Music Park: Wire @ Black Cat — 6/6/15

Colin Newman (Wire)
Colin Newman of Wire performs at Les Guess Who Festival in Utrecht on Nov. 22, 2014 (Photo by Rene Passet)

The guitars start out with a low, repetitive drone and then they break out into a trot.

A pleasant English voice begins to sing matter of factly alongside the guitars. The lyrics are conceptual not narrative. And as the song continues, the guitars hit peaks and valleys while the singer remains steadfastly laconic and sardonic.

This is Wire, and they have opened their concert Saturday night at the Black Cat with “Blogging,” the first track from their 14th album, the self-titled Wire, released in April. The band proves in this case to be much like many of their individual songs in that the more you get into it, and the more you think about it, the more it has to offer.

The London quartet, of course, practically invented post-punk upon forming in 1976, but they have not sat still, particularly since reforming after a break in the 1990s. Vocalist and guitarist Colin Newman is interested in what’s new. He likes to tinker and to move the dial forward, even if doing so within the predefined confines of the post-punk genre. I never previously saw a performer quite like him, and I immediately thought to myself that Colin is to the guitar what a Billy Currie or a Thomas Dolby is to the synthesizer.

No one in Wire plays a synthesizer, of course. But the sound they make — that beautiful sound!– nonetheless somehow encompasses the space age and the immediate. Somewhere, both contemporaries in the Buzzcocks and new kids in Prinzhorn Dance School are taking notes.

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Music Park: Hot Chip @ Echostage — 6/5/15

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Hot Chip (Photo courtesy Press Here)

Hot Chip kept a very full room “ready for the floor” as they danced the night away at Echostage Friday night.

Touring in support of their sixth album, Why Make Sense?, released in May 2015, the London quintet also paid respects to their career so far, hitting highlights from their previous albums.

In doing so, Hot Chip sang a lot about being in love while adding soulful samba-like grooves to some of their greatest hits.

And so the crowd boogied down in earnest to tracks like “Night & Day,” “Over and Over” and “I Feel Better” throughout the show, as well as many of the noteworthy tunes on the new album.

The U.K. synthpoppers opened with “Huarache Lights,” a dance-funk ode to living on the go until eventually replaced by automation, the first single from their latest effort. They also showcased “Easy to Get” and “Started Right” from Why Make Sense? — the first a playful tribute to playing “easy to get” with someone you love and the second also a lovely song about being in love and in a committed relationship.

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Food Park: Alex McCoy @ Food Network Star (S. 11, Ep. 1) — 6/7/15

alex-mccoy-food-network-1DC’s Alex McCoy did well on the first episode of Food Network Star. (Photo courtesy of Food Network)

The new season of the Food Network Star debuted Sunday night, featuring two DC contestants — Alex McCoy and Emilia Cirka.

Our little DC blog is unabashedly in support of Alex, who performed rather well in the first episode! At the beginning of the show, he and the other 11 contestants gave a bit of a personal introduction in 30 seconds to Food Network hosts Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis.

The hosts liked what Alex had to say, but they wanted more charisma from him. Like a few other contestants, he didn’t smile enough during his introduction. Thankfully, the contestants got a chance to re-do their introductions in 30-second video presentations. The next day, the contestants presented their 30-second videos to 100 Food Network fans who gathered for a food festival catered by the contestants.

Alex and the other contestants were given an hour to cater food for the 100 guests, and Alex chose to make Choripan sandwiches with pork belly. This fit with Alex’s focus, as he introduced himself as a sandwich expert who travels the globe for inspiration. The concept is very much similar to what Alex did at Duke’s Grocery, where he cooked tasty sandwiches and other fare until leaving in January.

Everyone was wowed by Alex’s video, in which he was succinct and charming. Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis cheered Alex for taking their feedback to heart (mostly by using his winning smile during his introduction). Appearing on the show as a guest judge, J.D. Heyman, deputy entertainment editor of People magazine, called Alex “a budding celebrity.”

