Friday, April 03, 2015

See You at 930!

Hi everyone,

After a long winter, springtime makes me itchy to get outdoors. As luck would have it, 930 club offered me some enticing options last year. 930 is a small, no frills, standing-room-only venue that holds about 800 people. Sometimes I arrive really early to ensure a front-row spot by the stage. Other times (and more often these days), I arrive really early and head upstairs to the balcony, where 1) there's a railing to lean against and 2) the sound seems clearer. These things and comfortable shoes are important.  I usually forget that I've lost feeling in my feet because 930 shows are usually great. Here are a couple from last May.

The Both, May 2, 2014

I didn't know about this band until Jimmy Fallon told me. Flipping channels one night, I checked the late shows before heading to bed. Aimee Mann, whom I've loved since her Til Tuesday days in the '80s, was on The Tonight Show with some guy I didn't recognize. After their performance, Jimmy Fallon said that, from there, they – The Both – were headed to Washington, DC. Excited, I investigated and planned to go. Thanks, Jimmy!

I've seen Aimee Mann a few times on her own. We must have similar tastes because I always like her opening acts. For this concert, it was Nick Diamonds of the band Islands. This guy also has good taste: he covered "Are You Sleeping" from Harry Nilsson's The Point, one of my favorite albums as a kid, and flooded me with childhood memories. 

The Both tour supports the band's self-titled debut album. The second half of The Both is Ted Leo. I didn't know him, but lots of people at the concert did. Like the Sting and Paul Simon shows, there were distinct groups of Aimee fans and Ted fans in the audience. One of my friends who had already seen them on tour warned me that it wouldn't be like an Aimee Mann show. It wasn't; The Both is rockier. Aside from songs from their new album, though, they sang a couple of their solo songs for us too. 

I had a lot of room around me, leaning against the balcony railing. People on both sides were sitting behind me more toward the wall and never closed in toward the front. As I scanned the crowd below, my good fortune was spotted by a group of talkers who were all Aimee fans, ventured upstairs, and surrounded me. After every song, they gushed about how wonderful she sounded, how beautiful she looked, and declared their undying love. Then they left in the middle of the show to meet up with someone they'd been texting for drinks somewhere else. Right after they left the building, Aimee sang "Save Me," her Oscar-winning song from the film Magnolia, and a part of me was glad they missed it. (The rest of me was bewildered by them leaving.)   

Ted and Aimee make a complementary pair, and the best part of this show for me was actually all of their talking. Apparently, Ted and Aimee have been friends for years – and you can tell, watching them together on stage. It was like listening in on a long chatty phone call. I'd never heard Aimee Mann talk so much. At the start of our show, she mentioned their San Francisco show, where they talked for 25 minutes before realizing they hadn't played any songs yet. She said that wouldn't happen tonight because her brother was in the audience and warned her that he'd probably have to leave early. ("He has kids," she explained.) So, they got started pretty quickly. Throughout the concert, they hit a bunch of interesting topics, like bathroom graffiti and Ted's secret fanaticism for The Hobbit. (He even sang part of a song from a TV cartoon version of the story.)

During the encore, Aimee got heckled by a feisty group who wanted her to play one of her own songs (which I didn't know) called "Red Vines." She politely refused the request because, at The Both shows, she and Ted made a pact to sing every song together, and Ted didn't know this song. "I'm not doing this to be mean, but we're not doing the song," she said. They kept yelling for it, and Ted walked over to Aimee and whispered something in her ear: "Ted's telling me to give in to peer pressure," she reported.

Although she still didn't want to play it alone, she got frustrated by the drunken yelling and bargained, "I will sing the song if you just stop yelling. You can't yell again for the rest of the night – no noise!" (When they broke this rule later, she stopped them short.) I couldn't believe that she put up with these obnoxious fans, and I considered protesting accommodating their demands. Ted broke the tension by saying he could try to play the song; then, she was happy to do it.

It turned out to be wonderful because Ted Leo really didn't know the song at all. We witnessed a first rehearsal. He borrowed a cell phone from the sound guy to find the lyrics, and they started to play "Red Vines." Aimee suggested that she could start the song, and he could come in after the first verse. At the end of the first verse, though, she said, "You look like you need your reading glasses." They were in his dressing room, but someone in the audience saved the day. "Oh my God!" Aimee exclaimed, "Someone just threw you their reading glasses!" He put them on, gave us the thumbs up, and they started again. In the end, he mostly stumbled through backing vocals by watching what she was singing. As soon as the song was over, Aimee threw her head back laughing and we all cheered at the effort. What great performers under pressure!

Here's a song from The Both called "Milwaukee," which captures their goofiness and guitars.

You Tube video: "Milwaukee" by The Both (© The Both)

Elbow, 930 club, Washington, DC, May 11, 2014

Elbow is a British band from Manchester that I heard during a fashion show that I watched online. Halfway through it, I realized I wasn't paying attention to the fashion but the music being played in the background. Shortly after that, Elbow showed up in DC at 930 while on tour  supporting their hit album (the one I heard during the fashion show) called The Seldom Seen Kid. Their popular songs from that album include "Grounds for Divorce" and "One Day Like This." A friend, who had never heard of them before, looked them up and joined me then based on what she heard online. Still devoted fans, we saw them again when they returned.   

Aside from writing great songs, Elbow is sincerely friendly, which I always appreciate from performers. Our concert was the first stop on their new tour, supporting their latest album, The Take Off and Landing of Everything. They dedicated a song to 930's staff because, lead singer Guy Garvey said, everyone they've worked with at the club is nice, and playing this venue is always a highlight for them. He also mentioned two friends in the audience, Lois and Dennis, who'd been championing Elbow since the beginning. He pointed them out, in a special balcony spot above the stage. It's refreshing to see nice people make it as successful rock stars.

I love that Elbow uses strings and horns in their alt-rock songs. They always offer interesting melodies, surprising sounds, and wonderful harmonies. Guy Garvey's voice sounds a lot like Peter Gabriel, but Elbow have their own fantastic sound. I liked their new songs immediately but was apparently late to this party. Everyone around us already knew all the lyrics and sang along. By the end of the concert, this behavior was the norm, and the crowd drowned out Guy Garvey's voice at times. After the show was over, my friend shook her head, "Man, they have some crowd-pleasing songs." That's the truth.

Here's a video for "New York Morning," which is on their latest album and features Lois and Dennis! See how nice Elbow is?

You Tube video, "New York Morning" by Elbow (© Elbow)

Catch these bands on tour when you can. They rock!


Credits: The Both band photo © Christian Lantry, album cover: SuperEgo Records; Elbow band photo © Tom Sheehan,  album cover: Fiction/Concord  

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