Thursday, November 9, 2006; 12:00 AM
Thursday, Nov. 9
Simply put, the self-titled debut album by the Aquarium is one of the best local releases of the year. The duo of Jason Hutto (keyboards and vocals) and Laura Harris (drums) has made an album filled with catchy, vibrant pop songs and a handful of slightly trippy instrumentals. Despite the group's limited palette -- voice, keys and drums are the only elements present -- things never get old during the course of the 11 songs. That's a testament to Harris and Hutton's songwriting chops, which they've honed over the last five years. "Waiting for the Girl" and "White House" are bouncy and fun, driven by Hutton's enthusiastic, just slightly off-key vocals, while instrumentals "Channel 9" and "Aquarium Dream" show off the band's spacier side without losing the fun vibe. The group plays at the Black Cat's backstage tonight with the Bickersons and Austin Lucas.
In a perfect world, we wouldn't need charitable organizations like Hands On D.C., the group that organizes a one-day workathon to benefit the D.C. public schools. Once a year, volunteers paint hallways, weed schoolyards, touch up landscaping -- all kinds of jobs that make schools more cheerful places for kids to spend their time. While they're at it, they raise money for college scholarships, too. Of course, this isn't a cheap undertaking, and while the group welcomes donations -- see handsondc.org -- a series of fundraising happy hours lead up to the big event in April. Tonight at Ireland's Four Fields (formerly Ireland's Four Provinces, then Four Green Fields), you can learn more about the group while enjoying drink specials and live music. There's a $5 suggested donation at the door.
Any e-mail announcing "The Return of Proper Utensils!" was sure to get our attention, because Rhome and Fritz are fans of the legendary go-go group. (If you ain't heard "Go-Go Rump Shaker," go find it now.) Featuring Lil' Benny and members of his group the Masters, former Rare Essence frontman Jas. Funk and personnel from R.E., Hot Cold Sweat and the Backyard Band, this is a band that cranks, from the brass section to the congas to the frontline. They haven't been active on the scene for a while, which makes tonight's show at Mirrors all the more exciting. Also on the bill is Lissen Da Grew^P, the go-go side project of the popular Lissen Band. Doors open at 9, and cover is $20 until 11 and more afterward. As you might expect us to say for this show, leave the athletic wear and caps at home.
You may prefer rocking out to metal, grooving to jazz or hand dancing to oldies, but all these forms of music have a common ancestor: the blues. Tonight at Clarendon Ballroom, the Blues Ball celebrates the blues in all its forms -- and serves as a fundraiser for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Though the hospital is located in Memphis, Tenn., the research conducted there benefits children across the country. Since the theme is a tribute to the blues, DJ Rob Harris spins blues, rock and Top-40 music all night, and creative cocktail attire -- in every shade of blue imaginable -- is requested. Elliot and Diane of DC101's Elliot in the Morning show are the hosts. Basic tickets are $75 and include food (think cheese grits, pulled pork and other Southern favorites), unlimited nonalcoholic drinks and at least one cocktail, while the $95 VIP ticket includes unlimited Grey Goose drinks and access to the "Grey Goose Lounge." A minimum of $50 from each ticket goes straight into the hospital's coffers. Get yours at friendsofstjude.org.
Friday, Nov. 10
It's always gratifying to see the cross-pollination of fanbases that occurs when Chuck Brown introduces his flock to visiting musicians. The Godfather of Go-Go usually (and graciously) rocks first, so the faithful arrive early and get properly wound up. Folks who are in the place to check out the other artist are often getting their first taste of go-go music, and frequently they are fans of a niche artist who hips Chuck's diehards to a new groove. You can actually see the melting pot effect happen. When Chuck hosts the Funky Meters at Strathmore tonight, the path to a unified room of converts will be much shorter than usual. Both of these revered groups play a participatory brand of freewheeling party music. Formerly known simply as the Meters, the New Orleans legends helped define the essence of funky music more than four decades ago and they can still "crank", as go-go parlance would describe a strong band. Too bad it's going down in a seated venue, but we're not mad, because ultimately Strathmore will enable both of these treasured acts to touch many more souls in need of the funk.
It's been two months since BeBar finally opened its doors, adding a cool new lounge to a entertainment-free Shaw neighborhood. It was a struggle getting the place up and running -- the neighbors' opposition to the gay bar delayed its progress -- but it seems to be settling in nicely. To celebrate, the owners are throwing a Two Month Anniversary Party tonight with free rail drinks and beers from 8 to 10, and they're giving away passes to see the new James Bond movie, "Casino Royale." Get there early -- when the bar first opened, the line was blocks long, and you don't want to be left out in the cold.
Sometimes it seems like no one wants hip-hop to grow up. Disposable doses of fantasy and material excess are the norm, as is the safe thrill of vicariously living through someone else's hyper-macho posturing. If a rap artist attempts to tell the world he's a multi-dimensional being and expresses that through work that touches on frivolous as well as heavy subjects, he's pigeon-holed as "conscious," and therefore boring. Over a 15-year career, Common has worn labels like "underground" and "conscious," but has successfully forged his own lane where he's created work that appeals to a wide spectrum. He can spit hard enough to keep that true hip-hop head cred while his style and charisma pull in mainstream fans. He keeps an old-school aesthetic alive without looking like he's stuck in the past. In pushing the genre forward, he's become the most recognizable face of "grown folks' hip-hop." And unlike many of today's rap stars, he can really rip a live show, which he'll prove onstage at Love tonight.
