Wheels at Madison Theatre. Cincinnati, Ohio.
Day 21: Ra Ra Riot $20
Dance pop is the newest wave in pop music. With bands such as Passion Pit and and new groups like Walk the Moon leading the way, it is an up-tempo delight that makes the girls go wild. Ra Ra Riot was not originally a dance pop band, but with their new album, Beta Love, out this past Tuesday, they are following in their predecessors’ footsteps.
Characteristics of dance pop include up-beat percussion, synths, guitars, walking bass lines, sing-along lyrics, and the rest is up to the band. The bands with the most innovation often end up being the ones that make it, but that is not always the case. Ra Ra Riot is made up of drums, bass, guitar, synths, vocals, cello, and a violin. Not many dance pop bands have a cello. The bassist is what sets the band apart, though. He has an energy that is unmatched onstage, with backing vocals and complicated bass lines. As a band that used to embody rich indie pop like Vampire Weekend, they have made quite a transformation, and have not adjusted to their change in sound.
For a dance pop band to be successful, they must get the crowd to dance. Crowds should usually dance to the music they paid to see live, but many times crowds do not. This could be because of the average age of a certain crowd, the style of music, or the night of the week. People tend not to dance as much during the week. Younger crowds tend not to dance as much. It is harder to openly dance to some forms of blues-rock or bluegrass. Ra Ra had some trouble getting everyone to dance.
The crowd was noticeably younger than any crowd I have seen in DC. For the first time, I was in the majority with x’s on my hand. The front row was made up of all underage fans, potentially all in high school. Dance pop bands often draw a much younger crowd. There was a combination of the young crowd and Ra Ra’s musical switch that made people not dance as much as they should. Based off the new album, I thought everyone would be boppin’, but that was not the case. Ra Ra played songs that made you want to move and then songs that made people just want to listen and watch. They switched between their new genre and their old genre, which have many similarities, but a big enough difference to influence the crowd.
I have said this before, but younger crowds can often be even more judgmental and critical of the other concertgoers than older crowds. I remember when I was younger pointing out crowd members that were dancing in strange ways and laughing about it, but now I am the one dancing. Younger children often don’t know how best to express themselves in music so they don’t at all. When asked if I was “on” anything, that was an extension of the same insecurity. Younger crowds can very easily not feel comfortable dancing or moving around at concerts. I know that’s what I did, and it’s exactly what happened at Ra Ra Riot.
For Ra Ra Riot’s free single “Beta Love,” visit:
The Growlers at the Black Cat, Washington DC.
Day 20: The Growlers $12
Surf Rock is a genre that seemed to have died in the mid-60s. Surf rock was a genre that included upbeat drums, clean guitar riffs, and simple bass lines to bop to. This was most popular in California with the surfing kids, which is how it got the name surf rock. The Beach Boys made it famous, but there was much more to surf rock than a couple boys that girls could take home to mom and dad. There was a dirtier side to it, a pre-punk side to it. The Growlers, forty years late, emulate that style: surf-punk rock.
The Growlers combined a punk attitude with surf and psyche rock. The lead singer was drinking heavily during instrumental parts of songs and then spitting on the ground. Near the end of the set he lit a cigarette and was smoking until a security guard physically went on stage to take it from him. After that happened he couldn’t stop laughing about it to all of the other members on stage. The music sounded fine, except the vocals were not nearly loud enough on the speakers. That is more of a sound man issue, but still shows a lack of responsibility and attention on the band. Before the show, I bought their new record and the drummer gave me change out of his wallet. After the set, no encore. Of course not. So rock n roll.
The Black Cat has been one of the more strict venues I have been to in DC this month, but tonight was the most ridiculous. As usual, the security up front made sure to double line the x’s on my hands, so I could never wash them off my hands. I showed my ID to two different staff members before being let into the venue. And then, the smoking. The lead singer began smoking a cigarette, which I feel is totally acceptable. The staff member closest began yelling over the music to get his attention, when he didn’t see her, or disregarded her urgency, she physically walked onstage and took the cigarette out of his hand. He was shocked. He didn’t think it was a big deal. Neither did I, and probably most people didn’t care. But the staff felt differently. He could not take one more puff. After they left the stage, she followed them out to give them a talking to. Laws about smoking indoors are stupid, especially in bars and music venues.
Although they seemed lazy and disorganized, it did not affect the music. They recreated sounds of 1962 on stage in 2013. Their style and sound make them a unique group this year. With a new album out, these Californians are climbing to the top and touring the US.
For Growlers music, visit:
Day 19: The 57th Inauguration of the United States $0
It is always good to have the right friends in the right places. When arriving to DC, I realized that the inauguration was taking place as well. How convenient. I assumed I would just go to it, no big deal, stand in the back and listen, but I had another thing coming. I met up with DePauw friend Becca Staneck and she said she could get me a ticket up close. I felt like a celebrity. I would be standing with politicians and famous people watching Barrack Obama get sworn in to his second term as the President of the United States. A few days before, those tickets fell through, and I was not able to get tickets. It wasn’t the end of the world, but Ben Gorman, my travel companion, his cousin mentioned that she was offered tickets and was not going to use them. So we were back in! I was going to be popping champagne on the National Mall with celebrities. That’s what I imagined, at least…
It was obvious that the city was full of tourists that were going to the inauguration. For me, it was just another day, except I had to get up a little earlier. I didn’t feel like I was going out of my way to go, like many other tourists were doing. It all felt very natural. Like I was the experienced local just stopping by on my way to work. When in all reality this was a big deal. Over 800„000 people showed up and went through security to see the President get inaugurated, and to see the star-studded lineup singing songs of America’s past time.
