I was a few months shy of 16
when I first heard the lucidly stark voice of Lou Reed stream over the
airwaves. I was just another suburban weirdo, looking for a justified rebellion
to call his own. I had spent those “formative years” sleeping around with any
album loud enough to drown out my inner white noise, moving through a steady
stream of Hardcore, Punk, Metal — if
they were screaming it, I was buying it. As it turns out, though, what I was
really looking for was a quieter sort of revolution, and at the helm was Mr.
Lou Reed, telling me with a frank honesty that there was freedom in the
composition. It was, like any great lesson, one I’d come to learn in time.
To say I enjoyed those first striking chords of “Heroin” would be an
understatement. It was on a snowy night in 2007, crammed in the back of a
friend's Yaris Liftback, when I first heard it. I can’t remember exactly where
we were previous to that moment, when that raw melody first came in. All I can
remember is how I suddenly became more aware of myself than ever before.
Everything I knew about music, about artistry, about writing — all of it would
change with that first overlap of beautiful melody. I was mesmerized, shaken
from a stupor of conditioned knowledge and thrown into a concoction of John
Cale’s haunting strings with Lou Reed’s candid crooning. By the time Maureen
Tucker’s drumming kicked in, sparse in its reverberation, my resolve would be
just as stripped, replaced by a wily knot that would take years to untie.
Though, right then, the song was just “fucking awesome.”
It would only be years later, waking up to a chilled October morning in 2013,
that this memory would even begin to matter. As the headlines would come to
read, “Lou Reed Dead at 71,” so, too, would the horizon appear most clearly.
I’ve always been a firm believer in the crossover of influences, the
collaboration of mediums in shaping any sort of artistry. As a writer, I can
proudly say that the recorded sound has had just as much influence on me as the
written word. And when I heard the Velvet Underground for the first time, it
became clear that they believed in a similar marriage, affirmed on the morning
of Oct. 27. With the news of the passing of a legend came an onslaught of
anecdotes from around the arts world, plastered against my computer screen. Amidst
the mass of legends, one story stood out in particular.
As according to
Rolling Stone, it was
1965, and the first few months of the Velvet Underground playing under their
iconic moniker. They had began a residency playing in New York’s Café Bizarre
and in the beginning stages of developing their distorted and chaotically
composed sound. Management was set on having performers play more contemporary
numbers, and warned the band not to play their original composition “Black
Angel Death Song.” They went on to perform the number anyway, fit with all the
chilling accidentals in its string arrangements, and were fired immediately.
Though they would emerge from that loss victorious (it led to their
introduction to Andy Warhol, the man who would come to produce their record and
put them on the map of the underground art scene of ‘60s New York), there was
something bigger about that moment, something more pressing in my association
Incidentally, “Black Angel Death Song” was the first thing I clicked on Sunday
morning when I heard the news of its writer’s passing. The strings were
suddenly more haunting, and the story seemed all the more important. It was yet
another quintessential moment in the life of Lou Reed, a man who sang with
unbridled frankness, who played with unencumbered passion, and who inspired me
with the tirelessness of his dedication to honest expression. It transported me
back, seven years and a lifetime ago, to that night in December 2007, when I
first pricked my ears with another of his songs, that found, all at once, both
comfort and chaos within itself. Though I’d spend the lapsed time between 2007
and 2013 finding appreciation for the 40-plus years of Reed’s prolific career —
from “Black Angel Death Song” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” through “Satellite
of Love” and “Pale Blue Eyes” and even up until his
Hudson River Wind Meditations — it would always be that
compositions that would stay, forever imprinted in my mind.
“Heroin” became, for me, a love song to the in between — it was everything I’d
been listening to up until that point and nothing I’d ever heard before; it was
the sentimentality of Indie Rock, the calm before the double bass in hardcore,
the simplistic, chord interplay of Punk and its cleaner cut cousin Pop. And, at
the same time, it was also the recklessness of avant-garde, the soundtrack to
the colors of an underground New York I’d only experience in preserved murals
and snapshots. It was everything I’d known, and everything I would come to know
about music, about art, about sound and about writing.
There are moments that comprise your past, songs that take you to a memory you
thought you’d left. And then there are moments that define your future, songs
that propel you forward into infinity.
Lou Reed, and what he accomplished before, with and after the Velvet
Underground, stood as a symbol for finding freedom in ones composition, and
pushing the statements made to work in a fashion of success.
