Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Frankie Gavin and De Dannan

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – Millennium Stage
Washington, D.C.
March 18th, 2010

This week’s show is rather appropriate, seeing as it comes right on the heels of St. Patrick’s Day. You see, Frankie Gavin is a legendary Irish fiddle player, hailing from County Galway, and his band De Dannan has been playing Irish folk songs in one incarnation or another since 1974. Having played for President Obama the day before as part of the White House’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities, Gavin and company were warmed up and ready to delight the crowd at the Millennium Stage on Thursday evening.

Taking the stage as a four piece, the band consisted of Damien Mullane on accordion, Eric Cunningham on percussion and flutes, Mike Galvin on guitar and of course, Frankie Gavin on the fiddle. The band launched right into an Irish jig that saw Cunningham playing a beat on an Irish drum called the bodhrán that had feet tapping throughout the venue in no time at all. Building on traditional Irish folk song structures, De Dannan seemed to blend a healthy dose of American country into the mix, giving the illusion of experiencing St. Patrick’s Day at the Grand Ole Opry.

After two such upbeat numbers, the band slowed the pace down as vocalist Michelle Lally joined them onstage for the French ballad “If You Love Me”. The song built on her soothing vocals alongside Galvin’s acoustic guitar before Gavin’s fiddle slowly entered the fray, followed by Mullane’s accordion and Cunningham’s flute, all coming together to create a lush, vibrant sound. Lally remained onstage for the next song as well, a more upbeat number that sounded like a mash up of Irish folk with contemporary pop music and had each band member grinning from ear to ear.

The next few songs were played sans vocals and featured Irish jig versions of both a Beatles tune and a Bach composition, illustrating the band’s ability to mix traditional Irish folk with other styles of music, like country, pop and classical. The brilliance of this tactic is that the songs never got lost in the mix, each one standing apart from the one before it. So when Lally, who is the band’s secret weapon in my opinion, joined the band for another ballad called “Summer of My Dreams”, it was perfect timing to mix things up once again, keeping the set fresh and exciting.

An impressive duet featuring Cunninghams’ flute and Galvin’s guitar followed, and then Frankie Gavin announced that he and De Dannan would spend the next few songs incorporating yet another genre into their Irish folk repertoire…the blues. These self described “bluesy jigs” were the highlights of the instrumental portion of the performance as they allowed each band member to really show off their skills on their respective instruments. Next, the band was joined again by Lally, in her final performance of the evening, as they played “Heartbreak Pier”, which is a song she described as being about the hardships and struggles of Irish immigrants.

Before bidding farewell to the Millennium stage, Frankie and De Dannan played a finale that started with a solo by Mullane on the accordion before Gavin joined in with his fiddle, followed closely by the guitar and bodhrán. Of course just when you thought you knew where this jig was heading, Cunningham dropped the percussion and broke into a solo of his own on the flute. This of course led into a guitar solo by Galvin that featured some impressive blues runs before the percussion, fiddle and accordion all fell right back into place, just as it had been at the beginning of the song. The performance was a perfect showcase of a very talented and legendary act that really put the cherry…err, shamrock on top of this St. Patrick’s Day. Cheers!

See this performance for yourself here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Album Review: Marulk - Self Titled

I have a new album review posted over at Heavy Planet for the Swedish band Marulk. They have a very retro-70's vibe with a healthy dose of modern stoner rock. Check out the self described "new school boogie" here.

Friday, June 4, 2010

King Giant with The Resurrection Sorrow and The Crimson Electric

The Red and the Black
Washington, DC
March 13th, 2010

If you’ve been following along throughout the course of this project, then you already know I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with the Heavy Planet, stoner rock blog on occasion. If you haven’t checked it out yet, then I encourage you to do so, because the guy who runs Heavy Planet (Reg) puts a significant amount of blood and sweat into discovering and shedding light on a lot of great unsigned bands. As such, I have Reg to thank for introducing me to tonight’s headliner, King Giant. He was able to put me in touch with Todd Ingram, the band’s guitar player (great guy, by the way) who sent me a copy of their excellent album Southern Darkness, which I then reviewed for Heavy Planet. What fell out of that experience was a spot on King Giant’s guest list for tonight’s show at The Red and the Black. Folks…now the Music Binge is getting somewhere! Read on…

