MidPoint Music Festival Revs Up: Thursday

We’re going (relatively) live with our MidPoint Music Festival coverage this year, with daily wrap-ups of the fest’s happenings here at the ol’ blog. CityBeat is also going extra-sensory, providing photos and even some audio samplings from each night’s showcases on our Web site. Check back daily for updates. And let us know what you see (who rocked, who sucked, who did something weird, who fell down drunk on stage) in the comments! We’d love to be everywhere at once, but we’re only human after all.

As it has in its previous four years, MidPoint kicked off on a Thursday and, like in the past years, it was a little light on the attendance side. Though last night’s opening seemed a little better attended than last year, it’s still too soon to say if numbers will be up (every year MidPoint has grown fairly substantially) or down (as the media continues to toll the death-bell for downtown and Over-the-Rhine as an entertainment option). Regardless, it was still cool to see the Main Street area fairly hopping, with lots of music fans running between the fest’s 20 stages to discover out-of-town touring acts and/or their local music favorites.

CityBeat‘s pre-fest coverage tends to focus on those touring acts (or, in many cases, out-of-towners coming in for a one-off date), because a) you can always see most of the local acts once or twice a month and b) a good turn-out for someone playing Cincy for the first time makes the city and fest look good, helping to spread the word that our little music scene is a pretty great one.

Alas, old habits die hard and it seemed like a lot of people just stuck with checking out their local pals for the most part. Personally, I tried to see all non-locals (as is usually my plan), but, as usual, I snuck in to catch a few local acts as well. I — along with CityBeat‘s A/V squad (Bill “The Microphone Fiend” Bullock on audio and Sean “Smile, Bitch!” Hughes, one of several CityBeat photogs on the prowl) — started out at Neon’s to see Sohio, a band from just north of Cincy (some place called Seven Mile, to be exact) who were featured in CityBeat this week. Playing on Neon’s downstairs, inside stage (one of three at the club), the band attracted a nearly full house, including many fans who stood up close and seemed to know most of their songs.

After their first song (the title track from their new album, Money & Love), one of the band’s two singers announced, “I believe those were the first notes of the MidPoint Music Festival!” It was a solid kick-off, as the band played an energetic, dynamic set, their songs a dichotomous mix of high-flying Indie Pop (think a less melodramatic Coldplay) and more rootsy, organic rockers. MidPointers always seem to get thrown a few curve balls (ie. cancellations, bad sound, etc.); Sohio’s was that their bassist was stuck in traffic near Chicago. Ouch! They still managed a great set with their fill-in four-stringer.

We hopped around a lot after that, catching a few songs from about 10 other acts. While Sohio played inside, Michigan’s No Other Name played the Courtyard. NON are a Christian Rock band. While Christian Rock has changed in recent years, sounding more like other secular contemporary music and approaching subjects of faith a little less didactically (see: Jars of Clay, Danielson, Evanesence), No Other Name were a throw back to the old school. While good musicians (with choral harmonies, flute and piano in the mix), the “Our God Is An Awesome God,” Adult Contemporary vibe seemed out of place at MidPoint. But I’m just a black-hearted atheist, so what do I know.

Over at The Exchange, Philpot (from Dugger, Ind.) played a good set of expansive, down-and-dirty BritPop, with shades of Kaiser Chiefs and even bigger shades of Oasis (the singer had a great Liam Gallagher sneer, British accent included). The Exchange, usually a dance club/meat market, is a nice venue, but the door situation was a little off-putting. With blue velvet ropes guarding the front entrance, the ID checker was like one of those door guys you see in movies, unlinking the rope for each and every person coming in, and then latching it back up (as if someone would make a run for it while the sacred blue rope was unattached). Later, our crew just gave up on trying to get in, because the long line stayed that way for several minutes as they carefully examined the IDs of every person trying to get in (the crowd there seemed a mix of their usually crowd and MidPointers), taking their own sweet time. This was the only MidPont venue that seemed kind of out of tune with the bar-hopping, communal essence of the festival. Just let us in (like at every other club)!

Guido’s Corner Tap smartly timed their grand opening to MidPoint weekend. The club/restaurant is in the old space last occupied by dance club Lava. It’s a nice bar, seems like a good place to grab a beer and hang out and watch football, but it wasn’t really the ideal set-up to see a Rock band. The sound was harsh and the bands set up in a little corner. We came in expecting to see New York’s Spielerfrau, probably the band I was most excited to see on Thursday. But, another curveball — Colorado’s Paperclip was playing in their slot.

Later, MPMF co-founder Sean Rhiney tells me that Spielerfrau cancelled at 9:45 p.m., about a half-hour before their start time, saying they were on the road and didn’t think they’d make it. Rhiney then whipped out a list with contact info for about 20 bands who signed up to be “on call” in just such circumstances. So kudos to Paperclip — a sorta eclectic, groovy Pop Rock foursome — for a capable fill-in.

We then caught a few songs from local newcomers Lonely the Seabird at Crush next door. They played an energetic set (switching between three lead singers) of jangly, somewhat rootsy Indie Pop and seemed to be having a blast. We then saw the tail-end of local trio Voodoo Loons, who were a lot of fun and excellent musicians, jamming out funky, head-bob-worthy Pop/Rock tunes (like the psychodots crossed with a less manic Chili Peppers). They were followed by Kansas City’s Shaking Tree on Neon’s courtyard stage. Great foursome, with fiddle, mandolin and acoustic guitar leading the way. Roots music, but with a Rock & Roll energy, soulful, gruff vocals and driving rhythms. The turnout was again very small, but, like the best bands at MidPoint, they played like it was a full house. The bassist joked that the band was “surprised to find out we weren’t the only band playing.”

In the mood for something more aggressive, we headed over to the Know Theater (about a block away from the Main Street strip by the old BarrelHouse space) to see Iowa’s Marcato. Awesome band, if you’re into super melodic, progressive Hard Rock. There were literally about five people there to see them, three of whom drove down from Dayton specifically to see their set (no doubt a MySpace spread-the-word success story!). But the band played like they were opening for the Rolling Stones, ignoring sound problems and the scarce audience response.

Great, accomplished Folk/Pop singer/songwriter Chris Collier played Know’s downstairs stage, creating a weird counterbalance with the upstairs roar, which bled through the ceiling.

We decided to get some Hip Hop flava and headed to Club Dream to catch Staten Island’s Ill Phil Carnage. While the bands that played for tiny crowds had their buddies to play off of, Mr. Carnage opened his set alone on the elevated Club Dream stage, rapping over a DAT tape dressed in a grey hoodie. Mixing Hard Rock riffs with classic ’90s Hip Hop (including straight-up cops of tracks by Cypress Hill and the Beastie Boys), Ill Phil did his best, but seemed put off by the small turn-out. “I came to rock with you motherfuckas,” he said, “even though they’re only 12 of you.” He then told us he was flying back to New York tomorrow to play CBGB’s, just to let us know he was actually the shit.

For the midnight hour (showcases end at 1-1:15 a.m. on Thursdays, vs. 2-2:15 a.m. on the weekends), I decided to catch a few locals to close out the night. Saw a few songs from Kohai, whose trippy, nuanced Rock sound attracted a fairly big following for their set at Jekyll and Hyde’s.

Then I popped in and saw Ric Hickey and the Loose Wrecks at Neon’s. Ric is one of my favorite guitar players in the city, an absolute joy to watch. He has this slanted, sideways take on the classic Blues/Rock style that he plays with an effortless glee. Seeing Ric (full disclosure: Ric writes for CityBeat sometimes and I’ve been a fan since I was a teen sneaking into Sudsy’s to watch his early band, The Speed Hickeys) was one of those “this is why I love music” moments, just watching someone enjoying themselves so much, out of sheer love of playing and not for some sort of industry pay off.

We capped the night off at the Red Cheetah, which only turns its outdoor courtyard over to MidPoint, because they have things like their “Naughtiest Schoolgirl” contest going on in their indoor dance club (tempting!). Locals Bastion played a fiery set of driving Hard Rock (guitarist Don Gauck is another one of those amazing, effortless players I could watch play all day long), capped off by a slamming cover of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

Speaking of tomorrow, I headed home for a couple of hours of sleep after Bastion, so I could be fresh for Friday’s daytime panels and then even more music. CityBeat Editor John Fox and I are participating in a panel about how independent touring acts can get through to alternative press publications at 2:45 p.m. Stop by and say “Hola” if you’re in the area. It’s my first MPMF panel, and I’m somewhat petrified. Public speaking is not my favorite thing (ranking right down there with bad cover bands and reality TV), but it should be fun.

Check back tomorrow for more updates! Friday and Saturday nights should be action packed. Now if we could only do something about this rain!

— Mike Breen

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4 Comments on “MidPoint Music Festival Revs Up: Thursday”

  1. Great recap, Mike. My highlight was Broadcast Live, a political hip-hop band from Albany, NY at Club Dream. Northern Whiskey Syndicate were ok, but it was really off-putting to see them led by a double for the “Hi, I’m a PC” guy in the Apple ads. The States were pretty good, filling a last-minute spot at Red Cheetah. Catalog Cowboys and Wojo were very good as always.

    Another highlight was Brian Ewing’s t-shirt: he had it custom printed to mock the guy they were filling in for,, who canceled at the last minute

  2. Mark Szabo Says:

    Thanks for the mention, Mike – hope you enjoyed the show. Weren’t those Dirty Royals a hoot?

    Mark Szabo/Kohai

  3. Ezra Says:

    How is it statistically possible that 90% of the bands I want to see on a given night are playing in the same time slot. Eh, nevermind the math and suffice it to say that Thursday night was full of great prospects. As usual for opening night, attendance wasn’t huge, but it was respectable at most places we visited. I heard fragments of some very solid sets by local bands Sohio, Ghostmonster, Noctaluca and Kohai, each one in front of a sizable and eager crowd.

    One out-of-towner with a tragically underattended showcase was The Fluoride Program from Michigan. The songs I caught were basically Indie/Americana tunes, but they wring them through every possible rhythmic permutation, creating an engrossing and atmospheric vibe.

    Later on, we went to over to Chamber’s to check out Detroit trio The Senate. Oddly, Chamber’s was the closest thing to a Post-Rock/Hardcore venue that MPMF had going, and it was a bizarre layout, with the bands playing on a raised, uh, dining area, and the audience in a 5-person deep galley on the other side of a half wall. Sound wasn’t too bad, and the band was cranking out their ATDI-inspired nuggets as if they didn’t even notice the salmon-colored walls. The only other disappointment here was that the kitchen closed at 11:00. The least they could do is take the menus off of the tables so that festival goers wouldn’t be tempted by the prospect of a late-night serving of nachos. Mmmm…nachos.

    After that we rushed over to Club Dream to hear The Lab Rats, one of my favorite acts from last year who. This duo distinguishes themselves by being able to take off their mix-master and MC hats and instantly transform into a drum-machine-backed jam band. They were in perfect form as usual, icing some entertaining white-boy rap with an outro featuring keyboard and guitar licks from Deep Purple’s “Hush.” Definitely wish we would have caught more of their set.

    My other highlight was getting to see ellen cherry several times, both upstairs at Neon’s and at the open mic at Rhino’s. A rash of no-shows afforded her some extra time at the latter, and each tune was more entrancing than the last. Her songs are heartstring-tuggers, her voice and guitar playing are flawless, and her rapport with the audience is equal parts erudite and comedic. In other words, she’s a consummate performer.

    The disturbing end to the evening was a close encounter with Sleepybird’s bird, a promotional tool that is basically half MLB mascot and half bad acid trip. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect spokesthing for them.

    -Ezra Waller

  4. Michael Idov Says:

    Dear Mike and Mike’s readers,
    I would like to apologize on behalf of Spielerfrau for not being able to get to the gig on time. This is, in fact, the first time we had to cancel a show for silly logistics. If anyone else came specifically to see us, please let me know at michael(at)spielerfrau(dot)com. We’ll make sure that you get in for free the next time we’re playing in the area (which I hope will be soon), or if you happen to be in NYC during a show of ours.

    Needless to say, thanks to Paperclip, whom we don’t yet have the pleasure to know, for jumping in.

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