‘Her Roots’ — a musical performance series created by locally-based performers Lauren Calve and Ben Tufts — launches this weekend, February 22, with the Lauren Calve Band, Olivia Mancini & The Mates, and Laura Tsaggaris at 6 p.m. (for only $6!) as a family-friendly, musically-driven community event highlighting the diverse talent of the area’s most accomplished female artists as well as up-and-coming female musicians, as hosted by Gypsy Sally’s.
The ‘Her Roots’ series stems from Calve and Tufts’ desire to form an intentionally strong female community of musicians in the greater-D.C. area. After several months of conversations between the pair, Calve and Tufts agreed to take the concept of hosting a conventional residency and turn it up a notch by expanding the focus and aiming the spotlight on female-fronted bands.
Who: Louis Weeks with Mutual Benefit, Soft Cat and Stranger in the Alps Where: Rock n’ Roll Hotel When: Thursday, September 11, 2014 Song You Must Hear Today: “naïve_melody” (cover)
I can’t stay away from Louis Weeks. He’s all around me, playing shows, making blogs – a couple months ago he even showed up in my mail. His performance at the Strathmore this January appeared in their mailer for the upcoming performance season.
Another reason he’s all around me is that I can’t stay away from his Bandcamp page. The weird way I’ve come to describe it is (metaphorically) an android fumbling for mysticism by way of technology. The tracks are replete with mysterious keyboards and healthy sprinklings of glitch that are a most chic inducement of hypnotization.
Yesterday, he released a slo-mo cover of Talking Heads’ classic “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”. I don’t generally like hearing covers of this song. I’ve heard too many of them that are just too close to the original to be of any interest, but this one’s a pretty great re-imagining of the song. Electronic percussion lumbers along, and Weeks’ effects-laden vocals sound bellowed out of the deepest canyon.
His stated motives behind the cover resonate with the frequently spiritual feel of his music. “I’ve always related to the particularly meditative aspects of this song. To me, it’s a song about living ‘in the moment’ – learning to make your home in constant change and the passing of time. My version takes this interpretation literally and slows everything down and tries to stay in the moment as long as possible.”
He performs tomorrow at Rock & Roll Hotel with the earnestly charming DC folkster Stranger in the Alps, Soft Cat (Baltimore) and Mutual Benefit (NYC), two other fine folk acts. You’re going because (a.) I am and (b.) Louis Weeks’ music compels you to.
Who: The French Admirals w/ Exit Vehicles, Patrick Frank and Kelly Ann Beavers
Where: Rock n’ Roll Hotel
When: Saturday August 2
Song You Must Hear Today: “Favour”
Okay, I’ll come out and say it: I’ve always thought the stripped down North of Canada spinoff The French Admirals were an odd, misguided band. I questioned the logic of what Rob Kuczynski and Mike Lashinsky were doing, playing a combination of their own songs and covers, a helluva lot, often to empty rooms, as either a guitar/bass duo or with a drummer using a skeleton of a kit. Why do that? NoC was awesome, loud and interesting. Plus, I kinda hate acoustic guitars. I hate playing them, I (mostly) hate listening to them. To me, these guys were just doing everything wrong.
I wouldn’t air my beef for the band unless I also have huge praise for them too. Their new record Closer Than Brothers is pretty much a new North of Canada album, if you ask me. Electrics, keyboards, hand claps(!), all the trappings of a robust pop rock album and all complementing that twisty, breezy North of Canada sound. I had no idea they were making this record, so, an actual surprise = double points, and it cements them as a hard working band doing double duty as both talented and frequent performers and recording artists. Closer Than Brothers is really great album that will rush over you so pleasurably.
So I think you’ll have a really good time seeing them this Saturday 8/2 at the Rock n’ Roll Hotel on H Street. The Admirals have enlisted supporting act Exit Vehicles, who churn out some antsy, anxiety-riddled post-punk that I can personally endorse as a thrill to see.
This show has a couple of extra curve balls to note. Patrick Frank, percussionist of We Were Pirates, performs new songs written for a songwriting collective he founded called the 10-20-30 Club. Members post 3 new songs, on the 10th, 20th and 30th of each month, to keep the creativity flowing. Bells and Hunters’ vocalist Kelly Ann Beavers rounds out the bill with a quirky blend of new original material and an inspired cover or two.
