by Mike Breen
This year’s spectacle-of-an-awards-show on MTV had some Cincinnati flavor courtesy of Eric Nally and Walk the Moon
I tried to watch last night's Video Music Awards on MTV, but it was such an awkward and confusing clusterfuck, I couldn’t take much of it, flipping through for a few moments before moving on out of embarrassment for the people on the screen. I usually like when awards shows are a little chaotic (and the VMAs are known for their often-desperate attempts to be “not your mama’s awards show”). And I actually have always enjoyed the pop-culture pageantry of awards shows in general. But on last night’s VMAs, the annoyance factor was so high, I couldn’t even watch it on a “so bad you can’t look away” level. It made me anxious and uncomfortable, like watching someone fumbling over their words and breaking down while giving a speech in public (kind of like Kanye on last night's show).
It wasn’t really even the performances that made it so unwatchable (most were pretty solid for what they were). It was all of the in-between absurdity that made it so cringe-worthy.Speaking of performances, some Cincinnati artists did well on the big stage. Walk the Moon has become so experienced with these kinds of high-profile appearances that it wasn’t surprising the band’s umpteenth performance of “Shut Up and Dance” was flawless. Airing during the opening of the pre-show “rainbow carpet” portion, I found myself thinking (as I do whenever I hear the hit on the radio), “You know, they have other songs, including a new single?” “Shut Up” was considered a “song of the summer” contender, though it’s been on the radio for like 15 years (OK, it was released as a single in September of 2014, but still). Then the band played the new single, “Different Colors”! And MTV promptly cut them off. (Even “Shut Up” was interrupted mid-song so the pre-show hosts could introduce the program, the clumsiness of which ended up being indicative of the overall mess the VMAs turned out to be.)
2015 VMA, Artists.MTV, WALK THE MOON, 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, 2015 VMA, Artists.MTV, Music, WALK THE MOON, Full EpisodesThe weirder Cincinnati-related appearance came during Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ performance of their new single, “Downtown.” I was not aware of the guest artists on the song (OK, I was not aware they had a new song), so I turned it on just as Hip Hop legends Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee and Grandmaster Caz were rapping while walking down the street, thinking it was some cool old-school tribute the awards show was presenting. Then Macklemore came on and I reached for the remote, still unable to figure out what was going on. Then Eric Nally from late Cincinnati greats Foxy Shazam joined in, singing the chorus and doing some of his trademark stage moves and I officially thought I was just having a dream.
Nally did a great job and he caused a lot of buzz online, mostly of the “Who was that guy?” variety (when the single was released last week, a bunch of idiots rehashed the “Eric Nally is racist” stories from back in 2013 when Foxy Shazam released the single, “I Like It.”)
2015 VMA, Artists.MTV, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, 2015 VMA, Artists.MTV, Music, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Full EpisodesIt’s weird mash-up of a song, parts of which I like, while other parts I find tremendously aggravating. Which is kind of what the VMAs were. Is this the present state of popular youth culture? Throw a bunch of unrelated stuff together, put it in a blender and then just stare at the blender, not caring or knowing what the end result is?
MTV/Viacom had something called the O Music Awards for a few years recently, honoring things like “Favorite Fuck Yeah Tumblr,” “Favorite Animated Gif,” “Best Tweet” and “Best Artist With A Cameraphone.” The O Awards ceremony seemed unscripted and filmed without any director whatsoever. It doesn’t appear the O awards are still a thing; perhaps last night’s VMAs were a sign that the network is turning its long-running awards program into the Os? The VMAs were largely just a big WTF moment that people would talk about/complain about/make fun of online. Which is probably exactly what MTV was going for and, scarily, perhaps the shape of youth-oriented entertainment to come.
