My decision on where to park was based on equal parts optimism and its negative counterpart. If all worked out exactly according to plan, I would see two shows that night. And so I settled in behind a cop car around the corner from the Nightclub 9:30 -- the 9:30 club to its friends, and most importantly, its neighbors. And luckily for me, the U Street Music Hall is both the former and latter. That's where I would end up first. But first thing's first.
I had made up my mind that if when walking down the block in which the 9:30 club inhabits I came across a poor soul desperately and earnestly searching for a ticket to the very sold out Beach House show, I would give it to him and her. In all likelihood, I would not have accepted cash in return, but rather been paid in -- although I don't think it works this way -- a dose of good concert karma. (I am, after all, an unapologetic, although slightly closeted Phish fan.) There were, however, no takers, or at least none that were visibly apparent. So, I continued on my way, with tickets to two shows in my pocket, the few additional blocks to 1115A U Street... or at least I got as close as the line snaking down the street would allow.
Nobody likes waiting in line. No matter the circumstances there's an aura of anxiousness, which manifests itself in various ways. There are those who will lean to the right and left as if there's a traffic accident up ahead. If only the end of the line was in sight, all nerves would be awash in a sea of almost there. Then there are others who take the time to wrestle with their own insecurities.
"Are you big Hold Steady fans?" he asked the two young women in front of him in line. With my entire body clenched, I dreaded what I knew would come next.
"Well," one of the pair replied triumphantly, "she's seen double digits!"
"Me too!" he interjected as quickly as humanly possible. As he continued to discuss the best shows he had seen, I could feel their reluctance to continue the conversation with their new found friend/competitor growing. With my back to the whole interaction, I knew they were through. And as our friend learned he was doomed, he turned around and began the exact some conversation with those to his rear.
"Are you a big Hold Steady fans?"
The death of people publicly measuring and comparing fanhoods cannot come too soon. The line crept along, the tendency to ignore one another grew to a need. Luckily, for me, it was time to shake of the autumnal chill and head inside.
It wasn't the best Hold Steady show D.C. has seen. It certainly wasn't the best sounding. It was one of the smallest rooms the band has played in our region in sometime, but not all good things come in packages with low ceilings. The now-unique-sized room drew an added level of excitement from band and crowd alike. Noting that the evening would approach uniqueness, it was a song never played life before that reintroduced us to that unmistakable guitar-driven, wordy, anthemic rock and roll complete with tales of struggles of all sorts -- with oneself, with others, with getting older. At a certain point the show ends, 23 songs later to be exact.
It was just about 10:00. Beach House went on stage somewhere around 9:30. The aforementioned club is just a few blocks away. Hell, I've already bought my ticket. I might as well enjoy some of their set. Luckily for me, it's easy to enjoy live music from these Baltimore natives. Victoria Legrand's voice is elegantly bombastic, dancing over the dark electronic-pop meets symphonic instrumental offerings. I've watched from a slight distance as the duo have risen from area upstarts to critical darlings to indie stars. All the while, remaining a fan, albeit a relatively casual one. So to be honest, I just really wanted to hear "Zebra," the strongest single from their breakthrough 2010 effort, Teen Dream. And hear it I did, in all its strident and defiant glory. All told, I witnessed more than an hour from Beach House, concluding a successful evening of two concerts. With a night's sleep and a workday in between, it would soon be time to do it all again.
This time around, I'll spare you any waxing diatribe on parking choices, but let it be known that the thought is never far from my mind when a multi-show night is in its infancy. The evening began again with the Hold Steady. The setlist had its fair share of similarities, but if it's possible to imagine, there may have been a bit more joy in the room. Maybe it was because the hoarseness in lead-singer Craig Finn's voice had been reduced to a more subtle rasp. More likely, however, it was because we were celebrating Craig's favorite day of the year -- that fantastic realization that the Yankees had been "bounced from the playoffs." And so fan-favorite pseudo-rarities were peppered throughout including: "Girls Like Status," "Most People Are DJs," and "Ask Her for Adderall." The closer was the same, although Thursday night's version of "How a Resurrection Really Feels" felt a bit more special, as it occurred only because the crowd was able to coax the band back on stage for a second encore. Chants of "one more song" are typically as cringeworthy as they are fruitless, but this one proved me wrong and sent me out onto U Street gleeful, satisfied, but hungry for more rock and roll.
And so I went -- this time to the Black Cat to see the Keith Morris-led, hardcore karaoke retirement home self-effacing punk supergroup. At 57 years young, Morris is the honey badger of the genre. Small in stature, he stays low to the ground and roars through powerfully quick songs. Before you know what hit you, a new song is beginning. Each number may blend into the next, but every one leaves a lasting impact. The former Black Flag/Circle Jerks singer was even somewhat even keeled when addressing the audience. Denouncing suppression efforts, Morris implored every person in attendance to vote. He questioned the need of our government to borrow money for military use and stayed away from anything that would even resemble a conspiracy theory or extreme point of view. The latter is not universally unwelcome -- and certainly not at punk shows -- but staying away from the margins in prose allows for more credible exploration in song lyrics.
Then... it was all over: four shows in 24 hours. There's a lot to experience in our city. If you don't mind temporary exhaustion, you just might be able to do it all.
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