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.
It smells like drying piss and old beer on the back deck of Northside’s The Comet. The air is filled with the dull thud of a concert beating up against the walls.
There are shows at The Comet every night and people piss and drink there every night, and John Hoffman and Dylan McCartney are there just about every night. Tonight they’re just here to get drunk, but usually they’re the center of attention.
Hoffman and McCartney are in emerging Cincinnati Punk band Sleeves. Hoffman calls the band’s sound American Apparel Punk. Their debut EP Sex is Stupid can be downloaded for free here. They’re a three-piece made up of Hoffman on lead guitar, McCartney on drums and Alex Collins on bass. Hoffman and McCartney both sing, and they both end up on the ground and sometimes injured by the end of their shows.
Cincinnati has an active Do-It-Yourself music scene and Hoffman and McCartney are major players in it. They organize and play shows and Hoffman even records, masters and puts together records for other bands.
Sleeves has played at The Comet, but most of the band’s shows aren’t held in traditional music venues but houses.
Residents all over the city are opening their basements, living rooms, decks and kitchens to musicians that want to do what they love wherever they can do it.
“I still remember the super visceral feeling I got from walking into my first house show,” Hoffman says. “It was just like ‘Where the hell am I? I’ve never seen anything cooler than this.’ I finally felt comfortable in a public space.”
From the outside, a house show looks uncomfortable. There are usually four or five terrifyingly big and tattooed guys stoically staring and bobbing their head to the music. Mosh pits break out constantly, and beer gets all over everyone no matter what, but it’s the closest thing to a bohemian utopia in Cincinnati — anything can happen.
“At one show, there was a point where everyone was crowd surfing just so they could tag the ceiling with spray paint,” Hoffman says. “It became a group effort where everyone was holding people up so they could tag the ceiling. That house was a wreck.”
“Suffice to say they probably didn’t get their deposit back,” McCartney added.
There’s no malice in these ways of destruction and these different looking people. They worked together to tag the ceiling — vandalism — but with teamwork, so it’s OK. The terrifying gentlemen are the first to help anyone up who gets knocked over. For every beer that’s dumped, 10 more are handed out. All the dirt, grunge and basement gunk are exactly what Cincinnati’s DIY bands need. The bands are good enough for big venues, but something is lost when people have to pay to get in, pay to drink and pay to eat and they can’t go outside for a cigarette and walk back in without getting hassled.
“My other band [Mardou] played at Bogart’s once and it was the worst show of my whole life,” McCartney says. “I’ve had shows which were one-twentieth the amount of people, at a house or something, and it was so much more fun to me. You connect to people at a show like that and they connect to you.”
House shows are intimate. There’s usually only an inch between you and the mic stand, but the intimacy comes from more than just close proximity. Certain houses become “venues” all on their own by regularly hosting shows — like The Outhouse in Clifton Heights and The Last House on the Left on Kirby Avenue in Northside. Communities form around these bands and houses, and people that feel like they didn’t fit in anywhere can find a home in someone else’s house. It’s an Island of Misfit Toys that serves Skyline chili.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s just an arts community — or a weirdos community,” Hoffman says.
Sleeves’ next show is Tuesday, June 24, in the basement of Lucy Blue Main Street location in Over-the-Rhine. Find details here.
Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Rea Carey said the executive order will be a major step forward.
“Now millions of people will have the economic security they need to provide for their families,” Carey said in a press release. “This decision is good for LGBTQ people, good for our economy and good for America.”
The initiative was a campaign promise in 2008, and LGBTQ groups have pressured the president to issue the order for years.
Obama announced this decision before appearing at a Democratic gay-rights fundraiser on Tuesday and as greater protection stalls in Congress.
Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect all American workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation or
gender identity passed the Senate in November but has since been halted in the
According to the Washington Post, 24 of the top 25 federal contractors have nondiscrimination policies towards sexual orientation, and 13 of those policies include gender identity. So while the executive order will cover 20 percent of the workforce, most are already protected.
Although many private employers offer protection, discrimination is still on the books in many states.
29 states, it is still legal for employers to discriminate on the basis of
sexual orientation; and in 32 states, gender identity is grounds for
Carey stressed the work that remains.
“Unfortunately, many of us who don't work for federal contractors will still lack workplace protections,” she said. “Now we must redouble our efforts for the urgent passage of state employment protections and strong federal legislation.”
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.”
Hey all. Let’s get straight to the important stuff… Across city, a whole lot of ice cream is melting. Large swaths of the east side seem to be without power right now for an indeterminate reason. Between 10,000 and 20,000 people are without electricity.
