The Music Snob
Your guide to D.C.'s live music scene

Best Concert Week (to 9 Days) of 2009

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Josh Keppel

    Rocktober always tends to extend into November before the holidays and artists breaking to rejuvenate for their various New Year’s shows. This year, it means the best week (to nine days) of live music of the year. There’s at least one worthwhile show almost every night.

    Even with Echo & the Bunnymen’s Black Cat cancellation -- and the cancellation of William Elliott Whitmore's DC9 set on Thursday, it’s a packed week. And heck, the Bunnymen guys are old anyway, who knows if they could still bring it live.

    Speaking of old, Devo is one of the week’s highlights, playing two nights at Nightclub 9:30. Originally formed in 1972, long before the new wave and punk genres they straddled with unmatched innovation, these cynical geeks were such near-outsiders that their fame is hard to believe. But of all the weird sounds of the ‘80s, Devo best demonstrated that weird could be good. On Sunday they plan to play their brilliant Eno-produced album "Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!" in its entirety. They follow that with the less brilliant but more famous "Freedom of Choice" -- which featured their unlikely gold-selling smash single “Whip It“ -- on Monday.

    The real can’t-miss show of the week, though, is Thursday’s Jesus Lizard concert, also at the 9:30 Club. The abrasive noise-rock band is coming back to D.C. 10 years after its breakup. A few years ago, singer David Yow left the music biz behind and wound up in L.A., where he was pulled back in by the Lizard-loving duo Qui. Soon, there was a reunion of Yow and Jesus Lizard bassist David Sims’ pre-Lizard band Scratch Acid -- an ‘80s band that had almost as much influence on the guitar-driven rock of the ’90s as Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. That was followed by some Jesus Lizard shows and now this tour and the reissue of the Jesus Lizard’s terrific ’90s catalog. It’s not for the faint of ear, but it shouldn’t be missed if you have a fondness for heavy, challenging music.

    But before any of those shows, there’s a bunch of good shows to consider Saturday. Maybe most importantly, U.K. DIY punks Gallows play DC9. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a modern band that better embraces old-school punk. Though coming from across the pond, their music seems more informed by second-wave American punk -- both L.A. hardcore and D.C. straight-edge. A couple of local punk nostalgists open the show. The post-hardcore Mostly Dead does D.C.’s hardcore history proud but with a pronounced San Diego influence and more and more heavy metal seeping into their sound. The Scare’s sound is more straight up hardcore, but of the melodic variety.

    Another local band to consider -- if the heavy stuff isn’t your bag -- is Olivia Mancini & The Mates, once a Washington Social Club side project. The latter’s punky pop-rock is still evident, but the more playful Mates prefer rock, soul and sunny, '60s pop. They’ll be on Black Cat’s Backstage.

    The most adventurous band of the night may be the Texas trio White Denim at Rock and Roll Hotel with Brazos. They mix varied styles influences into a completely original sound. The ‘70s are a big influence here. A psychedelic ‘70s cock rock sound is almost always evident on the band’s LP “Fits,” but it’s presented through experimental composition. The band also reaches back to ’60s garage rock at some times, sunny folk pop at others, and even late-’70s prog. And once in a while they can catch a near-disco groove. Meanwhile, they play it all with the energetic tension of a punk rock band.

    In addition to Devo, Sunday offers Los Lobos at Birchmere and the xx at DC9. The former, of course, is just the best band from East L.A. It's hard to believe a band can stay so vibrant after three decades, but 2006's "The Town and the City" ranked with their best work. The band's eclectic sound -- Tex-Mex, folk, R&B, blues, country, rock, roll -- is always flavored with traditional Spanish and Mexican styles. And despite their genre-hopping catalog of LPs -- from pop to traditional Mexican to rock to the equally pop and jam friendly masterpiece "Kiko" -- they are always unmistakably Los Lobos.

    The latter, the upstart the xx , is one of the latest underground buzzes out of England. Their soulful indie rock touches on the greatest alt-rock of the ‘80s and ‘90s but is so catchy because it doesn’t shy away from modern pop R&B.

    Evangelicals hit the Red and the Black Monday -- again, if Devo isn‘t your thing. As a psych-pop group from Oklahoma, they inevitably face comparisons to The Flaming Lips, and the comparisons are just. Fans of the latter will enjoy the former. That isn't to say they are copycats. Evangelicals run the gamut of indie pop, with a wall of noise always lingering in the background and sometimes crescendoing to the fore.

    If you were planning on checking out Echo & the Bunnymen, consider their cancellation an opportunity. Langhorne Slim will be at the Rock and Roll Hotel Tuesday. “The bastard son of Hasil Adkins,” as he’s known, reaches deep into Americana past but adds definite lo-fi modern touches, not unlike what the Cramps once did to rockabilly. His folk, country and blues avoid sappy indie singer-songwriter territory but remain sad and heartfelt.

    Of course, Public Enemy is dropping by the Lisner Auditorium Wednesday, and if you haven’t seen the hip-hop legends, you should probably check them out, but be prepared for Chuck D’s preaching. His between-song monologues can rob the set of its groove and make it seem too disjointed for a hip-hop show.

    Instead, you may want to check out metal Christmas come early at the Rock and Roll Hotel. On the heels of its new LP, “The Blue Album” Baroness is coming to town with Earthless and US CHRISTMAS. Baroness once could be described as Mastodon’s little brother, as both play proggy heavy metal and come from Georgia, but Baroness has created a sonic identity all their own. They've mixed their sludgy metal with indier sounds, like post-hardcore and prog rock. Opening is San Diego stoner rock super trio Earthless and North Carolina psych-metallurgists U.S. Christmas, a Neurosis-style band that blends the spaciest of '70s rock and the heaviest of Northwest indie.

    On Thursday, Whitmore is not playing DC9, but Hoots & Hellmouth will be there with the fabulous carny rock of U Street Corridor mainstay Milkmachine.

    After Devo and the Jesus Lizard, the Wrens -- Black Cat, Nov. 20 -- is your best bet. The New Jersey band is rumored to be working on a new album, a fourth LP, the follow up to “The Meadowlands,” the best album of 2003. Six years. One less than the years that expired between “The Meadowlands” and their brilliant sophomore record, “Secaucus.” Label problems derailed these underground darlings in the ‘90s, and the members have resigned themselves to day jobs, but they still take their quirky, catchy slacker rock gone ambitious on the road on weekends. They could be a household name. They would have been more so had they buckled to record label demands for radio pop rock. The music is great, but you should see the show if only to honor the band’s principles.

    This terrific stretch comes to a close with the honky tonk of Heavy Trash at DC9 on Nov. 22. (By the way, great music week aside, when was the last time DC9 had this many great acts scheduled in such a short period of time? Kudos, DC9. It‘s a great bar and a great venue.) Jon Spencer and Matt Verta-Ray are a perfect musical marriage. Both are well known for their blues-inflected punk rock, but this union finds them following Elvis instead. They explore rockabilly and honky tonk sounds with this project, and the result is as heavy and trashy as their name and their history suggest.

    Also this week, you have the outlaw comedy country of legend Kinky Friedman on Wednesday at Birchmere, the hard-to-forget folk-pop of Bishop Allen on Thursday at the Black Cat, noise-punk of Tokyo’s Melt-Banana on Nov. 20 at the Rock and Roll Hotel, and a legend of bluegrass with The Del McCoury Band Nov. 21 at Birchmere.