Though the name of her band, the Blue Moon Orchestra, suggests reeds and dinner jackets, they don't come much truer to folk music than Nanci Griffith.
On Wednesday, the first night of a sold-out three-night stand at the Birchmere, the petite Texan wore her heart on her sleeve (and, puzzlingly, a "Nixon/Agnew" badge on her guitar strap). Her compositions, particularly those from the new CD "Hearts in Mind," tended toward the personal. The details that made them hers sometimes also made them a little graceless: for example, the name-dropping, in "Heart of Indochine," of friends from the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. Some of those friends were in the audience, and Griffith extolled their good works in her typical sincere but casual manner. Her voice, as ever, was straightforward, with an appealing richness bestowed by age, especially in the low range. ("I'm gonna have to write a note to myself," she quipped after one sojourn well below middle C, "to quit writing notes like that.")
Her troubadour-ready cover material included "If I Had a Hammer," the American standard that, she noted, was blacklisted when Pete Seeger and Lee Hays wrote it. She also shone on a lively version of "I Love This Town," penned by guitarist/accordionist Clive Gregson. An encore of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards's "No Expectations" drew on the vocal prowess of opener Elizabeth Cook, Gregson, bassist Le Ann Etheridge and keyboardist James Hooker, as well as offering fiery electric guitar from Gregson.
Although Griffith's art never took a back seat to her concern for social justice, the latter was never a secret. After "Indochine," she vowed, "I hope it's not 30 years before I can write a song like this about Iraq and Afghanistan."
-- Pamela Murray Winters
Green Milk From the Planet Orange
The Japanese bands that have been appearing with increasing frequency at Washington's smaller rock clubs are diverse in style, but linked by exceptional intensity and a tendency toward good-natured absurdity. Green Milk From the Planet Orange, the Tokyo trio that played a blazing set Wednesday night at DC9, was not especially zany, but its vehemence was extraordinary.
That wasn't immediately obvious, since the band began by playing slow, rippling music with all three members sitting down. In fact, the musicians remained seated for most of the hour-long show, but that didn't prevent them from cranking it up. Playing such numbers as "Concrete City Breakdown" and "A Day in the Planet Orange" -- predominantly instrumental suites that lasted from 10 to more than 30 minutes -- the group ranged from jazz to metal to punk, with bits of funk, classical, rockabilly and other styles swirling in the mix. Occasionally, singer-guitarist dead k and bassist T would signal a crescendo by standing on their chairs, facing drummer A as if they were engaged in a private ritual.
Toward the end of the set, dead k engaged the crowd by singing into a bullhorn as he wandered as far off the stage as the microphone cord would permit. Such audience-participation gambits were not essential to Green Milk's performance, however. The band was at its most riveting when the players were sitting down, facing each other and accelerating with lock-step precision toward superhuman velocity.
-- Mark Jenkins
After waiting nearly two hours past the scheduled start time, the crowd at the State Theatre on Wednesday was treated to five songs before metal-funk guitar hero Buckethead cleared the stage and launched into a martial-arts routine set to techno music. With his trademark white mask and KFC bucket firmly on his head, the tall, gangly, mute ax-slinger swung nunchucks for a while before breaking into the robot dance, gently handing out toys and finally returning to his guitar for two speed-metal romps set to recorded music. Sigh.
"Sling Blade"-like drummer Pinchface and bassist Delray Brewer rejoined Buckethead for three more tunes before the group took a painfully long 25-minute break after its choppy 50-minute set. The trio returned to crank out 70 more minutes of all-instrumental metal, but there was hardly any mayhem. The group's sound is too polished for anything to be out of place, including a set list filled with such standard Buckethead concert fare as "Nottingham Lace," "Slaw," "Night of the Slunk," "Meta-Matic," "Jordan" and "Jowls."
Before the show, power-trio performances by Cream and Jimi Hendrix were projected on the stage's screen. Big mistake. It's not that freaky Buckethead can't hold his own with Hendrix and Eric Clapton. But Pinchface and Brewer pale in comparison with the flexible rhythm sections in Cream and Hendrix's group.
Then again, Buckethead's songs don't give his bandmates much to do beyond following the virtuoso leader, which means hammering home simple drum patterns and obvious bass progressions while he finger-taps his way through scale exercises. Without a vocalist to provide melodic and rhythmic distractions, Buckethead's music sounded like backing tracks for karaoke metal. The band's tame closing medley of Hendrix's "Foxey Lady" and "Machine Gun" was the ultimate proof.
-- Christopher Porter