Protest Your Indifference: An Evening with Yeasayer and Ponytail

Posted in show reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2008 by dweebcentric

Indie four-piece Yeasayer is rising through the ranks of upcoming bands, something that seems mostly propelled by the success of the splendid ‘2080’ track from their ‘All Hour Cymbals’ CD, something the band will be circumnavigating the states through May before heading off to Europe to promote.

They’re an unusual looking group. A lanky, long-haired guitarist and bassist flanked the spastic, more typical looking indie frontman. The drummer was hidden behind the amps. They had just been in DC in February, playing a sold out set at the Black Cat the day before the Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings show. DC was the first stop of their new tour and We played it smart this time around, buying tickets well in advance of the show, though this early April Thursday night set didn’t achieve the same numbers in audience as the February show. Though, it’s hard to account for everyone considering the numbers of people who tend to lounge downstairs during the set while the faithful pull their beers from the bars and head up to surround the stage and see the bands they paid the admission to see. Even just counting these, the turnout was considerable large.

The first band were young; questionably above the drinking age for sure. The lead singer was short, her voice a piercing pitch of squeal. Her stage manner seemed autistic, she would kind of bounce up and down and hold her mouth open between lyrics, staring at the ceiling like she was focusing her eyes and was continuously mesmerized by whatever she saw. She was flanked by the guitarists, one hidden by a stack of amps at the corner of the stage. The other, a skinny, energetic baby-faced Asian kid with an almost-mushroom bob haircut. From where we sat, I could only muster a half-decent view of their drummer. He reminded me of the pictures of bands out of the 80s you find in books on punk history. He was think and had a head full of curly hair, and he looked like a throwback to the nerdy looking players of Blondie (outside of Chris Stein). I couldn’t tell if he was wearing a pair of Chuck Taylors.

They introduced themselves as Ponytail, a four-piece from Baltimore. Yeasayer’s lead singer couldn’t stress enough how “nice” they were. “They make Mother Theresa and Obama look like assholes,” he joked and the audience laughed at the sentiment, though he could see it couldn’t stretch on for too long. “Okay, I’m going to shut up and play. Yeah… DC politics” and he trailed off before Yeasayer gradually broke full swing back into another song.

The crowd of bland looking hipsters that typify the Black Cat audiences didn’t know what to make of Ponytail. It certainly took some audio adjustments to tolerate the high pitched vocalist. She reminded me of Marnie Stern without the hypnotic fretboard tapping, but her lyrics were drowned in the volume of the instruments that encircled her. After a while, she came into introductions of songs with trills, accompanied by her energetic guitarist. It was noise, pure noise, and by then, it didn’t sound like there were any real words to form lyrics. But as bizarre as the display might have been, they knew how to just have fun with the music. It was goofy and it was spirited, and even if you couldn’t sing along, it was certainly enough to make you go berserk if so willing. Unfortunately, other than those on the fringes of the crowd, you couldn’t find it in the audiences. How is this the same city that helped define hardcore? This, the same club that hosted supposedly riotous performances of bands like Black Flag and Minor Threat when they started out?! This “history” is starting to feel more like a myth. Or frankly, just a tremendous lie.

The folksie blends that has come to define the underground have grown incredibly tiresome in recent months, to the point that going to another show and seeing a pair of pale young men with Amish beards and trucker hats whining through ballads of cynicism make you want to just unzip your skin and step out; the kind of saturation that has people just dying for something new. The time is long overdue. But where pretension had bred a form of rock n’ roll stripped down to its essence, not just in sound, but purpose (quite simply to just make music that was fun to listen to and just as fun to watch), now is as good a time as any to embrace that musical response once again. Only, I’m not sure we can have any kind of revolution with these boring white kids at the helm?!

Maybe it was just the wrong audience. This band seemed suitable for the nonchalance of younger listeners. Maybe people more the age of those performing whereas those around us fall under the dream-crushing classifications of “young professionals” and the routine of inked arms and unkempt hair becomes hidden behind the facade of weekday business-casual attire. The only trouble is an alternative is hard to find. On the one hand, bands like these, unless more widely recognized acts, don’t tend to frequent the stages of DC. And more importantly, neither do many of the audiences who might find that kind of speed, energy, and simple desire to really have fun with the bands on the stages before them, don’t really exist around here. And although I adore going to shows, this is the one thing about the music scene in DC I truly hate. But is it limited to just this region, I wonder? The opposite extremes I remember existing in the smaller venues around Orlando, but this was at least five to ten years ago. And I haven’t been to enough shows around Baltimore to make some informed conclusion about it.

We didn’t stay long into the Yeasayer set, the unfortunate consequence of taking the train to the show and last trains out being far before the end of the show. It’s different for weekday all-ages shows because, as I once found out from a surprisingly short Rilo Kiley performance, they adhere to the city curfew. But here, we love our sale of beer and scorn the kids for it!

Yeasayer has been gaining a considerable following these days, cropping up on numerous annual “Best Of” lists of indie bands. I had mostly judged them on the basis of “2080,” and judging by the spontaneous liveliness of the audience when they played it about twenty minutes into the set, it was the track everyone else was most familiar with, too. But their other songs seemed much different, almost new age, but not in the embarrassing sense. The keyboard and guitar introduction on the first song of the set reminded me of the less cumbersome introductions to Tangerine Dream songs. Other tracks, with melodic layered vocals of the guitarist, keyboardist, and bassist standing at the front of the stage and almost orchestral power of the instrumentals felt like 1970s rock, but lacking in the guitar solos. The first hour of the performance wasn’t bad, and it seemed at least strangely attractive enough to finally get these hipsters to move, almost to the point of being as frightfully synchronized as an audience at a Christian Rock concert. Unfortunately, however, despite some delicious qualities in the music, “2080” seemed to offer the only variation between songs.

Yeasayer seems to have a shy stage presence. Or at least they seem most comfortable if just left to play their instruments, though they did break once to make a joke and remind audiences how nice Ponytail was when one of its members jumped onstage during a Yeasayer song to help repair something. But otherwise, they don’t seem beholden to much of the dramatics, even the entertaining ones, of being on stage. The obligatory casual aloofness of the band at the end of the set who seems to acquiesce to the audience cheers and shouts for an encore was instead replaced with the promise of one song before leaving the stage for good that night.

(yeasayer – 2080)

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Get Your Band on Montag!

Posted in Uncategorized on January 17, 2008 by dweebcentric

Not to make the subject sound like a used-car ad, but for bands looking for a little publicity, get a review in Montag! Just email montagreader@yahoo.com or checkout the Dweebcentric MySpace page.

Album Review: Cricket – Sofa City Sweetheart

Posted in album review, band profiles with tags , , , , , on January 14, 2008 by dweebcentric

Lineup: Ben Fields (vox/guitar), Jeremy Winkie (vox/bass) and Matt Texter (drums/keys)

Location: Louisville, Kentucky

80s movies fans might recognize the 16 Candles reference in Cricket’s latest album title, Sofa City Sweetheart. Based out of Louisville, the progressive rock trio comprised of Ben Fields on vocals and guitar, Jeremy Winkie on vocals and bass and Matt Texter on drums and keyboards signify the distinctive sound that has drawn attention to the area, especially with the popularity of My Morning Jacket, VHS or Beta, and Will Oldham. (From this outsider’s view, Louisville, Asheville (NC) and Chicago, appear to be producing a trend of some of the more interesting rock performers.) That distinctiveness, too, is a necessary quality for aspiring bands trying to rise through such a saturated Kentucky rock scene. Says bassist Jeremy Winkie: “it’s a good place to play and get your chops, but you can’t make a living playing music here. Everyone and their mother plays drums or guitar or can sing. There are really a load of good musicians here. Too many to get recognized, so the bands with the biggest crowds tend to be the ones with the most friends socially.” The band is also competing for ears in a scene that is, according to Winkie, divided into frat-styled hard rock with some emo thrown in on the one hand and indie rock on the other, “which is difficult for us, because we have hard rock, indie and progressive influences, which I think confuses people.”

Cricket has a somewhat lengthy history in trying to find their present sound. Initially founded by vocalist/guitarist Ben Fields’ oldest brother Rob and neighborhood friends, it existed as a mostly non-gigging band in the mid to late 90s. Around 2000, Ben Fields and youngest brother Justin began writing music together and taking the band in a more serious direction. With David King on bass, the new lineup recorded an eight track EP, “Motel Magazine.” When King left for college, his vacancy was filled by long-time friend of the Fields brothers, Jeremy Winkie and the band kept busy with gigs, performing nearly every weekend in 2005 and sometimes playing three shows in a day. When drummer Justin Fields left the band in 2006, the band was put on a rather abrupt hold until Fields found Matt Texter, an old friend trained in music theory and of course, drums.

The 12-track Sofa City Sweetheart marks the band’s debut full-length album. Though the band’s foremost identifier is probably Field’s high pitched vocals, perhaps its best quality is the amount of instrumental variation the three piece wields, which becomes immediately apparent in the transition from the first track “de Nova,” a short unimposing and dreamy setup of wah-wah guitar, to the second track “Paper Trees, Violet Hearts,” which kicks off with a quick drum stick countdown followed by speedy guitar repetition as though barely nudging the listener to immediately prepare for the shift.

Much of the album wavers between tasty heavy-gain licks (“Here We Are,” “The Coast Off LA” and “Movie Trailer”) and an almost early 90s alt-rock mix of whirling and sometimes sporadic bounciness that is particularly highlighted by Field’s lead guitar and Winkie’s smooth driving bass. As the intro to “Losing It,” the combination almost seems reminiscent of the bluesy-rock mix of early Red Hot Chilli Peppers. But it works best on the track, “Strokin’ It,” which also has a sort of Ninja Gaiden sensibility about it at the end (it’s not-so-secretly the author’s favorite track).

“Steams Flow” begins almost like the Pixies “Where is My Mind,” the slowed beat, whirling clean guitar, and feint background additions that sound like flowing wave give the sense of watching the oddly beautiful mass demolition in Fight Club, though Field’s high pitch style and the layered vocals give the impression of almost playfully indie, standing apart from a generally more ferocious presence. It’s a loose, elegant closer, and if listening to the entire album on repeat, serves as less of a nudge for the brief, dreamy introduction of “de Nova.” Yet, despite the intensity and playfulness of the albums, the lyrics of some of the tracks feel less adventurous, at least on tracks where rhyming patterns seemed curiously obligatory.

Nonetheless, carrying the torch of the Cricket name for better than ten years, Fields, Winkie and Texter have found a sound that works incredibly well and produced an album that is sure to grow on its faithful listeners.

Underdiscovered: Band Profiles #1

Posted in band profiles on December 16, 2007 by dweebcentric

(Note: click on the names of the bands to view their websites).

BANDAZIAN

Lineup: Alex Keena (vox, guitar), Rick Powderly (keys), Tim Shull (bass), Krum (drums)

Location: Asheville, NC

With the mega successes of bands like The Shins and Modest Mouse and semi-success of The National, indie rock has formed a genre standard: lyrics of young self-reflection, layered vocals, and instrumental backings of odd chord repetition from clean lead and fuzzed rhythm guitars, unobtrusive drumming and bass lines, and dreamy organs, pianos or synthesizers. With similar elements described in reviews as rock with all the hooks, the underrated North Carolina four-piece Bandazian, already with an EP and album to their name, are ripe for major play. Unfortunately, the dominant music outlets might be too overloaded with the same for the gentlemen to have their proper dues. Still, the interested Washington DC area enthusiast can hope for more than the band’s occasional presence at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Virginia. Having passed through there while touring with Surprise! Arizona of Fairfax, Virginia this summer, they return for a late December date amidst recording a new album.

Recommended tracks: So Tired, Surely Bound

MOCO

Lineup: Vocals: Steve Jones (vox), Anthony Rigby (guitar), Nick Higham (bass), and Simon Misra (drums)

Location: Wigan, UK

Dance-worthy bands these days seem come in several forms: the disco-rock style of dominant bass and synthesizer demonstrated by bands like The Electric Six and Franz Ferdinand; the biting classic rock styled guitar bands like Jet; or bubble gum tinted lo-fi of bands like The Brunettes. The dance-worthy tunes of the UK band, Moco, are an arsenal of raging garage rock full of catchy tunes, scratchy vocals, fast beats, and optimum crunch that pay homage to both British invasion-era rock and a more recent ancestry in bands like The Stranglers and The Stooge. At times, they’re more pop with songs like Miss Mantaray and Cool Dancing, and at other times, with tracks like Wah Wah Wah and Baby When You Die, they’re fully-amped insanity.

Featured video: Baby When You Die

 

SOUND CASINO

Lineup: Andy Crosby (vox, keys), Ant Cooper (bass), Krispen (lead guitar), Tim Gannon (drums)

Locations: Sydney, Australia

Sound Casino is a solid pop rock band rich in big sound and polished production. Now working on their debut album, Don’t Know the End, the band seems to be shedding its crisp, 90s post-grunge style that defined their 2006 Seven Seas EP for a smoother pop approach signaled by tracks like Without You and Night Flight, even changing Don’t You Know to a piano medley. It isn’t that the sentimental context, pushing guitars to the back while spotlighting Andy Crosby’s vocals don’t suit the band. In fact, the Sydney-based band has always been capable of turning out tracks that fit the equation for Top 40s radio play. But the EP and new tracks, Midnight Vandal (which hints influences in The Hives) and While We’re Waiting reveal their best stuff is that original sound. But, at least they haven’t abandoned it entirely.

Recommended tracks: Midnight Vandal, Without You

LITTLE RED

Lineup: Adrian Beltrame (guitar, vox), Dominic Byrne (guitar, vox), Quang Dinh (bass, vox), Tom Hartney (vox), Taka Honda (drums)

Locations: Melbourne, Australia

Somewhere on turntables in 1980s Australia, Motown and Doo Wap records were spinning tunes that eventually inspired five guys to form Little Red, a band self-described as “The World’s Grooviest White R&B Vocal Group.” Performing in matching suits made popular by the Beatles, they are exactly that: fun jukebox rhythm and blues-though vocalist Tom Hartney has said he liked the mod-soul label once given to the band. However, in fairness to bassist Quang Dinh and drummer Taka Honda, they’re not exactly all white guys. But with a repertoire mixing punchy melodies and backing harmonies (Coca Cola) with wailing soul (Cry Cry Live, It’s Alright) and modern attitude (Speedo), they all certainly do groove.

Featured video: Waiting

TIGERCITY

Lineup: Bill Gillim (vox), Joel Ford (bass), Aynsley Powell (drums), Andrew Brady (guitar)

Location: Brooklyn, NY

The music video for The Strokes early major single Last Night features the band setting up to play live on a vintage variety show set. If viewers were completely unfamiliar with the band, the video might be mistaken for a rerun of a 1970s performance that few people, if any, had seen or heard before. The same might be said of the anachronistic Brooklyn pop rock quartet, Tigercity. With subtle synthesizers, cleanly plucked guitars and cymbal-heavy drumming backing falsetto lyrics, the songs of heartbreak and angst on the Pretend Not to Love EP are directly rooted in the 1980s, wavering between the early decade’s disco-laced rock (Other Girls) that recall Prince, David Bowie and Hall n’ Oats and a distinctly obscure mid 80s pop rock style as heard on the tracks Are You Sensation and Red Lips, recalling bands like Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, China Crisis, Machinations and, to some extent, the more recent VHS or Beta. Although an odd choice for a revivalist band that hopefully abandons the androgynous fashion victim accessories that accompanied the decade, Tigercity is likely to find loyalty among fans of obscure 80s music and the indie rock enthusiast in search of something beyond the acoustic standard.

Featured video: Other Girls (live at the Mercury Lounge)

ONCE A THIEF

Lineup: Andrew White (vox, guitar), James (guitar, vox), Patrick (bass), the HITman (drums)

Location: London, UK

Once A Thief isn’t a band for the glassy-eyed scenesters who like to stand around at shows with arms crossed, indifferently bobbing their heads to the beat. This is a band with a reputation for intensity in both recordings and on stage. Tracks like Ice Cream Headache and Heavy Set are loaded with catchy, accent-heavy lyrics, spiraling guitar solos, and crash-heavy drums that compel listeners to turn the volume up-way up-and thrash. Wailing flange and White’s paranoid lyrics dominate Sirens. In between, the boys cut up the strings and beats, revealing influences in the goofier side of British pop rockers like Blur (think the first half of the Park Life album) with songs like Town That I Built, Billy Smarts, Busy Being Lazy, Here Come The Junkies. And, the cleaner, almost 80s-sounding Satellites puts the boys in a category with fellow UK bands The Rifles and The Rebs. But whether thrashing or dancing, Once A Thief deliver a sound designed to get you to your feet and keep you moving until its over.

(Originally printed in Montag #3)

Recommended tracks: Sirens, Here Come the Junkies

STONEDRIFTERS

Lineup: Jamie dawson (guitar), Ken Crussell (guitar), Graham Collie (bass), Tim Whitehouse (keys) and Chris Ross (drums)

Location: Billingham, UK

Stonedrifters: you’ve come a long way baby. The UK-based psychedelic rockers originated in 2004 as an experimental trio from Billingham. But, even with little “musical or instrumental experience” the band, having recruited a seasoned drummer and keyboardist, soon developed their sound into a “melodic sound of raw guitars and harmonizing bass lines” and an ethic for music with attitude. Thus, Stonedrifters are not psych-rock in the purist sense of cumbersome 12-minute improvisation and indulgence that bands like Dead Meadow have managed to revive on stage. Their psychedelic roots, aside from the dominating imagery of yellow smiley faces and tie dye patterns on promotional materials, exist in the demo recordings as winding transitions and internalized lyrics like “Can you feel it inside?” on the track Inside and “Nicotine and gasoline go pumping through my brain” to start the track Am I Still Alive, luring listeners into a beefy alt-rock playground of gritty guitar, heavy synthesizers, steady beats, and meaty lyrics. Their recent track, See the Distance, might signal a new approach for the band, offering a cleaner atmospheric tone that readily establishes kinship with The Charlatans, The Kooks and Stone Roses. But whether fast or slow, Stonedrifters promise plenty of that “go out and get you.”

