Last Saturday night at the Black Cat local favorites Ugly Purple Sweater paired up with quasi-DC-by-way-of-Boston Kingsley Flood, and what went on outside the club was almost as exciting as what went on inside. While talking about how you got to a show or what you drank, ate, and hallucinated about during your pre-game could normally be considered amateur at best, it bears pointing out that upon arrival at the Black Cat 15 minutes prior to Kingsley Flood’s scheduled set time there was a line that stretched 2 blocks down the street just to get in the door. Whether that’s a testament to the fact that both bands worked their asses off to promote this show or that both bands are currently creating some of the better music you’re likely to hear this year is unclear, but one thing IS clear is this: Whatever they’re doing, they are doing it RIGHT.
First up was Kingsley Flood, who would ultimately prove to be a tough act to follow. With new album Battles in the can and set for release on February 5th, the group, fronted by DC transplant Naseem Khuri, left every single bit of everything they had on the stage. In the wrong hands, the music that Kingsley Flood turns out could easily drift into “bro-core” territory, but through smart songwriting, effortless arrangement and most of all total conviction, they managed to turn out one of the most aggressively entertaining sets that anyone will be delivering in 2013 or possibly any year. A flirtatious comingling of Americana, punk and folk provides the backbone to their music on record and in a live setting that mix is turned up to eleven. On songs like the pop-punk swaggering “Down,” “Mannequin Man,” and the already raging “Pick Your Battles”, two of which are off the new record, the members of Kingsley Flood turned on the rock star, and even though they were only playing to a room of hundreds, they were swinging for, and connecting with that mythical last row in a venue that most assuredly is filled with thousands of rabid fans.
On songs like “Sigh A While,” “Waiting For The River To Rise” and “Sun’s Gonna Let Me Shine” (which featured Ugly Purple Sweater front man Sam McCormally sharing vocal duties), all songs that lean more to the folk end of things, the volume may have dropped slightly but the intensity never diminished. Cementing their rock star status, the band even saw fit to rip out a late set cover of the Rolling Stones “Heartbreaker” that for once did the song and the Stones justice.
Next on stage was DC’s own Ugly Purple Sweater. Fronted by singer/songwriter Sam McCormally, and Rachel Lord, the band has consistently turned out smart, hooky indie-pop, and on this occasion they were there to celebrate the release of their latest EP, DC USA. While following Kingsley Flood’s performance could be a daunting challenge, McCormally and crew managed to deliver what may arguably have been a less thrilling set, but one that was no less satisfying.
A common thread between the two bands is that they know how write great songs, and that talent was on full display as the band worked through material from their latest - with Flood’s Naseem Khuri returning the favor of vocal duties on “Central Detention Facility Blues” – and then dipped back into songs from their previous release Convention – the band then leap-frogged into the future by playing a handful of tracks written since recording DC USA. The secret weapon of Ugly Purple Sweater, beyond their consistently great songwriting skills is without a doubt Sam McCormally’s stadium rock ready voice. On Saturday powerful tenor careened back and forth between your typical indie-rock warble and Mercury-ial blasts that practically begged for a crowd 100,000 members larger, or at the very least kind of stage pyrotechnics reserved these days for the likes of Muse and U2.
Much like the city itself, the DC music scene always seems to be in a weird state of flux, where bands come and go, don’t live up to their promise or just play it smalltime like thousands of other bands in thousands of other scenes do. If Saturday night is even a small indication of where “the scene” is headed this year though, then we’re in for a staggering number of massive nights cheering on truly great music that plays great anywhere, but just a little bit sweeter when you know it’s coming from the home team.