nor is it the old-school glamour that the Howard Theater is looking to cultivate.

No demographic dominated the crowd, which included hipster friends who remembered the Walkmen in their prime and The Rat as their break-up anthem of choice in college and their early ’20s (as did I); older couples sipping wine, out for a night of good music; and a few families peppering tables throughout.

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TVD Recommends: Hamilton Leithauser at the Hamilton, 7/13

It’s impossible to discuss Hamilton Leithauser without referencing the Walkmen. With seven albums spanning 14 years, the Walkmen produced a steady stream of high quality rock music that attracted a strong and loyal fan base. But after shocking fans by announcing an “extreme hiatus” at the end of 2013, it should come as no surprise that the band’s members have started releasing solo albums.

Chief among those is Walkmen front man Leithauser, whose debut Black Hours came out June 3. For fans already missing the Walkmen, Leithauser’s album provides some respite from the withdrawal. Not only does his distinctive, cragged voice forever connect him with the Walkmen, but Black Hours doesn’t try too hard to stray far from their sound.

Drawing on similar classic rock and folk influences that infiltrated the Walkmen, Leithauser veers only slightly from what we would expect from him over the past decade and a half. This is further cemented by Walkmen guitarist Paul Maroon’s contributions to the album.

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Above the influence: Nicole Atkins and the road to Slow Phaser

An epic rainstorm raged outside as Nicole Atkins ducked into Washington, DC’s Som Records, dripping wet and apologetic for showing up late. But after all of thirty seconds, she shed her vintage cape, looked around, and started reminiscing about her previous visit to Som and the possibilities on the shelves that day.

It was the end of April, and the 35-year-old singer-songwriter was on tour promoting her newest studio album, February’s Slow Phaser. Later in the night, she would take the stage at DC’s Rock and Roll Hotel, but for now, she was content to roam the store, pulling out records that were familiar—rooting around for Peter Gabriel—and snagging a couple purely for their intrigue. The Nina Hagen LP she bought became the inspiration for her crazy-bold eyeliner later in the night.

Atkins was clear and concise when talking about the making of Slow Phaser. After moving from New York City back to Ocean Grove, New Jersey, close to where she grew up, she used the extra cash saved on rent to travel and visit friends in Los Angeles, Memphis, and the UK. Travel stoked her inspiration, which was also furthered through collaboration with Jim Sclavunos of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. She finished the record in Sweden, where she again worked with producer Tore Johannsson, who also produced the critically acclaimed Neptune City, her first full-length album.

During the making of Slow Phaser, Atkins lived in Sweden for a month and a half in the dead of winter, in a tiny town with no bars or young people and a dearth of English speakers. Her closest friend became a 70-year-old Greek woman who fed Atkins feta while they listened to Neptune City—perhaps not the most typical process for putting an album together. (But at least she was in Sweden where “the biggest scumbag at 7-11 will be hottest guy you’ve ever seen.”)

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TVD Live: The Sounds
at the 9:30 Club, 4/12

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS Decked out in a black mini-dress, motorcycle jacket, and metallic stilettos, her bleached hair held back in a ponytail, The Sounds lead singer Maja Ivarsson certainly looks like your quintessential rock star. And with a full-volume, energetic show Saturday night at the 9:30 Club, the band proved to an enthusiastic crowd that sixteen years later, they still have it.

Despite playing an early show—The Sounds took the stage at 7:45pm—the Swedish new wave act performed as if were midnight. Formed in 1998, the band’s set included songs from all five of their albums, from their 2002 hit debut, Living in America to their most recent effort Weekend, released in late 2013. Their sound has varied little over the years, sometimes adding more punk elements or more synth or leaning toward dance or pop. This consistency allowed the show to feel complete, despite the time span their songs covered.

Within this deep history, The Sounds are not known for their sophisticated song writing or musical originality—but they are known for catchy rock and dance tracks. Most of their songs work especially well translated live, with their often-simple lyrics easy for eager fans to sing along to every word with Ivarsson.

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TVD Live: Typhoon, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, and Wild Ones at 9:30 Club, 3/19

On Wednesday night at the 9:30 Club, an eager audience was lucky enough to glimpse a few promising, emerging indie rock and pop acts. The sold-out show featured three Portland bands (two Oregon—openers Wild Ones and main act Typhoon, and one Maine—Lady Lamb the Beekeeper) playing a series of relatively quick sets to the sold out crowd.

The night started with Portland, Oregon’s Wild Ones, a five-piece act headed by the lithe, ballerina-like lead vocalist Danielle Sullivan. Their half hour set drew from their 2013 debut Keep It Safe. Watching Sullivan’s calm demeanor on stage and the ease and talent with which the instrumentalists delivered their electro-pop tracks, it was impossible to sense the obstacles that Wild Ones had to overcome to get to the 9:30 Club stage.

