I love the first night of MidPoint; the anticipation, the excitement, the friends, the music, the potential for getting wetter than you’ve been since the birth experience. It’s magic, a sensation perhaps intensified on Thursday, being the first night of the festival’s tenth anniversary.
I had just picked up my very impressive media badge at the volunteer check-in at the Garfield Suites — it trumps a wristband and gets me into shows that are at capacity, my personal velvet rope cutter; oh, the privileges of being a member of the fifth estate — when I noticed our own John Fox outside the CityBeat offices. He asked if I was headed up to the VIP thing going on in the Herzog Studio space of CityBeat’s Race Street offices. I shook my head, intending to head straight down to the SCPA for The Seedy Seeds show, and then John said the magic words: “Bootsy’s up there.”
Well, an opportunity to hang with the Godfather of Funk and snag some free food and drink suddenly seemed irresistible. When the DJ began spinning some old school P-Funk, and Bootsy Collins and his gorgeous wife Patti hit the dance floor, it was a moment of pure surreality as Bootsy danced to the thumping sound of Bootsy music. The only thing that would have made the moment better/weirder is if Bootsy had whipped out the Bop Gun, but he didn’t need it. He and Patty laid down a thick plush carpet of Funk that inspired dance moves which are very likely being felt this morning. To the lovely woman who was rocking The Worm — two Aleve are good for the whole day.
From there, it was down to the SCPA for the inaugural events at the Corbett and Mayerson theaters. They are gorgeous spaces and hopefully the expansive Corbett and more intimate but equally fabulous Mayerson spaces will be highlights of the MidPoint experience for years to come. The Seedy Seeds sauntered out after a warm introduction from WNKU’s Ken Hanes, CityBeat cover boy Mike Ingram strapped on the banjo, utility drummer Joe Frankl set the initial pace and Margaret Darling grabbed a couple of drumsticks and pressed “play” on the backing track. A minute later, primary drummer Brian Penick strolled and took his place at his kit as the quartet launched into the title track from the band’s amazing new album, Verb Noun.
The Seeds utilize banjo and acoustic guitar and do things that are only marginally related to Folk and Bluegrass, they play to digital backing tracks and have nothing in common with freeze-dried Pop and manipulate electronics in a way that makes Synth Pop appealing to people who hate Synth Pop. Insanely melodic, heart-poundingly beat-driven, compelling and engaging, The Seedy Seeds continue to astonish in their artistic evolution. “Nomenclature” was absolutely stunning, a song that Laurie Anderson would be surprised to learn she didn’t write. Presentation points for the interesting light show, and the motion sensor lights strung on both drum kits. And I love the way Margaret smiles when she and the band get something absolutely right, which happens to be every song. The Seedy Seeds have earned every great review and accolade accorded them, and there are plenty more where those came from, count on it.
Kim Taylor’s set at the Mayerson Theater down the hall. Taylor titled her latest album Little Miracle, a perfect description for her songs in the plural and of her amazing talent in the singular. “Build You Up” was a thing of heartbreaking beauty as Taylor’s tremulous voice makes the title promise with scuffed confidence, a not-so-quiet resolve and more than just a tinge of melancholy to ice the deal. “Days Like This” is another ringing example of Taylor’s brilliance, a moodily reflective tune that is a declaration of love so subtle and minor-keyed that you’re sure there’s a cheating lover or tragic parting just around the next verse, while “Nothing But a Fading Light” became a marching anthem of epic simplicity. With just the exquisite drumming of Devon Ashley (nice solo on “Fading Light,” Dev) and the heavenly harmony vocals of Kate Lamont (nice everything, Kate),
Taylor weaves a hypnotic Folk spell that distills the best elements of Suzanne Vega, Joni Mitchell and Lucinda Williams into a beautifully brooding magnificence that transcends influence and personifies musical greatness. Little or otherwise, Kim Taylor is a miracle.
