by Brian Baker
The first night of MidPoint is like a lot of firsts; first date, first kiss, first sex, first beer, first rectal exam by a hot proctologist. Hey, you have your firsts, I have mine. Anyway, MidPoint Thursday is always a magical time of reconnecting with old friends, making a few new ones along the way and experiencing an almost breathtaking amount of incredible music of every conceivable variety. 2014's version of that particular passion play lived up to and exceeded every expectation.
First up was a trip to the MidPoint Midway to witness the return of the mighty Pike 27. The band's late '90s/early '00s run included at least one EP and a great full-length in Falling Down Hard, but frontman Dave Purcell's shift into academia on the teaching side signaled the band's demise. Although Purcell's professorship at Kent State precluded him from actual band activities, he never stopped writing songs, and when he fortuitously returned to Cincinnati last year, he had an ass-pocket full of new material that suggested new horizons and possibilities. Purcell and original bassist Sean Rhiney (veteran and current member of any number of high profile bands and the co-founder of our MidPoint feast) resurrected Pike 27 with guitarist/local hero Mike Fair and drummer-and-more Dave Killen.
This new iteration of Pike 27 is a powerhouse of scorching guitar, earthmoving bass and jackhammer drumming, and while there are vestiges of the band's Roots Rock history, everyone's balls are definitely within the vicinity of some wall or other and medal is being pedalled with controlled abandon. Start to stop, Pike 27 careened from song to song with the visceral intensity of The Old 97s and dashes of Alejandro Escovedo and Grant Lee Buffalo at their delicately nuanced and head-kicked obvious best. This seems to be a fertile period for long dormant bands to renew themselves and that can always be a problematic situation, but Pike 27 is clear evidence that having the right motivation to return can evolve into a stunning and most welcomed result.
On the heels of Pike 27's energetic and fabulous opening set at the Midway came the return of our beloved Black Owls, a well-documented force of nature in their own right. Pre-show, frontman David Butler promised that the Owls' set would be populated with nothing but new material with very few exceptions, and he was good to his word. Other than their recently installed cover of Harry Nilsson's "Jump Into the Fire" and set closer "Glorious in Black," from their 2010 sophomore album June '71, the oldest songs in the Owls' incendiary set were "Rook" and "Gasoline," the two songs from their most recent single. Everything else that followed an invocation from the inimitable King Slice was brand new and largely untested Owls material, perhaps all of which will be taken into Ultrasuede at the end of November in anticipation of a new album. It made for a set that crackled with energy and a certain ramshackle giddiness as the band roared through material that hasn't quite solidified. Butler is quick to credit the rise of guitarist Brandon Losacker's songwriting profile as the reason for the Black Owls' straightforward Rock shift and sudden prolific streak, but I'd be just as quick to point out the gelling of new (and perpetually fabulous) bassist Kip Roe, the malleable thunder of drummer Brian Kitzmiller and the continually developing chemical bond between Butler and longtime musical cohort Ed Shuttleworth as equal parts of the Owls' new equation. The band is clearly having an absolute blast with the new songs, and their joy is translating to performances that are pegging the needle past the insane levels the Owls had already established. Cincinnati's Black Owls, as Butler likes to refer to the band, is in the midst of a fertile and potentially explosive period of evolution.
After the Owls' incendiary set, it was a quick stroll over to the Know Theatre to catch the last half of the set from Cincinnati’s Darlene. The trio was firing on all badass cylinders to be sure, blasting out sheets of guitar squall with plenty of melodic counterpoint. A tweet from someone at the show asked the musical question, "Is Darlene the new Sonic Youth?" The answer provided by perpetual smartest-guy-I-know Matthew Fenton was a logical and correct "No." Darlene is a blistering Rock band, and guitarist Janey O'Laney is always teetering on the brink of a shred-fueled fit, with bassist Cuddly D (the infinitely busy Dana Hamblen) and drummer Robby D providing the slinky yet sturdy undercarriage. But the fact is that the trio, at its heart, is a melodic Pop unit. They probably hew closer to Yo La Tengo in their ability to go from pretty to visceral in a half a heartbeat, but Darlene isn't the new anything; they are Darlene, and that's an astonishing accomplishment. Besides, as Matthew rightly pointed out, Darlene may be the best-dressed band on any given night anywhere. Sonic Youth were never known for their sartorial splendor. So there.
After Darlene, it was time to cruise on down to Mr. Pitiful's to check out Steelism, an instrumental quartet from Nashville. If guitar, bass, drums, pedal steel and no vocals sounds like a crashing bore, you'd be half right. There was plenty of crashing; cymbals, sounds and gates, as a human stampede of MidPoint patrons made their way into Mr. Pitiful's to sample Steelism's wares. I know from experience that if a relative unknown doesn't grab a festival crowd in the first couple of songs, the crowd in question will leave fast enough to create a head-exploding vacuum in the area. If anyone left during Steelism's mind-melting set, they were more than offset by the several dozen who drifted in after the start.
Steelism is comprised of British pedal steeler Spencer Cullum Jr., Ohio guitarist Jeremy Fetzer, and a bassist and drummer whose introductions were lost in a crowd frenzy and a muffled mic (well, they weren't mixing for vocals, now were they?), who threw down a mighty and wordless racket, unless you count Cullum's talkbox vocals on the band's spin through The Beatles' "Something." You could call Steelism Surfabilly/Soulicana/Spaghetti Southern or you could just call it bloody good music; after running through a handful of originals from their new full length, 615 to Fame, and their cracking good 7-inch, The Intoxicating Sounds of Pedal Steel and Guitar, and covers of classics by The Ventures and Booker T. and the MGs, Steelism had the packed house at Mr. Pitiful's in the palm of their sweaty hands. At one point, Cullum indicated that the band was going to slow things down, and then offered the crowd a choice between a gentler vibe or "plowing on through." The overwhelming vote was for the latter, with Cullum noting, "No sensitive people here tonight." He certainly got a taste of what plowing through will get you in Cincinnati. Steelism finished up with a roaring take on the James Bond theme, which nearly pushed the frenzied multitude into religious conversion. I don't know what that church would be called, but they wouldn't have a choir; no words necessary when Steelism kicks open the doors of the sanctuary.
Then it was a quick jaunt down to The Drinkery to witness the Motor City madness of Flint Eastwood, a quartet of musical insaniacs from my home state to the north. In the studio, Flint Eastwood exhibits a certain heavy fisted subtlety that is charming and dancable in a visceral way. All of the relative nuance that is present on the band's EP, Late Nights in Bolo Ties, is tossed onto a bed of nails and jumped on until it experiences head-to-toe acupuncture in its live presentation. On stage, Flint Eastwood buries every needle in the red, thrashes about like lunatics after a napalm shower and entertains their audience at metaphorical knife point. Frontwoman Jax Anderson cajoled the crowd at The Drinkery to get involved in the show and when she got what she felt was a half-hearted response, she shrieked, "Nobody's too cool to have fun!" and put us through our paces like a Marine drill instructor on meth. She had us shouting then whispering "na na na"s, got us kneeling on The Drinkery's dance floor and then lifted us up like a demented preacher speaking in Rock & Roll tongues. All the while, the band was grinding out a gritty groove that sounded (and resembled) a full arena assault by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was draining and glorious and probably just another full-throttle 20-mile Rock & Roll hike for Flint Eastwood; it's pretty obvious these guys have one gear and it's "hellbent for bent hell." That's the Detroit method, bitches. Get used to it, get over it, get on it.
I reluctantly ducked out of Flint Eastwood's last two songs to hotfoot it down to MOTR for the remainder of Nikki Lane's set. Lane is a Country shitkicker with a decidedly different take on the genre, opting for a certain songwriting traditionalism while soundtracking it with a band that sparks and smokes with Roots Rock intensity and abandon and adopting a persona that suggests Wanda Jackson's pot-smoking, foul-mouthed twat of a granddaughter. Lane and the Thunder (she admitted the jury was still out on the name) roared through their MOTR set with equal parts ferocity and humor, as Lane used the space between songs to candidly muse about the intention of each one. "This is a love song," she noted appropriately prior to "Want My Heart Back," extending the title to, "I want my fucking heart back," and later opened "Sleep with a Stranger" with "This is a song about tonight, when you'll sleep with someone you don't know." Later, she dropped this indelicate observation: "This one's about my best friend. Sometimes she's a cunt, and I don't like that word, but she is. And when you're a cunt and your best friend is a songwriter, well, you get the short end of the stick."
Taylor Swift has written a lot of songs about the people in her life and I'm guessing she hasn't gotten around to any of her cunt friends yet.
Towards the end of her blistering and profanely hilarious set, Lane said, "We've got a couple more, then we'll pretend to go away, and come back for a couple more." She loves her covers as well; she hauled out a great take on The Byrds' "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," a loping yet intense version of Waylon Jennings' "Waymore Blues," and finished her encore with a blazing spin through a Tom Petty cover, not an old catalog chestnut but "Saving Grace" from the new album, a song that blends Petty's classicism with his well-earned experience. Lane clearly identifies with that stance, as she channels all of her Country influences through a blazing Rock filter, creating a sound that identifies with the past but erupts with white hot emotion in the here and now.
• To begin, a clarification for anyone who may attempt to buy me a brewski during MidPoint: For largely legal reasons, the Beer Buying Hall of Foam has been forced into a strike shortened year in 2014. I salute all who have so generously provided the nectar of the gods to a poverty stricken scribe on an annual basis and I promise that the commissioner will reinstate all practices and records next year, but for now, the Hall is strangely dark and quiet.
• In stark contrast to the Midway, which was lit up like a Kansas City whorehouse. Not that there were whores, but lots of lights. Boy, writing was easier with the Hall of Foam open. At any rate, within moments of arrival, I crossed paths with singer/songwriter par excellence Mark Utley and pianist to the stars Ricky Nye, who is in the throes of planning the upcoming Blues & Boogie Piano Summit, coming to the Southgate House Revival on November 7 and 8. After a quick chat, I headed to Mr. Hanton's for a heartstopping dog (not for health reasons but because it's so good … man, 2015 can't get here fast enough), choosing the Smokin' Hot Chick; my bill was cheerfully picked up by the always incredible Wes Pence of The Ready Stance, who joined me with a Smokehouse of his own. Can a Hot Dog Buying Hall of Fame be far behind?
• From there, the Midway was a blur of humanity. CityBeat photographer and local music denizen Jesse Fox took a shot of me and Class X Radio host/local music aficionado/empresario Eddy Mullet, which apparently didn't damage her equipment in any significant way. In sort order, I was greeted by King Slice, his pal Justin, the always ebullient and sometimes menacing Venomous Valdez, the entire Broadway cast of the Black Owls, Paul Roberts, Big Jim and Stu (sans his I'm Stu hat, apparently confident in my recognition skills at this juncture), and Jet Lab guitarist Nick Barrows and his wife Robin. At some point in the Midway proceedings, I spotted the elusive and long-absent Matthew Fenton, along with Eric Appleby and Tricia Suit, motoring out of the Midway zone. They were gone before I could track them down (they must have see me coming, damn them), but when I mentioned the sighting to Nick, he said they were headed to the Chromeo set and would be back for the Black Owls.
