Opening Cincinnati's summer concert season is always a difficult duty. A constantly fickle city in terms of their live music, Cincinnati crowds demand constant excitement and stroking from the band they are witnessing. Well, then what better band to choose for this tedious task than Kings of Leon?
A couple of weeks ago, I finally got to check out the muched-buzzed about band The Tillers, nominated for a Cincinnati Entertainment Award in the Folk/Americana category. Playing in the Southgate House's "lounge" room, the trio (playing stand-up bass, guitar, banjo and more) huddled around a single, vintage-looking, multi-directional mic and delivered their sweet, accomplished spin on traditional Folk, Country, Gospel and Blues.
We told you a few weeks back about the lineup for the MidPoint Indie Summer concert series on Fountain Square, featuring numerous (primarily local) Indie and Rock acts every Friday this summer from 7-11 p.m. Click here for the full rundown.
But there are many other popular themed nights returning this summer to both Fountain Square and Washington Park, which re-opened after a major makeover in time to introduce live music nights last summer for the first time. (Both spots are managed by the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC).
Fountain Square's PNC Summer Music Series will have live music five days a week, while Washington Park will host three themed music nights this summer. All events are free and a great way to enjoy our city's central districts. The concerts begin at the end of May/start of June and run through the end of August/start of September. Be sure to check the official websites of both venues for any updates, additions or cancellations.
• Every Tuesday from 7-9 p.m., the Square presents "American Roots" night. This year, the lineup is the strongest its been, showcasing the best of Greater Cincinnati's rich Roots/Americana scene (as well as a few regional faves).
• Reggae Wednesdays return to the Square this summer, with wider-net bookings that include numerous regional and touring Reggae acts. Music runs every night from 6-10 p.m. and acts are teamed up with a DJ or DJ squad for each event.
Summer Splash Happy Hour with I Vibez
Summer Splash Happy Hour with I Vibez
Summer Splash Happy Hour with I Vibez
• Salsa dancers and music lovers will be happy to know that Salsa on the Square is returning this summer on Thursdays, running 7-10 p.m. As always, dance instructors will be on hand to give you pointers (if you need 'em). Music is provided primarily by some of Greater Cincinnati's finest Salsa/Latin music groups.
May 30: Son Del Caribe
June 6: Kandela
June 13: Zumba
June 20: Tropicoso
June 27: Grupo Tumbao
July 4: Clave’ Son
July 11: Kandela
July 18: Tropiscoso
uly 25: Grupo Tumbao
August 1: Zumba
August 8: Azucar Tumbao
August 15: Clave’ Son
August 22: Brian Andres & the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel
August 29: Son Del Caribe
• Before MidPoint Indie Summer on Fridays, local club/bar conglomerate 4EG (which operates several nightclubs in the area) will present 4EG Happy Hour from 5-7 p.m. Local DJs will spin every Friday (except for Aug. 2, when local cover band Snidely Whiplash performs).
DJ Ice Cold Tony
DJ Jake the Ripper
DJ Jesse the Ripper
DJ Tina T
DJ Will Kill
• One of the most popular nights on the Square during the summer is Saturdays' "Beats" night, booked by local promoter Self Diploma. The concerts run 7-10 p.m. and again feature an impressive mix of local and touring Hip Hop, Electronic and DJ acts. Among the national act highlights this year are Mod Sun, Hoodie Allen, Watch the Duck and DJ Jazzy Jeff.
After a successful inaugural summer of events last year, Washington Park brings back three music nights, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, plus several other entertainment offerings, including "Dancing Under the Stars," an every-Tuesday dance night, with lessons that focus on different types of dancing each week. (Click below for the concert lineups.)
Tim Wilson is a comedian and singer/songwriter who represents Southern culture and lifestyle with his songs and stand-up. He is often featured on national telecasts of the syndicated radio shows The Bob and Tom Show and the John Boy and Billy Morning Show and Wilson has also been appeared on many of the late-night talk shows. With a dozen comedy albums featuring his original songs, Wilson has found crossover success on both the comedy and Country music charts.
CityBeat caught up with Wilson by phone to preview his appearance in Cincinnati and discuss southern roots in comedy and the assimilation of music into his comedy. Catch him performing live Saturday night at the Taft Theatre with Patti Vasquez (ticket info here).
Music Tonight: Just four short years ago, Marbin — performing tonight at The Greenwich in Walnut Hills — came together in Israel when two musicians met just when both were in coming-of-age “crossroads” periods in their lives. Israeli saxophonist Danny Markovitz had just completed his military service (he was an infantry sergeant) when he met Israeli-American guitarist Dani Rabin, who had also just been through a rigorous experience, graduating with a degree from The Berklee College of Music. In 2008, the Marbin duo re-situated themselves in the U.S., landing in Chicago. Since then, the work hasn’t stopped, as Marbin spends around 250 days a year performing (in the Windy City region and across the States).
