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
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
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
In the world of nostalgia acts, the talent comes in a wide range of varieties. There are acts that were fantastic in their heyday and have aged like a fine wine. Bands in this category have continued to tighten their performances with experience and their hits feel as fresh as they did twenty or thirty years ago. There are also acts that should have hung it up years ago, spoiled by age, familiarity, or new band members that can't quite capture the magic of the original lineup. Going into the show, I was on the fence as to which side Joe Walsh would fall. Walsh has been in a few of the most iconic rock bands in the 70s, The Eagles and James Gang, not to mention a successful solo career of his own, but that peaked decades ago. I was curious to see and experience what he had to offer.
Opening the night was JD and the Straight Shots, an americana band fronted by billionaire James Dolan, the media and telecom giant. Dolan was joined by a who's who of studio and touring musicians, including musicians who have played with B.B. King, Robert Plant, Adele, and more. While his backing band was not lacking in talent, Dolan unfortunately left much to be desired. His vocals were rough and hollow, and his guitar playing was amateur. I couldn't help but think this was merely a mid-life crisis band for a lifetime businessman who just happened to have the money to scrape together a group of talented musicians and buy himself onto a tour. He's certainly not above plugging his own band in a tv show from a channel that he owns. Their song "Can't Make Tears" is the theme to AMC's Hell On Wheels. I was not impressed.
Joe Walsh took the stage to rousing applause and immediately dove into the James Gang favorite "Walk Away". While he wasn't overly energetic on stage, understandable at nearly 69 years of age, his vocals were surprisingly sharp and his playing was still top notch. Backed by two drummers (Joe Vitale and Chad Cronwell), Waddy Wachtel on guitar, Larry Young on bass, keyboardist Jimmy Wallace, four backup vocalists and, in what has to be the most interesting band member of the night, DJ Clayton Janes. Yes, a DJ. Thankfully, his presence was all but unnoticeable for the majority of the night, except for the bridge on "Funk #49" where they broke out into a giant dance party. His backup vocalist danced to the front of the stage, DJ Clayton Janes donned light up sunglasses, and Walsh brought a stuffed alligator toy to wave at the crowd. I'm still trying to figure that one out. As far as crazy happenings for Joe Walsh, that might be a little subdued compared to his partying days, but it felt more than a little out of place for such a music-focused show. Breaks from the music were few and far between. Walsh stopped only a few times to yell "HOW YOU DOIN?", which the crowd ate up, but everything else was nearly too slurred to understand. Although he's been sober since the early nineties, the effects linger on.
Even though I'm not a big Eagles fan, although the two he played were my favorites, the rest of his catalog is definitely worth seeing if you haven't. "Funk #49" becomes more and more iconic as the years pass, and there's no denying his solo material has had similar longevity. Life's certainly been good to him so far.
Watch a video recap of the show from Walsh below.
Walk Away (James Gang)
Everyday People (Sly & The Family Stone cover)
The Bomber: Closet Queen/Bolero/Cast Your Fate to the Wind (James Gang)
Take It to the Limit (Eagles)
Turn to Stone
In the City
Funk #49 (James Gang)
Life's Been Good
Life in the Fast Lane (Eagles)
Rocky Mountain Way
By: Derek Jung
Coming off last year's fabulous "All Your Favorite Bands", which both Joseph and I named as one of our favorites of 2015, the band's increased air time on independent radio has definitely bolstered their already passionate cult following. The last time they were in Cincinnati, they were opening for Hozier (remember him?). This time, Taft Theatre was packed for the California rockers, and they gave the audience a foot stomping good time.
It all started with The Lone Bellow, who opened the night. I was curious how the crowd would react to them, as I've only ever seen them as a headliner - once at MusicNOW Festival and again at 20th Century Theater. Either a large portion the crowd were already fans, or many new ones were made that night. By the end of the set, everyone was on their feet, clapping and singing along. In fact, I'd argue that they were the most successful opener to actually warm up the crowd that I've seen in a long time. They even managed a section-by-section theater singalong on "Then Came The Morning" that wasn't half-hearted or sarcastic.
With that said, Dawes took the stage to an eager and ready crowd and they kept the energy high throughout the majority of their set. Mixing a generous heaping of songs from the entirety of their discography, lead singer Taylor Goldsmith's cheerful demeanor lightened the retrospective melancholy that oftentimes features heavily in his songwriting. He bounced back and forth on stage, especially during drawn out jams or his guitar solos, smiling and playing the frontman role well. Taylor's brother Griffin, the band's drummer, complemented his vocals with an almost perfect harmony. The two even played a few songs completely unplugged, joined by the band's touring keyboardist, with only their voices and an acoustic guitar. The other members were much more subdued in their playing, giving Goldsmith the spotlight. Bassist Wylie Gelber would sit on the drum riser from time to time and second guitarist Alex Casnoff, wearing his signature hat and long, straightened hair, hardly moved unless he was playing a solo, and even then only took a few steps forward.
"When My Time Comes" still holds the same power and emotion for me that it did nearly ten years ago when it was released. Taylor can still hit the amazing chorus and hearing it reverberate throughout the theater gave me chills. The night closed with the crowd overpowering the band's singing on "All Your Favorite Bands", easily the most Kumbayah moment of the night.
Dawes has hinted that a new album is on the way soon. If that means another round of touring, I'll jump at the next chance I get to see them.
Check out a video of the aforementioned unplugged performance of "How Far We've Come".
From a Window Seat
That Western Skyline
Coming Back to a Man
I Can't Think About It Now
If I Wanted Someone
Now That It's Too Late, Maria
How Far We've Come
Take Me Out of the City
Right On Time
A Little Bit of Everything
When My Time Comes
From the Right Angle
All Your Favorite Bands
By Derek Jung
When it comes to guitar heroes, most would agree that Jimi Hendrix was one of, if not the greatest guitarist of all time. His influences can be heard in a multitude of modern artists spanning almost every genre of rock and pop imaginable. It's only fitting that a tribute tour to the late, great guitarist would include some of the best modern blues and rock artists in the world. Sunday, at the historic Taft Theatre in downtown Cincinnati, a group of over a dozen different artists dazzled for nearly three hours.
The star-studded lineup consisted of Jimi Hendrix Experience bassist Billy Cox, blues legend Buddy Guy, Ozzy Osbourne guitarist and Black Label Society frontman Zakk Wylde, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang, Dweezil Zappa, Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton, Mato Nanji, Ana Popovic, Noah Hunt, Calvin Cooke, and Henri Brown. While each of them brought their own distinctive styles to Hendrix classics, some did them better than others.
The night started with Billy Cox and Dweezil Zappa teaming up on "Freedom". When Cox wasn't playing bass, Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band/Gary Clark Jr. bassist Scott Nelson would join the group. He and Layton would be the backing band for the majority of the night. This kind of featured guitarist rotation was a staple of the evening, with different musicians jumping in and out to create a truly once in a lifetime collaborative experience.
Dweezil Zappa was only featured in a few songs, but he used that time to showcase the excellent guitar playing and similar styling that those familiar with his father, the legendary Frank Zappa, or his band, Zappa Playing Zappa, would immediately recognize.
Ana Popovic showed some chops on her last night of the tour by performing a few songs, one featuring slide guitar. While there's no doubt that Popovic is an excellent guitar player, her slide guitar was a little to erratic for my tastes.
Eric Johnson, who admittedly I was mostly looking forward to because his song "Cliffs of Dover" was a staple of my adolescence in Guitar Hero 3, was the next featured guitarist, and tackled some of Jimi's more psychedelic material, including "Are You Experienced?" and "Third Stone From The Sun". I think those in the crowd who were either less familiar with these songs or unfamiliar with Eric's playing were bit bored of the feedback-heavy, effects laden songs. But when Johnson could actually solo, his licks sounded great and his stage mannerisms conveyed a sense of ease and comfort that really made you feel like the material was a walk in the park in terms of difficulty for him. I really wanted to see him break out into an extended solo, but he stuck to the basic structure of the original Hendrix songs more than any of the other guitarists.
Zakk Wylde, undoubtedly, had the most enthusiastic crowd reactions of the night. He spent the majority of "Purple Haze" soloing in the crowd, up and down each section of the floor, fist bumping fans along the way while sustaining trills with one hand. The problem with the amount of soloing that Wylde did is that, frankly, his flailing all sounds the same. Not only does it sound the same, but it's a pretty large departure from the original Hendrix version. Look, I get that he's a hard rock/metal guitarist, but I can picture Jimi shaking his head at what Wylde was doing out there. But I digress.
