Night 1 of the 2012 MidPoint Music Festival is in the books, a fantastic Thursday that has to be by far the best attended, best booked Thursday in the festival's 11-year history.
It was a rockin' night, and also a weird one. In a good way. I caught great sets by some top-notch Rock & Roll bands, like the excellently named Shark? — which the singer/guitarist kept alternately calling "Shark?" (as a question) and SharkWithAQuestionMark. It's the sound of a great Rock band raised on equal doses of Black Flag and The Beach Boys. I can't take credit for that wise observation — the singer/guitarist's ax had a Black Flag "four bars logo" sticker doctored to read "Beach Boys." I think. My eyes are shot. It could have said Bleck Flog. And I don't know who that is. Great songs, ’90s Indie guitars-meets-the-Ramones-grind-and-shine, all peppered with some great low-key humor. Deadpan Alley Indie Rock Punk Pop? Definitely a strong if fairly under-attended set at Cincinnati Club's basement venue. It was early.
Still, by this point, I'd been going for about four hours, catching a nice opening performance on the Washington Park stage by Bonesetters, whose music fits perfectly between Pomegranates and Andrew Bird — which works out great because they performed on the same lineup as Cincinnati's Poms and genuine "Indie Star" Andrew Bird. The Washington Park stage was one of the best aesthetically. The back drop of Music Hall right behind the big MPMF-trucked-in stage was majestic. The buildings and rich surroundings of Over-the-Rhine made the whole scene perfect — I especially dug the helix stage props hovering above the performers from the stage-top, which lit up as the sun dropped and provided a great visual with the giant glowing Music Hall art-glass window right behind it like the moon looking on in approval.
Bird drew a solid crow to the Washington Park field, some hypnotized by his unique and diverse sound — he had a band but sometimes it seemed like Bird was multi-tasking his brains out, playing violin, singing, playing with effects, hitting the xylophone, whistling like a Classically-trained bird, crooning all charming-like. It was lilting and mesmerizing at times, but there was also about 75% of the crowd that decided to talk throughout Bird's entire set. I guess it's somewhat fair — they were just multi-tasking, too. But this was slightly annoying because, although Bird's music rises to an Indie Pop strut at times, mostly his music is about spaciousness — sparse percussion, airy violin, ethereally noisy guitar cloud-bursts, pure Americana moments, those whistles and that swoony croon.
I got a great dose of classic "Indie Rock" from a pair of groups that were playing the local original music scene before "Indie Rock" ever entered our lexicon. Filament opened up festivities at MOTR Pub and sounded amazing — not just like the members hadn't stopped playing about 14 years ago (this was one of their first shows back), but like they hadn't stopped playing and got even tighter and better. The trio looked comfortable on stage together and mind-melded in their interplay. Sometimes certain people are just meant to play together. Looking forward to hearing more of Filament's angled, muscular, anxious Post Punk sound soon.
The great Fairmount Girls are 11 for 11 in MidPoint plays — the Cincy greats have played every MPMF. And every time I've seen them it's a highlight. The Fairmounts' sound is always such of colorful explosion of melodies and grooves (talk about two people meant to perform together — keyboardist Melissa Fairmount and drummer Dana Hamblen are the Everly Brothers of Indie Pop, their creative rapport seemingly so effortless and perfectly natural). Pat Hennessy (also of The Tigerlilies) and Randy Cheek (also of The Ready Stance) add greatly to the colorwheel, also giving the songs shadows and corners with their creative guitar parts (and, in Cheek's case, effected-out, Xmas-light-decorated trumpet backing).
At one point in my Thursday adventures, I started to drag and found myself feeling like I needed something "weird" to snap me out of it. Or some crack. Luckily, I opted to — at that very moment — walk into Below Zero where I was greeted with what appeared to be a giant table-cloth monster with lights, dancing as a giant mass towards me. I SWEAR I didn't choose option "crack."
Turned out to be the last few songs from The Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt. I spent last night and this morning trying to wrap my head around the whole experience of TPDR and the following performer, Canada's Richard Aucoin. I'm still not sure I can explain.
There are a few artists finding increased success in Electronic/Dance music circles (and, due to the power/entertainment value of the performance, with people beyond that scene as well) who are putting the "show" back in "Hey, let's go check out a show." TPDR and Aucoin, as well as Dan Deacon and Girl Talk to an extent, are the most interactive artists in music right now, not only erasing the line between audience and performer, but disintegrating it to the point where the audience is part of the performance and the performer is part of the audience.
Both TPDR and Aucoin performed amongst the audience at Below Zero, constantly encouraging everyone to participate, move closer, squeeze in, huddle up, jump, chant. Aucoin worked with — and actually interacted with — synched-up video that included some hilarious clips ("previews") and funny shout-outs to Cincinnati, some of the other participating artists, MidPoint and other weird, funny shit. Aucoin sang the Electro anthems (from the floor to the top of the bar) over driving programmed backing and a propulsive live drummer. It was like a strange performance art/comedy/film/dance party, with Andrew W.K's. energy and party-starting-abilities and Flaming Lips-like carnival action — made all the more amazing taking place in a pretty small club space (made smaller by his constant insistence that everyone mush in around him as tight as possible).
The audience was enthralled and sucked in. (The above photo by Jesse Fox and the reactions on the people's faces are the perfect description of the show.)
I got a little more "weird" next door at the Emery Theatre, the restored historic theater just off Central Parkwkay that is shaping up to be — along with Washington Park — a crown jewel venue and a perfect fit for MidPoint. Though familiar with their music, I wasn't sure what to expect from Dirty Projectors, but it was a truly unique performance of Beefheart-ian R&B Folk Jazz Pop … yeah, they're wonderfully hard to explain.The show was likewise. The Emery was packed for the Projectors's avant-garde outerspace jams, a glorious sight, the perfect site for it and a vision of the theater's promising future. (The National next week is even more must-see because it's at The Emery.)
The MidPoint Midway was fairly hopping once the sun went down. The Box Truck Carnival is fittingly bonkers this year. Trucks have been turned into an improv comedy club, magnet crafts station, old-school video game arcade and a Soul Train dance-off/silhouette peek-a-boo truck, which got funnier and drunker as the night went on. Check out those and the other trucks even if you don't have a ticket to the festival. There's also good food options (Washington Park had solid vendors as well) and a large stage that will feature "second play" surprise sets by artists playing elsewhere during the fest.
I ended my night perfectly, coming full circle and back to "The Rock." Turbo Fruits were firebombs of no bullshit Rock & Roll, intense and heavy, but also very melodic and engaging, especially on some of the off-the-path Psych Pop songs they slip into the grinding gears. Turbo Fruits were a reminder that Rock bands can put on a show — they were thoroughly entertaining without confetti canons and surper-groovy light shows. Not that there isn't place for both. And that place, apparently, is MidPoint.
Night 2, here we come.