D.C. sports no shortage of outdoor concerts during the hot months, but none provides as useful a barometer of the local indie-rock scene as Fort Reno. Despite a suspect sound system and the ever-present risk of a downpour, the free, all-ages series—now more than four decades old—has long been a rite of passage for D.C. bands.
But despite Fort Reno’s historical cachet and anti-establishment ethos, there’s one aspect that many showgoers regularly complain about: that every year, it takes forever (read: till June) for the organizers to announce each year’s schedule. So you won’t be reading about Fort Reno in this year’s Summer Music Guide, nor future ones. And while we can’t predict what the series’ curators are digging this year, we can point to some of other opportunities for soaking in D.C.’s best and tightest.
Title Tracks, which headlined the final show of Fort Reno’s 2009 schedule, returns home for a May 14 performance at St. Stephen’s Church after a steady diet of nationwide touring in support of the band’s debut LP, It Was Easy. The latest project of singer-songwriter John Davis—formerly of Georgie James and Q and Not U (and, arguably, the most consistent producer of local indie pop in recent years)—Title Tracks deals in sugary, Elvis Costello-inspired rock that’s sweet enough to induce a diabetic coma. (Disclosure: I used to play with Davis in Q and Not U.) Slightly less saccharine—and considerably less prolific, having released only two songs since its inception close to a year ago—is Soft Power (May 13 at the Black Cat), the new band led by D.C.-bred songstress Mary Timony.
The days of hometown heroes, the Dismemberment Plan, playing for sweaty, dancing throngs of adoring fans at Fort Reno are now only a distant memory (the band’s 2003 show, in particular, is a waterlogged memory), but that doesn’t mean the ex-members of the band don’t continue to play to large outdoor crowds. On May 15, former D-Plan guitarist Jason Caddell performs with Poor But Sexy at RFK Stadium just before D.C. United’s match against the Colorado Rapids. (Thankfully, you don’t have to purchase a ticket to watch the woeful home team play; the pregame show is free.) Similarly, the late-’90s math-rock trio Faraquet is long gone (don’t count on another reunion show any time soon), but Medications—featuring former Faraquet guitarist Devin Ocampo and drummer Chad Molter—performs May 20 at the Black Cat, exactly one month after the release of Completely Removed, the band’s second album for Dischord Records.
In the wake of D.C.’s revered acts of yesteryear, more recent bands such as New Rock Church of Fire—which celebrates a split 12-inch release with Mas y Mas on May 22 at DC9—aren’t exactly setting the scene ablaze. They do, however, mark a noticeable shift from the angular (and, often, insular) rock that once epitomized local music toward something more accessible. Perhaps those bands have their sights set on stages larger than Fort Reno’s, or even 9:30 Club’s—where U.S. Royalty, Bluebrain and Midnight Kids perform with DJ Will Eastman as part of a D.C. Central Kitchen benefit show on May 23.
Black Cat, Thurs., 5/13 at 9 p.m. $10.
St. Stephen’s Church, Fri., 5/14 at 7:30 p.m. $8.
Poor But Sexy
RFK Stadium, Sat., 5/15 at 6 p.m. Free.
Black Cat, Thurs., 5/20 at 9 p.m. $10.
New Rock Church of Fire and Mas y Mas
DC9, Sat., 5/22 at 9 p.m., $10.
DJ Will Eastman, U.S. Royalty, Bluebrain, and Midnight Kids
9:30 Club, Sun., 5/23 at 5 p.m. $30 (includes food tastings from 20 restaurants).