Tag Archives: show review

Amanda Palmer @ the State Theatre, 11/19/09

(Photo courtesy Don Whiteside)

Sometime during her Thursday performance at the State Theater, Amanda Palmer joked that, “We’ll see where the fucking spirit takes us, yo.” Her tone was facetious, but the sentiment was true. After opening the night with an enlightening music business Q&A before openers Nervous Cabaret took the stage, Amanda Fucking Palmer (as she’s affectionately known to her fans) embarked on an evening of pure Brechtian punk cabaret brilliance. Whether solo or accompanied by the Nervous Cabaret, playing songs off her solo debut (last year’s Who Killed Amanda Palmer? and crowd-pleasers from the Dresden Dolls catalogue, Amanda Palmer gives the crowd what it wants.

The Nervous Cabaret is a Brooklyn-based band that looks and sounds like they belong in a Bayou blues bar. Their name is misnomer: there is nothing “nervous” about these guys, who are all swagger, in their thrift-store suits and pork pie hats. Bandleader Elyas Khan, somewhere between Lemmy and Johnny Depp, spits and howls without abandon, his vocal runs tinged with Middle Eastern melodies. The band has a keen understanding of dynamics, knowing when a guitar or trumpet riff is enough, and when the entire band should scream like their heads are on fire. They’re also the perfect opening act, hyping the crowd for what for what is sure to be a total bacchanalian affair: what else explains the bassist’s creepy goat mask?

Emerging from the back of the house in a procession resembling either a funeral or a wedding, and decked out like a goth Moulin Rouge performer, Amanda Palmer launched into the dour tale of unrequited (and forbidden) love, “Missed Me,” off the Dresden Dolls eponymous debut. Predictably, the crowd went wild.

While last year’s tour with the Danger Ensemble tended towards performance art, Palmer’s utilization of such a versatile backing band in the form of the Nervous Cabaret pushes the performance into rock show territory. Songs on WKAP that were either stripped down or dropped altogether the last time around benefit from this arrangement, with horns standing in for strings on powerful, rollicking songs like “Astronaut” and “Runs in the Family.”

Fittingly, the band left the stage, as Palmer keyed the intro for “Ampersand,” a song that finds an empowered Palmer soldiering on alone; it’s impossible to not read into the lyrics some of the underlying tensions that led to the dissolution of the Dresden Dolls. After “Ampersand,” it was time for Ask Amanda, where Palmer takes questions from the audience. Palmer is a performer 24/7, and no facet of her life is off-limits or out-of-bound; her engagement with fans, directly and through social networking, serves as a template for other “noncommercial” artists who struggle to push units and stay solvent.

The jazzy swing of “Mandy Goes to Med School” allowed the band introductions to veer into solos by the talented five-piece. Sandwiched between covers of the Ting Tings’ “That’s Not My Name” and the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” was fan-favorite “Coin Operated Boy,” with the lyrics taking the transgressive twist they always do.

A special, DC-metro-area-only treat was Palmer’s duet with her father Jack, doing his best Johnny Cash impersonation, on the haunting Leonard Cohen classic “One of Us Cannot Be Wrong.” For the second encore, Palmer brought the band back on stage for “Oasis,” the tongue-in-cheek, major key ode to date rape, molestation, and abortion. Replacing the bridge with a rousing cover of “Twist and Shout” reminded the audience what they love about this talented performer: she’s hilarious, she’s inappropriate, she’s Amanda Fucking Palmer.

The xx @ DC9, 11/15/09

Acts that play DC9 usually unload their gear from the backs of their own vans and cars, so the sight of a truly rock-and-roll tour bus outside the club on Sunday meant only one thing: “It” band of the moment The XX had rolled into town on a bus befitting their bloghaus buzz.

Since forming in 2005, the XX has gone from West London high-schoolers to underground sensation on both sides of the pond. And while the majority of the 2009 British invasion has tended towards danceable electropop (Little Boots, La Roux, et al), the XX refocus their pop and R&B influences inward, crafting soulful indie rock that is dark and sexual.

The riptide of hype has already swallowed one member, as guitarist/keyboardist Baria Qureshi recently quit the band after an exhausting slate of CMJ showcases. The XX soldier on a three-piece, as her departure has caused the band to improvise and adapt arrangements, without much margin of error.

