January 4, 2007 | HARMLESS UNTRUTHS

The year in rock

Over the past year I tried to get back into the habit of going to rock concerts as much as possible. It ended up not being possible as much as I wanted, but I still did respectably, considering my aging legs and ears. I’ve been tryin’ to remember all my favorite shows of the year (many of them were within the same week or so), and I think I am forgetting some, but this is another good excuse to tell some tales and add some more multimedia links. (Note to self: save thoughtful comments about the social impact of youtube for later post; stick to the topic at hand for today.)

I want to provide synopses of my five favorite shows of last year, but I thought I’d begin with a couple quick lists. First, some of the bands I happened to see in 2006 that I didn’t know much of anything about, but which made a favorable enough impact on me that I did my best to remember their names for future reference; my nice first impressions: Tokyo Police Club (opening for Enon, playing after Neptune), Tra La Las (opening for Mary Timony — I’d seen them before but forgotten them. these are not the same as the Tra La Las who have a myspace page, I’m talking about the Brooklyn band with the lady singers), Antelope (at Fort Reno), the GoStation (random show at DC9 but I wish I hadn’t gotten talked into joining their mailing list and anyway their debut EP was not very good but they put on a good show), Cedars (random local band at Black Cat), The Subjects (another random show at DC9), and maybe the unfortunately punctuated ¡Forward, Russia! (happened to wander up to see them at Black Cat). Nice job, random bands!

Then I’ll list some of the other great shows I can remember; the runners-up: Sleater-Kinney w/ two thirds of French Toast (last S-K show in DC, I miss them already, it was a fantastic show that looked like it would be cancelled but they came back to town two days after electrical problems scrapped their scheduled date)… Mogwai one night followed by Pelican w/ Mono the next night (so much noise from the combined shows I didn’t regret missing the Red Sparowes and Isis shows around the same time)… Neptune (an awesome noise rock band with home-welded instruments)… Channels (low-key show at Galaxy Hut, my first time seeing them. so sad about their son)… Golden Smog (great band, even without Tweedy, I would like to get more into these guys)… Wilco (I hadn’t seen them in about five years and they have changed a bit, getting very classic rock)… Be Your Own Pet (opening for Sonic Youth, great contrast between the band of energetic teenagers and the band of eternally cool old folks)… TV on the Radio (great great band but still didn’t live up to the hype)… And a few moments of Yo La Tengo (especially the awesome stripped-down closer of “Paul Is Dead”).

And now my 5 most memorable shows of 2006:

5) Verse with a bunch of other young hardcore bands, August 23 at Warehouse Next Door

I went to the Black Cat one night to see some band (I forget whom exactly, nobody of major consequence) and the band had cancelled. And a couple friends were gonna join me for the show but I decided I would head down to the Warehouse Next Door instead because I had heard a song or two by this band Verse, but didn’t know anything about them. So I got on my bike and went down to the show, alone since the Warehouse is a little off the path from my normal stomping grounds so nobody wanted to go that far to see unknown hardcore.

So I got to the WND and hung out at the bar, and it was this crazy weird night. I think I was about ten years older than anybody else in the place, except for the bartender, who was graciously serving free Shirley Temples to all the kids in all the bands, of which there seemed to be about five. I sat at the bar and appeared to be the only one drinking alcohol. I was not gonna pretend to be straightedge; I thoroughly enjoyed my xbudweiserx.

All the bands seemed to know each other, and they all sounded pretty much the same: enthusiastic, passionate, intense. I was never really into hardcore music and it still doesn’t do that much for me, but I can see how it could be an amazing thing for a high school kid. I was a little bit jealous — growing up in the sticks, we had no real music scene like that — but also a little bit skeptical. I mean, this kind of music hasn’t really changed in 20 years, as far as I can tell, and all the jumping around and stomping can seem kind of silly. But hey, at least these kids really care about music.

Check the clip I found from my first hardcore show in eons, it’s even better than I remembered:

4) Comets on Fire, September 1 at Black Cat

This one is kind of an awkward story to relate but oh well here goes. I’ve been digging Comets on Fire for a couple years and was really siked to see them, but almost missed them due to my own stupidity. This was a Friday night show and I had no other plans that night, so after work I sat at home with my roommate and drank beers until it got late enough to head to the Black Cat. So was I sober? Clearly not. But was I abnormally incapacitated? No way.

I got to the ’Cat around 9:30, I think, planning to eat food and then just hang out at the show. So I bought a ticket and then wandered over to the Food For Thought section, ordered food, did not feel especially drunk or anything. But as I began to eat my veggie burger, I very suddenly started to feel really faint. I got up to maybe get some water or go outside, but ended up collapsing onto the floor.

