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Photo: Trent Johnson

SHAED Rise To The Top Together

The path to making it in music has never been linear. In the social media age, it’s become a bit cleaner – blog support, streaming and ravenous music fans on the Internet rallying behind you can quickly take an artist out of local obscurity and into the national spotlight. For DC’s SHAED, an electro-pop trio formed in 2016, a combination of almost every success marker in music of the past 20 years brought them to where they are now.

In the literal sense, they’ve joined On Tap outside the LINE Hotel in Adams Morgan on a sunny spring day. The trio of vocalist Chelsea Lee and twin brothers and multi-instrumentalists Max and Spencer Ernst arrived with all their gear in tow, and after our interview were straight off to New York. While radio play, streaming support and a strong fanbase all tangibly factored into their meteoric rise to success with only EPs and singles released, it’s their sheer hustle and willpower to make it in an industry constantly changing and challenging them that’s perhaps the key factor in their ascension.

“The last six months, we’ve been on a headlining tour,” Lee says. “We did a lot of radio promo, we’re working on an album and we’ve been writing a ton. It’s been really, really great. Obviously, the Apple commercial lifted off a bunch of things for us.”

The Apple commercial in question wasn’t even just an Apple commercial. When the new MacBook Air debuted at the end of 2018 at the annual Apple summit, SHAED’s song “Trampoline” soundtracked CEO Tim Cook’s unveiling. An artist’s song appearing as a sync in these iconic commercials is a badge of honor after the brand established itself as a musical tastemaker in the early 2000s. With this kind of exposure, doors begin to open – and quickly. But the band didn’t even know when to expect the change.

“Like nine months ago, Apple reached out to us because they were interested in using ‘Trampoline,’” Max explains. “We got them all the files, but then didn’t really hear anything for months. Two weeks before the commercial actually aired, they reached out and said, ‘We’re going to use your song.’  They didn’t tell us what it was for, and they didn’t tell us until that day. So the day everyone else saw the commercial was they day we saw it, too.”

“Tim Cook did the announcement in Brooklyn and I was like, ‘Let’s just livestream this and we’ll see what’s going on,” Lee adds. “Spencer and I were in the car driving, Max was at home and I just put it on. And Tim Cook goes, ‘Aaaaand the MacBook Air!’ I said to Spencer, ‘Wouldn’t it be so funny if our song came on?’ and it did. Spencer and I had to pull over and scream.”

“Trampoline” is a perfect introduction to the band’s polished, haunting pop sound. Its lyrics could even serve as an ethos to another thing that’s made the band so successful – their connection to one another. Friends for many years while pursuing other musical endeavors – Lee as a solo artist and twin brothers Max and Spencer as alt-folk band The Walking Sticks – their relationships eventually blossomed into the band as it exists today. Lee and Spencer are married, and the three live together and have a palpable bond evident in person and in their music.

The chorus in “Trampoline” is the somewhat wistful, “When I dream of dying // I never felt so loved.” Spencer says it’s all about embracing your worst fears and finding joy in what terrifies you. To be able to write a lyric this heavy, the people around you must love you very much. It’s clear this is the case for each member of the band. Their incredibly deep bond goes beyond allowing them to make great music; it allows them to embrace the unknown in all aspects of their lives, no matter how frightening.

The trio works on music from a studio in their shared home. They’re the first to admit that spending so much time together, even outside of recording or touring, would be less than ideal for many musicians. But from the outside, it’s clear it’s given them an edge.

“Our routine is to get up in the morning, eat breakfast and go right into the studio,” Lee says. “Over the years, we’ve gotten more comfortable with each other. We’ve been able to work through problems. Getting to know each other is such a complex thing and then on top of that, living together and spending so much time together…”

“It’s a unique dynamic, for sure,” Max says, finishing Lee’s thought. “I’m sure it wouldn’t work for a lot of people. But we just love making music together. Financially, too, it’s great.”

Spencer notes that, “There are times, clearly, when you spend so much time together you get on each other’s nerves.”

“But we give each other our space,” Lee continues. “It works out great for us. We’re traveling all the time now. We definitely get on each other’s nerves. But we also definitely know how to handle it and work smoothly through things.”

In addition to the support they provide each other, their native DC is also essential to SHAED’s success. They credit local outlets, venues and fans for their early successes, and for still following closely as they enjoy their newfound mainstream notoriety.

“It’s not a huge scene, but it’s very tightknit,” Max says of their experiences at home. “If you’re making cool music here, there’s ways to be seen and there’s an audience for it. People still come out to shows – even if you’re not on a huge headlining run around the country – people still come out and support local artists.”

This summer sees the band off to a whole host of amazing new endeavors including sets at festivals like Japan’s Fuji Rock, BottleRock in Napa Valley and Lollapalooza. With tons of material in their arsenal, the trio is in the process of putting together a new album and aiming for a fall release and subsequent tour. All of these events will surely invite new fans into their intimate sonic world, but in the meantime, they’re leaning on each other as things continue to evolve.

“Being a musician and being in this world is so hard,” Lee says as she puts one arm around each Ernst brother, and they lean into her. “To have this constant support – these people that you can rely on and trust and feel at home with – is huge for us. These two are the kindest people in the whole world. It’s really nice to have that family vibe.”

SHAED play DC101 Kerfuffle on Sunday, May 19 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Tickets start at $55. Gates open at 4 p.m. and the show begins at 4:30 p.m. For more on the event, visit www.dc101.iheart.com. For more on SHAED, visit www.shaedband.com.

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

Noel Gallagher // Photo: Primary Talent International

Nostalgia Tours: Throwback Shows All Summer Long

Am I getting older or are the bands of playlists past just touring more often? It’s probably some combination of both – ah, the passing of time. No complaints though, because it means there are more chances to catch your faves of yesteryear throughout the summer.

SATURDAY, JUNE 15

Old School Hip-Hop Showdown
Eric B. & Rakim, Whodini, MC Lyte, Kool Moe Dee, DJ Kool and Dana Dane will all take the stage at Constitution Hall to make all your 90s hip-hop dreams come true in one convenient place. Tickets start at $44. DAR Constitution Hall: 1776 D St. NW, DC; www.dar.org

TUESDAY, JUNE 25

New Kids on the Block Mixtape Tour with Salt-N-Pepa and Naughty by Nature
Apparently, New Kids on the Block had so much fun celebrating the 30th anniversary of their album Hangin’ Tough that they decided to embark on an extensive tour. They’ll come to Capital One with all their hits and lots of friends on this tour – R&B icons Salt-N-Pepa, rappers Naughty by Nature and more guests will join the group. Tickets start at $39.95. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.viewlift.com

Pat Benatar, Neil Giraldo, Melissa Etheridge and Liz Phair
The power couple of Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo bring their hits to Wolf Trap alongside two of the best modern singer-songwriters: Melissa Etheridge and Liz Phair. This lineup pretty much consists of musicians you probably rolled your eyes at as a kid but now totally love. Tickets start at $35. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

FRIDAY, JULY 12

Backstreet Boys
Backstreet’s back! Your favorite boyband is sweeping the nation once again with their DNA World Tour. Grab your tickets and be transported back to a simpler time, when your biggest problem in life was you and your BFF having a crush on the same band member. Tickets start at $189. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.viewlift.com

SUNDAY, JULY 14

NAS + NSO Illmatic 25th Anniversary
Instead of merely touring around his iconic album Illmatic, NAS is incorporating a whole new spin on the record thanks to the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO). This performance featuring conductor Steven Reineke gives a whole new spin on what’s still considered one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. Tickets start at $30. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

WEDNESDAY, JULY 17

Jennifer Lopez
I would like to cordially invite you to a birthday celebration in honor of Jenny from the Block taking place this summer at an arena near you. While I obviously had no hand in planning this soiree, I still feel confident in saying I am sure it will be a ball. Tickets start at $59.95. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.viewlift.com

THURSDAY, JULY 18

Sheryl Crow
Soak up the sun with one of the most iconic pop country artists of all time at Wolf Trap. Don’t miss the Grammy winner as she tours for the release of her final album to be released later this year. Tickets start at $45. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

FRIDAY, JULY 19

Third Eye Blind and Jimmy Eat World
This lineup makes me want to grow out my bangs and sweep them to the side, reactivate my MySpace account, and tell my parents they don’t understand me. In all seriousness, both of these bands’ catalogs have stood the test of time, especially in the era of Midwestern emo revival. And if hearing “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World doesn’t immediately hype you up, you’re a liar, so come hear it live. Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; www.merriweathermusic.com

SATURDAY, JULY 20

Dave Matthews Band
I’m willing to bet you’ll be able to find everyone in the DMV who went to UVA at this show clad in basketball jerseys. Oh, and maybe some fans of the South African-born, Charlottesville-bred crooner will be there, too. Tickets start at $49.50. Jiffy Lube Live: 7800 Cellar Door Dr. Bristow, VA; www.livenation.com/venues/14407/jiffy-lube-live

SATURDAY, JULY 27

311 and Dirty Heads
Stoners and chill people of the world, rejoice! Good vibes abound at Merriweather as 311 and Dirty Heads take the stage for a relaxing evening. Tickets start at $46. Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; www.merriweathermusic.com

Hootie and the Blowfish and Barenaked Ladies
Dubbed the Group Therapy Tour, this collaboration between two classic 90s bands is the perfect place to hang out on the lawn and jam to songs that made up your younger years, which seems like its own special form of group therapy in a way. Tickets start at $35. Jiffy Lube Live: 7800 Cellar Door Dr. Bristow, VA; www.livenation.com/venues/14407/jiffy-lube-live

TUESDAY, JULY 30

Nelly, TLC and Flo Rida
Upon reading this lineup, I was instantly transported back to teacher-supervised school dances, as I’m pretty sure some combination of all three artists soundtracked every sweaty, awkward preteen event throughout America. You should attend this concert solely to celebrate that the days of braces and leaving room for Jesus between you and your dance partner are long gone. Tickets start at $25. Jiffy Lube Live: 7800 Cellar Door Dr. Bristow, VA; www.livenation.com/venues/14407/jiffy-lube-live

WEDNESDAY, JULY 31

KoRn and Alice in Chains
If you feel like a freak on a leash (I still don’t know what that song is about and at this point I am afraid to ask), this is the show for you. A coheadlining show for twice the angsty rock. It’s not a phase, Mom! Tickets start at $36. Jiffy Lube Live: 7800 Cellar Door Dr. Bristow, VA; www.livenation.com/venues/14407/jiffy-lube-live

FRIDAY, AUGUST 9

Train and Goo Goo Dolls
While Train’s more recent releases have been interesting to say the least, older songs like “Meet Virginia” and “Drops of Jupiter” still hold up as eternal bops. Paired with the similarly sensitive Goo Goo Dolls, get ready to feel all the throwback feels. Tickets start at $29.50. Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; www.merriweathermusic.com

SATURDAY, AUGUST 17

Smashing Pumpkins, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and AFI
Two of the most curmudgeonly names in music team up for a summer tour that’s sure to be chock full of weird asides from Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan and sibling hatred – or maybe just general hatred – from the more, um, outspoken of the Gallagher brothers. Oh, and AFI will be there to play that one song from Guitar Hero. Tickets start at $35. Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; www.merriweathermusic.com

THURSDAY, AUGUST 22

Beck
On the heels of his 14th album (yeah, you read that right), Beck will bring two turntables and a microphone to Merriweather to help you round out your summer concert season. He’s joined by the absolutely stacked lineup of Cage the Elephant, Sunflower Bean, and the equally prolific and nostalgic Spoon (their debut album Telefono is 23 years old this year, you guys). Tickets start at $29.50. Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pwky. Columbia, MD; www.merriweathermusic.com

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 1

UB40 and Shaggy
Legendary reggae group UB40 will be joined onstage by Shaggy for a lively evening of music from two of the genre’s best-known voices. Tickets start at $40. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

Knotfest (Slipknot)
If you’ve been itching to break out your Hot Topic T-shirts, chain wallet and guyliner, this is the festival for you. This angst-filled festival features Slipknot, Volbeat, Gojira and Behemoth. Get ready to mosh! Tickets start at $35.50. Jiffy Lube Live: 7800 Cellar Door Dr. Bristow, VA; www.livenation.com/venues/14407/jiffy-lube-live

Photo: www.bbcmusic.co.uk

Foals Are Here to Stay

It’s been nearly six years since Oxford, England band Foals took home the Q Award for Best Live Act, and four since they were given the same award, but this time as Best Act in the World. Their sold out show at the 9:30 Club last night was a clear indication that should the band be up for those honors in 2019, they’re still every bit as deserving.

Though the band saw the departure of their former bassist Walter Gervers in the process of recording Everything Saved Will Not Be Lost Pts. 1 & 2, even with this lineup change their sound is as tight as ever. Foals opened with Part 1 single “On the Luna,” whose live iteration is surprisingly tamer than expected. Their stage is flanked by palm trees, perhaps a nod to the tropical sound that’s always weaved its way through their music. At times when the band rips through more anxious songs like “Exits” or “Inhaler,” it evokes a feeling of dystopia.

Still, Foals has energy in spades. They’re now the proud creators of five albums, with one more on the way (Part 2 is out later this year), but they’ve pieced together a setlist of songs new and old to engage concertgoers regardless of devotion level. This is a lost art when it comes to bands who have been at it as long as Foals, as it often skews toward shoving the new material at everyone or kowtowing to playing only the classics. When they opt to melt older songs like “Olympic Airways” into an absolute banger of a more accessible hit like “My Number” with an incredible drum solo courtesy of Jack Bevan, you immediately know there is incredible care put into everything this band does.

Even during a slow burn like “Spanish Sahara,” they avoid the dreaded treatment of a less peppy song as a seventh inning stretch. Even as bodies wander to the bar, fans start clapping, transfixed, and people return to their spots. They’ve been commanded not just by the band but the spell they’ve cast on those in the crowd, and for good reason – “Spanish Sahara” just happens to be one of their best songs.

And I’d be remiss not to mention the fact that, during the encore consisting of “Two Steps, Twice,” frontman Yannis Philippakis leapt from the Club’s second story balcony into the arms of a waiting crowd. The person standing next to me grabbed my shoulder in disbelief as she reached her other arm towards him. At a time when shows can seem a tad bit clinical, there’s nothing like a full on trust fall into a sea of fans to restore your faith in the art of the live show. Even if the leap happens every night, at every show, it still feels new and urgent.

Foals could easily fill a larger venue like The Anthem – past DC stops saw them at higher capacity outposts like the more formal, seated Lincoln Theatre, and the EDM-adjacent Echostage – but their specific brand of marrying the best elements of punk, math rock and tropicalia is tailor-made for a hallowed place like the 9:30 Club. They’re better off packing in hordes of hungry fans into smaller places, an apparent strategy on this tour, than forcing themselves to be something they are not in a larger location for the sake of selling more tickets.

They know who they are, and they’ve said it best themselves. Take the Everything Saved Will Not Be Lost standout “Syrups,” in which Philippakis sings “‘cause life is what you make it/you’ve got yours and I’ve got mine.” They’ve always had a strong sense of identity, but now they’re making sure we know who they are, too.

Sure, Foals could have changed and eschewed their niche sound just for the sake of it. But why do that when you can be true to what’s cemented you as one of the most exciting acts of the past 15 years, especially when it means you can leap from the balcony of one of the most iconic venues in the world?

Don’t sleep on your second chance to see Foals at the 9:30 Club on Thursday, April 18. Tickets are $38.50 and doors open at 7 p.m. For more on the band, visit www.foals.co.uk.

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

Photo: Amy Troost

Charlotte Gainsbourg’s New Era

French actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg released her fifth studio album Rest in 2017. Outwardly, its timing and themes appear to be the processing of Gainsbourg’s grief; she lost her sister, photographer Kate Barry, in 2013 and her father Serge in 1991. But it also marked a new era of the artist looking inward to grow through these experiences, and not despite them. While her previous work had been primarily written and composed by collaborators, Rest saw Gainsbourg taking control of the songwriting process, adding more significance to the album among the rest of her discography.

“It made me much more responsible in a way, but it meant that I was judging what I was doing and not being tolerant [of] myself,” she notes of the songwriting process.

Fellow musician Beck offered her sage advice as she tried her hand at new aspects of the album’s creation.

“I remember Beck telling me that it wasn’t such a big deal to write lyrics,” she says. “The thing that did it for me was, you try and write the worst song ever and that’s your starting point. [You] just let go and authorize yourself to be just who you are. That may be mediocre, but that’s all you can do – just keep going. It’s easy to say now, [but] it wasn’t easy when I was recording. I needed affirmation on every song. I couldn’t do it on my own.”

Beyond the advice of fellow artists including album collaborator Sebastian Akchoté, best known as SebastiAn, a change of scenery also allowed Gainsbourg the freedom she required to create Rest. She and her family traded their home in Paris for the bustling streets and relative anonymity of New York four years ago where she felt empowered to express her feelings through other forms of art, too.

While she’s no stranger to the silver screen, starring in films like controversial director Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and Nymphomaniac, she returned to other outlets of expression.

“I tried a little bit of everything,” she says of the time she took to record Rest, also spanning about four years. “I used to develop my own film but I wasn’t very good, so I didn’t continue. Drawing I did all my life. I love drawing. So, I was in New York and suddenly I felt like I was completely free to try and be unpretentious about it. You feel that everybody is an artist in New York. You don’t feel like it’s a big deal.”

As a companion to the album, Gainsbourg released a book of photos, notes, lyrics and more. She notes that Rest is an album that “doesn’t explain much,” and that she wanted to better convey the atmosphere she was in while making it.

“I would have been quite worried [about] sounding pretentious in wanting to release a book of everything that I had done during the making of the album, but a friend validated what she saw and said it would accompany the album quite well. I’m not taking myself seriously as a photographer or a painter, but at the same time it was lovely to be able to put all of that together to accompany the album.”

Overcoming stress and learning not to judge oneself while attempting the unfamiliar are common themes for Gainsbourg in her creative projects. She says after trying for years to break through internal barriers and write her own material, she brushed it aside because she felt like she wasn’t good enough. While trying to write in French, which she says carries a lot of weight for her, she removed some of the pressure by writing in English as well. This ultimately resulted in the bilingual element throughout Rest.

“It was funny to not really know where I was going and to be much less in control,” she says of bilingual songwriting. “That helped me have fun with the writing. I felt that with the French, I was being very sincere and honest and that that was the only way I could do it. And when I switched to English, it was more musical and finalized the songs.”

And while she never intended to hit the road with Rest, she had a change of heart and decided to recreate the magic of the album live as best she can on her 2019 tour. SebastiAn aided in the process, but in the end, she says it was up to her to strike a balance. Her hesitation around touring has been assuaged by the band she’s bringing along with her.

“I feel like I’m really part of a team for the first time,” she says, and you can almost hear any previous doubts melt as she speaks. “All of it is so much fun because they’re great musicians and great people.”

Gainsbourg will play the 9:30 Club on Monday, April 8. Doors are at 7 p.m. and tickets are $40. For more on the chanteuse, visit www.charlottegainsbourg.com.

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

Photo: www.thelincolndc.com

Jose Gonzalez Talks Bringing The String Theory On Tour

As I prepared to interview Swedish singer-songwriter José González, I played his cover of The Knife’s “Heartbeats” out loud in the office. One of my coworkers balked at the idea that it was, in fact, a cover and not an original song of his. That’s the magic of his work — he approaches music as a living, breathing thing to be reinvented constantly.

Now, he’s done the same for his own music and taken frequent collaborators The String Theory along for the ride. While on tour throughout Europe, González and the Berlin- and Gothenburg-based orchestra reimagined some of his best work and deep cuts for a compelling double album, released last month. Before González hits DC, orchestra in tow, we talked to him about this ambitious project, working with The String Theory and how he chooses his cover songs.

On Tap: What was the inspiration behind recording this live album and then bringing The String Theory on tour with you?
José González:
We’ve been collaborating for almost 10 years now, and on our first tour together it just sounded so amazing. It was a unique huge project to me at the time, and for weird reasons, both hard drives where we did the backup recordings disappeared — one in Berlin and one in Gothenburg — so since then we’ve been waiting until we got together to record again. When we started, we knew we just had to tour as much as possible and not lose anything ever again. That lead to this double LP that we released. We picked our favorite versions of songs from the European tour in 2017.

OT: A lot of the versions of your songs are a lot different than the studio versions. It definitely feels like your songs are living, breathing things. Why choose the songs you did from this project’s huge catalog?
JG: It started with them choosing which songs to arrange. I never gave them directions, I just let them choose freely. They didn’t know at first if they should choose the more popular songs or if they can chose any song. I wanted to give them that freedom. It’s such a big project to do arrangements for, and I wanted them to be excited, so it was fun to let them choose on their own. They came up with a mixture of songs I was a bit surprised about. Since we started touring we’ve been able to add more arrangements and choose from the songs we’ve been playing live. It feels like a band where I write the songs but they do most of the arrangements and artistic choices.

OT: Even being a bit more hands off with the decisions, what did this overall process look like for you and The String Theory?
JG: Some arrangements they did in great detail before we met, all written down very meticulously. But others were more dreamy and the musicians were asked to improvise. Of course there had been moments were things didn’t work, so I also felt like I was part of this process of making the orchestra more like a band, where people actually say no if they don’t like how we’re doing something — including me. Getting the percussion and beats somewhere I was comfortable with took a long time. My favorite percussionist is in the band, the only one who isn’t from Europe. He’s been touring with my solo band, and I didn’t want to lose that Latino touch since we’re playing with this more Nordic and German orchestra.

OT: Any songs that were particularly tricky to rearrange?
JG: One thing we were battling with for a while was the song “Down the Line.” We had an arrangement where it was very drony and trippy — simple in the arrangement, but heavy so to speak. It’s been changing shape from each concert until last tour when we recorded the album we started to do a Krautrock version, and finally it clicked after a lot of fighting [laughs].

OT: That one definitely struck me as the biggest departure from the original studio version. I can’t imagine coordinating the arrangements with that many people. What’s it been like touring with such a big group?
JG: It’s a lot of fun. When we started touring, many people in the band hadn’t been touring in the way that we were touring, so it was a breath of fresh air to have all these excited and amazing musicians in this trip of their life. For me, it’s been amazing to hang out with them, they’re all so excited to sing and hang out. Its just a very different dynamic than going on tour with just a few people. We’re like a little village, traveling around. It’s 22 musicians and then with crew, it’s nearly 30.

OT: Not a tour-related question, but I know you’ve gained notoriety for your unique covers of songs like “Heartbeats” by The Knife and “Teardrop” by Massive Attack. How do you decide what to cover, and what does your process for putting your own spin on these songs look like?
JG: There’s a lot of gut feelings going on. I know when I first hear a song and read the lyrics I’m on the right track, one other trick has been to do songs that are pretty well-known but maybe not expected as a cover. That’s a trick that I borrowed from Cat Power or Johnny Cash where their thing was to do cover songs in an unexpected way — in their own style. More recently, I guess I stopped doing covers in that style and have been okay with doing songs that are just nice to listen to, like “Blackbird” by The Beatles. So those have been my different, but main, ways of doing covers!

José González and The String Theory play the Lincoln Theatre on March 20. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Show at 8 p.m. For more on the artist, visit jose-gonzalez.com.

Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; 202-888-0050; www.thelincolndc.com

Photo: Michael Coleman

Buck Meek Brings Solo Work to SXSW

Buck Meek, a Texas native who made his name as the guitar player for Brooklyn folk-rockers Big Thief, stepped away from the band momentarily last year and released his self-titled debut album.

We caught Meek’s acoustic showcase in midtown Austin on the final day of SXSW. A captivating songwriter with an unusual but inviting vocal style, Meek reeled off a half-dozen songs for an admiring mid-day audience, then he sat down for a conversation with On Tap.

On Tap: That was a quality set, Buck. Cool, intimate songs. So, you’ve lived in Brooklyn for many years now, much of that as the guitar player with indie rock band Big Thief. But you grew up near Austin, Texas in a town called Wimberly in the Texas Hill County. I’m hearing that Texas sound in your music and lyrics despite your East Coast educational pedigree. Is that intentional?
BM: I lived in Brooklyn for seven years. I grew up in Wimberly and left in 2005 to go to Berklee College of Music in Boston. I was there for five years and it was a natural migration down to Brooklyn. A lot of people in my [musical] community moved down to Brooklyn. I made a lot of friends who went to Berklee to study jazz and ended up feeling disillusioned with the institutions of jazz and started joining punk rock bands or other methods of expression around jazz.

OT: You’ve been playing indie rock for years. What prompted the shift to a more folk, singer-songwriter oriented direction?
BM: This project is all my own songs whereas Big Thief is Adrianne [Lenker]’s songs and I’m the guitar player. There is a familial spirit with Big Thief but this project under my own name is all my own material and it’s a little more intimate and definitely more based on my roots here in Texas.

OT: Since we’re at SXSW in Austin – the epicenter of Texas music- tell us more about how this place informs your music.
BM: I try to be as honest as possible in my songwriting. Naturally, it [Texas] arises. I grew up in Wimberly, Texas surrounded by a lot of the outlaw country out there. Ray Wylie Hubbard and Butch Hancock from the Flatlanders. I saw those people a lot growing up. Have you ever been to the Kerrville Folk Festival [located in the Texas Hill Country about two hours west of Austin]?

OT: Unfortunately, no. But I have a feeling it should be on our bucket list.
BM: The campgrounds out there are just an incredible variety of some of the greatest songwriters on earth, most of which have never put a record out. They’re just blue-collar workers who come out to Kerrville every year and share songs around campfires at nighttime.  I’ve been going to the Kerrville folk festival since I was 13 so I was surrounded by a lot of good songwriters out there, known and unknown. That was my biggest influence as a songwriter but then I moved to New York and played all this punk rock and rock and roll and experimental music. This project is an honest reflection of all of those influences for me, I think.

OT: You opened for Jeff Tweedy of Wilco at his sold-out solo acoustic show at Austin’s Paramount Theatre earlier this month. What have you learned by touring with an Americana icon like Tweedy?
BM: Jeff reached out and I really respect how curious he is. He is always uncovering younger artists and reaching out and helping them – sharing his resources and insights. He’d originally reached out to Big Thief and we collaborated with him at the loft and developed a friendship from there. When he heard my record, he was really supportive and invited me out to be with him on the solo tour. I really look up to him and seeing him boil it down to solo with just an acoustic all by himself with just guitar and a microphone…and he’s funny. He’s so funny. And he’s playing a lot of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo songs, and solo songs, but just to hear them all in their bare form on an acoustic guitar, it is a masterclass for me. Hearing these songs naked away from Wilco on just an acoustic guitar as a skeleton of a song is so powerful.

OT:What informs that unique style and vocal phrasing of your solo work?
BM: Before I was writing songs, I grew up playing ragtime and the jazz music of Django Reinhardt, also a lot of Romanian music, New Orleans swing and Western swing. I grew up playing swing music and I think that syncopated sound is what really influenced my rhythmic phrasing in my songwriting, too, bending outside of the bar lines a lot which you here in jazz.

OT: What are you hoping to get out of SXSW?
BM: I just hope to swim every day that I’m here.

 

 

Photo: Michael Coleman

Australian Pop Artist Holiday Sidewinder on Owning Her Sound, Sexuality

Yes, Holiday Sidewinder is her real name.

Proclaiming “no gimmicks,” the Australian-born singer confirmed the authenticity of her moniker toward the end of her enthralling set at SXSW’s Australia House on Friday afternoon, surely answering at least one question on everyone’s mind.

Cloaked in an orange leotard, stilettos and a cheetah print overcoat, the platinum blonde does seem a bit gimmicky at first glance. But absorbing Sidewinder’s commanding stage presence and watching her deliver breezy but knowing alt-pop songs that reference artists as diverse as Madonna, David Bowie and the Beastie Boys, it becomes clear this is a woman of substance – fully in control of her artistic vision.

After several tours as the keyboardist in Alex Cameron’s faux-sleazy and fabulous lounge act – including stints opening shows for The Killers – Sidewinder has come into her own as a solo artist. From the 80s synth-pop vibe of “Casino” to the propulsive, dance-y “Trash Can Love,” to the sexual empowerment anthem “Leo,” Sidewinder ably borrows from her influences to make a sound all her own. As she sipped straight tequila on ice after her well-received set, Sidewinder sat down with On Tap to talk about her music, her upbringing and taking charge of her sex appeal.

On Tap: You come from a musical family. Is this something you always knew you wanted to do?
Holiday Sidewinder: Yeah, I did. My mom’s a singer, my uncle’s a songwriter and my grandfather’s a songwriter. My mom recently showed me a drawing I did when I was five where I’d drawn myself and it says, “Holiday Spice,” and it has an airport banner and I’ve got a suitcase. I guess I’ve manifested that because I haven’t had a home in years. [Sidewinder calls Los Angeles home, but says she is “literally homeless.”]

OT: How’s Austin treating you? What do you hope to accomplish at SXSW?
HS: I’ve been here four times now. It’s such a cool town. I’m just having a great time. Everyone told me it was Hell on Earth (because of the SXSW crowds), but I have had an amazing time. I saw [funk rock legend and mega-producer] Nile Rodgers yesterday. I spoke to his manager, which was really cool. I have a lot of friends who are playing here and it’s a community thing. I think it’s for us all to get together with the film industry and come together and support each other in a digital age. We’re all here, we all love this and we’re looking for solutions to make it work for us financially.

OTLet’s talk about your music. You have a new album, Forever or Whatever, dropping this spring. I hear a lot of different influences in your sound. Where does all that come from?
HS: I referenced a lot of different things when we were writing this record. It’s Beastie Boys, New Order, early Madonna and Tom Tom Club. I have eclectic taste. I listen to a lot of Exxótica and weird sh-t like the Talking Heads. I just like keeping the energy high. I usually start with a rhythm or a beat or a groove. I feel if you have a good groove, the rest of the song will carry itself.

OT: Sexuality looms large in much of your music – and certainly your persona. Is that intentional?
HS: I figure if I’m going to be sold on my sexuality anyway as a woman, I may as well take control of it. I was kind of liberated a year and a half ago with a few books I read. My perspective really changed. I found it empowering. With gaining sexual agency, a lot of other good things come – especially for women. We live in a rape culture and women have been second-class citizens in the patriarchy, and I think gaining that power back is the first step in a way.

Learn more about Sidewinder here.

Photo: jaredandthemill.com

Jared & The Mill on New Music, Growing from Regrets and Embracing SXSW Chaos

When I met Jared Kolesar of Phoenix-based indie folk band Jared & The Mill, we were about 20 minutes behind schedule. I blamed our inability to share our whereabouts and locate each other on mercury retrograde. It’s also what I’d blamed for the great Instagram and Facebook outage earlier in the week, but Kolesar insisted “that was a big marketing scheme by us.” For reference: the band’s latest album, released last month, is called This Story Is No Longer Available, and the title fits all too well with the social media mishaps and miscommunications from earlier in the day.

“I like it because there are so many meanings you can pull from it,” Kolesar says of the title. “The idea that social media is this thing where if you want to peer into someone’s life, you have access to it. There were a lot of times where you could have no idea what was going on in someone’s life unless you were right there with them, and those days are far gone.”

The record itself isn’t just about social media, though. It’s about being a better person and the struggles to better yourself and gain understanding for those around you in the process. While it sounds heavy, it’s a positive message – and Kolesar is quick to explain that he sees making mistakes as a good thing in the grand scheme of growing into who you are as a person.

“I’m a big believer in celebrating the good things you have in life, and that you have to have things that you regret doing in order to be a good person so that you can empathize with people who also have regrets in life,” he says earnestly.

The band brings this optimistic message to SXSW hot on the heels of their record release. And while it’s their seventh time at the festival, it’s a special one because of how much they have to celebrate with their new music.

“A lot of people I’ve talked to here have said that this is their favorite album yet, which is awesome to hear,” he explains. “A lot of times people are suckers for early stuff. But they’re really excited to hear the new stuff. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

I can’t help but wonder if jumping into performing at something as intense as SXSW a mere month after releasing a new record is a lot, but as they’re no strangers to the madness that is the festival, they’re able to focus on connecting with fans and celebrating their new material live on stage every night.

“There’s no god at SXSW,” Kolesar says with a laugh. “You just kind of give it up and accept the chaos. It’s our seventh one, so we all knew what we were getting into.”

Jared’s SXSW Favorites and Must-Sees

Best Music:
“I saw Donna Missal at the VEVO House and she is rad – she is way too rad. I also saw KOLARS the other day, Rob and Lauren are good friends so it’s always good to check them out.”

Must-See Spots:
“There’s a lot of cool things that happen at Hotel Vegas and a lot of good food trucks around there.”

“There’s a really cool mezcal bar on seventh street attached to a whiskey bar called Seven Grand.”

Painting: Fernanda Pereira // Photo: Hugo Oliveira

Panda Bear Brings “Buoys” To Life

Last summer, Noah Lennox, perhaps better known as Panda Bear, embarked on a tour with his band Animal Collective promoting the ten-year anniversary of their record Sung Tongs. During that time, Lennox pivoted to producing material for his solo career. The result is an even more atmospheric version of the ambient sounds the artist is known to pioneer. On Tap talked to Lennox around the release of his record on inspiration, the importance of how music is physically released and the value of creating in the present moment.

On Tap: You just released a new album as Panda Bear, Buoys, this week. Tell me more about how this record was created.
Noah Lennox: I wrote these songs on the guitar. I was just singing the songs with the guitar and a rudimentary drum machine. That was the foundation for everything. The guitar came from Dave [Portner] and I doing [practice for] the Sung Tongs record – we played a bunch of shows [as Animal Collective] for it this past summer. I hadn’t really played guitar for a while so it took me a couple months to get my hands into shape again, and I think while I was using the guitar a bunch I just started writing little songs here and there while I would practice for that stuff. 

OT: It sounds a bit more austere than some of your previous releases, was this a conscious choice?
NL: I did feel like I was a bit tired with the methods I had employed with the past couple records — it was like a system I went to the end of the road with in a way. I was interested in pushing myself into a space I was unfamiliar with. As far as the starkness of the sound, we figured out early on in the process that it was an architecture that kind of worked, as far as the sub-bassy stuff, because that became the pillar early on with pitched 808 samples. [For] his record we went in the opposite way of packing the arrangements full of sounds, which is kind of my move the past few records. I felt like any time we would add more into the arrangement it meant that the deep sub bass stuff wouldn’t represent itself in the room in the same way. We wanted to sort of keep this architecture of the empty.

OT: Although you’re a Maryland native, you’ve lived in Portugal for quite a while now. How has your life there affected your music?
NL: Certainly the environment plays a part, but that’s really hard for me to define. I feel like all the influence is subconscious and implicit in a way. It’s really hard for me to trace the dots on how that colors what I do; I’m sure it does, it’s just hard for me to define. Lisbon is a really different place than what it used to be. When I lived in Brooklyn, it felt like it went through a similar transformation. I got there just after it was starting and I left before it finished but I’m seeing a similar thing transpire in Lisbon over the past seven years or so. Not musically, although there are a lot of younger folks doing DIY-type music, which I really dig. It’s more in terms of [how] Lisbon felt kind of less affected by the rest of the world, or less interested in it or conversation with cultures outside of Portugal. It feels more like any sort of big European metro area than it used to.

OT: Your previous record, A Day With The Homies, was vinyl only. Why did you choose to release it that way?
NL: The original inspiration for that was sort of weird and random. It came from brands like Supreme and Palace and these other streetwear companies that do these releases of new stiff in finite quantities. I don’t like the resale part of it, I think that’s really corny, but it got me thinking about how that rewards the most hardcore people. I was jazzed about making something the people who would pre-order it or be down for no matter what.

OT: Why pivot back to a more traditional release with Buoys?
NL: Doing it [vinyl only] isn’t altogether positive, in that there are people who are left wanting. Ultimately, I preferred this method, which is for everybody. I wouldn’t want to do limited stuff all the time. I also should say that whereas Person Pitch was conceived as a CD as its ideal form, for A Day With The Homies it was the vinyl, and for this one I always envisioned its ideal form as streaming.

OT: Is that something that changes as you record new material or do you start out knowing you want to make music tailored to a specific format?
NL: It’s not always cut and dry. I can’t say that for every single release I have this ideal image of the thing in its particular format. But those three have a specific form that was kind of my most perfect version of it.

OT: Physical editions of music have seen such a resurgence over the past 10 years. Why do you think that is? What makes them maintain value?
NL: I think there’s two things going on with vinyl – one, people are getting less and less CDs so it’s becoming a digital or a vinyl thing, those are the last people standing in the race of the format. And two, I feel like the size or the imagery you can get on vinyl is kind of a big deal. I really like having that big slab for artwork, it just looks nicer in that way.

OT: As you mentioned before, you recently toured with Animal Collective to play your record Sung Tongs front to back for its ten year anniversary. Would you consider a similar tour format as Panda Bear?
NL: I supposed I’m open to it, but I’d have to be really inspired beyond [the fact] I can make a lot of money on this, that’s kind of cheesy to me. It’s been kind of weird, I guess. We agreed to do it one time and it was more fun than I imagined it would so I was down to do it more, but I’m sort of wary of getting stuck in that routine as opposed to the the present day creative things I have going. I’d rather focus on that. It was kind of fun, I have to admit. I just wouldn’t want that to be the driving force of what I’m doing. Even if it has less traction publicly, I’d still rather just keep going with what’s happening today.

Panda Bear plays the 9:30 Club on Monday, February 11 with Home Blitz. Doors are at 7 p.m. and tickets are $25. For more on Panda Bear, visit www.pandabearofficial.com.

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

Music Picks: Winter 2019

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2

El Ten Eleven
El Ten Eleven is one of those bandsm, that to the naked eye, defies sonic law. The duo makes dizzying, lush sounds using only a double-neck bass guitar and foot pedals. I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah, but they have a laptop, right? Everyone does that nowadays.” No, they do not have a laptop. Everything’s organic, as it has been for the band’s entire 10-album career. In an era where everything is prerecorded and premeditated, this kind of musicianship is even more impressive. Don’t miss the duo in action this winter. Doors 8 p.m. Tickets start at $17. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 7

Martha Afework
Homegrown Martha Afework is proof that just because you fall in love with something as a child, that doesn’t mean you should give it up as an adult. Singing since the age of four, Afework has used her talents – and more recently, social media – to gain attention from people in the area. Now, the soulful R&B singer will headline the Fillmore without looking back. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $15. Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 8

COIN
COIN isn’t necessarily the most innovative band on the block, but there’s something extremely likeable about their radio-friendly brand of indie pop. I can think of many artists before them  made a similar type of music who were much easier to write off as unoriginal. Perhaps it’s their vulnerability – the Nashville-based, four-piece band often sings of awkward romantic encounters, leaving home and growing up. Ah, youth. No matter what it is, COIN’s undeniable magnetism makes them worth seeing live. Doors at 6 p.m. Tickets $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 11

Eyelids
Chances are you’ve heard some lyrics that the members of Eyelids are responsible for, but maybe not of the band itself. The Portland, Oregon-based group has penned songs for The Decemberists, Elliott Smith and Stephen Malkmus, among others. Now on tour for their own songs in the form of release Maybe More, the indie rockers are ready to step out from the shadows of their legendary collaborators to make you hum and sing along to their work. Show at 9 p.m. Tickets $12-$14. Comet Ping Pong: 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.cometpingpong.com

Panda Bear
Though I wish I was writing about an actual panda bear who belted out lyrics about life in the jungle, you and I will have to settle on the very talented Noah Lennox. A founding member of experimental pop band Animal Collective, his own music as Panda Bear doesn’t stray far from the fabric of the aforementioned band. Looking for meticulously crafted electronic sounds? Check. What about vocals layered atop these very eclectic beats? Check. Basically, if you’re a fan of the entire collective, Panda Bear’s music will be right up your wheelhouse. Check out M.K. Koszycki’s interview with Lennox at www.ontaponline.com. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 13

Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness
Ever wonder what those bands you listened to during your teenage years sound like when they grow past their angst-fueled music? That’s what Andrew McMahon sounds like these days, as the former band member of several California-based groups has  grown into a more mature musician. The pianist has harnessed his high-pitched voice into one of reason, discussing the topics of nostalgia, missed opportunities and failures with a joyful tone throughout his latest release Upside Down Flowers. Doors at 6 p.m. Tickets $40.50. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Cherry Glazerr
L.A.-based trio Cherry Glazerr is known for their commentary on the world at large – after all, the band takes its name from NPR reporter Chery Glaser – but on their third record, they’ve teased a new era. Singer Clementine Creevy has indicated in press for their new album Stuffed & Ready that she’s begun to look inward for inspiration and it’s evident on the band’s lead single “Daddi,” which seems to reflect on the gray areas of attraction, control and power dynamics in relationships. The infectious song is a sure indication that the band’s new era will be an impressive one, too. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $20. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

Current Joys
The solo project of Nicholas Rattigan, Current Joys is a moody singalong about the creative process. From extreme highs to lows, Rattigan rattles off emotional lyrics that are accompanied by thud-like guitar strums, each delivered with a purpose. A Different Age represents one of the most expressive and well-crafted albums you’ll hear this year. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $15. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14

Beirut
Worldly wunderkind Zach Condon announced his band Beirut’s fifth album and lead single Gallipolli in the most Beirut way possible. He took to his band’s website to write a letter about the genesis of the album’s title track, which involved the band “stumbling into the medieval, fortressed island town of Gallipoli one night and following a brass band procession fronted by priests carrying a statue of the town’s saint through the winding, narrow streets.” The band has served as a musical passport to Condon’s travels since they formed back in 2006, and they’ll bring their sounds to DC this winter with new adventures in tow. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $41. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

The Parrots
Hailing from Madrid, The Parrots combine both Spanish and English lyrics to make a near-universal indie sound. Backed by guitar licks reminiscent of Chastity Belt or Courtney Barnett, their music is moody and their vocals provide a melodic whine. Though they haven’t recorded a new album since 2016, The Parrots has been releasing well-received singles since then and promise to bring an electric show to DC9. Doors at 7:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $12. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 15

Chuck Prophet
The latest release in Prophet’s discography is Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins, a concept album paying homage to the legendary artist responsible for “I Fought the Law,” made famous by The Clash. The album is gritty and fun, and I’m glad Prophet hasn’t wiped the slate clean quite yet but instead, is focusing on spreading his version of “California noir.” Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $20. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E. Vienna, VA; www.jamminjava.com

Gregory Porter
There are few better gifts for a Valentine than to see the wonderous Gregory Porter. His music is smooth and loving, borrowing vibes and emotions from 50s and 60s jazz – not to mention his sultry vocals. With his baritone contrasting with several backing instruments, Porter delivers songs perfect for a date night with your significant other. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets $58-$108. The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; www.strathmore.org

Metric
Fusing indie with synth-pop, Canadian band Metric is set to visit the DMV this month. Touring on the back of their 2018 release Art of Doubt, the album brings out the best elements of the band. Aided by a radical energy in the band’s instrumentation, frontwoman Emily Haines continues to provide a lens into her creative process while delivering her seamlessly effortless vocal talents in each song. Doors at 6 p.m., show at 7 p.m. Tickets $38. Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 16

Dante Pope
I used to wonder why old school R&B music was so hard to replicate for newer artists. Obviously, the genre still has a foothold on the popular conscience as you can hear it in movies or in samples for hip-hop, but there is largely a dearth of new artists with this style. Leon Bridges took hold of it as a notable vocalist to mention, but one on the rise is Dante Pope. The multi-instrumentalist has pipes channeling the 70s, and his ability to strum the guitar only heightens his deft musicianship. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $15-$17. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17

Dante Elephante
With an indie sound combining garage and surf, this group of four offers very enjoyable tunes to groove to. Whether you’re driving down a highway or jam-packed in the tiny, intimate DC9, these songs will carry you through. The lyrics come across as playful even when serious, and this isn’t a criticism because sometimes it’s helpful to laugh in the face of tough times. Doors at 7:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $10. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

Daughters
Back on the punk scene for the first time since 2010, Daughters returned with their 2018 release You Won’t Get What You Want. While everything about the group is punk, their pace is very deliberate compared to the break-neck speed the genre’s bands usually play at. Instead, Daughters is a manic deliberation with chants for choruses. Plus, some of their music sounds like something you might hear in a horror film’s score. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $20. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

The Knocks
Chances are at least one of your favorite pop artists has collaborated with New York production duo The Knocks. Carly Rae Jepsen, Foster the People, Sofi Tukker and X Ambassadors are just a few of the big names who have lent their vocal talent to the pair’s upbeat songs. To celebrate the release of their new album New York Narcotic, they’ll bring a full-fledged dance party to U Street. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 18

Empress Of
Lorely Rodriguez has released countless synth-pop gems under the name Empress Of since 2012. You may also know her from standout spots providing her signature crystal clear vocals on albums by contemporaries like Dirty Projectors, Khalid, MØ and more. As her career progressed, so did her vocal and production prowess, giving us last year’s catchy album Us. Her earlier work sounds just as good today as it did upon release, and her single “Go to Hell” is the ultimate kiss-off to everyone who didn’t believe in Rodriguez – and it’s my go-to pick me up song when feeling discouraged. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $15. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 19

Jacob Banks
You can’t mention Jacob Banks without mentioning the word soul. The Nigerian-born, British singer-songwriter is downright gripping when he steps in front of a microphone. From a grumble to a shout – all on key – this man has some serious range and versatility. His latest release, 2018’s Village, provides a perfect showcase for his talents – and he uses all of them to mystify listeners. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $20. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Julia Holter
Though Julia Holter sings, the classification of composer feels most natural when describing the artist’s musical stylings. Layered with wind instruments, drums and electronic sounds, her songs are absolutely packed with instrumentation – and the apparatus serving as the conductor’s baton is her voice. Whether it’s whiny, melodic or on the verge of shouting, her vocals provide the direction for all of the carefully curated sounds to follow. Show at 7 p.m. Tickets $17. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 20

Anderson .Paak
In an era of rap and hip-hop where nearly all artists are singing their own choruses, it’s interesting to see the pendulum swing. Anderson .Paak represents a lyricist who has the same cadence and rhyming skills as a hip-hop artist, but with real pipes. This style is extremely fun to listen to and seems like it’s even more satisfying to make, as he frequently features rap giants like Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T and Dr. Dre. With his raspy delivery and West Coast cool, Anderson .Paak is as unique as they come. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $78. The Theater at MGM National Harbor: 101 MGM National Ave. Oxon Hill, MD; www.mgmnationalharbor.com

MNEK
It’s my humble opinion that MNEK should be one of the biggest pop stars in the world, and chances are the London-based artist has written or produced a song for one of your favorites. After all, the 24-year-old’s resume includes work for Beyoncé, Bastille, Stormzy and Diplo. I could go on, but you get the idea. And as I’m sure you’ve guessed, his solo work is just as impressive as the people he’s worked with. On the heels of his fantastic full-length album Language and countless impressive collaborations over the years, he’ll bring his innovative brand of pop to DC. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $17. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 21

James Blake
Rumors of James Blake’s new album have been swirling around the web as of late. He released two new singles last year and appeared on the Black Panther soundtrack but now, the world is ready for a new full-length album. If the rumors are true, the timing is perfect as he’ll hit DC in late February – hopefully with new tunes in tow. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets $48.50. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

Liz Cooper & The Stampede
Liz Cooper offers tremendous energy and a vibrant, upbeat demeanor on her latest record Window Flowers, the result of a yearlong effort to do something creative every day. Her style of sing-talking with a raspy delivery allows her to mix it up with each song, sometimes holding onto notes for a little longer than you’d expect – and sometimes letting them go with a breath. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $12-$15. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

FRIDAY, FEBURARY 22

Kat Wright
If you’re in the mood for a retro sound this winter, look no further than Kat Wright. The almost lo-fi production of her music sends you back in time, as her vocals help paint the picture of a nostalgic view. Her powerful vocals are accompanied by backing bass, drums, keys and a powerful three-piece horn section. While she may not provide a visual aesthetic of the jazz singer smoking a cigarette, her more modern stage presence will more than make up for it. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $12-$17. The Hamilton LIVE: 600 14th St. NW, DC; www.thehamiltondc.com

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 23

The Suffers
Hailing from Houston, Texas, this eight-member band provides soul and R&B sensibilities with a pop music mentality. I say that because every song is jovial and enjoyable. With eight members, the band also has tremendous versatility, bouncing from sound to sound. The Suffers are led by vocalist Kam Franklin, who provides a powerful voice for the instruments to follow. Show at 7 p.m. Tickets $20. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

Vince Staples
If Kendrick Lamar is the current king of hip-hop, Vince Staples is the prince. One of the best lyricists in the genre, Staples has zigged while others have zagged – providing breathtaking commentary on the world as he sees it. Though not every song has a political point of view, the best tunes are when he’s locked in on a subject for the world to hear. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets $35. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Washington Performing Arts Presents Lara Downes
Inspired by Georgia O’Keefe’s words, the trailblazing, NPR chart-topping Lara Downes has channeled her prodigious creativity into an intimate program of solo and ensemble works paying tribute to female composers and poets, both past and present. Her special guest is multi-instrumentalist/composer/singer and MacArthur “Genius” Award winner Rhiannon Giddens, who, through her own work and performances as a member of the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, embodies precisely the ethos Downes had in mind. Downes’ performance is a special presentation by Washington Performing Arts. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets $35. Writeup provided by venue. Sixth & I Historic Synagogue: 600 I St. NW, DC; www.sixthandi.org

Western Den
Deni Hlavinka and Chris West met on a college forum after Hlavinka posted an idea for a song. The next day, West sent over a completed version and the serendipitous partnership has been unstoppable ever since. In Western Den, the pair focuses on melodic folk music – but instead of a heavy emphasis on guitar strums, their music shines a light on Hlavinka’s piano skills. Doors at 8:30 p.m., show at 9 p.m. Tickets $12. DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 28

Vundabar
Despite their most recent release meditating on illness and death, Boston’s Vundabar has been called “a ceaselessly jovial band” by Pitchfork, and their live shows are no exception. The contrast between the band’s existential, contemplative and sometimes downright depressing material paired with their jangly garage rock-influenced music makes the perfect pairing for those of us who love to dance but also contemplate life’s trickier questions. Bring that marriage to a live show and you’ve got a performance that’s equal parts a party and a therapy session. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $15. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com