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.
One of the oldest free series of its kind in the region, the It’s Commonly Jazz showcases have now been running for 28 years, presenting marquee artists like Eddie Harris, McCoy Tyner, Javon Jackson and David “Fathead” Newman.
The free series — running every Thursday in August (lucky Jazz fans get five events this year) — returns to the outdoor Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park tonight. The opening show features renowned saxophonist Craig Bailey.
Nice interview from Greece with Bailey:
Here is the rest of the It’s Commonly Jazz lineup for 2013:
Trinidad-born Etienne Charles, acclaimed for his mix of island rhythms and Jazz, plays Aug. 8.
Charles jazzing up Marley:
Young tenor sax wiz J.D. Allen performs at the Aug. 15 show.
Allen and his trio play "The Matador and the Bull":
Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter/actor Gregory Porter on Aug. 22, presented with Learning Through the Arts, Inc. as part of the Crown Jewels of Jazz Heritage Festival. For tickets to (and more info on) the Crown Jewels fest — running at various venues in Over-the-Rhine and Mt. Adams Aug. 21-24 — click here. Here's LTtA's Kathy Wade explaining the festival:
Gregory Porter's official music video for "Be Good (Lion's Song)":
For the finale, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, who will be joined by his group of young Jazz lions, Wolfpack, comes to the ICJ stage on Aug. 29.
Warren Wolf's video biography:
Music runs 6-8 p.m. For complete info, visit itscommonlyjazz.com.
There is an old homily which quite wisely states that if something is operating properly, it might be considered imprudent to attempt a repair.
Or, in a slightly less circuitous manner of speaking, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
For well over a decade, the Sundresses have been anything but broken. Brad Schnittger, Jeremy Springer and Makenzie Place have been churning out a visceral pretzel logic version of the Blues with elements of manic Swing, hot foot Jazz, brutal Punk and blistering Indie Rock, heated to the temperature of molten rock and detonated over unsuspecting audiences with an animalistic ferocity. A formula like that is both tremulously volatile and erratically perfect. Why would anyone feel the need to take a wrench to it?
Needed or not, a-wrenching they have gone; for the first time in The Sundresses' long history, the tight-knit trio has added a new full fledged member with the hiring of former Dukes Are Dead drummer Dave Reid. The new lineup was unveiled on July 19 for the band's appearance at the MidPoint Indie Summer Series on Fountain Square, and then again a week later when The Sundresses tore through a set at the Mad Love for Mad Anthony benefit at the Southgate House Revival.
Rabid fans and casual observers may have differing opinions on how Reid's addition will impact the Sundresses going forward, but one thing is certain; this was anything but a routine lineup decision. Bringing in a permanent drummer changes the group dynamic, eliminates one of the band's most popular and unique live features and may actually set the stage for broader success.
After 13 hard fought calendars, the Sundresses have recorded sporadically — a few EPs, a split with Dylan Ewing's 4192, a pair of brilliant studio documents (2003's The Only Tourist in Town, 2008's Barkinghaus) and Off, their scalding and ingeniously marketed 2010 live album — and toured relentlessly, without a great deal of forward progress being notched. The trio has always generated a good deal of extremely positive press, and their string of five trips to Austin for South by Southwest has to stand as some kind of local record.
My personal obsession with the Sundresses began at their first SXSW appearance in 2004, which coincided with my first trip to Austin for the festival. As it turned out, the band's gig at the Blender Balcony was only the ninth out-of-town show in their two-year history, and I felt as though I had just witnessed the cosmic birth of a great musical entity. I still feel that way. I drank more than a dipperful of The Sundresses' Kool-Aid that night, and I've been feverishly blathering on about them ever since to anyone who will listen.
For whatever reasons, the brass ring of label offers and more tangible measures of success have eluded The Sundresses. At the same time, the trio has remained committed to the cause and continued to pursue their singular vision with an almost psychotic tenacity and zealous passion. And their focused determination may have made it difficult for those of us who love them unconditionally to admit that there was indeed a fundamental issue that may have been blocking their path.
From the very start, Brad and Jeremy envisioned and executed one of their most cherished gimmicks, namely their patented guitar/drum switch; at their 2005 SXSW show, Jeremy informed the audience, "You were supposed to close your eyes..." It has long been an admittedly fabulous element of their live presentation, but it may have been so entertainingly original that it became a detriment.
The basic issue may be that Brad plays drums with the subtlety and invention of a studied and seasoned beatkeeper and Jeremy plays with the brute force of a blacksmith hammering on an anvil. Both approaches to playing the drums have legitimate advantages and both clearly have a role in shaping the diverse sonic identity that the trio has been trying to define since forming The Sundresses in 2002.
Although it may never have been perceived as a problem, the difficulty with rotating drummers is that Makenzie — who learned how to play bass in order to be a part of the band — has had to adjust her groove based on those two very distinct drum styles. In essence, the Sundresses' rhythm section has never really had an opportunity to build a discernible foundation.
With Dave behind the kit, that opportunity becomes a reality.
Based on the Sundresses' roaring set at the Mad Anthony benefit on July 26, the band's newly established rhythm section has already started paying dividends. Makenzie is now locked into a single percussionist and she and Dave collectively control the band's tempo. Dave has the latitude to incorporate Jeremy's power and Brad's nuance into his singular drum repertoire and Makenzie is learning the joy of shifting gears without changing cars.
Relying on primarily new and largely unrecorded material, The Sundresses blazed through an all-too-brief ten song set with a rejuvenated energy that smacked of their early days. Opening with the swinging funky Blues of the brand new "Banker's Blues" and the loping howl of the equally fresh "Whisper Touch," the quartet bounced megawatt riffs through every body and against every conceivable surface in the Revival's sanctuary. They slowed down a shade for a spin through Hank Williams' "Ramblin' Man," and Jeremy's quick documentary on the size of MA guitarist Ringo Jones' manhood before tearing into another relatively new track, "Zap a Deux," but it was all good in the hood regardless of speed or sonic profile. Finishing up with longtime faves "Hey! Hey! Bang! Bang!" and the propulsively jumping "Larry Nixon," the Sundresses gave both a glimpse at the sound of their much-anticipated third studio outing, hopefully coming out before the end of the year, and the direction they'll be taking as a quartet.
Perhaps one of the more interesting side effects from The Sundresses' expansion is the fact that Jeremy and Brad are now playing guitar together, which means their distinct stylistic differences are blending and cross-pollinating rather than occupying discernibly different spaces within the set. As they become more acclimated to this arrangement, and as Makenzie and Dave fully tune up the engine they've just rebuilt, it's bound to have an incredible impact on the songs they start writing. As it stands, the songs The Sundresses have already written sound magnificent coming from the newly minted quartet, proving once again that even the best can get better
Heart introduced a fresh, rebellious sound in the early 1970s when a particular voice was truly needed. That timeless voice belonged to singer Ann Wilson. In a time when the female frontwoman was just gaining steam, Heart found their identity in theirs. To this day Wilson embodies the band’s sound and message. She helped make it possible for generations of others to find their voice in Rock & Roll.
The band's legacy was celebrated on a grand scale this year when Ann, her sister, guitarist Nancy Wilson, and the rest of the Heart family were inducted into the 2013 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the likes of fellow legendary groups Rush and Public Enemy.
CityBeat had the privilege of speaking with the legendary vocalist in advance of Heart's performance Saturday at Riverbend Music Center. Audiences can anticipate hearing classics like “Barracuda” and "Crazy on You," as well as fresh music off of the 2012 album Fanatic, which nicely continues the Heart legacy. Don’t miss the finale with Jason Bonham (opening the show with his Led Zeppelin tribute) joining them on stage.
CityBeat: What was the highlight of your Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction this year?
Ann Wilson: The highlight of my (RRHOF) induction this year was standing beside Nancy at the podium. That was a feeling of great pride I will never forget.
CB: What is the most number of days you have gone without playing music?
AW: I have gone months sometimes without playing a guitar, but never a day goes by where I don't sing.
CB: What does your ideal day look like these days?
AW: Sleep in late, have a great pilates/yoga workout, hang out with my kids and their kids, cook dinner, meditate, sleep with my dog nearby.
CB: If you could trade places with someone for a month who would it be and why?
AW: I guess I couldn't do that. I don't envy anyone else that much!
CB: You have seen music recording formats change from vinyl and 8-track to cassette, CD and MP3 through the years. Do you feel like music sounds better or worse with the use of technology?
