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By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 6th March 2014 at 2:00 pm
“What not to like about two guys in tweed?” So sayeth my cousin’s wife whose daughter I brought with me Tuesday night to see Public Service Broadcasting make their Washington, DC debut. The duo are a little difficult to explain about, aren’t they? They certainly don’t sound like anything you’d hear on top 40 radio. There’s an educational element in their usage of public information films, but at the same time, it’s the spoken word from these reels of yesteryear that serve as lyrics, if you could call them that, so both of those parts are very unusual. Before Mumford and Sons, you could argue having a banjo onstage at a rock concert was unique as well, but not so much now, with all these Mumford wannabes running round.
That said, after watching Public Service Broadcasting up close and personal in my own hometown, I got a very different feeling about them than when Martin took me last May to see them play a packed Cluny. (Read Martin’s eloquent description of exactly what they do in his review of that show, as I could never get anywhere close to that brilliance in writing about them.) Whereas that gig in Newcastle was stifling and I felt like my neck was going to give way any second, spending the entire night craning my neck upwards to see them playing, Black Cat Backstage’s less than a metre tall stage made my second viewing of them all the more relaxing and intimate.
When I arrived, I was just a tad concerned. The place was pretty empty. Oh dear. Please, DC, do not embarrass us as a city, will more people show up already? This is an important band! As gear was moved and swapped round, the Backstage started to fill up, interestingly with mostly gig goers in their 30s and older, generally male and actively swilling beer. This is not my usual crowd; I’m usually surrounded by kids who are younger than me, with Xs on their hands. As in the show in Newcastle, synth master J. Willgoose Esq. relied on the mechanical recorded voices in his sequencer to say, “hello!…Washington, DC!” I knew it was coming, of course, but the rest of the punters didn’t, and rather than be an annoying gimmick that fell flat with the Americans, the tinny voice greeting all of us throughout the set was met with much laughter. Thumbs up. Since seeing the band in Newcastle, the band have been writing new material, including ‘Elfstedentocht Parts I and II’; we were treated to part I live, prefaced with the robotic intro of “Last year we wrote two songs about ice skating in Dutch.” ::pause:: “Here’s one of them now!” Ha! (The songs were actually written at the request of a Dutch culture festival who wanted some original songs about a famous ice skating race.)
Beyond the actual use of the archived sound clips and the plethora of instruments and samples that the duo uses to create their sound live, I think some people would be surprised that they’re actually a pretty groovy act and in some cases, they show off their dance colours more than their rock ones. ‘ROYGBIV’, while taking advantage of forward-thinking spoken thoughts about the future and the importance of colour in it, is a rhythmic tour de force live, definitely much more dancey live than on record. The matchless star of their debut album ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’, ‘Spitfire’, has its rockier moments with its guitar lines, but underlying it all is its driving beat provided by drummer/percussionist Wrigglesworth that naturally gets toes tapping and heads a-bopping. Clearly, that is going to be the key to the band winning fans at SXSW next week and further afield. As song after song were played, the audience’s reaction exponentially increased, and when they announced they were playing their final song, a loud sigh of disappointment circulated the room. With its appropriate chilly keyed notes, yet also with its expansive and hopeful musical story, the synthtastic ‘Everest’ ended their first-ever set in the Nation’s Capital on a high note.
As I was chatting with Willgoose after the show, I told him that the number of bodies moving during their set was a testament of how great they actually were live, as it is often very difficult to get stoic Washington crowds moving. He then folded his arms over his chest and said, “y’mean like this, like London crowds?” That made me laugh, while also making me homesick. But I felt encouraged by the turnout and such positive reaction to Public Service Broadcasting’s first of what will be many shows in our city. The song ‘Everest’ concludes with the words, “Why should a man climb Everest? Because it is there.” I find the words very prophetic: PSB, along with several other bands we will be seeing at SXSW, will be trying to break America and become a success stateside and then hopefully, globally, and they can try to do this because they’ve received kind funding from UK Trade and Investment. As long as UKTI keeps worthy bands’ dreams alive and shows they understand the value of real music, the sky’s the limit.
After the cut: the set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Public Service Broadcasting at Black Cat Backstage, Washington DC – 4th March 2014
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 24th February 2014 at 4:00 pm
Lyric videos are pretty common these days and are admittedly being used as an easy way out to present new songs. Brooklyn’s Real Estate could never be accused of being as lazy, and their latest promo video of sorts is evidence of this. They’ll be releasing a new album, ‘Atlas’, next Monday the 3rd of March on Domino Records, and ahead of the new effort dropping, they want to teach you how to play one of the new tracks, ‘Crime’, along with them. I don’t play guitar so I can’t say for sure, but I would think that anyone with a basic knowledge of guitar notes and chords will probably find this interesting and instructive. Follow along with the band on ‘Crime’ below.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 24th February 2014 at 2:00 pm
White Lies – or probably more accurately, their management team – don’t think that highly of DC. I’ve now seen the West London band every time they’ve come to our city. All three times. They’ve played in New York a countless number of times, but as a result of not appearing here all that often (the last time was nearly 2 and a half years ago, and during the interim, I’ve been silently fuming over the fact they’d skipped us several times; note to bands: don’t do this to me!), I think their fanbase here is probably less dedicated and more fractured. Being a Saturday night, I knew the Ealing band’s latest show in town to support their third album, 2013’s ‘Big TV’ (reviewed by me here), would be well attended. It just wouldn’t be sold out. White Lies has the benefit (or handicap, depending who you talk to, I guess) of bassist Charles Cave’s rather gloomy and always fatalistic lyrics. I went looking for the goths Saturday night, and there were none to be seen! Maybe they were all skulking in the shadows?
The soft-spoken (yet hard rocking) Frankie Rose, then, seems to have been an odd choice for a support act. However, after the first of Miss Rose’s songs, choosing her made the more mixed male to female ratio than I usually used to make more sense. I nearly went deaf by the man who was shouting “I love you!” at her. Gotta appreciate his fervor, though. I saw her open for Franz Ferdinand last autumn and she definitely was more in her element in a club setting than at a posh symphony hall. Wearing black sequined shorts that allowed her to show off her nice legs and thighs, it was nearly more than the testosterone around me could handle.
She seems like a really light-hearted person, the kind of woman you’d invite round for tea and have wonderfully honest conversations with. So it strikes me a bit odd that two of the songs in her less than 30-minute set were of the “spooky” and “scary variety, and she also managed to make fun of, jokingly, the more amorous concertgoers: “Who’s here on a date?” ::pauses:: “Really? Eww…” One of the more emotionally real moments of her set was when she described her new album ‘Herein Wild’ as explaining the good way “how truth always comes up to the top, even if you don’t want it to”. A good example of this is ‘Question/Reason’, which Rose described to The Line of Best Fit as her favourite song to play live, and it shows.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s been quite a long time since White Lies graced a stage in Washington. Unlike the two past times I’d seen them, something was palpably different. In the club atmosphere of the Black Cat coheadlining with Friendly Fires in 2009, the trepidation in frontman Harry McVeigh was visible on his face, until the crowd got behind them, allaying his fears. Two years later bringing second album ‘Ritual’ with them, they returned looking like conquering heroes, drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown hitting his kit so hard, I was sure it would spontaneously explode into a million piece with one wrong beat. Third time’s a charm, so they say, and in White Lies’ case, I’d say they’ve eased into their position as not necessarily elder statesman of gloom and doom rock (I think the Smiths have that sewn up) but certainly celebrated alt rockers who have proved their worth in longevity.
The set was heavily peppered with songs from their 2008 debut ‘To Lose My Life…’, much to the delight of everyone down the front. I was actually quite surprised by the band choosing to do this, figuring there would have been a heavier emphasis on ‘Big TV’ tracks. I was shocked when non-singles ‘A Place to Hide’ and ‘EST’ made an appearance; I wasn’t as shocked when ‘Unfinished Business’ was played, though it was a nice touch by McVeigh to remind everyone that it had been the first song they’d written and without its release, we’d probably have never heard of them. ‘Death’, which closed out their set before the encore, was played no longer as the hugely pogo-inducing set of my memory; just prior to the bridge, the tempo slowed down almost like a fake song ending, which had the effect of destroying the song’s momentum.
However, there were more high points than low. As I had predicted beforehand, the bombast of newer song ‘First Time Caller’ sounded massive on the 9:30 stage, as did that of ‘Mother Tongue’, though I’m still having trouble getting my head round the rather lumbering words. And if you thought the reach of Prince‘s secretive shows in the UK did not extend out to North America, think again: the headline set also included a strange cover of ‘I Would Die 4 U’ that relegated Lawrence-Brown on xylophone and McVeigh on synth. I’ve never been a massive Prince fan, so I didn’t get much out of this, save sensing it was one of the band’s greatest wishes to perform a Prince cover live and given their current stature, why not?
Now that the band have three albums to their name, it stands to reason that before White Lies even contemplates going out on tour, they’ve got to make some hard decisions about their set list, and not all of their choices on the North American tour were great. While I would have rather preferred a far more frenzied response from the punters Saturday night, I think the reaction I witnessed speaks to White Lies’ fanbase these days: reverential, rather than manic and fanatical. Just like the band has grown up, so has their fans.
After the cut: White Lies’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: White Lies with Frankie Rose at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 22nd February 2014
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 18th February 2014 at 2:00 pm
When I started writing about music in 2009, my focus was on pop and dance, with minimal intrusion from rock. Nearly 5 years on, I know my musical tastes have changed significantly, because I now find myself moving away from dance and diving headlong into heavier stuff. While Glasvegas initially was famous for ‘Geraldine’ and ‘Daddy’s Gone’ from their self-titled debut on Columbia Records, both songs that might be reasonably classed as lite rock, the Scottish four-piece proved Sunday night at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel (their first night on their current North American tour) that more often than not, they’re actually a huge-sounding rock powerhouse that you might not have guessed listening to them on record and if you’ve had your own reservations about the band based on their albums, I recommend you go see them live. ASAP.
The opening act for the night were Los Angeles brothers The Ceremonies, who also brought three touring band members to round out their sound. I want to give mad props to the band’s manager, who went out of her way to buy sodas before the show started for all the underage fans who were stuck outside of the venue because staff wouldn’t let them into the place until nearly an hour after the supposed start time of the support. Because I’d brought my underage cousin’s daughter as my guest for the night, I was stood outside with the rest of them and let me tell you, just like every other night in Washington this winter, it was very cold and frankly inhumane for an all-ages venue to treat minors like that. But, let me get on with describing their performance…
It turned out a lot of those minors were there only for the Ceremonies and swiftly departed the venue once they were finished. From that, I can only guess they must have a massive teenage following here in the States. As you might expect, the brothers Cook – older brother Matthew and twins Mark and Michael – have the gift of sibling harmonisation, and a few songs early on in their opening set took advantage of this, with them sounding vaguely Beach Boys-ish. One of the brothers was wearing a cardigan. However, the rest of the set was loud and raucous, which seemed more in line with another brother who had his shirt open and wore chains ala Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, and this brother and the third one were wearing leather trousers and complaining how cold it was for LA boys to be out here on the East Coast. That’s part of touring the big ol’ U.S. of A. Better start learning to suck it up, boys!
‘Land of Gathering’ sounds New Wave meets the Strokes, while ‘Ballroom Bones’ has almost a doo wop vocal flavour paired with a stomping rock rhythm. MTV here in America even has a dedicated artist page on them and the Huffington Post has already interviewed them, so I guess the powers that be must think they’re going to be massive at some point. I will give them that their stage patter is rather charming, with the Steven Tyler-esque one saying that after they were done playing, they’d be available to talk or play patty cake with fans. Snort. Right…
If the British tabloids are to be believed, from reports of his disappearance prior to the 2009 Mercury Prize ceremony to his living in a hotel in Glasgow instead of his own house, frontman James Allan of Glasvegas is a bit of a diva. (Then again, so are most frontmen of the biggest bands in the world – the Pete Dohertys and the Liam Gallaghers – right?) Having never met the man personally, I have no idea either way, but he did all he could to dismiss this false impression being trotted out the media. Or maybe he has turned over a new leaf? I was taken aback by how many times he thanked punters for coming out to see them and not just support them, but the whole indie music scene at large. I can’t remember the last time hearing anyone saying how grateful he/she was for the fans and speaking on behalf of his/her indie music brethren. Cheers for that, brother in arms.
What made this more starkly obvious was that he said these things between when Glasvegas were simply wailing on tracks like ‘The World is Yours’ and ‘Euphoria, Take My Hand’ and I thought the roof of the place might come off from the sheer loudness of the racket they were making. (No wonder when they were soundchecking and we were in the upstairs bar, we could feel the floor beneath us vibrating.) Cute were the Scots who came out in droves, cheering the band on in Scottish Gaelic; I had no idea what they were saying but Allan would yell back at them in the same tongue, which only served to positively rile up them more. Older songs ‘Ice Cream Van’ and ‘Flowers and Football Tops’, the latter performed solo by Allan with just his voice and electric guitar, showcased his powerful voice while not needing to blow our ears out. While their 2013 album on BMG ‘Later…When the TV Turns to Static’ has not had the kind of commercial success their first two LPs garnered, Glasvegas should still be considered a major live draw and the deafening applause that accompanied the band as left the stage Sunday night is proof of that.
After the cut: Glasvegas’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Glasvegas with the Ceremonies at Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel, Washington DC – 16th February 2014
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 17th February 2014 at 2:00 pm
If Kodaline had any question on how they’d be received on their second visit to the Nation’s Capital, with Washington having been the first date on their winter 2014 North American tour to have sold out, they needn’t have worried. As the tickets were snapped up quickly for Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Virginia, in October, so were the ones for Saturday night’s show at U Street Music Hall. It’s been a brutally cold winter here, and even though I arrived early with the intention to queue, it became apparent dressed in my cold weather finery as my fingers and lips began to freeze that arriving just 30 minutes before the posted door time might not have been a great idea. To the young ladies who arrived more than 2 hours before doors and without coats while the mercury around -8 degrees C, my hats off to you, that’s some serious Kodaline devotion. Or possible insanity.
The support act for the night was LP, aka Laura Pergolizzi, a hyped up singer/songwriter currently based on Los Angeles. The curly-haired woman must have her own followers, but somehow I missed all the hype. Maybe this is because she’s been too busy cowriting hits for Rihanna, Avril Lavigne and Christina Aguilera. With a recording contract of her own with Warner Brothers as of 2011, perhaps her own luck fame will change soon. As I did research before going to see her, I had read that her music had smacked of a cross between Bob Dylan and Marc Bolan. Because I hadn’t seen any photos, I didn’t realise until I got to the show that LP was, in fact, a woman. Now the high-pitched vocals make more sense!
It was clear from the cheering during her set that she already has a lot of admirers, and probably more so as she dedicated song ‘New Town’ to all her new lovely friends in Washington. But her vocal delivery isn’t for everyone: her voice is warbly and she often employs falsetto. Also, if you’re not a fan of the ukulele (and really, who is, unless you’re a fan of Tiny Tim and Don ‘Tiny Bubbles’ Ho?), you’d probably be stood there scratching your head. A cover of Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’ left me and my friend inwardly groaning. Still, if the folky stylings of classic Greenwich village mixed in with rock is your style (see fan favourite ‘Into the Wild’), I’m guessing this would be your thing.
The main event at U Street that night was, of course, Kodaline. They endeared themselves to the crowd by giving credit to their Irish heritage with a toe-tapping instrumental cover of the Pogues’ ‘Dirty Old Town’ mid-set, but what was more startling was how many times in the show singer Steve Garrigan could stop singing altogether and his words would come floating back to him, 400 times louder (400 being the capacity of the hall). The most stunning moment of this nonsinging happened during the start of ‘One Day’, when he turned his mike towards the crowd and didn’t start singing until the first verse was over.
One of Kodaline’s greatest strengths is their ability to write both upbeat and slower, more emotional numbers. ‘After the Fall’ was a good one to begin with, with its sweeping instrumentation, and you might think going into sombre ‘Pray’ (“I drink alone to stop myself from weeping” – eep) directly after would be a misstep. Not with this guys, who deftly handle buoyancy and melancholy equally well. The innocence of the plinky plonky xylophone in ‘Brand New Day’ was well received, as was the psychedelia of ‘Lose Your Mind’ from the band’s self-titled EP, with one girl near breathlessly commenting after, “that’s my favourite song, ever!” The encore, featuring the unreleased but breathtakingly beautiful ‘The Answer’ followed by what appears to be the perpetual Kodaline show closer ‘All I Want’, was peerless. When we first starting writing about Kodaline, the thing that struck me was that they had the artistic vision and certainly the talent to become the Irish Coldplay and be massively successful, meaning that it was only time before they would play stadiums like Chris Martin and co. What crossed my mind last night, nearly a year on since I saw them for the first time at SXSW 2013 and now being surrounded by adoring fans, was that if and when Coldplay ever do decide to return to music, they can expect someone else, these guys, sat on what used to their throne. The gauntlet has been thrown.
After the cut: Kodaline’s set list for the night.
Continue reading Live Review: Kodaline with LP at U Street Music Hall, Washington DC – 15th February 2014
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 10th February 2014 at 4:00 pm
Brooklyn band Augustines just released their second and self-titled album last week. (I reviewed it here.) To explain their creative process and the making of the new album, they’ve released this behind the scenes video. Watch it below.
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