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.
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
By: Joseph Kathmann
It's hard to put into words what I just saw, but whatever it was I liked it. I liked it a lot. This show was an absolute blast to watch, featuring one of the most energetic and passionate crowds I have ever seen. Everyone was dressed up and having the time of their lives. Even though I suspect that a large portion of the crowd were not die-hard Here Come the Mummies fans, this crowd simply just loved music, and it set a new standard for what I hope to see from a crowd at any show going forward.
Opening for Here Come the Mummies was Japanese punk band Peelander-Z. This was a very odd choice for Here Come the Mummies, but it was also a sign of just how good this crowd was going to be. I'm sure none of them came to this show expecting to hear Japanese punk music, but the band was able to get them into their show nonetheless. There were some really weird antics throughout this 45 minute set, featuring a lot of signs, what appeared to be bringing random people from the audience on stage to play drums and guitar, and a flash dance party in the middle of the crowd. I wasn't too particularly keen on this set, particularly when their final song felt like it took about 10 minutes to end. I kid you not, their "big rock ending" to their set lasted 10 minutes. It was certainly a bit much, but the crowd didn't mind.
Following an awesome costume contest that featured some trees, (with lights) The Dude, and Colonel Sanders with a big bucket of chicken, Here Come the Mummies took the stage. Featuring their trademarked mummy garbs, the band began their set in unique fashion with a drum intro and march through the crowd similar to a marching band as everyone in the band had on various percussion instruments. The band opened with "My Party" and never looked back, tearing through a ridiculous 2+ hour set. The band had antics all throughout the show, and their antics reminded me of my days in college marching band and pep band, (hooooo!) so I was having a blast along with everyone else. The crowd was electric, dancing and groove through every moment of the 20+ songs. Sure, the songs are pretty shallow and nearly every one has to do with sex, but the crowd didn't care. Watching Colonel Sanders dance with his bucket of chicken was awesome, and even the trees were getting into it. I don't think I've ever seen trees move that much.
Ultimately, this was one of the coolest sets I have ever seen. This set was the kind of set I dreamed about coming to Nashville, and while there were definitely a fair amount of external factors that impacted and raised the overall vibe of this show, but the explosiveness and intensity of Here Come the Mummies was pivotal as well. I definitely want to see these guys again to see just how much of a role these external factors played, but as is this set is right there with Prophets of Rage for my favorite set during my time here in Nashville.
Check out a video of "Ra Ra Ra" below.
By: Joseph Kathmann
On a cold southern night in a tiny, packed, venue, Nothing But Thieves followed up their strong Lollapalooza set (which I called one of my favorite sets of the festival) with another gem. I cannot emphasize this enough: go out and see them right now. You will not get the chance to see them at a tiny club like Exit/In for much longer. The vibe of this small venue definitely helped to feed the energy of the band too.
First, though, was The Wreks. There was another opener, The Roads Below, but unfortunately I missed them because I showed up 25 minutes late and they only had a 20 minute set. While it was tough to really get a feel for The Wreks because they themselves only played for about 25 minutes, they did everything they could to convert some new fans in that short span. I think they did, because here's one person who wants to see them again. They clearly threw a lot of ideas against the wall, and while not all of those ideas stuck, the ones that did were quite impressive. I hope to see them again soon.
Then came Nothing But Thieves. They exploded through the gates with my favorite song of their namesake debut album, "Itch," and kept the intensity going through most of their short 55 minute set. However notice I said most there. There was one misstep in the exact middle of the set. During this brief 3 or 4 song interlude, the band slouched through a couple of their weaker deep tracks, and also trotted out a new song that took everything that made their debut album so great, and did the exact opposite. This new song was easily the low point of the show, but I am not at all worried about what this means long term. Because the rest of their set was just that good. Highlighted by their hit "Trip Switch" as well as "Painkiller," Nothing But Thieves successfully reminded me why I am so confident in their future. They were even able to turn one of my least favorite songs on their debut, "If I Get High," into a great and emotional ballad toward the end of the set. They may still only have one album to their name, but the quality of their music and already-refined live show makes them poised to take the music world by storm in short order. Check them out now before they're forced to play at larger venues.
2) Honey Whiskey
5) Graveyard Wedding
6) Drawing Pins
7) Six Billion
8) New Song (unknown name)
10) Excuse Me
11) Wake Up Call
12) If I Get High
13) Trip Switch
14) Ban All the Music
If you need more convincing, check out Nothing But Thieves performance of "Trip Switch" below.
