Shinedown has been touring on its most recent album, Amaryllis, for the last two years and has just started its Carnival of Madness tour to complete touring on the record. It is the band's biggest, brightest and loudest tour yet. With each album, Shinedown's rocking sound shows bigger energy and different sides, as well as different looks.
CityBeat was able to catch up with bass player Eric
Bass to discuss life on tour and the close bond the band members have,
even after all these years. Shinedown will be tearing up the PNC
Pavilion at Riverbend on Saturday night on its Carnival of Madness tour
stop with Papa Roach, In This Moment and Skillet. (The concert is sold out.)
CityBeat: You guys have really been successful with the last couple albums. You have been on the Billboard charts for over two consecutive years. Did you ever expect that would happen?
Eric Bass: Did I ever expect it? I always hoped it would happen, I guess. You work really hard. We have this thing we say: "Keep your head down, stay humble and move forward." We are blown away by the success. To be honest with you, if you had told the 17-year-old me this was what was going to be happening, he’d be ecstatic. I can’t say that I expected it to happen. We wanted it to happen. We worked really hard for it. We are not surprised, I guess you could say, because of the hard work. It is a true blessing to be able to do what we do and have the success we have had.
CB: The band has been touring constantly. How do you make time to write new songs on the road?
EB: We actually don’t write on the road. We like to separate the two. We go home when we are done with this tour. We will lock ourselves away for a year and write as many songs as we can. Then, when we are done with that, we will go out and tour again and complete the process. We wrote “Diamond Eyes” on tour because it was for a movie soundtrack. That was the first experience we had with that. It worked out and everything went well with it. We work really hard when we are on tour. We are a go-go-go all day long band with interviews, meet and greets and that sort of thing. So there is really not a lot of time to get in and be creative like that. We prefer to separate the two and that creates the situation where each record is pretty different from the others because they are different times and you are not overlapping time periods. You are separating into blocks. It makes the records really interesting.
CB: I have photographed you on your last couple tours. Your shows have grown larger and larger with more pyro and turned into huge Rock shows. How did you guys prepare for Carnival of Madness?
EB: Well we started talking about it two or three months ago and we said, “It’s not going to be small.” That was the whole thing. We were going to make it as big as we could possibly make it. We are bringing our whole sound system with us. We are bringing our own lights. We are bringing our own pyro. We basically have carnival performers that are out with us. It is just a conscious, concerted effort to, every time, step your game up. We have sort of become known for that when we do these big headlining runs. We don’t want to disappoint anybody. People paid good money and want to see a great Rock show and that’s what they are going to get.
CB: You actually have carnival performers on stage with you?
EB: We actually do, yes. It’s going to be fun. I think everybody is going to really enjoy the show.
CB: The first show was this past weekend. How is it going so far?
EB: We are one down. We have the second one tonight. The first one was great. Internally, we found a couple things we could do differently, do a little bit better. We are definitely going to do that. The first show was great. The crowd was very receptive. It was awesome. I think tonight is going to be even better. Then the Cincinnati show, by that time, we will be well-oiled machines and veterans.
CB: Shinedown has a huge social media presence. Why is it important for you guys to stay connected to your fans in that way?
EB: Because the fans are the reason we get to do what we do. We never forget that. The fans are the boss, the most important thing. The fans buy the tickets, they buy the records. I have to say, and it’s going to sound cliché but it’s not meant to be, we have the best fans. Our fans are ridiculously loyal. We like to keep up with them. We actually know … you would be surprised how many fans we know. I’ll see fans at meet and greets that I will know from Twitter. We keep up with them and we know what’s going on. We like to hear what they have to say. They are going to let us know if something is not right. They will let us know if they don’t like something, if they like something. It’s a great tool to utilize as well. You get instant feedback on what you are doing.
CB: What are your hobbies outside of playing music all the time?
EB: It’s kind of funny. I say all my hobbies become my jobs. I produce records. I do a lot of songwriting. I engineer, mix records. A lot of my hobbies have become my job.
I am a golfer. I enjoy golf a lot. More recently, I have started building model airplanes. I needed a quiet hobby I can sit in my house and do. It is something I have found solace in. It may be a little geeky, a little nerdy, but it is fun.
CB: You actually co-wrote “I’ll Follow You” correct?
CB: I love that song. I know it is the new single and it is out, but what is the story behind the song?
EB: The story of the song is pretty interesting. The piano part I had for a couple years. I had been playing it in sound checks. We don’t write on the road, but if it’s something someone in the band hears, “Hey remember that. Record that.” We are pretty in tune with that sort of stuff.
We were out on our acoustic tour that we did on the end of our last record cycle with Will Hoge, a great singer-songwriter from Nashville. Nobody had really said anything about the piano thing I had, so I thought maybe it will be good for Will.
So I hit him up and said, 'On the next day off, I want to show you this piano piece I have got and we can write a song.' He gave me his number and said to give him a call. I gave him a call the day of, I called him like three times, never went to voicemail, never picked up.
The next day, I was like, “I called you three times.” He said, “It never came through. I don’t know what happened.” That day at soundcheck, Brent was like, “What’s that thing you are playing?” I was like, “Man, I have been playing it for three years.” He finally woke up to it. We actually had the recording that day at sound check kind of going through the song. Some of the lyrics are actually in there from that first time we ever played it through, he and I.
If you fast forward six months when we finally wrote it, finally sat down and wrote the song, it happened seamlessly. We wrote it in like two hours, the whole thing was done. Lyrically, it is about the person in your life who is your best friend, your spouse or your girlfriend, your boyfriend or someone really close to you, that person you will always be there for and they will always be there for you.
CB: The band took a different turn on the latest album, playing with the full orchestra. How did that concept come about?
EB: We talked about how Madness had a lot of string-sections stuff. We just talked while we were writing the record about how to make this record a little bigger and a little more grand. That was the first thing that came up, we need to do something with horns and full orchestra, rather than just string sections.
It was fun. It was a blast to be in there to watch that stuff be recorded, watching your vision come to life was amazing. There is very little that we do that is not a conscious decision. We kind of see what we want to do next. We were talking about our next record the other day on the bus. We will probably start working on that next year. We already kind of got an idea for it of what we want it to be. It is pretty phenomenal to have this type and level of instruments on something you have worked on. You pinch yourself every once in a while because it’s so cool.
CB: You guys have been together for some time. Are you all still friends? Do you still hang out?
EB: It’s pretty funny, we love each other so much. We all still ride the same bus even though we don’t have to. We, all four of us, camp out in the same place. We work out together every day. We eat together every day. We really are brothers. We have our moments of getting agitated with each other and angry with each other. There is something different that I don’t see in a lot of bands we travel with. There are some, but they are few and far between. You get a group of people that genuinely like each other and genuinely get along.
I can count on one hand the times I have been up in someone’s face in my band, that I have been that angry with someone. We just don’t get like that. We talk things out. If there is a problem, we sit down and we are very honest with each other. We don’t harbor any animosity toward each other for anything.
“I’ll Follow You” is out right now and is a song Brent and I wrote. Everybody in the band is happy as hell about that because it is doing well. “Bully” is a song Brent and Zach wrote, and I was happy as hell that was doing well. A lot of people get caught up in the unimportant stuff, like who makes more money or what’s going on with this or who’s more popular in the band. We don’t care about that stuff. It’s about the band, the entire group. We all really care about each other. We hang out when we aren’t on tour. It is really a blessing.
