Apologies for the delay in getting this up – I’ve been vacationing in the woods of West Virginia for the last 5 days. Oh, and if you like the photos I took of the show, you can find more here!
I think it’s worth mentioning that this was the first time I’d heard any of the bands who played this show. Worth mentioning because I also made a concerted decision not to do any pre-show research whatsoever, but just to observe, if you will, and report on my observations. Perhaps this was because some of my very best live music experiences have emerged from this venue using the same approach – walk in blind, see what happens.
From the early days of the Black Cat, when it was located a few doors up from it’s current location, backstage shows have been a vehicle to showcase emerging artists of all types. Depending on how long you’ve been in the old D of C, you may not remember that the “old” Black Cat would extend a long curtain across the width of the mainstage room about 2/3 of the way back, turning the back third of the room into a sort-of backstage venue. I had the good fortune of catching the Early Humans and Edie Sedgwick there, both of which I consider landmark local shows in my musical development. In the “new” Black Cat, I’ve had the good fortune of walking completely blindly into such shows as The Vandemark 5, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and The Sword, just to name a few. So anticipating this show as the day drew close, I was excited about my prospects.
The only negative part of this blind reporting, if you will, is that I can’t report on the live playing of specific songs themselves, but instead can only give a blanket overview. So, without further adieu, here you go with my virgin-eared, firsthand observations:
True Womanhood love them some early Sonic Youth. Not sure if it’s the female bassist, the stick-thin singer with the bowl haircut, or the general atonal, droning, Youth-esque rhythms that tipped me off to this, but at their very core, I will agree with the general consensus that they have a big time no-wave thing going on, much like their experimental predecessors. It’s not a bad thing – they definitely have a solid footing within their arrangements, while coming about their sound creatively via extremely untraditional instrumentation – which, as they put it on their myspace page, “includes the ‘Iron Volcano’ (a metal funnel), ‘scythetar’ (electric guitar bowed with an acoustic guitar), tympani, and a dulled, 4-foot blade (used as a chime).”
True Womanhood are a very young band, having only added several of their members in early 2008. Live, I’d like to hear them tighten up a bit – I found that they veered off tempo a bit which, when listening to music of this nature, is a bit distracting, but overall I thought they had a kool thing going, pun intended.
Caverns was actually the reason I came to the show in the first place, as both my fella and I have a thing for instrumental music (he is in the instrumental band Tone, for goodness sake), and am always impressed at the different directions the genre has gone since the days when Godspeed, You Black Emperor! was practically the only instrumental game in town.
Caverns describe themselves as the “love child” of Mogwai and the Dillinger Escape Plan. I can definitely see that – off the bat their sound struck me as metal fused with math rock, emphasized by some physical spasms and crowd jumping when the mood struck. But let us not leave Erik Satie out of the musical genepool here – I say this, of course, because Caverns have the unusual distinction of featuring a stunning keyboardist who, rather than serving to add filler chords below the guitarists, actually stands out as one of the band’s frontmen, infusing a rock and jazz sensibility with the lilting feel and flavor of Satie’s classical dada-esque melodies floating above.
Without expecting it, my world was rocked by this band. The music was big, sweeping and dramatic – the metal-esque riffs introduced a bottom-end drive and soaring purpose, while the keyboardist layered anxious, hope-filled anticipation over top without being too forced about it. They delivered the best of what instrumental has to offer – telling the whole story without the need for words.
Interesting trend I’ve noticed with bands lately – everyone playing lots of different instruments. It seems like, anymore, that it’s not unusual to see a guitarist standing behind a keyboard holding a drumstick. Look at this video of Battles performing “Atlas”, for God’s sake – these guys are multitasking like musical switchboard operators. Imperial China has definitely embraced this method, and are making good work of it – throughout their set, each band member flowed effortlessly around in his own world – whether it be a world of bass and keyboards, guitar and drums, or… well… drums and more drums.
This is another band who have been on the scene a little over a year – and to hear them tell it, they originally conceived of the band as instrumental – but vocal stylings began to happen over time, and they made the decision not to turn them away. Good choice, in my opinion – they are an excellent, rhythm driven combo who, when they choose to sing, punctuate with a speak-sing style reminiscent of G.W. Sok from The Ex.
Even when it felt like they were holding back, Imperial China played with an intense, forceful, push-pull energy from the first note to the last. I was impressed by the change in energy within the space – while they didn’t cause a cultural revolution, it was obvious that these guys were going to make the typically stoic DC audience rock the fuck out – and they did.