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Photo: Shervin Lainez
Photo: Shervin Lainez

Lindsey Stirling Shows She’s More Than A Violin Player

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

courtney-barnett

Music Picks: July 2018

FRIDAY, JULY 6

Pusha T
The first time I heard about Daytona, the new Pusha T record, was at work. Everyone was talking about the seven-song album – and even the guy who never tweets had to tweet about it. The record is entirely produced by Kanye West, which may rub you the wrong way; however, this side of the studio booth may be better place for him at this point, and he entirely leaves the verses to King Push. The record is a crisp 21 minutes long, but fire from start to finish. This is the album we’ve been waiting for since the 2015 teaser Darkest Before Dawn. Show at 9 p.m. Tickets are $30. Echostage: 2135 Queens Chapel Rd. NE, DC; www.echostage.com

Shy Glizzy
Southeast DC’s own Shy Glizzy is coming to the Fillmore to remind y’all that the Young Jefe still runs things. His summer single “Do You Understand?” featuring Gunna and Tory Lanez premiered last month, and it’s one of the smoother beats he’s taken to rapping over, similar to the track “Dope Boy Magic” from 2017 release Quiet Storm. He may be slowing down the tempo of his music, but he’s keeping high momentum with constant releases, and I’m anxiously waiting to see what’s next for him. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $30-$100. Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

Steve Bug
Steve Bug has been on the scene since 1991. That’s before I was even born, and yet his grooves have yet to grow tiresome. Born Stefan Brugesch in Germany, he’s become known over his career as the “Gentleman of Techno” for his professionalism, dependability and consistent sets. His body of work continues to strengthen with 2018’s Paradise Sold, a collaboration with Langenberg, another guru of the German deep house scene. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $10. Flash: 645 Florida Ave. NW, DC; www.flashdc.com

SATURDAY, JULY 7

Airøspace
Airøspace, the Southeast DC raised MC, is one we’ve been waiting for– at least those of us spending too much time listening to lo-fi beat tapes, as the instrumental tapes tend to grow stale quite quickly though, but he gives them the breath they need. Not all his tracks are lo-fi, though. On his latest release Hitagi, Vol. 3.1, you can find tracks that cull together a range of influences from trap to OSTs. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $10. Velvet Lounge: 915 U St. NW, DC; www.velvetloungedc.com

Honey
DC rock trio Honey has a sound that’s much fuller than their lineup of guitar, drums and bass alone might lead you to think. I got to play with them once and what I realized is they are perfectly balanced; none of the voices are competing with one another. The chorus heavy guitar gives a real sense of depth, allowing the melodies in both the bass and vocals to stand out and the drums fill in the space between. From that show at Looking Glass Lounge to their EP release, they’ve come a long way in a short while. Doors at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $8. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

SUNDAY, JULY 8

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill 20th Anniversary Tour
For fans of hip hop and neo-soul, Lauryn Hill is a household name, along with Erykah Badu and D’Angelo. Hill’s debut record The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill propelled her to international stardom in a way no one could have predicted. Twenty years later, Hill is touring the record most responsible for her enduring legacy once again. Her live shows have been said to lack the swagger you hear on the record, but hopefully the Hill from the studio will show up for this one. Doors at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $20. Jiffy Lube Live: 7800 Cellar Door Rd. Bristow, VA; www.livenation.com

Rodriguez Jr.
Rodriguez Jr. is the latest project from south of France native Olivier Mateu. Previously he’s made music with the Youngsters, but Rodriguez Jr. seems to be the best iteration of his production yet. He makes dance music informed by both vintage synthesizers and avant-garde western art music, from Satie to Stockhausen. The latter influences are not clear, given how danceable the music is. Maybe they’re related in an emotional sense, but I find Rodriguez Jr. as more of a cinema-informed electronic musician. Doors at 4 p.m. Tickets $8. Flash: 645 Florida Ave. NW, DC; www.flashdc.com

MONDAY, JULY 9

The Octopus Project
The Octopus Project, if you couldn’t tell from the name, are an incredibly hipster group, as hipster as the Wes Anderson movies their music videos feel inspired by. That said, I’m excited for these psychedelic rockers to come through DC. From Austin, Texas, they describe themselves as indietronica for the number of synthesizers they use and their role in shaping the sound – though it’s a label which only becomes apparent after you hear it spoken. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $13. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC;
www.unionstage.com

WEDNESDAY JULY 11

Dent May
The “softest boy in Mississippi” is bringing “Across the Multiverse” to our neck of the woods this month on his tour supported by singer, guitarist Shannon Lay. This is his first release since making the move to Los Angeles, and for the label Carpark Records; he was previously signed to Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks label for his debut album in 2009. Across the Multiverse provides some chill, beachy summer vibes and May knows it. He even added some beer cozies and SPF 15 ChapStick to his merch offerings to emphasize the feeling, or perhaps as a nod to his own habit of applying lip balm every five minutes. Upon first listen to his newest album, this multi-instrumentalist, producer and self-described hotel bar lounge singer, gives me Elton John vibes with leading track “Hello Cruel World,” though his haircut and specs may have solidified that comparison a little more than I’d like to admit. Nevertheless, it’ll be a great show. 8 p.m. Tickets $12. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. Vienna, VA; www.jamminjava.com

SATURDAY JULY 14

Now, Now
After a few years of self-discovery and a battle with writer’s block, KC Dalager and Brad Hale (a.k.a. Now, Now) are back with their most heartfelt and personal album yet. Saved is the follow up to the almost five-year radio silence after Threads, a record that earned them a coveted slot performing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in 2012. I’m going to be completely transparent here and say I assumed this band had broken up before hearing of this show, but I’m glad to hear the duo’s new music. “SGL” and “Yours” are the standout tracks from the album, but “Know Me” depicts the evolution of the band’s sound, while hearkening back to the hollow production and airy vocals that made their first impression on me on the Neighbors EP. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $15. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

SUNDAY, JULY 15

Halsey
You know her, you love her and you probably hear her singing whenever you enter a store geared to people under 30 or turn on the radio. Halsey is coming to Wolf Trap on the North American leg of her worldwide tour for her 2017 release “hopeless fountain kingdom,” which reached #1 on the Billboard 200 this time last year. Jessie Reyez is joining her on a majority of the U.S. dates, which makes a lot of sense because they both have a similar rawness to their lyrics, and feature a comparable vocal tone, despite being categorized as pop music artists. I’m looking forward to seeing what other surprises Halsey has in store for us, too. 8 p.m. Tickets $40-$80. Filene Center at Wolf Trap: 1645 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

Outer Spaces
Balitmore-based Outer Spaces may be the headliner here, but this show includes a couple different acts, including DC’s Bacchae and Los Angeles-based Goon. Look for the post-punk band about as wild the revelry their name, ahem Bacchae, suggests. Goon’s provides a more downtempo way to follow up, but their songs are lush, even if not so Dionysian. Outer Spaces are more straight forward indie pop, but don’t let that be a deterrence; they’re the reason to be there. 9 p.m. Tickets $12. Comet Ping Pong: 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.cometpingpong.com

Wild Moccasins
Could you start a band with the person you love? Could you be in a relationship with them for a decade all while keeping the band together? Could you end that relationship amicably and remain bandmates that still co-write songs that may or may not be about each other and/or your potential new flames, and then go on tour together? Zahira Gutierrez and Cody Swann could, in fact that’s exactly the basis of their new release Look Together that debuted on June 29. Just the backstory alone made me give them a listen, but their glamorous, catchy, synth-filled pop kept me around. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $15. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

WEDNESDAY, JULY 18

Jake Clemons
Saxophone player Jake Clemons comes to DC not too long after finishing up a tour with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. That’s right, Jake Clemons is none other than the nephew of the Big Man, Clarence Clemons, and he’s been performing in his stead since 2012, even playing his “Jungleland” solo. But the younger Clemons has his own music as well and released a solo record in 2017 titled Fear & Love. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets $20. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

Slum Village
If you’re surprised about this show, don’t worry, I was too. I had no idea Slum Village was still slumming. The group, now comprised of Young RJ and T3 are touring their 2018 release The Lost Scrolls, which contains previously unreleased “relics” from the twenty-year-old classic Fantastic Vol. 2. Of course, Young RJ was not part of the crew back then; however, T3 was, and Young RJ was mentored by Slum Village original J Dilla. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $22. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

TUESDAY, JULY 19

Mourn
Three things come across in Mourn’s music videos: they’re very young, they’re very punk and they’re unabashedly Spanish. The quartet comes from Barcelona. In fact, they recently released a song “Barcelona City Tour,” one of the three singles released in anticipation of their latest record, Sorpresa Familia. From the music videos to the singles, you can tell the quartet finally has a bit of cash flow, and with that you can feel they’ve really come into their own. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $12. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

SATURDAY JULY 21

Deafheaven
This California-based sometimes duo, other times full band, makes a beautiful marriage of metal and shoegaze. The band has been camped out in Oakland recording their highly anticipated fourth studio album, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. Their live shows are known for being so intense, they’ve inspired fans to leap onstage and lick frontman George Clarke’s shoes, so if that’s something you might be into here’s your chance to make it happen. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets $20. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

SUNDAY JULY 22

DC101 Kerfuffle: Fall Out Boy, Rise Against, Awolnation, AJR, Robert DeLong, Mt. Joy, L.I.F.T.
DC101’s annual Kerfuffle returns with another stacked lineup. With legends like Fall Out Boy (who recently joined us here in DC to celebrate the Caps during the playoffs) and Rise Against, to the next great voices in alt-rock like AJR and Mt. Joy, there’s something for all music lovers at this all-day affair. Doors at 12:30 p.m., show begins 1:30 p.m. Tickets $55-$95. Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; www.merriweathermusic.com

MONDAY, JULY 23

Del Florida
Del Florida, so far as I can tell, has almost little or nothing to do with Florida, and that’s ok. The half-neo soul, half-dream pop act was formed in Liverpool, and is now based in DC. The group is carried by the powerful pipes of lead vocalist Leela Dawson and the funky rhythm guitar. DC based Bottled Up will open for the group. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $10. Velvet Lounge: 915 U St. NW, DC; www.velvetloungedc.com

TUESDAY JULY 24

Courtney Barnett
While one of her most biting lyrics may be “put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you,” we’re sure you won’t be disappointed by Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett live. She returns in support of her incredible sophomore album Tell Me How You Really Feel. While her collaborative album Lotta Sea Lice with fellow folk rocker Kurt Vile brought her to the District in 2017, we’re excited to see Barnett’s solo guitar slaying and acerbic lyrics when she headlines The Anthem solo. Joined by Julien Baker and Vagabon, don’t miss out on this night of incredible talent. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $40-$60. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

WEDNESDAY JULY 25

Echo & the Bunnymen and Violent Femmes
Two iconic 80s acts join forces on the same bill for one retro night. What better way to cure your mid-week blues than by trekking to The Anthem on a Wednesday to sing along to classics like “The Killing Moon” and “Blister in the Sun”? Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $55-$75. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

THURSDAY JULY 26

Shannon & the Clams
Cal Arts student turned bass guitarist Shannon Shaw and her band are bringing their 60s inspired psychedelic pop to DC for the release of their fifth album Onion, supported by Big Huge and Australian experimental pop band Gauche. Of the title track and album name, Shaw says, “I had this epiphany that was likening an onion to being human and how you’re nothing without layers of experience. Each time you have an experience it creates another layer in the onion […] Each song on this album is about problem-solving and having realizations about yourself.” 7 p.m. Tickets $15. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

FRIDAY, JULY 27

Frass Green
The bio for Frass Green on Spotify simply reads “joe tyler matt antonio,” which is about as opaque as their music or their artwork. But this lo-fi dream pop act is DC based and quite young. Joe Antoshak is the lead songwriter and began the project in his garage, the quality of which still seems to come through in the music. Be sure to check out their garage rockabilly tunes as they climb the ladder of DC venues. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $13. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

Glue Factory
What I like about the lead single off DC band Glue Factory’s debut record S/T is the contrast between what’s being said and what you’re hearing. First there’s the post-punk verse, which feels good, even if it feels familiar, but then it goes into a similarly familiar chorus. It’s more melodic and more pop, but still has the feel-it-in-your-bones punk element. At the same they’re singing about having “maggots in your eyes.” I never thought I would be lulled into singing those words. The show also features Positive No and Warm Sun. Doors at 10 p.m. Tickets $12. Comet Ping Pong: 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.cometpingpong.com

SATURDAY JULY 28

David Byrne
If you missed the Talking Heads frontman at his sold-out show at The Anthem in May, fear not! The icon is back and not to be missed. I was wildly lucky to catch him on the first run, and it was nothing short of magical. Byrne achieved setlist nirvana, with a healthy combination of solo songs, Talking Heads classics and more from his ever-growing catalogue. If you’re still not convinced, every ticket purchased online for David Byrne includes a CD of the new album American Utopia. You’ll receive instructions via email on how to redeem your album shortly after ticket purchase. Plus, he’s supported by Benjamin Clementine, who just happens to have the voice of an angel. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $60-$130. Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; www.merriweathermusic.com

SUNDAY JULY 29

Lightmare
From their first show at Looking Glass Lounge (with the aforementioned Honey), Lightmare has had a quick ascendancy on the DC scene. The six-person, soul-punk arrangement will ask if you’ve ever been in love and if you wonder where the wild things are, and then prompt you to look for their debut record soon thereafter. The show also features the Prabir Trio and Wooden/Apple/Heart. The Richmond based trio writes psych-rock rooted in the Beatles “drenched in enough Tequila to make it slouch,” while Wooden/Apple/Heart is another DC band with an innovative take on folk. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $10. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

Warped Tour
I feel old as hell writing about the absolute last Warped Tour in history. I never got to experience the magic of Warped when I was a teenager and then it would’ve mattered more to me, but if this particular music scene was ever important to you, you should come out for this bittersweet last hurrah. Close the book on your teen angst the right way with bands like Simple Plan, 30H!3, The Maine, Mayday Parade, Four Year Strong and August Burns Red with many, many more. Doors at 11 a.m. Tickets $39-$55. Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; www.merriweathermusic.com

WEDNESDAY AUGUST 1

Rico Nasty
One of the most exciting new rappers to rise out of the DMV is none other than Rico Nasty. She’s a versatile artist with a killer fashion sense and several aliases who pioneered her own sound called Sugar Trap, which is sweet as pie and tough as nails at the same time. She takes inspiration for her music from many genres, citing Slipknot as one of her influences, and using piano samplings that eerily resemble Vanessa Carlton’s iconic “1000 miles” in one of her older tracks “Brandon.” Her show at the Fillmore is one of the first few on her “Nasty” tour, and this album marks her first release after signing with Atlantic last month. This is a can’t miss show, so come out and see her live because I already know it’s gonna be “Poppin.” Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $20-$50. Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

THURSDAY AUGUST 2

Father John Misty
For those not familiar with his career, Josh Tillman went from unassuming Fleet Foxes drummer to sweet and understated solo artist before exiting whatever weird cocoon he had to live in to become his alter ego Father John Misty. Say what you will about his general attitude and reputation for making headlines throughout the blogosphere for his caustic comments – the man can write a damn good song. His most recent album God’s Favorite Customer sees him breaking character and getting a bit more personal. We’re still not entirely sure what to expect from this show, other than the excitement of knowing anything’s possible with this enigmatic and abrasive artist. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets $45-$55. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

Photo: Brandon Shields
Photo: Brandon Shields

What’s NUEX?

Let’s be honest, has anyone with even the slightest desire for rock star status not responded to a Craigslist ad at least once? I definitely ended up in someone’s basement once trying to do vocals over shoegaze while wondering if I’d make it home alive to feed my dog. Okay, that incident aside, I’ve heard many Craigslist musician meetup stories that were way more successful than mine.

Take hometown DC duo NUEX, for example. Something told singer-songwriter Camille Michelle Gray to respond to an ad seeking a vocalist posted by drummer-producer Teddy Aitkins. Fortunately for them both (and for us), neither was an axe murderer and it was pretty evident from day one that there was musical chemistry between them.

NUEX (pronounced “new”) is a play on the French word “nue”, which means naked. It’s a fitting name for the sonic duo that emerged from that fated Craigslist meetup more than four years ago. Working hard to pull tight, original tracks from their small in-house operation, NUEX’s sound is often both new and raw, emotion stripped bare and laid out for us to hear.

“Something that I want people listening to this music – or any music – to know is that when you’re listening to a song, especially the ones that are as emotional as ours, they’re like listening to someone’s soul or their diary,” Gray said. “So while you are jamming, don’t forget that each song has a little throbbing piece of our soul.”

And Gray does certainly have some soul vibes, but she also brings something fresh to the table. Her vocals are reminiscent of an old-school lounge singer with all the deep sadness, but she’s also got a hell of a lot more spunk. She isn’t going to lay on a piano and cry; she’s going to light up like a laser beam and tell you what’s up.

Aitkins, who is responsible for the otherworldly beats that drop below Gray’s smoky vocals, suggests the laser effect is intentional.

“We both have a big influence in space and stars and things being ethereal,” he said.

The two concur that the biggest influence on their work is recognizing and attempting to channel “the interconnectedness of everything.” The resulting sound is sultry (and sometimes sassy) robotica.

NUEX has hit all of the stops for “up-and-comers” in DC. Since 2014, they have played with Sofar Sounds and Luce Unplugged at the National Portrait Gallery, and were selected by Brightest Young Things to represent the city at SXSW 2017’s DC soundstage.

In May, the duo released their long-anticipated, five-track EP Affectus. The record has given them the boost they said was needed to keep moving forward, but now they’ve got the bug and are impatient for more. Indeed, Gray and Aitkins are refreshingly honest about not just the magic, but also the frustrations that come along with trying to “make it” musically – and trying to touch people creatively.

Balancing careers, families and gigs, it was difficult, they said, to play shows for three years and not have a physical body of work to point people to. It also made taking themselves seriously a challenge. They describe the EP release as a “relief.”

“For me, I feel like there’s always more room to grow,” Aitkins said. “I always feel like I could do better. Our sound is always evolving. So yeah, I think we’ve grown, but overall there’s still a lot of stuff that people have not heard that we’ve created.”

Gray adds that the EP was “definitely a catapult,” making the pair more driven and ready to get some of their newer work out for the public to experience.

“And that’s just selfishly,” Gray said. “I really want people to see what else we’re made of. The five songs on the EP are great, and we chose them on purpose because of what they meant to us and they’re strong. But as Teddy has already said, we’re so excited to have the door open and you guys walk through our little [world].”

And we should soon get a chance to peek a bit further into that world. During our interview, Gray and Aitkins teased two new videos for the singles “Eyes” and “Billie”. Working with cinematographers and producers Abe Vilchez-Moran and Kunitaro Ohi, Gray and Aitkins have been “floored” by how two other artists’ visions could make their own work come alive in a way they hadn’t conceived.

For “Eyes” especially, they said, having “everything to do with [the song], but not being physically a part of the video” was an awakening experience.

“The video made it so much more emotional than it ever was,” Aitkins said. “Watching it gave me a whole new respect for the song.”

Learn more about NUEX at www.wearenuex.com and keep your eyes peeled for new video releases. And in the meantime, catch the duo doing that sultry thing they do at Jammin Java on Monday, July 16 when they open for Mobley. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10-$20.

Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E, Vienna, VA; 703-255-1566; www.jamminjava.com

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Brooklyn’s Bodega to Play at DC9

One man strips an basically no one could care less in the VR-shot live video for “How Did This Happen!?,” a song by Bodega, a Brooklyn-based post-punk band that’s coming to DC9 on June 29. I caught front persons of the band, Ben Hozie and Nikki Belfiglio, on the phone the other day and from what I gather, the video gives a good idea of what the live show is like, aside from the audience members that failed to strip.

When I brought up the video both Hozie and Belfiglio laugh.

“That’s actually a curated music video,” Belfiglio tells me. “We wanted to show the average Brooklyn show in 2018 and how ambivalent it was and kind of show where Bodega grew up in [this] bar called Alphaville.”

Hozie continues, “you know most music videos you would tell the audience to be as excited as possible. To dance, sing the lyrics, so we just told everyone ‘just look at your phones, look as bored as possible,’ but that one guy disobeyed and started stripping, and it was great.”

We spoke about a number of things, including Bodega’s use of social media and what success looks like to them. First, Hozie and Belfiglio helped me place Bodega in context, because before Bodega there was Bodega Bay, which is where Belfiglio says she discovered herself as a musician and Hozie discovered his voice as a songwriter.

The work of Bodega Bay helped land Bodega a European and UK tour, as well as a US tour with Franz Ferdinand earlier this year.

Belfiglio says it’s because they’re “very mysterious, [and] people want to know what’s going on,” though something in her tone tells me not to take that seriously.

Hozie refers to the two groups as completely different bands, though he kept the word Bodega, because he wants people to realize there’s some overlap, and also because he likes the word. Even though the two bands sound completely different. Hozie attributes this to a few things, but particularly the input of lead guitar player Madison Velding-VanDam.

When we get to talking about songwriting, Hozie tells me that it might take him three hours to write the lyrics and the chords to a song, but the moment he brings that skeleton to Velding-VanDam is when it becomes a Bodega song.

“Madison deconstructs the original to make it not so predictable and more textural,” he says.

And even then, Hozie’s not sure if the songs are completely written.

“Some of our songs are still not done yet,” he says. “We’re going to play a show tonight and a good part of our show is improvising, so those songs aren’t done yet.”

Belfiglio wrote a few songs on the record as well, including the single single “Gyrate,” on which she described on the band’s Tumblr:

“When I was a little girl I used to masturbate in public (once at a JC Penny perfume counter), not knowing that was wrong. My parents, not wishing to shame me, told me I shouldn’t ‘gyrate’ in front of other people. My song uses the language of Top 40 pop to celebrate self-sustainability and female pleasure. There’s no shame in getting off.”

Belfiglio has several roles in the band. She does the artwork, she sings, does percussion and now she writes. When she started she knew next to nothing about making music.

“I didn’t even know what the two and four was when I joined Bodega Bay,” she says. “The first show I ever did, I was just dancing on a barrel in front of the band, [but] then slowly I incorporated myself into the music making process.”

Tumblr seems to be the only social media that the band makes regular use of, though there is a Facebook page and an Instagram.

Hozie explains why he prefers Tumblr.

“I know there’s a lot of bands that I’ve been a fan of where if if you’re looking at their Facebook it’s very uninspiring and ugly, but if you go to their blog, it just feels more private like you’re looking at their journal or punk zine.”

The two are on their to pick up gear for the night’s gig, but before they go I ask them what success looks like.

“Well we quit our day jobs,” Belfiglio says. “That’s like the highest form of success. It doesn’t mean that we’re sustaining ourselves, but it means that our lives are full enough that we can’t work our day jobs.”

Hozie has two answers. First he quotes an Ian Mackaye-ism that you know you’re successful when you finish a song, are able to play it and actually like it.

“To me, the ultimate success is forming something like a community where your music is connecting with people,” he clarifies. 

Come connect with Bodega June 29 at DC9. Doors are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $10. And be sure to check out Endless Scroll when it comes out July 6.

DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; 202-483-5000; www.dc9.club

Photo: Danny North via www.u2.com
Photo: Danny North via www.u2.com

U2 Larger than Life Second Time Around

I remember seeing U2 live for the first time back in the original The Joshua Tree days circa 1987, and the concert was all about the music—the artistry of Bono, the brilliance of Edge on guitar, the percussion mastery of Larry Mullen Jr. and the superb resounding bass of Adam Clayton. It was a simple stage setup,  and as a fan, you could easily concentrate from one song to the next.

Entering the Capital One Arena on Monday, June 18—more than three decades since my first show—I immediately knew seeing the legendary band from Dublin, Ireland was going to be a whole new ballgame. For starters, a large augmented reality screen occupied the center of the arena and people were using their cell phones to see a cascading waterfall through the power of a special concert app you could download.

Once it was time for the concert to begin, the images of the U2 quartet were flashed on a giant, rectangular screen floating in the middle of the arena, and then it turned transparent, allowing the audience to see the band suspended in mid-air over the crowd. Through thunderous applause, they started with “It’s a Beautiful World” and “Rain.”

The same screen would serve as an important part of the show, projecting different images, graphic-art-like cartoons and even special augmented live shots of Bono distorting his face into a sort of demon during a song introduction. This was only a taste of the theatrics involved. Throughout the almost-three-hour concert, there was a sensory overload of sights and sounds coming at you—some more effective than others.

In an effort to ensure everyone in the sold-out arena got their money’s worth, the stage mapping for the concert positioned brilliantly. There was a large traditional stage on one side of the arena, and a smaller circle stage on the other. In between, an elevated walkway acted as a third area, with Bono particularly spending a lot of time in the middle ground. This walkway also allowed the band members to be stationed behind the giant screen at times and have their images integrated with the video display, which made it appear as if they were inside the images during some songs.

The four U2 members stood there on “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” utilizing the entire platform, which was easily a highlight of the night. It was raw U2 and it was much more enjoyable than some of the out there things going on during some others.

Early on, the band relied more their latest two releases, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, which was fitting given the eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour title. After jamming through “Love is All We Have Left,” “The Blackout” and “Lights of Home,” Bono made it appear as if another newbie was following the trio, proclaiming “We are out of Dublin and here is our new song,” but it was actually a nod to their beginnings in 1980, with the song “I Will Follow” off their debut album Boy; the fans ate it up.

U2 continued with some old-school hits, playing “All Because of You,” “Beautiful Day” and “The Ocean” on the main stage, letting the music overtake the sometimes circus-like atmosphere. This is where the foursome is at their best, and prove why they are among the top bands of all-time.

For “Iris,” Bono again traveled mid-stage and began telling a story of his mom and then the powerful lyrics of the song were expressed through images on the screen, further influencing the scene.

After a few other tunes—including “Cedarwood Road” and “Until the End of the World,” and a short break with a somewhat surreal graphic novel-like story set to “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” displayed on the projection screen, the band headed for the smaller stage on the opposite side of the arena, with Bono asking if people were “ready to elevate?”

That naturally led to “Elevation” and more up-tempo songs such as “Vertigo,” fan-favorite “Desire” and “Acrobat.”

In another highlight, Bono and The Edge did an acoustic version of “Staring at the Sun,” which hearkened memories of U2 at its early-’90s peak. The full band was back in swing for “Pride (In the Name of Love” and the song still hit home with the crowd as if it was 1984.

An encore consisted of “Women of the World,” “One,” “Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way” and “13 (There Is a Light),” though surprisingly left out faves such as “Where the Streets Have No Name,” With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

Not that anyone was complaining. With close to three hours of music and a great mix of old and new material, the show was one to remember. Obviously, I’m more from an old-school frame of mind and didn’t need so much happening around me, but it didn’t ruin the enjoyment of the overall experience and it’s one I’m glad to have been a part of.

For more information about U2, click here.

Photo: Mark Raker
Photo: Mark Raker

Celebrating the Past, Preserving the Future at the Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival

The Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival is returning to DC on June 9. In its 9th year, the festival has grown in popularity annually, and features a wide variety of bluegrass, folk and Americana artist spread across several stages. However, this isn’t your usual for-profit celebration. The Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival helps fund outdoor educational programs that enrich the lives of thousands of kids in the DC area, and puts a premium on environmental sustainability and protecting the island’s rich habitat.

The Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival represents both a celebration of American music and a commitment to protecting our natural lands and wildlife.

Kingman Island (and its counterpart, Heritage Island) were created in 1916 from material dredged out of the Anacostia River. Now just over a century old, you’d never guess they were man-made; the islands are covered in lush green native plants and is home to various wildlife, including foxes, possum and even wild turkey.

Since their creation, the islands have had a long and complex history, and today they remain protected.

While they are owned by the city, Kingman and Heritage Islands are managed by Living Classrooms of the National Capital Region, an organization dedicated to helping kids connect with the natural world.

“We do lessons geared toward orienteering, teambuilding and habitat restoration, including in the Anacostia river,” says Lee Cain, Director of Kingman Island with Living Classrooms. “Between 2,000 to 3,000 kids come to Kingman ever year. We’re trying to make an effort to get kids to make a connection to their local park.”

Cain says another major focus for Living Classrooms is workforce development and helping young people in the neighborhood advance their careers by working on the island. Those enrolled in their summer youth employment program learn native plant identification, habitat restoration and trail work. It’s not just kids who get involved at Kingman.

“Fifteen-hundred volunteers, a year, do trail maintenance, habitat restoration and other things to improve the park,” Cain says.

The bluegrass festival helps Living Classrooms continue its work in Southeast DC and beyond. But it went through some growing pains: “there used to be a ton of trash left after the festival,” Cain says. Organizers put a zero-waste initiative in place, which resonates with many of the festival’s performers.

“They’re trying to be very sustainable,” says musician Crys Matthews, who lives in Herndon, Virginia. “A lot of that stuff is really important to me – I use zero-carbon footprint packaging with all my cd’s, so it’s great to be sharing and creating with like-minded folks.”

Silver Spring musician Dom Flemons agrees.

“It’s something that, on top of being an excellent experience for a musician, is also a very worthwhile cause that they are trying to accomplish with the festival,” he says. “It’s twofold: You have lovely nature, and a reteaching of people in the DC area of how to reconnect with nature and how to really learn sustainability.”

Both Flemons and Matthews are performing at the festival for the second time and taking new steps with their shows.

Matthews is an accomplished musician and songwriter from North Carolina who infuses folk, bluegrass, jazz and other genres into her work. She played last year’s festival solo. This year, she’s bringing her band.

“I’m looking forward to getting to play with them on that stage,” she says. “The space itself is a neat area, nestled and hidden away in the craziness of DC.”

Having been in the area for eight years, “the music scene is pretty incredible,” she says. “It’s very different from back where I lived in the mountains of North Carolina.”

Flemons is a co-founder of the Grammy award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, and has traveled around the nation and the world presenting traditional folk and roots music to diverse audiences. He’ll be presenting a new performance at this year’s festival.

“I had this idea for quite a while to present the American Songster review  a multi-act program that would feature several different songsters from different parts of the world and the country to be able to present their music,” he says. “It will feature songs they have in their repertoire, as well as one song I will curate and ask them to perform.”

The festival features more than 30 bands playing on five stages this year, as well as an artist market and food trucks. While festivals by their very nature bring high foot traffic and disturbance to the island, Cain says the sustainability measures in place help protect its habitat. Festivalgoers get their own reusable cups, and “80 percent of the waste from the festival is either composted or recycled, and we’d like to get to 90 percent,” he says.

Location is also important: the festival will take place in the island’s most resilient meadows, protecting species like the Virginia mallow, a Maryland endangered plant that can be found on the southern portion the island. Holding the festival at this time of year also gives the plant life the benefit of a full growing season, and thus faster recovery and regrowth afterwards.

The festival, Living Classrooms’ educational programs and the volunteer programs on the island all help raise awareness about this unique oasis in the Anacostia River.

“If we don’t expose people to these resources, they quietly disappear,” Cain says.

The Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival beings June 9. For more information on the festival, islands or tickets, visit here.

Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival: 575 Oklahoma Ave. NE, DC; 202-799-9189; www.kingmanislandbluegrass.info

Photo: Alexandra Cabral
Photo: Alexandra Cabral

Twin Shadow Falls into Focus with New Album, Tour

Twin Shadow’s latest tour, which aims to bring attention to the release of their new album Caer, kicked off on March 23 and includes dates with Alt-J and Beck. The creative force behind the band, George Lewis Jr., says he looks forward to what will be something of an East Coast homecoming at their U Street Music Hall show this Friday.

“We love DC, we always have great shows there,” he says. “We’re all east coast people – we’ve got a California boy in the band now – but [bandmate Wynne Bennett] and I both like to spend a lot of time on the east coast so we’re really excited about coming back there because it feels like home.”

As for the tour itself, a new era is approaching for Twin Shadow. The spotlight is set on the magnificent new music and serves as a showcase of Lewis Jr. and his band’s talent.

“This tour is really about just getting back to the music,” he says. “There’s not a big production behind the set. We just want to play music for people. The set up with the new band sounds amazing and it’s really just going to be that.”

A lot has changed for Lewis Jr. since he released his last record in 2015. He and his band were forced to stop performing after their tour bus crashed into a tractor-trailer near Denver. Thankfully, no involved parties suffered major injuries, but Lewis Jr. and his band took time to reflect and grow while off the road, both personally and politically. He speaks of the global themes that anchor this new record.

“This is the first time I really feel like people are actually looking at the world like ‘oh man, this might be it, this might be kind of the last round in humanity,’” Lewis Jr. says. “The idea of what being human [means] is changing because of computers and I think everything is being questioned. Everything is flipped on its head. And artists are making art at a time when that’s happening, and regardless of political themes, it’s hard to not make art that has a feeling of ‘oh this might be our downfall, this might be the end or this might be the beginning of a new version of who we are as human beings.’ It’s where the emotional bed of the record is.”

While dealing with the changing ways of the world, Lewis Jr. also weaves a thread between other works of his, adding to an impressive catalog that will now span four full-length records. “I would say [Caer] is more of a progression from Eclipse and it kind of goes back to some of the musical ideas on my first record, Forget,” he notes.

Caer also includes collaborations with HAIM, the vivacious alt-rock trio consisting of three sisters who released their sophomore album Something to Tell You late last year. Lewis Jr. says after he and the members of HAIM became good friends, they eventually guided him during his creation of Caer.

“I had originally sent Danielle from HAIM ‘Saturdays’ when I wrote it, because I wrote it thinking about them,” Lewis Jr. says. “They ended up going in and working on it and that was really exciting because I just think they’re the best.”

The title of the album comes from the Spanish verb caer, meaning “to fall.” While the Lewis Jr. moves forward into a new phase of his life, he’s certainly had many things both good and bad fall into place on this record, leading to his triumphant return to stage this month.

Twin Shadow play U Street Music Hall with Yuno on Friday April 27. Doors 7 p.m. Show 7 p.m. The new album “Caer” is also available this day. Tickets $30 here.  All ages.

U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; 202-588-1889; www.ustreetmusichall.com

Photo: www.facebook.com/porchfestdc/
Photo: www.facebook.com/porchfestdc/

East of the River for the First Time: Porchfest Music Festival Comes to Southeast

Porchfest Music Festival is coming to Southeast DC for the very first time.

Penn Branch resident and SE Porchfest volunteer organizer Ayanna Smith announced earlier this month that May 20 will mark the first Porchfest to be held east of the Anacostia river.

Porchfest consists of mini concerts held on front porches. This structure allows attendees to walk freely from house to house, listen to local talent and meet people from the neighborhood. In the past, local business improvement districts hosted Porchfest, including an event this April on Rhode Island Avenue. This time around, the event is entirely organized by volunteers.

“I chose to focus in the community where I have relationships,” Smith says. “Penn Branch and Hillcrest have beautiful stately homes with front yards and large porches, mixed with a rich history and tons of hidden talent. We have all of the elements of a perfect Porchfest.”

The very first Porchfest was organized by founder Lesley Greene and took place in Ithaca, NY. Greene came up with the idea while sitting out on her front porch playing music and chatting with a neighbor. The event has spread far beyond Ithaca and even DC, with yearly fests taking place in over 100 locations.

“It was one of the first warm days of the year, and my husband and I sat on our front steps, soaked up the sunshine, and played some ukulele tunes,” she says. “We realized that there were so many musicians living right in our neighborhood that we could practically have a music festival with just the people who live nearby. We gave it the name Porchfest that day.”

They’ve been gaining popularity ever since: past Porchfests have drawn crowds ranging from 3,500 to 5,000 people. Greene says the community setting opens the door for the wide variety of bands that play these festivals.

“It would be very difficult to have anything like the number of bands that perform at Porchfest if it were held at a concert venue,” she says. “We would not only need a lot of time, but a huge staff. Every band sets up for themselves, and because they are spread out over a relatively large area, many bands can play at the same time.”

Musician Rasha Jay will play the festival, and plans to perform songs from her first EP, Cicada, and possibly some new material.

“I grew up with a porch, and there is nothing more intimate than that setting,” she says. “I look forward to being close up with people and sharing my sound.”

Emily Woodhull and Jeff Blake, two members of EBW Music, cover songs that speak to them on a personal level.

“We play covers of songs that reflect who we are,” Blake says. This includes a repertoire of alternative rock and well-known hits like “Say it Ain’t So” by Weezer and “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show. Though they don’t have original songs ready just yet, they’re on the way.

“We are in the process of perfecting a few and they may very well be show ready in time for Porchfest,” he assures.

Smith says planning a Porchfest without the aid of a business improvement district is a real challenge, but still necessary and worth it.

“There’s a negative stigma associated with living east of the river in DC that is based partially on stereotypes,” she says. “In hosting the first SE Porchfest, I’m hoping to showcase the beauty of our community.”

She envisions taking Porchfest beyond single neighborhoods, and she’s taken steps to establish Porchfest DC as a tax-exempt organization with the goal of creating a citywide festival.

SE Porchfest currently boasts over 30 volunteers, who are working hard to secure sponsorship and additional performers at the SE edition of the fest. Organizers anticipate six to eight participating host homes, with two bands playing at each porch.

“I would love to see some go-go bands join the list,” Smith says. “I love drums, I appreciate that the city has its own genre of music. It’s the sound of DC.”

As Rasha Jay puts it, “DC is and has always been innovative and unapologetic, and the city is full of talent.”

Individuals interested in volunteering can complete the volunteer sign-up form. Musicians and bands who want to participate can email porchfestdc@gmail.com.

For updates, visit Porchfest DC’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Porchfest DC – Southeast Edition: Penn Branch, SE, DC; www.facebook.com/PorchFestDC

Photo: Soleil Konkel
Photo: Soleil Konkel

One Half DC, One Half NC, Full-On Hair Metal: Meet Bat Fangs

You never know who you’ll run into when you travel. You might think it strange to schedule an interview with a band that’s at least partly from the District during the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. But during our visit down south last month, we were able to secure an interview with fast-rising duo Bat Fangs.

Betsy Wright, one-third of DC-based rock band Ex Hex, and North Carolinian drummer Laura King released their self-titled album – a nod to the raucous hair metal of the 1980s – in February. Wright, who plays bass in Ex Hex, has put down the four-stringed instrument for its six-stringed cousin to produce speedy riffs, and King has found a serious niche rocking her drum set to the legendary genre of yesteryear.

Before their Luce Unplugged show on April 26 – part of a monthly concert series hosted by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM)’s Luce Foundation Center for American Arts – we wanted to give locals a chance to learn a little bit more about these retro-inspired rockers.

On Tap: How long have you two known each other, and did you share a musical connection before forming Bat Fangs?
Laura King: We met because our bands were playing together.
Betsy Wright: Our bands played shows together in 2015, and we met a few times. I was trying to start playing music with a drummer, and I just thought of her because she’s really good. We hit it off as friends and when I contacted her, she was super enthusiastic, so I just went down to North Carolina and we jammed. We just kept going
back and forth.
LK: I said “Yes” because I love Ex Hex and my previous band had just broken up, so I was in a bit of a rut as far as not knowing what I was going to do. I didn’t know she played guitar at first, but as soon as I heard her demos, I was like, “Wow, she shreds.”

OT: How long had you been “cranking acid-soaked, 80s hard rock for the living and the dead,” and when did you decide that you wanted to make a record in that genre?
BW: I wrote a bunch of the songs before we started playing, and that was what was coming out of my brain.
LK: Then we got together and both realized our love for 80s hair metal and glam. We rode that wave for awhile, and that’s how it ended up.
BW: That’s the music that I grew up on, and that’s the place I was at. Plus, I never stopped liking that music. Going back and listening, I started learning all kinds of guitar solos with that 80s metal sound. I just went through a phase.

OT: How different are your roles in Bat Fangs in comparison to previous projects?
BW: I never played bass before I was in Ex Hex, so that was actually the big learning curve. I always played guitar, so I was like, “I guess I can play bass.” But then I was like, “Oh sh-t,” because bass is a lot different. It took me awhile to figure out the feel. I ended up playing really evenly and very simply to be in line with the kick drum. However, when I’m at home and when I write songs, I play guitar.
LK: I think that this band has brought out the drumming I’m supposed to do. I played drums in lots of other bands, and some of them have been more hardcore or more punk. Some were really quiet, but I think this kind of sound has brought out the best of my ability. It worked out really well, and that’s what makes it so seamless.

OT: There’s a not-so-subtle use of zombie imagery in your album art that’s reminiscent of iconography used by bands like Black Sabbath and Metallica. Why did you decide to use that influence?
BW: We were talking about album covers, and we were trying to get people to do it, and no one would. So, I decided to draw it myself, and my favorite record cover from all the ones I kept looking at was Masters of Reality by Black Sabbath, which is just black with purple letters – it looks awesome. I just decided I was going to do something like that, so I drew it out and enlarged it. Laura put in Photoshop and added the colors; we made it together.

OT: What slasher flicks and other media in the genre did you draw from to create that atmosphere in your music?
LK: We watched some slasher movies.
BW: I read Dracula last year again, and I love Frankenstein – it’s like my favorite book ever. I always listen to the audio books of it around October. It’s weird because a few of our songs are like that, but there are some that are not like that at all.
LK: It was right around Halloween when we got together, and we put out a song around then, but [that was] way before our album.  

OT: How does living in different states impact how you both hear and write music? Is it seamless to combine those views when writing songs?
BW: It’s been really natural. Things came together really fast because we don’t have to explain stuff to each other, and we just kind of play. We mess around with different beats and arrangements, but it’s kind of easy. I’ll have riffs or lyrics to a song, and then we get together and work on it.
LK: We work together for days straight when we’re together, and jam for like six hours with lots of breaks. It’s fun.
BW: Sometimes, we’ll do freestyle jams and some cool riffs will come out of that, too.

OT: How many songs did you two throw out while putting together your album?
BW: We didn’t play together for that long, so we kind of recorded and boom, boom, boom. Plus, we don’t have that many songs on the record, so there aren’t too many, but we did throw out a few. They just didn’t fit.
LK: They didn’t feel right. We might revisit them.
BW: Plus, we’re always working on new stuff.

OT: When starting something new after a long stint in other acts, is there an inevitable sense of relearning a process of working with another person? Is that a refreshing experience?
BW: Yes, we’re still in the honeymoon phase. We get along really well, and it’s been fun because it’s new.
LK: Bands can be tough to be in; in my last band, my guitar player wouldn’t look at me for three months and I was like, “I can’t do this.” We’re really tight now, and we’re in another band together. But yeah, Bat Fangs is fun.

Catch Bat Fangs’ Luce Unplugged show on April 26 at 5:30 p.m.; show is free to attend. If you can’t make their SAAM show, catch them at 9:30 Club on June 5. Learn more about the band at www.batfangs.bandcamp.com.

SAAM’s Luce Foundation Center for American Art: 8th and F Streets in NW, DC; 202-633-5435; www.americanart.si.edu/visit/saam/luce

Photo: Holly Andres
Photo: Holly Andres

The Decemberists Experiment Sonically on I’ll Be Your Girl

The Decemberists are often both revered and pigeonholed as the founders of the modern folk movement – they’ve been playing accordions and wearing suspenders onstage since before it was cool (and commonplace to see) – and plenty a remark has been made about frontman Colin Meloy’s propensity to weave actual folklore into his narrative songwriting.

As bassist Nate Query astutely noted in a recent interview with On Tap, “I think early on, we were defined by the ways we were different from most bands – by having accordion and upright bass and folk instruments and songs with four-syllable words and stuff.”

But if you’ve ever seen the band live or spent a good chunk of time digging into their discography, you know that their skill, talent and creativity extends across any genre-lization. With eight full studio albums, several EPs, and a handful of collaborations and side projects under their belts, The Decemberists have proved that they are a musical force to be reckoned with – with some theatrics thrown in for fun.

The band released their latest album, I’ll Be Your Girl, this March and have embarked on the Your Girl/Your Ghost 2018 World Tour to support it. Many critics are hailing the album as a radical departure from the band’s traditional style and sound, aka the long ballads, operatics and epic poetry-type rock music we’ve become accustomed to receiving over the years.

Certainly, many of the tracks incorporate synths and techtronics, evoking a sort of 1980s video game-style, “analog” alternate reality, and producer John Congleton encouraged pushing toward the less expected choices. But it’s not as if The Decemberists of “The Upside Down” came through a wormhole to create I’ll Be Your Girl. Instead, the album simply crochets together multiple elements the band has used in the past and brings some of the less exaggerated ones to the forefront. After all, even in the most synth-heavy track, Meloy is still singing about a “cutting stone.”

“This record probably is full of some surprises for people, but really, even with this record where we branched out a little bit sonically, I don’t think we did anything we hadn’t already done,” Query says.

And yet, he adds, there is a definite art to staying both interesting and interested in making music together when you’ve been doing it as long as The Decemberists have been.

“When you’re mixing a new record, sometimes you end up building in certain challenges and parameters just to sort of make it interesting. Sometimes, you just pick up a different instrument because if it sounds different to you, [then] you’re going to get fresh ideas or sometimes, you just need to mix things up to keep it going. And I think [on] this record in particular, we tried to do a lot of that and really not be afraid to follow a weird idea down the rabbit hole.”

What is perhaps a more notable divergence from The Decemberists’ norm is the album’s obvious reflection of the zeitgeist. Rather than conjuring whimsical tales of old and allegorical references (though you’ll still find plenty of darlings and rivers and thistle in there), Colin Meloy and the band have been very vocal about how current events and the sociopolitical landscape in America influenced the making of this album.

In fact, Meloy recently described the sensation of moving from despair to humor in an interview with The Atlantic: “We’re having a very shared experience. It’s almost galvanizing, people coming out of the woodwork and saying, ‘Sh-t is f–ked up.’ There’s something therapeutic in looking at the apocalypse and laughing.”

“Everything is Awful,” for example, sounds ironically like The Lego Movie movie song “Everything is Awesome,” but with an obvious dark twist. In “Starwatcher,” an odd and ominous military-style percussion takes hold. And finally, “We All Die Young” has a trippy “Yellow Submarine” sensation with the added discomfort of having the voices of actual children on the track. And even Carson Ellis’s album artwork and accompanying short animations aren’t shy about being provocative – among other images, we see a cartoon version of Donald Trump with devil horns.

So while I’ll Be Your Girl may not be the radical sonic upheaval some have claimed, it does reiterate that The Decemberists are no amateurs. They are a skilled and experienced band influenced by both an awareness of the world around them, the lives that they lead alongside their musical ones and how all of those things are intertwined.

Query, for instance, was phoning from his son’s school where he was volunteering for the day. And while excited for the Your Girl/Your Ghost tour to bring “new stuff onstage, new things on [his] pedal board, new basses and ramping it back up after some down time this winter,” he says the band is equally excited for the opportunity to travel the country to visit spots like Red Rocks, Wrigley Field, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture – a chance to see the people and places that really are America.

Don’t miss The Decemberists at The Anthem on April 21. Tennis will open. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and tickets start at $45. Learn more about the band at www.decemberists.com.

The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.anthemdc.com