Bear Hands : Midpoint Music Festival Cincinnati Ohio : September 24

With all the venues and all the bands playing at this year’s Midpoint Music Festival there was really only one band I was really hyped to see –  Brooklyn’s Bears Hands.  With their distinctive percussion and dreamy guitars they create a sound that is truly unique within the indie-pop genre.  Though their album Burning Bush Supper Club  has only been out since the beginning of the year, they are most definitely a band that is going to do big things in the near future.

The venue for the Bear Hand’s Mipoint performance seemed like an odd choice.  The Below Zero Lounge is a glossy nightclub with a high production value.  Certainly not the type of dive I’m used to – maybe I should have ordered an appletini from my slickly dressed bartender instead of my usual bourbon.  The building crowd was the strange mix usually brought out by city-wide festivals, but everyone seemed relaxed and ready to have a good time.  It was still early with the Bear Hands playing a slot at 9pm, practically unbelievable to me that they would have been selected as an opener.  But with all the odd variables in place, when they finally took the stage they brought a kinetic energy to the room that was almost palatable.  Without much banter or introduction, they swept from one song to the next, masterfully recreating the intricate little beats and noises that make their studio album so fucking good.

Being a relatively newer band, I suppose it was inevitable that they would play all the best tracks from the album, but I felt an excitement in my chest every time they went into a personal favorite.  “Crime Pays” seemed to get the entire crowed bouncing, but the masterfully percussed “Tablasaurus” was certainly a highlight of the set, as was the beat-driven “Belongings”.  Ending strong with “What a Drag”, which had every soul is the house moving, the only downside to the entire show was that I wished there could have been more.   As far as I’m concerned, my choice to make Bear Hands the only band I saw at Midpoint was justified.

by Adrienne Panveno

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The Stone Foxes with The Harlequins : Southgate House : September 8

The Stone Foxes are a band you have to see to believe.  Their latest album Bears & Bulls is good- don’t get me wrong- but to see them live is whole other experience entirely.  When this San Francisco band blew into Southgate House they were like the cool autumn winds of late – sharp, biting – the kind of breeze that makes you feel alive.  They spilled bluesy southern-fried garage rock all over the ballroom in spite of the small audience.  In fact, the forced intimacy allowed them to interact as if they were playing in someone’s living room – drinking beers, making witty banter with friends, and playing some tunes.  Heavy, jammy guitar riffs swimming along side a solid, straight forward rhythm section giving each song a familiar flavor, but is done with such competency that it doesn’t matter if you think you’ve heard it before and switching up of instruments and vocalists kept things interesting enough.  I know The Stone Foxes were far from home, but it was really a shame that not more people came out to stomp their feet to this very cool band.

 

by Adrienne Panveno

Follow Up : The Harlequins/Vice Magazine Party

The Harlequins play MOTR Pub

Back in July, Indie Face covered the Vitamin Water/Vice Magazine shindig at MOTR Pub featuring Cincinnati band The Harlequins.  The event was filmed and is now the latest episode of Uncapped, a fabulous new web series sponsored the Vitamin Water brand.  The video features footage from the show as well as interviews from the band.  Watch the episode here.

 

Mia Doi Todd : What if We Do

Mia Doi Todd

 

I first heard singer-songwriter Mia Doi Todd on my local NPR outlet, KCRW which is arguably the best radio station on the planet. It was so different from anything else I had been hearing that I was instantly intrigued. I got her album Manzanita shortly thereafter, and studied it as one studies art history, or evolutionary biology. I was never ever able to make any sense of what it was that drew me to these strange songs sung in the oddly hypnotic voice. They haunt me still.

Even now , when I chance upon her work, I still have no answer. The songs are simple, the verse has a regular meter and precise structure, and the vocals are impeccably accurate and steady. They speak of relationships and the like, hardly mysterious subjects, and flow with an easy, relaxed manner. The effect of the marvelous voice and the off- balanced twists to these observations suggest some kind of post-modern ennui seen as if through a glass, and darkly.

The song “What if We Do” is such a song, with it’s almost breezy lilt on the theme of a building affair. And yet, in both the musical shifts and vocal changes it suggests the dangers and doom that could be lurking just around the corner. It is the finest declamation of that point in a relationship when things are going to change, inevitably and irrevocably, for better or worse. Life at the point of no return, proclaimed as if by a child.

I heard this bittersweet tune just the other day, and was surprised yet again at how vertigo inducing it is, and that it has, once again, stuck in my head for days.

This in-studio recording is only slightly less produced than the album version (none of her work carries much baggage) and is simply perfect. I am waiting for the day when I can understand the curious case of Mia Doi Todd.

 

 

by Michael Merline

Duke of Uke + His Novelty Orchestra : MOTR Pub : August 10

With the Duke of Uke & his Novelty Orchestra bringing their act to Cincinnati, it was hard to know what to expect.  After all, frontman David King has become a sort of comedic internet celebrity sharing his offbeat sense of humor in the form of political cartooning, strange Photoshop collections, and meme wrangling.  The band’s name alone conjures images of some sort of rollicking circus sideshow parading into town in funny wigs and hats.  And the Novelty Orchestra has done that, but don’t misunderstand; they are seven wonderfully creative people who make seriously fun music.

Fiddles, tubas, and wild percussion- oh my!  And don’t forget the Duke himself on the ukulele, reminding listeners that this is the most under utilized instrument in modern music. The sound they create within their varied orchestra is uniquely their own.  With hints of ragtime, vaudeville, and cabaret, their music transports you to another time and makes you want to move your feet in a way that is unfamiliar to them.  They swing from one song to the next, offering surprises at every turn, switching up tones and instruments and vocalists.  Even though this midweek show did not pull a huge crowd, their energy never wavered and they moved every cat in the house.

The fact that not many people came out to see this great band from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois is really a shame.  Because this band is in no way a novelty.  They bring musicality with a side of whimsy and mirth.  Their set is meant to dazzle and delight, but I get the impression that they would be exactly the same even if they played just for themselves.  They seem to truly enjoy everything they do, and every fan they meet.  Great people, great music, and a great show.  The perfect trifecta.

by Adrienne Panveno

photo by Michael Merline

The Dukes Are Dead : Fountain Square Cincinnati : August 12

Ding dong.  The Dukes are Dead.

After being threatened with legal action by the douche bags at Warner Bros., favorite Cincinnati up-and-comers The Dukes have been forced to reinvent themselves.  Though the original Dukes were short lived (1978-1979) and imploded after the overdose of one of their members, our Dukes keep moving forward undaunted and have hyped their name change for weeks leading up to their performance last night as part of the MPMF Indie Music Series.

However, despite the buildup of the name change, the announcement itself was a bit of a letdown – not much more than the new t-shirts being unrolled at the merch table.  If they said something from on stage, it was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment.  Their new name however, is a good one.  “The Dukes are Dead” still keeps the classic rock vibe of their original name, but adds a big middle finger to the haters [Warner?]  It is more Dukes than The Dukes.

But no matter what a band wants to call themselves, the only thing that counts for anything is how they can play.  And these boys can play.  One of the stand out acts at this year’s Punk Fest at the Southgate House, I always look forward to hearing them play.  Expectations are high, but they conquered the massive stage at Southgate’s ballroom without even blinking so I was eager to see how they’d fare on a large, outdoor stage.

The Dukes may be dead, but they are proving to be unstoppable.  No matter what variables are thrown at them, they steam forward like a freight train of hard, gritty, mustachioed rock and roll.  Though the set did not include any of the antics that the band are famous for [maybe because there were no real rafters to hang from] it was certainly solid.  Luke Darling and Lucas Frazier took turns turns fronting the hard blues machine while bassist Randy Proctor proved he is the funkiest ginger in all of Hazzard County.  David Reid seems almost zen-like behind the drums compared to the rest of the band, but his hard driving rhythms act as the heartbeat to the howling blues guitars the rest of the band lays down.  Together they mix to create the filthy blues-rock sound that just makes you want to get sweaty.  In a really good way.

This inevitably will be only one of many snags this growing band will face over time, however if they face every challenge with as much good humor and enthusiasm as this one they should age like a fine scotch.  And if they continue to put on performances like this one, they’ll be around for a long time.  The Dukes are dead, and everything is as it should be.

by Adrienne Panveno

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart with The Craft Spells and Sacred Spirits : Southgate House : August 4

Though I wish I could say that I was approaching this show with complete no expectations but that would just not be true.  Since discovering The Pains of Being Pure at Heart earlier in the year I have fallen head over heels for their dreamy style of indie-pop, and since the beginning of summer their album Belong has been in non-stop rotation.  So to say I was excited to finally see them live was an understatement – I was like a kid on Christmas.

That being said however, it was surprising to find that the show was not in the Parlour upstairs as originally thought, but in the ballroom of the Southgate House, a venue usually reserved for larger national acts.  This both excited and worried me.  I was happy for the band that they had amassed such a following that they needed more space, but concerned as I had seen many bands fail in the ballroom, swallowed whole by such a large room.

Because of our tardiness, Sacred Spirits were finishing up their set just when we arrived.  This is the second time I have missed them due to my own lateness, but am happy to report that from what I did get to hear I will certainly be making an effort to see them in the near future.  At this point, the ballroom was still relatively empty with most people sitting at tables with their drinks, and I hoped that as the night progressed things would get a bit livelier.

The Craft Spells, a pop outfit from Seattle were slated next.  I was excited to see them , but not really sure what to expect.  Their album Idle Labor had lived in my iTunes only having been listened to a couple times.  However, whatever spark I had missed during the band’s bedroom recording session was not lost on me during their live set.  They took the stage with energy and enthusiasm, like they really were just happy to be there.  I took immediately to their 80’s revival sound with it reminiscent of classic post-punk bands like Echo & The Bunnymen, Joy Division, and The  Psychedelic Furs.  Even though there are quite a few bands at the moment trying to bring the new wave sound back, The Craft Spells offer up songs that are sweet, genuine, and well-crafted.  Tracks like “After the Moment” and “Party Talk” had everyone moving and as I looked around the ballroom, everyone seemed to have been swept up by their infectious synth and guitar pop.  It was quite the performance – they could have easily been the headliners.  I more or less fell in love with The Craft Spells that night.

Then The Pains took the stage.  Not even offering a chance to recover from the jubilation from the Craft Spells’ set, they opened strong with “Belong”, the title track from their new LP.  When the brittle guitar rang through the now much larger crowd it was like a wave a of happy took over the room.  Kip Berman’s airy vocals were slightly more gritty live, and the guitar distortion a bit heavier lending as a nice contrast the The Pains’ usual angelic innocence.  They weaved in and out of some of the best tracks off both albums like “Heart in Your Heartbreak” and “Young Adult Friction” making them sound even brighter and more full of life.  The Pains took the crowd through a story of love and heartache and finding your own band of misfits like the music equivalent of a John Hughes movie à la Sixteen Candles or Pretty in Pink.  Even after an encore, the show felt like it ended to soon, as if time had stood still while they played.  Overall, the night was study in perfect indie-pop bliss.

by Adrienne Panveno

photos by Brian Daunt

videos by Julian Perry

The Guitars : High Action

Though High Action is the first official release by Cincinnati band The Guitars, local buzz has been brewing over this band for a while.  In 2009, they erupted onto the scene and started playing out with local favorites like The Harlequins, The Lions Rampant, and 20th Century Tokyo Princess right out of the gate.  Gigging constantly and contributing to several local compilations continued to build the band’s reputation for well crafted arrangements and pop-soul prowess.

Fast forward to July 29th, and the boys finally ready themselves to unleash the High Action EP upon the world.  Though I could not make the record release show at MOTR Pub that night the reports have all come back with high praise, and finally having the album in my hot little hands, I understand what the fuss is all.  The entire EP from start to finish is a masterful testament to early bubblegum pop-soul.  In fact, they seem to understand the genre so well that it is easy to wonder if you are listening to mp3s or an old 45.

Classic heartbreak song “Too Hot to Hold” is the perfect opener; a dancey number that is both fresh and nostalgic and easily one of the best tracks on the album, but the other big stand-out is “She’s Got Your Heart” with its hooks that will sink in and stay with you for days.  Though I have been fully aware of the hype over The Guitars for a while, having an album out like this is just proof of how good they really are, both technically and creatively.  As a whole, High Action is all sorts of win.

 

by Adrienne Panveno