Every holiday is really about the passing of time but I’m a particular sucker for days that explicitly honor time. Case in point: the Summer Solstice. As the local Community Festival drifts away from me as a demographic (there’s no bitterness there: events should change or they wither and die) there’s been a rising of other options that sing with summer’s sticky sweetness.
Megan Palmer (June 21, 2018, Dick’s Den)
One of my favorite singer-songwriters, bandleaders, and artistic expats, it’s always a joy when Megan Palmer comes back to Columbus. The nights at Dick’s Den are extra special because it’s where she first bowled me and so much of this town over. The gloriously loose – on stage and in the crowd – late set we caught at that home reaffirmed that power.
Palmer still puts together a righteous, crack band whenever she’s in town, including usual suspects guitarist Brett Burleson, longtime vocal foil Jen Miller, and drummer of all trades Jimmy Castoe. That selection of players highlights the beautiful, quicksilver quality to slip between genres and times, tying everything together with her voice. Over the years, Palmer’s sharpened her lyric writing into one of the finest examples of open-hearted empathy without that understanding ever turning to weakness or a mealy-mouthed exercise in “both sides.” At the same time, her melodies grew looser and harder to define, amplifying their shimmering quicksilver qualities and leaving more space for other players.
Burleson’s fills attacked the same “problem” as Luther Perkins but approached them in a surprising, refreshing way. At one point, on one of my favorite of her older songs, “Please Don’t Come Back,” it clicked that the arrangement took Bob Wills as a starting block then opened to embrace everything Wills influenced in the idiosyncratic wing of the 20th century’s popular music including Willie Nelson and even a little Ornette Coleman. This music was washing my face in the fountain of life (or as Tom T. Hall said, the morning dew).
Cold Sweats and This Moment in Black History (Happy Dog, Cleveland, June 22, 2018)
Every few years, Cleveland gives the world one of the greatest rock and roll bands we’ve ever seen. Currently holding the crown – though I’m not discounting there could be a bunch of kids I haven’t see yet – is Bim Thomas’ crowning achievement Obnox. One of my all-time favorites also features Bim, on drums, This Moment in Black History. I hadn’t seen them in probably six or seven years and in the periodic reunion we saw at the Happy Dog to kick off our flying Cleveland weekend.
Hooky, vibrant, righteous, full of intertwining hooks and sticky grooves. The kind of late night dance floor riot most of us search for from dancefloor to bar room and back. Opening, Cold Sweats from NYC did a modern take on post-hardcore with lacerating guitar and a swinging bounce that got the crowd dancing.
Summer Solstice 2018 (Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, June 23, 2018)
Anyone who wants to throw a museum fundraiser should look to the Cleveland Museum of Art. A and I went about five years ago and had a blast, including spontaneously running into American treasure Baby Dee. The next year it sold out at the member presale and has ever since.
This year I finally bit the bullet and got a membership and I’m pleased to report every change they’ve made since made it better. Manageable lines, reasonable (for a benefit) drink prices, and splitting the bands between (mostly) live acts on the terrace and (mostly) electronic in the atrium for a better dance floor, we were here for four hours and I loved every minute of it. There’s a special magic in ducking in from a sweaty dance floor and realizing you’re the only two people in a room full of Van Gogh and Cezanne. Or you’re in a politely humming crowd grappling with Danny Lyon’s photographs of the human and aesthetic cost of gentrification or Kerry James Marshall’s massive, encompassing woodcuts.
Moroccan electronic artist HAT (Hatim Belyamani) wove music out of film footage shot by his collective, remix ←→ culture, remixed to highlight the individual cultures they were taken from and into something spine shifting and hip-swaying. HAT made it impossible to ignore the cultural building blocks that gave birth to these pulsing club tracks and worked it into something easily graspable and that resisted being nailed down. His work echoed the Brutalismo-Cleveland exhibit upstairs by Spanish artist Marlon de Azambuja which also used locally sourced materials to comment on brutalism and society.
Yemen Blues was one of the finest dance bands I’ve ever seen. Led by Ravid Kahalani, the six piece band wove funk and salsa together with traditional North and West African melodies in a refreshing, wild party. Hello Psychaleppo came at traditional music, the ecstatic Syrian music Samer Saem Eldahr grew up with, with a similar mix of reverence for the original and delight in reinvention that kept the dancing audience in the palm of his hand. Pierre Kwenders blew my hair back, he’s one of the greatest soul singers I’ve ever seen. He and his quartet cooled it down a little and turned up the level of sexy as they closed the night with a blend of Congolese rumba and the current wave of stiletto sharp, introspective R&B