Big Ears 2018 Day 1: Ley Lines, Throughlines, and Blurry Borders

I’m far from the first person to say it but Big Ears Festival is special. After a year off – but je ne regrette Sick Weekend – I returned to this booming, bustling college town to reconnect with deeper listening and jump off the merry-go-round for a minute.

Started slow on Thursday but I needed that easing in. Wandered the downtown, filling my lungs and feeling the vibrations of this place. A couple great meals – Chivo Taqueria and Myrtle’s Chicken and Beer – and reacquainting myself with Old City Java.

Stopped at Public House for an apertif to the sensory feast: Postmodern Spirits release party for their (damn good) first single malt Tennessee Whiskey at a party at Public House. I overheard one of my favorite refrains: a stylish regular who works at another bar (I gathered) said about Big Ears: “I dig the crowd, I get it. It brings people from everywhere. I just want them to know culture happens here too.” I’ve said it; I’ve heard it at Gonerfest and Anime Weekend Atlanta. It’s people like her who make that happen: loving your town so much it’s infectious.

Went straight from there to my first set of the festival: ICE (the International Contemporary Ensemble) playing Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s majestic, luminous “In The Light of The Air.”

In the round, most of the audience seated on the floor, the ensemble lit Thorvaldsdottir’s piece from within, shaping and shifting. Motifs rise and repeat, changing their DNA while remaining recognizable. Percussion plays an omnipresent, mercurial role here: clattering and clicking like ash in the air around the bubbling lava of piano; slashing transition color from a bowed marimba; growling propulsion not only moving the piece forward but in every direction.

Glacial accumulation of detail and material dances with the light installation, effectively underlining as when the bulbs surge bright with deep bass throbs. As delicate and dramatic as life. The music is so engaged with the world it absorbed and played with the setting sun, the howl of passing trains, and omnipresent redevelopment.

The pedal steel guitar is one of the most evocative, purely American sounds I’ve run across. No one fuses that unmistakable sound to as pure and personal a language as Susan Alcorn. Alcorn’s vocabulary isn’t the result of eschewing history – she knows her Speedy West, her Leon McAuliffe, her Don Helms, and her Aubrey Ghent. That sound comes from a burning desire to see what else she can say with that vocabulary and unerring taste across the spectrum of music.

The first time I came across Susan Alcorn was her 2006 album And I Await The Resurrection of the Pedal Steel Guitar. In the sleek dance club environs of The Standard, Alcorn dazzled a rapt crowd with that title track and a story about its genesis: trying to arrange Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum (a World War Ii elegy for wind orchestra) for steel. In those limitations, she found something that vibrates with history but is no one else’s.

Throughout her rapturous set, Alcorn made that guitar snarl and cry, turned it into a barrelhouse piano, a seductive dancer, nature painting, and a chorus of bells. She nodded to Giacinto Scelsi and tango. A profoundly American artist with the simultaneous thirst for the new and love of everything that got us here, Susan Alcorn exemplified Big Ears.

The icing on this delicious Thursday was two guitarists I’ve loved for as long as I’ve loved music. The minute you hear Marc Ribot’s Chuck-Berry-wrapped-in-barbed-wire guitar you never forget it. You hear it everywhere. David Hidalgo’s guitar, accordion, deceptively easy mastery of what seems like every other instrument, plus his spicy honey voice, make every record he guests on that much better – before we even get into his work as the cornerstone of one of the premier American rock bands, Los Lobos, co-writing most of their best songs. So as word trickled out these two titans were playing together it shot to the top of my list to check out. Thursday night at the Tennessee Theater was my chance.

The two men in chairs turned that cavernous stage and massive theater into a living room or a back porch. With the easy charm of old friends who don’t have a goddam thing to prove except to themselves, they lit up the history of American music. Lefty Frizzell’s “I Never Go Around Mirrors” was gifted a gorgeous high-lonesome voice and finger picking from Hidalgo punctuated with hot knives from Ribot. “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” got a dry vocal wringing all the hurt out of irony from Ribot as the two painted an expansive, devastated landscape with their guitars, deconstructing and rebuilding. Wilson Pickett and Paquita Del La Barrio and Los Cuatreros were the framework for hard-won and deeply personal voices forged from experience and love. Looks at permeable borders and the way we let each other down.

My favorite moment came with their revitalized take on “A Matter of Time,” the Los Lobos classic from their breakthrough Will The Wolf Survive record written by Hidalgo with Louie Perez. Stripped of horns and thirty plus years since it’s first appearance, the story and Hidalgo’s Sam Cooke-recalling vocal shine just as brightly as ever. The way we want to be better and keep reaching even when we know that “better world” might never be ib in our reach. They dedicated a note-perfect Ventures tune to Nokie Edwards with Hidalgo saying, “When we were kids, that Ventures stuff turned us all on. It was the shit.” Chuckling, he caught himself, “I guess it still is.”

May it always be. Day 2 awaits.

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Bounteous Beauty This Week in Columbus

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Adam O’Farrill’s Stranger Days – photo courtesy of Wexner Center

I hope the handful of you reading this got the three-day weekend to rest up because there’s enough unmissable stuff this week to kill the weaker of constitution.

Starting off on Wednesday we see one of the early blendings of new Performing Arts Curator Lane Czaplinski and outgoing curator Chuck Helm. Helm booked, in collaboration with CCAD, NYC artist Neil Goldberg for his one-man show Inhibited Bites fresh off two performances around APAP. Czaplinski makes good on his commitment to connecting the Wex beyond its four walls by bringing the show to Franklinton’s Idea Foundry. There have been happy hours related to Wex events before, but this at Land Grant is one of very few we’ve had steps away from the show. I wrote a preview for Columbus Underground.

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Neil Goldberg’s Inhibited Bites – photo courtesy of the Wexner Center

Thursday, the Ogún Meji Duo kicks off a six-month residency at Art of Republic. One of our finest composers, Mark Lomax II, and my favorite saxophone player in town, Eddie Bayard, bring their fiery, flexible. Each of these residencies features a special guest and this week’s is very special: visual artist Bryan Christopher Moss. Friend and editor Andrew Patton previewed this for JazzColumbus.

Friday, one of our finest record labels, Heel Turn, celebrate their third anniversary with two showcases of our best rock and roll on the Old North High Street corridor. The appetizer at Dirty Dungarees features Bloody Show – never have better Stooges-style songs graced our town – with Mr. Clit and the Pink Cigarettes and the new Outer Spacist/Terrestrials offshoot Psychotropic. Facebook event. And the main event is headlined by my (and pretty much everybody else’s) favorite Columbus band right now, DANA, with Burning Itch from Knoxville, and Messrs and Raw Pony also from Columbus. Get there early, you don’t want to miss Raw Pony if you know what’s good for you. Facebook event.

Saturday, one of the finest young trumpet players from NYC, Adam O’Farrill brings his quartet Stranger Days to the Wex. I had the privilege of interviewing O’Farrill in advance of this show, and this is the kind of pure jazz that can move people who aren’t necessarily interested in jazz and leave those of us who already drank the Kool-Aid high for days. I previewed this show for JazzColumbus.

Later Saturday, Spacebar brings an unhinged rock extravaganza from near and far. I’ve barely been able to stop listening to London band Shame since they hit my radar before an NYC trip last year. Their first full-length Songs of Praise delivers on all the snotty, gleeful promise of their early singles with ingratiating post-punk grooves and snarled hooks that draw you in at the same time they’re pushing you away. Pittsburgh Sub Pop signees The Gotobeds have a slightly poppier shine to their stiletto sharpness but anyone who saw their Big Room show a year or two ago knows how hard they can rock. Local up-and-comers Kizzy Hall and Roof Dogs open, both of whom I’m looking forward to checking out again. Facebook event.

Best Of 2017: Live Music

“The bandleader is indicative
of nothing or everything

Depending on the day.”
-Gabrielle Calvocoressi, “In the Darkness of the House of Pleasure”

I’m pretty sure live music was the first of these lists I started 15+ years ago (any friends going back to the email list days or early LiveJournal, feel free to correct). It’s been a guiding light. It’s how I’ve met most of my dearest friends and made many of my fondest memories. Even as I grow old and share the frustration with some trappings, I’m still invigorated by a great show. Nothing else gives me that instantaneous body-and-soul charge.