Rise Against is the epitome of Punk Rock in this era. They are as far from the status quo from society as bands get, yet record for a major label. Part of the group's mission is to promote progressive issues, both socially and politically. Rise Against recently released its sixth album, Endgame, which features the hit single “Make It Stop” (the video for which was nominated for a MTV Video Music Award last year).
CityBeat spoke with bassist and original member Joe Prinicipe in anticipation for their upcoming show in Cincinnati. They discussed the bands writing process and how they incorporated their socially active direction in their music. Rise Against will be opening Riverbend's PNC Pavilion for the summer this Saturday. A Day to Remember and Title Fight also perform.
CityBeat: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. I know you are one of the original band members. You guys have been out on it for about 13 years from when you started. Where do you see yourself in 13 more years?
Joe Prinicipe: It’s hard to say with this business but I would say definitely still involved with writing music and performing. Rise Against has no intentions of breaking up. We would like to follow the same career paths as bands like Bad Religion and Social D that are going on 25 or 30 years and are still making relevant music. I hope that’s where I end up.
CB: I saw you last year with the Foo Fighters when you opened up in Columbus. I was wondering if there were any fun and crazy Foo Fighter stories on tour.
JP: It was pretty awesome when there were a group of protesters, I think we were in St. Louis, maybe it was Kansas City, and they were protesting the Foo Fighter show because they did that funny promo video where they were showering together. So this group came out, this very homophobic religious group. They were protesting and the Foo Fighters came out (before the show) dressed provocatively and they were out on a flat bed truck and performed and tried to play as loud as they could to overshadow, overpower the protestors. It totally worked and it was awesome.
CB: They seem fun to be around in general and don’t take it too seriously.
JP: Totally and they are all about enjoying what they have because being on the road and being away from your family is hard enough so you might as well make the most of it.
CB: Your music has been called protest music in the past by the Chicago Tribune and I just wanted to ask about your process to write lyrics around a cause. How do you choose a cause to support and then develop a song around it?
JP: (Singer/guitarist) Tim (McIlrath) writes all the lyrics and the process is very simple. He is just writing what he feels for that day. He writes from a personal perspective on life in general. That’s why our records are not just political, there are socially aware topics, there are environmental issues, there are songs about relationships and how hard it is to be away from our families when we are traveling. We always write music first and he will hear the tone that the music sets and he has a journal, and he will flip through the journal and see if something fits and if not he will write what he thinks will fit the music and that is how it has always been the last 12 years.
CB: Were you guys influenced at an early age or did something happen to you that kind of made you take your music toward this activism tone or did you have a kind of defining moment?
JP: No, it’s just seeing punk rock music. It’s just the nature of punk rock that seems formed as a reaction to the glam era of the 70’s. It’s just a reaction to that so it’s always been about that. It’s all we know. It was something that we didn’t even discuss. It was just kind of a given the direction of Rise Against was going to be that and we are kind of carrying that torch. Bands like Minor Threat and the Bad Brains were definitely singing for change whether it was singing against homophobia or social issues, but that’s kind of what the unspoken goal that the band has always had.
CB: What is the biggest way your music has been able to make a difference or make a change?
JP: I would say the effect that “Make it Stop” has had on young kids. Kids in high school trying to get through it all. We have gotten so many e-mails that the song is helping them through the hardest time of their life and that is incredibly rewarding. I would say “Make it Stop” stands out as that.
CB: Your new album came out last year in the spring. Do you have any new music in the works?
JP: No, we still have a whole year of touring on Endgame. I think I always have song ideas in the back of my head and so does Tim. It’s kind of an ongoing thing anyway. We won’t actually have anything, officially new until the end of 2013.
CB: Do you have any crazy Cincinnati stories from the past or any fond memories?
JP: Not really. Cincinnati is Bogart's, right?
CB: It’s Bogart's and this time you are at Riverbend which is outside.
JP: That’s right. The only thing I recall is from Zach our guitar player. His old band played Bogart's and someone was shot like 20 feet away from him. That’s really it.
CB: I think you are in a little safer place by the river this time. I have this new game and it’s a table game with quirky questions and people just give their first thoughts around it, so I have been experimenting with this a little and I have three questions from this game for you. The first question is what skill do you possess that most people don’t know about?