• Some of Cincinnati’s city department directors have been caught living outside the city limits. That’s a violation of city regulations, according to the Cincinnati Business Journal, which drew attention to the situation last month. Metropolitan Sewer District Director Tony Parrott and Citizen Complaint Authority Director Kenneth Glenn were disciplined by the city for skirting the residency rules. Glenn, who has been living in West Chester, is retiring in July. Parrott has been living in Butler County; he’s been docked 40 hours of vacation time and has six months to establish residency in the city limits. Now me, I’m from Butler County, and would give up a week’s vacation to not live there, but hey, that’s just me.
• On a note that’s bound to freak some people out, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport will be the first in the country to track the number of travelers in specific parts of the airport by using signals from their Wi-Fi devices. The information will help the airport mitigate congested spots and calculate wait times at security checkpoints. Lockheed Martin owns BlipTrack, the system being used to monitor devices. The company says no personal data is collected by the system, which only looks at the number of signals being emitted from devices. I'm cool with this so long as they aren't keeping track of the embarrassing amount of time I spend on Twitter while waiting for my plane.
• Campaign finance reports filed Friday show council member Charlie Winburn with a big stack of cash going into his run for state Senate. Winburn, a Republican, announced his candidacy last week, and his filings show he’s got more than $50,000 to spend. He’ll be challenging former council member Cecil Thomas, a Democrat. Thomas hasn’t filed a finance report this time around but had $1,500 going into the Democratic primary. He looks to have an advantage, though, due to the ninth district’s highly Democratic tilt. The district stretches across most of Cincinnati and other urban parts of Hamilton County. All statewide candidates filed Friday, and the results are fairly predictable, with Republican candidates getting large contributions and widening fundraising leads over their Democratic opponents. Gov. John Kasich doubled up on Democratic opponent Ed FitzGerald, gaining $1.7 million in contributions this period to FitzGerald’s $800,000. That puts Kasich with more than $9 million overall to spend in the race, compared to FitzGerald’s less than $2 million.
• On the subject of Republicans, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will be in town today. He’s promoting his new solo rap mixtape, which doubles as a campaign tool for his presidential bid. No, actually, that’s completely made up. He’s here to raise money for the Republican National Committee, and you can hear him talk for just $1,000. For that price, he better at least drop a couple freestyle rhymes about his economic policy ideas, though. Bush's name has been floated as a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, though he's a ways down the list.
• On a sad note, Casey Kasem passed away Sunday. He was most famous for his radio show, American Top 40, which millions of people listened to for decades. Closer to my heart, he was also the voice of Shaggy. No, not that Shaggy. Shaggy of Scooby Doo fame, which for you youngsters out there was kind of like Adventure Time before there was Adventure Time. I was a big fan.
This morning’s activities were as hectic as a hurricane as I jumped from one interview to the next in the Bonnaroo press compound.
Things started off nice and easy when I rendezvoused with a friend of a friend who is Lionel Richie’s stage manager. An industry veteran of many years, Sal Marinello has worked for Barbra Streisand, Metallica, Neil Diamond, Britney Spears and many more. Large festival stages like Bonnaroo are equipped with lights and sound, so Marinello’s workload and schedule today are not as demanding as a typical day on the road. Marinello and his crew arrived in the wee hours this morning with one truck instead of the usual seven. Main stage headliner Jack White’s line check completed and his gear rolled to the side of the stage by 8 a.m., Sal and his staff had Lionel’s gear in place onstage for their line check less than an hour later. (The rest of the day’s main stage performers will set up and perform in front of Lionel’s gear.)
The noon hour brought a flurry of activity that had my head spinning pretty much for the rest of the day. Nashville’s Wild Feathers returned on the red eye from St. Louis to do a three-song acoustic performance in the press tent that found the band looking ragged but sounding great as ever. Their material is strong, their performance was spirited, and their three-part whiskey tenor harmonies were crystal clear as ever. But they sure did look tired. Scheduled to play at noon, they were running late and had to jump right on the stage and burst into song immediately upon their 12:30 p.m. arrival.
Chatting with Ben Kaufman, Adam Aijala and Dave Johnston from Yonder Mountain String Band, I found the trio cautiously optimistic about moving forward after the recent departure of mandolin player and founding member Jeff Austin. Not that I expected them to be in a full-blown panic, but it was impressive to hear the calm in their voices as they discussed their future options with no apparent concern about securing a permanent replacement for Austin. Bluegrass legend Sam Bush joined Yonder for their 2:30 p.m. set on the main stage today. For their summer tour they’ll be joined by Jake Joliff on mandolin and Ally Kral on violin. (Yonder Mountain String Band plays Moonlight Gardens at Coney Island on the Fourth of July.)
