Rita Ora

Rita Ora’s DC Coronation at U Street Music Hall

In the fifth scene of the second act of William Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night, the steward Malvolio contemplates a life of success and renown as he conjures the now-famous phrase “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” What the Bard did not mention is that some also have greatness thrust in front of them, as it bounds on stage with a lioness’ mane of platinum-blonde hair, and delivers party-pop perfection with some powerhouse pipes. This was the scene when Rita Ora bound onto the stage of U Street Music Hall to perform her first concert in the District of Columbia this past Tuesday. And lo, what greatness we did behold.

Undoubtedly many in the audience, and around the states, were first exposed to Ora through her collaboration on Iggy Azalea’s third summer smash of 2014, the Katy Perry penned “Black Widow.” Ora seemed acutely aware of this this during her marathon, 50 minute set, performing her vocal parts from the trap-influenced hit as her second number of the night. While just as entertaining for her and her fabulous backing band to perform as it was for the audience to rave along to, Ora clearly did not wish to linger on the music of others. This show, and indeed the rest of her brief “Body On Me” tour, served to properly introduce Rita Ora to the US, and it is an absolute pleasure to meet the real Rita.

The shame, in some ways, of most people knowing Rita’s name and voice through the Azalea hit is that the song, not in any malicious way, severely restricts Ora’s dynamic, mezzo-soprano voice. Her vocal power shone in the night’s slower numbers; the tear jerking, love ballad “Us,” and the night’s closer, the R&B/pop jam “Body On Me.” Indeed it is her uncanny ability to inject flashes of belting amidst perfect vocal and instrumental hooks that makes Rita so dangerous. And beyond her undisputable vocal prowess, Ora’s own music has a delightful eclecticism to it. The UK music scene is well-documented as more eclectic and filled with more risk takers than the US, and that is reflected in the variety of flavors with which Ora spices her live set, with the aid of her band. Drummer Devon Tayler injected Motörhead-worthy double-kick, metal drumming into the DJ-Fresh produced, electro-rave hit “Hot Right Now,” transforming the club hit into an EDMetal explosion. Keyboard player Karina de Piano brought a soulful surge to the electronically propulsive, sensual, and sinfully gospel number “Religion,” guitarist Adam Ross shred his telecaster across songs like opener “R.I.P.” and bass player Joe Cleveland brought the funk and the held down the fort with his fat notes.

Even though Rita sought to introduce the sold-out, jam-packed U Street Hall to her music, the real Rita also likes to have fun with her mates’ music. Whether she was aware of it or not, Ora vindicated those disappointed by the canceled Charli XCX/Bleachers show with a lively cover of XCX’s hit “Doing It,” letting her bratty, pop-punk side shine through. And, beyond that, a giddy Ora took most of the show’s time to showcase the material from her upcoming second album—which has no official title but she promised would drop at the end of November—that she is most excited for. While many artists who promote new music enjoy performing it, Ora was absolutely thrilled by the chance to showcase music from, as she put it, “Only my second album since I got signed seven years ago. It’s about motherf***ing time.” After hitting the crowd with present and future hits like “Poison,” “Body On Me,” and “Roc The Life,” Ora brought the crowd to the pinnacle of uncontrollable excitement when Ty Dolla $ign emerged from the club’s backstage to premiere the trap-laced, dirty club number “Paranoid.” Between the Foo Fighter’s mini-festival at RFK, Taylor Swift’s celebrity guests, and now Rita and Ty, DC has rarely had such a rich year of incredible musical collaborations.

As the night revealed, U Street Music Hall was the ideal venue to introduce Rita Ora to Washington, DC. The intimate, rock and rave ready setting matches Ora’s performance style perfectly, and her personality. As an “all ages” venue and show, it really was all ages, with a handful of families and pre-teens bopping along to the new UK pop royalty’s numbers. Ora even picked a pre-teen devotee, crushed against the front of the stage, to sit by her for the majority of the concert. And to serve as her dance partner. Ora had already won the crowd’s hearts before she stepped on stage, but she still acted like this was a battle to win over the hearts and minds of the uninitiated. And that is why she is such a brilliant artist and performer. Rita Ora gave the audience her best—the best banter, the “best” behavior, the best musicians (who else would bring two back-up singers to U Street?), and her best songs, when others would pander to pre-existing “fans.”

In fact, the only problem with the night was that it ended too early.

Rita graciously blew a parting kiss after eleven songs and fifty minutes of joyous, party pop; and left the crowd wanting hours more. But we few, we happy few in the audience received the rare treat of being present for the birth of the star. The pop music scene has another contender for the title of “Queen,” and her name is Rita Ora.

To learn more about Rita Ora visit www.ritaora.com

Setlist:

  • R.I.P.
  • Black Widow (Iggy Azelea cover)
  • Roc the Life
  • Religion
  • Doing It (Charli XCX cover)
  • Paranoid (with Ty Dolla $ign)
  • Us
  • Poison
  • I Will Never Let You Down
  • Hot Right Now
  • Body On Me
Jason Aldean

Jason Aldean Burnin’ It Down at Jiffy Lube Live

Country megastar Jason Aldean lit up Jiffy Lube Live on Saturday Sept. 12, playing to a packed stadium of loyal fans. The crowd was rowdy and ready to party. Known for his country music with a rock star edge — think fire, pyrotechnics, explosive guitars — the Macon, Ga. native didn’t disappoint.

What’s cool about Aldean, he doesn’t do a lot of talking in between songs or get into extensive solos, he gets up there and plays the music that fans love to hear – hit after hit. He seems to understand why fans are at the show – to party and hear their favorite songs.

He did a solid job of moving between his different styles throughout his set, and effectively blended his mix of play between earlier hits and newer songs. The show was loud as hell, but the fans soaked it up, singing along, all night long.

10 years in the making, Aldean exploded with hit after hit from “Hicktown,” “Tattoos on this Town” and “Fly Over States” to “Big Green Tractor,” “When She Says Baby” and “Night Train.”

From the new album, “Old Boots, New Dirt,” he rocked the crowd with “Gonna Know We Were Here,” “Tonight Looks Good on You” and of course, “Burnin’ It Down.” He thanked fans and those close to him for “letting him do things his way,” particularly with “Burnin it Down,” alluding to the fact that there were some naysayers during the writing and recording process.

Two surprises of the evening included his own rendition of Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69″ – a tribute to his appreciation of rock ‘n’ roll, meanwhile, noting that new rock ‘n’ roll “sucks.” Also, he brought out openers Cole Swindell and Tyler Farr to sit in for Luke Bryan and Eric Church, who together sang “The Only Way I Know.”

If you’ve never seen Jason Aldean live, well, you’re missing out. The fans love him, he plays nothing but hits and the show is one big party.

To learn more about Jason Aldean visit www.jasonaldean.com

Lenny Kravitz
Photo: Mathieu Bitton

Forever Iconic, Always Cool Lenny Kravitz

It’s been 25 years since Lenny Kravitz first exploded onto the American rock scene with his debut album “Let Love Rule.”

In the time since, Kravitz has established himself as a top-tier rock star, moving millions of records, selling out arenas around the world – even picking up four straight GRAMMYs for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. While rock music is Kravitz’s first love, the New York City native isn’t content just making records. Kravitz’s convincing portrayal of a compassionate nurse in the breakout indie film “Precious” and his role as the revolutionary artist Cinna in the blockbuster “Hunger Games” series have demonstrated he has serious acting chops too.

The multi-dimensional musician is also spending a lot of time behind the lens of a camera and has produced a new book of photography, “Flash,” that turns the lens on the paparazzi that have stalked him for years.

With a new record, “Strut,” released this year and a concert at Wolf Trap scheduled for Sept. 1, On Tap caught up with Kravitz to talk about his newest projects, the state of rock-n-roll, jamming with President Obama and more.

On Tap: Congratulations on your latest record, “Strut.” It’s definitely a Lenny Kravitz record with big guitars and a rocking sound, but it’s also more danceable than some of your previous work. What were the influences here?
Lenny Kravitz: While I was making the record, I found that I was channeling music that I was listening to in high school – things like David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’, the Rolling Stones’ “Tattoo You” – these kinds of records, which are rock ‘n’ roll records, but they also have dance grooves.

OT: Is there any fresh, new music that you’re listening to these days that you’d suggest our readers check out?
LK: My daughter’s band, Lolawolf – I’m a huge fan. I listen to them a lot and try and catch their shows whenever I can. There’s also a band that is opening for me in Europe who I really like, called London Souls, and they’re out of New York.

