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