The Crimson Electric
The opener for tonight’s stoner rock extravaganza at The Red and the Black was Virginia Beach’s The Crimson Electric who blasted the early arrivers with a fuzzed out wall of noise that sounded an awful lot like the desert rock perpetrated by Kyuss back in the early 90’s. With guitarists Will Sprague and Brett Mathews, bassist Dan Luper and drummer Brian Malbone cramming the tiny stage, vocalist Josh Nelson was forced to get up close and personal with the audience, literally performing from the venue’s floor. The singer wailed into a 50’s style microphone that could have been fit for Elvis, but somehow seemed perfect for The Crimson Electric’s driving, riff heavy tunes. Standing so close that I nearly caught a stray elbow from Nelson as he whirled around with his eyes closed, obviously feeling the energy from the gut-rattling riff-rock blasting behind him, I couldn’t help but crack a smile as my head began to nod uncontrollably. This was beginning to feel more like a stoner rock community gathering rather than a concert. And when Todd from King Giant walked up with a handful of shots for the guys onstage, that feeling was confirmed. If the opener was any indication, I was in for quite an evening.

The Resurrection Sorrow
Continuing in the doom and gloom department, The Resurrection Sorrow (great name) upped the ante by bringing a little New York City swagger to the stage with them on Saturday night. With a lineup consisting of Alex Dementia on vocals, Zak Gross on guitar, Alex Coelho on bass and Louie Gasparro (formerly of legendary NYC bands Murphy’s Law and Blitzspeer) on drums, the band picked up where The Crimson Electric left off, pummeling the crowd with riff upon riff of pure heaviness. Touring in support of their latest release "Hour of the Wolf", The Resurrection Sorrow’s music was every bit as impressive as the other bands on the bill, but unfortunately Dementia’s vocals suffered from technical difficulties with his cordless microphone.

This of course led me to question the need for a cordless mic in a venue the size of your average living room. And it was that aura of "rock star" posturing that held me back from truly enjoying The Resurrection Sorrow. With Dementia dramatically falling to his knees, spinning around in circles and relentlessly antagonizing the sound tech about the problems with his mic, I got the impression that the band, or at least their singer, was trying to play an arena, not a club. That notion wasn’t lost on Brett Mathews, The Crimson Electric’s guitar player, who could be heard heckling The Resurrection Sorrow between songs with comedic one-liners like "pure vocal sex" aimed at Dementia and "string mayhem" meant for Gross. Don’t get me wrong, Mathew’s barbs were purely fun in nature and really leant more to that aforementioned "community" feel than to anything antagonistic, but regardless, his comments were dead on and the ensuing laughter from the audience was proof that he wasn’t the only one thinking it.

Dementia and company were good sports about it though and by the end of their set they seemed to settle down and get comfortable in the tight quarters of The Red and the Black. The vocalist even offered an apology for his incessant complaining, saying that he "isn’t trying to be a bitch" about the feedback issues with his mic, but by this point his frustration had become painfully obvious. No matter, the crowd seemed willing enough to forgive and forget, and they showed their solidarity with raised fists and banging heads throughout the remainder of The Resurrection Sorrow’s set.

King Giant
When it came time for King Giant to hit the stage, the crowd had swelled to maximum capacity and literally filled the room from wall to wall. Guitarist David Kowalski, bassist Floyd Walters III and drummer Brooks set up shop onstage while guitarist Todd Ingram and vocalist Dave Hammerly made space down front. Hailing from the DC suburb of Pimmit Hills, Virginia, an "old, white trash, pagan neighborhood…full of bikers…and a great place to live" as described by Walters, King Giant appeared prepped and ready to put a cherry on top of this sludge rock sundae.

If there was any doubt whether King Giant could recreate the sound of their stellar "Southern Darkness" album in a live setting, they were laid to rest as soon as the first chords of "Lady Whiskey" chugged forth from their amplifiers. The band was tight, their sound was dead on and when Hammerly crooned the song’s opening manifesto, "does he have any idea what he’s getting into…maybe I should buy him a bottle or two" into his microphone, the stage was set (pardon the pun) for an onslaught of pure, blue collar, booze soaked, doom rock served up Southern style.

Speaking of Hammerly, the vocalist spent as much time singing to the drum set, a la Jim Morrison, as he did to the audience. Make no mistake, this is no criticism, the standoffish attitude actually works quite well with King Giant’s style and sound. In fact, you get the impression these dudes don’t give a shit if there’s anyone in the audience or not, they’re here to jam and dammit…that’s just what they’re gonna do.