There’s a ton going on this weekend with In It Together Fest augmenting the existing club lineups, but maybe you’re tired of making all those painful decisions about who to see and running all over town to see them. Here’s a show that’ll let you catch your breath.
Who: These Future Saints w/ Alias Punch and The Dead Women
Where: The Velvet Lounge
When: Friday, September 27
Song You Must Hear Today: “Separation”
These Future Saints are a band that connect with my power pop roots, the clean-cut stuff I gobbled up in high school from acts such as Sloan and Ash. Since then, my tastes have generally moved towards the brasher end of the rock spectrum, but that’s not to say I steer clear of groups like these. Rather, I liken this stuff to lemonade: Something sweet and refreshing that makes for an excellent palette cleanser when you might otherwise be all punked out, though folks might have a higher or lower tolerance depending on the level of sweetness involved.
Earlier this month, we featured These Future Saints’ “Black Jack” via our Fresh Tracks column in the lead up to their very fun EP release show at IOTA. Said EP Ellerslie Ave represents a quality debut release that manages to come off as both breezy and streamlined. “Separation” (which you can stream above) is hands down the most exciting of the Ellerslie’s five songs: A saccharine-loaded ICBM of a guitar line roars over propulsive dance rock drums, which are subsequently swapped out for a verse of singer Andrew Gaddy’s clear-throated vocals and a skippy guitar arpeggio. Likewise, the song’s balmy chord changes and taut rhythms bespeak a band with noteworthy control of their craft.
“Come Around” and “Take Care” both feature a little more of an easy-going, classic rock vibe, with the former sporting a verse that’s melodically similar to Thunderclap Newman’s oft-covered flower-power anthem, “Something in the Air”. “Take Care” on the other hand, with its boom-chop rhythm and winding, picked electric guitars sounds like a more modern, well-mannered take on Mungo Jerry’s timelessly playful “In the Summertime”.
For some bonus TFS content, check out this video DC music enthusiast (and artist!) Kate Moran took of the band at IOTA in March, performing “Blackjack”, which, by singer Andrew Gaddy’s own account is about “making out in the back of a cab”. (GASP!) Also, that’s The WeatherVanes’ Jackson Edwards helping out on bass!
In sum, These Future Saints are a newer band with sunshine in the songwriting, even nimbler arrangements, and a vocalist who knows how to kill ’em. The band performs this Friday at The Velvet Lounge with The Dead Women, whose live show is a sure bet, and Alias Punch, who do a spooky brand of surf punk.
Who: The Low Bends
Where: The Velvet Lounge
When: Sunday, July 21
Song You Must Hear Today: “Saint Valentine’s Rebuttal”
“We have a poltergeist,” Arthur Sanzo notes casually as he we tour his Shaw residence. And the first thing you notice about Sanzo (the singer/songwriter behind the aggressive, demented blues outfit The Low Bends) is that he’s kind of weird. I’m barely in the door, being vigorously sniffed by the house’s two dogs, and Sanzo dives headfirst into a slew of details about where he practices, showing me his living space (a segment of a basement hallway converted into what I suppose passes for a bedroom), and graciously offering me a beer. The experience is sort of like going over to your friend’s house, and the friend’s a parent with a little kid who’s dying to tell you everything.
I sought to interview Arthur Sanzo as a result of having discovered his compelling album American Alien, Success Story earlier this year on Bandcamp (released under the now discarded band name The Lippy Grins), and because I learned that he has a show with his full band The Low Bends on Sunday July 21st at the Velvet Lounge.
The album contains a full 11 tracks of well-structured blues rock, but with the delightful twist of featuring a wild vocalist whose performances can only begun to be characterized by concern-raising adjectives such as “deranged”, and perhaps even “unstable”. The songs’ topics are equally unsettling, which include narratives of workplace rage, the sexual perversions of the unattached, and the bloody conflicts of Pilgrims and Native Americans. In spite of the crazed vocal performances and curious source material, Sanzo’s gift for crafting well-organized songs with bizarre narratives shines through on American Alien, Success Story.
Sanzo’s story wasn’t easily ascertainable from a quick scan of his music’s web presence: For a band with such a professional sounding album, The Lippy Grin’s Facebook page seemed a little undercooked, and was oddly littered with links to content for another band called The Low Bends. This second group certainly seemed to feature the same guy whose songs I’d been streaming, but the relationship between the two was acts was unclear.
I walked with Arthur to a nearby wine bar with the goal of learning about the twisted nature of his songs, his music’s fragmented online presence, and whatever other strange thoughts he might throw down.
Once you become accustomed to his unusual personality, the next thing you observe about Arthur Sanzo is the immense confidence he has in his craft. “I have the fucking talent to do any kind of songwriting I want.” And there is enough variation on American Alien, Success Story to offer some support for this boastful claim. Tracks like “Praying Mantis” and “Dancing in the Street” are grounded in straightforward country rock while “The Lizard King” possesses a roaring, sludge-blues approach. There’s also some intriguing play with drum machines on two of the album’s numbers (“Porridge Brains”, “Two, One, Hang, Four”) which possess more of a junkyard pop/white boy hip hop in the vein of early ‘90s Beck.
Two of the album’s standout numbers, “Saint Valentine’s Rebuttal” and “Four White Walls”, while drastically different stylistically are indicative of a songwriter who can either leave you in stitches of laughter or feeling pangs of sadness. The former is a lively barroom blues number that hysterically chronicles the exploits of the erotically desperate on Valentine’s Day (prostitution, watching the Spice Channel, getting one’s rocks off in a seated theater), while “Four White Walls” is an exquisite breakup number told from the perspective of the heart breaker.
Below is some of the quoted dialog from our interview session (approx. 90 min):
Where does this kind of unhinged, unstable country personality of yours come from?
I guess I’m kind of a far out guy…I definitely enjoy writing in the more macabre, you know, finding beauty in places that maybe somebody else doesn’t see it, or does but doesn’t understand it.
Do you view your music as subversive?
In a way, yeah. I’m not a Pretty Peter. I’m a fucking guy who’s going to go up there and play some fucking rock n’ roll songs. I don’t want to be that guy who’s playing your standard Top 40 radio hit. If I wanted to be that guy, I’d be that fucking guy… So, yeah, I do think it’s subversive. I am trying to challenge audiences, I’m trying to be in your face… That’s who I am and that’s what I do.
What’s it like being in a band with your brother (Two Alpaca’s Mike Sanzo)?
There’s fist fights. I’ve been in a band with my brother for 10 years. That’s a fucking long time to be in a band with anyone. 99% of the time, we get along great. But occasionally, about once every year and a half, we’ll get in a pretty serious altercation that will end in fists. That’s the way we settle our differences.
One source of continued frustration for Sanzo involves the difficulty in fielding a stable band to perform his songs. Sanzo is on borrowed time with his current four-piece line up: His second guitarist will be moving out of state in August, and drummer Michael Sanzo (Arthur’s brother) plays guitar and keys full time in his own band Two Alpacas. And despite the fact that he plays out acoustically at spots like IOTA with a fair amount of regularity, this doesn’t do it for Sanzo. “I don’t want people to come see me acoustic. I want to play loud rock n’ roll music in your fucking face. I want it to rear its head at you and bite you.” For these reasons, Arthur emphasized the importance of making his upcoming Velvet Lounge date with his full line up count before he’s forced to regroup and find some new players.
Interviewing Sanzo also illustrated the importance of having the willingness to put consistent effort into marketing a band. By his own admission, booking shows and reaching out to audiences isn’t Sanzo’s forte. In more than one instance, he likened a working band as a business having two parts, frontend (the public face, sales, marketing) and backend (product development, in other words, “songwriting”). He cops to not being great at the former, which accounts for his sporadic online updates. The change of his band name was actually a concession to one of his bandmates, who had elected to take on the frontend responsibilities. “If he’s going to be the one kind of being the frontend of the business, and I’m going to be on the backend, he should get a name that he feels confident selling.”
