Posts

Photo: Chris McKay
Photo: Chris McKay

MC50 Kicks Out Jams For Freedom

For 50 years, “Kick out the jams, motherf–kers” has been one of rock ’n’ roll’s most ecstatic, transcendent rallying cries. When it was first heard blasting out of the streets of Detroit, it went beyond music. MC5, or Motor City 5, the Detroit rock band that helped paved the way for punk, employed it as a cry to their fellow youth – for energy, for justice, for racial equality and yes, for some righteous, roaring jams.

Does MC5’s music still embody that call to action and exuberance? Can a band that aspired to spark revolutions both political and musical light those same fires today? Those questions lingered in the air as the crowd awaited the group to take the 9:30 Club stage on September 13.

For the latter question, the answer is, “Probably not.” People’s politics and goals change with time. In fact, the most political the group got was when lead guitarist and founding member “Brother” Wayne Kramer sermonized about the participatory nature of democracy, imploring the crowd to go vote before launching into the swinging, proto-punk “The American Ruse” from MC5’s second album Back in the USA. The band has little reason to try and instigate the same musical battles it waged across Midwestern concert halls at the onset of the 1970s because generally speaking, they won.

Kramer and the original MC5’s victory is seen most prominently in the very musicians who currently make up the band. Joining Brother Wayne for the MC50th, the all-star rock supergroup celebrating the Motor City 5’s fiftieth, included Soundgarden’s lead guitarist and human tidal wave of sound Kim Thayil, Faith No More’s Billy Gould on bass, Fugazi’s Brendan Canty on drums and, relative newcomer, Marcus Durant of Zen Guerillas out front as an eerily ideal stand-in for original vocalist Rob Tyner. All of these bands had longer, more successful and prominent careers than MC5’s originals, yet they all joined collectively to revive the music – that’s how deeply ingrained this band is to rock’s DNA.

At the 9:30 Club, these all-star musicians did not gather to fight yesterday’s political battles but to remind everyone in the room – from the graying hippies to the Washingtonians in their finest punk rock threads – how potent this music is. The supergroup ripped through MC5’s breakthrough album Kick Out The Jams, bringing everything from backyard boogie garage rock of “Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa” to the metallic boom of “Come Together.”

Kramer himself best tried to channel the spirit of 1968, leaping and dancing across the stage while unleashing his signature high octane, high register steam whistle solos. Gould and Canty conjured the crushing force of Detroit’s factory days in the rhythm section while Thayil, who usually summons sound waves like tsunamis in Soundgarden, stepped back into rollicking, prototypical rock guitar shedding.

The surprise of the night came as MC50 closed their run through of the famed album with “Starship,” the nine-minute-plus, space-meets-early-noise-rock closer that features a verse of poetry by the Afrofuturist jazz leader Sun Ra. As the song’s familiar verse-chorus-verse structure gave way to amorphous, borderline atonal, pulsating free fusion, the MC5’s spark shone through brightest.

You can hear echoes of “Starship” and “Kick Out the Jams” across the frontiers of rock today. In fact, it was appropriately reminiscent of the avant jazz stylings in some of the work of DC’s own Priests.

As Durant wailed on a miniature saxophone and Kramer wandered cosmically along thefretboard, the MC50th embodied the original message the MC5 pushed, one that punk embraced and spread to a whole generation: freedom. MC50 served a reminder for everyone in the crowd, anyone who would listen, that the central promise of American music – of the United States of America – is to create what you want.

It was a joyful, noisy reminder that American music, from avant-garde jazz and death metal to Lady Gaga and Usher, celebrates at its very core the idea of liberty we all cherish.

For more information about the MC5 and the MC50, check them out here

Photo: www.930.com
Photo: www.930.com

Mura Masa Brings His Minimalist Multi-Instrumentalism to 9:30 Club

Alex Crossan took the 9:30 Club stage without much of a fuss on Friday night. Mere moments after the lights dimmed, he took his place while beaming white lights washed over the various musical equipment stockpiled around him. Aside from the myriad of musical tools, there seemed to be a minimalist approach to the stage design, as he opted for only his name – Mura Masa – to appear behind him in white Helvetica on a solid black background.

Virtually every color was represented by lights throughout his set, but only one at a time. The performance itself had very few frills  and honestly, it wasn’t a bad thing. The strategic and somewhat conservative approach to effects was my first clue that the main focus of this show from beginning to end would be the music itself.

Mura Masa did everything himself, from playing drums, guitar and keys to singing and working the soundboard. The 22-year-old, Guernsey-born artist is a mega-multitasker. And aside from being a multi-instrumentalist, he also produces his own music and writes his own songs.

