It takes a lot of skill and commitment to deliver a high-energy glam rock show without seeming over the top, but The Struts pull it off so flawlessly it’s like part of their anatomy. From the way all four members lay into each and every endlessly catchy song, to the way frontman Luke Spiller’s perfectly tailored raiments swish and shift with him as he glides across the stage, The Struts are a machine so well-oiled you’d swear they were born to do exactly this.
We overheard another concertgoer having heated dialogue about it, echoing our own sentiments: “This guy! This guy!” he exclaimed, “He’s like Freddie Mercury and Mick Jagger rolled into one!” It’s true, and he can command an audience just as well. Not everyone can pull off a successful call and response session; or get a sweaty, sardine-packed crowd to jump and clap along. But last night’s fans were emboldened.
I used to talk in my articles about how Cleveland crowds are stoic and not easily impressed. Most bands are lucky to get a half-hearted golf clap after their songs. But not Struts fans. Oh no. These fans screamed, yelled, cheered, sang along at the tops of their lungs, raised their hands in the air, and gave back every ounce of energy the band put out to us.
The Struts took notice, too, declaring it their best Cleveland show to-date. Even new songs off their forthcoming album got the same warm welcome. “Is it good? Or is it shit?” Luke asked. I assure you, it’s every bit as good as anything off Everybody Wants. I certainly can’t wait to hear the rest of the album, and can’t wait to see them again.
While Shaun Fleming of Diane Coffee began writing songs for his upcoming third full-length, the first two he wrote sounded maybe too much like the last album, Everybody’s a Good Dog. Also, the direction for the album changed, and these two songs no longer fit with the new concept. Not wanting the songs to just fade away, he decided to release them. Enter the new PEEL EP, a one-two punch of funk, soul, pop goodness he calls Psychedelic Motown.
The first song, Poor Man Dan, is based on a true story from Shaun’s childhood. An older kid in their Agoura Hills, CA neighborhood would tell the younger kids stories about the area that became like urban legends of the area.
“We were five or six. He was probably 13. He was just screwing with little kids. He was kind of a bad egg, but he told good stories,” Shaun says.
“One of them was about a guy who lived a block from us,” continues Shaun. The story went that his daughter died and he buried her in the front yard. It’s silly when you actually explain it. Then he would kill kids off the block that would come to his house — like, you could never go Trick or Treating at his house because he’d kill you and he’d bury you in his yard so his daughter would have friends to play with.”
“You know what’s funny too, is every time I drive past that house — if I’m in town sometimes I like to drive past my childhood house — I see that house and I still kind of get weird feelings. Even though I know that it was just some guy who then, for some reason, didn’t have any kids Trick or Treating at his house, but it still weirds me out.”
Song two, Get By, is Shaun’s example of three people who bury their pain and put on a smile through hard times. It’s a warning that we should accept rather than stigmatize or feel shame about the hardships of ourselves or others.
“This is just three examples of people dealing with things, says Shaun. It’s the out-of-work actor, and the person who’s going through mental problems, and the way we can just kind of hide that behind a half-smile and deal with it. Maybe there’s shame about talking about certain issues that you’re going through, even though most people are going through it.”
“We should be more accepting, and not stigmatize people going through certain things, he continues. We should be more open to talking and helping.”
Shaun feels like he might be done with songwriting for the upcoming third LP, but wants to get a producer for the first time, take the demos in, and work the songs out in the studio.
Diane Coffee plays the Beachland Sunday, November 5, where he and the band will play old songs as well as new, including songs from the upcoming album.
“I’m excited to go back to that vintage store,” says Shaun of the Beachland. “And the food is really good. Most times a venue is a venue is a venue. But it’s all the little things that come along with it. Like if you have a sound guy who’s always really fun, or you have a vintage shop connected, or if they serve really good food. It’s these little things you love about certain places. We always get really good crowds at the Beachland, and at the end of the day that’s the most fun. But the first thing I think about when I think about the Beachland is the really good food and the vintage clothing shop.
As we approach the end of fall and brace ourselves for another brutal snowbelt winter, watching trees lose their clothes a little more each day, listening to a band called Last Leaves just seems right. I put it on and am immediately transported to warmer, sunnier days. It may not be T-shirt weather anymore, but on my radio it’s close enough.
As someone with every Lucksmiths album shuffling daily on my iPod, continuously pumping perfect pop song after perfect pop song through humble speakers, I was stoked when Last Leaves formed to reunite guitarists Marty Donald and Louis Richter with bassist Mark Monnone. Drummer Noah Symons (Great Earthquake) completes the quartet. Their debut album Other Towns Than Ours picks up right where the Lucksmiths left off.
From the first moment of the first song, our boys are back, painting stories with warm witty words and gentle instruments like only they can. It all sounds so familiar. Their particular genius is alive and well throughout the entire release.
With the third song, The Nights You Drove Me Home, I’m back in high school on Sunday nights, in the passenger seat of my first love’s orange Chevy Vega. For the first time in years, I’m remembering those drives from one end of town to the other, recalling his jokes and how all we used to do was laugh.
