Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ryan Montbleau Band with Laura Tsaggaris

Iota Club & Cafe
Arlington, VA
November 24th, 2009

With Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday frenzy right around the corner, I decided to tone it down a bit tonight, settling for the very laid back, pseudo-coffeehouse confines of the Iota Club and Cafe for my weekly music fix. Iota offered the perfect setting for a chill evening, with Christmas lights strung around the stage and a crowd consisting of both music fans and folks who were there to just relax, have a bite to eat, and sip a glass of wine. I had no idea what to expect from the acts on tonight's bill since I'd never heard of either one of them, but they too would prove a perfect segue into a time for being thankful.

Laura Tsaggaris
One of the things I respect more than anything else from a musician is the ability to get in front of a crowd by him or herself with nothing but a guitar and sing his/her own songs...no covers. In my mind, it is truly an amazing thing to witness. Local girl Laura Tsaggaris did exactly that.

Sitting atop a barstool with her guitar balanced on one knee, the strap dangling needlessly to the side, Laura played a stripped down set of songs with a very folksy vibe. She would have fit perfectly into the early 90's heyday of the Lilith Fair Tour. Lending even more to the coffeehouse vibe, Laura took a moment to introduce each song to her audience, ensuring that we felt what she was feeling when she wrote them. With her soothing voice and admirable guitar playing, Laura Tsaggaris was the perfect opening act for this evening...emotional, heartfelt, and most of all...inspiring.

Ryan Montbleau Band
I enjoyed the Ryan Montbleau Band so much, that I'm thankful I stumbled into Iota tonight just so I can call myself a fan of theirs. Are you sensing the theme of this article yet? My honest to God, takeaway impression of these guys can be summed up with the following question...how in the hell were they only playing a small place like Iota? The Boston based band features Ryan on guitar and vocals, Matt Gianarros on bass guitar (and upright bass at times, how cool is that?), Jason Cohen on keyboards, Laurence Scudder on violin and the ever smiling James Cohen on drums (no seriously, this guy wore a grin throughout the entirety of the band's set).

This is going to sound weird, but listening to the Ryan Montbleau Band was like listening to Tracy Chapman fronting the Dave Matthews Band. However even that description doesn't do justice to the range of capabilities displayed by Montbleau and company as they stylistically dipped in and out of folk rock, blue grass, reggae and even jazz, all in a matter of just a few songs. During one particular song, I felt like I had stepped into some backroom lounge act, like I should be sitting at a table in the corner, smoking a cigar, sipping a glass of brandy and having an important conversation. Comparisons to Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and even Otis Redding wouldn't be inaccurate...these guys are talented, I tell you.

Ryan was the perfect frontman, simultaneously being confidently witty and modestly humble. Sample exchange between him and the crowd after already thanking them profusely for coming out...Ryan: "I'm gonna continue to thank you all night"...someone in the crowd: "you're welcome"...Ryan: "thank you for saying you're welcome...now we're in a never ending spiral". He even performed a mini-solo set mid-show when the rest of the band left the stage, allowing Ryan to play a few songs on his own, just him and his guitar. See above for my thoughts on artists with that kind of talent and confidence.

The Ryan Montbleau Band has apparently played 41 cities in 52 nights. Ryan explained that when you're on tour, home keeps expanding. Being from Boston, when they first played in Buffalo, they thought "what the hell are we doing in Buffalo", but now when they get there they feel like they're almost home. He went on to explain that playing at Iota felt the same way...almost like home. Well Ryan, we're glad to have you my friend, and I for one will be back whenever you decide to visit your "home away from home" again.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Baroness with Earthless and U.S. Christmas

Rock n’ Roll Hotel
Washington D.C.
November 18th, 2009

The Binge was at the Rock n' Roll Hotel this week, which is a very small, cozy venue in my favorite neighborhood in DC...the "up and coming" (which really means, keep to the beaten path or you may not make it home) Atlas District. The place is a freaky, little, hole-in-the-wall dive that doesn't hold much more than a couple of hundred people at best. And when I say freaky, I'm talking mannequins with steer skulls for heads, hanging from the ceiling freaky. So with that said, let's get to the business at hand.

U.S. Christmas
U.S. Christmas, hailing from a little town called Marion in my home state of North Carolina, was up first. The band literally crammed every square inch of the tiny R n' R Hotel stage as they consist of seven members! Lead by vocalist/guitarist Nate Hall, they played a psychedelic blend of stoner/sludge/doom rock. In addition to Hall, U.S. Christmas includes guitarists Matt Johnson and Chris Thomas, bassist Josh Holt, drummers B.J. Graves and Justin Whitlow and violinist Meghan Mulhearn. The dueling drummers, who quite literally blended together visually as if you were watching one drummer playing beside a mirror, provided a rhythm to the music that was heavier than all hell. And the subtle violin gave an eerie backdrop to the entire proceeding. Speaking of eerie, Hall had the skull of some mysterious, antlered animal hanging from his microphone stand, and to top it all off, he used it to hold his finger slide...weird! The band was nothing if not original, especially in a genre that has become oversaturated. Impressive.

San Diego's Earthless were second on the bill and although foreign to me, there appeared to be quite a contingent there to see these guys. Appearing to be the band's front man, Isaiah Mitchell, walked onstage, thanked the crowd for coming out and then pushed the microphone away from him and proceeded to create a wall of feedback that lasted for at least five minutes. I knew immediately that those would be the last words we would hear from Mitchell, and true to my inclination, Earthless turned out to be an instrumental act. The band also includes bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, whose kit had one of the biggest bass drums I've ever laid my eyes on.

Earthless basically played one 40-minute song with Mitchell soloing for what seemed like 95% of that time. Now listen, I get what these guys are about and I have nothing but respect for it. Talent-wise, they have it in spades. With that being said, their shtick got old. Kyuss used to do this type of thing back in the day, but they did it much better. The difference? They had a vocalist, John Garcia, who would exit the stage and allow the rest of the band to play for what seemed like forever, but his presence alone ensured that you never, ever got bored with the music. Earthless weren't able to keep my attention in the same way. Perhaps they should consider adding a vocalist to the mix, even if it's only to offer the occasional distraction from all that guitar wankery.

Baroness, from Savannah, Georgia, is the current torch bearer for stoner rock in my humble opinion. The band plays an amazing blend of slowed down, Clutch-like beard rock with a slight dose of Van Halen-esque guitar flare thrown in for good measure. Quite honestly, I could have listened to this shit all night long!

You would have been hard pressed to know the band was kicking off the tour in support of their latest opus "Blue Record" tonight, as they hit their stride immediately. Apparently these guys have ties to the DC area, having grown up in nearby Lexington, VA, which explains their decision to start the tour in DC (and explains vocalist/guitarist John Baizley’s tie to local bands Darkest Hour and Pig Destroyer, for whom he’s done album artwork in the past).

Baizley is quite the imposing figure, sporting a shaved head, a mighty beard and eyes that drill holes through the audience. When the vocalist screamed into the mic, the veins in his neck stood out so vividly, I thought they might explode…and those damn eyes, I tell you the man looked possessed! Baizley managed to command the stage, despite having nothing to say to the crowd throughout the first ¾ of the show. It wasn't until Baroness left for an encore that he addressed his audience, offering a sincere thanks and saying..."you allow us to do what we do".

Meanwhile, pig-tailed bassist Summer Welch was a maniac onstage, never losing the wicked smile that adorned his mug the entire night. And Peter Adams was equally as psychotic on the other side of the stage, handling lead guitar duty and playing off of Baizley’s rhythm guitar perfectly. Drummer Allen Blickle completed the picture, tying the whole thing up into a nice, neat package of southern-prog-swamp-metal bliss.

Speaking of pictures, behind the band was a backdrop with Baizley’s cover-art from “Blue Record”. This guy’s work really is worth a look, as he is an amazing artist. If you haven’t already done so, do yourself a favor and check out Baroness. Come for the music and stay for the art…just don’t get caught in the gaze of those eyes…

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Lamb of God with Darkest Hour, Periphery and This or the Apocalypse

9:30 Club
Washington D.C
November 11th, 2009

This marks the first (and probably not the last) time since initiating this project that I’ll be reviewing a band more than once. Taking a break from their stint on the Metallica tour (see Metallica with Lamb of God and Gojira), Lamb of God made a pit stop in DC to play a show that had all the makings of a true homecoming. To commemorate the occasion, the boys from Richmond, VA tagged local favorites Darkest Hour as openers in addition to two other regional acts, Periphery from Bethesda, MD and This or the Apocalypse from Lancaster, PA.

This or the Apocalypse
Who knew that the land of the Amish could produce a solid metal band? I have to hand it to the guys in This or the Apocalypse, they have a good time onstage. I don't think any of the five members in the band stopped bouncing and hopping throughout the entirity of their half hour set. Playing standard metalcore, replete with non-stop breakdowns and harsh vocals, TOTA proved to be a perfect opener for the evening, if a bit unoriginal. When the band's vocalist said "I want to see the stupidest circle pit the 9:30 Club has ever seen", I thought...whoa fella, those are some big words considering the impressive list of acts who've played this joint in the past. But I'll give it to the kid, the ensuing mayhem that opened up on the floor was impressive to say the least. Apparently these guys are playing with Machine Head tomorrow night in Long Island, NY. They've obviously done enough to get onstage with some real heavy hitters, so it'll be interesting to see where they go from here. A solid opening act.

Periphery, featuring guitarists Misha Mansoor, Alex Bois and Jake Bowen (yes, that would be three guitars), bassist Tom Murphy, drummer Matt Halpern and vocalist Chris Barretto, would prove to be the surprise of the night. Hailing from DC suburbia (Bethesda, MD), the guys stormed the stage and acted as though they belonged in front of the near capacity 9:30 Club crowd. Sporting a very impressive afro, Barretto did his best angry guy/sensitive guy impression...you know, growling one minute and harmonizing the next. The style provided a nice change of pace and an interesting dynamic to the band's pummeling music. The vocals alone allowed Periphery to avoid the trap of monotony that can often accompany one trick pony metal bands who think the faster they play and the lower they growl, the better they sound.

The singer's choice in attire was a bit confusing however as he sported a t-shirt that read "New York Fucking City"...seemed an odd choice given the local nature of the show. Regardless, the band sounded phenomenal and in addition to This or the Apocalypse, I was extremely impressed with the lineup that Lamb of God had assembled for their evening in DC. On a side note, the pits continued to be a swirling mass of brutality during Periphery's set, a definite sign that the crowd was eager to bring the house down for the headliner.

Darkest Hour
Washington DC's Darkest Hour are, in my opinion, one of the most underrated and underappreciated metal bands on the planet. They helped to invent the aforementioned metalcore sound that has been popularized by bands like Killswitch Engage, All That Remains and As I Lay Dying. So with that said, I was extremely excited given that this was my first opportunity to see them live.

As much as I wanted to like them, I unfortunately found myself disappointed after watching Darkest Hour's set. Blame it on high expectations or the fact that they've been off the road for about three weeks (as was explained later by Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe when thanking Darkest Hour for opening), but something just didn't click for me. The band's songs all seemed to blend together without much to distinguish one from another (the exact thing I praised Periphery for avoiding).

The real highlights occurred when vocalist John Henry showed his humorous side (example: "Mosh so hard that somebody gets pregnant"...hahaha) or when he took a backseat and let guitarists Mike Carrigan and Mike Schleibaum step onto the risers at the front of the stage to play dualing guitar solos. Darkest Hour is rounded out by the rhythm section of bassist Paul Burnette and drummer Ryan Parrish who are solid, but didn't ease my feeling that something was missing. Still, Henry's sense of humor shined through as he leaned out over the front row of the crowd, threw his hair out of his face and asked "everyone here likes metal, I presume?"...very funny.

Perhaps the band would do well to take a few notes from their influences (one guitarist sported a Pantera shirt and the other a Down shirt) and slow it down a little bit. Part of my problem with Darkest Hour's set was that they seemed as though they were in a rush, like they needed to fit as many songs as possible into their 45 minute set. By the time they launched into "Doomsayer", their finale, I was ready for it to be over. As John Henry walked off the stage, he thanked everyone "for coming out to this show and supporting heavy fucking metal". You're very welcome John...but take a breather next time and give us a chance to enjoy it!

Lamb of God
"We are Lamb of God from Richmond fucking Virginia"...so said vocalist Randy Blythe as he and his band took the stage and rolled right into "Walk With Me in Hell". This is true grit heavy metal my friends, the kind that is not for the squeamish. As crazy as the DC crowd was for the three openers tonight, they reached another level when the headliners arrived, the floor turning into a swirl of humanity and the balcony a sea of fists and devil horns...a true sight to behold.

Blythe is a commanding heavy metal frontman. Not since Philip Anselmo (Pantera, Down, Superjoint Ritual, etc.) have I seen a guy who can work the stage and his audience in such an adept manner. The guy is a general out there and the audience are his troops. When he says to put your fists in the air, you do it and you do not ask questions.

