DJ CYD
DJ CYD Photos courtesy DJ CYD

In the Mix with DJ CYD

Though no longer known as DJ Charity, after three years as a professional, Falls Church native Cyndi Tran has evolved into DJ CYD, and the idea of “giving back” has moved past dollars and is more squarely focused on beats, much to the benefit of the DC-area club-going community. A headline act at New Year’s Eve’s Big Night DC event at the Gaylord National Hotel and Resort in National Harbor, MD, the booking reflects how impressive her development has been.

CYD’s rise begins in a most typical manner. “I was into nightlife and became a bartender, but music has always been a big part of my life. Meeting DJs [made DJing as a potential career choice] really intriguing to me. I loved music and dancing, so, back in 2008, I decided to give it a try.” Furthermore, she tells On Tap, “ I was mesmerized by DJing and practiced eight-to-ten hours a day. I never imagined I could make it a full-time job. After a few years, making the right connections, and getting better at it, I was able to make it a full-time thing.”

As the Nation’s Capital begins to settle into accepting dance nights being available every night of the week, there still isn’t significant gender diversity amongst spinners in the area. When asked how she’s accepting this notion and attempting to change it too, CYD tells On Tap, “There aren’t many female open-format DJs in DC. I’m proud that I’m able to do that. I’m eclectic and keep my music range really wide. I love hip-hop, house, Latin music and more. I like playing at The W in DC. It’s an international crowd, I can play everything there and they all have a good time.”

That good time has always been a part of CYD’s history in and around music, a history that starts with a touch of frank humor. “I used to use my brother’s ex-girlfriend’s fake ID to get into clubs,” CYD begins. Continuing, she says, “I thought dance music was awesome and I loved dancing. That set the tone. Later, when I moved to New York City, I spent a lot of time around [leading NYC rap radio station] Hot 97’s Heavy Hitters DJ crew and they were influential to my sound.”

In the past twelve months, CYD’s skills have increased and she now has DJ residencies in both DC and New York City. Calling the Big Apple a “home away from home,” the vibe of playing to an “accepting” crowd in an area where dance music has been a part of the city’s mainstream culture for a half-century is exciting. When asked about her career moving forward, CYD’s vision has moved past both DC and New York City though, and onto far more grandiose aims. “[By this point next year] I would like to have started producing music. I definitely will be working on finding my sound. I want to experiment, take some time, and hopefully put out an EP. I want to travel and see other cities nationally and internationally.”

New Year’s Eve at Big Night DC is what’s next on the horizon for CYD, and expect to hear the spinner at her best. “There’s going to be a wide range of ages and backgrounds there. So, people can expect to hear me playing old stuff that people can relate to, but I want to introduce people to new genres, too. There will be a lot of remixes, especially deep house early on, and then some future house and bass, melodic trap, and maybe DC’s own moombahton sound as well. I want to represent well not just for local DC DJs but for females and crowd rockers everywhere. I’m excited!”

To learn more at about DJ CYD at  www.djcydofficial.com. Follow her on Facebook at @DJCYDOFFICIAL, Twitter @DJ_Charity and Periscope @DjCharity. To get tickets to Big Night DC visit  www.bignightdc.com.

Lloyd Dobler Effect
Lloyd Dobler Effect Christmas

Lloyd Dobler Effect’s Holiday Experience

Looking for a Washington-area holiday extravaganza that’s more contemporary and rocks harder than seasonal standbys like the “Nutcracker Suite” or “Handel’s Messiah?”

Then consider putting the Lloyd Dobler Effect’s sixth annual Holiday Experience show on your calendar for Dec. 18. The talented and versatile local rock band will celebrate the season again this year – this time at the Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville, which is the biggest and best venue in the holiday show’s six-year run.

“This is always a special show,” said Phil Kominski, the band’s frontman and leader. “It features the five members of Lloyd Dobler Experience – Carlos, Patrick, Donnie, Chris and Phil – as well as Elizabeth Coyle Kominski on vocals and guitars, Albert Ketler on tenor saxophone and Chris Brooks of Lionize on piano and organ. “

Lloyd Dobler Effect, based in Silver Spring, Md., has performed on the same bill with such notable artists as Santana, Steve Winwood, The Fray, Jane’s Addiction, Eminem, The Strokes, The Goo Goo Dolls, Good Charlotte, The Roots, Jack Johnson, Better Than Ezra and 3rd Eye Blind, among others.

Kominski said fans can expect a nice mixture of holiday favorites…originals that are performed in an alternate fashion – think MTV Unplugged and VH1 Storytellers – and unique cover songs that are orchestrated by the band.

And it’s not just music at the holiday show. An all-star cast of seasonal characters makes an appearance, as well.

“The Holiday Show always features a visit by Santa Claus, The Grinch, Elvis, Olaf the Snowman, The Human Dreidel, An Irish Elf, Bad Santa and other special attractions and schtick,” Kominski said.

Asked about the inspiration for a holiday show, Kominski said it presents a great opportunity to have a musical get together with family and friends.

“The show came about because the five members of LDE enjoy performing with the three additional members so much, that we wanted to have ‘special version’ of the band,” Kominski said. “Chris Brooks’ pianist is from the world touring band LIONIZE and we grew up with him.  Elizabeth Kominski has been a part of our side project folk groups and her voice syncs very well with Phil and Chris.  Albert Ketler grew up with me and has been a tremendous jazz talent in the area for 25 years.  We figured that the best time to get together, annually, would be around the holidays.”

“This is always our favorite show of the year and it makes it all the more special to see your friends and family in the audience,” Kominski said.

Tickets are $15, show starts at 6 p.m. Learn more about Lloyd Dobler Effect atwww.lloyddoblereffect.com. Follow them on Facebook @LloydDoblerEffect and Twitter @LDEband.

F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre: 603 Edmonston Dr., Rockville, MD; www.lloyddoblereffect.com

St. Paul & The Broken Bones
St. Paul & The Broken Bones Photo credit David McClister

New Year’s with St. Paul & The Broken Bones

Hundreds of artists play 9:30 Club every year, but how many of them can say that they have attended shows at DC’s landmark music venue? Paul Janeway, the dynamic, show stopping front man and namesake of soul outfit St. Paul & The Broken Bones, has not only attended numerous shows at the 9:30 Club—and played a handful there himself—but also says some of his fondest memories involve the club and the District of Columbia.

