Category Archives: live music

My li’l Sphere of Influence

This here newsletter/blog/what-have-you has been launching at friends and music-biz acquaintances for many, many years now and, while my bylines in major publications ebb and flow, I’m eternally grateful that musicians and publicists still reach out to me with offers to share music and concert access, as if my words here have some ability to shine light on worthy acts. When you reach out to Close Personal Friend, I listen and so, in the midst of the firehose of online media content, I humble suggest a few droplets of pleasure in the manner of two upcoming DC-area shows:

The Turbos at Seasons & Sessions, September 26

I got an email from Cameron Reck, bassist from this Columbus, Ohio-based rock band offering me an interview in advance of next week’s show. I declined that last bit but said sure to hearing some music. A CD arrived in the mail, labeled 2018 Singles Collection, that contained 13 tracks.

It turns out that the Turbos are a solid alternative rock quartet with two lead voices, “the powerful sultry” (their words) Alex D and “the gritty wailing” Lucas Esterline. It’s not a groundbreaking sound that’ll have you racing to your media player, but this is clearly a band that can get a crowd rocking in a club setting. The Turbos are about to embark on a three-month trek that takes their “dual-vocal rock” through Pennsylvania, all along the north- and south-east coasts, and even into Texas, Mississippi, Kentucky, and West Virginia, so if you’re out there somewhere (tour dates here), pop in and tell them I sent you. It’ll freak them – and me – out.

The Way Down Wanderers at Jammin Java, September 25

You can’t get much more “heartland” than Illinois, so it’s not surprising that bluegrass is the foundation of this Peoria-based quintet’s sound, but it also offers accents from the players’ varied backgrounds in rock, jazz and classical to create something a bit different in the crowded nu-grass field.

On the band’s latest album, Illusions, the track “All My Words,” for example, shuffles to a reggae/island beat, then adds a mid-song rap and ends with breakneck banjo. The song’s video is unlike any roots/rock clip you’ve seen, with modern dance and sign language integrated within.

not your typical bluegrass video
If further name dropping helps to seal the deal, Illusions was produced by Grammy-winner David Schiffman, whose impressively eclectic credits include Johnny Cash, HAIM, System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine. Much of the electric guitar and keyboard flourish in the studio comes courtesy of guest Roger Manning, a cult legend from his time in Jellyfish and Imperial Drag.
 
I wish this show wasn’t happening the same night that my favorite local cinema, Alamo Drafthouse Loudon, is planning a screening of Quadrophenia so I have to make a tough choice. Life in the DMV can be an embarrassment of riches. Hooray for First World Problems!
Finally, a teaser: heading out tonight to see Saintseneca so there will be photos and a review coming soon.        

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We Get Out: Ben Platt at The Anthem, 5.11.19

Last week, I was at what is D.C.’s arguably most beautiful venue, The Anthem, for the Ben Platt show. I am not a “Dear Evan Hansen” fanatic (not knocking it, just haven’t seen it) but when Platt performed “Somewhere” (from “West Side Story”) on the 2018 Grammy’s, accompanied by just a guitarist and a cellist, his stunning rendition of the song nearly broke my heart, so I was curious to see him live.

The Anthem is a gorgeous space, even more so when the audience shines its lights
(here, for the song “Grow As We Go”)

I had no takers when I floated buying tickets, and pondered going solo. But then I saw that HeadCount.org, the national bi-partisan group dedicated to signing up new voters at special events, was offering free admission to volunteers who would stand with a clipboard, addressing the audience as it arrived to find new electoral blood. So, I had a mission, very nice people to hang with, and free entry to the show. Win-win, yes?

As one would expect from a Broadway veteran,
Ben Platt had a classy set and strong support players.

Though our little team of four had limited success finding new voters (as our leader noted, D.C. is a government town, so most people are registered), I’d say that 90% of the people I addressed were psyched to see us, many saying “thanks for being here,” or expressing how much they wanted to vote – for change! – as soon as possible. This was an unusually mixed crowd for The Anthem, as you might expect for a concert by an openly gay Broadway veteran touring on a solo album of big-hearted ballads – same-sex couples, white-haired matinee ladies, and high school theatre nerds (I was one!). In short, a place for sequins, not MAGA hats.

But there’s always a few bummers, not downright rude, but folks who look at you like you have three heads when you simply ask, “Are you registered to vote?” And teenagers who don’t know how to talk to anyone not in high school! I asked one girl how old she was (you can preregister at 16 in D.C. and Maryland, 17 in Virginia). She stared at me and mumbled, “I don’t know.” Probably best that you don’t vote, honey.

Doing my civic duty meant that I missed the two opening acts, but I was done with just enough time to grab a bite and find a great seat about 30 rows back from the stage to enjoy the show. (No SLR tonight; just iPhone.)

Ben Platt is a mensch – and I don’t think he’d mind me saying that. He’s a good Jewish boy who talks lovingly about his parents, writes and dedicates songs to them, graciously shares the spotlight with his band, and repeatedly thanks his audience, radiating genuine joy about being back where “Dear Evan Hansen” was born and raised before moving to NYC.

As best as I could tell (again, I don’t know the show), Platt didn’t perform anything from the musical that made him famous (I would have thought maybe as an encore, but no), concentrating on his debut album, “Sing to Me Instead,” and a few cool covers. There is no set list posted from the D.C. show, but this one from Chicago seems to be the same as our show, although I would have sworn “Honky Cat” was the Elton John tune.

Platt’s voice was as good as I could have hoped, his between-song stories were immenschly (I made a word!) sweet, and, considering I barely knew his original material, the songs made a good first impression with their strong melodies and lyrical emotion. I moved closer to the stage to take a few more photos and found another comfy seat in the second row.


Final bows.

Sometimes it feels like the world is on fire and there’s no good news to be had. Spending time in a big room full of people with a like-minded appreciation of musical talent and love (is love is love!) is one way to find hope again. A great way to spend a rainy Saturday night.

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