16Sep

Nothing More at Baltimore Soundstage

Life on the road is tough. It’s infinitely tougher when you’re a band being told you can’t play your music. 

That’s where Nothing More found themselves when members of In This Moment fell ill and had to back out of a series of shows during their “Blood 1983” tour. While In This Moment was unable to perform, they same could not be said of Nothing More, who immediately let it be known that they were willing and able to play every show on their calendar — with or without the headliner. 

Unfortunately, the band was told that wasn’t possible, thanks to difficulties involving promoters and Ticketmaster. Determined to find a way to play, the San Antonio-based quartet called an audible and quickly scheduled an impromptu show in Baltimore. Rather than playing an abbreviated 45-minute set supporting another band, Nothing More performed a full 90-minute spectacle that spanned their entire catalog and blew the doors off of the Baltimore Soundstage. 

Lead singer Jonny Hawkins, guitarist Mark Vollelunga, bass guitarist Daniel Oliver and drummer Ben Anderson clearly picked a healthy way to work through whatever pent-up frustrations the band came into the evening with, after being initially told they couldn’t play for fans who had purchased tickets to see them in concert. They worked each and every inch of the stage during the evening and, when that wasn’t enough, used a 14-foot-tall contraption made of scrap metal and auto parts, affectionately known as “Scorpion’s Tail,” to elevate Hawkins above the stage.

Nothing More will drop its sixth studio album, Spirits, Oct. 14. Several songs, including “Tired of Winning” and “Turn It Up Like (Stand in the Fire),” have already been released and were very well received by the sellout crowd while fan favorites “Go to War” and “Jenny,” which is about Hawkins’ sister, received the loudest ovations during the evening. 

15Sep

Sleep Token at Baltimore Soundstage

If you’re unfamiliar with Sleep Token, don’t feel bad. Not much is known about the British rock collective.

Sleep Token are a masked, anonymous collective of musicians united by their worship of an ancient deity crudely dubbed “Sleep,” since no modern tongue can properly express its name. In case you were wondering, “Sleep” appeared to the band’s lead singer, “Vessel,” in a dream. And the rest is history, apparently.

Their second album This Place Will Become Your Tomb was elected by Loudwire as one of the best rock/metal album of 2021. For the uninitiated, “Alkaline,” “Mine” and “The Offering” are solid starting points to get a feel for what the band is all about. At a surprise show on a random Wednesday night in Baltimore, Sleep Token enthralled and captivated an audience that seemed unsure at the start, but was all in by the time the collective finished their set.

12Sep

Commanders emerge victorious via Full Carson Wentz Experience

It is not an exaggeration to say that, if not for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Carson Wentz would not be a member of the Washington Commanders. A humiliating season-ending loss to the three-win Jaguars kept Wentz and the Indianapolis Colts out of the playoffs, infuriating owner Jim Irsay to the point where he felt a change was needed at quarterback.

“No disrespect to Jacksonville, but I mean, they’re the worst team in the league. You play well and hard for the first quarter or so, and they’re looking to go to their locker room and clean it out. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” Irsay said. “You say, ‘My God, there’s something wrong here.’ It needs to be corrected. I think that we feel like we did.”

“Your guy’s gotta pick you up and carry you through Jacksonville. He has to do it. Not an option. Has to. No excuses, no explanations,” Irsay added.

It’s rare to see an NFL owner make such pointed remarks about a player, but to quote Ron Rivera and/or The Dude:

“Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

Seeing an opportunity to upgrade at the game’s most important position, Washington traded a 2022 third-round pick and a 2023 third-rounder that can convert to a second-rounder based on incentives to acquire the North Dakota State product. And, as fate would have it, the Commanders welcomed Jacksonville to town for Wentz’s debut game in Washington.

Commanders fans were treated to the Full Carson Wentz Experience in the season opener, as the 29-year-old completed 27 of 41 passes for 313 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions and a QB rating of 101.0. The two interceptions came on back-to-back throws in the fourth quarter, the kind of soul-crushing mistakes that almost always spell doom.

But Wentz responded with touchdown throws of 49 and 25 yards to mount a 28-22 come-from-behind victory for the burgundy and gold. He threw for four touchdowns in a contest for the first time since 2017, but also nearly singlehandedly allowed the Jaguars to earn their first road victory in 18 games. Such is life when you’re playing for your third franchise in three seasons, it seems.

Wentz was not the only Commanders player who turned in a memory performance. Rookie receiver Jahan Dotson caught three passes for 40 yards and two touchdowns, wideout Curtis Samuel contributed 72 total yards and a touchdown and running back Antonio Gibson chipped in 130 yards in total offense as well.

Defensively, safety Darrick Forrest was everywhere — compiling four tackles, two passes defended, one forced fumble and an interception. Defensive lineman Daron Payne picked up a sack, batted down two pass attempts as he spent the majority of the afternoon in the Jaguars’ backfield.

15Aug

Juan Soto, along with all hope, has left the Nationals

The Lerner family simply cannot sell the Washington Nationals soon enough. 

In what will likely/hopefully be their final act, the Lerners gutted the franchise by trading away right fielder Juan Soto. This move was telegraphed as soon as ownership offered the superstar a 15-year, $440-million extension … they absolutely knew he wouldn’t accept. 

On the surface, it indeed represented the largest contract in baseball history (which is what the Lerners hopes casual sports fans focus on). This public relations move/contract offer represented the 20th highest average annual value ($29.3 million) in the sport. Think about that for a moment. Soto, at 23, is widely considered a top three player in the game. So why would he sign away the next decade and a half for less money per season than 18 or so players who aren’t at his level?

