Posts

Photo: Salina Ladha

Homeshake Only Plays the Hits

The Black Cat main stage is buzzing on March 25, and the opener, Yves Jarvis, hasn’t even gone onstage yet.

This is the second year in a row Homeshake, solo project of Montreal, Canada-based Peter Sagar, performs for a sold out crowd in DC. His show last year, which we also covered, was at Union Stage on the Wharf and next year, he should probably play the legendary 9:30 Club.

Much like yesteryear’s show, the crowd is generally young. (However, there are some old heads spaced throughout the room.) Maybe that’s why they wouldn’t shut up during the opener. To be fair, Jarvis didn’t set himself up for success. There was little indication that he was going to be playing, and he performed most of his songs on an acoustic guitar.

There’s little wrong with an acoustic guitar, but there’s a also a time and place for it. Like the Best Damn Open Mic night at Boundary Stone. (Disclaimer: I work there.)

Anyway, he gets off the stage at some point. Nobody knows when, and Homeshake comes on sometime after. Finally, the crowd tunes in.

Sagar starts off with “Early,” the opener off his latest record Helium (2019). It’s a down-tempo instrumental played on keys and sets the tone for the record as a whole.

Helium has a similar feel of the first Homeshake record In the Shower (2014), but with the hi-fi quality of Fresh Air (2017). It also has some standout singles, e.g. “Like Mariah,” which literally slaps, and “Nothing Could Be Better.”

The record was panned by Pitchfork, though some might call this a badge of honor. The reviewer gave the record a 3.5/10, reasoning that it has the “snap of limp celery.” He’s right actually, but I still listen to the record. It’s “cat in your lap” type music, a morning go-to alongside the infinite bisous record period (2019).

In admitting that I like the music, I’ll concede that the live show is not worth going to. I should have known this because I was in the Union Stage crowd last year, when Homeshake played and I didn’t like the show then either.

The formula: is open with a track off the latest record, move into singles off of the previous record and then move back to selections from the latest record, all while playing songs exactly as they were recorded.

This is to say that beyond a joke or two, the live show doesn’t  add much to the experience of the music. If you’ve heard the record, then you’ve heard the live show. Nothing will surprise you.

Some people enjoy concerts like that, and that’s fine. Sunday night at Black Cat, the crowd ate it up, much like they did last February at Union Stage. However, I like to be surprised by a live show. 

For more information on Homeshake, follow him on Twitter.

Photo: Michael Coleman

Waco Brothers Keep Crowd Alive During Late Set

The clock crept toward 1 a.m. Thursday morning after a long day at work and a full night rocking SXSW.

Sleep beckoned, but the pesky festival app on my phone wasn’t having it.

At 12:45 a.m., the app dinged and reminded me the Waco Brothers – cowpunk pioneers and Bloodshot Records legends – were due onstage in 15 minutes at the Continental Club, perhaps Austin’s most revered live music venue.

I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

Walking in the door of the venerable institution on South Congress south of downtown, a blast of guitar-fueled adrenaline shot straight through my fatigue. Onstage, Waco Brothers were swinging electric guitars, accordions, mandolins, and even legs and arms as they blasted into their Hank Williams-meets-the-Ramones sound. Jon Langford, a Welshman and founder of punk legends the Mekons, launched the Waco Brothers two decades ago.

The guys may be grayer, but they show no sign of slowing down. Langford announced the Waco Brothers first played Austin in 1996, a time when some in the audience hadn’t even been born. This band was about to show the kids how it’s done.

“Had Enough,” a drum-thumping call-and-response tune about reaching the end of your rope, somehow played like an inspirational anthem. “Harm’s Way,” a propulsive country-rocker, revealed the Brother’s sharp songwriting skills and ability to infuse punk and country – two parts loud and one part melody.

Halfway through the set, a raven-haired woman in shorts and cowboy boots jumped onto a platform on the side of the stage a few sets in and started wind-milling her arms, exhorting the already enthusiastic crowd to make even more noise. Done!

The late-night crowd’s engine revved even higher when indie rocker Ted Leo joined the Brothers onstage for a couple of jams. You just never know what will happen onstage at a SXSW showcase. With that, I made my way to the exits, a weary smile plastered on my face and the exuberant sounds of the music ringing in my ears.

For more information about the Waco Brothers, click here.

