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Elliot Street Lunatic tour blog part 3: Good luck and good people in Lincoln, Nebraska

ESL played a last minute show at the Zoo Bar in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska.

Some things just work out. Elliot Street Lunatic and the Cutthroat Drifters were expecting to play the Bourbon Theater in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska. Two hours before the band were due to load in at the venue, Jason received an email saying the show was canceled. We were all devastated. The Bourbon Theater show promoter got in touch with Jason and scrambled for a show in Lincoln. The band got a break when they were offered a show at the Zoo Bar in downtown Lincoln. The band, with nothing else to do, took the show. The bartender said the band needed to draw at least 25 people to the bar in order to play. As we sat in Brothers bar across the street, we sat wondering how we would accomplish this task. The Cutthroat Drifters’ singer Nick Kjolhede, came up with a (what we all thought) was a crazy idea: take the band’s acoustic guitars and try to get people out to the show. With nothing else to lose, the bands took the task. We spent the greater part of two hours talking to people, asking them to come out to the show. By just talking and striking up a conversation, we managed to get almost 30 or 40 people out to the show.

Nick Kjolhede, singer for the Cutthroat Drifters, singing at the Zoo Bar in Lincoln, Nebraska. The crowd enjoyed both Elliot Street Lunatic and The Cutthroat Drifters.

The efforts of Caleb Knight, ESL’s drummer, and Nick Kjolhede made the night worth while. Caleb and Nick inspired the rest of us to push the show to be the best it could be considering the circumstances. It was all about making the best of bad luck. All about the love of music and putting on a great show. Sometimes when you’ve got nothing to lose, you take a chance. Maybe the people you approach won’t go to the show but by at least approaching them about it and letting them know is better than doing nothing. We were all glad the show worked out. The bartender, at first, seemed like he didn’t want the bands there but once the bands took the stage and played, people filtered in, and by the end of the night, they were overjoyed at how well this last minute show went.

After this inspiring night, we head to Iowa City to play at Gabe’s with locals Chasing Shade and Zeta June. We’re all pumped and ready to go for the rest of the tour.

Elliot Street Lunatic tour blog Part 2: ESL at Bender’s Tavern

Bender’s Tavern, in downtown Denver, was host to Elliot Street Lunatic’s tour kickoff on Saturday May 12. The bill was certainly one I wouldn’t expect ESL to play on. Hard rock and death metal opened and closed the show last night with bands like MF Ruckus and The Hookers playing along with ESL and the Cutthroat Drifters.

Josh and Caleb waiting in Bender's Tavern green room for their set to begin

The venue was really similar to Mac’s Bar in Lansing. In the green room, graffiti and band stickers covered the walls. Most of the bands with stickers on the walls I’d never heard of (and almost all of the band names were terrible too). Caleb, the band’s drummer, who, at 19 years old, was not allowed in the bar area of the venue so he had to wait in the green room before and after ESL played. Also interesting was the building itself: there were two rooms with two completely different shows going on. On one side, the ESL show with tables and a risen stage. On the other was a traditional country band, which actually felt more like a restaurant than a bar.  That was pretty neat.

I missed the first band and I didn’t really care that I did. ESL went on second.  The crowd, oddly and surprisingly consisted of a lot of Michigan friends of theirs, which was a nice surprise for them. Josh, the bassist, was even surprised with a visit from his friend Rachel. It felt like a local show in a way. The venue had the Mac’s Bar feel (but a lot more divey and scumey if you can believe that) and ESL felt at home playing Bender’s Tavern.

Eric and Jason playing during their set at Bender's Tavern on Saturday May 12.

Time seemed to move slowly during their set. The whole 20+ hour drive to Denver, the exhaustion, lack of sleep and gas station diets led to the show. They put a lot of their energy into trying to please the somewhat sparse crowd (maybe 30-40 people were there) and they seemed to do a good job. Opening with a cover of “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles, it seemed appropriate for the hard rock crowd. Playing originals like new song “Illuminate” (which is my new favorite song of theirs), Ghost Town, This Modern World and Lullaby went over well with the crowd. They turned some of the crowd into new fans, as some later bought CDs and T-shirts.

Josh playing bass during ESL's set

The Cutthroat Drifters put on a good set of hard rock and roll. Singer Nick Kjolhede is a great frontman, dancing and swinging the mic around like he’s dancing with it. Bands like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin influenced this band for sure. They play their instruments well and with energy. The guitar play is very good, playing licks and running up and down the guitar. Their show was a good time.