The reaction to his sandwiches, however, was a bit mixed. Guests seemed to like them but they found them a bit overdone perhaps. Alex didn’t get a lot of screen time compared to some of the others, particularly the “problem children” of the competition. But he was smooth and built up to a fine performance. We expect him to surprise folks more as the season progress with both his personality and his food.

In the end, Alex made the cut and avoided first-round elimination quite handily. Catch up with him (and Emilia) along with the other remaining contestants in the second episode of this edition of Food Network Star on Sunday, June 14, at 9pm ET.

Watch the full episode on YouTube:

Music Park: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds @ Lincoln Theatre — 6/4/15

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Noel Gallagher: Still a rock star (Photo courtesy Black Arts PR)

Before the encore Thursday night at the Lincoln Theatre, the crowd started chanting his name.

“No-oel!” they shouted, elongating the single syllable of Noel Gallagher’s first name.

The sold-out theater was absolutely packed to the gills — and everyone was eager for more from the man they considered one of the top rock stars of all time.

When Noel Gallagher reemerged with his band, the High Flying Birds, the entire house erupted into cheers. But the man in the center of the stage struck a singularly humble pose and thanked the audience for their enthusiasm. He seemed a million miles removed from the chutzpah of the Britpop days that made him famous in Oasis, yet totally self-possessed of the moment, pleased to be received adoringly by those who came out to hear songs new and old.

He was happy to oblige them, and started his encore with Oasis’ “Masterplan” — a song which made the entire house dizzy with pleasure as they sang along every word in chorus.

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Food Park: Alex McCoy @ Food Network Star, 6/7/15

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Alex McCoy is ready for the world in competition as the next Food Network Star. (Photo courtesy Food Network)

On Sunday, the Food Network debuts the new season of an 11-week series, Food Network Star, which will feature 12 chefs competing to become the next host at the Food Network. (Catch it on Sunday, June 7, at 9pm ET.)

Normally, we might not get too excited about such a thing, but one of the 12 chefs in the competition is DC’s own Alex McCoy, who started up Duke’s Grocery (1513 17th St. NW, DC) in Dupont Circle and recently left it to open new ventures in the city.

Chefs participating in the program are required to demonstrate great skills in the kitchen but also to dazzle on camera under the guidance of Food Network hosts Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis.

Alex appeared on Good Morning Washington on Tuesday morning to discuss the show and to share secrets of using leftover BBQ meat to make a quick Thai meal. Watch him in action:

Regardless of the outcome of Food Network Star, Alex plans to open two DC restaurants in the near future with his business partner Hunter Campbell, who has been establishing nightlife venues like the Mason Inn in Glover Park and the Chinese Disco in Georgetown in recent years. Last month, Tim Carman of the Washington Post broke the news of the new restaurants, revealing one would feature Asian food from Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, and the other would likely be more of a gastropub, similar to Duke’s Grocery.

In an interview with Tim, Alex said he hoped his Asian place would be similar to expat bars he encountered in Thailand while on a journey there earlier this year.

Tim Carman wrote, “[E]xpat pubs are spaces where cultures intersect and collide with neither conflict nor ceremony…. It is this atmosphere that McCoy wants to recreate with his own, still-unnamed Southeast Asian restaurant.”

I interviewed Alex last year for a feature on his background for We Love DC, where the chef discussed how he likes to see places up close and personal to get his hands dirty with making cuisine associated with certain cultures.

“In many cases, unless you’ve seen someone making that dish in its element and in the place it was created, it’s really hard to respect food the way food should be respected,” Alex told me.

So regardless of how well he does in the Food Network competition, we are looking forward to some delicious food from our globetrotting friend here in DC in the very near future.

But meanwhile: Go, Alex! My money is on you as the next Food Network Star.

Stars and Bars: New Beers from Hellbender, 3 Stars @ SAVOR Week

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Dascha Beer Garden (and Liz Taylor) under an overcast sky Wednesday

Wednesday evening was overcast and cool. It was perfectly comfortable to be outside with a light jacket but it was certainly cooler than DC would expect for the first week of June.

What a great opportunity, then, to drink an appropriately medium-bodied beer with a light touch like the Hellbender Brewing Co.’s new Ella Kölsch Pale Ale. Ella is definitely more pale than kölsch, with a dense but pleasing color and a bite of refreshing bitterness upfront but with that clean kölsch finish.

