I Turn My Camera On: The Hold Steady, Thao Nguyen and more

There were at least half a dozen worthwhile shows in and around D.C. last night. I made it to a pair and our intrepid photographer, Kyle Gustafson, managed make it to four. He snapped away so you can see what you missed, or maybe relive what you saw.

The Hold Steady
What can I say about the Hold Steady that I haven't already said? Oh, probably about 20,000 words worth. But I'll just offer a few observations this time around.

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--The Hold Steady broke one of my rules by starting with the first song off their most recent album but I let them off the hook. Why? If your entrance song is Nick Lowe's "So It Goes," you can play whatever you want as an opener.

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--Craig Finn actually put down the guitar for a handful of songs, instead of wearing it as a backpack (as seen above). I'd like to think he was simply heeding my advice. It worked out pretty well, as I thought it would, although I was thinking there would be more crazy hand gestures/getting in the audience's face as opposed to bizarre calisthenics/dances. And I'll never get tired of watching him bark like a madman even when he's nowhere near a microphone.

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--I thought this show was an improvement over last November's show. The setlist traded a whole lot of "Separation Sunday" for "Stay Positive," which on the surface isn't necessarily a good thing but the band seemed energized by the newer songs and was having an extra good time on the last night of the tour. There was a crazy deep cut surprise with "Curves & Nerves," a bonus track from an import version of the band's debut, "Almost Killed Me." After an impressive run-through, with Finn nailing the timing of lines like "Holly went to Hollywood/It looked nothing like she thought it would" thanks to not playing guitar, he claimed it was the first ever successful version of the song. Nice treat.

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--The main reason I've found the Hold Steady so fascinating was because for a while they existed in their own world. Craig Finn created a unique universe with his lyrics; I felt like I knew more about Hallelujah and Gideon than I knew about most friends of mine. The last two albums have been more streamlined, both musically and lyrically. The band has emerged from its own little world and entered a world where guys with backwards hats sing along next to 60-somethings with scraggly beards. (Balcony, stage right last night.) And you know, the world is a better place for it. So go forth, Hold Steady. Keep spreading the gospel.

Thao Nguyen
On a non-Hold Steady night I would've been at the Black Cat to check out Thao Nguyen with the Get Down Stay Down. No doubt her album "We Brave Be Stings and All" will find a place on my year-end Top 10 list, and I'm sure this show was as fun as the one Patrick Foster reviewed back in January.

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Jana Hunter
Downstairs on the Black Cat's backstage was Jana Hunter. Back in 2006 she might've been called freak-folk but now she's just a sort of enchanting singer-songwriter. Next time, pick a less busy night to play in D.C., OK?

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Title Tracks
The final night of the Fort Reno concert series afforded the first look at Title Tracks, the post-Georgie James outfit fronted by John Davis. You have to love the castle in the background of that first picture. And you also have to love the shot of drummer Andrew Black, an all-around great dude and probably the only guy in the world who could have gotten me to go see Braid back in the day. Man, I can't believe that was 10 years ago!

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Not Pictured: Sufimonkey Trio
After the Hold Steady was done I went around the corner to the Velvet Lounge, to catch the SufiMonkey Trio, featuring Richard Lloyd and Billy Ficca, who at one point comprised half of Television, one of the great band's of New York's 1970s CBGB's punk scene. I can't give first hand accounts of all of Thursday's shows, but I feel confident in saying this one was the best of the bunch. I was pretty shocked, because the Television reunion show that came to the 9:30 club a handful of years ago was mostly flat and boring. But Lloyd and Ficca in a power trio was simply astounding. Lloyd is a real life guitar hero, the kind of guy who can rip off extended killer solos but never sound wanky while doing it. They band has an album of Hendrix covers coming out next year and played smoking versions of "Purple Haze" and "Spanish Castle Magic," "Are You Experienced?" among others. The set also featured a trio of Television classics -- "Friction," "Elevation" and "See No Evil" and they all rocked with great authority. It was a rare treat to see a master up close. The couple dozen other people in the crowd (come on, people) surely agreed.

By David Malitz |  August 15, 2008; 4:27 PM ET Hold Steady , Live Last Night , Pictures
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Comments

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I love Thao's album and was at the show last night. She seemed happy to be in DC, but I think the rigors of a long tour were starting to get to her. Also, I think she would benefit from a larger line up, rather than a 3 piece. That said, her charm and passion were infectious, her voice as unique as on album and her stage antics and banter really engaging. She will be in my top 10 as well.

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Posted by: Sean B | August 15, 2008 5:00 PM

I agree, watching Finn "bark like a madman when he is nowhere near a microphone" is about as entertaining a live rock gets. I really enjoyed the show. The crowd, not so much...
Great pictures, by the way.

Posted by: sacklunch | August 17, 2008 8:14 PM

It sucks that the kids get so drunk for the Hold Steady shows. They probably won't even remember that they have seen one of the greatest live acts around...

Posted by: DCGuy | August 18, 2008 12:43 PM

Wow, Thursday night was really an embarrassment of riches. You missed some boner jokes and beatboxing at Thao's show. I agree she was at her best with a bigger lineup, when the opening band joined her for Feet Asleep.

I'm bummed I missed out on the crazy hand gestures.

Posted by: shf | August 18, 2008 3:37 PM

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