by Brian Baker
Locals shine one Day 1 of the third annual Bunbury fest
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.
by Brian Baker
If you are even a marginal fan of Black Owls (whose members split time between Cincinnati and Granville, Ohio) and have not yet visited their Bandcamp page to purchase a copy of their recent recorded triumph, Wild Children (which came out late last year), off with you. I'll wait. The Owls' fourth album is nothing less than the maturation of a supremely talented band that has been patiently waiting for the right pieces to fall into the right places almost from the beginning. The installation of drummer extraordinaire Brian Kitzmiller and the relocation of vocalist David Butler away from the drummer's chair and to the front of the stage was the first necessary shift, while adding second guitarist Brandon Losacker as a frenetic foil to Ed Shuttleworth's tightly coiled brilliance was inspired and equally required.
The bass position has been problematic only in its temporary nature; Nancy/National bassist Mike Brewer left to pursue his own thing, the thunderously wonderful Alan Beavers was forced from his role due to back issues and Goose four stringer Sammy Wulfeck was almost psychotically overextended and had to bow out; his work is all over Wild Children, a
tantalizing hint at what he brought to the Owls and further proof of his longstanding chemistry with Kitzmiller. (For the record, both Beavers and Brewer guest on Wild Children and remain welcome alumni in the Owls' extended family.)
On the whole, Wild Children is an expansion of the Owls' sonic mission statement of cross-pollinating early '70s-era Glam (see Bowie/Mott/Marc Bolan) with late '70s-era New York Punk (via Tom Verlaine's Television, Richard Hell's Voidoids and Lou Reed's simple fury). A good many of the songs on Wild Children have been worked out in live sets over the past year or so and will be familiar to anyone who has haunted the band's numerous local appearances; the effervescently charged "Incandescent Vultures," the melodically moody "She Invented Air," the propulsive and sinewy title track, produced into a beefy studio anthem. There's even a re-recording of "Julias Morningstar," one of the Owls' most recognizable and popular tracks from their 2008 debut, Lightning Made Us Who We Are. Wild Children shows that the Owls are gelling nicely and becoming even more comfortable and confident in the brilliant niche they've created for themselves.
And while Wild Children is patently excellent and an absolute necessity, perhaps even more exciting is the two-track glimpse into the Owls' future just revealed by Kitzmiller. A result of recent sessions featuring former Doc & the Pods/Roundhead four-stringer Kip Roe, an absolute prince of a human being and the perfect piece to complete the Owls' puzzle, the two songs find the quintet sounding less like the brilliant sum of their influences and more like a blazingly original band that has effectively incorporated their heroes into their creative vision without showing a seam
or dropping a stitch. "Gasoline" is a hard-charging, manic and relentless three minute thrill ride (and a prime candidate for the first single from the album that it will eventually crown), while "Rook" muscles along with the shivering, shimmering energy that has defined the Owls' best work over the past six years. These two as-yet-unmastered tracks show Black Owls evolving into a focused unit of astonishing power and unlimited potential.
More. Soon. Please.
Black Owls perform for free this Friday at Newport’s Southgate House Revival in the Lounge room during The Black Angels/Roky Erickson concert in the venue’s Sanctuary.
by Brian Baker
This is the midpoint of MidPoint, the second of the three
holy days of September. A day of great adventure and great potential for
misadventure that exceeds the anticipation of Day 1 and the inevitable
denouement of Day 3. A day to love. But first you've got to get there,
and an even longer drive down I-75 this afternoon meant that I was
forced to miss Izzy & the Catastrophics (Note: Izzy and Co.
rescheduled and play today at 6:15 p.m. on the Midway AND at Japp's at
12:30 a.m.) on the Midway and on the Midway and American Royalty at
Washington Park. And my teeth are considerably flatter. Tomorrow I take
my chances with the surface roads.
First up on the agenda was the third band on my Friday
schedule, my beloved Black Owls at the Grammer's stage. With their
brilliantly hallucinatory film projection playing out on the tent
ceiling just above their heads, the band clicking with shambling
precision and frontman David Butler in the middle of a 10-day cleanse
(Five days without beer? Madness, I tell you, madness...), the Owls
roared through a set that offered plenty of familiar favorites and a
couple of brand new tunes slated for their imminent fourth album, Wild Children, the first to feature input from the full quintet.
As per usual, the chiming guitars of Ed Shuttleworth and
Brandon Losacker offered glammy tribute to the gods Hunter and Ronson,
while the intuitive headkick of rhythm section Sammy Wulfeck and Brian
Kitzmiller ran like clockwork, if the clock in question is Big Ben. And
David Butler continues to serve as vocalist/ringmaster, a perpetually
compelling stage presence combining witty banter ("We're your Black
Owls, supported by your tax dollars..."), kicky athleticism and a vocal
presentation that thrillingly suggests Ian Hunter's mournful croon,
David Byrne's artful warble and the jittery wonder of Jerry Casale. The
only thing better than seeing the Black
Owls is seeing them again. They will be returning to the
Northside Tavern in December; give yourself the gift of the Black Owls
this holiday season, won't you?
I hung around and talked with the various Owls and their
various lovely wives while Secret Colours provided a pulsing Psych/Space
Rock-meets-Classic Rock soundtrack. Flecks of The Doors and Velvet
Underground filtered through kaleidoscopic blotter tabs of the Brian
Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols turned up to a Spinal Tappish
and completely satisfying 11; that's the stock-in-trade of Secret
Colours. A lot of the subtlety of their sophomore album Peach gets
shaved off in their live presentation (although the melodica was a nice
touch), but the band ably replaces it with a muscular and voluminous
vibe that reverberates in your chest like a second heart.
From there, it was a brisk walk down to The Drinkery to
catch The Kickaways who were using their MidPoint show to officially
launch their sophomore album, Show Yr Teeth. It's an appropriate
title since that's exactly what the band does on their latest effort,
amplifying and refining all the elements that defined their 2011 debut, America! America! Although frontman Charlie Lynn played some guitar on Show Yr Teeth,
he made the conscious decision to set it aside in The Kickaways' live
configuration. That boils the band down to their charismatic lead
vocalist and a tight-as-a-gnat's-ass power trio, a formula that worked
pretty well for The Who, Led Zeppelin, Queen and Black Sabbath.
Last night, it was the latter that seemed the most potent
reference point, as The Kickaways seemed to be channeling Ozzy and the
boys circa Paranoid but with the swaggering ethic of a great
Psych-tinged garage band. Up front, Lynn was garage glamor personified,
with leather jacket, a plaid shirt tied like a skirt at his waist and
several layers of T-shirts, the top one reading "It Girl." No longer
pinned down by guitar duty, Lynn was a singing dervish, occasionally
banging a tambourine but generally flying around the stage and howling
with mad but precise abandon. Guitarist/vocalist Remi Glistovski largely
kept his head down and focused on producing riffs of Richter Scale
proportions while Jacob Ittle inhabited his role as bassist with the
mindset of a rhythm guitarist and drummer Adam Lambchop literally moved
the air with his punishing skills, banging his kit with the authority of
a skinny John Bonham. The Kickaways are more than ready for their Big Time close-up.
I reluctantly bailed on the end of the Kickaways' set to
head up to the MOTR Pub to bask in the Pop/Rock splendor of Cincinnati's
Tigerlilies. Pat Hennessy has been working this corner since forming
the band in 1989 and while the band has gone through a few guitar
partners (renowned and beloved oddball William Weber, former Lazy
guitarist Steve Schmoll, guitarist-turned-producer Denny Brown) and
several tweaks to his Power Pop concept, the Tigerlilies' core has
always remained Hennessy on vocals and guitar up front and the durable
rhythm section of brother Steve Hennessy on hammering drums and Brian
Driscoll on thundering bass. Hennessy's latest guitar foil may well be
the best in a long line of great six-stringers; Brendan Bogosian has an
impeccable resume (TheWoos, Cash Flagg, Kry Kids, among others) and his
razor-sharp skills and Pop/Rock nuance make him perfectly sympatico for
Hennessy's punky take on crunchy Power Pop. Tigerlilies' just-released In the Dark
may well stand as the best work in their excellent catalog, and this
version of the band is clearly the reason as evidenced by the wall of
sound emanating from the MOTR stage last night.
From there, it was a long walk down to Arnold's for the ecstatic blister of Cincinnati's Heavy Hinges. The band may have started out last year
channeling the spirit of old Gospel 78s and Alan Lomax field recordings
but they have graduated to an electric church service that pumps like an
oil derrick with a swing sweeter than Ted Williams. It's Blues with a
touch of Jazz with a heart needle full of adrenaline. Guitarists Dylan
Speeg and Jeremy Singer can go from textured nuance to hot Jazz/Blues
riffmongering in the blink of an eye, frontwoman Maya Banatwala works a
lyric with the dramatic/comedic flair of a 21st century flapper (and
bangs that ukulele like Betty Van Halen) and the slippery rhythm section
of bassist Andrew Laudeman and drummer Brian Williamson establishes the ever shifting heartbeat of the band with intuitive brilliance.
In the Hinges' hands, "Ain't No Grave" sounded like it had
been arranged by Carlos Santana, but it's the band's originals that
stick in the mind and danced-off-ass the longest; "Mean Old City"
offered up the band's patented thump-and-grind and "In My Dreams" showed
their flair for electric Flamenco or something just like it. Banatwala
noted that she doesn't celebrate Christmas, so MidPoint is her Christmas
(Merry MidPoint, Maya!), and Speeg was at his cheeky best between songs
("The women in here tonight look like they were picked by Lenny Kravitz
…"). If there's a more accomplished and diverse band in Cincinnati than
Heavy Hinges, it's a safe bet that they're not half as entertaining. I
could be wrong or drunk or both, but I don't think so.
And then it was midnight and time for my overall MidPoint
pick, The Technicolors from beautiful Phoenix, Arizona, an area not
necessarily known for its music scene. I had picked them to preview on a
whim and listening to the music they I could find online absolutely
floored me. In the preview blurb I namechecked Cheap Trick, Big Star,
The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Oasis, Todd Rundgren, Kula Shaker and Nada
Surf. I stand behind any and all of that, but after witnessing their
live assault, I can honestly say that it all comes together as The
Technicolors, which now seems like a perfectly apt name.
In the studio, The Technicolors are formidable alchemists,
transforming their influences into buzzing, crunching gold that becomes
more appealing with each successive listen. On stage, the band taps
into that primal sense of elation that occurs in the earliest moments of
teenage discovery, when music is new and the vistas of what to explore
next seem limitless. The Technicolors possess the aforementioned sonic
reference points to be sure, but what they evoke as a band funneling all
those sounds into their astonishing singularity is a return to that
viscerally magic moment in personal history when one loses one's cherry
Last night at the uberfabulous MOTR Pub, The Technicolors
were a force of nature, the furies of Rock unbound. The twin guitar
attack of frontman Brennan Smiley and Mikey Farizza were like David
Copperfield's giant buzzsaws; potentially dangerous but ultimately
entertaining. Bassist Mike "Nico" Nicolette
looked as though he was having more fun than the audience as he joyfully
bottomed the sound with a sinewy and insistent pulse, which was further
anchored by drummer Kevin Prociw's purposeful bashathon. And tour
keyboardist Troi Lownei (he appears on a couple of songs on the band's
exquisite album Listener) added a dash of Radioheadness to the proceedings (if Radiohead had jumper cables attached to their undercarriages).
Their studio version of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game"
supplants the original's icy cool detachment with a passionate embrace
but in the live arena, the band plays up the sense of impending doom
inherent in the "I don't want to fall in love" theme. And "Sweet Time"
may simply be one of the best live translations of an already powerful
song that I've been lucky enough to witness in four bloody decades of
standing in front of bands.
Are The Technicolors the future of Rock and Roll? I
wouldn't hang that albatross on any band, particularly one I love. The
Technicolors will make you feel things about Rock that you haven't felt
for a very long time, and that should be more than enough to recommend
FRIDAY NOTES:• As Black Owls frontman David Butler was explaining his cleanse — his wife Amy is supporting by joining him — which features 10
beerless days, he noted that he's never felt better and his voice has
never been stronger. Goose frontman Jason Arbenz aptly observed, "He's
going to turn himself into some kind of superhero." I think he may
already be there, dude.
• It was great catching up with the Owls and the Mrs. Owls
(Amy Butler, Carrie Losacker and Sarah Kitzmiller). The ubiquitous King
Slice, the barometer of all that is cool, was in attendance as was
former CityBeat worker bee Sara Beiting, a pretty decent hipness
indicator her own bad self. And Mark Houk from Sohio confessed to chills
during the new Black Owls song, "Gasoline." I predict that's going to
be going around soon, my friend.
• As I walked into The Drinkery, I was met by the whole of
Alone at 3AM. They weren't hanging out in a bunch like The Monkees,
they were getting ready for their imminent set after The Kickaways.
Chris Mueller put a Yuengling in my empty hand and filled my empty head
with joy. Brandon Losacker appeared to be handing me a beer during The
Kickaways set but he quickly disabused me of that notion; it was meant
as a toast. Note to everyone: if you look like you're handing me a beer,
I'm going to look like I'm accepting it. Brandon did drop a shot of
Jameson's in front of me, which will earn him a plaque upgrade in the
Hophead Hall of Fame.
• On my way down to Mr. Hanton's (who now has a brick and
morter store on Calhoun) to get a wonderful and nutritious Handwich
(which is a hot dog as big as a Cuban cigar … I recommend the
Smokehouse), I vaguely thought I heard someone yell my name, but I've
been hearing voices lately and they seem to know me, so I gave it the
same attention I reserve for car horns in parking lots which now go off
for no other reason than someone locking their door. Luckily the hailing
party was not part of my drug-fueled hallucinogenic past but the
flesh-and-blood person of Ready Stance guitarist/vocalist Wes Pence. We
vowed to meet at the Tigerlilies gig and did. Another way I knew he was
real. I'm fairly sure.
• Also taking in the vast Power Pop beauty of Tigerlilies
(and while I have the internet's attention, no, you overbearing
suggestion Google dicks, I do not mean Tiger Lilies, I mean what I
fucking well typed) were damn near all of Culture Queer — Jeremy
Lesniak, who produced Tigerlilies' In the Dark, Dana Hamblen and
Sam Womelsdorf, Fairmount Girls' Melissa Fairmount, the aforementioned
Wes Pence and a couple of guys who remembered me from my Short Vine
days in the late '80s — except they thought I was Jimmy Davidson. I told
them I worked the counter at Wizard Records, but I don't think they
believed me. I could have badly played any guitar in the joint to prove
my identity, but it was just nice to be remembered.
• Sara Beiting was also hanging at Tigerlilies, along with
perpetual MPMF and raconteur Jay Metz, who brought along Shuggie Otis'
brother and drummer, Nick Otis. We had a brief but nice chat, got some
pictures together and bid adieu. Shuggie had already left for a gig in
Toronto, but Nick and some of the band stuck around to catch some
MidPoint sounds before a 5 a.m. flight. Yargh. Hope they made it on time
• Brian Kitzmiller and his lovely wife Sarah also dropped
in on the Tigerlilies. Brian actually bought me a beer but I didn't
catch up with him until I was on the sidewalk outside the MOTR and was
on my way down to the next thing. Sorry I stuck you with two beers,
dude. I'm pretty sure you took care of it. While I was apologizing for
making Brian appear to be a two-fisted alcoholic, Sarah pointed out a
guy dressed in what seemed to be tin foil Post-It notes, which may have
been advertising or just an odd fashion choice. If you'll recall from
this space an almost unbelievable five years, Sarah, a first grade
teacher, went to Staples to buy Post-It notes and actually had some
stuck in her hair. Brian had told me the story, and the next night at
Arnold's, I met Sarah for the first time. When Brian introduced us, I
excused myself, reached into my pack, pulled out a handful of Post-Its,
stuck them in my hair and shook her hand. So Post-Its are kind of our
thing. And I was glad she pointed out the tin foil Post-It guy, because I
saw him as I walked out the door but I chose to ignore it, just in case
it was another alcohol fueled flashback to the acid days of yesteryear.
As long as she saw it too, it was all good.
• Right on cue, King Slice strolled into the Heavy Hinges
gig and anointed it as the cool place to be at 11 p.m. on MidPoint's
second night. And so it came to pass. Also making an appearance right
before I was ready to hit the sidewalk was former Buckra guitarist and
ever-present MPMF staffer Jacob Heintz, checking out his old bandmates
and hanging around waiting for the next emergency, which I hope never
came. It never seems like a complete MidPoint experience until I've had a
chat with Jacob, so now it is.
• Plenty of folks in attendance at the Technicolors soiree
back up at the MOTR, which I hope I had at least a little something to
do with. My pal Paul Roberts was there to buy me a fabulous beer from
the MOTR's endless taps, with his buds Big Jim and Little Stu in tow.
Stu even had a hat made with his name on it so I'd bloody well remember
that his name is Stu. If he had said, "My name is Stu, how do you do?"
that might have been perfect. The hat was pretty awesome at any rate. If
I forget Stu now, it will be evidence of drug backlash or a stroke.
Just so you know.
• I spied former CityBeat editor John Fox in the
MOTR crowd so I headed over to say hello. As I have explained in the
past, I owe John an incredible debt of gratitude for recruiting me for CityBeat
nearly 20 years ago and for insisting that I write features for him
rather than reviews. It was literally a life-changing conversation, and I
can't begin to thank him enough for the opportunity he gave me in the
beginning and his faith and guidance in the subsequent years. Once again, he left
before I could get that beer into his hand … I'm clearly going to have
to drive the truck up to his house. The only thing is I don't know where
he lives; his faith in me, it would seem, had limits, which I
completely understand. Thanks again for everything, John, you gave me a
chance to be a part of something special. My current status as a
poverty-wracked, free-beer-swilling hack is all on me.
• I tried to get down to the Mainstay in time to see some
of Bella Clava's set because their appearance at The Drinkery last year
was one of the festival's highlights for me. Sadly, they had just
finished when I pulled up, but I did get a chance to chat with
keyboardist Caitlin Dacey and guitarist Steve Suttie as they loaded out.
As it turned out, the band is staying with Honeyspiders frontman Jeremy
Harrison, whose new outfit also played on the evening's Mainstay bill.
Honeyspiders is clearly a band to keep on the radar; the limited recordings they've shared to date are potent evidence that something big is going on there