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By Mary Chang
on Friday, 7th February 2014 at 4:00 pm
So you’re telling me you’ve had a stressful week, have you? Well, watch this live video of Paloma Faith in her kitchen, with her band and backing singers, performing ‘Can’t Rely on You’, her next single out on the 24th of February.
But I have left out one small detail. They are all dressed in..wait for it…dress tartan. Seriously, you can’t miss this. Handclaps and all. Watch it below.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 3rd February 2014 at 2:00 pm
For a city that’s not New York, DC has a pretty good range of different venues, of which the Hamilton sticks out as a rather unusual one. In a good way. The upstairs restaurant comes across as very Washingtonian; it’s the well-appointed, immaculately tiled, sophisticated kind of place you expect senators to dine at during power lunches. But once you head down the stairs that are gorgeously lit from below, the feeling is very different. In a quasi-dinner theatre sort of way, the Hamilton the venue makes you feel very welcome with its inviting atmosphere, and it sure beats the usual cramped and dingy places us Washington writers are used to. Last summer when they came and did a show for us there, Little Comets commented to me that the place reminded them of Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, but much more posh and pretty, which us Washingtonians can only take as a compliment.
The other two times I’ve been to the Hamilton, the advertised show was not sold out, so there wasn’t an issue with crowdedness. Not so much on the last Friday night of January for Connecticut roots rock band Bronze Radio Return. More on them in a moment. I was more interested in going to see The Falls, the Sydney-based singer/songwriter duo made up of Melinda Kirwin and Simon Rudston-Brown, who I’d seen over a year ago during the MGM/SPA Australia showcase in Sydney when I’d visited Australia to cover the inaugural ARIA Week and the 2012 ARIAs. At that show, I met a lovely woman who has since become a very good friend and actually, it was her who told me just how great the Falls were. I was not disappointed. That night in Sydney, they played with a string quartet, but in Washington and on their dates with Bronze Radio Return on the East Coast of America, it was just the two of them, which I think actually worked in their favour.
Kirwin and Rudston-Brown’s story is not one that is repeated too often. They used to be a couple some years ago, but the thing that kept them together as best friends and business partners is true testament to the power of music. Also, their genre is the folk / pop, singer/songwriter variety, which tends to be the most emotional and honest of all. All that taken together, there is no wonder why The Falls are able to craft such beautiful songs. Their voices harmonise not only well but one does not overpower the other and if I didn’t know they weren’t a couple romantically, that would be the immediate conclusion I’d draw from their sound.
While the audience did not seem familiar at all with the duo’s work, they seemed quickly enamoured by the pair’s songs, which included ‘Hollywood’, a kind of love letter to the Hollywood Hotel, where they played many of their early shows before they tasted success in Australia; the lilting voices and upbeat tempo of ‘Home’; and ‘When We Were Young’, inspired by their first visit to New York City in the winter of 2013. Kirwin’s wonderment about their recent experiences in America was delightful, as she explained that during the time before this tour, they had been doing some writing and recording in Los Angeles, living in Laurel Canyon and feeling very inspired by the great music made there, encouraging the two to cover Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’ for us. They ended with ‘Into the Fire’, the title track of their debut American EP out on the 17th of February. I look forward to hearing what they have for us next and their conquering of America’s hearts.
Prior to this show, I thought it would be a good idea for me to investigate who Bronze Radio Return were. Evidently, the folk / roots rock band are a pretty big deal in this country, having three full-length albums to their name and their video for ‘Further On’ having surpassed 250,000 views on YouTube. This left me wondering, how the heck have I never heard of them? Maybe I have missed them on local radio (?) but from my internet wanderings and looking around during the show, they seem to have a cult college (university) following here. My guess from what I heard prior to the show and actually at the show is that their music is for the Mumford followers, though you might have guessed this from the prominent banjo lined up on stage even before it was their turn to play.
From the first few measures of introductory song ‘Wonder No More’, it was clear that Bronze Radio Return had plans on turning DC into a hoedown than it’s usually used to, and the crowd ate it up, along with louder numbers like ‘Everything Moves’ and buoyant ones of the ‘Rather Not Know’ ilk. Also, judging from the excited shouts of approval sent towards lead singer Chris Henderson’s way, most of the people present had seen the band multiple times, including at this very venue. Their sound is certainly fun and upbeat, but in these post-Mumford success days, you have to wonder if they’d gotten to the American people first, they’d be the ones with the Grammys in their hands instead.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 29th January 2014 at 2:00 pm
My entertainment last Sunday night was more unique than most of the shows I usually attend: the headliners weren’t an indie band but instead were American alt-rock legends Pixies. How exactly do you review a band who means so much and on such personal terms to so many people around the world? What can be said on a purely newsworthy level is the appearance of touring female bassist and backing vocalist Paz Lenchantin, who replaced Kim Shattuck, who had been sacked by in the band back in November 2013, but who had replaced departing original bassist Kim Deal. Got all that? Good.
The opening band for the night were Los Angeles stoner skate punks FIDLAR, who I’m sure owe Pixies a lot: without them first showing that it was possible for an alt-rock band to dream of global success, there may never have been a FIDLAR, or loads of other noise punk-type bands. It was impossible to avoid the onslaught of hype surrounding the band at SXSW 2012 and to be honest, that decreased my desire to check them out, knowing everyone and their gran was going to see them in Austin. While I’m glad I finally saw them this weekend so I can say I’ve seen them, I’m still not sold. I can see that some young kids think of bands like them as kindred spirits, playing loud music that their parents don’t and will never understand, about a lifestyle they themselves know nothing about (see a similar phenomenon with Eminem’s popularity).
But is it really necessary to have songs titled ‘Cheap Beer’ and ‘Cocaine’? (Yes, not surprisingly, both songs are about partaking in those things.) ‘I Don’t Give a Fuck’ and ‘I Just Wanna Die’? (Umm…) To their credit, they played a pretty long set, which is not an easy feat if the majority of your songs are loud (vocal cord destroying) and played very fast. Unfortunately, because nearly each song was about providing a swift sonic assault to the ears, they were pretty much indistinguishable from each other to me. And I’m not sure which one of their band members it was, but the way one of them said “thank you” after the polite audience applause was hilarious, as if he was trying to be a child-sounding cartoon character.
The sold out venue filled out just prior to Pixies taking to the stage. Whenever I come to Strathmore for a gig, what always runs through my mind is, “this has got to be a strange venue for rock bands to play. They must feel really weird at this moment.” To their credit, Pixies’ live setup helped to minimise that ‘weird’ feeling so the band could have it under their control. When their crew brought out what looked like scores of television screens at the back of the stage, I expected images to be broadcast on them all night. But that would be too predictable, wouldn’t it? No, the screens actually acted more like windows, so it gave you the feeling of being onboard a spaceship. Pixies’ spaceship. Coloured lights gleamed in varying patterns, depending on the song and the mood desired. When off-white lights were used in a flashing pattern behind the screens as well as on the floor onstage, it was an unsettling scene that made you feel like the place was on fire. Less scary and much more warm blue and red lighting felt appropriate during newer ‘EP2’ track ‘Magdalena’.
True to his name, Black Francis wore a black t-shirt to the proceedings. The man, however, barely spoke a word to us all night, with Pixies preferring to launch into each and every song with renewed gusto, which was fine by the mostly middle-aged punters in attendance at Strathmore. (If you’re in the mood to hear the man being interviewed by Lammo, here’s a bit they did last autumn when the Pixies were in for a special 6music concert.) I’d never seen them before and I was taken aback by how hard they played and just how much screaming Black Francis does! Hats off to you, brother.
Predictably, the big hits – ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’, ‘Here Comes Your Man’, ‘Wave of Mutilation’, ‘Where is My Mind?’, Debaser’ in the encore – got the most attention, but I think it speaks to the band’s quality of songwriting that newer songs ‘Bagboy’ (complete with UFO-like light projections) and ‘Greens and Blues’ held their own against their years of musical legacy. After a pretty comprehensive look back at Pixies’ back catalogue, it becomes eminently clear that the band’s esteemed place in rock ‘n’ roll history is safe. No wonder so many bands these days list them as an influence.
After the cut: Pixies’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Pixies with FIDLAR at Strathmore Hall, Bethesda, MD – 26th January 2014
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 27th January 2014 at 2:00 pm
Washington is currently suffering through the coldest winter I can remember in over a decade. I’ve considered this is probably adversely affecting the turnout at shows in the Nation’s Capital. The best thing I think you can say about weekend shows, especially in the dead of such a season, is that you can fill up on booze to warm you up as necessary because you don’t have work in the morning. Judging from a quick scan of the main room at the Black Cat Saturday night and indeed, the folks right around where I was stood down the front, the drinks were flowing and everyone was in good spirits Saturday night to enjoy Basque band Delorean (yes, they named themselves after Doc Brown’s chosen mode of transport in the Back to the Future films) and their brand of Balearic / indie / house / synthpop.
Support for the night was Brooklyn by way of Montreal avant garde, electronic artist Tom Arsenault, who goes by the stage name Mas Ysa (pronounced “mas EEH-sah”). While it completely made sense for Delorean to pick another electronic artist to open for them, I wasn’t sure whether Arsenault’s music was the proper warm-up for the Spaniards. I really liked what I’d heard on Arsenault’s Web site but I was bowled over by his performance live. You might not have thought this when he arrived onstage in a sweatshirt and dress trousers, looking like a frat boy trying too hard. What exactly are we going to get from this man, I wondered? Electronic artists tend to be smaller, slighter; this guy looked as imposing as a bouncer. However, as the man became more comfortable (or maybe he was just too hot, because there were too many people in the room or his adrenaline was pumping) he started shedding his layers, eventually revealing a dark t-shirt advertising the headliner’s American label True Panther, which was met with cheers of approval from the audience.
I think it’s safe to say that tortured vocals tend to only really work with singer/songwriters and folk artists, yet such vocals from Arsenault, paired off with either angelic sounding choirs or heavy dance beats, work surprisingly well all together. If you were to read the lyrics off your computer screen, you might be misled into thinking they were from some groan-worthy r&b artist trying to pick up chicks. However, in Arsenault’s emotional delivery, they come across far more sincere. His in-between song banter is also endearing; you could just tell that he was every bit boy next door and not a pretentious artiste at all. He joked after the first song, an instrumental number, “I will get my one joke over with. That last song was political. Politically charged!” Laughter. (This is Washington, DC, after all.) Nearer to the end of the set, he has all of us giggling when he insisted in a deadpan manner, “I wrote this next song”, as if he hadn’t written all of those that came before. Funny. I’m usually not enamoured with solo electro artists standing in front of a bunch of equipment, but I have to say Mas Ysa is certainly unusual.
The four members of Delorean came on at their appointed time of 11 PM, and as should be expected, there were plenty of electronics onstage that would be well utilised during their set. There was some kind of main controller in the centre of the stage that was running a programme called “ARABIC2″, though a couple of us down the front wondered what that meant. I have been waiting quite a while to see this Spanish band and maybe it’s their usual way, but I felt that much more audience interaction facilitated by singer and bassist Ekhi Lopetegi would have gone a long way in making the experience more personal. That said, no-one around me seemed to care for this minor quibble, as one great dance song oozed into another, generally without pause and no words spoken in between.
It was a good set and certainly one that our weary bones, chilled from the long, cold winter, appreciated. The girls next to me had the right idea, wearing sleeveless dresses far more appropriate for the sticky, boiling 35+ degree summers we are so famous for in DC than the subfreezing temperatures we are currently facing. Keyboardist Unai Lazcano was clearly having a ball, rocking the stand that precariously held his Nord from side to side like it was a rocking chair; I was so worried that at one point we’d be witnessing an expensive keyboard wipeout and tears would be shed, but I guess the man has mad skills!
Generally speaking, I think all us dance music lovers know that the words aren’t usually a dance band’s strong suit. Whether or not it was done on purpose, the vocal mix was muddy. I’m all about educating the next generation about good music, so I’d brought along my cousin’s daughter to expose her to music she might not ordinarily listen to, and even she noted that Lopetegi’s vocals were hard to understand. We talked about this and I considered maybe that was the point, that the band wanted us to focus on the music they were weaving onstage and less on the words? Based on the happy faces that surrounded us as the band launched into early tropical hit ‘Stay Close’, the video I included when I wrote this Bands to Watch feature on them in 2010, I can say that on Saturday night, that really didn’t matter.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 21st January 2014 at 4:00 pm
French Web site La Blogotheque recently filmed this performance of Broken Bells – Dangermouse (Brian Burton) and James Mercer – performing acoustically with just piano, guitar and vocals in a piano shop in Paris. They play new song ‘The Changing Lights’ from their long-awaited second album ‘After the Disco’ to be released on Columbia, now pushed back to the 3rd of February. There’s something so elegant about the duo being filmed in black and white too. Watch the performance below.
Art-disco quartet CYMBALS have announced a short string of tour dates to follow up the release of their third album, ‘The Age of Fracture’, coming up on the 27th of January on Tough Love Records. Preview the album’s first track, ‘Winter ’98′, below the tour date listing.
Tuesday 4th February 2014 – London Electrowerkz
Thursday 6th February 2014 – Belfast Limelight
Friday 7th February 2014 – Dublin Workman’s Club
Saturday 8th February 2014 – Cork Cyprus Avenue