Sunday, June 26, 2016

In Which I Finally Get To See Sansyou Live Along With Thalia Zedek (Live Skull, Come)

D.C.'s Sansyou make something that is beautiful and uncomplicated. The 3 musicians in this band -- David Nicholas, Davis White, and Matt McGarraghy -- seem to be able to craft music that is serious and Art with a capital "A" and yet they remain entirely unpretentious while doing it. That's a rare skill in this world and they brought that skill to D.C.'s Rhizome last night.

Now, readers of this site probably know that I've been a fan of this band for a few years and have happily written about them in the past. However, I had never seen them live. I had an excuse before since my wife and I were living in Hong Kong until late August 2014. But every Sansyou show I missed in this area after that seems a mistake now since these guys are so good live, as I learned tonight.

Dual guitarists Nicholas and McGarraghy owe debts to earlier artists in the indie genre but they understand how to take something that sounds a bit like early Ride in spots, or Cocteau Twins in another, for example, and turn it into a unique piece of tune-age. Bits of the performance tonight recalled Durutti Column, or even early New Order sides sans vocals, and I can think of no higher compliment than that. Lorelei drummer Davis White brought a sort of heavy jazz-style to some cuts and that worked well in the setting as Nicholas and McGarraghy traded runs on guitar. Employing a bunch of effects pedals, Nicholas worked some obvious magic while McGarraghy added the melodic bits. On familiar tunes like "Black Nerve Administrator", from the band's superb when we become ghosts release, reviewed by me here, the trio really hit their stride and produced sounds unlike a lot of what put this city on the musical map.

During the gig tonight, Sansyou was showcasing a few cuts -- 4, I think? -- from the band's upcoming EP. The next release is being mixed by drummer Davis White even as we speak and I think it's going to be something special and something worth waiting for. For a brief taste, enjoy the clip of a bit of "Field Of View" below.

Boston's DYR Faser offered up a unique set of noise-rock that blended blues riffs with samples and fiery bits of Sonic Youth-esque guitar hooks into something wholly original. The band, a two-piece consisting of Eric Boomhower and the legendary Thalia Zedek (Live Skull, Come), managed to unfurl lines of guitar-weirdness that remained focused despite being entirely avant-garde and bracing. Traces of bands as disparate as Throbbing Gristle and Zedek's own Come showed themselves tonight in the band's music and I immediately rushed home and looked to see what was available from this group on Bandcamp.

Full confession: We split before Insect Factory came on so I cannot report back on their set. However, Sansyou and DYR Faser were both fantastic and the space at Rhizome is a cool one, as you can see from these pics.

Follow Sansyou via the band's official website, or via the band's official Facebook page.

Follow DYR Faser via the band's Bandcamp page, or via the band's official Facebook page.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Handful Of My Pics From Tonight's Scorching Pere Ubu Set At D.C.'s Rock And Roll Hotel

Pere Ubu delivered a scorching set at D.C.'s Rock and Roll Hotel tonight. The cuts in tonight's nearly 90-minute gig came from the recent box sets put out by Fire Records. The esteemed label is in the midst of a welcomed reissue project that sees the early Pere Ubu albums coming back into print in sets. The first set, Elitism For The People 1975-1978, dropped in 2015 and the second one, Architecture Of Language 1979-1982 came out earlier this year.

Tonight, the band behind leader and legend David Thomas was Steven Mehlman on drums, Michele Temple on bass, Robert Wheeler on keyboards and Theremin, and Gary Siperko on lead guitar. Thomas remained seated for most of the night but he did seem to command the room with every utterance from his lips, whether it was a yell, a coo, or a bit of between-song-banter. I took most of these shots during the encore of "Final Solution" and, it's certainly worth noting, the cut had a large contingent of the crowd singing along.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I'd be in a crowd singing along to a Pere Ubu song but such is life, eh?

Read my interview with David Thomas of Pere Ubu from 2015 for a few details on these reissues.

Check out Fire Records for news on the reissue series and the tour. And for all your Pere Ubu needs.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Quick Review Of This Fab New Bangles Compilation, Out Friday On Omnivore

Long before they were walking like Egyptians -- and it's 30 years since that famous single dropped, folks! -- and ages before they were lighting eternal flames, The Bangles were a rock band called The Bangs. It's rare enough to find someone who can look all the way back to "Hero Takes A Fall" but even harder to find someone who knows who The Bangs were.

Well now we're all in for a very pleasant musical education thanks to the fine folks at Omnivore Recordings as they are releasing Ladies And Gentleman...The Bangles, a superb compilation of early recordings from this band, this week. The collection, which drops tomorrow (June 24), is easily one of the most listenable -- is that an adjective? -- releases of 2016. Pure power pop goodness from start to finish, that's the only way to describe this one.

The liner notes credit David Roback (Rain Parade, Opal, Rainy Day) as a co-writer on early cut "Call On Me" but the song, pure Bangles-like goodness, is, like other numbers from the era on offer here, the sort of crunchy guitar-based pop that a lot of skinny tie bands were cranking out in the aftermath of the New Wave boom. "The Real World" chimes in equal measure and is clearly one of the very first classic cuts that this band would record. Somehow more robust than some of what ended up on All Over The Place (1984), the Vicki Peterson/Susanna Hoffs-penned rocker is the highlight of this release for me and, luckily, there's also a demo version of the song here on Ladies And Gentleman...The Bangles.

By the time they recorded the supple "I'm In Line", the 3-piece Bangs had become The Bangles with guitarist Vicki Peterson's sister Debbi joining on the drums and bassist Annette Zalinskas handling the duties that Michael Steele would soon take over. The Byrds-esque touches of "Mary Street" hint at the band's connections via that Rainy Day project with the other members of the then current so-called Paisley Underground of the era, while the cover of obscure Sixties stomper "How Is The Air Up There?" (originally by The La De Das in 1966) allows Hoffs and crew to show their chops at updating that sort of material for modern audiences. That the song doesn't sound like a cover attests to the talents of this group at adapting earlier styles and making them their own.

Elsewhere, on a cover of the Warren Zevon-penned Turtles jam "Outside Chance", The Bangles line themselves up next to the Beatles of the "I Feel Fine" era. The cut, a demo version here, positively rocks, as does a later live version of Love's "7 And 7 Is", recorded by the time that Michael Steele had joined the band.

The collection is rounded out with a few radio commercials that the band recorded and one gets the sense that Ladies And Gentleman...The Bangles is meant to serve as a sort of round-up of all the band's pre-Columbia Records recordings. Not quite sure it succeeds on those terms but it certainly works as just a fantastic set of tunes that are all the equal of any of the Sixties-inflected flower power-pop and the sort of West Coast New Wave-influenced guitar-rock that peers like The Three O'Clock were also making at the time.

Of equal appeal to fans of Nuggets-era pop tunes as it is to simple fans of The Bangles, Ladies And Gentleman...The Bangles offers up as much listening enjoyment as the band's official first album release (All Over The Place) did in 1984. Nearly flawless and full of ringing guitars, Ladies And Gentleman...The Bangles, out tomorrow via Omnivore Recordings, is the first absolutely essential reissue of 2016.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Few Words About The New One From D.C. Legends Tone

The band Tone has been a fixture in this town for longer than I can remember. The band's press says that they've been around for more than 25 years. So, yeah, if your band has played both the "old" and current 9:30 Clubs, then you're a legend. Which is why I titled this post that way.

Still, for a bunch of legends these cats make music that is both wildly expansive and modest in approach. Without a whole lot of pretension, this collective of musicians make big tunes that soar and agitate in equal measure. A perfect example of this dynamic can be found on the band's newest album, Antares, out Friday via Dischord and TMinusOneMusic.

If the title cut is familiar and a way to ease a fan, new or old, into the music that's on this record, the superb "Weapon Of Moonlight" is the furious unfurling of all the talents in this group. The guitars of Norm Veenstra, Jim Williamson, and Gustavo Vargas slash chords with some abandon while bassist Charles Andrews and drummer Gregg Hudson battle it out down below. The cut is controlled chaos and if it sounds like the guitars are like animals circling their prey (to use a really awkward description), the rhythm section is the beast in the center fighting back. Instrumental music that's not jazz is rarely this effectively emotional.

Elsewhere, "Quiver" unwinds with all the plucked precision of early Mogwai, and "Incoming" skirts the edges of the sort of hard rock that one found on mid-period Soundgarden records. Antares ends with the sublime-and-epic "Bright Angel Falls", all delicate guitar hooks amped up amid chugging chords and brutal drum-work. For a 12-minute song, things move at a very brisk clip -- even the "quiet bits" -- and yet things feel deliberate and precise throughout the course of the track.

In a nutshell, that's sort of the appeal of Tone, isn't it? The band has been making music that straddles a line between absolute chaos and checked fury for more than 2 decades. They have shown themselves to be some of the best musicians in this city full of great musicians and they've done all this without a great deal of unnecessary pretension. I'm always impressed by artists who make something serious and affecting without making a big damn deal about it and with Tone there's modesty to the presentation that adds to overall impact of this band's music.

Tone are playing DC9 on Thursday. Find out more details via the band's official website, or official Facebook page.

Antares by Tone drops this Friday and the you can order it via the Bandcamp link below or via the Dischord website.

Monday, June 20, 2016

New Tunes From D.C.'s The Jet Age Are Up Now On Bandcamp!

It seems like only yesterday that I was reviewing Destroy.Rebuild, the sixth album from the D.C. area's The Jet Age. The power trio had managed to channel their biggest influences -- The Who and some-time touring mates The Wedding Present -- in the service of what was, in some ways, the band's sharpest album yet.

Following some dates in this area, from which that pic up above was taken by my wife, and a festival in Brighton, England, last fall, The Jet Age laid low for a bit. And now -- bam! -- they've come back and dropped 2 new songs and a remix today in anticipation of the unveiling of album number 7 some time later this year.

The wonderfully titled "Your Sweet Nothings" enters your ears, like most of the cuts from this group, on the back of drummer Pete Nuwayser's Moon impression on the skins, and bassist Greg Bennett's Entwistle-meets-Geezer Butler bass-work. And, of course, then comes Tischler with his insistent vocals, fuzzed out guitar riffs, and personal lyrics. The sound is, thankfully, uniquely that of The Jet Age and one can think again that this band can do certain things extremely well, and in doing them has crafted a sound that is so singular that it begs for more fans.

The flip, as it were, is "The Only Difference" all down-tempo beats and languid riffs percolating around Tischler's yearning vocals. The guitar almost takes a backseat here to the bass and drums but, this being a Jet Age record, eventually Eric's axe is going to grab some attention too. The guitar effects here, like on "Your Sweet Nothings" as well, are used subtly. In other hands, a guy like Tischler's love of shoegaze stuff like Swervedriver and My Bloody Valentine would have resulted in a band that sounded like an American clone of one of those acts. Instead, wisely, Tischler puts his fandom in the service of something else entirely and while there are traces of those acts -- most notably Swervedriver -- here (like they are in all Jet Age releases), the tracks are more than just tributes to an earlier era.

Look, I really dig these guys and with each release I fully expect them to reach more people and get more fans just like me. These 2 new cuts are the start of the build-up to album 7 and it's time to get onboard now if you aren't already.

Follow The Jet Age via their official website, or their official Facebook page.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Looking At Looking On (And Something Else) From The Move Thanks To These 2 New Cherry Red Records Reissues

What one hears when listening to 1970's Looking On by The Move is the end of one band and the start of another. The album, the band's next-to-last release, contains the seeds of what would later become Electric Light Orchestra within it. And that makes some sense considering that this is the first Move release that Jeff Lynne is on.

Still, the album is a bit messy as it straddles genres but in the new edition, recently released by Cherry Red Records, one can hear some of the bravest music of the post-flower power era. The band here took some risks and sort of laid the groundwork for almost everything ELO would do later. If this is not exactly ELO Mach 1, it's darn close despite some bits that place it far outside the range of anything those chart-toppers would do later at the end of the Seventies.

The band was now a four-piece (Jeff Lynne, Roy Wood, Bev Bevan, and Rick Price). Carl Wayne, such a huge part of The Move previously, had left by this time. The act was, by all accounts, Wood's project now but, as the liner notes explain, the genius didn't feel upstaged by the arrival of Lynne. Oddly, as those notes elaborate, Wood saw Lynne as an equal musically which gave him someone to bounce ideas off of and someone to compete with in a friendly way. Nowhere is this probably more apparent than on tracks like the title cut, all Wood flourishes from near-prog to jazz, and "Open Up Said The World At The Door" with its decided chamber pop touches, surely the work of composer Jeff Lynne. A listener is hearing 2 geniuses spar, basically.

Elsewhere, on the fab "When Alice Comes Back To The Farm" and "Brontosaurus", Roy Wood dabbles in what can only be called glam rock despite it being recorded a year or two before that genre really took off. Here, Wood amps things up, piles on layers of instrumentation, and adds a bit of Fifties riff-age to what are big, silly, and fun songs. Never one to take himself too seriously, Wood sounds like he's having a gas on both these seminal cuts and that's significant when one considers the era in which they were recorded with Vietnam raging, and po-faced singer-songwriters racing up the charts. Significantly, Wood placed a premium on rocking out on these 2 songs and a listener can thank him for that when so much else on this record -- "Turkish Tram Conductor Blues", for example, or even Lynne's sublime-and-unnerving "What?" -- tries so darn hard to be something else.

Still, don't let that remark fool you; even at their most serious, or most experimental, The Move were never plodding or dull like so very many of the prog pioneers operating in this same era. For all the near-classical breaks, or psuedo-jazz percolating throughout Looking On, the album remains a pleasure to listen to. Cherry Red Records has done the world a favor by reissuing this album in such a fine fashion, pairing the original record with a full bonus disc of radio sessions and interviews. The radio recordings here yield some real gems for a fan: Jeff Lynne's "Falling Forever" and 2 very Move-esque stabs at "She's A Woman" by The Beatles. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the proto-grunge version of "Brontosaurus" buried among those radio sessions. The cut, all Sabbath-ed up, is as far removed from the eventual Cheap Trick cover as possible and this run-through positively drips with bad intent.

Also of note from Cherry Red Records is the earlier Something Else From The Move, also recently reissued by the U.K. label. The original 1968 "mini-LP" has here been beefed up with a whole raft of bonus cuts and taken all together they show The Move to have been one of the very best bands of the era. Roaring through Move hits like "Fire Brigade" first, the group also tries their hand at some covers of classics of the time by Love, Janis Joplin, and The Byrds. The band would change a bit right after this, as we've seen, with the departure of Carl Wayne and this expanded version of Something Else From The Move serves as a sort of souvenir of the firepower of this band as a live unit. The studio releases -- singles and albums -- tended to showcase the more psychedelic chops of Wood and co. that placed the act in line with the other flower power giants of the era, yet it's worth remembering that this band was, like The Who, an awesome set of players as equally adept at rockers as they were at near-mod swings through r'n'b and rock standards.

Something Else From The Move and Looking On are both out now via Cherry Red Records.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Few Words About The New Album From Big Deal (ex-Pull In Emergency)

Previously, Big Deal singer Alice Costelloe was in a band called Pull In Emergency. I think back in 2010, I may have been one of the only Yank bloggers writing about the band. And the band's debut album, reviewed by me here, really was a charmer.

In the last year or so I read about the new band, Big Deal, and only then a bit after that noticed that it featured Alice Costelloe. The sound here is similar to what that earlier group laid down but things seem more robust now and I'm here today to share with you a few thoughts on the new album, Say Yes, out tomorrow on FatCat Records.

If opener "Hold Your Fire" snarls like mid-period Hole, it also soars in spots and it's that sense of release that punctuates so many of these tracks. If the tunes here are indeed indebted to the whole quiet-loud-quiet-template that Pixies and Nirvana favored so much, then they are also more than just nods to the Eighties and Nineties. Instead, on stuff like the title cut, there's a real effort to make this swirling sonic chaos palatable and -- dare I say it? -- catchy. The tune, all big hooks and Warpaint-esque riffs, bubbles and roars in equal measure.

Elsewhere, on the radiant "Veronica", guitar effects take center-stage and the band tap into the same sort of shoegaze vibe that fueled so many classic Ride and Cocteau Twins songs. And yet, Big Deal never get lazy about this sort of thing and one could never say that the act was a bunch of revivalists; these are fresh, largely buoyant tracks that sound as absolutely wonderful on a car stereo as they do booming in your headphones.

