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Posted at 5:37 PM ET, 12/ 7/2010

Nightlife Agenda: Holiday parties, EPMD and '90s dance grooves

By Fritz Hahn, Rhome Anderson and David Malitz

Trailblazing hip-hop duo EPMD visits Liv this weekend. (Photo by Danny Clinch)

Holiday season kicks into gear this week with Duke Ellington's "Nutcracker Suite," a seasonal cocktail class taught by top mixologists, ugly-sweater parties and a ski-themed '80s bash. But there's also hip-hop legends EPMD, a new home for popular all-'90s dance party Peach Pit, Russ Parr and DJ Sixth Sense's "Wrong Songs" party, a whiskey tasting, an appearance by DFA Records stalwart The Juan MacLean, five hours of pure funk at U Street Music Hall, voodoo at Nerd Nite and much more.

Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday | Monday | Tuesday

Wednesday, Dec. 8
Christmas music hit the radio the day after Thanksgiving, and we're willing to bet you can feel your blood boil whenever you hear the first notes of Mariah Carey's "Oh Santa!" That's okay. We have the perfect solution, with a Washington twist. Back in 1960, our own Duke Ellington decided to jazz up Tchaikovsky's familiar "Nutcracker Suite," adding plenty of swinging holiday joy and rechristening several songs -- "Dance of the Reed Pipes" became "Toot Toot Tootie Toot"; "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" evolved into "Sugar Rum Cherry." In one of our favorite local holiday traditions, local trombonist Eric Felten leads his big band though Ellington's entire suite at Blues Alley, and throws in a few seasonal jazzy standards. The 8 p.m. show is already sold out, so move quickly for seats at 10 p.m.

We're in the middle of D.C. Whiskey Week. Surprised? You probably are -- it hasn't been as well publicized as D.C. Beer Week, for example, and has nowhere near as many events. (On the other hand, some tastings, including those at Tabard Inn and the Gibson, sold out very quickly once word got out.) One event that's open to the public is the Craft Distiller's Expo at Bourbon, which features a chance to sample small-batch bourbons from High West, Redemption Rye and other boutique labels. Admission is $10, which includes "plenty of free samples," says High West's Troy Karnes, plus free sliders to snack on. Whiskey cocktails will be for sale. Doors open at 8:30, and the tasting runs until 11.

Carol Bui disappeared from the local music scene for a while, but she's back with a vengeance with her new single, "Mira You're Free With Me." It's a ferocious rocker, with the slashing guitars and bellowing vocals that have become her trademark. This time around, it all sounds sharper, more focused and more urgent, which bodes extremely well for the upcoming full-length, "Red Ship," due out in March. Kristeen Young and Lucia Lucia open on the Black Cat's backstage.

Thursday, Dec. 9
For the last year, the monthly Peach Pit dance party at Dahlak has kept crowds dancing to the Fugees, the Breeders, the Spice Girls and dozens of other '90s artists. But starting this week, DJ Matt Bailer is carting his Deee-Lite and Color Me Badd records to Liv every month. (This is at least as big a move as when the Walshes left snowy Minneapolis for sunny "Beverly Hills, 90210.") Everything fans have come to expect will remain the same: There's no cover charge and no dress code, and it's open to everyone 18 and older. Bailer, who also spins at the nomadic Mixtape DJ night and rocked the last Hirshhorn After Hours event, will be joined by DJ Trevor Martin for this housewarming party.

Some of the hottest parties -- and most crowded -- we've been to in D.C. have featured DJ Sixth Sense spinning "Wrong Songs" as he does on Russ Parr's wildly popular morning radio show. These aren't "wrong" because they're bad but because they're the kind of old-school joints and throwback dance tunes that get shuffled off radio playlists in favor of the same-old Top 40 hip-hop and R&B. That, naturally, translates well to the club scene, especially for anyone looking for something different. Russ Parr and Sixth Sense are featured at the Park at 14th this week, though the "host" is actually model-actor Tyson Beckford. Get $5 drinks from 5 to 10 and free admission with an RSVP to TheParkThursday@usualsuspectz.com.

AfroCuba! takes a standard salsa night and goes deeper, bringing in the live Cuban drums and exposing attendees to rumba, timba and guanguanco. DJ Asho rocks the last AfroCuba! for 2010 at Sutra. Rueda dancers are also welcome to do their thing on the expansive wood floor.

Buke & Gass is a duo, but the members are named Arone Dyler and Aron Sanchez. The band is named after the instruments it favors, a pair of homemade creations -- a six-string baritone ukulele and guitar-bass hybrid. The two also bang and stomp on stuff to create percussion, but its songs somehow never come off as reliant on gimmicks, as there's as much care given to songwriting and instrument making, as they deftly shift from pretty folk songs to thumping rockers. Talk Normal and Hammer No More the Fingers round out the solid bill at Rock & Roll Hotel.

Friday, Dec. 10
The Red Palace has emerged from the combination of the Palace of Wonders and the neighboring Red and the Black bar. Some things feel kind of awkward -- to get to the upstairs stage, you have to walk through the former Palace of Wonders ground-floor bar, which turns into a makeshift dancefloor when there's a DJ down there. But the upstairs, which has its own bar, is a much larger space to see bands and, in the Palace tradition, burlesque. Here's a perfect excuse to check out a show: New York burlesque promoter Casino O'Fortune Cookie -- run by dancers Anita Cookie and Clams Casino -- is bringing some Big Apple naughtiness to H Street for the All-Star Burlesque Birthday Bash. (Baltimore's Kay Sera is repping for the locals.) Expect music, audience participation games and other fun between performers. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door.

