- The Washington Times - Friday, September 3, 2004

Because the District, Maryland and Virginia aren’t pieces of anyone’s electoral puzzle, we won’t be catching this fall’s most high-profile rock show — the Vote for Change Tour, headlined by Bruce Springsteen, the Dixie Chicks and other pop stars so fed up with President Bush that they’re heading for the so-called swing states to try to tip the balance toward Sen. John Kerry.

After one of the most disappointing summers in years, area venues could have used a little political frisson.

Mr. Springsteen may not be on tap, but one of his favorite young bands — the Philadelphia rockers Marah — will be carrying his flag at Arlington’s Iota Club & Cafe Oct. 8. You may recall the group from a recent New York Times Op-Ed column in which “High Fidelity” novelist Nick Hornby slathered praise on these saviors of exultant rock.

The Nissan Pavilion and the Merriweather Post Pavilion — both of which suffered a rash of cancellations, postponements and poor sales — will no doubt be happy to shutter their outdoor seasons and start anew next year. Fresh from a stop at the Republican National Convention, country duo Brooks & Dunn will close out Nissan’s season Oct. 17. The alt-metal band Incubus has the honors Oct. 11 at Merriweather.

Wolf Trap, one of the bright spots of the outdoor-concert market, will move all its music under the roof of the Barns starting in October. One highlight is bluesman Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, who appears there Nov. 19.

With no E Street Band or Rolling Stones coming to town, there won’t be action at FedEx Field this fall. Most of this year’s big-ticket arena acts — among them Prince, Van Halen and Madonna — have already passed through.

What’s left at the MCI Center are the resurgent Gloria Estefan (Sept. 8), Barry Manilow’s purported farewell (Oct. 14) and reigning heavy-metal kings Metallica (Oct. 17). Contemporary country stars Alan Jackson and Martina McBride will team up for a double bill Nov. 19.

The Warner Theatre may be a comparatively small house, but Oct. 10 it will host one of the season’s most hotly anticipated shows. Brian Wilson will dig from the vaults “Smile,” the legendary Beach Boys project that stalled 37 years ago and finally will see official release later this month. Mr. Wilson also will be playing other Beach Boys classics as well as tunes from his latest solo album, “Gettin’ in Over My Head.”

The Beastie Boys, still cementing their comeback, will be back in the area Oct. 8 at the Patriot Center for a proper performance. (The rappers’ appearance at the 9:30 Club this summer seemed hasty and ill-planned.)

Speaking of comebacks, the much-heralded re-formed Pixies will make a two-night stand (Dec. 7 and 8) at DAR Constitution Hall. They’re touring behind a greatest-hits album, but enthusiasm for this band is so high, it doesn’t matter; fans would have been there on the strength of the reunion alone.

While we’re stuck on punk comebacks, the underappreciated Social Distortion, which lost guitarist Dennis Danell to an aneurysm in 2000, will release its first studio album in eight years this month. It will play live at the Nation nightclub Oct. 18.

Other 1980s punk legends rolling through town include Mission of Burma and ex-Minuteman Mike Watt, each playing the Black Cat (Oct. 14 and 22, respectively).

If those aren’t enough comebacks for you, here’s one more: The Incredible String Band, an avant-folk band from the 1960s, is on its first live tour in 30 years. It plays the Birchmere Sept. 27.

Let’s pause for a band on its way out: Guided by Voices, the indie-rock band that frontman Robert Pollard says is retiring. Unless you plan on following them around the country, the last time you get to see GBV may be September 11 at the 9:30 Club. (It’s OK to play pop music on that night again.)

A week later at the 9:30 (Sept. 18), Robert Randolph & the Family Band will headline a show. The band’s frontman, a wizard on pedal steel guitar, wowed Eric Clapton fans in an opening set at the MCI Center this summer.

While fans of the Black Crowes pine for a reunion — come on, Kate Hudson, let your husband, Chris Robinson, back on the playground — they can slake their appetites for arena-rock classicism Sept. 25 as guitarist Rich Robinson makes a rare small-club appearance at Vienna’s Jammin’ Java.

It might be the smallest venue Mr. Robinson has played in 15 years, which is fitting.

There comes a time — 2004 in Washington has been one of them — when one needs to downsize expectations.

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