Gogol Bordello and Man Man

On Saturday I went to the 9:30 Club (@930Club)to see Man Man and Gogol Bordello. It almost goes without saying that this show was amazing.

So I dunno if y’all know this about me, but I listen to a good little handful of podcasts. The ones I try my best to listen to every week are Thrilling Adventure Hour, My Brother, My Brother and Me and Throwing Shade. I do my very best to keep up with Sklarbro Count(r)y, but they have a lot of episodes, and occasionally I listen to the Nerdist podcast, depending on the guest. I might have to do a separate post just on podcasts. There’s so much amazing free content out there.

Anyway, in a bit of kismet, earlier in the day on Saturday I was listening to Sklarbro Country, with my favorite twins Randy and Jason Sklar (wait, do they win over Benji and Joel Madden? Over Tia and Tamera? Yeah, they do, cuz they’re super smart-funny), and they were doing their year-end music special. The Sklars make a concerted effort to introduce their audience to amazing indie music, playing different bands at the intro/outros of their segments. It’s not my style of music generally, lots of stuff with a throw-back feel, and WTF am I gonna throw back to? The 80s?, but occasionally our passions cross, in bands like King Tuff or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

This year, for their music special, the Sklars had Jonah Ray (of the Jonah Raydio podcast) as one of the guests, and he brought up Man Man as one of his favorite live bands. I was like, “huh, why do I know that name?” then I realized I was going to see them that night.

Man Man and Gogol Bordello spent two nights at the 9:30 Club. Saturday was their second set of performances, but they didn’t tip off any waning enthusiasm.

After Saturday night, I totally agree with Mr. Ray. Man Man was super entertaining. I can’t describe a genre to you, as they wander everywhere throughout their set, from rap to pop to bluesy riffs to rock. Their drummer was impeccable. I wasn’t 100% sure who was in the band and who was hopping up on stage to help out a bit (Gogol Bordello has about a million people in it, so I wondered if some of their people came on and off for kicks), but the core bandmates were solid in their musicianship, and worked hard to engage with the audience. They didn’t really have a person untethered to his instrument to be a constant crowd-pleaser (though there was a woman on stage who did nothing but sing occasional backup vocals – I would have liked to see her engage the audience more, cuz really, what the hell else was she doing?), but the band still somehow managed to create a palpable connection with everyone.  There were people down in front belting out the lyrics as Man Man sang, and I felt like the big venue was quite intimate.

Gogol Bordello is an amazing band, best described as gypsy punk. Actually, if I have to explain Gogol Bordello to you, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?? This band’s been around for like fifteen years! They put on an amazingly high-energy show with driving, fast drumming and rhythm section, hand drums to add a world music flavor, fiddle, accordion and acoustic guitar to bring up the Eastern European feel and the distinctive voice of Eugene Hutz leading the charge.

Now, I’ve been obsessing over the idea of going to Croatia for vacation for about a year, and I’d like to visit Serbia and Bosnia/Herzegovina (and possibly Slovenia) while I’m over there specifically to scratch the surface of the gypsies/diaspora(s), and the artistic outpouring they created. The music Gogol Bordello brings to us is so joyful, tragic, kinetic and hopeful that I feel like the journey it represents could lend wisdom to others still working this dynamic out. Diasporas are a bitch. If any group has figured a way through that pain and found a path to joy I think it’s worth studying that journey.

Eugene Hutz is an actor as well, and was in the movie Everything Is Illuminated, but also the focus of a fucking crazy-good movie The Pied Piper of Hutzovina that follows Hutz (as himself) on a car trip into gypsy country. He mingles and plays music with marginalized people across Eastern Europe, and exposes the less-than-favorable conditions of groups scattered in hard-to-access European wilderness. I accidentally tripped across this movie a few years ago and was absolutely fascinated. Anyone should check that out if possible.

So I’m gonna drop in a little video for y’all, because Gogol Bordello is best seen AND heard:

Gogol Bordell and Man Man is super what’s up.

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Fang Island at Rock and Roll Hotel

On Saturday I went to see one of my absolute favorite bands, Fang Island, at Rock and Roll Hotel in DC. It was my first time seeing them live, though their album Major has powered me through many, many days since its release in 2012.

I left with a (free) cute little poster of them that looked like this:

fangisland

I was welcomed at RRH by a super-pleasant surprise: The New Trust, a punk band I’ve known for just about all my adult life, was the opener. They’re from Sonoma County, CA, specifically Santa Rosa, which I lived in/worked in/played around in bands for about six years, from 2004 on (before I moved to Oakland for a couple years, then relocated to DC). Basically, it’s my other home town. One of the band members, Josh Staples, was in The Velvet Teen, another Sonoma County band I’ve known about and enjoyed for a long-ass time. Unfortunately, I got to the show late, and missed their set by just a hair, but caught Josh and Sara (singer/bass player and singer/guitarist), and said “hi,” and “weird to see Santa Rosa folks here,” between sets.

Something I learned about myself that night: my brain does not differentiate between regional bands and national acts. Pretty much everything just registers as something I know, or something I don’t. It struck me as strange that not everyone knew about The Velvet Teen or The New Trust. Everyone should. Look both bands up if you’re reading this and don’t know who they are. They’re awesome.

When I arrived, Zorch was setting up their gear. Zorch is an electronic, psychedelic, A/V, noise explosion – and it’s just two dudes. They seem like nice (if intense) fellas and they put on a really engaging show. To be honest, if it weren’t for the cool visuals behind the guys, I probably would have wandered off from their set, but the sum total of the Zorch experience is a thing of beauty. They kept the lights low, directing attention away from the band members themselves and toward the gyrating, shifting visuals, encouraging audience members to lose themselves in the experience. I found myself thinking about the new and different ways bands were engaging with their audiences, and realizing this act was kicking ass at creating a collective mind-melt (yeah, I said melt). I was really impressed the drummer could keep up the chaotic, manic rhythms and sing at the same time.

Mmm…Describing Zorch is no good, you gotta see it. Here’s an example of their A/V:

Actually, seeing it’s no good, you gotta go to a show and experience it. Bring ear plugs.

Fang Island was up next. Now, I absolutely adore Fang Island. They’re out of Brooklyn, just this wall-of-awesome, speed-strumming, guitar-harmonizing, power-pop, high-fiving-angels sort of rock. Mmm…liiike, if you took Tokyo Police Club, took out the vocals, double-to-tripled the guitars and intermittently amped the strumming speed to metal. There are few other bands that can immediately lift my spirits like this band, and even fewer still that propel me through my workdays and commutes in the same way.

Two Fang Island songs that light up my life: Asunder and Dooney Rock.

One of my fondest memories of listening to Fang Island was touring around Ireland, and Dooney Rock popped up in my cue. I damn near died of happiness! And yes, I insisted it was added to the music cue playing over the tour bus’ PA system. The bus-full of old folks loved it.

The last band that played on Saturday was Tera Melos. I’ve been aware of these guys for quite a while, but I think this was the first time I saw them live. They’re out of Sacramento, and like Fang Island, they’re instrumental, with minimal vocals. I stuck around for just a bit of their set, but my eardrums were blown out from the last two bands (and I’m old now) so I left before they finished. They are kinda ambient and math-rock put together. After the visual fire-hurricane of Zorch and the wall-of-awesome of Fang Island, it probably would have taken a super-human feat to sway me into staying through Tera Melos’ set. So don’t let my actions sway you from catching Tera Melos if they come back to town. Good band, and they seem like good guys.

It’d been a while since I’d seen a show, and I definitely got my money’s worth on Saturday. The New Trust and Fang Island (and Zorch and Tera Melos) are what’s up.

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Dan Chaon and Litquake

Okay, this is a post about two things I love more than other things coming together in one place.

Dan Chaon’s writing is one of my favorite things. I have, like, zero attention span sometimes and his collections of short stories captivate me. They’re just so…desolate. There’s no other way to describe the feeling they evoke. It’s like standing in the wilderness, surrounded by dead or dying trees, and you have no idea how you got there. Lost, semi-spooked (but more like “huh, I guess this is where I am now”) and utterly alone. They’re amazing. So he’s the one thing.

Then there’s Litquake, a literary festival in San Francisco. It’s epic. And happening right now, October 11-19th. And ends with a Lit Crawl, which is basically a pub crawl (in the Mission this year) with authors doing readings in over 80 locations. Just a note: San Franciscans love beer/drinking and books. Those are that city’s two favorite things.  But Litquake is my other thing.

So the two things make sweet, sweet love on Monday as there’s a performing arts group called Word for Word that is doing a reading on Monday (the 14th) from Dan Chaon’s collection of short stories Stay Awake (specifically the title story Stay Awake) as part of Litquake.  I LOVE Stay Awake. The book is the very best and creepiest of Chaon’s stories all bound together. I highly recommended it.

So two of my favorite things, Dan Chaon’s writing and Litquake, have come together to create something new. And I can’t be there (damn this 3000 miles between us), so I’m suggesting anyone on the West coast who’s nearby needs to get their butts to Litquake. And if you can, go see the reading of Stay Awake.  For me. Thanks :)

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Yellowcard, The Epic

This is the story of my 11 or 12 year love -affair with Yellowcard:

Wednesday I went to see Yellowcard at Fillmore Silver Spring.

YC poster

Yellowcard’s been one of my guilty pleasures – well, not even guilty, I guess, just pleasures – since I was in undergrad. I can’t fully remember how I got into them. I think it was back when you got put on e-mail lists of certain independent record companies for ordering a CD and they told you about similar artists coming out on their and sister labels. I was on a lot of punk e-mail lists and Yellowcard’s One For the Kids popped up at some point. I gave whatever sample I got a listen and fell in love. I think it was the amazing drumming (though not the drum-recording quality) and the violin (which was, at the time, a novelty in a rock or punk band, before Green Day dropped it in Time Of Your Life) that made me sit up and take notice. I read about Yellowcard, that they met up at a music and arts focused school, that Sean (the violinist) arranged and wrote the strings selections of their songs, that LP had jazz music running through his veins, that I understood why their music seemed to shine brighter than other bands.

I first went to see Yellowcard in…let’s see, I guess it was 2001 or 2. I was with my first real boyfriend and he drove us the 45 minutes into Cleveland to see YC along with No Use For A Name (RIP Tony Sly) at the (Beachland?) Ballroom. It had begun snowing that afternoon, but we went anyway. Man, it was a great show. Yellowcard was still touring in a shitty (literally) RV, it was cold as FUCK outside and snowing harder by the minute, YC closed with October Nights (to this day one of the best songs ever), and No Use opened (as Tony called “for what feels like the millionth time…”) with Feels Like Home into International You Day from the album Hard Rock Bottom. I remember rocking out and running around like a crazy person…no idea what became of the boyfriend during that time. Driving back home with him was treacherous, though, and slow going, with a few inches of snow on the surface roads and highway as the plows don’t come out till dark-early morning. We almost slid off the road down an embankment a couple times.  Worth it.

At that time YC was telling the fans about their new EP, The Underdog EP. I got that record. I’m not sure if I got it from the show…no, it must have been later. It was a spring-into-summer sort of buy. I listened to that EP on repeat on my trip from Ohio to Wisconsin for my first job out of college in early 2003.

Next time I saw YC was at Warped Tour (or was it Summerfest? No, Warped Tour) in Milwaukee, WI. I got their album Ocean Avenue somewhere in there and was just … just blown the fuck away. It was like hook after hook after hook. If a band could make this record, why would any band make any other record ever?? It was a mix of Ryan Key’s (the singer) anthemic song-writing mixed with a producer who sprinkled honey, sunshine and glitter (or maybe just California, the feeling) on top of the studio mix, coupled also with amazing timing (just before everyone got tired of good music and started listening to screamo and Fallout Boy/Vampire Weekend). I think I ended up with two copies of Ocean Avenue, and had the boys all sign the coverlet of one. And I also have a signed coverlet of One For The Kids. No idea where either of those things are now, but probably in storage in California.

So I burned a hole in Ocean Avenue for, like, months. Somewhere in this time period, 2004 I think? This happened (I really don’t need to tell you where on my body this is):

YC tat2

Hm, when did I see YC again? Not for a while. Actually, I might have not seen them again until last Wednesday. Wow, ten years? Can’t be right!  Well … they made another record, Lights and Sounds, I think, went on hiatus, returned with another record, When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, put out another album I had literally never heard about till Wednesday called Southern Air, then put out an acoustic version of Ocean Avenue and went on this ten-year anniversary tour of Ocean Avenue this year … and yeah, I came out for that. I guess that’s it. Ten years. Wow.

YC was just as awesome ten years on as they were when I saw them last, and for this tour they played an acoustic version of the entirety of Ocean Avenue start to finish. Then they brought out their electric gear and melted faces. They even looked just the same, aside from Ben no longer being the lead guitarist, replaced by Ryan Mendez (a change I’ve long been used to) and the bass player, historically changeable for this band, was now called Josh and was an adorable piece of eye-candy. LP, the drummer, continued to be my favorite thing in this band, and possibly on earth. Sean did his patented back-flip from the drum stand/set speakers/stage/whatever’s around and elevated during the electric set.

They did not, to my chagrin, close with October Nights. In fact, One For the Kids material made no appearance in this set. No matter, though, they closed with the song Lights and Sounds with (an amazing drum-solo interlude by LP leading into) a reprisal of Ocean Avenue at the very end.

Man, watching a national act like this puts local bands in severe perspective. It’s like you can taste the music with a band like YC, and it’s sweet like youth.  Watching them, I get why bands who start here move out west and to Brooklyn to test their chops and get better at their craft. Even YC moved from Florida to southern California to get their act right, and sweet lord has it paid off.

This was my first time at Fillmore Silver Spring. It’s about the size of the 9:30 Club, but newer-looking, with chandeliers, a fancy-looking bar upstairs, and the least-punk bathroom situation I’ve ever seen. The stalls are clean, fully-functioning and mostly graffiti- and sticker-free. WTF? It was welcome but…weird. The place is very convenient to me, as I live in Silver Spring already, so that got the venue a lot of points in my book. And booking one of my favorite bands? That got every point in my book.

Non-local, once-east-coast, now-west-coast punk music in an unexpected venue is what’s up for me. What’s up for you?

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Throwing Shade at Black Cat

throwing shade

Well, well. DC got a tiny bit cooler last night. And not just this freakishly amazing August weather. LA’s own Bryan Safi and Erin Gibson brought the live version of their super-entertaining podcast Throwing Shade to the Black Cat. They talk, weekly, about gay issues and lady issues (but not the gross ones…well, sometimes they talk about those too) happening in the US and occasionally around the world.

I love Throwing Shade. I listen to it every week. I think before I got into podcasts in general I could go for weeks without truly laughing so hard I cried. But along came the Max Fun network and everything changed. Bryan and Erin are bawdy and shameless, come straight at the issues of the week without regard to what their conservative Texan moms might say, and quite honestly give me a perspective skewed a bit from my own. Our sentiments are often the same but the long walk to the conclusion takes me places I didn’t expect to go (oftentimes that place being Bryan Safi’s butthole).

And these are exciting/precarious times for gays/ladies: Russia flipping their collective shit over gay protections and gay rights, France (France!) being assholes about gay rights, marriage equality moving steadily forward (hooray!), women’s rights and bodies being under constant political attack, women’s bodies being under constant physical attack, non-existent reproductive rights, I mean, who can keep up with all this mayhem??

Bryan and Erin can. On Sunday they tackled transgender issues, disparity in insurance rates between men and women (women pay more because…uterus? I guess?), and played a rowdy game of “Would you rather…?” with the audience. And offended the hell out of the bartenders, from what I could observe. It was glorious. And well attended to boot.

While I’m on the topic, in addition to Max Fun, Nerdist and Earwolf have some fantastic podcasts (and I’m leaving out This American Life and all the goodness of NPR, because technically, while it can be consumed in podcast form, it’s a radio show). My current faves: Thrilling Adventure Hour, Throwing Shade, My Brother, My Brother and Me, Sklarbro Count(r)y, MATES, Nerdist (depending who’s on), and newly listening to Ronna & Beverly, due to their hilarious visit to Sklarbro Country. If anyone has another ‘cast I might love, give me a holler and let me know about it.

So where was I? Oh yeah! Throwing Shade’s what’s up!

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Photos- US Air Guitar Semi-Finals Washington DC

See my full post about US Air Guitar Semi-Finals.

So photos in a dark venue don’t always come out well. Thanks to my friend Dani for getting some good shots! :

judges

The Judges, Left to right (not including rando in the red shirt): Hot Lixx Houlihan, Fender Splendor, The Shred
finalists

Finalists listening to Bjorn explain the second round rules

Left to right: Van Damage (in motion - always in motion), ThunderStroock, Tommy Fretless, Baberham Lincoln, Marquis

Left to right: Van Damage (in motion – always in motion), ThunderStroock, Tommy Fretless, Baberham Lincoln, Marquis

Fretless, the champion! Hoisted on shoulders, in the spotlight, as all rock stars must be.

Fretless, the champion! Hoisted on shoulders, in the spotlight, as all rock stars must be.

A slightly more heavenly photo of Fretless and his spotlight

A slightly more heavenly photo of Fretless and his spotlight

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US Air Guitar Semi-Finals 2013

DC US Air Guitar Semi-Finals

DC US Air Guitar Semi-Finals

Friday night I returned to the 9:30 Club for the US Air Guitar Semi-Finals, Washington DC for the pageantry, the glory, and for generally getting my face melted off by 17 contestants from all up and down the eastern sea board. I had my favorites going in of course – Doug “The Thunder” Stroock, Tommy Fretless and Babe-reham Lincoln were fond memories from last year – but I really enjoyed some of the new faces too.

I actually got there on time-ish (shocking, right?) and first, let me say thanks to 9:30 Club for being generally awesome and for hosting this event every year, but $4 for a cup of ginger ale?? Fuuuck you. Really. Anyway, having gotten there on time-ish I got to see some of the opening performance before the actual competition started and saw why Hot Lixx Houlihan was stuff of legend. He, the also-legend returning emcee Bjorn Turoque (who’s charming as hell and has dimples for days), 2012 US Air Guitar champ Airistotle (please witness why I fell in love with Airistotle last year as he jams with Windhammer) and World champ Nordic Thunder rocked the stage and got the crowd thoroughly warmed up. Then Turoque informed the audience of the structure and rules of the show (two rounds, contestants judged on technical merit, stage presence, and “airness,” 4.0-6.0 judging scale, judges’ scores are final but feel free to voice your dissatisfaction) and introduced the judges.

This year all three judges were familiar to me: Hot Lixx Houlihan (mentioned above – 2008 US and World Air Guitar champ), Paul “Fender Splendor” Alexander (Philly US Air Guitar Champ – and future favorite mistake if anyone can get me his number…) and recurring DC Air Guitar favorite The Shred, who could not perform this year due to injury. The judges, having all performed at a high level in air guitar, were particularly meticulous in their judging this year, resulting in a three-way tie after the second round and a compulsory “air-off” (which should totally have been “shred-off”). More on that later.

Okay. It’s about to get little technical in here for a sec. Put on your math rock brains and just hang tight for a few bars, you’ll get it.

First round had 17 contestants all bringing a one-minute routine to music of their choosing; some were great and some were just terrible. I’m not naming names on the latter. Pretty sure the US Air Guitar Twitter feed covered that. But my biggest surprise favorites were newcomer Marquis (dressed like Mozart), Van Damage and Cleopatra. Now, Cleopatra was 5 months pregnant (baby daddied by Van Damage) and dressed as a girl scout but somehow still managed to win me over. She was accurate, had great stage presence and command of the audience and, in my mind, nailed the shit out of her routine. However, with the escalating level of recklessness, the prospect of having to fly to LA to compete in the US Finals and possibly to Finland for the World competition, she was never going to be a viable candidate for champion. But still, I felt it necessary to state that, despite her absence from those advancing to the second round,  this lady rocked it.

Coming into the second round the leader board looked like this: Babe-reham Lincoln in 3rd, ThunderStroock, Marquis and Tommy Fretless tied in 2nd, and Van Damage in 1st.

EVERYONE in the lead put in a killer first round, but Van Damage played an eclectic set that swung from classical guitar to metal and back again, produced a rose out of thin air during the Spanish classical part of his routine only to have it turn into blood spatter during the metal phase (like a magician, this guy!), and gained the first (and second) 6.0 of the night. This competition was his to lose.

In the second round people play to a compulsory track chosen by the Air Guitar powers-that-be. This year it was Kickstart My Heart by Motley Crue. The contestants stand together and listen to the track once, then each perform separately. The contestant who goes first has heard the song only once before performing while s/he who goes last will have heard it, in this case, five times before s/he has to perform. Babe-reham went first, as she was in 3rd place. She nailed it. I had no doubt she would. Starting out with a performance this strong would only serve to escalate the level of crazy people had to resort to in order to win.

Van Damage, ThunderStroock, Fretless and Marquis battled it out, altering their outfits and taking their performances up a notch. ThunderStroock continued his excellent performances in his usual garb, which looks something like a rocker and a professional wrestler mixed together. Marquis took off his Mozart wig and brought it hard. Classically. Fretless demonstrated why he was the winner of the DC Semi-finals last year by climbing on top of a speaker, then up the metal scaffolding holding the second-floor railings in place and wailing on air guitar with his elbow hooked behind a support railing. Turoque had informed us during round one that Fretless was favoring a foot/leg injury so there was a split-second of hesitation just before Fretless executed his dismount (don’t think he thought that far ahead). He jumped back down onto the speaker and rolled onto the stage, never dropping his invisible guitar. While I winced for his injury his enthusiasm never wavered.

Van Damage faltered this round, dropping to 2nd place behind the three-way deadlocked ThunderStroock, Fretless and Marquis. This deadlock is an unsusal situation.  Usually there are only two rounds but Washington DC was treated to a third – an “air-off.”

The Air-Off round was similar to round two and our deadlocked first-place competitors performed a compulsory song: Ace of Spades by Motorhead. During this round I could understand why they call Air Guitar a sport. Getting through this competition takes focus, stamina and willingness to take an injury to win. There were somersaults, stage-dives, can smashing and a lot of naked man-torsos in this year’s competition. But injury be damned, Tommy Fretless reigned victorious once again. A man willing to risk his physical well-being for an imaginary sport is a man I’d like in my corner when taking on the World (I know it’s not imaginary – just liked the sentence). He’ll be off to LA to compete in the US Championships. The winner in LA will go to Finland to compete for title of World Champion.

To close the ceremony Turoque invited everyone onto the 9:30 Club stage to Air it out to Freebird.  Heard that song?  You have. You may not know you have.  It’s literally the whitest song on the planet but seems fitting for a closing ceremony like this. As the opening riffs of the song faded in and the crowd swirled around him, funneling onto the stage, Turoque left us with a memorable quote: “Remember, if you’re holding an air guitar you can’t be holding a gun.”  Wise words from a man in a skipper’s cap.

I’ll be getting pictures of the event up on here as soon as I can. Stay tuned. And for those who don’t know, Air Guitar is SO what’s up!

__________________________

7/23/2013 – Corrections and Addendums:

First, for those asking, YES! That’s my hand in the photo at the top of the post.

Babe-reham Lincoln is apparently spelled Baberham Lincoln. Sorry Baberham!

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