By: Derek Jung
It's amazing what a change in venue can do for a listening experience. Two weeks ago, I was thoroughly unimpressed by Judah & the Lion's performance at Forecastle Festival, basically calling them X Ambassador wannabes. But Thursday afternoon's intimate performance in front of 100 or so attendees gave me better context for what the band is striving to achieve in their music, and even the poppier songs that I railed on previously sounded sincere and energized.
Being an acoustic set, some of the glamour of their live show had to be drawn back to fit the environment of the room. Frankly, I had my doubts going into the set because of how high energy their Forecastle performance was. To Judah and the band's credit, however, their storytelling, humor, and outward appreciation for the opportunity to do what they love were undeniably endearing. It also helped that our host, a DJ from Cincinnati's Q102, was so much better than the laughable performance by the KISS107 host during the Fitz & the Tantrums in studio performance earlier this year.
The biggest surprise was a cover of Eminem's "Lose Yourself", which Judah had some great flow. They also brought up a fan, who hilariously didn't know what he was volunteering for, to freestyle rap with mandolin player Brain Macdonald. To his credit, he managed to get everyone's hands up and sloppily get one diss out before giving up. While it wasn't good, it was certainly entertaining.
Overall, I was much more impressed by the band's energy and music in this setting than I was in a large festival atmosphere. The band will be back in Cincinnati later this fall.
Suit and Jacket
Back's Against the Wall
Lose Yourself (Eminem cover)
Little Girl of Mine In Tennessee
Take It All Back 2.0
By: Derek Jung
It's fun to watch a band grow from humble beginnings to achieve underground recognition. I first saw Dawg Yawp as a side act during last year's MusicNOW Festival, something that seemed so insignificant that I didn't even mention it in my review of the night, which was dominated by the extremely talented Chris Thile. Since then, Dawg Yawp has become a force in the Cincinnati local music scene, being featured on NPR's All Songs Considered, playing Bunbury Music Festival, and recently recording an NPR Tiny Desk show. The sky's the limit for these two dawgs, and their return to the Woodward Theater was the band's biggest crowd at the venue to date.
Since I last saw them at WNKU's Studio 89 back in February, the band has been fleshing out their live performances with more improvisational jams. On the one hand, I think this is a great step in the right direction in terms of their sound, but, as with anything, practice makes perfect and there were still a few kinks to iron out. Some of the slower jams felt a little empty sonically , but I suppose that's to be expected when there are only two instruments featured. The band did play some great covers, including their set standard of The Beatles classic "Two Of Us" as well as a surprise cover of "Blue Ridge Mountains" by Fleet Foxes.
I'm looking forward to hearing what direction the band decides to move towards in their new material. There was a definite shift in crowd engagement between certain song styles. Folky songs like "East Virginia Blues" were well received by the crowd, who stomped and clapped their hands to the beat. In contrast, more experimental songs like "18 caret" quickly found the crowd losing interest and the chatter got louder and louder. In my opinion, there's a pretty clear path forward, but only time will tell.
This isn't the last dose of Dawg Yawp in Cincinnati this summer. They are opening for Foxy Shazam lead signer Eric Nally on Fountain Square next month, so I'm looking forward to hearing how much they grow as performers in that time.
By: Derek Jung
After missing the previous three years, it was nice to finally return to the banks of the Ohio River in Louisville, KY for another round of Forecastle. 2013's edition was my first music festival ever, and the experience that I had there set the bar for three day marathon-style music festivals that I've attended ever since. Yes, the musical landscape has changed quite a bit even in those few years, but what I found was that the essence of Forecastle was still in great shape, even with the negative vibes that the EDM/rave culture brought to two of the stages during the festival. Below I've highlighted some of the good, the bad, and the ugly from this year's beautiful Forecastle Festival. Welcome aboard, reader.
After what was reported as an uncharacteristically rough performance at Pitchfork Festival in Chicago the night before, James Murphy and crew brought their A Game to their Saturday headlining slot on the riverfront. For an hour and fifty minutes, the field of festival goers were dancing and grooving to the band's signature sound. Between last year's headlining set at Lollapalooza and this one, the setlist was very similar, save for the addition of the two new singles from their impending new album. "Call The Police" was especially poignant, it's driving repeated riff climaxing to Murphy's exclamatory outro chorus. As always, it was a wondrous experience to see tens of thousands of people dancing together, specifically during "Dance Yrself Clean" and my personal highlight, "All My Friends".
The band also performed what Murphy admitted was their first festival encore ever, so that was a nice little piece of history to witness. I have a feeling, however, that it was unintentional. They left the stage exactly at 11, but their set was scheduled until 11:20. Nontheless, it was a great set and my favorite of the entire weekend.
