Sideways rain and swamp-ass, but it wasn't so bad. The storms were intermittent, the day was clearly not a total washout and, out of the nine days of Bunbury over the past three years, this one might just have ended on the highest note of them all.
Upon arrival, I was greeted by above-and-beyond volunteer Jacob Heintz, who advised serious attention to hydration, as several people had already passed out from the heat. In order to accommodate more fluids, I needed to make a deposit at the Yeatman's Cove First National Bank of Evacuation.
You know what's great about the Porta-Kleens in the summer? Heated seats. You know what's not great about Porta-Kleens in the summer? Heated everything else. I felt like I was microwaved to about medium rare by the time I was done with business. But I was treated to a bit of pithy wisdom in the form of a neatly scrawled line of graffiti in the unit — "No one is free. Even the birds are chained to the sky." Of course, the trade-off is that birds can shit anywhere they like, which somehow seems to involve my windshield an inordinate number of times a week.
At any rate, a spotty rain began within minutes of my arrival, so I headed down to the Main Stage to see if things were continuing on schedule. On the way, I passed Daniel in Stereo on the Acoustic Stage, where he seemed to be offering an evocative Jeff Buckley vibe. Very nice. When I got to the Main Stage, the Brick + Mortar set had just begun. The politically conscious World Rock guitar/drum duo from Toms River, N.J., was cooking along nicely, but about three songs in, the lightning flashed, the thunder cracked and the staff shut them down.
"That sucks," noted guitarist/vocalist Brandon Asraf. "I had just tricked you into liking me for a minute." Then he launched into a stand-up comedy bit, quoting Half Baked and bemoaning his lack of life compared to his engaged drummer, John Tacon. "I'm single and chubby. What's up?" he said, canvassing the crowd.
The crew finally had to shut off the power so that was the end of Brick + Mortar. (The band will return to Cincy on Aug. 15 for a free show on Fountain Square.)
Shortly after that, the flaming finger of God erupted from multiple clouds and the rain, gentle at first, ultimately came pissing down from the heavens. I had taken refuge in the Yeatman's Cove tunnels and thought I'd gotten way lucky to avoid the torrential downpour, but that proved ineffective as well when a tornadic wind blew the rain horizontally straight through the passageway. Everyone was drenched from cowlick to ass-crack and beyond.
Luckily, the storm didn't last long and the only issue at that point was how long the clean up and reset would take. I wandered down to the Main Stage to see if Red Wanting Blue was going to happen, but it appeared as though it would take a considerable amount of time, so I motored back down to the Warsteiner Stage to see what progress had been made there.
To my unending delight, Kim Taylor was just getting started about the time she should have been wrapping up. I've been completely smitten with Kim's work since a friend at my long since defunct graphic design day job lived in the same apartment building with her. She had just begun her music career and had given my friend a copy of her self-released EP, which he passed along to me. Her gently compelling voice, her introspective and intelligent lyrics and her melancholic mastery of melody certainly gave me a chill similar to the one I felt after my first experience with Suzanne Vega, but Kim was most assuredly following a unique path, and so it has remained for the past decade and a half.
I've seen Kim numerous times over the years and written at least three features and a few MidPoint previews ahead of her releases and appearances, and she never disappoints, as an interview or as an artist. The power of her presentation at Bunbury was obvious; with no more than her acoustic guitar and drummer Devon Ashley, Kim Taylor turned the vast expanse in front of the Warsteiner Stage into an intimate performance space that crackled with a quiet intensity. It is powerful testimony to Kim's ability to hold an audience that, with dark clouds roiling overhead and thunder rumbling ominously in the distance, there was even greater drama brewing on the Warsteiner Stage.
After a quick stop to use the Big Mac Bridge as an umbrella, it was down to the Lawn Stage to witness the mind-bending energy of The Yugos. The relatively new and insanely young four-piece channel the absolute best elements of '70s Punk and New Wave with a dash of Surf and a couple hundred thousand volts of charisma. Spend any appreciable time with The Yugos and you'll detect distinct flashes of the jerky time signatures of XTC and Talking Heads, the Pop verve of Flock of Seagulls and the dark intensity of Echo and the Bunnymen. Drummer Jordin Gough jumps around the stage as though fire ants have been ceremonially sewn into his black jeans; he stands on his drum stool and beats on his kit from above, he takes the floor tom into the audience and thumps on it like a brave calling his tribe to action, while bassist Jeremy Graham provides an equally schizophrenic bottom and guitarists Christian Gough and Jackson Deal are peeling off punky New Wave riffs and licks that are as nerve-rattlingly appealing as The Cure on speed or Devo on hallucinogenics laced with antipsychotics.
At their Lawn Stage set, The Yugos rolled out their latest track, "Follow You," did the song about a dream where a robot chased Christian down a hill, constantly called out a guy in the audience that looked like James Franco, dedicated a song to Seth Rogen and implored the assembled multitude to shake their asses. Comedy, Surf/Punk and a heart needle full of adrenaline combine to make the perpetual motion music machine known as The Yugos; with five years under their belts already, they're bound to last a hell of a lot longer than their namesakes.
After a delicious burger from Dutch's in the Craft Beer Village and an equally delicious Puma Pilsner, courtesy of Black Owls hammer Brian Kitzmiller, it was a stroll over to the Main Stage to see ZZ Ward crank up her last couple of songs for a large and enthusiastic crowd and then down to the River Stage to catch a few songs from hot DJ/multi-instrumentalist Robert Delong, who filled the Serpentine Wall with Electronic music devotees who were digging his live-looped vibe with an almost religious fervor. Back on the Main Stage, Young the Giant blasted the swelling multitudes with the sticky/sweet Indie Rock hard candy that put them on a lot of attendees' must-see lists.