• In the meantime, Owls guitarist Brandon Losacker took a mob of us (Owls frontman David Butler, Venomous, Slice, Justin and myself) to see his new conversion van, a behemoth from a bygone era. Cooler in the console, heated/cooled cupholders, TV, retractable bed, wood grain dash panel and a hundred other crazy features that makes it essentially a Swiss Army van. Incredible doesn't begin to describe it.
• Back at the Midway — a brilliant set up that, as the astute and ever fabulous Venomous Valdez noted, will have to undergo some changes next year with the advent of the rapidly progressing streetcar system — Sean Rhiney, Dave Purcell and Dave's wife Amy were hanging around to watch the Black Owls tear shit up. My Class X compatriot Eddy was back to witness the Owls' splendor, and at some point in the proceedings, my boss Mike Breen appeared like a magician's assistant. Breen sightings at MidPoint are like spotting nearly extinct species in the wild, so it's always great to know that he's an actual warm human being and not some weird holographic editorbot. (Editor’s note: I am both.)
• Over at the Darlene show, I caught up with the always effusive and entertaining Mr. Fenton, along with Eric and Tricia. They were planning a trip down to the Taft to catch the Ghost Wolves and Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, both of which I dearly wanted to see but my recently bum left leg, the long walk and the chance that the St. Paul and the Broken Bones show would sell out the venue kept me from tagging along. On the way to Steelism, three guys on the sidewalk ahead of me confirmed that the show had gone clean and there was little chance of entry. The gimp makes a good decision every now and again.
• Also at the Darlene show was Leyla Shokoohe, former CityBeat intern, current CityBeat freelancer and now Marketing Manager for the Cincinnati Symphony & Pops Orchestra. You couldn't script a lovelier or more personable human being than Leyla, and yet she is savvy beyond her lack of calendars. She's a marvel and the CSO should count themselves lucky to be the recipient of her passion and skill.
• Over at Steelism, I ran into fellow scribes Steve Rosen and Chris Varias. I've known Steve for quite awhile through CityBeat and we've talked music at many a holiday party/CityBeat event, and I've read Chris' excellent work in The Enquirer for many years but had never had the pleasure of meeting him until Steve's introduction at Mr. Pitiful's. I had interviewed Matthew and Eleanor Freidberger for a Fiery Furnaces story several years back and when they found out I was in Cincinnati, they asked if I knew Chris, which I did simply by reputation. It turned out that they had grown up together in a Chicago suburb. An unpaintable small world, indeed.
• Paul Roberts was digging the confrontational magnificence and sonic head blast of Flint Eastwood; he stuck around for the end, while I headed to the Nikki Lane gig, where Big Jim and Stu were ensconced at the bar. Paul was right behind as soon as Flint Eastwood dismissed him for the evening. Head CityBeat honcho and perpetual suds buyer Dan Bockrath had bought me an invisible beer at Steelism, which I downed with dry gusto, but he showed up at Nikki Lane and put a real tonic water and lime in my hand, which was much appreciated. I could pretend there was gin in there, and that somehow made everything okay.
• As we left MOTR, Sir Bockrath and squire Dan McCabe, the architect of our annual MidPoint joy, were out front and the boss upbraided me with a casual, "You'll have your blog copy in by 7 a.m., right?" Yeah, let's say that, I answered, muttering to Paul and Stu, it'll be 7 a.m. somewhere. The lateness of this posting will tell you that deadline came and went and came and went again. I have a theory that I'm better at writing when I'm slightly hungover because I just want to get it done so I can take an aspirin and lay down. Not happening this year. I guess I could still take the aspirin, for old times sake.
0 Comments · Tuesday, September 23, 2014
This week marks the return of the
MidPoint Music Festival to the clubs and venues of downtown and
adventurous and critically acclaimed artists from around the world,
regardless of their label affiliation (or lack thereof).
Speedy Ortiz rides a wave of critical acclaim and buzz into MPMF
0 Comments · Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Speedy Ortiz has gone from basement shows in the quartet's native Northampton, Mass., to massive festivals like Bonnarro in whiplash fashion. Yet the band has handled the transition deftly, delivering its slanted, guitar-driven ditties with the same offhanded grace no matter the setting.
Jessica Lea Mayfield leaves the rootsier material behind on her new album Make My Head Sing …
0 Comments · Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Mayfield’s latest album, Make My Head Sing …, marks a stark departure from her previous efforts in its sonic approach.
Canadian Electro Funk duo Chromeo reaches new heights with White Women
0 Comments · Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Chromeo offers the whole package: cute dudes who dig
fashion and art, wielding electric guitars or standing behind keyboards
propped on stands shaped like curvy female legs.
Greg Dulli and John Curley resurrect The Afghan Whigs for Do to the Beast, a personal best and one of the year’s top albums
0 Comments · Tuesday, September 23, 2014
These days, musical comebacks seem inevitable, but few are successful, philosophically satisfying or even welcomed. That is most assuredly not the case with
The Afghan Whigs.
Soul ensemble St. Paul & the Broken Bones make a big splash with their debut album Half the City
0 Comments · Tuesday, September 23, 2014
St. Paul (a sly reference to Janeway’s religious background)
& the Broken Bones has found itself in the middle of two new musical
trends — the rise of Alabama acts like Alabama Shakes and Muscle
Shoals-born John Paul White of Civil Wars, and the revival of American
Deep Soul music courtesy of Sharon Jones, Lee Fields, Charles Bradley
by Mike Breen
MidPoint Music Festival 2014 kicks off this Thursday and we've been showcasing some of the Critic's Picks from our official
MidPoint guide (which will be available throughout the fest). While
most of attendees are likely very familiar with some of the bigger
headlining acts, these suggestions mostly focus on some of the lesser
known gems. (If you're in doubt, any act with "Cincinnati" next to their
name is a slam dunk.)
Here are some recommendations for this Saturday. Click
here to check out the entire official guide, which has write up on all
150 or so MPMF acts. Tickets are still available here.
12:15 a.m. @ Arnold's
Baskery (Stockholm, Sweden)
Sweden’s Baskery formed in 2007, but the
members didn’t have to go far to find each other. The group consists of
sisters Greta, Stella and Sunniva Bondesson, who dub their unique spin
on Roots/Country music everything from “Nordicana” to “Banjo-Punk.” But
descriptions are especially difficult when it comes to Baskery; the
trio’s third album, this year’s Little Wild Life, finds the
sisters spinning a wide range of American Roots music styles into their
own distinctive, wildly diverse sound. One second the group is
showcasing its vocal harmony prowess a capella on the haunting “Northern
Girl,” the next its strutting swamp boogie a la Southern Culture on the
Skids on “The NoNo.” If you’re tiring of Roots music that doesn’t go
off the same exact blueprints established a century ago, Baskery will
show you just how far Americana can be taken.
You’ll Dig It If You Dig: The Dixie Chicks without boundaries, The Beatles reborn as a sister act fascinated by Americana. (Mike Breen)
7:15 p.m. @ Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. (Outdoor Stage)
Ancient Warfare (Lexington, Ky.)
Ancient Warfare’s dark and quiet
intensity transcends the band’s tough-chick exterior. The quartet
designs a sonic atmosphere the same way Saul Bass once designed logos:
with elegant simplicity and ferocious creativity. The psychedelic aspect
to Ancient Warfare’s presentation is more about texture than actual
sound, as their languid, fuzzy melodies drift through their ethereal yet
solidly constructed songs, like the heavy smoke in an opium den. The
palpable weariness of Echo Wilcox’s gloomy vocals and haunted guitar,
the intractable pull of Rachael Yanarella’s hypnotic violin, the subtle
thunder of Reva Williams’ bass and the exquisite filigrees provided by
multi-instrumentalist Emily Hagihara swirl and combine to make Ancient
Warfare’s enveloping totality and assure that their imminent debut
album, The Pale Horse, will be one of the fall’s most anticipated releases.
YDIIYD: Sixteen Horsepower reimagined as the Velvet Underground by P.J. Harvey, Aimee Mann and Hope Sandoval. (Brian Baker)
10 p.m. @ Christian Moerlein Brewing Company (Indoor Stage)
Apache Dropout (Bloomington, Ind.)
Like all good college towns, Bloomington,
Ind., is forever dishing up awesome bands with fresh, new music. In the
case of Apache Dropout, that “new” sound is perfectly and thankfully
reminiscent of some of the best music of the past. Their newest album, Heavy Window, comes from Magnetic South, co-owned by band member Seth Mahern. The guys pressed 1,000 copies of Heavy Window,
one of their largest printings yet. Fun fact: The first half of those
records feature glowing eyes on the eerie-cool cover. It’s the ultimate
tell-tale sign of the drug-addled, paranoid Rock & Roll boogie on
YDIIYD: The Who on acid, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club. (Deirdre Kaye)
11 p.m. @ The Drinkery
Xoe Wise (Chicago)
At 19, Xoe Wise moved from her North
Carolina home (the first song she wrote was for a sick goat on her
family’s farm) to Chicago and immediately became a fixture in the city’s
burgeoning scene. Wise’s debut album, 2010’s Echo, generated a pile of positive local press, while its follow-up, 2012’s Archive of Illusions, earned her a sell-out crowd at Schuba’s, a spot on WGN-TV and a feature in the Chicago Tribune. Wise’s third EP, Breakfast, hit the Top 20 on iTunes’ Singer/Songwriter chart and she’s currently at work on her third full-length, irresistibly titled Racecar Orgasm. Wise plays solo acoustic or with a full Electro Pop crew, but either way she creates a dreamy and undeniable vibe.
YDIIYD: Imogen Heap and Suzanne Vega play Twister on a musical game board. (BB)
11:15 p.m. @ Mainstay Rock Bar
The Tontons (Houston)
Big-haired Texas and its Rock &
Roll-loving youngsters have eaten up and loved every second of their
time with The Tontons. Now the band is out touring the nation and
conquering ears and hearts across the globe. The group’s sultry Rock is
just good enough to make The Tontons Cincinnati’s favorite band, too.
“So Young,” off 2011’s Golden, feels like a modern, youthful,
rockin’ spin on elevator music or like Henry Mancini decided to start a
female-led Rock band. Asli Omar’s one-of-a-kind voice and perfect squeal
makes each song on this year’s Make Out King and Other Stories stand out.
YDIIYD: Blonde Redhead, wearing leather to Tiffany & Co. (DK)
8:45 p.m. @ Mainstay Rock Bar
The Nepotist (New York, N.Y.)
Good luck trying to find a one or two
word descriptor for the music made by NYC trio The Nepotist. Actually,
don’t even try — the group’s uniqueness and sonic diversity is what
makes them so enjoyable to listen to. The Village Voice called
them “Alt Soul,” a term the band has embraced and works well enough
given the soulful vocals and rewired Steve Cropper guitar riffs. But
then you have a track like the recent single “Kids,” which has bubbling
banjo and harmonies befitting a Folk band. It’s a delicious stew that is
blissfully unpredictable. The trio (formed by brothers Chris and Hayden
Frank) has only been together a couple of years but has already drawn
loads of glowing press thanks to its pair of EPs and various singles
released just this year alone. A full-length is due early next year.