To sum it all up, Arthur Sanzo is a guy with an eccentric personality and some serious songwriting chops. Things are gonna get weird (but in a cool way) when The Low Bends hit the Velvet Lounge on Sunday July 21st. Yo No Say and Grogan Social Scene open. I’ll be there cheering on one of my new DC favorites.
Who: Kitchen Noise / The Lawsuits / Birthday Punches
Where: The Velvet Lounge
When: Thursday, June 27
Song You Must Hear Today: “All In One”
Kitchen Noise, the musical project of Cory Foley-Marsello, makes sleepy music. Easy now, this isn’t an insult. Rather, Kitchen Noise fits comfortably alongside the ranks of other excellent artists such as Megafaun and Marissa Nadler who drape their quiet folk songs in imaginative, dreamy textures.
According to Foley-Marsello, Kitchen Nose was started as a studio project and “the fruit of throwing lots of stuff at a wall and coming away with some songs.” Ceramics, the project’s sole release, appeared last August via Bandcamp. It didn’t receive much in the way of immediate attention, which is a complete shame, because this is a truly gorgeous and sprawling full length album. In the album’s first 20 seconds, organ chords meet a handful of dancing notes from an electric guitar before being shoved out of the way by a wild guitar riff, nimbly picked acoustic guitar, some backwards-looped sound effects, and a thumping rhythm section.
This formula of a song growing from modest beginnings (most often, a repeated guitar arpeggio) and towards a multi-layered soundscape is one that comprises much of Ceramics, and it’s a winner. Most of the tracks are grounded in gentle, contemplative folk rock, but there are plenty of pop elements (especially in the album’s first several songs), such as the friendly handclaps on “All In One” or “Brand New Names” with its stuttering, hypnotic drum beat.
I’m especially curious to see Kitchen Noise because this Thursday marks the act’s first show of 2013. Foley-Marsello has assembled a four-piece band who has steadily been working on adapting the Ceramics material for live performance, in addition to writing new songs.
How this is going to sound live isn’t easily predictable, so join me this Thursday at the Velvet Lounge for what easily promises to be the most intriguing show of the week.
With Live Picks!, I make a conscious effort of tilting the spotlight towards DC bands with upcoming shows who might not necessarily be receiving attention they deserve. (Prior to 2013, did you know about DC’s nerdcore rap duo or multi-genre infused, crooner-fronted orchestra? Probably not!) In other words, I try to examine what other groups’ shows are happening concurrently alongside the region’s more prominent acts.
But let’s be real, people: I would be totally remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Paperhaus’ show at the Rock n’ Roll Hotel this Friday as the show to get to this week. It’s really a triumphant homecoming for the self-described psychedelic-blues quartet, as they’ve just returned from a two month, 54 (!) date nationwide tour. Over the last two years, they’ve accomplished a tremendous amount, not only as a band, having recently released the exceptionally good Lo Hi Lo EP (more about that in a minute), but also as true community builders with their Petworth DIY show space. (During their absence, there’s been a comparative lack of DIY house shows, so it will be good to see them return to “business as usual”. Um, by the way, did you hear that the space is hosting Julian Lynch next week? Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn.)
Anyway, a bit about that Lo Hi Lo EP that I just got around to checking out tonight. Four tracks, but the brevity is irrelevant, as the first phrase that hit me was “well assembled!”. Having seen the band on several occasions, there’s less psych on display herre than there is mood-ambiguous indie pop. With intricate, heavily reverbed guitar arpeggios and peppy, straight ahead drum parts, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Wild Nothing come across as easy comparisons (minus the synths). I’m especially fond of the guitar interplay on “Corazon”, which incidentally, I snagged a video of last fall at the Red Palace, which has since been re-imagined as an Italian restaurant (so long tassels, hello pasta & bocce[?!]).
Concerning other reasons to attend, there’s also the absolutely absurd “supporting” lineup of Shark Week and Young Rapids. Some discussion on each: I haven’t actually seen Shark Week, so it’ll be great to see them do their naughty surf-blues thing in person. Then there’s Young Rapids, whose Daylight Savings is the album that gets played when:
1.) I’ve exhasuted my supply of the week’s podcasts (Planet Money, Freakonomics, The Moth, ya know, whatevs).