From quitting band members to a punctured lung to thousands of dollars of debt, the path Wild Ones took to even release their album was anything but easy—or quick, taking well over a year of collective, DIY efforts to issue.

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TVD Live: Cibo Matto
at the Black Cat, 2/15

On Saturday night at the Black CatCibo Matto played a show filled with ’90s nostalgia to a crowd enthusiastically welcoming back this eclectic electronic band after a decade-long absence from the stage. 

The two founding members of Cibo Matto, Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori, are Japanese expats living in New York. It’s been seventeen years since the release of their debut album, Viva! La Woman. It was weird and electronic and progressive for 1996, a thematic album with an unusual focus—food. While the band added additional members for their second album, 1999’s Stereo * Type A, their newest effort is the work of the original two members.

Hotel Valentine was released the night before their show at the Black Cat, giving fans little time to preview the band’s evolution—or lack thereof. If the neon, psychedelic video for “MFN,” released well before the album in December 2013, was any indication, Cibo Matto is just as weirdly avant-garde as it was in the 1990s. But it also left the obvious question intact—will their new music and live show hold up in 2014? Will the nostalgia for ’90s clubs be enough to keep them relevant today?

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TVD Live: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings at the Lincoln Theatre, 2/10

It is impossible to talk about Sharon Jones these days without also talking about cancer. Her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in June of last year led to months of chemotherapy and recovery, as well as the postponement of her newest album with the Dap-Kings, January’s Give the People What They Want. Her show at the Lincoln Theatre on Monday came only days after she played her first show in nearly a year in her hometown of New York City. But despite the ordeal of the last year, Jones has come back in what can only be described as a triumph of strength, love, and joy.

On Monday, the Dap-Kings warmed up the audience before Jones appeared on stage, building the excitement and giving the Dapettes, backup singers Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan, a chance in the front for a few songs. But the Dap-Kings and the audience had no illusions about the true star of the night.

Jones appeared on stage in a bright floral dress, metallic silver shoes, and the trademark smile and dance moves that her fans have come to love and expect. Though chemotherapy caused the loss of her beloved braids, Jones proudly showed the audience the “peach fuzz” growing back on her nearly-bald head.

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TVD Live: Minor Alps
at the Black Cat, 11/19

On Tuesday night backstage at the Black Cat, Juliana Hatfield and Matthews Caws, performing as their new act Minor Alps, treated fans to beautiful new tracks along with some ’90s nostalgia.

Both Hatfield and Caws have a long history in alternative indie rock and pop. Hatfield is best known for her role in the alt rock band Blake Babies, which reached its peak in the late ’80s, as well as her work as a solo artist and with the Juliana Hatfield Three. For nearly the past twenty years, Caws has fronted rock band Nada Surf.

Minor Alps came together naturally, an experiment after Caws and Hatfield guest recorded on each others’ albums and were pleased with how it turned out. But while the origin might have been natural, the process of making the record seems incredibly deliberate. The two co-wrote all 11 songs on their debut Get There, and played nearly all of the instruments as well. While today’s audiences are well versed in acts led or heavily supported by male and female singers harmonizing (see: the xx, Arcade Fire, The Head the Heart), Caws and Hatfield take a different approach with Minor Alps. On nearly every track, they sing together, their voices fusing instead of creating harmonies.

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TVD Live: Anoushka Shankar at Lisner Auditorium, 11/15

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | At ten minutes past 8pm this past Friday, Anoushka Shankar walked barefoot onto the stage at Lisner Auditorium and sat down on a slightly raised platform in the center of the stage. Clad in a version of traditional Indian clothing—bright pink pants, an iridescent green tunic—Shankar crossed her legs and picked up her sitar. Bathed in a soft blue spotlight and dwarfed by the size of her instrument, the audience’s eyes riveted on Shankar—and rarely wandered during her two-hour set.

From a young age, Shankar trained under her father, the world-renowned Indian composer and sitar player Ravi Shankar. While Ravi kept widely to traditional Indian music, Anoushka’s compositions have a wider range from time-honored to contemporary, incorporating electronic beats, experimental instruments, and modern lyrics. Given that Anoushka grew up in London and Delhi and went to high school in Southern California, it is of little surprise that her sound is often labeled world music. Shankar has been nominated for multiple Grammy awards and has collaborated several times with half-sister Norah Jones, including on her most recent album, October’s Traces of You.

For sitar neophytes like myself, this contextual background on her family and training certainly helps. But a working knowledge of traditional Indian music certainly isn’t necessary to be enthralled by the beauty and complexity of her compositions.

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