Brian Penick of local music promotions company The Counter Rhythm Group is guest blogging for CityBeat monthly to provide a behind-the-scenes look at his journey to release his interactive industry guidebook, Musicians' Desk Reference. For more on the project, visit its Facebook page here.
Wow, what a month. Extreme highs and lows, minimal sleep and a work schedule that would make an outsider believe I had an armed guard with a shotgun pointed at my back … which in some regard is true, except that I am playing both roles.
I am going to attempt to make this blog entry significantly shorter than the last because, as you may have guessed, I have more work to accomplish. The ever-looming deadline for South by Southwest (SXSW) is creeping up and preparations with everything surrounding the presence of Musicians’ Desk Reference at SXSW grow almost exponentially by the day.
This will be my fifth year attending the Austin, Tex., festival/conference (the largest music-related event in the US), and while it is my second time going without performing, I can already tell that this will be my busiest year ever. Taking meetings, handing out promo material and managing schedules for myself and my team are just a few of the things that will fill my week-long itinerary, all for the pursuit of introducing Musicians’ Desk Reference to some select individuals for endorsement.
While there are many different potential outcomes to this journey, I feel confident that my inevitable glass of top-shelf Kentucky bourbon at the end of the week will be a salute to success rather than a drowning of sorrows.
The obvious focus of this month, or at least what the intention was to focus on, was our Kickstarter campaign for Musicians’ Desk Reference (our upcoming music industry progression eBook for you newcomers). We still have a little over a week to go and time will tell what the final outcome is. My original goal was to have the funding reached by interested parties to eliminate the need for a third party publisher, ultimately keeping the cost down for the user.
In the event that this goal is not obtained in early March, never fear, as those who know me have probably deduced, I have several backup plans. Am I thorough? Yes. To the point that I am slightly neurotic? Probably. Regardless, nothing is going to stop the freight train that is Musicians’ Desk Reference. Nothing.
So in my attempt to clear my schedule for February to make way for this crowdfunding campaign, I actually ended up with a much busier month that originally anticipated. On top of all of our regular client work, The Counter Rhythm Group hosted our Locally Insourced Cincinnati Music Industry Trade Show, a fantastic show with Bad Veins, PUBLIC and The Ridges. We have been in negotiations with several of our clients for national support tours and we are in the midst of working a potentially huge licensing contract for a client.
In addition to a nationwide social media campaign and a getting ever so close to finishing the book, these past 28 days have seemingly become a marathon that we have just sprinted through. My next vacation is (literally) planned for 2015.
In closing I would like to take a second to thank not only those who have already donated to our Kickstarter, but also to those who (hopefully) will. There is still some time left (depending on when you read this; campaign ends on March 8), and sharing is something we are also encouraging folks to do. I would really like to try and go the independent route with this project, but I am prepared with other options in the end if that is not the case. At the least it has been quite a journey.
I also would like to thank those who have had to deal with my absentmindedness in (“normal,” non-music related) conversation over the past few weeks. I would like to say that this may change in the coming months, but knowing myself and how much I want to accomplish with Musicians’ Desk Reference, I would just plan on it for the next several months. It is by no means a way of stating that I do not care about what else is going on in the world, but should be viewed as a precursor to how significant I think this project can potentially be. I have dedicated literally half of my life to the music industry and I believe this is my biggest accomplishment to date.
Goodnight, and thanks for reading!
For a band that is called fun., I sure find it ironic that their music sparks nothing close to that feeling.
I admit comfortably that when I was 16, I was a fan of Nickelback, Disturbed and other bands that would fall under that “Cock Rock” territory. That’s a pretty bold statement.
While I’d say that (most) of that fandom is long gone, I have been finding myself coming back to a lot of the bands the shaped my childhood and early teenage years. Yes, partly for nostalgia (although no amount of that could ever make me listen to Nickelback again), but I think this is mainly because I am finding more and more that I am losing my place in the ever-changing world of music, specifically alternative and indie music.
Three years ago, I was always into the cutting edge of what is “now” — what many others and myself thought was good. I survived Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs winning Album of the Year at the Grammy’s, braved the great King of Limbs debate of 2011 and forced myself into thinking that a band like Chevelle actually sucked.
I read Pitchfork religiously to stay on top of music’s latest and “greatest” new bands. I even pretended that I loved Bon Iver, but that fell short when it was revealed that for about a year I thought Bon Iver was one person. Sorry I’m not sorry Justin Vernon.
Truth be told, I hate Bon Iver. I also think Neon Bible is a much better Arcade Fire album and even a Radiohead album like The Bends was better than King of Limbs. I think Chevelle kicks ass, but you’d never hear me say that out loud until now.
I guess I’ll stop brown-nosing my ego and get to the point. I like music that is accessible and fun. No, not the band. My friends and I, “We Are Young,“ but if that’s your idea for a great indie party song, then your parties suck.
I use fun. as my main example, but this also applies to Mumford and Sons, Gotye, Imagine Dragons, Lumineers and others. I find my friends and acquaintances throwing it against the wall and, beyond my understanding, I’m seeing it stick. It might be just me, but I find these bands depressing. Not in an Alice in Chains “I’m a heroin addict and I don’t know how to stop ruining my life,” kind of way either, but more like a Simple Plan, “My girlfriend left me and now I can’t stop complaining about it” kind of way. Yes, I just compared Mumford and Sons to a pop-emo band from the early 2000s.
There’s a difference between depressed and depression and these bands embody that very essence of momentary sadness that really doesn’t matter in a few months.
Despite the very real and very dangerous depression of the guys who fronted Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Butthole Surfers and several other bands during the ‘90s, the final product of that excessive drug use was great and often fun music to listen to.
You don’t put a hand on your heart and shed a tear for Kurt Cobain when he screams out the lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Of course not! You crank it up to 11 and scream loud and out of key with the guy.
Fun has become such a dirty word in alternative music and it’s not because of any form of stereotypical pretentious hipster nonsense. I really think the reason is, well…just because. I don’t think there’s a reason why Mumford and Sons’ Pop-Folk-with-a-Bluegrass-flare fusion is striking big, while Old Crow Medicine Show has been doing that for years.
What do I know is this: I miss when indie music was something new, exciting and fun to listen to. When I think of indie, I think of the playful lyrics like “We could go and get 40s” from the song “12:51” by the Strokes, the iconic bass line of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and the voice-raising howls of “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire.
I realize this is all personal interpretation, but indie music has become something of a boring passé before it even got old to begin with.
Bands have no foreseeable longevity because songs like “We Are Young” will be replaced faster than you can say “something that I used to know.” Ha, see what I did there?
And while Mumford and Sons have proven to have some lasting factor on modern music, I find their songs empty, repetitive and lacking any real expressiveness. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. “Little Lion Man” and “I Will Wait” are the same damn song.
They just don’t make good indie like they used to anymore, but then again maybe I’m getting too damn old for it anymore.
Anger, pain, jealousy and atheism, but tell me this song doesn’t get you going! I dare you!
AN OPEN LETTER to the four million members of the National Rifle Association:
Dear fellow citizen,
The NRA released a statement yesterday on your behalf expressing that you all are “shocked, saddened and heartbroken” by the news of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. Yes, we all are.
For years you have willingly given your money to an organization that has largely ignored pleas from policemen across our country to limit access to assault weapons and armor piercing ammunition.
You have spent countless millions of dollars silencing and vilifying voices that, while supportive of gun ownership, were calling for moderation in the distribution of weapons that could be used for mass destruction of human life, including the gun used by Friday’s killer that shot one first grader 11 times. And 19 other first grade children. And 6 adults in the space of a few minutes…
When previous heartbroken victims of gun violence who lost children or spouses tried to speak out to hopefully help prevent others from suffering similar unspeakable loss, you rallied for your rights, and gave the suffering no quarter.
For years you have marketed the idea to the citizens of this country that the US government is a potential enemy bent on harming its own citizens, and the only way we could all be safe was if we each purchased a private arsenal of weapons.
While you are reportedly “shocked, saddened and heartbroken,” how many of your members after Friday’s shooting have changed their profile pictures to images of guns, or tweeted messages like “I’m buying a gun the day after Christmas. Join me! #NRAlifelongmember” How many of your members boasted last Friday that they were going to take their kids to a firing range?
You continue to lobby in support of all of us carrying concealed weapons into schools, day care centers, movie theaters, and public squares. You argue that if only we could all walk around packing heat, our society could be safer and more peaceful. You lobby for wider “stand your ground” laws, so we can all load up and take the law into our own hands and play judge and jury (and God?) in the heat of the moment.
The members among you who call themselves Christian often bemoan the fact that “God has been removed from our schools” and yet those very members ignore the direct teachings of Jesus as recorded in Scripture that call upon all followers of Christ to work to break the cycle of violence and not return evil for evil.
Too many of us have stood by silently while you’ve played the part of the playground bully in our public discourse, and distorted our constitution for profit. While we as a nation have improved upon the vision of our “founding fathers” to end slavery in this country, to allow women the right to vote, and to outlaw hate crimes, you cling rigidly to a few words written when the right to bear arms referred to a single shot muzzle loading rifle.
Your voice has been powerful and strident, and too many of us have remained silent in our disbelief of what we were hearing from you. Our silence has been deadly.
If you are indeed “shocked, saddened and heartbroken” consider the part (if you are able and willing to join the rest of us in searching our souls) your organization has played when it comes to last Friday’s shooting. Consider the fear that your organization markets. Consider the bitter fruit of your labors that we must all taste.
And please consider asking forgiveness, changing your ways, and offering whatever healing you are capable of to the hurting in Newtown, Connecticut, as opposed to condoning responding to violence with still ever more violence, ad nauseum.
Unless you can do your part (along with the rest of us), and change in response to Friday’s tragedy, there will be still worse to come.
I live on a small farm in Ohio, own two guns (and my own business) and have family members who are big game hunters. I am rethinking my responsibility as a citizen of this country. We all are. I invite you to do the same.
You’re holding your big press conference tomorrow. We’ll be listening. But I am confident that many millions of us will no longer be silent.
There is no mystery in music anymore.
I‘ve been trying to find a scapegoat to blame for this. Most notably, I’d like to blame KISS for taking off their make-up in ’83, unveiling the Demon and Star Child as just a couple of goofy-looking New Yorkers dressed up like extras from a Dokken video.
But as much as I’d love to blame KISS for taking the mystery out of music (Gene Simmons ruins most things so it was a good guess), the problem really lies with the internet and the digital age we are consumed by. (Thanks, Al Gore!) When was the last time you went on Google and couldn’t find what you were looking for? With a few easy clicks, you can find answers to some of life’s most important questions like, "Who was the second guy from Wham?" (Andrew Ridgeley) and was Liam Neeson actually on an episode of Miami Vice (yes, he was).
But even with the constant flow of status updates, tweets and information that has caught Americans in this perpetual technology loop, over the last five months there has been one artist that has captured some sense of anonymity in the music industry. That artist is Captain Murphy.
For those of you who don’t know who Captain Murphy is, don’t worry. No one does.
When Captain Murphy burst onto the scene with his impressive verse on Flying Lotus’ Adult Swim single, “Between Friends," the music media and Hip Hop heads alike immediately got a raging hard-on for the guy. His use of voice modulation and his style, which carries the complexities of MF DOOM’s flow with just a hint of the silly attitude of Tyler, The Creator, caused a sea of speculation about his identity and spawned more gossip than when Honey Boo Boo Child gets pregnant before her My Super Sweet 16 special.
After the release of “Between Friends,” Murphy has intermittently dropped singles over the last couple months, turning the internet into his own personal Gotham City (Murphy playing the part of the Dark Knight) and leaving every music journalist and tons of Hip Hop fans trying to figure out who the hell is playing Bruce Wayne.
Now, Captain Murphy has dropped his mix tape, Duality, which takes the listener on a 35-minute Psychedelic Hip Hop excursion into the mind of a cult leader and has only heightened the anxiety attacks over his true identity.
But what’s the point?
Can we, journalist and fans, just relish in the secrecy of this up and coming artist without freaking the fuck out about it? I know that our job as journalists is to report information that people want/need to know, but I didn’t think obsessing over people who just want to make music and making their lives more difficult was in the job description.
The perfect example is last year’s music industry enigma, Earl Sweatshirt.
When the music media received news that Earl Sweatshirt, the most mysterious figure of the then-exploding Odd Future gang, was nowhere to be found, they began foaming at the mouth. The “Free Earl” campaign and the lack of knowledge of his whereabouts were covered by everyone from bottom feeder music blogs to The New York Times. But while Earl wasn’t even in the country (he was allegedly located at a troubled boy’s camp in Samoa), America was getting their rocks off on glorifying him as Hip Hop’s second coming and propelling him into stardom and fame before he was even old enough to vote.
Sweatshirt tackles this invasion of privacy on his latest single “Chum,” when he spits, “Tolerance for boundaries, I know you happy now/Craven and these Complex fuck niggas done track me down/Just to be the guys that did it, like I like attention/Not the type where niggas trying to get a raise at my expense/Supposed to be grateful, right, like thanks so much you made my life/Harder and the ties between my mom and I strained and tightened/Even more than they were before all of this shit/Been back a week and I already feel like calling it quits.”
It’s a shame that our insatiable infatuation with artists has been pushed to the point where we force young creators like Sweatshirt (and, to an extent, the seemingly fragile mainstream crossover star Frank Ocean) to want to give up on their budding careers, but what if the consequences were more severe? Sure, this constant media intrusion could push Earl to quit rapping and that would be a terrible loss of potential in the Rap game. But what if instead of quitting, this media malpractice pushed him to the bottle and drugs like Amy Winehouse or even a shotgun like Kurt Cobain?
On a smaller scale, it’s the same kind of information-driven OCD that makes people sign off of Facebook only to almost simultaneously check the Facebook app on their phones. Many of us now have an endless need to be in the know.