Today (Sunday May 13) is a chilled out day for all of us. Cookout, beer tunes via the record player will make for a good, relaxing day. Tomorrow morning will be the start of a week of shows, beginning in Lincoln Nebraska at the Bourbon Theater.

Elliot Street Lunatic tour blog Part 1: Midland to Denver

Elliot Street Lunatic kicked off their tour in Midland, MI at the Tiz-It bar.

This blog started being written at about 10:30 am on some never-ending highway in Iowa, just outside of Iowa City on our way to Denver, Colorado. Last night’s show in Midland at the Tiz-It Bar (which I first thought sounded like the name of a strip club) was at least good for the gas money. The band played well to a small but enthusiastic crowd of locals. We arrived at the bar a little late (as the bar staff was saying) but after the band setup, they ran through their set in an almost practice-like fashion. Don’t get me wrong, they played the hell out of their songs but it felt a bit odd as everyone watching was sitting down (myself included) and it just didn’t feel like a “show” to me but more like a rehearsal for their shows later in the week. They even busted out their cover of “Sgt. Peppers” by The Beatles. Surprisingly, the crowd, consisting of older folks and your stereotypical bar-goers, enjoyed the band’s set and was screaming for more by its end. There were even some girls dancing to their music.

Killer Kong, the hometown band, killed it with an excellent set of power trio-style rock and roll. They’re like, as Jason puts it, “if The Rival were more ’60s influenced”. That’s a perfect description. Loud and abrasive but with a backbone of a bass and loud drums and dog-off-his-leash guitar, the band knows how to put on a show. The show was an unexpected success for both bands and was an excellent start to the tour.

The drives through Iowa and Nebraska were largely uneventful. Lots of Benadryl-induced sleeping and lots of listening to the (maybe) five radio stations available out in the middle of nowhere. A sign we saw at a gas station said “You Are Nowhere”. This sign, a small sign we almost didn’t see, encompassed our thoughts on the long, monotonous drive. It didn’t dampen our spirits though; it in fact made us even more eager to get to Denver.

We finally rolled into Denver at about 8pm Mountain time (10pm Eastern time, which we’re all used to). We stopped by the practice space of ESL’s tourmates, the Cutthroat Drifters, and watched them practice after we loaded their gear into the Drifters’ practice space. I currently write this at former ESL drummer CJ Kjohede’s apartment in Denver. It’s currently 2:44am (Denver time). We’re all exhausted but not even ready to get to bed. We’re all excited for the show at Bender’s tomorrow and the next week of shows. It’s going to be an awesome time.

Little American Champ “Nothing Forward, Nothing Backward” EP review

Lansing punk band Little American Champ released a new EP last week entitled “Nothing Forward, Nothing Backward”.

Here’s a review.

Courtesy of the Little American Champ Bandcamp page

Little American Champ is Jonny Janis (guitar/vocals), Alex Janis (bass/vocals) and Danny Petrilli (drums/percussion).

This three piece has a ringing resemblance to other bands (Lemuria, Against Me and The Riot Before come to mind) while holding true to their Midwest roots. Sometimes the lead vocals have a Tom Gabel-esque approach in their melodic shouting ways. I really like them but they’re not really original. Heard it a million times but that’s OK. I could say the same for the guitars, drums, bass…everything about this band is something I’ve heard before. Not a bad thing at all.

For some bands, they play a style other bands also play down to a tee but what matters with a band like Little American Champ is the amount of heart and soul they put into their music. When they play their songs, they play the hell out of them. They love what they do. That energy is apparent all over this four song EP.

On a song like “We’ve Been On a Roll Lately”, with its distorted, feedback-laden intro and powerchords aplenty, Jonny sings the chorus of “relax and repeat” as the powerchords follow his vocal lead. The breakdowns are melodic and have room to breath with a rotating drum pattern, leading to a breakdown then a build up of cymbal crashes and droning power chords. Good stuff from this three piece.

The rhythm section is extremely tight and concise. Not a note or drum hit is wasted. The bass doesn’t have the hardcore punch but it’s not wimpy either. I like this rhythm section. I like this whole group as a musical unit. Sometimes even with a three piece the members can drift off into their own worlds but here, they act as one toward their goal of playing the best they can as a unit. Again, not a note is wasted.

“What’s the Secret, Max?” has the Gabel-like vocals I hinted at earlier. Jonny sings “I don’t have anything to report” and later “thank fucking God that you stayed home”. Although, I will say, it is a bit hard to understand his voice. I hear the lyrics correctly here and there but not the whole way through (maybe it’s just me and maybe my hearing’s going downhill worse than I thought).

