By: Derek Jung
When you enter as many contests and giveaways as I do, the law of averages eventually catches up with you and you win something. That happened yesterday when I won a ticket for an in studio performance of Fitz & the Tantrums from the local alternative radio station The Project 100.7/106.3. I haven't been particularly hot on the group in the past few months, their latest self-titled release was pretty mediocre and their performance at Madison Theater last year was lifeless. That being said, I was excited to see them in such an intimate space and hear what they sound like stripped down without the pop showiness.
About twenty of us were ushered into the seated performance space, a rather bland space compared to Studio 89 at WNKU, but still nice and cozy. Besides Michael and Noelle, only Joseph the bassist (playing guitar) and Jeremy the keyboardist were present for the showcase. After a brief introduction from KISS 107.1 FM DJ Kristie, who was either visibly nervous or strung out on way too much caffeine, the band played a selection of singles from their self-titled album and More Than Just A Dream. Without all of the production additions that turned me off of the newer singles, there are some really catchy hooks underneath. "Rollup", my favorite off the new album, was great stripped down and even "Handclap" was tolerable.
The problem with being in such an intimate environment is that it can be awkward for both the band and the audience. Most in attendance aren't used to being right in front of their musical idols and it's especially evident for those who like to blend in with the crowd and just stand there. Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle are very high energy performers, and dancing and choreography are big parts of their on stage personas. There is a certain expectation that people groove and dance to their music. There wasn't a whole lot of that because we were all seated, so the energy levels were off. This isn't the fault of the band or those in attendance. I'd argue it was mostly the environment.
After a few short Q&A sessions we all got the chance to have our pictures taken with the band. Nothing really revolutionary came from the questions. Noelle is a foodie (although she doesn't like that term). Michael Fitzpatrick loves artisanal coffee and his favorite album is Michael Jackson's Off the Wall. He's also expecting his wife to go into labor any day now. Jeremy likes Star Wars and can do a pretty decent Wookiee noise.
Check out a slideshow photo album of the show by clicking here.
By: Derek Jung
It's a rare occasion when Joseph and I get to see the same band within such a short span of time. He was able to see St. Paul and the Broken Bones at the legendary Ryman Auditorium last month. On Friday, I had the pleasure of seeing them at Madison Theater, their first show in Cincinnati since their capacity crowd show at the Taft Theater Ballroom during Midpoint Music Festival in 2014. Similarly to that show, Friday's show was sold out. The band is touring off their great new album, Sea of Noise, and I was eagerly anticipating hearing the new material live.
One thing I knew to expect was the antics of lead singer Paul Janeway, easily the heart and soul of the band with some of the best pipes that I've heard in a live setting ever. The dude can flat out belt it, and he knows it to. Therein lies the problem. A lot of his stage performance consists of him responding to the cheering of the crowd, and he makes sure to take out his earpiece after most songs to bask in that glorious, glorious applause. Nothing wrong with feeding off the energy of the crowd, but I couldn't help but get the feeling that it was a constant ego trip for Janeway, but I could be wrong. He was, of course, brilliant, and the new material sounded absolutely fantastic. My favorite song on the album, "All I Ever Wonder" popped on stage. Many songs sounded like church, a bonafide spiritual experience (see: "Sanctify" and set closer "Burning Rome").
I still think some of their ballads, especially from their debut album, can drag after a while, but that is a rather nitpicky criticism from what was a solid performance from the band.
Check out their performance of "All I Ever Wonder" from Later... with Jools Holland below.
By: Derek Jung
Nearly a year after they last played Madison Theater, Shovels & Rope made their return to my beloved Covington, Kentucky music venue for another go around. As I mentioned in that review, Shovels & Rope and I go back before their first album was released, and the band has always had a soft spot in my heart. This show, however, was anything but a triumphant return for the band, and it was a rare weak moment in the five times that I've seen them perform.
When we entered the theater, it became immediately apparent that the heat was entirely too high, and the near capacity crowd did not help matters whatsoever. We found our spot in the crowd and listened to opener John Moreland's set, which was absolutely fantastic. His gritty voice and melancholy lyrics blended perfectly. By the end of his set, he left the stage to rousing applause, and I'm certain that the crowd wouldn't have complained if he'd played longer. I will definitely be checking out his set at Forecastle this summer.
Shovels & Rope took the stage a bit later and charged through songs from their last two albums Little Seeds and Swimmin' Time. From the first note it was obvious that the mix was terrible. The bass drum was so overpowered that it hurt my ears through my musician grade earplugs. Michael Trent's electric guitar was also too loud in the mix, and the combination of the two ruined the new, more rock driven songs. When they finally played something from their debut full length, O' Be Joyful, it was almost too late to save the set for us.
I know Shovels & Rope. I know what they normally sound like. So I'm mostly willing to write this night off as a bad stop on the tour, but I will say that I was not a big fan of the band's most recent release, Little Seeds. I wish they would return to the folk americana sounds of O' Be Joyful, but I also understand that the band's growing success has happened with the newer sound. So, until next time, my friends.
Check out a video of them playing "I Know" on Conan below.
By: Joseph Kathmann
If there's one band who knows how to put on a good show, it's Twenty One Pilots. Seeing one of the biggest bands on the planet in the height of their prime is a hard thing to do, but that's exactly what I managed to do this past Saturday in Memphis. The crowd knew every word of every song, and the atmosphere was intense as almost the entire arena got a 2 hour glimpse of what certainly became their favorite band by the end of the night. While I'm constantly bothered by the fact that there's only two people on stage despite the numerous layers in their music, it's hard to care about that after they've torn through their 20+ song set without so much as a breather.
That said, getting to Twenty One Pilots was something of a chore. The opener, Jon Bellion, was pretty lackluster and just had a 20 minute set, and the initial opener, Judah and the Lion, went on right at doors so we didn't even get a chance to see them. Bellion was pretty lackluster, and after his quick set there was almost an hour's worth of a wait to get to Twenty One Pilots. The crowd was clearly getting antsy by the long wait, but boy where they in for a treat.
You know, I've really been lucky so far this year with my live shows, as both were two of the best shows I've seen for different reasons. St. Paul and the Broken Bones was great because there were a lot of casual fans at that show that were converted to the magic of the band, but Twenty One Pilots don't have many casual fans. Everyone knew every word of every song, and the girls were screaming at the top of their lungs throughout the energy-packed set. Tyler Joseph jumped around all corners of the stage during every song, and Josh Dun plays drums with as much energy as anyone I've ever seen. It's hard not to think of him as one of the best drummers in the music industry today. The band made use of every inch of their stage, filling it with lights, cannons, and video boards. At one point the duo played a few songs from an auxiliary stage at the back of a pit, and the floor light up on this stage. Because of course it did.
Other antics from the band included Josh Dun crowd surfing (a bit, at least) in the pit with his drum set, and the duo closed with "Trees," in the pit. Overall, I think what I found most impressive about the duo was their civility. There's no doubt they are one of the hottest bands on the planet right now, dropping the youngest generation's equivalent an album like The Black Parade in 2015 with Blurryface, but they still came across as authentic, down-to-earth guys. They took plenty of opportunities to thank the opening bands, (despite their short sets) and even let Judah and the Lion frontman Judah Akers a chance to stage dive in one of those giant inflatable bubbles during "Stressed Out." Ultimately, while I went in skeptical of the band's live show because....c'mon. Why are there only two guys on stage? I came out of that show with my questions answered and my skepticism all but gone. Twenty One Pilots are on top of the musical world right now, and their live show is a big reason for that.
By: Derek Jung
I love the Cincinnati music community. I enjoy discovering and listening to local bands, attending shows at local venues, and I'm very proud to support the source of many of those discoveries, WNKU. The station, owned and subsidized by Northern Kentucky University since 2011, has been broadcasting since 1985. Through the years, it has cemented itself deep in the hearts of music and arts lovers all over the area. Earlier this year it was announced that NKU was selling the station to a religious broadcasting company, and the immediate feedback was overwhelming. A petition was created that, at the time of this publication, has amassed over 8,000 signatures. While the sale is still pending, the window of opportunity to listen to the station is closing. As proof of that, WNKU announced that its final in-studio performance would be with beloved local duo Dawg Yawp.
I entered the studio with a mix of excitement and sadness - excited for my first in studio performance at WNKU, but also sad that my first would also be my last. I had never been to the studio before, and I was surprised that it was basically in the same hallway as normal college classrooms. It wasn't exactly the location I was expecting, but nonetheless everyone was very friendly and welcoming. In the waiting room, there was free WNKU swag and CDs that they were giving away because they wouldn't have any more opportunities to do giveaways in the future. I picked up the great new albums from Iggy Pop and Jim James. Soon, we all shuffled into Studio 89, which was draped with lights and had a welcoming, relaxed vibe to it. Unfortunately today the melancholy was palpable and our DJ Liz Felix hardly made it through the introduction before getting teary eyed. We were delighted to hear the band play 7 songs from their new self titled album and a surprise Beatles cover by request of Felix to finish the set. In between songs, Liz interviewed the band and Tyler and Rob told stories about how some songs were written and how the band came into being. You could tell they felt honored to be there and Rob even got emotional while recounting what it was like hearing one of their songs for the first time on the radio (on WNKU no less).
The band's distinct sitar rock was of course well received by the couple dozen people in attendance. The station live streamed the entire performance on Facebook. I've embedded it below. You can also listen to the radio edit with better audio by clicking this link. It was a true honor to be there, and it will be a sad day in Cincinnati history when WNKU finally closes its doors.
By: Joseph Kathmann
Wow. What a show. While this may be my first show of 2017, I think it may be hard for anyone to top it. I do believe the venue played a major part in this, but I think a lot of it was also the band themselves. There's something special about the band's frontman, Paul Janeway, when he takes the stage. Before I knew it, I felt like I was back in the early days of this legendary venue with a rowdy crowd of people looking to de-stress after a hard day's work. When I moved to Nashville almost two years ago, this was what I envisioned the shows would be like.
Following their strong sophomore album, which Derek and I both enjoyed, this tour has been something of a coming out party for the band. The show started with opener William Tyler bringing in some traditional country tunes. It was something of a weak opener, which is a shame because William Tyler has been pretty influential around town in Nashville, but this crowd was simply not his demographic. He was also pretty nervous playing at the Ryman, but by the end of the show his nerves were gone and he played some upbeat country tunes that got the crowd's attention at least for a bit. I think he made the best of his situation, but for most of his set he sadly failed to get the attention of the crowd, and thus they didn't hesitate to talk over his set.
Fortunately, all that changed when St. Paul & The Broken Bones took the stage. The crowd, largely white and of which I was probably the youngest one, initially sat in the bleachers through the first half of the set. It did make for a goosebump-inducing moment when the crowd gave him a standing ovation for "Like a Mighty River," many people, myself included, were getting frustrated with the idea of sitting throughout this high energy-performance. I think Paul Janeway could sense this, and a few times he asked the crowd to get up and dance for a song. While this tactic didn't really work, as the set went on and the band increased their energy levels, they eventually forced the crowd up and then.....it was on. The rowdy energy in the Ryman was undeniable as the crowd cheered and uncontrollably banged on the bleachers throughout the final few songs and the encore, and the band responded to this in kind. It really was pretty awesome to see and be apart of that, and everyone left the show feeling like they had just seen a show at the Mother Church as it was intended. St. Paul & The Broken Bones are a perfect band to see at The Ryman, and even though the crowd was calm at first, the atmosphere eventually took hold and I found myself in the middle of one of the coolest shows I had ever seen.
By: Derek Jung
Acclaimed progressive folk singer-songwriter Ryley Walker returned to Cincinnati for the first time since his much talked about performance at Midpoint Music Festival in 2015 at Woodward Theater. Performing for a crowd of about 35 people, the trio wasted no time slipping into some long, heavy jams. Those jams would be the focus of the set, and the ebb and flow of each song relied heavily on the mood set by the intro jam. In that way, the night was spent covering the highlights from their latest release, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung. I was very impressed to hear how their songs have evolved in a live setting to fill every nook and cranny of the audible spectrum. Songs like "The Halfwit In Me" were transformed by the jam into a wall of sound using guitar triplets from Walker and the second guitarist. The jazz-styled drumming led the way and I found myself mesmerized by his fluidity of playing. The chorus of "Roundabout" popped much more so than on the album version, and it highlighted the quiet/loud dynamics of the song structure. I was happy to hear that Ryley's dry humor translates well from his lyrics to his live personality as well. The band cracked a few jokes in between songs, and Ryley boasted his love for the giant Bearcat Pizzas from Adriatico's.
I was a little disappointed that their set was only around 45 minutes long, but with a smaller crowd on a Monday night, I don't blame them for keeping it short and sweet. Hopefully we will hear some new material from Ryley this year.
Check out a live performance of "The Halfwit In Me" from the World Cafe below.