CB: It is amazing you guys spend so much time together and it is still like that. There aren’t many people I could spend 24 hours a day with?
EB: We see each other more than we see our wives and girlfriends and our families. We are married. We have to get along. There is no way around it. You can tell on stage. We smile at each other on stage. We joke around. We throw picks at each other. It’s genuine. It’s not an act. You can tell bands on stage that don’t like each other, and you can definitely tell bands on stage that do, and we are one of those bands that really like each other.
There is no denying the legendary status of Black Sabbath. They are all Rock & Roll superstars, defining Hard Rock and Metal, both as forms of music and lifestyles. Without Sabbath, we would not have seen the likes of the Metal acts of today, like Slipknot and Tool, or fellow legends like Motorhead and Megadeth, as well as much of Grunge (and all of Stoner Metal).
Frontman Ozzy Osbourne does not see Black Sabbath as a Metal band. At a pre-tour press conference Osbourne elaborated on this: “I’ve never really liked that—- using that word 'Heavy Metal' — because ’80s Metal was all Poison, Motley Crue, Ozzy and so on, and the ’70s was a different thing, you know? And it got different in the ’90s. I mean, it’s like it doesn’t have any musical connotations for me.”
The new Black Sabbath album, 13, is not a Metal album. It is more like their earliest work together, not the Paranoid or Masters of Reality years, but the time they were grinding it out as a heavy Blues band. This is, of course, not your typical Blues album, nor has Black Sabbath abandoned what made them the legends they have become.
What gave the band the inspiration to produce their first No. 1 album (yes, I repeat, first No. 1) was one simple concept, one simple word — freedom. Ozzy explains, “There’s a lot of free spirit, which is what (producer Rick Rubin) was looking for, I suppose. It must have been. We did very well, his idea of a Black Sabbath album.”
On Sunday night, Black Sabbath rolls into the Klipsch Music Center in Indianapolis. After nearly 45 years of Black Sabbath, a lot of lineup changes have been made. This is not a different lineup. This is the original crew (minus drummer Bill Ward).
This is Ozzy, clean, sober and still with that distinct sound that no one else in the business can touch. It is guitarist Tony Iommi, who beat cancer while the new album was being made, truly the “Ironman” of the band (as Osbourne refers to him). It is bassist and band lyricist Geezer Butler. Rumors are already flying that this may be their last tour together, so it will be a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience for many.
Here are a few more snippets from the pre-tour press conference to get you fired up. The humbleness and pride really shined through in all of Ozzy’s answers.
Q: Hey, I remember back when Sabbath originally got back together in the late 90s and you guys did a lot of touring then into the next decade. The band had tried back then for a time to get a new record together and then it didn’t materialize. Can you put your finger on what made things different this go around that did enable you to come up with some pretty raw material?
Ozzy Osbourne: You know what? I was doing this television thing with The Osbournes back then, and I had my own career, and I suppose it was a clash of egos and it just didn’t feel right. We tried to force an album. In fact we did — we recorded a demo with a bunch of stuff, which is nothing like the way we used to do. We were forcing it out of ourselves. Whereupon this album, the 13 album (that) just kind of came out, we just clicked. I mean, you know when you’re in a band and you go into something that is working. You know, we didn’t have to force it. It just came naturally.
Q: When did you realize that?
Ozzy: There’s no answer - there’s no formula. There’s no magic — it just happens or it doesn’t. I wasn’t really into it (during the earlier attempt). They weren’t really into it and you can’t force it. It either comes or it doesn’t and I said before in the press that the reunion album was going to have to be something special, the most important album of my career.
When it comes out naturally and you get that tickling feeling in your spine and you know you're on a sort of that spiritual thing you sort of — you know that everything’s working right, you’re not forcing it.
Q: 13 has already proved to be very successful for the band. It’s the band’s first No. 1 album in the U.S. How does this feel after 45 years?
Ozzy: You know what? You’re asking the wrong guy, because when it went to No. 1 in England, it just went No. 1 in England, America, Germany, New Zealand and I’m like, "What?" I mean, I’m still kind of pinching myself, like I’m going to wake up and it’s all been a dream, because had this happened in 1972 after Paranoid, I’d have gone, “Oh, yes, OK.” But now after 45 years up the road and we get our first No. 1, it’s kind of a hard thing to swallow, you know? You just kind of — it’s great. I’m not saying I don’t want it to be No. 1, but I just don’t understand why now, you know? I mean, we’ve been around for a long time, in one way or another.
Q: OK, so now you’ve got the album that you wanted. What’s the live show going to be like?
Ozzy: You know, all I can say is a month or so ago we were in New Zealand, Australia and Japan, and it was astounding how the reception was. We’re going to do some old and we're going to do some new and it’s just kind of interesting to be able to do some new stuff because in the past I haven’t been able to do a lot of new stuff because of the fact that my range is too high and I couldn’t do onstage what I did in the studio.
But now on this, on 13, I sang it in a range that I could do most of them on stage so we did new things, “End of the Beginning”, “God is Dead?" and a couple of others, but we couldn’t do most of the cuts off the album, if you want to change them around and all. We’re not going to go and just do new stuff with very limited old stuff. We’re going to do “Paranoid,” “Black Sabbath,” a good mix of the old stuff as well as the new stuff.
Q: I wanted to see if you could talk about Tony Iommi, just how inspirational for you it was watching your friend battling cancer while making this album, and his courage.
Ozzy: You know, when he came down with cancer, it’s been the way of Sabbath. That is, we’d try to get something going again, and the last time, (original drummer) Bill Ward had a heart attack and we couldn’t do it then. The easiest part of getting back together with Black Sabbath and doing an album is just sitting down and just saying, “Yes, you know,” but then all kinds of crap gets flown in the works.
And Tony kept going. He said, “I’ve got this lump,” and I said, “You know what? If I were you, I’d go and get myself checked out, because you know in a way, it was what I said to Sharon — my wife Sharon went to get checked out early part of of 2000, and she found she had colon cancer, so she had to go and get it checked out.” So he came back and he said, they’ve found I’ve got lymphoma, and I go, 'This is unbelievable.' Every time we start to get going -—it’s like a curse, you know? And believe me, I know from firsthand with my wife that treatment for cancer is not like doing a line of coke and going to a disco. It knocks the crap out of you, you know? But fair play to Tony, it just came down to the studio.
The only thing we had to do was make it easier for him to get treatment. In other words, we started off at my studio in Calabasas, but we all moved to his studio in England, and we all stayed in a hotel for a while to accommodate him, and he would come down to the studio every day. I’d go, “Tony, you’re sure you’re okay to do this, man, are you ready?” And he goes, “No I'll do it," and he came down, he came up with the goods.
I thought my God, man, he is “Ironman.” You know, I mean, my hat goes off to him, because I mean, believe me, I don’t know if you have ever known anybody who had chemotherapy before, but that really knocks the life out of you, man.
Q: I’m just curious what the impetus was that — when you called Tony back in 2010 and said, you know, let’s get the band back together, I want to make another Sabbath album, what was going through your mind at that time?
Ozzy: I can’t really remember who called who. I think it originally was me and Tony doing an album and then we tried various bass lines and we tried the instruments out and we tried a whole bunch of people, and I don’t know who said, what’s Geezer up to and, you know, and it just kind of came together by accident and we all started to write stuff and it started to gel. Whereas we tried before and we all sat there and it just wouldn’t —- it … just wouldn’t work, you know.
