Category Archives: #live

John Moreland

John Moreland, who released one of last year’s most outstanding albums in Big Bad Luv, will be playing a sold-out show at the Camel here in town on Sunday. It promises to be an exceptional one — I’d call it a must-see for anyone who values the craft of songwriting. Moreland’s songs are as affecting as you’ll find, and they’re awash in the sacred alchemy that turns hurt into healing via language and melody and honesty. Many writers set out to perform that same magic, but his gift is a rarefied one, up there with the greats, in my opinion.

Speaking of gifts, I was given a tremendous one in having the opportunity to interview him for a River City Magazine article, which recently went up online. We talked about connecting with audiences, about the role religion has played in his life, about touring in a hardcore band in high school… he was generous and candid and I’m truly grateful for that conversation.

Here’s a link to the article, and here’s a link to more info about Sunday’s show at the Camel. Saw Black opens. Can’t wait.

John Moreland — “It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before)” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Grace Vonderkuhn

Exciting things afoot at EggHunt Records…

Earlier this month, the Richmond label announced that it signed Grace Vonderkuhn — an exciting and explosive garage/psych artist who hails from Delaware. Full details on her upcoming album have yet to be announced, but I wanted to go ahead and start spreading the word for two reasons:

  • Her 2015 self-titled EP is well worth a listen. While her intense guitar work is a big part of why I’m looking forward to the release of her upcoming album, I’ve latched onto a more low-key tune from the EP called “God Bless Your Soul,” which is embedded below.
  • She’s playing at Strange Matter tomorrow! More info here. I’d imagine folks in attendance will have their souls blessed with a healthy helping of her new material, and three other bands — The Smirks, Black Naked Wings, and Don Babylon — round out the bill. Should be a hoot.

Grace Vonderkuhn — “God Bless Your Soul” [Bandcamp]

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Mdou Moctar

Some happy moments are easy to relive. A dinner that came together just right. A book worth rereading. An inside joke that keeps making you and a friend laugh.

Then there are moments so singular that you’re filled with gratitude at having experienced them as they zoom away in the rear-view. I can say with certainty that I won’t soon have a Friday evening like last Friday evening.

So many thanks go out to my friend G, who gave me a heads up earlier in the week about an event happening at the University of Richmond involving Tuareg desert blues — a style she and I have a shared enthusiasm for. We’ve sent Sahel Sounds Bandcamp links back and forth, and I even grabbed a used copy of Music from Saharan Cellphones: Volume 2 when I saw it at Plan 9 because I knew she’d dig it.

She repaid me a thousand times over by letting me know that Mdou Moctar, one of the artists featured on that compilation, would be performing at UR after a screening of Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai, which translates to “Rain the color blue with a little red in it.” That’s right — Moctar collaborated with Christopher Kirkley from Sahel Sounds on a remake of Prince’s Purple Rain set in the Sarhara, purple motorcycle and all. It was insanely cool, though I have to confess: I can’t comment on the intertextual angle, because [takes a deep breath] I’ve never seen Purple Rain. I thought about finding it and cramming it into the busy days leading up to the event, but then I fell in love with the idea of seeing Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai first. How fun will watching Prince’s version be for the first time? I seriously can’t wait.

After the screening, Moctar and his band — the same rhythm guitarist and percussionist who backed him in the movie — walked down the auditorium’s aisle to thunderous applause and went on to play six songs, with stretches of Francophone Q&A sprinkled throughout and translated by Kirkley. Especially interesting was hearing how Kirkley and Moctar first connected — wary phone calls, files sent haphazardly via Internet connectivity Moctar likened to what the U.S. would have had in 1996. It’s amazing to think how easily that connection could have been lost. Yet there they were, working together to answer questions from Central Virginians about the movie they made together in the Sahara desert.

Moctar’s playing was exceptional. His left-handed Stratocaster work first seemed more focused on color and shape than virtuosity, as he’s extremely gifted at shading via countermelody. But by the sixth and final song — a chunkier rock tune — Moctar was plucking as fast as I imagine a hummingbird beats its wings, and the runs he unleashed while standing next to the drums and egging his bandmates on were nothing short of jaw-dropping. True to the Saharan Cellphones tradition, I made a few crappy iPhone recordings, and somehow the audio of that last song is even more impressive than my memory of seeing it, which doesn’t even make sense.

I also walked away with a vinyl copy of Moctar’s newest LP, Sousoume Tamachek, signed by the three-man band I’d just seen in-person and onscreen. I’ve been spinning it nonstop — it paints a really varied and intimate picture of Moctar’s approach, with a nice mix of acoustic and electric guitar. Check out the title track below, and click here to see the remaining dates on this tour. Not every stop involves a screen of Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai, but I can guarantee a singular experience nonetheless.

Mdou Moctar — “Sousoume Tamachek” [Bandcamp/Spotify]

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Brother Roy

Lots of good music in town over the weekend. On Friday, I left work, picked Toddler YHT up from daycare, and headed in the direction of Hardywood, where a three band bill was kicking off at 6 p.m.

My daughter almost always asks if she can come when I’m getting ready to head out for a show, even when it’s a later show and she’s already in her pajamas. Still, she needed a little coaxing when on the way out of daycare.

“Guess what? We’re going to a concert!”

“…”

“The concert will have a food truck that makes grilled cheeses…”

“Let’s go!”

Dori Freeman was my main motivating factor. She has a new album coming out next month, and I’d hoped to hear that new material, but it turned out that hers was the second set. Knowing that we’d probably only be able to hang around for a few songs past 7 p.m., we stopped by the food truck, ate dinner at a table in the parking lot, and headed inside to split an ice cream sandwich and catch what we could of the first act, NYC-based Brother Roy.

The voice I heard while we were outside eating sounded quite a bit like Conor Oberst’s, but once I could follow the lyrics a little more closely, Brother Roy — performing solo with a keyboard — reminded me more of Randy Newman. The tune that really grabbed my attention was “Carolina,” a montage of idealized southern living images with a hint of Newman’s wry, hyperbolic humor. Really neat.

Brother Roy made a fan out of Toddler YHT as well. She even made me hold our ice cream sandwich so she could clap.

Brother Roy — “Carolina” [Spotify/Bandcamp]

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Car Seat Headrest

Have y’all checked out Dust Up Mag yet? Some truly talented and dedicated folks have set their sights on covering live music in Richmond and beyond (the site’s motto is “Get to the gig”), and they were kind enough to let me review the Friday Cheers finale from last week. Here’s a link. This was my third time seeing Car Seat Headrest since Teens of Denial came out, and I walked away wildly impressed yet again. Hope a fourth time isn’t too far off — there’s something beautiful and therapeutic about singing along with Toledo’s songs. Read the full review here.

Car Seat Headrest — “Fill In The Blank” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Big Thief

We’re just a few hours away from one of the Friday Cheers shows I was most psyched about when the schedule was announced, and while it was Conor Oberst’s name that first got my attention (big fan of Bright Eyes, never seen him live… been enjoying Salutations…), I’ve been getting more and more jazzed about seeing Big Thief’s opening set.

Just a couple of days ago, NPR posted a new Big Thief tune called “Mary,” and I’m totally in awe of it. The word “perfect” comes to mind. It’s stately but not staid… carefully crafted yet natural… complex in spite of the fact it was recorded in one take… It actually reminds me of the Devon Sproule tune I posted last week, only it strings together the past instead of the present.

Fingers crossed we get to hear it tonight. See y’all on Brown’s Island.

Big Thief — “Mary” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Skyway Man

So I’m late to the party here, posting about a show just a few hours before it starts, but this Skyway Man album has my adrenaline racing. I’m on my first listen, and it feels like someone’s slowly reading off winning lottery numbers that keep matching the ones on ticket I’m holding. It’s bonkers… all the sounds I’ve been gravitating toward are here.

A few data points:

  • I picked up a copy of Cosmic American Music at the Numero Group’s pop-up sale at Strange Matter in April.
  • Thanks to an especially fruitful Goodwill haul, I’ve been heavy into gospel the last few weeks, from Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Billy Preston’s Gospel in My Soul album to early 1980’s Savoy Records stuff.
  • I’m also in the middle of a big William Tyler kick. A BK Music Instagram post prompted me to play Impossible Truth in the recovery room after my son was born a couple weeks back, and miraculously it was still there a couple of days later, along with his earlier Behold the Spirit album.
  • We named our son Ryland, so I’ve been making my way through my father-in-law’s Ry Cooder albums, marveling at how simultaneously timeless and of-their-time they sound, especially Borderline and “Why Don’t You Try Me.”

Seen Comin’ from a Mighty Eye is tailor-made for someone embroiled in exactly these obsessions, with the spacey aspects of Cosmic American Music, the voluminousness and spirituality of gospel, Tyler’s exploratory spirit, and references to early 1980’s production that remove songs from the present moment, like they’re wandering untethered by time. It’s all here, along with the signature Spacebomb sounds that consistently fill my heart with joy.

As mad at myself as I am for posting this so late — and as ashamed as I am that I haven’t been listening to James Wallace’s stuff all along — I can’t help thinking that Seen Comin’ from a Mighty Eye and I met at exactly the right moment. Many, many thanks to Alexandra Spalding for the heads up.

Doors open at Gallery5 tonight at 7. Twain and Big Kitty will be there as well. Click here for more info.

Skyway Man — “Wires (Donny Angel and the Opening Wide)” [Spotify/iTunes]

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