Jenny Lewis Still Maintains That She's Bad News
By John Mabery
Photos by Sharee Allen
“This used to be a brothel, right?”
That was the question Jenny Lewis posed to the crowd at the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville last Friday night. Locals responded with a resounding cheer, confirming Lewis’ query. “We’ll try to get some of those brothel vibes going,” she said.
While the atmosphere never reached that level of debauchery, Lewis and her tremendous backing band providing an experience that was at times delicate and at others raucous.
Following a rapturous performance by the Cactus Blossoms, Lewis took the stage, which was adorned with glowing lamps and incense sticks. The set dressings accentuated the casual nature of the evening, during which we were treated to songs from her solo canon plus a few Rilo Kiley tunes.
When the multi-generational audience leapt to their feet during “The Next Messiah” and "Portions for Foxes" late in the set, pushing toward the front of the stage, Lewis cooed, “This feels much more intimate.” It was a nice reminder that even when we think we are being vulnerable, we could be trying harder.
Albums of the Year
Every year we reflect on the music that affected us in a NPO list.
The 2nd annual No Particular Order Albums Year in Review
Oct. Harvest Festival Dance Party
Blue Note Durham
Kruxtal Fashion Show
Outlaw Music Fest
Riverbend Music Center
A New Generation Grows Up Using Glitter Glue To Make Protest Signs
A Photoessay by Sharee Allen
Bubba Slide On In
Turkuaz at the Madison Theater
By John Mabery
Photos by Sharee Allen
At a Turkuaz show, the movement never stops - whether it's the crowd or the band themselves, you best believe there’s some series gyrating going on. The Brooklyn-based nine piece funked up the Madison Theater this past Saturday, shaking the crowd to its very core.
It’s hard to blame anyone for wanting to get down, with tunes like “Bubba Slide, or “On The Run,” or a casual Sly & The Family Stone cover thrown in for good measure.
And while the band knows how to throw down one funky set, it’s vocalists Sammi Garett and Shira Elias that the show orbits around. Between their soul-tinged vocals and perfectly-synchronized dance moves,
it’s hard not to catch that fever.
"Utilizar para nuestro beneficio exclusivo lo que no es nuestro es el robo" - Jose Marti
Notes on the Distribution of Wealth (or Lack Thereof) in Cuba
By Tammy West
Photos by Sharee Allen
Yamil: “Is it true that everyone in America has a car?”
Me: “Yes, most everyone. Teenagers get their own car when they turn 16.”
Yamil: “Is it true that markets in America have every food you can imagine?”
Me: “Yes, aisle after aisle.”
Yamil is a 26-year-old man I met on my recent trip to Cuba. A kind and artistic soul, Yamil spoke fluent English, and despite our age difference, we became fast friends, hanging out together for a couple of days.
I also met another man during my trip, Ricardo, with whom I chatted for a few hours in a bar one night. While in Cuba my ability to get to know people was limited by my lack of Spanish, and I have to admit, I felt a little embarrassed that I was a strictly-English-speaking language “snob.” When I met Yamil and Ricardo, I was excited to ask each of them about life in Cuba. What different lives they had lived!
I was surprised about how openly they both talked about their government, a taboo subject. Honestly, I had never really given much thought to the difference between socialism and communism. They explained to me that communism is an ideal utopian society, in which everyone is equal and pitches in to keep the society running smoothly. Communism has never been achieved in any nation at any time in history. Socialism is a society that is supposed to be a stepping-stone to communism.
They spoke about the Cuban revolutions to gain independence from Spain and the United States, as well as Fidel Castro’s revolt against Batista, the country’s former president. Fidel, they had been taught, inspired support from the Cuban people through patriotism and pride in their nation.
Ricardo told me that his grandfather had been a wealthy man who was a friend and supporter of Fidel. He spoke with both sadness and contempt about his grandfather giving away millions in order to support Cuba’s military. Because of his family’s high status, he attended a privileged school, where he said they ate filet mignon for lunch. When I commented that socialism had at least been good for him, he whispered to me that the country was more like a dictatorship and that Fidel had only wanted wealth and power for himself.
Yamil, on the other hand, had grown up very poor. He told me that because his family had so little food, he was small as a child in an area “where boys needed to be big and strong to survive.”
At age 18, all young men who don’t have “connections” are required to serve two years in the military. He was never sent abroad and described his military service as slave labor with terrible food and living conditions.
While Ricardo travels back and forth from Cuba to Miami freely, Yamil longs to move to the United States, get a job, settle down and have a family. While Ricardo has an apartment in Miami as well as a large house in a wealthy Cuban neighborhood, Yamil lives in a modest apartment in Havana. Yamil would be happy to even visit America, but in a country where the average salary is about $30/month, cost is a huge issue. He explained to me that even if he could come up with the money, the Cuban government would still probably not allow him to travel to the United States without a letter of invitation from someone with wealth in the US. He said usually only people who have family in the United States or older people are granted permission, as the government is worried about the younger generation immigrating.
I loved Cuba. With the lovely mountainous countryside, sandy beaches with the clearest water I’ve ever seen, and the laid-back, unpretentious vibe, it seemed like paradise to me. Mostly I loved the charming, friendly people I met. Since returning home I’ve thought about Ricardo some, but mostly my thoughts turn to sweet Yamil. I realize that if you don’t have freedom, even paradise is a prison.
WHY? regroups “like a misdealt hand of Euchre”
with Molly Sullivan and The Ophelias at the Woodward Theatre
By Sharee Allen
Photos by Sharee Allen
Molly Sullivan is a gorgeous creature. She is often seen walking around OTR in long, flowing gowns, like a living, breathing Gustav Klimt painting. But she’s also a badass, and can be spotted bartending at MOTR pub, Anchor, Radio City, and random gigs all over Cincinnati. In Thursday night’s Woodward Theatre show, her incarnation was the former.
She’s a singer/songwriter/frontwoman who actually plays guitar and realizes her job isn’t just to look pretty at the mic. Her voice is soulful yet commanding, and she hits the high notes with a Jenny Lewis-ish vibe. Backed by Alessandro Corona on drums, plus WHY?’s bassist Doug McDiarmid and Matt Meldon on guitar, her sound is best described as experimental dream-folk.
We met at Midpoint Music Fest last year, and she was kind enough to give me a copy of her album Winter ’13, which frequents my van CD player (yes I drive a 2002 Dodge Caravan and no, I’m NOT A MOM!) The album cover is hand-painted by the artist herself, a thread of multitalented-ness which continues through all three bands who played that night.
Which brings us to enigmatic quartet The Ophelias. The second in this insane lineup of local-but-seem-too-grimy-and-cool-to-be-from-here bands, The Ophelias are a girl group led by the brooding, retro style of Spencer Peppet’s lead vocals and guitar. She is backed by the dynamic energy of drummer Micaela Adams and the ever-elusive Grace Weir (notice I couldn’t capture her in a photo) on bass, complimented by ethereal softness of violinist Andrea Gutmann Fuentes. Following the release of their latest single “Night Signs” barely a week ago, we got the chance to ask Spencer a few questions Re: their process and what’s happening next.
NPO: Will you be joining WHY? on the entire tour?
SP: We won't all be joining since half of us have to go back to school, but Grace is going as their merch girl! She'll be at every stop across the US.
NPO: Can you talk a little bit about your organic processes of writing, when you bring in the band and start testing out new material?
SP: Writing starts as something I do by myself, mostly in my room, mostly late at night. Sometimes events will spark a set of lyrics, but sometimes just an image comes into view and won't leave until it's been fully explored. A lot of times those end up being my favorite sets of lyrics, the ones where the images come first and then I can revisit them later and realize what I'm actually talking about. “Naomi” and “Gabriel” (from 2015’s Creature Native) were like that. Whenever I'm back home and we're all in town, we get together and I'll teach them the songs. It's then a completely collaborative effort- Micaela, Grace, and Andrea seem to know exactly what each song needs! It's honestly amazing, they come up with these beautiful, innovative parts that work perfectly.
NPO: Not only do you write the songs, but you and some of the other Ophelias create the album artwork as well. Are you all women of many talents—visual as well as musical?
SP: I’d say we're all kind of Renaissance women. Grace makes visual art: paintings, embroidery, textiles, the whole deal. Andrea is studying linguistics and is a smart and dedicated activist. Micaela is double majoring in Psych and International Studies with a minor in Econ, and volunteers at an elementary school in Chicago. I'm studying experimental movement theatre, focusing on how political activism fits into art without the core ideas becoming reductive. Three fourths of us also do college radio!
NPO: What artist can you not stop listening to right now?
SP: Blood Orange has been on constant repeat right now, specifically the song "Champagne Coast." Seriously brilliant.
And speaking of brilliant, WHY?, the headliners we were all waiting for, emerged with a satisfying mix of old and new material. The venue was buzzing with friends, family, and fans of the band, all a few $4 tall boy PBRs in by this point. Local well-wishers gathered to see them off on their international tour, which will start in the US but cross to Japan then Europe in May and June. One admirer, who made the trek down from Dayton, described their sound as “indie folk rock meets spoken-word with a little hip hop thrown in.”
We can’t argue with the reluctance to categorize the band. Having just released Moh Lhean two weeks prior, a major step away from their last (weirdly intimate yet philanthropic) EP Golden Tickets, WHY? is comfortable with changing their approach. This doesn’t come off as a lack of direction: on the contrary, Moh Lhean exudes confident vulnerability, like the relaxed phase years into a relationship in which you finally confess your darkest secrets, take shits front of each other, and get really kinky in bed.
“One Mississippi,” coalesced with whistling, synth, and overlapped vocals. My favorite was the catchier “Easy,” which builds from a melodic opening to spacey, drop-offs at the end. In the previously leaked “This Ole King,” Yoni Wolf shared the knowledge of his own rebirth: “But at the start of spring/ Like the robins sing/ This ole king will be rising/ A new love blooms on the/ Long notes of old horns."
Yes, the members of WHY? have been making music together under this name for over a decade and a half. And although we can practically see Yoni, drummer/brother Josiah Wolf (and longtime buddy Doug on bass) rolling their eyes at our music-journalist cliche comparison, we must attempt. They mix a lyrical candidness of the Mountain Goats with Sufjan-esque arrangements, dropping in hints of The Soft Bulletin with their textured effects and orchestration. The percussion from all angles punctuates like that of The Dirty Projectors, and Yoni’s rhymes are influenced by Open Mike Eagle.
If that doesn’t help, or if it intrigues you, catch them on tour, give Moh Lhean a listen on Spotify (and make them a fraction of a fraction of a cent) or buy it from Joyful Noise Recordings on their site. It’s surging multiple Billboard charts, another illustration that WHY? has no genre.
JAN 16 MLK Jr. Day Staying Gold: Run the Jewels at Express Live
my MLK Day than by watching Run The Jewels tear it up at Express Live. Killer Mike and El-P are back on the road, showcasing material from their phenomenal third album, Run The Jewels 3, which was leaked to the world on Christmas Eve. The album and tour come at a time when we need cultural revolutionaries, and RTJ are the most logical candidates to lead the charge.
The show opened with CUZ, Nick Hook, and Gangsta Boo. Boo, who told us that we knew she’d “be back later for “Love Again,” has been putting in work for some time now, but thanks to her work with RTJ, E-40, and others, is starting to get the recognition she deserves. In a male-dominated genre, she is one of the more dynamic female MCs out there today.
By John Mabery
Photos by Sharee Allen
I couldn’t think of a better way to spend
With Gaslamp Killer, Gangsta Boo, Nick Hook, and CUZ
Next up on the bill was Gaslamp Killer. Having first caught the L.A.-based producer at Low End Theory Festival 2015 (which he helped to organize), I was looking forward to his performance, and the man did not disappoint. He is an absolute madman onstage, gyrating in perfect synchronicity to an original beat or head-banging to Death Grips (we’ve submitted video evidence to show you what you’re missing). Gaslamp's lineage is apparent in the way he blends west coast hip-hop (Kendrick, ScHool Boy) with the music of his grandparents, proclaiming at one point, “My grandfather is from Turkey, my grandmother is from Syria…Aleppo to be exact.” He's also a crazy nice dude, as he thanked and hugged me shortly after his set for wearing his t-shirt.
Around 10 p.m., it was time for the main event. The sold out crowd went bananas as Mike and El-P took the stage, opening their set with RTJ3 cuts “Talk To Me” and “Legend Has It.” Over the next 80-minutes, their set was heavy with new material and marked by plenty of wonderful banter. As promised, Boo came out to perform “Love Again” from RTJ2, and at one point, the duo performed “Nobody Speak” from last year’s DJ Shadow album, The Mountain Will Fall. Usually the less vocal of the two in terms of politics, El took the mic to run down the incoming President, reminding us that we need to be supportive of one another now more than ever.
The chemistry between Mike and El, which was evident when I first saw them on tour over three years ago, has always been palpable, but is now even more refined (if that’s even possible). They balance each other out with their differences, yet they are constantly on the same page. They are the Obama & Biden of hip-hop, their camaraderie teeming with pop sensibilities. After an encore that included “Kill Your Masters” and the titular track “Run The Jewels,” the duo closed out their set by playing “Hold The Floor” by the late local-MC Camu Tao.
When the Run The Jewels revolution began, no one could’ve predicted how big it would become or, more importantly, how necessary. It feels like they’ve won. But much like Dr. King would if he could - and given how their politics are so embedded in their music - Killer Mike and El-P would tell you that we have a long way to go.
NO TURKEYS GIVEN: Danny Brown Brings the Party to Detroit
Bruiser Brigade Thanksgiving III
By John Mabery
Photos by Sharee Allen
I am unapologetic in my fandom of Danny Brown. The Detroit-based rapper is an anomaly, not just in the realm of hip-hop, but music as a whole. As an avid listener of the genre, I find him to be as entertaining as he is refreshing – something that is evident from the moment he steps onstage. After two failed attempts to catch the Atrocity Exhibition Tour in Columbus and Cleveland respectively, Sharee and I made the pilgrimage to the Motor City for Bruiser Brigade Thanksgiving III, which took place at the Masonic Temple on Wednesday the 23rd.
Danny took the stage around ten o’clock, wearing a black suit and an infectious smile. He then launched into a career-spanning set in near chronological order, starting with “Die Like A Rockstar.” The first half was heavy on material from XXX, including crowd favorites “Monopoly” and “Blunt After Blunt.” The hometown crowd was as raucous as one would expect, with Danny’s DJ cutting out the music so everyone in attendance could shout lyrics like “Cool Ranch Doritos” and “blunt after blunt after blunt…” They didn’t miss a single cue.
These fans know Danny Brown is the real deal, and they love him for it. Once, in an interview on Sway in the Morning, Danny expressed disdain, to put it politely, for rappers who are from Detroit but only come back once a year, "talkin' about giving out turkeys and all this sh*t, man, who don’t come to the hood on the holidays? E'rybody come to the hood on the holidays." For Danny, the difference is that he lives there day in and day out. He breathes the hood.
After "Monopoly," Brown segued right into material from Old, with emphasis on the album’s turnt-up second half that made his festival act so memorable. This stretch of songs included party anthems like “Dip,” “Handstand,” and “Kush Coma.” He bounded from one side of the stage to the other, playing to the entire crowd and bouncing along to the drops. Without departing for an encore break, Danny then launched into material from The Atrocity Exhibition. He ran through his verse from “Really Doe,” followed by “When It Rain,” “Dance In The Water,” and “Pneumonia” to close out what turned out to be a truly epic performance.
The lineup also consisted of Joey Bada$$ and fellow Bruiser Zeelooperz, who opened the show. The Brooklyn-based Bada$$ – who was invited by Brown personally to join the lineup – performed songs from last year’s B4.Da.$$, the summer single “Devastated“, and hyped new music coming in 2017, which he requested we all “download twice.”
SEP 23-25 MIDPOINT MUSIC FESTIVAL
ALL THE FEEDBACK YOU CAN STAND
New locations in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati
By John Mabery
Photos by Sharee Allen
“We love you, even though this festival sucks!”
That’s a direct quote from someone in the crowd during Wolf Parade’s performance this past Saturday night at Midpoint Music Festival. Somehow, that seemed to sum up the duality of this year’s edition of the fest, which was held in its new outdoor spot in Over-The-Rhine. More on that later.
As far as the music went, the artists came into an uncertain situation and brought their A-game. The acts in particular that killed it on the kickoff night were Antibalas and Future Islands. Antibalas is a 12plus-piece Fela Kuti-inspired group from Brooklyn, Puerto Rico, Africa, Seattle, all over the map. They caught my eye backstage in their cross-cultural clothes, face paint, and general good vibes. With their first note, the whole aura of Midpoint was changed. Other artists rushed from the VIP tent to catch - and break it down to - this funky, jazzy, spectacular set. It's live experiences like this that never seem long enough.
Future Islands closed out the night with a bang, led by frontman Samuel T. Herring, aka rapper Hemlock Ernst. Yes, he's also a rapper, and he collaborated with Madlib last year. The passion with which he belted Future Islands hits from 2014's Singles - spitting, sweating, beckoning to individual members of the crowd - reflected that he somehow knew and understood the pulsing tension of our city, being from North Carolina/Baltimore himself. It inspired in me a certain hope about the weekend, and for the most part, I was not disappointed.
Saturday was far and away the best of the festival, with lots of overlap between the WNKU Stage the two main stages (situated side by side) that led to some sacrifices on behalf of yours truly. The two that stand out most were Kamasi Washington and Wolf Parade.
Washington made the most of his 45-minute time slot, playing three tunes from last year’s jazz opus The Epic. This allowed each member of his septet to stretch, showcasing their own musical prowess on “Re Run,” “The Magnificent Seven,” and “The Rhythm Changes.” That last track was the standout experience of the weekend, namely for keyboardist Brandon Coleman, whose vocals bookended a virtuosic improvised jam on keytar beautifully.
Having caught part of Wolf Parade’s breathtaking show at FYF Fest last month, I knew there was nothing else that I’d rather be doing that night than watching the entirety of their set. Sure enough, the quartet did not disappoint, as they burned through an hour-long, career-spanning performance. Grounded by Arlen Thompson’s steady kit work, Spencer Krug, Dan Boeckner, and Dante DeCaro stagger around the stage, wailing on their instruments with the kind of ferocity exhibited by a band with nothing to lose. From their thunderous opener (“You Are A Runner…") to the drawn out finale (“Kissing The Beehive”), Wolf Parade have assured their status as one of the essential live acts of 2016.
Outside of the indelible performances by the musicians, the festival itself was marred by poor management decisions and a lack of organization.
At the heart of it, the decision to move the festival outside to the heart of Over-The-Rhine was divisive (to put it nicely) amongst the locals, and its elevated ticket price was alienating to concertgoers who have come to patronize the festival annually. This sparked an actual boycott by lots of fans, which is unfortunate, because the artists suffered. It's one thing to hold a festival on a farm in Tennessee or in the middle of the Southern California desert. But what about smack-dab in the middle of a neighborhood that's highly controversial for becoming so gentrified?
Throughout the weekend, issues abounded that didn’t go unnoticed. Certain acts were almost late to their sets because they were denied at check-in. There were murmurs about the low numbers on Friday due to an early start while most people were still at work.
The proximity of the stages didn’t help either. During Washington’s set, when the saxophonist was introducing songs or band members, he was drowned out by the sound of the nearby WNKU Stage. One of The Wood Brothers pointed this out during their set on Sunday night.
“Wow, I didn’t realize there was other music going on until we stopped playing…” he chided.
Then there was the feedback.
And good Lord, was there feedback - sharp high-pitched blasts so often that it became a running joke backstage. I can’t recall a single artist or band on the two main stages that didnt’ have issues with that. It was also commonplace to see artists motioning to the sound booths throughout their sets to turn the sound on their monitors up or down. There’s no worse festival foux pas than misrepresenting the talent. A city that gets passed up as often as Cincinnati does can’t afford to leave a bad taste in the mouths of artists.
That being said, let this be our official plea to said artists: please come back. We love you, remember? It will get better. From the ridiculous antics of Reggie Watts to Frank Turner's "wall of hugs," we were humbled by your wild performances. We want to continue this tradition of international vibe, from the clever Canadians Tokyo Police Club and Wolf Parade, to the widespread UK representation (Lau, Frank Turner, Frightened Rabbit, The James Hunter Six), to the lovely Dutch songstress Amber Arcades, you're always welcome in our hotels and AirBnbs.
Also, by the way, a further shoutout to our hometown heroes for holding it down: Young Heirlooms, Public, Leggy, Slippery Lips, The Harlequins, even Houndmouth because you guys are close enough. Here's to many more shows together, whether they be in the glaring sunlight of this year's fest or reverted to the dark, dingy delight of MOTR Pub. As Reggie Watts said, perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek, Cincinnati is an undiscovered gem where he plans to secretly vacation. And it's ours.