I saw around 130 shows this year. After a hard, hard deliberation – getting it down from 35 was more difficult than previous years – here are twenty still gnawing at me. Rather than ranking, they’re presented in chronological order. In Columbus, unless otherwise specified.

  • Dirtbombs and Soledad Brothers (The Magic Stick, Detroit, 12/31/16) – Rock-and-roll motherfucking church. Maybe the greatest rock band of my adult life – and still my favorite outlet for the prodigious craft and imagination of Mick Collins – came back to their hometown to prove they can take the crown any time they want it. From the first crunch of their take on Mitch Ryder’s “Motor City Baby” this only let off the throttle long enough so we could feel the sweat on our skin and catch the fire in each other’s eyes. Soledad Brothers reminded me how much I dug them too with raunchy, swinging sweetness.
  • Sinkane (The Basement, 02/22/17) – Columbus expat Ahmed Gallab, Sinkane, just gets better. This six-piece version plus horns was an ecstatic trip through his beguiling new record Life and Livin’ It with a couple rearranged classics. Chants like “We all gonna be all right!” (from “U’Huh”) and wry observations like “Telephone”, welded to ornate and liquid melodies and deep grooves. Glad-you’re-alive music.
  • Still Dreaming (Wexner Center, 03/29/17) – Chuck Helm’s valedictory season at the Wex didn’t miss a single step in his jazz game. All 6 shows could have justifiably hit my top 20. This new quartet from Joshua Redman played and wrestled with the rock-solid melodies and mystery of his father Dewey Redman’s group Old and New Dreams and new work using that as a jumping off point. Four mammoth players in the service of the kind of pure dialogue jazz does better than any kind of music. Sparks flew between Redman’s sax and Ron Miles’ brass as they shot screams through with sweetness and shadowed bravura with a wishful baleful edge. All in the deep pocket of one of the best rhythm sections alive, Scott Colley and Brian Blade.
  • 75 Dollar Bill and Sue Garner (Ace of Cups, 04/04/17) – 75 Dollar Bill is a perennial favorite. It’s heartening to see this Che Chen and Rick Brown project breaking through to broader appeal. Their set dissected the irreducible DNA of music, leaning into the gorgeous impossibility of separating melody from rhythm. The opening set from Sue Garner was a reminder of the malleable nature of song. Her artful miniatures like ice stabbing into the listener’s heart and melting into a glowing, shifting, enriching light.
  • Wadada Leo Smith Great Lakes Quartet (The Stone, NYC, 04/23/17) – One of the absolute masters reminding us how great he is. Brand new compositions that felt like the quaking, painful renewal of a mighty earth. The quaking, flame-kissed rhythm section of Mark Helias and Marcus Gilmore, Jonathon Haffner’s lustrous alto sax, and Smith’s singular trumpet tone ripped into this material. An artist just getting better and better.
  • LA Witch (Berlin, NYC, 04/25/17) – There’s something magical about seeing a band come to the next level right in front of your eyes and Berlin is an intimate venue that lends itself to those moments. LA Witch destroyed me on a weeknight with sticky, growling songs that felt like Wanda Jackson’s vocals over heavy shoegaze with just enough girl-group swing and garage punch to keep the floor bouncing.
  • Kris Kristofferson (Southern Theater, 05/17/17) – Watching this lovely victory lap of one of the great American writers revisit songs I never thought I’d hear live, I found myself thinking of John Berger’s writing about the poet Nazim Hikmet and Juan Muñoz. That sense that the greatest dream we can carry in this age is fraternity, of carrying hope in our teeth. It’s all there. And I might have cried like a moron.
  • Vijay Iyer Sextet (Wexner Center, 05/20/17) – This was a tribute to Chuck Helm’s cultivation of relationships. Columbus had the pleasure of watching Iyer evolve into one of the strongest conceptions in American music This sextet, underpinned by longtime collaborator Stephan Crump on bass and Justin Brown on drums, added heavier flavors of New Orleans funk and second-line into these sparkling compositions. The front line flanked steady foil Steve Lehman with Mark Shim and god-almighty Graham Haynes with Iyer at its beating heart. A flood of images and ideas that rewarded constant, dedicated attention while still being some of the most accessible music I heard all year.
  • Sarah Shook and the Disarmers (Ace of Cups, 07/20/17) – Sarah Shook and her cracking band sum up everything good about raw Americana right now. Shit-kicking dance beats underscore Shook’s characters grappling with connection and try to find a place in the world on songs like “Nothin’ Feels Right Like Doin’ Wrong”. All delivered in Shook’s intense twang, stylized but not doing an impression of any specific model. What Sekou Sundiata used to call “dance and stand still” music.
  • Priests (Ace of Cups, 07/21/17) –  Priests’ new material on 2017’s Nothing Feels Natural they were touring here was several steps beyond and this show was every single thing I want in a rock band. They kept the energy and ferocity of their early hardcore days but opened it up to other textures. One of my favorite rhythm sections working today, Taylor Mulitz on bass and Daniele Daniele on drums, danced through slinky rhythms that reminded me of the Cure, blended the Clash with krautrock and go-go, and ripped into classicist, raging punk rock, all with giddy ease. They presented a perfect backdrop for GL Jaguar’s immediately recognizable guitar and Katie Alice Greer’s sharp lyrics and intense, riveting presence.
  • Lydia Lunch’s Retrovirus (Ace of Cups, 07/25/17) – This show on Anne’s birthday was a better victory lap than I could have ever dared hope from an artist who meant more to me than almost any other. Lunch, in remarkable voice and wielding her volcanic presence, led us through a retrospective set of all highlights. Backed by a crack band with Child Abuse-frontman Tim Dahl on bass and Bob Bert on drums and perfect guitar foil Weasel Walter. This wasn’t nostalgia, and it wasn’t pandering to who we used to be, it was a reckoning. It was a reminder of what still lives in those songs.
