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Live Review: Aaron Lee Tasjan w/ Molly Martin @ DC9 — 4/27/24

During Aaron Lee Tasjan’s recent set at DC9, he covered “Drunken Angel,” Lucinda Williams’s ode to the late Blaze Foley, as a duet with opening act Molly Martin. It was a fitting cover, as it paid tribute to another artist who, like Aaron, has been called “country,” even though she’s really not. (At least since the album “Drunken Angel” appeared on in 1998, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road.)

Aaron has said, “”I can tell who’s been paying attention by the people who say I’m moving away from country music.” He was never making country music to begin with, even if he does look up to Lucinda (who I consider a heartland rocker) and Todd Snider (I’ll get back to you to when I figure out what exactly he does).

Recently, on Twitter, Aaron wrote, “I just make ALT music.” ALT music is bright and melodic, with lyrics that skew toward a sardonic humor, albeit mixed with deep feeling and sincerity. It defies easy categorization, and it can’t be easily pegged to any particular genre. He once told me, “I think people make too much about influences,” and he’s right — anyone who’s making good at art is influenced by such a broad range of people it can be senseless to try to list them out. (Allmusic makes the attempt, though its list of artists’ influences often have major, nigh-inexcusable omissions). So, as much as I hate to name names, it’s worth saying that I hear a little of the Beatles in his melodies and some of Randy Newman’s wry wit songs like “I Love You America Better Than You.”

Introducing that song at DC9 on April 27, Aaron mentioned something we have in common: We’re both from Ohio. He grew up in Columbus, while I’m from Akron. He told the audience about how his dad, a Vietnam vet, took him to see the Rolling Stones at Horseshoe Stadium (home of the Buckeyes) in 2013, and Kid Rock was opening. During his set, Kid Rock brought ought the guy who supposedly shot Osama Bin Laden, which his dad thought was weird. (It is weird!)

Watch Aaron Lee Tasjan perform “I Love America Better Than You” for Summit FM Studio C Sessions on YouTube:

Since around July 4 of 2015, Aaron’s been working on the song, which he dedicated to all those who have served. He included it on his latest album, Stellar Evolution. It’s a great album, and a perfect expression of Aaron’s unique personality. There’s sci-fi weirdness in songs like “Alien Space Queen” and the werewolf-themed “The Horror of It All.” There’s offbeat humor in “Pants” and “Dylan Shades,” but there’s also honest self-exploration in “The Drugs Did Me.” (After many years of singing about the joys of drugs and drinking, Aaron is sober now.) “Ocean Drive” is about the home of late fashion designer Gianni Versace; Aaron gave credit for the idea for the song to his sister, a fashion designer. He told the audience, “It’s important for us queer folks to have a home where we feel comfortable.”

Although Aaron just released an album a few weeks ago, he’s already trying out new material. “The Real,” which is about “the real ones,” might not even be finished, he told the audience.

The set kicked off with “Up All Night,” followed by “Dime” and “Little Movies.” He then moved into new material — “Dylan Shades” and “Alien Space Queen” —  before playing “Nightmare,” followed by “Pants.” The set continued with more of the songs off the new album: “I Love America Better Than You,” “The Drugs Did Me,” and “Ocean Drive.”

Watch the official music video for “The Drugs Did Me” by Aaron Less Tasjan on YouTube:

The Lucinda cover was up next, and the set rounded out with “Heart Slows,” “The Real,” and “Punk Rock Joy.” For his encore, Aaron said, “Let’s leave you guys with a sweet one,” and played Nanci Griffith’s “Late Night Grande Hotel” solo on the keys.

Before ALT and his band took the stage Nashville-based (although she made a point of saying she’s from Philly) singer-songwriter Molly Martin and her trio performed a loud, raucous set of garage rock that had me, at least, bopping my head along. (I always forget that I have a bad neck and am prone to vertigo, so I bop for about 20-30 seconds before my head starts spinning and I have.)

Molly was at the this same venue a little less than two months ago, opening for Lilly Hiatt, and she really impressed me then. She was just as good this time around, kicking things off with “Take My Pills,” followed by “That Girl Margaret.” The set continued with “What You Need,” then “Love Me/Hate Me,” which she dedicated to “my dysfunctional folks in the room.”

Watch Molly Martin perform “Love Me/Hate Me” live at Treehouse Productions on YouTube:

“Can’t Be Friends,” Molly told the audience, is about the aftermath of a relationship; she joked, “that obviously doesn’t apply to the queers.” After “Burn Me Alive,” she covered the Cranberries “In Your Head,” addressing the situation in Gaza and saying “it’s important for artists to speak for people who can’t speak for themselves.” “Sideways,” she explained, is about her dad — and she just played it to his face the other night. She finished her set with the wonderful “I Like Losers.”

ALT’s songwriting has earned him a Grammy nomination, and the songs this evening were fantastic, full of wit and humor and tenderness. It didn’t hurt that the band sounded great, and that the audience was hot for him after Martin’s dynamite opening set. There’s no easy way to describe ALT music, other to say that it — and his live performance — are fantastic.