JP: Let’s see, nothing hidden, although I am a complete coffee snob and I have an espresso machine at my house and I take that very seriously. It has to be perfect. I have to time all my espresso shots as they come out of the machine. So I guess that.
CB: So you make the perfect espresso, that’s your hidden talent.
CB: What is under your bed?
JP: Actually nothing because my wife is a neat freak so nothing can be on the floor.
CB: If you are on the bus it is somebody else sleeping under the bed in the bunk.
JP: As far as the bus goes, our tour manager is usually in the bunk below me so I have him snoring …
CB: What song would you pick to sing karaoke?
JP: I’m really bad at karaoke, oddly enough.
CB: You don’t have to be good. I don’t think that’s the purpose of karaoke.
JP: That’s true. I don’t know maybe something from ’80s Pop like the Go-Gos or Duran Duran.
CB: What can the fans expect from the show in Cincinnati?
JP: Just high energy, just come and sing with us and have a good time. It is all about interacting with our fans and just everyone singing along. We are all there for the same reason. It is a good way to let off some steam from the week prior. Just come out and have a good time.
In the last year, Alice Cooper could be seen everywhere from special guesting on stage with Vince Gill to rocking out with Rob Zombie. This past weekend he even popped up singing Lady Gaga at Bonnaroo.
Cooper can do anything in music, entertain every audience, and still be cutting edge enough to be a premier name in music after almost 50 years in the business, countless awards and nominations and 36 albums. He shows no signs of slowing down and he is set to continue his monumental career as his band goes on the road with Iron Maiden this summer and fall.
CityBeat was privileged to speak with the legend to preview his upcoming show near Dayton before he hits the road with Iron Maiden. He spoke about longevity and told of the more bizarre stories of being a tenant in the Queen City. Alice Cooper performs at the Fraze Pavilion in Kettering this Wednesday.
CityBeat: Your show in Dayton is coming up.
Alice Cooper: Yes, we start this tour in June with Iron Maiden. We will be out there as their guest star on the show, their guests, so that’s an hour show. The show we are doing there in Dayton is our regular show which will be a full out Alice Cooper show.
CB: I am actually a photographer and I’ve photographed you many times. You are one of my favorite artists to shoot.
AC: Well we give photographers a lot to shoot. If you are going to go all that trouble to do all that theatrics and really coordinate the show like that, then I want to see lots of shots. I love seeing different angles, people will hand me an envelope full of pictures and I will go, “That’s a great shot. That’s a great shot.” And it gives me a different perspective of what the show looks like because we only see it from the stage. We never see it from the audience point of view.
CB: I have interviewed many of your past guitarists, Jason Hook and Al Pitrelli and people that have toured with you and everybody always has spectacular things to say about you as a mentor and just to be around. One of my questions is how do you choose band members on your tours now?
AC: Honestly, I am very instinctive about guitar players. Of course the guitar players are the gunslingers. They are the guys that you can sit and listen to and go, "When I quit singing, I want to hear something take over," and it better be a guitar that can take over what I’m doing when I step back, I want that guitar player to step up. So getting a Damon Johnson, when we first got Damon, every guitar player wants to stand back a little bit and I say, “No, no, no, when it is your solo, you take two steps forward into the light and let it go.”
A lot of times lead singers don’t want their lead guitar player to share the limelight. I want everybody in that band to have their moment on stage where they are the star. So when you get (young Australian guitarist) Orianthi, who is a natural, she is a natural star up there. I mean the girl is such a great player.
CB: Is she going to be with you?
AC: Yes, I mean she is such a great character for a Alice Cooper show. And you get Ryan Roxie on this tour and Ryan is a show unto himself. He has his own production going on over there which I really like because he really brings it every night. And Tommy, who I have in the middle as a rhythm guitar player, has got his own show going on. It’s great to get guys to come out of their shells and just when you get on stage be a rock star. I don’t want you to be a sideman.
CB: Again, it’s always been amazing to talk to all these people who have worked with you over the years and I know they appreciate it as well.
AC: I think it is because I let them play. I want you to play. When it is your turn to play, I want you to be Eric Clapton, I want you to be Jeff Beck, I want you to be the guy and sometimes it takes a little bit of getting used to. These guys are not used to being the center of attention, they are used to being the guys that stand in the background and play.
Sometimes it’s hard for Johnny Depp, when Johnny plays with us, I kind of have to push him forward a little bit because he likes to hang back a little bit.
CB: We are in Cincinnati. Can you tell me what your craziest Cincinnati story is from your past?
