Crooked Fingers is busy in D.C. this week, with two sets opening for the amazing country chanteuse Neko Case and one show headlining across the river.
Brian Jonestown Massacre, Monday at Nightclub 9:30 ... Um, is it dumb to mention that Brian Jonestown Massacre digs the Stones? It's unavoidable, but really, for those who don't know 'em, it's really not the Stones you're most familiar with. You can compare their sound to a specific record, the Beatlesesque psychedelia of "Their Satanic Majesties' Request," and you could do that even before they title a record "Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request." Still, it's tough to pigeonhole them that way, as their earliest work was inflected with a Velvety shoegaze that still finds its way into their music almost two decades on. Dozens of musicians have paraded through the group, but singer and multi-instrumentalist Anton Newcombe remains the focus and the glue to the sound. His eccentricity shapes the same but is also blamed for their failure to strike big. His band's named in homage to the Stones guitarist who sculpted that band's early blues rock and also introduced them to Eastern music and culture, and you can feel that in the Massacre with the varied and often obscure instruments that wind up on the recordings. But with last year's "My Bloody Underground," the band, obviously was turning back to the shoegaze era they broke out in. With the Flavor Crystals.
Bob Mould, Tuesday at the Birchmere ... Punk and indie icon Bob Mould released his seventh solo record in early February 2008 -- the Twin Cities transplant dubbed the album "District Line." After Mould's decade with punk to pop-punk legends Hüsker Dü, his solo albums varied from guitar-driven rock and roll to folkie acoustic music to electronica. He returned to rock with "Body of Song" in 2005, and while there was still a lot of guitar and pop hooks, it wasn't another rock record. Instead it was a blend of his rock and dance music. This is an acoustic show, something he has done a lot of, just not so much of recently. It's also the day of the release of his latest LP, "Life and Times," which is billed as a return to the form of his 1989 solo debut, "Workbook," which featured a mix of pop and folk songs. Regardless the style, his legendary voice is always a gift.
Death Cab for Cutie, Wednesday at DAR Constitution Hall ... I really haven't kept close tabs on this group for a while, now -- and not just because they went major label. Their first two albums of dreamo were beautiful, but after listening to their third for a while, I admittedly got bored with their lack of dynamics. I was drawn to them because they did the slow pop rock thing the same way other Northwest bands like Built to Spill and Modest Mouse did, but for those bands, it was a change of pace, just one slice of the pie. With Death Cab for Cutie, it was the whole deal. Still, I often find myself in the mood to close my eyes and let those sweet alt-pop songs wash over me.
Neko Case and Crooked Fingers, Wednesday and Thursday at Nightclub 9:30 ... Indie legend Eric Bachmann will warm up the crowd for alt-country chanteuse Neko Case again, but on these dates, it's with his band Crooked Fingers, not as a solo artist. What's the difference? Crooked Fingers always seemed like a Bachmann solo project anyway, with its rotating lineup.
Almost as impressive as the beautiful melancholy of her music is Case's pedigree. While her solo career finds her making widely appealing, rootsy singer-songwriter style records, her career overall has been adventurous, seeing cross genres and changing roles. One of her earliest groups was a punk rock trio for which she played drums. But she always had an interest in roots rock, and she is the sweetening voice of indie power pop supergroup the New Pornographers. Her solo albums find beauty in heartache and tragedy, and she has continued to improve her craft with each record, though I've yet to give the new LP a listen. And that voice -- smoky, classy and powerful -- will stay with you forever.
Likewise, Bachmann's musical path has been diverse. After leading noise pop quartet Archers of Loaf in the '90s -- that band shared the crunchy guitars of Superchunk, the lo-fi pop trash of Pavement and the beautiful, swelling noise of Sonic Youth -- he went in a more subdued direction with Crooked Fingers, making records steeped in Americana, folk and Appalachia. Gone are the shouts and yelps in favor of a hauntingly sad and deep growl. Their latest, "Forfeit/Fortune," sounds like a sidestep, though, as too many songs are too reminiscent of previous Crooked Fingers work, even as it often sounds funkier and more rock-oriented.
Crooked Fingers, Thursday at Iota ... If you can't get into the Neko Case shows, you still have a chance to catch Crooked Fingers. They'll ditch 9:30 after Thursday's set and head across the river to Iota for a 9 p.m. show with The Public Good opening.
Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3, Thursday at Black Cat ... One of the most under-appreciated songwriters of the past 30 years, Robyn Hitchcock first displayed his genius fronting the Soft Boys in the late '70s. At heart an alt-Dylan, with the Soft Boys, Hitchcock helped bring jangle to the post-punk era, and the Boys 1980 album "Underwater Moonlight" is one of the unimpeachable albums in rock music. He displayed his keen knack for witty wordplay on that album and has continued it in the decades since. Though he hasn't gained the legions of fans he deserves, he is revered among his peers and did enough to catch the ear of filmmaker Jonathan Demme for Demme to create "Storefront Hitchcock," one of the most pleasant watches on film for its blend of Robyn's music, heart, humility and storytelling (both inside and outside of his songs). What he did earn is the respect of his peers and the many musicians that followed in his footsteps. The Venus 3 is R.E.M.'s Peter Buck on guitar, the Young Fresh Fellows' Scott McCaughey on bass and industrial/metal drummer Bill Rieflin, best known for his work with Ministry and their side projects. February's "Goodnight Oslo" is the second LP Hitchcock's recorded with this backing trio.
Bela Fleck and the Africa Project, Thursday at the State Theatre ... Bela Fleck is one of the most innovative musicians and talented pickers to ever pick on a banjo. With his Flecktones, he's been creating a cosmic blend of bluegrass and jazz for more than fifteen years. In his youth, he showed his innovative vision by using his banjo to play a new brand of bebop, and he has continued to infuse various musical styles into the Americana for which his axe is best known. But between that and the Flecktones, Fleck was schooled in bluegrass as a member of New Grass Revival for most of the '80s, and its that style that suits him best. Among his host of trippy innovations, he introduced distortion and the whammy bar to the banjo. He's participated in a host of other collaborations, and I can only hope this Africa Project finds him adding his talents to the brilliant funk and jazz that's come out of countries like Ethiopia and Kenya for decades.
North Mississippi Allstars with special guest Hill Country Revue, Friday at the State Theatre ... Luther and Cody Dickinson are rock-cred royalty as the children of lauded producer Jim Dickinson, and as the North Mississippi Allstars (with bassist Chris Chew), the kids have created quite a catalog of roots rock that appeals to noodlers and indie kids alike. But they used to be better. About a decade ago, a few years before they ever released a record, I caught the Allstars opening up for the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on a New Year's Eve in Chicago and I was blown away. At the time, had you mentioned the Dickinson brothers I would have asked if they were Angie's kids, but I was rapt by their raucous, foot-stomping blues. They sounded like Jon Spencer protégés with more consideration for traditional songwriting. I waited anxiously for years for this band to put out a record, but when their debut album, "Shake Hands With Shorty," dropped in 2000, I was disappointed. Gone was that punk edge, and the album of covers sounded more like Allman than Spencer. Too clean for my taste. But the Allstars pleased me with 2001's "51 Phantom," returning more of the grit to their sound. I'm still engaged by their live show, usually (sometimes they do tend to noodle too long), but it's still been a hate to love relationship.