OT: What do you have to say about the state of rock ‘n’ roll? Is rock ‘n’ roll – at least as we have long known it – dead as you once even proclaimed yourself in a song? Some have even said the electric guitar could become obsolete in the digital age. Say it isn’t so!
LK: No, I think that rock ‘n’ roll will always be here, always have a presence. Electric guitar is a powerful instrument and it will never be obsolete. There are so many young bands that are getting back to playing live, playing real instruments. I think it’s very hopeful.

OT: Tell us about your photography project “Flash” that turned the lens on the paparazzi.
LK: For many years, I’ve been fascinated with the art of photography. I’ve been around a lot of great photographers, because I’ve been shot by a lot of them, and it’s always been something that has intrigued me. I started to shoot a few years ago while I was on the road, and as I was going out to shoot on my days off, I was always bombarded with people – fans, paparazzi – and it made it very difficult for me to shoot. Eventually, I just embraced it, because everyone is giving what they’re giving, and that’s also what I was doing. So I began to shoot the people who were shooting me, who were chasing me. I thought it was an interesting exercise but I didn’t think much about it. Then Jean-Baptiste Mondino, the photographer, saw the pictures and thought it should be their first exhibition. He thought that the idea had never been done, and he did some research and found that it hadn’t. I put this group of photographs together and it ended up being an exhibition in Paris, Germany, Los Angeles, and now we’re getting ready to do Vienna in a couple of weeks. I’m going to continue the exhibition tour around the world and also put a book out called “Flash” – which is photographs from the exhibition.  I love it. I shoot all the time and it’s something that I will continue to do.

OT: As a veteran musician who has operated at the highest levels of the business, what advice would you give to a young Lenny Kravitz setting out today given the seismic changes in the industry?
LK:  I would just say to be yourself. That’s the only thing that I’ve consistently stuck to and somehow I’m still here. I think it’s important to be original, listen to your creative spirit, and be you. There’s a lot of people out there in the record industry who want you to do what’s happening – follow what the hits are – but I think it’s more important to be original.

OT: You’ve toured the world many times. Any specific recollections or observations about playing Washington, DC – the nation’s capital?
LK: I have played there many, many times – from the 9:30 Club and up, from the beginning of my career. I always loved playing there because it was really great energy. The last time I played in DC was for the Kennedy Center Honors, for the induction of Led Zeppelin, which was a great honor. We got Barack Obama rocking, so that was fun.

OT: Finally, congratulations on a film career that is gaining steam, especially with the success of the “Hunger Games” series.  Do you plan to continue developing your acting career and does that eventually come at the expense of a thriving music career or is it really possible to both at the highest levels?
LK: I think it’s possible to do both, and I love using different mediums to express myself. Music is the nucleus of my creativity, but I will continue to grow and eventually make my own films.

Lenny’s September show at Wolf Trap is sold out, but On Tap will be giving away a free pair of tickets to one lucky winner. Visit www.ontaponline.com for details. In the meantime, check out his new album “Strut”. To learn more about Lenny visitwww.lennykravitz.com

Photo: Lenny Kravitz by MathieuBitton

Asaf Avidan
Singer, Asaf Avidan

Lessons in Physics and Feelings with Asaf Avidan

Asaf Avidan is one of the voices that comes along only once in a generation. The Israeli folk-rock singer-songwriter, and former front man of Asaf & The Mojos, brought his singular voice to the stage of the 9:30 for an intimate evening of heart-wrenching songs and humorous commentary on human nature and the nature of the universe. Whether he is holding a note at top range for nearly half a minute or holding a conversation with himself about a cheating man, Asaf Avidan is one of those artists perfectly suited for the stage.

The wonderful thing about Mr. Avidan and his music—aided by a cast of five other dynamic Israeli musicians—is how accessible and familiar it seems while being totally his own. Comparisons are often made between Mr. Avidan and singers like Leonard Cohen and Billie Holiday. These are apt, but in the live setting one can hear so many more vocal overtones in Mr. Avidan’s golden, shadow- voice. There is the gravel and heart-wrenching wail of Janis Joplin, the nostalgia of Jackson Browne, the seductive, swung drawl of Amy Winehouse, growl of Tom Waits, the soul-searching, road weariness of Bruce Springsteen, the deep timbres and evocativeness of Nina Simone, and the all-out powerhouse range of Robert Plant.

