Lesley Flanigan at The Fuse Factory’s Frequency Friday

Lesley Flanigan performing in Columbus as part of the Fuse Factory's Frequency Fridays series (photo by Eric Robertson for The Indie Handbook)
Lesley Flanigan performing in Columbus as part of the Fuse Factory’s Frequency Fridays series (photo by Eric Robertson for The Indie Handbook)

Wild Goose Creative, at the bottom of Summit St. in Columbus, is a far cry from Chicago’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, the last place I saw Lesley Flanigan perform. About 400 miles and God only knows how many seats separate the two venues. One, the picture of intimacy, the other the epitome of the Big Stage, with a stage so big it could swallow the former whole—many times over. Friday’s show, part of the Fuse Factory‘s Frequency Fridays series, was of the former variety.

It cannot be easy presenting an electronic music series in a city where DIY and garage bands dominate landscape and synthetic dubstep is the most readily available electronic music. And yet, Columbus isn’t without it’s electro-acoustic bright spots, Brian Harnetty, Masterer of Appalachian field recordings (and favored collaborator of Will Oldham) being among the most obvious examples. Within that community, Fuse Factory plays an important role in bringing national acts to Columbus as well as spotlighting local talent, like Tone Elevator, who opened the show Friday.

Peter and Jessica at Wild Goose Creative, March 2014 (photo by Eric Robertson for The Indie Handbook)
Peter and Jessica at Wild Goose Creative, March 2014 (photo by Eric Robertson for The Indie Handbook)

A small setting, like Wild Goose—with two dozen folding chairs set only a few feet from the performers—leaves little to the imagination. That immediacy, the intimacy, far from being a hindrance to the music, breathes new life into the listening experience. While the sight of a dubstep DJ propped in his perch pumping phat beatz into the club can truly be one of the most mind-numbing sights in all of music, even a slight cable malfunction early on in the Tone Elevator set injects a bit of dramatic tension into the music’s emergence from nearly-white noise while Tenori-On lights blink white from a tabletop corner. In the hands of Peter and Jessica Speer, incidental sounds like the chirping of birds and presidential speeches take on the form of intentional music.

Sound is a visceral thing. In purely physical terms, it is a disturbance, a disruption. The entire history of music is little more than the story of man’s effort to harness and control those disturbances. In an earlier Skype interview with Lesley Flanigan, we discussed in purely abstract terms the physicality of sound and ideas like sound sculpting. But at a distance of eight feet, abstract terms become a physical reality.

Lesley Flanigan at Wild Goose Creative, March 2014 (photo by Eric Robertson for The Indie Handbook)
Lesley Flanigan at Wild Goose Creative, March 2014 (photo by Eric Robertson for The Indie Handbook)

Less a “glimpse of the artist at work” and more an entering into the work, the relationship between recording and live experience is more akin to the difference between visiting the Rothko Chapel website and entering the Rothko Chapel—one is interesting on an abstract intellectual level, the other is a conflation of small and broad strokes into a confrontation with one’s own mortality.

I won’t go so far as to say “I saw God Friday night”—I would hate to saddle any artist with such immense responsibility, and besides, it would be a lie—but I saw many other things. A twist of the wrist and sudden scrape of microphone against speaker cone. The near-violent trembling of a small piezo confronted with the presence of its own sonic reflection. In short (to borrow and adapt a phrase from EJ Koh*), I saw the Thingness of Sound.

And that is the importance of a series like Frequency Fridays. In a world super-saturated with passive listening experiences, artists like Lesley Flanigan are taking incidental noises and even minor annoyances like electronic feedback—the sounds of everyday life that so many of us go out of our way to drown out of our lives with our earbuds and iPods—and molding them into new forms, giving the intangible a physical presence.

Fuse Factory have an annual Frequency Friday crowd-funding drive (to pay artist fees and expenses, the usual). There is one week remaining in the current drive. If you’d like to donate, there’s an indiegogo page here.

*We’ll get to EJ Koh soon, hopefully next week.

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New Music from Columbus, OH – Lydia Loveless

With a vocal prowess and songwriting chops that belie her young age, Lydia Loveless is already a seasoned veteran. In some ways like a harder edged contemporary iteration of Stiff Records ingenue, and fellow Ohio native, Rachel Sweet, her music is equally fit for a Nashville honky-tonk or Columbus, Ohio’s D.I.Y. dives. All I know is, I never fully understood the term “country punk” until I spent a few hours with a Lydia Loveless record.

New music from Columbus: Nick Tolford and Company

With a sound that recalls the rock and soul of the early ’60s built on a solid foundation of ’50s R&B, a Nick Tolford & Company show feels more like a party with a few hundred of your closest friends than a rock ‘n’ roll show (which is just how a rock ‘n’ roll show should feel). “Every Day” comes from the band’s second LP, Just a Kiss, released in January.

