A perfect day, hot enough but not so hot as to suggest the idea that the ghosts of dead ants broiled by sadistic children with magnifying glasses were somehow exacting their revenge from beyond the veil of ant Valhalla. Why, yes, the '70s were good to me. Why do you ask?
At any rate, the potential for another spectacular launch to Bunbury's first day was palpable as ID was proffered, the laminate was provided and the wristband was snapped into position. The game is afoot (or as my wife's podiatrist might counter, the foot is a game … but I digress. Why, yes the ’70s were good to me. Why do you ask?) and another spectacular Bunbury awaits.
The beginning of the day was essentially a sampler platter of roaming about and checking out a few songs from a variety of sources. I started off down at the Amphitheater Stage to check out The Upset Victory, who had drawn a pretty sizable crowd for their muscular U2-tinged brand of melodically gritty Roots/Punk. Then it was down to the Warsteiner Stage for a more lengthy taste of Snowmine, who return to the '80s/'90s with a 21st century vengeance, mining a thick vein of Depeche Mode, along with a '90s aggressive Ambient quality and a quietly powerful modern edge. Then it was down to the Main Stage for a quick shot of X Ambassadors, who blend big tribal drumming with a Punk-fueled Pop core, a little like Imagine Dragons with a few hundred thousand volts pumped directly into their hearts. Finally it was back to the Amphitheater for a few songs from the soon-to-be-large Let It Happen, who were delivering their Green Day-esque anthemics in the blistering mid-afternoon glare of the unfiltered sun.
Then it was time to hit the Lawn Stage for the triumphant return of 500 Miles to Memphis. Frontman Ryan Malott has streamlined the band down to a potent quintet (guitarist Aaron Whalen, bassist Noah Sugarman, drummer-of-the-gods Kevin Hogle and the lap-steel-and-all-round-magnificence of David Rhodes Brown) and turned up the juice to emphasize the Roots/Rock thunder and downplay the Country lightning. There's still plenty of twang in their thang, but the sizzle and the sound is turned up to 11 in the slimmer, trimmer 500MTM. The band was clearly itching to tear shit up; they've been hard at work for the last couple of years or more assembling their new album, the imminent Stand There and Bleed (the title is a Tombstone reference; if you know the movie, you know the exact scene, and if you don't, shame on you for missing the greatest Western depiction of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday ever, so go fix that before another hour goes by).
Malott and the 500 blew through a set that was stacked with great new material (particularly "Bethel," a tribute to Malott's hometown), but they didn't forget to give the master his due, pulling DRB up from his lap steel duties to haul out yet another chilling spin on Trent Reznor's "Hurt"; if the hair doesn't stand up on your neck when the Colonel's baritone rumbles out, "You can have it all, my empire of dirt," you've got one of those weird, hairless necks. 500 Miles to Memphis has been well out of the public eye for the last year as they concentrated on life pursuits and sporadic turns in the studio to finesse Stand There and Bleed, so there was an urgency to get their fresh live set across as a clarion call to let everyone know they're back. Are they ever.
After a quick stop to water my horse (namely, me), it was a fast walk over to the Acoustic Stage for an hour of blissful Roots/Folk brilliance from Aaron Lee Tasjan, whose sideman work with Todd Snider, the New York Dolls, Drivin' N' Cryin' and Tim Easton has earned him a reputation as one of Americana's most reliably astonishing guitarists. But it's his solo persona that is becoming even more fully realized, as his sterling EP releases — 2011's August Moon, 2012's The Thinking Man's Filth and the just released Crooked River Burning — have shown Tasjan to be a songwriter of depth and beauty will beyond his calendar age. Listen to any given ALT song and you'll hear hints of Nick Drake, Bob Dylan, Will Kimbrough, Rodney Crowell and Ryan Adams in his delivery.
In Tasjan's Folk world, there is no bellybutton introspection set to a strummed acoustic guitar; he'll peel off a solo worthy of Jimi Hendrix after telling a story about seeing Ted Nugent shoot flaming arrows into cardboard effigies of his enemies list worthy of Arlo Guthrie. There aren't many singer/songwriters (read that: any) who are writing tributes to the late, great Judee Sill, and fewer still who make incisive observations like "You can't play Beatles music with bullshit hair." Deals don't get any realer than Aaron Lee Tasjan, and you all need to make him a star at your earliest convenience. Go. I'll wait.
After ALT's hour of power, it was back to the Amphitheater for the transcendent magnificence of Lydia Loveless. She may have grown up in the hillbilly hinterlands of Coshocton, Ohio, but she is a city girl with enough Rock sass to satisfy any Indie hipster and enough twang to hold the interest of any Americana aficionado. In a set laced with electric greatness, primarily drawn from her latest album, Somewhere Else, Loveless and her brilliant band finished with an absolutely scorching take on "Boy Crazy," the title track from her 2013 EP. The song reached a fever pitch when guitarist Todd May, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth with noir-detective-meets-Bun-E.-Carlos nonchalance, sat on his feet in front of his amp at the back of the stage, coaxing an exquisite din of feedback from his guitar, while bassist/husband Ben Lamb concocted similarly haunted sounds by running his bass down Nick German's drum kit and Loveless herself fell onto her back on the stage and cranked out sheets of heart-stopping guitar madness. It was an extraordinary end to a truly amazing and all too brief set.
