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Words by Farrah Skeiky, photos by Franz Mahr

Rock and Roll hotel has played host to many memorable nights (some blurrier than others, of course) for anyone that enjoys music in the district. Whether you’ve been coming to the venue to shoot shows for the past three years like myself, or have been trekking over to H street since the venue’s conception like some of our more seasoned veterans, you’ve got to have at least one memory of a perfect night there. In my case, this particular night has got them all beat.

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Perhaps it’s because the crowd struck the right balance between avid fans of the bands playing that couldn’t care less where, and those who simply wanted to be at RNR that night with nearly all their friends in the city. Perhaps it’s because the lineup quite expertly represented the kind of music that rolls through that stage– a solo set by Will Butler of Arcade Fire opened the night and gave way to much more chaos on stage, as we’ll get into later. Perhaps it’s because the bar’s got Stiegl Radler’s now, and dropping a shot of gin into that can yields a perfect remedy to the heat of a packed roofdeck on an August night. It could be one of these things, or all of these things.

Maybe it’s because the originally scheduled bands had just returned from a short tour, and this could have been called a “homecoming” show of sorts. After a week on the road, they’d mastered their sets, worked out the kinks, and got to focus on how to turn chaos into an art to be studied. Maybe it’s because United Nation’s latest record, The Next Four Years, so expertly melds spastic energy with politically-fueled motivations and expert instrumentation. The resulting sound is like a contained fire: still destructive and wild by nature, but controlled and nearly curated. Maybe their rotating lineup of musicians they can never formally name in press releases (like some additions from Pianos Become the Teeth on this particular tour) breathes new life into songs we already know and changes the way we felt about them.

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Maybe it’s because Black Clouds still haven’t let us down. I’m starting to think that the only way they’d fail us is if they simply decided not to show up. After performing heavily on their first album Everything Is Not Going To Be Okay, new songs from their upcoming release Dreamcation stand out instantly from rhythms and passages we feel we’ve memorized and still manage to enchant us every single time. Maybe it’s because we’re still thrown off guard every time Pantheons drops, as if we don’t know it by heart.

Nothing was particularly different about this particular Saturday night at Rock and Roll Hotel. When local bands who do their job well fill the lineup, every floor is packed with friends, fans, others in the industry– and there’s great overlap in that crowd, too. You couldn’t pick this night out from other similar nights we’ve all shared in that building. What stuns me and makes this one remarkable is the ability of all involved parties to make it just a little better, every single time. If this has been established as the standard of a perfect night at Rock and Roll Hotel, the next eight years promise something greater. At the very least, we’ll have some more time to dissect why these nights stand out as perfect.

Chaos, down to an art and science. Down to a controlled flame.

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Black Clouds

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