There are many different ways to appreciate live music. Most of the time, we seek out an artist we know and appreciate, and we painstakingly plan (and pay) for their concert. With time, age, and experience, I have learned there are other factors that can make a night of music magical besides a familiar artist. For me, those common links usually include the venue and the company I’m with for the night. Both of those came into play last summer, as my friend Mike and I ventured to one of my favorite music venues, the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. to see a band play we had never heard of before, Oh He Dead. We didn’t know the style or genre, we just wanted to hit that club and catch some live music, so we bought our tickets and headed downtown. We streamed a sampling of their songs on the way to the show and were pleasantly surprised by the warmth and vibe of their sound. As it turned out, it was a phenomenal show and another great memory between friends. They featured their newly released single “Bottle It Up”, and the rest of the material was mostly from their 2019 self-titled album.
Another of my friends named Mike once told me, he thought the perfect mix of cover songs in a live show is 1/3rd. That seems a little high for me, especially when the artist has a deep catalog of original tunes, but even the biggest stars in the world can remake a song in their image and style to create a new experience. For us, we heard two phenomenal covers that night, both near the end of the set. The first one caught us way off-guard, and it moved Mike to tears. As long-time metal fans, the last thing we ever expected to hear that night was Black Sabbath, but Oh He Dead dropped a beautiful and powerful version of “Changes” that absolutely changed the tenor of the night.
The other cover song was a more natural fit. If I had to describe the sound of vocalist CJ Johnson, Amy Winehouse would be near the top of the list of influences, and it appears that “Valerie” is the signature set closer for Oh He Dead. Covering an artist of Winehouse’s stature is a risky move, and it paid off big-time for Johnson and Oh He Dead. She appears to be a beautiful person on and off stage, and her charisma and energy carried the show from the first light.
Of their originals, my favorites included “Bottle It Up”, “Do You Ever Wonder”, and “Show Me Love”. If I had to pick one song from all their music that best represents the mood of that night, I would select “Lonely Sometimes”. The interchange of Andy Valenti and Alex Salser on guitar, along with John Daise and Adam Ashforth on bass and drums, delivers a remarkably funky groove for CJ to sing across, and you can truly feel how well this music takes on a new life in your favorite club, when the rhythm permeate through you from front to back.
The moral of the story is hopefully clear here… if you love music like I do, be bold and go out and seek new sounds. Find your perfect companion, head to your favorite venue, and open your ears and open your mind. Chances are that a great evening full of memories and new discoveries are just waiting to be found.