Earlier in the week, Mike Breen had shared his MidPoint strategy, which in its boiled down essence was “all unsigned bands not from around here.”
Subconsciously (or perhaps semi-consciously), I suppose I decided to take the opposite tack and be a relative homer by seeing primarily all local acts. Once I finished my tentative itinerary, I realized I’d only included a pair of out of town outfits. By Friday evening’s end, my schedule had shifted and included only one non-native act, and their frontman is a Cincinnati expatriate. I guess I was destined to sing the praises of the local contingent in ’08.
In all honesty, this isn’t a problem for me. I mean, for three years running I went to South by Southwest to cover Cincinnati bands playing in Austin. The irony of traveling nearly a thousand miles to see groups that I could drive 20 minutes in any direction on any given day of the week was not lost on me. Now some of those same bands — and a few new ones — were within walking distance of each other. Time to start walking.
First up was Goose, the latest project featuring the Arbenz brothers, along with drummer Paul Cavins and Emeralds bassist Sammy Wulfeck. I love everything the Arbenz boys have put out into the universe, starting with the cacaphonous beauty of Liquid Hippos back in the late ’80s and continuing on into Throneberry. Goose has that loose-limbed, incendiary Rock-and-Soul vibe that made the Afghan Whigs so appealing back in the day, with a Blues-tinged foundation underpinning the whole thing. Representative of Goose’s best was a new song, “Explaining,” that pounded as though they’d cribbed the riffs from a forgotten Led Zeppelin album, circa “Kashmir.”
I bailed on the rest of Goose’s slot in order to catch a few songs from Artists & Authors’ set at Below Zero. This local five piece may draw a few comparisons to Over the Rhine, but there’s something more visceral and less delicate happening with A&A, from Tye VonAllmen’s crunchy guitar textures to Andrea Summer’s soaring vocals and powerfully delicate keyboarding. A&A is a lot closer to Innocence Mission or Suddenly Tammy! in sonic presentation and impact with their amalgamation of Indie Rock and Folk/Pop and they should be huge here. Make it so.
(For photos and more MPMF fun, go here.)
After my A&A meeting, I ambled down to the Aronoff 5/3 Theater to check out The Purrs, as I had done their blurb for our coverage and I really wanted to check them out based on what I’d heard on their MySpace page. Although the quartet hails from Seattle, their bassist/frontman is none other than Jim Antonio, veteran of a good many local outfits (Lizard 99, Oyster, Roundhead) so they sort of fit into my all local Friday night theme.
The Purrs do a very cool, mid-tempo Pop Psychedelia thing that is very appealing, like the Dandy Warhols or The Verve if they’d been steered by the Byrds’ space cowboy direction and “See Emily Play”-era Pink Floyd. “She’s Got Chemicals” was a sinewy, surfy highlight, but so was a new song, “Baby I Want You Back,” which evolved from jangly ’60s Rock ballad to ephemeral ’90s Space Rock. It’s too bad the Purrs aren’t based here. I’d love to see them more often.
I quickly abandoned my plan to haul ass back to Below Zero to see Otter Petter (my other non-local selection) in the face of an offer for yet another free beer from John Fox, my benevolent and wonderful boss, who was on his way to Cadillac Ranch to witness the splendor that is Buckra. What more is there to say about these guys? Dylan Speeg makes 90% of frontmen look like bone tired slackers and on any given night, these guys make more sound with two guitars, bass and drum than a lot of orchestras can conceive. What they did at Cadillac Ranch last night was nothing more than everything they do best. If you don’t have a good time at a Buckra show, have someone call the coroner … your autopsy is ready. They swing like mad, rock like hell and satisfy like few others can; imagine a Vulcan mind meld of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Van Halen. Now imagine it better. Nope, better than that. Are your nipples hard? Now you’ve got it. With the right exposure, Buckra could be bigger than sex and hotter than rubber sheets and they bloody well ought to be. We’re luckier than 10 lottery winners to have a band of Buckra’s caliber still getting their mail here.
Then it was time for my most anticipated event of the evening, The Emeralds. The Boss was headed that way as well, and suggested we grab one of the Scion shuttles down to Arnold’s. Being an old man of questionable physical abilities, I agreed. Three minutes later, our faithful Scion driver had deposited us within an eight iron of our destination.
The courtyard was already packed with folks that looked like they had planned to make Arnold’s their destination for the evening, and more poured in as the Emeralds’ start time approached. By the time the band was ready to serve, the place was dense with humanity and the Emeralds did not disappoint. The foursome, who’ve only been together officially since mid-summer, have already put together a dazzling set that combines the best elements of Big Ass Rock, Smart Ass Pop and Cerebral Ass Prog, with Cheap Trick’s manic energy tied in a three-legged race with Adrian Belew’s Beatlesque noodling. There was no roof to blow off in Arnold’s courtyard (save for the one over the stage’s porch) but between the snaky, sleazy (yes, sleazy!) guitar ministrations of Ric Hickey and Peter Underhill, the thunderous bass antics and dusky (yes, dusky!) vocals of Sammy Wulfeck and the slippery (yes, slippery!) drum stylings of Brian Kitzmiller, the Emeralds nearly brought the sky down with their all too brief set.
Folks were standing on the courtyard benches and fist pumping in the night air with each successive song. Highlights? Everything. Low point? The end. See these guys in town now before they rip through their clothes with Hulk-like ferocity, become huge Rock figures and move into the larger musical consciousness.
After the Emeralds tore up Arnold’s courtyard, there was little left for Jon Justice to do but sweep the shit into a pile and blow it all back down again, which he did with a power that seemed effortless until he removed his suit coat, revealing sweat drenched sleeves. To say that Jon Justice plays the Blues is like saying that Hurricane Ike was a windstorm. Justice inhabits the Blues, transforms it from the inside out and rebirths it with the reverence of a devotee, the skill of a master and the righteous fervor of a revolutionary, and his crack band matches him step for visceral step. Just another example of this city’s world class talent base.
I was torn about the midnight hour but ultimately chose to head down to the Lodge Bar for the Buffalo Killers’ set to conclude the evening. Their new album, Let It Ride, is a marvel of adrenalized boogie Blues and in its live incarnation is a face-melting gumbo of high volume, ’70s-steeped Blues and Rock with just enough garage-tinged Psychedelia to provide a paisley tint to the proceedings. The only thing missing was the liquid Fillmore light show as the Gabbards and Joseph Sebaali conducted an hour-long clinic on how to translate 30-40 year old influences into a thundering wall of sound that could drop a charging elephant and may have left physical marks on my skin. They’ve already impressed peers and fans alike with their recent opening slot for the Black Crowes; better catch the Buffalo Killers before they stampede ass out of town.
Side notes on Friday night
• Spotted fresh Folk sensation Nathan Holscher at the Goose gig. He said his debut album is still doing great business, particularly overseas, and noted that he’s now doing most of his live dates with a full band now. Can’t wait to hear what he does next.
• Ran into my fellow freelancer, the always outstanding Ezra Waller, at Artists & Authors. We were just packing up for our next shows when Andrea Summer started introducing the band, starting with her guitarist Tye VonAllmen, who she identified as both guitarist and husband. “That’s when 12 guys typically walk out of the show,” said Ezra as we walked out of the show. Self-fulfilling prophecy? You be the judge. PS: I’m married and never had a shot anyway.
• Lots of activity in the crowd at Arnold’s. As the Emeralds launched into their set with “Tiny Face Talker” from their new EP, John Fox leaned into me and proved my father’s edict that the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask when he queried, “Is this song about soccer?” When I told him the name of the song, he cracked up. “I thought Ric was singing, ‘Time to play soccer.’” Thanks for the stout, John, and yes, tonight’s round is on me.
• John introduced me to another fellow freelancer, C.A. McConnell, whose work I have long admired in CityBeat’s pages. Now there’s a beautiful face to accompany the excellent words. Hey, that’s not flirting, I’m just stating a fact here (see the above PS).
• Nick Mitchell and David Sweitzer from Chick Pimp, Coke Dealer at a Bar were still in the house after their 8 p.m. set in Arnold’s courtyard, which, by all accounts was a rousing, distorted success. Sorry I missed it. Nick’s parents came out to see their boy and his band do their Middle European Hillbilly Hip Hop Electronic Jazz Prog Fusion groove thang. Dad looked resplendent in his neon glow headband, which I told him was very Xanadu as I shook his hand. Since he laughed and didn’t rearrange my nose, I’m going to say he appreciated the reference.
• Brian Kitzmiller, Day 2: Still agog from the halo effect he created in the frenetic Pollard crowd on Thursday night (see yesterday’s blog for details), Brian was appropriately amped up after the Emeralds nailed it down tight. He introduced me to his lovely wife Sarah, who had e-mailed Brian on Thursday to say that she had gone to Staples to buy Post-Its and actually had a couple stuck in her hair (she’s a first grade teacher … it’s probably the safest thing that a first grader has ever stuck in her hair). So after showing me the e-mail, Brian said that when I meet her at Arnold’s I should have Post-Its stuck in my hair. So I did. Since she laughed and didn’t rearrange my nose, I’m going to say she appreciated the reference.
• Brian reintroduced me to former Afghan Whigs drummer Steve Earle, who I met right after their first album came out in ’88. We had a quick discussion about the merits of Big Top Halloween, which, as Steve noted, has been discredited by Greg Dulli but which we both agreed was still a solid piece of work in our minds. So say we both. Steve says he’s taking some time to write new songs for his Earle Grey project, which is minus a bass player now. Let’s hope he’s rocking those songs out live very soon.
• Also in attendance were Souse’s Robert Flury, who complained of a headache from a synth Pop band at the Blue Wisp. I think he was referring to the Dark Romantics. Ah well, not everyone can be a fan. Also met Julia from Iolite and Jeff from the Newbees, fabulous people all.
• On the way to the Buffalo Killers extravaganza at the Lodge Bar with Brian and Sammy, ran into the Purrs as they were loading out from their Aronoff gig. They said this was their second time in Cincinnati, and already it felt like home. What a truly nice thing to say; clearly we’re doing something right with MidPoint to inspire such a comment. Also hanging about with the Purrs was Jim Antonio’s former Roundhead compadre Kip Roe (they both played bass for the band … at separate times, of course), who I met way back when he was bassist for Doc and the Pods (sweet shit, those were the bloody days, those were). That’s so way back that Mr. Peabody and Sherman can’t get there with their Machine. We caught up briefly on the street and then a bit more at the Lodge after the Killers killed. As Kip noted, it’s good to see so many familiar faces after so many years. Hope there‘s a good many more to see Saturday night.
— Brian Baker
(Photo: Cameron Knight)