Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Review: Coffinberry S/T... my first stab

A new Coffinberry release is like an unexpected gift from a loved one: I don’t have any expectations but any time they show me how much they care is greatly appreciated. Needless to say I was swooning when I opened my mailbox to find their brand new self-released, self-titled record inside. I felt like making snow angels in a giant field of dandy lions (or lifting weights and pounding beers if that makes me more of a man.)

These guys have been the best of the strong hold bands in Cleveland for the better part of the past decade. What that means is that they have taken over the reigns from bands like the H-100s, TKOs and Cobra Verde. A workhorse to say the least, Coffinberry has probably amassed enough tunes to satisfy the local music nerds for generations to come. So why, oh why, has their tenacity and pure song writing genius not transferred outside of Cleveland? I have no conclusive answer to that question. America is asleep and it’s sad; maybe this new record can cure the collective coma the rest of the nation seems to be in.

After a brief stint with Morphius Records, Coffinberry has decided to go it alone releasing this LP (that means long-player…it’s a term used to describe 12” vinyl records which is how this album is being released) on their own imprint Central Command Center Records. CCC is best known for their uber awesome collection of cassette tapes (Dimeras, Death Sweats) and maybe it was their lack of knowledge in other more progressive musical formats that led them to co-release with the Collectible Escalators label (home to local favorites Machine Go Boom.) Label woes aside, it’s a great treat to hear the long awaited follow up to what may be a bona fide legendary record, God Damn Dogs.

The Cross brothers are a formable tag-team, Nick continues to hone his vocal prowess on the kicker ‘Lorena’ where he sounds like he is a non-goof King of Leon, one that could easily drink the amount of bourbon as the others claim. His older brother Tony continues to be the back-bone of the band as the one-two punch of his drum work along with his siblings song-writing are comparable to a Cleveland Oasis. Don’t throw your empty bottle of Straub at me for writing such a garbage comparison but what is simple is true.

‘New Color’ expands the bands work by adding a piano and harmonica into the mix, all together it’s like Crimpshrine and Neil Young doing a summer duet. The band is slowing things down in comparison to God Dam Dogs which was a record that almost dared the indie rock world to try and turn their backs on Coffinberry. Full of pop laden anthems and radio ready, reflective life lessons, GDD was an A&R reps wet dream. This record sounds like a defiant step forward and beyond, more country than pop and more the result of a night of bong rips than pints of British ale.

‘Glassy Shiny Sun’ is a beautiful reaction to what national music media calls alt-country; sweet guitar strumming and a young, excited tone from Nick comes together to rival most of the herald My Morning Jackets latest work. Coffinberry is easing their way into a world that few local Cle bands have ever set foot one into and they are doing it their way which is to say wonderfully.

‘Little Machine’ may be the hit that these guys have seemingly been avoiding for the past few years. It’s exciting and addictive, full of summer fun and maybe a little of autumn regrets. I don’t’ know, is this indie rock, college rock or just plain kick-ass rock and roll?
The answer avoids me as ‘The Vapors’ slowly drags my spirit away. With tokens of the aforementioned MMJ’s most depressing songs and Tom Waits circus world undertones, this song is a kick in the mouth at the end of a record that still makes me wonder: is this the best they have? If it is, that is a feat that deserves the utmost praise and respect and, if not, then I am finding God and repenting because I never saw something this good in Cleveland’s future.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Welcome to Cleveland Big Cactus!

I’m thankful that I was not pre-mature in welcoming Shaq to the city of Cleveland. The news broke late last night, he is on his way for better or worse. I stand by my remarks that Shaquille O’Neil will make a fine Clevelander even if he disappoints on the court. Be it scandal or hilarity, Shaq will bring some much needed water cooler worthy antics to a city that has had only one real A-list celeb for far too long (no offense King, you’ll always be our favorite).

So break out the confetti and champagne; there’s a new neighbor that needs to be welcomed to Cleveland in style.

And no one has even mentioned all the Hip Hop cuts Joe Smith and Shaq can cut together. A new Cleveland Classic is on the cusp of being born in some fashion, I can feel it in the air.

