Sun, April 24
Doors: 7:00 pm9:30 Club
Houndmouth - (Set time: 9:15 PM)
In the last four years, Houndmouth have learned what it means to be a band. On their second album, Little Neon Limelight, they wear that wisdom like a badge of honor.
Less than a half-decade ago in the small Indiana city of New Albany, four pals were crafting tunes on their own, with few ambitions of turning those songs into a spectacle. That all changed when these friends crossed paths, and joined forces. Matt Myers, Shane Cody, Katie Toupin, and Zak Appleby became the drums and keys, guitars and harmonies of Houndmouth, and those personal numbers became the irrepressible core of an outfit turned magnetic.
In 2012, the group issued a self-titled EP on Rough Trade Records, the legendary imprint that signed them after seeing a single gig. One of 2013’s most incandescent debuts, their From the Hills Below the City LP affirmed what label owner Geoff Travis had heard: the sounds of Americana, renewed by the youthful glow of songwriters, musicians and pals unafraid to both celebrate and desecrate them.
Others noticed, too. The Guardian noted that, with From the Hills, “reservations fade,” while Rolling Stone’s David Fricke lauded the “earthy melancholy with a rude garage-rock streak.” Treks with the Drive-by Truckers and the Alabama Shakes followed, plus performances at the Newport Folk Festival, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo. In cramped clubs and big theaters alike, Houndmouth earned a reputation as a must-see act, their hooks, energy and charisma making them feel like a lifelong friend you’d just met.
That success, though, turned what had started as fun into something closer to work. Houndmouth learned that being full-time musicians required much more than the nine-to-five endeavors they had left behind in Indiana. But they grew into the role and grew from it. Experiences accumulated; perspectives expanded. Relationships stalled; others progressed.
“We’re not in party mode all the time anymore,” says Myers. “We’re refining how we write songs, writing about people we love, more important things than just nonsensical stuff.” If that was the charge, then Little Neon Limelight is an unapologetic success. These eleven songs sparkle, fade, and sparkle again, mixing innocence and experience, acceptance and aspiration, horror and hope.
Recorded by Dave Cobb in Nashville, Little Neon Limelight pairs the energy and nerves of raw first takes with the accents and moods of a more contemplative, thoughtful unit. Hearts are broken and friends are exiled, love grows cold and drugs do damage, leaders make mistakes and money turns tricks. On the acoustic “Gasoline,” one of the most poignant moments of Houndmouth’s catalog, Toupin barbs the confessions of a perennial party girl with the specter of mortality. “Maybe I’ll meet my maker on a bedroom floor,” she sings, her voice fighting against its own existential fade as bowed cello traces her words. Haunted by samples of the buoyant opener and single “Sedona” and the noisy filigree of a Moog, the beautifully downcast “For No One” stalks through personal blues with conviction. Its world-weariness has been incubated by the world it surveys.
But all of these feelings aren’t worn on Houndmouth’s collective sleeves: Despite the turmoil embedded within many of these songs, they are equal parts energetic proclamation, built with choruses that can’t be denied, harmonies that can’t be escaped and rhythms that can’t be resisted. With its carousel keyboards and start-and-stop drums, “Say I”” is a combination come-on and kiss-off that might make Keith Richards blush. For “15 Years,” Houndmouth conjures barroom bluster to voice the woes of a prisoner, backing the cries of his soul with howling organ and slashing guitar. When all the action drops into a shout-along, gospel-strong bridge, you might feel the urge to bust the fella out yourself. What’s the point of having the blues, Houndmouth seems to say, if you can’t have fun with them, too?
Nowhere is that balance of tragedy and triumph better than on the romp “My Cousin Greg,” a Band-style saga where each member takes a turn with a verse. Written about Myers’ actual cousin and former cover-band bandmate Greg, these four minutes present the title guy as a mischievous, enlightened and acerbic genius. He leaves Florida with his master’s degree in physics for a brainy job in Los Angeles, raising metaphysical hell and questions along the way. Greg thinks his cousin has it made, touring the country by van while playing the songs he’s written.
