Marshall Crenshaw and the Bottlerockets at the Beachland Ballroom August 16, 2012

Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom is a strange little venue; only recently converted from a Croatian dance hall, the place is somehow surreal when serving as a place to see rock n roll shows. By “recent”, I of course mean in terms of how long rock music has been around – something that is hard to tack down, but is something that Marshall Crenshaw seems to know a thing or two about.
Since the early 80s, Crenshaw has been churning out the kind of tunes that would be American Classics, had they been penned only a couple of decades previous and crooned by The Crickets instead of Crenshaw’s band of kind-of short men. (Crenshaw is not the world’s tallest man, and, supposedly, early on in his career, he refused to hire taller band members. This is not a fact. I read this on Wikipedia.I find it hard to believe, but, hey, it makes for an interesting anecdote, doesn’t it?)

Crenshaw is one of those musicians who seems like he should be at least as appreciated as Neil Young, or Elvis Costello. Apparently, this is not the case, if the strewn crowd at Marshall’s gig at the Beachland Ballroom Thursday night is any indicator. There were a handful of relatively excited folks – and more dads than you could shake a stick at – but it even took a couple of drinks to get anyone in the audience to sing along. Which is sad, because Marshall’s songs are incredibly catchy and downright fun to sing along to.
Crenshaw started out the evening with a slew of old favorites, a cerebral, punchy version of “Someday, Someway” from his 1982 self-titled debut; “Something’s Gonna Happen”, his very first release, and just about every other tune from any decent “best-of” collection.

“There She Goes Again”, “Cynical Girl”, “Mary Anne” – you name it, Marshall and the Bottlerockets (some of them, as Crenshaw joked,) played it. Honestly, what else would you hope for with a Crenshaw concert? You want to hear your favorite songs, but the problem being when you come to the realization that “your favorite songs” make up half of the man’s discography. Even the more obscure picks that Crenshaw made were perfect. “Television Lights” (which my introduction to Crenshaw when I was but a very pudgy girl obsessed with music. Now I am not so pudgy, but the fascination with tunes has yet to fall away.) was a particularly beautiful number, leaving some audience members (Read: me) overtly nostalgic and cooing.

The band plowed through a couple covers as well – Crenshaw joking about “what the crowd would least expect them to play now” before diving into Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression”, as well as “Valerie” by Richard Thompson, and some other song I can’t remember.

Every song was a hit with the crowd, as much as anything could be a hit with the rather stodgy group. The Ballroom had laid out seats for concert-goers, making the show the single most comfortable one that I have ever attended – perhaps this was something that the Ballroom planned in anticipation of the highly-dad oriented crowd Marshall apparently attracts.

But perhaps that “dad” contingent is just a feature of the Ballroom – last spring I saw Pere Ubu there, and my boyfriend and I were by far the youngest in the room. However, Pere Ubu is a band loved by many dads, even if they tend to fall on the weirder side of dads. I am hoping to make it to a Shonen Knife concert at the Ballroom on Tuesday. I do not know if there will still be such a high concentration of dads, but I sure hope there will be. More word on that later.

Crenshaw loved the crowd, and he was quite happy to entertain the bunch late in to the night – even if that meant not one, but two encores. Encores made up of beloved Cranshaw classics – “Starless Summer Sky”, songs that portions of the crowd must have been hankering for throughout the performance – as well as a couple more covers, like “Little Sister” by Elvis Presley – who died thirty-five years to the date of Thursday’s show.

All in all, Thursday’s show was incredible, the only downfall being the fact that Crenshaw’s lead guitar had hardly enough volume – and it looked like he was pulling off some incredible solos.

So what if people don’t know enough to show up to a dirt-cheap performance by one of the greatest song-writers of the past half century. It would have been pretty amazing to walk in on a performance of “Cynical Girl” if you had never heard it. Might be a life-altering experience. Or maybe not. It would just make you want to take a look into everything you had been missing.


tUnE-yArDs at the Wexner Center for the Arts

What kind of people congregate to see wonky-pop/Afro-beat/sound looping expert Merril Garbus (aka tune-yards) perform on a Monday night in Columbus?

Everyday kinda people – that’s who!

Dancing hipster girls (the polite Urban Outfitters kind), people who could-be college professors (take a gander at their glasses, and hopefully their fanny packs too) and even a couple “record store guys” (smell the judgment radiating off those plaid-shirted-Ray-Ban wearing fellas!).

“You guys are out there taking notes!” Steve Marion, frontman for opening act Delicate Steve remarked between one of the band’s crystal-clear, hyper-clean, and ultimately unsatisfying tunes. Not that Marion and co. weren’t trying, and not that the band’s vaguely world music inspired sound wasn’t, at certain moments, at least admirable. Numerous numbers involved at least one of the band members thrashing or pulsating some beat or another that was kind-of memorable.

Things turned for the decidedly less boring when Garbus took the stage after Delicate Steve’s mercifully short set. Greeted by the characteristically quiet, attentive crowd, Garbus broke into a startlingly powerful series of comical yelps and howls. Although the oh-so-hip (maybe they were even “so hip they could not take it”, like Garbus sang about on the tune “Killa”) didn’t know how to react to the her antics at first, after she broke into a smile the audience seemed to chill out a bit.

“You Yes You” opened tune-yard’s excellent Monday night set, and if the reception to that brilliantly organized song was great, imagine how the delicious thrumping of “My Country” and the painfully gorgeous rhythms of “Bizness” went.

Something about Garbus’ cool demeanor – never taking herself too seriously, although with talent like that, she actually could afford to – kept the audience and the band pretty intimate, and with the tiny curtained and divided stage in the Wexner Center auditorium, it felt a little like a private concert for seventy-some people.

Numbers like “Powa” and “Gangsta” soared, Garbus’ masterful looping and the excellent goofiness of her accompanying, highly skilled bass and saxophone players lifting the already impressive tracks off and out of Garbus’ second album, W H O K I L L. Songs as complicated and in depth as those found on the New England native’s fine 2011 release could have easily fallen into jammy territory in less talented hands, but thankfully that never happened. Each familiar track evolved out of a beat set up by the foursome onstage until it was visceral recreation of the recording.

And typically older material or new material isn’t particularly enjoyable in a live setting. Not so with tune-yards, the two older songs (off of 2009’s bird brains) and a promising new number spiraled into greatness alongside the more publicized  W H O K I L L material.

After an amazing encore, although looking awfully tired, Garbus said goodnight to the assorted Wexner crowd before disappearing behind the stage.

RASCAL Magazine Fundraiser Brings Out Music and Comedy

In 2011, Cynthia Robinson and Allison Maloney found themselves with a big, slowly developing idea for an edgy magazine that would be one part social commentary, one part art, and one part sheer whit. Over the past several months the magazine, to be entitled RASCAL, has come closer to publication than ever before. However, one rather substantial roadblock stands in the way of making RASCAL a reality: funding.

Thursday night RASCAL magazine held a fundraiser in the basement of the Dragon’s Cup, featuring a handful of regional comedy and musical acts. Perhaps the donation was optional, but the entertainment was not. A half hour into the event, the thin blocky downstairs of everyone’s favorite tea and noodle establishment was already pretty packed.

“I just really want to see Blithe Field play,” said Ashley Weingard, an Ohio University communications major sophomore chilling out on one of the Dragon Cup’s many slowly disintegrating plush chairs. “I’m not even sure if he’s playing for sure, but I hope he is.”

Weingard has been involved in RASCAL since Robinson and Maloney held the first meeting, introducing the idea, several weeks ago. Ever since that first meeting the organization has been full throttle on, desperately trying to make it to publication.

Cynthia Robinson, one of the aforementioned creators of RASCAL, took the stage first, playing a series of soft acoustic numbers. She cooed through several covers and a handful of originals, startling several in-coming show-goers.

“I thought it was, like, a recording, coming from over there,” said Katie Pinter, a freshman Journalism major at OU, pointing to one of the gigantic speakers placed throughout the narrow corridor that makes up the Dragon Cup’s basement.

“Way more people showed up than I had ever imagined would,” said Sam Flynn, a freshman creative writing major. Flynn is heavily involved in RASCAL, and he is currently one of the publication’s working comedy section co-editors.

After Robinson ended her set, she took up a hefty camera and proceeded to snap photos of the event, dressed in a body-conscious black dress and floral Doc Martens. Next up was “Nasty” Nate & JT, a comedy team that actually took on the growing crowd one at a time. Although there were chuckles throughout the audience, many show-goers admitted not being able to hear the routines from the back of the basement.

Regardless of whether or not everyone could make out the entire comedy act, everyone could definitely make out the goofy beats of Ghosta Rica, a strange collaboration that really “tore it up,” in the words of Spencer Radcliffe – aka Blithe Field.

Blithe Field headlined last night’s event, with his unique blend of audio collage and gracefully edited rhythms. Earlier this month Radcliffe released Warm Blood, arguably the Athen’s based musician’s most accomplished work to date.

“Tonight I am probably going to be playing a pretty good mix of old and new stuff,” Radcliffe said, milling about the crowd accumulated before his set.

“I see a lot of friends here, so I think that I might be pulling out some old stuff.” Radcliffe said. In fact, friends are what got Blithe Field involved in playing RASCAL magazine’s first fundraiser.

“I’ve been playing with Difficult Dogs [Athens area local band] a lot recently, and a couple of the people in that band are also involved in RASCAL.” He explained.

As the event wore on into the early hours of Friday, it become clearer and clearer that RASCAL magazine is a unique undertaking by a motley group of creative people who are absolutely determined to get their magazine to print.

Get Fair Trade Joe AND Fresh Beats

Donkey Coffee may not seem like the premier spot in Athens to catch fresh beats and sharp rhymes. What a sorry misconception. This Saturday the coffee house will be shattering that mistaken belief by hosting several hip hop dynamos from Columbus as a part of their U Drop Entertainment showcase.

Even though you wouldn’t think that the close quarters and dim lighting of Athen’s favorite coffee spot would kinder to anyone who doesn’t pluck on an acoustic guitar, a couple of minutes with the stars of the upcoming event will quickly prove otherwise.

“It’s a more intimate setting, closer to the crowd. It’s like they can actually hear you, can actually understand and feel you.” said Terence Robertson, who will be taking the stage on Saturday. Troy Gregorino, the booking manager at Donkey, couldn’t agree more.

“Donkey has established a solid reputation as arguably the best venue in town for acoustic music, but I’ve discovered that the atmosphere there also lends itself to really memorable shows of all sorts.” Gregorino said. He went on to say that the decision to include a more diverse array of performers on Donkey’s docket has a lot to do with his observation that there is a lot of untapped musical talent in the region, and not all of that talent strums guitar.

So maybe Donkey is an unusual place for a hip hop showcase, but it is certainly not an unwelcome change for Robertson.

“Usually you’re on a stage five or ten feet higher than the audience and they’re all looking up at you, and there isn’t that connection.” He said, commenting on how performances are usually set up for U Drop.

Those kinds of shows, which are the majority of what Robertson performs at, are simultaneously very different and fundamentally alike to the kind of gig he’ll be taking on in a couple of days.

“Because of the university, the community in Athens is very diverse, like Columbus is. And even though the music scene here is different, there is definitely still an interest in hip hop.” Robertson commented.

“When you play in Athens people will travel to see you,” he added, “and they really make an effort to support you.”

Regardless of whether you are traveling from the big city of Columbus or simply from West Green on Ohio University’s campus, a trip to Donkey coffee Saturday night will no doubt be worth it. The show opens its doors at 9 p.m. and expect a small cover charge, which is yet to be determined. Bring a few bucks to get into the show and maybe buy a cup of fair trade coffee, and be sure to tip your hard-working barista.