"Undercurrents '98 Rocked Cleveland"

by Geoff Wilbur

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It was another great weekend of music and music industry stuff in Cleveland this year. Though I was only able to catch two days and one night of the three day/two night event, it was well worth the trip.

The nights, of course, were filled with music -- I get to that later. The days were reserved for a trade show, music business panels, and one-on-one sessions. This is a great event for musicians to attend, especially those who've never been to a music conference before. The size of Undercurrents is manageable -- not overwhelming like some of the larger conferences can be to a first-time attendee -- yet it's been around long enough that its name is recognized around the industry. Though much of the advice doled out by panelists may seem like common sense after you hear it, it's worth hearing to help your career. And, as always, you'll hear different advice from different people on the same subject, highlighting the fact that there's more than one way to skin a cat. (This year I sat on the "Doing It Off Stage" panel about promoting your band.) In short, I'd urge all bands with lofty goals to "get thee to a music conference." And, as I noted, a smaller conference like Undercurrents is particularly useful for those who've never been to one before.

The other cool thing about Undercurrents is the availability of the one-night wristband. For $10.00, music fans can run up and down the street to catch music at all of the venues, getting a glimpse of dozens of the Midwest's hottest up-and-coming bands (and several bands from outside the region).

Here's a glimpse at some of the bands whose sets I caught this year:

Fade served up straight-ahead rock on the power pop end of the scale with an extremely high energy level, complete with harmonies. Fun rock tuneage with guitar solos and showmanship. One of Fade's newest -- power pop tune "Pretty Girl" -- is a bona fide hit.

God's Children perform kinda muddy, straightforward, melodic hard rock. Great band to put life into a bar. One song I caught, I'd swear, is gritty Jersey rock.

Three-piece Motor Betty's crunchy, growling, alternative '90s metal with lots of distortion is slower paced, making it seem more heavy than aggressive.

What a soaring, almost haunting voice! American Mars' overall vibe is reminiscent of U2 in places. The band creates a relaxed mood while leaving the listener awash in sound.

I caught a couple songs from Sin Klub recording artists Evolotto. The first very heavy song consisted of growling vocals, a wall of sound, and a repeating, pulsing rhythm (hard not to move to). The second chunked along eerily and almost melodically.

Bitter Dolores performs aggressive college guitar alternative with strong, versatile female vocals that make you sit up and take notice. The sheer performance and songwriting talent in this group suggests a steady, consistent long term appeal with potential for breakout hits.

Crutch's music is like mainstream college pop alternative but heavier -- like a heavy Weezer.

I only caught Al Rose's last song, but he had a strong vocal power reserve when necessary to spice the song to mainstream appeal.

The Luddites delivered a nine-piece (they're usually eleven-piece) folk rock performance with a variety of sounds from a Southwestern flavor to horn-based party rock ("Voodoo Love").

Dean Goldstein's set indicates that he is adept at capturing listeners with engaging, soft acoustic, melancholy anthems (a la "This is Not Your Song").

Mark your calendars -- next year's Undercurrents is May 20th-22nd, 1999. If you're a band looking to take the next step toward the big time, it's a nice-sized conference to start with -- you can get a lot accomplished without being overwhelmed. For fans, it's a chance to see some of the hottest regional acts from around the Midwest.

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