Opening the night was Jon Hopkins, an electronic music producer whose songs are glitchy and atmospheric, sounding at times like outtakes from a Clint Mansell score, and at others, instrumentals begging for a female vocalist, a la Zero 7 and Frou Frou. The pulsating drums and sweeping synths rang the gamut from dubstep to drum-n-bass, firmly on the “electronic” side of an electronic/dance music Venn diagram. Unfortunately, watching Hopkins manipulate his gear is not particularly captivating. The crests never broke and he seemed to out stay his welcome. However, it was the perfect music for an opener, leaving enough ambience and mystique in the air for the main attraction.

To rousing applause, the XX took the stage. The band’s youth (they’re all 20!) was on display throughout the night, but not in an unpleasant way. The set list stayed relatively close to the record, with a few covers mixed in: their masterful reworkings of the funky club track “Do you mind?” and the Womack & Womack hit “Teardrops,” a song recorded before the band members were born. Oliver Sim (bass and vocals) seemed genuinely excited by the band’s first trip to Washington; his reference of Ben’s Chili Bowl was earnest and unrehearsed. And while they missed their marks or played the wrong notes a few times, it reminded the audience what they are witnessing: gifted songwriters whose talents belie their age and experience.

In front of a display emblazoned with their stark logo, the goth-attired trio worked through twelve of the fifteen songs they have committed to record (their cover of Florence and the Machines “You’ve Got the Love” was sorely missed). The interplay and counterpoint of Sim’s smoky vocals with the breathy ones of guitarist Romy Madley Croft are just as sorrowful and emotive as on record. Jamie Smith, manning a drum machine, samplers, and the occasional live percussion seems to have picked up the slack after Qureshi’s exit, especially when dropping the otherworldly bass sounds of songs like “Fantasy.”

If not immediately engaged, the sold-out crowd was won over by the time Croft plucked the opening riff of the surprisingly danceable single “Crystalised,” and remained enraptured until the call-and-response crescendo that ended the set on “Stars,” a song that finds the band at its most Chris Isaac-like sound. Here’s hoping the band can survive the further strain that is all but assured as more people hear the record. This is the rare next-big-thing that doesn’t rely on gimmicks, parlaying a high Pitchfork score into no more than hipster namedroppings. If they can survive this rough patch intact, I’ll be front and center when they play the 9:30 Club in April, a venue where their tour bus, buzz, and crowd will all be in sync with their talent.

Brand New @ Sonar, 11/11/09

It is rare that a rock band transcends the musical subculture from which it spawned, simultaneously surpassing its peers and expanding its musical scope. Most acts ride the wave of a certain sound, tying their success to the ebb and flow of ephemeral interests. This is not the case with Brand New, the Long Island band that has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of the early-aughts emo scene a stronger, more complete band.

Brand New, joined by melodic hardcore acts Crime in Stereo and Thrice, took the stage at Sonar in Baltimore on Wednesday night. The rain soaked, capacity crowd ranged from veterans like myself (first saw Brand New back in 2003) to a new generation of kids with X’ed out hands and body modification.

Since their 2001 debut, Your Favorite Weapon, Brand New has crafted increasingly complex songs, fusing their early pop-punk-emo with elements of acoustic singer-songwriter, prog rock, and post-hardcore music. The compositions require, at times, three guitars, a bass, two drummers, and two vocalists, allowing the band focus on elements lost in the mix and giving older songs a denser sound. Jesse Lacey, lead singer and guitarist, varies the vocals enough to frustrate the sing-along crowd, while adding a new level of screaming that makes you wonder how many more go-rounds the band has.

Lacey has always had a strained relationship with certain elements of his fan base. He’s well aware that his scraggily good looks bring out the teeny-boppers, and this (unwanted?) attention has been a frequent subject of his lyrics; on Deja Entendu’s “I Will Play My Game Beneath The Spin Light,” he muses: “Watch me as I cut myself wide open on this stage / Yes, I am paid to spill my guts … Oh, I would kill for the Atlantic / but I am paid to make girls panic while I sing.”

