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.
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.
It's time to get liquored up on whiskey, slog through the humid summer heat and make that deal with the devil down at the river again. Yes, the Cincy Blues Fest itinerary has officially been announced for 2009. The summer celebration of America’s original musical art form has been going strong for 17 years.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard the buzz about the World Choir Games, which will feature 20,000 participants from across the globe representing cultural singing traditions and some serious musical expertise competing right here in Cincinnati.
So, this July, it’s going to be the summer of song in Cincinnati, thanks to the massive influx of singing professionals for the 2012 World Choir Games. But even those who can’t afford tickets for the games will be able to engage in 11-day musical celebration, thanks to the “Friendship Concerts.”
By Saturday, you better have developed enough Bonnaroo survival tactics to make it through the day. The key is to keep pounding water and let the music fuel your body.
Saturday’s schedule was like NOS octane pumped into my bloodstream. The day was kicked off at 11:30 a.m. on Which Stage with Rebelution, a Reggae/Rock group from Santa Barbara. The 100-something degree weather didn’t keep a crowd from showing up and grooving out to Rebelution’s soaring, heavily reverberated jams that echo with uplifting, worry free vibes — exactly what we needed as the hottest part of the day was upon us.
Formed in 1978, Classic Punk band Social Distortion reached the height of its fame in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The band has seven studio albums beginning with its iconic Mommy’s Little Monster. Although there has been over a dozen ex-Social D members, the group — known as a touring juggernaut (sometimes at the expense of making new music) — has maintained a lineup that has been fairly consistent for the past decade.
CityBeat caught up with rhythm guitarist Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham in anticipation of Social D's current tour. The group performs at Bogart’s on Saturday (Oct. 13) night and will surely wow fans new and old.
CityBeat: I know Mike (Ness) has said in the past we won’t have to wait seven or eight years for a new Social D record. Are you guys working on new music right now? How is that coming along?
Jonny Wickersham: In a perfect situation we would love to get a record out sooner than we have been putting them out. I don’t know that it looks like it will happen real soon. We have been really busy touring the last couple of years. As far as new material there are always new songs in the works. We will work on them at sound checks and rehearsals. When it comes time to get serious to put a record together, the songs that stick in our minds are the ones that are the best stuff and they typically make the record. We will finish it up. We will see. Conceivably we can get together and start really getting serious in the beginning of next year and have a record to follow shortly after that. It has to feel right. I have always felt it is a good thing not to rush records. I know that people like to see a record come out on a certain schedule with bands, but it is also good to evolve a little bit as people and as a band in between albums.
CB: You spend most of the time as a touring band on the road. Do you ever write down the tour stories or keep mementos from the tour to remember them all?
JW: I have never been a big journal keeper or anything like that. I don’t. Certain stories definitely do stick in your mind but not really.
CB: What current music or music you are listening to right now is currently inspiring you?
JW: You know what a really great record is, the new Hot Water Music Record, have you heard that?
JW: I have been listening to a lot of that in my car.
CB: Good driving music?
JW: Oh yeah. It is such a great album. It really is good. I also like the Drive By Truckers a lot. I don’t listen to a lot of new music to be honest. I listen to a lot of old Blues and stuff and old Rock N Roll.
CB: From your standpoint, what are the characteristics that make a good Social D song?
JW: I would have to say a good riff and a good lyric that is poppin'. You can’t go wrong with a good lyric. You can try to stretch that a bit, not just stay with our formula as a band. We have a different division of sounds with the band. We are not trying to re-invent sound in an extreme manner or anything but it is good to try to mix it up. I am hoping in the future, in the stuff coming up, we can do that and re-visit some of the earlier stuff.
CB: We are heading into a critical election year. Ohio is a crazy place to be during this whole thing. Do you guys have any political views or support for any of the candidates?
JW: Well, I am going to vote for Obama and hope for the best.
CB: What is the worst job you have ever had?
JW: I don’t know. I had a job at the Orange County jail once a long time ago. We had to cut the bunks down from three bunks to two and carry them all out to the loading dock and get them out of the jail. Any job where you are locked up is not a great job. I had so many jobs growing up. I started working in construction fields at a really young age because where I come from that is just what you did when you got to the age of going out to get a job, try to get a construction trade. I have also worked at Carl’s Jr. and Burger King as a teenager and neither one of those jobs lasted more than a couple weeks. I have worked as a stagehand. I have worked in an Art Department building sets for film production. Those are cool jobs. I really liked the Art Department work. Any job that anybody could have at this point is a good job is kind of how I feel. I definitely never want to think I am beyond any kind of work. You never know what is going to happen in life. There are times where being able to get any job is critical for you.
CB: Do you have any scars?
JW: I have a scar on my upper leg. When I was a little kid, me and a couple friends built this bicycle Motocross track on a dirt lot by our house in our neighborhood. We went out and worked really hard with shovels and built this really cool track and the enemy kids down the street, who were our nemesis, came over one day when we weren’t there and totally ruined our track, kicked in all our berms and jumps and trashed it. So we went down the street where they had built this really shitty tree fort that was like three stories tall off the ground into the tree. We went up there and we started hammering at it, we brought sledgehammers over and we started bashing in their tree fort. The stupid thing on our part was that we started on the bottom and climbed up to the next level and up to the next level. We were breaking this tree fort apart and we were way up at the top and the thing collapsed. I fell and my leg got clipped up on a nail. It ripped my leg open so I have a scar. I have a bunch of other scars too.
CB: What is the last thing you do before you go to sleep?
JW: Well it depends. Turn out the television if I have been watching the television. I don’t always watch TV at night. Sometimes I do. If I am on the bus on the tour, I listen to music on my iPod. The last thing I do is turn that on and I usually fall asleep listening to a record. Then I have to wake up and pull the headphones off and fall back asleep. If I’m reading a book, close the book and turn out the light. It can be one of many different things.
Those who were contemplating heading to Indio, Calif., this summer purely to catch British experimental music kingpins Radiohead at Coachella can save a little cash and drive to Riverbend instead. This morning, the local outdoor shed announced that Radiohead will perform June 5 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets run $30 (for lawn seats) to $69.50 (plus fees) and go on sale this Saturday at 10 a.m. through ticketmaster.com, riverbend.com and all Ticketmaster box-office locations. Get your tickets early. The band is currently on a run of U.S. arena dates that have completely sold out.
In discussions on Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, the phrase “veteran rockers” basically means “old dudes with electric guitars” (or “badasses turned corporate vacuoles turned money-hungry corpses in makeup writhing around on a stage” if we’re talking about Aerosmith), but as long as they’re playin’ it loud and proud, age ain’t nothin’ but a number, right?
Kinda like Thruster, The Mighty Swine never fully grew out of those leather-clad and poodle-headed ‘80s Metal days of yore, a time when the guitars ran wild and so did the groupies and the V.D.
Slanted Indie Pop crew Maps & Atlases formed in 2004 and, in 2010, released its breakthrough LP Perch Patchwork, the Chicago quartet's debut for the esteemed Barsuk label. Since Patchwork, the band has spent tons of time touring, which has included several dates in the Cincinnati area. The band's compelling latest release, Beware and Be Grateful, was issued by Barsuk last spring and is perhaps the finest example of the group's dynamic sound yet. M&A's sound is uniquely layered and structured, full of subtle, unexpected outbursts and song twists, yet still overflowing with magnetic melodies and spine-tingling harmonies.
The band performs tonight at Oakley's 20th Century Theatre with like-minded locals Archer's Paradox, who are readying for the release of their debut album a little later this year. Showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets are $15.
Here's the video for "Remote & Dark Years" from the latest M&A album.
• The end of The Grateful Dead, with Jerry Garcia’s 1995 death, didn’t do much to squash the band’s incredible popularity. To satiate some of that Dead thirst, various members from throughout Garcia’s and the Dead’s history have brought the legendary band’s spirit to that huge fan base on a fairly regular basis. Two Dead-affiliated artists have been sitting in with Chicago-based jammers Terrapin Flyer for the past few years for shows and tours. The band will be joined by Melvin Seals, who played Hammond B3 organ with the Jerry Garcia Band for 15 years, and Mark Karan, who played guitar with the post-Dead band The Other Ones and Bob Weir’s Ratdog, when they swing through Stanley’s Pub tonight for a 10 p.m. performance. Tickets are $20.
Here's some footage of the collaboration from last March, doing a version of Dylan's "Maggie's Farm," a Dead fave.
• Over a decade ago, Minnesotans Paul Sprangers and Scott and Evan Wells were integral parts of Hockey Night, a wildly eclectic Indietronic outfit that blended the lo fi Rock and snarky humor of Couch Flambeau with a next generation love of Electronica, Hip Hop and mad crazy sampling (remember "Battlestar Scholastica" from their 2002 debut Rad Zapping and "For Guys Eyes Only" from their 2005 swan song Keep Guessin'?). The band's ugly dissolution would have beaten the musical aspirations from lesser men, but Sprangers and the Wellses were made of sterner stuff and, after a brief hiatus, tapped drummer Nicholas Shuminsky to form Free Energy in 2008.
Free Energy, now based in Philadelphia, exploded into the wider consciousness when LCD Soundsystem¹s James Murphy produced the band's debut album Stuck on Nothing in 2010, causing UK music magazine NME to erroneously tout them as Murphy's new band. While patently false, the claim focused an extraordinary amount of attention on Free Energy and Stuck on Nothing; Spin and Rolling Stone cited the album and band among the year's best. With their just-released sophomore album Love Sign, Free Energy (now also featuring guitarist Sheridan Fox) reinforces and expands their new musical direction, a Classic Rock/New Wave Pop hybrid that enthusiastically references everything from The Cars to The Outfield to Cracker with equal amounts of affection and adrenaline. And in familiar ’60s Pop/Motown fashion, "Electric Fever," the album's infectious first single — originally leaked 10 months
ago — is the lead track on Love Sign. Free Energy might not be breaking any new ground but they go over the old territory with an ass-kicking intensity.
The band plays at Newport's Southgate House Revival tonight with Sweatheart and Homemade Drugs. Showtime is 9 p.m. and tickets are $8 at the door. (Preview by Brian Baker)
Click here for even more live music options tonight in Greater Cincinnati.
I drifted off Thursday night and had my wonderfully fitful sleep punctuated by the strangest dream. Like most dreams, it was disjointed and surreal, but it made an odd sort of sense. It’s never easy to describe these nocturnal apparitions but it was so vivid, I shall give it a try.
Friday, July 13
I was walking downtown. I knew exactly where I needed to go but I didn’t know exactly how to get there. A ridiculously convoluted route got me to the desired entrance, I received my press credentials and a map of a fascinating kingdom which I entered through the back gate, popping up in the midst of a Craft Beer Village, a place I would revisit many times.
Because of family obligations, I had arrived late, and the celebration, which had been dubbed Bunbury, was already in full swing. I headed for what I perceived to be the main concentration of activity and there ran into Brent and his wife Kat, who I frequently cross paths with at these sorts of soirees and who are always a welcome sight and great companions. Almost immediately, I encountered my nephew Jim, who proceeded to buy me a multitude of beers, a welcome refreshment on a steamy afternoon.
We made our way to the Globilli stage to see The Crash Kings, a keyboard/bass/drum trio that made sounds like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath with a twist of Styx (when they were a decent Rock band) refracted through an Indie Rock prism. Keyboardist Tony Beliveau was improbably wearing a long sleeve flannel shirt in 90-degree heat, but he said they were from L.A., so he may have legitimately been cold. They played songs from their eponymous debut and a few from their as-yet unreleased new album, there was an epic bass solo at one point, and Beliveau made other worldly sounds with the use of a whammy bar on his rig, which I had never seen before. The Crash Kings were incredible, and they would have kicked 1975 square in the balls.
At the Landor Stage, Ponderosa were cranking out some sweet Indie Rock/Soul from their first album, Moonlight Revival and their new album Pool Party, which ultimately led to a cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U.” Kalen Nash, clad in a much cooler serape and stalking the stage in Hobbit-like bare feet, bemoaned the loss of the Southgate House and said to the crowd, “Let’s bring that back.” We couldn’t have agreed more.
Back at Globilli, O.A.R. were giving a sizable audience a fair dose of heartland Indie Rock and getting an enthusiastic response in turn. The band started in Maryland but rose to prominence as students at Ohio State, and became something of a regional phenomenon. Much like the Dave Matthews Band, O.A.R.’s reputation grew by grassroots methodology and hard work. Marc Roberge acknowledged their local ties and thanked fans for their loyalty with a rousing set. Jim’s pals Andre and Kevin arrived at some point, more beers were acquired and all was well.
I took my leave of Jim and his friends to check out Ra Ra Riot at the Bud Light Stage. I love their studio brand of visceral Chamber Pop/Indie Rock and they most certainly do not disappoint in the live arena as they tore shit up good and proper. Ra Ra Riot make compelling feel-good music but I always feel a touch of melancholy when I listen to them, remembering their courage and loyalty when they remained together as a band in the aftermath of losing their original drummer John Pike, a drowning victim five years ago. Their biggest successes have come in the wake of that tragedy, but they remain in contact with Pike’s family who have in turn remained fully in Ra Ra Riot’s corner. That is truly inspirational, and that depth of feeling is translated into every note that RRR puts out into the universe. The real headline from RRR’s set was Wes Miles’ announcement that Bunbury was “the best run festival we’ve ever played,” high praise from a band that’s attended SXSW, CMJ, Seaport Music Festival and a good many others.
Somewhere between O.A.R. and Ra Ra Riot, I ran into Sean Rhiney (Messerly & Ewing) and Brian Kitzmiller (Black Owls), and was introduced to a flock of people (between them, Sean and Brian know every human in the Tri-State area) whose names are lost in a haze of previous beers but who were constant friendly faces in a sea of humanity over the next three days. I raise a perpetual glass to your continued well being and camaraderie.
It was back to the Globilli stage for The Airborne Toxic Event (named for a phrase in Don DeLillo’s 1985 chemical spill thriller, White Noise), which I’ve found to be one of the better muscular Indie Rock outfits. On the surface, they might seem like one of many innocuous radio-friendly ciphers but they’ve got a fascinating back-story, a fairly intricate sound and impressive songwriting talent. Frontman Mikel Jollett and his TATE cohorts played with a calculated frenzy to a rapturous response, and Jollett even injected a few serious moments into the festival’s spirited atmosphere to plug the Wounded Warrior Project and to offer some bi-partisan criticism (“Don‘t tell us you’re with us if you’re for cutting veterans’ benefits, don’t tell us you’re with us if you’re for raising taxes on returning veterans...”). A show with a message and a blazing soundtrack … not too shabby.
Then it was back to Landor for the most anticipated show of the night, and quite possibly the best show of the festival; the triumphant return of Cincy's Foxy Shazam. Eric Nally was in rare form, in both gymnastic stage behavior, microphone stand ballet and crowd interaction. A sampling of his repartee: (facing GABP) “Hey Votto, if you can hear me, hit the motherfucker out of the park..."; “I did an interview and when I read the story, the writer said we were unique, and I said, ‘Yeah, we‘re unique, just like everybody else..."; “Spill a little wine over here, spill a little wine over there, eventually everything’s red, spill a little blood over here, spill a little blood over there, eventually everything’s dead.”
During “Unstoppable,” someone winged a bottle of Gatorade at Nally, who flung it straight back and took issue by singing “Whoever threw that Gatorade is going to pay” at the close of the song. He then chastised the offender, saying, “Don’t make me explain to my kids why I have a bottle of Gatorade stuck up my ass,” and noting that he would let security allow the thrower backstage if he wanted to fight. Classic Nally.
Later, Schuyler White danced on his keyboard then tossed it onto the front row of the audience and dove into the crowd, playing while the audience held him in place. Classic Foxy. The crowd went batshit crazy when Foxy launched into “I Like It” from their latest and best album, The Church of Rock and Roll. At the breathless conclusion of Foxy’s set, the bar was officially set for the next two days.
