It's not at every show that you get a free package of dog treats with your admission, but that's the Dog Waggers for you.
The Northern Virginia roots band has a wry sense of humor -- demonstrated in its lyrics as well as in its presentation -- and the canine jerky was its way of getting an audience to sit, stay and maybe roll over.
Not that any extra inducement is needed. Sunday night at Jammin' Java the five-piece band, which formed in 2004 and released a fine debut album this year, "Chasin' Tales," played an impressive set of rootsy country rock that had a welcome Texas spiciness in the melodies and instrumentation.
The show kicked off with a countrified arrangement of "Deck the Halls" that brought Hunter Jones's bright mandolin picking to the top of the mix.
It wouldn't be the last time Jones's playing -- on keyboard, on banjo, on harmonica and on a 1953 double-neck steel guitar -- enlivened a number with an authentic Americana accent. Bassist Rick Thiele and drummer Kurt Sayce laid down a galloping rock beat that served as the foundation for lead guitarist Geoff Pemble's clever solos and occasional vocals (including "God Save the Pork Queen," a novelty item that got the band on Des Moines TV).
Rhythm guitarist and primary singer Dave Bloom sang with easy confidence and a knowing grin. And why not with such slightly askew songs as "Mean People Suck" and "Another Northern Virginia Snowday" ("I got my milk, I got my T.P. . . . Let liberals take leave this morning") on the set list. On less whimsical numbers, such as the elegant "She Rode an Appaloosa," he invoked the spirit and timbre of one of his influences, Ray Wylie Hubbard, no easy feat.
It was, in all, a fetching night of homegrown music. Clearly the Dog Waggers are barking up the right tree.
-- Buzz McClain
Cantate Chamber Singers
Claudio Monteverdi's monumental but seldom-heard Vespers was performed by the Cantate Chamber Singers at St. Paul's Lutheran Church on Sunday. Of colossal proportions, the 1610 work is a four-part collection: a Mass, Vespers psalms, two Magnificats honoring the Virgin Mary, and a set of free-standing motets. Sunday's performance, which offered the psalms, motets and one Magnificat, was dedicated to the memory of the early-music virtuoso Scott Reiss, who died last week.
Poorly paid as music director at the Italian court of Mantua, Monteverdi sought greener fields, designing the Vespers to demonstrate his versatility in composing in both an older, Renaissance style for the Mass section and in the newer operatic fashion for the other parts -- emphasizing single words with florid, even flamboyant melodic ornaments and white-hot dissonances. Conductor Gisele Becker underlined the transcendence and novelty of Monteverdi's writing. The chorus offered its usual shimmering clarity and thoughtfulness. The chamber group of strings and recorders joined with the period winds of the Nieuw Haarlem Consort in a beautiful display of virtuosity. Unfortunately, from a seat far to the side, my view of the consort was blocked, while choral and instrumental balance sounded somewhat askew.