The winners of the "Best New Artist" trophy at the most recent Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, DAAP Girls, will celebrate the debut of their new music video tonight at Japp's Annex on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine.
The spooky, visually arresting clip is for "Molly," one of the many great tracks off of the band's debut album, Tape Songs (every song has a girl's name). Shot at the Kenneweg Compound in Alexandria, Ky., "Molly" was directed by local visual artist Philip LaVelle, alongside graphic designer Josh Jacob and videographer Sean Steininger. The video is mesmerizing and matches up with the lurching, dreamy swagger of the song perfectly. It's fairly low-budget, but doesn't look it, with it's creatively captivating effects and overall vibe.
DAAP Girls guitarist/singer Stuart MacKenzie provided this synopsis of the video:
"The video tells a story of five young people on the cusp of adulthood enjoying a last weekend together. (Unbeknown) to them, they are being viewed by the ghosts of their future's past. The video incorporates aspects of romance, nostalgia and magical realism to tell an alternate, complimentary story to the song."
Tonight's new video celebration at Japp's kicks off at 9 p.m. with a DAAP Girls performance, followed by the screening of the clip at 10 p.m. The band will perform after the screening as well.
Here's a sneak peek of "Molly," followed by the video's creative credits:
Directed by Philip LaVelle
Filmed by Sean Steinger and Josh Jacob
Edited by Sean Steinger, Josh Jacob and Philip LaVelle
Special effects by Josh Jacob
Casting by Erica Turer
Catering by Joe Diedenhofer
Filmmed on location at Kenneweg Compound, Alexandria, KY
Special thanks to Josh and Stephanie Kenneweg
Cast: Cody Reinhard Amir Gamble, Zachary Müller, Sarah Davenport, Rosie Carpenter, Emma Roberts, and Allison Gathof
DAAP Girls is: Jay Duckworth, Stuart MacKenzie, Daniel Peterson, Alex Duckworth, Michael Felger, Collin Thompson, Brian Gilronan.
Those retro/modern/futuristic urban-gothic sonics are perfectly reflected in the brand new video clip for "Oxygen." The ominous video — written by Thomas Stemrich (Director) and Josh Chiara (Director of Photography) of local band Holy Beast — was shot over three days in Northside and Over-the-Rhine.
The nutshell synopsis of the video:
"In New Berlin, in the basements of post-industrial mansions, lost youths pray to shrines for nothing and participate in rituals that don’t matter. But tonight, one of New Berlin’s daughters is through with the minutia, ready to dive beneath the insincerity of cult posturing, and finally awaken the beacon of change that swells beneath the city streets. Will this be another lost night in Neverland or will she finally meet the beast of her dreams?"
Stemrich and Chiara have made other music videos, including "Night Drive" for the local act Polar Sky (Polar Sky and Skeleton Hands both record for locally based Racecar Productions). Sharfe says "Night Drive," and now "Oxygen," are unofficially akin to part of a "series," with the Polar Sky clip setting the "New Berlin" tone initially, and the Skeleton Hands' video taking it further.
"In the New Berlin videos, we see Cincinnati through a dystopic lens," Sharfe says. "Prostitutes, cults, deities, people with holes in their torsos. Strange stuff."
Skeleton Hands are currently taking pre-orders for copies of Gone on vinyl. Click here to get in on the action. "Oxygen" will be available as a single this fall through Racecar. The single release will feature remixes, including ones by Kontravoid and the aforementioned Polar Sky.
The duo also returns to the MidPoint Music Festival this year, coming up towards the end of September in various venues around Over-the-Rhine and Downtown. Skeleton Hands is slated to perform at 10 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27, at MPMF venue Below Zero Lounge (on Walnut Street, next to Emery Theatre). Click here for MPMF tickets (or visit Fountain Square Friday night between 8-11 p.m., where you can buy tickets in person — one night only — for $10-$20 off).
On June 4, one of the more beloved bands in Cincinnati (and, increasingly, the rest of the country), Indie Pop greats The Seedy Seeds, announced that they were going on "break" on their Facebook page. The post was worded to suggest this is an "indefinite hiatus" — the words "break up" were not used, but there's no sign of activity from the band on the horizon (fans are also leaving "R.I.P." messages on their Facebook page).
In the "break" announcement that sounds like a "goodbye" one, the trio writes, "While we each have new projects to which we must now turn our energies, it's very hard to imagine how to live any moments from this point on as anything but Seedy Seeds."
Some of those new projects have been making themselves known recently. Seed Margaret Darling has been performing her solo material regularly on the local club front and, yesterday, it was announced she has some touring in her immediate future.
The band Distant Correspondent, described as Indie Dream Pop and featuring members located in different cities around the world, announced that Darling will be joining them on their upcoming fall tour. The supergroup made itself known to the public earlier this year and received a lot of press right off the bat. The band features David Obuchowski from Brooklyn's Goes Cube, the U.K.'s Emily Gray (from British Post Rock crew and John Peel faves Meanwhile, Back in Communist Russia), multi-instrumentalist Michael Lengel on drums (whom Obuchowski met when he moved to Colorado) and Seattle bassist Tyler Wilcox, as well as fantastic Indie singer/songwriter Edith Frost (who is not touring with the band this fall).
Here's what Obuchowski had to say about bringing Darling into the fold:
Being in a band with members in different cities and even countries is pretty liberating. Sure, it's not always the easiest thing in the world from a practical standpoint. But the flip-side is that it affords us the opportunity work with musicians we love, even if they don't live close.
With that in mind, we're thrilled to announce that we'll be bringing along Cincinnati-based solo artist, MARGARET DARLING as our featured vocalist for our upcoming record release tour. We're big fans of Margaret's solo work, and her work in the now-defunct Cincinnati indie-pop powerhouse THE SEEDY SEEDS. In fact, when it came time to put together a show in Cincinnati for our record release tour, we asked Margaret Darling to share the bill with us before we tapped any other artist. Margaret's music (as a solo artist and with her former band, The Seedy Seeds) has been described as "dizzying, perplexing and wonderfully fun" (NPR), and "no less than impressive - intimate and addictive" (CincyMusic.com).
Darling is joining the tour as "guest vocalist," beginning on the opening date in Denver on Oct. 23, the day after the band's self-titled album is released through Hot Congress/Old Flame Records. Click here to check out the music video for the Distant Correspondent track "Summit."
Meanwhile, Darling's Seedy Seeds co-founder Mike Ingram has been busy as a road sound technician, but he has found time to work with a new collaborator, great local singer/songwriter/guitarist Jasmine Poole, who works under the name Wonky Tonk.
Ingram (who harmonizes and plays guitar) and Poole have been working on new Wonky Tonk material and, given their hectic schedules, they even created a cyber-concert for fans to check out while they wait for it.
The ambitious Crown Jewels of Jazz Heritage Festival kicks off today with a special concert in Washington Park featuring Philly Jazz/Funk/R&B squad PIeces of a Dream and local faves Marc Fields and Airwave. The expanded festival and new format this year is the work of Kathy Wade and friends, who run the Learning Through Art non-profit.
The Jazz Heritage Fest isn't a one-stop event. Besides Washington Park, numerous retailers, bars and restaurants in Over-the-Rhine and Mount Adams (across seven street blocks) will be a part of the fest's "Global Village." These venues will feature live Jazz each night of the fest and offer 20% discounts on their goods and services. It's a great way to get people to explore the thriving neighborhoods.
• Another Part of The Forest
• Below Zero Lounge
• Urban Eden
• Pet Wants
• Symphony Hotel
• Taste of Belgium
• Art Beyond Boundaries
• Couture Couture Boutique
• Park and Vine
• Little Mahatma
• Venice On Vine
• Clay Street Press
• Street Pops
• Atomic Number 10
• Ensemble Theater
• The Know Theater
• Mt. Adams Bar and Grill
• The Blind Lemon
• The Grotto
Tomorrow (Thursday), Crown Jewels joins forces with the It's Commonly Jazz series in Eden Park's Seasongood Pavilion. Great vocalist Gregory Porter will perform at 6 p.m.
On Friday in Washington Park, Phil DeGreg's Samba Connection will be joined by singer Mandy Gaines and The Cincy Brass are also set to perform.
Saturday, the fest wraps up with headliner Diane Schuur, as well as Sherrie Maricle and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra and Kathy Wade.
Single-day wristbands are available for $15 or you can purchase one good for all four days for just $40. There are also limited edition VIP wristbands which will get you into four "Meet the Artists Receptions" after each of the big four concerts. Proceeds benefit Learning Through Arts' Books Alive! For Kids, a performing arts/literacy program.
Wristbands for Books Alive! are available at the Aronoff Center Box Office and online at learningthroughart.com here.
Shinedown has been touring on its most recent album, Amaryllis, for the last two years and has just started its Carnival of Madness tour to complete touring on the record. It is the band's biggest, brightest and loudest tour yet. With each album, Shinedown's rocking sound shows bigger energy and different sides, as well as different looks.
CityBeat was able to catch up with bass player Eric
Bass to discuss life on tour and the close bond the band members have,
even after all these years. Shinedown will be tearing up the PNC
Pavilion at Riverbend on Saturday night on its Carnival of Madness tour
stop with Papa Roach, In This Moment and Skillet. (The concert is sold out.)
CityBeat: You guys have really been successful with the last couple albums. You have been on the Billboard charts for over two consecutive years. Did you ever expect that would happen?
