The Billings Outpost

Flautist Klein wows audience

Story - By SCOTT PRINZING - For The Outpost

There’s a new Pied Piper in town and his name is Ben Klein. That may be a clichéd term for describing a flute player, but as one audience member proclaimed after last Saturday’s performance, “I seriously think Ben might be the best flautist in the entire universe!”

The Morning Folk music series at The Fieldhouse Café offered a unique duo whose one-half is one-third of this year’s Renaissance Festival’s opening night headlining act, Trillian Green. Flute player extraordinaire Ben Klein, along with multi-instrumental maestro Jake Fleming, performed an improvisational set that left the brunch crowd in absolute awe.

The Saturday morning series usually finds the musicians set up in the corner near the entrance, in order for the music to be seen and heard in both dining areas of The Fieldhouse. For this event, Klein and Fleming set up on the stage in the lounge area like it is for the Thursday night music events. Folks in the other dining area might have heard the music, but those close by got to watch Klein playing like he was possessed by Kokopelli, the iconic flute player of Southwest ancient rock art.

Fleming is a respected jazz musician from Bozeman. He is a founding member of the Jeni Fleming Trio and part of Pinky and the Floyd, a Pink Floyd tribute act. At this performance, Fleming created loops that were improvised on the spot, using drum beats, bass guitar, acoustic and electric guitar, and a small two octave keyboard. The slightly jazzy loops provided a base for both he and Klein to improvise over. Fleming would either play tenor sax or acoustic guitar while Klein played flute like few others can.

The music was at times hypnotic, at times mesmerizing, but always amazing. It was fully improvised on the spot. The duo had played together on only one other occasion. As Klein put it before the show, “We have no idea what we’re going to be doing. But we know exactly what we’re going to be doing.”

And they never appeared to be lost anywhere but deep inside the music.

While Fleming is certainly talented and created a wonderful underlay for their live playing, it was Klein who left the audience wide-eyed and open-mouthed.

The one break from the entrancing sounds came after two hours of continual music when they played a lengthy acoustic blues jam. It evoked the late-’60s version of Jethro Tull, which should come as no surprise, as Tull’s flute player, Ian Anderson, inspired Klein to learn the instrument.

Ben Klein moved his family to Bozeman from Seattle where he was a member of the instrumental trio Trillian Green. Cellist Christine Gunn still lives in Seattle, while percussionist Jarrod Kaplan lives in Eugene, Ore. Their days of West Coast tours are behind them, but they still try to reconvene each summer for select festival performances.

Fortunately for Billings, one of Trillian Green’s rare performances will be at the Renaissance Festival this July 26. Be prepared for a musical experience unlike any other, while Klein and Gunn interweave their instruments and Kaplan provides percussion that seems to emanate from his body as much as from his instruments. On a few songs, Klein might play his moon guitar, a converted dulcimer.

The all-instrumental trio draws on the world’s classical and ethnic musical traditions, making music that is uniquely Trillian Green.

To get a sense of what is in store, listen to sound clips from their CD “Metamorphoses,” as well as solo works and side projects by the individual band members at www.omnivine.com/trillian.html. Trillian Green CDs can be purchased there or through Amazon or CDBaby.

Those familiar with the “Green Smarts with the Green Man” public service announcements will already have heard Trillian Green’s “Cross-Eyed Crane Fly,” from their live-in-the-studio album, “Psycho Tantric Juju Jazz.”

Anyone who hears the music – and Ben Klein in particular – will agree with just about everyone I spoke with or overheard last Saturday morning: “That guy is absolutely amazing!”

The previous night, the atrium of the Yellowstone Art Museum was transformed into a micro Renaissance Faire as several of the entertainers from the Montana Renaissance Festival and Highland Games convened for an evening of music and more.

Earthshine, Johnny Walker, Wes Urbaniak, a bagpiper, and a troupe of belly dancers performed in a round robin of sorts for museum visitors. The regular Jam at the Yam became “Ren Jam 2013” for the night, providing a look back at the variety of entertainment offered at last June’s inaugural Ren Faire at ZooMontana and a glimpse into this July’s line up.

Friday night’s free event was open to the public, who were also treated to hors d’oeuvres from the museum’s Raven Café. Wine and beer were available for purchase. The performers each took turns at playing a few numbers before passing on to the next musician or dancer throughout the evening.

Two of the performers were both featured at last summer’s festival: Earthshine and Johnny Walker. 

Solo guitarist Walker played original flamenco-jazz music to his own backing tracks. His mastery over the fretboard is as amazing to watch as it is to hear. Those who couldn’t get enough in one evening were able to purchase copies of his 20-track CD to take home.

Earthshine’s Kris Prinzing and her husband Scott (the writer of this article), performed selections from their three CDs on acoustic guitars, bass and mandolin. Dressed in their finest Renaissance garb, they definitely looked the part, even if their Ren-talk, as organizer Ken Haak calls it, was no match for his.

Haak is special events coordinator at the YAM, and has brought his extensive experience with Renaissance festivals to the museum. What began as an idea for evening event last year soon grew into an all-day affair before combining with the Highland Games for a two-day festival last summer. This year’s faire will be even bigger, with an opening night concert on Friday, a Saturday filled with pipes and drums and other entertainment, and a Sunday of continued entertainment. Food, arts, and crafts will be available all weekend as well.

Other performers at Ren Jam included bagpiper Anne Allen, singer songwriter Wes Urbaniak and the Black Gypsy Belly Dance Troupe. All are set to be on hand at this year’s big event.

Allen is one of the few women pipers in Billings and was dressed in her Highland finery.

Urbaniak played his distinct original songs on a guitar of his own design and construction. The belly dancers and drummers were all dressed in colorful gypsy attire that flowed when they took turns dancing to their pulsating drumming.

For more information about the Montana Renaissance Festival, go to MontanaRenFest.com.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 June 2013 19:29

Hits: 3633

When We Came as Romans coming

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

When We Came as Romans recorded its 2008 debut EP, “Dreams,” the group approached the project with a do-or-die attitude.

“Dreams” was either going to get the band off of the ground, or the band was going to crash and burn and the group members would go to college and get on with their lives.

The EP did what it was supposed to, allowing We Came as Romans to tour nationally and paving the way to deals with management, a bigger booking agency and a deal with Equal Vision Records.

These days, that sort of uncertainty doesn’t surround We Came as Romans. The band is coming off of a successful first full-length CD, “To Plant a Seed,” and is established enough to headline the first tour the group is doing behind its recently released second CD, “Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be.”

Does that mean the band members can exhale now, and no longer feel the pressure and urgency that started with “Dreams” and extended into “To Plant a Seed”?

Not really, according to guitarist Joshua Moore. Yes, the band, which formed in Troy, Mich., in 2005, is in a good place and its future looks bright. But there was still plenty at stake with “Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be.”

“We had a really good start with ‘To Plant a Seed,’” he said in a recent phone interview. “But once you start, you have to sustain, and you have to be moving forward. I think we did a really good job of that just by setting goals, always having something to reach for. And once we attain that, to keep moving and have goals after that.”

The goals for the latest CD were different than they were for “To Plant a Seed” – and reflected the different stages in the life of the band, which also includes vocalist Dave Stephens, singer/keyboardist Kyle Pavone, guitarist Lou Cotton, bassist Andy Glass and drummer Eric Choi.

“‘To Plant a Seed,’ that whole CD was really about establishing ourselves,” Moore said. “It was our first full length, and we had to, I guess, really appeal to people. We hadn’t had too much touring under our belts or anything, and it was really going to be a lot of people’s first impressions of us, so we had to make a really good one. And with ‘Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be,’ we really focused more on establishing a sound that is our band, that if someone were to hear it and not be able to see what was playing on the iPod, they would hear it and say ‘Oh, that’s We Came as Romans. I know their sound.’”

“Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be” carries forward many of the stylistic elements of the two earlier albums. Once again the group employs the tag team of gravelly screamed lyrics from Stephens and the smoothly sung vocals of Pavone. The band also brings its mix of mayhem and melody to songs like “Cast the First Stone,” “Mis//Understanding” and “Views That Never Cease, to Keep Me from Myself,” as the band rumbles between grinding lower register guitar parts and slightly lighter, more melodic sections.

On tracks like “Everything as Planned” and “The Way That We Have Been,” the band sweetens things with string-like parts – another musical element that carries over from “To Plant a Seed.”

What also defines We Came as Romans are the positive messages in its songs – something that’s fairly rare in the metalcore/aggressive rock genres. The title “Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be” relates very directly to the overall theme of the CD, according to Moore, who is the band’s primary songwriter.

“It’s about figuring out how to be happy with the life that you’ve chosen, trying to be the person that you want to be and figuring out how to be happy with that and how to retain that happiness, how to not be constantly be searching for a different thing that’s going to make you happy based on the day of the week,” Moore said.

That encouraging spirit is something the band tries to bring to its live performances, as the band works hard to involve its fans in the live show through its music, a strong visual presentation that uses backdrops and a light show and the energy and spirit the band members themselves bring to the stage.

“We’ve always tried to be a real inclusive band live, always trying to keep our fans moving as much as we are,” Moore said.

“If they see us just kind of slacking, just kind of playing through the songs or whatever, I mean, that’s going to be a bummer for everyone,” he said.

“Fans, they want to see what your band sounds like. They want to see what we’re going to do with the songs. They already know what it sounds like. They’ve heard it on the CD many times, probably a lot of times, actually. And so they want to see what that’s going to feel like live. They don’t just want to hear whatever you’re going to play.”

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 June 2013 19:27

Hits: 1947

Band past manslaughter charge

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

At this time last summer, everything seemed to be on track for Lamb of God. The band had released its latest album, “Resolution,” in December 2011, and the album had been greeted with favorable reviews, with some calling it the best album of the group’s two-decade career.

The band had spent the first part of 2012 touring outside of the United States and had a tour set in the States for the fall with Dethklok.

Then Lamb of God’s world got turned upside down. Arriving in the Czech Republic for three shows at the end of June, the band members were blindsided as they arrived at the airport.

“I came off of the plane to, there was a guy on the skyway who was checking passports, checking identifications and as you were. Most people were going to the left, they were sending us off to the right,” Lamb of God bassist Campbell recalled in a phone interview. “I walked up to the top of the skyway, to the side they were telling me to go to, and was asked for my passport and I asked who was asking and I was shown a badge for homicide, and I realized I was more or less surrounded by SWAT dudes with ski masks on and automatic weapons.”

The police were looking for singer Randy Blythe, ready to charge him with manslaughter stemming from an incident at a 2010 Lamb of God concert in Prague in which a fan of the band died.

Blythe, who faced up to five years in prison, was arrested and put in jail, where he stayed for nearly 40 days before he was released on bail on Aug. 2.

By then, Lamb of God had been forced to cancel its tour with Dethklock, but the band salvaged the fall by scheduling a headlining tour for later in the season.

But given the circumstances and the fact that Blythe’s trial was looming in February, it made this first tour of the states behind “Resolution” a very different proposition than any other tour Lamb of God had done.

“On our side of the stage it felt very different because we had mixed kind of emotions about what was going on,” Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler said in a separate phone interview. “Although people coming to the show were seeing Randy up on stage every night under the impression that Randy was free and here we are on tour, we knew what we were still coming to face in February and it was far from over. In fact, it was possibly just beginning in many ways. So we didn’t know if it was our last tour (as a band).”

The worry that Lamb of God was going to lose its singer wasn’t farfetched. In the Czech Republic, the person on trial must prove his innocence, rather than the prosecutor needing to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.And Adler, who testified at Blythe’s trial, said the band thought its singer faced a daunting task at trial.

“From the back seat and the meetings with lawyers and everybody as it was going on, we were all very skeptical that he would be totally exonerated,” Adler said. “We assumed there would be some sort of conclusion with a penalty of some kind.”

So it was a considerable surprise and relief when Blythe was found innocent of all charges by a panel of Czech judges at the beginning of March, allowing him to return to Lamb of God and for the band to book a second run of U.S. concerts in support of “Resolution.” The tour runs from May 16-June 20.

The Blythe saga stemmed from a May 24, 2010, concert at Club Abaton in Prague at which prosecutors in the Czech Republic asserted that Blythe had pushed a 19-year-old fan, Daniel Nosek, off of the stage. Nosek at some point fell, hitting his head on the floor. Later that evening, Nosek became violently ill, was taken to a hospital and underwent emergency brain surgery. Sadly, he slipped into a coma and died from his injury.

The show had been plagued by lapses in security, as fans had been able to get on stage during Lamb of God’s show. But Blythe denied ever pushing Nosek, and there was conflicting testimony from concert-goers about whether they saw Blythe push Nosek, and exactly when and how Nosek fell to the floor.

So the judges cleared Blythe, and now Lamb of God is back on a tour of theaters and large clubs this spring.

Adler said Lamb of God’s live set on the current tour will probably include four or five songs from “Resolution,” but the band won’t neglect its five other albums, devoting about two-thirds of its show to fan favorites from its back catalog.

“If you went out and got the new album (“Resolution”) and you don’t like it, you’re not going to have to suffer through the whole thing,” Adler said. “But if you went out and got it and loved it, you’re going to get a fair amount of it. Hopefully we balance it out pretty well and everybody goes home happy.”

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 May 2013 19:17

Hits: 2723

Maxie Ford plays at Babcock

By SCOTT PRINZING - For The Outpost

Billings’ favorite girl group, Maxie Ford, has played its second-to-last gig. With summer taking various members separate ways and the fall taking a few to college or other adventures, their last hurrah may very well be at Magic City Blues in August. Not a bad way to wrap up a one-year career.

Formed last August by two daughters of two stalwarts of the Billings music scene, the group of five to six high school students garnered much community and local media support that seemed to build at every turn. The combination of talent, unique instrumentation, eclectic song selection, and adorableness, culminates with an opening slot on the third day of “Montana’s Urban Music Festival.”

Guitarist and vocalist Katy Kemmick’s father, John, is known for his resonator guitar work with the Longtime Lonesome Dogs, the Muddy Warblers, the Peach Pickers and as a duo with his brother, Ed (who made a guest appearance on blues harp at this show).

Guitarist, vocalist and ukulele player Hannah Haberman’s father, Doug, has played bass fiddle, mandolin and guitar with the Elk River Ramblers, Longtime Lonesome Dogs and the Firehouse Band. Both girls are known in the local scene through guest appearances with their dads while growing up, so it was a welcome development when they combined forces to perform with a group of musical friends.

What has helped to set them apart are the instrumentation and set list. Grace Lamdin plays double bass, mid-year addition Jenny Long plays trumpet, and percussionist Nolee Anderson plays tap shoes. That’s right: tap dancing instead of a drum set. Plus, she occasionally raps. Everyone else, except Katy Kemmick, plays a bit of percussion here and there, as well.

One founding member, pianist Hayley Haw, left for Chicago just as the ball started rolling at the end of 2012. Her replacement, Madison Stone, is the twin sister of talented musician and actor Mackenzie Stone, who has appeared in productions at Senior High, Billings Studio Theater and Venture Theatre. All of the girls have studied at Senior High School, except Haberman, who is graduating from West High School this year.

The show Saturday night was a benefit for BikeNet. The $15 ticket price may sound high for a local cover group, but the band was probably a bigger draw than the cause itself. (Perhaps it was the rainy night, but this writer appeared to be the only one in attendance who actually rode a bike to the show.) Perhaps 150 people or so comfortably filled much of the downstairs seating in the Babcock Theater.

The audience obviously held many friends and family as there was plenty of interplay between stage and crowd. As Katy was explaining their brand new CD, she called out, “I’m getting there, Mom!” Pam Kemmick had apparently wanted to make sure credit was given to Brad Edwards, who recorded a recent performance of them as a surprise. Copies of 40 CDRs (“That’s all we could burn in the past two days!”) were available for $5, packaged in brown paper lunch bags with a Maxie Ford sticker.

The songs covered were a mix of current alt rock, hip-hop, singer-songwriter, and a few old time country classics like, “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “Jackson.” The emphasis is on lead and harmony vocals shared mostly by Katy and Hannah, but with a few raps and vocal parts sung by Nolee.

Grace started playing the bass line from the jazz standard “A Night in Tunisia” and Jenny joined her for a few bars – enough to make her father, Jeff Long, proud. He is a Senior High band teacher and trumpet player with local favorites Funk in the Trunk.

And there is a lot to be proud of, as well as much gratitude for all the community support. Nolee mentioned that when BikeNet board member and past president Nash Emrich introduced the band members and thanked them for performing for free, it was Maxie Ford who owed them thanks, for the opportunity to play at the Babcock. She also thanked the Kemmick family, “Who put up with our crap, and let us borrow a lot of their crap”; her own Anderson family, who let them take over their house for rehearsals; Brad Edwards, for making the CD; and the “Brown boys,” son Steve and father, Bob, who built Nolee’s tap platform (with built-in microphone!).

Opening the show was another young singer, Dallas Martin, whose bluesy voice sounded much more soulful than her teenage appearance would suggest. She was accompanied by Hannah’s father, Doug Haberman, on mandolin and a guitarist introduced simply as “Dave!”

As some members head off to college, Katy and Hannah plan to take a year off to try their hand in Nashville. They certainly have the talent and charm to make their mark in the music business.

Let’s just hope that when they all come home for the winter holiday season, a reunion gig might be in store.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 24 May 2013 00:23

Hits: 3390

Edward Sharpe adjusts to changes

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros had good success with its first CD. The group’s acclaimed debut, “Up From Below,” featured the single “Home,” which got widespread exposure in commercials, movies and television shows.

It might seem that the acclaim and success would have given frontman Alex Ebert and his bandmates plenty of confidence heading into album No. 2, the recently released “Here.”

But that wasn’t the case, Ebert said, because the band dynamic that had developed during three-plus years on tour behind “Up From Below” had changed in significant ways shortly before it was time to start work on the new CD.

The reason: the departures of guitarist/keyboardist Nico Aglietta and keyboardist Aaron Embry – two key members of the group. Aglietta, in particular, had played a key role, co-producing “Up From Below” with Ebert and taking the lead on technical/engineering aspects of the project.

“I’d rather not talk about why (Aglietta and Embry left) exactly, but it was just sort of a part of the process, I suppose,” Ebert said. “Whenever things feel like they’re crumbling and you’ve been working really hard at something for a long time, and the feeling of it is getting a little wearisome, you start to question exactly what you’re doing and where is this going. And I think that we all had probably, maybe not all of us, but to have a moment of sort of repose where you’re allowing the question to sit with yourself for a second.

“I felt we were all kind of having that teetering moment to some degree or other. Then everyone had been touring for so long, that even the idea of going up to Ojai (California) to record the album did not sound good to a lot of the guys. You had this sort of feeling of where is the commitment level exactly?”

But eventually Ebert and the other band members decided to move forward, and in doing “Here,” even evolved into a collaborative unit.

“The first album I had written a lot of the stuff and demoed it before we were a band,” Ebert said. “Then we became a band while recording it.”