Another highlight of the set came around the midway point when the band launched into "Mississippi River", a creepy little number that Floyd explained was originally written by his old band Blue Balls Deluxe (seriously, how can you not love these guys). The song finds Hammerly rasping "I gave her a lesson someone needed to give her, now they’re dragging for her bones in the Mississippi River" and features a sinister, bluesy riff that matches the evil tone of the lyrics to perfection. By the time King Giant wrapped up their set with the one, two punch of "Machine Gun Mantra" followed by "Solace", the place was a sweat soaked cesspool and every ear drum in the room had been beaten to a bloody pulp…mission accomplished.

After the show, when asked what’s next for King Giant, Ingram mentioned a new album in the works with plans to eventually play Philadelphia…New York…then maybe make their way down South to Raleigh and Atlanta…slow and steady. That plan of attack seems like a perfect summation of their sound as well…slow and steady. I for one have absolutely no problem with that. Wherever King Giant goes from here, count me in as being along for the ride.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Rogue Wave with Avi Buffalo

9:30 Club
Washington, DC
March 5th, 2010

Avi Buffalo
My first impression of tonight’s opening act was…wow, how young are these guys? The four members of Avi Buffalo, Avi Zahner-Isenberg (guitar/vocals), Rebecca Coleman (keyboards/vocals), Arin Fazio (bass) and Sheridan Riley (drums) looked more like they belonged on a school bus than a tour bus. Given the amount of hype and publicity these indie rock neophytes are currently receiving (their debut album will be released on Sub Pop in April), I’m sure that’s a sentiment this Long Beach, California band must be getting used to hearing by now.

Despite the fact that the oldest member of the band is merely 21, Avi Buffalo showed no hesitation as they warmed up the 9:30 Club crowd with a fun set of guitar driven pop songs. My only complaint with the band was Zahner-Isenberg’s vocals, which often seemed way too high pitched for this music. In fact, he managed to completely drown out co-vocalist Coleman at times. Don’t get me wrong, musically I enjoyed the brand of indie-rock that Avi Buffalo created, and I loved the energy they displayed onstage…I saw Riley snap at least one drumstick while pounding away on her kit and Zahner-Isenberg attacked his guitar as if the thing was going to bite him. However, vocals can often make or break a band for a lot of people and that just might be the case for me with Avi Buffalo. I couldn’t quite get past them tonight at the 9:30 Club, but given the amount of talent these youngsters displayed onstage, I’d be willing to give them a second chance.

Rogue Wave
Ahh…Rogue Wave. Due to the quick turnaround of seeing shows on a weekly basis, I’m often checking out bands and artists that I’m unfamiliar with, which is fun, refreshing, enlightening…you name it. But tonight, I was extremely excited because I was getting to see one of my current favorite bands…Oakland, California’s Rogue Wave. I realize that these guys have reached a certain level of popularity (after all, they are playing the 9:30 Club), but for some reason I get the impression that Rogue Wave is still flying under the radar. For example, to my knowledge, tonight’s show did not sell out, whereas indie-rock heavyweights like The Shins, Band of Horses and The National, all of whom I would consider peers of Rogue Wave, continuously sell out wherever they play. So if you’re reading this right now and you’re at all into rock music with amazing pop hooks and beautiful vocals, please do yourself a favor and check out Rogue Wave!

Okay, enough with the sales pitch…on to the show! When the band took the stage, the first thing I noticed was an oversized Litebrite type device projecting what appeared to be old sci-fi visuals…very psychedelic and very cool! I also noticed that drummer Pat Spurgeon’s kit was situated at the front, left of the stage as opposed to the rear of the stage, no doubt due to the fact that the true essence of Rogue Wave is really the duo of Pat and vocalist/guitarist Zach Rogue. The rest of the band’s lineup consists of guitarist Dominic East, bassist Cameron Jasper and new guy Steve Taylor on keyboards, who Zach playfully introduced to the crowd by singing "Steeeeeve…the newest member of the band".

This playful banter and sense of humor is what followed throughout the entire performance by Rogue Wave. Once they were onstage, Zach immediately started tuning his guitar before opening the show with "Stars and Stripes" off the band’s latest album "Permalight". It struck me as a little odd that he would need to tune his instrument prior to playing even one chord, but later after a few more "tuning breaks" had occurred between songs, Zach explained that his guitars "are all old and crappy, so if you hear any funkitude, it’s coming from the guitar, not me". The singer went on to say that he recorded almost the entire new album on the old guitar he was playing, calling the instrument "an old man".

