Category Archives: Music

The 9:30 Club and the National Symphony Orchestra are on our list.

What does “Sounds Like This” sound like?

By Lauren Linhard- ArtsPost Staff Writer

Eric Hutchinson’s debut album, “Sounds Like This,” is perfect for a summer car cruise with the windows down. It’s catchy, light and fun. Unfortunately, it’s just as catchy, light and fun as any other album by an indie pop artist. Hutchinson has followed in the musical footsteps of Jason Mraz, Mat Kearney and Matt Nathanson. Inspiration has to come from somewhere. But “Sounds Like This” so perfectly mimics the sound and themes of other artists, that you wonder how much of Hutchinson is in his album.

Hutchinson’s career had a false start, originally signing with Maverick Records months before the label folded. His recording sessions came to an end and he went on tour, trying to get his name out there. In August 2007, Hutchinson released “Sounds Like This” on his own record label, Let’s Break Records. A few days later, according to the official Eric Hutchinson website, a high school buddy emailed the famed gossip Perez Hilton a link to Hutchinson’s MySpace page. Hilton recommended the new musician and everything fell into place. By September, “Sounds Like This” was featured in the Top 10 albums on iTunes and was No.1 on the Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. Still unsigned, Hutchinson and his album remained extremely successful. Warner Bros. Records picked up the album and officially released it in March 2008.

The key is to listen to “Sounds Like This” three times before making a final decision. The first time is for overall effect, which is decidedly enjoyable. The second is for the musical component, which will seem familiar but impressive. And the third is for lyrics, which you will find…surprising. Hutchinson’s piano skill and sexy voice can easily distract from the lyrics. But when you really listen to the actual words of “Outside Villanova,” which is about having sex with an underage girl, shock is an appropriate emotion. Though sexually questionable ethics isn’t a trend throughout the album, including this song was certainly a risky move.

The album focuses around the popular idea of taking life as it comes. Along with musicians like Jack Johnson, Hutchinson tries to embrace his inner soul to communicate an easy-going existence. During “Rock & Roll” you find yourself craving a day at the beach, or at least a tropical drink, as you sway your hips to the reggae music. The spirit of chill continues with the songs “Food Chain” and “OK, It’s Alright With Me.” Though the album doesn’t come off as generic, it doesn’t come off as entirely fresh either. While some songs seem to be taken directly from a Jason Mraz album, there are moments when Hutchinson embraces his jazzy piano and finally gives us a sound that could be his own.

The album explores a variety of musical genres including funk, reggae and jazz. The assortment of sound keeps the album fresh; however, it also causes a slightly jumble feel. There is such diversity on “Sounds Like This,” it is unclear where Hutchinson’s real musical interest lies.

The good news: Hutchinson is young enough and new enough to gain experience and discover his own sound. Eventually he will sift between the funk, reggae, indie pop and jazz that is “Sounds Like This” to find his musical self. The bad news: the opening of “All Over Now” is alarming close to being mistaken for Taylor Swift’s “Love Song.”

And the Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

With the stage lights dampened to a minimum, John Baldwin Gourley, a quiet and unassuming figure, strode onto the stage of the 9:30 Club.  Clad in a red, white and blue hoodie, the shy and pensive frontman of Portugal the Man donned his guitar and approached the microphone.  The crowd roared in preparation for the band’s performance, but Gourley stood on the stage, motionless and silent.  The dimly-lit stage and creeping wisps of smoke produced by the smoke machine added to Gourley’s mystique.  He faced the right side of the stage, tuning out the audience to find his voice, and moments later kicked right into the opening licks of “People Say.”  With little more than his soft, versatile voice, delicate guitar strokes and support from the rest of the band, Gourley became king for the night.

In only a few short years, Portugal the Man rose to the top ranks of indie rock through unrestrained perseverance and a creative spirit that continually inspires listeners and challenges itself with contemplative, beautiful pieces.  Claiming Sarah Palin’s own Wasilla, Alaska as their hometown, the group formed after the demise of Anatomy of a Ghost, Gourley’s first band with Portugal bassist Zachary Carothers.  The members of Portugal packed up their gear and relocated to Portland, Ore. in 2004.  Since that time Portugal the Man has readjusted its lineup and released five studio albums, currently touring in support of their most recent brainchild “American Ghetto.”  The band’s current lineup is comprised of Gourley (vocals/guitar), Carothers, Ryan Neighbors (keyboard/synth), and Jason Sechrist (drums).

