I drifted off Thursday night and had my wonderfully fitful sleep punctuated by the strangest dream. Like most dreams, it was disjointed and surreal, but it made an odd sort of sense. It’s never easy to describe these nocturnal apparitions but it was so vivid, I shall give it a try.
Friday, July 13
I was walking downtown. I knew exactly where I needed to go but I didn’t know exactly how to get there. A ridiculously convoluted route got me to the desired entrance, I received my press credentials and a map of a fascinating kingdom which I entered through the back gate, popping up in the midst of a Craft Beer Village, a place I would revisit many times.
Because of family obligations, I had arrived late, and the celebration, which had been dubbed Bunbury, was already in full swing. I headed for what I perceived to be the main concentration of activity and there ran into Brent and his wife Kat, who I frequently cross paths with at these sorts of soirees and who are always a welcome sight and great companions. Almost immediately, I encountered my nephew Jim, who proceeded to buy me a multitude of beers, a welcome refreshment on a steamy afternoon.
We made our way to the Globilli stage to see The Crash Kings, a keyboard/bass/drum trio that made sounds like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath with a twist of Styx (when they were a decent Rock band) refracted through an Indie Rock prism. Keyboardist Tony Beliveau was improbably wearing a long sleeve flannel shirt in 90-degree heat, but he said they were from L.A., so he may have legitimately been cold. They played songs from their eponymous debut and a few from their as-yet unreleased new album, there was an epic bass solo at one point, and Beliveau made other worldly sounds with the use of a whammy bar on his rig, which I had never seen before. The Crash Kings were incredible, and they would have kicked 1975 square in the balls.
At the Landor Stage, Ponderosa were cranking out some sweet Indie Rock/Soul from their first album, Moonlight Revival and their new album Pool Party, which ultimately led to a cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U.” Kalen Nash, clad in a much cooler serape and stalking the stage in Hobbit-like bare feet, bemoaned the loss of the Southgate House and said to the crowd, “Let’s bring that back.” We couldn’t have agreed more.
Back at Globilli, O.A.R. were giving a sizable audience a fair dose of heartland Indie Rock and getting an enthusiastic response in turn. The band started in Maryland but rose to prominence as students at Ohio State, and became something of a regional phenomenon. Much like the Dave Matthews Band, O.A.R.’s reputation grew by grassroots methodology and hard work. Marc Roberge acknowledged their local ties and thanked fans for their loyalty with a rousing set. Jim’s pals Andre and Kevin arrived at some point, more beers were acquired and all was well.
I took my leave of Jim and his friends to check out Ra Ra Riot at the Bud Light Stage. I love their studio brand of visceral Chamber Pop/Indie Rock and they most certainly do not disappoint in the live arena as they tore shit up good and proper. Ra Ra Riot make compelling feel-good music but I always feel a touch of melancholy when I listen to them, remembering their courage and loyalty when they remained together as a band in the aftermath of losing their original drummer John Pike, a drowning victim five years ago. Their biggest successes have come in the wake of that tragedy, but they remain in contact with Pike’s family who have in turn remained fully in Ra Ra Riot’s corner. That is truly inspirational, and that depth of feeling is translated into every note that RRR puts out into the universe. The real headline from RRR’s set was Wes Miles’ announcement that Bunbury was “the best run festival we’ve ever played,” high praise from a band that’s attended SXSW, CMJ, Seaport Music Festival and a good many others.
Somewhere between O.A.R. and Ra Ra Riot, I ran into Sean Rhiney (Messerly & Ewing) and Brian Kitzmiller (Black Owls), and was introduced to a flock of people (between them, Sean and Brian know every human in the Tri-State area) whose names are lost in a haze of previous beers but who were constant friendly faces in a sea of humanity over the next three days. I raise a perpetual glass to your continued well being and camaraderie.