The Flaming Lips brought a whole new freak rock spectacle to Bonnaroo this year and frontman Wayne Coyne was bouncing around the press tent talking to reporters for a couple hours yesterday. Spirits high and eyes aglow, Wayne happily made the rounds. The man loves to talk and this writer spent a dizzying 10 minutes with Coyne, discussing their brilliant new record The Terror. The band’s 12:30 a.m. set on the Which Stage was an explosive spectacle of lights, confetti, balloons, and dancers in costume, with the fiendish ring leader Wayne in the middle of it all looking like an evil super villain dressed in red tights with a shiny silver codpiece. (The band is one of the headliners of Cincinnati's Bunbury Music Festival this year.)
It’s not the first time I’ve seen Coyne dominate a press conference here; yesterday he spoke excitedly about The Flaming Lips’ desire to always bring something special to the Bonnaroo stage.
“If you’ve been here for three days and you’ve already seen 50 bands,” he said, “you wanna see something different. So that’s why (in 2007) we decided to land a spaceship here.”
Cool as a cucumber in spite of the summer heat penetrating the crowded tent during an early afternoon press conference, Derek Trucks fielded a question about the size of the Tedeschi-Trucks band. “An 11-piece band is a lot like herding cats.” Then he quietly mumbled the unintentionally Zen aside: “But it’s better than 30.”
Still buzzing from my conversation with Wayne, I scampered out into the crowd to catch Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke on the Which Stage. This was one of my personal Top 3 must-see bands of the weekend. It was gratifying to see the young Bonnaroo audience embrace a band that has more in common with their grandparents’ record collection than what many probably have on their current iPod playlist. I stopped to say hello to Blackberry Smoke singer and guitarist Charlie Starr after a 4 p.m. press conference and we discussed some of our favorite early Blues singers. I feel confident that he and I were probably among the very few here at Bonnaroo chatting about Ishman Bracey.
From there the day just got crazier, as the Saturday schedule was packed with stellar artists, including Valerie June, Drive-By Truckers, Phosphorescent, Lauryn Hill and Seasick Steve who boasted none other than Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on bass. Walking through the crowd I heard Cake play a spot-on cover of Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” with the guitar solo section cleverly transcribed for the horn section.
After a late afternoon breather back at the campsite, I wandered through Bonnaroo’s famous archway entrance to catch some of Lionel Richie’s set. My timing was perfect. As soon as I walked through the gate he launched into the Commodores’ “Brick House,” a Bonnaroo performance I’d been looking forward to for months. Again I found it gratifying to see the young audience dialed into Richie’s performance as he pulled out one classic song after another. You can imagine how his ’80s gem “All Night Long” had the dancers moving. This was a moment of such heartwarming cross-generational bonding that it gave me goosebumps in the humid Tennessee night.
Last night’s main stage headliner Jack White nearly tore the stage in half, bringing an explosive thunder and fury that’s largely missing from Rock & Roll these days. One of the most highly-anticipated sets of the weekend, Jack and his crack band did not disappoint. A frantic and fiery performer onstage, he was straightfaced and serious, as if in character, throughout a bombastic set that stretched well over two hours. White has called Nashville home for several years now and he brought noise to these Tennessee hills last night like no one ever has before. An all-out stunner from the first song all the way through to the last note of several encores, this was unquestionably one of the most memorable performances in Bonnaroo’s 13-year history.
And believe it or not there is still more to come. Today is the fourth and final day of Bonnaroo 2014. Photographer Chuck Madden and I must bear in mind that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, as we endeavor to take in performances today by Lucero, Lake Street Dive, Okkervil River, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Arctic Monkeys, Broken Bells, Washed Out, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Avett Brothers and more. The legendary Elton John will close out the fest tonight.
Thanks to CityBeat for making this all possible! Chuck and I would like to extend a special thank you to CityBeat photographer Jesse Fox who was a big help to us this weekend.
Only 361 days ‘til Bonnaroo 2015!
The blazing two-guitar Indie Prog of White Denim’s midnight set on Bonnaroo’s That Tent stage absolutely floored Chuck and me last night. Those familiar with White Denim’s fabulous 2013 release Corsicana Lemonade might find it hard to believe that the band sounded even better on stage than on record. Drummer Joshua Block repeatedly whipped the crowd into a howling frenzy throughout a 60-minute performance that found the band shooting a virtual shower of sparks that led Chuck to conclude, “We won’t hear anything else that good all weekend.”
Rarely have I seen a band who had the crowd eating out of their hand like White Denim did last night. This performance was an all-timer for me, one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had watching a band on stage. (You can catch them for free Sunday at Southgate House Revival; read CityBeat’s interview with the group here.)
Blessed relief fell upon us in the form of an unexpectedly quiet first night in the Bonnaroo campground. My Friday began with an illuminating 30-minute chat with Jake, Joel and Chris from Umphrey’s McGee. I told them I was from CityBeat and before I could even turn on my recorder they began to rave about Cincy’s late, great Ray’s Music Exchange, citing them as one of their biggest influences in Umphrey’s early days.
“Those guys were so bad ass and adventurous,” said guitarist Jake Cinninger, “It made us braver and made us feel like ‘Hey, maybe we can do this, too!’”
Sometimes described as Phish’s evil twin, or rabid little brother, Umphrey’s is much more than this. Performing a different setlist every night, indulging in wild flights of improvisation, often not repeating songs for many days, Umphrey’s musicianship and sense of adventure onstage is peerless and unparalleled. Bonnaroo veterans since the festival’s first year, 2014 marks Umphrey’s first appearance on the main stage. This week the band launched their own Nothing Too Fancy record label with the release of their new Similar Skin album. Touring through the summer and on into the fall, Umphrey’s makes a stop at Kettering, Ohio’s Fraze Pavilion on June 28.
Backstage press conferences today featured comedians Hannibal Buress and Taran Killam. Both held court in the press area for over an hour, good-naturedly conducting spontaneous interviews and posing for photos. I caught a glimpse of rapper Danny Brown, dressed head to toe in black leather and sporting a Guns ’N Roses T-shirt and dark sunglasses, chatting with a female reporter in the press tent. Just a few yards away, the members of J. Roddy Walston and the Business were laughing and carrying on with members of the assembled press like it was a family picnic. Just a few hours later Walston and Co. restored my faith in Rock & Roll with a blistering set on the Sonic Stage that found Walston himself repeatedly jumping up from his seat at the piano and into the arms of the adoring crowd. At one point he leapt onto the shoulders of an unsuspecting photographer in the photo pit before climbing once again over the barricade to crowd surf.
This writer spotted Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips walking through the crowd on Friday afternoon — but it was Toby from Dr. Dog, who I shamelessly ran after to get his autograph for my girlfriend back home. The first serious mob scene of the weekend gathered in front of Which Stage for Dr. Dog’s 2:30 p.m. performance. Unquestionably one of the most talented and promising bands of the past decade, their set was heavy on tracks from their stellar 2013 release, B-Room.
Our Friday was another typically schizophrenic zig zag around the festival grounds as Chuck and I took in sets by Neutral Milk Hotel, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Andrew Bird and the Prog Metal thunder of Animals As Leaders. There seemed to be a lot of excitement and anticipation in the air for Kanye West’s headlining set on the main stage. But, at the same time, the most frequently spotted T-shirt at Bonnaroo yesterday said, “FUCK YOU KANYE”. I heard someone in the crowd say, “If Kanye’s such a genius, he should sell those shirts himself.”
What with the Fringe Festival finished up last weekend, there's not so
much to choose from in the world of local theater. But there is a piece of frothy entertainment at
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company that is a perfect summer refreshment:
It's Noel Coward's Private Lives. The show (created in
1929) is indeed a classic — making it perfect material for Cincy Shakes — but it's a very funny comedy about a pair of lovers who can't stand
to be apart and who have problems being together.
They were married for
three years, spent too much time fighting and decided to divorce. As the
show opens, they're on honeymoons with new spouses, but they end up
coincidentally in adjacent rooms at a hotel in the south of France. When
the encounter one another on the patio, they old spark is there, which
leads them to run off together. As you might imagine, a lot of
foolishness ensues -- including them returning to the alternating
currents of being in love and throwing things at one another. The couple
are played by two Cincy Shakes vets, Jeremy Dubin and Kelly Mengelkoch,
who just happen to be married to one another. Their jilted second
spouses are also fine actors from the company: the sprightly Sara Clark
and the versatile Brent Vimtrup (astonishing as Hamlet earlier this
year) now playing a boorish dud. Lots of laughs along the way as this
tale unravels, gets tangled and winds up.
Private Lives opened a week ago and has been selling exceptionally well: I saw a performance on Thursday evening that was completely sold-out, and they announced that most of this weekend's tickets have been claimed. But you should call to see what's available. Through June 29. Tickets ($21-$35): 513-381-2273.