by Brian Baker
Cincinnati's The Sundresses expand to a quartet with impressive results
There is an old homily which quite wisely states that if something is operating properly, it might be considered imprudent to attempt a repair. Or, in a slightly less circuitous manner of speaking, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.For well over a decade, the Sundresses have been anything but broken. Brad Schnittger, Jeremy Springer and Makenzie Place have been churning out a visceral pretzel logic version of the Blues with elements of manic Swing, hot foot Jazz, brutal Punk and blistering Indie Rock, heated to the temperature of molten rock and detonated over unsuspecting audiences with an animalistic ferocity. A formula like that is both tremulously volatile and erratically perfect. Why would anyone feel the need to take a wrench to it?Needed or not, a-wrenching they have gone; for the first time in The Sundresses' long history, the tight-knit trio has added a new full fledged member with the hiring of former Dukes Are Dead drummer Dave Reid. The new lineup was unveiled on July 19 for the band's appearance at the MidPoint Indie Summer Series on Fountain Square, and then again a week later when The Sundresses tore through a set at the Mad Love for Mad Anthony benefit at the Southgate House Revival.Rabid fans and casual observers may have differing opinions on how Reid's addition will impact the Sundresses going forward, but one thing is certain; this was anything but a routine lineup decision. Bringing in a permanent drummer changes the group dynamic, eliminates one of the band's most popular and unique live features and may actually set the stage for broader success.After 13 hard fought calendars, the Sundresses have recorded sporadically — a few EPs, a split with Dylan Ewing's 4192, a pair of brilliant studio documents (2003's The Only Tourist in Town, 2008's Barkinghaus) and Off, their scalding and ingeniously marketed 2010 live album — and toured relentlessly, without a great deal of forward progress being notched. The trio has always generated a good deal of extremely positive press, and their string of five trips to Austin for South by Southwest has to stand as some kind of local record.My personal obsession with the Sundresses began at their first SXSW appearance in 2004, which coincided with my first trip to Austin for the festival. As it turned out, the band's gig at the Blender Balcony was only the ninth out-of-town show in their two-year history, and I felt as though I had just witnessed the cosmic birth of a great musical entity. I still feel that way. I drank more than a dipperful of The Sundresses' Kool-Aid that night, and I've been feverishly blathering on about them ever since to anyone who will listen.For whatever reasons, the brass ring of label offers and more tangible measures of success have eluded The Sundresses. At the same time, the trio has remained committed to the cause and continued to pursue their singular vision with an almost psychotic tenacity and zealous passion. And their focused determination may have made it difficult for those of us who love them unconditionally to admit that there was indeed a fundamental issue that may have been blocking their path.From the very start, Brad and Jeremy envisioned and executed one of their most cherished gimmicks, namely their patented guitar/drum switch; at their 2005 SXSW show, Jeremy informed the audience, "You were supposed to close your eyes..." It has long been an admittedly fabulous element of their live presentation, but it may have been so entertainingly original that it became a detriment.The basic issue may be that Brad plays drums with the subtlety and invention of a studied and seasoned beatkeeper and Jeremy plays with the brute force of a blacksmith hammering on an anvil. Both approaches to playing the drums have legitimate advantages and both clearly have a role in shaping the diverse sonic identity that the trio has been trying to define since forming The Sundresses in 2002.Although it may never have been perceived as a problem, the difficulty with rotating drummers is that Makenzie — who learned how to play bass in order to be a part of the band — has had to adjust her groove based on those two very distinct drum styles. In essence, the Sundresses' rhythm section has never really had an opportunity to build a discernible foundation. With Dave behind the kit, that opportunity becomes a reality. Based on the Sundresses' roaring set at the Mad Anthony benefit on July 26, the band's newly established rhythm section has already started paying dividends. Makenzie is now locked into a single percussionist and she and Dave collectively control the band's tempo. Dave has the latitude to incorporate Jeremy's power and Brad's nuance into his singular drum repertoire and Makenzie is learning the joy of shifting gears without changing cars.Relying on primarily new and largely unrecorded material, The Sundresses blazed through an all-too-brief ten song set with a rejuvenated energy that smacked of their early days. Opening with the swinging funky Blues of the brand new "Banker's Blues" and the loping howl of the equally fresh "Whisper Touch," the quartet bounced megawatt riffs through every body and against every conceivable surface in the Revival's sanctuary. They slowed down a shade for a spin through Hank Williams' "Ramblin' Man," and Jeremy's quick documentary on the size of MA guitarist Ringo Jones' manhood before tearing into another relatively new track, "Zap a Deux," but it was all good in the hood regardless of speed or sonic profile. Finishing up with longtime faves "Hey! Hey! Bang! Bang!" and the propulsively jumping "Larry Nixon," the Sundresses gave both a glimpse at the sound of their much-anticipated third studio outing, hopefully coming out before the end of the year, and the direction they'll be taking as a quartet.Perhaps one of the more interesting side effects from The Sundresses' expansion is the fact that Jeremy and Brad are now playing guitar together, which means their distinct stylistic differences are blending and cross-pollinating rather than occupying discernibly different spaces within the set. As they become more acclimated to this arrangement, and as Makenzie and Dave fully tune up the engine they've just rebuilt, it's bound to have an incredible impact on the songs they start writing. As it stands, the songs The Sundresses have already written sound magnificent coming from the newly minted quartet, proving once again that even the best can get better
Swans’ ringleader Michael Gira likes being a “puppet to the music”
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Michael Gira has reignited his legendary Post Punk band Swans … and remains as compelling as ever.
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Folk trio The Tillers, one of the more
popular and respected original groups in Greater Cincinnati, will
release their new album this Friday at
Newport’s Southgate House Revival, in the venue’s Sanctuary performance
June 26 • Southgate House Revival
0 Comments · Tuesday, June 25, 2013
When it comes to the struggles of the wandering
troubadour, Slaid Cleaves knows the perils of that life from top to
bottom. He's sung on the street for his supper in Ireland and Boston,
played in Punk and Roots Rock bands for little or no return and fixed his
own van on the road.
June 9 • Southgate House Revival
1 Comment · Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Patterson Hood, one of the most prolific and literate
rockers of the last decade, rolls into Newport next week with his
eclectic solo band, The Downtown Rumblers.
Fest and release party make Greater Cincy a Reggae hotspot tonight
• The annual food/music fest Taste of
Cincinnati — Cincy’s unofficial “start of the summer” — doesn’t begin
until tomorrow, but tonight you can get an outdoor music fix that
couldn’t be more “summery.” Reggae Culture Splash 2013 goes down 7-10:30
p.m. tonight at Washington Park (1230 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine).
The event features a stellar lineup of
contemporary Jamaican Reggae stars, headed up by singer/songwriter
Luciano, who is credited for helping keep socially/religiously inspired
Roots Reggae music thriving in the face of an increasingly
electro-dependent Dancehall craze.
Speaking of Dancehall, fellow Culture Splash performer
Sister Nancy is credited as being the first female DJ in the genre and
is also a fantastic vocalist. Also scheduled to appear are
producer/artist Milton Blake, local collective Black Youth Faith and
more, including DJing from I Vibez, Queen City Imperial Sound System and
Unlike most Washington Park concerts,
Culture Splash is not a free event. Tickets for Reggae Culture Splash
are $25 at the gates. The tickets will be available starting at 5 p.m.
An after-party will be held at Grammer’s
(1440 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine) at 10 p.m.; admission is $10 before
midnight and $20 after.
• For some more local Reggae flavor tonight, you can check
out Cincinnati Reggae greats The Cliftones celebrate the release of
their latest single, the fourth to be issued this year, with a show at Southgate House Revival in Newport. The 9 p.m. event also features performances by Magic Jackson and The Almighty Get Down.
In January, just before winning the 2013 Cincinnati Entertainment Award for “Reggae/World Music,” the group released “Hard Ground,”
which was mixed by noted producer Jim Fox (who has worked with Black
Uhuru, Barrington Levy, Culture and other Reggae superstars and
In March, The Cliftones’ “Hold Steady”
was released. That one was mixed by DJ Prophesy (Bassnectar, Glitch
Mob) and mastered by one of the greatest Dub producers ever, Scientist.
The ’Tones latest, “Gone (Warn Mi),” is another
Prophesy/Scientist collaboration, as is the "limited release" track the
group dropped on Soundcloud recently, "Run Come Down." Check both out
Be sure to show up early to tonight's release show; free
download cards for the new single will be given to the first 100 people
through the door. The group will unveil another single in late June and
are planning on issuing a 12-inch vinyl EP in August. The Cliftones are
gradually moving toward a full-length release; it’s tentatively
scheduled to drop in October. For more on the group, visit thecliftones.com.
The Cliftones and The Socials ready new tunes for release and tasty sounds return to Taste of Cincinnati
0 Comments · Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Cincy Punk greats The Socials set to return with new 7-inch vinyl release, while Reggae faves The Cliftones prepare new digital single release. Also, the full lineup of music for Memorial Day weekend's Taste of Cincinnati food fiesta.
May 19 • Southgate House Revival
0 Comments · Monday, May 13, 2013
Schmidt's poetic and melodic gifts have earned him glowing
comparisons to Dylan and Leonard Cohen, his keen sense of humor has
been measured against Prine and Steve Goodman and his haunting
songcraft, as well as his roots, have aligned him with Townes Van Zandt.
by Mike Breen
Spiky Cincinnati Noise Pop band has track from forthcoming album world premiered by Spin
Cincinnati Noise Pop trio Vacation had the first sampling of its forthcoming sophomore LP debuted by Spin.com today. The messy but blissfully melodic track "Pyro Hippies" is set for the band's Candy Waves album, scheduled for release on June 18 through New Jersey-based label, Don Giovanni Records. Vacation features singer/drummer Jerome Westerkamp (former singer/guitarist for The Read), guitarist/singer Peyton Copes and bassist/singer Evan Wolff (both formerly of Till Plains). The road-tested trio will play a couple of shows in July and then do three weeks on the road starting in early September. "Vacation" is starting to sound downright ironic given the busy bees Westerkamp and Copes have been lately. Besides Vacation, the pair is also 2/3 of the much-buzzed about trio Tweens, self-described as a "Nasty Doo Woppy band." The group — which mines a vein similar to Vacation, but with a female vocalist — has been garnering big attention from both music fans and the industry. Tweens recently opened for The Breeders when the "Alt" legends played a tour warm-up show at Southgate House Revival in Newport in advance of their global jaunt celebrating the 20th anniversary of the seminal Last Splash record. It must've gone well — Tweens were chosen to open for The Breeders in Washington D.C., Philly and New York City in early May.Look for a profile of Tweens in the May 1 edition of CityBeat. In the meantime, check out "Rattle&Rollin," which the esteemed U.K. label Fat Cat showcased on its website a couple of weeks ago.
April 17 • Southgate House Revival
0 Comments · Monday, April 15, 2013
Chuck Mead had a hell of a run with the band BR549 in the
1990s. The AltCountry outfit, named after the phone number Junior
Samples would give out as part of a regular skit on that great American
TV show Hee Haw, was one of the premier
Rockabilly-band-with-a-Punk-edge groups of the day.