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Photo: Rosie Cohe

Sweet, Like Durand Jones and The Indications in Springtime

When the weather finally picks up in DC, so does H Street. Up and down the block, people are out enjoying the air and nightlife, and on April 16, Rock & Roll Hotel was packed with people there to watch Durand Jones and the Indications. The night was just short of warm and there couldn’t have been a sweeter way to celebrate it than the Indications’ 70s soul-inspired music.

The Indications are touring their sophomore record American Love Call, a best R&B record nominee for the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) Libera Awards, alongside artists like Blood Orange and Charles Bradley.

The Indications have so many things going for them. They have the instrumentation and arrangement style of their inspirations down pat. Think Curtis Mayfield’s “So In Love” or Brenton Wood’s “I Think You Got Your Fools Mixed Up.”

They can also play funk, like they showed Tuesday on their song “Groovy Babe.” More than that, Durand Jones strikes a great balance as a frontman. He’s a happy medium between performers like Meg Remy of U.S. Girls and BadBadNotGood.

In the two times I’ve seen US Girls the only thing Meg Remy said was that there would be no encore because “there are no encores in life,” and if I ever see BBNG again it’ll be too soon, because their frontman almost never shuts up.

But more than any of that, it’s the voices of the Indications that make it for me, particularly that of frontman Durand Jones and drummer Aaron Frazer. Jones may not have Frazer range (not that he’s that far off), but he emotes like an Otis Redding or James Brown, and Frazer’s falsetto could put him into The Delfonics or The Emulations.

The best songs of the night were the ones that had these two playing off each other, like “Don’t You Know” or “Circles,” both off American Love Call, though Frazer’s solo ballad “Is It Any Wonder” might still be my favorite of theirs. They played it as an encore, and it’s quite the song to have in your backpocket.

It was also the first Indications song I heard. I didn’t really like it at first because it sounded so much like music was made 50 years ago, but a lot changes in a month. I spent the weeks following in Colombia hearing almost only cumbia and to come home and hear American music, and American music like Durand Jones and the Indications was the sweetest thing.

Sorry for being a prude about it at first, guys, you’re beautiful, can’t wait to see in DC next time.

For more information of Durand Jones and the Indications, follow them on Twitter.

Photo: www.bbcmusic.co.uk

Foals Are Here to Stay

It’s been nearly six years since Oxford, England band Foals took home the Q Award for Best Live Act, and four since they were given the same award, but this time as Best Act in the World. Their sold out show at the 9:30 Club last night was a clear indication that should the band be up for those honors in 2019, they’re still every bit as deserving.

Though the band saw the departure of their former bassist Walter Gervers in the process of recording Everything Saved Will Not Be Lost Pts. 1 & 2, even with this lineup change their sound is as tight as ever. Foals opened with Part 1 single “On the Luna,” whose live iteration is surprisingly tamer than expected. Their stage is flanked by palm trees, perhaps a nod to the tropical sound that’s always weaved its way through their music. At times when the band rips through more anxious songs like “Exits” or “Inhaler,” it evokes a feeling of dystopia.

Still, Foals has energy in spades. They’re now the proud creators of five albums, with one more on the way (Part 2 is out later this year), but they’ve pieced together a setlist of songs new and old to engage concertgoers regardless of devotion level. This is a lost art when it comes to bands who have been at it as long as Foals, as it often skews toward shoving the new material at everyone or kowtowing to playing only the classics. When they opt to melt older songs like “Olympic Airways” into an absolute banger of a more accessible hit like “My Number” with an incredible drum solo courtesy of Jack Bevan, you immediately know there is incredible care put into everything this band does.

Even during a slow burn like “Spanish Sahara,” they avoid the dreaded treatment of a less peppy song as a seventh inning stretch. Even as bodies wander to the bar, fans start clapping, transfixed, and people return to their spots. They’ve been commanded not just by the band but the spell they’ve cast on those in the crowd, and for good reason – “Spanish Sahara” just happens to be one of their best songs.

And I’d be remiss not to mention the fact that, during the encore consisting of “Two Steps, Twice,” frontman Yannis Philippakis leapt from the Club’s second story balcony into the arms of a waiting crowd. The person standing next to me grabbed my shoulder in disbelief as she reached her other arm towards him. At a time when shows can seem a tad bit clinical, there’s nothing like a full on trust fall into a sea of fans to restore your faith in the art of the live show. Even if the leap happens every night, at every show, it still feels new and urgent.

