The first night of MidPoint is like a lot of firsts; first date, first kiss, first sex, first beer, first rectal exam by a hot proctologist. Hey, you have your firsts, I have mine. Anyway, MidPoint Thursday is always a magical time of reconnecting with old friends, making a few new ones along the way and experiencing an almost breathtaking amount of incredible music of every conceivable variety. 2014's version of that particular passion play lived up to and exceeded every expectation.
First up was a trip to the MidPoint Midway to witness the return of the mighty Pike 27. The band's late '90s/early '00s run included at least one EP and a great full-length in Falling Down Hard, but frontman Dave Purcell's shift into academia on the teaching side signaled the band's demise. Although Purcell's professorship at Kent State precluded him from actual band activities, he never stopped writing songs, and when he fortuitously returned to Cincinnati last year, he had an ass-pocket full of new material that suggested new horizons and possibilities. Purcell and original bassist Sean Rhiney (veteran and current member of any number of high profile bands and the co-founder of our MidPoint feast) resurrected Pike 27 with guitarist/local hero Mike Fair and drummer-and-more Dave Killen.
This new iteration of Pike 27 is a powerhouse of scorching guitar, earthmoving bass and jackhammer drumming, and while there are vestiges of the band's Roots Rock history, everyone's balls are definitely within the vicinity of some wall or other and medal is being pedalled with controlled abandon. Start to stop, Pike 27 careened from song to song with the visceral intensity of The Old 97s and dashes of Alejandro Escovedo and Grant Lee Buffalo at their delicately nuanced and head-kicked obvious best. This seems to be a fertile period for long dormant bands to renew themselves and that can always be a problematic situation, but Pike 27 is clear evidence that having the right motivation to return can evolve into a stunning and most welcomed result.
On the heels of Pike 27's energetic and fabulous opening set at the Midway came the return of our beloved Black Owls, a well-documented force of nature in their own right. Pre-show, frontman David Butler promised that the Owls' set would be populated with nothing but new material with very few exceptions, and he was good to his word. Other than their recently installed cover of Harry Nilsson's "Jump Into the Fire" and set closer "Glorious in Black," from their 2010 sophomore album June '71, the oldest songs in the Owls' incendiary set were "Rook" and "Gasoline," the two songs from their most recent single. Everything else that followed an invocation from the inimitable King Slice was brand new and largely untested Owls material, perhaps all of which will be taken into Ultrasuede at the end of November in anticipation of a new album. It made for a set that crackled with energy and a certain ramshackle giddiness as the band roared through material that hasn't quite solidified. Butler is quick to credit the rise of guitarist Brandon Losacker's songwriting profile as the reason for the Black Owls' straightforward Rock shift and sudden prolific streak, but I'd be just as quick to point out the gelling of new (and perpetually fabulous) bassist Kip Roe, the malleable thunder of drummer Brian Kitzmiller and the continually developing chemical bond between Butler and longtime musical cohort Ed Shuttleworth as equal parts of the Owls' new equation. The band is clearly having an absolute blast with the new songs, and their joy is translating to performances that are pegging the needle past the insane levels the Owls had already established. Cincinnati's Black Owls, as Butler likes to refer to the band, is in the midst of a fertile and potentially explosive period of evolution.
After the Owls' incendiary set, it was a quick stroll over to the Know Theatre to catch the last half of the set from Cincinnati’s Darlene. The trio was firing on all badass cylinders to be sure, blasting out sheets of guitar squall with plenty of melodic counterpoint. A tweet from someone at the show asked the musical question, "Is Darlene the new Sonic Youth?" The answer provided by perpetual smartest-guy-I-know Matthew Fenton was a logical and correct "No." Darlene is a blistering Rock band, and guitarist Janey O'Laney is always teetering on the brink of a shred-fueled fit, with bassist Cuddly D (the infinitely busy Dana Hamblen) and drummer Robby D providing the slinky yet sturdy undercarriage. But the fact is that the trio, at its heart, is a melodic Pop unit. They probably hew closer to Yo La Tengo in their ability to go from pretty to visceral in a half a heartbeat, but Darlene isn't the new anything; they are Darlene, and that's an astonishing accomplishment. Besides, as Matthew rightly pointed out, Darlene may be the best-dressed band on any given night anywhere. Sonic Youth were never known for their sartorial splendor. So there.
After Darlene, it was time to cruise on down to Mr. Pitiful's to check out Steelism, an instrumental quartet from Nashville. If guitar, bass, drums, pedal steel and no vocals sounds like a crashing bore, you'd be half right. There was plenty of crashing; cymbals, sounds and gates, as a human stampede of MidPoint patrons made their way into Mr. Pitiful's to sample Steelism's wares. I know from experience that if a relative unknown doesn't grab a festival crowd in the first couple of songs, the crowd in question will leave fast enough to create a head-exploding vacuum in the area. If anyone left during Steelism's mind-melting set, they were more than offset by the several dozen who drifted in after the start.
