Friday, May 25, 2012

Big Freedia / May 24, 2012 / The Union

By: Ross Lockhart, Staff Writer

Having just turned 21, I knew this was going to be a legendary night.

I started out the night by crushing a flask of Seagram's gin with an OJ chaser. Yum. We listened to "The Bad Touch" and "Love In This Club." Need some help finishing that bottle of Southern Comfort, Jess? No problem. Hand it over. After an impromptu class on proper booty bouncing technique, it was time to go. We walked outside. Emi puked already? Game on.

It took every ounce of restraint in our bodies to keep ourselves from sprinting to The Union. Once inside, I was graced with a coveted 21+ wristband. Yes! B-Funk was playing. Beer #1 went down so smooth. DJ Barticus showed up and killed it. He played "Hot in Here" by Nelly and set it off. My heathens and I proceeded to get our sweat on to various tunes. Diplo's bounce track "Express Yourself" featuring Nicky da B came on and I was so psyched.

I almost forgot to mention that I was wearing super small blue shorts with my keyboard cat T-shirt tucked into it. This outfit was designed for maximum azz shaking performance, although I was a little worried at first that my nuts would fly out and maim someone. As I was re-upping on brews at the bar, a guy complimented me on my shirt. Sweet. Thanks, brother. Okay, bring on Big Freedia. Barticus was killing it, but I wasn't there to stare at his frizzy ponytail all night.

After grueling anticipation, she appeared. The mere sight of Big Freedia brought the crowd into a frenzy. Standing up on stage before her army of wasted dance floor warriors, she was more magnificent than I ever could have imagined. Tears streamed from my eyes and I decided right there and then that I would die for Big Freedia.

From here, I don't remember much. The beat dropped and the room exploded. Everyone went fucking berserk. Azz everywhere. So much azz shaking. Everyone was instantly soaked with sweat. A certain drummer from Cop Hugger had his cheeks all over me. I slapped a random girl's azz. She was into it. I climbed on stage. This was my show now. Some dude kept smacking my azz but whatever. It's all love. I kissed someone and touched Freedia's huge biceps. She was in total control, a stoic conductor before an orchestra of chaos. Y'all get back now. Best night of my life.

Then, as soon as it had begun, it was over. The Queen Diva stepped off stage and I touched her one last time. The music ceased and the crowd abated. It was then I realized I was missing my azz. I looked everywhere and couldn't find it. Did someone steal it? It must have come loose from all that shaking. At the time of this writing, I still do not have a bottom. If anyone finds an azz, size medium, anywhere around Athens, please contact me at 734-347-6659 as soon as possible. Thanks.

Brothertiger, DJ Self Help and bustedBASS / May 24, 2012 / Casa Cantina

By: Kyle Rutherford, Staff Writer

The streets of Athens were quiet Thursday night, with many students having either made their way home for Memorial Day festivities or to Hilton Head. Inside Casa was a night of diverse music that left attendees unable to control their dancing feet. At the helm was DJ duo bustedBASS performing their last Athens show for awhile, with support from DJ Self Help and Brothertiger.

"Thank you for coming out. Hope you like the jams, man," said John Jagos, the man behind Brothertiger, right before he ripped into his synth-laden chillwave set. This was the first show in Athens after his European tour with Teen Daze and upon rolling into his song "A House of Many Ghosts," the wait was well worth it.

Jagos' breathy voice and bubbly synths echoed beautifully through the warm atmosphere of the venue, while those in attendance swayed and danced along. More classic songs like "Lovers" were played, but "I've Been Waiting," off Brothertiger's most recent release, was given this particular warm feeling. And the closing of the set with "Feel" prompted many attendees to ask for more music.

