Went to the Black Cat last night for no particular reason — a friend of mine wanted to go out and then looked up the band The Mantis and was mildly interested. So I was like, ok, sure. Ten bucks, something to do on a Wednesday night.
We hit the backstage one or two songs into the set by openers America Hearts. My first reaction was, this is ok, I have heard a lot of worse bands before. It was pleasant garage-y pop music with a singer/guitarist who looked about 15. Basic stuff, but not bad.
After about 5 minutes of watching, though, I finally noticed the drummer and was amused to recognize a certain local musician whom I’ve seen perform, like, a million times with a million bands. Interesting. Who was this young pop singer heading the band though? I never really figured out the deal, but here is America Hearts’ myspace page where you can see the line-up (I didn’t recognize the other musicians but maybe I should have). The recorded versions of the songs are acoustic and more like americana; the live sound was more rocking and a little scuzzier (i.e., better). The thing that sounds the same is the singing — it’s not strong, but not without its charms. At its best it reminded me of that Velvet Underground song “After Hours” with Moe Tucker on vocals. At its worst I was choking on a few of the lyrics (my friend texted me during one song to say “I love you the way the train loves the tracks”). Anyhow I guess the singer was actually a fair amount older than 15, but she was still young, could still grow into performing and singing and songwriting. And I’m always intrigued by these random, unexpected conglomerations of DC musicians.
The second band was The Mantis (or just “Mantis”?). They played typical post-rock instrumental stuff… I felt about them pretty similar to the way I felt about America Hearts: not bad, has some good moments, but nothing I haven’t seen lots of times already. I actually found it less interesting than AH because at least with pop music there is a lot that can draw you in; with The Mantis, even the background visuals were kind of dull and generic. At certain points they really sounded good, but at this point in time, a band in this style has to really be amazing or different to make me pay a lot of attention. The Mantis at times seemed like they were just jamming on good guitar parts that weren’t leading anywhere. It didn’t sound all that different from the stuff I was screwing around with on guitar just an hour before the show. This is the kind of music that works better in a druggy boozey basement party than at the Black Cat between two pop bands.
The headliner was called Happy Hollows and they had CDs and 7″s for sale so they seemed like they might be semi-legit. They apparently are from L.A. and had a sort of cute singer/guitarist and they were, again, ok overall. They sounded kind of like ’90s alternative rock. I might have been a little more into it — there was one guitar part I liked with harmonics! — but I didn’t really dig the singer’s voice. I ducked out after about half of a set. Again, like all the bands last night, they were ok but nothing I haven’t seen before.