Randy doesn't deny the true soldiers out there either as he makes sure to dedicate "Now You've Got Something To Die For" to the men and women of the armed services (something he did a few weeks ago at the Metallica gig as well). The singer continued by saying, those guys are "doing a dirty job in a shitty place...don't forget about them"...and then looked into the pit and screamed "this place is a warzone". Later, when guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler, bassist John Campbell and drummer Chris Adler launched into "Laid to Rest", I looked down at the pit, saw an umbrella go flying through the air and had to admit that Blythe was right, this place is a warzone.

Lamb of God have apparently been on tour for about a year in support of their latest album "Wrath". Blythe mentioned that it has been great being on the road with Metallica, but that the "off-dates are a lot more fun where I can see all you motherfuckers"! Having just seen them in the arena environment, I have to admit, the band reaches a new level of energy and enthusiasm playing in a smaller venue in front of their own crowd. The place was truly alive.

Towards the end of the show, as the audience waited for the band to return for their second encore, the 9:30 Club was aglow with lighters (not cellphones!). Lamb of God returned to the stage to do a stunningly brutal rendition of their fan favorite "Black Label". When the smoke cleared, Randy looked out at the crowd and said "We are Lamb of God, we'll see you next time...Fugazi is up next" before dropping the mic to the floor (if you don't get that last quote, then do a little research on Ian MacKaye and the boys). A perfect coda to a night of local metal in DC's finest venue.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Chuck Redd Quartet

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – Millennium Stage
Washington, DC
November, 6 2009

The Binge was back at the Kennedy Center on Friday night for another of their amazing "Millennium Stage" performances (see Moch Pryderi). This time the focus was vibraphonist Chuck Redd’s jazz quartet in what was billed as "A Celebration of Dizzy and Duke". Now I’m no jazz enthusiast, although I do have a healthy respect for the genre, but even I know that tagline was referring to legends Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington.

If you’re not familiar with what a vibraphone is, then you’re not alone. I walked into the Kennedy Center having no idea what to expect. The instrument basically looks just like a xylophone, however a little research tells me that there are some significant differences between the two instruments. For one, the vibraphone uses aluminum bars instead of wood and each bar has a tube paired with it, which produces a ringing "vibrato" effect when struck. Another key difference is that the vibraphone has a sustain pedal, much like a piano, which can be depressed to hold the sound for a longer period of time.

Now, with that key bit of information out of the way, let’s talk about the actual performance. Chuck Redd and the boys strutted onstage decked out in matching suits, looking like they belonged in some smoky, back-room jazz club from the 1960’s. Along with Chuck on the vibraphone, which sat at the front and center of the stage, the quartet also consisted of James King on the upright bass, John Toomey playing a Steinway & Sons grand piano and drummer Nucleo Vega.

With only an hour to play, the band wasted no time getting down to business. Redd played his instrument as fiercely as a rock guitarist would play theirs, making that "ooh it hurts so good" face with each strike of his mallets. Meanwhile, King was all over his fretless bass, moving his fingers so fast that I found myself holding my breath waiting for him to lose his place in the complex, polyrhythmic songs. He even launched into a solo at one point, while Toomey and Vega subtly played in the background, Chuck standing to the side looking on and coolly snapping his fingers to the beat.

As I said previously, I’m not familiar with jazz music or with the greats that were being celebrated tonight, but I did manage to jot down a few of the tunes that The Chuck Redd Quartet played during the set. Chuck introduced Gillespie’s "And Then She Stopped" by explaining that it featured a calypso beat. The band also played Ellington’s "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me" and Gillespie’s "A Night in Tunisia", the latter of which was opened with a stunning drum solo by Vega that Chuck introduced as an "African Battisti" performance.

Towards the end of the set, King and Vega left the stage and made room for an intense vibraphone/piano dual between Redd and Toomey. The two traded rhythms and runs back and forth, note for note until neither of them could resist breaking a smile, and when the rest of the quartet reemerged to finish the set, there wasn’t a person in the room who hadn’t joined them in smiling. When the band finished, they were met with a rousing ovation and chants for an encore. Having come from DC’s own Blues Alley jazz scene, I’m sure Chuck Redd isn’t accustomed to ending his evening at such an early hour. However, the band’s leader returned and regretfully informed us all that the Kennedy Center doesn’t allow them to play for more than an hour, but thanked us all so much for their enthusiasm. A classy ending to a classy evening…kudos Mr. Redd.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pinback with Obits

Black Cat
Washington, DC
October 28, 2009

Obits, hailing from New York City, did the honors of warming up the crowd for Pinback on Wednesday night at the Black Cat. A quick glance at the merch booth gave me all the information I needed to perk my interest in the band as I discovered they’re on the Sub Pop label, who’s ever growing list of artists is legendary to say the least. While tuning his guitar, vocalist/guitarist Rick Froberg casually asked the crowd if anyone knew the score of the World Series before he and the rest of the band launched into their set. From then on, Obits, which also includes guitarist Sohrab Habibion, bassist Greg Simpson and drummer Scott Gursky, were all business.

