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 inaugural Bunbury Music Festival — three days of top-shelf Alternative music at Cincinnati's riverfront Sawyer Point Park — starts TOMORROW! All this week, CityBeat's music blog has been 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 singer/songwriter (and frequent Cncy visitor) Tristen, performing Friday at 2:15 p.m. on the Bud Light Stage.
MidPoint Music Festival veteran Tristen returns to Cincinnati to play the first ever Bunbury Music Festival. From Chicago, Tristen moved to Nashville soon after college to join the Indie Folk music scene. Her debut album, Charlatans at the Garden Gate, was released in 2011.
Tristen is backed by The Ringers, who add an edge to her Folk Pop music. Tristen is very thoughtful in her approach to Pop music. She has studied what makes a good “hook” and this is reflected in songs such as “Baby Drugs” and “Eager for Your Love.” With lyrics that delve into the complexities of love, it’s clear that Tristen is an introspective soul as well as a fantastic songwriter and performer.
Here's Tristen's music video for "Baby Drugs."
If you're feeling a little adventurous this weekend, there are a pair of great music festivals in the region this that are less than a three hour-drive from Cincinnati. (Stay tuned for continuing previews of the Rock on the Range Hard Rock/Metal fest in Columbus this weekend, for those who like things a little heavier.)
• The Nelsonville Music Festival isn't named because it's some sort of tribute to Willie Nelson. Nelsonville is actually a small town nestled in the Wayne National Forest near Athens, Ohio, and within spitting distance of Hocking College. The eighth annual fest takes place this Friday-Sunday, with a warm-up concert set for tonight. The festival features several stages, an area for art vendors and a kids' section, and you are welcome to camp (though there are several hotels nearby as well).
The lineup for this year's Nelsonville fest is pretty eclectic, with current Indie faves Iron and Wine, Andrew Bird and M. Ward joining legends like Lee "Scratch" Perry, Guided By Voices, Roky Erickson and Sonic Youth's Lee Renaldo. Cincy/Dayton duo R. Ring is also on the bill, along with acts like Mucca Pazza, Horse Feathers, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Kurt Vile, Charles Bradley, Dawes and many, many others.
• About an hour and a half southwest of Cincinnati, in Madison, Ind., the RiverRoots Music & Folk Arts Festival (formerly Ohio River Valley Folk Festival) goes down Friday-Sunday, with a lineup showcasing the many flavors of Americana/Roots music. Now in its seventh year, the festival features family activities, lots of folk artists (the "arts and crafts" kind) exhibiting and selling their work, storytellers and top-shelf music from Hayes Carll, The Black Lillies, The Band of Heathens and Cincinnati greats Over the Rhine.
Here's the full lineup:
Friday, May 18
5 pm Gates & Folk Art Village open
6 pm Carolyn Martin (Texas Swing)
8 pm The Band of Heathens
10 pm Searson
Saturday, May 19
11 am Gates & Folk Art Village open
Noon Music Workshop & Jam Session (in the Storyteller tent)
1 pm Joe Crookston w/Peter Glanville
2 - 6 pm Rivers Institute at Hanover College Traveling Exhibit open
3 pm Roosevelt Dime
5 pm Charlie Parr
7 pm Over the Rhine
9 pm Hayes Carll
Sunday, May 20
12:30 pm Appalatin
1:45 pm Michael Kelsey
3 pm Whiskey Bent Valley Boys
4:30 pm The Black Lillies
Dynamic, Maryland-based Rock band Clutch has been grinding across the world for over 20 years. In that time, the band has seen great success across 10 studio albums and has had songs featured across different forms of media, from television to movies to video games.
Clutch is performing at Columbus, Ohio's Rock on the Range fest as the final act on the Jagermeister Stage this Saturday at 5:45 p.m. CityBeat was able to get some time with Dan Maines, the band’s bass player, to preview the show and talk about the longevity and progression of an independent Rock band. Click here for full info on this weekend's Rock on the Range.
CityBeat: What has been the highlight or best touring moment of the last year?
Dan Maines: Highlight? We had a really good show in London last European run. We did a good show at the Coco. London is one of those cities for us that has grown quite a bit. Just within the last year the clubs we have played have doubled in size. The last show we had there was probably around 1,500 people, but that was by far the biggest headlining London show that we have had. We are getting ready to go back there next month and we are going to be playing a different club that has a capacity of about 2,300 people and it looks like that show may sell out. We have been having some really good luck and some great shows all over the place. It has been a really, really good year for us touring.
CB: Do you feel the Rock scene is bigger in Europe than it is here in the U.S.? Do you feel like the fans are more engaged with Rock music today?
