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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Old Schoolin' It

I've mentioned Gypsy Sally's many times since it opened a little over a year ago. It was great to hear about a new club, and it's a lot nicer than bars I remember frequenting "back in the day." The room has wonderful bones complete with a real stage, a nice long bar, elevated tables, and a dance floor, but the owners of the club are a bit at sea. They just let one of the best booking agents in the area slip through their fingers, so I have to wonder how long this venue will last. It would be a shame to lose this club considering the dearth of Places to Go in Georgetown.

That being said an intriguing show is coming up at Gypsy Sally's this Friday, harkening back to a time when DC was chock full of saloons. Two retro-inspired bands: Miss Tess and the Talkbacks and the Bumper Jacksons will bring their own twist to old school jazz, vintage country, and deep roots rock. The Bumper Jacksons say their sound covers music from "the brothels of New Orleans to Appalachian hollers," if that gives you a better clue. Both bands are fronted by women, (hear us roar) and both look like a barrel of fun. A lot of music for $15.

Saturday night, those Southern slingers of Memphis stax, King Soul, will stage a comeback at the Takoma VFW- down in the holler off Eastern Avenue. Old school music, dancing and cheap drinks served up in a true blue dive. Cover just 10 clams. Or head over to the Quarry House where Monsters from the Surf and El Quatro take charge. (No cover there)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Fancy Is as Fancy Does ?

Last Saturday night almost 400 people paid $15 a piece to see the Vi-Kings at the posh, but somewhat controlling Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club. (The name kind of paints a picture, doesn't it?) Tack on to that price tag, a $10 minimum, and a lack of choice as far as seating goes- same price no matter whether you are seated on a first come first served basis. (and if you don't arrive with your friends, don't count on sitting with them.) Dress code: suggested business casual. (A jacket, boys, but you can lose the tie.) For your money? It's a great place to see a show if you are feeling fancy, and there is an ample dance floor if they move enough tables, but if your budget is tight, or you chafe at being told where to sit…think twice.

On the B side (as in basement) this Saturday, the same band is playing at the Quarry House in Silver Spring- no cover, no minimum and no seating restrictions except by the limitations of the room. The Quarry House is…intimate. You may have to ask someone if you can steal a chair or share a table, but that makes it all the merrier in my book. The fanciest things here are the libations, and if you study the drink menu religiously like I have, you can find a mighty nice bourbon for $6.  (Bring a flashlight) Dress code: Business casual minus da bidness. The guys in the Vi-kings will play just as hard here as they did Bethesda Blues, and  although the Quarry House may not be as comfortable as a supper club, neither is rock n roll.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Good Hang

Singer songwriters Eric Brace and Karl Straub have known each other for close to 25 years now, but since Eric moved to Nashville, it had to become one of those long distance type of affairs. Despite the miles between them though, they did manage to finish a project which I will loosely call an American roots opera- loosely based on the story of Ike and Betsy. (You know Ike and Betsy, that couple from Pike? )

Yes. A musical kind of thing based on a song we used to sing in grade school.

Much as I respect both these guys, I confess "Hangtown Dancehall" sounded like a recipe for a coal mine disaster to me. I was skeptical, but I was lucky enough to see this dream of theirs come to life last fall at the Birchmere; and now I am a true believer. 

That being said, "Hangtown" is NOT happening at IOTA this Sunday, but Karl and Eric will be doing an acoustic set of songs from the show, as well as old Last Train Home/Graverobbers numbers and some new stuff, too. This will be one of those performances that may or may not happen again, so don't count on another chance. 

 Show starts at 8:30 sharp. $12 cover.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Cool Thoughts on a Snowy Day

With temperatures struggling to get out of the twenties, every single snow flake that fell today is not budging an inch. Gladly stuck at home for now,  I'm pondering what's cool and what's not.

What's cool?
The Martini Shot: a new collection of short stories by our own home boy, George Pelecanos. George, whose writing draws a bead on DC as only a local can, will be appearing at the new  Busboys and Poets in Brookland next week.

