MidPoint Music Festival 2014 kicks off this Thursday and we've been showcasing some of the Critic's Picks from our official MidPoint guide (which will be available throughout the fest). While most of attendees are likely very familiar with some of the bigger headlining acts, these suggestions mostly focus on some of the lesser known gems. (If you're in doubt, any act with "Cincinnati" next to their name is a slam dunk.)
12:15 a.m. @ Arnold's
Baskery (Stockholm, Sweden)
Sweden’s Baskery formed in 2007, but the members didn’t have to go far to find each other. The group consists of sisters Greta, Stella and Sunniva Bondesson, who dub their unique spin on Roots/Country music everything from “Nordicana” to “Banjo-Punk.” But descriptions are especially difficult when it comes to Baskery; the trio’s third album, this year’s Little Wild Life, finds the sisters spinning a wide range of American Roots music styles into their own distinctive, wildly diverse sound. One second the group is showcasing its vocal harmony prowess a capella on the haunting “Northern Girl,” the next its strutting swamp boogie a la Southern Culture on the Skids on “The NoNo.” If you’re tiring of Roots music that doesn’t go off the same exact blueprints established a century ago, Baskery will show you just how far Americana can be taken.
You’ll Dig It If You Dig: The Dixie Chicks without boundaries, The Beatles reborn as a sister act fascinated by Americana. (Mike Breen)
7:15 p.m. @ Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. (Outdoor Stage)
Ancient Warfare (Lexington, Ky.)
Ancient Warfare’s dark and quiet intensity transcends the band’s tough-chick exterior. The quartet designs a sonic atmosphere the same way Saul Bass once designed logos: with elegant simplicity and ferocious creativity. The psychedelic aspect to Ancient Warfare’s presentation is more about texture than actual sound, as their languid, fuzzy melodies drift through their ethereal yet solidly constructed songs, like the heavy smoke in an opium den. The palpable weariness of Echo Wilcox’s gloomy vocals and haunted guitar, the intractable pull of Rachael Yanarella’s hypnotic violin, the subtle thunder of Reva Williams’ bass and the exquisite filigrees provided by multi-instrumentalist Emily Hagihara swirl and combine to make Ancient Warfare’s enveloping totality and assure that their imminent debut album, The Pale Horse, will be one of the fall’s most anticipated releases.
YDIIYD: Sixteen Horsepower reimagined as the Velvet Underground by P.J. Harvey, Aimee Mann and Hope Sandoval. (Brian Baker)
10 p.m. @ Christian Moerlein Brewing Company (Indoor Stage)
Apache Dropout (Bloomington, Ind.)
Like all good college towns, Bloomington, Ind., is forever dishing up awesome bands with fresh, new music. In the case of Apache Dropout, that “new” sound is perfectly and thankfully reminiscent of some of the best music of the past. Their newest album, Heavy Window, comes from Magnetic South, co-owned by band member Seth Mahern. The guys pressed 1,000 copies of Heavy Window, one of their largest printings yet. Fun fact: The first half of those records feature glowing eyes on the eerie-cool cover. It’s the ultimate tell-tale sign of the drug-addled, paranoid Rock & Roll boogie on the inside.
YDIIYD: The Who on acid, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club. (Deirdre Kaye)
11 p.m. @ The Drinkery
Xoe Wise (Chicago)
At 19, Xoe Wise moved from her North Carolina home (the first song she wrote was for a sick goat on her family’s farm) to Chicago and immediately became a fixture in the city’s burgeoning scene. Wise’s debut album, 2010’s Echo, generated a pile of positive local press, while its follow-up, 2012’s Archive of Illusions, earned her a sell-out crowd at Schuba’s, a spot on WGN-TV and a feature in the Chicago Tribune. Wise’s third EP, Breakfast, hit the Top 20 on iTunes’ Singer/Songwriter chart and she’s currently at work on her third full-length, irresistibly titled Racecar Orgasm. Wise plays solo acoustic or with a full Electro Pop crew, but either way she creates a dreamy and undeniable vibe.
YDIIYD: Imogen Heap and Suzanne Vega play Twister on a musical game board. (BB)
11:15 p.m. @ Mainstay Rock Bar
The Tontons (Houston)
Big-haired Texas and its Rock & Roll-loving youngsters have eaten up and loved every second of their time with The Tontons. Now the band is out touring the nation and conquering ears and hearts across the globe. The group’s sultry Rock is just good enough to make The Tontons Cincinnati’s favorite band, too. “So Young,” off 2011’s Golden, feels like a modern, youthful, rockin’ spin on elevator music or like Henry Mancini decided to start a female-led Rock band. Asli Omar’s one-of-a-kind voice and perfect squeal makes each song on this year’s Make Out King and Other Stories stand out.
YDIIYD: Blonde Redhead, wearing leather to Tiffany & Co. (DK)
8:45 p.m. @ Mainstay Rock Bar
The Nepotist (New York, N.Y.)
Good luck trying to find a one or two word descriptor for the music made by NYC trio The Nepotist. Actually, don’t even try — the group’s uniqueness and sonic diversity is what makes them so enjoyable to listen to. The Village Voice called them “Alt Soul,” a term the band has embraced and works well enough given the soulful vocals and rewired Steve Cropper guitar riffs. But then you have a track like the recent single “Kids,” which has bubbling banjo and harmonies befitting a Folk band. It’s a delicious stew that is blissfully unpredictable. The trio (formed by brothers Chris and Hayden Frank) has only been together a couple of years but has already drawn loads of glowing press thanks to its pair of EPs and various singles released just this year alone. A full-length is due early next year.
YDIIYD: Grizzly Bear, Sufjan Stevens, Dr. Dog. (MB)
10:30 p.m. @ Memorial Hall
Saintseneca (Columbus, Ohio)
When Saintseneca canceled an appearance at the Fashion Meets Music Festival in Columbus this July, the quintet made national headlines not for its music but for its social politics, because the members were against sex offender R. Kelly performing at the fest. Met with vicious protests, Kelly eventually pulled out (no pun intended) of the fest. This is one of many ways the folksy Appalachian Pop group has become famous this year, along with releasing the new record Dark Arc (produced by Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis), recording a NPR Tiny Desk Concert and gigging across the country. From grassroots house concerts in central Ohio to performing at national fests, it won’t be long now before everyone knows their name and music.
YDIIYD: Weird instruments like the bouzouki, the dulcimer and a bowed banjo playing lilting harmonies with a Ben Gibbard-y vocal affectation. (Garin Pirnia)
9:45 p.m. @ MidPoint Midway Stage
Low Cut Connie (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
If you think Piano Rock is all Billy Joel and Elton John, sorry will be a much easier word for you after you’ve experienced the 88-key onslaught of Low Cut Connie. Featuring the manic piano fireworks of Adam Weiner and the ambidextrous drum/guitar magic of Dan Finnemore (and a full band’s worth of mayhem on tour), Low Cut Connie entertains with a vengeance and accepts nothing less than total surrender. Their first two albums, 2011’s Get Out the Lotion and 2012’s Call Me Sylvia, are loaded with catchy numbers that feature a lot of humor but stop well short of being simple novelties and showcase the duo’s disparate influences (Jerry Lee Lewis and Iggy Pop for Weiner; British Punk and Garage Rock for Finnemore). Low Cut Connie’s latest triumph was a spectacular version of Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire” on the Nilsson tribute This is the Town earlier this year, and rumors of a third album continue to swirl. But right now, the play’s the thing. See Low Cut Connie and marvel at the things a piano was never meant to do but should have been doing all along.
YDIIYD: Ben Folds dipped in speed and forced to play Replacements and Stooges songs in a seedy cabaret. (BB)
8 p.m. @ MOTR Pub
Wyatt Blair (Los Angeles)
Power Pop gets short shrift in any serious discussion of music because of its relative simplicity and perceived lack of gravity, but nothing could be further from the truth. Coming up with hooks and lyrics that get the job done in under three minutes and stick in the head like brain taffy may be among the most difficult musical tasks. Wyatt Blair doesn’t seem to have any problem at all, and his latest album, the confectionary Banana Cream Dream, is solid evidence of his lo-fi Power Pop ambitions (he also works with Peach Kelli Pop and Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel). As Andy Partridge once noted so succinctly, this is Pop.
YDIIYD: Rick Springfield channeling T. Rex, produced by Tommy Keene. (BB)
10:45 p.m. @ Ballroom at the Taft Theatre
Earth (Seattle, Wash.)
Much like the planet itself, the band Earth has been through a lot in the past 25 years. Guitarist Dylan Carson founded the primarily instrumental band in 1989, cribbing the name from one of Black Sabbath’s early monikers. The band’s 1993 debut, Earth 2, has long been considered the launching pad for what Carlson dubbed Ambient Metal, a feedback- and distortion-drenched drone that influenced a subsequent generation. In the mid-’90s, Carlson shelved the band to deal with heroin addiction; it would be nearly a decade before the release of 2005’s Hex; or Printing in the Infernal Method, which retained a Doom Metal structure but incorporated Country and Blues motifs and was also heavily influenced by Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Blood Meridian. Earth’s next albums, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I and II, were shaped by Carlson’s love of Pentangle and Fairport Convention, while the just released Primitive and Deadly finds Carlson moving in yet another new and different direction, incorporating straight Rock and even Pop elements into his long droning jams. With 16 lineup changes in a quarter century, it’s not unusual that Earth would shift identities, but even if the personnel had been stable throughout, Carlson would have retooled the band’s sound in any event and made a new, glorious noise to confront the world.
YDIIYD: God’s guitar, Gabriel’s amp, the Devil’s road crew. (BB)
In honor of this week's MidPoint Music Festival we're showcasing some of the Critic's Picks from our official MidPoint guide (the print version of which will be available throughout the fest). While most attendees are likely very familiar with some of the bigger headlining acts, these options are mostly some of the lesser known on-the-rise acts. (Pro tip: Every Cincinnati band at MPMF is well worth your time should you find yourself with a hole in your schedule.)
8:30 p.m. @ Arnold's
Honey Locust (Nashville, Tenn.)
