Super Excited About Superchunk!

If you were listening to Superchunk in the ’90s, you were probably pretty cool. If you still listen to Superchunk, you probably have kids who make unkind comments about your inability to use your smartphone.

But one of the upsides of being ol- er, mature, is that you might have a little more disposable income kicking around than those days when you had to scavenge change from your car’s floorboards for beer money. Not that $29.50 (the price of admission to Superchunk’s show this Monday at the Birchmere) is all that pricey in 2019 dollars, but in the ’90s, it could’ve bought you a month of gas with enough left over for a carton of cigarettes.

Founded in 1989, Superchunk was one of the original members of the Chapel Hill, N.C., indie-rock scene that brought us Archers of Loaf, Southern Culture on the Skids, Ben Folds Five, Polvo, and many other bands that have blasted out of factory car speakers while I’ve smoked weed out of a soda can.

Listening to their first half-dozen albums now, it’s puzzling that they never hit it really big, though maybe their modest success was a matter of choice, or even good luck. (Have you heard Billy Corgan talk lately? He has about as much connection with reality as he does hair.) If they were multimillionaires, it’s doubtful they’d be touring now, doing intimate gigs like this, where they’ll play an acoustic version of their 1994 classic “Foolish.”

Grab your (kid’s) flannel and your weed (CBD gummies) and get ready to rock (nod along with gentle melancholy)!

Superchunk, 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4, at the Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; tickets, $29.50

All Rise for Ron Swanson

Nick Offerman, the comic actor best known as the myopic libertarian dummy Ron Swanson from “Parks & Rec,” is bringing his new one-man show to the Kennedy Center for one night only, and it looks like he’s living up to his character’s famous advice to “never half-ass two things; whole-ass one thing.”

All Rise” is billed as “an evening of deliberative talking and light dance that will compel you to chuckle,” and according to early reviews, it’s all that and more. Offerman does some singing, some dancing, some joke-telling and some political commentary.

Lucky for us, he whole-asses everything, exuding his signature charm while performing crowd favorites (yes, he plays “5000 Candles in the Wind”) and dropping hilarious non sequiturs like, “So, have you guys heard about guns?” (Yes, yes I have.)

Offerman’s well-honed schtick is that of the self-important dunce who’s too self-absorbed to realize everyone’s laughing at him. In that sense, he’s more the American heir to Ricky Gervais’ David Brent than the dopey Steve Carell ever was.

It’s a male archetype we all know well, whether from awkward Thanksgiving dinners, horrible entry-level retail jobs or newspaper headlines. Is our fascination with this figure due to the fact that we’re waiting for them to be felled by our derision, or that we’re jealous of how they’re able to soldier on obliviously, shrugging off consequences along with insults?

Offerman’s talent isn’t so much how well he’s able to depict this regressive male narcissist, but how he’s able to convey, through a twinkle of the eye, that, yes, you’re right, and he agrees with you.


“All Rise,” 7-9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1, Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW; tickets, $39-$69

Lend Your Ears to Jay Som

Jay Som, the Filipino-American one-woman-band from California, describes her music as “headphone music,” which sort of describes all music in 2019 just by default, but still. The lush, layered compositions she painstakingly creates in her bedroom (literally) certainly lend themselves to close, solitary listening; you miss two-thirds of the music if you play it on your laptop or car speakers. But it’s headphone music in another sense, too.

People today listen to their headphones (or, yeah, Airpods or earbuds) everywhere, all the time, as a sort of counterweight to the boredom of waiting in line, the rudeness of the typical commute, the drudgery of the treadmill at the gym. So music meant as a palliative has to fulfill certain requirements.

One, it has to be emotionally evocative, to counteract the desolation it’s being deployed against. Two, it has to be short and catchy, to hold your attention. And just as a matter of practicality, it should be sonically dense, so you get a nice wall of sound/white noise effect to blot out the guy talking on his phone next to you at the pharmacy, the woman coughing on the back of your neck on the bus, etc.

Jay Som’s music fulfills all these requirements in spades. If it sounds that life-changing on your earbuds, imagine how good it’ll sound blasting out of the world-class sound system at the Rock & Roll Hotel.


Jay Som, 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30, Rock & Roll Hotel, 1353 H Street NE,  $18.

 

Scary Stuff, eh Kids?

No offense to Laurel, MD, but there aren’t a whole lot of reasons to make the drive out there, unless you’re into thrifting or historic Arby’s signs. But for a few weeks around Halloween, Laurel is home to what is arguably the DMV’s best haunted house.

Laurel’s House of Horror has been doing their thing in an abandoned movie theater since 2014, and it’s one of the only haunted houses in the area that’s guaranteed to make you go bug-eyed and stupid.

