Author Archives: Richie Downs

TVD Live Shots: The Struts and White Reaper at the 9:30 Club, 10/8

UK rockers The Struts played to a sold out crowd at DC’s 9:30 Club on Monday night in what turned out to be a riotous evening of fun, dancing, and a big dose of the band’s new material.

The Struts’ newest release, Young & Dangerous (Interscope) is due to hit record stores on October 26 this year, while the band has already released advance singles “Bulletproof Baby,” “Primadonna Like Me,” “Fire (Part 1),” and dual versions of “Body Talks”—one of which features a really enjoyable collaboration with singer, Kesha.

I’ve seen them play live a handful of times now and any evening with The Struts is a wild ride. Their last round in DC was during the band’s two-year tour stint with the Foo Fighters performing at the 9:30 Club’s bigger and newer brother, The Anthem. A few years before that I watched them blow the roof off the Rock & Roll Hotel during a promised make-up date—both fantastic shows. Presently The Struts are a bigger and badder presence then ever before, yet with the same intention—to entertain their audience to maximum levels.

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TVD Live Shots:
The National and
Pheobe Bridgers at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 9/28

Continuing to tour on the strength of their latest studio effort, 2017’s Sleep Well Beast, Cincinnati based rockers The National gave a passionate performance to their DC area fans in the Woodlands at Merriweather Post Pavilion among what turned out to be a monstrous two hour-plus set. 

Sleep Well Beast marks the seventh studio album for The National and along with critical acclaim from just about every major music publication, the release took home a Grammy Award for “Best Alternative Music Album” in 2017.

Their performance drew heavily from the latest record including “Nobody Else Will Be There,” “Day I Die,” “Guilty Party,” and “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness.” The National touched upon earlier records with material from 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me LP including “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” “Sea of Love,” “Graceless,” and “Slow Show” off 2007’s LP Boxer.

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TVD Live Shots: Car
Seat Headrest and
Naked Giants at the
9:30 Club, 9/20

Indie-rock outfit, Car Seat Headrest brought their sonic talents to the 9:30 Club in DC last week to revisit a moment from their past with a newer and more ambitious interpretation. What emerged was music that is impossible to walk away from. 

In 2011, Car Seat Headrest’s frontman Will Toledo—a DC area local from Leesburg, VA who is now relocated to Seattle, WA—released one of his most admired albums to date, Twin Fantasy, later re-titled Twin Fantasy (Mirror to Mirror). The original album marked Toledo’s sixth solo album and was recorded in the classic low-fi, DIY fashion that Toledo has become known for.

The album was made when he attended school at Virginia’s College of William and Mary and is said to be the first album he viewed as a true full length effort. Twin Fantasy is a genius collection of songs—lyrically it immortalizes a relationship that Toledo was in at the time and touches on issues like depression, love, and homosexuality.

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TVD Live Shots: Dinosaur Jr. at the
Black Cat, 9/21

Since the cancellation of a joint tour with Mastodon due to “a critical situation in the Mastodon family” via an announcement on the band’s website, noise-rock titans Dinosaur Jr. thought it would be a good idea to make a go of it on the road themselves alone. Among dates that include stops throughout the midwest and a few cities in the northeast, DC fans were treated to an evening with J, Lou, and Murph on the main stage of the Black Cat

Literally pioneers of the noise-rock genre itself, Dinosaur Jr.’s sound is made distinctive not by “noise,” but by J Mascis’ rich chord progressions and lead work on guitar, along with Lou Barlow’s melodic, full, and fuzzy bass guitar sounds. The overall tone of the trio is set by Murph’s hard hitting drums—and the sheer volume of the three together on stage. Dinosaur Jr. remains one of the loudest bands I’ve seen to date, and it’s nice to know that they’re carrying on the tradition without a hitch.

For Friday’s performance the band played through newer material and some classics, starting their set with the loud epic “Thumb,” then working their way through “Going Down,” “Lost All Day,” and a few more including their more commercial “Feel the Pain.” Things got really old school after that with “Little Fury Things,” a version of “The Wagon” featuring an additional drummer and guitar player for a fuller sound, then onto  the beloved “Kracked” and the muddy “Sludgefeast.”

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TVD Live Shots: Radiohead at Wells
Fargo Center, 7/31

If you had told me in the early ‘90s that Radiohead would be selling out arenas, I would’ve never thought it possible. Perhaps I underestimate people and their taste for something grand. Or, perhaps I just never wished Radiohead to be music for the masses, but here we are.

Radiohead has started its recent tour with four NYC dates at Madison Square Garden, and closed it with two dates at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center—and to packed houses everywhere in between. I always thought (and still do) that Radiohead has a more intimate relationship with its audience, and the fact that it’s been six years since Radiohead have toured the US—die-hard fans have been truly and deeply excited.

The band’s 2018 tour pulls from a myriad of material from throughout their catalog, focusing heavily from albums OK Computer, Hail to the Thief, and Kid A, with room for The Bends’ favorite “Fake Plastic Trees” and “Pyramid Song” from the Amnesiac album.

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TVD Live Shots:
Arctic Monkeys and
Mini Mansions at the Anthem, 7/29

Capping off their two night stay at The Anthem in DC, British rockers Arctic Monkeys along with their tour-pals Mini Mansions left audiences in awe and still wanting more.

From the moment that frontman Alex Turner took the stage, screams from the crowd ensued. With little pause for introductions, Arctic Monkeys went right to it. Opening their set with “Four Out of Five” and “Arabella”, the pace of the evening was set. “Don’t Sit Down Because I’ve Moved Your Chair” and “Teddy Picker” continued the momentum before they moved onto the tamer “Do Me a Favour” and a beautifully played version of ”Cornerstone.” Moving on to newer tunes like “One Point Perspective” and “American Sports,” the night continued to mix the new with their familiar hits. The ever popular “Do I Wanna Know?” appeared before the encore and inspired a sort of sing along in the venue.

Touring to promote their latest studio album, Arctic Monkeys will play a few remaining dates in the US including Chicago’s Lollapalooza Festival this weekend before moving onto Europe in September. The album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, was released in May 2018. It marks the band’s sixth full length release and is available in both black and a special silver vinyl editions.

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TVD Live Shots: Paramore and Foster the People at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 6/23

Saturday night, The Woodlands at Merriweather Post Pavilion hosted one of music’s most expressive acts in recent years, the power-pop trio Paramore. In tow, indie pop-rockers, Foster the People bought their synth grooves to round out the lineup.

For a band whose initial touring leg in coming to a close, Paramore’s enthusiasm remained unwavering. In fact, Hayley and the boys seem more focused than ever and their infectious energy carried well beyond the confines of the stage. When Williams appeared, she struck as hard as a bolt of lightning with her signature dance moves and high kicks—and the music behind her followed every move.

The first song of night, “Grudges” (from the new album) set things off on a good foot. Next was a kick from their self titled fourth album, “Still Into You” followed by “Rose-Colored Boy.” Their classics, “That’s What You Get” and “Crushcrushcrush” rounded out their first five tunes before bouncing back with “Fake Happy.”

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TVD Live Shots:
Robert Plant and
The Sensational Space Shifters at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 6/12

Last Tuesday evening, Merriweather Post Pavilion played host to a rock ‘n’ roll legend in the truest sense of the term, and when Robert Plant walked onto the stage to begin his performance, the vibe of the venue was filled with pure excitement. It was just over 49 years ago when one of the most classic double bills in the venue’s illustrious history took the stage. On May 25,1969 Led Zeppelin opened for The Who at Merriweather, and ironically enough, on the same evening as Plant’s show at MPP, The Who’s lead man, Roger Daltrey was performing at another DC area venue, Wolftrap in Vienna, VA.

There are few performers in rock n’ roll who echo the spirit of the genre itself as much as does Robert Plant. His talents and stage persona within Led Zeppelin cemented his legacy as a bona fide “Rock God,” and the ultimate frontman. Fortunately for us all, Robert Plant’s music continues to thrive years after Zeppelin’s abrupt end. Plant, now 69 years old, could easily (and contently) rest on past accomplishments, but it’s his drive to create new music and experiment with new sounds that have kept him vital and on stages all these years.

Writing and performing with artists Alison Krauss, Patty Griffin, and Welsh folksinger Julie Murphy, Plant has consistently chosen projects that are just outside the comfort zone of most rock singers. Most recently with backing bands Strange Sensation, Band of Joy, and currently with The Sensational Space Shifters, Plant has cemented a reputation for ever-evolving.

