Tag Archives: show reviews

i was there: sleigh bells at the 930 club, 3.28.12

29 Mar

Not wearing earplugs last night was a supremely poor life decision.

Sleigh Bells. The loudest band around. The only one that can make bang your head, shake your groove thing,  pump your fist, and cover your ears in pain/pleasure, all in a 49-minute sprint of a show.

Tuesday was my third time seeing the Bells, but the first since they released their second album Reign of Terror. My expectations for a Sleigh Bells show are always incredibly high, but I always come away with the same conclusion: so damn good. Too damn short.

These whippity quick sets were easier to justify when the Bells had only released one album- they somehow toured for over two years on just 32 minutes of recorded material(!!!). Now with two albums under their belt, I expected more longevity during this tour. But, true to form, the Bells stormed the stage for 49 minutes that passed in a snap. However, given the bone-crushing energy that the New York duo pour into each and every song they perform, I can forgive it.

The biggest thing that struck me about the Bells’ performance on Tuesday is just how much they have, despite their best efforts to hide it, matured. Sure, bad ass frontwoman Alexis Krauss still howls like a werewolf at opportune moments. Also, for the first half of the show, I thought she was wearing sunglasses- nope, just layers upon layers of dark eye makeup. The basic formula of the Bells’ show remains the same: they thrash and scream and the audience moshes and it’s a big sweaty mess. But now, it feels a bit more professional.

Most importantly, the Sleigh Bells I saw on Tuesday convinced me that I actually like their new album. When I first listened, I was intrigued by the direction they took with their softer tunes like “Crush” and “Leader of the Pack.” But the album as a whole felt a little disjointed, and I wasn’t confident it would work live.

Fortunately, I was wrong. The Bells have fine-tuned their craft and know exactly how to weave the hard and fast with dance-y and soft and everything in between. They commanded that show like expert puppet masters who understood what each song would do to the audience. They brought us up and down and threw us all around, but the entire show felt perfectly balanced. They seamlessly wove all of their disparate sounds into a very cohesive show that displayed the best of everything Sleigh Bells does well.

Third time was a charm, but here’s hoping the fourth and fifth times are just as swell.

Sleigh Bells, from Reign of Terror


i was there: real estate at black cat, 1.22

30 Jan

Exactly one week ago, I saw a really amazing show. A show that I did not anticipate would be as amazing as what transpired that night. So amazing that I needed a week to let it resonate—to gather my thoughts, to let the impressions stew, to listen to the band’s discography impulsively to reevaluate how the show transformed my feelings toward their music.

Now that I have sufficiently procrastinated mulled, I finally feel prepared to offer an insightful take on the show, albeit with the input of some friends who understand this band on a deeper level than I.

Last Sunday, a New Jersey-based quartet called Real Estate rolled into town for the first time since fall 2009 to play at Black Cat. (Sidenote: what’s with all of these impossible-to-Google band names? “Girls”? “Real Estate”? “The The”?! You guys are making my smart phone work waaay too hard). After releasing their self-titled debut in 2009, Real Estate built their reputation as ambassadors of chill; their sound is the epitome of dreamy and laidback, but with enough bells and whistles to keep things interesting. In fact, the first time I listened to Real Estate I instantly declared, “Oh, neat, a West Coast version of the Shins.”

Incorrect assumptions about geographic origin aside, a beach bum aesthetic pervades each and every song as it drifts down a musical lazy river, with lyrics that romanticize the mundanities of daily life in a small beach town. Yet the simplicity of their lyrics is completely calculated, and they serve as a neutral palette for the supremely crisp, multifaceted, and expertly edited instrumentals. When the band recorded their second album Days in 2011, they stuck to this formula and, quite simply, did it better. They keep the lyrics uncomplicated and let their beautiful instruments play the starring role.

That being said, Real Estate’s music never made me think, “I cannot WAIT to see these guys live.” I couldn’t predict how their sound would translate on stage. If performed improperly, “dreamy” music can easily border on “drowsy” in a live setting. However, if the band could amplify every shimmering, gorgeous layer of their tunes into a casually grandiose experience, then that show could be a treat.

Last Sunday, I happily experienced the latter. On stage at the Black Cat, Real Estate conveyed exactly what makes their music so uniquely special: they capitalize on the carefree simplicity in their lyrics to make their instrumentation soar, and the band’s live presence felt nonchalant but genuine. Bassist Alex Bleeker donned a Giants sweatshirt and clearly struggled to focus on the performance as the G-Men went into overtime, and lead vocalist Martin Courtney’s dance moves never strayed far from some turtleneck head-bobbing.

In a breezy 90 minutes, the band at least touched on all 10 tracks from their latest album. They set the bar high by opening with a rock-solid rendition of “Green Aisles,” a standard to which not every subsequent song could meet—though many came close. Also, I would have appreciated a bit more time dedicated to “All the Same,” the superb 8-minute number that closes out Days. The swells and spirals of that tune offer a glimpse of a future Real Estate, one that can leap out of their comfort zone, and I would have loved to see them really lay into the jam session parts of the song.

Ultimately, however, the award for “having more fun than anybody” definitely went to lead guitarist Matthew Mondanile, particularly when he fell off stage during the encore. That’s ok, though. Even before his puzzling tumble, Mondanile was the best performer of the bunch, taking the energy up a notch at times when, frankly, it needed to be taken up a notch. The group relies on him for that ounce of traditional charisma that they normally dodge, and that ounce is all they need to put forth a performance that could convert a skeptic into to a believer (myself included).

More iPhone photos for your enjoyment. Real Estate is also not so down with the flash from a DSLR, according to Black Cat.

Lead guitarist Matthew Mondanile: drunk or just clumsy?

Real Estate frontman Martin Courtney, gettin his turtle on. Real Estate Bassist Alex Bleeker reppin the New York Gians. #Dynamicduo

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.