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Hippo Campus and The Districts at 9:30 Club

“Why even try to change?”

The crowd sang as Hippo Campus played a sold out show at 9:30 Club on October 24. Following up on their successful debut album Landmark, Hippo Campus is touring on their latest release Bambi. The show’s set list was a nice mix of old favorites and new tunes. It started with their new album title track “Bambi,” proving the band’s sound diversity. The track adds a new layer of electronica and synths to their already upbeat indie rock.

Songs like “Suicide Saturday,” and “Way it Goes,” were performed beautifully thanks to Nathan Stocker’s bright guitar sound and DeCarlo Jackson’s amazing saxophone and trumpet solos.  The band closed off the set with hit song “Buttercup,” but came back with an encore of “Violet.” As Hippo Campus walked off the stage, all the audience could talk about was where they would take their music next.

The Districts opened, touring on their 2017 album Popular Manipulations. They showed energetic performance through Rob Grote’s raw voice and super-distorted guitar riffs. While they played music from previous releases, the performance was more experimental, as they are currently writing for their new record. Photos/write-up: Mike Kim

Photo: Jim McGuire
Photo: Jim McGuire

Banjo Legend Béla Fleck Part of Terrific Trio

With 16 Grammy Awards to his name, Béla Fleck is not your average banjo player. He’s known throughout the world for redefining the instrument, and sits proudly in the American Banjo Hall of Fame alongside notable players like Jim Henson, Steve Martin and Pete Seeger.

“I first heard the banjo on the Beverly Hillbillies theme,” Fleck says about the bluegrass stylings of banjoist Earl Scruggs, who famously played the tune. “Something about the sound hooked me as a little kid, and then my grandfather unexpectedly got me one just before high school. I became obsessed and still am.”

In 1973, Fleck began at New York City’s High School of Music and Art where he studied the instrument seriously. It didn’t take him long to discover he’d play the banjo for the rest of his life.

“I took no steps to do anything else once I got into it, so there was no escape,” he continues. “No colleges were submitted to, I trained for no jobs. I just came out of high school and right into bands. I was fortunate that my mom was surprised and distracted with a new baby when I was a senior in high school, otherwise I never could have gotten away with it.”

His group Béla Fleck and the Flecktones have been touring for 30 years and have released a plethora of music, most famously, the landmark three-disc Little Worlds. Recently, Fleck also moved into the teaching side, inspiring future youngsters to pursue the instrument professionally.

“I’ve just returned to teaching after not doing it for many years. I just hosted my first banjo camp  The Blue Ridge Banjo Camp – and it went very well, with 100 students.”

On November 10, Fleck will join forces with bassist Edgar Meyer and tabla performer Zakir Hussain for a trio performance presented by Washington Performing Arts at GW’s Lisner Auditorium. While each member of the group is expected to play some solo pieces, Fleck notes there won’t be any individual sets as they’ll perform as a band.

“We are adding a wild card this time: an incredible bansuri player named Rakesh Churasia. The music will be sometimes beautiful and sometimes very exciting. There will be a strong groove, with Zakir’s incredible percussive abilities, and a lot of melody and warmth coming from Edgar’s bowed bass and the rich sounds of the flute. And I’ll be fitting my banjo in there somewhere in the middle.”

The trio has known each other for awhile and play together periodically.

“Rakesh is new to the group, but Edgar and I go way way back, and Zakir and Edgar and I go back 10 years or longer. We got together to create a triple concerto to celebrate the opening of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, home of the Nashville Symphony. After that, we loved playing together and toured quite a bit with the trio.”

They even found time to record The Melody of Rhythm: Triple Concerto & Music for Trio in 2009. The tour marks the first time they’ll reunite on stage since 2013.

“I would say that Edgar and Zakir have both impacted my music making immensely,” he says. “I can learn from everyone, and that always keeps me intrigued and on my toes.”

Once the tour ends in December, Fleck will start performing again with his wife, clawhammer banjoist Abigail Fleck, who recently gave birth to their second child in June. Together, the two won the 2016 Grammy for Best Folk album.

“I have lots of things brewing, too early to say much, except more touring with the Flecktones and Chick Corea. There is something very powerful about the experience of improvising in front of an audience. There are things that I can only pull off in front of a crowd. They are part of the collaboration.”

Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain will play the Lisner Auditorium on Saturday, November 10 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $40-$50. Learn more about the performance here, and about Fleck here.

Lisner Auditorium: 730 21st St. NW, DC; 202-994-6800; www.lisner.gwu.edu

Lindsey Buckingham
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Warner Theatre, Washington, DC, October 19, 2018
Lindsey Buckingham . Warner Theatre, Washington, DC, October 19, 2018

Lindsey Buckingham at National Theatre

“We love you, Lindsey!”

“Fleetwood who!?

“I’ll have all your babies!”

Although Lindsey Buckingham’s show at the Warner Theatre on October 19 wasn’t quite sold out, those in attendance showered love and support for Fleetwood Mac’s former singer, songwriter and lead guitarist extraordinaire. Performing songs from a catalog going back 35 years, both from solo work as well as his days with Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham turned in a stellar and moving performance.

The concert opened quickly with “Don’t Look Down,” “Go Insane” and “Surrender in the Rain.” But soon enough, Buckingham addressed the matter on everybody’s mind: his recent, and untimely, ousting from Fleetwood Mac, saying slyly “one of the reasons” for this tour was because Warner Brothers had asked him to put together a compilation of his solo work.

“Although I’ve never been one to look back, this was an opportunity to examine a body of work that’s stood up pretty well, and perform some songs we’ve never done live.”

Most fans are now well aware of the controversial and acrimonious aspects of Buckingham’s departure from his former band, but he was in a generous and contemplative mood, saying the situation should be viewed with compassion.

For the man who wrote, arguably, the angriest break-up song ever, “Go Your Own Way,” I found Buckingham’s philosophical attitude revealing, and something to aspire to. Addressing the break-up early on may also have been Buckingham’s way of getting the “unpleasantness,” out of the way so we could concentrate on the music.

After years of performing, Buckingham is an expert at pacing a concert. The first third of the 22-song set was generally fast-paced, up-tempo material culminating with the mega-hit, “Trouble,” from his 1981 debut solo album Law and Order.

The concert’s middle section began with a few solo acoustic numbers before seguing back to lesser known, quirkier pop tunes, including the evening’s first Fleetwood Mac songs.

The slower music demonstrated the breadth and width of Buckingham’s songwriting abilities. Contrasting light melody “Slow Dancing,” with the stunning, deep and dark “Street of Dreams,” the artist’s songwriting mastery was obvious.

“Tusk,” signaled the final third of the performance, its heavy percussion urging the audience to its feet. The Fleetwood Mac slow-burner “I’m So Afraid,” climaxed in a jaw-dropping Buckingham guitar solo. He has a truly unique guitar playing style that uses a combination of finger picking and strumming to perform his solos, a technique that affords incredible range, versatility and intensity.

The finale, “Go Your Own Way,” with its incredible guitar solo, was the one song many of us, including me, was there to hear, and it was awesome.

The three-song encore began with “Turn it On,” followed by a stunning “Down on Rodeo.” The surprise, spontaneous final encore, a sublime “Rockaway Blind,” was performed solo acoustic for a “few friends” in the crowd. After profusely thanking the audience, as he’d done repeatedly throughout the night, Buckingham was finished, and the adoring audience went home, deliriously happy. Photos/write-up: Mark Caicedo

Photo: Courtesy of St. Pete Holland
Photo: Courtesy of St. Pete Holland

New Single from an Artist to Watch: St. Pete Holland’s “Different Hymn”

Every now and then, dads are right.

Last March, mine told me to check out a new musician – a friend’s son – who had a song on Spotify. Yeah, yeah, sure okay, Dad. Since when did he know what Spotify was?

A month or so later, I needed a procrastination aid and finally got around to looking up, Who was it? [scrolls through emails] St. Pete Holland. By this point, the song Dad had referenced evolved into a seven-track EP entitled Seven Deadly Hymns, which included that first studio-finished single “Yours and Mine.”

Preparing to be underwhelmed by another Romeo and Juliet ballad, I hit the play button on “Capulets.” I was not underwhelmed. In fact, I was kind of whelmed. A whistled intro led me into a perfect little not-love song.

Folksy but not folk and with a little bit of funk, St. Pete Holland is exactly what you want from a modern acoustic act out of Nashville. There is sweet naiveté in the lyrics and singalong beat, but clean progression, clever transformations and educated instrumental references make the earnestness more alluring than maudlin.

A combination of songwriting and guitar skills and a voice tinged with The Fray’s Isaac Slade and The Tallest Man on Earth won the act’s lead – who at the moment goes only by his musical moniker St. Pete/Pete Holland – Demolition Music’s 2017 Nashville Songwriters Competition.

It was also in Nashville where he met the other two core performers on the Seven Deadly Hymns EP, Jackson Bruck (Dukes of Hume) and Patrick Fuller (son of country rock’s Craig Fuller). “Nashville is incredible,” St. Pete says. “It’s porch-sitting. It’s open and vulnerable unlike anywhere else I’ve lived – NYC, Philly, London, L.A…”

St. Pete says he knows what he’s supposed to be doing is music, and soon enough, it’s going to be his main focus.

