• Ohio Hip Hop crew Bone Thugs-N-Harmony are still kicking. The ensemble, called by MTV the “most melodic Hip Hop group of all time” (thanks largely to their deft ability to work melodies not only into chorus hooks, but also their rhymes), performs at Bogart’s tonight at 7 p.m.
The group, which came into the national spotlight in 1993 when Eazy-E signed it to Ruthless Records, won a Grammy in 1997 for “The Crossroads” (a tribute to their late mentor). Bone Thugs’ current tour is their first in a while to feature all of the original members. The group recently made news when it started its own “TV channel,” which is actually an internet channel that will simulcast the crew’s homecoming concert in Cleveland tomorrow night (for a fee). The big homecoming show will feature backing from a full orchestra; proceeds from the pay-per-view broadcast benefit their hometown non-profit, Roots of American Music.
This should be one of the last times to catch the original Bone Thugs — the group has announced its next album and upcoming dates will be its last with the full lineup.
• Indie Rock heroes Surfer Blood perform tonight at The Southgate House Revival in Newport. The Florida-based band broke through in 2010, the same year Surfer Blood appeared at Cincinnati’s MidPoint Music Festival (where so many people showed up for the show, many had to be turned away at the door). The band is currently touring behind its sophomore album, last year’s Pythons. Surfer Blood recently came off a tour with We Are Scientists. The two bands also released a tour-only split single; you can hear Surfer Blood’s contribution here.
Read Jason Gargano's preview of the show from this week's CityBeat here.
Virginia based trio Eternal Summers opens tonight’s 8 p.m. show. Tickets are $17.
• Folk/Roots duo The Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank play a free show tonight at MOTR Pub. The Minnesota-based twosome’s 2013 album Number One Contender was called one of the best Minnesota-made albums of last year by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. You can listen to it in its entirety below.
Know of other good live music options for tonight in Greater Cincinnati? Share details in the comments.
Shelton’s solo career began when NewFound Road’s mandolinist decided he needed a break from the group. (Shelton was the only original member of the band at that point.)
“He’d been with me for seven years, so it caught me off guard,” Shelton says in his promo bio. “But I thought about it, and literally the next day, I decided, I’m done. I didn’t want to deal with reinventing NewFound Road, I’d been wanting to do other things musically, to go other places, and so I thought, now is the time.” (NewFound Road still does occasional tour dates.)
A southwestern Ohio resident, Shelton hit Ric Hordinski’s Monastery Studio in Walnut Hills this past summer to begin recording a solo effort full of material Shelton says will showcase a wider range of influence than just Bluegrass.
“I just want to make music that isn’t necessarily traditional Bluegrass. I love it, but I also love James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Rock, hard Rock, traditional Country — all of those. Just music. I think that people listen to the way I sing, and they assume I must be ‘going Country,’ but that’s not the direction I’m going. The vocals sound Country because it’s me, but I’m not setting out to try to make some huge-sounding, very produced record. I want it to sound good, I want the music to be played right, but I don’t want a wall of sound — I’m not trying to make a Rascal Flatts or Jason Aldean record.”
Shelton is offering a free download of his single “I Wish You Were Here” through his Facebook page here.
Here’s an earlier single Shelton released this summer called “Learning How to Live Alone”:
Tonight’s Southgate House Revival show begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10.
Know of other good live music options for tonight in Greater Cincinnati? Share details in the comments.
Saturday night contained a lot of firsts. It was the first time I ran merch, the first time we played in Germany, it marked the first appearance of the hot dog suit and the first time I said “fuck you, asshole” in German.
We got a late start on our trip from Antwerp, Belgium to Oelsnitz, Germany. Alarms weren’t properly set, showers were needed all around and the beds were comfier than they first appeared. Once we got our shit in gear (and loaded up on croissants) we were on our way. Ahead of us was one of our longest drives on the tour, a seven-hour voyage across country lines. The trip was punctuated by two pit stops; during one we saw a new bride run into the bathroom while still in her wedding dress.
A quick note on European bathrooms — they’re fantastic. You often have to pay for entry, but in many ways it’s worth it. We stopped in one gas station that had completed the checklist for being a dive. Porn mags on the racks? Check. Dirt and grime everywhere? Check. Attendants who seem to be hopped up on some sort of … something? You know it! So I wasn’t too hopeful when I dropped my 70 pence into the bathroom machine.
But man, oh man, was I wrong. The toilets are automated and include a self-cleaning system. It’s majestic. You can buy a vast assortment of sexual tools in the vending machine (part of the aforementioned checklist), but the rest of the bathroom was absolutely spotless. And when you’ve been on the road for four hours and nature comes a-callin’, this is a gift from on high.
Our GPS had us snaking through small German towns and we didn’t see anything resembling a venue. As we reached the end of the directions we still didn’t see anything. So we pulled up a little bit further and there it was: a graffitied beacon of Rock & Roll in the midst of beautiful German countryside. We had arrived.
We parked, met the promoter, met the support and got to unloading. I start grabbing the merch boxes and dove right in. And by dive right in, I mean that I stared at them blankly until Aaron came over and explained how everything worked and gave some suggestions on how to set up. From there, my retails skills came back and I became a folding, sorting and styling machine. I gave each style of shirt their own home in a box, put out a size run of each, spread out the small stuff and waited. And waited. And waited. And ate some homemade goulash. And waited some more.
Finally, the crowd began to build — and our game of “dibs” began anew — while we waited for our slot. Finally, the boys hit the stage and the crowd started to wake up. But, still, they needed a little push, a little something to get the mood just right. It was time for the hot dog costume. I slipped it on, ran to the front, got a laugh from the boys and the crowd and made my exit.
It seemed to have worked.
As the set wrapped up, the merch sales started to roll in. Thankfully, it wasn’t super busy, so I was able to get a feel for pricing, exchanging Euro change (who buys an EP with a 50€ note!?) and trying to translate thick German accents.
After the show finished, the party started up and it was a fun one. Nick was throwing down peppermint shots, courtesy of a fan. Ryan had to dodge the advances of two older women who had a bit too much to drink (and then drank some more on top of that). I, on the other hand, spent my time with a lovely young lady named Jenny and her friends as she gushed over her love of Barney Stinson and Nirvana. She also taught me all of the major German curse words and phrases when her friends got jealous of the attention I was getting. I wish I could’ve remembered some of the words; they will surely come in handy sometime on this trip.
Finally, the free beer was safely stowed in our bellies and it was time for bed. We found our hotel, made plans for the next day, stripped down and passed out.
This morning we’re on our way to Berlin for show number three. We actually left on time today so we should have some time to see the city (and replace Aaron’s broken double bass pedal) before we get down to rocking.
Spinal Tap moments: 4.
CityBeat contributor Nick Grever is currently traveling Europe on tour with Cincinnati Rock band Valley of the Sun. He will be blogging for citybeat.com regularly about the experience.
With cool, rainy weather in the forecast, this weekend’s planned Mayesfest Bluegrass & Americana Festival in Bellevue has been cancelled. But with artists traveling into Northern Kentucky for the outdoor, riverside event, and many fans excited for it, organizers have decided to present what they’ve called on their Facebook page a “mini Mayes,” moving the music indoors to Over-the-Rhine’s Christian Moerlein Taproom (1621 Moore St., near the Shell gas station on Liberty), which hosted two stages during the recent MidPoint Music Festival.
The event will now begin at 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and feature a stripped-down but still excellent lineup of local and touring Bluegrass and Americana artists.
Here is the new lineup:
5 p.m. Price Hill Hustle
6:30 p.m. Al Scorch
8 p.m. Morgan O'Kane
9:30 p.m. Henhouse Prowlers
5 p.m. Honey & Houston
6:30 p.m. Jack Grelle
8 p.m. Woody Pines
9:30 p.m. Morgan O'Kane
(Editor’s Note: CityBeat contributor Nick Grever leaves today for Europe, where he’ll be on tour with Cincinnati Rock group Valley of the Sun as the band’s “merch guy.” Nick has graciously agreed to blog about his journey for citybeat.com over the next three weeks. Below is his first installment, an introduction written last night when he was [possibly over] packing for the trip.)
Hello, my name is Nick and since I’ve been a teenager, I’ve dreamt about living the Rock & Roll lifestyle. There’s just one problem – I can’t play music worth a damn.
As a freelancer for this fine publication, I have been able to get a taste of my dream but one element has always eluded me: touring. So imagine my excitement when local rockers Valley of the Sun invited me to work merch for them on their second European tour. I just never expected to be touring the world in a hotdog costume.
Maybe a little background is in order. I’ve known the Valley guys (guitarist/vocalist Ryan Ferrier, drummer Aaron Boyer and bassist Ryan McAllister) for several years, culminating in a profile piece in the pages of CityBeat for their first full-length release, Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk. With that release (and my expertly devised words of praise, no doubt), the band has risen to new heights.
Valley of the Sun signed with Fuzzorama Records and has already toured Europe once, in support of Desert Rock titans Truckfighters. Now it’s time for them to return for another three week tour for shows ranging from massive fests to small dives. We’ll be traveling throughout Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and other countries, joined by Valley’s sound guy across the pond, Arnaud Merckling. In their infinite wisdom, the band invited me along to run their merch; Mangrenade’s Nick Thieme is also on the trip, playing bass in McAllister’s absence.
I’m writing this the night before we leave and I’m still not entirely sure what to expect. But here’s what I do know: I’ll be writing constantly, I probably over packed and Ryan, Nick and Aaron are really excited to see me run around in a venue in my new skeleton onesie (far warmer and more comfortable than it has any right to be) and hotdog ensemble.
These blog entries will ultimately be a record of our trip but it’s going to be more than just a recap of the shenanigans we’re sure to get into and the excellent food we’re sure to eat — although expect a few Instragram worthy images of foreign cuisine, too. (I love me some sausage.) It’s going to examine all the parts of tour life that arise over the course of our trip. What is it like to sit in a small van with four other guys for eight hours when none of us have showered for three days? Is German beer really as good as people say? What happens at 4 a.m. when Ryan starts spouting off about the multiverse as we sit around a bar in Switzerland? Seriously, did I pack enough underwear?
These hard hitting questions, along with my observations and insights, will fill these digital pages. Hopefully they’ll be interesting enough for you to come back and read some more. Expect updates at least every few days — it all depends on how reliable the wifi is in Europe. Hey, that’s another blog entry topic!
Yesterday (Oct. 5) marked the 21st anniversary of the release of Gentlemen, the major label debut from Cincinnati-spawned rockers The Afghan Whigs, which helped catapult the band into the international spotlight. To celebrate the album reaching drinking age, Rhino Records is releasing a deluxe edition later this month under the name Gentlemen at 21. For the album’s birthday last night, the band (which recently performed a hometown show at the MidPoint Music Festival and is in the midst of a tour behind its new album, Do to the Beast) played an expansive set at Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg. With tickets priced at $21, last night's show reunited the Whigs with special guest Usher, doing a version of the superstar’s “Climax” (the entities first teamed up at last year’s South by Southwest fest in Texas).
Due Oct. 28, the Gentlemen at 21 set will be available digitally and as a two-CD collection. A vinyl version of the original remastered album will also be released Oct. 28, followed by a three-platter deluxe vinyl edition with all of the bonus material, which is being issued for Record Store Day's Black Friday event on Nov. 28.
Gentlemen at 21’s bonus material will include all of the original demos for the album, which were recorded in Cincinnati at bassist John Curley’s Ultrasuede studio. The set will also feature rarities, including radio sessions and B-sides. The Whigs’ version of fellow Cincy greats The Ass Ponys’ track “Mr. Superlove” (originally issued on a vinyl single from local label Mono Cat 7, with the Ponys covering the Whigs’ “You My Flower” on the flip side) is also slated for the Rhino release.
