No, I did not attend “Mr. T. Tells It Like It Is” this past St Patrick’s Day. Instead I was insulted (and rightfully so) by one of four singers of Q and Not U because I had failed to arrive at the Wilson Center in time to see two of the opening bands of a punk show that night.
But I don’t think I missed too much, becasue I was just in time for the part I really wanted to catch. So I, along with my companion and a slowly growing number of audience members (read: close-knit D.C. punk activists) shrugged our shoulders while cracking a smile at the comment. After all, I hadn’t been a complete fool. I’d made it in time to see the second to last band Turing Machine, which currently finds a home on one of the most influential “emo” labels around, Jade Tree. But enough name-dropping; onto the punk rocking.
One of the easiest ways for a fan to connect with a band is through lyrics, but when there are none (as is the case with Turing Machine), stage presence and musical quality are left to make up for it. This mid-twenties trio not only possesses both qualities but easily captivates their audience. The guitarist alone had a five-minute intro to a song that lasted well over ten minutes. And it works, because these guys just surrender themselves to the music.
But don’t get the wrong idea; Phish they are not. Constant axe-thrashing and sweaty leg kicks more than held the crowd’s attention, evidenced by the unconscious, hypnotic head nod that swept over the crowd. Turing Machine finished their set with a cover song from Joy Division, an influential early ‘80s band. They stumbled off the stage and into the crowd amid thunderous applause, and proceeded to engage in jovial conversation with friends and fans alike.
Before Q and Not U took the stage, my partner in crime that evening asked if I had ever seen them before. I answered in the negative, to which she replied “You’re in a for a surprise.” Aside from a few melodies I had downloaded from Napster, I knew little of this band other than the following: They are currently signed to Dischord, the seminal independent D.C. record label. They released their first full length album, No Kill No Beep Beep, late last year, but I had missed them in November when they came around. After seeing them Saturday, I hope to never miss them again. They opened not only with an insult, but also with synchronized jumping and incorporated handclaps ? la John Mellancamp, though somehow not as monotonous and rock-star cheesy. They rotated all four members on vocals (yes, that includes the drummer) and even harmonized to mere “oohs.” The two most distinct vocal stylings to Q and Not U alternately resemble defunct early ‘90s post-punk band Jawbox and current breakthrough-indie(ish) At The Drive-In. However, Q and Not U are able to find a happy medium between the two and find a soothingly abrasive niche.
A combination of twangy, intricate guitar riffs, catchy choruses and sporadic crowd inclusive interjections (“D.O.W.N. and that’s the way we get down!”) pretty much defines the group. Much like their opener, Turing Machine, Q and Not U’s energy onstage seemed to jumpstart the head nod, once again. Standing there with kids who were rocking out, eyes closed, shouting lyrics, created an atmosphere unlike any other venues in the area.
And that of course brings me to the Wilson Center itself. Located at 15th and Irving Street in Northwest, it isn’t that far away and there’s even a metro stop close by: Colombus Heights on the Green Line. Be warned, though: the Wilson Center is definitely nothing fancy. But, then again I only paid $5 to enter. It’s an old venue, having showcased such early D.C. punk bands as Minor Threat and Black Flag on its Bob Villa-esque, carpeted 4×4 stage. Shows are held in the basement, which is perpetually cold and without an alcoholic bar.
Though it’s known to happen from time to time, shows here aren’t held solely for fans to make friends with the bands; profits from the last show went to send local activists to Quebec City to protest the FTTA.
I left the Wilson Center more than pleasantly surprised; I left feeling like I had made new friends and found a new basement to crash in. So next time you’re feeling a little lonely, stop by the Wilson Center. But show up early because … I pity the fool who don’t.