AW: Music definitely sounds worse to my ears because of digital technology. There is a hard, brittle sound to it. Analog music sounded warmer and deeper, though maybe not as " perfect." Auto-Tune makes me crazy because it removes all individuality from a person's voice. Everyone ends up sounding anonymous. The imperfections are where the soul is, I say leave them in. Leave in the humanity.
CB: How did the latest tour come about with Jason Bonham? Any favorite tour stories from the current tour?
AW: Many people saw the Kennedy Center Honors show on TV or YouTube and loved the tribute to Led Zeppelin. The management was listening and everyone agreed it would be a beautiful idea. We've only done two weeks so far, and it's been amazing. No train wrecks yet!
CB: Do you journal or take photos over the years with special tour memories. How do you document your stories and memories?
AW: We record every night and have photographers on sight. Occasionally I will blog, but I am usually pretty wound up after a show. Maybe this will be the year I take up a journal. A person can't count on their memory forever!!
CB: Does it ever get tough being on the road with family? How have you handled it for so many years?
AW: Yes, the road is rough. Traveling and performing together takes a lot out of you and sometimes things do get emotional. We are lucky to have each other for support. I don't know how I would have made it all these years without Nancy's love, strength and sense of humor!
CB: Are you working on new music while on the road?
AW: My head is full of new songs at the moment.
CB: What can fans looks forward to when the tour hits Cincinnati?
AW: The show in Cincinnati will open with Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience, Next will be the heart show, after which there will be a finale consisting of about 30 minutes of Zeppelin songs with Jason Bonham and (Bonham's guitarist) Tony Catania joining in.
• Macy’s Music Festival — still often referred to locally as “Jazz Fest” as a nod to the fest’s roots (despite a complete lack of Jazz nowadays) — returns to downtown’s Paul Brown Stadium tonight and tomorrow.
The festival is a Cincinnati tradition, a true “event,” regardless of what music is featured (which may explain the lackluster booking rut the fest was in for a while). But this year’s Macy’s Music Fest has one of the best lineups in recent memory.
Tonight's performers include headliner Jill Scott, plus Charlie Wilson, TGT (Tyreese, Ginuwine, Tank), locals The Faize Band and a rare performance by Cincinnati legend, Funk superhero and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Bootsy Collins.
Charlie Wilson is fresh off of receiving the BET Awards' Lifetime Achievement honors.
And here's the crowd rockin' to Charlie at last year's Macy's Music Festival.
Saturday’s lineup features newcomer Leela James, KEM, Prince’s ol’ pals Morris Day and The Time, Fantasia and blockbuster headliner R. Kelly, an arena-worthy star fresh off of his odd but successful (despite the many "Pee on Me!" signs in the hipster audience) 38-song, headlining appearance at the Pitchfork music festival in Chicago. But … MORRIS DAY AND THE TIME!
Morris Day and The Time - Jungle Love by DemonPreyer
Find more about the fest at macysmusicfestival.com. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster. Prices range from $40-$85 (only single-day tickets are available). Showtime is 7:30 p.m. each night.
• If your tastes trend more towards old-timey music and Bluegrass (and your wallet trends more towards empty), downtown's Arnold's is presenting the two-night Tito's Old Time Music Festival, running tonight and tomorrow. "Tito's" refers to sponsor Tito's Homemade Vodka, an Austin, Texas-produced spirits producer; Tito's reps will be on hand and Tito's drink specials will be plentiful. There will be also a chance to win an Epiphone acoustic guitar and purchase signed fest poster created by local poster-art great Keith Neltner.
You don't have to be a vodka enthusiast to attend — there is some great local Roots/Americana music each night. Tonight, Western Swing crew The Sidecars kick things off at 7:30 p.m., followed by My Brother the Bear, The Goodle Boys and AltCountry greats Terminal Union, which just released an amazing debut album, Making Arrangements (look for a review on this here blog soon).
Besides all of the great music, one of the most fun elements of the MidPoint Music Festival (coming Sept. 26-28 to various venues in Over-the-Rhine and Downtown) is the MidPoint Midway, with its carnival-like atmosphere, music offerings, food and other vendors bustling along the fest’s 12th Street vein.
The “Box Truck Carnival” is one of the cornerstones of the Midway, showcasing the creative minds of Cincinnatians in the form of “box trucks” that are remade into … anything the re-designers can dream up. The organizers at ArtWorks call them “experimental ‘carnival’ booths.”
Last year’s box trucks included a photo booth (from Queen City Project), a “shadow-dance” club (from Golden Brown Enterprises), an improvisational comedy club (from OTR Improv), an interactive magnetic sculpture (from the Loose Parts Project) and a “Free Advice” booth (from Calcagno Cullen).
ArtWorks and Springboard Cincinnati recently put the call out for proposals for the third annual Box Truck Carnival.
Here are some of the details from ArtWorks:
Artists and creatives are invited to create unique interactive installations within the confines of a 16' or 24' long truck. Past submissions have included performance art, a photo booth, putt-putt course, dance party, and more.
Participants will be awarded a $500 stipend for materials and supplies, provided the truck is returned to the rental company with no damage or alterations after the festival. ArtWorks will cover the cost of one week truck rental, insurance, and mileage not to exceed 100 miles. Generators will be provided.
A panel will got through all submissions and pick 8-10 concepts they’d like to see come to fruition. If you’re proposal is accepted, you will be notified by Aug. 9.
The MidPoint Midway is free and open to the public. This year, the hours are 5 p.m.-midnight on Sept. 26 and 27, and noon-midnight on Sept. 28. (On Sept. 28, MPMF is planning some family-friendly fun — dubbed “KidPoint” — from noon-4 p.m. along the Midway. More info on that coming soon.)
See what you can come up with over the next few days. Deadline for submissions is this WEDNESDAY (JULY 31), 5 p.m. Click here for the submission form. Email email@example.com with any questions.
(This post was updated to reflect ArtWorks' recently extended deadline)
After months of rising anticipation and weeks of weirdly intermittent and torrential rain, Bunbury's first day looked to be a winner. A great announced lineup, no precipitation in the forecast and nothing but sunshine expected for the day; against all odds, that's exactly what we got. But it wasn't the rain to come that presented a problem, it was the rain that had already fallen; the area on the Serpentine Wall that had perfectly pocketed the Rockstar Stage last year was completely swallowed by the rising Ohio River, and the stage had to be moved to the opposite end of the field housing the all important Main Stage. It turned out to be a pretty decent fix, all things considered.
After securing my Level Three media pass (which, in the hierarchy of accessibility, I think meant that if any band needed help moving equipment, I was obligated to roadie for them), I headed for the Bud Light stage for Public. I had done a story on them back in January; they were home for Christmas so given their proximity, they came to my house and we did the interview in my basement. My daughter had answered the door and let them in, and for weeks afterward she was telling her friends about the cute guys I had interviewed at the house. Public's teenage girl effect was fully evident at their Bunbury appearance, as squealy females shrieked their appreciation for every song, and randomly shouted "I love you!"s arced over the rather sizable crowd. The trio did songs from their self-titled EP, a new tune called "Honey Bee" and, taking a page from the infinitely talented and creatively twisted Richard Thompson, offered a thunderously blazing turn on Britney Spears' "Toxic." In the studio, Public has the sound of a ramped up Modest Mouse, but in the live arena, they definitely blister and kick a little closer to the Led Zeppelin vibe they claimed as inspiration during our conversation, adding a dollop of harmonic Pop to sweeten the deal. If teenage girls are any indicator — and they usually are — Public could be headed for Walk the Moon territory pretty quickly.
Next up, it was Alone at 3AM at the Lawn Stage. I love these guys; super solid, crunchy heartland Indie Pop/Rock that states its case without a lot of unnecessary flash or padding. The band had plodded along for close to seven years before solidifying a dedicated line-up behind vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Max Fender and bassist Joey Beck and moving forward; a good deal of growth occurred with the additions of Sarah Davis on keys and Chris Mueller on drums (and business savvy). That in turn lit a fire under Fender, leading to a pair of albums in the last three years — 2010's Cut Your Gills and last year's Midwest Mess.
For A@3's Bunbury slot, the quintet was showing off their new guitarist; Clay Cason's recent departure left a gap which has been admirably filled by Jake Tippey, taking a busman's holiday from his howling duties in the Frankl Project and proving every bit as valuable in a Pop/Rock context. The band roared through songs from their most recent albums, introduced a couple of new songs (Chris mentioned after the show that A@3 would be working on an EP, and then tracking a new full length for imminent release) and even dipped back into their debut album, City Out of Luck, for a spin through "Mexico." Max's gruff voice sits comfortably in the Paul Westerberg/Bruce Springsteen range and it's the perfect vehicle for expressing his blue collar love-and-life songs. Can't wait to hear the new stuff in the studio, kids.
Before setting out for the Rockstar Stage, I caught the opening of Ohio Knife, one of Cincinnati's brightest new entities. Initially a side project for the Chocolate Horse, vocalist/guitarist Jason Snell, guitarist Andrew Higley and drummer Joe Suer — who all played together in Readymaid as well — ultimately put the Horse in the stable to concentrate on the Punk-scrubbed Blues of Ohio Knife, and with good reason. The trio is a sweat-soaked hurricane in the studio (their 2012 EP was a marvel), but the live translation hits with the force and heat of a flamethrower in an ammunition dump, and it won't be long before the CEA nominees for Best New Artist wind up taking home some bling. Where are we with the full length, guys?
After a quick shot of Ohio Knife, it was time to motor to the other end of the festival to check out the Dunwells. The UK outfit fronted by, logically enough, the Dunwell brothers, has found a good deal of success with their debut album, Blind Sighted Faith, and its ubiquitous single "I Could Be a King." When they played the single, frontman Joseph Dunwell thanked Q102 for their support, but it bears pointing out that, WNKU has been beating the drum for the Dunwells for quite some time now (just as they had for the similarly Folk/Pop toned Mumford & Sons). That being said, the age of the crowd seemed to indicate that Q102's demographic was probably best represented here today, so perhaps the win should be scored in their column after all. However the commissioner decides to rule, the Dunwells put together a crisp and wonderfully vibrant set that pays homage to the West Coast sounds of the Eagles and CSNY. The one exception to that sonic blueprint is the aforementioned "I Could Be a King," which offers an irresistable Pop edge that shimmers like the best of Crowded House. When brother David Dunwell strapped on the old five string to play the hit, he noted wryly, "I think every Englishman should at some point come to America and stand in front of an American audience holding a banjo with no idea how to play it." I think he was being graciously self-deprecating. The Dunwells seemed to go down a storm and I think they would find a large and enthusiastic audience if they returned outside of the auspices of the Bunbury Festival. Quick note: If you see a Dunwells album titled Follow the Road in stores (for you youngsters, a building where your parents buy music) or online, it is actually a re-sequenced and remixed version of Blind Sighted Faith, with a few alternate versions tossed in for flavor.
I briefly considered heading over to the Bud Light Stage to see some of Everest (a pick from Bunbury worker bee extraordinaire Jacob Heintz), but opted to check out a bit of Tegan and Sara at the Main Stage before making a definite decision.
I've interviewed both Quin twins over the years — most recently, I talked to Sara the year after the release of 2009's Sainthood — and while I lean toward their early work as far as my personal taste is concerned, their last trio of albums have been fairly well stacked with radio-friendly Pop songs with the potential to reach a massive audience. The enormous turnout for their Bunbury set would seem to support their decision to go the pure Pop route, but the fact is that Tegan and Sara have been cultivating a large and diverse audience for the past decade and a half, and their synth-driven Pop direction was not enough of a departure to alienate any portion of their slavishly loyal fan base. Predictably, the bulk of their set was devoted to Heartthrob, along with faves from The Con and Sainthood; they also reached all the way back to 2002's If It Was You for "Living Room" and they threw in a cover of Tiesto's "Feel It in My Bones," on which they originally guested. As expected, the adrenaline and volume of the live experience ferments Tegan and Sara's sugary Pop confections into something with a little more bite. Even for those who weren't completely sold on their recent work (my hand is up), Tegan and Sara's live presentation could make you see the light.
