Arts Desk

To Do This Weekend: Christopher Owens, the Blackbyrds, and Against Me!


Christopher Owens had a stellar run fronting the indie-rock duo Girls at the end of the last decade; the band’s fragile love songs and hazy surf-rock textures made it a critical darling and frequent guest on late-night talk shows. As a solo artist, he’s struggled to settle into a comfort zone—2013’s Lysandre and last year’s A New Testament dabbled with baroque ballads and Americana to mixed reviews. However, last month’s surprise release Chrissybaby Forever suggests Owens has emerged from his slump with a warm, winning formula that draws together his prior creative excursions. Chrissybaby Forever is hardly adventurous territory for Owens, but it presents a newfound sense of clarity and purpose that refines his whimsy for the better. Read more >>> Christopher Owens performs with Tomás Pagán Motta at 9 p.m. at Rock & Roll Hotel, 1353 H St. NE. $15. (202) 388-7625. Singer)


Who says you can't get a cocktail for less than $10? DC Coast will offer up a 25-cent martinis today with the purchase of any dish at the bar or in the dining room. The offer includes one martini per customer and lasts all day, though gin drinkers should know that the special only includes vodka martinis. Guests can choose from any domestic vodka on the restaurant's list. DC Coast, 1401 K St. NW. (202) 216-5988. (Morgan Baskin)


Friday: The National Symphony Orchestra performs the score of Back to the Future over a live projection of the film at Wolf Trap. 8:30 p.m. at 1645 Trap Road, Vienna. $30–$58.

Friday: Bring your pops to the Hamilton for Like Your Dad Did, a showcase of local fathers who play music with their children. 8:30 p.m. at 1600 14th St. NW. $25-$30.

Read more To Do This Weekend: Christopher Owens, the Blackbyrds, and Against Me!

Kokayi Flexes Some R&B Range on “History”

Kokayi, HistoryTo my ears, Kokayi is the most versatile musician in the D.C. area. You want beats? Please, that's light work. How 'bout some alt-rock shit? Done. At this point, there's nothing Kokayi can't do: I've seen him freestyle an entire set at Liv nightclub and make a damn good video for NPR's Tiny Desk Concert contest. His 2010 album, Robots & Dinosaurs, is a must-have.

Out today, Kokayi's voice sounds incredibly strong on "History," the first single from a forthcoming House Studios compilation. Above a sauntering electro-pop beat—courtesy of producers Reggie Volume and Brandon Carlyle—the singer walks through biblical events to describe his romantic feelings. "The first time that I saw your face," he wails, "the Big Bang happened out in space." The lyrics are strong here, which isn't surprising for Kokayi, but they ring louder amidst the track's bubbling synthesizers. Koke flexes some vocal range as the song fades. You like love songs? He's got that, too.

Stream "History" after the jump.

Read more Kokayi Flexes Some R&B Range on “History”

Arts Roundup: Sister Polygon Story Edition

The story of Sister Polygon Records—more than just an indie farm team [Arts Desk]

More drama for the forthcoming Eisenhower Memorial: A modified version of Frank Gehry's design gets some approval, but Congress can't agree on it. [Post]

This summer's free outdoor concert schedules [BYT]

Watch timelapse videos of the construction of a giant beach-like ball pit at the National Building Museum. [DCist]

Samira Wiley and some political types acted in a Shakespeare Theatre Company production. [DC Theatre Scene]


And Now for the Nordic: Jazz Setlist, June 18-24

Yes, it's back to the gig rotation as normal, now that another DC Jazz Festival has come and gone. But fear not, gallant fan! There is still good music aplenty—including another festival that you might have missed.

Thursday, June 18
IMG_3104At the Phillips Collection, the weekend before the DC Jazz Festival, musicians take their instruments into the museum's galleries, searching out pieces of art that move them to an improvised musical response. But improvisation isn't all we have in jazz; the DC Jazz Composers Collective formed as a living reminder that original composition is an important component of the music as a living, breathing art form. And so the DCJCC (saxophonist Bobby Muncy, pianist Gene D'Andrea, and bassist Kevin Pace) is shaping that component into the same mold that the Phillips Collection has been using, but at the Smithsonian's American Art Museum. They'll be performing as part of the Smithsonian's Take 5! Jazz Series. The wonderful trombonist Reginald Cyntje will be a featured guest. And the material? Originals, naturally, and all inspired by specific works in the museum's collection. It begins at 5 p.m. in the American Art Museum's Kogod Courtyard, 8th and G Streets NW. Free.

Friday, June 19
allynAllyn Johnson has new material. That may be all the information that an attentive D.C. jazz fan will need as a reason to book reservations for this weekend at Bohemian Caverns. Johnson plays piano with the chops of Oscar Peterson, the erudition of Vladimir Horowitz (Johnson is chair of the jazz studies program at UDC, but that's not really the reason they call him "The Professor" around here), and the taste and flexibility of Mulgrew Miller, whom Johnson will be honoring with a new recording soon. But it's not just new music that the pianist is unveiling this weekend. It's a new band—or at least a new version of his extant band, Sonic Sanctuary. This one is a very unusual quintet: guitarist Samir Moulay and violinist Kendall Isadore joining his trio of bassist Romeir Mendez and drummer C.V. Dashiell III. And actually, Friday night there'll be a guest at the traps: phenomenal talent Sean Rickman. They play at 8 and 10 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 Eleventh Street NW. $18.

Read more And Now for the Nordic: Jazz Setlist, June 18-24

To Do Today: Meridian Brothers, Miracles of Modern Science, and Soul Asylum


Colombia’s eccentric Meridian Brothers are not actually brothers. The “brothers” are a band, formed in 1998 and led by guitarist and laptop programmer Eblis Álvarez, that mixes unusually syncopated rock, cumbia, jazz, and champeta with 1950s alien movie sound effects, xylophone-like ringing, and eerie clown laughs. On its latest album, Salvadora Robot, the group also incorporates distorted vocals, animal sounds, Zappa-esque humor, and lounge keyboard grooves influenced by quirky Mexican composer Esquivel. Don’t just take my word for it: The band’s own Twitter bio describes its work as tropical collage, hapless salsa, bombastic rock, non-easy listening, eclectic shit, protest noise, and atonal cumbia. Read more >>> Meridian Brothers perform with Cigarette, Time Is Fire, and Alumbra DC at 8 p.m. at Tropicalia, 2001 14th St. NW. $10–$12. (202) 629-4535. (Steve Kiviat)


Cleveland Park’s Cafe Deluxe is celebrating 20 years in the neighborhood with a different deal every day through June 21. Get two burgers and two beers for $20 today, or snag a free cupcake if you’re one of the first 100 guests when the restaurant opens at 11 a.m. on Saturday. On Friday, diners can enter a raffle to win tickets to the Washington Ballet, a voucher for $200 worth of cooking classes at L’Academie de Cuisine, or a tour of DC Brau’s brewery. Cafe Deluxe, 3228 Wisconsin Ave. NW. (202) 686-2233. (Morgan Baskin)


Brooklyn-based chamber pop quintet Miracles of Modern Science performs at Comet Ping Pong with local bands Honest Haloway and Incredible Change. 9 p.m. at 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW. $12. Read more To Do Today: Meridian Brothers, Miracles of Modern Science, and Soul Asylum

Newsies at The National Theatre, Reviewed

In 1992, the streets of the American suburbs echoed with choruses of girls singing the songs of Newsies. Quoting lines from the film, they opined over Christian Bale and Bill Pullman’s career as a seize-the-day newspaper man. Newsies fans—theater geeks and writer-types—were a rag-tag generation who loved the movie but never had a live musical, until one day, all that changed.

Read more Newsies at The National Theatre, Reviewed

High-Functioning Punk: Sister Polygon Records is More Than Just an Indie Farm Team.


It’s a quiet Friday afternoon, and G.L Jaguar paces through his apartment, pointing out a box of tapes, record sleeves, a tape-to-tape recorder. Then, the nattily-appointed guitarist for the D.C. punk quartet Priests moves towards a closet, lit bright by a window with a decent view of the Capitol. “Well, here it is,” he says.

There in the closet sits a short shelf with an orderly library of identical records and tapes, each stacked one next to the other. Here in Jaguar’s 16th Street Heights apartment lives Sister Polygon Records, the tiny but disproportionately influential label jointly owned and operated by the four members of Priests. While it can’t approach the size and scope of Dischord, an independent label synonymous with underground music in D.C., Sister Polygon might very well be more significant in today’s tight-knit world of underground punk.

Bands on the label, including Priests, have rattled the gates of the popular music kingdom, collecting acclaim from critics and deals from bigger record labels along the way. And they’ve done it while shunning buzzy bands, hot sounds, and pleas for coverage. Sister Polygon is a DIY concern through and through.

In fact, the label is built far more on friendships and mutual admiration than on any kind of desire to sign the next hot band. By the label’s own admission, the Sister Polygon roster is a collection of musical oddballs that would struggle to find the mainstream on a map, let alone stand in it.

The story of Sister Polygon begins, in some ways, with a band that has never appeared on the label. It was 2012, and one of Jaguar’s old friends, Richard Howard, had started a new band called Cigarette. By the time Jaguar saw Cigarette, he had just finished a series of audio engineering courses at Omega Studios in Rockville, and his old label, J Street Records, had fizzled. He’d been working sound at DIY gigs around town, but his primary venue, a space on 7th Street NW called Warehouse Next Door, had shuttered. Jaguar was left twisting. “There was a long period of time when I really wasn’t doing much of anything,” he says.

Cigarette’s spacy, sometimes unearthly post-rock was a revelation. “I thought, ‘This is so... weird!’ And I’m really happy people are making music like this,” Jaguar says. For weeks, he spent most every day in the Howard family’s basement, recording a series of demos meant to be the first release on a new record label, Sister Polygon.

Cigarette never did release those songs on Sister Polygon, but the recording session and general momentum bled over into Jaguar’s then-new musical project, Priests. It was the band’s intention from the beginning to put out its own music. “I didn’t like the idea of going around to labels and people that I didn’t know saying, ‘Hey, check out my band! Put out my music!’ says Priests vocalist Katie Alice Greer. “I don’t expect you to care as much as I care, so I’d rather just get my resources together and do it myself so I don’t have to ask other people for help.”

Read more High-Functioning Punk: Sister Polygon Records is More Than Just an Indie Farm Team.

Arts Roundup: Ready, Set, AFI DOCS Edition

Too many people have died at Echostage. Now, DanceSafe is surveying the club's conditions. [Arts Desk]

A guide to AFI DOCS, D.C.'s best film festival, with all the reviews you'll need [WCP]

After a few disappointing years, the DC Jazz Festival is back with a new director fresh energy. [Arts Desk]

Want to be a theater critic? Join our Capital Fringe festival blogging team! [Arts Desk]

Summer playlists curated by D.C. bands and local music personalities [DC Music Download]

A Q&A with GoldLink on his future bounce sound, in which he shows a complete disregard for NPR's language standards [NPR]

D.C.'s finest jukeboxes [DCist]

Photos of local artist Dana Jeri Maier's studio [BYT]

Head to Head: Brandon vs. BRNDA


A series in which two local figures share their thoughts on D.C.-area culture. In this edition, we pit Brandon Wetherbee, Brightest Young Things’ managing editor and host of the “You, Me, Them, Everybody” podcast, against BRNDA, a local jangle-rock band now on tour.

Ernesto Neto’s enormous postminimalist installation “The Dangerous Logic of Wooing” (below) is now on view in a 40th-anniversary exhibition of the Hirshhorn’s collection. What does it make you think of?

Brandon: The video game Kirby: hammocks, clouds, and just how disturbing it is when people suck on helium and talk like children trapped in adult bodies.

BRNDA: This is obviously an example of a postminimalist parade float staging ground in which all parade floats are entirely white and spherical. Or, you know, the flayed corpse of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Clearly one or both of those.


With the recent opening of the Speak, it seems that D.C. has reached peak faux-speakeasy. In your personal experience, how do today’s “speakeasies” match up to actual Prohibition-era speakeasies?

Brandon: I want to reach peak dive bar and I don’t think that’s possible. Today’s “speakeasies” do not appeal to the same people that would have loved Prohibition-era speakeasies, and that’s good, because nothing during Prohibition was better. Literally nothing: the air, the science, the sexual norms, the music, nothing. Once again, more dive bars. Real dive bars. Bars with cheap beer and a jukebox and no theme.

BRNDA: Speakeasies are way too corporate. We now live in a post-faux-speakeasy world.


Outdoor summer movie series: for or against? Read more Head to Head: Brandon vs. BRNDA

After Echostage Deaths, DanceSafe Surveys Club Conditions


Victoria Callahan, 19, died early on the morning of June 11 after reportedly ingesting molly, a form of MDMA popular in the electronic dance scene, while attending a Flume concert at Woodridge music venue Echostage. Callahan is the third Echostage patron to die while attending a concert—University of Virginia student Shelley Goldsmith collapsed at the club in September 2013, and Cody Tjaden died in January after a fall from the balcony.

DanceSafe, a national public health organization that aims to reduce drug misuse and create safe spaces within venues that host EDM shows, has now launched a six-question survey to determine the level of comfort and crowding at Echostage in hopes of establishing a set of guidelines that will better support venues nationwide.

One of the biggest causes of MDMA-related medical emergencies, the survey notes, is heatstroke. With a maximum occupancy of 2,000 people (more than twice that of the 9:30 Club and four times that of U Street Music Hall), the temperature at Echostage can quickly rise and access to exits or cooler spots can be hard to find during sold-out shows. DanceSafe's survey asks visitors to rank the temperature, crowding, access to free water, and cool-down spaces at Echostage. According to DanceSafe, regular visitors to Echostage have complained about its lack of facilities in the past.

Read more After Echostage Deaths, DanceSafe Surveys Club Conditions