Category Archives: Sound and Vision

Squeeze live in Akron

Under the giant, illuminated Goodyear logo located east of downtown Akron, the polished granite, red brick and concrete exterior in the center of the rubber company’s former corporate campus looks fairly unassuming. But after walking through the doors into the Goodyear Theater, it’s easy to see why it’s attracting a diverse array of artists, including The Cult, Jason Isbell, Primus, Smashing Pumpkins and Dwight Yoakam. The spacious main hall and balcony of the latest addition to Akron’s growing musical culture captures the grandiose allure of a vintage orchestra stage hall. The character of this amazing venue was perfectly suited for one of England’s most enduring modern rock bands, Squeeze.

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze by Mara Robinson
Squeeze band by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Squeeze by Mara Robinson
Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze by Mara Robinson

Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford have toured separately and together as a duo in the past, but this tour marks the return of Squeeze as a full band. Drummer Simon Hanson and keyboardist Steven Large have been performing with Glenn and Chris since the most recent formation took shape in 2007, and the recent additions of Yolanda Charles on bass and Steve Smith (from UK electronic remix outfit Dirty Vegas) on percussion helped keep the upbeat energy going between everyone on stage and in the audience.

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze by Mara Robinson
Chris Difford of Squeeze by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Chris Difford of Squeeze by Mara Robinson
Glenn TIlbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Glenn TIlbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze by Mara Robinson

Squeeze played a finely curated mix of trademark favorites mingled with cuts spanning their entire career. They started their set with Please Be Upstanding, a song from The Knowledge, their 15th studio album, released in October. The songs from the new album continue to showcase Tilbrook and Difford’s songwriting tandem of new wave British Soul, from upbeat pop tunes to heartfelt ballads. The new material definitely has their unique vibe as much as their past libraries of work, and adds more colors to their musical landscape. The country slide guitar on Patchouli, the operatic vocal solos of Rough Ride, and the bongo beat percussion of Albatross show Squeeze expanding and are not satisfied by standing creatively still.

Squeeze band by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Squeeze by Mara Robinson
Glenn TIlbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Glenn TIlbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze by Mara Robinson
Yolanda Charles of Squeeze by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Yolanda Charles of Squeeze by Mara Robinson

With the second song of the set, they promptly moved into their classic hit, Pulling Mussels (from the Shell). Their set included a majority of songs from their 2010 album Spot the Difference, where they re-recorded their greatest hits in identical detail to the original recording. Squeeze’s live performance lived up to the same perfection with every song. They haven’t lost an ounce of the energy and vibrancy that has attracted music fans for decades.

Yolanda Charles, Simon Hanson, and Steve Smith of Squeeze by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Yolanda Charles, Simon Hanson, and Steve Smith of Squeeze by Mara Robinson
Steven Large, Simon Hanson, and Steve Smith of Squeeze by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Steven Large, Simon Hanson, and Steve Smith of Squeeze by Mara Robinson
Steven Large, Simon Hanson, and Steve Smith of Squeeze by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Steven Large, Simon Hanson, and Steve Smith of Squeeze by Mara Robinson

Squeeze packed the last leg of their set with an all-star lineup of their biggest hits. The rhythm section took to the front of the stage for a rousing rendition of Take Me I’m Yours, with hand drums, marching snares, and accordion that got the crowd out of their seats. They kept the fans on their feet by bringing the show home with a rally of their best songs, including Tempted, Goodbye Girl and Up the Junction, and ultimately building up to the rapid disco keyboard melody of Slap and Tickle.

Chris Difford of Squeeze by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Chris Difford of Squeeze by Mara Robinson
Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze by Mara Robinson

After a brief rest from their marathon performance, Squeeze returned to the stage to deliver an encore with two more of their most popular hits, Is That Love? and Black Coffee in Bed. During the final breakdown of Black Coffee in Bed, Glenn and Chris took time to introduce everyone in the band and gave them a moment to shine. The entire crowd stayed on their feet and helped end the night with a bright and soulful call and response of the song’s chorus. With a final gathering at the front of the stage, the band joined together for a final bow to Akron’s appreciative and devoted fans. Squeeze hasn’t lost a step in their stage and songwriting game, and the great response from their new material and their memorable catalog will have an incredible and expanding impact on music fans for a long time.

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Sideshow by the Lakeshore: Luna’s Triumphant Return to Cleveland

Until the Grog booked Luna for last night’s show — their first time back to Cleveland in about 12 years — I honestly hadn’t listened to their records since 2009. They were lost in the CD-selling purges of my thirties. But conveniently, Spotify has a Best of Luna playlist to refresh my memory. Side note — they’re playlists now, not albums. That’s not to say they have any record I dislike; it’s just they get filed away in the drawer of really catchy indie rock songs.

Luna band by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Luna by Mara Robinson

Music fans like myself compare and contrast bands against their peers. My favorite game to play as a contrarian is to state the greater band is the one with the better catalog. Yo La Tengo are a better band than My Bloody Valentine. Is Loveless a great album? Sure, why not. But Yo La Tengo have plain old done more and therefore reached greater heights, so they’re the better band. People who worship at the altar of meteoric bands miss true greatness.

Luna band by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Luna by Mara Robinson 
Dean Wareham of Luna by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Luna by Mara Robinson

This is the point where writing about Luna gets tricky. They are both timeless and of a very specific time. Who exactly are their peers? The depth of music knowledge on stage last night went clear back to the Platters or Duane Eddy or my beloved Beach Boys. I like record collector rock. Dean Wareham seems like the kind of guy who has walls and walls full of obscure but totally great vinyl albums. But comparing Luna to either their own heroes or part of a revival is short sighted. It’s not revivalist; it’s syntheist.  

Luna by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Luna by Mara Robinson

Conversely, trying to place Luna alongside their contemporaries in the 1990s “alt-rock” doesn’t quite line up either. Pavement, Superchunk, Sonic Youth got up at the same time on the same stages, but everyone sounds more like each other than Luna sounds like anyone — a loser contradiction their lyrics often hint at. Luna aimed for a different target and hit it. Their success was on their own terms.

Luna band by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Luna by Mara Robinson
Luna band by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Luna by Mara Robinson 

So what happened on stage? For one, the guitars sounded amazing. I’m not a gearhead, but a quick look at the stuff wasn’t complicated, but rather the stack of a band who dialed in their sound. The guitars sounded rich and full, with beautiful overtones and carefully sculpted reverb. The shimmering sound I heard probably sounds identical in every room they play. The economy of sound extended into the playing. The solos were similar to their records, and they were written right the first time, so a brief guitar solo (and one bass solo) kept the songs moving. For a band that prides themselves on the consistent dynamics of the rhythm section, the songs moved great.

Luna band by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Luna by Mara Robinson
Luna band by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Luna by Mara Robinson
Luna band by Mara Robinson
Luna by Mara Robinson

When I was bullshitting online the day of the show, my friend Pete posted he found the first grey hairs in his beard, even though he’s been balding for years. I saw him later that night, and at age 32, he was one of the youngest people in the room. Luna are not minting new fans, and their setlist played liked it. Hits like Pup Tent, Chinatown, Bewitched. We joked about waiting around for the Velvet Underground cover, but it never came, although they did throw in a Cure cover. Their catalog is enshrined in the memories of their fans, and their fans know their influences well enough that all they had to do was run through the hits, have fun doing it, and everyone walked away happy. BTW Pete’s single.

Luna band by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Luna by Mara Robinson

Do you know the difference between classic rock and oldies? I do, and I bet you do too. Now, if you happen to be a Luna fan, ask yourself where do they fit in? Not do they sound like The Champs vs The Eagles, but are Luna part of a culture that has endured against the ebb and flow of fashion, or are they part of an emerging industry of keeping musicians employed, on the road and somewhat happy? Luna fans have been waiting a decade to see this show, a reasonable amount of time for side projects and time off, and not subject to the diminishing returns of the Pixies reunion. They walked off the stage happy, and their fans felt the same.

