The Gossip in DC

Last night I stayed up waaaaay past my adult bedtime and snuck out to see The Gossip in concert. They played with Men and Apache Beat at the 9:30 Club, an awesome little venue here in town.

I thought Men were pretty cool; I’d never heard them before, so I bought their sampler CD. It was fun dancey music.

But I wasn’t fully prepared for how awesome The Gossip were going to be. Beth Ditto, the band’s zaftig singer with bright orange hair, was both kooky/charming and a beast barely contained. Her voice was perfect in performance, and the rest of the band turned in a really great performance. It’s one of the more fun shows I’ve been to, partly because the audience was into it.

You can hear the show on NPR’s All Songs Considered.

The Bitch of Living

Last night I caught the opening night of the traveling version of Spring Awakening. Based on an 1896 German play about teenagers “waking up” to the changes in their bodies and their emotions, it tells the story of a group of school kids wrestling with adolescent woes, centered around lovers Malchior and Wendla (pictured above in the original Broadway production).

I’m a tough musical theatre audience member to please. What got me interested in the show was Duncan Sheik’s contribution to the music. Although he’s now considered somewhat of a one-hit wonder for his 90s radio earworm “Barely Breathing,” that first album of his was one of the major soundtracks of my life during college. (The rest of the album really transcends a lot of the pop wizardly of that particular single.)

The show is, overall, really great. The music is rocking, fun, powerful, and well-written both musically and lyrically, and the set design and lighting were unique and fascinating (audience members can sit on the sides of the stage while all the action takes place in a central area, which is so cool). The acting in this touring show was also great. The lead roles were very compellingly rendered, and the supporting players offered a good balance of archetype and individuality to be memorable and unique. The actors also interacted a lot with the on-stage band, with a few characters sitting at the piano and playing along, both diegetically and non-diegetically.

Of course, my favorite part of the show is its use of anachronism. The costumes, much of the dialogue, and the subject matter of the play are all very Victorian in nature, but the set featured bright neon lights. The actors often sang with handheld microphones, or sometimes stood behind microphones on stands like rock stars or American Idol contestants. And the content of the songs themselves, such as the loud, punk-inspired “The Bitch of Living” and “Totally “F***ed” keep the show contemporary. The overall message suggests that perhaps some Victorian values about sexuality and morality are not as outmoded as we like to think.

My only beef with the show was in the brief treatment of a very minor gay subplot. While the heterosexual characters’ loves are treated with operatic seriousness, there’s a brief sequence in which two of the schoolboys connect romantically, with one even professing he loves the other “more than I’ve ever loved anything.” And yet, the exchange is played comedically–with joy, but still for comedy. It felt a little awkward to sit side-by-side with straight people who laughed riotously at this, and I wondered if the kind of exchange is only okay if it’s comedy, or if it’s inherently funny, or if they would reject it if it were treated with the same level of seriousness as the rest of the play. Or, I’m being sensitive.

Beau and I are thinking of seeing it again, but sitting on the stage next time!

This Week in Modern Rock

I sort of reluctantly bought the new Keane album despite two overwhelmingly negative experiences:

1. Their last album was really disappointing, and
2. They got a poor review from Blender magazine, whose reviews I mostly trust.

But after sampling a few of the songs and knowing Keane were moving over toward the Killers-esque synth sounds of New Wave rock, I acquiesced.

Although the members of Keane are cuter than your average boy band, they’re smarter too. Perfect Symmetry, the new album, while deeply influenced by the synthesized rock of the early to mid-80s, is much more intelligent, has a greater sense of craft, and has–even–interesting lyrics.

The album has a bit of a bell curve so far in terms of quality. High points are “Spiralling,” “Perfect Symmetry,” and the manically maudlin (but hopeful?) “Pretend That You’re Alone,” which alleges:

We are just the monkeys who fell out of the trees
We are blisters on the earth
We are not the flowers, we’re the strangling weeds
In the meadow
And love is just our way of looking out for ourselves
When we don’t want to live alone

The keyword here is probably “catchy.” Keane’s music has always been interesting, but the new album has a pop sensibility absent from their previous efforts. The surrender to danceable rhythms is obviously what sold me as I am now and forever a devotee of disco’s exodus into rock music.