It was back to the Globilli stage for The Airborne Toxic Event (named for a phrase in Don DeLillo’s 1985 chemical spill thriller, White Noise), which I’ve found to be one of the better muscular Indie Rock outfits. On the surface, they might seem like one of many innocuous radio-friendly ciphers but they’ve got a fascinating back-story, a fairly intricate sound and impressive songwriting talent. Frontman Mikel Jollett and his TATE cohorts played with a calculated frenzy to a rapturous response, and Jollett even injected a few serious moments into the festival’s spirited atmosphere to plug the Wounded Warrior Project and to offer some bi-partisan criticism (“Don‘t tell us you’re with us if you’re for cutting veterans’ benefits, don’t tell us you’re with us if you’re for raising taxes on returning veterans...”). A show with a message and a blazing soundtrack … not too shabby.
Then it was back to Landor for the most anticipated show of the night, and quite possibly the best show of the festival; the triumphant return of Cincy's Foxy Shazam. Eric Nally was in rare form, in both gymnastic stage behavior, microphone stand ballet and crowd interaction. A sampling of his repartee: (facing GABP) “Hey Votto, if you can hear me, hit the motherfucker out of the park..."; “I did an interview and when I read the story, the writer said we were unique, and I said, ‘Yeah, we‘re unique, just like everybody else..."; “Spill a little wine over here, spill a little wine over there, eventually everything’s red, spill a little blood over here, spill a little blood over there, eventually everything’s dead.”
During “Unstoppable,” someone winged a bottle of Gatorade at Nally, who flung it straight back and took issue by singing “Whoever threw that Gatorade is going to pay” at the close of the song. He then chastised the offender, saying, “Don’t make me explain to my kids why I have a bottle of Gatorade stuck up my ass,” and noting that he would let security allow the thrower backstage if he wanted to fight. Classic Nally.
Later, Schuyler White danced on his keyboard then tossed it onto the front row of the audience and dove into the crowd, playing while the audience held him in place. Classic Foxy. The crowd went batshit crazy when Foxy launched into “I Like It” from their latest and best album, The Church of Rock and Roll. At the breathless conclusion of Foxy’s set, the bar was officially set for the next two days.
With a fairly elaborate stage set complete with women on trapezes and giant video monitors displaying some sort of acid freak-out movie from the ’60s, Jane’s Addiction clearly trumped Foxy in terms of spectacle but fell short in terms of raw energy. Dave Navarro peeled off plenty of scorching riffery, his patented classic combination of ’80s Hard Rock and ’90s AltRock with his guitar set to stun, Stephen Perkins bashed his kit like a man possessed and new bassist Chris Chaney supplied a thunderous heartbeat, while Perry Farrell stalked the Globilli Stage like an earthbound raptor, howling his way through a set comprised of songs from their latest album, last year’s The Great Escape Artist, and heavy on the classics from their other three discs.
The show couldn’t be characterized as lackluster or phoned in, as it was a feast for the senses; plenty of engaging trappings and a propulsive soundtrack that tapped into memories of a visceral and compelling band on the edge of the alternative frontier two and a half decades ago. It was all incredibly entertaining, but it was a far cry from the scalp-tingling urgency of JA’s hungrier days, which is why this tour was designed with so much visual overload; few if any bands are able to recreate their earliest chemistry 25 years after the fact. My favorite JA memory will always be their opening set for Iggy Pop in 1988; seeing Jane’s at Bogart‘s that night was the aural equivalent of licking an electric outlet. I was certainly not disappointed with what transpired during JA’s Bunbury set, but neither was I spellbound by it. And Farrell’s humorously profane diatribe (“Let the pussies hear you!”) linking Pete Rose’s absence in the Baseball Hall of Fame to Jane’s Addiction’s lack of nominations two years after their eligibility was a bit awkward; he seemed to think steroids were somehow involved in Rose’s case, and as far as JA is concerned, well, four albums over a quarter century span, regardless of the influence of the first two, does not a Hall of Fame career comprise. I was glad to have experienced Jane‘s Addiction in the 21st century and I like the bombast they’ve created to present their old and new material but, as Blue Oyster Cult once noted, this ain’t the summer of love.
At some point during the JA set, I spied my most excellent zen editor Mike Breen, so I sidled over for some quick face time (being freelance I don‘t get into the office as much as I probably should), and he seemed to be digging the show greatly. I look forward to his thoughts on it because I greatly respect his musical opinions in a completely non-ass nuzzling way. (Editor's Note: You're hired! Fireworks rock! And "Free Pete Rose"!)
