Saturday, April 5, 2008

Les Savy Fav--The Black Cat, Washington, DC

Walking solo to a club to check out a band I think is the mark of official citizenry, so one and half weeks into my DC tenure I finally feel like a resident. Red Carino's Spaghetti Slingers' shirt in tow, my immigration took me over to the Black Cat to check out Les Savy Fav. The Black Cat is an almost straight shot up 14th Street from where I live so it was a quick 15 minute walk. (To give you a bit of a visual of my new neighborhood, there is a Whole Foods on nearby P Street. I've noticed west of the Whole Foods are upscale restaurants and bars. On the east side there, uhhh, aren't. I, of course, live on the east side of the great gentrifier.) The Black Cat opened in 1993 and Dave Grohl is one of the founders. They have coat check, although I didn't get a price. And that's mostly because I was scared away by the woman behind the counter who didn't like my needling questions since I didn't even have a coat. (It was over 60 degrees.) Attached to the venue is the Red Room which has a cafe that serves primarily vegetarian food. Oh, brother. I'm not in Chicago anymore. I can hear the 3lb. meatloaf at Schubas' Harmony Grill laughing at me.

Awesome show! I'm a bit drunk! Who's up for a carrot?!

Inside the venue is rather awesome. It's dark and mangy and reminds me a lot of the Double Door. And there are two long bars that line each side of the club. I grabbed a seat along the bar on the right side and was pretty close to the stage to check out the Dodos of San Francisco who were the first opening act. I just heard of these guys pretty recently but I was very impressed. I wish I knew the name of their songs because whatever tune they opened with was fantastic. They're a duo (although every once in awhile some third dude would jump on stage and play something) and they play pretty long-winded, psychedelic pop songs. But it's really good. And by really good, I mean today I considered walking around to find a record store to pick up their album Visiter. (Is there a good record store near Logan Circle? Someone help me out here.) I think these guys are going to be big soon. Or maybe they already are big. Who the hell even knows anymore.

Being a bartender at the Black Cat would be a pretty great job if you like live music. They're pretty close to the stage instead of being shoved in the back like at most music venues. In fact, we were so close I needed some earplugs. I ordered a Budweiser ($4 in a bottle) and asked about earplugs. The bartender directed me to go downstairs to some old machine that he said only took quarters. Hey, this sounds interesting, follow me!

On the way downstairs I was checking out the crowd and it was about 80% male and 20% was of the caliber that nearly made me wish it was 100% male. Yeah, not good. Memo to cute girls in DC (if you even exist): You're allowed to like rock music. And you're allowed to go to rock shows. Keep that in mind.

I found the earplug machine downstairs and it was one of those old school candy machines that takes a quarter, requires a turn of the knob, and a prize comes out of some rusty slide. It was next to some rip off Runts and Spree machines. I thought this was great except the machine didn't work. It would not take my quarters, but what it would do is make me look like a complete jackass while I tried to play with it for 15 minutes. I finally conceeded and bought some of the rip off Runts and luckily got two bananas that I could stick in my ears. (If anyone else had this problem, and you're experiencing any sort of tinnitus, please contact me. I'm thinking of some sort of class action lawsuit against the Black Cat.) I went upstairs to the bar on the opposite side and the woman behind the bar was nice enough to hook me up with some ear plugs. However, now the place was packed and I was pushed so far back from the stage I didn't even need them anymore. I love irony even when it screws me.

The Big Sleep (also of French Kiss Records, just like the Dodos and Les Savy Fav) of Brooklyn were up next. I loved that movie when I saw it 8 years ago in film as art class so I was expecting big things. They're a long-haired trio that employs a very classic rock/dream pop sound with big guitars and very few vocals. Either James Iha or a girl was handling bass duties...I'm pretty sure it was the latter, but remember, I was pretty far away at this point and in no position to make the call. (In fact, a google image search demonstrates that she doesn't even remotely look like James Iha. Apologies to both...I really need to start getting closer to the stage.) It's safe to say that I really like this band in the same way that I like a band like Black Mountain. More intelligent and bearable than just some bland stoner rock, their songs keep your attention even when in the midst of a repeated chorus or long guitar solo. Give their track "Pinkies" a listen to see what I mean. Why don't we go ahead and chisel in the faces of Danny Barria, Sonya Balchandani, and Gabe Rhodes alongside Raymond Chandler and Humphrey Bogart in the Mount Rushmore of big sleepers.

For those that read our 2007 year in review (and most of you did, as it won several Pulitzers) you may remember Les Savy Fav's latest record Let's Stay Friends popping up frequently in our contributors' top records of the year. It was more than well deserved as I have yet to grow tired of it. But more importantly, I had yet to see these guys live and that's the whole point of Les Savy Fav, isn't it? That's what I've always heard. I also knew hanging out in a section of the Black Cat that allowed me to confuse an earlier performer with an early 90s alt-rock hero of a different sex was unacceptable. Time to move to the front. This was much easier than I thought it would be. I made my way down the right side of the room and found a place right by the stage (and right by the stage-right speakers...the once unneeded courtesy earplugs turned out to be a huge score. Thank you Black Cat staff, I will call off the class-action suit.)

Before I knew the band was even on stage I heard some odd, slightly incoherent yammering coming from the speakers. There I saw incomparable lead singer Tim Harrington sitting on the stage droning into the microphone about space ships, presidential assassinations, the Shirt Tales, and god knows what else. Before I knew it the rest of the band was on stage and they thrashed into "The Equestrian" from the aforementioned Let's Stay Friends. If that song is not your idea of a good time please kindly leave this site and don't return. And, yes, the rumors are true...Harrington is an absolute maniac! He was all over the place, running around in the crowd, screaming into the microphone, etc. I can tell this already good night is going to morph into a fantastic one. And I would be remiss to not mention Harrington's legendary attire which at first featured jeans and a very innocuous sweater but was converted into a shirt-bra within 30 seconds. (I just, to no avail, scoured through countless images of women in bras looking for a good shirt-bra picture to help out with the visual. I will look again for another couples of hours, but you all know what I mean by shirt-bra, right?) For a majority of the show the top-heavy lead singer was running around without a shirt on. It reminded me of that classic SNL skit with Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze trying out for Chippendales...with Harrington obviously playing the part of Farley. And I am right now picturing a great re-enactment of this skit. We already found the part of Farley. How about Kevin Barnes for the Swayze role? Perfect! Hey PitchforkTV, give me a call...we'll make this happen!

Latest album favorite "Patty Lee" (here is a pretty good video that captures both the song and Harrington in all his glory) was hit up next, followed by "What Would Wolves Do?" The band then settled into a lot of oldies but goodies from Inches and Go Forth. Each song was usually proceeded by an often hilarious apocalyptic monologue by Harrington. His other antics continued and the band was with him every step of the way. Harrison Haynes' drumming was the show I expected it to be, and bassist Syd Butler seemed to bring some sanity to the evening when he would speak into the microphone and actually make sense. If my memory isn't betraying me, I recall especially enjoying "Reprobate's Resume" and "Raging in the Plague Age" which were played towards the end of the evening. The Black Cat crowd was great, too. I was left with the sense that most in attendance have been with the band going back to the 3/5 days. Everyone did a good job of reciprocating the overflowing energy that was emanating from the stage. And to help Harrington with his constant wardrobe changes, people were more than willing to offer up a hat, flip-flop, and even a pair of glasses.

I don't really remember any of the encores just that they were loud (I was still standing right by the speaker) and abrasive. When they finally left the stage, I gathered up my equilibrium from the floor and headed downstairs to the Red Room for some drinks. Let me just say this about the Black's an incredible venue and I really look forward to returning. I have a date with the 9:30 Club very soon so I'll be able to compare and contrast what seem to be the two big spots in town, but so far, DC is off to a good start.

If any of you wonder what it's like going to shows by yourself (in Chicago I lived near plenty of venues that fed my appetite so I'm an old hand at this) it's not as bad as you would think. Sometimes I would get bored and leave early if the band on stage wasn't keeping my attention. But most times I would get adopted by another group of people or find someone to chat up. And by the time I left Chicago, if I was at a show and wasn't in the company of friends I would typically see familiar faces, be it other concert goers or venue staff, that I never even thought twice about it. I have forgotten more of the shows than I vividly remember, but I do know that some of the best nights of my life have been spent at some dark and sweaty rock club with some band on stage that would usually only register with 1% of the general population. That's family, that's camaraderie, that's everything. I feel like I'm starting over now in DC but I think that can be a good thing. So let me end with a quick message to the District: I am here, this is going to be fun, let us do this.



Sean said...

Nice post. I saw LSV three times when I lived in St. Louis and they brought the thunder every time. Harrington is a spectacle.

audrey said...

never had the pleasure of extracting small bananas lost in ear canals, but i have removed a black frijole from high inside a 5 yr old's nose, so lookin forward to it. nice write-up, but this chicago meatloaf scoffs indeed at any attempts to equate dc's music scene to chicago's.

Jim P. said...

Did there happen to be a homeless dude outside asking for money by saying, "Little money for the HOMELESS black cat, black cat"?

Alex said...

I didn't happen to see this homeless guy but he may have been lost in the crowd (of all the other homeless people...not the crowd waiting to get in.)

McArdle said...

Continually impressed with your writing, Alex. Very entertaining.

k said...

yes, great writing.

Alex said...


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