Except for a brief spurt of popularity in the early-to-middle 1990s, power-pop legends the Posies have carried on a quiet existence outside of the spotlight of the media for years, touring as a duo of lead songwriters Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer. They were around long enough to make a commercial splash in their hometown of Seattle well before the rise of grunge, get included on the soundtrack to Reality Bites, and then soldier on gamely after the major label attention had waned.
It's not often that a nationally chart-topping artist makes their way through to The Hamilton. At least, not Norwegian chart-toppers. Susanne Sundfør has been lauded in her home country with both critical and commercial praise - her last four albums have all reached #1 in the Norwegian album charts and she has won the Norwegian Grammy for Best Female Performance. Although she has provided vocals for the likes of Royksopp and M83 for the soundtrack to the Tom Cruise movie Oblivion, it was her 2015 album Ten Love Songs that helped her really make waves stateside. The visceral emotion in her voice was only made more potent by the dark synths that permeated every song. But if Ten Love Songs was a raw, cathartic dance party, her latest album Music for People in Trouble (out now through Bella Union) is a somber nightcap spent alone with your darkest thoughts at 4 AM. The intricate musical layers were stripped away, leaving acoustic guitars, pianos, and Sundfør's distinctive voice, creating one of the best artpop albums of 2017.
It’s been a while since we’ve heard new music from Alejandro Escovedo, but the Texas-based singer-songwriter finally released his 15th solo album, Burn Something Beautiful, back in November. Recorded with the help of Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck (of The Minus 5 and R.E.M. fame) at the production helm, the record shows that even though he may have slowed down a bit in his output, Escovedo still knows how to rock out. He had been scheduled to play in DC at The Hamilton back in November, but the opportunity to play the finale of the 42nd season of Austin City Limits came up, forcing him to reschedule. It turned out to be a good thing for DC, because this time he was able to bring the band that backed him on the album (The Minus 5 playing as the “Burn Something Beautiful Band”) along for the ride.
The Olympics have come and gone and proved to be yet another example of the good that can happen when we come together as a people to celebrate and respect everything that makes us great.
Unless you're Ryan Lochte.
Alejandro Escovedo has had a long and storied life in music, from his start with early San Francisco punk band The Nuns in the mid-70s, to his 23-year and counting solo career as a roots rocker. Backed by his current band The Sensitive Boys (in this incarnation, Billy Masters on guitar, Bobby Daniel on bass, and newcomer Shawn Peters on drums), Escovedo came to DC to rock The Hamilton and share some of his history.
Puddles, the "Sad Clown With the Golden Voice," has become an internet sensation with his unusual yet stirring renditions of popular songs such as Lorde's "Royals" and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Last Thursday he brought his performance live to The Hamilton here in DC, thrilling the sold-out audience with these songs and more, and sometimes even making them a little bit uncomfortable. We were there to capture some of the action. Coulrophobics turn back now. You have been warned.
With no accompaniment at all, Tift Merritt's soulful voice is enough to give goosebumps the chills. That she is a singular, gifted artist with a storied career understates her many talents. Tonight at The Hamilton Live, she will join celebrated classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein for what will surely be a night to remember. Their unique blend of stirring classical music and the very best of North Carolina's rich contemporary folk sound is deftly showcased in the video below for "Colors" from their collaboration Night.
A perfect pairing of artists should be showcased in a perfect venue, and that is an apt description of The Hamilton Live. Visually and sonically extraordinary, intimate and alluring, and luckily for you, not yet sold out! So get tickets here and make sure you're there!
The best estimates of the number of words in the English language is currently about 750,000, not including slang or obsolete words. No matter how quickly that list expands, we will eventually run out of ways to combine them to come up with adequate superlatives for description, at which time we will either need to begin repeating them or, as often happens, create new ones. In terms describing of an extraordinary band like eight-piece R&B powerhouse Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, it’s possible that the most accurate expressions have already been used – John Fishman describing Fishbone as “tighter than a mosquito’s ass” and Duck Dunn describing the Blues Brothers as “powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline” come to mind. In short, there’s only so many ways you can say a band kicks ass.
The writer, then, is forced into two difficult positions: the first is to find a new way to describe a transcendent musical experience; something that goes far beyond “man, were they freaking good.” The second is to avoid the deus ex machina of music critics everywhere, even if it’s completely apt: writing that the band needs to be “seen to be believed.” I will admit up front, dear reader, I am going to fail in both regards. Sister Sparrow was freaking good, and they have to be seen to be believed. This isn’t due to my failings as a writer – it’s due to this being one of the best live bands in the history of man.