Everything about this four song EP is essential Midwest punk. Honest, blistering, quick. The whole thing lasts about 15 minutes. Go check it out and download it for free. Do that here.

Elliot Street Lunatic tour and website additions


First off, Lansing’s Elliot Street Lunatic are going on tour in support of their newest album, Ghost Town Lullabies, in a few days to Denver, CO and back with stops in Lincoln, NE, Iowa City, IA, Chicago, IL, Toledo, OH and finally back in Lansing. Check their website (linked above) for tour dates and show information. Singer and guitarist Jason Marr was interviewed by the Colorado University Independent newspaper ahead of the shows in Colorado. I (Sean) will be tagging along on the tour, documenting it on our website with blog posts, photos and videos. There will also be twitter posts @lansingmusictv. It’s definitely going to be a fun time.

Also, there will be some great additions to the website soon. First is a list of venues from around Lansing and beyond, complete with contact information and a description. That is currently being worked on and should be done very soon. Secondly, a encyclopedia-type database of Lansing bands, other Michigan bands and out-of-state bands that frequent the state will be on the website by the end of the summer. It’s going to take a while but it will be a great resource with pictures, video, contact information and everything else bands will need to contact other bands. Once it is done, the list will be periodically updated with new bands.

Look out for all of that soon,

Sean

Alco “Self-Titled” review

Sometimes a band with obvious influences gets pigeon-holed into being a “rip off” of their influences. Lansing’s Alco, who recently played their farewell show and no longer exist as a band, went out with a somewhat sonically familiar bang with their self-titled album.

I say “sonically familiar” for a couple reasons. Singer and piano player Justin Franks has a voice really reminiscent of Thom Yorke and/or Matt Bellamy from Muse. On “Someone Like You”, he croons out the chorus in a delicate, harmonious manner. He hits the high notes with ease. He also has an incredible piano playing ability. During the introduction of “Amnesia”, he brings about a classical-meets-rock piano playing style that seems a bit like Muse virtuoso Bellamy. Heck, the whole song has a Muse vibe.

The songs have an atmospheric and, at times, epic feel to them a la Coldplay or (again) Muse. I said earlier a band such as Alco, with their influences being warn essentially on their sleeves, makes it hard for the listener not to pigeonhole them. It’s not a bad thing in this case. Alco do a great job playing the kind of music they play. I love the energy they bring to their songs. They love what they do and it’s pretty obvious.

Guitar playing, courtesy of Shaun Spivak, is minimal and crisp, adding another ambient layer. Chapman stick player Chris Wood adds more ambiance with his playing as well. Jeff Twomley’s drumming is to the point and on time. No unnecessary fills and no going crazy. He does what needs to be done and that’s it. I love the cello playing courtesy of Jacqueline Douches. Instead of a bass, this is an interesting sight to see when they play live. On “Poisoning the Well”, her cello playing is heard loud and clear.

“Poisoning the Well” is the album’s standout song. Featuring a high-hat heavy drum beat via Twomley, Franks belts out a huge chorus and croons during the verses. The guitar line is catchy and adds a bit of subtly with the bends. I like it. Great song from this great group of musicians.

If you like the ambiance of Coldplay and/or the epic rock of Muse, check out their album. If there’s any album that was a final swansong for a band, this is definitely a great choice.

Music of Mount Pleasant: Moses

Sorry for the missed post last week. I’ve been busy working on a lot of (coincidentally) stories on the local music scene in Mount Pleasant for CM Life. The stories will be published on Wednesday April 11 in this upcoming week’s Vibe section. Get stoked!

Back to the series, this time with Moses.

 

Playing a brand of folk rock which encompasses soaring and catchy melodies with an uncompromising experimental slant to their music, Moses has been making waves around Mount Pleasant since last year. With all members of the band being students at Central Michigan University, they take advantage of this fact. They often will play acoustic sets around the campus, further showcasing their DIY attitudes and willingness to just play music. Plain and simple. With songs like “Huron”, featuring hand drums and a catchy chorus, the members often switch instruments during sets and while writing songs, making the band a musical force to be reckoned with.

Their next show is on Thursday April 19 at Rubble’s Bar with Wavvy Hands, Delightfuls and Hour 24. RSVP to the show here.

