Ratboys, Thunder Dreamer
1940 9th St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Doors 7:30 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is all ages
There's somewhat of a paradox inherent in Vundabar's songwriting - a conflicting sense of nostalgia contrasted with the realization that they couldn't sound more current.
The music they make feels like something that should have been heard a long time ago, while simultaneously continuing to forge ahead sonically. Vundabar's high energy live show is the stand out quality of this band and is an art they’ve undoubtedly perfected by touring non-stop around the country. Vundabar’s shows never fail to be captivating, complete with infectious jams, guitar moves galore, intricate drum work, and humorous stage banter to top it all off, the band has become known for putting on an entertaining show.
Born out of fierce friendship and a mutual affection for melody, Chicago’s Ratboys – anchored by the partnership of Julia Steiner and Dave Sagan – aims to ‘write songs that tell stories and honor the intimacy of memory,’ according to Steiner.
GN, the group’s second full-length album via Topshelf Records, offers a bevy of tales, laments and triumphs, which recount near-tragedies by the train tracks, crippling episodes of loneliness, remembrances of a deceased family pet with freezer burn, and on and on. The songs shift and breathe as worlds all their own, tied together by the group’s self-proclaimed ‘post-country’ sound, which combines moments of distortion and a DIY aesthetic with a devotion to simple songwriting and ties to the Americana sounds of years past.
Drawing influence from the down-to-earth sincerity of late-90s Sheryl Crow and the confessional confidence of Kim Deal and Jenny Lewis, the songs on GN (aka ‘goodnight’) “largely detail experiences of saying goodbye, finding your way home, and then figuring out what the hell to do once you’re back,” says Steiner. The songs chosen to close both sides of the record – the slow-burning ‘Crying About the Planets’ and quizzical ‘Peter the Wild Boy’ – unpack the respective journeys of two real people who were quite literally lost and found. ‘’Crying’ tells the survival story of Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson from a first-person perspective, and ‘Peter’ reflects on the life of a feral child in Germany who was eventually adopted by the King of England,’ according to Steiner. ‘Writing as and about these people is the best way I can attempt to empathize with them and really just wrap my mind around these bits of history that otherwise might not get talked about. And it helps me understand my own experiences a little bit better,’ she says.
Certain personal stories – the tour adventures recapped in ‘GM,’ the struggle to learn to show affection as divulged in ‘Molly’ – find Ratboys just as eagerly exploring subject matter that comes from within, and then illustrating the highs and lows with soaring hooks and plaintive ones. Even in the moments that lie somewhere between bliss and misery, a tension persists between Steiner’s sweet vocal delivery and Sagan’s physical, almost-off-the-hinges guitar playing that lends each song a deeper sense of color and movement.
Steiner and Sagan felt the impulse to make music together from the get-go – they first met as university students, quickly put out an EP together, and started performing as an acoustic two-piece in dorm rooms and backyards. During the next few years, the friends traveled separately, eventually reunited, and recorded what would become the first Ratboys record, AOID, which the folks at GoldFlakePaint describe as ‘a gleaming, joyous, raucous display of melodic indie-rock.’
After a year and a half of touring the US and Europe as a plugged-in full band (featuring the additions of drums, bass, and trumpet), the members of Ratboys returned to Chicago and holed up at Atlas Studios for two weeks to record with engineer Mikey Crotty (who had previously worked with the group on the songs ‘Not Again’ and ‘Light Pollution’). ‘This time around, we were lucky enough to feature the talents of friends who play the pedal steel, accordion, cello and violin to give the songs an extra something,’ says Steiner. ‘Dave finally got to show off his ridiculous skills on the pocket piano, and the whole thing felt like one big loving experiment.’
Those good times and long days yielded the 10 songs that make up GN, which Evan Hall of Pinegrove calls ‘a delectable chapter in the Ratboys story.’
The words “We will destroy the Earth and all we’ve made” taken in their most literal form appear to be strikingly brutal. Approach it via its position in the opening track on Thunder Dreamer’s new LP, however, and the tone feels altogether more enigmatic and alluring. With its crushingly somber delivery, the words immediately create a palpable and dark romantic mood that sets the tone for the album to come. Indicative of a record that never once settles, even when it opens up into far more embracing moments of splendor, "Why Bother" immediately plunges the listener in to the heart of Thunder Dreamer’s work: ‘Capture,' the band’s most fully realized and affecting work to-date.
Released in May via 6131 Records (Julien Baker, Touché Amoré), 'Capture' takes the stifling small-town isolation that has peppered the bands work thus far — through their 2013 eponymous EP and 2015’s debut LP — and imbues it with the things that have always led to the most endearing of rock and roll records: hardships and heartaches, lethargy and crushing indifference in the face of it all. Absorbing such things from the Midwestern heartland they call home, that tough, resilient authenticity runs through the band’s new record like hot blood through cold, hard-working limbs.
Sprawling out across eight monumental tracks, 'Capture' finds frontman Steven Hamilton in torch-bearing form. Once his solo project but now expanded to a four-piece, Thunder Dreamer specialize in writing songs that feel remarkably human. The emotional connections to the people and places that fade in and out of the record are not just a pertinent inclusion, but a vital one. Even when the band are crafting a gleaming slice of Americana — think Whiskeytown at their most opulent, or Songs: Ohia's rollicking pomp — the whole thing is underpinned by an overwhelming poignancy.
Some five years on from their initial outing, Thunder Dreamer offer an about-turn on ‘Capture,' shaping the rawness of their previous work in to something altogether more complete and substantial; a gritty take on the great American songbook, with its arms and heart left open to all.
Thunder Dreamer is: Steven Hamilton (vocals, guitar), Corey Greenfield (drums), Alex Wallwork (bass), and Zach Zint (piano).