OK, so which Babylonian weather deity did we collectively blow like a $5 crack whore to assure us of an entire weekend without getting firehosed by the kind of precipitation generally associated with tropical monsoons? Because I want to get his number in our rolodex for next year. Another absolutely gorgeous night for another spectacular evening of musical diversion and awesomeness. That’s right, awesomeness.
First up for MidPoint’s Saturday finale was a stop at Artworks for the /- show. Of all the bands on this year’s schedule, I think /- was in my Top 5 in terms of anticipation. I had interviewed James Baluyut back in 2003 for a CityBeat feature to preview their impending Cincinnati appearance, which I didn’t get out to see for whatever reason (deadlines being the most likely culprit), but I did manage to catch them at a daytime gig at South By Soutwest in 2005. They were playing in some dark, dusty little bar on Sixth Street in the early afternoon with no more than 10 people in the place, and that might have included a couple of regulars who were desperately trying to drink away the sonic concussion grenade that was threatening to tear down their favorite alcoholery.
Regardless of the infintesimal turnout, Baluyut and his boys were mindbendingly incredible, churning out a wall of electronic sound, interwoven with slashing Indie Rock guitars and a beat that was as subtle as a pulse and as visceral as a tribal logthumping call to war. It was truly, madly, deeply astonishing.
With that experience fresh in my mind, I headed to Artworks with the idea that I'd be sharing yet another /- show with a dozen of my new best friends. Imagine my surprise when I opened the door and was immediately met with a sea of backs and asses. The place was literally swarming with /- fans, God love each and every one of them. And the object of our affection/obsession did not disappoint on any level. The band has perfected its blend of Electronica, Indie Rock and Folk/Pop to a stunning degree, creating a pastiche of beat-driven Ambient drone with concussive guitar Rock underpinned by time signatures that would give a metronome an inferiority complex. It was catastrophically beautiful and an absolutely perfect way to begin MidPoint’s closing night.
Next up was a trip to Below Zero to catch Fists of Love, one of the local scene’s coolest (relatively) new bands. Chris Schadler and Donna Rubin have created a thing of dark beauty with FOL (named, I’m guessing, after the visceral Big Black song), a psychedelic cage match between X and the Cowboy Junkies, a careening rollercoaster ride through the Post Rock apocolypse that somehow manages to sound howlingly chaotic and tightly focused all at the same time. Schadler and Rubin provide the hallucinatory sonic slash and classic guy/girl vocal acrobatics while bassist John Curley and drummer Cedric Rose lay down a formidable bottom that anchors the madness taking shape around them. Fists of Love is the ’60s and ’70s getting together to devour the sex/drugs/Rock and Roll excesses of the ’80s and ’90s and puking up the new millennium in the orgiastic afterglow. Fists of Love is your new favorite band, whether you know it or not. Be aware.
At 10 p.m., it was time for a hike over to Washington Platform for a blisteringly incendiary set from Aficionado, the pride of Albany, N.Y. I ran into these guys last year at the MPMF Demo Derby panel downtown; they brought in their CD for the panel’s critical assessment, and while local production genius Erwin Musper gave them some tips about cleaning up their sound I felt they should just keep doing what they were doing because it was massively original and creative. The Baroque Pop tag I’ve hung on them in the past is based on their studio output, which is beautiful and wildly inventive, a bus crash at the intersection of Punk, Prog and Pop, with Radiohead and Regina Spektor playing carny music at a street festival on that same corner.
In the live setting, the Punk element rises to the top and bleeds like a head wound out of the seven-piece band. Imagine Henry Rollins taking The Hold Steady hostage at gunpoint and forcing them to accompany him on a vaudeville tour; that doesn’t even come close to the astonishing energy and blazing originality that Aficionado brings to the stage. Vocalist Nick Warchol is the personification of a controlled explosion, vocalist/flautist Laura Carrozza lilts and screams with equal passion, guitarists James Kehoe and Chris Tenerowicz are the souls of six-string invention, keyboardist Craig Dutra provides the Prog spice that fills the air like incense and peppermints. Bassist Chris Kehoe and drummer Mark O’Brien might well be the most talented rhythm section in the country, as evidenced by the schizophrenically perfect foundation they assemble for the Punk burlesque swirling madly around them. They will be back next year (and perhaps even before that), and you would do well to make Aficionado a don’t-miss show when they return.
After the tumult of Aficionado, it was back to the Below Zero for a quick taste of Oxford Cotton, the superish group featuring Greenhornes/Cincinnati Suds guitarist/vocalist Craig Fox, ex-Heartless Bastards bassist Mike Lamping and ex-Pearlene drummer Andy Jody. The band’s studio recordings are fantastic, but they don’t even begin to touch the rampant psychedelic Garage Blues shitstorm that they kick up in front of an audience with a stack of amps and equal amounts of adrenaline and alcohol. Fox’s back was tweaking pretty hard last night, but it didn’t effect his performance in the least, as Oxford Cotton galloped through a set that would make Blue Cheer green with purple microdot envy. Garage Rock and the Blues dropped acid, had a baby and named it Oxford Cotton. Visiting hours are anytime; see the show.
I didn’t stick around for all of Oxford Cotton due to that familiar MidPoint dilemma of too much going on at once. Sparrow Bellows drummer Brian Kitzmiller was headed over to catch a little of the Black Owls’ set at Jack Potts and, as they were on my list of possibilities for the evening, I decided to tag along since OC seemed to have the Below Zero audience well captivated. It was a tough choice, but the Black Owls didn’t disappoint. Imagine AC/DC clipped to a trio, attached to an intravenous Wild Turkey drip and mutated by experimental gene therapy into Indie Garage Rock superheroes. The Black Owls were killing it for the pretty decent crowd that they pulled in; here’s hoping we see a whole lot more Owls around town in the months to come.
Finally it was back to the Below Zero for the last show of the night with my beloved Sundresses, the most appropriate way I could imagine to wrap up MidPoint 2010. It’s unnecessary to detail their set, as the songs bled together like the blood that pools after a gangland hit. The Sundresses are sex and drugs and a double shot of my baby’s Rock & Roll. They are the hangman, the rope, the trap door and the drop. They are the past, present, future and apocolypse of Rock and the Blues and Punk. They are all that is good and righteous and evil and snakebit about music, a Rock/Blues/vaudeville hybrid in its most lethal essence. They aren't possessed by the spirit of Rock & Roll, the spirit of Rock & Roll is possessed by them, and they are the goddamn Sundresses from Cincinnati Motherfucking Ohio. And they love you to death.
• With no Matthew Fenton sightings on Friday, I was afraid I might not catch up for one last MF fix before the weekend was up. I needn’t have worried; he and Kelly were already at /- by the time I arrived. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy the company of these people? I have? Get over it, it’s coming back around on the geetar. I love them, not in a creepy, stalky way (well, maybe a little), but it bears stressing that they are truly wonderful people, not at all like me, but they make me a better person just by standing next to me. Which I sincerely hope they do again next year come MidPoint 2011. Thanks for the beers, thanks for the scintillating conversations, thanks for putting up with the rantings of an old coot, and thanks for coming back to see us. Door’s always open; see you next year, if not before. And I saw head honcho John Fox and his wife Kathy across the crowd at Artworks, but before I could mosey over to buy him that beer I owe him from seven or eight years ago he and the missus had vanished, either up front to rave on or out the back door and on to the next thing. Either way, I missed them. Next year, for sure.
• I ran into occasional CityBeat scribe Rich Schivener at the Fists of Love show, who graciously bought me a beer and said some embarrassingly nice things about my writing, which I humbly if somewhat reluctantly accepted. Rich hasn’t been in the paper much lately, wrapped up as he is on his thesis, but when he’s out of that forest I hope we see more of his work in our pages and on the site because he is among the best the city has to offer (which is true of the whole CityBeat cadre of scribblers, as it happens). Hurry back, Rich. The always fabulous Mark Utley, Magnolia Mountain frontman and all round decent human being, was also soaking in the good vibrations at Fists of Love, as were Fairmount Girls Randy Cheek and Melissa Fairmount; sorry I couldn’t get down to the Blue Wisp to see your show, guys. I promise I’ll make it out soon.
