When veteran Cincinnati musician Zach Mechlem launched his latest project, Mack West, a few years ago, he didn’t just form a new band — he created a new genre. Calling the band’s sound “AltWestern” to describe the dusty, often cinematic quality of its modern American Roots music, Mack West released its self-titled debut two years ago to much acclaim and, given the evocative, visceral nature of the songs, attention from the world of music licensing. Tracks from the album were used on various promo spots and TV shows, including History Channel’s American Pickers.
Going into recording the follow-up, Mechlem and original members Will Campbell (bass) and Greg Slone (drums) bolstered their membership, adding guitarist (and album co-producer) Steve Wethington on guitar and violinist Annette Christianson. While the mood and spirit of the debut is still intact on the resulting album, The Goodnight Trail, Mack West’s sophomore effort doesn’t exactly expand on the trademark elements
Now in it tenth year, one of Cincinnati’s most celebrated bands, Wussy (led by former Ass Pony Chuck Cleaver and his equally skilled songwriting partner/co-frontperson Lisa Walker), has amassed an amazing discography so far. Beginning with 2005’s Funeral Dress, the group quickly developed a reputation for the “ragged glory” of its performances, both live and on record. That sense of recklessness worked impossibly well with the band’s fractured, soul-burrowing love songs and the unbridled tense, passionate energy between its co-leaders. Early on, Wussy often sounded on the verge of falling apart, but there was always something magical about the group that assured you that, even if by Scotch tape and rubber bands, the band would hold it together.
But with each successive release, Wussy’s edge-of-cliff nature gradually dissipated. By the time of the rockers’ third album, an eponymous affair in 2009, Wussy had become a more confident, cohesive unit. But not in the way, say, Paul Westerberg went from alcoholic Punk poet to “mature” singer/songwriter. As the band’s fourth full-length, Strawberry, shows, Wussy isn’t getting boring. They’re just getting better. Which, considering how powerful albums like 2007’s Left for Dead were, is almost scary.
I love the last night of MidPoint. And I hate the last night of MidPoint. I love it because it’s typically the most attended of the festival’s three nights, the energy is beyond amped, the venues are packed, the very air seems charged, like Duke abandoned electric cables and is beaming power through the aether straight into your skull.
I hate it because this is the end, my only friend the end, and even as the evening begins with a promise of greatness, it comes with a melancholic touch and before the light has started to diffuse, I’m already missing this year’s festivities and anticipating next year’s first night.
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.
Started the night off with a bang, bang — Jagjaguwar Records’ Okkervil River at Grammer’s. The tent was packed — so packed that it was hard to weave to the front — but I was sneaky. From Austin, Texas, and labeled Folk Pop, Okkervil didn’t disappoint. Will Sheff, frontman with a beard and black-rimmed glasses, busted out a clear, deep, penetrating voice. Between the strings, bass, guitar, tambourine, keys and more, this band built a series of startling crescendos, while still allowing for some playful guitar solos. The music would surge to rise, then dive, pulling off a true independent spirit that was uplifting, but mixed with the bass vocals, there was yet another layer of complexity that made it artistic and multifaceted. This band has truly grown and tightened over time, becoming mature, and they’ve carefully molded the tunes into a creative shape, while maintaining a structure worth following.
I love music festivals. Like, love. The crowds, the music, the excitement in the air. MidPoint Music Festival is special for all of these reasons, but also because it’s essentially in my backyard. I don’t have to find a hotel, or crash on a friend of a friend of a friend’s couch (see: Lollapalooza 2011) or worry about parking (see: no car) or getting lost (see: backyard). I can wander around the streets of Over the Rhine and downtown Cincinnati with lots of other like-minded people, basking in the glow emanating from each venue, where musicians and fans are creating those magical, collaborative moments I love.
I love the first night of MidPoint; the anticipation, the excitement, the friends, the music, the potential for getting wetter than you’ve been since the birth experience. It’s magic, a sensation perhaps intensified on Thursday, being the first night of the festival’s tenth anniversary.
I haven't done LSD in at least a decade, but Thursday's MidPoint Music Festival sure felt like a psychedelic flashback. My long-ish, strange-ish trip began at 9 a.m., as I drove into downtown and found Central Parkway colorfully dressed up as if an army of elderly women had sneaked in overnight and turned the strip into a Dr. Seussian wonderland. The colorful crocheting that hugged the trees, lampposts and practically everything else sticking out of the ground was actually the work of The BombShells' Yarn, who've dropped similar "yard bombs" on statues downtown (like the William Henry Harrison one in Garfield Park).
Regardless of whence it came, it set the trippy tone for my first day at MPMF.11. And things only got trippier. I'm a big fan of the surreal and bizarre, so it wasn't a bad trip, by any means. And the soundtrack was pretty kick-ass.
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.
How did 48 hours of exciting live music draw to a close so fast? I woke up Sunday morning with the slightly wistful feel that my whirlwind weekend would soon be over, but I quickly shook that and rushed to the “L” to get downtown for the final day of Lollapalooza 2011.
Due to my persistent caffeine addiction, I was late to Grant Park. I missed The Joy Formidable (though luckily we can all see them at the MidPoint Music Festival on Sept. 22), as well as Titus Andronicus and Fences, all bands I wanted to give a good go. I guess that’s what YouTube, Soundcloud, Facebook, MySpace, etc. are for.