Started the night off with a bang, bang — Jagjaguwar Records’ Okkervil River at Grammer’s. The tent was packed — so packed that it was hard to weave to the front — but I was sneaky. From Austin, Texas, and labeled Folk Pop, Okkervil didn’t disappoint. Will Sheff, frontman with a beard and black-rimmed glasses, busted out a clear, deep, penetrating voice. Between the strings, bass, guitar, tambourine, keys and more, this band built a series of startling crescendos, while still allowing for some playful guitar solos. The music would surge to rise, then dive, pulling off a true independent spirit that was uplifting, but mixed with the bass vocals, there was yet another layer of complexity that made it artistic and multifaceted. This band has truly grown and tightened over time, becoming mature, and they’ve carefully molded the tunes into a creative shape, while maintaining a structure worth following.
Years ago, I discovered Okkervil River when I became enthralled with the band Black Mountain, who had also signed to Jagjaguar way back in the day. Of course, now that label has boomed, boasting artists such as Bon Iver. I’d always been more of a fan of Black Mountain, but after seeing Okkervil live, they were right up there. Drastic stops and starts, pro presentation, I was into it.
And man, did Sheff’s voice carry. You could hear the booming voice drift through the streets all across Over the Rhine. As I walked away listening, I spotted Michael McIntyre (of The Marmalade Brigade) busking on the street, singing in his Tom Waits-ish honed style. Then some random guy shouted some sweetness at me.
“You have a beautiful head,” he said.
A beautiful head? Weird. I guess I’ll take what I can get.
At Below Zero, I caught The Black Shades’ set. A four piece from Bowling Green, Ky., the guitar player and drummer actually wore black shades, which was fitting. Oddly, The Black Shades kind of reminded me of The Black Keys and The White Stripes. The singer, wearing a black hat, looked nothing like Mick Jagger or Jim Morrison, but he seemed to have them on his brain. He was charismatic, and he wasn’t afraid to leave the stage and jump into the audience, weaving and singing, breaking into frequent smiles, holding steady with a constant mischievous spark in his eye. They put on a good show. The more I watched, the more I was hooked.
I love it when I happen upon an unplanned supergem.
That occurred at The Know Theatre’s smaller stage, where I wandered in on The Young Heirlooms’ music. From Dayton, singer/songwriter Kelly Fine is fantastic. Backed by mandolin, guitar, horns and bass, this six-piece was effortlessly bleeding out catchy, tight songs that were touching and definitely ear-grabbing. It seemed like they were having a hell of a lot of fun, and the vocals were amazing. No fancy clothes or gimmicks here, just pure talent, and I was absolutely taken with them. They gave the vibe of creative, natural artists who gelled completely. Hey, this Folk Pop symphony of sounds just worked. I would definitely buy the CD.
At Art Works, I checked out Xiu Xiu, an electronic Avant Pop trio that definitely protested the norm. They started off with some strange hand motions and performance art while the audience was settling. With two guitars and keys, it was noisy, a sculpture of sound, if you will, imploring the audience to listen in a different way. It wasn’t just the music that was important here — it was all about the overall feel, the artistic edge. When I listened with that in mind, as if I was experiencing a play or a performance art piece, I could see and understand their angle a little better. In other words, I wouldn’t listen to this music alone, but to watch it in person was somewhat engaging. The strange facial expressions, intense vocals and stage moves and shifting were an interesting mix.
One of my favorite bands, local Electro Rock band Eat Sugar rocked the fuck out of MOTR later in the night. Inside the pub, the energy was absolutely smokin, and the line to enter stretched all the way down the block. I was tired before they started playing, but after a few songs, hearing that familiar, fierce rhythm, watching Aidan Bogosian jump around like a madman, keeping it alive, I was awake as hell.
Bogosian is a true showman, from messing with the crowd to funny comments in between songs to putting his face right in front of a press camera. This guy loves to perform. Here, I spotted his brother, Brendan Bogosian of The Tigerlilies.
As far as venues go, MOTR is my top pick — the sound, the vibe, the crowd, yeah. Love that place.
Here’s my music pick of the night. Well, I have to be a little vague. See, I dug Okkervil River, but Eat Sugar and The Young Heirlooms stole my heart. And really, the whole night was one big fat winner. Over and over, I had this feeling: Thursday was fun, but tonight, it feels like Midpoint really took over this town.