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Artist of the Month
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December 2015
Mikal Shapiro
"The Musical
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Singer-songwriter Mikal Shapiro’s perfectly titled latest release, The Musical, is a collection of not merely songs, but 10 short stories set to wonderful music. The album is a work—or multiple works—of art that are just as mysterious and intriguing as any paintings you will find in a gallery. Shapiro’s palette is splattered with the complete spectrum of colors. There are dreary gray tones and bright whimsical flashes, melding together to create a soundtrack to life—one that touches many musical genres, including rock, folk, jazz, old-school country, and even gospel.
 
The Musical's opening act, “Nope,” is an airy, ethereal fantasy. Odd, evasive lyrics over a folk sound made jazzier by a muted trumpet give the listener a sense of drifting in and out of a dream on a rainy Sunday morning. Drums and crashing cymbals briefly end the slumber, until you are lulled back to sleep as the song comes to a close. Several tracks share this jazz feel, including “Out on the Town,” “Two String Blues,” and the wonderfully whimsical "Hot Cool." Shapiro's vocals are poised and effortless on each of these. 
 
“Here and Now” explores rediscovering love and a desire to forget (or never remember) the past. A dull snare beat blanketed by beautiful steel guitar rivals the purest of cry-in-your-beer country songs. Similarly, “This Way to Heaven” is country with an emphasis on gospel. It begins a cappella and, as the band joins in, becomes the loveliest song on the album. It is simultaneously serene and haunting.
 
Matching the mystery and irony found throughout the album, “Daniel,” the catchiest and most up-tempo tune, is also possibly the saddest. Daniel himself is an enigma. The storyteller, who acknowledges being a “friend” of Daniel’s, clearly knows little more about him than that he can “sleep like a Christian” and “drink like a demon.” The song turns dark when the protagonist is found dead, presumably by suicide. “But on that Saturday, Daniel was down / They couldn’t say where he was found, or how he was found.” Brilliantly, the listener is left to decide how Daniel may have met his demise, and why.  
 
Shapiro is fortunate to be backed by Chad Brothers (guitar and vocals), Johnny Hamil (electric and double bass), and Matt Richey (drums), along with a small army of additional local musicians. This adept team provides a canvas that Shapiro expertly fills. My interpretations of The Musical may differ from other listeners. As with any painting, the artist is not only revealing her emotions, but is also attempting to provoke a response—and Shapiro certainly does. My response may be lost in translation, as the peculiar, personal songs will pierce each listener differently.

--Brad Scott  

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Show review: Sonic Spectrum Ramones Tribute, 10.28.12

Show review: Sonic Spectrum Ramones Tribute, 10.28.12

Four bands came together to pay tribute to legendary punk band, the Ramones, as a part of Sonic Spectrum’s tribute series at recordBar. For all intents and purposes, the Ramones saved rock n' roll. When they released their self-titled debut in 1976, the radio was jammed pack with long-winded keyboard solos, disco beats, and mini-operas. The Ramones went back to the original blueprint, designed by the early rock n' rollers and doo-wop groups of the ‘50s. Only the Ramones' songs were faster, louder, tougher, and weirder; punk was born. Their sound continues to influence countless bands to this day, four of which showed up that night.

If there was a secondary theme to the night, it was that covering these three-chord simplistic songs looks much easier than it actually is to pull off. Nearly each band recognized that on stage. The first band, UFT!, kicked off the show right with the shouts of "Hey! Ho! Let's go!" in "Blitzkrieg Bop,” quite possibly the most recognizable tune in the Ramones catalog. Bassist Steve Tulipana shared a funny story about meeting the artist behind the iconic Ramones logo, and his surprise on how getting prepared for the show had been. They played other Ramones classics such as "I Wanna Be Sedated" and "Rock N' Roll High School.”

Next, Rockets to Russia took the stage (members of Bleachbloodz, The Uncouth!, Hobo Zero, Appropriate Grammar, The Bad Ideas). Consisting of the largest group of the night, the five-member band tore through songs about as fast as the Ramones would perform them live. Songs like "Glad to See You Go" and "Cretin Hop" were accompanied by boundless energy that seemed to run back and forth on both sides of the stage. Two songs in, vocalist Mitch Clark convincingly told the crowd he'd have to slow down for a song or two or else he was bound to have a heart attack on stage. Still, the band continued through their set this way.

Gene Kreamerz and the Pussycats (members of The Quivers, The Latenight Callers, Drew Black & Dirty Electric, Deco Auto) played their songs closer to how the Ramones sounded on the albums. It's not at the breakneck speed of their live performances, but still animated enough for a crowd to bounce around to. Highlights included "(Do You Remember) Rock N' Roll Radio?" and a personal favorite, "Danny Says,” the true ballad of the night (surprisingly, the Ramones were great at writing those, too).

True evidence of the Ramones influence in even today's world came when Radkey finished the night off. The band consists of three brothers, all of whom were born well after the Ramones had their heyday. The spirit, energy, and rock n' roll the Ramones championed during their career came through the band. Highlights included the seasonally appropriate "Pet Cemetery" and campy "Somebody Put Something in My Drink.” The band ended their set with the anti-political song "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg", a song most fans would consider to be a favorite. The night was a great tribute to the Ramones, and in turn, a great tribute to rock n' roll.

All photos by Todd Zimmer. Please do not use without permission.

--Travis Stull  

Travis is a technical writer who loves rock n' roll. Give him a hug sometime.

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