After a few years of Acoustic Life™ Lady Lamb has a new album out and is back to playing rock shows. She's got a party ballad about catching the train just in time and a love song that waxes poetic on neighbors who kiss their dogs on the nose. And of course, she's a killer performer on top of the writing.
I heard somewhere that Josh Ritter studied Scottish folk music and then made it American. He's a master story-teller and a captivating performer. And then there's the moment during "All Some Kind of Dream" where the lyrics go 'I saw my country in the hungry eyes / Of a million refugees' and the Theater roars to life with applause.
Lissie's piano retrospective tour at City Winery. We've seen her play the range of full-band to solo. Sometimes she just sets the mic down and sings because she doesn't need it. She's that good.
She plays what she wants, across time, across genres. Pitchfork described her as Disney Princess, which is weird because cartoon princesses aren't known for switching gears to 70's disco/pop. Maybe they should work on that.
On solo tour after the release of his album Warmer and his book Let's Go (So We Can Get Back).
Emilies Haines is back on the road playing a rock show.
A long-running Irish band famous for a brief appearance in Titanic. It's a great party and they have a hell of a fiddler.
Good Old War
These guys opened for Josh Ritter when we saw him last year. They’re Folk-ish, or indie rock, or something slightly east Wilco but happier. I don’t know, but they’re talented musicians and fun as hell. I need to buy more albums.
We saw Lissie again, this time as an acoustic guitar solo show at the Birchmere. The less she has on stage with her, the more it emphasizes the point that she’s just awesome.
Caroline Rose plays alt-rock as it was meant to be: with the crowd packed up by the stage, a surprise kazoo solo, and a healthy dose of guitars and sarcasm.
Andrew Bird played the Kennedy Center with a full orchestra. This is a once in a lifetime kind of performance.
A 90’s band.
Mr. Buddy Guy needs no introduction.
A bluesman we saw at Jazzfest.
Julien Baker and Courtney Barnett
There’s little to write about Julien Baker that hasn’t already been written already. The violinist is a nice addition. To be honest I’ve had a hard time listening to her new album just because I’m never that calm these days, but performing live, she gives you no choice: you will relax, you will dive into this, and it will be awesome.
Speaking of new albums I have Barnett’s on repeat. Does she rock? Yes, of course. But what makes her distinct is beneath the grungy guitar work is endless, detailed storytelling. You need the lyrics or you’re missing something. You need to dig in and listen over and over and work them out.
Kansas City’s New Queen of the Blues, who also did a bunch of Americana stuff, and a soul cover album, and whatever else she feels like. I’ve been telling everyone to go listen to her since I first saw her open for Trampled Under Foot. You’ve done that already, right?
What always strikes me about Lissie is her live shows sound, and in a lot of ways feel, exactly like her albums. It suits her. She writes songs, comes on stage barefoot, and plays music, with no need to dress it up in an elaborate light show or a giant rack of guitars. She has no need to add overmastered punchiness to her recordings because everything she needs is in the heart of her performance.
“‘Nah, I just want to play guitar,’” Jon Fratelli (in the hat) recalled his teenage years when a career counselor was asking what he wanted to do with his life. He looks around at a packed 9:30 Club that sings along to every one of his songs, and thanks the audience. Here he is: playing guitar every day, adding twists and turns to the music as they jump back and forth across their albums.
Honestly, I only know the two songs that were popular when I was in college, but when your friends ask if you want to go to a concert, you just say yes. They’re great performers and created a distinct, immersive show.
Tokyo Police Club
Matt and Kim
Matt and Kim, on the other hand. It’s wall to wall energy without a break or a down moment. “Hard and fast,” they say, and Kim pounds the drums only stopping for long enough to pound the keyboard instead. There’s nothing else like it. I kept thinking, it’s almost built like a punk show, except it’s happy. It’s got the noise and the energy and but instead of a mash of rage it's blasting balloons and sunshine.
Most of my favorite performances are full of instruments. Jeff Tweedy has 20 guitars, Andrew Bird has his violin, Samantha Fish keeps adding brass to the band. For Lorde, it’s her and her offstage electronic box. She needs nothing else; the stage is her instrument and the star is the writing, dressed in bright lights and surrounded by dancers. Melodrama is writing is introspection, and to take it at face value is to miss that. “I wrote this words on my laptop,” she says, amazed. “And here you are singing them.”
The Weather Station
This is a Canadian band that NPR said some nice things about, and I’m pretty sure I heard half of one song before saying “sure, I’ll drive all the way out to deep Virginia to see that.” She’s good. It’s playful and calmingly transportive, so much so that it’s easy to overlook the level of thought and detail behind her writing.
I bought the album.
When you think of an acoustic show, you probably think of a dude sitting alone in the dark playing mellow versions of their rock show being all intiminate.
Lucius’s acoustic show is not that.
Sure, they swap out some instruments, and use half as many lights, but they didn’t need those things to begin with. Every Lucius show feels intimate—trust me, I’ve seen five. Jess and Holly don’t do anything electronic with their voices in their regular shows, so taking pieces away barely feels like a new thing, at least, no more so than every performance, every tour is a new thing.
The wildewomen are still the wildewomen, and the only thing I can ask for is a chance to see them five more times.
Portugal The Man
I’ve been listening to these guys since before Evil Friends came out in 2013, when they were playing the dingy basement Beaumont Club in Kansas City.1 They were always fantastic performers and compelling lyricists. They write like it’s still the 1960’s—a last vestige of the idea that music would change the world, and listening to “So American” or “Holy Roller,” I don’t know, maybe it could?
So I was surprised when I started hearing them on the radio. This was one of those little weird bands I was obsessed with, they didn’t have top 40 singles, did they? And yet, there it was: I’m a rebel just for kicks now / I’ve been feeling it since 1966 now.
I hopped off the train from New York, dropped off my bags, went straight to U-Street Music Hall to see the guy from Vampire Weekend and his string ensemble.
A weird loud electric show with a giant hamster. Why a giant hamster? We'll never know.
Tegan and Sera
Courtney is great, as always. Kurt is... okay.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
The New Pornographers
Portugal The Man
My 100th concert since moving to DC.
Tokyo Police Club
"Luciusgiving" was my excuse to do thanksgiving in San Francisco and see Lucius for the third time in 2016.
Springtime Carnivore and La Sera
Greta Morgan and Katy Goodman did an album of punk covers together and then went on tour with their respective solo projects. You should listen to all three albums.
All Things Go
A very muddy show. Also where I discovered Sofi Tucker, who is great live.
An anniversary tour for Rabbit Fur Coat.
The Hush Sound
Trampled Under Foot
Two Door Cinema Club
Father John Misty
Tokyo Police Club
Playing with a string quartet.
In St. Louis.
The Walking Sticks
Wilco played DC during the Super Bowl, and obviously the Daughters of the Americans Revolution hall was packed to the gills.
Eliza Hardy Jones
Opening for Grace Potter at Austin City Limits.