Speaking of the new album, Rogue Wave’s set at the 9:30 Club was front loaded with six straight songs from "Permalight", including the album’s first single "Good Morning (The Future)", which is a perfect example of the dance-y vibe that has garnered the band a bit of criticism from long time fans. Later, when they launched into my personal favorite song from the new album, "We Will Make a Song Destroy", imagine my surprise when Zach dedicated it to me…or at least to my kind. The singer smirked as he explained that the song was about "sticking it to the man", who in this case refers to "faceless internet bloggers"…hahaha.

Rogue Wave eventually branched out and began to draw from their back catalog, with crowd favorites like "Chicago X12", "Lake Michigan" and "Harmonium" from their 2007 breakthrough record "Asleep at Heaven’s Gate" in addition to a few songs from 2005’s "Descended Like Vultures". One highlight came during their encore when they morphed "Cheaper Than Therapy" into a slow version of Cheap Trick’s "Surrender"…you know the one…"mama’s alright, daddy’s alright…they just seem a little weird…surrender". Zach mentioned that the song ("Cheaper Than Therapy", not "Surrender") was "written during a very dark time in my life, which is all the more reason that its fun to play now, during a good time in my life." And that quote really sums up the fun and jovial mood that encompassed the venue tonight…for both the band and the crowd.

Zach was very grateful for his audience, saying "we know Friday night is an important night, so we appreciate you spending it with us" and for the 9:30 Club saying "this is one of the best rooms in the country". Towards the end of the show, Spurgeon finally took a break from his drum set and spoke to the crowd, asking us to check out a certain foundation for organ donation, referring to his own battle with kidney disease (Pat was born with only one kidney and underwent a successful transplant in 2007). Watching Pat play drums is really a miracle, given all that he’s been through.

On that happy note, Zach Rogue signed off for the evening, but not before addressing those aforementioned detractors of the "dance-y" vibe on "Permalight". As if to drive the point home that he stands behind his new album 100%, the vocalist invited people to join him onstage to do what else…dance. As the band closed their set by playing the title track from the new album, which is by the far the most danceable track on there, they packed the stage with members of the audience to help them out. You almost got the sense that this party wasn’t ending…no Rogue Wave was just getting started.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Pink Floyd Experience

The Music Center at Strathmore
North Bethesda, Maryland
February 25th, 2010

If you’ve already read my previous post on Nouvelle Vague, then you know my thoughts and opinions on the various types and styles of cover bands out there. If you haven’t, then I encourage you to do so prior to reading any further. The Pink Floyd Experience falls into a classification of cover bands that I touched on briefly in that write-up, a category I call the "tribute band". These acts focus the entirety of their performance on recreating the music (and sometimes the image) of another artist. Now typically, I am not a fan of these bands because I’d rather be seeing the real thing. However, oftentimes a tribute band is the only option we have for hearing the music of some of our favorite artists re-created in a live setting. Such is the case with the legendary Pink Floyd, who have lost two original members (Syd Barret and Richard Wright) and other than a few reunion type shows, have been, for all intents and purposes, broken up since the mid 1990’s.

The Pink Floyd Experience
When the band took the stage and opened with "Another Brick In the Wall: Part 3", every subtle intricacy and nuance of Pink Floyd’s complex sound was immediately noticeable throughout The Music Center at Strathmore, which is a venue that was designed and built for the sole purpose of showcasing live music…much like a smaller version of Radio City Music Hall. The Pink Floyd Experience was created by lead guitarist/vocalist Tom Quinn, who coincidentlly bears a striking resemblance to real Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmore (at least when he’s onstage). "The Experience" is rounded out by Graham Heath on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Gus Beaudoin on bass and backing vocals, John Cox on keyboards and effects, Jesse Molloy on saxophone, guitar and backing vocals, and John Staten on drums. Each member is a true virtuoso on their instrument (Graham’s being his voice of course) and this became strikingly evident as the evening pressed on.

