Time is Fire at Rock N Roll Hotel
Lemme tell ya' a story about this band. A year and a half ago Time is Fire were scheduled to play a house show but couldn't because the lead singer was sick. Three members of the band showed up anyway and played a couple of their songs as instrumentals. The result was funky, enough so that they got the audience to dance (a rare thing at house shows in my experience) and got a request for an encore.
This despite the fact that their music has too much gravitas to be "Get up and dance" funky. Of course the music is catchy but it is also a vessel for some pretty serious thoughts. Song titles include "Violence (Brings Violence)" and "Turn Your TVs Off". Political commentary from DC... okay, that's not new. What is new is the unique blending of international styles and perspectives. A Sufi poet from Iran working with the drummer of Gwar (yes, really) was not likely to result in anything usual. There are identifiable elements: some Afrobeat rhythms, psychedelic guitar work, a song with lyrics in Farsi (probably), but the emergent sound is definitely something original.
Puff Pieces at Rock N Roll Hotel
There seems to be a tradition of non-traditional punk in DC and Puff Pieces are very much a part of it, though their musical DNA might just include the band DNA as well. Puff Pieces's music is like rock performed by people who are in shock, or at least stunned by something (the world around them?) The singing is barely inflected but sounds distinctly worried. An anxious, almost mechanical guitar backbeat on most songs heightens the sense of paranoia to a point which is almost comical, or at least absurd (shades of Modern Times perhaps?). The lyrics, though, cover typical punk topics such as gentrification, the excesses of the greedy, and our over-medicated society. It just doesn't sound the least bit typical.
Not that they sound similar but Puff Pieces remind me of Protomartyr. Both bands need a couple of listens before you really "get it". Both bands are in clearly the intellectual/political universe of punk but are doing something more original musically. Oh, and it's hard to mosh to either one. Gee, between that and the backbeat Puff Pieces might just be an alt-Reggae band too...
The Black Heart Procession at Rock N Roll Hotel
I lived in San Diego from 200-2003 and saw The Black Heart Procession several times while I was there. I also picked up a few albums (2, Three, Amore Del Tropico) so I've certainly heard their music often enough over the last 17 years. Yet somehow I never once saw this band in my photographer days. I guess they dropped off my radar, though I hear they haven't been touring as much lately either. Whatever the reason I am definitely glad that I finally got around to photographing them at least this one time.
Oh, and yes there was a boxing match (of sorts) in the middle of the show. A full set of these guys is a pretty strong dose of pathos so I guess they figured a comedy break was in order. See, The Black Heart Procession's music is emotional. Not "Emo" mind you. Emo is serious weak sauce compared to this. TBHP play some of the saddest music in the rock-n-roll genre and at its best, some of the most real as well. And they still sound good live! So go see them!
Copes at Rock N Roll Hotel
The Brodown Throwdown lowdown continues with the band Copes from Baltimore. Copes remind me of the more pop-oriented 90's indie rock bands. While they might have hints of grunge and punk influence their style is more punchy and upbeat. They're obviously having a blast on stage and even their covers seemed like they were chosen to be crowd-pleasers. Still, it's not right to call them a "pop" band. They're clearly on the rock side of the pop/rock divide. They're just close to the line, maybe so they can stick one toe across the line every now and then, that sort of thing
Teen Mortgage at Rock N Roll Hotel
I caught Teen Mortgage at something called the "Brodown Throwdown". That has to be the worst name for a show ever but it is a nice (free!) showcase of new-ish local bands so I'm done complaining about that.
Teen Mortgage are one of those bands who sound garage-y but not like 60's rock, kind of punk but they're obviously not punks, and with a more than a little grunge influence. The resulting sound is somewhere in the the vicinity of Thee Oh Sees and Bass Drum of Death. It's the kind of music which is energetic without getting totally out of control.
They're less than a year old, or rather the band is less than a year old, and they're still a bit sloppy, which is to say that the musicians in the band are a bit sloppy but not like 1-year olds are. When the guitarist broke a string during Is It and they just sort of said "whatever" and finished the set with a broken string... that sort of thing. The songs are definitely solid, though. Best to think of them as a new band which is off to a good start and should keep going and write more songs, which is of course exactly the sort of thing they're showcasing at the Brodown Throwdown.
Bat Fangs at Rock N Roll Hotel
A Supergroup playing hard rock in the style of the late 70s-early 80s (aka the era of the Supergroup), Bat Fangs formed just about a year ago and are already super tight. This of course is the great thing about Supergroups, or at least the ones which aren't just a blatant cash grab which this one... obviously isn't. Take some experienced musiicans, perhaps who have jammed together before, and they can go from bad to badass in no time. Now all Bat Fangs need to do is record more than one single so everyone has not yet seen them play live can grasp just how thoroughly and consistently they rock.
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.