How to best spend $202 in the 202 this February
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.
With the shortest month of the upon us, there’s no scarcity of sweaty basement gigs and spacious venue shows to invest the fruits of your capitalist labor in.
In fact, there are a couple of dates this month that are so stacked with overlapping shows I feel the need to include a few “honorable mentions” before my actual February recommendations…
- If you can’t convince your friends to head all the way out to H Street for Beauty Pill at Rock and Roll Hotel this Saturday night, see if you can wrangle them to the more convenient U Street Music Hall for Anna Meredith and Flash Frequency instead.
- If capacity limitations prohibit you and your crew from entering the 75-person Rhizome house to see Moor Mother, hop in a Lyft and get your butts to Bat Fangs at Comet Ping Pong for a night of 80s-inspired rock from the members of Ex Hex.
- If you already have tickets to Tyler, the Creator and Vince Staples at the Anthem, you’re allowed to ignore my otherwise-insistent recommendation of Dove Lady at the Black Cat.
You’ll also find a handful of house shows/DIY gigs listed below. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t immediately find addresses for these; hosts and band members are often happy to share location details if you reach out (and aren’t a narc or nazi).
Choose wisely, DC. I’ll see you up front.
Starting budget = $202
Thursday, February 1st: The Galaxy Electric, Lake Ruth, we capillaries, DJ Aquatic.Gardener
A lot of artists attempt to pair their music with a vintage look (e.g. Lana Del Rey,# Janelle Monae#), but no one is applying 1960s retro-futurist sounds and styles as effectively — and with as much commitment — as The Galaxy Electric.
Tapping into something classic yet undeniably unique, the duo of Jacqueline Caruso and Augustus Green have a meticulous approach to their music; reuniting minimal, analog synth-pop and vintage recording techniques with a mod aesthetic:
DC has been lucky to house these two visionaries the last few years. However, after this show, they’ll be leaving us for the warmer hills of California, so seize your last opportunity to take in their gently psychedelic grooves and curious vision for the future of the past.
Remaining budget = $194
Friday, February 2nd: Smax, LeDroit, Rob Neubauer, Alex Silva
Location: The Beehive
Rising DC techno star LeDroit’s deep, funky beats have the uncanny ability to make a room that might not have intended to dance soon find itself impulsively seduced into the infectious rhythm of his set:
I’ve witnessed the phenomenon firsthand, and on a bill that otherwise included folk and rock artists, so one can only imagine how well he’ll pair with the like-minded sounds of SMAX’s Middle Eastern-influenced electronic grooves, and the glitchy, captivating noise compositions of Baltimore’s Rob Neubauer.
Be warned, though: The Beehive’s modest living room will probably fill up; plan to show up early for the listening experience then stay late for the dance party.
Remaining budget = $184
Saturday, February 3rd: Beauty Pill, Puff Pieces & Pearie Sol
Location: Rock and Roll Hotel
Intellectually, Beauty Pill might be the greatest band in the city, and their last EP Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are will remain of my favorite albums until long after I get priced out this town.
Every subsequent listen uncovers new thoughtful metaphors, clever turns of phrase, and stories that explore the human experience in simple, evocative ways:
One of the great tribulations in the history of DC music is that frontman Chad Clark’s health keeps them from regularly touring the world — or at least playing shows in DC as often as, say, White Ford Bronco.
Remaining budget = $169
Sunday, February 4th: The anti-Super Bowl with Ken Vandermark’s Marker, HNM, Heart of the Ghost, Brian Settles/Jeremy Carlstedt, Sarah Hughes/Corey Thuro
Some of us need a place to escape the isolating feeling that we’re crazy for finding the Super Bowl, America’s biggest annual cultural event, to be repulsive and problematic. Thankfully, like a shelter in the storm, DC’s avant and experimental music refuge — Rhizome — is hosting an event antithetical to this crude display of masculine aggression and stifling capitalism.
Ken Vandermark’s Chicago quintet, Marker, will present improvisational jazz inspired by everything from Afro-Beat to the Talking Heads; HMN will perform progressive trombone techniques, followed by DC/Baltimore trio Heart of the Ghost’s improvisational take on the language of jazz; and Brian Settle and Sara Hughes will each present their separate works on the saxophone and alto-sax, respectively:
And if jazz isn’t really your thing, the ticket price also includes dinner (among like-minded folks who similarly prioritize the arts).
Remaining budget = $144
Friday, February 9th: Moor Mother, Thomas “Bushmeat” Stanley, Twin Jude
The poet, progressive electronic musician, and activist known as Moor Mother# is one of the fiercest, most in-demand voices in experimental music right now, having collaborating with everyone from DC jazz stalwart Luke Stewart to NY hardcore punks Show Me The Body.
However, impressive as that prevalence may be, those collaborations simply cannot compare to an unfiltered Moor Mother performance…
Enjoy the chance to behold one in the aforementioned haven of confrontational, avant art: Rhizome.
Remaining budget = $134
* EDITOR’S CHOICE *
Friday, February 9th: WHY?, Open Mike Eagle
Location: U Street Music Hall
The real question is why wouldn’t you go see WHY?, the Cincinnati-based “alternative hip-hop and indie rock band” founded by California rapper/singer/multi-instrumentalist/podcast host Yoni Wolf. After five studio albums, multiple EPs, and a few sporadic demos, they’ve put together the kind of impressive, genre-traversing catalogue that only benefits from the creative whittling-down of an opening set time constraint.
And if that’s not enough to lure you out to U Hall on a frigid Friday in early February, headlining the evening is Open Mike Eagle, the Chicago-born, L.A.-based hip-hop artist/comedian/podcast host whose entire creative output since 2014’s “Dark Comedy Morning Show”# is worth at least one spin on Spotify.
In the meantime though, here’s the video to his most recent single, “95 Radios”:
See you on Friday!
— Bryce (@brycetrudow)
Remaining budget = $114
Tuesday, February 13th: BØRNS, Charlotte Cardin, Mikky Ekko
Location: The Anthem
2015 hits “Electric Love” # and “1,000 Emerald Pools” # rewarded the unpredictably gender-bending glam rocker BØRNS with Lana Del Rey features and a fanbase large enough the pack the 4-6,000 capacity Anthem, therefore I recommend getting to this gig early (and pushing your way to the front).
RN Editorial Assistant Corinne Osnos has insider knowledge of the BØRNS live show, and told me that both fans and critics alike will be pleased at how confidently and joyfully he attacks the material from his slightly more enigmatic 2018 EP, Blue Madonna.
Expect pinpoint precise execution of his spacious and dazzling pop.
Remaining budget = $73
Friday, February 16th: Sugg Savage, Nancy Feast, Margot MacDonald, Miles Francis
If, for some reason, you still haven’t ventured to one of DC’s affable and eclectic house shows, Otherfeels is a great venue to dip your feet in the DIY waters. It’s cozy and hip, and for a house venue risking the chagrin of their home-owning neighbors it’s relatively well located (in the hills of Mt. Pleasant).
For this particular showcase, expect Margot McDonald to craft layered pop soundscapes that will get you (sonically), and Sugg Savage to straddle the bounce and bite of DC hip-hop:
I’m not yet familiar with Nancy Feast or Miles Francis, but exploration and discovery is half the fun of a house show.
Remaining budget = $63
Thursday, February 22nd: Odetta Hartman with Jack Inslee
Location: Smithsonian American Art Museum
Unfortunately, the last time I fervently recommended an Odetta Hartman show, it fell through for reasons out of anyone’s control. So, let me restate here, with as much confidence as last time:
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.
And to borrow the words of Editor-in-Chief Bryce Rudow, who named Odetta his Favorite Live Act of 2017 during the year-end episode of Talking Like a Jerk (which you should subscribe to, if you haven’t already):
[Odetta] is unlike any other country western act I’ve ever heard — and I hate to even call her that. She’s just this outlaw, country, badass singer who plays five different instruments…and her set live blew me away.
Honestly, we’d be at this show if it cost $25. Fortunately, it happens to be part of the Luce Unplugged series at the Smithsonian American Art Museum — where music is free for all.
Remaining budget = $63
Friday, February 23rd: Cornel West Theory
Location: Capital Fringe
A good consumer of art needs as much confrontation as they do entertainment. For a powerful dose of the former, see Cornel West Theory, whose thoughts on race and politics cannot be confined to traditional song structures.
Tracks like 2017’s “#weaintblack” and “GET N (R.B.C)” are more like disruptive political essays backed by appropriately retro hip-hop production, with threads of go-go and punk stitched throughout:
Take the two or three buses over to the Capital Fringe space and strap in for a lesson.
Remaining budget = $53
Saturday, February 23rd: Zula, Operator Music Band, Surf Harp
Location: American University
Operator Music Band are serious synthesizer nerds.
2016’s “Bebop Radiohaus”# is a trippy banger recalling krautrock’s synth-driven glory days. And 2017’s Coördination EP contains a not-so-humble list of used equipment; from Make Noise modules, to vintage Moog synthesizers, to the slim and sexy Korg Minilogue.
To cherry-top this band’s sonic charisma, Operator Music Band oozes self-aware, deadpan humor — in everything from their music videos#, to their homemade synthesizer demos#.
Remaining budget = $43
Sunday, February 25th: Dove Lady, Spooky Cool, Black Lodge EM.G
Location: Black Cat
This whole bill is filled with off-the-wall creative acts. Black Lodge and EM.G’s modular set# is eerie and otherworldly; Spooky Cool’s prog-ish indie rock# is as lively as it is hard to define. Yet it’s the unconventional, genre-less DC duo Dove Lady who I (and apparently the rest of DC, according to my oft-referenced podcast) am downright smitten with.
Their music is intricate and progressive in itself, but the band’s sense of humor, which serves as a backdrop to their live show, effectively engages a potentially intimidated audience without taking anything away from their craft.
Live, the complex deconstruction of art rock and jazz on tracks like “Carl Salesman” is paired with absurdist rants about wine culture. The fuzzed out, pedal-driven chaos of “7777” will whip up the audience just before launching into a fervent karaoke cover of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
No pressure to the band, but I consider Dove Lady to be the creative pinnacle of music our city right now.
And I will not stop plugging their shows until they all sell out.
Remaining budget = $33
Tuesday, February 27th: Vieux Farka Toure
Location: Rock and Roll Hotel
Whether “guitar music” is your bread and butter or you consider the guitar to be a lazy echo of a once-great genre, Vieux Farka Toure will remind you of the instrument’s simple, evocative powers.
The West African guitarist, descended from musical royalty, has performed for the World Cup Opening Ceremonies and collaborated with the likes of Dave Matthews and Derek Trucks. Yet for all these impressive accolades, his live show remains the crux of his appeal, a minimal set-up and lack of theatrics positioning his fusion of blues and African fingerstyle guitar as the star of the show.
Meanwhile, Toure’s bittersweet melodies and poignant vocals provide both escape and introspection, even if you don’t speak any of the Songhai languages he performs in.
Remaining budget = $16
As I mentioned before, February is packed with double, triple, and quadruple-booked nights of live music. Save that remaining $16 for the inevitable rideshare from U Street Music Hall to Comet Ping Pong and back to DC9.
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