Nightlife Agenda: De La Soul, free whiskey and variety shows

February 5, 2013

Every Tuesday, the Going Out Gurus highlight the week's best DJs, bands, dance nights and parties. Here are four we think you can't miss:

De La Soul
The cover of De La Soul's 1989 debut 3 Feet High and Rising.

ThursdayDe La Soul is the best hip-hop group of all time. This is undeniable, so don't try to argue. Name another group that is still together after more than 25 years in the game, one that can boast an amazing live show as well as genre-changing albums. Oh, right: De La Soul is the only group that can claim those achievements. And with the demise of the group in hip-hop, who knows whether anyone will surpass what they've accomplished. Join fellow De La enthusiasts at 1920dc for The Happy Hour is Dead, a happy hour of wings, tots, strong drinks and an excursion through the De La Soul catalogue conducted by DJ 2-Tone Jones. Ask for the $5 Buddy drink special.

Thursday: New York's Liquid Liquid was one of the unsung heroes of post-punk dance music. The group's slinky dub basslines and sprawling song structures bridged the gap between the underground club scene, which later spawned house music and the new wave scene. (The group also has a legit hip-hop connection: Its "Cavern" was lifted almost wholesale for Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines.") Liquid Liquid's influence continues to this day. The unstoppable funk grooves of "Optimo" and "Bell Head" place it directly in the LCD Soundsystem lineage. Liquid Liquid hasn't played in Washington since an early-'80s appearance at the 9:30 Club, but percussionist/singer Sal Principato is visiting Tropicalia this week for a special DJ set alongside the Future Times team. Principato has done remix work for DFA Records and created compilations of classic dance tunes alongside Berlin's DJ Kaos, so the club expects a night of "deep disco, Brazilian soul and African party jams." Sounds good to us.

Thursday: The free whiskey tastings at Little Miss Whiskey's are generally a blast, and not just because you're sipping bourbon without spending a dime. Each event features a presentation by an industry expert, so you learn about what's in your glass. This time around, Little Miss Whiskey's welcomes the folks from Michigan's New Holland Brewery, who will be unveiling their new Beer Barrel Bourbon, a whiskey that's partially aged in the whiskey barrels that have been used to age New Holland Dragon's Milk Stout. (The joke here is that Dragon's Milk's acclaimed flavor comes from spending three or more months in used bourbon barrels.) You'll also be able to try the Zeppelin Bend whiskey, the Hatter Royale Hopped Whiskey, which is steeped in sharp Centennial hops, and Dragon's Milk Stout. No reservations are required, and although tastings are free, supplies are limited. Show up early or get shut out.

Saturday: With Valentine's Day on the horizon, couples everywhere are trying to find something romantic that doesn't involve dinner. Here's an idea: Swing dancing at Glen Echo's Spanish Ballroom. Eric Felten is a crooner of the first order, with a warm baritone that floats over his big band. The band can swing hard but really does a bang-up job with "Where or When," "If I Had You" and "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plans" - tender dance tunes that draw lovers to the dance floor. The Red Dress Ball has a slight Valentine's theme, with women asked to wear red dresses, but it's going to be a night more about music than roses. If you have two left feet - or need a refresher - there's a free hour-long dance lesson at 8 p.m.

Keep reading for more ideas, including new variety shows, Lebanese beer and the return of the U.S. Department of Bhangra.

Tuesday, Feb. 5

Don't worry if you've never heard of 961 Beer: The Lebanese Pale Ale has never been offered in America -- until tonight, when it makes its debut at ChurchKey. Spiced with za'atar, sumac and anise, among others, it should be like no other beer. Brewer Mazen Hajjar will be on hand to talk about his new release from 5 to 8 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 6

If anyone says "Wonderland was a circus last night," we generally assume that they went on a weekend, when the Columbia Heights bar is slammed with folks drinking beer, doing shots and getting down on the sweaty dance floor. But now there's a different meaning: The Wonderland Circus is a new and free variety show where comics mix with burlesque dancers, and folk musicians rub elbows with storytellers. There's even a juggler. Doors open at 8, and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Thursday, Feb. 7

Get a early jump on Mardi Gras with a heavy dose of authentic good-time jazz via Kermit Ruffins and the BBQ Swingers at the Howard Theatre. The Stooges Brass Band will be joining Ruffins for a night that will bring a true New Orleans-style jam to D.C.

Friday, Feb. 8

The Black Cat's Mardi Gras Carnivale should offer enough bacchanalia to live up to its name. Music comes from rocked-up bluesman Jonny Grave and the Tombstones, the Eastern European horns of Black Masala and folk-rockers Norman Rockwell. There will be burlesque dancers, sideshow acts and other delights, all ringmastered by comedian Brandon Wetherbee.

Saturday, Feb. 9

It may not be an official cabinet agency, but the U.S. Department of Bhangra has more fun than HUD or the Department of Energy. Founded by percussionist Beta-G (aka Saadat Awan of the Cassettes and Travis Morrison Hellfighters), the USDB features a night of nonstop bhangra dance tunes on the backstage of the Black Cat; this edition, which marks the party's four-year anniversary, features a free dance lesson at 9:30. If you haven't seen a USDB show mentioned for a few months, it's because Awan moved to Los Angeles late last year. Better enjoy it while you can.

Sunday, Feb. 10

Seeing Vusi Mahlasela live is to immerse one’s self in the voice of the South African freedom struggle and the joy of looking towards a bright future. He’s been lauded by everyone from Nelson Mandela to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Mahlasela is an ambassador for South Africa, for peace and for roots music that resonates from South African townships to international concert halls. Mahlasela returns to D.C. to perform at the Hamilton.

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Tim Carman | February 4, 2013