by Mike Breen
Successful Cincy rockers Foxy Shazam cancel all live dates, announce indefinite hiatus
On Monday, Cincinnati's Foxy Shazam, one of the Queen City's more successful musical exports in recent years (and one of the city's best ever live bands), announced on its Facebook page that it would be disbanding, effective immediately. The extremely hard-touring band has canceled all forthcoming shows, including a hometown New Year's Eve appearance at Oakley's 20th Century Theater. The band says the split will be for "an unknown amount of time" as the members spend some time with their families and other artistic endeavors. "We truly believe there is a future for Foxy Shazam, that our best art is yet to come," the message continues. "We don't know how long this will take but we plan on someday returning more powerful than ever."CityBeat has written many articles about Foxy over the years, including a 2010 cover story (read here). The band first caught our attention in 2005 after the self-released The Flamingo Trigger, which we reviewed and talked about with the group. Most recently, CityBeat chatted with the band about Gonzo, Foxy's first self-released album since Flamingo Trigger, which was produced by Steve Albini and came after a few releases with Warner Brothers Records and IRS Records. Hopefully they'll be back sooner than later. I don't like that one of my favorite Foxy tunes is now "ironic." (This still deserves to be co-opted by a local sports team … or better yet, the city's tourism board.)(Foxy in 2005 and in 2014:)
by Brian Baker
Foxy Shazam, Fall Out Boy, Jesse Thomas and more highlight Bunbury's second day
Another pretty good day overall. The temperature was a little higher, as was the humidity, and even when the clouds moved in and things seemed perhaps a little iffy, the good weather prevailed and all was right for the second day of Bunbury, v.3.The day began as it ended the previous evening, with some quick face time with volunteer excelsior and one of the scene's most gifted guitarists, Jacob Heintz. A Bunbury blessing from Jacob is the first step in a great day. And before I'd even gotten to the gate, I was called out by Brandon Weaver, owner/operator of Iron Wing Studio in Covington, who hosted my interview with Seabird last year; he's got a great facility and he's a really nice guy, so if you're looking for a place to paint your sonic masterpiece, give him a call.I wasn't really committed to seeing anything until relatively late in the schedule, so I decided to just float around the stages for the first few slots and maybe do a little sampling from each. It was a pretty successful plan, as it turned out.My first stop was the Warsteiner Stage to check out Miner, but the guy at the mic introduced the group as the Family Band, so apparently there was a Miner adjustment. Hahahahahahaha. I'm laughing because I know you're not. At any rate, the rather large band sounded a lot like our own Josh Eagle and the Harvest City, if they'd been juiced up on My Morning Jacket. They were quite good.Next it was a quick jaunt down to the Amphitheater Stage to see Brent James & the Vintage Youth. What started out as super tight bar boogie a la Aerosmith evolved into a super smart Rock show that drew on any number of potent influences, all of which were on full display when James and the Youth rolled out an absolutely jaw-dropping cover of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," a blazing blend of Bon Jovi dramatics and Georgia Satellites off-the-rails jamarama. Equally impressive was James' soulful swagger on "Needle to the Groove," and imagine my surprise when James called out his band, which includes regional wunderkind Ricky Veeneman, who won the 1999 Jimi Hendrix National Guitar Competition (when he was 15, by the way) and bassist Matt Gandenberger, who provided four-string assistance on a couple of tracks on Ricky's 2003 album, Change. James noted that the band would be opening for ZZ Top at the Horseshoe Casino in the near future, so here's a note to ticketholders — don't skip the opener.After the Vintage Youth, I wandered down to the Main Stage to take in a little of Crass Mammoth's set. After a handful of songs, they struck me as gritter, punkier Modest Mouse with a Classic Rock vein and melodic Pop undercurrent that guitarist/vocalist Joseph Crowe characterized as "the cute part of the show." And once that was concluded, the north Georgia trio went right back to raw and ripping mode. There's a good chance that Crass Mammoth made as many new fans today as they drew from their fervent existing fan base.From there, it was back to the Warsteiner Stage for an uplifting and raucous set from the pride of Hartford, Connecticut, Bronze Radio Return. Although there was more than a hint of Mumford and Sons/Lumineers Folk/Pop to BRR's presentation, there were also Rock elements ranging from The Black Crowes to Tom Petty to shades of Crash Test Dummies. The band drew a relatively big crowd and a good many of them were already fans, as evidenced by the large number of people singing along with nearly every song. Bronze Radio Return's frontman, Chris Henderson, was engaging and very much the band's ringmaster, their material was anthemic and joyful and I would love to see what the band would do with a long form set.At this point, I decided to get my wander on and just roam the Bunbury grounds getting a taste of the musical talent that had been assembled for Day 2. First, there was New Politics down at the Main Stage, which reminded me of Neon Trees with a considerably heavier bottom and a Hip Hop heart. Next up was Bonesetters, a great Americana/Indie Rock band from Indianapolis that shimmered in the heat of the Lawn Stage with a palpable Jim James/Ryan Adams/Eef Barzelay vibe. Then it was back over to the Warsteiner Stage to catch a few songs from Nashville's Fly Golden Eagle, an atmospheric Roots/Soul/Psych Rock aggregation that grooves and jangles and totally lives up to the title of their 2011 album, Swagger. They've toured with Alabama Shakesm Dr. Dog and Arctic Monkeys and garnered comparisons to Lips both Black and Flaming, Beck and the Black Crowes, and that adds up to a band that needs to come on back. After digging a few FGE songs, I drifted down to the Amphitheater Stage to enjoy local-girl-made-good Jesse Thomas, who's gotten her songs placed on Shameless and Hart of Dixie. The L.A. resident/Covington native has a tang and twang that suggests Patty Griffin, Kathleen Edwards and Shawn Colvin, and that ain't bad company no matter how you slice it. Jesse drew a pretty healthy hometown crowd and she made the most of her first festival appearance, Bunbury or otherwise.After Jesse Thomas' spirited set, it was a short stroll over to the Lawn Stage to experience the full frontal assault of Nashville's Modoc, who I got into by way of a story I did earlier in the year on Melvin Dillon and his vinyl-only label Soul Step Records. Modoc was one of Melvin's early signings when he approached the band about pressing vinyl on their excellent debut full-length. In the studio, Modoc make a mighty racket that crashes happily at the intersection of Led Zeppelin and Southern Rock, but everything that the band does so well in the sterile confines of the recording booth are amplified a dozen times and set ablaze like Jimi Hendrix's Stratocaster. Thunderous riffs, razor wire slide leads, pummeling bass lines and a drum sound heavy enough to drill through solid bedrock, Modoc does it all with a wink/nod sense of humor and a joyful passion that comes through with every note. They've played a couple of MidPoints (they’ll be back for this year’s MPMF) and they're building a pretty sizable following, if their Bunbury turnout was any indication. And as frontman Garry Crisp so eloquently put it, "We love Cincinnati. It's got sin in it twice!" Right back atcha, G-Dawg.I managed to see at least some of Jane Decker's set. I'd talked to Jane and bassist Mitch Winsett two years ago when Belle Histoire was still a viable concern, but the band has since scattered to the wind and Jane has stepped away from a band configuration to make her mark as a solo artist. Her Bunbury set was supposed to be a full band gig, but something happened in the days before the festival and she wound up on the Lawn Stage singing to the acoustic guitar accompaniment of Sean (just Sean, apparently), her songwriting partner on a good deal of the album that is currently being mastered for an imminent release. Jane auditioned for The Voice last season and was bounced because the judges didn't know what to do with her. As I sat listening to her acoustic set at Bunbury, her incredibly poppy songs stripped to the essentials of Jane's beautiful Dolores O'Riordon-tinted voice and the simple counterpoint of Sean's tasteful acoustic soundtrack, I cannot imagine what Adam Levine wasn't hearing. Any of the songs Jane presented in her acoustic set could be produced up to megahit proportions and go toe-to-toe with Lorde, Arianna Grande, or whoever is the flavor of the moment. It certainly seems like Jane's moved beyond The Voice incident (the failure being theirs and not hers), and is ready to pursue her dream and make a skadillion dollars without Blake Shelton's help.Molly Sullivan won the Singer/Songwriter CEA back in January and every time she puts herself in front of an audience, she offers a little more evidence to support that honor. She has an amazing vocal range, from midnight howl to 3 a.m. hush and she has the uncanny ability to shift from melodic Folk/Pop beauty to dissonant Jazz artfulness while retaining the thread of her creative identity. Molly's set at the Acoustic Stage was simply fantastic, further proof that her CEA win was no fluke and is likely to be followed by a few more similar triumphs down the line.Over at the Main Stage, it wasn't too hard to see why Paramore is the current darling of high-octane Pop Rock. The band was physically moving air during their powerful and obviously well received set; their drums pounded their way into your rib cage and altered your heartbeat to a different time signature. I stuck around for a handful of songs but ultimately opted for an early exit in order to find some prime real estate on the Serpentine Wall.Tonight would be Foxy Shazam's second appearance at Bunbury, and they had their work cut out for themselves. No one who witnessed their gig at the inaugural Bunbury two years ago will ever forget it; frontman Eric Nally imploring the Reds' Joey Votto to "hit the motherfucker out of the park," and Sky White tossing his keyboard into the crowd and then leaping in after it, continuing to play while the audience held it and him aloft. Oh, and they played a lot of great music. And therein lies a common misperception, that the band's onstage antics are somehow going to detract from their musical performance. This notion is typically floated by people who have never seen Foxy Shazam work an audience like a skilled pickpocket while simultaneously putting on a dazzling Rock show.As advertised, Foxy presented their new album Gonzo in its entirety for the first 30 minutes of the set, with bassist Daisy Kaplan on guitar and guitarist Loren Turner on bass (it was a device they used to jump start the writing process and they decided to maintain the set up for the live translation). Where The Church of Rock and Roll was more of an immediate album, Gonzo is a work that reveals its gifts slowly, and those albums always seem to wind up being fan favorites. The packed Wall showed their appreciation for Gonzo with a fevered response to each of the album's nine songs.Of course, it wouldn't be a Foxy show without Nally's brilliant non sequitur patter — like "The only difference between me and a scholar is how much we paid for what we know," and "If it was legal to shoot people, I'd be dead." The real showstopper came in the second half of the set, when Foxy hauled out the back catalog and Kaplan and Turner returned to their regular roles. By this time, trumpeter/vocalist Alex Nauth had tossed his horn into the light rigging a half dozen times, White had played his keys with his ass and Nally had somersaulted, vaulted, balanced and slid all over the stage. After blowing through high voltage turns on "Holy Touch" and "I Like It" (where Nally adlibbed, "Let me see your butthole, baby," something I'm fairly certain I never heard Barry White utter), among others, Nally introduced the band's last song of the evening thusly: "This next song, this last song, is about time travel. I wrote it next week." And with that, Foxy Shazam roared headlong into "Unstoppable," the anthemic 2010 hit from their self-titled album. As the band neared the end of the song, Nally called for cigarettes from the crowd; grabbing one from a pack, he lit it with a lighter thrown on the stage and called for the lights to be killed. As "Unstoppable" faded to its squalling conclusion, Nally blew sparks out of the end of the cigarette into the darkness on the stage, and then shrieked, "You're all pregnant!" He dropped the mic, the lights came up and that was the end. As unlikely as it seemed less than an hour before, Foxy Shazam had indeed cleared the bar they'd set two years ago. As the late Jack Palance used to intone on a weekly basis, "Believe it … or not."I hung around after Foxy to chat with ClassX Radio’s Eddy Mullet whose daughter had a little trouble with rude doofuses, but he handled it with aggressive diplomacy. We were talking about our plans for the end of the evening, and I was tempted to bail on Fall Out Boy to get home and get started on these reviews, while Eddy seemed ready to call it a day as well. But at the last moment I decided to catch at least a few songs from the last band of the day, and announced it with the unfortunate phraseology, "I think I'll go check out a little Boy." Eddy's daughter Jess went, "Uhhh. …" Point taken.So we all headed off toward the Main Stage area, me to find a good viewing position and them to see if the exit next to the stage was open (it wasn't). Having come this far, Eddy decided to stick around as