Photo: Michael Coleman

Barrie Has the Best Time at Ground Control Touring Showcase

The first set I caught upon arrival in Austin, Texas happened to be Barrie, and I regret to inform all the bands I’ll see in the future, that they have big shoes to fill. I’ve only been keen on Barrie for about three weeks now, thanks to the modern miracle of the Spotify algorithm. While I much prefer finding music organically, every now and then the robots (are they robots? What IS “the algorithm?” a column for another day, perhaps) prove that they know me better than I know myself.

I’d been on a kick of lo-fi pop, mostly in an effort to summon the weather I associate with this kind of music: breezy, 70s, driving with my windows down. It must have worked, because I hear back home in DC you’ve had such fortune. You’re welcome. Anyway, back to the music! That’s why we’re all here, right?

Much in the vein of No Vacation or Hana Vu, Barrie bring an 80s bedroom-pop vibe to the ever growing alt-pop table. They’re more than welcome here, though, because their camaraderie oozes from their sound and made me want to go home and hug my friends (hey guys, I miss you!).

Bassist Sabine’s clearly having the best time, riffing her silvery lines off Barrie’s (the band’s namesake) guitar playing. Guess what? Now I’m having the best time too. This band’s proof that with the right group of people you can do anything, and anything can be fun. I hope they stick with each other and keep summoning the feeling of spring weather forever.

Photo: Silvia Grav

Review: Cass McCombs Channels Laurel Canyon and New Wave at Union Stage

To be honest, Cass McCombs’ voice struck as somewhat rough when he began to sing on March 4 at Union Stage. Despite the start, he proceeded to sing for two hours and everyone loved it.

McCombs is touring the February 8 release of his latest and ninth record Tip of the Sphere, a nonsense pun on “tip of the spear,” (because, as you know, spheres are rounded on all sides.)

The music is just as opaque as the title. Like Jonathan Wilson’s sound, the record channels a Laurel Canyon-psych quality, only McCombs’ take is even spacier. It’s music that gives you space to imagine.

For instance, “The Great Pixley Train Robbery” is an Americana song that stomps and cuts right through the space of the others on the record, like “Estrella.” And he wasted no time, playing “Pixley” second in the set.

Another similarity to Jonathan Wilson, McCombs was playing with the same bass player I saw touring with Wilson this time last year, Dan Horne. Horne looks like a guy displaced from the 70s: shoulder length a hair, stache, oversized retro frames. He’s someone you couldn’t imagine anywhere but onstage.

Because McCombs has been making music for years, after a few songs off of Tip of the Sphere he moved into tracks off of earlier records like Mangy Love (2016) and Big Wheel and Others (2013). Here, a New Wave/Talking Heads influence came through. McCombs’ David Byrne style haircut didn’t hurt that read either. Frank LoCrasto, McCombs’ keyboard player, especially shined on this portion of the show.

At first I took LoCrasto with his red shirt and brown felt hat for a Mountie. But once he got to playing, I found myself craning my neck looking for Greg Phillinganes.

Sam Evian, a Brooklyn-based artist and producer, (who actually engineered Tip of the Sphere), opened for McCombs. His song “Need You,” a song that shines like the sun on 35mm film, may have been my favorite from the night, but some of his best moments came when he was playing alongside McCombs.

Evian took up a saxophone and soloed on McCombs’ track “The Burning of the Temple, 2012.” A descending bass line on the turnaround provides a spooky quality that fit Evian’s Jack Skeleton t-shirt.

As McCombs watched Evian squeal and bop, you got the sense of a blessing being conferred or a torch being passed on. I’m excited to see what Evian produces in the years to come.

Listen to both McCombs and Evian on Spotify or wherever you get your music.  For more information about the two artists, follow them on Instagram @cassmccombs and @sam.evian.

Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; 877-987-6487; www.unionstage.com

Photo: DJ Corey Photography

“The Master and Margarita” Paints Unique Picture of Soviet Union

The Constellation Theatre Company took a dramatic shift in their current season with their newest addition, The Master and Margarita.

Based on a novel by Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov and adapted by Edward Kemp, the story was penned in the Soviet Union during Joseph Stalin’s regime. The plot follows the love affair of a playwright, known as The Master (played by Alexander Strain), and a married woman, known as Margarita (played by Amanda Forstrom).

Throughout the production, both characters and audiences grapple with a religious discourse that propels this daring and risqué play.

In an effort to avoid any spoilers, let’s focus on why you should see the performance.

It’s a romantic dramedy that will transport you to a time where censorship was a common method of oppression. The fact that it’s based in the Soviet Union, proves that these atrocious acts are still in affect today. However, in this tale the oppression is one of a comical nature, where you may find yourself rooting for a group you otherwise wouldn’t agree with.

Another is the included magic show that will dazzle even the biggest skeptic. Nicely coupled with a dance and song, the Devil and his crew shine in their spot-on red sparkling 1920s flappers’ attire. It’s moments like these that make you truly wonder what the secret behind a magician is.

Next, we have the poetic love language that causes all hearts to croon. One thing the Russian literary greats have certainly perfected is professing their adoration for loved ones. The streams of decrees fallen on willing ears captivate. This may leave you envious, wishing you too had the words to properly declare your love. Perhaps the only thing missing is a strong Russian accent.

Lastly, we have a talking cat and pig. Honestly, what more could you desire?

Frankly, while one of the many premises of this intricately layered play focuses on the plight of Pontius Pilate days before the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the ensemble manages to keep things light and airy. Scenes often leave the audiences to ponder the appropriate reaction to the moments carefully played out in this intimate theater. It’s a complex story and if you’re not listening carefully, you could easily miss a key factor.

Fortunate for all, returning director Allison Arkell Stockman pleasantly produces a revolving door of antics to keep even the most effortlessly distracted person’s eyes glued to the stage. There’s a striptease, decapitated heads, non-revealing “sex” scenes, and, again, a talking cat and pig.

The Master and Margarita is showing through March 3 at Source Theatre. Tickets are $29-$45 and can be purchased at constellationtheatre.org.

Source Theatre: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; 202-204-7741; constellationtheatre.org

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie / Photo: © Wani Olatunde

Night of Ideas Comes to DC

Born in Paris in 2016, the Night of Ideas is where art, pop culture, science and politics collide. In 2018, it took place in more than 100 cities worldwide, and the first DC iteration recently took place on January 31.

Elise Girard, Deputy Press Counselor for the Embassy of France, says the Night of Ideas strives for “a mix of art and debate – not only political, but social issues.” At last week’s event, these issues were both explicit in the discussion – and implicit in the circumstances.

The Night of Ideas was originally slated to be at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. However, as French Ambassador to the United States Gérard Araud put it, “in DC there are some uncertainties, and one of them is called the [U.S. government ] shutdown.”

Organizers had a choice: cancel or move. Fortunately for DC Francophiles, the Night of Ideas simply moved to the Embassy of France. Lit up in yellow, pink, green and blue, the embassy shone like a beacon as visitors streamed in to begin the experience.

Attendees were immediately greeted by Providence, Rhode Island artist Kelli Rae Adams’ installation Mischief in the Boneyard. A winding trail of ceramic dominoes, the piece was inherently nerve-racking: if toppled, the dominoes could break. And when they did, the clatter echoed through the entrance hall. The three classic “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys were etched on one side of each domino – perhaps a metaphor for our time.

In fact, the evening carried the theme of “Facing our Time” – but the unspoken words might have been to “re-evaluate your relationship with Instagram, eh?”

The keynote speaker was celebrated writer and thought leader Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, who has one of the most-watched TED Talks of all time and wrote the acclaimed books We Should All be Feminists and Half of a Yellow Sun. At the Night of Ideas, she spoke beautifully about two concepts that are unlikely bedfellows: empathy and critical thinking. Emotion and rational thought are intertwined, she argued: “if we can think clearly, we can truly see other human beings.”

She also reflected on the modern world, the pull of social media, and its impact on how we think: “I have always wanted to live a life of the mind, of imagination, [but] I struggle to be absorbed.” Ultimately, she said, time to slow down, reflect, and savor our moments shouldn’t be a luxury, but a right.

Presenter Franklin Foer had a similar premise to his talk, “The Existential Threat of Big Tech.” He started with poet Mary Oliver’s famous quote: “attention is the beginning of devotion.” But according to Foer, the big tech companies and social media platforms – Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple – “invasively opened us up and mined us…hijacked the most precious thing we have.”

How to combat this hijacking of the human psyche? Books. As Foer put it, “reading is a place where we can connect to our humanity.” Ultimately, Foer said that the power to choose where to spend our time is ours – but we have to protect that time vigilantly.

But these ideas around modernity and the digitization of our lives were only one facet of a night filled with art, performance, music and debate. French performance artists Les Souffleurs Commandos Poétiques enlisted audience members in a living art installation, holding umbrellas over participants and whispering into their ears through long black tubes, creating almost a kind of architecture in the blue light that suffused the event space.

The options for talks to attend were almost overwhelming, with four to five options every hour, spanning a multitude of issues from art appreciation to gender equality to climate change to incarceration. But I’d say my favorite part of the Night of Ideas wasn’t a talk, but a performance: Marching Band Baltimore Project’s kickoff performance at the start of the night both set the tone and stole the show.

The drums reverberated throughout the embassy, the dancers in spangled costumes twirled and snapped at the waist, and everyone in the crowd was utterly rapt. There was no doubt in my mind that the time and attention I gave them was truly well-spent.

For more information on the Night of Ideas, click here

Photo: Kyle Gustafson for The Anthem

Kacey Musgraves’ Gentle Revolution

Kacey Musgraves stands before an audience of a few thousand at The Anthem, exuding a calm but taut command of the stage. The Grammy and CMA-winning singer-songwriter guides her band through the final lines of “Golden Hour,” the enveloping, intimate title track of her most recent album.

She sings the post-chorus refrain “Yeah, I know everything is gonna be alright” like she’s leading the audience through a group-exhalation of all the world’s pressures. Musgraves flashes the smallest hint of a wicked smile before letting the words “golden showers” ring through the theater.

The crowd grins and guffaws in response before she smirks mischievously and says, “Y’all know you like it, shut up!” The moment would seem pretty unthinkable at any other country concert, but such irreverence and boundary pushing are part and parcel for Musgraves, whose been leading something of a soft-power revolution in the country world.

At this sold-out stop for her Oh, What A World Tour you could find purple-haired punks and salmon-shirted preps, glitter-glammed queens and cowboys wearing ten gallons standing shoulder-to-shoulder, wrapped in awe as they sang along to every word, from the country chill-wave opening of “Slow Burn” to the final, triumphant, rhinestone-disco kiss-off closer of “High Horse.”

That audience reflects the work Musgraves has been doing for the last six years of her touring career: bringing her own brand of country out of dirt road wonderlands into hard-walked city streets while maintaining the validity of both.

Long before she spent the last year opening for Little Big Town and Harry Styles, Musgraves was rocking the rhinestones with Katy Perry. It’s a vision of country music that is inclusive and almost democratic in its own way, where Musgraves is less trying to bring the country to the people and more trying to make a country with the people.

“I know that country music isn’t the most inclusive of environments,” Musgraves commended near the end of her set, “So, it’s really f-cking cool that you guys don’t care!”

Her sound has evolved alongside the growth of her audience and spread of this mentality, although less than you might think. Songs from her first two records, which leaned more into the traditional country palette, nestled comfortably into the celebratory sound of “Golden Hour.”

“Die Fun” from Pageant Material picked up a slapping, early Maroon 5 meets the dance floor bassline that had the room grooving; the twang of “High Time” glided along the pedal-steel melody to the rafters.  The biting message of “Merry Go ‘Round,” reverberated across every ear drum, pushed into our aural passages by the arena-pulsating power of the new keyboard, bass-punctuated arrangement.

The songs that comprise “Golden Hour,” all of which were played in one form or another across the 90-minute set, were an ideal match for the cathedral-like space of The Anthem. These are unhurried songs that need time to settle to be fully absorbed, and the acoustics aided this sonic osmosis.

The wide-open, booming-across-the-plains sound of “Space Cowboy” reverberated into every corner of the venue, carrying the full weight of her wit and melancholy with every word. Songs like “Rainbow,” “Wonder Woman” and “Oh, What a World” rose like the sunrise as hymns of self-empowerment, introspection and compassion.

As Musgraves launched into numbers like “Space Cowboy,” “High Horse” and “Follow Your Arrow,” the cornerstones of her catalog of laureate wit rebukes – they seemed less like tell-offs and more like communal celebration, a group exorcism of all the ills that motivate those songs.

It proved another small step in her revolution, as she brings country music into big venues without the bombast and swagger of her more industry-accepted peers, to choose honey over vinegar. It reflected her utopia vision for country, one where space cowboys riding in on high horses are welcome, as long as they let everyone follow their arrow.

For more information about Kacey Musgraves, visit here.

Photo: Courtesy of Pisco y Nazca

New and Notable: Le Kon, Little Sesame, Pisco y Nazca and more

On Tap keeps locals in the know about the hottest new food and drink spots around town and the top culinary happenings of the month. Read on to get the inside scoop on what’s new and notable in the DC area.

New

Le Kon
Open: September 1
Location: Clarendon
Lowdown: Top Chef alum Katsuji Tanabe, who has roots in Mexico and Japan, expanded his restaurant portfolio to DC with a new Mexican restaurant that draws inspiration from Asia. Springfield native Patrick Tanyag oversees the kitchen, which delivers playful and eye-catching creations with bright ingredients like watermelon radish, pickled red onions and cucumber kimchi providing splashes of color. It’s almost like the menu was made for Instagram: an entire roasted pig head is presented tableside before being broken down into carnitas for tacos, and cotton candy is piled on a Fruity Pebbles tres leches cake. Portions are generous, with massive grilled steaks and tacos served in family-style platters so guests can build their own bites. The large dining room is accented with navy wainscoting, marble tile mosaic table tops and an industrial concrete bar. A purple and red ombre corn husk wall hanging stands out above the booths and fanciful Day of the Dead scenes play out on the wallpaper. Le Kon: 3227 Washington Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.lekonrestaurant.com

Little Sesame
Open: August 28
Location: Golden Triangle
Lowdown: The original iteration of Little Sesame was an instant hit, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the first standalone location opened with a line out the door that has continued to form each day during the lunch rush. Ronen Tenne, Nick Wiseman and David Wiseman are behind this wildly popular fast-casual hummus shop that serves up hummus bowls, pita sandwiches and seasonal salatim (vegetable sides). The three formed a vision for their bright and airy restaurant by traveling – both across the U.S. and in Israel, where Tenne was born – and exploring the diversity of food and design in various kitchens. Nick Wiseman says the menu pulls from the food traditions of Middle Eastern countries like Yemen, Lebanon and Iran, all of which are reflected in Israel’s cuisine. The hummus quite literally holds it all together, so its recipe was tweaked to perfection. With only a handful of ingredients, the hummus is made daily with the highest quality chickpeas and tahini. Then, it’s enhanced by additions ranging from whole roasted vegetables and fresh produce to herbs and spices. Items like the classic bowl with chickpeas, tahini and schug and the chicken shawarma with tahini, amba and smashed cucumber salad will always be on the menu, while other offerings will change with the seasons. Expect squash, celery root, broccoli, brassicas and more this fall. Little Sesame: 1828 L St. NW, DC; www.eatlittlesesame.com

Pisco y Nazca
Open: September 3
Location: Dupont Circle
Lowdown: The Miami-based Pisco y Nazca has brought a new option for modern Peruvian cuisine to DC. Like its sister restaurants, the bar at the latest location welcomes guests with a chandelier-like bottle display, and the rest of the dining room is spacious and open. The menu has an impressive array of ceviches, including a Japanese variation, a traditional preparation and a version with mushrooms. Starters include expected items like empanadas, anticucho carne and grilled octopus. The entrée selection plays on tradition as well, with arroz con mariscos, lomo saltado and a braised lamb shank with cilantro sauce. Of course, you can pair these dishes with Peruvian cocktails like a pisco sour or a Chilcano. Pisco y Nazca: 1823 L St. NW, DC; www.piscoynazca.com/dc

St. Anselm
Open: September 17
Location: NoMa
Lowdown: Joe Carroll, the man behind St. Anselm in Brooklyn, has teamed up with restaurateur Stephen Starr and Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley to bring the grill-centric restaurant to the Union Market neighborhood. While it’s often hailed as a steakhouse, St. Anselm is about more than beef. The cooking relies heavily on fire, with everything from Spanish octopus to Romano beans, a rack of lamb and a pork porterhouse hitting the grill that sits in the center of the open kitchen. When it comes to beef, the cuts are on the unusual side, like hanger steak and flat iron. The wine list also bucks convention, featuring light, high-acid red wines over heavy oaky ones. Plus, there will be a select few ciders, craft beers and cocktails. The surroundings straddle distinguished and whimsical, with snug private booths and vintage plates juxtaposed with embroidered banners from fraternal organizations and a taxidermied raccoon. There’s also a beefsteak room where the restaurant will host special events modeled after beefsteak dinners, which were political fundraising events common in the 1850s. St. Anselm: 1250 5th St. NE, DC; www.stanselmdc.com

Notable

Mr Lee’s Pop-up at Succotash
Location: Penn Quarter
Lowdown: Chef Edward Lee is transforming the upstairs bar and lounge of his Penn Quarter restaurant into a pop-up called Mr Lee’s. The concept is inspired by Asian night markets, with bold flavors in dishes like spicy pork belly and kimchi or duck confit, snow pea and basil dumplings. The menu will change weekly but will put an emphasis on ingredients from the neighboring farmers market. Signature cocktails complement the food, like the Miss Korea made with Soju, melon syrup, yuzu and egg white. Asian beers and spirits are also available. Mr Lee’s will run through the end of 2018. Mr Lee’s: 915 F St. NW, DC; www.facebook.com/mrleesatsuccotash or www.succotashrestaurant.com


Budweiser Marks Repeal of Prohibition Anniversary with Reserve Copper Lager

To mark the 85th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, Budweiser has partnered with Jim Beam bourbon to release a specially crafted Reserve Copper Lager brew. Brewed with two-row barley and aged on barrel staves once housing Jim Beam bourbon, the special beer features a delicious nutty taste, with notes of vanilla and caramel rye. Unlike other beers that are aged in the bourbon barrels, Budweiser chose to use the staves to give a more subtle bourbon taste and a slightly sweeter finish. The collaboration between two beverage makers that survived the Prohibition era has produced a terrifically tasty beer that will be available in bars and retail locations through the holiday season. Learn more about Budweiser’s Reserve Copper Lager at Budweiser.com.


New Culinary Team at Mirabelle
Location: Downtown
Lowdown: This chic upscale restaurant recently brought on a new culinary team and reopened in August with a new menu and a new identity in the kitchen. General manager and beverage director Jennifer Knowles has returned, and she’s joined by Executive Chef Keith Bombaugh and Pastry Chef Zoe Ezrailson. The menu features dishes that evoke memories of Knowles and Bombaugh’s experiences growing up on the South Shore of Boston, along with French cuisine marked by global influences. Lunch is served a la carte, but during dinner, there is the option to order a four-, five- or 12-course prix fixe menu. Wine pairings are available upon request. Many of the offerings are as fascinating to look at as they are to eat, like the grilled abalone with green curry tapioca served in a vibrantly blue polished abalone shell. Desserts follow suit – the lemon honey beehive is an artistic dome of Meyer lemon curd surrounded by toasted honey meringue. Mirabelle: 900 16th St. NW, DC; www.mirabelledc.com

Photo: Chris McKay

MC50 Kicks Out Jams For Freedom

For 50 years, “Kick out the jams, motherf–kers” has been one of rock ’n’ roll’s most ecstatic, transcendent rallying cries. When it was first heard blasting out of the streets of Detroit, it went beyond music. MC5, or Motor City 5, the Detroit rock band that helped paved the way for punk, employed it as a cry to their fellow youth – for energy, for justice, for racial equality and yes, for some righteous, roaring jams.

Does MC5’s music still embody that call to action and exuberance? Can a band that aspired to spark revolutions both political and musical light those same fires today? Those questions lingered in the air as the crowd awaited the group to take the 9:30 Club stage on September 13.

For the latter question, the answer is, “Probably not.” People’s politics and goals change with time. In fact, the most political the group got was when lead guitarist and founding member “Brother” Wayne Kramer sermonized about the participatory nature of democracy, imploring the crowd to go vote before launching into the swinging, proto-punk “The American Ruse” from MC5’s second album Back in the USA. The band has little reason to try and instigate the same musical battles it waged across Midwestern concert halls at the onset of the 1970s because generally speaking, they won.

Kramer and the original MC5’s victory is seen most prominently in the very musicians who currently make up the band. Joining Brother Wayne for the MC50th, the all-star rock supergroup celebrating the Motor City 5’s fiftieth, included Soundgarden’s lead guitarist and human tidal wave of sound Kim Thayil, Faith No More’s Billy Gould on bass, Fugazi’s Brendan Canty on drums and, relative newcomer, Marcus Durant of Zen Guerillas out front as an eerily ideal stand-in for original vocalist Rob Tyner. All of these bands had longer, more successful and prominent careers than MC5’s originals, yet they all joined collectively to revive the music – that’s how deeply ingrained this band is to rock’s DNA.

At the 9:30 Club, these all-star musicians did not gather to fight yesterday’s political battles but to remind everyone in the room – from the graying hippies to the Washingtonians in their finest punk rock threads – how potent this music is. The supergroup ripped through MC5’s breakthrough album Kick Out The Jams, bringing everything from backyard boogie garage rock of “Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa” to the metallic boom of “Come Together.”

Kramer himself best tried to channel the spirit of 1968, leaping and dancing across the stage while unleashing his signature high octane, high register steam whistle solos. Gould and Canty conjured the crushing force of Detroit’s factory days in the rhythm section while Thayil, who usually summons sound waves like tsunamis in Soundgarden, stepped back into rollicking, prototypical rock guitar shedding.

The surprise of the night came as MC50 closed their run through of the famed album with “Starship,” the nine-minute-plus, space-meets-early-noise-rock closer that features a verse of poetry by the Afrofuturist jazz leader Sun Ra. As the song’s familiar verse-chorus-verse structure gave way to amorphous, borderline atonal, pulsating free fusion, the MC5’s spark shone through brightest.

You can hear echoes of “Starship” and “Kick Out the Jams” across the frontiers of rock today. In fact, it was appropriately reminiscent of the avant jazz stylings in some of the work of DC’s own Priests.

As Durant wailed on a miniature saxophone and Kramer wandered cosmically along thefretboard, the MC50th embodied the original message the MC5 pushed, one that punk embraced and spread to a whole generation: freedom. MC50 served a reminder for everyone in the crowd, anyone who would listen, that the central promise of American music – of the United States of America – is to create what you want.

It was a joyful, noisy reminder that American music, from avant-garde jazz and death metal to Lady Gaga and Usher, celebrates at its very core the idea of liberty we all cherish.

For more information about the MC5 and the MC50, check them out here

Photo: www.ticketmaster.com

Quirky Bands Can Rock Too: Arcade Fire at Jiffy Lube Live

Glittering kimonos, a giant disco ball and tambourines thrust into the crowd were just a few of the highlights from Arcade Fire’s show at Jiffy Lube Live on Friday night. But would you really expect anything less quirky from a band like Canadian-based Arcade Fire? Maybe not, but that doesn’t keep their show from being any less exciting each time lead singer Win Butler and the band, including wife Régine Chassagne and brother Will, hit the stage.

Where theatrics for Arcade Fire’s Reflektor tour came in the form of luminous silvers and golds and flashing mirrors everywhere, their Everything Now Continued tour – a second round set for their fifth album Everything Now (released July 2017) – uses vivid colors and giant screens to symbolize the album’s themes of consumerism, content overload and hopelessness in our modern age. Plenty of reflective objects are in the mix too, as technology is a running theme for the band.

Setting a subtle tone to open the show, Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise” was followed by an instrumental version of Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now (Continued)” before the musicians appeared. But as the band hit the stage with their classic anthem “Wake Up,” the show went from whimsical violins to foot-stomping fun that had the whole audience singing along.

“Put Your Money on Me,” “We Don’t Deserve Love” and the Chassagne-fronted “Electric Blue” from the band’s latest album were performed in succession early on in the set, but not many more songs from Everything Now made the setlist. It seemed this leg of the tour is less about the band promoting their new album and more about having fun and giving some lesser-played songs some love. Cue the dance-inducing “Here Comes the Night Time” transporting listeners to Chassagne’s home country of Haiti during Carnival, or decade-old lyrics that could have been written for 2018 in “Suburban War,” where Win sings, “Now the music divides us into tribes // Choose your side, I’ll choose my side.”

Other songs proved not just old favorites, but reminders that many genres make up the band’s sound. For all their labels – self-prescribed or not – as the friendly Canadian hipsters that use zany instruments like accordions and keytars, it can be easy to think of Arcade Fire as just a breezy indie rock band. But jumping around and shouting the lyrics to “Neighborhoods #3 (Power Out)” and “Creature Comfort,” it struck me that they’re authentic rock and rollers to the core.

Other memorable moments from the night included the band entering the stage by walking through the crowd, Chassagne (who I swear played almost every instrument on the stage at least once) dancing with concertgoers during “Afterlife” and Will continuing to bang his drum during the show closer despite having tripped and sprained his ankle.

With the show coming to an end, Win noted that a portion of the money made from the night would go toward the Arcade Fire <3 Haiti campaign with Partners in Health. The band then broke out in fan-favorite “Rebellion (Lies)” that had the whole crowd shouting “Every time you close your eyes // Lies, lies!” proving that indie darlings Arcade Fire can rock with the best of them.

Learn more about Arcade Fire here.