And Jim’s wife, my niece Robin, came late to the festival but somehow spotted me in the twilight and gave me a nudge in the back. Even though she is only five years my junior, I have been married to her aunt for almost three decades, and so I am and will forever be Uncle Brian, which is both touching and charming. A good number of the nieces and nephews I inherited when I started dating my wife have kids of their own now. Time and the generations march on.
I left Mike to his JA reverie when I spotted revered music connoisseur and branding legend Matthew Fenton (once an occasional CityBeat music contributor), who came down from his lair in Chicago to experience Bunbury’s inaugural year. I had e-mailed him to ask if he and his most excellent girlfriend Kelly would be in attendance, but never heard back. Turns out he’d quit his job after last year’s MidPoint and has taken up the study of improv comedy at Second City, a program from which he will graduate next month. I am both astonished and completely unsurprised because Matthew is a genius that makes geniuses insecure. Matthew assured me that Kelly would be around for Saturday’s festivities and introduced me to his older brother John, an equally princely guy by all indications.
Now we have a festival.
Saturday, July 14
I made my way back to the media entrance, this time being tended by old friend Jacob Heintz (Buckra) and the lovely and talented Sara Beiting (a former CityBeat all-star). The cloud cover was heavier, and it had already rained relatively hard north of the city but it didn’t seem to have impacted the downtown area too badly. I grabbed a beer and made my way through the throng … or did I make my way through the throng and grab a beer? The skies were not the only things that were partly cloudy.
At the Globilli stage, I was just in time for the start of Alberta Cross, a British duo now getting their mail in Brooklyn and fleshing out their live sound with a full fledged band. They sported an expansive vibe that had an appealing Verve quality, or Oasis without the contentious brothers problem screwing everything up.
Naming your band Friends is a good way to make it very difficult for people to find you on the Internet, but the relatively new Brooklyn band of that name is worth the few extra clicks — you can and should find them. Released earlier in June, Friends' debut album Manifest! is ready to become the soundtrack to every party you attend this summer.
A few years ago after a surge in popularity, Indie Pop seemed to fade a bit as artists like New Young Pony Club and Little Boots found success with infectious dance songs. With Manifest!, Friends brings back some Indie Pop creativity and jubilation, just in time for summer. And while it's not all club beats and Electro grooves, Friends' music does have a unique danceability factor.
Manifest! opens with one of the quintet's previously released singles, “Friend Crush,” which is pretty much your invitation to jump right in and befriend Friends. Centered around Samantha Urbani’s vocals and complimented by an ESG-esque drum and bass part, the song is minimal but extremely catchy, acting as a great hook to draw listeners into the album. Like with the musical versatility, Urbani uses her voice in the most interesting ways throughout Manifest!, helping to keep each song fresh and distinct.
The contrast in sound from song to song makes Manifest! feel like you’re listening to a mixtape, spotlighting Friends' willingness to experiment and explore varying genres and ideas instead of settling for something predictable yet perhaps more "focused."
Other highlights on Manifest! include another previously released single, “I’m His Girl," a sassy relationship song that includes an unexpected breakdown involving
handclaps and spoken lyrics, while “Sorry" has a slight
Vampire Weekend feel to it.
Perhaps the best track on Manifest! is saved for last. Exuding an ’80s retro Pop feel, on closer “Mind Control," Urbani (using her voice more like an instrument) chants at the end what could very well be Friends' own “manifesto": “I don’t want the right to be rude/I just want the right to be cool/However I choose to do it, I do/Whatever I choose to be or whom.”
Friends clearly has no interest in falling in line with what fans, the industry or anyone outside of the group might expect them to be. The result is one of the coolest albums of the summer thus far.
If great reviews and the respect of your peers were tangible income, Warren Buffett would be paying 30% tax on his income as Alejandro Escovedo’s secretary.
From the start of Escovedo’s solo career — after a brief stint with the Kinman brothers in Rank and File and a turn in his own shoulda-been-huge True Believers in the ’80s — the hypertalented singer/songwriter has been long on critical acclaim and short on commercial success for a variety of reasons (label and distribution trouble, no love at radio, health issues), but he has continued to grow and evolve as an artist to the delight and amazement of his cultishly proportioned and loyal fan base.
Escovedo’s debut for Fantasy, Big Station, is the third in a de facto trilogy that began with 2008’s Real Animal and continued on 2010’s Street Songs of Love. Following those adrenalized-yet-sensitive rock albums/sonic scrapbooks, his first collaborations with fellow cult singer/songwriter Chuck Prophet and iconic producer Tony Visconti, Escovedo reassembles the dream team on Big Station, a set that rumbles with themes of home, love and a sense of place.
The album’s first single, “Man of the World,” bristles like Eddie Cochran shot through with a few thousand volts of Tom Petty; if there was any justice in the world, it would be pouring out of every car radio this summer. Like the best of Escovedo’s catalog, Big Station offers electric muscle (“Party People”), acoustic power (the title track) and heartbursting balladry (“Bottom of the World”), all of which he paints with the perfect brush and touch.
Escovedo’s exquisite gift is his ability to blend his Mexicali heritage with his unabashed love of ’60s Rock, ’70s Glam and Punk and ’80s Twang Pop and twist it into a sound that is weirdly familiar and pointedly fresh. And like everything he’s done, Big Station is his absolute best for now.
Since the dawn of Electronic music in the ’60s, one of the consistent difficulties with the genre has been that the idea of a composition or an entire record is often more interesting than the execution of the idea.
It would seem that Sigur Ros is at least tangentially aware of that circumstance because the Icelandic quartet seems to have found the proper balance of conceptual cool, ephemeral frippery and solid musicianship over the past decade and a half. This is the band, after all, that invented its own language on its debut album, 1997’s Von, and initially left all of the songs on 2002’s ( ) untitled.
That is conceptualism on a grand scale, but Sigur Ros has typically been more than equal to the task of making a soundtrack every bit as fascinating as the airy framework that underpins it.
After a brief flirtation with a slightly more tangible Pop song structure on 2008’s Meo suo i erum vio spilum endalaust, Sigur Ros returns with Valtari, which sees the band bringing strings and electronics back to their rightful place in its sonic forefront. While Valtari revisits the chilly ambient atmospherics of Sigur Ros’ early work, the band folds in dashes of Meo suo’s Pop ethic and ethereal operatics courtesy of a beautifully utilized girl’s choir.
The album’s first single, “Ekki Mukk,” takes Brian Eno’s aggressively Ambient stance while “Rembihnutur” soars with an expansive crystalline magnificence that could pass for Radiohead or U2 in an experimental moment while “Dauoalogn” swells like a contemporary hymn rising to the arched ceiling of a grand Electronic church.
If Meo suo i erum vio spilum endalaust was Sigur Ros’ Saturday night dance party, Valtari is their Sunday morning confessional.
(The following Sigur Ros video is NSFW due to nudity, including shots of Shia's LaBeouf.)
I usually shy away from album reviews, but when I opened the FedEx package on my doorstep and found the new Dirty Heads album, complete with promotional rolling papers (presumably to accompany the album), I decided to take a second look because obviously this was intended to take my worries away and make everyone feel great.
In 2008 The Dirty Heads splashed onto the music scene with their debut album Any Port in a Storm; this year, they follow it up with their long-awaited album Cabin by the Sea. Cabin is a true master class that sticks to the So-Cal altrocker vibe for which The Dirty Heads are known. When popping the disc in the dash of the car, the first chord of "Arrival" instantly enthralls you and throws you into the cabin by the sea with a group of friends enjoying life the way it was intended to be. The song that really struck a chord with me was “Spread Too Thin” because I think everyone can relate to being pulled in many directions every day and wanting to just slow down for a minute; Cabin by the Sea allows you to take a break and do just that. Cabin is the perfect summer album, ranging from the summery feel-good Reggae of "Your Love" to the Hip Hop vibe in "Smoke Rings" to the poppy acoustic flow of the title song.
Every time I listen to Cabin by the Sea it takes me away from the daily grind and monotony. There are many collaborations on the album, including with Matisyahu, Del the Funky Homosapien, Rome and Ky-Mani Marley. One of the coolest parts of this album is the accompanying DVD, which takes you behind the scenes of the recording process at Sonic Ranch Studios in Texas.
Cabin by the Sea is a must have for the summer. The album hits the shelves and online outlets tomorrow.
Over the past dozen years, Beth Ditto and Gossip have finetuned their lo-fi Indie Rock presentation into a wild pastiche of fist-pumping Punk, funky Soul/Pop and Indie Dance Rock, with a stage component that blends campy theater of the absurd with thrift store chic. Ditto and guitarist Nathan Howdeshell have never forgotten their Arkansas roots but have masterfully absorbed the musical zeitgeist of their Northwest environment and assimilated it into their broad range of oddly complementary influences, particularly on their 2006 breakthrough Standing in the Way of Control and their 2009 hit Music for Men.
On A Joyful Noise, Gossip’s fifth and finest album, the band and producers Mark Ronson and Brian Higgins have crafted a set that blends a soaring Gospel vibe with a slamming Indie Rock foundation and accessorizes it with bristling Dance Punk and washes of Electronic atmosphere.
The opening salvo of “Melody Emergency” finds Ditto warbling with Kate Bush’s intensity and Lene Lovich’s chirp while Howdeshell cranks out glammy chords worthy of Marc Bolan and drummer Hannah Blilie nails down the perfect groove. The trio immediately veers into should-be-a-mega-club-hit Dance Pop territory with the dramatic and anthemic “Perfect World,” a track that Madonna would embrace but could never pull off, and the funky Electropop novelty of “Get a Job.”
With typical bravado and style and an impressively evolving maturity, Gossip push the aptly titled A Joyful Noise in a dozen different directions while maintaining a firm grip on their own malleable sonic identity.
The Comet was packed Tuesday night in anticipation of seeing Nashville band The Black Belles and the Belles didn’t disappoint.
These women sure have created an identity for themselves. At any point, you could spot them somewhere in The Comet; they were hard to miss with their long black hair, black clothes, black hats, pale skin and dark makeup. And the shtick of it all doesn’t seem forced for The Black Belles. Members of Jack White’s label, Third Man Records, the Black Belles opened their set with “Leave You With A Letter,” the opener from their debut self-titled album.
Although the band is normally a four-piece, they are touring as a three-piece, leaving the organist back home in Nashville. Between bassist Ruby Rogers' deadpan dead-on bass riffs and Shelby Lynne’s solid drumming, there’s room for lead singer/lead guitarist Olivia Jean to do as she pleases. Her voice comes off as somewhat of a growl, so perfect for their dark and witchy lyrics. And there was something about the drummer similar to Meg White, with her black hair flowing as she beat the crap out of her set.
The Black Belles seem to be somewhat of a cross between The Cramps and Wanda Jackson, with the occasional Jack White riff thrown in the mix. Olivia Jean announced that they would play “their only Country song” as they launched into “Honky Tonk Horror,” which was not really anything close to a Country song and probably the heaviest Rock song they played. Other numbers included “In a Cage,” “Howl At The Moon,” “What Can I Do?,” “Lies,” “Wishing Well,” and “The Wrong Door.”
The only problem with their set was that The Comet didn’t move the tables out of the way so it was an extremely awkward crowd to stand in and actually be able to see the band. This resulted in people standing on chairs to get a better glimpse of the dark beauties.
When I asked the band what they’d be doing after the show, they smiled and said they would be using a Ouija Board at the Masonic Temple at which they were staying. If you missed out on seeing the Black Belles, they’ll be back in Cincinnati as one of the headliners for Midpoint Music Festival this September!
It has become both fashionable and profitable for artists in the later stages of their careers to release albums comprised of old standards or covers of instantly recognizable Pop hits.
Leave it to Neil Young to follow that convention and then knock it upside its head. On Americana, Young resurrects Crazy Horse, his longtime and long dormant backing band and the foil for realizing some of his grimiest, grittiest Garage Rock fantasies, with the express purpose of revisiting some of America’s most beloved Folk odes, Blues tales and campfire singalongs.
The irony of the album’s title is that while Young retains the familiar lyrics to chestnuts like “Oh Susannah,” “High Flyin’ Bird,” “Tom Dula,” and “Jesus’ Chariot” (better known as “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain”), he completely guts the songs’ classic melodies in favor of Crazy Horse’s noisy bluster and squall, reconfiguring the jaunty tunes to fit his well documented musical universe.
There is a seriousness of intent to Americana (Folk and Blues have long detailed the country’s ills in song and Young has selected an interesting set list in that context) but there is also a hootenanny jam quality to the sessions; the songs typically end with comments by Young and the band about the sweet chaos they’ve just created. The exceptions are fascinating; although the standard Crazy Horse murk and howl are evident on The Silhouettes’ “Get a Job,” Young and company retain the Doo-Wop hit’s famous backing vocals and melody lines, a pattern repeated on “Travel On,” “Wayfarin’ Stranger” and “This Land is Your Land” (because how many liberties can you take with Woody Guthrie?).
Young and Crazy Horse are having so much fun on Americana, it almost plays like a Jimmy Fallon sketch, but clearly the fun is in the performance and not at the expense of the song, although finishing with “God Save the Queen” (and a children’s chorus singing the American rewrite, “My Country ’Tis of Thee”) could easily be perceived as a pointed and appropriate political jab.
Whether playing anarchic deconstructionists or faithful translators, Americana is tattooed with Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s indelible and singular stamp.
Oh, Cincinnatians! Wednesday night, when you filed into the Ballroom at the Taft (Theatre), loudly and drunkenly declaring your love for Dawes, I knew I’d never been more proud of you in all my life. (Except you, Guy Who Tried to Vomit Back into His Beer Can like a sorority girl MacGyver. Know your limits, dude.) You filled the basement with your singing and your cheers and, whether you saw it or not, left four California boys looking pretty giddy in your presence. While I still think some of you have some fairly bad taste in music, I now officially consider everyone in the room on Wednesday to be the new loves of my life.
That includes Dawes and Sara (and Sean) Watkins, too. They deserved every ounce of love that you gave them. This was not a massive and disconnected arena show; this was just some gig in Will Taft’s basement. But Dawes rocked out in a very big way. For every beer-induced bellow you made, a little more of the musicians' hearts seemed to shine through. There was no phoning it in, no signs of fatigue after a long year of touring (for Dawes) and no amateur hour when Sara Watkins started off the night.
The only downfall was knowing that it would end and that, as good as Dawes’ albums are, they would forever pale in comparison to their live show. It was that good. It was the kind of concert where you walk out knowing you will never miss another one of their concerts. The kind of night that leads to going home and staring at their tour schedule and your bank account, trying to decide if you can make it to another show on this round of touring. They’re the kind of band that flings out so much energy in their set that, come 4 a.m., you’re still lying in bed, wide awake and humming “Fire Away.”
In other words: Holy Shit. Dawes is amazing.
Which is surprising, honestly, since at first glimpse, no one in Dawes looks like a Rock star. Lead singer and guitar player, Taylor Goldsmith, with messy brown hair and just slightly too short pants, looks more like a philosophy professor straight out of the ‘70s. You know — the one who gets all the girls and invites the best students back to his apartment to get high. His brother, Griffin, has a massive mane of blonde curls and a face like every other one of your little brother’s friends. But he attacks the drums, has an awesome voice and great facial expressions.
Behind the crazy organ/piano set up is Tay Strathairn, working like a mad scientist and bouncing from one machine to the other. Meanwhile, Dawes' bassist, Wylie Gelber, comes complete with that trademark bass player “chill”-ness. He’s cool.
Basically, they’re just your average guys. They’d fit in just as easily in Cincinnati as they do in Los Angeles.
On stage, though, they are far from average. They are amazing. They can turn a basement into a ballroom and a gig into a "show."
Vintage Rock hasn’t sounded so good since it was just Rock.
In total, the guys played over a dozen songs. Included on the set-list were their more popular hits, like “When My Times Comes” and “Time Spent in Los Angeles.” They also played a few new (and oh-so-awesome) songs that may or may not make it onto their new album.
I could gush for another 600 words, but instead I’ll end with this: Go see Dawes. Get in your car right now and drive to whatever city they’re playing next. Squeeze in close and wait to be awed. Wait for that moment, a couple songs in, when your cheeks hurt because you can’t stop smiling. Wait until Taylor Goldsmith dedicates “When My Time Comes” to the “first-timers” and then scream along.
Go see Dawes and fall in love with good music.