AC: I have the best Cincinnati story you have ever heard. This is a true story. We finally left L.A. We decided we had to move some place out of L.A., out of New York, some place in the Midwest. So we go to Cincinnati and we play this show there and we get a standing ovation. We decided the first standing ovation we get, that is where we are going to move.
So we played in Cincinnati and got a standing ovation, I think it may have been after the Cincinnati Pop Festival, the one we did with Iggy (Pop and The Stooges), and we found this area down by the college. It was this big, beautiful house for rent. So we came in and rented this house at the beginning of summer, and we went in and painted it and did everything like that.
For three months we lived there until in September, all of a sudden, there was a knock at the door, we walked outside and there were 10 guys that are football players and they are going “What are you doing at our house?” And I said, “What are you talking about? We rented this house indefinitely.” And the guy goes, “This is our frat house. I don’t know who rented this to you but they didn’t own the house. You are paying rent to someone that doesn’t even own the house.”
Some guy rented us a frat house and he didn’t even own it. He just walked in and put up a "For Rent" sign because nobody was there and we just assumed he just owned the house. So for these guys, it was kind of cool to them that Alice Cooper was living in their house, but we had to leave because it was their frat house.
CB: So did you pick another city or did you hang around town?
AC: We moved to Detroit then but it was really funny because we really thought Cincinnati was where we were going to live and then we got ejected by the frat house.
CB: I guess it could have worked out a lot different. You could still be in our hometown. You have spoken openly the last few years that you have become a Christian and about your Christian beliefs. Did that change how you put your show together?
AC: I think what it is, you do a certain amount of your own, not censoring, but you start shaping the show whereas there may be a couple of songs that I used to do that, now when I sing those songs, I don’t believe that anymore. So, it is hard for me to sing that.
It hasn’t been any big hits, “School’s Out”, “18”, “Billion Dollar Babies”, all those songs have nothing to do with Christianity or nothing to do with something that I couldn’t sing as a Christian. Most of it is social satire anyway, but there are a few songs that I looked at and I went, “You know what, I don’t believe that anymore,” so I am going to stay away from that show.
I am just being true to myself to be honest with you. It really hasn’t affected how I do my stage show because I don’t believe Alice was promoting anything that was anti-Christian. We were like a musical horror movie and I think if people took Alice Copper as entertainment, as pure entertainment, there is certainly a dark side to my sense of humor but I don’t think there has ever been anything in there that was, that any Christian couldn’t see and have fun with.
CB: It’s all in good fun. It’s all perspective.
AC: Yeah, and I think if you look at it as a social satire, I am fine with it. I don’t really have a problem with that. I am still very involved, I read twice a day, I have two different times of devotional for myself. I hope and I try not to just be a Christian in “Oh, I’m a Christian.” I try to live that life. It is a one-on-one relationship with Christ so I really try to keep that as my lifestyle. In other words, you aren’t ever going to see me at the strip club after a show.
CB: I know you gave up drugs and alcohol a long time ago for good reasons. Is there still ever a struggle on the road to stay sober?
AC: No, never has been. I was literally healed from that. People say you are cured, I say no, it was much different. I never went to AA. I never had to do any of that. I came out of a hospital and it was gone. It was gone as if I had cancer and cancer was gone the next day. It was totally taken away from me. I never had a struggle with alcohol. When I came out of the hospital, I was absolutely straight as an arrow. I never had a desire or a craving for alcohol which even the doctors say is weird. I know because I have a lot of friends that are in AA and they struggle with it all the time. They say, “How do you do it?” and I say “I am not an alcoholic anymore. I was one but I am not anymore.” I wouldn’t challenge myself. In other words, I wouldn’t sit around and say, “Well I think I will take a drink of beer.” Because I know that could be a trigger that takes me back to where I was. So I won’t even approach that, but at the same time I don’t have any desire to do that.
CB: Well, my Mom saw you in 1974 and she still talks about it today as I go shoot your shows. It was one of her memorable experiences with you and some chickens in Nashville at Memorial Coliseum…
AC: Well the music hasn’t changed much since the ‘70s to now, if you look at the bands that are still out there — Aerosmith, Ozzy, Alice, Thin Lizzy — we are all still playing the same kind of music. I think it is funny that 16, 17, 18 year old kids are more into Classic Rock than they are into modern Rock so I think there is a large audience for us that has never seen us. One of the reasons we are playing the Iron Maiden tour is because I don’t think the Iron Maiden audience has ever seen Alice Cooper so I want to expose them to Alice Cooper.
CB: Has touring for you changed from now to then?
