Another beautiful evening for MidPoint 2012 despite a dreary day as an opening act. Thursday night’s festivities were fantastic, but they turned out to be a mere warm-up for the grand mal WTF of Friday night. As it should be.
First up on the agenda was a walk down to Grammer’s to once again bathe in the resplendent Blues chemical peel that is the Sundresses. My adoration of the band has now lasted longer than my relationship with my first wife, and it’s been worthwhile for a hell of lot longer.
How do I love thee, Sundresses? Impossible to count the ways. The Sundresses are a 45-minute ride on an indoor roller coaster that cranks out a soundtrack of blistering Hard Rock murder ballads, spooky Garage Jazz Punk lust songs, gritty Indie Blues stompathons and otherworldly combinations of all of the above. The ’dresses began with Jeremy Springer’s howling mad interpretation of the Billie Holiday classic “Strange Fruit,” and the adrenalized trio didn’t let up for the duration of their set. It was classic Sundresses for MidPoint; for the intro to “My Name is Rock and Roll,” Jeremy noted that it’s “a song about why you shouldn’t date a musician,” then noticed a friend up front, motioned him over, took a huge swig of beer and spit it onto the exultant fan.
“It wouldn’t be a Sundresses show,” Jeremy deadpanned, then exclaimed, “Hey Jessie, thanks for the Ritalin.”
Brad Schnittger was killing it as always on the unhinged Swing Punk of “An American American” and the Garage Blues heartpunch of “Zappado,” which they premiered at last year’s MidPoint, and bass dervish Makenzie Place spun to our heart’s content while creating a throb powerful enough to punch a hole in a bank vault. Please have a new album soon, please.
After the filthy splendor of the Sundresses, I headed over to the Midway for another in a series of fabulous hot dogs from the equally fabulous Mr. Hanton’s, who also informed me that he’s getting ready to open a location on Calhoun across from the UC dorms, which I think he may be doing in a double decker bus, which will be amazing. Look for it next spring.
En route to the Midway, I overheard talk on the street that the Hanke Building shows had all been moved to the Midway because the fire marshall had closed the place after Thursday night’s smoke alarm incident. Once at the Midway, I made a beeline for Mr. Hanton’s; one bite into my heavenly handwich and it occurred to me that I should be having a beer with this fine repast. Just as this spark of a thought jumped across the synapses that handle the alchol traffic (which seems like four of the six lanes in my brain’s highway), a beer suddenly appears in front of me as though I had willed into reality.
It turned out to be CityBeat publisher/avenging angel Dan Bockrath, making good on his chiseled-in-stone promise to buy me a beer at every MidPoint or making a shameless bid to work his way into my annual narrative. Either way, I now had a beer and a dog. Dan confirmed that the Hanke shows were now all Midway shows, but the schedules had all been moved up to accommodate the outdoor noise ordinance. That unfortunate news pretty well blew up my schedule for the night; I had planned to run down to the Hanke after the Black Owls show to see the Kansas Bible Company, which Dan informed me was happening at this very moment. I bolted for the Midway stage with dog and brew to witness what little I could of the Indie Soul rapture of KBC.
What do you get when you add a six Indie Rock guys with a grounding in Soul and a five piece horn section? Magic, that’s what. I could only stay for three songs but KBC more than lived up to the hype that I had written into their preview blurb; they were epic like early Genesis, brassy like early Chicago and earth- and ass-shaking like Oingo Boingo, with a Soul vibe as deep as the Marianas Trench and as rich as fine Corinthian leather.
I would have loved to hang around for more of Kansas Bible Company, but I really wanted to see Culture Queer at the Cincinnati Club, seeing as how I’ll be interviewing them next week for an upcoming feature to advance the album release show for their excellent new disc, Nightmare Band. Assorted detours got me to the show about mid-set, and CQ was well into a scorching Electro-Pop dance groove at that point. It wasn’t the full-bore dancing girls-and-a-transvestite slut bride chorus line from last year’s roof-raising blow up at Artworks, but it was an astonishingly talented four piece (and their man-behind-the-curtain wizard controlling the screen projections behind the amps) cranking out a sonic blurt that suggested the B-52s with the campy novelty excised in favor of incendiary Indie Rock and New Order without the subtext of severe depression.
CQ's Scott Fredette entertained up front (“So what do you want to do? I’ve got a doobie in my glove compartment...”), Sam Womelsdorf peeled off guitar runs that walked the line between Indie Rock power and Dance Rock slink, Jeremy Lesniak split his time between guitar and keyboard in the same pursuit, and Dana Hamblen pounded out the beat with the sadistic joy of an interrogator working over a Guantanamo detainee for information while harmonizing or singing lead.
It was stripped down but it was standard Culture Queer weird brilliance or brilliant weirdness or both.
After CQ‘s set I headed over to the Main Event to settle in for Mad Anthony and Black Owls. My original plan was to check out KBC at the Hanke, back to the Main Event for MA and the Owls, then back to the Hanke to check out the electrifying Soul revue of JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound. But with the switch to the Midway and the noise ordinance, JCBUS would be wrapping up at Mad Anthony’s start time and so I made the executive decision to hang at the Main Event.
It turned out to be a wise choice on a couple of fronts; Kentucky Knife Fight blew the doors off the joint with a hillbilly Garage Rock vibe that was absolutely jaw-dropping, and Homer Bailey was pitching the last inning of his no-hitter against the Pirates. When I got to the Main Event, Ringo MF Jones was at the bar watching the game. I strolled over and got my man-hug from Ringo, who informed me of the drama at hand. The Reds didn’t get anything going in the top of the ninth, so it was down to Bailey in the bottom half, striking out one and getting a couple of pop outs. The last pop fly happened just as KKF was finishing a song, and everyone at the bar went bugnuts with the close out of the no hitter.
I felt bad for the band, hoping they weren’t getting big pants over an ovation that was pointed in the opposite direction. The fact is they were killing it last night and they deserved more attention than they were getting, but they seemed to have a pretty good crowd in front of them, so it wasn’t a bad night for them.
With the win, Ringo, Adam Flaig and Marc Sherlock tore themselves away from the post-game wrap-up to mount the stage, strap up and turn their amps up to “jet engine.” Is there a better and more ferocious Rock band than Mad Anthony in Cincinnati right now? I don’t bloody think so. The trio tore through their set with giddy abandon, as Ringo belted out lyrics of love and alienation (and love of alienation) with the energy of a spider monkey and the lung capacity of a lowland gorilla while abusing his six-string in a manner that could trigger an intervention from Guitar Protective Services, while Adam performed similar atrocities on his side of the stage and Marc banged out a double time Punk pulse that sounded like the beatkeeper on a Viking ship imploring his oarsmen to get their vessel up to water skiing speed. Sounding like a cross between Nirvana and Black Sabbath with 100,000 volts being pumped into Kurt Cobain and/or Tommy Iommi’s asscrack(s), “We Fucking Love This City” washed over the faithful like a tidal wave of sound and adoration and Mad Anthony proved once again that passion, unhinged energy and volume are the ingredients to the most powerful musical cocktail known to man; Punk with a twist of Hard Rock, shaken, stirred, slammed and reordered. Maybe we should call it a Madhatten.
Next up on the bill was one of my most anticipated shows of MidPoint. I had been totally jacked to see Black Owls at this past summer’s Bunbury Festival after witnessing both of their MidPoint appearances in previous years, but the Sunday thunderstorm, complete with potentially deadly lightning, denied the Owls their chance to take the Alive One stage. So, like most of the patrons of the festival, they drank themselves into a stupor. Unlike most patrons, they were considering how they would storm back into Cincinnati and take revenge on Mother Nature for her pissing fit. Last night’s MidPoint show was the exquisite answer, as the Owls tore into their hour-plus set with the alcohol fueled bravado of Guided By Voices, the razor sharp choogle of T. Rex, the mutated Folk Metal of Mott the Hoople and the blazing Punk edge of everything good about the New York scene in the mid-’70s.
Black Owls translate their influences into a tumult from the grimy floor of their glitter garage, a Glam-slam-thank-you-maam assjacking that is as familiar as it is fresh. Their new eponymous double album (available digitally at Bandcamp) is a marvel, and the Owls turned out hypercaffeinated versions of the new songs, including the visceral ballkick of “She Was There,” the Stonesy rumble of “Skynyrd” and the Bob Dylan-meets-Tom Verlaine Bowie tribute of “Octopus Flat,” as well as older classics like “Glorious in Black,” sounding like Marc Bolan fronting Steppenwolf and the cloudbursting joy of “Julius Morningstar.” Ed Shuttleworth and Brandon Losacker craft a solid wall of guitar squall (without a single solo, mind you, or one so subtle you’d never identify it as such), Alan Beavers attacks his bass with lead guitar precision and power and Brian Kitzmiller is still the most amazingly solid drummer on the scene and the absolute perfect foil for the Owls’ brand of contempo/retro Glam Punk. And at the front of it is David Butler, a lanky bundle of coiled energy with a voice that channels David Byrne’s tremulous warble and Ian Hunter’s power howl.
For all these reasons and a few more, Black Owls have built a pretty sizable fan base here and they’re close enough (north of Columbus) to make regular visits to Cincinnati. If you have the slightest affinity for any of the artist noted here, a single exposure to Black Owls will have you on your knees and singing the praises of Granville’s favorite sons; if they were any better, they’d be banned as a controlled substance. Black Owls are your new favorite band … do something about it.
I almost hit the sidewalk to check out PUJOL at Below Zero, but chose to give my feet a break and stick at the Main Event to catch Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor out of Detroit. They had kind of a Doors sensibility, with a Gothic Pink Floyd undercurrent, and it was interesting and compelling in its volume and expanse, but it was a rather sonorous follow-up to Mad Anthony and Black Owls, so I used the Sisters as the backdrop for drinking, gig chat and celebrating the Reds’ no hitter.
MidPoint 2012 Friday Night Notes:
• I ran into several old pals at the Sundresses’ soiree, including the incomparable Kip Roe, who showed up with Purrs bassist/singer Jim Antonio and the always affable Paul Roberts, who showed up with his wrecking crew and put a lovely Rivertown Ale into my inexplicably empty hand. Also in attendance was former design co-worker Lon Stewart, who I typically see at MidPoint because I don’t run in design circles anymore, literally or figuratively. We caught up, reminisced a bit about the old days at Optimum Group, and just generally shot the shit along with his lovely companion Paula (serious emphasis on the lovely; hey, I’m married, not dead). I also just caught a glimpse of someone who looked suspiciously like Greg Gaston, but he was finishing a beer and motoring for the gate and I couldn’t have run him down from my position.
• Day two, still no Matthew Fenton sightings. I have to think that maybe he bailed on this year for whatever reasons. I typically catch up with him and Kelly on the first night, but barring that, always by Friday. Maybe third night's the charm this year.
• Stopped by the Segway store and talked to Black Owls' Brian Kitzmiller, who was working a promotion there. The rest of the Owls were there as well, and Brian re-introduced me to Sean, owner of the Segway franchise here and a super nice guy. While we chatted, the Ready Stance’s Wes Pence and Chase Johnston and a couple of buddies rode up on bikes on their way to Washington Park. I slammed about half of one of Brian’s giant Hudepohls before taking to the sidewalk again.
• If you want to take a truly extravagant piss, don’t miss the restrooms at the Cincinnati Club. Holy crap on a communion cracker, after the standard bar toilet atmosphere, this set-up looked like the lobby of the Netherland Plaza outfitted with urinals and stalls. In fairness, every place has been clean and not disgusting in the least, but certainly none have exhibited quite this much class. I don’t have anything on my Saturday schedule at the Club, but I may rethink that after last night’s luxury.
• The evening at the Main Event was a solid parade of old friends and new acquaintances. Naturally, it was old home week to catch up with Mad Anthony and the Owls, and their respective entourages, including Ringo‘s ultracool girlfriend Carrie, Brian’s lovely wife Sarah (Post-It free for the third year in a row), Generals bassist Sammy Wulfeck and his glowingly expectant girlfriend Jenny, and Brandon Losacker’s stepbrother Andrew, an incredibly nice guy who even helped Brandon at load out; that’s real brother shit right there. Chuck Madden showed up to take some shots of the Owls; brilliant sound man that he is, he pointed out that my vantage point was the worst sound in the room, so we moved to the other side, where it was excellent. Also chatted for a bit with Brian Pennick, now doing business as the Counter Rhythm Group, but our first meeting was four years ago when he was drumming for the Turnbull AC’s and we met at his house for the interview. Beer flowed constantly, as offered most generously by Ringo Jones, Ed Shuttleworth and Brandon Losacker, who also threw in a shot of Jameson. The beer gods welcome you into the Pantheon of Hoppiness.