Thursday, January 31, 2008; 12:00 AM
Thursday, Jan. 31
In the constant search for the Next Big Thing to emerge from D.C., is it possible that she was sitting right in front of us the whole time and we didn't notice? Thao Nguyen (listen) always flew a bit under the radar, but that won't be the case once everyone hears her fantastic new album, "We Brave Bee Stings And All."; It's an exuberant album filled with bouncy, indie-folk tunes, heavy on banjo and ukulele. Nguyen's lyrics aren't always cheery, but her sing-song delivery is charming and addictive. "Bee Stings" was released on venerable indie label Kill Rock Stars and she's starting to get some blog love, which is the first step to breakout success these days -- just ask Vampire Weekend -- so big things could be in store in 2008. Her band, the Get Down Stay Down, will be backing her tonight at Iota for the official CD release show.
If you hadn't noticed, the artists who create the music that hip-hop stars rap over have become stars in their own right. With the exception of pioneers like Dr. Dre and Marley Marl, early producers were more likely to play the background, creating sonic alchemy that was only recognized by those who read liner notes. Modern production giants like Kanye West, Timbaland, Scott Storch and the Neptunes can command five figures and up for their tracks, which gives hungry hip-hop aspirants another model of success to shoot for. Beatmakers are now masters of branding too -- hearing the eponymous cry of "Just Blaaaze!" at the beginning of a song is a sure-fire guarantee that it'll bang before the featured rapper utters his first couplet. With its fertile hip-hop scene, Washington is teeming with its own tribe of beatmaking devotees. Some of them have a few major credits under their belts. Bink! has sold tracks to the American Gangster himself, Jay-Z. Sebb has laid down beats for Tony Yayo and Kool G. Rap. Mark Nfinit is contributing to Wale's rise to stardom, and K. Murdock started out humbly on his U Street grind before becoming known for his work with Raheem Devaughn and his own group Panacea. You can hear all of these producers at Felix tonight going track for track in the Beatdown showcase. For all you hungry producers trying to shine, the first round will be reserved for walk-up entries, so bring your beat CDs.
In the last few years, the Arlington Cinema N Drafthouse has become more than a second-run movie theatre. The schedule increasingly offers live music or sporting events on the movie screen, but the Drafthouse's dedication (or, you might say, addiction) to showing cult '90s films has made it a popular spot with the area's 20- and 30-somethings. Tonight is the "Bi-Annual TPS Report Managers Meeting," which means it's a full evening of "Office Space"-related events. (Some of our readers in the IT department just got really excited.) Everything kicks off at 7 with VJs spinning hits from the film's soundtrack, and that's followed by a trivia contest, Lumbergh impersonation contest, "O" face contest and a costume contest. (The actual film is shown at 8:30). Admission is $8; come in costume to get a two-for-one admission coupon for an upcoming film.
Our friends from the Washington Post Express are throwing a Mardi Gras party at Mister Days tonight, featuring live New Orleans-style R&B, funk and zydeco by the Junkyard Saints (listen), food and drink specials and an "endless supply of beads." There's no cover, and the festivities run from 5 to 9.
Friday, Feb. 1
There's plenty of competition on the local rock circuit tonight, with the three biggest clubs all hosting bills packed with homegrown talent. The three shows also show different segments of the scene. The cool kids (no, not the hip-hop group that toured with M.I.A., the surly ones drinking PBR and Red Stripe) will be at the Black Cat for the Shortstack (listen) CD release show. The band's excellent "The Covers EP" tackles artists as diverse as Captain Beefhart, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Lungfish's Daniel Higgs, and gives each song the Shortstack treatment, adding just a bit of twang and southern gothic feel. The energetic romp through CCR's "Commotion" chugs along with all the power of the original, which is about as high as praise gets. Breezy bluegrass-inspired folkies Junior League (listen) and grimy garage rockers Suns of Guns open at the Black Cat.
The people who just want to have a good time will be at the Rock and Roll Hotel for a show headlined by Army of Me (listen) the power pop group that's perpetually on the verge of very big things. It seemed like those big things might come after the group's "Welcome to D.C." started getting radio play a few years ago, but as things stand now, most people still think of "Army of Me" as a Bjork song first and band second. The band members are road warriors, regularly playing 100+ shows a year, but they have a relatively light schedule coming up: tonight's show is their only area appearance for a while. Opening will be the Dance Party (listen), who have gained a reputation as one of the city's most fun live bands, and Exit Clov (listen), who have their slightly-skewed, harmony-filled pop songs down pat after many years together.
The biggest venue, 9:30 club, hosts the oddest show, with a triple-bill topped by Olivia and the Housemates (listen), who just last week were playing on the Black Cat's backstage. That's quite a quick leap to the big time for the local sunny pop group, but not as quick a leap as the Cobra Collective (listen). Just a few weeks ago we wrote about the quartret -- comprised of former members of the Bonapartes -- playing its second ever show at Iota. Seasoned scene veterans the Ambitions (listen) handle the middle slot with a winning combo of soul, ska and R&B. The local music fans who don't fit into either of the above categories will be the ones at this show.
The House of Sweden occupies a place of pride on the Georgetown waterfront, and while it's used as a exhibition space for rotating exhibits by Swedish artists, the Swedish embassy is launching a series of cultural events called the House of Sweden After Dark, which will mix interactive art exhibits, DJs and drink specials into late-night cultural affairs. Tonight's kickoff promises to be packed -- almost 2,000 people have already RSVPed through Facebook -- and for good reason: You can check out the exhibits on "Innovation and Technology," listen to DJ Double o 7 spin funky house music and sip free cocktails from Swedish vodka company Svedka from 8 to 11. A $10 donation is requested at the door. If you want to RSVP, there's a link on the House of Sweden After Dark Web site. (If you're not a member of Facebook, you'll have to register with that site.)
The Carnival season is kicking off in the Caribbean this weekend, as Trinidad and Tobago gets its celebrations underway. If you can't make it down to Port-of-Spain for the party, this area offers plenty of chances to celebrate in the Trini spirit. Let's start at the Crossroads, where the Trinidad and Tobago Mardi Gras happy hour offers an open buffet and two-for-one drinks from 5 to 8. Stick around for reggae, soca, hip-hop and other beats by Super Slice, Bobby's Music Machine and other DJs.
Meanwhile, Zanzibar on the Waterfront is hosting T&T Carnival Fever at its monthly Fresh Fete Friday party. Hazard, Spyda and Fireburn HD should keep the club jumping with a mix of soca and reggae. Drink specials are offered from 10 to midnight.
Ibiza is hosting its Mardi Gras kickoff party with one of those "How many beads can you collect?" competitions. There are cash prizes for the winners, so leave your sense of shame at home. Hurricanes are $7 all night. Get on the list at dcnites.com, then pick up your "starter beads" at the door. DJs spin mashups, hip-hop, rock and old-school jams on the dance floor all night.