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Dustbowl Revival at The Hamilton

The Dustbowl Revival is an Americana and soul band with eight full-time members who mash the sounds of New Orleans funk, bluegrass, soul, pre-war blues and roots music into a genre-hopping, time-bending dance party that coaxes new fire out of familiar coal. The band, founded in 2008 in the bohemian enclave of Venice Beach, California, played for DMV residents on November 17 at The HamiltonPhotos: Mark Raker / Write-up: The Hamilton 

Bruce Cockburn performing at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia on November 14, 2017.
Bruce Cockburn performing at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia on November 14, 2017.

Bruce Cockburn at The Birchmere

Fresh from being honored at the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and the release of Bone on Bone, singer-songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Bruce Cockburn has hit the road. On November 14, he stopped at Alexandria’s Birchmere and turned in a stunning two-hour performance.

Cockburn’s career spans five decades and, as he mentioned during the show, 332 songs. The 19-song set list featured the compelling new material, some deep-cut gems like “Free to Be, Tokyo,” and his standard rockers like “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” “Rocket Launcher” and “Strange Waters.”

I’ve seen Cockburn perform dozens of times, both solo and with a band. This particular ensemble featured longtime bandmates (percussionist Gary Craig and John Dymond on bass) with relative newcomer John Aaron Cockburn (Cockburn’s nephew) accompanying on accordion, violin and electric guitar.

The band experience affords Cockburn the opportunity to stretch out on the electric pieces while still being able to perform the quieter acoustic and instrumental songs. The highlight of the evening for me was “If a Tree Falls,” with the expert and flawless interplay of the younger Cockburn’s violin and Bruce’s lead guitar providing the evening’s emotional and musical high point.

Cockburn is already acknowledged, many times over, as one of Canada’s musical national treasures (joining the ranks of Leonard Cohen and Neil Young). Thankfully, we have two of those three still with us, so go catch Bruce on tour if you can. Find his remaining tour dates and Bone on Bone here. Photos and review: Mark Caicedo 

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Bleachers at 9:30 Club

Bleachers rocked the 9:30 Club last Saturday while touring for their second studio album, Gone Now. Photos: Krystina Gabrielle Photography

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The Sherlocks at DC9

The two sets of brothers (Kiaran and Brandon Crook, and Andy and Josh Davidson) that make up British indie/alternative band The Sherlocks rocked the DC9 stage on November 9. Photos: Mark Raker

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Everyone Orchestra at Gypsy Sally’s

Everyone Orchestra’s conductor, Matt Butler, has been leading a rotating cast of accredited musicians through full-length shows that are entirely improvised since 2001 after touring with the rock band Jambay. In 2012, Butler gathered particularly well-known musicians from bands like Phish, Moe. and others, and recorded Everyone Orchestra’s first studio album, Brooklyn Sessions, which was still largely improvised. The unscripted, untamed group rocked out at Gyspy Sally’s on November 11. Photos: Mark Raker

Photo: Courtesy of the Kennedy Center
Photo: Courtesy of the Kennedy Center

Mozart in the District

It’s not so much what Gianandrea Noseda says so much as how he says it. The Italian-born conductor speaks with a drawl that makes you want to listen closer and, even over the phone, you can tell which topics he finds blasé and which cause his eyes to light up.

At the mention of Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, Noseda demurs and says he’s seen little of the show. But it’s hard not to see some resemblances between him and the charismatic conductor in the series, played by Gael García Bernal. Noseda may not share the character’s penchant for drama, but he speaks about music and the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) with a similar passion. He’s also very enthusiastic about bringing the orchestra outside of the Kennedy Center‘s symphony hall and into the community.

Noseda began his tenure as the music director for the NSO this fall, and is conducting a free concert at The Anthem this coming Wednesday, November 15. The performance, which is already sold out, is meant to give listeners an inside look at what to expect from Noseda.

The concert will feature the works of four different composers: Ottorino Respighi, Ernest Chausson, Manuel de Falla and George Gershwin. Aside from Gershwin, none of these composers are well known, Noseda admits, but he does not see this as a problem. He refers to the program as a sort of musical buffet. None of the pieces last more than six or so minutes, so if you don’t like one dish, another is coming shortly; these composers offer a wide range of music, so there’s at least one dish for everyone.

