Upon ascending the stairs at DC9 Wednesday night, I was greeted by a haze of digital chirps and static. Growing, a three-piece noise outfit from Brooklyn, had already launched into their set and I couldn’t make heads or tails of what I was hearing. Order did start to emerge from the chaos, however, as I discerned a method to the madness. Using two guitars, an army of effects pedals and countless sequencers, drum machines and synths, the band built up and tore down a series of warped, disorienting sound collages, underpinned by harsh, driving beats. It felt like the ideal appetizer for what was to come: a set full of epic melodies constructed from bits of digital detritus. I’m talking about Fuck Buttons. The group ably lived up to their reputation for captivating, visceral live shows. They opened, appropriately enough, with their latest single, “Surf Solar,” a ten-minute epic that finds buzzsaw guitars and battery-powered crescendos riding atop a massive, club-friendly beat. Throughout the night, the band toed the line between accessibility and inscrutability, making sure to temper big melodic gestures with blasts of atonal noise. Regardless, the crowd was hooked from the first song until the set’s abrupt end, at which point the two band members, who hadn’t uttered a word all night, simply packed up their gear and walked off as if nothing had ever happened.
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Not even tickets to game six of the World Series could dissuade some fans from settling down to two-and-a-half hours with Lyle Lovett and his large band—though several Yankee ticket scalpers still paced outside the Beacon Theatre, miles from the big game in the Bronx. It was pretty fulfilling to see so many eschewing the conspicuous pomposity of yet another pinstriped championship for the antithetic Lovett. At times self-deprecating, but always dapper, demure, and humbling, Lovett led his 14-piece ensemble through a broad setlist of sounds old and new, big and small. Though supporting his most recent release, Natural Forces, and its decidedly country sound was the tour’s ostensible objective, Lovett indulged the crowd using his entire repertoire and array of styles (“My Baby Don’t Tolerate,” “Cute as a Bug,” “L.A. County,” and “I’ve Been to Memphis.”) His masterful band, brilliantly agile and polished, was up to the task: condensing into a bluegrass quartet with mandolin player Keith Sewell sidling up with Lovett for perfectly symmetrical harmonies (“Up in Indiana”); or expanding into a riotous blues band, guitars firing on all cylinders (“It’s Rock and Roll.”) One of Lovett’s most endearing attributes is his refusal to take himself seriously, and songs like “Pantry” (about food adultery) and “Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel” (chorus: “Choke my chicken till the sun goes down”) exuded that. At the same time he takes his craft and blessings seriously. Intimate numbers like “Nobody Know Me,” “Natural Forces,” and “Fat Babies,” all laced with tangential stories and quips, made the night seem like our very own Vh1 Storytellers—in a good way. Lovett, astute showman that he is, didn’t shy from pulling out “If I Had a Boat” when the moment called for it, and, always the modest gentleman, deflected the crowd’s praise at his band until the end.
Last night, two of the most buzzed-about new bands of the moment rolled through Washington: San Francisco’s Girls and New Jersey’s Real Estate. Though both bands mine similar sonic territory (lo-fi indie-pop,) and have impossible names to google, in a live setting, their approaches clearly diverge. Real Estate ably demonstrated that beneath all the haze hides a tight ensemble. Belying their beach bum reputation, there was nary a stray note to be found in the band’s set, though they certainly made it look effortless. What’s more, the band imbued their sunny, midtempo compositions with a palpable sense of warmth, rendering tracks off of their self-titled full-length even more inviting than they are on record. Girls, by way of contrast, felt sluggish, though the slower tempos of their songs could be partially to blame. Still, they seemed to lean too heavily on frontman Christopher Owens’ unhinged personality, relying on his delivery to carry most of the songs’ weight. When this approach worked—most notably on the skuzzy shoegaze of “Morning Light” and the bouncy breakup pop of “Laura”—the results were stunning. When it didn’t, the set tended to drag. While Girls show a great deal of promise, they clearly still have a ways to go as a live act. They might want to start by learning a thing or two from their tourmates.
It truly was a family affair for the Yonder Mountain String Band (YMSB) in Chicago last week as the newgrass quartet kicked off their annual two day run at the House of Blues. Opening the show was banjoist Danny Barnes, accompanied by YMSB mandolin player Jeff Austin.
Every time I attempt to see the Boss, disaster strikes. In May, Bruce Springsteen and company rolled through town and, needless to say, I was looking forward to the show. But on the eve of the concert, upon returning home from a trip, I discovered that my apartment had been flooded, no thanks to a busted water pipe. Out of desperation, I asked my colleague Wilson McBee if he would attend and review the show in my place while I mopped. (He kindly obliged and did one better by writing a more thoughtful review than I ever could have.) Luck was on my side, however, because just six months later Springsteen and the E Street Band were back at the Verizon Center, somehow managing to sell out the 20,000 seat Verizon Center yet again.