Steelism is comprised of British pedal steeler Spencer Cullum Jr., Ohio guitarist Jeremy Fetzer, and a bassist and drummer whose introductions were lost in a crowd frenzy and a muffled mic (well, they weren't mixing for vocals, now were they?), who threw down a mighty and wordless racket, unless you count Cullum's talkbox vocals on the band's spin through The Beatles' "Something." You could call Steelism Surfabilly/Soulicana/Spaghetti Southern or you could just call it bloody good music; after running through a handful of originals from their new full length, 615 to Fame, and their cracking good 7-inch, The Intoxicating Sounds of Pedal Steel and Guitar, and covers of classics by The Ventures and Booker T. and the MGs, Steelism had the packed house at Mr. Pitiful's in the palm of their sweaty hands. At one point, Cullum indicated that the band was going to slow things down, and then offered the crowd a choice between a gentler vibe or "plowing on through." The overwhelming vote was for the latter, with Cullum noting, "No sensitive people here tonight." He certainly got a taste of what plowing through will get you in Cincinnati. Steelism finished up with a roaring take on the James Bond theme, which nearly pushed the frenzied multitude into religious conversion. I don't know what that church would be called, but they wouldn't have a choir; no words necessary when Steelism kicks open the doors of the sanctuary.
Then it was a quick jaunt down to The Drinkery to witness the Motor City madness of Flint Eastwood, a quartet of musical insaniacs from my home state to the north. In the studio, Flint Eastwood exhibits a certain heavy fisted subtlety that is charming and dancable in a visceral way. All of the relative nuance that is present on the band's EP, Late Nights in Bolo Ties, is tossed onto a bed of nails and jumped on until it experiences head-to-toe acupuncture in its live presentation. On stage, Flint Eastwood buries every needle in the red, thrashes about like lunatics after a napalm shower and entertains their audience at metaphorical knife point. Frontwoman Jax Anderson cajoled the crowd at The Drinkery to get involved in the show and when she got what she felt was a half-hearted response, she shrieked, "Nobody's too cool to have fun!" and put us through our paces like a Marine drill instructor on meth. She had us shouting then whispering "na na na"s, got us kneeling on The Drinkery's dance floor and then lifted us up like a demented preacher speaking in Rock & Roll tongues. All the while, the band was grinding out a gritty groove that sounded (and resembled) a full arena assault by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was draining and glorious and probably just another full-throttle 20-mile Rock & Roll hike for Flint Eastwood; it's pretty obvious these guys have one gear and it's "hellbent for bent hell." That's the Detroit method, bitches. Get used to it, get over it, get on it.
I reluctantly ducked out of Flint Eastwood's last two songs to hotfoot it down to MOTR for the remainder of Nikki Lane's set. Lane is a Country shitkicker with a decidedly different take on the genre, opting for a certain songwriting traditionalism while soundtracking it with a band that sparks and smokes with Roots Rock intensity and abandon and adopting a persona that suggests Wanda Jackson's pot-smoking, foul-mouthed twat of a granddaughter. Lane and the Thunder (she admitted the jury was still out on the name) roared through their MOTR set with equal parts ferocity and humor, as Lane used the space between songs to candidly muse about the intention of each one. "This is a love song," she noted appropriately prior to "Want My Heart Back," extending the title to, "I want my fucking heart back," and later opened "Sleep with a Stranger" with "This is a song about tonight, when you'll sleep with someone you don't know." Later, she dropped this indelicate observation: "This one's about my best friend. Sometimes she's a cunt, and I don't like that word, but she is. And when you're a cunt and your best friend is a songwriter, well, you get the short end of the stick."
Taylor Swift has written a lot of songs about the people in her life and I'm guessing she hasn't gotten around to any of her cunt friends yet.
Towards the end of her blistering and profanely hilarious set, Lane said, "We've got a couple more, then we'll pretend to go away, and come back for a couple more." She loves her covers as well; she hauled out a great take on The Byrds' "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," a loping yet intense version of Waylon Jennings' "Waymore Blues," and finished her encore with a blazing spin through a Tom Petty cover, not an old catalog chestnut but "Saving Grace" from the new album, a song that blends Petty's classicism with his well-earned experience. Lane clearly identifies with that stance, as she channels all of her Country influences through a blazing Rock filter, creating a sound that identifies with the past but erupts with white hot emotion in the here and now.
• To begin, a clarification for anyone who may attempt to buy me a brewski during MidPoint: For largely legal reasons, the Beer Buying Hall of Foam has been forced into a strike shortened year in 2014. I salute all who have so generously provided the nectar of the gods to a poverty stricken scribe on an annual basis and I promise that the commissioner will reinstate all practices and records next year, but for now, the Hall is strangely dark and quiet.