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TVD Live Shots: Hot Snakes, Vundabar, and Meat Wave at Union Stage, 6/10

There’s nothing better than a punk rock show on a Sunday night …well, almost. But thanks to the San Diego based post-hardcore outfit Hot Snakes, last Sunday evening turned out to be a little more interesting than drinking Irish Slammers and watching Iron Chef America re-runs on the boob-tube (boob-tube; an electronic box containing a video screen and a speaker, watched by millions of cretins too lazy to go out and get a life. [Def. 3] in Urban Dictionary Online, June 10, 2018).

Seriously speaking though, the cold fact is when Swami John Reis and friends are in town—in any manifestation, whether Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu, or even RFTC—the right thing to do is drag your ass downtown and make it to the show! As I may have said before, this unique combination of musicians playing together is a gift from beyond, and quite frankly, it’s a magic that can’t be taken for granted. On this particular night, John Reis along with his perfect counterpart in rock, Rick Froberg, led the rest of their intrepid Hot Snakes (Gar Wood, Jason Kourkounis) into a night of steady, hard, and overdriven music at one of DC’s newest venues, Union Stage.

Live is where the Hot Snakes rule. Froberg’s distinct vocals, Gar and Jason’s pounding rhythm section, and Reis’ furious guitar work seem to take new form on stage. Their scratchy rhythms are elevated to insane heights and when things get too wild, they still hit those sweet grooves when called for. Plainly said, Hot Snakes are simply the best at what they do—and with a new album in stores, Hot Snakes have hit a perfect stride.

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TVD Live Shots: M3 Rock Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 5/4–5/5

The mega-sized, heavy metal shred-fest, M3 celebrated its 10th anniversary last weekend (5/4–5/5) at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Metalheads, young and well, middle-aged were treated to a heaping dose of hard rock from a myriad of artists who dominated the genre then—as they still do today. 

For this weekend’s go-around, the festival was split into 1 day and 2 nights of metal (Friday and Saturday), and 1 full day of southern rock (Sunday). I was there for the Friday and Saturday shows for a taste of the hair of the dog that bit me long ago. This year’s lineup featured some of the biggest names in the genre—Kix, Ace Frehley, Tom Keifer, and Sebastian Bach.

If you’re a metal fan in the DC area, the experience at M3 is all or nothing—meaning that you either come out and support all the bands on M3’s lineup—or you stay home. M3 fans are particularly unique, mostly decked out in rock attire—leather pants, ripped bangled shirts, or festival tees bought at merch—and in the way that they continue to support live music for the last three decades. I suppose that only time will tell if other genres will have as much of a turnout 30 years from now.

While fans do come out in droves for M3, I couldn’t help but take note of a phrase uttered for the past few years now: “If we’re able to do this next year,” this time via Eddie Trunk, host of That Metal Show and “Trunk Nation” on SiriusXM VOLUME during his introduction for Tom Keifer’s set on Friday night. I did notice that the crowd seemed notably thinner this time than in recent years, however the spirit of metal is definitely still there, and I hope M3 continues to thrive.

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TVD Live Shots: The Decemberists and Tennis at The Anthem, 4/21

Portland based indie-rock outfit, The Decemberists performed at The Anthem in Washington, DC on Saturday evening for what would be their first area appearance in a number of years. 

On tour to promote their newest and eighth studio album, I’ll Be Your Girl, The Decemberists came charged and ready to mix both their beloved classics with some newly spun yarns. While boisterously offering an occasional political rant in between songs, frontman Colin Meloy seemed to really enjoy talking politics—and bathroom stalls (a DC joke)—while in the nation’s capitol, and it all fell on eager ears.

Apparently, the 2016 presidential election affected chief songwriter Meloy so profoundly that in his view, the band’s new album is a representation of our nation’s dour political climate. For Meloy, the album is an attempt to cope with not just his, but the general sadness and despair at large since Donald Trump’s election. His view couldn’t be more apparent than with the record’s seventh track, “Everything Is Awful” which became a sort of sing-a-long mid way through the show. Personally, I wish they’d stick to tales of obscure historical events, but folk music is often about speaking truth—and Meloy is doing his fair share.

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TVD Live Shots: OMD at the 9:30 Club, 3/6

In what seemed like a vivid, overly luscious synth-pop dream, famed British new wave outfit Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark (OMD) performed at the 9:30 Club last Tuesday after a two-year absence from the metro area. In fact, other than a few LA gigs, they haven’t toured the US at all since 2016. For their DC engagement, OMD delivered a solid performance with the highest caliber of showmanship.

For a band who nearly birthed the synth pop genre, OMD’s audience expects quite a lot—and make no mistake about it, this band delivers. OMD pours every bit of their heart, energy, and talent into their live show, and hearing their dreamy, synthesized layers come together in a live setting is intoxicating.

Right out of the box, lead vocalist and founding member Andy McCluskey was on fire with the set opener “Ghost Star” from the new record—even dropping some expressive dance moves across the stage like he was a man on a mission. Trading vocal duties throughout the night with the band’s co-founder Paul Humphreys on tracks like
“(Forever) Live and Die,” OMD took the venue through their catalog while highlighting new tracks “Isotype,” “What Have We Done,”and “One More Time.” Cell phones were held high to record the band’s ever famous hit from 1986, “If You Leave.”

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TVD Live Shots: G3 featuring Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, and Phil Collen at the Warner Theatre, 2/14

My introduction to guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani would be his 1987 album, Surfing with the Alien. One could never forget that vivid album art featuring Marvel Comics’ Silver Surfer on the front against that stunning red background. Inside, the record’s sleeve was adorned with the artwork of yet another Marvel character, Galactus—a Silver Surfer foe and planet devourer—also from the Fantastic Four comics series. 

Obviously, Surfing with the Alien was not just about the artwork. The album marked the second and then most notable studio effort by Satriani and helped cement his position as one of the greatest guitar soloists of our time. The album is ranked #4 in Ultimate Guitar’s “Top Rated Instrumental Albums of All Time” and it’s one of the best-selling instrumental works to date, boasting two of Satriani’s fifteen Grammy award nominations over his career. The album is truly masterful and it’s nearly impossible to speak of Joe Satriani without bringing it into the conversation.

On tour with his annual G3 guitar excursion, Joe Satriani enlisted the help of two larger than life names in rock and metal for his 2018 lineup, Phil Collen (of Def Leppard) and John Petrucci (of Dream Theater). For this year’s DC stop, the host was the beautiful Warner Theatre.

Since its inception in 1995, the G3 tour has featured some of the most well-respected guitarists in the business and has taken to the road almost annually. While one could assume that the G3 tour would be an evening of all out guitar shredding and a complete solo-speed fest, they’d only be half correct. It is true that showing off their various talents as axe-men is certainly the fun part of the show, but when performing their own songs, it’s exceptional to me to hear the tone of their amps, the sustain of their instruments, and the pure craftsmanship of their songwriting. The G3 tour allows guitarists to do this—and it’s an experience all its own.

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TVD Live Shots: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
at the 9:30 Club, 1/29

Monday night the 9:30 Club hosted San Francisco based noise-rock outfit, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club who played a near-two hour set for a sold out crowd. This week’s stop was BRMC’s first appearance at the famed DC venue since 2013, and judging by the warm reception they received, they’ve been sorely missed. 

Touring to promote their newest release Wrong Creatures, the band hit a high note right out of the box with the dissonant track, “Spook,” the second song from their new effort. The band followed with the dirty, “Little Thing Gone Wrong.” It was quite clear they’re more than comfortable with their new material and spilt the night pretty evenly between new and older songs.

Bassist, Robert Levon Been and guitarist extraordinaire Peter Hayes were in fine form sharing vocal duties as they grinded through their fuzzy, overdriven tones which are married exquisitely to Leah Shapiro’s pounding rhythms.

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TVD Live Shots: The Wombats, Courtship,
and Nation of Language at the 9:30 Club, 1/8

UK Indie-pop artists, The Wombats made a stop at DC’s 9:30 Club earlier this week on an icy-cold Monday night. In spite of the bad weather, fans managed to pack the venue for a cozy night of solid performances.

In anticipation of their upcoming release, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, The Wombats have embarked on a promotional tour through the US that will last until the latter part of January. The tour will pick back up in March with European dates deep into the summer. The album itself will be available in signed vinyl editions and arrives in stores on February 9.

The record’s lead single, “Lemon To A Knife Fight” has been featured on the band’s website since November and is said to have been written by singer Matthew Murphy after a David Lynch binge then subsequently having an argument in the car with his wife while motoring on Mulholland Drive, of all places.

The Wombats performance on Monday was solid and Murphy seemed to be a good form vocally, right in line with energetic bass player Tord Overland Knudsen and speedy drummer Dan Haggis.

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