This tongue-in-cheek, finger-in-eye understanding of the audience manifests itself in the song selection, as the band moves between the pop-punk of their debut album, to the macabre melodies of Deja Entendu, through the layered, bordering-on-progressive jams of The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me, ending up in the raucous screeching of their newest effort, Daisy. “I am not your friend / I am just a man who knows how to feel / I’m not your friend / I’m not your lover / I’m not your family,” he belts on “Sowing Season;” Brand New does this for them, and if you happen to share in the catharsis, good for you.

Which doesn’t mean the show was without a fair share of fan service. Breakthrough emo anthem “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad” has returned to setlist after several years in exile. And a bit of a Nirvana medley, along with some sarcastic banter, demonstrated the band’s sense of humor for an appreciative audience.

The highlight of the set was Lacey’s solo interpretation of “Limousine,” only joined by the band for the finale: the crashing, vibrato-heavy outro. The song, based on the real life tragedy of Katie Flynn, takes on a new poignancy and emotional depth; unfortunately, this was lost on members of the audience who kept shouting for “Moshi Moshi” (the emo-punk equivalent of “Free Bird,” I suppose).

Which is basically the main problem facing Brand New: if they have moved beyond the easy accessibility of Your Favorite Weapon, why can’t they move beyond the fans of that album? Instead of growing with them, the audience is perpetually 18 years old, a tiresome fact for a band that has done all it can to move in new musical directions. The irony of their name has come full circle, as a crowd that has come to see Brand New isn’t ready for something that is just that.

Nicole Atkins @ the Rock N Roll Hotel, 11/6/09

I am a believer in the restorative powers of a good rock show. Most nights, some combination of DJ, MC, and whatever samplers or instruments are lying around will suffice, as the pulsing rhythms of electronic music or the flow of a skilled rapper gets a party going. But sometimes, what you really need is the catharsis only provided by tried-and-true rock and roll, a genre that has been declared dead (and subsequently revived) more than hip-hop.

Such was the case this Friday, as Nicole Atkins descended on the Rock N Roll Hotel, headlining a bill of straight-up rock music. Opening the night was Foley, a New York based singer-songwriter who treated the audience to some bluesy coffeehouse rock, including a pleasant cover of the Beatles’ “Something in the Way.” The simplicity of a man and his guitar set the tone for the rest of the show. Scott Liss and the Sixty-Six continued the festivities, engaging the crowd with some psychedelic folk rock, showing the DC audience what’s brewing in the Asbury Park scene.

Of the openers, the standout band was definitely The Hymns. Opening their set without fanfare, they launched right into some jangly, psychedelic rock, with front man Brian Hardings’s vocals drenched in reverb. This decade has been overrun with bands that are determined to re-visit the Beatles in increasingly tiresome ways. The Hymns, however, look instead to the Rolling Stones, mimicking the raw, rollicking sound of the anti-Beatles. At times, the Brooklyn four-piece also owes a lot to the Eagles and the Band, relying on dual riffage and harmonies that evoke a simpler age of rock music. Their set was a slice of Southern-fried blues rock (not surprising, considering their North Carolina and Texas roots), aesthetically and sonically reminiscent of the Kings of Leon, before their GQ makeover and Top 40 success.

As Krisma’s “Black Silk Stocking” played overhead, Nicole Atkins and the Black Sea took the stage. Bathed in thick smoke and green and purple lighting, the ambience was perfect for an evening of “noir pop,” the descriptor that the Jersey-based songstress has given to her melancholy, orchestral stylings.

As a front woman, Atkins is unparalleled in engaging the crowd. She’s a singular force on stage, making every single person feel like she’s singing directly to and only for them. With new backing back The Black Sea, Atkins played a set that introduced the audience to the songs that will appear on the follow-up to her breakout album, 2007’s Neptune City, while hitting the highlights of her early work.

From the walking bassline of “Kill the Headlights” to the Queenesque sing-along “Brooklyn’s On Fire,” the songs of Neptune City take on a new dimension in a live setting. The spaced out riffs are pitch perfect, bending and pulling directly on your heartstrings. Atkins’ voice, a sultry mix of Patsy Cline and Jenny Lewis, is seductive yet vulnerable throughout. New songs like “Civil War” and “Cry Cry Cry” are thematically consistent with her discography, retelling tales of failed relationships and broken hearts in the language of soulful pop songs, equal parts Motown and Nashville.