• In stark contrast to the Midway, which was lit up like a Kansas City whorehouse. Not that there were whores, but lots of lights. Boy, writing was easier with the Hall of Foam open. At any rate, within moments of arrival, I crossed paths with singer/songwriter par excellence Mark Utley and pianist to the stars Ricky Nye, who is in the throes of planning the upcoming Blues & Boogie Piano Summit, coming to the Southgate House Revival on November 7 and 8. After a quick chat, I headed to Mr. Hanton's for a heartstopping dog (not for health reasons but because it's so good … man, 2015 can't get here fast enough), choosing the Smokin' Hot Chick; my bill was cheerfully picked up by the always incredible Wes Pence of The Ready Stance, who joined me with a Smokehouse of his own. Can a Hot Dog Buying Hall of Fame be far behind?
• From there, the Midway was a blur of humanity. CityBeat photographer and local music denizen Jesse Fox took a shot of me and Class X Radio host/local music aficionado/empresario Eddy Mullet, which apparently didn't damage her equipment in any significant way. In sort order, I was greeted by King Slice, his pal Justin, the always ebullient and sometimes menacing Venomous Valdez, the entire Broadway cast of the Black Owls, Paul Roberts, Big Jim and Stu (sans his I'm Stu hat, apparently confident in my recognition skills at this juncture), and Jet Lab guitarist Nick Barrows and his wife Robin. At some point in the Midway proceedings, I spotted the elusive and long-absent Matthew Fenton, along with Eric Appleby and Tricia Suit, motoring out of the Midway zone. They were gone before I could track them down (they must have see me coming, damn them), but when I mentioned the sighting to Nick, he said they were headed to the Chromeo set and would be back for the Black Owls.
• In the meantime, Owls guitarist Brandon Losacker took a mob of us (Owls frontman David Butler, Venomous, Slice, Justin and myself) to see his new conversion van, a behemoth from a bygone era. Cooler in the console, heated/cooled cupholders, TV, retractable bed, wood grain dash panel and a hundred other crazy features that makes it essentially a Swiss Army van. Incredible doesn't begin to describe it.
• Back at the Midway — a brilliant set up that, as the astute and ever fabulous Venomous Valdez noted, will have to undergo some changes next year with the advent of the rapidly progressing streetcar system — Sean Rhiney, Dave Purcell and Dave's wife Amy were hanging around to watch the Black Owls tear shit up. My Class X compatriot Eddy was back to witness the Owls' splendor, and at some point in the proceedings, my boss Mike Breen appeared like a magician's assistant. Breen sightings at MidPoint are like spotting nearly extinct species in the wild, so it's always great to know that he's an actual warm human being and not some weird holographic editorbot. (Editor’s note: I am both.)
• Over at the Darlene show, I caught up with the always effusive and entertaining Mr. Fenton, along with Eric and Tricia. They were planning a trip down to the Taft to catch the Ghost Wolves and Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, both of which I dearly wanted to see but my recently bum left leg, the long walk and the chance that the St. Paul and the Broken Bones show would sell out the venue kept me from tagging along. On the way to Steelism, three guys on the sidewalk ahead of me confirmed that the show had gone clean and there was little chance of entry. The gimp makes a good decision every now and again.
• Also at the Darlene show was Leyla Shokoohe, former CityBeat intern, current CityBeat freelancer and now Marketing Manager for the Cincinnati Symphony & Pops Orchestra. You couldn't script a lovelier or more personable human being than Leyla, and yet she is savvy beyond her lack of calendars. She's a marvel and the CSO should count themselves lucky to be the recipient of her passion and skill.
• Over at Steelism, I ran into fellow scribes Steve Rosen and Chris Varias. I've known Steve for quite awhile through CityBeat and we've talked music at many a holiday party/CityBeat event, and I've read Chris' excellent work in The Enquirer for many years but had never had the pleasure of meeting him until Steve's introduction at Mr. Pitiful's. I had interviewed Matthew and Eleanor Freidberger for a Fiery Furnaces story several years back and when they found out I was in Cincinnati, they asked if I knew Chris, which I did simply by reputation. It turned out that they had grown up together in a Chicago suburb. An unpaintable small world, indeed.
• Paul Roberts was digging the confrontational magnificence and sonic head blast of Flint Eastwood; he stuck around for the end, while I headed to the Nikki Lane gig, where Big Jim and Stu were ensconced at the bar. Paul was right behind as soon as Flint Eastwood dismissed him for the evening. Head CityBeat honcho and perpetual suds buyer Dan Bockrath had bought me an invisible beer at Steelism, which I downed with dry gusto, but he showed up at Nikki Lane and put a real tonic water and lime in my hand, which was much appreciated. I could pretend there was gin in there, and that somehow made everything okay.
• As we left MOTR, Sir Bockrath and squire Dan McCabe, the architect of our annual MidPoint joy, were out front and the boss upbraided me with a casual, "You'll have your blog copy in by 7 a.m., right?" Yeah, let's say that, I answered, muttering to Paul and Stu, it'll be 7 a.m. somewhere. The lateness of this posting will tell you that deadline came and went and came and went again. I have a theory that I'm better at writing when I'm slightly hungover because I just want to get it done so I can take an aspirin and lay down. Not happening this year. I guess I could still take the aspirin, for old times sake.
If Axl Rose announced he was planning the next Guns 'N Roses album as a tribute to Tony Orlando and Dawn, that would be only slightly more surprising than Matt Baumann's left turn from his Ambient Jazz saxophone tone poetry to the sparsely appointed Americana released under his reimagined guise as WolfCryer.
Oddly enough, when Baumann defected from saxophone to banjo, the quality that linked his two disparate musical directions was a spartan sense of atmospherics and an expansively moody palette; while the outcomes couldn't have been more different, there was a fascinatingly similar philosophical link between his two sonic identities.
As WolfCryer, Baumann has been slightly more in tune with the singer/songwriters to which he swore fandom back in his tone/drone Jazz days (Warren Zevon, Tom Waits and Jason Molina were particular favorites), and over the past three years of his newly established Folk/Roots persona, he has managed to amass a catalog of songs that more than amply proves the wisdom of his career shift. His 2012 self-titled WolfCryer debut turned a lot of heads in the local Folk community, and Baumann spent the subsequent year working on his chops and making a new name for himself in a crowded scene that always seems to make room for quality purveyors.
Earlier this year, Baumann released the fruits of his most recent labor, the four song EP Wild Spaces, which came on the heels of a pair of EPs in late 2013, The Long Ride Home and Hell's Coming Down. The three brief but potent releases showed Baumann expanding his sonic possibilities as he incorporated more acoustic guitar and harmonica into his songs and left the banjo as an infrequent but still welcome guest. Baumann's proposed full-length debut, originally slated for this past summer, hasn't yet materialized but in the meantime, he's whetted our appetites with a new eight-song WolfCryer EP, The Prospect of Wind.
Like many of his avowed heroes, Baumann turns his songwriting talents toward society's downtrodden on The Prospect of Wind, with a particular interest in the personally felt ravages of war. It is an age old topic of literature and song, because no matter how sophisticated mankind becomes at the destruction of life, the simple desolation of the survivors never seems to change to any great degree. To that end, Baumann channels his inner Dylan in the lyrics and the cadence of the EP's title track ("There's an ember in the kindling, from a cracked and careless hand/Just waiting for the moment to rise and scorch the land"), nimbly displays both his love for and his study of Warren Zevon on "The War" and "When I Go," and waves his Springsteen flag with pride and admiration on "Box of Bones" and "Both Hands on the Plow."
As has been the case from the start of his relatively short but extremely potent tenure as WolfCryer, Baumann has no trouble notching his songs with some of the characteristics of his favorite singer/songwriters, but he does it in the constant pursuit of his own musical identity. You may detect a glimmer of some of his monolithic predecessors in the songs that comprise The Prospect of Wind, but you'll come away knowing that you've experienced another great WolfCryer album.
WolfCryer's CD release show for The Prospect of Wind is Friday night at the Southgate House Revival in the Revival Room. Admission is $10 and the show starts at 9 p.m.
MidPoint Music Festival 2014 kicks off this Thursday and we've been showcasing some of the Critic's Picks from our official MidPoint guide (which will be available throughout the fest). While most of attendees are likely very familiar with some of the bigger headlining acts, these suggestions mostly focus on some of the lesser known gems. (If you're in doubt, any act with "Cincinnati" next to their name is a slam dunk.)
12:15 a.m. @ Arnold's
Baskery (Stockholm, Sweden)
Sweden’s Baskery formed in 2007, but the members didn’t have to go far to find each other. The group consists of sisters Greta, Stella and Sunniva Bondesson, who dub their unique spin on Roots/Country music everything from “Nordicana” to “Banjo-Punk.” But descriptions are especially difficult when it comes to Baskery; the trio’s third album, this year’s Little Wild Life, finds the sisters spinning a wide range of American Roots music styles into their own distinctive, wildly diverse sound. One second the group is showcasing its vocal harmony prowess a capella on the haunting “Northern Girl,” the next its strutting swamp boogie a la Southern Culture on the Skids on “The NoNo.” If you’re tiring of Roots music that doesn’t go off the same exact blueprints established a century ago, Baskery will show you just how far Americana can be taken.
You’ll Dig It If You Dig: The Dixie Chicks without boundaries, The Beatles reborn as a sister act fascinated by Americana. (Mike Breen)
7:15 p.m. @ Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. (Outdoor Stage)
Ancient Warfare (Lexington, Ky.)
Ancient Warfare’s dark and quiet intensity transcends the band’s tough-chick exterior. The quartet designs a sonic atmosphere the same way Saul Bass once designed logos: with elegant simplicity and ferocious creativity. The psychedelic aspect to Ancient Warfare’s presentation is more about texture than actual sound, as their languid, fuzzy melodies drift through their ethereal yet solidly constructed songs, like the heavy smoke in an opium den. The palpable weariness of Echo Wilcox’s gloomy vocals and haunted guitar, the intractable pull of Rachael Yanarella’s hypnotic violin, the subtle thunder of Reva Williams’ bass and the exquisite filigrees provided by multi-instrumentalist Emily Hagihara swirl and combine to make Ancient Warfare’s enveloping totality and assure that their imminent debut album, The Pale Horse, will be one of the fall’s most anticipated releases.
YDIIYD: Sixteen Horsepower reimagined as the Velvet Underground by P.J. Harvey, Aimee Mann and Hope Sandoval. (Brian Baker)
10 p.m. @ Christian Moerlein Brewing Company (Indoor Stage)
Apache Dropout (Bloomington, Ind.)
Like all good college towns, Bloomington, Ind., is forever dishing up awesome bands with fresh, new music. In the case of Apache Dropout, that “new” sound is perfectly and thankfully reminiscent of some of the best music of the past. Their newest album, Heavy Window, comes from Magnetic South, co-owned by band member Seth Mahern. The guys pressed 1,000 copies of Heavy Window, one of their largest printings yet. Fun fact: The first half of those records feature glowing eyes on the eerie-cool cover. It’s the ultimate tell-tale sign of the drug-addled, paranoid Rock & Roll boogie on the inside.
YDIIYD: The Who on acid, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club. (Deirdre Kaye)
11 p.m. @ The Drinkery
Xoe Wise (Chicago)
At 19, Xoe Wise moved from her North Carolina home (the first song she wrote was for a sick goat on her family’s farm) to Chicago and immediately became a fixture in the city’s burgeoning scene. Wise’s debut album, 2010’s Echo, generated a pile of positive local press, while its follow-up, 2012’s Archive of Illusions, earned her a sell-out crowd at Schuba’s, a spot on WGN-TV and a feature in the Chicago Tribune. Wise’s third EP, Breakfast, hit the Top 20 on iTunes’ Singer/Songwriter chart and she’s currently at work on her third full-length, irresistibly titled Racecar Orgasm. Wise plays solo acoustic or with a full Electro Pop crew, but either way she creates a dreamy and undeniable vibe.
YDIIYD: Imogen Heap and Suzanne Vega play Twister on a musical game board. (BB)
11:15 p.m. @ Mainstay Rock Bar
The Tontons (Houston)
Big-haired Texas and its Rock & Roll-loving youngsters have eaten up and loved every second of their time with The Tontons. Now the band is out touring the nation and conquering ears and hearts across the globe. The group’s sultry Rock is just good enough to make The Tontons Cincinnati’s favorite band, too. “So Young,” off 2011’s Golden, feels like a modern, youthful, rockin’ spin on elevator music or like Henry Mancini decided to start a female-led Rock band. Asli Omar’s one-of-a-kind voice and perfect squeal makes each song on this year’s Make Out King and Other Stories stand out.
YDIIYD: Blonde Redhead, wearing leather to Tiffany & Co. (DK)
8:45 p.m. @ Mainstay Rock Bar
The Nepotist (New York, N.Y.)
Good luck trying to find a one or two word descriptor for the music made by NYC trio The Nepotist. Actually, don’t even try — the group’s uniqueness and sonic diversity is what makes them so enjoyable to listen to. The Village Voice called them “Alt Soul,” a term the band has embraced and works well enough given the soulful vocals and rewired Steve Cropper guitar riffs. But then you have a track like the recent single “Kids,” which has bubbling banjo and harmonies befitting a Folk band. It’s a delicious stew that is blissfully unpredictable. The trio (formed by brothers Chris and Hayden Frank) has only been together a couple of years but has already drawn loads of glowing press thanks to its pair of EPs and various singles released just this year alone. A full-length is due early next year.
YDIIYD: Grizzly Bear, Sufjan Stevens, Dr. Dog. (MB)
10:30 p.m. @ Memorial Hall
Saintseneca (Columbus, Ohio)
When Saintseneca canceled an appearance at the Fashion Meets Music Festival in Columbus this July, the quintet made national headlines not for its music but for its social politics, because the members were against sex offender R. Kelly performing at the fest. Met with vicious protests, Kelly eventually pulled out (no pun intended) of the fest. This is one of many ways the folksy Appalachian Pop group has become famous this year, along with releasing the new record Dark Arc (produced by Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis), recording a NPR Tiny Desk Concert and gigging across the country. From grassroots house concerts in central Ohio to performing at national fests, it won’t be long now before everyone knows their name and music.
