Next weekend, the Lollapalooza music festival returns to Chicago for its 20th anniversary extravaganza. CityBeat will have some reporters in the field covering the event, but most of us don't have the money for such a costly road trip this year. Thankfully, you can have a sort of "virtual reality" audio experience of Lollapalooza without leaving your bed or sweating more than a boxer in the final round. And you can do it all in under an hour.
Is it really that time again? It seems like just yesterday that we were jumping from one packed MPMF venue to another, checking out everyone from local favorites to national and international gems to local favorites turned (inter)national gems.
Yes, bands and artists the world over can now register to take part in the 2010 MidPoint Music Festival, a three-day (Sept. 23-25) downtown Cincinnati party that is rapidly becoming a highlight of the region’s musical landscape.
Friday Evening, Apr 27: MerleFest Festival Grounds
After lunch, I was ready for something a little more upbeat, so I headed back to the Americana stage to check out The Lost Bayou Ramblers. I caught these guys last year at the same stage, and they brought the place down. I suppose most Cajun and Zydeco is infectious — that constant backbeat and sing-songy lilt of the melodies, but done well, it can be a bit mind blowing.
The Lost Bayou Ramblers hail from Lafayette, La. and their Zydeco is the real deal. Not quite as hard hitting as The Bluerunners, they still bring an enormous drum sound to an already rhythm-heavy beat. Fiddle, accordion, electric guitar, double bass, acoustic guitar and drums — the fiddle, accordion and electric guitar feed a triple-stack tone attack to every melody. It's like Lynyrd Skynyrd ca. 1975 without the volume, hair or rednecks. It's really something to behold and listen to. The fiddler sings and works the crowd in both French and English, the bass player holds his big acoustic bass like he's ready to swing it over his head, while the electric guitar player stands at the front of the stage arena rock style and the acoustic player runs back and forth behind everyone. These guys are regulars at the Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette and I suspect a trip to catch them in such intimate surroundings would be life changing. Check YouTube for some of their videos.
I left the Americana stage a bit exhausted and headed over to see what was going on in the Traditional Tent and found Phil and Gaye Johnson in the middle of their set. Long time radio host of various roots music programs, Phil and Gaye do tight harmonies and Roots-based acoustic music. Easy to listen to, they move from original to traditional and without a little bit of knowledge of traditional music, it would be easy to confuse what's original and what's not. Phil's a fantastic acoustic and dobro guitar player moving easily between slide, flatpicking, various forms of fingerpicking and sometimes both. The music is not something I generally sit and listen to, but like everything you see at MerleFest, the playing is top notch and professionally presented.
I slipped out of the tent and as I walked past the picking area, I could here the strains of Peter Rowan and the Free Mexican Airforce moving though the air. Like a lot of kids brought up in the 1970s, Peter was my first real introduction to Bluegrass music though the Old and In The Way LP. My dad had a few Bill Monroe LPs, but my mom wouldn't let him play that "hillbilly" music while she was around, which was pretty much all the time.
I wasn't planning on heading back to the Watson Stage, but I was intrigued. As I got closer, Peter was doing an slow acoustic version of "Panama Red." Frankly, I thought he was mailing it in, but I was still pretty far from the stage, so I kept moving in. By the time I got close enough to the stage to take pictures, which is basically standing in the front in everyone's way, he easy doing a song called "The Raven" and it was mesmerizing. It's probably Bluegrass heresy, but off all the Bluegrass I've heard over the last 35 years, his is the tenor I associate with "that sound" and, man, he's still got it. It rises and floats and breaks in all the right places.
I took some pictures and grabbed a seat near the back of the reserved section where the sound would be optimal. His band was outstanding. Peter on acoustic joined by a electric guitar player playing shimmering notes, a lap steel player doing pedal licks and swells, acoustic bass and drums. The lap steel player was especially amazing. Every swell and fill felt like a feather in my heart. They launched into a 20 minute version of the Rowan classic "Land of the Navajo" and by the time he started doing the falsetto calls, I was awash in transcendent tears. Peter Rowan has still got it all and I'm a big baby.
Next up I headed up to the Heritage Tent to converse with another of my favorite MerleFest craft exhibitors, bowl maker Larry Kearson of Marion, NC. And not just bowls, but dough bowls. As a boy growing up in NJ, we always had a wooden bowl mounted up on the wall. Occasionally my dad would take it down to kneed some bread dough in. I never thought much about it till I started making bread in earnest in my 20's. Then I wanted it. Desperately. It was a large bowl, about 18"-by-12" and had been hand carved from a piece of black walnut from the family farm in Tennessee. I finally claimed it 10 years ago or so and now it's a regular kitchen tool in our kitchen. Larry hand carves dough bowls from single pieces of wood. Some small and decorative other huge and highly desirable. The Zeke Bowl is one such bough bowl. About two feet long and 18-inches across, it was carved from a single piece of maple from Larry's neighbor's tree. His neighbor's dog, Zeke, laid by the downed tree for days and then growled and whined the day the tree was cut up — Zeke's Bowl. It's a beauty. Dough bowls shouldn't be stained or varnished, and Larry's aren't. You need a dough bowl carved the old way, hit Larry up.
