Show 10/52 – Woods, Real Estate, Surf City at R&R Hotel

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

This is long overdue…we’ve been slackers, well, mostly I’ve been a slacker since I was the only Rockwurst crew member to go to this show. And I have to say, it was blog worthy in the highest degree. But I will keep it short because there are other things to catch up on, like the Wilco show, and my Coachella experience. But like I said, this show was awesome, and needs to be mentioned.

First up with the a New Zealand group Surf City. I had no idea who they were, and that was cool, because they came out with good energy. I see them as part of a new punk scene, and I could be way off on this, but it feels like punk slowed down and more melodic. I don’t have much history with the early punk scene, but I hear a revival these days, but with similar influences of current indie rock. Check out a video of Surf City:

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Next up was Real Estate. I had heard a couple of songs, but not too much. I enjoyed the hell out of these guys. Spacious and intelligent, everything very smooth but deliberate. Nothing very earth shattering, but they were fun and write tight songs. Here is a video:

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Last up was Woods, and all I can say is, wow what a sonic adventure! They were amazing! At first, I was standing towards the back of the venue, and I kept hearing a bunch of sounds that were not coming from the 3 band members I saw, then I saw this flop of hair pop up at one point, so I made my way up towards the stage, and there was a 4th member of the band on his knees playing all kinds of unique instruments. Now I wasn’t close enough to see everything really well, but once I got closer, I was enveloped in a wall of sound that was amazing. It is pretty hard to describe, (see video below) and I don’t think there is a genre to place them in. There were two things that stood out to me. First was the juxtaposition of  sounds. The guy on the floor seemed to play things that at first didn’t really mesh with everything, so you had this mixing of sudo-pop and ambient almost Sigur Ros-esque sounds, and before I got closer to the stage, I was having trouble making it work. But then it clicked with me and I started to see how they drove each other with a back and forth play. The other feeling I got, after I started figuring out what they were doing, was an almost Pink Floyd planned experimentation, a driving force of sonic exploration. They didn’t sound like Floyd at all, but I got that kind of energy from their set.

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Lastly, after Woods finished their set, all three bands came on stage and did a crazy cover of Blind Melon’s No Rain. Everyone changed instruments from what they normally played, and it was really a cluster fuck of sounds, but it was so much fun.

Show 9/52 – Fruit Bats at The Blackcat, 3/20/10

March 21, 2010 2 comments

(photos coming soon)

I hadn’t been to a show in more than 3 weeks and I was really beginning to miss live music. Due to schedules we had not been able to make it out to anything recently, but I had the Fruit Bats show on my calendar for a couple of months now, and I wasn’t going to miss out.

The other Rockwurst faithful were unavailable this weekend, so I recruited a couple of new music loving friends to partake. We started the evening out by going to a Washington Improv Theater (WIT) show at The Source Theater, enjoying some FIST! If you haven’t checked out a WIT show, and are looking for a great night of comedy, go check out FIST! It is a NCAA tourney style of improv competition where teams of 3 fight for laughs and audience votes to move on to the next round. Sorry for the shameless promotion, but gotta support my improv brethren.

We got to the Blackcat early and played a couple rounds of pool, missing the first part of the show (I can’t lie, alcohol had taken away my sense of time) But when we finally got upstairs, my ears were treated to delightful guitar riffs, enjoyable melodies, classic rock harmonies, and the overall sweet sound of the Fruit Bats. I had heard about Fruit Bats through a KEXP podcast, and fell in love with the opening line to the title track to their latest album Ruminant Band. It goes, “You’ll always have smokes if you always give buckets of love.” It’s like a rock star/hippie/buddhist philosophy wrapped into one sweet anthem.

The have a very classic rock sound with twinges of Niel Young, Tom Petty, My Morning Jacket and some electric Bob Dylan. Lead singer Eric Johnson’s vocal range is slightly higher than tenor, almost in the same range as Robert Plant, but a little smoother.

We got to here about 50 minutes of their set, and they showed the experience of a band who has been at it a while. Before the encore, Johnson talked about their first trip to the Blackcat 10 years ago when they were on the same bill as The Shins and Modest Mouse. That caught me off guard a little, one because it made me realize I first heard The Shins more than 6 years ago now, but also how those other two groups have gone on to pretty big success, while Fruit Bats struggle to sell out a Saturday night show at the Blackcat. I’d argue Fruit Bats have developed a more consistent sound drawing on past and present influences more than Modest Mouse, and have a fullness and the ability to evoke emotions similar to The Shins.

I got to talk with a couple of the guys after the show, and they were very down to earth and realistic, they all have other part-time jobs when not touring. But it was also evident that they had a real passion for their music. The drummer, when talking about how the band now lives in 3 cities (Chicago, Portland, and Seattle) and only comes together to record and tour, smiled and said, “What else am I going to do, this is my life.”

Show 8/52 – St. Vincent at the 9:30 Club, 2/24/10

February 27, 2010 Leave a comment

I love it when a concert makes me love an album I already love even more.

St. Vincent’s (that is, Annie Clark’s) second full-length album, Actor, was one of the most inventive and critically acclaimed albums of 2009. It’s an album defined by disparate, contradictory elements, most notably between Clark’s beautiful, unblemished vocals and the intrusive instrumentation of disjointed percussives, distorted guitar fuzz, and splintered woodwinds. The music of Actor,  according to Clark, was inspired by Disney film scores—-the songs are intricate and ornate, sometimes gentle, other times grandiose—but the lyrics of each song are clearly inspired by the gut punches of personal experience and bad break-ups. If it were possible for an album to give you a back rub and kick you in the groin at the same time—again and againActor would be that album.

Performed live with a full band, Actor’s discordance and dissonance are even more pronounced—the rhythm is more off-kilter, bass lines are deeper, guitar lines more distorted—thereby giving the songs an even stronger wallup. Songs like “Strangers,” “Actor Out of Work,” and “Marrow” were edgier, had more teeth, during St. Vincent’s live performance at the 9:30 Club. Lines like “You showed up with a black eye, looking to finish a fight/And lover I don’t play to win for the thrill until I’m spent” had more emotional heft, as the almost disruptive guitar riff that precedes that line was much more amplified, more convulsive during the live performance.

But a St. Vincent show isn’t just all blows to the diaphragm and marrow connected to ire and blood in the mouth, and that’s largely thanks to the fact that Annie Clark is, well, really frickin’ nice (or at least she is on stage and during interviews). Her sincere “Hello, DC”s and “Why thank you, DC”s and charming banter between songs warm the crowd and soften the edges of what could otherwise be a dark set (save for a solo performance of Nico’s “These Days” ). Through the course of the evening, Annie Clark offered DC touring recommendations (check out the National Museum of Health and Medicine), described the charming S&M motif of a venue they almost played in Columbus, explained that she would be signing merchandise after the show (and she did, because she’s nice), and talked about how it was only 5 or 6 years ago that she and a bandmate drove 7 hours from North Carolina to DC for an in-store performance at the erstwhile Revolution Records for only a handful of people.

That last anecdote reminded of the first time I saw St. Vincent live. It was just Annie Clark, playing solo and opening for Midlake at the Rock & Roll Hotel. I was with a group of friends and none of us had heard of her at the time, but after the show (and I mean for days and weeks afterward), we kept talking about her, to the point where we were even conjecturing whether she was a bigger fan of Millay or Catholic martyrs. And I can’t quite figure out which show I liked the best—the one where she performed solo and opened for Midlake at the R&R Hotel, or this sold-out show with a full band and lighting, etc., at the 9:30—-but I really wish I had been at Revolution Records when she rolled into town in 2003 or 2004. Dang, man. That’s the show that got away.

There’s a lot of great footage and recordings of St. Vincent on the ‘net. Start with her homepage, where you can find tour videos, interviews, photos, etc. Also check out this interview on Sound Opinions, and there’s all kinds of fun material, including a concert recording, on npr.org.

Kraftwurst at the German Gourmet

February 22, 2010 3 comments

The German Gourmet may have the best bargain lunch in town. For less than six bucks, you can get a tasty bratwurst sandwich in a crunchy-soft roll, complete with a healthy dose of kraut and spicy German mustard, along with sides of potato salad and pickled beets. The hearty to-go platter, pictured below, may be just what the bleak existentialist in you needs this winter to thaw your sad-ass, oh-so-frozen heart (Abe and Kevin, I’m looking in your [ok, mainly Abe’s] direction),  so meat up.

The German Gourmet's bratwurst platter to go. I ate it all.

The German Gourmet offers several different types of wieners, wursts, and sausage rings, and they boast the area’s largest selection of imported German foods. If it’s German and edible, you can find it on their shelves. On a recent visit, Rockwurst stocked up on some thueringer sausage, knackwurst, bauernwurst, and of course, a bratwurst platter to go. Their handy-dandy take-out brochure offered plenty of advice for how to cook, and store for later enjoyment, their filler-free meat.

I stand by my claim—because, really, this post is all about me—that the bauernwurst is the progenitor of the half-smoke. The German Gourmet’s version is “coarse ground pork and beef, half smoked with mustard seed and well spiced” (and holy smokes, it’s good—a sure-fire finalist for my end-of-year wurst-off). Really, what’s the difference between the bauernwurst and DC’s signature half-smoke? Perhaps it all comes down to the toppings: A half-smoke from, say, Ben’s is buried in bland Hormel-like chili and a squirt of synthetically colored mustard, whereas a bauernwurst from the German Gourmet isn’t complete without the sweet-ass roll, the kraut, the spicy German ‘tard. Call me crazy, wiener lovers, but I’ll opt for latter—the real f’in deal.

