Photo: Chris McKay
Photo: Chris McKay

MC50 Kicks Out Jams For Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Quirky Bands Can Rock Too: Arcade Fire at Jiffy Lube Live

Glittering kimonos, a giant disco ball and tambourines thrust into the crowd were just a few of the highlights from Arcade Fire’s show at Jiffy Lube Live on Friday night. But would you really expect anything less quirky from a band like Canadian-based Arcade Fire? Maybe not, but that doesn’t keep their show from being any less exciting each time lead singer Win Butler and the band, including wife Régine Chassagne and brother Will, hit the stage.

Where theatrics for Arcade Fire’s Reflektor tour came in the form of luminous silvers and golds and flashing mirrors everywhere, their Everything Now Continued tour – a second round set for their fifth album Everything Now (released July 2017) – uses vivid colors and giant screens to symbolize the album’s themes of consumerism, content overload and hopelessness in our modern age. Plenty of reflective objects are in the mix too, as technology is a running theme for the band.

Setting a subtle tone to open the show, Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise” was followed by an instrumental version of Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now (Continued)” before the musicians appeared. But as the band hit the stage with their classic anthem “Wake Up,” the show went from whimsical violins to foot-stomping fun that had the whole audience singing along.

“Put Your Money on Me,” “We Don’t Deserve Love” and the Chassagne-fronted “Electric Blue” from the band’s latest album were performed in succession early on in the set, but not many more songs from Everything Now made the setlist. It seemed this leg of the tour is less about the band promoting their new album and more about having fun and giving some lesser-played songs some love. Cue the dance-inducing “Here Comes the Night Time” transporting listeners to Chassagne’s home country of Haiti during Carnival, or decade-old lyrics that could have been written for 2018 in “Suburban War,” where Win sings, “Now the music divides us into tribes // Choose your side, I’ll choose my side.”

Other songs proved not just old favorites, but reminders that many genres make up the band’s sound. For all their labels – self-prescribed or not – as the friendly Canadian hipsters that use zany instruments like accordions and keytars, it can be easy to think of Arcade Fire as just a breezy indie rock band. But jumping around and shouting the lyrics to “Neighborhoods #3 (Power Out)” and “Creature Comfort,” it struck me that they’re authentic rock and rollers to the core.

Other memorable moments from the night included the band entering the stage by walking through the crowd, Chassagne (who I swear played almost every instrument on the stage at least once) dancing with concertgoers during “Afterlife” and Will continuing to bang his drum during the show closer despite having tripped and sprained his ankle.

With the show coming to an end, Win noted that a portion of the money made from the night would go toward the Arcade Fire <3 Haiti campaign with Partners in Health. The band then broke out in fan-favorite “Rebellion (Lies)” that had the whole crowd shouting “Every time you close your eyes // Lies, lies!” proving that indie darlings Arcade Fire can rock with the best of them.

Learn more about Arcade Fire here.

Photo: Nathan Payne
Photo: Nathan Payne

Foo Fighters Rock ‘n’ Roll All Night at Merriweather

“Ladies and gentlemen, do you love rock ‘n’ roll? Chris, let’s give them some rock ‘n’ roll!” shouts Dave Grohl just before the crowd goes wild.

Rock ‘n’ roll – loud, head-banging, fist-pumping-the-air rock ‘n’ roll – is exactly what Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters gave the jam-packed audience at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Friday, July 6. That, and Grohl’s promise that when he comes to his hometown area (Springfield, Virginia to be more specific), he must give the best rock show ever. With three hours of the band’s best hits, Grohl’s anecdotes of growing up in the area and the lead singer shot-gunning a beer with an audience member, I’d say the band absolutely delivered.

Foo Fighters’ Merriweather performance was the first stop on their 2018 U.S. tour for their latest record Concrete and Gold, released last September. The show also marked their first gig in the DMV since playing The Anthem’s grand opening last October. The band’s venue-opening performance was an incredible opportunity to see the band in a more intimate setting, but their stadium-sized sound and rambunctious energy seemed better suited that night for a classic summer venue like Merriweather.

Crowd favorites like “All My Life” and “The Pretender” set the tone for the show with the audience of mostly millennials who grew up listening to the Foos, shouting the lyrics back at Grohl and punching their hands into the air. Six songs and an hour later, Grohl offered an exuberant hello and joked about taking so long to welcome attendees to the show.

“It’s going to be a long night and I need to get worked up,” he added, saying, “Tonight I feel like we should play a song from every record.”

True to his word, songs from all nine of the band’s albums were on the setlist, including tracks like “Learn to Fly” and “Times Like These” from their third and fourth albums (respectively) that were recorded in Grohl’s basement when he lived in NoVA.

Halfway through the show, Grohl introduced the rest of the band with each member playing a solo and/or cover song. Guitarist Chris Shiflett followed his solo with a cover of Alice Cooper’s “Under My Wheels” that had him singing vocals as the band joined in. Up next was bassist Nate Mendel, who played a verse of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” followed by guitarist Pat Smear joined by the band for The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” and finally, keyboardist Rami Jaffee playing a quick tune.

Wrapping the introductions up with an epic cover of Queen and David Bowie’s “ Under Pressure,” Drummer Taylor Hawkins was the last to be introduced. He was joined on vocals by opening act The Struts lead singer Luke Spiller as Grohl took over on drums.

Other highlights from the night included a giant accordion-like platform that raised Hawkins into the air as he shredded through a solo. Or how the crowd went wild when Grohl mentioned listening to WAVA and DC101 when he was a kid in Virginia. A true stand-out moment, however, was when Grohl shot-gunned a beer with a fan onstage for her birthday, after her sign with that exact request caught the singer’s eye.

Whether Grohl is shot-gunning a beer with a fan, wiggling his butt at the audience and talking with a valley girl accent or the guys are messing around between songs, you can’t help notice the genuine friendships among the band. They could easily just be your local neighborhood dads who get together on Tuesdays to play covers of their favorite rock songs. It’s that authenticity and lively energy the Foo Fighters give off that makes them so fun to watch.

The band closed the show with the ever popular “Everlong” and I couldn’t help pondering the lyrics afterwards. “And I wonder/When I sing along with you/If everything could ever feel this real forever/If anything could ever be this good again.” Every time I see the Foos, I’m reminded it can.

For more information about the Foo Fighters, click here.


Lorde Performs an Electrifying Drama at The Anthem

This is melodrama.

We were warned before the show started. In fact, we were warned the minute Lorde teased the release of new music last spring. You can ever hear siren-like words off her sophomore album Melodrama chant “…we told you this was melodrama…” during “Sober II (Melodrama).” Still, we were not ready for the theatrics waiting for us at the Anthem on April 8.

It’s not that the costumes were flashier or the props more impressive than other pop concerts, but that night the 21-year-old from New Zealand was able to connect all 6,000 in the audience and take us on a journey of dancing, broken glass and love lost that made for an electric and emotional show.

In following Melodrama’s theme of a break-up and going to a party to forget your ex-lover, Lorde’s show felt like one giant house party. The first half consisted of songs from her latest record, in particular the early “party” songs like the thumping “Sober” and “The Louvre” where Lorde demands a broadcast of booms and to “make ‘em all dance to it.”

As the show progressed we were given more of the despair filled songs from Melodrama, including “Liability,” where Lorde sings about feeling burdensome to those close to her and “Hard Feelings” where she reluctantly lets go of her lover.

During this part of her set it became evident how Lorde has grown as a performer; where she dressed in dark clothes and makeup and radiated too-cool-for-school vibes during her Pure Heroine tour days, she now performs with warmth, color and is not afraid to let us see emotions get the best of her. It’s moments like hearing her voice break slightly during “Writer in the Dark” that reminds us she’s had her heart broken just like the rest of us, making her relateable on a human level.

Other standout moments from the night include the set design, which saw a glass box rise from the ground and lift dancers into the air. Or when she half-jokingly ordered a whiskey from the stage and a bartender actually brought her one.

But truly the highlight of the show was the regular set-list closer “Green Light.” Just before she broke out into the song, Lorde had some conditions for the audience: this song’s special and she would give us her all if we gave her our all. What followed was an electric, stirring experience that connected us all as everyone sang at the top of their lungs and jumped as high as possible, concluding with an explosion of star-shaped confetti.

Melodrama at its most basic level is about a break-up and a house party, but more than that, Lorde said, it’s about kinetic energy and bodies crashing together; if ever there were a manifestation of what she was describing, it was that moment when we all lost our selves to the sound of Lorde shouting “I’m waiting for it/That green light/I want it!”

To read more about Lorde, check out her website here.