Honey Locust might hew a little closer to Nashville’s Americana traditions, but the Chamber Folk outfit still remains in the nether region between the city’s manufactured Country imagery and its Rock rebels. The band’s first EPs, 2012’s Fear is a Feeling and 2013’s Live in December, teed up its recently released The Great Southern Brood, Honey Locust’s quasi-thematic and dustily beautiful new album which uses cyclical cicada infestations to metaphorically examine the seasons of man. The Great Southern Brood cements the band’s singular position in its home scene, thrills its growing fan base and opens Honey Locust up to the wider Indie Folk world.
You'll Dig It If You Dig: An Appalachian Polyphonic Spree absorbs Bon Iver, The Lumineers and Morrissey to create a super Folk army. (Brian Baker)
12:30 a.m. @ Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. (Indoor Stage)
Watter (Louisville, Ky.)
Slint, one of Louisville’s quintessential Rock bands, released two albums in the late ’80s and early ’90s and then called it quits. The band’s seminal Post Rock album Spiderland is still considered one of the best in the genre. The quartet moved on to other projects but reconvened for a brief reunion tour over the summer. Between tour dates with Slint, drummer Britt Walford formed another band this year — with Grails member Zak Riles and Holy Grale bar co-owner Tyler Trotter — and they released the instrumental This World in the spring. Even though critics classify them as Post Rock and Post Hardcore, songs like “Rustic Fog” exude ambient melodies combined with Middle Eastern-y and synth tidbits.
YDIIYD: Slow building instrumentals, Krautrock, bands from Touch and Go Records. (Garin Pirnia)
9 p.m. @ Contemporary Arts Center
Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor (Detroit)
A decade ago, guitarist/vocalist Sean Morrow, bassist/keyboardist Eric Oppitz and drummer Richard Sawoscinski came together under the banner of SikSik Nation, but quickly morphed into Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, which itself evolved from a standard Garage/Blues band into a darkly scintillating Psych Rock outfit befitting of their Motor City roots. In the past 10 years, the group has only released a pair of full-length albums (2009’s SOYSV and 2011’s Spectra Spirit; a third is on the way soon) but that doesn’t mean the trio hasn’t been busy. SOYSV tours relentlessly and founded Echo Fest, which highlights the best in Michigan Psych Rock. They would know.
YDIIYD: Sherman sets the Wayback Machine for 1968, Mr. Peabody takes the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test and has a vision of Syd Barrett fronting The Doors. (BB)
11 p.m. @ The Drinkery
All Them Witches (Nashville, Tenn.)
Have you looked skyward recently and shouted to no particular deity, “Hey, is anyone doing anything remotely different in Nashville these days?” All Them Witches has heard your prayer, or whatever the hell that was. The quartet’s most recent release is Effervescent, 25 minutes of Stoner/Psych/Blues bliss contained in the EP’s epic title track, which also happens to be its only track (it’s available for free download at Bandcamp), and it’s yet another stellar example of All Them Witches’ swirling love of acid-and-feedback-drenched Rock, Blues-tinted Psychedelia and a total lack of anything resembling sonic boundaries. Drink a Tab (or drop one), count backward from a million and prepare to, as George Harrison once so elegantly noted, arrive without travelling.
YDIIYD: The Doors and The Grateful Dead have a shared hallucination at a Black Sabbath/Iron Butterfly reunion/intervention. (BB)
11:45 p.m. @ Know Theater (Main Stage)
Rubblebucket (New York)
Rubblebucket was born in Burlington, Vt., eight years ago when vocalist Kalmia Traver and trumpeter Alex Toth met in a Latin Jazz band. That sentence alone should be enough to convince you that the NYC-based quintet is destined to be one of this year’s MidPoint highlights. Rubblebucket’s first two albums (2009’s Rubblebucket and 2011’s Omega La La) and two subsequent EPs (Oversaturated and Save Charlie) showcased the band’s ultraswank Funk/Soul/Ska/Art Pop evolution, but its just released third set, Survival Sounds, is a veritable explosion of guitars, horns, loopy synths and quirky vocal gymnastics, all of it as danceable as any 40 minutes that ever ran on American Bandstand and as infectious as weaponized bird flu. Dancing will occur at a molecular level; be ready to go subatomic on your ass.
YDIIYD: Polyphonic Spree and Bjork join the Fabulous Flames and Talking Heads in a weird tribute to James Brown. (BB)
11:15 p.m @ Mainstay Rock Bar
Love X Stereo (Seoul, South Korea)
Electro Alt Rock
Of all the bands traveling to Cincinnati for MidPoint, Korea’s Love X Stereo might be coming from the farthest corner of the world. In their native country, Annie Ko, Toby Hwang and Sol Han are known for their mix of ’90s influenced Synth Rock, but the Western part of the world’s just getting to know them. Last year the band released its third EP, Glow, and just this year Love X Stereo recorded a cover of Capital Cities’ “Safe and Sound” for an Indie Goes Pop compilation. Let’s be clear: They aren’t K-Pop, like that one guy who wrote that one huge hit a couple of years ago. For an unsigned band from Korea with big dreams of conquering the world — LxS has already played SXSW and CMJ (and was supposed to play MPMF last year but canceled due to travel issues) — it’s exciting to have the band traversing to our little town.
YDIIYD: Listening to good Korean bands that have nothing to do with K-Pop, Manic Panic red-headed chicks. (GP)
12 a.m. @ MOTR Pub
Landlady (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Originally formed in 2011 as the solo project of multi-instrumentalist Adam Schatz (member of the Man Man and Vampire Weekend touring bands), Landlady has added members since then, gradually becoming a quintet. Schatz’s was all solo when he released Landlady’s first album, 2011’s Keeping to Yourself, and with the full band in place the group released its second LP, Upright Behavior, this past summer on Portland label Hometapes.
YDIIYD: Future Islands, TV on the Radio, Dirty Projectors. (Mike Breen)
11:45 p.m. @ Mr. Pitiful's
machineheart (Los Angeles)
L.A. five-piece machineheart makes unabashedly epic Pop music with depth. The band crafts a compelling backdrop of guitars, big beats and tasteful electronic additives, but it’s singer Stevie Scott’s dazzling vocal presence and the ear-burrowing melodies that really pull the listener in. The band has only been together for a short time, first catching attention less than a year ago with a cover of The 1975’s “Chocolate,” but the limited tracks made available for public consumption (“Circles,” “Another Me,” “Snøw”) are so endearing, sophisticated and radio-ready, it won’t be long before machineheart catches fire nationally. This is one of those acts that we’ll all likely be saying, “Oh, I saw them at MidPoint in 2014,” once they breakthrough.
YDIIYD: Sia, Charli XCX, Florence + the Machine. (MB)
8 p.m. @ Mr. Pitiful's
Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands (Greensboro, N.C.)
There is a theatrical element to Crystal Bright’s songs and her performance of them, which seems natural when you learn she’s a stage director/producer and performance artist (as well as music teacher, multi-instrumentalist and holistic nutritionist … so she eats well, too). Bright’s World music experience is almost beyond belief — she’s played in Chinese, Ugandan, Brazilian and Indonesian ensembles, among others — and she brings it all to bear with the Silver Hands, which she assembled four years ago. The band’s 2010 eponymous “experimental vaudeville” album was well received, as was its follow up, 2012’s Muses & Bones, a brilliant stylistic pastiche.
YDIIYD: Jane Siberry and Danny Elfman record a Gypsy Folk soundtrack to a Slavic noir detective movie starring Tom Waits as the gumshoe and Kate Bush as the dame. (BB)
11 p.m. @ Ballroom at the Taft Theatre
Hip Hop/Spoken Word
Dessa began her musical journey as a part of Doomtree, the Minneapolis Hip Hop collective, as both versatile artist and business manager. She then established her solo identity with A Badly Broken Code and Castor, the Twin, albums that earned her the comparison of “Mos Def plus Dorothy Parker” for her flawless flow and incisive wordplay. Dessa’s latest album, the recently released and patently brilliant Parts of Speech, finds the Hip Hop chanteuse expanding in a dozen different creative directions simultaneously, incorporating diverse musical elements in her Hip Hop foundation while spitting some of her most powerful and compelling lyrics to date. You might not like Hip Hop, but it’s a safe bet that you’ll love Dessa’s intoxicating rhymes and genre alchemy.
YDIIYD: Ani DiFranco channeling Eminem. (BB)
It's MidPoint Music Festival week! If you need some guidance as you create your MPMF itinerary (which you can build and keep track of through the live.mpmf.com app), we'll be showcasing some of the Critic's Picks from our official MidPoint guide (which will be available throughout the fest). While most of attendees are likely very familiar with some of the bigger headlining acts of the fest, these suggestions focus on some of the great acts beyond the top-of-the-poster ones. Remember — MPMF is about discovery. (And if you find yourself with a blank spot on your schedule, any of Cincinnati's homegrown talent playing MPMF are a sure bet.)
8 p.m. @ Arnold's
Old Hundred (Columbus, Ohio)
Indie Folk Rock
In 2012, Columbus’ Old Hundred was listed as one of “10 Ohio Bands You Should Listen to Now” by Paste Magazine. If you didn’t heed that advice at the time, you should do yourself a favor and do so immediately. Along with scoring slots at regional fests and playing with the likes of Mumford & Sons, Phosphorescent and Cake, the group has put out a pair of full-lengths and two EP releases, including this year’s remarkable I Don’t Want to Die. The EP shows the unpredictable diversity of Old Hundred, opening with the sweeping Folk instrumental “Catamount I” before moving into gritty, melodic Indie Rock of “I’ll Be There (When You Die),” the beautiful harmony-laden “I Don’t Want to Die” and “Catamount II,” which begins with haunting Art Folk minimalism and builds into a noisy cacophony that could’ve been composed by Explosions in the Sky.
You'll Dig It If You Dig: Fleet Foxes, Wilco, Grizzly Bear, Band of Horses. (Mike Breen)
10:30 p.m. @ The Drinkery
Alpha Consumer (Minneapolis)
Considering Minneapolis’ storied history, Alpha Consumer has created a cultishly devoted fan base among one of the most sophisticated and discerning music audiences on the planet. The trio has also made fans within its peer group, collaborating with Andrew Bird, Bon Iver and Brother Ali, while maintaining a unique musical perspective of herky jerky New Wave as filtered through a melodic Pop prism that fractures its light into individual rays of New York Punk, Psych Folk and contemporary Indie Rock. Alpha Consumer’s last full-length, 2011’s Kick Drugs Out of America, was a blast of Indie oddballery, but the group’s recently released Meat shows a great deal more subtlety and musical growth toward the melodic heart and soul that was evident on its predecessor.
YDIIYD: Ray Davies, Paul Westerberg and Ween in the front row of a Devo concert. (Brian Baker)
10:30 p.m. @ Know Theater (Main Stage)
Fathers is a band with branches in Chicago but deep roots in the Cincinnati scene. Its members played previously in such Cincy stalwarts as Enlou, All The Day Holiday and Cathedrals. It should be noted that Fathers sound virtually nothing like any of those bands, but instead carves out its own niche somewhere between ’70s Easy Listening and more modern, propulsive Indie Rock. Nearly every song demonstrates a mastery of the delicate art of dynamic and mood. Of course, that being said, the band says its live show is akin to “an out-of-control bus with a bomb strapped to the bottom that will blow if the driver slows down.” So come prepared for anything.
YDIIYD: Fleetwood Mac with vocals recorded in the My Morning Jacket reverb silo. (Ben Walpole)
10 p.m. @ Know Theater (Second Stage)
Violent Mae (Hartford, Conn.)
Indie Jazz Rock
As their bio reads, vocalist/guitarist Becky Kessler and drummer Floyd Kellogg were supposed to work on her solo album together, not form a band. Kessler moved from Outer Banks, N.C., to work on an organic farm in Connecticut, where she met Kellogg. The result of their work together is last year’s self-titled debut, influenced by noisy bands Sonic Youth and Pixies, but also possessing notes of Jazz icon Charles Mingus and a sprinkling of Jeff Buckley’s Folk Gospel. On the upbeat melancholy of “Hole in My Heart,” Kessler sings about heartache in her raspy voice that’s in the ilk of Heartless Bastards’ Erika Wennerstrom. This winter they went method and recorded the song “Man in the Country” in an abandoned mining cave.
YDDIYD: The Heartless Bastards, Jeff Buckley without the high notes, New England in the fall, cave dwellers. (Garin Pirnia)
10:45 p.m. @ Mainstay Rock Bar
The Infatuations (Detroit)
The high-energy Soul style of The Infatuations has made them a favorite in their hometown scene, which is saying a lot when you realize their hometown scene gave birth to Motown and scores of bands known for amazing live shows (MC5, The White Stripes, etc.). The group recently scored five Detroit Music Awards (out of 14 nominations) including Outstanding Live Performance. The Infatuations bring the party for its live shows and their recorded work captures that sweaty, dance-demanding vibe perfectly. This year, the group released its first full-length, Detroit Block Party, 11 tracks of high-octane R&B that’s almost as fun to listen to as it is to experience in concert. Almost.
YDIIYD: Motown, Stax, Marvin, Curtis, Otis. (MB)
Midnight @ MOTR Pub
Nikki Lane (Nashville, Tenn.)
With her unabashed bluster, Lane’s songs about jilted lovers and walks of shame generate either foot stomping or pensive swaying. (Note: She’s nothing like another Nashville “Country” artist who likes to write songs about exes, Taylor Swift.) Lane grew up in Greenville, S.C., then spent some time in NYC before settling in Music City, where she opened up a vintage store called High Class Hillbilly. That led to meeting and collaborating with Black Key Dan Auerbach, who produced her sophomore record, All or Nothin’. On songs “Man Up” and “You Can’t Treat Me Like That,” she lets those men know she’s the boss, all while never losing that alluring rhythm.
YDIIYD: Strong vintage female Country artists like Wanda Jackson and Loretta Lynn and newer country artists like Lydia Loveless. (GP)
10:30 p.m. @ Mr. Pitiful's
Steelism (Nashville, Tenn.)
Led by guitarist Jeremy Fetzer and pedal steel player Spencer Cullum, Steelism is a wide-ranging instrumental band that takes from Surf rock greats, classical soundtrack composers and vintage Soul music and creates its own distinct and completely engrossing sound. You can use Santo & Johnny — the pedal steel/guitar twosome that had a hit with the mesmerizing “Sleepwalk” — as a starting point, simply because it is a provocative instrumental hit using the same instrument motif, but Steelism takes the concept to levels that duo only dreamed of. They can pull off gorgeous Country balladry, Krautrock weirdness, rollicking Rock & Roll boogie, R&B smoothness with equal grace, managing to have its own strong musical identity craft cohesiveness in the face of such disparate inspiration. And no, you get swept up enough that you won’t once wonder, “Would this sound better with singing?” In this case, singing would be distracting.
YDIIYD: The Ventures, Esquivel, Ennio Morricone. (MB)
10:45 p.m. @ Ballroom at the Taft Theater
Barrence Whitfield and the Savages (Boston)
Barrence Whitfield is the kind of performer that the word “frontman” was devised to define who they are and yet doesn’t go nearly far enough in describing what they do. Whitfield is a human tornado of Soul and Rock, a witheringly energetic gene splice of Wilson Pickett, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Arthur Alexander, with moves and grooves that would sprain Richard Simmons’ optic nerve. And around him are the Savages, a musical Special Forces unit that storms stages with blitzkrieg passion and unhinged abandon. And we’ll let Boston claim them, because the band started there three decades ago, but we all know that half the Savages hail from the Queen City (ex-Customs/DMZ/Lyres guitarist Peter Greenberg, ex-Customs/Auburnaires keyboardist Jim Cole, ex-Pearlene drummer Andy Jody) and their last two comeback albums — 2011’s Savage Kings and 2013’s Dig Thy Savage Soul — were recorded with John Curley at Ultrasuede (and Savage Kings was released on Shake It, so there). But the band will be happy to tell you that it doesn’t matter where they’re from, it matters where they’re headed. And the best you can do to get ready is strap your ass on tight; Barrence Whitfield and the Savages might just rock it off.
YDIIYD: Little Richard mentors The Dictators, Wilson Pickett gives them a metric ton of Soul. (BB)
Over the past few years, Athens, Ohio’s Indie Folk troupe The Ridges have become a regular presence at Cincinnati area clubs, building up a nice local following. They’ve also become fairly regular participants in the MidPoint Music Festival (which returns starting this Thursday to the clubs and venues of Downtown/Over-the-Rhine) and they always provide fest-highlight-worthy performances. The band is returning to MPMF 2014 for its third visit to the festival, opening up the night at new MPMF venue Memorial Hall Saturday at 9:15 p.m. and rounding out a great bill that also includes anticipated MPMF sets by Saintseneca and Gardens & Villa.
The Ridges (who’ve done several dates in the past year with Kishi Bashi, one of last year’s big MPMF breakthrough acts) often craft cool promo videos for their shows, particularly for bigger events like MPMF. The band’s video previewing its appearance at this year’s MidPoint was recently shot from the stage at Memorial Hall, giving a good look at the gorgeous venue for those who’ve never seen it.
“It’s always one of our favorite shows,” Ridges singer/songwriter/guitarist Victor Rasgaitis says about playing MidPoint. “The atmosphere is perfectly inspiring and the crowds are so incredibly receptive — we're lucky to have such an awesome festival here in Ohio.”
On their most recent tour, excellent Northern Kentucky Indie Rock band The Yugos stopped by Toledo, Ohio’s SixtyTen Recording Studio to record its latest single, “Follow You,” as part of the facility’s “SixtyTen Sessions” video series.
The studio version of the single, released earlier this summer, can be streamed/downloaded here.
One week from the day, The Yugos will be opening up MidPoint Music Festival’s Friday festivities. The band plays at 5 p.m. Friday on the MidPoint Midway stage, right before another of the fest’s most anticipated acts, Real Estate, performs. The Midway stage is free and open to the public (no tickets/passes required), thanks to stage sponsor P&G. It’s also an all-ages show.
While commercial radio throws a bone here and there to homegrown musicians in Greater Cincinnati via specialty shows or segments, public radio station WNKU (89.7 FM; wnku.org) frequently adds songs from local artists to its regular-rotation playlist. And it has for years. The station also covers the local scene online with news and reviews, hosts local musicians for its live in-studio Studio 89 program and sponsors numerous musical events across the Tristate.
Local musicians are returning the favor by appearing on the new compilation album, Get Real Gone: Road Songs for Public Radio. In lieu of, say, a cliched tote bag gift, WNKU will be giving CDs of the album to those who donate during the station’s fall fund drive. Listeners who become “sustaining members,” paying just $8 a month, or those who donate $96 can score a disc of their very own.
The compilation features tracks by Roger Klug, Brian Lovely’s Flying Underground, Eclipse Movement, Goose, The Newbees, Balderdash, Tim Goshorn, Kim Taylor, psychodots, Marcos, Graveblankets, Davis Kinney, Charlie Fletcher, Jeff Seeman and Bromwell-Diehl.
This Saturday and Sept. 27, several of the Get Real Gone participants will perform live at WNKU’s studio. This Saturday, the lineup features Davis Kenney (10 a.m.), Balderdash (noon), The Newbees (1 p.m.), Roger Klug Power Trio (2 p.m.) and Graveblankets (3 p.m.). On Sept. 27, tune in to hear Kim Taylor (10 a.m.), Jeffrey Seeman (10:40 a.m.), Brian Lovely’s Flying Underground (11:30 a.m.), Goose (1 p.m.), Charlie Fletcher (with The Bluebirds; 2:30 p.m.) and the Bromwell-Diehl Band (3:15 p.m.).
The reigning Cincinnati Entertainment Award winners of the Artist of the Year honors, Alt Pop quartet Walk the Moon, are finally set to release their second album for RCA Records. The album's lead single, "Shut Up and Dance," was released Sept. 10 and last night the group performed the song on Late Night with Seth Meyers. (Watch below.)
The band's sophomore RCA full-length will be out before the year's end, according to the label.
Walk the Moon kicks off its coast-to-coast “Shut Up and Tour” tour of smaller clubs in Seattle on Oct. 8. The band will perform some of the new material on the tour, which does not include a hometown date. The group will be in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 21, but that show instantly sold out. The Columbus date is also the first of several shows that will feature like-minded Cincinnati Pop Rock trio Public as opening act.
The Crown Jewels of Jazz Festival returns Friday and Saturday with an adjusted format. While last year’s fest was spread out across the Over-the-Rhine area, this year’s Crown Jewels is more streamlined, with free events concentrated in OTR’s Washington Park.
The fest kicks off Friday night with an 8 p.m. concert featuring unique and widely acclaimed Jazz singer Gregory Porter, as well as Cincinnati native Mandy Gaines (whose been busy performing throughout Europe and Asia).
Saturday at Washington Park, the fest kicks up again with Phil DeGreg, Baba Charles Miller and Kathy Wade (whose Learning Through Art, Inc. presents the Crown Jewels fest) performing and telling the story of Jazz (and other music) in a program called “Journeys: A Black Anthology of Music” at 4 p.m. At 5 p.m., “Piano Picnic in the Park” will showcase area pianists; DeGreg, Jim Connerly, Billy Larkin, Charles Ramsey III, Cheryl Renee, Steve Schmidt and Erwin Stuckey will each perform their two favorite Jazz numbers during the hour and a half performance.
Then it’s time to dance! The fest closes out at 8 p.m. with “Dancing Under the Stars” at the park’s bandstand, featuring music from the 18-piece Sound Body Jazz Orchestra and dancers/teachers from the Dare to Dance Ballroom Dance and Fitness Studio.
Given that it is presented by Learning Through Art, Inc., it is fitting that the Crown Jewels of Jazz fest will also include an educational program Saturday morning for high school musicians at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, just across the street from Washington Park’s 12th Street entrance. The CJ2 Jazz Camp, which will feature clinics, classes and more with many of Cincinnati’s top Jazz musicians and educators (including DeGreg, Stuckey, Jim Anderson, Marc Fields, Ted Karas, Mike Wade, Art Gore, Brent Gallaher and many others), begins at 8:30 a.m. There is a $35 fee per student.
For complete info on the Jazz Camp and all of the Crown Jewels of Jazz events, visit learningthroughart.com. And click here to read CityBeat's interview with Wade about the fest and her org's other work.
500 Miles to Memphis’ two most recent album releases are local classics that reside in two vastly different musical landscapes. Their 2007 album, Sunshine in a Shot Glass, offers 12 tracks of undiluted Country Punk. The album starts off with the band’s hit “All My Friends are Crazy” and doesn’t let up. The band’s followup, 2011’s We’ve Built Up to Nothing, took the Country Punk roots and drastically expanded on the concept. Influenced by The Beatles, the Cincinnati-based quintet added layer upon layer of instrumentation to craft an epic that radically expanded the groundwork laid in 2007.
Now, in 2014 the band is set to unleash Stand There and Bleed. With its latest release, 500 Miles to Memphis has pulled back and opted for a simpler, more straightforward group of songs. In doing so, the band has written its best album to date.
The band will host a listening party for the new album tonight (Thursday) at The Drinkery in Over-the-Rhine. The album will be played in its entirety at 9 p.m., then the group will play an acoustic set at 10 p.m. The event is free. (The official release date for Stand There and Bleed has yet to be announced.)
At its core, 500 Miles to Memphis has always been about vocalist/guitarist Ryan Malott telling the stories of his life. And with three years in between releases, Malott has plenty to talk about. Stand There and Bleed is Malott’s most personal output so far. We see a glimpse of tour life in “Medication,” the joys of marriage in “Takes Some Time” and the trials of addiction in “Easy Way Out.” Malott may have traded the bottle for coffee and a Playstation controller, but the struggle is ongoing. In fact, the best tracks on the album are the ones that document Malott’s missteps, but only because the album has so much hope, as well. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and Malott is steadily working his way towards it.
Joining Malott is bassist/vocalist Noah Sugarman, drummer Kevin Hogle, guitarist/vocalist Aaron Whalen and lap steel guitarist David Rhodes Brown. This all-star lineup compliments Malott’s lyrics expertly. Gone are We Built Up to Nothing’s more eccentric instrument choices; 500 stripped away the excess to more fully focus on what it had in house. The result is an album that’s more consistent and true to 500’s vision as a whole. Malott is influenced by Country and Punk Rock in equal measure and these influences come across stronger than ever on Bleed, with each member adding their own touch on the theme. Hogle’s drumming is still some of the best in town; his musical ear enables him to mold his style to each and heighten the mood of all. Brown’s steel playing on Stand There and Bleed keeps the more Punk-based tracks grounded in 500’s roots and elevates the Country tracks to another level with effortlessly delivered solos. Finally, Whalen and Sugarman’s guitar and bass inject energy throughout the record that reinforces Stand There and Bleed’s straightforward, powerful delivery.
Malott’s vocal delivery has been honed and refined on Stand There and Bleed, as well. Malott is an unabashed fan of Green Day and comparisons to Billie Joe Armstrong in songs like “Bethel, OH” and “Abilene” are undeniable. Malott has also continued to inject large amounts of emotion into his vocals. He’s always been an expressive singer but the earnestness and pain in “You’ll Get Around” and “Alone” show a departure from We’ve Built Up to Nothing’s more polished vocals. Part of the recording process was breaking Malott of those good habits and getting him used to putting the feeling back into each take. What results is an album that’s a little rougher around the edges and much more emotionally captivating for the listener.
500 Miles to Memphis has been pushing its music forward for years, constantly hitting the road to share its take on Country Punk. The band has been virtuous to the genre and also bent it to an almost unrecognizable state. With Stand There and Bleed, the quintet has met somewhere in the middle. The band has trimmed the fat, focused on what each (incredibly talented) member brings to the table and built a record that is its most focused and honest to date.
The band has traveled way more than 500 miles to reach where they are now, but with albums like Stand There and Bleed carrying them, they have plenty more ahead of them.
Thanks to an assist from sponsor P&G, one of the more anticipated MidPoint Music Festival performances this year will be a special free “happy hour” concert.
Brooklyn Indie Rock group Real Estate will perform on the Midway stage the Friday of the fest (Sept. 26) at 6 p.m. Cincinnati faves The Yugos will kick the special event off at 5 p.m., with Arkansas’ Knox Hamilton, Nashville’s Colony House and others playing after Real Estate.
The MidPoint Midway is the hub of various activities that runs along a blocked off portion of 12th Street in Over-the-Rhine (between Walnut and Vine streets). The strip has featured the popular “Box Truck Carnival” (the ArtWorks-helmed project will be replaced with a new project this year) and will again have lots of food and other cool/fun vendors.
The Midway’s stage is free and open to music fans of all ages. On Thursday, Sept. 25, the outdoor stage will feature excellent local acts Automagik, Black Owls and Pike 27, plus Columbus, Ohio’s Indigo Wild. On Saturday, Sept. 27, the stage will host Cincinnati’s The Ready Stance, as well as Bailiff, Alex G, Low Cut Connie and Magnolia Sons.
Music on the MidPoint Midway begins at 5 p.m. Sept. 25-26, and 6 p.m. on Sept. 27.
For those who want to catch more than just the freebies, MPMF tickets are available here. The three-day, all-music-access passes are currently just $69; the price goes up to $79 after Sept. 1.
I tried to watch last night's Video Music Awards on MTV, but it was such an awkward and confusing clusterfuck, I couldn’t take much of it, flipping through for a few moments before moving on out of embarrassment for the people on the screen. I usually like when awards shows are a little chaotic (and the VMAs are known for their often-desperate attempts to be “not your mama’s awards show”). And I actually have always enjoyed the pop-culture pageantry of awards shows in general. But on last night’s VMAs, the annoyance factor was so high, I couldn’t even watch it on a “so bad you can’t look away” level. It made me anxious and uncomfortable, like watching someone fumbling over their words and breaking down while giving a speech in public (kind of like Kanye on last night's show).
It wasn’t really even the performances that made it so unwatchable (most were pretty solid for what they were). It was all of the in-between absurdity that made it so cringe-worthy.
Speaking of performances, some Cincinnati artists did well on the big stage. Walk the Moon has become so experienced with these kinds of high-profile appearances that it wasn’t surprising the band’s umpteenth performance of “Shut Up and Dance” was flawless. Airing during the opening of the pre-show “rainbow carpet” portion, I found myself thinking (as I do whenever I hear the hit on the radio), “You know, they have other songs, including a new single?” “Shut Up” was considered a “song of the summer” contender, though it’s been on the radio for like 15 years (OK, it was released as a single in September of 2014, but still). Then the band played the new single, “Different Colors”! And MTV promptly cut them off. (Even “Shut Up” was interrupted mid-song so the pre-show hosts could introduce the program, the clumsiness of which ended up being indicative of the overall mess the VMAs turned out to be.)
The weirder Cincinnati-related appearance came during Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ performance of their new single, “Downtown.” I was not aware of the guest artists on the song (OK, I was not aware they had a new song), so I turned it on just as Hip Hop legends Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee and Grandmaster Caz were rapping while walking down the street, thinking it was some cool old-school tribute the awards show was presenting. Then Macklemore came on and I reached for the remote, still unable to figure out what was going on. Then Eric Nally from late Cincinnati greats Foxy Shazam joined in, singing the chorus and doing some of his trademark stage moves and I officially thought I was just having a dream.
Nally did a great job and he caused a lot of buzz online, mostly of the “Who was that guy?” variety (when the single was released last week, a bunch of idiots rehashed the “Eric Nally is racist” stories from back in 2013 when Foxy Shazam released the single, “I Like It.”)
It’s weird mash-up of a song, parts of which I like, while other parts I find tremendously aggravating. Which is kind of what the VMAs were. Is this the present state of popular youth culture? Throw a bunch of unrelated stuff together, put it in a blender and then just stare at the blender, not caring or knowing what the end result is?
MTV/Viacom had something called the O Music Awards for a few years recently, honoring things like “Favorite Fuck Yeah Tumblr,” “Favorite Animated Gif,” “Best Tweet” and “Best Artist With A Cameraphone.” The O Awards ceremony seemed unscripted and filmed without any director whatsoever. It doesn’t appear the O awards are still a thing; perhaps last night’s VMAs were a sign that the network is turning its long-running awards program into the Os?
The VMAs were largely just a big WTF moment that people would talk about/complain about/make fun of online. Which is probably exactly what MTV was going for and, scarily, perhaps the shape of youth-oriented entertainment to come.
The 2015 edition of the MidPoint Music Festival (owned and operated by CityBeat) is less than two months away, returning to various venues in Over-the-Rhine and Downtown Sept. 25-27, and this morning organizers announced the release of the schedule and a few additional performers.
New artists added to this year’s 14th annual event include The Besnard Lakes, Heaters, The Moth & The Flame, Alberta Cross, The Glazzies and Left & Right. A few more local acts — Mad Anthony, Bulletville and Culture Queer — were also added to the roster. Widely-acclaimed Cincy-area rockers Buffalo Killers will also perform at this year’s MidPoint. You can catch a preview when the group headlines a free show tonight on Fountain Square, part of the MidPoint Indie Summer series. The band is joined by Ohio Knife, Pop Goes the Evil and Go Go Buffalo for tonight’s 7 p.m. concert.
The festival also announced new venues for this year’s fest. Woodward Theater and Maudie’s, plus an outdoor stage at the corner of 14th and Sycamore streets, join previous venues Washington Park, Taft Theatre’s Ballroom, The Drinkery, Mr. Pitiful’s, MOTR Pub, Christian Moerlein Brewery and Arnold’s to host this year’s 120-act lineup.
Back in January at Music Hall, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, under the direction of conductor John Morris Russell, presented its unique “American Originals” concerts. During the performances, the orchestra collaborated with several local and national Folk/Americana artists to perform and celebrate the music of Stephen Foster and other early songs that are the foundation of the “Great American Songbook.”
Read CityBeat’s cover story on the project here.
Rosanne Cash, Aoife O’Donovan (who recently returned to join the Pops for its Fourth of July concert at Riverbend; read our interview with her here), Dom Flemons (formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) and Joe Henry joined Cincinnati area artists Over the Rhine's Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler, members of the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars and others to perform specially arranged versions of Foster compositions like “O! Susannah,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Camptown Races” and “Beautiful Dreamer,” as well as traditional numbers like “Red River Valley,” “Kumbaya” and “Amazing Grace.”
A live recording of the concert featuring 17 songs will be released on Friday, Sept. 11. (You can pre-order it now here from Amazon.)
Here is the detailed track listing for the American Originals release (via cincinnatisymphony.org):
1) “O’ Susannah” (written by Foster, arranged by Chris Walden and with Joe Henry on vocals)
2) “Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair” (written by Foster, arranged by Rob Mounsey and with Aoife O’Donovan and Karin Bergquist of Over the Rhine on vocals)
3) “My Old Kentucky Home” (written by Stephen Foster, arranged by Rebecca Pellett and featuring Rosanne Cash on vocals)
4) “Amazing Grace” (traditional, arranged by Pellett and featuring Aoife O’Donovan and the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars)
5) “Rolling River: Sketches On Shenandoah” (composed by Peter Boyer)
6) “Why, No One To Love?” (written by Foster, arranged by Pellett and featuring Over the Rhine’s Bergquist on vocals and her OTR partner Linford Detweiler on Rhodes keyboard)
7) “Old Folks At Home” (by Foster, arranged by Timothy Berens and featuring Dom Flemons on vocals and harmonica, Timothy Berens on banjo and Paul Patterson on fiddle)
8) “Kumbaya” (traditional, arranged by Berens and featuring Timothy Lees, Kathryn Woolley, Gabriel Pegis and Scott Mozlin on violins and Richard Jensen on djembe
9) “Slumber My Darling” (by Foster, arranged by Chris Walden and featuring O’Donovan on vocals and guitar)
10) “Aura Lee” (by Foster, arranged by Pellett and with Henry and Ed Cunningham on vocals)
11) “Foster's Folly” (by Foster, arranged by Berens)
12) “Ring, Ring The Banjo” (by Foster, arranged by Walden and featuring Flemons on banjo and bones
and Cunningham on fiddle)
13) “Red River Valley” (traditional, arranged by Berens and featuring the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars)
14) “The Battle Cry Of Freedom” (composed by George Frederick Root and arranged by Berens)
15) “Beautiful Dreamer” (by Foster, arranged by Mounsey with Cash on vocals)
16) “Hard Times Come Again No More” (by Foster, arranged by Berens and featuring Over the Rhine, with Bergquist on vocals and Detweiler on guitar)
17) “Camptown Races” (by Foster, arranged by Mounsey and featuring the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars, as well as Cash, Flemons, Henry, O’Donovan and Over the Rhine on vocals)
When you think summer music festivals, you probably think about things like high-powered sunscreen, hydration and the chance that you might get drenched if a storm rolls through. But this weekend in Greater Cincinnati, there are three festival that spotlight our great music scene, and you won’t need an umbrella, SPF 500 or $8 bottles of water for any of them. (Two of them feature “patio stages” that are outside, but schedules will be adjusted if harsh weather strikes.) Click on the artists' names for more on each of the acts.
• Stanley’s Reggae Fest returns for its fifth year to Stanley’s Pub Saturday, showcasing some perfect summertime music with vendors, Jamaican food (from Ena's Jerkmania) and an outdoor patio stage (weather permitting; see above).
Music starts at 6 p.m. Get a ticket today for $12 here, or pay $15 at the door.
• The eclectic Folk/Americana scene in Greater Cincinnati is one of local music’s most thriving, and Saturday at Newport, Ky.’s Southgate House Revival, you’ll be able to catch some of its guiding lights (as well as a few touring acts). The inaugural Cincy Folk Festival is being presented by the local music website cincygroove.com and proceeds benefit local Northern Kentucky radio station WNKU.
The fest will utilize all three stages at the Southgate. Tickets $20 (get yours in advance here). There are also VIP tickets available for $30 (VIPs will be treated to catered food and music from The Young Heirlooms and Honey and Houston at 5 p.m.).
Here is the full schedule (visit cincyfolkfestival.com for updates and full info).
7:30 p.m. Bulletville
8:30 p.m. David Gans
9:30 p.m. Kim Taylor
10:30 p.m. AJ Ghent Band
12 a.m. Chicago Farmer
9 p.m. Mamadrones
10 p.m. Hickory Robot
11:15 p.m. Souse
12:30 a.m. Gabbard Brothers
8 p.m. Carole Walker
9 p.m. Tracy Walker
10 p.m. Ma Crow & The Lady Slippers
11 p.m. My Brother The Bear
12:30 a.m. Wilder
• Tonight and tomorrow (Friday/Saturday), the Northside Tavern hosts the return of the Northside Music Festival on three stages, including one on its outdoor patio. The fest, now in its eighth year, features some of the city’s finest Indie and Rock acts of various shades and styles. And it’s all FREE. Visit the NMF’s Facebook event page here for the “in case of rain” schedule.
Back Room stage
10:45 p.m. Skeleton Hands
11:45 p.m. Artisan
12:45 a.m. Dream Tiger
Front Bar stage
10 p.m. Smut
11 p.m. Everyday Objects
7:30 p.m. The Slippery Lips
9 p.m. Subsets
10:30 p.m. Tweens
Back Room stage
10:45 p.m. The Harlequins
11:45 p.m. Temple
12:45 a.m. Soledad Brothers
Front Bar stage
10 p.m. New Strange
11 p.m. The Sundresses
7:30 p.m. Leggy
9 p.m. The Tigerlilies
10:30 p.m. Fairmount Girls
There were diamonds everywhere at Bogart’s this past Friday (May 29), about 1,500 of them. Marina and the Diamonds is not a band, but the artistic umbrella for Welsh singer/songwriter Marina Diamandis. She says she created the solo-guise “band” moniker because she didn’t want to be seen as a solo Pop star, and wanted to “involve people” with a name that didn't make anyone feel excluded. So, you see, we are all diamonds. Most of the diamonds at her Cincinnati show were teenage to college-age girls with a smattering of parents in tow. Many had travelled a few hours to see their hero. It was a sadly homogenous audience, given the scope and talent of Diamandis and her three-album catalog, but an enthusiastic lot nonetheless.
Her set started with “Bubblegum Bitch,” the power cut from her second album Electra Heart, and from there the party never stopped. The latest single, “Forget,” followed before she and her touring backing band launched into “Mowgli’s Road.” After that trio of songs, Diamandis chatted with the crowd telling them how happy she was to finally make it to Cincinnati. Though she was preaching to the converted, Diamandis proved to be no-less charming and engaging.
“I am Not a Robot,” a U.K. Top 40 hit from 2010, followed and, as with the entire set, Diamandis’ voice soared effortlessly as she glided across the stage. About half way through, an additional keyboard was brought on stage. Diamandis proceeded to take a seat at it and play “Happy,” whilst her backing Diamonds looked on. It was a nice respite before the title track from her current album, Froot.
While every song received a loud cheer, it was the two biggest hits that really got the diamonds in attendance particularly fired up. “Hollywood” (a No. 12 hit in the U.K.) was her breakthrough single in the in 2010 and is based on her observations of the U.S. “I’m obsessed with the mess that’s America,” she sings, though it’s not meant to be a criticism. (“It was written way before I got signed," she told me in an interview a few years ago. "It's funny because I wouldn't describe my relationship with America as love or hate. Anything that has an element of illusion naturally fascinates people. I absolutely love America.”) Live, the song was keyboarded-up nicely, though the album version echoes the synth sound of the ’80s effectively. Her guitar player strummed an acoustic guitar, providing a nice counterbalance.
“Primadonna,” her other big single came next, and it too had a brighter and livelier sound on stage, sounding a little like an EDM track in spots, but not too heavily. Sadly, “Teen Idle,” a stand-out track from Electra Heart was left off the set list. “How to be a Heartbreaker,” finished the encore-less set, but the crowd seemed quite satisfied with the performance as Marina bade farewell to her diamonds to thunderous applause.
Oddly, professional photographers were not allowed to take pictures of Diamandis (as is customary for just about any concert review), something that wasn’t revealed until just before the doors opened. It is unclear who made that decision. (Primadonna indeed?)
I'm swirling a 24 oz. PBR tall-boy around 2 a.m. at a bar fashioned from an old church in a neighborhood I can't quite figure out. Is it up-and-coming like our own Over-the-Rhine? Or are we "on the wrong side of the tracks"? I don't really care at this point. I've already gotten drunk once today and spent 12 hours in the burning southern sun. I just want a bed.
There are 20-somethings in rompers, board shorts and woven sandals hunting for a festival after-party lined up around the block waiting for over an hour to sit on picnic benches and drink crummy beers together at a 300% markup over buying them at a gas station. We are only inside because someone among some newly found friends has sweet-talked the back door guy. Point is, I'm bored and ready for bed. I engage a fellow Cincinnatian at this bar after awkwardly sitting in silence for the past 30 minutes. Someone points to an open garage door leading to an abandoned courtyard where a bonfire is burning and shadowy figures have been shuffling in and out of all night. Oh man … I've been to these parties back home. They often end in way more cocaine than I'm comfortable being around or racially tense fights. But it’s the path I have to take to find out where I can sleep, so I throw my hood up to go as unnoticed as possible and dive in.
"If you high as fuck and you having a good time say yeah!"
"If you drunk as fuck and you having a good time say yeah!”
A track starts playing a familiar synth line. Everyone in the rundown rock yard throws their hands up in unison and screams, "I DONT FUCK WIT' YOU!!" Big Sean's breakup anthem blares over the PA. Yes! I'm so down with this. The fact that I'm in dirty soccer shorts and an Against Me! hoodie doesn't matter. The fact that I'm not from here doesn't matter. My age doesn't matter. My race doesn't matter. We all dance and sing along together until the cops show up. Forget the kids waiting in line to drink bad beer on park benches hoping to get laid; this is the most live party I've been to in a long while and nothing like it has ever happened back home.
But this isn't home, it's Atlanta. And it's the best part of Shaky Knees festival. I had headed to the unofficial capital of the South two days earlier with wildly different expectations. I was nervous, expecting an endlessly expansive metropolis like Chicago or New York where you could get lost for days just searching for a legal parking spot and shouldn’t expect to find a place to rest your head for less than $100 per night.
Instead I was greeted by a uniquely diverse, affordable and welcoming city that didn’t feel much more overbearing than Nashville or our own city. A welcoming attitude of southern charm and hospitality was the cherry on top of every restaurant and bar we’d visit.
Before I go on I feel it should be pointed out that while fully qualified to review a music festival, I fall into a not so primary target demo for festival promoters. Yes I’m white and middle class, but, more importantly, I’m 29. Not young enough to save up my graduation money and go on a road trip with my gal pals for the “party of the summer.” Not late enough in my 30s, with kids of my own old enough to either stay home alone or come with as I check out whatever ’80s Alt band has dusted themselves off to play in the twilight hours of each day in the name of collecting a paycheck. Most of my demographic is too busy being spit up on at all hours of the night by their newborns to afford spending three days drinking in the sun and being blasted by unhealthy decibel levels. But, alas, here I am.
That all being said, my only real complaint with Shaky Knees was its lack of diversity. It is in the Hip Hop capital of the south (several jokes were made asking locals if Outkast are the “presidents of Atlanta”), but it failed to feature a single Hip Hop or R&B act. There was a small representation of Delta music with Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Trombone Shorty dotting the schedule early Sunday afternoon (which I unfortunately missed as my attendance was unplanned and last minute, so I had to spend Sunday driving home for work). Every band I saw was just white guys with guitars. Not that there’s anything wrong with some of that, but I didn’t see a single other act that had more than one token female or person of color (the exception being Tennis, which had one extra woman on keys tucked in the back of the stage).
Atlanta’s location provides for an amazing opportunity to unite a wide array of music lovers from all over the country. I met travelers from places as far as New York, Miami, Fla., and Nashville, Tenn. It has a stronger African-American middle class than most of the Midwest, as I experienced amongst its nightlife and food scene, and yet the culture of the festival was still focused primarily on a white, suburban, Indie Rock or Folk crowd, which is a shame. Some minor lineup tweaks could make all the difference for an otherwise amazing festival.
Enough of that. We’re here to talk about performances, so let’s party …
Jukebox the Ghost While assessing the lay of the land we settled into our first full set with the Piano Rock trio. My friend, who knows my taste well enough to know I’d instantly want to judge them, insisted I give it a chance. It took a minute, but with interlude banter like, "This is a party song about breaking up," or "This is the dumbest song ever written," these guys are just having too much fun to not want to join in. I mean, come on — they closed with a cover of Queen’s "Don’t Stop Me Now" (yeah, they really had the balls to do that!) knowing full well their younger fan base would be totally lost and they didn’t give a single fuck. Kudos guys. You will do just fine in this world so long as your hairlines stay in tact.
Tennis I was merely nodding appreciatively through most of their set. Then lead singer Alaina Moore, whose neckline plunged all the way to the top of her high-waisted jeans with nothing but some hard working gravity protecting her from indecent exposure charges, introduced the song “Marathon.” One of the band’s older songs, it’s a solid straight up Doo Wop tune. (Now we’re talkin’!) I was pulled in for just a moment. But then all I could do is re-Imagine them as the opening band in the dance in Back to the Future with this same look and style. Marty never even gets the chance to rip through “Johnny B Goode.” The scene would already be too wild for Hill Valley circa 1955 to handle. There are riots in the streets! Marty disappears from the family photo and his existence fades into obscurity. Fin.
Wavves “Finally ‘the youths’ are partying!” I spent a good chunk of this set under the bright sun on searing black top thinking, “There’s gonna be some seriously dehydrated kids in sweaty ironic tees later.” Wavves’ first record was the only thing that swayed me to let my guard down and learn to accept the lo-fi revolution. Plus, “King of the Beach” is a total jam. But something just isn’t right about the energy of this young crowd. It’s like the Warped Tour of my youth for a new generation that doesn't have a George Bush to rally against and vent their angst toward. There’s a wave of aggressive indulgence in the pile of sweaty bodies that’s directed at nothing in particular and I’m too old or out of touch to understand it. Mostly I was thinking Hedonismbot from Futurama would fit right in crowd surfing over this pit. “Oh my!” Wavves new song was on point, though, perhaps suggesting a move away from the low-fi fuzz that covered up the simplicity of their previous work to something a little more richly melodic.
Manchester Orchestra I had to give this band a chance as my roommate texted me from back home insisting I check it out. I trust her. So I go. And, yeah, it’s heavy and I like that, but I’m not sure I get it yet. There are these glimmers of sing-along anthem glory, but in my 30-45 minute blind taste test of them I didn’t get enough of that flavor to crave seconds. Maybe some more research before they visit us for Bunbury next month will bring me around.
The Mountain Goats “AND HARD TIMES ARE WHEN A MAN HAS WORKED AT A JOB 30 YEARS AND THEY KICK HIM IN THE BUTT AND SAY: HEY, A COMPUTER HAS TOOK YOUR PLACE, DADDY. THAT’S HARD TIMES!” This is part of the epic, booming three-minute intro that sets the stage for The Mountain Goats’ show, a voiceover shouting a challenge to the Macho Man Randy Savage daring him to a fight in the ring across an empty stage. It gets you properly amped for what’s to follow. You can feel John Darnielle and his gang carry that energy right onto the stage with them as it ends and the crowd erupts. Don’t make the mistake of lumping these guys in with the dusters “just out for a paycheck” I mentioned earlier based on their age. You will rarely see someone look so happy to sing songs he wrote 20 years ago with as much conviction as Darnielle. His stage presence oozes “I’m a professional, but I’m having a blast!” And the crowd responds, “Alright John. Then I am too!” That presence is so strong he still wins over crowds with brand new songs despite already having a discography over 15 full-lengths deep. What's that streaming down my face as they close out with “No Children,” the hauntingly triumphant ode to the end of the ugliest relationship you’ve ever heard? It’s … it’s just a really heavy bead of sweat! It's hot out here damn it! Leave me alone!
Mastodon At this point in the day I just can’t take standing up anymore. Another minor issue with Shaky Knees overall was the food options. The ratio of local food trucks to festivalgoers yielded unbearably long lines for anyone hoping to catch some of the later acts of the day. Beer however was in ample supply, so I grabbed one to sip on while catching the most Metal moment of the weekend from a hill a hundred or so yards out from the main stage. Metalheads I trust recommend Mastodon and, yeah, they were fine with me too. Only problem is they fell just short of what I’m looking for in their songwriting, a craft often overlooked by Metal bands in my opinion. And so I spent most of their set wishing I was watching Ghost instead and checking my phone for any news of their next release. We should expect that in August.
Pixies Kim Deal purists be damned. Her current replacement did just fine and sounded spot-on like the records to me. While expecting those aging rockers coming out to collect a paycheck I’ve been talking about, there was still a dash of magic left. Or maybe it’s just that little flutter I get when a song starts up that I’ve been listening to for 15 or so years, like “Here Comes Your Man,” with no expectation of ever hearing live because, to be honest, it was a little loose at times. Okay. Really loose. Like, Frank Black stopped in the middle of a song and said, “That was my fault. I went to the chorus too soon,” and went on to the next one loose. Makes you feel a little bummed for folks who shelled out full price for a pass just because they’re so stoked to see their favorite band. So yeah, maybe my nostalgia high is wearing off now that I’m reflecting back and realizing Kim’s replacement was honestly the most engaging part of the set.
The Strokes Lead singer Julian Casablancas isn’t exactly the king of charisma. Hell, he’s not even the dunce in the corner of Charisma 101, which makes it really hard to accept this band as a headliner. His attempts at on-stage banter made for some of the most uncomfortable moments of the weekend. Tie that in with his cracking voice straining to push out the words “How long must I wait” before it just gave out during the first song of their encore, “Vision of Division.” Their set became downright unbearable at times. Unfortunately, on top of this, “Reptilia” is the only song I really care for and they opened with it. So I was over it quick. The crowd didn’t seem to care though. They all still went nuts when the song that sounds exactly like “Last Night” but isn’t it came on halfway through their set.
And so, in my constant battle of jaded cynicism vs. the fact that I do genuinely love live music, I’d say day one ended in a draw. On to round two!
Kevin Devine We raced back to the festival grounds to catch this set, but I wasn’t quite awake enough yet and needed to finish my coconut water to get things going. But Kevin didn’t care. His high energy set was better than anticipated and got me back in the game. He’s got the Indie/Emo “slow burn, build and release” pattern down and I’m totally ready to go up and down for the ride. Definitely keep an ear out for him.
Mariachi El Bronx Exactly what it sounds like. It’s Los Angeles hardcore band The Bronx … playing mariachi. I honestly resisted them for years as my friends raved and I assumed it was just another silly novelty crossover band. But they’re such great players that they managed to transcend the novelty and throw one hell of a party. Unfortunately, The Bronx gang seemed to draw the short end of the stick for the entire festival as this set was early on the main stage where the bass in the mix was for a much larger headlining crowd and it ruined the whole balance of the band. I had to leave halfway through as my body couldn’t handle the blasting waves of low end. But their bass player sure sounded great!
Speedy Ortiz “I think Squidbillies is here right?” lead singer Sadie Dupuis says between songs with minimal irony or facetiousness in her voice. And it’s this feeling of off beat intimacy the band tries to interject into the mid-afternoon, sun-drenched crowd that draws me in. It helps me understand why others are drawn to them, while my aging ears struggle to get hip to it. Dupuis voice and melodies, along with everyone else’s performances, are great, their style of off-the-beaten-path harmonic and chord structure however have never really set in for me. It kind of killed off my mariachi buzz and I stepped out halfway through to plan the rest of my day in some shade.
Viet Cong I went into this thinking the tough as nails name meant I was about to see a bratty and loud Punk band, which I was kind of stoked about. But the droning bass and synth is all good too! Makes me want to get in the world’s angriest space shuttle and fly to the moon. As they droned the last two chords of their final song back and forth for nearly three minutes I found myself wanting to shout, “Just take off damn it!” These guys would be equally good for when you're drunk alone at 4 a.m. again and your Joy Division records are just too far out of reach, plus you need a little extra edge to encourage you to break a few things!
Metz If you wish The Hives were still a hard touring band, these guys will get you half way there. Plus they’re a lil’ heavier to boot. That being said, the riffs could be a little catchier for my taste, but they still deliver enough to keep me hanging on and start snooping around for their records next time I’m out. Plus, you’ve got to love a band that you know is making somebody in Canada say, "You know that quiet guy in accounting? Yeah he TOTALLY shreds on the weekends!" Probably also worth mentioning here that these guys will be tearing up the Woodward Theater with Viet Cong on July 21st and it’s definitely going to be worth being there.
FIDLAR Plain and simple: This is why I love Punk. Just look at the dumb, unbridled joy on the faces of this sea of kids bouncing up and down in unison. There’s a certain “it” factor that the best live acts have regardless of technical difficulty or skill required to accurately perform their songs which I’ve never been able to put my finger. (FIDLAR said it best during their own set: “That’s right guys, all you need is three chords!”) This band definitely has it. The fact that I’m getting too old and responsible to honestly relate to their lyrics doesn’t matter. I think cocaine is childish and immature and I think drinking cheap beer is a waste of calories … but goddamn. I just can’t help but scream along in unison with these kids and share their same dumb, shit-eating grin. They are rescheduling their recently cancelled show at Thompson House. Keep an eye out for the new date and be prepared to lose your goddamn mind.
The Bronx And this is why I love hardcore! This is one of the tightest performances I saw up to this point despite unfortunately having the smallest crowd. No frills, just solid playing and tight execution. I had tried getting into them on record a few years back and something didn't click. Now it does. Time to go back and start working on picking up some change on the dance floor again.
Neutral Milk Hotel Yep. There's still too much ex-girlfriend attachment to this band for me to really enjoy it. Plus, they played at the time of day where no matter how close you want to get, you bottleneck at a point in the crowd that’s too far away to really feel a part of the set. “Maybe I should see if the Bronx is still playing? Why did I leave!? If one more person near me gushes over how cool using a saw as instrument is heads might roll …” Also the flock of blond college-age girls flocking out of the crowd after “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” was played early in the set was amazing. Am I being too cynical? Whatever. Jeff Mangum’s voice is still on point after all these years. Still worth it.
Wilco At this point that bottleneck was just too far away to really get into what was happening on stage, which bummed me out because I had to miss Wilco’s show in Cincy a few days earlier. The drunk people next to me were almost as loud as the reverberations distantly ringing on the stage. But hey — they’re still cranking out the hits and they're still Wilco, so you gotta love it. But I was a little too buzzed and nervous about not getting a good spot and running into this same situation for the Avetts, so I dipped out a little early.
The Avett Brothers “Effortless.” People challenge me all the time to explain why I believe these guys are objectively one of the best live musical acts in music right now and this is the only word I can ever seem to muster. The level of focus, mastery and attention to detail that goes into the performance this crew puts on night after night should be obvious to anyone who’s so much as taken a single guitar or voice lesson. The love, passion, joy, and energy they infuse into every song, whether it’s a sing-along anthem like “Kick Drum Heart” or a soft ballad like “The Ballad of Love and Hate,” makes the whole act seem more effortless every time I see them. Whether it’s Seth’s improvisational riffing on their already perfect vocal lines or Scott’s conviction and sincerity when telling the crowd he needs their help singing along with something, I truly believe they would win over any true music fan who is willing to let go and be taken by the power of one of their sets. No other band refracts as much love for what they’re doing on stage back to an audience quite like the Avetts. Their headlining set at Bunbury will be their first performance in Cincinnati since 2008. Do not miss it.
Whoa. What a ride. The fact that I’m having trouble wrapping this up despite the fact that I missed a whole day of the festival is a testament to just how much Shaky Knees has to offer music lovers. I’m having trouble keeping the two-day experience I had from unraveling into a full novella and am now forcing myself to shut up. Despite its limitations, there is still enough diversity to keep most fans of semi-independent Rock or Alternative on their toes. (No. It was not hard to resist a “shaky knees” pun here.) But when you attend next year, don’t let your time adjusting to the southern sun tap all of your energy for experiencing the city’s culture and nightlife. As much as I love Cincinnati, I think we have much to learn from this gem down South and I look forward to returning soon.
— Josh Elstro
If you have access to a radio or television set, then you’re likely well aware that “Shut Up and Dance” by Cincinnati Dance Pop crew Walk the Moon has become a bona fide Pop hit. The single has been certified platinum, meaning it has sold more than one millions copies. The catchy, danceable track is currently at No. 5 on Billboard’s singles chart and has also performed very well on various other charts. “Shut Up” reached No. 2 on iTunes Top Songs chart and Billboard’s digital charts. On Spotify, the song has been streamed more than 78 million times, while “Shut Up”’s video has held a steady presence in the Top 10 of VH1’s Top 20 video countdown. Talking is Hard, Walk the Moon’s second album for RCA Records, continues to benefit from the single’s success, moving as high as No. 14 on Billboard’s overall album chart.
The Cincinnati band has worked hard to push “Shut Up and Dance” to the upper reaches of the Pop charts. Along with the usual late-night talk show circuit, Walk the Moon has also appeared on network morning shows like The Today Show (which used various WtM tunes as bumper music throughout the day the band appeared) and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
When DeGeneres introduced the group on her show, she called “Shut Up” the band’s “No. 1 hit,” which it wasn’t at the time but could end up there as Walk the Moon keeps up its relentless promotional push. WtM’s is also becoming a bigger and bigger concert draw, selling out many of its shows across the country (the band just recently completely another successful U.S. jaunt).
And WtM has also been making it onto prime time TV lately. Last month, Riker Lynch and Allison Holker danced to “Shut Up” for a routine on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. Tuesday night (May 12), the band will play “Shut Up” as special guests on NBC’s popular singing competition, The Voice. Tune in to catch the performance at 8 p.m.
Though several Cincinnati-based acts have done well on a national level, crossing over to the top of the Pop charts is pretty rare, particularly for artists who choose to remain in their hometown while pursuing their career. Walk the Moon comes home to play Cincinnati’s Bunbury Music Festival on June 5 along the Ohio’s riverfront. Click here for tickets/details.
Every April, the Cincinnati Zoo presents an every-Thursday concert series called “Tunes & Blooms,” which showcases some of the finest local bands in Greater Cincinnati (as well as the Zoo’s Botanical Garden in full bloom). But for this year’s series, Mother Nature had different plans, as April showers brought cancelled concerts on April 2, 9 and 16.
The free concerts have been rescheduled and begin this evening (Wednesday) with local Folk/Americana favorites Hickory Robot and The Tillers. The next rescheduled date is tomorrow (Thursday) and features another pair of Folk dynamos — Jake Speed and the Freddies and Shiny and the Spoon. The final rescheduled show takes place May 13 with the fantastic Buffalo Wabs & the Price Hill Hustle and Honey & Houston.
The music begins at 6 p.m. all three evenings and runs until 8:30 p.m. There is no admission charge to get into the zoo after 5 p.m. (there is a $9 fee is you’d like to park in the zoo’s parking lot). Click here for more info.
Cincinnati’s MidPoint Music Festival (owned and operated by CityBeat) recently announced that tickets for the late September festival were on sale, as well as a new date format (instead of Thursday-Saturday, 2015’s MPMF will take place Friday, Sept. 25-Sunday, Sept. 27). Now the first artists slated to appear at MPMF have been unveiled.
The first batch of MidPoint 2015 acts includes pioneering British Shoegaze band Ride, Canadian Electro Pop duo Purity Ring, Indie/Electronic up-and-comers Sylvan Esso, experimental artist tUnE-yArDs (aka Merrill Garbus) and diverse Indiana songwriter Strand of Oaks. The rest of the initial lineup announcement features Zola Jesus, Cathedrals, Matthew E. White, Pokey LaFarge, Moon Duo, Betty Who, K.Flay, Beach Slang, Sarah Jaffe, Ryley Walker and Truly.
More artists (as well as specific schedule and venue info) will be announced in the coming weeks as the Over-the-Rhine/Downtown festival approaches. For the latest updates, tickets (a limited amount of early bird passes are still available) and more info, visit mpmf.com. Artists interested in showcase consideration can still apply through mpmf.com through May 17.
Here's a sampling of some music clips from this round of MPMFers:
The first time I saw the Warsaw Falcons, my Cincinnati experience was only slightly longer than the band's existence. I'd moved here in January 1982 on the heels of a failed and miserable marriage. I was working for (and living out of) a record store in North College Hill run by my friends/saviors Rick and Karen (aka Cookie, long before Empire, bitches) Kandelson, who gave me work and a safe haven.
I found full time work and a girlfriend in fairly short order, and for the most part felt I'd made the right decision in relocating to Cincinnati. But I desperately missed my 2-year-old son and my family and friends back in Michigan, so I entertained the notion of asking my new love to consider moving back to the Mitt with me.
And then a cosmic intervention took place. Within the span of a couple of weeks, I saw the raisins, who had been around for a while, and the Warsaw Falcons, who had only just formed. After those two musical epiphanies I said to myself, with unbridled joy and complete certainty, "I don't have to go home, I am home."
Beyond all doubt, I was where I was supposed to be.
The raisins were everything I loved about Pop Rock — smart and smartassed, loud, melodic, lyrically brilliant and gloriously dumb, intricate in the pursuit of simplicity. The Falcons exhibited a lot of the same characteristics, but in a totally different context. I couldn't tell you much about the original band at that point, as I was fairly riveted to the sight of David Rhodes Brown, a 6' 4" beanpole with an additional foot of roostered pompadour, snake-charming the nastiest, slinkiest, rawest, most compelling riffs from his hollow bodied Gibson that I'd ever heard in my 25 years. Brown and the earliest incarnation of the Falcons roared through a couple of sets of jumped-up Rockabilly/Boogie Woogie/Blues at an intensity level that could have microwaved a 15-pound roast to perfection in under a minute, and I stood watching in absolute wonder, as if I was attending the swaggering, staggering, yowling birth of Rock & Roll its own damn self.
There was no fundamental difference in any subsequent Falcons show I witnessed over the next seven years, give or take, and they were legion. At Dollar Bill's, Shipley's, Bogart's, Cory's, all the way out at the Townshipn Tavern and any number of places in between, the Warsaw Falcons never gave any less than their absolute all, tearing shit up with gleeful intent, putting it back together with ramshackle abandon and ultimately reducing it to smoke and ash with the zeal of blissed-out revolutionaries, confident in their cause and the destruction it inspired.
Through any number of lineup shifts, the Falcons delivered the goods night after night, set upon set upon set. There were gaps in the band's history when Brown lit out for Austin, Tex., and Nashville, Tenn., but he returned with more riffs to play, more stories to tell, more challenges to conquer. Brown shuttered the Falcons just after taking them into John Curley's Ultrasuede Studio to record their only full-length album, the righteous and red hot Right It on the Rock Wall. That incarnation of the band included legendary session saxophonist Bobby Keys. Brown dusted off the Falcons in 2001, turned out a couple of EPs and played out a bit but shelved them again when a proposed record contract fell victim to the post-9/11 downturn.
In the new millennium, things have been different. Music is ones and zeros instead of a spiraled groove or a spun tape reel, and David Rhodes Brown has reinvented himself a half dozen ways to Sunday. He had Ricky Nye teach him the rudiments of Boogie Woogie piano, he learned the Hank Williams songbook and joined Ryan Malott's 500 Miles to Memphis as a lap steel shredder and vocalist, helping transform it from cool local entity to national semi-sensation. Then he taught himself clawhammer banjo, grew a Rip Van Winkle-meets-ZZ Top beard and started playing old time music with the same dedication and intensity that marked his time in the Falcons, with less actual electricity and an improbable rise in passion and workload. He spread his attention over numerous full and part time projects, leading inevitably to his debut solo album, 2010's exquisite Browngrass & Wildflowers.
And then, as so often happens, fate intervened in the form of last November's celebration/roast of the David Rhodes Brown on the occasion of his 50th year in the entertainment racket (if you count his being paid to sing requiems at Catholic mass, which he does). The event was organized by one of the scene's greatest boosters and its unceasing heartbeat, the amazing Kelly Thomas, ably assisted by Brown's biggest supporter, fan and sugar mama, the incomparable Bobbi Kayser, who together assembled a veritable murderer's row of artists and friends in order to pay deserved tribute to DRB, if for no other reason than to thank him for his role in helping to build the solid foundation upon which the greater Cincinnati music scene has built its magnificent house over the past four decades.
And in a moment of divine inspiration, the once and future David Rhodes Brown called up the two other most recognizable components of the Warsaw Falcons — bassist John Schmidt, whose stoic demeanor on stage was always at odds with the blistering pulse he provided, and drummer Doug Waggoner, whose maniacal approach to rhythm was to beat it into submission, hammering it into new and exotic shapes with Thor's thunder and Odin's lightning. The Falcons' frenetic six-song set at the end of the evening — with Brown in the teeth of a mutant flu strain that would have coldcocked the sturdiest lumberjack or dockworker — was the stuff of local legend. And as the last chords were still ringing through the Southgate House's Sanctuary, Brown (clean-shaven for the express purpose of revisiting his youthful past) informed us that he, Schmidt and Waggoner had worked too hard and had too much fun to lock the Falcons back in their respective trophy cases and that they would be returning, badder and better than ever.
That promise was teased with the Falcons' opening slot for 500 Miles to Memphis at the Southgate House last New Year's Eve, but it was fulfilled with a righteous vengeance last Friday night when the trio headlined their first club date in nearly a decade and a half, transforming the swank surroundings of the newly refurbished Woodward Theater into an edge-of-town roadhouse, with all the danger and chicken-wire that implies.
The evening began with a spirited set from JetLab, the compelling Synth Rock trio that made a serious local splash with their eponymous 2014 debut album and earned a well-deserved Best New Artist CEA nomination earlier this year. In the studio, the trio — Elle Crash (a huge fan of DRB's since way back), Nick Barrows and Dave Welsh — churn out an arty Flying Lizards/Gary Numan/Breeders/Tom Tom Club-tinged soundtrack, but in the live setting, JetLab channels their performance adrenaline into a manic Soul Coughing/Mike Doughty ethic, with brush strokes from the pallets of early Talking Heads, B-52s and our own Perfect Jewish Couple from back in the day. Barrows and Crash take their turns on the Korg, accompanying each other on electric and acoustic guitars with Crash occasionally strapping on the bass to beef up the bottom. Through it all, Welsh provides the slippery beat to hold it all together, shifting seamlessly from tough-edged shuffle to hard-hitting machinegun attack. JetLab has already amassed a sizable and suitably loyal local following, but its rapidly maturing live presence shows the trio is stocked with brains and muscle and its best days lay just ahead.
Next up on was yet another standard stellar appearance by The Tigerlilies, whose greatness has been trumpeted in our pages and on this site for a good long time. Friday's show was solid evidence to support that stance. The band's fourth and undeniably best album, last year's In the Dark, was handed out with each ticket sold and anyone who didn't already have it was the proud recipient of one of the best albums of 2014, period. In my review of In the Dark, I name-checked Cheap Trick, Husker Du, The Clash and The Beatles and I confidently stand behind those reference points. In the live context, however, The Tigerlilies' energy level rises exponentially and they shift into a sixth gear that is almost impossible to quantify. With an audience to spur them on, The Tigerlilies blenderize all of the above and throw in heaping handfuls of the Dictators and Voidoids to create a sound that is Power Pop at a blistering yet amazingly nuanced Hard Rock level. Bassist Brian Driscoll and drummer Steve Hennessy have the kind of telepathic beat mentality that is the hallmark of every great rhythm section, and Pat Hennessy and Brendan Bogosian are proving to be one of the most adaptable and multidimensional guitar tandems in the city, able to pummel with Punk passion and pacify with Pop persuasion. Pat once took guitar lessons from DRB, distinguishing himself to his instructor by bringing him a Johnny Burnette single with the intent of learning the song. That breadth of interest and experience still informs everything he does with The Tigerlilies.
Inevitably, it was time for the Warsaw Falcons to take the stage. Suited up in dapper black like Sopranos extras ready for their close-ups, Msrs. Brown, Schmidt and Waggoner opened the evening with the one-two punch of their slinky and seductive "Skinny Anklebone," the Falcons' first 7-inch from back in 1984, followed by the propulsively thunderous "Mix Your Mess," and it was a slightly mannered free-for-all from there. As always, the Falcons proved themselves to be masters of pacing, knowing exactly the right time to draft and when to accelerate, slowing things down with the swaying Rockabilly/Doo Wop intensity of "I Fall Apart," heating things up with the insistent thump and throb of "Two Cigarettes in the Dark" and "You Can't Talk to Me." And the evening's special status was cemented with a backing vocal cameo from Mark Utley, taking a break from Bulletville and Magnolia Mountain (the latter of which once claimed DRB as a member) to sing harmonies on "You Can't Talk to Me" and "Melody" and provide appropriate shouts on "Cat Daddy."
When the Falcons finally closed with a rafter-rattling spin on "Never My Lover," the understandably frenzied crowd erupted with some fireworks of their own, stomping on the Woodward's dance floor with seismic fury until the trio retook the stage to finish the night with the hypnotic rumpshake of "Bertha Lou" and the incendiary barnstorm of "Swingin' on the Way Down."
As the lights came up on the dazed but exultant attendees (which included everyone's favorite politico/city booster Jim Tarbell; as Brown noted earlier in the night, "Well, when Jim Tarbell shows up, you know you've got a thing"), it was clear that the audience was comprised of two distinct factions — old fans who were basking in the glow of memories of ancient Falcons triumphs and the unexpected prospect of new frontiers ahead and new fans who had just witnessed a scorching force of nature whose earliest gigs may have preceded their births or at least coincided with their formative elementary school years. These younger fans had never seen the trio in their heyday, and I assured them that what they had just experienced was played out in that same fashion, at least five nights a week, three sets a night, back in the ’80s. Their jaw-dropped reaction was proof positive that the Warsaw Falcons belong back together, belong on the current scene with their (much) younger contemporaries and have more than enough fuel to go wherever they bloody well want to go.
Clearly the Falcons themselves and those of us who followed them with unfailing fervor from the start bear all the marks of the passing decades. There is considerably more salt in our once peppery hair, but you know what they say about snow-covered roofs and the fire stoked furnaces beneath them. The Warsaw Falcons may well be looked at as the grandfathers of the Cincinnati scene, but they built this city on Rock and soul and the music they made is as timeless as the seasons, as immutable as the laws that govern the universe and as relevant as tomorrow's headlines.
Friday night's show at the Woodward was the first in a series of gigs where the headlining Falcons will be supported by bands whose members can claim some connection to DRB and his intrepid band of riffmongers, joined by special guests both past and present. Think the Warsaw Falcons are just the new geezer Rock? Get your mind right, kids, and talk to the virgins who got popped at the Woodward last week. They drank the Kool-Aid and they believe. You will, too … right down to your skinny anklebones.