But in more serious cases, it’s the kind of obsessive behavior that caused fans like Michael Abram to break into George Harrison’s house and stab him in ’99, caused Mark Chapman to shoot John Lennon in Manhattan in ’80 or Nathan Gale to shoot “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott in that Columbus nightclub in ’04.
We have an opportunity to change this "gotta know now!" behavior with Captain Murphy. Here’s my proposal — every copy of Captain Murphy’s first album should include a prescription for Xanax and Prozac (maybe even a spliff or two for our friends out in Colorado). Maybe that would allow everyone to enjoy the music without having a mental breakdown about who is making it.
In the end, if Murphy doesn’t want us to know his identity, then we don’t need to know his identity. So unless the Captain is 2Pac revitalizing his career under this new alias, let’s all just keep calm and enjoy the mystery. While it lasts.
UPDATE: Aaaaand that didn't last too long. No more mysteries! Captain Murphy was revealed to be Flying Lotus (details here).
The music of one of Cincinnati’s all-time greatest musical exports, The Afghan Whigs, hit me at precisely the right time.
As a child, the music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who tattooed itself on to my DNA, while my high school years found me becoming obsessed with College Rock, Punk, Hip Hop and Hard Rock.
But The Afghan Whigs were my “coming-of-age” soundtrack — from (approximately) the ages of 20-27 — and, like those childhood musical heroes, their music has never left me.
Those years were pivotal in my growth as a human being. In that brief span, I was a raging alcoholic, a one-step-from-the-gutter junkie and a newlywed — at least for a few years all at once — with a handful of relationships that played themselves out painfully woven in between, followed by the “light” that comes with sobriety and clarity.
I can’t remember exactly the first time I heard The Afghan Whigs. I knew of
them right after high school by seeing their names on fliers for shows
at bars I wasn’t old enough to get into. But once I finally got my hands
on the band’s debut for SubPop, Up In It, in 1990, I was hooked.
While the music on Up In It still gives me a jolt every time I listen, the songs (save “You My Flower”) never became as emotionally resonant as 1992’s Congregation, 1993’s Gentlemen and 1996’s Black Love would prove to be for me.
The sound of the Whigs’ music was the perfect transition
for me from favorites like Dinosaur Jr., The Replacements and Husker Du.
But there was an aura in the Whigs’ music that those groups were never
capable of invoking. And originality — no one before or since has
conjured the magical abstract-art guitar squiggles Whigs guitarist Rick
McCollum has churned out and John Curley is one of the “Alt Rock”
revolution’s most distinctive bassists, with his sublime mix of melody,
feel and sheer propulsiveness. Original drummer Steve Earle also had a
trademark sound in his playing, a flurry of Hard Rock bluster and
shuffling dance rhythms.
Together with the hearty, evocative songwriting, The Afghan Whigs always had something more — an air of mystique and a sound beyond the trends — than their late ’80s SubPop peers, not to mention their ’90s Alternative Nation breakthrough cohorts.
I got lost in the dark corners and ominous shadows of the music, as well as its manic moments of pure, jubilant uplift and smothering, inescapable sadness. And I soon began to pick up on the words of frontman Greg Dulli, which have repeatedly given me those moments every deep music lover has where they’re almost freaked out by how closely the lyrics mirror their own feelings and experiences.
Dulli’s lyrics were raw, clever, poetic and brutally honest “love songs.” It was the brutal honesty of his poetry about relationships that led to a still ongoing belief by detractors that Dulli is a misogynistic asshole. But I never got that vibe, even when the lyrics (always taken out of context when used against him) skewed that way, like on Gentlemen’s “Be Sweet,” where Dulli croons,“Ladies, let me tell you about myself/I got a dick for a brain/And my brain is gonna sell my ass to you/Now I'm OK, but in time I'll find I'm stuck/'Cause she wants love and I still want to fuck”
Some find Dulli’s swaggering “lothario” persona onstage off-putting and such lyrics crude, sexist, deplorable. I find them a relevant part of the story and character development, but also a realistic portrayal of a virile young man’s mental process. Dismissing Dulli’s words because you find them dick-ish or “sexist” just seems disingenuous. Men are assholes sometimes. And they can realize that in themselves. And women can be assholes, too.
When I met my current longtime partner, she was as obsessed with Liz Phair’s music as I was The Afghan Whigs’, which made me draw some parallels between the two. She loved Liz Phair for the same reason I loved the Whigs — their music spoke directly to us and was dazzling in its self-awareness and rare candor.
It should be noted that I really love Liz Phair’s first album (the main one she built her legend upon, Exile in Guyville), but my girlfriend merely seems to tolerate my affinity for the Whigs. Still, The Afghan Whigs have tons of female fans, some who just love the sound of the band, some who appreciate the quality writing and musicianship, some who find Dulli’s honesty sexy and some who find the man himself a hunk among hunks. There are usually an equal amount of male and females in an Afghan Whigs audience.
Dulli’s lyrics have a personal, intimate style, like something being revealed to you in a whisper or drunken yowl in the backroom of a speakeasy, which might be why most of his critics fail to consider the possibility of a non-autobiographical “narrator.”
What Dulli’s lyrics offered to me was something I hadn’t heard before, and it all goes back to that brutal honesty. He was presenting a more complete and complex picture of love, one that admitted mistakes, wielded vitriol like a sword, cranked up the self-deprecation, wallowed in sex, drugs and misery and held on to the hope and promise that love first presents. The Whigs’ connections to classic Soul music isn’t just in the sound or beats; that lyrical description could also be about Marvin Gaye or any number of great vintage Blues and Soul artists.
Dulli sings about the emotional ups and downs a man in, out or around love feels. And his honesty made a lot of uptight people (and men trying to seem “femi-sensitive”) uncomfortable. It’s sort of like a non-ridiculous version of Howard Stern’s “He says the things we all think and feel but can’t say ourselves!” Like Charles Bukowski and Henry Miller, Dulli never ran his insight through a PC filter — he just ran it out, filter-less.
I can be masochistic in my listening habits, cuing up songs that are painful in their reminder of darker times or clinging to them during fresh, new depressing moments. But I’ve also listened to the Whigs while elated and ready to celebrate. Though I don’t have the same visceral response to the Whigs’ more upbeat “party” anthems (particularly on the band’s swan song, 1965), I’ve grown to love them almost as much.
During dysfunctional moments in love affairs, with my issues with drugs and alcohol, Gentlemen’s “Fountain and Fairfax” — with it’s lines like “Let me drink, let me tie off/I'm
really slobbering now” — stung. But it was a good sting, like a shot of
whiskey. Songs like these, the ones that echoed my weird, nihilistic
feelings of “fuck it all,” helped me realize I wasn’t totally insane. Or at least I wasn’t the only one who was trying to understand and deal with this insanity.
Black Love closer “Faded” has been an anthem for many breakups, the Purple Rain-sway
giving me the same kind of chills Wendy and Lisa get in the Prince
movie when he plays the title track for the first time. And whenever my
longtime battle with depression has led me to suicidal thoughts in my
life, “Crime Scene (Part One),” the numb, opening salvo on the Whigs
noir, emotionally-wrenching masterpiece Black Love, starts
running through my brain: “Tonight, tonight I say goodbye/To everyone
who loves me/Stick it to my enemies, tonight/Then I disappear.”
More than once, it’s brought me to tears and squashed all suicidal thoughts — thinking of saying goodbye to everyone who loves you is sometimes all it takes.
As I eventually got my shit together, getting off the hard drugs and managing my alcohol intake, another Whigs’ song would haunt me, but this time in a purely reassuring way. I’ve used a “program” called Rational Recovery to help me stay off of drugs and alcohol and the essence of the system is mental cognizance — being able to recognize when your mind and body are trying to get you to drink or do drugs. You turn this “feeling” into a physical thing and name it. I suppose it could be named anything, but I’ve gone with “The Beast,” per the suggestion of the Rational Recovery book.
It sounds silly, but merely saying in my head, “That’s The Beast,” has worked wonders for me staying sober. I eventually started to cling to a line from The Afghan Whigs’ single “Debonair” from Gentlemen: “Once again the monster speaks/Reveals his face and searches for release.” It so perfectly matches my “sobriety mantra” and mental ritual, I’ve considered having it tattooed on my arm.
I’m fairly certain that I would’ve become a huge Afghan Whigs fan if I wasn’t from Cincinnati. Even before I found a way to make a living from writing about music from the area, I loved “homegrown” music and never saw it as simply “local music.” But being able to see the Whigs in concert dozens of times, venues big and small, all over the region, including a few epic holiday shows and a couple of “secret” warm-up shows the band would sneak in before hitting the road — that certainly helped their “favorite band” status in my mind.
The Whigs have long been a phenomenal live band.
Musically, it’s always been a tight but ragged glory. But Dulli is one
of the most entertaining, funniest banterers in the history of Rock
& Roll. His mid-set chats (formerly trademark “smoke breaks,” though
Greg is now apparently a non-smoker) were like an edgy, fired-up
stand-up comedian going into the audience for some “Hey, where you
from?” volleying. But in Dulli’s case, it was usually a time to talk
musical tastes, new bands, maybe throw out some humorous sports
commentary, playfully taunting every other person in the venue. It was
loose, like party chatter, and I always found it an hysterical highlight
of every Whigs show. Comedy and music are my two favorite things in the
world and the Whigs usually delivered both in concert.
The band members were a few years older than me, so there was a sense of awe early on when seeing them around town. When a band I was in was playing at Sudsy Malone’s in the early ’90s, it would be a total mind-fuck to hear a Whigs member was in the crowd. Especially because I’d taken to listening to the band’s music so much, almost everything I played for a long time was informed by the Whigs. (Big C chords with a suspended 7 or mere C to E-minor chord progressions are classic early Whigs’ motifs.)
I’m far from the only local musician from the’90s (and likely beyond) inspired by the Whigs’ music, but there was another kind of inspiration during that era when all of the band members were out and about in Cincinnati. The Whigs’ “fuck it, let’s just go do this” ambition, just getting in the van and going, actually worked. That gave a lot of musicians hope that they could be heard outside of city limits even if they were from Cincinnati. But, unlike in Seattle, where there were several groups with similar sounds rising simultaneously, the Whigs were too unique to copy to the point where a label might sign a “soundalike” band. It’s what’s great about Cincinnati music — the lack of a unifying sound as a result of artists trying to make their own unique thing.
The Whigs were even involved in starting my career — the very first review of any piece of art I ever wrote was a take on the band’s Congregation album for a features/criticism class I took at the University of Cincinnati. (I remember getting a pretty high grade and thinking, “I got this.”) Once I’d decided I wanted to write about music full-time, I accepted an internship in New York City. Driving over the hills into New York City, the Whigs’ remix of “Miles Iz Ded” called “Rebirth of the Cool” came on some random NY/NJ-area radio station. It made me feel like I was on the right track.
Gradually, I’d meet all of the members out and about, and each had that Midwestern down-to-earthness that it usually takes outsiders to point out.
Well, I’d meet every member except Mr. Dulli. During the peak Whigs years, Dulli seemed especially sensitive to negative press, reportedly calling out (or just calling up) writers who’d say sometimes legit, sometimes stupid things about him or his band. I was a mentally unstable substance abuser who, for reasons I don’t completely remember or understand, added a couple of dumb barbs about the band into my column or elsewhere in CityBeat over the course of a few years. They weren’t especially harsh, save for one aside where I mentioned (jokingly) that a rumor was suggesting Dulli had developed a massive bourbon habit and gained 500 lbs (or something equally outrageous). It was stupid and baseless and, given his family lives in the area and might read it (this was pre-internet-is-everywhere), he had every right to be angered by my youthful idiocy. If you’re reading this, Greg, I apologize. It was another lesson in growing the fuck up, courtesy of The Afghan Whigs.
I came to despise that sort of trashy journalism but, in a cruel twist of fate, baseless gossip websites might just be the only job I’ll be able to get one day given the state of newspapers.
In response to my bad-taste alcoholic/obesity sentence, I received a fax (a fax!) from Dulli’s publicist saying the Greg was challenging me to an AIDS test. I’m still not totally sure why, though I think it was either a comment on my taste in women or my IV drug problem at the time. I was flummoxed. Embarrassed. Ashamed. Confused. Then tickled. “Greg Dulli knows who I am?” (Then ashamed again: “One of my musical heroes hates me.”)
That how much I love Dulli and his musical partners’ output — he might’ve strangled me with his bare hands if we ran into each other at a bar and I would’ve been all, “He touched me!”
Many of Dulli’s more direct peers from the Cincinnati area who were around when the Whigs were coming up don’t seem to have a very positive opinion of the man, but I’ve always taken their shots at him with a grain of salt. There might have been some jealousy or maybe Greg really was an asshole in his mid-20s. I can relate. There are so many stories and legends about Dulli’s personal life and actions during his time in Cincy as the Whigs were taking off, he’s like an urban Rock Star Davy Crocket.
None of it has ever changed how I listen to the Whigs’ music. To this day, when I’ve been in a relationship in turmoil or crumbling apart, I still think to myself, “My life is becoming an Afghan Whigs song again.” And I know there will be some emotional pain and probably a few bad decisions involved, but it’s at least going to be an interesting ride. The one that never ends.
Besides baseball, there are two things that I associate with GABP and the Reds — beer and music. Well, maybe there are three. Losing in the playoffs has seemingly snuck itself in there in the last week or so.
Whatever, I don’t want to talk about it.
Ever since I was a kid, my favorite baseball players' personalities have always matched their walk-on batting intros. (Adam Dunn’s intro, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica, was badass, unless he struck out afterward, which was often the case.)
But as I got older and was able to drink at the games (legally anyway), I began to notice a trend in my beer buying regiment. I was buying more booze in the bottom-half of the innings than in the top-half and I had no idea why. But after some deliberation (a couple more beers), I finally figured it out. It was this team’s batting intros that drove me to the stands to go broke on $9 beers (thanks, guys!)
So, in lieu of thinking about my bank account, or the fact that we made history being the only team ever up 2-0 in a series and still, somehow, some way, found a way to lose three straight at home, here is a list of the Reds' starters walk-on songs, rated on a scale of how many beers it takes for me to enjoy them. Even though no amount of booze will ease the pain of that Game 5 loss, maybe making fun of these guys' music preferences will.
• Zack Cozart: “Too Close” – Alex Clare:
Alex Clare’s DupPop single “Too Close” (best known for soundtracking an Internet Explorer commercial) has risen on the pop charts at the same rate as Zack Cozart’s batting average over the past season. Coincidence? I think not.
But really, Zack? This is your walk-on song? This is what gets you pumped up? I mean, for God’s sake, the lyrics don’t make any sense. “I feel like I am just too close to love you”? It would make much more sense if the lyrics were, “I feel like I’m too just too drunk to do you.” That would be a song I could connect with.
Rating: 8 beers.
• Drew Stubbs: “Breakin’ a Sweat” – Skrillex and The Doors
There is no excuse for this. The whole thing sounds like Netzero fucked Jim Morrison and it’s just not OK. I honestly think this may be half the reason why Stubbs’ hitting had been so atrocious over the last season. Really though, if I had to hear this screeching dial-tone noise ringing throughout GABP every time I went up to bat, I wouldn’t be able to concentrate either.
Rating: 20 beers. Alcohol poisoning sounds better than this song.
• Brandon Phillips: “Turn Up” – 2 Chainz; “Turn On The Lights” – Future; “Everythang” – Young Jeezy; “Pop That” – French Montana; “Bandz a Make Her Dance” – Juicy J
All right, DatDude, what the hell? I understand wanting to switch it up during the game and maybe having two or even three songs tops. But five? In most games you don’t even get to the plate five times!
It’s OK, though. It’s worth it just to see all the old white people get uncomfortable when there is some Rap music blowing through the speakers at GAB.
Rating: 2 beers.
• Joey Votto: “Paint it Black” – The Rolling Stones
I like to picture Joey Votto sitting at home alone, crying, listening to this song and asking, “Why do I have to do everything?!?”
Seriously though, when you hear that thumping drum beat in the beginning of the song, you know fear strikes the heart of any opposing pitcher having to face Votto-matic.
Rating: Zero beers. No alcohol needed for this one.
• Ryan Ludwick: “Brass Monkey” – The Beastie Boys
While Phillips' newer Rap joints are a little too hood for the white people in the crowd, this is something they can relate, too. I wish Ludwick could bat twice in the order, not only because he’s a great hitter, but so I can see the drunk 40-something in front of me gyrate and giggle some more when this song comes on.
Rating: 2 beers. It’s a fantastic song but it is about drinking, so it only seems right to have a little bit of a buzz.
• Todd Frazier: “Come Fly With Me”/ “Fly Me To The Moon” – Frank Sinatra
Todd Frazier is a class act. His intro songs were chosen because they remind him of his grandparents (seriously dude — is there a bad bone in your body?). But honestly, who better than Old Blue Eyes to bring out the classiest Red since Sean Casey?
Rating: Zero beers. Maybe a “Daniels on ice, two fingers” though, in salute to Sinatra.
• Jay Bruce: “Everything I Do” – Timeflies
I don’t know who these guys are, but based on the 15-30 second judgment made when I heard it every time Bruce came up to bat, I’m not a fan. (Sidenote: I’m going to blame this song on that pop-fly he had in the ninth inning of Game 5. Thanks a lot, Timeflies — you ruined the season!)
Rating: 5 beers.
• Ryan Hannigan: “The Show Goes On” – Lupe Fiasco
I applaud Hannigan for throwing up a Lupe song as his walk-on. It’s cool that he listens to some good Hip Hop. But this song was quite possibly the worst choice he could have made. The sample of Modest Mouse’s “Float On” alone makes me want the “show” to stop and never go on again.
Rating: 5 beers.
• Scott Rolen: “Viva La Vida” – Coldplay
This might be the weirdest choice on the whole list. When you see Scott Rolen up to bat, he just looks pissed off. Like he’s Liam Neeson and the ball he’s about to smash just took his daughter and sold her into the sex trade.
But then you hear his walk-on music and it’s freakin’ Coldplay? I was expecting some AC/DC, even some Motorhead, but Coldplay? I would go on, maybe even make a “You know how I know you’re gay?” joke — but honestly I’m afraid of this guy. Even if he does listen to Coldplay.
Rating: 4 beers. After about four large drafts I’d be singing along. It’s just got that Pop-chant chorus that I can’t resist when intoxicated.
I wasn’t going to do any pitchers but this one was too hard to resist …
• Mike Leake: “Some Nights” – Fun
You know what would be fun, Mike? If “Some Nights” you’d stop choking and pitch to your full potential.
Rating: 6 beers.
(While we know up-to-bat music is irrelevant in Major League Baseball and cannot actually be blamed for the Reds blowing it in the playoffs, we'll offer our suggestions for new walk-on music this coming spring. Look for it in about six months. Leave your own suggestions in the comments.)
I love the last day of MidPoint and I hate the last day of MidPoint.
I love the energy and anticipation of what has always been the best night of the festival and I hate the thought of going home at the end to the reality of another 362 day wait until we can do it all over again. Other than a couple of hiccups, both personal and universal, this may have ultimately been the most perfect MidPoint ever.
First up for Day 3 was a stroll to Washington Park for Freelance Whales, the Brooklyn, N.Y., Chamber Pop group that filled the void when a skateboard fractured Sleigh Bells touring schedule. This was my first experience in the park since it’s renovation and it really is spectacular from every conceivable vantage point. The design, the playground, the fountain, the attention to detail; Washington Park is destined to become a downtown jewel and everyone who threw in to execute this vision is to be commended, and perhaps knighted, if we do that.
I did want to see Freelance Whales, but I had a side agenda for coming to the show; I figured there might be a chance of spotting my friend (and former CityBeat contributor) Matthew Fenton since this is the kind of show he likes. As I scanned the growing crowd, I spotted and was spotted by none other than former CityBeat editor John Fox, now installed as a big cheese at 3CDC, largely charged with publicizing and programming Washington Park. We talked about the park and the triumphs and travails of attempting to make it as universally inclusionary as possible to all of Cincinnati’s residents. I hadn’t talked to John in a very long time, and it was great to catch up, but it was greater to see him so incredibly excited about the park and its potential. He has always been an incredible friend and booster of the city and he’s in the perfect position to channel that passion.
In the spirit of his being “the host” at the park (and my ever deepening poverty), I let him buy me a beer. In all seriousness, I owe John an unpayable debt. He recruited me as a CityBeat freelancer when he was building the paper back in 1994, and his one requirement for a place on the masthead was that I get back to writing features, something I hadn’t done in well over six years at that point. John’s conditional offer of freelance work launched me on a path that continues to this day, and absolutely set the stage for my transition into full time writing when I lost my full-time design gig in the idiot epidemic of 2001. So many great experiences and interviews and interactions and friendships resulted from a lunch meeting 18 years ago when John looked me straight in the eye and said, “You are too good of a writer to be doing nothing but reviews. You need to be writing features and that’s all I want you to do for me.” Without that firm encouragement and faith, the last couple of decades could have been very different indeed. I owe you an ocean of beer, Sir John Fox, and although it may be awhile before I can start making payments, please know that I acknowledge the debt.
OK, dry your eyes, pussies … on with the shows.
Freelance Whales were an excellent stand-in for the silenced Bells. Their gorgeous Chamber Pop swells and subtlety were made even more majestic and expansive with Music Hall as the backdrop behind the MidPoint stage. As the sun went down and Music Hall lit up in anticipation of the evening’s CSO performance, Freelance Whales’ gorgeous melodicism and quietly powerful presentation was exponentially amplified. Any fan of the Decemberists or Arcade Fire should make room for Freelance Whales in their playlists.
From there, it was a brisk walk through the teeming Midway (what a fantastic idea, please let’s do this forever) to Japp’s Annex to witness the loopy edge of the New World Ancients. The Chicago quartet exudes a definite Pop/New Wave vibe, a quirky clockwork rhythm that suggests Go 2-era XTC and early 10CC with hints of the frenetic artiness of what was known initially as the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. That 21st century New Wave concept was reinforced on “Shape Shifter,” which careened like vintage XTC and Danny Elfman, while “Hole in the Sky” sounded like a Space Rock anthem collaboration between Andy Partridge and Godley & Creme; they even hauled out the brilliantly weird “We Are the Future,” an old song from Athens, the band that spawned NWA. All four NWA members had all-seeing third eyes painted on their foreheads, which offered just the right amount of creepy fun to the proceedings.
Ric Hickey ducked into Japp’s for a tour of the porcelain village, on his way to rendevous with Greg Gaston and Jeff Wilson to check out The Walkmen, and since I was headed that way myself, I followed him out. The four of us drifted down to Neon’s for a beer or two, bullshitted for a spell about music and life (like there’s a difference), watched the Reds tie the game in the eighth (glad we didn’t stick around for the extra innings … cest la vie — still division fucking champs, babe) then headed up to Grammer’s for The Walkmen (Ric rethought his schedule and hung around for the late lineup at Japp’s).
Although we were half an hour late for The Walkmen’s start time, it turned out they hadn’t been particularly timely. As we waited at the front gate (based on the asshole-to-elbow crowd that packed Grammer’s tent, I was convinced the line was designed to grease up latecomers so they could slide into the throng more easily), I was overwhelmed by the exquisite aroma drifting over from the food truck next to the entrance. Greg saw my sidelong glance and gave the taco truck and the young lady taking the orders a ringing endorsement.
The Walkmen were as fabulous as I suspected they would be. Spiffed out like a GQ Rock fashion layout, The Walkmen displayed a similarly stylish edge in the live presentation of their energetic yet restrained studio work. Still going strong a dozen years after forming from the ashes of Jonathan Fire*Eater and the Recoys, The Walkmen have evolved from atmospherically sparse Pop to more visceral and then Folk-tinged Indie Rock. The Walkmen’s new album, Heaven, is a more lush sonic affair, with songs that deal with the pressures of adulthood and the strength of love. The album’s sonic breadth is hinted at in concert but The Walkmen are more than capable of allowing the songs to do the heavy lifting, presenting them with power rather than mere volume.
In an age of disposability, The Walkmen have persevered for 12 years without a lineup change, going their own way in their own time, and seamlessly tempering their youthful enthusiasm with their hard-won maturity. It’s a wirewalk that few bands can pull off but The Walkmen manage to do it with an easy grace and humility; they were clearly affected by the huge turnout for their MidPoint debut.
I reluctantly bailed after about 30 minutes due to the start of the 10:00 pm shows I wanted to catch, and my creeping hunger, the launch codes for which had been entered coming into the show. I headed straight for the Taco Azul truck and quickly discovered Greg was right on all counts. The tacos were otherworldly good. All apologies to Mr. Hanton’s for straying from my steady diet of handwiches, but it was inevitable; when I was at Washington Park, I noticed that Island Noodles, which had been a huge hit at Bunbury and my favorite food of the festival, had a booth near the MidPoint stage and I briefly considered working in a walk back to the park to score a noodle bowl. Saturday was destined to be hot dog free.
I was just finishing my tacos when I ran into Black Owls' Brandon Losacker and three of the Sohio musketeers, who were all headed to Below Zero for The Ready Stance show, which was my destination as well, so off we went to see the wizards. Brandon graciously handed me a delicious Kentucky Bourbon Ale, the perfect cigarette after my taco interlude.
The Ready Stance was already in full swing and what a swing it was. The bar was absolutely sardine packed with fans loaded with love for the Stance and they didn’t disappoint. After a scorching spin through what I’m guessing was a new song (I didn’t recognize it as anything from their debut, the uniformly excellent Damndest), Ric Hickey stood wide-eyed and slackjawed and proclaimed the song’s classic brilliance. He wasn’t wrong. Damndest was a great opening volley, but their next shot could well be the one heard around the world, and this gig was an all too brief example of their talent and passion. A great set from a great band.
Near the close of the Stance’s set, I ran out to the Midway to catch the last three songs from Imperial Teen, because they’re one of my favorite Indie Rock bands with a quirk factor that is discernible but not obvious or trendy. I’d been looking forward to their 11:30 pm slot, but Imperial Teen’s set moved from the Hanke to 10:00 pm to accommodate the outdoor music curfew. It was clearly a great finish to what seemed to have beeen a rollicking set; Sean Rhiney declared it to be his favorite band of this year’s MidPoint. And the band was certainly appreciative of the large crowd that turned out for them; frontman Roddy Bottum noted that this was their only Midwest show and that they were glad that it was happening in Cincinnati. Their new album, Feel the Sound, is fantastic, as is the bulk of their catalog, and I hope they find their way back here very soon.
After that, it was a quick hustle over to The Drinkery to witness the Hard Rock fireworks provided by Thunder Bay, Ontario’s Bella Clava. I had written up the CityBeat preview for the band so I was already inclined to check them out, but the Mad Anthony guys had done some gigs with them and were highly recommending the show, so Bella Clava went from “possible” to “definite” in short order. The adrenalized quartet was hotter than fresh lava and proceeded to melt every face in the jammed Drinkery space with the ferocity of a bull on crystal meth. Frontwoman Caitlin Dacey was a mind meld of Ann and Nancy Wilson, switching between guitar and keyboard, guitarist Steve Suttie channeled the likes of Jimmy Page and Richie Blackmore with sweat-drenched conviction and fury, and the rhythm section of bassist Scott Hannigan and drummer Zack Mykula created a thunderous bottom that could have been registering as a seismic event.
The band was clearly moved by the MidPoint love they were receiving; at the end of their set, Caitlin noted, “I need to get a picture of you guys; my mom won’t believe it.” Ringo Jones hopped on stage and got a shot of the band with the Drinkery’s Rock drunk crowd behind them. It was a thing of beauty.
Then it was back to Below Zero to yet another near capacity audience for yet another Canadian import. Zeus came highly recommended by Losacker and several others, so I decided to check them out. The quartet were as good as advertised, sort of a Hard Rock spin on the Beatles and the Kinks. In the studio, there is a more than noticeable Sgt. Pepper vibe to Zeus’ sound, but in the live context, some of that psychedelic subtlety gets shaved off in favor of a leaner, more visceral Rock experience. It was clear that a fairly large percentage of the audience knew what they were coming to see, because there was a good deal of song recognition and wild response in the crowd.
I ducked out after about 30 minutes of Zeus’s sonic lightning bolts to catch the end of the road for local Rock heroes The Dukes Are Dead. Here’s proof that sometimes bad luck can result in good things; London’s Leogun was forced to cancel their MidPoint appearance and so the Dukes’ final show was pushed to the closing slot, allowing them the leeway to play considerably longer than their original 9:45 time would have accommodated. In some ways, it’s been a bad year for straight-up Rock in Cincinnati, with the recent demise of Banderas (MPMF regulars) and now the dissolution of the Dukes. As befitting a band that was playing its last show in the last slot on the last night of MidPoint, the Dukes left nothing in the bag. The band’s frenzied set was a thrashfest of howling vocals and grimy, guttaral riffage that was so explosive it was tempting to think that Luke Frazier and Luke Darling were playing six string grenade launchers, while bassist Randy Proctor worked his bass like a lead guitar and drummer David Reid hammered his kit like he was forging broadswords for Middle Earth giants on an anvil made of asteroids and pain. Formed just three years ago, it looks like the Dukes are going their separate ways to pursue new musical projects, which we can only hope results in a massive stock split as four hugely talented Hard Rock provocateurs subdivide into a handful of new and similarly bent projects.
We will certainly welcome the Dukes Are Dead in their new individual configurations, but anyone was there will never forget the way they went out collectively. It could have been a bittersweet moment, and to a certain extent, it was, but it was also the joyous beginning of the rebirthing process, and in that context, the final show of The Dukes Are Dead was an absolute perfect way to draw the curtain on MidPoint 2012.
MidPoint 2012 Saturday Night Notes:
• Even by my standards, I swilled a lot of beerage at this year’s MidPoint. Mike Breen threatened me with an intervention and a film crew from the so-titled A&E show, but he also offered to buy the beers, so it was all good. Still in all, if you ran into me and expect to see our exchange in these musings and it’s not here, don’t feel left out. There are events that, even just hours old, are vague and unstable memories to me now. It’s a lot to expect for an aging and beer-sodden brain, so bear with me.
• Day 3, no Matthew Fenton. It cannot be that we didn’t cross paths even once over the course of the three days here, so I have to believe that he skipped this year’s soiree. He and Kelly were here for Bunbury in July so maybe that was the reason he bailed this year. A MidPoint without Matthew is like a MidPoint without sunshine, and while I get that the vast majority of it happens at night, you know what I mean (or refer to the preceding paragraph for clarification).
• Ran into MPMF stalwart/stage manager/former Buckra guitarist Jacob Heintz, his niece and pal Brome (the spelling of which I’m guessing at). It was the first time I’d spotted Jacob all weekend … I was beginning to think maybe I should take a shower, the way I was being avoided. Then I decided that was a rash decision. Or maybe just a rash. Either way, it was great to see Jacob.
• Crossed paths with Paul Roberts and his sister at Japp’s during the New World Ancients. It was the first of many crossings with Paul and his merry band of Rock rangers, including Faint Signal guitarist Randy Campbell, big Jim and the little guy whose name always eludes me (see the opening paragraph for clarification).
• I love that local singer/songwriter Ric Hickey is back in town after a stint on the west coast. And more importantly, Ric Hickey loves that Ric Hickey is back in town. Time to strap up and Rock on, my brother. Welcome home.
• The Ready Stance gig was a stacked deck of musical luminaria; The Purrs’ Jim Antonio, drummer to the stars Dana Hamblen, Black Owls’ Brian Kitzmiller and Brandon Losacker (who repeatedly supplied me with Kentucky Bourbon Ales, which I may have developed a dependence on), the above noted Ric Hickey and CityBeat head man Dan Bockrath, who repeatedly bought the beer at every possible opportunity. I’m thinking of starting a Kickstarter campaign to fund the construction and upkeep of the Brian Baker Beer Buying Hall of Fame. I smell a plaque with Dan’s name inscribed on it. Or maybe I just missed the urinal. Again.
• A couple of Sean Rhiney (musician and co-founder/operator of MidPoint before CityBeat took over) sightings, first at Washington Park as I was departing Freelance Whales, and again at the Imperial Teen show. Sean is a prince among men, and even has a princely look. If royalty ever comes back to America, Sean should be in line for some kind of dukedom or earlship or lordiness. Really.
• I happened upon former Host vocalist Chris Charlton, who was handing out free copies of the debut issue of his new comic book, Sleepless. His written all the stories and worked with a variety of artists to bring them to life in Sleepless, which is being published by Assailant Comics; there will definitely be a #2. Chris says he may get back to music at some point, but right now he’s concentrating on the comic. The first story is a zombie love story, but my fave was “Artificial Unintelligence”; pick one up and enjoy at your leisure.
• Randy Cheek (member of The Ready Stance and Fairmount Girls and former bassist for Ass Ponys) needs to write a book. After the Stance gig, his stories in the alley next to the dumpsters beside Below Zero were all incredible, ranging from stepping in human waste after a gig (the phrase “slightly melted poopsicle” was used) to seeing a bedbug on an amputee’s stump in his daytime role as an exterminator, all of which was punctuated by a guy pissing on the other side of the dumpster. Randy really needs to write a book. Really.
• The old saxophone player who was blowing on 12th Street just down from the Midway segued from the theme song for Sanford and Son to George Michael’s “Careless Whisper,” which, in my state at that moment, was a sure sign that a portal to another dimension had been accessed, or that alien beings had just been contacted, like with that weird note sequence from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I’m still not sure it didn’t.
• I stumbled into Mark Messerly, Eric Appleby and his lovely wife Trish on the way to Bella Clava. I should have asked Eric about Matthew. There were exchanges, a bad vaudevillian punch line (mine, naturally) and gales of laughter (a drunk is never not funny), as well an introduction to some lovely people whose names were obliterated by the first stormtrooping guitar chord that hit me at The Drinkery. I pulled out my pad to write them down on my big notepad titled "Don’t Forget, Dumbass," and they were gone. Regardless, it was nice to meet you. The second introduction usually sticks.
• There were so many people at the Bella Clava and The Dukes Are Dead shows that my memories are kind of bubbly around the edges, like a burnt photograph. The Mad Anthony guys were all there, Jeremy Constantinople from Banderas, Paul Roberts and the gang (which sounds like they’re the Cosby Kids or something, but they’re not, I’d bet), and Beth, who I met at the Black Owls show, and a guy named Chad who has a band in Newport and wanted to hire Randy after the last Dukes show (he told me the name of his band, but the opening paragraph should be referenced for clarification) and Dan Bockrath who bought me a Red Stripe because it was the only beer the Drinkery had left, and you were there, and you and you. And it was a beautiful, beautiful night filled with amazing people and fabulous music and love. Or at least really intense like. And it stoned me. Or the opening paragraph did. Either way, blissed out at MidPoint again and again and again.
• As always, thanks to the great (and nearly jailed) Dan McCabe for his grace under fire and his dedication to making MidPoint one of the best things that happens in Cincinnati. He is a king in the new royalty, a king I tell you. Thanks also to the tireless volunteers who make this run like a well-oiled machine (I use beer to oil my machine, and it’s a good thing the volunteers don’t take that approach or nothing would get done), the fans who spend their hard earned money on wristbands and venue tickets and food and gallons of goof juice and souvenirs, and of course the bands who come from
around the corner, across the state, around the country and the globe to entertain us and bring a little musical sunshine into our spongey consciousnesses. Or is it consciousnessi? I don’t have time to look it up. MidPoint 2012 is a lovely memory, and I’m drooling like Pavlov’s dogs for next year’s lineup, whatever it may be. Matthew Fenton, your place is saved. Next year, for sure.
You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and then you have the MidPoint Music Festival. Well, none of it was bad; I mean, if I have to bitch about something, it’d be that there weren’t enough bathrooms. Just kidding. Who do you think I am, some writer from The Enquirer or something?
It was my first trip to Cincinnati’s annual music event, so it was my MPMF deflowering, if you will. And just like every teenage girl’s dream, Midpoint popped my cherry by easing me in slowly and sweetly, but ended up giving it to me hard enough to have me worn out by the end of the night. Also, since almost all the shows were at bars, they even got me a little tipsy before they ravaged my mind with their delightful musical fuck-fest (what gentlemen!)
I started my night at Washington Park, where New Zealand’s Psychedelic Indie Pop rockers Unknown Mortal Orchestra took the stage. When they finished, I didn’t know how I felt about it. The songs were catchy and the music was very beat-driven, with intermittent fetching riffs and wailing solos from the lead man and mastermind of UMO, Ruban Nielson, but there was still something off about it. To me, it sounded like the vocals were turned down too low, almost becoming a backdrop for the Pop-induced musical acid trip blowing through the amplifiers. Then again, it also may be the fact that I didn’t know many of the lyrics. Either way, it ended up being like meeting a cute girl at a bar that ends up just having an OK personality. She sparks your interest for a while and you may even take her on a couple dates, but there’s only so much you can hear about how cute her cat is or why The Vampire Diaries is such a great show before you realize she’s just not for you.
After UMO ended, I decided to finish my brew, skip out on Grizzly Bear (mainly because someone else had to be covering it, right guys?) and headed down to The Drinkery to see Boston duo You Won’t. It may have been the best decision of the night.
On my way there, I had to force myself to walk by the Third Man Records rolling record shop (because I’m broke) and contemplated going to the free advice booth/box truck to see if somebody can tell me why my life is always falling apart, but decided to get a drink instead (maybe I just answered my own question).
When I arrived at The Drinkery around 8 p.m., it was a ghost town. That sounds stupid and cliché but, including the bar staff and the two other people I brought with me, there were approximately 15 people in attendance.
By the time You Won’t actually started (around 8:30 p.m.) there were about eight people watching. The rest were sitting at the bar either enraptured by the masterful pitching performance Homer Bailey was putting on against the Pirates (who can blame them), off in their own conversations or at Washington Park seeing Grizzly Bear. After the end of You Won’t’s first two songs, however, I was already impressed.
Lead singer, Josh Arnoudse, who in addition to being a really cool guy (I spoke with him briefly after the show) had one of the most distinct voices I’ve heard in a long while. At first, I thought it to be like a higher pitched, better toned Bob Dylan, but as the set progressed, Arnoudse hit his falsetto with ease (on numerous occasions) and showcased a wide vocal range during the 40 minute show. The other half of You Won’t, Raky Sastri, was quite the musician, as well, manning the drums, keyboard, accordion, harmonica, tambourine, organ, xylophone, and, oh yeah, he did back-up vocals, too.
Yet, the best part of their performance was about halfway through, when Arnoudse decided that if people weren’t going to come to his show, he was going to bring his show to the people.
He then proceeded to run out into the “crowd” with his acoustic guitar and play by the pool table because "the vibing" better. Oddly enough, he was right. People started to come around, circling Arnoudse and Sastri, while Arnoudse played to their cell phone cameras as if they were on national TV (look out for those on YouTube later.)
When You Won’t ended, I basked in all my fan-boy glory, praising Arnoudse for his set and buying their LP, Skeptic Goodbye. Then, the unthinkable happened. The Dark Knight (Bailey) rose as he achieved the Red’s first no-hitter since Tom Browning did it against the Dodgers back in ’88 (I wasn’t even born yet) and celebration ensued. People were going nuts, drinks were bought and high-fives were given as the general mood of the bar had done a 180-degree turn in less than an hour.
After partying it up with those patrons, I headed down to Mr. Pitfiuls (what an awesome name) to check out old school Country band The Tammy Whynots and I was not disappointed. Although I had to leave about six songs into their set, these guys (and gal) really captured that classic Honky Tonk Nashville sound that was so revered in the ’60s and early ’70s. With their bedazzled rhinestone jackets, Kelly Thomas’ vintage Loretta Lynn-style dress and throwback hair-do, The Tammy Whynots not only hit the sound right on point, but the image, too. I don’t want this to sound like they are purely a tribute act, paying homage to Country legends like Johnny, June, Tammy and George, because if they had come along earlier (like a lot earlier) they could have easily fit right in right along side those legends.
The final band I saw Friday, were the high-octane, high-energy, in-your-face Rock & Roll band The KillTones back at The Drinkery. It was the thing I had been waiting for all night; finally, a band with some fucking attitude. This was not only the four-piece Blues-infused band’s first time at MidPoint, but also their album release party. They knocked their really tight set out of the park. No no-hitter here.
The guitarist, Josh Pilot, was like a combination between Tony Iommi and Chuck Berry if they hung around Jack White a lot. The lead singer, Clinton Vearil, was about one of the most enigmatic frontmen you'll find, contorting and gyrating all over the tiny stage at The Drinkery. My favorite part of their set was a slow, bluesy song that really let Vearil’s vocal abilities shine, as he went from a mesmerizing high-pitched scream to a really soulful and sultry sound in the verses.
Although, this was definitely the best festival experience I have ever had, I only have two regrets. The first was that I was too tired to go see F. Stokes at the end of the night at the Blue Wisp. I know, I’m an idiot, but you can blame The KillTones for that; they wore me out. The second is that I didn’t have the money to buy The KillTones CD, which is consequently all I want to listen to at this moment.
Anyways, I couldn’t have asked for a better night. Good bands, good beer, my first Reds no-no and a new-found respect for the Cincinnati music scene. Thanks, Midpoint for taking it easy on me for my first time; you really know how to treat a girl right.