On “Maybe Tonight,” Atkins sings, “Search the dial for what I need to know / They don’t play those songs on my radio,” which perfectly encapsulates the plight of modern rock music. If you have two ears and a soul, Nicole Atkins should be on your radio.

Afro-Punk @ The Black Cat, 11/1/09

Dear audience of last night’s Afro-punk concert:

What the fuck? Was it too much Halloween revelry? A case of pre-Monday-morning depression? I mean, I’m plenty acquainted with apathetic DC crowds, barely swaying and head nodding to the music. And while that might suffice for Pitchfork Flavor of the Week indie bands, it is simply not acceptable for Saul Williams. This is revolution music, the soundtrack for tearing down repressive social structures and demolishing the status quo. Is it too much to ask that you move a little? Maybe I’m in the minority, but this type of performance elicits a visceral, corporeal reaction. So be forewarned, you cede the privilege of an up-close view when you fail to interact: I’m bum rushing the stage, so get out the way.But you’re not here for a rant; you probably want to know about the show. So, without further ado…

On Sunday night, the Black Cat hosted the Afro-Punk tour. But Afro-Punk is more than just a tour, it’s a movement. From their 2003 documentary of the same name, to a five-year strong festival in Brooklyn, Matthew Morgan and James Spooner have been tireless advocates for urban alternative culture, be it music, film, or extreme sport. A 19-date tour that brings some of the subculture’s finest performers across the continent was the next logical step.

Opening the night’s festivities were the Smyrk, whose straight-ahead rock sound is infused with R&B, thanks to the powerful lead vocals of Doron Monk Flake. The band reminds me of a more radio-friendly Sevendust, especially on stand-out song “The End of Jason Todd” (yes kids, that is a comic book reference), which combines grinding riffs with Flake’s soaring vocals. The Smyrk gives me hope for mainstream rock music, a genre that has fallen on tough times.

Next up were Krak Attack, the combination of multi-instrumentalist CX Kidtronik and Tchaka Diallo. CX is an Afro-punk trailblazer who has been pushing the envelope since the 80s, influencing Atlanta artists like Lil’ Jon and Andre 3000 and collaborating with Saul Williams. Krak Attack is pure crunk rock, as CX assaults his MPC and Tchaka engages the crowd and tries to get girls on stage. Unfortunately, Black Cat security was having none of it, so the party didn’t really get off the ground. Their performance is sonically and visually abrasive, but in the right setting, it could be a lot of fun.

Following Krak Attack’s short set, the stage was prepared for true legends Living Colour. Despite some technical difficulties and an audience born mostly after the band was formed, the reaction to the funk-metal pioneers was largely positive. From the historic opening riff of “Cult of Personality” to the breakdown of “Type,” Living Colour captivated the crowd with their unrivaled musical talents. After a set that included classics and a handful of new material, it was clear that Living Colour were the first and most influential Afro-punks.

After the impressive range of openers, and with Betty Davis on the sound system, it was time for the headliner: Saul Williams, in full Niggy Tardust makeup and costume. Joined on stage by a backing band that included CX Kidtronik (and his daughter Saturn at various points), Saul was on-point, dropping the free verse poetry that he built his reputation with, and nailing songs from throughout his discography. The beats were familiar, but tweaked and manipulated by CX, giving old favorites dubstep and drum-and-bass makeovers.

At one point, Saul mused that he had more energy than the crowd. “Isn’t DC where some great punk rock came from? I thought you’d be more… aggro!” The first several rows got into it, but that was about it (hence my rant), but this didn’t deter him from further interaction. After performing “NiggyTardust,” Saul spoke about how we deal with (or rather, fail to deal with) race continues to hold everyone back: our concept of “the other” is false, and we need the pendulum to swing back to center, between the extremes of race consciousness.

For the crowd, it was a poignant message that did not fall on deaf ears. This is what Afro-Punk is all about: fostering the development of a culture that lies outside the norm, letting kids who were told they weren’t “black enough” be themselves. The audience also included plenty of white kids who were told to “stop acting black,” so the point stands: the “other” is a lie.