I took my leave of the growing crowd in front of the Main Stage — a combination of devoted Young the Giant fans and Flaming Lips aficionados staking out their space for the imminent start time — to catch The Orwells at the Warsteiner Stage. The Orwells made my personal don't-miss list after a little due diligence in checking out their history and sound online for a preview in last week's CityBeat and they didn't disappoint.
The quartet's central Illinois lineage is pretty much all the Pop cred they require and they use it to sweeten their rough-edged Garage/Punk love, as evidenced on last year's Disgraceland and the subsequent Other Voices and Who Needs YouEPs. Given the band's ramshackle nature (they'd pair up nicely with Cincy bands Mad Anthony or The Harlequins for a local show), it seemed like The Orwells might come a little unglued in the live presentation, but they were perhaps a little more restrained than I would have imagined. That could have been the post-storm vibe. They did toss out a raw chunk of the Foundations' "Build Me Up Buttercup," so that was pretty cool. Here's hoping we can get them back for a full show in better circumstances in the very near future so we can see what happens when The Orwells really put the pedal to the floor.
I reluctantly ducked out of The Orwells a bit early to establish position for The Flaming Lips’ show, given the crush of rabid fans that were in all likelihood packing the front of the stage. For the sake of full disclosure, it should be noted at this juncture that I was looking forward to this show because I am a Flaming Lips virgin. I drank the Kool-Aid with Oh My Gawd!!! way back in 1987, but missed the local show on that tour because of my freelance production schedule.
Since then, I've totally dug the studio Lips but somehow have never found my way to experiencing the live Lips; the closest I've ever gotten was nine years ago when I was in Austin for SXSW and Wayne Coyne came rolling down Sixth Street in the bubble with some sort of boombox entourage trailing behind, offering a soundtrack to the proceedings. And I suppose I could claim a certain amount of Lips cred for my two band interviews, the first with Steven Drozd in 2003 after the release of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and the second with Wayne in 2008 to talk about the DVD release ofChristmas on Mars.
But the Bunbury show represented the taking of my live Flaming Lips cherry; after a quarter century of studio foreplay, I was more than ready. And what a glorious deflowering it was.
After taking to the stage, which was appointed like a Peter Max flashback of Leary-esque proportions, the Lips launched into "The Abandoned Hospital Ship," with Wayne outfitted in a tinsel hairsuit that gave him the appearance of a glammed up Sasquatch. When it was over, he greeted the crowd warmly and promised that, should the rain begin again to the extent that the show had to be stopped, the Lips would be staying and they would finish the show, no matter what. The vast expanse of Lips fans roared their relief and the band shot headlong into "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1," and the crowd's bliss was palpable.
After a set that was filled with brilliant Lippage ("Look...The Sun is Rising" and "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton" among them), dancing rainbows, magic mushrooms big enough to give Mario a coke boner, a gyrating sun and a video/LED presentation splashy enough to trigger a mild epileptic seizure, the clouds cried just slightly at the prospect of the end of the evening. The Lips took a short breather and then returned with the biggest one-two pay-off in Bunbury's short but potent history; the gorgeously contemplative "Do You Realize??" from Yoshimi and an absolutely epic version of the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," punctuated by several blasts from the four giant confetti cannons on stage. If I smoked cigarettes, I surely would have sparked one up after that conclusion.
And thus marked the end of Bunbury's third installment. The last day's weather difficulties notwithstanding, it was another flawlessly presented and managed music festival put on by one of the city's most knowledgeable and Zen-like business heads, Bill Donabedian, and his amazing staff, who all handle every detail from gravely major to almost subatomically minor with a combination of ninja professionalism and weaponized OCD. And, as Bill would be the first to tell you, it couldn't be done without the walking live army of volunteers who make this thing run with the precision of God's pocketwatch.
Plans are already afoot for Bunbury 4; they get harder to surpass with each subsequent summer, and somehow Bill and his festival all-stars manage to do just that. See you at the gate next July.
• A lot of notable absences in the crowd this year, particularly my brother-from-another-mother Matthew Fenton. Either he just couldn't make it down this year, or he's actually perfected his cloak of invisibility and skillfully avoided me for the entire weekend. I hope it's the former.
• Even with Sunday's threatened inclement weather, or as departing WCPO meterologist Larry Handley would characterize it, the blow job that nobody wants (no, Larry wouldn't say that, but I would and, in fact, just did), there was still a great turnout for the day's lineup. There was the inevitable run-in with Brent and Kat, and that makes every day worthwhile; they headed down to Brick + Mortar and after a swing around the grounds, I headed that way myself.
• With the advent of lightning and the first shutdowns of the day, I headed for the Yeatman's Cove tunnels before things got too crazy. Moments after entering, the sky opened up and the rain pissed down, so I thought luck was on my side. I stopped to talk with a group of photographers, one of whom I've seen numerous times at Bunbury and MidPoint, which has made us sort of nodding acquaintances. We chatted for a bit, then he introduced himself as Steve Ziegelmeyer and asked if I had attended a wedding last year for someone from Jungle Jim's. In fact, my wife and daughter and I have gotten to know one of the guys from the dairy department at the Route 4 store who goes by Squidd, and when he announced that he was engaged, he insisted that we come to the wedding, which we were honored to do. Turns out Steve's wife works with Squidd's wife at Jungle Jim's Eastgate store, and he was at the wedding. And when he said it, I totally remembered seeing him there and completely blanking on where I knew him from. He gave me his card and an idea for a feature; I'll be remembering him now.
