The Rock and Roll Hotel is nestled on H Street in D.C., quite inconveniently placed more than a mile from the nearest metro. The upstairs bar is a cozy little abode, with three amputated mannequins overhanging the bar. Instead of heads, the mannequins sport cow skulls that leer over your drink like overbearing relatives. There were winged Stratocasters on the ceiling and some kind of ridiculous anime show on Cartoon Network playing on the tube. After a couple of drinks and a few minutes of pondering what the hell the deal is with girls and Blue Moon, I headed back downstairs for the show.
The main stage area faces out to the street, and with the doors open, it’s an enticing bazaar of music. The theme to the Charlie Brown Christmas special was playing in the idle minutes before the opening act in the small, red-lit room. Two bands were billed for the night, Temple and The Good Life, so I was a little surprised that there was even an opener. I didn’t catch the identity of the young rock/ska band other than that they were from Fredericksburg, Virginia. They knew how to rock out, starting their charge with a screaming array of trem and groovy bass. Building their sound around thick trumpet and spanking guitar treble, they were a good first leg of the modestly-attended night.
More people began to filter into the venue following that band’s appearance. Although many of the audience members had no idea who was headlining the show, it was clear that all were potential fans of Temple’s music. Standard-issue hipsters abounded. Throughout the course of the night, I spotted at least five girls sporting a Ringo Star haircut circa 1967 and an endless number of dudes who looked like the illegitimate child of Ben Gibbard and Rivers Cuomo. Temple’s sound check took abnormally long, with the band members meticulously haggling with the sound guy over volume level and frequency cutoffs so to avoid feedback. However, the perfect mix of instrumental sound that followed made the dull lull well worth the endurance.
Temple, slathered with sweat before the show even started, looked like he stepped off the set of Trainspotting with his glazed stare, white t-shirt, and sparse tats. His haunting cascade of falsetto started the show, quivering around the room like sonar. A western saunter with tapped-out acoustic beats led the performance under Temple’s warbles. His band provided the meat to the plate and buoyant backing vocals. The rollicking carnival verses of Temple’s album Snowbeast were readily apparent throughout the show and gave the show a dreamy quality under the subtle stage lights.
As a girl next to me was complaining about the decibels, Temple launched into the sparse stomp of “Serious.” Since the mostly folked-down show was tame by noise-level standards, I could only imagine what would happen if a wasp buzzed by the poor girl’s head. The crowd gave its most spirited applause following the best song on Snowbeast, “The Owl Song.” Temple thwacked a rusted cowbell dangling from his neck as his barking vocal delivery kept pace. The band each contributed their part to the rolling polka noir that swirled and dipped like a tilt-a-whirl. About three times during the show, Temple had to repeat who he was to inquisitive patrons and the band’s need for a place to stay in D.C.
Temple traded his guitar for a banjo for the second half of the show, adding rustic levity to songs like “Where Is Away” and the cotton candy ramparts of “Saturday People.” Temple’s band ended on a dusky note of the mythical western road. Simple fingerpicks mixed with oscillating keyboards that dogged not far behind. As Temple sang “I see a wide open space,” one couldn’t help but agree. The man’s got a bright future ahead of him with that delicate songbird voice and his knack for folksy psychedelia.
After Temple and his band left the stage, it was getting on 11:30. Not having heard The Good Life, I decided it was time to make the trek back to Union Station to recharge my buzz elsewhere on the Red Line. Hopefully I’ll be back later in the month when The Annuals return to D.C.