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Do I look fat in this?: !!! at Valentine’s.

Photo: Alicia Solsman

Gimme Three Clicks

By Mike Hotter

!!!, Beware! the Other Head of Science

Valentine’s, May 1


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.

“We’re 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.

Fifty, Nifty

These United States

Valentine’s, APril 29

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.

—Josh Potter


Mark O’Connor’s String Celebration

The 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 speed.

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.

—Shawn Stone

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