Reviews of shows I've been to (and maybe you have too!)

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Soul Rebels featuring GZA and Talib Kweli at 9:30 Club (3/29/2018)

“Hotter than Africa.” That’s how co-headliner Talib Kweli described the atmosphere at the 9:30 Club on March 29. Metaphorically, of course, thanks to the blazing music being pumped out by New Orleans funk group the Soul Rebels. But literally too- the abnormally warm weather outside combined with the mass of bodies inside to push the mercury through the roof.

All of which would seem to indicate a hopping show. But the problem with a sold-out funk show is that the density of crowd-goers makes it nearly impossible to actually get in a groove. There’s no room to dance; there’s barely enough room to twist from side to side, trying to avoid spilling your beer or accidentally groping the dude in front of you.

Without the physical release of dancing, the show then had to fall back on to the music on its melodic merits. And while the horns blared and the drums pounded out the rhythm, a set full of instrumentals gets stale after a while, especially under these circumstances. Worse, the band’s attempt to interject some energy by means of covering crowd favorites fell flat. Leading the crowd in sing-alongs of “If I Ruled the World” and “Alright” is White Ford Bronco territory.

Soul Rebels

GZA performs with the Soul Rebels at 9:30 Club

Thankfully, the headliners were up to the challenge. GZA, as expected, drew the loudest cheers (and the obligatory “Wu/Tang” chants, which sound like a parody coming from the predominantly white crowd). His performance showed how a legend, a true professional, runs his game. He isn’t motor-mouthed like Eminem, or full of playa smooth like Jay-Z. Just laid-back, smooth, biting rhymes dished as effortlessly as breathing, illustrated most clearly on an acapella version of his Big Bang Theory homage, “The Spark”. Somewhere up there, Stephen Hawking is smiling and shouting out to Wu-Tang.

Following GZA, Talib Kweli was a bit of a letdown. He has more natural energy and stage presence, which worked well with the Soul Rebels’ backing. But his rapping just didn’t quite match up to GZA’s, and even he noticed that his performance had failed to raise the energy in the venue. Thankfully, the show ended on a high note, thanks to a virtuoso showing by Stevie Wonder band member Frédéric Yonnet during the encore. Emulating his guru down to the last note, Yonnet gave a spectacular harmonica performance that was hotter than July, showing that the only way to beat the heat is to turn it up.

Set List

  1. Intro
  2. Quiet Storm (Mobb Deep cover)
  3. Rebel Rock
  4. Rebelosis
  5. Paid in Full (Eric B. & Rakim cover)
  6. Slide Back
  7. Black Rebel
  8. Get Freaky
  9. Drive
  10. Respected Destroyer (Brandee Younger cover)
  11. If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) (Nas cover)
  12. Living in the World Today (with GZA)
  13. Duel of the Iron Mic (with GZA)
  14. Liquid Swords (with GZA)
  15. The Spark (with GZA) (acapella)
  16. Shimmy Shimmy Ya (Ol’ Dirty Bastard cover) (with GZA, featuring Talib Kweli)
  17. Push Thru (with Talib Kweli)
  18. Hot Thing (with Talib Kweli)
  19. The Blast (Reflection Eternal cover) (with Talib Kweli)
  20. I Try (with Talib Kweli)
  21. Alright (Kendrick Lamar cover)

Encore:

  1. Get By (with Talib Kweli, featuring Frédéric Yonnet on harmonica)
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St. Vincent at The Anthem (11/27/17)

Act I

Dim lights

“Hey, show’s starting. Let’s get a good spot”

Curtain opens

“Wooooo! Woooo!”

Play movie

“Ha ha, cool intro. Can’t wait for the band to walk on. Wonder what the ‘reveal’ will be.”

“Alright, so this is kind of surreal. Why’d the guy die? Is that her playing the maid?”

“This is creepy. What does this have to do with the show? Am I supposed to be getting something, because I’m not. Fucking hipsters.”

Movie ends

“Really, everyone’s applauding? God, people will cheer anything even if they don’t know what it means. Ok can we get some music now?”