By: Derek Jung
Celebrating their debut full length debut release, Dawg Yawp took the stage at MOTR Pub a little after 11 on a comfortable fall Friday evening in downtown Cincinnati. The reasonably small bar was packed to capacity for one of the most hyped new bands in the city, and one that's also has been receiving notice from NPR's Bob Boilen amongst others. I've been following the band since I saw them perform during an intermission at MusicNOW Festival this year, and their performance this summer at Bunbury was one of our favorites of the early afternoon acts.
The band performed pretty much every song off the new album, many of which were teased on their EP Two Hearted earlier this year. Tyler Randall's sitar playing was just what the shoulder to shoulder crowd needed. It was hot, stuffy, and sweaty in there, and songs like "Lost At Sea" conjured up images of traversing seas of sand in the deserts of northwestern India. It was a special atmosphere and the excitement was palpable from both the band and those gathered to see them.
Since it's only the duo on stage, songs like "Can't Think" and "Dawg", which have electric guitars and percussion, take new forms live. Guitarist Rob Keenan spends much of his time on a sound board, pressing buttons that hold sound samples for each instrument that can't be played live. On one hand, it's unique and different, but on the other it's a little boring to watch him press buttons. While their gracious nature evokes a lot of good will from the crowd, especially in Cincinnati, I want to see them work on their showmanship, and I think - unpopular opinion time - that having live backing musicians would be a fantastic addition to their set and give them the freedom to expand their songwriting moving forward.
All things considered, it was a great showcase of the album, and they have a bright, successful future ahead of them.
Check out a live performance of "Can't Think" from WNKU's Studio 89 below.
What a polarizing show. On the one hand, Prophets of Rage is a clear and obvious cash-grab. Their "edgy" message can be summed up as "Donald Trump is bad. So we're doing this." and the openers were absolutely terrible. We'll get to those, because despite these major shortcomings, it has been a LONG time since I've had this much fun at a show. Why? Simple. Because Rage Against the Machine is THAT good. Even though B-Real left much to be desired and Chuck D was just average, the instrumentation of Rage's Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, and Tim Commerford more than made up for it. Basically, this is Rage Against the Machine's show, and fortunately for all of us all the members of Prophets of Rage knew it.
The night started out slow. Opener and total unknown Wakrat was hugely disappointing, and couldn't find the "edge" they were trying to deliver and instead were just downright offensive at points, with one of their big songs being a clear and obvious anthem for school shooters. After the lackluster opener, we saw the remains of the once-superstar band AWOLNATION. (Author's note: I am currently providing the merch for AWOLNATION) All the stories about Aaron Bruno are true. Sadly, there is little talent nowadays with Bruno and his band, as it can basically be summed us as "Aaron Bruno screams uncontrollably for 45 minutes" with the sole bright spot of the set being the obvious, "Sail." At least during "Sail" Bruno allowed the rest of his band to come out a bit versus trying to drown them out with his terrible vocals like he did during the rest of the set.
But I knew all I had to do was bide my time, and fortunately I was not disappointed. After opening with the lackluster and predictable "Prophets of Rage," the crew tore into a cover of "Guerrilla Radio" and never looked back. The explosive 18 song set was capped by a surprise appearance by Nashville locals Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) and Matt Shultz (of Cage the Elephant) during the encore to play a cover of Rage's Kick Out the Jams and featured a host of Rage covers, as well as a few Cyprus Hill and Public Enemy covers. Prophets of Rage even played a few covers of other bands, including Beastie Boys popular "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." This was also the problem, however. Despite a fantastic set, the entire show felt incredibly superficial. Like I said before, the banter was simple, and even Tom Morello failed to incite any sort of rebellious mood. The only time the group was edgy was when it performed its famously edgy songs. Yes, "Killing in the Name Of" is still one of the most controversial songs of all-time, but its authors have clearly sold out to the establishment. Fortunately, the instrumentation of Rage Against the Machine was so good that I didn't care.
1) Prophets of Rage
2) Guerrilla Radio (RATM Cover)
3) Bombtrack (RATM Cover)
4) People of the Sun (RATM Cover)
5) How I Could Just Kill a Man (Cypress Hill Cover)
6) Take the Power Back (RATM Cover)
7) Testify (RATM Cover)
8) DJ Lord Break
9) Sleep Now in the Fire (RATM Cover)
10) Calm Like a Bomb (RATM Cover)
11) Bullet in the Head (RATM Cover)
12) Shut 'Em Down (Public Enemy Cover)
13) Know Your Enemy (RATM Cover)
14) The Party's Over
15) No Sleep Till Brooklyn/Fight the Power (Beastie Boys/Public Enemy Mashup)
16) Kick Out the Jams (RATM Cover) (with Dan Auerbach and Matthew Shultz)
17) Killing in the Name (RATM Cover)
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: