Black & White Jacksons at Fort Reno
God, I miss At the Drive-In. One day in tenth grade, I went to a record store in North Carolina and bought two records: Parachutes by Coldplay and Relationship of Command by At the Drive-In. I thought one of the bands was nice enough, but that the other one was going to be huge—I just picked the wrong one.
I mention this only because At the Drive-In is really the last band I unequivocally loved that just sort of rocked, you know—swerved and screamed and shredded for no reason but to do it. And Black & White Jacksons remind me a little bit of that, which is indeed a Very Good Thing. They don't really sound like the El Paso band, but they flail and wail like them a little bit. Delusions about acts like these becoming the biggest band in the world are gone now, of course, which is why it was a little weird seeing them last night at a place as wide open as Fort Reno.
Let's be clear: Black & White Jacksons is a band for clubs. This speaks not to their appeal, realized or otherwise, but to their aesthetic—they make sweaty post-punk that finds its natural habitat in dank buildings with low ceilings, barely there stages, and bright lights. Fort Reno, for those who haven't been there, is essentially a giant field, with a stage in the center. A few years ago, Q and Not U packed in enough bodies to sort of make it seem like a tiny club, but the crowd last night wasn't quite at that level. So, playing to the picnicking crowd at about dusk, the band had their work cut out for them. They delivered in an intriguing way, perhaps moved by a certain reverence. "In the punk rock circles I traveled in, Fort Reno was looked at by us as something akin to Woodstock—only more community driven, sustainable, and inclusive," says bassist Lucas Oswalt.
The four-piece is tight and loud—think a Dischord-bred Bloc Party—and while I'd imagine their stuff comes across gloriously claustrophobic in a crowded room, it mutated a little bit last night as it had more room to move. The band opened up with "There Are No Foxholes In An Atheist," the first track from their EP, and never really slowed down, just allowing the last song to linger in the vast space before chugging in to the next one. Whereas this modus operandi might make songs seem to be falling all over themselves and into each other at, say, Asylum (where they'll be playing August 29), in the open air each track sort of reverberated individually. Most of their set came from their EP, with "Don't Bring A Knife To A Gunfight" hitting especially hard (complete with tambourines) and "Id Vs. Superego" providing a respite from the shouting as Michael Medlock switched from his usual scream-singing to singing-singing. The band also played a new song called "Marvin Berry." The "Johnny B. Goode"- sounding riff at the beginning of the song fueled suspicion that the title was a reference to this, and Oswalt confirmed it, saying "Tim [George], our guitar player, had this fantastic riff that he would play on occasion at practice, and to us it sounded very akin to something Chuck Berry would play. Tim has an encyclopedic knowledge of music and is quick to acknowledge 'the greats,' if you get my meaning. We just kept referring to that riff and the developing song as 'The Chuck Berry Song.' So yeah, the title is a reference to Michael J. Fox’s performance in 'Back to the Future.' It’s probably my favorite song we perform right now."
Medlock shimmied the whole night through (and his neon bracelets finally shone once the sun went down), and he got the kids at the show to do the same (there were twelve people on stage dancing at the end, by this count). This, incidentally, is probably the most fascinating part of the whole event: the sheer number of high school and college aged kids who showed up to the Tenleytown venue. Sure, there were some parents and toddlers and more than a few dogs, but the vast majority of the audience was comprised of kids who looked like they were glad to actually be able to see a show.
"It was great having younger people in the audience really getting into it," Oswalt says. "We’re used to playing smaller places with less people, which obviously creates a different experience because it’s nighttime, and you’re usually playing to a pretty non-diverse demographic. Seeing dogs and little kids running around while hammering away on my bass under moonlight was both unusual and refreshing."
There's a lot of live music in the District, but a lot of it isn't all-ages, and one gets the sense that this dearth is what drives a lot of Fort Reno's traffic (that and, you know, that it's free and it's nice out during the summer). God bless the volunteers who run it. In any event, that's an issue for another day, because no matter what the reason, the clubs of DC were brought outside Monday night, to satisfying effect.