Slobbered on by music magazine NME, called out by the Killers, clamored over by hip record labels, heavy users of eye makeup the Bravery have plunged into the rock-star lifestyle the way Kirstie Alley used to hit an all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch. The Brooklyn-based band sold out the 9:30 club, too, but the most striking thing about the quintet during their hour-long set Friday night was what they lacked: original, interesting music.
Singer Sam Endicott and keyboardist John Conway concocted the Bravery's debut album -- an amalgam of NYC modern-rock styles (the Strokes, Interpol) and the Cure -- on an iMac, and those 11 songs served as the backbone of their performance. Which was the problem. Songs like "Tyrant" and "No Brakes" seemed merely backdrops for Endicott to work out tired lead-singer poses. Any forward propulsion that they managed to establish -- the slashing opening of "Give In," for example -- quickly sputtered when it reached a chorus or bridge that fell back on wilted sighs.
The sinking feeling of musical retread corrupted even the Bravery's best songs: "The Ring Song" burbled with a keyboard hook that was pure '80s one-hit wonder (Men Without Hats, anyone?), and even the percolating "An Honest Mistake" was corrupted, the ghost of Duran Duran infesting its joints. Musical deja vu hardly mattered to the kids that crammed the main floor. And as every music-buying generation since Ed Sullivan introduced the Fabs has proved, popularity beats originality every time. At least until next week.
-- Patrick Foster
It seemed only fitting that trumpeter Nicholas Payton would help celebrate Blues Alley's 40th anniversary in a purely acoustic quartet setting. Though the New Orleans brassman brought his neo-fusion Sonic Trance ensemble to the Georgetown club not long ago, the tone Friday night was more in keeping with the venue's long history of featuring and nurturing mainstream jazz artists.
The opening set offered a mixture of familiar pieces composed by jazz giants, including Donald Byrd, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, as well as pop standards and original tunes. The breadth of material allowed Payton to conjure a wide of variety of moods, and he often did so with leisurely finesse. He illuminated the staggered-note theme to Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" with bright, clipped notes, infused Monk's " 'Round Midnight" with a soulful and insinuating tone, and tapped into some lighthearted funk while unveiling "Redd Foxx," a self-penned piece inspired by the old sitcom "Sanford and Son." Each arrangement provided ample room for improvisation, and as the set unfolded there was no mistaking Payton's flair for producing carefully modulated dramatic arcs followed by neatly tapered resolutions. His Crescent City roots were also apparent, especially when he slyly accented a melody with blue notes and smeared tones or when his horn turned jubilant and generated a kind of parade-bound, rhythmic swagger.
In addition to providing alert support throughout the set, pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Vincente Archer and drummer Marcus Gilmore, grandson of jazz titan Roy Haynes, contributed solos brimming with additional color and contrasts.
-- Mike Joyce
National Symphony Orchestra
After Friday afternoon's torrential downpours, the threat of more rain kept all but the dedicated and optimistic away from that evening's National Symphony Orchestra concert at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre. Indeed, as conductor Sarah Hatsuko Hicks introduced herself and the program, titled "An Outdoor Celebration," a gentle shower began to fall. Fortunately, the weather soon cleared, and the concert rewarded the audience for its perseverance.
Personal charm can be a great inducement to keep one's seat at precipitation-imperiled concerts, and Hicks delivered enthusiastic and articulate patter from the podium, although she often hurried to the end of anecdotes that would have been more amusing at a leisurely pace. Hicks and the NSO also lost their footing occasionally in the poppier portions of the program: The brass hits in an arrangement of "In the Mood" sounded like pulled punches, and the final pages of Sousa's "The Washington Post March" thrashed a bit instead of strutting properly.
Yet Hicks drew engaging performances from the NSO in classical pieces that depicted the great outdoors. She found the rambling rhythm in "On the Trail" from Ferde Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite," gave a vivid sweep to an abbreviated version of Bedrich Smetana's "The Moldau," and showed herself a born Straussian with a deliciously lilting "Blue Danube" waltz.
The final two pieces on the program, Debussy's "Clair de Lune" and a selection from John Williams's score for "E.T.," conjured (wildly divergent) visions of the moon, and if that body was invisible behind the cloud cover, the finely shaped, heartfelt performances were enough to send any listener's heart soaring toward it.
-- Andrew Lindemann Malone