I did a lot of standing and walking Friday night and even with the able assistance of our Scionic friends, I decided that Saturday night would be marked by camping out at least two venues to save wear and tear on a body I have already abused ceaselessly in uncountable ways over the years. This decision led me naturally to the conclusion that I would have to make some adjustments in my hometown MidPoint experience.
To that end, I chose to check out The Host’s 8:30 p.m. slot at Below Zero, followed by Bowling Green, Ohio’s favorite sons (at least they should be), The Matt Truman Ego Trip. And I further decided that I would stick around after my beloved Sundresses’ 11 p.m. set at the Subway Bar to check out Ezra Waller’s favorite Dayton band, Captains of Industry, in the midnight slot. I rationalized that since MTET and COI are Ohio bands, they still fit within my established hometown band framework.
I feel compelled to disclose that as OCD as I seem to have become in my attempt to see all local bands at this year’s MidPoint, the larger irony here is that this isn’t even my hometown; I’m from Michigan originally. But Cincinnati has been my home for the past 26 years so what the hell? It’s my party and I’ll bend the rules if I want to.
First up was The Host at Below Zero. The band seemed pretty loose out front before the show, even with the club-imposed 15 minute delay. The Host had to back out of last year’s MidPoint extravaganza due to lead vocalist Chris Charlton’s diabetes diagnosis and subsequent treatment, but they were more than ready this year and delivered a great set showing exactly why they nabbed a CEA nomination two years after dropping their debut EP, Receive.
The Host plays loudly and proficiently enough to be considered Metal and intricately enough to be considered Prog, and yet they don’t fit neatly into either category. I likened them to Rush and Radiohead last May when I wrote them up for CityBeat and that’s a good place to start, given the Host’s melodic drama and big sound, fronted by Charlton’s incredibly expressive vocal range. He looks like a slightly built Peter Gabriel but when he sings, the muscles in his neck pop out like bridge cable (think Henry Rollins) as he amps up the power and emotion of the lyrics, and yet he can dial it back to a relative whisper just as quickly. And the band (guitarist Tim Kindberg, bassist Steven Streit, drummer Marc Sherlock) creates a similar sonic spectrum to accompany Charlton, wheeling from Metal intensity to Prog delicacy in an altered heartbeat. It’s safe to say that The Host’s long-delayed MidPoint debut was a grand success.
(find photos from the entire MidPoint weekend and much more MPMF fun here.)
Next up on Below Zero’s Saturday bill was the diametrically opposed Matt Truman Ego Trip from Bowling Green to the north. A winning combination of Glam, Indie Rock and balls-to-the-wall classicism, MTET have perfected the sneering smartass blurt of the New York Dolls, the howling sonic shitstorm of the Stooges and the fuzzed-out Blues impressions of the early Stones, all done with a singular sense of stylistic translation. Highlights of the quintet’s set were their two-minute marvel of professional observation “Industry Standard” (propelled by a frenetic soundtrack and punctuated by the anthemic lyric, “The record company buys my cocaine”) and their stirring spin on Alice Cooper’ “Raped and Freezin’.” The thing that sells the Ego Trip’s manic presentation is their stellar musicianship in the service of songs that at face value seem relatively simple but are actually incredibly nuanced. Top it off with a leering sense of humor and stage presence and you have the basement grandeur of the Matt Truman Ego Trip. See you next year, I hope to hell.
I stayed as long as I dared to absorb as much of the Matt Truman Ego Trip as possible before catching a Scion down to the Aronoff to make Wussy’s 10 p.m. set. (Scion note: holy creeping Moses, whoever had the idea to use Scions as shuttles for MidPoint should get the Nobel Peace Prize. And as for the Scion itself, leg room a-go-go for a car that looks like small enough to pick up and move. Do this again next year.) The band started off typically strong with “Funeral Dress,” but things were not 100% in Wussyworld, as the band seemed slightly out of sync; “Millie Christine,” for one, wavered precariously between good chaos and bad chaos. But in true Wussy fashion, the band marshalled their resources and finished strong, clear, triumphant and transcendent with “Yellow Cotton Dress” and “Airborne.” They even threw in a couple of brand new songs, presumably from their upcoming album, and they were both pretty great (although I highly doubt that one of them is titled "CEA, Here We Come," as Chuck Cleaver announced it), and “Sun Giant Says Hey” always seems to be a highlight for me personally.
And let me just clarify for one and all — an off-kilter Wussy show is better than a lot of bands’ best nights, and it would take a hell of lot more than a few bum moments in the course of a set to shove me off the Wussy bandwagon. I will love them all the days of my life and probably into the next life as well.
After the Wussy set, it was time to beat ass over to the Subway Bar for the Sundresses. It’s been way too long since I’ve seen the resplendent trio (guitarist/drummer Brad Schnittger, guitarist/drummer Remy Springer, bassist/trombonist Makenzie Place) stir up their Blues shit on stage, maybe since 2006’s blistering SXSW appearance. I know, I know, I don’t get out much anymore. Write to live, live to write. C'est la fucking vie.
Anyway, the place was packed front to back, wall to wall to witness the visceral ballkick of the Sundresses’ live translation and the assembled faithful were not disappointed in any way, shape or form. As good as the trio are in the studio, they shiver with hellhound intensity in front of a crowd and it’s always a treat to see so many dropped jaws when the ’dresses uncork the good stuff. Tonight was the good stuff, as the band populated much of their set with tracks from their just released and clearly best album to date, Barkinghaus. From the very beginning, the Sundresses have been a crazy sonic quilt of dissimilar but not disparate influences, from acoustic Piedmont Blues to hot Swing Jazz to blistering Indie Rock, blenderized into a chunky pastiche that blows the house down regardless of the volume level.
Saturday night was another brilliant case in point, with highlights ranging from Brad’s frontman turn on the howling mad Hank Williams hillbilly Jazz seance of “An American American” and Jeremy’s intense spin on Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” and his indictment of the Bush administration’s leadfoot response to Katrina, “House of the Drowning Sun.” And yes, Makenzie got the trombone off the stand for the big finish. A perfect set from one of this city’s most unique and wonderful outfits.
Last up at the Subway was Dayton’s Captains of Industry, a band that should rise to claim the next-big-Gem-City-thing. I’m going to leave the major write-up on this one to Ezra, as he claimed pre-show that the Captains were going to be his “money shot” for Midpoint and, given the fact that he was almost babblingly giddy at the conclusion, he’s clearly the choice to elaborate on this show. Suffice it for me to say that the Captains may be our (if we may be so bold as to claim our neighbors to the north within the collective us) Shins or maybe they’re our Television or maybe they’re our Pavement. Whoever they are, they cranked out a shattering sweatfest at the Subway, filled with tunes from their impressive third album, The Bronze, and a poppily jagged cover of a Deerhoof song. EW will give you the dirty details, but I’m here to tell you that it was a sensational finish to another fantastic MidPoint.
Side Notes on Saturday
• At the Host show, CityBeat co-publisher Dan Bockrath asked me point blank if buying me a beer would get me to write something nice about him. I said, “Let’s see.” In fact, it would not. There’s a sliding scale. If you buy me one beer, that scores you a mention. If you buy me two beers, that merits a sincere thank you. At three beers, I am indebted to the extent that I praise you to a point where you almost don’t believe it yourself. I really should print up some guidelines. So anyway, Dan bought me a Blue Moon, and it was delicious … thanks so very much and keep up the great work of being one of the best bosses a freelancer could ever hope to imagine. (Note to Dan: You are now in a two beer deficit. Are we all clear on how this works?)
• Caught up with Dawn Burman after the Wussy show. She reports that the band’s new album is finished for all intents and purposes (save for the mixing and mastering end) and that it’s an amalgam of the first album’s visceral lo-fi Rock edge and the second album’s polished proficiency. And she loves it. By God, that’s good enough for me. Birth that thing soon. (Editor's Note: Chuck Cleaver reports that Shake It Records would like the record out locally by the end of the year and nationally by early next year.)
• Brian Kitzmiller, Day 3: There was no halo in the crowd around BK at the Subway when he and fellow Emerald Sammy Wulfeck showed up for the Sundresses’ set. Afterward, Brian and Sundresses guitarist/drummer Brad Schnittger played a rousing game of “Where Do I Know You From?,” a band variation on Six Degrees of Separation. I think they finally figured it out but I didn’t hear the end result. Brian experienced no weirdness on Saturday night, which in and of itself might be considered … weird. Gotta love irony. Sammy treated me to two, count ’em, two shots of whiskey during our mutual MidPointing, and I stopped counting the number of beers that Brian has stuck in my hand over the past three days … they are now enshrined in my personal Hall of Fame. (Note to Dan: See?)
• Spent a good deal of time after the Sundresses gig with the Sundresses. Long have I loved their twisted take on everything. They’re obviously excited about the prospects for Barkinghaus, and my first impressions of the album are that it may be one of the finest albums of the year, local or otherwise. Please God, if you’re up there, you’ve been dicking me pretty fancy for the past five decades, so do me a couple of solids. Get me out of debt and make these kids huge. Not necessarily in that order.
• Boss John Fox took in the Sundresses set but left to check out the Flow down the street. I told him, “If you leave, I can’t buy you a beer.” He said we could put it on the ledger for next year. Oh, I’ll remember, all right. And CityBeat A&E editor Jason Gargano was in the Sundresses/Captains throng as well, and since I never properly acknowledged his buying of the beer at the Buffalo Killers Friday night, I do so here before God and humanity and thank him for the many assignments he throws my way and for being a general prince among men (under the current guidelines, this might be considered another two beer deficit; I’ll consult the commissioner and get back to you).
Another MidPoint is in the books, but this one was special because it was CityBeat’s debut as the booking/administrating/working entity. If there is one man that this thing simply hinges upon, then that indespensible savior is surely our own Dan McCabe. Dan happened to be sitting at the Subway’s bar as I was getting ready to depart (he was having a beer with Al from Toronto’s God Made Us Funky, whose set by Dan’s account was a throwdown of mythic proportions, with our own Bootsy Collins in attendance and awe-inspired by what he saw), and passed along the universal sentiment on what a fantastic job he did with our first solo MidPoint flight.
With an insane gleam in his eyes, he said, “It’ll be better next year.” Make no mistake, if Dan wills it, it will be so. I’ve said it before, I’ll tattoo it on my forehead given enough free beer, this city is wear-out-your-prayer-rug lucky to call Dan McCabe a son of Cincinnati. His head is already buzzing with plans for MidPoint 2009 and that can only mean great things coming next fall. Stay tuned.
- Brian Baker
(Wussy photo by Sean Hughes)