AC: It’s a lot easier now. When you are physically in better shape and you are mentally and spiritually in better shape, (my wife) Sheryl and I have been together for 36 years, and I never been happier in my life. My kids are great. All my ducks are in a row. Physically, I am healthy. Touring is easy then. Physically, it is a workout and you have to get used to traveling and you have to get used to being away from your family a lot even though now my family can travel with me any time they want to. My wife will go out for three weeks then go home for a week and come back out for two or three weeks. So, touring to me is easy.
CB: You spoke about music now and what people are listening to. Are there any current bands you listen to these days?
AC: I wish there was — my pet peeve right now is that 80-90% of the modern Rock bands are just testosterone-free. I am listening to these bands and going, "Where is the spark? Where is the fire?" These bands are whining like crazy. I hear these bands and go, "What is wrong with these guys?" And then I look at a picture of the band and I could go into a mall and pick any five guys, it’s like they are trying not to be rock stars. They just want to be normal guys that play in a band with no image and no fire just we are in a band. “What is wrong with that?” That’s crazy. If you are in a Rock band, you get in a Rock band to be something different. I guess modern Rock bands really just want to blend in and I think it is the most boring time in Rock right now that I have ever seen.
CB: Well you have your Lady Gagas…
AC: There are exceptions. Jack White is amazing. The Foo Fighters are amazing. I don’t know the Black Veil Brides music very much but I love the image. At least they are going out of their way to be something that when you see them on stage you say, “That’s the Black Veil Brides.” But when I see 99% of the other bands up there I say those bands can be anybody. I just don’t get the fact that everybody is so against having image.
CB: Are you working on any new music, maybe another album?
AC: The Welcome to My Nightmare album has been out for about a year now and that was our highest charting album for quite a long time. So after this tour, we will go back in the studio again, Bob Ezrin and I will, but we were very, very happy with Welcome to my Nightmare.
CB: I briefly spoke to you at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction this year in Cleveland. I know you weren’t performing but what your favorite part of the night?
AC: You mean the last one. I thought Guns N Roses were amazing. I thought Slash and the boys were the best band there. They just rocked that place.
CB: We are heading into a critical election year, are you planning on backing any candidates this time?
AC: Boy, I’ll tell you at this point right now I almost want to go independent. I am not political in the least bit. I am not in the least bit political. So when somebody says, “Who are you voting for?” I’m going, “Wow!” It’s like saying, do you want a poke in the eye or a poke in the ear. Nobody is making me smile now.
CB: And it is very narrow now.
AC: Yeah, as far as I’m concerned, I wish there was somebody out there that had some spark that would make a difference but I don’t think either one of these guys are.
CB: Do you have any plans to slow down or stop touring?
AC: No. For me, physically everything is fine right now. Until I physically can’t tour, I think I will be touring every year.
After months of rising anticipation and weeks of weirdly intermittent and torrential rain, Bunbury's first day looked to be a winner. A great announced lineup, no precipitation in the forecast and nothing but sunshine expected for the day; against all odds, that's exactly what we got. But it wasn't the rain to come that presented a problem, it was the rain that had already fallen; the area on the Serpentine Wall that had perfectly pocketed the Rockstar Stage last year was completely swallowed by the rising Ohio River, and the stage had to be moved to the opposite end of the field housing the all important Main Stage. It turned out to be a pretty decent fix, all things considered.
After securing my Level Three media pass (which, in the hierarchy of accessibility, I think meant that if any band needed help moving equipment, I was obligated to roadie for them), I headed for the Bud Light stage for Public. I had done a story on them back in January; they were home for Christmas so given their proximity, they came to my house and we did the interview in my basement. My daughter had answered the door and let them in, and for weeks afterward she was telling her friends about the cute guys I had interviewed at the house. Public's teenage girl effect was fully evident at their Bunbury appearance, as squealy females shrieked their appreciation for every song, and randomly shouted "I love you!"s arced over the rather sizable crowd. The trio did songs from their self-titled EP, a new tune called "Honey Bee" and, taking a page from the infinitely talented and creatively twisted Richard Thompson, offered a thunderously blazing turn on Britney Spears' "Toxic." In the studio, Public has the sound of a ramped up Modest Mouse, but in the live arena, they definitely blister and kick a little closer to the Led Zeppelin vibe they claimed as inspiration during our conversation, adding a dollop of harmonic Pop to sweeten the deal. If teenage girls are any indicator — and they usually are — Public could be headed for Walk the Moon territory pretty quickly.
Next up, it was Alone at 3AM at the Lawn Stage. I love these guys; super solid, crunchy heartland Indie Pop/Rock that states its case without a lot of unnecessary flash or padding. The band had plodded along for close to seven years before solidifying a dedicated line-up behind vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Max Fender and bassist Joey Beck and moving forward; a good deal of growth occurred with the additions of Sarah Davis on keys and Chris Mueller on drums (and business savvy). That in turn lit a fire under Fender, leading to a pair of albums in the last three years — 2010's Cut Your Gills and last year's Midwest Mess.
For A@3's Bunbury slot, the quintet was showing off their new guitarist; Clay Cason's recent departure left a gap which has been admirably filled by Jake Tippey, taking a busman's holiday from his howling duties in the Frankl Project and proving every bit as valuable in a Pop/Rock context. The band roared through songs from their most recent albums, introduced a couple of new songs (Chris mentioned after the show that A@3 would be working on an EP, and then tracking a new full length for imminent release) and even dipped back into their debut album, City Out of Luck, for a spin through "Mexico." Max's gruff voice sits comfortably in the Paul Westerberg/Bruce Springsteen range and it's the perfect vehicle for expressing his blue collar love-and-life songs. Can't wait to hear the new stuff in the studio, kids.
Before setting out for the Rockstar Stage, I caught the opening of Ohio Knife, one of Cincinnati's brightest new entities. Initially a side project for the Chocolate Horse, vocalist/guitarist Jason Snell, guitarist Andrew Higley and drummer Joe Suer — who all played together in Readymaid as well — ultimately put the Horse in the stable to concentrate on the Punk-scrubbed Blues of Ohio Knife, and with good reason. The trio is a sweat-soaked hurricane in the studio (their 2012 EP was a marvel), but the live translation hits with the force and heat of a flamethrower in an ammunition dump, and it won't be long before the CEA nominees for Best New Artist wind up taking home some bling. Where are we with the full length, guys?
After a quick shot of Ohio Knife, it was time to motor to the other end of the festival to check out the Dunwells. The UK outfit fronted by, logically enough, the Dunwell brothers, has found a good deal of success with their debut album, Blind Sighted Faith, and its ubiquitous single "I Could Be a King." When they played the single, frontman Joseph Dunwell thanked Q102 for their support, but it bears pointing out that, WNKU has been beating the drum for the Dunwells for quite some time now (just as they had for the similarly Folk/Pop toned Mumford & Sons). That being said, the age of the crowd seemed to indicate that Q102's demographic was probably best represented here today, so perhaps the win should be scored in their column after all. However the commissioner decides to rule, the Dunwells put together a crisp and wonderfully vibrant set that pays homage to the West Coast sounds of the Eagles and CSNY. The one exception to that sonic blueprint is the aforementioned "I Could Be a King," which offers an irresistable Pop edge that shimmers like the best of Crowded House. When brother David Dunwell strapped on the old five string to play the hit, he noted wryly, "I think every Englishman should at some point come to America and stand in front of an American audience holding a banjo with no idea how to play it." I think he was being graciously self-deprecating. The Dunwells seemed to go down a storm and I think they would find a large and enthusiastic audience if they returned outside of the auspices of the Bunbury Festival. Quick note: If you see a Dunwells album titled Follow the Road in stores (for you youngsters, a building where your parents buy music) or online, it is actually a re-sequenced and remixed version of Blind Sighted Faith, with a few alternate versions tossed in for flavor.
I briefly considered heading over to the Bud Light Stage to see some of Everest (a pick from Bunbury worker bee extraordinaire Jacob Heintz), but opted to check out a bit of Tegan and Sara at the Main Stage before making a definite decision.
I've interviewed both Quin twins over the years — most recently, I talked to Sara the year after the release of 2009's Sainthood — and while I lean toward their early work as far as my personal taste is concerned, their last trio of albums have been fairly well stacked with radio-friendly Pop songs with the potential to reach a massive audience. The enormous turnout for their Bunbury set would seem to support their decision to go the pure Pop route, but the fact is that Tegan and Sara have been cultivating a large and diverse audience for the past decade and a half, and their synth-driven Pop direction was not enough of a departure to alienate any portion of their slavishly loyal fan base. Predictably, the bulk of their set was devoted to Heartthrob, along with faves from The Con and Sainthood; they also reached all the way back to 2002's If It Was You for "Living Room" and they threw in a cover of Tiesto's "Feel It in My Bones," on which they originally guested. As expected, the adrenaline and volume of the live experience ferments Tegan and Sara's sugary Pop confections into something with a little more bite. Even for those who weren't completely sold on their recent work (my hand is up), Tegan and Sara's live presentation could make you see the light.