(Originally printed in Montag #3)

Recommend tracks: Am I Still Alive, You Love It

SIMPLE KID

Lineup: Ciaran McFeely

Location: London, UK

Simple Kid is absolute modesty. The one-man act is as musically versatile as Beck or Portland Oregon’s folk rock superstar, M. Ward. And, likewise, he has just as little to say about himself. With two minimalist titled albums-SK 1 and SK 2-the official biography is blunt: he released an album of moderate success but was unhappy with it and quit music for a while. “The Great Hibernation” followed with employment at a video store where happily spent days watching Weird Science and Werner Herzog movies. “He eventually decided that he wanted to write songs again. He surprised himself by really enjoying it. So he recorded the songs and did some shows… he is enjoying doing this at the present date… And he is still surprised.” Simple Kid might only be loosely classified within the genre of indie rock as his music suggests constant experimentation. The ode to escapism, Seratonin, is guided by acoustic guitars, strings and harmonicas. The Average Man is characterized by humorous lo-fi. And yet, Lil’ King Kong highlights a rich 90s polish, playful banjo and occasional “woofs”, layered vocals and big choral backing that might be compared to the introduction to Jane’s Addiction’s Been Caught Stealing.

Featured Video: The Average Man

 

 

THE BLACK & WHITE YEARS

Lineup: Scott Butler (vox, guitar, keys), Landon Thompson (vox, guitar, keys, fx) and John Aldridge (bass, brass)

Location: Austin, TX

The Black & White Years… they’re the same three guys (and some rotating drummers) as five different band names. Possessing a unique, lo-fi sound, the band was once described as “modern pop sensibility melded with rock exotica-roots, reggae-folk for a techno retro black and white experience.” What does that even mean? Even the Ninja might not be able to answer that. But the pale Austin trio sporting nerdcore attire and fashionable mustaches has whipped up a collection of imprecise, upbeat experimental mish mash and musical doppelganger. Songs like Power to Change, The Wetter Sea and Evil Ape offer lyrical seriousness from vocalist Scott Butler whose distant singing and fuzziness might be compared to The Strokes (think Modern Age) and Robbers on High Street. But, even the seriousness is shrouded in cheerful instrumentals recalling the not-too-excessive wackiness of 80s post-punk and ska (as it was before the pop punk invasion). Songs like You Are a Dragon and Waking the Dream are charged with B-52s styled synth, beat machines, clapping effects, vocal harmonies, 70s funk horns, reggae organs and beach blanket bingo style surf rock guitar solos. Really, the band seems willing to try anything to find completeness. After all, kicking ass can be a meticulous craft.

(Originally printed in Montag #3)

Recommended track: Waking the Dream, Power to Change, Broken Hand

THE CASSETTES

Lineup: Shelby Sinca (vox, guitar, mandolin, strumstick), Saadat Awan (vox, drums, percussion), Stephen Guidry (accordion, moutharp, megaphone), Tom Bernath (vox, bass, ukulele) and Arthur Harrison (vox, theramin, chants), Christine Francis (vox) and Ryan Goodrow (banjo, vox)

Location: Washington, DC

“Looking forward, backward, and sideways… The Cassettes have made their presence known and they invite all to come along on a journey to mythic lands and forgotten times.” The lineup of The Cassettes has been both lengthy and subject to frequent changes, now holding steady (and officially) at five guys (on stage) who share members with the DC bands Metropolitan and Person and at one time, employment at Murky Coffee in Arlington, Virginia. As one of the most unique performing bands, they may be accurately defined as concept rockers as they genuinely strive to create an experience beyond just performing songs. Dressed in costume, The Cassettes seem perfect for a cartoon about time traveling musicians ala The Yellow Submarine. Show fliers read like proclamations from the town square. The merch booths at the show stock both Captain’s Choice Tea Blende and Arthur Harrison’s latest consumer model Theremin in addition to the usual items of recordings and shirts. On stage, the band delivers sweaty performances and a sense of humor. In between energetic folk or vintage southern rock (steel slide guitar and all) that recalls Billy Childish and the Irish band, Floyd Soul & the Wolf, audiences are treated to Arthur’s unusual stump chants, Saadat’s jokes told to the beat of the tambala, and even cartoon projections. Having performed more shows locally in recent months (they tend to migrate to Philadelphia and New York City more often), the DC crowd should look out for the next scheduled sojourn to mythic lands and forgotten times.

(Originally printed in Montag #2)

Featured video: Lady Faire (live at Crooked Beats Records)

 

THE BINGES

Lineup: Dylan Squatcho (vox), Mayuko Okai (guitar), Tsuzumi Okai (bass) and Skanky (drums)

Location: Los Angeles, CA

The Binges are co-ed rock n’ roll that will get you foaming at the mouth. Pay to Play is a good starter track. The simplicity of three chord guitar and Dylan Squatcho’s screeching vocals conjures romanticized images of late 1970s (and even 90s rock n’ roll during the post-alternative revivalist periods) like fast cars, leather jackets, bar brawls, house parties, cigarettes and other symbols of the halcyon. The band sounds heavily influenced by New Zealand chart-toppers, Jet and The Vines, but with more ferociousness than the tempered spirits of the commercial mainstream allow, offering an anthem to West Coast attitude with songs like Los Angeles and Never That Way (Wake me/Com’mon and shake me/I want someone to make me/But it never works that way). Kick up those amps, scream yourself hoarse and get those kiddies in the crowd to move their fucking feet!

(Originally printed in Montag #2)

Featured Video: Pay to Play

 

THE DODOS

Lineup: Meric Long, Logan Kroeber

Location: San Francisco, CA

Singer/songwriters strumming acoustic guitars may be overpopulating the indie rock landscape, but breed one with a creative drummer and you might end up with something as special as San Francisco-based The Dodos. Formerly Dodo Bird, the marriage of the clean guitar work, velvety vocals, and sharp lyrics of Meric Long with the wild primal percussions of Logan Koeber creates a unique yet accessible sound, brilliantly walking that thin line between experimental anti-folk and indie pop. Some recommended tracks would be Men and Hornie Hippies (which features some great George of the Jungle style drum work) off their 2006 album Beware of the Maniacs, and Fools, which appears on the upcoming 2008 album Visitor. Having just signed with French Kiss records, they’ll be touring the West Coast in December with label mates Les Savy Fav in addition to a planned performance at SXSW in March when the new album is released.

(Review by A Cooper)

Featured video: Fools

 

THE SHORE

Lineup: Ben Ashely (vox, guitar), Wayne Faler (guitar), Kyle Mullarky (bass) and John Wilmer (drums)

Location: Los Angeles, CA

The Shore’s bio-written by a music critic-appropriately chastises the failures of the commercial mainstream to be innovative and experimental. “When is the last time commercial radio moved you like it did when you were a teenager? Where is the human touch in today’s programming? Where is the love in the music? The love is right here, you jerks! Are you listening to The Shore yet?” Formed in 2002, this is a band who’s musical contribution is a rich 90s pop rock sound filled with Ben Ashley’s serene vocals over luscious instrumental backings of dreamy reverb, strings, piano and subtle drums. The music appears most heavily influenced by Oasis (without the ego of the Gallagher brothers) and The Verve while their modern counterparts may be found in the mellower selections of The Rifles and especially, fellow Californian indie rockers The Day (featured in Montag #2). Ashley describes the band’s intentions for their melancholy self-titled album debut: “We wanted to make a record that was gentle and beautiful but the live show grew into a different sort of beast.” Yet even with the potential as a crowd-pleaser, this is a band that rarely tours outside of the Los Angeles area.

(Originally printed in Montag #3)

Featured video: Hard Road

Album Review: Black Betty

Posted in album review on December 15, 2007 by dweebcentric

Lineup: Jonas Fairely (vox, drums) and Ana Serena (vox, guitar)

Location: Vancouver, Canada

Unfortunately, in this zine, we rarely venture far from the comfort zone of indie and pop rock bands in our reviews and recommendations. But, the fans of heavy-handed guitar bands who have surprisingly stumbled upon these pages might find solace in the Canadian co-ed retro-metal duo, Black Betty. The fashionably distracted guitarist Ana Serena and lead vocalist/drummer Jonas Fairely pictured on the inset of the self-titled debut released on Rick Bennett’s (Starchild vocalist and guitarist) Georgia-based label, Twin Earth Records, look like they’re striking poses for an interchangeable clothing boutique advertisement. But, they’re no bullshit.

Bennett’s Waycross, Georgia trio, Starchild, was featured in the third issue of Montag. “It seemed unlikely that there would ever return the long-haired, heavy-handed jam bands that capitalized on 1970s metal, disappearing when early 90s hard rock and alternative were tossed aside for the next rock epochs. But, bands like Starchild, Malefactor, Valkyrie and Black Betty carry that torch through the club scene. Rather than speed, crunch and slick production polish that define recent heavy metal, the bands on Twin Earth Records have more in common with the earthy, moody and ambient classic metal and hard rock bands of the 1970s-slower tempo, heavier bass lines, lingering lead guitar, hypnotic echoing vocals and spiritual lyrics.”

Trippy, titanium-rich Black Betty has created a nearly perfect reconstruction of 70s hard rock, at its forefront of which is Fairely’s accent-tinted hollow wailing suggests a controlled, bluesy and soulful ode to Zepplin and Sabbath (Sunshine, Hearts of Fire). And, at times, lyrics of metaphysics and personal spiritual struggle hint obvious influence in early Bowie like the spaceship-navigated homecoming on the album’s first track, Astral Messiah. Momentarily, when the tempo speeds up (House of Chains), Serena’s bust-you-in-the-mouth style and Fairely’s crash-heavy drumming share kinship with early 90s hard alt-rock. By itself, Black Betty have produced a worthy debut, but as a revivalist band, Black Betty lack a distinctive identity that might be a truer novelty had most bands on the Twin Earth label not chosen similar and sometimes identical sources of inspiration.

(Until the better quality video shoots for Black Betty are posted, entertain yourselves with fellow Twin Earth records band, Starchild’s video for The Futurist)

Album Review: No More Kings

Posted in album review on December 15, 2007 by dweebcentric

Album Lineup: Pete Mitchell (vox), Neil Robins (guitar, bass, keys, cello, percussion), Jeremy Burchett (drums, percussion), Adam Degraide (bass) and David Claasen (fiddle, violin)

Band Lineup: Pete Mitchell, Beau Burtnick, Daivd Grant, Tim Maglothin, Christian Wojcik and Josh Taylor

Location: Los Angeles, CA

While some people may not immediately recognize the name No More Kings, it is likely they will have already seen the band’s video for their Internet-hit single, Sweep the Leg, which was a top-ranked feature on You Tube earlier this year. Paying homage to the Karate Kid, the song tells of the misunderstood, star-struck bully and former Cobra Kai fighter, Johnny Lawrence, whose karate career ended with Daniel Larusso’s crane kick. Just following the orders of a relentless Sensei during that fight, he pleads for redemption. Billy Zabka, reviving his role as the now middle age and disenchanted Johnny Lawrence, writes and directs the video which reunites some of the cast mates including Ralph Maccio and Martin Kove, though not all appear in their former roles. (Saved By the Bell’s Dennis Haskin’s also has a role in the introduction)

Vocalist Pete Mitchell and producer/guitarist Neil Robins wrote the self-titled thirteen track debut, which Mitchell calls a “thank you letter to the 80s.” More than half of the album is humorous and imaginative pop funk-rock tracks, some similarly paying tribute to vintage pop culture, and almost all from a first-hand perspective. Zombie Me narrates the singer’s transformation to the undead. In Michael (Jump In), Kit, the talking car whose voice was originally supplied by actor William Daniels on the show Knightrider, urges disillusioned Michael to help save the world. Leaving Lilliput is told from the point of view of the giant of Jonathan Swift’s novel, Gulliver’s Travels. On these faster tracks, wah-wah and bluesy guitar, atmospheric synths and strings, thick drums and backing harmonies compliment Mitchell’s soulful vocals and playful lyrics. Though, the tracks Someday, Mr. B. and even Michael (Jump In), it is pop rock to the point of being Disney-esque.

The rest of the album is mostly forgettable ballads which include the lonely, lounge-styled About Schroeder, the heavier Umbrella and This, and at least the more memorable accordion-accompanied Girl in the Sea. Mitchell and Robins appear to do better with faster tracks. And, even when performing for small audiences, No More Kings unleash loads of energy, sound fit for bigger venues, and visible comradery, making it clear that this is a band that enjoys what they’re doing. But, while it was something of a novelty act that has helped the band to achieve its major initial successes, it might take a more personal direction to keep them there.

(featured in this clip is the newer version of Sweep the Leg)

Jam Session: An Evening With The Black Angels

Posted in show reviews on December 15, 2007 by dweebcentric

Tone, Spindrift and the Black Angels @ the Rock n’ Roll Hotel

The owner of the recent line of H Street venues/bars might have envisioned the new businesses as an eventual impetus of a thriving entertainment district. Even a name like Rock n’ Roll Hotel might invoke expectations of grandeur-perhaps a renovated 1920s hotel with a wide stage area and balcony; something catering to big name acts and pricey tickets, competing with arenas but with the additional benefit of atmosphere. But in fact, the Rock n’ Roll Hotel, along with its sister establishments the Red & Black and the unusual Playhouse of Wonders offer reasonable ticket prices and the District’s usual semi-bohemian atmosphere: tacky decoration and black-clad hipsters, but not the cheap beer or food that would might afford it the quality of an absolute dive. Regardless, the H Street experiment suffers from location. It is inconvenient to the metro and surrounded by little more than all-hours omnibus fast food options, offering little incentive to the frequent show attendant whose mental map of DC rarely includes anything beyond the northwest corridor.

Although still just as much a stage to local and unknown musicians, the Rock n’ Roll Hotel competes with U Street’s Black Cat and the quick-selling 9:30 Club to host more visible performers. The Black Angels, psychedelic rockers of Austin, Texas (featured in the second issue of Montag), headlined a Sunday night bill in early November that also included the DC-based seven piece, Tone, and the California psychedelic rock outfit, Spindrift. Waiting for the box office to open, AC and I sat at the sparsely populated upstairs bar with bottles of Yuengling. Winged guitars lined the ceiling. Cattle skulls assembled to various bodies attached to the wall behind the bar resembled something from a bad horror movie or the contempo-creepy, nonsense art exhibits at PS-1 in New York. Behind the pool tables were two partially partitioned rooms where the decoration looked to be inspired by scenes from Clue and hodge-podge methods of contest-style DIY-d├ęcor shows. Spindrift’s lead singer sat nearby hunched over a mixed drink. His face was hidden by unruly hair and a thick mustache and he wore a black blazer covered in a simple moon and star motif. Passing him earlier in the hallway, he plainly said with uncertain sarcasm “It’s good to be back in DC.”

Watching Tone, the first opening act, felt like the first-hand observation of basement band practice. The band, comprised of almost all shapeless men, all dressed in black shirts, looked like an army of daytime IT professionals. On the small stage, the guitarists formed a half-circle around two full drum-kits, although the energetic drum duo contrasted with the lethargic guitarists (except the bassist). The music was structured on odd chords and tempo changes and tensions among some of the guitarists became apparent during missed cues and incorrect chord changes. No one spoke during the fully instrumental set until they were finished and one of the guitarists announced the band’s name as they immediately began packing their instruments.

Between sets, AC and I gave up waiting for the kitchen to open and scouted the streets for food options, although the nearest place open after nine on a Sunday night was Rainbow City, one of the omnibus fast food joints typical to northeastern DC. The awning advertisement of a menu consisting of seafood, subs, Chinese food, burgers and pizza can make even a sober stomach churn from thoughts of the less-than-sanitary food factory behind its doors. The place is built like a bank, with a British-system rotating ordering window and thick panes of Plexiglas which might seem like an effective protection from potential gun-wielding intruders were it not for the pesky detail of the flimsy side door that delivery drivers pass through.

I would learn later that the two men awaiting their orders alongside us were guitarists from the Black Angels. The blond asked me where he could buy cigarettes and a neighborhood man standing to order offered directions to the gas station convenient store. The dark haired musician was finishing his conversation about going into a K-Mart before Halloween and hearing Christmas music, which made him feel like stabbing someone. I noticed the same thing while in an arts and crafts store on Halloween weekend. The two musicians finally got their orders of Chinese food and inspected the paper bags for accuracy, the conversation now moving to Thanksgiving. The dark haired musician said he didn’t need a day to obligate thankfulness when he felt that way everyday. When they left, I stood awkwardly waiting for my food when the neighborhood man said to me, “Can you believe that? He hates Thanksgiving. I bet his favorite holiday is Halloween.” I laughed and nodded politely, amused by the strangely angsty conversation. When AC came back from the ATM, we went back to the car to eat like cops on stakeout.

Queasy from my half smoke and fries mistake, we returned to the Rock n’ Roll Hotel before Spindrift took to the stage. We ordered beers and lounged near the pool tables. In the far corner, an older black man danced near the jukebox as it played some funk-soul track. And when the thumping of guitar and drum sound-checks came through the floor, we made our way downstairs to the stage area, the audience now beginning to crowd the small venue. Girls in long flowing skirts and denim jackets stood alongside generic guys with drab t-shirts and vintage locks-this recreation of the hippie being appropriate for the psychedelic rock schemes of Spindrift and the Black Angels.

In recordings, the two revivalist bands appear divergent. Spindrift draws on a rock n’ roll style characteristic of a band like the Doors; songs that make you envision heat-swamped abandoned highways, which is especially evident in a songs like Red Reflection and The Legend of God’s Gun, the title track of the spaghetti western rock n’ roll DVD promoted by the band at their merchandise booth that evening. On stage, the lead singer, who’s somewhat exhausting disconnect reminded me of the mescaline-filled adventures of Dr. Gonzo, wielded a crisp Gibson. A long-haired bassist strumming a double-neck bounced around behind him. The rest of the co-ed band featured the regular indie rock setup of guitars, keyboards, and drums. And, for this set, a guitarist for the Black Angels, stood off to the side playing the tambourine accompaniment.

On the other hand, the Black Angels in their recordings might be immediately guessed to be heirs of the Velvet Underground’s style, especially in the mellower vocals and drone. Ironically, however, they maintain a standard, physical indie rock band appearance.

But on stage, the two bands were almost interchangeable in certain characteristics such as the echoing microphone effects, hallucinogenic background projection that modeled a Jefferson Airplane Monterey Pop performance (Spindrift abandoned the latter prop for this particular show), and songs drifting from organization and structure into dreamy and cacophonous improvisation.

But of the three performances, the evening’s best was Spindrift, which lends credibility to the “second opening band is usually better than the headlining act” theory that AC had once suggested. Whereas Spindrift particularly distinguished themselves with vigorous guitarists and, perhaps unfairly, as a novelty that made the Black Angels set seem repetitive, the Black Angels set, I was disappointed to conclude about the band I had long awaited to see, was in one word: boring. Even the best tracks like the guitar-heavy Black Grease, and the critical First Vietnamese War and Snipers at the Gate began under an umbrella of a seemingly disinterested vocalist and soon unraveled into lengthy improvisation. Several hours of jam band music can be quite exhausting for an audience.