From the outset of the March18 show, it was obvious that the show was going to be a collective family act.  The New York four-piece known as The Dig opened the show, warming the crowd up for the rest of the night with a solid performance led by frontman Emile Mosseri.  They concluded their set by bringing all the members of the other touring bands up on stage to perform a song, attempting to fit at least 15 different musicians up onstage.  The artists each played their own unique instrument, ranging from an added tom head to a bottle of whiskey to a manican leg, passionately attacking their instruments (and the song) in a supportive family atmosphere.  Port O’Brien followed The Dig, adding their brand of folksy California indie to the mix, inviting all of the other bands up on stage once more.

By the time the openers had wrapped up their sets the club was filled to the brim with an interesting mix of plaid-and-tie-dye hipsters eager to rock out to the laid-back musical stylings of Portugal the Man.  Following the opener they went right into “And I,” a crowd favorite from their critically acclaimed album “Censored Colors.”  With Carothers swinging his bass up and down, Gourley bathed himself in the red, green and blue strobe lights, lowering the mic and dropping to his knees under the weight of the song.  The band pleased their hardcore fans by playing a number of songs from their first two albums, including “AKA M80 the Wolf,” “Shade,” and “Church Mouth.”  The majority of songs, however, came from the albums that shot them to success, “Censored Colors” and “The Satanic Satanist.”

Gourley remained humble and shy throughout the set, despite cheers and bursts of applause.  Before playing “60 Years” from the new album and spoken as an after-thought, Gourley half-heartedly suggested to his fans that they “download the new album or whatever.”  The statement was less a matter of disinterest and more indicative of Gourley’s shy and polite persona which, unexpectedly, commanded the crowd as effectively as any bombastic act.  After closing with “The Home,” the fan’s passionate and emphatic cheers for an encore brought Gourley out to stage to perform “Created” solo.  Lighters were raised in the air and the crowd fell into silence as he uttered the first line of the song.  Halfway through the sentence, however, Gourley stopped and stepped back from the mic, chuckling to himself.  Once he had composed himself, Gourley told the audience how deeply he was moved by all of their support over the course of the night.

“I just got the chills,” he muttered.  “That’s the first time I’ve ever freaked out onstage.  I almost passed out.  Thanks a lot guys, this is the biggest show we’ve ever played.”

The band sauntered in after Gourley finished the song and went straight into the song “Church Mouth.”  In keeping with the night’s tradition, they brought back the family atmosphere by inviting the other musicians onstage with them to perform a deeply emotional cover of “Strangers” by The Kinks.  For the night, the 9:30 club was turned into more than just a club venue.  It became an intimate family community.

In With the Old, Out With the New

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

As self-involved egoists, it seems that human beings of every generation, once they have passed that important and deceptively short period of childhood and teen angst, develop a severe case of “Back in My Day,” a condition that tends to increase in severity as the person grows older.  Music journalist Dave Thompson’s 2008 release, “I Hate New Music: The Classic Rock Manifesto” is evidence of this British ex-pat writer’s late-stage diagnosis of this disease.  “I Hate New Music” rails in defiance against the corporate axles grinding underneath the rusting machine of the music industry in a way that, although passionately written, will only play into the hands of other BIMD victims.

Thompson made a big name for himself over the last few decades as one of rock culture’s premier students and critics.  Thompson first began his writing career by publishing his own fanzine on the cusp of the punk movement of the late 1970s.  He published his first book, a U2 biography entitled “Stories for Boys,” in 1984 and moved to the United States five years later.  In his career Thompson has written over 100 books and contributed to a number of notable music publications, including Rolling Stone and Alternative Press.

“I Hate New Music,” in true rock n’ roll fashion (Thompson insists that is the only true way to spell the term) is a vitriolic and unapologetic crusade against what he believes to be the evils of a vapid and talentless modern music scene.  In the book Thompson picks apart the finer points in the era of classic rock, which he defines as lying somewhere between 1968 and the late 1970s.  This piece of heavily opinionated nonfiction amounts to an all-out rant against the music industry that took the passion, innovation and genre-defining character out of rock music.  Thompson blames artists, fans, and of course those big, bad corporations as the downfall for the quality of music (or lack thereof) that people are subjected to today.

The book doesn’t, as you may think, adhere to a strict chronological order, but rather a logical order.  The story begins with an idiom-driven, slang-centric rant of a foreword by rock critic Richard Meltzer.  The rest of the book then follows with Thompson’s reasoning for his argument, defining the generation known as classic rock, identifying its most positive attributes and leading into where exactly everything went wrong.

“I Hate New Music” is definitely an enjoyable read, entertaining the reader as Thompson blissfully reminisces about the days of wanton excess and true rock n’ roll spirit that fostered reactionary, controversial and gutsy artistic expression.  In line with his years of dedication to his art and the love of his life that is music, Thompson provides well-researched, in-depth insight into the interplay between bands, record labels and the social norms that they aim to challenge.  Aside from general social history, Thompson highlights his points through specific case studies of bands, such as Neil Young and Queen, while scattering his other favorites, such as Led Zeppelin, throughout the book to elucidate his arguments.  One of his more interesting chapters examines how music listeners today suffer for not having 8-tracks, which used to force fans to listen to and appreciate the concept of the album as a total package.

For Thompson, the music industry became too much of a corporate process, centered on generating profit and prioritizing production and promotion over music quality.  According to him, all the rock music today is either an attempt to cling onto this scheme of endless copying or a lack of creativity and desire to produce unique music.  While the book is appealing, at times the criticism can seem a bit heavy-handed and completely one-sided.  There is no room for another point-of-view or sort of defense for contemporary music.  As homogenized as the scene is today, to lob it all together is unfair to the positives that have been able to stand out in contemporary music.  Despite this shortcoming, a lot of the criticisms are admittedly tongue-in-cheek and are meant to underline the very real inadequacies of modern rock music.  After reading “I Hate New Music,” you will either be a fresh convert to the cause of nostalgia or a fierce defender of the banal.  Your call.

A Bit of Abbey Road Mayhem

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

While the Beatles are widely known as one of the most influential bands of all time, it’s fair to say that their music lacked that extra bit of gritty “umph” found in many harder rock bands.  Enter Beatallica.  Taking the general song structures and lyrics of Beatles songs and seamlessly blending them with demanding Metallica riffs and thrashing guitar solos, Beatallica creates a unique musical experience that will leave you craving for more mayhem.  Supported by opening band Borracho, Beatallica rocked the backstage at The Black Cat this April 19 with the epic power of Lennon, McCartney, Hetfield and Hammett coursing through their veins.

Borracho opened the show on a somewhat lackluster note.  For the most part, the band simply sounds like a generic and unfortunately uninspiring mixture of metal giants Down and Brand New Sin.  The Washington-based band first came together in 2008 when members of local acts Adam West and Assrockers came together to experiment with a harder sound.  The band released their first single, “Rectify,” on a 7” split with Adam West and has since then recorded a number of other songs for a release on the indie label No Balls.

The D.C. metal band opened to a small crowd (if one could even call it that) with two dedicated metalheads headbanging up front for their entire set.  Despite their hard and heavy sound, the band appeared lifeless for the most part.  With the occasional head nod and bounce the members showed little movement as they worked their way through their set.  The lead guitarist, who looked like a retired Viking, showed the most enthusiasm, yet the music itself left much to be desired.  Although the band marched through their set with general applause and approval from the audience, the crowd amounted to no more than 20 or so people who were simply waiting for Beatallica to take the stage.

Once Borracho finished, it was time for the real show.  Donning regalia reminiscent of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover, the band took the stage and headed right into the song “The Battery of Jaymz and Yoko,” a clever, hard-hitting mix of Metallica’s “Battery” and Beatles’ “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”  The lead singer Michael Tierney began bouncing up and down, belting out the lyrics in a voice that sounded eerily close to Metallica’s James Hetfield.  As Tierney bounced up and down, lead guitarist Jeff Hamilton stood nonchalantly to his left, effortlessly manipulating the guitar neck to produce intricately ear-splitting solos.

The crowd quickly grew and began rocking out, completely in love with the marriage of the band’s hilarious lyrics and appearance with fast and heavy musical prowess.  The dedication of their fans, affectionately known as Beatallibangers, explains how the band shot from obscurity into an international cult fan following nine years ago.  After getting his hands on a copy of the group’s debut EP “A Garage Dayz Nite,” a Milwaukee fan made a web site for the band in 2001.  The band gave the site its seal of approval the following year after meeting its creator and learning about all of the fan mail that had been sent to him.  The viral internet phenomenon led the band to international tours and the release of their debut full-length album, “Sgt. Hetfield’s Motorbreath Pub Band” in 2007.  They even recorded an album comprised entirely of renditions of the song “All You Need is Blood” in 13 different languages.  In 2009 they released their second album “The Masterful Mystery Tour.”

The band dominated the stage with songs like “Sandman,” “Revol-ooh-tion,” and “Leper Madonna.”  A few songs into the set the band members removed their jackets to reveal 1970s-style hippie dresses, with the bassist’s covered in marijuana leaves and the singer admittedly wearing one of his grandmother’s dresses.

Beatallica had the crowd singing along for such classics as the slow and brooding “Ktulu (He’s So Heavy),” and anthemic “Hey Dude.”  In addition to these songs, the band also played a couple of songs that failed to make the cut for “Masterful Mystery Tour,” such as the eternally metal, yet wholly politically incorrect, “Please Please Me or I’ll Beat You.”  Beatallica straddles the line of impropriety with their metal songs about partying and beer-drinking, but they do it successfully with a comical tongue-in-cheek style that is sure to ensnare and convert any music fan into a metalhead for a night.

Four Year Strong Set for World Domination

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

Over the last decade the genre of emo has blown up on MTV and into the hearts and minds of 14-year-old boys upset about their recent breakups and the ups-and-downs of being overly dramatic and depressed.  Emo has been split up into an over-abundance of subgenres, but bands such as Set Your Goals, A Day to Remember and Four Year Strong are fighting to revitalize the popcore genre, a mix between pop punk and hardcore, and usher it into a new era.  Four Year Strong’s sophomore release “Enemy of the World” is a power-packed album of ear-pounding breakdowns and melodic, harmonized vocals that make the five-piece contenders for kings of the genre.

Four Year Strong first hit the scene in 2001 when Dan O’Connor (vocals/guitar), Alan Day (vocals/guitar) and Jake Massucco (drums) met each other through mutual friends at Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester, Ma.  After cycling through a few different members, typical of your classic high-school startup band, the group released their debut album “It’s Our Time” in 2005.  The group owes their quick rise in pop-punk popularity in 2007 to the release of their second album, “Rise or Die Trying,” and were signed to the Decaydence label the following year.  After touring extensively the band decided to record “Explains It All,” a cover album of 1990s pop hits, including an impressively aggressive hardcore version of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic.”  The band is currently touring in support of “Enemy of the World” and will be playing all dates of the Vans Warped Tour this summer.

In comparing “Enemy of the World” to “Rise or Die Trying,” the new album contains a level of vocal depth not present in their previous albums.  Upon first hearing of Four Year Strong, the first thought that came to mind was that it sounded like Fall Out Boy’s “Take This to Your Grave” with a lot more double bass, head-banging potential and the occasional guttural scream.  The vocals have definitely matured a bit, moving away from the sing-songy melodies of their clean, high-pitched vocals to a rougher sound that more aptly fits the voluminous beards and sleeve tattoos of its members.

The album is full of anthemic songs of perseverance and survival through trials and tribulations, such as the opening “It Must Really Suck to be Four Year Strong Right Now” and “On a Saturday.”  There are a lot of chants in every song, but this premise has worked to the band’s advantage throughout their career.  One of the most uniting aspects of live performances in the music scene is the sense of community created by the fans and Four Year Strong has found a working formula in mobilizing that community in a way that brings the fan into the process.

“What the Hell is A Gigawatt” is a short fast-paced punk song about finding oneself and learning how to take responsibility for, and be conscientious of, the self-destructive mistakes one can make.  The song is slowed down for a moshpit-inducing breakdown that is sure to have fists flying and feet kicking.  “One Step at a Time” is an emotionally rich song about coping with the death of a loved one and moving on to a brighter future.  The album’s weakest track is “This Body Pays the Bill$,” another song that fits into the overly-clichéd theme of “the girl that breaks your heart.”

The strongest song of the album is “Wasting Time (Eternal Summer),” with a perfect sing-along chorus and an “ooh-ooh-ooooh” whistling harmony that actually works.  The quick up-and-down strokes keep the song moving at a manageable pace, breaking right before the chorus for an effective dramatic pause that slams the chorus right into the listener’s ear.  Overall, it seems that the members of Four Year Strong have found their niche and helped pave a way for sweaty punk fans to make the most out of their concert-going experience.

LTH: Storytelling and harmonies rock the night

By Ashley Kemper
ArtsPost staff writer

While most musicians get a start by writing their own material, few have the experience of roots-rocker Eric Brace. After spending the first decade of his career as a music critic for The Washington Post, Brace decided to trade his pen and paper for a guitar. Fifteen years later, the blues, pop and country blend of Last Train Home has established a widespread following, thanks mostly to Brace’s smooth-as-silk tenor and unassuming presence.

In their recent performance at Virginia’s Barns at Wolf Trap, a sold-out crowd of mostly middle-aged Americana enthusiasts cheered on the seven-member band, joined for the night by guitarist, vocalist and current fellow music critic Peter Cooper. After writing a favorable review of Last Train Home’s first album for Nashville’s Tennessean, Cooper met Brace in person at a concert, and their collaboration began.

“Playing with Peter brings out the folk singer in me a little more, where we really focus on harmonies and acoustic guitar arrangements,” Brace said in an interview with The News Leader. “The material rocks a little more in [Last Train Home], and the songs can be a little more abstract, whereas the songs I play and record with Peter all have a little bit more of a story to them.”

The duo’s story came across loud and clear on the Barns’ stage as Cooper played an opening set featuring songs that told stories of his early years growing up in the South. As Cooper strummed away on the lonely stage, it was easy to imagine the singer sitting around a campfire playing for friends rather than entertaining a crowd of hundreds. While songs entitled “Dumb Luck” and “Last Laugh” were chock full of  jokes and tongue-in-cheek lyrics, Cooper’s thoughtful chords and tender voice transformed the performance into something much more revealing.

Brace, on the other hand, employed no tricks or gimmicks in his stage show, relying only on earnest songs and a good voice to achieve his band’s richly-layered sound. Cooper returned to the stage with Brace and lent a gentle harmonizing quality to the songs, which, while not particularly necessary, seemed to put Brace at ease.

Over the past years the band has been together, they have done a significant amount of traveling, both domestic and international. As Brace pointed out, their touring van now has more miles on it than the distance to the moon. During their national tours, Last Train Home frequently picks up and swaps out musicians as they go along, resulting in a unique experience at each live show.

“There’s definitely an element of ‘we’re not quite sure how this is going to go off,’ ” Brace said in an interview before the show. “There’s a lot of communicating. It’s hard, but you try to find the right people.”

And communicate they did, as Brace frequently left his position in center stage and walked among his bandmates, giving direction or signaling an impromptu solo. While Brace clearly commanded the group’s dynamic, he was also not afraid to step back and let his band shine on their own. Electric guitarist Scott McKnight stepped out halfway through the ballad “Quarter to Three” and showed off with a solo riff that left even Brace and Cooper smiling.

Though he had played off and on with bands since college, 1996 marked the first time that Brace decided to focus solely on a music career and recruited band members of his own to record a debut album. Nearly overnight, Last Train Home was born. Throughout the next few years, Last Train Home grew in prominence, earning the “Artist of the Year” award from the Washington Area Music Association in 2003. Since that time, Last Train Home has performed more than a thousand shows and has opened for the likes of Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton.

Last Train Home will be making its next stop in Winston Salem, N.C., before returning to Virginia at the end of March.

Maybe wait for the next Train

By Jeremy Walsh

ArtsPost staff writer

Last train home

A performance of Last Train Home courtesy Wolf Trap

Had the audience craved a night of sitting down, listening to slow, repetitive country songs in a quaint venue, Last Train Home would have given a lifetime performance Feb. 27 at The Barns at Wolf Trap.

Unfortunately, it seemed the audience wanted to get up and dance to the band’s more upbeat, powerful country ballads.  As a result, the hour and a half show seemed bland, dragging agonizingly into the night.

Many audience members, predominately in their 30s and 40s at a sold-out performance, swayed back and forth in their seats, bopping their heads or waving their arms, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to jump up and really get into the show.

Lead singer and band founder Eric Brace acknowledged this desire midway through the show by saying he understood their pain, and declaring that the quaint design of The Barns almost required the band to perform its slower songs.

It was fair for Brace to argue that The Barns is designed for controlled concerts with artists who perform slower music, considering the venue seats around 400 people and hosts primarily jazz, folk and acoustic acts.

Still, it would have made the concert exciting and memorable if the band had broken The Barns trend and played some of its loud, emotional songs.  But Last Train Home didn’t take that chance, making their concert just another show.

One troubling aspect about their slow set was that most of their songs sounded too similar.  Most of the songs, such as “Sally,” “Last Good Kiss” and “Drinking from a Swimming Pool,” did not seem to differentiate themselves from one another, dragging down the show’s quality by not capitalizing on the variety of the band’s song collection.

Perhaps the bands most engaging song of the evening was “Tranquility Base,” which asks astronaut Neil Armstrong what it was like walking on the moon.  The song itself was another slow song, but the originality of the lyrics and song idea stood out.           Brace also gave a fascinating introduction to the song, explaining its inception and the research he did before writing it, which Brace said focused on understanding why Armstrong hasn’t often spoken publicly about his experience on the moon.

Other than with “Tranquility Base,” the band did not perform especially engaging songs.   This could be traced to the fact the band members had never performed together as a whole.

Last Train Home is comprised of several full-time members, who generally always travel with the band, and other regional players, who play with the band depending on a concert’s location.  The band this night appeared unfamiliar with each other at times, compelling Brace to walk around the stage giving instructions or suggestions to his band members.

Another addition to the band for the evening was Peter Cooper, who served as both opening act and occasional duet singer and guitar player during the main act.  Cooper and Brace are longtime friends, who both started as music journalists (Brace being a former critic for The Washington Post) before shifting interests to focus primarily on producing music.

As opening act, Cooper performed lively and engaging songs.  Some were fun, like “Sheboygan,” his ode to drinking in Wisconsin, and some were informative and heart-breaking like “715 (For Hank Aaron),” his homage to the former home run king’s difficult path to breaking Babe Ruth’s career home run record.

In truth, Cooper gave a more complete performance as opening act than Last Train Home gave as main act.  Cooper’s diverse song set activated the audience’s interest, getting them ready for a night of more engaging country music.

For some reason, Last Train Home was just unable to capitalize on the energetic crowd, and though they appeared entertained throughout the main set, it was clear the audience wanted and expected more from the band.

“Last Train” Needed a Different Station

By Elise Lundstrom
ArtsPost staff writer

Last train home

A performance of Last Train Home courtesy Wolf Trap

Have you ever been to a rock concert where everyone sits down the whole time? I hadn’t until I saw “Last Train Home” perform at the Barns at Wolf Trap this Winter.  As the band takes the stage, each member gets his instrument ready; the seven band members say nothing but start in their first number “Tonight,” getting the music going right away. We don’t even get an introduction until after the seventh number. I found myself wondering when songs would end and forgetting what each song had originally been about.

Eric Brace, the lead singer and founder of “Last Train Home”, is the heart of the band, leading them in every number and communicating to the band when each should have their solo.  And solo they did, every musician, perhaps excluding the drummer, had a solo in each song that was performed.  This made every number long, a little too long.  You could feel the disappointment if the crowd, mostly made up of 30-somethings and up, with a  few younger fans sprinkled in, who all seemed to be familiar with “Last Train Home’s” music.

However, the length of the songs did showcase the immense talent pool the band had united for this particular show. The audience had the feeling that this concert is a “jam session” of roots rock at its finest.  As is often the case with “Last Train Home”, the more regular members of the band, Eric Brace lead guitar and vocals, Jim Gray electric bass, Scott McKnight electric guitar and Paul Griffith drums are supplemented by other artists at each venue, some of whom have never played with the band before.

Dave Van Allen, who had worked with the band before and “came all the way down from Pennsylvania,” was on steel guitar; Michael Webb, who has played with many other country music stars such as Shania Twain, played accordion, electric guitar, keyboard and tambourine; and David Coleman played electric guitar.  Peter Cooper, who opened for the band, also played with them in a number of their songs.

“Last Train Home” is a band completely in love with its own music. They seem lost in the music as they play each song.  Most of the songs were slower, which Brace chalked up to the fact the barn had seats and people couldn’t really move around.   Blaming it on the venue? The Barns at Wolf Trap is like a rustic church with its exposed beams and rich red curtains drawn to expose the stage. Perhaps it is geared to those patrons who need to sit down.

This seemed to be both all right and yet disappointing to the audience.  Applause and cheers followed each song, but you could feel a restlessness because standing seemed inappropriate for the venue.

The most memorable song from the night was “Tranquility Base,” about Neil Armstrong, a man who has not talked much about his historic moonwalk since 1969.  Brace said “coagulated into a song” out of questions the band had for Armstrong. During the number a moon was projected behind the band on the wall.

The song left the audience silent for a moment, contemplating the “­­­­­­­glorious, beautiful, frightening or sad” that Armstrong must have seen, then erupting into applause. It left me will goose bumps.

At the conclusion of the show, “Last Train Home” played “Darlin Say” and the crowd, was clapping along, and some stood up and danced to the beat.  The band was coaxed back onstage for an encore of two songs that had most, finally, on their feet.

Overall, the band had some great moments but was underwhelming.  The band’s musical talents were obviously substantial, but the audience wanted more excitement.  The majority of slower, similar sounding numbers gave the performance a drawn out and confused feel.  Perhaps the Barns was not the correct venue for “Last Train Home.”

Peter Cooper was the “special guest” of “Last Train Home,” opening for them with his story telling songs and humor. He delighted the audience with his autobiographical opener “Dumb Luck” detailing some humorous and important events of his early life.

His acoustic guitar seemed secondary to his vocals but complementary.  His work has spoken elements in addition to sung lyrics and the two meld beautifully to make you listen and think about what Cooper has to tell you. “The Man Who Loves to Hate” is one of these songs that really makes you pay attention, and “715 (For Hank Aaron)” is a tale of the struggles the baseball great overcame and notes the illogical nature of racism.

Cooper was a hit as an opener and a musician in his own right. The audience wished his lighthearted and humorous melodies had continued on.

Cooper and Brace have been friends for a long time, share a background in music reporting and reviewing.  They have collaborated in the past and have an album out “Eric Brace and Peter Cooper You Don’t Have to Like Them Both” that has been out for about a year.

Eric Brace and “Last Train Home” will be back in the D.C. area May 21 in Arlington, performing at the IOTA at 9 p.m.

The Opposite of a What?!

By Alexandra Wells

ArtsPost Staff Writer

opposite of a train

Opposite of a Train. Courtesy of the band's Myspace page.

More than 10 instruments for only three musicians might seem like overkill, but the band members from The Opposite of a Train know how to handle their equipment. The trio played an hour-long performance on the Millennium Stage of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which hosts a free performance every evening at 6 p.m.  The three musicians’ instruments created many different textures for the hundred or so audience members.  At various times the band reminded me of a film soundtrack, Middle Eastern dancing, jazz and even an Italian serenade at one point.

The trio write on their album cover that they first came together as “an intimate collaborative dynamic while composing and performing” for a theatre project in early 2008. However, the men say they’ve played “in diverse settings,” including jazz clubs, music venues and Cuban restaurants, and often accompany other bands.

Bill Carson played the electric and acoustic guitars, tenor banjo and bicycle while front man Nathan Koci rocked on the accordion, brass instruments, keyboards and metronome. Ron Wiltrout played the band’s percussion instruments, including the marimba (an African piano-like instrument), the glockenspiel (a metal xylophone), the drums and crash cymbals.

As for the visual aspect of the show, Koci could be seen swaying to the music, as could many audience members who were tapping their feet and bobbing their heads in rhythm. The band members were older than is expected to have just come together as a musical group, and admitted, “shoot, we’re just geeky.” They were sporting bowties, a pageboy cap, thick-rimmed glasses and messy, uncombed hair.

Carson, Koci and Wiltrout all hail from Charleston, S.C., yet have little Southern influence in their music. The band writes of their album, saying it “represents a diversity of compositional styles and arrangements, touching on classic Italian film scores, melodic post-rock, and slightly experimental chamber folk.” One song the band played was titled “Eurydice’s Waltz”, which sounded like it fit in equally well on a carousel or as polka dancing music. Another song, “The Typewriter” reminds me both of a circus act and dinner at an Italian restaurant.

Their self-titled debut album is categorized in the jazz section on the iTunes online store, but I could argue their music falling into almost any category, depending on the particular song. Once I gave up trying to classify their unique type of music, I sat back and simply enjoyed their distinctive and pleasing instrumentals.