For “Here,” Ebert had a few demos of new songs, but for the most part, Ebert involved the entire band from the start of the project. The other band members are Jade Castrinos (vocals/guitar), Stewart Cole (horns/keyboards), Josh Collazo (drums), Orpheo McCord (percussion), Nora Kirkpatrick (accordion), Christian Letts (guitar), Seth Ford-Young (bass), plus two musicians who joined the lineup last spring, Mark Noseworthy (guitar) and Aaron Arntz (piano).

“For the most part we sat down and worked out arrangements and put in the time that you put in when you’re doing things together,” Ebert said.

Things went so well, in fact, that the recordings sessions will generate two albums – “Here” followed by a second CD, a self-titled release, which will arrive on July 23.

“They’re a nice complement to each other,” Ebert said of the two CDs. “‘Here’ is, to me, pretty meditative and sort of speaking from a place of being and the next one is sort of a little bit more, I guess, I don’t know, a little less meditative and a little bit more on its toes. So a little bit more aggressive, I suppose, and has a little bit more of a sort of ambitious, adventuresome sort of qualities.”

The current 10-musician lineup is touring behind “Here,” and while a few players are new to the group, Ebert said the group continues to do what it did in touring behind “Up From Below.” The band continues to change up set lists, explore new ways of playing the songs and tries to turn each concert into a transcendent experience for the audience.

“I think night to night it is sort of an adventure because those moments, the map for getting there to that sort of explosive, transcendent moment can be written down, but to actually put it into three-dimensional action, a confluence of energy has to happen,” Ebert said. “So from night to night, it happens in different ways and I think we allow for a lot of, certainly show to show it is different and it also depends on where we are and what the vibe is and are the people sitting, standing, yelling, quiet. It’s all just an interplay.”

The group, Ebert said, has become good at consistently creating the kind of communal excitement the band wants to achieve, frequently even allowing varying numbers of fans on stage during shows to join in the fun.

“Yeah, stuff has been broken and all that,” Ebert said, mentioning one of the problems that goes with letting fans get on stage. “But I think the overall (purpose), beyond just the fun of it, is the importance of sort of remembering that the divide, (we’re) endeavoring to break the divide between us and them, and that’s one way to do it.”

 

Last Updated on Friday, 24 May 2013 00:21

Hits: 1973

Texas in July finding that old-time feeling

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

The second Texas in July CD, “One Reality,” caught the band in a period of transition. In the very early stages of writing that CD, which was released in April 2011, guitarist Logan Maurer left the group.

Maurer had been the main music writer since the band’s inception in 2007, and with guitarist Christian Royer joining drummer Adam Gray as the main music writers, “One Reality” ended up being a bit of a departure from the group’s independently released 2009 debut CD, “I Am.”

“We were all in a weird place with like changing a member,” bassist Ben Witkowski explained in a recent phone interview. “We love the record, but it definitely did tone it down as far as riffing and wild drums. And just overall song structure for a couple of the songs was very mellow. This is just how we were at the time. We were taking on the challenge of writing a record without a huge piece of the band at the time. It was like losing a brother.

“We definitely noticed after it was released that the fans were like ‘Woah, where is the riffing? Where is the shredding, all this type of stuff,’” he said.

The band spent part of the summer recording its self-titled third CD with producer Machine. The album was released on Oct. 9, and Witkowski, who is the group’s primary lyricist, said the album marks a return to more of the early Texas in July.

“We’re really bringing back the old school feel on ‘I Am,’ the shredding and the fast drums and guitar work,” he said. “It sounds great. I love it. I’m really, really psyched for where it’s headed.”

Indeed, between roaring vocals, rapid-fire beats and the mix of grinding riffs and mathy yet more melodic lead guitar lines that inhabit tracks like “Cry Wolf,” “Without a Head” and “Crux Lust,” the “Texas in July” CD gives metal fans plenty of musical elements to sink their teeth into.

Witkowski, Royer, Gray, vocalist Alex Good and guitarist Chris Davis went back on the road almost as soon as they finished the “Texas in July” album and haven’t slowed down since, having already done a tour of Europe and an extensive first tour of the states.

The roadwork figures to be fine with Texas in July, who have been used to a less-than-glamorous touring routine.

“Yeah, we’ve been touring for awhile,” Witkowski said. “The first couple of years of Texas in July going on tour were very, uh, unprofessional, but fun, like sleeping in the Walmart parking lot and showing up to the show and the guy that booked the show doesn’t even show up. You call him and he says I canceled that show a week ago, and us walking around a small town promoting our band, trying to get people to come to our show. In North Carolina this happened once, and we got about 15 people to come to the show. It was a bunch of moms and dads and kids, whoever we found at local shops. We were running around asking people to come out. So those days are kind of over.”

The early days for the group were in 2007 when all of the band members were still in high school in the Lancaster, Pa., area. Witkowski and Royer had been in bands, while Good and Gray had also played together for awhile before that point.

“So two separate groups of people that played music together kind of came together at school and formed one,” Witkowski said.

Only a year or so after forming, the band had made enough noise on the local scene to get signed to a Lancaster label, CI Records, in 2008 and release a debut EP that October, followed a year later by “I Am.”

The record deal, according to Witkowski, started the band members thinking that Texas in July might become something more than just a way to play music and have a good time with friends.

“That’s kind of when the big picture started changing for everybody,” Witkowski said. “That (being a full-time band) is a big idea, a big leap to take, especially with music. You just never know.”

It turned out that after getting a taste of life in a band that was releasing CDs and touring nationally, Maurer decided it wasn’t the life for him. He quit the band so he could start college.

“Nothing’s bitter between us and him,” Witkowski said. “He just had to go. He didn’t like the tour life, and he just had to continue on with school and other things.”

Although with the new self-titled CD out, Witkowski and his bandmates have lots to look forward to, he said the group is trying not to get ahead of itself.

“We just honestly take it one day at a time and never get ahead of ourselves and just kind of go with it as it comes and hope for the best,” he said. “It’s taken us to a very good length. We’re happy with how it’s coming along thus far.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 May 2013 20:06

Hits: 2493

Cheyenne musicians shine at NAMMY awards

By SCOTT PRINZING - For The Outpost

Two Montana American Indian musicians won Native American Music Association awards (NAMMYS) at last weekend’s 14th annual awards show in New York. Joseph FireCrow and Gary Small, both members of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, each won one NAMMY.

FireCrow was awarded the Flutist of the Year NAMMY for his album, “Night Walk.” Small and his band, the Coyote Brothers, were awarded the Best World Music Recording NAMMY for their album, “Hostiles and Renegades.”

Both men are multiple NAMMY recipients going back over a decade.

Both of these talented musicians were nominated along with four others for Artist of the Year. They were the only two nominees from the same tribe in the running for the top award.

The sold-out event was held at the Seneca Niagara Events Center in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Initially scheduled for last November, the ceremony was postponed until May 10 after Hurricane Sandy hit New England shortly before.

FireCrow was a featured performer at the ceremony; Small was a guest performer this year. They have both performed at the NAMMYS at least twice before.

According to Small, at least three of the other nominees have won Grammy Awards before.

Joseph FireCrow is one who has. He performed on David Darling’s 2009 Grammy-winning New Age Album, “Prayer for Compassion.” FireCrow has been on two other Grammy-nominated albums, including his own, “Cheyenne Nation.”

FireCrow’s NAMMY wins include Songwriter of the Year (2003), Flutist of the Year (2004 and 2010), Artist of the Year (2010), and Best Instrumental Recording in 2004 for his collaboration with composer Jim Cockey, “Parmly’s Dream” (performed with the Billings Symphony Orchestra and Chorale). That performance was recorded at the Alberta Bair Theater in downtown Billings.

Gary Small has taken home a few NAMMYS before, as well: Songwriter of the Year (2002), Best Rock Recording (2007), as well as four other nominations along the way.

Gary Small and the Coyote Brothers perform regularly across Montana and Wyoming, occasionally in other northwestern states, and performed at Magic City Blues in downtown Billings in 2010.

NAMMYS are presented in 30 categories. Voting is done by a combination of NAMA members and a public vote through the organization’s website.

At least one other Montana tribal member was nominated this year, Shawn Michael Perry (Salish/Mayan), for Best Pop Recording for his album, “Shawn Michael Perry and Only the Brave.”

Other important awards were presented to Nelly Furtado (Living Legend) and Russell Means (Hall of Fame). Pop star Furtado is a First Nations Native Canadian. She recently featured native hoop dancers in a music video for her song, “Big Hoops (Bigger the Better).”

Means was an iconic activist, actor and author, who released a few albums of spoken word set to hip-hop beats. The one-time vice presidential candidate died in October 2012.

Past Montana NAMMY winners include Blackfoot Confederacy (Blackfeet), a powwow drum group based in Browning, Jack Gladstone (Blackfeet) and Rezawrecktion (Crow), a hip-hop group led by Supaman, based in Crow Agency.

Another scheduled highlight of this year’s show was a performance by Southern rockers Blackfoot, led by NAMA Hall of Fame member, Ricky Medlocke (longtime member of Lynyrd Skynyrd).

The ceremony was streamed live at NativeAmericanMusicAwards.com. The public is invited to sign up for e-mail notifications on the site and can register to vote in next year’s competition.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 May 2013 20:04

Hits: 2884

Primus goes 3D on tour

By ALAN SCULLE - Last Word Features

When three of the earliest members of Primus decided to take its reunion to a new level by following up its 2010 tour with a new album, “Green Naughahyde,” the band turned into something that many fans might not have expected – a truly collaborative trio.

To be sure, bassist/singer Les Claypool remained a prime force when it came to songwriting. But guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde and drummer Jay Lane also made significant contributions to the music on “Green Naughahyde.”

LaLonde, who had contributed to the music before, but never written all of the music for any Primus songs, wrote the music to two of the new songs (“Eternal Consumption Engine” and “Hoinfodaman”) and has a co-writing credit on five other tracks, while Lane contributed music to five songs.

In a recent interview, LaLonde explained how his sudden outburst of music happened.

“Most (earlier) Primus albums kind of came from, we tour, tour, tour, and then get off tour and go in and start making an album,” he said. “You’ve got to go into the studio with not having a lot of ideas and start writing in the studio and coming up off the cuff with a lot of stuff. This time, since there was a little bit of a break before this album, I had stockpiled a lot of song ideas. So I’d come in there and go ‘Hey, I’ve got this song idea.’ I had a lot of song ideas. There was time to sort of get them together.

“And with the technology now, it’s kind of easy to find them (the song ideas), whereas back in the day it was like ‘OK, where are all those song ideas that are on a cassette?’” LaLonde explained.

“Now it’s like I pull up my computer and my phone, and I’ve kind of got it organized, which for a guy like me, that’s what I need. I’m not good at keeping takes and finding things. That probably added to it a lot just being able to physically find all of the song ideas.”

The greater involvement of LaLonde, in particular, brought some fresh nuances to the Primus sound on ‘Green Naughahyde,” but the band’s idiosyncratic, syncopated sound – often built around Claypool’s virtuostic, fast-popping bass parts – is still very much intact.

Tracks like “Last Salmon Man,” “Hennepin Crawler” and “Tragedy’s a Comin’” are among those that sound like prototypical Primus, and the band’s humor remains evident, even in the whimsical music of the playful oddity “Eternal Consumption Engine.”

“A lot of Primus songs, if they start with a bass riff, it kind of leads you in that one direction,” LaLonde said. “There was a fair amount this time that started with a guitar riff and it definitely changes it a little bit. But it’s still Primus. It doesn’t get too far off of what the actual sound is.”

Claypool started developing the Primus sound when the group originally formed in the mid-1980s, recording demos with Lane and guitarist Todd Huth in the original lineup. But by the time the first Primus studio CD, 1990’s “Frizzle Fry,” arrived, Lane and Huth had both left the group.

Claypool then assembled a new lineup with LaLonde and drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander (later replaced by Bryan “Brain” Mantia), and over the next decade, the group carved out a singular style built around angular melodies, Claypool’s multi-faceted bass playing and lyrics that frequently had an absurdist’s bent.

The group made six studio albums before going on hiatus in 2001. And while there were Primus reunions in 2003 and 2006, the latest reunion has been different. That’s partly because it’s the first time Claypool, LaLonde and Lane have been full-time band members together, and because with “Green Naugahyde,” this reunion produced the first full-length Primus CD since 1999’s “Antipop.”

It’s been a busy reunion period as well. The band toured before convening to make “Green Naughahyde,” and then did a good deal of touring to support the album after it was released in 2011.

Then last fall, the band returned to the road again, but this time with major twists. The band did two full sets, and more significantly, added 3D technology to turn the visual aspect of the show into a very different experience. The band is now back for a new run of dates on the 3D tour.

During the show, three-dimensional imagery is projected from screens behind the band. Fans are given 3D glasses so they can see the footage that is in 3D. LaLonde like the effect this creates.

“It seems like we’re going to be kind of floating in a sea of 3D imagery,” said LaLonde, who noted he can’t resist putting on the 3D glasses at times during the show to share in the experience. “So if you hear any guitar mistakes, that’s probably because I’m checking out the 3D.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 May 2013 00:32

Hits: 9147

Warning: Tears ahead

By DAVID CRISP - The Billings Outpost

My wife had just one complaint about Venture Theatre’s production of “And I Know …” on Sunday afternoon – no Kleenex.

Turnout was small – only a couple of dozen people for the matinee performance – but she wasn’t the only viewer left in tears by the end of the Project Homelessness show.

The play is set in a somewhat fictionalized homeless shelter in Billings, and viewers get a long and unpleasant look at the poor decisions, unfortunate circumstances and plain bad luck that can leave people without a home. Ryan M. Gage and Shad Scott wrote the script from interviews conducted by Jessie Obee and Amy Dixon, who have been here since July working on Project Homelessness as AmeriCorps VISTA members.

Both hung around to talk to viewers after the play, and Ms. Obee, who is from Wisconsin, said that much of the dialog came directly from the transcripts of the interviews they conducted. But one of the situations was somewhat fictionalized, one character was a composite, and the character of the chaplain was based on a real person, but not anyone in Billings.

For all of the tugging the play does at the heart strings, it isn’t exactly dripping with dramatic tension. Characters come and go, tell their heart breaking stories and then move on from the shelter to the rest of their lives – or not. Sort of like real life.

A trio of sisters is caught between parents who don’t quite want them and a grandmother they don’t quite want. A woman finds the job market tough to crack because she decided, at some foolish point in her life to get a tattoo on her face. A man tells about the time he set his girlfriend, now his wife, on fire in a drunken prank in which they were both fully complicit. Another man describes living in a freezer outside because his parents didn’t want him in the house.

Tales of misery, abuse and confusion fill the stage for a couple of hours, with occasional relief provided by two children (Tanner Stichman and Elizabeth “Izzy” Kay) who slowly carve out a friendship in the shelter and who nearly steal the show with their comic sensibilities.

All turn toward the chaplain (Vanessa Dent) for spiritual relief. She is almost too good to be true: faithful but not preachy, sympathetic but not soft, kind but no pushover. She is the center around which life in the shelter revolves.

Other characters have their doubts about what they are doing on this planet. “What kind of God will let a man rape children?” one asks. The play provides no clear answers. But it may force you to shed a tear or two.

“And I Know …” plays through May 12 at Venture Theatre.

Last Updated on Thursday, 02 May 2013 20:24

Hits: 2945

Bruno scoring big with Awolnation

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

When Aaron Bruno finished “Megalithic Symphony,” his debut album as Awolnation, he felt something he’d never quite experienced before.

“I was extremely proud of the record I had made, more than ever before,” he said in an early March phone interview. “I just felt I really did something unique and special and original that truly for the first time in my life I had no regrets, nor did I really question any of the parts.”

That’s not to say Bruno thought this would translate into a hit album.

“I didn’t have any expectations of commercial success, because that’s the business side as well,” he said. “Just because you have a song that 10 strangers could get in a room and all agree ‘You know what, this song does sound like a hit song to me,’ that doesn’t mean that it will be.”

Bruno had good reason to temper any thoughts about chart success or radio play for his new music. His two previous bands failed to make an impact, even though they seemed positioned for success.

One band, Home Town Hero, which was signed to the Warner Bros.-affiliated Maverick Records (owned by Madonna), had some modest success with its 2002 self-titled debut, but broke up shortly before the release of its second album, 2004’s “Bitch City.”

Bruno and Hometown Hero bandmate Drew Stewart then formed Under The Influence of Giants and landed a deal with Island Records. But the group’s 2006 debut album stiffed and the band ended.

“More discouraging than the band ending was just a lack of exposure that those songs I wrote with those guys had,” Bruno said. “I felt there was a lot of stuff on there (the self-titled album) that would possibly move people and mean a lot to their day. And it didn’t really get the right opportunity.”

With Awolnation, though, Bruno’s music has had a chance to be heard, and he’s enjoying his first taste of real success.

“Sail,” the first single from “Megalithic Symphony,” remains a top 10 rock hit after more than 45 weeks on the chart (it is nearing 2 million in sales and downloads), while a second single, “Kill Your Heroes,” has also enjoyed airplay.

Bruno said luck and timing had a lot to do with the success, although he thinks the lyrics to “Sail” spoke to listeners and perhaps he came up with a song and a sound that was right for radio at the time.

“At the time, there was nothing on the radio like it at all, something with that half-time, mid-tempo sort of spooky, weird, catchy little jam that it is,” Bruno said.

Actually, “Megalithic Symphony” is something a bit different musically as an album. Ranging widely in tempos and intensities, it is tied together by the way Bruno blends a big catchy rock sound with instrumentation that features plenty of synthesizers and electronics.

The songs on “Megalithic Symphony” go from frenetic (“Burn It Down” and “Soul Wars”) to anthemic (“People” and “Sail”) to direct and poppy (“Jump on My Shoulders” and “Guilty Filthy Soul”) to big and grooving (“Kill Your Heroes”) to the one song on the album that strays from the synthy-electronic sound, the harmony-laden piano-based ballad “All I Need.”

Despite the success he’s currently having, Bruno said he isn’t standing still musically. He’s been working on a second album, and so far he’s sensing that it will be notably different from “Megalithic Symphony.”

“I don’t see it being as electronic as the first record, I will say that,” he said. “It seems like a lot of the writing that I’m doing on this record starts with maybe some sort of electronic part or melody or rhythm and then I try to replace it with more organic instruments without losing what I originally thought was interesting and quirky about the synths to begin with.

“So we’ll see.”

Bruno’s willingness to evolve musically extends to a live shows he’s been playing with the four other musicians who make up the touring version of Awolnation. After all, he noted, when songs get recorded for an album, they’re still relatively new.

“I want it to be louder, better, heavier, live,” Bruno said. “Heavy music really moves me a lot. And it doesn’t have to be heavy as in aggressive necessarily, but something deep. It can be a groove. It could be the low end of a breakdown that is incredibly deep and moving to me. Something that gets in your gut is really important.

“And heaviness can come from a ballad as well. It can be a lyric. It can be a moment where the audience all feels the same thing at the same time. That’s what you go for. Or course, we’ve been playing these songs for awhile, so we try to reinvent them as much as we can. We’ve been playing some stripped down versions of certain songs that are enjoyable for us to do as well in certain situations.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 April 2013 21:44

Hits: 3826

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

Top Desktop version