Exactly what is it about the Black Owls that resonates so completely with me? First, they effortlessly tap into that primal part of my brain that was developing during my teenage years when I was soaking up insane amounts of T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, David Bowie and the Stooges. Next, they punch forcefully into the neighboring brain cells, the ones that house the memories of discovering Television, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Talking Heads, New York Dolls and Be Bop Deluxe. And it's not that they sound like any of those bands (although occasionally they do), it's that they remind me of that beautiful, mysterious time in my life when there was still music to be revealed, and the visceral thrill that accompanied every new discovery. That is what it is about the Black Owls. They once again made that abundantly clear at the Lawn Stage when they tore through old favorites ("Wild Children," "Julias Morningstar," "Sometimes I Wish You Were a Ghost"), brand new classics in waiting ("Gasoline" and "Rook") and an absolutely hair-raising spin through Harry Nilsson's "Jump Into the Fire."
It was the standard Black Owls greatness, which is to say the quintet, as usual, presented their most familiar elements in new and unexpected ways so that even a grizzled old veteran Owls watcher such as myself was knocked back a pace and surprised by it all. Black Owls make me long for the days when bands put out two albums a year for not other reason than they could. Bassist Kip Roe continues to weave himself into the fabric of the Owls' sound and, as frontman David Butler pointed out, guitarist Brandon Losacker is proving to be a perfect songwriting foil for Butler and co-founding guitarist Ed Shuttleworth. The Black Owls seem to be entering a period of gritty reassessment, where dirty Glam riffs and anthemic chord structures are dominating the proceedings. Yes, please, and quite a bit more, if it's quite all right. And even if it's not.
Before I review the psychodots' Bunbury debut, perhaps a history lesson is in order. A good many years ago, music mogul and purported industry genius Clive Davis sauntered into Cincinnati with the stated goal of checking out The Raisins and perhaps offering them a lucrative and much-deserved contract. When Davis departed from our fair city without signing The Raisins, he explained the lack of a deal thusly: "They're an embarrassment of riches."
Please allow me to read between the lines and translate that five word headscratcher into layman's terms. What Mr. Davis was so obtusely attempting to convey was this: "The Raisins are a stellar band and I don't have the slightest idea how to market them without making them as smooth and textureless as Gerber's babyshit and as lame as a beggar in the Bible, essentially stripping them of the elements that make them unique, and if you think I'm going to dismantle and destroy this band or permanently stain my sparklingly legendary resume with the ugly reality that I was unable to sell the music of a gifted band to a quality-starved public simply because I didn't understand the complexities of either one, you've got several unpleasantly aromatic things coming in a flaming bag on your front porch."
Of course, The Raisins famously broke up, reassembling as the Bears with guitarist Adrian Belew and refashioning as psychodots without Belew. So in a very tangible sense, we owe the existence of psychodots to Clive Davis' short-sighted inability to recognize their root band's brilliance. I was devastated that The Raisins didn't make it and, after the 'dots' loosely tight/tightly loose set at Bunbury, I am relieved beyond measure The Raisins didn't make it. Success would have come at a great and terrible cost, and we would not have enjoyed 20+ sporadically splendid years of psychodots Power Pop bliss.
There may have only been 100 or so bodies at the Amphitheater Stage to witness psychodots' fabulousness (Fitz and the Tantrums were sucking up bodies like a UFO set to "harvest," and rightly so) but the 'dots never give less than 89%, and they were in full charge mode on Friday afternoon. There was Rob Fetters' squiggly guitar magnificence (I'd put him up against any guitarist in the history of Rock, and he'd be only mildly uncomfortable at being up against any of them), Bob Nyswonger's bass conjuring, using his instrument to evoke lead guitar and keyboard mayhem (and by instrument, I'm still talking about his bass) and Chris Arduser's master class in How to Drum with Power and Grace and Still Maintain a Smartass Attitude.
It was a delightfully eclectic set, with a number of old favorites ("Master of Disaster," "Living in a Lincoln," complete with Fetters' mom-inspired balloon-on-the-strings gimmick), a few quasi-oddities ("Candy," the rarely performed "The Problem Song") and a handful of non-'dots nuggets ("She Might Try" from Arduser's exquisite The Celebrity Motorcade, The Bears' "Veneer" from their last album Eureka, "Play Your Guitar" from Fetters' patently perfect new solo album, Saint Ain't, The Raisins' fist-pumping "Fear is Never Boring") and the band's always entertaining banter (Fetters apropos of everything: "Is anyone tripping?"; Bob Nyswonger after Arduser's observation that the evening was balmy: "Balmy," stretched langorously into two words). It was, in a number of words, a standard psychodots show, which means one of the best shows you'll ever see, local or otherwise. Long may they reign.
After the breathless 'dots set, I was torn between the Heartless Bastards' triumphant return to the area or the unlikely but much welcomed reunion of Veruca Salt's original lineup. With more than a couple of Bastards sets under my belt and the prospect of many more to come, I opted for Veruca Salt because, even if the reunion sticks, the possibility of the band's return to Cincinnati seems remote. The foursome did not disappoint, hauling out blistering favorites from their slim catalog in this iteration and reinforcing why we've loved their Glam/Pop brilliance for so very long. Whatever caused the rift between co-fronts Louise Post (who has kept Veruca Salt going in some form or other for the past 21 years) and Nina Gordon (who departed for a solo career in 1998), there was no evidence of any residual friction as the quartet blew like a hurricane through "Volcano Girls," "Straight" and their signature brain-boiler "Seether." The band even teased a couple of songs – including "It's Holy" from this year's Record Store Day single — from what was described as "their upcoming thing;" that thing cannot come soon enough. As final proof of Veruca Salt's newly minted reunion, Post and Gordon kissed at center stage amid a beautiful howl of squalling feedback. As the lights came up, the '90s called, they want their awesome back; they can blow it out their ass, because Veruca Salt is hanging onto it with all eight arms.
For the evening's closer, Empire of the Sun, the Main Stage was nearly as packed with bodies and gear as the field in front of it. The band's epic stage show, which has been described as Cirque Du Soleiel without the airshow, requires a lot of moving parts, and the Bunbury crowd arrived in significant numbers to witness the Rock/Synth Pop/Electronic spectacle. Empire of the Sun's primary sparkplugs, Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore, and a veritable army of players and dancers offered up a wall of Prince-like Glam/Pop guitar and a danceable solution of Depeche Mode Synth Pop menace, all updated to a millennial frenzy of Muse/Daft Punk proportions. But rather than non-descript and identity shielding space/BMX helmets, EOTS prefers elaborate tribal headdresses that look like giant pre-immolation phoenixes atop the principals' heads. At one point, the dancers were all playing fake neon guitars in a 21st century version of Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" video. All of this plays out in front of a constantly shifting projection of disparate and arty images and screen saver light squiggles combined with a choreographed and dazzling light show that is both compelling and distracting. That dichotomy within the Empire of the Sun presentation matches the broad spectrum of reactions to the band's Cincinnati debut (and one of only a handful of American dates); the majority of the crowd was fully engaged in the band's expansive Vistavision sprawl, while a few canvased friends offered up opinions that ranged from "That was as exciting as watching glitter paint dry," to "Meh, it's okay," to "I totally love this." Editorial critique aside, Empire of the Sun was every bit as epic as advertised, and everyone who looks for spectacle in their Dancetronic music mix got more than their money's worth with Friday night's Bunbury closer.
• I started the day with a deliciously smokey pulled pork sandwich from the geniuses at Eli's, a bun so overstuffed with barbeque goodness that it's actually a pulled pork sandwich with a side of pulled pork. It's as close to a religious experience as I've ever had outside of a church (where I have oddly never had a religious experience … go figure) or a music venue (where I've had plenty; I'm looking at you, Iggy Pop). Washed down with a Fathead beer, it was the perfect start to the third charmed Bunbury.
• At the Snowmine show, I ran into "Hey-look-everybody-it's" Stu, from Paul Roberts' Three-Amigos crew. Stu reported that Paul and maybe Big Jim would be along shortly. And, in fact, they were.
• On the way from X Ambassadors to the Amphitheater/Lawn Stage area, I ran into Eddy Mullet and his daughter Jess. Eddy is the volunteer host of the Friday night 6:00-8:00 pm shift at Class X Radio, where I have surreptitiously installed myself as his quasi-co-host; I do the weekly CityBeat Report, a rundown of weekend music events, and a segment I concocted called the Gang of Four Set, four songs that are connected by a theme of my own twisted design. Eddy is also the longstanding host of Kindred Sanction, the area’s longest-running local music program that was founded by Cynthia Dye Wimmer a fair number of years ago at WAIF. Cynthia brought the show to Class X six years ago, Eddy sat in occasionally as co-host and Cynthia backed out of the show to attend to her life. Eddy's passion for and knowledge of the local music scene is legendary, and anyone who has ever dealt with him knows him as a straight up guy and maybe one of the best boosters that local music has ever seen. Class X management has seen fit to cut the show's hours and alter the format, all of which is wrong-headed and counterproductive, but all that really matters to Eddy is spreading the gospel of greater Cincinnati's music scene. And Jess is turning into a Rock chick of the first order (not like that, you gutter-minded dimbulbs). Under Eddy's tutelage, she's becoming a pretty fair aficionado of local music herself; smart, funny and fearless, she will be a force to be reckoned with in some near future. At any rate, if you see Eddy wandering around, shake his hand and thank him for his long-suffering and often unappreciated work on behalf of local music.
• Eddy and Jess and I hit a run of shows together, including the ever amazing 500 Miles to Memphis, the astonishing Aaron Lee Tasjan (who Eddy hipped me to through his love of Drivin' n' Cryin'), the gear-stripping Lydia Loveless and the transcendent Black Owls. Eddy and I could talk music for days on end, which we do at every given opportunity. Eddy also introduced me to Aaron, who he'd met after a Drivin' n' Cryin' show; that kid is going places, if Eddy and I have anything to say about it.
• Finally ran into Paul and Big Jim at the Aaron Lee Tasjan set, with "Hey-everybody-it's" Stu in tow. These three are also a great bunch of music lovers and supporters, local and otherwise, with weird, esoteric tastes. In other words, my people. I love running into them, and swapping stories and having Paul buy me beers, which he most generously did during the psychodots' set.
• Also briefly caught up with the ever-stellar Kip Roe, freshly installed bassist for the Black Owls and a prince among men. His boys, Kip Jr. and Ben, were there to witness the Owls' casual brilliance (anchored by their dad's bedrock solid basslines), but post-show were anxious to head down to the Main Stage to witness the Soul/Pop frenzy of Fitz and the Tantrums. Kip and the boys won't be spending Saturday doing any Bunbury adventuring, as they're headed to a Modest Mouse show in Columbus (a bucket list event, as Kip described it), but they will be back for the Flaming Lips on Sunday. Kip's boys are huge Flaming Lips fans. God, I love Rock & Roll families.
• And speaking of such, my other favorite component of Black Owls shows is the chance to catch up with the Owl wives, Amy Butler, Carrie Losacker and Sarah Kitzmiller (and let's not forget Ed's girlfriend, whose name, like so many other things, slips my addled brain. Why, yes, I did enjoy the '70s. Why do you ask?). We were trying to come up with a name for their defacto support group; I propose the Owlettes, and given Friday's heat and humidity, the Moist Owlettes probably was more apt. At any rate, they are wonderful people to interact with, and I look forward to their company every bit as much as the Owls' soul-stirring, flashback-triggering presentations.
