Royal Ramble: Two Alive writers debate their way through a jam-packed week of concerts

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From the February 14, 2013 edition

Cold-weather months tend to yield the weakest concert schedules, but this week is unusually stacked. Rather than wring our hands internally over which shows to highlight, we decided to do it publicly. Come, join us as we parse this out.

Thursday, Feb. 14: Kool Keith at Ace of Cups vs. Jukebox the Ghost at Wexner Center vs. Ballyhoo at Woodlands Tavern vs. G-Eazy at The Basement

Chris: This Valentine's Day has a distinctly ’90s flair to it. There's hip-hop oddball Kool Keith, who actually made his name in that decade. But the other performers also flash me back to the radio dial of my childhood, be it Jukebox the Ghost's lightweight pop channeling of The New Radicals and Ben Folds Five, Ballyhoo's reggae-punk conjuring Sublime and 311 or G-Eazy channeling the spirit of Vanilla Ice. Any of that resonating with you?

Justin: At this point, it'd be easier to find bands that don't remind me of the ’90s. Of course, most of my high school friends refuse to listen to anything that's not from that time period (or a direct descendant), so I guess there's a reason it's the decade du jour. Still, I feel bad for any white rapper who gets Iced like that. Not sure that's fair to Mr. Eazy. Or anyone for that matter.

Chris: Fair or not, surely we can discard Eazy from the race. Ballyhoo too; those are the kinds of flashbacks I can live without. Seems like this contest comes down to Keith's sexed-up futuristic throwback rap vs. Jukebox, who delivered a pleasantly enjoyable opening set when I saw The Dismemberment Plan a few years ago. Where do you stand?

Justin: Put me firmly in the Kool Keith camp. The hard part is convincing the wife that he's Valentine's Day-worthy. My initial try using the Kool Keith-approved terms "horrorcore" and "pornocore" didn't work. I should have gone with "romancecore" — accuracy be damned — but I do love my wife and have enjoyed being married these first few months.

WINNER: Kool Keith

Ace of Cups

9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14

2619 N. High St., Campus

aceofcupsbar.com

Friday, Feb. 15: Umphrey's McGee at LC Pavilion vs. Martin Sexton at Newport vs. Menomena at The Basement

Justin: This line-up has a familial feel to me, and it's not just because Menomena named their latest (and fantastic) new album Moms. Despite having a Bon Iver vibe to some of his stuff, Martin Sexton strikes me as something Men of a Certain Age (read: your dad) fall particularly hard for. I guess that makes it dad-folk? To wrap up this analogy in as pained a way as I can muster, Umphrey's McGee is the band I'd only go see with my college-aged cousin who likes to hula hoop. Help me dig a little deeper.

Chris: It's hard to imagine myself vibing out at the Mar-Sex show; your "Men of a Certain Age" reference is on point. But Umphrey's and Menomena are both certainly bands for this generation. I've been partial to Menomena's off-kilter, hands-on approach to indie rock for a solid decade, ever since they built their own software to record debut album I Am the Fun Blame Monster (an anagram for "The First Menomena Album") and released it as a flipbook. That's smart and just plain fun. Is there any way Umphrey's can compete?

Justin: I don't think so, at least not for my attention-addled mind. Menomena make music flooded with ideas. If there's ever a bad one (and there aren't many), don't worry, something new and shiny is just around the corner. Even with the trio now down to a duo, Menomena still comes hard with creativity. That leanness resulted in their most focused and aggressive-sounding effort to date in Moms. I couldn't be more excited.

Chris: You're right. Even The Basement's inherent unpleasantness can't tarnish Menomena's supremacy here. Maybe some of those hundreds of Umphrey's fans will wander next door and see the light. Bonus: Guards, one of the best bands on the CD102.5 Day schedule, are opening for Menomena.

