Tag Archives: alt country

on my boombox: alabama shakes

26 Jan

When NPR says you should listen to a band, you listen. When Patterson Hood says you should listen to a band, you drop everything you’re doing and listen. As such, let me introduce Alabama Shakes:

I first learned about this quartet from–yes–Alabama in December 2011, when they opened for one of the Drive-By Truckers’ DC shows. I saw a different opener at the Thursday show, but some friends attended on Saturday night and raved about the twangy roots-rock group and their power house female vocalist/guitarist who opened the show. Blue Car Syndrome took over from there, and I soon noticed when NPR featured the Shakes on World Café: Next  and–in a rare display of relevancy—when Rolling Stone gave them a nod.

The downside to being early to jump on a band’s wagon is that, sometimes, the band’s discography appropriately reflects their status as “rising” stars. Such is the case with Alabama Shakes. After finding only a few tracks on Grooveshark, I assumed I had missed something and frantically looked elsewhere. No dice: the Shakes have released only one four-track EP thus far. Thankfully, the band recently announced that ATO will release their debut album, Boys & Girls, in April. Hallelujah.

File these guys under “bands to watch in 2012.” The group’s icky thump percussion, plus Brittany Howard’s soulful, show-stopping vocals, plus the finger-lickin guitar you’d expect from a Southern roots band… it’s an impeccable combination.

Until April… tide yourself over with the EP.


on deck: the potomac bombs at red palace, 1.13.12

11 Jan

As much as I love DC music, there was a time when I felt something was seriously missing from my DC music world: a favorite local bluegrass band.

I’d gone to shows to check the scene and heard some great Willie Nelson covers along the way, but none of these bands fit the bill. For one, they were all clean shaven. What? Where were all the bearded bards? Second, they all had drummers. Really? Did our creator not bestow feet upon bluegrass musicians for the sole purpose of stomping a beat?

Thankfully, this all changed one glorious weekend in May 2011. As I sat in DuPont Circle, pondering why I couldn’t fill this void, three guys showed up to busk. I saw a mandolin–I was intrigued. I saw a stand-up bass–I was more intrigued. I saw beards and no drum kit– I was sold. By the time this trip launched into a smooth rendition of “Jesus, Etc.” that would have made even the most depressed Jeff Tweedy smile, the Potomac Bombs had gained an enthusiastic new fan.

Since then, I’ve witnessed the Bombs bring the house down many, many times, whether the house is as big as Rock n Roll Hotel or as small as a corner in Eastern Market. I’ve seen them spit in the face of Hurricane Irene by drawing a soaked crowd who battled Category 3 rain, wind, and hail just to attend their show; I’ve seen them inspire an impromptu dance party on an otherwise mellow Thursday night at Acre 121; I’ve seen them climb on tables and chairs on an otherwise mellow Friday night at Big Bear Cafe.

This Friday, the Bombs are back for (possibly) their last big gig in DC at Red Palace. This crowd better be prepared for the sight they will behold: Frank Sturges, a wayward Carolina man destined for the mountains, will float his fingers across his mandolin strings faster than your eyes (or ears) can keep up; Ted Collins, an unlikely scholar who solves economic development problems by day, will be making the DC ladies swoon with juicy basslines and his silky smooth vocals that night; and guitarist Nick Deprey will join forces with Ted for sweeter harmonies than you ever imagined hearing in a Ryan Adams cover. This power trio will play sauced-up covers of bluegrass, American roots, and folk favorites, along with their original blend of Chicago blues and Southern alt-country.

Play the hits. Bring the rage. I know they will.

(Rough cuts from an in-progress EP below)

i was there: the drive-by truckers at the 930 club, 12.29.2011

31 Dec

What can be said about a Drive-By Truckers live experience that hasn’t already been said? These boys from Alabama (/Georgia) live and breathe by their reputation for legendary, whiskey-soaked shows, and they follow a non-stop touring schedule that makes President Obama’s 2012 election year grind look like a cake walk.

And why shouldn’t they? The Truckers have a rabid fan base to serve, and no matter how many shows they play, the plaid-wearing, beard-growing, PBR-chugging masses will show up in droves, demanding more of DBT’s boot-stomping, rip-roaring, alt-country-rock glory.

Case in point: the Truckers sold out three back-to-back shows at the 930 Club last weekend, and you know which ticket sold out first? The three-show passes. Yep, more fans wanted to see the Truckers for three nights in a row (including New Year’s Eve) rather than oh, I don’t know, picking one.

The Truckers wouldn’t ring in 2012 in any old city; the band chose to spend New Year’s here because of their deep connection to both DC and the 930 Club. This relationship became significantly deeper in February 2009 when, just before the band arrived in DC for a two-show run, front man Patterson Hood fell gravely ill (i.e., straight ran himself into the ground from incessant touring) and couldn’t perform. With only hours’ notice, guitarist/vocalist Mike Cooley stepped up to the plate and led the band without Patterson for the first and only times in the band’s 16-year history. Yep, that’s a landmark. Lucky for us, this all but guarantees the Truckers will come back to our district for years to come.

One could tell from Thursday night’s performance that the story is not just press fodder. Especially for Cooley, the 930 Club is not just another venue, but rather the sight of one of his most significant artistic feats—fronting the band without his (arguably more charismatic) partner in crime. But Thursday night proved that Patterson Hood need not be bedridden for Cooley to play the starring role. In a subtle divergence from their usual dynamic, Cooley crept a bit more toward center stage and led the band masterfully; as a result, the show came to life during Cooley-written numbers like “Carl Perkins Cadillac.”  Though the wailing-into-the-crowd-from-bended-knees-epic-rock-star-moments during “Let There Be Rock”? Yeah, those were all Patterson. See the photos below.

My only complaint from the night would be the expected emphasis on songs from their most recent three albums, Brighter Than Creations Dark, The Big To-Do, and Go-Go Boots, none of which are among my favorites. But such is life; they’re the Truckers, they play about a billion shows per year, they’re sure as hell not going to choose the same top 20 fan favorites every night—and they’ve earned that right.

Also, as this was my first time seeing the Truckers in DC, I admit I felt skeptical that a DC show could live up to the first time I saw DBT in my beloved Charlottesville, VA. Let me explain: Charlottesville is a town that’s progressive enough to make you forget you’re in the South, but the DBT fans from surrounding areas who steam rolled into Charlottesville that night sure as hell reminded you that you were below the Mason-Dixon Line. That crowd worshipped the god of Dixie; to them, the Truckers were preachers, the music was their gospel, and the night felt more like a religious experience than a rock concert.

As expected, the more urban DC crowd provided a different atmosphere—obviously some die-hard cult followers were present, but I suspect fewer of the out-of-towners made it to DC for the Thursday show. But the city-dwelling crowd (myself included) ultimately illustrate the magic of DBT; the band has an almost uncanny ability to make Delta music resonate among people who actually live the life so artfully described in their lyrics, as well those of us whose exposure to agriculture ends at the Columbia Heights farmers’ market.

There’s just something about the Truckers that make even the citiest of city folk want to don some plaid, drink some Jack Daniels, and howl along to songs that immortalize the folklore of small-town Southern life. The reasons are simple, really: DBT are profoundly talented story tellers with the musical chops to match. The band harkens back to late greats of Southern rock, and that dynamic floats above regional differences.

Thank Dixie these guys taut our non-state as one of their favorite tour destinations because, as most DBT fans know, seeing the Truckers live is merely a gateway drug; we’ll all be back for more.

Bear with me on the show photography… this is a learning experience, people.