Eric Bass: Did I ever expect it? I always hoped it would happen, I guess. You work really hard. We have this thing we say: "Keep your head down, stay humble and move forward." We are blown away by the success. To be honest with you, if you had told the 17-year-old me this was what was going to be happening, he’d be ecstatic. I can’t say that I expected it to happen. We wanted it to happen. We worked really hard for it. We are not surprised, I guess you could say, because of the hard work. It is a true blessing to be able to do what we do and have the success we have had.
CB: The band has been touring constantly. How do you make time to write new songs on the road?
EB: We actually don’t write on the road. We like to separate the two. We go home when we are done with this tour. We will lock ourselves away for a year and write as many songs as we can. Then, when we are done with that, we will go out and tour again and complete the process. We wrote “Diamond Eyes” on tour because it was for a movie soundtrack. That was the first experience we had with that. It worked out and everything went well with it. We work really hard when we are on tour. We are a go-go-go all day long band with interviews, meet and greets and that sort of thing. So there is really not a lot of time to get in and be creative like that. We prefer to separate the two and that creates the situation where each record is pretty different from the others because they are different times and you are not overlapping time periods. You are separating into blocks. It makes the records really interesting.
CB: I have photographed you on your last couple tours. Your shows have grown larger and larger with more pyro and turned into huge Rock shows. How did you guys prepare for Carnival of Madness?
EB: Well we started talking about it two or three months ago and we said, “It’s not going to be small.” That was the whole thing. We were going to make it as big as we could possibly make it. We are bringing our whole sound system with us. We are bringing our own lights. We are bringing our own pyro. We basically have carnival performers that are out with us. It is just a conscious, concerted effort to, every time, step your game up. We have sort of become known for that when we do these big headlining runs. We don’t want to disappoint anybody. People paid good money and want to see a great Rock show and that’s what they are going to get.
CB: You actually have carnival performers on stage with you?
EB: We actually do, yes. It’s going to be fun. I think everybody is going to really enjoy the show.
CB: The first show was this past weekend. How is it going so far?
EB: We are one down. We have the second one tonight. The first one was great. Internally, we found a couple things we could do differently, do a little bit better. We are definitely going to do that. The first show was great. The crowd was very receptive. It was awesome. I think tonight is going to be even better. Then the Cincinnati show, by that time, we will be well-oiled machines and veterans.
CB: Shinedown has a huge social media presence. Why is it important for you guys to stay connected to your fans in that way?
EB: Because the fans are the reason we get to do what we do. We never forget that. The fans are the boss, the most important thing. The fans buy the tickets, they buy the records. I have to say, and it’s going to sound cliché but it’s not meant to be, we have the best fans. Our fans are ridiculously loyal. We like to keep up with them. We actually know … you would be surprised how many fans we know. I’ll see fans at meet and greets that I will know from Twitter. We keep up with them and we know what’s going on. We like to hear what they have to say. They are going to let us know if something is not right. They will let us know if they don’t like something, if they like something. It’s a great tool to utilize as well. You get instant feedback on what you are doing.
CB: What are your hobbies outside of playing music all the time?
EB: It’s kind of funny. I say all my hobbies become my jobs. I produce records. I do a lot of songwriting. I engineer, mix records. A lot of my hobbies have become my job.
I am a golfer. I enjoy golf a lot. More recently, I have started building model airplanes. I needed a quiet hobby I can sit in my house and do. It is something I have found solace in. It may be a little geeky, a little nerdy, but it is fun.
CB: You actually co-wrote “I’ll Follow You” correct?
CB: I love that song. I know it is the new single and it is out, but what is the story behind the song?
EB: The story of the song is pretty interesting. The piano part I had for a couple years. I had been playing it in sound checks. We don’t write on the road, but if it’s something someone in the band hears, “Hey remember that. Record that.” We are pretty in tune with that sort of stuff.
We were out on our acoustic tour that we did on the end of our last record cycle with Will Hoge, a great singer-songwriter from Nashville. Nobody had really said anything about the piano thing I had, so I thought maybe it will be good for Will.
So I hit him up and said, 'On the next day off, I want to show you this piano piece I have got and we can write a song.' He gave me his number and said to give him a call. I gave him a call the day of, I called him like three times, never went to voicemail, never picked up.
The next day, I was like, “I called you three times.” He said, “It never came through. I don’t know what happened.” That day at soundcheck, Brent was like, “What’s that thing you are playing?” I was like, “Man, I have been playing it for three years.” He finally woke up to it. We actually had the recording that day at sound check kind of going through the song. Some of the lyrics are actually in there from that first time we ever played it through, he and I.
If you fast forward six months when we finally wrote it, finally sat down and wrote the song, it happened seamlessly. We wrote it in like two hours, the whole thing was done. Lyrically, it is about the person in your life who is your best friend, your spouse or your girlfriend, your boyfriend or someone really close to you, that person you will always be there for and they will always be there for you.
CB: The band took a different turn on the latest album, playing with the full orchestra. How did that concept come about?
EB: We talked about how Madness had a lot of string-sections stuff. We just talked while we were writing the record about how to make this record a little bigger and a little more grand. That was the first thing that came up, we need to do something with horns and full orchestra, rather than just string sections.
It was fun. It was a blast to be in there to watch that stuff be recorded, watching your vision come to life was amazing. There is very little that we do that is not a conscious decision. We kind of see what we want to do next. We were talking about our next record the other day on the bus. We will probably start working on that next year. We already kind of got an idea for it of what we want it to be. It is pretty phenomenal to have this type and level of instruments on something you have worked on. You pinch yourself every once in a while because it’s so cool.
CB: You guys have been together for some time. Are you all still friends? Do you still hang out?
EB: It’s pretty funny, we love each other so much. We all still ride the same bus even though we don’t have to. We, all four of us, camp out in the same place. We work out together every day. We eat together every day. We really are brothers. We have our moments of getting agitated with each other and angry with each other. There is something different that I don’t see in a lot of bands we travel with. There are some, but they are few and far between. You get a group of people that genuinely like each other and genuinely get along.
I can count on one hand the times I have been up in someone’s face in my band, that I have been that angry with someone. We just don’t get like that. We talk things out. If there is a problem, we sit down and we are very honest with each other. We don’t harbor any animosity toward each other for anything.
“I’ll Follow You” is out right now and is a song Brent and I wrote. Everybody in the band is happy as hell about that because it is doing well. “Bully” is a song Brent and Zach wrote, and I was happy as hell that was doing well. A lot of people get caught up in the unimportant stuff, like who makes more money or what’s going on with this or who’s more popular in the band. We don’t care about that stuff. It’s about the band, the entire group. We all really care about each other. We hang out when we aren’t on tour. It is really a blessing.
CB: It is amazing you guys spend so much time together and it is still like that. There aren’t many people I could spend 24 hours a day with?
EB: We see each other more than we see our wives and girlfriends and our families. We are married. We have to get along. There is no way around it. You can tell on stage. We smile at each other on stage. We joke around. We throw picks at each other. It’s genuine. It’s not an act. You can tell bands on stage that don’t like each other, and you can definitely tell bands on stage that do, and we are one of those bands that really like each other.
Head to MPMF.com right now to see the full lineup and schedule for the MidPoint Music Festival, coming up Sept. 26-28 at various venues in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.
Due to the legal wrangling over the management of The Emery Theatre (widely covered in CityBeat and at citybeat.com), the classic Cincinnati venue — a favorite from last year’s fest — will not be a part of MPMF in 2013. But MPMF’s footprint is expanding to include downtown’s Mainstay Rock Bar (which has participated in the fest in the past) and first-time MPMF venue The Ballroom at the Taft Theatre.
Like the activities on the MidPoint Midway, at the Contemporary Arts Center and in Washington Park, Taft’s Ballroom will be open to MPMFers of all ages. Tickets for individual Taft Ballroom MPMF shows will be available to purchase through Ticketmaster.com (with lower than usual ticketing fees, or avoid the extra fees altogether and buy them in person at the Taft box office). On Sept. 26, the Ballroom will be headlined by just-announced performers The Thermals; Murder By Death, Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons and Nicholas David perform at the Taft on Sept. 27; and, on Sept. 28, the lineup will feature Daughter, Bear’s Den and Cincinnati’s own Bad Veins.
At mpmf.cincyticket.com, you can buy three-day passes, VIP tickets and other “a la carte” tickets for single shows in Washington Park and at Grammers. Shuggie Otis and Cody ChesnuTT headline the Washington Park stage on Sept. 26; The Head and The Heart and Youth Lagoon head up the Sept. 27 lineup; and Sept. 28 in Washington Park will be “The Breeders Day Party,” which starts at noon, with The Breeders performing their seminal Last Splash album at 7 p.m. Saturday’s Washington Park lineup also includes Twin Peaks, Gauntlet Hair, Foxygen and Cincy’s Tweens, who’ve been doing numerous tour dates with The Breeders.
On the Dewey’s Pizza stage at Grammers (21-and-up only), Kurt Vile & The Violators, Snowmine and Cincinnati Psych Rock trio The Harlequins perform on Sept. 26, Warpaint and Secret Colours top the Sept. 27 bill and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, METZ and Deap Vally are slated for Sept. 28.
The Cincinnati music scene is well represented once again at this year’s MPMF. Here are some of the area artists confirmed for the fest: Eclipse; Seabird; The Pinstripes; Young Heirlooms; Us, Today; Saturn Batteries; Sun Country; Darlene; Jody Stapleton and The Generals; Electric Citizen; Magnolia Mountain; Allan Pray; The Tigerlilies; Kelly Thomas and the Fabulous Pickups; Public; The Ready Stance; Mad Anthony; Mama's Porch Band; Hickory Robot; Ben Lapps; Ohio Knife; Honeyspiders; New Vega; Archer's Paradox; The Perfect Children; You, You're Awesome; Goose; Chick Pimp, Coke Dealer at a Bar; Plastic Inevitables; redkattseven; SHADOWRAPTR; Halvsies; DAAP Girls; The Cincy Brass; We Are Snapdragon; Black Signal; The Happy Maladies; ADM; Molly Sullivan; Come On Caboose; SOHIO; Wussy; Alone at 3AM; The Natives; Wussy; and The Kickaways.
And Cincy Indie Pop greats The Fairmount Girls are slated to make their record 12th appearance at the 12th annual festival.
Here are a few links for and visuals from some of the most recently announced national acts coming to MPMF 2013.
This weekend, the Cincy Blues Fest — presented annually by the Cincy Blues Society — returns for its 21st year, a remarkable accomplishment for a music festival of any sort. The festival kicks off tonight and continues tomorrow at Sawyer Point along the riverfront.
The weekend features two main stage acts with serious ties to Cincinnati’s Blues past. Educator, author, DJ, singer and harmonica player Steven Tracy returns to Cincy to play the main stage on tonight at 7 p.m. with his band the Crawling Kingsnakes. A Walnut Hills High School graduate, Tracy worked with local Blues icons like Pigmeat Jarrett and Big Joe Duskin, becoming a part of the scene he’d later dig deeper into in the 1993 book, Going to Cincinnati: A History of the Blues in the Queen City. His writing career is extensive — Tracy has written dozens of album liner notes and edited/wrote/intro-ed several other books on a variety of subjects. Today, Tracy is a professor of Afro-American Studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Saturday at 6 p.m. on the fest’s main stage, Stacy Mitchhart and his band are slated to perform. Mitchhart grew up in Cincinnati and spent time playing music on the East and West Coasts before returning to his hometown in the early 1990s and forming Stacy Mitchhart and Blues-U-Can-Use, a staple on the local Blues scene for a few years. After a move to Nashville, Tenn., in the mid-’90s, Mitchhart’s musical career really took off. His albums have been widely acclaimed and done well commercially — his 2011 release, Live from B.B. King’s, debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard Blues charts — and he’s received high-praise for his showmanship and remarkable Blues voice. In 2008, Mitchhart was the subject of the well-received documentary NashVegas Blues.
Here is tonight's main stage schedule:
5:45-6:45 p.m. Dave Muskett
7:00-8:15 p.m. Steve Tracy & the Crawling Kingsnakes
8:30-10 p.m. Reba Russell Band
10:15-11:45 p.m. Watermelon Slim & the Workers
And here's the lineup for the Main Stage tomorrow:
4:15-4:45 p.m. Blues in the Schools (BITS) Band
5-5:45 p.m. The Juice
6-7 p.m. Stacy Mitchhart Band
7:15-8:30 p.m. Nikki Hill
8:45-10:00 p.m. Honey Island Swamp Band
10:15-11:45 p.m. Ana Popovic (all the way from Serbia!)
Some of the coolest things at the Cincy Blues Fest can be found on the “specialty” stages — a “specialty” of the fest — which this year includes a “Women of the Blues” stage on Friday, headlined by national act EG Knight and also featuring locals Rio & The Ramblers, The Juice and Tempted Souls Band.
Here is the "Women of the Blues" stage ((aka the Arches stage) schedule for tonight :
5:45-7 p.m. Rio & the Ramblers
7:15-8:30 p.m. The Juice
8:45-10:00 p.m. Tempted Souls Band
10:15-11:45 p.m. EG Kight
Saturday sees the return of the “Boogie Woogie Hall of Fame Piano Stage,” featuring an international cast of top-shelf Boogie Woogie pianists, including local favorite Ricky Nye and former locals (now Florida-based) Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues. The house band for the Boogie Woogie stage is Johnny Vidacovich (drums), George Bedard (guitar) and Chris Douglas (bass).
Saturday's Boogie Woogie Piano Hall of Fame stage (aka Arches stage) lineup:
4:30 p.m. Ben Levin
5 p.m. Ari Borger
5:40 p.m. Ricky Nye
6:20 p.m. Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues
7:10 p.m. Bruce Katz
7:50 p.m. Al Hill
8:30 p.m. Axel Zwingenberger & Lila Ammons
9:10 p.m. Joshua Paxton
10 p.m. David Vest
10:40 p.m. Bob Seeley
11:20 p.m. Chris Conz
The Blues Fest again presents the St. Vincent De Paul Local Stage on both days of the event, always an excellent snapshot of the current local Blues scene.
Friday's St. Vincent De Paul Local Stage schedule:
5:45-6:45 p.m. Thomas Long & Blue Sacrifice
7-8 p.m. Noah Wotherspoon Band
8:15-9:15 p.m. Ralph & the Rhythm Hounds
9:30-10:30 p.m. Brad Hatfield Band
10:45 p.m.-12 a.m. G Miles & the Hitmen
Saturday's St. Vincent De Paul Local Stage lineup:
4:30-5:30 p.m. The Blue Birds Big Band
5:45-6:45 p.m. Jay Jesse Johnson Band
7-8 p.m. The SoulFixers
8:15-9:15 p.m. Doug Hart Band
9:30-10:30 p.m. Chuck Brisbin & the Tuna Project
10:45 p.m.-12 a.m. Leroy Ellington Blues Band
Here is a map of the Blues Fest grounds:
Tickets are $15 for Friday, $20 for Saturday or $25 for a
two-day pass (tickets can be purchased at the gates or here). Visit
cincybluesfest.org for everything else you need to know about the
It’s no secret that Chicago is a great place for music. Pretty much any touring band of note — and no doubt many a musical outfit that need not be noted — is sure to include a Chicago stop, and the city’s local scene remains rich and diverse, aided by a host of nurturing venues and an eager, uncommonly discerning base of listeners. That it’s only a five-hour drive from Cincinnati makes it an enticing destination for those of us who yearn to catch shows that skip the Queen City.
Chicago’s embarrassment of musical riches has only grown in recent years with the addition of two high-profile three-day summer festivals: Lollapalooza and Pitchfork. The former needs little introduction — Perry Farrell’s unexpectedly fruitful brainchild is, almost undeniably, the inspiration for the explosion of summer fests over the last two decades, a trend that has grown even more robust since the turn of the century. Every weekend each summer now features at least one festival worthy of audiences’ ears. The trend has even reached Cincinnati, where Bunbury just finished its second successful year — and shared a headliner with Pitchfork. (Whether outdoor settings, marked by often difficult weather conditions and bright sunlight, is the best way to experience the type of music offered at such festivals is a different question.)
Lollapalooza is, alongside behemoths Coachella and Boonaroo, one of America’s biggest and best-attended summer fests, boasting more than 130 artists and an audience in excess of 150,000. Pitchfork, meanwhile, has quickly established itself as a singular presence on the summer circuit, a discerningly curated endeavor that’s an extension of the influential, taste-making webzine that runs it. (Chicago-based Pitchfork.com took over the business side of the fest in 2006 after curating 2005’s initial gathering, which was then called the Intonation Festival). Set in Union Park — a modest city-block space just west of downtown Chicago — Pitchfork now features nearly 50 artists, many of which are still unfamiliar to all but the most plugged-in Indie music connoisseurs. (Ironically, as a champion of cutting-edge acts on the way up, Pitchfork also serves as an early snapshot of future Lollapalooza lineups.)
This year’s Pitchfork, which ran July 19-21, offered one of its most curious lineups to date, especially as it pertains to the headliners, which included Bjork, Belle and Sebastian and, somewhat controversially, R. Kelly. Sure, there were several typically lesser-known acts on the bill, but almost all of them graced the Blue Stage, the smallest of the fest’s three stages. Whether this year’s more accessible bill might have been a reaction to last year’s fest, which gave relatively high-profile slots to such interesting but largely faceless artists as AraabMuzik, Purity Ring, The Field, Big K.R.I.T., Hot Chip and Chavez, among others, is anyone’s guess, but a realignment of sorts from Pitchfork’s powers that be seems plausible.
More proof of a possible shift in booking philosophy: There were more veteran acts than ever this year. Beyond the headliners, each of which has been making music for more than two decades, there was Wire, The Breeders, Swans, … And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Low and Yo La Tengo. The only comparable 2012 act in terms of longevity — admittedly not the best gauge when it comes to creative vitality, but we’re talking audience-drawers here — was Godspeed You Black Emperor, which headlined along with Feist and Vampire Weekend. All are solid acts, but none of them are likely to perk the senses of those looking for a little “star power.” Enter Kelly, one of the era’s preeminent hit-makers (more on that later).
As usual, many of Pitchfork 2013’s most interesting artists emanated from the Blue Stage, which is the most intimate of the fest’s three stages — the larger Green and Red stages (note the refreshing lack of corporate branding, another sign of Pitchfork’s discerning nature), which are but 50 yards (or so) apart, alternate acts at the north end of Union Park, while Blue’s lineup overlaps with the other two. Tucked into a tree-laden area of the park’s southwest corner, the Blue Stage is something of a festival unto itself, its cozy confines offering a break from the spacious, open-air spots where the Green and Red reside.
Multiple Blue Stage artists delivered strong sets, including Frankie Rose, a former Dum Dum Girl whose latest album, Interstellar, is a Synth Pop gem that wouldn’t sound out place alongside Beach House; Mikal Cronin, a little ragamuffin of a guy whose latest album, MCII, is a Power Pop keeper; Angel Olsen, whose Americana-flavored songs and swoon-worthy voice and visage compelled much of the audience during her late-afternoon slot; Metz, a Canadian trio coming to Cincy for this year's MidPoint Music Festival in late September, whose terse songs roared even more righteously in a live setting (think Nirvana on fast-forward); Minnesota mainstays Low, who seemed oddly out of place but still effective in the early evening light; and Trash Talk, a Hardcore crew from Sacramento, Calif., whose long-haired frontman delivered the funniest line of the fest after noticing a number of “old people” in the relatively sparse Friday-afternoon crowd: “I like old people. Old people make the world go around. They fucking had us and shit.”
Best of all — or at least the biggest surprise — was Brooklyn-based Post Punk quartet Parquet Courts, whose playful, twisty tunes recall everyone from early Pavement to the Minutemen to a far less trashed Guided by Voices. Frontman Andrew Savage’s voice is thin but endearing, and his dynamic guitar interplay with fellow frontguy Austin Brown had more than one rapt audience member shaking their ass in the Saturday-afternoon sun.
One got the sense that the Parquet Courts dudes would have been just as happy performing on the street corner just beyond the fence behind them. The fact that they had a much bigger platform to deliver their slanted gospel is just one example of what has made Pitchfork so vital for those looking to experience something rawer and less polished than the acts that dominate other festivals. (Go get Parquet Court’s recent full-length, Light Up Gold, as soon as possible.)
Even the Blue Stage’s less successful performances were compelling in one way or another: while Julia Holter, Ryan Hemsworth, Andy Stott and Evian Christ — the latter three DJs who essentially stand behind a table — have issues in the area of crowd interaction and sometimes suffered from spotty sound mixes, each was able to convey its mood-altering music in ways that, at the very least, provided sonic respites from the relatively more conventional acts at the bigger stages, whose roar often bled into the Blue’s.
On to the two main stages, which drew large, unusually enthusiastic crowds all weekend. Long a champion of adventurous Hip Hop, Pitchfork again featured some intriguing purveyors of the form, most notably Sunday sets by Killer Mike and El-P. The pair released two of the best albums of 2012, and their stellar recent collaboration, dubbed Run the Jewels, dropped as a free download in June. After a sweaty set in which Mike ran through songs from his R.A.P. Music — including strong versions of the title track and the politically cutting “Reagan” — he joined his buddy El-P for a batch of Run the Jewels cuts that mixed verbal dexterity with a healthy dose of levity. Their record, simply titled Run the Jewels, is something of a break from the duo’s doomsday aesthetic as solo artists — Jewels is an exuberant, sonically diverse fun-ride that makes light of Hip Hop’s silly preoccupation with bling (the two performed with fake gold chains around their necks), among other Pop-culture oddities. (El-P later tweeted, “I’ll just go ahead and say @pitchforkfest is the most chill, fun ass festival around right now.)
Run the Jewels was an interesting transition into a set from the ever-vital Yo La Tengo, which mixed choice cuts from its vast back-catalog (including sweet reworked versions of “Autumn Sweater,” “Tom Courtney” and “The Hour Grows Late”) with several tunes from the New Jersey trio’s latest record, Fade. As usual, they didn’t interact much with the crowd, though frontman Ira Kaplan, who dropped in several impressive guitar freak-outs, did joke that it was “good to be opening for R. Kelly again.”
The fest’s most curious social-media-stirring moment occurred Sunday evening as M.I.A., amid a garishly colorful backdrop of spinning wheels and neon lights, unveiled songs from her forthcoming album, Matangi. A sea of cell phones rose to record her entrance; many stayed aloft throughout. It was a departure in audience etiquette — somewhat unexpectedly, much of the festival was free of such ubiquitous use of technological interference.
Clad in a flashy gold top and orange short-shorts, M.I.A. stalked the stage, often with dancers at her side, as bass-heavy Dance-Rap arrangements thundered through the ample soundsystem with almost netherworldly force. The ceaseless sonic assault pretty much drowned out whatever she might have been trying to convey in her new songs — which, based on the spottiness of her previous record and the delayed release of Matangi, might be a good thing. Only when her set was interrupted by technical glitches did she seem spontaneous or even all that engaged. It was a weird, disjointed set, the kind of whiz-bang spectacle that rarely rears its head at Pitchfork.