Foals could easily fill a larger venue like The Anthem – past DC stops saw them at higher capacity outposts like the more formal, seated Lincoln Theatre, and the EDM-adjacent Echostage – but their specific brand of marrying the best elements of punk, math rock and tropicalia is tailor-made for a hallowed place like the 9:30 Club. They’re better off packing in hordes of hungry fans into smaller places, an apparent strategy on this tour, than forcing themselves to be something they are not in a larger location for the sake of selling more tickets.

They know who they are, and they’ve said it best themselves. Take the Everything Saved Will Not Be Lost standout “Syrups,” in which Philippakis sings “‘cause life is what you make it/you’ve got yours and I’ve got mine.” They’ve always had a strong sense of identity, but now they’re making sure we know who they are, too.

Sure, Foals could have changed and eschewed their niche sound just for the sake of it. But why do that when you can be true to what’s cemented you as one of the most exciting acts of the past 15 years, especially when it means you can leap from the balcony of one of the most iconic venues in the world?

Don’t sleep on your second chance to see Foals at the 9:30 Club on Thursday, April 18. Tickets are $38.50 and doors open at 7 p.m. For more on the band, visit www.foals.co.uk.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Painting: Fernanda Pereira // Photo: Hugo Oliveira

Panda Bear Brings “Buoys” To Life

Last summer, Noah Lennox, perhaps better known as Panda Bear, embarked on a tour with his band Animal Collective promoting the ten-year anniversary of their record Sung Tongs. During that time, Lennox pivoted to producing material for his solo career. The result is an even more atmospheric version of the ambient sounds the artist is known to pioneer. On Tap talked to Lennox around the release of his record on inspiration, the importance of how music is physically released and the value of creating in the present moment.

On Tap: You just released a new album as Panda Bear, Buoys, this week. Tell me more about how this record was created.
Noah Lennox: I wrote these songs on the guitar. I was just singing the songs with the guitar and a rudimentary drum machine. That was the foundation for everything. The guitar came from Dave [Portner] and I doing [practice for] the Sung Tongs record – we played a bunch of shows [as Animal Collective] for it this past summer. I hadn’t really played guitar for a while so it took me a couple months to get my hands into shape again, and I think while I was using the guitar a bunch I just started writing little songs here and there while I would practice for that stuff. 

OT: It sounds a bit more austere than some of your previous releases, was this a conscious choice?
NL: I did feel like I was a bit tired with the methods I had employed with the past couple records — it was like a system I went to the end of the road with in a way. I was interested in pushing myself into a space I was unfamiliar with. As far as the starkness of the sound, we figured out early on in the process that it was an architecture that kind of worked, as far as the sub-bassy stuff, because that became the pillar early on with pitched 808 samples. [For] his record we went in the opposite way of packing the arrangements full of sounds, which is kind of my move the past few records. I felt like any time we would add more into the arrangement it meant that the deep sub bass stuff wouldn’t represent itself in the room in the same way. We wanted to sort of keep this architecture of the empty.

OT: Although you’re a Maryland native, you’ve lived in Portugal for quite a while now. How has your life there affected your music?
NL: Certainly the environment plays a part, but that’s really hard for me to define. I feel like all the influence is subconscious and implicit in a way. It’s really hard for me to trace the dots on how that colors what I do; I’m sure it does, it’s just hard for me to define. Lisbon is a really different place than what it used to be. When I lived in Brooklyn, it felt like it went through a similar transformation. I got there just after it was starting and I left before it finished but I’m seeing a similar thing transpire in Lisbon over the past seven years or so. Not musically, although there are a lot of younger folks doing DIY-type music, which I really dig. It’s more in terms of [how] Lisbon felt kind of less affected by the rest of the world, or less interested in it or conversation with cultures outside of Portugal. It feels more like any sort of big European metro area than it used to.

OT: Your previous record, A Day With The Homies, was vinyl only. Why did you choose to release it that way?
NL: The original inspiration for that was sort of weird and random. It came from brands like Supreme and Palace and these other streetwear companies that do these releases of new stiff in finite quantities. I don’t like the resale part of it, I think that’s really corny, but it got me thinking about how that rewards the most hardcore people. I was jazzed about making something the people who would pre-order it or be down for no matter what.

