Phasefest returns with four days of music, dance and spoken word from gay and lesbian performers, the Silver Jews play their first-ever D.C. show, DJ Spinna touches down at the Eighteenth Street Lounge, Comet Ping-Pong offers a Sunday night show worth staying out for and the Black Cat turns 15 with a blast from the past.
Wednesday, Sept. 10
David has literally been waiting half his life for the Silver Jews (listen) to play in D.C., and tonight's performance at the Black Cat will make his dream come true. The band released its first proper album, "Starlite Walker," in 1994 and has since morphed from a lo-fi indie rock band that was wrongly referred to as a Pavement side project (Stephen Malkmus has been an on-again, off-again member) to a sparkling indie-country band with the best lyricist in all the land, David Berman. For most of the band's existence Berman refused to take the show on the road, instead choosing to dish out his world-weary wisdom 10-12 songs at a time, every few years. His lyrical gifts combined with his mysteriousness helped cultivate a small-but-rabid fanbase, and he finally rewarded those fans with a tour in 2006. David, being the superfan that he is, attended five shows on that tour. Most of those shows were more memorable for the outpouring of support than for the fantastic performances, which was to be expected for someone who made a point of staying off stage for so many years. A recent show in Pittsburgh (superfan, remember) showed an improved Silver Jews Touring Version 2.0. Berman has ditched the guitar this time around, focusing solely on vocals and lyrics, which always were his strength. (To list one favorite would be to list 50, so we'll spare you.) A Silver Jews live show isn't about insanity or antics; it's about hearing some of the best songs you'll ever hear. But just in case you want some insanity and antics, the band has brought along labelmates Monotonix (listen) to get the evening started. We've talked about them plenty this year -- after all this is already the Israeli trio's fourth D.C. show in 2008. So here's a quick Monotonix word association game: fire, garbage dumped on someone's head, beer poured down pants, sweat, mustache, nowhere to hide. This has Show-of-the-Year possibilities.
2008 hasn't been kind to D.C.-based music festivals, as the Six Points Festival and DAM! Fest failed to return for their fifth and third go-rounds. Bucking the trend, though, is Phasefest, the multi-day music, dance and comedy gathering for gay and lesbian performers. In fact, Phasefest, held at the lesbian club Phase One on Barracks Row, has expanded to four days from 2007's three. There are a number of familiar names on the packed schedule, including anthemic Baltimore rock quartet Odd Girl Out (Friday, listen), comedy troupe Dykes of Hazzard (Saturday) and earnest, melodic singer-songwriter (and festival founder) Mara Levi (Saturday, listen), but there are several musical acts we think are especially worth catching. Tonight, New York quartet Each Other's Mothers (listen) headlines, and their inspired math-rock makes them sound like a D.C. band -- circa 2000. There are bits of Q and Not U and Fugazi in the way distorted guitars and crisp basslines snake around each other, with drums keeping everything in lockstep, including the jarring breakdowns. Doors are at 7, and admission is $10.
Thursday, Sept. 11
Back at July's Whartscape Festival in Baltimore, a celebration of Baltimore's hyperactive, electronic-based party-all-the-time underground scene, one band stood out from the young, over-caffeinated masses. That band was Thank You (listen). Made up of Charm City natives, it didn't rely on glitchy beeps or any sort of performance art aspect. The three band members simply played tunes that went from atmospheric to thunderous, and they did so while wearing clothes that might pass muster in a business-casual office, a far cry from the thrift-store chic sported by most other acts and concertgoers. Thank You definitely has its spazz moments, but the band earns them through sonic buildups, making the freakouts more cathartic. The kids could learn a thing or two from Thank You, which brings its rumbling mayhem to DC9 tonight.
Eighteenth Street Lounge is fond of springing the leading edge of underground music talent on the city with barely a toot of their own horn. A simple e-mail might go out a couple of days before, and if you aren't quick on the draw you'll be kicking yourself for having missed a night of Turntables on the Hudson or Rainer Truby. You are now informed that you mustn't miss tonight's guests. DJ Spinna, the foremost worldwide proselytizer of all things soulful, will be trading licks with Grand Pianoramax (listen) for the group's first D.C. show. The connection between the two? Spinna lent his remixing touch to the group's hot current single "The Hook," and he'll sit in with the band before rocking his own DJ set. The duo format leaves a lot of space for free-form excursions of straight-ahead jazz, fusion, hip-hop and broken beat. The Grand Pianoramax project is anchored by keyboardist Leo Tardin, his array of vintage synths and a rotating set of collaborators (for this show, Deantoni Parks on drums and the free verse of Celena Glenn). Before the ESL performance, the ensemble will also be doing an in-store at DJ Hut at 5 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 12
As band after band jumps on the "perform a classic album in its entirety" gravy train, we're still eyeing the trend suspiciously. Sample (cleaned-up) intra-office IM exchange:
David: I find the whole thing really stupid. It's called "seeing the band on tour when that album came out."
Fritz: It's called, "I was way too young to see Sonic Youth when 'Daydream Nation' came out." I've seen Sonic Youth in D.C. a number of times and they never do "Candle" or "Eric's Trip," so I'd go.