“When me and my wife started dating, she got a scholarship to get her Master’s at Georgetown,” Janeway told On Tap in a recent interview, “I spent a lot of time in DC and saw a lot of shows at the 9:30 Club. So DC, to me, is this special place where I fell in love.”

Few enjoy as deep a connection as Janeway does with our own 9:30, and that connection makes for more energetic, emotionally involved performances.

The emotional punch of their performances is one of the key elements that has propelled St. Paul & the Broken Bones from anonymity in Birmingham, Alabama, to becoming an in-demand live act in only four years. And 2015 has been quite the year for the group. A year that began on the Cayamo cruise in Florida, saw them open for the Rolling Stones on their “Zip Code” tour and play dozens of festivals and gigs will end when they take the 9:30 Club stage on New Year’s Eve.

Janeway says the group picked DC, and the 9:30 Club specifically, because of the connection they had to the venue. “We had other offers, more money, all of that. But it wasn’t about that,” Janeway honestly admits, “It’s about getting to play DC on New Year’s and getting to play that club, which is such a special place…. I’m sure people already know this but the 9:30 Club is probably the best rock club in the world.”

That kind of earnest connectivity is at the center of St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ live shows. Sure, the goal of most performers is to make some kind of connection with their audience; but their vision is greater than that. “You want people to walk out of there with a smile on their face, feel uplifted in a way, or feel like they’ve had some sort of interaction with something beyond themselves,” Janeway says, more shaman than soul man at this moment, “I know I’ve seen shows that blew me away and felt like a religious experience. That’s how I want our shows to be!”

Soul music, and Janeway’s musical background and performance career, begins in gospel music and the church, specifically the Pentecostal faith. Janeway notes that the Broken Bones’ shows follow an ebb and flow similar to a gospel church service.

“Honestly, I think the good thing is that it [church] can provide hope. There is a joy there,” Janeway says with heartfelt tone, “But church is seen in a way where there are highs and lows. And, to me, there’s not much difference in the way our show goes. To me, if you just do a set of 100 miles per hour all the time, it loses its flavor after a little while. Our sets are very cheerful, very happy, danceable kind of stuff to not danceable, sad…intense, that’s probably the word.”

As for the dancing part, there will be no shortage of that over their two night stint. St. Paul & the Broken Bones play the 9:30 Club on Wednesday, December 30 at 7 p.m. and Thursday, December 31 at  9 p.m., Trouble Funk opens on New Year’s Eve. For tickets visit www.930.com , $35 on Dec. 30 and $55 on Dec. 31.

Read the interview transcript below when Paul talks more about his musical upbringing, being a musician today, and what it was like opening for the Rolling Stones.

For more infomation on St. Paul & The Broken Bones, visit www.stpaulandthebrokenbones.com. Follow them on Twitter @ stp_brokenbones, Facebook @St.PaulandTheBrokenBones and Instagram @stpaulandthebrokenbones.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

St. Paul & the Broken Bones Full-Length Interview 

On Tap: So the first thing I have to ask about is the name. St. Paul and the Broken Bones is such a provocative band name, where did it come from?
Paul Janeway: From the bass player Jesse, that’s where it came from. The first song we ever wrote was a song called “Broken Bones and Pocket Change” and there’s a line in it that goes “Broken bones and pocket change is all she left me with.” So he decided it was kind of like “all they left me was this band and my money,” so he decided to call “the band” the Broken Bones. He calls me St. Paul because of my church background and so on and so forth. It’s funny; I didn’t want my name it. I lost that battle.

OT: How did the band come together? What united the six of you under the banner of soul?
PJ: Well I grew up listening to it as a child, and I grew up singing in church. It’s always been something I’ve just been around and wanted to do. I kind of sing a certain way: you’re not really gonna be breaking out any Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails tracks. It’s just not happening! So it kind of fit. When we started writing songs for this Jesse was like “Why don’t we write songs around your voice, instead of trying to combat that.” And so that’s kind of how it all came about. It kind of happened fairly organically; which is the best way of this happening. Because if it doesn’t happen that way it can be detrimental; eventually it loses its luster. So it’s been good.

OT: I’m not the first and won’t be the last to say this, but your voice has this intense tone that is just pure Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and classic soul. Is that natural or is your timbre something you’ve had to work at and develop?
PJ: It’s fairly natural. Obviously, as a singer, you get better as time goes on. It’s always had a rough kind of thing to it and I don’t know why. It’s that hurt in the voice, you know what I mean. I don’t really know: It’s just kind of how I sing. It’s not one of those things where I worked at for years. It just kind of happened and it’s just kind of what I do. I guess it’s just there!

OT: How would you describe the band’s music in relation to classic soul? Is it homage, reimagining, or a modern development on a classic form?
PJ: You know, to me, I think probably the modern classic to that form is a good kind of way…We never set out to be a “retro soul act” ever. It’s not what we were going for or anything. I think Booker T. & the M.G.’s is probably one of the greatest American bands ever. And the Swampers and those guys, those are definitely musical idols and I don’t see that as a negative thing; I see that as a positive thing. So it just kind of formed from there. But I’ve never thought of ourselves as paying homage to anything. We do do some covers every once in a while and those are to pay homage to the kind music we like. But those vary from Tom Waits and David Bowie to Otis Redding and Paul McCartney so its…I mean, we’ve done a Radiohead song before. It’s just one of those things.  

OT: What would you say sets it apart? What makes it a “modern” take on soul music? The songwriting? Different things in the music? The delivery?
PJ: In my mind it is basically the songwriting. We try to do things, there’ll be subtle differences. We’re not trying to copy. We’re not trying to go “Let’s sound like this,” it’s just what comes out of us. As we’re all twenty-something’s and thirty-something’s, there’s obviously some modern kind of influences that leak their way on. And definitely will in this next album!

OT: What modern singers would you say impact your way of interpreting soul music and your singing?
PJ: I think someone like D’Angelo is amazing, in a lot of ways…Someone like Erykah Badu. I thought Amy Winehouse was an incredible singer…I’m trying to think…I listened to a band the other day, that I really love, Hiatus Coyote—I think that’s the band’s name—and they have a phenomenal singer. There’s plenty of modern stuff…But those are the ones: D’Angelo and Erykah Badu, people like that I think are amazing and incredible singers. Miguel is a great singer. And I think there aren’t as many great singers as there were back in the day.

OT: It’s funny you mention that. I was talking to Hugh Masekela a couple weeks ago and he said that he thinks “that the great age of innovation is gone, and there is very little originality because of technological prowess today.”
P
J: Right! I think that’s a valid point. I’m not a great piano player but I can do keys on garage band. But’s he’s totally right. Mastering your instrument and mastering your voice, too…we have technology now where it’s cool to auto-tune shit. It just makes you lazy. Kanye can’t sing a lick but he’s got an album when he sings. So can he? Can he not or can he? It’s a different era.

OT: Or we have situations like when your fellow “Tiny Desk” alum T-Pain wowed everyone without auto-tune.
PJ: Exactly! Exactly!

OT: Speaking of the Tiny Desk and DC, how does a soul band from Alabama pick, or come to find yourselves, playing in DC at the 9:30 Club on New Year’s Eve? Of all the places in the country, why DC?
PJ: Well, I cannot think of a better place to be than DC on New Year’s. Because…When me and my wife started dating, she got a scholarship to get her Master’s at Georgetown. She did her undergrad here in Birmingham, and she’s brilliant and got the full ride to study up there. So we started dating almost as she was moving. So we were like “Ah well, this isn’t gonna work.” Two weeks later we ended up missing each other so much that we were just “Alright, we’re gonna have to do the long-distance thing.” I didn’t have much money but you could fly to BWI from Huntsville, Alabama for like $160-170, round trip. So I would do that once in a while. I spent a lot of time in DC and saw a lot of shows at the 9:30 Club. So DC, to me, is this special place of where I fell in love. I really don’t care how other people feel about it: I love it there! Because I have such fond memories there.

OT: It’s exciting for us here, especially, that Trouble Funk will open for you on NYE. Do you or the band have any previous relationship to DC’s go-go music? What is most exciting for you about getting the chance to interact like that?
PJ: I know a little bit about it. So when they said Trouble Funk was doing it we were like…Well first off we were like “Why are ­ they opening for us?” You know what I mean? It makes you feel like sometimes… It’s a huge honor! It’s gonna be cool as shit. I don’t think you can do a better show than that, at least with them. We played with somebody else who kind of had the roots in that…but we don’t know enough about Go-go to comment about it.

OT: You grew up in the church, and that’s where you started singing. Church music, gospel music, is great party music; Go-go music is great party music. How does the celebratory spark of Gospel music come into your performance and into the band? Is that a major influence on how you perform?
PJ: Yeah, in a way. It’s definitely a major way in how I do shows. Honestly, I think the good thing is that it [church] can provide hope. There is a joy there. But church is seen in a way where like there are highs and lows. And, to me, there’s not much difference in the way our show goes. You want people to walk out of there with a smile on their face, feel uplifted in a way, or feel like they’ve had some sort of interaction with something beyond themselves. I know I’ve seen shows that blew me away and felt like a religious experience. That’s how I want our shows to be! I don’t exactly how you do that: but there’s something about it that happens at church and it happens at shows. It’s happened to us at shows where we’re on stage and you go “Woah, this is a moment.” Somebody once told me that spiritualty, religion, that kind of thing is just that lump in your throat; and that’s how I view music and other things.

OT: Is that what satisfies you and the band or excites you as performers? When do you, or other members of the band, feel satisfied that they’ve given a great show night-to-night?
PJ: It varies, it can be various things. We’ve had shows where the audiences…When we played the Ryman, we opened up for somebody and we got three standing ovations. In those moments you know “This is special.” At different times we’ve just had to let the people in the audience finishing cheering; that’s amazing and that’s pretty special. Sometimes you can see people in the audience having an emotional reaction and you go “Woah, OK. This is serious business.” But in the next song you’re like dancing around. It’s a weird thing.

OT: I know that I would have killed to see you open for the Rolling Stones this summer. What was that like? Joining the Stones on that stage?
PJ: I mean…It was funny. We were on the plane flying to Buffalo, which is one of the places we opened up for ‘em. You know how, sometimes on planes, those conversations strike up? “What are you doing in Buffalo?” “Oh I’m going to play a show,” and this guy was going down the list of venues and everything and I was like “No, no.” “So where you playing?” I said, “The football stadium.” And they were just like “WHAT?” Then you have to tell them, “Oh yeah, we’re opening up for the Rolling Stones,” which is crazy. It was incredible. I don’t know, in terms of opening gigs, what you do from there. It was unlike everything we’d ever done, because it was a football stadium. We’d played big crowds but that’s…that’s just different. And, not only are you playing for the crowd but you look to your left and Keith Richards is watching your show with Charlie Watts. You’re sitting here going, “Don’t be a loser right now. Don’t mess this up.” It was really kind of weird because you’re sitting over there and you’re sitting over there and you see them. You see Ronnie and Charlie and al them and you’re just like “OHMYGOD.” That was really cool. We were flattered that they came out and watched the show and stayed for the whole show. And I got to talk to Keith and Ronnie and got to hang out a little bit and got to meet Mick…It was incredible, I’m not gonna lie. I don’t know what you do from there. We’ve done this so… Laughs There you go!

OT: What do you think the biggest surprise is for people who have never seen you live?
PJ: You know, I think the thing is I don’t think they expect me to sound and sing the way I do. Now, that’s slowly dissipating because people know who we are a little bit more; which is great! I also think, to me, people get surprised about “This is a real band!” There’s no software on stage! I kind of like that, you know? I think that’s happening a bit more rarely now than back in the day. I think another thing that kind of surprises me is how low shows can get. It surprises us that we can get shows so low and people are still attending. That’s usually what surprises me

OT: What do you mean by low?
PJ: Just kind of low energy; and just kind of sad, you know? And what’s weird is that it gets dramatic and very sad and people don’t know what to do: “Woah, It just got super serious!” And it will get dead silent sometimes. To me, if you just do a set of 100 miles per hour all the time, it loses its flavor after a little while. Our sets are very cheerful, very happy, danceable kind of stuff to not danceable, sad…intense, that’s probably the word.

OT: Is there anything else you want our DMV area readers to know, especially as it applies to the upcoming shows?
PJ: I guess not. It’s gonna be a good time. I’m sure people already know this but the 9:30 Club is probably the best rock club in the world. That’s coming from us who’ve played a ton of shows! It’s a real special place. We had other offers, more money, all of that. But it wasn’t about that. It’s about getting to play DC on New Year’s and getting to play that club, which is such a special place.

Ben Folds
Musician Ben Folds

Declassified, In Motion: Ben Folds at The Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center has often bridged the gap between the classical and popular worlds before—most recently with Kendrick Lamar’s divine performance of To Pimp a Butterfly with the NSO Pops—but Declassified is not so much a bridge between two worlds as it is a portal to the classical one. The basic concept: The National Symphony Orchestra performs works of western art “classical” music, often newer pieces, and with a younger conductor and composers who draw from the pop world. The Kennedy Center debuted the program with Declassified: In Motion with Ben Folds, which was presented this past Friday. Despite some uneven performance, the NSO not only successfully initiated the series but undoubtedly initiated a few into the wider world of western art music.

In Motion referred to several musical ideas contained within the program: the motion of evolution of Western Art music, the new motions the NSO is moving in, and that the underlying musical ideas uniting most of the program were dance rhythms. Scholars have often suggested that most musical forms start as dance, communal celebration music before morphing into “sit and listen” mentalities, but dance music and rhythms remain a welcoming point of accessibility for most musical forms.

It was then fitting for the NSO to develop the inaugural Declassified program around dance based music; not only that, but all the pieces performed are by American composers and come from the 20th and 21th centuries. Performing John Adams’ “The Chairmen Dances”—a piece he more famously developed in his opera Nixon in China—brought spryness and dexterity to the tightly composed and arranged piece, leaving the stereotypes of syrupy, overly romanticized interpretation behind. In a video that preceded the “Dances,” guest composer Sarah Hicks appealed to Adams’ appreciation and adaptation of jazz, pop, rock, folk and minimalism in composing the contemporary, seventies opera—once again invited the audience into the world of classical, but closer to the crowd’s popular music sensibilities.

The NSO treated Paul Creston’s “Dance Overtures” with similar touches, attempting to emphasis the dance rhythms that determine the piece’s main rhythms and beats. A theme and variation that also variates between four dances—a Spanish bolero, an English folk, a French loure and an American square dance—the orchestra’s sonorities were well suited to the English and French dances, bringing lovely idyll environment and pastoral punch created by amid section-treble contrast of the strings. A square dance performed in symphonic fashion was certainly a welcome departure from the repetition of European, aristocratic dance forms: there was a sense that these musicians embodied the square dance rhythmic patterns – just as they are ingrained into the cultural soul of the country. Kennedy Center composer-in-residence Mason Bates was then brought onstage to propel the performance of his piece Mothership, first commissioned and performed by the YouTube Symphony Orchestra (yes, it’s a thing). Bates’ main inspirations for the piece came from swing jazz and techno, emphasizing and contrasting two distinct and diverging American dance styles. Might DC’s own Duke Ellington have done the same? Regardless, Bates’ piece distinctly encapsulated the themes of Declassified: The main theme, based around a minimalist, techno pattern, did not try to fit classical strings squarely into the crisp, electronically precise rhythm of techno or have techno’s beating pulse broadened to fit a symphonic mold. Bates (who will be headlining the next Declassified on April 15) is clearly considering, and more interested by, how elements of classical and electronic music blend and slur together to create a new fusion; that fusion certainly fueled interest amongst the crowd. Technology played a further roll in the program, with multi-media videos introducing each piece; dispelling the old model of classical music where one has to know pieces ahead of time to understand them.

Folds is known as both a complex lyricist and sophisticated rock song writer, but his sophistication and complexity truly shone on the Concert Hall Stage. In his introductory video, he remarked “There’s no bigger canvas than a three part concerto.” He took his paint brushes and ran with them, as his piece “a rock musician’s piano concerto,” rivaled the night’s earlier offerings for artistic ingenuity, merit and complexity. Folds also remarked that this kind of composing allows him to “describe story in a lyrical melodic fashion without lyrics,” which suits his poetic ambiguity and interpretations well. Particularly, the second part of the piece demonstrated the purpose of Declassified. As he played a lilting, searching staccato melody, Ben Folds demonstrated the kind of delicacy he does with a song like “Brick”: plucking each note gently from its ethereal perch in his mind. In addition to hints of blues, swing, ragtime, and Hollywood flairs in his harmonies, the poetry in his storytelling poured out of every melody. Like each note or each word, so carefully and consciously culled, in his pop songs, each note has its own reason and story for why it is there.

Looking around the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, as the crowds drunk in the Dances of Adams and Creston, were beamed up by Bates’ Mothership and felt the emotional punches of Folds compositions, one saw families, jeans, flannel, and souvenir sippy cups of drinks. One saw a crowd for a classical concert more reflective of the diversity that distinguishes live music crowds of today. A new crop of concert-goers engaged the world of classical music, and enjoyed it quite much. The Kennedy Center and the National Symphony Orchestra accomplished their goal, and successfully de-mystified and deconstructed a number of stereotypes and pretentions of the classical world. One can only hope that Declassified continues to direct new crowds to the concert hall.

To learn more about Mr. Folds visit his website, www.benfolds.com. For more on theDeclassified series, the NSO, and the Kennedy Center, visit www.kennedy-center.org. Check out Ben Folds TV on YouTube, follow him on Twitter @BenFolds and Facebook@BenFolds

Dave Damiani
Dave Damiani & the No Vacancy Orchestra Photo credit: Steve Beyer Productions

Dave Damiani Shoots for the Moon

It can be a difficult thing when multiple musical foci are competing for attention on the same stage. Rush are somehow able to divide attention evenly and fairly; Clarence Clemons would form the perfect duo with Bruce; but in big band jazz, it’s another story, especially in a vocal big band jazz. The singer and the orchestra often lock in a tug-of-war for the spotlight. Who has the better arrangement, the better harmonies, the better phrasing; who captures the crowd’s attention? Dave Damiani & the No Vacancy Orchestra found themselves in a similar struggle during their recent performance at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club.

Damiani styles himself after Frank Sinatra, the poster child and most enigmatic performer in the history of vocal, big band jazz—cocktail jazz, as he put it. Old Blue Eyes has long been debated by jazz critics, scholars and fans alike as to whether he truly belongs in the echelons of the jazz world. His career balanced between the world of serious, swing and big bands (he often performed with Count Basie) and the Hollywood-ized, big band pop that ruled American airwaves for decades. Damiani clearly aspires to a Frank model-finely polished shoes, snappy suit, cool, Playboy-esque demeanor; and that voice. Dave, like Frank, knows he’s not the best singer; so he tries to find numbers that suit the particular, expressive qualities of his voice.

“Destination Moon,” Dave Damiani & the No Vacancy Orchestra’s first music video, is one such example of a match made in heaven for Damiani’s vocals. Written in 1951 and sung rarely, notably by Dinah Washington in the 1950s, the natural swing and syncopation of the standard is an ideal fit for Damiani’s controlled phrasing. Damiani found a strong number to fit image and voice, employing subtle expressive techniques to palpable effect, and was supplemented by the tight, cross patterns and explosive punctuations of the No Vacancy Orchestra’ arrangement

It was in rare numbers like these that showed the cool, creative chemistry between Damiani and the orchestra. Another such knock out was an original, “The Tinder App.” For a song about a dating app, Damiani gave it the Johnny Mercer treatment: witty rhymes, cosmopolitan air, and a great match up between vocal melody and orchestral harmony. For a song that could have been disastrously cliché, corny, or offensive, it was surprisingly appetizing on the intake.

When in complete synchronicity, it was fair to picture that Damiani and the group were performing Strayhorn vocal arrangements, some of the most engaging and balanced in big band jazz, for Sinatra. The gumbo of pop, cocktail jazz and symphonic jazz was an intriguing scent in the air of the art-deco big room of Bethesda Blues and Jazz, but the group still clearly has some laboratory work to do. Vocalist and orchestra—specifically the rhythm section on occasion—had trouble synchronizing rhythmically during the 90 minute set, notably on a well-intentioned but ill-executed take on the Four Seasons’ “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” “Moon” was the exact opposite: expert execution by both parties.

In true big band fashion, the star gave up his position on the bandstand to make room for up-and-comers there to prove their potential. Of the other singers that walked through the revolving door on-stage, the only one was Maiya Sykes, a onetime contestant on NBC’s The Voice. Displaying a tone that swung between an Amy Winehouse-like, nasal-focused soul jazz and Mary J. Blige-indebted boisterous belting, Sykes brought a classic tone to her numbers and the orchestra. On numbers like Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good,” and Sharon Jones’ “100 Days, 100 Nights,” the group matched Sykes’ classic, revenge-ballad approach with anchoring riffs by the baritone sax, a tight contrast with the other horns. “Bye Bye Blackbird” was, tonally, closer to Aretha Franklin than Ella Fitzgerald, but it featured one of the more adventurous arrangements of the night. There was a real attention to detail, with little single piano notes that rung out as a sweet punctuation mark on the horns’ savory, yet airy prose. These moments, like the ones with Damiani, demonstrated a real sense of cohesion in the No Vacancy Orchestra.

As he was introducing Kern and Hammerstein’s “Nobody Else But Me,” Damiani said something that seemed to sum up the night.  “It’s a good lyric if you’re trying to figure out who you are, like I’m trying to figure out who I am.” This was an apt adage to apply to Damiani’s performance. His repertoire selections often failed to synchronize with his timbre, or phrasing. There is a swing to Damiani’s vocals, and a rougher tone than in most vocal jazz, and that makes him stand out. He has found some numbers that suit it.

To learn more about Dave Damiani and the No Vacancy Orchestra visit www.davedamiani.com

Free To Rock
Free To Rock

‘Free to Rock’ Asks Us To Reconsider the Power of Culture

The question is nearly as old as humanity itself. Which is the more effective tool to end a war: words or weapons? Here, in Washington, DC, we often enjoy playing up both as the choice armaments of the United States of America for confronting and ending conflict. World War II was ended by the overwhelming force of our weapon systems—specifically the atomic bomb—and US politicians like Henry Kissinger have ended conflicts in countries around the globe with the simple, surgical and succinct use of words in diplomacy. But what ended the Cold War, the longest conflict in US history? Certainly not weapons, as the US and USSR never engaged in ground wars. Words? Possibly, especially seeing how Gorbachev and Reagan’s talks in the 80s did much to thaw the icy tension. Free to Rock, a cold war-era documentary that had its Washington premiere in Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall, argues that the tool, the power, that ended the Cold War and the USSR was not a weapon or diplomatic exchanges of words — it was rock and roll.

Free to Rock, a PBS-style, hour long documentary directed by four-time Emmy winner Jim Brown, tells the history and influence of rock  roll, as experienced by the people of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. The film engages in examining how Anglo-American rock ‘n’ roll and rock artists touched the hearts and minds of youth in communist countries during the Cold War. More importantly, the film sheds light on the often unknown—to Western audiences—stories, musical accomplishments and activism of Soviet and Eastern European born-and-bred rock musicians. Rock music may have been, as one musician put it “A window into American life and freedom,” but its true potency was only unlocked when the youth took up their own instruments and made their own music. And, in doing so, they made statements against communist regimes stronger than any Eastern bloc politician.

From the first, stolen moments listening to Elvis Presley on Radio Free Europe to the Soviet Peace and Music Festival in 1989 and the Tushino Airfield Monsters of Rock Festival in 1991, Brown traces the parallel narratives of the proliferation of American rock into the Eastern Bloc and Iron Curtain musicians fighting their own war with their own music. And, occasionally, how the Soviet government tried to fight back. One of the funniest, most revelatory, segments in the documentary comes when Iron Curtain musicians discuss “Vocal Instrumental Ensembles,” Kremlin created groups that used electronic instruments—which were generally forbidden—and played in a “rock” style. They just sang songs about the glories of socialism, labor and the communist party. Stas Namin, one of the film and Soviet rock music’s central figures summarized them in the post-screening panel, “They weren’t bad, it was just bullshit.”

The history is important, examining how the Iron Curtain would evolve and adapt their music with the influx of rock music within the changing political climate. But the real ground work, the real heavy lifting, that the film does is sharing the stories of the rebels inspired by rock ‘n’ roll, and how simple yet monumental this rebellion was. Building your own electric guitar, making bootleg rock records out of discarded plastic, forming underground music communes, being beaten, bloodied and killed because you refuse to stop listening and playing rock and roll; this is what musicians were willing to do to have some modicum of personal expression. And the results still reverberate: Latvian rock musician Pete Anderson is celebrated as a folk hero in his country, and Namin is one of the most central figures of Russian music today.

For those still in disbelief that rock and roll had this much power, that music period had this much power, Free to Rock cinches the message with images and statements from the collapse of the Eastern bloc. After the Czech Republic’s first free elections, newly elected President Vaclav Havel invited the Rolling Stones to perform in the country; Roger Waters performing The Wall at the ruins of the Berlin Wall; the Soviet Peace and Music Festival, organized by Namin, which allowed Western and Eastern musicians to share a stage, ideologies and music for a day. This is how the war was truly won. The film, perhaps unorthodoxly, begins and ends with clips from a concert given in Moscow in 2012 by Flowers (Namin’s rock group that sold 12 million records in the USSR) and other Soviet and Russian musicians protesting the incarceration of Pussy Riot and other Russian activists. The musicians were freed shortly after the concert; with Free to Rock suggesting that the power of rock music in Vladmir Putin’s Russia still holds enormous sway.

It is appropriate that the documentary would tie the message of the film’s main narrative body—seeing the power of rock music and ideology in the Cold War—to a modern time. Even more appropriate is the timing of this film’s arrival in Washington, DC. After the horrific attacks in Paris and Beirut over the weekend, ­Free to Rock’smessage regarding the power of ideological battles winning war hits close to home. Daesh (the proper, Arabic name for “ISIS”) wages conquest with tanks, guns and swords, yes, but more often sees itself in a war of culture and ideology with the West. This echoes the same kind of climate the West faced when combatting communism and the Soviet Union for the latter half of the 20th century. Free to Rock, beyond telling the unheard story of the upheaval and real power of Soviet rock music, carries larger implications for today. Perhaps presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle could learn a thing or two from Free to Rock about how culture, ideology, and music are some of the most powerful weapons that one can wield against an ideologically-driven and committed force like Daesh.

During the film’s introduction, and plenty of discussion around it, critics, academics, politicians, and filmmakers alike have lauded the film for its portrayal of the enormous potential force of “soft power” diplomacy like Western rock music. But, as former Hungarian ambassador Andras Simonyi expressed at the film’s panel, “Rock and roll is not soft; it is as hard as nuclear weapons in bringing down despotic systems.” Perhaps, as Free to Rock and its participants would tell us, we should not be raining bombs on the enemies of freedom; we should be raining rock and roll.

For more information on the film, for future events and screenings, and more, visit www.freetorockmovie.com

Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen

Love Is Just a Call Away: Carly Rae Jepsen Kicks Off “Gimmie Love” Tour

There is something to be said about the power of pop classicism. While innovation is, of course, always the obsession on the frontiers of the wider musical landscape, there is an undeniable and powerful draw that comes from the building blocks of the past. Reinterpretation is as much a form and measure of artistic ability as making the next, the new, the never-heard-before.

Carly Rae Jepsen, the twenty nine year old songstress and pop fixation who was catapulted into the mainstream by asking us to call her, maybe, has alluded to her classicist impulses on record. Her show at the Fillmore Silver Spring this past Monday night illuminated those more slippery, shadowy influences and showed her to be a shrewd practitioner and interpreter of the golden ages and elements of pop. However, while she alluded to musical antiquity, her performance suggested a prelude to a possible redefinition of the pop performer in the Western Top 40 arena.

Musicians, scholars, and fans alike point to the Motown Label and the performance roster curated by Barry Gordy Jr. as a pinnacle in the production of American pop music. What made Motown hits—especially numbers by groups like the Supremes and the Jackson 5—was a subtle simplicity in the construction and layering of those songs. Accessible, highly hummable vocal melodies were bolstered by brief, complimentary flourish accompaniment, and a synchronized rhythmic assault: often the danceable beats were emphasized by multiple drums, bass, guitar, and tambourine or similar percussion. The Motown model was a simple yet seductive musical formula that held the Billboard charts by the throat for over thirty years.

Jepsen displayed similar emphases in her compositions, making full use of the fleshed out backing band—drums, bass, guitar, and one keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist/saxophone player—to build simply layered but engaging synth and dance pop that kept the crowd constantly bouncing for her 90 minute set. Most modern pop music is notorious tricky to reproduce well in the space of a club or arena as opposed to the studio. The building block nature of a model like Motown’s or Jepsen’s allows itself to be easily translated from the world of the studio and the headphone speaker to the live stage without loss of quality or allure. Thus on numbers like opener “Run Away With Me,” “Good Time,” “Favourite Colour,” or “Call Me, Maybe,” the simple layers, bolstered by the band’s percussive layering and emotive plays on the studio tracks, created a sound quality that matched the records’; and a listening experience that diverged and improved on it.

This is also due to the fact that Jepsen is a commanding presence as a pop performer. As she bounded across the stage, tussling with her head and hair, or reaching out for stolen moments of connection and invitation with audience members, she struck one as being a popstar actively engaged with her space. Without the spectacle of a Britney or a Madonna—whose early career mannerisms and physicality Jepsen channeled—she was forced to be much more economical and, therefore, more creative in bringing the world of her art to life. She often did such by effectively engaging in the space around her, bringing the crowd in as she wrapped herself in her own headspace. Many pop performers also shed their mic stands long ago, favoring either wireless wands or headsets. Yet Carly Rae—evoking performers as expressive as Ozzy Osbourne or Axl Rose—routinely demonstrated that the mic stand can actively be as much of a tool for emotive performance as the performer’s own body or voice. Jepsen also has the competition cornered on the vocal front; She has the natural emotive and evocative voice to propel the events and life of her songs into life before one’s very eyes.

But Jepsen built her show and her music on more than Motown models, mic stands or Madonna. There were times at which the slightly stale taste of modern synth pop sought to rain on Jepsen’s propulsive, pop parade. But for each of those moments,there were invitations to engage in others. These could range from the foundation of a song—such as the Toto and Genesis influenced, eighties pop/rock synthesizers that colored the entirety of the show—to subtle yet substantial ornaments, like the haunting, echoed vocals on “Tonight I’m Getting Over You,” or the aquatic flow of keyboard riffs on “All That.”

The live setting additionally allows an artist to tease out elements or fragments of records that are often lost in the mixing or compression of the final, studio product. Jepsen showed us that she has a soulful side, evoking the smooth, bouncing bass soulfulness of Kool and the Gang with “Boy Problems” and Michael Jackson’s most melodious moments on “All That,” reflecting “P.Y.T.” and “Human Nature.”

These sometimes subtle, yet always tightly sewn, classic pop threads are what allows Jepsen to enjoy a command of a crowd like few others in the Top 40 realm. Indeed when we think of a pop concert, we think of a set subservient to radio hits. What “pop star” can claim that they receive as much applause for album cuts as they do cultivated, marketed smash singles? Carly Rae Jepsen can.

For more on Carly Rae Jepsen visit www.carlyraemusic.com. Follow her on Twitter @carlyraejepsen, Facebook @Carlyraejepsen and Instagram @carlyraejepsen

Setlist:

  • Run Away With Me
  • Making the Most of the Night
  • Good Time (Owl City Cover)
  • Emotions
  • Warm Blood
  • Boy Problems
  • This Kiss
  • Gimmie Love
  • Tiny Little Bows
  • I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance
  • Tonight I’m Getting Over You
  • Your Type
  • When I Needed You
  • Love Again
  • LA Hallucinations
  • Favourite Colour
  • All That
  • Let’s Get Lost
  • ~Encore~
  • Curiosity (Acoustic)
  • Call Me, Maybe
  • I Really Like You
Public Image Ltd. Brings Old-School Rebellion to U Street Music Hall

Public Image Ltd. Brings Old-School Rebellion to U Street Music Hall

In their earliest days, both the US and UK punk scenes lived by the rock ‘n’ roll rally cry written by Pete Townshend for the Who in 1965: “I hope I die before I get old.” Some followed the call into oblivion and left the punk world before they and it got supposedly commercialized and artistically weak. But for those that remained, which were many of the scenes’ most enduring musicians, the question remains: what happens when you get old? How can one translate the spirit of resistance that let you cry “Hope I die” when burning out passed you by long ago? How can you still rebel when you’ve carried on, finding yourself in a status of respectability? John Lyndon gave Washington, DC answers to those questions when Public Image Ltd. gave an intimate performance at U Street Music Hall this past Tuesday night.

Lyndon, for those not in the know, is probably better known by his stage name “Johnny Rotten.” As the front man of the Sex Pistols—still one of the most incendiary and volatile bands in the mainstream canon of rock and roll—Lyndon partook in defining aesthetics and ethics of the UK punk scene to the masses on both sides of the pond.  Following the Pistols’ break-up in 1978, Lyndon would abandon the live fast-die young musical and behavioral direction of the punk movement when he formed Public Image Ltd., one of the pioneers of post punk. That directional shift is what allows Lyndon—the sole constant of PiL—to still entertain and incite rebellion in a way that feels organic. He does not come off as a washed-up revolutionary pining for his past position of power, rather a preacher whose message is malleable to fit the time.

“Just seems to be about every song we write is a rebellion,” Lyndon told the sold out crowd before launching into their bi-polar dance punk piece “Out of the Woods” from 2012’s This is PiL. What do Lyndon and PiL have to rebel against? Unlike The Wild Onewho would rebel against anything, Public Image Ltd.’s focus is razor sharp: they know their enemies and craft their songs to act as kryptonite spears.

In a socio-political lens, there are the familiar topics that rock music has set in its crosshairs since day one. But one-dimensional tirades against “Corporate” or “Religion,” from PiL’s releases in 2015 and 2012, respectively, are for the work of young, piss-and-vinegar songwriters; Lyndon and PiL challenge their audience with ideologically varied, cheeky political think pieces. “Corporate,” was less a classic railing against the accused evils of big business and more a howling address to the electronically distanced nature of contemporary society. Lyndon howled—in the Banshee wail, mile-a-minute rant style that has developed since the Sex Pistols—“Here’s your World Wide Web and your iCloud…I’m here for you,” even as scores of audience members took photos, snapchatted, tweeted and posted about the moment. It hurts to be so right sometimes, huh John?

The members of PiL also proved themselves apt and adapting their message to the city they play in. Where “Religion” does come off as strong, horror-movie like condemnation of the Catholic/English Church, Lyndon snuck in some deeper truth to the manic, Gollum-meets-Pazuzu sermon he gave. For all his politicizing, Lyndon declared that he “Should be in the Republican debate.” After a call-and-response that sprung from a mention of Donald J. Trump, Lyndon gave a stare that hit the soul of everyone in the room and roared “This is your religion!” He was all too right, considering the crowd he was addressing.

Musically, Public Image Ltd. and post-punk are a rebellion against the, at time, agonizingly repetitive sonic formulae of punk music. In the case of PiL, this translates to a aural arsenal that ranges from the mechanical whir of proto-industrial percussion, the popping grooves of 80s worldbeat, whiffs of reggae and island syncopation, spy rock riffage, flairs of Spanish/Arab scales and the beats of early dance music. All of this is then transcribed on top of the energy and exploratory inquisitiveness of classic punk music. Guitarist Lu Edmonds began incorporating an electric saz—a seven-stringed Turkish/Iranian instrument—when he joined PiL, and the even the tiniest tonal differences it brought sounded like a radical challenge to the guitar-based conventions of rock music.

Vocally, Lyndon challenges the mile-a-minute whine of his early years, and countless subsequent punks modeling themselves on it, through his modern, more methodical, preacher’s delivery. What Lyndon may lack in sheer range, belting prowess, or flashy technique, he more than makes up for in lung capacity, range of manipulative tools, and that unearthly howl that still makes every hair in the room stand to. Lyndon know he’s not the best technical singer; so he crafts himself into one whose virtuosity lies in range of expression rather than range of notes.

Lyndon, and the rest of Public Image Ltd.’s answer to the question posed by “Hope I Die Before I Get Old,” is not one of resignation but resolution. With age comes wisdom; insight with wisdom; and with insight the better ability to connect to your audience and adapt your revolutionary message. Before the group closed out their nearly-two hour set with the ­So­-sounding “Rise,” Lyndon gave a cheeky grin as he addressed the crowd, “Just more songs of rebellion, but you know…” Lyndon left the statement unfinished: a tacit assurance that more rebellion is to come.

To learn more about Public Image Ltd.’s music and career, visit www.pilofficial.com

Garbage

Celebrating Twenty Years of Garbage at the 9:30 Club

The word “garbage” conjures a smattering of sights and sounds, none of them particularly flattering. Words we often associate with garbage include waste, sludge, stench, disgust, vile, and decay. ‘Anniversary tours, especially in celebration of particular albums, are often associated with similar terms. How many times have we heard a band engage on some anniversary tour only for it to be met with disgust by fans, reviled by critics, and claims that the band, their music (or both) have aged poorly and now stink? Garbage, the industrial rock juggernauts in midst of a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of their eponymous, debut album, deftly dodged past the pitfalls of both namesake and nostalgia at their show at the 9:30 Club this past Friday night.

It is uncommon for an anniversary to be particularly potent, or relevant, as these tours have the propensity to devolve into waxing nostalgia by both an artist and their fans for that by-gone, mythicized golden era. Garbage’s two hour—and second sold out—stint at Nightclub 9:30 was not just potent, showing a band that is still a well-oiled machine, but surprisingly relevant as well. As pioneers of electronic rock and incorporating sounds from the electronic underground into the mainstream music discourse, Garbage foreshadowed the sounds of today twenty years ago. As their introductory video reminded the all ages crowd, juxtaposing early band history with media showcasing everything from Princess Diana to the first DVDs, Garbage began producing music at the true outset of the digital age of music. It also helped that for this tour, the band resolved to only play songs from the debut, or their B-sides, therefore enclosing the set in a timeframe of 1995-1996. Encountering the band at this stage in the development of the sonic landscapes of popular music was like walking through a forest of saplings, only to find a matured oak that generated the environment.

What separates Garbage’s electro-industrial rock mish-mash from contemporaries like Nine Inch Nails or Ministry is that there is an unabashed, plucky pop edge under the synthesized specters of sound. Certainly that darkness is there as numbers like “Vow” were closer Trent Reznor’s synthesized-electro symphonies—granted on his least psychotic days—but also shared a melodiousness and dynamic range closer to Eurodance performers like Cascada. Others like “Fix Me Now” demonstrated pristine, pop melodies over driving, synthesized lines that relate closer to the pumping electro-pop of chart-toppers like Rita Ora and the Weeknd or even the rave-ready mixes of DJs like Steve Aoki than the underground minimalism of the time. Indeed Garbage’s two hour tour through time at times felt closer to a modern Eurorave or discotheque dance night than “alternative rock concert.” But Garbage is a rock band. So when they turn the “rock” faucet on, as they did most effectively in “Only Happy When It Rains,” the rock n roll does not just flow; it pours.

What also poured out from the venue’s speakers was the thundering, electric force of a group in the midst of their platinum anniversary. At this stage of musicianship, Garbage has the uncommon ability to sound both tight and expansive. They have all the flavor and depth of 80-20 angus with the calories of 90-10. The beef here is combined from the steady rhythms of Steve Marker (guitar and synth), punishing push of bassist Eric Avery, and the striking incorporation of inorganic, digital percussion to a traditional drum kit by Butch Vig. Duke Erikson’s shrieking guitar and Shirley Manson’s cross between Marilyn Manson, Madonna, and Stevie Nicks are the Worchester sauce and Dijon mustard that spice the beef into a satisfying burger.

Then again maybe comparing Garbage to a burger is not the best metaphor for this group. I’m sure they would prefer something like scotch. The initial bite that draws you in is still there but the surrounding textures only continue to develop and refine with age. To learn more about the band visit www.garbage.com

Gypsy Sally’s

Local Grooves & Cocktails with Max Lanocha of Gypsy Sally’s

On Tap: What is Gypsy Sally’s all about?
Max Lanocha: We are a music venue in Georgetown. Aside from our venue, you have Blues Alley, but there is really no other live music in Georgetown. This area used to be the spot for music back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, as everyone who comes in the door tells me. All the old school DC folks tell us how glad they are to have us here now because it gives them a reason to come back out and see acts that you would not necessarily see elsewhere.  It’s a mix of local and regional musicians, as well as larger national acts, but not necessarily with the draw of say the 9:30 Club, at least in this area.

OT: Who is your audience?
ML: It depends on the show, which is what is really cool about it. With the jam bands, if it’s a Grateful Dead thing, we have a lot of old school heads, people in their 60s and 70s. And then we have some younger bands, like Pink Talking Fish, that combine Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Phish music and that’s a bit of a younger jam crowd.

OT: What is the idea behind the ambiance of the place?
ML: We try and keep things somewhat local as much as we can. We try to always keep a few local brews on draft. We don’t have a fryer and that’s one thing that really stuck out to me when I first started here. I don’t expect there to be food to begin with at a music venue, and if there is, usually it’s fries, chicken fingers and burgers. We try to go a little more gourmet and a little healthier. Our specialty is flat bread pizzas, they are definitely our best seller. It’s American style cuisine, so we also have sandwiches, pastas and comfort foods.

OT: How do you approach the bar and cocktails here?
ML: It depends on the crowd, but overall we are a beer and whiskey bar. I do want to play into the craft cocktail scene, but the problem with that in the context of a music venue is that on a Friday night during a sold out show I can’t spend 10 minutes muddling. So, I try to strike a balance with craft cocktail elements, but with speed and efficiency. Three or four ingredients tops.

OT: What make a great music venue?
ML: I feel like all too often at music venues or bars in general, it’s a slam and go, I don’t have time for you, I don’t really care, just get in and out as fast as possible and that is something we strive to not do. Sound quality is also something we are really lucky with, in that we put a lot into that from the get-go, especially for a club our size.

Grab a drink from Max, check out the vinyl lounge and enjoy some great local music.

Gypsy Sally’s: 3401 Water St. NW, DC; 202-333-7700; www.gypsysallys.com