Other highlights of this Big Deal album for me were the vaguely Mazzy Star-like "Saccharine", and "Don't Forget" with its big, big, big hooks. Album closer "Idyllwild" one ups Slowdive at their own game and a listener can listen to this and marvel at the range of this group within the confines of the indie tropes at their disposal.

Say Yes isn't a game-changer but it is supremely good indie rock delivered with more economy and dexterity than most bands are capable of anymore. Concise and expansive in equal doses, the 11 cuts here showcase Alice Costelloe's voice as the sort of anchor around which the waves of the fuzzy-and-amped-up guitars race around her.

Follow Big Deal via the band's official Facebook page.

Say Yes by Big Deal is out tomorrow via FatCat Records.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pere Ubu Kick Off Rare U.S. Tour (With D.C. Stop Next Week)!

Pere Ubu frontman David Thomas is in the midst of a bit of a renaissance now. The renaissance has seen the legendary singer take his first band, Rocket From The Tombs, out on the road (pics by Davis White of a D.C. gig here, and that shot up above). And he's had Fire Records begin an enormous, and enormously important, string of reissues recently. The first box set, Elitism For The People 1975-1978, was released in 2015 and this year saw the release of the next set in the series, Architecture Of Language 1979-1982 which came out a few months ago. This set, containing material a good deal more bracing than the more famous works on the first box, showcases the risk-taking that David Thomas and his band -- whatever the line-up -- have undertaken in the first few years of the band's long existence.

Now, beginning tomorrow as a matter of fact, Pere Ubu will be taking their act on the road on these shores. The band's current line-up of David Thomas, Steven Mehlman (Drums), Michele Temple (Bass), and Robert Wheeler (Synth and Theremin), will be joined by Gary Siperko (Rocket From The Tombs, Whiskey Daredevils, Mofos) on lead guitar. The group will be performing a variety of cuts from those first radical releases collected on those 2 box sets.

Still, "This is not a greatest hits tour!" as the press materials state. No, in typical Thomas fashion, the tour, dubbed "Coed Jail! Tour 2016", will present Thomas with the task of replicating some of the most challenging music recorded in America in the post-punk years live. He remains an artist, as he explained in this interview with me last year, driven by "the need to get it right--just once."

Pere Ubu are playing D.C. on June 24 and details of that gig are here on the Rock and Roll Hotel website. Follow the adventures of Pere Ubu and their reissue series via Fire Records.

Video of a recent live performance of "Navvy" from Dub Housing (1978) below, courtesy of Fire Records.

[Photo: Davis White]

Monday, June 13, 2016

Dance On Broken Glass: A Look At Album Number 5 From D.C.'s Own Dot Dash (Plus Free MP3)

In terms of the number of songs and overall duration, Searchlights, out now via, is the longest Dot Dash album yet. This one, the fifth from the D.C.-area band, is also the loudest. To not mention that would be silly; the record's got kick, you know?

If previously on the earlier records Dot Dash sounded like The Jam, this time out they sound like another power trio entirely: Husker Du. At least in spots, I guess. The group -- drummer Danny Ingram, bassist Hunter Bennett, guitarist Steve Hansgen, and singer-guitarist Terry Banks -- have simultaneously managed to have moved the whole Dot Dash sound forward while retaining enough of the traces of the earlier stuff to please long-time fans. Significantly, guitarist Steve Hansgen now sounds perfectly at home in the band, the Minor Threat ace's axe even more an integral part of the Dot Dash effect than it perhaps was on 2015's Earthquakes and Tidal Waves where he was the "new kid" in the group.

With a bit of wit, Banks kicks things off with "Dumb Entertainment" which reminded this listener of nothing so much as "Rock and Roll" by Led Zeppelin, complete with harDCore wiz Steve Hansgen's blistering Page-does-Chuck Berry-style solo. The band -- maybe more so than ever before -- sound loose and at ease here, even with the added volume. Up next is the roar of "Lonely Serenade" complete with what sounds suspiciously like a Billy Idol-style audible snarl from one time St. Christopher member Terry Banks. Things settle in by the time we get to the title track, all big riffs wrapped around the usual Banks twists and hooks -- American indie amped up as never before.

At times on Searchlights Dot Dash make the kind of beefy tune-age once favored by Superchunk, or the kind of hook-heavy college rock pioneered by The Smithereens a generation earlier, though there's still that hint of indie here thanks to this frontman's past in a few other bands. Still, in a measure of his growing range as group leader, it's worth noting that Banks sounds equally at ease on the lyrical "Wishing Star" as he does on the more fiery "The Infintite". On the positively hard rock-ish "Dance on Broken Glass", the band try their collective hand at a more mainstream sound, Banks even recalling Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople a tiny bit in his vocal delivery. "Woke Up Saturday Night" packs in the sort of metallic k.o. found on the the best bits of the criminally underrated Don't Tell A Soul. If, like The Replacements on that 1989 disc, the boys in Dot Dash are extending their reach this time out -- and taking a few risks along the way -- they are doing so on the backs of some of Banks' best hooks. On tracks like "Holly Garland" and "Daddy Long Legs" his songwriting seems to have hit a tuneful peak even if the volume has gone up around him and his melodies. Without a doubt, Hansgen, bassist Bennett, and D.C. legend Ingram are all playing at full tilt in partnership with Banks, and every cut on Searchlights is one that could be taken off this record to showcase the myriad strengths of this act in a little 2- to 3-minute bite. It should be no surprise that the musicians have rarely sounded better on a Dot Dash album but it's also worth highlighting how the new styles on Searchlights suit Banks as a frontman this time out; who knew that the guy from The Saturday People would sound so at ease growling through big riff-rockers like these?

The highlight of this album for me was the riskiest number by far. At nearly 6 minutes, "Fading Out" is something new in the Dot Dash holster, a secret weapon of talents this band hadn't showcased yet. Combining bits from previous projects -- harDCore riffs from the "salad days" of both Hansgen and Ingram, for example -- of the members of the band, the cut is a blistering bit of channeled college rock fury that seems the equal of "You Can Live At Home", the final selection on Warehouse: Songs and Stories (1987) by Husker Du. As Hunter anchors things on that bass, and Danny pounds his way out of through the noise around him, Terry and Steve provide some of the most interesting and varied guitar-work this band has so far put to tape. It's a long way back to "There And Back Again Lane", folks. As the music roars and things stay just one step on this side of chaos during the cut's extended outro, one can feel like you're hearing the next logical stage in this band's evolution. If the song is bracing and challenging, it's also a joyous celebration of tuneful cacophony, much like another Husker Du song, "Crystal". The track, downloadable for free up above, is both unlike so much of this group's back catalog and so wildly promising of what's going to be possible on future releases.

If so much of Searchlights seems so different from albums 1-4 from these D.C. cats, it's all sort of forgiven when the overall punch of the songs hits you. If the volume is up, so are the melodies and, like those Mac-penned hooks in any classic Superchunk number, the skills of Terry Banks at drafting a jaunty melody are still on display. Things are louder but Banks hasn't entirely abandoned his indie roots -- just imagine if The Smiths had made a whole album full of cuts like "London" and you'll get what I mean. If you've never seen this band in concert, this album is a pretty good representation of their live sound. As a whole, Searchlights works as a leap forward for these guys. You know how there's a classic rock album hidden amid the hard chords of Never Mind The Bollocks? That sort of blending of punk -- thanks to Hansgen and Ingram -- with alt-rock -- Banks and Bennett -- is brought to full fruition on Searchlights. That parts of this sound like Zeppelin, and the Pistols, and The Damned, and The Buzzcocks, shouldn't surprise anyone, should it? These 4 guys are bringing 4 lifetimes of performing experience (and deep music knowledge) to the project here and Searchlights sounds like nothing so much as a template for the next 5 Dot Dash albums. I don't think any act since Dag Nasty or Government Issue has so successfully bridged the worlds of punk and alt-rock. That the album is dedicated to the late, great John Stabb (Government Issue, Emma Peel [with Steve and Danny], History Repeated, etc.) makes perfect sense given this record's cocktail of harDCore traces and ferocious power pop.

Searchlights by Dot Dash is out now via Follow Dot Dash via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photos: Glenn Griffith...just like the one inside the CD tray on this album! Thanks guys!]