But it came together very naturally and it wasn’t too long to where it was like, 'I like that, that’s pretty cool,' and so you can’t force anything, right? You can just, you can try and be Black Sabbath, but we all knew that we didn’t want to put an album out called Black Sabbath, just for the sake of us guys getting together and doing stuff together. At one point there was even talk like not calling it a Black Sabbath album, but eventually it rolled into itself.
Q: I wanted to ask about the lyrics on the album. Now I know Geezer has a big hand in that. How does the process work? Who create the lyrics?
Ozzy: Well, what happens is I get a melody, and I’ll just sing anything, and sometimes it can be like a beginning or a hook line or a couple of words that he gets inspiration from. He’s the main lyricist, although I wrote a couple of the sets of lyrics on the album, but Geezer gives Black Sabbath’s vocal message verbally. I mean, over the years, he’s given me some phenomenal lyrics, you know.
He’s just one of these guys that can do that. I get an idea like “God is Dead?” for instance. One day I was in the doctor’s office waiting room, and Time magazine was just sitting on the front with “God is Dead?” and I thought, 'Wow, that’s a good idea,' and I started singing that on the track, you know, the “God is Dead?” bit.
You know, I thought, 'They've flown planes into the World Trade Center under the name of religion and God and all this shit, and that is not my idea of what God should be.' My idea of what God should be is a good guy, you know? I don't think there's any good in killing people in the name of your God. And so Geezer — that was my idea — and Geezer took it to another level.
Q: Did you ever have to have discussions about things that he writes that you might not agree with?
Ozzy: No, no.
Q: Is there ever a back and forth?
Ozzy: He’s very careful. I mean, if you listen to the lyrics on “God is Dead?” at the end of the song it says, “I don’t believe that God is dead.” people just look at the face value of the title, and I know on this tour we’re going to have Bible thumpers and people picketing us and people telling us that we’re evil and all that. We kind of laugh at it, because people just go the face value (of) “God is Dead?" and it’s all about Satan and it’s just quite amusing, actually, because they don’t really know what they’re complaining about.
Q: This is just a little bit off-topic. In the movie God Bless Ozzy Osbourne, I noticed toward the end you were learning to drive. I just wanted to know what was going on with that.
Ozzy: See what happened, I got a driving license, bought a Ferrari, I bought an RA Spider, and the people would get out of the bloody road when Ozzy was driving, I’m telling you. I was always getting stopped by the cops or running into somebody else’s car, so one day I said to my wife, “You know what? I’m 64. I don’t really want to be found dead in a Ferrari.” I’ve survived this long of all my trials over my life. I don’t want to drive over a cliff in a car, so I haven't really been driving since I sold the Ferrari and the RA.
Head to MPMF.com right now to see the full lineup and schedule for the MidPoint Music Festival, coming up Sept. 26-28 at various venues in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.
Due to the legal wrangling over the management of The Emery Theatre (widely covered in CityBeat and at citybeat.com), the classic Cincinnati venue — a favorite from last year’s fest — will not be a part of MPMF in 2013. But MPMF’s footprint is expanding to include downtown’s Mainstay Rock Bar (which has participated in the fest in the past) and first-time MPMF venue The Ballroom at the Taft Theatre.
Like the activities on the MidPoint Midway, at the Contemporary Arts Center and in Washington Park, Taft’s Ballroom will be open to MPMFers of all ages. Tickets for individual Taft Ballroom MPMF shows will be available to purchase through Ticketmaster.com (with lower than usual ticketing fees, or avoid the extra fees altogether and buy them in person at the Taft box office). On Sept. 26, the Ballroom will be headlined by just-announced performers The Thermals; Murder By Death, Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons and Nicholas David perform at the Taft on Sept. 27; and, on Sept. 28, the lineup will feature Daughter, Bear’s Den and Cincinnati’s own Bad Veins.
At mpmf.cincyticket.com, you can buy three-day passes, VIP tickets and other “a la carte” tickets for single shows in Washington Park and at Grammers. Shuggie Otis and Cody ChesnuTT headline the Washington Park stage on Sept. 26; The Head and The Heart and Youth Lagoon head up the Sept. 27 lineup; and Sept. 28 in Washington Park will be “The Breeders Day Party,” which starts at noon, with The Breeders performing their seminal Last Splash album at 7 p.m. Saturday’s Washington Park lineup also includes Twin Peaks, Gauntlet Hair, Foxygen and Cincy’s Tweens, who’ve been doing numerous tour dates with The Breeders.
On the Dewey’s Pizza stage at Grammers (21-and-up only), Kurt Vile & The Violators, Snowmine and Cincinnati Psych Rock trio The Harlequins perform on Sept. 26, Warpaint and Secret Colours top the Sept. 27 bill and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, METZ and Deap Vally are slated for Sept. 28.
The Cincinnati music scene is well represented once again at this year’s MPMF. Here are some of the area artists confirmed for the fest: Eclipse; Seabird; The Pinstripes; Young Heirlooms; Us, Today; Saturn Batteries; Sun Country; Darlene; Jody Stapleton and The Generals; Electric Citizen; Magnolia Mountain; Allan Pray; The Tigerlilies; Kelly Thomas and the Fabulous Pickups; Public; The Ready Stance; Mad Anthony; Mama's Porch Band; Hickory Robot; Ben Lapps; Ohio Knife; Honeyspiders; New Vega; Archer's Paradox; The Perfect Children; You, You're Awesome; Goose; Chick Pimp, Coke Dealer at a Bar; Plastic Inevitables; redkattseven; SHADOWRAPTR; Halvsies; DAAP Girls; The Cincy Brass; We Are Snapdragon; Black Signal; The Happy Maladies; ADM; Molly Sullivan; Come On Caboose; SOHIO; Wussy; Alone at 3AM; The Natives; Wussy; and The Kickaways.
And Cincy Indie Pop greats The Fairmount Girls are slated to make their record 12th appearance at the 12th annual festival.
Here are a few links for and visuals from some of the most recently announced national acts coming to MPMF 2013.
Peter Frampton is a true guitar legend, revered by every single one of his peers. As his Guitar Circus tour rolls into town this week, crowds will be amazed by the beautiful music from his catalog of 40 years of music, as well as performances by Blues legend B.B. King and special guests Sonny Landreth and Dave Hidalgo (Los Lobos).
CityBeat caught up with Frampton in advance of Wednesday’s tour stop at Riverbend’s PNC Pavilion and discussed how this tour concept came together and what it has been like working with one of his heroes on a nightly basis.
CityBeat: What has been the highlight of Frampton’s Guitar Circus so far?
Peter Frampton: It is hard to say because we have had so many incredible guitar players play with us already. The list is growing every day. From the other night, Vinnie Moore to Vince Gill to Don Felder to Roger McGuinn. It is like every night is so different. Every night is a highlight with all of these amazing players. Sometimes we only have someone for one night because of scheduling, like Vinnie Moore was only one night. John Jorgenson was only one night from Elton John’s band, who is also a wonderful Jazz artist (and) was with me on my Fingerprints CD. Some nights we get one, some nights we get three and sometimes we are lucky enough and we get Don Felder for six (shows) and Roger McGuinn for six (shows). They are all split up and don’t happen at the same time. I can’t really pick one.
CB: When did you come up with the idea and how did you bring it all together for the tour this year?
PF: It was last year after my little sabbatical, my year off after the Comes Alive (anniversary) tour. I was going, “What can I follow this with?” because it was a very successful tour and probably one of the most successful tours I have done in years.
It was one of those things where I said I have got to do something with other artists. We had been doing shows for quite a few years now with just me, "An Evening with," as it were. It was something I wanted to do with as many guitarists as I could, to have an opening act with a great guitar player and then have some guests. The idea was there. I sat down with my manager Ken Levitan and I said what I wanted to do. He said, “Why don’t we call it something like a 'guitar circus'?" I said that was great. It was fantastic. I have to give him credit. He came up with the idea and then we have as many guests as we can along the way.
At that point, we decided we would try to have a three-act show, which is what it is in Cincinnati, where it is Sonny Landreth opening it up. He is not an opening act, he just starts the evening because he is a headliner himself. He is a phenomenal player and has such a great history. We have him starting the evening off for us with his amazing band and himself.
The person that when we first put our feelers out (for) who might be interested in coming along with us on the Guitar Circus and said yes was B.B. King, which blew me away. That set the whole tone for the whole Guitar Circus because everyone said, “If B.B. King is doing it, I’ve got to do it.” It gave us great credibility right from the start. So B.B. King will come on. We played for the first time with him the other night. I got to sit in and jam with him, which was a dream come true.
After B.B. goes off we come on and do our hour and a half. During that period, David Hidalgo will come on, he is our guest in Cincy, from Los Lobos. He has played a couple dates with us already and it is incredible. We become Los Lobos and it is phenomenal. It is just great. It is very exciting every night. It is a challenge to be that person’s band when they come on. I’ve got an excellent band so we do a really good job.
CB: You mentioned B.B. King, who is an all-time legend. What do you talk to B.B. King about backstage?
PF: Well, I went back and saw him when he arrived in his own bus. I thanked him for being the reason why this whole tour is being successful, because he was the first person to say yes. I said, “Not only is it an honor that you are on one date, but you are on nearly four weeks of dates with me, every night.” I just couldn’t thank him enough. He said he was thrilled to be a part of it. I think there is a mutual respect as guitarists, definitely my way. To be able to sit and play with him the night before last was incredible. He is going to be 88 and he is still doing it. It is absolutely incredible that he is, and we are all thrilled that he is. He is just the sweetest guy. You wouldn’t think that someone as legendary as him is that nice but he is. He is a sweet, sweet man. You can’t believe it. It is how you wish everybody could be when you meet them. He takes the cake that is for sure.
CB: I can hear you smiling through the phone just talking about playing with him.
PF: It doesn’t get any better. It is one of those moments I won’t ever forget. I am not sure I will be doing it every night. I hope so. He said I can tell him what I want to do and walk out and play. He means what he says. I am just getting to know him. It is unbelievable that we had never met before until the other night. Now it feels like we have known each other for years.
CB: I saw you recently perform this Spring on The Voice. You went on with Terry McDermott during the finals. A lot of artists are coming out and speaking negatively about shows like this that try to make people stars overnight because they don’t have to pay their dues over years. Do you have any feelings about that?
PF: I am not a big fan of those shows in general. The part that I don’t like is that it is this nationwide talent show. These people come on, and it’s their fault, they put themselves in that position to have someone ream them on national TV. I sort of cringe every time I see that, (no matter how) rightly or wrongly how the judge is.
I have been asked to be a judge on those things. You will never see me as a judge. I would be saying everybody stays. That’s not me. I know what I like and everything, and I will say it in private, but I am not going to say, “You suck and get out of here,” which is basically what happens.
They asked me over a weekend, like two days before the show, if I would do The Voice. I asked them to fill me in and tell me what it was about. Then I listened to Terry and liked him a lot, all his clips and everything. I thought it was just excellent. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to go on there and do a duet. For me it was just a performance within one of those types of shows. I wasn’t part of voting anybody on or off. It was something I enjoyed doing and I think it came off really well. We got such a demand for the song, we mixed it and released it as a single. So it is on iTunes as well.
CB: What is your favorite guitar to play?
PF: I just got my Phoenix back, that is what it has been called. It is the guitar that was supposedly lost and burnt up in the plane crash in South America in Venezuela. After having that back for a year and a bit now, it is definitely my favorite. I have other favorites, but there is something about that one and the history, you know of me getting it in time to play on Humble Pie’s live record, Rockin’ the Fillmore, and everything I did in the 70s, all my solo records. It was one of only two electric guitars that I had. To have that back, it has become my favorite again overnight.
CB: I own a few Jim Marshall photographs and one is of you at Oakland Stadium in 1975. Do you remember that day? Obviously that photograph is iconic itself, but is there anything special about that day in California? Did that photo change you in any way?
PF: In San Francisco and Detroit and New York, we were already pulling huge crowds just from word of mouth and the solo albums I had out, and obviously my time with Humble Pie. I think that was the very first time we did it at a stadium. There is nothing quite like looking out to 65,000 people … I think the biggest place we had played was Madison Square Garden. There is a huge energy-level discrepancy between an arena and a stadium. There is nothing quite like the adrenaline it gives you to see 65,000 people with their hands in the air shouting at you. You never forget that first time. There were many after that in stadiums, but that first one was pretty incredible.
CB: I speak to a lot of guitar players. I spoke to one the other day that said a guitar broke up his relationship. Have you ever had a guitar break up a relationship?
PF: No, but it has come really close. The guitar, she is the other woman, always. The passion you have for music is very strong and it does come with jealousy sometimes when you prefer to play the guitar than be with the woman.
Editor's Note: 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. Click here for his previous blog entries.
Aaaaaaaaaaand we are done! Well, kind of …
After nearly two years of content creation, testing, editing, restructuring and discussion, I am very proud to announce that the content for Musicians’ Desk Reference is finally complete! There is still much work to be done ahead of the release — completion of web development, beta testing, marketing, promotions and more — but we are at least moving ahead, right on schedule.
It sounds cliché, but it is amazing to take a step back and realize how far this project has really come, in addition to considering how much it has forced me to grow as an individual. It all started with an idea that I simply could not let go of, despite my initial thoughts that The Counter Rhythm Group just could not handle taking on a project of this (theoretical) scale. I tried working around this notion from every angle, discussing it with an array of employees that have helped in our growth, and at the end of each reflection period I knew that we had to still move forward with the idea, any way we could.
Those that know me know that I am a planner. I like making lists — and especially checking things off of that list. I try to find structure in everything when at all possible, and more often than not I find myself asking, “Why?” I have no idea where this mentality came from and my immediate family has reaffirmed that statement over the course of the last few months. It is this mentality, combined with my passion for helping musicians that has provided the fuel for this journey.
I am so excited to share this vision with the world. While it sounds cheesy, I can promise you that every page has my heart and soul poured into it, and that it has been painstakingly been picked apart by myself and a dedicated group of contributors. We are truly aiming to provide the best information possible to be used for many generations to come. I have stated before in these blogs that this is by far the most involved I have ever been in a project — I never considered leaving a legacy, but I am starting to think that this could be it.
So what does this mean for the user? I can say with confidence that there is way more to this project than I ever could have imagined, and the fact that it still consistently “wows” me should be a testament to those who have been patiently waiting for the final product over the past several months.
While the eBook is completely customizable to each individual and scenario, I can honestly say (to those who are interested) to get ready to spend some time reading and considering the subject matter. We have meticulously worked to build the documentation so that it touches base on certain generalities and specifics, offering clarity and understanding on the matter without requiring several days’ worth of reading. I am not a big fan of lengthy reading materials and our generation tends to be intimidated by large batches of text — the sole reason we have invested so much time and resources into a digital platform. To state it conservatively, it will take an artist some time to work through the entire project, which is meant to serve the user through several areas of their career as they develop and grow.
We are so close to being able to put Musicians’ Desk Reference in your hands that I honestly have a hard time sleeping at night. Looking ahead, we will be receiving a beta version of the eBook within the next week and we have many users lined up to participate. If you are interested in being considered for a beta trial, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
September is when things start getting really exciting, as we are pulling out all of the stops for this release. Without going into too much detail, I can say that we will have an established presence at the Midpoint Music Festival this year, and that this will be the first time the eBook will be available for purchase (acting as our “soft” release, exclusively to those physically at the festival). Pre-orders will be available in early September and are expected to ship the week after MPMF. This will all build up to our national release in October at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City, where we will be also have a significant presence. There are many more things in the works; I promise that it will all be worth the wait.
I would like to close by thanking all of those that have shown support throughout this process, to The Counter Rhythm Group and to myself. While this is not the time to name anyone individually (that comes later), I want you all to know how much it means to us. Your continued support will help us through the coming months and we hope you will join us in spreading the word about Musicians’ Desk Reference. We have literally put everything we can into this project, and we are proud to say that we were able to build it while living in this great city, utilizing most outsourced services to companies and individuals located in the Queen City. We want to make a significant impact in the music industry, and I look forward to proudly telling anyone and everyone where it all started — right here in Cincinnati.
The Mad Love for Mad Anthony benefit on July 26, organized by the ever-wonderful Kelly Thomas, was a rousing success by any reputable yardstick. The Southgate House Revival was packed to the rafters with friends, fans and family turning out to support Mad Anthony, whose late June van accident had destroyed their touring conveyance, a good deal of their equipment and forced them off the road for an indeterminate amount of time while they heal.
There was plenty to see that night, and I was only able to sample a bit of it, but Smoke Signals rattled the rafters in the Lounge, and Martin Luther & the Kings tested the structural integrity of the Revival Room with an intensity and fury that rivaled most upper class hurricanes. Ryan Malott brought the Lounge back to a slow simmer with a nice acoustic set, The Black Owls, fresh from their triumphant Bunbury gig two weeks previous, filled the Sanctuary with the glorious Glam/Punk hybrid that they've perfected over the past five years and The Sundresses closed things out with a fabulous nutkick of a set featuring their brand new permanent drummer Dave Reid.
Between the money collected at the door, the merch sales and the proceeds from the silent auction, Mad Anthony collected a tidy sum to help defray their medical and related expenses and assist them in getting through the next few weeks of convalescence (and part time gigs for guitarists Ringo Jones and Adam Flaig, who are doing acoustic dates while drummer Marc Sherlock recuperates from a fractured neck vertebrae). The band wrote online that around $5,000 was raised.
For all that was accomplished, there is still more to be done. It will be impossible to erase all of the bills that resulted from Mad Anthony's accident, which came just weeks after the trio had quit their jobs and given up their apartments to devote their full attention to music and touring.
There will be another Mad Anthony benefit, this time at downtown's Mainstay Rock Bar, tomorrow (Friday), featuring music from Mangrenade, Knife the Symphony, Mala in Se, Thee Makeshifts, Alone at 3 AM and others It will be yet another opportunity to show your love for the boys.
Right now, though, I need to tell you why I hate Mad Anthony.
I hate Mad Anthony because they're so good. I hate that they've made me love them as a band, appreciate them as friends and care for them as if they were my own sons. How shitty is that?
I hate that I love their albums so much that I often play them when I should be listening to something that I'm supposed to be writing about, something that's likely twice as long and half as good. And so I listen to Mad Anthony twice. I hate that.
I hate Ringo. He's like a big dopey Labrador who loves his owners unconditionally no matter how badly they treat him, and his abusive owners are the harsh realities of life and the cruel indifference of the music
industry. And no matter how much they beat him, he just comes back for more, wagging his ass and smiling like he's won the lottery. Then he straps on a guitar, hits a chord, opens his mouth, shrieks a lyric and the whole thing sounds like a tornado tearing through a ball bearing factory, and somehow that makes him smile even more. I hate that.
I hate Adam. He's got that smirk permanently tattooed on his face, which makes it seem as though he knows something that you don't. And dammit, he probably does. I suspect his secret knowledge is that he would throttle his guitar and scream songs with the unbridled fury of a charging wildebeest whether his audience was no more than you and me and the waitstaff in some stinky little club or an entire arena filled with debauched pirates, and he would play with the same authenticity and passion in either event. I hate that, too.
And I hate Marc. He's thin enough to be mistaken for one of his drumsticks (you'd think a good stiff wind would blow him into the next county) and then he sits on the stool and hits the kit with subtlety and invention and musicality and the big hairy power of at least one of John Bonham's arms. And he does it all with the joy of a kid on Christmas morning. I really hate that.
So here we stand, charged with the moral duty of raising funds for Mad Anthony while they recuperate from the accident that destroyed their van, busted up their equipment and nearly killed them. I really would have hated them for that. Marc got bounced around with the gear in the back of the van like a pebble in a rock polisher and wound up snapping something relatively important in his neck, and both he and Ringo collected a Frankenstein's monster-like number of staples and stitches. Adam was mildly bruised and cut, because his secret knowledge that night was apparently, "Wear your fucking seat belt."
At any rate, tomorrow we'll gather with the intention of dropping a few semolians into the collection plate for the purpose of getting Mad Anthony back on its feet. And it seems to me that, since we're the ones raising the cash, we should have some say in how the funds are directed. So here are a few suggestions:
• Against all odds, the boys may have come out of the accident even prettier than before. I think maybe we should send them to a cut-rate, unlicensed plastic surgeon who takes buy-one-get-one-free coupons who will sort of ugly them up a little. Not on purpose, of course. That would be unethical. But it could be a good career move to come away from this experience with the kind of scars that can be seen from across a city block.
• The fact that there was an accident at all could possibly call the band's driving skills into question. On the one hand, maybe it was skill that saved them all. On the other hand, it may well have gone like this: "Look, shiny
thing..." Water, crash, roll, blood, hospital. So unless we want to be here every few months shelling out contributions to the Mad Anthony School of Sideways Driving, maybe we should insist that their next tour vehicle is an armored troop carrier with an interior made entirely of memory foam mattresses.
• Ringo and Adam are currently out on the road making up their dates by playing acoustic sets, but it might be a good idea for the foreseeable future to replace their whole rig with banjos and mandolins, at least until they prove that they can haul around big boy equipment and not wrestle with it in mid-air. Plus it would just be interesting to see if Mad Anthony could go full-metal-porch Tillers for awhile.
• There is at least one conspiracy theory (which I started) that states Mad Anthony got into this accident with deliberate certainty because they were afraid to get back in the studio to follow up their last album. I think we should make them use part of tonight's proceeds to record a triple album, Mad Anthony's version of All Things Must Pass or Wings Over America. Of course, a Mad Anthony triple album wouldn't be much longer than one side of a Grateful Dead bootleg jam, but it would still be a lot of work. Triple album, bitches.
• And finally, I think they should get a jaunty bow tie for Marc's neck brace. Because nothing on earth is going to make that neck brace look remotely cool other than a sporty bow tie. Even a drawing of a bow tie would be a step in the right direction. Or an ascot. Look what Hugh Hefner's done for the ascot. Of course, he has a billion dollars to back up the ascot. Let's stick with the jaunty bow tie for Marc.
Now let me tell you what I love about Mad Anthony. I love that they are louder than God's righteous rage and as indestructible as fucking cockroaches. I love that Ringo and Adam are actually doing the aforementioned acoustic thing until Marc is healthy, and I love that it's probably just as intense as when they plug in. I love that they didn't ask for help and when people offered, they said, basically, "Buy our music, and if you've already got it, buy another local band's music." That speaks volumes to their character, as a band and as people. Give them your money, give them your love, give them your respect, because Mad Anthony deserves all of it.
If you can't make it to the Mainstay show, there are a number of additional ways to get in on MadAid. You can purchase the band's music and merch, either through Phratry Records (phratryrecords.com) or from the band directly (madanthonyband.com or madanthony.bandcamp.com). If you're more inclined to give directly to the band, you can send your donation to them through their Paypal account (email@example.com).
Do all you can for them, because every time Mad Anthony hits the stage, they go to the end of the chain for you.
When I interviewed Cincinnati's Those Guys earlier this year, I saw an endless amount of drive and potential coming from a group of kids who loved making Hip Hop music. What I didn’t see was an identity. Their song “You Ain’t Know” had shown that they had the talent to become something more and the video that accompanied the track garnered the group a lot of internet attention. But the question still remained — could they find the same success without mimicking themselves or blowing up another vehicle in their next video shoot?
For Good Reason answers this question with a resounding "Yes!" In only eight tracks, coming in under a half-hour, Those Guys transformed themselves from just a local group of rappers to a legitimate Hip Hop duo on the brink of something greater.
The track “Madness is the Method” not only exhibits Jova’s ever growing ability as a producer, transitioning from a very minimalistic style beat (reminiscent of a Chuck Inglish production) to a Hip Hop club-banger by the end of the song, but also shows a new side of J-Al. He doesn’t come in until the last minute of the song, but in that short period of time he exhibits a hunger and fire (almost angry, but in a good way) that he has never shown before. It’s almost as if he sees every verse as being his last chance to “make it” and if he keeps that up, that time will come sooner than he thinks.
But don’t think for a second that because Jova has been working extensively on his producer game that he has let his lyrical practice fall by the wayside. On “The Crisis,” he spills his guts for two straight minutes in what is one of the most open and honest songs I’ve heard, not just from the Cincinnati Hip Hop scene, but from any Rap group in general. It’s a painful, truthful, tear-jerking lyrical confession over a beautiful piano that leaves the listener feeling inspired and connected.
The entire album is solid, but the true gem is the first track, “Dear Kanye.” This song is a culmination of all the hard work the group has put in over the last year. The production has a smooth, almost Electronic Hip Hop feel to it and ends with more samples than a trip to IKEA.
The verses provided by both Jova and J-Al are smart yet still captivate the listener. More importantly, neither rapper outshines the other on this track. In every great tag-team there always seemed to be one person that carried the group (i.e. Shawn Michaels to Marty Jannetty, Bret Hart to Jim Neidhart), but Jova and J-Al have seemed to find that Road Warrior mentality, one working off another. (All nerdy wrestling references aside, they really mesh perfectly on this cut.)
The hook is where they’ve taken their work to another level. It's obvious this song is an ode to Kanye West (duh), but they found that perfect medium of being influenced by him while not jacking his style or flow. It’s as if making a song about someone who has influenced and inspired them as artists has helped them find their own identity in the process.
As I stated before, “You Ain’t Know” was a great creative jumping off point for the career of Those Guys. While other artists would have become complacent and tried to recreate that moment over and over, For Good Reason is an artistic step forward into the long career that lies ahead for the group.
This weekend, the Cincy Blues Fest — presented annually by the Cincy Blues Society — returns for its 21st year, a remarkable accomplishment for a music festival of any sort. The festival kicks off tonight and continues tomorrow at Sawyer Point along the riverfront.
The weekend features two main stage acts with serious ties to Cincinnati’s Blues past. Educator, author, DJ, singer and harmonica player Steven Tracy returns to Cincy to play the main stage on tonight at 7 p.m. with his band the Crawling Kingsnakes. A Walnut Hills High School graduate, Tracy worked with local Blues icons like Pigmeat Jarrett and Big Joe Duskin, becoming a part of the scene he’d later dig deeper into in the 1993 book, Going to Cincinnati: A History of the Blues in the Queen City. His writing career is extensive — Tracy has written dozens of album liner notes and edited/wrote/intro-ed several other books on a variety of subjects. Today, Tracy is a professor of Afro-American Studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Saturday at 6 p.m. on the fest’s main stage, Stacy Mitchhart and his band are slated to perform. Mitchhart grew up in Cincinnati and spent time playing music on the East and West Coasts before returning to his hometown in the early 1990s and forming Stacy Mitchhart and Blues-U-Can-Use, a staple on the local Blues scene for a few years. After a move to Nashville, Tenn., in the mid-’90s, Mitchhart’s musical career really took off. His albums have been widely acclaimed and done well commercially — his 2011 release, Live from B.B. King’s, debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard Blues charts — and he’s received high-praise for his showmanship and remarkable Blues voice. In 2008, Mitchhart was the subject of the well-received documentary NashVegas Blues.
Here is tonight's main stage schedule:
5:45-6:45 p.m. Dave Muskett
7:00-8:15 p.m. Steve Tracy & the Crawling Kingsnakes
8:30-10 p.m. Reba Russell Band
10:15-11:45 p.m. Watermelon Slim & the Workers
And here's the lineup for the Main Stage tomorrow:
4:15-4:45 p.m. Blues in the Schools (BITS) Band
5-5:45 p.m. The Juice
6-7 p.m. Stacy Mitchhart Band
7:15-8:30 p.m. Nikki Hill
8:45-10:00 p.m. Honey Island Swamp Band
10:15-11:45 p.m. Ana Popovic (all the way from Serbia!)
Some of the coolest things at the Cincy Blues Fest can be found on the “specialty” stages — a “specialty” of the fest — which this year includes a “Women of the Blues” stage on Friday, headlined by national act EG Knight and also featuring locals Rio & The Ramblers, The Juice and Tempted Souls Band.
Here is the "Women of the Blues" stage ((aka the Arches stage) schedule for tonight :
5:45-7 p.m. Rio & the Ramblers
7:15-8:30 p.m. The Juice
8:45-10:00 p.m. Tempted Souls Band
10:15-11:45 p.m. EG Kight
Saturday sees the return of the “Boogie Woogie Hall of Fame Piano Stage,” featuring an international cast of top-shelf Boogie Woogie pianists, including local favorite Ricky Nye and former locals (now Florida-based) Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues. The house band for the Boogie Woogie stage is Johnny Vidacovich (drums), George Bedard (guitar) and Chris Douglas (bass).
Saturday's Boogie Woogie Piano Hall of Fame stage (aka Arches stage) lineup:
4:30 p.m. Ben Levin
5 p.m. Ari Borger
5:40 p.m. Ricky Nye
6:20 p.m. Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues
7:10 p.m. Bruce Katz
7:50 p.m. Al Hill
8:30 p.m. Axel Zwingenberger & Lila Ammons
9:10 p.m. Joshua Paxton
10 p.m. David Vest
10:40 p.m. Bob Seeley
11:20 p.m. Chris Conz
The Blues Fest again presents the St. Vincent De Paul Local Stage on both days of the event, always an excellent snapshot of the current local Blues scene.
Friday's St. Vincent De Paul Local Stage schedule:
5:45-6:45 p.m. Thomas Long & Blue Sacrifice
7-8 p.m. Noah Wotherspoon Band
8:15-9:15 p.m. Ralph & the Rhythm Hounds
9:30-10:30 p.m. Brad Hatfield Band
10:45 p.m.-12 a.m. G Miles & the Hitmen
Saturday's St. Vincent De Paul Local Stage lineup:
4:30-5:30 p.m. The Blue Birds Big Band
5:45-6:45 p.m. Jay Jesse Johnson Band
7-8 p.m. The SoulFixers
8:15-9:15 p.m. Doug Hart Band
9:30-10:30 p.m. Chuck Brisbin & the Tuna Project
10:45 p.m.-12 a.m. Leroy Ellington Blues Band
Here is a map of the Blues Fest grounds:
Tickets are $15 for Friday, $20 for Saturday or $25 for a
two-day pass (tickets can be purchased at the gates or here). Visit
cincybluesfest.org for everything else you need to know about the
It’s no secret that Chicago is a great place for music. Pretty much any touring band of note — and no doubt many a musical outfit that need not be noted — is sure to include a Chicago stop, and the city’s local scene remains rich and diverse, aided by a host of nurturing venues and an eager, uncommonly discerning base of listeners. That it’s only a five-hour drive from Cincinnati makes it an enticing destination for those of us who yearn to catch shows that skip the Queen City.
Chicago’s embarrassment of musical riches has only grown in recent years with the addition of two high-profile three-day summer festivals: Lollapalooza and Pitchfork. The former needs little introduction — Perry Farrell’s unexpectedly fruitful brainchild is, almost undeniably, the inspiration for the explosion of summer fests over the last two decades, a trend that has grown even more robust since the turn of the century. Every weekend each summer now features at least one festival worthy of audiences’ ears. The trend has even reached Cincinnati, where Bunbury just finished its second successful year — and shared a headliner with Pitchfork. (Whether outdoor settings, marked by often difficult weather conditions and bright sunlight, is the best way to experience the type of music offered at such festivals is a different question.)
Lollapalooza is, alongside behemoths Coachella and Boonaroo, one of America’s biggest and best-attended summer fests, boasting more than 130 artists and an audience in excess of 150,000. Pitchfork, meanwhile, has quickly established itself as a singular presence on the summer circuit, a discerningly curated endeavor that’s an extension of the influential, taste-making webzine that runs it. (Chicago-based Pitchfork.com took over the business side of the fest in 2006 after curating 2005’s initial gathering, which was then called the Intonation Festival). Set in Union Park — a modest city-block space just west of downtown Chicago — Pitchfork now features nearly 50 artists, many of which are still unfamiliar to all but the most plugged-in Indie music connoisseurs. (Ironically, as a champion of cutting-edge acts on the way up, Pitchfork also serves as an early snapshot of future Lollapalooza lineups.)
This year’s Pitchfork, which ran July 19-21, offered one of its most curious lineups to date, especially as it pertains to the headliners, which included Bjork, Belle and Sebastian and, somewhat controversially, R. Kelly. Sure, there were several typically lesser-known acts on the bill, but almost all of them graced the Blue Stage, the smallest of the fest’s three stages. Whether this year’s more accessible bill might have been a reaction to last year’s fest, which gave relatively high-profile slots to such interesting but largely faceless artists as AraabMuzik, Purity Ring, The Field, Big K.R.I.T., Hot Chip and Chavez, among others, is anyone’s guess, but a realignment of sorts from Pitchfork’s powers that be seems plausible.
More proof of a possible shift in booking philosophy: There were more veteran acts than ever this year. Beyond the headliners, each of which has been making music for more than two decades, there was Wire, The Breeders, Swans, … And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Low and Yo La Tengo. The only comparable 2012 act in terms of longevity — admittedly not the best gauge when it comes to creative vitality, but we’re talking audience-drawers here — was Godspeed You Black Emperor, which headlined along with Feist and Vampire Weekend. All are solid acts, but none of them are likely to perk the senses of those looking for a little “star power.” Enter Kelly, one of the era’s preeminent hit-makers (more on that later).
As usual, many of Pitchfork 2013’s most interesting artists emanated from the Blue Stage, which is the most intimate of the fest’s three stages — the larger Green and Red stages (note the refreshing lack of corporate branding, another sign of Pitchfork’s discerning nature), which are but 50 yards (or so) apart, alternate acts at the north end of Union Park, while Blue’s lineup overlaps with the other two. Tucked into a tree-laden area of the park’s southwest corner, the Blue Stage is something of a festival unto itself, its cozy confines offering a break from the spacious, open-air spots where the Green and Red reside.
Multiple Blue Stage artists delivered strong sets, including Frankie Rose, a former Dum Dum Girl whose latest album, Interstellar, is a Synth Pop gem that wouldn’t sound out place alongside Beach House; Mikal Cronin, a little ragamuffin of a guy whose latest album, MCII, is a Power Pop keeper; Angel Olsen, whose Americana-flavored songs and swoon-worthy voice and visage compelled much of the audience during her late-afternoon slot; Metz, a Canadian trio coming to Cincy for this year's MidPoint Music Festival in late September, whose terse songs roared even more righteously in a live setting (think Nirvana on fast-forward); Minnesota mainstays Low, who seemed oddly out of place but still effective in the early evening light; and Trash Talk, a Hardcore crew from Sacramento, Calif., whose long-haired frontman delivered the funniest line of the fest after noticing a number of “old people” in the relatively sparse Friday-afternoon crowd: “I like old people. Old people make the world go around. They fucking had us and shit.”
Best of all — or at least the biggest surprise — was Brooklyn-based Post Punk quartet Parquet Courts, whose playful, twisty tunes recall everyone from early Pavement to the Minutemen to a far less trashed Guided by Voices. Frontman Andrew Savage’s voice is thin but endearing, and his dynamic guitar interplay with fellow frontguy Austin Brown had more than one rapt audience member shaking their ass in the Saturday-afternoon sun.
One got the sense that the Parquet Courts dudes would have been just as happy performing on the street corner just beyond the fence behind them. The fact that they had a much bigger platform to deliver their slanted gospel is just one example of what has made Pitchfork so vital for those looking to experience something rawer and less polished than the acts that dominate other festivals. (Go get Parquet Court’s recent full-length, Light Up Gold, as soon as possible.)
Even the Blue Stage’s less successful performances were compelling in one way or another: while Julia Holter, Ryan Hemsworth, Andy Stott and Evian Christ — the latter three DJs who essentially stand behind a table — have issues in the area of crowd interaction and sometimes suffered from spotty sound mixes, each was able to convey its mood-altering music in ways that, at the very least, provided sonic respites from the relatively more conventional acts at the bigger stages, whose roar often bled into the Blue’s.
On to the two main stages, which drew large, unusually enthusiastic crowds all weekend. Long a champion of adventurous Hip Hop, Pitchfork again featured some intriguing purveyors of the form, most notably Sunday sets by Killer Mike and El-P. The pair released two of the best albums of 2012, and their stellar recent collaboration, dubbed Run the Jewels, dropped as a free download in June. After a sweaty set in which Mike ran through songs from his R.A.P. Music — including strong versions of the title track and the politically cutting “Reagan” — he joined his buddy El-P for a batch of Run the Jewels cuts that mixed verbal dexterity with a healthy dose of levity. Their record, simply titled Run the Jewels, is something of a break from the duo’s doomsday aesthetic as solo artists — Jewels is an exuberant, sonically diverse fun-ride that makes light of Hip Hop’s silly preoccupation with bling (the two performed with fake gold chains around their necks), among other Pop-culture oddities. (El-P later tweeted, “I’ll just go ahead and say @pitchforkfest is the most chill, fun ass festival around right now.)
Run the Jewels was an interesting transition into a set from the ever-vital Yo La Tengo, which mixed choice cuts from its vast back-catalog (including sweet reworked versions of “Autumn Sweater,” “Tom Courtney” and “The Hour Grows Late”) with several tunes from the New Jersey trio’s latest record, Fade. As usual, they didn’t interact much with the crowd, though frontman Ira Kaplan, who dropped in several impressive guitar freak-outs, did joke that it was “good to be opening for R. Kelly again.”
The fest’s most curious social-media-stirring moment occurred Sunday evening as M.I.A., amid a garishly colorful backdrop of spinning wheels and neon lights, unveiled songs from her forthcoming album, Matangi. A sea of cell phones rose to record her entrance; many stayed aloft throughout. It was a departure in audience etiquette — somewhat unexpectedly, much of the festival was free of such ubiquitous use of technological interference.
Clad in a flashy gold top and orange short-shorts, M.I.A. stalked the stage, often with dancers at her side, as bass-heavy Dance-Rap arrangements thundered through the ample soundsystem with almost netherworldly force. The ceaseless sonic assault pretty much drowned out whatever she might have been trying to convey in her new songs — which, based on the spottiness of her previous record and the delayed release of Matangi, might be a good thing. Only when her set was interrupted by technical glitches did she seem spontaneous or even all that engaged. It was a weird, disjointed set, the kind of whiz-bang spectacle that rarely rears its head at Pitchfork.
In contrast, Savages Saturday afternoon appearance was a model of lacerating intensity. The buzzed-about British quartet — whose recent debut Silence Yourself is a satisfying blast of atmospheric Post Punk — was one of the most anticipated acts of fest. They didn’t disappoint, delivering blistering versions of “I Am Here,” “She Will” and “Fuckers,” a new song about not letting the “fuckers get you down.”
Jehnny Beth is a captivating frontlady, her no-bullshit stare and frequent high-pitched yelps lifting the music’s familiar elements — everyone from Gang of Four and Patti Smith to Siouxsie Sioux and PJ Harvey come immediately to mind — to uncharted heights. More unexpected was the band’s tendency to evoke ’80s-era U2, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even more curious was Beth’s evocation of Ian Curtis, both in terms of her appearance (lean with close-cropped hair) and in some of her mannerisms (as if the music were transporting her somewhere beyond the stage).
Michael Gira, Swans’ longtime ringleader, was impressed,
asking the audience, “How about them lady Savages?” before clapping in
appreciation. Gira’s band immediately followed Savages, and it was an
apt pairing, like opposite sides of the same coin. His crew of gifted
Post Punk vets — which includes a hairy multi-instrumentalist named Thor
and a suave German slide-guitar player who looks as though he’d be
right a home in a David Lynch flick — conjured an unholy racket during a
truncated version of “The Seer” and offered an inspired take on
“Oxygen,” which featured Gira doing a spooky Indian-like dance
throughout. While it was odd to witness Swans’ menacing, ebb-and-flow
soundscapes in broad daylight, the outdoor setting still left those in
attendance vibrating long after the band’s final drone leaked from the
That brings us to the three headliners. The festival’s mission — it attempts to highlight the most adventurous, zeitgeist-channeling acts on the current landscape — makes choosing an anchor to each day’s events a challenging dilemma for Pitchfork organizers. Given the esoteric nature of many such music-makers, there are only so many high-profile acts that fit the typical “headliner” criteria. Past choices have included such Alt-Rock mainstays as Flaming Lips, Spoon and Sonic Youth to more contemporary entries in the canon like TV on the Radio, Animal Collective and LCD Soundsystem.
Pitchfork even had Yoko Ono headline one year, which makes the choice of R. Kelly as Sunday night’s festival-closer even odder one on multiple levels. First, there’s the fact that Kelly — no doubt one of the most important R&B artists of the era, and a Chicago native to boot — is the most mainstream artist the festival has ever booked. Second, and far more troubling for many, is Kelly’s reputation as a serial misogynist who never got the legal reprimand he deserved.
The most vociferous critic has been longtime music writer Jim DeRogatis, who broke the story of Kelly’s indiscretions while working at the Chicago Sun-Times in 2002. DeRogatis called Pitchfork’s decision to book Kelly and the subsequent excitement from “some (not all) paying customers” as being “fueled by irony.”
No doubt there are legitimate questions about how an artist’s personal issues should impact the way in which we experience their music, but, for better or worse, those knotty questions were not going to be answered during Kelly’s Pitchfork set.
In fact, based on the reaction of those in the massive crowd — probably the festival’s largest ever — irony was not as prevalent as DeRogatis wanted to profess. The overwhelming majority of those in attendance, which ranged from fortysomething African-American couples to teenage hipsters, seemed genuinely excited to be taking in Kelly’s sextastic jams. The performance itself, meanwhile, was largely standard-issue R&B stagecraft, as Kelly ran through much of his extensive songbook medley-style (38 songs!). Not even a steady drizzle of rain could dampen the mood, as many swayed and sang along straight through to a set-closing version of “I Believe I Can Fly,” which was accompanied by the release of dove-shaped balloons.
If Kelly’s presentation was fairly straightforward, Bjork’s closing set on Friday was anything but. Or so it seemed — unless one was within 75 yards of the stage, it was hard to see what was going on besides fleeting glimpses of Bjork’s elaborate headgear, which looked like a porcupine lit up from within. Worse, the two video boards that flanked the Green Stage were mounted too low, rendering them almost useless to those they should intend to aid.
No matter: Bjork’s expressive voice was just as fluid and otherworldly as one would expect on slightly reconfigured versions of “Hunter,” “Joga” “Pagan Poetry” and “Army of Me.” When rain and pending lightening and thunder prompted festival organizers to pull the plug after an hour, Bjork responded with this curio: “It’s calm. I don’t know. This wouldn’t be much in Iceland, I can tell you that much.”
It also rained on Belle and Sebastian Saturday night, but not enough to cut short what was the festival’s most overt nod to nostalgia. The Scottish crew ran through a career-spanning set that crested early with rousing versions of “I’m a Cuckoo” and “The Stars of Track and Field,” which had more than one thirtysomething couple embracing amid all the tuneful sweetness.