DJ Self Help's set was next. A turntable user over more modern controllers, Self Help's set built as he went on, starting from more lo-fi indie electronic and evolving into more heavy bass songs that lacked the overwhelming synth sound of modern house music. With emphasis on jungle bass, moombathon, and hip-hop, Self Help spun "California Love" by 2Pac and "Wild Wild West" by Will Smith, all in the same set as Diplo and Dillon Francis. Self Help plays a blend of what starts at first as softer stuff, but evolves into more heavy bass material.

The set played by bustedBASS was what it usually is: a mixture of electronic songs, as well as pop music and classics. As the crowd grew, heavy bass music was played and hula hoopers did their own little routines. Some of the music played was "Contact" by Usher, as well as Beastie Boys, Major Lazer and a bustedBASS remix of "Lonely Boy" by The Black Keys

With it being their last show in Athens for a while, DJs Arthur Henke and Joe William gave it their all in creating an insane festival. Even with date complications and a lesser crowd, bustedBASS was able to deliver exactly they intended on doing and obviously had fun while doing it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Riley, Vagrant Beat and Zapano / May 17, 2012 / The Smiling Skull

By: Matt Bemer, PR Director
Photo Credit: Athens News

The Smiling Skull is a nostalgic place for me. The ambient lighting, loud music and townies intermixing with students and students intermixing with illegal substances creates a mildly entertaining atmosphere reminiscent of personal experiences. During freshman year, I went to my fair share of punk shows at the Skull where I was packed tight with different kinds of people. I ventured down to the Skull for the nostalgia. Others came because of a fundraiser for Kairos, which is a student organization focused on spirituality. They're a non-religious, non-denominational group. 

I was late to the show. Like, fifteen minutes late. Not much, but late enough to walk halfway in on Vagrant Beat. Those dudes are my friends and we actually, sort of, planned this. That's how we hang out most of the time. I come to their shows and watch them play, then we sit around for the rest of the bands and talk or enjoy music. Sometimes both, rarely neither. 

There was a reason I was late, though. In case you weren't aware, NBC's Community aired three final episodes of the show that night and I wasn't going to miss those. I'm sad that this is the last moment (possibly) aired from the show. Honestly, if you missed last night's episodes, run over to Hulu and check those out now. The hashtags #sixseasonsandamovie and #SAVECOMMUNITY won't do anything if you ask me. Honestly, we should all capture NBC's headquarters and turn off all the air conditioners.

Back to the show. 

The boys in Vagrant Beat played a bunch of new songs and, to no one's surprise, I liked them. A couple difficulties with cords and electronics set some of the songs up for failure and a rather lackluster crowd didn't help the band's performance. But I was glad that I got to see them play. It has been a while and I haven't heard much of the band's new material.

The members of the band and I settled in to a cozy table and watched the rest of the show. People flooded in after we sat down and Melk took the stage performing to a rather full house. When I came up to the bar, Melk's drummer dropped a bunch of equipment on the sidewalk right outside. I helped him pick it up. He said, "Aw, thanks man." Then he walked away. They played well. 

I'll admit, I did not stay for the entire show. I hear the closing band, Riley, is cool and that the band came all the way from Dayton to play. Here's my generic PR review of the band: Riley's music is good and definitely a buy. I'm sure they are much more deserving of that, but hey, I was hungry and tired and it was late. 

I did, however, watch Zapa├▒o play a rather interesting set. Interesting as in they didn't play the usual stuff, or at least what I am usually used to. And I know that it was unusual because the people I was with made the same comment. I enjoy those guys' set whenever they play. I'd speak more highly of them if I thought that they were the type of band that basked in the praise of reviewers like myself, but somehow I get the feeling that they're beyond that. One request for the band though: don't take that "Black Magic" song out of your set. Regardless, the new stuff was "dope." Possibly a shameless plug to follow me on Twitter, too.