They do the evil clown thing, the hair-over-her-face-Japanese-girl thing, the sneak-up-behind-you-and-scream thing. All clichés, but a welcome sort of cliché, if only because they still make your adrenalin levels redline.

No matter how cynical and tough you think you are, you’ll scream, you’ll jump, you’ll squeeze your partner’s hand so hard they’ll hiss at you to let go, and you’ll be immensely relieved — euphoric, even — when you finally get to the end of the 30-minute circuit.

Where else can you get that kind of jolt for only $25? It’s the last weekend before Halloween, so act now … if you dare.


Laurel’s House of Horror, 935 Fairlawn Ave, Laurel, MD, through Nov. 2, $25-40

Is it Arthritis? Stiff Little Fingers at Black Cat

Stiff Little Fingers is probably the most important punk band you’ve never heard of, unless you have heard of them, in which case I apologize for making unkind assumptions. (Be honest, though – you’ve never heard of them.)

Their debut album, Inflammable Material, came out in 1977, which was a monumental year in punk history; other bands who debuted that year include the Sex Pistols, the Damned, Wire, Suicide and the Clash.

Stiff Little Fingers has actually been described as “the Irish Clash,” a flattering comparison that was probably never actually that accurate. The Clash gestated in the London music scene, whereas SLF was formed in Belfast during the Troubles — no track on the Clash’s debut approaches the ferocity of SLF’s “Here We Are Nowhere” or “Alternative Ulster.”

You could also argue that SLF has been the more influential band; no one’s yet produced anything like “Sandinista,” or “Combat Rock,” while every wave of punk revival since ’77 has had a handful of SLF acolytes.

Yes, the band is getting up there in years (in punk years, they’re about 350 years old), and yes, these reunion tours can be depressing affairs, not only because the band’s so old, but because the audience, i.e. you, is too. But maybe watching some elder statesman snarl and strut for an hour will inspire you to dig deep within yourself and dredge up the last of your adolescent defiance.

“After seeing Stiff Little Fingers in concert,” you’ll type on your Blackberry on the Uber ride home, “I’ve decided that you should take this job and shove it, effective immediately.” (“Please disregard, I was hacked!” you’ll email the next morning after you sober up.)


Stiff Little Fingers, 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 23, the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW; tickets $25-$30

 

Take a Peek at Pico Iyer Saturday at Politics & Prose

In college, I took a course in semiotics, mostly because it sounded easy. (It wasn’t.)

I struggled with the readings, which were either incomprehensible or boring. But the professor, a Ph.D. candidate with an anarchic streak, said that any student who, uh, went to the bathroom in the main atrium of one of the banks downtown, during business hours, would get an automatic A. Facing a possible F, I seriously considered it, even going so far as to scout one of the bank lobbies, trying to figure out how to make a getaway before the security guard got to me.

Then we started reading Pico Iyer, whose visionary writings on travel and globalization (before globalization was even a term) are infused with the kind of insight that shifts your worldview on contact. I devoured his books, wrote my final paper on them, salvaged a B, and avoided the embarrassment of being arrested with my pants around my ankles.

Born in England, and raised in California and the U.K., Iyer has taught at Harvard, traveled from North Korea to Paraguay, and now lives in Japan. In the early ’90s, he was already writing about “a world that is itself increasingly small and increasingly mongrel.” If he felt like that then, what in God’s name could he possibly think about the internet and social media?

Ask him Saturday night at Politics and Prose, where he’ll discuss his new book, “A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations.”


Pico Iyer, Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave NW, 6-7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19. Free.

See Pres. Bush Paintings on Exhibit at Reach

During the recent Ellen/Dubya online melodrama, a meme made the rounds depicting a futuristic sci-fi utopia, complete with flying cars and transparent spiral skyscrapers, with the text, “If That Shoe Had Hit Bush.”

The reference is to the December 2008 incident when an Iraqi man threw his shoe at President George W. Bush during a press conference. (Throwing your shoe at someone is a grave insult in Arab culture.) The meme can be read as either pure absurdism, or as a sly commentary on the ultimate futility of such gestures, and the raw emotion that motivates them.

You could say something similar about Bush’s paintings, on display at the Kennedy Center.

What makes these straightforward, somewhat bland, portraits interesting is that they were done by someone who was once the most powerful man in the world. The portraits are of 98 wounded military veterans, a group that Bush has done much for through his Bush Institute Military Service Initiative.

No matter your political inclinations, you can appreciate these paintings, as objects of sincerity or reconsideration.


Kennedy Center REACH, Studio K, 2700 F St. NW; through Nov. 15; Free.

Get to All Things Go This Weekend

The continuing social relevance of music festivals is that they’re a one-stop shop for everything that people who go to music festivals are into: food, weed and — most importantly — Instagrammable backdrops. Oh, and music. The organizers of the All Things Go Fall Classic — happening this week at Union Market— clearly understand this.

In past years, the festival has had slow-motion photo booths, spray paint walls and virtual reality booths, so who knows what they’ll dream up for this weekend? At the very least, the other festivalgoers will begrudgingly hold you up during your requisite crowd-surfing selfie, if only because they’re trying to surreptitiously slide your wallet out of your pocket.

For music, the festival offers two days of lineups that start at 12:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and conclude at midnight, or whenever each night’s headliners (Chvrches on Saturday, Melanie Martinez on Sunday) feel like wrapping things up, or when the cops shut them down, whichever comes first.

Festivalgoers can also take in daytime performances by everyone from Oakland-based Chinese-American bedroom pop artist mxmtoon, to “Whorey Heart” R&B crooner TeaMarrr, to local post-punk minimalist Sneaks.

On the food front, there’s Shake Shack, Nando’s, Takorean, Arepa Zone and many more, so make sure you skip breakfast.

And on the weed front, there’ll be about 35,000 dudes with fanny packs trying to make eye contact with you every time you look away from your phone. Don’t be afraid to haggle — even weed dealers are subject to the law of supply and demand!


All Things Go Fall Classic, Union Market, 1309 5th St. NE, 12:30 p.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 12 and 13; tickets, $70-$249, one- and two-day passes available, general admission + VIP (includes private lounge, snacks, dedicated bar, close-up viewing area and more)

D.C. Needs a Signature Beer

Baltimore has Natty Boh, Chicago has Old Style, Milwaukee has Schlitz, Minneapolis has Hamm’s, Austin has Lone Star and an amorphous swath of the Midwest has Busch Light — so why doesn’t D.C. have a signature cheap beer?

Not to say there’s any shortage of cheap beer in D.C. — I’ve been swilling it for years at various spots around town. But we don’t have that one cheap beer that’s synonymous with the city. Why is that?

One theory: All the cheap beers cited above were guzzled by a previous generation of blue-collar types — truck drivers and steel workers, who punched out at the union-mandated end of the day, retired to the bar to get soused, then stumbled home to yell at their wives and kids and then pass out face-first in the mashed potatoes.

For the next generation of urbanites, there’s an ironic appeal in tapping into that history — and it doesn’t hurt, after several decades of flat wage growth, that these beers are cheaper than dirt (and taste like it).

By this logic, the reason that D.C. doesn’t have a signature cheap beer is that Chocolate City was never a big blue-collar union town with a manufacturing base. But there’s another possibility.

What if D.C. does have a signature cheap beer, but it’s one that’s SO cheap that it can’t be sold in bars, and thus the millennials reading this article on their phones have no idea it even exists?

I lived in Shaw for a decade, paying minuscule rent in a rundown rowhouse, slumming it on unemployment for five or six of those years (long story), and in my experience, there was one beer that almost everyone bought in that mini-rush before the corner stores closed: Steel Reserve. I’d go so far as to say that if you took a survey among D.C.’s broke folks, bums, winos and general ne’er-do-wells, you’d find that Steel Reserve was actually D.C.’s low-key official cheap beer.

Why? Because a tallboy was 99 cents. And at just over 8% alcohol, it’s by far the cheapest way to get drunk on beer.

But even though it’s got an excess of street cred, it tastes really, really bad.

Let’s be honest, when people say beers like PBR taste bad, what they’re actually saying is that they don’t have a taste; they taste like tap water. But Steel Reserve very much has a taste, and that taste is shockingly, appallingly bad.

Imagine lawn clippings and urinal cakes soaked in leaded gasoline, left in the sun for two weeks.

It’s worse than Natty Ice, worse than Bud Light Lime, worse than actual pee (probably). You couldn’t even charge a dollar a pint for it in a bar; I’m pretty sure you couldn’t even give it away.

But who knows? If I walked into a bar, and they had Steel Reserve on tap, I might not order a pint (no, I definitely would not order a pint), but I would laugh and take an obnoxious photo of it for Instagram.

Could the pull of nostalgia, street cred and a savvy social media campaign be enough to overcome rock-bottom quality? In 2019, it’s not only possible, it’s an absolute certainty.

Maybe it’s time for D.C.’s signature cheap beer to step out of the shadows and into the zeitgeist.

 

Baltimore: The Antidote to D.C.

It was another slow August, and my girlfriend and I wanted to get out of D.C. She’d taken a week off work to visit her family in the Midwest, but decided at the last minute that she didn’t want to spend her paid vacation hiding in her childhood bedroom from her Republican parents, who wanted to have a serious talk about this business of living with a man she wasn’t married to. I hadn’t taken time off, but I didn’t need to, since I didn’t have a job to take time off from. We decided to visit friends in Baltimore.

We took the train to Baltimore and then a taxi to the house where Lana’s childhood friend Aidra was staying. It was a three-story townhouse in a moneyed neighborhood right on the water. The house was owned by Aidra’s aunt, who was traveling around the world that summer, and Aidra said we were free to crash in any of the bedrooms. Aidra seemed a little twitchy, but I figured it was because she’d spent the summer alone in the big empty house.

I dropped my bags off and went to meet my friend Jon, while my girlfriend stayed behind to catch up with her friend. Jon was a student at MICA, the art school, and he lived in a huge warehouse with several other art students. The place was so big that they each had their own prefab shed or gazebo they’d bought at Home Depot, all of them arranged in a rough circle, so it was like a huge indoor Smurf village, only instead of Smurfs it was populated with dudes wearing paint-splattered boots and girls who didn’t shave their armpits.

Low-Rent Districts

It looked like a utopia to me. “How much is your rent?” I asked Jon.

He shrugged. “Two hundred a month, but a lot of months we don’t pay. The landlord doesn’t keep track.”

“Really?”

“Someone was killed right outside last week,” he said. “Right on the corner there. I guess he figures no one else would rent the place anyway, so why bother?”

No one had been killed anywhere near my house in D.C., not for a long while, even though I lived just a block from what was supposedly the deadliest intersection in the city, 6th and O. This was before gentrification really picked up, but it was clear the neighborhood wasn’t bad anymore, and our rent had started to reflect that.

The only crime I’d seen was when someone robbed the corner store across the street while I waited in line to buy a 40 ounce with my unemployment check money. He’d flashed a gun, but asked for the money politely, with a smile, and left without even squeezing off any warning shots, which at least would’ve held off that year’s rent increase.

We drove in Jon’s truck to a bar that had dollar beers. Halfway there, he paused at an intersection and pointed down a long, deserted street. Rusted out kitchen appliances were piled across the street to form an impassable barricade.

“No one even cares,” Jon said. “It’s been like that for months.”

Home Sweet Home

Baltimore seemed like the opposite of D.C., like heaven on earth. Dilapidated warehouse villages, Mad Max-style anarchy, murders and municipal indifference to keep rents down. D.C. just seemed so D.C., populated by earnest nonprofit employees and interns in their early 20s who dressed like they were in their early 40s. Rents were steadily climbing, and I knew it was going to get a lot worse, though I had no idea how bad it would eventually get. As we drove, I felt the uneasiness of someone realizing they’d made the wrong decision.

At the bar, I felt self-conscious about being the only one without paint splatters on my clothes. I made a decision then and there; I was going to move to Baltimore. If Lana wasn’t on board, we’d have to break up.

Upon returning to Aidra’s house, we found police cars parked along the street, their lights flashing. Lana was sitting on the front steps of the house, one arm bandaged, as a group of cops tried to calm a raging, purple-faced woman who I suddenly realized was Aidra.

“What happened?” I asked Lana.

“I don’t know. Aidra went off her meds last week, and just came at me.” Lana pointed up at the third floor. “She tried to push me out that window while screaming gibberish. She had me halfway out before I was able to fight her off. The glass cut my arm all up.”

“What should we do? Call her aunt?”

“We’re going home,” Lana said.

A Sinking Feeling

She went into the house as Aidra screamed at her from behind her cordon of police about the hidden microphones and cameras Lana had installed in her house. I stood there thinking that if Lana hadn’t gotten hurt, maybe I’d have gone through with my plan and told her I was staying in Baltimore, but now I felt bad, although that was only part of it.

I also remembered now that my name was on the lease for our apartment, and that I couldn’t just walk away from it. It seemed like an extremely D.C. thing to think, and I realized that even though I’d made the wrong choice, it was maybe too late for a do-over.

Baltimore was twice as cool, at half the price, and was trending in the right direction, or at least not trending in the wrong one. D.C. was all about property values, career advancement and young, white-collar couples pushing Cadillac-style strollers, sipping expensive coffee from cardboard cups. When I told people in D.C. I was on unemployment, they moved away from me like they thought poverty might be contagious.

When Lana came out with our bags, Jon drove us to the train station, and we returned to our life in D.C. — orderly, upwardly mobile, and certain, and at the same time, stifling, sanitized, oppressive, a vaguely Stepfordian dystopia. Every time a neighbor bugged us about our grass being an inch too long, I thought wistfully back to the Baltimore of unpredictability and furor and rusty appliance barricades. A few months later, Lana and I broke up. She immediately moved to Baltimore.