Concert Review: Whetherman, music for the soul

By: Dan Kasun

 Artwork for This Land by Whetherman. (Photo courtesy of: Spotify)

Artwork for This Land by Whetherman. (Photo courtesy of: Spotify)

Nicholas Williams, or Whetherman as he has been known for the last 10-plus years, looks (and sounds) as if he might have been born with a guitar and harmonica strapped to himself. He looks at home on stage, a traveling troubadour, weaving poetically folky and introspective songs of hope, loss, yearning and admiration.

Whetherman finds inspiration in the everyday life of just being a human, from the low struggles to the joys of existence. Song ideas may come from places and people, movies and books, experiences and…murder (more on that later)!?

Performing at Natalie’s Coal Fire Pizza in Worthington, Whetherman demonstrated how his songwriting skills and subjects have evolved over time, and the diversity of the setlist proved he’s also just as comfortable taking on a Guthrie/Seeger political voice with “This Land,” as he is tackling Peter, Paul, and Mary, Led Zeppelin and Ryan Adams songs.  

After the conclusion of this current tour, the Whetherman name will be retired for good. In the future, he will play and produce under simply Nicholas Williams. Touring heavily over the years across the country, self-producing and self-managing his own career and trying to make that emotional connection with every listener, Nick said he had “lost his way…I was not being true to the music or myself.”   

He needed to take a break and get back to the core of being a musician and making music for himself. The new songs played at Natalie’s on this night indeed showed a new direction in songwriting alongside a new host of influences.  

Whetherman has always been adept at weaving a landscape, taking the listener on a storytelling journey through the places he has visited, the people he has met and tying it all together with personal reflection and contemplation. The quietness in his songs lent itself well to the venue, admittedly one of his favorite places to play, as the audience was engaged and attentive from start to finish. Some of the newest songs had a clear cheerful side to them, still with a folky-infused truthful taste, but using humor to deliver the message, subtle or not.   

Speaking with Nick, it was no surprise to learn John Prine was a clear influence on the new music. On the other side of joviality, the middle of the set featured a murder ballad with a twist. Most traditional ballads are narrated from the point of view of the murderer, or from the point of view of the victim. In what seemed to be a love triangle gone very, very bad, the narrator here is the victim, shot dead at the finalization of the story.

Whichever artistic direction Nicholas Williams wants to take himself and the listener in the future, it’s undoubtable that the same pensive, reflective and heartfelt persona of Whetherman will still find a connection and relatable meaning to anyone listening.  

In other words, music for the soul.   

Review: Glow by DAYMARE

By: Lex Vegas

 Artwork for DAYMARE's EP Glow. (Artwork courtesy of Spotify)

Artwork for DAYMARE's EP Glow. (Artwork courtesy of Spotify)

It’s no secret that a touch of turmoil can often be the catalyst for an artist’s finest output. In the case of Columbus rockers DAYMARE, a complicated breakup and harrowing hiatus resulted in the group returning to the stage with its strongest release to date.

The compelling quartet dropped its new EP, Glow, on the world in June with a packed release show at Spacebar. As its first studio work in two years, the five-song record is packed with crunchy riffs and monster vocals, occasionally veering into the most melodic, radio-ready territory of its half-decade career.

Clocking in at just over 20 minutes, there is little wasted time or space on the EP. Things kick off with a pair of stingers, “Landmine” and “Needles,” which show the band slashing through tight choruses with confidence and precision.

“The song 'Needles' is oddly enough the second song [drummer] Austin [Spears] and I ever wrote together five years ago,” singer Dustin Rinehart said. “We’d played it live countless times but never saw a proper recording or release. To have that early of a song on the new EP is a really cool thing to me.”

The record really gets interesting with its centerpiece, the anthemic titular track which was influenced by Rinehart’s struggle with the loss of his band and his desire to relight the creative flame.

“I kind of felt lost without DAYMARE,” he said. “It’s like a long-term relationship ending and trying to find that same spark somewhere else. Once you’re used to something operating a certain way, it’s difficult to just try that same approach in another setting and expect it to work.”

That track and its follow up, “Grounded,” highlight the group’s ability to craft accessible rock that doesn’t compromise its bite for the sake of a good hook. They’ve got both in spades, with the help of a tight mix by producer Joe Viers at Sonic Lounge Studio.

“We knew for a long time that we wanted to record with Joe, and I think when we added "Glow" to the mix, we just knew it was time to hit the studio,” Rinehart said.

The final song, “Villains”, encapsulates the vibe of the entire EP in a sharp four minutes and features Rinehart’s finest Dave Grohl-esque screech. It's the sound of a group feeling as triumphant and unified as at any point in its career, either in spite or more likely because of its time apart from one another.

“The hiatus helped us to put things in perspective regarding how we operate as individuals, how we treat each other, how we approach potential problems and conflicts,” Rinehart said. “We’re stronger, tighter, and much more of a united front than before. The music is clearly the most important aspect, how that happens begins and ends with us.”

Glow is just a tease of what DAYMARE are capable of and leaves one anxious for the next chapter of its musical journey. But until that time comes, it’s more than enough to enjoy the fruits of its labor and the mutual love that brought it to life.

“I knew [DAYMARE] was where I needed to be and I hoped that someday we’d be able to work things out. Luckily, that happened,” Rinehart said.

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RIYL: Foo Fighters, Thrice, Jimmy Eat World

The Turbos slay in ComFest debut

By: Mike Thomas

Bringing its brand of muscular, straightforward rock, The Turbos graced ComFest's Off Ramp stage Sunday afternoon. For a band that has made such a splash on the local scene as of late, it's hard to believe this was its first ever ComFest appearance. It will likely not be its last.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but the Off Ramp stage is by all appearances a miserably hot place to play a set. The 'Bos were sweat-drenched within moments of beginning, which only served to augment the sensuality of its performance.

Per usual, lead guitar and vocal duties were traded between Lucas Esterline and In the Record Store's own Alex D. Both are capable singers and complete shredders to boot, revving their vintage-style axes in an adrenaline-fueled frenzy.

Finishing strong with songs from its recent cycle of singles, the ultra-sexy “Fever” and politically-conscious anthem “'Merica,” The Turbos were festival-ready.

Gold From Grief bring the heat to Off Ramp Stage

By: Mike Thomas

Between the enclosed space of the tent that houses it and the stage lights, Comfest’s Off Ramp stage is notoriously hot.

For their Friday evening turn on the stage, Gold From Grief sweated their way through a set that matched the degrees on the thermometer in intensity.

Having played together around town for some time now, the group has tightened their psychedelic-blues-rock sound to perfection. In spite of the swampy environs, it was one of their best performances to date.

Kelsey Hopkins, who is in possession of one of the most powerful voices in rock, was in constant danger of blowing the roof off the place (or at least sending tent flaps flying).

Guitarist Michael Furman took to his normal playing posture, looking somewhere between highly focused and supremely bored as he absolutely melted the faces off of everyone in the vicinity with blazing psychedelic riffs.

Gold From Grief's debut EP is available on all platforms.

The Jeffs Offer Shelter From the Storm

By: Colin Aldridge

 The Jeffs bring guitar music to the modern age. (Photo by: Colin Aldridge)

The Jeffs bring guitar music to the modern age. (Photo by: Colin Aldridge)

Walking down High Street, on my way to The Jeffs’ album release party, I could feel it in the air. You could see it on the faces of everyone you passed by. You could hear it in their voices. There was pride, of course; pride all over; pride in an immediate way; pride in defense. There was pride, but there was also something else. You could feel it on the concrete you walked on as clear as you could feel it in your own head: the world is on fire. It might not be okay.

Maybe I’m projecting.

Either way, my brain is thick with it. Dread, anxiety, uncertainty. This past week has been especially tense. I don’t need to report the news–you know what’s going on. So, equally needless to say, I went into Brothers Drake this past Saturday not expecting to forget. We like to think that music and art serve a greater purpose than to make us forget, and they do. Catharsis, for one. But let’s be honest; the best art is the art that takes us out of ourselves, takes us to another state of mind that runs exclusively on the ability to totally entrance us.

Anyway, through no fault of the bands, I didn’t expect to enjoy myself very much. Thankfully, at points, I did. The power of music and art transcends the constant onslaught of bullshit any wannabe totalitarian dictator can shovel our way. Life goes on in places like Brothers Drake, with music like Bella Ruse, The Jeffs and The Whirlybirds.

To play music at all, to enjoy oneself, to be happy, is a political statement. The powers that be don’t want peppy folk songs, guitar music or swing/jazz bands. But we do. And we have it right here in Columbus. We may have shitty parking and we may have gone red in 2016, but we have the music. We will have fun, goddammit. We had fun Saturday night.

 Bella Ruse deliverers intimate set. (Photo by: Colin Aldridge)

Bella Ruse deliverers intimate set. (Photo by: Colin Aldridge)

Belle Ruse took the stage first. Made up of singer Kay Gillette and her guitarist and husband Joseph Baker, the duo immediately lightened the mood with self-described “shamelessly happy” tunes. The band’s only melancholy song was called “The Kazoo Song,” which, of course, featured a kazoo solo. A ukulele was also brought out more than once. I walked in with arms crossed and darkness in my mind, and by the end of their set, I was singing along with the audience to the chorus, per Gillette’s request. The song was called “Forget the Bad Times,” and as we sang along, you could almost see the cartoon ball bounce above the text of the lyrics. It was beautiful.

In another song, which Gillette said was “about not knowing what the future holds, but going for it anyway,” she sang, “It will be okay.” As I write this now, I’m not sure if I believe her, but in the moment, I certainly did.

The Jeffs came on next. This was its party; the band was releasing an 11-song project, The Day Tom Waits Died, and selling it on flash drives. The irony here is that the band plays Americana–little bit rockabilly, little bit country, lotta bit rock-n-roll. It’s composed of two guitars, a bass and drums. Doug Hare shined on lead guitar, busting out solos that make you feel the metal of the strings. Geoff Wilcox was fantastic on the bass and played a song on acoustic guitar that blew me away. Frontman Jeff Tobin’s lyrics were witty and he played with excellent rhythm. The best song of the night, however, belonged to drummer Paige Vandiver, whose tribute to the Dixie Chicks frontwoman Natalie Maines brought down the house.

 Whirlybirds conclude with tight extended jams. (Photo by: Colin Aldridge)

Whirlybirds conclude with tight extended jams. (Photo by: Colin Aldridge)

At one point, Tobin took a break from They Might Be Giants-esque irreverence to play a song written the day after the president’s inauguration, titled “Resist.” “We try not to get too political as a band,” he said, “but sometimes you can’t friggin’ help it.”

The Whirlybirds finished the night with exceptional jazz and swing; these guys know how to play jazz (I’m talking real jazz, not La La Land jazz). Each member excelled on their instrument. Joe Gilliland led the band on guitar and vocals, Jacob Campbell on keys, Max Marsillo on drums, Nick Simko on trumpet, Trent Sampson on upright bass and Joe Brenneman on clarinet and sax; they all presented their mastery. I’m not usually much of a swing guy, but these cats absolutely crushed it. It was during their extended jams that I was most able to disappear in the music, forget everything else and transcend.

I felt better after Saturday night’s show, which is just about the best thing you can say about a concert. Walking back to my car, I thought about art and music and concluded that music may not be able to save the world but it can comfort the mind and mend the soul. That’s enough.

Gahwns is over performing in the underdog spot

By: Zak Kolesar

 From left to right, drummer David VanLaningham, guitarist and vocalist Alec Alvarez and basist Matt Luebbers. (Photo by: Alec Alvarez)

From left to right, drummer David VanLaningham, guitarist and vocalist Alec Alvarez and basist Matt Luebbers. (Photo by: Alec Alvarez)

A unique part of the Columbus music scene is the content nature that some musicians possess. Yeah, New York is a few steps away and Chicago’s lure is even more captivating, but the desire to prove something here at home has become more and more prevalent in Columbus.

That desire is showing to the world that a flourishing music scene can be cultivated here, and Gahwns is all about being a part of that movement. Its deeply textured psychedelic indie rock makes the trio difficult to pigeonhole, but from a positive perspective that can be looked at as throwing an enormous net into the pond of Columbus’ music consumers.

And so far Gahwns has primarily done this in 30-minute spurts as an opening act. And that is just fine by them.

"We kind of like opening up. There might not be as many people there, maybe people are walking in halfway through your set, but we have found that we're all pretty confident in walking up there and fucking slamming,” bassist Matt Luebbers said.

Also consisting of drummer David VanLaningham and guitarist and vocalist Alec Alvarez, this formation of Gahwns heated up in the cold grip of January 2017. As evidence by Luebbers’ comment, confidence quickly soared, as the group is now gearing up for an active summer just a year later. While the three are involved in other local projects as well (The Crashlanders), they met on separate occasions while studying at Ohio State and joined forces as musicians years later.

After meeting up with the band in late May, it became very apparent how organic Gahwns keeps its product. From in-house recording and mixing to a studio basement that holds up well for a non-professional pad, the absence of outside forces truly accentuates the fluidity and flexibility the three bring to the table in their music.

A short sit-in on a practice session truly exposed how expansive the band can make its recorded tracks.

"We're trying to keep things organic. We definitely have set forms of songs but also the songs are set up to have a lot of expression inside of them," VanLaningham said.

During our conversation, the three never agreed upon a specific genre to define Gahwns. Regardless of the alternative indie vibes of “Loners,” trippy tones of “Midnight Marmalade” or the folk-laden “The Big Picture,” one thing about Gahwns’ sound sticks out during this particular practice session: freedom.

The type of freedom that Gahwns is representing is the same space that jam bands use to go off on during their sets. Although Gahwns has yet to flex its jam skills with elongated live sets, teasers of “Oh No” and “Science Fair Project” during the aforementioned basement session prove that the three have the musical dexterity that jam bands use to create monster cuts.

“A lot of bands don't have spaces to jam,” Alvarez said. “That's what sets us aside is we just don't have a three-minute song played the same every single time."

Physical proof of this came in the form of shared eye contact and flawless passing of the baton during the mentioned practice session. Solos flowed seamlessly, yet no transition came too off guard.

But unfortunately for Columbus music lovers, they haven’t been able to experience the full Gahwns spectacle yet.

“It seems the music in Columbus, it's a formula of...maybe three local acts and somebody out of town and you have four bands on these bills and it's awesome to see so many bands showcased but also...when you're playing for 30 minutes, you can't tell the whole story," VanLaningham said.

As much as the members of Gahwns love to both share the spotlight and shred on their respective instruments, they know that the average music consumer isn’t ogling over 10-minute epics. As much as the three would love to add an extra five minutes to the Spotify version of “Loners,” the group has expressed satisfaction with the mood of its first three singles.

"I don't mind a seven or eight-minute song, but it's just not realistic to get your product out there,” Luebbers said.

Gahwns is on its way, though, to having the freedom to play extended versions of its tracks. This was also evident during the group’s May practice session, in which during those near-10-minute excursions, the three emphasized that even though playing off of each other is important, playing for each other takes precedent

“In every song we're actively looking at each other to make a change," Alvarez said, also quoting the legendary and local Tony Monaco Trio as an inspiration for this practice.

Although Gahwns doesn’t seem to be about fitting any generic mold, the group seems to believe its strategy is a winning one. This strategy may make Gahwns an underdog, but the multifaceted group sure is over performing in that role. With an arsenal of sounds and the ability to elaborate on different genres through jam techniques, Gahwns is gearing up for a summer takeover.

With an upcoming show this Friday at Woodlands Tavern, Gahwns will once again be opening, this time for Thomas and the Work-Men and The Original Soundtrack. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the cover charge is $5. Gahwns will be performing at 8 p.m. The group is also working on releasing a full length this year.