Best of 2015: Live Music

“Every good thing we dared in winter
arrives by springtime: a whipporwill
among the pines, a colony of memories
like muscadine on a vine double-thick
as a boy’s arm, redemption reaching
into its roots before an afterthought
steals back the sweetness. Something
lost in the rearview mirror shifts,
& here we are again on the dance floor
at the Silver Shadow; the boys & girls
reeling out to the edge of fingertips.”
-Yusef Komunyakaa, “Always a Way”

I felt a little bit like I was stuck in neutral for big chunks of this year. Had a hard time getting out to see as much music as I would’ve liked. Part of that was balancing the demands of freelance writing and a day job that kicked up a gear but a lot of it was that devil ennui. My mission for next year is to work a little harder to get out, and especially try harder to take a chance on things. The rewards are worth it.

That said, I still saw over 100 shows in some of my favorite cities and – one of the best parts of doing this review ever year – I’m reminded of how exceptionally good so much of it was. I’ve been very lucky in very many respects – I just need to get better at reminding myself of that. Rambling thoughts about the scene follow the list. Left off Big Ears Festival in Knoxville and Hopscotch in Raleigh because I could have filled the list just with sets from both of those. I saw more great music in those combined six days than most people do all year – plus ate amazing food, drank beers that don’t come up here and saw great friends.

Like everything else, all shows are in Columbus unless otherwise mentioned.

  1. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Real Enemies (written by Argue and Isaac Butler), 11/18/15 (BAM Harvey Theater, Brooklyn) – By this time, pretty much any year I get to see Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society – along with Guillermo Klein Y Los Guachos and Orrin Evans’ Captain Black, one of the few wildly new big bands swinging for the fences – seems assured of a spot on this list. Argue’s writing is that strong and his team of players is a finely tuned machine. But even I didn’t expect this to wow me the way it did. A look at corrosive paranoia, and the very real roots of it, the way history will leave scars on all of us. This collaboration with writer Butler was the most successful multimedia work I saw this year and the music with some narration and fragmented video that broke my heart. As good as the other elements were, the music never ceded its primacy: from Ligeti-recalling wind quintets to intricate ’80s cocaine R&B to expansive works playing with country-inflected styling to the kind of propulsive, noir-drenched snapshots the band excels at, this was a dazzling tour of the dark corners, shattered windows, and dread-soaked cul de sacs of the last fifty years.
  2. NOTS and Raw Pony, 08/15/15 (Dude Locker) – For their 7″ release, Raw Pony, rapidly cementing their status as one of the most exciting bands in town, brought in Memphis’ NOTS cresting the wave of deserved praise for their self-titled debut, in my favorite double bill of the whole year. Boiling-over deep grooves, scuzz-caked guitars, clipped but anthemic harmonies, this was everything I wanted from rock and roll to an attentive, enthusiastic crowd on a gorgeous summer night.
  3. Robbie Fulks, 10/09/15 (Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza) – There’s some (I think) deserved gushing about Natalie’s in the round-up below but what I might have loved them most for this year was bringing Robbie Fulks back to town for the first time since Little Brothers (a private wedding gig notwithstanding). Fulks might be alt.country’s Balzac, training a razor-sharp eye on the intersection between classes and ways in which classes never get to intersect and boiling that down to the catchiest roots music you’ve ever heard. Bringing an acoustic quartet that orbited around violinist Shad Cobb, bassist Todd Phillips (founding member of the David Grisman Quintet) and a terrific young mandolin player whose name I can’t seem to find anywhere, this was one of the best, leanest sets I’ve seen in almost 15 years of seeing Fulks live. A consummate performer who will make you laugh and cry at indignity and rightly rage against shame and complacency.
  4. Brett Burleson Quartet, 01/09/15 (Dick’s Den) – One of our finest guitarists and bandleaders, Burleson’s annual shows around his birthday are an oasis in the middle of winter. Because of the punishing cold, this year’s felt like an oasis for lots of people – it was the most crowded I remember and people came to party. His working quartet – saxophonist Eddie Bayard, bassist Roger Hines, and drummer Ryan Jewell – are a well-oiled machine and they worked intricate, complex material around a set full of long pieces that got an entire bar dancing to jazz that was never dumbed down, never pandering. One of those nights where having to squeeze through rows of people to get a drink felt like a blessing and the inch of sweat-condensation on the windows felt well-earned.
  5. Maria Schneider with the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, 05/02/15 (Southern Theater) – I don’t see as much of the CJO as I should because – much like the Columbus Symphony – the repertoire usually isn’t to my taste. But bringing in the finest big band composer and conductor working today, Maria Schneider, shined light on what an amazing collection of musicians Columbus is lucky to boast and how lucky we are to have a leader like Byron Stripling in town. This was 90 minutes of exquisitely deployed color and rapturous tension that’s still echoing in my head.
  6. Secret Keeper, 06/15/15 (Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza) – Mary Halvorson’s my favorite guitarist working these days, full-stop, and this duo with bassist Stephan Crump (who also appears on this list with the Vijay Iyer Trio) was full of intriguing, complex music that invited the audience to try, just try, to unpack it. Full of spidery melodies tearing and reshaping themselves, cubist looks at small gestures from every angle, hard flamenco over dry-wind arco playing, songs that feel like lava coalescing into earth. This was everything.
  7. Six String Drag, 04/03/15 (Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza) – The resurrected Six String Drag, one of alt.country’s brightest lights when that kind of thing mattered, felt and sounded better than ever. Kenny Roby’s lead vocals and rhythm guitar still perfectly mesh with bassist Rob Keller in harmonies that could rival the Everly Brothers and a band that balances raunch and delicacy like the best rock and roll. As honest and heart-wrenching as your first love and as weighted with memory and portent as growing old, to a beat that begs you to dance, their live performance of “Kingdom of Getting it Wrong” might have been my favorite five minutes of music all year.
  8. Antibalas with Guests, 11/18/15 (Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn) – I hadn’t checked in with the US’s reigning afrobeat kings in a while but something had to be good to make an impression after having my brain massaged by Darcy James Argue and they more than rose to the challenge. This final night of their Brooklyn Bowl residency found them without their usual lead singer so we were treated to a set heavier with raunch instrumentals, rarities and awesome guest singers including Quantic (leading the band on a righteous cumbia), Sarh Nguajah (from Broadway’s Fela!), and soul legend Lee Fields. If you didn’t dance until you were sore to this you should have your pulse checked.
  9. Elysian Fields, 11/14/15 (The Owl, Brooklyn) – One of my favorite bands in a 20th anniversary residency. We caught them on the night they were doing Afterlife with Jennifer Charles and Oren Bloedow backed by Rob Jost, Glenn Patscha, and Max Johnson with an assist by Max Moston. Their textured, noir-pop made for an emotional, moving show in the wake of the Paris attack with the band’s deep ties to the city of light and a packed room in their new venue, The Owl, in Prospect-Lefferts that didn’t have its liquor license yet but the heady emotions (and strong tea) were more than transporting enough.
  10. Deaf Wish with Unholy 2, 10/07/15 (Double Happiness) – Australia’s finest noise-punk band have morphed into one of the best live rock bands I’ve ever seen over a few years of constant touring. This appearance at Double Happiness was a grimy victory lap, loud and almost unhinged, and righteous. Perfect support by Unholy 2 who are going through another chrysalis period and coming out as a more three-dimensional band with interesting samples and a deeper line in syncopation.
  11. Shamir, 11/16/15 (Bowery Ballroom, Manhattan) – Shamir, R&B wunderkind, proving the hype is more than deserved. A killer small band with a woman playing the best Bernie Worrell-style pop funk keys I’ve heard in a long time, a man who was a phenomenal drummer, and a female backing singer playing with gender roles and distortion. This was an epic, sexy, raunchy dance party across sticky floors.
  12. The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, 10/20/15 (Wexner Center) – As good as straight-ahead jazz gets in the best-sounding room in town. Adding the x-factor of Joshua Redman’s burnished, warm tone and his melodic writing helped push the Bad Plus into orbit with particularly fine performances out of drummer Dave King. A night that sets the bar high for anyone wanting to push the boundaries of and dig deeper into genre at the same time.
  13. Haynes Boys, 06/26/15 (Ace of Cups) – This Comfest bill – Haynes Boys, TJSA, and Poets of Heresy was geared toward a crowd a little older than I am but those were all some of the first local bands I saw when I was in High School and the Haynes Boys were the first local band I loved all the way. That too-young melancholy is given extra ballast to steer from the years that have gone past. These songs that try to make sense of that time as you leave your 20s and you realize some of your friends are sick, some of your friends are dying or already dead, where sometimes the world has a patina like a nicotine-stained encaustic, punch twice as hard now lyrics of disappointment like “I knew things were getting bad when I started to count on one of the blackouts you might have,” and “She drives me to work in the morning, I wash her dishes at night.” Catharsis never heals as long as you want it to but once in a while an hour’s enough to get you to the next place.
  14. Vijay Iyer Trio, 04/16/15 (Wexner Center) – Iyer made maybe his best trio record this year and that’s saying something. This set with Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums encompassed everything from Thelonious Monk to a kaleidoscopic, gorgeously shuddering tribute to techno pioneer Robert Hood. Big tent, pulsing, quick witted jazz not hemmed in by any boundaries whatsoever.
  15. Sleater-Kinney with Waxahatchee, 12/05/15 (Newport Music Hall) – There’s something eminently satisfying when a band you loved so much as a teenager and into your early 20s reform and deliver on every ounce of promise and memory. The backdrop looked like skin being shed or a slow-mo explosion behind the three players and the blistering almost two hour set felt like burning indifference off all our eyes. Fierce, wild joy.
  16. Dave Douglas Quintet, 11/19/15 (Jazz Standard, Manhattan) – Douglas’ newer quintet finally hit a level of comfort where I no longer miss the old quintet at all. I was lucky enough to catch the first set of this victory lap at the Jazz Standard toward the end of the touring cycle for their beautiful new record, Brazen Heart, and it was everything I want straightforward jazz to be. Sexy and warm with an ease that never slipped into taking anything for granted. Douglas and tenor player Irabagon have a sense of harmony that bursts through the rafters and the rapport through the rhythm section of Matt Mitchell on piano, Linda Oh on bass and Rudy Royston on drums was like five undeniable heartbeats at once. Sublime.
  17. Mountain Goats, 04/22/15 (Wexner Center) – Mountain Goats keep making great records with Darnielle’s uncommon empathy and bone-deep understanding of Blake’s world in a grain of sand. The record they were touring this cycle, Beat The Champ, might be the best Mountain Goats record yet and the selections they did this time, from the mood-piece “Luna” to the easy mourning of “Animal Mask” through unlikely sing-along “Foreign Object” meshed perfectly into a brilliantly chosen setlist. The juxtaposition of songs had an arc and a swell right through a cathartic finish about why people make art, why the desire to put your mark on the world is universal, and how that ties in with a need for community with set closer “Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1” through the anthemic encore of “Legend of Chavo Guerrero,” “This Year,” and “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.”
  18. Snakeoil, 05/09/15 (Constellation, Chicago) – In a great Chicago trip full of awesome friends, terrific food, good theatre, and great music, this was the cherry on the cake. Tim Berne’s riveting chamber-jazz quintet with thorny, twisting lines woven between his alto and Oscar Noriega’s clarinet over a shifting bedrock of Matt Mitchell’s piano and Ches Smith’s drums and percussion, lit up and shadowed by Ryan Ferreira’s guitar was like nothing else I heard all year.
  19. Orgone, 08/27/15 (Woodlands Tavern) – West Coast funk band Orgone returned to Columbus to a pretty decent crowd this time who came to get down and in the five or so years since they last graced our stages they’ve only grown in power and confidence. After a great opening set by Chicago’s lean and mean funk outfit The Heard, Orgone came out with a set heavier on vocals but still a rich clinic in rhythm and power in one of the best live music bars for dancing like a moron.
  20. Weyes Blood, 01/15/15 (Cafe Bourbon Street) – Weyes Blood went with a more streamlined, song-focused approach this time, almost more Joni Mitchell and Eric Andersen. The songs were so beautiful and her approach was so immediate, within three songs I didn’t miss some of the wildness that’s been stripped away. In a room I’ve seen swallow fragility with bar noise and nervous energy, she held us all in the palm of her hand and knew exactly when to twist the knife.

 

Across the Columbus scene, 2015 felt like a year of minor changes, regrouping, retrenching. The big thing in my little corner of town is Jeff Kleinman left Ace of Cups, somebody I personally like and consider a friend who booked some fantastic edgy bands that might otherwise never have come here. It’s good for Jeff to focus on his band, Nervosas, who made one of my favorite records this year, plus that kind of a move always brings new energy and new ideas. Into that steps Bobby Miller who booked great shows all around town when I was in college and has kept his hand in the game over the years with the Slum-B-Q, Megacity Music Marathon, and most recently 4th and 4th Fest. I can’t wait to see what Miller does with the infrastructure of Ace. A similar move at Cafe Bourbon Street with Kevin Failure stepping down to only book one-offs and local musician and artist Albert Gray taking the reins – it’s almost entirely to Kevin’s credit that Bobo reclaimed its crown as the bar for rock on the fringes and Gray’s taste means that shows no sign of abating soon.

A couple new (and new-ish) venues on the South end and near West side give reason to have additional hope for those new ideas and established ideas finally getting a chance to fly. Visual art collective MINT, on Jenkins St south of Greenlawn, have taken up the mantle of Skylab, Firexit, and BLD Warehouse which was much missed with booking a lot of interesting techno, noise (including heavy hitters like Wolf Eyes) and even free jazz. Kyle Sowash, hardest working man in Columbus rock, partnered with Justin Hemminger and independent rock radio CD1025 to turn their instudio live space Big Room into the fully operational Big Room Bar with a cool bar repurposed from the Veterans Memorial stage imprinted with bands that played that storied hall, good sound, and a vibe that pleasantly reminds me of an old VFW. Sowash is already using that stability of a home base to book the the cream of the more established local rock and touring heavy hitters like Helado Negro and Kelly Hogan. People living south of I-70 who want to hear some music now have a few options to complement the fully-come-into-its-own Double Happiness. Strongwater, in resurgent Franklinton, books interesting rock into its packed schedule of parties, receptions, etc. The Walrus on the south edge of Downtown is still feeling out its identity but they’ve got a terrific stage in a beautiful bar; I’ve heard some great jazz there and singer-songwriters like Matt Munhall and Talisha Holmes have packed people in.

On the roots spectrum, Rumba Cafe’s ownership change late last year booked less I’m personally interested in but when my path led me there it’s still one of my favorite rooms and there’s already stuff on the 2016 books I’m salivating over. Woodlands’ empire grew into the satellite rooms and they cemented themselves as a force to be reckoned with, well-staffed bars that are comfortable to hang out in with great sound and a firm booking identity.

Natalie’s continued to grow and thrive. It tied with the Wexner Center for the most shows to appear on my Top 20, with three, and there were another half-dozen in strong consideration. I got a little good-natured grief for my referring to them as “City Winery with some Midwestern ‘aw shucks,'” but I stand by that – they found a way to translate Dorf’s model to bring in a new audience that might not have seen live music in years and without alienating the core, and they did it with humility, hard work, and confidence. They also support the scene to a pretty great degree, I’ve seen their owners at other shows this year more often than I’ve seen owners/bookers outside their own bar (with the exception of the aforementioned Kyle Sowash). They’re a rare venue that does everything right – the food isn’t an afterthought, I start to crave that pizza if I haven’t had it in a few weeks, the cocktails are approachable and balanced, the staff is top-notch, and sound is always fantastic. Their relationship with Alec Wightman’s Zeppelin continued to bear fruit with countless sold-out shows and even more in the pipeline for ’16 as did their work with veteran Bruce Nutt. But what’s key is the way Natalie’s uses those outside bookers to complement their aesthetic, they use it to build instead of using it as a crutch. There was a well-heeled threat from Notes in the Brewery District which opened with a booking policy that struck several people I talked to, and myself, as Natalie’s South but without the good will, the skillful negotiation of the press, the depth of its bench, or its relationships with national booking agents. I’m rooting for Notes, I think this town could support another adult venue with a slightly more buttoned-up demeanor but the way they did it out of the gate honestly didn’t make me rush to go there.

Brothers Drake might have been the success story of the year with great music finding a bigger audience than they would have elsewhere in town because booker April Kulcsar understands the symbiosis between the bar’s audience and the kind of music they can be open to – I saw big crowds getting down to things as diverse as Chicago’s scrappy afrobeat up-and-comers Gramps the Vamp, Detroit’s riotous funk ensemble Third Coast Kings, and NYC torch-song rockabilly Miss Tess and the Talkbacks. Plus, bands that crystalized in part at BD like Angela Perley and the Howlin’ Moons and Playing to Vapors are rocking bigger stages and sending ripples through the national touring communities.

Wexner Center focused its booking with the strongest slate of jazz I can remember and almost no ephemeral blog-rock, as evidenced by tying with Natalie’s for most shows on this top 20. I can’t wait for the jazz shows in Winter and Spring, plus the first Yo La Tengo trip to town for a set of their own music in years (Little Brothers? The Factory?) and whatever else they bring.

So what I’m trying to say is, keep your ear to the ground. Go see some shit, Columbus. The bounty is rich and the cornucopia overflows.

 

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“Hey, Fred!” 09/21/15-09/27/15 A biased and idiosyncratic Top Five

Music


September 21: Russian Tsarlag and Secret Boyfriend. Skylab Gallery, 57 E Gay St. 

Carlos Gonzalez, who records under the name Russian Tsarlag, makes a kind of narcotized, melted bedroom pop. Tsarlag rises above the vast morass of that genre with a keen ear for detail, a respect for the sensuality of noise, and a commitment to an emotional reality. His work reminds of me of looking at a Lucio Fontana canvas, peering through rough slash marks into a barely glimpsed world you need to fill in the details of yourself. Gonzalez has also been gaining more and more notice for his comic book work, there’s a terrific interview about that with him here: http://www.tcj.com/let-your-dreams-touch-air-an-interview-with-carlos-gonzalez/

His tour partner here is Ryan Martin, Carrboro-based singer-songwriter who makes beguiling work under the name Secret Boyfriend. Local openers include Mark Van Fleet, whose now-infrequent shows are always a treat and worth investigating, and Swen.

Doors at 8:00pm. $5 cover.

September 23: Rafael Toral and Ryan Jewell. MINT, 42 W Jenkins St. 

I wrote this up for JazzColumbus. Please see preview there including video, highly recommended.

Show starts at 9:00pm. $8 cover.


September 24: Sheer Mag. Ace of Cups, 2619 N High St.

Philadelphia’s Sheer Mag are at the forefront of the new riff-rock revival. Merging singer Christine Halliday’s punky howl with overlapping guitar riffs reminiscent of Thin Lizzy and Cheap Trick and a throbbing rhythm section, they make everything you grew up loving sound brand new again without ever getting too shiny.

Locals Worries and Cochina open.

Doors at 8:00pm. $7 cover.


September 25: EZTV and Shilpa Ray. Rumba Cafe, 2507 Summit St.

I’ve been a big fan of Shilpa Ray since her band Beat the Devil came through town regularly 10ish years ago. She’s never made a bad record but her new album, Last Year’s Savage, is one of my records of the year so far and might be the best thing she’s made. A melange of raw rock and roll, grim Patsy Cline-style torch balladry and even flecks of mutant disco, it’s the best series of musical settings for her torrent-of-lava voice. Never miss an opportunity to see her come through live.

In an interesting paring, she arrives opening for Captured Tracks’ EZTV whose clipped, soaring, hooky pop will be great in its own right and should be a terrific palate cleanser after Ray. Columbus’ finest raw pop proponents, Connections, open.

September 26: Obody. The Summit, 2210 Summit St.

Obody, percussionist Sarah Hennies’ new chamber-derived project, works with sensuous distortion and disjunction in as beautiful a way as I’ve ever heard it done. Rich tempos you can get lost in and tones that won’t let you be.

The local support is also a who’s who of people who can plumb the fissures in what we know and what we think and come up with gold like you’ve never seen. Faster Island who I haven’t seen yet but have been on my list and I’ve heard nothing but raves. Mike Shiflet whose records like Sufferers and Llanos come closest to a fusion of noise and classical as anything I can think of and he’s collaborated and toured with Hennies many times. Envenomist, the beautiful, brooding electronics project of David Reed (who also records as Luasa Raelon and collaborates with people like Larry Marotta and Rocco DiPetro) doing a rare live set. If you have adventurous tastes, this might be the sleeper best show of this great, great week.

Doors at 9:00pm. $5 cover.

“Hey, Fred!” 09/14/15-09/20/15 A biased and idiosyncratic Top Fiveart

As I settle back in to my hometown and the routines of work and life, there is no rest for the wicked this week. I could have easily filled a Top Ten and still had to leave interesting, valuable stuff off – all this recommended in addition to three plays I’m reviewing and probably a record or two.

Visual Art

After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists. Wexner Center for the Arts, 1847 N High St.  

This has been one of the strongest years for the Wexner Center’s visual arts exhibitions in recent memory. The group show Fiber, the new Catherine Opie work, and the Jack Whitten retrospective all astonished me. From all accounts, they’re ending on another high note.

It’s almost impossible to imagine a 20th century without the hand of Pablo Picasso – through his long career, his wide-ranging stylistic experiments, and his constant devotion to the truth, Picasso created the template almost all artists have to deal with either for or against to this day. After Picasso, organized by Dirk Lucknow, general director of the Diechtorhallen in Hamburg, attempts to show the breadth and depth of responses to Picasso’s work. It includes 80 artists as diverse as Cindy Sherman, Maria Lassnig, Khaled Hourani, Robert Longo, and Wolfe von Lenkiewicz.

Opening Reception Friday September 18 kicks off with a curator’s talk by Dirk Lucknow at 5:00pm and goes until 9:00pm. Free to the public. The exhibit runs through December 27.


Us Is Them
. Pizzuti Collection, 632 N Park St. 

One of the most important things an artist can be is an articulate canary in the coal mine. If an artist has their receptors tuned and ready to receive, they know when the air’s rotten and they know when there’s not enough oxygen to breathe. Even better than that canary in a mineshaft, they have the tools and the empathy to explain on an emotional level why things are fucked and do it in a way that continues to resonate into other times.

The new exhibition at the Pizzuti is the kind of who’s who of the artists making the biggest splash on the global scale we expect but with an eye toward how their work intersects with and delineates the million spiderweb-crack crises threatening to blow our world apart. Names like El Anatsui, Nick Cave, Mickalene Thomas, Aminah Robinson, Kehinde Wiley, and Carrie Mae Weems have given me some of my most moving experiences with visual arts and there are at least 10 artists I haven’t investigated yet at all. One of the things I most look forward to this fall.

Opens to the public Saturday September 19 and runs through April 2, 2016.

Conception and Reduction: Recent Landscapes by Eric Barth / Line and the Landscape: Recent Drawings by Marc Lincewicz. Keny Galleries, 300 E Beck St.

Keny Galleries is one of our steadiest, most consistent commercial galleries with terrific retrospective shows and classic artists represented but also with an eye toward people making timeless work now. Their September-October show reunites Eric Barth and Marc Lincewicz who have an interest looking back but doing it with sharp, clear eyes.

Lincewicz’s recent work has seen himself delving deeper and deeper into a deliberately raw line that makes his new landscape investigations incredibly moving. I have a hard time looking away from his work, it’s always something I can get lost in. Barth’s work I don’t quite as well, this will be probably the third exhibition of his I’ve seen, but it feels like color is more important in his newer pieces and with his jaw-dropping compositions I truly look forward to seeing these in person.

Opening reception 5:30pm Friday September 18. Exhibition runs through October 30.

Music

September 17: Chuck Prophet. Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza, 5601 N High St.

Chuck Prophet, since leaving Green on Red at the vanguard of the paisley underground wave of cowpunk, has quietly built up one of the most impressive catalogs of songs of anyone working today. He’s made a bigger splash on the mainstream with his collaborations with longtime friend Alejandro Escovedo on Escovedo’s Real Animal and Street Songs of Love records, but under his own name he makes smart, literate, soulful rock and roll with deep grooves and huge hooks.

His new record, Night Surfer, is a complicated, thorny rock rock record with the same care for arrangements and thick, twangy guitar he always brings to the table. Expect that to be hit heavily but in this rare solo acoustic show (leaving his crack band The Mission Express at home) look for a diverse set list that hits all periods of his career including favorites of mine Age of Miracles and his big-hearted paean to San Francisco, Temple Beautiful.

September 20: OBN IIIs. Cafe Bourbon Street, 2216 Summit St. 

For meat and potatoes rock lined with all the best parts of punk, there isn’t a better band working today than OBN IIIs. I first saw Orville B. Neeley’s eponymous group at Gonerfest 8 when they stole the whole damn festival – saying something since I also got my lid flipped by Royal Headache, Straight Arrows, Deaf Wish, Shannon and the Clams, Reverend John Wilkins, and early sets by Ex-Cult and The Fuzz (still called Sex Cult and Aquafuzz, respectively) that same weekend.

Back then they struck me as a young Eric Davidson fronting the Dictators – controlled rawness and intersecting edges and exploding, angry pop hooks. They’ve subtly evolved to incorporate Neeley’s terrific guitar playing and to cast a wider net over rock and roll history, making muscular record and a coiled, ferocious show that incorporates elements of The Stooges, The Saints, Thin Lizzy, and even in the one song on WFMU I’ve heard so far from the new record Worth a Lot of Money, Cheap Trick circa In Color. Not to be missed if you want to remember how fresh and exciting rock and roll can still sound.

I have not found anything out about start time or who’s opening or how much cover is about this show – if I find that information before I’m traveling, I’ll try to update this.

“Hey, Fred!” 08/17/15-08/23/15 A Biased and Idiosyncratic Top Five

Visual Art

August 21: NSATSAT&A. MINT, 42 W Jenkins St. 

MINT’s one of the new loci for the experimental art and music community in Columbus. This new group exhibition, subtitled “surveillance + security + sexuality” has me incredibly intrigued. This feels like a show you don’t want to miss in your town.

Karen Azoulay, from Toronto now based in Brooklyn, works in a variety of media whose forms seem to hover around a sensuous, ecstatic, apocalypse. When Glenn Ligon wrote about a New York exhibition of hers he said, “Suffused with humor and melancholy her work reveals an interest in mythology, literature and alchemy as well as Las Vegas spectacles, the work of Yayoi Kusuma, opera and Renaissance painting.”

Angela Jann, returned to Columbus after getting an MFA at Pratt, is a painter who deals in a knives-out surrealism leavened with a winking pop art absurdity.

Ann Hirsch, based in Los Angeles, works in video and performance interrogating how technology shapes gender and human relations. What I’ve seen gives me a strong Laurel Nakadate vibe which is high praise, Nakadate’s made my visual art of the year list at least once and barely missed it a few other times. Maybe the artist I’m most interested in checking out.

Kathryn Shinko recently finished her MFA at Kent State and works in textiles which is a medium I’ve been ravenous for since the Wexner Center’s Fiber show finally opened up my half-dead eyes.

Beny Wagner is based in Berlin. His moody, intoxicating, textured work in video and installations has gotten heavy praise from Artforum, Kaleidoscope, and other sources.

Opening 7:00pm-10:00pm. Free.

Music

August 19: Alanna Royale. Rumba Cafe, 2507 Summit St. 

I doubt it’s a surprise to anyone who’s ever sat with me in a bar with a jukebox for 20 minutes, much less read this column for a week or three, that Alanna Royale’s right up my alley. Catchy, sultry, sweaty retro soul with an immediately identifiable voice and songs that hold their own against history.

If you like The Right Now, Robin McKelle, or I’d even wager to say JD McPherson or St. Paul and The Broken Bones, this is a must-see. The kind of Wednesday night that makes however much you hurt on Thursday worth every bit.