The Aviation Orange. Since they were here for an awesome set in 2009, the band has ramped up their awesomeness with the addition of bassist Kate Rogers and keyboardist Cherie Hannouche, who provide sterling background and occasional lead vocals to AO’s already potent Indie Rock/New Wave amalgam. In the studio, The Aviation Orange works a lovely Synth Pop vibe that suggests everything from Echo & the Bunnymen and The Psychedelic Furs to Modest Mouse and Franz Ferdinand, as evidenced by their new EP, East of Here. In the live setting, AO naturally and predictably grows hair and muscle in a dozen different directions, as the prettier aspects of their sound swells into pure Indie Rock passion, particularly with Rogers and Hannouche’s ’60s girl group harmonies that bristle with a contemporary edge.
I skated just before the end of AO to catch the merest glimpse of The Lions Rampant set at the Hanke Building, revived site of the once fabulous Exchange. Let me just say again that Stuart Mackenzie is a force of nature, a hurricane of guitar execution, a tornadic vocalizer and a volcano of seething, oozing Garage Rock energy.
I reluctantly eased out of the Lions’ gig to make my way down to the Cincinnati Club for my semi-annual dose of The Sundresses (pictured, up top). It’s a rejuvenating experience for an old man, to be dipped in the Stygian waters of The Sundresses’ fractured-fairytale Blues soundtrack and elevated to some higher consciousness by their screaming mad hybrid of Punk, Indie Rock and a rootsy Blues coloration that sounds like a three-legged race with Nick Cave and Stan Ridgway being chased through a haunted maze by the hellhound spirits of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams.
As always, The Sundresses did not disappoint, unveiling a handful of brand new songs that find the band stripping things down to an elemental fury and adding in a bit of Classic Rock thunder to their potent roots Punk lightning. Guitarist Brad Schnittger introduced one by saying it was inspired by a drawing of a spaceship he’d done at age 9 and a subsequent letter he’d sent to General Electric imploring them to build it, which they most assuredly did not.
“And what do we need now?” asked Brad pointedly. “Spaceships.”
Equally brilliant was a tango/bolero one can only assume is titled “Hey,” although anything is possible in The Sundresses’ world. Guitarist Jeremy Springer was in fine form, imploring the crowd, “You can dance if you want to,” and then suddenly gleaning his inadvertent “Safety Dance” reference.
“Now I get it,” he deadpanned.
Meanwhile, bassist Mackenzie Place rocked her four-string with unrestrained fervor, sporting a halter top that screamed “Fuck Yeah” in stark Helvetica Bold, although when she stood just so, it looked like it might have said “Fuck Veal.” A rousing declaration in any event, and another stellar night for the Sundresses in every event.
After the maniacal assault of The Sundresses, it was time
to haul ass to the Know Theatre for the blistering Americana blast of
the astounding Lydia Loveless.
By the time I arrived, she and her band were in full stratospheric
ascent, shit-kicking with purposeful abandon and pushing twanged up
chords around like a schoolyard bully with a heart of slightly tarnished
gold. She finished her set with a blazing take on “Crazy” from her
just-released Bloodshot album, Indestructible Machine
and, after a wildly enthusiastic response from the Know’s packed crowd,
launched into the title track from her little known but truly excellent
debut album, The Only Man, a
wild needle-pegging murder ballad about her father shooting her
boyfriend, shooting her father and her mother shooting herself, which I
think is considered hitting for the cycle in Country music. It was a
spectacular finish to a set that would have been fantastic even without
their inclusion. Lydia Loveless cannot get back to Cincinnati soon
enough to suit me. Finally, it was time for a quick stroll down to Arnold’s for the last show of the evening, a wonderful set from the 2 Man Gentlemen Band. Guitarist Andy Bean and stand-up bassist/kazooist (is that even a word?) Fuller Condon, now known by his enforcer-like sobriquet the Councilman, opened up a springy-snake can full of whoop-ass whimsy with songs like “Prescription Drugs,” local crowd pleaser “William Howard Taft,” “Going Into Business,” “Me, I Get High on Reefer,” “Chocolate Milk,” the slightly disquieting “There’s Somthing in My Trousers” and their all-time favorite “Fancy Beer.” All of these and so much more were propelled by a sense of tradition espoused by R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders, a sense of humor similar to They Might Be Giants and the Squirrel Nut Zippers and a sense of the absurd that suggested a combination Shakey’s Pizza/medical marijuana dispensary as run by an amphetamine connoisseur.
After the maniacal assault of The Sundresses, it was time to haul ass to the Know Theatre for the blistering Americana blast of the astounding Lydia Loveless. By the time I arrived, she and her band were in full stratospheric ascent, shit-kicking with purposeful abandon and pushing twanged up chords around like a schoolyard bully with a heart of slightly tarnished gold. She finished her set with a blazing take on “Crazy” from her just-released Bloodshot album, Indestructible Machine and, after a wildly enthusiastic response from the Know’s packed crowd, launched into the title track from her little known but truly excellent debut album, The Only Man, a wild needle-pegging murder ballad about her father shooting her boyfriend, shooting her father and her mother shooting herself, which I think is considered hitting for the cycle in Country music. It was a spectacular finish to a set that would have been fantastic even without their inclusion. Lydia Loveless cannot get back to Cincinnati soon enough to suit me.
Finally, it was time for a quick stroll down to Arnold’s for the last show of the evening, a wonderful set from the 2 Man Gentlemen Band. Guitarist Andy Bean and stand-up bassist/kazooist (is that even a word?) Fuller Condon, now known by his enforcer-like sobriquet the Councilman, opened up a springy-snake can full of whoop-ass whimsy with songs like “Prescription Drugs,” local crowd pleaser “William Howard Taft,” “Going Into Business,” “Me, I Get High on Reefer,” “Chocolate Milk,” the slightly disquieting “There’s Somthing in My Trousers” and their all-time favorite “Fancy Beer.” All of these and so much more were propelled by a sense of tradition espoused by R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders, a sense of humor similar to They Might Be Giants and the Squirrel Nut Zippers and a sense of the absurd that suggested a combination Shakey’s Pizza/medical marijuana dispensary as run by an amphetamine connoisseur.
The duo’s banter is engaging and their songs are nothing short of hilarious, and while there is clearly an element of novelty to what they do, it’s borne from the hard and thankless work of trying to get noticed as street buskers in New York’s Central Park, in front of perhaps the most merciless audiences on the face of the planet. We politely bow to the Gentlemen and wish them Godspeed back to us in a timely fashion.
MidPoint 2011 Thursday Notes
• Co-publisher, friend and beer god for life dada Dan Bockrath offered to “buy” me a beer at the CityBeat VIP soiree, the quotation marks applicable due to the free nature of the brew, generously supplied by most excellent sponsor Stella Artois (side note to most excellent sponsor: I stand at the ready to accept your complimentary case of SA at any time). Sadly, Dan was informed when he got to the drink table that his Stella was indeed the last one available. And so, in a move befitting his beer deity status, Dan got a plastic cup and shared it with me. A selfless act by a man of destiny. Or perhaps a Dan of destiny.
• Margaret Darling noted during The Seedy Seeds set that she had invited President Obama to catch their set while he was in town. “I wonder if he got caught in his own traffic,” she noted wryly. In the lobby after their stellar show, she mentioned that the Seeds are already working on new material and will have a major announcement soon … watch this space. Or some space. Maybe their website. That’s good, too.
• At The Aviation Orange show, I ran into Paul, a manager at my local Kroger store, who called me out recently when he spotted my newly minted Raisins T-shirt, obtained at their recent reunion show. He introduced me to his pals Tim and Stu and kindly put one of The Drinkery’s fantastic Loose Cannon’s into my sweaty hand. Gracious thanks to you, sir … this could be the start of a beautiful friendship. Paul pointed out a guy who he believed to be a fellow Kroger patron, which turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, but oddly enough also turned out to be Lon Stewart, my old cohort from my days as a graphic designer. It was good to catch up a bit, and with any luck, we’ll do a bit more before the weekend is over.
• I am as married as a man can get. It would take some sort of grafting operation or mob-motivated digit removal to separate me from my wedding ring (and against my will, I might add). But I may have fallen just slightly in love with the Aviation Orange’s keyboardist, Cherie Hannouche. She’s got a Middle Eastern Susanna Hoffs thing going on that is intoxicating, and her obvious talent doesn’t hurt either.
• A nice moment at The Lions Rampant gig: New drummer Matt Ayers lost the use of his floor tom when he bounced a leg loose, but was instantly rescued by former drummer Nate Wagner, who dashed onto the stage and drum teched the situation. The definition of a class act.