See you soon, Shaquille.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

World Wide Wonderful Episode I : My Friend Cleveland

I have always wished that there was a community of cool Cleveland music webpage’s that I could drool over each morning and being in Los Angeles only magnifies how little access I have to the city. Of course there are the shinning stars: Clepunk for example has been a great resource for those wanting to know more about the Cleveland punk scene or to altogether reconnect with it. It hasn’t changed much over the years but the message board remains a place for old and young wastoids alike to come together to discuss old Starvation Army and Floyd Band shows. And no one here is afraid to get into catty internet name calling which is a huge plus.

Message boards are pretty much key to making a local website work. I know this blog is lacking without one; where is a guy supposed to talk shit and alter porn photos? That sort of stuff is really the drawing factor to My Friend Cleveland.

I will be the first to admit that I should have done my homework and found out who is behind this website and what their history is; but, let’s be honest, I am not going to go that far. I have, though, been a transient visitor for the past couple of years but I usually pass up the blog entries and head straight for the ‘board of all boards’.

There’s not a ton of people posting here but you have some key figures writing weekly and it’s an A-list of local wingnut musicians and more than a few professional barfly. It’s pretty rad that amid the flyers and let-you-in-on-it posts there are gems about the history of .10 cent beer night (complete with highlights from this years reenactment), photos from the Romantic Getaway fest and a thread posted by a dude in need of a tap for his keg of beer.

Unfortunately the main page acts primarily as a gateway to the board; it’s barely been touched since the new year and what few updates we've been given are more personal than anything. There are some high-techy bits though: it would be fool hardy of me not to mention the sweet Vietnam Werewolf video posted in March. This is another band I feel really angry about missing out on. Honestly I have heard very little of them and here I feel a strange Fifteen vibe coming from their stage show. There are beers being held high as they tear through a bouncy punk tune that brings to mind Berkeley punk, mid-90s. Is that way far off or totally right on? You tell me but don’t post any fucked up altered pics of me in a hot tub with rr (that’s an internet message board abbreviation, get used to it).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Enter the Shaq: future Cleveland celeb?

So it was Superman that helped to shut us out of this years NBA Finals and now it is supposedly the OG Superman that can help lead us to the title next year. Sure it’s an ironic twist of fate and it’s probably not at all a sure thing in the eyes of realistic sports fans but getting Shaquille O’Neal to put on a Cavaliers jersey is certainly a fun prospect.

The bottom line is that Cleveland needs another superstar. The questions centering around whether or not Lebron can ‘single handedly’ carry us to a championship have traditionally been a little weak; he’s always had a little help be it the traded Damon Jones hitting clinch shots or Big Z being one of the most consistent big men in basketball (not to mention the influx of top-notch players over the past two years). But what we have in tenacity and vigor we lack in All-Star caliber basketball performers. Enter Shaq Fu, the Diesel, the Big Shaqtus. If anything ticket sales go through the roof and all eyes are again on us (plus the endless nicknames are a marketing dream come true.)

The city can’t loose. Worst case scenario is the old man decides to retire in a year and we only pay that big time $20 million dollar sum once (and hopefully LBJ gets his ring out of it). Best case scenario is something a little more interesting.

Cleveland is a town that absolutely thrives on its local celebrities. Sports heroes abound even when they would be bench warmers elsewhere (it was just two years ago we all rallied behind Larry Hughes as a Cavs starter), owners of furniture stores have their own cult following, midget jewelry hawkers are one step away from God status among a population that can barely afford frozen .99 cent spring rolls at the Dealz store in Steelyard Commons. So isn’t a guy with a laughable Hip Hop career, a history as a reserve member of the LAPD and a B-movie star with films in the bag where he plays a fucking genie worth all of Cleveland’s mocking and scrutinizing for years to come?

Yes. Yes he is worth our mockery. I truly believe that Shaq would make an extraordinary Clevelander. Think of the laughs and You Tube memories he can assist us with. He’s a walking punch line, he probably gets the joke if his bizarre dance-offs with Lebron at the All-Stare weekends are any sort of proof and he has four (god damn…four) NBA titles under his increasingly large belt.

Let me be the first, Mr. O’Neal, to prematurely welcome you to our fair city. And I truly hope that, in your stay here, you settle into a life of local commercials, auto show autograph sessions and a place in the Cleveland Hall of Fame; right between Mark Norton and Little John. After all, big man, you will deserve it if you get us past Superman next year.

P.S. In the midst of two blogs ago I call no curse. If we land another Shawn Kemp instead of the Big Galactus... it's not the Deadtown Curse: blame Mr. Ferry not Mr. Chernus (the same goes if Shaq disappoints; I'm not putting my neck on any line.)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

One Song in Words II

Four months ago I wrote a piece where I checked in on some of my favorite Cleveland bands via their myspace pages (a lame gen-now idea but it saved any real thinking on my part). One song was reviewed and it was a nice way for me to play check up on everyone since I have been a poor study of Cleveland rock for the past year. Now I am taking that idea and making it into a full fledged Deadtown Cleveland segment or reoccurring blog if you will (insert audio of Dusty Rhodes saying that last bit) topic much like Cle Food Fetish or the beloved Cleveland Classic.

This time around I decided to change the gimmick a little. Instead of checking on bands that I know and hold dear to my rotten heart I am going to be stopping by myspace pages of bands I have… (or dah, dah, dah!) NEVER HEARD! That’s right; it’s an honest to God fact that there are bands in Cleveland that I have never been privy to in an audio type of way. Now this is not to say that these bands are off my radar: far from it, the bands below are actually ones that I put into Google searches this afternoon because I have been meaning to listen to them for months and, in some cases, f’n years.

Well… let’s be off on this trademarked voyage.

Gunfire! Getdown!
Girl Pile

My first impression was simply, holy shit, these guys have a dumb name. And it’s undeniably true; it’s atrocious. I thought it would be ‘punk n roll’, dumb and plain. Oh well, it kind of is except that it owns pretty hard. How can that be Mr Chernus? Well dumb and plain is kind of what all rock and roll is when taken to its barest of elements, asshole. ‘Girl Pile’ reminds me of the early 2000’s when Cleveland was a greasy mess of drunk twenty-something’s getting into bad trouble. All those aforementioned kids are listening to indie rock now and living east of Lakewood but that doesn’t matter worth a fuck to G.G. This song drives all night with a catchy refrain, powerhouse riffing and a strange resemblance to those forgotten Vacancies gems (before that full length came out; you know, when all you knew was the live stuff). Good tune to play at parties where gunfire has no chance to happen and the only thing you’re getting down with is this LP and a twelve of Burning River. (For fans of getting drunk and Parma).

Lick the Blade
Sea of Apathy

My first impression was simply, holy shit, these guys have an amazing name. And it’s undeniably true; it’s fucking cool. Lick the Blade offer up a very commendable classic-metal track that conjures eighties Maiden as easily as the souls of ten witches and gypsy thieves; for real. So maybe it’s not anything new or even anything original, fuck me, this would barely sound new or original the year I was born but it’s still perfect for the jukebox at the Jigsaw (if someone would just resurrect that place). Ted Anderson spins a righteous tale here with ample shout outs given to those ever evil shores. I can imagine that this dude, uninhibited by instrument, is all over the place at a live gig; he better be or else Dio would tell that joke about wanting his voice back. (For fans of Maiden (I already said it), Soulless and Nunslaughter).

The Hot Rails

These guys have been tearing it up in Cleveland pretty hard or so I’ve been told once or twice. I was hesitant to listen to them because, for the longest time, I thought it was a bunch of girls and, well you know, that would probably end up being bad. I was kind of surprised to see this is my old buddy Charlie Druesedow’s (lead drums and ex-everything) band and, even weirder, the easiest nomination for best Post-Sharkey, Ken Janssen is the singer (ex-Vista Cruisers). All put together it kind of sounds like Bad Wizard which is bitter sweet: it’s the perfect party band stuff but these guys could probably have done something a little better. But let’s be fair, ‘Ripper’ does just that; Janssen holds court with maybe the best drunken howl in Clevo and I know he can back that shit up on stage or in a bar fight. Druesedow remains a solid rock drummer, keeping this whole sinking ship of Straub and thin lines of blow together. ‘You want to go for a ride/you better give it up/I’m going to live it up.’ Good enough for a Cleveland summer but it might not keep you warm all winter. (For fans of Stepsister, Annihilation Time and beer).

Brian Straw

I’ve known Brian through dealing with the Beachland and general Cleveland this-and-that for a very long while but I have never gone to see the guy play and here I sit kinda kicking myself for it. Yeah, yeah—the dude plays soft, folk stuff and I am an unabashed lover of all things stupid and metallic—but there is a soft spot in this sarcastic soul… shit, I wrote the word soul just now with no intention of tying Satan or sacrifice into it. I tried out all four songs offered on his page which is against the rules I just now put upon myself (the other bands had to deal with the first thoughts I had on the first song I ever heard by them) and this was, admittedly the one that I liked most. Brian has a voice my man, it’s marketable to all the distressed girls that get forced into seeing Hot Rails by their drunk bfs (that means boyfriends); dark, melancholy and distressed in it’s on right. The drums plod along here with the soft strumming and eerie vocal melody making me think it’s like a Goth Fleet Foxes or maybe some other indie rock band that I’m too metal to reference. Brian Straw might be the perfect antidote to people who are sick of the type of bands I wrote about above or just another day at Arabica for the rest of you. (For fans of coffee, poetry, autumn and stuff like that).

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Sports Illustrated Curse or the Cleveland Curse?

The sports illustrated curse. Is it true? Well, a lot of Cleveland sports fans are probably holding on to this mystery as a way to cope with the horror of lasts week’s final defeat. I’ve had some time to think about it and I still don’t know how I feel. Surely it’s a weak excuse but there is simply no other town in America that has more reason to make excuse than Cleveland.

It took me a few days to even go online and look at what the Cle press was saying about the Cavaliers loss to Orlando in game six. I come from a devout Cavs family; my mother used to work for the organization during the miracle at Richfield era, I’ve spent countless nights at both the Coliseum and Q where I either cheered or stifled tears and many an obscenity. Maybe all of those years of heartbreak should have knolled the pain I would eventually feel time and time again. But, no, there is no way to express the disappointment.

I wanted to call my mom right away and hear her side of things but it took me days to do so. I just could not handle her inevitable response of pure heartbreak. When people in California gave me their deepest sympathies, I recoiled from them or offered weak rebuttals to the extent of “I’m trying not to think too much about it”, which was bullshit: it’s all I could think about.

The most powerful thing I could find to say to my Cleveland friends was/is “I am so sick of having a ‘there’s always next season’ season.”

The article in question was by an ex-Clevelander such as myself, Joe Posnanski. He seems like a genuine guy: I’ve been on his website and he has a true love for sports and Cleveland (he goes as far as to call it beautiful), he’s a fellow journalist and his name sounds Polish or German enough to be a regular at Slyman’s on Saint Claire. If you don’t own a copy I feel bad for you as it’s a collector’s item of Cleveland sports history. And that is what our Cavaliers season of 2008/2009 has sadly become, curse or not.


Time for an honest gut check: I had to stifle those familiar tears as I read the article. It was written from the point of view of a fan… a Cleveland sports fan that has seen and felt all the trials and tribulations that you and I have witnessed (even before that word became a trademark for our most impressive superstar). Throughout the piece local working man after local working man pleads their case for Posnanski to make sure that his work would not land on the cover of SI; it’s an omen, bad luck, KARMA MAN! It’s a plead he understands but ultimately uses to bookend his piece with an editors note to go ahead and put Cleveland on the cover of the legendary sports magazine because, as we all truly know, that is where these athletes have always deserved to be (the shot, the drive, the sweep and all).

Since the 5.25.09 issue hit the newsstands and was delivered to homes and business across the world the number one team in the National Basketball Association went on to lose four of six games to the third seated team in the eastern conference. Many in Cleveland have let the stifled tears fall, others lost hope altogether and, elsewhere, Posnanski has received an endless tirade of hate mail from the ever blood thirsty Cleveland sports fanatics. Can I blame them? Oh, absolutely not… as a once Cleveland native and an admitted admirer of the city, he should have known better.

Now that all is said and done, Lebrons magnificent finish in game two becoming a lost memory, it’s hard to really place blame on a writer who was only trying to let the rest of the world know how powerful a part of day-to-day life professional sports are to the average Clevelander. Maybe there is a curse but I don’t think it has anything to do with, arguably, the greatest athlete alive getting another cover in the most coveted sports rag of all time.

The curse may lie in our hands as we, the fans, have always been turncoats at best. It is true that no one has ever thrown bottles on the court after Lebron and company lost a game but the chorus of boo’s that I have heard after simply missed free-throws (and not game clinchers by any means) on our own home court are easily part of any long term ills that have befallen our franchise teams.

I’m not shedding any light or forecasting a brighter future. I’m simply upset and hopefully forgivably so. I wish the best for all Cleveland athletes and hopefully, one day, seeing one of our beloved stars on the cover of Sports Illustrated will be just another good omen of an appending championship won.