On Sunday night, hundreds of local musicians — as well as the many of the fans who love them — had Covington's Madison Theater packed to capacity to celebrate the 16th annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.
It was another love fest, as the music, laughs, camaraderie and drinks flowed throughout the tight three-hour ceremony/party CityBeat founded over a decade and a half ago as a means of honoring Greater Cincinnati's music makers (and, originally, local theater artists and productions).
Though it has lessened over the years as more people have grown to understand the CEAs better, there is still plenty of griping about the awards every year. The vast majority of complaints are about who gets nominated. It's understandable in light of the talent that is overlooked annually. Having so many talented and deserving artists in our city making quality music is a good problem to have. But if every worthy musical act in the Tri-State area were to be nominated for a CEA each year, the categories would include dozens of nominees and the show itself would have to be a sleepover affair. You think the Oscars are too long? Sit through one 16-hour CEA show and you'll be begging for a witty Billy Crystal musical number.
Like every year, the sport of CEA bashing is quickly forgotten once inside the venue for the ceremony. The awards celebration is the one time of the year where fellow musicians from every genre — some friends already, some friends-to-be, others perhaps only known via social media messages — gather in one place. There doesn't seem to be a ton of competitive spite within our music scene and the musicians I've talked and worked with, for the most part, are always pretty down to earth. (As if on cue, the griping returned right after the show — a comment on Sunday night's blog post featuring the winners of this year's awards deemed the whole program an embarrassment. Sixteen years of my life, wasted! Oh, anonymous trolls, where would you be without the internet?)
The CEAs can't help but become a communal love fest. (Yes, the drinking probably helps this quite a bit, as well.) In general, there seems to be a lot of internal support amongst local musicians, and it feels like external support and appreciation (outside of jerky, anonymous comments) is on an upswing. The CEAs are always a great reflection of that community spirit.
Ben Davis of Indie Pop duo Bad Veins kicked off the CEAs with his trademark taped accompaniment, but without bandmate, drummer Sebastien Schultz. Davis' performance was still compelling, capped off by that timeless ode to magic and mystery, The Muppets' chestnut, "Rainbow Connection." The singer/multi-instrumentalist set the tone (and the bar) for the night's performances, which included plenty of revelations and some fun, novel surprises.
Those unexpected moments are always the performance highlights of any awards show and this year's CEA lineup and production provided loads of highlights. Local Boogie Woogie torchbearer Ricky Nye rumbled through a great set of rollicking Blues, building up to a cool collaborative climax as Blake Taylor and Jonathan Reynolds of fellow CEA "Blues" category nominees 46 Long joined the pianist/singer. Nye and 46 Long had been embroiled in a mock online feud leading up to the show. Music heals! (Nye ended up winning the category.)
International Punk sensations The Dopamines gave the show a jolt with their explosive performance, launching into Guided By Voices' "A Salty Salute," but only after bassist Jon Weiner managed to insult nerds and "old fucks" in his introduction (they're "Punk," he reminded everyone later). From there, the trio launched into a mini-set of their own adrenalized anthems with fiery swagger. Fans were made.
The same can be said for singer Jess Lamb, the soulful vocalist who wowed the crowd with a few hypnotic songs, joined by her guitarist and bassist (who doubled on throbbing kick-drum). The sparse set-up belied the soaring sounds conjured, guided by Lamb's remarkable voice. Lamb was nominated for a CEA in the R&B/Funk/Soul category, a testament to her unique sound, which comes closer to resembling Florence and the Machine than, say, Usher. We may need to create an "Alternative/Soul/Rock" category to accommodate Lamb next year.
The Hip Hop/Rock band Gold Shoes are also keen hybridizers, and their CEA performance was a great display of the group's unique spin on Hip Hop fusion. The band provides a dynamic backdrop that's spiced with elements of Funk, Rock, Pop, Jazz and beyond. But the group isn't just providing a playground for frontman Buggs Tha Rocka to unleash his tight, captivating flow. The group writes melodic songs with strong, unique chorus hooks. Their CEA performance was a clinic on how to combine Hip Hop with other types of music without sounding like a cheap Pop grab (" … featuring Adam Lavine!"), Gym Class Heroes or, God help us all, Limp Bizkit.
The Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation, which provided a great experience for VIP ticket buyers in the balcony, reminded everyone of the Queen City's place in shaping popular music with a segment presented by the group's president, musician Marvin Hawkins. After talking a bit about the organization's plans to continue honoring the area's rich musical past in 2013 (expect a lot of King Records-related events in honor of the locally-based groundbreaking label's 70th anniversary), Hawkins joined a host of local Roots musicians for a spin through a pair of songs from the recent collection, The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, a project spearhead by Bob Dylan that involved writing songs from a cache of unearthed lyrics written by the American music icon. The all-star band assembled — including Magnolia Mountain's Mark Utley and Renee Frye, David Rhodes Brown and Sylvia Mitchell — expertly played songs they had recorded at the Music Heritage Foundation's downtown headquarters, in the same space once occupied by Herzog studios, the site where Williams recorded "Lovesick Blues" and other classics.
The CEA show itself ran smoothly and first-time host Ted Clark proved to be a great fit for the show. Clark's deadpan, sardonic humor — familiar to those who flock to his "live talk shows" at MOTR Pub — was reminiscent of Zach Galifianakis and sometimes he had great lines that were maybe to subtle for the CEA's "party atmosphere." But from those of us paying attention — bravo, Mr. Clark.
There was an array of entertaining acceptance styles from the winners, ranging from choked-up and sincere to pumped-up and enthusiastic to more matter-of-fact. Wussy had a huge night, taking home the Album of the Year (for Strawberry) and Artist of the Year CEAs, capped by some funny lines while accepting. Drummer Joe Klug joked that, for anyone doubting they deserved the Artist award, Wussy "played Little Rock, Ark., four times in the past year."
The award presenters — a collection of local music supporters and personalities, mostly from radio and press outlets, as well as sponsor reps — did a great job hammering home the "support local music" message of the CEAs' mission. But presenter and CityBeat Arts and Culture Editor Jac Kern provided one of the funniest bits in CEA history with her tribute to Beyonce — via a soon-cut-off lip-synced performance of the National Anthem.
Culture Queer capped off the show (or warmed up the after party?) with a set that captured the fun of the night, rocking out a trio of quirky, animated Electro Indie Art Pop gems with their trademark film backdrop. The sprightly CEA trophy hostesses came out for some dancing on finale "Born Again," their funky get-ups matching CQ's twitchy, offbeat anthem — and the jubilant, colorful energy of the entire night — perfectly.
Howdy folks! It’s your loyal, intrepid Bonnaroo correspondent Ric Hickey. Once again I am pleased and honored to be covering the big festival for CityBeat. We’ve been on-site for barely four hours and already this is shaping up to be one of the best Bonnaroo experiences that I have ever enjoyed.
As we reached the halfway point of the festival, I took a step back and reflected a bit. I was dirty, sweaty and sleep-deprived; and yet I could not have been more excited for what was to come. Phish had whet my appetite for their festival-closing performance on Sunday, and who could forget that one of the greatest live acts in the history of music (maybe a little hyperbole), Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, would be rocking the stage this very night. There was a sense that truly magical musical moments were on the horizon and little did I know what those inclinations would bring.
When The Afghan Whigs announced late last year they would be reuniting for a pair of appearances at All Tomorrow’s Parties in London and New Jersey (since grown to a full blown European tour of summer festivals and clubs), music critics and fans rejoiced.
For years, interviewers probed lead singer Greg Dulli about the possibility while he promoted his successful projects The Twilight Singers and The Gutter Twins. The answer, when it would come, was usually a firm "No" — everything that needed to be said with the Whigs had been said. Disappointed fans had reason to mourn — in the ’80s/’90s, Whigs' live shows were legendary for their one-two punch of cathartic anthems and ass-shaking grooves, with the alpha male voodoo cast by Dulli.
Unlike scores of other bands who get back together for all the wrong reasons — an embarrassing reality television moment or ill-conceived package tour (“Grunge on Ice!”) — The Whigs embraced this reunion on their own terms. It's been well covered in the press that all parties involved in the Whigs' camp said that the time was just right for this rendezvous. No hatchets to bury, no compromises to make and no million dollar title sponsorship necessary — the schedules just worked out and, by all accounts, everyone was in the right place, personally, emotionally, professionally.
That wasn’t the case in 2001 though, when the group cited physical distance as a prime reason behind their curtain call as a band. Two newish tracks momentarily reunited the band in 2006 for a career spanning retrospective, but no decision to re-group was made until bassist John Curley and guitarist Rick McCollum quietly got together with Dulli in New Orleans late last fall to test the waters. Obviously, they were pleased with what they heard.
Flash forward to this past week, halfway into their first live show in over a decade at the Bowery Ballroom in New York. Any concern that Dulli considered the band's reunion shows as some sort of middle-aged victory lap was put to rest as he traded quips with a heckler who apparently hadn’t got the memo about Dulli's legendary run-ins, on and off the stage with audience members who couldn’t resist being a part of the show.
Without dropping a beat, Dulli offered the fellow a cautionary warning before returning to the music at hand: “You know, I will fuck you up.”
Your attention please, indeed.
The Whigs still take their music seriously. In the month leading up to the somewhat surprise of a show at the Ballroom in New York this past week, the Whigs holed up in Cincinnati at Curley’s Ultrasuede Studio to give their entire catalog a work out. But hometown anonymity gave way when the band arrived in NYC to a New York Times proclamation that their sold out show in the Lower East Side was the “most sought after ticket in the Northeast.” Fitting perhaps as well that the Whigs first show back would take place in the city where they played their final show in 1999 (unbeknownst to anyone).
That Tuesday, the Whigs' fired their own opening salvo with their first television appearance in over a decade on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. It takes balls to play your first live gig in 13 years on TV in front of millions of viewers — not to mention performing a relatively obscure R&B tune (“See and Don’t See” by Marie “Queenie” Lyons) instead of one of your hits. Business as usual for the uncompromising Whigs.
Since Uptown Avondale's track by track Soul homage, the Whigs have been notorious for unearthing and reinventing old school R&B tracks. This time around, the Whig’s recorded a fragile interpretation of Lyons’ song, which was released online the week before. The tune got the Whigs' Chamber Rock treatment on Fallon with a string section and The Roots' ?uestlove joining in on drums while a nattily attired Dulli coolly plead his case. Later, after Fallon signed off air, the band recorded a bonus track for the show’s website, ripping through a caustic, muscular version of “I’m Her Slave.” Hopefully viewers at home didn’t miss the moment immediately after the song where Dulli and the usually reserved Curley quickly traded wide, shit-eating grins, obviously pleased with what the band just dropped on millions of viewers, many of whom had probably never had the opportunity to see the Whigs on their first go around.
If the Fallon appearance was the peek behind the curtain, the sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom the next night was the full on Angelina-leg-bearing reveal. The band wasted no time, dipping heavily into Gentleman and Black Love, including a reprisal of “I’m Her Slave” and a dizzying “Conjure Me” from Congregation. The Whigs also visited a few tracks from their final full-length, 1965, before adding a couple of covers — the Lyons' track from Fallon and a spooky, piano-driven take on Frank Ocean’s “Lovecrimes.”
Presumably left for later in the tour was anything from the band's Sub Pop debut, Up In It. The band did, however, go six tracks deep from their noir epic, Black Love, including show opener "Crime Scene Part I" and the set-ending epic trio of “Bulletproof,” “Summer’s Kiss” and perennial show closer “Faded,” with the little coda from Purple Rain tagged on for good measure. But it was the reintroduction of the title track from Gentleman that brought the house down.The song had seemingly been shelved for live sets post-Black Love, it's rumored because of the heavy-hearted toll delivering the scathing lover’s reproach night after night took on its author. Whatever the reason, Dulli was back on better terms with his signature song, playfully pointing fingers and shaking his ass while the rest of the Whigs powered through the song’s metallic groove.
The reconvened Whigs are more light and nimble on their feet than the expansive 1965 final tour that saw the group supported by a cadre of excellent back-up singers and support musicians each night. This time around the trio is augmented by long time Dulli sideman, guitarist David Rosser, multi-instrumentalist Rick Nelson and drummer Cully Symington. Even without all the extra hands on deck, the resulting sound still allows for moments of fragile beauty amongst the riffs thanks to Nelson’s cello and piano playing.
It’s worth noting that Dulli apparently gave up smokes over a year ago and his voice might be exhibit A for you kids contemplating taking a puff for the first time. He’s refined his aching falsetto and added some harmonic high notes to his trademark whisper-to-a-scream howl that showed no signs of letting down during the near two-hour show. Dulli acknowledged his new smoke-free existence, referencing the now legendary mid-show light ups where he would hold forth on baseball, shitty cover bands or how your girlfriend was flirting with him the entire show while the band would play bemusedly (or not) on. During his heckler beat-down at the Bowery, he even worked in a belated apology to mates Curley and McCollum for their patience during his soliloquies all those years — then accepted a goodwill drag off an audience member’s joint.
Unlike a lot of bands who play Reunion Roulette and lose, if national reviews of the show are any indication, this year’s model of the Whigs arguably sounds better than they did during the ’90s when they first broke on the international scene with their addictive mash up of Midwestern Punk, Rock and Soul.
Dulli said it best after a punkish wind-sprint through 1965’s "Uptown Again," when he offered a heartfelt thanks to the crowd for coming, adding, “It feels like we never left."
Full setlist from the Whigs' Facebook page:
Greg “Tex” Schramm, former drummer for local faves StarDevils and Catalog Cowboys and current time-keeper with western swingers The Sidecars and Roots music masters Magnolia Mountain, steps up to the mic with his first solo album, Greetings From (credited to Tex Schramm and His Radio King Cowboys). Schramm’s debut suggests he’s paid studious attention behind the drum kit when he’s been playing with some of the area's finest Roots-oriented bands. But Schramm’s songwriting and execution is so impressive, it’s clear his talent is inherent.
The Bonnaroo Whirlwind kicks into high gear on Saturday afternoon. Today it was hardly half past twelve when Black Joe Lewis & the Honey Bears ripped the Other Tent in half with 60 minutes of high fructose Funk and Gospel that had the surrounding throng speaking in tongues.
The 4 p.m. press conference didn’t pack nearly as much star power as the one held earlier in the day, but it was loaded with much casual insight about the inner workings of Bonnaroo and the different artists’ experience playing at the festival. The second press conference panel of the day featured Hayes Carll, Ben Sollee, Jessica Lea Mayfield, and members of The Sheepdogs and Phosphorescent.