OT: Why pivot back to a more traditional release with Buoys?
NL: Doing it [vinyl only] isn’t altogether positive, in that there are people who are left wanting. Ultimately, I preferred this method, which is for everybody. I wouldn’t want to do limited stuff all the time. I also should say that whereas Person Pitch was conceived as a CD as its ideal form, for A Day With The Homies it was the vinyl, and for this one I always envisioned its ideal form as streaming.

OT: Is that something that changes as you record new material or do you start out knowing you want to make music tailored to a specific format?
NL: It’s not always cut and dry. I can’t say that for every single release I have this ideal image of the thing in its particular format. But those three have a specific form that was kind of my most perfect version of it.

OT: Physical editions of music have seen such a resurgence over the past 10 years. Why do you think that is? What makes them maintain value?
NL: I think there’s two things going on with vinyl – one, people are getting less and less CDs so it’s becoming a digital or a vinyl thing, those are the last people standing in the race of the format. And two, I feel like the size or the imagery you can get on vinyl is kind of a big deal. I really like having that big slab for artwork, it just looks nicer in that way.

OT: As you mentioned before, you recently toured with Animal Collective to play your record Sung Tongs front to back for its ten year anniversary. Would you consider a similar tour format as Panda Bear?
NL: I supposed I’m open to it, but I’d have to be really inspired beyond [the fact] I can make a lot of money on this, that’s kind of cheesy to me. It’s been kind of weird, I guess. We agreed to do it one time and it was more fun than I imagined it would so I was down to do it more, but I’m sort of wary of getting stuck in that routine as opposed to the the present day creative things I have going. I’d rather focus on that. It was kind of fun, I have to admit. I just wouldn’t want that to be the driving force of what I’m doing. Even if it has less traction publicly, I’d still rather just keep going with what’s happening today.

Panda Bear plays the 9:30 Club on Monday, February 11 with Home Blitz. Doors are at 7 p.m. and tickets are $25. For more on Panda Bear, visit www.pandabearofficial.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Photo: Courtesy of Deerhunter and 4AD

Deerhunter Broadens Sonic Palette On New Album

Much has been said about Deerhunter that has nothing to do with their music. The band’s outspoken and unapologetic frontman, Bradford Cox, continues to captivate the music press with his thoughts on any topic imaginable. But Deerhunter is a band, after all – a five-piece operation based out of Georgia, each member bringing their own musical background and solo projects to the table. What has attracted listeners to the group is not a candid comment on the state of the music industry but their dense and developed sound that’s only improved with time.

Enter the band’s new album Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, released earlier this month. Described as “a science fiction album for the present,” it draws from specific events – revolutions in the streets of Russia in 1917 on “Death in Midsummer,” Labour Party MP Jo Cox’s death on “No One’s Sleeping” and themes of ecological destruction weaved throughout. It clocks in at just 37 minutes but packs a punch both sonically and thematically.

Deerhunter’s drummer Moses Archuleta spoke with us in advance of the band’s March 2 show at 9:30 Club, detailing the intricate technicalities that make their new record so different from anything else they’ve ever done before. As he explained their process for writing and recording, it became increasingly clear that as much was transpiring in the notes of this record as in its lyrics.

“The album is simultaneously very familiar to fans of Deerhunter, and hopefully comforting and enjoyable in the way of it not being a wild departure,” he said. “But I do feel like there are definite things that are different and interesting and unique about this album because of the process it went through.”

Archuleta said that while the breadth of topics approached on the new album makes it next-level, there’s more at play here. Roles were solidified, band members went through life changes and people matured. That’s all evident, especially to Archuleta, who found ownership of his role as drummer a beneficial addition to the process.

While internally becoming masters of their musical domain, the band sought outside inspiration from musician Cate Le Bon, who produced the album and gave the band the jolt they needed to weave in the multifaceted aspects of the record in a cohesive way.

“There had been a magnetic pull to try and do something a bit different,” Archuleta said of Le Bon’s involvement, which included singing on “Turnung” and playing harp throughout.

“Sonically, [the album is] very full and rich sounding. We’re all older and it feels like a much more mature effort overall. Cate was a big part of that as far as having that sort of direction. It was an artistic camaraderie that was new and interesting to work with.”