Fact number one: No one did funk like James Brown. Fact number two: Scientists have shown that only really, really uncool people can keep their booty off the dance floor when a James Brown song is playing. Fact three: Harry Hotter, Jerome Baker III, James Nasty and Johnny Blaze -- all solid DJs in their own right -- are hosting an all-James Brown dance party at U Street Music Hall between 5 and 10. You'll hear music by the Godfather himself, spin-off groups and even hip-hop songs that sampled James Brown songs. And you will dance like you have ants in your pants, you will get up offa that thing and dance until you feel better, and you will be inspired to do the James Brown. And none of this will cost you a cent.

U Street Music Hall's Red Fridays remains one of the city's best nightlife bargains. Named in tribute to the beloved, shuttered underground house music spot, the weekly event carries on the tradition of pretense-free dance music in the District's most exciting new club, and if you show up before 11 p.m., there's no cover (as long as you're over 21; if you're underage or show up late, it's $10 to get in). The talent the club brings in is always top-notch, and Friday is no different with The Juan MacLean hitting the decks. When he spins this weekend, expect less pop overtones and more hard-hitting Detroit techno or Chicago house.

Keyboardist and producer Zo's unveiling at U Street Music Hall jammed the space with eager fans excited to hear his "SunStorm" album come to life. He's moving to a bigger room to accommodate the devotees to his R&B and jazz fusion. Pairing Zo with Southern soul siren N'Dambi, this evening at the Black Cat is one you don't want to catch solely on YouTube videos the next day.

Saturday, Dec. 11
Erick Sermon had the slow flow, and Parrish Smith employed an urgent hard-core delivery. That contrast, combined with beefy funk samples, generated timeless hip-hop classics and enshrined EPMD as one of the best duos in rap history. Coming out of a fertile era of hip-hop, where so many freshmen eventually earned professor emeritus status, EPMD delivered four consecutive albums of bangers -- "You Gots to Chill," "So Wat Cha Sayin'," "Gold Digger" and "Crossover" -- and introduced the world to Redman, Keith Murray and Das EFX before the inevitable breakup and reunion cycle. Since the Rock the Bells festival brought them back together in 2006, Erick and Parrish continue to ride a wave of golden-age fan support, so expect a big crowd at Liv.

Nerd Nite is back at the Red Palace this month, and the topics are, as usual, all over the map. Head to a bar on a Saturday night and come out knowing more about weird things that happen after brain injuries (and how they've furthered scientific research), hear a marine biologist talk about how invasive species destroy ecosystems and, perhaps most interesting at all, learn about voodoo from a woman who worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo and went on to earn her master's degree in public health by writing about the use of voodoo as alternative medicine. In between the half-hour presentations, Sgt Dunbar and the Hobo Banned perform. Doors open at 6:30; nerding out begins at 7. Because most previous events have sold out, we recommend purchasing tickets in advance.

Last year, this column got all excited about Slalom, an all-'80s dance party with a vintage skiwear dress code inspired by Wham's iconic holiday-in-Switzerland video for "Last Christmas." (If you haven't seen it in years, you owe it to yourself to click on this link, at least for fashion inspiration.) The party was everything we thought it would be, complete with an airing of "Do They Know It's Christmas" and plenty of folks wearing gaudy '80s sweaters. Get ready for round two -- well, "Slalom II: Ski Bunny Boogaloo" at Dahlak. It's free, it starts at 10 and will be beyond rad.

Sunday, Dec. 12
If you're hosting a holiday party this year, you have two options: Set out a bunch of bottles on a table and let your guests have at it, or wow them by whipping up some fancy new seasonal cocktails and punches. You can learn from the best -- Derek Brown of the Columbia Room, Gina Chersevani of PS 7's, Jerry LeNoir of Mr-Booze.com and Phil Greene of the Museum of the American Cocktail -- at a special holiday cocktail class at PS 7's. Tickets include samples of a half-dozen cocktails and free appetizers.

Hot on the heels of its awesome pie contest a few weeks back, the Pharmacy Bar is hosting what sounds like one of the year's coolest holiday parties. The evening includes an ugly holiday sweater contest, spiked eggnog and apple cider, giveaways, a raffle and a photobooth so you can preserve your memories of the evening forever. (Also because you might not have any the next day.) There's no cover.

Monday, Dec. 13
There aren't too many pure spitters left in the hip-hop game, and some of them are currently masquerading as flavor-of-the-month rappers to keep their profiles up and please fickle attention spans. When it comes to wordplay, imagery, density and flow, eLZhi has long been an emcee's emcee. Formerly a member of Slum Village, eLZhi represents a peer group of hardcore Detroit verbalists like Royce da 5'9", Proof and Guilty Simpson. eLZhi joins a squad of D.C.'s best underground talent at Liv's Cake & Kisses hip-hop showcase.

Tuesday, Dec. 14
More than a decade after the Beta Band became U.K. breakout stars for its unique combination of electronic, folk and experimental rock sounds, former frontman Steve Mason has really simplified things. After his former band fizzled out and subsequent projects failed to gain traction, he is touring in support of his solo debut, "Boys Outside." It's a relatively straightforward affair, with the experimentation largely stripped away in favor of folk-pop with some electronic flourishes. Rarely does an album this straightforward sound like such a left turn. Catch Mason at the Red Palace.

-- Fritz Hahn, Rhome Anderson and David Malitz

By Fritz Hahn, Rhome Anderson and David Malitz  | December 7, 2010; 5:37 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs, Events, Music  
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