• While I was waiting to see what would come of Kim Taylor's set, up strolled Eddy Mullet and his daughter Jess, looking none too worse the wear from Saturday's festivities. (Well, Eddy doesn't drink and Jess is 17, so the beating I take is typically incrementally worse than theirs, but I digress.) When the storm cranked up again, we headed for the shelter of the bridge and told ghost stories (they've got really good ones) until the sound of The Yugos drew us to the Lawn Stage.
• We were headed to Robert Delong's set when I was waylaid by Mr. Brian Kitzmiller, a drum beater of epic reputation and a beer buyer worthy of sainthood, or at least knighthood. When I steered over to Dutch's food booth for a burger, Brian introduced me to Jerry and Pam who run Dutch's (Brian knows at least 60% of every group of people that he finds himself in), as well as a couple of guys from the band The Easthills, who were playing the part of the Black Owls this year (their early afternoon set was rained out, like the Owls’ were in Year 1.) Over by the Delong set, the ubiquitous and always welcome King Slice appeared, as did Owls bassist Kip Roe and his sons, Kip Jr. and Ben, and we had ourselves a Rock & Roll convoy.
• Just before the Lips' extravaganza got underway, I ran into 500 Miles to Memphis frontman Ryan Malott, another prince of the local music realm, who was on his way down to the Warsteiner Stage to catch The Orwells. We had talked about the show when Ryan came into Class X to do Eddy's Kindred Sanction program for a Bunbury preview and a chat about the new 500MTM album, Stand There and Bleed, and I'm glad he reminded me. As I hit the Craft Beer Village on my way to The Orwells, I was absolutely floored to see my old friend Ric Hickey, one of the best guitarists this scene has ever produced, escorting his ladyfriend Michelle down to the Lips show. We caught up for a hot minute, then went our ways. Once at the Warsteiner Stage, as The Orwells were winding up, I spotted Mark Messerly near the back of the crowd, clearly contemplating how he would approach his Messerly & Ewing gig at next week's Buckle Up. No he was not; he was drinking a beer and imploring The Orwells to ramp it up. You know Mark. Venomous Valdez was right behind him, a vision in yellow on her birthday eve. Many happy returns, double V. And I finally caught up with Ryan, who introduced me to his lovely and relatively new wife Gina (I had to ask for her name twice because I'm old, I've got 40+ years of Rock & Roll ears and The Orwells had, in fact, ramped it up). As NRBQ once noted, you're good people, you are.
• We all wound up hanging together for a good portion of the Lips' set, but one of my favorite moments was the Roe boys' faces when I confessed that this was my first live Lips lock. They couldn't have looked more astonished if I'd told them I'd just eaten a half pound of heroin-soaked grapes. Kip and his boys have seen the Lips on numerous occasions and, as a result, once we got camped near the stage, Kip Jr. tapped me on the shoulder and very politely began pointing out the elements of the Lips' set design and what everything was for. It was a very good tutorial, a sweet gesture for a teenager to connect with an old duffer such as myself, and proof positive that childrearing is a high art and Kip Roe should teach the whole bloody world exactly how to do it.
• Finally, for the third consecutive year, the unofficial and extremely subjective results of my annual “Best T-Shirts at Bunbury” competition, selected and judged by me alone. This year was interesting for a couple of reasons, primarily because of Saturday's headliners, Paramore and Fall Out Boy. Their numerous fans were displaying their band love loud and proud, but I was struck by a rather odd observation; I'm fairly certain I didn't see two Fall Out Boy T-shirts featuring the same design (at least until the day after the show, when people who didn't have shirts likely bought them at the merch booths). Someone is accruing Donald Trump-like wealth from marketing an almost endless variety of FOB tees, that's for bloody sure. The other constant on Saturday was a steady parade of people in Ramones tees, in honor of Tommy Erdelyi, the last surviving original member of the legendary Punk band who succumbed to cancer on Friday. Bogart's owner Al Porkolab used to say that the best seat for a Ramones show was across the street at Dollar Bill's, where you could hear every note perfectly. I got his point, but I preferred my Ramones straight from the pipe. At any rate, R.I.P., Tommy.
And so, as always, in no particular order, until the winner at the end:
I (graphic of Kurt Russell as Snake Pliskin) NY
Bad Decisions Make Great Stories
I Had Fun Once. It Was Awful.
Y'All (in the Yale typeface)
G-Dub (with George Washington in Raybans)
Nope (with Shepard Faireyesque cat illustration); followed by
Dope (with Shepard Faireyesque Questlove illustration)
There were many Foxy Shazam tees as well, including a vintage Flamingo Trigger design but my favorite was “Foxy Shazam. White Music for Black People”
Got B3? (I'm assuming they mean the keyboard and not the vitamin)
I Eat Glitter for Breakfast
Rock is Dead. Long Live Paper.
I May Be Your Best Option
I Ain't Even Mad
And my favorite T-shirt from this year's Bunbury crowd:
T-Rex hates push-ups (with a silhouette graphic depicting exactly why)
Another pretty good day overall. The temperature was a little higher, as was the humidity, and even when the clouds moved in and things seemed perhaps a little iffy, the good weather prevailed and all was right for the second day of Bunbury, v.3.
The day began as it ended the previous evening, with some quick face time with volunteer excelsior and one of the scene's most gifted guitarists, Jacob Heintz. A Bunbury blessing from Jacob is the first step in a great day. And before I'd even gotten to the gate, I was called out by Brandon Weaver, owner/operator of Iron Wing Studio in Covington, who hosted my interview with Seabird last year; he's got a great facility and he's a really nice guy, so if you're looking for a place to paint your sonic masterpiece, give him a call.
I wasn't really committed to seeing anything until relatively late in the schedule, so I decided to just float around the stages for the first few slots and maybe do a little sampling from each. It was a pretty successful plan, as it turned out.
My first stop was the Warsteiner Stage to check out Miner, but the guy at the mic introduced the group as the Family Band, so apparently there was a Miner adjustment. Hahahahahahaha. I'm laughing because I know you're not. At any rate, the rather large band sounded a lot like our own Josh Eagle and the Harvest City, if they'd been juiced up on My Morning Jacket. They were quite good.
Next it was a quick jaunt down to the Amphitheater Stage to see Brent James & the Vintage Youth. What started out as super tight bar boogie a la Aerosmith evolved into a super smart Rock show that drew on any number of potent influences, all of which were on full display when James and the Youth rolled out an absolutely jaw-dropping cover of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," a blazing blend of Bon Jovi dramatics and Georgia Satellites off-the-rails jamarama. Equally impressive was James' soulful swagger on "Needle to the Groove," and imagine my surprise when James called out his band, which includes regional wunderkind Ricky Veeneman, who won the 1999 Jimi Hendrix National Guitar Competition (when he was 15, by the way) and bassist Matt Gandenberger, who provided four-string assistance on a couple of tracks on Ricky's 2003 album, Change. James noted that the band would be opening for ZZ Top at the Horseshoe Casino in the near future, so here's a note to ticketholders — don't skip the opener.
After the Vintage Youth, I wandered down to the Main Stage to take in a little of Crass Mammoth's set. After a handful of songs, they struck me as gritter, punkier Modest Mouse with a Classic Rock vein and melodic Pop undercurrent that guitarist/vocalist Joseph Crowe characterized as "the cute part of the show." And once that was concluded, the north Georgia trio went right back to raw and ripping mode. There's a good chance that Crass Mammoth made as many new fans today as they drew from their fervent existing fan base.
From there, it was back to the Warsteiner Stage for an uplifting and raucous set from the pride of Hartford, Connecticut, Bronze Radio Return. Although there was more than a hint of Mumford and Sons/Lumineers Folk/Pop to BRR's presentation, there were also Rock elements ranging from The Black Crowes to Tom Petty to shades of Crash Test Dummies. The band drew a relatively big crowd and a good many of them were already fans, as evidenced by the large number of people singing along with nearly every song. Bronze Radio Return's frontman, Chris Henderson, was engaging and very much the band's ringmaster, their material was anthemic and joyful and I would love to see what the band would do with a long form set.
At this point, I decided to get my wander on and just roam the Bunbury grounds getting a taste of the musical talent that had been assembled for Day 2. First, there was New Politics down at the Main Stage, which reminded me of Neon Trees with a considerably heavier bottom and a Hip Hop heart. Next up was Bonesetters, a great Americana/Indie Rock band from Indianapolis that shimmered in the heat of the Lawn Stage with a palpable Jim James/Ryan Adams/Eef Barzelay vibe. Then it was back over to the Warsteiner Stage to catch a few songs from Nashville's Fly Golden Eagle, an atmospheric Roots/Soul/Psych Rock aggregation that grooves and jangles and totally lives up to the title of their 2011 album, Swagger. They've toured with Alabama Shakesm Dr. Dog and Arctic Monkeys and garnered comparisons to Lips both Black and Flaming, Beck and the Black Crowes, and that adds up to a band that needs to come on back.
After digging a few FGE songs, I drifted down to the Amphitheater Stage to enjoy local-girl-made-good Jesse Thomas, who's gotten her songs placed on Shameless and Hart of Dixie. The L.A. resident/Covington native has a tang and twang that suggests Patty Griffin, Kathleen Edwards and Shawn Colvin, and that ain't bad company no matter how you slice it. Jesse drew a pretty healthy hometown crowd and she made the most of her first festival appearance, Bunbury or otherwise.
After Jesse Thomas' spirited set, it was a short stroll over to the Lawn Stage to experience the full frontal assault of Nashville's Modoc, who I got into by way of a story I did earlier in the year on Melvin Dillon and his vinyl-only label Soul Step Records. Modoc was one of Melvin's early signings when he approached the band about pressing vinyl on their excellent debut full-length. In the studio, Modoc make a mighty racket that crashes happily at the intersection of Led Zeppelin and Southern Rock, but everything that the band does so well in the sterile confines of the recording booth are amplified a dozen times and set ablaze like Jimi Hendrix's Stratocaster. Thunderous riffs, razor wire slide leads, pummeling bass lines and a drum sound heavy enough to drill through solid bedrock, Modoc does it all with a wink/nod sense of humor and a joyful passion that comes through with every note. They've played a couple of MidPoints (they’ll be back for this year’s MPMF) and they're building a pretty sizable following, if their Bunbury turnout was any indication. And as frontman Garry Crisp so eloquently put it, "We love Cincinnati. It's got sin in it twice!" Right back atcha, G-Dawg.
I managed to see at least some of Jane Decker's set. I'd talked to Jane and bassist Mitch Winsett two years ago when Belle Histoire was still a viable concern, but the band has since scattered to the wind and Jane has stepped away from a band configuration to make her mark as a solo artist. Her Bunbury set was supposed to be a full band gig, but something happened in the days before the festival and she wound up on the Lawn Stage singing to the acoustic guitar accompaniment of Sean (just Sean, apparently), her songwriting partner on a good deal of the album that is currently being mastered for an imminent release. Jane auditioned for The Voice last season and was bounced because the judges didn't know what to do with her. As I sat listening to her acoustic set at Bunbury, her incredibly poppy songs stripped to the essentials of Jane's beautiful Dolores O'Riordon-tinted voice and the simple counterpoint of Sean's tasteful acoustic soundtrack, I cannot imagine what Adam Levine wasn't hearing. Any of the songs Jane presented in her acoustic set could be produced up to megahit proportions and go toe-to-toe with Lorde, Arianna Grande, or whoever is the flavor of the moment. It certainly seems like Jane's moved beyond The Voice incident (the failure being theirs and not hers), and is ready to pursue her dream and make a skadillion dollars without Blake Shelton's help.
Molly Sullivan won the Singer/Songwriter CEA back in January and every time she puts herself in front of an audience, she offers a little more evidence to support that honor. She has an amazing vocal range, from midnight howl to 3 a.m. hush and she has the uncanny ability to shift from melodic Folk/Pop beauty to dissonant Jazz artfulness while retaining the thread of her creative identity. Molly's set at the Acoustic Stage was simply fantastic, further proof that her CEA win was no fluke and is likely to be followed by a few more similar triumphs down the line.
Over at the Main Stage, it wasn't too hard to see why Paramore is the current darling of high-octane Pop Rock. The band was physically moving air during their powerful and obviously well received set; their drums pounded their way into your rib cage and altered your heartbeat to a different time signature. I stuck around for a handful of songs but ultimately opted for an early exit in order to find some prime real estate on the Serpentine Wall.
Tonight would be Foxy Shazam's second appearance at Bunbury, and they had their work cut out for themselves. No one who witnessed their gig at the inaugural Bunbury two years ago will ever forget it; frontman Eric Nally imploring the Reds' Joey Votto to "hit the motherfucker out of the park," and Sky White tossing his keyboard into the crowd and then leaping in after it, continuing to play while the audience held it and him aloft. Oh, and they played a lot of great music. And therein lies a common misperception, that the band's onstage antics are somehow going to detract from their musical performance. This notion is typically floated by people who have never seen Foxy Shazam work an audience like a skilled pickpocket while simultaneously putting on a dazzling Rock show.
As advertised, Foxy presented their new album Gonzo in its entirety for the first 30 minutes of the set, with bassist Daisy Kaplan on guitar and guitarist Loren Turner on bass (it was a device they used to jump start the writing process and they decided to maintain the set up for the live translation). Where The Church of Rock and Roll was more of an immediate album, Gonzo is a work that reveals its gifts slowly, and those albums always seem to wind up being fan favorites. The packed Wall showed their appreciation for Gonzo with a fevered response to each of the album's nine songs.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Foxy show without Nally's brilliant non sequitur patter — like "The only difference between me and a scholar is how much we paid for what we know," and "If it was legal to shoot people, I'd be dead." The real showstopper came in the second half of the set, when Foxy hauled out the back catalog and Kaplan and Turner returned to their regular roles. By this time, trumpeter/vocalist Alex Nauth had tossed his horn into the light rigging a half dozen times, White had played his keys with his ass and Nally had somersaulted, vaulted, balanced and slid all over the stage.
After blowing through high voltage turns on "Holy Touch" and "I Like It" (where Nally adlibbed, "Let me see your butthole, baby," something I'm fairly certain I never heard Barry White utter), among others, Nally introduced the band's last song of the evening thusly: "This next song, this last song, is about time travel. I wrote it next week." And with that, Foxy Shazam roared headlong into "Unstoppable," the anthemic 2010 hit from their self-titled album. As the band neared the end of the song, Nally called for cigarettes from the crowd; grabbing one from a pack, he lit it with a lighter thrown on the stage and called for the lights to be killed. As "Unstoppable" faded to its squalling conclusion, Nally blew sparks out of the end of the cigarette into the darkness on the stage, and then shrieked, "You're all pregnant!" He dropped the mic, the lights came up and that was the end. As unlikely as it seemed less than an hour before, Foxy Shazam had indeed cleared the bar they'd set two years ago. As the late Jack Palance used to intone on a weekly basis, "Believe it … or not."
I hung around after Foxy to chat with ClassX Radio’s Eddy Mullet whose daughter had a little trouble with rude doofuses, but he handled it with aggressive diplomacy. We were talking about our plans for the end of the evening, and I was tempted to bail on Fall Out Boy to get home and get started on these reviews, while Eddy seemed ready to call it a day as well. But at the last moment I decided to catch at least a few songs from the last band of the day, and announced it with the unfortunate phraseology, "I think I'll go check out a little Boy." Eddy's daughter Jess went, "Uhhh. …" Point taken.
So we all headed off toward the Main Stage area, me to find a good viewing position and them to see if the exit next to the stage was open (it wasn't). Having come this far, Eddy decided to stick around as well, and so we all lingered for a bit to witness the Pop/Punk majesty of Fall Out Boy. I've always liked the Wentz/Stump dynamic, perhaps not enough to passionately explore their output, but more than enough to appreciate the fact that they've elevated the conversation in the genre. But as Shakespeare noted, the play's the thing, and Fall Out Boy do the thing pretty well.
Bookended by festival closers that were and would be visual orgasms of color and light (Empire of the Sun on Friday, Flaming Lips on Sunday), FOB chose to make their presentation the spectacle, playing their hits and beyond with an expansive flair without forgetting that they were compact and energetic Punk-tinted Pop songs. About midway through the set, an already adrenalized crowd went ballistic when Paramore's Hayley Williams stepped out to duet with the band on "Sugar, We're Goin Down," and the frenzy just continued from there. Patrick Stump played to the hometown crowd by giving a shout out to "our friends in Foxy Shazam," which was nice, and later Stump asked how many parents were in the audience, and reminisced how his father would take him to Punk shows in Chicago when he was a teenager, and as a tribute to all the DNA-linked chaperones in attendance, peeled off a sweet version of "We Are the Champions," followed with an incendiary spin through "Save Rock and Roll."
