Nightlife Agenda

By Fritz Hahn, Rhome Anderson and David Malitz Staff Writers
Thursday, January 26, 2006; 12:00 AM

Thurs, Jan. 26
On the last Thursday of the month, Old Town Alexandria's Vermillion Restaurant hosts a beer tasting called Firkin Thursday. A local producer brings a cask of beer -- English-style real ale, low in carbonation -- and the kitchen turns out a special menu based on the brew. Clipper City's Extra-Hopped Pale Ale is featured tonight, beginning at 6, and we're told the folks from Charm City have livened up the usually stellar ale with an extra dose of English Fuggles and Goldings hops. Should be a treat.

Friday, Jan. 27
When Party Slave threw a James Bond-themed party at Vida last year, Fritz went to check it out -- and came away impressed with the large, well-dressed crowd, including a number of men in tuxedos and women in evening dresses; the house and hip-hop music spun by the DJ; and the bartenders cranking out "shaken, not stirred" vodka martinis. (What else do you expect at a Bond party?) The promoters are bringing the event, dubbed Goldfinger, to Home tonight, everything seems to be kicked up a notch: Free admission and free drinks for everyone on the guestlist from 9 to 11, and free admission for tuxedo-clad men all night long; free Bond DVDs and books (just look around); and movies showing on projection screens. There's a costume contest, too -- the best James Bond and accompanying group of Bond Girls receives $500 cash. Get in for free using the form on, and remember, if you're not wearing a tux, you still need to look your best.

If you can't find some local music to go see this weekend, you just aren't trying. It's one of the busier weekends in memory, with local acts taking the spotlight at many of the area's top venues. We'll start at the State Theatre where four local acts share the bill. Headliner Soft Complex has maintained a steady buzz since moving to D.C. within the past year, and with good reason. The band's moody synth-pop isn't unforgivably retro and is likely to get you moving whether you like it or not. Vocalist Shane German helps put the Complex over the top with his compelling, dramatic vocals; it's not surprising that he commands attention on stage, as he was the former frontman for Trixie Delicious and the Lott Lizards, the best drag-queen-fronted rockabilly band you'll ever see. Keep your ears open for "Wounded Valentine," which in retrospect deserved a spot on this list. Openers Koshari recently released its second CD of atmospheric rock, which brings to mind some of the more overlooked bands of the '90s alt-rock scene, including Lush and Madder Rose. Also on the bill are the Hard Tomorrows and Paul Michel.

Every band tries to carve out its own unique sound, but few are as successful as the Cassettes. The local quintet mashes together sounds from around the globe into a self-dubbed genre called "steam-punk." The sounds of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Mississippi Delta are all represented in the Cassettes' sound, and the band is all the more impressive because the combination doesn't come off as schtick. The Cassettes are clearly unconcerned with whatever the current hot trends are, and it makes for one of the freshest sounds around. Be on the lookout for theremin, mandolin, tabla and some other instruments you might not be able to identify when the group takes the stage at Iota.

Local acts take over the 9:30 club tonight as well. Radio-friendly pop-rockers Bicycle Thieves nab the headlining spot. They will be preceded by Cedars (formerly Cartel), whose atmospheric, melodic rock would make more of an impact if each song didn't sound so similar. Official Nightlife Agenda faves Nethers will get the evening off to a good start.

Even with all of the excellent local choices, the best show just might be at the Warehouse Next Door. It will certainly be the most bizarre. That's because Little Howlin' Wolf, Chicago street musician extraordinaire will be there, playing ... well, whatever it is he feels like playing. The Polish-American giant (he's big enough to play power forward for the Wizards) hasn't met a genre that he wasn't willing to take a stab at, offering his way-out-there takes on blues, gospel, folk, jazz and calypso. This is some true outsider stuff and it certainly promises to be one of the more interesting area performances this winter. Making the evening even better will be the return of Philadelphia avant-orchestra Make A Rising, whom we wrote about back in October. That show featured elaborate costumes, a procession through the crowd featuring a whole lot of confetti and genre-jumping galore, bringing to mind Sun Ra, Captain Beefhart and the Soft Machine. If you like simple pop songs, this evening isn't for you. If you're looking for something bizarrely enthralling, you can't beat it.

It seems like the market value for DJ Geometrix has finally caught up to his formidable skills -- promoters are grabbing him right and left to add some legitimacy to their parties. Thankfully, Geo's smooth skills live up to the hype. He'll drop his signature style of retro and modern dancefloor mixes at Cloud tonight for Champagne Fridays. Admission is free for women and $10 for guys.

In the '60s and '70s, Sergio Mendes became well-known to American audiences beginning to explore the sounds of Brazilian dance music. Once the bossa nova "fad" faded, his music became a hidden treasure; record collectors have spent years (and tons of money) digging for rare grooves on old vinyl. Mendes' compositions have been the root of the work of some of hip-hop's finest producers, including Q Tip and J. Dilla of Slum Village. Mendes' new album "Timeless" drops next month, and he's enlisted modern stars like India Arie, Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu to introduce himself to a new audience. The Dissident Display crew is hosting a listening party for it at Jin tonight with free admission and CD giveaways, beginning at 7.

Saturday, Jan. 28
The D.C. Arts Center isn't one of the more traditional music venues in the area, but it's hosting an interesting -- and free -- show tonight featuring four local groups that don't perform too often. Heady instrumental rockers Plums headline the show, which also features the debut performance of thinking man's indie-rockers the Foreign Press. Rounding out the bill will be psych-folk duo Portions Toll (a Metropolitan side project) and the similarly inclined Seahorse Staircase. On an evening when the masses will be packing it in to see Robert Pollard, Deerhoof and Colin Meloy, this show should be a solid, low-key alternative.

Sunday, Jan. 29
Billy Hancock, who fronted the legendary rockabilly combo the Tennessee Rockets, loves to take old songs by Chuck Berry, Hank Williams or Muddy Waters and turn them into rave-ups infused with boogie-woogie grooves and a gritty Southern sensibility. (His last album of covers was appropriately called "Passions.") Tonight at JV's, Hancock and a group of Washington all-stars -- many of whom appeared on his last disc -- are performing a tribute to Ray Charles. The prospect of hearing Hancock apply his quivering vibrato to "What I Say" or saxman Jacques Johnson honk through "I Got A Woman" has us ready to drive out to Fall Church. The show starts at 9, and the best seats will be gone before that.

Tuesday, Jan. 31
"Leaving the Nest," the debut EP by local singer-songwriter Benjy Ferree, doesn't sound all that much like a debut. While the earliest work by many artists finds them still searching for their sound, Ferree has found one that works rather well for him. Think of the less raucous moments of the White Stripes and you'd be pretty close, as Ferree's voice certainly brings to mind Jack White. It's sort of fragile, but not in that shivery Bright Eyes sort of way. It doesn't seem at all affected and it helps to complement the laidback vibe that runs throughout the album. While a full band is featured on the album, Ferree will be going it alone tonight at the Black Cat, so expect it to be even more laidback. He opens on the backstage for ex-Canyon frontman Brandon Butler.

Wednesday, Feb. 1
Cada Vez has been catching a lot of flack in the press and from local neighborhood crusaders charging it with ABC violations, but the Soundbridge showcase has been a bright spot for the beleaguered venue. Soundbridge assembles a quality roster of rotating soul, hip-hop and spoken word artists chosen for skill level and content synergy. Tonight's bill features Kaimbr, a member of the Low Budget crew (whose roster also includes hip-hop MCs Kev Brown and Cy Young) and folksy vocalist Sparlha Swa.

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