(Editor’s Note: CityBeat contributor Nick Grever leaves today for Europe, where he’ll be on tour with Cincinnati Rock group Valley of the Sun as the band’s “merch guy.” Nick has graciously agreed to blog about his journey for citybeat.com over the next three weeks. Below is his first installment, an introduction written last night when he was [possibly over] packing for the trip.)
Hello, my name is Nick and since I’ve been a teenager, I’ve dreamt about living the Rock & Roll lifestyle. There’s just one problem – I can’t play music worth a damn.
As a freelancer for this fine publication, I have been able to get a taste of my dream but one element has always eluded me: touring. So imagine my excitement when local rockers Valley of the Sun invited me to work merch for them on their second European tour. I just never expected to be touring the world in a hotdog costume.
Maybe a little background is in order. I’ve known the Valley guys (guitarist/vocalist Ryan Ferrier, drummer Aaron Boyer and bassist Ryan McAllister) for several years, culminating in a profile piece in the pages of CityBeat for their first full-length release, Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk. With that release (and my expertly devised words of praise, no doubt), the band has risen to new heights.
Valley of the Sun signed with Fuzzorama Records and has already toured Europe once, in support of Desert Rock titans Truckfighters. Now it’s time for them to return for another three week tour for shows ranging from massive fests to small dives. We’ll be traveling throughout Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and other countries, joined by Valley’s sound guy across the pond, Arnaud Merckling. In their infinite wisdom, the band invited me along to run their merch; Mangrenade’s Nick Thieme is also on the trip, playing bass in McAllister’s absence.
I’m writing this the night before we leave and I’m still not entirely sure what to expect. But here’s what I do know: I’ll be writing constantly, I probably over packed and Ryan, Nick and Aaron are really excited to see me run around in a venue in my new skeleton onesie (far warmer and more comfortable than it has any right to be) and hotdog ensemble.
These blog entries will ultimately be a record of our trip but it’s going to be more than just a recap of the shenanigans we’re sure to get into and the excellent food we’re sure to eat — although expect a few Instragram worthy images of foreign cuisine, too. (I love me some sausage.) It’s going to examine all the parts of tour life that arise over the course of our trip. What is it like to sit in a small van with four other guys for eight hours when none of us have showered for three days? Is German beer really as good as people say? What happens at 4 a.m. when Ryan starts spouting off about the multiverse as we sit around a bar in Switzerland? Seriously, did I pack enough underwear?
These hard hitting questions, along with my observations and insights, will fill these digital pages. Hopefully they’ll be interesting enough for you to come back and read some more. Expect updates at least every few days — it all depends on how reliable the wifi is in Europe. Hey, that’s another blog entry topic!
Early this year, Cincinnati Indie Dance Rock crew Founding Fathers released a tease of their forthcoming debut full-length release with a music video for their funky track, “Stop Drop and Roll.” Last week, the band unveiled another cool video clip to accompany its fantastic new song, “Welcome Home.”
The clip, directed and edited by Peter House, starts off with a young man finding out he’s lost his job after he wakes up presumably hungover and his car won’t start. From there, the video follows his efforts to find a new gig, applying at local haunts like Mac’s Pizza Pub, Union Terminal and The Esquire movie theater to no avail. Frustrated, he returns home and loses himself in a wild party that happens to be going down. It’s a cool clip for an even cooler song, loaded with infectious hooks and grooves (think a tight mix of LCD Soundsystem and Walk the Moon), which should have fans and non-fans alike excited to hear more from Founding Fathers.
You can listen to earlier Founding Fathers material here, while "Stop Drop and Roll" and "Welcome Home" can be downloaded for free here. Keep tabs on the band through their Facebook page here for upcoming shows and updates.
The Cincinnati Dronescape recording project stemmed from an idea forged by local resident Isaac Hand over the summer. Hand and a friend went around town recording sounds that they felt were “quintessentially Cincinnati.” The found sounds, Hand says, included “the sound of the Western Hills Viaduct, the train yards, the hum of the (University of Cincinnati Medical Center), the Moerlein Brewery” and other location-specific noises.
They then distributed the sounds to various musicians, who mixed them into their own unique compositions.
The results are featured on the mesmerizing and creative Cincinnati Dronescape album, which, along with Cincinnati Drones (an album featuring the original source-material soundscapes), is available to stream and download via cincinnatidronescape.bandcamp.com (see below; hard copies can also be found in local-music friendly record retailers in the area). The sonic adventurers featured on the album include ADM, umin, Molly Sullivan, Jarrod Welling-Cann, Zijnzijn Zijnzijn and several others.
This Saturday at 7 p.m., the project participants will gather in the West End at the intersection of Gest and Summer streets (near Union Terminal) and play Cincinnati Dronescape from several cars simultaneously. Copies of the CD will also be available for purchase at the listening party event. For more information on the project and listening party, click here.
Yesterday (Oct. 5) marked the 21st anniversary of the release of Gentlemen, the major label debut from Cincinnati-spawned rockers The Afghan Whigs, which helped catapult the band into the international spotlight. To celebrate the album reaching drinking age, Rhino Records is releasing a deluxe edition later this month under the name Gentlemen at 21. For the album’s birthday last night, the band (which recently performed a hometown show at the MidPoint Music Festival and is in the midst of a tour behind its new album, Do to the Beast) played an expansive set at Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg. With tickets priced at $21, last night's show reunited the Whigs with special guest Usher, doing a version of the superstar’s “Climax” (the entities first teamed up at last year’s South by Southwest fest in Texas).
Due Oct. 28, the Gentlemen at 21 set will be available digitally and as a two-CD collection. A vinyl version of the original remastered album will also be released Oct. 28, followed by a three-platter deluxe vinyl edition with all of the bonus material, which is being issued for Record Store Day's Black Friday event on Nov. 28.
Gentlemen at 21’s bonus material will include all of the original demos for the album, which were recorded in Cincinnati at bassist John Curley’s Ultrasuede studio. The set will also feature rarities, including radio sessions and B-sides. The Whigs’ version of fellow Cincy greats The Ass Ponys’ track “Mr. Superlove” (originally issued on a vinyl single from local label Mono Cat 7, with the Ponys covering the Whigs’ “You My Flower” on the flip side) is also slated for the Rhino release.
Here is Gentlemen at 21’s full track listing:
1. “If I Were Going”
3. “Be Sweet”
5. “When We Two Parted”
6. “Fountain And Fairfax”
7. “What Jail Is Like”
8. “My Curse”
9. “Now You Know”
10. “I Keep Coming Back”
11. “Brother Woodrow/Closing Prayer”
1. “If I Were Going”
3. “Be Sweet”
5. “When We Two Parted”
6. “Fountain And Fairfax”
7. “What Jail Is Like”
8. “My Curse”
9. “Now You Know”
10. “Brother Woodrow”
11. “Little Girl Blue”
13. “Mr. Superlove”
14. “Dark End Of The Street”
15. “What Jail Is Like” (Live)
16. “Now You Know” (Live)
17. “My World Is Empty Without You/I Hear A Symphony” (Live)
Tracks 1-8 Demos Recorded At Ultrasuede
Tracks 9-10 Instrumental Rough Mixes, Ardent Studios
Tracks 15-17 Recorded Live For KTCL At The Mercury Café, Denver, CO, May 10th, 1994
Also this past weekend, the Whigs’ YouTube channel debuted Ladies & Gentlemen, The Afghan Whigs, an hour and a half-long road documentary chronicling the band’s touring of Europe in the early ’90s. The film, produced by the Whigs’ longtime sound engineer Steve Girton, was screened at Newport’s Southgate House in 2005 during the Lite Brite Indie Pop and Film Test, but has otherwise only been circulated as a much-coveted bootleg. Check it out below:
Those jonesing for more music fest goodness after last weekend’s spectacular MidPoint Music Festival have some great options this weekend. Bluegrass fans should be especially excited for a couple of them.
• The Bend in the River Art & Music Festival debuts this Saturday and Sunday in Lower Price Hill (2104 St. Michael St., next to The Sanctuary: Center for Education and the Arts). The festival/fundraiser runs 5-11 p.m. Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday with the goal of bringing the community together (and showcasing it to others) and raising money for the Community Matters (cmcincy.org) and Education Matters (emcincy.org) organizations.
Along with food trucks and booths, beer from MadTree Brewing and Rhinegeist and a variety of vendors and artists showing their wares, local musical acts from a variety of genres will provide live music. Tim Caudill, Pike 27, Blue Caboose, Under New Order, The Part-Time Gentlemen and Ohio Knife perform Saturday, while Wild Carrot, Sibling Rivalry, Matthew Schneider and Phoenix (the local Rock cover band, not the internationally famous French Indie Pop group) play Sunday.
Admission to the Bend in the River Art & Music Festival is $7 or $10 for a two-day pass (Lower Price Hill residents receive a coupon to attend for free).
• The DevouGrass Festival presents its first-ever event Saturday at the Devou Park Bandshell (1700 Montague Road, Covington). The family friendly event runs noon-dusk, and while there is no admission charge (even free parking is available throughout the park), organizers are asking for donations to the Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky.
Along with food trucks, other vendors, various children’s activities and performances by Circus Mojo and kids’ fave Joel the Singing Librarian, DevouGrass will also feature sets by area Roots/Bluegrass outfits Blue Caboose (noon), Ma Crow and the Lady Slippers (3 p.m.), Hickory Robot (3 p.m.) and the Downtown County Band (6 p.m.).
For complete festival info, visit devougrass.com.
• The Versailles State Park Bluegrass Festival returns with a new location and name: the Friendship Music Festival at the Old Mill Campground in Friendship, Ind. (facebook.com/oldmillcampground), which hosts the very popular Whispering Beard Folk Festival annually and is only about an hour drive southwest of Cincinnati. Despite moving from the state park and changing the moniker, the fest will continue to spotlight some of the region’s finest Bluegrass and Roots music practitioners.