It was a lesson I would learn time and time again in my own work, as I moved
through the progression of my writing and my own performance techniques. I
would come to face my own obstacles, fight my own battles against normative
expectations. And it would be in those times I fell the deepest, my resolve
threatening to falter, that this education would come back to me, mysterious in
its origins, all the while growing, like a backbone that stood rigid for honest
experimentation and freedom in the composition.
Even now, as this mystery’s been unearthed, its inductor put to rest, ahead of
me remains miles and miles of still shrouded possibility. But against that wall
of lessons I’ll stand, riveted, staring towards the looming unknown. And I’ll
try for a different kind of kingdom, if I can.
New York City Ska legends The Toasters were the bridge from the late ’70s 2 Tone Records-fueled Ska revival in the U.K. to the one that brought Ska into the American mainstream in the ’90s. Easily one of the most influential Ska acts of all time, The Toasters were formed in 1981 by Robert “Bucket” Hingley, a U.K. native (and the group’s lone constant member) who had just moved to The States, taking inspiration from the 2 Tone Ska being created in his homeland (The Beat, The Specials, The Selecter, etc.).
The Toasters, in turn, helped inspire multitudes of Ska bands to form, something that ultimately led to the development of so-called Ska Punk. Having a hard time finding a label, Hingley formed his own, Moon Ska Records, which grew to become the major American Ska indie imprint, releasing music (via albums or the label’s popular compilations) by The Slackers, Dance Hall Crashers, Mustard Plug, Less Than Jake and No Doubt, among many others. The Moon label was a road-map to quality American Ska when the music was more underground; the imprint, which was artist- and consumer-friendly (like Punk label Dischord, Moon always kept prices low), experienced its greatest success during the ’90s Ska boom, but when the music fell out of mainstream favor, the label faded away. Hingley moved to Spain, where he formed another label, Megalith, to continue releasing Toasters albums.
The Toasters were the cool elder statesmen of the Ska scene and they’ve survived the fickleness of musical trends and an ever-changing music industry for over 30 years now by doing things on their own terms and keeping true to their vision.
• Nashville’s Escondido came together quickly but very naturally. The project of Jessica Maros and Tyler James (a solo artist who has also toured as pianist for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) got its start in James’ home studio when he was recording an artist with whom both were friends. During a recording break, Maros, a Vancouver native and successful clothing/jewelry designer, was casually playing a song in the studio, James hit “record,” added some light ornamentation and, essentially, Escondido was born. That night, the two decided to make an album. Fittingly, the album — Esondido’s debut, titled The Ghost of Escondido — was recorded live in just one day with a handful of talented Nashville friends/musicians, even though it sounds incredibly cohesive, full-bodied and organic.
The making of the full-length, released at the start of this year, was driven by the spirit of Ennio Morricone, the legendary spaghetti western soundtrack genius, and that desert-sunset atmosphere meshes beautifully with the band’s mix of Indie Rock, Pop and Country. The end result is mesmerizing, a hazy, dreamy collection of haunted, mysterious soundscapery and spine-tingling harmonies and vocals, making the band reminiscent of a slightly twangier, more dynamic and grounded Mazzy Star. Along with garnering a wide-range of supporters, from the tastemakers at KCRW to the writers at Vogue, The Ghost of Escondido also made a fan out of eccentric filmmaker/artist/writer/musician David Lynch, who wrote about his love for the band in Mojo magazine.
Here’s the music video for Escondido’s “Black Roses.”
The duo (fleshed out by a full touring band) performs a free show tonight at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine. New York City’s Indie Pop/Garage Rock group Unicycle Loves You opens the show at 10 p.m.
• Tonight at Covington’s Madison Theater is a good chance to hear what a “Jam Band” sounds like in 2013, as several groups join forces for an all-ages, 8 p.m. show. Or, rather, you’ll hear how almost no two “Jam Bands” sound alike anymore, making the Grateful Dead-mimicking cliches about the scene completely outdated. Today, the “Jam” tag has less real meaning than ever, with the groups earning the descriptor exploring a huge range of styles. Jam Bands now often share little more than a tendency to improvise.
Headliners Dopapod epitomize the diversity of the modern Jam scene with their progressive blend of Electronic music, Jazz, Rock, Soul, Funk and various other styles. The Brooklyn, N.Y., group released its third studio album, Redivider, late last year, introducing fans to a Dopapod first — vocals (previously, the band was all instrumental). Read Brian Baker’s preview of the show for CityBeat here.
The support lineup for Dopapod is a varied collection of mostly local bands that reflect the same kind of sonic adventurousness as the headliners, though, of course, each bringing their own slant — Ethosine, Nevele, Us Today, Freeform Connection, Peridoni, Aliver Hall and Blue Moon Soup. Tickets are $15 at the door.
• Though they never reaped the full rewards and commercial success that some bands that came after them did, Michigan’s Mustard Plug was one of the early guiding forces behind the ’90s Punk Ska explosion. The band put out its first album, Skapocalypse Now!, on cassette in 1992 and moved up to third-wave Ska’s version of 2 Tone Records, NYC’s Moon Records, for its second full-length, kicking off two decades of hardcore international touring.
Mustard Plug later joined the roster of Hopeless Records, which would go on to become one of the top independent Punk labels in the country. While the vast majority of Ska Punk bands from the ’90s either moved on to another style of music or imploded after the “craze” died down, Mustard Plug continues to write new songs, put out new music and tour on a regular basis, its loyal cult of fans proving that, while you won’t hear it on the radio anymore, there is still an audience hungry for Ska Punk done well. Mustard Plug has been operating D.I.Y. since parting ways with Hopeless; a new album (the band’s first since 2007’s In Black and White) is reportedly finished and due soon thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Mustard Plug plays a free show tonight at Northside Tavern. Opening is Cincinnati’s Elysian Souls.
• October is coming to an end, which means Rocktober is also almost over and Rocktober on the Square, a new every-Friday concert series at downtown’s Fountain Square, is winding down as well. Today at 5 p.m., the final Rocktober on the Square show starts with a set from great, rootsy singer/songwriter Josh Eagle.
In the 6 p.m. slot is singer/songwriter Mike Oberst of popular Cincy Folk group The Tillers, who are heading overseas for their first ever U.K. tour, playing Nov. 1-16 throughout England, Scotland and Ireland as support for Pokey LaFarge.
The always fantastic 500 Miles to Memphis closes out Rocktober at 7 p.m. It’s the rowdy, rootsy rockers’ last local show of the year; the 500MTM fellas are taking a break from performing to go back into the studio to finish their next album.
Rocktober on the Square is a free event. Click here for more info.
• Don’t forget — the One More Girl on a Stage benefit concerts continue today after last night’s kickoff at various venues in Over-the-Rhine. The OMG fest takes over the Southgate House Revival in Newport for a “whole house” show tonight starting at 7 p.m. Go here for complete details.
Instead of hosting the festival at one venue, this year’s
One More Girl benefit has expanded to six local venues in two cities
over three nights. The lineup for One More Girl showcases female solo
artists and bands with a female presence (mostly) from the Greater Cincinnati
area. Many of them also happen to be some of the best acts in the
region, playing a range of styles that includes everything from Hard
Rock and Pop Rock to Bluegrass, Folk and many other variations on the
Below are the lineups, links to venues and performers and a few samples from the some of the acts.
One More Girl on a Stage kicks off tonight in
Over-the-Rhine, with artists featured at four venues. There are no cover
charges at any of the venues.
8:30 p.m. Good Night Noises
8 p.m. Charmed & Tarnished (a new project from Kelly Thomas and Randy Steffen)
9 p.m. The Missy Werner Band
7:30 p.m. Holly Spears Band
12:15 a.m. Sassy Molasses
10 p.m. Jesse Thomas
Saturday’s OMG performances will be held on two stages at Newport’s York Street Café beginning at 7 p.m. Admission is $10 or you can purchase a Friday/Saturday pass for $20 in advance, which will get you into both the Southgate shows and the ones at York Street (click here to purchase).
Third Floor Art Gallery Stage:
10 p.m. Carole Walker
11 p.m. Hickory Robot
Second Floor Stage:
10:30 p.m. Alone at 3AM
11:30 p.m. Kelly Thomas and The Fabulous Pickups
Though eclectic enough to be considered “AltCountry,” Terminal Union captures the heart and soul of vintage Country on Making Arrangements. What puts Terminal Union ahead of many of their peers — and makes these songs so riveting — is the emotional weight the frontmen inject into the writing and performances. Being able to make an immediate emotional connection with listeners is not something you can learn; it's innate.
On the song "Magnificent Sounds," the group pays tribute to another pair of artists who also came off as instinctively talented and able to bring a soul-stirring levity to practically every note played, seemingly effortlessly — Miles Davis and Townes Van Zandt. Veteran local musician Michael "Mad Dog" Mavridoglou provides some bonus passion with his warm Jazz trumpet riffs on the track, which somehow sounds completely at home in the band's Country/Roots context.
Elsewhere, highlight tracks like “Comeback Kid” and “Devil’s in the Details” have the power of Steve Earle in peak form, while the piano-buoyed “One of the Ones” and “I Fell You” are wonderfully composed ballads that defy genre classifications — they are simply amazing, timeless songs.
Preview a pair of songs from Making Arrangements below. Visit terminalunion.com for more on the band and see them live this Saturday at Newport's York Street Cafe, where the group will be participating in the One More Girl on a Stage benefit show.
So what the heck happened at the concert by the always dazzling Neko Case at the Taft Theatre last night? Case's biggest show ever in the Cincinnati area was musically solid, but didn't go as smoothly as planned thanks to flared tempers, the proliferation of smartphone cameras and some angry and/or obnoxious audience members. It's safe to say that you can add Case to the increasingly growing list of performers who are losing their patience with omnipresent smartphone use at concerts.
Case is fairly prolific with her Twitter account, but her tweets from yesterday showed no clear indication of the kerfuffle. Earlier in the day, she praised Iris Book Cafe for their hospitality and good grub and, post-show, she tweeted "Thank you, Cincinnati, you are kind folks," followed by some heart symbols. (Sarcasm?)
CityBeat contributor Keith Klenowski was there to photograph the show (not on his phone; he was credentialed) and says the problems started during the second song of the night, when Case stopped the show and asked everyone to stop taking photos with their phones because the flashes were bothering her. Things calmed down, people seemed to oblige and the show picked up again.
Several songs later, according to Klenowski, Case stopped the show again and appeared to be talking to a fan near the front of the stage about putting their phone away. Case made a comment about happily refunding tickets, adding, "Just put away the cameras. It isn't going to kill you, but it might kill me" and "You can boo and call me a spoiled Rock star. I am." Case claimed there were signs about cameras posted around the venue, though Klenowski says he didn't see any.
Case's reaction was met with a mix of cheers and boos; some people got really bent out of shape about her protestation. "I (saw) people put on their coats and walk out," Klenowski says. "One guy (flipped) her the bird and storms out."
He says that not long after the second stoppage, a woman came down the aisle towards the stage and took a photo before immediately being escorted out by security. Before the band returned for an encore, Klenowski says he saw another skirmish that involved a man arguing with security as he was being kicked out.
"Neko looked tired and even admitted at the start that it was time to wake up or something like that," Klenowski says, adding that the singer was apologetic to the non-heckling/non-photo-taking fans throughout the show and at the end of the night. "I got her frustration, but I have never seen anyone threaten to leave and stop a show because of it."
• The first time I saw Neko Case was a complete accident. I was in Chicago around the most recent turn of the century and went to see Indie Rock singer/songwriter Edith Frost at the small (but popular) club Lounge Ax and Case and her “Boyfriends,” as her backing band was then called (really Canadian Roots rockers The Sadies), opened the show with a great set. Though I’d heard of Case, seeing her live was revelatory — the singer/songwriter (also part of Canadian Pop collective The New Pornographers) has one of the most soulful, mesmerizing voices in music today and, once I’d heard it, I was hooked for life. Case’s transcendent pipes are only comparable to legends like Patsy Cline (though Jenny Lewis has made quite the solo career aping Case).
Working in a folksy musical realm (though not tethered to any specific style), Case has yet to release a bad album, though her latest for Anti- Records, the recent The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, has received mixed reviews (likely more indicative of a press corps bored with her astonishing consistency than the actual album itself, which is excellent). I’ve seen Case numerous times since that happy accident in Chicago — including dates at Chicago’s Metro and at Newport’s Southgate House — and I’ve never left in any other state besides “spellbound.”
Case comes back to the Cincinnati area tonight for a show at downtown’s Taft Theatre (her largest local appearance yet) with special guest and fellow red-headed singer/songwriter Karen Elson. Tickets are still available for $35 at the door.
Check out Jason Gargano's feature story on Case from this week's CityBeat. Here's the "lyric video" for The Worse Things Get track "Night Still Comes."
• Over the past two decades, Built to Spill has become a legendary cult band, remaining a solid concert draw across the nation and releasing some of the most brilliant guitar-driven Indie Rock albums of the ’90s and ’00s. Led by singer/guitarist Doug Martsch, BtS formed in Boise, Idaho, in the early ’90s, and worked with a lot of Pacific Northwest musical institutions on its way up. In 1995, as the major labels were winding down their signing frenzy in the wake of Nirvana's huge success (signing seemingly every band even loosely associated with the words "Seattle" or "Grunge"), Built to Spill inked with Warner Brothers Records, which has released six stellar albums by the band since 1997, including the crew's masterful debut for the label, Perfect From Now On, and 2009's There is No Enemy, the group's most recent album.
Like label mates The Flaming Lips, BtS has been the rare band that has sold consistently enough to remain signed to a major label for well over a decade thanks to the consistent quality of its work, heavy touring and an incredibly dedicated following. It's refreshing to see a big-time label stay so loyal to a group that will probably never sell a million copies and even more probably won't ever have a big hit single. (Despite rumors, BtS is not breaking up; a new album is in the works and expected by the end of 2014.)
Built to Spill performs tonight at Newport, Ky.'s Southgate House Revival with guests Slam Dunk and Genders. Showtime is 8:30 p.m. and tickets are $25 at the door.
With its first three releases and about a decade worth of live shows across the region, The Frankl Project has honed a sound that has earned notice for its crafty blend of Rock, Pop, Punk and Ska. But the Cincinnati trio’s recent album, Standards, showcases the sound of a band finding its own unique voice and running with it.
While those aforementioned influences are still evident, the group skillfully and more subtly integrates them into something they can completely call its own. What hasn’t changed is that The Frankls (drummer/singer Joseph Frankl, guitarist/singer Jacob Tippey and bassist/singer Paul Schroder) still write excellent songs featuring hooks a plenty and often anthem-ready, spine-tingling choruses. But the variety of the album and the way the trio presents the songs is what makes Standards so magnetic.
Unlike most Pop Rock bands (especially ones that have a “Punk” element or pedigree), The Frankl Project doesn’t try to overload its tracks with giant-sounding guitars that fill every nook and cranny, opting instead to leave lots of space to create a distinctly airy aura. Allowing the tracks to breathe and rise and fall without resorting to predictable dynamics recalls the less-is-more approach that Indie Rock stars Spoon do so well and makes Standards a gripping listening experience. With that sonic elbowroom, the musicians’ intriguing individual parts are more perceptible (Frankl, in particular, is an incredibly musical drummer and his parts — like Tippey’s guitar work — are often captivating) and add to The Frankls’ uniqueness. But the stellar songwriting is still the primary focus.
The album kicks off with “Alive on the Road,” a swaying rocker that soars on the three musicians’ airtight harmonies, while “My Hands” has a rootsy sway that would make Jay Farrar nod along approvingly. After a string of heart-swelling, evocative Pop songs, the band throws in a few curves, like the jazzy but intense “Heart Shapes & Hand Grenades,” the quirky but still resonant Indie Pop gem “Find Your Way,” the ghostly, slow-burning “Chai Bones” and the album’s most rocking track, “The Ottoman.”
If Weezer, Bad Veins, Ben Folds Five, Sunny Day Real Estate and Band of Horses every decided to make an album together and hired a producer with expert knowledge on how to utilize atmosphere as another instrument (like Joe Henry, Brian Eno or Daniel Lanois), it might sound like an unfocused patchwork of lazy, hazy Pop. But, if they (and you) were lucky, it would sound more like The Frankl Project’s impressively creative Standards.
Visit thefranklproject.com for more about Standards and The Frankl Project.
Ohio Dream Pop/Rock group strangewave performs tonight at The Comet in Northside. J. Trenton Crace and Katrina Eresman formed the compelling group in Dayton not long ago and released their ear-grabbing full-length debut, Pop Noir, earlier this year. It's a fantastic first effort full of hypnotic songs that hover in the same realm as classic Shoegaze, Mazzy Star, Blonde Redhead and Lush, with the diversity from track to track keeping the listener drawn in and mesmerized from start to finish. The twosome is joined by a drummer and bassist for live shows.
Opening the free show at 10 p.m. is Seattle Indie Rock/Soul trio Garage Voice, which claims heavy influence from Gospel music and Memphis Soul and has a Garage Rock spirit, thought its songs are far less derivative and predictable that most other groups given that tag. The soulful sounds of the band — which are laced with cool Hammond Organ stabs, soundscapes and grooves — have something of an atmospheric Psych Pop vibe at times (making them a good fit with strangewave), but ignite into dirty Blues and Rock & Roll outbursts with little to no notice.
Get a taste of Garage Voice's latest album, Amenin, below.