Photo: Matt Hogan
Photo: Matt Hogan

Caroline Rose Dug Her Own Grave

I’m almost ashamed to admit that it wasn’t Caroline Rose’s music that first caught my attention, it was her powerful aesthetic.

When you’re doing the Music Picks at On Tap, and you don’t recognize a band, sometimes you make a judgement call on whether to give them a listen or not based on their artwork or images. For Rose it was a shot of her in a bright red tracksuit with a blasé expression and mouth full of cigarettes. It was one you couldn’t just scroll past.

You’ll notice in all her photos and videos she’s wearing that signature red, and that’s something I brought up with her when I got her on the phone in anticipation of her November 17 show at the Miracle Theatre.

“It’s just too far gone at this point,” Rose tells me when I ask her why she always wear red.

She’s speaks very down to earth and you can feel the humor.

“I’ve gotten rid of all my other clothes at this point, I’m in too deep,” she adds.

I press her on what the red makes her feel and she tells me that sometimes she’ll see a “very beautiful red and feel passionate,” but otherwise, she feels, “nothing.”

“I’ve dug my own grave,” she says laughing.

Rose’s music is much like the aforementioned photo, which is album artwork for her latest release, LONER. It’s funny, but also vulnerable. Her songwriting is a less weathered U.S. Girls, and not unlike Meg Remy too. She’ll inhabit characters, but never in a way that feels mean spirited.

The lead track off the album, “More of the Same,” gives a good example of the way her songwriting uses humor to make its point.

The second verse in particular: “I go to a friend of a friend’s party/ Everyone’s well dressed with a perfect body/ And they all have alternative haircuts and straight white teeth/ But all I see is just more of the same.”

Rose says there’s two stories to that song. The first has to do with a record label that didn’t trust her and had her constantly sending in demos of her music. The other is the one she often tells onstage, captured in that verse.

Sonically, the track is a hard turn from her previous release I Will Not Be Afraid. Until LONER, Rose’s music has been very much Americana.

On the 2018 release and in “More of the Same,” Rose moves into art-pop, making ample use of wobbly synths and other funky sounds, namely a range of samples from her apartment including “glass clops,” as she calls it. 

Over the phone, we talk a little bit more about the party.

“I was the only person dancing,” as she puts it.

That’s a succinct way of expressing a moment of displacement. She says the song is ultimately about how to be yourself when everyone is trying to make you fit in.

On tours, she and her band make a point of having some fun, so before or after the show look for them about town. Previous outings for the band include the movies, laser tag and Mall of America. Follow her on Instagram to catch up on the band’s latest shenanigans.

Also check out the production value on these the music videos for “Jeannie Becomes a Mom” and “Soul No. 5” on YouTube, they’re lush.

Caroline Rose plays with And the Kids at the Miracle Theatre on November 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Miracle Theatre:  535 8th St. SE, DC; 202-400-3210; www.themiracletheatre.com

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Kamasi Washington at Lincoln Theatre

Kamasi Washington played a sold-out show at the Lincoln Theatre on November 10. Check out our select shots from the intriguing show. Photos: Mike Kim

Photo: Mike Kim
Photo: Mike Kim

Kamasi Washington Gives Us Butterflies

Kamasi Washington played Lincoln Theatre Saturday night and, sitting fat and happy in the audience, I had butterflies before he went on.

The opener, RVA-based Butcher Brown and his band, played a jazz and funk set to open, and they were great, but on either side of the Butcher Brown band drum kit, you could see Washington’s two-kit setup bookending the stage, hinting at what we could look forward to.

Washington released his debut record, The Epic, in 2015 (clocking in at just under three hours!), and has since made himself the face of contemporary jazz whether that’s for his contributions to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly or for his own solo material, like The Epic, or his subsequent records Harmony of Difference (2017) and Heaven and Earth (2018).

From the titles of his records, you can tell the man doesn’t shy away from high aspirations and that comes across in his live set. Like on his recordings, the live set is both challenging to listeners and lush. Lush in its melodies and instrumentation and challenging because there are no eight-bar solos and there are no three minute songs.

Onstage, Washington was flanked by vocalist Patrice Quinn, trombonist Ryan Porter, Brandon Coleman on keys, Miles Mosely on upright bass, and drummers Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner Jr, musician Thundercat’s younger brother.

I may have been miffed at first to only see a seven piece band, knowing how orchestral Washington’s recordings can be, but that was soon forgotten. These players are among the very best.

Standouts from the night included a Miles Mosely composition called “Abraham,” which he led on upright bass and soloed over using a bowing technique and a wah-pedal, Brandon Coleman’s solo on “The Space Travelers Lullaby,” Patrice Quinn on “The Rhythm Changes” and the drum “conversation” between Bruner Jr. and Austin.

Onstage, Washington actually referred to “Space Travelers Lullaby” as the “Space Cadets Lullaby” and called Quinn the “queen of all space cadets.”

“To this day, I have no idea how she gets to gigs.”

Watching her onstage, you might have thought the same thing. She only sang on a few tracks and otherwise danced onstage. But her dancing was otherworldly. Imagine an oracle moving and swaying, or imagine a priestess dancing with someone, that someone lacking a body.

Still, my favorite song from the night was “Truth,” the final composition off of Washington’s Harmony of Difference record. One of the things I love about that record is how symphonic it is. The first five tracks feature five different melodies, all of which come back on the final track “Truth” and are played simultaneously. It’s sounds like it could be a cacophony, but it’s so far from it.

“I made Harmony of Difference,” Washington says onstage, “to remind us of just how beautiful we are, and that the difference between us is what makes us great.”

At this point in the set, he really had our ears.

“Diversity among all the people on this planet is not something to be tolerated,” he continued, “it’s something to be celebrated.”

Truth was the metaphor for that message and the night was a celebration of that message. Don’t miss Washington the next time he comes to town.

For more information about Kamasi Washington, go to www.kamasiwashington.com or follow the musician on Instagram at @kamasiwashington, Twitter at @KamasiW or Facebook at @kamasiw.

Photo: Exploded View
Photo: Exploded View

Exploded View’s Anika thinks Berlin Winters are Rubbish

Anika’s (Annika Henderson) voice sits somewhere between Nico and Sibylle Baier: it has a classic, melancholic singer-songwriter bent. Unlike those two singers, she’s not from Germany, but from Britain, which may not be so apparent in the way she sings. The accent certainly comes across when she speaks. 

“Mexico City is the best place to escape the Berlin winters,” she says. “Berlin winters are rubbish.”

I’ve listened to her music since high school, when her solo record Anika (2010), was in a stack of CDs my sister gave me. To hear her voice on the other end of the phone tripped me up for a moment.

Since 2016 Anika’s been making music as Exploded ViewThe Exploded View material is quite different from the earlier stuff I grew up listening to, as her old music came prominently from a singer-songwriter tradition even if the instrumentation was post-rock.

For Exploded View, the post-rock experimentation comes to the forefront in both the sound and song structure, and folk comes through as an accent.

While Anika is based in Berlin, Germany her bandmates Martin Thulin and Hugo Quezada are based in Mexico City, Mexico.

Talking to both Thulin and Anika on the phone, I try to ask how they manage the distance. The answer isn’t clear, although I get a quick response as to why they play together. Anika tells me she was never able to find a band she really clicked with in Berlin, “surprisingly” she adds.

“It never felt right,” she says. “I’m looking for people who are just searching, who are not looking to create the next best record. People who are just looking to make music and see what happens. Music for me is about life and growth and it’s not about producing a record that will sell.”

When she went to Mexico to tour her solo material she found Thulin and Quezada while looking for a backing band. One day in rehearsal they were held up by a late fourth band member and decided to have a jam session while they waited. When they listened back on their jam session recording, they liked what they heard and Exploded View was born.

Fast forward to today and Exploded View is touring their latest release Obey, including the band’s first North America tour, which Thulin and Anika are excited for.

One of her favorite things about playing a show is seeing that spark of inspiration on a listener’s face, and she loves playing for those who are equally interested in learning. She says she doesn’t just perform for those who stand there cross-armed and “waiting for you to fail.”

“If you you look at a tree and think ‘oh I’ve already seen that before,’ that’s a sad attitude,” she says. “Of course you [have], but also you haven’t. They’re each their own.”

Exploded View plays with Brooklyn-based Forma and DC’s Luna Honey at DC9 Sunday, November 11 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.

DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; 202-483-5000; www.dc9.club

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Billie Eilish at 9:30 Club

Teenage pop-sensation Billie Eilish brought her eclectic fashion and impeccable singing voice to the 9:30 Club on November 7. Photos: K. Gabrielle Photography 

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St. Lucia at 9:30 Club

Some bands have the ability to sound great on a record but struggle to bring that same quality of sound onstage. St. Lucia has both, and put on a radical display at 9:30 Club on November 6. Photos: Mike Kim

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Tenacious D at The Anthem

The Anthem was bursting at the seams last night as Tenacious D entertained 6,000 fans who have clearly been excited for the show.  This is the band’s first tour in five years and the first time visiting the District since their show at the Patriot Center in 2006. This would explain the obvious excitement from the fans who were present.

Jack Black and Kyle Glass took the stage behind a semi-transparent movie screen where they performed their latest release, Post-Apocalypto in its entirety. Cartoon illustrations drawn by Black were projected onto the movie screen to entertain the crowd. The stage lights appeared for musical selections before giving way to the illustrated story on the screen. Approximately 30 minutes into the set, Post-Apocalypto concluded and the screen fell to the ground as Black announced a set change

“What other band helps out with their set change?” Black joked. “This is the part of the concert where we play the classics!”

The crowd cheered loudly and Tenacious D kicked then performed 12-songs from “way back.” These tunes included “Kickapoo,” “The Metal” and “Kielbasa.”  It was definitely an entertaining evening and not one Tenacious D fan left The Anthem disappointed. Wynchester opened for the evening. Photos/write-up: Shantel Mitchell Breen

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On Tap Music Issue Cover Shoot: Behind the Scenes

Photographer Lauren Melanie Brown and stylist Jai-D’Ly Lescieur are the creative talents behind our November cover shoot in Blagden Alley featuring DC band Den-Mate’s frontwoman, Jules Hale. Learn more about Brown’s work at www.laurenmelaniebrown.com and Lescieur’s stylings at www.jailescieur.com, and check out M.K. Koszycki’s story on Hale here.

Photo: www.christineandthequeens.com
Photo: www.christineandthequeens.com

Christine and the Queens find Freedom in Fluidity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lettuce and Turkuaz at The Anthem

On  November 3, The Anthem came alive as Turkuaz and Lettuce performed a full night of funk and soul. The evening kicked off with New York-based Turkuaz. The nine-piece band played more than an hour of hits that kept everyone dancing. Lettuce headlined the evening, performing a two-hour set that included guest appearances from Beau Young Prince and Marcus King. Photos/write-up: Shantel Mitchell Breen