• And on that subject, Ed, his girlfriend and her daughter (again, names … I remember knowing them in some distant past; maybe if they had hats with their names on them. That's how Stu solved his dilemma …) caught up with me while I scarfing down a couple of cheese coneys before leaving Friday night and offered a heartfelt Rock & Roll tale. Ed's girlfriend's daughter (note to self: this would be better with names) is a huge fan of Walk the Moon and as fate would have it, frontman Nick Petricca happened to be in town and was catching the Empire of the Sun show. Ed's girlfriend's daughter spotted Nick, professed her undying love for Walk the Moon, they chatted for a bit and she got her picture taken with him. Nick is clearly one of the good guys and his very open and engaging response to a fan's sincere outpouring of love and support is one of the reasons for the band's incredible success. And, as I noted to Ed's girlfriend's daughter, "It's always nice when you meet your heroes and they're not dicks." Thus should it ever be.
• The only thing that could have made the night complete after that uplifting moment would be a quick run-in with Jacob Heintz, former Buckra guitarist and Rock volunteer of the gods, as his constant presence at MidPoint and now Bunbury will attest. Another one of the truly great people that define the Cincinnati music scene as one of best in the known universe. I am physically fading and spiritually soaring. It's a good feeling for the end of the first day of another fantastic Bunbury.
The final MidPoint Music Festival headliner for the big stage at Washington Park has been confirmed. Pop Rock foursome OK Go, which releases its fourth album, Hungry Ghosts, on Oct. 14, will headline the Washington Park stage on Saturday, Sept. 27. The other Washington Park headliners are Chromeo (Thursday, Sept. 25) and Cincinnati-bred rockers The Afghan Whigs (Friday, Sept. 26).
Last month, OK Go released the first single from Hungry Ghosts, “The Writing’s on the Wall.” And, like several other OK Go singles, the clever accompanying music video became an instant viral sensation online, thanks to the wild optical illusions featured throughout. Out just three weeks, the clip has already logged close to nine million views on YouTube.
Also announced today were several other MPMF 2014 acts (some of which were leaked gradually via social media over the past couple of weeks), including Joseph Arthur, Dessa, Liturgy, Lost In The Trees, Earth, Empires, Maserati, Coves, Body Language, Kid Congo Powers and Pink Monkey Birds, Froth, Blues Control, Gizmo, The Appleseed Collective, All Them Witches, Across Tundras, Ancient Warfare, Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel, Drowners, Corners, Bailiff, Dresses, Mustered Courage, Lab Partners, Love X Stereo, Buffalo Clover, Quiet Life, Caroline Glaser, The Ghost Wolves, Pujol, Shivering Timbers, Good Graeff, Parallels, The Ridges, Wild Leaves, Steelism, Modoc, Fort Wilson Riot, Jeecy and The Jungle, Alpha Consumer, Arum Rae and Apache Dropout.
Some great local acts were also announced, including Wussy, Why?, Electric Citizen, Public, Heavy Hinges, Young Heirlooms, Darlene, Pop Goes The Evil, Moonbow, Automagik, Prim and Smasherman.
Tickets are available now at mpmf.cincyticket.com.
The three-piece “art-rock-influenced-punk-pop” band (download their EP Cavity Castle for free here and come up with your own interpretation) consisting of Véronique Allaer on guitar, Kirsten Bladh on bass and Chris Campbell on drums are fresh off their residency at The Comet. Allaer writes the lyrics, and cites musicians such as St. Vincent and Lana Del Ray as her influences. This is evident in the track “Sweet Teeth,” with its inherent sexy-yet-sassy, tragic-yet-empowered lyricism. Allaer’s pouty voice is one of the quintessential elements that make Leggy, well, Leggy. If Audrey Horne (from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks) ever wanted to be a rock star, she would make a band like Leggy.
When a band is given a Comet residency, they commit to playing once a week for a month, and get to pick the other bands that play on their bill.
For a DIY band, or for any aspiring musicians, a regular gig at a popular music bar is a pretty big deal. So how does a band get a residency? For Leggy all they had to do was drink enough alcohol.
“Do you know about Fogger Nights at Rake’s End?” Bladh asks. “We got way too drunk. It was like 2:30 a.m. so we went over to the Ice Cream Factory and drank with our friend who works at The Comet and eventually we were like, ‘Hey, we should have a residency at The Comet,’ and he was like, ‘Totally.’”
A night of drinking might have been the catalyst for the residency, but Leggy’s résumé speaks for itself. They’re getting widespread attention internationally, and playing with acts like Ghost Wolves and Paul Collins and even playing in The Northside Rock N’ Roll carnival tonight.
With each success, it’s hard to find a new way to progress forward, and — bar selling out Great American Ballpark — Leggy has accomplished a lot in our little corner of Ohio. So now they are headed out into the world — specifically, across the Midwest. Leggy’s next move is to go on tour and they say they’ll walk the Midwest if they have to — and they might have to.
“The biggest issue is not booking shows, it’s figuring out how to get there,” Allaer says. “A friend of ours was going to let us use his van, but he hurt his back so now he needs it and none of us are 25.”
In case you forgot or don’t know, a person isn’t legally allowed to rent a car until they are 25. Every member of Leggy is 24, and the tour starts mid-August.
“We are trying to contact our 25-year-old friends,” Bladh says.
Regardless the transportation, Leggy is a band that treats successes like stepping stones and ambition is more valuable than gasoline and shitty vans. July 4th, coincidentally, is a day Allaer will always remember as her wake up call for creating a successful band.
“Two years ago today, I was wasted and fell off a three-story building and broke my hip. I basically could have died, and it made me reevaluate my priorities,” she says.
Andy Grammer has a unique blend of musical talent, meshing his piano and guitar playing skills, smooth vocals and Hip Hop-like hooks to get crowds across the world fired up. Since his self-titled debut album in 2011, he has found great success through radio airplay and tours with the likes of Train, Natasha Bedingfield, and Colbie Caillat. Grammer is now embarking on his first headlining tour, which brings him to Covington’s Madison Theater this Saturday. The tour stop will be your chance to see Grammer in an intimate venue setting and see him up close and personal as he delivers his hits. (Click here for tickets and show info.)
CityBeat: What can the fans expect from the new album coming in August?
Andy Grammer: They can expect a lot of different vibes. I took a lot of chances sonically on this one. There is some acoustic stuff. There is one that sounds to me a little like Imagine Dragons meets Kanye. There is one that sounds like an MGMT track. There is one sounds like an old Lauryn Hill jam. I just made sure the songs were, in my opinion great, and I had a blast with the stuff I am really into right now.
CB: The album is called Magazines or Novels. Is there a story behind the title?
AG: It’s like how we ingest music these days. We are very ADD. A lot of times we just read through it, like magazines — tear through it, then throw it away. My goal was that not to be the case with this record. I built like 100 songs. I wrote the first 50 and realized I had a lot more magazines than novels, so I wrote another 50 and I think it is really good, actually. I am really excited about this album.
CB: What is your songwriting process?
AG: My process is more like … (chase) something all the way to the end and then step back and see if it is any good. Sometimes it is and, more often than not, it is not. I have to write a whole hell of a lot to get the jams I’m real proud to have on the album.
CB: You have had several huge hits on radio in your career. Do you know right away when you have a hit on your hands when writing?
AG: I don’t. I really don’t. That’s what is so confusing about it. I wouldn’t write it unless I thought it was great. I write it and am super stoked about it. As time goes by I can kind of tell whether it’s going to hold up.
CB: Do you have people close to you that can give you the feedback?
AG: Yeah, my manager and I pretty much are the ones that make the decision.
CB: What is the best and the worst thing about being on the road for you?
AG: We are doing shows that are like half old stuff and half new stuff and the fans will be really into it. The worst thing about being on tour is finding food that is good. It is pretty difficult to do, to find good food. It is easier to find McDonald’s and then you fall into (it) and feel bad. The best part of this tour, specifically, is playing new songs and seeing the fans react to it. It’s really exciting.
CB: I have seen you play in Cincinnati when you opened for Train. Do you have any specific Cincinnati tour memories that you remember or fun things in Cincinnati you like to do?
AG: Fans in Ohio are the best. Any show in Ohio, fans know how to have a good time, they party harder than anyone else at shows. It’s real. I’m not sure you know that about yourselves. I have toured around the whole country and it is just better in Ohio.
CB: Have you ever been starstruck?
AG: Sure. When I met Sara Bareilles I was a little bit starstruck and I don’t even know why. I really liked her and was excited to meet her.
CB: Is there anybody you want to collaborate with, maybe a different genre of music?
AG: I would like to do a song where I did the hook and Macklemore did the rap. I think that would be dope.
CB: Do you have a favorite guitar that you like to play?
AG: Yeah, Taylor is my jam. They hook me up with guitars and they sound amazing.
CB: Is there one specifically? Some people have one guitar. I saw one person last week with one they had played so much they had worn a hole in it.
AG: I don’t have that. I bust them up a lot and I have to get them fixed. I have also had this thing where I have had like three of my guitars stolen out of my car in L.A., and I don’t live in a terrible place. I think someone is on to me.
CB: I guess you shouldn’t get attached then. Well, what can the fans expect when you come through Cincinnati. I know you said you were playing half old and half new material, but what can the fans expect from your headlining show?
AG: Expect to see a little bit different light. One song has a vocoder on it. There is a little more high energy stuff. I am really excited. High energy is, in my opinion, better.
The first family of Hip Hop/R&B — and perhaps music in general — graced Cincinnati with their presence Saturday for Jay Z and Beyoncé’s On The Run tour. Downtown’s Great American Ballpark was Jay and Bey’s second stop on their first joint stadium tour, aptly abbreviated OTR (cue the wave of #thisisotr hashtags). The BeyHive was out in full force, along with whatever maniacal Jay Z fans call themselves.
After a stormy afternoon, skies cleared in time for the concert, which began around 9:30 p.m. (an hour-and-a-half past the show time listed on tickets, but no surprise to regular concertgoers or fans in-the-know). The couple kicked off the set with “03 Bonnie and Clyde,” their first collaboration, recorded more than a decade ago. Next up were two more duets, “Upgrade U” and “Crazy in Love,” followed by two hours of tag-teaming many of their hits.
People were blown away by the reported 42 songs performed at the inaugural OTR stop in Miami last Wednesday, and the couple delivered in Cincinnati (peep the full set list here), though every song was condensed and often mashed up with or bled into another tune.
The duo performed individually and together, creating a musical tapestry of their iconic hits (“Single Ladies,” “99 Problems,” “Diva,” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”), classics (“Hard Knock Life,” “Big Pimpin’,” “Baby Boy”) and newer work (“Tom Ford,” “Pretty Hurts,” “No Church in the Wild,” “Yoncé”). Snippets of their short film/tour preview for On The Run, which featured a ridiculously long list of celebrity cameos, played throughout the show. Other high-production videos dazzled on the two big screens, ensuring everyone from the nosebleeds to the VIPs had a decent view.
For "Holy Grail," originally performed by Jay Z and Justin Timberlake (who toured together last year), Bey took on JT's lyrics, performing a powerful collaboration that left me asking, "Justin who?" "Izzo" was accompanied by a slideshow of celebrity mugshots, which culminated with Justin Bieber's — timed perfectly with the lyrics, "So poof! Vamoose, son of a bitch."
“Partition” was a sexy surprise: Jay came out to a center stage in the crowd, sat in a simple chair and rapped over the simple but catchy beat. Then Bey and her thonged backup dancers took the main stage, complete with poles, performing the infectious, erotic hit. So basically, we all watched Beyoncé dance for her husband, and we’re all better people because of it. Bey tore the house down as she recreated the video, moving behind a screen to dance/seductively mount her now-signature weirdly shaped chair thing. A very similar performance was screened at the BET Awards Sunday night.
Jay and Bey closed the show with “Part II ( On the Run)," “Young Forever” and “Halo,” walking through a crowd of fans to the center stage at one point. They kissed, which temporarily stopped the hearts of all in attendance, even if it was perhaps slightly awkward and possibly staged. A video medley of home footage played during the last two songs, featuring clips of the couple’s early years, engagement (where a romantic trip to the Crazy Horse strip club would later inspire Bey’s “Partition” video), secret wedding, daughter Blue Ivy’s birth and more recent shots of the family. Again, perhaps a bit overkill to non-diehard fans — “See, we’re really happy!!!” — but in the moment, it felt like the thousands of us in the park were sharing a special moment with the artists. And isn’t that what makes a successful concert?
Regardless of whether the tour is a big relationship-reaffirming publicity stunt, the show was a wholly entertaining spectacle. Both Jay Z and Beyoncé performed hard, making full use of the two stages, interacting with the audience and consistently changing ensembles. Another plus for fans: the duo really seemed to be having fun, which always keeps energy levels up. Jay was sure to throw in Cincinnati references in some of his songs — a small gesture that goes a long way for fans at shows. And Beyoncé teased us all during “Why Don’t You Love Me,” in which the singer plays up a crazy, needy girlfriend persona. She belted out the titular lyrics, then paused, playfully pouting, waiting for a loud enough roar from the audience before she’d continue. We roared.
The crowd at GABP was one of the most diverse I’ve ever seen at a concert in town, with visitors traveling from around the country to witness the power couple at work. Some came to dance to the Pop diva’s hits; for others, it was all about Hov’s famous rhymes; and many were eager for the rare opportunity to see two powerhouses collaborate — the audience represented a full spectrum of fans, eager to dance, drink and sing together.
Who run the world? Jayoncé.
After 96 consecutive hours of baking in the Tennessee heat and humidity, walking from stage to stage to take in as much music as possible and drinking and dancing sometimes from noon until dawn, even your third and fourth shower after returning home from Bonnaroo can be like a religious experience. Though the festival itself gets under your skin in a way that one does not necessarily wish to ever wash away. Indeed, coming down after the festival, returning to the mundane realities of everyday life, can be a difficult proposition for hardcore Bonnaroovians struggling to simply settle back into their daily routine on planet earth.
The fourth and final day of Bonnaroo 2014 found (photographer) Chuck (Madden) and I sun-dazed but smiling, still eager to soak up and savor every bit of music we could. Among the few campers stirring that murky morning, I woke early and wandered the eerily empty festival grounds well before noon. I’ve attended the festival six times since 2006, but Sunday morning was the first time I rode the Bonnaroo ferris wheel. After an hour or so of tapping away on my trusty laptop in an empty press tent, the ferris wheel ride gave me an opportunity to chill and be still for a few minutes, surveying the scene from a bird’s eye view. A crowded cornucopia of bright lights and loud music after dark, it was both surreal and serene to view the Bonnaroo festival grounds silent in the morning.
The silence wouldn’t last. Even before I disembarked from the ferris wheel I could hear Lucero doing their soundcheck on a stage that I could barely see in the distance.
Chuck’s day began with a pair of bands he would be raving about for the rest of the afternoon: Kansas Bible Company on the tiny On Tap Lounge stage and much-talked-about new arrivals Lake Street Dive in That Tent, where a surprisingly large crowd had already gathered for the band’s 1 p.m. start.
Cloudy skies and occasional drizzle kept temperatures tolerable for the first three days of the festival. But Sunday was all clear skies and blazing sun, sending temperatures into the 90s for most of the day. Always an endurance test, Sunday at Bonnaroo 2014 was a brutal trial for the thousands on site who were forced to either hydrate, hunker in the shade, or both, until the sun relented in the early evening. But shade is not easy to come by at Bonnaroo, and sitting in a hot tent is no kind of relief whatsoever. Sunscreen, long sleeves and floppy hats ruled the day. Experienced Bonnaroovians are well-familiar with the physical demands of the festival. It just so happens that after three days of relative ease and comfort, Sunday’s weather conditions upped the ante on a panting throng already sunburned and exhausted.
Arguably some of the finest acts on the Bonnaroo lineup were featured on the festival’s final day, as Bonnaroo attendees were treated to phenomenal sets by Broken Bells, The Avett Brothers, Fitz and the Tantrums, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Arctic Monkeys, Shovels & Rope, Washed Out, Wiz Khalifa, The Lone Bellow, Okkervil River and an afternoon performance by Yonder Mountain String Band on the main stage that featured Bluegrass legend Sam Bush on violin.
This writer tumbled into the Other Tent just in time to catch a rousing set by Those Darlins. Like Nashville’s Wild Feathers before them on the weekend itinerary, this was sort of a hometown gig for Those Darlins, a band whose founding members met at a Rock & Roll camp in Murfreesboro, Tenn. A sparse but dedicated crowd happily held lead singer Jesse Zazu aloft as she tumbled over the barricade and into the audience. Laying back on a sea of fans’ hands, her guitar squall raged unabated at full steam as her eyes rolled back in her head. (Those Darlins play a free show in Cincinnati this Friday, headlining Fountain Square’s MidPoint Indie Summer concert.)
After a ridiculous amount of pre-gig hype, the controversial Kanye West’s Friday night performance delivered nothing but disappointment to a Bonnaroo audience that should have known better to have expected anything more. Saturday headliner Jack White and Sunday’s top dog Elton John showed that good material and passionate, substantive performances will always trump shallow arrogance, hype and bullshit. To Mr. West, who once claimed himself to be “Shakespeare in the flesh,” I submit this famous quote from Macbeth:
“Life’s but a walking shadow,
A poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.
It is a tale
Told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury,
Of far greater significance than this writer expected was a stellar Sunday night performance by Elton John, who reeled off one classic after another to close out Bonnaroo 2014. I knew Elton’s set would be great, but I was not prepared for just how truly amazing it was. With a band featuring guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson, who have been with him for 45 years (you read that right), Bonnaroo 2014 was Sir Elton’s first-ever appearance at a U.S. festival. Opening the show with Side One of his classic Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album from 1973, Elton proceeded with a version of “Levon” that concluded with a virtual clinic on Rock & Roll piano playing in the extended outro. Though I was dubious at first about Elton closing out the festival, this two-hour performance instead turned out to be such a stunner that I know I will forever count it among my all-time favorite Bonnaroo memories.
Thanks again to CityBeat for this amazing opportunity and to Chuck Madden whose concert photography is simply the best and whose friendship and company are a big part of what makes the Bonnaroo experience so meaningful to me.
Cincinnati Pop Rock quartet Mixtapes formed about four years ago and immediately hit the road with a relentless dedication. The band’s hard work paid off and it has experienced great success, building a dedicated fan base across the country with great live shows and hook-drenched, nationally-released albums and singles.
As anyone who has seen Mixtapes live knows, the band’s shows are adrenalized, sweaty fun and their music, while growing more mature and diverse with each release, is sheer fist-pumping, singalong joyfulness.
Frontman Ryan Rockwell was living the dream. But somewhere along the way, his life became more like a nightmare. The fact that Mixtapes’ launch coincided with the death of his father certainly played a part in Rockwell’s difficulties. Though details are vague, according to a press release, Rockwell “started to watch himself deteriorate and become the type of person he hated the most. He tried things he never thought he would and got dangerously close to not making it out.”
"I had never felt more alone," Rockwell says in the release. "Friends that I have had for years literally just stopped talking to me, stopped responding, a large number of them. I turned to the only thing I knew, and I started writing about it. I don't know who was wrong or who was right, but I know how much it hurt and people that I have helped and would do anything for left me when I needed help the most. Other people stepped up and saved me. I don't place blame though … I became a different person for awhile.
Rockwell was trying to understand what was going on in himself to make him so unhappy, but found it difficult to express. So he did what he does best and channeled his emotions into writing and recording songs. Working with friends Kamal Hiresh and Zach George and using the name Youth Culture, Rockwell hit the basement and created what would become the 10-track album, I Hate How Normal I’ve Become, an accomplished and eclectic collection of songs that, while still instantly catchy, possess much more darkness than Mixtapes’ jubilant Punk Pop.
Rockwell released the Youth Culture album late last month as a “pay-what-you-want” (yes, even if you want to pay nothing) download.
“This is an album for people going through things they don't like to talk about or know how to express,” Rockwell says. “We did it all ourselves and paid for it all ourselves. First and foremost, we want you to hear it — which is why it's free. If you like it enough, we'd very much appreciate a donation to recoup costs and eventually put it out on vinyl. But as always with everything I've done, I just want it to get out there, so thank you so much for taking the time to listen; there's a lot of bands out there, thanks for giving this a spin."
Listen to I Hate How Normal I’ve Become below, then click the player to grab your very own copy.
Fans worried that Youth Culture might signal the end of Mixtapes, fear not. The band is currently crisscrossing the United States on the massive Vans Warped Tour, which it'll be a part of until August. (The band is slated to appear at the Warped Tour’s Cincinnati stop on July 16 at Riverbend Music Center.)
Heavy Hinges is a new-ish band featuring some faces likely familiar to dedicated local music fans. Guitarist Jeremy Singer and drummer Brian Williamson have played in numerous groups over the past two decades, while singer/guitarist Dylan Speeg and bassist Andrew Laudeman were members of long-running, super-diverse Cincinnati crew Buckra. Maya Banatwala is the relative newcomer in the band, but her soul-drenched co-lead vocals in the Hinges serve as the group’s secret weapon.
Heavy Hinges debut album, Mean Old City, shows signs of some of Buckra’s trademark sonic diversity, but it’s channeled in a more focused manner. Ultimately, Heavy Hinges is a great Rock & Roll band, but its sound is touched by influences from Blues, Pop, Funk and Soul to various other forms of American Roots music. Like Alabama Shakes, Heavy Hinges manages to sound remarkably vital and “of the now” — despite the obvious vintage inspirations — thanks to the sincerity and vigor poured into each note. Mean Old City bristles with a timelessness that has less to do with the classic genres flirted with throughout and more to do with the from-the-heart songwriting and playing.
Here’s a music video for Mean Old City track “Booze May Be Your Lover, Not Your Friend”:
Speeg and Banatwala make for great co-frontpeople, crisscrossing their melodies and harmonies sometimes like X’s Exene Cervenka and John Doe and other times like June and Johnny Cash, with each singer possessing a voice quite distinct from each other, yet still sounding like they were made for each other when they come together. Meanwhile, the rest of the band are flawless and perform with a similar soulfulness; Williamson and Laudeman are a jaw-droppingly great rhythm section, while Singer’s guitar leads and solos are as attention-grabbing as the singers’ powerful vocal one-two punch.
Heavy Hinges host a free release party for the new album Saturday at 10 p.m. at Northside Tavern with DAAP Girls. Read CityBeat's profile of Heavy Hinges from early this year when the band was nominated in the "Best New Artist" category at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.
Riff-tastic Cincinnati Hard Rock foursome Lift the Medium has only been a band for a year, but you wouldn’t know it listening to its accomplished debut full-length, Mastermind. The band celebrates the release of its rock-solid album with a show Saturday at MVP Bar & Grill in Silverton. The 9 p.m. show also features performances by Livid and Life After This. Admission is $10; the first 50 fans through the door score a free copy of Mastermind.
Though a relatively new band, Lift the Medium’s members have extensive experience; singer/guitarist Joey Vasselet spent time in Rootbound, a melodic band that craftily incorporated influences from several different eras of Hard Rock, while bassist Justin Kennedy, singer/drummer Jake Bartone and singer/guitarist Joe Bartone were a part of Atlantis Becoming, a group known for its exploratory, progressive approach.
The band members’ backgrounds give a good sense of Lift the Medium’s style. The songs on Mastermind are craftily structured — the winding riffs and rhythms are constantly in motion, subtly recalling the more exploratory sounds of Atlantis Becoming. But there’s no meandering — every movement is in service to the song, resulting in a more passionate and pointed melodic impact. There is also a lot of diversity throughout Mastermind, but it’s molded into a cohesive and contemporary sound the group can call its own.
Lift the Medium can at times remind you of Grunge-era superstars like Alice in Chains or Soundgarden, but flashes of the classic ’70s/’80s Hard Rock/Metal perfected by the likes Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne or Iron Maiden also bubble to the surface. The delicately ingrained Prog touches lightly recall groups like Tool, but Mastermind also sounds like it would be perfectly at home on Rock radio next to contemporary acts like Shinedown and Seether. The production on Mastermind is remarkably crisp and muscular, making it even more radio-ready.
It’s no easy feat to incorporate such a variety of styles without sounding like Rock tourists/time travelers, but Lift the Medium’s sharp songwriting skills and impeccable chops help bring everything together without sacrificing its own distinct personality, allowing the variance to keep things sonically interesting from start to finish, but never allowing it to overshadow the strength of the songwriting. Cincinnati’s Rock radio stations (and likeminded ones across the country) should be all over Mastermind. It’s a crowd-pleaser that works on numerous levels.
Find more info about Lift the Medium (and hear some more song samples) here.
Much has changed for the legendary Cincinnati live music venue the Blue Wisp Jazz Club over its 40-plus-year existence. Though it has consistently been the club for Jazz in Cincinnati over most of that period, the Blue Wisp has moved four different times over four decades. In its most recent locale at the corner of Race and Seventh streets downtown, the club owners also tried to attract more business by serving food and varying the types of music performed. But it wasn’t enough and the Blue Wisp has once again closed its doors (though various reports suggest it could find yet another new location in the future).
One thing that hadn’t changed at the Blue Wisp, at least since it began in 1980, is the Blue Wisp Big Band. The group of all-star local musicians has maintained one of the longest residency in the region, performing its skilled take on vintage Big Band Jazz like clockwork every Wednesday. The band is a Cincinnati institution.
When the Wisp shut down, the members of the Big Band were determined to not let their remarkable run end with a whimper. Instead, the Blue Wisp Big Band sought to continue its every-Wednesday residency at another venue. (In case you’re wondering, the group owns its moniker, so they can legally continue to use the “Blue Wisp” name.)
Veteran local Jazz pianist and Blue Wisp Big Band founding member Steve Schmidt says they’ve landed their new spot, Japp’s Annex on Main St. in Over-the-Rhine, and will pick up its Wednesday night shows beginning this week. Schmidt says the group will perform every Wednesday at Japp’s, at least through the end of July, when they’ll reassess the situation just to make sure it’s a good fit. The Big Band will again be playing two hour-long sets each Wednesday, the first starting at 8:30 p.m. The cover charge will be less than it was at the Wisp — just $5. (Parking is available in the lot on the corner of Main and Central Parkway, as well as in the garage behind the club on Sycamore.)
“We are excited about trying out this (Over-the-Rhine) spot and happy that the ownership and staff at Japp's is excited, too,” Schmidt says. “We are all thinking of ways to make it better for the customer and the band as we go along. The band wanted to start quickly, not to be dormant for too long.”
Several of the principal members of the Blue Wisp Big Band did a walkthrough several days ago to get a feel for the new space and were happy with what they saw (and felt).
“I got a very good feeling about the room,” Schmidt says, “both in terms of space — spacious yet intimate — and acoustics. I think the other guys felt the same way. (Founding BWBB anchor/drummer) John Von Ohlen rightly pointed out that there is a lot of wood — the floors and the large bar. As John said, in the fullest and most complimentary sense of the word, ‘It's a joint!’ It's what he had in mind when he formed the band and put it in the original Blue Wisp in O'Bryonville. He said he wanted a world-class big band in a beer tavern.”
“In a word,” Schmidt adds, “(the new space) has soul.”