WINNER: Menomena

The Basement

8:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15

391 Neil Ave., Arena District

promowestlive.com

Saturday, Feb. 16: Matchbox Twenty at Palace Theatre vs. Bad Books at Newport Music Hall vs. Joan of Arc at Cafe Bourbon Street

Chris: Again with the ’90s! Rob Thomas' post-Santana solo career and/or Rob Thomas’ Santana money must have finally dried up to the point of getting the band back together. Meanwhile, Joan of Arc, one of the many Kinsella family affairs that have peppered the Illinois indie landscape since the dawn of the Clinton administration, is set to play Bourbon Street. And while Bad Books is a new band, their great 2012 single "Forest Whitaker" sounds like a Grandaddy outtake. Do you hear what I hear, Justin?

Justin: I'm picking up what you're putting down. But yeesh, has it really been 16 years or so since Matchbox 20 debuted? I received a promo copy of Yourself or Someone Like You way back when (my aunt worked in the music business) and prior to getting repeatedly ear raped by the most repetitively simple guitar riffs I'd ever heard, I kind of liked MB20 for what they were. I've often argued since, half in jest, that Maroon 5 is a poor man's Matchbox 20.

Chris: If you want MB20 to push you around, that's your business, but leave Adam Levine and his tattoos out of it. As for the others, I thought I'd be leaning Bad Books' direction, seeing as their indie-pop-with-electro-flourishes steez seems like a more refined descendant of Joan's approach. Plus I just love Grandaddy. But having bumped "This Life Cumulative" YouTube-style just now, I'm feeling inclined toward the aging emo greats' throat-shredding AOL-era aesthetic. Have I sold you on a visit to Bobo?

Justin: Did I go too far with the positivity toward Matchbox 20? Probably, but I'm in a similar position as you re: Bad Books vs. Joan of Arc. I adored the first Manchester Orchestra album, but have found myself cooling considerably on Andy Hull and company since. I was never a big Cap'n Jazz fan when I went through my ’90s-era emo phase, but I'd gladly welcome a little nostalgia of the throat-shredding variety over what I'm going to assume will be a fairly safe Bad Books show.

WINNER: Joan of Arc

Café Bourbon Street

Saturday, Feb. 16

2216 Summit St., Campus

cafebourbonstreet.tumblr.com

Sunday. Feb. 17: The Who at Schottenstein Center vs. Sinkane at Double Happiness

Justin: The trendy upstart with local roots goes against the behemoth rock icons. This might sound blasphemous, but this is a legit tough call for me. I was never a big Who fan, but, come on, it's The Who, right? How does this not win in a landslide? However, my musical tastes skew much closer to Ahmed Gallab's indie-fied prism of Afrobeat, free jazz and funk. My apologies in advance, but who are you — who-who who-who — going with?

Chris: Frankly, I always thought The Who was pretty overrated too. (Don't tell photo editor Tim Johnson.) But Daltrey and Townshend are responsible for lots of classic music, and living legends don't come around every day, nor do they live forever. This is tough for me as well because my appreciation for Sinkane runs deep, all the way back to Carabar 2007 when Gallab was getting the first version of the project off the ground. I guess the big question is, what's important: Seeing Sinkane at a tiny venue in their prime or seeing core members of The Who while you still can?

Justin: That brings up a good point, which is my horrible track record of seeing iconic musicians perform well past their prime. For the most part: not worth it. I've seen enough icons “sing” a third of their songs, while barely able to stand unassisted. Don’t want to experience that again. The one exception was Willie Nelson, but that might owe more to the thick cloud of smoke that follows him. They don't have weed going for them, but maybe The Who are a little more spry and cognizant to make it worth while?

Chris: Yeah, in terms of on-stage vitality, it's obvious why Daltrey once sang "I hope I die before I get old." Townshend probably still has a few windmills left in him, but it comes down to this, I think: If Keith Moon was still alive, this would be a no-brainer. But he isn't. Thus, you gotta go Gallab, especially with Connections and Time & Temperature opening the show.

WINNER: Sinkane

Double Happiness

9 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17

482 S. Front St., Brewery District

bencopresents.com

Monday, Feb. 18: Why? at Ace of Cups vs. Outasight/The Ready Set at A&R Music Bar vs. Benjamin Francis Leftwich at Rumba Cafe

Chris: Why? is among the most obnoxious bands I've ever heard, but that obnoxiousness always used to be couched in killer songwriting, genius genre mash and the sense that their albums were worlds to themselves. The most recent EP and LP just left me flummoxed. Still, this band put on one of the most immersive live shows I've ever encountered, so I'm initially drawn that direction. There's competition, though: Leftwich makes breathy-voiced pretty acoustic music sound like it hasn't been gently smothered to death. Outasight and The Ready Set are corny, but also sleek, modern and catchy. Seems like a legit tossup to me.

Justin: Sleek, modern and catchy are three words you should never use if you're trying to get me to a show. And your description of Benjamin Francis Leftwich sounds like faint praise at best. So that leaves Why? Three years ago I would have been shocked by my own faint praise toward Why?, but I've since realized I only really like about eight of their songs and most of those appeared on Alopecia. You're right about the obnoxiousness. Any band that uses lyrics like, "I curse the last six months I've been hiding behind a mustache," and you can't tell whether they're being ironic or sincere, playful or douchey, is a band that produces a healthy amount of skepticism in me.

Chris: It's possible I was a little too faint in my praise for Mr. Leftwich, whose music would make for a lovely Monday night in Rumba's cozy confines. But I understand where you're coming from on the Outasight/Ready Set show. Such music is better suited for car stereos than midsize concert halls, especially on a Monday. I can't shake the feeling, though, that Leftwich types are a dime a dozen. Why?, despite our valid protestations, is unlike anything else, and that counts for something.

Justin: I had a similar feeling with Leftwich and Rumba, but I've come around on Why? Any apprehension I had was mostly couched in the disappointment I felt with their latest EP and LP. I have a buddy who insists those two records are fantastic — if I'd just give them more time. Maybe the live show will do it for me and I'll come away with one of those transcendent concert experiences where everything a band attempted on record *clicks* in a moment of magic. If nothing else, Why? promises to be interesting, which is more than I could say for its opponents on this night.

WINNER: Why?

Ace of Cups

9 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18

2619 N. High St., Campus

aceofcupsbar.com

Tuesday, Feb. 19: Suzanne Vega at Lincoln Theatre vs. Aesop Rock at A&R Bar vs. The Menzingers at The Basement

Justin: On some level, I'd prefer Suzanne Vega's show be held (I can't believe I'm going to say this) at the LC indoor. I would sincerely consider hopping back-and-forth between all three concerts were that the case. We've spoken before about tough picks, but this one's the hardest for me. Vega's not really an artist I listen to with any regularity or one I'd go out of my way to see, but I have no doubt she'd be captivating (especially, as it is, in the stately Lincoln Theatre). I'm, otherwise, pretty big fans of The Menzingers and Ace Rizzle.

Chris: Vega has one of those effortlessly breathy voices, and her songwriting successfully channels emotions that run the risk of coming off cornball. She carries it off, and the Lincoln is a perfect fit for her. The Basement is a perfect fit for no one, but The Menzingers (whom you once favorably compared to The Gaslight Anthem) are the kind of band where there'd be a major payoff for fighting your way into the tiny patch of real estate where you can actually see the performance. All that might be moot, though, because Aesop has the potential to be that rare commodity: the killer live hip-hop show.

Justin: Vega will leave her audience breathless, no doubt. As for Aesop, I've seen him before (in the now deceased Outlands) and he pulled off that rare feat you mentioned despite Kimya Dawson tagging along. I have no doubt he'll bring it again. Still, if you prefer a little less hipster in your hip-hop, this might be skippable. Despite my huge Aesop Rock fandom, I'm leaning toward The Menzingers, whose album from last year, On the Impossible Past, was ridiculously good. Not to overhype the LP, but it reminded me, as you mentioned, of Gaslight Anthem minus the Bruce Springsteen ambitions and crossed with The Hold Steady's knack for documenting the lives of gutter punks and hoodrats. A perfect fit for The Basement, and I mean that as a compliment.

Chris: I've never been a huge Gaslight fan (possibly because I only like the Boss in moderate doses), but your Menzingers description sounds like something I can get behind. If we have to pick a winner, Menzingers it shall be, particularly since their Columbus-based pals The Sidekicks are on the bill. Still, it seems you can't go wrong Tuesday unless you stay home.

WINNER: The Menzingers

The Basement

7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19

391 Neil Ave., Arena District

promowestlive.com