2.) Spotify isn’t working (UGH).
3.) I’m just plain stressed out.
I’m thrilled for the opportunity to hear new material from this band that creates music characterized by both patient grandeur and controlled mania.
If you’re reading this, you’re going. If you had other plans, that’s tough. Because now you have new ones.
Who: Drunk Tigers
When: Thursday May 16th Song You Must Hear Today: “Photos of Sad Brokers”
I’m about five months into writing Live Picks!, and I think I deserve a break. So shoot me: I’m taking a “me” day on this one. Forgive my candor, but Drunk Tigers is the kind of band I would write up every week if only I were a little less self-aware of my punk/pop roots, and was totally okay with becoming the guy who highlights exclusively punk-ish acts: The rhythm section is bold and brash, there’s intriguing yell/sing-y vocals, but in the end, the bulk of the real melodic action lies in the manic, adventurous guitar playing. And that’s the connection between me and a lot of my favorite rock artists, this desire to stir up excitement via catchy, frenetic squalls of electric guitar.
Admittedly, I kinda rushed you there, so I’ll help you up out of my passion pit and let you clean yourself off while I cover some back story on the band. Originally from Charlottesville, Virginia, Drunk Tigers formed in 2008, and released a small handful of EPs. In 2012, following 2 years of “indefinite hiatus”, primary members Matt Bierce (vocals/guitar) and Zach Carter (guitar/vocals) have fielded a new rhythm section and are back at it this year, playing a number of local shows in the past two months, each in quick succession of one another.
Anyway, back to the music. Drunk Tigers actually opened for my snot-rock heroes Cloud Nothings at a 2010 show in Charlottesville, and they certainly fit that bill. The tunes are fast, straight ahead, and replete with winding guitar lines. They’re also not afraid of the occasional abrasive change up: “Lessons, Hurricane” sports a section with a deliciously malevolent repeating chord change, and “Outer Banks Inner Peace” moves back and forth between a couple benign arpeggios and some great Pavement/slacker-stomp guitar freak outs.
My favorite track of all their offerings, however, is a number called “Photos of Sad Brokers”, which is a wild ride, start-to-finish. Some nifty features include a nitro-propelled intro section, and an abrupt tempo U-turn at the start of the first verse. Then immediately prior to the chorus, you get a guitar riff that rips off Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World” note-for-note, but the effect is delightfully familiar, rather than offensive. There’s also the chorus’ lyric “It’s not my birthday / It’s not my problem”, which I can’t make heads or tails of, but the disconnect between the two topics leaves me grinning nonetheless.
I plan on taking a second “me” day on Thursday to see them open for Arum Rae, who’s an Austin-based psych-blues songstress. This is one of those shows where I want to know every song and jump up and down accordingly. My enthusiasm and I will be there. You and yours should too.
Post script: Until last year, Drunk Tiger member Matt Bierce performed in another band called Infinite Jets, which (I hope!) is a pun on Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace’s awesome novel of epic length (it’s so long it weighs 5 lbs. [unless you have it on Kindle like me, in which case, I guess it weighs 10.2 ounces]).
I first saw Bethany and the Guitar in the fall of 2011 at the annual H Street Festival in Northeast. It was an accident. I wasn’t really even into the local music scene at that point, that day I was just shoving barbecue into my face and killing time before Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! at the 9:30 Club that evening. I don’t remember exactly what their lineup was, but I don’t really need to talk about their music: It was acoustic. It was female-fronted. A drum kit was eschewed in favor of a cajon. There was some kind of short scale guitar involved. (Maybe a baritone ukulele?) All in all, it was kind of twee.
You read that word. And you might have rolled your eyes. You might have gotten annoyed. But hey, I like twee. I like cute. There was a sweetness to their act I wasn’t expecting to run into that day, and accordingly, I remembered them.