Saul Williams setlist:
Break (intro only)
Convict Colony
Black Stacey
Declare Independence (Bjork cover)
Gunshots by computer
(New song)
Skin of a drum
Sunday Bloody Sunday (U2 cover)
Scared money
List of demands

The Foreign Exchange @ Black Cat, 10/25/09

The Foreign Exchange is the Postal Service of soul music: an up-and-coming producer joins a lead vocalist on a side project that is completed in true 21st century fashion, without sitting down in a studio to collaborate. Both projects have spawned albums that are modern classics. Both even chose tongue-in-cheek monikers that allude to the manner of their genesis. But while Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello are on hiatus, the pairing of Phonte and Nicolay is going strong.

Last Sunday, the Foreign Exchange family brought their transcontinental soul sound to a packed house at the Black Cat. Many live performers, especially in support of albums with a host of guests, suffer when they try to recreate the record, sans featured players. The Foreign Exchange is having none of it, bringing vocalists YahZarah, Darien Brockington, and Carlita Durand and backing three-piece Zo! and the Els along for the ride. And not just any ride, but a singular experience: part concert, part musical therapy, part church revival, all designed to make the audience – as the album instructs – leave it all behind.

From the time the eight performers take the stage, the women in jaw-dropping ensembles and the men in their Sunday best, one thing is clear: Phonte is an MC in the purest sense. It’s his world, and the audience is just living in it. Due to his work as part of Little Brother, his rap skills have never been in question, and his singing voice, prominently featured on Leave It All Behind, is more than capable. But what really impressed was his ability to orchestrate the concert, unafraid to step back and shine the spotlight on someone else in service of song and show. Totally at ease on the mic, Phonte freely mixes stand-up comedy and relationship advice; the crowd could share a laugh or an “Amen!” in between bouts of musical rapture.

Leave It All Behind is a melancholy album, perfect for contemplating relationships during the fall rain. Nicolay’s beats are more trip-hop than hip-hop, taking a backseat to round basslines, jazzy piano melodies, and swelling synths. Live, the songs take on a whole new dimension, as the locked-in rhythms, four-part harmonies, and dueling keyboards wash over the audience. The music is full and powerful without losing the poignancy or complexity of the album – no small feat.

Phonte’s workmanlike vocals are a thread throughout the evening, but YahZarah “the Man-eater” and Darien “Panty Dropper” Brockington live up to their Phonte-bestowed nicknames, treating the audience to smooth, sexy lead vocals. Carlita Durand wasn’t given the opportunity to stand-out, but four voices are better than three here. And the band members are true professionals, keeping the groove going during Phonte’s “Top 7 ‘Give Me Your Love’ Countdown” (his elaborate introductions of the performers) and effortlessly shifting between R&B and bossa nova styles throughout the set.

Like the best front men, Phonte is fearless on stage, doing his best Bobby Brown on a cover of “My Prerogative,” reading a grocery list as a mid-90s reggae toaster, and rocking a radio rap medley in neo-soul style. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard “Turn My Swag On,” “Make Tha Trap Say Aye,” “Stanky Leg,” and “LOL Smiley Face,” as performed by the Foreign Exchange. His banter rivaled anything from last weekend’s Bentzen Ball, especially his explanation of how the refrain of “I Wanna Know” (“Okay!”) can save a relationship.

For two hours, Preacher Phonte led his flock of Foreign Exchange fans through the valley for an evening intended to rejuvenate, whether by singing, dancing, laughing, or crying. If you haven’t seen Foreign Exchange live, do your soul the favor.

HARD NYC @ Terminal 5, 10/10/09

Check out more Hard NYC photos by Nicky Digital. Flashing Lights photo courtesy of the HiFi Cartel)

Sometimes a show promises to be such a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I motivate myself to board a discount bus to New York City and hope there will be a couch to crash on at the end of the night. Last Saturday was such an occasion, as Hard NYC rolled into New York’s Terminal 5, bringing leading electronic artists Destructo, Jack Beats, Rusko, Major Lazer, and Crookers to the Hell’s Kitchen club. After a rumored show with a similar line-up failed to materialize at the 9:30 Club, this show was a no-brainer.

For the uninitiated, Terminal 5 is a warehouse club similar to 9:30, with larger balconies, another story, and a capacity of around 3,000. For the club to be half-full shortly after Destructo opened the night’s festivities was pretty impressive. Destructo, aka Gary Richards, Hard Fest’s organizer, DJed a pretty straight-forward mix of club, house, and electro tracks, but the crystal clear sound system and psychedelic visuals foreshadowed the aural and visual extravaganza that would follow.

If the occasional hip-hop show can make it feel like 1990, certain electronic shows can make it feel like 1995. The show was an 18 and over affair, but the X’ed out hands probably outnumbered those nursing Red Bulls and vodkas. For a crowd whose only rave experience is probably Netflixing Go, these party kids have the culture down to a T. There were more pacifiers than you could shake a glowstick at, although gloves with Lite Brites on the fingertips were also drawing crowds of glassed-over eyes. They might have been too high to spell “MDMA,” but they have good taste in music and they came to party.

Each act was allotted about an hour, and they stayed remarkably close to that, with seamless transitions between sets. After Destructo, British duo Jack Beats took the stage and brought a serious set of new wave house edits that the crowd ate up like so many colorful pills. They remixed hipster favorites from Passion Pit and Yeah Yeah Yeahs into electro bangers, and even dropped Nadastrom’s remix of A Milli. While a good number of people in the crowd recognized the latter track, I’m sure Google searches for “a milli remix, slowed down, crunk as hell” had an uptick after the show. Jack Beats’ fusion of electronic styles and populist playlist surely gained new fans for the newest member of the Cheap Thrills crew.

Next up was one of the main reasons I ventured to NY: dubstep superstar Rusko, whose remix of Kid Sister’s “Pro Nails” was one of the hottest tracks of 2008. Want to replicate Rusko’s set at home? It’s simple! Throw on his mix for Mishka’s Keep Watch series (of which he played nearly all the tracks), turn off the lights, and crank the bass on your sound system until your neighbors call the cops, your heartbeat goes irregular, and your face melts off. Rusko’s wonky, wobbly tunes had an intensity that you don’t usually get from dance music. The crowd definitely appreciated the slowed down, bass-heavy set, and didn’t need any encouragement from Rusko’s hype man, who proved to be an unnecessary distraction. The 23-year old York-born DJ has energized the dubstep scene with partner-in-crime Caspa, and he’s a must-see for dance fans when he ventures into the US.

While the price of admission was covered after the first three sets, the night was just beginning. Next up was Diplo, performing as Major Lazer, his cartoon-themed dancehall project with Switch (who was predictably absent). The Mad Decent head honcho, in a simple black suit, proceeded to redefine what a DJ show can be with help from a few of his friends. Skerrit Bwoy, equal parts dancer, MC, and hype man, put on a daggering clinic that included ladders, speakers, and the girls from the “Pon de Floor” video, a performance which would probably be illegal in most states. Between the dance antics onstage and the tripped-out visuals behind the booth, Diplo managed to recreate the Major Lazer album in three dimensions. Also joining him were guests from the album: Mr. Lexx, Nina Sky, Ricky Blaze, and indie it-girl Santigold. While the twisted dancehall of “Pon de Floor” and Hold the Line” were on every DJ’s playlist this summer, the biggest hit from the album may be cross-over surprise “Keep it Goin’ Louder,” which proves Diplo and Switch can produce just about anything better than most.

Crookers, the Italian Stallions of electronic music, had the unenviable position of following Diplo and the gang, and no matter how hard they cranked it, they couldn’t recapture the energy the crowd had during the preceding set. If Diplo/Major Lazer had headlined, I’m sure their set would have been better received. With a full length expected later this year, Crookers are still in the running to be the next European dance duo to break through, a la Daft Punk and Justice; their remix of Kid Cudi’s “Day n Nite” is the definitive version of the song, and it’s still heating up dance floors nearly two years after its initial release. Their current single, “Put Your Hand On Me,” featuring Kardinal Offishall and Carlie Marie, has the potential to do the same thing. That is, if the video doesn’t turn too many people off (spoilers ruin it, so if you haven’t seen it, give it a shot… and then surprise your friends).