On Saturday, the music starts at noon with a lineup featuring Mamadrones, Common Ground, Rural Route 2, Lee Sexton with John Haywood and Brett Ratliff, Whiskey Bent Valley Boys, The Tillers and Bradford Lee Folk & the Bluegrass Playboys. The music picks back up Sunday at 11 a.m. with Mt. Pleasant String Band, followed by James White & Deer Tick, Blue Mafia, Whipstitch Sallies, Rattlesnakin’ Daddies and Tony Holt and the Wildwood Valley Boys.
Weekend passes for the Friendship Music Festival are $10; one-day passes are $5. Camping is available. Visit friendshipmusicfestival.com for full details.
It was an eventful night at the Madison Theater in Covington when CHVRCHES came to town Sept. 29. A pretty good sized crowd turned up at Covington’s Madison Theater, which was a little surprising, since they shamefully receive almost no local radio airplay. Oddly, our local “alternative” station The Project sponsored a meet and greet contest with the band, even though the station has never played a CHVRCHES song. Across the river, WKNU has played them. Once. Five months ago, according to a search of the station’s online playlist.
The make-up of the crowd was another surprise. It was an almost teen-free show, with most folks falling between late college and near retirement. That could be due to the fact that CHVRCHES make modern Electronic music but with a very retro feel. And they’ve got tunes.
The Range (who opened for Chromeo at the MidPoint Music Festival) came on stage promptly at 8 p.m., and began his first song. After 45 minutes, that song finally ended. CHVRCHES were set to take the stage at 9:15 p.m., but just after 9 p.m., the fire alarms in the theater went off. Here’s a handy tip: when you’re in large venue, look not only for the nearest exit, but all exits. Security decided it would be cool to deny access to the fire exits at the back of the theater. What the fuck!? Do you not know what happened not three miles from here in 1979? Or in Rhode Island a few years back? Fortunately, everyone was able to file out safely, and pass the time in a well-behaved manner out on the blocked-off street while fire officials investigated.
According to theater management, who were very upset with the way the evacuation was handled, security was provided by the promoter. After the show, the two sides discussed in detail the proper procedures in order to avoid any such occurrences in the future.
Once the all-clear was given, security did do a nice job of getting everyone back in quickly and efficiently. CHVRCHES thanked the crowd for their patience and apologized, saying the fog machine they were using is what likely tripped the alarm.
Coming out of the gate strong, the band launched its set with two singles, the very fine “We Sink,” followed by the popular “Lies.” Like many Electronic bands, they don’t move around a lot, with Iain Cook and Martin Doherty stationed at their synth racks, flanking singer Lauren Mayberry. This isn’t as visually limiting as it sounds. Ms. Mayberry is an outspoken critic of sexism and misogyny in music, so it feels a little awkward to point out that she’s quite lovely and very engaging in her stage presence. Flying around the stage a la Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode, or Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails simply isn’t her style, yet she still holds the crowd.
Her mates weren’t chained to the instruments all night, at least not Doherty, who traded places with Mayberry while he sang “Under the Tide.” Mayberry returned to center stage for what is arguably the band’s most popular track, “The Mother We Share,” which is also one of the best songs of the past few years.
The enthusiastic crowd of course wanted more, bringing the band back out for the obligatory, but much-desired, encore, wrapping up with “You Caught the Light” and “By the Throat.”
Oakley’s 20th Century Theater has only been the venue it is today for about the last 20 years. When it originally opened in August 1941, the now-vintage glowing sign that lit up the era-glorifying name represented a simple one-screen movie theater. Its history and how it changed from that to what it is today fits into the citywide and national history of cinemas like a plastic rodent fits a Whac-A-Mole machine.
Willis Vance, a local businessman that ended up owning a string of theaters and other establishments around town, was the original owner of the theater. At the time of its inception, no theater that housed more than one screen even existed. In fact, as silly as it may sound now, that concept wouldn’t seriously surface in the industry for a few more decades.
Cinemas would have a single film they would play every night, generally whatever was very popular at the time. When a new piece of black-and-white gold would come out of Hollywood, they would swap it in, making it the new nightly showing.
Vance opened the theater with the 20th Century Fox (see what he did there) production Blood and Sand. This may have been a thoughtful tribute to the movie’s star Tyrone Power, an American box-office sellout actor that was born in Cincinnati. While he didn’t grow up here, he did return to the Queen City in his early teenage years, during which time he learned and honed his skills in drama. He went on to become extremely well known and sought-after in the industry, appearing in famous films such as The Mark of Zorro, The Black Swan and dozens of others.
The theater thrived for some time, having hit the ground running with notable qualities like air conditioning and valet parking. To people of my generation, that is a “What?” factor, but it was actually the first theater in the city to keep your ass cold during a movie. It also boasted being one of the first fire-proof buildings in the city, taking that extra step in keeping the heat out.
But almost a decade after it first lit its tower and opened its doors, the cinema industry began to slowly change.
A Canadian inventor named Nat Taylor erected a second screen right next door to his theater in Ontario. He showed the same movie on both for several years at first, simply upping his audience capacity. However, he eventually got tired of swapping out movies for new releases when the old movies were still making money, so he started selling tickets to two movies.
I call the change slow because although this idea was birthed mid-century, it didn’t begin to significantly affect the industry until the ‘60s and ‘70s.
In 1963 Stan Durwood, AMC owner, cinema pioneer and self-proclaimed inventor of the multi-plex, opened the Parkway Twin Theater. It was the first theater with two screens under the same roof, although not for long. The idea caught on and throughout the ‘60s other dual-screen theaters began to pop up. Durwood expanded his Twin Theater from two screens to four, then six.
Through the next two decades the multi-plex concept exploded, with competition for the most screens and best accommodations running rampant. Nat Taylor, who also laid claim as the original inventor of the multi-screen theater, cofounded an 18-screen Cineplex in 1979. He garnered a Guinness World Record, it being the largest theater in the world at the time.
These large cinemas wreaked havoc on the industry for the small-time, local theaters. The charm of a little art deco theater with free valet and air-conditioning no longer held up to the big dogs.
By 1974 20th Century was owned by Levin Services, a management company that also owned several additional theaters and drive-ins around the area. Union strikes that year brought mayhem to Levin. Angry union members broke into the Ambassador Theater, just a block away from 20th Century on Madison Road, to destroy the seats, slash the screen and split the speaker wires. They wrecked the projectors by ripping out their innards with a crowbar, and poured cement into the reels of The Sting, the movie being shown at the time.
Levin closed the Ambassador and several other theaters, including 20th Century. Most reopened after a few weeks, at least for some time. The Ambassador eventually closed for a while after became an Ace Hardware.
The 20th Century lasted just under another decade, succumbing to the cloud of the multi-plex and closing its doors as a movie theater for good in 1983.
But it wasn’t the only pebble to be crushed by a boulder. F&Y Construction, the company that built the Streamline Moderne style building for Willis Vance, built several other theaters in the region. They built the Madison in Covington, Ky., the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, and the Redmoor in Mount Lookout. Those are the ones that remain open and standing. Among others they built in the area were the Guild Theater, Hollywood Cinema North, Marianne Theater, Norwood Theater, Sunset Theater, Westwood Theater, Valley Theater and the Ridge Theater. All of these are now closed; two of them have even been demolished.
I can’t say for certain that the multi-plex led to the demise of each one, but its reasonable to assume the industry change had great range. And on top of that, those are only the theaters built by that single construction firm.
After 20th Century was closed in ’83, it was left to neglect for almost a decade. It rotted through water damage and vandals left their mark with graffiti and broken windows. To me, imagining this conjures up a similar image to the Imperial Theater, the decrepit building at Mohawk and McMicken that used to screen adult films and host burlesque shows in the ‘60s.
The early 1990s rolled around and found the community caught between demolishing the fallen cinema or pouring money into restoration. Mike Belmont stepped up and went for the latter approach. After extensive work, he reopened the doors of the building as Belmont’s Flooring Company.
His business only remained in the building he saved for a year, moving just down the street to the old Oakley Bank where Belmont’s still resides in modern business glory. Apparently Belmont had a thing for old buildings.
After he left the Cincinnati Church of Christ, then a group just over a decade old, occupied the building for 4 years before themselves moving on to some higher calling.
This brings us up through this old cinema’s rise and fall to 1997. It was then that the building was bought and 20th Century Productions rose like an entertainment-driven spirit out of the floorboards. Devoted to special events and concerts, they have turned the building into a beautiful venue that hosts almost anything from a raucous rock concert to a quaint wedding reception.
In 2010 they took a final step in the renovation of the building that had never been done. The 20th Century Tower that stands over its doorway was given back its glow to illuminate the night again, drawing in all who look to be entertained.
Here’s what’s coming up at the old one-screen (now one-stage):
Oct. 8: Cherub
Oct. 16: Ruthie Foster
Oct. 23: Paul Thorn Band
Oct. 29: Suicide Girls
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Mainstay Rock Bar will be celebrating its final weekend before closing its doors after five and a half years in operation. As I prepared to write about the closure of my favorite local bar, I struggled to figure out just how to voice my sadness. I’m still not entirely sure how but I did think of a ton of stories that exemplify why Mainstay was so special to me.
I started going to Mainstay back in college before it was even Mainstay. It was called The Poison Room and my friends and I used to go to their weekly ’80s dance night. My memories of those nights are fond (if a bit hazy), but I was too new to the scene for the closure to upset me too much. When the location reopened with a new moniker and a makeover, I was happy to have another place that catered to my musical tastes. But it took some time for my love of Mainstay to truly grow.
Looking back, the closures of the original Southgate House and Mad Hatter in Northern Kentucky are what sparked my connection to Mainstay. With two of my normal haunts gone in the space of months, I needed another place to go and Mainstay was at the top of a fairly short list. I started only going for shows, but the bar soon lived up to its name. It transitioned from just a music venue to a reliable fallback to my first choice. Need a good burger? Mainstay. Want to sing some karaoke? Mainstay. Interested in hearing some Rock & Roll? Mainstay. Do you prefer bartenders that actually know what they’re talking about? Mainstay.
Of course, a major part of Mainstay Rock Bar’s appeal to me was that middle word — the “Rock.” Mainstay has been host to some of the best local and regional bands the area has to offer. In recent years, the selection of bands and performances has also become more and more eclectic. There are few bars that can host a Hip Hop show one night, a burlesque performance the next and a Surf Rock show to round out the weekend. Mainstay has proven time and time again that its dedication to the local music scene is genuine by taking the time to champion bands on the rise and hosting all sorts of community events like the ubiquitous Midpoint Music Festival. And they’ve done it all without charging a cover on any shows save the biggest of the big. If you wanted to take a chance on a new band or genre, Mainstay was the place to go. At least you had a fantastic beer selection to console you if you didn’t like what you heard.
For all of my wild and crazy memories, the ones I have of my time with the staff are the fondest. Memories like an interview being derailed when the entire band and I took a minute to stare at the hot new bartender (sorry Becky, hopefully Mangrenade and I tipped you well that night). Or pulling the curtain for Dandelion Death with Scary. Or riding Chris’s knee scooter to the bathroom, weaving in between a busy Friday night crowd. Or the little things, like Lena taking the time to listen to my post-breakup moaning and buying me a “girl’s suck” shot when it was all said and done. The staff (past and present) of Mainstay consists of an insane bunch of people who love the music, love the atmosphere and know how to have a good time. And that attitude coursed through the entire venue night after night. To be a part of it at any point in time was intoxicating. To be welcomed in as a friend and included in the shenanigans was humbling.
As I became more of a fixture of the establishment, the more I grew to know the staff and feel accepted. I’ve frequently called Mainstay my Heavy Metal Cheers; it’s the only bar in Cincinnati where I can walk in and be greeted with a handshake or high five and see my favorite beer and shot sitting on the bar.
As I reach the end of this article, I still don’t know how to say just what Mainstay means to me. It’s where I sang dozens of Danzig songs, watched hundreds of bands take the stage, spent several birthdays and drowned far too many brain cells. There isn’t a place in Cincinnati quite like Mainstay and its closing will leave a pretty big hole in my heart. But I wanted to say thank you for the five and a half years of memories and raise a glass – full of Jameson, of course – to the people that made that place so special.
For your final weekend, I’ll be sitting at the bar, enjoying a shot and a brew at Mainstay — where everybody knows your name… or at least your favorite drink.
Earlier this year, Cincinnati’s Buffalo Killers released their finest album yet, Heavy Reverie, a stellar representation of the band’s increasingly melodic Rock & Roll sound. The album earned the group some of the best reviews of its career and landed them their network television debut — a full interview segment on Last Call with Carson Daly.
Fans won’t have to wait too long for new Buffalo Killers material. On Nov. 24, the six-track EP Fireball of Sulk will be issued through Sun Pedal Recordings. The EP is available to pre-order now (here); doing so comes with an instant download of the EP’s “Marshmallow Mouth.”
Today, Relix.com premiered a music video for the track “Weird One,” a song about “those lost, pre-drug days when all you wanted to do was get away from your parents, dye your hair and drive around with your friends,” BK’s Zach Gabbard tells the site.
Buffalo Killers’ next scheduled live date in Cincinnati is Nov. 26 at Northside Tavern with The Soledad Brothers.
The last day of MidPoint is like a lot of endings in life; the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the year, the end of a piece of cherry pie, the end of the line. This is the end, my only friend, the end.
And it had the chance to be the perfect end of perhaps the most perfect MidPoint in the festival's history, from the lineup to the weather to the experiences. And you know what, Aunt Em? I think it was. You were there, and you were there, and so were you. And so was I. I'm fairly sure of it.
I had a lot of possibilities circled on my MidPoint program for Saturday night, allowing for the chance to leave something I wasn't crazy about or merely the opportunity to see a couple of great things in the space of an hour. All of that happened and so much more. Saturday night was more sampler platter than focused attempt to see a set number of bands and it turned out pretty well. And for the first time since I began doing this daily wrap-up thing God knows how many years ago, I didn't take a single note all night as an inadvertent experiment in appreciation recall. Success or not? You be the judge.
As I was finding a parking space, I was listening to Little Steven's Underground Garage. The former Silvio Dante had been playing snippets of Groucho Marx bits from the Marx Brothers' movies, and finished with a hilarious Groucho interview about how the moustache came into existence. Moments later, as I was walking across Central Parkway on my way to the first show of the evening, I heard a horn honk and saw a massive arm wave from a Kia Sol. Of course, it was the semi-ubiquitous Jacob Heintz, the pope of MidPoint, giving me his blessing from his diminutive popemobile. Saturdays at MidPoint don't begin much better than that.
First up on my last day's dance card was Cincy’s The Ready Stance, who were slotted as the first show of the evening on the Midway stage. When the band began, I was still near the food court, and as the music cranked up, I would have sworn that the production staff was pumping some Marshall Crenshaw through the sound system for a level check. Within seconds, I realized this was no lost Crenshaw track but the Stance in full Pop jacket mode. The Stance churns out classic Pop/Rock informed by the '90s college Rock histories of guitarist/vocalist Wes Pence, bassist Randy Cheek and drummer Eric Moreton and the contemporary classicism of guitarist/vocalist Chase Johnston. As the foursome ran through a set that was evenly divided between tracks from their 2012 debut Damndest and new songs that may wind up on the band's in-the-works sophomore album, the Stance's numerous gifts were evident.
Pence and Johnston play with a two guitar/one mind synergy that crackles with intensity, Cheek lays down a massive groove that could be tracked from space and Moreton has the malleable sensitivity to control tempo and volume with a flick, a roll or an outburst. These guys are working stiffs on the old day job/night Rock treadmill, and the gears turn slowly in that world, so the new album may be on the far horizon. But as good as they were Saturday evening — Goose's Jason Arbenz pronounced them "Cincinnati's Jayhawks" and I wouldn't dispute it, although I'd toss in occasional nods to Mitch Easter and Ray Davies — the anticipation can only grow.
I bailed on the tail end of The Ready Stance's set to see OK Go down at beautiful Washington Park, and that may have been a mistake. I could have easily seen the entire Stance set and still made it in time for OK Go, as the band started close to 20 minutes late (It's a festival, boys … check the clock on your Jetson phones). When they finally hit the stage, the confetti cannons went off, they did two songs and then launched into … a question and answer session with the audience.
I did get to see "Writing on the Wall," a pretty good tune which is accompanied by one of the band's most inventive videos, and a track called "Obsession," also from their impending new album. But it was already time to hit the next thing on my slate, and as I walked out of Washington Park and heard frontman Damian Kulash taking an inordinate amount of time to teach the audience how to sing along with whatever was coming up next, I knew I'd bailed in the nick of time. I like OK Go, a lot, but this was a massive disappointment.
If I was feeling somewhat burned by OK No (cheap shot? Perhaps …), that feeling was almost immediately dissipated by Chicago trio Bailiff, who were just taking the Midway stage as I approached up 12th Street. The band had been recommended by my friend Paul Roberts, who had seen them at their last local appearance at MOTR, and he was lathered up by the prospect of seeing them again, so I added them to my list of possibles. Boy, was that the right thing to do.
Bailiff is not easy to pin down to a specific genre, but they play the living hell out of everything they do and they do just about everything. At one point, they were grinding out a Prog/Pop vibe that suggested the sound of King Crimson with Adrian Belew at the helm and Robert Fripp in a support capacity, a pretty neat trick considering Josh Siegel is the only guitarist in the band. Or they'll take a left turn into a tribal Jamaican/African reverie, or Art Rock bluster with the classicism of Talking Heads and the future shock of Radiohead. I kept wondering if there was a keyboardist behind the amp and out of my line of sight, but no such accompaniment was present, just the Siegel's sinewy guitar acrobatics, bassist Ren Matthew's Entwistle-meets-Pastorius lead runs and drummer Owen O'Malley's baby Bonham antics. The trio was drifting between their 2011 debut, Red Balloon, and their just released Remise, and it was all over much too soon for anyone's taste.
For reasons that will be revealed in the notes, I hung around the Midway for Alexander Giannascoli, aka Alex G, an impossibly young guitarist from Philadelphia with a pretty happening band around him. G's got a pretty good backstory, writing and recording at 12, posting songs online at 16, then lathering/rinsing/repeating into his current early 20s. He's got a wispy vocal delivery that rivals the late Elliott Smith for ephemeral atmospherics, and a Beck-meets-Robert-Pollard sense of Avant Pop, qualities that stand in clear and extremely appealing relief on his studio work, particularly his just released DSU. Unfortunately, a lot of those recorded subtleties and quirks are lost in the clatter and bash of their live presentation, and with the dynamic and emotional range smoothed and leavened, Alex G's largely mid-tempo odes don't offer much else to latch onto in the course of a set. This is most certainly not a case of good songs performed poorly, more like edgy songs with just a little too much of the edge sanded off. Alex G is obviously a considerable talent, and if I were to offer a bit of unsolicited advice to young G, it would be to either find a band that can recreate your basement lab concoctions or write for the live band you have, because they're talented players.
There was a considerable spike in the Midway energy level when Low Cut Connie took the stage. Typically just a duo featuring piano basher Adam Weiner and drummer/erstwhile guitarist Dan Finnemore, LCC tours with a full band complement and makes a mighty racket in the process. Weiner plays with the ferocity and brash confidence of early Jerry Lee Lewis at his most petulant — he even has a vestige of The Killer's untamed forelock of hair — and he sings with the raw animal magnetism of Iggy Pop. Weiner hops up on his bench, plays with his elbows and occasionally his ass and stands atop his piano threatening to do a strip tease as the band vamps on. And when Finnemore steps to the front of the stage with his guitar, the U.K. native truly embodies his Punk/Garage Rock roots and influences. Low Cut Connie's songs are dripping with snarky humor but they stop well short of being mere novelties by virtue of being great bloody songs. The band's Facebook posting on Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. stated, "On our way to mess up Cincinnati real good … tonight at #mpmf … gonna rip it." Damned if they didn't.
Once again, I had to tear myself away from Low Cut Connie's compelling Midway spectacle in order to take in a little of Mr. Elevator and the Brain Hotel down at MOTR. When working on their blurb for the CityBeat preview issue, I was absolutely captivated by the Brain Hotel's hypnotic Psych/Pop soundtrack and dark Carnival of Souls demeanor, and it translates well into the band's live performance. There are hints of the '80s Paisley Underground in the Brain Hotel's sonic profile, particularly the helium-tinged vocals of the Three O'Clock's Michael Quercio, but it's the band's visceral impact that is most satisfying. It reminds me of the first time I saw The Doors on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1967 and was completely mesmerized, not by royal lizard/frontshaman Jim Morrison but by hunched-over keyboard alchemist Ray Manzarek. Any band that can consistently access that hallowed memory from the dusty archive of my brain's pre-hard drive file cabinet has my undying devotion.
I had initially earmarked the 11 p.m. spot for the Bonesetters at Arnold's, but my bum leg was starting to throb a bit and the prospect of walking to Arnold's and then back to MOTR for Kid Congo at midnight suddenly seemed painful and ill-advised. For the sake of saving my leg for possible use on Sunday (and sort of forever), I opted to keep my spot on the MOTR dance floor and hang around to check out Corners. Deirdre Kaye's preview noted that the L.A. trio had been working a Surf/Psych angle but that they'd recently shifted to a Post Punk direction. That became evident with their first song, a blazing two-guitar/bass/synth percussion screamer that brought my last two years of college back to life like an acid flashback with a Synth Punk soundtrack.
Corners bears all the marks of late '70s Electro Punk, somewhere in the vicinity of Joy Division and their post-Ian Curtis iteration New Order, with flecks of the Units, San Francisco's dour Synth Pop avatars, a splash of Gang of Four, a dash of Bauhaus and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and maybe a trace of the Sisters of Mercy and Killing Joke. All of this will most assuredly be reflected on Corners imminent new album, Maxed Out on Distractions, which provided the bulk of the songs for the band's MidPoint set, which was dark, vibrant and enjoyable. (Ironic fun fact: the entire lineup at MOTR on Saturday night will appear at Corners' L.A. record release party in early October.)
At last, it was time for Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, the last band of the last night of MidPoint, and brothers and sisters, the Kid and his compatriots were more than up to the task. The former Gun Club/Cramps/Bad Seeds guitarist has been staging some form of the Pink Monkey Birds for over a decade and this iteration (guitarist/keyboardist Jesse Roberts, bassist Kiki Solis and drummer Ron Miller) might be the best batch yet. Peeling any loose paint from MOTR's walls was absolutely no trouble for the Kid as he scorched away on selections from his latest album with the PMB, Haunted Head, as well as a couple of songs from their upcoming single and a bunch of old favorites, including The Cramps' "Goo Goo Muck," The Gun Club's "She's Like Heroin to Me" and his own brilliant "Black Santa" and "Killer Diller."
The MOTR's dance floor was a boiling mass of rhythmically moving bodies, propelled by the Kid's blazing guitar runs and the Pink Monkey Birds' perpetual motion soundtrack. And since it was the band's last night of their current tour, they were not about to leave anything on the table, so after their standard club-clearing encore of "LSDC," the Kid and his Birds returned for one last brilliantly incendiary romp through The Gun Club's "For the Love of Ivy;" I fully expected lightning to shoot out of the Kid's fingers and eyes as he overloaded every internal and external circuit in the joint. I don't think he could have given us any more and I'm not entirely sure we could have taken it even if he had any more in him. As the Kid and the Birds bid us adieu, I had to believe that this might have been one of the most spectacular last nights of my personal MidPoint attendance history. It will be hard to top going forward, you can bet your sweet ass on that.
• Before the Ready Stance set, I ran into Ready Stance. The Midway seemed like a good place for that to happen. Wes Pence was first, busy with logistics on the phone, then in short order Randy Cheek and Chase Johnston. The Good Rockkeeping Seal of Approval King Slice was on hand for the madness, as were Paulie, Big Jim and Stufest (that's Stu to you and me). Also down in front for the Stance was Randy Campbell, formerly with Screaming Mimes and now with Faint Signal, who promised a new FS album coming shortly. I will keep you appraised of the situation. And once again, Eddy Mullet, my Class X comrade in Rock, sought to gain my attention by standing impossibly close to me as the Stance pulsed and pounded. Note to Eddy: For the record, 20 years ago, on a trip to Michigan, my best friend's wife, completely circuit fried on Xanax and Grey Goose, was dancing around their living room, grabbed my foot, shoved it between her legs and started hopping around in front of me like my shin was a stick pony from the '50s. With my foot in her cooch. Believe me, I'm not suggesting that you need to escalate to that DefCon level of weird, but it's safe to say that my threshold of the unusual is well above a bar you'd be willing to attempt to clear. And we're back. Accompanying Eddy was his most excellent daughter Jess, the smartest, most music savvy high school senior I know. Big things coming for that girl, I just know it.
• Down at Washington Park just before OK Go played, I crossed paths with Latha Mannava, former CityBeat worker bee and now more gainfully employed by F&W. Latha graciously introduced me to her friends by saying, "Whatever Brian recommends, that's what I go see." Ironically, I had written up the OK Go preview as a glowing endorsement, and Latha noted about two songs in, "These guys are doing nothing for me." Just to keep things in perspective, folks, the best hitters in baseball are only successful a third of the time, and that's a better percentage than some highly salaried and over-radared weathermen. I'm pretty sure my reputation is still pretty good with Latha.
• I spent a good deal of the evening on the Midway with Ready Stance drummer Eric Moreton and his wife Kristiana. Eric couldn't really go anywhere because someone in the band had lost his wristband (I don't want to assess blame but his initials are Wes Pence), so I just kind of hung around and had a lovely conversation with the two of them. I'm fairly certain I scared the living shit out of them with tales of my dysfunctional life and times and the epic tale of why I was on a self-imposed one beer limit throughout MidPoint (which I'm surprised wasn't tweeted about at some point during the weekend, with the suggestion, "Please shut up already, please"). In any event, it was nice, thanks for the company, and if either of you requires therapy after our compressed time together, I think my insurance will cover part of the cost before tying a cinder block to my waist and throwing me off the Big Mac Bridge.
• As I was headed into MOTR for the Brain Hotel experience, the wisdom of checking out this show was magnified a hundredfold with the appearance of the much-too-absent Matthew Fenton and his friends Kyle and Nicki (I'm guessing at her spelling, as I did with last year's Bunbury report). Matthew had also decided to stake out an early spot for Kid Congo, and a look at Corners' crazy Gary Panteresque T-shirt designs at the merch booth salted his decision. I love seeing shows with Matthew; they typically involve exchanges like this:
Matthew: Who is this again?
Brian: Mr. Elevator and the Brain Hotel.
M: Very Paisley Underground.
B: Remember the Three O'Clock?
B: They need a go-go cage.
M: With you in it?
B: I don't dance.
M: You've gotta do something.
B: (Frankestein-then-master voice) "Arrrrhh!" "No, Caezar!" "Fire, bad!"
M: Well, not that. You can't just sit there sucking your fingers.
B: May I go to the bathroom?
B: Thank you.
Pretty much endlessly. I love our time together. It's so pointless and perfect. And it usually has a pretty cool soundtrack.
• As Corners left the stage, Matthew's friend Ashley showed up with her friend Tone (again, guessing … it could be some Scandanavian derivation with no vowels and the symbol for magnesium as an accent, or it could be short for Tony), who was a super nice guy and a good hang for the Kid Congo show. Ashley mentioned that they were only there because of a bug in the MidPoint app that kept defaulting to Thursday; they thought they were coming to see Nikki Lane. But they both thoroughly enjoyed Kid Congo, so no harm no foul … but have I.T. check that app for next year, kids.
• Also taking in the raucous Garage/Punkabilly jailbreak that was Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds: Paulie, Big Jim and Sir Dan of MidPointville, who I'm beginning to believe was assigned my case and has been keeping pretty close tabs on me. For the record, I'm fine, and you can count the silverware. It's all there. I spotted Wes Pence at the very end of the show but when I did a quick walk through MOTR, he was gone. Cest la vie — see you again soon, my friend.
• On my way back to the car, I ran into the always fabulous Mike Sarason, dressed to kill after a friend's wedding, along with his stunning date Margaret. Mike mentioned that he had moved to New York, and that the hiatused Pinstripes were likely done, news that I had gotten from Pinstripes drummer John Bertke Thursday night at MOTR. It was great to see Mike, he's a world class guy and I certainly hope he continues to pursue a musical path because he's amazing, but the reality of the end of one of my absolute favorite bands and a perpetual highlight at this very festival made for a rather bittersweet end to the last day of MidPoint.
• And so one of the most nearly perfect MidPoints in the event's history is in the book. As usual, there is much credit to be spread around for the success of an undertaking with this much complexity and requiring this much planning. First and foremost to Dan McCabe, who somehow manages, year after year, to play the most intricate game of chess with artists, agents, publicists, labels and venues and then come up with a strategy where it seems everyone wins.
• Obviously, MidPoint couldn't happen without the sturdy volunteer army that clockworks this potential mess every fall with very few glitches. This absolutely could not be done without your skill, patience and stamina.
• Of course, there's everyone at CityBeat who helps facilitate and promote MidPoint and who are its main boosters well before and well after the event, from Dan Bockrath. Danny Cross and (now it can be told, cyborg) Mike Breen, right on down through the entire staff. Sting told me, every little thing you do is magic.
• And obviously to all the bands who came from down the block, across the country and, in some cases, around the world to be here for the express purpose of entertaining us with their creative gifts. But most especially, thanks to everyone who attends MidPoint year in and year out, for showing up to experience the region's absolute best music crawl. This year’s may well have been the best populated Thursday night in the festival's history, and that couldn't happen without patrons who believe in the event and the promise of great music to be heard and that couldn't be done without all of the above. Funny how symbiosis works, isn't it? Thanks again to you all for a brilliant MidPoint 2014. Set your watches for late September 2015 … you'll know me, I'll be the thirsty one with a limp