Upcoming Concert Review of Yonder Mountain String Band, The Devil Wears Prada and More...

More Concerts of Note

Feb 21, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Aaron Farrington

Younder Mountain String Band


Thursday · Madison Theater

Subgenres in music are always interesting in the messages they send. If it's anything with "Core" attached to the end, you know to stay away if you're not into the more brutal, aggro side of Rap, Punk or Metal. "Neo Classical" means Bach fans beware. "New Country" is a warning sign for traditional fans weaned on Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. And "Freak Folk"? Well, let's just say your average Pete Seeger fan would likely have their ears explode were they to listen to any of those artists.

Of course, one music fan's warning signal is another's neon-lit "come on in!" sign. Take the surging "Newgrass" genre (or "Progressive Bluegrass," "Jamgrass" or whatever you want to call it). While some die-hard purists might have a stroke listening to Newgrass' incorporation of a Rock/Jam mentality — with added space for improv, some Rock & Roll cover songs, non-traditional chord structures and sometimes even the use of electric instruments (gasp!) — thousands of others clamor for it.

Many Jamgrass acts have found fervent fan bases across the country, and they tour constantly (mostly on the "Jam Band" circuit, though many are versatile enough to appear at Bluegrass venues and fests) to appease them.

The Yonder Mountain String Band is one of the genre's guiding lights. And, as shown on their most recent, self-titled CD (their first for the Vanguard label, after years of D.I.Y.-ing it), any cries of "Judas!" from the traditionalist crowd have been completely ignored. If anything, they've gone even further in the other direction. Yonder Mountain String Band is so varied and diverse, it hardly even qualifies as a "Newgrass" CD, as the band flirts with Folk, Roots Rock and AltCountry and shows a strong knack for more melodic song structures (opener "Sidewalk Stars" would even fit in on an Indie/Alt radio station). There's still plenty of the band's mandolin, banjo, acoustic guitar and bass (their bread and butter), but the record — produced by noted Rock knob-twiddler Tom Rothrock (Foo Fighters, Beck) — also features electric guitar, mandolin feedback (!) and, for the first time, drums. Elvis Costello's longtime sideman Pete Thomas adds beats to tracks like the twangy, poppy single, "How 'Bout You?" and "Classic Situation" (among other tracks that more subtly incorporate Thomas' skins).

The album, oddly enough, has caused a few YMSB fans to decry the band's evolution. Now there's a kick — Progressive Bluegrass fans bemoaning a group for becoming more progressive. But, refreshingly, the Yonder Mountain String Band seem to follow their own creative muse and, if their eponymous album is any indication, it's a wise move that shows hints of a brighter, even more dynamic musical future. (Mike Breen)


Friday · Crush (above Union Station Video Café)

Ember Swift has more slashes in her seemingly endless biographical description than a coed's torso in a killer-in-the-sorority-house horror movie. Swift is — take a deep breath — a gay independent Canadian Folk/Jazz/Pop artist with flecks of Middle Eastern/African/Celtic influence who also stands on a very visible political/cultural/environmental/economic soapbox, depending on which message or messages she's trying to get across at any given moment.

Often likened to Ani DiFranco, Swift has made her way over the past 10-plus years well apart from the mainstream music industry by making highly original music on her Few'll Ignite Sound label without compromise or apology. Interested labels warned Swift that her music was too political, too adversarial and too experimental for wide acceptance, which she assured them was just fine with her as she showed them the door. While the Ontario native may not be selling platinum units doing what she does, Swift has clearly tapped into a loyal and potent fan base, evidenced by the relative success of her highly anticipated album last year, The Dirty Pulse, her ninth since her 1996 eponymous debut.

Swift learned to sing from her mother and taught herself guitar before studying piano at Canada's Royal Conservatory of Music, an education that Swift quickly rejected in favor of her own path. Realizing early on that she was outside looking in as far as the industry was concerned and content to operate in just that manner, Swift set up her own label with the express purpose of playing music and saying things that no one else seemed to be playing or saying. Her grassroots marketing and relentless tour schedule has attracted fans to her Web site from around the world, particularly in Australia, where she has toured over half a dozen times.

Swift continues to make slow, steady inroads into the American market, building her typically rabid fan base through repetition and word of mouth. There are very few musical artists who can claim originality, vision and integrity; Ember Swift is surely among their rarified number. (Brian Baker)


Saturday · The Mad Hatter

What do Meryl Streep and Dayton, Ohio, have in common? They both figure prominently in a vehicle called The Devil Wears Prada. For Streep, obviously, it's the movie based on the book of the same name. But for Dayton, it's the Christian Metalcore sextet that birthed itself within the city's checkered music scene two years ago. As vocalist Mike Hranica explains on the band's MySpace page, the band did not adopt the name as a hat-tip to any sense of hip trendiness or fashion consciousness, but rather as an indictment of material pursuits and the fruitlessness of possessions in the face of the enormity of heavenly redemption. In that context, TDWP is an anomaly in the largely secular Metalcore scene — a militantly Christian band that manages to couch their clearly positive spiritual message in a sonically brutal atmosphere without diluting either philosophy.

It's an incredibly delicate wire-walk for the young band, who formed in 2005 and self-released their debut album Patterns of a Horizon later that same year, establishing a potent local and regional fan base, particularly here in Cincinnati; last March, their headlining date at the Christian-and-youth-friendly venue The Underground broke the club's attendance records.

Last year, the band came to the attention of Rise Records, an Oregon-based label that specializes in Punk and Post Hardcore, who signed them and released the pummeling and well-received Dear Love: A Beautiful Discord, garnering comparisons to genre heavyweights like Norma Jean, The Chariot and Underoath. TDWP is working an incredibly fast track, as they've already posted a fresh new demo on their MySpace page titled "HTML Roils dodo," which is reportedly set to appear on the band's second Rise album tentatively slated for release this summer, a mere year after their debut for the label.

With a rare balance between Emo volume and passion, Metal brutality, Pop melodics and Hard Rock riffage, The Devil Wears Prada sides with God in a black concert T-shirt and quotes scripture with the same ease that most Metalheads quote Slayer. Amen. And pass the earplugs. (BB)