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.

30Jul

A Day To Remember at MECU Pavilion

For nearly two decades, A Day To Remember has provided the soundtrack to whatever I’m doing wherever I’m doing it. Inexplicably, I had never managed to see them live though, so when they announced their massive North American tour for 2022 I knew I needed to rectify the situation.

As luck would have it, the Ocala, Florida, based band kicked off their “Just Some Shows” tour in Baltimore, along with Beartooth and Bad Omens. And if opening night was any indication, this is going to be one helluva tour. My only question is how on earth lead singer Jeremy McKinnon, lead guitarist Kevin Skaff, rhythm guitarist Neil Westfall and drummer Alex Shelnutt are going to go this hard for this long if they’re playing essentially every night from now until the end of October?

Baltimore was treated to a high-energy, 20-song set that included the live debut of their new single “Miracle,” which was released one week earlier, and seemingly every other fan favorite from their extensive catalog — including “The Downfall Of Us All,” “Mindreader,” “Resentment” and so much more.

“Miracle” represents ADTR’s first new music since the band released You’re Welcome, their seventh studio album which dropped in March of 2021. Judging by how many people in the crowd sang along with McKinnon, it’s safe to say it’s yet another smash hit from a band showing absolute zero signs of slowing down anytime soon.

29Jul

Beartooth at MECU Pavilion

Since forming Beartooth a decade ago, frontman Caleb Shomo has made a name for himself as one of the go-to voices of hard rock today. The anger, the rage and, most noticeably, the piercing vocals have elevated the Columbus, Ohio, native and his band to the top of the genre.

With a string of hits — including “Devastation,” “The Past Is Dead” and “Skin” — off of their last album, Below, and a brand-new single titled “Riptide,” Beartooth set out on tour with A Day To Remember and Bad Omens. As luck would have it, I was able to catch their first stop on the tour bassist Oshie Bichar, lead guitarist Zach Huston, rhythm guitarist Will Deely, drummer Connor Denis and Shomo lit up the stage in Baltimore.

With some bands, seeing them in concert ruins the aura as you quickly discover that their sound is heavily manufactured in a recording studio and that, in reality, the live product fails to live up to the songs you know and love from their album. Beartooth fans need not worry, Shomo’s trademark screams clearly do not require any assistance and, in fact, the entire band brought their ‘A game” for Charm City. In fact, Shomo and friends went so hard, it’s tough to imagine they’re going to be able to maintain this level of excellence for an entire tour.

28Jul

Bad Omens at MECU Pavilion

It’s completely fitting that the first band I’ve had the pleasure of covering twice this year is Bad Omens. Not only did they absolutely kill it when I covered their show with Underoath and Spiritbox back in March, but THE DEATH OF PEACE OF MIND is undoubtedly my favorite album of 2022.

The Richmond, Virginia-based band dropped its third studio album a day before my birthday and it’s been in constant rotation ever since. The opportunity to hear Noah Sebastian’s piercing vocals tear into “ARTIFICIAL SUICIDE” contrasted by the melodic flow of a track like “The Grey” was simply too good to pass up.

While it was slightly jarring to see them perform in broad daylight compared to the dark and brooding mood of their previous set, Bad Omens’ intensity and sound works in any setting. And my complements to the chef … or whoever is responsible for pairing Bad Omens with A Day To Remember and Beartooth. They’re very clearly three of the best bands in hard rock today, and catching them all on the opening night of their new tour was a blast.

13Jul

D.C. United names Wayne Rooney new head coach

After a listless D.C. United squad failed to remotely challenge Nashville SC in front of the first sellout crowd of the season, it felt as if the season — not even halfway completed — was already lost. Without a serious infusion of talent and money, the former pillar of Major League Soccer was destined to remain a small-market club in a town desperate for better.

One match later, an emphatic 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Philadelphia, management seemingly came to the same conclusion. D.C. United co-owner Jason Levien reached out to a familiar face and convinced one of the franchise’s most famous players to come back to his unofficial home away from home.

With that, Wayne Rooney becomes the ninth head coach in franchise history. Three years after Rooney made a hasty retreat from our nation’s capital back to England, the 36-year-old superstar returns in an effort to once again make the black and red relevant.

During his first stint in town, Rooney admirably served as a team captain/savvy veteran as he lifted D.C. United from the dregs of the league (21st overall in 2017) to qualify for the playoffs in both 2018 and ’19. Now he returns to a club in even worse shape than before in an entirely new role — that of a relatively inexperienced manager. For the last three years, Rooney has been with Derby County — initially serving as a player/coach before transitioning full time into a managerial role.

Rooney’s time with the Rams was far from ideal, as the club faced financial problems which ultimately caused Derby County to be relegated to England’s third division. That said, Rooney received praise for handling such an adverse situation and the development of several of the clubs younger players. After turning down a chance to manage Everton and accepting D.C. United’s offer, England’s all-time leading scorer won’t lose sleep over the possibility of relegation. But he will once again find himself game-planning against teams with much greater talent and resources at their disposal.

Aside from all-star forward Taxiarchis Fountas, there is a serious lack of talent on the current roster. Levien and friends broke the bank, paying a reported million dollars per season (three times more than the previous coach earned) to entice one of the biggest names in world soccer to pick up the phone. Hopefully the new manager received similar assurances from the ownership group that their notoriously tight pursestrings will be loosened as Rooney embarks on his latest reclamation project. Otherwise, 18 months from now, D.C. United might once again be faced with life after Wazza.

29Jun

Memphis May Fire at Union Transfer

In conjunction with the release of their seventh studio album, Memphis May Fire embarked on a 30-show, cross country tour with the help of some notable friends. Along with From Ashes to New, Rain City Drive and Wolves at the Gate, the Texas-based quartet hit the road for the SiriusXM Octane Presents The Remade In Misery Tour.

In the main event of the evening, Memphis May Fire wasted no time diving into their hourlong performance, starting with “Blood & Water,” the opening track on their seventh studio album, Remade in Misery, which dropped on June 3. Matty Mullins, Kellen McGregor, Cory Elder and Jake Garland clearly put a ton of time and energy into their latest record, which is littered with numerous singles that’ll be featured on hard rock charts in the coming weeks and months.

While Memphis May Fire will always be known for their hard rock/metalcore sound, the coolest moment of their performance was when they paused to dedicate one of their slower tracks, “Miles Away,” to the men and women who willingly serve in the military and, in Mullins’ words, truly understand what it means to pack up, leave your family behind and follow orders.

HomerMcFanboy background image