I'm swirling a 24 oz. PBR tall-boy around 2 a.m. at a bar fashioned from an old church in a neighborhood I can't quite figure out. Is it up-and-coming like our own Over-the-Rhine? Or are we "on the wrong side of the tracks"? I don't really care at this point. I've already gotten drunk once today and spent 12 hours in the burning southern sun. I just want a bed.
There are 20-somethings in rompers, board shorts and woven sandals hunting for a festival after-party lined up around the block waiting for over an hour to sit on picnic benches and drink crummy beers together at a 300% markup over buying them at a gas station. We are only inside because someone among some newly found friends has sweet-talked the back door guy. Point is, I'm bored and ready for bed. I engage a fellow Cincinnatian at this bar after awkwardly sitting in silence for the past 30 minutes. Someone points to an open garage door leading to an abandoned courtyard where a bonfire is burning and shadowy figures have been shuffling in and out of all night. Oh man … I've been to these parties back home. They often end in way more cocaine than I'm comfortable being around or racially tense fights. But it’s the path I have to take to find out where I can sleep, so I throw my hood up to go as unnoticed as possible and dive in.
"If you high as fuck and you having a good time say yeah!"
"If you drunk as fuck and you having a good time say yeah!”
A track starts playing a familiar synth line. Everyone in the rundown rock yard throws their hands up in unison and screams, "I DONT FUCK WIT' YOU!!" Big Sean's breakup anthem blares over the PA. Yes! I'm so down with this. The fact that I'm in dirty soccer shorts and an Against Me! hoodie doesn't matter. The fact that I'm not from here doesn't matter. My age doesn't matter. My race doesn't matter. We all dance and sing along together until the cops show up. Forget the kids waiting in line to drink bad beer on park benches hoping to get laid; this is the most live party I've been to in a long while and nothing like it has ever happened back home.
But this isn't home, it's Atlanta. And it's the best part of Shaky Knees festival. I had headed to the unofficial capital of the South two days earlier with wildly different expectations. I was nervous, expecting an endlessly expansive metropolis like Chicago or New York where you could get lost for days just searching for a legal parking spot and shouldn’t expect to find a place to rest your head for less than $100 per night.
Instead I was greeted by a uniquely diverse, affordable and welcoming city that didn’t feel much more overbearing than Nashville or our own city. A welcoming attitude of southern charm and hospitality was the cherry on top of every restaurant and bar we’d visit.
Before I go on I feel it should be pointed out that while fully qualified to review a music festival, I fall into a not so primary target demo for festival promoters. Yes I’m white and middle class, but, more importantly, I’m 29. Not young enough to save up my graduation money and go on a road trip with my gal pals for the “party of the summer.” Not late enough in my 30s, with kids of my own old enough to either stay home alone or come with as I check out whatever ’80s Alt band has dusted themselves off to play in the twilight hours of each day in the name of collecting a paycheck. Most of my demographic is too busy being spit up on at all hours of the night by their newborns to afford spending three days drinking in the sun and being blasted by unhealthy decibel levels. But, alas, here I am.
That all being said, my only real complaint with Shaky Knees was its lack of diversity. It is in the Hip Hop capital of the south (several jokes were made asking locals if Outkast are the “presidents of Atlanta”), but it failed to feature a single Hip Hop or R&B act. There was a small representation of Delta music with Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Trombone Shorty dotting the schedule early Sunday afternoon (which I unfortunately missed as my attendance was unplanned and last minute, so I had to spend Sunday driving home for work). Every band I saw was just white guys with guitars. Not that there’s anything wrong with some of that, but I didn’t see a single other act that had more than one token female or person of color (the exception being Tennis, which had one extra woman on keys tucked in the back of the stage).
Atlanta’s location provides for an amazing opportunity to unite a wide array of music lovers from all over the country. I met travelers from places as far as New York, Miami, Fla., and Nashville, Tenn. It has a stronger African-American middle class than most of the Midwest, as I experienced amongst its nightlife and food scene, and yet the culture of the festival was still focused primarily on a white, suburban, Indie Rock or Folk crowd, which is a shame. Some minor lineup tweaks could make all the difference for an otherwise amazing festival.
Enough of that. We’re here to talk about performances, so let’s party …
Jukebox the Ghost While assessing the lay of the land we settled into our first full set with the Piano Rock trio. My friend, who knows my taste well enough to know I’d instantly want to judge them, insisted I give it a chance. It took a minute, but with interlude banter like, "This is a party song about breaking up," or "This is the dumbest song ever written," these guys are just having too much fun to not want to join in. I mean, come on — they closed with a cover of Queen’s "Don’t Stop Me Now" (yeah, they really had the balls to do that!) knowing full well their younger fan base would be totally lost and they didn’t give a single fuck. Kudos guys. You will do just fine in this world so long as your hairlines stay in tact.
Tennis I was merely nodding appreciatively through most of their set. Then lead singer Alaina Moore, whose neckline plunged all the way to the top of her high-waisted jeans with nothing but some hard working gravity protecting her from indecent exposure charges, introduced the song “Marathon.” One of the band’s older songs, it’s a solid straight up Doo Wop tune. (Now we’re talkin’!) I was pulled in for just a moment. But then all I could do is re-Imagine them as the opening band in the dance in Back to the Future with this same look and style. Marty never even gets the chance to rip through “Johnny B Goode.” The scene would already be too wild for Hill Valley circa 1955 to handle. There are riots in the streets! Marty disappears from the family photo and his existence fades into obscurity. Fin.
Wavves “Finally ‘the youths’ are partying!” I spent a good chunk of this set under the bright sun on searing black top thinking, “There’s gonna be some seriously dehydrated kids in sweaty ironic tees later.” Wavves’ first record was the only thing that swayed me to let my guard down and learn to accept the lo-fi revolution. Plus, “King of the Beach” is a total jam. But something just isn’t right about the energy of this young crowd. It’s like the Warped Tour of my youth for a new generation that doesn't have a George Bush to rally against and vent their angst toward. There’s a wave of aggressive indulgence in the pile of sweaty bodies that’s directed at nothing in particular and I’m too old or out of touch to understand it. Mostly I was thinking Hedonismbot from Futurama would fit right in crowd surfing over this pit. “Oh my!” Wavves new song was on point, though, perhaps suggesting a move away from the low-fi fuzz that covered up the simplicity of their previous work to something a little more richly melodic.
Manchester Orchestra I had to give this band a chance as my roommate texted me from back home insisting I check it out. I trust her. So I go. And, yeah, it’s heavy and I like that, but I’m not sure I get it yet. There are these glimmers of sing-along anthem glory, but in my 30-45 minute blind taste test of them I didn’t get enough of that flavor to crave seconds. Maybe some more research before they visit us for Bunbury next month will bring me around.
The Mountain Goats “AND HARD TIMES ARE WHEN A MAN HAS WORKED AT A JOB 30 YEARS AND THEY KICK HIM IN THE BUTT AND SAY: HEY, A COMPUTER HAS TOOK YOUR PLACE, DADDY. THAT’S HARD TIMES!” This is part of the epic, booming three-minute intro that sets the stage for The Mountain Goats’ show, a voiceover shouting a challenge to the Macho Man Randy Savage daring him to a fight in the ring across an empty stage. It gets you properly amped for what’s to follow. You can feel John Darnielle and his gang carry that energy right onto the stage with them as it ends and the crowd erupts. Don’t make the mistake of lumping these guys in with the dusters “just out for a paycheck” I mentioned earlier based on their age. You will rarely see someone look so happy to sing songs he wrote 20 years ago with as much conviction as Darnielle. His stage presence oozes “I’m a professional, but I’m having a blast!” And the crowd responds, “Alright John. Then I am too!” That presence is so strong he still wins over crowds with brand new songs despite already having a discography over 15 full-lengths deep. What's that streaming down my face as they close out with “No Children,” the hauntingly triumphant ode to the end of the ugliest relationship you’ve ever heard? It’s … it’s just a really heavy bead of sweat! It's hot out here damn it! Leave me alone!
Mastodon At this point in the day I just can’t take standing up anymore. Another minor issue with Shaky Knees overall was the food options. The ratio of local food trucks to festivalgoers yielded unbearably long lines for anyone hoping to catch some of the later acts of the day. Beer however was in ample supply, so I grabbed one to sip on while catching the most Metal moment of the weekend from a hill a hundred or so yards out from the main stage. Metalheads I trust recommend Mastodon and, yeah, they were fine with me too. Only problem is they fell just short of what I’m looking for in their songwriting, a craft often overlooked by Metal bands in my opinion. And so I spent most of their set wishing I was watching Ghost instead and checking my phone for any news of their next release. We should expect that in August.
Pixies Kim Deal purists be damned. Her current replacement did just fine and sounded spot-on like the records to me. While expecting those aging rockers coming out to collect a paycheck I’ve been talking about, there was still a dash of magic left. Or maybe it’s just that little flutter I get when a song starts up that I’ve been listening to for 15 or so years, like “Here Comes Your Man,” with no expectation of ever hearing live because, to be honest, it was a little loose at times. Okay. Really loose. Like, Frank Black stopped in the middle of a song and said, “That was my fault. I went to the chorus too soon,” and went on to the next one loose. Makes you feel a little bummed for folks who shelled out full price for a pass just because they’re so stoked to see their favorite band. So yeah, maybe my nostalgia high is wearing off now that I’m reflecting back and realizing Kim’s replacement was honestly the most engaging part of the set.
The Strokes Lead singer Julian Casablancas isn’t exactly the king of charisma. Hell, he’s not even the dunce in the corner of Charisma 101, which makes it really hard to accept this band as a headliner. His attempts at on-stage banter made for some of the most uncomfortable moments of the weekend. Tie that in with his cracking voice straining to push out the words “How long must I wait” before it just gave out during the first song of their encore, “Vision of Division.” Their set became downright unbearable at times. Unfortunately, on top of this, “Reptilia” is the only song I really care for and they opened with it. So I was over it quick. The crowd didn’t seem to care though. They all still went nuts when the song that sounds exactly like “Last Night” but isn’t it came on halfway through their set.
And so, in my constant battle of jaded cynicism vs. the fact that I do genuinely love live music, I’d say day one ended in a draw. On to round two!
Kevin Devine We raced back to the festival grounds to catch this set, but I wasn’t quite awake enough yet and needed to finish my coconut water to get things going. But Kevin didn’t care. His high energy set was better than anticipated and got me back in the game. He’s got the Indie/Emo “slow burn, build and release” pattern down and I’m totally ready to go up and down for the ride. Definitely keep an ear out for him.
Mariachi El Bronx Exactly what it sounds like. It’s Los Angeles hardcore band The Bronx … playing mariachi. I honestly resisted them for years as my friends raved and I assumed it was just another silly novelty crossover band. But they’re such great players that they managed to transcend the novelty and throw one hell of a party. Unfortunately, The Bronx gang seemed to draw the short end of the stick for the entire festival as this set was early on the main stage where the bass in the mix was for a much larger headlining crowd and it ruined the whole balance of the band. I had to leave halfway through as my body couldn’t handle the blasting waves of low end. But their bass player sure sounded great!
Speedy Ortiz “I think Squidbillies is here right?” lead singer Sadie Dupuis says between songs with minimal irony or facetiousness in her voice. And it’s this feeling of off beat intimacy the band tries to interject into the mid-afternoon, sun-drenched crowd that draws me in. It helps me understand why others are drawn to them, while my aging ears struggle to get hip to it. Dupuis voice and melodies, along with everyone else’s performances, are great, their style of off-the-beaten-path harmonic and chord structure however have never really set in for me. It kind of killed off my mariachi buzz and I stepped out halfway through to plan the rest of my day in some shade.
Viet Cong I went into this thinking the tough as nails name meant I was about to see a bratty and loud Punk band, which I was kind of stoked about. But the droning bass and synth is all good too! Makes me want to get in the world’s angriest space shuttle and fly to the moon. As they droned the last two chords of their final song back and forth for nearly three minutes I found myself wanting to shout, “Just take off damn it!” These guys would be equally good for when you're drunk alone at 4 a.m. again and your Joy Division records are just too far out of reach, plus you need a little extra edge to encourage you to break a few things!
Metz If you wish The Hives were still a hard touring band, these guys will get you half way there. Plus they’re a lil’ heavier to boot. That being said, the riffs could be a little catchier for my taste, but they still deliver enough to keep me hanging on and start snooping around for their records next time I’m out. Plus, you’ve got to love a band that you know is making somebody in Canada say, "You know that quiet guy in accounting? Yeah he TOTALLY shreds on the weekends!" Probably also worth mentioning here that these guys will be tearing up the Woodward Theater with Viet Cong on July 21st and it’s definitely going to be worth being there.
FIDLAR Plain and simple: This is why I love Punk. Just look at the dumb, unbridled joy on the faces of this sea of kids bouncing up and down in unison. There’s a certain “it” factor that the best live acts have regardless of technical difficulty or skill required to accurately perform their songs which I’ve never been able to put my finger. (FIDLAR said it best during their own set: “That’s right guys, all you need is three chords!”) This band definitely has it. The fact that I’m getting too old and responsible to honestly relate to their lyrics doesn’t matter. I think cocaine is childish and immature and I think drinking cheap beer is a waste of calories … but goddamn. I just can’t help but scream along in unison with these kids and share their same dumb, shit-eating grin. They are rescheduling their recently cancelled show at Thompson House. Keep an eye out for the new date and be prepared to lose your goddamn mind.
The Bronx And this is why I love hardcore! This is one of the tightest performances I saw up to this point despite unfortunately having the smallest crowd. No frills, just solid playing and tight execution. I had tried getting into them on record a few years back and something didn't click. Now it does. Time to go back and start working on picking up some change on the dance floor again.
Neutral Milk Hotel Yep. There's still too much ex-girlfriend attachment to this band for me to really enjoy it. Plus, they played at the time of day where no matter how close you want to get, you bottleneck at a point in the crowd that’s too far away to really feel a part of the set. “Maybe I should see if the Bronx is still playing? Why did I leave!? If one more person near me gushes over how cool using a saw as instrument is heads might roll …” Also the flock of blond college-age girls flocking out of the crowd after “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” was played early in the set was amazing. Am I being too cynical? Whatever. Jeff Mangum’s voice is still on point after all these years. Still worth it.
Wilco At this point that bottleneck was just too far away to really get into what was happening on stage, which bummed me out because I had to miss Wilco’s show in Cincy a few days earlier. The drunk people next to me were almost as loud as the reverberations distantly ringing on the stage. But hey — they’re still cranking out the hits and they're still Wilco, so you gotta love it. But I was a little too buzzed and nervous about not getting a good spot and running into this same situation for the Avetts, so I dipped out a little early.
The Avett Brothers “Effortless.” People challenge me all the time to explain why I believe these guys are objectively one of the best live musical acts in music right now and this is the only word I can ever seem to muster. The level of focus, mastery and attention to detail that goes into the performance this crew puts on night after night should be obvious to anyone who’s so much as taken a single guitar or voice lesson. The love, passion, joy, and energy they infuse into every song, whether it’s a sing-along anthem like “Kick Drum Heart” or a soft ballad like “The Ballad of Love and Hate,” makes the whole act seem more effortless every time I see them. Whether it’s Seth’s improvisational riffing on their already perfect vocal lines or Scott’s conviction and sincerity when telling the crowd he needs their help singing along with something, I truly believe they would win over any true music fan who is willing to let go and be taken by the power of one of their sets. No other band refracts as much love for what they’re doing on stage back to an audience quite like the Avetts. Their headlining set at Bunbury will be their first performance in Cincinnati since 2008. Do not miss it.
Whoa. What a ride. The fact that I’m having trouble wrapping this up despite the fact that I missed a whole day of the festival is a testament to just how much Shaky Knees has to offer music lovers. I’m having trouble keeping the two-day experience I had from unraveling into a full novella and am now forcing myself to shut up. Despite its limitations, there is still enough diversity to keep most fans of semi-independent Rock or Alternative on their toes. (No. It was not hard to resist a “shaky knees” pun here.) But when you attend next year, don’t let your time adjusting to the southern sun tap all of your energy for experiencing the city’s culture and nightlife. As much as I love Cincinnati, I think we have much to learn from this gem down South and I look forward to returning soon.
— Josh Elstro
If you have access to a radio or television set, then you’re likely well aware that “Shut Up and Dance” by Cincinnati Dance Pop crew Walk the Moon has become a bona fide Pop hit. The single has been certified platinum, meaning it has sold more than one millions copies. The catchy, danceable track is currently at No. 5 on Billboard’s singles chart and has also performed very well on various other charts. “Shut Up” reached No. 2 on iTunes Top Songs chart and Billboard’s digital charts. On Spotify, the song has been streamed more than 78 million times, while “Shut Up”’s video has held a steady presence in the Top 10 of VH1’s Top 20 video countdown. Talking is Hard, Walk the Moon’s second album for RCA Records, continues to benefit from the single’s success, moving as high as No. 14 on Billboard’s overall album chart.
The Cincinnati band has worked hard to push “Shut Up and Dance” to the upper reaches of the Pop charts. Along with the usual late-night talk show circuit, Walk the Moon has also appeared on network morning shows like The Today Show (which used various WtM tunes as bumper music throughout the day the band appeared) and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
When DeGeneres introduced the group on her show, she called “Shut Up” the band’s “No. 1 hit,” which it wasn’t at the time but could end up there as Walk the Moon keeps up its relentless promotional push. WtM’s is also becoming a bigger and bigger concert draw, selling out many of its shows across the country (the band just recently completely another successful U.S. jaunt).
And WtM has also been making it onto prime time TV lately. Last month, Riker Lynch and Allison Holker danced to “Shut Up” for a routine on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. Tuesday night (May 12), the band will play “Shut Up” as special guests on NBC’s popular singing competition, The Voice. Tune in to catch the performance at 8 p.m.
Though several Cincinnati-based acts have done well on a national level, crossing over to the top of the Pop charts is pretty rare, particularly for artists who choose to remain in their hometown while pursuing their career. Walk the Moon comes home to play Cincinnati’s Bunbury Music Festival on June 5 along the Ohio’s riverfront. Click here for tickets/details.
Every April, the Cincinnati Zoo presents an every-Thursday concert series called “Tunes & Blooms,” which showcases some of the finest local bands in Greater Cincinnati (as well as the Zoo’s Botanical Garden in full bloom). But for this year’s series, Mother Nature had different plans, as April showers brought cancelled concerts on April 2, 9 and 16.
The free concerts have been rescheduled and begin this evening (Wednesday) with local Folk/Americana favorites Hickory Robot and The Tillers. The next rescheduled date is tomorrow (Thursday) and features another pair of Folk dynamos — Jake Speed and the Freddies and Shiny and the Spoon. The final rescheduled show takes place May 13 with the fantastic Buffalo Wabs & the Price Hill Hustle and Honey & Houston.
The music begins at 6 p.m. all three evenings and runs until 8:30 p.m. There is no admission charge to get into the zoo after 5 p.m. (there is a $9 fee is you’d like to park in the zoo’s parking lot). Click here for more info.
Cincinnati’s MidPoint Music Festival (owned and operated by CityBeat) recently announced that tickets for the late September festival were on sale, as well as a new date format (instead of Thursday-Saturday, 2015’s MPMF will take place Friday, Sept. 25-Sunday, Sept. 27). Now the first artists slated to appear at MPMF have been unveiled.
The first batch of MidPoint 2015 acts includes pioneering British Shoegaze band Ride, Canadian Electro Pop duo Purity Ring, Indie/Electronic up-and-comers Sylvan Esso, experimental artist tUnE-yArDs (aka Merrill Garbus) and diverse Indiana songwriter Strand of Oaks. The rest of the initial lineup announcement features Zola Jesus, Cathedrals, Matthew E. White, Pokey LaFarge, Moon Duo, Betty Who, K.Flay, Beach Slang, Sarah Jaffe, Ryley Walker and Truly.
More artists (as well as specific schedule and venue info) will be announced in the coming weeks as the Over-the-Rhine/Downtown festival approaches. For the latest updates, tickets (a limited amount of early bird passes are still available) and more info, visit mpmf.com. Artists interested in showcase consideration can still apply through mpmf.com through May 17.
Here's a sampling of some music clips from this round of MPMFers:
The first time I saw the Warsaw Falcons, my Cincinnati experience was only slightly longer than the band's existence. I'd moved here in January 1982 on the heels of a failed and miserable marriage. I was working for (and living out of) a record store in North College Hill run by my friends/saviors Rick and Karen (aka Cookie, long before Empire, bitches) Kandelson, who gave me work and a safe haven.
I found full time work and a girlfriend in fairly short order, and for the most part felt I'd made the right decision in relocating to Cincinnati. But I desperately missed my 2-year-old son and my family and friends back in Michigan, so I entertained the notion of asking my new love to consider moving back to the Mitt with me.
And then a cosmic intervention took place. Within the span of a couple of weeks, I saw the raisins, who had been around for a while, and the Warsaw Falcons, who had only just formed. After those two musical epiphanies I said to myself, with unbridled joy and complete certainty, "I don't have to go home, I am home."
Beyond all doubt, I was where I was supposed to be.
The raisins were everything I loved about Pop Rock — smart and smartassed, loud, melodic, lyrically brilliant and gloriously dumb, intricate in the pursuit of simplicity. The Falcons exhibited a lot of the same characteristics, but in a totally different context. I couldn't tell you much about the original band at that point, as I was fairly riveted to the sight of David Rhodes Brown, a 6' 4" beanpole with an additional foot of roostered pompadour, snake-charming the nastiest, slinkiest, rawest, most compelling riffs from his hollow bodied Gibson that I'd ever heard in my 25 years. Brown and the earliest incarnation of the Falcons roared through a couple of sets of jumped-up Rockabilly/Boogie Woogie/Blues at an intensity level that could have microwaved a 15-pound roast to perfection in under a minute, and I stood watching in absolute wonder, as if I was attending the swaggering, staggering, yowling birth of Rock & Roll its own damn self.
There was no fundamental difference in any subsequent Falcons show I witnessed over the next seven years, give or take, and they were legion. At Dollar Bill's, Shipley's, Bogart's, Cory's, all the way out at the Townshipn Tavern and any number of places in between, the Warsaw Falcons never gave any less than their absolute all, tearing shit up with gleeful intent, putting it back together with ramshackle abandon and ultimately reducing it to smoke and ash with the zeal of blissed-out revolutionaries, confident in their cause and the destruction it inspired.
Through any number of lineup shifts, the Falcons delivered the goods night after night, set upon set upon set. There were gaps in the band's history when Brown lit out for Austin, Tex., and Nashville, Tenn., but he returned with more riffs to play, more stories to tell, more challenges to conquer. Brown shuttered the Falcons just after taking them into John Curley's Ultrasuede Studio to record their only full-length album, the righteous and red hot Right It on the Rock Wall. That incarnation of the band included legendary session saxophonist Bobby Keys. Brown dusted off the Falcons in 2001, turned out a couple of EPs and played out a bit but shelved them again when a proposed record contract fell victim to the post-9/11 downturn.
In the new millennium, things have been different. Music is ones and zeros instead of a spiraled groove or a spun tape reel, and David Rhodes Brown has reinvented himself a half dozen ways to Sunday. He had Ricky Nye teach him the rudiments of Boogie Woogie piano, he learned the Hank Williams songbook and joined Ryan Malott's 500 Miles to Memphis as a lap steel shredder and vocalist, helping transform it from cool local entity to national semi-sensation. Then he taught himself clawhammer banjo, grew a Rip Van Winkle-meets-ZZ Top beard and started playing old time music with the same dedication and intensity that marked his time in the Falcons, with less actual electricity and an improbable rise in passion and workload. He spread his attention over numerous full and part time projects, leading inevitably to his debut solo album, 2010's exquisite Browngrass & Wildflowers.
And then, as so often happens, fate intervened in the form of last November's celebration/roast of the David Rhodes Brown on the occasion of his 50th year in the entertainment racket (if you count his being paid to sing requiems at Catholic mass, which he does). The event was organized by one of the scene's greatest boosters and its unceasing heartbeat, the amazing Kelly Thomas, ably assisted by Brown's biggest supporter, fan and sugar mama, the incomparable Bobbi Kayser, who together assembled a veritable murderer's row of artists and friends in order to pay deserved tribute to DRB, if for no other reason than to thank him for his role in helping to build the solid foundation upon which the greater Cincinnati music scene has built its magnificent house over the past four decades.
And in a moment of divine inspiration, the once and future David Rhodes Brown called up the two other most recognizable components of the Warsaw Falcons — bassist John Schmidt, whose stoic demeanor on stage was always at odds with the blistering pulse he provided, and drummer Doug Waggoner, whose maniacal approach to rhythm was to beat it into submission, hammering it into new and exotic shapes with Thor's thunder and Odin's lightning. The Falcons' frenetic six-song set at the end of the evening — with Brown in the teeth of a mutant flu strain that would have coldcocked the sturdiest lumberjack or dockworker — was the stuff of local legend. And as the last chords were still ringing through the Southgate House's Sanctuary, Brown (clean-shaven for the express purpose of revisiting his youthful past) informed us that he, Schmidt and Waggoner had worked too hard and had too much fun to lock the Falcons back in their respective trophy cases and that they would be returning, badder and better than ever.
That promise was teased with the Falcons' opening slot for 500 Miles to Memphis at the Southgate House last New Year's Eve, but it was fulfilled with a righteous vengeance last Friday night when the trio headlined their first club date in nearly a decade and a half, transforming the swank surroundings of the newly refurbished Woodward Theater into an edge-of-town roadhouse, with all the danger and chicken-wire that implies.
The evening began with a spirited set from JetLab, the compelling Synth Rock trio that made a serious local splash with their eponymous 2014 debut album and earned a well-deserved Best New Artist CEA nomination earlier this year. In the studio, the trio — Elle Crash (a huge fan of DRB's since way back), Nick Barrows and Dave Welsh — churn out an arty Flying Lizards/Gary Numan/Breeders/Tom Tom Club-tinged soundtrack, but in the live setting, JetLab channels their performance adrenaline into a manic Soul Coughing/Mike Doughty ethic, with brush strokes from the pallets of early Talking Heads, B-52s and our own Perfect Jewish Couple from back in the day. Barrows and Crash take their turns on the Korg, accompanying each other on electric and acoustic guitars with Crash occasionally strapping on the bass to beef up the bottom. Through it all, Welsh provides the slippery beat to hold it all together, shifting seamlessly from tough-edged shuffle to hard-hitting machinegun attack. JetLab has already amassed a sizable and suitably loyal local following, but its rapidly maturing live presence shows the trio is stocked with brains and muscle and its best days lay just ahead.
Next up on was yet another standard stellar appearance by The Tigerlilies, whose greatness has been trumpeted in our pages and on this site for a good long time. Friday's show was solid evidence to support that stance. The band's fourth and undeniably best album, last year's In the Dark, was handed out with each ticket sold and anyone who didn't already have it was the proud recipient of one of the best albums of 2014, period. In my review of In the Dark, I name-checked Cheap Trick, Husker Du, The Clash and The Beatles and I confidently stand behind those reference points. In the live context, however, The Tigerlilies' energy level rises exponentially and they shift into a sixth gear that is almost impossible to quantify. With an audience to spur them on, The Tigerlilies blenderize all of the above and throw in heaping handfuls of the Dictators and Voidoids to create a sound that is Power Pop at a blistering yet amazingly nuanced Hard Rock level. Bassist Brian Driscoll and drummer Steve Hennessy have the kind of telepathic beat mentality that is the hallmark of every great rhythm section, and Pat Hennessy and Brendan Bogosian are proving to be one of the most adaptable and multidimensional guitar tandems in the city, able to pummel with Punk passion and pacify with Pop persuasion. Pat once took guitar lessons from DRB, distinguishing himself to his instructor by bringing him a Johnny Burnette single with the intent of learning the song. That breadth of interest and experience still informs everything he does with The Tigerlilies.
Inevitably, it was time for the Warsaw Falcons to take the stage. Suited up in dapper black like Sopranos extras ready for their close-ups, Msrs. Brown, Schmidt and Waggoner opened the evening with the one-two punch of their slinky and seductive "Skinny Anklebone," the Falcons' first 7-inch from back in 1984, followed by the propulsively thunderous "Mix Your Mess," and it was a slightly mannered free-for-all from there. As always, the Falcons proved themselves to be masters of pacing, knowing exactly the right time to draft and when to accelerate, slowing things down with the swaying Rockabilly/Doo Wop intensity of "I Fall Apart," heating things up with the insistent thump and throb of "Two Cigarettes in the Dark" and "You Can't Talk to Me." And the evening's special status was cemented with a backing vocal cameo from Mark Utley, taking a break from Bulletville and Magnolia Mountain (the latter of which once claimed DRB as a member) to sing harmonies on "You Can't Talk to Me" and "Melody" and provide appropriate shouts on "Cat Daddy."
When the Falcons finally closed with a rafter-rattling spin on "Never My Lover," the understandably frenzied crowd erupted with some fireworks of their own, stomping on the Woodward's dance floor with seismic fury until the trio retook the stage to finish the night with the hypnotic rumpshake of "Bertha Lou" and the incendiary barnstorm of "Swingin' on the Way Down."
As the lights came up on the dazed but exultant attendees (which included everyone's favorite politico/city booster Jim Tarbell; as Brown noted earlier in the night, "Well, when Jim Tarbell shows up, you know you've got a thing"), it was clear that the audience was comprised of two distinct factions — old fans who were basking in the glow of memories of ancient Falcons triumphs and the unexpected prospect of new frontiers ahead and new fans who had just witnessed a scorching force of nature whose earliest gigs may have preceded their births or at least coincided with their formative elementary school years. These younger fans had never seen the trio in their heyday, and I assured them that what they had just experienced was played out in that same fashion, at least five nights a week, three sets a night, back in the ’80s. Their jaw-dropped reaction was proof positive that the Warsaw Falcons belong back together, belong on the current scene with their (much) younger contemporaries and have more than enough fuel to go wherever they bloody well want to go.
Clearly the Falcons themselves and those of us who followed them with unfailing fervor from the start bear all the marks of the passing decades. There is considerably more salt in our once peppery hair, but you know what they say about snow-covered roofs and the fire stoked furnaces beneath them. The Warsaw Falcons may well be looked at as the grandfathers of the Cincinnati scene, but they built this city on Rock and soul and the music they made is as timeless as the seasons, as immutable as the laws that govern the universe and as relevant as tomorrow's headlines.
Friday night's show at the Woodward was the first in a series of gigs where the headlining Falcons will be supported by bands whose members can claim some connection to DRB and his intrepid band of riffmongers, joined by special guests both past and present. Think the Warsaw Falcons are just the new geezer Rock? Get your mind right, kids, and talk to the virgins who got popped at the Woodward last week. They drank the Kool-Aid and they believe. You will, too … right down to your skinny anklebones.
The lineup for this year's MidPoint Indie Summer was announced this morning. Along with a slew of solid local acts, this year's free Friday night concerts on Fountain Square will feature more well known national acts than ever before.
Shows run 7-11 p.m. from May 29-Sept. 4.
May 29: Surfer Blood; The Yugos; Automagik; Harbour
Jun 5: The Mowgli's; One Day Steady; Nevele; Beloved Youth
Jun 12: Kopecky; Broncho; Coconut Milk; Near Earth Objects
Jun 19: Buffalo Killers; Ohio Knife; Mad Anthony; Go Go Buffalo
Jun 26: Sloan; Mother Mother; Old City
Jul 3: Red Wanting Blue; Young Heirlooms; Motherfolk; Chris Salyer
Jul 10: Saint Motel
Jul 17: The Ting Tings; Brick + Mortar; Black Signal
Jul 24: Givers; Prim; Even Titles
Jul 31: The Whigs; Multimagic; Pop Goes the Evil; Never Setting Suns
Aug 7: Tweens; Leggy; Smut; Shark Week
Aug 14: Judah & The Lion; Seabird; Matt Hires; Along the Shore
Aug 21: San Fermin; Lemon Sky
Aug 28: Wussy; Pike 27; The Perfect Children; JetLab
Sep 4:The World is a Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid to Die; Injecting Strangers; Moonbeau: Edison
The shows are sponsored by CityBeat's MidPoint Music Festival (MPMF does not book artists for the Fountain Square events). MidPoint returns this year Sept. 24-26. The festival is currently accepting applications from artists interested in playing MPMF 2015. Click here for details.
I spent months conjuring a path towards a holiday in the sun. The clutching grasp of the highly irregular Midwest winter had me experiencing the full manifestation of the seasonal doldrums. A cross-country road trip turned out to be my conduit towards metaphorical enlightenment. I found solace in a distant two-day music festival nested in Santa Ana, Calif. But in fear of sounding like a silver-tongued bastard, lets talk turkey.
This past weekend’s Burgerama was a compact, genre-bending two-day music festival with three separate stages (indoor and outdoor). Burger Records presented a lineup of 80-plus bands that included SoCal favorites Bleached, Ty Segall and FIDLAR but also offered Psych Rock pioneer Roky Erikson, Alternative legends Weezer and the Hip Hop collective Bone Thugs N Harmony.
While in its fourth year of existence, Burgerama has a well-defined identity. Festival-goers all looked extremely similar as a parallel style and angst ran rampant at The Observatory venue in Santa Ana. Trendy weekend bohemians with eccentric personalities donning ripped denim were not in short supply. The only true individual was the lonesome dad with a disapproving glare and earplugs.
Burgerama definitely has a common, overwhelming and obvious demographic. A sea of teenagers flooded the venue at the all-ages, weekend festival. My only safe haven from the painful, reminiscent sights of my adolescence was the beer garden, or beer prison (as I affectionately coined it), since you couldn’t freely roam the venue with your $6 beer. But it was the least populated area offering plenty of shade and a great view of the stage. Who would’ve thunk?
Festivals have a stigma of being over-priced and overrated but Burgerama did music fans a solid because for $90 you got two days of music and a better way to spend the weekend than binge watching Netflix and adding on to your to-do list.
Most of the bands I was looking forward to seeing were scheduled later in the evening, so I had time to check out the handful of bands I was unfamiliar with before Burgerama. I was definitely impressed with my results of aimlessly wandering from stage to stage finding new artists to add to my music collection. It was hard to pick a favorite performance, but here are a few that stood out that I highly recommend checking out if you haven’t already:
This all-female quartet is based out of Seattle. La Luz has an intrinsically noticeable spacey 1950s Surf Rock, Doo Wop influence packed with a healthy amount of reverb, slight pressure on the tremolo bar and a well-mannered slice of four-part vocal harmony. The addition of extremely cohesive instrumentation makes this group captivating. Four extremely talented, women playing beautiful music.
When you put a jangly guitar above a fat drum beat with a driving fuzz bass tone, you get the perfect recipe for a wholehearted dance party. Broncho is quirky, fun and its songs are extremely catchy. The Oklahoma based trio was definitely my favorite band of day one. With underlying traces of Punk and timely use of non-lexical melodies, the pop-minded Broncho put on a great set at Burgerama. Definitely looking forward to catching them at Louisvill’es Forecastle Festival in July. (Check out a Q&A with the band’s Ryan Lindsey below.)
FIDLAR, which stands for “Fuck it Dog, Life’s a Risk,” is an L.A. Punk band that was passionately received by a slightly aggressive crowd eager to heed the advice of the above acronym. Before the show started, I saw additional security march towards the front of the stage in preparation for the fallout. Even the side stage, which tends to be a refuge from the pit area, was filled with mini-mosh pits. Seeing the band at Burgerama made me excited to see them perform at a smaller venue. FIDLAR will be at Thompson House in Newport on May 16. I love Rhinegeist as much as the next guy, but I’ll be sticking to cheap beer that night.
Jacco Gardner, a Dutch multi-instrumentalist, was a breath of fresh air from the thematic distortion that could be quickly located throughout the venue. His band was extremely cohesive, offering evident attention to 1960s psychedelia. The intricate and diverse melodies offered comfort to weary eardrums. Gardner is genuinely a great songwriter.
Mr. Elevator & The Brain Hotel
Mr. Elevator & The Brain Hotel was one of the only groups I looked up prior to Burgerama. The band name alone had me interested. This L.A. rooted psychedelic, keyboard-based four piece put on a phenomenal show despite having to play a shorter set due to a bass amp that blew out. Strictly because of instrumentation, this band will be likened to The Doors but this band has a definite sound of their own. The group members mentioned they are working on a new album currently, and I am definitely looking forward to hearing more from them.
Twin Peaks is a Chicago based band that I was really looking forward to seeing after hearing their new album, Wild Onion. The energy these guys exerted left me both inspired and exhausted. Their energy transferred to the fans and the photographers in the pit were asked to leave before the agreed time because the crowd was getting too rowdy. Twin Peaks performed a wildly entertaining set; definitely glad I got to watch them.
Stellar local singer/songwriter Jeremy Pinnell has revealed one of his first new songs since the release of last year’s magnificent album OH/KY in the form of a new music video shot by famed local photographer Michael Wilson. Wilson — who has done promo shots and album covers for artists ranging from Over the Rhine and Joshua Redman to Lyle Lovett and The Replacements — filmed the clip in a Boone County, Ky., horse barn in mid-March, using his “one-shot” (meaning no edits) technique, previously seen in clips from The Emery Sessions a few years back and more recently seen in a pair of clips for local Country band Bulletville's new album.
Pinnell, whose sound has shifted towards a more traditional Country vibe since his days with local bands like The Light Wires and The Great Depression, performs in the clip for the new “Feel This Right” backed by his pals, the Honky Tonk crew The 55s, whose Cameron Cochran produced, recorded, mixed and mastered the video.
"When I walked into the barn and shouted, and listened to the way the sound resonated off the dirt floor and the old wooden siding, I had a feeling something amazing was going to be captured,” Cochran says. “The light was perfect, the day was perfect, the band was in good spirits, the song was great, we had someone with an amazing eye looking through a camera — all we had to do was get out of the way of what was about to happen, and that was exactly what we did."
For some musicians, their 9-to-5 is little more than a means to an end. Pizza and guitar strings don’t pay for themselves, after all. Others take pride in their work, both on stage and in the “real world,” but view them as two parts of a whole.
But for Jess Lamb, her twin identities as a musician and teacher are deeply intertwined. She works hard in both professional avenues and has put a large amount of effort into maintaining them, even during her post-American Idol influx of activities. It’s a balancing act with some unexpected complications that she is still learning to walk gracefully. But for Lamb, there is no other choice.
“I think that the public has seen me as a teacher and I don’t want my name to be tainted by this other persona, this other career, this other life. So I don’t want to be slosh drunk. I don’t want to be like Jim Morrison in my experimenting with life. But at the same time there’s a whole other vibe with playing in venues, playing in bars and it is very different from the teacher thing,” Lamb explains.
Before Idol, Lamb’s work as a musician and an ESL teacher were more easily separated. Nowadays, with the added exposure that Idol has brought to her and her late-night performances around town, she has had to go to greater lengths to protect the sanctity of both. A shot of Jameson may not be thrown back with the same careless abandon as a few months prior and photo ops are utterly devoid of the counter-cultural staples of, say, a middle finger or devil horns. This isn’t to say that Lamb was or is a reckless partier at night and a quiet bookworm during the day.
Rather, what happens at night can bleed into the daylight hours and her work in one aspect of life can’t compromise the other. She has to take into account who her new audience members may be and how they learned of Lamb. Being a teacher requires maintaining professionalism at all times. When a teacher is shown on national television, keeping that even-headed mentality all day and all night becomes even more important.
Considering all the time that Lamb has spent on her music after her Idol run, some may wonder why she doesn’t put the teaching on hold for the time being. Between the Idol recaps she does regularly for Fox 19 since leaving the show, the myriad interviews, the residencies at Japps in Over-the-Rhine and Jags in West Chester (as well as other shows), the studio work and all the other opportunities that have arisen, finding time for teaching is pretty much impossible at this point. In fact, Lamb has cut down her teaching work to roughly four hours a week, doing basic lesson planning and similar activities. But she still carves out time for her teaching for a very important purpose.
“I don’t do it for the money, it’s not sustaining me. I do it for my spirit. It’s for something that feels important, I don’t know that what I’m doing all the time feels important,” Lamb says.
She views being a teacher and an entertainer as two professions with two different contributions to society. Music and teaching both give something back to the community at large, but she feels that teaching impacts the public on a much larger scale. While singing in a smoky bar reaches a small amount of people, teaching has a much larger reach.
Ultimately, Lamb is a musician and teacher in equal measure. At this point, the music is taking more of her time, but she is determined to not let it take all of it.
“I don’t want to cancel out one or the other with a teacher persona that’s too square or a Rock star persona that’s too crazy and unstable,” Lamb says.
For Lamb, finding a mix of her two professions and passions is an ever-present struggle. When Idol rocketed her music to the forefront, she has had to constantly work to balance it out with activities that are equally as fulfilling. It hasn’t been an easy process by any means but one that she sees as absolutely necessary.
Just don’t be offended if she turns down a shot of whiskey next time you run into her in the Main St. district.
Nick Grever is checking in periodically with Cincinnati-based American Idol contest Jess Lamb about her post-Idol life. Check out previous "Beyond Idol Chatter" posts here. Visit jesslamb.com for music, show dates and more.
Former Cincinnati-based (now Austin, Texas headquartered) band Heartless Bastards have announced the release of its fifth album, Restless Ones, on the Partisan Records imprint on June 16. It’s the band’s first new full-length since 2012’s acclaimed Arrow, the group’s debut for Partisan. (The band took local group Wussy on tour after Arrow's release.)
The Bastards, who recently opened some arena concert dates for Rock music legend Bob Seger, also announced a string of tour dates beginning in June that will bring them back to Cincinnati for a two-night stand at Woodward Theater. The band plays the newly remodeled/reopened Over-the-Rhine venue June 25-26 with opener Craig Finn (frontman for The Hold Steady).
A limited number of tickets for the Woodward shows are available starting today at noon through a special songkick.com presale. Click here for details.