In the past couple weeks I’ve seen a few rock bands, and need to note it for the record as I am starting to forget all my shows. A couple weeks ago I got a phone call from friends with extra tickets to go see The National who have been getting rave reviews everywhere but whom I don’t really know much about. I went to the 930 Club that night (June 20) and checked them out and found them fairly decent but totally non-memorable. I mean I am listening to them again right now via their myspace page and I’m like, “oh yeah, this sounds familiar” and it sounds pretty good, but for me, I know it will disappear from my brain again two seconds after I turn it off. Possibly this is the kind of band where you need to know the lyrics to really get into them, but otherwise, they reminded me a little bit of ’80s bands and a little bit of Coldplay. DCist liked it and it is available on NPR but there were only a few parts where I really perked up — when things got noisy and dissonant. Otherwise I found The National to be just so much pleasant ephemera: a fun band but not one that impacts me very much.
The night after, I headed up to Merriweather Post Pavilion to see Wilco. It was my third or fourth Wilco show (depending on whether I count Jeff Tweedy solo) and in some ways it was the best of the lot because the seats were awesome and the performance was super-duper. But I am not the biggest Wilco fan anymore. Nothing against them personally, but I have found my attention waning as they have become more popular and more professional. I love the band and I am in awe of Nels Cline and would go watch him play in any situation. But Wilco just don’t seem vital the way they once did, at the turn of the millennium or in the aftermath of 9/11. Nothing will really top the experience of watching them play “Ashes of American Flags” on the 930 Club stage in September of 2001, when it seemed like the world was collapsing around us in so many ways, not so much from terrorism as from politics, xenophobia, warmongering, scapegoating. I remember a couple days after 9/11 going to a bar and they played “Killing an Arab” and people were like, “fuck yeah.” And I remember going to the Black Cat the next week (roughly) and seeing Unwound and being like, “thank god I’m able to go out and feel kind of normal.” And I remember how Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was finally coming out and Tweedy was openly singing about “a war on war” and about saluting the ashes of American flags, and even though it had been written earlier, it was so reassuring to feel that some musicians were not jumping on the pro-vengeance lashing-out-at-the-Arabs bandwagon. I don’t think Wilco is an especially political band but I think that YHF helped a lot in 2001 in keeping me from despair over the direction of the country. When Neil Young was releasing “Let’s Roll,” Wilco were still rocking on like always and their oblique politics remained comfortingly sane.
So anyway that is my rant about how Wilco will never seem so necessary again, now that the air has cleared a bit and people are no longer just knee-jerk trusting the president. But it was scary for a long time and things are still so screwed up…
Anyways. Here is a video of them playing “Via Chicago” at Merriweather:
And one of my favorites, “Late Greats”:
This past Monday the weather was lovely and I went to Fort Reno to see The Evens and Joe Lally. It was my first time seeing Joe Lally perform his solo material (I even missed it when my friend Willie played with him) and I had heard mixed things about his solo shows, but it was actually pretty good. He played with the DC Improvisers Collective who were rather impressive. Joe Lally is not the greatest singer but I can sympathize with that and I actually enjoyed his show quite a bit. He said he was moving out of town, and I was wondering what was going through his mind as he sat on stage at the end of the show, letting the DCIC jam out. He was looking out over the park, from the stage he played tons of times in Fugazi, into the beautiful evening sky, and I guessed he was thinking about his whole life in DC, about his family, about his future. Again, I can relate.
The Evens I have seen enough times that I have kind of had enough of them. They are fun and they have a few songs that I really like but, overall, I feel like if you’ve seen them once you can be done with it. Something about them just doesn’t quite do it for me: it’s like their combined talent and charisma doesn’t add up to a great enough sum. They harmonize well, they are both excellent musicians, their heart is in the right place, but it just isn’t cathartic the way it should be. I keep wanting The Evens to inspire me but instead I end up waiting for them to start rocking out, and they never quite do. I dunno. I am glad they are around but they are not on my “must-see” list. I wouldn’t mind seeing Joe Lally again sometime though…