Stiff Records was one of the first and most influential labels to be founded in the wake of London's mid-'70s punk boom. While inspired by the success of the Clash and the Sex Pistols, Stiff proved to be a home for power-pop-minded acts like Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and the often inebriated Wreckless Eric. Eric never hit it as big as some of his labelmates, but he was responsible for boozy, memorable tunes such as "Whole Wide World," "Semaphore Signals" and "Reconnez Cherie," which feature easy hooks and warbled vocals. He gained a reputation as a hit-or-miss live performer -- his drinking habits are the main reason why -- so we'll see if he's changed his ways in his older age when he comes to the Velvet Lounge with Spoils of NW.
It seems like the D.C. jazz community is still getting over the passing of Keter Betts. The bassist, a giant on the local scene who'd spent decades touring with Ella Fitzgerald and recorded alongside Dinah Washington, Oscar Peterson and Woody Herman, died last August at the age of 77, but you'll still find his name all over town, thanks to the Keter Betts Memorial Band and the occasional tribute concert -- like tonight's at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theatre. Seven top local jazz musicians, including saxman Davey Yarborough, vocalist Vanessa Rubin and pianist Robert Redd, are performing to raise money for the Kennedy Center's jazz education programs. Michael Bowie and James King have the unenviable task of filling Betts' shoes during the concert.
Saturday, Nov. 11
All Good Funk Alliance makes lounge music for those who want to put their expensive shoe leather to use on the floor instead of showing it off on a couch with a martini and a crew of chic peers. If downtempo music is the soundtrack for the lounging portion of the evening, an All Good Funk Alliance track might make a lady in your party rise from her seat, sway a bit and beckon you to join her. The two of you might even break a sweat, causing you to take off that perfectly tailored blazer. Catch the DJ duo rocking the Eighteenth Street Lounge tonight. Even though some of their more energetic tunes appeal to b-boys, make sure you leave the Clydes and shell-toes at home.
As we noted on the latest edition of our Nightlife Agenda Podcast, there are many local bands on the nominal indie-rock circuit looking to the past for inspiration these days. Last week we wrote about retro-honkytonkers Shortstack, and previously we featured old-time country revivalists the Starlingtons. On our most recent podcast, you can hear self-proclaimed "Vaudeville steam-punk" outfit the Cassettes, who will celebrate the release of their new album tonight at Iota. The group is a far cry from frontman Shelby Cinca's former outfit, seminal spazz punks Frodus, as the Cassettes don't just look backwards for influence -- they look all over the world, from old Europe to the Mississippi Delta. There's a nautical, seafearing theme that seems to run through "'Neath the Pale Moon," but the songs maintain a modern feel, especially on the chugging rocker "Lady Faire." The Cassettes perform at Iota with wonderful indie-folk quartet Kittyhawk and the always fascinating man-and-his-laptop act, Jakuta and Carl.
There are '80s DJs, there are hip-hop DJs, and rarely do the two mix. An exception is DJ Selector Seth, who runs a monthly hip-hop/disco/gangsta funk night called Payback at Cafe Saint-Ex, and a less-regular mashup of new wave, hip-hop, indie and dance classics at the Black Cat called Notorious. We have to admit we prefer the latter because it's not as crammed to the brim at Payback, and if you feel like dancing, you're not going to clock someone with your elbow. Hopefully. Check out tunes from the '80s, '90s and '00s tonight on the Cat's backstage, where the lack of cover charge and attitude are refreshing.
Sunday, Nov. 12
DJ Cut Chemist is one of the coolest cats on the cut, because while he can rip it like a turntablist, his style is funky and accessible instead of overly technical. Even as he pushes the envelope with his production, he knows that in a live setting, you can't just play to the scratch nerds. Sometimes he evokes Kid Koala with the cheeky themes that emerge from the sample sources he strings together, and other times he just displays his incredible depth of musical knowledge by stringing together obscure breaks and unheard-of funky beats collected from record bins around the world. After building his rep holding down the decks for Ozomatli and Jurassic 5 and through his mixtape work with DJ Shadow, he's dropped his own artist album, "The Audience's Listening." (You may have heard the title track recently in an ad for the iPod Nano.) With multiple turntables, digital sound sources and possibly some vocal assistance from rapper Lyrics Born, Cut Chemist leads a journey through his new record at the 9:30 Club tonight.
Wednesday, Nov. 15
Wine connoisseurs generally turn up their noses at Beaujolais Nouveau, and it's easy to see why: A light, fruity wine that's only aged for a few weeks before bottling, it's neither complex nor substantial on the tongue. Traditionally drunk by peasants during the harvest, the wine's amazing popularity in the U.S. comes down to marketing. Because, by law, the wine cannot be served before the third Thursday of November, restaurants make a big deal of offering the wine at the stroke of midnight, staying open late and even giving away free glasses (or full bottles!) of the stuff. Bistrot du Coin and Les Halles are traditionally the centers of celebration on Wednesday night, with DJs, dancing and all the hoopla you'd expect -- after all, this is FREE WINE we're talking about.