Most songs on the album are looking back, many on past loves, as the band’s characteristic harmonies on track six ask, “The world we had/where did it go?” This may as well be a question for nearly every song on the album.
Songwriter Marty Donald spoke with us about this collection of songs, some of which were written while the Lucksmiths were still together, and others after Last Leaves formed.
“I didn’t stop writing songs when The Lucksmiths finished up,” he explains. “I’ve been doing it too long to even consider that, I guess. But I wanted to find new things to explore with my writing, without that change feeling forced. I’ve always been a fairly painstaking writer anyway, so I knew that would take a while. I also moved to the hills outside Melbourne around this time; a sense of place has always been fairly central to my writing, and it took a while for the change of scenery to work its way into my songs. Again, though, I wanted this to happen naturally rather than be contrived at all.”
“When it came time to do something with the songs I had, I didn’t have to give too much thought to working with Mark and Louis again,” Marty continues. “The sort of friendship and musical understanding we’d developed over the years shouldn’t be given away lightly! But I also thought it would be good for us to introduce something different into the equation. Noah was a friend I’d made in the hills, whose drumming is incredible and completely distinctive; from the first rehearsal we all had together, everything clicked beautifully.”
“When we first started working together on the songs I had, though, some worked and some didn’t,” Marty continues. “It took us a while to understand ourselves, I guess — for some sort of direction to suggest itself. Once it did — after we’d played a few shows — I began to find the writing process much easier. Having a better idea of how the songs would end up sounding was definitely helpful! A few of my favorite songs from the record — The World We Had and Third Thoughts for example — are from this slightly more recent period.”
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.”
Best known for his talents as the lead singer and songwriter of Toad The Wet Sprocket, Glen Phillips has continued to perform as an independent artist focused on honest storytelling and compelling songwriting. The latest stop on tour in support of his latest album, Swallowed by the New, was to a packed but chilly crowd at Cleveland’s Music Box Supper Club. The biting cold and rain on a wintery March night couldn’t stop his passionate fans from sitting in on this show.
But first, wrapped in comfy scarf, blue dress and rose cowboy boots, Amber Rubarth took the stage and warmed up the icy crowd with a selection of acoustic numbers. The comforting blend of indie country and folk rock from her upcoming new album Wildflowers in the Graveyard were lovely and her light, soft voice captured the intimacy and strength of her songs. Even her gentle spin on REM’s Losing My Religion recast the classic song in a new light. Later in the set, the crowd got a preview of Glen Phillips as he joined Amber onstage for a stirring guitar and vocal duet. Amber will be returning next month for the Cleveland International Film Festival in support of her starring role in the movie “September 12th.” The film discusses people’s compassion and coming together following the events of September 11th. Amber and co-star Joe Purdy will perform after the screening in Tower City on April 1st and 3rd.
Glen Philips was excited to finally feel better for once. After just getting over a recent bout of sickness, he was finally able to let loose, bringing smiles and laughs to the crowd and his friends onstage. Joined by talented musicians/songwriters Amber Rubarth and fellow Toad collaborator Jonathan Kingham, Glen featured a majority of the tracks from Swallowed by the New, while taking time to weave their stories and settings between songs. At one point, he told the story of how Baptistina was named for the original source of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, only to find out the source was later disproven.
Even though Phillips’ songs are emotional, the night was filled with fun and good spirits. His priceless reaction after his mention that the tour would be ending in Pittsburgh the following night was met with jeers and boos. “Is it a sports thing?” he asked innocently, before getting briefly educated about the infamous rivalry between the two cities. He started a new song, only to stop and remark, “You know, back in the day, this kind of hate was reserved for someone else breaking into your town and stealing all your sheep or something.”
The standout moment of the night belonged to Jonathan Kingham. Before turning the stage over to Kingham for a song, Phillips asked the crowd what they wanted to hear him play. Unanimously, we voted for “funky freestyle,” which Kingham obliged with a solo acoustic version of Every Little Step by Bobby Brown, complete with dance breakdown and off-the-dome freestyle lyrics. Bars included having the meatsweats from his pre-show shortrib dinner, and apologizing to the guy stage right for having to pay full price for a seat with a direct view of his ass all night. “You won’t normally see that at a Glen Phillips show!” he quipped at song’s end.
Glen’s voice is still as distinct and expressive as ever, with touching and tragic lyrics about love, loss, faith, his divorce, and hope combined with his signature folk-inspired songwriting. Even while Glen admitted on stage that “my songs are mainly about how sad I am,” each song of the evening’s set illustrated a wide range of feeling: from the forlorn lighthouse love song in the album’s opening song Go — which muses that sometimes the most loving thing you can do for someone is to let them go — to the closing inspirational, stomping, hymnal chorus of Held Up. Glen also played several popular songs and fan favorites from his Toad The Wet Sprocket years, including All I Want, Walk On The Ocean, and an encore crowd request of Crowing that got the room singing along and ended the evening on a high note.