well, and so we all lingered for a bit to witness the Pop/Punk majesty of Fall Out Boy. I've always liked the Wentz/Stump dynamic, perhaps not enough to passionately explore their output, but more than enough to appreciate the fact that they've elevated the conversation in the genre. But as Shakespeare noted, the play's the thing, and Fall Out Boy do the thing pretty well. Bookended by festival closers that were and would be visual orgasms of color and light (Empire of the Sun on Friday, Flaming Lips on Sunday), FOB chose to make their presentation the spectacle, playing their hits and beyond with an expansive flair without forgetting that they were compact and energetic Punk-tinted Pop songs. About midway through the set, an already adrenalized crowd went ballistic when Paramore's Hayley Williams stepped out to duet with the band on "Sugar, We're Goin Down," and the frenzy just continued from there. Patrick Stump played to the hometown crowd by giving a shout out to "our friends in Foxy Shazam," which was nice, and later Stump asked how many parents were in the audience, and reminisced how his father would take him to Punk shows in Chicago when he was a teenager, and as a tribute to all the DNA-linked chaperones in attendance, peeled off a sweet version of "We Are the Champions," followed with an incendiary spin through "Save Rock and Roll." At that point, we took our leave to beat the rush; as I was headed toward my car, I could hear the strains of "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark," and I was really glad I'd stuck around to experience Fall Out Boy in this perfect setting.SIDE NOTES• On Bunbury Day 2, I began the day by filling the gastank with a carton of Island Noodles (with the teriyaki chicken, thank you), an amazing repast that lasted well into the evening, when I had a slightly less amazing but incredibly delicious Kobe Dog from Dutch's booth. Both are highly recommended (but the noodles are less likely to stop your heart; on the other hand, we're walking it off, are we not?)• Saturday had a much different crowd vibe than Friday, due to the headliners for the evening, Paramore and Fall Out Boy. Usually I run into a half dozen friends and acquaintances before I've decided on which lunch and what beer to chase it. But it wasn't too long before I ran into Brent and Kat, the scene's most visible couple. They mentioned they were going to catch an unannounced set by Billy Catfish, and Kat said that she had noticed a distinct similarity between Billy's eyes and Brent's eyes. To that end, she noted that if Brent kicks it, she's going to ask Billy out. To which Brent replied, "If Kat dies, I'll ask Billy out, too." Together in everything, as it should be. Not long after, I crossed paths once again with another prince of the realm, The Ready Stance's Wes Pence and his son Wyatt, on the lookout for action of every imaginable variation. If you don't know Wes, there is a great gaping void in your life. And if you don't know The Ready Stance, same thing. As Dr. Steven Brule says, “Check it out.”• I had seen photographer extraordinaire (and CityBeat alum) Sean Hughes having a little difficulty getting into the photo pit at the Warsteiner Stage with his pass on Friday (for the love of Annie Leibowitz, do you people know who he is?), and I told him that I was about to come over and throw my weight around. Not influence — I have none of that anywhere — but my actual weight. I can create a fatass distraction like nobody's business. On Saturday, Sean noted that he could have used my help later the day before, but I reminded him, "I can't be where you are, you have to be where I am, that's how my fatassery works." Then he saw girls in the misting station and said, "People getting wet … that's my thing," and off he went. Another prince? Most assuredly.• At the Modoc show, I caught up with Soul Step Records owner/operator Melvin Dillon and his lovely sister Wendy. I figured I'd see Melvin there; he's a big fan of Modoc, having sought them out specifically to press the vinyl version of their self-titled debut LP. Melvin mentioned that he's currently working with a big name local band (I won't jinx the deal by announcing anything … yet) to do the vinyl version of their new album. Stay tuned. It will be epic.• Once again, ran into Eddy Mullet, only this time with two daughters in his entourage; his youngest daughter Cassie was along for the ride on Saturday. Not quite the music fan that her sister Jess has become, Cassie did have a full-bore good time at the Foxy Shazam extravaganza, so she may be making some forays into the local music world with dear old dad in the near future. Or maybe not. Kids will always find their own way.