- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

Once you've digested all that turkey, check out Viktoria Adoryan tonight at Zig's in Alexandria. (Don't worry, those dirty dishes will be there when you get back.)

"I will play any chance I get," she declares over coffee. An Arlington resident (by way of Hungary and Orlando, Fla.), the 24-year-old singer and songwriter has a larger voice than her 5-foot-2-inch frame would suggest.

Visitors downloading demo songs from www.adoryan.com might mistake her for an acoustic folkie. But she used a full band at her recent Taste of DC gig, and in past gigs opening for Barenaked Ladies and The Calling.

Tonight it looks like it's just she and lead guitarist Bob Hume, though. "It won't be a folk-fest or anything," she predicts. "I guess I couldn't sound folky if I tried."

That's not really true, but given her love for Janis Joplin and covers of Zeppelin's "D'yer Maker" and the Beatles' "Oh Darlin'" it's clear she'd rather rock, and in a bluesy style.

And she'd rather do it her way. The self-described "computer geek" does her own Web site, and burns demo CDs at her home studio. She loves being onstage, but walked away from a musical theater career because "they tell you you have to sing a certain way."

On "Empty Promises," Miss Adoryan sings like an unplugged Gwen Stefani, well-suited for a facile power ballad. But there's great dark imagery in the line "You tied a rope I can't undo/Around my throat and round yours too." (For the record, she thinks Ms. Stefani "could do some great musical theater.")

The catchy "Odds Might Be Against Me" is a far better vehicle, with a low, dark strumming melody, and jazzy soprano sax that closes with a Dave Brubeck riff. She's perhaps too young for lyrics such as "The day is bound to come when all my dreams just disappear," but defiance in the face of despair and worries about dreams deferred are common themes in these songs.

"Die Another Day" (which has nothing to do with the new James Bond film) starts with depressing lyrics such as "war and fighting just prevail." After a foray into gospel, it ends all lovey-dovey, with the optimistic "I die another day. But not today," and a very pretty vocal fade-out. Here's hoping it will remain acoustic.

Speaking of optimism, Miss Adoryan says her December debut album "will be 100 times more alive" than the demos. But expect her to keep asking a question from "Odds": "Will I ever see the view from the top?"

"We're all driving, even though one person's behind the wheel," says Fighting Gravity singer Schiavone McGee from a gig in Hoboken, N.J. He means the band's van, but it's also a good metaphor for the band and his role as high-energy charismatic frontman.

The veterans from Richmond average 250 gigs a year, but only at the Barns of Wolf Trap do they play an acoustic show. Tomorrow night they'll bring new songs and a new musical direction.

Long famous for their ska horns, they've recently morphed into a tight, organic, modern rock outfit. In fact, their new untitled album has no horns.

"Simple Life" is a sing-along pop-punker that seems tailor-made for radio and MTV. It even clocks in at a pop-perfect three minutes and features a "1-2-3-4" Ramones-style opening.

"I Disagree" has tight, predictable, and satisfying power chords from Rich Stine, while the Brit-poppy "America" gets energy from Mike Boyd's snapping drums.

Musically and lyrically the band goes all over the map here, but women and growing up and moving on seem to be recurrent themes, notably on "Perfect Day," whose warbling bass line and keyboards (courtesy of David Peterson and John Utley) will appeal to Sting fans.

"It's 2002, my friend, and the band has grown and changed," says Mr. McGee. Not just in sound, either: This is the first album on which all the band members fully participated in songwriting.

This is the third year the band is doing the Barns gig, he says. "We literally went to a junkyard the first year" and got a toilet seat and other makeshift instruments. Which instruments and songs get played tomorrow will be a surprise, and likely not just for the audience.

"The D.C.-Northern Virginia area has been fantastic for us over the years," he says, noting that Thanksgiving is a good time to appreciate the fans and "just have a musical church." One thing won't change: "We're not a sit-down band, acoustic or not."

But other things will keep changing, it seems. Mr. McGee says he favors "looking through the windshield, not the rearview mirror." This time he doesn't mean the van.

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