Luna band by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson
Luna by Mara Robinson

See more photos here

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Charles Hill Jr releases new music benefiting hurricane relief

Cleveland country artist Charles Hill Jr recently recorded a direct-to-wax performance of his new song Little Buddy with new studio The Earnest Tube run by local engineer Clint Holley. 

All Earnest Tube recordings are done straight to lacquer, with no overdubs, multitracking or mixing. 

Hill wrote Little Buddy with hope that anyone with a child, grandchild, niece or nephew, can relate to. 

The song was written the night of his baby niece’s first Christmas. “The whole song is about the moment I met her. Little facial expressions she was making when she was only a number of hours old, I looked at my sister and was like, ‘Well, you messed up. You made a me. You better try to make another one that’s like you.'” 

“I’d actually sat down to write a song about Ken [Janssen, Cleveland friend, frontman and founder of Stow House Records, who died of ALS New Year’s Day 2015] said Hill. “This one just came out instead.” 

This single is the very first Earnest Tube recording. Neither Hill nor Holley had done it before. 

“We were just testing out how the process was going to work,” said Hill. “It was never to be released.” But since the recording turned out so well, he decided to run with it. 

“It humanizes the whole [recording process]. There’s a little warble in it just because of how it’s done, but I like that. It gives it a sort of old school aesthetic.”

The single also features a B-side cover of Blaze Foley’s If I Could Only Fly and will be available in a limited edition of 25 hand-made custom pressings, signed and numbered by Charles himself, with proceeds benefiting hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico. These pressings form Wax Mage Records go on presale Monday October 16 on Hill’s Bandcamp

“I’m not one to go on Facebook and bitch about the president. I just don’t think it does any good,” says Hill. “Obviously he didn’t approach or execute as well as he should have with the hurricane in Puerto Rico. I mean, you can just see the apathy in the press conferences. So instead of getting mad about it on the internet, I decided it’s just better to try to stay positive and do something good about it.” 

Additional copies will follow November 17 on Stow House Records, with a release party that night at Survival Kit, part of the 78th Street Studios art galleries. Hill will be joined by Al Moss on pedal steel and Mike Allen (The Dreadful Yawns) on bass. Supporting acts Clint Holley and Brandon Shields (The Lucky Ones) will also perform. 

“I love playing [at Survival Kit]” Hill says. “It’s intimate. And especially with the third Friday [shows] you sort of get a built-in crowd and it’s all people that are there to absorb art in whatever way you give it to them.” 

Charles Hill Jr Little Buddy Album Art
Album Art by Eric Alleman
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Carl Newman Talks Depression, Insomnia, Trump on new album

When Carl Newman of powerpop outfit The New Pornographers answered my pre-show phone call he responded, “Hey, (Blown Speakers) I’ve got a song by that name.” So if he didn’t already know we were fans from our past shenanigans, our name was probably a good indication.

The band’s most recent album, Whiteout Conditions, is the first album with new drummer Joe Seiders, after longtime member Kurt Dhale left in 2014. It also marks the first album without a single song by Dan Bejar, who was busy making a new Destroyer album.

“Ultimately our schedules just didn’t fit. I’m amazed it was the first time that happened,” said Newman.

Carl Newman, The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
Carl Newman by Mara Robinson

While Bejar’s absence on Whiteout Conditions was noticeable, it made for a more cohesive album of only Carl Newman songs. But with seven core members in the band, all spread out over great distances, everyone else managed to put their signature stamp on this album and the recording process remained status quo.

“Working on my songs is a similar process every time. I maybe get it in my head that I want to make a different kind of song, but it’s still just going in there and trying to figure it out. It always feels like a puzzle to me. It’s just a process of trying a lot of things and seeing what works. To a certain degree, a lot of it comes back to being a music fan. I record something and then try to listen to it as if I were the person buying the record. If I think, ‘yeah, I would like this,’ it stays.”

