· I have seen the future of Rock & Roll, and it is ... instrument switching? If you happened to attend the New Music Showcase at the Southgate House in Newport on Nov. 8, you just might think so. The show (presented by CityBeat) featured numerous fresh faces from the local music scene, spread out across all three of the 'Gate's stages. And nearly half of the bands playing featured at least one moment of instrumental exchange during their sets. It's an odd phenomenon, that, to be honest, was at one time a bit off-putting. But often the stage lull is worth the dynamics that it adds to the music. Maybe local champs Readymaid have made it more palatable for the local music fanatics.
The night was full of musical highlights — the melodic, careening Rock of Hierophant, the howling "new lo-fi" of the Sundresses and the twee, folkish throb of wil-o-ee were all especially refreshing. The Underwoods put on a great display of BritFolk/Rock-influenced Pop in the parlour room, while folk?'s addictive, manic Indie sound drew an overpouring crowd to the cozy Junie's Lounge stage. Post-Punk wonders Mallory and majestic Pop maestros Colortest continue to show a marvelous progression musically, both delivering knock-out performances to tuned-in fans.
In the ballroom, Kim Taylor, who canceled a solo performance the night before to save her voice, sounded great with her tight backing band.
The most entrancing performance of the night came from The Light Wires, a truly stunning AltRoots-styled band featuring the sturdy, creative rhythm section of Mike Montgomery and Rick McCarty (both also of Thistle and Ampline), the fantastically inventive lead guitar of Andy Hittle and the mesmerizing, often jaw-dropping songs of frontguy Jeremy Pinnel. The Light Wires' melancholic style recalls the dreamy, honest mode of Beck's new album or Wilco's more narcotic moments. See this band as soon as you can. And, by the way, they didn't switch instruments once. (M.B.)
· Three things happened that reminded me why I admire Bruce Springsteen when he played at the U.S. Bank Arena on Nov. 12. After each member of the E Street Band came on stage to open the evening, Springsteen walked up to the microphone and stopped the show before it started. He said he'd been contacted by organizations in Cincinnati "trying to combat the segregation, economic apartheid and racism that exists not just here in Cincinnati but everywhere in our country."
He was roundly booed, but Springsteen shrugged a little and put his hand up. He said he wanted to start the show with a song he'd written a few years ago that deals with "what happens when injustice becomes ingrained and institutional — the consequences, the violence, the human cost, the lives lost that comes with it."
The band launched into a solemn version of "American Skin (41 Shots)," which deals with an unarmed man being shot dead by police in New York City. The chorus: "It ain't no secret/No secret, my friend/You get killed just for livin'/In your American skin."
If faced with a local issue like the civil rights boycott of downtown Cincinnati, 99 percent of national music acts would ignore it. The other 1 percent would slip in a "Good luck" mention between songs toward the show's end. No one would actually walk out onstage and face the issue head on before playing a note — and do it intelligently and nonjudgmentally, then play an apropos song. No one but Springsteen.
Later, in a solo piano slot where he's been doing an older tune, Springsteen performed "My Hometown," a song ostensibly about his crappy New Jersey childhood home that still offers hope for the future. I have to believe he chose that song especially for Cincinnati.
Finally, during the encores, Springsteen pulled a sign from the front row that requested "I'm a Rocker," an obscure song from The River. After saying they hadn't practiced it in a while, he turned to his bandmates and said, "Who starts that one? Isn't that an organ song?" And they played it. And it rocked.
Springsteen always makes his shows feel as if each one is unique, and each audience and each city is special. That's why his fans respond they way they do. (John Fox)
· It was the "men with the golden left-hands" night at the Southgate House on Nov. 16, as Ricky Nye presented his fantastic Blues and Boogie Piano Summit for the fourth consecutive year. The event — showcasing the keyboard talents of Nye, Ann Arbor's Rick Braun, Switzerland's Silvan Zingg and England-via-California player Carl Sonny Leyland — drew what Nye told the crowd was the biggest turnout yet. With it's distinct, chugging left-hand "boogie" rhythm and a vibe that is so inherently fun and bouncy, there wasn't a grimace in the house. Nye could obviously move the concert to a more "foo-foo" enviroment, like the Aronoff Center and draw even more people. But there's something about the loose nature of the Southgate that is conducive to the music's saloon-like, "barrelhouse" nature. Though largely a calmer middle-aged crowd, audience response was wildly enthusiastic — one couple even danced, old-school style, for the entire length of the program. Backing musicians Eric Sayer (bass) and Tony Franklin (drums) — who work often with Nye in the local clubs — did an amazing job, especially considering they had met Braun only hours before the show. The most rousing moment of the event was the "all-star jam" at the very end of the night, as the four musicians converged on the two grand pianos, often switching off mid-song and climbing over each other to take on a different part of the board. Look for a live CD from the event, featuring highlights from all four participants (I'd hate to have to choose that, given the amount of highlights) sometime next year. (M.B.)
· Readymaid celebrated the release of their new EP, Images of the Floating World, at the Southgate House on Nov. 15. The Pop/Punk outfit Haleymill kicked off the evening, with a set of three-chord ditties that might have worked better without vocals. Bloomington, Indiana's Panic Strikes A Chord carried the middle of the night with sprawling, often growling Rock. They took their time, building songs from simple melodies into complicated, ear-buzzing anthems.
But the bottom line is, this was Readymaid's show: They had a new five-song EP, and they weren't afraid to play it all. Bands were still sound checking well after 10 p.m., but by the time Readymaid reached the stage, there were enough people to form a loose but respectable semi-circle near the band. Judging by the friendly vibes in the air, many of them were friends of Readymaid. This included photographer Thomas Condon, whose legal troubles have given the band a cause. Readymaid members haven't been shy about sharing their belief Condon was unfairly treated by the Hamilton County courts.
If there's one thing to take home from Readymaid's set that night — besides the EP, handed out with admission — it's that they are clearly a talented band with a collection of well-built songs that shift tempo and melody as smoothly as an automatic transmission. They've used keyboards, a French horn, a banjo, and who knows what else, but instead of pretentious additions, the odd instruments and musical flourishes somehow glue the songs together. As the long-hand neared 2 a.m., singer/guitarist Jason Snell called for people to join them on stage for the last songs. Condon, clearly enjoying the moment, grabbed a couple of mallets and swatted away. And for a few moments, the artist-laden Readymaid had what they had been demanding for months: a freed Condon, in every sense of the word. (Doug Trapp)