30 Years of Black Cat: Where the Magic Happens
Pictures by Nalinee Darmrong
Words by Mickey McCarter
DC night club Black Cat recently celebrated 30 years of booking bands, and it was a reminder that the club is a place where magic happens. The music hall, for example, can summon back a beloved ’90s band for a reunion show as it did for shoegazers Velocity Girl, who surprised aficionados nationally with their return to the stage this past weekend to headline the second night of Black Cat anniversary celebrations.
Black Cat is also a place that can conjure new mojo. This is no more true than for power pop band The Owners, formed by Dante and Catherine Ferrando, the club’s owners, and Alec Budd and Laura Harris, longtime Cat employees. During the pandemic lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, the four found themselves refurbishing the club and killing time, and so they formed The Owners, a truly catchy quartet that rock the house.
On Sept. 9 for the second night of Black Cat 30th anniversary celebrations, The Owners opened the night with Dante on drums (after having appeared the first night in Gray Matter), Catherine on vocals, Alec on guitar, and Laura on bass. Now these talented guys can do pretty much anything they want, but Laura actually picked up bass for the first time to fill a need in the band, and that’s just the kinda whizbang magic stuff that happens at Black Cat.
Given the anniversary party, it was fitting that The Owners set the tone with with nine nifty numbers, including the always wonderful, “Low Rent Paradise,” an ode to the drunken days of yore when Black Cat opened on 14th Street NW in DC those 30 years ago. (Oh! Al also sings, so that is him you hear in this song.)
Stream “Low Rent Paradise” by The Owners on YouTube:
Black Cat has long been known as a home to punk rockers, and no one is more punk rock than the Hammered Hulls, who have released two albums on famed Dischord Records. Lead singer Alec MacKaye shared the stage with Mary Timony on bass (she also played in Ex Hex the previous night) and drummer Chris Wilson. Guitarist Mark Cisneros is a local rock-n-roll star, a man who really swings that axe yet is the most friendly and earnest guy you could ever hope to meet.
Hammered Hulls kinda got their start at Black Cat too given that it were they largely have performed locally since forming in 2018. The magic continues for these experienced punk hands!
Bad Moves are also fresh Black Cat favorites. The power pop band formed in 2015, and they are frequent performers at Black Cat. Signed to Don Giovanni Records, David Combs, Katie Park, Daoud Tyler-Ameen, and Emma Cleveland may have been new to some attendees on the sold-out second night of anniversary celebrations, as evidenced by a guy who shouted out “Hey! You’re really good!” to the band early in their eight-song setlist. Well, you’re going to be good when you have songs as zippy as “Spirit FM.”
Watch the official music video for “Spirit FM” by Bad Moves on YouTube:
If people were just getting to know the bands so far this night, they surely already new Ted Leo, who arrived like an old friend with his band The Pharmacists. The talented and affable Mr. Leo has performed some 30 or 40 times at Black Cat over the years, and it fits him like a glove.
Although Ted Leo and The Pharmacists were done a couple of members, they got folks dancing and singing along with a substantive 13-song set that left everyone feeling great.
To cap off the evening, Velocity Girl materialized out of the blue, returned after their 1996 breakup (and a 2002 reunion show), to perform a wonderful 16-song set that included highlights from their three studio albums — Copacetic (1993), ¡Simpatico! (1994), and Gilded Stars and Zealous Hearts (1996) (all published by indie giant Sub Pop).
Velocity Girl were the kind of band that made you believe in magic because anything was possible with them. They strode across the indie music landscape like giants in the early ’90s, impressing the masses with their mighty musicality and convincing us we could listen to something other than grunge.
The wildly impressive guitar attack of Velocity Girl heralded songs like “I Don’t Care If You Go” and “My Forgotten Favorite” with an encore that included “Copacetic.” But perhaps nothing got us excited at Parklife more than their mid-set performance of “I Can’t Stop Smiling,” which really showcased the talents of vocalist Sarah Shannon and guitarist Archie Moore.
Watch the official music video for “I Can’t Stop Smiling” by Velocity Girl on YouTube:
True to the word, people could not stop smiling to the music of Velocity Girl, who had everyone cheering. Perhaps in music all things do remain possible as no one anticipated the 2023 return of Velocity Girl, who will perform a few more shows including a turn at the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan on Sept. 30.
Hey as this crazy good weekend reminded us, there is still magic here at the Black Cat. When you need a little pick-me-up, catch a show or join us for a drink in the Red Room some time! May the Black Cat continue to cast its spells for at least another 30 years to come.
Here are some photos of Velocity Girl headlining the Black Cat on Sept. 9, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Nalinee Darmrong.
Here are some photos of Ted Leo and The Pharmacists performing at the Black Cat on Sept. 9, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Nalinee Darmrong.
Here are some photos of Bad Moves performing at the Black Cat on Sept. 9, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Nalinee Darmrong.
Here are some photos of Hammered Hulls performing at the Black Cat on Sept. 9, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Nalinee Darmrong.
Here are some photos of The Owners performing at the Black Cat on Sept. 9, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Nalinee Darmrong.