The band also toured with new material before even beginning to record it, a process unlike anything they’ve endured before. And while it was helpful from a technical standpoint, their songs became living, breathing things that changed when it came time to record.

“It’s interesting because we became overconfident,” Archuleta elaborated. “We were like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to nail this.’ And then you start to realize that you’re trying to make a different point with the record than with the show. So that was a self-deception in some ways. On the flipside, the positive things that were working had been so rehearsed and nuanced at that point that it allowed for a lot of creativity to happen.”

Now that Archuleta and his bandmates have added another piece to their creative tapestry with Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, they’re sharing it with fans on tour. Don’t miss their 9:30 Club show on Saturday, March 2. Doors are at 6 p.m., tickets are $25. For more on the band, visit www.deerhunter.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Photo: Ryan Pfluger

Sharon Van Etten Talks TV, Her New Record and Focusing on the Positive

Singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten is many things. The recording artist has scored movies, acted in Netflix hit The OA, returned to school to pursue a psychology degree and navigated motherhood. Her accomplishments are dizzying and her talent is seemingly unending, but the musician is incredibly grounded and open about her creative process and personal life. On her fifth studio album, Van Etten put down the guitar and took to a Jupiter-4 synthesizer to compose 10 stunning songs about falling in love and forgiving yourself. The cover of her record Remind Me Tomorrow – yes, like the software notification update that’s universally postponed on computers and phones across the world – features two children in a sea of toys and play clothes.

The children belong to Van Etten’s friend and collaborator, director Katherine Dieckmann, who showed her the image after she expressed her worries around raising a child and being an artist. Dieckmann presented the photo with a laugh and the sincere encouragement of “You’ll figure it out.”

It’s clear that she not only figured it out but also entered a new era in her personal and professional life that’s responsible for the creation of her best work yet. Van Etten describes the photo as beautiful and liberating – an apt description for the feeling that anchors Remind Me Tomorrow.

On Tap: Your music is making a mark on current TV shows. “Serpents” is featured on The Walking Dead, your The OA character Rachel shares her pipes with viewers and you perform at the famous Roadhouse in Twin Peaks: The Return. How did these opportunities present themselves?
Sharon Van Etten:
“Serpents” connected with the zombie crew. It wasn’t something that I had planned or asked for. Someone made the connection and it was an honor, because that show is pretty epic. As far as The OA, I found out the casting director was in the audience when I was touring for Nick Cave in 2013 and I got asked to audition in 2016. They were looking for a singer because that’s a big part of the role of Rachel. In so many ways, that’s her superpower. In the few acting roles I’ve had, they were looking for a version of myself, which is comforting. For Twin Peaks, it was a similar thing. I think [director] David Lynch’s son [Riley Lynch] is a fan, and he turns his dad on to a lot of music and is also a musician himself. I also have a friend whose role is music and film crossover work who also said a kind word to David. There’s also a stroke of luck somewhere in there.

OT: How did you land on “Tarifa” for the Twin Peaks scene?
SVE:
It was a request! It was like, “Well, David wants ‘Tarifa’ so David gets ‘Tarifa!’” [laughs] It was kind of a no-brainer.

OT: It seems like so many people really connected with The OA and are really excited for the new season. Why do you think that is?
SVE:
I think real people in a sci-fi context is just something people connect with. The cinematography is so visceral, and all the characters have such a different emotive feel that it’s hard to just connect to one character. There’s a lot of care put into that show at every level. I’ve never been part of a production that large and everybody cares so much about all the fine details. It’s fun to watch them unfold.

OT: When did you start working on Remind Me Tomorrow?
SVE:
During the writing of this record, which spanned from 2015 to 2017, I was asked to score a film for Katherine Dieckmann called Strange Weather. A reference she gave me for the film was Ry Cooder’s score for Paris, Texas. It’s really beautiful and ambient – very Southwestern, dreamy guitar, introspective playing. It’s a style that I had to try very hard to give an homage to, but I don’t know how to play that naturally. In moments where I was feeling writers’ block, I put down the guitar and gravitated toward the keys [and] synthesizer that my space mate Michael Cera had called a Jupiter-4. I ended up writing a handful of songs on it.

