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Fire & Ice Festival at The Wharf

The Wharf hosted its annual Fire & Ice Festival on District Pier, featuring WAFF Ice House, 11 whiskey sampling stations, ice sculptures and games, flame thrower performers, a DJ and more. Proceeds from the KO Distilling shot ice luge benefit the Washington Area Fuel Fund. Photos: Mark Raker

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The Wood Brothers at 9:30 Club

The Wood Brothers, a Nashville based trio that features bothers Oliver and Chris Wood, along with Jano Rix, just released their sixth full length album, One Drop of Truth. The record is considered their most dynamic and showcases songs that each resemble a short-film in narrative structure. In support of their new album, The Wood Brothers have set out on a 3-month tour.

This included two nights in DC at the 9:30 Club. Last night they performed the first of these shows, and though snow may have kept a few people away last night, tonight’s show is sold out.

Priscilla Renea is the opening performer and she is a standout performer in her own right. Her friendly demeanor on stage, as well as her dynamic vocals were quite impressive.

Photos/writeup: Shantel Mitchell Breen

Photo: Dennis Marcus Photography
Photo: Dennis Marcus Photography

Instrumental Rock Legends The Ventures Come to The Birchmere

If the name The Ventures doesn’t ring a bell, trust me, it doesn’t mean you haven’t heard their music – including in Pulp Fiction’s perfectly timed final scene (see below). The Rock & Roll Hall of Famers are credited with being the godfathers of instrumental rock, with hits like “Walk Don’t Run” and “Hawaii Five-O” that you’d recognize within hearing the first three guitar chords. The iconic band is also known for their unwavering fanbase in Japan, where they still tour regularly, and their substantial contribution to surf rock as a genre in its own right in the 1960s.

On the eve of their 60th anniversary, the band’s current lineup – Bob Spalding (lead guitar), his son Ian Spalding (rhythm), Luke Griffin (bass) and Leon Taylor (drums) – are on a four-leg East Coast tour with a stop at The Birchmere on Thursday, January 17. We caught up with the current elder statesmen of the group, Spalding and Taylor (whose father Mel was the drummer in The Ventures’ classic lineup) before they take the stage in Alexandria this week about their new record Here We Go Again, why they’re not just a surf rock band and what it’s like to have fans spanning three generations.

On Tap: I know we’re interviewing you for your U.S. tour, but I really want to know what it’s like to tour in Japan.
Bob Spalding:
We’ve been to Japan so many times that I think most of us qualify for citizenship. We’re going back again this year. We usually end up doing 35 to 40 dates in a couple of months.

OT: How would you describe the experience of playing for fans in Japan versus fans in the United States?
Leon Taylor:
We’re going on our 60-year anniversary since the inception of The Ventures, [so we’re probably looking at] 57 years of going to Japan. It’s quite a different audience in the sense that Japanese people are very reserved. They enjoy the show and they’re active in their seats, but they don’t get up and jump around like the U.S. audience does. It’s very different in that way. When I first went there, I thought they didn’t like us. But I learned that’s just the way they are.
BS:
The Ventures had their first hit in 1960 with “Walk Don’t Run” and were invited to go on a tour of Southeast Asia in 1962. For all intents and purposes, they introduced Japan to the electric guitar. When they came back on tour in 1964, they were greeted by 10,000 people and they just became a tremendously popular group in Japan for a number of reasons. We’ve been very fortunate in being able to continue to go back to provide that level of music to the Japanese folks. And we’re still recording new music – not only for the Japanese folks but for the rest of our fans around the world.

OT: Can you tell me a little bit about your latest release?
LT:
The album is called Here We Go Again. Basically, the idea is The Ventures have morphed with different members over the years. There’s always been different members looking to change things up a little bit. We wanted to make a statement and say, “Here we go again,” because that’s kind of where we’re at. We’re making a resurgence into the market and we’ve got new material.
BS:
This will be the first new album [of originals] that The Ventures has done in 10 years or so. We will be playing some of our new songs at the show at The Birchmere, so look for those.

OT: Would you say the new album is more rooted in surf rock or instrumental rock ‘n’ roll in general?
BS:
I’m glad you brought that up. That’s kind of a difficult thing for us because people want to slap a label on you. Let me just say that we have no problem being known as a surf rock group because we popularized so much of the surf rock songs like “Pipeline.” However, the talent of the group both in the sense of performance – and writing and arranging [music] – goes beyond the surf rock genre. One of the songs we’re going to play [at the Birchmere] is a rearrangement of a Chopin song. I guess you can characterize that as surf rock, but I don’t think so [laughs].
LT:
If you want to say we’re a surf band, then we’re probably the most well-known surf band in American music. So, we’ll take it [laughs].
BS:
Yeah, here we go again.

OT: How would you describe your experience joining the band after The Ventures had already established such great success? Did you feel like you had big shoes to fill when some of the original members retired?
LT:
I definitely had some big shoes to fill and I knew it. Was it scary? Yeah [laughs]. It was very scary because the first time I played with the band, it was in front of 2,500 people in Japan and it was a packed house. But I rose to the occasion, and at one point one of the original members Don [Wilson] turned around and said to me, “If I hadn’t turned around, I could’ve sworn it was your dad playing.”
BS: It’s been quite an experience to be accepted as part of The Ventures family.

OT: What do you think gives your music universal appeal spanning generations – and even countries?
BS:
We are very fortunate because the music we popularized is basically evergreen. People know it, and we’re slowly getting these younger fans. A lot of them were exposed to the music when they were kids. They really have an interest in and a fascination for it.
LT:
When we have a fan come up and say, “My grandparents introduced me to The Ventures,” it’s cool and it’s kind of like, “Well, really?” [both laugh] It’s cool and kind of strange in the same way, you know? It’s amazing to have a following like that.

OT: What are some of the challenges you face in writing and performing purely instrumental music?
LT: If you don’t have melody, you don’t have song. So it’s a bit challenging in that regard.
BS: The hard part for us is to continue to develop, arrange and write new instrumental music and keep it in the character of The Ventures because of the sound that we have. We can’t say, “Okay, let’s do a Motörhead song.” That would be out of character for us and probably wouldn’t go over well because we don’t play like Motörhead. But we really try to continue the model of what the guys who came before us did, which is the interpretation of different songs as well as the development of new material within that Ventures’ [style], if you will.

Don’t miss the instrumental rock legends at The Birchmere on Thursday, January 17. Show at 7:30 p.m., tickets are $29.50. Learn more at www.birchmere.com.

The Birchmere: 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave. Alexandria, VA; 703-549-7500; www.birchmere.com

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The Revivalists at The Anthem

The Revivalists kicked off their Take Good Care tour this past Saturday, January 11 at The Anthem. This was a great start to their tour, as the band performed to a very enthusiastic, sold-out crowd.

Vocalist David Shaw spent most of his time out front on the stage interacting with fans. The crowd was all smiles as he would frequently reach out to touch the hands of those in the front row.

American Authors opened the show as attendees filled the venue. The set was high-energy and prepared all concertgoers for what was to come.

Photos/writeup: Shantel Mitchell Breen

Photo: Amanda Demme
Photo: Amanda Demme

Ashlee Simpson and Evan Ross Find A New “Home” Onstage

On “Home,” one of her first songs in a decade, veteran pop star Ashlee Simpson sings,  “this little house that I made for myself, keeps me occupied…keeps me satisfied.”

It’s a far cry from the twenty-something vocalist who triumphantly cried, “got stains on my t-shirt and I’m the biggest flirt” on the title track of her debut album Autobiography nearly 15 years ago.

However, “Home” is much closer to another couplet from that disc, featured in the soaring pre-chorus to a little, international smash hit called “Pieces of Me.”

“It seems like I can finally rest my head on something real, I like the way that feels,” the tunestated.  

That little house, that something real for Ashlee Simpson, 34, has been a loving marriage to actor and singer Evan Ross, two young children and a life out of the spotlight, at least until recently.

Simpson and Ross, the son of American music icon Diana Ross, put out a six-song EP this past October as the duo Ashlee + Evan. It’s the first new music from Simpson since she released her third album, Bittersweet World, in 2008 and the first since Ross dropped the single “How To Live Alone” in 2015.

The music on the Ashlee + Evan EP ranges from intimate, easy, breezy tunes like “Home” and “I Do,” to electrified, sultry club numbers like “Paris” and “Safe Zone.” There’s a lot of growth in these songs and a maturity to the sound, but still features elements of the winking edge and fist-pumping fun that made Simpson a household name and Ross an emcee who shares the mic with the likes of T.I. in the first place.

Both Simpson and Ross are making a long awaited return to their second home, the stage, for a run of club dates this month. Tonight they’re stopping by Union Stage at the Wharf for an intimate, energized shows. On Tap caught up with the two via email to talk about being back in the studio, and on the road, tease out a preview of the set list and see if there is any more new music down the pipe.

On Tap: So tonight will be the first time either have you performed live in front of an audience in sometime. How are you feeling? What are you thinking in the lead up?
Ashlee Simpson and Evan Ross: We are so excited and can’t wait to get in front of our fans, friends and family. We’ve been working hard on our live performance so we hope everyone has as much fun as we do on stage.

OT: Ashlee – I know that a lot of your previous musiOT: Both of you have been on hiatus from the music world as you’ve been starting your new family, belated congratulations by the way, but did both of you miss performing while you were away? 

AS and ER: Definitely, it’s been so nice to be home and spend time raising our family, but performing is in our blood. We can’t wait to get out there and meet our fans.

OT: Had you been working on material in these intervening years or did your new songs come much more recently?
AS and ER: We’re always working and singing to each other. But these songs came to us pretty quickly recently. It felt so natural and fun to work together in the studio.

OT: Your EP is a mix of acoustic and produced electronic tracks. How will you be adapting them to these live spaces?
AS and ER: You’ll have to come to the show to see!

OT: Will you go for more of the sound of “I Do” and make these intimate, quiet shows or do you still want that big, electro-pop sound?

AS and ER: Our EP is definitely intimate, but we love to dance. We’re performing some old stuff and also performing some covers to keep the energy high. We want fans to sing along and forget their outside life for the hour they’re with us.c reflected a specific time and place in your life. How do those songs resonate with you now?
AS: Performing these songs now is so fun and takes me back. I was going through so much at that time, and I feel like young people have things to say and it’s really important to remember that.

OT: Do they mean something different to you now as a mother, as a performer in this new space with Evan?
AS: No, these songs were such an important part of my life then, and it’s very cool to sing them now and have my husband be a part of it.

OT: What are you most looking forward to about playing this short run of shows?
AS and ER: Being able to have fun with each other on stage, see familiar faces again and for it to inspire us for what’s to come.

OT: Where do the two of you seeing this new musical venture going: A full album, a larger tour; another tour period?
AS and ER: We’ll have more music out together soon but we’re also working on our own projects. Plus who knows which city we’ll end up in next after this run?

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Ashlee Simpson and Evan Ross‘ performance is at 8 p.m. tonight, doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. For more information about the performance, visit here.

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

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BENT: A New LGBTQ Dance Party at 9:30 Club

This past Saturday, Steve Lemmerman, a.k.a. DC-based DJ Lemz and 9:30 Club Owner Seth Hurwitz established BENT: A New LGBTQ Dance Party in hopes of a quarterly event. To read more about the event, read Natalia Kolenko’s story here. Photos: Shantel Mitchell Breen

Photo: DiruPhoto
Photo: DiruPhoto

LGBTQ Dance Party BENT Looks to Connect People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shantel Mitchell Breen’s Top Photos of 2018

Shantel Mitchell Breen photographed 42 shows for On Tap in 2018. Now that the calendar has turned, the photographer wanted to post her top shots of the year. Below are photos from her top 10 concerts, including Beach House, Bush, Cage the Elephant, Nine Inch Nails and more. Photos: Shantel Mitchell Breen

Photo: www.unionstage.com
Photo: www.unionstage.com

Aztec Sun and More Bring High Energy to Union Stage for New Year’s Eve

No matter how you want to ring in the New Year, the DC area has an option for your specific partying needs. Maybe 2018 wasn’t your year, so drink it away in Clarendon’s many bars. If food is your endgame, spend the night at an acclaimed restaurant. If you’re the type to always seek out the best new beer, a local brewery’s soiree is your spot. If you’re like me, though, you’ll be craving a New Year’s celebration where music is the centerpiece of your celebration.

Enter Union Stage’s New Year’s offering. Dubbed “Funk (with Soul) vs. Bluegrass, the throwdown features one of the city’s most prolific live bands: Aztec Soul. With a reputation for their electrifying stage presence and jubilant blend of funk and soul (hence the name), the band will literally have you dancing your 2018 troubles away at The Wharf.

So what exactly can attendees expect from their New Years Eve night at Union Stage?

“A high-energy set from start to finish,” says Stephane Detchou, band leader and lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist. Detchou also let us in on the band’s plans to don bright and colorful outfits, and bring some guests onstage with them.

Aztec Sun will be joined by Bencoolen and The Dirty Grass Players. Given the stacked lineup and indication of a competitive (or perhaps collaborative) element with the “versus” in the title, I couldn’t help but wonder what the bands meant by that.

“There will definitely be a collaborative element to the performance,” Detchou assures, “but you’ll have to come to the show and find out!”

And when the New Year dawns, Union Stage will greet you with a complimentary champagne toast complete with “a special song/mashup planned for when the clock strikes 12,” the band leader continues.

In addition to the complimentary toast, Union Stage will offer its full drink and dinner menu. Craft beer and pizza lovers rejoice: the venue is home to a host of the best local and national brews, and their pizza is worth sharing with your fellow partygoers. Bonus: you won’t have to make an extra stop for food! Just grab a delicious Jersey-style bar pie at the venue.

If your New Year’s resolution looks like more celebrations with food, drinks and music all around, Union Stage has all you need. After all, Detchou says the band’s ultimate goal is “to give you the best show all around.”

“From the music to our outfits and our moves, we guarantee you’ll be thoroughly entertained.”

And as for Aztec Sun’s own New Year’s resolutions?

“To continue sharing our music with as diverse an audience as possible, and creating safe spaces for enjoying art at our show.”

Join Aztec Sun, Bencoolen and The Dirty Grass Players at Union Stage on Monday, December 31. Doors at 7:30 p.m., show at 8:30 p.m. Tickets start at $35.

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

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O. A. R. at The Anthem

O.A.R. performed last Saturday at The Anthem, rounding out their Just Like Paradise tour.  The Maryland-based band recently released a new single, “Miss You All the Time,” from their forthcoming 2019 album, The Mighty, which they performed in addition to 20 songs from their 20-year catalog. Every song on the setlist was performed with tremendous energy. The audience truly enjoyed the show. Photos/write-up: Shantel Mitchell Breen