Middle Distance Runner's Homestretch Kick

Exit Clov, above, was the headliner, but the night belonged to MDR.
Exit Clov, above, was the headliner, but the night belonged to MDR. (Dave Vann)
Monday, January 22, 2007

Battle cries take many forms. For Ian Glinka, bassist and backing vocalist for Middle Distance Runner, which played a highly caffeinated set at the Black Cat on Saturday night, there was this: "They stole our cowbell. But we got another one, and we're still [expletive] going!"

Glinka and his band mates were robbed of most of their instruments before a New York gig earlier in the week. A coterie of their fellow D.C. musicians contributed gear so the Black Cat show could go on but couldn't help with another calamity that befell at least 60 percent of MDR's five-man lineup on the trip: food poisoning. "You're all on vomit alert here in the front row," Glinka told the crowd.

Pronouncements such as these have been the between-songs spice of many a great live album, and while MDR's set wasn't quite a knockout, it offered evidence aplenty that the band may have a great live album in its future: Its 40 minutes felt like 20, and the band managed to re-create the atmospheric pop vibe that tunes like "The Madness" and "That's a Lie" showed on its self-produced 2006 debut CD, "Plane in Flames," without depriving a gutsy rocker like "Top of the Stairs" of its punch.

But a live reputation is not born of chops alone. Showmanship is at least as important. Despite their weakened physical state -- most of the band members were visibly sweating before they'd played a note, and singer/keyboardist Stephen Kilroy quaffed Gatorade throughout the short set -- MDR managed to look and sound as if everyone was having the time of his life. And fun, despite whatever they may have caught in New York, is highly communicable.

Headlining the bill at the Black Cat was another D.C. band, Exit Clov, whose unique lineup -- violin-playing twin singers Susan and Emily Hsu fronting a traditional rock band -- is only the most obvious of the group's idiosyncrasies. Songs like "Communist BBQ" and "MK Ultra" wrap sharp political commentary in a cloak of seemingly harmless pop. Despite some excellent funk guitar work from Aaron Leeder, the sum ended up being somehow less than its parts onstage at the Cat on Saturday Night. Pretty as the Hsus' voices are, the dual-lead-vocal thing lends a certain sameness to their material, and their choice to cover Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" as their encore number seemed to undermine the serious intent of the original songs that preceded it.

-- Chris Klimek

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