DM: I do feel like just your straight-ahead Rock & Roll band is doing better nowadays than 10 years ago. I don’t really have an explanation for it. We have been doing this for 20 years now and we really haven’t changed the formula much, but, for whatever reason, the past few years things have picked up for us and I think people are tired of going to see a band they have heard on the radio and they like a song and then they go to a show and the band never delivers. People are tired of that mentality. They want to see good music. They want to see a band that can pull off on stage what they put down on tape in a studio.
CB: It’s tough when you show up and it doesn’t sound the same. It is fantastic when bands deliver live and I think that is what really grows the audience over time.
CB: Your band has been together with same lineup for over 20 years. It is like a marriage. What is the secret to keeping the band together?
DM: I think we all have the same personalities.
There is not an ego with any band members and we all have similar goals (for) what this band is all about. We are not one of these bands that is
ever going to cater to other people’s expectations. We just do what we
want to do. We just write songs we want to write. We are a band that
really enjoys playing shows. We really enjoy going on the road and
touring. That is one thing that breaks down a lot of bands for the most
Touring is not an easy thing to do. You have to go for it. I have seen a lot of good bands who just couldn’t stick together because of the stresses of touring, which are overwhelming for one person or another. We have always been eager to play as many shows as we can. Without that mentality, we probably wouldn’t have lasted as long as we have. We aren’t the kind of band that is surviving on a particular song we wrote that gets played on the radio. We are a traveling band. I don’t really have a secret recipe for keeping the band together. We are just very fortunate to have been able to do it and we will continue to do what we do.
CB: Is it still fun for you to be on the road?
DM: It is still fun. Playing shows is easily more enjoyable to us than being in a studio. Even when we are at home and writing the material, that is always a good time, but you are eager to play the material for an audience and that is what we exist to do.
CB: What makes you laugh the hardest when you are on the road?
DM: I don’t know, maybe seeing people who might be seeing us for the first time and get caught up in the moment and try to sing along with Neil without actually knowing the words. Sometimes it can be as simple as what snacks our road manager decides to get for the dressing room.
CB: Where do you think you will be in 15 more years?
DM: Hopefully doing the same thing and not really paying attention to how many years have passed. Doing what we are doing but on a larger scale and going to places we haven’t gone yet.
CB: Who knows where you will be going by then, maybe outer space.
DM: Hopefully it will be something more local, like South America.
CB: What is the name of the first band you were in?
DM: Oh, that’s embarrassing.
CB: Oh, I want to hear.
DM: I guess the first band was called Moral Minority and that was myself with a couple other members of what became Clutch, but that was the high school incarnation of my first band and it was probably six or eight months later when Clutch was formed.
CB: Were your parents supportive?
DM: Always. They never really gave me a hard time about it. They never really laid down a lot of expectations to whether they wanted me to go in one direction or another, and they have always been very supportive of the band. Obviously now, but even way back in the beginning when we were traveling in a van getting stranded in cities on the other side of the country and figuring out ways to get back home. They never once said, “Maybe you should consider doing something else,” and I really appreciated that.
CB: What bands are currently influencing you?
DM: I have been listening to a lot of Galactic lately. You know what I have been listening to, I don’t know how recent it is, but Public Enemy still makes records and it came as a surprise to me that they are still doing it. What is more surprising is they are still making great records.
CB: I photographed Public Enemy last Sunday. Flavor Flav still jumped six feet in the air across the stage. It was unbelievable. Not only are they making records, they are touring and killing it. It was crazy. That is what everybody should aspire to do. You guys have your own record label. What are the challenges of releasing your own music?
DM: We have tried to keep the challenges down to a
minimum from the very beginning and just try to make it strictly an
outlet for Clutch music. Nowadays, it is not that difficult to take this
DIY approach to putting out music. Recording costs have come down a lot
and the overall costs of promoting and marketing a record have gone down
a lot because you have tools like the internet, where you can do so many
things for such a low amount of money that the actual costs of
producing a record, manufacturing and distributing it is not that high.
It is just being in a position that we are luckily in where we have relationships with people who kind of help fill in the blanks in areas where we are not experts. It has worked out well for us over the last five years, putting out a couple live CDs and two studio CDs. Who knows what could happen in the future? It could come to a point where it goes beyond the scope of Clutch. Right now it is just putting out Clutch related material. We have also put out side projects for various members of the band. We have John-Paul, who has been working with a band from Sweden called King Hobo, and hopefully those guys will have something that we can put out on the label. We have tried not to get overambitious with the releases and taking it very slowly.
CB: What can the fans expect at Rock on the Range next weekend?