What else is cool?
All the movies and books coming out about DC's punk scene, WHFS and the 9:30 Club.

What's not cool is getting so wrapped up in what was, that we forget about what is. A lot of great old memories cropped up with the recent premiere of "Salad Days", but fellow old codgers have commented about getting around the nostalgia to what is happening now.

We may have lost a lot of old venues, but musicians from those "back in the day" bands (like Government Issue, White Boy, Beatnik Flies, and Slickee Boys) are still out there wielding axes and slogging away at our local music scene. Meanwhile young bands are cropping up with all kinds of ideas and sounds. DC ROCKS can't keep up, but look for The NRIs, The Walking Sticks, The Very Small and Bumper Jacksons.  And check out Jack On Fire's demo "Burn Down the Brixton" a funny and very local number sounding off about  DC's newer hipster scene.

Stay warm this week, but please remember going out is cool!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What Would Frost Do?

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, " Robert Frost once said, and I wonder which one he would choose for Thursday evening if he were still here. He left the planet a little too early in January of 1963 to be a Rolling Stones' fan (although he talks about them a lot in his poem "Mending Wall.")
Those of you who do like to rock might want to think about heading down a road called Wilson Boulevard in Arlington for Keith Richard's birthday party/tribute at IOTA.

The other road, Georgia Avenue, leads us to Silver Spring where DC Brau and the Quarry House are throwing a Calypso party with The Harry Bells. Bring a toy if you are feeling Santa-like. Might be something cool and warm to do, and a good place "to stop without a farmhouse near" on a wintry night so close to the "darkest evening of the year."

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rooting Up A Christmas Throwback

Right about now a lot of us are cringing as carols assault our ears wherever we go. Bearing that in mind, December's Song of the Month is one you don't often hear this time of year even though it is seasonal.

But first a little back ground.

photo by Alan Kresse
If you went to the University of Maryland in the last century, you might remember the Varsity Grill in College Park. I imagine at one time or another this little bar on Route 1 served clean shaven football players accompanied by their lanky blonde dates wearing letter jackets. However, by the time I arrived on the scene in the late 1970s, those days were long gone. The Grill was more of a blue collar establishment frequented by biker gangs, and dotted with scruffy college students. The bulk of the Terrapin freshmen could be found across the street dousing themselves with beer at the 'Vous.

photo by Alan Kresse

Never one to fit in anywhere, I felt more at home with the bikers.

Varsity Grill circa 1979/photo by Alan Kresse 
One night, way back when, friends hanging at the Grill were all geared up to see a band playing down the block. Everybody said we had to go check it out. I think we all stumbled through a rear door in the Grill and down an alley to get the Back Room, but those memories are hazy, and I may well be wrong. What I do remember is the place was seething with bodies by the time we walked in. The rickety balcony (which was out of puking range) felt only marginally safer than being in that crazy crowd below which was writhing in front of an even wilder scene on stage. It was the first time I had ever heard of "Root Boy Slim and The Sex Change Band."

That may have been the night the act was banned in College Park, but only temporarily. The band played on - well into the 1980s.  Foster MacKenzie III (aka Root Boy Slim) was a brilliant and witty man given to boisterous excess in all he did. He lived large, and he died too young, but he left DC a legacy of crazy stories and songs. As the old TV commercials used to say- who could forget classics like "Mood Ring?" ? Or "Boogie 'Til You Puke?" And of course (finally getting to the point) "Christmas at K- Mart."

This dark little number confronts our commercial society head on and thus qualifies for DC ROCKS' song of the month. When the rat race of shopping reaches a frenzied pitch,  I say retreat.  Scrounge up something strong to sip on, put your feet up and revive your spirit with a little satire and a nod to Slim who will always be missed in 7-Elevens and old haunts throughout D.C.

P. S. DC ROCKS thanks Alan Kresse for many of the photos in this piece. It sure comes in handy having a college house mate who was sober enough to take great pictures once upon a time. He still is a stellar photographer.

Saturday, December 6, 2014