And the Asbury Jukes Southside Johnny Lyon sang as if there were no tomorrow at the Rams Head in Annapolis on Saturday night. His voice, with its trademark Jersey Shore barroom rasp, appeared flat-out exhausted by the time he and the Asbury Jukes concluded a two-hour show with a series of exuberant, crazy-quilted encores. How often do you hear a soul band abruptly segue from the Beach Boys to the Clash?
One song Lyon didn't sing was Sam Cooke's "Having a Party," a Jukes concert staple, but perhaps only because he didn't want to belabor the obvious after performing a bottle-hoisting reprise of "Tequila" or listening to the packed house raggedly harmonize "The Fever" and "I Don't Want to Go Home." Several of the songs Lyon performed have been in his repertoire for more than 20 years. But if he has grown tired of singing them, you'd never know it listening to his go-for-broke vocals or watching him jerk and jump around onstage, as if buffeted by the wind power emanating from the Jukes' horn section and the forceful rhythms sustained by drummer Louie Appel.
Mixed in with the vintage tunes were songs from the eight-piece band's new album, "Going to Jukesville," including a terrific version of Lyon's "Passion Street" that was reserved for the encores. New Orleans R&B and Chicago blues played a role in the show as well, the latter frequently emblazoned by guitarist Bobby Bandiera's scorching tone.
-- Mike Joyce Dismemberment Plan
At Black Cat Given his folkie vocals, first-person narratives and hip-hopped delivery, Dismemberment Plan frontman Travis Morrison might resemble a male Ani DiFranco as a solo performer. But add his three colleagues' jazzy punk-funk and a capacity Black Cat crowd, and Morrison's musings become the occasion for a raucous, unified experience.
Friday evening, beginning a two-night stand that has become a Christmastime tradition, the D.C. quartet was more playful than earnest, and entirely willing to share its angst. It seemed fitting that "The Ice of Boston," a song about being alienated and alone on New Year's Eve, provided the show's most communal moment, with dozens of fans jammed onstage to yell the tune's climactic line: "How's Washington?"
Washington was fine, it turned out, and so was the Plan. The band has had some bad luck with its recording career, and most of the show's highlights came from "Emergency & I," an album that's more than three years old. Yet such songs as "What Do You Want Me to Say?" and "The City" have too many facets to be easily exhausted. The group's material can shift abruptly from full to stark, sharp to sweet, off-balance to eminently singable.
Almost any band could get its fans to join in on a chorus as catchy as the one from "Back and Forth." But at the Black Cat show, virtually every time the instruments dropped down, the lull revealed an audience singalong.
-- Mark Jenkins Alice Despard Group
At Galaxy Hut Saturday's performance by the Alice Despard Group at Galaxy Hut marked two events: The release of the trio's fine new album, "Thinning of the Veil," and the final show by the band's current incarnation, as the bassist recently moved to North Carolina. Considering that copies of the album didn't arrive in time for the gig, the night might have been considered less than triumphant. Except, that is, for the music of Despard, one of Washington's finest singer-songwriters.
Sticking with the release-party theme, Despard and the supple rhythm section played all 10 songs from "Veil," bracketed by a cover of Big Star's "Blue Moon" and one older original, "Vessel." The new material plays down the country aspects of the performer's '90s work in favor of a minor-key but soaringly lyrical style that recalls Despard's late-'80s band, Hyaa!
Despard's melodies match her voice: dark and earthy, but capable of celestial flights. Her singing is so distinctive that it can overshadow her guitar playing. Yet the latter was pithy and inventive, rich in texture despite the lack of overdubs, synth tones and backward effects that embroider the recorded versions.
Despard is comfortable at the Hut -- she owns the place, after all -- but she deserves a much bigger audience than the crowd that can pack itself into that miniature microbrew bar.
-- Mark Jenkins