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.

Mitski @ Rock & Roll Hotel, 6/25/16

Before I dive into my number one show of 2016, I’d like to mention several that made the decision so agonizing.

1/15 The Max Levine Ensemble: When the crowd started moshing, David expressed gratitude at the enthusiasm but asked them to do so in an up and down direction instead of left and right. Enormous respect for choosing to make his show a safe space rather than bask in the rock star aesthetic.

3/13 Le Butcherettes: Terry Genderbender and company rock like no other. Arguably the best musicianship I have ever seen.

4/27 Near Northeast: My favorite music blog hosted this lovely show where I fell in love with these local darlings. Kelly sang her way into my heart while playing the violin and tambourine at the same time!

5/20 Potty Mouth, Dyke Drama: Ally Einbinder and Sadie Switchblade. Enough said.

5/24 Witching Waves: Emma reminds me of my favorite drummer. She plays with a palpable passion.

6/18 The Meltaways, Snail Mail: Snail Mail made #5 so obvious inclusion here but the highlight was
Beck putting superglue over a wound so they could keep playing!

7/15 Heinous Orca: Would anyone expect a band from Tennessee to play Totoro?

10/13 Margot MacDonald, The Seshen: I always had a weakness for one woman bands and Margot has a beautiful voice. The Seshen is simply lovely.

For 2017, I am hoping to see Best Coast, KING, Candy Hearts, In This Moment, Chazzy B, Lung, Didi, Lizzo and Uffie. Anyone I should see? Without further delay, my best show of 2016.

Seeing Mitski changed me.

It started in incremental ways. For as long as I can remember, percussion has always been my favorite so I was delighted to find that the drum kit sat to Mitski’s left instead of behind the band like so many others. I doubt Mitski shares my sentiment on the matter and the gesture is actually a statement. Each member of her band should be given the same appreciation. Callan and Casey certainly deserve it.

That said, Mitski held my attention. She doesn’t so much play the bass but communicate with and through it. She isn’t exactly the only musician capable of this feat except she doesn’t move much. Instead, she’s tenderly poised. In her presence, I felt a peaceful ache. I felt the brilliant introspection of her music coming alive. I felt myself falling in love with the bass like a body from the balcony. And ever since, I found myself studying bass players at shows.

And hundreds of study subjects later, none of them led to an unexpected discovery about my musical taste. Apparently at some point, without my noticing, I started demanding a fuller volume and fuzzier sound in the music I listen to. Watching and listening to Mitski strum the bass was able to evoke the introspective emotions necessary for me to articulate my liking certain bands. Such as local darlings Flowerbomb whom I saw in attendance.

“Fuck Stevey” may be the two most profound words ever uttered.

She was expressing disgust at a character in some TV show at the beginning of a song. I forget which song or what TV show because at the conclusion, before the guitar could fade out, Mitski started to profusely tell the audience “thank you” and “I love you”. She confessed that her earlier remark made her feel terrible throughout the entire song.

The sincerity she showed in her remorse astounded me on multiple levels. For one, no one would have dwelled on such an inconsequential comment. For another, it’s a fictional character, not an actual person. Finally, she reflected on her words essentially instantly while playing. That’s a superlative commitment to self-examination.

A long time ago, an English professor accused my essay of sexism. I dismissed the ridiculous claim. There was no way I could be sexist. I am a decent human being. It took me years to realize my exclusive usage of masculine pronoun is incredibly sexist. Years after that, I would shout out song names at my favorite band during shows. It’s been ages since I last demanded anything from any women on stage yet roughly two years ago when Trophy Wife was going on hiatus, I had emailed expressing my fear that they would eventually disband. At their last show before the hiatus, Katy stated that she and Diane will play for as long as they can. I was exuberant at the time. It wasn’t until over a year later that I realized the inappropriateness of my request. The worst part is that these events occurred years apart.

Each of us believe we are a good person. It’s really easy (read: lazy) not to question it. And in the event we realize a mistake or are called out, we often consider it an isolated incident. It takes enormous courage and humility to examine oneself. I am completely awed by Mitki’s behavior, especially given the urgency in which she reflected. It’s clear she has made a habit of it. How does she do it? More than anything else, it takes forgiveness and this last step may be the hardest. After we recognize and accept our mistake, it can lead to negative, even depressing, thoughts about our character, our intrinsic goodness. So we quickly bury it.

We must forgive ourselves and each other.

This act of self love will encourage us to examine our words and actions, no matter how trivial, more frequently until it becomes second nature as Mitski demonstrated so masterfully. Writing this has been gut-wrenching for me yet she gracefully tackled it on stage before a sold out crowd. Thank you Mitski, for showing me that goodness is a work in progress and for inspiring me to be better and finally lending me the courage and forgiveness to do so.

Pinegrove, Ratboys, Half Waif @ DC9, 6/29/2016

half

A lot happened the past few days that prompted me to resurrect my blog. Nandi’s tweet after the show was the motivation behind my wanting to see her. It highlights the prevalence of the patriarchy that my favorite band has taught me to undermine or at least, not to perpetuate.  It also helps that Half Waif makes amazing music and seeing it live made a world of difference for me.

You see, three days prior I was at the same venue for another show. I had wanted to see Half Waif over a month ago so I asked to purchase tickets to the show on Wednesday. Two bartenders, ticket guy for Sunday’s show and the bouncer later, I brutally learned that DC9 does not sell tickets on premise. Flabbergasted by this idiocy, I took to twitter where the owner tried to defend the ridiculous policy instead of taking the only sensible action of changing the draconian policy or apologize for keeping it. This was Monday so my week started really grumpy.

It all disappeared shortly after Nandi took the stage.

Her voice is immensely beautiful but then so is, say, Florence’s. I told her after the show that there’s conviction within the beauty and that makes it greater. A day later, I realize I was drawn to her desire to communicate when she sings. When her brows furrow and her throat clenches to hold a certain note, it goes beyond the grandiose of displaying art for admiration. It’s her speaking to the audience, “I have something to say.” Her gorgeous keyboard playing means it’s delivered on a pretty plate.

Ratboys played next and I am sad I am too broke* to purchase their merchandise so now I have nothing to relive the euphoria that is their set. I am also sad I was on the wrong side of stage. Looks can be deceiving and Julia is another proof of that. Relatively small in stature, she instantly dismissed any notion of the word when she turned off the house music along the lines of, “I’m ’bout to blow this out.” Her fierce nature became immediately endearing as its energy transfers from her fingers to the guitar. And it keeps growing.

I am often annoyed by bands who speak or signal to get the audience’s attention. Julia knows her music speaks louder. Amidst the loud chatter present after each song, she barely pauses before launching forward, strumming her guitar and the room would soon quiet down. Even when the other guitarist broke a string and left stage to grab a backup, she started the song while he was still tuning. Big shout out to him for tuning unaided and joining in right on time.

Actually, it’s somewhat inaccurate to say I was on the wrong side of stage with Ktoni right before me. It’s always a treat to see the lungs personified via a trumpet. It added one more layer to the band’s ferocity that propelled the crowd into overdrive.

Practically everyone sang all the words to every Pinegrove song and I am embarrassed that I did not know Nandi plays in said band. While I prefer her band, Pinegrove’s catchy music proved contagious. I am still dismayed, angry and envious that I cannot decipher three guitars but it offers a full soundscape conducive to head banging. This became easily apparent when Evan’s guitar strap came undone despite a lock.

It would be amiss to not mention that both the drummer and Nandi each played their tambourine at the same time. Percussion is my favorite instrument so that was a nice touch as is the drummer’s decision to hold one of his sticks backwards. Zack tells me afterwards that it creates a fatter sound.

Evan stated his plan for four more songs during the set but the crowd held the band hostage to a two song encore where they played older material.

As I walked to my car, I noticed that I am not even upset at the silly policy anymore. Instead I am filled with happiness only lovely music can induce.

Xenia Rubinos @ Songbyrd, 12/9/16

I had marked down Xenia Rubinos on my calendar weeks in advance but when I saw Songbyrd’s offer of free tickets with the purchase of her latest LP, I could not refuse. And funnily enough, the door person was Homero of Go Cozy who’s throwing a small fest at his house next week. It was definitely an auspicious start to the night.

Xenia may be the hardest working musician I have and will ever witness. Her set started ten after nine and for the next fifty minutes, the beat dropped for maybe a combined total of a minute. The band then took a two minute break before reappearing for a fifteen minute encore.

If the goal was to break the fourth wall, Xenia and company succeeded with clapping and gyrating success. Every body and the parts attached to them were in sexy locomotion. She hopped into the crowd on more than one occasion to partake in the grinding and dancing. The Adams Morgan venue was effectively a club. Except there was no DJ and no records spinning.

It was all Xenia.

With slight help from a vocal effects pedal, she was a living turntable. The technique of her singing convincingly bridges the cutting rhymes of a rapper and the sonorous falsetto of an opera. It’s like her voice is a multi instrument and her ability to switch among them is simply superhuman.

The band is impressive too. Given the staccato nature of the music, each member had to keep machine like perfect beat unlike say an alternative band where one may rely on another. And I really appreciate that some songs were driven by the bass. It’s also the first time I have seen the snare run through some effects which contributed to the salacious vibe.

Don’t make the mistake I made and remember to bring dancing shoes.