Beauty Pill @ Black Cat, 4/29/17

“Trust me, in twenty minutes you will be happy.”

That was Chad’s response to the unison of disappointed groans after he announced the band’s last song. The soft-spoken frontman of Beauty Pill left an impression on me even if I am still unclear of its shape or depth. As a longtime resident of the DC suburbs, I felt remiss at having never seen the local outfit live before, or even really listening to their music. I finally corrected my oversight on the last Saturday of April. I should have done it sooner.

Chad and the other seasoned members constructed a wholly unique sound that reminded me of my first exposure to Sigur Ros. It took me years to appreciate the Icelandic post-rock band because I severely lacked true concepts of music at the time. Or art for that matter. I think of it like dressage, where the subtle finess and talent exhibited so beautifully is lost on those unfamiliar with the techniques of the sport. Fortunately, I know much more about music than dressage, and by now know enough to understand that the world is richer with Chad’s experimental creations in it.

This is most evident when Chad shared the background on a particular song. He spent years writing the ending, wanting it to be tragic and dark because it’s a Beauty Pill song, but he finally realized that it wanted a happy ending. His expression conveyed the delight of someone making an unexpected discovery. “There’s a ray of hope,” he added after a pause.

Indeed, I hope to discover more bands like Beauty Pill. Expanding my musical horizons is important to me, and ought to be important to us all.

The New Pornographers @ 9:30 Club, 4/28/17

If there’s a force in the universe that compels one to move, it should be named The New Pornographers. In DC for the first of two sold out shows, the supergroup spent little time talking. Carl even remarked at one point, “We don’t need to tell you how much we like you, do we?” Instead, they opted to exercise their super power of rocking the crowd for almost ninety minutes. Which probably felt like ten to the lovely lady on the right balcony who never ceased dancing.

In fact, the combined synergy among the eight-piece and the boisterous crowd caused the hanging display of flashing lights in the background to come partially loose near the top. Said display is a few multiples of a human in height, so it presented a slightly precarious proposition should it come crashing down to Joe who sat right before it, prompting Neko Case to address the crowd saying, “take it easy.” If one failed to detect the sarcasm in her voice, it became apparent once the band launched loudly into the next song.

Beyond simply energy, Neko and company, with emphasis on the conjunction, exhibited delightful musicianship. Simi strummed the violin like a guitar. Kathryn didn’t so much sweep her hand across the piano as pet it like a cat begging to be caressed. Then there’s the jubilant satisfaction of having all eight members simultaneously drop the beat that sent cheers echoing. While there are many other highlights to list, the vocal harmony among the members stood out the most. It was a beautiful instrument that beckoned everyone to sway and sing along in unison.

At one point mid song, Blaine and Joe raised their glasses to each other. It was certainly a very befitting gesture that encapsulates the electrifying performance. I would have loved to have seen them again on the second night but I was scheduled to see Beauty Pill.

Bokeh with LCD Display

ƒ/2.0 • 50.0 mm • 1/60 • ISO 1000

This was the first time I took a photo via the LCD display instead of the viewfinder on my Rebel T6. The bokeh of the keys and background lights is simply gorgeous. I had my arms extended to about six inches from Sallie Ford’s keyboard. Surprisingly it was really painless to operate. It helps that the T6 is fairly lightweight and offers a crisp display. I foresee myself doing this when I can’t get to a certain angle. Another benefit of using the display is that it’s easier for my poor eyesight to grasp the photo’s boundaries so I know exactly what’s in the shot and what’s not. I have noticed that I sometimes leave too much space above or beside the subject of a photo because my eyes don’t notice the gap between the subject and the frame when I use the viewfinder.

First Shoot!

ƒ/2.0, 50.0 mm, 1/60, ISO 1000

This was my first time shooting with my new Canon Rebel T6. The photos came out really amazing so I am inclined to conclude that a good choice in the body can make anyone look great. It probably helped that I am using a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens and was able to get next to the stage. I understand the T6 offers 9 points of focus which demonstrated its capability here. By pointing the lens in the appropriate direction, it was able to focus on Molly instead of the headstock in the foreground. The bokeh is also beautiful. The dawn of light just above her head likely helped take the shot given the relatively low ISO.

The Coathangers @ DC9, 4/18/17

One hazard of a music journalist is that it can distract from the experience. When something noteworthy occurs, I have to debate between scrambling to take a few words down or mentally committing it to memory, both of which take my attention away from the moment. Even if nothing special is happening, I often find myself searching for something that may not be there or simply thinking about what I can write later. I gave up doing so for The Coathangers.

It’s somewhat disorienting trying to think when the floor is rocking like a boat on savage seas thanks to the energy of the crowd. It was so intense I wondered if the mathematics of the architecture accounted for such stress. It doesn’t help that a good number, encouraged by Julia, sang along loudly to almost every song. She even applauded their efforts on
a few occasions in the same manner of a coach conveying a job well done. The trio’s energy is always so contagious.