Show 7/52 – Phantogram and Junk Culture at DC9

February 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Phantogram at DC9, and yes, there is a person under the hair

Kevin: There is not much better to help shake cabin fever than an overcrowded room with with floors vibrating  from the pulse-thumping beats, Snowmageddon be damned, Phantogram was in town!

Sesshin No-Fi opened the show, but I arrived after their set, sorry. The first set I saw was by Junk Culture, and it was a really cool set. Junk Culture is Deepak Mantena, and he runs samples and loops through an MPC, and showing some odd videos on a screen behind. It was uptempo and full despite being choppy at times. Deepak seemed like a guy who loved making music, and implored the audience to dance, even going out into the crowd during one song getting people to dance. I felt a little bad, but it was a traditional DC crowd that didn’t now how to cut loose to good music on a Monday night. In some ways I think he would be an awesome DJ for the after party of a Radiohead/Dirty Projectors concert, but that wouldn’t be enough for him. I think he’s onto some good stuff, and hope to check him out again.

Junk Culture...I was dancing in the back

As I had posted back in December, Phanotgram was one of the albums I was really looking forward the release, and when the album came out last week, I was not disappointed one bit. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, the delicate layers of beats and vocals is mesmerizing and harmonic. Phantogram is a two-piece consisting of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, who were junior high school friends, who after different projects both ended up back in their home town of Saratoga Springs, NY. What came together is a great mix of intelligent and danceable pop, that has enough going on to entice multiple listens. Since poking their heads into “indie” scene with their performance at CMJ last fall, they have picked up nods from All Songs Considered, KEXP, and been a Starbucks song of the week.

I was excited to hear them live, to see how they were going to run all those samples, keys, guitars, and vocal layers, and it was a great show. This was my first show at DC9, and it is a quasi-intimate setting with little separation from the band, but the sound system was not great. But Phantogram pushed through their near hour set, and I was fixated. As with other groups of sample-based pop I’ve heard and seen, they did not quickly run through songs as they sounded on the album, there was intention to everything, I could hear that the songs had been worked on and tweaked on the road. During “Let Me Go” just a few songs into the set, the drum sample dropped, and Josh started playing the harmony on the guitar while Sarah tried to get the sample restarted with no luck, but they taught the audience the words, and played the last chorus sans-sample. And it was a nice  moment because Phantogram wasn’t embarrassed or frustrated, and that endeared the audience to the band.

After the set, I hung out a little bit to try and talk with the band, and after several excited teenies asked for pics with the group, I got the chance to talk with Sarah for a couple of minutes. I first asked how old they were hoping they were at least close to 30, but alas, mid0 20’s was the answer I got. But I mostly wanted to see if they were as genuine in person as their music came across. During their more well known songs Mouthful of Diamonds and When I’m Small the audience was singing along to the chorus, and I noticed Sarah broke out in a slightly surprised smile. When I asked her about that, she smiled again, like a person realizing their dreams are beginning to come true.

Check out more of my sub-par images in the Flickr feed to the right

DC Record Fair Reflections

February 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Kevin: OK, so I’m probably the last guy who should have gone to the DC Record Fair, I don’t own a record player, the history of my musical taste pre-2002 was suspect at best, and I don’t have a job so I have no business spending money on something I can’t even enjoy for the foreseeable future. But I hadn’t been anywhere but my house and the Derby for the last 10 days, and my car was feeling unloved, so I trekked down to the Blackcat, found a spot a couple of blocks away, and excitedly walked into a music lovers wet dream.

As Abe posted yesterday, to accommodate the throngs of people from last year, they moved to a larger venue, and they needed every inch of the Blackcat. There easily were 150+ thumbing through the various vendors old milk cartons of LPs. I usually had to wait 10 minutes behind a particular category, looking over shoulders  just for the chance to what might still be left. If I’d had a record player (or job) I may have needed a hand cart to haul out the many purchases I wished I could have made, but instead I impulsively purchased 3 Pink Floyd classics, Meddle, Obscured By Clouds, and Dark Side of the Moon. And while I won’t be able to listen for a while, I am happy that I began my record collection where my true musical exploration began, in the unparalleled guitar riffs of David Gilmore.

D.C. Record Fair Tomorrow

February 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Nothing says I love you like a limited first pressing of Manowar’s “Kings of Metal”, so celebrate this Valentine’s Day by flipping through crates of records with other sullen indie nerds at the 2010 D.C. Record Fair, taking place at the Black Cat tomorrow from 12:00–6:00 p.m. This will be my first stop at the annual event, but apparently this thing has grown so big that they’ve had to move from the too-cozy confines of Comet Ping Pong to the more spacious real estate of the Black Cat Mainstage. Dealers from all over the East Coast, including most of the local guys, look to be setting up shop, and a nice list of guest DJs will be rotating behind the decks every hour (including some dude named Ian MacKaye). Should be a good, second-mortgage inducing time. And most importantly, this means what should obviously be a Federal Holiday is only two short months away.

Check back with Rockwurst in a couple of days for some exclusive pics of the sure-to-be-intense action.