At that point, we took our leave to beat the rush; as I was headed toward my car, I could hear the strains of "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark," and I was really glad I'd stuck around to experience Fall Out Boy in this perfect setting.
• On Bunbury Day 2, I began the day by filling the gastank with a carton of Island Noodles (with the teriyaki chicken, thank you), an amazing repast that lasted well into the evening, when I had a slightly less amazing but incredibly delicious Kobe Dog from Dutch's booth. Both are highly recommended (but the noodles are less likely to stop your heart; on the other hand, we're walking it off, are we not?)
• Saturday had a much different crowd vibe than Friday, due to the headliners for the evening, Paramore and Fall Out Boy. Usually I run into a half dozen friends and acquaintances before I've decided on which lunch and what beer to chase it. But it wasn't too long before I ran into Brent and Kat, the scene's most visible couple. They mentioned they were going to catch an unannounced set by Billy Catfish, and Kat said that she had noticed a distinct similarity between Billy's eyes and Brent's eyes. To that end, she noted that if Brent kicks it, she's going to ask Billy out. To which Brent replied, "If Kat dies, I'll ask Billy out, too." Together in everything, as it should be. Not long after, I crossed paths once again with another prince of the realm, The Ready Stance's Wes Pence and his son Wyatt, on the lookout for action of every imaginable variation. If you don't know Wes, there is a great gaping void in your life. And if you don't know The Ready Stance, same thing. As Dr. Steven Brule says, “Check it out.”
• I had seen photographer extraordinaire (and CityBeat alum) Sean Hughes having a little difficulty getting into the photo pit at the Warsteiner Stage with his pass on Friday (for the love of Annie Leibowitz, do you people know who he is?), and I told him that I was about to come over and throw my weight around. Not influence — I have none of that anywhere — but my actual weight. I can create a fatass distraction like nobody's business. On Saturday, Sean noted that he could have used my help later the day before, but I reminded him, "I can't be where you are, you have to be where I am, that's how my fatassery works." Then he saw girls in the misting station and said, "People getting wet … that's my thing," and off he went. Another prince? Most assuredly.
• At the Modoc show, I caught up with Soul Step Records owner/operator Melvin Dillon and his lovely sister Wendy. I figured I'd see Melvin there; he's a big fan of Modoc, having sought them out specifically to press the vinyl version of their self-titled debut LP. Melvin mentioned that he's currently working with a big name local band (I won't jinx the deal by announcing anything … yet) to do the vinyl version of their new album. Stay tuned. It will be epic.
• Once again, ran into Eddy Mullet, only this time with two daughters in his entourage; his youngest daughter Cassie was along for the ride on Saturday. Not quite the music fan that her sister Jess has become, Cassie did have a full-bore good time at the Foxy Shazam extravaganza, so she may be making some forays into the local music world with dear old dad in the near future. Or maybe not. Kids will always find their own way.
The final MidPoint Music Festival headliner for the big stage at Washington Park has been confirmed. Pop Rock foursome OK Go, which releases its fourth album, Hungry Ghosts, on Oct. 14, will headline the Washington Park stage on Saturday, Sept. 27. The other Washington Park headliners are Chromeo (Thursday, Sept. 25) and Cincinnati-bred rockers The Afghan Whigs (Friday, Sept. 26).
Last month, OK Go released the first single from Hungry Ghosts, “The Writing’s on the Wall.” And, like several other OK Go singles, the clever accompanying music video became an instant viral sensation online, thanks to the wild optical illusions featured throughout. Out just three weeks, the clip has already logged close to nine million views on YouTube.
Also announced today were several other MPMF 2014 acts (some of which were leaked gradually via social media over the past couple of weeks), including Joseph Arthur, Dessa, Liturgy, Lost In The Trees, Earth, Empires, Maserati, Coves, Body Language, Kid Congo Powers and Pink Monkey Birds, Froth, Blues Control, Gizmo, The Appleseed Collective, All Them Witches, Across Tundras, Ancient Warfare, Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel, Drowners, Corners, Bailiff, Dresses, Mustered Courage, Lab Partners, Love X Stereo, Buffalo Clover, Quiet Life, Caroline Glaser, The Ghost Wolves, Pujol, Shivering Timbers, Good Graeff, Parallels, The Ridges, Wild Leaves, Steelism, Modoc, Fort Wilson Riot, Jeecy and The Jungle, Alpha Consumer, Arum Rae and Apache Dropout.
Some great local acts were also announced, including Wussy, Why?, Electric Citizen, Public, Heavy Hinges, Young Heirlooms, Darlene, Pop Goes The Evil, Moonbow, Automagik, Prim and Smasherman.
Tickets are available now at mpmf.cincyticket.com.
On June 4, two Cincinnati-born bands were featured on two different late-night network television shows. Rock foursome Buffalo Killers, promoting their excellent new album, Heavy Reverie, appeared on NBC’s Last Call with Carson Daly in a pre-recorded interview package sprinkled with some cool performance footage. It was the band’s network television debut.
Earlier that same night, one of Cincinnati’s most renowned musical exports, The Afghan Whigs, played on The Late Show with David Letterman. The band — which is coming home to headline this year’s MidPoint Music Festival — played a great version of their tune “Matamoros” from the recent Do to the Beast album, their first new LP in 16 years.
Cincinnati Pop Rock quartet Mixtapes formed about four years ago and immediately hit the road with a relentless dedication. The band’s hard work paid off and it has experienced great success, building a dedicated fan base across the country with great live shows and hook-drenched, nationally-released albums and singles.
As anyone who has seen Mixtapes live knows, the band’s shows are adrenalized, sweaty fun and their music, while growing more mature and diverse with each release, is sheer fist-pumping, singalong joyfulness.
Frontman Ryan Rockwell was living the dream. But somewhere along the way, his life became more like a nightmare. The fact that Mixtapes’ launch coincided with the death of his father certainly played a part in Rockwell’s difficulties. Though details are vague, according to a press release, Rockwell “started to watch himself deteriorate and become the type of person he hated the most. He tried things he never thought he would and got dangerously close to not making it out.”
"I had never felt more alone," Rockwell says in the release. "Friends that I have had for years literally just stopped talking to me, stopped responding, a large number of them. I turned to the only thing I knew, and I started writing about it. I don't know who was wrong or who was right, but I know how much it hurt and people that I have helped and would do anything for left me when I needed help the most. Other people stepped up and saved me. I don't place blame though … I became a different person for awhile.
Rockwell was trying to understand what was going on in himself to make him so unhappy, but found it difficult to express. So he did what he does best and channeled his emotions into writing and recording songs. Working with friends Kamal Hiresh and Zach George and using the name Youth Culture, Rockwell hit the basement and created what would become the 10-track album, I Hate How Normal I’ve Become, an accomplished and eclectic collection of songs that, while still instantly catchy, possess much more darkness than Mixtapes’ jubilant Punk Pop.
Rockwell released the Youth Culture album late last month as a “pay-what-you-want” (yes, even if you want to pay nothing) download.
“This is an album for people going through things they don't like to talk about or know how to express,” Rockwell says. “We did it all ourselves and paid for it all ourselves. First and foremost, we want you to hear it — which is why it's free. If you like it enough, we'd very much appreciate a donation to recoup costs and eventually put it out on vinyl. But as always with everything I've done, I just want it to get out there, so thank you so much for taking the time to listen; there's a lot of bands out there, thanks for giving this a spin."
Listen to I Hate How Normal I’ve Become below, then click the player to grab your very own copy.
Fans worried that Youth Culture might signal the end of Mixtapes, fear not. The band is currently crisscrossing the United States on the massive Vans Warped Tour, which it'll be a part of until August. (The band is slated to appear at the Warped Tour’s Cincinnati stop on July 16 at Riverbend Music Center.)
Riff-tastic Cincinnati Hard Rock foursome Lift the Medium has only been a band for a year, but you wouldn’t know it listening to its accomplished debut full-length, Mastermind. The band celebrates the release of its rock-solid album with a show Saturday at MVP Bar & Grill in Silverton. The 9 p.m. show also features performances by Livid and Life After This. Admission is $10; the first 50 fans through the door score a free copy of Mastermind.
Though a relatively new band, Lift the Medium’s members have extensive experience; singer/guitarist Joey Vasselet spent time in Rootbound, a melodic band that craftily incorporated influences from several different eras of Hard Rock, while bassist Justin Kennedy, singer/drummer Jake Bartone and singer/guitarist Joe Bartone were a part of Atlantis Becoming, a group known for its exploratory, progressive approach.
The band members’ backgrounds give a good sense of Lift the Medium’s style. The songs on Mastermind are craftily structured — the winding riffs and rhythms are constantly in motion, subtly recalling the more exploratory sounds of Atlantis Becoming. But there’s no meandering — every movement is in service to the song, resulting in a more passionate and pointed melodic impact. There is also a lot of diversity throughout Mastermind, but it’s molded into a cohesive and contemporary sound the group can call its own.
Lift the Medium can at times remind you of Grunge-era superstars like Alice in Chains or Soundgarden, but flashes of the classic ’70s/’80s Hard Rock/Metal perfected by the likes Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne or Iron Maiden also bubble to the surface. The delicately ingrained Prog touches lightly recall groups like Tool, but Mastermind also sounds like it would be perfectly at home on Rock radio next to contemporary acts like Shinedown and Seether. The production on Mastermind is remarkably crisp and muscular, making it even more radio-ready.
It’s no easy feat to incorporate such a variety of styles without sounding like Rock tourists/time travelers, but Lift the Medium’s sharp songwriting skills and impeccable chops help bring everything together without sacrificing its own distinct personality, allowing the variance to keep things sonically interesting from start to finish, but never allowing it to overshadow the strength of the songwriting. Cincinnati’s Rock radio stations (and likeminded ones across the country) should be all over Mastermind. It’s a crowd-pleaser that works on numerous levels.
Find more info about Lift the Medium (and hear some more song samples) here.
Much has changed for the legendary Cincinnati live music venue the Blue Wisp Jazz Club over its 40-plus-year existence. Though it has consistently been the club for Jazz in Cincinnati over most of that period, the Blue Wisp has moved four different times over four decades. In its most recent locale at the corner of Race and Seventh streets downtown, the club owners also tried to attract more business by serving food and varying the types of music performed. But it wasn’t enough and the Blue Wisp has once again closed its doors (though various reports suggest it could find yet another new location in the future).
One thing that hadn’t changed at the Blue Wisp, at least since it began in 1980, is the Blue Wisp Big Band. The group of all-star local musicians has maintained one of the longest residency in the region, performing its skilled take on vintage Big Band Jazz like clockwork every Wednesday. The band is a Cincinnati institution.
When the Wisp shut down, the members of the Big Band were determined to not let their remarkable run end with a whimper. Instead, the Blue Wisp Big Band sought to continue its every-Wednesday residency at another venue. (In case you’re wondering, the group owns its moniker, so they can legally continue to use the “Blue Wisp” name.)
Veteran local Jazz pianist and Blue Wisp Big Band founding member Steve Schmidt says they’ve landed their new spot, Japp’s Annex on Main St. in Over-the-Rhine, and will pick up its Wednesday night shows beginning this week. Schmidt says the group will perform every Wednesday at Japp’s, at least through the end of July, when they’ll reassess the situation just to make sure it’s a good fit. The Big Band will again be playing two hour-long sets each Wednesday, the first starting at 8:30 p.m. The cover charge will be less than it was at the Wisp — just $5. (Parking is available in the lot on the corner of Main and Central Parkway, as well as in the garage behind the club on Sycamore.)
“We are excited about trying out this (Over-the-Rhine) spot and happy that the ownership and staff at Japp's is excited, too,” Schmidt says. “We are all thinking of ways to make it better for the customer and the band as we go along. The band wanted to start quickly, not to be dormant for too long.”
Several of the principal members of the Blue Wisp Big Band did a walkthrough several days ago to get a feel for the new space and were happy with what they saw (and felt).
“I got a very good feeling about the room,” Schmidt says, “both in terms of space — spacious yet intimate — and acoustics. I think the other guys felt the same way. (Founding BWBB anchor/drummer) John Von Ohlen rightly pointed out that there is a lot of wood — the floors and the large bar. As John said, in the fullest and most complimentary sense of the word, ‘It's a joint!’ It's what he had in mind when he formed the band and put it in the original Blue Wisp in O'Bryonville. He said he wanted a world-class big band in a beer tavern.”
“In a word,” Schmidt adds, “(the new space) has soul.”
Since being released nationally in early May, Cincinnati rockers Wussy’s amazing latest album Attica! has been scoring an insane amount of neon-glowing reviews from many high profile outlets. Pitchfork, Pop Matters and Spin, among many others, have all given the album high praise (Spin also recently named it one of the Top 50 album releases of the year so far, alongside long-players by Beck, Pharrell and The Afghan Whigs). The band’s new record was also the inspiration for a remarkable essay by Charles Taylor for The Los Angeles Review of Books.
Give a listen to the new album below, then hit “buy” to grab your own copy:
Wussy is playing its only local show until at least this fall tonight, as the group keeps busy on the road throughout the summer, crisscrossing the country in support of Attica! The band’s upward trajectory that has been kickstarted by the new album shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Check out CityBeat's recent interview with Wussy here.
Wussy joins The Tigerlilies, Honey & Houston and students from the School of Rock Mason (check the clips below for samples of each) for a free show tonight on Fountain Square as part of the MidPoint Indie Summer series (grab your MidPoint Music Festival passes in person at the MPMF booth or sign up for a chance to win some). The show starts at 7 p.m.
Cincinnati’s King Records and its various subsidiary labels have been widely celebrated for its vital contribution to the development of popular music in the 20th Century. The legendary label’s groundbreaking, integrated roster of Roots, Bluegrass, R&B and Funk artists gave the world recordings that were integral to the development of Rock & Roll, Pop, Country and, though perhaps less obvious to some, Hip Hop.
Musical icon James Brown was King’s most well-known artist and without Brown’s Funk genius, it’s likely that Hip Hop wouldn’t sound the same today. Brown’s work is some of the most widely sampled in Hip Hop and one song in particular provided the backbeats for innumerable Rap songs over the years. That song, “Funky Drummer,” was recorded at King’s studios 45 years ago in Cincinnati’s Evanston neighborhood.
Samples of Clyde Stubblefield’s drum break on “Funky Drummer” have powered classic Hip Hop tracks by the likes of N.W.A. (“Fuck the Police”), Boogie Down Productions (“South Bronx”), Public Enemy (“Bring the Noise,” “Fight the Power”), LL Cool J (“Mama Said Knock You Out”), De La Soul (“The Magic Number”), Ice-T (“O.G. Original Gangster”), Dr. Dre (“Let Me Ride”) and countless others. That break’s influence has never waned, as Nicki Minaj, Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def and many more producers and artists continue to find inspiration from the funkiest of funky beats. (And its influence extends beyond Hip Hop, having been featured on The Stone Roses’ classic “Fool’s Gold,” and tracks by everyone from Sinead O’Connor and George Michael to Aphex Twin and Korn.)
Tomorrow (June 7), some ’80s/’90s Hip Hop greats will honor the 45th anniversary of Stubblefield’s recording of that beat with an outdoor concert/block party near the site where it was recorded (in the 1500 block of Brewster Ave. in Evanston). The Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation, along with Eastwood Entertainment, Lando Chapman, City of Cincinnati and the Bootsy Collins Foundation, have joined forces to bring “The Alumni Tour,” featuring a variety of old-school Hip Hop greats, to town for the special event, dubbed “Lando’s Old School Block Party.”
The concert will feature performances by Kwame, Dana Dane, Special Ed and Chubb Rock, each of whom understand the power and influence of “Funky Drummer.”
Saturday’s celebration will also feature appearances by the JB-approved “Young James Brown,” King artists Phillip Paul and Otis Williams and the Funkmaster General himself, Bootsy Collins.
Showtime is 7 p.m. (gates open at 5 p.m.). Tickets are $25 and can purchased in advance here. (Only those 21-and-up are permited.)
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation’s ongoing efforts to draw attention to and preserve the legacies of Cincinnati’s rich musical past. The organization continues to do great things to honor downtown’s former Herzog Studios (where Hank Williams and many others recorded iconic tracks) and the group is currently supporting efforts to save and preserve the original site of King Records’ facilities and also attempts to have a permanent marker placed at the site of the old Riverfront Coliseum (now U.S. Bank Arena) in memory of the 11 fans who lost their lives in 1979 trying to get in to see The Who perform (a tragic event that led to the betterment of concert safety procedures throughout the industry).