Music of Mount Pleasant: Joe Hertler

We’re back with more Mount Pleasant music coverage…This time covering Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers

Photo credit to Victoria Zegler

In the last couple of years, Joe Hertler and the band have expanded their locales to include Lansing as well but their roots in Mount Pleasant will never go away. Hertler, a student at Central Michigan University, began playing open mics at Kaya Coffeehouse a few years ago and hasn’t looked back. Releasing “The Hard Times LP” by himself on bandcamp, he garnered praise for his unique voice, honesty and energy in his music. Hertler now plays with a band, the Rainbow Seekers, who compliment and expand exponentially upon his energy. Their live show, comprised of singalongs and loud yet delicate instrumentation, is something to be seen to be believed. The band released “On Being” last year to praise around the state. The band even played a CMJ Showcase show in Brooklyn, NY last year.

  • Catch Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers with Elliot Street Lunatic at Rubble’s Bar on Saturday April 14. More information on ticket prices and age limit soon.

Music of Mount Pleasant: Newday Dreamers

So, I (Sean) have been in Mount Pleasant going to school at CMU since last August. In my time here, I’ve discovered a few great bands worth talking about. Mount Pleasant isn’t a town to sleep on. Although the scene may be small, it has some great artists and musicians. I’ll be doing a weekly series profiling local musicians here.

First up is Newday Dreamers.

The band is: Micah Bracken, Cody Armstrong, Ryan Heisler and (recently added member) Adam Marth.

Forming in 2008, the band has been making more waves in the last couple years. They played Mount Pleasant festival Midwest Fest last year at Rubble’s Bar. They’ve also played countless gigs at Rubble’s as well as Kaya Coffeehouse and Tea Co. With a sound encompassing indie pop and rock, the band can pull off a slower song but can also crank it into high gear. They played the 2012 edition of the Middle of the Mitten showcase and, at another show, an entire set of Talking Heads songs in East Lansing recently. Their song, “Cars”, is an excellent example of their technicality and skill as songwriters as well. The band have been playing more and more gigs outside of Mount Pleasant at places like Mac’s Bar in Lansing and even playing a gig soon down in Ypsilanti at Woodruff’s Bar. “Cars” is also in rotation on 91.5 FM in Mount Pleasant and 88.9 The Impact in Lansing as well. Expect great things from this band in the future.

Check them out on Facebook, Tumblr and Bandcamp.

Cheap Girls “Giant Orange” review

Cheap Girls released their newest album, “Giant Orange”, in February on Rise Records. Here’s a review of the album, also available to read via Central Michigan Life.

The third time seems to be the charm for Lansing’s Cheap Girls, releasing their newest record “Giant Orange” on Rise Records in February. Using that phrase, “third time’s a charm,” implies they missed the mark on their first two albums, 2008′s “Find Me a Drink Home” (Quote Unquote records) and 2009′s “My Roaring 20s” (Paper and Plastick records), but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Produced by Tom Gabel, frontman of Florida punk band Against Me!, immediately makes a difference on the band’s signature brand of power-pop. On their first two albums, everything about the music sounds a bit flat in comparison to the recordings on this new effort. On “Communication Blues,” guitarist Adam Aymor uses power chords to his advantage. The single note crawl heard throughout the song sounds just as crunchy as the power chord barrages during the choruses. Every guitar riff on the album sounds crisp, loud and heavy like a bag of bricks.

The rhythm section, via brothers Ben Graham (drums/backing vocals) and Ian Graham (lead vocals/bass), is incredibly tight and efficient. Ben uses each hit to push the song forward to its natural conclusion. The cymbals sound fresh and inviting, and the kick drum and snare add a subtle but powerful punch. The bass is a little low in the mix for my tastes. It’s there, but it’s sneaky — pretty swallowed up by the guitars.

Wordsmith Ian Graham uses a bit too many on this album. On previous efforts, Graham wrote a lot of shorter verses with shout along choruses that are a blast to belt away to live. Here, the lyrics can be quite a mouthful. The chorus for opener “Gone All Summer” is “I’ve been gone all summer and I think it’s for the great good.” Not necessarily a bad thing, but different from Ian’s previous lyrics, which takes a bit of getting used to. I’ve been listening to the album non-stop for a little more than a week and still don’t have all the lyrics memorized. I will soon though.

All in all, Gabel’s production brings out the best in the power trio. Aymor’s guitar sounds incredibly powerful and is a perfect transition to what they sound like live. The rhythm section is extremely tight, yet has a natural swagger. Ian’s bass is quiet, almost too much so, but it works. His lyrics are a little wordy, but worth the multiple listens to decipher. I highly recommend this.

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