“Someone who wants sweetness or tenderness can find it in some spots of Respighi or Chausson,” he says. “Someone who wants something very rhythmical will find it in Gershwin or Falla.”

He is particularly excited for the Massenet piece from Thais, as it will feature a solo by NSO Concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef. The concertmaster is young, but has been with the NSO for some time. Bar-Josef is the first chair violinist, and Noseda describes the position as the sort of right-hand man of the conductor.

“[As a conductor], if you have a good concertmaster, as well as other principals, let’s say 70 percent of your job is guaranteed.”

This prompts me to ask him what exactly it is that a conductor does. Noseda laughs at the question.

“People have the impression that the conductor just waves his hands.”

His job is to first and foremost motivate the musicians, to get them commit to a performance. In practical terms, that entails not only keeping time, but knowing the parts of all the instruments and how to balance them in a live performance. 

“You have to know the music of all the instruments and how to balance the sound, because if you have the trombones play loud, and you ask the violins to play loud, the loudness of the trombones is five times the loudness of the violins,” he says. “So how to combine these things, how to balance – it’s like a dish. If you put too much salt, at the end of the day, you don’t have the taste of the meat, fish or vegetable that you are eating, because it’s salty. Salt is necessary sometimes, but in limited quantity.”

Noseda anticipates that his orchestra’s performance at The Anthem will attract listeners to the Kennedy Center, because for him, the live performance is at the core of what they do.

“[Rather than] explain why music is so important in our society, just come and listen,” he says. “We are not from Mars. We are normal people and want to present the music we love to everybody.”

Noseda and the NSO will perform The Anthem program again on November 16, 18 and 19 at The Kennedy Center. Learn more at www.kennedy-center.org.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

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Oteil and Friends at Fillmore Silver Spring

Two-time Grammy winning bassist Oteil Burbridge has been in the music business touring and recording for over three decades. Over the years, Oteil has shared the stage with rock and blues legends. In 2012, Oteil received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award for his 17-year contribution to the Allman Brothers Band as the longest running bassist in the band’s history. On Monday, the noted artist rocked the Fillmore Silver Spring, providing a memorable experience for all those in attendance. Photos: Mark Raker

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Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, with Jen Cloher at The Anthem

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile are so radically different from one another onstage, it’s a wonder they got into the studio together for their collaboration, Lotta Sea Lice. The former is the epitome of constant motion, fidgeting and rocking, while the latter barely moves, other than the rapidity of his fingers.

The Anthem‘s crowd on November 7 seemed to want the version of Barnett who gained international fame with her 2015 release, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Occasionally, they were treated to such, as the Australian reeled off a few tunes from the famed record; but for the most part, this music was slower and more subdued.

That’s the effect Kurt Vile has brought to this union. The former lead guitarist for The War on Drugs draws his powers from his ability to vacillate between indie rock and indie folk. It’s not uncommon for him to attach a Southern twang to certain words; in fact, it seems that he extracts joy from this, reminiscent of Metallica’s James Hetfield finding reasons to randomly growl, “Yeah.”

The Anthem obviously prepared for the more folk-esque tunes, as the newly minted venue at The Wharf showed off its look for seated shows. Another photographer told me about a previous show, Trombone Shorty, which featured people literally losing their minds; not this time.

Barnett and Vile didn’t provide that setting, and they weren’t trying to. This was a different kind of show, forcing you to really dig into the lyrics and enact the title of Barnett’s very famous previous album.

Photos and review: Trent Johnson

Photo: Andy DelGiudice
Photo: Andy DelGiudice

Kishi Bashi Pushes Boundaries at Sixth & I

Perhaps describing an artist as “original” isn’t…well, original. Maybe it’s a little cliché, too. But, in searching for how to describe Kishi Bashi, this is the truest word I found.

Kishi Bashi, known by name as Kaoru Ishibashi, melds violin with keyboard, guitar and drums to create a sound that’s both exuberant and intimate. He also incorporates the looping pedal, a digital sampling machine that layers sound, giving his music an electronic and ephemeral feeling. It’s the perfect base for his voice, which he blends into the instrumentation seamlessly.

Listening to him at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue this Monday, where he performed with indie banjo band Tall Tall Trees, I was transfixed. How did Kishi Bashi create such a unique musical style? And what about him was so incredibly striking? I think it’s about boundaries – and how his music ignores them.

Take his opener, “Philosophize it! Chemicalize It!” He performed the song with classical violin, but also slipped in some jazz. The song has a psychedelic quality to it, but is also strongly pop. The composition is bright and joyful, but also hauntingly nostalgic.

Or “Mr. Steak,” which he performed later in the set. Like “Philosophize It! Chemicalize It!,” the song opens with classical violin, but quickly transitions to electronic pop before shifting back to classical. The piece is a curious combination of different genres, fearless is its musical style.

The end of the show was the ultimate disruption of the norm. Kishi Bashi and crew went from stage to audience, performing their last few songs amidst the crowd. Without access to electricity, they were completely acoustic.

I swayed with other concertgoers and sang along as I watched from the balcony. It felt like attending a show at your friend’s house, surrounded by like-minded music lovers. At one point, Kisihi Bashi even handed his violin to an audience member to hold while he transitioned to guitar. It was a warm and personal end to the concert. Performing while surrounded by fans gave the sense that we were all a part of creating the music – that the boundaries between performer and listener were an illusion.

Kishi Bashi’s approach and style – “original,” through and through – offers a full-spectrum musical experience. I’ve never left a show feeling more uplifted and connected, both to the artist and to other concertgoers. He’s genuine, generous and unique; he’s an artist that you’ve got to see for yourself.

To learn more about Kishi Bashi and to view his upcoming tour dates, visit www.kishibashi.com.

Sixth & I Historic Synagogue: 600 I St. NW, DC; 202-408-3100; www.sixthandi.org

Photo: Kentucky Avenue
Photo: Kentucky Avenue

A Chat with Dave Ries from Kentucky Avenue

With influences like Lucinda Williams, Hank Williams and Bruce Springsteen, Kentucky Avenue, a folk-Americana outfit from the DMV, is the real deal. What started as an impromptu jam session between Dave Ries and Stella Schindler has burgeoned into a bonafide duo with the record Nothing Here Is Mine.

On Tap: How long did you work on Nothing Here Is Mine, and when did you know you had enough material for an entire album?
Dave Ries: The momentum was there right from the start, and after first playing together in September of 2016, we wrote more than a dozen songs in six weeks. The actual recording process took about six calendar months, but really only about 14 studio days.

OT: What’s your songwriting process like with Stella?
DR: It really is a back and forth. Many times, we would stop and talk about the stories of the characters in the songs, which led to trading off lyrics, playing around with harmonies, and settling into [the song’s] rhythm and meter. When it worked, we could hear the click, and we knew we had a song.

OT: What inspired the album title? What does it mean?
DR: There are a lot of ways to interpret the title Nothing Here Is Mine. We’ve been asked whether it is a Buddhist or a Zen thing, but it just seems to be a fundamental thing. One day your eyes open and you really feel alive, and you realize that everything you have, everything you experience, all the people in your life – everything has been given. In the actual song, there’s a lot of searching going on, but in the end, we come to find out that nothing here is mine, and that’s all right.

OT: What genres were you influenced by when recording this album?
DR: In the end we’d say we have an alt-country record, where classic country meets classic rock.

OT: How did you two meet? When did you first start playing with one another?
DR: We met about a year ago when a cover band that I was playing in was asked to play a function at the school where Stella teaches. The organizer of the event mentioned that there was a faculty member who sings and plays guitar that was going to sit in with us. The band was of course a bit skeptical. Then Stella showed up. Needless to say, we were blown away by her voice.

OT: Lastly, where can we catch a show this month?
DR: We are playing at Villain & Saint in Bethesda [on] Saturday, November 25, [and at] the DC Holiday Market at Gallery Place [on] Monday, November 27.

For more information about Kentucky Avenue, visit www.kentuckyavenuemusic.com.