The Andy Aupperlee Explosion 5000

Black Cat Saturday

by on Nov.29, 2008, under Music, Washington DC

These United States w/hipster grlThese United States perform at The Black Cat in Washington DC.
November 22, 2008.

Nikon D300. Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens. EXIF.

Thanks to The DCist and Black Plastic Bag, two possibilities were ahead of me on Saturday night. Even though I have only lived in DC for a little more than a week, I’ve already found several blogs to monitor. While neither inspires a “Sharat+Brooklyn Vegan” type relationship (my heart still belongs to Line Out), both provide timely information about hip happenings around The District. Shows were going down at The Black Cat and The Red & the Black. Since I saw Starfucker last month at the latter, I chose to attend the former.

The Black CatThe Black Cat. Washington DC.
Nikon D300. Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens. EXIF.

I punched the Black Cat’s address into the GPS and attempted to navigate the criss-crossing one-ways and roundabouts of Washington DC. As the Garmin announced I was “arriving at destination,” I noticed cop cars surrounding the block. I counted 10-15 cruisers, a police van and a fistful of DC’s finest. I briefly considered aborting the mission, but I then realized that with all these cops around–it must be safe! I parked the Altima a few blocks away and took a simple setup with me. I slung the D300 and 11-16mm over my shoulder and put the 50mm f/1.8 in my jacket pocket.

Since I arrived a little early, I had a chance to check out the venue. The main stage is directly upstairs from the box office at The Black Cat. It is a good size room with a low ceiling, flanked by bars on either side. A few concert goers mingled in a lounge area with tables and chairs at the back of the hall.

Cotton JonesMichael Nau leading Cotton Jones.
Nikon D300. Nikon 50mm f/1.8. EXIF.

That’s not Steve Zissou with a guitar; it’s Michael Nau of Cotton Jones. They were the first band on the bill and possibly my favorite of the three.

The five piece ensemble is lead by Michael Nau, whose earnest vocals are complimented by organist Whitney McGraw’s delicate singing. Without getting into a musical taxonomy discussion, I’d call Cotton Jones indie-alt-country-folk. While I enjoyed their entire set, the last tune resonated with me hours after the last band left the stage. Click “Man Climbs out of the Sewer” to hear this beautiful song.

Cotton JonesWhitney McGraw of Cotton Jones.
Nikon D300. Nikon 50mm f/1.8. EXIF.
The CassettesThe Cassettes.
Nikon D300. Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens. EXIF.

Up next were Washington DC’s The Cassettes. These guys were pure energy. The show opened with all the stage lights shutting off and scenes from an old Western projected on a backdrop. The four piece band took the stage and launched into their own brand of frantic rock.
The CassettesShelby Cinca of The Cassettes.
Nikon D300. Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens. EXIF.

Shelby Cinca leads the band on guitar and vocals. Stephen J. Perron Guidry supplies backing vocals, accordion, synth and other instruments. On drums is Saadat Awan and Arthur Harrison plays theremin. Nearly every song The Cassettes played featured theremin–an early electronic instrument that adjusts pitch and volume by sensing where the musician’s hands are in proximity to two antennas.
The Cassettes - TheraminArthur Harrison of The Cassettes plays the theremin.
Nikon D300. Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens. EXIF.

Before closing the show, Shelby announced that the last tune was about a Navajo warrior who came back from the past, or from the future, took a look around at the United States of America and decided things needed to be reset. He realized he needed to hit the “reset button.” He dedicated the song to that Navajo warrior and “Barack Obama–because I like that guy.” Best way to get cheap applause among 18-35 year olds: name drop Barry Obama. The hipster sprinkled audience at The Black Cat obliged Shelby and let out a yelp when they heard the President-Elect’s name. As the cheer died down, The Cassettes ripped into “Countach,” the final song of their set. True to the bygone era of 1980s excess that the title implies, The Cassettes had coordinated images of Lamgorghini Countachs to be projected behind them while they played.

These United StatesJesse Elliot of These United States.
Nikon D300. Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens. EXIF.

Shortly after The Cassettes wrapped up, headliner These United States situated themselves on stage at The Black Cat. Band leader Jesse Elliot looks like a gritty cross between Robin Pecknold of Seattle’s Fleet Foxes and my buddy Andy Fitts of Aqueduct and The Banyans. Sonically, These United States are twangier than most music I come across in Seattle. Similar to Cotton Jones and My Morning Jacket, These United States display some obvious (and appreciated) country influences.

These United States - Pedal SteelJ Tom Hnatow of These United States on pedal steel.
Nikon D300. Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens. EXIF.

I noticed a pedal steel guitar on stage when I first arrived earlier in the evening. Since I did not know much about the bands, I wondered when I’d get to hear it. Cotton Jones took and left the stage without touching the pedal steel; likewise for The Cassettes. With These United States, finally someone took a seat behind the Derby. J Tom Hnatow gracefully glided along on the pedal steel, but also played bass and a Fender Telecaster at times.

These United States - Whiskey ShotWhiskey Shot.
Nikon D300. Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens. EXIF.

Jesse Elliott is as charismatic a band leader as they come. He regularly engaged the audience in goofy banter in between songs and at one point asked if anyone had “whiskey they were not currently using.” The guy behind me yelled up to the stage, “this is whiskey and water–here you go!” Jesse took the glass and thanked him. After the next song, that same guy bought whiskey shots for everyone in the band. Jesse and company raised a toast before continuing to inspire the toe-tappers and ho-down dancers in attendance that night.

Normally, I shoot the D300 in Matrix Meter mode. Matrix gives great results 98% of the time, but it was severely underexposing my subject when I shot directly against stage lights. In the frame above, I used the Center Weighted Average meter. Unlike Matrix, Center Weighted Average does not try rescue overly bright parts of the background (stage lights). Click the “EXIF” links below each picture to see the settings I used on that particular shot.
These United StatesThese United States.
Nikon D300. Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens. EXIF.

At one point in the set, the drummer played a tune on harmonica. The rest of the band gathered around while continue to accompany him.
These United States - HarmonicaNikon D300. Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens. EXIF.

These United States announced this was their last show of 2008; however, I’m looking forward to catching them again once 2009 is upon us.

To see more photos of Cotton Jones, The Cassettes, and These United States, check out the slideshow below.

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