Monday, August 31, 2009

Show Review: Cracker at Beachland Ballroom, 8/28

I am not a man prone to exaggeration.

OK, I am a man prone to exaggeration, but I'm aware of that problem and for the next thirty seconds, as I type the sentence that will follow this one, I will do my very best to rein that in.

Here goes:

Cracker's show at the Beachland Ballroom last Friday night may have been my finest concert experience ever.

I won't go so far as to say they put on the best performance I've ever seen (though it was incredibly awesome) - that honor goes to Phosphorescent earlier this year.

However, that Phosphorescent show was a somewhat lonely experience, sitting at a bar by myself listening to a great concert.

This Cracker show, almost as great, topped the overall vibe because of the feelings of camradarie and friendship it entailed. Thanks to the company of a few great people and a few more cold beverages, I had a wonderful time as the band kicked off an incomparable set-list that provided the soundtrack to the last fifteen years of my life. (Note: One of the aforementioned great people has a set-list wrap-up with commentary that I'm not gonna be able to top in this post. Check it out here.)

The show kicked off with fury as the band began their set with "Mr. Wrong," one of my all-time favorite tunes by anybody. I immediately took this as a good sign, considering in the email I'd sent to the band's drummer, Frank Funaro, with the link to the interview we'd done I'd gotten all fanboy and asked him to consider playing my three favorite songs: "Mr. Wrong," "Merry Christmas Emily," and "Big Dipper." By starting off with one of them, I was certain that they were going to close with another of the three and then dedicate the entire encore to me by name as they closed with the third. (What can I say - I dream big and irrationally.) Things didn't ended up working out that way, though I did get 2 of the 3. (On a totally unfair side-note, my concert buddy for the night, Angie, to whom you owe your thanks for the lovely photo above, heard all 3 of her picks, and she never even contacted the band, much less posted an interview! I reminded her of this and she attributed it to the power of the P. I'm not sure what that means ...)

Even as this monster of a tune let up, the band refused to do the same, ripping off twenty more tunes with hardly a break. These included a perfectly balanced mix of old hits and new tracks from the band's recent album, Sunshine in the Land of Milk and Honey (which, by the way, is totally fantastic and well worth your $15 hard-earned recession dollars. Well worth it.) The crowd was most excited when hearing the opening chords of "Teen Angst" and (especially) "Euro-Trash Girl," and as good as the songs were, the crowd had me so interested I spent a good several minutes looking at the various folks in the crowd. By no means was this a young crowd, though a pal of mine in the opening band informed me that the area immediately in front of the stage was packed full of the usual 18-year-old hotties (strange for a band that had much of its critical success before these gals were even born, but whatever). Instead you saw lots of chill couples sporting hair probably a little further down the dark<->gray continuum than they'd like, laid back and appreciative of one more time to see the band they'd loved for so long, and to do so in such a funky setting as the Beachland Ballroom. (Note: If you've never seen a show in the big room at the Beachland, please do yourself a favor and go - it really is a wonderful, idiosyncratic room.)

One could argue, however, that the crowd had the best overall response to a pair of new tunes, "Friends" (which is the best ode to dysfunctional friendship ever - seriously, listen to Johnny Hickman's lyrics) and "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out with Me" (which Lowery noted had made it all the way up to #13 on the adult alternative list). When you can put together as many hits as Cracker has over the years (another friend referred during the show to David Lowery as the Tom Petty of indie rock, if that gives you any idea of this band's songwriting chops)

After nearly two straight hours of alt-country rock, the band ended the main set with beautiful and blistering versions of "Big Dipper" (which prompted ATV Matt and I to do a completely spontaneous, awkward half-high five/half-man hug as we'd only moments before agreed that there was no way they'd be playing that song this evening) and "Low" and I'd scarcely caught my breath before the band was back out on the stage for the first of two encores. Three songs later, including evening-closer Flaming Groovies-cover "Shake Some Action," the band bid adieu to the fans for real.

The lights came up and I swear you could hear a collective "WOW!" I knew it wasn't just me and it certainly wasn't the frigid High Lifes that kept winding up in my mitts that had made the impression - it was the energy that Cracker had brought onto the stage and that had spread like an influenza of awesomeness among the audience. I went home with a big smile on my face that night and dreamt sweet and silly dreams of rock and roll and renewal.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cleveland makes The Onion

Fucker Riding Man's Ass Whole Way Out To Cleveland

August 28, 2009 | Issue 45•35

TWINSBURG, OH—Jesus Christ, area man Mark Hurley cannot fucking believe this dumb shit who has been riding his ass all the way out to Cleveland, even though they're traveling on an empty three-lane highway. The asshole, who, for some reason refuses to just pass already, practically pulled into Hurley's backseat two hours ago, outside Toledo. "Come on!" Hurley reportedly hollered back at the goddamn lunatic, who is not only out of his mind, but apparently wants to get them both killed. "What the hell?" As of press time, oh God, you've got to be kidding, the fucker just turned on his high beams.

Post courtesy the nation's finest comedic newsweekly.

If this tickled your funnny bone as much as it tickled mine, check out these other excellent Clevo-centric Onion bits:

- Seriously, Cleveland, How Are You? (an editorial written by the one and only Bob Seger)

- Nonprofit Fights Poverty With Poverty

- Cleveland Sportswriter Compares LeBron James To Craig Ehlo

- Sports Team Defeated In Manner Befitting Its Name

- Area Man Has Shitty Fuckin' Job

- God Wondering If He's Being Too Cruel In Allowing Cavaliers To Reach NBA Finals

- Mike Brown Feels Cavs Are Being Outvictoried

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The week ahead, 8/30-9/5

Whew. These last couple weeks have been intense here at CB HQ, and not because we've been partying up a storm. Lots of work, a whole lot of summer transitioning into fall stuff, and the typical end-of-the-month paycheck blues have all conspired to keep me (mostly) chained to my desk.

Still, last night I was able to get out and enjoy an hour or so at Bill Rupnik's ever impressive gallery as I checked out Mallorie Freeman's opening. Her work is really something, and Cleveland is lucking to have lucky to have landed her.

Afterwards, my pal Angie and I hit up the Cracker show at the Beachland I'd been talking up for so long, and it ended up being everything I'd hoped for and more. The band was as on top of its game as ever and I had a great time listening and catching up with some friends I hadn't seen for a while. One of those, of course, being Matt at Addicted to Vinyl, who has a tremendous post-show recap that I already know will blow anything I come up with (though I still plan to try) out of the water.

And now I'm sitting here in my home office, hoping my neighbors aren't looking in the windows as I sit in my skivvies and, well, my skivvies. And if they do look, I hope to god that isn't against the law. I don't have any junk out, so I think me and the 5-0 should be cool.

Speaking of the po-po, let's talk a little bit about what's going down next week...

Sunday, 8/30
- Start your week out on an intellectual note by catching back-to-back foreign film screenings at the CIA Cinematheque. At 1:30, catch Sugisball, an Estonian black comedy about the intersecting lives of four apartment-dwellers in the post-Soviet Baltics, and at 4 catch the Japanese film Hana, a period samurai comedy set in the opening years of the 19th Century. (Note: Neither of the trailers below have sub-titles, but they films definitely will when they screen at the CIA.)