Hellbender debuted the beer during happy hour Wednesday at Dascha Beer Garden (1600 7th St. NW, DC), timed in conjunction with Savor Week — the days leading up to the Savor American Craft Beer and Food Experience at the American Building Museum (401 F St. NW, DC) on June 5-6.

Hellbender Brewing Co. (5788 2nd St. NE, DC) quite likes the kölsch pale ale, or KPA, style, and it has been experimenting with it a bit this year, previously releasing an Equinox KPA. According to Hellbender, “This new hybrid German/American style combines the traditional American pale ale recipe with German Kölsch yeast. The end result is a dry, refreshing pale ale with big hop flavor and aroma!”

The Hellbender KPA series will consist of beers built around various hops, subject to seasons and availability, the brewery said. The Ella hops is from Australia, and it imparts the beer with spices and flowers along with an aroma of tropical fruit. The Ella KPA weighs in at 5.7% ABV, 37 IBU, 6 SRM.

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A look at if not a taste of the new Hellbender Ella KPA

Ella wasn’t the only new beer to debut from a local brewer this week.

3 Stars Brewing Co. (6400 Chillum Pl. NW, DC) extended its collaboration series with Pizzeria Paradiso (3282 M St. NW, DC) to introduce Monday a new entry in its nine-part Paradiso series. The debut occurred at the Pizzeria Paradiso Monday Night Beer Club, which offers beer specials usually along a theme on the first Monday of every month.

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Paradiso: Sun sits atop the menu that tells you all about it.

The new beer, Paradiso: Sun, is a rustic farmhouse ale brewed with cedar tips. At 5.1% ABV, Paradiso: Sun was quite drinkable, and its woody flavor paired quite well with pizza! (Imagine that.) As always at Monday Night Beer Club, the knowledgeable Rob Fink, Paradiso assistant bar manager (and District Chophouse assistant brewer!), was manning the bar to pour the special and provides insights into their origins.

The entire collaboration series draws inspiration from Dante’s Paradiso. The first beer in the series was Paradiso: The Moon, a pale wheat saison brewed with sour oranges. The second was Paradiso: Mercury, a red wheat rye saison brewed with blood oranges. And the third was Paradiso: Venus, a blend of the first two beers aged in Sangiovese barrels.

All in all, Hellbender, 3 Stars and Paradiso brought fine new beers to a great week of events!

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Pizza and beer? Por favor!

Music Park: The Tallest Man On Earth @ Lincoln Theatre — 6/1/15


NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

The Tallest Man on Earth, Kristian Matsson (at a mere 5′ 7″), told the packed Lincoln Theatre, “Thank you. Straight from my heart, I won’t take this for granted.”

Clearly he didn’t. Despite the themes of lost love and melancholy that permeates many of his songs, he is full of energy and charisma in front of the crowd. He stormed the stage and then ran out into the crowd like a rock star. On stage, he was motion and dancing, switching out guitars after almost every song.

Matsson’s favorite pastime involved throwing down his guitar pick after he finished a song, almost in triumph. The stage was littered with small victories.

Born in Sweden, Matsson began with The Tallest Man on Earth stage name as a solo singer-songwriter for his first three albums. His first album, Shallow Grave, released in 2008, has strong roots in America folk music.

As Matsson made clear, “We only have sad songs, except one song.” The Tallest Man on Earth set forth songs of loss, remembrance and restlessness, weaving through sounds inspired by folk and country music.

For the fourth album, Dark Bird is Home, and latest tour, Matsson has added a full band. There is a clear delineation and complexity between the new album’s songs and the stripped down nature of many of the previous songs.

That delineation is never more apparent than the first single, “Sangres”, which almost seems out-of-place, but yet is clearly part of his overarching theme of lost love. It is also a song that showcases his vocal range, which many have likened to Bob Dylan. This song is a good example of why. His voice seemed fuller and less Dylanesque when live, compared to listening to some of his earlier recorded work. I enjoyed both, but found a deeper appreciation when listening to the songs performed live.

