The Billings Outpost

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

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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

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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

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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

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Pink Floyd tribute slated here

By SCOTT PRINZING - For The Outpost

Since the odds of the three living members of Pink Floyd ever performing on-stage again are slim-to-none, the most fans can hope for are tours by guitarist David Gilmour or bassist Roger Waters.

While there are Pink Floyd tribute bands across the United States (indeed, both of the Americas, Europe, South Africa and Australia), Billings is not on most of their tour itineraries.

Fortunately for Floyd fans in the Magic City, there is a highly acclaimed tribute ensemble based in Bozeman. Pinky and the Floyd is a 10-member band made up of the cream of Bozeman’s professional musical crop. They are bringing their Pink Floyd Retrospective Tour to the Babcock Theater this Friday, April 5.

Most of the members are familiar to Bozeman fans, but Billings jazz fans might recognize keyboardist Chris Cundy, as well as Jake and Jeni Fleming of the Jeni Fleming Trio. Other members include guitarists and vocalists Luke Flansburg and Dustin Tucker, keyboardist Joe Kirchner, bassist Sean Lehmann, drummer Adam Greenberg, vocalist Krista Barnett and Drew Fleming on samples and percussion.

When she was still Jeni Ramseth, Ms. Fleming represented Billings as Miss Montana in the Miss America Pageant. Her performance for the talent portion of that competition was classical piano, but she has mostly made a name for herself as a jazz vocalist. She and Jake have since divorced amicably (“best guy I could’ve gone through a divorce with”) but have continued to share a revitalized musical relationship.

Jeni Fleming talked with The Outpost last week about the upcoming show. She explained that the band was founded in 2007 as an opening act for the Bozeman tribute band Doors Legacy. What started as a trio has grown to include three guitarists (including Jake, who also plays saxophone), two keyboardists, a bassist, a drummer, a percussionist and two backing vocalists.

She emphasized that Pinky and the Floyd are a tribute act (as opposed to a cover band) and that, “The music is always the focus.” Their goal is not so much to duplicate the songs note-for-note, but to perform the songs as they are inspired to play them.

“All the band members are professional working musicians who perform in genres ranging from country, hip-hop, Motown, jazz, you name it,” she said. All told, “The 10 members of this band represent 25 or 30 other bands.”

Since the band members are “still in our 30s,” Fleming said, “we are more inspired by the music itself than necessarily the nostalgia.”

Pinky and the Floyd has performed several Pink Floyd albums in their entirety, including the classics: “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Animals” and “The Wall.” But on this tour, which includes shows in Bozeman, Butte and Missoula, they will be playing at least one song from every studio album the band released from its 1967 debut, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” through 1994’s “The Division Bell.”

The show stretches over three hours, with the entire first hour culling songs from Floyd’s 1960s recordings. The entire evening will present the retrospective songs in chronological order; a light show and multimedia effects promise to make this a most memorable evening.

Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $18 in advance. Tickets can be purchased at Ernie November, Rimrock Mall, the Tickets300 Box Office, (866) 300-8300, or: www.tickets300.com. Doors open at 7 p.m.

For more information visit PinkyandtheFloyd.com or like their Facebook page.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 April 2013 17:41

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MSU Bozeman hosts Day of Percussion

BOZEMAN – Marching percussion specialist Bill Bachman, orchestral percussion specialist Keith Lloyd and drumset percussion specialist Adam Greenberg will conduct master classes during the annual Montana Day of Percussion to be held Saturday, March 23, at the Montana State University School of Music.

Registration begins at 9 a.m. in MSU’s Howard Hall, followed by clinics throughout the day.

A showcase concert featuring MSU Percussion Ensemble, MSU Youth Chorus and Lloyd is set at 7:30 p.m. in Reynolds Recital Hall, which is located inside Howard Hall on the MSU campus. All tickets will be sold at the door.

Bachman is a prolific author, world-class performer, clinician and educator, but also an inventor and touring/recording drumset artist. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, Bachman toured for 12 years with several award-winning marching percussion groups including the University of North Texas drumline, Cadets, Bluecoats, Blue Knights, and Carolina Crown.

He is the author of several Row-Loff’s drum instructional books and is a columnist for Modern Drummer magazine. An inventor, he designed Vic Firth’s Heavy Hitter Pad series and the Vic Firth signature “Billy Club” drumstick for tenor drummers. He is also a freelance drummer in Nashville.