From the Heritage Tent I headed over to the Dance Tent to check out Asheville's contribution to Hot Club-style Jazz — Viper's Dream. I guess I'm spoiled by Cincinnati's Faux Frenchman, Viper's Dream didn't quite cut it. Yes, you got to be one hell of a musician to pull off Django tunes, but the sound was shrill and I wasn't digging the fiddle player. Paul Patterson of the Faux Frenchmen is without doubt a Cincinnati treasure.
I quickly jumped to the Traditional stage to see Wayne Henderson. With him was a fiddle, frailing banjo and acoustic bass players. Wayne has done three tours with the "Masters of the Six String Guitar" as well as received a National Heritage Award for his instrument building prowess. Wayne is one hell of a fingerpicker, easily one of the best living and funny as hell to boot. Very humble and unassuming. The quartet ran through some Carter Family songs, traditional mountain ballads and fiddle tunes, each played with great dexterity and devotion. What a thrill.
Following dinner, I headed up to the Hillside Stage for a set from Donna The Buffalo. A MerleFest favorite, this band has seemingly been on the road for twenty years. I'm a bit baffled how I've never seen them before. Another one of those alternativecountryrootsrockamericana band with some serious jam band leanings, Donna the Buffalo has been a perennial favorite on the tour and festival circuit. They have a loyal following among MerleFest attendees and the tie dye and swirling dancers were out in force tonight. They played a crowd pleasing set, leaving their fans wanting more. Not much more then you can ask for then that.
The release of the self-titled debut album from Cincinnati trio Tweens is just about a month away now. The music site Stereogum recently premiered the trio’s first music video for new album single, “Be Mean,” a great introduction to the band’s classic-Pop-meets-classic-Punk style (or “Trash Pop,” as they like to call it).
The buzz around Tweens, which scored the “New Artist of the Year” award at the 2014 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, continues to grow across the nation, with more and more music press and online outlets heaping praise on the both the band's recordings and live shows. That buzz should be almost deafening when Tweens’ debut LP is finally released on April 8 through Frenchkiss Records. The band’s usually packed tour schedule is about to get extra-busy with the new release just on the horizon, beginning with a head-spinning six performances during next week’s South By Southwest music fest/conference in Texas.
Click here to read CityBeat's most recent interview with Tweens.
The inaugural Bunbury Music Festival — three days of top-shelf Alternative music at Cincinnati's riverfront Sawyer Point Park — is just two days away. All this week, CityBeat's music blog will be featuring samples from some of our "sleeper picks" for the fest, artists who some may not be as familiar with as they are Weezer or Death Cab for Cutie or Jane's Addiction.
Our next "sleeper" is Detroit's Child Bite, performing Sunday at noon on the Bud Light Stage.
Like an anxious jam session between Nick Cave’s Birthday Party, ProgCore’s Reduced and the more avant garde side of early Sebadoh, the Detroit area’s Child Bite is definitely the most outrageously adventurous act to grace any Bunbury stage this year. The group’s latest release, Monomania, is a neck-snapping, time-changing, shape-shifting beast of inventive, disjointed riffage, raw, natural Punk power, rhythms somewhere between Free Jazz and experimental Electronica and bug-eyed vocals that often sound like something captured on a field recording made inside the halls of an insane asylum. In other words, the perfect way to start off your Bunbury Sunday (after church, of course).
Here's the Monomania track "Wrong Flesh."
I started out the second day of the Forecastle festival in Louisville by getting caught in the rain and being picked up like a hitchhiker by the Everest band van on the way to setup for their set on the main Mast Stage of the festival. The band agreed to let me hang for “A Day in the Life” photo series as they prepped to play the 10th Anniversary of Forecastle. They were laid back as the rain moved in and gear was unplugged and wrapped in saran wrap.
Everest has been on the road promoting their third album Ownerless. On Ownerless, you can hear a refined sound in which the band speaks about powerful issues as they took their time to record and find their true voice, writing from the heart and soul. The band consists of members Russell Pollard (vocals/guitar/drums), Joel Graves (guitar/keys/vocals), Jason Soda (guitar/keys/vocals), Eli Thomson (bass/vocals) and new addition Kyle Crane (drums).
Everest are rising stars in the alternative music scene and have toured with My Morning Jacket and they will be heading back on the road with Neil Young this fall.
It turned out to not be such a typical “day in the life” as the show was held back because of lightning in the area but the band unloaded and prepared to play even as heavy rain descended on the festival. The festival opened an hour late due to rain delays but they did make time for all the planned acts to perform (albeit with shorter set lists).
Everest played loud and rocked the crowd as it gathered to hear this band singing my favorite track on the new album as the opening song “Rapture.” Founding member Pollard’s raspy vocals were captivating and I instantly became a fan of this band as they sang older tunes and new record songs like “Into the Grey.” The Watson Twins joined the band for a few songs on backing vocals to round out their set.
Overall it was a great day to play music in Louisville as fans gathered to celebrate 10 years of the fest, which self-defines itself as being all about "music, art and activism." The Preservation Hall Jazz Band took the main stage by storm and had fans dancing in the grass; special guests onstage including Jim James and Andrew Bird playing classic tunes with the legendary jazz musicians from New Orleans. James' band (and hometown heroes) My Morning Jacket played over two hours to close out the night while Girl Talk played on the second stage and had a festival rave in full action on the banks of the Ohio river.
A perfect day, hot enough but not so hot as to suggest the idea that the ghosts of dead ants broiled by sadistic children with magnifying glasses were somehow exacting their revenge from beyond the veil of ant Valhalla. Why, yes, the '70s were good to me. Why do you ask?
At any rate, the potential for another spectacular launch to Bunbury's first day was palpable as ID was proffered, the laminate was provided and the wristband was snapped into position. The game is afoot (or as my wife's podiatrist might counter, the foot is a game … but I digress. Why, yes the ’70s were good to me. Why do you ask?) and another spectacular Bunbury awaits.
The beginning of the day was essentially a sampler platter of roaming about and checking out a few songs from a variety of sources. I started off down at the Amphitheater Stage to check out The Upset Victory, who had drawn a pretty sizable crowd for their muscular U2-tinged brand of melodically gritty Roots/Punk. Then it was down to the Warsteiner Stage for a more lengthy taste of Snowmine, who return to the '80s/'90s with a 21st century vengeance, mining a thick vein of Depeche Mode, along with a '90s aggressive Ambient quality and a quietly powerful modern edge. Then it was down to the Main Stage for a quick shot of X Ambassadors, who blend big tribal drumming with a Punk-fueled Pop core, a little like Imagine Dragons with a few hundred thousand volts pumped directly into their hearts. Finally it was back to the Amphitheater for a few songs from the soon-to-be-large Let It Happen, who were delivering their Green Day-esque anthemics in the blistering mid-afternoon glare of the unfiltered sun.
Then it was time to hit the Lawn Stage for the triumphant return of 500 Miles to Memphis. Frontman Ryan Malott has streamlined the band down to a potent quintet (guitarist Aaron Whalen, bassist Noah Sugarman, drummer-of-the-gods Kevin Hogle and the lap-steel-and-all-round-magnificence of David Rhodes Brown) and turned up the juice to emphasize the Roots/Rock thunder and downplay the Country lightning. There's still plenty of twang in their thang, but the sizzle and the sound is turned up to 11 in the slimmer, trimmer 500MTM. The band was clearly itching to tear shit up; they've been hard at work for the last couple of years or more assembling their new album, the imminent Stand There and Bleed (the title is a Tombstone reference; if you know the movie, you know the exact scene, and if you don't, shame on you for missing the greatest Western depiction of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday ever, so go fix that before another hour goes by).
Malott and the 500 blew through a set that was stacked with great new material (particularly "Bethel," a tribute to Malott's hometown), but they didn't forget to give the master his due, pulling DRB up from his lap steel duties to haul out yet another chilling spin on Trent Reznor's "Hurt"; if the hair doesn't stand up on your neck when the Colonel's baritone rumbles out, "You can have it all, my empire of dirt," you've got one of those weird, hairless necks. 500 Miles to Memphis has been well out of the public eye for the last year as they concentrated on life pursuits and sporadic turns in the studio to finesse Stand There and Bleed, so there was an urgency to get their fresh live set across as a clarion call to let everyone know they're back. Are they ever.
After a quick stop to water my horse (namely, me), it was a fast walk over to the Acoustic Stage for an hour of blissful Roots/Folk brilliance from Aaron Lee Tasjan, whose sideman work with Todd Snider, the New York Dolls, Drivin' N' Cryin' and Tim Easton has earned him a reputation as one of Americana's most reliably astonishing guitarists. But it's his solo persona that is becoming even more fully realized, as his sterling EP releases — 2011's August Moon, 2012's The Thinking Man's Filth and the just released Crooked River Burning — have shown Tasjan to be a songwriter of depth and beauty will beyond his calendar age. Listen to any given ALT song and you'll hear hints of Nick Drake, Bob Dylan, Will Kimbrough, Rodney Crowell and Ryan Adams in his delivery.
In Tasjan's Folk world, there is no bellybutton introspection set to a strummed acoustic guitar; he'll peel off a solo worthy of Jimi Hendrix after telling a story about seeing Ted Nugent shoot flaming arrows into cardboard effigies of his enemies list worthy of Arlo Guthrie. There aren't many singer/songwriters (read that: any) who are writing tributes to the late, great Judee Sill, and fewer still who make incisive observations like "You can't play Beatles music with bullshit hair." Deals don't get any realer than Aaron Lee Tasjan, and you all need to make him a star at your earliest convenience. Go. I'll wait.
After ALT's hour of power, it was back to the Amphitheater for the transcendent magnificence of Lydia Loveless. She may have grown up in the hillbilly hinterlands of Coshocton, Ohio, but she is a city girl with enough Rock sass to satisfy any Indie hipster and enough twang to hold the interest of any Americana aficionado. In a set laced with electric greatness, primarily drawn from her latest album, Somewhere Else, Loveless and her brilliant band finished with an absolutely scorching take on "Boy Crazy," the title track from her 2013 EP. The song reached a fever pitch when guitarist Todd May, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth with noir-detective-meets-Bun-E.-Carlos nonchalance, sat on his feet in front of his amp at the back of the stage, coaxing an exquisite din of feedback from his guitar, while bassist/husband Ben Lamb concocted similarly haunted sounds by running his bass down Nick German's drum kit and Loveless herself fell onto her back on the stage and cranked out sheets of heart-stopping guitar madness. It was an extraordinary end to a truly amazing and all too brief set.
Exactly what is it about the Black Owls that resonates so completely with me? First, they effortlessly tap into that primal part of my brain that was developing during my teenage years when I was soaking up insane amounts of T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, David Bowie and the Stooges. Next, they punch forcefully into the neighboring brain cells, the ones that house the memories of discovering Television, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Talking Heads, New York Dolls and Be Bop Deluxe. And it's not that they sound like any of those bands (although occasionally they do), it's that they remind me of that beautiful, mysterious time in my life when there was still music to be revealed, and the visceral thrill that accompanied every new discovery. That is what it is about the Black Owls. They once again made that abundantly clear at the Lawn Stage when they tore through old favorites ("Wild Children," "Julias Morningstar," "Sometimes I Wish You Were a Ghost"), brand new classics in waiting ("Gasoline" and "Rook") and an absolutely hair-raising spin through Harry Nilsson's "Jump Into the Fire."
It was the standard Black Owls greatness, which is to say the quintet, as usual, presented their most familiar elements in new and unexpected ways so that even a grizzled old veteran Owls watcher such as myself was knocked back a pace and surprised by it all. Black Owls make me long for the days when bands put out two albums a year for not other reason than they could. Bassist Kip Roe continues to weave himself into the fabric of the Owls' sound and, as frontman David Butler pointed out, guitarist Brandon Losacker is proving to be a perfect songwriting foil for Butler and co-founding guitarist Ed Shuttleworth. The Black Owls seem to be entering a period of gritty reassessment, where dirty Glam riffs and anthemic chord structures are dominating the proceedings. Yes, please, and quite a bit more, if it's quite all right. And even if it's not.
Before I review the psychodots' Bunbury debut, perhaps a history lesson is in order. A good many years ago, music mogul and purported industry genius Clive Davis sauntered into Cincinnati with the stated goal of checking out The Raisins and perhaps offering them a lucrative and much-deserved contract. When Davis departed from our fair city without signing The Raisins, he explained the lack of a deal thusly: "They're an embarrassment of riches."
Please allow me to read between the lines and translate that five word headscratcher into layman's terms. What Mr. Davis was so obtusely attempting to convey was this: "The Raisins are a stellar band and I don't have the slightest idea how to market them without making them as smooth and textureless as Gerber's babyshit and as lame as a beggar in the Bible, essentially stripping them of the elements that make them unique, and if you think I'm going to dismantle and destroy this band or permanently stain my sparklingly legendary resume with the ugly reality that I was unable to sell the music of a gifted band to a quality-starved public simply because I didn't understand the complexities of either one, you've got several unpleasantly aromatic things coming in a flaming bag on your front porch."
Of course, The Raisins famously broke up, reassembling as the Bears with guitarist Adrian Belew and refashioning as psychodots without Belew. So in a very tangible sense, we owe the existence of psychodots to Clive Davis' short-sighted inability to recognize their root band's brilliance. I was devastated that The Raisins didn't make it and, after the 'dots' loosely tight/tightly loose set at Bunbury, I am relieved beyond measure The Raisins didn't make it. Success would have come at a great and terrible cost, and we would not have enjoyed 20+ sporadically splendid years of psychodots Power Pop bliss.
There may have only been 100 or so bodies at the Amphitheater Stage to witness psychodots' fabulousness (Fitz and the Tantrums were sucking up bodies like a UFO set to "harvest," and rightly so) but the 'dots never give less than 89%, and they were in full charge mode on Friday afternoon. There was Rob Fetters' squiggly guitar magnificence (I'd put him up against any guitarist in the history of Rock, and he'd be only mildly uncomfortable at being up against any of them), Bob Nyswonger's bass conjuring, using his instrument to evoke lead guitar and keyboard mayhem (and by instrument, I'm still talking about his bass) and Chris Arduser's master class in How to Drum with Power and Grace and Still Maintain a Smartass Attitude.
It was a delightfully eclectic set, with a number of old favorites ("Master of Disaster," "Living in a Lincoln," complete with Fetters' mom-inspired balloon-on-the-strings gimmick), a few quasi-oddities ("Candy," the rarely performed "The Problem Song") and a handful of non-'dots nuggets ("She Might Try" from Arduser's exquisite The Celebrity Motorcade, The Bears' "Veneer" from their last album Eureka, "Play Your Guitar" from Fetters' patently perfect new solo album, Saint Ain't, The Raisins' fist-pumping "Fear is Never Boring") and the band's always entertaining banter (Fetters apropos of everything: "Is anyone tripping?"; Bob Nyswonger after Arduser's observation that the evening was balmy: "Balmy," stretched langorously into two words). It was, in a number of words, a standard psychodots show, which means one of the best shows you'll ever see, local or otherwise. Long may they reign.
After the breathless 'dots set, I was torn between the Heartless Bastards' triumphant return to the area or the unlikely but much welcomed reunion of Veruca Salt's original lineup. With more than a couple of Bastards sets under my belt and the prospect of many more to come, I opted for Veruca Salt because, even if the reunion sticks, the possibility of the band's return to Cincinnati seems remote. The foursome did not disappoint, hauling out blistering favorites from their slim catalog in this iteration and reinforcing why we've loved their Glam/Pop brilliance for so very long. Whatever caused the rift between co-fronts Louise Post (who has kept Veruca Salt going in some form or other for the past 21 years) and Nina Gordon (who departed for a solo career in 1998), there was no evidence of any residual friction as the quartet blew like a hurricane through "Volcano Girls," "Straight" and their signature brain-boiler "Seether." The band even teased a couple of songs – including "It's Holy" from this year's Record Store Day single — from what was described as "their upcoming thing;" that thing cannot come soon enough. As final proof of Veruca Salt's newly minted reunion, Post and Gordon kissed at center stage amid a beautiful howl of squalling feedback. As the lights came up, the '90s called, they want their awesome back; they can blow it out their ass, because Veruca Salt is hanging onto it with all eight arms.
For the evening's closer, Empire of the Sun, the Main Stage was nearly as packed with bodies and gear as the field in front of it. The band's epic stage show, which has been described as Cirque Du Soleiel without the airshow, requires a lot of moving parts, and the Bunbury crowd arrived in significant numbers to witness the Rock/Synth Pop/Electronic spectacle. Empire of the Sun's primary sparkplugs, Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore, and a veritable army of players and dancers offered up a wall of Prince-like Glam/Pop guitar and a danceable solution of Depeche Mode Synth Pop menace, all updated to a millennial frenzy of Muse/Daft Punk proportions. But rather than non-descript and identity shielding space/BMX helmets, EOTS prefers elaborate tribal headdresses that look like giant pre-immolation phoenixes atop the principals' heads. At one point, the dancers were all playing fake neon guitars in a 21st century version of Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" video. All of this plays out in front of a constantly shifting projection of disparate and arty images and screen saver light squiggles combined with a choreographed and dazzling light show that is both compelling and distracting. That dichotomy within the Empire of the Sun presentation matches the broad spectrum of reactions to the band's Cincinnati debut (and one of only a handful of American dates); the majority of the crowd was fully engaged in the band's expansive Vistavision sprawl, while a few canvased friends offered up opinions that ranged from "That was as exciting as watching glitter paint dry," to "Meh, it's okay," to "I totally love this." Editorial critique aside, Empire of the Sun was every bit as epic as advertised, and everyone who looks for spectacle in their Dancetronic music mix got more than their money's worth with Friday night's Bunbury closer.
• I started the day with a deliciously smokey pulled pork sandwich from the geniuses at Eli's, a bun so overstuffed with barbeque goodness that it's actually a pulled pork sandwich with a side of pulled pork. It's as close to a religious experience as I've ever had outside of a church (where I have oddly never had a religious experience … go figure) or a music venue (where I've had plenty; I'm looking at you, Iggy Pop). Washed down with a Fathead beer, it was the perfect start to the third charmed Bunbury.
• At the Snowmine show, I ran into "Hey-look-everybody-it's" Stu, from Paul Roberts' Three-Amigos crew. Stu reported that Paul and maybe Big Jim would be along shortly. And, in fact, they were.
• On the way from X Ambassadors to the Amphitheater/Lawn Stage area, I ran into Eddy Mullet and his daughter Jess. Eddy is the volunteer host of the Friday night 6:00-8:00 pm shift at Class X Radio, where I have surreptitiously installed myself as his quasi-co-host; I do the weekly CityBeat Report, a rundown of weekend music events, and a segment I concocted called the Gang of Four Set, four songs that are connected by a theme of my own twisted design. Eddy is also the longstanding host of Kindred Sanction, the area’s longest-running local music program that was founded by Cynthia Dye Wimmer a fair number of years ago at WAIF. Cynthia brought the show to Class X six years ago, Eddy sat in occasionally as co-host and Cynthia backed out of the show to attend to her life. Eddy's passion for and knowledge of the local music scene is legendary, and anyone who has ever dealt with him knows him as a straight up guy and maybe one of the best boosters that local music has ever seen. Class X management has seen fit to cut the show's hours and alter the format, all of which is wrong-headed and counterproductive, but all that really matters to Eddy is spreading the gospel of greater Cincinnati's music scene. And Jess is turning into a Rock chick of the first order (not like that, you gutter-minded dimbulbs). Under Eddy's tutelage, she's becoming a pretty fair aficionado of local music herself; smart, funny and fearless, she will be a force to be reckoned with in some near future. At any rate, if you see Eddy wandering around, shake his hand and thank him for his long-suffering and often unappreciated work on behalf of local music.