Newman once tweeted out a message that songwriting isn’t easy. During our chat, he elaborated. “There are some parts I find easier than others, like the chord structures and melody and rhythm, and that’s what I start with almost always. And then I have to figure out how to fit the lyrics around this. That’s where songwriting becomes work.”

The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson

A few songs on the album, like title track Whiteout Conditions, and Second Sleep deal with common topics in music and art: anxiety, depression and insomnia, but still keep that upbeat New Pornographers pop sound.

“I try to write about things in a hopeful way. It’s about trying to get out of it. It’s about fighting it,” says Newman.

The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson

“Then you have songs like High Ticket Attractions that’s less about internal struggle and more about the external struggle of what’s going on in the world. It was 2016 when we were making this record, and the election, and there was that fear that if he won it would be as bad as it is right now. It’s terrifying to me for a number of reasons. It’s policy, but also you realize, ‘Holy shit, he reflects a massive chunk of America.’ I’m sure there was the Russian election hacking, and I’m sure there were nefarious things going on. But even with all of that, there are still tens of millions of people who thought, ‘I’d rather vote for him over her.’ That part is scary.

I think millions of people woke up the next day and thought, “Wait, this isn’t the country I thought it was. We have to readjust. The country we thought was America, it was a myth. This is America now. ”

The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson

After tours for Together and Brill Brusiers hit Cleveland’s House of Blues, it was nice to see The New Pornographers return to the Beachland Ballroom. If Neko Case had been there, she would have been happy, after being vocal about her fondness for the venue from the stage and her Twitter feed. In her absence, Kathryn Calder and touring singer/violinist Simi Stone filled in on songs like Colosseums, Champions of Red Wine and Mass Romantic.

Kathryn Calder, The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
Kathryn Calder by Mara Robinson

The band hit songs from all seven albums with a 21-song set list and minimal between-song banter. All Carl asked of the audience was one simple request:
Don’t call him Hot Carl. 

The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
The New Pornographers in Cleveland
Blaine Thurier by Mara Robinson
The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
Kathryn Calder, The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
Kathryn Calder by Mara Robinson
Simi Stone, New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
Simi Stone by Mara Robinson
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Photo Recap: Low Cut Connie Get Weird in Columbus

Dead in the center of the Rumba Cafe stage, surrounded by guitars resting on amps in a sea of wires and cables, stood Shondra. The well-worn upright piano’s wood frame is tattooed with travel character and bears scars from years of delightful punishment under the hands and heels of Low Cut Connie‘s frontman, Adam Weiner. This esteemed partner in musical crime played host as the crowd slowly filled the front of the room. It was clear to see that everyone was excited to catch the infectious energy of a Low Cut Connie stage show. This Philadelphia five-piece is known to pull off some serious antics on stage. Several fans in the crowd pointed to the large steel structural beam running overhead, extending over the center of the stage’s very low ceiling. Would they be able to rock out to maximum effect without causing serious cranial damage?

Shondra Low Cut Connie Piano by Mara Robinson
Shondra by Mara Robinson

Will Donnelly (rhythm guitar), Luke Rinz (bass), Larry Scotton (drums), and Jimmy Everhart (lead guitar) filed onto the stage, limbered up, and settled into their instruments. Adam Weiner strode to center stage and straddled Shondra’s bench. After tuning up, he immediately climbed the face of Shondra and stood as tall as he could on her top, cautiously testing his head clearance.

“People of Columbus,” he shouted as he pointed to the steel rafting above him, “If I die here tonight, you’ll know why!” Then a few moments later, to cheers in the affirmative, “Are you ready to get weird tonight?!”

Adam Weiner of Low Cut Connie by Mara Robinson
Low Cut Connie by Mara Robinson

Everyone in the crowd was getting down as soon as Adam, Jimmy, and Will laid into their first chords. Their bluesy garage boogie sound distills the best elements of rock ‘n’ roll’s finest roots and delivers with a blast of frantic heavy soul. The entire band kept the energy high from the start and didn’t let up the duration of the set.

Low Cut Connie live in concert photo by Mara Robinson
Low Cut Connie by Mara Robinson

Low Cut Connie’s blistering set featured a solid selection of songs from Dirty Pictures, Part 1, their new album due out May 19, including Dirty Water, Am I Wrong, and the album’s first single Revolution Rock n Roll. Mixed between this tour-de-force were fan favorites from their past three albums, including Shake It Little Tina, Me N Annie, Boozophilia, and Rio.

Low Cut Connie live in concert by Mara Robinson
Adam Weiner, Low Cut Connie by Mara Robinson

Adam Weiner commanded the stage as he pounded, stood upon, leaned across, and backbended over Shondra’s sturdy frame. His daring keyboard acrobatics recall the showmanship of Jerry Lee Lewis combined with the glitter blues style of David Bowie, Marc Bolan, and Elton John. Adam conquered the crowd with the same outrageous intensity of Mick Jagger mixed with the soulful sex appeal of Prince. He didn’t hesitate to join the party on the floor and get down with those in attendance. The whole crowd was totally into the whole vibe for the entire night. They grooved and danced with smiling partners, sang along to nearly every song in the set, and lifted their glasses in cheer and praise.

Low Cut Connie live in concert
Adam Weiner, Larry Scotton, James Everhart, Low Cut Connie by Mara Robinson
Low Cut Connie live in concert
Adam Weiner, Larry Scotton, James Everhart, Low Cut Connie by Mara Robinson
Low Cut Connie live in concert
Adam Weiner, Low Cut Connie, by Mara Robinson

It was hard to believe that this was Low Cut Connie’s first time in Columbus. Based on the incredible reaction from everyone in the room, it was easy to see that their music knows no bounds. The band took a moment to thank the welcoming support from long-standing and new fans alike, and the local radio station for their continued support to “help us little guys.”
“Without you,” said Adam, “we can’t compete with Bieber and Twenty One Pilots.” He reached his hands out to the crowd and shared some gospel truth: “Columbus, I swear to you, I swear to everyone here, if you stick together, if you stick with LCC, you’ll never lose!”

Low Cut Connie live in concert
Will Donnelly, Adam Weiner, Larry Scotton, Low Cut Connie by Mara Robinson

The night drew to a close, but Low Cut Connie showed no signs of letting up. “We’re gonna do something kinda fucked up,” Adam said, with a wry smile. “Something from my favorite band in New Jersey, who got together for like five seconds.” And with that, they launched into a ferocious rendition of “Where Eagles Dare” by The Misfits, chanting the chorus, “I ain’t no God damned son of a bitch,” at the top of their lungs. Following that surprise, they laid into the staccato, funky rhythm of the classic Prince hit, “Controversy.” The rest of LCC continued to jam out as Adam jumped down to spread his sexy mojo into crowd, giving hugs and high-fives in every corner of the floor.

Low Cut Connie live in concert
Adam Weiner, Low Cut Connie by Mara Robinson
Low Cut Connie live in concert by Mara Robinson
Will Donnelly, Low Cut Connie by Mara Robinson
Low Cut Connie live in concert by Mara Robinson
Larry Scotton, Low Cut Connie by Mara Robinson
Low Cut Connie concert photo by Mara Robinson
Low Cut Connie by Mara Robinson
Low Cut Connie live in concert by Mara Robinson
Will Donnelly, James Everhart, Low Cut Connie by Mara Robinson

Low Cut Connie once again made a new congregation of freaky believers to spread their lively message far and wide. With their upbeat groove and electrifying stage presence, don’t miss an opportunity to see this band live. You won’t regret it.

Low Cut Connie band photo by Mara Robinson
Low Cut Connie by Mara Robinson
Low Cut Connie band photo by Mara Robinson
Low Cut Connie by Mara Robinson
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