Category Archives: Music

St. Vincent at 9:30 Club

St. Vincent

St. Vincent played her second sold out night at 9:30 Club this Sunday. I went. It was great. Forgive the heavy consonance. Gonna jump right in here.

The performance had many theatrical elements. The set looked like an 80s living room. Lots of pastels. Very foggy. After every few songs, Clark stopped to give brief monologues that set up another set of songs with light foreshadowing. In this way, the performance was divided into acts. There were even choreographed dance moves with her guitarist (there was no bassist). And she had a costume change before her encore. It felt rehearsed and robotic—like science fiction.

Q: Are we not Devo?
A: We are St. Vincent!

Lady can shred. I underestimated the possible influence of My Bloody Valentine on her guitar work, and am mystified by her restraint on her recorded releases. Live, she let loose with intense solos and heavy pedal effects, very arena rock, almost in a Phish jam band way. (I may be alone in this comparison.) I see a lot of arena potential. As a songwriter, she has the rare-ish ability to be personal without melodrama, and has successively grown more sonically experimental on her releases with risky rhythms, structure and synths. I would love to hear her make a through and through guitar record, although that may not be her M.O. I am glad to see musicianship and experimentality together in the indie-music sphere, where flashy fashion often fades fast.

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A highlight was her encore opening “Strange Mercy”, which she performed solo atop a pink pyramid.

Holly Herndon, the opener, was fun. According to her website, Herndon is a multi-disciplinary artist pursuing a doctorate in Computer Music at Stanford University. Her setup being mainly a laptop, it was initially laughable to watch her loop breathing noises with BOOMING bass, but as her set progressed, I enjoyed it more. I think her music would better suit a smaller space more oriented towards dancing. Her performance was good pallette prep for St. Vincent.

Pekka Kuusisto and Nico Muhly at the Phillips Collection

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Following a successful performance at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge on Jan. 3, Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto and American composer Nico Muhly brought spontaneous whimsy to a Sunday evening performance at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. The duo’s program included selections from Phillip Glass, Johann Sebastian Bach, Muhly’s 2012 album Drones, as well as traditional Finnish folk songs. It was absolutely delightful.

Kuusisto’s vocals with his and Muhly’s sparse instrumentation reminded me of Iceland’s Sigur Ros. The Director of Music at the Phillips, Caroline Mousett, said in her introduction that Kuusisto enjoys improvisation. This got me thinking about classical music and performance in a post-rock era. These two young performers incorporated improvisation, a quality most often associated with rock and jazz, into a musical style which I associate more closely with rote performance. (I can’t say I pull from as broad an experience with classical performance as I do with more contemporary genres.) Improvisation makes live performance more exciting, as the element of surprise should never be undervalued. I enjoyed the juxtaposition between Muhly’s contemporary compositions and Kuusisto’s folk songs. It was a performance the could have taken place only in 2014.

Kuusisto and Muhly are very funny and endlessly energetic. Yesterday evening’s performance was the first I have seen at the Phillips Collection. It was pretty formal, but not stuffy. There were moments I wanted to scream out, like at a rock concert, but I controlled myself.

Muhly wore multiple layers of flowy, black Alexander Wang-style garments, which he removed toward the end of the performance to muffle the piano.

Included here are two photos of sketches I drew during the performance.

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David Bowie, The Next Day

Sticker promoting David Bowie's 'The Next Day' in Georgetown
Sticker promoting David Bowie’s “The Next Day” in Georgetown

At least in my mind, David Bowie’s status as a style icon comes before his music. I have listened to his albums for years, but his image as a flamboyant, sophisticated shapeshifter was what initially drew me to his work.

I regret to say that despite Bowie’s fight to “Never Get Old” on Reality (2003), his newest album The Next Day (2012) is the first on which his age shows, meaning nothing of the quality, only his perspective. Like a retired astronaut, he harkens to stargazing and astro-disco on “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” and “Dancing Out In Space”. It’s a fine album, and I’m glad he has not retired.  His fellow countryman Morrissey could take a few notes from him on aging gracefully.

One of the things I attribute Bowie’s success as an artist is his commitment to not over-sharing. I can’t imagine him writing a tell-all memoir. Recording The Next Day in secret gave him the opportunity to surprise us all again. His discretion invites listeners and fans to read more deeply into the details of his work rather than glossing over them.

The two images below are from a three-page ad featuring Bowie and Iman published during 2004 for H Hilfiger, a year after he released Reality. I forget how many years I had them taped up on my bedroom wall. At the time, I didn’t think of them as fashion photographs so much as rock posters. Funny how those lines get blurred.

David Bowie and Iman for H Hilfiger
David Bowie and Iman for H Hilfiger
David Bowie and Iman for H Hilfiger
David Bowie and Iman for H Hilfiger

It’s interesting to see how much the Hilfiger brand, like Bowie, has shapeshifted. These images are miles away from the “Hilfigers” ad campaign of recent years. The looks here are in step with the style and mood of Men In Black (1997) and the first installment of the Matrix franchise (1999), fusing together science fiction, minimalism, and an all black-and-white wardrobe.

Photo by me

Hilfiger ads shot by Ellen von Unwerth

Desaparecidos at 9:30 Club

Desaparecidos plays to a sold out 9:30 Club on their short East Coast tour. Photo by Nico Dodd.
Desaparecidos plays to a sold out 9:30 Club on their short East Coast tour. Photo by Nico Dodd.

At this point in his career, Conor Oberst has any number of entities he can tour with, from indie alternative Bright Eyes, the southern rock Mystic Valley Band, to his solo performances (not to mention Monsters of Folk). Desaparecidos is his post-hardcore punk outfit. Each of these incarnations attracts the same enthusiastic fan base which makes the performances as memorable as Oberst himself does. The band’s sold out show at 9:30 Club was an opportunity to hear the ambitious songwriter on overdrive.

Per artist request, there was no professional photography admitted. I left my DSLR in the car. At a previous concert, Oberst spoke out against smartphones at shows. He wants his audience undistracted and in the moment with him.

With Desaparecidos, Oberst pushes his political leanings to to forefront. A recording of Ted Nugent comically rambling about politics played before the band took the stage to the theme of the A-Team. Over a heavier sound, Oberst’s vocals let loose with more energy than an average Bright Eyes show. He made a short speech in support of Bradley Manning and hacktivists, inviting the latter to take away the “golden parachutes” of bankers at Goldman Sachs. The band’s themes are mostly socio-economical. I am curious what influence his Jesuit education at Creighton Prep had on his views.

For their encore, the band covered the Clash classic “Spanish Bombs”, a song whose revolutionary lyrics ring true with the rest of the band’s catalogue. Oberst dove into the audience to end the show.

The opening acts, States & Kingdoms and Joyce Manor, were on opposite ends of the punk age spectrum and put on top notch performances.

States & Kingdoms is a supergroup comprised of members of Rival Schools, Thursday, Retisonic, Small Brown Bike and Atlantic/Pacific. Grounded by stellar drumming, the band jammed through a dynamic set that drew from shoegaze and prog rock. Slide guitar and keyboard allowed them this stylistic breadth. Despite lacking vocals, southern-tinged guitar solos left the audience wanting more. I could have listened to them for another hour.

On the other end of the age spectrum, Joyce Manor immediately initiated a mosh pit and nonstop crowd surfing. Joyce Manor’s sound is part of a harder pop punk sound adopted by bands like the Menzingers. The band’s So-Cal playfulness was at odds with the aged maturity of both Desa and S&K, but it made the night that much more relaxed and loose. Lead singer Barry Johnson’s stage presence showed a lot of heart. I am excited to see what the future holds for them.

Ben Harbert’s Extended Rock Orchestra at the Velvet Lounge

Ben Harbert, Benjamin Harbert's Extended Rock Orchestra Velvet Lounge

On Saturday, Oct. 6, Ben Harbert lead a group in his arrangements of Erik Satie’s “Furniture Music” at the Velvet Lounge. The 100-year-old pieces were commissioned by then-DC Resident Agnes Meyer, who was a journalist, author, and VP of the Washington Post as well as wife of Eugene Meyer, the first president of the World Bank.

The group’s performance was part of a showcase that evening hosted by Twin Lakes Records. The showcase was affiliated with the Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie Music Fest.

Harbert was a professor of mine at Georgetown. His approach to music is surgically methodical, and his group’s precision was impressive. He often demonstrated on guitar in class, but it was great to finally see him perform live.
Ben Harbert, Benjamin Harbert's Extended Rock Orchestra Velvet LoungeBen Harbert, Benjamin Harbert's Extended Rock Orchestra Velvet Lounge

Animal Collective at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Animal Collective at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Animal Collective played their second show ever at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md on Tuesday, Oct. 2. The crowd was small, but enthusiastic. It rained during the opening acts. Coincidentally, my friends and I were seated near the band members’ family and friends, all of whom are live locally in the DC/Baltimore metropolitan areas. I never thought I’d ever see septuagenarians dancing to AnCo. They all looked happy to be there.

As you can see by these photos, the stage was set up like a giant mouth that lit up in different colors. I have never seen anything like it before. Very Halloween-y. I’ve posted some photos here to show the different looks. The last one is my favorite. The setlist is also below.

Animal Collective at Merriweather Post PavilionAnimal Collective at Merriweather Post PavilionAnimal Collective at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Animal Collective at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Setlist
Rosie Oh
Today’s Supernatural
Wide Eyed
Applesauce
Honeycomb
Lion in a Coma
Moonjock
Pulleys
New Town Burnout
Monkey RIches
Brother Sport
Peacebone

Encore:
Cobwebs
My Girls
Amanita