OT: So in the midst of that, how did the record itself take shape?
SVE:
I did it without realizing I was writing for a record, which is really liberating – just to play and sing and not care about what it was for. It was more of a vibe that I was creating. The goal of that was just to cleanse my palate so I could return to the guitar and finish Catherine’s score. So by the time my son was about six months old, I got the itch to be more creative and write again. I opened this folder of demos and realized I had like 40. My partner encouraged me to make another record, but it was not my intention.

OT: How did you narrow it down from 40 demos to the 10 songs that make up Remind Me Tomorrow?
SVE:
When I started whittling down the songs after hearing everyone’s favorites, I wanted to pick the ones that also felt positive. I also wanted to pick the ones that were left of center. When I met with [producer] John Congleton, I had three folders: Folder A was all the songs I felt like needed to be on the record, Folder B was backups, and Folder C was wild cards that were either going to be great or terrible. He picked some from each.

OT: Which of the Folder C wild cards made the cut?
SVE:
That would be “Hands.” I wasn’t sure if it made sense. You don’t know until you go into the studio and let the sonic palette unfold. It ended up really standing out on the record to me.

OT: You said you wanted to pick songs that sounded positive. Why is that?
SVE:
When I was touring my last record, I was really proud of my songs and the production. But playing those songs over the years was also heartbreaking in a way that I wasn’t prepared for. I was going in a dark place to perform those songs. I feel this responsibility to be a positive influence and a role model. I want to share a positive message and my positive experiences. I want to feel good, to sing love songs not about mourning something that didn’t survive but about something that is just born. I think that will help me endure the next couple years of touring as I perform these songs every night, just infused with a bit more love than regret.

Sharon Van Etten performs at the 9:30 Club with Nilüfer Yanya on Wednesday, February 6. Doors are at 7 p.m. and tickets are $30. For more on Van Etten, visit www.sharonvanetten.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Photo: DiruPhoto

LGBTQ Dance Party BENT Looks to Connect People

“The LGBTQ community is thriving in DC, and personally, I’ve been living my best gay life,” proclaims Steve Lemmerman, a.k.a. DC-based DJ Lemz.

DC has one of the largest LGBTQ communities in the country, and with new LGBTQ businesses and events popping up every year, there is a wide variety of ways to celebrate pride in the city. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to grow. Since wildly popular gay nightclub Town Danceboutique closed this past summer, there’s been a void in local LGBTQ dance parties.

“Everything is either [in] underground or small venues, and they’re all varied events that cater to parts of the community,” Lemmerman says. “Town was a place that really tried to bring everyone together no matter their gender expression, identity, sexuality – no matter what they were.”

Hoping to carry on Town’s tradition of bringing people together, Lemmerman and 9:30 Club Owner Seth Hurwitz established BENT: A New LGBTQ Dance Party in hopes of a quarterly event. The inaugural dance party will take place this Saturday, January 5 at the aforementioned venue.

“[BENT] is a place where you don’t have to be gay, you don’t have to identify as any gender,” Lemmerman says. “You can just be you no matter who you are, and know the staff there has your back. The people there just want to party with you and express themselves.”

Unlike some LGBTQ dance parties or clubs in the city, BENT will benefit from the 9:30 Club’s space by offering more room for people and performances, according to Lemmerman. In the spirit of uniting all types of people and communities, there will be a variety of performance styles – from DJs to drag queens, and everything in between.

Lemmerman adds that people should expect surprises, especially with how different the club will look to those familiar with its traditional interior. The entire venue will be utilized for performances, not just the main stage and standing area.

As for who’s providing music, Lemmerman will DJ along with Keenan Orr and The Barber Streisand. Other performers include Pussy Noir, Donna Slash, Bombalicious Eklaver and more.

“I want BENT to be the starting story for friendships and new romances and one-night stands,” Lemmerman says. “I want people to just come and meet new people and learn new music and see new acts […] Just be a home for people.”

Stop by 9:30 Club on Saturday, January 5 for the inaugural BENT: A New LGBTQ Dance Party. The doors open at 10 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more information, click here.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Photo: Courtesy of Neal Brennan

Do-It-All Neal Brennan Comes to 9:30 Club

My first question for Neal Brennan has almost nothing to do with him, and he’s used to it.

“Oh, let me guess, is it about Dave [Chappelle]?” he playfully asks.

He then fields my query centered around another famous comedian, Bo Burnham, who went on to direct indie flick and likely award winner Eighth Grade after working with Brennan and Chris Rock on the latter’s 2018 Netflix special Tamborine.

“I would say Bo is confident, but I don’t want to make him sound arrogant,” Brennan says. “He’s a know-it-all, and I am too, so it takes one to know one. He has opinions on everything, and that’s what you have to have to be a director. The thing about comedians is we have to do a bunch of jobs. We’re directing [and] writing ourselves, so I’m never surprised when a comedian can do stuff.”

It makes sense that Brennan’s expectation for a comedian mirrors his own do-it-all nature. The NYU film school dropout has done everything from write for tween 90s television shows like Kenan & Kel and All That to directing 2009’s The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. Perhaps most famously, he co-created and cowrote Chappelle’s Show, one of the most successful sketch comedy shows ever to air.

“When I was doing NYU, I went to the club at night and worked the door,” Brennan says. “The film kids were the biggest bunch of jerk-offs you would meet in your life. At the club, it was unknown Louis C.K., unknown Dave Chappelle, unknown Sarah Silverman – and that was every night pretty much. I liked those people better and I stayed there.”

In between his foray into onscreen productions, Brennan’s commitment to standup comedy has remained consistent. Despite all his film and television credits, the stage is where his career started – and it’s seemingly what he’s most focused on at the moment. Brennan and his Here We Go tour will stop at the 9:30 Club in early December.

“Standup is really popular, as well it should be,” he says. “The only people being honest are standup [comedians] and the upside is, there’s a lot of eyeballs on them.”

Brennan’s 2017 Netflix special 3 Mics allowed him to intertwine a more dramatic angle onstage for the first time. The format included three segments: punchy one-liners, traditional standup, and a discussion about depression and his relationship with his father.

“While I haven’t done anything strictly dramatic, I bring drama to standup – the place where no one wants it,” he jokes.

On tour now with a new narrative, Brennan declares he’s out of sad stories. With straight standup as his current focal point, he’s found comfort in getting back to writing jokes.

“It’s very premise-based. I’ll sit down and write it out as longform as I can, with as many beats as possible. A lot of times, the thing you think is the joke isn’t.”

With a man who has done so much at such a young age, it’s hard not to ask about the things he hasn’t done yet.

“Why not venture into dramatic filmmaking? Why don’t you have some kind of podcast like other comedians?”

He’s thought about doing those too, he says. For a dramatic film, he needs an idea. For the podcast, he’s working on something with fellow comedian Michelle Wolf.

“No format, just us talking,” Brennan says of his forthcoming podcast. “[Comedians] are very entertaining. We have to do these things, so we’re already opinionated and funny and talkative.”

Catch Brennan at 9:30 Club on Saturday, December 8. Doors are at 6 p.m. Tickets are available at www.930.com. Learn more about the comedian at www.nealbrennan.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Photo: www.christineandthequeens.com

Christine and the Queens find Freedom in Fluidity

Attempting to write about anything Christine and the Queens does seems to rail against everything the artist stands for. As someone who is constantly transforming herself and her music, why even bother to describe it? To put it simply: she makes others feel seen by making herself visible.

The pop project of Héloïse Letissier was born from a period of rejection and failure turned to triumph and transformation. On her first album, Chaleur Humaine, Letissier became Christine and sang of heartbreak, self acceptance and rebirth through her musical character.

What followed on her sophomore album, Chris, ushered in a new era for the artist, but strengthened what she does best: embrace the fluidity, the uncertainty and the absurdity of life through music and movement.

As Chris (to which she is now referred onstage and off), the singer cut her hair and her name, and traded her tailored suits for a sensible, but sexy, pairing of joggers and a red top in her live shows. Her dancers are similarly dressed, in an ode to the 80s and 90s fashion and sounds that heavily influence her second record. During her show at the 9:30 Club, Chris bleeds a song beautifully into Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror at one point.

She knows she didn’t invent the confident and hungry sounds of pop she employs on Chris and in her live shows. But what she has done – using these sentiments, sounds, moves – as her own feels revolutionary. Her requests for love and attention are left on Chaleur Humaine as Chris has come to take those things, because she knows she deserves them now. Her live show is a display of confidence and unfettered desire. She does not and will not feel bad for wanting or being wanted, a radical declaration from a queer woman in 2018.

Chris’ ability to occupy so many spaces at the same time and constantly reinvent herself is a reminder that nothing is concrete. Fluidity in appearance, sexuality, sound and feeling is a fact of life. Watching Chris and her dancers brings to mind Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s declaration that “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” If that is true, Chris has found the antidote, on her records and especially during her live performances.

Instead of allowing herself to be enveloped by a world where anything could be, Chris takes all possibilities for herself. Her ability to embrace, to transcend and to just be radiates onstage and will encourage you to similarly embrace the fluid, the messy and the desiring parts of yourself. The world needs more freedom, and Chris is here to liberate herself (and you) along the way.

 For more on Christine and the Queens visit www.christineandthequeens.com and follow her on Instagram @christineandthequeens and Twitter @queenschristine

Photo: Ray Polanco

The Many Lives of Toro y Moi

Chaz Bear has written, recorded and released music under a host of names over the years, but is perhaps best known for his work as Toro y Moi. One of the most successful names to come out of the chillwave movement in the early 2010s, the Berkeley, California-based musician has done much more than simply be part of the larger scene. The release of his most recent effort as Toro y Moi, Boo Boo, saw a more introspective and stripped-down era for Bear. He’s lent his production talents to some of this year’s most exciting up-and-coming artists like Tanukichan (who’s signed to Bear’s label Company Records, an imprint of DC’s own Carpark Records) and Astronauts, etc. We caught up with the artist ahead of his 9:30 Club show on November 12 to chat chillwave, community and what’s next for one of the hardest working names in music.

On Tap: Your album Boo Boo sounded like a slight departure from the more electronic-influenced sounds of your previous efforts. What were some of the themes surrounding this record?
Chaz Bear:
This record was written in 2016, a time when I was going through a change, and that’s what the record is about. It’s not really about a relationship with another person. It sounds like that, but it’s more of a relationship with society and about how to navigate the world in hectic times.

OT: You came onto the scene during the chillwave zeitgeist in the early 2010s. Were you ever worried about being associated with one of the first trendy blog rock genres? Do you care how people classify your music?
CB: It was never intimidating to be part of the genre. I always felt like it was helpful and useful to be connected to a scene. I’ve always used it to my advantage. It’s definitely easy to want to play into it and satisfy the listeners you have, but my goal with Toro y Moi is to explore as much as possible. I want to grow and explore different types, styles and sonic palettes, whether they be lo-fi sounding or shiny and hi-fi. I think that’s the whole challenge for most, if not all, listeners: to take down those sonic barriers and enjoy music from everywhere – all genres, all qualities.

OT: Your background is in graphic design. Has your work in that field influenced your music at all?
CB:
Graphic design initiated the conversation in my head about taste and style – what I think I want to present and how I want to present myself. That carried on to music as well. Before I got into graphic design, my music was more of the times: emo and post-punk stuff. I never really referenced music from the past until I got into graphic design. It taught me how to achieve and maintain a sense of timelessness.

OT: In addition to your own work as Toro y Moi, you’ve been producing work for artists like Astronauts, etc. and Tanukichan. How does approaching these projects differ from your own solo work?
CB:
When working with new artists, the first thing that I’m drawn to is a person and their actual character. If their music is good on top of that, they become a friend who makes dope music and it’s like, “Oh man, we should make more music together,” and we just go from there. The motivation behind making music with friends comes from the idea of building something together within our community. Everyone on Company Records is based in the Bay Area. It’s a label that’s sort of eclectic in the sense of [having] a lot of different genres. It’s also still very honed in with a community vibe.

OT: Speaking of community, Berkeley recently honored you by declaring June 27 “Chaz Bear Day.” What was it like to be recognized by the city in such a public way?
CB:
That was a really big turning point for me because I hadn’t realized that my presence was so impactful. I needed to truly think about how the city was looking at me and where I wanted to go with this. It was truly flattering, and it still is an amazing thing. It was kind of like more of the city recognizing you for your good work. That’s really all I can do: keep working.