Jonny Lang was the next featured performer, and while I loved his singing on the songs he performed, especially "The Wind Cries Mary", I couldn't help but be a little irked by his guitar playing. He's a talented musician, don't get me wrong, but he takes the gaping mouth, eyes closed, orgasm-face while soloing stereotype way. too. far. That, and when he and Mato had a "guitar duel", his segments were much longer and he repeatedly cut off Mato before he was finished. Former child prodigy aside, I saw enough.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd took the stage next and really showed the crowd what a great showman he is. Granted, he was probably the most comfortable featured guitarists of the night since Layton and Nelson are his normal backing musicians in the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, Noah Hunt is his normal vocalist, and the songs he played were Jimi Hendrix covers that are normally included in his set - Gypsy Eyes and a Voodoo Chile/Voodoo Child medley. That said, he was definitely the show highlight for me. Just pure talent and showmanship. I loved when he held a trill with one hand and the spotlight was on him. Slowly, he made a finger gun and pointed it up and the light and shot it out, immediately backing into an immense swell in his solo. Such a badass move.
Buddy Guy was the final featured guitarist to play, and he had his own drummer so Layton left the stage for the first and last time of the night. Buddy didn't play lead on any Jimmy Hendrix songs, instead playing the Muddy Waters tune, "Close To You", with added lyrics like "One leg to the east, one leg to the west, I'm here in the middle, tryin' to do my best". Now, coming from a 79 year old man, it was absolutely hilarious. His guitar playing, understandably given his age, was sparse; he played a few extended licks, but mostly left the main guitar parts to Mato Nanji, who joined him on stage. Mato was a staple as a backing guitarist for much of the night, only singing on one song, "Hey Joe" towards the end of the night, and playing lead on a few. Having seen his main band, Indigenous, a handful of times, his presence on stage for this stood in stark contrast to the charismatic showmanship that he displayed leading Indigenous. That's not to say his playing was lacking, because it fit exactly what he needed to contribute as a backing guitarist, but he never really hit the extra gear that I admired in the past.
Overall, if you're a fan of Jimi Hendrix, good blues rock guitar playing, and seeing a handful of guitar gods in a single concert, I'd recommend seeing the Experience Hendrix Tour. At times it felt a little like a guitar solo circlejerk, especially when the meat of every song felt like its sole purpose was to be an introduction to the inevitable solo, but generally speaking I enjoyed listening to most of the artists featured.
Cheers, Jimi. You left us way too soon.
By: Derek Jung
Back when I was a teenager, Eagles of Death Metal was one of my first concerts...third to be exact, and I was so young that I wasn't even allowed to go by myself (Thanks Aunt Sharon and Uncle Nick for taking me!). I credit that concert for really spring-boarding my love for live music, and when I heard that they'd be returning to the same small theater where I saw them the first time, I couldn't resist.
Eagles of Death Metal are known for their high energy shows, and frontman Jesse "Boots Electric" Hughes is the spitting image of the classic rock 'n roll sex symbol. He's suave, sexy, and has a charisma that really makes him the most likable person in the room. While he's not the best guitar player, he makes up for it with funky dance moves, hilarious jokes, and constantly swooning at the ladies. It takes a certain kind of person for the frequent comments to pretty women in the crowd to not feel really creepy , and maybe it's because I'm not a woman, but Jesse has never given my the vibe of a creeper (but he is a Midnight Creeper). Instead, the atmosphere is a fun-loving, booty-shaking good time.
Eagles of Death Metal's second half, QOTSA frontman Josh Homme, almost never tours with the band, which creates a situation where Jesse needs touring musicians. Luckily for them, Homme and company always have a cast of characters from their ever-expanding group of collaborators to choose from. On this tour, Dave Catching of The Rancho De La Luna recording studio took his usual post playing guitar, Matt McJunkins of A Perfect Circle assumed bass duties from Brian O'Connor, who has been battling cancer in recent years, and Jeff Friedl took drums from Homme and Joey Castillo. While I missed seeing Castillo and O'Connor up there, Matt and Jeff really performed well in their own right.
