Bob Mould’s return to 9:30 Club in September ranked among David LaMason’s Best Shows of 2021. (Photo by David LaMason)
If you would have told me around this time last year that I would have had the opportunity to see concerts again, let alone in indoor venues -– some that I hadn’t stepped foot inside in over a year and half –- I would have thought you were crazy. But not only did I have that opportunity –- in large part to vaccines, mask mandates, and the venues and artists who did everything in their power to make sure it was safe to experience live music again –- but I saw some of the best shows I’ve seen in years!
In the nearly two years of no live music, the act of witnessing someone who has a mastery of the stage puts everything into perspective. The importance of live music and the strength of what an artist can make you feel in that moment which makes what could be lost all the more tangible. Watching David Shaw, singer for the band The Revivalists, performing the final show of his debut solo album release at the Union Stage Saturday night I couldn’t help but think how vital live music is to -– if anything -– the emotional strength of so many.
Produced by Jack Splash (Kendrick Lamar, Alicia Keys, Solange, Valerie June, St Paul and the Broken Bones), Shaw’s self-titled debut is filled with personal songs but ones that can make you move. And on a chilly Saturday night, David Shaw and his band did just that — got things moving — at Union Stage in DC.
“You and I travel to the beat of a different drum,” the opening line of the Michael Nesmith-penned “Different Drum” goes. And so can be said for Evan Dando, the creative force behind The Lemonheads. From the punk leanings of The Lemonheads’ Hate Your Friends to the pop masterpieces on It’s a Shame About Ray and Car Button Cloth, Dando’s musical trajectory has never been beholden to anything other than Dando himself.
One of the shows I had been hoping to see after a year and a half of not having shows was Nada Surf, the New York-based band that’s consistently put out album after album of great guitar heavy gems, whether it be old favorites like “Popular” or “Always Love” or their ninth LP, Never Not Enough, released on Barsuk Records last year which is filled with the kind of hook-filled rock, like opener, “So Much Love,” that grabs your brain and holds on tight. Nada Surf has always had great songs, but I think the songs on this new album are some of the best they’ve created.
What a night! What started out as a cold, windy, rainy evening ended Friday night in a sweaty, sold-out Baltimore Soundstage filled with cowboy hats and masks (both the Covid-19 kind and the Orville Peck kind). But I’m getting ahead of myself now, so I’ll back up a bit.
Orville Peck, the enigmatically masked cowboy originally from Canada whose music is steeped in that old Country of Tanya Tucker, George Jones, and Loretta Lynn. The last time I saw Orville Peck was a couple of years ago at the Union Stage (see a review of that show here) and his stature has grown exponentially since then.
Waxahatchee, the musical face of Birmingham native Katie Crutchfield, has been going strong for over a decade, but last year’s Saint Cloud may be Crutchfield’s masterpiece.
She has always been a strong songwriter, but these last couple of records have really showcased Katie Crutchfield’s songwriting talents comparable to the best in the business, especially in Waxahatchee’s most recent LP, Saint Cloud, which came out last year on Merge Records. It’s a ride from beginning to the ending “St. Cloud,” which sounds like it was strummed out on the front porch while the sun sinks behind the trees.
Rufus Wainwright is back with new pop-oriented material with Unfollow the Rules and also a new tour, leading him to DC and The Anthem on a recently cooling early Autumn night.
This pop reinvention follows Wainwright’s work on an opera, Prima Donna (his second; the first being Hadrian) and an LP of songs based on the work of William Shakespeare. (Shakespeare and the opera play heavily throughout his body of work as far back as his debut and “Damned Ladies” — one to definitely check out!)
I have to admit that until a good friend of mine turned me onto them a few years ago, Lord Huron wasn’t on my radar. But one spin of Strange Tails and I was hooked. I hadn’t been able to catch them on stage however — that is until Monday night at the MECU Pavilion in Baltimore.
There’s something to the music of Lord Huron that flows from aesthetics of great fiction, whether it be pulp novels of the turn of the last century in Strange Trails; idealized visions of the future in Vide Noir; or the imagined world of early variety television that inhabits Long Lost, the most recent release from this LA-by-way-of-Lansing quartet. There’s a mystic quality that takes the listener along for a ride and keeps them coming back. So, on a hot afternoon overlooking the Baltimore Harbor, I had the great fortune to witness Lord Huron as they took the stage on their first tour since music touring stopped due to the Covid-19 pandemic.