But Myers disagrees: “If you wanna live the good life/Well, you better stay away from the limelight,” the quartet sings as one in the chorus, repeating the mantra as though it were their only lifeline to sanity. For those long drives, it’s a reminder of the thrill and toil of what they now get to do. “For the first record, we were floating around after having been thrown into this,” explains Myers. “This time, we were able to write more about experiences than random stories, because that’s where we are in life. There had to be an attachment to what we recorded.”
For Little Neon Limelight, the charged, charming and preternaturally mature Houndmouth did exactly that.
- Grayson Haver Currin
Lucy Dacus - (Set time: 8:00 PM)
You said, “Don't go changing.
I'll rearrange to let you in
and I'll be your historian
and you'll be mine.
And I'll fill pages of scribbled ink,
hoping the words carry meaning.”
Then one day, the motorcade,
covered in flower wreaths,
first in a big parade,
will come to take one of us away
leaving the other with plenty to read.
Lucy Dacus is done thinking small. Two years after her 2016 debut, No Burden, won her unanimous acclaim as one of rock's most promising new voices, Dacus returns on March 2 with Historian, a remarkably assured 10-track statement of intent. It finds her unafraid to take on the big questions — the life-or-death reckonings, and the ones that just feel that way. It's a record full of bracing realizations, tearful declarations and moments of hard-won peace, expressed in lyrics that feel destined for countless yearbook quotes and first tattoos.
"This is the album I needed to make," says Dacus, who views Historian as her definitive statement as a songwriter and musician. "Everything after this is a bonus."
She emphasizes that she does not take her newfound platform as a touring musician for granted. "I have this job where I get to talk to people I don't know every night," she remembers thinking on the long van rides across America to support No Burden. Realizing that she would have a dramatically expanded audience for her second album, she felt an urgent call to make something worthwhile: "The next record should be the thing that's most important to say."
The past year, with its electoral disasters and other assorted heartbreaks, has been a rough one for many of us, Dacus included. She found solace in crafting a thoughtful narrative arc for Historian, writing a concept album about cautious optimism in the face of adversity, with thematic links between songs that reveal themselves on repeat listens. "It starts out dark and ends hopeful, but it gets darker in between; it goes to the deepest, darkest, place and then breaks," she explains. "What I'm trying to say throughout the album is that hope survives, even in the face of the worst stuff."
Dacus and her band recorded the album in Nashville last March, re-teaming with No Burden producer Collin Pastore, and mixed it a few months later with A-list studio wizard John Congleton. The sound they created, with substantial input from multi-instrumentalist and live guitarist Jacob Blizard, is far richer and fuller than the debut — an outward flowering of dynamic, living, breathing rock and roll. Dacus' remarkable sense of melody and composition are the driving force throughout, giving Historian the immersive feel of an album made by an artist in full command of her powers.
The album opens with a striking three-track run. First comes "Night Shift," the only breakup song Dacus has ever written: "In five years I hope the songs feel like covers, dedicated to new lovers," she memorably declares. Next is the catchy, upbeat first single "Addictions," inspired in part by the dislocated feeling of life on the road and the lure of familiarity ("I’m just calling cause I’m used to it/And you’ll pick up cause you’re not a quitter…"), followed by "The Shell," a reflection on (and embrace of) creative burnout. There's nothing tentative about this opening sequence. Right away, it's clear that Dacus is on a new level of truth-telling and melodic grace.
Another key highlight is track five, "Yours & Mine" — "the centerpiece where the whole album hinges in on itself," Dacus says. Using a call-and-response format, she wrestles with the question of how best to participate in a community broken by injustice and fear while staying true to what one believes is right. "It's about realizing your power as a person, and deciding to do the less safe but ultimately more powerful move, which is to move physically forward — show up and march — and move forward politically," says Dacus, who began writing the song during the 2015 Baltimore Uprising against systemic racism.
Historian closes with two stunning songs: "Pillar of Truth," a heartfelt tribute to Dacus' late grandmother, and "Historians," which sums up the album's complex lessons about loss. "From the first song to 'Pillar of Truth,' the message is: You can't avoid these things, so accept them. There's ways to go about it with grace and gratefulness," she says. "Then 'Historians' says that even if you can say that, there's still fear, and loss is terrifying. You still love things, so it's going to hurt. But dark isn't bad. It's good to know that.”
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001