D'Angelo and The Vanguard @ Fillmore Silver Spring - 6/25/15

D'Angelo and The Vanguard @ Fillmore Silver Spring - 6/25/15

D’Angelo didn’t have to show his abs.

By the time his album Voodoo hit back in the early dawn of the 2000s, the forbearer of the neo-soul flame from Richmond, Virginia was already established as a force to be reckoned with. With his 1995 album Brown Sugar, he shined a light on and gave name to this re-expression of a music deeply embedded in African-American culture. The five years between Sugar and Voodoo saw the genre blossom in ways that nobody could have expected. Jazz, hip-hop, funk, and even rock and roll: Nothing was off limits, especially when it came to D’Angelo’s own music.

Co-written and produced by fellow neo-soulophile Raphael Saadiq, “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” on its own packed in as much sex-per-square-inch as could possibly be allowed on the airwaves. A deep cut that smashed together the innocent soul practiced by the likes of Al Green, Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding, with the more get-to-the-point bedroom jams that dominated mid-to-late-80s R&B radio, the track already held the libidos of fans hostage, melting speakers and inhibitions in equal measure.

And then the video happened. Unnecessary in all the best ways, D’Angelo, fairly or not, went from just being a talented up-and-coming purveyor of neo-soul to being a legend. It wasn’t just smart marketing and smart sales; it was an indication of total commitment to his music, his identity, and most importantly, his duty to spread this new history of a culture’s experience as far and as wide as humanly possible.

And that’s the D’Angelo who showed up at The Fillmore Silver Spring last Thursday night.

LIVE: 2013 Equifunk Recap - Part 2

Yesterday we gave you five of our favorite moments from Equifunk. Today we continue with three of our favorite acts, some of our favorite covers, and a marathon jam session by one of the most fun performers around.

The Main Squeeze

Chicago-by-way-of-Indiana’s The Main Squeeze played their third Equifunk, and each time they’ve added more time and more sets. This year they played two, Friday night in the E-Rena and Sunday by the main pool stage. Both shows were blow-your-doors-off badass (their Friday night cover of Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” was astounding) and illustrated that this band can rock any stage they set foot on. (Last year they even played an impromptu show in the camp dining hall at about 3 a.m.) And those stages keep getting bigger – by way of example, one of the band’s first ever stops in the DC area was at Whitlow’s in Arlington; next month they’ll headline at the Hamilton (September 22 – don’t miss it).

There are many things that make the Squeeze such a fantastic live act, the most obvious being vocalist Corey Frye’s honey smooth voice, nonstop movement, and infectious enthusiasm.  Max Newman is astounding guitar player, able to switch from funk to metal at the drop of a dime. And keyboardist Ben “Smiley” Silverstein earns the nickname; he consistently looks like the happiest guy in the room as he conjures up sounds ranging from Rick Wakeman to Stevie Wonder and everything in between.

Speaking of Stevie, one of the highlights of Equifunk was Arleigh Kincheloe, aka Sister Sparrow, jumping up on stage for a version of “Higher Ground” that was tighter than a snare drum. And speaking of covers…

Click to see the rest of the gallery. 

TO DO LIST: Ryan Montbleau Band @ The Hamilton

The day after Thanksgiving is an interesting time to be in the District. Some people work, some people don’t. Lots of tourists, but nothing close to summer levels. Overall it’s pretty quiet. And quiet is no fun. That’s why the Hamilton will be the place to be Friday night for a funky performance by the always entertaining Ryan Montbleau Band.

Montbleau’s mixture of funk, folk, and blues was given a jolt of N’awlins soul on For Higher, the band’s most recent album (which was financed by a wildly successful campaign). The band entrenched themselves in the Big Easy and got help from such luminaries as Ben Ellman (of legendary New Orleans funk jam band Galactic), Ivan Neville, Anders Osborn, and George Porter, Jr. of the Meters. While Montbleau didn’t set out to make a “New Orleans” record, with a group like that a dash of bayou soul couldn’t be helped. The end result is a wonderful gumbo of funk and soul which – like all of Montbleau’s songs and indeed all New Orleans-influenced music – is served better live.

On paper, the music on For Higher seems like a departure for a guy from Peabody, Massachusetts who’s opened for Ani DiFranco and whose previous album, 2010’s Heavy on the Vine, was produced by folk star Martin Sexton. But for Montbleau, the funk and the folk are never that far apart. Known for playing more than 200 shows a year, he and his band have reached a level of tight that other performers can only dream of.

Opener Nathan Moore also knows a thing or two about crowdsourced performing – for more than two years the highly skilled folkie traveled the country without any booked shows, instead playing only where invited by fans. Moore and his manager webcast themselves 24 hours a day and were helped out by fans who lined up gigs at homes, parks, and rec centers. While the room might be a little bigger than Moore is used to, his charming brand of folk will fit right in at the Hamilton.