YDIIYD: Weird instruments like the bouzouki, the dulcimer and a bowed banjo playing lilting harmonies with a Ben Gibbard-y vocal affectation. (Garin Pirnia)
9:45 p.m. @ MidPoint Midway Stage
Low Cut Connie (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
If you think Piano Rock is all Billy Joel and Elton John, sorry will be a much easier word for you after you’ve experienced the 88-key onslaught of Low Cut Connie. Featuring the manic piano fireworks of Adam Weiner and the ambidextrous drum/guitar magic of Dan Finnemore (and a full band’s worth of mayhem on tour), Low Cut Connie entertains with a vengeance and accepts nothing less than total surrender. Their first two albums, 2011’s Get Out the Lotion and 2012’s Call Me Sylvia, are loaded with catchy numbers that feature a lot of humor but stop well short of being simple novelties and showcase the duo’s disparate influences (Jerry Lee Lewis and Iggy Pop for Weiner; British Punk and Garage Rock for Finnemore). Low Cut Connie’s latest triumph was a spectacular version of Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire” on the Nilsson tribute This is the Town earlier this year, and rumors of a third album continue to swirl. But right now, the play’s the thing. See Low Cut Connie and marvel at the things a piano was never meant to do but should have been doing all along.
YDIIYD: Ben Folds dipped in speed and forced to play Replacements and Stooges songs in a seedy cabaret. (BB)
8 p.m. @ MOTR Pub
Wyatt Blair (Los Angeles)
Power Pop gets short shrift in any serious discussion of music because of its relative simplicity and perceived lack of gravity, but nothing could be further from the truth. Coming up with hooks and lyrics that get the job done in under three minutes and stick in the head like brain taffy may be among the most difficult musical tasks. Wyatt Blair doesn’t seem to have any problem at all, and his latest album, the confectionary Banana Cream Dream, is solid evidence of his lo-fi Power Pop ambitions (he also works with Peach Kelli Pop and Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel). As Andy Partridge once noted so succinctly, this is Pop.
YDIIYD: Rick Springfield channeling T. Rex, produced by Tommy Keene. (BB)
10:45 p.m. @ Ballroom at the Taft Theatre
Earth (Seattle, Wash.)
Much like the planet itself, the band Earth has been through a lot in the past 25 years. Guitarist Dylan Carson founded the primarily instrumental band in 1989, cribbing the name from one of Black Sabbath’s early monikers. The band’s 1993 debut, Earth 2, has long been considered the launching pad for what Carlson dubbed Ambient Metal, a feedback- and distortion-drenched drone that influenced a subsequent generation. In the mid-’90s, Carlson shelved the band to deal with heroin addiction; it would be nearly a decade before the release of 2005’s Hex; or Printing in the Infernal Method, which retained a Doom Metal structure but incorporated Country and Blues motifs and was also heavily influenced by Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Blood Meridian. Earth’s next albums, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I and II, were shaped by Carlson’s love of Pentangle and Fairport Convention, while the just released Primitive and Deadly finds Carlson moving in yet another new and different direction, incorporating straight Rock and even Pop elements into his long droning jams. With 16 lineup changes in a quarter century, it’s not unusual that Earth would shift identities, but even if the personnel had been stable throughout, Carlson would have retooled the band’s sound in any event and made a new, glorious noise to confront the world.
YDIIYD: God’s guitar, Gabriel’s amp, the Devil’s road crew. (BB)
On their most recent tour, excellent Northern Kentucky Indie Rock band The Yugos stopped by Toledo, Ohio’s SixtyTen Recording Studio to record its latest single, “Follow You,” as part of the facility’s “SixtyTen Sessions” video series.
The studio version of the single, released earlier this summer, can be streamed/downloaded here.
One week from the day, The Yugos will be opening up MidPoint Music Festival’s Friday festivities. The band plays at 5 p.m. Friday on the MidPoint Midway stage, right before another of the fest’s most anticipated acts, Real Estate, performs. The Midway stage is free and open to the public (no tickets/passes required), thanks to stage sponsor P&G. It’s also an all-ages show.
While commercial radio throws a bone here and there to homegrown musicians in Greater Cincinnati via specialty shows or segments, public radio station WNKU (89.7 FM; wnku.org) frequently adds songs from local artists to its regular-rotation playlist. And it has for years. The station also covers the local scene online with news and reviews, hosts local musicians for its live in-studio Studio 89 program and sponsors numerous musical events across the Tristate.
Local musicians are returning the favor by appearing on the new compilation album, Get Real Gone: Road Songs for Public Radio. In lieu of, say, a cliched tote bag gift, WNKU will be giving CDs of the album to those who donate during the station’s fall fund drive. Listeners who become “sustaining members,” paying just $8 a month, or those who donate $96 can score a disc of their very own.
The compilation features tracks by Roger Klug, Brian Lovely’s Flying Underground, Eclipse Movement, Goose, The Newbees, Balderdash, Tim Goshorn, Kim Taylor, psychodots, Marcos, Graveblankets, Davis Kinney, Charlie Fletcher, Jeff Seeman and Bromwell-Diehl.