Musically, Avidan’s band channels the same music that backs many of the above singers, but channeled and combined subtly to make one potent musical mix. What makes Mr. Avidan’s band members just as remarkable as him is how they layer and construct each of their parts to seamlessly lock within each other’s. Every note, every lick, and every melody is tight and compact, there is no excess fat on these musician’s output. Even more impressive, and refreshing, was the range of sounds and effects that these musicians employed to build the sonic potency of Mr. Avidan’s set. While percussionist Michal Bashiri’s xylophone was quite refreshing to hear in the 9:30 Club and Liron Flora Meshulam’s keyboards ranged from soaring gospel tones to prog rock sweeps, the real secret weapon of the night were the cello bows employed by bassist Dan Bernard Zaitun and guitarist Zohar Geinzburg on the haunting, mid-set “Labyrinth.” The two musicians elevated their instruments to symphonic levels, shaking the rafters of the 9:30 Club with their eerily disturbing yet comforting sound.

As serious as Mr. Avidan and his band are about their music—at one point in the show, Mr. Avidan thanked the audience for putting up with him, explaining “What I do is very intimate and mysterious and egotistical – I do it for my own reasons. But you’re making this more than just a little guy crying his little heart out. You’re taking it with you and molding it into your own experiences and I love that”—he proved that he can also be quite the raucous comedian with a razor sharp wit. Between riffing on audience members declaring their love for him, cracking one liners about himself, and holding a full conversation with himself during a song intro, Asaf Avidan showed how a great front man should act on all fronts.

On Superbowl Sunday, as crowds flocked to the bars of U Street, a few hundred gathered in the 9:30 Club to hear and share in the heart-wrenching, superbly crafted songs of Asaf Avidan and his band. What they didn’t expect to get was his impromptu physics lecture:  “It’s a ‘super ball kind of day so I’m gonna do a “super ball” lesson. We’re all little somethings that make up a big nothing – it’s like they teach you in physics, quantum theory and all that shit. They teach you how the universe is filled with dark energy and dark matter and all this dark shit…Shut up, I do have a point. If you ever find another something to latch onto, hold on to it.” Hold on to Asaf Avidan: He is a one of a kind voice and a one of a kind performer.

To learn more about Asaf Avidan visit www.asafavidanmusic.com

Hayley Williams
Photo credit: FueledbyRamen Press

Summertime Ain’t It Fun: Hayley Williams of Paramore

On July 18, Merriweather Post Pavilion will be lit up by a diminutive pop-punk pixie with day-glo reddish orange hair and a serious amount of stage presence. Hayley Williams, lead vocalist for Paramore, will rule the stage with bandmates Jeremy Davis and Taylor York. They’re calling it the “Monumentour,” and it features co-headliners Fall Out Boy and openers New Politics.

Since starting out in Tennessee in 2004, Paramore has stormed up the charts in the US and around the world gaining new fans at every turn. Their latest album, released last year and self-titled, “Paramore,” debuted at the top of the charts, and their latest single, “Ain’t It Fun,” has been their biggest hit ever. In preparation for the “Monumentour,” Williams spoke with On Tap about the band’s past and future, and the strange connection their first big hit has to DC’s 9:30 Club.

On Tap: Were you surprised that your latest single, “Ain’t It Fun,” turned out to be your biggest hit so far?
Hayley Williams: This one, by far, has just shocked all of us. It’s a song we took a huge risk on, and we’re so excited by it. I grew up listening to a lot of R&B and pop and soul, so it was cool to be able to write a song that infuses that energy into what we do as a band. There was so much fun and passion, and I hope you can hear that and people connect to that energy. The message is somewhat sarcastic but hopefully inspiring enough for younger people who might be entering the world on their own. I know it helped me get through a transitional phase in my life. We give Jeremy [Paramore’s bassist] all the credit, since it’s the first Paramore hit with slap bass.

OT: What led to you explore different sounds on this album?
HW: We broadened our horizons and discovered that we don’t have to meet anyone’s expectations. We have to be good and we want to be better than we were last time around, but Paramore is Jeremy, Taylor, and Hayley and wherever we are at that given moment. Next year, we could put out an album that is all pop songs, or all heavy, or funk like “Ain’t It Fun.” Before, we put ourselves in a box and tried to limit ourselves to whatever expectations we thought people were having.