For a change of pace, Matsson performed the quiet “Little Nowhere Towns” on an expanded keyboard. For many songs, he performed solo with just his guitar, while the band took a breather.

Just before the break before the encore, Matsson gave the crowd the wistful title track, “Dark Bird is Home”, with the sad but hopeful line, “and suddenly the day gets you down but this is not the end, no this is fine”. And it was.

Matsson ended the night with “Like the Wheel”, a sad, soulful lament that I like to think is about the long journey to find your place on this Earth.

The Tallest Man on Earth proved to be a great live performer and worthy of the 1-1/2 hour, 21 song, musical journey he and his band lead us through.

The Tallest Man On Earth

Don’t Miss: Hot Chip @ Echostage, 6/5/15

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London quintet Hot Chip (Photo by Steve Gullick)

Last month, nu disco juggernauts Hot Chip released their sixth studio album, Why Make Sense?

After five good albums (several of which are outstanding), you might ask, “Where can Hot Chip go from here?” And Hot Chip apparently asked themselves that same question in the making of this album.

Part of the process of finding an answer for the band was to write and record “Huarache Lights,” a musical statement on what the band brings to the table. It’s a classic single for Hot Chip, pairing vocalist Alexis Taylor’s unique voice with pulsating rhythms and thematically addressing people and technology — but most importantly, doing so while being funky.

Watch the video for “Huarache Lights”:

In May, Hot Chip launched a world tour in support of the new album, and they bring the show to Echostage in DC this Friday, June 5.

I’ve been fortunate enough to catch Hot Chip several times in the past, and their live show is itself a regular dance party. They have a sound, and surely an accompanying light show, capable of filling the large space of Echostage quite well.

And I daresay that the sound and vision of the live performance tells the other half of the story when asking where do Hot Chip go from here? So it’s well worth your time to get out there, check them out and dance your heart out.

Watch a full Hot Chip set from the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival in Paris:

Sudanese-American Ahmed Gallab brings his soul quartet Sinkane along to open for Hot Chip. Tickets are available online or at the box office at the 9:30 Club.

Hot Chip
w/ Sinkane
Echostage
Friday, June 5
Doors @7pm
$45
All ages

Music Park: The Mynabirds @ POV Lounge — 6/1/15

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Laura Burhenn performs in Dallas in 2010.

Laura Burhenn, former DC native transplanted to Omaha, Neb., has done her share of traveling in recent days. The hypnotic chanteuse had been touring with her frequent collaborators Black English, opening for the Psychedelic Furs, when she got the call to open for The Pixies at the 9:30 Club Sunday night.

She flew back to DC Sunday morning, and several members of Black English supported her as her band in The Mynabirds, which also played an intimate show at the POV Lounge at the W Hotel in DC on Monday night.

At the W, The Mynabirds performed a lush 11-song set, half of which roughly consisted of new songs from an upcoming third album, Lovers Know, due on August 7 on well-regarded indie label Saddle Creek.

Monday was my first time catching a performance by Laura and The Mynabirds, and one thing immediately was clear: Laura sings with purpose. Generally her songs are concerned with devoting yourself to something 100 percent –- and when you have to do so, you fight.

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Music Park: The Mynabirds @ POV Live, 6/1/15 (Tonight!)

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The Mynabirds (Photo by Bliss Braoudakis)

The Mynabirds, aka DC’s own Laura Burhenn, will play a surprise set at POV Live at the W Hotel (515 15th St. NW, DC) in a free concert performance tonight!

A new album, Lovers Know, is due from the Mynabirds on August 7, via Saddle Creek, and Laura will play some of the new songs tonight at the W Hotel’s rooftop POV Lounge.

Check out “Semantics,” the first single from the new album, Lovers Know:

Although not necessary to enter, the W Hotel encourages those planning to go to RSVP via an Eventbrite page at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/pov-live-featuring-the-mynabirds-tickets-17195314649.

RSVP’ing also does not guarantee entry.

The Mynabirds
W Hotel DC
Monday, June 1
Doors @7pm
Free
All ages