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.
By: Derek Jung
Let's make one thing clear: I don't go to many punk rock shows. FIDLAR was one of my favorite performances at Lollapalooza this year, so I couldn't pass up seeing them at my home venue. What an experience it was.
First off, openers The Frights and SWMRS played some pretty standard pop punk. The latter of which features Green Day lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong's son on drums and was very, very coached in terms of their performance. The lead singer had a Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant vibe in his dress with "Fuck Donald Trump" drawn on the front, and the guitarist did every cliched move in the book. All in all it was pretty ho hum, but the pit was definitely getting warmed up for the show to come.
FIDLAR took the stage to about a half capacity theater, which is pretty disappointing since they had been periodically selling out shows on their current tour, but that's Cincinnati for you. They immediately tore the roof off the venue with their cover of The Beastie Boys "Sabotage". From there it was 70 minutes of shredding through the hits from their first two albums. The audience ate it up, but we'll get there in a minute. The set was pretty similar to the one they played at Lollapalooza, but I wasn't expecting anything significantly different since they're on the same touring cycle. "Punks" is incredibly powerful live, and hearing everyone sing along to "Cheap Beer" and "Wake Bake Skate" was awesome.
The crowd, for being the size that it was, was absolutely insane. The pit was packed and churning with mosh pits through the entire set. Articles of clothing flew on stage so frequently that Brandon Schwartzel, the bassist tied about a dozen shoes to his mic stand in between songs. This, of course, encouraged more to be thrown on stage. I'm not sure moshing with bare feet is the best idea in the world, but I digress. Amongst the clothing being tossed were beer cans and water bottles, sometimes completely full and open. There was a nice, slick, sticky layer of filth on the pit floor after the show, which made me feel sorry for the staff of the newly renovated theater, but I guess it was to be expected. The moshing was much more intense than anything that we saw at Lollapalooza. A wall of death, contrary to the wall of hugs from Midpoint, actually looks very painful when witnessed in person, especially as bodies smack face first into each other at high speeds. Crowd surfing was a constant, and a few people even jumped from the second level onto the pit below. That's a drop of a good six or seven feet, people. Even one person managed to climb on stage and jump before security grabbed him. It was an amusing addition to the show, and definitely made it a memorable one to me.
Check out their cover of Sabotage from this year's Sziget Festival below.
By: Derek Jung
Despite having no new material since their 2013 album Evil Friends, Portugal. The Man is back on the road and looking as good as ever. Known for their powerful, energetic live shows, the band brought the house down at Madison Theater, but not before giving a shout out to former Cincinnati/Covington venue The Mad Hatter. Despite the lack of new material, it did not look to have a large effect on the size of the crowd that came out on a chilly November weekday.
Having never seen them before, I was immediately surprised at the show dynamics. First, the stand up comedian Adam Tod Brown was the first opener. While his act is relatively low brow humor, it was a something to witness before an indie rock band. But wait! He wasn't the only opener. After a quick DJ set by the band's hype man (we'll return to this in a bit), German rapper Casper came out and performed a unexpectedly wild set. So let's quickly recap up to this point. We've had a stand up comedian, a DJ set, and a foreign rapper open up for an indie rock band. Totally bizarre.
After all of that was finished, the hype man returned to the stage to introduce Portugal. The Man. He then proceeded to stay on stage the entire set and interject various "put your hands up" or "make some fucking noise" or [insert pump up phrase here]. It was the cherry on top of one of the strangest shows I've seen for what I came into thinking would be a fairly straight forward set. With all of that static, the question remains. How was the band?
In short, pretty darn great. The performance was tight. Nothing seemed stale or overplayed. In fact, the band was noticeably having a good time. At one point towards the end of the set, the band's manager(?) ran on stage and shoved mushroom-laden chocolate straight into each band member's mouth. Like I said, bizarre! The on stage banter was pretty light, thus the need for the hype man to interact with the crowd, but I didn't feel like anything was lost from it. All in all it was an enjoyable set. The band had a great mash up of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall Part 2" with "Purple Yellow Red Blue" as well as an Always Sunny in Philadelphia reference of "Dayman Song" as the intro to "So American". It was so cool I posted a video of it below. John Baldwin Gourley's vocals are surprisingly on point to where it sounds on the record. I'm looking forward to hearing some new material from them. Hopefully this coming year.
Watch the band play "So American" and "People Say" on KEXP from 2013 below. Again, the Always Sunny reference in the intro is amazing.
By: Derek Jung
As with any election season, many celebrities and bands have voiced their opinions for any who are willing to listen. The National have, throughout their career, been very vocal supporters of Democratic candidates. Four years ago, they played a "Get Out The Vote" concert in support of President Obama's reelection campaign at the historic Emery Theatre in downtown Cincinnati, and eight years ago they played on Fountain Square for the same cause. This year, they returned in support of Hillary Clinton at Washington Park.
Despite little advertising outside of their social media pages, a moderately large crowd gathered on an unseasonably warm November evening in Cincinnati. After a few speeches in support of the Democratic platform, including one by National Treasure and Hangover star Justin Bartha, The National took the stage to a surprisingly less than enthusiastic crowd. In fact, this was a theme throughout the show - a general lack of energy and excitement for a free show from one of the biggest indie rock acts in the world. Frankly, it was a little disappointing.
The band played well though, despite having muted guitars in the sound mix. Since they haven't released any new material since 2013's Trouble Will Find Me, their setlist was pretty standard. I was particularly excited that they played "About Today" from 2004's Cherry Tree EP; it's one of my favorite live compositions by the band and always a thrill to experience the slow build and glorious finale. Part of me was hoping for "Peggy-O" or "Morning Dew" from their fantastic Grateful Dead covers box set Day of the Dead that was released earlier this year, but no such luck was had. Lead singer Matt Berninger was light of the political discourse during the set, but jokingly tried to make connections with some of the song titles. While some would argue that there isn't much hope left in this election, I have hope for a new National album in 2017.
Check out the full setlist below and watch a local news segment on the concert. Yours truly makes an appearance in a plaid shirt around 1:24.
Don't Swallow the Cap
Sea of Love
I Need My Girl
This Is the Last Time
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: