• The first time I saw Neko Case was a complete accident. I was in Chicago around the most recent turn of the century and went to see Indie Rock singer/songwriter Edith Frost at the small (but popular) club Lounge Ax and Case and her “Boyfriends,” as her backing band was then called (really Canadian Roots rockers The Sadies), opened the show with a great set. Though I’d heard of Case, seeing her live was revelatory — the singer/songwriter (also part of Canadian Pop collective The New Pornographers) has one of the most soulful, mesmerizing voices in music today and, once I’d heard it, I was hooked for life. Case’s transcendent pipes are only comparable to legends like Patsy Cline (though Jenny Lewis has made quite the solo career aping Case).
Working in a folksy musical realm (though not tethered to any specific style), Case has yet to release a bad album, though her latest for Anti- Records, the recent The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, has received mixed reviews (likely more indicative of a press corps bored with her astonishing consistency than the actual album itself, which is excellent). I’ve seen Case numerous times since that happy accident in Chicago — including dates at Chicago’s Metro and at Newport’s Southgate House — and I’ve never left in any other state besides “spellbound.”
Case comes back to the Cincinnati area tonight for a show at downtown’s Taft Theatre (her largest local appearance yet) with special guest and fellow red-headed singer/songwriter Karen Elson. Tickets are still available for $35 at the door.
Check out Jason Gargano's feature story on Case from this week's CityBeat. Here's the "lyric video" for The Worse Things Get track "Night Still Comes."
• Over the past two decades, Built to Spill has become a legendary cult band, remaining a solid concert draw across the nation and releasing some of the most brilliant guitar-driven Indie Rock albums of the ’90s and ’00s. Led by singer/guitarist Doug Martsch, BtS formed in Boise, Idaho, in the early ’90s, and worked with a lot of Pacific Northwest musical institutions on its way up. In 1995, as the major labels were winding down their signing frenzy in the wake of Nirvana's huge success (signing seemingly every band even loosely associated with the words "Seattle" or "Grunge"), Built to Spill inked with Warner Brothers Records, which has released six stellar albums by the band since 1997, including the crew's masterful debut for the label, Perfect From Now On, and 2009's There is No Enemy, the group's most recent album.
Like label mates The Flaming Lips, BtS has been the rare band that has sold consistently enough to remain signed to a major label for well over a decade thanks to the consistent quality of its work, heavy touring and an incredibly dedicated following. It's refreshing to see a big-time label stay so loyal to a group that will probably never sell a million copies and even more probably won't ever have a big hit single. (Despite rumors, BtS is not breaking up; a new album is in the works and expected by the end of 2014.)
Built to Spill performs tonight at Newport, Ky.'s Southgate House Revival with guests Slam Dunk and Genders. Showtime is 8:30 p.m. and tickets are $25 at the door.
With its first three releases and about a decade worth of live shows across the region, The Frankl Project has honed a sound that has earned notice for its crafty blend of Rock, Pop, Punk and Ska. But the Cincinnati trio’s recent album, Standards, showcases the sound of a band finding its own unique voice and running with it.
While those aforementioned influences are still evident, the group skillfully and more subtly integrates them into something they can completely call its own. What hasn’t changed is that The Frankls (drummer/singer Joseph Frankl, guitarist/singer Jacob Tippey and bassist/singer Paul Schroder) still write excellent songs featuring hooks a plenty and often anthem-ready, spine-tingling choruses. But the variety of the album and the way the trio presents the songs is what makes Standards so magnetic.
Unlike most Pop Rock bands (especially ones that have a “Punk” element or pedigree), The Frankl Project doesn’t try to overload its tracks with giant-sounding guitars that fill every nook and cranny, opting instead to leave lots of space to create a distinctly airy aura. Allowing the tracks to breathe and rise and fall without resorting to predictable dynamics recalls the less-is-more approach that Indie Rock stars Spoon do so well and makes Standards a gripping listening experience. With that sonic elbowroom, the musicians’ intriguing individual parts are more perceptible (Frankl, in particular, is an incredibly musical drummer and his parts — like Tippey’s guitar work — are often captivating) and add to The Frankls’ uniqueness. But the stellar songwriting is still the primary focus.
The album kicks off with “Alive on the Road,” a swaying rocker that soars on the three musicians’ airtight harmonies, while “My Hands” has a rootsy sway that would make Jay Farrar nod along approvingly. After a string of heart-swelling, evocative Pop songs, the band throws in a few curves, like the jazzy but intense “Heart Shapes & Hand Grenades,” the quirky but still resonant Indie Pop gem “Find Your Way,” the ghostly, slow-burning “Chai Bones” and the album’s most rocking track, “The Ottoman.”
If Weezer, Bad Veins, Ben Folds Five, Sunny Day Real Estate and Band of Horses every decided to make an album together and hired a producer with expert knowledge on how to utilize atmosphere as another instrument (like Joe Henry, Brian Eno or Daniel Lanois), it might sound like an unfocused patchwork of lazy, hazy Pop. But, if they (and you) were lucky, it would sound more like The Frankl Project’s impressively creative Standards.
Visit thefranklproject.com for more about Standards and The Frankl Project.
Ohio Dream Pop/Rock group strangewave performs tonight at The Comet in Northside. J. Trenton Crace and Katrina Eresman formed the compelling group in Dayton not long ago and released their ear-grabbing full-length debut, Pop Noir, earlier this year. It's a fantastic first effort full of hypnotic songs that hover in the same realm as classic Shoegaze, Mazzy Star, Blonde Redhead and Lush, with the diversity from track to track keeping the listener drawn in and mesmerized from start to finish. The twosome is joined by a drummer and bassist for live shows.
Opening the free show at 10 p.m. is Seattle Indie Rock/Soul trio Garage Voice, which claims heavy influence from Gospel music and Memphis Soul and has a Garage Rock spirit, thought its songs are far less derivative and predictable that most other groups given that tag. The soulful sounds of the band — which are laced with cool Hammond Organ stabs, soundscapes and grooves — have something of an atmospheric Psych Pop vibe at times (making them a good fit with strangewave), but ignite into dirty Blues and Rock & Roll outbursts with little to no notice.
Get a taste of Garage Voice's latest album, Amenin, below.
At the heart of even the darkest of music, it’s love that made it possible. Love of singing or escapism. Love of an instrument or a sound. A flourishing love or a dissipating love. That love is especially present in absolutely everything Abigail Washburn does. It’s a love for the banjo, a love for China and a love of people, especially her husband, Bela Fleck, and (most recently) their adorable new son, Juno.
Washburn is currently on tour (playing Miami University Middletown Saturday; click here for tickets and more info) and she’s bringing all the things she loves with her, including her husband and baby Juno. Though Washburn and her banjo rarely tour alone, it’s a little different now that she’s touring with Juno.
“Touring is different with the little buddy. Different in a good way,” Washburn says. “In general I'd say life is richer with him in it. When we arrive at a venue, the first thing I do is grab our blanket and go looking for a big tree to lay under and stare up at the leaves and when we walk around the venue for the first time he has such strong and wondrous reactions to the smallest things. Juno helps me stop and appreciate every little detail of the way the world works. He makes it all seem new and magical.”
As adorable as the mother and son relationship seems, when Washburn references her time with Fleck, even more of that love seeps through. They have a relationship with each other and with their music that seems downright precious and magical in comparison to so many other relationships in the music business.
“We met when he was playing at a square dance and I was dancing,” Washburn says. “But I think it's our sense of place in the world and our passion to contribute to music and humanity that really sealed our deal. We love talking and supporting one another and encouraging one another to reach further and further. This is the cornerstone of our connection and the fact that we push each other to explore is what keeps us together.”
There’s still one more kind of love that fuels Washburn, though. Washburn is also whole-heartedly in love with China, too. It’s a passion that roars to life when she performs, especially.
For fans of Bela Fleck or the banjo who have somehow missed the beautiful stylings of Abigail Washburn, that love of China may seem a little odd. The banjo came from Africa and from there became mostly associated with the musical sounds of Appalachia. So … China?
It started when Washburn left the states after college, heading to China and intent on a law degree. Along the way, she picked up Mandarin and found a cool new way to play her banjo. While her future husband was tracing the banjo’s roots in Africa for Throw Down Your Heart, Washburn was bringing the East to Appalachia … or maybe she was bringing Appalachia to the East.
The connection of romanticism and adventure associated with a foreign land never faded for Washburn, even after numerous trips back to China. That passion has only grown with each new adventure in her other motherland. She’s even documented that love in a play she wrote and performed in New York called Post-American Girl.
“I think it is fair to say that it's like a love triangle between 'us' three … The US and China corners of the triangle are symbolically represented by my U.S. and Chinese mothers in the play,” she says. “A strong theme of going far away to find one's self and discover one's path in life is a big part of the struggle and the ultimate bond connecting all sides.”
Post-American Girl had a limited run in New York. However, with the help of the New York Public Theater, Washburn is hoping to develop the performance further. The hope is that eventually, it might actually tour the U.S.
Washburn still loves China and especially loves watching as others experience the country for the first time. In 2011, she set out on the Silk Road Tour with a few musician friends. Together they played music and experienced even more of China together. (You can see recaps of the tour here.)
While you can experience plenty of Washburn’s Chinese influence when listening to her music and seeing her in person, this current tour is powered almost exclusively on the love of her family and the music they can create together.
“I think both Bela and I are really enjoying playing music together,” she says about their family tour. “There's so much potential and uncovered territory in focusing on the soundscapes that can be made with the claw hammer and three-finger banjo styles. The two timbres and rolls together can sound like rippling flowing water or a swinging old ragtime bounce or driving mountain sounds and so on and on. The musical exploration together is exciting for both of us. And then on a personal level it's downright mystical to get to be together all the time and navigate the road and performing as a family.”
For even more awesome music, check out the music Washburn says “floats little Juno’s boat” like Dervish, Phil Cunningham, Paul Brady, Afel Bolcum, Oumou Sangare and Sam Amidon. She says he also likes a little bit of Bon Iver and Bonnie Raitt, too.
But, Washburn says, “So far I think banjo is his favorite!”
Front man Honus Honus (Ryan Kattner) dazzled as he frantically played the keys — often times with his foot, even — and sang with his customary raspy fervor. He was a shape-shifter extraordinaire, transforming from normal dude to circus ringmaster of sorts to alien. His manic wardrobe changes were anticipated, as it is basically a Honus trademark. The rest of the band — Pow Pow, T. Moth, Brown Sugar, Shono Murphy, as well as talented opening artist Xenia Rubinos — likewise entertained with lots of dancing and instrumental finesse. All of this is pretty formulaic for Man Man.
However, it’s not every day that the audience at a concert gets to share the stage with the band itself. The show took place in the “black box” space of the Wex’s vast Mershon auditorium that seats nearly 2,500 people. Guests stood on the stage, which was blocked off from the rest of the auditorium, to watch the show in an intimate, tight-knit setting — ideal for moshing and the like.
Unfortunately, the concession at show was lacking. There were $1 waters and pops available but no booze, which perhaps explained why there was little to no moshing. Although highly energetic crowds and moshing are routine at Man Man concerts, the Columbus show was just as fun without the raucousness. It had more of a respectful “in awe” type crowd, which fit nicely with the band’s attempt at adopting a more mature and refined sound with their new album.
Man Man kicked off their set list with “Oni Swan” and “Pink Wonton,” the first and second tracks off of their recently released album, On Oni Pond. “Oni Swan” is a brief instrumental opener for the catchy and vibrant “Pink Wonton,” which critics claim most closely embodies Man Man’s previous musical style.
On Oni Pond was the focal point of the show and this was made evident by the backdrop that showcased the album art courtesy of artist Andrea Wan. The band affectionately played tracks such as the sultry “Paul’s Grotesque,” the boisterous “Loot My Body,” their more relaxed and heartfelt single “Head On,” “King Shiv” and “Born Tight.” It was apparent that Man Man embraces its newer, mellower sound, which has a focus on bona fide lyricism rather than sheer eccentricity.
The band also made sure to satisfy diehard fans of their previous albums Life Fantastic, Rabbit Habits, Six Demon Bag and The Man In A Blue Turban With A Face by playing hits such as “Zebra,” Piranhas Club,” “Mister Jung Stuffed,” “Hurly / Burly,” “Doo Right,” “Push the Eagle’s Stomach” and others.
Despite the new direction of On Oni Pond, the overall eccentricity of Man Man was not lost during the concert. In fact, the band upped the ante in this aspect. Honus came out in a sparkly hooded cloak during “Haute Tropique,” a song about a serial killer, and proceeded to fling confetti onto the audience. He did this as he sang, “Oh here's a story of a lovely lady / Who had three daughters who drove her fucking crazy / She hacked ‘em up with an old machete / And threw a party with dead daughter confetti.” Grotesque has never been so fun and glittery.
I have to admit that the best part of the show was the extended encore, during which Honus came out in an Anderson Cooper shirt that my sister just so happened to airbrush for him. “I love it. Maybe I’ll actually give it to Anderson,” he said to her before the show, when she presented it to him. (Yes, my sister and Honus are acquainted and yes, I am totes jealous.) Honus had a cameo on Anderson Cooper 360° in September in regard to Man Man’s Wolf Blitzer-themed song, “End Boss.” He appeared on the segment in a bad ass tunic with Wolf’s face plastered all over it and, hey, it got Anderson’s attention. What more could one want?
So Honus came out for the encore in the Anderson shirt and proceeded to perform four very popular fan favorites from older albums — “Steak Knives,” “Van Helsing Boom Box,” “Engrish Bwudd” and “Young Einstein on the Beach.” The first two songs were melancholic and heartfelt, playing on the emotions of the audience. The latter two were crowd-pumping, face-melting tracks that completely changed the atmosphere from somber to vivacious, ending the show on a high note.
Even without the booze, Man Man was one hell of a party and a band that is worth every dollar to see live.
• Originating in Michigan and now based in the Pacific Northwest, Punk Rock trio The Spits pattern "their own new-millennial take on Punk after heroes like NOFX and The Ramones, but also tapping into the ‘70s Synth Wave dissonance that distinguished bands like Wire and Spizzenergi and presenting a theatrical component as engaging as Devo in their prime," according to CityBeat's Brian Baker. Read Brian's preview here then head to Mayday in Northside tonight for the 9 p.m. show. Admission is $10 and Useless Eaters and Subsets open.
Here's the band rocking San Francisco this spring.
• The annual Bosom Ball presented by local Pop radio station Q102 returns to Covington's Madison Theater tonight. The event, a benefit for the American Cancer Society and the Susan G. Komen Foundation, this year features ZZ Ward, Labrinth, American Authors, Serena Ryder and Walk Off the Earth. Doors open at 6 p.m. (there is also an all-ages "Sound Check Party" with American Authors that runs 4-5 p.m.; the Bosom Ball is open to ages 21 and up only). Admission is $30. Click here for more info and check out a few of the performers below.
• The Jubilee Peace Fest celebrates its fifth anniversary this year, returning to the Grailville Retreat and Organic Farm in Loveland, Ohio, starting today and going through Sunday. The fest — which runs 6 a.m.-10 p.m. each day — features “yoga workshops, meditation practices, cooking classes, health and fitness seminars, spiritual activism … kirtan and more, with national (and) internationally known teachers, musicians, authors, artists and chefs unfolding the path to world peace,” according to the official event page on Facebook. The festival is organized in conjunction with the non-profit World Peace Earth, whose mission is “educating, encouraging, researching and promoting a loving lifestyle to create a virtuous, kind, gentle, respectful and spiritual relationship between all beings and the earth, contributing to world peace.”
You’d be forgiven for thinking the musical lineup is all soft New Age music but, while that is represented, the Peace Fest boasts a surprisingly eclectic collection of performers, playing everything from Hip Hop and Rock to Experimental and World music. Sticman of one of best contemporary Hip Hop groups around, Dead Prez, is one of the big names performing, joining acts like Canadian “Neo-Folk World Rock ‘Country & Eastern’ Fusion” troupe HuDost, Rock band ThePeace, popular Hip Hop collaborator (and organic gardening proponent) DJ Cavem and Cincinnati native Amy Ferguson. Visit jubileepeacefest.com for a full rundown of the fest’s offerings and here for ticketing info.
DJ Cavem's Healthy Hop:
• The international Red Bull Thre3Style DJ competition returns to the area this week with a slight twist. Tonight at downtown nightclub Play, five DJs from area colleges will compete as part of the Thre3Style U competition, which is open to only full-time college student DJs. The competing turntablists are University of Cincinnati’s DJ HD and DJ EFEX, Northern Kentucky University’s DJ Underground, University of Dayton’s DJ Web and Miami University’s DJ Gabe C. Former Red Bull Thre3Style victor Apryl Reign and Kiss 107 FM’s DJ Sab are among the judges. The event is free and kicks off at 10 p.m. (Note: Play has some pretty strict dress restrictions.)
• Bogart's in Corryville presents a night of Electronic Dance music, headed up by Boulder, Colorado's Big Gigantic, the duo of Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken, who've built a huge following with their unique "Livetronica" stylings. New Zealand native (now based in Australia) and funky DJ up-and-comer Opiuo opens the show at 9 p.m.
The local music scene lost one of its veteran players this past weekend. Larry Malott — also a veteran of the Vietnam War — suffered a brain aneurysm last Wednesday from which he never recovered.
A gifted bassist, Malott (who was 65) was the low-end anchor of hard-working, popular local Blues band Them Bones. Along with regular gigs with the group around town (and beyond — the band has toured in Europe and represented Cincinnati at 2010's International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., placing an impressive third overall), Malott and Them Bones were also the anchor of the long-running Sunday night Blues jams at Newport club, Mansion Hill Tavern, hosting the weekly event since 2001. Many local musicians gathered this past Sunday at the open jam to pay their respects to Malott. Judging by the outpouring of grief and appreciation on social media the past few days, Malott was not only a great bass player and dedicated Blues supporter, he was also something of a mentor to other local musicians and incredibly supportive of his fellow artists.
Visit Malott's Facebook page to leave a message for his family and for info on upcoming funeral services (a public tribute appears to also be in the works). His family is asking that, in lieu of flowers, supporters make a donation to their favorite charity and/or one of the following ones — Sophie's Angel Run, Cincinnati Shriners Burns Hospital, Down Syndrome Association and/or Blues in the Schools.
Great Cincinnati-based experimental Jazz/Hip Hop group IsWhat?! is gearing up for another one of its frequent European touring jaunts, but before the group leaves, the members will be presenting a night of film, art, poetry and, of course, music, this Friday at The Greenwich in Walnut Hills, all curated by and/or affiliated with IsWhat?! in some way.
The animated short film Billie’s Blues, created by French artist Louis Jean Gorry and scored by IsWhat?! frontman Napoleon Maddox, will get its U.S. premiere at the event. Here's the trailer:
Here's IsWhat!?'s music video for "Hands Up Quick" (featuring a guest verse from Boogie Bang) off of the group's most recent release, Things That Go Bump in the Dark.
Justin Hayward-Young stole my soul.
When The Vaccines stormed onstage at the LC Pavilion on Oct. 3 to open for Phoenix, they rained a holy hell of guitar and vocals down upon their fans. And the people drowned in their own admiration for the band. Why? I firmly believe that The Vaccines are what Rock should be but hasn’t been for a long time. They don’t look like professors, duck their heads nervously at cheers or aim to take over a singing contest. They’re grungy — even sloppy at times — and they know how to be (or at least try to be) Rock Stars.
Hayward-Young has an overwhelming stage presence. Every move he makes seems to beg for attention and yet it all seems so visceral and unplanned. There’s nothing staged about his guttural cries or his playful cuddling of a frantic sound-tech. As hot as any guy is with a guitar hanging around his body, he is best when he’s instrument-free and unrestrained. Untethered from an amp, he’s loose and limber with flailing legs and arms and a floppy, flying head of hair. His actions are reminiscent of Rock Gods, his looks are the epitome of Grunge, his music oozes Punk spirit. And his voice? Dear God.
The Vaccines touched me. I felt it. Not in the blurred lines of Robin Thicke kind of way or in the Holy Ghost-spiritually-moved me way. I felt Hayward-Young’s baritone in my ears, my chest, my gut. I felt the band’s silly "Oo"-ing in my lips when I puckered up and cooed along. I felt the thrust of guitar in my hips and my feet when I realized I was dancing against (and perhaps inadvertently humping) the barricade.
I am still breathless. I am still sweaty. I may have bounced in my seat all the way home from Columbus.
That said, please do not write-off this enthusiasm as fan-girling and something to ignore. The Vaccines have been on my radar for a few years now and I’ve liked them well enough. Without a doubt, though, they are the kind of band that warrants seeing live. They bring an atmosphere with them that one must take part in to truly appreciate The Vaccines’ style. No one can say Nirvana or The Clash were better on an album than at a gig. Rock music isn’t meant for stereos or car rides. Sure, CDs (shut up, audiophiles) can help or create a mood. However, the live atmosphere greatly improves Rock … especially the grungy, Punk-infused Rock made by The Vaccines.
It’s all so good, so enchanting, so consuming and overpowering when you hear it live. When it came crashing to an end, I swear I could feel the vacant spot where my heart had once been. They’ve carried it off to wherever they’re going next.
Luckily, I didn’t need my heart to have a good time with Phoenix.
You know how there are “break-up songs” but then there are also completely normal songs that you can no longer emotionally stand to listen to anymore? I think the same happens with bands. Sometimes a break-up or bad era in your life can ruin a band in the future.
The guy who introduced me to Phoenix blackened my heart. By that I mean he ended things in such an awful way I ended up too mad to be broken-hearted. He ruined a couple bands for me.
But Phoenix is much too good for that. They’re better than any relationship, almost as good as sex. I already knew this. Their concert, though, solidified everything. Phoenix kicks exes in the groin, fills voids with bright, colorful lights and pounding beats and sends jilted lovers dancing in circles with middle fingers in the air. Lead singer Thomas Mars says you must “dansez” and dance you will.
LC Pavilion is far from a big venue and Phoenix could have easily gotten away with the bare minimum of flash. Apparently, the Parisians believe in the “go big or go home motto,” though, because they went all out. From the stories-high video screen behind them to the perfect (PERFECT) lighting sequences and color tones, they turned their music into an entire show, set a different atmosphere for every song and seemed just as into the mood they’d created as the thousands of fans screaming their heads off and dancing away their worries.
They put out energy and received it right back from their fans. It was utterly refreshing to watch as the six guys of Phoenix eat up the attention and love with shit-eating grins on their faces, dance around like twitching maniacs and seem genuinely happy that America has finally caught onto them. They might have the set design of a band like Muse or Coldplay, but they lack the ego. They know just how cool and remarkable it is for such average guys to make a whole room of people go wild with their far-from-average music.
They get even better, too. Despite all the bright lights and flash, they still found ways to connect with the crowd. Namely by throwing Mars into the thick of it. First, he stood at the barricade, singing his soul out while fans petted his every inch and tousled his hair. Later, during what had to have been the longest and best encore ever, he sat down on the barricade and sang a slower song. The next thing the audience knew, he was pushing his way to the back of the room, up onto the LC Pavilion’s slightly elevated mezzanine area and then working his way across to the other side. For a while, all I could see was the reddish-orange mic cord rolling ever closer to me. Then I touched Thomas Mars when he passed beside me. (However, I said, “Thanks” instead of “Merci.” Je le regrette.)
The night ended with Mars and Co. pulling a few dozen fans onto stage to dance and shake through the last few lines of the song. And then they were gone.
And I was gone. The Vaccines stole my heart and Phoenix turned my body into a damp nothingness. I was ready to drive to Nashville and do it all over again the next day. Sadly, it was sold out. Good, though. They deserve it.