Lloyd has performed nationally and internationally. He is the principal percussionist for the Abilene Philharmonic Orchestra in Abilene, Texas, and section percussionist for the Carl Fischer Publications recording ensemble in Tampa, Fla. He is instructor of music/percussion at McMurry University and is a candidate for a doctorate in percussion performance at Florida State University.

Greenberg is a professional drummer, percussionist and instructor living in the Bozeman area. He studied drums and percussion at the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati under the instruction of John Von Olen. Since moving to Bozeman in 2002, Greenberg has collaborated with Jeni Fleming, Six Strings Down, The String Jumpers, The Montana Mandolin Society, The Craig Hall Trio, the Glen Johnson Big Band, Andrew Gromiller and the Organically Grown, and various other rock and jazz bands, as well as his own experimental project, the A.G.B.

Admission is $10 for the entire day, which includes entrance into the showcase concert that night and registration for door prizes.

Tickets for the concert only are $10 for adults and $5 for students, and are available at the door.

For more information, contact Stephen Versaevel, (406) 994-5757, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Reynolds Recital Hall is located in Howard Hall, home to the MSU School of Music. It is located across the street from the MSU Duck Ponds.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 March 2013 14:38

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Superb voices brighten symphony’s concert

By SHARIE PYKE - For The Outpost

“How many of you set the alarm for 3:30 so you could watch the royal wedding?” asked Anne Harrigan, conductor of the Billings Symphony. My hand went up. AND I bought the commemorative People Magazine issue.

I was in good company. In April 2011, more than 1 billion people watched Prince William and Catherine Middleton say “I do.”

Last Saturday, with “A Royal Celebration,” the Billings Symphony and Chorale performed music from the 2011 wedding as well as other imperial events.

Not only was the concert a royal celebration, it also showcased the miracle of the human voice.

Under Maestra Harrigan, every word sung by the chorale came through clearly. The quartet of soloists for Mozart’s “Celebration Mass” also was a joy to hear: four virtuoso voices who created a perfect blend of sound.

Special thanks go to Doug Nagel, who stepped in at the last moment as baritone.

Lisa Lombardy’s soprano solo was, as always, brilliant. Her voice reminds me of, well, what can I say? Is she a songbird? A silver flute? The vocal version of a crystal chandelier? The sound was clear, rippling and seemingly effortless.

The concert ended with William Walton’s “Crown Imperial” (Coronation March.) The piece features brass and percussion and provided a rousing end to a memorable evening. Like any good performance, we were left with a sigh and a wistful wish for more.

The final symphony of the year is Saturday, April 20, and features pianist Michael Chertock. The Boston Globe describes his playing as “unmannered, zestful and lovely.”

Mr. Chertock will be performing Gershwin’s quintessentially American “Rhapsody in Blue” and Rachmaninoff’s flamboyant Symphonic Dances.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 March 2013 14:36

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Wailers, still wailing away, make Billings visit

By SCOTT PRINZING - For The Outpost

Is Billings ready for some authentic reggae from Jamaica?

Since Bob Marley is no longer with us, the closest one can get to reggae’s patron saint is a live performance from his son Ziggy Marley or his former band, The Wailers. This Wednesday, Feb. 27, The Wailers, led by Aston “Family Man” Barrett, will provide the musical celebration.

While few outside of hardcore reggae fans will know of Barrett or his significance, it can be argued that what the world knows as the distinctive reggae bass guitar sound was formed – if not invented – by the Family Man.

Also unknown to many Bob Marley and the Wailers fans is that the original Wailers were a vocal trio: Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Early on in their career (1974), they parted ways, and Marley’s studio backing band took on the name of The Wailers.

That band was based on the seminal reggae rhythm section of Aston and his brother Cartlon (“Carly”) on drums. Carly died in 1987, and the band has since been led by Aston and has featured various past members of the band ever since.

According to their website, together with Bob Marley, the Wailers have sold in excess of 250 million albums worldwide. While not big chart-makers in America, in England they have notched up more than 20 chart hits, including seven Top 10 entries.

Other than their career with Marley, the Wailers have also played or performed with many international acts, including the Fugees, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana and Sting, as well as with reggae legends such as Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Burning Spear.

Described on their website as “the greatest living exponents of Jamaica’s reggae tradition,” the Wailers performed on innumerable tours, playing to an estimated 24 million people across the globe. They have also been the first international reggae band to tour in many new territories, including Africa and the Far East.

As part of producer Lee Perry’s studio band, the Upsetters, the in-demand Barrett brothers have played on many reggae hits by other acts. Their most recent collaborators include Colbie Caillat, Kenny Chesney, Eve and Jason Mraz.

After becoming the new Wailers, they backed Marley on the international breakthrough album, “Natty Dread.” Under Family Man’s musical leadership, they partnered with Marley on a succession of hit singles and albums that made him a global icon and Jamaica’s best-loved musical superstar.

The Wailers’ current lineup combines old school authority with lead vocals from one of Jamaica’s most exciting new singers, Koolant. Koolant joined the Wailers shortly after his cameo appearance in the film, “Made in Jamaica.”

“It’s been a wonderful experience singing with the Wailers because so many of Bob Marley’s songs are still relevant to what’s happening right now. They are of the times,” Koolant says. “Bob Marley was a prophet, and it’s an honor to be part of that. I put my whole self into spreading that message, and it can only help my own development as an artist and as a songwriter.”

While Koolant brings his own personal expression to Marley’s songs, there’s more to the Wailers than merely reliving the past. Koolant sings lead vocals on one of the band’s latest tracks, “A Step for Mankind,” recorded on behalf of the World Food Program.

The current tour will feature the classic Bob Marley and the Wailers album “Survival,” performed in its entirety. While this album doesn’t contain as many of the best-known hits, it remains a favorite of die-hard Marley fans.

Doors open at 6 p.m. Local blues and rock artist Jared Stewart will open the 6:30 p.m. show. The Wailers are scheduled to perform at 8 p.m.

Jared Stewart has opened for many national touring acts, is a perennial performer at the Rockin’ the Rivers festival in Three Forks and has won more Billings Outpost Tuney Awards than any other artist. His current band includes longtime drummer John “Horse” Culbertson, bassist Horacio Cantu, and is sometimes augmented by his son, Cordell, on bass and guitar.

This show is presented by Magic City Blues in collaboration with Mojo 92.5. Tickets for the all-ages show are $29 in advance, $35 on the day of show. Tickets are available at the Shrine Auditorium, Hansen Music, by phone at 534-0400, or online at www.MagicCityBlues.com.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 February 2013 11:37

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Concert changes venue

By JAMES HICKMAN - For The Outpost

Avant garde hip-hop and college kid favorite Why? will grace Billings with its hard-to-peg music on Feb. 26. Originally scheduled to play at Manny’s, the show has moved to the more hip downtown venue the Railyard. The band will likely feel more at home at the new venue, which is more in line with the band’s style.

Front man Jonathan “Yoni” Wolf originally used the band’s moniker as his hip-hop stage name. In 2004 Yoni brought together his older brother Josiah Wolf with Matt Meldon Doug McDiarmid to form the current incantation of Why?.

The result is an eclectic mix of folk and indy rock with a strong hip-hop backbone. It’s certainly not the kind rap you hear on the radio, much mellower and even melancholy. Yoni’s offbeat lyrics are evocative and meander between deep, purposely ironic and curiously romantic.

This will be the second time playing in Billings for older brother Josiah Wolf, who played in a solo act last year.

“Montana is beautiful; I look forward to coming back,” said Wolf. “This is my favorite incarnation of Why? all of us are on top of our game, so it will be a good time to see us.”

After this tour Why? plans shorter tours to make time for writing new music hopefully leading to their next full-length album.

Why? will appear with Astronautalis and Dream Tiger at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Railyard. Tickets are $15 in advance or $18 the day of the show. They are on sale at Ernie November, Rimrock Mall, at 1-866-300-8300 and online at tickets300.com.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 February 2013 11:20

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Nonpoint in Billings for show on Wednesday

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

To put it mildly, Nonpoint went through a major transition heading into its seventh album when it replaced two band members – guitarist Zach Broadrick and bassist Ken “KB” MacMillan – with three new recruits, lead guitarist Dave Lizzio, rhythm guitarist Rasheed Thomas and bassist Adam Wolosyzn.

But if Nonpoint vocalist Elias Soriano and drummer Robb Rivera had any doubts about the move or the future of the group, they were erased almost as soon as the new trio of musicians joined the lineup.

“In the first two weeks we wrote eight songs,” Soriano said in an early January phone interview. “So it was hit the ground running. This is a serious project. And these guys, they realized how serious it was. So they jumped right on board. There was no down time at all.”

That sort of enthusiasm and participation in the creative process was exactly what had been missing for Nonpoint over the preceding few years.

“The new members really wanted to work and they really wanted to write music,” Soriano said. “You know, past members, they get jaded, they get lazy. They think that music is just going to come without any work.”

Of course, there was a time when the original lineup of Nonpoint was hitting on all cylinders.

Formed in 1997 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Nonpoint, came on the national radar in 2000 with its third album (and first major label release), “Statement.” Tours with Mudvayne, Drowning Point and Fuel (among others), plus a slot on the 2001 Ozzfest helped eventually push the album on to the “Billboard” magazine album chart, reaching 166.

When the band’s next CD, “Development,” was released in summer 2002, it debuted at No. 52 on the “Billboard” album chart.

But that album failed to deliver a major hit and the band moved to the Atlantic Records-affiliated Lava label for its next album, 2004’s “Recoil.”

That album did produce a modest mainstream rock hit, “The Truth,” which peaked at No. 22 on that chart. But the album didn’t outperform the preceding records, and for its next album, “To the Pain,” Nonpoint moved over to the independent label, Bieler Bros. Records.

“To the Pain” gave the band its best known single, “Bullet With a Name” (it, too, peaked at 22 on “Billboard’s” mainstream rock chart), and that album was followed in November 2007 by the group’s sixth album, “Vengeance.”

By this time, problems were starting to surface within Nonpoint, and in 2008, the group parted ways with guitarist Andrew Goldman.

The band brought in Broadrick as a replacement, and self-released a 2009 EP, “Cut the Chord,” followed by a 2010 full-length CD, “Miracle,” which was released on the indy label, Rocket Science Records. The album debuted at No. 60 on the “Billboard” album chart, the best debut for a Nonpoint album since “Development.”

But by the time Nonpoint finished touring behind “Miracle,” it was clear that a further house cleaning was necessary.

Soriano and Rivera didn’t have to look far for the three musicians that came on board to complete the new lineup.

Rivera had met Lizzio through a friend and he and Soriano had actually started working with the future Nonpoint guitarist on a side project.

When Broadrick was fired and MacMillan decided to quit Nonpoint, Soriano and Rivera turned to Lizzio, who brought along Thomas and Wolosyzn, who were his bandmates in Inn Cinema, a Chicago-based band that had yet to make much of an impact outside of the Chicago area.

Nonpoint also changed labels, signing with Razor & Tie Records for the current self-titled album.

The new band members brought a fresh energy to Nonpoint.

, with Lizzio and MacMillan quickly becoming significant songwriting contributors. Soriano said their enthusiasm and work ethic, in turn, re-energized him and had him thinking back to the raw, but melodic, rock sound of the band’s early major label albums as songs started to come together.

“The riffs and stuff (Lizzio and Thomas were writing) were just reminiscent of ‘Statement’ and the days when we were really, really going crazy on stage and we had the energy of youth to drive us,” Soriano said. “This time, it was just, the music was coming from every direction and it was so great. It was easy to look back on our past and say ‘Hey, what I used to do back here would fit great over this,’ and I would sort of bring some of that old style back.”

Before the writing sessions were finished, Nonpoint had about 30 songs written for the self-titled album. Then with producer Johnny K on board for the project, 12 songs were selected for the album.

Soriano said he realized there would be curiosity, expectations – even doubts - about the new lineup, but he said this didn’t create extra pressure to make an album that lived up to the best of Nonpoint’s earlier music.

“You always feel like you have more to prove than the last one (album), especially with the member changes,” he said. “People who loved the Nonpoint project, they don’t want to see it go, nor do they want to see it change a ton. Getting rid of half of the band and replacing two with three, it seems like a big change, but it’s exactly what this band needed.”

The “Nonpoint” album should please and reassure the band’s fans, as the album features such raw and combustible, but melodic rockers as “I Said It,” “Lights, Camera, Action” and “Left For You.”

Soriano said Lizzio, Thomas and Wolosyzn quickly fit into Nonpoint on stage as well, and he feels the band is living up to its long-standing reputation as an aggressive and energetic live band.

“They’ve been really pulling their weight and falling right into the Nonpoint game and perspective, which is exciting live shows with a lot of sweat, movement and singing along,” he said.”

And having a second guitarist is giving Nonpoint new dimensions in its live sound.

“It’s definitely a thicker, wider sound,” Soriano said. “A lot of people have been commenting on the fact that they’re hearing a lot of stuff in a lot of our old music that they never heard live because we didn’t have the second guitar. Sometimes you do write second guitar parts on the record just to fill space and help the song along. This time around, having the guitar players, it definitely widens your sound.”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 January 2013 10:34

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