After a hard day lobbying, legislating, and litigating, Washingtonians know how to let their hair down. Having nurtured a roaring jazz scene in the early 1900s, a funky go-go style in the ’70s, and a politically charged hardcore-punk culture in the ’80s, DC has historically extended a warm welcome to emerging musical trends. This fall, a handful of nationally renowned Washington-area musicians return home for a string of concerts you shouldn’t miss. From underrated indie rockers to Grammy-nominated artists, here’s a roundup of who’s who among hometown musical heroes—and why you should get to know them if you haven’t already.
September 19 at Pier 6 Pavilion in Baltimore
Mention the name Thievery Corporation to many Washingtonians and you’re likely to be met with either a blank stare or a faint recollection of their contribution to the Garden State soundtrack. Yet the DC-based DJ duo of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton has been mixing throbbing dub beats with swaying Middle Eastern sounds since 1996, when the two met at Eighteenth Street Lounge, which Hilton co-owns. After producing five independent studio albums on their Eighteenth Street Lounge Music label, the duo earned a Grammy nomination in 2008 and are the most successful electronic artists ever to emerge from the capital.
Tinged with political undertones and drawing on an eclectic background, Thievery Corporation makes the kind of music you’d play at an acid-jazz-meets-bossa-nova cocktail party where everyone hates the IMF. The group’s name is a tongue-in-cheek nod to its distaste for capitalism and Washington politics, and the pair openly list District musicians Chuck Brown, Fugazi, and Bad Brains as some of their independent, conscientious-minded musical inspirations. Over its 13-year career, Thievery Corporation has collaborated with rocker Perry Ferrell, Brazilian singer/songwriter Seu Jorge, and Indian sitar phenom Anushka Shankar, among many others. Expect a diverse crowd, plenty of appearances by guest artists, and a trippy, kaleidoscopic backdrop at its live shows.
Playing with ReRedux featuring Didi and Aaron from Brazilian Girls and Ursula 1000. Gates open at 5:30; tickets are $25 to $65. To learn more about Thievery Corporation and watch its videos, go to thieverycorporation.com.
September 22 at the 9:30 Club
Though the band’s Web site lists the Walkmen as hailing from New York and Philadelphia, its members grew up together in DC and have been in the same bands since the fifth grade. After four of the Walkmen graduated from St. Albans, the quintet relocated to New York, built their own recording studio, and got to work on their debut album, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone. Released in 2002, the album found a home amid a surge of fiery, hipster garage bands and helped catapult the group to indie notoriety. The Walkmen have since released four studio albums to widespread acclaim. Lead singer Hamilton Leithauser is at his best when he leans into his brand of gravelly lyrics and steers clear of subdued, hazy melodies. The band’s hollow, reverberating guitar licks and use of an upright piano distance it from fellow post-punk rockers the Strokes and the Whites Stripes, to whom it’s frequently compared.
Playing with Here We Go Magic. Doors open at 9:30; tickets are $15. To hear audio clips and learn more about the Walkmen, check out marcata.net/thewalkmen.
The Seldom Scene
October 17, November 13 and 27, and December 31
Call it fate, luck, or just random chance, but the Bethesda-based Seldom Scene formed completely by accident. The group’s original five members met at a party in 1971 after each had become disillusioned with the music industry and quit earlier bands. After jamming in the corner of a room for an hour, they formed what would become arguably the most influential and progressive bluegrass band in the country over the next 20 years.
The Seldom Scene’s lineup has shuffled over time, but its centerpiece was always mandolin player and vocalist John Duffey, who required that the band’s members keep their day jobs and play together only once a week (hence the name). So every Monday, a quintet of highly educated pickers, strummers, and crooners (among them a mathematician, physician, and a National Geographic cartographer) gathered at the Red Fox in Bethesda, and later the Birchmere, to the delight of Washington. Though its growing popularity shot the group into the limelight, the members never abandoned their day jobs.
Part of the Seldom Scene’s notoriety has been its innovative approach to what had become a stale genre, leading many critics to dub their sound “newgrass.” Where other bluegrass bands would use a fiddle, the Scene used a dobro. Instead of twanging about cabins and mountains, the group recorded instrumental and scat versions of Eric Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally” and “After Midnight.” A year after being nominated for a Grammy award in 1995, Duffey died of a heart attack. Yet the group’s popularity still draws throngs to stages throughout the Mid-Atlantic, and it recently performed at the White House. Familiarize yourself with the Scene’s live acoustic shows by listening to its best album, 1974’s Live at the Cellar Door.
For a detailed list of upcoming Seldom Scene shows, to hear audio clips, and to learn more about them, visit seldomscene.com.
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
December 3 at the Black Cat
A product of the punk scene that swept across DC in the ’80s and early ’90s, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists essentially began as a solo project after Leo’s previous band broke up in 1999. Like the Seldom Scene, the Pharmacists’ players have come and gone, but Leo remains the lyrics, voice, and brains behind what has evolved into an internationally successful act. Now creeping into middle age, Leo is still a hard-strumming mod-rocker with a gift for turning smart lyrics into memorable hooks. His five full-length studio albums showcase both a folksy intellect and a splitting punk edge that have failed to mesh with mainstream pop sensibilities. Regardless, Leo always enjoys a loyal hometown turnout when playing the Black Cat, so grab tickets early.
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists play at 8:00; tickets are $15. To learn more about Leo’s musical projects, visit tedleo.com.