“Has anyone seen Kanye lately? I haven’t heard him piss off the world in like a week so I’m starting to worry.” – Tweeted by me on May 16 at 3:59 p.m.
Not 30 minutes later, at 4:28 p.m., this tweet from Rap-Up.com popped onto my Twitter feed, “‘I ain’t kissing nobody’s motherfuckin’ babies. I drop your baby and you sue me’ – Kanye West”
Like many other Kanye West fans, this is what I’ve had to deal with for the last 10 or so years of his solo career. Whether this soon-to-be father is ranting about not being a celebrity and holding random people’s children, drunkenly yelling at pretty white girls at award shows, freaking out Mike Myers on live television or impregnating the bumper sticker on the Bentley of pop-culture, Kim Kardashian, it’s been hard for Yeezy fans to deal with how “cray” Kanye has been since he was thrust into the public eye.
But with his near-brilliant performances of “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves” on SNL recently (songs from his forthcoming album, Yeezus, due this coming Tuesday), all of Kanye's followers were reminded that Kanye is a lot like your drunken uncle at Christmas.
Sure, it was embarrassing when he threw up on your sister’s gifts halfway through his tirade about “Obama phones” and how the commie teachers at the university you recently graduated from are ruining America’s youth. But after a long clean up session and your mom stops crying, you open up the card that he gave you before his seventh Scotch and the contents inside contain a joint, $300 and a note stating, “Don’t spend it on drugs,” then you’re immediately reminded of why you loved him in the first place.
So no matter what outlandish behavior Kanye comes up with next, I think we all need to be reminded that the “cray” that has inspired Kanye’s less attractive moments is the same “cray” that has been the driving force in creating some of the most genius and interesting songs in Hip Hop of the last decade.
14. “Drive Slow (feat. GLC & Paul Wall)”; Late Registration – As the laidback beat puts the listener in a trance, Kanye paints a vivid picture of a summer spent driving around with his friend/mentor Mali; blasting his demo tape, looking for girls and desperately trying to grow up too quickly. Even though Kanye displays his great storytelling ability on this song, the real accomplishment here is that West found a way to make Paul Wall’s feature not sound ridiculously out of place, which is a feat in and of itself.
13. “Say You Will”; 808’s & Heartbreak – 2008 was a weird year for Kanye. Hell, 2008 was a weird year for all of us. But his unabashed openness (as you’ll see with the rest of this list) about his lady troubles is what makes this a song stick out. The only downside of this track? It gave Drake the green light to be all open and overly emotional on all his records, so thanks a lot, Kanye!
12. “Drunk and Hot Girls”; Graduation – A lot of people don’t care for this song, which is understandable because it’s not one of Ye’s deeper cuts. What this song does do, however, is give a perfectly, comical description of how one-night stands go. Plus, the song ends in him getting this girl pregnant, which brings to mind that slap-in-the-face reality check that every man and woman has the morning after a random sexual encounter (“Oh my god, not only did I overdraw my account at White Castles last night but is this the person that’s going to ruin my life for the next 18 years and nine months?!?”).
11. “Bittersweet”; Graduation – This is the first time Kanye blatantly admits he is in the wrong on a track. Sure, the first half of the cut makes him seem like a total asshole (wanting to drunkenly “shake the shit out of” his girl), but it makes his soul-spilling at the end all the sweeter.
10. “Addiction”; Late Registration – What’s your addiction? Is it money, girls, weed? Kanye has been afflicted by not one, but all three. But hey, that’s what makes this cut great. There is no catharsis or happy ending about how he found his will power and conquered his many ailments. But instead, we get a track about how, no matter what happens, no matter how hard he tries, his will power will always lose to the bad parts of his life, because they are just too damn good to resist – which is something everyone can relate to.
9. “Everything I Am”; Graduation – He’ll never be picture perfect like Beyonce (no one will, ever) or rock some mink boots in the summer time like Will.I.Am (no one should, not even Will.I.Am), but what Kanye can do is spit some harsh truths about public criticism and Chicago violence over a soothing beat. So please, keep talking shit about him at barber shops if this is going to be the outcome.
8. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”; Graduation – Kanye addresses a few of his crazy outbursts on the first verse of this track (including the whole “President Bush doesn’t care about black people, right Mike Myers?” incident) and handles it with a precision and poise. He admits that the scrutiny and pressure of fame has changed his behavior, but he doesn’t know how to be himself (slightly crazy) without being criticized by the media. Can any of us understand that feeling? No. Does it sound like a bullshit excuse? Yeah. But hey, at least he knows he has a behavioral problem. Admitting it is the first step.
7. “Spaceship (feat. GLC & Consequence)”; The College Dropout – Anyone who has had a shitty job (service industry, retail) would be lying if they hadn’t felt violent urges towards overzealous mangers who take their jobs too seriously. Lucky for us, we can live vicariously through Kanye on this joint instead of becoming the next viral sensation on worldstarhiphop.com.
6. “Jesus Walks”; The College Dropout – This song came out right when I got confirmed, which, as any of you were raised Catholic will know, is also the same time you stop going to church. It made me feel good to listen to Kanye, like his brand of socially conscious, Christ-loving jams were the sole key to my salvation and the only thing that could outweigh my deeply engrained Catholic guilt. Plus, who else could make a club banger about Jesus? Nobody but Yeezus.
5. “All Falls Down”; The College Dropout – Does anyone else remember when Kanye was the self-conscious outsider of the Rap game? You probably don’t, hell, I don’t even know if Kanye remembers. You’d think Kanye’s egotisical façade he has concocted in place of his old persona would force him to listen to his own music more. But, alas, I fear that this Kanye is dead and gone, much like the career of that cute girl from Clueless that was in the music video.
4. “Roses”; Late Registration – “You know the best medicine go to people that’s paid/If Magic Johnson got a cure for A.I.D.S./And all the broke muthafuckers past away/You tellin’ me if my grandma was in the N.B.A./Right now she'd be ok?/But since she was just a secretary/Working for the church/For thirty five years/Things s’posed to stop right here?”
Kanye makes you feel the pain, anger and confusion of his family as they sit at the bedside of his dying grandmother on this track. I cry literally every time I hear this song come on, but I’m emotionally unstable. Then again, I’m pretty sure if you don’t at least slightly tear up; you don’t know what love is or your mom didn’t hug you enough as a child.
3. “Blame Game (feat. John Legend & Chris Rock); My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – This track is almost “Bittersweet” in reverse because it’s West whose emotions are constantly toyed with by his love interest as she lies about seeing another man. Although this song is mostly serious (especially heavy during the beautiful done Chloe Mitchell poem) it ends hilariously as Chris Rock is revealed as the “mister” (male version of mistress?), reaping the benefits her apparent education at “Kanye West School of How to Wear Some Fucking Jimmy Chu’s”
2. “Through The Wire”; The College Dropout – If you ever question Kanye’s dedication to the craft, go back and listen his first single, “Through the Wire”. Done only two weeks after a car crash that almost took his life, Kanye hit the studio and rapped with his jaw wired-shut. Nowadays, Nicki Minaj can’t even show up to her set at Summer Jam 2012 because radio personality, Peter Rosenberg, dissed her Katy Perry rip-off, “Starships.” So next time you want to diss Kanye, just remember, despite his flaws, he’s one of the only popular artist’s keeping the spirit of hip-hop alive.
1.“Runaway (feat. Pusha T)”; My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – He pleads without being pathetic. He’s unflinchingly honest without being cliché. But most of all, he’s artistically progressive without losing his knack for pop sensibility. The beat is one of the most simplistic of his career, but never once feels repetitive or overdone by the end of this 7-minute-and-49-second journey. From top to bottom this has to be considered Kanye’s masterpiece, but who knows, he’s outdone himself before.
Other Notables: “Heard ‘Em Say”, “The Glory”, “We Don’t Care”
On this day in 1982, comedian John Belushi died from an overdose of cocaine and heroin. Belushi came to prominence as an original "Not Ready For Prime Time Player" on Saturday Night Live, where he debuted his tribute to classic American Rock & Soul with cast mate Dan Aykroyd, The Blues Brothers, and later pushed for the show to feature representatives from the burgeoning Punk Rock scene.
In 1981, after he'd left the show, SNL asked if Belushi would make a cameo. Belushi agreed, but only if L.A. Punk act Fear could be musical guests that week. The band's performance on the show that Halloween was a wild introduction to Punk for many Americans, as the band blazed through the songs "Beef Bologna" and "New York's Alright If You Like Saxophones" in front of a stunned studio audience (who booed when the band announced it was "great to be in New Jersey") and a group of Punk Rock dancers brought in to mosh (Belushi joined the dance team, which also included Punk luminaries Ian MacKaye, Tesco Vee and members of Negative Approach and the Cro-mags). The show cut to a commercial as Fear revved up "Let's Have a War," and the band and dancers reportedly caused $20,000 in damages to the studio (Fear singer Lee Ving later bragged it was more like $500,000). The damage wasn't enough to keep Ving off of TV — a bit actor, Ving appeared on shows like Fame, Three's a Crowd and Who's the Boss in the ’80s.
Clearly, Belushi was a music die-hard. His tombstone reads: "I may be gone, but Rock and Roll lives on."
Here's John Joseph of the Cro-Mags talking about being on the set that fateful night, followed by footage of the performance. And you can check out Ian MacKaye's recollection of events here.
Click on for Born This Day featuring Scotland's greatest hits, including two from The Proclaimers.
Music Tonight: Tonight’s the last time you’ll be able to catch Cincinnati-based trio The Rubber Knife Gang in town for a while. But it’s not for any kind of hiatus — no rehab or plastic surgery or whatever it is bands do on such breaks. Quite the opposite. It’s because the band is jumping on a plane in a few weeks and heading overseas to spread RKG’s soulful Americana/Roots/Bluegrass sound. Tonight, the Gang joins Nashville’s Grace Adele and the Grand Band for a free, 10 p.m. show at MOTR Pub. The two acts reteam for a Columbus show this weekend, then RKG hops on a plane for Belgium, where the threesome will play two weeks’ worth of dates through mid-September (with a few shows in Germany and the Netherlands sprinkled in).
As you know, the Bengals aren’t the only celebrities that have been busted for illegal activities. Actors and actresses have certainly had their share of run-ins with the po-po, too. No one, though, is more ballsy about their lives of crime than those in the music industry. They also enjoy broadcasting their vices. While most of the smack is centered around drugs, they’ve also done their fair share of whoring and murdering, too.
Perhaps the most famous murder-boasting singer is Johnny Cash. While, as far as we can tell, Cash never actually shot a man in Reno (or anywhere) just to watch him die, he sure enjoyed singing about it. On “Cocaine Blues,” he notably sings of shooting his woman down, for example.
He’s not the only gun-toting singer, though. In “Murder Was The Case,” the hard-to-hate Snoop Dogg rapped about the allegations that he murdered a rival gang member. On the other end of the musical spectrum, everyone’s favorite space oddity, David Bowie, sang of going on a killing spree in “Running Gun Blues.”
Of course, Morrissey sang of killing in The Smiths' “Meat is Murder.” But that doesn’t count, because there’s nothing illegal about a steak. Thank God.
A distant third on the list of bad things to sing about are sex crimes. Most disturbing is the personal favorite of nearly every girl who grew up in the '90's. We all grew up singing with Reba on “Fancy,” but we were quite a bit older before we realized what, exactly, Fancy was up to. Mama Fancy turned her daughter out to prostitute.
Our long-time love affair with sex doesn’t stop at “Fancy,” though. In 1967, The Velvet Underground released one of their more mainstream hits, “There She Goes Again.” Listen carefully — It’s pretty blunt. Sting, always the voice of morality, tried to clean up the streets with The Police’s hit, “Roxanne.” It didn’t work. Of course, sex crimes include more than just street-walking. Sublime’s “Date Rape” is a song about a much more serious sex crime. Only Bradley Nowell could take it full-circle so … poetically.
Perhaps the biggest illegal vice used as song fodder by Rock stars, Country musicians and rappers alike is drug use. Oh, where to begin?! Nearly all of the previously mentioned artists have songs about drugs, but there are so many more to chose from!
“Next Episode” from Dr. Dre, Snoop, and Nate Dogg is almost entirely about smoking weed (and also drinking and the alphabet, both still legal — for now). It also has a pretty catchy last line. It’s safe to say the number of people who know all the words to this song is far greater than number of people who actually partake in its subject matter on a daily basis.
Back in the '90's, AltRock band K’s Choice sang “Not an Addict.” Someone should tell her that the first step is admitting you have a problem. The Beach Boys sing about drugs in “Good Vibrations," yet another song sung innocently by children all over America. And there’s the famous “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix (you’d chastise me if I didn’t mention it).
Let’s face it, “Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll” is a cliche saying for a reason. While we at CityBeat in no way condone partaking in any illegal activities, it’s fun to live vicariously through our friends on the radio.
Once again, here’s a playlist of even more songs about breaking the rules.
I drifted off Thursday night and had my wonderfully fitful sleep punctuated by the strangest dream. Like most dreams, it was disjointed and surreal, but it made an odd sort of sense. It’s never easy to describe these nocturnal apparitions but it was so vivid, I shall give it a try.
Friday, July 13
I was walking downtown. I knew exactly where I needed to go but I didn’t know exactly how to get there. A ridiculously convoluted route got me to the desired entrance, I received my press credentials and a map of a fascinating kingdom which I entered through the back gate, popping up in the midst of a Craft Beer Village, a place I would revisit many times.
Because of family obligations, I had arrived late, and the celebration, which had been dubbed Bunbury, was already in full swing. I headed for what I perceived to be the main concentration of activity and there ran into Brent and his wife Kat, who I frequently cross paths with at these sorts of soirees and who are always a welcome sight and great companions. Almost immediately, I encountered my nephew Jim, who proceeded to buy me a multitude of beers, a welcome refreshment on a steamy afternoon.
We made our way to the Globilli stage to see The Crash Kings, a keyboard/bass/drum trio that made sounds like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath with a twist of Styx (when they were a decent Rock band) refracted through an Indie Rock prism. Keyboardist Tony Beliveau was improbably wearing a long sleeve flannel shirt in 90-degree heat, but he said they were from L.A., so he may have legitimately been cold. They played songs from their eponymous debut and a few from their as-yet unreleased new album, there was an epic bass solo at one point, and Beliveau made other worldly sounds with the use of a whammy bar on his rig, which I had never seen before. The Crash Kings were incredible, and they would have kicked 1975 square in the balls.
At the Landor Stage, Ponderosa were cranking out some sweet Indie Rock/Soul from their first album, Moonlight Revival and their new album Pool Party, which ultimately led to a cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U.” Kalen Nash, clad in a much cooler serape and stalking the stage in Hobbit-like bare feet, bemoaned the loss of the Southgate House and said to the crowd, “Let’s bring that back.” We couldn’t have agreed more.
Back at Globilli, O.A.R. were giving a sizable audience a fair dose of heartland Indie Rock and getting an enthusiastic response in turn. The band started in Maryland but rose to prominence as students at Ohio State, and became something of a regional phenomenon. Much like the Dave Matthews Band, O.A.R.’s reputation grew by grassroots methodology and hard work. Marc Roberge acknowledged their local ties and thanked fans for their loyalty with a rousing set. Jim’s pals Andre and Kevin arrived at some point, more beers were acquired and all was well.
I took my leave of Jim and his friends to check out Ra Ra Riot at the Bud Light Stage. I love their studio brand of visceral Chamber Pop/Indie Rock and they most certainly do not disappoint in the live arena as they tore shit up good and proper. Ra Ra Riot make compelling feel-good music but I always feel a touch of melancholy when I listen to them, remembering their courage and loyalty when they remained together as a band in the aftermath of losing their original drummer John Pike, a drowning victim five years ago. Their biggest successes have come in the wake of that tragedy, but they remain in contact with Pike’s family who have in turn remained fully in Ra Ra Riot’s corner. That is truly inspirational, and that depth of feeling is translated into every note that RRR puts out into the universe. The real headline from RRR’s set was Wes Miles’ announcement that Bunbury was “the best run festival we’ve ever played,” high praise from a band that’s attended SXSW, CMJ, Seaport Music Festival and a good many others.
Somewhere between O.A.R. and Ra Ra Riot, I ran into Sean Rhiney (Messerly & Ewing) and Brian Kitzmiller (Black Owls), and was introduced to a flock of people (between them, Sean and Brian know every human in the Tri-State area) whose names are lost in a haze of previous beers but who were constant friendly faces in a sea of humanity over the next three days. I raise a perpetual glass to your continued well being and camaraderie.
It was back to the Globilli stage for The Airborne Toxic Event (named for a phrase in Don DeLillo’s 1985 chemical spill thriller, White Noise), which I’ve found to be one of the better muscular Indie Rock outfits. On the surface, they might seem like one of many innocuous radio-friendly ciphers but they’ve got a fascinating back-story, a fairly intricate sound and impressive songwriting talent. Frontman Mikel Jollett and his TATE cohorts played with a calculated frenzy to a rapturous response, and Jollett even injected a few serious moments into the festival’s spirited atmosphere to plug the Wounded Warrior Project and to offer some bi-partisan criticism (“Don‘t tell us you’re with us if you’re for cutting veterans’ benefits, don’t tell us you’re with us if you’re for raising taxes on returning veterans...”). A show with a message and a blazing soundtrack … not too shabby.
Then it was back to Landor for the most anticipated show of the night, and quite possibly the best show of the festival; the triumphant return of Cincy's Foxy Shazam. Eric Nally was in rare form, in both gymnastic stage behavior, microphone stand ballet and crowd interaction. A sampling of his repartee: (facing GABP) “Hey Votto, if you can hear me, hit the motherfucker out of the park..."; “I did an interview and when I read the story, the writer said we were unique, and I said, ‘Yeah, we‘re unique, just like everybody else..."; “Spill a little wine over here, spill a little wine over there, eventually everything’s red, spill a little blood over here, spill a little blood over there, eventually everything’s dead.”
During “Unstoppable,” someone winged a bottle of Gatorade at Nally, who flung it straight back and took issue by singing “Whoever threw that Gatorade is going to pay” at the close of the song. He then chastised the offender, saying, “Don’t make me explain to my kids why I have a bottle of Gatorade stuck up my ass,” and noting that he would let security allow the thrower backstage if he wanted to fight. Classic Nally.
Later, Schuyler White danced on his keyboard then tossed it onto the front row of the audience and dove into the crowd, playing while the audience held him in place. Classic Foxy. The crowd went batshit crazy when Foxy launched into “I Like It” from their latest and best album, The Church of Rock and Roll. At the breathless conclusion of Foxy’s set, the bar was officially set for the next two days.
With a fairly elaborate stage set complete with women on trapezes and giant video monitors displaying some sort of acid freak-out movie from the ’60s, Jane’s Addiction clearly trumped Foxy in terms of spectacle but fell short in terms of raw energy. Dave Navarro peeled off plenty of scorching riffery, his patented classic combination of ’80s Hard Rock and ’90s AltRock with his guitar set to stun, Stephen Perkins bashed his kit like a man possessed and new bassist Chris Chaney supplied a thunderous heartbeat, while Perry Farrell stalked the Globilli Stage like an earthbound raptor, howling his way through a set comprised of songs from their latest album, last year’s The Great Escape Artist, and heavy on the classics from their other three discs.
The show couldn’t be characterized as lackluster or phoned in, as it was a feast for the senses; plenty of engaging trappings and a propulsive soundtrack that tapped into memories of a visceral and compelling band on the edge of the alternative frontier two and a half decades ago. It was all incredibly entertaining, but it was a far cry from the scalp-tingling urgency of JA’s hungrier days, which is why this tour was designed with so much visual overload; few if any bands are able to recreate their earliest chemistry 25 years after the fact. My favorite JA memory will always be their opening set for Iggy Pop in 1988; seeing Jane’s at Bogart‘s that night was the aural equivalent of licking an electric outlet. I was certainly not disappointed with what transpired during JA’s Bunbury set, but neither was I spellbound by it. And Farrell’s humorously profane diatribe (“Let the pussies hear you!”) linking Pete Rose’s absence in the Baseball Hall of Fame to Jane’s Addiction’s lack of nominations two years after their eligibility was a bit awkward; he seemed to think steroids were somehow involved in Rose’s case, and as far as JA is concerned, well, four albums over a quarter century span, regardless of the influence of the first two, does not a Hall of Fame career comprise. I was glad to have experienced Jane‘s Addiction in the 21st century and I like the bombast they’ve created to present their old and new material but, as Blue Oyster Cult once noted, this ain’t the summer of love.
At some point during the JA set, I spied my most excellent zen editor Mike Breen, so I sidled over for some quick face time (being freelance I don‘t get into the office as much as I probably should), and he seemed to be digging the show greatly. I look forward to his thoughts on it because I greatly respect his musical opinions in a completely non-ass nuzzling way. (Editor's Note: You're hired! Fireworks rock! And "Free Pete Rose"!)
And Jim’s wife, my niece Robin, came late to the festival but somehow spotted me in the twilight and gave me a nudge in the back. Even though she is only five years my junior, I have been married to her aunt for almost three decades, and so I am and will forever be Uncle Brian, which is both touching and charming. A good number of the nieces and nephews I inherited when I started dating my wife have kids of their own now. Time and the generations march on.
I left Mike to his JA reverie when I spotted revered music connoisseur and branding legend Matthew Fenton (once an occasional CityBeat music contributor), who came down from his lair in Chicago to experience Bunbury’s inaugural year. I had e-mailed him to ask if he and his most excellent girlfriend Kelly would be in attendance, but never heard back. Turns out he’d quit his job after last year’s MidPoint and has taken up the study of improv comedy at Second City, a program from which he will graduate next month. I am both astonished and completely unsurprised because Matthew is a genius that makes geniuses insecure. Matthew assured me that Kelly would be around for Saturday’s festivities and introduced me to his older brother John, an equally princely guy by all indications.
Now we have a festival.
Saturday, July 14
I made my way back to the media entrance, this time being tended by old friend Jacob Heintz (Buckra) and the lovely and talented Sara Beiting (a former CityBeat all-star). The cloud cover was heavier, and it had already rained relatively hard north of the city but it didn’t seem to have impacted the downtown area too badly. I grabbed a beer and made my way through the throng … or did I make my way through the throng and grab a beer? The skies were not the only things that were partly cloudy.
At the Globilli stage, I was just in time for the start of Alberta Cross, a British duo now getting their mail in Brooklyn and fleshing out their live sound with a full fledged band. They sported an expansive vibe that had an appealing Verve quality, or Oasis without the contentious brothers problem screwing everything up.
Music lovers complaining about the out-of-touchness of the Grammy awards is like stand-up comedians complaining about airline food. Both are overdone and clichéd, but the frustration is a shared experience that people instantly identify with. With the Grammys, sometimes an unlikely win or loss is so infuriating and baffling, people can’t help but go ballistic. This year’s event was a rollercoaster that reflected both the Grammys’ perpetual practice of giving trophies to irrelevant and/or the “safest” artists and the program’s well-intentioned efforts of late to get with the times. I can’t remember ever describing a Grammys ceremony as “shocking,” but this year’s was full of surprises both pleasant and mind-numbingly inexplicable.
I love the last day of MidPoint and I hate the last day of MidPoint.
I love the energy and anticipation of what has always been the best night of the festival and I hate the thought of going home at the end to the reality of another 362 day wait until we can do it all over again. Other than a couple of hiccups, both personal and universal, this may have ultimately been the most perfect MidPoint ever.
First up for Day 3 was a stroll to Washington Park for Freelance Whales, the Brooklyn, N.Y., Chamber Pop group that filled the void when a skateboard fractured Sleigh Bells touring schedule. This was my first experience in the park since it’s renovation and it really is spectacular from every conceivable vantage point. The design, the playground, the fountain, the attention to detail; Washington Park is destined to become a downtown jewel and everyone who threw in to execute this vision is to be commended, and perhaps knighted, if we do that.
I did want to see Freelance Whales, but I had a side agenda for coming to the show; I figured there might be a chance of spotting my friend (and former CityBeat contributor) Matthew Fenton since this is the kind of show he likes. As I scanned the growing crowd, I spotted and was spotted by none other than former CityBeat editor John Fox, now installed as a big cheese at 3CDC, largely charged with publicizing and programming Washington Park. We talked about the park and the triumphs and travails of attempting to make it as universally inclusionary as possible to all of Cincinnati’s residents. I hadn’t talked to John in a very long time, and it was great to catch up, but it was greater to see him so incredibly excited about the park and its potential. He has always been an incredible friend and booster of the city and he’s in the perfect position to channel that passion.
In the spirit of his being “the host” at the park (and my ever deepening poverty), I let him buy me a beer. In all seriousness, I owe John an unpayable debt. He recruited me as a CityBeat freelancer when he was building the paper back in 1994, and his one requirement for a place on the masthead was that I get back to writing features, something I hadn’t done in well over six years at that point. John’s conditional offer of freelance work launched me on a path that continues to this day, and absolutely set the stage for my transition into full time writing when I lost my full-time design gig in the idiot epidemic of 2001. So many great experiences and interviews and interactions and friendships resulted from a lunch meeting 18 years ago when John looked me straight in the eye and said, “You are too good of a writer to be doing nothing but reviews. You need to be writing features and that’s all I want you to do for me.” Without that firm encouragement and faith, the last couple of decades could have been very different indeed. I owe you an ocean of beer, Sir John Fox, and although it may be awhile before I can start making payments, please know that I acknowledge the debt.
OK, dry your eyes, pussies … on with the shows.
Freelance Whales were an excellent stand-in for the silenced Bells. Their gorgeous Chamber Pop swells and subtlety were made even more majestic and expansive with Music Hall as the backdrop behind the MidPoint stage. As the sun went down and Music Hall lit up in anticipation of the evening’s CSO performance, Freelance Whales’ gorgeous melodicism and quietly powerful presentation was exponentially amplified. Any fan of the Decemberists or Arcade Fire should make room for Freelance Whales in their playlists.
From there, it was a brisk walk through the teeming Midway (what a fantastic idea, please let’s do this forever) to Japp’s Annex to witness the loopy edge of the New World Ancients. The Chicago quartet exudes a definite Pop/New Wave vibe, a quirky clockwork rhythm that suggests Go 2-era XTC and early 10CC with hints of the frenetic artiness of what was known initially as the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. That 21st century New Wave concept was reinforced on “Shape Shifter,” which careened like vintage XTC and Danny Elfman, while “Hole in the Sky” sounded like a Space Rock anthem collaboration between Andy Partridge and Godley & Creme; they even hauled out the brilliantly weird “We Are the Future,” an old song from Athens, the band that spawned NWA. All four NWA members had all-seeing third eyes painted on their foreheads, which offered just the right amount of creepy fun to the proceedings.
Ric Hickey ducked into Japp’s for a tour of the porcelain village, on his way to rendevous with Greg Gaston and Jeff Wilson to check out The Walkmen, and since I was headed that way myself, I followed him out. The four of us drifted down to Neon’s for a beer or two, bullshitted for a spell about music and life (like there’s a difference), watched the Reds tie the game in the eighth (glad we didn’t stick around for the extra innings … cest la vie — still division fucking champs, babe) then headed up to Grammer’s for The Walkmen (Ric rethought his schedule and hung around for the late lineup at Japp’s).
Although we were half an hour late for The Walkmen’s start time, it turned out they hadn’t been particularly timely. As we waited at the front gate (based on the asshole-to-elbow crowd that packed Grammer’s tent, I was convinced the line was designed to grease up latecomers so they could slide into the throng more easily), I was overwhelmed by the exquisite aroma drifting over from the food truck next to the entrance. Greg saw my sidelong glance and gave the taco truck and the young lady taking the orders a ringing endorsement.
The Walkmen were as fabulous as I suspected they would be. Spiffed out like a GQ Rock fashion layout, The Walkmen displayed a similarly stylish edge in the live presentation of their energetic yet restrained studio work. Still going strong a dozen years after forming from the ashes of Jonathan Fire*Eater and the Recoys, The Walkmen have evolved from atmospherically sparse Pop to more visceral and then Folk-tinged Indie Rock. The Walkmen’s new album, Heaven, is a more lush sonic affair, with songs that deal with the pressures of adulthood and the strength of love. The album’s sonic breadth is hinted at in concert but The Walkmen are more than capable of allowing the songs to do the heavy lifting, presenting them with power rather than mere volume.
In an age of disposability, The Walkmen have persevered for 12 years without a lineup change, going their own way in their own time, and seamlessly tempering their youthful enthusiasm with their hard-won maturity. It’s a wirewalk that few bands can pull off but The Walkmen manage to do it with an easy grace and humility; they were clearly affected by the huge turnout for their MidPoint debut.
I reluctantly bailed after about 30 minutes due to the start of the 10:00 pm shows I wanted to catch, and my creeping hunger, the launch codes for which had been entered coming into the show. I headed straight for the Taco Azul truck and quickly discovered Greg was right on all counts. The tacos were otherworldly good. All apologies to Mr. Hanton’s for straying from my steady diet of handwiches, but it was inevitable; when I was at Washington Park, I noticed that Island Noodles, which had been a huge hit at Bunbury and my favorite food of the festival, had a booth near the MidPoint stage and I briefly considered working in a walk back to the park to score a noodle bowl. Saturday was destined to be hot dog free.
I was just finishing my tacos when I ran into Black Owls' Brandon Losacker and three of the Sohio musketeers, who were all headed to Below Zero for The Ready Stance show, which was my destination as well, so off we went to see the wizards. Brandon graciously handed me a delicious Kentucky Bourbon Ale, the perfect cigarette after my taco interlude.
The Ready Stance was already in full swing and what a swing it was. The bar was absolutely sardine packed with fans loaded with love for the Stance and they didn’t disappoint. After a scorching spin through what I’m guessing was a new song (I didn’t recognize it as anything from their debut, the uniformly excellent Damndest), Ric Hickey stood wide-eyed and slackjawed and proclaimed the song’s classic brilliance. He wasn’t wrong. Damndest was a great opening volley, but their next shot could well be the one heard around the world, and this gig was an all too brief example of their talent and passion. A great set from a great band.
Near the close of the Stance’s set, I ran out to the Midway to catch the last three songs from Imperial Teen, because they’re one of my favorite Indie Rock bands with a quirk factor that is discernible but not obvious or trendy. I’d been looking forward to their 11:30 pm slot, but Imperial Teen’s set moved from the Hanke to 10:00 pm to accommodate the outdoor music curfew. It was clearly a great finish to what seemed to have beeen a rollicking set; Sean Rhiney declared it to be his favorite band of this year’s MidPoint. And the band was certainly appreciative of the large crowd that turned out for them; frontman Roddy Bottum noted that this was their only Midwest show and that they were glad that it was happening in Cincinnati. Their new album, Feel the Sound, is fantastic, as is the bulk of their catalog, and I hope they find their way back here very soon.
After that, it was a quick hustle over to The Drinkery to witness the Hard Rock fireworks provided by Thunder Bay, Ontario’s Bella Clava. I had written up the CityBeat preview for the band so I was already inclined to check them out, but the Mad Anthony guys had done some gigs with them and were highly recommending the show, so Bella Clava went from “possible” to “definite” in short order. The adrenalized quartet was hotter than fresh lava and proceeded to melt every face in the jammed Drinkery space with the ferocity of a bull on crystal meth. Frontwoman Caitlin Dacey was a mind meld of Ann and Nancy Wilson, switching between guitar and keyboard, guitarist Steve Suttie channeled the likes of Jimmy Page and Richie Blackmore with sweat-drenched conviction and fury, and the rhythm section of bassist Scott Hannigan and drummer Zack Mykula created a thunderous bottom that could have been registering as a seismic event.
The band was clearly moved by the MidPoint love they were receiving; at the end of their set, Caitlin noted, “I need to get a picture of you guys; my mom won’t believe it.” Ringo Jones hopped on stage and got a shot of the band with the Drinkery’s Rock drunk crowd behind them. It was a thing of beauty.
Then it was back to Below Zero to yet another near capacity audience for yet another Canadian import. Zeus came highly recommended by Losacker and several others, so I decided to check them out. The quartet were as good as advertised, sort of a Hard Rock spin on the Beatles and the Kinks. In the studio, there is a more than noticeable Sgt. Pepper vibe to Zeus’ sound, but in the live context, some of that psychedelic subtlety gets shaved off in favor of a leaner, more visceral Rock experience. It was clear that a fairly large percentage of the audience knew what they were coming to see, because there was a good deal of song recognition and wild response in the crowd.
I ducked out after about 30 minutes of Zeus’s sonic lightning bolts to catch the end of the road for local Rock heroes The Dukes Are Dead. Here’s proof that sometimes bad luck can result in good things; London’s Leogun was forced to cancel their MidPoint appearance and so the Dukes’ final show was pushed to the closing slot, allowing them the leeway to play considerably longer than their original 9:45 time would have accommodated. In some ways, it’s been a bad year for straight-up Rock in Cincinnati, with the recent demise of Banderas (MPMF regulars) and now the dissolution of the Dukes. As befitting a band that was playing its last show in the last slot on the last night of MidPoint, the Dukes left nothing in the bag. The band’s frenzied set was a thrashfest of howling vocals and grimy, guttaral riffage that was so explosive it was tempting to think that Luke Frazier and Luke Darling were playing six string grenade launchers, while bassist Randy Proctor worked his bass like a lead guitar and drummer David Reid hammered his kit like he was forging broadswords for Middle Earth giants on an anvil made of asteroids and pain. Formed just three years ago, it looks like the Dukes are going their separate ways to pursue new musical projects, which we can only hope results in a massive stock split as four hugely talented Hard Rock provocateurs subdivide into a handful of new and similarly bent projects.
We will certainly welcome the Dukes Are Dead in their new individual configurations, but anyone was there will never forget the way they went out collectively. It could have been a bittersweet moment, and to a certain extent, it was, but it was also the joyous beginning of the rebirthing process, and in that context, the final show of The Dukes Are Dead was an absolute perfect way to draw the curtain on MidPoint 2012.
MidPoint 2012 Saturday Night Notes:
• Even by my standards, I swilled a lot of beerage at this year’s MidPoint. Mike Breen threatened me with an intervention and a film crew from the so-titled A&E show, but he also offered to buy the beers, so it was all good. Still in all, if you ran into me and expect to see our exchange in these musings and it’s not here, don’t feel left out. There are events that, even just hours old, are vague and unstable memories to me now. It’s a lot to expect for an aging and beer-sodden brain, so bear with me.
• Day 3, no Matthew Fenton. It cannot be that we didn’t cross paths even once over the course of the three days here, so I have to believe that he skipped this year’s soiree. He and Kelly were here for Bunbury in July so maybe that was the reason he bailed this year. A MidPoint without Matthew is like a MidPoint without sunshine, and while I get that the vast majority of it happens at night, you know what I mean (or refer to the preceding paragraph for clarification).
• Ran into MPMF stalwart/stage manager/former Buckra guitarist Jacob Heintz, his niece and pal Brome (the spelling of which I’m guessing at). It was the first time I’d spotted Jacob all weekend … I was beginning to think maybe I should take a shower, the way I was being avoided. Then I decided that was a rash decision. Or maybe just a rash. Either way, it was great to see Jacob.
• Crossed paths with Paul Roberts and his sister at Japp’s during the New World Ancients. It was the first of many crossings with Paul and his merry band of Rock rangers, including Faint Signal guitarist Randy Campbell, big Jim and the little guy whose name always eludes me (see the opening paragraph for clarification).
• I love that local singer/songwriter Ric Hickey is back in town after a stint on the west coast. And more importantly, Ric Hickey loves that Ric Hickey is back in town. Time to strap up and Rock on, my brother. Welcome home.
• The Ready Stance gig was a stacked deck of musical luminaria; The Purrs’ Jim Antonio, drummer to the stars Dana Hamblen, Black Owls’ Brian Kitzmiller and Brandon Losacker (who repeatedly supplied me with Kentucky Bourbon Ales, which I may have developed a dependence on), the above noted Ric Hickey and CityBeat head man Dan Bockrath, who repeatedly bought the beer at every possible opportunity. I’m thinking of starting a Kickstarter campaign to fund the construction and upkeep of the Brian Baker Beer Buying Hall of Fame. I smell a plaque with Dan’s name inscribed on it. Or maybe I just missed the urinal. Again.
• A couple of Sean Rhiney (musician and co-founder/operator of MidPoint before CityBeat took over) sightings, first at Washington Park as I was departing Freelance Whales, and again at the Imperial Teen show. Sean is a prince among men, and even has a princely look. If royalty ever comes back to America, Sean should be in line for some kind of dukedom or earlship or lordiness. Really.
• I happened upon former Host vocalist Chris Charlton, who was handing out free copies of the debut issue of his new comic book, Sleepless. His written all the stories and worked with a variety of artists to bring them to life in Sleepless, which is being published by Assailant Comics; there will definitely be a #2. Chris says he may get back to music at some point, but right now he’s concentrating on the comic. The first story is a zombie love story, but my fave was “Artificial Unintelligence”; pick one up and enjoy at your leisure.
• Randy Cheek (member of The Ready Stance and Fairmount Girls and former bassist for Ass Ponys) needs to write a book. After the Stance gig, his stories in the alley next to the dumpsters beside Below Zero were all incredible, ranging from stepping in human waste after a gig (the phrase “slightly melted poopsicle” was used) to seeing a bedbug on an amputee’s stump in his daytime role as an exterminator, all of which was punctuated by a guy pissing on the other side of the dumpster. Randy really needs to write a book. Really.
• The old saxophone player who was blowing on 12th Street just down from the Midway segued from the theme song for Sanford and Son to George Michael’s “Careless Whisper,” which, in my state at that moment, was a sure sign that a portal to another dimension had been accessed, or that alien beings had just been contacted, like with that weird note sequence from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I’m still not sure it didn’t.
• I stumbled into Mark Messerly, Eric Appleby and his lovely wife Trish on the way to Bella Clava. I should have asked Eric about Matthew. There were exchanges, a bad vaudevillian punch line (mine, naturally) and gales of laughter (a drunk is never not funny), as well an introduction to some lovely people whose names were obliterated by the first stormtrooping guitar chord that hit me at The Drinkery. I pulled out my pad to write them down on my big notepad titled "Don’t Forget, Dumbass," and they were gone. Regardless, it was nice to meet you. The second introduction usually sticks.
• There were so many people at the Bella Clava and The Dukes Are Dead shows that my memories are kind of bubbly around the edges, like a burnt photograph. The Mad Anthony guys were all there, Jeremy Constantinople from Banderas, Paul Roberts and the gang (which sounds like they’re the Cosby Kids or something, but they’re not, I’d bet), and Beth, who I met at the Black Owls show, and a guy named Chad who has a band in Newport and wanted to hire Randy after the last Dukes show (he told me the name of his band, but the opening paragraph should be referenced for clarification) and Dan Bockrath who bought me a Red Stripe because it was the only beer the Drinkery had left, and you were there, and you and you. And it was a beautiful, beautiful night filled with amazing people and fabulous music and love. Or at least really intense like. And it stoned me. Or the opening paragraph did. Either way, blissed out at MidPoint again and again and again.
• As always, thanks to the great (and nearly jailed) Dan McCabe for his grace under fire and his dedication to making MidPoint one of the best things that happens in Cincinnati. He is a king in the new royalty, a king I tell you. Thanks also to the tireless volunteers who make this run like a well-oiled machine (I use beer to oil my machine, and it’s a good thing the volunteers don’t take that approach or nothing would get done), the fans who spend their hard earned money on wristbands and venue tickets and food and gallons of goof juice and souvenirs, and of course the bands who come from
around the corner, across the state, around the country and the globe to entertain us and bring a little musical sunshine into our spongey consciousnesses. Or is it consciousnessi? I don’t have time to look it up. MidPoint 2012 is a lovely memory, and I’m drooling like Pavlov’s dogs for next year’s lineup, whatever it may be. Matthew Fenton, your place is saved. Next year, for sure.