After T&S, it was time to hit the Amphitheater Stage to see Buffalo Killers. If you missed seeing the James Gang in 1971, here's your chance. Because I'm old enough to have actually missed the James Gang (with Joe Walsh, that is; I was lucky enough to see the even rarer sight of the James Gang with Tommy Bolin. Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls …) that joke is only marginally funny. Luckily, Buffalo Killers have approximated the trio's fuzzy guitar assault and maniacally furious rhythm section here in the 21st century to give an indication of what Joe and the boys might have sounded like if they had stayed together a little longer and gelled a little better. And even though Buffalo Killers have managed to inject a bit of poppy sunshine into their bunker-busting sound, in the live arena the band still rumbles and shoots like a rhythmic Sherman tank. The Killers hit all of my teenage buttons (which were installed long ago and have never been fully deactivated, same as every man on the planet, I suppose) and any opportunity to witness their feedback-through-an-elephant-gun glory is a chance to time machine back to the days when electric dinosaurs roamed the earth and their squalling racket could be heard from sweaty and sparsely attended auditoriums to densely populated arenas. I love Buffalo Killers. They remind me that there is wisdom in remembering the past, joy in celebrating the present and excitement in anticipating the future.
After a brief stroll around the grounds to grab something to eat, it was back to the Amphitheater Stage for a healthy dose of Rock hard Americana with Those Darlins. The Nashville outfit has been down a Darlin since early last year when Kelley Anderson opted out of the band to pursue other musical projects (her new group, Grand Strand, got a good buzz after touring with Richard Lloyd last year), and her amicable departure has obviously changed the group's dynamic, particularly the absence of their signature three-part harmonies. The remaining Darlins — Jessi (Wariner), Nikki (Kvarnes) and drummer Linwood Regensberg — are carrying on with the-show-must-go-on determination; new bassist Adrian Barrera seems to be slotting in quite well and Those Darlins' core sound, along the lines of the Pandoras if they'd been influenced by Wanda Jackson and the Ramones, remains largely intact. Their Bunbury set did display a good deal more Rock and a good deal less twang than you'll find on their first two albums — 2009's Those Darlins and 2011's Screws Get Loose — and it's a safe bet that the new album they're currently working on will follow that blueprint as well. No one at the Amphitheater seemed too dismayed at the shift, particularly the hyperactive dance contingent in front of the stage. Two Darlins is clearly enough Darlins to make Those Darlins.
I bailed out of Those Darlins a bit early to make the long walk back to the Rockstar Stage to take in the Gypsy Jazz goodness of DeVotchKa. I've long been a fan of the Denver-based outfit (I came to them through 2004's How It Ends, fell in love with their version of the Velvets' "Venus in Furs" from the Curse Your Little Heart EP and adored their work in Little Miss Sunshine) but have never had the opportunity to see them in the flesh, and when I saw them on the Bunbury schedule, I knew there was little that could draw me away from their show. Luckily, their 9 p.m. slot meant they weren't programmed against anyone else, so the way was cleared for my first live DeVotchKa experience.
DeVotchKa lived up to and surpassed all advance billing with a set that walked the wire between frenetic and atmospheric but maintained high energy from start to finish. Even when they slowed the pace, there was an electric tension in their presentation that made clear something explosive could happen at any moment. And it usually did. All four members of the band — Nick Urata, Jeanie Schroder, Tom Hagerman, Shawn King — play multiple instruments so almost any sound is available to DeVotchKa, including theremin, boukouki, accordion, trumpet and Melodica. And Schroder does the heaviest lifting, either plucking with power and subtlety on her enormous upright bass or blowing away like Dizzy Gillespie on steroids into a gigantic sousaphone that looks as though it would be the punishment instrument for getting bad grades in high school band ("Okay, Baker, D in Orchestra, 10 solos with the death tuba..."). It wasn't a performance to analyze or interpret, it was a Gypsy Jazz soundtrack for a magic show, a feeling to wash over you like cool waves on warm sand, a Slavic Rock and Roll dance party. More than a few people on DeVotchKa's Facebook page declared it the best show of Bunbury's three-day weekend. It was most assuredly one of them.
Finally, it was time for fun. Not the fun that we'd been having all day at Bunbury, but the fun. that's topping the charts and recently played Saturday Night Live and won a couple of Grammys this year. Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of the band. I like their sound to a certain extent, it's energetic and entertaining and I really like Nate Reuss' voice. I actually interviewed him a decade ago when he was fronting the Format; ironically and perhaps presciently, he used the word "fun" a half dozen times to describe his band at the time.
At any rate, I hung around to see the show to be able to report how it was to my daughter, and because the band clearly doesn't take itself too seriously. When they accepted their Record of the Year Grammy for "We Are Young," Reuss said, "I don't know what I was thinking, writing the chorus for this song. If this is in HD, everybody can see our faces, and we are not very young." All in all, I was expecting a pleasant if unassuming concert experience.
And that's pretty much how it started, with the "Some Nights" intro, the title track to their sophomore album (it would show up in its entirety during the band's two-song encore, leading into "One Foot" from Some Nights). In fact, fun. performed almost all of Some Nights (save for "All Alright"), and over half of their debut album, 2009's Aim and Ignite, perhaps best represented by "At Least I'm Not as Sad (as I Used to Be)" and the nearly eight-minute closer, "Take Your Time (Coming Home)." Of course, they saved their anthemic signature singles for the second half of the set, first "Carry On" and then, two songs later, the epic Grammy-winning Pop of "We Are Young." Sandwiched in between though was a very charming version of The Rolling Stones’ "You Can't Always Get What You Want," an interesting lead-in to "We Are Young," a song that would seem to sport a diametrically opposed message. By the time fun. concluded with "Stars" as the second song of their encore, they had fired a confetti cannon (there was still yards of fun. confetti on the field when The National played Sunday night), performed the majority of their two studio albums and put on a show that proved they were worthy of their first-night-closing status. While I think they should remove the rather severe punctuation from their name, I have to say I was at least slightly converted toward a fun. lifestyle.
The band, which was formed in 2011 by Sebastien Hue and Pyn Wayne (and is currently a five-piece), has been touring to not only promote their forthcoming album, Dead in Ohio, but also finish it. Hue says the band has been collaborating with artists in places like Philly and New York City in order to complete the recording.
A good example of the band’s collaborative and creative openness (and truly unique sound and songwriting, which mixes Orchestral Pop, Indie Rock, Post Rock and whatever else suits the song) can be heard in the freshly-released single, “Predisposed.” The seven-and-a-half minute tune — featuring strings, percussion, piano and backing vocals provided by local guests — has electronic, Chamber music and orchestral elements, twinkling Indie Rock guitar flourishes and low-sung melodies that sound like a mix of Arcade Fire and Bauhaus, all spliced together and floated over hypnotic, unpredictable structuring.
On their old Facebook page, the band’s bio says the Formerly
Ghosts sound “cannot be contained in dead words and demonstrative
narratives attempting to describe something like a sound, a person, or a
band.” A lot of artists say similar things and are usually full of
shit. Formerly Ghosts are not. (Here is the band's current/active FB page.)
Here is "Predisposed." Click here to hear more from Formerly Ghosts.
Where do you begin with a band like Lynyrd Skynyrd? Everyone has been out at a bar or a concert and heard some crazy and/or drunk lunatic shouting to the band on stage, “FREE BIRD!!!” They are the epitome of and gold standard for Southern Rock music. Even now, through the tragedy of the plane crash in 1977 to the re-formed band, Skynyrd still provides electric performances every night. They still happily rock the hits of the early days. like “Simple Man” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” while mixing in the music they are still releasing, most recently Last of a Dying Breed, which came out late last year.
CityBeat had time to catch up with lead vocalist Johnny Van Zant, the younger brother of the band’s original front man Ronnie Van Zant. The two discussed how Skynyrd fits into Rock music today, as well as the wonderful feelings the band still gets performing every night on stage.
Skynyrd performs at Riverbend Music Center tonight with Bad Company, providing the same energy as the cast from the ’70s and showing audiences what real Southern Rock sounds like.
CityBeat: Do you have any crazy Cincinnati memories from the past?
JVZ: We have had so many good shows there. Years back, when a flood hit, there was water in the first four or five rows. People were kind of standing in the water. I was like, “Wow these are really diehards.” I don’t even know how many times we have played at that particular amphitheater (Riverbend), but it has always been a good, hot, sweaty, summer Rock & Roll show, which is how it is supposed to be.
CB: The band has had multiple lineup changes over the years since you joined the band. How do you integrate someone new into the band?
JVZ: For us, they have to be a friend, someone we have known, someone we admire as a musician, someone we think would fit into our family. When we are out on the road, running up and down the road playing shows, you have to be not only a member of a band but, especially with Lynyrd Skynyrd, you have to be a part of the Skynyrd nation. You have to be a part of the family. Our newest member is Johnny Colt, who was bass player with The Black Crowes. Colt fits right in with us. He’s loony as heck and so are we. We have a great time and love doing what we do. I hope Johnny is with us for a long, long time. He is quite the guy. It has been awesome.
CB: I know you guys have worked many times with one of my favorite guitarists, John 5. What was that experience like for you and have you done any collaborations recently?
JVZ: Well, yeah, he was on our last record, Last of a Dying Breed.
John is a good friend of us. We knew we were going to be good friends
with John because we were in Nashville writing and our manager mentioned
John and said, “You know, he is a little different than you guys.” And
we said, “ That’s OK, that’s no problem.”
John walked in, he was just coming from a photo shoot. He had on the fingernails with his hair all up. When he walked in and I went, “Damn, you are different. Damn, are you a freak or something?” And he said, “I was thinking the same crap about you guys.” We just hit it off. He is a wonderful guitar player. Not only can he play Heavy Metal and Rock & Roll, but he can play the hell out of some Country music, which we love. I just admire his work and he is one of the most phenomenal guitar players I have had the pleasure to work with.
CB: A lot of people are saying Rock is dead and Country music is the new Rock. Do you believe that Rock is dead?
JVZ: No. I think Country music is Lynyrd Skynyrd. I
think a lot of the Country music is what we do, but I don’t think Rock &
Roll is dead at all. People have been saying that shit for years and
years and years: "Rock & Roll is dead." Then it comes back. It’s like
For us we just played Houston, Texas, in front of 10,000
people. We played Bristol, Va., I think there were 14,000 people on
a Sunday night. The night before last we were in Camden, N.J.,
14,000 people on a Wednesday night. I’m sure Cincinnati is doing quite
well. We are in Pittsburgh tonight. It is going to be phenomenal here.
If Rock & Roll is dead and gone, man, I am missing out on it.
CB: Tell me a little bit about Last of a Dying Breed and which songs we are going to hear from that album when you come to Cincinnati?
JVZ: Well, it is debatable. What we do, each night we try to think about what new song we want to put in. Right now we are really concentrating on 40 years. It’s been 40 years since (Pronounced 'lĕh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd) came out. It’s been our major focus to play as many songs off that record and celebrate that era.
CB: Where do you see yourself in 15 more years?
JVZ: Hopefully alive. Hopefully playing some shows
and still doing this. Doing a lot of fishing and drinking a good
Budweiser and something like that, I don’t know. If you want to make God
laugh, tell him your plans. I never really plan too much. I just like to
go along with the flow and the good Lord throws me in the direction he
wants me to go.
CB: Do you ever get tired of playing “Free Bird”?
JVZ: Not at all. I am quick to say, "Not at all." How
many bands would love to have songs like that? Most bands say we would
give anything to have one of those. “Free Bird” and ("Sweet Home Alabama"), that’s
the cool thing about Skynyrd. We have three generations of fans who love
those songs. It is amazing to me.
We are out with Bad Company right now and we are real big Bad Company fans. We are at the top of the game with these guys. From my era and a lot of other people’s era, Bad Company was the rule of the roost when it came to Rock & Roll. Paul Rogers is one of the best singers. Simon Kirke and Mick Ralphs have been around for years. It is just great to be out on the road and playing shows with good friends too. We are having a blast. We hope to do it again sometime after this tour and look forward to coming your way.
CB: Are you flattered when someone like Kid Rock uses "Sweet Home Alabama" in his songs? Excited? Upset? How do you feel when someone integrates that song?
JVZ: We were actually doing a tour with Bobby when
he had “All Summer Long” (the song that incorporates "Sweet Home") out. For us, hell, it keeps us in the spotlight.
He did a good job on it. It was a hit song for him and everybody got
paid. So surely, we are like, “Can someone else use it again and again?”
It is kind of funny when you think of stuff like that. Who would have thought when that song was written a long, long time ago, people would still be loving it and a band from Jacksonville, Fla., and what success my brother and Alan and Gary, my hat is off to them. I love keeping the music alive. It is a great thing. It’s a great thing because the song has been used in Forrest Gump and various movies. Any time anything like that pops up as long, as it is not in bad taste, is great. It has been a good ride.