I’ve kept tabs on Bethany and the Guitar every now and again since then, just to make sure they still exist, and I was delighted to find when browsing IOTA’s calendar that they’re headlining an EP release show there this Friday. It also turns out the new EP (entitled Songs for the Road)is already on Spotify. (I was pleased to discover this so I didn’t have to hassle them for an advance copy in writing this piece.)
A review of their previous release, 2011’s Sparrow reveals that there are actually a couple different sides to Bethany and the Guitar. There’s the previously described indie pop angle with its unusual percussion (e.g. steel drums, handclaps [SO MANY HANDCLAPS]), but also a pop-country angle that made up about half the album’s songs that I admittedly didn’t care for as much.
The new EP leans more toward more toward the latter, but this time around, the songs are stronger, and feature some really excellent arrangements and production. This is most evidenced by “Free”, which I could play for my tween Taylor Swift-obsessed cousin without objection, with the added bonus of being able to show her just how awesome fuzz bass is.
“Trainwreck”, the EP’s opener and standout track begins with a reverbed banjo. Given Bethany and the Guitar’s both indie pop and country leanings, it’s sort of the perfect instrument for them to employ in some capacity, as it swings both ways, genre-wise. The song features considerably more muscle and sheer momentum than previous offerings from the band, and includes some great piano and violin touches before the fantastic pop explosion at the 2:36 mark.
Perhaps my favorite element of are the wordless backup vocals that grace four of the EP’s five songs, with the only track without lacking being the out-of-leftfield cover of Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead”, which transforms the tune into a cheery indie pop hoedown.
I am beyond excited for this show also on account of the bill’s supporting acts. Young Summer’s “Fever Dream” might be my favorite track released by a DC artist so far in 2013 (sounds like Beach House after Victoria Legrand drank one too many cups of coffee), and I will conclude with some facts about opener Owen Danoff in list form:
I’m incredibly curious to see Black Hills live this Friday, and for so many reasons. The outfit is the electro-pop project of audio production mastermind Aaron Estes, who sounds like a pretty interesting guy himself. 1. The dude teaches trapeze. 2. He also one of the sound guys at the Black Cat, so I feel like I already have some kind of connection to the man, as he’s undoubtedly been responsible for the sound at dozens of shows I’ve been to at that venue over the years.
The project’s one EP, Black Gold, was released in October of 2011, and contains a scant four tracks. That’s not a slam on the EP, as each song is of an immensely high caliber. First cut “In My Dreams” sounds less like an album opener in that the listener is immediately dunked into the twirling interplay of cycling acoustic guitar arpeggios and chirping keyboard lines before Estes’ vocals make an abrupt entrance. But the real fun begins at the 30 second mark when Estes turns on the synth-jacuzzi hot tub. “Quiet Ghosts” has all the electronic squalls and jittery percussion sounds of late aughts-era Of Montreal. Then there’s “Glass”, whose big beat/creepy-cool intro simply oozes cool.
I’m also excited to see how one guy’s bedroom project gets transformed into a live act, a la chillwave big boys Toro y Moi. The act’s Facebook page lists 6 other musicians being involved in the live execution of Black Hills. Now, I have no clue how many of those will be in tow on Friday, but Black Hills makes pretty layered music, so I doubt the extra manpower will go to waste.
In sum, everything I know about Black Hills leaves me feeling teased from afar. I’m really looking forward to Friday’s show because (a.) I’ll get to hear at least a few new Black Hills songs and (b.) Estes’ development in the last year and half since Black Gold will be on display.
Last night, I almost let my curiosity get the best of me. Almost. A couple of weeks ago, Estes performed at The Hamilton as part of Brightest Young Things “DC Emerging Artists” showcase and someone shot some video of Black Hills’ set. Intrigued, I clicked the play button. An ad began to play before the video started, so I had a moment to consider the ramifications of what I was about to do. Did I really want to eat from the Internet’s Tree of Knowledge, glimpse the future, and spoil my Friday night show experience? NO. I Xed the vid, and went back to my Buzzfeed photo reel of dogs being bad at hide-and-seek.
Note: Local three piece The Mean Season headlines the show this Friday. They play contemplative, mellow female-fronted indie rock that’s quite tasty (I saw them in March), and their drum kit includes an empty Jameson bottle.