Tickets are still available here. We'll see you at the show tonight!

LIVE: Allen Stone w/Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds @ The 9:30 Club - 9/27/12

Allen Stone’s band warmed up the crowd with a variation on James Brown’s “Sex Machine” prior to his taking stage at the 9:30 Club Thursday night. If you didn’t know what the soul-singing wunderkind from Washington state looked like before he emerged, you might have thought they brought out the wrong guy. In his wide-brimmed hat, Western-style knit parka, and large glasses he looked less like a singer and more like a nerdy cowboy about to rob a stagecoach before heading to Old Mexico.

But then he started singing (the appropriate-for-DC “What I’ve Seen,” in which he talks about how “politicians manipulate minds”) and any discussion of his appearance went out the window. Stone’s voice is darn near perfect for the kind of uplifting party/soul music he performs. At its best, it’s a voice that’s often compared to Stevie Wonder’s - while that’s not as evident on his records, it becomes very clear live, especially on songs like “Celebrate Tonight” and “Sleep,” arguably his most popular song.

At only 25, Stone is already a master showman and worked the crowd magnificently. He constantly bounced all over the stage, repeatedly engaged with the capacity crowd and urged them to dance, and said “Washington, DC” more times in one night than a city councilman says it in a year. At one point Stone divided the room in half for a “dance-off,” noting that people had no excuse for not dancing since he himself had been dancing all night and was from “one of the most rhythmically challenged areas of the United States.” His relentless enthusiasm for performing is infectious.

ROAD TRIP: 2012 Equifunk Festival - Part 2

While Friday afternoon was cloudy and rainy, Saturday morning dawned clear and warm at Equifunk. We wandered through the camp and enjoyed the picturesque landscape as laughter and music emanated from all the bunks. Campers enjoyed breakfast in the mess hall, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, softball, even hula hoop lessons. In other words, it was summer camp.

But the music started soon enough. Brooklyn’s I’ll Be John Brown provided the perfect Saturday morning set with a classic rock sound that called to mind a rawer version of Credence Clearwater Revival. After the electronic experimentation of the night before, it was great to have some “real” music again. A highlight of the band’s set was a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Mr. Charlie” – combined with Dumpstaphunk’s cover of “Fame” the previous evening, we began to see a pattern of Equifunk bands doing amazing renditions of other songs; it was a trend that would continue.

Eventually Sister Sparrow, neé Arleigh Kincheloe came on stage and, as we knew she would, promptly ripped the shit out of it. It’s astounding that such a husky and huge voice comes out of Kincheloe who is, to paraphrase Roc Dutton in Rudy, “five feet nothin’.” Her voice seems to change with every song – on “Millie Mae” she was Susan Tedeschi, on “Hollow Bones” she was Janis Joplin, but on “Dirt” she’s all Sister Sparrow, a funked-out wrecking ball whose “eyes are bigger than my liver.” Kincheloe’s brother Jackson, the unofficial bandleader, accompanies her on a bluesy, distorted harmonica. He’s probably sick of being compared to John Popper, but the compliment is accurate because the man is damn good.

LIVE: 2012 Equifunk Festival - PART 1

Most of our five-hour drive to the northeastern Pennsylvania town of Equinunk was taken up by a discussion of the 1980s action vehicle Roadhouse; specifically, the overall plausibility of the film. Would rich, evil Brad Wesley really waste his time exerting a stranglehold over the podunk burg of Jasper, Missouri? A town which seemed to have, at most, three businesses in it? How much money could he really make extorting an auto parts store? It seemed, in all likelihood, a business model destined to fail in a film that at every turn becomes more unbelievable, yet somehow more awesome.

I bring this up because our destination - an all-inclusive funk/jam festival held on the sprawling campus of a Poconos summer camp - seemed unbelievable as well. Two days, fifteen bands, cabin living, limitless beer, and all meals prepared? All for one price? And did I mention it’s at summer camp? The skeptical side of me couldn't help but wonder if it were too good to be true. I was like those naysayers meeting Roadhouse's James Dalton, sizing him up, and saying "I thought you'd be bigger."

Turns out Equifunk is bigger, and badder, and more energetic (yet somehow more laid back) than any number of other festivals that cost five times as much. There is, as numerous people told us throughout the weekend, "just a vibe" on the campus of Camp Equinunk that is completely unparalleled in any other music experience. Very few music festivals are held in such scenic rural locations; so rural, in fact, that you're forced to go native as your cell phone bars gradually shrink and eventually disappear completely. And because the event is all-inclusive, you don't need your wallet. I can't remember the last time I left my cell phone and wallet in the car for two hours, much less two days. But damn if it isn't refreshing to not have to worry about them.