David: If a band did it unannounced, that's one thing. If Sonic Youth is playing a show and they do half a set, then do "Daydream Nation" for the second half of the set, that's one thing. But to be like, "We're going to play this album, in order, for you, Internet generation who feels like it deserves to have everything," that's lame.
Rhome: I'd go to a show like that, but it depends on the group. I think Public Enemy (doing "It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back") would be more entertaining than Raekwon (doing "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx").
The reason we bring this up is far more obscure. Tonight is the Black Cat's 15th anniversary, and owner Dante Ferrando's old band Gray Matter is reuniting to perform the six-song EP "Take It Back," a 20-minute slab of vinyl originally released in 1985. It's very much a product of its time, showing hints of the melodic, proto-emo sound of Dischord Records contemporaries Embrace and Rites of Spring while maintaining the aggressive punk edge vocalist/guitarist Geoff Turner, guitarist Mark Haggerty and drummer Ferrando had forged in their previous group, Iron Cross. It should be a show to remember. Opening are locals the Shirks and new hardcore band Domino Team (listen), which features a few of our favorite Black Cat staffers.)
Phasefest continues tonight with a hip-hop-tinged lineup. Headlining is Shunda K, one half of the Florida hip-hop group Yo Majesty (listen), which we've described in the past as what would happen if 2 Live Crew and J.J. Fad married and lived in the Dirty South. Closer to home, check out K. Love the Infinite (listen), whose vibe is closer to Mary J. Blige, Outkast or Erykah Badu with some go-go beats thrown in.
Saturday, Sept. 13
Between birthday parties at the 9:30 club and holiday weekend concerts at fancy hotel soirees, D.C. audiences rarely run out of chances to see Godfather of Go-Go Chuck Brown. But it's not often you have a chance to watch him play for free at the Kennedy Center. Chuck caps off the center's Open House tonight with a free concert as part of the Dancing Under the Stars series. Show up between 8 and 9 to learn some funky steps from hip-hop dance instructor Lorenzo Evans, then dance from 9 to 11 on the River Terrace.
It's time for another Guerilla Lounge at Liv and starved hip-hop heads of the city can rejoice. Asheru keeps the U Street legacy of beats, rhymes and party rocking alive with his jam session backed by his hybrid band, the ELs (which features an MPC drum machine in place of a drum kit). Keyboardist Zo is celebrating his birthday as well as a string of successful projects, from his own jazz-hop releases to work with Platinum Pied Pipers to his current '80s tribute with Phonte of Little Brother. He'll be calling on a number of his celebratory associates to add a few surprises to the improv session. You'll have to be there to see who pops up to rock the mike.
Phasefest winds up with a full day of music, drag king performances and even a how-to-lap-dance seminar. Doors open at 2:15, and the last bands don't hit the stage until after midnight. (See phasefest.com for a list of approximate set times.) Of all the performers, the two that should be highest on your radar are Partyline, the downright awesome punk band led by ex-Bratmobile/Cold Cold Hearts frontwoman Allison Wolfe (listen) and awesome folk poet and author Alix Olson. Okay, so "folk poet" isn't something we usually recommend, but Olson, a member of the famed Nuyorican Poetry Cafe's slam team and a HBO "Def Poetry" headliner, is worthy of your attention. The cover for about 11 hours of entertainment is $15.
As hard as it seems to believe, we're almost halfway to St. Patrick's Day 2009. (Where did the summer go?) And since any reason will do for a bar crawl, the "Cap-City Halfway to St. Patrick's Day Bar Tour" is taking over the area between Dupont Circle and Farragut Square today. It's pretty much a carbon copy of the organizers' other multi-stop drinking tours: 10 watering holes, including Porter's, the Front Page, Madhatter, Recessions and James Hoban's Irish Pub, are offering $2 Miller Lites, $3 Leinenkugel's and other food and drink specials between 3 and 11. Sign up at Rumors, where you'll pay $10 if you bring two cans of food for the charity Manna Food Center -- it's $13 if you don't. In case you're curious about what makes the party Irish, the answer is "green beads galore and a bagpiper." But hey, cheap beer for charity!
Sunday, Sept. 14
One of David's show-going pet peeves is when a performer says some variation of the following: "Thanks so much for coming out on a Sunday night." Why are you thanking me? Are we only expected to go out and enjoy ourselves on Fridays and Saturdays? Of course not. Bands are on tour, some shows have to be on a Sunday. There's nothing you can do about it, we understand. So San Francisco's Tussle (listen) plays the sort of funked-up electronic music that might be best suited for weekend debauchery, but the band happens to be in town on a Sunday. Don't hold it against them. Even if they are playing at Comet Ping Pong, where shows start especially late because they have to wait for diners to clear out. Extra Life (listen) will also play and Will Eastman will close things out with a DJ set. So stay out late on a Sunday, and show up late to work on Monday.
If you missed out on that Caribbean vacation for yet another year, you can immerse yourself in the sounds of some of the islands' biggest stars at Crossroads today (and on into the night) for the One Love Reggae Fest. Buju Banton and Maxi Priest top a bill that also includes the youthful, proud roots and culture of Queen Ifrica and the Rasta messages of Tarrus Riley. The performers allegedly start at 2 p.m., so don't show up too late.
-- Fritz Hahn, Rhome Anderson and David Malitz
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