It was amazing to see him constantly rotate from instrument to instrument before chiming in vocally without missing a beat. Since much of Mura Masa’s music features collaborations from artists like A$AP Rocky, Charli XCX, Cosha (who recently switched over from the moniker Bonsai), NAO and more, naturally he needed a versatile vocalist to accompany him for his DC performance. He brought out London artist Fliss as his collaborator for the night, and she took on the various features in her own style.

Whereas Mura Masa couldn’t give us much stage presence (most likely because he was playing literally all of the instruments onstage), Fliss did with ease. She imbued the crowd with energy as she danced across the stage, swinging her long braids to the beats Mura Masa meticulously constructed.

I was very impressed by how similar to Charli XCX she sounded when she sang “1 Night,” and she provided a terrific cover of Cosha’s vocals on “What If I Go?” and “Nuggets,” as well as NAO’s on “Firefly” and her newest Mura Masa collab, “Complicated.

Though Mura Masa’s music lends itself really well to some vocal instrumentation, to me it still seems to be less about what’s being said and more about the overall feeling it gives you. It was a wholly positive experience, though I admittedly wasn’t incredibly familiar with his music beyond the uber popular tracks.

The crowd was comprised of people I’d imagine you’d see at a college frat party, but the overall mood was far less raucous. I’d chalk that up to the music and the way it was presented, because it never really came to a boiling point.

During his last song, Mura Masa expressed his gratitude to the audience for coming out, but much of what he said I couldn’t make out because of his thick British accent. After he left the stage, those of us watching in the audience lingered to see if he might come back out for one more song. But the lights went up and we collectively realized he was gone for the night.

Mura Masa will be on tour on the West Coast for the rest of the month. For more information about tour dates, click here, or check out his website, Twitter or Instagram.

Photo: Anna Gaca
Photo: Anna Gaca

Japanese Breakfast Brings Her “Soft Sounds” to 9:30 Club

Michelle Zauner, better known as Japanese Breakfast, took the stage at the 9:30 Club in light-up sneakers that slightly resembled moon boots, jumped along to her song “Machinist” off her most recent release Soft Sounds from Another Planet, and told the sold-out crowd with an unwavering degree of cheer, “This is about being in love with a robot!”

Throughout the night, Zauner continues to tell the crowd what each song is about, letting her audience in on her creative world she’s now cultivated across two albums. Even on tracks from Psychopomp, her first record, which deals with the loss of her mother, you can feel the healing energy that comes from expressing those experiences through music.

Her band matches her energy and talent throughout the night. Adding to the unique onstage energy is her husband Peter Bradley on bass. When Zauner and company begin to play “Til Death,” she looks to Bradley and quips, “This song is about marriage.” She’s quick to add “Gross,” getting a good laugh out of the already smiling crowd.

Her conversational tone in both her comments and her lyrics adds to her relatability, something that has earned her well deserved critical acclaim. Coupled with her onstage enthusiasm and wildly good cover of The Cranberries’ “Dreams,” Japanese Breakfast is a live act not to be missed.

Learn more about Japanese Breakfast here.

Photo by: Krystina Brown
Photo by: Krystina Brown

Matt and Kim Bring “Almost Everyday” to 9:30 Club

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to see Matt and Kim headline their second sold-out show in a row at 9:30 Club. The raucous euphoria of all the acts combined was the equivalent of eating sugar straight from the bowl or jumping on a trampoline in an anti-gravity chamber.

Future Feats set the precedent with their infectious blend of pop punk-tinged tunes. As the crowd slowly trickled in during their set, their upbeat rhythms helped build excitement for the acts to come. I came in just as they turned the lights up and took a group selfie with the crowd from the stage. Soon after, they finished out their high-spirited performance with “27,” a carefree, acoustic-driven ode to the morning after a night of birthday shenanigans.

Tokyo Police Club took the stage next, a band that I fell in love with in 2011 after the release of their highest-charting U.S. album Champ. Their music is oxymoronically lively and laid back at the same time. David Monks’ vocals lilt so smoothly over the cheery guitars and percussion, like a surfboard that effortlessly careens over whatever kind of wave the sea can throw at it. The sound is so L.A. that you’d never guess they were really from Ontario, Canada.

The camaraderie between members of the band was immediately visible when they started performing. During the guitar solo in the first song, and for a few other moments later on in the show, all of the band members circled the drummer and jammed together, which showed how much they genuinely enjoy playing music with each other.

I was excited to hear some of my favorite songs by them live including “Breakneck Speed,” “Frankenstein,” “Wait Up (Boots of Danger)” and “Argentina (Parts I, II, III)” as well as some of the newer tracks from their dual-part 2016 EP Mellon Collie and the Infinite Radness (a nod to the legendary Smashing Pumpkins album) – and their new single from this year, “New Blues.”

Matt and Kim were the last to grace the stage, but first members of the sold-out crowd greeted them by (successfully) starting the wave and sending it up to the rows in the balcony. The dynamic Brooklyn-based duo built on that energy with their entrance, backed by “Für Elise” and what sounded like a baby reading the script projected on their background display. Right when it got to the part where it said, “Hold on, it might get bumpy,” the dude standing next to me bumped into me and spilled his beer on my arm – as if on cue. That was an indicator of the messiness and chaos to come, but strangely, it only made me more excited to see what Matt and Kim would get up to next.

Their entire approach was reminiscent of a mixed-media art project, which is fitting since this pair met at Pratt Institute. It is a trademark of theirs to incorporate other artists’ work into their shows, and somehow it all works well together. Going beyond the standard fare of lights and smoke, they projected a mishmash of graphics (like one of Kim dancing in front of the Brooklyn Bridge) and memes (like the classic Oprah meme) on the display that played on the wall behind them for the duration of their set, and had little dance breaks to songs like DMX’s “Party Up (Up In Here)” and Princess Nokia’s “Tomboy.”

Our show morphed into an album release party since Almost Everyday was set to drop that midnight. To celebrate, they threw T-shirts, confetti, balloons, blowup dolls and pool floaties (which became vehicles for crowd surfing) out into the audience. They also performed a few tracks from the new release like “Forever,” and an older song of theirs called “Yeah Yeah” that’s been pulled from all streaming services due to record label shadiness (according to Kim).

Matt also took a moment to give us some background about the band’s hiatus last year, which was due to Kim’s meniscus and ACL injury. Matt says he is “more proud of this album than anything in his life.” After the hiatus they were both happy to be back touring because, he said, “I’ve done this for my entire adult life and this is all I wanna do.”

But besides Matt and Kim’s high-energy performance, what really made this night so much fun was the crowd. Kim actually made a little mistake during one song because she said she was so amazed by how lively the audience was. Toward what I thought would be the end of their set, they played “Daylight” (the only song of theirs that I knew well before that night) and went offstage. The crowd was so hype that they came back and did another song for us. This whole night reminded me of what’s so special about concerts that aren’t in large stadiums, and that’s being able to interact with and experience music with the people who make it up close.

For more on Matt and Kim, click here. 

Photo: Kate Bellm
Photo: Kate Bellm

Kate Nash Looks Inward, Moves Forward

Conventional wisdom will tell you that looking back is generally not something you do when attempting to enter a new chapter in life. But for British singer-songwriter Kate Nash, the opposite proves to be true. The indie pop artist took to her teenage diaries for inspiration while working on her new album Yesterday Was Forever, released on March 30.

“I had a point where I didn’t really know if I was going to be able to continue with music as a career,” Nash says. “I was back and forth from LA to London and going through a lot of archival stuff, and I just pored through all my diaries and had been reflecting on them so much because it was the 10-year anniversary of Made of Bricks.”

Made of Bricks is Nash’s breakout album, hitting the pop scene with a force both sweet and powerful back in 2007, and ultimately catapulting to No. 1 on the UK charts. Last year, she embarked on an anniversary tour in the UK to commemorate this well-loved album dealing with themes of girlhood, crushes and finding a distinct sense of self – all ideas Nash seems to be revisiting with a new perspective on Yesterday Was Forever. Aside from finding inspiration in her own diaries, Nash has also been reexamining what it means to be a teenage girl in 2018, and how that definition has changed for the better over the years.

“I think the teenage girl has totally reclaimed being a teenage girl, and it’s something that you can’t just take advantage of and diss as much as you used to be able to,” she says. “It used to be like, ‘Oh silly little teenage girl writing in her diary,’ and I would be really insulted by that. But now, I think we’ve moved past that and teenage girls have fought for themselves to be heard and taken seriously, and I think that’s f–king amazing. [This album] is a celebration of that. I’m going back to my pop roots a little bit and just trying to be as raw and honest as I can – as I always feel like I try to be.”

The rest of this year sees Nash on an expansive U.S. tour for her new album, including a stop at 9:30 Club on April 30. With new music and a beloved catalog in tow, she says she’s working not only to craft a setlist that her fans will love, but also to cultivate a joyful and inspirational experience for everyone in the audience.

“There are four records to squeeze in now, so that’s kind of challenging. You want to give people new stuff, but then I feel like people come to shows because they also want to hear stuff they know already. It’s finding the right balance […] and finding something that makes sense, and creating this kind of journey onstage. But I think that my aim every time is to just have the funnest time ever. I want people to leave my shows feeling really pumped up and like they can do anything, almost as if they’ve been to one of those conventions where they’re like, ‘You can do this!’”

Nash says she’s excited to reconnect with her growing fanbase while on tour this spring, and quips that she’d like to “see if there’s any wrestling fans coming down.”

She’s referring to her role as Rhonda “Britannica” Richardson on Netflix’s critically acclaimed original series Glow, centered on the bold and colorful world of the syndicated women’s professional wrestling circuit in 1980s LA. Nash and her castmates wrapped filming for season two in January, and she says that her role in the series has felt like a dream job. It’s easy to feel her passion for both the project and her fellow actors when speaking with her.

“This season, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this is my life now.’ [It’s] just 15 insane, funny, smart, inspiring, supportive women, and we’re learning how to f–king wrestle. We’re doing crazy things with our bodies, and the whole thing is set in the 80s, which is insane. I f–king love the show and all the women on the show, and I’m so grateful to be part of it.”

To have a career spanning over a decade in any creative industry is a feat, let alone to branch out to others with continued success and candor like Nash. When asked where her confidence and success come from, she again looks inward.

“I think the main thing is to always believe in yourself. It’s so hard to just sit and be comfortable with who you are, and that’s something you should always work toward because no one else is going to do that for you. Let yourself be you – that’s really unique. I think that people are always trying to prove that they’re not themselves. We have to just be ourselves, and that’s f–king cool.”

So be yourself, trust who you’ve always been, and if you want to catch a show where the inspiration is as great as the music, head to the 9:30 Club on Monday, April 30. Tickets to Kate Nash’s show are $25. Learn more about her at www.katenash.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears
Photos: Courtesy of Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears

Back on the Road: Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears

On a recent call with Joe Lewis, it was clear that he was enjoying the comforts of home, just as he was poised to give them up again – for a while at least. The heart, soul and frontman of the eponymously named Austin, Texas band Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears was having a quiet lunch at home as he prepared to hit the road for the better part of two months, the band’s biggest tour since 2013.

“I made a chicken pot pie the other night,” he said. “I’m gonna finish that off.”

Lewis is soft-spoken in conversation, a marked contrast to the gruff, high-energy singer that he becomes when leading his band. Combining a range of influences from Lightnin’ Hopkins to Iggy Pop, Nile Rogers to James Brown, Lewis and his band have made a name for themselves through their live shows, featuring horns and a rhythm section that doesn’t quit. They show off that same intensity on their albums, the fourth of which, Backlash, will be released on February 10. Lewis thinks it’s the band’s best yet.

“My skill level now versus then…everybody has just grown so much,” he said. “The songwriting [has] gotten better. I’m getting older, maturing. I was older when I started playing guitar, and all those early years you’re kind of learning, I was just doing it onstage. I feel like now I know my way around stuff more. You refine all that over the years.”

The band’s last album, 2013’s Electric Slave, featured a heavier, rockier sound and didn’t come with the “and the Honeybears” part of the band name which, Lewis said, sowed confusion. His intention at the time was just to shed a part of the band name that he didn’t want to keep for so long, but the change made a bigger splash than he imagined.

“We had the name and kind of just got tired of it,” Lewis said, “and we took it off. And it became like a big issue, and everyone was confused. So this time around I just put it back on, simple as that. The name change threw everybody off. I didn’t think it would, but it did.”

As for the band’s four-year hiatus, Lewis said there wasn’t any master plan, just a lot of different factors that added up, including wanting to record and release the band’s best possible material. While he often brings an idea to the table, he said the band’s songwriting process varies.

“Each song’s different,” he said. “A lot of times, I’ll come up with the beef of it, and I’ll bring it in and the guys will do what they do to it. Or it’ll be an idea that comes up in a sound check that we jam out on, and somebody will record it on their phone, and when we’re back home working on stuff, we’ll f— with it. A lot of times, something will come up and it won’t be going anywhere, and we’ll say, ‘Hey, that thing from back in the day would sound cool here,’ and we’ll put ‘em together.”

The band has been signed to Lost Highway Records and Vagrant Records in the past, but this time around, they’re self-releasing their album.

“Unless someone is gonna be able to guarantee how much they’re gonna pump your stuff, and how hard they’re gonna work it…if you have enough money saved, it’s definitely better to do it on your own. You can control what’s gonna happen with it more.”

As the band gears up for the album release and tour, Lewis’s home cooking will be replaced with whatever is available on the road – just one of the changes that takes a little getting used to after some time off. But Lewis knows the drill and he’s ready.

“It usually takes me about a week to acclimate to being back out on the road,” he said. “And then it’s all easy sailing from there.”

Catch Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears at the 9:30 Club on February 21. Doors open at 7 p.m., and tickets are $25. Learn more about the band at www.blackjoelewis.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com