In contrast, Savages Saturday afternoon appearance was a model of lacerating intensity. The buzzed-about British quartet — whose recent debut Silence Yourself is a satisfying blast of atmospheric Post Punk — was one of the most anticipated acts of fest. They didn’t disappoint, delivering blistering versions of “I Am Here,” “She Will” and “Fuckers,” a new song about not letting the “fuckers get you down.”
Jehnny Beth is a captivating frontlady, her no-bullshit stare and frequent high-pitched yelps lifting the music’s familiar elements — everyone from Gang of Four and Patti Smith to Siouxsie Sioux and PJ Harvey come immediately to mind — to uncharted heights. More unexpected was the band’s tendency to evoke ’80s-era U2, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even more curious was Beth’s evocation of Ian Curtis, both in terms of her appearance (lean with close-cropped hair) and in some of her mannerisms (as if the music were transporting her somewhere beyond the stage).
Michael Gira, Swans’ longtime ringleader, was impressed,
asking the audience, “How about them lady Savages?” before clapping in
appreciation. Gira’s band immediately followed Savages, and it was an
apt pairing, like opposite sides of the same coin. His crew of gifted
Post Punk vets — which includes a hairy multi-instrumentalist named Thor
and a suave German slide-guitar player who looks as though he’d be
right a home in a David Lynch flick — conjured an unholy racket during a
truncated version of “The Seer” and offered an inspired take on
“Oxygen,” which featured Gira doing a spooky Indian-like dance
throughout. While it was odd to witness Swans’ menacing, ebb-and-flow
soundscapes in broad daylight, the outdoor setting still left those in
attendance vibrating long after the band’s final drone leaked from the
That brings us to the three headliners. The festival’s mission — it attempts to highlight the most adventurous, zeitgeist-channeling acts on the current landscape — makes choosing an anchor to each day’s events a challenging dilemma for Pitchfork organizers. Given the esoteric nature of many such music-makers, there are only so many high-profile acts that fit the typical “headliner” criteria. Past choices have included such Alt-Rock mainstays as Flaming Lips, Spoon and Sonic Youth to more contemporary entries in the canon like TV on the Radio, Animal Collective and LCD Soundsystem.
Pitchfork even had Yoko Ono headline one year, which makes the choice of R. Kelly as Sunday night’s festival-closer even odder one on multiple levels. First, there’s the fact that Kelly — no doubt one of the most important R&B artists of the era, and a Chicago native to boot — is the most mainstream artist the festival has ever booked. Second, and far more troubling for many, is Kelly’s reputation as a serial misogynist who never got the legal reprimand he deserved.
The most vociferous critic has been longtime music writer Jim DeRogatis, who broke the story of Kelly’s indiscretions while working at the Chicago Sun-Times in 2002. DeRogatis called Pitchfork’s decision to book Kelly and the subsequent excitement from “some (not all) paying customers” as being “fueled by irony.”
No doubt there are legitimate questions about how an artist’s personal issues should impact the way in which we experience their music, but, for better or worse, those knotty questions were not going to be answered during Kelly’s Pitchfork set.
In fact, based on the reaction of those in the massive crowd — probably the festival’s largest ever — irony was not as prevalent as DeRogatis wanted to profess. The overwhelming majority of those in attendance, which ranged from fortysomething African-American couples to teenage hipsters, seemed genuinely excited to be taking in Kelly’s sextastic jams. The performance itself, meanwhile, was largely standard-issue R&B stagecraft, as Kelly ran through much of his extensive songbook medley-style (38 songs!). Not even a steady drizzle of rain could dampen the mood, as many swayed and sang along straight through to a set-closing version of “I Believe I Can Fly,” which was accompanied by the release of dove-shaped balloons.
If Kelly’s presentation was fairly straightforward, Bjork’s closing set on Friday was anything but. Or so it seemed — unless one was within 75 yards of the stage, it was hard to see what was going on besides fleeting glimpses of Bjork’s elaborate headgear, which looked like a porcupine lit up from within. Worse, the two video boards that flanked the Green Stage were mounted too low, rendering them almost useless to those they should intend to aid.
No matter: Bjork’s expressive voice was just as fluid and otherworldly as one would expect on slightly reconfigured versions of “Hunter,” “Joga” “Pagan Poetry” and “Army of Me.” When rain and pending lightening and thunder prompted festival organizers to pull the plug after an hour, Bjork responded with this curio: “It’s calm. I don’t know. This wouldn’t be much in Iceland, I can tell you that much.”
It also rained on Belle and Sebastian Saturday night, but not enough to cut short what was the festival’s most overt nod to nostalgia. The Scottish crew ran through a career-spanning set that crested early with rousing versions of “I’m a Cuckoo” and “The Stars of Track and Field,” which had more than one thirtysomething couple embracing amid all the tuneful sweetness.