By: Derek Jung
When you're the number one top selling country artist of all time, you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want. So when Garth Brooks announced that he was retiring from recording and touring in 2001 to focus on his family, no one could do anything about it. Even so, he continued to sell millions of albums and fans were eager to hear any news of his return to music. In 2009 he teased fans with a residency in Las Vagas to test the waters of returning to full time touring, and in the Fall of 2014 he began his official comeback tour. Fast forward another two plus years and Brooks and his longtime backing band made their triumphant return to Cincinnati. Saturday night was the opening night of a five night, two weekend slot at US Bank Arena, and the band sounded in mid-tour mode. Probably because they were.
The hype machine for Garth Brooks is pretty legendary in terms of drumming up excitement, support, and (of course) ticket sales. His comeback tour was already on track to surpass the record for highest grossing tour of all time (currently held by U2) when the shows were announced in Cincinnati. Local news outlets had a field day, and the coverage only grew in intensity as shows started selling out. New dates were added and the number of shows in town quickly grew to five, the same number of nights that he played nearly two decades ago. That level of artist loyalty is incredible, but the band definitely made it sound like Cincinnati's five nights were special, something certainly outside the norm, and communicated in such a way to make Cincinnati fans feel like they were more dedicated than other cities. A cursory glance at their tour schedule, however, proves quite the opposite. Most tour stops include anywhere between four and seven shows, and some cities doubled showtimes on the same day. Even Columbus, Ohio has six shows of their own. This kind of fan ego stroking by the band rubs me the wrong way, but boy oh boy did the Cincinnati crowd eat it up.
The format of the show was a bit odd. There were two unannounced openers that performed three or four songs. After each finished, an advertisement for their new album was projected and announced for the crowd. These were very safe, stereotypical pop country artists, and for someone familiar with the music industry, it felt very much like a pitch from the industry to hype up a few new artists on the label. Hard pass on that one, folks.
Garth and his band came on stage to one of the loudest roars from a crowd that I have ever heard. I had to put in earplugs, not because the band was too loud, but because the crowd was overpowering. Garth ate up that energy and ripped into a greatest hits type setlist, with only a few songs from his new album, Gunslinger. The crowd knew every word to nearly every song, and many times Garth would chuckle to himself or comment "wow" when seemingly the entire arena belted the songs in unison word for word. It was truly a sight to behold, but I expect Brooks' amazement was more showmanship than real, because I'm sure every city sounds exactly like we did. Unless he thought Cincinnati was going to be terrible. Which, to be fair, we sometimes are.
The band was a perfect example of what to do with an open stage. I really enjoyed how band members moved all around the stage. Every angle got a great view at some point, and they mixed it up just enough to keep things entertaining. My seat was towards the backside of the stage, and I felt like they were great seats. I got to sit down close, and had a fantastic perspective of the band performing to the larger portion of the audience on the front side of the stage. They were also a good example of how crowd hyping can be too much for a band. Every single member spent time in between songs pointing at people in the crowd, yelling, and fist pumping or gesturing to make more noise. The drummer would even come out of his little ball and wave a towel around. Yes, I get that energy is important, but it felt more like cheerleaders at a sports game than professional musicians at a show. And when it's done nearly every song, it gets old and worn out quickly. To be fair I feel the same way when bands have hypemen, but having it come from actual band members just felt excessive.
Some would argue that all of my complaints here are very nitpicky, and they most certainly are. But I would counter that Garth Brooks is one of the biggest artists of the last half century and should be held to a higher standard than most performers of lesser stature and reputation. All of these complaints aside, the show was phenomenal, the energy and passion exceeded my expectations and I would definitely see him again if the opportunity arose. Garth is still the king of pop country and there's no one even close.
By: Derek Jung
The National guitarist Bryce Dessner once again put together a diverse and eclectic lineup for the 11th installment of his MusicNOW Festival, which takes place every year in various locations around downtown Cincinnati. This year, the festival kicked off with a performance by legendary rhythm guitarist and founding Grateful Dead member Bob Weir. Dessner and the rest of The National are fresh off the release of their massive 10 LP collaborative box set of Grateful Dead covers (which, if you haven't listened to it yet, it is stunning), so it wasn't surprising that Dessner tapped Weir to perform. Weir himself released Blue Mountains last fall, which was his first album of all original material in nearly 30 years.
Weir came out alone on stage to begin the first of two sets, diving straight into the aforementioned Blue Mountains accompanying himself with only an acoustic guitar. Weir's voice, strained with age, echoed wonderfully off the enormous Aronoff Center facade. Before long, Weir was joined by "The Campfire Band", or Aaron Dessner, Bryan Devendorf, and Scott Devendorf of The National as well as Jon Shaw from Shakey Graves and Josh Kaufman, who co-produced Blue Mountains. Vocalist Lisa Hannigan also contributed her beautiful voice to a few songs, including "Lay My Lily Down" during the first set and "Peggy-O" during the second. The setlist was pretty diverse, with a healthy mix of solo material from Blue Mountains and classic Grateful Dead songs. The jams were adventurous, but for the most part did not stray away from a defined structure, with Weir physically signaling to the group when he wanted to transition. Some of those transitions were a bit clunky, but I'll attribute this more to not having years and years of experience with each other.
The crowd was a pleasant mix of older Dead Head stoners, and young people. It was amusing watching the terrified looks slowly grow on the Aronoff Center ushers' faces as the unmistakable aroma of marijuana grew heavier as the show went on. I think it's safe to say that more weed was smoked that night than has even been smoked in the theater before. But it was mood spoiler during the second set when ushers got strict with any suspected puff of smoke or cell phone light. You'd think the Aronoff Center would have anticipated the crowd would be lighting up.
All in all, another great act put on by MusicNOW. The show was well attended for a Thursday night, and I was happy to see a crowd so engaged and enthusiastic. We owe Dessner quite a bit for bringing such great collaborative music to Cincinnati, and we need to be sure that it continues well into the future.
By: Derek Jung
I'm not going to beat around the bush here. I wasn't looking forward to writing this review. After giving their new self-titled record one of our worst ratings of the year so far, I was hoping and praying that hearing the new album live would reinvigorate my love for the band, one that I saw bring down the house in Columbus, Ohio while touring on their debut Pickin' Up The Pieces. Alas, what I saw this time around was a tour fatigued band with little remaining passion. Quite frankly I've never seen a performance more worthy of the description "going through the motions" in recent memory.
Michael Fitzpatrick aka "Fitz" was the worst culprit of them all. His fist pumps were the least enthusiastic that I've ever seen, almost laughable in that it made their already corny choreography look even cornier. He even became grumpy and visibly detached when the crowd magically didn't automatically eat out of the palm of his hands. In fact, by the looks of it, hardly anyone in the crowd participated in the hand clapping, dancing, twirling, etc. that the band urged them to do. So we have a chicken or egg scenario here. Was the band less enthusiastic because the crowd was boring or was the crowd boring because the band wasn't enthusiastic? Having been there, I'd go with the latter. Even saxophonist James King's fantastic performance could not bring the comatose crowd back to life. Shout out to him for the obligatory "WKRP in Cincinnati" theme cover during his solo. Only people over 40 or those that have heard the cover before got the reference. There weren't many of us there. Noelle was a charmer as always despite her noticeable vocal issues. Her voice went out a few times when talking to the crowd in between songs. Props to her for being a trooper. I appreciated it.
With the exception of "Roll Up", the songs from the new album were nearly as bad live as they were on the album. Even "Complicated" was surprisingly worse than it was on the album. I didn't realize that was even possible. I will admit that the highlights from More Than Just A Dream and Pickin' Up The Pieces were well done despite the lackluster energy, but it was too little too late on a show that lacked everything that made me fall in love with the band back in 2011. They are merely the shell of what they used to be, and this performance did nothing to change my opinion on the matter.
Let's be real here. Michael Fitzpatrick is 46 years old. Not exactly the age you want to be when your band finally starts breaking out. Ever since More Than Just A Dream dropped, I've always wondered if his plan was to milk as much as he could out of the act before he hangs it up. Not many artists can sustain the same level of popularity, and especially singing power, beyond the age of 50, so I can't help but think that he saw the writing on the wall and took the path of least resistance in becoming a pop rock star. Write the most commercial sounding songs possible, get on Ellen, (twice), be in commercials (1,2,3,4,5, etc.), tv spots, and anything that can possibly use their song, and more or less sell their souls for the big paycheck. This is without even mentioning that he and wife Kaylee DeFer had their first child in 2013, the year their pop breakout More Than Just A Dream was released. Having the future college tuition payment blues, Michael? This is obviously just speculation, but to me he's never had the heart for the newer pop songs like he did for those on Pickin' Up The Pieces. If they had pop stardom as the goal the whole time, well, congratulations, but you've lost a fan in me.
Watch a performance of "Roll Up" below.
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary (debatable) guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here: