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.
You, You’re Awesome, the opening-night main act for this year's MidPoint Indie Summer Series (this Friday on Fountain Square), has earned its way to headlining status by building an ever-increasing following with its crafty, magnetic Electronica, a mix of modern, energetic rhythms (thanks to Kevin Bayer’s live drums and Yusef Quotah’s smart programming), catchy, clever samples and an assortment of snyths and electronics that bridges early, pioneering usage and today’s more stylized approach.
The gods of Rock must have known that Alice In Chains was in town on Saturday, May 17 as the area around the Horseshoe Casino was dreary, cloudy and cold. It’s as if they transplanted a little bit of Seattle into downtown Cincinnati for much of the day. Luckily the rain held off for the show, allowing the sold-out crowd to bear witness to a classic Grunge act proving just how energetic and relevant they still are.
Canadian quartet Monster Truck kicked off the show before the advertised 8 p.m. show time, meaning a large number of fans missed out on much of the band’s set. But the fans that did get to catch Monster Truck’s Southern-fried Rock were in for a treat. These denim-clad and bearded boys sound like they’re from Georgia more than Ontario, playing rippers that would make Lynyrd Skynyrd raise their beers to the sky. Monster Truck’s shirts read in big, block letters: “Don’t Fuck With The Truck.” After their set, I doubt anybody considered doing so.
Monster Truck’s set was a great warm up for the main attraction, but the crowd was really there for one reason and one reason only. At 8 p.m. sharp, as the opening lines to “Them Bones” rumbled through the stacks, Alice In Chains stormed the stage to prove exactly why they can still sell out venues almost 30 years after their formation. Vocalist/guitarist William DuVall (who joined the group after original frontman Layne Staley’s death in 2002) brings a constant energy and dynamic stage presence that revitalizes not only the crowd but his own bandmates. Bassist Mike Inez and guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell became visibly more active and engaged whenever DuVall entered their stage space.
This isn’t to say that the old school members were slacking. Inez and drummer Sean Kinney still banged out rhythms that probably made the Horseshoe’s windows quake a bit. And Cantrell plays the hell out of his guitar, playing through Alice In Chains’ iconic riffs with such power and intensity, it’s obvious that his newfangled haircut didn’t cause a Metallica-esque loss in Metal credibility.
The set featured a mix of classics like “Man in the Box” and “Rooster,” deep cuts and hits from the DuVall albums like “Check My Brain,” insuring that fans of all eras happy. Even casual fans such as myself (my set list notes have more question marks than actual song titles) had plenty to latch on and sing along to. The trio banged out each song so powerfully that even unfamiliar tracks came across as timeless classics.
The band’s interaction with fans is particularly notable as well. DuVall made efforts to point out fans who were truly enjoying the show, Cantrell invited a father and son up on stage because of the child’s enthusiasm in the front row and Kinney had the crowd call a lawyer’s office whose billboard was in his sight line for the entire performance. Judging by all the screens floating in the air, I feel bad for their receptionist.
As the show wound down and Alice In Chains played their encore, consisting of “Don’t Follow,” “No Excuses,” and “Would?” the crowd slowly filed out and were greeted by a group of religious protesters touting the dangers of gambling and Rock & Roll (sex and drugs were noticeably absent from their complaints). They were largely ignored but after the hour and a half concert experience that I’d just been a part of, all I felt was a bit of pity for them. They missed one hell of a show.
The air may have been Seattle cold but after almost three decades and five albums, Alice In Chains are still white hot.
After the tumultuous revolution of The White Stripes, the twisted Pop/Rock convention of The Raconteurs and the Blues/Indie Rock gene splice of Dead Weather, there was nothing left for Jack White to do but to hang his own name on the marquee and go the solo route. There is an argument to be made that every White project is an extension of his musical persona regardless of the personnel he surrounds himself with or what he calls it; even the album's he produces bear his distinctive mark. At the same time, it’s also true White uses his shifting musical guises to offer a prismatic glimpse into the unique facets of his creative psyche, each one cut from the same bolt of cloth but patterned into something subtly but noticeably different.
White’s debut solo album, Blunderbuss, follows that logic line in much the same way. He explores and expands upon many of the genre variations that have defined his catalog to date in the service of imploding love songs that, at least on the surface, would seem to point toward his recent divorce as inspiration. In fact, the lack of actual drama surrounding that event indicates that White has written a song cycle about theoretical bad love rather than using pages out of his tear-stained journal for his muse.
Musically, Blunderbuss is a mixed bag of White’s best tricks; the Who-like guitar blast of “Sixteen Saltines,” the Prince-channels-the-Stooges Soul squall of “Freedom at 21” and the bluesy sugar swing of “I’m Shakin’.” But White also pushes his work down some interesting new paths as well, from the Americanapolitan Soul of “Love Interruption" (where White and singer Ruby Amanfu duet in a manner befitting Robert Plant and Alison Krauss) and the purer Country sway of the effecting title track to the Ray Davies-tinged dancehall Pop of “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” and the loungey piano Pop of “Hypocritical Kiss.”
Blunderbuss is another prime example of Jack White’s impeccable track record as one of Indie Rock’s most reliable chameleons.
(Edited to correct White's duet partner on "Love Interruption")
Bogart’s was filled with love Saturday night. It ran up the wood paneled walls and across the ceiling before raining back down onto the crowd, again. It was a mutual adoration, too. Seeing City and Colour live is far better than listening to them in the privacy of your own home. They put on an awesome show. Cincinnati was just as thankful to stand witness to their energy, as the band was to play to a sold-out house of loving fans. Two events during the night made the band’s love for their fans shine through the speakers most.
According to its government's Web site, New Zealand’s population density is 14 people per square kilometer. (The U.S. population is more than double that—31 people/km2.) Needless to say, concentrated masses of human beings aren’t particularly easy to come by out there.
“New Zealand is pretty far-removed from anything that would warrant being in a band, and you can’t really tour there,” lead singer Nick Johnson says. So it’s little wonder Cut Off Your Hands waved goodbye to their island home and hit the road to tour the sometimes overcrowded yet always far more plentiful cities of Europe and the U.S.
The Comet was packed Tuesday night in anticipation of seeing Nashville band The Black Belles and the Belles didn’t disappoint.
These women sure have created an identity for themselves. At any point, you could spot them somewhere in The Comet; they were hard to miss with their long black hair, black clothes, black hats, pale skin and dark makeup. And the shtick of it all doesn’t seem forced for The Black Belles. Members of Jack White’s label, Third Man Records, the Black Belles opened their set with “Leave You With A Letter,” the opener from their debut self-titled album.
Although the band is normally a four-piece, they are touring as a three-piece, leaving the organist back home in Nashville. Between bassist Ruby Rogers' deadpan dead-on bass riffs and Shelby Lynne’s solid drumming, there’s room for lead singer/lead guitarist Olivia Jean to do as she pleases. Her voice comes off as somewhat of a growl, so perfect for their dark and witchy lyrics. And there was something about the drummer similar to Meg White, with her black hair flowing as she beat the crap out of her set.
The Black Belles seem to be somewhat of a cross between The Cramps and Wanda Jackson, with the occasional Jack White riff thrown in the mix. Olivia Jean announced that they would play “their only Country song” as they launched into “Honky Tonk Horror,” which was not really anything close to a Country song and probably the heaviest Rock song they played. Other numbers included “In a Cage,” “Howl At The Moon,” “What Can I Do?,” “Lies,” “Wishing Well,” and “The Wrong Door.”
The only problem with their set was that The Comet didn’t move the tables out of the way so it was an extremely awkward crowd to stand in and actually be able to see the band. This resulted in people standing on chairs to get a better glimpse of the dark beauties.
When I asked the band what they’d be doing after the show, they smiled and said they would be using a Ouija Board at the Masonic Temple at which they were staying. If you missed out on seeing the Black Belles, they’ll be back in Cincinnati as one of the headliners for Midpoint Music Festival this September!
Cincinnati singer-songwriter Moegly (a.k.a. Nicholas Moeggenberg) is one of those dreamy, skinny, intelligent boys who always go over well with the coffee shop crowd. His debut five-song (well, six with the hidden track) EP, It’s Getting Hard to Find Good People, is a smooth, gentle Indie Folk effort that sounds especially good in its jumpier moments.
Justin Hayward-Young stole my soul.
When The Vaccines stormed onstage at the LC Pavilion on Oct. 3 to open for Phoenix, they rained a holy hell of guitar and vocals down upon their fans. And the people drowned in their own admiration for the band. Why? I firmly believe that The Vaccines are what Rock should be but hasn’t been for a long time. They don’t look like professors, duck their heads nervously at cheers or aim to take over a singing contest. They’re grungy — even sloppy at times — and they know how to be (or at least try to be) Rock Stars.
Hayward-Young has an overwhelming stage presence. Every move he makes seems to beg for attention and yet it all seems so visceral and unplanned. There’s nothing staged about his guttural cries or his playful cuddling of a frantic sound-tech. As hot as any guy is with a guitar hanging around his body, he is best when he’s instrument-free and unrestrained. Untethered from an amp, he’s loose and limber with flailing legs and arms and a floppy, flying head of hair. His actions are reminiscent of Rock Gods, his looks are the epitome of Grunge, his music oozes Punk spirit. And his voice? Dear God.
The Vaccines touched me. I felt it. Not in the blurred lines of Robin Thicke kind of way or in the Holy Ghost-spiritually-moved me way. I felt Hayward-Young’s baritone in my ears, my chest, my gut. I felt the band’s silly "Oo"-ing in my lips when I puckered up and cooed along. I felt the thrust of guitar in my hips and my feet when I realized I was dancing against (and perhaps inadvertently humping) the barricade.
I am still breathless. I am still sweaty. I may have bounced in my seat all the way home from Columbus.
That said, please do not write-off this enthusiasm as fan-girling and something to ignore. The Vaccines have been on my radar for a few years now and I’ve liked them well enough. Without a doubt, though, they are the kind of band that warrants seeing live. They bring an atmosphere with them that one must take part in to truly appreciate The Vaccines’ style. No one can say Nirvana or The Clash were better on an album than at a gig. Rock music isn’t meant for stereos or car rides. Sure, CDs (shut up, audiophiles) can help or create a mood. However, the live atmosphere greatly improves Rock … especially the grungy, Punk-infused Rock made by The Vaccines.
It’s all so good, so enchanting, so consuming and overpowering when you hear it live. When it came crashing to an end, I swear I could feel the vacant spot where my heart had once been. They’ve carried it off to wherever they’re going next.
Luckily, I didn’t need my heart to have a good time with Phoenix.
You know how there are “break-up songs” but then there are also completely normal songs that you can no longer emotionally stand to listen to anymore? I think the same happens with bands. Sometimes a break-up or bad era in your life can ruin a band in the future.
The guy who introduced me to Phoenix blackened my heart. By that I mean he ended things in such an awful way I ended up too mad to be broken-hearted. He ruined a couple bands for me.
But Phoenix is much too good for that. They’re better than any relationship, almost as good as sex. I already knew this. Their concert, though, solidified everything. Phoenix kicks exes in the groin, fills voids with bright, colorful lights and pounding beats and sends jilted lovers dancing in circles with middle fingers in the air. Lead singer Thomas Mars says you must “dansez” and dance you will.
LC Pavilion is far from a big venue and Phoenix could have easily gotten away with the bare minimum of flash. Apparently, the Parisians believe in the “go big or go home motto,” though, because they went all out. From the stories-high video screen behind them to the perfect (PERFECT) lighting sequences and color tones, they turned their music into an entire show, set a different atmosphere for every song and seemed just as into the mood they’d created as the thousands of fans screaming their heads off and dancing away their worries.
They put out energy and received it right back from their fans. It was utterly refreshing to watch as the six guys of Phoenix eat up the attention and love with shit-eating grins on their faces, dance around like twitching maniacs and seem genuinely happy that America has finally caught onto them. They might have the set design of a band like Muse or Coldplay, but they lack the ego. They know just how cool and remarkable it is for such average guys to make a whole room of people go wild with their far-from-average music.
They get even better, too. Despite all the bright lights and flash, they still found ways to connect with the crowd. Namely by throwing Mars into the thick of it. First, he stood at the barricade, singing his soul out while fans petted his every inch and tousled his hair. Later, during what had to have been the longest and best encore ever, he sat down on the barricade and sang a slower song. The next thing the audience knew, he was pushing his way to the back of the room, up onto the LC Pavilion’s slightly elevated mezzanine area and then working his way across to the other side. For a while, all I could see was the reddish-orange mic cord rolling ever closer to me. Then I touched Thomas Mars when he passed beside me. (However, I said, “Thanks” instead of “Merci.” Je le regrette.)
The night ended with Mars and Co. pulling a few dozen fans onto stage to dance and shake through the last few lines of the song. And then they were gone.
And I was gone. The Vaccines stole my heart and Phoenix turned my body into a damp nothingness. I was ready to drive to Nashville and do it all over again the next day. Sadly, it was sold out. Good, though. They deserve it.
“I’m getting too old for this shit.”
The phrase was a mantra as I entered the Pitchfork Music Festival 2011, the three-day-long music festival sponsored by the taste-making music website which blasted into Chicago’s Union Park from July 15-17. The thought of crowds thousands deep filled with folks almost 20 years my junior, sweltering heat forecast for the weekend and three stages filled with many bands that I had never heard before transformed this generally laid-back, open-minded reporter into a crotchety curmudgeon.