Yr City's a Sucker
Daft Pink Is Playing at My House
I Can Change
You Wanted a Hit
Call The Police
New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down
Dance Yrself Clean
All My Friends
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires
Seeing a cancer free Charles Bradley smiling at a field of hot, sweaty, Sunday afternoon festival goers was immediately one of the highlights of the entire weekend. Since I saw him last at Bunbury 2016, Bradley underwent treatment for stomach cancer and had to cancel a number of tour dates in the process. But the 68 year old, nicknamed the "Screaming Eagle" for a reason, brought the soul to the waterfront, and his energy woke all of us from our heat-induced slumbers. At his age, he's still incredible mobile, and twice jumped down from the stage to sing and dance. After his rousing cover of the Ozzy Osbourne classic "Changes", he brought a dozen roses and handed them out to the crowd. A little girl on her dad's shoulders in front us got one of the roses, and everyone around her gave her high fives. The smile on her face said it all. That's a moment she'll remember for a long time, and is exactly the good vibes that I've come to expect from the festival.
Perhaps the most intimate performance of the weekend took place on the small Port stage, which was situated across a small docking area to the right of the main stage. John Moreland, a singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, took the stage in the late afternoon on Friday. I had seen Moreland open for Shovels & Rope earlier this year, and immediately fell in love with his hard cutting, deeply personal lyricism and his gravelly, Springsteen-esque voice. Seeing Moreland at the festival was a last second decision for us. His time slot was one of the biggest conflicts of the weekend; Capital Cities lined up with all but 15 minutes of his set and Cage The Elephant started on the main stage a half hour before he ended. Despite all of that, once we arrived on the sparsely populated lawn, there was no leaving him. With little fanfare and only he and an accompanying guitarist to his right, Moreland dove into his new record, the fantastic Big Bad Luv, as well as a number of songs off his older records. It was a perfect setting as the sun slowly set under the Ohio River.
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
Run The Jewels
RTJ, the hip hop duo consisting of Killer Mike and El-P, was one of my most anticipated sets of the festival. Unfortunately for me, the mix was one of the worst of the weekend. Now, maybe this is just Grandpa Derek rambling here, but the bass and low end was so loud that it was drowning out a lot of the rapping, especially Killer Mike. What's the point if you can't hear the rapping?
I enjoyed everything else about their set. Their stage presence was great, the crowd interactions were hilarious, and I have nothing else bad to say about them. But the bass-heavy mix completely ruined it for me. Joseph and I are probably going to catch them in a few weeks at Lollapalooza. Hopefully they have things balanced a little better there, but I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out sounding like Bastille last year.
Judah & The Lion
For the most part, there weren't many bad sets this year, which is a great sign that they're doing things right on the riverfront. The worst performance of the weekend was definitely from Judah & The Lion, although I suppose I should give them credit for living up to the name of their album Folk Hop N' Roll. But it was that lack of identity that really turned me off of the band's show. Much of the new album is very poppy - pop hooks, pop lyrics, pop sensibilities. Their show, however, tried a little too hard to be like X Ambassadors, and it felt forced and uncharacteristic for a group whose first two albums were mostly folk/americana. Come on, fellas. No need to be what you're not for the sake of a paycheck.
Weezer's cover of "Hey Ya" - Outkast
The Party Cove Stage
For a band with such great potential, lead singer Sam France continues to derail their live performances with his on stage antics and unstable performances. After seeing them twice, I'm still not sure who he's trying to emulate, but it's perhaps best described as a less talented Mick Jagger on methamphetamine. Despite France's best efforts to attract all of the attention to himself by yelling nonsense and being the most distracting lead singer I've ever seen, the rest of the band's performance was pretty great. That only makes his meltdowns even more disappointing. The saddest part is that as the band's material has gotten more ambitious, on Hang especially, the level of France's outrageous behavior has, as they say, gone to 11. And I make that last statement in the worst light possible. He was dressed in white face at Forecastle.
Until France gets himself under control, Foxygen live is a hard pass from me.
All in all, it was another great showing for the Louisville mainstay. Most of the changes since my last visit in 2013 were positive, especially moving the smallest stage to its current location. I'm still advocating for them to limit the amount of EDM/Rave culture that they allow into the festival, because it brings the most negative crowd of hormonal teenagers who just want to get high and fuck. For a good vibes festival like Forecastle, the two don't mix, and there are plenty of other festivals where that crowd can blow their loads, literally and figuratively. But unfortunately, I am also well aware of the economics involved. EDM is where the money is at the moment, and the festival needs to make a profit to survive. All that being said, Forecastle has done well to balance the good with the necessary evils, and I look forward to my next trip to the waterfront.
By: Joseph Kathmann
Let's address the elephant in the room first: yes, I like Avenged Sevenfold. While the band has tapered off significantly in my opinion on their last two albums, The Stage and Hail to the King, there was a time back in the 2000s when the group was on top of the rock 'n' roll world for me, churning out hits from classic LPs like Waking the Fallen and 2005's City of Evil. The latter got me into Avenged Sevenfold initially, and is one of my favorite albums from that decade. I have many personal memories connected with the band's music, from jamming out to them on break while working the Kings Island Halloween Haunt back in 2008 to having a blast with the instrumentation on various iterations of Rock Band. Unfortunately for me, the feeling of nostalgia has not caught up to the band just yet.
Before we get to the crap shoot that was Avenged Sevenfold, let's talk about the opener, Volbeat. I knew very little about the band going into their set other than the fact that they are far more relevant in the metal world today than Avenged Sevenfold is. It showed-there were almost as many Volbeat shirts in the audience as there were Avenged Sevenfold shirts, and many of those Volbeat shirts disappeared after their set. (I can't hardly blame them either) While I dug their interesting mix of Irish punk music and heavy metal, and could (mostly) appreciate the vocals of frontman Michael Poulsen, the band was otherwise pretty lifeless. It may have been the timing-the band is right in the middle of a massive, nation-wide tour with Avenged Sevenfold, and the Cincy date probably felt tacked on to them because the other band on the tour, Metallica, had to skip out on the date because of Rock on the Range's proximity clause. Regardless, the band's lack of energy combined with a similarity in most of their music made every song in this set sound pretty much the same to me. They had an extended set, too, (because of Metallica's absence) so when their hour long set was done, I was ready to move on. Unfortunately, it proved to be the highlight of the night.
I was hopeful that I was going to have a fun, nostalgia-filled set going into this show. I did lower my expectations significantly when I checked the setlist and saw a total of 3 to 4 songs from their glory years, and tonight proved to be no different: almost the entire set consisted of tracks off their recent albums. I don't mind hearing new material-if a band's on tour to promote a new album, they're going to promote it. But do we really need 11 tracks off your two most recent albums? There were several times, particularly towards the end of the set when the band forced the last two tracks off Hail to the King down our throats, that the crowd was bored out of their minds. The talking around me was louder than the music, which is saying something because it was a freaking metal show. The last two songs were a complete waste of time, time that could've been spent playing tracks their fans actually wanted to hear. And that doesn't even include the totally unnecessary "drum solo" and instrumental jam that took up 10+ minutes of the band's 80 minute set. Seriously? Why waste time on a drum solo when you have seven studio albums under your belt?
The band seems to be in cruise control right now, outside of guitarist Synyster Gates, (who is still an absolute boss and can rip any guitar to shreds) which is a shame because most of these guys are still in their mid-30s. A good example of this lack of care for basically anything occurred during "So Far Away." The band has made that song the tribute song for The Rev, and during the song the band had pictures of the great drummer on the video screen behind them. Touching, right? Until the slideshow looped after exactly five photos. Really, guys? That's all you could muster up? Five photos of The Rev? I guess cameras weren't invented until 2010. Of course this made the slideshow feel half-assed as it looped 45 times during the song. Overall, though, the problems seem to really fall on vocalist M. Shadows. Undeniably the weakest part of the band, Shadows spent most of the set pulling a Jared Leto and having the crowd sing most of his parts. Why is this even a thing? I'm all for audience participation every once in a while from the vocalist, but we paid money to hear you sing, not us. All of this would've probably been forgiven had the song selection been better, but outside of some of their classic singles, which still sound good today because of how young the band is, the set was a frustrating snooze-fest. The dude next to me, who pounded almost 100 ounces of beer in the span of two hours, was more entertaining than Avenged Sevenfold. (Hopefully he's ok....he was obviously stumbling pretty good by the end of the night.) Only in the encore, which featured a personal favorite in "Bat Country" then a rendition of another strong tune "A Little Piece of Heaven," did the band sound like the Avenged Sevenfold I was hoping to see. (There was also a hilariously staged proposal in there but whatever, that's irrelevant) It looks like we still have a few more years until the band realizes that their golden years are behind them and embraces that fact versus trying to fight it. For now, though, avoid this show like the plague. Not even an over-the-hill Metallica could save it.
