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by Amy Harris 05.03.2013
Posted In: Festivals, Reviews, Live Music at 02:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Review: New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Weekend 1

One could argue that New Orleans is one of the most fun places on the planet. You cannot beat the food, laidback attitudes and genuine hospitality. Combine all of that with some of the most talented musicians in the world and you have the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

The New Orleans Jazz Fest kicked off in full swing last Friday, April 26, with thousands flocking to the New Orleans Fairgrounds to hear their favorite musical acts, see one-of-a-kind pieces from local artists and taste the flavors of New Orleans.

Local musical acts kicked off each morning on the 11 different stages around the fairgrounds, leading up to the first weekend's main acts, which included include John Mayer, Billy Joel and Dave Matthews Band, which closed out each night on the Acura Stage.

One of the most enjoyable parts of Jazz Fest for me each year is seeing “the bands before the main stage bands.” I always walk away with new music to listen to from legends and discover exciting new stage acts. This year I fell in love in the Blues tents with guitar legends like Sonny Landreth, Guitar Slim Jr., Lil Buck Senegal, Deacon John and Little Freddie King.

Dr. John, who is always a Jazz Fest highlight performed on Friday and had an Ohio native backing him. Dr. John recently restructured his band before Jazz Fest and kept only one former member, trombonist Sarah Morrow who grew up near Pickerington, Ohio, just outside of Ohio.

The New Orleans Fairgrounds filled to the brim Saturday with attendees showing up early to get the best seats to hear Bill Joel belt out his hits. Joel closed out his set by playing with New Orleans' own Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Sunday morning brought cloudy skies that soon turned into torrential downpours. But that didn't stop Jazz Fest goers from staking out spots for Dave Mathews Band. The skies cleared enough to dry off before the second wave of rain, soaking DMB as they played through the rain for thousands of diehard Jazz Fest fans. The dancing in the mud surely created lifelong memories for some attendees.

If seeing the Dave Matthews Band play an epic set in the rain was not good enough, you could make your way over the Blues tent and see the King play the Blues like it is the end of the world. BB King electrified as he took the stage in the Blues Tent to close out the first weekend of the festival. The legendary Allen Toussaint joined King on stage and, as BB began his set, belted out an a cappella Blues tribute to the King himself. King ended the set with a toast to the audience: "If I can't be with you next week, think about me some time."

Widespread Panic closed out my last day at NOLA Jazz Fest with a rainy two and a half hour set for their loyal legion of fans, all of whom seemed perfectly happy to dance in the mud at the Acura Stage.

Yesterday kicked off the second weekend of the famous festival and will feature performances by New Orleans native Mia Borders and Patti Smith.

I will miss New Orleans' music and food dearly when I go and will start the countdown to Essence Festival in July, when I return to the Big Easy for more music and fun times.

Click here and here to see numerous photos from the 2013 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

 
 
by Mike Breen 05.02.2013
Posted In: Local Music, Live Music, Reviews at 11:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Tracy Walker Releases First Album in 10 Years

Veteran Cincinnati singer/songwriter presents "listening party" tonight in Oakley

Tracy Walker has been such a consistently popular presence on the live music scene, it’s hard to believe the Cincinnati singer/songwriter hasn’t put out a new release in a decade. Ten years after her excellent sophomore album, All This Time, Walker finally entered the studio with super-producer Erwin Musper and, now, she is ready to start celebrating her third full-length release, Coetaneous Vibrations. The album is available for download now through Walker's site here (under the "Music" tab) or you can order a hard-copy CD from CD Baby here.

Walker has the kind of voice and writing talent that just feels natural, so recording her might seem like an easy job. But Musper, as a really good producer should, truly pulls a lot out of Walker, showing her to be an even more dynamic artist and performer. Previously, Walker’s recorded material was always hard to describe, with elements of Folk, Pop, Soul and Rock dancing together for her own singular style.

But on Vibrations, Musper fleshes out many of the tracks with a classic Soul/R&B vibe, enlisting some top local players to create the crisp musical backdrop to Walker’s spine-chilling vocals and songs (a handful of which were re-recordings from prior releases).

Opening track “All My Life” has the vintage punch of seminal Soul artists from the ’60s and ’70s (and many of today’s revivalists), complete with a punctuating horn section, while the ballad “Blue” drips with emotion over a slow-burning Blues groove and tracks like “Hard Way” and “Brand New Life” are more upbeat and Pop/Rock-like, suitable for radio airplay.

Tonight at 6 p.m., Walker will host an album release/listening party at The Art of Entertaining (2019 Madison Ave., Oakley). The event will include snacks, wine, beer and live acoustic music from Walker. Tickets are $30. Seating is limited; for reservations, call 513-871-5170. You can also catch Walker live around town in the coming weeks. Visit tracywalker.com for local dates and more info on Coetaneous Vibrations.

Here's the new album's lead-off track, "All My Life," which appeared in an earlier form on Walker's 1998 solo debut, Naked:


 
 
by Blake Hammond 04.03.2013
Posted In: Live Music, Reviews at 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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REVIEW: Wavves at Columbus' Basement

While waiting in line for 45 minutes for the sold-out Wavves show at The Basement in Columbus, Ohio, I begin to notice a much longer line accumulating outside the substantially bigger and more extravagant venue directly across from me, The LC Pavilion.

Then, just as I’m about to ask the stoned kid next to me who is playing at The LC tonight, an older couple with leather jackets – the woman with pink highlights in her beach blonde hair – grabs my attention. 

“Excuse me, sir. Is this the line for Garbage?” she asks. 

“Well, that depends on your definition of Garbage, ma'am.” I reply.

After this smartass comment, I quickly apologize and assure them that this is the line for the Wavves show and that ’90s Alt-rockers, Garbage, are playing next door. During this short conversation, I realize something. 

There are only two basic differences between those fans going to see Garbage at The LC and the fans going to see Wavves at The Basement the generational gap and the smells permeating from the separate lines (their line smelled of liquor, while most on our side reeked of weed and unwashed clothes).

It was as if the people in the Wavves line were getting a glimpse into the future (mirror, mirror, on the wall, is THAT what I’m going to look like in 2033?) while the Garbage fans were getting a taste of their younger years (mirror, mirror, on the wall, did I look THAT bad in 1993?)

After the wait, the doors finally open and as I walk inside The Basement, I notice immediately that it lives up to its name. It is dark, cold, and even has that musty smell that basements do. It was like going into my Grandma’s basement as a kid, except this one had a fully stocked bar, a small stage, and a 20-by-20 pit that was filled as soon as the doors opened. (Step up your game, Grandma!)

The show finally kicks off around 8 p.m. as the group Cheatahs takes the stage. Although they have a decent 30-minute set, their slower, Pop-infused Grunge style seems ill-fitting for both the ambiance of the venue but also the acts that follow them. During their last song, I wonder if perhaps Cheatahs would have been better received as an opener for Garbage across the corridor rather than opening for the Punk/Surf rockers Wavves. 

After Cheatahs finish, the second act, FIDLAR (an acronym for “Fuck it, dawg, life’s a risk”), comes on and the intensity of the show is taken to a whole new level. Although some critics have called this band Skate Punk, for me, that term seems to coincide with terrible Pop Punk and Tony Hawk Pro Skater games (which were amazing), so I’d like to deem them “Party Punk” for the sheer fact that most their lyrics deal with the fact that they like to get high and drunk off of shitty weed, cocaine and alcohol. 

Their blistering opener, “Cheap Beer”, starts the set with a burst of energy that never falters during the next 40 or so minutes. By the time they finish, vocalist/guitarist Zac Carper is crowd surfing and ending their final song dangling from the sprinkler system that hangs above the pit full of exhausted but excited fans. 

As FIDLAR exited and Wavves starts setting up, most of the patrons come out of the pit looking so tired it didn’t seem like they were going to make it through to the headlining act. Some of the concertgoers leave after FIDLAR’s explosive and energetic set, partially because, as I said before, they were too debilitated to go on. 

I personally believe, though, that some left because The Basement has acquired the stench of a 16-year-old boy’s room (for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing this distinctive smell, it’s basically a combination between musk, sweat, weed and alcohol) from all the jumping, moshing and mashing going on in the crowd. 

The people that pushed through, however, are treated with the opportunity to see a very special and intimate Wavves performance. Nathan Williams opens up the set with the unflinching Surf Rock anthem “Idiot”, which not only is a fan favorite of the night (along with “Green Eyes” and “Super Soaker”), but also keeps that intensity set up by FIDLAR’s performance and takes it higher. 

Wavves' set-list isn’t just comprised of songs off older LPs, as they accomplish a pretty choice mix of the earlier material and new, catchy, sing-a-long tracks like “Demon to Lean On”, “Sail to the Sun” and “Afraid of Heights,” off their latest album of the same name. 

A pretty flawless musical performance and Williams’ witty, in-between song banter with the crowd (my personal favorite is when he almost chipped his tooth adjusting the microphone and said he was going to look like rapper Danny Brown by the end of the show) coupled with guitarist Stephen Pope’s bedazzled, purple tights and outlandish behavior give fans more than their money’s worth. 

As previously stated, for those fans that stuck around for Wavves (which was most of the people there), we witnessed a truly special night. Not because this will be the last opportunity to ever see this band perform live again, but more because, with  Wavves' new album, Afraid of Heights, getting the accolades it deserves and the band's following growing greater everyday, we will most likely never see them in this small of a setting again. In fact, I’d bet good money (if I had any) that the next time Wavves visits Columbus, they won’t be headlining The Basement but the venue across corridor, The LC Pavilion — even if Garbage is in town that night. 

 
 
by Mike Breen 02.18.2013
Posted In: Live Music, Reviews at 08:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
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REVIEW: The Who Does 'Quadrophenia' in Louisville

Rock legends perform Rock Opera in full at KFC "Yum!" Center Saturday night

For a  couple of decades, I've resisted going to concerts by legendary Rock bands and icons I've loved who keep touring without much in the way of new material. I'd rather remember The Rolling Stones via video footage of their ’60 and early ’70s peak. I'd rather see The Who when there was an element of chaos and danger, when Keith Moon might pass out and have to be replaced by an eager fan pulled from the audience at the last minute. I'd rather remember The Beatles circa their post-touring years, via footage from their post-"Fab Four" days, working on arty videos and even artier music.

I've seen a lot of footage from The Rolling Stones live in the past nearly 30 years ago and it really set this resistant tone for me. Even back on the tours behind Tattoo You, the Stones largely just seemed to be chugging along for the cash. The most infuriating thing to me has always been their double-speed rendition of classics like "Satisfaction," as if they're just trying to get them out of the way. (To their credit, they seem to be fond of dragging out some "deeper cuts" at more recent shows, which adds at least a little freshness to their stale cavalcade of hits.)

It has to be a bit of a dilemma for some aging legends. The majority of fans want just the hits; they're the ones who complain of Facebook that a certain show was "OK, but they didn't play ___________! So it sucked." The Rolling Stones have a little bit of new material every few years that they'll drop into the set to keep things interesting for the members (or they'll dig out those deeper cuts). Paul McCartney does a total crowd-pleaser concert, basically performing the same exact stage show for seemingly 20 years and running through those classic Beatles/Wings tunes that are guaranteed to bring any house down. McCartney seems more a "give the people what they want" showman, and his performance is note perfect and flawless. I've always respected British Punkish-Pop-turned-Classical-Pop singer/songwriter Joe Jackson for the way he found to keep things interesting — never play every song the same way on every tour. His great live album,
Live 1980/86, featuring four concerts from different eras is a brilliant example of this — there are four totally different versions of "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" It's interesting to the players and the die-hard fans. (Casual fans would rather hear the version on the original recording without variation).

The Who has done greatest hits runs and has only released a handful of new recordings in the past 30 years. But they have enough ambitious, grand projects in their impeccable discography that they can pull out, they're capable of doing special shows like the one on their current tour which finds the surviving members (and friends) performing the Quadrophenia album in full.

The Who's sporadic tours of late have often had some special "hook" that, presumably, keeps things interesting for the members who have played "My Generation" approximately 4 billion times. Townshend often makes some comment after a tour that it might be the last. He doesn't seem interested in the greatest hits revue. At Louisville's concert and sports palace, the KFC Yum! Center, The Who — well, original living members Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, plus a cast of backing musicians that included Ringo Starr's overachieving bad-ass drummer son Zak Starkey on the skins and Pete's brother Simon Townshend becoming more of a presence on guitar and occasional vocals — played Quadrophenia in full (as they've done with Tommy) and I couldn't help but think that the artistic challenge of performing the group's second notable Rock Opera in full was enough to get Townshend to sign on. And enough to keep The Who on the road.

The Quadorphenia performance was excellent. The band played through without talking or really pausing for a breath, playing the double album from start to finish. This seemed to cause some uneasiness for some in attendance who didn't get the memo about the Quadrophenia-heavy performance and seemed just ready to hear "Teenage Wasteland" and "Squeeze Box." But the crowd, en masse, eventually warmed to the presentation, particularly the "hits" like "5:15," "The Real Me" and a jaw-dropping performance of "Love Reign O'er Me," the story-cycle's emotional climax and finale.

Part of making the medicine go down smoother was the barrage of video clips and photographs of, well, everything. There was plenty of old Who footage and lots of clips of late members Keith Moon and John Entwistle, plus some interesting visual effects involving rain and ocean waves during interludes (like on the album, but visualized). They also included a pair of lengthy montages from the entire history of Western Civilization since WWII. We were treated to images of the Berlin Wall falling, Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan and other U.S. presidents, war footage. It was a history class presented quick-cut style.

While these video gimmicks were attention-grabbing — everyone likes to watch historical/pop cultural montages — it didn't make much sense in the context of the story. I mean, I suppose EVERY contemporary story told has SOME connection to the entire history of the modern world. But the band was playing a thematic piece of work that told a real, actual story. Why not advance that story? It's a good one, weaving a tale about a common 1960s young man trying to find his way in the world and eventually becoming disillusioned and losing his mind. Maybe they wanted the words to do the talking … in which case, the footage (while visually compelling) was pointless wallpaper.

But most importantly, the band played the album well. It was in essentially the same arrangement as the original album, but with a few interesting added elements. The group's tribute to Keith Moon on "Bell Boy" — during which Moon's vocal part was stitched in seamlessly, with him floundering about in concert with his headphones and sticks to grab the mic and sing (via video) — was touching (and also not spoiler-alerted during the group's performance of it during the Sandy Hook benefit concert). The vocals were laid in over top of the band, so they were basically doing the Elvis-via-film "concerts" where "he" plays with his old bandmates. But it was touching (Daltrey gazed at his old friend lovingly) and an emotional high point of the show.

As was the tribute to the group's stunning bassist John Entwistle. The band gave The Ox a "solo" mid-song and it was disorienting in its brilliance, as Entwistle performed a spine-tingling barrage of bass acrobatics — of course with his trademark deadpan stare making it looking even more effortless. The footage was shot on cameras at an old show placed at the head of his bass and in front of him. Watching his fingers move across the frets was like watching a ballet of finger-work. Greatest Rock & Roll bassist of all time — no contest.

I developed a new appreciation for how hard Roger Daltrey works singing a two-hour plus concert. Unlike Entwistle, he made it look hard … but it was valiant and he hit almost ever note. A few lines would be "jazzily" redirected to avoid a few of the harder notes … but he nailed most of the important ones. By the time they got to love "Reign o'er Me," one of Rock's best, more underrated vocal performances ever, I had to tip my hat. You can tell he's doing everything he can to keep that voice in the best shape possible — there was a warning posted on the screens before the show announcing Roger's allergies, which, it said, would have a detrimental effect on his singing (the notice playfully suggested sticking to brownies). He had some sort of humidifier looking device behind him pumping steam the whole show and, though he played it off like a pro, he seemed a little lost when his in-ear monitors broke down twice during the performance. During the second-to-last song, "Won't Get Fooled Again," Daltrey stopped singing at one point and the band seemed thrown, but quickly recovered. Roger didn't look happy but he eventually came back to better spirits.

Pete Townshend has long been my ultimate Rock & Roll hero — he embodied Rock & Roll to me growing up and I've never grown tired of his songwriting. Pete has a rep for being a grump, but he was downright jolly in Louisville, windmills flying regularly. He joked towards the end about how he could now "jump up and land at the same time," promising to go nuts and act like he was 16 again for the next tune. He never quite managed lift-off — a trademark of his old days, when he'd tuck his knees and jump a good five feet straight up, landing on a big chord or final note. He's technically a senior citizen – the fact that he could roam around the stage and show some intensity is impressive enough. (And, as the man who has written Tommy and "Substitute" and "A Quick One," I'd give him a total pass if he'd decided to play laying down on a bed in the center of the stage.)

After the group finished Quadrophenia, they didn't even leave the stage. Pete, like an orchestra conductor might, spoke to the audience about their performance and introduced the great back-up players (which included a horn section and a pair of keyboard wizards). The group then ran through a stream of hits that, at least in terms of intensity, fed into my old fears that seeing my idols past-prime might replace a good memory with bad ones. The versions of "Who Are You," "Pinball Wizard," "Baba O'Reilly" and "Won't Get Fooled Again," weren't "bad," but, miraculously, had a couple of sloppy moments. I actually liked that — I'd stay home and listen to the albums if I wanted perfection — but it seemed like the band was ready to go back to the hotel. The power chords more often than not lacked the "power" element. They just weren't stepping into it — they were lightly breezing through.

The full band left and Roger and Pete did one of their few newer songs, an acoustic number about growing older, friendship, tea … and theatre (apparently), called "
Tea & Theatre." As on the Hurricane Sandy benefit show, it seemed an odd closer, though it was sweet. These two old friends who have hated each other at times over the years seem at peace with The Who's legacy and their own partnership.

Townshend announced that Roger had arranged the whole Quadrophenia performance, which immediately made me believe Daltrey brought the idea to Townshend, knowing he'd have a better chance presenting something his old mate would find challenging if he wanted to go on a "Who tour" again. Daltrey could've staged it himself, but I envision him going to Pete and saying, "I do this one my own, I'm doing casinos and theaters; you come with and it's a lucrative arena tour."

Like all bands with longevity, The Who have found a dynamic that seems to work. It's something every enduring band has to come to peace with – from The Stones to The Black Crowes to Pearl Jam, all bands that seem to have realized they need each other to do their job most effectively (and profitably). Once they find that peace, they seem much happier. The Crowes have split or taken long breaks numerous times, but they know their future is like Keith and Mick's — they need to tour together because that's what their fans (and customers) desire. And Pearl Jam fairly early on seemed to come to an understanding that their place is on the road and together. They seem happy these days and you rarely hear them complain about "fame" anymore (as Mr. Vedder had been known to do at one time). They even play songs they've played millions of times — like "Alive" and "Even Flow" and "Jeremy" and "Black" — with passion, fire and smiles on their faces. They have inherited a bit of "Uncle Paul's" crowd-pleaser genes.

All of these artists seem in a good place in terms of tending to their legacy, finding what works best for them. The Who seemed that way as well Saturday night in Louisville, but I left wondering "What's next?" Might this really be a farewell tour. They've been doing them since the early ’80s, but if Pete and Roger don't come up with an approach that satisfies their artistic/performance needs, I wouldn't be shocked to hear that they've decided to call it quits after this round of travel.

While my personal concerns about seeing some of my favorite artists before they are no longer able to perform have been both confirmed and assuaged at shows by The Who and McCartney, I'm still happy I've seen those artists play in my lifetime. I've now decided to look at it like those fans who wanted to see early musical icons like Muddy Waters or Howlin' Wolf or Charles Mingus or any legendary player play one more time before he or she passed away — I'm sure they might not have been spellbinding, but I'm also sure it gave great joy to those fans who saw them.

And I've also realized that there's nothing wrong with indulging your nostalgic instincts in these situations. There's room in most of our minds for multiple memories about the same people. I will remember Pete and Roger killing it on The Smothers Brothers show and I can remember them keeping the spirit live almost 50 years later in Louisville … and neither memory has to cancel the other out.

I'm saving my pennies now to see The Stones.

 
 
by Mike Breen 01.29.2013
Posted In: Live Music, Local Music, CEAs, Reviews at 09:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)
 
 
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CEAs 2013: Local Music Love Fest

Sixteenth Cincinnati Entertainment Awards was another epic celebration of local music

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.

Click here to see who won what and here for some photos from the event. The CEAs were filmed this year and will be airing on local cable soon. Keep an eye on this blog for dates and times. 

 
 
by Mike Breen 12.18.2012
Posted In: Live Music, Local Music, Reviews at 12:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Zak Morgan Goes Major Label with Stellar New Kids' LP

Local children's music superstar celebrates new 'The Barber of the Beasts' with show Saturday

Holidays are especially exciting times for children and, given the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., kids all over will likely be going to be getting a little extra love this season.

Zak Morgan knows kids. The Cincinnati-based singer/songwriter has already had an amazing career in children’s music, with his second self-financed album, When Bullfrogs Croak, earning numerous awards and acclaim, including a 2004 Grammy nomination for Best Musical Album for Children, a remarkable feat for an independent artist.

Morgan’s accomplishments and hard work (he notches over 200 shows a year for kids across the country) paid off with a contract with Universal Music’s kids’ music imprint, myKaZoo Music. His debut for the label, The Barber of the Beasts, came out in late October and would make a fantastic stocking-stuffer for the little ones this Christmas.

Like his previous releases, The Barber of the Beasts features artwork by famed local illustrator C.F. Payne and contains an extensive booklet of lyrics and drawings. The album also features some notable guests, from local musicians like Dan Dorff, Paul Patterson and Josh Seurkamp to nationally acclaimed artists like Robbie Fulks and locals Karin Bergquist (Over the Rhine) and the iconic Bootsy Collins.

But it’s Morgan’s magical stories and songs that are the focal point. There is a perfect formula for children’s music; like with kids’ films these days, many artists try to hard to make their albums “parent friendly” and tend to go overboard, while those who “dumb things down” tend to be the most annoying. Morgan’s gift is finding the perfect balance.

The Barber of the Beasts is for smart and imaginative kids and parents, seeming designed to be enjoyed together. Morgan is great with clever word play and he isn't afraid to drop a few “big words” (or at least unfamiliar words). That’s where the booklet’s excellent vocabulary guide comes in handy. Parents can go over words with their children, who will have not only been entertained by Zak’s fantastical storytelling, but will also learn something in the process.

Many of the tracks on Barber feature gorgeous chamber string arrangements, but there are also tunes like “Snow Day,” on which Morgan channels his inner Tom Waits (vocally), the shuffling, jazzy Pop cut “Swinging On A Star,” the Country-esque “Nancy Jane” and the great Bootsy collaboration, “The Case of the Dry Markers,” a swingin’, “spooky” Jazz struttin’ mystery with a Halloween vibe.

Here is the debut music video from the album for "The Case of the Dry Markers":


The songs and music are elegant and often downright majestic (particularly the ones with the spine-tingling string arrangements), while Morgan’s clever stories are loaded with a silliness that the young listeners will gleefully embrace.

I believe The Barber of the Beasts (which will specifically appeal to kids between around the ages of 1-8, but certainly fits the "fun for kids of all ages" bill) was released in time to make next year’s Grammy nominations. It will be a crime if it doesn’t make the cut. When it comes to children’s music, Zak is like the Bob Dylan of the genre — minus the curmudgeonly grumpiness, of course. 

This Saturday at 1 p.m., Morgan and a host of special guests will present the local release party for the album at The Monastery recording studio (2601 Stanton Ave., Walnut Hills), the performance/recording space owned and operated by producer/guitarist Ric Hordinski (who also performed on, produced and co-wrote material on the album).

Tickets are available through brownpapertickets.com for $10 (or $20 for families of two-five people). Remaining tickets will be available at the door the day of the show for $15 (or $25 per family). Your ticket also includes food and admission to the post-show pizza party.

 
 
by Brian Baker 11.28.2012
Posted In: New Releases, Reviews at 12:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cincyblueslabels

Review: Various - 'Play It Like You Did Back to George Street'

Shake It Records once again shines a light on Cincinnati's musical history with pre-war Blues compilation

Cincinnati enjoys a reputation as a city with a rich and colorful musical history, exemplified by the influential reach of Syd Nathan’s roster at King Records, a label that attracted and embraced every conceivable style of music and musician. And there’s a case to be made that King’s diversity was simply a reflection of the city’s broad creative scope — then, now and perpetually, it’s been difficult to hang a signature genre tag on Cincinnati’s sound.

There aren’t many Cincinnatians who understand the area’s musical timeline much better than Darren Blase, co-owner of the city’s premiere record store, Shake It Records. Blase has long championed the King story; he did his thesis at UC on King Records and ultimately turned that mountain of information into a book and a screenplay, both of which remain undeservedly shelved. But like any curious student of history, Blase has never been content to concentrate on just the King legacy, wanting to connect the dots to see how it all related to his own firsthand Punk Rock experience in the ’80s. Equally important, he has always been eager to look to the city’s musical heritage before King Records, to discover the roots of Cincinnati’s unique musical culture.

Blase and his brother/business partner Jim have long used their Shake It label as a vehicle to spotlight the incredible wealth of talent in the current local and regional scene, but their latest release time travels back to the early part of the 20th century to reveal Cincinnati’s amazing contributions to pre-World War II Blues with the double vinyl gem Play It Like You Did Back to George Street.

As Blues historian Steve Tracy notes in his thorough liner notes for George Street, Cincinnati in the ’20s and ’30s didn’t necessarily exhibit a distinctive Blues identity like Chicago, New York or Memphis, but the artists that comprised the Cincinnati scene were a spirited and talented group that could have successfully infiltrated any Blues community in the country.

Representing a specific period in Cincinnati musical history, from 1924 to 1936, George Street serves as evidence of the assertion that the city’s Blues profile was anything but nondescript. George Street’s ancient recordings (of varying but ultimately listenable quality) are filled with fascinating local references (“Court Street Blues,” “I’m Going to Cincinnati,” “Sixth Street Moan,” “Newport Blues,” “Cincinnati Underworld Woman”) and a host of area artists with a firm grip on the qualities that make for great Folk and Ragtime-tinted Blues.

The collection takes its title from “Mama Let Me Lay On You,” where Walter Coleman exhorts his uncredited guitarist to reach for the passion and fire that typified performances on the long-forgotten street that was once the home to the city’s red light district and its attendant nightclubs; a good many of the lyrics to the songs on the George Street collection live up to that bawdy history.

Coleman is a pervasive presence on George Street, primarily because he assumes so many recorded identities (Kid Cole, Kid Coley, Bob Coleman, Sweet Papa Tadpole, Walter Cole), but the album also shows off the obvious skills of Sam Jones (who also went by the name Stovepipe No. 1) and Jesse James (whose four songs on George Street represent his entire recorded legacy).

George Street also offers a pair of talented jug bands. Coleman leads the Cincinnati Jug Band — “George Street Stomp” is a particular favorite – while Jones takes the helm with the King David Jug Band, typified by the rollicking “What That Tastes Like Gravy.”

Play It Like Did Back at George Street, enticingly subtitled Music From Ohio Volume 1 and beautifully illustrated by renowned local underground cartoonist Justin Green, is clearly aimed at a specific Blues aficionado. If Robert Cray and Stevie Ray Vaughan are your Blues ideals, then this album will hold little interest for you. But if you’re fascinated by the sound of scratchy old 78s and the magic that erupts from the horn when the needle is dropped on a groove that dates to a time when flappers were the rage, George Street is your early Christmas present.

Remaining copies of the initial pressing of Play It Like You Did at George Street (which went on sale for Record Store Day's Black Friday event) are available from Shake It Records (online here and at the store in Northside) only as a double vinyl album (for now), but the release comes with a download card for digital playback. The label is rolling out the record nationally in the next few weeks. To sample a trio of tracks from the release, click here.

 
 
by P.F. Wilson 11.15.2012
Posted In: Live Music, Reviews, Local Music at 04:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
lights live

Review: LIGHTS at 20th Century Theatre

Over the summer, a video turned up on YouTube of Canadian chanteuse LIGHTS doing an acoustic cover of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” for Britain’s Secret TV. While her bubbly personality was evident, she did look tired and her voice was not at its usual strength. Fans wondered if the rigors of touring were taking their toll.

But there were no such concerns Wednesday (Nov. 14) night when LIGHTS played at the 20th Century Theatre in Oakley. Winding down her Siberia tour, the Toronto native sounded absolutely amazing.

Two things are sometimes forgotten in the electronic swirl of LIGHTS’s musicshe can sing and she can write. Vocally she was at the top of her game Wednesday. Parts that were sung in a more wispy tone on her two albums were belted out with force, topped with high notes that hadn’t come out in the studio versions.

And, oh yes, the writing. Proving she has both vocal and songwriting skills, LIGHTS excused her band mid-show to deliver a piano-and-voice-only version of “Saviour.” Showing it’s not all done with machines (as she did on her 2010 acoustic EP), LIGHTS delivered a tune that, like her others, can stand apart from the technological wizardry. In between scaling her vocal range, she invited the audience to sing along, which they did enthusiastically (the track was an Alternative radio hit in 2009).

LIGHTS has always toured with a band, pulling a page out the the Thompson Twins’ playbook from back in the day. Chief Twin Tom Bailey always reasoned that it was just more visually pleasing to see musicians on stage and not just three band members bopping around to sequencers and backing tapes. Sonically it helps, too, of course, as the players can improvise and add new dimensions and dynamics to familiar songs. Indeed, one of LIGHTS’s keyboardists even broke out a guitar for one song, playing the keyboard lines on that instead of his synth.

The Arkells from Hamilton, Ontario, opened the show with their brand of Canadian Alt Rock. Lead singer Max Kerman told the crowd that his hometown was the best Hamilton in the world, not the Ohio city just up I-75. The crowd got the joke, which sort of surprised and bemused Kerman.

“I was expecting some boos for that,” he said before the band launched into “Pulling Punches.” The Arkells provided a nice counterpoint to the main act’s fine, occasionally dub-steppy Synth Pop and the group seemed to have several fans of their own in attendance.

LIGHTS returns to Canada at the end of this run of shows, where she will spend the holidays with her new husband, Blesshefall frontman Beau Bokan. The Arkells will support their countrymen The Tragically Hip throughout the winter.

 
 
by Blake Hammond 11.15.2012
Posted In: Reviews, Live Music, Music Video at 10:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
1011949874-1

Review: Ill Poetic's Synesthesia: The Yellow Movement

Columbus-via-Cincy Hip Hop artist Ill Poetic shows true colors on new EP

I’m not going to pretend I knew what synesthesia meant before listening to former Cincinnati/current Columbus-based Hip Hop artist Ill Poetic’s latest release, Synesthesia: The Yellow Movement. But after diving into the seven-song EP (and looking up the title on dictionary.com), I discovered that synesthesia is something like a music-induced hallucination where the afflicted see music as colors, which is the perfect description the album has on its listeners.

In the short amount of time it takes to get through this EP (just under 24 minutes), Ill Po takes the listener on a funky, soulful trip through his creative process. On the  first track, “Be Cool,” Po is kind of like Samuel L. Jackson in the diner scene of Pulp Fiction (without the Jheri curl), urging everyone from politicians to status rappers to just chill the fuck out and re-birth the cool like Miles Davis.

“Be Cool” then melts into a laid-back Soul cut, the highlight track “On My Way,” which features crooner CJ the Cynic. It’s probably just the producer in him, but Ill Poetic lets CJ take the reins of “On My Way” for almost the first two minutes before he brings his spoken-word lyrical styling to the production, which is reminiscent of early Kanye or Eryka Badu with, dare I say, an added dose of creativity.

The wait for Po's words is well worth it, however, when he spits that “Ghostface is my real estate agent." Again, I really don’t know what this means, but the sheer image of calling Sibcy Cline or Century 21 and getting Ghostface Killah on the other end of the receiver is pure imagery gold.

On the sixth track and first single off the EP, “Gone,” the song cleverly describes Po’s struggle to leave Cincinnati and pursue his dreams (his every body part attempting to convince his brain to dip-out), while the Jazz-style production makes the listener want to roll-up and take a road trip with this song on repeat.


The best part about this album, though, is when Ill says “You don’t have to be cool to listen to this; you don’t have to listen to this to be cool.” So for all the nerds, dorks, dweebs and losers out there looking for new music, have no fear. You don’t have to be cool to listen to this and listening to Ill Poetic won’t make you cool. But it surely couldn’t hurt.

Click below to preview and purchase
Synesthesia: The Yellow Movement. For more on Ill Poetic, visit his official site here.


 
 
by Mike Breen 10.26.2012
Posted In: Live Music, Reviews at 01:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
the_afghan_whigs

Review: The Afghan Whigs & Wussy at Bogart's

Two of Cincinnati's finest play much aniticpated homecoming show and exceed expectations

“I’ve been waiting for this for six months,” Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli said to start off the Cincinnati-spawned Rock crew’s first concert in the Queen City since a Sept. 25, 1999, appearance at the same venue. That ’99 show turned out to be the Whigs’ last public concert anywhere before the group’s recent return on a global reunion tour earlier this year.

As the extended band built upon the swarming buzz of opener “Crime Scene (Part One),” a lot of fans in the audience could relate to Dulli’s excitement for a hometown show, something most for years thought would never happen. They’ve been waiting a lot longer than six months (when the show was announced), though. More like 13 years.

The show kicked off a little after 9 p.m. with Cincy favorites Wussy. The foursome is opening several of the shows on the Whigs’ current U.S. run. Though the group had some sound issues (they clanged away to get levels a little before starting, apologizing and telling the audience they hadn’t gotten a soundcheck), many in the crowd got swept away by the rockers’ ragged, emotive and infectious sound. Though the Cincinnati stop on the tour is obviously the show where the audience would be most familiar with Wussy (many fans around me were dancing and shouting every lyric back as co-frontpeople/singers/guitarists Lisa Walker and Chuck Cleaver switched off vocals), it was fascinating to see that moment on people’s faces when you can tell they’ve been lured in — “Hey, these guys are really good.” It bodes well for the band, which will join Heartless Bastards on tour as soon as the Whigs dates end.

Short on its trademark hilarious banner (a theme for the night, though in Wussy’s case, it was difficult to hear much of anything the members said between songs), Wussy busted through a great set that touched on all four of their studio album releases to date. Like the albums, that created a great “calling card” of a set for potential new fans, as Wussy moved from more emotionally moving, slow swaying songs (like opener “Waiting Room” from last year’s excellent Strawberry and the transcendent “Muscle Cars” from 2009’s self-titled effort) to its often humorous (though still often just as passionate) and punkish upbeat tunes like the uber-catchy “Happiness Bleeds” and the relentless, wired “Pulverized” (another Strawberry track).

The core quartet was rounded out by John Erhardt, a former bandmate of Cleaver’s in The Ass Ponys who added some tasty shading with his pedal steel guitar (unfortunately, his contributions were probably effected most by the weak sound, which often made him inaudible in the mix). Whigs bassist John Curley sat in on a song, putting a jolt into the crowd and leading bassist/multi-instrumentalist Mark Messerly to joke that, while everyone should be excited about the Whigs reuniting, they were now going to be treated to a “Staggering Statistics reunion” (Curley played in that local band with Wussy drummer Joe Klug; SS singer/guitarist Austin Brown was not present, so it was really a 2/3 reunion-ish).

Between sets, the anticipation of Whigs’ fans that could be seen on social media sites since the show was first announced six months ago was becoming palpable. The lights went down, the crowd erupted and The Afghan Whigs took the stage (adorned with a simple red backdrop, reminiscent of the one at the old Southgate House, and a shimmering disco ball) to kick off an hour-and-a-half-plus show that showed that this was far from the same band that performed at Bogart’s 13 years ago.

The Whigs have always been an amazing live band, but the current incarnation was a different kind of amazing — tight, focused and seemingly thrilled to be playing with each other again. Exemplifying the band’s decision to return for a full tour and do things smarter were the mere physiques of Curley and Dulli, who seemed to have recognized the unhealthy trappings of touring and preemptively hit the gym hard so they were ready for them. The always rail-thin original guitarist Rick McCollum was his usual enigmatic self, knocking out his brilliant, snaking leads while practically hidden on the far left of the stage. Though fairly subdued, occasionally McCollum stepped out of the shadows, doing his Jimmy Page-influenced stutter-step stage moves.

The Afghan Whigs were literally a different band than 13 years ago as well. Longtime associate Doug Falsetti was back on percussion and back-up vocals, but there were plenty of new faces — guitarist Dave Rosser and drummer Cully Symington (members of Dulli’s Twilight Singers) plus Rick Nelson, who played cello, violin and keys.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the Whigs that broke up in 1999 and the one that played last night was focus. I personally missed the funny, sometimes baiting banter for which Dulli’s infamous, but it made the show more powerful and fluid just sticking to the songs. The Afghan Whigs proved themselves one of the best live Rock & Roll bands on the planet right now with a no-BS set that hit upon songs from their entire career.

That was another “new thing” — the band’s last Bogart’s show featured no material from the Whigs’ first two SubPop albums (save standard finale “Miles Iz Dead” from Congregation). Last night, the band did “Miles” as the finale again, but also did ferocious versions of Congregation’s “I’m Her Slave” and “Conjure Me” and even “Retarded,” the fiery lead-off track from the 1990 SubPop debut, Up In It.

Instead of the swaggering “gentleman” teasing the crowd and making jokingly arrogant statements between songs, Dulli came off like a master frontman, taking off his guitar for the old R&B cover of “See and Don’t See” and roaming through the crowd, dancing frequently and, most importantly, hitting every note. Dulli has reportedly quit smoking and it has done wonders for his voice. In the past, he’d sometimes gasp for air doing a song like “Conjure Me” or nearly choke on some of the more throatier howls; last night, all cylinders were clicking and he hit all the right notes, including the “Yeah!” yells of “Retarded” (one of the best screams in Rock & Roll), which he's now nailing probably better than he has since the group recorded the song.

The more upbeat material from the Whigs’ swan song, 1965, got the crowd moving even more intensely as the Whigs grooved hard on their distinctive funkiness. And tracks from Gentlemen and Black Love were received like the classics they are, from the ominous “Fountain and Fairfax” and the whip-snap of “Gentleman” to the woozy teetering of “When We Two Parted” (which was given a bigger, sharper reworking), a hard and heavy “My Enemy” and a soaring “Faded,” one of the best “ballads” of the ’90s during which the group paid tribute to one of the best ballads of the ’80s, “Purple Rain.”

The Whigs have always quoted from other songs during their sets (kind of like how a Jazz saxophonist will sneak in various melodies while playing) and last night was no exception. Dulli inserted a touch of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” into “66” (a holdover from their final touring days) and also worked up a snippet of The Emotions’ Disco classic “Best of My Love” as an intro. And during their most recent new song, a great cover of Frank Ocean’s “Lovecrimes,” Dulli (playing keys) segued into “Wicked Games” by Canadian R&B newcomer The Weeknd.

Early on in the set, Dulli thanked Wussy for opening up and remarked on how Cincinnati has always produced a ton of great bands. “Always has, always will,” he added. Those words carry a lot of weight coming from a Cincinnati music icon.

I came away from the show with one thought — “This can’t be it.” Yes, the group is returning for another Bogart’s show on New Year’s Eve, but The Afghan Whigs are better than they’ve ever been right now and, judging from various interviews, all three members are enjoying the experience immensely — why stop now? If they can get through this tour with those good vibes still peaking, why wouldn’t they make a new album and keep it going?

UPDATE: Here's is the full setlist from the Bogart's show Oct. 25 (from setlist.fm):

    1.    Crime Scene, Part One 

    2.    I'm Her Slave 

    3.    Uptown Again 

    4.    What Jail is Like 

    5.    Conjure Me 

    6.    When We Two Parted/Over My Dead Body 
(Drake cover)
    7.    Gentlemen 

    8.    Crazy 

    9.    Best of My Love /66 
(The Emotions cover)
    10.    My Enemy 

    11.    Retarded 

    12.    See and Don't See 
(Marie "Queenie" Lyons cover)
    13.    Lovecrimes /Wicked Games 
(Frank Ocean cover)
    14.    Going to Town 

    15.    Who Do You Love?/Fountain and Fairfax 
(Bo Diddley cover)
    16.    Faded
Encore:
    17.    Miles Iz Ded 

    18.    Into the Floor

 
 

 

 

 
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