MPMF: The Heavens Roared, the Ground Roared Back

[Further Friday coverage: 235 photos here and multimedia show here.]

Other than an intermittent and often heavy rainfall and a cancelled show or five, Thursday was a very good opening night. The lessening rain upon arrival in downtown Friday night boded well for a drier and less drippy MidPoint experience, and so it was. For the most part.—-

For me, the evening began at the Know Theatre for Love in October, a truly multi-cultural band. It sounds like the high concept pitch for an MTV reality series: “What if two Swedish brothers formed an arty New Wave band in the Minneapolis cradle of the Replacements’ civilization and then moved the whole thing to Chicago where the Blues and post modern Rock harmonize around a burning barrel at the intersection of Rock and Don’t Stop. Frontman Erik Widman was spendiferous in his wide white belt and white loafers and was the jittery focus whether he was banging out rhythm on guitar or fueling the atmosphere with a wall of synth textures. At one point, Widman pointed out that, between the economy and various other social, cultural and political ills, something had to be done, and Love in October’s contribution was a song called “Something’s Got to Be Done.” Sung in Swedish.

This one act alone eclipses any advances made in the eight years of the Bush administration, if there were indeed any. Widman and his bassist brother Kent donned masks early in the set; Erik wore a masterpiece that would have been a suitable disguise for the Pink Lantern and Kent’s was a magnificent art deco rising sun half mask affair. This is what happens when you take whistling out of the musical equation. At any rate, Love in October drew a great crowd and they delivered a terrific set that combined the synth swoop of Kraftwerk and the Blues knife fight of the White Stripes. Well done.

I hated to leave the LIO proceedings, but I had to motor over to the Courtyard Cafe to catch at least some of Mad Anthony’s set. How to describe the sonic blurt that is Mad Anthony? If some genius figured out a way to change an engine on an airplane in flight at 30,000 feet, Mad Anthony would be the mechanic on that kamakazi mission. If football was a street game where homemade weapons were allowed, Mad Anthony would be the drunken referee shrieking the game’s only rule of “Don’t die.” If a mad scientist gave a tornado a brain and it sucked up a garage full of instruments, Mad Anthony would be the music it made. If you shoved the Stooges, Afghan Whigs, Suicidal Tendencies and Jawbox into a post modern meat grinder, Mad Anthony would be the 10-inch sausage that emerged.

Frontman Ringo Jones is a dervish, a man possessed bellowing out lyrics of rage and outrage with a barely tethered grip on sanity while slashing away at his guitar in an almost tribal frenzy. Guitarist Adam Flaig leaned against the Courtyard’s bulletin board and effortlessly peeled off leads that would make James Williamson green with envy, while manically stoic bassist Dave Markey and nuanced basher Tony Bryant provided the only possible rhythm section for this beautifully orchestrated Rock and Roll train wreck. You could almost feel the bolts in the Courtyard’s infrastructure bend and snap under the duress that Mad Anthony was inflicting on it.

Jones was quick to note that they had free earplugs available. It was probably a good idea, but I chose to let the sound of Mad Anthony bleed straight into my skull pan, where it ran straight into the vibrations coming up from the floor. That’s where Mad Anthony lives, at the point of impact between sound and sensation. I don’t know if there’s a band in the city right now that approaches Mad Anthony’s live intensity. There aren’t many who would survive the attempt. See them whenever you can. And don’t forget your flak jacket.

Terribly Empty Pockets

Anything would have been a step down after Mad Anthony’s legal version of assault and battery, but I made my way over to Below Zero to catch Freelance Whales, who sounded interesting when I previewed them. Sadly, the Whales were an unsavable no-show, and Brooklyn’s Aviation Orange were moved up to the 9 p.m. slot. And when they were still sitting on Below Zero’s side stage couches at 9:20, I was seriously considering heading back to Know Theatre to see the last of Terribly Empty Pockets, but literally seconds before I was ready to hit the door the band hit the stage and got right to work. TAO’s sound hovers in the triangulation of Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse and Echo & the Bunnymen, with Berlin connecting the dots. The band built steadily from mid-tempo to pulsating crescendo pretty quickly and their engaging Indie Rock/Synth Pop found a lot of fans in the fairly sizable audience.

From there, it was off to Fountain Square to catch some of Nashville’s Mean Tambourines. In studio, the four-piece have a New Wave/Glam edge, which ventures into Supergrass-channeling-Bowie airspace, but on stage the vibe is more Strokes-meets-Oasis at a Tennessee barbeque. Their MySpace page says they sound like “man Rock.” No argument from me. Let’s hope they can venture north again soon.

After a brief pitstop at the CAC to check out a technically glitchy set from johnnytwentythree, who still provided some fascinating Fripp/Eno/Tangerine Dream textural sound wavage, it was a short jaunt down to the Lodge Bar to soak in the rock steady vibe of our very own Pinstripes. Throw out all the standard Rock crit hoohah; the Cincinnati sextet takes the raw ingredients of Studio One Reggae, first-, second- and third-generation Ska and an absolute flawless sense of Soul, seeds it, stems it and rolls it into an enormous spliff that's nothing short of pure, unadulterated exhilaration. If you’re not having fun at a Pinstripes show, brothers and sisters, check for a toe tag. Your autopsy may already be in progress.

You can tell that the Pinstripes are having an absolute stratospheric blast every time they’re on stage together (and if you knew what they had to go through just to be in the same place at the same time with any regularity, you’d understand why) and they transfer that feeling of unrestrained joy to the audience with an almost casual effort. But make no mistake; the Pinstripes are working overtime to generate that joy, and the work shows through every bit as clearly as the play. The band knows its shit and executes it with tighter-than-a-Republican’s-ass marching band precision but with swing and swagger to spare. If the Pinstripes are playing, you want to be there.

After an absolutely gorgeous evening, it was time to make the trek over to the Blue Wisp to take in my beloved Sundresses. From the Lodge Bar’s foyer, I could sheets of rain in the street light’s reflection. The sky had opened up with firehose intensity. Half a block into the journey, I could feel my T-shirt wicking up water from my jean jacket. By the time I got to the Blue Wisp, it felt as though I’d swam there. Wet doesn’t begin to describe the sensation. But I was there as the Sundresses plugged in and let go. Everything was fine.

The Sundresses have finally made it. The Blue Wisp was packed to near capacity for their evening ending set, and clearly not everyone in attendance wanted to see the band but wanted to be seen seeing the band. (Rant alert...) OK, it’s a Rock show, not church. Being social is part of the appeal of the event. I get that. But paying at least marginal attention to the band on stage is actually the focus of the event. A10-minute conversation about the best way to get to the bar though the crowd is distractive at best and ignorant at worst. Walk. Weave. Excuse yourself. Stop at bar. Order. Reverse the steps, and you’re back where you were. Or hopefully you got lost in the crowd and you’re no longer in front of me.

Another bonehead pasttime seemed to be groups of people checking their phones for Twitter updates. Again, sharing the joy of being at the Sundresses show for the masses is cool (the Jumbotron on Fountain Square was evidence of the number of people who were having a great time at the Heartless Bastards show), but huddling around a glowing matchbox like it was man’s first fire and talking incessantly and at length about the messages contained therewith is boorish. Send the text. Check other texts. Pocket that fucking thing.

Maybe I was a slightly on edge from being drenched to the bone after walking in a biblical deluge. I’m not a cranky old man who chases kids off my lawn. But in this case, I sort of was. Because the lawn was the dance floor and the kids were between me and the Sundresses and if they’d rather play with their toys or try to get lucky before the end of the night or talk world politics, they should have taken it to the bar area and gotten the hell off my lawn. (Rant concluded.)

In fact, the Sundresses don’t give a goodly goddamn what you do at their show, because they will be heard. Whether they were slamming out full bore versions of songs from their transcendently great Barkinghaus album or moving air and souls with brand new compositions, the trio was captivating and brilliant and breathtaking on a level that seems new even for them. It’s like a dirty Blues/Rock seance between Nick Cave and Hank Williams and Johnny Cash where they collaborate on murder ballads for the 21st century, or Tom Waits finding a shoebox of William Burroughs poems and collaborating with Pere Ubu to fashion a Punk/Blues circus geek revue. Which is all well and good until it all gets funneled through the Sundresses’ beautifully twisted perspective and it becomes unique to them, and all comparisons dissipate like smoke from an unsmoked cigarette and they’re bellowing their rage and love at top volume and everyone and everything from Jesus to Cincinnati is in their sniper sights and every bloody bullet is a kill shot and it’s impossible to look away.

That’s a normal Sundresses gig. Last night was above and beyond and above some more from all that.

From the blistering tumult of “An American American” to the visceral new groinkick of “Stepson of a Working Man” to the acid Delta Blues of “The Barking House” to the showstopping snake handling tent revival of “Black Work Song,” the ’Dresses spilled it all into the Blue Wisp’s sardine-packed atmosphere and held nothing back. From my vantage point, only the barest glimpses of Brad Schnittger or Jeremy Springer were possible; if Mackenzie Place hadn’t jumped on the bass drum, her presence would have been identified only by her thundering bass runs. This was the absolute perfect way to end Friday night’s MidPoint adventure. This is one of Cincinnati’s greatest musical aggregations in recent memory. Ignore the Sundresses at your most mortal peril.

Friday Notes

• Ran into Matthew Fenton again at the Know for Love in October. Let me just say again: The guy is a local treasure. If he really is leaving for Chicago (and sorry if I debagged that cat, Matthew), Cincinnati comes up on the losing end of that deal. Who do we get in trade? We want specifics. And he bought me a delicious Christian Moerlien. And even given last year’s Buy Me a Beer guidelines, I would still bang this guy’s drum. So to speak. As a marketing guy, as a music fan, as a tech mook, Matthew may be among the smartest people I know. The only ding on his reputation is he’ll be seen with me.

• Phratry Records’ Jerry Dirr was on hand to see his boys from Mad Anthony rip shit up. CityBeat's own Jason Gargano took in the show, as did the Seedy Seeds, who provided kazoo on Mad Anthony’s debut. And I think I quite like the new middle name that Ringo annointed me with mid-set: Brian Motherfucking Baker.

CityBeat mahout Dan Bockrath begged to buy me a beer at the Aviation Orange show, and I deemed it an acceptable offering. Dan is my personal Jesus, and he knows it. It’s why I’m still employed as a freelancer after 15 years with CityBeat. Talent will take you only so far. My wife finally made me take down the shrine. Sorry, Dan. And on a personal note, the Aviation Orange’s keyboard player was a dead ringer for my wife Melissa about 20 years ago. I had to leave before I fell in love all over again.

Brian Kitzmiller and I relived all of our fabulous moments at last year’s MidPoint festivities in a quick reverie before he took a smoke break and I attempted to navigate the crowd at the Sundresses show. Remember the halo effect? Remember the post-it notes? Remember when they used to be The Emeralds? Good times. Gargano was also in attendance and dry, living close enough to go home and change after being baptized. And through drippy and fogged specs, I could just make out Mad Anthony’s Dave Markey and Goose’s Jason Arbenz in the throng along with local legend John Curley, who I believe is required by law to have something to do with any recording done in the Cincinnati area. Rightly so.

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