Each time they began to play a new song, every band member would switch which instrument he was playing, sometimes even doing so midway through the song again. The constant changing of instruments was a bit overwhelming visually, but sounded seamless to the ear.  The threesome managed to pull off swapping musical instruments without a hitch and not one beat was missed during the plethora of swaps.

Last Train Home brings down the Barns

Last train home

Eric Brace on acoustic guitar. (photo courtesy Wolf Trap)

By Anna Sebourn

ArtsPost staff writer

Last Train Home with Eric Brace, left, dubbed “one of the country’s most formidable roots-rock bands” by the Tennessean, returned to its first home — the Washington area — to perform to a sold-out crowd Feb. 27 at the Barns at Wolf Trap.  Fans of all ages, many of them  long-time supporters, also cheered the opening act, singer/songwriter Peter Cooper, who performed alongside his friend Brace in several numbers in the set.

Brace’s ties to the District run deep, starting with his 10 years as a music critic for The Washington Post while moonlighting in local bands before creating LTH in 1996.  The group’s success has progressed from performing in area venues to  earning the 2003 “Artist of the Year” award by the Washington Area Music Association.  The band has since moved to Nashville and released an astouding 11 albums.

The atmosphere at The Barns at Wolf Trap is a relaxed, lodge-like setting, perfect for what Cooper had in store for eager fans.  Cooper is a journalist as was Brace; he’s the music critic at the Tennessean. Though he only has one full-length solo album under his belt, his writing skills were apparent in his thoughtful, fluid lyrics.  He’s an exceptional performer who crafts his songs  with a storyline and a plot (which seems almost a lost art with today’s billboard toppers).  He moved effortlessly from light strumming on his guitar to adding humorous or touching words, and finally incorporating the music and story together into harmonious tales that filled the auditorium.  I caught myself closing my eyes and soaking in the musical stories, and it became an experience more than a concert.  The highlight of his set, “715 (For Hank Aaron),” told the struggle of race relations and Hank Aaron.  The lines, “Young man rising from the hard hot South, speaking his mind with a bat and not his mouth.  Holdin’ it inside, striding to the ball, turn of the wrists.  Crack, jog and touch’em all,” carry so much weight, yet he has such an innate sense of rhythm in the lyrics and composition that the listener is drawn in, waiting to hear the next story unfold.

Brace and his posse of musicians (including several top area musicians just for this performance) then took the stage amid wild applause and shouting from the crowd.  The timing seemed a little off, the energy low, before band members looked comfortable with each other onstage.  Brace managed to corral them into a cohesive unit, and the energy level rose considerably after playing an audience favorite, “Can’t Come Undone.”  The real turning point in their set, though, was “Last Good Kiss,” during which the balcony began shaking with all the toe-tapping, which continued through the set.  The audience cried out song names in the hopes of hearing personal favorites, and Brace apologized for their inability to play certain high-energy songs — no standing and dancing allowed in the Barns.

Vocals and acoustic guitar were tended to by Brace. Michael Webb was on the keyboard and accordion; Scott McKnight (dressed in a suit as if he just came from the office) performed on the electric guitar; David Coleman was also on electric guitar; Jim Gray played bass; and Paul Griffith was on the drums.  All played solos at some point, but steel guitarist Dave Van Allen, referred to as the “hillbilly scientist” by Cooper, added most of the flavor to this folk/country/bluegrass/jam band’s sound.   McKnight also showed his ability to rock despite the suit with a stellar solo on “Last Good Kiss.”

Cooper performed several songs from his duet album with Brace, “You Don’t Have to Like Them Both.”  Fortunately, I did happen to like them both, including their cover of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” and their original song, “I Know a Bird.”  Brace was more successful in this small venue with Cooper than with his own band.  There wasn’t a moment onstage together when I didn’t sense their strong connection with both each other and the audience.

“Play all night, Eric!” yelled a fan from the back.  But after almost three hours the show had to end, and it did so on a good note with some of my favorites: a tribute to Neil Armstrong in “Tranquility Base,” the soulful “I Know a Bird,” and “Soul Parking,” named for an old sign on 14th Street in the District.  Cooper, Brace and Last Train Home met with a standing ovation, the open arms of welcoming the Tennesseans back home to the District.