Den-Mate at Milkboy ArtHouse
Den-Mate started out as a solo bedroom recording project but they've massively expanded their sound. Going from one musician to five (and fomerly six!) will do that, of course. Singer/songwriter Julia Hale has said in interviews that she wanted to add a punk quality to her sound. Well, she certainly did that... and has been known to fling herself into the audience and mosh with her fans.
Not that Den-Mate are s punk band mind you. They actually remind me of some of the darker New Wave bands, especially Siouxsie and the Banshees without the vocal harshness. While the songs are often contain foreboding lyrics and melancholy chords they also have enough pop catchiness and punk urgency that they feel upbeat on the whole. Think of The Smiths, who write surprisingly peppy songs about hitting children and the like, but less lackadaisical. Julia Hale is a better candidate for the American Morrisey than Lana Del Rey is, that's for sure.
I should add that once in a while Den-Mate performs solo. Confusingly "Den-Mate" can refer to either Julia Hale solo or the full band. Mostly she performs the same songs, though there are a few which are specific to the solo shows. That's quite a trick performing the same songs both on solo guitar and with a five piece and making it work so well both ways. I suppose it's not unheard of, though. Peter Murphy has a somewhat similar sound and he does acoustic shows, right?
Did you notice that I just compared Den-Mate to a bunch of British bands? I get the feeling they might be operating in the wrong market. Hey British people, do you want to be hipper than your friends? Of course you do that's why you're reading my blog (heh). Anyway, write up Den-Mate in one of your U.K. music rags and break this band in England and you will be the coolest person ever, I promise.
Canker Blossom at Milkboy ArtHouse
Canker Blossom are not just energetic on stage, they're trying to impress upon you how energetic they are. They put on a show like they're already superstars. I think the only reason they stop between songs is so they don't physically catch fire. Oh yeah, their shows are definitely fun.
Lala Lala at DC9
Lala Lala specialize in songs which sound like they should be the last song on the album. You know how some albums end with a particularly portentious song? That song which adds emotional kick to the work by leaving you with the impression that there is some unfinished business? Think All Apologies or Glory Box. Well, a whole lot of Lala Lala's songs sound like that last song on the album.
Lala Lala are also big on lyrics perfomed like chants: a little bit psychedelic, a little bit shoegazey, and totally hypnotic. This is not to suggest however that Lala Lala never rock out. Some of their songs are basically garage-rock with more vocal effects. So yes they do have the occasional high-energy, headbanging moments. Disclaimer: those moments make for the best photos and may be over-represented in the gallery above.
Slothrust at Rock N Roll Hotel
I've seen Slothrust many times over the years and they have always sounded too spot on to be playing such dingy venues (the Trash Bar, really?) It's like "Hey, these guys are actually good, what are they doing here?" As I recall they're all music school grads and thus far more competent than the competition at that level. Fortunately for my sense of propriety Slothrust have kind of broken out in the last year or so and are now playing to hundreds of fans at lovely venues like the Rock and Roll Hotel.
Even better, or maybe worse, they seem to have developed a cult following in DC. People have been singing along to their songs for a few years now and there seem to be more of these amateur vocalists at every show. One guy was wearing a Britney Spears T-shirt with multiple Britneys on it which reminded me of this (though it actually has more to do with this). Slothrust seem to have tapped into something and it's weird, man. Personally I just like their music because it's catchy while also having with some serious oomph and clever lyrics on top of that. It's like a delicious musical layer cake of some sort.
Tancred at Rock N Roll Hotel
Jess Abbott of Tancred has undergone prehaps the most complete metamorphosis from bedroom folkie to grunge goddess that I have ever seen. This simply is not what she sounded like a few years ago. Plus there's, well, a band with her on stage now. But her musical themes still tend towards the personal, sometimes confessional, sometimes slice-of-life storytelling. Lots of "I" and lots of "You" in Tancred's music. It's just that now You and I are backed by catchy guitar hooks and the occasional straight up rocking out.