Local funk-inspired jam band The Floorwalkers close the night.

Doors at 8:00pm. $10 tickets available at http://www.ticketweb.com/t3/sale/SaleEventDetail?dispatch=loadSelectionData&eventId=6010225

August 21-23: VIVO Music Festival. Garden Theatre, 1871 N High St.

More than once I’ve lamented that the biggest gap in Columbus’s musical landscape is contemporary classical (new music, whatever term you feel you want to use). We’ve got decent symphony and chamber orchestras but despite two very fine music schools Columbus doesn’t get the same kind of flood of young, excited players doing exciting, new programming out of the classical realm as we do with jazz.

So I’m very excited by the prospect of this first year of the VIVO Music Festival. Organized by violinist Siwoo Kim and violist John Stultz this has the potential to be the exact kind of antidote I (and at least a few others I could name) have been hungry for. Partnering with the Johnstone New Music Fund they’re putting on three shows at the Garden Theatre.

Friday, 8:00pm: 8 Strings, 9 Tails. This program presents Dvorak’s Terzetto, Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings and John Zorn’s Cat O’ Nine Tails (Tex Avery Directs the Marquis De Sade), the latter of which was a massively formative experience for me. I remember the day I bought Zorn’s String Quartets at Shake It Records and put it on my friend’s stereo in college. I was hooked, my friends.

Saturday, 8:00pm: In the DarkPerformed in the Garden’s smaller Green Room space, this program features Georg Friedrich Haas’s String Quartet #3, “In iij, Noct,” played in complete darkness.

Sunday, 4:00pm: Unstrung. This program experiments with a conductorless chamber orchestra of some of the most promising classical musicians in town. The repertoire includes Bach’s Third Brandenberg Concerto and one of my favorites, Astor Piazolla’s  Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

A terrific interview with the artistic directors is available at WOSU and $15 reserved tickets for Friday and Sunday (Saturday is free) as well as more info are available at http://www.vivofestival.org/

August 22: Dave Holland Tribute. Dick’s Den, 2417 N High St.

A quartet of our finest younger jazz players including maybe our hottest rhythm section – Max Button (drums), John Allen (bass), Zakk Jones (guitar), and Danny Bauer (piano) team up to take on the oeuvre of maybe the finest straight-ahead jazz composer since the ’70s, bassist/bandleader Dave Holland.

Holland’s one of the few artists of any stripe I think I can literally say I’ve never heard a bad record by. He writes ballads that will make your wine taste sweeter and you fall in love more with the world, uptempo ragers that will make you bounce off the wall or ruin your pants, and abstractions you can get lost in for days. And this is a perfect group to play those perfect songs. Watch summer start its fade over a nice glass of rye whiskey while the music takes you somewhere else and also plants you back in yourself.

Starts at 10:00pm. $4 cover.

August 23: Publicist UK with Young Widows. Spacebar, 2590 N High St. 

Publicist UK hit my radar when I saw they had guitarist David Obuchowski from Goes Cube who I loved. Fronted by Zachary Lipez of Freshkills with a rhythm section held down by David Witte (Municipal Waste) on drums they merge a young Nick Cave delivery to pummeling almost metal drums and bass for charcoal drawings of a scorched Earth I find intoxicating.

Rounding out the bill are Louisville’s Young Widows who plow the fields of a clench-jawed shadowy ecstasy that reminds me most of Swans. If you dread Mondays anyway, come to this show and let your darkness come out of your pores and join the vibes in the room. Locals Hadak Ura, with whom I’m not yet familiar, open.

Doors at 8:00pm. $12 cover.

“Hey, Fred!” 08/10/15-08/16/15 A Biased and Idiosyncratic Top Five

Music

August 11: Frau with Birds of Hair and Katherine. Cafe Bourbon Street, 2216 Summit St.

Frau from London are a breath of fresh air, taking classic punk tropes and stylistic signifiers and injecting enough acid in their veins that they feel brand new. Great songs that break into wild, unpredictable noise, this is the kind of show Bobo excels at.

Birds of Hair are one of my favorite, favorite bands that almost never plays. Marcy Mays from Scrawl and Night Family on guitar and vocals, Sarah Yetter from Frostiva and El Jesus de Magico on bass, and Jen Burton, now mostly known in town as an entrepreneur for The Barrel and the Bottle and Seventh Son Brewing but with a long history of fascinating music with bands like Face Place, on drums. A noisy, riotous band that reminds me of everything I love about rock and roll.

Katherine were one of those bands I wished I saw more in town, great songs and an earnestness that never got cloying. One of the two members is moving to Philly very soon so this is both a reminder that nothing gold can stay and that you should get out and see the bands you love while they’re playing because you don’t know when it’s going to stop, but mostly this will just be a great show.

Doors at 9:00pm. $5 cover.

August 13: Danny Bauer. Dick’s Den, 2417 N High St.

Danny Bauer, recently profiled in JazzColumbus, has over the last couple years established himself as one of the city’s most versatile pianists, a first call for a lot of musical situations. I’m very intrigued to see this new group he’s suggested (in the above interview) skews toward the avant-garde.

Bauer’s assembled an incredibly strong lineup of players. John Allen, rapidly becoming one of the finest bass players I’ve ever seen in town and Ryan Folger who’s worked a lot with those two and Zakk Jones combine for what should be a tight, swinging rhythm section. Aroh Pandit on trumpet astonished me with John Allen’s quintet at Dick’s not long ago. Justin Dickson on saxophone from that Capital University axis I haven’t seen as much but I’ve heard great things. The most intriguing x-factor for me here is the addition of Annie Huckaba on vocals who blew me away in CATCO’s brilliant production of [title of show].

Show begins at 10:00pm, $4 cover.

August 14: Maceo Parker. Scioto Mile, 25 Marconi St.

Popular music of the last half of the 20th century would look a hell of a lot different if it weren’t for the great Maceo Parker. A key player in the JBs and the best lineups of Parliament-Funkadelic, his unmistakable gritty tenor sound has enlivened records from Keith Richards to Dee-Lite to Prince without even getting into all the samples.

Maceo invariably has one of the best live bands touring. I still talk about that joint tour with Ani Difranco in the late ’90s as one of the five best shows I’ve seen of any genre. Funk/rock/pop royalty doesn’t get any higher than this and you’d be a fool to miss a chance to see one of the true, unassailable living legends.

August 15: Nots. Dude Locker, 527 E Hudson St.

Nots is one of the most exciting rock bands I’ve seen in years. Based out of Memphis and led by Natalie Hoffman and Charlotte Watson, when they take the stage it’s a torrent of sparks and heat and acid. They put out a record on Goner last year I can’t stop listening to. They blew the roof of the tent off at 4th and 4th a few weeks ago and we’re very blessed to have them back in town so soon.

This is also the 7″ release party for one of the best bands in town, Raw Pony, making this even more of a don’t-miss for anyone who likes rock and roll. The bill’s rounded out by the spacier rock of Sex Tide and elder statesman Mike Rep.

August 16: Eric Taylor. Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza, 5601 N High.

I’m not sure I can think of a better songwriter than Eric Taylor – I know for damn sure I couldn’t name more than five. His ability to zoom in from universal aphorism to the most perfect of details and, in turn, reveal the universal in that, bringing Blake’s the world in a grain of sand to life, is the kind of dazzling writing that makes me want to work much, much harder.

Taylor fuses a deep empathy for his characters to heartrending earworm melodies. He can say more in a couple lines – like the opening to “Big Love”, “I found your name and number / On a pack of matches / Thought that I might call you up / And talk about myself” – than most people ever do in whole books or records. Do not miss this. I can’t recommend anything higher.

“Hey, Fred!” 08/03/15-08/09/15 A Biased and Idiosyncratic Top Five

Music

August 4: Gramps the Vamp and Urban Tropic. Brothers Drake, 26 E 5th Ave.

Gramps the Vamp refer to what they play as “doom funk” and it’s definitely an ominous but sensual sound. The closest comparison I can make is to Budos Band’s recent turn toward ’70s soundtrack influences on their record Burnt Offerings and the snaky brass definitely recalls that but the country could use more bands like that, not fewer. I missed them on their last trip through town during June’s Gallery Hop but I’ve got no intention of making that mistake this time.

Locals Urban Tropic open.

Show starts at 9:00. Free show.

August 5: Ursonate Guitar Quartet. Huntington Recital Hall, Capital University, 1 College Ave, Bexley, OH.

The Ursonate Guitar Quartet, named after the famous Dadaist sound-poem by Kurt Schwitters, brings together four of the finest guitarists in town. Well, three still in town (Larry Marotta, Aditya Jayanthi, and Dennis Hodges) and one visiting expat (Aaron Quinn). These four have all done work blending jazz, classical, eai, and noise and I can’t wait to see what this configuration brings in the beautiful sounding Huntington Hall at Capital.

Show starts at 6:30. Free show.

August 5: Polikarpa y Sus Viciosas. Legion of Doom, 1579 Indianola Ave. 

Legion of Doom is that rarest of things, an elder statesperson in the world of house shows. Through a combination of a forgiving landlord and good taste in residents who genuinely want to preserve this tradition – the disallowance of alcohol and drugs at the shows probably helps – it’s a rock in a scene where sometimes venues barely last a season.

Even more impressive, Legion continues to book interesting acts more commercial venues probably wouldn’t touch. This week it’s Colombian agitpunks Polikarpa y Sus Viciosas. Names for Policapra Saliverrieta, a legendary figure who was executed in the name of Colombian revolution, this group has been making fiercely political, vital music since the mid-’90s full of hard drumming and catchy, abrasive hooks. The bill’s rounded out by Philly’s Ramones-inspired Dark Thoughts and locals Surfin’ Safari.

Doors at 8:00pm. $5 donation strongly encouraged.

August 7: Locusta. Ace of Cups, 2619 N High St.

Locusta is one of my favorite metal bands in town – dense, atmospheric songs that shift from mood to mood and tempo to tempo without ever going in so proggy a direction that it loses that visceral crunch. Their blistering live show hasn’t been seen in town for over a year so expectations are high they’re going to explode on Ace of Cups’ bigger stage and strong PA.

The undercard’s not shabby here either. Lexington’s Tombstalker do some of the best punky black metal around right now, caked in grime with huge, bone-rattling riffs. Locals Fever Nest plow a different intersection between black metal and punk rock, built around mood and tension – even sporting a great Birthday Party cover. Discrow’s a little earlier in their development but I hear lots of potential in their grind.

Show starts at 9:00pm. $7 cover.

August 8-9: Festival Latino. Bicentennial Park.

Festival Latino might be my favorite festival all summer – certainly of the mainstream mass appeal fests, nothing else even comes close. The best food and the widest range of interesting music.

Especially for a total Latin music dilettante like me, I always walk away exposed to some things I really love.

Highlights from my early research I’m looking forward to:

Saturday:

3:00pm, Al Son del Iya: This Columbus-based act led by percussionist/bandleader El Negro Tino Casanova does smoking, sultry salsa in the Fania records mode with a repertoire that hits the classics like Willie Colon, Ruben Blades, and Celia Cruz and plays them with a remarkable fire.

