- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Travis Morrison’s solo days are over. After a brief period of recording and performing on his own, the former frontman for the District’s Dismemberment Plan is finishing a new album with his band, Travis Morrison Hellfighters. The group headlines tonight’s free show at Fort Reno Park in Tenleytown.

His short solo career was the “musical equivalent of sleeping around,” Mr. Morrison says during a telephone interview. He got loose, had fun, experimented. He expanded on the Plan’s blueprint of non-conformist punk rock and slinky, hip-hop influenced beats with the concept album “Travistan.” He indulged his inner rapper by performing cover versions of songs by Ludacris.

But Mr. Morrison, who grew up in Alexandria and now lives in the District’s Shaw neighborhood, knew he’d eventually return to a band — and did so last summer. The first practice happened in early September and just two days later the group played its debut show. Mr. Morrison loved the spontaneity.

“All you can really do with bands is go for it. That’s what they’re about,” he says.

After enduring some rocky performances, the Hellfighters began to gel and write new songs together.

Even though he’s the lyricist, singer and the band’s name, Mr. Morrison relishes his role as a collaborator. “I like the American tradition of a bunch of people getting together and playing,” he says from the Atlanta studio where the group is recording tracks for “All Y’All,” scheduled for an early 2006 release. “I’d really rather be known as someone who is associated with great musicians,” rather than a songwriter, he says.

The Hellfighters — Mr. Morrison, Saadat Awan, David Brown and Brandon Kalber — keep things playful. They switch among drums, bass and keyboards, and the new songs indulge in a tuneful, percussive feel. Mr. Morrison’s friends refer to the tracks as “classic rock go-go.”

That’s no surprise, because the funk-meets-non-stop-grooves of D.C.’s homegrown go-go sound have always influenced Mr. Morrison’s records. Throughout its 10 years, Dismemberment Plan was the band that made it cool to dance at punk shows. Even the normally docile and appreciative Fort Reno crowd might start to dance during the Hellfighters’ set, which follows openers Federal City Five and Pagoda.

Fort Reno Park’s humid nights and open-air setting are unforgiving for musicians who step to its makeshift stage.

“The sound on that stage is the all-time worst sound ever,” Mr. Morrison says.

But he enjoys the relaxed atmosphere at the venue, a summer tradition among punk fans for decades.

Mr. Morrison promises to play a few “Travistan” tracks and lean heavily on “All Y’All.” The new songs are “very optimistic,” he says. “It’s definitely the sunniest thing I’ve ever done.”


Just the opposite is true, at least thematically, for another hometown group. On “The Cosmic Game,” Thievery Corporation’s Rob Garza and Eric Hilton spike their lush, continent-hopping grooves with urgent lyrical protests against imperialism, government surveillance and Hollywood-manufactured stereotypes.

The disc represents a revolt against the common conception that electronic music should be all beat and no brain.

“It’s kind of difficult to make a record about dancing all night when there’s a riot going on,” Mr. Garza recently told Urb magazine, referring to the band’s disdain for current world politics. He and Mr. Hilton, who have collaborated since 1995, operate their Eighteenth Street Lounge Music label from Adams Morgan.

Thievery Corporation’s three consecutive 9:30 Club appearances, which begin tonight, will mesh cultural consciousness with the waves of exuberant and exotic electronic music.

“The Cosmic Game” encounters more cultures than an Embassy Row block party. The globetrotting duo draws inspiration from South America (“Pela Janela”), India (“Satyam Shivam Sundaram,” “Doors of Perception”) and Jamaica (“Wires and Watchtowers”).

Mr. Garza and Mr. Hilton’s reputation as musicians, remixers and live performers helps secure A-list guests on the album, such as David Byrne and Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction). Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips supplies an understated, echoing vocal to the rise-up-and-revolt opener, “Marching the Hate Machines (Into the Sun).”

On stage, Thievery Corporation performs with guest musicians, vocalists and percussionists to boost its already dynamic sound. Despite Mr. Garza’s comments, the 9:30 Club events promise to be dance-all-night celebrations of world music and Thievery Corporation’s first decade of trendsetting styles.

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