Thursday, August 23, 2007

Charlie Louvin

These days the tenor sounds as if it's swathed in moist gauze; the brittle urgency of years past has ripened to a palpable sweetness. But the emotion behind the lyrics still comes from some place far within, even during ballads and waltzes Charlie Louvin has sung for more than half a century. Despite the thrill of seeing a country music legend in an intimate setting, it was a casual, sparsely attended affair at Jammin' Java on Tuesday that found the 80-year-old Louvin easing through two sets of classic tunes as if showing off highlights from a family album.

And most of the songs -- much recorded, much revered -- were indeed family heirlooms, from the days when he and his brother Ira set the standard for tight harmonies, catchy country melodies and down-home lyrics that waste no time breaking your heart.

Backed by a four-piece band that featured his son Sonny on acoustic guitar, Louvin seemed excited to be in his element again, onstage, singing "My Baby's Gone," "See the Big Man Cry," "When I Stop Dreaming," "The Christian Life" (covered by Gram Parsons and the Byrds), "Whisperin' " and Bill Anderson's "I Think I'll Go Somewhere and Cry Myself to Sleep" to the politely appreciative audience.

The songs (many from a new CD of celebrity duets) were sweet, if not transcendent. But you had to respect the idea that a singer who joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1955 was, as he put it, beginning a new career at 80.

-- Buzz McClain

Stereo Total

European electro-pop duo Stereo Total seems to exist in a world where the only things that have changed over the past 40 years are advances in keyboard technology. The band plays bouncy, carefree songs, singing about sex, revolution and, well, sex -- in French, German and English. Sure, the music draws on some key sounds of the '70s -- mainly punk and disco -- but the material exudes the attitude of the swinging '60s.

More than anything Stereo Total is fun, but on Tuesday night at the Rock and Roll Hotel it was an artificial kind of fun that permeated the group's performance.

Singer-drummer Francoise Cactus and guitarist-keyboardist Brezel Goring seemed disjointed from the beginning. It was the band's first show of its American tour, so maybe that was to blame for a few false starts, reading lyrics off sheets of paper and general confusion. Goring enthusiastically pranced around the stage, an audience member was brought up to sing for a song, and nearly a dozen people came up to dance toward the end of the set -- but those actions felt like a forced shot in the arm to spruce up a lackluster evening.

Even on an off night, Stereo Total has enough irresistible, mischievous songs to make for at least a few memorable moments. "Holiday Inn" has one of the most playfully suggestive choruses in recent memory ("Let's go to a Holiday Inn / And I will show you something!") and "C'est la Mort" is indie-disco at its finest. A punky romp through "My Way" matched the much-revered Sid Vicious version in terms of attitude, and it's too bad the rest of the performance didn't pack nearly the same punch.

-- David Malitz


Gotta hand it to Dwele: After just one song Tuesday night at the Birchmere, the neo-soul lothario had the audience in the palm of his hand.

After two songs, he had them in his lap!

The singer had just plunked down on the edge of the stage for "Know Your Name" when one enthusiastic female fan decided to cozy up with the Detroit-raised crooner. Dwele kept his cool, delivering those candy-sweet lyrics like an unfazed R&B Santa Claus -- until said admirer started leeching onto his neck like a scene out of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

That was probably more audience participation than Dwele bargained for, but the fans loved it, howling as he jumped back onstage. "I didn't know it was going to be like that!" the singer laughed.

He kept a great rapport with the audience (read: the ladies), flirting, taking requests and eventually inviting a throng onstage to sing, dance and take snapshots.

Meanwhile, his band was busy translating his solid tunes into more sensual, billowy forms. They unraveled the groove of "My Lova," floating Dwele's melodies over a puffy cadence that recalled D'Angelo at his dreamy best. Some of the most pleasing flourishes came courtesy of Dwele's backup singers, leading the singer to joke: "I'm 'bout to start doing shows by myself."

Don't do it, Dwele. Though it would free up some room on the payroll for a bodyguard.

-- Chris Richards

© 2007 The Washington Post Company