After T&S, it was time to hit the Amphitheater Stage to see Buffalo Killers. If you missed seeing the James Gang in 1971, here's your chance. Because I'm old enough to have actually missed the James Gang (with Joe Walsh, that is; I was lucky enough to see the even rarer sight of the James Gang with Tommy Bolin. Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls …) that joke is only marginally funny. Luckily, Buffalo Killers have approximated the trio's fuzzy guitar assault and maniacally furious rhythm section here in the 21st century to give an indication of what Joe and the boys might have sounded like if they had stayed together a little longer and gelled a little better. And even though Buffalo Killers have managed to inject a bit of poppy sunshine into their bunker-busting sound, in the live arena the band still rumbles and shoots like a rhythmic Sherman tank. The Killers hit all of my teenage buttons (which were installed long ago and have never been fully deactivated, same as every man on the planet, I suppose) and any opportunity to witness their feedback-through-an-elephant-gun glory is a chance to time machine back to the days when electric dinosaurs roamed the earth and their squalling racket could be heard from sweaty and sparsely attended auditoriums to densely populated arenas. I love Buffalo Killers. They remind me that there is wisdom in remembering the past, joy in celebrating the present and excitement in anticipating the future.
After a brief stroll around the grounds to grab something to eat, it was back to the Amphitheater Stage for a healthy dose of Rock hard Americana with Those Darlins. The Nashville outfit has been down a Darlin since early last year when Kelley Anderson opted out of the band to pursue other musical projects (her new group, Grand Strand, got a good buzz after touring with Richard Lloyd last year), and her amicable departure has obviously changed the group's dynamic, particularly the absence of their signature three-part harmonies. The remaining Darlins — Jessi (Wariner), Nikki (Kvarnes) and drummer Linwood Regensberg — are carrying on with the-show-must-go-on determination; new bassist Adrian Barrera seems to be slotting in quite well and Those Darlins' core sound, along the lines of the Pandoras if they'd been influenced by Wanda Jackson and the Ramones, remains largely intact. Their Bunbury set did display a good deal more Rock and a good deal less twang than you'll find on their first two albums — 2009's Those Darlins and 2011's Screws Get Loose — and it's a safe bet that the new album they're currently working on will follow that blueprint as well. No one at the Amphitheater seemed too dismayed at the shift, particularly the hyperactive dance contingent in front of the stage. Two Darlins is clearly enough Darlins to make Those Darlins.
I bailed out of Those Darlins a bit early to make the long walk back to the Rockstar Stage to take in the Gypsy Jazz goodness of DeVotchKa. I've long been a fan of the Denver-based outfit (I came to them through 2004's How It Ends, fell in love with their version of the Velvets' "Venus in Furs" from the Curse Your Little Heart EP and adored their work in Little Miss Sunshine) but have never had the opportunity to see them in the flesh, and when I saw them on the Bunbury schedule, I knew there was little that could draw me away from their show. Luckily, their 9 p.m. slot meant they weren't programmed against anyone else, so the way was cleared for my first live DeVotchKa experience.
DeVotchKa lived up to and surpassed all advance billing with a set that walked the wire between frenetic and atmospheric but maintained high energy from start to finish. Even when they slowed the pace, there was an electric tension in their presentation that made clear something explosive could happen at any moment. And it usually did. All four members of the band — Nick Urata, Jeanie Schroder, Tom Hagerman, Shawn King — play multiple instruments so almost any sound is available to DeVotchKa, including theremin, boukouki, accordion, trumpet and Melodica. And Schroder does the heaviest lifting, either plucking with power and subtlety on her enormous upright bass or blowing away like Dizzy Gillespie on steroids into a gigantic sousaphone that looks as though it would be the punishment instrument for getting bad grades in high school band ("Okay, Baker, D in Orchestra, 10 solos with the death tuba..."). It wasn't a performance to analyze or interpret, it was a Gypsy Jazz soundtrack for a magic show, a feeling to wash over you like cool waves on warm sand, a Slavic Rock and Roll dance party. More than a few people on DeVotchKa's Facebook page declared it the best show of Bunbury's three-day weekend. It was most assuredly one of them.
Finally, it was time for fun. Not the fun that we'd been having all day at Bunbury, but the fun. that's topping the charts and recently played Saturday Night Live and won a couple of Grammys this year. Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of the band. I like their sound to a certain extent, it's energetic and entertaining and I really like Nate Reuss' voice. I actually interviewed him a decade ago when he was fronting the Format; ironically and perhaps presciently, he used the word "fun" a half dozen times to describe his band at the time.
At any rate, I hung around to see the show to be able to report how it was to my daughter, and because the band clearly doesn't take itself too seriously. When they accepted their Record of the Year Grammy for "We Are Young," Reuss said, "I don't know what I was thinking, writing the chorus for this song. If this is in HD, everybody can see our faces, and we are not very young." All in all, I was expecting a pleasant if unassuming concert experience.
And that's pretty much how it started, with the "Some Nights" intro, the title track to their sophomore album (it would show up in its entirety during the band's two-song encore, leading into "One Foot" from Some Nights). In fact, fun. performed almost all of Some Nights (save for "All Alright"), and over half of their debut album, 2009's Aim and Ignite, perhaps best represented by "At Least I'm Not as Sad (as I Used to Be)" and the nearly eight-minute closer, "Take Your Time (Coming Home)." Of course, they saved their anthemic signature singles for the second half of the set, first "Carry On" and then, two songs later, the epic Grammy-winning Pop of "We Are Young." Sandwiched in between though was a very charming version of The Rolling Stones’ "You Can't Always Get What You Want," an interesting lead-in to "We Are Young," a song that would seem to sport a diametrically opposed message. By the time fun. concluded with "Stars" as the second song of their encore, they had fired a confetti cannon (there was still yards of fun. confetti on the field when The National played Sunday night), performed the majority of their two studio albums and put on a show that proved they were worthy of their first-night-closing status. While I think they should remove the rather severe punctuation from their name, I have to say I was at least slightly converted toward a fun. lifestyle.
Over the past decade-plus, Cincinnatian Eric Diedrichs has continually made splashes on the local music scene with the Pop/Rock band The Simpletons and his Cari Clara project (a mostly solo venture in the studio, but also a live band). A few years back, Diedrichs moved to Lexington, Ky., but Cari Clara continued, the live version of which (though largely on hiatus the past year or so) still featuring mostly Cincinnati area musicians — Eric’s brother Mark Diedrichs, Greg Tudor, Jason Arbenz (also of Goose), Josh Hagen and 500 Miles to Memphis frontman Ryan Malott.
Last summer, Diedrichs digitally released his fourth effort for Deep Elm Records, the elegant, evocative 10-track album, Midnight March. This Friday, Diedrichs returns to Cincinnati to celebrate the album’s physical release at Northside Tavern. The free local appearance will feature the full Cari Clara band, plus Cincinnati’s Ohio Knife and Dayton’s Motel Beds as openers.
Diedrichs recorded and produced the expansive and engrossing Midnight March in his home studio in Lexington and the crisp sound welcomes the listener to come inside and get lost in the unique textures and tide-like tempos and structures. Though a lot of “one-man show” albums lack a certain warmth and cohesiveness, Cari Clara is the rare all-solo effort that sounds and feels like a large, full band. But the music is rarely grounded, instead relying on a magical, ethereal aura upon which the songs hover.
Diedrichs has skills to spare — he’s an amazing vocalist, brilliantly able to translate emotion into words, melody and voice, and his top-notch musicianship (on guitar, bass, piano and a variety of programming and other instrumentation) is apparent on first listen. But as Cari Clara grows and evolves, the way Diedrichs constructs and conducts the varying sounds and layers has become dazzling, adding an extra level of enchantment to his always stellar songwriting prowess.
Midnight March is best listened to in full (once you start, you’ll have a hard time stopping anyway), a victory for the dwindling art of making a cohesive album and not just slapping together a collection of songs. Diedrichs says the album is something of a “coming of age” story, saying it’s “an emotional exploration of my own journey from childhood to adult.” That thematic thread is something everyone can relate to and Diedrichs’ lyrics have never been better.
From the shiver-sending ambiance of “When You Knew It” and orchestral, acoustic guitar-driven “Homage to Excess” to the slinky verses and charged, towering choruses of “Battle Hymn” and the Radiohead-meets-Postal Service slowburn of “Safe,” Midnight March is loaded with musical drama, with practically each song building from a hypnotic hush to exhilarating crescendo. With deft arrangements and orchestration, provocative lyrics and brain-burrowing melodies, Diedrichs has made the recording of his career. And, in many ways, it feels like he’s just getting started.
Deidrichs has the talent to become a career artist; hopefully Midnight March reaches the wider audience Cari Clara deserves so he is able to do just that.
Click below to preview and purchase Midnight March.
Lucinda Williams is a premier female act in Country and American Folk music. She has been blazing the roads since the late ’70s and has not slowed down. She still appears at music festivals all across the country, even gaining international acclaim. Her most recent album, Blessed, is her eleventh studio album. Williams has been nominated for 14 Grammys, taking home three awards. In 2002, Time magazine called her “America's best songwriter.”