Photo: www.shannonandtheclams.com
Photo: www.shannonandtheclams.com

Shannon and The Clams Triumph Over Tragedy on New Album

Shannon and the Clams were well into recording their sixth album, Onion, when tragedy struck their hometown of Oakland, California. A fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse claimed the lives of 36 concertgoers and musicians that night in 2016 – many of them friends of the Clams. The event shook the DIY community of Oakland, and its aftershock was felt in similar creative spaces throughout the country. While their album had already taken shape, bassist and vocalist Shannon Shaw tells me how the group ended up incorporating the fatal fire into their new release.

“I don’t know if [guitarist and vocalist] Cody [Blanchard] felt the same way as me, but I wasn’t sure if I should or not,” Shaw tells me earnestly. “It was one of those things that me and the other people in that world have experienced. It was just on everyone’s mind all the time, and it still is, really.”

I can hear in her voice that while this is something the greater DIY community may have moved on from, it’s now forever ingrained in the fabric of their hometown. Shaw confirms my silent guess.

“It continues to f–k people up.”

In an act of healing – not just for the Clams, but for all of Oakland – it was weaved into Onion, released earlier this year.

“It became this thing were it would be weird of us to not write about our feelings,” she continues. “To me, that’s what music is: a diary that is important to share because it brings people together and sometimes brings people relief. I felt like I would not be being myself if I didn’t express myself in regards to the fire. God, I’ve written a lot of sad songs in my time, but when I wrote these, they were more for other people.”

Shaw and Blanchard have had different feelings in the wake of the fire, but both felt their band could express the way in which it affected them through music.

“I wanted people to know it was okay to feel everything,” Shaw explains, “and to be open about it and to try and grasp and remember all the amazing ways they’ve influenced our scene, and to let people know they won’t be forgotten. Cody’s take was to explain the plight of the artist, and what it’s like to be forced into the shadows, and all the cool and amazing things that happen in the shadows that people miss. I think that ended up being this really unexpected part of the album. Obviously, we didn’t know that was going to happen and we had a lot of material. But when it happened, that event took over.”

Even though Onion’s subject matter is deeply personal and at times heavy, the album does not stray from the Clams’ trademark brand of 60s-inspired, R&B-tinged psychedelic pop. When I ask her about how moments on Onion manage to be musically fun even when lyrically sad, the idea of music being a mirror to everyday life resurfaces.

“The lyrical content is there, but maybe trying to mask the vibe, but also I kind of think that’s a metaphor for life. Nothing is completely black and white, and using art or music as a tool to reflect that – the big picture or the full scene – that comes naturally.”

Their signature sound was fortified further with the help of Dan Auerbach, frontman of The Black Keys, and a fan of the Clams. Before the band signed to Auerbach’s Easy Eye label, Shaw embarked on a solo journey to his Nashville studio as part of his Easy Eye Sound Revue and to record her solo album. An incredibly accomplished musician in her own right, Shaw notes that her newfound creative partnership with Auerbach kept her on her toes.

“The Dan stuff threw me for a loop, because it’s a totally different world. It’s the big time. I come from the DIY punk zone. I’m comfortable in those shadows. I think to be somewhere shiny and pro instead of recording in a bedroom was intimidating – it’s just as simple as that.”

Shannon later returned to Nashville, the Clams in tow, to mold Onion into the lush and layered gem it became with Auerbach by their side.

“Dan is so good at seeing the big picture, and he also has this huge mental catalog – and really good taste – of sounds and instruments. He could just listen to our songs – which were already pretty good – and have these ideas for things we’d never even thought of. He just knows how far you can take a song: how many layers of stuff [and] how many guitars can you get on there before it’s too much.”

The band’s roots, their “shadows,” were not forgotten in the sparkle of a new producer and album, though. Shaw explains what she’s most looking forward to on the tour they’re about to embark on, and it’s not the big cities that thrill her.

“There’s a tiki bar out in Wilmington, North Carolina, and they have a big dock. At the end of the dock they have bands play right over the ocean. They’ve been asking us to play for years and it’s just never worked out with our routing and our schedule to go all the way out to the beach and play, so we’re doing that this year and I’m so excited. I’ve never played over the water.”