DM: Four bearded men playing Rock music. We will be playing a lot of material off The Earth Rocker. I think on this tour we have been playing, on average, six songs out of 16 off the new record. We probably won’t be playing 16 songs at Rock on the Range. We will probably have a shorter set, so it is harder to predict what we will be playing. We are definitely going to be playing. It will be a heavily Earth Rocker loaded set for sure, and some of the classics thrown in as well.
CB: You guys change your set list every show, right?
DM: We try to. We have this system. We actually take turns writing the set list. Last night was Neil’s night, so tonight would be Tim’s night. It is something we can do that keeps things less monotonous and kind of keeps us on our toes and makes the sets more enjoyable for us, which is going to be more enjoyable for everybody else watching.
CB: If you could trade places with anybody for a month who would it be and why?
DM: That’s a tough one. Maybe George Porter Jr., the bass player (from New Orleans Funk legends, The Meters). He is a huge influence on me and just definitely a hero. It would be nice to spend some time in his brain and steal something.
CB: Do you play any other instruments?
DM: No, I barely play bass.
Friday's Bonnaroo festivities started with great promise, as we were treated to a surprise performance by Jack Johnson in the press tent. Johnson is a last-minute fill-in for headliners Mumford and Sons, who had to cancel because their bass player had a medical procedure to fix a blood clot in his brain earlier this week. Warmth and humility emanated from Johnson as he debuted two brand new songs accompanied by ALO's Zach Gill on accordion.
An hour later Trixie Whitley slithered on to the Which Stage in a long black gown and proceeded to mesmerize the mid-day crowd with her hypnotic and soulful swamp Rock. There were moments during her set when she sang with such power and pathos it literally knocked the wind out of me. The crowd was so awed by Whitley's performance they stood in a stunned silence so quiet that at times you could hear shutters clicking in the photo pit.
I don't think Chuck and I stopped laughing once during a spontaneous and hilarious 15 minutes we spent chatting with Daniel, Thomas and new drummer Johnny Colorado of the Futurebirds. We barely had time to catch our breath and regain our composure before a 4 p.m. press conference that featured comedians Michael Che and Mike Birbiglia, as well as Jason Isbell and Jazz Fusion guitar legend John McLaughlin.
Around the festival grounds today we've heard remarkable performances by Jason Isbell and 400 Unit, Nashville's Alanna Royale and Trombone Shorty.
Coming up later tonight: Wilco, Paul McCartney, ZZ Top and many more.
The inaugural Bunbury Music Festival — three days of top-shelf Alternative music at Cincinnati's riverfront Sawyer Point Park — is just four 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, Death Cab for Cutie or Jane's Addiction.
Our first "sleeper" is 1,2,3, performing Saturday at 2:15 p.m. on the Bud Light Stage.
Pittsburgh duo 1,2,3 (they go “full band” for live shows) took off fairly quickly, earning accolades in the U.K. that led to live shows abroad, all within a year of forming. One listen to the band’s debut LP for Frenchkiss Records, last year’s New Heaven, should make it clear why — 1,2,3’s songs hook listeners instantly with an uncanny sense of melody that suggests a lifetime of absorbing the magical Pop of the masters, from Bacharach and Nilsson to The Kinks and of Montreal. Add in Nic Snyder’s soulful and elastic voice and a dynamic backdrop of odd atmospherics, off-kilter beats and unexpected sounds and you have one of the more perfectly original Pop bands in America today.
Here's the band's music video for the track "Work":
MidPoint Music Festival headliners Cut Copy yesterday dropped a new video, "Blink and You'll Miss a Revolution," from the band's recently released full-length Zonoscope. The clip uses Planet of the Apes-esque dudes in a way that's both amusing and crafty — way better than most of the videos MTV used to play back when it was a music channel. And it's a nice primer for the Aussies stop here next week.
Oh, and here's what I wrote when Zonoscope was released back in March — notice the bit about them not touring here:
"Not as dancey as the the first two CC records, Zonoscope is a spacier, more laid-back grower that reveals frontguy Dan Whitford's lyrical acumen (the big beats and thick synths used to push his words to the background). I'm curious to hear how this sounds live. Unfortunately, CC's current tour does not feature a Cincy stop — though the band is slated to play the Pitchfork Music Festival July 17 in Chicago. Road trip!"
Louis Langrée is well aware of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's rich history. The CSO's freshly minted music director also knows part of that history includes the nurturing of contemporary composers and their often unconventional works.
Enter MusicNOW, Bryce Dessner's 9-year-old festival of adventurous sounds. (Read our conversation with Dessner here.) This year's sonic extravaganza includes the CSO's take on new pieces by such esteemed composers as Nico Muhly and David Lang, as well as the title work from Dessner's new Classical album, St. Carolyn by the Sea.
