I look fat in this?: !!! at Valentine’s.
Beware! the Other Head of Science
Having the world’s only un-Googleable band name just scratches
the surface of !!!’s aversion to publicity. Having booked
a stealth show only two weeks before, and with nary any promotion,
!!! (you can call them any three syllables of like kind) set
up a merch table—without any merch. This being a Friday night,
people had dancing, not commerce, on their minds. So it was
that a sizable audience of club kids, indie rockers and a
few young punks took to moving and sweating to the funky beats
made by the Chk Chk Chk-ers. The incongruity of six rather
dour-looking, 30-something white guys playing dance music
(and playing it so damn well) was part of the fun.
gonna play some new songs for you—that’s what excites us right
now,” vocalist Nic Offer unapologetically intoned, Justin
van der Volgen making like Larry Graham with broader-than-Broadway,
subterranean bass grooves on the otherwise nondescript new
tunes. Everyone in the crowd seemed to be waiting for that
one song they really, really liked, and !!! tried to oblige
by sprinkling in the more melodic offerings from 2007’s excellent
Myth Takes. During their ‘hit,’ “Must be the Moon,”
Offer jolted the crowd out of their dance trance by jumping
into the audience, gyrating amiably in the face of a gent
in a fedora who had offered to take the mic away from Offer
so he could move the crowd himself. (Offer won the dance-off.)
“All My Heroes are Weirdos” earned the band’s dance-punk tag,
while one new song (no song names were given) featured an
ear-grabbing highlife riff from the band’s secret weapon,
guitarist Mario Andreoni.
After exactly an hour, Offer said, “Thank you, that’s all
we know!” and the band left the dance-hungry crowd in coitus
interruptus. A call for an encore left no response, leaving
some with bruised feelings—it was, after all, just 11 PM on
a Friday night. With no merch and no encore, and an enjoyable
but quick hour of music, the inscrutable !!! left one feeling
as semi-satisfied as a one-night stand.
Local band Beware! the Other Head of Science were just about
the perfect opener, their energetic take on dance-punk landing
them closer to the hardcore side of the fence at times. They
also have a couple of songs melodic and catchy enough to get
them on the radio, accessible in a screechy Isaac Brock sort
of way—and unlike the headliners, Beware! seemed intent on
giving the crowd more than their money’s worth.
These United States
By the time These United States finished their set, the sun
had only barely gone down. It was Wednesday night, downstairs
at Valentine’s, and there was a whole second show billed for
later in the evening. They couldn’t have played for more than
45 minutes, and there couldn’t have been more than 30 people
in the bar, but this was the sort of gig that the best hard-working
bands build their careers on. Following the release of two
solid albums in 2008 and an NPR spotlight, singer Jesse Elliot
and his D.C.-based band are primed for larger things, but
their music suggests that when they get there, they’ll still
perform as if for a few lonely strangers leaning against the
pool table in a dark room on Wednesday.
Much has been made of Elliot’s verbose story songs, and the
set opener, “West Won,” from Crimes, is a good example.
Invoking Cain, Abel, Dionysus and Chief Logan, his brand of
Americana pushes far beyond the forced literacy of some in
the alt-country world and into lyrical terrain that warps
classic tropes into wonderfully strange and occasionally witty
conglomerations. Behind it all is a stomp and twang that propels
each breathy verse into each oblique chorus without cloying
or sentimentalizing a thing. “Kings and Aces,” from A Picture
of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden,
built from a sly shuffle into outright honky-tonk that turned
Johnny Lee’s famous country lyric into “She looks for love
in all the wrong places/Thinking that knowledge is all kings
and aces/Only memory knows what memory erases/And there ain’t
no sleuth can truth you ever traces.”
It’s probably a little heady for jukebox fare, but at the
core of These United States is a beer-drinking roadhouse ethos
that guarantees rowdy guitar riffs and devil-may-care drumming.
The anthemic crooner “Burn this Bridge” featured some tasty
pedal steel and vocal harmonies simple enough to encourage
anyone half-in-the-bag to join in (a bold feat for 8:30 PM).
The flipside to this kind of offering was also on display,
when a weepy tambourine breakdown did little more than allow
for the din of barroom conversation and the baseball game
on TV to rise above the mix.
The cartoonish oom-pah and railroad clang of “Honor Amongst
Thieves” was quick to break the silence though, on the one
hand delivering the closest thing the band now has to a “hit,”
while proving why they’re fitting tourmates with the B3nson
clan. (Astonishingly, We Are Jeneric, the Hoborchestra, and
Barons in the Attic all squeaked in opening sets.) With upcoming
shows slated with the Black Keys, Vetiver and the Avett Brothers,
it’s safe to say that this one was a middle gig, but in the
way they approached it, These United States make no distinction.
Mark O’Connor’s String Celebration
Egg, April 25
Fiddler-violinist Mark O’Connor brought six young musicians
with him to the Swyer Theatre for his String Celebration,
but no one would have mistaken this for newbie night. Two
examples: Sara Caswell (violin) heads two jazz ensembles and
has released a couple of CDs; Anastasia Khitruk (violin) has
concertized around the world and already has one Grammy nomination
to her name.
So it was more like what they used to call a “super session.”
The show began with O’Connor leading the full ensemble through
his lilting, lovely “Emily’s Reel.” Most everyone then left,
leaving O’Connor, stand-up bassist Kyle Kegerreis and (acoustic,
of course) guitarist Hans Holzen to burn their way through
O’Connor’s “hot jazz” number “Gypsy Fantastic.” It was pure
delight to watch O’Connor and Holzen trade solos at breakneck
Renowned as a genre-jumper, O’Connor played a country elegy
(“Fiddler Going Home”), followed by a 1922 hit for Texas fiddler
Eck Robertson, and then a long excerpt from his Fiddle
Concerto No. 1. The latter illustrated exactly what its
composer said it would: a way to incorporate “fiddle” technique
into the classical idiom.
Next, cellist Mike Block had his featured moment, a trio of
songs that ranged from a country jaunt to a jazz take on the
Beatles’ “Michelle” to a reggae-influenced ditty of his own.
He was followed by Caswell, who performed an achingly lovely
“But Beautiful” and Kenny Dorham’s intense “Asiatic Raes.”
(Both were accompanied by Kegerreis and Holzen).
The second half of the show featured solo spots for violinists
Samuel Weiser and Khitruk. Weiser looks about 12 and plays
like a master. He went the jazz route, too, performing works
by Carlos Santana (“Europa”) and Cannonball Adderley (“Dat
Dere”). Khitruk, on the other hand, dipped into the classical
repertoire—and stole the show.
She brought the house down with Ivan Khandoshkin’s Sonata
No. 1, a vibrant, emotional piece that couldn’t be mistaken
for anything but Russian in origin. Then she paired with O’Connor
on an excerpt from his Double Violin Concerto, and
they both brought the house down.
The fact that the price of a ticket included admission to
a fiddle workshop earlier the day of the show probably accounted
for the large number of tweeners and teens in the audience.
Their rapt attention (alongside their equally impressed elders),
however, was testament to the high quality of the performances.