Monday, 8/31 - tba

Tuesday, 9/1
- tba

Wednesday, 9/2 - I've been told that Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros are playing at Case. However, the powers that be at Case do not give ANY information on how one would actually go about getting tickets to this show. SO .... if you have a hook-up at Case, call them. If you have a really good one, let me know. This is one show you definitely don't want to miss.

Thursday, 9/3 - The BROWNS play the Da Bears. My loyalties will be tested, but fortunately I'll be out of town at game-time so I won't have to watch, cringing with self-loathing every time I cheer for one of my favorite teams and, thus, against my other favorite team.

For those of you disinclined to spend an evening watching the Brownies, why not spending it walking all over Waterloo Road, in the latest edition of their late summer Thursday special? Last week featured a rather ferocious wiffle ball match and who knows what will come up this time!

Friday, 9/4 - The dynamic duo at Shoparooni, Marlee and Heather, have really been stepping up their in-house art gallery game, and the Annex is becoming one of the most energetic little art-rooms in town. This weekend they open yet another one of their group shows, this one a play on the old Dick and Jane children's books. Expect some wild interpretations of the motif - some brilliant, some blue - and enjoy the back to school related merchandise collected together by the newest addition to the Waterloo retail posse, Troy at Star Pop!

Saturday, 9/5 - WRUW brings the musical heat this week with their annual Studio-a-rama event. This one is always a good time, but the fact that they landed seminal rock act Mission of Burma as the headliner is unbelievably awesome. Don't let this opportunity slip away! The party goes from 2 PM to midnight, with Mission of Burma hitting the stage about 10.

Other stuff to keep your eye on the following week:

- 9/6 - Tony Furtado at the Waterloo Cafe
- 9/9 - Art on Tap event at the Museum of Art
- 9/10 - Zaireeka listening party at Music Saves
- 9/11 - A pair of stellar gallery openings on the west side (Asterisk & SPACES)
- 9/12 - Ramona Falls at the Beachland
- 9/12 - Chalkfest at the Museum of Art
- 9/12 - Cleveland Public Theater's annual Pandemonium event
- 9/13 - Ra Ra Riot and Maps & Atlases at the Grog Shop
- 9/14 - A Hawk & a Hack Saw at the Beachland

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Low Life Artist Booty Call

I stole the title of this post from my friend Heather. Stealing stuff that is better than what I could come up with on my own is a proud tradition in my life, so deal with it.

More importantly, check out the flyer below, forward it to all the artists you know, and be damn sure to attend the opening - last year's event was one of the best evenings of the entire year!

Smell of the Week

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

CB Q/A #12: Frank Funaro of Cracker

This is the twelfth time I've posted an interview with an particular artist I'm geeked about coming through town. Previous Q&As have included conversations with folks like PUSA's Andrew McKeag, The Horse's Ha's James Elkington, and Akron/Family's Seth Olinsky - all of which being musicians I respect and dig - but today's participant takes the cake.

In preparation for their gig in town on Friday, I recently contacted the publicity folks for Cracker and was able to arrange an email interview with drummer Frank Funaro. Cracker has been a favorite band of mine for what seems like forever - I think I've been a listener since right after Camper van Beethoven broke up in the very early 1990s, and although he wasn't the band's original drummer, Funaro has been manning the kit since at least the excellent Gentleman's Blues album came out.

So, clearly, it was a treat for me to score this exchange, but actually doing it turned out to be the best of any of the twelve, as Frank Funaro is approachable, straightforward, funny, and honest. Plus, he's a hell of a drummer (as well as a thoughtful fan of his instrument). He's also a huge lover of Cleveland, which you'll see in his answer to my last question. Check out the interview below and, for sure, the show this Friday when Cracker hits the Beachland. Being the end of the month, I'm strapped and, thus, will happily allow you to buy me my beers.

1) You guys probably have as many recognizable hit songs as any other band from the 90s - to what extent do you feel the need to continue in that sound now? Or is it easy for you to continue evolving as a band into the latter part of this decade?

I don't think it's all that calculated, to be honest. Before this new record, David and Johnny did all the writing, so you would have to ask them about that. As for this record, it really came about in an organic sort of way... four guys in a room showing ideas to each other. The sound comes out of the style that everyone plays in. Mash four guys influences together, and interesting things happen. Then, you put David's sensibilities, his unique perspective on the world... you put that lyrical icing on top of the cake, and, viola! The "sound."

2) What's your favorite song to play live?

Well, you know, it varies from gig to gig, or week to week, or month to month. Or tour to tour. Right at this moment, I'd have to say "I Could Be Wrong, I Could Be Right." If you had asked me last year, it would have been "Give Me One More Chance." And there's always been "Big Dipper." I love to play that one.

3) How do the songs on Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey differ from the work you've done previously?

Well, in the past, David and Johnny would come in to the recording studio with some songs totally finished, and some songs in various states of construction. David would often have a specific idea what direction to go with them. Or else, he would just start playing a song, and I would start playing what I felt naturally on the drums. That would then either be accepted, or tweaked further.

On this record, we did a lot of rehearsal... jamming, if you will, with tape running. We came up with 22 songs, I believe. There were some moody pieces that didn't seem to fit with David's conception for the overall shape of the record. After you start narrowing things down from a double album's worth of songs, a record starts to take shape. Then, David will have things to say, and start to plug lyrics into the musical ideas. I wouldn't say that David makes "concept" records per se, but by the time he has all the lyrics written, there is usually some sort of narrative thread connecting the songs.

4) If you were asked by a younger musician about to embark on his/her first tour or recording session, what advice would you give him/her?

As far as touring goes, I would say, have a good time, enjoy yourself, but take care of yourself as well. That might sound a little un-rock and roll, but I'll tell you, my most memorable hangovers are in the rear-view mirror at this point. If you insist on making the same mistakes I made over the years, make sure to hydrate. The most important part of your day is going to be that hour and a half to two hours you spend onstage. It's an honor and a privilege to be a traveling minstrel, so you've gotta be great, no "phoning it in", EVER. And don't forget, you're traveling with others. Be respectful. The pressure cooker of a vanful of people can only be made worse if you're bitching about things constantly, you know, complaining. Make yourself easy to live with. Also, use condoms.

First recording session? Um, be prepared. Have your parts ready so that you feel relaxed and capable and ready to do your best work. Nowadays, with Pro Tools and all, there's a temptation to "fix it in the mix." Don't be lazy like that. Have your shit together going in.

5) Any pre- or post-show rituals you have found yourselves following over the years?

Not really, no band prayer or anything. Speaking for myself, I'd have to say that before the show I'm just real low-energy, just saving it up for the stage. As a matter of fact, people see me yawning in the dressing room prior to a show, and before they have a chance to comment, I just pump my fist and say "rock and roll." What can I tell you, I don't like to "leave it in the locker room." After the show we like to go out and meet the fans, sign CD's and whatnot, so I suppose that's evolved into sort of a ritual.

6) Any favorite artists/songs out there you'd love to cover, but just haven't done it yet?

Me and Johnny have always spoken of putting a band together to play the Kink's "Muswell Hillbillies" album from start to finish, get a dixieland horn section, the whole nine yards... We've been talking about this for years, though, so, perhaps it's in the realm of fantasy at this point.

7) Last but not least, any memorable Cleveland experiences?

It's funny you should ask, because Cleveland has been a sort of home-away-from-home for me over the years. I used to come here once or twice a year with my first band, the Del-Lords, play Peabody's, this was in the 80's.

Later on, I had a friend from New York who had gotten a job out here and moved away from NY, and lived in Euclid, and I used to come out and hang with him for a week at a time. He's an HVAC guy, you know, air conditioning and refrigeration, and we'd go into the city and he'd take me up on these warehouse roofs, and we would smoke cigars and dig on the skyline and watch trains go past.

Then, I got a call from Jack (Blackjack) McDowell to be in his band, Stick Figure. We would rehearse and play shows in Cleveland during Indians home stands, and I had this gigantic laminated pass that allowed me access to the pressbox and the clubhouse and the dugout, and I could sit in the seats behind home plate. I never felt comfortable going to the dugout, that always seemed sacred to me, but I used to love to watch the game in the pressbox, you know, really concentrate on the game. They had this sign up on the back wall that said "No Rooting", and right next to it was a perfectly baseball-sized hole where a foul ball had smashed thru the sheetrock. This was in '96, and the Tribe were real heart attack kids, 9th inning walk-off homers and extra inning games, Albert Belle and Omar Vizquel and Jim Thome... a great team... I was certainly in the right place at the right time for all that excitement. And after the 7th inning stretch, I would make my way down to the seats and soak up the excitement in the crowd, I mean, everybody just KNEW in their bones that the Indians were going to come back and win these games. Electric.

Then later still, my friend Kenny was in Cracker, and I had told him that if they were ever looking for a drummer, I would love to be in that band. I was here in Cleveland with Jack, and Cracker came thru, playing the Odeon down in the flats. We went down to hang with them at the show, that’s when I first met Johnny and David, and then about a year later, to make a long story short, I wound up in the band. So, I met them here in Cleveland.

And then, to top off my home-away-from-home Cleveland experience, I met my girlfriend when I was playing Peabody's with Cracker about 5 years ago, so, I guess you could say I've had memorable experiences in Cleveland. It’s a great town.

Be sure to catch Frank and the rest of the fellas in Cracker at the Beachland Ballroom this Friday night. Doors are at 8, with opening duties going to local rockabilly superstars, Whiskey Daredevils. I don't know about you, but I can't hardly wait.

Tonight in Cleveland (8/26)

Tonight, if you play your cards right, you can get drunk, see an awesome show, and perform a public service.

Sound like a good idea? Yeah? OK. Read on.

From 5-9 PM is the Mutt Hutt's Humpday Celebrity Bartending Happy Hour at the Garage Bar.

I'll be honest - The Garage Bar is probably #3 on the list of places in this town you ordinarily won't catch me dead in, but for this event I'll sacrifice my dignity. And if I'm willing to do that, you totally should be. (BURN!) So, anyway, come join me and support the Secondhand Mutts and the Berea Animal Rescue shelters tonight as some well-known celebrities pour some drinks to benefit homeless pets. The spirit of animal rescue is a powerful one. It is all about people coming together to give their time, money, expertise and love of animals to help make a difference. They work tirelessly to give a voice to those who have none.

This event is particularly noteworthy because fun loving celebrities from all walks of service are coming together and donating their 'bartending' skills and their tips - to help give that voice. The more people who come down to Hump Day Celebrity Bartending, the more help for these two special rescues and their many animals. Grab a leash, your best friend, and come on down to watch the bartending wizardry!
As many as 8 million dogs and cats enter shelters every year, and half of those animals are euthanized because homes cannot be found for them. Both Berea ARF and Second Hand Mutts are no-time-limit shelters and rescues, finding homes – however long it takes – for the many homeless animals that come to them.
To help raise funds to help them continue this important work, local celebrities Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman, Q104 Wilde and Fee radio personalities Rebecca Wilde and Glenn Anderson, veterinarian extraordinaire Dr. Bob Litkovitz, Burning River Roller Girl Ursula Allison, Cleveland television personality Eileen McShea, Cleveland Plain Dealer sports writer Bud Shaw and Cleveland Firefighter Joe Sheffey will be serving up the drinks and specialty shots. Celebrities' tips and a portion of all drink sales will support ARF and Second Hand Mutts. Light appetizers will be served and you can bring your friendly, leashed dog.

Afterwards, head east to the Beachland Ballroom and check out an excellent indie rock show, featuring local openers Unsparing Sea and Canadian headliners The Rural Alberta Advantage. If it wasn't for the Cracker gig this Friday, this would TOTALLY be my show of the week. Be there or be square (or any other totally uncool geometric shape.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

SPACELab: Call to NEO Artists

The fine folks at SPACES are gearing up for their next run of experimental art SPACELab sponsorships and have recently issued a Call to Artists who might be interested in the experience.

SPACELab is a laboratory created to help artists push and pull a concept until it materializes. By providing resources and instruction SPACELab not only acts as a venue for the display of process and projects but plays an active role in the conceptualization of art.

Each artist accepted to the SPACELab program will participate in a workshop and a solo exhibition that grows out of the workshop. This is an opportunity for younger, emerging artists to stretch their concepts and skills, or for more established artists to reexamine their practices and find new wellsprings and directions.

The elements of the SPACELab program are designed to allow for the development of truly experimental projects. The extensive commitment limits this program to artists living in the 14 counties of the NE Ohio region (Ashtabula, Columbiana, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Holmes, Lake, Lorain, Mahoning, Medina, Portage, Stark, Summit, Trumbull, and Wayne). This restriction will ensure an affordable experience while creating new opportunities for artists in the region.

The SPACELab call-for-entries is open to all established or emerging artists, curators and cultural producers who are 21 years old or older and living in one of the 14 NE Ohio counties listed above. The main stipulation is that applicants be open to putting their concepts first and developing their process and methods through the concept. There are eight slots per exhibition season and will be selected in two, four-slot segments. Participants must remain residents of these counties for the duration of the program.

For an application and extensive FAQ, click here. Please visit the website and read all of the guidelines before calling and/or submitting an application. NOTE: UPCOMING DEADLINE: SEPTEMBER 18, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

Proper Noun of the Week #9: Mallorie Freeman

I first encountered the artistic work of today's recipient of the CB Proper Noun treatment when we both had photos in Low Life Gallery's This Is Cleveland photo exhibit in June. Unlike my contributions, which were largely out-of-focus and feebly framed odd shots, Mallorie Freeman's snapshots had these wonderful colors jumping out of them. Best of all, there was this obscure, stylized mannequin head placed just so in each of the pics, like a little icon or logo that brought every shot to a strange type of life that was as perfect as it was head-scratching. (Note: You can see some semi-washed out reproductions of several of these photos here.)

It wasn't until several weeks later that I was able to put a face to a name, meeting Mallorie at one of Bill Rupnik's always awesome gallery openings. I'm sure I made a fool of myself, stumbling over how much I liked the dime-novel noir of her painting and the effect of the photo work described above. Fortunately for me, she seems to be as tolerant of stutter-mumbly fanboys as she is a talented artist. And fortunately for you, she agreed to take part in this series of interviews I've enjoyed so much these last few months.

1) How long have you been in Cleveland? And if you didn't grow up in Cleveland, where'd you relocate here from?

I grew up in Cleveland, moved away for about 10 years to Chicago, IL, Kansas City, MO, Portland, OR, and returned to Cleveland in 2002.

2) What is your favorite Cleveland memory?

Some of my favorite memories are from childhood of being out on a boat with my family in Lake Erie. I love looking back at the city from the water, cruising around the Cuyahoga River through the flats and going underneath all the bridges at sunset.