Hail to the King
So Far Away
Warmness on the Soul (Instrumental Jam)
A Little Piece of Heaven
By: Derek Jung
I was, admittedly, late to discover Jason Isbell. His former band, The Drive-By Truckers, had played Madison Theater in 2013 while I was interning, but Isbell had already departed 6 years prior and I was unable to attend the show. Fast forward 3 years and I stumbled across Isbell's last album, Something More Than Free, and was immediately hooked by his vivid, personal storytelling, rich vocals, and intimate songwriting. Under his own name, Something More Than Free and its predecessor Southeastern were hailed as masterpieces and helped Isbell reach a broader audience. Before this, however, he also had 2 albums under the 400 Unit name. The newest album, The Nashville Sound, is the first under the 400 Unit name since 2011's Here We Rest. So much has happened in Isbell's life since then - marriage, sobriety, fatherhood - that Isbell is a completely new person. Luckily for us, his gifts as a songwriter have only grown.
After a solid opening set from The Mountain Goats, Isbell and crew took the stage at the mostly full PNC Pavilion. The band covered the vast majority of The Nashville Sound, playing seven of the album's ten tracks mixed with material from the previously mentioned non-400 Unit albums. Isbell's vocals are just as moving live as they are on the album, and his guitar playing was surprisingly stellar. His on stage banter was great, telling stories and jokes in between songs and introducing those in the 400 Unit. But it was his interactions with fiddle player Amanda Shires, his wife, that caught my attention the most. I'm not sure if this is just a stage act, but it was as if he was singing every love song directly at her and for her. It was intimate and beautiful, and their rendition of "Cover Me Up" captured everything that I wanted to experience in a single song. It was a magical musical moment.
The band ended their set with "Whipping Post", a tribute to the late Duane Allman, who passed away in late May of this year. Being one of my favorite Allman Brothers songs, I was thrilled to hear Isbell's take on the southern rock classic, and he did not disappoint.
Check out the band's performance of "Hope The High Road" from The Late Show below.
Hope The High Road
Decoration Day (Drive-By Truckers cover)
White Man's World
Chaos and Clothes
The Life You Chose
Last Of My Kind
Flying Over Water
Cover Me Up
If It Takes a Lifetime
Outfit (Drive-By Truckers cover)
If We Were Vampires
Whipping Post (The Allman Brothers Band cover)
By: Derek Jung
There's something about the My Morning Jacket live experience for me that's always transcended the typical, everyday show. Jim James and company evoke this otherworldly, almost god-like presence that, despite my reservations to use this comparison, The Grateful Dead and Phish captured perfectly - jam bands that have such a cult following that scores upon scores of fans travel the length of each tour, meticulously cataloging every set list, cover, and live performance for future use. Such was the case at PNC Pavilion on a rainy Thursday evening when the band took the stage for the opening night of their summer tour.
The evening began with a rousing set from The Record Company. Let me make a suggestion to you, reader. If you have the opportunity to see them, do it. The front man can, to be blunt, rip it on guitar. They were a delight to see, especially considering they mentioned the My Morning Jacket song "Golden" as being life changing to them and how much of an honor it was to perform on the same stage. Humility, ladies and gentleman. What a breath of fresh air from a band with such an old school sound.
After being thoroughly warmed up, My Morning Jacket took the stage, opening with two tracks from their latest release, The Waterfall. At the end of the night, they'd only return to that album once more. Most of the night was spent on their first three albums, At Dawn, Tennessee Fire, and It Still Moves. The band was in full blown jam mode for a good deal of the evening, turning songs like "Off The Record", "War Begun", and "Steam Engine" into multi-part epics that had those dressed in tie-dye Grateful Dead shirts rolling and swaying with delight. For those who love to rock out, however, the lulls and long interludes overstayed their welcome. While those in the front were firmly in the band's grasp, many in the seated areas started to talk. Soon, the chatter was audible during the quieter moments, and it was a little disappointing that the crowd wasn't as invested as I remembered during my last MMJ experience back in 2011.
Perhaps the lesson learned that night was not that the band has lost some of its touch, but instead that the band is much better watched with the diehards - those sweaty, stoned masses in the pit who came hours ahead to snag the latest show poster and dive into the details of yesterday's set list with friends and strangers. There, I think, is the heart of the experience, and one that I won't miss the next time the band's paths cross my own again.
Until next time, my friends.
