Cold No More

words BLAISE WELLER | photography MATT STEFFEN

Saturday night, a cold, cold gusty fifteen degrees. What to do? Stay home, warm, sink into the couch, and continue watching the football playoffs? Or wander out into the cold to Short Vine, meet a friend for a few beers at Dive Bar, and then walk over to Bogart’s for short sets of the Best New Bands Showcase sponsored by MadTree Brewing? I’m a sucker for sports but an even bigger, nerdier sucker for music. And considering what happened to our Cincinnati team? Music! Sweet music, cure my ailing, sports-cursed soul.

Stepping into Bogart’s on this blustery night, it seemed we were stepping back in time. Bands tuning, preparing, selling their wares, the crowd slowly filing in, even the style, the clothes, and mix of people, ages. One might be reminded of the quote attributed to Clemens, “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always ten years behind.”

But one part of culture here I’ve felt was never behind – our music. We’re finally getting the recognition we deserved long ago. It was the rest of the world that needed to recognize that this city has always been filled with talented bands. One need only to get out and see it. Despite the cold, the support continued to file in. That a Cincinnati craft beer company was sponsoring these new bands was still more proof of our up-to-dateness.

go go buffalo_cea new bands showcase_01.16.16_bogartsThe music began with a hearty laugh and plenty of entertaining prowess with the big-boned lead of Go Go Buffalo, Jeremy Moore, decked out in electric cowboy hat and faux-fur coat. Though not quite Fugazi in skill, the band was not without musical prowess either. The wit and humor continued through the middle of the set. Mimicking Pantera’s “Walk,” instead of “Re…spect…Walk!,” the band chanted the hilarious “No…more…Hemingway!,” all while Tyler Moore walked around spitting water up into the air and out onto the band and crowd. But it’s not just hilarity devoid of any craft, although there is plenty of that too. Want to be warmed this winter? Go see Go Go Buffalo. They will make you laugh out loud.

daniel van vechten_cea new bands showcase_01.16.16_bogartsNext up was Daniel Van Vechten, a single-man, acoustic, folk–pop band, on a makeshift side stage—something I didn’t think possible for Bogart’s—but for the red-cheeked crowd already warmed by Go Go, it worked just fine. Not quite fitting in with the rest of the rock taking place this evening, he soon caught the crowd’s backing when his mic went out. Getting us all to move in close, licking his way on the guitar and into the hands and feet of the supporters, he made himself fit, doing his own warming of the crowd.

the skulx_cea new bands showcase_01.16.16_bogartsShortly after, Skulx, took the main stage and might best be described as metal with brass. Though professing to lean towards punk, the hair-waving vocals together with the metal-guitar licks was more like, though not quite, a sort of Black Label Society. There was a somewhat interesting twist—a trumpet-bearing, blaring lead man, who blew his brass between whaling his lyrics. Not too much of a surprise to those who understood this lead was the former trumpet man for Foxy Shazam, bringing along others from the Shazam Collab and other local bands. Who knows how they will shape themselves? Perhaps at least one of the lead guitars will become the next Zakk Wylde.

Tdead man string band_cea new bands showcase_01.16.16_bogartshen it was back to the side stage for another one-man band—DeadMan String Band. This sole performer, however, sounded more like a full band, yielding and playing guitar, pedaling his drums and working the board—just one part of his shtick. Although he’s more than just shtick. He’s a sort of carnival of rock-a-billy worth seeing. For this show, it was billy meets metal. The other part of his shtick? He wore a mask—one part zombie, the other stitched Clown Posse. It was pretty cool to see one man capable of making that much noise, performing all the parts of what sounded mostly complete.

jsph_cea new bands showcase_01.16.16_bogartsOne of the highlights of the evening came up next on the main stage, JSPH, the handsome lead Joseph Nevels with a most excellent bassist and a backup singer on keyboard who is certain to develop into longer musical ballads. Think Marvin Gaye delving into hip–hop, at least live, and yet that description still doesn’t quite define it. Maybe it’s difficult to pinpoint because it can’t be and shouldn’t be, much like Nevels intends. For certain: there is old school R&B in Nevels’s background, and he has his own take on “modern” jazz, R&B, and hip–hop. There—that sort of does it. But go and see for yourself. Your head will nod and your feet will try to keep the beat. Take a date. You will not be disappointed.

dawg yawp_cea new bands showcase_01.16.16_bogartsIf the evening weren’t eclectic enough already, then came Dawg Yawp, the duo of Rob Keenan and Tyler Randall. From behind the giant red curtain came a big, booming, bass-drum toll. Then entered the sound of a sitar, keeping us guessing, intriguedYawp’s signature sound. Balanced, the sitar never faded away for long. The curtains opened, and the lead guitar is the sitar for the entire set. It was a thrilling, spellbinding sound, not solely for the qualities of the sitar, but for how it was crafted within their songs. Once again, what would seem to get old quick or become incomplete, or at least limited, with merely a duo at the reins, instead entertained to full capacity, almost always sounding polished in a sort of garage, unpolished state, giving new meaning to indie rock. I heard elements of Dead Can Dance and Mazzy Star, but that hardly says who they are or describes their unique sound, what they will become, the possibilities they project. There is even an electronica influence, but Dawg Yawp’s sound is much closer to good rock. The strange, wonderful spell clearly affected the crowd, and the dance[ing] began. Keep an eye, and an ear, out for Dawg Yawp.

Then followed Coconut Milk with 6’6” lead Alex Baker. The crowd, still feeling the buzz from the coconut milk_cea new bands showcase_01.16.16_bogartsDawgs, was moved to dance. An Arcade Fire, Animal Collective without the synthesizers -inspired band—it is still learning its sound, as many of these bands are. It will be nice to see how tight this band becomes. Right now it sounds like a fire beginning, then jumping, not so synchronic—much of which is intended. Perhaps their clear pleasure in playing will result in the tightening of their craft, and a more orchestrated, symphonic band will emerge. Something of the giant lead, Baker, I’m sure will become giant.

The show ended with Honeyspiders, the winner of last year’s award, and clearly the most polished of the honeyspiders_cea new bands showcase_01.16.16_bogartsthe bands. They have made good use of their year in. If Kurt Vile were to go Metal Metal, this might be his band.

Back into the cold again, I pulled my hat further down over my ears, flipped the collar of my coat up, keeping my head toward the pavement, avoiding the wind, but mostly averting my eyes from the vacant store front, the missing sign of Sudsy Malone’s. But as I made my way to my car, shivering, passing the Red Bikes sprouting up on both sides of the river, I’m smiling, nodding my head, once more proud of Cincinnati, this city we live in and all of the possibilities.

Get on one of those Red Bikes when it gets warmer, or Uber with friends, and seek out the many musical possibilities. Support. The only sad thing to report about this evening’s showcase of the Best New Bands, other than seeing Sudsy’s no more? Perhaps Clemens’s wit about our Queen City may no longer hold up. You may have only one year left here, or probably more like a few days, when the end comes.

Blaise Weller is a published author and writer for Polly Magazine. He is a Professor of Creative Writing and teaches Composition, Advanced Writing, Literature and Film at Northern Kentucky University. Questions or comments? Contact him at