I first saw them as a four piece and was floored when they took turns playing each other’s instruments. This is infinitely impressive given their lack of formal music training. I was delighted to see this practice has not changed. They each bring their trademark style to the performance evoking a superhero team aesthetic akin to Sailor Moon, with the added bonus that their abilities/weapons are interchangeable. I especially liked Julia’s pacing back and forth in tandem with the beat.

Equally unique is their sound. There’s an infectious and dance-inducing catchiness to the shouts not typically found in punk rock. Speaking of which, all three have distinctive voices that add colorful texture. This was most noticeable when they chanted in unison after a carousel of vocal duties.

At the conclusion of the hour long set, Julia mentioned two names no one recognized, until she offered the punchline that they were dogs. I was too busy eyeing the red object in her hand to consider her comment. That is, until she held it up to the mic and squeezed. It was a dog chew toy. The squeaks from the toy complimented the aptly named “Squeeki Tiki” song perfectly inducing the crowd to head bang. I am unaware of such cleverness by other bands, and it just confirms what The Coathangers has known all along. Playful imagination rocks!

Molly Burch @ DC9, 4/14/17

Molly Burch was a sorely welcomed change of pace for me that I didn’t realize I needed.

I would imagine the same for others judging solely by the more than hour-long battle I fought against Friday DC traffic.
Her fingers brushed over the guitar strings idly, like one with not a care in the world. When she sang into the mic, her voice compelled time to slow. The hustle and bustle outside ceased to exist. In its place was a forlorn tranquility. Molly’s singing conveyed the weight and reach of a past she can’t escape. In fact, she appeared to be sitting in bed alone talking to her diary. And it was at this juncture that I realized the beauty of her voice. It possesses will. While her past may always manifest in the present, her singing helps her to take control in shaping her destiny.

The band contributed further to the longing atmosphere, mirroring her leisurely pace as if it was a sweltering summer night. The moody bassline and unhurried drums conjured images of wide hips swaying in long, flowing skirts and the drop of water clinging to the mouth of a tall, icy glass of lemonade. Even at its most agitated, the lead guitar imparted an air of politeness. Indeed, the band played second fiddle to Molly’s voice. It almost felt like a concerto for her voice and band, especially on the song where she went without her guitar.

Now that it’s another new week, I ache to return to Friday, where Molly’s timeless voice offered a quiet refuge of a simpler time and place.

Jay Som, The Courtneys @ DC9, 4/1/17

I have waited years to see The Courtneys. The last time they were in town, they opened for Tegan and Sara. That show sold out and as I stood outside haggling with a scalper, I could catch the thumping within. It was like sitting at home watching the tube while listening to a party rage on the other side of the apartment wall. I wasn’t going to botch my second chance.

On tour to support their new record II, the trio made a convincing argument for their inclusion in the top ten of the year. Jen had pulled her drumkit towards the front of the stage just behind her bandmates, eliminating the gulf typically reserved for rocking out. It was an audacious statement given crowd energy often feeds from stage antics but the band was prepared to move us via music alone.

Spoiler alert: they succeeded.

Courtney makes playing the guitar look effortless. Having asked twice for more snares in her monitor, she maintained a contented expression like one actively enjoying the music that’s playing. Sydney was just as carefree belting out the bass line, but don’t let appearances fool you. Loud and hazy, they carried a momentum that could push spring into summer. Jen looked the most hardworking possibly due to a condition that had her reaching for a handkerchief several times. Or maybe singing and drumming is no easy feat. Her serene voice floated above all that steady thumping I looked forward to all these years later and it was perfect.

I had seen Jay Som solo last year when she opened for Mitski. Now playing with a band for the first time to support her new record Everybody Works, I was far more impressed. Especially given that she gave a shout out to not dying after having consumed lots of cough syrup the night before.

It was an immense delight to watch Melina conduct throughout the set. On more than one occasion, she would count in another member of the band just like a conductor would signal the brass section to join in with a gesture of the baton, except she had to use her head, guitar, or whispers. The adorable interactions would sometimes mirror the musical conversation the four piece carried on and off as each took turns rocking out. Other times, the band would take the sold out crowd to the beach where pianissimo waves would crescendo into pleasant crashes over and over, leaving everyone soaked in welcomed splashes.

Jay Som rolled nonstop like the tireless sea. A drum beat or loop pedal would march or whine between songs before the band built into the song. The particular manner in which Melina and company would sometimes start and stop into a song led me to wish I was more just a bit more familiar with their material. It was unclear if the act follows from the record or was simply live improvisations. Judging by the prevalent cheers, my confusion was moot. Both worked.