Cue lights

“Um, what? Where’s the music? Is that it? Dammit, why did we rush to get here at showtime?! Didn’t really have to spend $10 on that hot dog.”

 

Intermission

“Ok, back to the bar. Oh, hey John! Yeah, cool venue. No, it’s our first time. Definitely got here too early. Oh really, that long? Well, we rode our bikes so that’s fine. Should be a good one.”

 

Act II

Dim lights

“Ok, here we go. This has to be the real thing.”

Curtain opens slightly, reveals a single microphone, stage right.

The singer appears, alone.

“What’s happening? No I can’t really tell either. Is that her? Shit, we should have stood on that side. This place is so huge.”

Cue music

“Ah, finally. I like this song. Where’s the rest of the band? Must be behind the curtain. But they sound good. Love the acoustics in this place, they really did it right. Not like Echostage.”

Curtain pulls farther back to reveal a second microphone

“Ok, now she’s got a guitar. Yeah, I can sort of see her too. Quite an outfit. I think Lady Gaga would approve.”

Curtain fully opens

“Wait, it’s just her? The music is recorded? Ok that’s a little weak. Now how am I supposed to know how good the sound is from a real show?”

“Well her singing is good. Some good guitar shredding. Glad I can finally see her, otherwise I’d be getting bored. Yeah, I like this song.”

“Now there’s ANOTHER microphone? Is there a point to all this moving around?”

“Ooo this is a good one. Dance time. She really doesn’t like to dance while she’s singing, does she? Whatever, let’s jam out.”

Curtain closes

 

Intermission

“Ok, bathroom break!”

 

Curtain opens

Act III

“Shit, she’s starting- hurry up!”

Singer reappears, in new costume

“Ok good, at least she’s center stage. Wait, I think she’s on the floor. Look at where the spotlight’s pointing.”

“I think this is from her new album.”

“Yeah yeah, DC, woo hoo. No sermons please. Alright thanks, that was short.”

“Trippy visuals. Really reminds me of that Radiohead show. God she’s such an *artist*. Well, if there’s no band I might as well watch those.”

“Who’s Christina? Great, glad she was so inspirational for you.”

“Ok that’s the problem with using pre-recorded music. Now it just looks weird for you to re-start the song. Not sure what I expected but this Howie Day shit was old when he was doing it. Good thing the music is so good.”

“Encore? Maybe?”

Cue lights

“You like it? Yeah, pretty good for a first show here. Wonder how much different it would have been at 9:30.”

“Nope, still no clue what that movie was about.”

“Glad it’s not too late. Now how do we get out of here?”

Setlist

The Birthday Party (film)

Part 1

  1. Marry Me
  2. Now, Now
  3. The Strangers
  4. Actor Out of Work
  5. Cruel
  6. Cheerleader
  7. Strange Mercy
  8. Digital Witness
  9. Rattlesnake
  10. Birth in Reverse

Part 2 (MASSEDUCTION)

  1. Hang on Me
  2. Pills
  3. Masseduction
  4. Sugarboy
  5. Los Ageless
  6. Happy Birthday, Johnny
  7. Savior
  8. New York (Dedicated to Christina)
  9. Fear the Future
  10. Young Lover
  11. Dancing With a Ghost
  12. Slow Disco
  13. Smoking Section

Cut Copy at 9:30 Club (11/29/17)

Music (and even art more broadly) is escapism. A way to live (if only briefly) in an alternate reality. Sometimes, the best art has something to say about its own scene, a specific relevant issue, society at large, anything beyond the current moment. Sometimes, however, that escapism is just about that moment, with no deeper meaning or relevance.

The crowd at the 9:30 Club for Cut Copy’s show on November 29 didn’t really seem to care about anything deeper than having enough space to bust a move. Luckily, neither did the band. A minimum of banter meant that the music kept rolling for 90 straight minutes. No diatribes about politics, no attempts at uplifting “love everyone” speeches; just a steady groove and a deluge of colored lights. Bandmates Dan Whitford, Tim Hoey and Ben Browning put on an impressive display of technical virtuosity, switching off instruments song to song, while drummer Mitchell Scott kept the pounding beat. Everyone danced, most got sweaty, some sang along, and the whole crowd left happy and energized.

As they should. This show was a pure sugar rush, a diet of empty calories. But for one Wednesday night in November, it was enough.

IMG_2231

Setlist

  1. Need You Now
  2. Black Rainbows
  3. Where I’m Going
  4. Airborne
  5. Living Upside Down
  6. Free Your Mind
  7. Counting Down
  8. Future
  9. Pharaohs & Pyramids
  10. Hearts On Fire
  11. Standing in the Middle of the Field
  12. Take Me Over
  13. Out There on the Ice

Encore:

  1. Meet Me In a House of Love
  2. Lights and Music

Broken Social Scene at 9:30 Club (9/20/17)

Showing up to see a hipster band is seemingly more important than the show itself. Everybody bathes in the same glow of inside jokes, the vibe is that of a class reunion, the songs roll out one after another to warm (though rarely exuberant) appreciation, nobody gets hurt and everyone goes home satisfied. So it was for Broken Social Scene’s show at the 9:30 Club on September 20, where the music was nice if not catchy, the singing was good but rarely emphatic, and the audience was harmoniously along for the ride. Even the makeup of the band itself reflected this one big happy family ethos: a rotating cast of performers who (except for drummer Justin Peroff) spent the show switching off instruments, a different lineup on nearly every song.

Broken Social Scene

In fact, the biggest crime one can commit in this situation is to leave early. As the band wrapped up their main set and frontman Kevin Draw launched into a monologue about the ridiculous tradition of band encores, he started calling out anyone who was sneaking out before the end of the show to beat the weeknight curfew. Thankfully, his Canadian manners ensured his tone was less sanctimonious scolding and more measured disappointment. Those who did stay were rewarded when the band proceeded to plow through an additional 25 minutes of music, finishing with the crowd-pleasing “KC Accidental.” It was almost enough to make a new fan feel welcomed into the club. Almost.

Setlist

  1. Cause=Time
  2. 7/4 (Shoreline)
  3. Halfway Home
  4. Protest Song
  5. Fire Eye’d Boy
  6. Stay Happy
  7. Texico Bitches
  8. World Sick
  9. Victim Lover
  10. Handjobs for the Holidays
  11. Superconnected
  12. Almost Crimes
  13. It’s All Gonna Break

Encore:

  1. Hug of Thunder
  2. Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl
  3. Looks Just Like the Sun
  4. Skyline
  5. KC Accidental

St. Paul and the Broken Bones @ Wolf Trap (6/16/17)

White boys have been playing at being soul men since even before Mick Jagger became the little red rooster. So while the idea of St. Paul and the Broken Bones isn’t exactly unique, their performance is still a fascinating spectacle, always a guaranteed fun time. Lead singer Paul Janeway is incredible, floating across the stage with a few (but only a few) James Brown-esque dance steps and belting his high-tenored soul out. It was enough to (eventually) get the crowd at Wolf Trap out of their (rain-soaked) seats.

Janeway is so dynamic, in fact, it made me come up with the following thought experiment: trade Sharon Jones (RIP) from the Dap Kings for Janeway. Which band suffers most? Which combination gets better?It’s a tough call but given that the Dap Kings have created some memorable music to critical and commercial acclaim (not only by themselves but having backed Amy Winehouse and Bruno Mars among others), I’m going to have to say that they would do more for Janeway than Jones could do to heal the Broken Bones.

It’s not a big difference but it says something to me about the band: that they lack a truly dynamic instrumental prowess. On stage, Janeway covers up those deficiencies. But on record, that dynamism doesn’t quite come across in the same, memorable way. Still, I’m hopeful that the rest of the band will catch up to Janeway and turn this band into a musical powerhouse that can match their performing credentials. Because I could always use some plastic soul.

 

 

Possible set list

  1. Crumbling Light Posts Pt. 1
  2. Back to the Future
  3. Like a Mighty River
  4. Flute Solo
  5. I’ll Be Your Woman
  6. Tears in the Diamond
  7. All I Ever Wonder
  8. I’m Torn Up
  9. Band Jam (instrumental)
  10. The National Anthem (Radiohead cover)
  11. Brain Matter
  12. Waves
  13. Midnight on the Earth
  14. I’ve Been Working (Van Morrison cover)
  15. Broken Bones & Pocket Change
  16. Call Me
  17. Loran’s Dance

Encore

  1. Sanctify
  2. Eventually (Tame Impala cover)
  3. Half the City
  4. Burning Rome

Feist @ Lincoln Theater (6/7/17)

Feist at Lincoln Theater

It started well. “Pleasure”, the opening song of Feist’s set at Lincoln Theater (which is also the first track of her new album Pleasure) moved with a sparse, rumbling groove reminiscent of Tunnel of Love-era Springsteen. But as the show slowly progressed towards Nebraska-era Springsteen, things went downhill. One soft acoustic number after another lugubriously rolled off of Feist’s guitar, with melodies and rhythms hard to discern. Even the Howie Day-like electronic vocal tricks Feist used to harmonize with herself only served to emphasize the sparseness of the atmosphere.

The vibe in the theater was respectful but not energized until Feist kicked off the second half of her set with some her better known songs and invited the crowd to “fill the aisles.” Fill they did but it was too late for me. I hate to admit it, but I got bored. Maybe I need a more punk-like energy, or maybe I need massive, obvious hooks, or maybe the comfy seats were too soporific. Whatever the reason, I just couldn’t get into the show.

And when I get bored, my mind starts to wander about random things. For example, why doesn’t Feist have any female backing musicians? Does St. Vincent? Did Joni Mitchell? Would it have made any difference for the show? Maybe not. But in general, it would be nice to see a few more X chromosomes laying down rhythms, playing leads and keeping the beat. Surely the male-dominated world of rock and roll has room.

 

Set list:

  1. Pleasure
  2. I Wish I Didn’t Miss You
  3. Get Not High, Get Not Low
  4. Lost Dreams
  5. Any Party
  6. A Man Is Not His Song
  7. The Wind
  8. Century
  9. Baby Be Simple
  10. I’m Not Running Away
  11. Young Up
  12. My Moon My Man
  13. How Come You Never Go There
  14. Sealion (Nina Simone cover)
  15. The Bad in Each Other
  16. Caught a Long Wind
  17. I Feel It All
  18. Let It Die

Encore:

  1. Mushaboom (Acoustic Solo)
  2. Gatekeeper (Acoustic Solo)
  3. 1-2-3-4

Gloria Gaynor at the Library of Congress (5/6/17)

Disco? Eh, not really my thing. But history and architecture I can go for. So for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to attend a dance party featuring the Guttenberg Bible, I was willing to slap on the most outrageous outfit my friend Amanda could conjure and wait for 90 minutes in a cold drizzle to take part in the Library of Congress’s Bibliodiscotheque on May 6.

Beyond silent disco in the famous Reading Room and the Jefferson collection being turned into a photo booth, the night’s main attraction was Gloria Gaynor, who was performing in honor of her anthem “I Will Survive” being inducted into the LOC registry of historic songs. A diva until the end, Glaynor appeared for an abbreviated performance that included several covers (“Killing Me Softly”, “Never Can Say Goodbye”, “I Am What I Am”) and no less than 3 outfit changes. Her voice was surprisingly strong, a reminder of her star power that was made even stronger when she had her backup singers meekly perform while she changed clothes. Even some of her new, gospel-themed songs managed to get the crowd grooving, no easy task.IMG_0813

Of course, the song everyone was there for was the one that closed the night. Maybe I’m soulless, but hearing Gaynor lead the “I Will Survive” singalong didn’t exactly result in deep chills the way, say, hearing Paul McCartney perform “Hey Jude” did. But it didn’t matter. Everyone danced and sang like their survival depended on every note.

Overall, it was crowded, it was loud, it was fun. Come to think of it, that’s probably a pretty accurate definition of disco as a whole. Guess it isn’t all bad.