YDIIYD: Grizzly Bear, Sufjan Stevens, Dr. Dog. (MB)
10:30 p.m. @ Memorial Hall
Saintseneca (Columbus, Ohio)
When Saintseneca canceled an appearance
at the Fashion Meets Music Festival in Columbus this July, the quintet
made national headlines not for its music but for its social politics,
because the members were against sex offender R. Kelly performing at the
fest. Met with vicious protests, Kelly eventually pulled out (no pun
intended) of the fest. This is one of many ways the folksy Appalachian
Pop group has become famous this year, along with releasing the new
record Dark Arc (produced by Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis),
recording a NPR Tiny Desk Concert and gigging across the country. From
grassroots house concerts in central Ohio to performing at national
fests, it won’t be long now before everyone knows their name and music.
YDIIYD: Weird instruments like the
bouzouki, the dulcimer and a bowed banjo playing lilting harmonies with
a Ben Gibbard-y vocal affectation. (Garin Pirnia)
9:45 p.m. @ MidPoint Midway Stage
Low Cut Connie (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
If you think Piano Rock is all Billy Joel
and Elton John, sorry will be a much easier word for you after you’ve
experienced the 88-key onslaught of Low Cut Connie. Featuring the manic
piano fireworks of Adam Weiner and the ambidextrous drum/guitar magic of
Dan Finnemore (and a full band’s worth of mayhem on tour), Low Cut
Connie entertains with a vengeance and accepts nothing less than total
surrender. Their first two albums, 2011’s Get Out the Lotion and 2012’s Call Me Sylvia,
are loaded with catchy numbers that feature a lot of humor but stop
well short of being simple novelties and showcase the duo’s disparate
influences (Jerry Lee Lewis and Iggy Pop for Weiner; British Punk and
Garage Rock for Finnemore). Low Cut Connie’s latest triumph was a
spectacular version of Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire” on the
Nilsson tribute This is the Town earlier this year, and rumors of
a third album continue to swirl. But right now, the play’s the thing.
See Low Cut Connie and marvel at the things a piano was never meant to
do but should have been doing all along.
YDIIYD: Ben Folds dipped in speed and forced to play Replacements and Stooges songs in a seedy cabaret. (BB)
8 p.m. @ MOTR Pub
Wyatt Blair (Los Angeles)
Power Pop gets short shrift in any
serious discussion of music because of its relative simplicity and
perceived lack of gravity, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Coming up with hooks and lyrics that get the job done in under three
minutes and stick in the head like brain taffy may be among the most
difficult musical tasks. Wyatt Blair doesn’t seem to have any problem at
all, and his latest album, the confectionary Banana Cream Dream,
is solid evidence of his lo-fi Power Pop ambitions (he also works with
Peach Kelli Pop and Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel). As Andy
Partridge once noted so succinctly, this is Pop.
YDIIYD: Rick Springfield channeling T. Rex, produced by Tommy Keene. (BB)
10:45 p.m. @ Ballroom at the Taft Theatre
Earth (Seattle, Wash.)
Much like the planet itself, the band
Earth has been through a lot in the past 25 years. Guitarist Dylan
Carson founded the primarily instrumental band in 1989, cribbing the
name from one of Black Sabbath’s early monikers. The band’s 1993 debut, Earth 2,
has long been considered the launching pad for what Carlson dubbed
Ambient Metal, a feedback- and distortion-drenched drone that influenced
a subsequent generation. In the mid-’90s, Carlson shelved the band to
deal with heroin addiction; it would be nearly a decade before the
release of 2005’s Hex; or Printing in the Infernal Method, which
retained a Doom Metal structure but incorporated Country and Blues
motifs and was also heavily influenced by Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Blood Meridian. Earth’s next albums, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I and II, were shaped by Carlson’s love of Pentangle and Fairport Convention, while the just released Primitive and Deadly
finds Carlson moving in yet another new and different direction,
incorporating straight Rock and even Pop elements into his long droning
jams. With 16 lineup changes in a quarter century, it’s not unusual that
Earth would shift identities, but even if the personnel had been stable
throughout, Carlson would have retooled the band’s sound in any event
and made a new, glorious noise to confront the world.
YDIIYD: God’s guitar, Gabriel’s amp, the Devil’s road crew. (BB)
by Mike Breen
In honor of this week's MidPoint Music Festival we're showcasing some of the Critic's Picks from our official MidPoint
guide (the print version of which will be available throughout the fest). While most
attendees are likely very familiar with some of the bigger headlining
acts, these options are mostly some of the lesser known on-the-rise
acts. (Pro tip: Every Cincinnati band at MPMF is well worth your time
should you find yourself with a hole in your schedule.)
Here are some recommendations for this Friday. Click here
to check out the entire official guide, which has write-ups on all 150 or
so MPMF acts. Tickets are still available here.
8:30 p.m. @ Arnold's
Honey Locust (Nashville, Tenn.)
Honey Locust might hew a little closer to
Nashville’s Americana traditions, but the Chamber Folk outfit still
remains in the nether region between the city’s manufactured Country
imagery and its Rock rebels. The band’s first EPs, 2012’s Fear is a Feeling and 2013’s Live in December, teed up its recently released The Great Southern Brood,
Honey Locust’s quasi-thematic and dustily beautiful new album which
uses cyclical cicada infestations to metaphorically examine the seasons
of man. The Great Southern Brood cements the band’s singular
position in its home scene, thrills its growing fan base and opens Honey
Locust up to the wider Indie Folk world.
You'll Dig It If You Dig: An Appalachian Polyphonic Spree absorbs Bon Iver, The Lumineers and Morrissey to create a super Folk army. (Brian Baker)
Great Southern Brood by Honey Locust
12:30 a.m. @ Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. (Indoor Stage)
Watter (Louisville, Ky.)
Slint, one of Louisville’s quintessential
Rock bands, released two albums in the late ’80s and early ’90s and
then called it quits. The band’s seminal Post Rock album Spiderland
is still considered one of the best in the genre. The quartet moved on
to other projects but reconvened for a brief reunion tour over the
summer. Between tour dates with Slint, drummer Britt Walford formed
another band this year — with Grails member Zak Riles and Holy Grale bar
co-owner Tyler Trotter — and they released the instrumental This World
in the spring. Even though critics classify them as Post Rock and Post
Hardcore, songs like “Rustic Fog” exude ambient melodies combined with
Middle Eastern-y and synth tidbits.
YDIIYD: Slow building instrumentals, Krautrock, bands from Touch and Go Records. (Garin Pirnia)
9 p.m. @ Contemporary Arts Center
Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor (Detroit)
A decade ago, guitarist/vocalist Sean
Morrow, bassist/keyboardist Eric Oppitz and drummer Richard Sawoscinski
came together under the banner of SikSik Nation, but quickly morphed
into Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, which itself evolved from a
standard Garage/Blues band into a darkly scintillating Psych Rock outfit
befitting of their Motor City roots. In the past 10 years, the group
has only released a pair of full-length albums (2009’s SOYSV and 2011’s Spectra Spirit;
a third is on the way soon) but that doesn’t mean the trio hasn’t been
busy. SOYSV tours relentlessly and founded Echo Fest, which highlights
the best in Michigan Psych Rock. They would know.
YDIIYD: Sherman sets the Wayback
Machine for 1968, Mr. Peabody takes the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test and
has a vision of Syd Barrett fronting The Doors. (BB)
Spirit by Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor
11 p.m. @ The Drinkery
All Them Witches (Nashville, Tenn.)
Have you looked skyward recently and
shouted to no particular deity, “Hey, is anyone doing anything remotely
different in Nashville these days?” All Them Witches has heard your
prayer, or whatever the hell that was. The quartet’s most recent release
is Effervescent, 25 minutes of Stoner/Psych/Blues bliss
contained in the EP’s epic title track, which also happens to be its
only track (it’s available for free download at Bandcamp), and it’s yet
another stellar example of All Them Witches’ swirling love of
acid-and-feedback-drenched Rock, Blues-tinted Psychedelia and a total
lack of anything resembling sonic boundaries. Drink a Tab (or drop one),
count backward from a million and prepare to, as George Harrison once
so elegantly noted, arrive without travelling.
YDIIYD: The Doors and The Grateful Dead have a shared hallucination at a Black Sabbath/Iron Butterfly reunion/intervention. (BB)
- EP by All Them Witches
11:45 p.m. @ Know Theater (Main Stage)
Rubblebucket (New York)
Rubblebucket was born in Burlington, Vt.,
eight years ago when vocalist Kalmia Traver and trumpeter Alex Toth met
in a Latin Jazz band. That sentence alone should be enough to convince
you that the NYC-based quintet is destined to be one of this year’s
MidPoint highlights. Rubblebucket’s first two albums (2009’s Rubblebucket and 2011’s Omega La La) and two subsequent EPs (Oversaturated and Save Charlie) showcased the band’s ultraswank Funk/Soul/Ska/Art Pop evolution, but its just released third set, Survival Sounds,
is a veritable explosion of guitars, horns, loopy synths and quirky
vocal gymnastics, all of it as danceable as any 40 minutes that ever ran
on American Bandstand and as infectious as weaponized bird flu. Dancing will occur at a molecular level; be ready to go subatomic on your ass.
YDIIYD: Polyphonic Spree and Bjork join the Fabulous Flames and Talking Heads in a weird tribute to James Brown. (BB)
11:15 p.m @ Mainstay Rock Bar
Love X Stereo (Seoul, South Korea)
Electro Alt Rock
Of all the bands traveling to Cincinnati
for MidPoint, Korea’s Love X Stereo might be coming from the farthest
corner of the world. In their native country, Annie Ko, Toby Hwang and
Sol Han are known for their mix of ’90s influenced Synth Rock, but the
Western part of the world’s just getting to know them. Last year the
band released its third EP, Glow, and just this year Love X Stereo recorded a cover of Capital Cities’ “Safe and Sound” for an Indie Goes Pop
compilation. Let’s be clear: They aren’t K-Pop, like that one guy who
wrote that one huge hit a couple of years ago. For an unsigned band from
Korea with big dreams of conquering the world — LxS has already played
SXSW and CMJ (and was supposed to play MPMF last year but canceled due
to travel issues) — it’s exciting to have the band traversing to our
YDIIYD: Listening to good Korean bands that have nothing to do with K-Pop, Manic Panic red-headed chicks. (GP)
12 a.m. @ MOTR Pub
Landlady (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Originally formed in 2011 as the solo
project of multi-instrumentalist Adam Schatz (member of the Man Man and
Vampire Weekend touring bands), Landlady has added members since then,
gradually becoming a quintet. Schatz’s was all solo when he released
Landlady’s first album, 2011’s Keeping to Yourself, and with the full band in place the group released its second LP, Upright Behavior, this past summer on Portland label Hometapes.
YDIIYD: Future Islands, TV on the Radio, Dirty Projectors. (Mike Breen)
11:45 p.m. @ Mr. Pitiful's
machineheart (Los Angeles)
L.A. five-piece machineheart makes
unabashedly epic Pop music with depth. The band crafts a compelling
backdrop of guitars, big beats and tasteful electronic additives, but
it’s singer Stevie Scott’s dazzling vocal presence and the ear-burrowing
melodies that really pull the listener in. The band has only been
together for a short time, first catching attention less than a year ago
with a cover of The 1975’s “Chocolate,” but the limited tracks made
available for public consumption (“Circles,” “Another Me,” “Snøw”) are
so endearing, sophisticated and radio-ready, it won’t be long before
machineheart catches fire nationally. This is one of those acts that
we’ll all likely be saying, “Oh, I saw them at MidPoint in 2014,” once
YDIIYD: Sia, Charli XCX, Florence + the Machine. (MB)
8 p.m. @ Mr. Pitiful's
Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands (Greensboro, N.C.)
There is a theatrical element to Crystal
Bright’s songs and her performance of them, which seems natural when you
learn she’s a stage director/producer and performance artist (as well
as music teacher, multi-instrumentalist and holistic nutritionist … so
she eats well, too). Bright’s World music experience is almost beyond
belief — she’s played in Chinese, Ugandan, Brazilian and Indonesian
ensembles, among others — and she brings it all to bear with the Silver
Hands, which she assembled four years ago. The band’s 2010 eponymous
“experimental vaudeville” album was well received, as was its follow up,
2012’s Muses & Bones, a brilliant stylistic pastiche.
YDIIYD: Jane Siberry and Danny
Elfman record a Gypsy Folk soundtrack to a Slavic noir detective movie
starring Tom Waits as the gumshoe and Kate Bush as the dame. (BB)
11 p.m. @ Ballroom at the Taft Theatre
Hip Hop/Spoken Word
Dessa began her musical journey as a part
of Doomtree, the Minneapolis Hip Hop collective, as both versatile
artist and business manager. She then established her solo identity with
A Badly Broken Code and Castor, the Twin, albums that
earned her the comparison of “Mos Def plus Dorothy Parker” for her
flawless flow and incisive wordplay. Dessa’s latest album, the recently
released and patently brilliant Parts of Speech, finds the Hip
Hop chanteuse expanding in a dozen different creative directions
simultaneously, incorporating diverse musical elements in her Hip Hop
foundation while spitting some of her most powerful and compelling
lyrics to date. You might not like Hip Hop, but it’s a safe bet that
you’ll love Dessa’s intoxicating rhymes and genre alchemy.
YDIIYD: Ani DiFranco channeling Eminem. (BB)
by Mike Breen
It's MidPoint Music Festival week! If you need some
guidance as you create your MPMF itinerary (which you can build and keep
track of through the live.mpmf.com app), we'll be showcasing some
of the Critic's Picks from our official MidPoint guide (which will be
available throughout the fest). While most of attendees are likely very
familiar with some of the bigger headlining acts of the fest, these
suggestions focus on some of the great acts beyond the top-of-the-poster
ones. Remember — MPMF is about discovery. (And if you find yourself
with a blank spot on your schedule, any of Cincinnati's homegrown talent
playing MPMF are a sure bet.)
Here are some recommendations for this Thursday. Click
here to check out the entire official guide, which has write-ups on all
150 or so MPMF acts. Tickets are still available here.
8 p.m. @ Arnold's
Old Hundred (Columbus, Ohio)
Indie Folk Rock
In 2012, Columbus’ Old Hundred was listed as one of “10 Ohio Bands You Should Listen to Now” by Paste Magazine.
If you didn’t heed that advice at the time, you should do yourself a
favor and do so immediately. Along with scoring slots at regional fests
and playing with the likes of Mumford & Sons, Phosphorescent and
Cake, the group has put out a pair of full-lengths and two EP releases,
including this year’s remarkable I Don’t Want to Die. The EP
shows the unpredictable diversity of Old Hundred, opening with the
sweeping Folk instrumental “Catamount I” before moving into gritty,
melodic Indie Rock of “I’ll Be There (When You Die),” the beautiful
harmony-laden “I Don’t Want to Die” and “Catamount II,” which begins
with haunting Art Folk minimalism and builds into a noisy cacophony that
could’ve been composed by Explosions in the Sky.
You'll Dig It If You Dig: Fleet Foxes, Wilco, Grizzly Bear, Band of Horses. (Mike Breen)
Don't Want to Die by Old Hundred
10:30 p.m. @ The Drinkery
Alpha Consumer (Minneapolis)
Considering Minneapolis’ storied history,
Alpha Consumer has created a cultishly devoted fan base among one of
the most sophisticated and discerning music audiences on the planet. The
trio has also made fans within its peer group, collaborating with
Andrew Bird, Bon Iver and Brother Ali, while maintaining a unique
musical perspective of herky jerky New Wave as filtered through a
melodic Pop prism that fractures its light into individual rays of New
York Punk, Psych Folk and contemporary Indie Rock. Alpha Consumer’s last
full-length, 2011’s Kick Drugs Out of America, was a blast of Indie oddballery, but the group’s recently released Meat shows a great deal more subtlety and musical growth toward the melodic heart and soul that was evident on its predecessor.
YDIIYD: Ray Davies, Paul Westerberg and Ween in the front row of a Devo concert. (Brian Baker)
10:30 p.m. @ Know Theater (Main Stage)
Fathers is a band with branches in
Chicago but deep roots in the Cincinnati scene. Its members played
previously in such Cincy stalwarts as Enlou, All The Day Holiday and
Cathedrals. It should be noted that Fathers sound virtually nothing like
any of those bands, but instead carves out its own niche somewhere
between ’70s Easy Listening and more modern, propulsive Indie Rock.
Nearly every song demonstrates a mastery of the delicate art of dynamic
and mood. Of course, that being said, the band says its live show is
akin to “an out-of-control bus with a bomb strapped to the bottom that
will blow if the driver slows down.” So come prepared for anything.
YDIIYD: Fleetwood Mac with vocals recorded in the My Morning Jacket reverb silo. (Ben Walpole)
10 p.m. @ Know Theater (Second Stage)
Violent Mae (Hartford, Conn.)
Indie Jazz Rock
As their bio reads, vocalist/guitarist
Becky Kessler and drummer Floyd Kellogg were supposed to work on her
solo album together, not form a band. Kessler moved from Outer Banks,
N.C., to work on an organic farm in Connecticut, where she met Kellogg.
The result of their work together is last year’s self-titled debut,
influenced by noisy bands Sonic Youth and Pixies, but also possessing
notes of Jazz icon Charles Mingus and a sprinkling of Jeff Buckley’s
Folk Gospel. On the upbeat melancholy of “Hole in My Heart,” Kessler
sings about heartache in her raspy voice that’s in the ilk of Heartless
Bastards’ Erika Wennerstrom. This winter they went method and recorded
the song “Man in the Country” in an abandoned mining cave.
YDDIYD: The Heartless Bastards, Jeff Buckley without the high notes, New England in the fall, cave dwellers. (Garin Pirnia)
10:45 p.m. @ Mainstay Rock Bar
The Infatuations (Detroit)
The high-energy Soul style of The
Infatuations has made them a favorite in their hometown scene, which is
saying a lot when you realize their hometown scene gave birth to Motown
and scores of bands known for amazing live shows (MC5, The White
Stripes, etc.). The group recently scored five Detroit Music Awards (out
of 14 nominations) including Outstanding Live Performance. The
Infatuations bring the party for its live shows and their recorded work
captures that sweaty, dance-demanding vibe perfectly. This year, the
group released its first full-length, Detroit Block Party, 11 tracks of high-octane R&B that’s almost as fun to listen to as it is to experience in concert. Almost.
YDIIYD: Motown, Stax, Marvin, Curtis, Otis. (MB)
Midnight @ MOTR Pub
Nikki Lane (Nashville, Tenn.)
With her unabashed bluster, Lane’s songs
about jilted lovers and walks of shame generate either foot stomping or
pensive swaying. (Note: She’s nothing like another Nashville “Country”
artist who likes to write songs about exes, Taylor Swift.) Lane grew up
in Greenville, S.C., then spent some time in NYC before settling in
Music City, where she opened up a vintage store called High Class
Hillbilly. That led to meeting and collaborating with Black Key Dan
Auerbach, who produced her sophomore record, All or Nothin’. On
songs “Man Up” and “You Can’t Treat Me Like That,” she lets those men
know she’s the boss, all while never losing that alluring rhythm.
YDIIYD: Strong vintage female Country artists like Wanda Jackson and Loretta Lynn and newer country artists like Lydia Loveless. (GP)
10:30 p.m. @ Mr. Pitiful's
Steelism (Nashville, Tenn.)
Led by guitarist Jeremy Fetzer and pedal
steel player Spencer Cullum, Steelism is a wide-ranging instrumental
band that takes from Surf rock greats, classical soundtrack composers
and vintage Soul music and creates its own distinct and completely
engrossing sound. You can use Santo & Johnny — the pedal
steel/guitar twosome that had a hit with the mesmerizing “Sleepwalk” —
as a starting point, simply because it is a provocative instrumental hit
using the same instrument motif, but Steelism takes the concept to
levels that duo only dreamed of. They can pull off gorgeous Country
balladry, Krautrock weirdness, rollicking Rock & Roll boogie,
R&B smoothness with equal grace, managing to have its own strong
musical identity craft cohesiveness in the face of such disparate
inspiration. And no, you get swept up enough that you won’t once wonder,
“Would this sound better with singing?” In this case, singing would be
YDIIYD: The Ventures, Esquivel, Ennio Morricone. (MB)
10:45 p.m. @ Ballroom at the Taft Theater
Barrence Whitfield and the Savages (Boston)
Barrence Whitfield is the kind of
performer that the word “frontman” was devised to define who they are
and yet doesn’t go nearly far enough in describing what they do.
Whitfield is a human tornado of Soul and Rock, a witheringly energetic
gene splice of Wilson Pickett, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Arthur
Alexander, with moves and grooves that would sprain Richard Simmons’
optic nerve. And around him are the Savages, a musical Special Forces
unit that storms stages with blitzkrieg passion and unhinged abandon.
And we’ll let Boston claim them, because the band started there three
decades ago, but we all know that half the Savages hail from the Queen
City (ex-Customs/DMZ/Lyres guitarist Peter Greenberg,
ex-Customs/Auburnaires keyboardist Jim Cole, ex-Pearlene drummer Andy
Jody) and their last two comeback albums — 2011’s Savage Kings and 2013’s Dig Thy Savage Soul
— were recorded with John Curley at Ultrasuede (and Savage Kings was
released on Shake It, so there). But the band will be happy to tell you
that it doesn’t matter where they’re from, it matters where they’re
headed. And the best you can do to get ready is strap your ass on tight;
Barrence Whitfield and the Savages might just rock it off.
YDIIYD: Little Richard mentors The Dictators, Wilson Pickett gives them a metric ton of Soul. (BB)
Barrence Whitfield & The Savages
The Corner Man Later with Jools Holland from TKA on Vimeo.