This is Independent, 2013

(c) Eric Robertson, 2013
Independents’ Day 2013, rain delay at Pearl and Broad

I’ve often written in the past about how my particular hometown of Columbus, Ohio is fiercely supportive of our local musicians (even sometimes to our detriment, if I’m being brutally honest). You may even recall a post from a few years titled something like “Columbus Loves Independent Musicians (and I’ve got the scars to prove it)” in which I covered a couple of local music festivals including Independents’ Day. I don’t believe I’ve covered Independents’ Day since that initial post, but I’ve continued to attend every year and this year saw the festival expand to three days (at least in theory, a rain delay led to the cancellation of most of Day One).

I’m not going to try to cover everything I saw at Independents’ Day this year. I saw 20 bands in twelve hours and no one wants to read about all of them. Nor do I want to write about all of them. But a few did leave their mark on me.

(c) Eric Robertson, 2013
Nervosas at Independents’ Day 2013

I think among those few, the one that most surprised me is Nervosas. It’s not that I expect anything more than a top notch performance from Nervosas every time out, especially given the veteran musicians involved in the band. I’ve been following Nervosas from the beginning. In fact, if you follow our YouTube channel, you may even remember this video I shot at Bernie’s way back in 2011 when Nervosas were Witches of Kelso, the night they bolted immediately following their set opening for Wavves to play a show with our old friends The Cell Phones. No, I expect nothing less than the best from Nervosas every time out. What gets me is that they constantly exceed my expectations. They just seem to get better every time I see them. Every set is tighter than the last one and Independents’ Day 2013 was the best I’ve seen. They have been touring around this part of the country a fair bit lately, and if they continue to improve at this rate, who knows if they’ll even be available to play this fest next September.

(c) Eric Robertson, 2013
Cliffs at Independents’ Day 2013

Speaking of improvements, as I left Nervosas, I turned the corner at Gay St. to catch what was left of Cliffs‘ set. I’ll be honest, it took me a while to come around to Cliffs. Mostly, because I’ve known the band members since they were in middle school and I don’t want to look like I’m showing favoritism, but also because I wasn’t blown away by the early demos they sent me. But I eventually caught up with the rest of Columbus about a year ago when Cliffs played an opening slot for Chicago garage punk juggernaut White Mystery. But Independents’ Day 2013 was the first chance I had to see the band play in front of an audience of any significant size. I have to hand it to them, these guys know how to have a good time with their audience. And I must commend drummer Adam Hardy for playing this show with a broken hip. I swear, I never would have known. Word from the band is, the test pressings for their first LP have come back and everything sounds great. Look for that to be out some time around November.

(c) Eric Robertson, 2013
Connections at Independents’ Day 2013

And while we’re on the subject of getting caught up with everyone else, I should say, even I am surprised that it took me as long as it did to see Connections. Granted, I actually saw Connections for the first time a few days before this show, but for all intents and purposes this week has been my first Connections experience, despite the fact that the band (featuring former members of past Columbus bands, including the late great Times New Viking) have been making waves around town for about a year. And here is why I love events like Independents’ Day. Yeah, going to shows in clubs is fun and intimate (at least when you go to the kinds of shows I do) but in a festival setting you really get a chance to see how the concert going public really reacts to them. Not everyone goes to every Connections show, but every Connections fan goes to Independents’ Day. I even paparazzied Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman at the Connections show. I guess even politicians like good solid indie rock.

(c) Eric Robertson, 2013
Lydia Loveless at Independents’ Day 2013

One final thing that’s long overdue, and those of you who remember that first Independents’ Day post from a few years ago may know where I’m going with this. Way back in 2010, I wrote about how I’d heard countless good things about Lydia Loveless, but just barely missed her Independents’ Day set. (Lydia even emailed me later to assure me that satisfaction was guaranteed.) No worries, I did finally see Lydia perform not long after that near miss, and several times since then (some of you may even remember a photo set from a couple of Record Store Days ago). But I finally made up for missing her 2010 set this year, planting myself front and center this year for a set consisting almost entirely of new material. Which has left me very excited for her pending releases.

In my mind, Lydia has long since taken her place in my mind as the best act in Columbus. And I’m only slightly saddened by the fact that her contract with Bloodshot Records takes her away from us and out on the road as often as it does. Though, I must say, I do enjoy the messages I receive from friends around the country after Lydia plays their hometown, telling me how lucky I am to live in Columbus. I didn’t always agree with that sentiment, but I’m starting to come around to that idea, too.

 

Getting Cultured

The only photo with more than one discernible band member

There’s not a whole lot of indiepop in Columbus, Ohio. Sure, Super Desserts had the local twee market cornered for a couple of years, but with banjo player Tyler Evans now a New Yorker, it could be a while yet before we hear from them again. Now, maybe I’ve just been going to the wrong gigs, but I can’t recall hearing anything around here with solid connections to C86. But one would think a city this size with monthly club nights dedicated to The Smiths and to 60s garage/soul could sustain its share of indiepop acts. We do, however, get the occasional brush with Madchester’s progeny when they roll through town on tour, as Bay Area shoegazers Young Prisms did in March. And it was in this guise, just this past weekend, that I caught a brief glimpse of a local scene I didn’t even know existed.

On tour was 28 Degrees Taurus, a seasoned pop-oriented shoegaze act from Boston making their first Columbus appearance in five years. Their performance was slick and high energy and they sure make a heck of a lot of noise for three people (I love to see a guitarist unleash on his instrument the way Jinsen Liu does). But the surprise of the night came in the form of local quintet, Love Culture.

You know how it is. There are bands who long to break out of the small rooms and into stadiums. And if you’ve ever seen one of these bands play (as I did not long ago) you know how difficult it can be to watch. (And, no, I won’t tell you who they were, mostly because I can’t remember their name.) Conversely, there are those bands who make those small rooms feel like stadiums. Love Culture are one of those bands—and that’s not just the fog machine and lasers talking. They may not be the most shining example of textbook shoegaze (while their sound owes a lot to My Bloody Valentine, there are also healthy doses of Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, and other mid-90s icons in there), but Love Culture have that swirling epic haziness down, all the way to the extensive pedal boards and androgynous lead vocals.

Yes, while the fog machine and laser light show may be a bit eccentric, but they are all part of the ethos of Love Culture. To hear the opening strains of a song like “Karolyne”, for instance, emerge from a set of laser-lit silhouettes, especially at a distance of a mere seven or eight feet, lends an already strong track an otherworldly eeriness that makes a lasting impression. So, maybe Love Culture aren’t the second coming of Talulah Gosh that I’ve been hoping for, I’m still glad to know—latecomer though I may be—that there is strong shoegaze in Columbus.

Love Culture’s recent Aquamarine EP can be had for free from Bandcamp, where you’ll also find their earlier EP. You can also find them on Facebook and probably other places, too. Love Culture’s next Columbus show is May 26 at Rumba.

The Babblers, live in Columbus

The Babblers at Rumba Cafe
The Babblers (photo by Eric Robertson, a.k.a. me)

It’s difficult to photograph a band in lamplight. Then again, it’s impossible to conceive of The Babblers without it. Eschewing traditional lighting and triumphal entry, the band embarked upon their set the way they arrived in Columbus: slinking on stage in near-darkness without introduction, content to let the music bring the house to its feet and burn it to the ground.

It was something of a surprise show from one of the latest acts to spark some buzz among the musically gregarious (mostly intermingling murmurs: ‘what just happened?’ and ‘who are they?’). We all knew Will Oldham would be there. But now, after witnessing The Babblers first hand, it is embarrassing to admit that his was the name which enticed me out into the frozen December night—so embarrassing, in fact, that I will no longer mention the names of any of the six Babblers.

From the moment they lit the first floor lamp, to the extinguishing of the final fairy light, it was clear that The Babblers were about the experience: that experience being the performance of Kevin Coyne and Dagmar Krause’s 1979 album Babble, in its entirety. The album, already constructed with drama in mind, is only enhanced by the interpretation of half-a-dozen top notch musicians fully capable of (and committed to) extracting each bit of intensity from the male and female traded vocals, sudden operatic dynamic changes, and every filthy groove in one hour’s time. And the final result is something that inhabits the magical dreamworld that lies between Patsy Cline and The Sugarcubes.

And there, among the lamplit mess of urban-camo hooded footie pajamas and oversized dark sunglasses, I, too, was left with the same ruminations folks of my ilk have been entertaining all over the Eastern half of the United States for a fortnight now. What had I witnessed? I’ll admit, given the time of year, the weather outside, and the trellis bedecked in fairy lights standing center-stage, there is a certain temptation for the Romantic enthusiast in me to declare it some sort of Christmas miracle. But, for better or worse, millennial cynicism has cut us off from tasteful hyperbole and I’d hate to cheapen the experience. The details I had going into the show were fuzzy to begin with. Witnessing The Babblers in person only confuses the matter. And I think it’s better that way.

Columbus loves independent musicians (and I’ve got the scars to prove it)

The Compressions (more on them later)

My calves, it appears, have gone on strike. I can’t say I blame them. I’ve subjected them to a great deal of work and odd photography stances the past two weekends, all in the name of local music. But with the combination of last week’s Pabst Blue Rendezvous and Independents’ Day this past weekend producing a combined 35 hours of the best independent music Columbus, OH has to offer, it punishment I am more than willingly to endure (so long as I am fit in time for Belle & Sebastian next month).

Super Desserts, as I’m sure you’ve come to expect, played two well-executed sets, one at each fest. Always the consummate professionals, the so-introduced “cutest band in America”, managed to woo the Independents’ Day crowd out of their pocket money despite a bit of questionable mixing from the sound booth and a noticeably thinner texture (banjo-ist Tyler Evans is currently on tour with The Black Swans).

Obviouslies at Pabst Blue Rendezvous

A week earlier, at Pabst Blue Rendezvous, Indie Handbook favourites Obviouslies played an adventurous and somewhat unorthodox set (1 guitar, 2 drumkits, 2 basses, 3 songs, 4 Obviouslies). I won’t go so far as to call their 30 minutes on stage a rampaging success, but I think I enjoyed it a little more than Columbus Alive’s Chris DeVille (more on him later). Obviouslies, never content to traipse about playing rock band, are always keen to try new things to varying degrees of brilliance. And such a laid-back event as the PBR fest with a beer-soaked audience of Columbus indie scene regulars willing to stand around in an abandoned parking lot through intermittent rainfall is the perfect place to experiment with an epic 10-minute number ending with three Obviouslies beating the drums and confirming, among other rumors, that guitarist Nick Schuld is a really good drummer.

Which reminds me, Obviouslies have added two new tracks to their Facebook page this week, including an absolutely brilliant recording of “Instead of Waiting” which I’ve been absolutely obsessed with since the moment it was posted. Listen to it. Relentlessly.

Pomegranates (bonus points for the Danelectro)

Other highlights from Pabst Blue Rendezvous included a great set from the Pomegranates from Cincinnati, who I had somehow not heard despite the fact that they’ve apparently made a bit of a splash with several of my friends, both in Ohio and at SXSW. It would be a great injustice if I did not also mention the brilliant Queen cover band Mr. Fahrenheit and the Loverboys. Of course, I had an appreciation for Queen before hearing MFL, but there is something about hearing the songs performed live by a solid group of musicians that injects a whole new vitality to the classics you grew up with.

Wonder Twin Powers (I suspect they don't always play with cars parked onstage)

Perhaps the most pleasant discovery of PBR day was local soul-pop duo Wonder Twin Powers who I encountered playing in the alley next to Mikey’s Late Nite Slice. Despite the fact that I had been on my feet for eight hours at that point and was comically exhausted, I managed to spend the rest of the evening standing in another parking lot listening to the sexiest band I saw all day (sorry, Loverboys). The lot filled quickly with passersby as Jenny Flory’s guitar case did with cash. I’d hoped to grab a copy of their CD to review for you, but those disappeared faster than I could crack open my wallet. Maybe they’ll send one my way if they read this. (If the internet is to be believed, Super Desserts cellist Alyssa Capps appears as part of the hip-hop orchestra on one track).

Unfortunately, road construction made me late for Independents’ Day, which meant I arrived just as the hotly tipped yet elusive (to me, at least) Lydia Loveless left the stage. Rumor has it that she is one of the most promising young talents in Columbus. Much to my dismay, I cannot confirm that from personal experience, but one of these days, I will catch up with Ms. Loveless and let you know whether or not the people in this town have any idea what they’re talking about.

Unfortunately, awesome is difficult to photograph
Flotation Walls

Speaking of “not to be missed” I did finally see Flotation Walls, who I’ve seen leaving several gigs (they’re hard to miss) though never managed to catch in flagrante delicto. They perform with even more energy and enthusiasm than their screaming-yellow stage attire suggests. The half-set that I witnessed was easily the most impassioned of the day and left the drenched in awesome. Hopefully, they record as well as they perform. Which reminds me: Compressions.

I had heard nothing of Compressions before last Saturday. I only stayed for their set because some friends were going. I had no idea what I was in for or that the girls clad in white and gold who I’d seen earlier would be on stage or that Chris DeVille (remember him from earlier?) would be up there, too. The band, I gather, have been around for a year or so. At the time of the last Independents’ Day, they had yet to play a gig. This time round, they took advantage of the event to launch their debut album. I was immediately sucked in—by the songs, the look, the energy, the crowd—by everything. In the end, they performed what proved to be the most memorable, electrifying show of the day in support of what’s proved to be a pretty good album. They’re certainly an act who put on a show not to be missed and your next opportunity to do so, as I recall, will be at Carabar on October 9.

As I’m sure you understand, there was a lot to take in and this post is by no means exhaustive. Head over to the Facebook page to see more photos from these events.

Justin Riley: action hero