  • Greg Cartwright (Cafe Bourbon Street, 07/31/17) – One of my favorite songwriters working today, revisiting a tiny room with an old friend, Andy Robertson, and even sticking around to spin records? An evening I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to be with my friends for. A fascinating look at continuity and evolution in someone’s writing, the way work done 10 years ago takes on new textures, reflected in the light of more recent songs. A new song with lyrics “I think the devil works in a pharmacy…” that might have set a new bar for the brand of heartbreak his work owns. His set at GonerFest was also exquisite, but this was a perfect Monday night.
  • Coathangers (Ace of Cups, 08/02/17) – They were also great in a larger venue in Brooklyn in the Spring; I have a hard time believing the Coathangers ever have a bad set these days. Fist-pumping rock-and-roll with shout-along lyrics and pure, glowing adrenaline.
  • Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express (Natalie’s, 08/03/17) – Chuck Prophet is a true historian of the music who distills everything he’s learned into songs that sound like no one other than Chuck Prophet. Preoccupied with death and fighting stagnation, as on “Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins” and “It’s Been a Bad Year for Rock and Roll,” and my favorite, the tribute to Suicide’s Alan Vega, “In the Mausoleum.” This show made me think about rock-and-roll and its ritualistic ability to move beyond the adolescent, the creation myth also talking to us about burying our dead.
  • Sheer Mag and Flesh World (Ace of Cups, 09/12/17) – Over the last couple years, the world’s come around to realizing the self-evident fact that Sheer Mag are the best live rock-and-roll band touring. This trip, supporting their phenomenal new record, Need to Feel Your Love, felt like a victory lap and an open road. Their blend of Thin Lizzy twinned guitar riffing; crisp, stomping rhythms and post-hardcore singing from one of the greatest lead singers working, Tina Halladay, is an irresistible combination. Anyone who claims to like rock-and-roll and doesn’t love this band? I’ve got nothing for you. Up and comers Flesh World also blew me away here, extra impressive when the headliner took my head off.
  • Khruangbin and Chicano Batman (A&R Bar, 10/03/17) – Chicano Batman’s sweetly fuzzy psych-Delfonics blending with Khruangbin’s majestic low-rider R&B reconfigured as Thai lounge music. I wish there’d been more room to dance, but I was gobsmacked to see this many young people – and people I didn’t know – loving this kind of music.
  • The Bad Plus Bill Frisell (Lincoln Theater, 10/08/17) – This astonishing set brought together a group that helped define the Wexner Center’s jazz aesthetic under the great Chuck Helm and a titan who he helped give that shine to in his days at the Walker. It was everything good about both of their approaches. This paid tribute to The Bad Plus’ first iteration’s dogged determination to delve into whatever they were investigating – Ornette Coleman or Stravinsky or Milton Babbit or Sabbath – and come out feeling like themselves. And it was a fresh pair of eyes on Frisell’s fertile ’85-95 quartet as his writing came into its own but with the tools of everything he’s learned since in its execution. You could come in off the street not knowing anything about either artist or this oevure or you could come in having gorged yourself on it in High School/college and this was a knockout punch either way. Thank you, Chuck Helm. (For a little bonus, check out Helm’s writing about this pairing for co-commissioning body The Walker Art Museum, one of the best pieces ever written about TBP.)
  • Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls (Hogan House, 10/13/17) – Jon Langford’s voice gets sharper and clearer with every passing year. This new project designed for two other voices with his, Tawny Newsome and Bethany Thomas, with lead guitarist and harmony vocalist John Szmanski, was another take on the dark and joyous heart of America. It was a balm to be in a great-sounding and well-appointed basement (seriously, try to hit a Hogan House show, they’re fantastic hosts) with other listeners, basking in the flame of these songs on an unseasonable warm fall afternoon. Feeling like we’re all receiving “A message from the heart of the world.”
  • Man Forever (Double Happiness, 10/14/17) – This is the kind of show too big for our fantastic gallery/diy spaces but many rock clubs – with the aid of Jen Powers and Fred Pfening here, who should not be ignored – wouldn’t have booked. Kid Millions’ Man Forever was avant-garde technique and forms – played gorgeously by a band that included members of Tigue – comingled with samba and go-go and heavy, swinging rock. An electric dance-party baptism.
  • Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds (Double Happiness, 10/23/17) – If you asked me what’s good about rock? What’s good about live music? It’s all right in this show. A co-bill with NYC DJ Jonathan Toubin for Halloween had Congo’s quicksilver band in full costume going through a series of songs that touched on the holiday and songs that just reminded us all how good it felt to dance with like-minded people. Boundless joy and magic and love.
  • Mountain Goats (Newport, 11/09/17) –The Mountain Goats have grown into their show as a show, they were one of the most comfortable bands I’ve ever seen on the Newport stage. Their new record, Goths, about growing older and the way structures that once empowered us and showed us a bigger world close in around us, was a perfect spine for this subtle, intimate-in-surprising- ways show that felt like it drew us all in. My favorite icepick-in-the-heart line of all year, from “Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds”, got extra juice from singer John Darnielle leaning over his fender rhodes and twisting the corkscrew just a little with “There will be goodbyes by dozens. You get to practice being brave.” Like that pain is a gift. Because, somehow, it kind of is.