“When I was about 13, I started playing the guitar. I had stumbled on a Led Zeppelin remastered box set. I went crazy with it and thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I just wanted to be Jimmy Page.”

While his personal style has veered away from Zeppelin, the musician says to be a good songwriter you have to listen to what inspires you. By listening, and paying attention to the ideas that float by, he can sit down and build a song from the inside out to “come up with something that has a pulse when it’s done.”

“I wrote 100 songs in Nashville. Now it’s time to record.”

He has done a bit of recording recently – the latest single from St. Pete Holland, “Different Hymn,” dropped today.

St. Pete is currently based in Los Angeles, but frequently travels back east for musical collaboration (and because we all know that “best coast” thing is bullshit). Take a listen. Maybe we can get him to swing through the District.

For more information on St. Pete Holland and Seven Deadly Hymns, click here.

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Chvrches at The Anthem

Chvrches performed in front of a sold out crowd at The Anthem on October 18. Lo Moon opened. Photos: Shantel Mitchell Breen

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Little Dragon and April + VISTA at Rock & Roll Hotel

Grammy-nominated Little Dragon played a sold out show in the intimate Rock and Roll Hotel on October 17. Local duo April + VISTA opened with a set. Photos: Mike Kim

Shayla S. Simmons // Photo: DJ Corey Photography
Shayla S. Simmons // Photo: DJ Corey Photography

Aida Offers Love Triangle of Mystery

Finding love or defying odds – both are full of risks and layered with potentially upheaving plot twists. This is especially true for the Tony Award-winning musical Aida, an epic love story by Elton John and Tim Rice.

At Source through November 18, director Michael J. Bobbitt leads an ensemble of 14 to produce harmonious ballads, spirituals and pop sensations alike as part of Constellation Theatre Company’s 2018-2019 season, Epic Love.

In a war-torn country, an army captain (Radames) from Egypt, unbeknownst to him, captures the princess of Nubia (Aida) and forces her into slavery to serve his betrothed, the princess of Egypt (Amneris). A love triangle afoot, the mystery of betrayal is onerous – and the only matter worth pondering is the cause that shatters love in an ancient Egyptian tale.

The journey to uncovering the fate of these love-stricken nationalists is one of grand proportions. Each scene scratches deeper at the soul as passionately sung narratives draw tears from audience members. While echoing sentiments of longing for what was once eternal but now is at risk of being forgotten, songs like “The Gods Love Nubia” bring hope for the hopeless and peace for those eternally at war.

Fret not, though. The songs are not just of a melancholy nature. On the contrary – the song and dance numbers have listeners overcome with joy, as intended by the mastermind behind The Lion King score. Tony Thomas II’s choreography and Kenann Quander’s costume designs are paired perfectly with each song.

Chiffon, silk, exaggerated beading and over-the-top headwear grace the stage. With no surprise, Amneris, played by the emotive Chani Wereley, donned the best a princess could find, with at least six wardrobe changes. The breathtaking designs even elicited a witty remark from Aida, exquisitely played by Shayla S. Simmons.

“The Egyptians have a really nice thread count.”

Even the Pharaoh earned best dressed with his gold headwear and black cutout overalls.

If you’re looking for an epic love story that will have you on the edge of your seat, a good laugh and singalong-worthy tunes, or your next fashion obsession, see Aida. The production is the best addition to one’s autumn theatre itinerary. The sacrificial love displayed in this intimate space will warm your heart throughout the season.

Aida is playing at Source through November 18. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased at www.constellationtheatre.org.

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

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Cage The Elephant at St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena

Cage The Elephant performed Saturday, October 13 for the grand opening of the St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena in DC. The new venue features a gymnasium-style auditorium with a 4,200-person capacity, and two levels directly across from the stage with one level on either side of the stage. The floor space is quite large, with the option of bleacher seating extending from the back. Cage The Elephant delivered an energetic set including hit favorites such as “Closer,” “Cigarette Daydreams” and “Shake Me Down.” Lead singer Matt Shultz kept the audience entertained as he bounded across the stage and frequently interacted with starstruck fans in the front row. Judah & the Lion opened – their short set exploded with energy and ended with frontman Judah Akers leaping into the crowd.  Photos/write-up: Shantel Mitchell Breen

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Kali Uchis at 9:30 Club

Kali Uchis played her hometown twice this week on October 9 and 10, electrifying the crowd at 9:30 Club during sold-out shows. Touring on her debut album Isolation, Uchis brought her angelic voice and diva presence to the famed stage. Her set was filled with songs the crowd wanted to sing along to, such as “Tyrant,” “Just a Stranger” and “After the Storm.” Photo/write-up: Mike Kim