It’s clear that the Clams are on to their next adventure, with hope in the face of tragedy and shimmering sounds in tow.

Catch Shannon and the Clams at U Street Music Hall on Thursday, July 26. Big Huge and Gauche open. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15. And don’t miss the after-party with DJ Baby Alcatraz and Rob Macy at Dodge City. Doors at 10 p.m. Free.

U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St.NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com // Dodge City: 917 U St. NW, DC; www.dodgecitydc.com

Photo: Shervin Lainez
Photo: Shervin Lainez

Lindsey Stirling Shows She’s More Than A Violin Player

It’s not often someone known primarily for her masterful violin skills crosses over to the mainstream pop charts, but Lindsey Stirling is no ordinary star.

Highly skilled in dance, art and of course, her string instrument of choice, the 31-year-old innovative musician bolted to fame thanks to a series of choreographed violin performances on her personal YouTube channel a few years ago.

“The classical arts aren’t appreciated as they once were, so I think it’s exciting that I’m able to put my own twist on it,” Stirling says. “It’s a huge part of the arts that shouldn’t be forgotten and I bring to light classical elements with what I do, and brings to light the violin to people who maybe never thought they would love it.”

She found success with the release of her 2012 self-titled debut album and two other critically acclaimed works followed, including a popular holiday collection was released last year. She’s also won two Billboard Music Awards and finished second on last year’s Dancing With the Stars.

“There was this really cool moment when I was offered to play a show in Italy and my parents came with me and when we arrived, there were all these posters with my face on it, and it was the weirdest thing to realize these people in this small Italian town were looking forward to seeing me,” she says. “People were asking for autographs and giving me fan art and I just knew my life had changed.”

On July 24, Stirling will co-headline a show with Evanescence at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, both sets backed by a full orchestra.

“It’s something different from anything I have ever done on tour before, and that makes it really fun,” she says. “It’s been fun to reinvent the music and have it all orchestrated and it will be this cool fusion between live orchestra, rock elements and electronic elements all mixed together. That’s going to make it pretty magical.”

Stirling is excited to be coming back to the area, associating it with the first time she ever had Sweetgreen, her favorite restaurant, and is even more eager to be sharing this tour with Evanescence, as she considers herself a huge fan of Amy Lee and the band behind “Bring Me to Life.”

“I’m going to guest on Amy’s set and she will be on my set for a song as well,” Stirling says. “I have been a fan of hers for years and I wrote a song years ago with her in mind to sing it, but she wasn’t able to because she was on maternity leave, but I think it put me in the back of her mind that we should work together someday. She reached out a year ago and I played on their new album with the song ‘Hi-Lo’ and the reaction of the fans was just unbelievable.”

Touring throughout the summer at amphitheaters like Jiffy Lube Live has been a blast, she says, and she enjoys the “summer vibe” of people coming together as families and enjoying picnics and creating a more personal concert experience.

Although Stirling has been dancing and playing violin since she was little, her aspirations in college was towards a career in film.

“By the time I hit college, I was a little burnt out with music and didn’t know how I felt about the classical violin thing anymore, so I ended up studying film, which was another passion of mine,” she says. “I used to have editing software and was a real nerd about creating my own videos.”

She found the music and film worlds combined really seamlessly, which helped her become one of YouTube’s first breakout artists.

“One art really led the other and it allowed me to not only use my violin skills but also showcase it in a way that was really unique,” Stirling says.

Since then, she had a song on the soundtrack of Pete’s Dragon and also scored a song for a video game and hopes to get more involved with more scores in the years ahead.

Once her tour ends, Stirling will start writing some new music but is also going to pick up where she left off on a theatrical musical she started writing last year.

“I want to focus on that and maybe go to New York and really work on that for a while,” she says. “Until then, I am going to just enjoy this tour. I love putting on a show and anyone who comes out will have a fun time.”

Lindsey Stirling and Evanescence are set to play at Jiffy Lube Live on July 24. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $18.

Jiffy Lube Live: 7800 Cellar Door Dr. Bristow, VA; 703-754-6400; www.livenation.com/venues/14407/jiffy-lube-live

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Rosslyn Farmers Market: The Art of Food

Rosslyn’s weekly FRESHFARM Farmers Market on Central Place Plaza celebrated “The Art of Food” on July 18 with local food and drink vendors, live art onsite, and live music from R&B, pop and soul group the Jarreau Williams Xperience. Photos: LAFlicks Photography

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Wednesdays at The Wharf: The Woodshedders

Each Wednesday evening this summer at The Wharf, you’ll hear live music on Transit Pier presented by Landshark Lager, and this week’s featured band was indie roots rock group The Woodshedders. Photos: Mike Kim

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Shania Twain at Capital One Arena

During the first third of the show, when Shania Twain was performing her hit “That Don’t Impress Me Much” atop a 10-foot tall cube, she jumped in the arms of one of her male dancers as the last beat hit. Visibly enjoying the moment, she whooped and exclaimed, “don’t get me wrong, I’m a hardcore feminist, but I really love this part of the show. I have to relive it every night!” The dancer grabbed her and threw her back once more to which she whooped again.

Twain, 52, seems to have fully embraced her personal struggles that led to a divorce from her husband and collaborator Mutt Lange, the subsequent loss of her voice and a 10-year hiatus from touring. She made her triumphant return on Sunday to thunderous cheers in a nearly sold-out Capital One Arena on the DC stop of her NOW tour, supporting her first project in 15 years since 2002’s Up!. 

During a two-hour performance, the country pop icon took the crowd on a journey with songs and visuals spanning her illustrious 25-year career. “From This Moment On,” “I’m Gonna Getcha Good” and “Any Man of Mine” were some of the hits she graced the stage with. “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!,” one of her most widely known songs to date was met with roars as the entire arena practically sang the song for her during her encore. The overall production value was top notch, and rivaled pop performances from stars half her age. During one of the most touching moments of the night, Twain performed her ballad “Soldier” while floating over the crowd on a seat styled as a bumper stickered guitar case. While she sang, visuals of the film Thank You For Your Service, in which the song is featured, played on the screens.

Best of all, was the range of fans in attendance. Shania’s ability to bring together people of all ages was on full display Sunday night. After performing her 1998 smash “You’re Still The One,” she invited two fans on stage to share their experience with her. “What brought you here? What’s your story?” she asked a young woman in her twenties. The woman replied that her mother took her to her first concert when she was 5 years old and it happened to be Twain’s show. The other fan, a man also in his 20’s, donned Twain’s iconic leopard print hooded-bare midriff that she wore in her “That Don’t Impress Me Much” video. Twain’s face exploded with joy as she enjoyed witnessing the impact her art has had on entire generations.

While some other artists may shy away from their past struggles, Shania Twain’s return seems to be centered around embracing her hardships as part of her human story. This authenticity is quite inspiring and explains why she can take such a long hiatus, return and still perform for packed-out arenas. She is a shining example of the fact that our triumphs as well as our setbacks paint the full portrait of us and define who we are. She is still the one. Photos/write-up: Gevar Bonham

Rob Williams
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Gypsy Sally's Vinyl Lounge
Washington, DC
July 11, 2018
Rob Williams . Gypsy Sally's Vinyl Lounge Washington, DC July 11, 2018

Rob Williams at Gypsy Sally’s

Richmond, Virginia-based singer-songwriter Rob Williams performed at Gypsy Sally’s Vinyl Lounge in Georgetown last Wednesday, offering spirited renderings of original songs new and old, along with a couple of beautifully rendered covers. This performance was the first of a short tour that will take Williams and his musical partner, Turtle Zwadlo (accompanying on acoustic bass), through Ohio and back down through Virginia.

Drawing heavily on songs from his album, An Hour Before Daylight, released last year on Evertone Records, Williams and Zwaldo expertly picked (and grinned) their way through nearly three hours (over two sets) of Americana-tinged, bluesy folk songs. Fans of the late, great Jim Croce will recognize his influence both in Williams’ vocals as well as his “story” songs. “Butte, Montana 1885” was inspired by perusing old newspapers at the Library of Congress; “The Old North State” is the story of Rob’s parents settling in Virginia from North Carolina prior to his birth. Delving into his country identity, Rob pulled off a gorgeous “Blue” by Lucinda Williams, revving up the tempo but losing none of the song’s charm and heartbreak. The evening’s second cover was the 1973 Faces song, “Ooh Ooh La La,” that preceded the evening’s masterpiece, “Goodnight, Illinois,” which was so beautifully done, the audience asked for it again, a request Williams graciously granted to close the show.

I had a chance to chat with Williams and Zwaldo during the course of the evening on such topics as songwriting, performing, family, and the music world in general. What I came away with was how hard it is to be a local musician, chasing a dream, while maintaining one’s commitment and dedication to the craft. Wednesday’s show was a reminder of the ample rewards of pursuing one’s dreams and the joy of live music, both for the audience as well as the artist. I, for one, look forward to experiencing Rob’s music again soon. Photos/review: Mark Caicedo

Tedeschi Trucks Band at Wolf Trap

This past week, the Tedeschi Trucks Band gave audiences at the Wolf Trap Feline Center a glimpse of their powerful Southern soul rock. Photos: Nathan Payne

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Nelly’s Echo at Pentagon Row

This Thursday kicked off the Rock at the Row Summer Concert Series at Pentagon Row, featuring hot local pop band Nelly’s Echo, delicious bites from local restaurant partner Sine Irish Pub, and ice cold craft beer and wine at the pop-up bar. Photos: Mike Kim

Photo: Jason Kempin, Getty Images Enterainment, Courtesy of www.facebook.com/TaylorSwift
Photo: Jason Kempin, Getty Images Enterainment, Courtesy of www.facebook.com/TaylorSwift

Taylor Swift’s Reputation Stadium Tour is DC’s Pop Concert of the Year

Big reputation. Big delivery. Taylor Swift rocked the DC area’s biggest venue, FedEx Field, for two nights on July 10-11, leaving behind any talk of the haters and players she sings about in her ever-so-catchy songs. What fans received at Swift’s Reputation Stadium Tour was nothing but praise and gratitude for simply being a fan and sticking by her side, singing her songs all these years. Taylor Swift is at the top of all my friends’ best concerts lists, so for me, seeing her for the first time here at FedEx was a no-brainer. With three stages, exceptional lighting, huge inflatable snakes, dazzling costumes and a perfectly lit stadium that seemed to make all your problems disappear, the performances she gave in DC set the bar extremely high.

Taylor Swift opened in Landover, MD with “…Ready for it?” and ended with “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.” Her setlist included mainly songs from her recent Reputation album and a few oldies but goodies, like an energetic performance of “Love Story” (Fearless, 2008),  a slow piano mash-up of “Long Live”  and “New Year’s Day” (Speak Now, 2010), and an acoustic version of “State of Grace” (Red, 2012). Though she doesn’t dip into songs from her very first album on this tour, fans can still enjoy hearing almost all the Reputation songs that we’ve listened to prior to this day, live with such power and passion behind each vocal effort.

Some other memorable moments included Swift hanging in a lit-up sparkling basket gliding in the air from one stage to another singing “Delicate,” making fans’ dreams come true as she walked from that second stage to the third while shaking hands and throwing smiles at the people who were lucky enough to have floor seats right near her pathway, and coming back to the stage in her unique suspended form of stage transportation singing an enchanting rendition of “Wildest Dreams.” It was also a total jam fest when she brought out her openers/gal pals Charli XCX and Camila Cabello to dance and sing to one of my favorite feel-good tunes, “Shake It Off.” Nothing, however, topped her finale performance of a greatest-of-all-time mash-up “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together “/ “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.” With cool guitars, a grand piano,  insanely brilliant choreography and blazing fire — Taylor still had more for us to get giddy over: show-stopping fireworks rocketing from the stage under the starry night sky at FedEx Field.

There wasn’t a bad seat in the house — the magic of her red-hot show could be felt throughout the whole stadium. Taylor Swift left the drama behind and made her Reputation World Tour all about the music, production and the fans. See the rest of the tour dates at www.taylorswift.com.

FedEx Field: 1600 Fedex Way, Landover, MD; www.redskins.com/stadium/

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Foo Fighters at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Founded by Virginia native Dave Grohl, the Foo Fighters  have been a rock darling since their inception in 1994. The band made an appearance at the famed outdoor Merriweather Post Pavilion last Friday for their Concrete and Gold Tour. Photos: Nathan Payne