This Saturday and Sept. 27, several of the Get Real Gone participants will perform live at WNKU’s studio. This Saturday, the lineup features Davis Kenney (10 a.m.), Balderdash (noon), The Newbees (1 p.m.), Roger Klug Power Trio (2 p.m.) and Graveblankets (3 p.m.). On Sept. 27, tune in to hear Kim Taylor (10 a.m.), Jeffrey Seeman (10:40 a.m.), Brian Lovely’s Flying Underground (11:30 a.m.), Goose (1 p.m.), Charlie Fletcher (with The Bluebirds; 2:30 p.m.) and the Bromwell-Diehl Band (3:15 p.m.).
Tonight, Cincinnati mayor John Cranley will be giving his “State of the City” speech. For a snapshot of the state of the city’s Hip Hop scene, take a look at the following recent music videos. Judging by these tracks and visuals, I’d say the state of Cincinnati Hip Hop is strong.
• Yesterday, the reigning Cincinnati Entertainment Awards champ for top Hip Hop act in the city, Buggs Tha Rocka, put out a clip for his track “Rapture,” featuring local singer Phoenix Aphrodite. The song is from Buggs’ forthcoming album, Scattered Thoughts of an American Poet, which is set for release Oct. 7 and features a great guest list, including Chuck Inglish from The Cool Kids, Tanya Morgan, Piakhan, MOOD and more.
• Middletown-based Hip Hop duo Those Guys just premiered their latest video, “King.” Featuring J.Al and Jova, Those Guys top themselves with every new release and “King” is no exception. Their tagline/motto is “Good Hip-Hop Music” and after listening to “King,” you’ll find it hard to disagree. The track is from the twosome’s recent release, Bueno, which you can download here.
• Last year, Northern Kentucky MC Trademark Aaron gained a lot of well deserved attention with his great track/video for “Faith,” which was featured on Vevo’s homepage and shared far and wide across the Hip Hop blogosphere. TA’s latest video, for “Gold” from his recent Act Accordingly release (which we wrote about here), premiered on Vevo’s homepage last week and features local drummer Aaron Roy as a special guest (on both the track and in the video).
• Another area Hip Hop MC, Sleep, also got some props from Vevo, which showcased his stellar clip/track “I Shot Lincoln” on its homepage last month. Sleep released the amazing concept album Branded: The Damon Winton Story this past spring (one of my favorite albums of 2014 so far; check out a review here) but the “I Shot Lincoln” video/track (featuring special guest Kue the Vandal) is separate from that project. Like Branded, the “I Shot Lincoln” visuals are a little disturbing and unusual but endlessly engaging.
This morning we received a message from former CIncinnatian/current Silver Spring, Md., resident Chris Richardson about some Cincinnati music-centric posts on his cool music blog, Zero to 180.
Richardson has a rich knowledge of music in general — his blog “celebrates studio songcraft and some of the lesser-known stories behind the songwriters, musicians, producers, engineers, arrangers, label owners and the like” — and he has good taste because he appears to be a big fan of pioneering local label King Records. (Here’s a great post about an interesting connection between King and Jamaican Ska.)
Yesterday, the blog featured a fun post with a run down of songs from the past to the present that feature Cincinnati in the title. Tracks range from earlier cuts by Duke Ellington (“Cincinnati Daddy”) and Johnny Burnette (“Cincinnati Fireball”) through more recent material, like “Cincinnati Harmony” by The Dopamines, “Oh, Cincinnati” by The Seedy Seeds and “All Roads Lead to Cincinnati” by Jake Speed and the Freddies. Check the full list here.
There are several great tunes on the list, but this one is pretty terrifying:
Anything he missed?
The reigning Cincinnati Entertainment Award winners of the Artist of the Year honors, Alt Pop quartet Walk the Moon, are finally set to release their second album for RCA Records. The album's lead single, "Shut Up and Dance," was released Sept. 10 and last night the group performed the song on Late Night with Seth Meyers. (Watch below.)
The band's sophomore RCA full-length will be out before the year's end, according to the label.
Walk the Moon kicks off its coast-to-coast “Shut Up and Tour” tour of smaller clubs in Seattle on Oct. 8. The band will perform some of the new material on the tour, which does not include a hometown date. The group will be in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 21, but that show instantly sold out. The Columbus date is also the first of several shows that will feature like-minded Cincinnati Pop Rock trio Public as opening act.
The Crown Jewels of Jazz Festival returns Friday and Saturday with an adjusted format. While last year’s fest was spread out across the Over-the-Rhine area, this year’s Crown Jewels is more streamlined, with free events concentrated in OTR’s Washington Park.
The fest kicks off Friday night with an 8 p.m. concert featuring unique and widely acclaimed Jazz singer Gregory Porter, as well as Cincinnati native Mandy Gaines (whose been busy performing throughout Europe and Asia).
Saturday at Washington Park, the fest kicks up again with Phil DeGreg, Baba Charles Miller and Kathy Wade (whose Learning Through Art, Inc. presents the Crown Jewels fest) performing and telling the story of Jazz (and other music) in a program called “Journeys: A Black Anthology of Music” at 4 p.m. At 5 p.m., “Piano Picnic in the Park” will showcase area pianists; DeGreg, Jim Connerly, Billy Larkin, Charles Ramsey III, Cheryl Renee, Steve Schmidt and Erwin Stuckey will each perform their two favorite Jazz numbers during the hour and a half performance.