I've been a little skeptical of the new material from the new album Zipper Down, being released October 2nd, especially since a few of them are repeats from Hughes' solo album Honky Kong. Despite what some may call lazy, I really enjoyed the live version of "Complexity" compared to the solo album version. Silverlake was a real rocker and nearly brought down the house along with Hughes' guitar playing (he warned us beforehand that he may "fuck up" the strumming). Save A Prayer was also a welcome surprise from the new album, and even though it's a Duran Duran cover, they put their own spin on it that I enjoyed more than the original (low bar to meet).
Hughes played a good selection of songs by himself prior to the encore, including a rousing rendition of "I'll Blow You A Kiss In The Wind", before reintroducing the rest of the band back on stage. I was a little disappointed that he played my favorite cover, Brown Sugar, without the rest of the band. I was also a little tired by the end of the extensive guitar duel between Hughes and Catching, which lasted far too long and was not helped by McJunkins' finale of the Mario Theme song on bass (Seriously, how many musicians use that as their go-to solo?).
All in all they put on a thriller of a show, mixing in new songs and old, lasting around two hours and well past what I thought was a hard 11pm sound curfew in the area. Hughes tossed a half dozen sweaty towels to the crowd during the course of the show and finished with his sweaty shirt at the end of the show. This is after they flung a few packs of custom guitar picks into the audience, admiring how far they went. If you didn't go away with a souvenir from this show you either weren't trying hard enough or were out of their pick-throwing range.
The new Eagles of Death Metal album Zipper Down is in stores October 2nd.
Bad Dream Mama
Don't Speak (I Came to Make A Bang!)
I Got a Feelin (Just Nineteen)
Whorehoppin' (Shit, Goddamn)
Stuck In The Metal
I Want You So Hard (Boy's Bad News)
--Boots Solo Encore--
Kiss The Devil
I'll Blow You A Kiss In The Wind (Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart cover)
Brown Sugar (The Rollings Stones cover)
--Full Band Encore--
Save A Prayer (Duran Duran Cover)
Wanna Be In LA
I Only Want You
Speaking In Tongues
(As far as I remember)
Featuring Houndmouth, J. Roddy Walston and The Business, and Cold War Kids
Wow. So first off, what a show. Nashville knows how to do a good live show. The crowd was fantastic, the sound was great, and the overall production value was amazing. The only thing that really fell flat on its face was the headliner, Cold War Kids. But more on that later. I want to talk sound quality first. So I've always had a problem with sound quality at shows. There's a lot that goes into that: for example, you could go to a show on Fountain Square and run into a sound guy who doesn't know what the phrase "sound balancing" means. Or you could go to a show at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena and be way up in the nosebleeds and lose out on the balancing that way. But, for me, I've always had a beef with the speakers themselves. I've come to accept that when I go to a live show the EQ of the speakers themselves are going to be all over the place, and certain instruments will suffer because of it. For example, if you go to Bogart's Music Club in Cincinnati you can expect to hear all drums and virtually no vocals. Certainly don't expect to understand what the vocalist is saying on that sound system. However, not expecting much in terms of a balanced sound system makes finding it that much sweeter when you hear it. And Live on the Green's sound system is the second-best sound system I've ever heard. The first? Every single stage at Bonnaroo. Just in case you were wondering.
So, you can imagine how excited I was when I realized how wonderful and balanced this sound system was about two songs into Houndmouth's set. This was my first experience with Houndmouth's live sound, and boy was I impressed. I haven't listened to the band too much, short of a few listens of their two main LPs, but every time I listened I wasn't too particularly impressed by their sound. There was a certain intensity I found lacking in their album sound. However, the band more than made up for that lack of intensity with their live sound, delivering a wonderfully surprising and effective set. The balancing of their sound (there it is again) really helped make their set more effective, as each member of the band was mic'd up and delivered some beautiful 4-part vocal harmonies that most sound systems would be unable to handle properly. I fully intend on seeing Houndmouth again, but unless I see them at Bonnaroo I highly doubt their live set will be as great as it was this time around because of that great sound system.
Next up was J. Roddy Walston and the Business. Now, I have a certain love affair for J. Roddy. Unlike Houndmouth, who I had never seen before, this marked my 4th time seeing J. Roddy Walston and the Business over the last year. Frankly, I believe they are one of the best live acts on the road right now, and I will go out of my way to see them as much as possible. I went into this show with giddy anticipation: J. Roddy Walston feeds off the intensity of the crowd, and this crowd was ready to have their faces melted off by rock 'n' roll. And J. Roddy delivered the goods. I needed my J. Roddy fix, because last time I saw him in Harrisonburg, VA, it was one of the worst shows I had ever been to. It was cold and raining, and no one knew who J. Roddy was. As a result there was absolutely no intensity in the crowd, and J. Roddy and the band just went through the motions because of it. But not this time. This time J. Roddy took the crowd on an epic 10-song set through his best live songs (minus "Sweat Shack"-I really have no idea why the band didn't play what has become one of their most recognizable songs) and blew the entire audience away. I knew there was no way headliner Cold War Kids could follow J. Roddy's set. But what we got was significantly more disappointing.
Ok. Let me preface this by saying I like Cold War Kids. To me, they sound a lot like Foxy Shazam minus the intensity. But for those who know just how much I love Foxy Shazam, (shoutout to their frontman Eric Nally being featured in the latest Macklemore song) you know this is a very high compliment I can bestow on a band. But it wasn't their sound I had a problem with. It was their lighting. It's like what Derek said the other day about that Fountain Square show: if the first thing you remember about a show is anything other than the band and the music, that's not a good thing. And the only thing I can remember about Cold War Kids' set is the lighting. For some strange reason, the band decided to be cool by having their entire set be lit by lighting that was behind them. As a result, all you could see of the band were shadows. At first, I thought this was a gimmick. That they were gonna hold off for a few songs and then have a great moment in like the third song where all the sudden all the lighting comes up and everyone goes crazy. No. Didn't happen. For the entire set, the members of Cold War Kids were just shadows. Or you couldn't see them at all. This meant that seeing the stage didn't mean anything, and as a result people who waited for hours to get the very best seat had no better a view of the band than someone who showed up 5 minutes before the set started in the very back. This made me very frustrated, as someone who was in the front for the entire show, and after initially putting up with the 2 inches of personal space I was given to start Cold War Kids set because everyone pushes to the front for the headliner, I said screw it and moved to the very back and actually sat down and just listened. Any intensity the band may have been able to give the audience was completely lost because of the lighting, and as a result I valued having personal space higher than trying to be as close to the stage as possible. As a band, that is certainly not what you want your audience to think and feel, and I hope Cold War Kids changes that "artistic decision" very soon.
As for the set itself....it was fine. It was pretty much dominated by that lighting issue, and it was very hard for me to get into the set because of it. But their sound was still pretty good and they were fun to listen to. They are a solid band with a good sound, but they just couldn't follow the sets that Houndmouth and J. Roddy delivered. Overall, the show was fantastic, and when you also add in the small fact that it was also free, you have the icing on the cake. The atmosphere was fantastic, and everyone was their to hear some great music. And that's exactly what they got.
J. Roddy Walston and the Business Set
Don't Break the Needle
Take It as It Comes
Brave Man's Death
I Don't Wanna Hear It
Used To Did
Cold War Kids Set
All This Could Be Yours
One Song at a Time
We Used to Vacation
Louder Than Ever
Hang Me Up to Dry
Something is Not Right with Me
By: Derek Jung
First and foremost, let’s get something out of the way: John Popper can play the harmonica very well.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the band. Blues Traveler’s heyday was in the early-to-mid
90’s. Their seminal album four was released in 1994 and nothing since has reached the kind of acclaim
that the first few albums received. Given that fact, I would consider them a borderline nostalgia act.
There’s nothing wrong with being a nostalgia act, in fact, many similar bands still draw huge crowds.
Being a nostalgia act comes with a certain self-awareness of where you currently stand in your musical
career; you know that your best days are probably behind you, and even if you still want to make new
music, you realize that most people will want to hear your older material. Blues Traveler hasn’t reached
that point yet. The band released a new album this year titled Blow Up The Moon. I’m sure the album is
fine, but I can also guarantee that the vast majority of the audience came specifically to hear the hits
from four. It wasn’t until nearly the end of their set that they finally brought out “Run-Around”, and you
could tell from the crowd that it was too little, too late to save the set.
Popper’s lost a lot of weight since the 90’s, a product of a series of health issues in the last 15 years, but
his voice still sounds great and he can still wail on the harmonica. He had a set-up of 5 red solo cups on a
little table to prevent his mouth from getting dry, and the stagehand would replace them as he drank.
By the end of the show, I think he drank enough solo cups to field a regulation beer pong table.
Every song featured the harmonica in some shape or form, and he is definitely the virtuoso that I
imagined from listening to the albums growing up. The problem with having so many harmonica solos is
that they all start sounding the same after a while. I appreciated the skill and difficulty of his playing, but
it quickly became an overused gimmick. In fact, most of their jamming got old, and I’m normally all
about jam sessions mid-concert. There were harmonica solos, guitar solos, bass solos, and more guitar
solos; this jamming was not only excessive but it often sounded jumbled and disorganized, like it was
one person’s turn to show off for a little while without much interaction with the other bandmates. I
love good jams where the individual members react to the ebb and flow of each other’s playing, but this
was not it.
To avoid being a total buzzkill for two live reviews in a row, there were some memorable moments
during the show. They played a fun cover of The Charlie Daniels Band classic “The Devil Went Down To
Georgia” where Chan Kinchla, the guitarist, dueled Popper on harmonica. They also did a reggae
restyling of Radiohead’s “Creep” which was pretty cool and definitely took me by surprise. Because they
were sandwiched between songs that I didn’t recognize, they were a breath of fresh air to the set. Later
on, they brought out New Hollow to play the song they helped collaborate on from Blow Up The Moon
called “Jackie’s Baby”, but not before wishing Evan West from New Hollow happy 21st birthday. Yes, you
read that right. Blues Traveler collaborated with a bunch of early twenty-somethings. Stoner uncle
Throw in a keytar jam (I’m serious), and you have the basic gist of what the show was like. I’m not going
to lie, my wife and I left a little early when it became apparent that they were going to continue avoiding
four and keep on with the never-ending, insufferable jamming. It wasn’t worth it to hear “Hook” or “The
Mountains Win Again”.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the opening band, Cincinnati’s own Motherfolk. They may sing “whoa”
and “oh” too much, but I really like their sound, and I’m disappointed because I think I was in the
minority last night.
By: Derek Jung
How fitting that on a weekend celebrating red, white, and blue, a band called Red Wanting Blue would be playing the Midpoint Indie Summer Series show on Fountain Square in the heart of Cincinnati. RWB, originally hailing from Athens, Ohio before moving upstate to Columbus, have been criss-crossing the Midwest for much of the last two decades and lead vocalist Scott Terry, with his unique growling baritone, can fill a room with his emotionally charged stage presence.
I had the pleasure of seeing the band in April at Madison Live!, a small theater next door to Madison Theater in Covington, KY. I wasn't super familiar with their material, but given the chance to see them, I was happy I went. This weekend, however, was a different story. There were at least five times the number of people in attendance for this outdoor, free show than there were in April. Not only was it free, but before the set started there was a fireworks show for the 4th of July. The combination of the fireworks, which drew people not necessarily there for the music, and the way the outdoor stage affected the band's sound, led to an underwhelming show.
This is nothing against the band. Terry played with the same energy that I saw back in April, and the band played well, but the sound on the outdoor stage was very underwhelming and seemed small given the space. The drums sounded muffled and distant, and Terry's vocals didn't fill the open aired space with the power and authority that it did in the small theater. You could tell that the group of people towards the front of the stage were RWB fans, and the band was trying hard to use their energy to drive the set, but Terry had a difficult time even getting the crowd to clap along with him. This lack of energy became worse and worse the farther from the stage you were.
The band covered many of the songs from their newest album Little America, as well as the fan favorites. They brought out Cincinnati locals, The Young Heirlooms, who played before the fireworks, to help with a song. If you haven't seen them before, check them out.
Hopefully the next time Red Wanting Blue comes to town they'll return to a theater instead of an outdoor space, because their band is much better suited for that.
Watch a live take of "Hope on a Rope" from 2012 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: