If your live performance is under 35 minutes, you better bring it. Nick Valensi and his new band CRX made every single second count — and then some. They managed to accomplish a similar feat in less time with their debut album, “New Skin,” released October 28 via Columbia Records. Their U Street Music Hall appearance Wednesday, November 16, was part of a several-month tour promoting the record.
Under the cloak of darkness, the 6’4” guitarist stepped onstage with his four bandmates and together they erupted into the power-packed track “On Edge.” All the anticipation and hype suddenly made sense. Like the venerated ’90s Honda model everyone “in your neighborhood tried to steal,” this group of guys named after that sought-after vehicle was absolutely awesome. Their rapid-fire delivery was reminiscent of the Ramones in their heyday and the basement setting couldn’t be more fittingly “alternative.”
Remember folks, it’s all about quality, not quantity and this quintet demonstrated they have it in spades. Their personal musical pedigrees sure help too. Nick rose to fame in the early 2000s as guitarist with the garage rock band The Strokes. He’s also collaborated with Devendra Banhart and Sia. He was quick to stress that this was not a side project and that The Strokes were in no danger of breaking up anytime soon, especially given the June release of their EP “Future Present Past.” He calls the supergroup that is CRX, “a little something extra.” The other members are not just musicians, but his personal friends and he introduced them as such about halfway through the night’s set. Before doing so, he acknowledged that he doesn’t always do this at shows, but he felt a “connection” with everyone in attendance. “It’s gross, right?” said Nick, laughing.
“Yo, so this dude on with the yellow guitar over here on my left, your right? I think my left is your right… still? Yeah. This is Darian [Zahedi of the L.A. pair The Reflections]. He makes me laugh a lot, as does he does all of us. We’ve been in a band for like only two weeks.”
When referring to drummer Ralph Alexander, who is part of the L.A. duo The Doses, Nick proclaimed: “I’m still not sure if this is a human or a robot. Yo, check this motherf—ker out! Isn’t he a f—king god? I’m just sayin’ wow.”
Cursing is a sign of intelligence, right? So is humor and he continues with both — rather liberally — much to the audience’s approval.
“Another motherf—ker who makes me laugh a lot is Richie Follin [formerly of Willowz and Cults, now with Guards] playing on keyboards, and also playing rhythm guitar. I’ve seen them together. Sometimes they bathe together — in coffee. Man, we drink a lot of f—king coffee.” Finally, Nick pointed out the fur coat-clad bassist. “He’s hard to miss! He’s Jon Safley [also of The Reflections]. He’s our bouncer, so don’t f—k with us after the show.”
There was not too much talk in between songs, however given the show’s location in the nation’s capital, Nick did feel compelled to mention the president-elect and did so in a rather humorous way. He enthusiastically recognized his supporting bands The Gloomies who went on first, followed by Streets of Laredo, lauding them both as “f—king awesome” and “so f—king incredible… and huge and tremendous…” As he trailed off, his tone loosely impersonated Donald Trump, which elicited laughter from the audience. “What’s up with that Trump shit? How are you guys dealing with that in D.C.? Is that out of a movie? Is that happening? Are you going to let it happen?”
A person in the crowd quickly replied: “I hope not.” With that, the rock continued. Politics played no real part in the night’s agenda, which was a welcome departure from the reality taking place beyond the venue’s front doors.
They played every song off their new album except for the fourth track, “Anything.” Josh Homme (of Queens of the Stone Age and Them Crooked Vultures) produced CRX’s album. The friend and fellow musician’s influence to the band’s sound comes through crystal clear on songs like “Give It Up,” “Unnatural,” and “Monkey Machine,” but not how you would think. In fact, Nick told Patrick Doyle of Rolling Stone magazine in September that Homme actually wanted to go in the “complete opposite direction” of QOTSA. He called him “a man of great ideas and great conviction” who married “power-pop” with “aggression” to make songs sound larger than life. That vibe was heard, felt, and experienced that night in D.C.
“One more song!” screamed a fan. Thirty-four minutes clearly wasn’t enough, but maybe that’s part of the overall allure. I’ve had the record on repeat for the better part of a week because it’s that good (especially if you like any of the previously stated groups). Wizards of wonder P.T. Barnum and Walt Disney have both been attributed with saying: “Always leave them wanting more.” CRX have done exactly that.
Watch CRX perform “Slow Down” at U Street Music Hall on November 16, 2016:
- On The Edge
- Give It Up
- Broken Bones
- One Track Mind
- Slow Down
- Ways to Fake It
- Monkey Machine
Members of CRX and the opening bands met fans in the lobby area after the show to talk with fans, autograph merchandise/personal items, and take photos. T-shirts, CD’s, and pin packs are for sale at each tour stop. The album is available for purchase online through iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon.com. Autographed vinyl is available at Amazon.com.” Nick’s enthusiasm for the music and the gratitude he expresses onstage is genuine and he makes an effort to not just perform to a crowd, but cultivate a relationship with them. It’s visible in person after the show and on the band’s Twitter page (@CRXMusic), where you’ll find the most up-to-date about all things CRX. Their most recent promotion is an exclusive “test pressing giveaway,” simply sign up for their mailing list on the band’s website.
Tickets are still available for tonight’s show at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR. I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be on a Tuesday night than watching these guys live — so head out and buy a ticket! After that there are 13 more stops on their tour, which culminates at Vinyl in Las Vegas at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on December 17.
A few random facts about Nick Valensi:
- Rick Grimes: He’s never watched “The Walking Dead” but he’s knows a few people who “love that show.”
- Design Aesthetic: Careful not to “toot his own horn,” but he can’t get over how cool the album and T-shirt designs are. They feature the left-facing profile of a jacket-clad tiger holding a bat. Nick did not come up with the design, saying: “I wish I was that f—king talented!”
- Words with Friends: He doesn’t know Banksy, but he does (or did) communicate with the artist who designed the colorful carnivorous cat. “I don’t really even know his real name. I’ve never met him. I don’t even know what he looks like. But I do know that he does go by the name ‘Boneface’.” He went on to explain the exchange: “I really love your artwork and thought that you could maybe do this… and the rest was history!”
- Nostalgic Necessities: He started going to concerts at about age 13 or 14 and noted, “Sometimes I wish I had kept ticket stubs from earlier when I was a teenager.
- Concert Connections: “We meet people who travel to shows and they have met at a Strokes show or on message boards. I love that, getting to meet them and hear their stories. Some people have even gotten married! It’s great.”
- Memorabilia Mishap: If you buy their CD online, it might be hard to bring it in for an autograph. While he doesn’t discourage it, and asserts the price is right, he did caution actually bringing in a physical computer to autograph. “That would be f—ked up if you were like: ‘Sign my screen!’ That wouldn’t make any sense. But I’ve seen weirder shit.” Bottom line: buy two CDs! He double-checked with me on the album cost, and we both agreed it was reasonable.
Here are some more pictures of CRX performing at U Street Music Hall on November 16, 2016 (Copyright and courtesy of Theresa C. Sanchez):