Pretty? Or Pretty Sad?

The video for Clairo’s breakout hit, “Pretty Girl,” has 42.5 million views on YouTube, despite being shot with a budget of literally zero, and the majority of the top comments are from guys confessing that they secretly listen to the song when their friends aren’t around.

On one level, it’s anything but surprising that guys would be into watching a video of, well, a pretty girl staring into a webcam and crooning lyrics like, “I could be your pretty girl.” The video’s like a 3-minute Skype call from their imaginary girlfriend at art school upstate, if she was real, which she’s not.  

The song’s status as the go-to guilty pleasure of a certain male demographic probably has more to do with its vibe, which is aggressively hushed and sad, like a post-chillwave Belle and Sebastian. It’s not something you’d blast in your car, or even from your laptop speakers, lest your roommate or parents ask, only half-joking, if everything’s OK, and if you need to talk.

Clairo’s ability to reflect contemporary melancholy (do you know anyone who’s not irritable or depressed?) is so on-the-nose that it almost seems too good to be true, which is why a lot of people were angry to learn that her father’s a top marketing executive with music industry connections and, the implication goes, helped shape/focus group her sound.

That controversy’s largely faded by now, though as Clairo tours in support for her full-length debut album, it’ll be interesting to see who comes to her live shows. Will it be fans of her music, or dudes who fell in love with her via YouTube? (And is there a meaningful difference?)

Clairo, 7-10 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 12, 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW. $25.

Big Thief at 9:30 Club

A noted commentator once said on Twitter, “There are no wrong answers in life, but please just stop making guitar-based music, no one cares anymore.”

OK, that commentator was me, and yes, I was maybe trolling a little (I blame Twitter, it turns people into monsters!), but the underlying point stands, sort of. It’s not a controversial thing to say that rock music isn’t fresh or rebellious or even really relevant anymore, but I’d also add that that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable. Which means I’m also admitting that my trollish tweet was kinda missing the point.

Take, for example, the music of Brooklyn indie darlings Big Thief. Is it breaking new ground? No. But is it enjoyable? Tremendously — almost ludicrously so, yes.

Rock music long ago dropped out of the cultural vanguard and moved into a space where it’s more a source of pleasure than of innovation. And that’s OK. Things that are derivative and repetitive can also be incredibly satisfying. If I’m drunk, and you give me a choice between a Big Mac and fries and a multi-course dinner at French Laundry, I ain’t picking French Laundry, and if you’re honest, you aren’t either.

Maybe the Big Mac comparison sells Big Thief short. With their soaring  wistful folk-rock melodies (think Father John Misty meets the New Pornographers), Big Thief is at least a steak sandwich — but you know what I mean.

It’s sort of related to the saying about perfection being the enemy of the good; sometimes a good band can be just as good, or even better, than a great one.

Big Thief, 7-10 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 10, 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; tickets, $26

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)