Obits’ sound is like listening to a garage rock band with Dick Dale playing guitar. The blending of the surf guitar style with their noisy punk rock was both fun and original. The kids down front didn’t seem to mind that the guys in the band are more than likely hovering around their parent’s age, as they bobbed their heads along to songs from Obits’ recently released debut album "I Blame You". There were no gimmicks to be found here, even when Gursky used a maraca as a drumstick. This is no frills rock n’ roll my friends, the kind that’s easy to move to, even if you’ve never heard any of it before.

Pinback are one of those bands whose pop songs take root in your head and they’re just impossible to get them out. If you enjoy listening to their music, then you’d enjoy listening to them play live because they sound great. Unfortunately, there isn’t too much else to say about the Pinback live experience. The San Diego side project turned focus of Rob Crow and Armistead Burwell Smith IV (Zach) consists of four multi-instrumentalists and a drummer onstage and that’s about all you need to know. The guys swap out playing guitar, bass and keyboards (they literally have four keyboards onstage!) throughout the set and all of them provide vocals, although Rob and Zach handle the majority of the singing.

The set did have a bit of an art-house vibe to it as each song was accompanied by a homemade video, which was being broadcast on a screen behind the band. Of course it’s always fun too, to see how many beers Crow will consume throughout the course of one performance (I counted six tonight…not counting the one he was drinking while inconspicuously watching from among the crowd as Obits played). Make no mistake, I love Pinback and I’ll be back to see them again, but Rob is a shy front man and Zach doesn’t really do much to step up in that department either. With these guys, it’s all about whether or not you dig the music…and I certainly do!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Metallica with Lamb of God and Gojira

Time Warner Cable Arena
Charlotte, North Carolina
October 18th, 2009

The Music Binge was on the road again this week, this time coming at you from Charlotte, NC. I was visiting a buddy in the Queen City who managed to score some amazing seats for the Metallica show...so big thanks to him! But before I get ahead of myself, Metallica had a couple of heavy hitters lined up to play in front of them, so let's get on with it.

This was my second Gojira experience and I have to say, I've been impressed each time that I've seen them. These Frenchmen play a brand of poly-rhythmic metal with lots of stops and starts, much like Meshuggah. Heavier than a loaded cement truck, Gojira took their best shot at caving in the relatively new ceiling of the Time Warner Cable Arena.

Vocalist/guitarist Joe Duplantier, guitarist Christian Andreu and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie did a great job of rotating around the massive "in the round" stage that had been set up in the center of the building's floor. With microphones set at all four sides and all four corners of the stage, the three bandmembers made sure to give each side of the late arriving crowd plenty of attention. All the while, drummer (and Joe's brother) Mario Duplantier sat center stage, pounding out the rhythms that were the backbone of Gojira's onslaught.

It was obvious that this was a special show for the guys in Gojira when Joe Duplantier informed the crowd that this was their last date on the Metallica tour. As if to commemorate the occasion, Randy Blythe from Lamb of God came storming onto the stage to lay down some impressive vocals alongside Duplantier. Gojira's vocalist showed his appreciation for being given such a prestigious opening slot by thanking each member of the legendary headliners individually. The crowd, which had filled in as the band worked their way through their half hour set, roared in approval when Duplantier announced that this was Gojira's first time playing in North Carolina. By the sound of it, you'll be welcomed back anytime Joe!

Lamb of God
As Gojira's equipment was removed, four carpets were laid down on the stage with Lamb of God's logo emblazened on them (no doubt to soak up the massive quantities of water that Randy Blythe would soon be dousing over his head) and the drumset that sat on a massive riser in the corner of the stage was unveiled. The biggest band of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal was up next and you could feel the anticipation in the air. When the lights went down, the boys from Richmond, Virginia hijacked the stage for 45 minutes of pure aural brutality.

I have to give it to Metallica, you must feel pretty comfortable with your ability as a live act to willingly follow a band like Lamb of God each night. Rolling through bludgeoning cuts like "Redneck", "Ruin" and "Black Label", the band simultaneously impressed and scared the shit out of the Charlotte crowd, who were primarily there to see Metallica and Metallica only. Unlike the guys in Gojira, guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler and bassist John Campbell were content to stand their ground on the stage focusing solely on the music, leaving the aforementioned Blythe to rotate around, spitting and spewing his venom all over the audience. All the while, drummer Chris Adler sat atop that huge drum riser, pounding the skins and showing off his impressive, chest-long goatee.

The highlight of the set had to be when Blythe reminded those in attendance that there are some of us who couldn't be here tonight because they're in a shitty place, doing a shitty job so that all of us could be here. He was of course referring to the United States Armed Forces as he dedicated "Now You've Got Something To Die For" to the members of the U.S. military. As if to punctuate the dedication, someone in the crowd held up a U.S. Marine Corps flag to which Randy pointed, all the while nodding in approval.

Like Gojira's vocalist earlier, Randy took time out during his band's set to thank Metallica for the opportunity to play on their tour. He also mentioned that the headliners paved the way for bands like Lamb of God. Listening to some of their more recent albums, it's hard to believe, but Blythe is right and it was a nice gesture for him to admit it. With that said, Lamb of God's set was proof that Metallica fans and metal fans are not one and the same. The crowd seemed shell-shocked by the harsh vocal style and non-stop abrasive attack of the band. Not this reviewer, I was left wondering if Metallica had a chance of living up to the two amazing openers they'd pegged for their own tour.

Now let me start out by saying that I'm no stranger to seeing Metallica live, so this wasn't a new experience for me. And quite frankly, I've had a sort of love/hate relationship with this band since their "Load" and "Re-Load" days of the late 90's. I realize that a lot of hard core fans think that Metallica died with the release of the "Black Album" and an even more hard core contingent actually think they died with the release of "...And Justice For All" (and to a greater extent with the release of the video for the song "One" off of that album).

Well I disagree with both factions and happen to like both of those albums (as a matter of fact, Justice is tied with "Master of Puppets" as my favorite Metallica album). However, I just couldn't get past the blatant change in both musical style and image that accompanied the Load/Re-Load era. So with all of that being said, I've ironically always had a problem with the fact that Metallica themselves tend to primarily focus their live performances on older songs (from Justice, Puppets, "Ride the Lightning" and "Kill Em All"), neglecting their newer material and ultimately (at least in my mind) admitting that they're days of making quality music are behind them.

So tonight, I fully anticipated more of the same from the Bay Area thrashers when they proceeded to take the stage to an impressive array of laser lights and promptly roll through two songs off their latest release, "Death Magnetic". I couldn't believe my ears! Then, three songs later when I heard the familiar machine gun fire that opens "One", I was shocked that the band's usual encore song was being played so early in the set. This wasn't the same old Metallica set at all!

Now let me get back to that love/hate thing. The poor guys in Metallica...they really need no introduction, but here it goes anyway; James Hetfield (vocals/guitar), Kirk Hammet (guitars), Lars Ulrich (drums) and new guy Robert Trujillo (bass)...just can't win with me. All of a sudden I'm hearing these newer songs, which obviously proves that the band stands firm behind their latest opus, and I'm feeling disappointed! Here they are doing the exact thing that I typically accuse them of not doing, and I'm wishing for those old Metallica sets that shun the new stuff so that all us old school types can hear the songs we grew up with...love/hate I tell ya.

Make no mistake though, my disappointment was short lived. If you haven't experienced Metallica live, let it be known they are a consistently tight, accurate and precise beast...they do not miss a beat. And they are LOUD. The band either does not give their openers the same amount of juice, or the openers just don't have the sheer amount of equipment as the headliners, because the increase in volume was immediately noticeable...my ears were ringing! Metallica sounded soooo heavy during "Sad But True", I had to grab the railing in front of me to stabilize myself.

With all the requisite pyrotechnics, lighting rigs in the shape of coffins and a rotating drum set, Metallica were prepared to deliver a true rock show. Sprinkling in a couple of lengthy guitar solos by virtuoso Kirk Hammet, the band played a set heavy off their latest album "Death Magnetic" with favorites spanning their entire career making appearances throughout. Interestingly enough, the only albums omitted from tonight's set were Load, Re-Load and St. Anger...the three most criticized albums by longtime fans. Even two songs from the "Garage Days" cover album (Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" and Motorhead's "Too Late, Too Late") made the list!

By the end of the evening, when James Hetfield asked his audience if they'd enjoyed their night with Metallica, the resulting screams and cheers sounded like a resounding yes. It's obvious that these guys have cemented their place atop the metal heap for as long as they choose to stick around. Whether you love em or hate em...or maybe even a little bit of both, Metallica can still get you out of your seat with horns in the air. So when Hetfield led the crowd into the familiar chant along song "Seek and Destroy", there wasn't a vocal chord in the building that wasn't straining to join in...and I did my best to be the loudest. God I love these guys...until their next album.

Set List:
That Was Just Your Life
The End of the Line
For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Four Horsemen
Broken, Beat & Scarred
Sad But True
Turn the Page
The Judas Kiss
Guitar Solo #1 (Kirk Hammet)
The Day That Never Comes
Master of Puppets
Fight Fire With Fire
Guitar Solo #2 (Kirk Hammet)
Nothing Else Matters
Enter Sandman

Too Late Too Late
Phantom Lord
Seek and Destroy

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures with Mini Mansions

9:30 Club
Washington, D.C.
October 14th, 2009

I'm not going to waste a lot of time talking about tonight's opener from Los Angeles, because this show was all about the headliner. To be honest, I spent the majority of the time Mini Mansions were playing trying to figure out how in the hell they managed to land this gig. The band is made up of three multi-instrumentalists, featuring Michael Shuman on drums (he plays them standing up) and guitar, Tyler Parkford on keyboard and guitar and Zach Dawes on bass and keyboards...all provide vocals. The band throws a lot of Beatles-esque harmonizing into their power-pop sound, which can be interesting at times. The highlight of the set was the tricked out version of Blondie's "Heart of Glass", which doesn't say a whole lot about the band's original songs. The crowd was subdued and frankly seemed bored when the openers were onstage. With very little crowd interaction and a somewhat bland sound, Mini Mansions wasted their opportunity to play in front of a sold out 9:30 Club crowd.

Them Crooked Vultures
If you haven't heard about this super-group, featuring Joshua Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal, Kyuss) on vocals and guitar, John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) on bass and keyboard and Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Probot, Nirvana) on drums, then shame on you. I've been to plenty of sold out shows at the 9:30 Club, but this one seemed extra sold out. The place was packed from wall to wall on the floor and in the balcony, with everyone craning their necks to see the slice of rock n' roll history that was about to take the stage.

In all the concerts I've been to, I have never before seen anything quite like this. Nobody in the room had a clue what they were about to hear because Them Crooked Vultures hasn't released any material to date. There would be no singing along tonight, no song requests shouted from the audience and no air guitaring to that familiar riff that everyone knows and loves. No, the people in attendance tonight were there because three of the most amazing rock musicians alive have decided to get together and try something new. They could have walked onstage and sang Christmas carols acapella and this crowd would have been in awe.

Fortunately, that's not what happened. When Grohl walked onstage, waved to the crowd and then took his seat behind the heavily sand bagged drum kit (yes folks, he hits them that freaking hard), the place exploded with excitement. Homme, Jones and rhythm guitarist Alain Johannes were right on his heels and the fun was about to begin. Grohl started with a nice, steady beat that got everyone's heads nodding and then...BOOM...he took off on a fast and furious rampage and the rest of the band dropped in right on time.

Grohl and Jones seemed content to take a backseat and allow Homme to play the role of band leader as neither said a word all night. About midway through the set, the frontman took a timeout to introduce the band. Of course, when Joshua said "ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Dave Grohl" the place erupted, to which he remarked "I know, I love him too". There was no louder applause all night however, than when Homme simply looked to his right and said "John Paul Jones". Not to be forgotten though, the singer very appropriately introduced himself by saying "and I'm your host, I'm Joshua...I think I've slept on most of your floors"...hahaha...this guy never fails to make me laugh.

If you're wondering what Them Crooked Vultures sound like, I'd have to say its a very heavy version of alternative rock. The band sounded amazing, playing songs like "Scumbag Blues", "Gunman" and "Mind Eraser, No Chaser" off their forthcoming album. Given the fact that Homme's vocal style is so unique, it's hard not to draw comparisons to Queens of the Stone Age. Grohl's hard hitting style carries the music to a different level however, discarding the laid back feel of Homme's other band. Although, during one particular cabaret-like number, Joshua removed his guitar, lit up a cigarette and strutted around the stage like a member of the Rat Pack...very cool (on a side note, Jones played a key-tar during that song!). And then of course there's John Paul Jones, who is like the father figure watching over the boys and keeping them in check. His rhythm on the bass and keyboards is the foundation for this heavy, groovy rock. I can't wait to hear the album!

It was obvious that the entire band was having a blast onstage, but Homme wanted to make sure they weren't the only ones enjoying themselves. At one point in the show, he asked "you guys having a good time?...I can't really tell...I am...I'm having a great time...I love being in this band." The crowds overwhelming reaction told Joshua all he needed to know, that indeed we were having a good time. Later in the set, he sympathized with the fact that none of us actually knew any of the songs, saying "it's a lot of new music...kinda confusing...kinda exciting too though, right?". He hit the nail on the head with that one, exciting is the word that best described this experience. I think I can probably speak for just about everyone else in attendance when I say that tonight, I felt like I witnessed something truly special. Whether this band is just a one off project or a full time gig, seeing Joshua Homme, John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl onstage together is an image, and more importantly a sound, that I won't forget. Amazing!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Bravery with The Dustys and U.S. Royalty

9:30 Club
Washington, D.C.
October 11th, 2009

U.S. Royalty
Locals U.S. Royalty opened the show tonight at the 9:30 Club by happenstance. When The Bravery rolled into town, they were supposed to be accompanied by alt-rock up and comers Living Things, but unfortunately that band had their van and all of their equipment stolen the previous night in New Jersey. Like the old proverb says, one band's misfortune is another band's gain...or something like that. Regardless, U.S. Royalty, who happen to be old friends with some of the guys in The Bravery, were asked to fill in at the last minute. The band was actually playing a block party in Dupont Circle (a neighborhood in D.C. for those out of towners who may be reading this) earlier in the day when they got the call from The Bravery.

The band had an old school rock n' roll vibe with just a little Southern rock thrown in for good measure...kind of like if the Rolling Stones and the Black Crowes got together for a jam session. As a matter of fact, singer John Thornley bears a striking resemblance to the Crowes Chris Robinson and his dance moves onstage are eerily similar to those of Mick Jagger. The singer kept himself busy throughout the set, at times playing a harmonica, a tambourine and a maraca. The remaining members of the band include Thornley's brother and Boy George look-alike Paul Thornley on guitar, Jacob Michael on bass and Luke Adams behind the drum kit. Despite the late notice, U.S. Royalty were a hit with the crowd and a perfect compliment to the dance rock of tonight's headliner.

The Dustys
The same cannot be said for The Dustys from Arlington, Virginia, who were actually billed to play in U.S. Royalty's slot. With the late cancellation of Living Things, The Dustys got bumped up in the lineup to play in front of the headliner, a slot they seemed ill-prepared to fill. With very little stage presence and a bland garage-rock sound, the band fell flat and frankly seemed out of their element. The vocalist/guitarist had very little to say to the crowd, deferring to the keyboardist, who had even less to say (but at least he tried). I'm pretty sure at one point in the show he actually talked about the hat that he was wearing, letting us all know that he got it in Tulsa...huh? Forgettable.

The Bravery
New York City new wave purveyors The Bravery came out to the familiar riff of their hit "Unconditional". Awash in a sea of lights with a movie screen background, the band rolled through songs from both of their albums, as well as music from their forthcoming release "Stir the Blood". As a matter of fact, frontman Sam Endicott informed the crowd early in the show..."we're gonna play some new shit, we're gonna play some old shit, we're gonna play some middle shit". And that's exactly what they did.

John Conway's keyboards were the focal point of The Bravery's sound, at times nearly drowning out Endicott's vocals. That being said, when the band was on, they sounded brilliant. When the singer introduced "Time Won't Let Me Go" by dedicating it to Pony Boy and Soda Pop (if you don't get it, then please stop reading this and go read The Outsiders), the crowd erupted and the band fed off their energy.

Rounded out by guitarist Michael Zakarin, bassist Mike Hindert and drummer Anthony Burulcich, The Bravery were fun, but like their supporting acts, perhaps not all that memorable. Aside from the hits, especially "Honest Mistake" which sounded amazing, the rest of the show seemed like a blur of keyboards and lights. When Endicott said "it's good to be back, this is the city I was born in", the crowd seemed ready to welcome him. Only time will tell if they'll still be there when he returns.