Few folks would describe Arlington as a music town. But in the early '90s, the suburb was swarming with a population of indie-pop bands seemingly large enough to fill the phalanx of new condos that stand there today. Local labels Teenbeat and Simple Machines became sweethearts of the underground, supplying college radio with a bumper crop of lo-fi notables.
And while local indie legends such as Unrest, Tsunami and the Eggs have long since gone the way of the dodo, the genre doesn't lack fans -- many of whom mobbed the Black Cat's backstage Thursday night to catch a performance by Dressy Bessy. The group hails from Denver -- a 1,676-mile hike from the Clarendon Metro stop -- but based on their friendly, fuzzy guitar-pop, one can bet they've heard an Unrest song or two.
Led by singer-guitarist Tammy Ealom, the quartet zipped through a set of brisk but same-sounding pop tunes steeped in feel-good guitar buzz. Ealom and fellow guitarist John Hill seemed addicted to their own six-string racket, as if they had just discovered the joy of stomping on distortion pedals. Anytime the band introduced new texture -- be it a cowbell on "Call It Even Later" or a shaker on "It Happens All The Time" -- they quickly brushed it aside with a blast of guitars, like kids skipping their vegetables and going straight for dessert.
Fans didn't mind, bouncing along shoulder to shoulder for the duration of Dressy Bessy's sweaty 19-song set. And no one in the overcrowded room seemed to be having a better time than Hill. The guitarist, who also performs with the Apples in Stereo, another Denver pop outfit, garnished nearly every song with an overdriven guitar solo and an oversize smile.
-- Chris Richards
Three-quarters of the Persian-rooted music that Niyaz played Thursday in the Freer Gallery of Art's auditorium sounded right at home there. In fact -- to continue the fractional analysis -- half the musicians onstage had performed there as recently as 2003, with a group called Axiom of Choice. The evening's disparate elements came from the laptop and keyboard of Carmen Rizzo, who added synthesized beats and swooshes to the L.A. group's mix of Iranian melody and Sufi poetry.
The electronics were more prominent than on the trio's recent debut album, suggesting that the musicians had crafted their live act for venues less sedate than the Freer. Still, the music was dominated by the rich, supple voice of Azam Ali, whose style melds the modes of her native Iran with those of India, where she grew up. Loga Ramin Torkian and a supplementary player (who was also deployed at Axiom of Choice's Freer show) switched between Middle Eastern lutes such as saz and oud and electrified contemporary instruments such as guitar and guitar-viol, but their looping melodies sounded entirely traditional.
Indeed, traditional timbres were the ensemble's strength. Rizzo's more rambunctious embellishments didn't work with the rest of the music, but everything meshed well when he simply substituted for a live percussion section. On "Allahi Allah," for example, the digital beats did a fine impression of a tombac, playing a spiraling pattern over which Ali's voice glided elegantly.
-- Mark Jenkins