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Ringside with Jim Ross
Wednesday 08/19
Ringside with Jim Ross @ DC Improv
$25
Get ready to mark out. Over the last four decades, J.R. has been one of wrestling’s most influential figures, both as an executive and as the most recognizable announcer in the business. He has traveled the world and had a ringside seat for some of the most amazing moments in professional wrestling, and he continues to entertain fans with The Ross Report podcast. This event features J.R. sharing stories from his life and career, as well as a no-holds-barred Q&A session. A limited number of VIP passes ($60) are available.
Alejandro Escovedo & The Sensitive Boys
Saturday 07/11
Alejandro Escovedo & The Sensitive Boys @ The Hamilton
$25 / $30
“I can take a punch, I can take a swing,” sings Alejandro Escovedo on “Man of the World,” the opening salvo of Big Station, his new album on Fantasy Records. The two phrases well describe his 35 years as a musician and two decades as a solo artist, the sum of which attests to the redemptive power of rock’n’roll and the driving role that it has played in his life and art. A stylistic synthesist who Rolling Stone notes “is in his own genre,” Escovedo casts his widest musical net to date on Big Station. The title can infer two meanings: A transit junction where journeys converge and then head off to new destinations, and a potent radio signal with an open playlist that brims with diversity and adventurous imagination. The album begins with a blast of tongue-in-cheek bravado on “Man of the World” set to a shimmering meld of classic guitar rock and new wave bop. Themes of transition are the fulcrum for songs like the syncopated bounce of the title track and the ghostly march of “Sally Was A Cop,” which surveys the havoc wrought by Mexico’s drug cartels. A jazzy muted trumpet and saxophone weave through his rumination on love and determination on “Can’t Make Me Run.” Change, decay and Escovedo’s place in the world are explored in songs that touch down in the city where he has lived for decades, Austin, TX, as well as his nearby birthplace on, respectively, the Dylanesque “The Bottom of the World” and the dark-hued melodicism of “San Antonio Rain.” He reflects on characters from his rebel past with searing tension on “Headstrong Crazy Fools,” while the specter of failed romance wafts through the airy “Never Stood A Chance” and “Too Many Tears” simmers with the friction of desire rubbing up against heartbreak. Rocking danceable grooves drive his existential questions on “Common Mistake” and the celebratory hedonism of “Party People.” Escovedo finally wraps up the set by splicing his Chicano roots with modernism on his first number sung in Spanish, “Sabor a Mi,” a classic Latin pop song from 1959 that has also been recorded by Vicki Carr, Luis Miguel, Los Lobos and many others. As with his previous two albums, Escovedo collaborated with Chuck Prophet on most of the songs on Big Station. Likewise, it’s his third outing produced by Tony Visconti, known for his work with David Bowie, T. Rex, Thin Lizzy and many others. “He’s like a member of the band by now,” Escovedo says of Visconti, who shares songwriting credit on two numbers. The album was recorded in Austin with his group The Sensitive Boys at its core alongside his backing singers Karla Manzur and Gina Holton, whose vocal accents, enhancements and harmonies weave spells throughout the disc. “I love this record,” enthuses Escovedo, who points out that, in contrast to his many earlier inward looking songs, this time his view is primarily outward. After the stripped down guitar-driven attack on his previous album Street Songs of Love, with Big Station, “I wanted it to be about the words, vibe and atmosphere. Chuck and I went into this knowing we wanted to work with rhythm in a way I never had before.” The key to doing so in the writing stage was a Roland TR-808 drum machine popular with hip-hop, R&B, house and electronic dance music artists and producers. “We’d find real deep simple grooves. He’d get on bass, I’d get on guitar and we’d jump around making fools of ourselves. I wanted things to rock, but in the way that Bo Diddley rocked – very rhythmically.” At the same time, Escovedo drew from the AM and FM radio music of his youth, the late ‘60s/early ‘70s Brit-rock that has long been a touchstone for him, and the early years of punk and new wave, when he first began performing music. Artists such as New York late-‘70s art-punk duo Suicide, Joe Strummer and his post-Clash band The Mescaleros, Mink DeVille and Algerian singer and activist Rachid Taha provided some of the musical strain that fed into the process as Escovedo wrote the album’s songs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Austin. And what he created reflects as much where he is going as where he has been and its impact on him. “I envision the Big Station as being about where we come from and where we end up,” he says. “If you listen to the album all the way through it will take you from one place to another.” Escovedo’s solo recording career began in 1992 with Gravity, hailed in its very first review by the Austin Chronicle as “a near perfect album of stunning originality… some of the greatest music to be found anywhere and anytime.” Such consistent unstinting praise has marked every release that followed through to Street Songs of Love, described as "ageless rock’n’roll” by the Washington Post and “required listening” by the New York Post. It’s no wonder that veteran Rolling Stone critic David Fricke pondered some years ago: “What does it take to make this man a star?” But stardom has never been the motivation or the goal for Escovedo, who has relentlessly followed the spirit of his muse and his love for the music in a creative and personal journey marked by struggle, trials, rebound and triumph. He was raised in Southern California in a very musical family with a father who played in mariachi bands and older brothers Coke and Pete making their mark as noted percussionists in such pioneering Latin rock groups as Santana and Azteca. In his teens Alejandro was a devoted surfer by day who spent many of his nights going to rock’n’roll concerts. “I went to every show, bought every record, read everything I could,” he recalls. It wasn’t until he was in college in San Francisco that he started playing guitar and formed a group with some friends for a student film he was making about “the worst rock’n’roll band in the world.” They became The Nuns, a seminal act in the burgeoning San Francisco punk scene who opened for The Sex Pistols on the final date of their ill-fated 1978 U.S. tour at Winterland. He went on to play guitar in Rank and File, whose post-punk rocking twang presaged the rise of Americana and alt-country a decade or so later. The band eventually landed in Austin, Texas, where Escovedo started a hard-charging roots rock group, The True Believers, with his younger brother Javier and singer, songwriter and guitarist Jon Dee Graham. The group’s ill-starred run saw them debut with a well received album on EMI Records only to be dropped from the label on the eve of the release of their follow-up (both were later issued in 1994 on CD by Rykodisc in one package titled Hard Road). On Gravity Escovedo fashioned a stunningly high standard of open ended, all embracing musicality and literate, heartfelt lyricism, and has continued to enhance and expand it over the nine studio albums that followed prior to Big Station. Some have explored themes both implicit and explicit like the end of a marriage and his estranged wife’s suicide (1994’s Thirteen Years), life and mortality (The Boxing Mirror in 2006, which followed a near fatal bout of illness from the effects of Hepatitis C four years earlier), and his personal and musical autobiography (2008’s Real Animal). His 2002 release By the Hand of the Father recounted the struggles of first generation Mexican-American men like his father in songs written for a theatre work inspired by his music that premiered and played in Los Angeles to high acclaim and toured North America. Throughout it all Escovedo has suffused his songs with his hard-won personal experience, an enduring spirit of positivity, potential and faith, an intertwined mix of mature wisdom and perpetually youthful spirit, and a panorama of inspirations gleaned from his lifelong devotion to rock’n’roll and a spectrum of related popular music styles. The result is a formidable legacy matched by a continually restless quest to draw in new and different dimensions and follow avenues of expression he has yet to explore. Even though Escovedo has earned just about any and every critical superlative possible over the previous two decades, he is never content to rest upon his laurels. Big Station is informed by the feelings evoked “when you survive and come up, like when you’re surfing and you get your butt kicked by a wave and nearly drown,” he explains. “When you surface you’re just exhilarated, and the sun and the water and everything are so beautiful. And scary. You feel wired and powerful, like ‘I can do anything now.’ It’s that power that I feel now in my music, and for the first time in my life I feel so comfortable with myself and my songs and making records. “With every record you gain confidence and I’ve made a lot of them,” says Escovedo. In both his life and creative pursuits, “I’m more relaxed, and not so anxious to beat on people’s doors. I’m still searching, still dodging bullets. And my music is still mutating, which is the cool thing about it.” “It’s been quite a movie,” reflects Escovedo on his past and where it has brought him to now. Along the way he has been guided by two principles. “My father taught me that if you’re consistent and present yourself in a good way and work hard hard hard, eventually people will notice without you having to make a big bang.” Ultimately he has continued to creatively thrive by following a basic guiding precept passed to him by his older brothers: “If it’s all about the music then let it be about the music,” insists Escovedo. By doing so he has served his music well while it has at the same time carried and comforted him through life’s turns and travails. As a result his listeners reap a bounty of all but incomparable richness, depth and emotional impact from a truly great American musical artist.
