Stray Cats, from left to right: Lee Rocker, Brian Setzer, Slim Jim Phantom (Photo by Russ Harrington)
From the balcony, in a rickety old theatre in Rochester, New York. That’s where I first saw the Stray Cats perform, back in 1984. And when they started rocking, that balcony pitched up and down in a way that probably should have concerned us a bit more. But it was college, we were cool, and the band left us little choice — you couldn’t have sat still for this one. I walked into that show all those years ago a casual attendee, and left a dedicated fan.
Brian Setzer performs at The Anthem on Nov. 30, 2018. (Photo by Ben Eisendrath/Instagram+Twitter: Insomnigraphic/GrillworksBen)
No offense to the National Symphony Orchestra, but The BSO has got way mo’ boogie than the NSO. The BSO, or The Brian Setzer Orchestra, was in town for their 15th Annual Christmas Rocks tour recently at The Anthem.
Projection dome by Derrick Planz at Dimensions DC (Photo courtesy the artist)
Entering the warehouse space that was set up to house the Dimensions DC multi-sensory art and music experience recently, I realized that I had been to the place before. Several years ago, the nondescript building was one of the sites for the Forward festival, a citywide electronic arts and music showcase. I don’t think this stretch of West Virginia Ave. was as developed back then.
Rising Appalachia performs at 9:30 Club on May 25, 2018. (Photo by Neal Keller)
The music of Rising Appalachia seems intent on taking you to places. Places that are off the main roads, overgrown with kudzu, under the lazy glow of june bugs rising from beneath the porch swing. Their regional affiliations are alluded to in the band’s name, and as their set slowly unfolded recently at the 930 Club, they took the audience on a tour of the hazy south east.
Luis Vasquez aka The Soft Moon performs at DC9 on April 29, 2018. (Photo by Paivi)
In his recordings, Oakland, California’s The Soft Moon, aka Luis Vasquez, sounds distant and submerged, stitching together a mosaic of murky shapes on frameless canvasses. Amidst a backdrop of ominous tones and layered guitars, the heavily treated vocal parts often seem to emerge from the vortex of sound like leaves in an updraft. It’s the kind of technique that works well in the studio, but can be difficult to present live. So as I awaited their set Sunday night at DC9, I was curious to see how it translated to the stage.
Of Montreal performs at 9:30 Club on March 25, 2018. (Photo by Neal Keller)
Witnessing Of Montreal’s live show, both on this current tour and on tour in 2016, has magnified my appreciation for the band immensely. I happened into their music through hearing tracks in the sets of DJs I admire, and I attended my first show as a bit of a lark. Expecting to see an eclectic sounding indie rock band drop some catchy tunes in an unassuming fashion, I was instead treated to a spectacle of theatrics and mania.
Better prepared for their elaborate production this past Sunday at 9:30 Club, I am ready for immersion in the experience.
Kirk Joseph plays Sousaphone for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at Ottawa Jazzfest on June 23, 2015. (Photo by Mike Bouchard)
The last week of 2017 will be remembered as a cold one. I’m not very fond of winter and I spend most of it grousing. So I found myself, somewhat sullen in mood, entering the State Theatre on the last Saturday before the New Year to encounter — warmth!
I’m not just talking about the toasty temperature of the State Theatre itself; I’m referring to the mood being set by the band on the stage. Dirty Dozen Brass Band (DDBB) had come to Falls Church this evening as part of their 40th Anniversary tour, and they were throwing down a piping hot musical stew of New Orleans Jazz over a bed of sizzling funk that turned this otherwise icy patch of Northern Virginia into summertime on the Bayou.
Reverend Horton Heat performs at 9:30 Club on Dec. 3, 2017. (Photo by Neal Keller)
I don’t consider myself to be a Christmas Curmudgeon; I’m not a hipster Grinch. While I often rise to a level of pretentiousness that rejects many forms of sentimentality, I do embrace the spirit of the holiday season.
Having said that, I will go out of my way to avoid most Christmas music. I’ve got a few faves, but most of it inspires in me the same negative reaction that I feel toward showtunes. But the Reverend Horton Heat very much changed my attitude toward Christmas music at 9:30 Club on Sunday.
Brian Setzer Orchestra performs on their Christmas Rocks! Tour at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andrzej Liguz)
I vividly remember the friend who put me on to the music of the Stray Cats 30+ years ago, as he was living the zeitgeist of the ’80s rockabilly revival. I was in Rochester, New York, attending RIT, and he’d come up from Jersey to attend school there as well. He had the greaser haircut, the leather jacket, rolled up cuffs on his jeans, cigarettes under his T-shirt sleeve, and designs on marrying his still virginal high school sweetheart once he got his degree.
The Stray Cats were in constant rotation in his dorm room, and he said to me once, “Y’know, even if this whole rockabilly scene fades away tomorrow, this guy Setzer’s still got a job for life.” He was referring to Stray Cats frontman Brian Setzer’s formidable talent as a guitarist. It was clearly evident back then, even if Setzer’s stylistic trappings were a little different from rock hero contemporaries like Eddie Van Halen or Yngwie Malmsteen.
Lucinda Williams (Photo by David McClister)
I suspect the inclusion of Lucinda Williams among my favorite artists stood out a little on my (now deleted) dating profile, buried as it was among a list that heavily favored new wave, electronic, and industrial artists.
The contrast in genres was apparently notable enough that visitors commented on it more than once. But then my appreciation for Lucinda’s music did in fact arise out of a specific set of circumstances, absent which I might not have discovered her at all.