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Live Review: Empires with Cold Fronts at DC9, Washington DC – 15th November 2014

 
By on Tuesday, 18th November 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Here’s something that doesn’t happen everyday. Well, for this music editor anyway. Somehow, on Saturday night I went to hole in the wall DC9 to see two bands that were both…wait for it…American. And the opening band Cold Fronts aren’t even from that far away at all. I learned after the show that the Philadelphia foursome were playing an outdoor generator show at SXSW 2012, unaware that Warner Brothers / Sire Records bigwig Seymour Stein was on the sidelines, taking notes. They’re now signed with Warner. So you budding musicians out there, dreams do come true.

But you’re probably wondering what they sound like, aren’t you? Admittedly, I didn’t do a huge amount of research for this show, deciding that since it was a Saturday night, I was going to relax, open my ears and take it all in. This worked especially well with Cold Fronts, as their performance was every bit about the music as it was about having fun. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the members of a band jumping around with their guitars without abandon and really, only two bands came to mind: the Cribs and PAWS, both featuring insane guitar players happily throwing themselves around the stage. I wasn’t far off the mark at all: singer/guitarist Craig admitted to me that he’s a massive fan of the Cribs, as well as PAWS’ track ‘Sore Tummy’. (Hey hey, Jarman Brothers, I hope you are listening? Because I just found out they have the same booking agent as you. Google them and sort out an opening slot for them on your next tour.)

The meteorological term ‘cold front’ usually indicates changes in barometric pressure and temperature and possible precipitation. Not usually a harbinger of good things. However, don’t let Cold Fronts’ name put you off; I was told the name comes from the fact that many of their songs were written during the winter months as an attempt to battle seasonal affective disorder. Their newest single ‘Hit Me’ (stream below) is a great example of a song to knock you out of the wintry weather doldrums: the chorus uses a clever metaphor between gambling and relationships, and the entire thing is just so darn catchy and the lyrics are easily sung along to (but they’re really witty lyrics too) that I’m almost positive it’s going to be a radio hit in due course. You heard it here first… Another one of their songs whose name I did not catch was punctuated by what appeared to be each of the four band members racing each other to see who could play the loudest and faster. This is some band with muscle! An album should be on its way in 2015.

Chicago’s Empires spent the last 6 years like all other bands: working hard. This year though the band released their third studio album ‘Orphan’ on Island Records’ Chop Shop imprint. Hopefully this LP will prove to be the breakthrough they’ve been looking for. John reviewed their EP ‘How Good Does It Feel’ this summer and he had described their bass lines reminding him of the Vaccines. However, upon actually seeing them play live, they recalled for me not the Vaccines but a couple of massive bands from recent memory. Their musical style is of the bombastic rock variety: think U2, when they were actually good, ‘Joshua Tree’-era and before they started to suck, and the Killers before Brandon Flowers’ ego inflated beyond reasonable proportions.

There’s even hints of Springsteen and ‘The ’59 Sound’-era Gaslight Anthem in the driving ‘Keep It Steady’, one of the set’s standouts from their 2012 album ‘Garage Hymns’. Heavy-hitting percussion? Check. Epic guitars? Check. I thought it didn’t exist anymore, but it’s clear Empires are the sound of 21st century American rock ‘n’ roll, and it couldn’t sound better. You also can’t escape being mesmerised by frontman Sean Van Vleet; he goes sans instrument during a show, except for occasional tambourine banging, something that his light-haired, stubbly doppelganger Ricky Wilson also indulges in. The band tell me they actually supported Kaiser Chiefs before in their hometown of Chicago but at the time, Wilson was wearing a hat and therefore no physical comparisons could be drawn. Van Vleet’s baritone is similar to that of Matt Berninger’s and also to some extent Tom Smith, but Empires are nowhere near as gloomy as Editors. Which I think is a good thing for American audiences.

What’s even more startling is while they might not be household names yet, this band already appear to have an army of fans: wearing flannel over their Empires’ emblazoned t-shirts, these girls were quick to solidify their places down the front even before they took the stage. These were also the same audience members who sang back the lyrics of ‘Spit the Dark’, from the band’s self-released debut album from 2008, ‘Howl’, word for word back to Van Vleet while he pointed the mike in their direction, with the refrain “I will guide you in the night” repeated back and forth between singer and crowd. For this to happen at a place like DC9, that’s dedication. Dedication I fully expect to see repeated on a much larger scale sometime in the near future.

After the cut: Empires’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Empires with Cold Fronts at DC9, Washington DC – 15th November 2014

 

(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Live Review: Lewis Watson with Alicia Rae at U Street Music Hall, Washington DC – 14th November 2014

 
By on Monday, 17th November 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

With a chilly temperature hovering around 0 degrees after the sun had set last Friday, you’d think a DC gigging crowd wouldn’t show up until doors had opened at the U Street Music Hall. But you would be wrong. However, to the fans that braved the cold to be sure they’d be as close to the front of the stage as possible, the draw for the night was entirely worth.

But before we get that, let’s talk about the opener, shall we? After a while, the young, adorable singer/songwriter women of the world start to blur together in my mind. Unless I’m mistaken – or maybe I’m just not going to the right shows? – there aren’t that many of them in my neck of the woods making waves. Alicia Rae is from Waldorf, Maryland (pretty much only known as the birthplace of Good Charlotte) and is a relative newcomer to the scene. Having only gone professional a few short years ago, she is like the evening’s headliner: entirely self-taught. Her track ‘Autumn’, appropriate for this time of year, has already been played thousands of times on Spotify.

For this audience that consisted mostly of teenage girls who heart One Direction, she hit the spot with her tearjerk-y but inescapably simplistic songs about life and love, sung in a fittingly sweet voice. She explained she wrote ‘Hideaway’ while a tornado threatened outside her window; she thanked her dad for the inspirational phrase “1-2-3 forever” for another tune. ‘Sweet Melody’, the title track from her forthcoming EP scheduled to be out in 2015, can be downloaded for free from Rae’s Web site.

I have to give full credit to our David Wriglesworth for tipping Lewis Watson and recommending me to have a listen to his music. As many of you know, the singer/songwriter genre isn’t my favourite: the idea of someone dredging up old heartbreaks for art usually bores me to tears. Get on with your life already! So it takes a very special act to truly get my attention. The first and admittedly unfair thing most critics will notice about Lewis Watson is his age. But forget that he’s 22: what you will glean from the Oxfordshire native’s debut album ‘The Morning’ released this summer on major Warner Music is that his songwriting is not only emotional but entirely sincere. (If you have any question about this sincerity, read David’s q&a with Watson posted last week.)

This may be coloured somewhat by the fact that the young man is still completely humbled by the overwhelming reception he gets from fans at his shows, which includes this short first headline tour of North America this month. He better get used to it: I always wear earplugs to gigs but my word, I needed them with the amount of screaming and shouts of “I love you!” that went on between the songs. I bring up the word ‘humble’ because last month, he and his band had visa issues, which necessitated a postponement of the entire string of dates and some venue changes. Instead of blaming the American embassy in London or anyone else, he took to his old friend YouTube to record a video for his fans to personally relay his regrets for the delay. What really got me was when he specifically apologised for moving the DC area date from Jammin’ Java in northern Virginia to U Street Music Hall in downtown Washington, saying that he’d “been assured it’s only a half-hour drive away” and he hoped people would be able to make it to the new show. He wouldn’t have known that most people come into the city for shows all the time and Jammin’ Java is an outlier whose listings only represent a small percentage of our area’s gigs, but the fact that he went the extra mile to personally apologise for the change melted my heart.

He apologised again for the venue change at the show Friday night and also for the fact that he only had his bespectacled keyboardist and backing vocalist Roxanne with him. Endearingly, he implored the audience at times to imagine a full band behind him, with drum flourishes and the like, saying he was sorry that the rest of his crew couldn’t make. To be honest, he didn’t really need them and I feel like it was a special treat to witness this stripped back set that allowed his songwriting talent and the beautiful timbres of his voice to really shine. I mean, after all, aren’t all singer/songwriters’ songs initially conceived with only acoustic guitar and voice anyway?

Shrieks and sighs of delight from punters punctuated the start and finish to every one of his songs, which led him to smile bashfully but broadly in appreciation. Describing Los Angeles as “a really weird place” where he wrote the aptly titled ‘LA Song’ made the crowd laugh at his Englishness; his appreciation for grape soda (“we don’t have this in England!”) and twist top bottles in America was met with similar amusement. Hey, if you got it (and your fans love the fact you’re English), flaunt it.

The place went hushed and quiet as a tomb for a gorgeous unplugged version of ‘Halo’, presented by Lewis and Roxanne up on the edge of the front of the stage. That was a clear standout, as was a surprising cover of Everything Everything‘s ‘The Peaks’, which he prefaced by saying how much their debut album ‘Man Alive’ meant to him, and that everyone in the audience should check them out. (Good man.) Watson explained the wistfully regretful ‘Ghost’ was written shortly after he’d been friendzoned, and really, who of us haven’t be there, am I right? We also were treated to the dark yet remarkably gorgeous new song ‘When the Water Meets the Mountains’, which Watson described as the desire of spending the last moments of life before the apocalypse in joyful recognition with the one you love. Pretty heavy subject matter, yet brilliantly done.

In just this one song, he demonstrated his ability to present genuine feelings yet with the confines of pop sensibility. David reckons he could be the next Ed Sheeran; I’ve never been a fan of Sheeran’s so if I’m honest, I hope Watson’s sincerity takes him even further than him. I’m looking forward to seeing Watson’s reception in Austin at next year’s SXSW.

After the cut: Lewis Watson’s set list.
Continue reading (SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Live Review: Lewis Watson with Alicia Rae at U Street Music Hall, Washington DC – 14th November 2014

 

Christopher Owens / November 2014 UK Tour

 
By on Friday, 14th November 2014 at 9:00 am
 

Former Girls frontman Christopher Owens is set to embark on a tour of the UK this weekend, playing songs from his solo albums as well as older full band tracks. As a teaser for the upcoming live dates, Owens has shared a new acoustic track called ‘America’, which you can stream below the tour date listing. Tickets for the following shows are available now.

Saturday 15th November 2014 – Liverpool University Guild of Students
Sunday 16th November 2014 – Glasgow Stereo
Monday 17th November 2014 – Manchester Deaf Institute
Tuesday 18th November 2014 – Bristol Lantern
Wednesday 19th November 2014 – London Islington Assembly Hall

 

Live Gig Video: The Dunwells perform a stripped back version of live favourite ‘She Whispers’

 
By on Thursday, 13th November 2014 at 4:00 pm
 

Joseph and David Dunwell, the eponymous half of Leeds alt-rock band The Dunwells, have just shared the video for a piano-vocal version of their fan favourite track ‘She Whispers’. Performed in an unidentified alcove, this intimate version of the song features frontman Joe Dunwell’s emotive lyric delivery along with brother Dave’s dynamically sensitive piano accompaniment.

The as-yet-unreleased track is sure to feature prominently on The Dunwells’ upcoming UK tour; all the details for that can be found in this ticket alert we posted earlier this week.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/8y974218cf0[/youtube]

 

Live Review: Johnny Marr at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 9th November 2014

 
By on Tuesday, 11th November 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Header photo by TGTF Head Photographer Martin Sharman at Deer Shed Festival 2014

Guitar god and all around musical legend Johnny Marr just released his second solo album ‘Playland’ in October. Despite his solo work that began earnestly in recent years and all of his work from 1987 on, playing in and contributing to numerous other bands’ art, the shadow of being in the Smiths, what made him a household name and still revered 30 years on, still follows him around. Luckily for the Smiths devoted, he has no problem returning to a treasure trove of a back catalogue that he himself had an integral part in creating. His show Sunday night at the 9:30 Club, the first date on a massive North American tour that does not let up until mid-December, proved that unlike many other artists of his age that don’t like particularly like returning to their roots, Marr can and will. And with the widest of grins too.

This is not to say that the entire set in DC was filled with retreads of another bygone era. Songs from both ‘Playland’ and its predecessor ‘The Messenger’ (though, oddly not the 2013 LP’s title track, which I was had been hoping for and expecting) were proffered to an eager audience. ‘Easy Money’, the radio-friendly hit from the new album that has been making the rounds, is appropriately loud, fast and guitar-jangly to cause mayhem. Same goes for ‘Boys Get Straight’, whose name you can have for a price on blue coloured t-shirts being sold at the merch stand: Marr himself models the shirt later on in the show. (You couldn’t ask for any better product placement.) Synths buzz to usher in ‘Back in the Box’ and spark it to life, resulting in another set standout.

The evening was not without surprises. Marr rolled out an astoundingly brilliant version of ‘Getting Away With It’, the single from late ’80s supergroup Electronic that he formed with New Order’s Bernard Sumner after he quit the Smiths (watch the two of them perform the song at Live at Jodrell Bank in 2013 in this previous Live Gig Video). And for a truly left field moment, a cover of ‘Lust for Life’ came roaring through the amps during the encore. It’s not if the Washington crowd Sunday night needed a psyching up moment, but I suppose in other markets where the audience assembled is less excited, this might be a moment to re-energise them. Initially when the heavy beats started, I honestly thought this might be one of Marr’s new songs that just happened to sound like the Iggy Pop song. Until he began to sing.

‘Dynamo’, the album’s third track and newest single, is saved for the encore, though its title could have easily doubled as Marr’s nickname for the evening: the man is like Gumby come to life. Jumping onto speakers and pointing to folks in the rafters, showboating with his guitar to pause every so often in a serious stance right in front of fans who look like they’re about to faint, pogoing up and down in place in his smart burgundy trainers while – wait for it – not missing a note on his guitar, the man does it all. If there is any criticism to make, it’s for something that Marr can’t help: the vocals on the Smiths songs, while good, just don’t have the magic of Steven Patrick Morrissey’s. Having seen Morrissey so many times live singing these songs, I got a lump in my throat watching these songs – their songs – being performed without him. I am still hopeful that one day we might see the two of them on a stage together again.

There is, however, one thing that Johnny Marr will always remain supremely untouchable on: his way with a guitar. He alternated between two guitars all night – a blue Fender Jaguar and a black one whose make I could not catch – and the man was on fire all night. Some particularly excited punters spent the entire evening punching the air as their god was shredding before them. There are few that can hold an audience as massive as at the 9:30 in such rapt attention, and you would be wise to not forget this. And how could you really, as he bends backward and raises his guitar horizontal over his head to finish ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’ while every single person in the club chants the lyrics back to him? Word on the street is that Marr will appear – with his guitar, of course – on Noel Gallagher’s upcoming album ‘Chasing Yesterday’, due out in March 2015. My argument is, if Marr can put up with one cantankerous aging musician from Manchester, he can put up with another. Fingers crossed.

After the cut: Johnny Marr’s set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Johnny Marr at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 9th November 2014

 

Live Review: Hozier with James Bay at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 4th November 2014

 
By on Monday, 10th November 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Photos by Cheryl Demas, except where noted

Shows at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC are always worth traveling for, even, as in this case, when the travel involves multiple time zones and full days spent on airplanes. I always have to remind myself that as difficult as the travel might be for me, it’s often a Herculean effort for the musicians actually giving the show. Irish singer/songwriter Hozier has been on tour almost non-stop since March of this year, when he played SXSW in Austin, pausing only to record his self-titled debut studio album that was released in October. His show at the 9:30 Club last Tuesday night marked the penultimate stop on his North American tour, preceding two shows in New York and the start of a lengthy tour through the UK and Europe.

James Bay at 9:30 Club 4th November 2014

Hozier’s special guest on this leg of the American tour was Hitchin born singer/songwriter James Bay. Joined on stage by colleague Gerry Morgan on piano and percussion, Bay played an opening set of earnest, bluesy love songs that were a perfect warm up for Hozier’s more intense, r&b-influenced style. There were clearly some longtime James Bay fans in the audience, as evidenced by the squeals, sighs and singing along in the more unabashedly romantic moments. Recent single ‘Let It Go’ was particularly effective, as was slow burner ‘Move Together’.

In the fashion of a performer more accomplished than his youthful age, Bay closed his set with his strongest effort, upcoming single ‘Hold Back the River’. Stay tuned to TGTF for more coverage on James Bay leading into his recently announced scheduled appearance at SXSW 2015. Bay is set to embark on a tour of the UK and Ireland later this month. His next single ‘Hold Back the River’ is due for release on the 23rd of November via Republic Records.

Gerry Morgan and James Bay at 9:30 Club, 4th November 2014

When I first saw Hozier at SXSW 2014 as part of Communion’a showcase at St. David’s Church, his songs were still new to most of us, and although the response was unquestionably positive, audience members seemed stunned into silence by the sheer power of his musicianship and songwriting. A mere 8 months later, the full-to-capacity crowd in Washington, DC clearly knew exactly what to expect. There was much singing along, cheering and a few cheeky requests (some music-related, some not) shouted from the back of the room. Hozier himself took this in stride, looking a bit dazed but keeping his cool as he played through his set list with a minimal amount of banter between songs.

Hozier at 9:30 Club, 4th November 2014

Because Hozier currently has only one album of songs to draw from, his set list was somewhat predictable, though there were a few small surprises. He opened with a lesser known ballad, ‘Like Real People Do,’ then immediately followed it with the energetic groove of ‘Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene’. He politely provided us with the title of each song before he played it, giving brief explanations for his cover of Skip James’ ‘Illinois Blues’ and the earthy folk song ‘In a Week’, which he performed here in a lovely duet with cellist and vocalist Alana Henderson.

Hozier and Alana Henderson at 9:30 Club, 4th November 2014
photo by Carrie Clancy

Alana Henderson at 9:30 Club, 4th November 2014

Rather than saving hit track ‘Take Me to Church’ for the encore, Hozier chose to play it at the end of the set proper. After an appropriate interval for applause, he returned to the stage to play a rather unexpected cover of American r&b singer Amerie’s hit single ‘1 Thing’ before closing with his own current American radio single ‘From Eden’.

Naturally, when Hozier took the stage, the focus was squarely on him. But his unassuming stage demeanour left plenty of space for his band members to display their talents as well. Hozier’s entourage of accomplished touring musicians are worth noting, as they bring the full range of color to his songs, from the dark gospel of ‘Take Me to Church’ to the dance pop leanings of ‘Sedated’. Henderson was an indispensable part of that sound, along with bassist Alex Ryan, keyboardist Mia Fitz and backing vocalists Ruby Amanfu and Rachael Lampa.

Drummer Rory Doyle was familiar to my gig partner Cheryl and me, having toured in America previously with Bell X1. The fact that Doyle has worked on albums by both Hozier and Bell X1 is a testament to the versatility of his musicianship and an example of the calibre of the other musicians on the stage, including Hozier himself. The cooperative spirit of the performance was neatly emphasised at the end of the night when the full band took a curtain call to close the show.

Rory Doyle at 9:30 Club, 4th November 2014

Hozier curtain call, 9:30 Club, 4th November 2014

Hozier will play live dates in the UK and Europe through November and December before returning to America early next year. A full listing of shows can be found on Hozier’s official Web site.

After the cut: James Bay and Hozier’s set lists.
Continue reading Live Review: Hozier with James Bay at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 4th November 2014

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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