Beres Hammond
Wednesday 07/29
Beres Hammond @ The Howard Theatre
$39.50 / $45
He is considered Jamaica’s greatest practicing singer/songwriter and anyone who has listened to his CDs or experienced the fervor elicited by his live performances would undoubtedly agree with that top-ranking assessment. His recent appearance at Jamaica’s premier music festival, Reggae Sumfest, was unanimously hailed as the finest of the three-night event as he tore through hit after hit, some dating back to the mid 70s, consistently captivating an audience of nearly 20,000 who sang along so loudly to his beloved songs, they sometimes threatened to drown him out. That Sumfest 2008 performance was but another special moment in time within this adored artist’s enduring and truly exceptional career. For the past thirty-five years, despite inevitable career trials and tribulations, the music of Hugh Beresford Hammond has yet to be wrong. The ninth of ten children born in Jamaica’s garden parish St. Mary, on August 28, 1955, Beres, as a precocious child, made regular trips to Kingston to mingle with the singers who frequented the downtown record shops. After graduating from high school, Beres entered several local talent shows including the Merritone Amateur Talent Contest, where several reggae stars including vocal trio The Mighty Diamonds, Sugar Minott and the late Jacob 'Killer' Miller also got their starts. He joined the fusion band Zap Pow as lead singer in 1975 and remained with them for four years recording the albums Zap Pow (Mango, 1978), and Reggae Rules (Rhino Records, 1980) while simultaneously pursuing solo projects. But Beres quickly realized he “ couldn't serve two masters” and decided to concentrate on his individual efforts. Beres’ 1976 solo album Soul Reggae (Aquarius Records) produced by his friend Willie Lindo sold more than 2,000 copies in Jamaica during the first week of its release. His subsequent single “One Step Ahead”, still a favorite among Beres’ fans because of his signature impassioned vocals, held the number one spot on the Jamaican charts for three and a half months. Despite the popularity of his music, Beres failed to reap any financial rewards. Frustrated, he dropped out of the music business, then regrouped and formed his own record label/production company, Harmony House, in the early 80s. Beres’ Harmony House debut single “Groovy Little Thing” marked the first time he reaped financial rewards from his music; a succession of hit singles recorded for various Jamaican producers followed including 1987’s “What One Dance Can Do” which entered the national charts in England and elicited a spate of answer records including Beres’ own “She Loves Me Now”. Further acclaim arrived in 1990 when Beres joined forces with his good friend Donovan Germain whose Penthouse Records dominated the Jamaican charts in the early 90s with hits by Buju Banton, Wayne Wonder and others. Donovan asked Beres to record vocals over a rhythm track he had; Beres barely remembered recording “Tempted to Touch” but the song shot to the top of reggae charts around the world, as did the ensuing hits “Is This A Sign”, “Respect To You Baby” and “Feeling Lonely”, all featured on his Penthouse album “A Love Affair”. Beres maintained his presence on the reggae charts as the 90s progressed so it was inevitable he would attract major label interest. He signed to Elektra Records for whom he released the outstanding CD “In Control” in 1994. The CD’s spectacular R&B flavored single “No Disturb Sign”, still one Beres’ most popular songs, did not yield the desired international breakthrough although Beres would have easily captured the same fan base as Teddy Pendergrass or any other sophisticated soulful crooner, had “In Control” been given proper support by Elektra’s publicity/marketing machinery. “I never liked how I was treated; it was my first album on a major label, I think they should have paid more attention to it,” Beres declares. “There was a changing of the guard at the label which made things worse. But still, there are many artists who have been on the Billboard charts and don’t have the kind of fan base I have now so I am alright!” Undeterred, Beres continued to release music on his Harmony House label with distribution through VP Records. He has maintained his hit-making streak well into the 21st century while his incomparable, riveting live performances recruit legions of new fans from 9 to 90 years old. Beres’ heartfelt delivery reinforces his unique perspective on romance, detailing everything from the sly antics of the philandering male on “Double Trouble” to championing the overlooked female on “Show It Off” to celebrating an inevitable relationship in “They Gonna Talk”, from his 2001 Grammy nominated album “Music Is Life”. But Beres’ catalogue is also rife with uplifting anthems for the downtrodden including the 1978 hit “Last War” (heavily sampled in Collie Buddz’ 2007 breakthrough hit “Come Around”), the timeless “Putting Up Resistance”, the most popular reggae song of 1990/91 and the viscerally empowering “Not Over Until Its Done” from his 2004 release “Love Has No Boundaries”. In this inspirational vein “A Moment in Time” offers “Picking Up The Pieces”, its shimmering, R&B inflected rhythm underscoring a clarion call for peace, as Beres sings: “Pull ourselves together, try to sort it out, gather all peace makers, scattered all about/find a new direction this one ain’t working out/ talking to all of those with the clout.” The song was inspired by various global maladies from Jamaica’s escalating crime rate to the never-ending war in Iraq, as well as the role Beres ideally sees music playing in redirecting our individual actions towards making the world a better place. “When I see so much bad news I say Beres why do you keep singing so much love songs, are they listening or what?” he wondered aloud. “That’s what that song is about; every time I try, something else happens. Nevertheless I am still going to try because when I see the smiles on peoples faces as I perform, that gives me strength to keep going” Those smiles reflect the many special moments in time that Beres Hammond has brought to his fans, moments that have changed their lives, and perhaps their perception of contemporary Jamaican music, forever. Beres isn’t sure how he has maintained his lyrical freshness, vocal excellence and sonic inspiration over the past thirty-five years, but he is not questioning it, either. “I just see myself as one of the instruments who come to do what they do. I don’t know what it is but it’s working and if its not broken, you don’t mend it.”