Spring (Among the Living)
Off The Record
I Will Sing You Songs
A New Live [cover]
O Is the One That Is Real
What a Wonderful Man
Tropics (Erase Traces)
Yes We Can [cover]
Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) [cover]
Holdin On to Black Metal
Phone Went West
By: Joseph Kathmann
New Paint Job, Same Old Roo
Another year, another Roo. I, like many, was pretty disappointed when the 2017 Bonnaroo lineup dropped. Gratuitous amounts of hip hop and EDM found its way into what was once a hippie-fest, and I was very concerned that those fans wouldn't come to Roo in droves. After all there are dozens of EDM festivals out there, why would those fans come to Roo when none of the headliners are in the genre? Well, the answer was.....many. To my surprise, Bonnaroo's attendance actually increased from 50k last year to just over 65k this year. However, this still marks the third lowest-attended Roo since 2006, so we have a long way to go to get back to the 75k average the festival had before Live Nation purchased the festival. And, despite being one of the older fellas at the festival, I still felt like it was the same old Roo. The vibe that brings me back every year was alive and well despite the lackluster lineup, and I still felt like I was right at home on the farm once again. While 2014 is still my favorite Roo, I can say with absolute certainty that this year's Roo was more enjoyable than 2016's. And believe me when I say I was not expecting that heading into the festival this year.
Best Set: Royal Blood
I'm actually pretty surprised I ended up calling this my favorite set of the weekend. Heading into the festival I was looking forward to other sets far more than Royal Blood's. Shows like Future Islands, U2, Lorde, and Portugal. The Man, caught my eye far more than this British rock duo. But boy was I wrong. Frontman Mike Kerr puts on a heck of a show. He is the vocalist, guitarist, and bassist.....all simultaneously. Needless to say it was pretty mesmerizing watching him play these incredibly complex bass/guitar on one instrument while singing. And it also helped that his drummer, Ben Thatcher, was pretty dang good too. Royal Blood is on top of the rock world right now, and with a new album dropping that is my favorite of the year so far, this is one set you shouldn't miss.
Best/Worst Set: Lorde
I wanted to include Lorde's set on here for one main reason:. From the get-go her set was marred by technical problems, as it actually started with a 30 minute delay as the crew tried desperately to fix her monitors. Whatever solution they finally presented was a very shoddy one, as it seemed the crew merely put a band-aid over the problem and told Lorde that was the best they could do. What followed was confirmation of why Lorde is one of my favorite people in the business: she came out and she gave Roo her all, despite the fact that her sound issues were nowhere near solved. She kept signaling off-stage for the crew to adjust her monitor's EQ, and several times she just took out her in-ears so she could actually hear. She was clearly frustrated, and yet she did everything she possibly could to give her fans the best possible show she could. Lorde may only be 20 years old, but that night on the farm she acted like a 20 year veteran.
Worst Set: Cage the Elephant
I really didn't see a bad set at Roo this year. Cage just gets this title because frontman Matt Shultz was sick. No fault of his, just bad luck, but because of this their songs sounded, well, terrible. Shultz had to take most of the songs down an octave to compensate, and he didn't even try any of the screams. Fortunately for his fans, he didn't hold back in his performance. He was the same ol' Shultz we know and love there, he just sounded terrible. That and the fact that I have to have a "Worst Set" category are the only two reasons Cage finds itself on this list. Thank God the great Red Hot Chili Peppers followed them up.
WTF Set: Travis Scott
I came into this set a bit late as Lorde's technical difficulties caused her to go 30 minutes over, but once I got there I was almost wishing I had made my way over earlier. Apart from the rapper putting on a really solid set, the dude had a GIANT eagle animatronic on stage. See him in the picture? Kind of? Ya, that's a freaking eagle, because why not? As I continue to watch more and more rap sets, I've seen a certain trend develop: memorability comes not from your skills as a rapper, but the show you put on. The more crap you put on your stage, whether it be fire or confetti or whatever, the more people will go nuts. Travis Scott definitely recognized this. Did I mention it also breathed fire? Because.... why not?
Biggest Disappointment: Chance the Rapper
Heading into Bonnaroo, this was one of my most anticipated sets. After all, Chance had become the unofficial "Mayer of Bonnaroo" over the past few years, frequently making surprise appearances at various sets (he made a cameo at Macklemore's set last year) and even stealing a surprise set at the Silent Disco back in 2016. But he was never given a full set until now. Who was going to show? Was fellow Chicago native Kanye West going to make an appearance? Lil Wayne? Future? Francis & The Lights? (Who was at the festival just a day earlier, too) Anyone? Sadly, the answer was no, and Chance stayed on stage for his 75 minute set (that might as well have been a headlining one) by himself. While his set was good, I couldn't help but be devastated by the thought of what could have been. This was an easy choice for biggest disappointment of the weekend.
