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From the new Lou Stovall exhibit at the Phillips to tonight’s long-awaited Wild Hearts Tour (seriously, writers have been pitching me this show for seven months), Beach House to Stray Dog, there are plenty of ways to get your mind off this humid heatwave.
Thursday: Wild Hearts Tour at Wolf Trap
It’s no exaggeration to say music got me through the worst of the last two and a half years. And one artist, in particular, has risen to the top of my go-to-list when I’m feeling dejected, lost, or overwhelmed by—gestures around—everything. Julien Baker released her third album, Little Oblivions, in February 2021 to critical acclaim. Unlike her previous works, the indie singer-songwriter (who’s been labeled indie folk, alt-rock, slowcore, and post-rock) made Little Oblivions a more fleshed-out, fuller-sounding album thanks to a backing band. But the emotional intensity of her voice and raw honesty of her lyrics builds a kind of intimacy that I can only describe as similar to being locked in a room with my best friend spilling our guts. It’s safe and painful with various tempos, including upbeat swells, thanks to the new addition of drums that sometimes suggest optimism. It’s no wonder Baker’s latest has had such an affect: Written largely pre-pandemic, the queer artist grapples with addiction, codependent relationships, and mental health. Singing along with the album has brought me the same type of catharsis that crying to my best friend brings. “When the drugs wear off/ Will the love kick in/ Would you stay out long enough/ Start again?” she sings, almost desperately in “Repeat.” Like any good love affair, my obsession with Little Oblivions has led me to savor the young artist’s entire discography and that of many of her contemporaries (elders? Baker is, after all, only 26) including Sharon Van Etten (41) and Angel Olsen (35), who’ve both released beautiful, legitimizing music during the pandemic, including their fiery 2021 duet “Like I Used To.” Seeing Baker join forces with Van Etten and Olsen for the Wild Hearts Tour is certain to bring the greatest musical relief possible. They come to Wolf Trap tonight (July 21), and tickets are still available. So consider joining me for an all out sing-along that’ll make everything feel OK for at least a few hours. The Wild Heart Tour starts at 7:30 p.m. on July 21 at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center, 1551 Trap Rd., Vienna. wolftrap.org. $32–$69. —Sarah Marloff
Friday: BRONCHO at Black Cat
Tulsa, Oklahoma’s BRONCHO was founded in 2010, when bands like Kings of Leon and The Black Keys were still on top of the world. Their music still evokes the lingering vapors of that surreal, bygone era. It was a simpler time for rock music, for better or worse, and a great time to be a bare bones, stripped-to-the-studs guitar band. BRONCHO took full advantage. Their first album, Can’t Get Past the Lips, has a raw, garage rock energy, driven by singer-founder Ryan Lindsey’s jittery vocals. Unfortunately, soon after Lips dropped, BRONCHO’s label folded, leaving them in the lurch and putting the future of the band into question. But they kept pushing, and their tenacity paid off when “It’s On,” a song that became a lynchpin of their second album, was played in the end credits for HBO’s Girls. “It’s On” launched BRONCHO to a new level of notoriety and landed them a new label. As BRONCHO moved forward, they continued experimenting with the outer contours of their sound while keeping the heart of the band rock solid. The early album’s rougher edges got sanded off as they experimented with a looser, more jangly style. In 2018’s Bad Behavior, they dabble with a funkier, bass-driven vibe. There are moments that sound inspired by Rick James and others that sound more like Johnny Jewel. One consistent thread, according to Lindsey, is that they’re a live band, better seen in person than streamed on Spotify. That tracks. BRONCHO is summertime music, the kind of rock that hits the spot regardless of which decade you find yourself in, as long as the beer’s cold and the sun’s hot. The 2010s are dead; long live the 2010s. BRONCHO play at 8 p.m. on July 22 at Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. blackcatdc.com. $20. —Will Lennon
Saturday: Lou Stovall: The Museum Workshop at the Phillips
In one Lou Stovall print, a colorful orb sprouts from a green mass, calling to mind something organic and burgeoning, a mushroom or a flower pod, or perhaps even an open eye. Framing the arboreal form are the words, “I Love You”—from which the print gets its name—written in flowery script, bounding across the top like a sun. It’s indicative of Stovall’s work: vibrant and colorful, expertly silk-screen printed, delicately natural, and with a bold message. It will be featured, among others, at the Phillips Collection’s forthcoming exhibit, Lou Stovall: The Museum Workshop. The collection, curated with Stovall’s son Will, an organizer and artist himself, offers a rare opportunity to travel back in time, to 1969, when Stovall and curator Walter Hopps founded the Dupont Center, a visionary museum, community hub, and studio made for and by D.C. artists. Under the care and leadership of Stovall, along with his wife, artist Di, the Center continued the legacy of the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts—known for heralding forth the Washington Color School—and championing local artists, both established and emerging. In addition to Stovall’s art, the exhibit features work across mediums from artists in the workshop, including Sam Gilliam, Thomas Downing, Leni Stern, and John Gossage, all artists who kept creating amid the political upheaval of the 1970s, which was especially felt in the nation’s capital. For viewers today, the retrospective offers a lesson in endurance; how to find sanctuary and power in art that provokes and heals, as well as a note of hope—delivered in Stovall’s energetic script and zany colorfield—that transcendent work is created when people come together. Because, of course, choosing hope, like pressing ink to paper, is an act of faith. Lou Stovall: The Museum Workshop opens July 23 and runs through October 9 at the Phillips Collection. 1600 21st St., NW. phillipscollection.org. Free-$16. —Emma Francois
Sunday: Beach House at the Anthem
Over the course of eight albums, Beach House, the Baltimore-based duo of multi-instrumentalists Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, have been creating atmospheric dream-pop magic. Their most recent release and first self-produced album, Once Twice Melody, begins with the titular song—all twinkly synth, shimmery strings, ’70s soft-rock melodies, and Instagram-filtered lyrics about summertime nostalgia: a beautiful girl, a whiff of perfume, and a “never, never land.” The new double-album, released as four chapters over four months from November 2021 to February 2022, continues upon their oeuvre as stargazing synth-loving souls. It is easy to just get caught up in the prettiness of it all, but the neo-psychedelic album exposes new depths in the band’s sound: The softness is full of luxurious and layered ambient chords, slight but evocative lyrics, diaphanous sonic shifts that expand into gossamer dreamscapes. In the final track, “Modern Love Stories,” the lyrics explode like so many atoms as Legrand sings about the letdown of an after-party; the song evolves into a meditation on the endlessness of the very cosmos, before concluding with a plaintive acoustic guitar breakdown that brings the listener back down to earth. Beach House, who have played many shows in the region during their almost two-decade-long career, play a sold-out show at The Anthem on July 24; Los Angeles-based harpist Mary Lattimore opens. The show starts at 8 p.m on July 24 at the Anthem, 901 Wharf St. SW. theanthemdc.com. If additional tickets are released: $45–$75. —Colleen Kennedy
Sunday and Monday: Stray Dog at AFI Silver
In most contemporary action movies, your John Wicks, your Raids, guns are ubiquitous and life is cheap. Blood and bullets fall like rain, and—as long as the director keeps the hero in one piece—individual deaths don’t seem to matter. Stray Dog is different. The 1949 film by legendary director Akira Kurosawa is preoccupied with the potential that one gun has to change the world, forever. The first scene finds rookie homicide detective Murakami on his way home from the shooting range in the midst of a sweltering Tokyo summer. When Murakami realizes that someone has pickpocketed his service weapon, a Colt handgun, he goes immediately to the station to confess his colossal screw-up. In response, his superior asks: “How many bullets?” Hoarse and strained, Murakami replies: “All seven.” The rest goes unsaid. Each of the seven bullets in that gun represents a potential murder, and they’ll weigh on Murakami’s soul until he recovers the weapon. In a mediasphere as saturated with gun violence as ours, seeing hordes of cops and detectives pursue a single handgun with the operatic intensity of Ethan Hunt trying to recover a set of nuclear launch codes is borderline surreal. The search takes Murakami on an odyssey through the slums of Japan’s postwar underworld, populated with yakuza, nightclub dancers, and gun sellers. Though the movie presents as a noir mystery, it’s really a portrait of Tokyo as we almost never see it portrayed on film, a bleak, bombed out vision of a city we think of as stylish and vibrant. The people who made Stray Dog knew what it was like to live in such a place and time. Kurosawa himself lived through the Pacific War era and the subsequent Allied occupation. Lead actor Toshirô Mifune was roped into military service in Manchuria during the war. Aside from being one of the duo’s first great collaborations (they’d go on to work together on Rashomon and Seven Samurai), Stray Dog is notable for its cynical take on Japan’s postwar years. Mifune is brilliant as always, but it’s Takashi Shimura’s mentor character, Detective Sato, who really ties the movie together. Sato, based loosely on a character originated by French crime novelist Georges Simenon, has an understanding of the human psyche that allows him to think like the killers he’s determined to catch. As Sato tells Murakami, “a mad dog only sees straight paths.” Stray Dog starts at 9:15 on July 24 and 6:45 p.m. on July 25 at AFI Silver, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring, silver.afi.com. $11–$13. —W.L.
Wednesday: Thelma and the Sleaze at the Runaway
Some bands are confrontational. Some are aggressively horny. Most of the time, these traits do not meet in one musical act. They do, however, meet in Thelma and the Sleaze, and if you find their aesthetic of horny confrontation intimidating, well, maybe you’re just a coward. This is a band that thrives on adversity, that’s known for taking on shows in hostile territory—bro bars and deep south dives. They relish the opportunity to make the naysayers squirm before lighting the roof on fire. (Singer and self-taught lead guitarist LG even claims that, at one show in Kentucky, she clobbered a guy who groped her with a Gibson SG.) Thelma and the Sleaze have toured their southern fried rock across the country and opened for Eagles of Death Metal, accumulating a dedicated fanbase along the way. (They’re known informally as the “creepers.”) Their banger 2019 album, Fuck Marry Kill, was mixed by Jim Kissling, who has also worked with D.C.’s Ex Hex. Scared as Hell, their most recent release, is classic Thelma and the Sleaze, fusing riffs inspired by Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath with influences from blues and country. It’s the kind of uninhibited rock music that really makes you think about that phrase “rock and roll,” an idiom that’s been repeated so many times that it’s lost its meaning. But a good rock band really makes you think about the onomatopoeia of it all. And a great rock show makes you hear those words afresh and think to yourself: “Oh yeah, that’s why we call it that.” Thelma and the Sleaze play at the Runaway and, maybe you’ll get to see a douchebag get bopped in the head with a guitar. Show starts at 9:05 p.m. on July 27 at the Runaway, 3523 12th St. NE. therunawaydc.com. $15–$18. —W.L.