Category Archives: The Washington Post

Concerning the Death of Ray Price

"Well, if I’m going to go out, I’ll go out singing." Ray Price, 1926-2013.

“Well, if I’m going to go out, I’ll go out singing.” Ray Price, 1926-2013.

I was waiting to board a plane at Reagan National Airport this morning, operating on about two hours’ sleep, when the Washington Post‘s J. Freedom du Lac, who used to assign me music reviews back when he was the paper’s pop music critic, Tweeted me the WashPo’s obit of country legend Ray Price.

Price’s death had been falsely reported by his son over the weekend, but as I read Terence McArdle‘s thoughtful summing up of Price’s extraordinary life, it quickly became clear he really had left us this time.

I’m quoted briefly in the story, from my review of a 2007 concert that featured Price, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard, touring together as The Last of the Breed. It was a great show. I brought my dad along as my plus-one. “I’m 81 and I ain’t quit yet!” Price told us on that evening six years ago. Continue reading

There’s No Dignified Way to Say “Christmas Unicorn”: Sufjan Stevens at the 9:30 Club


My review of Sufjan Stevens’ “Christmess Sing-a-Long” — or to use its full, formal designation, the Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long: Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice — at the 9:30 Club Saturday night appears  in today’s Washington Post. Continue reading

What Justice Stewart Said About Christmas

My essay about making my Christmas mixtape is in the Style section of today’s Washington Post, the pullout section with Helen Mirren on the cover. I was surprised how difficult I found it to write about this silly little project that’s come to claim so many tens hundreds of hours of my time and moxie every fall. Continue reading

She Couldn’t Blame Us: Cat Power at the 9:30 Club, reviewed.

I’m sorry to say that Cat Power’s concert at the 9:30 Club last night was another heart-rending chapter in her sad history as a panicky, fragmented performer. It’s always agonizing to watch someone on stage who clearly doesn’t want to be there. I hope she’ll get the help she needs. The club was sold out, so clearly her fans haven’t abandoned her. Last night’s audience struck me as uncommonly respectful, sympathetic and forgiving. Continue reading

Like Louis Armstrong Said, All Music Is Folk Music

Gillian Welch posted her Strathmore setlist on her Twitter feed this morning.

Ain’t never heard a horse sing no song.

I reviewed Gillian Welch and David Rawlings‘s concert at the Music Hall at Strathmore last night for the Washington Post. It was great. It was better than that. There wasn’t a bum note all night. Continue reading

Loving Spit: Broken Social Scene at the Warner Theatre

The membership of Toronto indie-rock impressionists Broken Social Scene fluctuates between as few as a half-dozen and as many as three times that, which maybe has something to do with how this band has always — well, since 1999 — made music that feels intimate and epic at the same time.

Their generous 130-minute show at the Warner Theater last night boasted a lineup of eight (with Lisa Lobsinger performing the parts sung on record by BSS alums Leslie Feist, Emily Haines, and Amy Millan) performing crystalline lullabies, triumphant fist pumpers, and a few of the discursive, hazy instrumentals that used to get a lot more time on the collective’s albums than they do now. The one that came out at the beginning of summer (after leaking weeks earlier) Forgiveness Rock Record, is more focused and song-oriented than its forebears. It contributed the bulk of last night’s set, but the show still felt thrillingly rife with possibility, even if it was, as frontman and co-founder Kevin Drew repeatedly observed, a Monday night. (That still matters when you’re a full time rock semi-star? Depressing. A more likely potential inhibitor was that Of Montreal and Janelle Monae were kicking off a tour a couple miles north at the 9:30 Club.) Continue reading

The Late Greats: Wilco at Strathmore

Sorry I’ve let things slide around here for the past couple of weeks, everybody. But What ho!, new writing at last: I reviewed what turned out to be an epic Wilco concert — three hours, 37 songs, last Red Line train home – for the Washington Post. The blog version features a setlist and copious photos by the great Kyle Gustafson, while the paper-paper version has only one.

I thought I’d have more to say about the show, which included a lot of excellent, seldom-performed songs I never thought I’d hear, like “Some Day Some Morning Sometime” from Mermaid Avenue Vol. II , for instance, but for once I managed to stick to my allotted space. Amy Argetsinger gave me a little shout in her Reliable Source item about White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel being at the show, which is why the Daily Swarm linked to the review. I haven’t loved Wilco’s most recent pair of records as much the ones they released between 1996 and 2004, but I’ve seen them play a bunch of times in the last 10 years, and I don’t think they’ve ever been a better live band than they are now.

Here’s Valerie’s fine DCist review breaking down the value-for-money equation, with some great photos by Jeff Martin.

On an unrelated note, I wrote about Bruce Norris’s superb new play Clybourne Park at Woolly Mammoth for the City Paper last week, but the Best of DC special issue didn’t contain an arts section, so the piece didn’t come out until today. Apologies, Woolly Mammoths.

Muse at the Patriot Center. Sorry, that’s MUSE! AT THE PATRIOT CENTER!

It’s almost impossible to imagine England’s glam-bastic future-shock trio Muse peddling their warp-speed, Dark Matter riffs and florid piano interludes anywhere smaller than the Patriot Center, the coziest basketball arena on the itinerary of their U.S. tour. Wembley-packing popular in Europe, they traversed American football stadiums last fall supporting U2, a gig they may have cinched for their ability to make the headliners appear restrained and subtle by comparison.

Subtlety was irrelevant at last-night’s retina-singeing ode to space operatic excess. For the 105-minute pageant to express the band’s apocalypse-is-coming, so-shall-we-rock quintessence any more perfectly would have required giant harvester-like robots to wander into the audience and atomize us with their laser rays. A stage comprised of three telescoping video-cube platforms yawned open to reveal the three band members, lightsabering their way through “Uprising,” the pulsing, ominous opener of their latest album, The Resistance. (This is one band where the titles tell you exactly what you’re in for.) Lyrics “They will not control us! We will be victorious!” flashed as the crowd chanted along, implicitly telling Them exactly where They can cram their . . . well, whatever. Continue reading

Your Psyche is a Public Wonderland: John Mayer at Verizon Center

“There’s something about the authoritative wrong note that I’ve always really liked,” opined John Mayer at the Verizon Center Saturday night.

You think? Ever since his racy, racially inflammatory musings in a Playboy interview* hit the web, Mayer — the 32-year-old, six-foot-plus, sensitive balladeer and guitar lothario who once took home a Grammy for a song called “Your Body Is a Wonderland” — has been in a defensive crouch. For his 3.1 million Twitter followers, the rest has been (mostly) silence since 2:26 p.m. on Feb. 10, when he fretted, “They don’t make rehab centers for being an a-hole.”

That night, he nearly broke down on stage in Nashville, fumbling through two minutes, 50 seconds of awkward, apparently heartfelt apology for saying — well, he said plenty. Let it suffice that the interview begged the question of why megaselling albums like 2006’s Continuum and last year’s Battle Studies are such stubbornly milquetoast insipid affairs when their singularly self-aware author seems to have at least a boxed set’s worth of early-Prince freakitude inside him. Continue reading

The Sweet Spot: Tegan & Sara at the Warner Theatre, review’d

One thing about Canadians: They get that it’s better to promise modestly and deliver in spades, rather than the other way ‘round.

“Overall, I think you will be entertained,” Tegan — point-five of the identical twin folk-duo-turned-tandem-pop-punkstresses Tegan and Sara — undersold before a hormonally supercharged Warner Theatre last night, three songs into a date with an audience that surprised even those sensitive sisters Quin with the pitch and intensity of its lung-power.

The hysteria must have taken them back a little. The duo hadn’t yet outrun their teens before they were playing with Sarah McLachlan and The Pretenders — two useful reference points for triangulating the sort of tuneful-but-tough rock band into which they’ve evolved. Now just shy of 30 and a half-dozen albums in, Tegan and Sara are no longer primarily a sweetly harmonizing emo act beloved by gay women. Continue reading

Julian Casablancas at the 9:30: Is This It?

The New York City that birthed The Strokes, fully formed and never better than on their 2001 debut Is This It?, was as bright and prosperous as the NYC of 23 years earlier — when Strokes singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas was born there — was broke, decadent, and dangerous. Their first album managed, improbably, to conjure both Blondie-era risk and pre-9/11 ennui. It’s lately resurfaced on just about everyone’s list of the aughties’ top ten. Continue reading

A . . . Masterpiece!

One of the things I lament about the steep drop-off in newspaper movie ads — aside from the obvious, which is that it’s hurt newspapers I’d like to see survive — is that we’re not seeing as many ads wherein studio publicists dig deep to find reliably nearsighted pseudo-critics whose endorsements of shit like Old Dogs or the punctuation-offending Law Abiding Citizen they can quote. I always wondered if the people putting these ads together actually believed that anyone inclined to plan their weekend around a screening of Leap Year cares what film critics have to say.

I like it even better when publicists take real critics’ words completely out of context. I’ve been pull-quoted myself once or twice, but wouldn’t you know it, my meaning has always been preserved intact.

Publicists practice context-ignoring pull-quotery all the time, I know. But to me, at least, it never fails to amuse. Continue reading

Becoming Unwritten: The Roots at the 9:30 Club

If NBC ever releases a compilation of The Roots’ performances as house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the DVD commentary track might make your player explode. The veteran Philly hip-hop band won’t finish a tune without referencing pieces of nine others. Their hyperlinked performance style is reliably thrilling, though you do sometimes want to yell at song-surfing bandleader/drummer/Twitter addict Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, “Hey, I was digging that!”

Last night, at the first of two 9:30 club dates, The Roots offered a sweaty, channel-flipping blitz, packing about eight hours of mercilessly funky rap, rock, go-go, jazz, and soul into 140 breathless minutes. Though they’ve continued to tour since they got their gig upstaging SNL alum Fallon, their return to the 9:30 still had a celebratory, school’s-out vibe. Continue reading

Shoot Out the Lights: Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs at IOTA

Just how retro is the strain of handmade country-blues peddled by Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs? During their ramshackle hour-long set at IOTA last night, the guitarist/percussionist/singer Lawyer Dave introduced two different tunes as “a song about domestic abuse,” and in neither case did he follow-up with a Chris Brown joke.

Violence between lovers has always been one of the major themes of this music, of course. No one goes to counseling in the blues! Continue reading

Viva Christmas! El Vez and Los Straightjackets at the 9:30 Club

Chestnuts roasting. Jack Frost nipping. Yuletide carols being sung by the self-described “Mexican Elvis,” and folks dressed up like luchadores — mask-wearing Mexican wrestlers. Isn’t that how that one goes?

Well, that’s how it went at the 9:30 club last night, where Los Straitjackets — an ace surf-rock quartet out of, um, Nashville, despite their custom of performing in those sharp Mexican wrestling headpieces — were the house band for a bizarro 90-minute Christmas party hosted by East L.A. novelty singer/activist El Vez, who made good on his promise to spread “Santarchy,” and James Brown-like front splits, to the masses.

You could even call it a traditional program of holiday fare, assuming the Burlesque is the tradition you mean. Continue reading

Imperfection as Ideology: Kurt Vile at the Black Cat Backstage

Kurt Vile

It’s perfectly reasonable to be suspicious of a musician with as mighty a moniker as Kurt Vile. If that was a stage name (it’s not*) the intimation would be of the most confrontational, petulant punk, but the Philadelphia-based Vile’s defiantly primitive, accident-prone songs are lazier and hazier than that, rarely straying from the long and droning road but hinting at melodic paths untaken. Imperfection is his ideology.

At the Black Cat Backstage last night, Vile ambled through the final date of a month of shows with his three-piece band, The Violators, for what he said was the largest crowd he’d played. Double digits, still — right-sized. He opened the 70-minute set with a solo take of “Peeping Tomboy,” which, like so much of the spectral folk side of his songbook, seemed to waft in from some phantom radio. Even when the combo joined him for the stouter stuff — like “Freak Train,” the self-explanatory centerpiece of his just-released Childish Prodigy album — the cacophony was more ethereal than kinetic. Continue reading

Live Last Night: The Gaslight Anthem at the 9:30 Club

The Gaslight Anthem

Look, Bruce Springsteen and Joe Strummer didn’t invent this stuff, either. The greased hair and the leathers and the overdriven takes of Mad Men-era rock standards already had a blanket of dust on them a generation thick by the time The Boss and The Clash got around to them.

Jersey pomade-punks The Gaslight Anthem are the most persuasive current exponents of this tradition, and they don’t hide it. Hell, they called their latest album The ’59 Sound. At a sold-out 9:30 Club last night, they ripped through that nostalgic long-player in its near-entirety, frontman Brian Fallon balling up his handsome face to yowl about Redemption and car crashes and good girls in trouble with archaic-sounding names like Gale and — of course! — Mary. Continue reading

Diamond Hard, Osmium Heavy: Them Crooked Vultures at the 9:30 Club

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As long as John Bonham and Kurt Cobain stay dead, there’s probably no more intriguing a musical home* for their former bandmates John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl, respectively, than Them Crooked Vultures, newest and superest of the supergroups.

At the 9:30 Club last night, rock’s own Justice League stuck to what’s been standard procedure since its debut two months ago, performing 85 minutes of unfamiliar, tempo-sliding, sternum-rattling rock, diamond-hard and osmium-heavy. Classics in waiting, possibly, but no covers. No encores. No compromises.
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Blue is the Color of Steve Martin’s Grass

Steve Martin's The Crow

We know what you’re thinking: Oh, great, another celebrity banjo album.

Actually, yes. The Crow, the collection of banjo tunes written (save for one) and performed by Steve Martin — uh-huh, that one — is truly wonderful. It says so right on the cover. And our opening joke is an, er, homage to one that a barely-legal Martin had in his stand-up routine in the mid-60s, way before Saturday Night Live or the movies or the New Yorker essays or the Kennedy Center honors.

“You’re thinking, ‘Oh, this is just another banjo-magic act’,” he’d quip. Back then, he banjo-ed out of desperation, lacking enough surefire jokes to fill out his contracted 25-minute set. Continue reading

Live Last Night: Los Lonely Boys & Alejandro Escovedo

There’s no single, foolproof test for diagnosing musical overconfidence, but hiring Alejandro Escovedo as your opener is a definite risk factor. Escovedo is a songwriter’s songwriter, an alt-punk-country-etc. warrior who nearly had to die of Hepatitis C six years to begin to get his due. His albums since have been the most vital of his three-decade career.
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