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.

Agnes Obel @ 9:30 Club, 3/7/17

There is no greater joy than seeing a band for the first time and proceeding to fall head over heels in love. Such was the case when I discovered my favorite band, and this was the case Tuesday night with Agnes Obel. While her music is more than enchanting enough, I was smitten for an entirely different reason.

Poised behind her keyboard, Agnes transformed the usually rowdy nightclub into a hallowed symphony hall. Not a single sound was made, staff included. She did so with almost no perceivable effort. Her majestic voice simply compelled all to listen. It helps that her band, who she provided with the most adorable introductions regarding their accents, is just as wonderous.

There’s the exquisite matter of the two cellos. Opening songs with pizzicatos lasting for minutes at a time mesmerized like a lover would teasingly walk fingers over the thigh. When the horse hair finally meet the string, it took immense restraint to hold back and savor the change in texture. Each assertive stroke unleashed a deep and throbbing urgency that was as welcoming as it was breathtaking. As if one could withstand such overwhelming sensation, the other cello would join in with fresh fury or pensive passion or a combination thereof. Charlotte and Kristina had one more surprise for us. They closed a song sitting at attention but not playing. Apparently they had been looping all along! Lest I forget, Catherine was just as marvelous on percussion. Always unrelenting but never overbearing, she marched with pristine precision.

Agnes had made some pleasantries earlier about being happy playing in DC because it was minus 17 Celcius* at the last show, and also because this was the first stop for the U.S. tour. When she started to introduce a song stating that she was definitely angry when she wrote it, I was unprepared for what followed. After a brief strategic pause, in a tone of suppressed anger intentionally disguised to fail, she insinuated that it is very fitting to the times. Deafening cheers erupted in the once tranquil symphony atmosphere.

And like that, I was in love.

She didn’t stop there. She introduced another song saying it’s about revolution. And for “Stretch Your Eyes,” the last pleasure before the encore, she specifically stated that she wrote it while angry at her country.

“I guess you know this feeling too,” she concluded with an air of indignation, of empathy, and of solidarity. The crowd roared.

Looking back, the piano post pop musician arranged each song so that no sound overshadowed another. All the instruments danced in true tandem. If the keyboard dominated for a section, it would eventually give way to the clarinet. To achieve such graceful unity may just be genius.

*My college logistics professor once said that he would be proud if one of his students could lead the US to adopt the international standard. I am sorry, Dr. DeWitt.

Muna, Lo Moon @ DC9, 2/26/17

I was hyped to see Lo Moon. A new band out of Los Angeles, they showed they took their craft seriously by hiring Grandstand who represents some big names including Broken Social Scene, Japandroids, and Sleigh Bells. My hype grew when I got to the sold out show and noticed two floor toms on stage. I can’t remember the last time I saw a band who could boast the same. It grew even further as Matt and company made their way past me to begin the set. Each of them wore an earpiece.

That’s a lot of hype to live up to. Naturally, I felt disappointed*. That is, until I sat down to write.

There are the typical trite adjectives attributed to shoegazy bands I could throw out to describe Lo Moon except that would be unjust in conveying their sound. There are similar bands that I can use for comparison except that too would be a disservice. Lo Moon is in a genre in and of itself.

This should have been obvious at the time given the earpieces or the two Macs or the three keyboards/synths or other things that escaped my observation. Instead, I basked in the aural pleasure like one lost in a good book furiously flipping the pages to the end before realizing I had read three hundred pages in one sitting. While that’s certainly merit for something to be good, greatness is determined after deliberation. To put it another way, the achievement of excellence lies in provoking thought and curiosity.

My dad dragged me to the National Gallery of Art when I was 13ish. I remember balking at a big painting roughly 30 by 20 feet covered with just ocean blue paint. I proclaimed it the stupidest piece of art at the time. The fact I bring this up many, many years later proves the opposite. That artwork continues to force thoughts from me.

Lo Moon’s music has the same effect.

Unfortunately, I am on a deadline. Defying articulation and comparison, they have painted a soundscape that leads one to discover countless crafted subtleties upon reflection, some of which are hard to pinpoint. A lot originates from Crisanta’s magic on the synth only because my standing position afforded me an unobstructed vista of her at play. Lo Moon evokes a sound that inspires a revisit or ten. And each time the audience can look forward to a better appreciation or
simply enjoy the musing that will inevitably transpire. I am thrilled to have had the pleasure to see them on their first national tour and more hyped to catch them again. In the meantime, I imagine Lo Moon will stray into my thoughts as I spin music and attend shows.

My editrix had proposed a hypothesis beforehand wondering if longevity has any effect on a band. If so, Lo Moon is off to a fantastic start!

MUNA was terrific fun. At one point Katie introduced a new song that the band wrote while on tour. She cautioned that it deviated from the band’s usual sound. Then they proceeded to sing “Happy Birthday” to Josette. Brian brought out a cake
on stage then revealed an awkward photograph of Josette taking a bite of food. She pretended to hate it all. The highlight for me was watching her play guitar however. She makes a habit of rocking her hips beautifully to the beat while strumming. It was a good night with two amazing bands.

*My disappointment was severely misplaced. The second floor tom remained mostly untouched during the 35 minute set until the closing song, “Loveless.” Yet I was perfectly content having three keyboards featured on only one song.

Austra @ Black Cat, 1/28/17

White tape in the shape of letters was placed on the sides of Ela Minus’ keyboard and synths. They read “Bright music for dark times.” Much to my dismay, I only caught the tail end of her set due to circumstances outside of my control. Her chill music and those auspicious words foreshadowed things to come.

Austra’s performance was literally bright. Various types of lights adorned the stage. The diverse colors and dance-inducing intensities complemented the electropop music in perfect tandem. Such production was a treat given most shows I frequent that incorporate lighting usually consists of hanging Christmas lights or the occasional lighted candle.

On tour in support of their new record, the band introduced the new songs to an enthusiastic crowd. In fact, a couple in the front row would shriek happily each time they recognized a song and sang along to each other while holding hands. Their gestures added a much needed sweetness to the show’s ambience. Halfway into the hour-long set, the band launched into older songs and the already boisterous crowd responded rapturously. There is certainly comfort in nostalgia. The same goes for music as well. The electric bass drum shaped like a disc sounded exactly like its acoustic counterpart and achieved its mission in driving all heads to nod. Thanks to Mitski, my favorite part was the bass line. Gutteral and steady, it compelled one to fall deeper into its tender embrace with each passing beat.

For over an hour, Austra offered a welcoming and upbeat refuge from the darkness outside. It reminded me of the saying that for there to be light, there must be darkness.

Cherry Glazerr @ DC9, 1/15/17

I committed the cardinal sin of showing up late to a sold out show and had to stand towards the back. Even so, it was immediately obvious that I would still have a great time. There were vaginas hanging from the ceiling. Three to be exact. They were enlarged from their biological size and in bright playful colors like ones that might be used for educational purposes. The gemlike dot representing the clitoris was a beautiful touch.

Cherry Glazerr took the stage and seemingly started to soundcheck. They ran the gauntlet of their instruments, culminating in a delicious mayhem of noise. Apparently it was a warmup to properly launch into their first song. Properly because they roared into the set louder than the jungle. Breaking the sound barrier in every sense, it set the pace for sixty minutes of almost uninterrupted sonic bliss. Pausing after the second song to “preach to the choir” about “fuck Trump,” the crowd erupted exactly one and a half beats into the third. The downside of not being a superfan of the band one is seeing is missing out on the euphoria of the band playing one’s favorite song, which I am painfully reminded of by the head banging and fist-pumping around me and the flooring shaking beneath me.

The band never made any references to the hanging vaginas in the slightest. At least not verbally, perhaps because actions speak louder. Watching Clem at work is a study in grrl power. Half-singing, half-shouting “in control,” she tore herself away from the mic and pounced wildly around the stage, swinging the guitar as if to spite the words she had just espoused. However, the animalistic veil cannot belie the completely competent control it takes to shred so masterfully.