"Undercurrents 2000 Rocks Cleveland"

by Mike Farley and Pam West

Sponsored In Part By
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Geoff Wilbur's Renegade Newsletter had two writers at Undercurrents this year, each generally covering a different night. So here, first, is Mike Farley's account, followed by Pam West's review of the events (and her opinions on the Cleveland music scene's level of support for its highest profile showcase of local/regional talent). -GW

by Mike Farley

Undercurrents 2000 kicked off its 12th festival of music with a bang at three clubs in Lakewood, Ohio. The attendance lagged at first, but the clubs filled up later in the evening and all the bands that participated had a lot of fun and put on energetic shows.

The Giants of Science (Cherokee Queen Records, P.O. Box 6004, Akron, OH, 44312) started things off at the Symposium and the hard rock/punk trio from Akron, OH blazed through a set of catchy songs reminscent of early Goo Goo Dolls and some of the harder edged Replacements songs.

Figure of Speech (1345 Granger Ave, Lakewood, OH, 44107-2232), another trio of just a charismatic female lead singer and two acoustic guitars, started off the evening at the Blind Lemon. Their rhythmic, catchy alt-pop with intriguing lyrics was a great start to the evening there.

Alís Fast Freight (Maia Records, P.O. Box 372, Wickliffe, OH 44092) was the first band at the Phantasy Nite Club due to an early cancellation and played a great set of storytelling alternative country. While alt-country is a hip new term, this band can also be classified in the roots rock category as their music displayed a touch of Bruce Springsteen.

The Delgados had the crowd captivated with their brand of blues/rock that featured some incredible vocals and a Claptonesque lead guitarist. Thereís something about a great blues band that is just mesmerizing, and this band was no exception.

The Blow Up Dolls (6 Eastland Rd, Berea, OH, 44017), with their "mascot" on stage with them, put on an energetic set of alternative rock and showed that music that sounds a little different than the rest can also have a commercial sounding appeal. This band reminded me of the Talking Heads but as a reference only, because their music is completely original and the band incredibly tight.

Lake Effect played the Blind Lemon and their brand of acoustic fronted folk/rock offered solid songwriting and catchy melodies. This band has been around for a while and their seasoned musicianship shone through.

by Pam West

Despite the sparse attendance by both local music fans as well as bands, Undercurrents 2000, held a little later than usual this year, had a few sparkling gems in the mix. Over the years, the music conference has waxed and waned with Cleveland's fluctuating blue collar moon interest in its talented pool of local and regional musicians. Currently on a waning slope, fixtures in the Cleveland music scene rotated throughout the Lakewood clubs, sad to see the event so under-attended.

The lack of press had much to do with it, weather some, but even a prominent Cleveland music writer wasn't even aware it was taking place. Undercurrents, or "Undertow" as it was referred to several times throughout the evening, did not even warrant mention in the events calendars of a couple of local publications. But the lack of local support and the season's first snowfall didn't dampen the spirits of those bands who showed up, rocked out, and kicked ass. Kudos to you, friends! Here's a few highlights from Saturday night:

Cleveland power trio, On a Pale Horse (16044 Muskingum Blvd., Brookpark, OH 44142), featuring Dave Megrey on drums and vocals, Chris Romano on guitar, and Joe Megrey on bass and keys, kicked off the 9:30 set at the Blind Lemon with tight, driving rock that combines the classic Sabbath sound with elements of post-industrial punk.

I briefly caught the last of Tadpol's (http://www.tadpol411.com) set at the Phantasy, but from what I heard, I'd missed a good show with an edgy ebb and flow of musical styles, ranging from heavy metal to reggae. The songs I heard were of a Limp Bizkit quality, and the band claims Incubus to be a common influence among members Bill Marks (vocalist), bassist Adam Rich, guitarist Max Neal, and drummer Nathaniel Ploscik.

GWRN's own Mike Farley (P.O. Box 30397, Parma Heights, OH 44130) and his band took Undercurrents by storm with some of the most radio friendly, yet genuine material I've heard from a midwestern modern rock alternative band. Farley sings from the heart with conviction, much like Bruce Springsteen or Dave Matthews. Songs like "Far Away," "Half a World Away," and the acoustic duet ballad "No Easy Answers" were showcase highlights. He and his polished band are definitely mainstream and I'm not surprised they later shared the bill with Domestic Problems in an October 20th Odeon show. They put on an impressive and well received show at the Phantasy.

Akron's Mialso (P.O. Box 26592, Akron, OH 44319) brought a bit of their own sonic thunder to the Symposium. The lake-effect hail, sleet, and snow outside was nothing to the symphonic rap rock storm of this "Hop Rock" quintet. The sound, like a busy city street, is a chaotic amalgamation of paradoxical elements, like unique melodic vocal and keyboard lines set in contrast with high intensity growling undertones. The lyrics break through with messages of persistence and optimism in life. The band has even been known to have violinists join their orchestral grind. Very cool!

The pleasant surprise of the evening was a Columbus band called Fenster (Box 82491, Columbus, OH 43202) during their show at the Blind Lemon. Super sleek funk fusion complete with great horn section, jazzy vocals, white baseball jerseys (which seemed cheesy until they picked up their instruments and started to play), Motown choreography, and a precision rhythm section. Groovy, danceable, unique -- except for the occasional divergence into ska -- and then the guitar kicked in! Great stage presence and stage interaction, a bit like the Blues Brothers -- a little Chicago down and dirty with some great rhythmic vocalism and kick ass sax.

Then, last, but certainly never least, is Cleveland's favorite underground Dominatrix band, Pleasure Void (P.O. Box 770407 Cleveland, OH 44107). Lo was sporting a red leather jumpsuit and black vinyl overcoat. The Dominatrix and Pleasure Void took the audience on an aural tour of the comically weird and sonically diabolical realm they call the Pleasure Dome. (I think theirs is a little different than the one in the Mad Max movie.) Unfortunately I had to leave before I had a chance to explore my fetishes...oh well, I'll have to leave it for another day.

I'm speakin' to my home town: Cleveland, come on baby! You have some great talent swimming in your waters. Don't let them drown treading water for lack of support. I think the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame should sponsor Undercurrents next year. Of course, they kick street musicians off of their sidewalks if they begin to draw a crowd (I know this from personal experience), so I guess they're not into supporting the local music scene either. Pity. Anyway, great job by the bands and clubs!

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