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For Those About To Rock Club, We Salute You

From left: James Fintel, Dan Corbin, Erin Guild and Jason Andelman blog about their rock-concert habit at www.dcrockclub.com.
From left: James Fintel, Dan Corbin, Erin Guild and Jason Andelman blog about their rock-concert habit at www.dcrockclub.com. (Photo By Jay Premack For The Washington Post)

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By Ian Landau
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, January 13, 2008

In the summer of 2006, Jason Andelman, a chocolatier and owner of Arlington's Artisan Confections, was feeling antsy. His first daughter was 2, and though he'd managed to get out of the house here and there since becoming a dad, he was looking for a regular diversion from the stresses of parenthood.

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While exchanging e-mails with three friends about seeing a band, an idea struck: "Being a married, middle-aged guy with a kid, I need some sort of weekly night out/escape from my domestic life," Andelman wrote that July. "I like going to shows, you all like going to shows, so let's try to go to a show once a week."

The responses: "Sure, why not."

That brief flurry of emails was the genesis of D.C. Rock Club, four 30-something guys who dedicate one night a week to seeing live music.

A year and a half after Andelman's modest proposal, this quartet (Andelman, 36; Dan Corbin, 35, also of Arlington; James Fintel, 36, of Takoma Park; and Erin Guild, 34, the lone D.C. resident) has attended close to 70 shows and with a few exceptions have kept their concertgoing streak alive. This despite the obligations of fatherhood (for Andelman and Fintel), marriage (everyone except Guild), mortgages and careers. At a time in life when many an aging indie-rock fan is resigned to falling out of step with the music world, D.C. Rock Club has kept its members tuned to what's current, and in the thick of the local music scene.

Getting four ultra-busy guys together every week doesn't happen easily. After his initial plea for regular rock-and-roll meet-ups was welcomed with open arms, Andelman fleshed out his plan, suggesting that each week, one member would research and select a band. But the concept that sounded great in an e-mail could very well have failed. (How often do people plan to get together regularly, only to meet sporadically, if at all?)

"When we told others about Rock Club, the general response was, 'Fun idea, but you'll never maintain the once-a-week schedule,' " Andelman says. "We didn't have doubts, though." Corbin, a software developer, created the club's blog (see http://www.dcrockclub.com), and "The Rules of Rock Club" were drafted and ratified: Shows were to cost no more than $20; the person who picked a concert would write a review on the blog; no wives or girlfriends allowed.

The weeks rolled by and the guys went out, wrote reviews and went out again. Amazingly, the whole thing worked. The secret to Rock Club's success? "We see a wide range of bands," says Fintel, a consultant. "And we've gone to all kinds of venues: the Black Cat, 9:30 club, Rock and Roll Hotel, Velvet Lounge, Verizon Center, DAR, Wonderland. And we even braved a snowstorm to see [New York band] the Mooney Suzuki."

Corbin cites variety as the club's strength. "Occasionally there's some disagreement over which show to pick," he says. "We all have different musical tastes, so problems can arise when one person wants to see a band the rest of the guys dislike. This can be a good thing, though. Part of Rock Club is checking out music you wouldn't normally go see."

To keep things interesting, the club has ventured to Baltimore for shows. And to celebrate its first anniversary, Rock Club traveled to Chicago for a weekend in July to attend the Pitchfork Music Festival, one of the nation's premier indie-rock gatherings.

There is a shared sense that for the fun to continue, each member must do his part. The guys' commitment to the cause is evident on the blog, and their by turns funny, cutting and fawning posts have attracted the attention of publicists, as well as some bands. After the club reviewed the Scottish band the 1990s, the group's publicist arranged an interview between the musicians and Fintel. And after Guild posted his review of local trio New Rock Church of Fire, the band's bassist, Mitchell West, commented on the blog, inviting Rock Club to attend another show and offering to put the guys on the guest list.

But rest assured, no one in Rock Club takes himself too seriously, as was abundantly clear on a chilly night last fall when the club met to see Portland, Ore., trio Menomena at the Black Cat. As usual, the guys gathered at Guild's apartment beforehand. A university administrator by day, Guild conveniently lives near many of the District's best venues, and thus his place has become "Rockclubhouse." Beers were opened, and the casual insults that characterize close male friendships started to fly. The preshow banter moved briskly from the tattered state of Guild's bathroom (it was being renovated) to whether Bob Dylan's shilling for Cadillac constitutes selling out (a deadlock on that one) to who actually likes quiche (Andelman had recently made one).

Once at the Black Cat, everyone settled in for the show, with Andelman edging closest to the stage (Menomena was his pick, so there was a review to write). At show's end, Rock Club reconvened at the Black Cat's downstairs bar. All agreed the headliners put on an impressive performance and rightfully belong in the upper tier of bands Rock Club has seen so far.

Then Guild related that while Menomena was on, he spoke with the lead singer of opening act Illinois, a Pennsylvania group that had earned Rock Club's ire for a terrible show in June at the Rock and Roll Hotel (after which the guys rechristened the band "Ill-annoying"). "The guy's actually nice!" Guild said. Joking concern was expressed about Rock Club members fraternizing too much with band members, thus undermining the club's impartiality.

By 1 a.m., everyone agreed it was time to go home. After all, in the morning there were babies to look after and jobs to go to.

So what's next for D.C. Rock Club? "There has been some talk about curating a show of our favorite local bands," Fintel says. "Or maybe we'll spruce up the Web site a bit, but even that might be a stretch."

Meanwhile, Guild has another, darker scenario in mind: "The inevitable breakup of the club," he says. "There's got to be some Yoko Ono figure in our future. Or someone will try to splinter off and create his own side project, only to have it fail miserably.

"I could see it playing out like Van Halen's career: We're all into it now, but say Dan leaves and we replace him with some other, less talented guy. And then we end up doing Crystal Pepsi commercials. Then Dan moves back and we have a reunion when we're 50. All the shows will be at Wolf Trap by then."


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