Great news, y’all! I made it through another MidPoint without getting raped or mugged. (Getting mugged might not be so bad, though. “No, officer, it was definitely not me who bought Duck Dynasty underwear at Walmart.”) I know you were concerned for my safety.
I did MPMF quite a bit differently than I have in years past and I have to say, I think it contributed to it being the best one yet for me.
First, I forwent going with friends. I like my friends in small doses and on a couch talking about TV and girlfriends/boyfriends. Trying to coordinate concert plans with them, though, has always been an ordeal. Some of us are more hipster than others. Going it alone sometimes feels slightly sketchy, but mostly I think it helped my experience. I wasn’t forced to stand in any hot, cram packed rooms to see bands I was less-than-thrilled to see.
Second, I decided to spend my entire Saturday night in just one venue. I did this for a few reasons: 1) Everyone I wanted to see was in that venue; 2) Cheap parking close-by. Therefore, I spent my Saturday night either pacing around outside the Taft Theatre or swaying back and forth inside the Taft’s Ballroom.
And, ya know what? I had a damn good time.
The Taft is my favorite venue in town. Whether it’s in the seated portion or down in the basement, it just has an amazing vibe. I love those bright white bulb-lights out front around the marquee. It makes the whole place sparkle. It just looks like you could pick it up and sit it in the middle of Gatsby’s New York City. Downtown Cincy has plenty of art deco touches that I dearly love. However, nothing makes me feel more fancy and more ready for a special night than standing outside the Taft. In addition, the basement Ballroom, where all three of Saturday’s bands performed, has this comfortable, almost sexy darkness to it. You could get into a little bit of trouble in some of those shadowed corners. I wouldn’t judge you if you have. I might be disappointed you never invited me, though.
Bear’s Den opened the night and, since I’d seen them recently, I didn’t feel too bad when I spent the better part of their set outside on the phone. It gave me the chance to people watch, which is always a ton of fun at MidPoint. MPMF pulls in a jumbled assortment of people to tramp around downtown with their wristbands. I saw people my parents’ age, dressed rather fancifully, chat with security and then slip down into the basement. I also saw an insane amount of frat guys, plus one very drunk Reds fan and his seriously concerned girlfriend. (I still don’t know why she unleashed her concern to me. But I really hope she finds a new date for next year. Like, maybe someone who won’t put her life in danger?) Oh! And I saw one seriously fabulous drag queen. (I appreciate your use of neon, girlfriend.)
Despite missing London’s Bear’s Den, I know they rocked. Not just because I’ve seen them and I love them, but because they still had a line of fans waiting to meet them when the final act went on at midnight. I think Cincinnati fell in love on Saturday. I’m giddy for Bear’s Den and for Cincinnati. Good choice, my friends.
I caught Cincinnati’s Bad Veins, though. Of course, I’ve seen them before, but I never mind the chance to see them again. Those two boys can make a ton of noise. Even with a few sound/mixing issues, they still managed to keep the room enthralled. That may have had something to do with Ben Davis’ bellowing into the microphone or climbing to the top of the monitors. I have no musical talent whatsoever and my balance is minimal at best, but I was envious as he stood towering above me with his hands on the ceiling and an entire room of people staring up at him in awe. The Veins are a genuinely good band. Not “good for a local band,” but good enough to root for them to keep gaining fans across the country.
Later, I watched Davis stand in the back of the room talking to a couple people for a surprisingly long time. They seemed to devour everything he said. He has dangerous levels of charisma. It was fun to watch.
As much as I love Bad Veins and Bear’s Den, I’d spent all weekend eagerly awaiting Daughter’s performance. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t expect many people to show. I guess because I remember when “Daughter” was just Elena Tonra. I slinked my way pretty close to the stage and gaped at Tonra as she charmed the pants off everyone in the room. When it got stuffy a few songs in, I turned around and was speechless by the sheer amount of people that had suddenly come in behind me.
It makes sense, though. Jesus. Her voice is beautiful. If you were anywhere else in the city on Saturday night, you messed up. She sent heads to the shoulders of girlfriends and, shockingly enough, most cell phones managed to stay in purses and pockets. It’s not that she wasn’t worth capturing. It’s that she was too captivating for anyone to have any other thoughts other than keeping their eyes glued to her face and their ears filled with her voice. Oh. The bow across the electric guitar was a great (albeit not very new) approach, too. It added a nice eerie feel to Tonra’s already haunting voice.
As I left, I had big plans to reflect on the concerts and do a little pre-writing for this review while walking to my car. One of my favorite former co-workers waylaid me, though. So much for avoiding my friends. Cincinnati is too small for that. I didn’t mind too much; I got all the dirt on who had left and who (sadly) was still around.
Eventually, I said goodbye to my ex co-worker, wandered away from Taft Theatre’s bright lights and into the ever darkening street. As I meandered, it occurred to me just how much of a feat MPMF is for us. Cincinnati may be a city, but we’re not a very big one. How do we manage to talk so many stellar bands into visiting us every year? How is it possible we have something as beautiful as the Taft? How do we produce such a bounty of awesome local bands?
My best friend likes to joke that Ohio has bred more astronauts than any other state. He says it’s because Ohio is awful and space was as far away as they could get. However, I think we’ve bred so many astronauts for the same reason we’ve spawned bands like Walk the Moon and Bad Veins and all of the other great acts playing MPMF and for the same reason we put on such an great festival. We’re small but mighty. We put our hearts into the things and the people we love. Even if they don’t deserve it. (I’m lookin’ at you, Bengals.)
Naming your band Friends is a good way to make it very difficult for people to find you on the Internet, but the relatively new Brooklyn band of that name is worth the few extra clicks — you can and should find them. Released earlier in June, Friends' debut album Manifest! is ready to become the soundtrack to every party you attend this summer.
A few years ago after a surge in popularity, Indie Pop seemed to fade a bit as artists like New Young Pony Club and Little Boots found success with infectious dance songs. With Manifest!, Friends brings back some Indie Pop creativity and jubilation, just in time for summer. And while it's not all club beats and Electro grooves, Friends' music does have a unique danceability factor.
Manifest! opens with one of the quintet's previously released singles, “Friend Crush,” which is pretty much your invitation to jump right in and befriend Friends. Centered around Samantha Urbani’s vocals and complimented by an ESG-esque drum and bass part, the song is minimal but extremely catchy, acting as a great hook to draw listeners into the album. Like with the musical versatility, Urbani uses her voice in the most interesting ways throughout Manifest!, helping to keep each song fresh and distinct.
The contrast in sound from song to song makes Manifest! feel like you’re listening to a mixtape, spotlighting Friends' willingness to experiment and explore varying genres and ideas instead of settling for something predictable yet perhaps more "focused."
Other highlights on Manifest! include another previously released single, “I’m His Girl," a sassy relationship song that includes an unexpected breakdown involving
handclaps and spoken lyrics, while “Sorry" has a slight
Vampire Weekend feel to it.
Perhaps the best track on Manifest! is saved for last. Exuding an ’80s retro Pop feel, on closer “Mind Control," Urbani (using her voice more like an instrument) chants at the end what could very well be Friends' own “manifesto": “I don’t want the right to be rude/I just want the right to be cool/However I choose to do it, I do/Whatever I choose to be or whom.”
Friends clearly has no interest in falling in line with what fans, the industry or anyone outside of the group might expect them to be. The result is one of the coolest albums of the summer thus far.
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.
Everything was easy — parking, finding venues, moving from place to place. Easy street. Even the weather was easy — not too hot, not too cold, not even crisp yet. Clouds just hung out in the sky, slightly alive, so gray. Steel.
When I literally jumped out of the car in front of SCPA, excited strange people started offering me donuts. I didn’t take one, but I considered it. Fuck, that was stupid, I should have. Free damn donut. “Glazed!” they yelled, “Glazed!” Shout out to hot Dot, the lady in pink with the donut tray.
Welcome to the randomness that is sometimes called Midpoint. Bring it on.
Lucky score — found a wicked parking spot on Court, and I wandered over to Below Zero for Brooklyn’s Bear Hands. Standing in front of the bar’s enormous red “Z” on the wall, singer Dylan Rau also played bass and keys. Backed by two guitars and drums, Rau’s voice had a strong Post-Punk, New Wave edge that shone with the band’s catchy, circular rhythm. He was charismatic, big-eyed, and easy on the eyes. There was a good reason that neon-heavy Below Zero became packed very quickly. This band was not one to miss, in my book. I wonder how Bear Hands felt about the disco balls inside? I bet there was some lovin’ going on there.
If great reviews and the respect of your peers were tangible income, Warren Buffett would be paying 30% tax on his income as Alejandro Escovedo’s secretary.
From the start of Escovedo’s solo career — after a brief stint with the Kinman brothers in Rank and File and a turn in his own shoulda-been-huge True Believers in the ’80s — the hypertalented singer/songwriter has been long on critical acclaim and short on commercial success for a variety of reasons (label and distribution trouble, no love at radio, health issues), but he has continued to grow and evolve as an artist to the delight and amazement of his cultishly proportioned and loyal fan base.
Escovedo’s debut for Fantasy, Big Station, is the third in a de facto trilogy that began with 2008’s Real Animal and continued on 2010’s Street Songs of Love. Following those adrenalized-yet-sensitive rock albums/sonic scrapbooks, his first collaborations with fellow cult singer/songwriter Chuck Prophet and iconic producer Tony Visconti, Escovedo reassembles the dream team on Big Station, a set that rumbles with themes of home, love and a sense of place.
The album’s first single, “Man of the World,” bristles like Eddie Cochran shot through with a few thousand volts of Tom Petty; if there was any justice in the world, it would be pouring out of every car radio this summer. Like the best of Escovedo’s catalog, Big Station offers electric muscle (“Party People”), acoustic power (the title track) and heartbursting balladry (“Bottom of the World”), all of which he paints with the perfect brush and touch.
Escovedo’s exquisite gift is his ability to blend his Mexicali heritage with his unabashed love of ’60s Rock, ’70s Glam and Punk and ’80s Twang Pop and twist it into a sound that is weirdly familiar and pointedly fresh. And like everything he’s done, Big Station is his absolute best for now.
It has become both fashionable and profitable for artists in the later stages of their careers to release albums comprised of old standards or covers of instantly recognizable Pop hits.
Leave it to Neil Young to follow that convention and then knock it upside its head. On Americana, Young resurrects Crazy Horse, his longtime and long dormant backing band and the foil for realizing some of his grimiest, grittiest Garage Rock fantasies, with the express purpose of revisiting some of America’s most beloved Folk odes, Blues tales and campfire singalongs.
The irony of the album’s title is that while Young retains the familiar lyrics to chestnuts like “Oh Susannah,” “High Flyin’ Bird,” “Tom Dula,” and “Jesus’ Chariot” (better known as “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain”), he completely guts the songs’ classic melodies in favor of Crazy Horse’s noisy bluster and squall, reconfiguring the jaunty tunes to fit his well documented musical universe.
There is a seriousness of intent to Americana (Folk and Blues have long detailed the country’s ills in song and Young has selected an interesting set list in that context) but there is also a hootenanny jam quality to the sessions; the songs typically end with comments by Young and the band about the sweet chaos they’ve just created. The exceptions are fascinating; although the standard Crazy Horse murk and howl are evident on The Silhouettes’ “Get a Job,” Young and company retain the Doo-Wop hit’s famous backing vocals and melody lines, a pattern repeated on “Travel On,” “Wayfarin’ Stranger” and “This Land is Your Land” (because how many liberties can you take with Woody Guthrie?).
Young and Crazy Horse are having so much fun on Americana, it almost plays like a Jimmy Fallon sketch, but clearly the fun is in the performance and not at the expense of the song, although finishing with “God Save the Queen” (and a children’s chorus singing the American rewrite, “My Country ’Tis of Thee”) could easily be perceived as a pointed and appropriate political jab.
Whether playing anarchic deconstructionists or faithful translators, Americana is tattooed with Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s indelible and singular stamp.
Anton Newcombe is one of the rare people about whom an old maxim is absolutely true — if he didn’t exist, someone would have to invent him.
Newcombe is a musical shaman, an acid casualty, a shrewd media manipulator and a conductor of immeasurable skill, a sonic conjurer who fearlessly channels eras, styles and influences with the scientific magic of an alchemist. Under the rotating auspices of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Newcombe has dabbled in Psychedelia, acid washed Blues, Garage Rock, fuzzy Shoegaze and various permutations thereof, all with an increasing fascination in widening his focus to cinemascopic proportions.
The last BJM album, 2010’s Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?, added elements of Trance and Techno to the repertoire, but Newcombe’s latest set, Aufheben (an excellent title to highlight Newcombe's creative schizophrenia; in its German translation, the word can mean, depending on context, to either abolish or preserve), largely abandons that contemporary device for a return to his most potent reference points, namely the mid- to late ’60s, when The Rolling Stones experimented on ephemera like “2000 Light Years from Home,” The Doors reimagined Rock with “The End,” Folk ingested mushrooms and harpsichords and sitars roamed the earth.
Newcombe and this year’s BJM model are particularly focused on the middle Eastern bong hits of “Panic in Babylon,” the swirling Psych lollipop of “I Want to Hold Your Other Hand” and the love-and-Haight echo jam of “The Clouds Are Lies.” Newcombe and BJM offer a slight return to the present with the album’s atmospheric closer, the seven minute Psych-meets-Chamber-Dance-Pop smoke ring of “Blue Order/New Monday,” but for the majority of Aufheben, the trip, aurally and physically, is most definitely the thing.
Eclectic acoustic Blues duo 46 Long is set to release its latest full-length, the dynamic Tennessee, tonight at downtown’s Arnold’s Bar & Grill. Showtime is 9 p.m. and the shindig is a freebie. The show will be a brand-new experience for fans of the duo. The group will be debuting a lot of new material and the first set will feature drumming assistance from percussionist Joe Pro. For 46 Long's second set tonight, the twosome will go "full band" with the addition of bassist Bobby Loggs and some other special guests.
Though “dynamic” and “eclectic” might not be the first words to come to mind when you think “acoustic Blues duo” — all three words suggest inherent limitations — 46 Long is both of those and more. Eschewing Blues clichés while still staying fairly faithful to the music’s rich tradition is a difficult balancing act to pull off, but Tennessee finds the twosome subtly integrating sounds from a broad spectrum of influence without losing their core, distinct sound. In the end, it’s one of the more creative Blues releases you’ll likely hear all year, yet the detours and tangents shouldn’t deter (most) purists.
On Tennessee, Blake Taylor (who primarily sings and blows a mean harmonica, though also contributes keys, percussion guitar and, uh, “crowbar” on the album) and Jonathan Reynolds (who sings and plays guitar while also providing bass and percussion) start things off with the stanky groove of “More,” then take the listeners through deft interpretations of gritty, Delta-esque Blues (like the title track), gruff Tom Waitsian eccentricity (“Lock It Up or Lose It”), full-bodied, swaggering AltCountry (a cover of the Starkweathers’ “One for Her, One For Him”), boogying Lyle Lovett-like Swing (“Don’t Drink”) and stompin’ Garage Rock (“Something Strange”).
Other standouts on Tennessee include a sparsely percussioned take on Morphine’s “Thursday,” and “The Best Revenge,” a dark, ominously atmospheric track that’ll send creepy shivers up your spine.
The recording is refreshingly natural (with only some distortion here and there to add shadowing), the perfect setting to wrap your ears around the duo’s ace musical skills. Taylor once again proves he’s one of the best Blues harmonica players in the region, playing the mouth harp like a saxophone, a vocal part, a rhythm guitar or pretty much any other instrument you can think of.
If you’ve given up on the Blues because you think you’ve heard it all before, pick up Tennessee and let 46 Long show you otherwise.
Here's a live clip of the duo performing the new LP's title track.