Then it’s time to dance! The fest closes out at 8 p.m. with “Dancing Under the Stars” at the park’s bandstand, featuring music from the 18-piece Sound Body Jazz Orchestra and dancers/teachers from the Dare to Dance Ballroom Dance and Fitness Studio.
Given that it is presented by Learning Through Art, Inc., it is fitting that the Crown Jewels of Jazz fest will also include an educational program Saturday morning for high school musicians at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, just across the street from Washington Park’s 12th Street entrance. The CJ2 Jazz Camp, which will feature clinics, classes and more with many of Cincinnati’s top Jazz musicians and educators (including DeGreg, Stuckey, Jim Anderson, Marc Fields, Ted Karas, Mike Wade, Art Gore, Brent Gallaher and many others), begins at 8:30 a.m. There is a $35 fee per student.
For complete info on the Jazz Camp and all of the Crown Jewels of Jazz events, visit learningthroughart.com. And click here to read CityBeat's interview with Wade about the fest and her org's other work.
500 Miles to Memphis’ two most recent album releases are local classics that reside in two vastly different musical landscapes. Their 2007 album, Sunshine in a Shot Glass, offers 12 tracks of undiluted Country Punk. The album starts off with the band’s hit “All My Friends are Crazy” and doesn’t let up. The band’s followup, 2011’s We’ve Built Up to Nothing, took the Country Punk roots and drastically expanded on the concept. Influenced by The Beatles, the Cincinnati-based quintet added layer upon layer of instrumentation to craft an epic that radically expanded the groundwork laid in 2007.
Now, in 2014 the band is set to unleash Stand There and Bleed. With its latest release, 500 Miles to Memphis has pulled back and opted for a simpler, more straightforward group of songs. In doing so, the band has written its best album to date.
The band will host a listening party for the new album tonight (Thursday) at The Drinkery in Over-the-Rhine. The album will be played in its entirety at 9 p.m., then the group will play an acoustic set at 10 p.m. The event is free. (The official release date for Stand There and Bleed has yet to be announced.)
At its core, 500 Miles to Memphis has always been about vocalist/guitarist Ryan Malott telling the stories of his life. And with three years in between releases, Malott has plenty to talk about. Stand There and Bleed is Malott’s most personal output so far. We see a glimpse of tour life in “Medication,” the joys of marriage in “Takes Some Time” and the trials of addiction in “Easy Way Out.” Malott may have traded the bottle for coffee and a Playstation controller, but the struggle is ongoing. In fact, the best tracks on the album are the ones that document Malott’s missteps, but only because the album has so much hope, as well. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and Malott is steadily working his way towards it.
Joining Malott is bassist/vocalist Noah Sugarman, drummer Kevin Hogle, guitarist/vocalist Aaron Whalen and lap steel guitarist David Rhodes Brown. This all-star lineup compliments Malott’s lyrics expertly. Gone are We Built Up to Nothing’s more eccentric instrument choices; 500 stripped away the excess to more fully focus on what it had in house. The result is an album that’s more consistent and true to 500’s vision as a whole. Malott is influenced by Country and Punk Rock in equal measure and these influences come across stronger than ever on Bleed, with each member adding their own touch on the theme. Hogle’s drumming is still some of the best in town; his musical ear enables him to mold his style to each and heighten the mood of all. Brown’s steel playing on Stand There and Bleed keeps the more Punk-based tracks grounded in 500’s roots and elevates the Country tracks to another level with effortlessly delivered solos. Finally, Whalen and Sugarman’s guitar and bass inject energy throughout the record that reinforces Stand There and Bleed’s straightforward, powerful delivery.
Malott’s vocal delivery has been honed and refined on Stand There and Bleed, as well. Malott is an unabashed fan of Green Day and comparisons to Billie Joe Armstrong in songs like “Bethel, OH” and “Abilene” are undeniable. Malott has also continued to inject large amounts of emotion into his vocals. He’s always been an expressive singer but the earnestness and pain in “You’ll Get Around” and “Alone” show a departure from We’ve Built Up to Nothing’s more polished vocals. Part of the recording process was breaking Malott of those good habits and getting him used to putting the feeling back into each take. What results is an album that’s a little rougher around the edges and much more emotionally captivating for the listener.
500 Miles to Memphis has been pushing its music forward for years, constantly hitting the road to share its take on Country Punk. The band has been virtuous to the genre and also bent it to an almost unrecognizable state. With Stand There and Bleed, the quintet has met somewhere in the middle. The band has trimmed the fat, focused on what each (incredibly talented) member brings to the table and built a record that is its most focused and honest to date.
The band has traveled way more than 500 miles to reach where they are now, but with albums like Stand There and Bleed carrying them, they have plenty more ahead of them.