Concert Review: Nico Vega in Washington, DC
Reviewed by: Jake Schauer
On a quiet Monday night on H Street, Nico Vega played as part of a triple-bill at DC bar The Black and The Red. In a venue the size of a studio apartment, members of the three bands helped set up and take down gear for each other in an atmosphere that seemed straight out of a hard-luck rock band diary. If I had known nothing about the band, I would have seen them for the immensely talented group that they are, and walked away hoping that they rise above the realm of tiny venues and setting up their own equipment. Knowing a little bit of their history, I was left impressed with what they had just done.
Nico Vega is a west coast band, and if you were to ask music fans in, say, LA, they’d be something of a big deal. Their fan base, however, has not extended eastward beyond Ohio, and that showed in the sparse crowd of about twenty. I arrived in time for the doors to open at 8:30, but I could have easily turned up seconds before their set and still gotten a spot in front of the stage. It felt a lot like going to see your friend’s band play at open mic night, except with talent. They are an easy comparison to the White Stripes as they feature a guitarist more than capable of carrying the instrumental burden of a song. Add to that a drummer who is absolutely ferocious and a vocalist with an unforgettable voice, and you’ve got a pretty heavy set.
Opening with what vocalist Aja Volkman dedicated as “a gift to you”, the band played “This Too Shall Pass” off of their No Child Left Behind EP, something they hadn’t played live in quite some time. And while all-out dancing was limited to one diehard fan in front of the drum set, it seemed as if everyone responded to what they were doing. It wasn’t exactly difficult. Volkman made use of the fact that the “stage” was six inches tall, and took her performance into the crowd, walking among us and dancing as she sang.
They hit a few crowd favorites in their short set, including “Gravity”, which might have been the highlight of the night. I’m still humming the tune. Yet their final song was something pretty noteworthy.
They closed with something that was new to me, and seemingly to the rest of the crowd. Over ominous cymbals and eerie guitar, Volkman recited a poem that elicited images of Jim Morrison and, to a certain extent, Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge”. As guitarist Rich Koehler took over, Aja dropped to her knees in some mystical dance, and was soon joined by the guitarist. If he weren’t busy beating the hell out of his kit, drummer Dan Epand likely would have joined them. That’s the image that stuck with me. Given the circumstances, it would have been so easy to phone it in. Was the set a little short? Yes. But what band would lay on the theatrics like that in a tiny venue, to a crowd of twenty, on a Monday night?
The next few shows are the lean portion of Nico Vega’s tour as they play Cambridge and New York before working their way back west. And while the shows may get larger, and the set lists a little more encyclopedic the further they get from the Atlantic, they’ll still bring everything they have to the stage, even if there really isn’t one.
For more info on Nico Vega visit: www.myspace.com/nicovega
Remaining Tour Dates:
12/10 Cambridge, MA TT The Bears
12/11 New York, NY The Studio at Webster Hall
12/13 Cleveland, OH Pirate’s Cove
12/18 Denver, CO Bender’s Tavern
12/20 Las Vegas Wasted Space