OT: When fans come to your shows, what do you hope they take away?
HW: It’s about being an escape or a source of strength or making an impact. If we’re not getting on stage and connecting with people, looking at them in the eyes and making them feel known, we’re missing the point of why we’re in a band. We want to be entertainers and play to the best of our abilities, but sometimes it’s more important what’s in between the songs. Sometimes I talk too much, but it’s important to know who an artist is. When fans come to a show, we don’t know what you’re leaving behind or going home to – it could be the best thing or the worst thing – so we want them to know that they are seen, and heard, and important to us. They made a huge difference to our lives, so we want them to know they are important to us too.

OT: Do you have any interesting memories of previous shows in DC?
HW: It’s crazy that you ask. The first time we were on a really cool tour, we were doing a charity tour, and we started out at 9:30 Club. I was so pumped for this tour and it was the first night. We were still a tiny band at that point. After the show I was hanging out in the alleyway behind the club with friends, and I just started coughing, this crazy whooping cough thing, and I couldn’t stop. We had to cancel all the remaining dates on the tour and we just stayed in a hotel in DC for a couple days to see if I could get better before we went home. While we were holed up there, Josh [then-guitarist Josh Farro] started writing the music to our song “Misery Business.” That’s how “Misery Business” came about, which was our first successful single, which got us to the point where we are today!

See Paramore Friday, July 18 with co-headliners Fall Out Boy, and openers New Politics. 

Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Columbia, MD; 410-715-5550 www.merriweathermusic.com

Vance Joy
Vance Joy photo by An Architect Photographed My Undies

Australian Sensation Vance Joy

Vance Joy, born James Keogh, is a sensation in Australia, and he’s about to conquer the US too. His new EP is “God Loves You When You’re Dancing,” and he’ll be at U Street Music Hall on September 20. He took time out of his busy touring schedule to talk to On Tap.

On Tap: We hear you gave up a possible law career to do music, or at least put it on hold. Was that decision difficult or easy? Think you’ll ever go back to it?
Vance Joy: It was quite a natural decision. I had finished my degree and was ready to go out into the work force. At that point in my life I had been living out of home and writing quite a lot. I decided I would go into the studio and record a song I felt really good about… and then that took over. Law is always something I can fall back on.

OT: We also hear you used to play football in the VFL. Can you explain the sport to Americans and why you also put that on hold? And how do you have so many careers for a 25 year old?
VJ: The VFL is a state level football league in Australia… I was pretty into it and made some good friends. I guess I had other things going on and choose to pursue those.

OT: Where did you get the pseudonym from and why have one?
VJ: Vance Joy is a character from the book Bliss by Peter Carey. It is a way for me to separate my personal life from my music.

OT: You used to play open mics in Melbourne. What were the steps that led from that to where you are now?
VJ: I used to play open mics and small bars around Melbourne. It was a way for me to test the songs I was writing. I recorded a song and uploaded it to Soundcloud, my friends and family heard it and gave me a pat on the back. Soon after, I got a manager and then we began locking in a few gigs here and there. It has been a pretty great ride so far and it’s exciting for me as an artist to have people able to hear my collection of music.

OT: Who are some of your influences?
VJ: I don’t know who in particular. I tend to trawl through movies and books and conversations I’ve had for inspiration.

OT: Is there anything “Australian” about your music that separates it from, say, an artist in the US? Do you have influences from Australia that are unique?
VJ: Yeah I think so, my accent is Australian, I listened to Australian bands growing up: Silverchair, Powderfinger, Paul Kelly. Savage Garden was the first album I bought when I was 9.

OT: What are the plans for recording a full length album? Do you know the who, what, where, when, why of it yet? Do you have a lot of songs waiting to be recorded?
VJ: I actually spent a few weeks last month at Bear Creek Studios in Seattle recording some songs. I am planning on going back there in November to continue the process.

OT: Do you notice a difference in crowds in the US vs Australian audiences?
VJ: The crowds in Australia are a lot more familiar with my music so there is that glimmer of recognition on faces sometimes. American crowds are really nice and engaged I have found.

OT: Have you had a chance to hang out in DC before?
VJ: Yes, I was there on tour in June when I supported Lissie at U Street Music Hall. I went for a walk on the day of the gay pride parade; it was awesome, so much color and energy. I went for a walk in this green ribbon that had parks and basketball courts peppered here and there. I have fond memories of kicking the football to myself there.

To learn more about Vance visit www.vancejoy.com. Catch Vance in DC September 20.

U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; 202-588-1880; www.ustreetmusichall.com