After the show, I ventured downtown for something that only happens in New York: a team of top DJs turn a dim sum restaurant into a late-night club. For the one year anniversary of Flashing Lights, the monthly party thrown by top selectors DJ Ayres, Nick Catchdubs, and Jubilee, the special guest was Sheffield DJ Toddla T, who brought a mix of hip-hop and reggae to the smoky, crowded dance floor. And if dominating one show wasn’t enough, Diplo even crashed the party. It was the kind of night that reminds me why I occasionally subject myself to 10 hours on a Megabus.

GOSSIP @ 9:30 Club 10/7/09

You never know what kind of audience will show up at a late show at the 9:30 Club, especially on a weeknight. But to kick-off Gossip’s first US tour in three years, last Wednesday’s crowd brought their A-game: their dancing, singing, and overall loss of control turned the 9:30 into a queer revival meeting. And it rocked.

Apache Beat, a five-piece band from Brooklyn, began the night with their brand off spaced-out indie rock, but suffered from a muddy mix and the usual early-night ambivalence that plagues openers (especially in DC). I’ll reserve judgment, but they could stand to tighten their sound, as the instruments seemed to be competing with each other behind lead singer Ilirjana Alushaj’s vocals (I’ll admit, I couldn’t resist working such an exotic name into this review).

MEN fared a bit better, with a pop-disco sound more in-tune with what the crowd was ready for. The Le Tigre side project features JD Samson on vocals and samplers, with the dual-guitar riffage of Michael O’Neill and Ginger Brooks Takahashi. Samson has abandoned the political electro-clash of Le Tigre for this jaunt into electro-pop revivalism, but the lyrics (and possibly the entire project) are very tongue-in-cheek. Lead single “Off Our Backs” is appropriately catchy and a good sing-a-long, although the band would be better served if Samson sang directly into the mic, with the vocals higher in the mix.

At just after 12:30, Gossip (formerly The Gossip) took the stage, where Hannah Billie’s pounding, insistent drumming and a swaggering bass line from tour bassist Chris Sutton on “Dime Store Diamond” kicked off the set. The angular, bluesy riffs of guitarist Brace Paine joined the mix, and from somewhere offstage came the soulful voice of Beth Ditto. The crowd erupted with excitement, even without seeing the singer, so the energy is that much more frenetic when see saunters onto stage in a tight, bright dress and a neon pink dye job.

For all intents and purposes, Gossip is Beth Ditto. The front-woman is a singular force on-stage and off, and a genuine superstar in the UK, where the band’s following far surpasses its stateside one. No point in beating around the bush: much has been made about Ditto’s weight, and we don’t live in the perfect world where it wouldn’t be an issue. Suffice to say, she carries it well and doesn’t let it affect her performance: Ditto struts across the stage, reaches out to adoring fans, and oscillates between belting and shrieking out tunes like a disco-punk Janis Joplin.

The night’s set list is heavily loaded with tunes from the new album “Music for Men,” with enough old favorites to please long-time fans. Older songs that fit the new album’s dance-orientated style are included, but the set eschews the garage blues of songs like “Sweet Chariot.” The result is a set list that does one thing, but does it well: this is a show to dance at.

In between songs, Ditto seems genuinely grateful for the turn out (about 800-1000, short of a sellout) and the support, revealing an understated personality behind the confidence she wields while performing. Still, she’s not afraid to let out a burp or have Brace adjust her spandex. It’s evident why this crowd of outsiders feels a connection with this charismatic for honest singer.

As the night continues, Brace stabs a few synth lines, and the bass continues grooving to the four-on-the-floor beats. For Gossip, it may be their first US tour in three years, but this is just another party. The songs melt into one high-tempo jam; while this would be repetitive on a record, it works perfectly in a live setting. Highlights of the show include Ditto’s interactions with fans, including a stroll through the audience and a particularly impressive crowd surfing jag.

From “Love Long Distance,” with verses that could be part of Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music,” to anthems like single “Heavy Cross” and an encore cover of “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” Gossip do dance-punk right. With a renewed interest in the type of music they’ve perfected on their latest album, here’s hoping their European success finally crosses the pond.