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Live Review: Mansionair with Beacon at U Street Music Hall, Washington, DC – 20th March 2019

 
By on Tuesday, 2nd April 2019 at 2:00 pm
 

Header photo and photos of Mansionair and Beacon throughout article by guest photographer Patrick Ryan

On the first day of spring 2019, we had a visit from one of the brightest rising bands from Down Under. Jack Froggatt, Lachlan Bostock and Alex Nicholls, collectively known as the evocatively named Mansionair, were in the latter days of a North American headline tour, their first major one, which included a series of appearances at SXSW 2019. (Read my review of their appearance at Clive Bar Thursday afternoon at Next Level Apparel’s day showcase through this link.) The Sydney band’s previous visit to Washington was as part of the 2018 Sirius XM Advanced Placement Tour with NoMBE and Mikky Ekko last April. A few weeks later, they also appeared at the ATC Live showcase at Brighton Komedia Thursday night at The Great Escape 2018.

Joining Mansionair on their cross-country jaunt were Ghostly International’s Beacon, a electronic duo originally from and based in Brooklyn. They’ve been around for a while – their third album, ‘Gravity Pairs’, was released last November – but this is the first I’ve heard of them. What a coup to be touring with another band with a similar sonic palette. Don’t let looks fool you: Thomas Mullarney may have long hair that goes way past his shoulders and would be more appropriate for a hard rock or grunge band, his soulful vocals are intended to be gentle and completely complementary to the soundscapes he and Jacob Gossett have crafted.

Beacon, by Patrick M. Ryan

Live, they rely on programmed beats instead of a drummer but wonderfully, their live presence isn’t at all static or boring. What you witness is an energetic performance that hits the spot for electronic and pop fans alike. True, their chosen lighting scheme leaves a lot to be desired if you’re trying to photograph them. However, you could also argue that the dark, rave-like stage environment is intended to focus the punter’s attention squarely on the music. Check out their rhythmically beguiling Spotify hit ‘Bring You Back’ and the darker ‘IM U’.

Beacon, by Patrick M. Ryan

Mansionair signed to star maker American record label Glassnote Records in 2015, so to say that I have been impatiently waiting for a debut album would be an understatement. From this article from Australian outlet The Music, one can gather that the delays have been attributed the group’s tiring touring schedule but also not feeling confident in their songwriting ability. I’m glad they finally came up with a way forward that worked: holing themselves up in a secluded cabin in California, away from everyone else and their opinions, to hunker down and write the album that they were proud of. Their debut LP ‘Shadowboxer’, which dropped on Glassnote in February, is a 16-track collection of songs celebrating their past single successes, interspersed with fresh tunes that fit perfectly into their electropop aesthetic.

Jack Froggatt of Mansionair, by Patrick M. Ryan

In case you have somehow missed the genesis of Mansionair, let me bring you up to date. Bostock, the electronica pedant of the group, hooked up with Nicholls, a jazz drummer. Bostock met the then-folk singer/songwriter Froggatt at a music festival and invited him to contribute vocals to an electronic track that would become their 2016 single hit ‘Hold Me Down’. Froggatt’s vocals are incredibly effective in conveying emotion, whether it be through his sultry falsetto, bombastic power and everything in between. Combined with Bostock’s electronic, guitar and bass and Nicholls’ drumming contributions, what you end up with are dynamic, emotional, engaging songs never to be forgotten.

Lachlan Bostock of Mansionair, by Patrick M. Ryan

The greatest failing of most pop bands these days is the homogeneity of their songs. Enter ‘Falling’, a great example of what exactly you wouldn’t expect from 21st century electropop: a sweet, floating, major key ballad that thoughtfully considers the people who support us through our ups and downs and coming to terms with the trials we go through in life. On this night, Mansionair followed it with ‘Easier’, an older single that wowed me live at BIGSOUND 2017 in Brisbane. Booming with a syncopated melody, spurts of percussion and compressed synths, it’s a song that successfully translates the feeling of paralysis you feel when battling with what’s going on inside your head. Indeed, what ‘Shadowboxer’ does incredibly well is communicate the mental struggles with anxiety and insecurity we all go through and offer that sense of understanding to the listener that we aren’t suffering alone.

Lachlan Bostock and Alex Nicholls of Mansionair, by Patrick M. Ryan

On the new song side of things, ‘Harlem’ shows off the band’s penchant for film soundtracks. It’s a driving, beautiful soundscape that lets each band member shine, while the sum of its parts draw you into this world. ‘Best Behaviour’, which appeared as the penultimate track of their set, puts the electronic chords and vibrations front and centre and ahead of Froggatt’s sultry vocals. The result? You feel like you’re being enveloped, cocooned by the synths, while the song works towards its ending crescendo, any insecurities falling away. Through words, synths and rhythms, Mansionair create a world where your dreams and fears can be addressed and you know you’re not alone. When you come out of it, you come out stronger and know you’re gonna be okay. All my past coverage on Mansionair on TGTF is through here.

After the cut: Mansionair’s set list for the night.
Continue reading Live Review: Mansionair with Beacon at U Street Music Hall, Washington, DC – 20th March 2019

 

Live Review: The Twilight Sad at U Street Music Hall, Washington, DC – 3rd November 2018

 
By on Wednesday, 7th November 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

The closer we march to Christmas, the quicker the nights fall. On one of these chilly nights, The Twilight Sad descended on the Nation’s Capital to close out their 3-week North American tour with a bang. Despite the chill in the air outside, the basement venue U Street Music Hall played host to a sweaty mass of people eager to catch the Scottish post-punks before they returned home.

At first, I thought it was a strange thing to tour over here so far in advance of the release of their next album, which isn’t expected until early 2019. However, as the set progressed, standing among so many fans and their fervour, the thought evaporated. They were out here because of fan demand; their fanbase has undoubtedly increased since Robert Smith’s personal endorsement of the band and the Cure taking the band on tour with them. Frontman James Graham cracked a joke about us having nothing better to do on a Saturday night than see them but that they were awfully glad we turned up. Laughter ensued.

Since 2007 debut LP ‘Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters’, The Twilight Sad’s sound has morphed and evolved a few times, and the stage setup reflected this. A Macbook and two keyboards would have been unheard of at Twilight Sad shows a decade ago. With a massive back catalogue of tracks across four albums and a host of singles and EPs, there was plenty of material to choose from for their final set on this tour. The evening began with ‘There’s a Girl in the Corner’, its sombre tones opening ‘Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave’, which was met with pretty much universal acclaim when unveiled in 2014.

The Twilight Sad 2018 3

Throughout the set, the band’s trademark distorted guitars and Graham’s cutting, emotional lyrics delivered in his unmistakable Scottish brogue. At times, he looked like a man possessed, spinning like a whirling dervish or even punching himself in the head or chest, all the while the band banged out the hard-hitting tunes. For the long-time fans, older gems like ‘The Wrong Car’ and ‘And She Would Darken the Memory’ that closed the set with a deafening crescendo recalled the days when The Twilight Sad were a best-kept secret. In contrast, newer songs including single ‘I/m Not Here [missing face]’ and ‘Videograms’, whose glittery synths have been likened to that of The Cure’s, suggest the ushering in of a new era for the Scots, during which their music proves more accessible, is imminent. In the crowd, heads bopped, limbs flailed and words were sung along to.

Scottish indie music fans in the room Saturday night were waiting, quite possibly bracing themselves, too, for a particularly heart-wrenching moment that the band have repeated in their live shows over the last 6 months. Since his sad, untimely death by suicide in May, Scott Hutchison’s passing has been an apparition in our lives, a regular reminder of the fragility of humanity and the need for all of us to talk more, listen more and support our mates through difficult times. By playing ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ every night, The Twilight Sad pay tribute to their close friend Hutchison, a song true to form for so many of the songs he wrote, expressing the kinds of things adult men have been told not to say aloud or to others. Graham explained that they needed to move up the song’s placement in the set “for themselves”, presumedly so they could get past it the emotions and get back to the business of playing for us. In the audience, glasses were raised and tears were wiped away.

When it came time to say goodnight, Graham thanked the crowd again for coming to the show and that for sure, they’d be back in Washington in due time. And really, why would they stay away with a turnout like this? Stay tuned for The Twilight Sad’s fifth studio album ‘It Won/t Be Like This All the Time’, which is expected to drop on the 18th of January 2019 on Rock Action Records.

The Twilight Sad 2018 5

 

Live Review: Dermot Kennedy at Black Cat, Washington, DC – 26th October 2018

 
By on Monday, 5th November 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

I’ve been delayed in writing this, but I doubt it will affect this artist’s meteoric rise. The hottest ticket in town 10 night ago in DC was Dermot Kennedy, making his Washington debut at the main stage of the Black Cat. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Irish singer/songwriter in his early twenties has been receiving plaudits across the board since his awe-inspiring appearances in Austin in March for SXSW 2018, which we previewed with this Bands to Watch. Both Carrie and I were left spellbound at Kennedy’s star turn at Communion’s Friday night showcase at St. David’s Sanctuary, where his soulful voice and booming background instrumentation rang out beautifully, heightened in emotion by the acoustics in the church.

Interestingly, it turns out Kennedy’s reach, so to speak, began much earlier than that. Taylor Swift was an early fan of the Dubliner’s track ‘Boston’, inspired after the city in New England. At age 18, he spent a summer busking, saving money and working towards his first record release. The Tay Tay endorsement likely explains the relative youngness of his fanbase, doesn’t it? Seven years later, he’s on his first significant North American tour, selling out in most markets, and this is merely the touring leg on our continent. Crazily, come January, he’ll be touring in Australia, accompanied by Newcastle’s Sam Fender. You couldn’t find a better pair of thoughtful, young artists, both willing to touch on tough topics in their music, to tour together.

Regardless of how his many fans in Washington found out about him, it was clear from the time I arrived at the Cat that they were very, very enthusiastic. Halfway towards the stage, the bodies were all pretty much packed in like sardines. Shoulder to shoulder, the lack of air got so bad I had step back out of the crowd, something I have only done on a handful of occasions.

As part of an ongoing transition to culminate in the closing of the Red Room Bar and downstairs smaller event room at the end of 2018, the main stage area has been renovated to include a VIP seating area where one of the bars used to be. We lucked out with two chairs in the relocated second bar, which afforded us a view up and over the heads of the assembled crowd. As weird as this felt – I haven’t sat in the back of this space since I was forced to by a friend who came with me to see We Are Scientists in 2008 – it gave me a different, unique perspective from which to enjoy the show and people watch. In honour of my friend Robin who runs the exemplary Breaking More Waves and who likes this format for festival reporting, I’ve written my ‘what we’ve learned’ list from this show:

1. Kennedy hasn’t released a full album yet. However, that hasn’t stopped his fans from learning every word from every song that he’s ever played live. ‘Glory’, which has passed 19 million streams on Spotify, garnered the most fervent reaction, Kennedy extending the song out in response.

2. Some fans who wanted to be closer to a source of alcohol (ha) stood behind us in the bar area. They took photos and videos and screamed and shouted overtures of love, as if we were at a One Direction concert. I repeat: Dermot Kennedy has enthusiastic fans!

3. A lot of couples decided to move back from the crowd, too, but to make out, and quite enthusiastically. I hadn’t thought that Kennedy’s music ran to the amorous end of the spectrum, but there you have it.

While this was only one of Kennedy’s many live appearances on his current Keep the Evenings Long tour, it was without a doubt a very special night for everyone in DC who came out to see him. It’s a memory we will all hold as he moves on his career and to better and brighter things. To read all of our past coverage on him here on TGTF, including a post highlighting his NPR Tiny Desk Concert earlier this year, go here.

 

Live Review: We Were Promised Jetpacks at 9:30 Club, Washington, DC – 23rd October 2018

 
By on Thursday, 25th October 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

Nine years ago, a lifetime ago, Brighton’s FatCat Records sponsored a tour of their then-shining stars from their roster. While the top of the bill starred two bands with more established careers, the opening band was riding high on a wave of hype here in America. The oddly and improbably named We Were Promised Jetpacks were greeted by raucous cheers from our local college students. Sadly, my review of the night for American blog PopWreckoning has been lost to the ether; you’ll have to read about it in this Washington Post Express article instead. No matter: How could I forget the raw energy of the band’s performance, bolstered by frontman Adam Thompson’s shouty, emphatic vocals? I hadn’t seen the band live since 2011, and I’m happy to report following their show at 9:30 Club on Tuesday that the Glasgow via Edinburgh rockers haven’t lost their edge or their penchant for drawing out anticipation through noodley post-rock instrumentals.

Even after four studio albums and numerous world tours, it appears the vocal fan approval continues to be overwhelming to a band as humble as they are. As if time had stood still, Thompson appeared as uncomfortable as he did in 2009, fending off the loud cheering for their songs with self-deprecating barbs and bashful grins. We Were Promised Jetpacks started and remains a band of childhood friends, blood brothers who have remained united following guitarist Michael Palmer’s diagnosis and successful fight against Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In a time when bands don’t have much longevity, a band who’s been around for 15 years and still enjoy being around each other is a satisfying exception from the norm.

We Were Promised Jetpacks Washington 2018 3

There’s been talk that ‘The More I Sleep The Less I Dream’, their first album for Big Scary Monsters released last month, is a bit more polished than what we’re used to from them. I don’t see this as a negative but rather an expected evolution over a decade of making music together. Palmer has said of the LP, “The album is so much about us going back to our basics and relying on our instincts. There’s a range of songs that span everything we do as a band, and we’re the connection between them. It feels like this album is us.”

Going off that, if this new album is a representation of We Were Promised Jetpacks now, then their set list Tuesday night that mixed up the four chapters of their story far could be read as a kind of greatest hits. The visceral rawness of ‘baby’ Jetpacks on ‘It’s Thunder and Lightning’ and ‘Ships With Holes Will Sink’ set against the periods of instrumental goodness of ‘Sore Thumb’ and sheer power of ‘Human Error’ prove what this band is capable of. This is a band who rely on their collective fire power and ability to build a wall of sound, not flashy gimmicks. For punters, watching them is truly mesmerising. When they brought out ‘Keeping Warm’, their post-rock nod to the growing pains of adolescence, someone in the audience shouted, “do it for Scott [Hutchison]!” It was a emotional moment.

We Were Promised Jetpacks Washington 2018 2

There seemed two glaring omissions from the setlist: my favourites ‘Roll Up Your Sleeves’ (check out this 2009 Bands to Watch!) and ‘Quiet Little Voices’, with all their enjoyable hooting and hollering, were nowhere to be found. Famously known to refuse to do encores, the band ended with ‘Repeating Patterns’ from the new album and all of us fans dancing something I can only describe as a stuttering discotheque boogie. Instead of feeling cheated, I walked into the cold Washington night with a smile on my face and the comfort that we’ll have this Scottish band and their music for a good while longer. To read any of our past coverage on We Were Promised Jetpacks, check out the articles through here.

 

Live Review: Saint Sister with Marian McLaughlin at DC9, Washington, DC – 21st September 2018

 
By on Monday, 24th September 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

Header photo of Saint Sister by Rich Gilligan

If you can manage to schedule it, do yourself a favour and go see a favourite band on either the first night or the last night of a tour. On the last night, you can cheer for them for a job well done for finishing what usually is a long, exhausting campaign to support a new album. On the flipside, on the first night of a tour, it’s nice to champion the people you respect as artists as they begin the process. I’m lucky enough to catch the start of two tours within 1 week this month, the first being Saint Sister’s first-ever visit to Washington Friday night. Ahead of the self-release of the Northern Irish girl duo’s debut album on the 5th of October, Gemma Doherty and Morgan MacIntyre, joined by a touring bassist/keyboardist and drummer.

The show began with a feeling of déjà vu for me. The previous time I saw singer/songwriter Marian McLaughlin, she was supporting another pair of talented ladies, England’s Smoke Fairies, at the very same venue. The NPR-feted McLaughlin is a stalwart to the Baltimore / DC area scene, having steadily self-released music since 2014. The themes of her upcoming album ‘Lake Accotink’ are how humans interact with the environment and resolving for herself the impact of progress on Earth.

Marian McLaughlin DC9 September 2018

Like the last time I saw her, she performed solo Friday night, though she will be performing with a backing band this week at album release shows this week in Baltimore Wednesday night, the 26th, at Holy Underground and Friday night, the 28th, at DC’s Songbyrd Music House. Swapping between nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, a standing keyboard and one placed at her feet, this was a performance that was anything run-of-the-mill. McLaughlin pays tribute to the beauty of local parks in her new LP: ‘Grayson Highlands’ recalls a hiking trip McLaughlin took there. It’s named after a Virginian state park near the state’s southern border with North Carolina.

From one unique artist to two of them. Saint Sister have showcased twice in the last 3 years of SXSW, which is an impressive feat considering how many hopefuls appear at the Irish version of SXSW, Hard Working Class Heroes, every autumn in Dublin. Incorporating electronic, rock and soul into folk, their self-described “atmosfolk” sets them apart from not just all the singer/songwriters in Ireland but those around the world. For example, how often do you see an accordion and a harp (Gemma Doherty’s primary instrument) at a rock show? Also, I witnessed another specifically Irish phenomenon that Daithi clued me in on 2 years ago: Irish people always show up and support their country(wo)men, wherever they are playing. So the audience was oddly disproportionally full of Irish music fans from university age to way up, and more Guinness was being poured than usual at DC9, though the nectar of the gods were from *gasp, horror* cans.

Saint Sister DC9 September 2018

Saint Sister will be making the grandest of artistic gestures at the end of next week with the release of debut ‘Shape of Silence’, which I have listened to in full and can say is excellent. The album includes songs that have been kicking around in their live sets for a while that proved arresting performed Friday night. On a much simpler, back to basics approach, ‘Corpses’ (previously released through Communion’s Singles Club) featured only Doherty and MacIntyre’s ethereal voices and very gentle instrumentation. ‘Madrid’, on the other hand, is a full band affair, and with its glitchy, syncopated beats, the song feels more modern and miles away from more traditional folk.

‘Causing Trouble’ bridges this seemingly insurmountable divide with soulful, perfectly duetting vocals from the ladies and a sultry beat that’s caused the pair’s music to be compared to that of Massive Attack and Portishead. This ain’t your momma’s folk, that’s for sure. But with Doherty and MacIntyre’s brilliantly complementary vocals underpinning everything, they have the latitude to continue to experiment and create music that is totally their own. With the release of ‘Shape of Silence’, they’re sure to win many new fans.

After the cut: Saint Sister’s set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Saint Sister with Marian McLaughlin at DC9, Washington, DC – 21st September 2018

 

Live Review: ONR. with CrushnPain at DC9, Washington, DC – 15th June 2018

 
By on Monday, 18th June 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: now more than ever, if you haven’t got a song that pulls the listener in and keeps their attention for more than 30 seconds, you’re sunk as an artist. On the more positive flipside of that, if you are a good songwriter and can write the kind of compelling song that stays with the listener, this talent will pay off massively in terms of getting your music paid attention to. Singer/songwriter Robert Shields, who now performs under the moniker ONR. (pronounced “honour”), is definitely one of the latter. In various projects and under various guises, he’s been quietly honing his craft, which has led to a major label signing last year, after Capitol Records industry bods heard his particularly strong demos.

It’s still early days for the Dumfries-via-Glasgow Scot and his live band: there are only a handful of ONR. singles out to date. An American tour this month, comprised of support dates with SXSW 2017 breakout American star Mondo Cozmo and their own headline dates, is, then, this continent’s first live taste of what amazing things Shields and co. can do. The support dates were announced first and I assumed I was out of luck, as the closest show to me was New York’s Mercury Lounge and on a Wednesday night. To my great excitement, headline dates were soon added, including a stop at my favourite intimate venue in the city of all, DC9, and late on a Friday night to boot.

CrushnPain Washington 2018 2

Two local acts preceded the Scottish band’s performance. My friend and I were too late to see electronic band Honest Haloway, but we arrived in time to witness one-man band CrushnPain. Looking remarkably like a bespectacled close Irish friend of mine, producer Austin Gallas looks unassuming behind two synths and a remarkably small set of controllers. Don’t judge a book by its cover: I was surprised and happy to enjoy his catchy jungle beats as he threw himself into his music. I bopped my head and moved my body to music that was better than some electronic acts I’ve seen at SXSW and The Great Escape. He rarely sang, but when he did, the vocals were dream pop variety and repetitive. To be fair, dream pop lyrics run a spectrum from ephemeral and intentionally lacking substance to floaty, yet thought-provoking. If he was shooting for the former, mission accomplished.

Recall that the first time I saw ONR. was last month at the massive Paganini Ballroom upstairs at the Old Ship Hotel. It was Friday night at The Great Escape 2018, and a massively promoted BBC Introducing showcase at that. Contrast this reception to ONR.’s shows in America, where Shields is largely unknown and without national backing. I have no doubt the Mondo Cozmo support appearances allowed him and his band the opportunity to win over audiences who might never have found his music in the first place, and these kinds of opportunities are priceless to artists debuting in new territories. The majority of acts from Britain have taken those tentative first steps in the Home of the Brave early on in their careers. Those coming to the headline shows are likely to be the true music discoverers, the open-minded people who click on the Related Artists tab in streaming services and are voracious to check out new artists who aren’t on everyone’s lips yet. These music fans are smaller in number but I’d argue they’re far more important in helping to break new artists than they are ever given credit for.

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These were the fans who were treated to a full-scale, major club-like show in the 200-capacity DC9 Friday night. As mentioned earlier in this review, there are a precious few ONR. songs released, so I think everyone knew the set would be short. Shields and his band delivered an energetic performance, Shields as animated and bounding across the stage with gusto as he did in Brighton. Quick tempo tunes, including driving single ‘Love in Suburbia’ released on the day of the show (watch the promo video at the bottom of this post) and ‘American Gods’ released in February, gave the band quite a workout. A comparison of these to the slow burner 2017 single ‘Jericho’ highlighted the versatility and power of Shields’ voice.

They closed with ‘5 Years Time’, the combination of the vulnerability of the lyrics with the commanding instrumentation providing the ultimate showcase for the stadium-worthy bombast Shields has built into ONR.’s songs. I’m taking the strength of these early singles and this charismatic performance in DC as reliable indicators that ONR. will become a household name soon enough. Just you wait. Check out my interview with Robert Shields at The Great Escape 2018 through here. More photos from this gig are on my Flickr.

ONR Washington June 2018 1

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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