How to best spend $202 in the 202 this December
Random Nerds serves a national readership, but we live and pursue happiness in Washington, D.C.; a city that, in the past 20 years, has transformed from a sleepy quasi-southern town to a vibrant center of cosmopolitan musical entertainment. Award-winning venues like the 9:30 Club attract top-tier national talent, while our dynamic local music scene provides more intimate (and often more raucous) live experiences.
To be honest, there is now more going on in D.C. on any given week than we could ever hope to see. As such, I have volunteered to begin curating the best musical offerings each month; within a fiscally-responsible budget of $202 dollars.
True to the spirit of the season, DC’s most familial local and national acts are coming home for the holidays this month; and celebrating the occasion with a generous feast of end-of-year shows and one-off gigs.
So, while it may be tempting to collapse into the escapist comfort of your parent’s couch at year’s end and listen to Leonard Cohen while bemoaning the shitshow that was 2017, I highly encourage you to get out to these expertly curated shows and celebrate the tiny victories, silver linings, and small moments of escape that music provides…
Starting budget = $202
Friday, December 1st: Priests, Mellow Diamond, Black Myths
Location: 9:30 Club
The January 2017 release of Nothing Feels Natural propelled the fiercely-DC, surf-inflected, 4-piece into the national conversation surrounding confrontational music in the first year of Trump’s presidency, their nihilistically honest music winning the hearts of audiences while spreading DC’s socially conscious punk fusion gospel to the world. But Priest’s fiery live show never needed social context presumed upon it by Rolling Stone, or a Best New Music tag from Pitchfork, or an internationally successful album tour to get one whipped up, frenzied, and proud to be from DC.
Now the group is back in town after cutting their teeth in European clubs and slotted to play our hallowed 9:30 Club, the stage that every local act aspires to one day immolate.
Remaining budget = $185
EDITOR’S CHOICE: Monday, December 4th: Jungle, Makeness
Location: 9:30 Club
The two founding members of Jungle — Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland (a.k.a J and T) — have been friends since they were nine years old, when they lived next door to each other in Shepherds Bush, London. However, it wasn’t until 2013 they formed the band that would soon become synonymous with the current neo-soul movement that has sucked in impressionable ears on both sides of the pond.
Or should I call it “midtempo 1970s-style funk,” as the New York Times once did? Or is it more of a singular blend of “tropical percussion, wildlife noises, falsetto yelps, psychedelic washes and badoinking bass,” like Andrew Harrison described in Esquire?
Regardless, whatever we want to call it, the now-7-piece band will be bumping it through 9:30 Club’s award-winning sound system; making an early Monday in December multiple degrees hotter than usual. — Bryce Rudow
Remaining budget = $160
Friday, December 8th: Zula, Dehd, Dove Lady
Location: Comet Ping Pong
While the tightly honed psychedelia of New York’s Zula is a worthy headliner deserving of your time and your $10, this show was selected because of the unrestrained, inventive vision of Dove Lady, who give me hope for this city’s creative future.
They may not have the national recognition of Priests, but I consider their 2017 album One to be one of the most wildly compelling records to come out of DC this year:
The clamorous experimental rock duo walks a clever line between accessibility and idiosyncrasy, while their live show is a lesson in strategically weaving disparate genres; jumping from hardcore, to acid jazz, to freak rock, and dabbling in everything in between.
Remaining budget = $150
Saturday, December 9th: Music in the Library: Jenna Camille
Location: DC Public Library, Shaw
I would normally avoid recommending a holiday concert because, as far as music is concerned, Christmas standards are overwrought, overused, and will reliably suck the creativity out of its performers.
However, if anyone is smooth enough to pull off holiday tunes without making me cringe, it’s Jenna Camille, whose original work is a succoring commixture of throw-back electronic R&B and sultry songwriting:
The Atlanta-born, DC-based artist will be performing a selection of seasonal music — for free — at the DC Public Library in Shaw, a wholesome, community-facing Christmastime event that doesn’t ask its attendees to sacrifice style or funk.
Remaining budget = $150
Sunday, December 10th: Frank Hurricane, SIR E.U, Palette, Burnt Norton
Location: Hole in the Sky
Cost: $5 donation
This month, Hole in the Sky is the spot for the hottest and weirdest DIY show in the District:
SIR E.U. resides at the forefront of DC’s bursting experimental hip-hop community. His tracks are sassy, dramatic, and cluttered without being too overwhelming; his live set, wild and noisy, is a trip to watch unfold.
And in the expansive warehouse space, he’ll be fully unrestrained…
Also making full use of the space will be spunky, droll electronic act Palette and Burnt Norton (a new project combining the aforementioned eclectic talents of Dove Lady with improvisational dance by Ashley Shey) and touring act Frank Hurricane, who describes himself as [sic] “spiritual mountain psychedelic shrymp folk.”
If that doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will.
Remaining budget = $145
Friday, December 15th: Angel Olsen, White Magic
Location: 9:30 Club
I live and work amongst many jaded, stick-in-the-mud musicians who rarely give “indie folk” or “alt country” the time of day. Even they are smitten with Angel Olsen.
Every time “Shut Up Kiss Me” comes on while I’m working a bar shift, we could break into an anachronistic, La La Land-style dance sequence…
With her brash lyricism and inimitably luscious vocals, the Asheville-based guitarist just has a preternatural ability to suck in listeners.
Live, she commands a full band and straddles the more acoustic folk of her early albums and the electric rock of her latest album, My Woman, a colorfully wistful and self-assured take on heartbreak and empowerment.
I’m not falling in love. You’re falling in love.
Remaining budget = $120
Friday, December 22th: Odetta Hartman, Owen Ross, Teething Veils
Location: Comet Ping Pong
Before ever seeing them perform, I was trepidatious about the live viability of NY-to-DC transplants Odetta Hartman and producer/DJ Jack Inslee. That was in early May.
By late June, I had seen them 3 more times and was actively praising them as one of my favorite live acts in the city…
Odetta’s electronically-enhanced future folk and modernized western aesthetic couldn’t be pulled off without a truckload of talent, which she owns and drives with a fully-realized swagger.
Backed by Jack’s effects and sound design and juggling a banjo, guitar, and violin, she fuses political folk, danceable beats, and raw rock and roll in a meticulously executed and engaging set.
They’ve been quiet for a few months while finalizing a new album, but they’re finally playing a headlining gig at DC’s most (unintentionally) politically subversive venue, Comet Ping Pong.
I implore you to catch them live every chance you get.
Remaining budget = $108
Monday, December 4th: Otherfeels Presents Next Up: Redline Graffiti, Flash Frequency, Echelon The Seeker, Dreamcast, OG Lullabies, Fielder, FootsXColes
Location: 9:30 Club
I simply don’t have enough space to individually praise all the amazingly progressive hip-hop, R&B, and electronic acts on this Otherfeels-curated showcase. Fortunately, I’ve highlighted most of them before in previous $202 in the 202 previews; a testament to their masterful hustle.
Live, each of these artists is technically proficient, sonically creative, and uniquely compelling; factors sure to be enhanced by the 9:30 Club’s professional stage (which has historically not given enough slots to local acts). If you’ve never seen the cosmic instrumentation of OG Lullabies, or the inviting rock of Redline Graffiti, or the playfully eccentric R&B of FootsXColes, this is your best chance to catch what some of DC’s most promising talents can do in a premier venue.
I can personally attest that these acts can bring down a basement venue. And if you can bring down a basement, you can bring down a club.
Also, the more people who attend this show, the more likely 9:30 will be to give more stage time to local artists…
Remaining budget = $93
Saturday, December 30th: Ex Hex, Des Demonas, Snail Mail, DC Mad Squirrel
Location: Black Cat
December is bookended by two local power-bills; Priests kicks off the month, while DC garage rock queens Ex Hex look to send us off into the new year with visions of shredding guitars dancing in our head.
Live, the Mary Timony-fronted power trio evokes the rambunction of the 90s — not enough to come off as nostalgic, but enough to remind you of rock’s timeless quality.
They’ve been quiet for a while now, though I hope that an end-of-year blow out gig on their home turf, the Black Cat, is not just a rallying celebration for surviving 2017, but an indication of new music.
Remaining budget = $75
Sunday, December 31th, New Years Eve: Spoon, White Reaper OR Thievery Corporation, Gogol Bordello, Trouble Funk
Location: The Anthem OR 9:30 Club
Random Nerds’ opinionator-in-chief Bryce Rudow swears by the New Year’s Eve concert experience over glitzy clubs or sloppy house parties. Not only is the crowd is more bearable, having all selected to see the same show, but the midnight celebration, instead of being lead by a hokey Ryan Seacrest type #, is a rousting jam by a much-loved artist.
This year, the two best NYE shows in DC hold the same price tag, so I’m going to plug them both and let you choose your own adventure…
The 9:30 Club will be hosting art rock veterans Spoon and self-appointed “world’s best American band” White Reaper # for a genre-specific affair that will substitute your typical DJ mashup of Top 40 hits with Spoon’s affable groove and White Reaper’s gritty, electric, old-school rock flare:
For a more eclectic and locally driven NYE show, there’s The Anthem, which will be ringing in the New Year with DC music royals Thievery Corporation and Trouble Funk.
This line-up will carry you from Trouble Funk’s bold go-go, to Thievery Corp’s ensemble-driven electronica, with Gogol Bordello’s infectious gypsy punk sandwiched between these DC legacy talents:
I’d be remiss not to also mention the long-running Black Cat New Years Eve Ball, where, for a much cheaper ticket price, Peaches O’Dell and Her Orchestra will put on a rousing big band and swing music experience in an admittedly cozier (and grungier) venue.
Remaining budget = $0
It’s a holiday miracle. We managed to fit 10 shows into exactly $202! But remember, hard-working musicians deserve holiday bonuses too.
In fact, I’d argue that the artists on this list did more for my emotional health and personal well being this year than any co-workers I might be buying a Target gift card for come Secret Santa time.
So buy some merch, I’ll see you in 2018.
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