4:00pm, Jose Peña Suazo y La Banda Gorda: Peña Suazo’s Banda Gorda out of the Dominican Republic plays blistering-fast merengue with extra Caribbean flavor but without losing that light, high touch. I’m not sure there’s a better band to see on a summer afternoon.

6:45, Luis Vargas: Bachata’s having a moment in the mainstream US press right now with lots of articles and think pieces about Romeo Santos, Prince Royce and Aventura. The Dominican’s Luis Vargas might not have the name recognition of those aforementioned artists but he’s wildly popular and boasts a haunting, sexy, unmistakable voice that reminds me of Raul Malo and Roy Orbison. This is not to be missed.

Sunday:

2:30pm, Ritmo Ondas featuring Zancudo: Rachel Sepulveda, known largely as one of Columbus’ finest jazz singers (see Jazz Columbus’ terrific interview) has always also worked in Latin forms. Ritmo Ondas is a versatile band that can hit a range of styles – I heard nothing but raves about their “From Cuba to Brazil” program at CityMusic earlier this year – and augmented by Victor Zancudo, one of this town’s fastest-rising Latin singers, this should be magical. Sepulveda’s leaving Columbus for grad school soon so don’t miss one of the last chances to see one of our finest talents.

4:15. Banda Machos: Banda music is also having a moment breaking through to other audiences, though in a smaller, more underground way than bachata discussed earlier. Banda Machos, out of the Jalisco area of Mexico, helped forge a modern style of banda through fusion with cumbia and ranchera styles. Some of the best, hardest hitting dance music you’ll see.

“Hey, Fred!” 07/27/15-08/02/15 A Biased and Idiosyncratic Top Five

Literary

July 30: Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse. Wild Goose Creative, 2491 Summit St.

This benefit for the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio brings together four fascinating artists and personalities to riff on apocalyptic themes through their true stories.

Amy Turn Sharp, local poet and organizer of Word Church, speaks about Pestilence. Amy Dalrymple, designer and proprietor of Made by AmyD, talks about War. Emily Toney, from ARC Ohio and the Greater Columbus Arts Council, discusses Famine. Amee Bell Wanzo, frontwoman of garage rock band Trachete, wraps it up with Death.

Show starts at 8:00pm. Suggested donation of $5.

Music

July 29: Aaron Lee Tasjan and Lilly Hiatt. Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza, 5601 N High St.

Columbus expat Aaron Lee Tasjan’s songwriting has exploded through his stints as a vital player in NYC’s roots-rock scene – including work with Kevin Kinney, Keith Christopher, and Pat Green – and more recently in Nashville. It’s heartfelt, surprising work with big hooks and an eye for detail that reminds me of Robert Earl Keen and Jon Dee Graham and a voice that’s more his own every time I hear him.

If an occasional return of the prodigal son isn’t enough to get the roots fans out to this, the other side of that coin should be: Lilly Hiatt. Hiatt’s second album, Royal Blue, is one of my favorite discoveries of the year reminding me of early Amy Rigby with a contemporary sheen of synths and big, dark drums wrapped around rock-solid songwriting. The kind of show Natalie’s does better than anywhere else in town.

Show starts at 9:00pm. $10-15 tickets available at Vendini

July 29: Liver Quiver. Brothers Drake, 26 E 5th Ave.

Another favorite expat – of more recent vintage – also returns home this week, jazz and classical guitarist Aaron Quinn. One of my favorite of his groups, Liver Quiver, a trio with Alex Burgoyne on sax and Seth Daily on drums reunites at Brothers Drake for a Jazz Wednesday.

Liver Quiver has a unique empathy that almost reminds me of some of Chris Speed’s groups, partly because Seth Daily does the best drumming in a Jim Black mode of anyone in recent memory. It’s a little spikier and a little edgier than that free Wednesday series usually gets, drifting into both chamber music and free improv territories, but it should be as refreshing as a cold gin drink while the sun melts away through that big open door.

Show begins at 8:00pm. Free.

August 2: Natalie’s Anniversary Celebration: Bobby Floyd Trio. Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza, 5601 N High St.

I think it’s pretty clear from the volume of these writeups that I think Natalie’s has added something really special and really needed to the Columbus scene. So consider this me raising a glass to Natalie’s and to having many more anniversaries.

The whole weekend is packed with Columbus favorites that showcase the breadth of the room’s interesting booking but, and again, no surprise, I’d steer you toward our finest organist Bobby Floyd and his trio with Derek DiCenzo on guitar and Reggie Jackson on drums. As good an example of classic organ jazz as you will hear anywhere – New York, Chicago, LA – and not playing as often as they used to with both Floyd and Jackson touring with Dr. John these days. Two birds with one stone and one of the best pizzas in town.

Show starts at 8:00pm. $10 tickets available at Vendini.

August 2: Richard Thompson. Dublin Irish Festival, Perimeter Drive, Dublin, OH.

The Dublin Irish Festival is one of those things it’s easy for locals to take for granted. It’s huge – one of the biggest Irish heritage festivals in the country – and has all the problems that come along with that, but it’s gotten that huge because its organizers have spent many years and no small amount of money turning it into a well-oiled machine huge acts love to play and love to come back to.

One of the best-sounding festivals I’ve ever been to, which will be doubly important when it hosts a return appearance by British singer-songwriter Richard Thompson. While talked about more as an electric guitar virtuoso, I’ve seen him in both guises a number of times and my favorite shows are solo acoustic where he’ll highlight the newest records (the new, very good, Jeff Tweedy-produced Still and the even better Buddy Miller produced Electric from a couple years ago) but he’ll dip into his extensive catalogue, he’ll dust off surprising covers. It’s as close as I’ve ever seen a singer-songwriter come to walking on a wire (if you’ll excuse the borrowing or even if you won’t). If you love songs, storytelling, guitar playing, this is an example of the very highest peaks of those arts.