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Live At the 9:30 Club

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Album Review

Washington, D.C.-based rock quartet Virginia Coalition comes out of a distinct musical tradition, even if it's one that has rarely been recognized as such. Rock critics of the '90s were so dazzled by the grunge scene in Seattle, WA, that they managed to ignore an equally vibrant, if somewhat more geographically diverse scene that had grown up along the Eastern Seaboard at the same time. These were bands influenced by the improvisational groups of an earlier generation, notably the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band, but which also mixed in healthy doses of frat rock and beach music, along with rhythms borrowed from the Caribbean and Central America. Maybe no critic was willing to put in the hundreds of miles on I-95 it would have taken to connect the dots because this scene stretched from South Carolina to Vermont, and it included Blues Traveler, Dispatch, Hootie & the Blowfish, Bruce Hornsby & the Range, Dave Matthews Band, Phish, and Spin Doctors, among others. Some of these bands made very successful records, but the movement was largely performance based, another reason why critics, who like to sit home with their CDs and don't get out much, missed the connections. The best they could do was to lump some of these acts in with other groups from around the country that sounded nothing like them under the umbrella term "jam bands." As usual, however, audiences didn't need reviews and trend articles to know what they liked, and the music flourished. Of course, it also spawned more bands, and Virginia Coalition is prominent among the next wave of them. Naturally, a two-CD live album is the best audio representation of such an act, and that's what Live at the 9:30 Club is. As heard here, the band most closely resembles Dispatch, with its resonant, rapid-fire, rhythmic vocals and strong beats. But Dispatch didn't have keyboards, and when you add those, the Hornsby connection makes itself heard. Also, Virginia Coalition is less interested in Jamaican beats than in Latin ones, that is, when it isn't just rocking out. But the aspect that the group shares most with its East Coast boogie rock predecessors is its audience rapport. This is a band that makes a connection with its listeners, whether it's playing an original in a salsa style, covering Bill Withers' "Lean on Me," or turning to R&B. It could hold its own anywhere from a Boston club to a Myrtle Beach bar or a thousand venues in between. Can a berth at Bonnaroo be far behind?


Formed: 1990 in Alexandria, VA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s

The four members of the rock band Virginia Coalition -- singer Andrew Poliakoff, multi-instrumentalists Paul Ottinger and Jarrett Nicolay, and drummer John Patrick -- met in junior high school in Alexandria, VA, in music class. In the spring of 1998, they started a local buzz by self-releasing their debut album, The Colors of the Sound. Townburg followed in 2000, helping Virginia Coalition (affectionately termed VACO by their fans) to expand their following to the East Coast and the Midwest, and...
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Live At the 9:30 Club, Virginia Coalition
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