• The ubiquitous Ringo Jones and Dave Markey from the ever amazing Mad Anthony, along with the lovely Amy and her sister Bethany, were on hand to check out the special brand of crazy that Aficionado brought to the Washington Platform. By the band’s third song, Ringo and a half dozen others in the group set themselves up about six inches from Nick Warchol’s face and were soon shouting out the choruses to songs they’d just heard for the first time. It was an absolutely mindblowing display of musical respect and appreciation and it was inspiring to witness. I know the band was a little worried about the sit-down-for-a-nice-dinner atmosphere of the Platform, but they drew about 30 or so curiosity seekers, who were not disappointed as far as I could tell. I told MPMF mastermind Dan McCabe on the sidewalk on our way over to the Black Owls show (and yes, Dan, I was drunk) that we really need to get Aficionado on the Main Street grid in 2011. He suggested MOTR … I’m holding you to it, Mr. McCabe.
• I ran into one of my old design buddies, Lon Stewart, at the Black Owls show. I haven’t seen him in a couple of years or more; he was always one of the good guys in the office and we used to do lunch quite a bit in the old days. He’s downtown at LPK along with a handful of other refugees from the CoActive penal colony. I told him we’ll have to work out a lunch/group therapy session soon. And we will. And I met a ton of people at or around the Owls’ show, thanks to Brian Kitzmiller, drummer par excellence and a pretty decent ad guy at CityBeat, as I understand it. A couple of Bryns (one girl, one guy, both super nice), a band of brothers (Bill, Jeremy and Mike, I think … swell guys; either they were nice enough or I was drunk enough to feel comfortable enough to tell them a wildly inappropriate story about my father‘s penis, which Bill thanked me for on the way out. Sorry for any nightmares that may have caused, man). And Brian introduced me to Mark from Sohio, who I have written about for years but never in an interview-for-a-feature form. Mark was most appreciative of my efforts on his behalf and insisted on putting a 312 in my hand. How could I refuse? How, I ask you?
• Ringo, Amy and Dave were at The Sundresses, as were about half of all MidPoint attendees as far as I could figure. A quick headcount put it at around 7,000, but I was a little tipsy so don’t hold to those numbers. It was hotter than Hell’s lobby at the Below Zero, so a good many of us were at least half as sweaty as the Dresses themselves, who looked as though they'd gone for a quick dip fully clothed even before they hit the stage. A great night all the way around. The Sundresses will be playing just a couple more local dates before the end of the year (Halloween and the day after Thanksgiving), so check their Web site for details. They’ll be taking a brief hiatus to regroup after the recent release of their live album, Off, and the imminent release of Brad Schnittger’s solo project, a baby girl with his girlfriend. Hold onto your wigs and keys, Brad. If you think being in a band is a wild ride, parenthood is all that and more. About the same amount of puke but way more poop. Way more. Trust me. Start making a spare room out of disposable diapers. Now.
• Sweet shit on a popsicle stick, I love our festival, I love this city and I most assuredly love my life. To have this spectacular array of talent in one place for three solid days and to have so many difficult choices is an absolute dream. (An aside to Chris Varias: It's not our intention to cause undue pain and suffering to our patrons as they agonize over which bands they should slot in the schedules and which ones they will necessarily have to miss. It is our intention that they should have a glorious time and be entertained to within an inch of their lives at each and every show they choose to attend. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that is largely out of our control. Remember: Where there is life, there is choice, and where there is choice, there is misery. Or some such shit as that.) To be able to block out three days every year to accomplish this and highlight the vibrancy and life that is our downtown is an honor.
And for me personally, to be able to make my living by talking to and about musicians and their work and their passions and their struggles and their triumphs … it's a rare privilege that I never ever take for granted. I take the responsibility of telling your stories very seriously, but I assure you that gravity of purpose is built on a foundation of pure love for the fun and spirit and magic of music. I will never be a jaded old lemonsucker, turning my nose up anything that might be the slightest bit unfamiliar or challenging or just not to my general taste. I embrace it all because you have embraced it enough to do it. That’s good enough for me. Duke Ellington once said, “There are two kinds of music. Good music and the other kind.” The other kind was not in evidence at MidPoint 2010, and as far as I’m concerned it never will be.
Again, endless bouquets of virtual roses to our amazing volunteers who make this thing happen with very few hitches, to the stunningly talented and driven Dan McCabe for herding these cats into our city’s corner once again and to the whole CityBeat staff for their dedication to this most worthy task. And sorry to all the cool folks whose paths I crossed on our three day journey together who didn’t make it into these ramblings; everyone is noteworthy, but there’s not nearly enough time to get it all in. And some of it I’ll remember next week. Only 360 or so days until MidPoint 2011. I can hardly wait.