• Eddy and Jess and I hit a run of shows together, including the ever amazing 500 Miles to Memphis, the astonishing Aaron Lee Tasjan (who Eddy hipped me to through his love of Drivin' n' Cryin'), the gear-stripping Lydia Loveless and the transcendent Black Owls. Eddy and I could talk music for days on end, which we do at every given opportunity. Eddy also introduced me to Aaron, who he'd met after a Drivin' n' Cryin' show; that kid is going places, if Eddy and I have anything to say about it.
• Finally ran into Paul and Big Jim at the Aaron Lee Tasjan set, with "Hey-everybody-it's" Stu in tow. These three are also a great bunch of music lovers and supporters, local and otherwise, with weird, esoteric tastes. In other words, my people. I love running into them, and swapping stories and having Paul buy me beers, which he most generously did during the psychodots' set.
• Also briefly caught up with the ever-stellar Kip Roe, freshly installed bassist for the Black Owls and a prince among men. His boys, Kip Jr. and Ben, were there to witness the Owls' casual brilliance (anchored by their dad's bedrock solid basslines), but post-show were anxious to head down to the Main Stage to witness the Soul/Pop frenzy of Fitz and the Tantrums. Kip and the boys won't be spending Saturday doing any Bunbury adventuring, as they're headed to a Modest Mouse show in Columbus (a bucket list event, as Kip described it), but they will be back for the Flaming Lips on Sunday. Kip's boys are huge Flaming Lips fans. God, I love Rock & Roll families.
• And speaking of such, my other favorite component of Black Owls shows is the chance to catch up with the Owl wives, Amy Butler, Carrie Losacker and Sarah Kitzmiller (and let's not forget Ed's girlfriend, whose name, like so many other things, slips my addled brain. Why, yes, I did enjoy the '70s. Why do you ask?). We were trying to come up with a name for their defacto support group; I propose the Owlettes, and given Friday's heat and humidity, the Moist Owlettes probably was more apt. At any rate, they are wonderful people to interact with, and I look forward to their company every bit as much as the Owls' soul-stirring, flashback-triggering presentations.
• And on that subject, Ed, his girlfriend and her daughter (again, names … I remember knowing them in some distant past; maybe if they had hats with their names on them. That's how Stu solved his dilemma …) caught up with me while I scarfing down a couple of cheese coneys before leaving Friday night and offered a heartfelt Rock & Roll tale. Ed's girlfriend's daughter (note to self: this would be better with names) is a huge fan of Walk the Moon and as fate would have it, frontman Nick Petricca happened to be in town and was catching the Empire of the Sun show. Ed's girlfriend's daughter spotted Nick, professed her undying love for Walk the Moon, they chatted for a bit and she got her picture taken with him. Nick is clearly one of the good guys and his very open and engaging response to a fan's sincere outpouring of love and support is one of the reasons for the band's incredible success. And, as I noted to Ed's girlfriend's daughter, "It's always nice when you meet your heroes and they're not dicks." Thus should it ever be.
• The only thing that could have made the night complete after that uplifting moment would be a quick run-in with Jacob Heintz, former Buckra guitarist and Rock volunteer of the gods, as his constant presence at MidPoint and now Bunbury will attest. Another one of the truly great people that define the Cincinnati music scene as one of best in the known universe. I am physically fading and spiritually soaring. It's a good feeling for the end of the first day of another fantastic Bunbury.
The MidPoint Music Festival countdown is down to just 3 days, kicking off this Thursday. Here are our daily MidPoint Music Festival 2012 picks …
Freelance Whales (Queens, NY)
Baroque Indie Electro Pop
Frontman Judah Dadone founded Freelance Whales in 2008 and recorded much of the band's lauded, self-released debut album from late 2009, Weathervanes (reissued by Frenchkiss and Mom + Pop in 2010). The band not only scored a lot of fans based on the album, but also a ton of licensing (for a variety of films and TV shows). The band's consistent international touring, external exposure and word-of-mouth PR has built anticipation for its new album, Diluvia, to a fever pitch. The LP is set for an Oct. 9 release (MPMF serves as the opening date on the band's tour behind the record). Freelance Whales' mix of electronic sounds and Chamber Folk ideals has led them to be compared to everyone from The Postal Service to Sufjan Stevens.
You'll Dig It If You Dig: Sufjan Stevens making a Postal Service album; Postal Service making a Sufjan album. (Mike Breen)
Freelance Whales (their name, if you're wondering, was inspired by the huge amount of "freelancers" working in NYC) performs Saturday in Washington Park at 7 p.m. (taking the slot vacated by Sleigh Bells). Here's a new track from Diluvia, "Spitting Image."
Leogun (London, UK)
Rock & Roll
With “big breaks” today mostly coming in the form of internet exposure, London trio Leogun’s big-time entry into the music biz was decidedly old-fashioned. Singer/guitarist Tommy Smith snuck into an Eagles of Heavy Metal show in London and met an industry heavyweight who introduced him to Elton John’s Rocket Music Management. From there, the band became the first band signed to instrument-maker Yamaha’s new record label. Leogun went to Nashville to lay down some of their timeless, passionate Rock & Roll, the first results of which are set for an EP due Oct. 16 (a full-length is planned for 2013). Leogun’s transcendent take on vintage Blues-inspired Rock & Roll is strong enough to earn them one the “bands most likely to return soon for an arena show” awards from this year’s MPMF.
Dig: Wolfmother, Pearl Jam, Queens of the Stone Age. (MB)
Leogun performs at The Drinkery Saturday at 12:30 a.m. Here's the band's new single and video, "Let's Be Friends," which just premiered on MTV.com.
MPMF news and musings: Kick-ass longtime MPMF sponsor Dewey's Pizza is giving away a trio of special "Next Level Experience" passes for you and two of your closest friends (or, I suppose, you could give them to people you hate, though that would just be kinda weird).
If you win, you'll receive a three-day wristband and one night at the Dewey's Pizza/Grammer's stage in the best seat in the house (which appears to be a couch positioned very close to the stage). For more on Dewey's Next Level Experience contest, click here.
And now, with the countdown down to just 13 days, here are our daily MidPoint Music Festival 2012 picks, today featuring all Ohio artists …
Cloud Nothings (Cleveland, OH)
From his parents’ basement, Dylan Baldi created and released several acclaimed lo-fi recordings as Cloud Nothings before his 2009 EP, Turning On, pinged the critics’ radar and scored positive reviews on all the right blogs. Almost immediately, Baldi had to assemble a band to play the gigs that were offered to him, resulting in lots of touring and his slightly shinier 2011 self-titled full-length. This year has seen the release of the even more expansive Attack on Memory and a string of upcoming opening dates for Silversun Pickups. Not a bad three years for a Hardcore obsessed kid from Cleveland.
You'll Dig It If You Dig: The idea of Tommy Keene and Kevin Seconds stirring up some Pop and some Punk for a Husker Du tribute. (Brian Baker)
Cloud Nothings perform at Midnight on Friday, Sept. 28, at the Cincinnati Club. Here's the official music video for Cloud Nothings' "No Future/No Past."
CityBeat spoke with bassist Elijah Thomson about the group's unique vision and feel and also where he feels the band is going in their evolution. Everest will be playing the Bunbury Music Festival at Cincinnati's Sawyer Point/Yeatman's Cove on Friday alongside fun., Walk the Moon, Devotchka, Tegan and Sara and many others. Everest plays the Bud Light Stage at 5 p.m. Friday.
CityBeat: What have you guys been up to since I saw you last summer at Forecastle in Louisville?
Elijah Thomson: We took a little break. We were touring with Neil Young at the end of the year, which was really fun. We were a little beat down from a year of touring. We took probably about six months off. We did a little tour in April with Minus the Bear, so we sort of violated our own hiatus to go out with those guys, but that was better. We just did a couple weeks' run from L.A. to Chicago, so we went out there to do a couple dates.
CB: I know Neil Young personally picked you guys to go on tour with him and open his shows. What was the highlight of playing with him?
ET: It has been pretty sweet over the years getting to tour with Neil and obviously a total honor to be able to play with an artist of that caliber and a living legend, as far as I am concerned.
On a certain level, it is still a gig — you know, driving and loading in and out and all that kind of stuff. I think for me personally, watching a guy like Neil night in and night out, it sort of proves that sort of mystical thing in music, what is compelling about somebody that can sustain them for so long.
People are coming out in droves to see Neil and for me it is a personal study on art and what it is that enamors people with art. With Neil, I think it is primarily an honesty with his art. He will put it out there. The first song on his new record is like 27 minutes long. That’s the kind of bravery that comes from having nothing to prove and I think for them, like us, we have to understand why that is important and to find a formula that works, but also (be) true to ourselves and true to our own desires musically. That is a process. It has not been instantaneous, but I think we are sort of on the verge of realizing that ourselves.
CB: Did Neil give you any advice?
ET: I think if there ever was, it was just (to) absolutely do whatever you want and don’t make any apologies and don’t play it safe. It was the kind of real world wisdom that is important. It is not about playing some game. We should not be concerned where we will be classified in a musical genre. It is more about making what you feel and letting other people classify it.
CB: You guys toured pretty consistently the past few years. Do you have any crazy tour stories on the road?
ET: One of the main things we talked about from last year, we seemed to be pretty slippery when it came to crossing paths with law enforcement. We were slippery, we had no issues. I don’t know how we did it. We had a couple close calls, but were able to talk our way out of it every time.
CB: Are you working on any new music right now?
ET: Yeah, the biggest change in Everest is a slight personnel change. Jason Soda, a founding member of the band, decided to resign. I don’t know if I should say why, but ultimately he needed more normalcies in his life.
His replacement — I hate to put it that way — his name is Aaron Tasjan, an amazing guitar player who we met while we were on the road with Alberta Cross. He was kind of filling in for guitar and when it came up that J was going to resign, Joel and I were talking about it.
I think it was a sensitive thing — who were we going to collaborate with and how were we going to take this opportunity to improve the internal chemistry? We had a really great rapport with Aaron and when we were on the road he watched our set every night. He would open the shows doing solo stuff and we would jump on stage with him and jam with him. His spirit has been really amazing since he has been playing with us, bringing a freshness and newness that we have really desired and I think interpersonally it has been good and natural.
Also, the drummer chair has been in rotation the last year and a half or so since Davey, our original drummer, stopped playing with us. Our drummer now is a guy named Dan Bailey, a guy I have known for years. I really respected his drumming. He is an absolutely astounding drummer. It was very easy to ask him to join. Bass players and drummers generally want to choose who they are going to play with. He has known this band for a while, since I have been in it, and he has been chomping at the bit to jam with us, so we are on this new plane that we have never really experienced. It is really sort of a beautiful and fun creative discovery.
I am excited to bring this to Cincinnati. There is a great spirit going on. The plan right now is to finish out this summer touring, a couple weeks in July and a couple weeks in August on the West Coast. Then we are going to go back in the studio. The sound checks for our shows have gone into much more depth with the music; I don’t like the word "jamming," so we will say "spontaneous musical landscapes." It is something we have been wanting to do for a long time and it is really amazing to go on stage and just not have it all pre-programmed, even calling out set lists on the stage, stretching songs out, kind of taking our time with things, letting things be different night after night and really encourage our creative flow together. We are really excited about getting in the studio and experimenting with this.
CB: What is your favorite bass to play?
ET: I play a Gibson Les Paul Recording bass (from) 1973. I have been playing it exclusively for about 12 years. I do own several basses. The first bass I ever had was a Gibson Les Paul Recording bass. My Dad was a bass player and he gave it to me. It was kind of his junker bass and I didn’t even like it but it was something.
It sounds really stupid and mystical, because it was the bass I learned on and I kind of wore it out and it was an awkward bass, but I was always coming back to it because it was familiar.
I was playing with a guy named Richard Swift (producer, singer/songwriter and current member of The Shins), still do, a really dear friend. Right around when we first started playing together, he said, “That is the raddest bass I have ever heard. You should only use that bass when you are playing with me.” I was like, “OK no problem.” I basically decided that was my thing and I was going to stick with it.
I haven’t played any other bass for years and years except in a studio, and even then it is only one song, maybe.
CB: Did you always want to be a musician?
ET: Like I said, my dad was a musician and so I grew up on the road and around music. My uncle owned a studio, still does, and we still work out of there a lot. I have been recording bands since I was 17 years old and have been playing music since I was 12 years old, always had guitars around. When I was a little kid I thought I was the talentless one in the family because I didn’t pick it up before the age of 10. I eventually found my way. This was always what I was meant to do, in a way.
CB: Somebody the other day said that the best way to become a successful musician is to not have a backup plan.
ET: I’d say so, and I’d say most true artists would rather downgrade and live in a shack and still be doing what they are passionate about. It really plays into the artist mentality. I am no spring chicken, so I certainly decided I was in for life. I don’t have a retirement plan. I don’t ever want to stop. This is what I do. I get into other things outside of music so it is not a total obsession. I found a way to make it this far. I don’t know why that would change in the future. If it does, it does, and I will figure it out. This is what works for me; there is no backup plan.
CB: Where did the band name come from?
ET: The story … I wasn’t in the band when they named it and maybe I wouldn’t have picked that name, but that is for another conversation.
From what I gather, Russ and Jason had named their studio Everest Recordings because of a pack of cigarettes that Geoff Emerick had. He was an engineer on a lot of the Beatles stuff and supposedly Abbey Road was originally going to be named Everest and they were going to do a photo shoot in Nepal. It became a logistical nightmare and, as the legend goes, Paul or somebody said, "Let’s shoot a picture out front and be done with it." So the name Everest has significance to them, however it is sort of a common thing for something to be named.
It is hard to Google something like that. That is something you have to think about nowadays and maybe it gets lost in the shuffle a little bit.
CB: What can the fans look forward to at Bunbury seeing you guys for the first time?
ET: As a band we are really relaxed and comfortable. Every new show is an adventure. Every show we have had with this lineup has been over the top amazing.
I guess what fans can expect is the unexpected. They can expect to see some sort of fine but not some self-congratulatory musicianship, people making themselves vulnerable in front of people and making up stuff on the spot and really trying to live in that spirit of Jimi Hendrix and Zeppelin and the kind of feelings those shows had when it was a beautiful thing of stream of consciousness. I think that is something rarer these days in music. I am happy and proud to be in a band that values that part of live performance.
Everest performed at Lousiville's Forecastle fest last
summer. Check out the "A Day in the Life" Forecastle photo series with
the group here.