Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Sonic Muse Festival Presented by, Madison Theater--Covington, KY

This past weekend I met some old college friends in Covington, Kentucky for the Sonic Muse Festival presented by I’ve spent a lot of time in this part of the country so any chance to return to the Greater Cincinnati area is one I always look forward to. Scheduled to perform were Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, The Hold Steady, Matt and Kim and a slew of others. Tickets were an incredible $20. It was ridiculously hot and sticky outside with heat indexes approaching triple digits but it didn’t matter. This festival was indoors at the beautiful Madison Theater. I use the word “beautiful” in a very comparatively speaking nature. The theater was very nice, some of the surrounding area in Covington left a bit to be desired. Although as we zigzagged our way there with Mapquest directions we did see a kid who couldn’t have been any less than six years old running around in his front yard in nothing but a diaper so it wasn’t a total loss where comedic purposes were concerned. A little early, the five of us camped out for awhile in a dive bar attached to the Theater. Great place. It was the type of bar you’d imagine seeing the Hold Steady guys having some drinks before the show. After a few buckets of beer and a black angus burger that Schuhmann more aptly put should have been called a “grey angus burger” we were on our way.

Birds of Avalon. My most vivid memory of Raleigh’s Birds of Avalon was everyone in my group going to get earplugs shortly after they began. This is by no means a knock on the music. I’m pretty sure it was supposed to be loud. They had a bit of a psychedelic/1970s heavy metal sound with a lead singer (Craig Tilley) whose voice was kind of Robert Plant-ish. I wasn’t particularly impressed, I thought Tilley’s voice was rather indistinguishable and almost piercing. Most others seemed to disagree though and I think this can be credited to their fierce playing style. They played loud and they played hard, no doubt about that.

After Birds of Avalon finished we staked out a perfect spot along the railing on the right side of the theater in an elevated area probably 35 feet from the stage. And being that one of the girls in my party goes about 5’1 and swears she’s never actually seen a band on stage when at a concert, we were pretty pleased with our spot. Leaving two to hold it down, a few of us went to explore the rest of the theater. An old theater, it had that classic look of a place that was at one time a gem but was left to despair before a recent renovation. Upon going upstairs there was another stage where The Virgins were playing. I’m not even sure I can describe this accurately, but the way the theater was arranged was by screening off the top part of the balcony and having the lesser known bands perform in front of the screen. Not much room to stand, the seats were kind of those swingy seats you’d see at an outdoors McDonald’s playground or something. It was almost surreal sitting there watching a band play. Something about the setting didn’t seem real, like I was watching the entire thing on television. After hearing the Virgins play a couple songs (I liked them) I went back downstairs. The Bad Veins played after the Virgins which some of my friends took in and enjoyed while I held down our coveted spot.

Matt and Kim. Now here’s a good time. Matt and Kim from Brooklyn really brought the fun to the Madison Theater. I hadn’t heard much of them prior to this concert—a venture over to their Myspace page once in awhile and that was about it. But if you haven’t seen them and want to know what they’re like, picture The Fiery Furnaces (only a bit harder) mixed with that nerdy/lovable couple from your high school. They describe themselves as an “onstage pizza party” and I’m not going to argue. And those that know me are aware that I hold pizza in very high esteem. Thirty seconds into their first song they finally had the main stage at the Madison Theater crowded and a somewhat raucous crowd was forming around the stage. With goofy smiles on their faces, they played with a style that was both hilarious and intense. Permanent smile aside, Kim also had another distinctive anatomical feature that came to life during her drumming which Jim from Louisville found to be “hypnotizing” (his words). And they were enjoyable between songs. Before playing “Yea Yeah”, which I had never heard before but have come to realize is a great song, Matt told an absolute great story (one of many) about having their tour van pulled over by a police officer in Indiana. If I thought I could give the story any sort of justice in print I would attempt to detail the entire episode for you but just take my word for it that Matt and Kim came across as two people you would like to spend time with just for the comic relief alone. Another great moment happened when I noticed Craig Finn in the audience watching the show with a beer and a security guard inquiring as to where his wrist band was. In all, it was definitely one of the better pizza parties I have attended.

For any Chicagoans, I just saw they will be playing the Logan Square Auditorium on October 2. I recommend making the trip over there. I certainly will.

The Hold Steady. For disclosure purposes I should probably mention that The Hold Steady have been my favorite band this past year. I can’t get enough of them. I really can’t. I love the stripped down rock and roll they play and I love the story-telling aspect that dominates their songs. And since I had yet to see them in concert you can imagine my anticipation. Before Matt and Kim started to play, I had the following conversation with Hold Steady keyboardist Franz Nicolay who was hanging out right near where I was standing:

Me: Franz, I can’t wait to hear it.

Franz: Hey, Thanks!

(It seemed much more monumental at the time).

They emerged and immediately whipped into “Stuck Between Stations” which turned the now packed house into a frenzy. Someone near the front of the crowd began spraying beer everywhere, and the funny thing is everyone seemed fine with it. This is as good of time as any to mention that I think The Hold Steady are the modern era’s Van Halen….and I mean that in the most endearing way possible. They’re as creative and talented as anyone yet there is nothing exclusive about their music or their act. It just seems like one big party and everyone’s invited. There is such chemistry between everyone in the band, always giving each other props while each being a showman in some way. Some bands are good fakers at having a good time on stage (trust me, I once saw Zwan play and I was convinced they enjoyed each other’s company) but there never appears to be anything disingenuous going on with these guys. I’m pretty positive all five of them really like being in a rock and roll band, particularly this rock and roll band. Later in the evening during Ted Leo, it was Jim’s turn to chat up Franz who mentioned they were a bit concerned that their set was lacking due to being hungover (both literally and figuratively) from the prior day in Chicago at Lollapalooza. Trust me, no one could tell. They packed as much in as they could into their allotted one hour time slot. They hit most every song on Boys and Girls in America and a few off of both Almost Killed Me and Separation Sunday. After a guitar solo by Tad Kubler, he and Craig Finn exchanged a high-five while I saw someone in the crowd passing around a twelve-pack of beer. I would say that pretty much summed up their set. When they finished with the great closer “Killer Parties” I almost felt like I was in high school again when seeing your favorite band seemed to be of the utmost importance compared to anything else. And sometimes that’s the best compliment you can give a band.

(When I first caught wind of Sonic Muse a few months back two things went through my mind:

1. Wow, what a great lineup for such a cheap price. And;
2. Can anyone realistically follow The Hold Steady?

Well, let us find out…..)

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. While still being high from The Hold Steady, alternative/punk band Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (another one of my favorite bands), arrived to close out the evening. I’ve always found them to be a great live act and Leo a great performer. They immediately laid into “The Sons of Cain” which is probably the strongest song on the excellent Living With the Living album. They hit it just right too, including Leo’s screams at the end of the song. He’s fun to watch. Not so with bassist Dave Lerner. This is the fourth time I’ve seen Ted Leo and the Pharmacists and every time Lerner exudes about as much excitement as Bud Selig did during Barry Bonds' homerun chase. I don’t think even Tim Tuten could give him an enthusiastic introduction. It’s almost as if he’s given an imaginary one foot square area that he’s ordered not to venture from. Let’s just call him the anti-Craig Finn. Everything else about him, including his unkempt hair and wardrobe is pretty awesome, though. But back to the music, besides “The Sons of Cain”, probably the highlight of the set was Leo’s hilarious diatribe about Paul Stanley of Kiss during shows asking the crowd what alcohol they were drinking and each drink being represented by a different drum beat. Don’t worry, the improv was much funnier and easier to understand if you were there. And this appropriately served as the intro to “Bottle of Buckie” which charged up the crowd as much as anything during their set. I think it was also during this song that out of nowhere Jim handed me a near-raw hotdog (no bun) that he swears Hold Steady bassist, Galen Polivka, was handing out back by the food vendor. Yeah, I ate it. I had just spent an entire weekend with my friends eating rather horribly so there was really no reason to stop now. Having seen Ted Leo and the Pharmacists a few times, this was probably the most lackluster performance they've deliver. By the time they finished, probably a third of the crowd had already left which could have been a factor. So was having the nearly impossible task of following The Hold Steady—although they are one of the few bands that could probably do it. But most likely, I think they were just exhausted. He mentioned a ridiculous and not-so-enjoyable Lollapalooza weekend in Chicago. Also, as some people know, that they had to cancel a show in Cleveland just a few days prior because of a health concern in Leo’s family—which we certainly hope isn't too serious. They played “Little Dawn” from Shake the Sheets where Leo finds himself repeating the line “It’s alright...” over and over until the song concludes. Once it did, Leo said “It isn’t really, but oh well.” into the mic. I’m not positive what he was referring to but I guess it could have been a lot of things. Nevertheless, even a somewhat weak Ted Leo performance would have been worth the cheap price of admission to this event.

So there you have it, a great day of music is over and it’s not even midnight. After some banter outside the Madison Theater, I said goodbye to my friends and we all called it a night. I really hope Covington (Greater Cincinnati) does this Festival again next year. An indoor summer music festival in the middle of all the outdoor summer giants is actually pretty refreshing. Numerous acts—but in a small, intimate setting. I could have gone to Lollapalooza which was going on at the same time in my hometown but this was a welcomed change of pace. Very affordable, interesting venue, The Hold Steady……definitely a massive night.


Val said...

Am checking out Matt and Kim on myspace now. I think I really dig Yea Yeah....

Travis said...

I really like Ted Leo, but I'd love to see him at a show where everybody was really into him and knew all of his stuff. I saw him headline once in Louisville and it was sparsely and unenergetically attended (largely due to the fact that the most uncomfortable concert ever was held by Modest Mouse the night before in an unconditioned high school gym that ran out of beer, and Louisville's indie scene isn't known for it's resilience). The second time was at Pitchfork V.2, and though he bled for them, there wasn't as much fist pumping and singing along as I would have hoped. I skipped out on him opening for Death Cab for Cutie, but I hear this performance was met with extreme disinterest.

That said, I feel like he could deliver a Roof- shattering/raising/burning/shingling show (note 'show', not 'performance') with the right crowd. Has anyone ever seen this?

Alex said...

I saw it. At the Metro in April I believe. He was unbelievable. Crowd was into, he was into it, the bassist even cracked a smile once.

Alex said...

Val you need to check out their song Silver Tiles, too. You will dig. Down for Logan Square?

Val said...

Yes that is a good one! Not familiar with the lyrics, I thought I heard "blinding light" in the lyrics, and quickly decided the song needed to play automatically as part of your blog. As it turns, Matt and Kim are not familiar with the blinding light at all but rather some sort of tiles.

Hima said...

I am also checking out Matt and Kim right now -- You Tube has a fun clip of them playing acoustic in a park where Kim has made a drum kit out of a box and I believe a tin cup. I like them...

Alex said...

Wow, that was ridiculous.

I would say this is the best video I could find from their Lollapalooza show.

eXTReMe Tracker