CityBeat recently connected with the genial Langrée — who spoke in self-described "primitive" English by phone from Paris — to discuss the CSO's collaboration with MusicNOW.
CityBeat: Before we get into MusicNOW, I'm curious about your initial impressions of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Why were you interested in coming on as music director?
Louis Langrée: The fame the orchestra is really big. Everybody knows it's a major orchestra. But then making music with them was a completely different experience because, yes, they have the qualities of all major American orchestras — precision, clarity of the attack of the situation. But they have also from their heritage, in their DNA, this German conception of sound, that you build the sound from the base of the harmony. That means the density of the sound is something absolutely remarkable, and that's rare in the United States. I think it has to do with the tradition, the roots, of this orchestra and also, of course, about the quality and the spirit of the musicians, which is really wonderful.
CB: Why were you interested in collaborating with MusicNOW and taking on a festival of contemporary music?
LL: One of the strengths of the orchestra is to have supported and commissioned and performed contemporary music from their very early age. Having given the American premiere Mahler Third, Mahler Fifth, Stravinsky coming to Cincinnati before he was considered a giant, having premiered (Aaron Copland's ) "Lincoln Portrait," having commissioned (Copland's) "Fanfare for a Common Man" and many other pieces and many more recent pieces. That's why I wanted to open my tenure as music director with eighth blackbird and Jennifer Higdon concerto piece. It shows that we should support, play, commission and perform contemporary music — and, of course, contemporary American music.
CB: What was it like collaborating with Bryce?
LL: Meeting Bryce was a wonderful. His French is perfect. Especially compared to my primitive English. (Laughs). I like his attitude in making music and experimentation. And any strong institution should be also a place of experimentation. Music is not something you put in a museum. It's alive. And then we should perform contemporary music like Classical music and perform Beethoven music, not forgetting that he only composed contemporary music. All the composers — Mozart, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Bartok — composed contemporary music, so we have to continue it. He's very focused and concentrated, but on the other hand the spectrum was quite bright. I think we have arrived on wonderful programs — very challenging, but very exciting.
CB: What makes him unique as a composer?
LL: He knows how to make an orchestra sound. It's a very clear and precise writing but at the same time there is so much flexibility in the variations of colors written and the flow of the music. It's always quite exciting to study a piece and hear it. Having the privilege of working with the composer is something wonderful because there are so many questions I would like to ask of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, and of course it's impossible. So being able to ask the composer and to hear his answers is just wonderful.
Bryce is someone who has great harmonic taste, and I think for the orchestra it's wonderful because you can express yourself much easier. I think he's very much like his music — a very welcoming man, a very open, very luminous person. I see that in his music, which is not always the case with composers. With him, I get the feeling he's one with his music.
CB: How has the orchestra responded to playing these new, sometimes challenging pieces?
LL: Any new piece you don't know what to expect. What I've found is that these musicians are very open-minded, they are very generous and positive in their attitude and are eager to try any new experience. It's a privilege to perform these two concerts of new music, but it's also very challenging, so you have to be very practical.
CB: And what's the experience been like for you?
LL: It's a great responsibility when you conduct a piece, but it's also a great privilege that today's major American composers are willing to write for us. To be sharing this experiment and experience in concert, to be a part of MusicNOW, is really something beautiful.
MusicNOW's 2014 festival begins tonight and continues tomorrow. Visit musicnowfestival.org for tickets and full programming details.
It goes without saying that Paul McCartney flat out slayed 'em on Bonnaroo's What Stage last night. Snagging Sir Paul as a main stage headliner is possibly the biggest coup in Bonnaroo's 12-year history. To no one's great surprise, McCartney dished out sheer unfettered joy to the thousands via a masterful marathon performance that featured onw heart-warming soul-sending classic after another. You can be sure that his eyes have beheld many wonders over the course of a 50+ year career that is unrivaled and unparalleled in every way imaginable. But even McCartney himself could not disguise his expression of awe and disbelief at the size and deafening enthusiasm of the Bonnaroo crowd.
Today and tomorrow, I'll focus on the smaller stages to catch up close and personal performances by JEFF The Brotherhood, The Revivalists, and Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Already today I've seen the Futurebirds destroy the Sonic Stage with their peculiar powerhouse hybrid of Indie Country.
Sir Paul's son James McCartney drew a respectful and curious crowd to the On Tap Lounge for his early afternoon solo acoustic performance. Sadly, the booming bass reverberating from the larger stages all but drowned out his gentle folk pop purr. If you could huddle up close enough to the stage, he sounded pretty good. But the son of a Beatle deserves better accommodations.