Saturday, August 6, 2011

Ft. Reno - Laughing Man & The Evens

Ft. Reno is a large, hilly, grassy park where bands play free concerts on a temporary stage every summer. The Ft. Reno concert series ends with an Ian MacKaye band playing - almost a decade ago the band was, allegedly, always Fugazi and, now, it is The Evens.

On Thursday, August 4th, I ate a sandwich at Sticky Fingers and joined the picnicking crowd at Ft. Reno. The road parallel to the park was lined this year by food trucks. My friend Matt tried to buy a vegan berry pie from the truck selling homemade pies, but, by the time he ambled over there, only sodas remained.

Laughing Man is a DC band that calls itself a punk-jazz hybrid. When my band The Aloners played with them in March at The Red Door, the size of the room pared the size of the band down to a traditional electric bass, guitar, and drums. The expanse of the Ft. Reno stage encouraged a literal row of brass players - trumpet, saxophone, and trombone - to join in. And don't forget the violinist and cellist. Their music flirts with a tonal center and instruments at times go off in their own seemingly improvisational path, although the path is actually planned and paved. A friend told me that they reminded him of the Minutemen, probably due to their obvious affection for jazz and their talent as musicians. They don't have either the jittery, angular progressions that mark The Minutemen or the obvious Gang of Four influence. Apparently, their album is going to come out on Dischord.

Ian MacKaye's strong personality comes through in the performances of The Evens, which is a minimalistic, drums and guitar duo. The Evens are at their most captivating when Amy Farina's soprano harmonizes with MacKaye's vocals on choruses. The PA, unfortunately, contributed an unwanted, persistent hiss to their music. MacKaye bantered easily with the crowd. For example, he asked people for feedback, they shouted, and he responded with a laugh: "I just wanted to make you feel a part of the show. I'm not actually going to do any of the things you are telling me to do." People sang along. No question hangs; The Evens engaged the crowd. The sun set and The Evens kept playing thanks to a couple of homey floor lamps with cream shades standing on stage. They created a sense of intimacy on an outdoor stage before a varied crowd of hundreds.

I don't want to look at the final Ft. Reno show of the year as a symbolic book end to the summer. I still need to go inter tubing or hiking. Of course, I sprained my ankle a few weeks ago and my current goal is just to walk down the street without limping.

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