Rock You Like a Hurricane

I had a “rocking” Saturday for a few reasons:

First, the Open House event at The Writer’s Center was a rockin’ success! It was so well publicized even Tropical Storm Hanna decided to stop by…for the entire day. Despite the torrential rain and water-soaked streets, we had about 130 people come by to chat with our instructors, staff, and board.

Before the festivities got started, though, Hanna was inspiring a few staff members here to start humming the Scorpions’ classic jam “Rock You Like a Hurricane.”

“Uh…” I said. “Have you ever listened to the lyrics to that song?”

“No, I just know the chorus.”

“Well, it’s not about weather,” I said. “Let’s just say the weather is a euphemism.”

Such is life.

* * * * *

That evening, a friend invited me to a Rock Band party out in Alexandria. I’m sure you’ve heard of Rock Band, the popular, collaborative alternative to Guitar Hero, in which four bandmates play drums, bass, guitar, or take vocals as they recreate some of today and yesterday’s greatest rock hits.

The party was a competitive Rock Band situation, so we were encouraged to come early, form our band, and practice. My band, the Fuzzy Widgets, featured Nora on drums, Jamie on bass, Graham on lead guitar, and I took vocals.

Our first setlist included a song we chose and a song selected by our opposing team. We chose Radiohead’s “Creep,” they chose All American Reject’s “Dirty Little Secret.” We crushed that team on both songs.

In the second round, we ended up choosing Oasis’s “Wonderwall,” which we did rock out to, and the other team chose the same band’s “Live Forever,” which I love. The other team was very good, though, and played on difficulty levels higher than ours, so they scored more points…and we were knocked out of competitive play.

I had so much fun, though, that I went out and got Rock Band on Sunday afternoon. I’m happy to report that my percussion skills are coming along nicely.

But honestly, I still see myself as the lead singer. Don’t you?

Young Love with PlayRadioPlay, Liam and Me, and Alcoholiday

Last night I caught the Young Love show at a teeny tiny venue in Tempe. The fun part about seeing bands when they’re on their way up is that you have a chance to hear them play at really intimate venues with small crowds.

The downside is being one of five people in the whole venue over the age of 29, surrounded by a sea of fifteen-year-old hipsters in their striped shirts, thick headbands, skinny rock jeans, and couture hair.

The show started with what I think was a local band called Alcoholiday. The kindest thing I can say is that their music was fun, except when there was singing. The lead singer kept saying, “We’re a dance band, so feel free to move around,” but nobody was. Not even swaying. Nope.

Liam and Me were a pretty good band and gave a good performance, so I might check out some more of their stuff. PlayRadioPlay started out strong but ended up being pretty disappointing and weird.

Throughout the night, the strangest thing was that these hipster kids would be hanging out listening to the show, and then suddenly they were on stage, part of the next band to play.

But Young Love. Ah! Let me tell you. Their music is fun and rocking and danceable, and they were the only band of the four that really seemed like they had a definitive “sound.” They seemed like a real band, and they had a good time up on stage. The lead singer, Dan Keyes, looks like Josh Hartnett (if he stopped eating for about four weeks) and sounds like what one reviewer called a cross between Justin Timberlake and Brandon Urie of Panic! At the Disco (no shock, then, that I love this band).

The drummer for Young Love was particularly talented, mastering what on the album sound like intricate programmed beats, and one of the guitarists was also really good, doing a lot of intricate fingering and picking. Even Dan rocked out on his guitar with some hair band-worthy licks in the last song (“Find a New Way”).

Their set was pretty short—only about 6 or 7 songs—but every song was fantastic.

And I bought a t-shirt that, in the words of Cake, proves I was there, that I heard of them first.