Seconds later, a couple people from the club came running over to check on me. I felt okay but something weird had definitely happened. They sat me down, got me some water, took my food away (I was a little annoyed by the last). I was pretty much fine, and talked to the club staff about what had happened. Alcohol on an empty stomach was the main factor, I assume, but on the other hand, I had just walked about 10 blocks in really cold rain, and was therefore wearing a pretty heavy coat, and hadn’t taken it off at the club. So I think the weird temperature shifts were a part of it too. Anyway it’s the only time anything like that has happened to me, so I was a little nervous about it.

A few minutes after I fell, DC paramedics showed up on the scene. Apparently, this is pretty automatic in a case like this, at least for the Black Cat. They came in, checked my blood pressure and invited me to head outside to the ambulance for more tests. So I agreed, and went out to get my blood sugar tested and maybe one or two other minor tests. And they said I seemed pretty healthy, asked whether I wanted to go to a hospital (“Do I have to?”), and then let me go back to the club.

I wasn’t entirely clear on whether the club wanted me to return. I went inside and looked for the people who had helped me out and brought me water, but they were nowhere to be found, so I kind of shrugged and went on upstairs to the bands. I sat and sipped water by the side of the stage, feeling pretty much normal, until the show started.

So after that extremely unusual build-up, it was strange to just watch a rockin’ show. Comets on Fire were fantastic, though. It felt very ’70s, and the singer reminded me a lot of Jason Lee in Almost Famous, so my kinda distracted mental state fit in pretty well. Anyhow that is my story of passing out at the Black Cat. I can’t really think of a more appropriate band to see under the circumstances.

Once again, here’s a (too short! yet awesome!) youtube clip from that night:

3) Drive-By Truckers, July 15 at 9:30 Club

I can’t believe it took me so long to get into the Drive-By Truckers. I’d heard of them years ago, heard they were great, and that they sang about stuff I could relate to — growing up in rural America, dealing with the wider world, etc., but I’ve just been listening to them for the past year or so. I picked a good time to jump on the bandwagon, because their show in July was just incredible.

I can’t do it justice but there is a good review here and you can download it from NPR here. That first reviewer mentions that “one of the band’s greatest beliefs is in the redemptive power of rock and roll” and he gets it exactly right.

I love DBTs’ ballads and their southern rock stompers and their Rolling Stones-esque rockers. For this show they trotted out an old Stones song, “Moonlight Mile”, that I had never noticed before but that has since become a favorite of mine. Here’s an mp3 of it (download link):

2) Medications, October 6 at Black Cat

Well, well, well. Sometimes bands grow on you. Medications are a DC band that include two of the three members of the late, great Faraquet. Now I was a huge fan of Faraquet, but I had seen Medications several times and somehow they never won me over. I was impressed by their musicianship (also they are very friendly dudes), but the musical shift from Faraquet to Medications somehow seemed to be a step towards a more… dare I say? … boring sound.

Maybe I hadn’t really been paying attention, or maybe I just wanted to hear Faraquet and didn’t give the new band enough credit. Anyhow, when I saw them in October, it was totally mindblowing. It was a conversion experience. After a few years spent in the darkness, I was baptized into Medications fandom.

Sadly, this is one show where I couldn’t find any pictures or video or anything. And it was just a ridiculous performance. I’ll keep my eyes on youtube and see if anything ever shows up. In the meantime though, here’s a video from an older show and here are some cool pictures of Medications (including some from Poland!).

And go see Medications if you ever can. I will; I won’t doubt them again.

1) Rah Bras w/ Edie Sedgwick, August 24 at DC9

A quirky freak-o electro-rock dream lineup!

I’d seen Edie Sedgwick before and been highly impressed. Edie is a persona inhabited by Justin Moyer for the purpose of dressing in (ugly) drag, singing demented (but intellectual!) songs about celebrities, showing clever video clips, and carrying on amusing banter with a sometimes-confused audience.

Edie did a really quick set (30 minutes?) and talked a lot about Odwalla. (S)he also made some sort of reference to King’s X. It was great. The crowd was small but into it, and I wouldn’t have minded a few more songs, but then, I was really there to see Rah Bras for the first time.

Rah Bras are one of the strangest bands I’ve ever loved, and (I think) the only one to feature a keytar-keyboard-drums configuration. They were just flat-out fabulous. I wish I had seen them before and I wish I could see them again, I know they’ve been around a while and I’ve heard rumors they may have broken up. But it was an awesome freakshow.

I knew most of the songs because I’d been listening to their records a lot, but they did the album versions more than justice live. It was all augmented by the drummer’s occasionally skating across the floor in those crazy skate-shoes that little kids wear now, by weirdly sexy dancing bits, and by a histrionic tribute to the newly-downgraded Pluto (“We’ll never forget you, Pluto!”) set to a cover of a song that I didn’t know, but looked up as soon as I got home, that turned out to be Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing At All”.

I can’t say enough great things about Rah Bras. It’s fun, catchy, freaky music for the jaded music fan. Again, I couldn’t find much on the internet that captures the live Rah Bras experience, but I’ll finish with one of a few clips on youtube of them performing around the same time. ’Twas a good year for live music indeed.