French Vanilla @ Comet Ping Pong, 8/9/2017

I must confess my interest was piqued when I found myself in good company on a Wednesday night at Comet Ping Pong. I spotted members of Cigarette, Coup Sauvage and the Snips, Den-Mate and Priests as well as Ahmad. I was there for Kid Klaws not recognizing the other bands on the bill. A few bars into French Vanilla‘s set, I am reminded that there are few joys greater than discovering a new band.

The Los Angeles band took a red eye to the beautiful* District of Columbia landing hours past midnight. I only know this because Sally revealed it and not because of the explosive energy from the four piece. Sally bounced, crashed and danced her way all over, leaving a lasting trail with her voice and sweat. Daniel was never far behind with his saxophone. Bold without being boisterous and loud without being piercing, it was the perfect blend of dreamy and jazzy. The amalgam of the two gave birth to a dignified punk sound that compelled me to stop taking photographs and listen. When I did, I found my body groove naturally to the music.

Throw in Ali and Greg on bass and drums respectively, it’s an unstoppable punk symphony brought to magnificent life. French Vanilla delivers an exciting and unexpected punk wave that’s irresistible not to ride on.

*Diction of Em from Kid Klaws while tuning.

Mitski @ 930 Club, 7/8/2017

I have seen Mitski multiple times. This past Saturday was different. My heart was broken earlier that day. I felt lifeless and considered skipping the show. I am glad I did not.

This was her best performance to date. She literally didn’t miss a beat. It helps that the sound at the 930 Club is as crisp as it is loud and it’s very loud. Sound alone doesn’t convey the power of Mitski even if her bass rumbles like rolling thunder. Her presence on stage captivates me every time by freeing me to simply feel. And as I wrote previously, she achieves this with seemingly little effort by simply being. In fact, this is the least she has ever spoke. And just like each time, the words she utters the most are “thank” and “you”. Her gratitude to her fans remains as endearing and strong as ever.

It’s something unlikely to change even as she becomes more popular and plays larger venues. For this tour, she brought along stage props for the first time. Three rows of boards covered in seemingly aluminum foil serve to reflect off light. All of which confirms my fear that she will soon be priced out of my budget. It’s bittersweet given I will definitely be sad not to see her again but happy that her success continues to grow.

After just over an hour, she retired only to return very shortly after for a one song encore. It was and will likely remain the most impactful encore of my life. She began by expressing her severe disappointment in not having wrote the song. It’s penned by Personal Best which she urged everyone to check out on bandcamp after the show. The song is brilliant and the chorus goes like

I wanna kiss you in the street
Where everyone can see
‘Cos this is what we look like

The refrain repeats several times and listening to Mitski voice those words exacerbated the pain in my chest. I stood alone, squished on all sides in the sold out space, longing for a connection, wondering what it would look like. By the end of the song however, I felt less turmoil. The pain lingered but there was a tranquility that emerged. Like time, Mitski heals.


T-Rextasy @ Black Cat, 7/5/17

“I am not a piece of food!”

Annie led the crowd in chanting the above. Unfamiliar with the song, I felt a bit awkward despite the boisterous enthusiasm surrounding me. And I am in good company given Ahmad is next to me and the drummers of Psychic Subcreatures and Homosuperior are in attendance. Then the drums kicked in and I quickly realized that T-Rextasy is the band I have always wanted.

The Dashing Dino Dames speak to me on multiple levels. As someone who’s highly sarcastic, I really appreciate their devastatingly witty sense of humor. The five piece from New York are endearingly energetic. At one point, they took turns sharing stories involving everything from Kombucha to some guy who wants the world to know about Radiohead. Their fun personalities carry over into their songs. Whether it’s about zits or coming out to the people in your life, each song shares the same upbeat vibe that induced everyone in the room to nod along. They don’t just make music. They make merry.

It’s a refreshing and amazing approach to sing about feminism. It’s also more accessible for those like myself whose palettes prefer a sound less abrasive than punk. Their set clocked in just over a half hour and left me wanting after a long day following an extended holiday weekend.

Chastity Belt @ Songbyrd Music House, 6/23/17

Admittedly, I am a Chastity Belt neophyte, though I have wanted to see them for a while now. The four piece, on tour to support their third record, I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone, have built a lot of hype so I figured so many people can’t be wrong. This sentiment was further confirmed Friday night when I ran into Ahmad. His taste and knowledge in bands is second to none. However, much like Animal Collective, another band that I decided to check out due to their popularity among the scene, I did not understand the appeal of forced celibacy.

There was nothing inherently bad about the sounds that pierced into the sold out crowd. In fact, the intricate manner in which all sixteen steel strings on stage intertwined with each other was a work of art. This is especially true of the guitars. Julia and Lydia strummed with astronomical precision, sending each vibration at all the right frequencies and intervals. Annie and Gretchen were not far behind, carving contagious cadence into space and time. Everything was moving in thundering tandem towards the promised land but we never arrived. I felt myself on the precipice of release but never going over.

It was very frustrating. I silently urged the band to speed up. They never did. Instead, they slowed down and one by one they dropped out until only Julia remained playing. Then she, too, trailed off like the sunset. At the conclusion, she took off her hat, tussled her hair then replaced it. The unconcerned, mundane manner of that action sparked something in me. There’s no rush. There might not even be a destination.

Simply focus on the present.

Girlpool, Vagabon @ Rock & Roll Hotel, 6/11/17

Sunday night marked a departure for Laetitia. She had just finished tour with Tegan and Sara the night before and I could sense the longing in her voice as she told us about the balloons the dynamic Canadian duo had on stage. Then she burst into a wide smile before continuing, “…but you’re here.”

That was a very cute way to get the sold out crowd cheering. I had seen Vagabon, Laetitia’s musical moniker, twice before. She was solo both times so I was pleasantly surprised that this time she brought a band. There’s an undeniable pleasure riding on a roaring bass line while soaking in shattering drum beats. It added much welcomed energy and a fuller dimension to the sound that further highlighted what we already knew. Laetitia’s vocals define euphoria.

“I am just a small fish,” she sang, except there’s nothing small about her voice. It’s not even powerful per se. It’s sheer raw power. But never wild. In fact, it’s actually very controlled given she would remove her ear plugs. “You’re a shark that hates everything.” When the beat fell off at the end, we were left with the sun. In this case, the sun was slightly bent over, head tilted up, forehead furrowed, eyes closed, sweat dripping, body trembling, throat contracting, and mouth open impossibly wide. The sun was one more fireball before going supernova. It doesn’t happen.

Power, true power, is maintaining control.

And just like that it was all over. I looked at my phone and was flabbergasted. Thirty minutes of bliss that felt like the blink of an eye. I can’t recall the last time I felt more wanting after a set. Not even with my favorite band. Thankfully, I had Girlpool to look forward to.

Keeping with the theme, the two piece grew to three with the addition of a drummer since I last saw them. This too was very much welcomed. They opened the set with “123,” like their new record Powerplant. I was reminded of the magic that is watching the music you love brought to life before you. And there is a lot to love between Cleo and Harmony. The latter literally tried making love to the former the night before. Apparently the band found themselves in possession of a mattress that kept deflating the entire night. However that did not stop Harmony from making out with Cleo thinking it was someone else. Given their chemistry outside of bed, I don’t blame her one bit.

The duet between the bass and guitar moves me every time in ways I neither understand nor want to end. Throw in the delicate, barely there vocals that are the trademark of the duo and I was transported somewhere above the clouds. Except this time it didn’t stop there. The deft drums marched me higher and higher until I was knocking on heaven’s door.

The crowd was knocking with me, with many waving their hands. Cleo, like an all-loving diety, graciously took time to shake hands with many in the front row and high fived a few in the second. She also decided to play three more songs shortly after announcing there were but two left. It epitomized the atmosphere of this beautiful night. Part of the magic of live music is sharing it with others.

Skating Polly @ DC9, 5/21/17

“Ooo it’s loud.” Kelli had just switched with Peyton and was tuning the guitar. “That’s good.”

Actually, it’s not good. It’s fantastic. I have a habit of leaving my earplugs slightly loose at the onset of sets to partake more fully in the sonic assault. I would push them in deeper later on to protect my hearing. I waited until the last song to push them in for Skating Polly.

I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t regret going deaf over the Washington trio, but there’s immense solace, even joy, in knowing that that’s the last thing I will ever hear. By “that” I mean a kaleidoscope of all sounds, the holy grail of music I have been seeking my entire existence. As a lover of many genres, I often have to settle for a single flavor with any given band. With Skating Polly, I get to scoop mint choco chips, root beer, and cookie dough all at once!

One hand cradling the mic, Kelli cooed with a tenderness on “Perfume for Now” that beguiled the angsty shouts which followed moments later. Her arms were extended outwards and ended with her palms facing downwards. She looked and sounded ready to rocket into the sky like Supergirl. Peyton, in contrast, was too cool for school. While almost expressionless, her voice carried an authority and strength that could move planets. The amalgam of the two voices swinging wildly from saccharine to sharp left me breathless and virtually on my knees.

And we have yet to add the magic wands both wielded. The guitar twinkled with magnificence and twirled with purpose. The bass thumped at all the right times and throbbed at all the right places, plus some I didn’t even know I had. The drums drove unrelentingly towards the inevitable bliss.

Putting everything together resulted in fireworks. The exhilarating manner in which Kelli high kicked the air in tandem with each crash of the cymbal imbued me with a satisfaction I will likely never experience again. Then there’s that euphoric moment in “Hail Mary” when the beat paused and Peyton slid her pick along the string. Anyone struck by that note is sure to reach nirvana like I did.

Now as I sit here, still feeling residual pain in my ears, all I can think about is when I can do it all over again.

Tei Shi @ Songbyrd Music House, 5/12/17

Venturing into DC on a Friday night is always a tedious proposition. It becomes exponentially more so when it rains. However, the gloomy traffic certainly did not stop the massive crowd that greeted me behind the curtain at Songbyrd. The show sold out so I expected some early attendance. The place was half packed and dancing to Salt Cathedral. I welcomed the loud distraction from the arduous trek I just suffered through.

Before I continue I’d like to mention some changes Songbyrd made since my last visit. Line dividers now run down both sides of the room, creating a path for traffic on the left and space for a merch table on the right. This effectively fences the crowd within, making the already narrow space narrower. The wall of vinyl that served as the backdrop for part of the stage has been replaced by a sizable logo of the venue. There appears to be more staff/security as well. In short, the Adams Morgan venue is polishing its image.

By the time Valerie, performing as Tei Shi, took the stage, the crowd had spilled over the divider which no doubt frustrated the poor staffer trying to maintain order. It was pointless halfway into the first song. Valerie’s voice sent the packed room into a frenzy. It was one hundred percent participation from the entire basement. Those not dancing with a partner were doing so alone, and those not dancing were singing along. Even those doing neither were swaying in one way
or another. Of course there were those doing all of the above.

The Brooklyn resident sang with two mics which was a nice touch. Layering her already honey-soaked vocals on top of loops evoked a heavenly sensation. Accompanied by a full band, she leveraged the shimmering sounds to craft a sexy atmosphere that bonded everyone across a wide array of demographics. Indeed, she remarked on the great diversity of the crowd and thanked us for selling out the show.

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.

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!