Archive for the ‘Concert’ Category

Oh, right, show reviews

Friday, January 29th, 2010

I’ve seen about a billion and one concerts since I last posted those show reviews of Caspian, Jucifer and Salome, or so it seems. I won’t recap them all but here are some highlights.

Last night I saw the Tiptons Sax Quartet and Drums at An Die Musik. I have been starving for more experimental jazz in the DC area for the last couple of years. Things are really picking up these days (many thanks to Ed Ricart and others who are putting on awesome shows at Bossa here in DC), but this was the first jazz show I’ve been to in a long time. I think Nordic Jazz Fest last summer was the last jazz I saw. This show was a great way to ease back in - super accessible, fun and eclectic stuff. I remember seeing Rova Saxophone Quartet at Twins Jazz a couple years ago, and pretty much everything about that show went straight over my head. This was totally different: the Tiptons played nothing without a solid, head-nodding beat, and their compositions were chock-full of gorgeous melodies and stunning solos. I found Jessica Lurie in particular really impressive, and it was a treat to finally get to see Amy Denio after hearing her on so many random records (my favorite perhaps being the Cuneiform obscurity The Danubians).

Before this were a couple of female-fronted Euro-metal shows: Epica and Arch Enemy. As readers of this blog know, I am a sucker for Epica. That said, I’m less than enthused by their new album. Couldn’t tell you why just yet, but it seems to be even more bombastic than previous efforts without as much heaviness or even as much of a melodic sense. Le sigh. The band’s performance at Jaxx in Virginia was the first show of their U.S. tour, and the kinks were definitely there. Energy wasn’t all that great and guest keyboardist Oliver Palotai (also of Kamelot, and vocalist Simone Simons’ boyfriend) doesn’t quite have his parts down yet. Still, there were plenty of enjoyable moments and it was nice to see Simons fronting the band again - the last time they played the States, she was ill and a replacement singer was with them.

I’ve never been a huge Arch Enemy fan, although as far as melodeath goes they’re pretty good. Like the Epica show, the show I saw was the first night of this tour. There were fewer kinks, but again the band didn’t seem to be at their peak in terms of enthusiasm. I can’t really judge this one though as I left early and am not all that familiar with a lot of the band’s material anyway.

Otherwise, there were three shows I photographed for the Washington Post, the best of which was one I never would have gone to otherwise: a bluegrass pairing of Carolina Chocolate Drops and Red Molly. The former is a trio playing traditional black string music, and they were amazing, tons of energy, tremendous chops and all kinds of catchy melodies. The latter are also a string trio, playing a mix of standards and originals, and I found their songs beautiful across the board. I picked up one of the records and it absolutely didn’t do the show justice.

The other two were Pree, a DC-area indie-rock band who are drawing comparisons to Joanna Newsom, Neutral Milk Hotel and the like; I liked them pretty well, enough to investigate further; and Otis Taylor, famed blues guitarist, whose set was way too disjointed for my taste. There were a few times his band broke out into some amazing jams, but otherwise I’d have to say it was kind of a dull night.

So that’s what I’ve been up to so far in January… I was hoping to go see Tim Berne and a new band that he’s in, Four Limones, but the show got cancelled last minute. Major bummer. Next up is Those Darlins on Sunday… not a show I’d imagine many readers of my blog would be particularly interested in.

Two shows to start the year

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

I closed 2009 with a whimper rather than a bang, not going to a single show in the last six weeks of the year. So it was nice to get back into it with a pair of shows here in DC early in 2010. Last Friday, I saw Massachusetts-based post-rockers Caspian at an amazingly packed The Red & the Black; last night, I saw a great metal double-bill of Jucifer and Salome at the Black Cat backstage.

The glib way to describe Caspian is “Explosions in the Sky but heavier and not as good.” They play a melodic, accessible, largely predictable brand of instrumental post-rock that does the soft-loud-soft thing religiously. One of the things that sets them apart is that their loud parts are really loud - and not just really loud, but quite heavy as well, with some good ol’ chunky riffage that appeals to the metal fan in me. Their live show had some pretty great, cathartic moments, but it didn’t take long before it kind of all started sounding the same, which I suppose is the major pitfall for most post-rock bands. Even the really great ones don’t always manage to avoid it (see: Mogwai, etc etc). Still, a fun show, and the last song ended with a huge percussion breakdown that was pretty cool.

One thing of note: Caspian’s drummer used a bare-bones kit of snare drum, bass drum, hi-hat and two cymbals. No toms to be found. To be honest, I missed the toms a bit. The band’s music doesn’t really demand much from their drummer, but a bit more variety in his sound might have helped keep the show from getting samey as quickly as it did.

As for last night, Jucifer and Salome were a real treat. I’ve seen both these bands multiple times at this point and really enjoy both of their live shows. They’re a perfect bill together: Jucifer completely eschews their poppy album material in favor of a pure wall of sound, while Salome plays (to steal words from a coworker and fellow metalhead) “doom with fifteen Os” - monstrously slow, sludgy, riff-centric metal, with a seriously ferocious vocalist. Neither disappointed at this show; although I think I enjoyed Jucifer’s last show in the area (at Baltimore’s Ottobar) a bit more than this one, I couldn’t really pinpoint why. Maybe because at the Ottobar show, I was able to pick out a few familiar riffs here and there and could actually tell what album material they were playing, albeit transformed into near unrecognizability - this time around, it was all completely unrecognizable to me.

Turnout at this show was great too. I’d guess 30-40 for both bands, which is great considering the last two times I saw Jucifer there were probably 20 people combined. The fact that folks came early to see Salome was awesome. People seemed into it, too, although with DC crowds it’s sometimes hard to tell. To be fair, this isn’t exactly mosh-pit music. Although it’d be fun to see a Salome mosh-pit. Slowest wall of death ever!

Anyway, I also just had a nice experience at this show talking with folks, which is something I often don’t get to do at metal shows. Enjoyed shooting the shit about why I don’t like current-day Mastodon, getting all prog-nerdy about the likes of Opeth, Symphony X, “Starless” and more, hearing Salome tour stories, etc etc, with various friends and band members. Definitely a great way to start a year in concerts.

Photos from the Jucifer/Salome show coming to a Washington City Paper Arts Desk post soon.

EXCITING CONCERT NEWS

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I like Joanna Newsom, like, a lot, and I missed her tour way back in 2006 because I didn’t think she could possibly sell out the 700ish-capacity Black Cat mainstage. Well, after years of no news, she’s finally up to something, after that teaser of a “secret show” last year. Playing a mini-tour of seven cities in the U.S. this spring, including a date in DC on March 22 at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. I’m so there. This WILL sell out fast as Newsom’s legend has grown mightily since that last tour, and Sixth & I’s capacity is only a couple hundred more than the Black Cat.

Also, there is yet another Wilco tour, which is hardly news since these guys seem to be practically Jucifer-like in their capacity for living on the road. But, the press release says that the tour will consist of “extended, varied sets exploring material from each of the accomplished Chicago sextet’s seven studio albums.” Since I don’t like the past couple albums very much, this is pretty great news. DC date is at Strathmore on March 30.

Other shows I am really psyched to see this spring: Atomic, Epica, Between the Buried and Me headlining with Cynic supporting. Also very curious to see how the Scion Rock Fest lineup shakes out this year - it’s apparently scheduled for March 13 but I can’t get much in the way of confirmation on that date.

Shrinebuilder: a supergroup that doesn’t suck

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Well, concert reviews are no longer something I’m doing for the Washington City Paper (just concert photos), and that actually works out nicely because it means I can write about concerts that inspire me right here at this blog, like I used to. The latest in a long list of enjoyable concerts I’ve seen in 2009 was Shrinebuilder last Friday night at Sonar in Baltimore.

I dig the Shrinebuilder record, although predictably I like the parts that sound like Om and Neurosis the best. Lots of folks have been saying that it’s exactly the sum of its parts, and I basically agree. That said, the song “Pyramid of the Moon” is absolutely incredible and in its case at least, I enjoy the parts so much that the sum of them is pretty immense. It goes from sounding like Neurosis into an intense Om-like mantra part into Wino’s juicy psychedelic lead guitar back to sounding like Om but more fleshed out. This is a recipe for awesomeness. Still, yes, the record as a whole is good, but not quite great. (Say a strong 10 on the Gnosis scale.)

Live is a different story. They were fantastic. They played like a real band, not a cobbled-together supergroup. The best tracks from the album were better live; I particularly liked seeing/hearing Wino and Scott Kelly trade off on vocals. Their vocal styles are so incredibly different, but they fit together perfectly in the live setting (whereas on the record I found Wino’s vocals a tad bit annoying). Their guitar styles are also incredibly different, and seeing them live gave me new perspective to how their guitar lines fit together in the compositions. Getting to see and hear Al Cisneros do his thing in a full-band setting rather than the stripped-down context of Om was a real treat, too. His first “aaaaaaaahhhhh” vocal drone in “Pyramid of the Moon” was as powerful as any moment I’ve seen with Om. And Dale Crover on drums? Sick. Of the four members’ “main” bands, Shrinebuilder sounds the least like Melvins, but Crover definitely puts his personal stamp on the music nonetheless.

Cosmo Lee kind of stole my thunder with his review of the band’s L.A. show, the only show they played before the Baltimore show I saw. Go read it. I agree with him. (Also, here are my photos from the show.)

As an aside, one of the opening bands, U.S. Christmas, is a definite candidate for the most rhythmically boring rock band ever to employ two drummers. Seriously, why?

I saw Sunn O)))

Friday, September 25th, 2009

And they were loud.

I have some photos posted over at the Washington City Paper, where I’ve continued to contribute regularly, but don’t expect much other than fog, silhouettes, and red light.

Today the Baltimore City Paper posted a review of the show by Bret McCabe that’s pretty over-written (”It’s still metal about metal, though, bringing death to false metal through deconstructionist meta”) but also pretty hilarious, and pretty much says what I would have said about the show in far fewer words (and far fewer laughs).

This weekend Faust is in town for the Sonic Circuits festival, and I’m missing it because I’m going out of town. (I’m also missing Mono, Tim Hecker, Jandek, Evan Parker & Ned Rothenberg, Janel & Anthony and more. Ouch.) But, in a couple weeks I’ll get to see Anti-Pop Consortium, whom I never thought would reunite, much less tour, and that pretty much makes up for a lot.

Yelling out “Freebird” is never funny

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Cheer-Accident 7

Except that it actually was, during Avant Fairfax last Saturday (my brief writeup and photos are at the City Paper). This is literally the only time I have ever laughed at someone yelling “Freebird” at a concert. Every other time I want to hunt down the culprit and do something violent to him or her.

Towards the beginning of Cheer Accident’s headlining set, someone yelled out “More cowbell!” Thymme Jones (above, singing) made some disparaging remark in his general direction, something like, “Next thing you’re going to be yelling ‘Freebird’.” I appreciated the takedown. Thymme rambled on a bit more, some more music was played (they were pretty great btw, if a little disjointed), and then the Avant Fairfax organizers gave C-A the bad news: they would have to cut their set short because it was 2am, long past the time the show was supposed to have been over. They were given ten more minutes to finish up.

Thymme hemmed and hawed and asked no one in partiuclar, “what can we do in ten minutes?”

Someone in the audience yelled, “Freebird!”

Maryland Deathfest VII

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

So Baltimore hosts a crazy death metal festival every year since 2003… the lineup has never really caught my eye that much, until this year. There are a ton of bands I want to see this time around, so I’m going to Saturday and Sunday (missing Friday for work reasons and to see St. Vincent here in DC).

Here are the bands that will be there. The ones in boldface are the ones I know and like and plan to see, but many of the others I’ve never heard (there are only a couple I’ve heard and dislike). If you know anything about any of these bands that I don’t, make a recommendation!

I also posted this to the extreme metal private thread at ProgressiveEars, and from recommendations there so far, I’m going to be checking out Maruta and Rotten Sound in addition to what’s highlighted below…

Friday, May 22nd:
Asphyx, Mayhem, Marduk, Venomous Concept, Cephalic Carnage, Cattle Decapitation, Victims, Sayyadina, Pigsty, Jig-Ai, Gnostic, Hero Destroyed, Triac

Saturday, May 23rd:
Bolt Thrower, Atheist, Napalm Death, Brutal Truth, Immolation, Hail of Bullets, General Surgery, Phobia, Birdflesh, Pig Destroyer, Wolves in the Throne Room, Misery Index, Rotten Sound, Flesh Parade, Unearthly Trance, Pretty Little Flower, Crowpath, Man Must Die, Weekend Nachos, Maruta, Drugs of Faith

Sunday, May 24th:
Pestilence, Abscess, Destroyer 666, Aura Noir, Absu, Sigh, Devourment, The Red Chord, Trap Them, Despise You, Antigama, Yakuza, Krallice, Splitter, Kill the Client, Catheter, Lair of the Minotaur, Magrudergrind, The Endless Blockade, Complete Failure

I’m most excited about Crowpath by a long shot, but also really psyched to see Yakuza, Pig Destroyer and Kill the Client. This is going to be awesome. Even if I have a monstrous, pounding headache when all is said and done.

“The elves have finally come home to Rivendell”

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Damon Fox of Bigelf on getting added to the Progressive Nation Europe tour:

When I first met Mike Portnoy, I felt like we were cut from the same cloth, a brother from another mother. We could talk rock & roll for eons (we probably will on tour, hell yeah!). Being added to the PROGRESSIVE NATION tour feels like the planets have aligned for us and the elves have finally come home to Rivendell.

Haha. Did he really say that? Gee, guess who the proggy-prog band on this tour is?

Actually, this lineup isn’t bad… Dream Theater, Opeth and Unexpect round things out. It’s a lot more along the lines of last year’s Progressive Nation lineup (replace Between the Buried and Me with Unexpect and Three with Bigelf) than this year’s U.S. tour, which I’m pretty unexcited about. Unexpect always puts on an awesomely spastic show - I saw them three times last year and they just kept getting more entertaining.

Vialka: French avant-folk-prog in DC

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Vialka 9

Vialka, a French husband-and-wife duo of drums and baritone guitar, played at the Velvet Lounge on Tuesday night. I previewed the show at Black Plastic Bag, complete with plenty of hype and one wildly inaccurate comparison (no, these guys do not sound anything like Ruins).

The show definitely lived up to my expectations. As I wrote in my preview, the band describe themselves, glibly, as a “turbo folk micro-orchestra,” whatever the hell that means. But what they really are is prog, albeit prog in the Etron Fou sense more than anything else, minus a bit of the dadaism. They played a number of lengthy compositions that flitted whimsically through two to three seemingly unrelated themes, most of them involving tricky but somehow bouncy rhythms, gratuitously sung/screamed/declaimed vocals (all in French), and a hell of a lot of fancy guitar fretwork.

Vialka 6

Vialka combine the manic, stop-start spasticity characteristic of so much proggy avant-rock with a melodic sense that draws straight from Eastern European folk and what I ignorantly categorize in my head as “French music.” There’s a sense of whimsy that’s very un-American going on in their writing, which probably makes them sound ridiculous to some of the more jaded types out there, but gives them a certain irrepressible charm for me.

In concert, all the quirkiness embedded in the compositions came out in the open. I got a chance to chat with both band members - Eric Boros, the guitarist, and Marylise Frecheville, the drummer - before and after the show, and my very enjoyable conversations with them gave no hint of their stage personalities. When the show began, Eric donned a shiny metallic shirt and Marylise a sequined spaghetti strap top and the quirkiness just kept going from there. They danced around a lot - Marylise leapt up from behind her kit to dance in the middle of the crowd on two occasions, and Eric was bouncing around with a huge grin on his face the whole time - but more than that, their personalities just seemed to shine through in the vocals and the sometimes hilariously disjointed rhythms.

The reception was quite good, and they sold a few CDs, always nice to see with a band likely so far outside the experience of your average American concertgoer (even one who frequents the Velvet Lounge). Good times.

Vialka 1

There are a few more photos in the full Flickr set - mostly of Marylise as the lighting was almost nonexistent on Eric.

Japanese stoner-metal: Boris @ the Black Cat

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

Boris 11

On Tuesday night at the Black Cat, Boris (pictured above), Torche and Clouds played one of the loudest shows I’ve been to all year, to one of the most raucous crowds I’ve been a part of all year. All three of these bands are very heavy rock bands - many fans would call them “metal” but for their own reasons, I believe Boris and Torche tend to eschew that label. But this was almost as “metal” a show as any I’ve seen so far this year, right down to the mosh pit that exploded during Torche’s set, and the wild stage dive by Boris’ drummer at the end of their set.

Clouds 3

Clouds (above) were first, replacing Wolves in the Throne Room who (very sadly, for me at least) dropped off the tour after being pencilled in as the openers. I’m not familiar with their material at all, but they put on an entertaining set of what seemed to be fairly straightforward sludgy metal. Their new album is on Hydra Head, and if this show was anything to go off of, it seems like their music is just a tad poppier than the norm for that label. Solid opener, but I wasn’t inspired to pick up their album right off the bat.

Torche 3

I saw Torche (above) a couple months ago at Rock & Roll Hotel, where I thought they stole the show from headliners The Sword. These guys play a very catchy brand of metal, with melodic hooks galore embedded in their jackhammering guitar riffs. They’re also not afraid to bring the noise, eschewing the poppy stuff in some songs in favor of pure cathartic brutality. But for the most part, they’re a crowd-pleasing band, and that was in full effect last night, as throughout their set a fairly large (by Black Cat standards at least) mosh pit roiled violently in front of the stage, at times threatening to push those of us in the front row practically up onto the stage itself.

The Torche dudes were loving it, playing to the moshers with huge grins on their faces, and seemingly upping the energy of their performance as compared to the one I saw in May. As before, they put on a hugely enjoyable show, even if the music is a little too straightforward for my tastes on record. Also as before, they closed their set with a monstrous, extended version of the title track from their most recent album, Meanderthal, that absolutely brought the house down. Good times.

Boris 13

Boris took the stage after a 45-minute set change, obscured by fog pumping out from the drum riser, playing the opening strains of their newest album, Smile. Their setlist was actually just Smile in its entirety, played in order, except with “Pink” and “Floor Shaker” inserted into the middle of the set. As such, their set exhibited by far the most dynamic range of any of the three bands performing, ranging from hard-driving stoner metal to meandering, pretty soundscapes to breathtakingly exciting extended jams (the final, set-ending song).

I’m not a huge fan of Boris‘ studio output - as I just mentioned, I generally find stoner metal and stuff like this (I realize Boris is not really easy to pigeonhole in any one genre) a little too simplistic - but like Torche, these guys really shine in a live setting. Something about how they bounce between peaceful melody and merciless pummelling is just really fantastic to witness live. Wata is a beast of a guitarist, but you’d never know it from watching her, as she just stands there, expressionless, barely moving, while cranking out some killer riffs. But Takeshi made up for her stoicism with his manic stage presence, flailing around wildly on his headless double-necked guitar (as in the above photo). Atsuo, if anything, was even crazier, but ensconced behind his drum kit as he was, that never really became obvious until the end of the set. And all the while, guest guitarist Michio Kurihara (”guest” even though he’s been on Boris‘ last couple tours) stood quietly in the corner, barely lit, often completely obscured in fog:

Boris 2

The highlight was the end of the set, which was “You Were Holding an Umbrella” followed by its 16-minute closing section, a spectacular jam that built from a near-ambient beginning into a series of noisy, cathartic crescendoes. Almost post-rock-like, except a couple of the noisy parts tended to come more out of nowhere, giving the piece a much less linear feel than your average post-rock epic.

Towards the end, with guitars wailing and feedback screaming, drummer Atsuo started dismantling his kit, chucking cymbals against the giant gong hanging behind him and generally going apeshit. After he had thrown everything around, he jumped up on his bass drum, arms raised, face upturned, reveling in the glorious noise, and then hopped down onto the stage and dove into the crowd. From what I could tell he crowdsurfed half way back into the heart of the club before climbing back on stage, striking another pose, and exiting backstage with the rest of the band still hammering away. The wall of sound subsided shortly thereafter, leaving the crowd to cheer lustily in the hopes of an encore that did not come.

Boris 15

Also check out another nice review, by someone who’s a much more enthusiastic and knowledgeable fan of Boris than I, here at last.fm.

Full set of my photos, as always, at Flickr.