And, because festivals are not going away, we should celebrate what’s still good about them. My favorite 20 sets, mixed up, from my favorite festivals throughout the year. Again, all are in Columbus unless otherwise specified.

  1. Antibalas (Black Swamp Music Festival, Bowling Green, 09/09/17)
  2. ESG (West Fest, Chicago, 07/07/17)
  3. Golden Pelicans (Cheap Heat, 04/14/17 and GonerFest, Memphis, 09/30/17)
  4. Los Nastys (RuidoFest Afterparty, Chicago, 07/07/17)
  5. Screaming Females (Sick Weekend, 03/23/17)
  6. Magic Factory (GonerFest, Memphis, 09/29/17)
  7. Sweet Knives (GonerFest, Memphis, 09/28/17)
  8. Molly Burch (Sick Weekend, 03/24/17)
  9. Watu Utongo (Villagefest, 06/10/17)
  10. 1-800-Band (Sick Weekend, 03/25/17)
  11. Dana (Sick Weekend, 03/25/17 and Cheap Heat 04/15/17)
  12. The Echo Ohs (GonerFest, Memphis, 09/30/17)
  13. Bloodbags (GonerFest, Memphis, 09/28/17)
  14. Danny and the Darleans (Cheap Heat, 04/15/17)
  15. Bobby Selvaggio’s Red Rhinoceros (Rubber City Jazz and Blues Festival, 08/26/17)

 

 

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.

 

“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.