• At The Sundresses gig, I ran into old friend/excellent human Ric Hickey, who graced me with a copy of the new Sparrow Bellows single. It seems as though every time we’re together, Ric and I find a way to tell each other stories that neither one of us has heard about the other. Ric, being a single guy in a band, tends to beat my geezer stories about the old days fairly handily in both number and general interest level. But therein lies the key to having an interesting life; have interesting friends. Ric is all that and a helluva lot more. You would be wise to friend him, not in the ubiquitous and largely ceremonial Facebook manner, but in a face-to-Facebookless manner. The rewards are many, the risk is nil.
• After the gig, Brad Schnittger noted that the ’dresses new material is largely recorded and will likely see release next spring. Based on the rapturous response to the new songs presented last night, I’m not alone in my Pavlovian salivation for its arrival. And Brad was parentally pleased to report that his baby girl, Dorothy May (or Dottie, depending on mood and disciplinary necessity) is “happy as shit all the time.” And that is a beautiful thing. Ride it as long as it lasts, kids. She’ll be a truculent teenager swirling with the rage of a locust-like infestation of hormones before you know it.
• On my walk down to the Know to catch Lydia Loveless, a gorgeous and flamboyantly dressed black woman said to me in passing, “I’m gonna spank you if you laugh,” which obviously caused a spasmodic laugh on my part. Sadly, no spanking was forthcoming.
• Upon arrival at the already-in-progress Lydia Loveless show at the Know, I encountered the Holy Trinity of CityBeat; co-publishers John Fox and Dan Bockrath and my editor/spirit guide/perfect master Mike Breen. They scattered before beers could be bought on any account (I still owe John a beer from like two years ago and Mike’s on record — check this issue — as saying the beers were on him), but they all keep an old wart like me on their expense sheet, so it’s an even ledger at the end of the day. I couldn’t ask for better bosses, so I won’t. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Friday is payday — Mr. Baker will be properly/thoroughly beered throughout the remainder of MPMF.11. But he probably won't say "No" should any readers wish to contribute to the cause.)
• Also ran into Magnolia Mountain’s Mark Utley, who mentioned that the amazing Lydia Loveless has recorded a duet with him for the next Magnolia album, tentatively slated for a spring 2012 release. As usual, the prolific Utley has come up with 18 killer tracks, including a love song that has caused several people, especially fellow songwriters, to spontaneously tear up. That one promises to be a stone-cold fave.
• And John introduced me to Alex Nager, son of former Post/Enquirer writer Larry Nager. The princely apple doesn’t drop far from the kingly tree; Larry was one of my absolute favorite people when he was covering and actually a vital component of the Cincinnati music scene, a generous friend and talented musician, and his son is proof that he channeled all of estimable gifts into the parenting process.
• Out in Arnold’s courtyard, about midway through the energetic set from 2 Man Gentleman Band, a guy eased past me excusing himself and then kissed me on the cheek. I am still unsure if he was someone I knew and completely didn’t recognize or someone with serious daddy issues. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I think someone behind me was handling my ass as well, although it could have been; a) incidental contact, b) mistaken identity (again) or c) a clumsy attempt at pickpocketing. In any event, the attention was appreciated.
• I also ran into my old pal Danny Rupe, his son Elliott and their friend Sean at Arnold’s. Last year, we crossed paths at the most excellent Van Dyke Parks extravaganza. This year, it was Sean who got the Rupe boys out to experience the wild and natty world of the 2 Man Gentlemen Band. Hopefully, we will run into one another along the MidPoint path again soon.
• What, no Matthew Fenton sightings? It can’t possibly mean that he’s not attending this year. Perhaps I just need to adjust my radar to a finer detection setting; Matthew has finally become cooler than my ability to find him.
• As Dan Bockrath noted at the Know, every venue last night seemed to be very well attended, a great response for a Thursday, historically a tough night to get people to come out, even for the incredible array of talent presented by MidPoint each and every year. Last night’s overwhelming and auspicious response bodes well for Friday and Saturday. I, for one, cannot wait.
Check out more photos from MPMF.11's opening night here.