OT: You’re also overseeing the aforementioned Company Records. What are your goals for the label, and how are you choosing who to sign and work with?
CB:
There’s two ways to approach it: working with new and younger acts and working with your peers. Everyone I’m working with, I’ve known them first not as musicians. I like that approach more. I do feel like we’re all around the same age – 20 and 30-somethings – and we all started playing music around the same time. But some of us didn’t get the exposure, so I think bringing up the community is what I’m focusing on and making sure there is a solid, level platform for everyone I’m rising with. It will make the city better, it should make the Bay Area better and inevitably it should make (laughs) everything a little bit nicer.

Toro y Moi will play 9:30 Club on Monday, November 12. Tickets are $25 and doors open at 7 p.m. Follow Bear on Instagram and Twitter @toroymoi. His next album Outer Peace will be released on January 18 via Carpark Records. Learn more at www.toroymoi.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Photo: Dan Ball

Unheralded Lucero Soldiers on through 9:30 Club

Lucero‘s upcoming concert at 9:30 Club will hopefully serve as a reminder of how hard longevity is for rock bands and why the accomplishment is worth celebrating. Returning to their “home away from home,” Lucero will feature new literary songs fashioned by solo singer and lyricist, Ben Nichols, who has written their heartbreaking hits since the band’s inception in 1998.

For 20 years, Lucero has toured under the radar, serenading listeners across the country. Even with 12 albums under their belt, Lucero sometimes sees blank expressions when their name is mentioned. Fortunately, this does not deter them from traveling year-round for an ever-growing following throughout the U.S., U.K. and Australia.

The band’s current lifespan was unexpected for the four-piece band.

“I didn’t think it would last, but I had this romanticized idea of starting a rock and roll band and piling in a van and traveling the country,” Nichols says. “I never planned on changing the world or becoming The Beatles. I just wanted to be one of those garage bands that get in a van and play punk rock shows.”

Despite playing for two decades, the band doesn’t lament mainstream notoriety, as Nichols humbly insists, “we are not a slick, professional-type band. We have shot ourselves in the foot numerous times, probably. Poor decision making here and there.”

“I think there are only certain music listeners that are going to appreciate what we do,” he continues. “It’s not for the general public, even though our crowds keep growing. It’s never going to be mainstream; we don’t want to be.”

Content with their status in the music industry, Lucero prides themselves on maintaining artistic integrity.

“We are a small business, a working band,” Nichols says. “We’re not rich and famous, but we get to do what we love doing, and we’re paying the bills [while] doing it. We ended up exactly where we wanted to be.”

Nichols’ life has traditionally provided much of the inspiration for the band’s often emotional music. However, the latest album Among the Ghosts features a generally fictional narrative drawn from books and old war letters.

“I wanted to become a better songwriter,” Nichols says. “It’s easy to write down a diary entry and have raw emotions spill out on the page, which works sometimes, but we’ve done a lot of that in the past.”

The reach of the new LP is broader, meant to connect with different listeners.

“There’s a song, ‘To My Dearest Wife,’ [and] it’s kind of about a soldier being far from home and writing back home to his wife,” Nichols explains. “There’s an impending battle, and he doesn’t know what’s going to happen. He says [in the letter] kiss our baby girls.”

“There are things I can relate to in this song that aren’t about me,” he continues. “Obviously, I’m not a soldier. I’m not in a war anywhere, but being gone from home is tough. I have a two year-old baby daughter back home, and it’s a different kind of heartbreak being on tour now.”

For a time, Lucero was touring 200-250 shows a year, but has recently scaled back to an average of about 140 per year.

Though the style and years have changed Lucero, their tone has largely remained unchanged.

“I like old rock and roll songs,” Nichols says. “There’s nothing wrong with songs about girls, songs about having a good time. I do a little bit of that, but I like dark, sad songs too.”

To engage their following, Nichols constantly strives for consistent resonance between the band and fans.

“Writing these songs have really gotten me through some tough times,” Nichols says. “To hear from those who have been through tough times and hearing that our music helps [is] big. Hearing about soldiers in Afghanistan… and it helps get them through, those are very nice stories to hear.”

Even though Lucero has accomplished more than they originally set out to, the band still has more goals for the future.

“I would love to have Stevie Nicks’ voice on some of the stuff we’ve written,” Nichols says. “Especially with the Among the Ghost record, her voice would actually fit right in there perfectly. That would be a dream come true.”

Lucero will perform at 9:30 Club on October 14. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased at www.930.com.

Learn more about the band here and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @luceromusic.

9:30 Club: 815 V St NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com