Monthly Archives: March 2008

Rave On!

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Sarin Foo and Sun Rose Wagner, reviewed in today’s Paper of Record.

I interviewed one of my heroes today.  That’s never happened before.  Watch this space for details!

Leon . . . Live?

leon.pngStoried session man Leon Russell turns in a perfunctory performance at the State.  Also, the B-52s’ first album in 16 years, and the Waco Bros. long-overdue first live set, reviewed yesterday in Media Mix

Media Mix V: The Final Frontier

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IN THIS ISSUE: My pithy assessments of the B-52s first album of new material since 1992, plus the Waco Bros.’s long-overdue live album.  Wish they’d come play ’round these parts.

Hurry Up and Kill Yourself Already: Solas Nua’s Portia Coughlin

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We know just how she feels: Linda Murray is just asking for chronic back pain in Portia Coughlin.

It’s no fun reviewing a show created by people you like and respect unfavorably. (And there’s a bit of it going ’round lately, seems like.) But this is The Job.

Also on DCist this week, my first Weekly Music Agenda.

This would be why Jill Scott recorded a live album at Constitution Hall in 2001, I’m guessing.

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Most R&B divas equate sexual confidence with self-empowerment; few do it as persuasively as Philadelphia’s Jill Scott. The Grammy winner’s sultry, synth-tinged grooves tell of endurance in life and exuberance in the boudoir. Or is it the other way ‘round?

Tuesday evening, at the dizzying opener of a four-night stand at Constitution Hall, it was hard to tell. Scott spoke repeatedly of her divorce, but tunes like “Crown Royal” and “Come See Me” from 2007’s The Real Thing album suggest singledom isn’t treating her too badly. In the hands of her airtight 10-piece band, both became epics of prurience. Note to the abstinence-only crowd: Never, ever go to a Jill Scott gig.

The 2.5-hour show offered multiple, er, climaxes. The defiant “Hate on Me” got the last of the crowd out of their seats, waving their hands overhead. Then local legend Chuck Brown dropped by, prompting Scott’s two drummers to launch into a go-go beat while he riffed on the Ellington/Mills standard “It Don’t Mean a Thing.” Scott grooved along, smiling like she was just a lucky fan pulled from the crowd to dance on his stage.

In fact, she’s as natural and authoritative a soul songstress as any of her generation. Perhaps because Scott performed poetry before venturing into music, she has an approachable, conversational quality (patter: abundant, hilarious, largely unprintable in a family newspaper) that gives her mighty pipes all the more impact when she decides to let loose.
The show featured that rarest of treasures, the Truly Spontaneous Encore. As the spent crowd pulled on their coats, Scott reappeared to share a piece she’d said she scribbled on a hotel notepad only that day. “You seem to have a mystery of me,” she began, “And I am here to broach it.” But Scott’s mystique remained, despite the candor with which she sang, and spoke, of past jobs, relationships, and struggles. And despite the mid-show “pinky toe” rap that summoned two stagehands to replace Scott’s gold spike heels with gold flip-flops.

That’s one down-to Earth-diva, even if her show was out of this world.

A shorter version of this review appears in Thursday’s Paper of Record.

Thoughts on Our Final Wire Intercept

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We’ll Not See Their Like Again: Freamon, Bunk, and McNulty say their goodbyes.

My girlfriend and I have spent about 3.5% of 2008 watching The Wire. Starting around new year, we voraciously consumed all 60 episodes. We watching the big finale last night, the evening of the 71st day of the year. So out of 1,704 hours of Double-Aught-Eight, we’ve spent 60 of ’em, give or take, in front of the tube. If you’ve ever seen this show, you’ll have no trouble understanding why: It sucks you in. And it’s so smart and honest and fully-realized, you don’t feel the least bit bad about allowing it to suck you in the way you do with, say, LOST or 24.

And now it’s all over. SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t already watched the finale, etc., etc.

You had us a little scared for a while there, David Simon. What with only 10 episodes in this final season (the result of HBO brass telling you to “do more with less,” as the Baltimore Police and the Baltimore Sun staff are both repeatedly to do?), your plotting sometimes seemed hasty in a way it rarely had before. The final episode of any Wire season always features a kind of accelerated, jump-cut storytelling that’s the stock-in-trade of formulaic procedurals like the deathless Law & Order: Whatever the Fuck, and your final, 50%-extra-length episode was no exception. I know you would have loved to have shown us the conversation where the Sun brass demotes Gus Haynes to copy editor, for example. Still, though, you managed to pull it all together in satisfying, credible fashion. Cheers.

Who knew you could be such a softie? I mean, sure, Marlo gets away with everything, but still: Michael becomes Omar. Sydnor become McNulty. Daniels becomes Matlock. Herc becomes Michael Clayton.