He wouldn’t and he didn’t, which is how another supposed franchise building block got away. Soto joins Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Max Scherzer as players of consequence who were shown the door in Washington and now, a team that won the World Series in 2019 finds itself with the worst record in the majors. And likely for years to come.

Fate brought Soto and his new ballclub, the San Diego Padres, just 10 days after he was dealt away and the Nats have officially reached a point where the most enticing reason to go to the ballpark these days is to see opposing players. Padres starter Blake Snell barely broke a sweat, giving up just three hits while striking out 10 over six shutout innings in the series finale. Paolo Espino took the loss for Washington, after allowing seven hits and four runs in five-and-two-thirds innings. 

During the series, Soto went 4-for-12 with four walks, two runs and two RBIs as San Diego took two of three games. Josh Bell, who was included in the Soto deal, went 0 for 13 with three walks in the series. But, unlike the Nationals, better days are ahead for Bell and friends who still have plenty to play for this season.

14Aug

Commanders participate in meaningless exhibition game

It must be the preseason because fans are already starting to fall for a third-string quarterback.

With apologies to rookie quarterback Sam Howell, who performed admirably in his preseason debut for the Washington Commanders, this is an annual rite of passage. The season cannot legally begin until the local fanbase is completely smitten with an unheralded player from the bottom half of the roster — with bonus points awarded if that player is a developmental quarterback.

The ghosts of Taylor Jacobs, Marcus Mason, Jesse Lumsden, Colt Brennan (and countless other preseason fan favorites) nodded in approval as Commanders fans couldn’t contain their excitement over a meaningless exhibition game held during the dog days of summer.

On the day, Howell completed nine of 16 passes for 143 passing yards with two rushing touchdowns. The North Carolina standout’s first scoring drive was a seven-play, 74-yard adventure and then he followed it up with an epic 13-play drive capped by a two-point conversation that briefly gave Washington a 21-20 lead late in the fourth quarter. Sure, the Carolina Panthers marched right down the field and kicked the winning field goal on the ensuing drive, but again, this time of year is all about optimism.

So feel free to focus on the exploits of Howell or rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr., who rushed for a touchdown and, more importantly, didn’t fumble (the same cannot be said about Antonio Gibson, who has to be hearing footsteps after fumbling the ball away more times than any other back in the league). Quarterback Carson Wentz, who started the game and will be behind center once the games actually matter, had a serviceable afternoon. He wasn’t great. He wasn’t terrible. Best of all, he wasn’t inaccurate. Regardless of any numbers on the scoreboard, let’s just go ahead and call that a win. 

01Aug

Commanders training camp in full swing

As someone who has covered every NFL season in our nation’s capital since 2005, I pride myself on managing expectations. Too many training camp heroes have come and gone over the years — Taylor Jacobs, Marcus Mason, Colt Brennan and so many others who shined most when it mattered least — for me to rush to conclusions when players are in shorts and no pads.

So rather than gushing over players who, at best, will be inactive on Sundays, my focus during training camp is on areas that actually matter: like the offensive line, where two new guards become starters after Erick Flowers and Brandon Scherff moved on. Or tight end, where Logan Thomas is still recovering from knee injuries that will likely prevent him from being ready for Week 1 of the upcoming season. Or defensive line, which should absolutely be the strength of this team, but vastly underperformed a season ago.

And, of course, there are a few new faces at the game’s most important position — Carson Wentz comes to town via Indianapolis by way of Philadelphia, and Sam Howell, a rookie out of North Carolina. The hope locally is Wentz can provide stability for a franchise that hasn’t had a top-tier quarterback in … well … let’s not even go there. But that seems like a big ask for a guy with accuracy issues who finds himself on his third team in three seasons.

Regardless of how successful the Wentz era ultimately is, hope springs eternal for most fanbases during the dog days of summer. With that in mind, here are some of my favorite images from the opening week of the 2022 Washington Commanders training camp.

31Jul

The Weeknd at FedEx Field

It’s Abel Tesfaye’s world; the rest of us are just living in it.

And judging from the massive and elaborate set for his current “After Hours Til Dawn” stadium tour, that world is very much of a post-apocalyptic variety … not that anyone appears to mind. That was evident as a boisterous sellout crowd eagerly awaited the arrival of one of the biggest names in pop music today.

By the time The Weeknd took to the stage in a plastic mask and hit the first note of his opening track, “Alone Again,” it was absolute pandemonium in Landover, Maryland. If the last decade has taught us anything, it’s safe to say The Weeknd knows how to capture the attention of his ever-growing audience. Whether he’s performing during halftime of the Super Bowl, boycotting the Grammys or releasing smash hit after smash hit, people seemingly cannot get enough of the Toronto native.

Although COVID-19 concerns delayed the tour for nearly two years and opening act Doja Cat was forced to withdraw due to issues with her tonsils that required a second surgery, none of that mattered on a warm summer night down the road from our nation’s capital. For nearly two hours, The Weeknd delivered a highly-energetic and captivating set that spanned his entire catalog, including “Can’t Feel My Face,” “Starboy,” “The Hills,” “Blinding Lights” and so much more.

Since his last tour, The Weeknd has shifted from arenas to stadiums. In such a massive venue, a lesser artist runs the risk of alienating concert goers who might feel acres away from the stage. But the sheer size of it all — the set, the stage, the catwalk that ran the entire length of the football field, the army of dancers who appeared to be on loan from The Handmaid’s Tale — made it virtually impossible to not feel immersed in the pure spectacle of it all.

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