If anyone at the Hamilton had any reservations about how much petrol the legendary Wanda Jackson had left in the tank, those fears quickly went out the window with the first bluesy notes of her opening song, “Riot in Cell Block No. 9.” The diminutive 75-year-old “queen of rockabilly” with the honey-and-whisky-tinged growl sang about “serving time for armed robbery,” and it was easy to believe that’s exactly where she was during the titular jail fight. The rocking tune kicked off an raucous set of music that started great and somehow kept getting better.
She kept it rolling with “Rock Your Baby,” a hit from 1958, which Jackson told the enthusiastic crowd would be the start of a “musical journey through 58 years” of her career. The journey continued with 1956’s “I Gotta Know,” her second hit (after 1954’s “You Can’t Have My Love”) which reached #15 on the country charts. Her backing band, The In-Laws (more on them in a bit) performed the alternately rockabilly/honkytonk song brilliantly, as Jackson snapped her fingers through the frequent tempo changes. Jackson shrugged off the “rockabilly” label, however, noting that “they called it rockabilly - we just called it rock and roll.”
Proof of how far-reaching Jackson’s fanbase is was evident in her fourth song, the 1961 hit “Funnel of Love.” Jackson re-recorded the song in 2003 when she was joined by The Cramps, and the tune has been covered by the Meat Puppets, The Fall, and Mike Ness of Social Distortion. Jackson, however, proved that no one does it better than her.
The Hamilton has excelled at finding living legends to grace its stage. Tonight is no different as the “first lady of rockabilly,” Wanda Jackson, takes the stage. The Oklahoma City native has been a relentless musical force throughout her career, which now spans nearly 57 years, including a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2009. There’s not much Jackson can’t do and she keeps on doing it well.
Her most recent album, Unfinished Business, produced by Justin Townes Earle, is a showcase of all her formidable skills in country, blues, and of course, rockabilly. The album kicks off with a fantastic version of Freddie King’s “Tore Down,” (a more famous version was done by Eric Clapton on his From the Cradle album), and the 73-year old Jackson rips it up. The album flows through nine more wonderful numbers, all featuring Jackson’s hard-edged but lovely voice, which has that “lived in” sound she’s enjoyed since her youth and which has been emulated by countless of her modern admirers. One of those admirers was the late Amy Winehouse, whom Jackson honored with a cover of “You Know I’m No Good” on the Jack White-produced 2011 album The Party Ain’t Over. The album ends with a soft version of Woody Guthrie’s “California Stars” which, while clearly nodding towards the Billy Bragg/Wilco version, becomes all Jackson’s.
There aren’t many artists around who have worked with Jack White, Cyndi Lauper, The Cramps, Buck Owens, and both Elvises (Presley and Costello), not to mention be a part of a biopic about Johnny Cash. They don’t get more legendary than Wanda Jackson, and you can expect those years of experience to be on display tonight.
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 PledgeMusic.com 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!
It will be a slightly downsized but no less brilliant Be Good Tanyas that take the Hamilton stage this evening. Founding member Sam Parton was involved in a car accident early last month, and she was forced to drop out of this leg of the tour as she continues her recovery in the band’s home town of Vancouver.
While Parton will be missed, the other two Tanyas, Frazey Ford and Trish Klein, are a formidable musical presence on their own. The band’s three albums, Blue Horse, Chinatown, and Hello Love are superb, and the highlights were assembled on this year’s Collection 2000-2012.
The Tanyas make some of the most understated and beautiful acoustic music out there – a mix of folk, country, and bluegrass that revolves around the harmonies and interplay of the band members. While some folk bands aspire to sound “old-timey,” the Tanyas’ music transcends that kind of label – it’s simple, well-constructed, and a joy to listen to. Drummer John Raham and bassist Mark Beaty will join Ford and Klein to fill out the sound, but really, the two could show up sans instruments and still put on a fantastic show.
To put the Tanyas’ musical output into perspective, they’ve released just three albums in 12 years; show opener Dan Bern has released three albums since May, beginning with Drifter, a wonderful roots-rock travelogue that illustrates why he’s one of the best singer-songwriters in the business. Bern’s live shows are always fantastic, blending serious subjects and surreal stories with the skill of a juggler.
One missing Be Good Tanya won’t detract from a night of wonderful acoustic music.
Get your tickets HERE. We'll see you at the show.