I was sort of expecting a Sopranos non-ending redux, but then again, this sort of symmetry has always been part of the show. Overall, most satisfying.

Irish Song of the Damned

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A recent-ish (and Shane-less? Is that him, supine in the foreground at left? I can’t tell.) photo of the Pogues.

So. Spent the last two nights at the 9:30 seeing the Pogues for the first and second time. Hardly the debauched evening I might have expected if I’d seen them 20 years ago, but they sounded great.

I was on company time the first show (Paper of Record review here), when I spied Baltimore Sun newsman-turned-Homicide author-turned-creator of The Wire, David Simon, walking up to the VIP balcony. I waited around to try to talk to him after the show, but was told the balcony was closed for a private function.

Simon’s presence at a Pogues show on Sunday evening was ironic because the final episode The Wire had begun airing on HBO about 15 minutes before the Pogues took the stage, and because the Pogues’ music has been featured prominently in several episodes of the billiant HBO series. “Metropolitan” has scored at least one of Det. Jimmy McNulty’s  (Dominc West) adventures in drunk driving, but more to the point, there’s a tradition on the show — one that presumably, given Simon’s insistence on authenticity even in the most minute details, has its origins in the actual practice of the Baltimore Police Department — that when a cop dies, his brothers in arms lay him out on a pool table, eulogize him, and then sing the Pogues’s “The Body of an American” over him.

Sunday night, the Pogues played “Body” 12th in their set of 26 songs, I think. I turned around to try to catch a glimpse of Simon’s face but couldn’t see him just then.

Anyway, Paper of Record pop critic J. Freedom du Lac blogged about my sighting, and The Reliable Source picked it up today.

I still wish I could have spoken to Simon. I’ve got lots of things I’d like to ask him, about journalism and music and filmmaking and The Wire, but if I only had a second I’d thank him for creating what I’m hardly the first to call the most sophisticated and truthful show probably in the history of television. One of the funniest and most moving, too.

Media, Mix’d, Red’x with a Vengeance

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Presidents of the United States of America founding frontman/songwriter Chris Ballew is in his 40s now and out to prove the joke is still funny. Dave Insley lives on the road but hangs his hat in Austin. Reviewed in today’s Paper of Record!

Conspicuous Consumption

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There are surely innumberable ways to do this, but we at Snake Oil HQ thought we would, as a public service, suggest one of the means by which you, as a Columbia Heights resident who wants to contribute to the community, pay your honorarium to the new Target that is being touted as nothing less than the dawning of a new age.

In the course of two visits within 53 hours of the store’s ahead-of-schedule opening at 0800 Wednesday, we managed to drop just over $100. (It would have been $5 more if not for the coupon we got in the mail the day the store opened, inviting us to come and spend after the opening on March 9 — still two days in the future as we write!)

  • Nightstand/lamp combo thing ($45)
  • 26-watt lightbulb ($4.99)
  • 18″ by 24″ poster frame for sweet gig poster commemorating last weeks pair of Wilco shows at the 9:30 ($19.99)
  • Eggo frozen waffles ( $2.49)
  • Superpretzel froxen pretzels ($1.69)
  • Replacement razor cartridges ($8.99)
  • Jif peanut butter ($1.75)
  • Kleenex ($4.79)

So, we’ve done our part. Have you done your duty? Let’s get the bottleneck started now!

Also: Approximately 11 hours into the Target’s life, we returned home via the car we try only to use once per week, and were still able to find street parking on our usual block. We’ll see how long that lasts.

At the Warner, Elvis was That Year’s Model

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On February 28, 1978, Elvis Costello was 23 years old and convinced of his own magnificence. His second album — but crucially, his first with the Attractions, the three musicians with whom he’d make his most celebrated records — the furious, paranoid, Aftermath-styled This Year’s Model, would be released the following week, and would top the Village Voice and Rolling Stone critics’ polls at year’s end. At the close of his first U.S. tour, only two months earlier, he’d been thrown out of 30 Rock for aborting his Saturday Night Live performance of “Less than Zero” mid-song to play the broadcast-industry indictment “Radio Radio” instead, a stunt that got him banned from SNL for 11 years. (He was invited back decades later to recreate the moment with the Beastie Boys.)

Stepping onstage at the Warner Theatre for his first Washington, DC gig, aired on the radio radio by WHFS, the once-and-future Declan Patrick MacManus was full of ambition, swagger, impatience, and, probably, amphetamines. Opening with the apocalyptic stomp of “Pump It Up” and winding things down with the simmering “Chemistry Class” an hour later, the feral, compressed, too-clever-to-be punk rock he conjured up that night solidified his fan base in Our Nation’s Capitol, even though he’d soon start doing everything he could to sabotage his growing popularity and acclaim.

You can hear the 1978 Warner Theatre show in its breathless 62-minute entirety on the new 30th anniversary edition of This Year’s Model, which Hip-O Records is releasing today. Elvis’s first 11 albums, originally issued here in the States on Columbia Records, has been repackaged more times than the Smiths’ greatest hits, each time with a new(ish) side dish of bonus material. This year’s, um, version of This Year’s Model includes most of the same B-sides, demos, and outtakes featured on the 2002 Rhino Records edition; “Big Tears,” featuring The Clash’s Mick Jones on guitar, and a great, live cover of The Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat” from 1977 remain highlights. And yet its inclusion on a second disc of the previously unreleased Warner Theatre gig makes this an essential purchase for any Elvis geek, not just obsessive completists. This re-re-reissue loses points, however, for omitting the candid, often hilarious liner notes Elvis penned for the prior edition. (We need hardly tell you that on the merits of the 12 songs that comprised the original release, This Year’s Model is a must-own in any version.) 2008_0304_Elvis_dollar_bill_front_big.jpg

The sound mix of the Warner concert is stellar, proving once again that while Elvis and the Attractions radiated as much kinetic force onstage as any punk outfit, they simply played too skillfully to embody the form’s DIY ethos. Each Attraction has equal presence — bassist Bruce Thomas is the only member who doesn’t still play with Elvis in the Imposters, and to hear his bouncy, fluid anchor lines here is too miss him — but the crowd is a crucial character in the scene, too. Despite Elvis’s typically combative orders to them to get out of their seats (“You in the beard. What’s the matter with you? Stop trying to be unimpressed; I don’t believe ya “), they’re plenty involved, from the guy who can be heard near the end of the show shouting “You’re fucking brilliant!” again and again to the dude who implores Elvis during the hushed bridge of “(I Don’t Want to Go To) Chelsea” to “Play some fucking rock and roll!” (How did WHFS handle these improptu contributions to their radio show, I wonder.)
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Hearing the show also invites you to consider the legacy of the Warner Theatre, one of the oldest and most storied performance venues in the region. Opened in 1924 (as the Earle Theatre) and operating almost continuously since (it was closed for repairs from 1989 to 1992) — as a vaudeville club, cinema, concert venue, and even, briefly, as a porno theatre — the Warner was around for decades before Blues Alley or The Bayou, which closed in 1998. Two concert venues on U Street, the Lincoln Theatre and Bohemian Caverns, both opened around the same time as the Warner, though the Warner wouldn’t be used primarily for concerts until much later.

The Warner is home to the District’s modest Walk of Fame, featuring the signatures of luminaries who’ve played there since its 1992 reopening, from Frank Sinatra to Chris Rock. These days it’s part of the Live Nation megalith. Though Live Nation is supposedly getting out of the theatre business to focus on the concert trade,the industry juggernaut chose to hold onto the Warner even as it sold off many of its mixed-use venues in January. This would seem to reflect the Warner’s continuing renown as a concert venue, a rep bolstered by the fact that 1,800-seat Warner has occasionally been a venue-of-choice for “secret” shows by artists who easily fill much larger rooms: The Rolling Stones played a gig there in 1978 on their tour for Some Girls, their last great album; two days later they played Philadelphia’s massive, now-demolished John F. Kennedy Stadium. The Artist Formerly and Now, Thankfully, Once Again Known as Prince performed there on several occasions between 1983 and 2002.

The Warner’s slate for the coming months is a typically mixed bag of musicals, plays, stand-up comedy, awards shows, and of course, rock and roll. In that regard, it’s well, the DC performance venue most like Elvis Costello.

Now in his mid-fifties, Elvis remains a workaholic of near-freakishly eclectic interests who’s just as likely to turn up crooning ballads in front of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as he is to play a rowdy 2.5-hour rock and roll show at the 9:30 Club. His recorded output in the latter half of his career has been even harder to categorize, encompassing ballet commissions, jazz, and collaborations with everyone from pop masters like Allen Toussaint, Burt Bacharach, and Paul McCartney to avant-garde musicians like Anne Sofie von Otter or the Brodsky Quartet.
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Elvis and the Imposters — essentially the Attractions, with Davey Farragher replacing Bruce Thomas on bass — are opening for their contemporariesThe Police on the latter band’s supposedly-final tour this summer. The Police couldn’t pretend they were punks for very long, either. Compared to the seething jealousy dripping from every note of This Year’s Model, “Every Breath You Take” sounds like the sweet little love ballad that many always believed it was.