Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Points

Melding late '70s punk, early '70s Detroit proto-punk and '60s garage rock is not an innovative approach to music in 2008, but the Points showed Friday night at the Rock & Roll Hotel that such a combination can still be exhilarating. While the D.C. group's fast-tempo arrangements occasionally proved repetitive, singer George "Geo" White's snarling vocals and clever guitar work, drummer Travis Jackson's pounding beats and keyboardist Rebecca Dye's hyperactive rhythms largely worked.

Together since 2005, this trio (theremin player Stuart Gordon joins them as a guest on occasion) has gained a reputation as much for its aggressive approach to audience interaction as for its music. Despite playing for only about 30 people, the group did not disappoint.

Opening with "I Don't Know About You," the band members frantically bobbed their heads to the fuzztone guitar, bouncy organ and thumping drums. Although the sound man buried White's vocals too low in the mix, his emotional intensity was still palpable. While some of his mannerisms may be shtick (he crossed himself and gave the middle finger to the audience, as he has done in concert before), he was nevertheless entertaining.

Noting that some of the crowd was near the back of the small room, he disdainfully taunted, "D.C. nerds, why don't you come up front?" shortly before he and the band launched into the catchy roar of "Rock 'n' Roll, No Rules." After the group blistered through the song's verses and chorus several times, drummer Jackson began gleefully spitting a mist of beer in the direction of a fan close to the stage who had been happily doing the same to the band.

This still label-less group closed with the mesmerizing two-chord assault of "Cooler Things." Jackson was standing for this number while keyboardist Dye was frenetically tapping with two fingers. White stopped vocalizing near the end of the song and dropped to his knees, scratching out unique guitar runs before cranking up the feedback to close out the set.

-- Steve Kiviat

Ricky Skaggs

"You ain't making no money tonight," Ricky Skaggs teased Cody Kilby at the Birchmere on Friday as Kilby stopped to replace yet another string on his guitar. Plenty of brave strings met a noble end during Skaggs's rollicking two-hours-and-change jamboree, but it couldn't be helped: Kentucky Thunder, Skaggs's crackerjack band, just plays too damn hard.

Still, they sacrificed neither precision nor beauty in their pursuit of blessed acceleration, serving up blindingly fast finger-picked solos (in guitar, mandolin, fiddle and banjo flavors) and gorgeous three-part vocal harmonies with beguiling ease.

All that restringing made for a few longish pauses in an otherwise lightning-paced evening that was a little bit country, a little bit gospel and a whole lot bluegrass, which has been the genre-straddling Skaggs's major field of operations for the past decade. (It's working for him: He's won a Grammy for best bluegrass album four times since 1998.) Skaggs, affable and modest despite his prodigious credentials, used the breaks to expound on bluegrass's origins and to pay tribute to Bill Monroe, who pretty much invented it.

Skaggs, 53, first performed with Monroe at the grizzled old age of 6, so it seemed appropriate that Monroe classics from the genre's big bang in the late 1940s ("Bluegrass Breakdown," "Kentucky Waltz") accounted for much of the set list. The other major donor was "Salt of the Earth," Skaggs's 2007 set of hymns and country standards with the Whites -- not Jack and Meg, but the father-and-daughters vocal trio who joined Kentucky Thunder for the show's best segment, singing "There's a Big Wheel," "Wings of the Dove" and others.

Sitting at the piano to play "This Old House," Buck White (Skaggs's 77-year-old father-in-law) broke first into a boozy honky-tonk vamp, prompting Skaggs to quip, "He plays like that in church." It was a perfect summation of a near-perfect performance: Sunday morning made to feel very much like Saturday night.

-- Chris Klimek

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