With a fairly elaborate stage set complete with women on trapezes and giant video monitors displaying some sort of acid freak-out movie from the ’60s, Jane’s Addiction clearly trumped Foxy in terms of spectacle but fell short in terms of raw energy. Dave Navarro peeled off plenty of scorching riffery, his patented classic combination of ’80s Hard Rock and ’90s AltRock with his guitar set to stun, Stephen Perkins bashed his kit like a man possessed and new bassist Chris Chaney supplied a thunderous heartbeat, while Perry Farrell stalked the Globilli Stage like an earthbound raptor, howling his way through a set comprised of songs from their latest album, last year’s The Great Escape Artist, and heavy on the classics from their other three discs.
The show couldn’t be characterized as lackluster or phoned in, as it was a feast for the senses; plenty of engaging trappings and a propulsive soundtrack that tapped into memories of a visceral and compelling band on the edge of the alternative frontier two and a half decades ago. It was all incredibly entertaining, but it was a far cry from the scalp-tingling urgency of JA’s hungrier days, which is why this tour was designed with so much visual overload; few if any bands are able to recreate their earliest chemistry 25 years after the fact. My favorite JA memory will always be their opening set for Iggy Pop in 1988; seeing Jane’s at Bogart‘s that night was the aural equivalent of licking an electric outlet. I was certainly not disappointed with what transpired during JA’s Bunbury set, but neither was I spellbound by it. And Farrell’s humorously profane diatribe (“Let the pussies hear you!”) linking Pete Rose’s absence in the Baseball Hall of Fame to Jane’s Addiction’s lack of nominations two years after their eligibility was a bit awkward; he seemed to think steroids were somehow involved in Rose’s case, and as far as JA is concerned, well, four albums over a quarter century span, regardless of the influence of the first two, does not a Hall of Fame career comprise. I was glad to have experienced Jane‘s Addiction in the 21st century and I like the bombast they’ve created to present their old and new material but, as Blue Oyster Cult once noted, this ain’t the summer of love.
At some point during the JA set, I spied my most excellent zen editor Mike Breen, so I sidled over for some quick face time (being freelance I don‘t get into the office as much as I probably should), and he seemed to be digging the show greatly. I look forward to his thoughts on it because I greatly respect his musical opinions in a completely non-ass nuzzling way. (Editor's Note: You're hired! Fireworks rock! And "Free Pete Rose"!)
And Jim’s wife, my niece Robin, came late to the festival but somehow spotted me in the twilight and gave me a nudge in the back. Even though she is only five years my junior, I have been married to her aunt for almost three decades, and so I am and will forever be Uncle Brian, which is both touching and charming. A good number of the nieces and nephews I inherited when I started dating my wife have kids of their own now. Time and the generations march on.
I left Mike to his JA reverie when I spotted revered music connoisseur and branding legend Matthew Fenton (once an occasional CityBeat music contributor), who came down from his lair in Chicago to experience Bunbury’s inaugural year. I had e-mailed him to ask if he and his most excellent girlfriend Kelly would be in attendance, but never heard back. Turns out he’d quit his job after last year’s MidPoint and has taken up the study of improv comedy at Second City, a program from which he will graduate next month. I am both astonished and completely unsurprised because Matthew is a genius that makes geniuses insecure. Matthew assured me that Kelly would be around for Saturday’s festivities and introduced me to his older brother John, an equally princely guy by all indications.
Now we have a festival.
Saturday, July 14
I made my way back to the media entrance, this time being tended by old friend Jacob Heintz (Buckra) and the lovely and talented Sara Beiting (a former CityBeat all-star). The cloud cover was heavier, and it had already rained relatively hard north of the city but it didn’t seem to have impacted the downtown area too badly. I grabbed a beer and made my way through the throng … or did I make my way through the throng and grab a beer? The skies were not the only things that were partly cloudy.
At the Globilli stage, I was just in time for the start of Alberta Cross, a British duo now getting their mail in Brooklyn and fleshing out their live sound with a full fledged band. They sported an expansive vibe that had an appealing Verve quality, or Oasis without the contentious brothers problem screwing everything up.