Last Wednesday, a video crew was filming outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"Who are you with?" I asked.
"MTV," one of the cameramen said.
Funny, but none of their gear bore the famous MTV logo.
"Really?" I asked.
He shook his head in the affirmative.
The crew wasn't from MTV. They were a local company hired by the hall to film the appearance of Sonic Joyride, a band based in New Hampshire. Sonic Joyride wasn't playing in the Rock Hall lobby, as bands do on Wednesdays this summer. It played outside, on the roof of a school bus the band has customized to serve as a mobile performance unit.
The Cosmic Sled, as the bus is known, has a stage on top (with video screens), a 10,000-watt sound system, lighting rigs, and a sixteen-track recording studio. On a previous tour, the band parked and played at various national landmarks, like Mt. Rushmore and the world's largest ball of twine. On this summer's tour, called Yard Wired, Sonic Joyride is playing outside the homes of radio contest winners. "It's like the Partridge Family with balls," one spectator outside the Rock Hall said.
Turnout for Wednesday's show was predictably slim. One of the video crewmembers had to coerce six teenagers to crowd the stage and dance, as if this were the concert event of a lifetime. The crew said they were with MTV because that's where the Rock Hall wanted to send a tape, hoping Kurt Loder would delight at the sight of a band playing on top of a bus outside the hall.
An older couple watched Sonic Joyride with curious rapture. He worked the camcorder, she clicked still pictures. I asked what their interest in the band was. They were singer/guitarist Chris Hobler's parents, who flew in from St. Louis to catch their son perform at the mouth of the Rock Hall. Jean Hobler said that her son, after graduating from college, wanted to give music a shot. "And it's been eleven years," she said.
The band doesn't do this full-time; instead, they take off four- and six-week chunks of time to ride the Sled. In addition to carrying all the equipment necessary to put on a rock show, the bus sleeps six and has a TV, VCR, computer, bathroom, coffeepot, and magnets shaped like all the states they've visited (37). After Cleveland, Sonic Joyride would head to Erie, where three shows were scheduled.
What was the music like? Utterly forgettable post grunge. Too bad the hardest working bands are often the least fun to listen to.
Undercurrents director John Latimer just doesn't get it. You would think that when The Plain Dealer, the Free Times, and Scene all write stories that were critical (to varying degrees) of Undercurrents, and when it flopped as badly as it did May 20-22, he would take a long look at its viability and his stewardship.
Instead, he whines.
Last week Latimer mailed me earplugs (he presumed my hearing was damaged because I didn't review any of the performances) and a hand counter (because I'm acting more like a bean counter than a music writer).
"Since the live music scene is so vibrant and thriving in Northeast Ohio, your contributions are certainly valued," Latimer wrote in the letter's closing. "Oops, you failed to offer any positive contribution."
At first I found Latimer's mock appreciation mildly humorous. But when Anastasia Pantsios, who wrote an Undercurrents wrap-up story for The Plain Dealer, told me she received the same letter and gift pouch, I was slightly hurt. Couldn't Latimer have at least personalized his tokens of disappointment?
Latimer is peeved at the local press for not doing enough to promote Undercurrents and for questioning his leadership. If I may speak for my brothers and sisters of the printed word for a moment: T'ain't our job to make sure anyone's event is a smash. Our responsibility is to attract and serve our readers as best we can. If that means writing about your show, great. If not, tough.
Simply because Undercurrents is ostensibly good for the Cleveland music scene, Latimer believes everyone should pitch in to make it a success. But Undercurrents isn't a charity; it's a for-profit event owned and operated by Latimer. It's his deal.
Anyway, why should the media tout an event (the week of Undercurrents, Scene did publish a schedule and interview one of the local performers) when Latimer barely does anything? Where were the fliers? The advertising? The timely press releases? Regular updates on the Undercurrents website? Returned phone calls?
When I spoke to Latimer at the conference, he said he intended to bring it back for its twelfth year. Sure enough, the Undercurrents website is making the same ol' claims that "Undercurrents 2000 brings together many music industry players: record company executives, agents, managers, radio station personnel, media, nightclub owners, publishers, producers, equipment manufacturers, dealers, and, of course, musical artists."
My aim is not to pick on Latimer. I do wish he would quit offering bands and the city something he isn't delivering.
Donnie Iris & the Cruisers play the Odeon Thursday, June 17. Proceeds benefit four-year-old Addison Clark, who needs a bone marrow transplant. Addison suffers from Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, a rare disease that affects the immune system.
After a two-year hiatus, the Fourth of July Country Music Festival returns to Ponderosa Park in Salem, with Hank Williams III as the headliner. Also performing will be Hillbilly Idol, Western Border, Al's Fast Freight, Stacie Collins, and the Redneck Wife Beaters. Call 330-332-0044 for more info.
Bedford Heights-based indie On Point Records has a show Sunday, June 20, at Peabody's DownUnder. The label is promoting its first project, Paulie Rhyme's Ultraman. Rhyme and the Bomb Squad (uh, isn't that the name of Public Enemy's supporting cast?) will perform, along with II X's IV Yo Mind, Coalition, and Monte.
Get out the black mascara for Gothic Cultureshock at the Phantasy Nite Club Friday, June 18. Along with a slave auction and sundry vendors from the netherworld, Seraphim Shock, Manhole Vortex, Thou Shall Not, and State of Being play.
The second Akron Ska Fest is Sunday, June 20, at Ron's Crossroads. Bands include Skinnerbox, the Articles, the Berlin Project, Hot Property, Spare Change, the Minor Details, Better Off, Inch High Private Eye, and Major Minority.
Blossom Music Center issued a press release last week warning that it won't put up with any crap at the July 30 Offspring concert. Among the items that are forbidden at the show: wallet chains, Mylar balloons, skateboards, fireworks, spiked or studded jewelry, as well as the usual contraband (drugs, alcohol, etc.). You can, presumably, still bring pepper spray to orchestra events.