3) How does (if at all) Cleveland influence your work and/or art?

It doesn’t directly influence my art but I find Cleveland’s industrial decay to be quite beautiful and inspiring. I am going to be moving my studio downtown in October and am looking forward to creating in the city in a large space instead of my postage stamp sized apartment.

4) What would be your ideal Cleveland day? Or, to put it another way, if it was your birthday and your nearest and dearest were all willing to do what you wanted, what would your day be like?

I would go on a boat ride, a walk in the Metroparks, Pier W for eats and drinks, and since it’s my birthday, it would be requested that all my nearest and dearest make me a piece of art.

5) Say you had a friend coming in for 24 hours and had never been to Cleveland before. What would you make sure they saw and did?

For eating, drinking and hanging out- Tremont, E 4th Street, Little Italy, Coventry, Chagrin Falls
For museums- Cleveland Museum of Art, MOCA, The Western Reserve Historical Society/ Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum
For outdoor beauty and foliage- The Metroparks, The Holden Arboretum, Cleveland Botanical Gardens
For fresh food and unidentifiable edibles- The West Side Market and Man Kam Plaza
For a drive down a winding road- Chagrin River Road, Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
For a drive-by shooting- Hough

6) What is something from another city you wish you could import to Cleveland?

The Japanese Garden from Portland, OR - since I’ve never been to Japan.

7) If you had the undivided attention of the mayor, city council, and county commissioners, what would be the one thing you'd ask for or tell them?

Save the Cleveland Trust Building.

To meet Mallorie and check out her work yourself, stop by the William Rupnik Gallery this Friday for the opening of her solo show, "Spicy Dames and Tales of Mystery." The gallery is located at 1667 E 40th Street in Cleveland. Check out the gallery's website here. If you can't make the opening, check out some of her other work for sale on her etsy page, cleverly named The Mallorie Gallery, here.

And if you found this post interesting, check out previous Proper Noun of the Week conversations about Cleveland and culture with the following interesting folks: Frank Revy, Bill Rupnik, Mina Hoyle, Brendan Walton, Leia Alligator, Arabella Proffer, Becca Riker, and Greg Ruffing.

Tonight in Cleveland (8/24) - Gringo Star and The Modern Electric

Make sure to hit tonight's Gringo Star show with openers The Modern Electric at the Beachland Tavern. This is only the first in a great week of live shows. Consider it a warm-up!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Week ahead, 8/23-8/29

Whew, what a week! Between birthday parties and back-to-school buzz, I'm beat! I laid pretty low this week, and will probably do the same next week, though there is some awesome stuff on the schedule. Check it out below.

Sunday, 8/23 - Cale Parks, of Aloha and White Williams fame, brings his electro-pop show to the B-side Lounge. Check out our review of his most recent album here and a q&a interview we conducted with him here.

Monday, 8/24 - Atlanta-based indie psych-rockers Gringo Star play the Beachland Tavern. As a special bonus, one of the local bands I'm most excited about - The Modern Electric - are opening. Promises to be a blast!

Tuesday, 8/25
- tba

Wednesday, 8/26
- A great indie rock show for all you hipsters out there. Toronto's The Rural Alberta Advantage roll through town, hitting the Beachland Tavern with princely openers The Unsparing Sea. This is a particularly wise pairing and a great show to hit if you are feeling like you didn't get to enough this summer.

Thursday, 8/27 - For the film enthusiasts out there, this Thursday offers a treat, courtesy of the CIA Cinematheque. Check out Pontypool, Bruce McDonald's zombie flick for smart people. One critic has referred to this film as "28 Days Later written by Noam Chomsky." If that doesn't get your little cinephile hearts beating twice as fast as usual, I don't know what will. Perhaps this trailer:

For those of you not into cinema, linguistics, or zombies, you can check out installment #2 of the "Walk All Over Waterloo" Thursday night spectacular. Organized to draw attention to the revitalized Waterloo Arts District, each of the joints on that street will have special events going on and deals at the door. Plus, rumor has it, there just might be a mad game of wiffle ball breaking out ...

Friday, 8/28 - This is the night of the week for me, with two events I've been looking forward to all summer long. First, check out one of my favorite Cleveland artists, Mallorie Freeman, as she opens her solo show at William Rupnik Gallery.

Then, head on over to Waterloo Road for Cracker's performance. That's right, Cracker. The fellas who pretty much provided the non-grunge soundtrack to the 90s are rolling through Cleveland this week, as they tour to support their newest release (#13), Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey. As an album, Sunrise is pretty good, especially the lead single "Turn On Tune In Drop Out With Me", which is accompanied by some additional great tracks ("Show Me How This Thing Works" and "Friends"), some very good ones ("I Could Be Wrong I Could Be Right" and "Hey Brett - You Know What Time It Is"), and nothing that could be considered mere album filler. With Sunrise, the band continues its streak of very solid and underacknowledged albums, a streak this decade that includes 06's Greenland, 02's Forever, and 03's awesome country cover album Countrysides. Record-wise, these albums might not be the level of Kerosene Hat (one of the single best albums of the 1990s), but they are solid and David Lowery still has a knack with writing clever, listenable songs that perfectly utilize Johnny Hickman's killer skills on the axe.

Better yet, these guys absolutely bring it live. I mean, how couldn't they, with the incomparable number of audience sing-a-long friendly tunes they have stuffed in their catalog, including "Low," "Teen Angst," "Get Off This," "Sweet Potato," "Been Around the World," "Seven Days," "Lonesome Johnny Blues," "Euro-Trash Girls," "Sweet Thistle Pie," "I Need Better Friends," "Mr. Wrong," "Guarded By Monkeys," and, of course, my three personal favorite Cracker live tunes, "Merry Christmas Emily," "Big Dipper," and their cover of Hank Williams Jr.'s "Family Tradition." Shoot, throw their more famous covers in to the mix and this band could play for five hours and still not hit all the songs you were hoping to hear (especially Jerry Jeff Walker's "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mothers," The Carpenters' "Rainy Days and Mondays," Bruce Springsteen's "Sinaloa Cowboys," and Willie Nelson's "Reasons to Quit")!

Saturday, 8/29 - DEVOtional once again captures the crowd at the Beachland. Don't miss the all day DEVO convention, complete with bands, vendors, movies & a special appearance by DEVO member Bob Casale.

Other stuff to keep your eye on the following week:

- 8/31 - Slow Claw at the Beachland Tavern
- 9/2 - Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros at Case Western
- 9/3 - BROWNS!
- 9/4 - Music Saves Alley Cat Friday (penultimate edition)
- 9/4 - Shoparooni Annex "Dick and Jane - Back to School" opening
- 9/5 - Studiorama at Case Western (feat. Mission of Burma!)
- 9/6 - Tony Furtado at Waterloo Cafe

CB Q/A #11: Cale Parks

I gushed all over today's interview subject a few weeks ago when his newest release was declared Album of the Week by yours truly. If you are interested in reliving the gush, you can check the review out here. Otherwise, let's get down to business.

Today we have a great Q&A with Cale Parks, solo artist and indie drummer par excellence. Cale's an interesting guy and his latest album, To Swift Mars, is well worth a listen. Plus, dude has some serious Cleveland roots and gives a lot of love to the city. Read on and you'll see why you ought to give him some love back. Which you can, as he's playing Cleveland soon. Like real soon. As in TONIGHT. See the blurb at the end of the post for more info.

1) What are your influences? In particular, I'm interested in sources of inspiration other than other bands/musicians? I mean, is there a certain type of art or artist, idea, spirit, etc.

I really love 80's and early 90's films that remind me of being a kid. I'm not sure why that era means so much to me. It's the eternal youth thing. I never wanna grow up, but I love the thought of being old. I adore the soundtrack technology of films back then. A lot of the synthesizers mixed into the score of films like The Goonies & The Neverending Story, I love that stuff. There's such a glassy quality to it all. Giorgio Moroder wrote a lot of The Neverending Story soundtrack. Then there's this eery minor 3rd theme that floats around that movie and Goonies. I love it so much. I think there are a lot of musicians who share this sentiment about the younger years. For example, M83's latest record, when that came out, I immediately identified.

2) What are the biggest differences (good and bad) between working on your own as a solo artist versus being a part of a team like in Aloha? Do you see yourself continuing to balance the individual-group dynamic over time or feel like you are likely to stick with one or another down the road?

It's much easier to write, organize, and plan a record by yourself. With Aloha, everything takes so long to finish, especially lately. We're also a long distance group, so that doesn't help at all. I will always make music as a solo artist, but who's to say what will happen. I love playing music, in all forms. I will always play with other people, as well solo. Sometimes I do miss the simplicity of playing only drums in a live situation. There's a lot less that could go wrong behind an acoustic drumset, compared to what I do as a solo act live.

3) If you were asked by a younger musician about to embark on his/her first tour or recording session, what advice would you give him/her?

Just be 100% confident and in love with what you do. Things will work themselves out either way. This is a crazy time to be playing music. Playing music is a crazy enough profession, and these times don't help at all. Just use your best judgement in every situation I guess.

4) Any pre- or post-show rituals you have found yourselves following over the years?

I don't like to eat an hour before I perform. I feel too weighed down. I do some drumming warm up exercises and since I've started singing in the last year, I've began doing some basic vocal warm ups that Michael from Passion Pit taught me. His voice is incredible. His warm ups are the strangest sounding thing I've ever heard. My post show rituals can include any combination of toweling off, sulking, cheering, putting on a dry shirt, and walking over to the merch table.

5) Any favorite artists/songs out there you'd love to cover, but just haven't done it yet?

I hear songs everyday that I always think I'd love to cover. For example, this morning I heard an Afghan Whigs song that I hadn't listened to since I was a kid. I thought, Cale, you can make a weird, new cover of this. An hour later, I realized, there's no way. You have to really hit the right one that's perfect for you. I've recorded an OMD cover, but I'm not sure what will happen to it. It's such an obscure song, it defeats the purpose of putting a new take on something people are familiar with, the way a cover should be. There's also a trend of indie rockers covering their contemporaries lately. Maybe I'll cover Bat For Lashes. You never know.

6) Last but not least, any memorable Cleveland experiences?

I have far too many Cleveland memories. When Aloha started, I was still in school in Bowling Green. Most of the Aloha guys lived in Cleveland for a minute, so I was always going back and for from BGSU to Clevo for rehearsals and shows. I remember one Sunday after an Aloha Cleveland show, I was pumping gas at a Sunoco on Lorain & W 44th I think, and drove off with the gas pump still attached to my car. I was halfway around the block when I realized there was a giant snake of a gas hose flopping on the side of my car. I drove back and gas was everywhere. I thought the station was gonna explode. I helped the attendant spread this kitty liter like stuff all over the parking lot, now covered in gas. No one batted an eye in this neighborhood. Ahh, Cleveland.

Be sure to catch Cale Parks TONIGHT at the B-Side Lounge (below the Grog Shop) on Coventry. Doors are at 9, with opening duties going to Cale's tourmates, Lemonade.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

CB Q/A #10: These United States

Summer is in its waning days, which seems funny to write considering how this week and the previous weekend were about the most summer-like, weather-wise, of the last few months. Nonetheless, stores are filled with back to school deals and every educator you know has been a little grumpy the last couple mornings.

However, by my count, we at least have this one week to celebrate (or at least that's what CB HQ's official calendar says), and what better way than by hitting up a week's worth of interesting shows. This week, visitors as diverse as Two Cow Garage, Drug Rug, the Gin Blossoms, and Cale Parks make their way through Cleveland - all of which promising to put on a good show. You couldn't really go wrong with any of them, but the out-of-town guest that I'm most excited about is the Washington, DC/Lexington, KY-based These United States.

I've been digging these guys for a while now, especially tracks like "Honor Amongst Thieves" (off 2008'sCrimes) LP and "First Sight" (off 2008's other LP, A Picture Of The Three Of Us At The Gate To The Garden Of Eden). I like the entire sonic approach of the band, which they describe better than I ever could as "Cumulonimbus WordPop fr th’Jangly Railyard Dreamer."

Recently, I was able to get the band to fill out my usual questionaiire. The answers are interesting, especially when they talk about their most memorable Cleveland experience. Like the rest of us, they find magic in the dirt and snow - the kind of attitude I like best. Maybe next time they feel the need to migrate, we'll be able to recruit them to the Collinwood neighborhood!

1) What are your influences on Crimes? In particular, I'm interested in sources of inspiration other than other bands/musicians? I mean, is there a certain type of art or artist, idea, spirit, etc.

I think we were thinking a lot about the world, and all the crimes in it. Variations on a theme - you know, good crimes, bad crimes, small crimes, big crimes. We wanted to be the Dr. Seuss of crimes. We would commit them in a box. We would commit them with a fox. In this sense, I'd say Dr. Seuss was our biggest influence for this album.

2) Has the move from DC to Lexington changed your sound or approach at all?

We move back and forth between Lexington and DC all the time - 2 of us live in DC, and 3 of us live in Lexington - so, yeah, our sound is very informed by the roads between these two places. It's a remarkable drive, really. Mountains, forests, West Virginia welcome centers. It means we don't get to practice very much, but we do get to spend a lot of time thinking off into the distance, and playing our favorite cassette tapes for each other on the drive.

3) If you were asked by a younger musician about to embark on his/her first tour or recording session, what advice would you give him/her?

Make music with people you love.

4) Any pre- or post-show rituals you have found yourselves following over the years?

Usually, we drink before our shows. And then during and after them. Sometimes, we get into a huddle with Caramel, who is our merch horse (a horse that guards merchandise). We but our heads together and talk in tongues. Caramel doesn't have a tongue, which is sad. But he gets the job done.

5) Any favorite artists/songs out there you'd love to cover, but just haven't done it yet?

Yes, there are nine hundred of them. Beck. ELO. Cotton Jones. Who am I missing?

6) Last but not least, any memorable Cleveland experiences?

One time, when I was first starting out, playing duo just me and Tom, traveling around playing shows with our good friend Paleo, we showed up in Cleveland in the middle of a snowstorm and the venue informed us that they didn't feel like sticking around for a show that night. It was the wrong side of the tracks, you know, and no one would come, and who the hell did we think we were, anyway? It was hard to argue with that, so we drove on to Jamestown, New York, where we holed up in the upstairs unheated attic of the next night's venue and waited out the 4 feet of snow that fell through the night and wrote songs together. That was perfect. We owe Cleveland for that one. Seriously.

Be sure to check out These United States when they play the Beachland Tavern tomorrow (Wednesday, 8/19). Doors open at 8 and the scheduled openers (Good Touch Bad Touch and Authors) start doing their thing about 8:30. See you there!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Show Review: 8/16 @ Blind Pig - Daniel Johnston

One of the best moments in my sometimes semi-professional career as an indie rock writer occurred yesterday evening, some time around 8 PM. A few moments earlier, I'd been interviewing Daniel Johnston, only for a handful of minutes, but his brother, who serves as Daniel's manager, had pulled him away to sound check, promising he'd be back in a few minutes when done.

For Johnston, these days sound checks are more like mini-practice sessions where he's meeting his band for the first time, often only a couple hours before they perform. Johnston travels from town to town and uses local indie bands as his backing band and, as different as scenes are from city to city and all bands are from one another, you can imagine how unique the sound each night becomes.

I never caught the name of the band that was playing behind Johnston at this show, held at Ann Arbor's Blind Pig venue, but they were hard and loud. Often times bands playing behind Johnston are poppy, and keep things restrained to avoid overwhelming his frequently meek vocals, but these guys played some straight-forward hard rock ... and Johnston dug it. The memorable moment mentioned at the beginning of this post came when Johnston decided to run through one of his most famous songs, "Speedy Motorcycle," with the band. Clearly, the band had been instructed to begin the song only pairing single keyboard notes timed to go with the songs opening lyrics ("Speedy Motorcycle, won't you change me/Speedy Motorcycle, won't you change me/In a world of funny changes/Speedy Motorcycle, won't you change me"). After Johnston repeats "won't you change me" that third time, the rest of the band comes in, providing the backing for the rest of the song. And when they came in this time, they came in heavy, taking Johnston by welcome surprise to the point that he shouted "Oh, right on!" and laughed before starting to sing along. I turned and smiled at my friend, Leia, who had come up to Ann Arbor with me on this one-day road trip, and saw that I wasn't the only one tickled by Daniel's sincere and spontaneous response. A few minutes later, the song ended, and Johnston immediately thanked and commended the guys in the band for playing it so heavy, saying that usually bands playing behind him want to play it like a calypso, but that he really liked how they played it loud: "that's rock and roll, man!"

A few more songs and the soundcheck ended, and Johnston headed back over to the table where Leia and I waited, snagging a coke from the bar on the way over. We talked for another twenty minutes or so, about forthcoming projects (he has two albums and a movie in the works, and is hoping to build a home recording studio), the process at work when he creates his visual art, his visits to comic book stores in the various towns on tour (and why he'd recently switched from buying cheap comics in bulk to buying nicer collectibles), his favorite producers to work with, and the experience of having a famous documentary film made about him (he groused,
"Yeah, they really did me well there - they called it The Devil and Daniel Johnston - I'm not going to live that down even if I become 100 years old!").

As interesting as all those topics were, movies are where you can really see Johnston's eyes light up. I'd learned this a few years ago when I was living in Texas, a town or so over from the hamlet where Daniel makes his home, and I'd had the opportunity to visit him at his house and conduct an interview in his living room as we watched The Deer Hunter, drank generic orange soda, and smoked menthols. This time, Johnston brought up the topic of movies, saying he spent a lot of time watching movies, and I asked him what his recent favorites were. He started off listing a bunch of old horror movies, King Kong, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Frankenstein and the Wolfman, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Shining, and then stopped himself, saying "Boy, you asked the wrong guy about movies. I could go on and on, list a hundred!" I chuckled, but Leia jumped in, saying back, "No, we asked the right guy then." He looked directly at her for a moment, seeming to appreciate that perspective, and then started listing more movies, these more surprising. He mentioned how he loved The Nutty Professor, and then how he thought Schindler's List was one of the best films ever made. This reminded him of the recent Tom Cruise movie where Cruise plays a Nazi officer trying to assassinate Hitler (Valkyrie), and then led him to start talking about the Cruise remake of War of the Worlds. Then, for a few minutes, Leia, Daniel, and I discussed the career of Tom Cruise and how the ladies seem to like him.

About this time, it became clear our time with Daniel was about to end. Folks from the venue and his backing band were coming by, one by one, to shake hands and meet him, and soon a tall man with a tough-to-place accent came over. Daniel shouted, "Elvis!" and said to Leia and I, "Guys, this is my friend Elvis Costello." The man smiled and rolled his eyes and introduced himself - he was Ralston Bowles, longtime Michigan-based singer-songwriter, and was schedule to open the show for Johnston. Apparently there was a history between the two, as Daniel kept calling him Elvis and laughing, and then asking if he'd be willing to come on stage later and sing on "Man Obsessed with him" and if Bowles wanted to join his group for pizza in a few minutes. Ralston agreed and then excused himself, and Leia did me a solid that releases her from buying me birthday presents for years to come - pulling my Daniel Johnston-designed Jeremiah the Innocent vinyl toy sculpt out of her bag, snagging my sharpie from my shirt pocket, and getting Johnston's autograph for me on the bottom of it. We had time for one quick picture before Johnston and his group hustled out the door for their dinner, but a thousand new memories.

A few minutes later, we left ourselves, meeting an old friend of Leia's and eventually seeking out dinner at the same pizza shack as Johnston and company. We had a fine time, then hit the basement dive bar/pool hall before venturing up to the sauna-like concert hall. We arrived just as Bowles was finishing his set, and waited with a almost three hundred Michigan hipsters for Johnston to make his way onstage. He soon did, solo and wielding an acoustic guitar. He played like that for thirty minutes, mostly either back-catalog or not-yet-released songs like "Freedom" and "Life in Vain" (which was WONDERFUL) that the audience wasn't able to sing along with, though they did join in earnestly when the first chords of "Silly Love" were strummed. At one point, someone in the crowd shouted "We Love You, Daniel!" and Johnston responded, deadpan, "That was Kurt Cobain."

After a short break, Johnston came back with the same backing band we'd seen soundcheck with him before, playing a few more back catalog tunes, including a tumultuous "Walking the Cow" and the aforementioned "Speedy Motorcycle," which although it didn't have the intimacy and spontaneity of the soundcheck version, still rocked in a way that assured it was the audience favorite of the set.

For me, however the highlights were different, and three-fold:

First, when Johnston's microphone persisted in acting up and he moved over to a different one, he said something along the lines of "Sorry folks, no refunds if this one doesn't work" (though that joke wasn't half as funny as his earlier one about the guy about to be sentenced to death for attempting to commit suicide). Second, when he played "Rock n Roll EGA," a tune as sorrowful and beautiful as any he's written over the decades, particularl the lines "If I ever thought that I could be happy/Dreams like that always faded away/And all the girls already had boyfriends/I was alone as lonely could be." And, finally, third, when Daniel introduced his friend "Elvis Costello" to the stage (again, Bowles) and they played "Man Obsessed." The audience roared when Costello's name was mentioned, and I leaned over and asked Leia how many people she thought were in that audience that were going home that night and telling friends they'd seen the man responsible for "Veronica" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding." I didn't think about that for long, though, as the song was a wonderful mess. Clearly Bowles had no idea how the song was supposed to go, but the band and Johnston made it through just fine anyway. At the end, an energized and well-humored Johnston impishly grins and gestures at Bowles and shouts to the audience, "Elvis Costello!" And then walked off the stage.

Proper Noun of the Week #8: Greg Ruffing

I met today's subject a few months back at a one weekend-only photography show at Low Life Gallery. Usually, I'm not a big fan of photography as an artistic medium. I don't have any well-thought reasoning for this, just an instinctual thing, sort of like how sculpture and ceramics don't do it for me, while painting and certain forms of performance do. Anyway, the image on the show's promo flyer was eye-catching and provocative, and since I figured a bunch of my pals would be at the event, I thought I'd give it a shot.

Consider this another smart move on my part. At that show, Greg Ruffing's works on their own were terrific, but after spending time talking with him about what he was going for with several of the photos, I began to gain an appreciation for the work at almost impossible increments, photo by photo. Since that evening, I've noticed Greg's work in several ways, both artistic and commmercial, and still think the photo he took of Sunia Boneham and Michael De Liberto (who together comprise Arte Povera) for the Wall Street Journal piece concerning the rise of Collinwood as a cultural center is one of the best and memorable I've seen in quite some time. Chances are, you've seen his work in more places than you can count, too, as he's published photos in numerous periodicals, including Time, Newsweek, Mother Jones, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, Smithsonian, Rolling Stone, and Spin.

Recently, Greg took the time to answer my set of Cleveland-related questions. I've been very pleased with the answers every participant has given me so far, but the thoughtfulness and thorough approach Greg took when providing his answers is at a whole different level.

1) How long have you been in Cleveland? And if you didn't grow up in Cleveland, where'd you relocate here from?

I’ve been in the greater Cleveland area for most of my life except for some stints living in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Lorain. My parents are from Portage County and I grew up just outside there. I’ve lived in the city-proper since 2004: first in Tremont, then a very brief time in Birdtown before moving into Ohio City, where I’ve lived now since Fall ’07.

2) What is your favorite Cleveland memory?

Most of my first experiences with Cleveland were wrapped around family trips downtown for sporting events or to check out Tower City when it first opened -- nothing of which were distinguishably memorable.

So really my earliest enjoyable Cleveland memories came in my teenage years after I got my first car (this great hand-me-down from my grandfather: a 1988 Chevy Corsica with a ravenous appetite for devouring cassette tapes). Almost every weekend my friends and I would caravan up to Coventry -- this was before Coventry became the cartoon that it is now. We’d go to Record Revolution and browse the used CDs or the vinyl in the basement, then snoop around in some of the little shops down the street that sold bongs, dildos and weird jewelry. We were flat broke so we never bought shit, mostly we just partook in the usual riff raff that loitered and bummed cigarettes up on the corner outside the Centrum. By this time too I was getting pretty heavy into photography, so we’d kill a lot of time in Coventry just goofing around with the camera, and taking pictures of the punks and bums and transvestites.

Also related to the camera, one of my continually favorite Cleveland experiences is going through the industrial areas in The Flats and further south towards what is now the cesspool known as Steelyard Commons. By the time I was 17 or so, I had fully committed to the fact that I loved photography and wanted to do that for the rest of my days. I had a young fascination with the steel mills and other heavy industry upon which the city and its neighborhoods and generations of families were built (I remember first noticing the belching smokestacks and towers of flame and the dark massive behemoths at a young age out the car window as we came north on 77 into the city for one of the aforementioned family trips). So naturally I started spending a good chunk of my time wandering through the grounds of idled factories and mills along the river, always hoping that one day I’d actually be able to photograph on the inside (which I’ve had the opportunity to do a few times since).

Oh and definitely not to be forgotten was an infamous night out last summer involving a few of my buddies, the Spitfire, Now That’s Class, Sea Level Lounge, billiards, and some inappropriate moves on the dance floor that cut one gentleman’s evening a bit short…but I’m gonna stay vague on the details to protect the victim’s identity and manliness…

3) How does (if at all) Cleveland influence your work as an artist?

Sure, it has had a pretty sizeable influence, specifically in my personal work. Like I said above, Cleveland was the subject of most of my early forays into photography and artistic experimentation. The soot-covered underside of Cleveland and other Rust Belt cities has been a personal fascination for a while, and later it really boomed when I was living and working in Pittsburgh.

It started with being completely awe-struck by the towering steel mills, factories, etc., as a symbol of labor and human innovation. Then it grew into an interest in the people who lived and worked and functioned in these environments, and finally more recently it has become an exploration of larger community-wide or regional notions of identity:
--What does it mean to be working class?
--What does the Rust Belt represent in the bigger American mural?
--What is it like among the various ethnic diaspora that have come here over many decades to take up industry jobs?
--How did these all affect the way we build and transform the places where we live?
--Are there visual cues that show us something of a quintessential Midwest industrial town?
--And how do those signifiers, as architectural representations of daily life here, reflect upon this place in terms of its past, present, and future?

These questions have haunted me for a while because they have personal connections too, and so I’ve tried to use my photography as a conduit for making sense of these ideas, answering some questions, and getting to some level of reconciliation about my time and identity and feelings about this place that has been my home.

I stared working on a personal project about the Cuyahoga River in the fall of 2007; its still ongoing at this point, far from being complete. I’m not really approaching the river from an environmental perspective (despite the recent anniversary of its catching on fire), instead I’m looking at it as an existential indicator of time and experience (linking the individual and the collective) and its symbiosis with the cities and towns through which it flows. The river has been a constant -- a physical and spatial link between periods of my life and my family’s (again, like I mentioned above, my parents and their families both grew up in small towns in Portage County, coincidentally near the Cuyahoga’s meandering path through that rural area), so a lot of the photos are related to personal journey. And I’m wondering if/how this might parallel more universal human experiences.

In addition, I’m excited to have just been brought onto a new group project with a local gallery where I’ll get to jump headfirst into those themes and questions in other Rust Belt cities too, so we’ll see where this all goes.

4) What would be your ideal Cleveland day? Or, to put it another way, if it was your birthday and your nearest and dearest were all willing to do what you wanted, what would your day be like?

I’d get up around 7am, tea and newspaper on the front porch, soaking up a cool and quiet summer morning. At 9am meet up with my friends and we’d solidify our pact to traverse the city on bike and swear off our cars for the entire day.

First we’d head over to the West Side Market for a quick breakfast, then a good ride through downtown and maybe over to Big Fun in Coventry to gather some props and blow a bunch of cash on hijinks and tomfoolery in the photobooth. Back on the bikes, ride through Tremont, Ohio City, Detroit Shoreway, and a bunch of other neighborhoods and hit up some farmer’s markets to gather items for the huge lunch feast we’re about to cook together.

Head to the house with the biggest kitchen, crazily prepare food (grilled fish and veggies, fresh salad with arugula and pine nuts, fruit bowl of grapes and blueberries), perhaps a minor food fight breaks out, eat long and slow lunch permeated by good conversation and joke-telling, then pass out in shaded backyard for cat nap.

Good thing for the nap too because then we ride to the nearest soccer field and play pick-up for a few hours. By now we’ve worked up a dinner appetite…time for Transylvanian tacos. Totally delicious.

Then bike it back downtown to a sprawling park along the re-developed lakefront atop the old Burke Lakefront Airport (hey, you said “ideal day”) where 10 of my favorite bands are remixing their tracks with Gypsy and Middle Eastern musicians at a concert to celebrate the end of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the craft beers are always cold and only cost $1, and no über-tall people stand between us and the stage. We all dance around like fools until we fall over, then one of the band’s crew fixes us up with some camping gear and we crash right there in a jumbo tent. Nobody snores or wakes up with a hangover. Good day.

5) Say you had a friend coming in for 24 hours and had never been to Cleveland before. What would you make sure they saw and did?

When I travel to another city I always prefer to avoid the cliché tourist areas as much as possible and instead go for the neighborhood joints that give you a feel for what its like to actually live there -- ideally its like I’m a vicarious resident for the brief duration of my stay.

Naturally I’d want my visitors to have as close to the same experience here in Cleveland. So if I’m the tour guide, maybe we’d start our day with a cheap breakfast in Slavic Village at either the Red Chimney or Forty-Niner Diner. From there a little show-and-tell around Slavic Village and Warszawa and down the hill into the industrial river valley to see the mills and factories and a history lesson about Cleveland / conversation about how the city thrived on steel, crumbled with steel, and now is left to pick up the pieces and move on.

Before we get too depressed on the whole lot, we find redemption in Tremont with a mid-morning pastry at Lucky’s or a quick perusing through Visible Voice. Then a whirlwind jaunt down Route 2 past the lakeshore and downtown to the east side for a look-around in Collinwood and Buckeye neighborhoods.

Back to the west side and ditch the car to explore Tremont and Ohio City on bikes, with a stop off at either the West Side Market or some neighborhood farmer’s markets to stock up my friends’ backpacks for when they leave town the next day.

Then ride through the Flats into downtown, point and laugh at the lame-ass Rock Hall from a distance, and kick it around AsiaTown until we work up an appetite for lunch at Superior Pho. Afterwards, stow the bikes and jump on the red line train out to University Circle, CIA and Little Italy, maybe wow them with a cup of Libyan tea from Algebra Tea House. Back on the train to explore the rest of the red line out to Windermere and reverse to West Park, then recover our bikes and ride through Detroit Shoreway down to the lake and chill by the old Coast Guard station for a bit. Dinnertime would be an arm wrestling match to determine a winner between Turkish grub at Anatolia’s versus six varieties of guacamole and taquitos at Momocho.

To finish off the evening we’re crisscrossing the city again to check out a few galleries (maybe Asterisk, Front Room, Low Life, and one or two others), interspersed with a carefully planned pub route chosen from among a few select cheap dives. Do some late-nite record browsing at Music Saves then icing on the cake with a good show at the Beachland Ballroom and nitecap at the Thermadore.

Next morning a quick coffee and bagel at Gypsy Café in Detroit Shoreway, then send them on their way.

6) What is something from another city you wish you could import to Cleveland?

I’m kinda torn on this idea. On the one hand, a big part of me believes that Cleveland would be better off if it stopped trying to be other cities. Let’s face it: Cleveland will never be Chicago or New York, but that’s okay. There’s a lot of endearing, unique, and cool shit about Cleveland and if we could just embrace this city for what it is, instead of trying to impose some outside criteria for what it should be, that would go a long way towards solving what I think is a kind of self-image complex that plagues the psyche of this city.
Last month I had some friends from New York pass through Cleveland for a nite. They had read about W. 6th St. / Warehouse District (an area where I almost never go and don’t know much about) and were curious, so I met them down there for a drink. We didn’t last very long there, and I suggested we head elsewhere, eventually ending up at the Parkview. Had a few cheap drinks, hung out on the tiny patio, fucked around with the bowling machine, and had our palms read by a drunk old lady. On our way out my friends commented “this bar is the kind of shit that some parts of New York try to replicate”.
Except that here in Cleveland, it’s the real deal. We need to run with that: stop looking to New York for ideas, let’s make New York look to us for ideas.

To somewhat contradict myself now though, it pains me when I travel to other cities and realize what we’re missing here -- and I’m talking about very self-evident things like waterfront development, which Minneapolis and Milwaukee (cities of comparable size to Cleveland) do quite well. We’ve got a beautiful lake and a river in recovery, but the lack of vibrant, desirable public access to their shores is pathetic. You can’t tell me Edgewater Park is gonna cut it, what with the sewage runoff pipe 100 yards over from where kids are swimming. I do think Whiskey Island has some potential for good things if A) we don’t fuck up the old Coast Guard station and B) we prevent Wendy Park from turning into a caricature of Put-in-Bay or Margaritaville.

I’m sure Clevelanders will hate me for saying this but I think our city could actually learn something from a place like Pittsburgh. Petty rivalries aside, you can’t deny that Pittsburgh is a great Rust Belt city. Like Cleveland, it’s a hardscrabble industrial town with a shared past and a similar present. But Pittsburgh has actually in some ways weathered the economic storm better than many in this region (one example being that the number of foreclosures there has steadily been leveling off). The city also has a vibrant underground art scene. But most important of all, going back to the idea of a place’s psyche, I get the feeling that Pittsburgh has come to embrace its unglamorous reputation: its official tourism agency is marketing Pittsburgh as “a glamorless destination for the post-luxury age.” I love that idea (partly because the notion of its converse, a “glamour destination”, sounds like complete bullshit to me) because it implies that Pittsburgh is trying to make the best it can with the hand its been dealt, and I think that can be a great source of civic pride worth identifying with, so no one should feel ashamed of saying they’re from that city.

7) If you had the undivided attention of the mayor, city council, and county commissioners, what would be the one thing you'd ask for or tell them?

You mean besides getting rid of Dimora? Ha, well I guess it’d be hard to boil it down to ONLY one thing I’d request of them…

But if you force my hand, I’d suggest that they do a better job of engaging the city’s youth and give greater weight to our needs and perspectives. A friend of mine very recently started a monthly forum for young city-dwellers who care about seeing Cleveland thrive and want to become more civically involved -- it has some intriguing potential, and even after only one meeting I felt there was great understanding and energy for what we could do.

I really believe that a lot of people in our generation want a return to vibrant urban life. Many of us grew up in boring, sterile suburbs and we don’t want to live that way in our future, partially because the car-centric suburban sprawl models of our parents’ generation are rapidly becoming irrelevant and unsustainable.

And unfortunately I think that a lot of Cleveland’s old-school leadership has proven to have come to this realization too late -- one example being the Port Authority’s recent decision to help subsidize, with taxpayer money, the Eaton Corporation moving its headquarters out of the city for the putrid pastures of Chagrin Highlands. We can’t continue to marginalize the central city with backwards-minded decisions like that.

If those patterns continue and we inch further down this path of urban abandonment, then maybe we need to start asking how we can convert all the vacant land in the city (and there’s a plethora of it already) into agricultural use. This would be of particular importance in the underserved, impoverished parts of the city, where proximity to fresh produce is almost non-existent and the next closest alternatives on the block are fast food joints or packaged food at the corner store, and the grocery chains won’t build stores in East Cleveland. Its no coincidence that income level is a predictor of overall health, and dietary choices are obviously a big player on both sides of that equation too. But how can we expect people to make healthy dietary choices when they’re denied access to healthy options? I think the issue of food access is a growing matter of social justice that needs to be addressed.

To check Greg's work out, visit his website here, or check out his interesting photo-centric blog (which also showcases a good deal of really interesting photo work being done by other artists) here. Better yet, impress your friends and make your coffee table happy by getting a hold of the American Youth book - it is truly awesome. You can get it at Amazon , or give a call to your local bookseller (CB endorses Visible Voice on the west side and Mac's Backs on the east side) and ask them to order you a copy.