Live Last Night Power Rankings: Kurt Vile, Two Cow Garage, The Duke & The King, more
A quick roundup and ranking of all the shows I saw in the past week.
1. Kurt Vile, Talking Head (Baltimore), Tuesday
Kurt Vile has played exactly one show in D.C. this year. Last Tuesday was the sixth time I've seen him. It doesn't take a math genius to figure out I'm a bit obsessed. But his performance at Baltimore's Talking Head Club was a perfect example of why he's worth catching so often -- it's great and different every time. Save for the pair of performances I caught in Austin at SXSW each show has been unique. Full band, solo, different members, headliner, support act, etc. Whatever the situation, Vile manages to be nothing less than captivating.
Some bands (Future of the Left, local punks the Points, for example) are great because you know exactly what you're going to get and they deliver every time. There's something to be said for going in with the full expectation of being blasted with ear-shattering, all-attitude rock-and-roll and having those expectations met. But Vile's grab bag approach is maybe a bit more exciting. Did I expect him to have a giant harp as part of his band on Tuesday? Nope. Did it work? Shockingly well.
Last week's show was the best of both worlds and showed exactly why his Matador debut, out in October, has got lots of people excited. First he played sparkling, solo acoustic mini-set full of finger-picked folk songs and laidback strummers. The first one, "He's All Right," from his forthcoming Matador Records debut "Childish Prodigy," is the kind of song Vile specializes in, conveying a sort of everyman mysticism. "I was a geezer just last night/Watching TV though not understanding anything/I scrape my face on the clouds every time I get out," he sang.
A makeshift version of his backing band, the Violators, took the stage for the final four songs of the set. This wasn't the full-on rock assault Violators; this was the version of the giant harp Violators. The full-on rock version that was on display on Austin, and also at a show I saw in New York last month, is an often-sludgy, triple-guitar attack band that drones with the best of them. This time ... again, there was a giant harp. So it was mellow, especially on "Breathin Out" which glided along in a very Galaxie 500 kind of way. The set ended with "Space Forklift," which morphed from a spacey jam into a droning rocker with Vile shouting the chorus, which is whispered on the recorded version, as the din behind him reached its loudest point of the evening.
Vile and the full-on rock version of the Violators will be at the Black Cat on Nov. 5.
(More after the jump.)
2. Two Cow Garage, DC9, Wednesday
Two Cow Garage, from Columbus, Ohio, is sort of like the Hold Steady minus a hundred (OK, maybe 150) or so verbal SAT points and that increasingly-annoying need to "stay positive." It's bar-band rock, songs about drinking beer and smoking cigarettes by dudes who surely drink a lot of beer and smoke their fair share of cigarettes. It was rough around the edges but never sloppy and the band was genuinely thrilled to be playing for a crowd of approximately 30 people. It was an invigorating show. Check out the Liner Notes feature Express Night Out did with the band.
3. The Duke & The King, Iota, Sunday
Bad timing for the band on this one. The Duke & the King features Simone Felice, former drummer of the Felice Brothers, getting out from behind the kit and taking center stage for a hushed folk thing. It just so happened that his old band was playing as part of the Route 29 Revue the same night, along with the likes of Levon Helm, Old Crow Medicine Show and Iron & Wine up at Merriweather Post Pavilion. So this was another show with a small crowd, but once again the band was in a great mood, maybe because it was the final night of the tour. The sleepy sound of the album was greatly enhanced by an additional drummer and violinist, and when everyone sang in unison it was more folk-gospel-soul than the '70s AM folk on the album. Felice also has plenty of frontman charisma and is a solid storyteller. A band to keep an eye on.
4. The Pretenders, Warner Theatre, Friday
Chrissie Hynde is still cool, the Pretenders hits still sound excellent. You can read the review linked there. I forgot just how many hits there actually were until they kept popping up in the set list.
The opening act was Cat Power and it was a pretty drab 45 minutes, which was too bad. Chan Marshall insisted on hiding in the dark for the entirety of the band's set, which just seemed cruel. "Spotlight!" the disgruntled baby boomers kept yelling. She refused, staying in the dark. It fit the tunes, which were all funereal dirges, rarely building up anything resembling a head of steam. Marshall still has that sexy, smoky voice but there simply wasn't much to grab onto. The highlight, by far, was drummer Jim White, whose dynamic playing gave the songs more character than Marhsall's pretty-but-indecipherable-moaning. It's been a real treat to be able to see him play with Bonnie "Prince" Billy back in May and with Cat Power over the weekend.
5. NOMO, DC9, Monday
NOMO reliably brings the Afrobeat/funk/psych jams every time it plays. It's hot music, so it was fitting that it was very, very sweaty inside a packed DC9. (See, sometimes I go to shows that other people go to.) Jonathan Fischer wrote a very nice review for the City Paper blog, Black Plastic Bag, that says pretty much everything I would say, with many more references to cool bands.
6. Starlight Mints, Rock and Roll Hotel, Saturday
This Oklahoma City band had a great debut album in 2000 called "The Dreams Stuff Are Made Of." As the Flaming Lips entered the post-guitar phase of their career, it seemed their statemates were picking up the slack with carnival-esque indie rock. I lost track of them for a while so it was nice to see that they are still playing quirky, swirling tunes that are equally weird and catchy without resorting to gimmickry. After the Mints came Atlanta's Gringo Star, who traded instruments after every song and played sprightly, throwback '60s garage-pop.
7. Bat For Lashes, 9:30 Club, Saturday
It was just kind of boring, honestly. Lots of style, not much substance. There were plenty of interesting moments, but they were usually brief and fleeting. There were also a whoooooole bunch of very chatty young ladies who were there because ... well, it's hard to say. For a more positive take on the show, Fischer covered it for Black Plastic Bag. I think he may be stalking me.
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