The Pink Floyd Experience appropriately segued into "Welcome to the Machine", seemingly trying to wake up the surprisingly subdued Strathmore crowd. Perhaps the crowd’s malaise was due to the band’s decision to play a few lesser known numbers like "Let There Be More Light" off of Pink Floyd’s 1968 album "A Saucerful of Secrets" or "One of These Days" off the 1971 album "Meddle, during their first of two, hour-long sets. Or maybe the crowd was simply mesmerized by the signature lights and visual displays accompanying the music. Regardless, the combination of visual and aural perfection was pure space-aged, psychedelic bliss and any true Pink Floyd fan surely thought they’d died and gone to heaven…this reviewer among them.

Each member of The Pink Floyd Experience impressed me so much, that at varying moments throughout the show, I felt like a different one was the centerpiece of the band. During the first set, I found myself thinking that Cox was the man, as he continuously filled the room with the intense samples and sound effects that are such a key component of Pink Floyd’s music. But later, during "Have A Cigar", when Heath (who is massive by the way…I mean this guy looks like he could pick up a car) sang the familiar line "we call it riding the gravy train" where the word "train" is held longer than any human vocal chord should be capable, the vocalist sounded perfect. And when Beaudoin slapped and popped his way through a bass solo, it was as impressive a performance as I’ve seen on that instrument this side of Les Claypool. Molloy, Staten and Quinn were all equally proficient on their respective instruments too, as every member of the band was given an opportunity to showcase their aforementioned virtuosic talents.

There were multiple highlights from this performance, like getting to hear "Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V)" and "Comfortably Numb" in a live setting. But perhaps the most amazing thing happened just before The Pink Floyd Experience returned for their well deserved encore. As the sounds of rain and thunder echoed through the room, a man dressed in a suit made of light bulbs (which were in fact lit up) walked onstage, looked around and then opened up an umbrella. Of course, all the "Floydians" out there recognized the man from the cover of the Pink Floyd live album "Delicate Sound of Thunder". What followed was an amazing version of "Wish You Were Here", which included a sing-along with the crowd, who had thankfully woken up during set number two. By the time the band released a massive flying pig into the audience as they closed out their show with "Run Like Hell", there were literally people dancing in the aisles of Strathmore. Ladies and gentlemen, this is my type of cover band.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Nouvelle Vague with Clare and the Reasons

9:30 Club
Washington DC
February 20th, 2010

Clare and the Reasons
The fact that Clare Manchon, the namesake for tonight’s opening act, took the stage wearing a washboard, should give you somewhat of an idea of the multi-instrumental folk-pop that followed. Accompanied by two other band members (one of which I’ve learned is her husband Olivier Manchon), whom I presume are "the Reasons", Clare played a short, sweet set that was unfortunately drowned out much of the time by the unmistakably inconsiderate crowd at the 9:30 Club. Typically an opening band has to deal with the ego shattering vastness of an empty room, but tonight Clare and the Reasons had quite the opposite…a completely full house...but full of uninterested chatterboxes.

Experimenting with a wide array of instruments that included kazoos, a clarinet, a xylophone and even a recorder (you know…the kind you played in grade school), the band soldiered on, despite the noisy crowd, which at times was literally louder than they were. Clare tried to give the crowd a break, saying "there sure are a lot of talkers out there…but I bet there are a lot of good listeners too…you listeners get a gold star". But it wasn’t long before her Brooklyn attitude shown through as she finally addressed the louder majority, saying "if your neighbor is talking to you, feel free to tell them to shut the fuck up"…there you go Clare!

Clare and the Reasons’ sound was very mellow, at times reminding me of a lounge act. The band soothed those who were paying attention with some beautiful vocal harmonizing and with Clare’s incredible whistling. Not since Axl Rose in that "Patience" video have I heard whistling this good! Adding to that previous list of instruments, the band members took turns playing an acoustic guitar, a bass guitar, a mandolin, a violin, a keyboard and a snare drum. As a matter of fact, each band member appeared to pick up something different with each new song. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until their finale, when they brought on a fourth "Reason" to play tuba that they finally figured out a way to overcome the murmur from the crowd.

Nouvelle Vague
Nouvelle Vague has one distinct characteristic that makes them completely and wholly unlike any other band or artist that I’ve written about for the Year Long Music Binge…that is, they are a cover band. Now I realize that cover bands are a dime a dozen and that you can literally find one playing in the corner of just about any old bar you happen to meander into on a given night. In my experience with these musical harbingers of unoriginality, there are three main types that I need to discuss prior to going further.

The first type of cover band is the aforementioned "faceless" band playing "Brown Eyed Girl" in the corner of the bar. These poor individuals typically go unnoticed and are forced to compete with the din of the bar patrons, a feat not unlike what Clare Manchon had to deal with tonight at the 9:30 Club. At best, they are the soundtrack to countless attempts at a drunken "hook up" and at worst, they are simply background noise.

The second type of cover band is that of the "tribute band" (coincidentally, I will be covering one of these in my next post for the Music Binge). These acts focus on recreating the sound (and sometimes even the image…yikes!) of one band and one band only. Now the tribute bands can be broken down into two sub-categories, one of which I find appealing and the other appalling. The first type of tribute band are those who choose to re-create the music of bands who have long since broken up, retired, died, what have you…think Led Zeppelin, The Beatles or Pink Floyd (these I’m okay with). The second type are those who feel the desire to "become" a band that is still very much active and creating music, i.e. Metallica, Pearl Jam, U2, etc. (these I just don’t get).

Finally, there is the third category of cover bands…the re-mixers, or those who take another artists’ work and completely transform or re-make it to fit their own style and vision. This can lead to some amazingly fresh sounds…think Jimi Hendrix’ cover of Dylan’s "All Along the Watchtower" or Eric Clapton’s version of Bob Marley’s "I Shot the Sheriff". Tonight’s headliner falls into this third category. However, unlike Hendrix and Clapton, they are a band whose entire catalogue revolves around making other artists’ music their own.

Nouvelle Vague, which is French for "new wave" is more a project than an actual band. The brainchild of producers Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux, they take old school punk and new wave tunes and recreate them in a laid back, bossa nova style sung by various female vocalists. If you aren’t familiar with bossa nova, it is a traditional Brazilian style of music that can be described as samba meets smooth jazz.

The live version of Nouvelle Vague features guitar, keyboards, bass, drums and two female singers. For this tour, those two singers were Brazilian Karina Zeviani from lounge/electronica act Thievery Corporation and Belgian actress/singer Helena Noguerra. From the minute the band took the stage, the atmosphere was more like a party than a concert. No doubt this was partly due to the fact that this was the last date on the American leg of Nouvelle Vague’s tour and they seemed ready to pull out all the stops. That same crowd who were completely inattentive during Clare and the Reasons’ set were all ears now. In fact, if you couldn’t hear Nouvelle Vague singing Depeche Mode’s "Master and Servant", it wasn’t due to rude chitter-chatter, but rather because of the deafening screams from the primarily female audience.

The band played through an interesting set of covers ranging from the upbeat and danceable, "Blister in the Sun" by the Violent Femmes to the downright depressing, "Bela Lugosi’s Dead" by Bauhaus, making all of them distinctly their own. The musicians were perfectly content to stay in the background, allowing Karina and Helena to flit and flirt around the stage, much to the delight of the males in attendance tonight. Renditions of The Police’s "So Lonely" and New Order’s "Blue Monday" were well received crowd pleasers, but it was the pogo inducing poppiness of Nouvelle Vague’s take on "Too Drunk to Fuck", originally by The Dead Kennedys, that turned into quite possibly the most interesting crowd sing along I’ve ever witnessed. Also especially notable was Nouvelle Vague’s version of Joy Division’s "Love Will Tear Us Apart"…I mean how do you make that song peppy?

The enthusiastic crowd refused to leave the 9:30 Club, calling the band out for multiple encores, which they in turn seemed more than willing to oblige. By the time Nouvelle Vague did finally call it quits, there wasn’t a face in the crowd left without a smile. Honestly, you’d be smiling too if you’d just seen two bombshells in skin tight dresses doing their best Johnny Rotten impersonation while rocking out to The Sex Pistols’ "God Save the Queen". As I’m finding more often than not with this project, I was pleasantly surprised with the performance I chose for this week’s entry into the Music Binge. And as the French often say when they’re surprised…ooh la la!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hollis Brown with Scott Lucas and the Married Men

The Red and the Black
Washington DC
February 13th, 2010

My intention this week was to go see metalcore stalwarts Killswitch Engage lay waste to Sonar in Baltimore, Maryland, but due to my pitiful procrastination in buying advanced tickets, I found out the day before the show that it had in fact sold out. Luckily, I had a plan B, which was to check out Scottish indie rock outfit We Were Promised Jetpacks at the Rock n Roll Hotel, but much to my chagrin, they too sold out, on the day of the show no less! Sooo it was back to the drawing board for the Music Binge, and after some careful perusing through the local listings, I happened upon a third promising option. So it was that I found myself in the tiny, upstairs room at The Red and the Black on Saturday night, a room literally smaller than my own living room, for an interesting double bill featuring two distinctly different styles of rock n roll.

Scott Lucas and the Married Men
What initially caught my eye about tonight’s show at The Red and the Black was the tagline on the venue’s website that read “featuring Scott Lucas of Local H”. Having been a fan of Local H’s brand of indie-grunge back in the mid to late 90’s, I figured it might be fun to see what Mr. Lucas was up to these days. As it turns out, his new outfit, the interestingly dubbed “Married Men”, is a far cry from his “High Fiving MF” days in Local H.

Gone are the crunchy guitars and long hair of the old days (Scott’s still rocking the flannel though), as they’ve given way to a violin, a slicked back, 50’s style greaser do and of all things, the honky-tonk sounds of an accordion. The band packed the tiny stage and opened with a very mellow number called "Cut a Hole" which features only Scott’s vocals and guitarist Pete Muschong’s gentle plucking. When the rest of the Married Men (Tom Szidon on bass, Randy Payne on drums, Rebecca Manthe on violin and Aaron Duggins on accordion) entered the fold for their second song, the result was a well orchestrated, lush sound that completely filled the room. Scott Lucas and the Married Men practice a folksy sort of countrified rock with a little bit of twang and a whole lot of harmonizing, particularly between Lucas and Szidon (who has an amazing voice in his own right). The band played through a handful of originals from their forthcoming album "George Lassos the Moon", as well as a very cool cover of David Bowie’s "Absolute Beginners".

I had an opportunity to talk with Duggins after the show and learned that he met Lucas when the bass player from his other band, The Tossers, was unable to accompany them on a recent European tour. By chance, The Tossers happened to share the same producer as Local H, who recommended Scott Lucas as a potential fill-in bassist. Apparently everything worked out well enough to complete a six week European tour, during which the seeds were sown for both Duggins and Manthe, who also plays in The Tossers, to join Lucas in the Married Men.

Hailing from Chicago, Scott felt entitled to throw a few digs at our fair city’s ability to handle a snow storm, saying "we were worried about you DC…what did you get, a foot of snow?" Ha ha Scott…try something more along the lines of four feet…I think my arms are still tired from all the shoveling! That may be small potatoes over in Chi-town, but around here we’re talking an all time record snowfall. But enough about the weather…tonight marked only the second date on Scott Lucas and the Married Men’s tour in support of their debut album. By my account, they’re off to a good start and Scott has himself a side project worthy of putting both Local H and The Tossers on hold until the snow melts.

Hollis Brown
Having no idea what to expect from tonight’s headliner, I was eager to document my findings for the Music Binge. To my surprise, when the four guys in Hollis Brown (Mick Monti - vocals/guitar, Jon Bonilla - guitar, Michael Wosczyk - bass and Mike Graves - drums) took the stage, my ears were treated to what has to be the finest southern rock being made north of the Mason Dixon line. Sounding like a dead ringer for Chris Robinson and the Black Crowes, the band (who takes their name from the Bob Dylan song "The Ballad of Hollis Brown") proved to everyone in attendance that you don’t have to be from the south to play this style of music.

Watching Hollis Brown at The Red and the Black on Saturday night, I couldn’t help but think I was catching a band on the ground floor, before the rise. I wouldn’t be surprised to see these guys playing a much larger venue in front of quite a few more than the thirty or forty in attendance tonight, the next time they come to DC. Despite the somewhat shy demeanor of their vocalist, Hollis Brown played like seasoned veterans and sounded as though they’d been together for decades. Imagine my surprise then when I learned that this was in fact their first tour and first time ever playing in DC.

The band played a number of songs off their self-titled, debut album, which is completely worthy of checking out, if I do say so myself (they gave me a copy at the show…how cool is that?). In addition they covered "Trouble No More" by the Allman Brothers and "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash…both excellent examples of where this band comes from musically. I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you that Hollis Brown is the most original act to come out of New York City, but I can honestly say that if you want some good, old fashioned rock n’ roll played with a healthy dose of swagger, then look no further…Hollis has it in spades.