The first night of MidPoint almost looked like it would be a typical rain-soaked affair, but the clouds relented and the festival’s kick-off was gorgeous and every bit as big as promised.
My first stop on the musical pub crawl that is MidPoint was not a band but a party...well, the whole bloody thing is a party, but this was an actual event thrown by the towering presence known as Brian Kitzmiller to celebrate the one year anniversary of his marketing company, Reveal Concepts. En route to Japp’s, I ran into bassist to the stars Sammy Wulfeck and guitarist/keyboardist extraordinaire Brandon Losacker, who were jimmying their bank accounts at an ATM for a little walking around green. Sammy dropped two bombshells; he’s going to be a father in less than two months, and Ric Hickey has returned from his soul-searching California sojourn. Birth and rebirth. I love synergy.
Brian’s party was a blast (any party with free OTRs is bound to be), populated by a wide variety of great people (detailed later), with incomparable Rock and Soul sides providing a brilliant soundtrack courtesy of DJ Bryan Dilsizian, the hardest rocking platter daddy in town. Now that’s a party.
I had intended to make my way to Grammer’s for Dressy Bessy but I was making rather merry at Japp’s and, to quote the legendary Shel Silverstein, I got stoned and I missed it. So I headed over to Mr. Pitiful’s for my first band of the evening, the Demos out of Rochester, New York. Head honcho/zen master Mike Breen yardsticked these guys against the likes of Wondermints, the Shins and Big Star, and I would be inclined to agree; the sextet’s facility for melancholy Pop melodicism, hooky jangle and stellar vocal harmonies is the equal to any of those lofty references. Naturally enough, in the live setting, some of the Pop subtlety of The Demos’ debut full length, last year’s Lovely, is jettisoned in favor of a more bracing sonic presentation, like the amped up Strokes-like storm kicked up on “Nervous.” This was The Demos’ Cincinnati debut, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as they were being enjoyed, hopefully a sign that they’ll be coming back our way soon.
After a stop at Mr. Hanton’s for the most delicious hot dog on the planet (no snouts, hooves or ass jelly in these bad boys...it’s a meal on a bun), and a quick chat with MidPoint co-architect/bon vivant Sean Rhiney, my intention was to head down to the Blue Wisp to catch Black Taxi (which I heard was incredible) but, having gotten little sleep the night before, decided to conserve energy and drop in at the Main Event to catch Saturn Batteries and stick around for Sohio, one of my longtime local faves.
Saturn Batteries is the brainchild of Brad Gibson, who’s done bass stints in Walk the Moon, Young Heirlooms and Charlie Hustle, and is now trying his hand in the frontman role. If last night’s performance is the standard, Gibson should have made the leap a long time ago; Saturn Batteries taps into classic melodic Beatlesque Pop with a sugary Pixies icing, resulting in a sonic confection that is powerfully energetic without being jittery or pointlessly arty. The quartet churned out a good set and provided plenty of evidence that time and fine tuning could gain them a large and loyal following, locally and well beyond.
Next up at the Main Event was Sohio, a band whose studio efforts I’ve reviewed positively and often but have somehow managed to miss consistently in a live context. Sporting a new bass player, Sohio tore shit up good and proper and proved why they’ve been a fixture at MidPoint for a good many years. It’s a rare band that can direct traffic at the intersection of Americana, Rock both rootsy and garagey, Blues, Punk, Pop and Country without having an eight-genre pile-up. Sohio is that rare band, deftly balancing the noise that rattles rafters and the subtlety that breaks hearts. Their relative obscurity may be a product of their own design, but Sohio can and should be the next big thing.
I ducked out of Sohio’s gig a little early to hit Below Zero for a taste of the Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt, but the duo was still setting up when I arrived, so I witnessed a good deal more than I anticipated. TPDR is a wild rhythm ride, a gene splice of They Might Be Giants and Ween that’s been mutated into an Indie Rock mash-up of American Bandstand and Burning Man. The music is performed by a rotating cast of characters and programmed by Neil Fridd, and with the music safely stored on a hard drive, Fridd and his lovely partner (presumably Haley Riddering, but that’s a guess based on limited research done on deadline) are free to roam the crowd, form a conga line, fall into a suggestive pile on the dance floor, snake string lights into the pogoing audience and deploy a giant gray parachute for everyone to dance under like a silky umbrella. TPDR is a glittery interactive Indie Rock dance slam and if they should venture away from the Brooklyn, New York base and into our cozy confines again in the near or distant future, you would be well advised to get in line.
After TPDR, I headed back to the Main Event for the finish of Jody Stapleton and the Generals’ set. Sparrow Bellows big bass master Sammy Wulfeck is providing the pulse for the Generals these days, and the Black Owls’ Brandon Losacker is doing double duty on guitar and keys so I was curious to hear this new iteration of Jody’s sound. I was always a fan of the Stapletons back in the day, and the Generals are yet another fine example of Jody’s consummate ability to translate influence and inspiration into his own singular sound. The Generals’ frame of reference is the sunny Pop of ’70s AM radio and the roar of Classic Rock, dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Jody’s hushed singer/songwriter vocals are a subtle counterpoint to the frenzy kicked up by Sammy, Brandon and drummer Nick Mavridoglou (spell check is obviously doing me no good here), kind of like Ray Davies recording a tribute to Wilco’s Summerteeth.
Finally, it was time for the last show of the first night of the 11th edition of MidPoint (that sounded a little more biblical than I’d intended), which for me was the inspired garage tumult of Nashville’s Turbo Fruits. From the opening stomp to the last ringing chord, Turbo Fruits (at one time, a side project for the late, lamented Be Your Own Pet) were alternately mesmerizing and pulverizing, whipping the assembled multitude at the Drinkery into a writhing mass of humanity, baptized in sweat, sanctified by volume and praising the gods of Rock for allowing them access to the forbidden Turbo Fruits.
At one point, frontman Jonas Stein gave a mighty Rock kick move and lost his shoe in the crowd, which someone was kind enough to return to the stage. Stein thanked the shoe samaritan verily, because, as he noted, he’d only brought two shoes with him. It was unclear whether he meant two pairs of shoes or just two shoes, but his gratitude was commensurate with that of a guy who was looking at going barefoot for the remainder of the tour. At any rate, Turbo Fruits kept their feet (with or without shoes) firmly on the necks of the MidPoint crowd for the duration of their hour-plus set, leaving everyone wanting for more at the conclusion and perfectly teeing up expectations for Friday night.
MidPoint 2012 Thursday Night Notes:
• Brian Kitzmiller’s one-year soiree for his new marketing outfit, Reveal Concepts, was, as noted, a blast. Mere moments after hearing Sammy’s news about Ric Hickey’s triumphant return, I walked into Japp’s and was greeted by the prodigal son himself. His relocation to California was a journey of self-discovery, an attempt to reconcile his past, present and future and come to grips with what he truly wants and how to get it. Sometimes you have to go a long way from home to realize what home means. And for Ric, this is home. Welcome back, old friend.
• Also was introduced to longtime photographer and soundman Chuck Madden, a guy that I saw running the board at every Raisins show I ever attended but never actually met. We traded a few stories over Brian’s free OTRs, and he gave me his card; I hope that we can trade more stories and quaff more brewage in the very near future.
• I ran into the Generals’ Brandon Losacker and Nick Mavridoglou at the Demos’ show, which they were digging but Mr. Pitiful’s $7.50 Jack and Coke sent them down to MOTR for the Filament. On my way out, I spotted Magnolia Mountain’s Mark Utley at the bar, who was anticipating the Space Capone show at the Blue Wisp.
• Ran into my Kroger pal and Faint Signal keyboardist/guitarist Paul Roberts on my way to the Midway. If you lament the days when bands like Rush, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Yes were relevant, you owe it to yourself to check out the band’s self-titled debut. They’ve got a serious Prog vibe, but not in a wizardy, disappear-up-their-own-ass way.
• As previously noted, just before hitting Mr. Hanton’s for another brilliant hot dog (they call them handwiches, I call them awesome), I crossed paths with Sean Rhiney at the Midway. His lovely friend Susan offered to buy me a beer, but Sean wound up paying for the trio of Goose Islands and I got the tip. Susan observed that it must be her feminine wiles, to which I responded, “I wish I had boobs. Wait, I do. I just don’t know how to work them.” Perhaps having another beer at this point was not a sound idea. At any rate, we had a nice chat about the old days (Susan could actually claim some ownership in MidPoint; she was dating Bill Donabedian and introduced him to Sean, and the rest is history) and the new days and kids (Susan was trying to recruit Sean into the wild world of parenting; he didn’t seem to be drinking the Kool-Aid), then we hit the night in opposing directions.
• Sohio’s Mark Houk bought me not one but two beers at the Main Event. I believed him to be a prince among men, but a two beer evening is proof beyond proof. I raise my hangover cure to you, my friend.
• No Matthew Fenton sightings on the first night. I tried to e-mail him this week but the message bounced. And I saw his name on the Twitter feed at Below Zero, but it wound up being a message from last year. Classic tweets from MidPoints past? As Mike Breen noted, that is retro at its most contemporary.
• Had a long talk with Sammy Wulfeck about the trials and tribulations of parenting. There is nothing more rewarding or more likely to make you want to stick your hand in the garbage disposal than having children. You can’t intellectualize it, you just jump. No one is ever ready to have kids. You can’t get old enough to be ready. You just do it. And it’s great, and it’s not, which is a capsule description of life. Sammy assured me he’d give me a call if he needed any advice … I fully expect the phone to ring right after they cut the cord.
• As I was walking by the line to get into the Dirty Projectors, I heard what appeared to be an able-bodied Indie Rock man say to his companions, “There’s going to be chairs in there, right?” Really? (In fact, they did.) Look, if you’ve got some physical disability not plainly apparent to the naked (or beer-clouded) eye, then by all means chair up. But you looked hale and hearty to me, so come on, dude, I’m 55 and I manage to stand my fat ass up for about 75% of the MidPoint experience. When I told this story later to CityBeat publisher Dan Bockrath, he smartassedly noted that I was seated while telling this tale. It’s not nice to pimp slap your elders, Dan. It is nice to buy them a beer … I’ll see you tonight.
• Ran into Mike Breen, Fairmount Girl/Culture Queer’s amazing Dana Hamblen, former Mad Anthony bassist Dave Markey and MA’s inimitable Ringo Jones at the Drinkery. Ringo, as he is want to do, put an enormous beer in my hand, which ultimately led me to regale Mike with the strange circumstances of my bygone days of chemical ingestion. He wisely slipped away when I went to the bathroom. That or I hallucinated him into being there in the first place. I’m never quite sure, and it’s happened before.