Monday, October 26, 2009

Ballyhoo! with Black White Radio (Aaron Crawford), Monako and Prettier In Person

Jammin' Java
Vienna, Virginia
September 17, 2009

So a friend and I were running some errands in Vienna, Virginia on Thursday night and knowing I still hadn’t seen a show that week for the Music Binge, she mentions a venue close by that neither of us had ever heard of or been to before. When we arrive, I find that the place is a combination bar/coffee house/music venue, aptly named Jammin’ Java. It turned out to be the perfect setting for the show I was about to see. In terms of size, it fell somewhere between the main stage and the back bar stage at the Black Cat, which is to say it probably holds around 400 or so people. And as a side note, the veggie chili at this place was ridiculously good!

Prettier In Person
The show for tonight was a local showcase of sorts, starting with Vienna’s own Prettier In Person, who were playing only their second show together as a band. Led by androgynous vocalist/guitarist Dayzey, they had a punk meets glam rock meets metal sort of sound, kind of like the evil spawn of the New York Dolls and AC/DC. The three piece were having a blast onstage, despite the late arriving crowd at Jammin’ Java, and their energy was undeniable as they launched into a cover of The Donnas’ “Take It Off”. Bassist Big T, looking as though he came to the show straight from his day job, sweated right through his white button down shirt. The highlight however, was Prettier In Person’s drummer, Nickel, who flailed around behind his kit, beating the skins so fast that all you saw was his mop of red hair flying this way and that. For only their second show, this band was impressive…a surprisingly fun start to a random night of rock n’ roll.

The second act of the night was Monako, who are apparently comprised of members of several other D.C. area bands. This four piece owes an awful lot to reggae rock radio staples like Sublime and Sugar Ray. Vocalist/guitarist Matt Waller was by far the highlight of the set and the centerpiece for this band. He and bassist Ken Barnum harmonized beautifully on songs like “Sticky Situation”, “Undertow” and the title track from their debut album, “Amnesia”. The rhythm section, consisting of drummer Jared Barnum and bassist Joe Owens were more content to take a backseat to the other two. On a side note, it was often difficult to get past Ken’s incessant and irritating gyrations (dance moves?) during the songs and color commentary between them. I kept hoping someone else in the band would politely ask him to stand still and shut up. With the Prettier In Person guys watching from the front of the stage, the show was really starting to take on the feel of a good old fashioned showcase for local bands. Fun!

Black White Radio
The third set of the evening, billed as Black White Radio, was actually a solo/acoustic performance by Aaron Crawford, formerly of Sterling Park, Virginia band Rude Buddha. The crowd really came alive during Aaron’s set, especially during “Bar Song”, apparently a local favorite from his old band. The cozy, local feel continued as someone from the crowd handed Aaron a shot between songs, which he casually drank down before letting out a nice, long belch into the mic. Crawford, who sat perched atop a bar stool with one foot propped on a monitor, displayed a lot of confidence and a cool demeanor throughout his brief set, which turned out to be the highlight of the evening in my eyes…his closer and the namesake of his moniker, Black White Radio, being the hallmark moment. In the song, Aaron sings “I want to know…can I add color to black/white radio?” Well Aaron, in my opinion, radio is a lost cause these days, but your performance at Jammin’ Java was colorful to say the least…kudos my friend.

Unfortunately, by the time that headliners Ballyhoo! took the stage, the crowd had dwindled considerably. The Aberdeen, Maryland foursome could have easily been mistaken for a bunch of Southern California surfers, thanks to the palm tree tucked inside their band logo and vocalist/guitarist Howi Spangler’s bleach blond hair and penchant for wearing surfer clothes (not to mention the guys are signed to Surfdog Records). The funky, energetic set from Ballyhoo! would have fit perfectly in the late 90’s/early 00’s nu-metal scene. However, despite the inclusion of turntables in their lineup, the band thankfully owed more to the funk infused rock of 311 than the white boy rap/rock of Limp Bizkit. The loyal Ballyhoo! fans who hung around seemed perfectly content with the nostalgic sound as they jumped and danced as if it were 1999.

Overall, aside from show openers Prettier In Person, nostalgia for the late 90’s seemed to be the theme of the evening. The concert was full of energetic rock with a funk/hip-hop vibe. I felt like an outsider who had stumbled into someone else’s high school reunion, but was welcomed with open arms. I discovered four great new acts and one new venue…a good night for the Music Binge.

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