Here is Gentlemen at 21’s full track listing:
1. “If I Were Going”
3. “Be Sweet”
5. “When We Two Parted”
6. “Fountain And Fairfax”
7. “What Jail Is Like”
8. “My Curse”
9. “Now You Know”
10. “I Keep Coming Back”
11. “Brother Woodrow/Closing Prayer”
1. “If I Were Going”
3. “Be Sweet”
5. “When We Two Parted”
6. “Fountain And Fairfax”
7. “What Jail Is Like”
8. “My Curse”
9. “Now You Know”
10. “Brother Woodrow”
11. “Little Girl Blue”
13. “Mr. Superlove”
14. “Dark End Of The Street”
15. “What Jail Is Like” (Live)
16. “Now You Know” (Live)
17. “My World Is Empty Without You/I Hear A Symphony” (Live)
Tracks 1-8 Demos Recorded At Ultrasuede
Tracks 9-10 Instrumental Rough Mixes, Ardent Studios
Tracks 15-17 Recorded Live For KTCL At The Mercury Café, Denver, CO, May 10th, 1994
Also this past weekend, the Whigs’ YouTube channel debuted Ladies & Gentlemen, The Afghan Whigs, an hour and a half-long road documentary chronicling the band’s touring of Europe in the early ’90s. The film, produced by the Whigs’ longtime sound engineer Steve Girton, was screened at Newport’s Southgate House in 2005 during the Lite Brite Indie Pop and Film Test, but has otherwise only been circulated as a much-coveted bootleg. Check it out below:
Those jonesing for more music fest goodness after last weekend’s spectacular MidPoint Music Festival have some great options this weekend. Bluegrass fans should be especially excited for a couple of them.
• The Bend in the River Art & Music Festival debuts this Saturday and Sunday in Lower Price Hill (2104 St. Michael St., next to The Sanctuary: Center for Education and the Arts). The festival/fundraiser runs 5-11 p.m. Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday with the goal of bringing the community together (and showcasing it to others) and raising money for the Community Matters (cmcincy.org) and Education Matters (emcincy.org) organizations.
Along with food trucks and booths, beer from MadTree Brewing and Rhinegeist and a variety of vendors and artists showing their wares, local musical acts from a variety of genres will provide live music. Tim Caudill, Pike 27, Blue Caboose, Under New Order, The Part-Time Gentlemen and Ohio Knife perform Saturday, while Wild Carrot, Sibling Rivalry, Matthew Schneider and Phoenix (the local Rock cover band, not the internationally famous French Indie Pop group) play Sunday.
Admission to the Bend in the River Art & Music Festival is $7 or $10 for a two-day pass (Lower Price Hill residents receive a coupon to attend for free).
• The DevouGrass Festival presents its first-ever event Saturday at the Devou Park Bandshell (1700 Montague Road, Covington). The family friendly event runs noon-dusk, and while there is no admission charge (even free parking is available throughout the park), organizers are asking for donations to the Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky.
Along with food trucks, other vendors, various children’s activities and performances by Circus Mojo and kids’ fave Joel the Singing Librarian, DevouGrass will also feature sets by area Roots/Bluegrass outfits Blue Caboose (noon), Ma Crow and the Lady Slippers (3 p.m.), Hickory Robot (3 p.m.) and the Downtown County Band (6 p.m.).
For complete festival info, visit devougrass.com.
• The Versailles State Park Bluegrass Festival returns with a new location and name: the Friendship Music Festival at the Old Mill Campground in Friendship, Ind. (facebook.com/oldmillcampground), which hosts the very popular Whispering Beard Folk Festival annually and is only about an hour drive southwest of Cincinnati. Despite moving from the state park and changing the moniker, the fest will continue to spotlight some of the region’s finest Bluegrass and Roots music practitioners.
On Saturday, the music starts at noon with a lineup featuring Mamadrones, Common Ground, Rural Route 2, Lee Sexton with John Haywood and Brett Ratliff, Whiskey Bent Valley Boys, The Tillers and Bradford Lee Folk & the Bluegrass Playboys. The music picks back up Sunday at 11 a.m. with Mt. Pleasant String Band, followed by James White & Deer Tick, Blue Mafia, Whipstitch Sallies, Rattlesnakin’ Daddies and Tony Holt and the Wildwood Valley Boys.
Weekend passes for the Friendship Music Festival are $10; one-day passes are $5. Camping is available. Visit friendshipmusicfestival.com for full details.
It was an eventful night at the Madison Theater in Covington when CHVRCHES came to town Sept. 29. A pretty good sized crowd turned up at Covington’s Madison Theater, which was a little surprising, since they shamefully receive almost no local radio airplay. Oddly, our local “alternative” station The Project sponsored a meet and greet contest with the band, even though the station has never played a CHVRCHES song. Across the river, WKNU has played them. Once. Five months ago, according to a search of the station’s online playlist.
The make-up of the crowd was another surprise. It was an almost teen-free show, with most folks falling between late college and near retirement. That could be due to the fact that CHVRCHES make modern Electronic music but with a very retro feel. And they’ve got tunes.
The Range (who opened for Chromeo at the MidPoint Music Festival) came on stage promptly at 8 p.m., and began his first song. After 45 minutes, that song finally ended. CHVRCHES were set to take the stage at 9:15 p.m., but just after 9 p.m., the fire alarms in the theater went off. Here’s a handy tip: when you’re in large venue, look not only for the nearest exit, but all exits. Security decided it would be cool to deny access to the fire exits at the back of the theater. What the fuck!? Do you not know what happened not three miles from here in 1979? Or in Rhode Island a few years back? Fortunately, everyone was able to file out safely, and pass the time in a well-behaved manner out on the blocked-off street while fire officials investigated.
According to theater management, who were very upset with the way the evacuation was handled, security was provided by the promoter. After the show, the two sides discussed in detail the proper procedures in order to avoid any such occurrences in the future.
Once the all-clear was given, security did do a nice job of getting everyone back in quickly and efficiently. CHVRCHES thanked the crowd for their patience and apologized, saying the fog machine they were using is what likely tripped the alarm.
Coming out of the gate strong, the band launched its set with two singles, the very fine “We Sink,” followed by the popular “Lies.” Like many Electronic bands, they don’t move around a lot, with Iain Cook and Martin Doherty stationed at their synth racks, flanking singer Lauren Mayberry. This isn’t as visually limiting as it sounds. Ms. Mayberry is an outspoken critic of sexism and misogyny in music, so it feels a little awkward to point out that she’s quite lovely and very engaging in her stage presence. Flying around the stage a la Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode, or Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails simply isn’t her style, yet she still holds the crowd.
Her mates weren’t chained to the instruments all night, at least not Doherty, who traded places with Mayberry while he sang “Under the Tide.” Mayberry returned to center stage for what is arguably the band’s most popular track, “The Mother We Share,” which is also one of the best songs of the past few years.
The enthusiastic crowd of course wanted more, bringing the band back out for the obligatory, but much-desired, encore, wrapping up with “You Caught the Light” and “By the Throat.”
The last day of MidPoint is like a lot of endings in life; the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the year, the end of a piece of cherry pie, the end of the line. This is the end, my only friend, the end.
And it had the chance to be the perfect end of perhaps the most perfect MidPoint in the festival's history, from the lineup to the weather to the experiences. And you know what, Aunt Em? I think it was. You were there, and you were there, and so were you. And so was I. I'm fairly sure of it.
I had a lot of possibilities circled on my MidPoint program for Saturday night, allowing for the chance to leave something I wasn't crazy about or merely the opportunity to see a couple of great things in the space of an hour. All of that happened and so much more. Saturday night was more sampler platter than focused attempt to see a set number of bands and it turned out pretty well. And for the first time since I began doing this daily wrap-up thing God knows how many years ago, I didn't take a single note all night as an inadvertent experiment in appreciation recall. Success or not? You be the judge.
As I was finding a parking space, I was listening to Little Steven's Underground Garage. The former Silvio Dante had been playing snippets of Groucho Marx bits from the Marx Brothers' movies, and finished with a hilarious Groucho interview about how the moustache came into existence. Moments later, as I was walking across Central Parkway on my way to the first show of the evening, I heard a horn honk and saw a massive arm wave from a Kia Sol. Of course, it was the semi-ubiquitous Jacob Heintz, the pope of MidPoint, giving me his blessing from his diminutive popemobile. Saturdays at MidPoint don't begin much better than that.
First up on my last day's dance card was Cincy’s The Ready Stance, who were slotted as the first show of the evening on the Midway stage. When the band began, I was still near the food court, and as the music cranked up, I would have sworn that the production staff was pumping some Marshall Crenshaw through the sound system for a level check. Within seconds, I realized this was no lost Crenshaw track but the Stance in full Pop jacket mode. The Stance churns out classic Pop/Rock informed by the '90s college Rock histories of guitarist/vocalist Wes Pence, bassist Randy Cheek and drummer Eric Moreton and the contemporary classicism of guitarist/vocalist Chase Johnston. As the foursome ran through a set that was evenly divided between tracks from their 2012 debut Damndest and new songs that may wind up on the band's in-the-works sophomore album, the Stance's numerous gifts were evident.
Pence and Johnston play with a two guitar/one mind synergy that crackles with intensity, Cheek lays down a massive groove that could be tracked from space and Moreton has the malleable sensitivity to control tempo and volume with a flick, a roll or an outburst. These guys are working stiffs on the old day job/night Rock treadmill, and the gears turn slowly in that world, so the new album may be on the far horizon. But as good as they were Saturday evening — Goose's Jason Arbenz pronounced them "Cincinnati's Jayhawks" and I wouldn't dispute it, although I'd toss in occasional nods to Mitch Easter and Ray Davies — the anticipation can only grow.
I bailed on the tail end of The Ready Stance's set to see OK Go down at beautiful Washington Park, and that may have been a mistake. I could have easily seen the entire Stance set and still made it in time for OK Go, as the band started close to 20 minutes late (It's a festival, boys … check the clock on your Jetson phones). When they finally hit the stage, the confetti cannons went off, they did two songs and then launched into … a question and answer session with the audience.
I did get to see "Writing on the Wall," a pretty good tune which is accompanied by one of the band's most inventive videos, and a track called "Obsession," also from their impending new album. But it was already time to hit the next thing on my slate, and as I walked out of Washington Park and heard frontman Damian Kulash taking an inordinate amount of time to teach the audience how to sing along with whatever was coming up next, I knew I'd bailed in the nick of time. I like OK Go, a lot, but this was a massive disappointment.
If I was feeling somewhat burned by OK No (cheap shot? Perhaps …), that feeling was almost immediately dissipated by Chicago trio Bailiff, who were just taking the Midway stage as I approached up 12th Street. The band had been recommended by my friend Paul Roberts, who had seen them at their last local appearance at MOTR, and he was lathered up by the prospect of seeing them again, so I added them to my list of possibles. Boy, was that the right thing to do.
Bailiff is not easy to pin down to a specific genre, but they play the living hell out of everything they do and they do just about everything. At one point, they were grinding out a Prog/Pop vibe that suggested the sound of King Crimson with Adrian Belew at the helm and Robert Fripp in a support capacity, a pretty neat trick considering Josh Siegel is the only guitarist in the band. Or they'll take a left turn into a tribal Jamaican/African reverie, or Art Rock bluster with the classicism of Talking Heads and the future shock of Radiohead. I kept wondering if there was a keyboardist behind the amp and out of my line of sight, but no such accompaniment was present, just the Siegel's sinewy guitar acrobatics, bassist Ren Matthew's Entwistle-meets-Pastorius lead runs and drummer Owen O'Malley's baby Bonham antics. The trio was drifting between their 2011 debut, Red Balloon, and their just released Remise, and it was all over much too soon for anyone's taste.
For reasons that will be revealed in the notes, I hung around the Midway for Alexander Giannascoli, aka Alex G, an impossibly young guitarist from Philadelphia with a pretty happening band around him. G's got a pretty good backstory, writing and recording at 12, posting songs online at 16, then lathering/rinsing/repeating into his current early 20s. He's got a wispy vocal delivery that rivals the late Elliott Smith for ephemeral atmospherics, and a Beck-meets-Robert-Pollard sense of Avant Pop, qualities that stand in clear and extremely appealing relief on his studio work, particularly his just released DSU. Unfortunately, a lot of those recorded subtleties and quirks are lost in the clatter and bash of their live presentation, and with the dynamic and emotional range smoothed and leavened, Alex G's largely mid-tempo odes don't offer much else to latch onto in the course of a set. This is most certainly not a case of good songs performed poorly, more like edgy songs with just a little too much of the edge sanded off. Alex G is obviously a considerable talent, and if I were to offer a bit of unsolicited advice to young G, it would be to either find a band that can recreate your basement lab concoctions or write for the live band you have, because they're talented players.
There was a considerable spike in the Midway energy level when Low Cut Connie took the stage. Typically just a duo featuring piano basher Adam Weiner and drummer/erstwhile guitarist Dan Finnemore, LCC tours with a full band complement and makes a mighty racket in the process. Weiner plays with the ferocity and brash confidence of early Jerry Lee Lewis at his most petulant — he even has a vestige of The Killer's untamed forelock of hair — and he sings with the raw animal magnetism of Iggy Pop. Weiner hops up on his bench, plays with his elbows and occasionally his ass and stands atop his piano threatening to do a strip tease as the band vamps on. And when Finnemore steps to the front of the stage with his guitar, the U.K. native truly embodies his Punk/Garage Rock roots and influences. Low Cut Connie's songs are dripping with snarky humor but they stop well short of being mere novelties by virtue of being great bloody songs. The band's Facebook posting on Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. stated, "On our way to mess up Cincinnati real good … tonight at #mpmf … gonna rip it." Damned if they didn't.
Once again, I had to tear myself away from Low Cut Connie's compelling Midway spectacle in order to take in a little of Mr. Elevator and the Brain Hotel down at MOTR. When working on their blurb for the CityBeat preview issue, I was absolutely captivated by the Brain Hotel's hypnotic Psych/Pop soundtrack and dark Carnival of Souls demeanor, and it translates well into the band's live performance. There are hints of the '80s Paisley Underground in the Brain Hotel's sonic profile, particularly the helium-tinged vocals of the Three O'Clock's Michael Quercio, but it's the band's visceral impact that is most satisfying. It reminds me of the first time I saw The Doors on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1967 and was completely mesmerized, not by royal lizard/frontshaman Jim Morrison but by hunched-over keyboard alchemist Ray Manzarek. Any band that can consistently access that hallowed memory from the dusty archive of my brain's pre-hard drive file cabinet has my undying devotion.
I had initially earmarked the 11 p.m. spot for the Bonesetters at Arnold's, but my bum leg was starting to throb a bit and the prospect of walking to Arnold's and then back to MOTR for Kid Congo at midnight suddenly seemed painful and ill-advised. For the sake of saving my leg for possible use on Sunday (and sort of forever), I opted to keep my spot on the MOTR dance floor and hang around to check out Corners. Deirdre Kaye's preview noted that the L.A. trio had been working a Surf/Psych angle but that they'd recently shifted to a Post Punk direction. That became evident with their first song, a blazing two-guitar/bass/synth percussion screamer that brought my last two years of college back to life like an acid flashback with a Synth Punk soundtrack.
Corners bears all the marks of late '70s Electro Punk, somewhere in the vicinity of Joy Division and their post-Ian Curtis iteration New Order, with flecks of the Units, San Francisco's dour Synth Pop avatars, a splash of Gang of Four, a dash of Bauhaus and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and maybe a trace of the Sisters of Mercy and Killing Joke. All of this will most assuredly be reflected on Corners imminent new album, Maxed Out on Distractions, which provided the bulk of the songs for the band's MidPoint set, which was dark, vibrant and enjoyable. (Ironic fun fact: the entire lineup at MOTR on Saturday night will appear at Corners' L.A. record release party in early October.)
At last, it was time for Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, the last band of the last night of MidPoint, and brothers and sisters, the Kid and his compatriots were more than up to the task. The former Gun Club/Cramps/Bad Seeds guitarist has been staging some form of the Pink Monkey Birds for over a decade and this iteration (guitarist/keyboardist Jesse Roberts, bassist Kiki Solis and drummer Ron Miller) might be the best batch yet. Peeling any loose paint from MOTR's walls was absolutely no trouble for the Kid as he scorched away on selections from his latest album with the PMB, Haunted Head, as well as a couple of songs from their upcoming single and a bunch of old favorites, including The Cramps' "Goo Goo Muck," The Gun Club's "She's Like Heroin to Me" and his own brilliant "Black Santa" and "Killer Diller."
The MOTR's dance floor was a boiling mass of rhythmically moving bodies, propelled by the Kid's blazing guitar runs and the Pink Monkey Birds' perpetual motion soundtrack. And since it was the band's last night of their current tour, they were not about to leave anything on the table, so after their standard club-clearing encore of "LSDC," the Kid and his Birds returned for one last brilliantly incendiary romp through The Gun Club's "For the Love of Ivy;" I fully expected lightning to shoot out of the Kid's fingers and eyes as he overloaded every internal and external circuit in the joint. I don't think he could have given us any more and I'm not entirely sure we could have taken it even if he had any more in him. As the Kid and the Birds bid us adieu, I had to believe that this might have been one of the most spectacular last nights of my personal MidPoint attendance history. It will be hard to top going forward, you can bet your sweet ass on that.
• Before the Ready Stance set, I ran into Ready Stance. The Midway seemed like a good place for that to happen. Wes Pence was first, busy with logistics on the phone, then in short order Randy Cheek and Chase Johnston. The Good Rockkeeping Seal of Approval King Slice was on hand for the madness, as were Paulie, Big Jim and Stufest (that's Stu to you and me). Also down in front for the Stance was Randy Campbell, formerly with Screaming Mimes and now with Faint Signal, who promised a new FS album coming shortly. I will keep you appraised of the situation. And once again, Eddy Mullet, my Class X comrade in Rock, sought to gain my attention by standing impossibly close to me as the Stance pulsed and pounded. Note to Eddy: For the record, 20 years ago, on a trip to Michigan, my best friend's wife, completely circuit fried on Xanax and Grey Goose, was dancing around their living room, grabbed my foot, shoved it between her legs and started hopping around in front of me like my shin was a stick pony from the '50s. With my foot in her cooch. Believe me, I'm not suggesting that you need to escalate to that DefCon level of weird, but it's safe to say that my threshold of the unusual is well above a bar you'd be willing to attempt to clear. And we're back. Accompanying Eddy was his most excellent daughter Jess, the smartest, most music savvy high school senior I know. Big things coming for that girl, I just know it.
• Down at Washington Park just before OK Go played, I crossed paths with Latha Mannava, former CityBeat worker bee and now more gainfully employed by F&W. Latha graciously introduced me to her friends by saying, "Whatever Brian recommends, that's what I go see." Ironically, I had written up the OK Go preview as a glowing endorsement, and Latha noted about two songs in, "These guys are doing nothing for me." Just to keep things in perspective, folks, the best hitters in baseball are only successful a third of the time, and that's a better percentage than some highly salaried and over-radared weathermen. I'm pretty sure my reputation is still pretty good with Latha.
• I spent a good deal of the evening on the Midway with Ready Stance drummer Eric Moreton and his wife Kristiana. Eric couldn't really go anywhere because someone in the band had lost his wristband (I don't want to assess blame but his initials are Wes Pence), so I just kind of hung around and had a lovely conversation with the two of them. I'm fairly certain I scared the living shit out of them with tales of my dysfunctional life and times and the epic tale of why I was on a self-imposed one beer limit throughout MidPoint (which I'm surprised wasn't tweeted about at some point during the weekend, with the suggestion, "Please shut up already, please"). In any event, it was nice, thanks for the company, and if either of you requires therapy after our compressed time together, I think my insurance will cover part of the cost before tying a cinder block to my waist and throwing me off the Big Mac Bridge.
• As I was headed into MOTR for the Brain Hotel experience, the wisdom of checking out this show was magnified a hundredfold with the appearance of the much-too-absent Matthew Fenton and his friends Kyle and Nicki (I'm guessing at her spelling, as I did with last year's Bunbury report). Matthew had also decided to stake out an early spot for Kid Congo, and a look at Corners' crazy Gary Panteresque T-shirt designs at the merch booth salted his decision. I love seeing shows with Matthew; they typically involve exchanges like this:
Matthew: Who is this again?
Brian: Mr. Elevator and the Brain Hotel.
M: Very Paisley Underground.
B: Remember the Three O'Clock?
B: They need a go-go cage.
M: With you in it?
B: I don't dance.
M: You've gotta do something.
B: (Frankestein-then-master voice) "Arrrrhh!" "No, Caezar!" "Fire, bad!"
M: Well, not that. You can't just sit there sucking your fingers.
B: May I go to the bathroom?
B: Thank you.
Pretty much endlessly. I love our time together. It's so pointless and perfect. And it usually has a pretty cool soundtrack.
• As Corners left the stage, Matthew's friend Ashley showed up with her friend Tone (again, guessing … it could be some Scandanavian derivation with no vowels and the symbol for magnesium as an accent, or it could be short for Tony), who was a super nice guy and a good hang for the Kid Congo show. Ashley mentioned that they were only there because of a bug in the MidPoint app that kept defaulting to Thursday; they thought they were coming to see Nikki Lane. But they both thoroughly enjoyed Kid Congo, so no harm no foul … but have I.T. check that app for next year, kids.
• Also taking in the raucous Garage/Punkabilly jailbreak that was Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds: Paulie, Big Jim and Sir Dan of MidPointville, who I'm beginning to believe was assigned my case and has been keeping pretty close tabs on me. For the record, I'm fine, and you can count the silverware. It's all there. I spotted Wes Pence at the very end of the show but when I did a quick walk through MOTR, he was gone. Cest la vie — see you again soon, my friend.
• On my way back to the car, I ran into the always fabulous Mike Sarason, dressed to kill after a friend's wedding, along with his stunning date Margaret. Mike mentioned that he had moved to New York, and that the hiatused Pinstripes were likely done, news that I had gotten from Pinstripes drummer John Bertke Thursday night at MOTR. It was great to see Mike, he's a world class guy and I certainly hope he continues to pursue a musical path because he's amazing, but the reality of the end of one of my absolute favorite bands and a perpetual highlight at this very festival made for a rather bittersweet end to the last day of MidPoint.
• And so one of the most nearly perfect MidPoints in the event's history is in the book. As usual, there is much credit to be spread around for the success of an undertaking with this much complexity and requiring this much planning. First and foremost to Dan McCabe, who somehow manages, year after year, to play the most intricate game of chess with artists, agents, publicists, labels and venues and then come up with a strategy where it seems everyone wins.
• Obviously, MidPoint couldn't happen without the sturdy volunteer army that clockworks this potential mess every fall with very few glitches. This absolutely could not be done without your skill, patience and stamina.
• Of course, there's everyone at CityBeat who helps facilitate and promote MidPoint and who are its main boosters well before and well after the event, from Dan Bockrath. Danny Cross and (now it can be told, cyborg) Mike Breen, right on down through the entire staff. Sting told me, every little thing you do is magic.
• And obviously to all the bands who came from down the block, across the country and, in some cases, around the world to be here for the express purpose of entertaining us with their creative gifts. But most especially, thanks to everyone who attends MidPoint year in and year out, for showing up to experience the region's absolute best music crawl. This year’s may well have been the best populated Thursday night in the festival's history, and that couldn't happen without patrons who believe in the event and the promise of great music to be heard and that couldn't be done without all of the above. Funny how symbiosis works, isn't it? Thanks again to you all for a brilliant MidPoint 2014. Set your watches for late September 2015 … you'll know me, I'll be the thirsty one with a limp
The middle of the MidPoint weekend is like the middle of a lot of things; the middle of a movie, the middle of a book, the middle of life with an equal measure of glorious accomplishments and missed opportunities behind and the potential for great things still ahead, the middle of an exquisite jelly donut where the filling drips down your chin as you lick the pastry where you just bit with a sensual need for completion.
What was I saying? Right, middle of MidPoint. So here we are in Day 2, quite possibly one of the most anticipated second days of the festival in its long and storied history.
I arrived at Washington Park just as Joseph Arthur was beginning his set. A lot of folks had been hoping that Van Hunt might be accompanying the evening's headliner, our own Afghan Whigs, since he had been touring with The Whigs recently, but Arthur is opening this next leg of the Whigs' triumphant return and so the honor fell to him. And yet the pleasure was all ours, as Arthur put on a brilliant one-man presentation with the help of loops and stomp pedals and a catalog filled with amazing songs, like the powerful "In the Sun" ("because all the best Rock & Roll happens in the middle of the day"). Clearly the most incredible moment of Arthur's set came at its conclusion, when he set up his loops and launched into "I Miss the Zoo," and began drawing an outline with a black paint marker, which almost immediately began to run, on a piece of what looked to be foamcore on an easel set up on stage. While Arthur sang verse after verse, he squirted different colors of paint on various spots around the board, and then picked up a brush and pushed the colors around and into the bleeding black. When he finished the song, he had finished the painting. It was quite astonishing, to say the least. I've been a fan of Arthur's for some time — I interviewed him many years ago — and although I knew he was renowned for his paintings, I had no idea he mixed his media in quite this fashion. It was thrilling to witness.
Next up on the bill was Wussy, quite honestly one of the most redemptive and satisfying second acts in Cincinnati music history. After the nonchalant major label dismissal of Chuck Cleaver's Ass Ponys in the '90s, he returned with a shambling vengeance with Wussy in the new millennium, partnering with Lisa Walker then adding Mark Messerly and Dawn Burman to the fold and making their studio debut with the patently amazing Funeral Dress in 2005. Wussy quickly became a critic's band, famously scoring a huge fan in renowned writer Robert Christgau, who cited both Funeral Dress and 2007's Left For Dead in his Top 10 best albums of the new millennial decade. The arrival of drummer Joe Klug in 2008 gave Wussy the powerful engine they required to hit the subsequent heights they have attained, first with 2011's magnificent Strawberry and now with this year's brilliant Attica!
This latest string of Wussy shows is proving just how powerful and confident the newly minted quintet (with the arrival of former Ass Pony/pedal steeler John Ehrhardt) has become. Klug's presence as a muscular and reliable hammer is certainly one element, Messerly's evolution as an absolutely vital, melodic bassist is another, but in many ways this also boils down to the strengthening chemistry between Cleaver and Walker. The duo's already incredible synergy has morphed into a ferocious and purposeful partnership that yields more dividends with each set and session, and Friday's performance at Washington Park was evidence of Wussy's upward/onward trajectory.
After blazing through a killer romp on "Pulverized," Walker poked the crowd with a gentle threat: "I hope you like 'The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,' because we're doing all 13 verses … Gord's Gold 2, that's what we've been listening to, exclusively."
Thankfully, no such root canal took place. Instead, Wussy ran through a selection of Attica! and catalog tracks that cemented the band's position as a formidable live entity. "Rainbows and Butterflies" was massive, dense and beautiful while "To the Lightning" howled with an anthemic power surge that accentuated its R.E.M. jangle and Yo La Tengo dissonance, and "Teenage Wasteland" was a showcase of Walker's incalculable gifts and her indispensible role in Wussy. And "Beautiful," like its studio predecessor, started out as a gentle meditation with a menacing undercurrent, but quickly built to a Crazy Horse squall that set off Cleaver and Walker's mantra-like intonation of "I'm not the monster that I once was." If all that wasn't enough, and it surely was, the fivesome finished their round with an unexpected and thoroughly engaging version of Joy Division/New Order's "Ceremony." This set was the best evidence yet that Cleaver may finally be ready to forget about the wounds inflicted by his first go-round with the industry and take his rightful place in the Rock pantheon along with his equally deserving Wussy mates.
At last it was time for the main event, the much-anticipated return of The Afghan Whigs. Each iteration of the Whigs' reclamation has been documented with a local show, but this tour in support of the Whigs' first studio album in a decade and a half, the jaw-dropping Do to the Beast, has been billed — even by some of the band's harshest critics — as the best live performances of their career. Local fans were justifiably amped up about the prospect of experiencing that rush for themselves. To say they weren't disappointed might well be an understatement on a par with "The Beatles kind of changed things."
Naturally, the majority of the set was devoted to Do to the Beast, as the band vaulted into the night air with "Parked Outside" and "Matamoros," guaranteeing that the album and live set opened with the same visceral one-two punch. But where frontman Greg Dulli sounded intense and focused in the studio, he was a coiled truck spring on stage, a spiral of wound up energy that unspooled with a nearly unhinged control.
Surprise was the watchword of the evening. Dulli had hinted to CityBeat that an unexpected guest would be making an appearance and that apparently turned out to be Greenhornes/Raconteurs drummer Patrick Keeler, who proved to be more than up to the task of beating the Whigs' tribal drums and being the percussive foil for John Curley's perpetual bass clinic. And while much of the set list was anchored by Do to the Beast and Gentlemen, about to be reissued in a 21st anniversary two-disc package, there were a number of interesting twists and fan-centric fist pumpers.
The Whigs have always loved mashing up two or more songs, and last night there were a few corkers; Gentlemen's "When We Two Parted" drifting into Drake's "Over My Dead Body,” Do to the Beast's "I Am Fire," paired with a tubthumping take on Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk" and the new album's "Lost in the Woods" bleeding into a melancholic shuffle through The Beatles' "It's
Getting Better." Elsewhere, the band partly covered Jeff Buckley's "Morning Theft" to great effect, and opener Joseph Arthur provided backing vocals on the stage front mic for "Can Rova" from Beast while Dulli took his place at the piano.
The band has been running through stellar versions of "Debonair," Black Love's "My Enemy," and 1965's "John the Baptist" and did again, but the end of the Whigs' hometown set provided the greatest fireworks, starting with the almost never performed "Son of the South" from their Sub Pop debut and sophomore album Up In It, and eventually finished with an abbreviated encore, a blazing march through 1965's "Somethin' Hot" and Black Love's "Going to Town." With the 10 p.m. curfew bearing down, Dulli introduced the band and departed with a resounding, "We are the motherfucking Afghan Whigs! We'll see you next time."
The Afghan Whigs have clearly grown to accommodate some of the massive stages they've inhabited as of late. Longtime Whigs fans may lament the loss of the band's less seasoned version, where every club show seemed to be played with the ferocity of rats fighting their way out of a corner. The Afghan Whigs of now feature the cumulative growth that Dulli and Curley have experienced over the past 15 years since the band's demise and that experience is considerable and fairly amazing. Songs that were once acid-etched screeds are now heart-pounding anthems, and that evolution seems neither contrived nor insincere in any way. Dulli still sings them with visceral conviction, but now he possesses a new understanding of himself and his long established mythology and Curley still underpins every song with eye of the storm calm and outer band intensity but now he invests every note with the unrestrained glee of the best second chance ever. It all makes sense to me.
One last observation; the red gels on the stage lights gave the curtain behind the band the blood red appearance of the velvet backdrop on the cover of Congregation. If you carry that metaphor to its logical conclusion, the Whigs were a beautiful naked ebony mother and we were her beautiful naked pale baby and we were all together on a beautiful night under a beautiful sky having a beautiful time. The Whigs' official return to us could not have been more appropriate or better appointed. And then there was Dulli's hopeful parting, “We'll see you next time.” God, I do hope so.
With the adrenalized rush of the Whigs still ringing in my ears, I headed over to The Drinkery to catch the last two songs from Across Tundras. The Denver-to-Nashville trio works a Doom/Stoner/Psych/Metal angle with a Southern twist that has appeal and volume in equal measures. I realized that I had some wiggle room built into my schedule so I decided to stick around and check out some of All Them Witches, also from Nashville and also working a similar corner as Across Tundras. Although at face value, the two bands seem identical, I'd give the slight advantage to ATW, simply by virtue of their incredible sense of melodicism through the crystal clear volume. There were moments of black hole heaviness that referenced contemporary purveyors like Dead Meadow and Mastodon, but in a Stoner Metal heartbeat they'd crank out a run steeped in the pot/incense smokehouse of early Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep. Amazingly, as loud as it was in The Drinkery's long, narrow space — and I'm quite certain ATW was burying the needles on sound equipment down the street, registering the volume like a Richter monitor — it was never distorted or sludgy or painful, just sheets of pure, beautiful volume and emotion.
I ducked out of the end of All Them Witches to hit the Know Theatre for Rubblebucket. I had picked them to preview based on a couple of spins through their recently released fourth album Survival Sounds and its live presentation did not disappoint. This was clearly a much-anticipated show in the area; the Know staff was counting wristbands by the time I arrived to ensure they didn't go over room capacity on the second floor, and it filled up quickly. Rubblebucket's dancetronic Art Pop/Ska/Soul comes across well in recordings with plenty of nuance and subtlety, but on stage the band is unadulterated fun, downplaying some of the studio filigree while amplifying their core sound. Former boss/friend-for-life John Fox noted the band's resemblance to our own Walk the Moon, and they certainly offer that same brand of infectious Dance Pop, but there is a complexity in Rubblebucket's sonic recipe that pushes them into a singular and perfectly erratic orbit, a place where Bjork and The B-52s and Fishbone and Talking Heads form an orchestra and fashion Play Doh instruments, Bjork whips out some Icelandic volcano magic and transforms them into playable utensils and they translate signals from Voyager into universal Dance Pop.
Rubblebucket's complexity and oddballitry may never find favor in the mainstream, but it hardly matters. They have found the answer to any number of unasked questions and created a sound that everyone should hear at least once and that too many never will. The packed house at the Know on Friday night can revel in the secret knowledge that we have heard Rubblebucket, we get it and, like so many things in life, that will have to do.
I once again beat a reluctant retreat, leaving Rubblebucket before set's end to make my way down to Arnold's for the Jam/Roots splendor of Holy Ghost Tent Revival. When I turned the corner on 8th Street, I spied a small crowd bunched up at Arnold's front door and heard the most feared word in the MidPoint vocabulary: Capacity. In a rare moment of "fuck it," I strolled into Arnold's anyway (OK, it's not all that rare; I am my father's son, after all, and I suspect that I learned those two words first), and found that "capacity" was a malleable term. As I was chatting with the ubiquitous and ever welcome Wes Pence of The Ready Stance in Arnold's middle room, The Sundresses' Jeremy Springer, doing a typically bang up job in his role as server in the bar, inquired if my presence in the middle room and absence from the patio was a result of the capacity announcement. "Follow me," he said without hesitation, and planted me at the rear of the room as the band kicked off the last slot of the evening.
It was obvious that a good many people remembered the Revival's rambunctious appearance at MidPoint two years ago, or heard about it and wanted to experience it for themselves (I was in the latter camp). I get The Band/Flying Burrito Brothers references to HGTR's tangy, twangy sound, but there's so much more to it than simple Country revivalism. The horn driven sextet swings with the bristling energy of Squirrel Nut Zippers without the desire for that level of authenticity, while ratcheting up the Rock quotient to Phish-like levels of volume and instrumental proficiency. With those twin engines in place, Holy Ghost Tent Revival is aptly named; the band is passionately inspired and their songs are energetically executed with the soaring joy of the event in their name without any problematic or messy religious connotations. Allow the Revival into your consciousness for just a couple of songs and you'll be converted to their immaculate perception of Roots Rock, Stax Soul, horn-peppered Pop and adrenalized Indie Rock. The band, squeezed onto the narrow confines of Arnold's porch-like stage, blew through selections from their estimable catalog, concentrating on 2012's Sweat Like the Old Days and the just released and consistently excellent Right State of Mind, with both a sense of and a disregard for precision, making sure the feeling came across more than the chart. Come back to us soon, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, MidPoint or not; we are in need of slightly more regular baptisms.
• Washington Park was absolutely jammed with humanity for Wussy and the Afghan Whigs. Pike 27's Sean Rhiney and Dave Purcell, along with Dave's wife Amy, were there early for the Joseph Arthur experience, the Black Owls' Kip Roe was wandering the grounds with son Kip Jr. at about the same time and scene vet Jay Metz was working the Whigs' merch booth with typical entrepreneurial flair. Wes Pence was in attendance with his son Wyatt, who got an invitation from one of John Curley's daughters to sit on the stage and witness the Whigs' splendor up close. To be 11 and cute again. Well, to be 11 again … I just looked at my sixth grade picture.
• Local singer/songwriter Josh Eagle strolled in to witness the Wussy set; Josh is just one more reason why Cincinnati's music scene is unmatched for its talent and its sense of community. Also ran into my old CityBeat boss and mentor John Fox, to whom I literally owe, at least in part, my career and current life. It is an unpayable debt and I try to acknowledge it every time I see him so he understands his importance in my history. He was hanging for the night with his buddy Don; we had a nice chat on the lawn and he was kind enough to buy me the one early beer that I had allotted for myself each night of the festival. That story may unfold in this forum at some point; I've related it 50 times already this weekend to friends, acquaintances and complete strangers. Keep an ear out, you'll probably hear it secondhand before I tell it again.
• CityBeat’s Mike Breen beamed in from the upper atmosphere for the Whigs extravaganza, so I'm two for two in the Breen spotting sweepstakes. I'm going for the hat trick on Saturday. The Owls' Brian Kitzmiller and Sohio's Mark Houk were also among the Whigsian throng, as were Paul, Big Jim and Stu: I learned from the shirt he was wearing that his given name is Stufest. Must be a passed-down-in-the-family thing. Great to see CityBeat theater critic Rick Pender, as well as CityBeat alum and local actor Rodger Pille and especially former Enquirer contributor and current MTV News hound Gil Kaufman. And I was introduced to a veritable platoon of additional people by some of the above, all of whom seemed like people I would like to have a picnic with anytime at all. I'm free next weekend, Brad and Amy.
• On the verge of heading back to the Main Street core, I turned just in time to see the unmistakable frame of stage manager guru Jacob Heintz strolling across the Washington Park grounds in the post-Whigs glow. Of course, Jacob's working every second of the festival, but he mentioned that things had gone so smoothly for the first two days that he was afraid to say it out loud for fear of screwing up whatever good MidPoint mojo was lingering in the atmosphere. It just ain't MidPoint until I've gotten some face time with Jacob.
• Once installed at The Drinkery, I was joined by CityBeat master blaster Dan Bockrath, who had arrived in order to soak up the sonic boom-and-doom of All Them Witches. Like everyone in the audience as near as I could tell, Dan was captivated by the concussive volume yet melodic heart of ATW, and when he returned from a trip to the bar, he handed me an unbidden yet desperately desired tonic water and lime. Although the Hall of Foam is sadly off line this MidPoint, Dan continues to be a much appreciated buyer of liquid refreshment, and that, at the end of the day, is all that truly matters. Thanks again and always, Sir Dan of MidPointdom.
• At Rubblebucket, I crossed paths once again with John Fox, his pal Don and the ever inscrutable Mike Breen. I have searched my aging brain device and not come up with a single memory of seeing Mike twice in one night, so that could stand as the record. If I don't see him Saturday night, I may consider the hat trick achieved (with an asterisk). My buddy Brad Gibson, frontman for the Saturn Batteries, was on his way down as I was coming up, so not sure if he decided to stay. Not long after the band fired up, Sir Dan strode in with purpose and took his place alongside us. And there it was, the entire history of the CityBeat braintrust. And me, of course.
• Other than Wes Pence, the unofficial mayor of MidPoint, I didn't spot anyone in the Holy Ghost Tent Revival crowd that I knew until Sir Dan came in not long after the band got cooking. If it was anyone else, I'd consider a restraining order, but I know Dan is just looking out for me, and we share similar taste in music. And when HGTR frontman Stephen Murray asked the assembled multitude how they knew about the show, Dan responded with a lusty and pride-filled "CityBeat, motherfucker!" When I suggested that might make a nice tagline for the masthead, he seemed to consider the idea, leading me to believe that maybe Dan was done for the night. As I was headed out the door, Wes was talking to a friend at that very nexus, so I hung for a second until they'd said good night, then prepared to do the same. We started to chat when a face appeared at Arnold's front door and gestured toward Wes. Apparently it was his ride home, so he handed me his double bourbon and said, "Do what you want with it, I just want it to go to a good home." And so, valiant soldier that I am, I sipped for five minutes, then drained it. It mellowed my shit out like right now. Thanks, Dr. Pence.
If you can’t make it out to this Sunday’s Cincinnati Entertainment Awards ceremony at the Madison Theater, you can still watch the performances and see which local musicians won by watching this year’s live stream, brought to you again by the folks at ICRC-TV.
Starting at 6:45 p.m. the show, featuring performances by The Slippery Lips, The Whiskey Shambles, Rumpke Mountain Boys, Noah Wotherspoon Band, Buffalo Wabs and the Price Hill Shuffle, Abiyah and Jess Lamb, will be simulcast on YouTube. You can watch below:
The show will be rebroadcast television on Sunday, Feb. 21 at 8 p.m. (channels TBA; we’ll keep you posted).
If you’re attending this year’s event in person Sunday, doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are available in advance here and also at the door. Click here for more info.
CityBeat was on-board for all the fun of the seventh annual ShipRocked cruise, sailing from Miami to Costa Maya, Mexico last week. The cruise provides a unique experience for diehard rock fans to get up close and personal with their favorite bands on the high seas.
ShipRocked is made up of a tight-knit group of fans called “ShipRockers” They are divided into two categories: Survivors who have endured previous ShipRocked cruises, and first time cruisers called Newbs.The ShipRocked group of friends stays in touch with each other year-round through a Facebook forum where cruisers can support each other and reminisce about their amazing cruise experiences.
Diehard Shiprockers start a day early on Sunday night at the official pre-party at the Clevelander Hotel in South Beach, where fans saw performances by The Dead Deads and a surprise acoustic performance with Joe Hottinger and Lzzy Hale from Halestorm.
Halestorm kicked off the party playing “Apolcolyptica” off their new album, Into the Wild Life, and continued to play their hits for an hour as the Norwegian Pearl sailed away from Miami.
While on board, fans saw live music everyday from 1 p.m. until 2 a.m. These fans go from show to show with no nap in sight to see all of the bands perform live. Every band performed two to three shows while on-board to give each person a chance to see every show. Bands included Halestorm, Five Finger Death Punch, Seether, Nonpoint, HellYeah, Stitched Up Heart, Red Sun Rising, Helmet, 10 Years, Avatar, We Are Harlot, Doll Skin, The Dead Deads, and many more.
Besides the non-stop Rock, other activities also take place, like Deck Wars, where fans competed against each other with members on Nonpoint band teams. Some activities were canceled due to the high winds at sea, but there was always something to do between your favorite band performances. Whether you started your day with Rock & Roll yoga, participated in scavenger hunts or tried your hand at late night karaoke.
Cruise ships in general are pretty fancy, so you really never get over the sight of dudes with mohawks and huge tattoos sipping beverages and eating their four-course meals on fine china.
On Tuesday, Avatar performed as the sunset over day two. Avatar was the most fan-requested band to be added to the ShipRocked lineup and the Swedes did not disappoint. Their high energy show kicked off a night of music that included We Are Harlot, Seether and an on-fire set by HellYeah on the deck that may have been the loudest of the week.
Band members can be seen all throughout the boat taking photos and talking to fans. All bands also participate in meet and greets, where fans can meet and take a photo with their favorites on Tuesday and Thursday.
The cruise pulled into Mexico on Wednesday and cruisers could disembark for a beach-party option in Costa Maya, where Like a Storm led beach wars and fans could relax with an open bar on the beautiful Mexican sandy beaches.
One of the highlights of Wednesday night was seeing The Stowaways perform. The Stowaways were assembled by Danny Hill with guitar axe throwers like Dave Ellefson of Megadeth/Metal Allegiance, Oli Herbert from All That Remains and Bumblefoot. The band pulled in as many artists onboard as possible and practiced for many hours on Monday and Tuesday to pull off a show that highlighted everyone on stage. Special tribute was made to Scott Weiland and there was also an all-hands-on-deck finale tribute to Lemmy Kilmister and Motorhead.
There were weather issues that forced the cruise to move live performances scheduled for Thursday indoors. Five Finger Death Punch was one of the cruise headliners that was supposed to close out the whole event on the pool deck stage. In true ShipRocked family fashion, when the storm rolled in the band stepped up immediately and said they would play two back to back shows inside the Stardust Theater so that all fans could see the final show. The band played until 2 a.m. to make sure everyone could close out the party in true Metal fashion.
For Amy Harris' photos from 2016's ShipRocked, click here.
Madonna performed in Louisville, Ky., on Saturday for the first time ever. "The Material Girl" took the stage at the KFC Yum! Center around 10:30 p.m., but fans didn’t seem surprised, since the tour has had late starts each night. The tour stop is one of 64 cities on her Rebel Heart Tour.
Madonna has been the “Queen of Pop” for three decades. Most everyone would agree that she paved the way for all of the current reigning Pop stars, including Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Rihanna and she proved that she still reigns supreme on Saturday night in Louisville. She appeared on the heart-shaped arrow stage in a grand Samurai-themed setup and immediately let everyone know “I’m Madonna Bitch!” as only Madonna can.
"The Rebel Heart Tour" is filled with spectacle: a host of top dancers and elaborate stage design and set pieces, with Madonna at the center of it all. Even with the grand stage setup that takes 23 semi trucks to pull off, she remains the focus, with her over-the-top personality highlighting her art and athleticism.
The show features four themed sets clocking in at around 30 minutes each, with seamless transitions. The show opened with "Japanese inspired Samurai performance" theme, followed by "Rockabilly Meets Tokyo," "Latin Matador Gypsy" and "1920s Flapper," and each was defined equally by the music, costuming and choreography.
The music reached all the way back to 1980s “Holiday” era, but seemed to disappoint some fans because she doesn’t play the original arrangements of her classics. Most of the show highlighted her most recent album, Rebel Heart. Older songs, like "Material Girl" and "Dress You Up," were reinvented for the stage performance so that they could be inserted into the different themed sections of the show.
“Like a Virgin” was performed by a solo Madonna on stage, but took an EDM/Hip Hop turn for the worse. "Like A Prayer" and "True Blue" were both stripped down to their basic elements. “True Blue” was played as an almost acoustic song on a ukulele sitting on her Rockabilly Car Shop stage setup,
Madonna still rides the line between overtly sexual themes on stage and providing a show to which one could bring the whole family. During a few interludes she spoke directly to the Kentucky audience and at one point saying “In the words of Colonel Sanders, my six-pack is finger licking good” as her dancers all showed off their six-pack abs for the crowd. Sex was also a main theme for one set change, as the amazingly talented dancers performed acrobatics on beds in front of the big screen images that looked straight out of the Truth or Dare movie.
The show was a time capsule that took fans through albums that fill 30 years of Pop Music. Madonna showed everyone that she is still on top and, in her words, “Nobody fucks with the Queen.”
On Jan. 31, 2016, the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards winners will be announced at the 19th-annual ceremony/show/party at Covington’s Madison Theater. Today we are happy to announce the nominees for the CEAs, which are presented by CityBeat and honor Greater Cincinnati’s rich and eclectic music scene.
Again this year, the public was invited to submit nominee suggestions via an online ballot; a list of the top vote-getters in each category was given to members of the CEA nominating committee for consideration. The committee, which features local music writers, club owners, radio DJs and others, helped decide the final slate of nominees in the genre categories, as well as categories for Best Live Act, Singer/Songwriter and Best Music Vide (which are open to all genres). Public vote decides the winner of a majority of the categories; the nominating committee determines the winner of the Critical Achievement categories (Album of the Year, New Artist of the Year and Artist of the Year).
This year’s nominees include several artists who have previously been nominated (or won) CEAs, as well as numerous first-time nominees. Walk the Moon have scored two Artist of the Year CEAs in past years and return to the category after exploding internationally with its ubiquitous, Platinum-selling hit “Shut Up and Dance” and Talking is Hard album (both released towards the end of 2014). Singer/songwriter Jess Lamb, who kicked off 2015 by appearing as a contestant on American Idol (and is a previous CEA performer and nominee), earned five nominations, including her first Artist of the Year nod. Artist of the Year nominee Wonky Tonk (the Indie/Country guise of Jasmine Poole) also earned nominations in the Singer/Songwriter, Best Music Video and Country categories, following a 2015 that saw her Stuff We Leave Behind album earn widespread national acclaim. Perennial Hip Hop nominee Buggs tha Rocka, who has been working with indie Hip Hop legend Talib Kweli’s Javotti Media label and played the 2015 A3C Hip Hop fest in Atlanta and Cincinnati’s own Ubahn fest, earned his first Artist of the Year nomination.
First-time CEA nominees this year include Country artist Taylor Shannon, Jazz player/composer Brad Myers, Metal newcomers Casino Warrior and jazzy Soul/Pop ensemble Krystal Peterson & the Queen City Band.
The New Artist of the Year category (as well as other promising new performers) will again be spotlighted at CityBeat’s Best New Bands showcase at Bogart’s on Jan. 16. This year’s New Artist of the Year nominees are Dawg Yawp, Coconut Milk, The Skulx, Go Go Buffalo, JSPH and Mutlimagic. New Artist nominees from the 18th-annual awards program returning to the CEA ballot this year in a big way include Leggy, Honeyspiders and Noah Smith.
Public voting opens at noon on Monday, Dec. 21 here.
Ma Crow and the Lady Slippers
The Missy Werner Band
Rumpke Mountain Boys
Comet Bluegrass All-Stars
My Brother’s Keeper
Arlo Mckinley & The Lonesome Sound
Willow Tree Carolers
Buffalo Wabs and the Price Hill Hustle
Honey & Houston
Elementree Livity Project
Queen City Silver Stars
Alone at 3AM
Zebras in Public
Lift The Medium
Wonky Tonk (Jasmine Poole)
Royal Holland (Matt Mooney)
Daniel Van Vechten
Daniel in Stereo
The Slippery Lips
Noah Wotherspoon Band
Silver Pockets Trio
Johnny Fink and The Intrusion
The Whiskey Shambles
The Almighty Get Down
Krystal Peterson and the Queen City Band
The Perfect Children
The Cincy Brass
Freekbass & the Bump Assembly
Dan Karlsberg and the ’Nati Six
The Faux Frenchmen
Cincinnati Contemporary Jazz Orchestra
Blue Wisp Big Band
The Hot Magnolias
Buggs Tha Rocka
Best Live Act
The Whiskey Shambles
The Slippery Lips
Buffalo Wabs and the Price Hill Hustle
Best Music Video
Molly Sullivan - "Before”
Jess Lamb - "Memories"
Automagik – “Pop Kiss”
Playfully Yours – “Colorvision”
Puck – “Ruined”
Electric Citizen – “Light Years Beyond”
Wonky Tonk – “Denmark”
Zebras in Public – “John Doe”
Critical Achievement Awards
Album Of The Year
Honeyspiders – Honeyspiders
Us, Today - T E N E N E M I E S
Dawg Yawp - Two Hearted
Honey & Houston – Barcelona
Jess Lamb - Circles
Noah Wotherspoon Band – Mystic Mud
Dan Karlsberg - The ’Nati 6
The Sundresses – This Machine Kills
New Artist Of the Year
Go Go Buffalo
Artist Of The Year
Walk the Moon
Buggs tha Rocka
David Rhodes Brown's Warsaw Falcons and Nick Dellaposta's To No End could not possibly be any further from each other on the musical continuum.
The Falcons, recently reborn with the classic lineup of Brown on guitar/vocals, the thunderous John Schmidt on bass and the irrepressible Doug Waggoner on drums, are Rockabilly personified, heavy on the Rock and hypercaffeinated to the point of heart palpitations.
At the other end of the spectrum, Dellaposta's To No End is a Prog-tinted Blues unit with a propensity for lilting atmospherics and visceral Pop/Hard Rock anthemics.
Oddly enough, both bands are touting new releases, and each one is, in different ways, associated with a legendary entertainment figure. The Warsaw Falcons' new EP, Warsaw Falcons Live with Bobby Keys, features the work of the saxophonist sharing the title, one of Rock's most travelled and compelling sidemen who boasted near-membership with The Rolling Stones and sessions with Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Carly Simon and three of the four Beatles, among many others.
To No End's new video for the track "Twisted Knives" from its third album, Remora, features the on-screen talents of Michael Parks, one of Hollywood's most versatile and durable actors whose television credits include Then Came Bronson in the late '60s and Twin Peaks in the '90s, and who has since become part of Quentin Tarentino's ensemble of reliable players.
The Warsaw Falcons' latest archive release is a five-song excerpt from a live recording done at Top Cat's in Clifton in the very early '90s. Keys, already a fixture in the industry (his iconic blowing was all over the Stones' Sticky Fingers, one of Rock's acknowledged masterworks), had played with Brown in Nashville and had become a semi-official member of the Falcons, eventually guesting on their 2003 album Right It on the Rock Wall.
At the time of the Top Cat's gig, Brown had just returned to Cincinnati to care for aging mother, and had reassembled the Falcons for occasional in-town performances. Bassist John Schmidt reclaimed his spot with the band, while guitarist George Cunningham and drummer Maxwell Schauf rounded out the quartet.
For the Top Cat's recording, the Falcons blew through a jumped-up set of band faves with Keys, visiting from Nashville to lend his towering sax fills. Although there was a good deal more material delivered at the Top Cat's set, the five tracks on the EP represent the songs where Keys was most directly and completely spotlighted. And Live with Bobby Keys might well stand as the most incendiary and pulse pounding 22-and-a-half minutes released this year.
The release starts with the rafter-rattling thrash of "Jello Sal," a five-minute Rockabilly workout featuring Brown's distinctive vocal rasp and his and Cunningham's slinky yet muscular guitar gyrations, grounded by Schmidt's bedrock solid bass and Schauf's technicolor timekeeping. On the EP’s second track, "Sometimes," Keys intros the song by thanking the Falcons for inviting him to the gig and pledging his admiration for Cincinnati and its desire to Rock and Roll.
"That's what we do," Keys declares in his authentic Texas accent. "Rock and roll!"
What follows is the Falcons' version of a ballad, a slow-cooking slab of meaty, bluesy Rock that gives way to its primal impulses and howls with blood-boiling intensity, even as the band maintains an almost laconic pace. Brown and the Falcons mix a jaunty Blues stroll with an effervescent Chuck Berry bounce on "You Can't Do That to Me," switching to spy-theme noir for the insistently smoky and sultry "Two Cigarettes in the Dark" and finishing with a pulsating version of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels' classic cover of the Righteous Brothers' "Little Latin Lupe Lu," with Brown doing his best hip-twitching, lip-hitching impression of Elvis while the band kicks up its heels and swings with deliberate abandon.
Through it all, Keys — who passed away last year at age 70 — does what he always did best; find the emotional heart of the songs and then play the living hell out of them. Keys had the intuitive gift to know when to serve as a brilliant supporting accompanist or elevate his position to an equal partnership in the arrangement, as evidenced by his call and response lick-trading on "Jello Sal." Brown says there may be more recordings of Keys in the Falcons' extensive and as-yet largely unplumbed archive. Based on the results of Live with Bobby Keys, which was officially be released at a Thanksgiving Eve extravaganza at the Southgate House Revival, we can only hope there's a lot more.
Meanwhile, To No End's new release, Remora, the band's third album since forming in 2012, is not only musically dichotomous from the Falcons' EP, it's quantitatively different as well, with an additional 11 tracks over two discs. But, as noted, the one area where the two bands intersect is in their use of a celebrity guest to enhance their presentation.
With TNE, it's the presence of famed actor Michael Parks in the band's video for "Twisted Knives." TNE frontman Nick Dellaposta secured Parks' services for the video through Dellaposta's lifelong friend Josh Roush, whose journey is the subject of "Twisted Knives," perhaps the most personal and deliberately direct song he's ever written.
A decade ago, Roush departed Ohio for Los Angeles, where he has worked in the film industry in various capacities, which led to a position last year on the set of director Kevin Smith's horror film Tusk. During production, Roush met and became friends with Parks, who had a role in Tusk. When Dellaposta invited Roush to partner up to produce the "Twisted Knives" video (the two had worked together on TNE's first video, "Somethin' Wrong with You"), the pair decided to ask Parks if he would be interested in appearing the video, which is largely made up of eerie atmospheric footage that Roush has shot himself over the years.
As for the rest of Remora, Dellaposta takes To No End further down the similar path he and the band explored on last year's excellent Peril & Paracosm, which blended the Kenny Wayne Shepherd-meets-Warren Haynes
Blues direction of the band’s debut with a blistering ’70s Hard Rock energy. In addition, Dellaposta has divided Remora into a pair of 30-plus-minute sides that are stylistically distinct. The harder Side A is subtitled “The Underworld,” while the gentler and more contemplative Side B is themed “The Great Unknown.”
“The Underworld” songs clearly follow Peril & Paracosm's general blueprint, with Dellaposta and guitarist Grant Evans soaring and scorching with the intensity and focus of '70s guitar heroes like UFO's Michael Schenker and Budgie's Tony Bourge, polished to a contemporary but never overproduced shimmer. The opener and ostensible title track, "The Afterlife II (The Underworld)," is a perfect example of Dellaposta's modern Blues/Hard Rock translation, a riff-laden celebration of the forms painted with a new brush. The guitars careen and howl while the rhythm section of bassist Eli Booth and drummer David Nester provide a sturdy but flexible foundation for the song's shifty mood swing between jaunty minor key melodicism and darkly menacing wordplay.
Elsewhere, "Shatter" starts out with the reflective quiet of an O.A.R./Red Wanting Blue ballad but becomes more forceful and expansive as the song unfolds. "Everybody Talks" offers an indiosyncratic New Wave clockwork guitar motif that displays an interesting new songwriting wrinkle for TNE, while "Like Hell" and "Play That Card" show that Dellaposta's heart will never stray too far away from his KWS/Gov't Mule roots — even if they come out in fascinatingly different ways.
Remora's second "side," “The Great Unknown,” dials down the volume but not the songwriting intensity. Two songs from “The Underworld,” "Twisted Knives" and "Trash Day," are reprised on the second disc, with "Twisted Knives II" presented in an almost Folk/Americana light. "Trash Day" is similarly counterpointed between the pummeling Zeppelinesque boogie of “The Underworld” version and the lilting yet still powerful take of "Trash Day II.” And for sheer beauty, look no further than the acoustic heart-tug of "Hinterland Empire," a gorgeous evocation of The Beatles' classic "Blackbird."
While Remora's 16 songs would have fit comfortably onto a single CD, Dellaposta was clearly more interested in thematic continuity than production costs. Rather than interspersing Remora's more sedate songs with its amped-up fist-pumping anthems, Dellaposta and To No End show two different sides of themselves to suit your listening moods, further proof of his thoughtful creativity and amazing talent.
Warsaw Falcons’ Warsaw Falcons Live with Bobby Keys is currently only available at live shows (look for copies in brick-and-mortar, local-friendly record shops soon). Click here and here for show updates and more.
That old trope about doers doing and non-doers teaching holds no currency with saxophonist Dave McDonnell. The Chicago native relocated to Cincinnati six years ago to complete his doctorate Jazz studies at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music, which ultimately led to positions at UC and the University of Dayton, teaching both music and music technology.
At the same time, McDonnell never abandoned his love for performance, composition and recording. Early in his Jazz career, McDonnell divided his time between waiting tables, teaching private music lessons and playing in an impossible number of bands; he even worked with Elephant 6 icons Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control (studio sessions with the former, touring with the latter).
Family life and academic rigors forced McDonnell to dial down his band participation — he currently works with Michael Columbia, Diving Bell and Herculaneum — but his reduced roles also provided him the impetus to resume exploring his own work, leading him to assemble a coterie of friends and bandmates from his Chicago experience (guitarist Chris Welcome, bassist Joshua Abrams, drummer Frank Rosaly, vibraphonist Jason Adaiewicz and cellist Tomeka Reid) and form the Dave McDonnell Group.
Utilizing a blend of crafted and precise composition and free-form improvisation, McDonnell created a masterful and acclaimed debut album, last year's the dragon and the griffin. The album was by turns contemplative and explosive, but always guided by the spirit of Ornette Coleman's similarly constructed pieces, where the tunes' purposefully written passages set the tone and established a foundation and framework for the band's circuitously invigorating spontaneity.
Just a little over a year and a half later, McDonnell and his Group (a version of which features Cincinnati players for area live shows) have returned, once again eschewing upper-case titling and stodgy tradition on the appropriately christened the time inside a year, his debut for esteemed Chicago Jazz label Delmark. While McDonnell adheres to his winning compositional-vs.-improvisational strategy on the time inside a year, he also adds a new wrinkle with a slightly older piece from his canon, namely his three-movement suite "AEpse," which grew out of his doctorate studies at CCM and which he debuted in Chicago two years ago.
"AEpse" stands in contrast to the grooves, shifting rhythms and dazzlingly intricate harmonics of the rest of the time inside a year. "AEpse," as a three-part, 11-minute piece of music, explores a chilly soundscape of electronic expanse, appointed by Reid's mesmerizing cello incantations, which drift through McDonnell's constructed atmosphere like smoke in a virtual opium den. But rather than present this sonorously beautiful piece as a whole, McDonnell chose to intersperse the three "AEpse" movements within his gyrational Bop tracklist, allowing them to serve as way stations along the album's journey.
And what an impressive journey it proves to be. Opening with the quietly propulsive "Bullitt," moving into the slinkily engaging and sensual "Vox Orion" and on to the jaunty "The Contract with Bees," McDonnell displays his considerable skills as both a powerful frontman and a generous bandleader, jumping to the fore with appropriately frenetic flurries of notes or delicately woven passages, or yielding the floor to Adasiewicz's fluid and enchanting vibraphone runs or Welcome's always brilliant guitar contributions, all of it made possible by the gymnastics of Abrams and Rosaly's limber and diverse rhythm section.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the swinging, shattering "Baker's Man," which begins and ends with the band in unison on the song's loping theme and fills its center with a dissonant Sun Ra/Zappa/Beefheart explosion of sounds and ideas. As atypical as it is sonically to the rest of the time inside a year, it perfectly points up McDonnell's incredible compositional skills and DMG's extraordinary ability to go completely off the map and then return to the radar in a fraction of a heartbeat.
Cincinnati has enjoyed a long and storied Jazz tradition, spawning some of the most profoundly talented and inventive players in the country, but even its most revered alumni must be sitting up and taking notice of the jaw-dropping accomplishments of Dave McDonnell and his innovative and musically curious Jazz collective. Clearly McDonnell's depth and breadth of experience informs every second of the Dave McDonnell Group's incredible output, but it is the application of that experience to his own work that is so consistently impressive. Two years and two albums in, and the anticipation of where DMG might head next is palpable and exciting.
THE DAVE MCDONNELL GROUP, with guitarist Brad Myers, bassist Peter Gemus and drummer Dan Dorff, plays Urban Artifact on Tuesday at 8 p.m.
Greater Cincinnati is now home to several major music events. Summer festivals like Bunbury and Midpoint capture a lot of the public interest and fill downtown for days at a time. But for fans like me who prefer their music with a bit more bite, there’s really only one fest in the area that matters — Ironfest. The two-day event, now in its sixth year, is held at Newport’s Southgate House Revival to honor the late “Iron” Mike Davidson, a local musician whose passing inspired the festival’s creation. I may have gone to a Midpoint show or two this year (Jameson makes memories hazy), Ironfest is the one event that I truly look forward.
The founder of Ironfest, John Gerhardt, created the show to raise money for Davidson’s family and he is steadfast in his goal. Tickets for the event are $5 online or $10 at the door for each night, and I suspect that price will stay the same for years to come. With over 50 bands on the bill, the price-to-band ratio obviously can’t be beat, and that’s just how Gerhardt likes it. The low-price mantra even carries over to the merch. An Ironfest shirt will set you back $5 and items like hoodies and hats are also reasonably priced. Even the pizza that’s brought in to help soak up the booze is free, with only a donation requested.
While the fundraising tradition that built Ironfest continues, the festival itself has grown immensely over the last few years. Gerhardt works all year to bring together local and regional talent to fill the house’s three stages, and this year’s lineup was the most eclectic and vast group of bands fans have seen yet. Groups came from Cleveland, Dayton, Chicago and Boston to be a part of this year’s Ironfest, and the genre mix was as wild as ever.
The majority of the bands fell into the heavier genres of Rock & Roll, Punk or Metal, but this year saw Industrial music (Chicago’s Hide), an experimental string music (Kate Wakefield) and Electronica (Black Signal) represented, amongst many other styles. To say that a fest has a little bit of everything is an advertising trope nowadays, but having this kind of diversity in one house over a two-day period is pretty damn impressive. Especially when walking from one room to the other provided massive swings in sound each time you transitioned. The lineup was spread out in such a way that if you truly wanted to see every band (a daunting task to be sure), you could give each group at least some of your time.
As music journalist, Ironfest makes my job easy. With so many great bands onstage at once, there’s bound to be some that I haven’t heard or a young band who’s just starting out. Buying several CDs in one night may hurt my wallet, but my ears couldn’t be happier. Thanks Hide, Good English, Tiger Sex and The Skulx for all making one hell of a first impression on a grizzled veteran (which is a fancy way of saying the drunk guy whose neck is sore from head-banging this weekend).
That isn’t to say that returning bands were slouches this weekend either. There were a ton of amazing performances, but a few are worth a special mention. Valley of the Sun played its first show in months in Southgate House’s Lounge and promptly blew eardrums with a six-song set that featured three new tracks from the band’s upcoming release. The Honeyspiders released its highly-anticipated debut album in conjunction with their Ironfest appearance and offered something special for fans of the Harrison brothers’ previous band when they were joined onstage by former Banderas guitarist Jesse Ramsey (in town playing with his new band, Punching Moses) to perform an old Banderas track to round out the set.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the dirty elephant in the room. With Mainstay Rock Bar’s closing late last year, Cincinnati filth mongers Dandelion Death no longer had a place to hold its yearly show. So when the group were added to this year’s Ironfest lineup, there’s was much rejoicing. When the band took the stage to close out Saturday night in the Sanctuary, the room was full of people who had no idea what they were in for. But those of us who did got to see a Dandelion Death at its most ridiculous, with a stage large enough for the band and its female companions to actually fit on. While Mainstay’s center stage pole was sorely missed, it didn’t hinder any of the ridiculous Metal that only Dandelion Death can get away with.
While Ironfest may be built on a very Metal foundation, for many, it is about more than the music — it’s about community. For anyone plugged into Cincinnati’s Rock scene, Ironfest is akin to a high-school reunion, except everyone’s drunk and people are actually having fun. The sheer number of musicians in the house leads to tons of Rock & Roll run-ins with longtime friends. At times, it’s hard to go outside for a smoke or grab a drink at the bar because walking the 20 feet to either location involves stopping, saying hi to an old friend and catching up. By now, my friends know to just abandon me if I stop on the way to a destination; I’ll catch up eventually.
Ironfest started as a way for one friend to honor the life and memory of a fallen buddy and, at its core, that is what Ironfest still is. But in the past six years, Ironfest has grown into a massive beast that many music fans eagerly look forward to year after year. Those that knew “Iron” Mike speak of the man with nothing but the upmost respect and fondness. His passing truly rocked those who knew him and Ironfest’s origination becomes obvious if you hear just one of his friends speak about his legacy. While I never knew the man, every year I thank him, because his memory spawns an amazing event full of amazing bands and people, and personally brings me so much joy. So cheers to you, Mike; I may not have known you, but I really wish that I did.
The wholly unexpected announcement of a pair of reunion shows by one of Cincinnati’s greatest bands, Ass Ponys, inspired a sense of excitement within me that was matched only by the birth of my two children, the legal end of my first marriage and meeting the woman who convinced me to sign up for a 33-year-and-counting second hitch.
You might think that's overstating a case, and I might think so as well, but the fact remains that I was beside myself at the thought of seeing Ass Ponys in action after a decade-long hiatus. And the reason was quite simple — I had never seen the Ass Ponys during their 17-year run.
As Ass Ponys frontman Chuck Cleaver has said many times since the reunion was trumpeted, the band was never nearly as popular here in Cincinnati as they were out in the wider, smarter world. That fact had nothing to do with the reality that I had never seen them play. I loved them before they'd recorded a single note of music.
My first exposure to Ass Ponys was their one-song appearance on WVXU's tribute to The Who in the summer of 1989, simulcast live from the station’s studios and appropriately dubbed “Who Cares.” Ass Ponys were among a stellar local lineup that included The Afghan Whigs, The Speed Hickeys, The Thangs, Human Zoo, Bucking Strap, SS0-20, Warsaw Falcons and many others. Each contributed a single song to the proceedings. Ass Ponys, accompanied by local guitar legend Bill Weber, roared through a Who rarity, "Glow Girl," an outtake that appeared on the 1974 collection, Odds & Sods. Having heard about them but never actually having heard them, the band’s R.E.M.-esque take on "Glow Girl" sold me in half a heartbeat. I taped all of the musical performances from “Who Cares” on that July evening (oddly enough the 20th anniversary of the moon landing — insert inadvertent Keith Moon reference here) and I cherish that cassette. Ass Ponys' rendition of the Who's archive gem remains a personal highlight.
Four months later, I took a job with a design/marketing firm and almost immediately began clocking serious overtime. Just over a year after that, I revived my freelance writing career as an adjunct to my full-time position, and hours that might have been used to see local shows dissipated like cigarette smoke in a cyclone. As much as I wanted to see Ass Ponys, the planet alignment of my ability to slink out into a night coinciding with one of their local appearances never occurred.
But I avidly followed the band’s recording endeavors. I bought Mr. Superlove and Grim upon release in the early ’90s, and my freelance writing activity earned me a contact at A&M Records, which resulted in Electric Rock Music and The Known Universe showing up in my post office box. I raged at the cosmos when Ass Ponys was dropped from the label's roster and exulted when they chimed with typical Cleaver "fuck it" bravado and re-blazed their independent trail with Lohio and Some Stupid with a Flare Gun.
Ass Ponys' catalog took on the gravitas of scripture for me, stone musical tablets engraved by the flaming finger of God and sent forth into the world to instruct the unwashed and convert the unconverted. They sang about loss and death and dysfunction and insanity with a cheerily twisted conviction that was infectious and transcendent, and I drank their bitter Kool-Aid with a smile on my face and their songs in my heart.
Obviously, just as the Ass Ponys blipped off area radar screens in 2005, Cleaver’s musical collaboration with Lisa Walker was blossoming, laying the foundation for a decade of Wussy brilliance (which continues next March with the release of Forever Sounds). Yet even as Wussy's star ascended, and the band's permanence was asserted, questions lingered about Ass Ponys' status. They had never regretted to inform their fans of their demise, never bid the faithful a teary farewell at the finale of a blaze-of-glory last show. Ass Ponys simply ceased to be, its members scattering to new situations and directions.
Maybe that's why the announcement of Ass Ponys' reunion shows at Over-the-Rhine’s Woodward Theater Nov. 6 and 7 was met with such an exuberant reception. As inauspiciously as the band retreated into the shadows, Ass Ponys planned their return with an equal lack of fanfare. But the loyal had little interest in allowing the band to shuffle quietly back into the spotlight. It was quickly apparent by way of social media posts that fans from around the country were already planning their Cincinnati pilgrimages to crowd the front of an Ass Ponys stage one more time.
With the Friday night show, after weeks of fairly intense rehearsals, the waiting came to an end and Ass Ponys steeled themselves to the task of presenting material that was, in some cases, close to a quarter-century old. Cleaver reported just prior to the show that he was likely the least nervous member of the band, revealing that bassist Randy Cheek had been up all the previous night thinking about their first show in over 10 years; presumably, guitarist John Erhardt (who plays with Cleaver in Wussy) and drummer Dave Morrison expressed similar signs of anxiety. But Cleaver also noted that the Woodward shows would be populated by the friendliest audiences Ass Ponys had ever attracted.
Friday's show began with a terrific set from Swim Team, which rocked a vibe that was part '60s-Pop melodicism, part Blondie-tinted New Wave edge and part Slits avant Art Rock eclecticism. Frontwoman Lillian Currens veered from a sweet Pop croon to a visceral Rock wail while the rest of the band provided an appropriately dynamic soundscape for her gymnastic vocals to pinwheel around in, creating a Riot Grrrl/Lana Del Ray mixtape. The quartet's brash and jittery opening set was the perfect introduction to what would prove to be an incredible moment in Cincinnati's musical history.
Given that I was an Ass Ponys stage virgin until Friday's glorious deflowering, I can offer no comparisons, no yardstick of performances past by which to measure the band's transfiguration into a contemporary unit. What I do know is that the four members of Ass Ponys have spent the last 10 years playing in some of the best and brawniest and most creative bands in recent memory, and that expansive breadth of experience couldn't help but elevate Ass Ponys' performance to an incredible new level in the modern context. Cleaver had noted during an interview on Class X Radio with Eddy Mullet and I the Monday before the shows that the band had discussed how to approach their material, with everyone agreeing it was best to relearn and rearrange the songs with their current expertise, rather than to recreate them note for note for the sake of some manufactured nostalgia.
The wisdom of that decision was proven with indelible and muscular versions of some of the best selections from Ass Ponys' powerful songbook. They went effortlessly from strength to strength, spitting and kicking and tearing through early classics ("I Love Bob," "Azalea"), A&M-era standouts ("Earth to Grandma," "Shoe Money," "Under Cedars and Stars") and late period wonders ("Butterfly," "Pretty as You Please," "Astronaut"), all with a renewed vigor and the hyper-electric jolt of pissing on an electric fence.
As usual, Cleaver was an engaging ringmaster. Three songs in, he noted in classic style, "Some things never change. I still sweat like a whore in church." He then recounted an observation made by a woman he overheard at an Ass Ponys show years ago: "I've never seen a man sweat that much without passing out." Throughout the night, people would call out unrehearsed requests which Cleaver fielded with a definitive "Nope." Cleaver explained the origins of songs ("This one's about a monkey …”) and kept up his standard patter-on-wry, but mostly he thanked the multitude for its dedication and passion, noting how humbling it was to see how many people drove and flew in from all over the country (rumor had it someone was coming from England) with the sole objective of witnessing the Ass Ponys' fresh splendor.
At the end, Cleaver announced — sarcastically and yet somehow lovingly — "This is the one that bought us our luxurious lifestyle," and the group launched into its MTV/college radio hit, "Little Bastard," the last in a long string of sing-along moments. If the show had gone on for another two hours, it would have seemed too short, but with the fading strains of "Little Bastard" ringing in my ears, I felt that my first and likely last live exposure to Ass Ponys was an overwhelming success and quite possibly an ecstatic religious experience.
As Wussy bassist Mark Messerly noted before the show started, the atmosphere at the Woodward was like a high school reunion "where you like everyone and you want to be there." 500 Miles to Memphis frontman Ryan Malott recounted how he had grown up down the street from Cleaver and had graduated with his daughter, ultimately crediting the Ass Ponys with sparking his interest in picking up a guitar and making his own music.
A lot of Friday's attendees had a direct connection to Ass Ponys' past and present. Vacation/Tweens drummer Jerri Queen (who would be opening Saturday's show with Vacation) helped produce and engineer the new Wussy album (as did Swim Team guitarist John Hoffman). The Ready Stance guitarist/vocalist Wes Pence, now bandmates with Cheek, was a contemporary of Ass Ponys with his ’90s outfit Middlemarch. Afghan Whigs bassist John Curley produced or engineered the first four Ass Ponys releases. Tigerlilies guitarist/vocalist Pat Hennessey was fronting The Thangs back in ’80s and ’90s, and was in a Fairmount Girls lineup with Cheek. Jim and Darren Blase helped maintain the Ass Ponys' flame by releasing the 2005 two-disc retrospective, The Okra Years, on their Shake It Records imprint.
Blase, freshly relocated back to Cincinnati after several years in Cambridge, Mass. (stop into Shake It’s shop and welcome him home), rightly noted that while Ass Ponys' influence is far-reaching and pervasive, no one, from the time of their first rehearsal in 1989 to the Woodward show we were anxiously awaiting, sounds quite like they do, a sound Blase likened to "an Americana Pere Ubu." No truer words.
The two Woodward appearances could well be the last we ever see these members on stage together. There are still plans afoot to reissue the band's long out-of-print catalog, and several people noted that both shows were being recorded, suggesting a live record could be in the works. And since Cleaver never says never, he answered the point blank question from a fan after the show — “Will you guys ever record again?” — with a nebulous yet hopeful, "Who knows?"
Whatever happens, however it shakes out, my first Ass Ponys show was a blast. If more crop up going forward, I'll be there, as well. But you never forget your first.
In the fall of 1946, sibling Country (or “Hillbilly,” as it was dubbed) singing duo The Delmore Brothers came to downtown Cincinnati to record a session at E. T. Herzog’s studios (where famed sides by Hank Williams, Patti Page, Ernest Tubbs, Flatt and Scruggs and numerous other legends also recorded) on Race Street. Beginning their career in the ’30s, the Alabama-bred brothers had become well known for their stunning harmonies, incorporating Gospel, Blues and Folk traditions into their Country stylings.
In the mid-to-late-’40s, Rabon and Alton Delmore’s sound began to shift towards something more innovative and modern. The duo was recording for King Records, the legendary Cincinnati institution that made (and, many say, changed) music history when it began releasing R&B records alongside its Country ones. The Delmores were a part of the bridge to this open blending of styles, something that ultimately helped lay the groundwork for the creation of Rock & Roll.
Many consider The Delmore Brothers’ indispensable contributions to the genre dubbed “Hillbilly Boogie,” which blended bluesy rhythms and chord structures into the Country aesthetic, a crucial building block that helped pave the way for Rockabilly and Rock & Roll.
Former Rock and Roll Hall of Fame curator Jim Henke is quoted as saying, “‘Hillbilly Boogie’ by the Delmore Brothers directly anticipated the development of Rockabilly and, later, Rock & Roll. With their close-knit harmonies and their guitar playing, the Delmores influenced the Everly Brothers and countless other Country, Rockabilly and Rock & Roll artists.”
During the Cincinnati sessions at Herzog, the Delmores cut tracks like “Boogie Woogie Baby” and the seminal “Freight Train Boogie,” one of the most distinct precursors to Rockabilly (some even call it the first Rock & Roll record).
This Saturday at 7 p.m., several area musicians will gather at the site of those early recordings (811 Race St., second floor, now the downtown headquarters of the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation) to celebrate their 69th anniversary and the Delmore’s huge contributions to music. The local musicians who will gather for "Delmore Day" to talk about and perform songs by The Delmore Brothers include Edwin P. Vardiman with Kelly Thomas, J. Dorsey, Big Bob Burns with Jeff Wilson, Margaret Darling, Joe Mitchell, Joe Prewitt and Don Miller, Elliott Ruther, Tim Combs, Mark Dunbar, Travis Frazier, David Rhodes Brown with Jared Schaedle and Ally Hurt.
The event is open to the public (fans of all ages are welcome) and free. Here is the Facebook event page for more info.
After a tumultuous period that included personnel change, a career lull, an identity shift and finally an unexpected and unfortunate dissolution, the members of Pomegranates clearly thought their time had come and gone. But now, in a story twist that is equally unexpected and exultantly hailed by even the most casual fan, the Cincinnati band is taking two final bows on stage at Newport’s Southgate House Revival this Saturday, and one final stab at studio redemption with the release of its fifth album, Healing Power.
Two years ago, Pomegranates played what they intended to be their last show. The quartet had toured relentlessly behind its fourth album, 2012's Heaven, and when the band finally dropped anchor, the members began work on what should have been their fifth album.
"We thought we were going to make a noisier Rock record and instead, overall, it seems pretty low key and way more chilled out," drummer Jacob Merritt says. "And it's pretty long, also, with more songs — I don't know if ‘sprawling’ is the right word."
When Pomegranates started shopping their new tunes around, they were more than a little dismayed at the lukewarm reception they received. The departure of multi-instrumentalist Curt Kiser and the arrival of the similarly-talented Pierce Geary infused the band with a fresh perspective, but the indifference to Healing Power flooded them with self-doubt. And with members Isaac Karns and Joey Cook thinking about solo projects, the quartet began to reconsider everything.
"We were a nominally successful, mid-level band and we had been for a few years," Merritt says. "We gave (Healing Power) to a bunch of labels and managers and no one seemed to care. There was this weird stigma, where people were like, 'You guys have been around so long (the band formed way back in the mid-’00s), and you get on all these great tours. Why aren't you more successful?' And no one wanted to take the jump to help us become more successful. Nothing seemed to happen, and the guys were getting tired of the slow, steady growth and the grind of being away for weeks at a time, so we were very disappointed. The lineup had changed with Pierce, and it didn't make sense to release the album as it was, and we were second-guessing ourselves because no new people in the industry seemed to be interested and we were like, ‘Maybe this isn't good.’ ”
Thinking that perhaps they needed to shake things up, with a personnel change representing a good time to implement just such a jostle, Pomegranates dropped their name and adopted the title of the new album as their new moniker.
"We wanted to call the album Healing Power but at that point, we were like, 'Let's turn a new leaf and just be Healing Power,’ ” Merritt says. "It seemed to confuse a lot of people, because we weren't doing anything differently. We were still Pomegranates, playing the same set, but there were people who were like, 'I don't know about Healing Power, I like Pomegranates.’ That was perhaps a mistake, if you want to call it that.”
Healing Power lasted for close to a year before the quartet decided to pack it in. The band's official last show came almost exactly a year ago at the request of one of its biggest fans in Virginia, who messaged the group through Facebook and asked if it would consider getting back together to play a wedding. They thought it was a nice way to go out.
"Our last show was a wedding in a bike shop," Merritt says. "We were like, 'Why not?' We just felt like it."
The reclamation of the Healing Power album began with Merritt's friend Ben Wittkugel, who had become interested in the music industry while a student at Indiana University. Knowing Pomegranates were sitting on an unreleased album, Wittkugel proposed an interesting idea.
"He wanted to start a cassette tape label to go hand-in-hand with a concert promotion company he was trying to get started," Merritt says. “He wanted to put this thing out and we were like, 'Sure. Whatever.’ ”
Wittkugel will release somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 first-edition cassette copies of Healing Power through his Winspear label, and the band has pressed up about 100 CDs — there's also a four-song vinyl EP of re-recorded tracks and one song that was dropped from the album ("I don't know why we were so adamant about not having it on the album because it may be one of the better songs …") — which will all be available at the Southgate House shows. The album and EP will then be available digitally when the limited pressings are sold out.
"Unless something that happens to people in the movies happens to us," Merritt clarifies with a laugh.
Merritt's description of Healing Power as sprawling is appropriate; the album has several propulsive moments, including the staggering, stuttering majesty of the seven minute "Hand of Death" and the tribal electric blast of "House of My Mortal Father." There is also a fairly diverse dynamic across Healing Power's 13 cuts, which careen from those spurts of high energy to atmospheric and moody Pop confections, like the gentle and aptly titled "Taking It Easy" and the melancholic reverie of "Morning Light," with the strolling bounce of the title track finding the middle ground between those stylistic ends of the spectrum. Logically, Healing Power stands as a natural progression from Heaven, which the band also thought would be louder and less constrained, and it also reveals Pomegranates' impending solo directions, as the majority of the album consists of songs that Karns and Cook brought to the band in more or less completed form.
"In the past, it was 80% Pomegranates, 20% their songs, and this time it's probably 40% Pomegranates and 60% their songs," Merritt says. “It's hard to know, because you perceive it differently than other people perceive it, because you're so close to it. In my mind, (Healing Power) seems less reverb-y and more introspective. Not that there's not a few moments that are a little more up-tempo."
Although Pomegranates splintered at the end, there's no hard feelings among the band members; they continue to work and hang together ("We've been in each other's weddings …"). Cook and Geary are working on Cook's solo project, Merritt runs the Sabbath Recording — where Karns also works, including on a recent project with Aaron Collins — and he keeps a busy schedule recording local bands like Dark Colour and The Yugos, as well as bands outside of the area.
Pomegranates' live return has generated a huge buzz, with the Southgate show selling out so quickly that the band added a second, earlier show to the slate (both of which will be opened by Keeps). That response begs the question of any possible consideration for maintaining Pomegranates as a side project going forward.
"I would say, ‘We'll see,’ ” Merritt says, diplomatically. "Obviously, we aren't opposed to things happening if and when the time arises to play a show here or there. Beyond that, I'm not really sure."
The band's two shows will be structured the same, with older catalog material comprising the first half of the set and songs from Healing Power populating the second half, which will also be distinguished by an appearance from Kiser, who will join the lineup to play the new songs.
Given the fact that these two shows could represent the last time Pomegranates play together for the foreseeable future, though they also seem to be keeping their options open, there is both very little and potentially quite a lot at stake with the release of Healing Power. Still, the band members are happy to just live in the moment and cherish the memory of the impact they've had to this point.
"I know how difficult it is for a band to find their audience and to play music for people," Merritt says, philosophically. "To know that our music has meant enough to people that, if even 30 people showed up for one show, it's like, 'Cool, you guys still care.' But when you hear stories about people who were suicidal and they heard your music and it changed their lives and they credit you as a piece of why they're still alive — those sorts of things are really awesome. There's people coming from Chicago and Virginia and Michigan and North Carolina (for the Southgate shows). It's cool. We found people that our music really resonated with."