Photo: U.S. Girls
Photo: U.S. Girls

U.S. Girls Smash Patriarchy

Meg Remy’s deliberate silence early in the U.S. Girls set at Union Stage Sunday night let you know that though she was having fun; she wasn’t fucking around. Remy is U.S. Girls, who are currently touring their sixth record, In a Poem Unlimited. Center stage, silent and dressed in all black, Remy stared back at anyone making a sound.


Side note, Ian Svenonious’ solo act, Escape-ism, opened for U.S. Girls. I first heard about Svenonious and Escape-ism in talking with Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation, (see here). Hilton was talking about bands he loves to see around town and Svenonious was the first thing to come to mind:

“Anything Ian Svenonious does, I love. I just saw Escape-ism at DC9, and I just thought it was brilliant. It’s very esoteric, like a lot of his things are, but it’s awesome.”

He was right. Escape-ism was odd, very 60s performance art, but great. Check out his DC special, “Exorcist Stairs.”


Remy called for this silence after the third or fourth song of the set, (or willed rather, because she didn’t say a thing), before she started singing “Rosebud.” The title is a reference to Citizen Kane, but I like to call it “Finch Song” because of the music video, which shows her partner, Slim Twig, setting free a booty-shaking finch.

Slim Twig and his band, The Cosmic Range, actually joined Remy for the tour, as well as being a background vocalist. The Cosmic Range is a free jazz group based in Toronto, but they were a perfect fit for Remy’s disco-inflected songs. They were also able to play “off-record,” (i.e. not according to the studio recording) to flex Remy’s experimental chops.

Their look lent itself to the more surreal U.S. Girls songs. Alongside Remy and her background singer’s chic black, they looked positively Lynch-ian. The saxophonist played a comically small curved sopranino sax and the keyboard player wore all red, red slacks and red button down, though no tie; he also tended to dance like he was slapping a horse.

The drummer and Slim Twig looked very much the part of “band members.” Slim even looked like he belonged in a group who takes their coffee intravenously. Either way they were sexy; Slim was the ‘sexy garbage’ to the drummer’s ‘sexy hipster.’

Remy’s silence was a recurring note throughout the night. She refused to allow songs to die à la Frankie Cosmos, which is to say slowly and with a whimper, and instead pushed for an end with free jazz flurries, followed by stillness. Again, The Cosmic Range hookup makes sense.

The songs are long and groove. Remy has routinely experimented with countless genres over the years for U.S. Girls.  For In a Poem Unlimited, she dived deep into disco and other early dance music. Lyrically and tonally they’re on another level. Her songs tend to channel the anger of wronged women.

For example, “The Pearly Gates” imagines a woman on her way to heaven who realizes the only way in is through Peter, and Peter is a fucking monster. The song asks if heaven is safe if it’s run by men, and if Remy’s stories were only intelligible to the studied listener, she left no room for ambiguity on her position when she paused the set another time; she played a sample of someone saying “I strongly encourage you not to tell women what to do.”

She let the sample run several times, nodding toward the audience, before moving to the next.

As the show went on, the performance became more unhinged. If the first several songs were christian baby making music, then the latter were more chimera-child making music. The groove moved to a sort of slink, and you almost felt as if the band had forgotten the audience. Remy, her background vocalist and the keyboardist were dancing around one another, and you felt they might tear each other’s clothes off. But if they were to fuck, the rest of the band would probably only stare glassy-eyed.

For the encore, only Remy came back onstage. She told the audience “there are no encores in life” and dropped the microphone. For more on U.S. Girls follow them on Twitter, and for more on Remy, check out her Instagram. Find In a Poem Unlimited wherever you get your music.

Photo: Colin Medley
Photo: Colin Medley

Dynamic Duo Partner Rocks DC

Lucy Niles and Josée Caron, better known as Partner, a Canadian rock duo with hilariously relatable lyrics and guitar chops for days, graced the DC9 stage Wednesday after making waves on the SXSW circuit in March. Ahead of their show, I sat down with the duo to talk inspiration behind their debut album, In Search of Lost Time, what it’s like working alongside a close friend, and how others can draw from their example to trust in their creative work.

Niles and Caron’s subject matter has an undeniable everyday appeal. With songs about making the most of weekdays off from a hectic work schedule on “Personal Weekend,” the paranoia that comes from being high in public on “Everybody Knows,” and the excitement of a new crush on “Play the Field,” listeners will find at least one relatable song on their first full-length album. The band says their inspiration for these songs comes from common threads amongst their lives.

 

Both on and off the stage, Niles and Caron have a palpable and cohesive energy that many duos spend entire careers honing. In addition to the two on guitar, an equally talented three-piece band joins them for live performances. While they were in college, Niles and Caron spent time in and out of different projects before they formed Partner in their post grad years.

“Everyone in the other bands moved away and it was kind of just me and Lucy. We were living together and it kind of was just exactly the right circumstances,” Caron says of the band’s eventual creation. “One day we were hanging out and there was this guitar beside me and I just started yelling words.”

“It was around when she was getting into weed, so we would just smoke and talk about childhood memories and stuff like that,” Niles adds.

Forming the band led to an eventual permutation of old friends, and with each tour and recording session, their relationship becomes deeper.

“It’s a really fast way to grow as people. I think our bond is stronger now,” Niles says.

Caron is quick to agree.

“We’ve been playing together pretty much since we met, casually at first, then we started touring together but not as seriously,” she says. “It just sort of built up, but we also live together so we’re together all the time anyway.”

While their sound is distinct and decidedly self-assured, Caron and Niles say they find their inspiration from a host of artists.

“It’s all over the place,” Niles says. “Sound wise, we’re influenced by Ween, obviously, because they’re pan-genre. We’re kind of more influenced by attitudes and energies or whatever.”

“[We’re even influenced by] people that aren’t known really at all,” Caron adds. “We love to discover.”

“Pretty much anybody that seems like they know exactly what they’re trying to say and… they sound like they’re free, that’s what inspires us,” Niles says.

The duo also draws inspiration from many non-musical places.

“We’re really obsessed with the Enneagram personality test,” Niles says.

“It’s kind of spiritual, so it’s like we’re on some kind of path,” Caron muses.

Niles agrees, adding, “We’re trying to improve ourselves and shit.”

Caron emphasizes that recently, reality TV is “for sure” a huge inspiration.

This attitude translated beautifully into Wednesday’s live show, where Caron impressively belted Lady Gaga’s “A Million Reasons” after telling the audience the recent Netflix documentary on Gaga’s life “changed everything” for her. They also covered Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m The Only One” and sang a new song that was inspired by a poem written by Caron’s boss. Both band mates smiled through the entirety of the song, as if no one in the world was ever going to have as much fun as they were in that momentexcept maybe for their audience.

One of the most refreshingly unexpected aspects of their album are the skits—seven in total—scattered throughout. Consisting mostly of recorded phone calls, the skits make perfect sense in a world of songs about the band’s everyday life. Perhaps the most hilarious are the ones including Caron’s supportive and funny dad. I asked her how she managed to get such great soundbites of her dad, and she tells me the band played a bit of a trick to get them.

“We knew we had to get him when he didn’t know he was being interviewed, and then we asked for his consent later,” she explains. “But it’s also my dad, and obviously from the record you can tell he really wants me to do this kind of thing.”

Niles adds that “We definitely would not have gone forward with it if he hadn’t been okay with it.”

The band knew they wanted skits to be a big part of the album, but the better parts of it came together later.

“We knew we wanted to have skits from the universe and stuff of our album,” Niles says. “We wanted people to feel like they were having a whole experience. We didn’t really have any ideas for a skit, and then we just smoked a bunch of hash.” 

Caron says the band “wanted to show our life and everyone who was involved in the record and everything getting made.”

Niles adds, “We definitely didn’t realize how the skits would be received. But then we came out with the skits, and a lot of people said that they loved them and a lot of people are like ‘we love your album, but we hate the skits’ so it’s like completely 50/50.”

While their subject matter and energy is carefree and playful, the powerful and positive example they set as talented women telling the stories of their everyday lives is not lost on the duo. I asked them for advice they would give to any young creatives who are afraid to put themselves out there.

“I don’t wanna say there’s nothing to be afraid of, but you deserve to be allowed to take up space if you want to. In that way, you don’t have to feel like you’re not allowed,” Niles says.

“I think that when you make something that you love, you can feel safe in your creation, and can look for that feeling of being supported by your art,” Caron says. “That will give you the strength and the momentum to  put yourself out there in whatever place makes sense for you. It’s really about finding your voice.”

For more information about Partner, click here

Led by Music Director Gianandrea Noseda, the entire National Symphony Orchestra performed a free lunch-time “Pop-Up” concert in the Main Hall of Washington, D.C.’s iconic Union Station on April 11, 2018. Presented as part of the weeklong #SHIFTmusic festival, the NSO's performances celebrate the vitality, identity, and extraordinary artistry of orchestras and chamber orchestras by creating an immersive festival experience April 9–15 troughout the nation's capital: shiftfestival.org
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SHIFT is co-presented by Washington Performing Arts and the Kennedy Center in cooperation with the League of American Orchestras.
Led by Music Director Gianandrea Noseda, the entire National Symphony Orchestra performed a free lunch-time “Pop-Up” concert in the Main Hall of Washington, D.C.’s iconic Union Station on April 11, 2018. Presented as part of the weeklong #SHIFTmusic festival, the NSO's performances celebrate the vitality, identity, and extraordinary artistry of orchestras and chamber orchestras by creating an immersive festival experience April 9–15 troughout the nation's capital: shiftfestival.org . SHIFT is co-presented by Washington Performing Arts and the Kennedy Center in cooperation with the League of American Orchestras.

The National Symphony Orchestra at Union Station

The National Symphony Orchestra performs approximately 150 concerts each year, including classical and popular concerts at the Kennedy Center, at Wolf Trap in the summer, and on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol with some of the world’s most renowned talent appearing as guest artists. The orchestra performed at the Union Station yesterday. Photos: Mark Caicedo 

Photo: Courtesy of FoldHaus
Photo: Courtesy of FoldHaus

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man at the Renwick

There’s a temple at Renwick today, but unlike the National Shrine or the National Cathedral, it sneaks up on you. You won’t see David Best’s monumental architecture coming until you’ve walked into it. Best, an American sculptor, has been making temples for Burning Man on and off since 2000, and his latest work is an installation for No Spectators: the Art of Burning Man, on view now in and around the Renwick Gallery.

He’s one of the many stalwarts represented in the exhibition at Black Rock City, the temporary city erected each year in the Nevada desert for the festival. Sculptures include Andre the Giant-sized LED-lit mushrooms and even an incarnation of the “Man” i.e., the one burned at the end of annual festival, and that makes me think of Wicker Man, starring Nicolas Cage.

Best’s installation is impossibly intricate. It’s installed upstairs, in the main gallery space, known as the “Grand Salon,” which recently housed the Parallax Gap installation. Parallax, I found, was somewhat underwhelming. It looked good in photos but failed to land in person. Best’s temple has the opposite effect.

Best is among what Kim Cook, a Burning Man ambassador and partner in the exhibition, refers to as one of the “greats” of the iconic festival, many of whom were actually present at the preview. Some were in full “burner” regalia and it felt like Night at the Museum.

(Side note, there’s a lot of lingo for this exhibition. Already I’ve used “burner,” Black Rock City, I’m about to use “Playa” and “Cacophony Society,” and, of course, the “Man.” For a full glossary click here. You can find the “Man” under “Man, the.”)

You can also find the “Cacophony Society” in the glossary. This is the “randomly gathered network of individuals united in the pursuit of experience beyond the mainstream” from which the festival sprang. Their history and the history of the festival, from its San Francisco beach origins to the Playa, i.e. the Black Rock desert, is detailed in the adjacent gallery.

The must-see pieces include the “Shrumen Lumen” from FoldHaus collective, which is also upstairs. Another is the massive arch downstairs that recalls a Brothers Quay film and the “Gamelatron,” which is directly opposite the Grand Salon upstairs. There’s also a VR experience downstairs, a “tin pan dragon,” that the artist insisted would eat me, and several sculptures installed on the streets around the Renwick.

Aaron Taylor Kuffner’sGamelatron” though is the one I can’t wait to return to. The piece is a fully robotic gamelan orchestra that’s attached to the walls and so surrounds the listener standing in the middle of the room. If you’re unfamiliar with Gamelan music, imagine an orchestra of pitched percussion with a variety of gongs. It’s a piece that makes you believe, though I couldn’t say in what.

Kuffner’s piece along with some of the aforementioned brought me to believe in the exhibition, so to speak. Before seeing it myself, I was skeptical because Burning Man’s no longer cool and an art of Burning Man exhibition feels like a play for foot-traffic from people unaware that burners are the face of memes, not interest. Even Quiznos had some fun at the festival’s expense. Or check out Thump’s tremendous listicle on the types of people who will ruin Burning Man.

However, that’s all noise and not art. Even my one experience with a burner is noise. (He was a douche who talked at people about his “burn” and no one gave a fuck.) Some of the pieces are pretty damn cool, I’m looking forward to spending more time with it because fortunately the Renwick is free. No Spectators: the Art of Burning Man is on view through January 21, 2019. Check out the Renwick’s behind-the-scenes YouTube playlist as well.

Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum: 1661 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-633-7970; www.americanart.si.edu/visit/renwick

Photo: XMB Photography
Photo: XMB Photography

TRANSIT at Dupont Underground

After a three-day stint at Dupont Underground, Australian-born choreographer and dancer Sarah J. Ewing’s site-specific, original dance and technology performance of TRANSIT left observers with pensive expressions. The looks were not of confusion, but rather a contemplation of the progression of life and the various elements that contribute to our individual present or future state.

The performance began with white words cast upon stonewalls spelling “TRANSIT.” Then blinding lights lit up the tunnel as dancers stepped lightly into the space. Each dancer’s gray attire matched their facial expression, as well as the intended expressionless ambiance.

As the performers stood motionless, the sounds of commuting began to echo through the seats. In coordination with the music, the lights shifted from spots to ripples to darkness, illustrating the obstacles of traveling uncontrollably through life.

The interpretive showcase told the story of three generations of women experiencing similar hardships and joy at every turn in life through different time periods. During a brief interview with Ewing, she explained her vision as a “treasure map of life showing moments intertwined with linear time.”

This movement was a display of power and grace. The dancers’ modern choreography coupled with the music, which maintained a steady beat except for the occasional syncopation, kept viewers fixated on the stage and constantly wondering what would come next.

The audience witnessed solos, duets and a small ensemble, all of whom told the narrative of the linear timeline of life. In one ensemble scene, each performer moved in their own style, sometimes in a haphazard way that might not be considered dancing at all, followed by the rest of the ensemble mimicking the leader’s motions in sync. The scene spoke to the chaos of life and how we are often solely focused on our personal forward progress while others are stuck in peril.

The performance welcomed a plethora of themes, but it would be tough to argue against the significance of time in the piece. The transformative lighting and shifting sounds in each scene highlighted the evolution of characters. Time, illustrated by score, was constant. The volume rose and fell, but it was constantly there, declaring the inevitable continuation of time, no matter our individual circumstances.

The hour-long performance sustained a solemn tone throughout, however, the final scene marked a shift in rhythmic excitement and exaggerated dance that brought a sense of joy to the dark, underground tunnel. This conveyed that through life’s journey, one will always have reasons to celebrate even when it seems impossible.

TRANSIT is a collaboration between S. J. Ewing and Dancers, CulturalDC at Dupont Underground and CityDance. To see upcoming showcases at Dupont Underground or to learn more, visit here. Ticket prices vary from exhibit to exhibit but typically range from $10-$20, with an occasional free event happening.

Dupont Underground: 19 Dupont Circle NW, DC; 202-315-1321; www.dupontunderground.org

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Blossom Bash Festival at The Anthem

DC 101 treated us to a night of 90’s nostalgia at The Anthem on Friday, during their inaugural Blossom Bash Festival. Bush and Third Eye Blind teamed up to deliver high energy sets to a sold out crowd. Highlights from the night included Bush’s hit, “Glycerine,” performed solo by Gavin Rossdale with the entire crowd singing along and Third Eye Blind’s Stephan Jenkins reminding the audience that “there are no spectators at a Third Eye Blind concert.” The entire night consisted of songs intended to transport the audience back to the 90s. Opening the show was lovelytheband. Photos and write-up: Shantel Mitchell Breen

Illustration: Courtesy of Arena Stage
Illustration: Courtesy of Arena Stage

Arena Stage’s Snow Child Focuses On The Nature of Impermanence

Sometimes, the only way to go on is to dig deep, find resilience and push forward. But to get to that point, some healing often needs to take place first. Enter Jack and Mabel: a couple ridden with grief after they lose their first child and discover they can’t have any more. What ensues is a journey of healing and understanding that not everything is as it seems, and nothing is permanent, especially in the realm of the Alaskan wilderness.

The world premiere of the musical Snow Child, based on a novel by Eowyn Ivey, is coming to Arena Stage from April 13 to May 20. With a focus on Alaskan culture and environmentalism through the musical talents of Bob Banghart and Georgia Stitt, Snow Child comes to life on stage – quite literally – with the help of some gorgeous lighting techniques and masterful puppetry.

Matt Bogart as Jack contemplates the impermanence of nature, the true meaning behind Snow Child and what he hopes the audience will learn from it in this exclusive interview with On Tap Magazine.

On Tap: How would you describe the story of Snow Child?
Matt Bogart: Our musical focuses on Jack and Mabel, who are a childless couple. They decide to move from Pennsylvania out to Alaska to become homesteaders to change their life and get a new start for themselves. They end up understanding how difficult that can be, to try to build a new life out in the wilderness alone. And from the grief of being childless, they plunge into a kind of sadness together out in Alaska. At one point, they begin to build a snow child, and this child becomes real to them. She’s spiritual and mythological in a lot of ways, and she becomes their child, but a part of them knows that this cannot last with the arrival of the spring. We’re left to try and grasp that nothing is permanent, but this journey of having a child of their own hopefully has healed them in many ways.

OT: How does the musical differ from the novel written by Eowyn Ivey?
MB: Our story in the musical ends about two-thirds through the book because putting a novel on stage, you’d be there for a couple days and no body wants that. I think that the authors have taken the part of the story that they want to tell and have solidified it. We call it an Alaskan musical folktale because it follows some of the rules and style of musical theater but it also incorporates a sense of mysticism and environmental music as well as sound effects and puppetry and other elements that you don’t always see in your typical musical.

OT: What do you hope audiences will take away from Snow Child?
MB: I hope that they will see some of their own life experiences reflected in this piece and that we are successful in reiterating what is taught in these old folk tales. This folk tale has to do with the impermanence of nature – how nature can sweep in and change your life, how losing a child can change your life, and how gaining a child, whether its born into this world or if you create it in your mind so then it becomes real to you and becomes healing. Through that experience, you learn something and you’re brought to a different place.

OT: Why do you think Snow Child is an important story to tell?
MB: I think that we try to control everything in our culture, all over the world. Jack and Mabel think they can have a child and grow their family, but they lost the first child as a stillborn, and they couldn’t get over it. The doctor told Mabel that she couldn’t have another. To believe one thing about your life and then understand that’s not going to happen can change a person’s view about whether they feel like they want to go on or not. This is a story about the unexpected, whether its nature, whether its understanding that we can’t control fate sometimes or whether its understand that we need to dig deep and be resilient.

Opening night of Snow Child is Friday, April 13 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $41-$90.

Arena Stage: 1101 Sixth St. SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org

Photo: Cathy Carver
Photo: Cathy Carver

Brand New at the Hirshhorn

“Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy,” reads “Prop,” a small bronze plaque by David Robbins that replicates the language at the entrance to Disneyland, and is nearly indistinguishable from the original.

The piece now sits at the entrance to the newest exhibition at the Hirshhorn, Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s, an exhibition full of pieces that blur the lines between art and advertising, and make you think or wonder if you’re being trolled.

i shop therefore i am

Barbara Kruger, “Untitled (I shop therefore I am)”

“Prop” is small in comparison to the large-scale graphic works it neighbors, so small I actually missed it during my first visit. Luckily, curatorial assistant, Sandy Guttman, points it out the second time through.

“It really sets the tone in terms of commodity and pop culture and gears up what you’re going to look at in the show, in that this is a little bit of a Disneyland as well,” she says.  

Guttman offers to lead me through the exhibition after I hopelessly try and navigate myself.

“It also literally takes an object from this thing which is very American and capitalist,” she adds.

This connection is noticable throughout, you see artworks that are seemingly mundane objects, but re-framed. In the first gallery, “Untitled (Hand with Cigarette and Watch)” by Richard Prince, is a work where he crops an existing advertisement, as he did famously with “Untitled (Cowboy),” (or more recently with his Instagram photos).

Prince’s work hangs adjacent to “Shelf with Ajax” by Haim Steinbach and “Remy/Grand Central: Trains, Boats, and Planes” by Dara Birnbaum, both pieces feature actual products, but not in the vein advertising or product placement. Steinbach’s framing of the Ajax detergent bottle recalls a hunting trophy and Birnbaum’s video is half-ad, with the sexualized shots of a woman holding the Remy Martin champagne and half anti-ad with an additional depiction of a train pulverizing the bottle.

“Pepsi Please” by Peter Halley and “Inflammatory Essays by Jenny Holzer are also in the first gallery. Halley’s painting displays a zombie begging for a Pepsi; it’s funny and definitely calls for a Snapchat. Holzer’s more Insta-worthy, floor-to-ceiling piece is confrontational and resonates easily with the poignant pieces toward the end of the exhibition.

Annette Lemieux, Courting Death, and Louise Lawler, Who are you close to?

Annette Lemieux, “Courting Death,” and Louise Lawler, “Who are you close to? (Red)”

The galleries are ordered chronologically and these early works are not so representative of the exhibition’s objective, which is to chart the “pivotal moments in the 1980s when artwork became a commodity and the artist, a brand.”

Sandy Guttman tells me that curator Gianni Jetzer was growing up when much of this art was made, and though he didn’t grow up in New York, he was inspired by a show on this very specific scene which capitalized on the conflation of commodity and brand.

“A lot of times when you’re curating for a show you have to think about which pieces can make your argument the strongest,” Guttman says. “That’s where you start with your checklist and then from there you try to branch out.”

The second gallery, which features the work of artists including Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger, lays out and drives home Jetzer’s thesis. The gallery gives a sense of how small this group of friends started exceptionally well. There’s artifacts from an aesthetic consultancy a few started, as well as copy from group shows they put on.

The camaraderie comes across in “Talent” by David Robbins, which features Koons, Sherman and Holzer. The picture includes the artist and his friends in Hollywood-style head shots, but observing as a whole feels like observing a class portrait or even stills from your favorite sitcom.

The gallery that follows this is small but entirely memorable. It features Cindy Sherman, Louise Lawler, Sarah Charlesworth and Annette Lemieux.

Charlesworth’s two works are cropped images of Madonna and David Bowie, “Virgin” and “Golden Boy” respectively. Lemieux’s “Courting Death” is a re-staged photograph in a uniquely Hollywood style, while still drawing influences from art history. The result is a cross between a silver screen secretary and a St. Jerome.

“What is she taking notes on?” Guttman asks. “Why is there a skull?”

The later galleries deal with HIV/AIDS and contain some of my personal favorites. For instance, one focuses on objects of cleanliness. There’s more from Steinbach, only this time it’s of a detergent brand he invented. There’s “Lube Landscape,” an acrylic by Walter Robinson that represents household objects like baby oil, which are multi-purpose, though not all uses are prescribed.

Biocube by Tishan Hsu. Photo: Cathy Carver

Tishan Hsu, “Biocube.” Photo: Cathy Carver

“Biocube,” a sculpture by Tishan Hsu, also trades in the same clinical vernacular. His nonsense object at once recalls schools and doctor’s offices, but at the same time reads erotic in the weird pustules found, in addition to its coloring.  

“I don’t like calling it flesh toned,” Guttman says. “There are endless tones of flesh, but it would read as somebody’s skin.”

This gallery also features “I shop therefore I Am” by Barbara Kruger. It might be the most recognizable piece in the show, if only because it ran as the lead ad for exhibition. Guttman laughs at this.

“’I shop therefore I am’ is the leading image on our catalog and all our advertisements, which is funny, considering that it’s a work making fun of buying things,” she says. “It’s almost like someone didn’t get the memo.”

A gallery over though, the work deals with AIDS in a much more overt way, from He Kills Me, by Donald Moffett, to Perfect Lovers, by Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

“This is where the show turns to activism,” Guttman tells me. “The government wasn’t doing anything or reacting to the AIDS epidemic which was not only sweeping New York, but hit the New York art scene particularly hard. I’m sure everyone in this exhibition knew someone who died.”

Moffett’s floor to ceiling graphic work repeats the same photo of Reagan laughing while beneath each photo the text reads ‘he kills me.’” It’s one of the most confrontational works in the exhibition, you have to walk by it. At the same it’s funny even, but ultimately too real.

“Perfect Lovers” features two nondescript clocks, hanging about eight feet off the floor, they’re touching, kissing so to speak and ticking in sync. As is, it was my favorite work on my first time through the exhibition, but the story Guttman tells me the artist isn’t just being clever.

“The artist conceptualized this work when his partner Ross was incapacitated, dying from HIV/AIDS, and he responds to the moment and creates this heart-wrenching portrait from commodity materials anyone can buy.”

It’s one of the last works in the exhibition and the one I return to. It’s simple, raw and effective, far from alone in this compilation. You’ll appreciate early on that the artists are clever, but they’re not so for the sake of being clever. At least not always. The exhibition runs through May 13. It’s open daily from 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. and admission is free.

Golden Boy by Sarah Charlesworth. Cibachrome with lacquered wood frame.

Sarah Charlesworth, “Golden Boy,” cibachrome with lacquered wood frame

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: Independence Ave. SW and 7th St. SW, DC; 202-633-1000; www.hirshhorn.si.edu

Photo: Soleil Konkel
Photo: Soleil Konkel

One Half DC, One Half NC, Full-On Hair Metal: Meet Bat Fangs

You never know who you’ll run into when you travel. You might think it strange to schedule an interview with a band that’s at least partly from the District during the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. But during our visit down south last month, we were able to secure an interview with fast-rising duo Bat Fangs.

Betsy Wright, one-third of DC-based rock band Ex Hex, and North Carolinian drummer Laura King released their self-titled album – a nod to the raucous hair metal of the 1980s – in February. Wright, who plays bass in Ex Hex, has put down the four-stringed instrument for its six-stringed cousin to produce speedy riffs, and King has found a serious niche rocking her drum set to the legendary genre of yesteryear.

Before their Luce Unplugged show on April 26 – part of a monthly concert series hosted by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM)’s Luce Foundation Center for American Arts – we wanted to give locals a chance to learn a little bit more about these retro-inspired rockers.

On Tap: How long have you two known each other, and did you share a musical connection before forming Bat Fangs?
Laura King: We met because our bands were playing together.
Betsy Wright: Our bands played shows together in 2015, and we met a few times. I was trying to start playing music with a drummer, and I just thought of her because she’s really good. We hit it off as friends and when I contacted her, she was super enthusiastic, so I just went down to North Carolina and we jammed. We just kept going
back and forth.
LK: I said “Yes” because I love Ex Hex and my previous band had just broken up, so I was in a bit of a rut as far as not knowing what I was going to do. I didn’t know she played guitar at first, but as soon as I heard her demos, I was like, “Wow, she shreds.”

OT: How long had you been “cranking acid-soaked, 80s hard rock for the living and the dead,” and when did you decide that you wanted to make a record in that genre?
BW: I wrote a bunch of the songs before we started playing, and that was what was coming out of my brain.
LK: Then we got together and both realized our love for 80s hair metal and glam. We rode that wave for awhile, and that’s how it ended up.
BW: That’s the music that I grew up on, and that’s the place I was at. Plus, I never stopped liking that music. Going back and listening, I started learning all kinds of guitar solos with that 80s metal sound. I just went through a phase.

OT: How different are your roles in Bat Fangs in comparison to previous projects?
BW: I never played bass before I was in Ex Hex, so that was actually the big learning curve. I always played guitar, so I was like, “I guess I can play bass.” But then I was like, “Oh sh-t,” because bass is a lot different. It took me awhile to figure out the feel. I ended up playing really evenly and very simply to be in line with the kick drum. However, when I’m at home and when I write songs, I play guitar.
LK: I think that this band has brought out the drumming I’m supposed to do. I played drums in lots of other bands, and some of them have been more hardcore or more punk. Some were really quiet, but I think this kind of sound has brought out the best of my ability. It worked out really well, and that’s what makes it so seamless.

OT: There’s a not-so-subtle use of zombie imagery in your album art that’s reminiscent of iconography used by bands like Black Sabbath and Metallica. Why did you decide to use that influence?
BW: We were talking about album covers, and we were trying to get people to do it, and no one would. So, I decided to draw it myself, and my favorite record cover from all the ones I kept looking at was Masters of Reality by Black Sabbath, which is just black with purple letters – it looks awesome. I just decided I was going to do something like that, so I drew it out and enlarged it. Laura put in Photoshop and added the colors; we made it together.

OT: What slasher flicks and other media in the genre did you draw from to create that atmosphere in your music?
LK: We watched some slasher movies.
BW: I read Dracula last year again, and I love Frankenstein – it’s like my favorite book ever. I always listen to the audio books of it around October. It’s weird because a few of our songs are like that, but there are some that are not like that at all.
LK: It was right around Halloween when we got together, and we put out a song around then, but [that was] way before our album.  

OT: How does living in different states impact how you both hear and write music? Is it seamless to combine those views when writing songs?
BW: It’s been really natural. Things came together really fast because we don’t have to explain stuff to each other, and we just kind of play. We mess around with different beats and arrangements, but it’s kind of easy. I’ll have riffs or lyrics to a song, and then we get together and work on it.
LK: We work together for days straight when we’re together, and jam for like six hours with lots of breaks. It’s fun.
BW: Sometimes, we’ll do freestyle jams and some cool riffs will come out of that, too.

OT: How many songs did you two throw out while putting together your album?
BW: We didn’t play together for that long, so we kind of recorded and boom, boom, boom. Plus, we don’t have that many songs on the record, so there aren’t too many, but we did throw out a few. They just didn’t fit.
LK: They didn’t feel right. We might revisit them.
BW: Plus, we’re always working on new stuff.

OT: When starting something new after a long stint in other acts, is there an inevitable sense of relearning a process of working with another person? Is that a refreshing experience?
BW: Yes, we’re still in the honeymoon phase. We get along really well, and it’s been fun because it’s new.
LK: Bands can be tough to be in; in my last band, my guitar player wouldn’t look at me for three months and I was like, “I can’t do this.” We’re really tight now, and we’re in another band together. But yeah, Bat Fangs is fun.

Catch Bat Fangs’ Luce Unplugged show on April 26 at 5:30 p.m.; show is free to attend. If you can’t make their SAAM show, catch them at 9:30 Club on June 5. Learn more about the band at www.batfangs.bandcamp.com.

SAAM’s Luce Foundation Center for American Art: 8th and F Streets in NW, DC; 202-633-5435; www.americanart.si.edu/visit/saam/luce

Photos: Amanda Weisbrod
Photos: Amanda Weisbrod

Behind the Bar: April 2018

Looking for a little hair of the dog? These brunch spots offer some of the best – and most unique – brunch cocktails in the city. On Tap sat down with Green Pig Bistro, HalfSmoke and Whaley’s to find out what makes their brunch cocktails a cut above the rest.


[Pictured Above]

Alexander Taylor

Bar Manager, HalfSmoke

On Tap: What’s the story behind the Breakfast of Shaw cocktail?
Alexander Taylor: The Breakfast of Shaw was created by the owner, Andre McCain, and it’s a local take on the ostentatious Bloody Marys that have come about over the years. Ours consists of a couple of our fried goods – sweet potato tots, mac and cheese bites, Mexican corn bites, French fries – [and] we also throw some chicken wings and a sausage slider on there.

OT: What other drinks make your brunch cocktail menu so special?
AT: I’d say the more popular item that makes our brunch menu special is the fact that we offer free bottomless mimosas. Our mimosas are different in that we source craft bitters, and we use Triple Sec along with champagne and orange juice.

OT: What gives HalfSmoke its whimsical vibe?
AT: Our motto is “Don’t grow up – it’s a trap.” And we’re very nostalgic. You’ll find that we use Trapper Keepers as our menu binders, and we use old Disney VHS cases as our bill folders.

HalfSmoke Breakfast of Shaw (Photo by Amanda Weisbrod)

Alexander’s Pick
The Breakfast of Shaw
Tomato, lemon and lime juice
Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
Tabasco
Tito’s Vodka

HalfSmoke: 651 Florida Ave. NW, DC; www.halfsmoke.com


Whaley's Alahin Mentado, bar manager (Photo - Amanda Weisbrod)

Alahín Mentado

Bar Manager, Whaley’s

On Tap: What is Whaley’s most popular brunch cocktail?
Alahín Mentado: The Number One, which is a rum-based cocktail. It has a little bit of St-Germain, which is a nice elderflower, and that brings some sweetness to it. It’s mixed with fresh grapefruit juice and some sparkling rosé, so you’re going to have a little bit of tartness from the grapefruit, which is a nice balance with the rum, and then a nice, sweet flavor from the sparkling rosé. It’s beautiful.

OT: Do you have any off-the-menu cocktails that guests can try?
AM: If a guest wants to try something different, our bartenders are world-trained and can make anything. We ask [our] guests about their preference of alcohol and from there, we can go make a nice cocktail for them and make them happy. I love to see smiles on people’s faces after they taste a drink. I like to experiment, and that’s a good thing about Whaley’s. You can always come back and try different things at our bar.

OT: What’s the vibe of Whaley’s rose garden?
AM: The rose garden is a unique drinking experience for the city, and an opportunity for diners to forget they are in Washington. The space is very transformative, with the pink and white umbrellas, lush greenery and amazing view of the water. We offer a dozen or so of some of the greatest still and sparkling rosé wines from all over the world – from Israel to Australia. We don’t have a specific opening date for the garden yet, but it’s looking like it should be mid- to late April, depending on weather.

Whaley's Number One2 (Photo - Amanda Weisbrod)

Alahín’s Pick
Number One
Caña Brava rum
Sparkling rosé
St-Germain
Grapefruit

Whaley’s: 301 Water St. SE, DC; www.whaleysdc.com


Tim and Starlynne Vogeley, Green Pig (Photo by Amanda Weisbrod)

Starlynne and Tim Vogeley

Assistant GM and GM & Chef, Green Pig Bistro

On Tap: What inspired the full bar menu for brunch?
Starlynne Vogeley: That’s what our guests want. Our prices for Arlington [are] pretty comparable. But one thing we do have that’s different is if the ingredients call for fresh-squeezed orange juice or lemon juice, we try to get the freshest possible. If we can make it, we do that.

OT: What’s your most unique brunch cocktail?
SV:
I would say the Iced Morning Moonshine. This was actually highlighted by Belle Isle. They came here specifically and interviewed our bartender, Lily King, who is the creator of that drink. Our bartenders are very creative and very talented.

OT: Do you ever experiment with new brunch cocktail recipes?
SV: [We] experiment all the time – constantly. We have a total of six bartenders, my husband as well. I like to drink them. I call myself the official taste tester. I like to consider everybody here perfectionists, and they’re trying to perfect their craft. These cocktails are all original creations by our bartenders.

OT: What makes Green Pig Bistro a sustainable dining option?
Tim Vogeley: We buy a lot of food products from local farms – some are organic, but not all of them. We have a 60-acre farm in Purcellville, and we’re thinking of growing hops. We might even open a small brewery there. We make our own pickles, cheese and hamburger buns.

Green Pig Bacon Bloody Mary1 (Photo by Amanda Weisbrod)

Tim & Starlynne’s Pick
Green Pig Bacon Bloody Mary 
Spicy bloody mix
Vodka
Old Bay
Citrus
Bacon

Green Pig Bistro: 1025 N Fillmore St. Arlington, VA; www.greenpigbistro.com