Welcome! Log In Create A New Profile


Black Cat 30th Anniversary show, Night 2 (Washington DC, September 9, 2023)

Black Cat 30th Anniversary show, Night 2 (Washington DC, September 9, 2023)
September 16, 2023 11:25PM
Black Cat 30th Anniversary Celebration (Day 2)
September 9, 2023

For 30 years, the Black Cat in a rapidly gentrifying area of northwest DC has been the solid, firmly principled, embodiment of the indie rock ethos. While the neighboring 9:30 Club expanded its footprint to suburbia and the emerging sprawl of Seth Herwitz’s massive IMP empire, the Black Cat maintained a firm commitment to a now-resolutely unfashionable brand of DC indie rock.

The Black Cat celebrated its 30th anniversary in the last few weeks, having overcome a whole host of business and other impediments that might’ve easily brought it into the ground in decades past. The club celebrated with a two-night blowout extravaganza of DC-based and -founded talent. The first night, which I missed, was headlined by Mary Timony’s beloved power pop band, Ex Hex, alongside the Messthetics, Flasher, and a few other lower level names. I’ve seen all those bands before, multiple times, but the second night offered the attraction of the reuniting Velocity Girl, an early 90s stalwart of the DC scene, who crossed over to mainstream visibility in their three-record stint on Sub Pop and who hadn’t played live in a staggering 21 years.

Of course, this being a multi-band extravaganza, there were a lot of other reasons to consider attendance. Ted Leo, who has long since relocated to Providence, but has played the Black Cat an estimated 30 or 40 times thus far in his career, took the Amtrak down with his band, the Pharmacists, and the much loved ensemble, Hammered Hulls, which also features Mary Timony, but this time on bass, was also on the roster. Fleshing out the five-band bill were Bad Moves and the Owners, the wryly named house band of the Black Cat ownership and bar staff. All told it was a varied and impressive lineup of stalwart indie ethos. Covering the gamut from punk to power pop to garage rock, and headlined by Velocity Girl‘s unique brand of shoegazy twee, or perhaps, twee shoegaze, there was something for anyone in the DC music scene.

And of course, the 30 year celebration of the Black Cat wasn’t just a celebration of the venue but a celebration of the scene itself. In a lovely photo essay and oral history that appeared in the Washington City Paper, longtime club aficionados described how marriages were formed, families were raised, and lifelong friendships developed around the Black Cat and its regular roster of bands.

I wasn’t in DC in 1993 when the Black Cat got off the ground, but I was definitely there to see bands in the middle and late 90s, and on my return in 2005 and onward. It’s not the club I’ve seen the most shows at, but it’s certainly been the host of some of the most memorable gigs. It’s really the only place in DC that you can still see both original punk bands returning on reunited tours, along with up-and-coming indie bands, weird singer-songwriters, and even the odd art or experimental outlet.

For the second night of the 30-year anniversary, I joined three of my neighbors, and I was unsurprised to see other familiar faces in the crowd, for the five-band show that kicked off with the Owners. The Owners play self-referential guitar rock, with some strong power pop and Replacements vibes, with song lyrics that are largely about the scene, the neighborhood, and living a generation-long experience around one rock club. They sang some songs about gentrification (“Low Rent Paradise”). They sang some songs about the challenges of the music economy, and they basically expressed in musical form what you might expressed the owner of any hard-bitten rock club to express over the span of three decades of making ends meet and keeping artists and concertgoers happy. And they ended with a bitter song about climate change and faltering democracy to apologize to their children (“Wrecked the World”). Full setlist here: https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/the-owners/2023/black-cat-washington-dc-3a2cdab.html

Up next were Bad Moves. I’ve never seen the band before but many of its members are in other ensembles that are familiar faces in the DC scene. I was shocked by how much I loved the band’s performance. I knew the guys in the band, David Combs and Daoud Tyler-Ameen. They’re regular presences in the DC area musical scene. But most of the vocal and lyrical energy in Bad Moves is provided by the two lead singers, Katie Park and Emma Cleveland. Basically Bad Moves reminds me of what a 21st-century multicultural queer version of the Buzzcocks or Exploding Hearts would sound like: energetic guitar-based power pop with instantly hummable riffs and song lyrics on such subjects as lesbian experimentation at Bible camp (“Spirit FM”). The band was very much my jam. Not only were the songs hummable and tuneful but they’re played with a delightful bit of crispness and unfussy attention to detail, showing their chops and songwriting craft. I particularly enjoyed the vocal interplay between the two female leads, although David also sang as well. A lot of the show was from the 2020-era Untenable full-length but they have records going back to 2016. “One Thing” from 2018’s Tell No One is a power-pop gem that the late Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne would have gladly claimed. I was extremely impressed and I’m going to be looking into their back catalog in the near future. Full setlist here: https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/bad-moves/2023/black-cat-washington-dc-3a2cdb7.html

Hammered Hulls were the third band in the lineup. This is a band that has a tremendous degree of cachet in Washington. Not only are its members prominent in other bands, including Alec MacKaye on vocals (yes, Ian’s brother), Mark Cisneros on guitar (also Des Demonas, the Make Up, many others), and Mary Timony (Helium, Ex Hex, Wild Spells, the list goes on) and on) on bass, which is not her natural instrument, but it’s the kind of band that other musicians love: technically complex, compositionally advanced punk and avant pop. I was impressed by the technique, although it’s not the milieu in which I naturally gravitate. But if it has any bearing whatsoever, it’s worthy to note that other bands on the roster, as well as a lot of audience members, were wearing Hammered Hulls T-shirts, showing the degree of respect they have in Washington. My friend who is more into the band than I am tells me that Hammered Hulls have put one record out, but it failed to capture the energy the band offers on stage. I was more intellectually curious about the band than emotionally invested, but as a Timony fan I enjoyed watching the studious way she played bass and communicated through eye contact and hand gestures with the drummer and guitarist in the band’s tricky time signatures and gnarly chord changes. Full setlist here: https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/hammered-hulls/2023/black-cat-washington-dc-13a2cdb5.html

Ted Leo is probably one of the musicians I’ve seen most of any in the world. As I’ve said before, I don’t love his music, but I admire him on a personal level immensely. He’s the ultimate indie rock mensch. He lives out his ideals, he stands up for his values, he believes deeply in independent music as both an art form, as well as a business model, and an aesthetic and ethic. I like the guy greatly, although I don’t tend to listen to his albums very often. At the Black Cat, Ted appeared first solo, taking the stage in a Sinéad O'Connor "Fight the Real Enemy" t-shirt, and singing a brand new song on ragged electric guitar about immigration and social justice. I have initially thought he might be doing a solo set, but the entire band the Pharmacists joined him after a song or two, in what became a greatest hits recap of the Ted Leo back catalog. If you know just a few of Ted Leo’s best-known songs, he played them: “Me and Mia,” “Timorous Me,” and of course, “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone,” his double-time tribute to classic British ska. He still has a hyperactive yelp in his singing voice that I don’t wholly get along with, though, even though he’s got an unabashed debt to the equally adenoidal whine of the late Scott Miller of Game Theory and Loud Family, one of the most formative bands in my own life. Anyway, pretty much everyone admires Ted Leo, from his early days in the ethical-punk band Chisel to his power-pop work with the Pharmacists to his cool pop collaborations with Aimee Mann and his various solo projects, some of which made their way into the set, like the catchy “Can’t Go Back.” I still buy lots of his digital stuff, like his new Bandcamp digital single with a Big Country cover — it’s good! — but at this point Ted Leo is kind of a nostalgia act for the early 2000s, when most of his landmark records with the Pharmacists (Hearts of Oak, Shake the Sheets, Tyranny of Distance) came out. Full setlist here: https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/ted-leo-and-the-pharmacists/2023/black-cat-washington-dc-ba2cdb2.html

Now, calling a long-running performer like Ted Leo a nostalgia act is one thing, but the reunion of Velocity Girl is genuinely newsworthy. In the 1990s, Velocity Girl (named after a formative early Primal Scream song, but I didn’t know it then) was a revelation: kind of a shoegaze band, but I didn’t listen to shoegaze, but also a band that brought a tuneful jangle pop from guitarist/bassist/singer (and now parent of a kid at my son’s high school) Archie Moore, and a twee aesthetic to bear along with Sarah Shannon’s bright singing voice. (Also, the cover art on ¡Simpatico! is a delightful bit of design work.) In their first show in 21 years Velocity Girl proved they are still a charming and vibrant band — the songs have their innate charms, even if Shannon doesn’t hit the notes with the same brightness that she did as a 20-something-year-old coming out of the University of Maryland. Pretty much everyone who heard the first two Velocity Girl records loved them, and the band didn’t skimp on those highlights (and the EPs and singles that accompanied them) — insistently tuneful but scuzzily overdubbed singles like “I Can’t Stop Smiling,” “Pop Loser,” “The All-Consumer,” “There’s Only One Thing Left to Say,” and “Sorry Again.” Diehard fans — i.e. those who were around in the early days — were particularly thrilled by the early, most shoegazy songs from the days prior to Velocity Girl getting snatched up by Sub Pop. Just as everyone pretty much loved the first two Velocity Girl records, almost everyone hated the band’s third and final record, Gilded Stars and Zealous Hearts (which I have, on a Sub Pop promo CD, but haven’t listened to in decades). It got exactly one song in the Black Cat showcase, “Nothing,” and I suspect no one regretted any other omissions, including the band members.

Full setlist here: https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/velocity-girl/2023/black-cat-washington-dc-13a2cdbd.html

Proving that the reunion here was a successful one, and presumably inspired by the positive media attention and fanbase, Velocity Girl now appear to be a running concern. Later in December, they’re doing a headlining show in their own right, backed by a fellow reuniting DC-area 90s alternative stalwart, Tuscadero, who recorded on Mark Robinson’s Teenbeat label. Tuscadero are reforming for the first time since 2013, when they played at — where else — a Black Cat anniversary show. No points for guessing where the Velocity Girl/Tuscadero show in December is being held.

Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 09/21/2023 10:10AM by zwirnm.
Reply Quote
Sorry, only registered users may post in this forum.

Click here to login