I came to the Skull, "scene" what I wanted to see, heard great musicians play even better music, saw great friends and conquered the long walk back to my bedroom from the Skull. Dope

Sunday, May 13, 2012

UCM Benefit Show / May 11, 2012 / Donkey Coffee

By: Colin Roose, News Editor
Photo from: Better Together

Earth Day was held once again this year at Donkey as an Americorps/UCM fundraising concert for a water well in a developing country. True to form for the best coffee shop in Athens, the show featured several songwriters playing mini-sets one after the other.

I'm going to tell you the truth here - normal songwriter-in-the-round sessions are not the kinds of shows I dig. Yes, they show local talent. Yes, they're the least calculated and closest to capturing pure creative impulse. But usually, the diversity and eye-catching elements of a band performance are not to be found. But leave it to a bunch of high schoolers from UGive to arrange a show that both overcame the sameness and presented four distinct creative personalities.

Just as I arrived at the show and sat down with an apple danish (highly recommended, by the way), the first act of the show was welcomed: Jessie Schmitzer, the one player to come onstage armed with only an acoustic guitar. The stripped-down quality of her set and her childlike vocals gave her performance a kind of anti-pretentiousness. It's the kind of feeling you get when you listen to the Juno soundtrack - the realization that, just maybe, the simplest and truest emotions can be conveyed without the use of blaring feedback or dubstep.

The best was her tribute to Whitney Houston - not the sort you'd expect with such an Appalachian-rooted player - with a subtle take on "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)." Needless to say, there wasn't much of the '80s "synthesizeritis" of the original, but what was left was the compelling vocal moves of the chorus. In fact, the acoustic arrangement revealed a slightly desperate twinge to the song that had initially been completely covered in production gloss. Take notice, folk players - that decade's hits are just waiting to be freed from the grip of drum machines and gravity-defying hairstyles.

Next up was Mindy Braasch, a local high school senior already very serious about performing, as evidenced by her regular gigs at all of the frequented venues around town. Her busy schedule doesn't come as much of a surprise, given her exquisite alto tone and admirable range. Or her multi-instrumental talents, switching between piano and guitar. Or her understanding of the instruments that played the songs in her repertoire best.

She began with a cover of Train's "Drops of Jupiter," a song that I hold dear as one of the first pop songs to which I was ever exposed, but whose vocals I never cared much for. With that issue nonexistent in her performance, the swooping strings of the original gave way to a perfectly pleasing piano ballad. Other covers included "Someone Like You" by Adele, which I honestly had trouble distinguishing from the original (that's a compliment) and "Love the Way You Lie," the lack of Eminem being a particular improvement. All very good choices. Songs with emotional, technically taxing vocals are definitely the way to go for Braasch.

Her originals realized her strengths just as well, relying on emotional experiences from her past to bring out spirited performances. In some cases, they were particularly sensitive. She began one song by warning the male segment of the crowd not to break a songwriting girlfriend's heart, as the incident would be doomed to be repeated endlessly for paying audiences. Note taken.

The third player on the bill was Sarah Stevens, who seemed poised to be the most reserved of them all, taking a seat with the modestly-sized ukelele and almost hiding under her hat. No way - she was the most show-oriented of them all, unabashedly extroverted and then some. Beginning with a medley of O.A.R., Nicki Minaj and God knows who else, she took a four-chord progression and transitioned seamlessly from philosophizing to tipsy rambling. An interesting addition to the legacy of fellow uke-player Israel Kamakawiwo╩╗ole's mash-up songs.

Despite her seemingly effortless stage presence, she admitted that it was actually her first time playing for a real audience. She mentioned her nerves and transitioned to a song about that subject as if on cue, proving that she already had the art of segue down pat. 

After doing an even more unorthodox medley of Ke$ha, Reel Big Fish, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift (and yes, impersonating all of them), she turned to a more typical Donkey-style choice of "Hallelujah," originally by Leonard Cohen. Since ukeleles just can't play anything sad, the mood of the song was changed from introspective to sunny and the chorus melody was adjusted to be less repetitive. Although I love the original, I understand that its overbearing pathos is not for everyone, so this less grandiose rendition was quite welcome.

She ended with one of those trademark "embarrassing love songs" that was dedicated to someone in the audience. Only in this genre can you find hilariously blunt lines like "I love the way our relationship started with a meatloaf." If having negative songs written about you is the side effect of breaking up with a girl songwriter, this kind of thing must be the side effect of dating one. Might be best to stay out of the business altogether.

The final performer of the night was Tess Stevens, accompanied by Shaun Livingston on lead guitar. The fact that they normally play punk was evident from the beginning of their first song, as they both hammered the strings with a vengeance, but still created a melodic acoustic sound. Perfect for wimps like me who can't stand Ramones-style noisiness.

Following this riffage, Stevens set down her guitar, letting Livingston handle the playing and singing for the rest of the show. The harshness of their original songs did not obscure the taste evident in their performances. Stevens' voice worked soft and refined as well as powerful, a little like a deeper Stevie Nicks. For his part, Livingston's solos translated well to the environment without the need of downtuning or amplifiers.

For their final song, they covered Young the Giant's "Cough Syrup," prominently featured on Glee, a fact that Livingston apparently did not know. He joked that they would "probably never play it again" when Stevens announced it. It seems even the stage isn't safe from divisiveness over the corniest music-based show on TV.

So there you have it - four local artists, four different mixes of covers and originals and four varying outlooks on the popular music landscape. Donkey surprised me by doing a Casa and going for diversity instead of the expected acoustic-intimate show. The credit, of course, goes to all the players involved, who innovated beyond the expectations of this jaded Donkey show-goer. Kudos.

(And thanks for the unexpected relationship advice. A significant other with emotional baggage and a guitar in her hand is a catch-22 of embarrassment and dirty laundry.)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Rapping Accordion Man / May 11, 2012 / Corner of Court and Union

By: Sam Boyer, Blogs Editor / '90s Blogger

If you ever find yourself walking down Court Street in the early evening, chances are you'll come across a handful of street musicians. They come in all shapes and sizes. You have your garden variety acoustic serenaders, playful bongo players, and the odd violinist.

The bottom line is, if you really want to stand out as a street performer (and rake up some serious cash), you have to have a unique gimmick.

So why not learn to rap while playing the accordion?

It was still fairly early in the evening when my friends and I decided to head to The Union. Our original plan was to check out the Girls Rock Camp Benefit Show at Casa, but our hopes were dashed when the doorman refused to let one us in without an ID (which was kind of ridiculous considering that my friend was willing to pay more money at the door, but I digress). While we were traipsing down Athens' main drag grumbling about this grave injustice, we came across a group of boys standing at the corner of Court and Union (right in front of Whit's Frozen Custard). They were positively enthralled by a man sitting in a rather small camping chair with a very expensive-looking accordion resting on his lap.

This guy was an exceptionally talented accordionist. Like, on par with Weird Al Yankovic. I have a lot of respect for accordion players. I mean, have you ever tried to play one of those things? It's insanely difficult.

So normally I don't stop for street musicians. I know I'm not the only one. I'm usually in a hurry to get somewhere and I always feel awful when I don't have any cash to donate. And if this guy had just been jamming on his accordion, I probably would have walked on. But when I heard him start to rap, I just had to stay a while.

Accordion Man was a regular Biggie Smalls. I'm not even exaggerating. When my friends and I walked up to him, he was rapping about Athens. Some of it sounded pre-written, but a lot of it had to be improvised. The group of boys were cheering him on and one of them whipped out his phone and started recording. There's nothing like seeing a super talented white guy rapping over an unconventional instrument late at night. It kind of felt like a sideshow attraction, but in the coolest possible way.

When Accordion Man noticed that his audience had expanded to include three attentive girls, he immediately turned on the charm.

"You girls ever heard of Big L? Eh, maybe he was a little before your time. How old are you guys? Like 18, 19?"

We informed him that we were 20, thank you very much. He laughed, lit a cigarette and readjusted the accordion on his lap.

"Alright, so at least you guys are legal. Anyway, Big L was this rapper in the '90s. He was pretty offensive. Really misogynistic. I'll play one of his 'cleaner' songs."

"Cleaner" must have meant "only slightly misogynistic." Regardless of the subject matter, Accordion Man spit rhymes like a pro. He even improved a bit after the chorus, pausing only to take a drag of his cigarette.

We ended up standing there for a good 20-30 minutes. The group of boys left after a while, so we were the guy's only stationary audience. He would occasionally get heckled by drunk passersby, but his snarky attitude caught them off guard.

We ended up chatting between songs (and by chatting, I mean he openly flirted with me since I was the only one who carried on a conversation with him). I dropped a dollar in his collections basket (which is a pretty rare occurrence for me) and he began to play more "accordion-appropriate" tunes, including "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean." He got us to timidly sing along and we laughed at the sheer absurdity of it all.

My friends and I eventually decided to go on our merry way, but not before saying goodbye to Accordion Man and thanking him for his super rad set.

So if you ever see this guy on your way to a bar or a show, stop and give him a listen. It's worth it, I promise.

Friday, May 4, 2012

ACRN Presents: Mom's Weekend, Dingus Kahn and the Spacemen Spiffs, Sure Plus & Magna Drag / May 3, 2012 / Smiling Skull

By: "Snatty" O'Leary (a.k.a. Katie O'Leary, Art Director)

As a lobster living in a town full of humans, I don’t get out much. Sure, a radio station here has decided that I represent them, but other than that I usually get pretty bored. It’s always a risk to walk out on Court Street where I often find drunks ready to make a meal out of me (butter sauce included). 

Well, last night was different. I had spent the day campaigning for my presidency of Ohio University and this gave me the guts I needed to enjoy a night on the town. Naturally, I chose to attend the ACRN show at The Smiling Skull.

On my way over to the show, my bravery was shaken by some handsy drunks yelling, “That’s a lobster!” at me. Of course I’m a lobster. I don’t understand humans. I finally scuttled along the rest of Court Street and made it safely to the show.

The Skull was overflowing with all kinds of humans. I scampered across the beer stained floor and ran into something that was not human—a dog! I personally love dogs but this particular one sure hated me. I think my giant claws were a little intimidating, but I would never use them on him. Since I couldn’t sway him to be my friend, I turned to the music.

The first band up was Magna Drag. They were a garage-y rock-type band I could really “snat” my claws to.

After the first band, I took a little break by the bar. These humans here LOVED me. People were buying me drinks left and right. I decided to let loose and have some skull ale. It tasted like it came from the mud at the bottom of the ocean, but beer is beer and I kept drinking it.

Next up was Dingus Kahn and the Spacemen Spiffs. Talk about a hard name to say. They were an interesting combo of grunge, surf rock, and upbeat melodies that had everyone moving, especially one guy in the back. He was going crazy and wanted to dance with me. I thought, “Why not?” and busted some lobsta’ moves.

The singer had an interesting voice. I’m not sure if I would have liked it on its own, but with the music, it had that spastic-y tempo just right for garage rock.

The night went on and next up was Mom’s Weekend. It made complete sense for Mom’s Weekend to be playing on the weekend of their namesake. They had a bit of a sloppy performance due to the lead singer’s slight intoxication, but they had enough energy to get any mom dancing. Unfortunately, there was only one mom spotted in the crowd and she was clearly too sober.

The final band, Sure Plus, was a brand new spin-off of Athens math rock/punk band Difficult Dogs. They were delightfully catchy and I decided to break it down for the crowd. I thought I was a great dancer, but that might’ve been the alcohol talking.

After last night, maybe I’ll be making it out to a few more shows in Athens. I had a great time and met a bunch of people who thought I was more than just a meal. Oh, and one more thing: vote #Snat4Prez!