After months of planning and judging and selecting and scheduling and designing and implementing, the big night has arrived at last. The first night of MidPoint 2009. You can almost smell the impending disaster in the air.
Well, perhaps disaster is a bit strong. It’s been a long time — well, a couple of years anyway — since MidPoint has been baptized by a significant rainfall, and right out of the chute last night’s precipitation claimed its first victim for me. As much as I wanted to see The Elms, I wasn’t prepared to walk up to Grammer’s in the pouring rain and then watch them while outside soaking wet. I hear the tent is nice and, as it turned out, I probably would have been better off to take the wet walk.—-
Instead, I dropped by the Know Theatre to catch The Winter Sounds at 8 p.m., figuring I could hang there for half an hour before heading downtown with the hope that the rain would let up. After 20 minutes of The Police‘s greatest hits (including the smarmy lounge version of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”) and grumbling from the Know staff (“Yeah, they’re supposed to be here …”), the screen on the dance floor projecting tweets from MidPoint announced that the Winter Sounds had indeed canceled. It was also announced that “The Channel 5 guy sucks c0ck.” Thank God we live in this advanced technological age when we can share deep philosophical truths with one another at the push of a few buttons.
Messerly and Ewing
The rain had let up slightly for the walk down to Madonna’s to catch Messerly and Ewing, which was shaping up to be a highlight. After a long hiatus to accommodate their hectic schedules (including Mark Messerly’s Wussy duties), the boys have been back in the local spotlight playing shows. The big news for M&E is the recent addition of Sean Rhiney and Bill Donabedian, architects of our very own MidPoint celebration, on bass and drums respectively. Something was clearly amiss at Madonna’s, though; it was past 8:30 p.m. and Messerly was still setting up, Ewing was nowhere to be seen and that wasn't Donabedian behind the drum kit.
After a slightly shaky start, Messerly laid out the whole epic tale. Donabedian had been felled by a nasty bug and Clifford Nevernew drummer Eric Appleby, who didn’t know the M&E catalog, had offered to sit in (Messerly credited Appleby with having “huge man parts” for accepting the kamikaze mission), so everything was cool until Ewing suffered a severe vertigo attack stemming from Meniere’s Syndrome, which he has struggled with for years. All things considered, Messerly, Rhiney and Appleby acquitted themselves nicely; while not the sparkling M&E gig that was anticipated, the self-described three-legged dog had plenty of hunt, particularly on the highly charged “Devil at Home,” the spritely “Kinda Girl” and the classic Pop brilliance of “Shallow Grave.”
At the close of the problematic but well navigated set, Messerly observed, “If being in Wussy has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes stinking up the joint is OK.” Given the circumstances, MnoE was far from a stinker. Anyone who came to see some excellent Roots Pop came away satisfied.
"Snakebit Thursday" continued at Madonna’s when the Rattlesnakin’ Daddies cancelled their 9:30 p.m. set, apparently forgetting that they were booked at MidPoint; their MySpace page touted an 8 p.m. show at the Crow’s Nest. The evening’s MC, WNKU’s Ken Haynes, thankfully happened into The Rubber Knife Gang, who were supposed to play the 10:30 p.m. slot and asked how long they could play. Their answer of “Four hours” earned the Gang — acoustic guitarist Hank Becker, upright bassist John Oaks and mandolinist Todd Wilson — a terrific double set filled to overflowing with the brilliant Rootsgrassabilly that they tear through with an almost possessed glee, including revved up versions of the swinging “Sweet Angel Vixen Beauty” and the jumping murder reel “Blood Red Sun.”
As much as I was enjoying the front porch ax sharpening that RKG was laying down, I extricated myself to head over to the Blue Wisp to check out Toronto’s Ketch Harbour Wolves. I’d done the CityBeat preview for the band and had been really intrigued by the songs I’d heard on their MySpace page, so I put them on my mental short list of bands to schedule. Given the time it took to hustle from Madonna’s to the Blue Wisp, I figured I’d be walking in late, but the band was just finishing sound check so I found a seat (the band had drawn a pretty decent audience), ordered a delicious Great Lakes Brew in a novelty sized thimble and settled in for an excellent set of atmospheric Pop. After a couple of songs, including “House of Thieves,” which sounded like Warren Zevon fronting a Dream Pop band, frontman Jonathan Tyrrell dropped the astounding factoid that MidPoint was the Canadian quintet’s first foray to the lower 48, making last night’s gig KHW’s American debut.
If you were there, you witnessed an excellent blend of Bruce Cockburn electric Folk sincerity, XTC’s nervous agit Pop energy and the dreamy Pop angst of Lloyd Cole and Mazzy Star. You also witnessed the culmination of a Herculean effort to make the show; the band shot out a Tweet at 5 a.m. that they were on the road to Cincinnati to make their 10:30 p.m. slot and they left behind all their goods for fear of having them confiscated at the border, so they didn’t even have the promise of a little merch table windfall to sweeten the deal.
Ketch Harbour Wolves (the name refers to the body of water in Nova Scotia where they’re from originally) came to MidPoint to have their music heard. That represents both a love of music in general and an incredible commitment to and confidence in your own music specifically. Our tooks are off to the Ketch Harbour Wolves; thanks for the great set and for making MidPoint your American introduction; I hoist my thimble to you and hope that you can find your way back to us again soon. And for those who missed being able to grab KHW’s acclaimed EP, Dead Calm Horizon, you can download it for free at the band‘s Web site (register your e-mail, get your password and enjoy) or you can buy it through iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby or from the band directly (the latter three options will get you a physical copy).
The Seedy Seeds
It was difficult to leave KHW’s extended set (apparently Middle Distance Runner also had to cancel their appearance), but I was anxious to catch as much of the Seedy Seeds show at the Contemporary Arts Center as possible. I arrived fairly wet after the rain resumed during the walk from the Blue Wisp, and drying out wasn’t an option in the CAC’s sauna-like performance area. Sean Rhiney warned me, “You’ll lose 30 pounds in there.” And with at least that and maybe more to spare, I entered with high hopes of a great show and a slimmer waistline (hey, .500 is a hell of an average).
The Seeds absolutely killed it last night, even by their own amazingly high quality bar; they might well have turned in one of the absolute highlight performances of the MidPoint weekend. “The Push” was transcendent, “Oh Cincinnati” was a boisterous fist-pumper and the Seeds’ annual tradition of premiering a new song was pushed to a new level with the debut of the Devo-meets-The-Units sparkle and slam of “We Are Missing.”
I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to cite the Seeds as one of the most significant musical additions to the Cincinnati scene in a good number of years. Mike Ingram was wringing out wet at set’s end and Margaret Weiner was headed for a drink/repeat cycle with a bottle of scotch and her friends from opener Chemic. All well deserved outcomes for an absolutely stellar performance.
From there, the only thing that could cap the evening would be a visit to the Lodge Bar for Buckra. I don’t know how much more I can actually say about these guys without sounding like a publicist or a shameless fanboy, but sweet shit, put them under a roof and they will the bloody thing into the stratosphere. I wouldn’t take a chance on booking Buckra outdoors; they might just Chicken Little the sky.
Their originals are avowed classics — “Shake Your Baby Fat,” “Camouflage Playboy’s International” and last night’s show stopper, “Stop Callin’ Me Names” — and last night’s covers were indicative of the band‘s mastery of any genre they touch. Their take on Sly and the Family Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay” amped up the original’s quiet Soul to an appropriately thumping level, but their spin on the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” was positively inspired, deer-hooking the song’s execrable Disco beat (although the mirror ball was in use) for a driving Funk undercurrent and making the song, for me, insanely appealing for the first time in three decades.
Dylan Speeg is the perfect frontman, a combination Lounge singer/Punk shouter/carnival barker; Jacob Heintz is Django Reinhardt and Eddie Van Halen in one body; and the rhythm section of Andrew Laudeman and Chris Lanahan on bass and drums respectively should get some kind of government service award for bravery in putting the perfect beat behind the two madmen at the front of the stage. Buckra swings and swaggers while simultaneously embracing and altering every genre they touch. A Buckra show is the most fun you can have with your clothes on. And there’s no guarantee they’re going to stay on. The perfect end to a perfectly imperfect first night of MidPoint.
More Thursday Notes
• I ran into local marketing guru Matthew Fenton at the M&E show, who gave me the startling news that he may be moving to Chicago. It‘s great for Matthew obviously but would be a blow to the local marketing community. I worked with Matthew briefly when we were both employed at Optimum Group — left to start his own company, and rightly so. There may not be anyone in the city who understands the role of branding in the marketplace better than Matthew. Here’s hoping he finds a way to maintain a presence here somehow, even if he ventures up to Michigan Avenue.
• Also ran into Ben Pitz from The Pinstripes at the M&E/Rubber Knife Gang soiree. Really looking forward to their gig tonight at the Lodge Bar. And ask the band about their post-MidPoint plans Satuday night … don’t know if it’s official enough to announce, but get the lowdown from them. It could be something extremely cool.
• Reason to love Buckra #172: I got dirty danced at the gig. Apparently, women now rub their asses into random men as a legitimate dance step. I’m fairly certain they’re not teaching this at Arthur Murray’s, but I’m not complaining. It was very strange, not at all unpleasant and just a bit disconcerting for a guy who celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary a month ago. Yes, I told my wife all about it. And a side note to my unexpected dance partner: You were lovely, and you’re going to make some lucky guy a nervous wreck. And in the spirit of complete honesty and full disclosure, while I was certainly glad to see you, that really was my cell phone in my pocket.