The Navy band played a few tunes and so did a children’s choir, including the hit song “Top of the World.” A Brooklyn choir sang a few songs as well, including “This Land is Your Land.” Then we saw the real deal. James Taylor played “America the Beautiful” on guitar while singing the lyrics so beautifully. Kelly Clarkson came on and sang “My Country Tis Of Thee.” It was interesting, the man introducing everyone started with “I’m honored to introduce the award-winning artist… Kelly Clarkson…” and the entire crowd sighed. Everyone around me was there for Beyonce. Not Kelly Clarkson. After a lot of waiting, Beyonce Knowles came out looking magnificent and sang The National Anthem. Women around me were saying “sing it Beyonce” every couple lines and everyone was on the edge of their seats, or heels. She sang, kissed Obama, and left the podium.
It was very funny that many people seemed to be there for Beyonce. Once she finished, everyone started walking home or out. The parade was next, but not many seemed interested. It was a historical event: 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, 50 years after MLK Jr. spoke and marched on Washington, and it was the day we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, celebrating that all men and women are created equal. We celebrated for humanity and for civil rights and for America. Obama’s speech said that we were not done until gay and lesbian couples could marry and be treated equally. We weren’t done until every person can acquire the American dream. Obama’s speech was filled with hope and signified that he has faith for the future, and so should we. It was very uplifting and optimistic, the true American way.
Fun Fact: I was actually in the area with tickets, but it was standing room only. There was no champagne and no celebrities.
Day 18: Amy Lynn & the Gunshow $0
We woke up early on Sunday, the 20th, so we could get in line to see Smokey Robinson at the Kennedy Center for free. The show was supposed to be at 6pm, but you needed a ticket to get in. The tickets were free, but you had to have one. The Kennedy Center was supposed to hand out tickets at 4pm, so we knew we had to get there a bit earlier to get tickets. Ben and I arrived at the Kennedy Center around 2:15 in the afternoon and it was packed. I was so surprised to see so many people in line several hours before the show. We got in line.
After about an hour of waiting, a Kennedy Center employee informed our part of the line that we were about 600 people back in line. Each person in line could take two tickets, and they only had 1200 tickets to give out. The employee bet we would get in, but did not guarantee. We waited in line and when four o’clock came around, the line began to move. After slowly moving through the line, at about 5:15, we were told there were no tickets left. It was the day before the Inauguration, it was Washington DC, it was the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and DC was a madhouse.
It was wild how quickly the city changed between Thursday and Sunday. Tourists were everywhere. I didn’t feel like a tourist anymore: no map, no luggage, no rush. People were asking me for directions. To them I was a local.
We looked for a show to go to on the internet and found a free show at Hill Country, the barbecue restaurant and bar several blocks away. For the second time, Hill Country was did not communicate very well to their patrons. Online it said the show was going to start at 8:30, but the chalkboard outside said 9. At about 8:40, we heard a drum set playing and backing saxophones and vocals. We were missing the show! All because of a confused time slot.
The Gunshow is a six-piece band with drums, bass, keys, baritone sax, tenor sax, and a trumpet. The Barry Sax was the band leader. They were a combination of funk and jazz with rock and roll drum and bass. The band leader was a very talented saxophone player. At one point, he played by himself, making beat boxing sounds with his mouth in between notes on the sax. Every member took chances to solo with plenty of improvisation. Then Amy Lynn came out. She was wearing a short dress with long messy hair. She tried to embody the sex appeal of a jazz singer. Her voice was powerful, but often whiny, too whiny to be a jazz singer. She didn’t have that soothing, yet smoky and booming voice that you hear from Ella Fitzgerald or more modern jazzy singers like Joss Stone or Macy Grey. A similar style and arrangement to Fitz & the Tantrums, but in need of a new vocalist.
There was an obvious chemistry between the band leader and Amy Lynn. I noticed their looks, whenever he would solo or she would sing of love. They both wore wedding rings, so it didn’t add up. How could a man with a wife be this openly attracted to his leading lady? Johnny Cash tried this and it ended horribly. As it turns out, Amy Lynn was married to the band leader. This made more sense. Why else would a very talented group of musicians have a not as talented singer to lead the way? Oh yea, when it’s the band leader’s wife.
They played several originals and uptempo dance numbers, including a cover of the 80s hit “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me.” For the one-hit-wonder, the Gunshow made it their own with an innovated arrangement that made it jazzy, but the song was ruined by the whining coming from the vocals.
The band was very talented. They combined music of the ages and did something with it I had not heard before, but the singer was not what they need to hit the big time.
For more Gunshow and a free download, visit:
For video of the Gunshow, check it out on Youtube:
Amy Lynn & the Gunshow at Hill Country. Washington DC.