Biggest Surprise: Tank and The Bangas
A very last-minute addition to the festival, Tank and The Bangas have been riding a wave of success after NPR named them the unanimous victor of their 2017 Tiny Desk concert. Their set was clearly tacked on-they found themselves opening one of the tents at 12:30 (which is stupid-early for a festival that goes until 4 or 5 AM every day) on the final day of the festival. A small, very exhausted group of festival-goers (including myself) stumbled over to the "This Tent" for their early set, most brought together by NPR's coverage. And we quickly discovered that the hype was real. The group's marvelous (and unique) combination of gospel, psychedelia, and hip hop plus the energy and vigor of the group's frontwoman, Tarriona "Tank" Ball, helped the small crowd wake up for the final day of the festival in a big way. While the band will probably never reach star status, they will likely be a festival staple of years to come. Thank you, NPR.
Overall, Bonnaroo continues to set a great standard for how a big festival should be run. The flush-able toilets continue to be a wonderful addition for the festival, but it still didn't prevent the port-o-lets from being a crap shoot by Sunday, despite considerable efforts to keep them at least somewhat clean. Food is crazy-expensive, which can be a little frustrating since you're on an island at Bonnaroo, but the food out in the campgrounds was very reasonable and delicious. Nothing like a coffee and a breakfast burrito for $5 to get your day started. I also made it over to the cinema tent for the first time this year, as I had the chance to get in Centeroo early on Saturday to check out a screening of Donnie Darko with director Richard Kelly on hand to answer questions afterwards. Personally I don't see much appeal in skipping out on music to see a comedian or movie (though I know that's one of the things that makes Roo so unique) but the space is certainly nice, and it's always great to get into some a/c to escape the Tennessee heat. I'm also glad Bonnaroo is going the route of Lollapalooza and giving EDM its own stage. "The Other Tent" has increasingly housed the EDM acts of Roo, (last year the only set I saw there was Third Eye Blind) and this year the festival finally built the stage from the ground up for EDM, removed the tent, and changed the name to "The Other." I went over there for a bit just to check it out, and the stage seemed to be a wonderful haven for EDM/hip hop fans, as there were ample video screens on the stage for the artist to play with and the EQ was overwhelming bass-heavy. This is how all festivals should do it because if not you'll get a bass heavy EQ at the main stage like Bunbury did just a week prior. Dear God, PromoWest, can you please look at Bonnaroo and run your festival even half as efficiently as Live Nation does?
At the end of the day, despite the less-than-stellar lineup that featured WAY too much EDM, my love for these few short days spent on the farm has never been stronger. I have every intention of making the pilgrimage again next year, no matter how EDM-heavy the lineup is. Bonnaroo will never die, it just has a new makeover.
By: Joseph Kathmann
A Festival Without an Identity
To say I wasn't all that excited for this year's Bunbury is something of an understatement. After the festival dropped its clusterf*** of a lineup, it quickly became one of the laughing stocks of the festival season, despite its undeniable uniqueness. The lineup was so lackluster that Derek sold one of his passes to me and took a rather large loss on his second pass. By the time he sold it, passes were going for $60 UNDER face value. Despite the fact that PromoWest announced that 3 day passes conveniently sold out the day before the festival began, there was a noticeable lack of crowds from start to finish.
However, there was a strong presence of day passes, as the festival did do a good job of organizing the genres into daily schedules. (hip hop on Friday, EDM on Saturday, rock on Sunday) Overall the festival has taken a lot of the feedback it's received over the years to heart, however why can't they figure out how to incorporate Square at food/beer booths???? Last year the festival had this totally ridiculous cashless system that everybody hated, so they took the feedback by dropping that system and replacing it with....? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Having the entire festival cash-only just seemed lazy on the part of PromoWest. I was definitely disappointed by this. Fortunately, outside of this the rest of the festival was run fairly well. Though it helps when you have lower attendance numbers. But sadly for me the festival went pretty much exactly how I expected it to. The shows I expected to be good were good, and the shows I expected to be bad were bad. I expected Saturday to be crazy and ridiculous, and Saturday was.....you guessed it, crazy and ridiculous. So let's get into the shows, shall we?
Best Set: Muse
It's almost unfortunate that Muse was the best set of the weekend, but it comes as no surprise because Muse still puts on a heck of a show. The band was easily my favorite group during my high school years, and I haven't seen them in 7 years but I worried, not excited. The band is coming off easily its worst album to date in Drones, and before that another lackluster album in The 2nd Law. Fortunately the band's festival set is composed mostly of hits, and the band played more songs from albums like Absolution and Black Holes and Revelations than their newer material. Additionally, the band just shreds it live, as their performances are full of jams and breakdowns. Not to mention the entire video show, which has been a staple of their sets since the before I saw them for the first time in the late 2000s. Seriously, even if you are just a casual fan of the band, there aren't many better groups to see live than Muse. Bunbury saved the best for last, and I am definitely happy that Muse closed out the festival.
Worst Set: Tech N9ne
I don't deny that I am not the biggest fan of hip hop, but there's no doubt that fans of the genre worship acts like Tech N9ne. So I was definitely excited to see them. While their show is pretty over-the-top, I was very disappointed by the fact that the rapper was.....lip syncing. That's right. It's 2017, and we are still seeing artists lip sync at their shows. Unbelievable. Oh! Something I didn't mention earlier. The balancing at the main stage was TERRIBLE all the way until Muse's closing set, and with Tech N9ne the bass was so overwhelming I couldn't even hear the vocals. While there seemed to be plenty of people having a blast at his set, I pity them. Because this is not just the worst set I saw at Bunbury, it is easily the worst set I've seen to date this year.
WTF Set: Wiz Khalifa
This was an interesting set. Part of me has always wanted to see Wiz live, and I am certainly glad that I can cross him off the list, but.....what? There was the blatantly weird-Wiz smoking a joint on stage and passing out to the crowd-as well as the strange-Wiz playing popular songs he's only featured in simply because they're popular songs. Heck some of the songs, like "Sucker for Pain," he only played snippets of....for some reason. Not quite sure the rationale behind this other than Wiz basically saying "Hey everyone! Look at all the pop music I've been featured on!" While I did enjoy hearing some of these hits, like "See You Again" and Wiz's classic "Black and Yellow," it was definitely the weirdest set of the weekend.
Biggest Surprise: Arkells
I didn't know much about this band going into their early Sunday afternoon set, but I was hooked within a matter of moments. Frontman Max Kerman is absurdly charming and charismatic, and he knew exactly how to woo the small crowd that showed up early. He had a wireless mic-unusual for a band the size of Arkells-but I quickly found out why. Kerman didn't just hop into the crowd to get them fired up, he hopped into the crowd and ran to the back of it so he could get EVERYONE fired up. He also brought up a random guy (the dude wearing the green bandanna in the photo above) to play some guitar chords for one song. Because why not? All of this on top of some pretty good music too. Discovering bands like Arkells is the reason why I go to festivals.
While there was enough to like at this festival to keep me entertained, I couldn't help but leave feeling unsatisfied. PromoWest definitely went for the most diverse lineup they could find, but in the process left everyone wanting more. Additionally, because of the heavy hip hop/EDM presence at the main stage, the balancing there was terrible. I hinted at it before, but every act that performed, with the exception of Muse, had to deal with overpowering bass during their set, and it was really really frustrating. Hopefully next year they just embrace one side of the spectrum or the other, versus trying to appeal to everyone. Either way, I can't help but be excited to see what PromoWest has in store for the festival next year. And yes, I do feel like something of a sucker for feeling that way.....
By: Derek Jung
When you have the voice of a young Bob Dylan and mix it with the modern rock sensibilities of a band like Kasabian, you have a recipe for greatness. That's what Mondo Cozmo, aka Joshua Ostrander, has brought to the table over the last six months. His debut album hasn't even dropped yet, but riding the wave of popularity of his first two singles, the stoner anthem "Shine" and its follow-up "Hold Onto Me", Mondo Cozmo has cemented himself as one of the most hyped new artists of the year. When I heard that he'd be stopping at Madison Live! for a pre-Bonnaroo set, I couldn't miss it. Unfortunately for the Cincinnati music scene, most everyone else in the city did.
Joseph and I walked into an almost completely empty room. We're not exaggerating. There were probably twenty-five people there. Now, I'm all for intimate shows, but with the hype surrounding the band, I was surprised and disappointed by the Tuesday night turnout.
I was also curious what Mondo Cozmo would play. Would we get his upcoming album in full? No, unfortunately, but we did get all of the released singles and a killer cover of The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony". I'm telling you, they absolutely killed it. Joshua's vocals sound so crisp live and his stage presence is a mix of business professional and straight swagger. The band is also tight, like they've been playing together for years. The hype is definitely realized, and I can't wait to hear the full album. I'm guessing next time they come to Cincinnati, there'll be a few more people in attendance.
By: The Busted Amp Staff
Joseph: Oh, Mastodon. One of the biggest names in metal right now, Mastodon stopped by Cincinnati on their Emperor of Sand tour, an album which I did not like at all. For me.....it's been a long time since I really got into a Mastodon album. I'd say their cold streak for me dates all the way back to 2006's Blood Mountain. So I went into this show skeptical. I was worried that what happened for me on Emperor of Sand, and basically every Mastodon album of the past 10 years was going to happen live. Unfortunately, I was right. Every song sounded the exact same.
It wasn't all bad, however. The night started with an interesting, instrument-only band called Russian Circles. A band which I would never see as a headliner, but was a really solid opening salvo for the heavy rock evening. While many love the "experience" that comes with watching an instrument-only heavy metal band, I am not necessarily one of them, so I got a little bored as their set wore on. Fortunately, because they were the opener, their set was short and sweet, hence why it was a solid way to wet our rocketites. (Get it? Rock appetite? I'll see myself out)
After Russian Circles, though, came the entire reason I personally was there: Eagles of Death Metal. One of my favorite bands in existence, and first time I've seen them live since they were the headliner at Le Bataclan on November 13, 2015, Eagles of Death Metal tore the roof off the Taft Theatre, tearing through a criminally short 50 minute set. The set offered something of a bit of closure for me. The terrorist attacks back in 2015 struck a nerve with me as both Derek and myself had seen the band just a few months before that, but it was truly uplifting to see the band rocking and rolling once more. I have no qualms when I say I wish Mastodon had opened for Eagles of Death Metal and not the other way around. Oh and Brent Hinds from Mastodon opened the Eagles of Death Metal set with them on guitar. That was pretty cool.
After Eagles of Death Metal came Mastodon. The set started out strong with the band playing several tracks off of Blood Mountain and keeping things diverse, however after their performance of 2006's "Colony of Birchmen," things started to fall apart. Every song sounded exactly the same. It was impossible to differentiate these songs, and the overall set declined pretty rapidly in the second half. Sadly, by the end of the set, I was just happy for it to be over. There's no doubt that Mastodon is a great heavy metal band, and perfect for hour-long sets at a music festival. But their material is just too similar for an enjoyable 90 minute headlining set. And there was no encore, which was kind of weird. The band played "March of the Fire Ants" and was like, "Ok! We're done here! Thanks for coming!" While this is a trademark of the band, it's still pretty jarring for a regular concert goer. I like being able to take a breath and prepare for an epic encore. Ultimately, while I'm glad I can officially check Mastodon of the list as "seen them," I really wish I had seen them open for Eagles of Death Metal. Or on the farm at Bonnaroo. But, beggars can't be choosers.
Derek: If you were to name a group of bands that I discovered solely from Rock Band, Mastodon is probably at the very top of that list. To this day, "Colony of Birchman" is one of my favorite songs to play, and I was more than excited to see them live. The problem with seeing a band like Mastodon at Taft Theatre is obvious once you enter through one of the four doors at look around the famous Art Deco room. The main theater is entirely seated. For a band like Mastodon to play there, with no room for jumping around and yes, moshing, it creates quite the disconnect of energy. I was hesitant to buy tickets for this very reason, but because of Rock on the Range, the hard rock and metal festival in Columbus, the last time Mastodon performed in Cincinnati was over ten years ago at Bogart's. Add to this a few consecutive sub-par albums (even though I enjoyed Emperor of Sand much more than Joseph), and there was a real feeling of urgency to see them before their prime is too far in the rearview mirror.
The mix of songs were about what I expected. They played the majority of Emperor of Sand and five tracks from Blood Mountain. The rest of the set was a peppering of songs from their other five albums. In hindsight, I'm glad they played a good amount from Blood Mountain, my personal favorite, but I can't help but wish there was less Emperor of Sand, because it really played into the issue that Joseph stated above. A lot of the songs from that album sound too similar to create an engaging show. I found myself watching individual band members perform and day dreaming, whether it was Brett Hinds barely opening his mouth as he growled his vocals or Brann Dailor's amazing drum fills, something that made Mastodon's songs so enjoyable on Rock Band. Everything about the second half of the set played against the casual metal fan, which was most certainly us. The individual instrumental performances were there, but the show dragged on after a while.
For me, the show can be summed up with a series of maybes. Maybe it would have been different in a general admission theater. Maybe if people were allowed to move around instead of being stuck in their seats there would have been more energy. Maybe if the ushers didn't scold concertgoers for having half a foot in the aisle it would have made for a better vibe. Maybe when you have a metal show at Taft Theatre you don't put two extra rows of folding chairs in the front and call them "pit seats". Maybe.
Rock on, dudes.
The Wolf Is Loose
Colony of Birchman
Chimas at Midnight
Circle of Cysguatch
March of the Fire Ants
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: