Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The 5 best concerts in and around DC for 2007

Two weeks into the New Year and I have received enough emails asking ‘where the heck is your year-end best-concerts list?’ that I feel compelled to respond.

Last year was so damn busy that I only got to attend a fraction of my usual ridiculous concert quota. Added to that I saw more bands outside of the area than ever before (as my love affairs with the Chicago music scene and the Coachella festival continues). That said I did see some damn fine shows in DC last year. Plus it is nice to know at least a few people missed my list.

So back by popular demand here is an abbreviated list of the best live sets that I had the pleasure of enjoying in and around DC in 2007.

5. Stiff Little Fingers @ The Black Cat : Celebrating the band’s 30th anniversary the Irish punk godfathers treated DC to a reunion of the surviving original members and a blistering beginning-to-end run through of their classic debut, Inflammable Material. For the rest of the set they ripped through most of their second album, played a tribute to Joe Strummer, and introduced us to a politically-charged new song ‘The Liars Club’. The performance proved the timelessness of SLF’s music, energy, and heart (a fact reflected by the huge age range in the passionate, sing-along crowd).

4. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ The 930 Club : These guys have made my year-end lists twice before (once at the top). While I think their 2004 Recher Theater set is the gold standard – they never cease to amaze me each time they come to town. Every one of their shows gives us seemingly vital rearrangements of their material and the Spring ‘07 show was the most endurance-testing, rock-n-roll display I’ve seen them put on yet. Riding in high off their latest album, Baby 81, the band tore through an amazingly powerful set, and then returned for an encore that was as long as the concert-proper. It was a die-hard BRMC fan’s dream come true as the two-and-a-half hour set included what seemed like their entire catalog. Playing way past the 930 Club’s usual close down, BRMC treated DC to a late-night marathon that reminded us all of rock-n-roll’s rule-breaking, ass-kicking origins.

3. The Stooges @ 930 Club : Speaking of ass-kicking origins. Iggy and the Stooges graced DC with their troglodyte presence last year with a performance that not only showed what an A-list front-man Iggy Pop is and always will be, but also erased the footnote unimportance of their new album by focusing on brain-melting renditions of their classic catalog. Running through most of Funhouse in its entirety with more passion, energy, and insanity than most younger bands ever bother to muster, the Stooges cut through decades of punk cynicism like an adrenalin shot directly into the genre’s beating heart. The show got the crowd going crazy like I haven’t seen in DC since the Super-Bowl of Hardcore days. It was a madhouse crowd responding to the madman on stage performing an anything-goes set of music. Demonstrated best by the final song of the night, an amped-up repeat performance of ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ that made the night’s earlier rendition seem ancient by comparison. The Stooges live show builds like a storm-surge, performing 35-year old music that never sounds the same twice and always – always – feels so impressive in the moment that you can’t imagine there ever being anything that can top it.

2. The Good, The Bad, and The Queen @ The 930 Club : This performance by Damon Albarn’s unlikely super-group was the epitome of cool, grace, and wonderful musicianship. They decorated the 930 Club in such a way as to teleport the crowd to an alternate-universe London; the setting for Albarn’s sometimes gloomy, sometimes glib homeland narrative. Seeing former-Clash bassist Paul Simonon alone would probably have made my top 10 list for the sheer fan-boy aspect. But it is the combination of all of GBQ’s disparate elements working together so beautifully that places the show so highly. This show left me in jaw-dropped awe that what I had just witnessed really had taken place live right before my eyes. The Good, The Bad, and The Queen concert was a very rare treat that I am very happy to have attended. (Read my original review here).

1. Isis @ The 930 Club : Here I am almost nine months after this concert and I am still at a loss for words to describe how amazing it was. To put its greatness in context I could maybe approach it like this. I saw more post-rock/post-metal acts in 2007 than in any other year. I caught all the genre heavies as they came through, many of whom have made my list in year’s past. And every one of them put on an incredible show (Jesu, Mono, Red Sparrowes, EITS, etc) but none of them come close to touching this level of perfection and enjoyment. Isis have always been a great live band but the combination of their new material and the forensic precision of the 930 Club sound-system made for a fantastic musical journey that had to be experienced to come close to understanding. It was the stuff of legends and I’ll be babbling about it like some mad acolyte for years to come.

Here are the 2006, 2005, and 2004 lists.

Originally published on January 14th, 2008.

The 10 best concerts in and around DC for 2006

A thousand pardons as the third installment of my year-end best-of concerts list comes a tad late this time ’round due to illness. As I sit here typing, the Center for Disease Control is sealing off my house while Clara Barton is mopping my brow with a damp cloth to stave off fever. I’m not kidding, it’s like 1918 over here.

Anyhow, time for the list. For the uninitiated this is a list of the best performances by musical acts that I saw in 2006 in the DC area. The list is based on individual sets rather than total concert line-ups. 2006 was kind of a spare year for live shows in DC for me (I saw about 30 bands as opposed to my average 50-60). I did a lot of traveling to concerts in other towns (notably Chicago and Philly) since DC got skipped by a lot of bands last year. That said the concerts I did catch in the area were all top-notch and here are the ten best.

10. Whitehouse @ DC9 : In a booking coup DC9 scored these first generation British noise-mongers early last year and as a result drew the biggest crowd I’ve seen there. Their set was blistering with hate and noise, the sonic equivalent of peeling flesh with an acetylene torch. Pretty great stuff if (like me) being stuck inside the head of a Dalek from Dr. Who is your idea of a good time.

9. Bauhaus @ Nissan Pavilion : In an opening slot for industrial-glam gods Nine Inch Nails, Bauhaus stole the show by putting on a bare-bones raw power set that showed off their goth-father muscles better than any elaborate stage show could. Of all the shows I’ve seen out at Nissan, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a band sound better.

8. The Ex @ Ottobar : This was the last show I saw in 2006 and it was a doozy. I’ve been a fan of The Ex for a loooong time but never saw them live until this year. Their set at the Touch & Go Anniversary Festival in Chicago blew my mind with its passion and guitar fury. But that show was outside with a crowd 10 thousand strong. It was this set at the Ottobar (up close and personal) that really showed off to me just how amazing every member of this band is. Their style of post-punk guitar playing borders on speed metal, absolutely nuts.

7. Soundpool @ the Wall of Sound Festival : This year’s Wall of Sound Festival was something of a disappointment (particularly the spectacularly anti-climactic non-finale). That said the one gem I took away from the trip to Fredericksburg was having seen Soundpool for the first time. They are a relatively young band from New York but their stage presence, slide-show, and sound made me feel like I had teleported back to early 90’s London. Soundpool’s set captured the shoegazer aesthetic unlike any new breed shoegazers I’ve seen. A pretty but shy singer, out-of-focus film strips, guitar and synth sound-wash combined for one of the best sets I saw by a band all year.

6. Mono @ the Black Cat : Despite the plethora of chatty-kathy’s in the crowd during their set, Mono knocked my socks off when they opened for Pelican last year. Mono return to my top 10 list after taking 2005’s crown for best concert. Their place on the 2006 list is well deserved as they beat out Mogwai (the post-rock kingpins who I also saw in ‘06) with this incredible set of music.

NOTE: Mono will be playing in DC again in Spring ‘07.

5. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ 930 Club : Another repeat offender BRMC took top honors on my 2004 list. I was hesitant to put a second repeater on the list but when looking back over the year in music I can’t deny top-quality jams. BRMC played in DC late in 2005 and left me feeling luke-warm but they returned a few months later in the new year with a new set that I can’t get out of my head. BRMC take the award for best-use of a club’s sound system in 2006. Don’t believe me? Listen for yourself.

4. Pelican @ the Black Cat : Some nights nothing beats the live fury of Heavy Metal (or in this case that new breed Post-Metal). Pelican definitely cornered the market in dark, thundering territory in 2006 with their incredible set at the Black Cat. Their epic length instrumental pieces took the dedicated crowd on a harrowing journey of sound and imagination as they hammered and hacked and plucked and strummed their guitars into splinters.

3. The Charlatans UK @ 930 Club : I make no effort to hide my worship of this band, however their 2006 set at the 930 Club was so spot-on it would top any music critics list as one of the year’s best. The band showed off their evolution from Madchester teens to elder statesmen of Brit-Pop with a command performance of a career spanning set-list played to a club filled with loyal fans who partied their asses off. This show reminded me of back when DC was a really fun town filled with fanatical fans of every genre. A time when almost every concert I went to had a crowd/band synergy going like this one did. This was by far the most energetic and fun show I went to in 2006.

2. Serena Maneesh @ the State Theater : Being an agnostic, I expect this show to be about as close to a religious experience as I will ever have. Serena Maneesh from Norway came to spread their gospel of noise guitar to an audience of about 40 people last year. I expect every one of those people have been spreading the word ever since. Before this set I thought I knew what I meant by invoking the term “music nirvana” in past reviews. But really those other shows were lower tiers of enlightenment. If there is a band out there that can top what Serena Maneesh did at the State Theater I am a little afraid, because seeing that band would probably kill me.

1. Editors @ 930 Club : I saw the Editors twice in 2006 and both sets were easily top 10 worthy. However it was the first time I saw them, when they opened for Stellastarr*, that I’m giving the year’s top honor to. If you read my original review of that set it is obvious I was very taken with these new dark horses of brit-pop. But what I didn’t realize writing then that I do now upon looking back is that the Editors’ first DC show was the full package. In otherwords, it was everything that I want a concert to be.

The Editors’ first set was so great and unexpected to the Stellstarr* crowd that any musical cynicism in the room was cracked. What ensued was an amazingly good time as the Editors won over the crowd with one of the all-time great pop performances I’ve seen. This was a truly special music moment. Re-read my comments for the previous two entries on this list and try to imagine the effects of those two shows combining into one wonderful set of music. An excited and fun crowd watching one of the best emerging music acts in the world tearing the 930 Club a new one and me standing in the middle of it all with a smile from ear to ear.

I couldn’t make-up a better concert moment to round-out this year’s list.

For the curious here are the 2004 and 2005 lists.

Originally published on January 4th, 2007.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Finally…Mushy Peas!

Some time in the night just past walked Michael, that would be me, and me wife, that would be Greta, up King Street to sample rumoured scrumptous vittles at ye olde-style Dublin Chippery, that would be Eamon’s, which happens to be Old Town’s newest restaurant.

Eamon’s Dublin Chippery is the real deal. Opened by the Irish husband and wife team who opened the gourmet Irish restaurant Eve down on Pitt st., Eamon’s is a small take-out fish-n-chips joint with style. The menu is pretty simple: fish and chips (large or small) with a few intriguing extras including the battered and fried “bunless” hamburger, Irish soda in cans, and authentic mushy peas – which I have been dying to have again ever since my trip to London/Dublin 2 years ago.

The mushy peas were excellent, the chips were spot-on, and the battered cod was a pleasure.

Dinner for two costs about $20 at Eamon’s – which is set-up as a take-out but has three very cool looking wooden tables if you choose to eat in – which we did. If you’re going to eat in at Eamon’s don’t be shy about eating with your hands, or sharing your table with the throngs of folk flocking there to try Old Town’s latest buzz.

Eamon’s is on King Street in Old Town across from the Old Town Theater.

Originally published on September 6, 2006.