Midwest Music Summit 2005

Indianapolis, July 21–23, 2005

The weather | “I’m on my second sweating,” Cameron McGill remarked at the kickoff party July 20 at the Monkey’s Tale. “You’re drenched, and then you dry, and then you sweat again.” Were it not for the storm we watched roll in—producing torrential downpours, and soaking many festival-goers in the process—we are certain we would have melted a few brain cells the first night.

Cameron McGill | …and not just because he sweats a lot. Because he’s so gosh-darned earnest and thoughtful, a true acoustic troubadour. We caught his performance at the Songwriters in the Round showcase—also featuring Tim Easton, Otis Gibbs, Vess Ruttenberg, and Richard Edwards—and he brought the house down. “That was the best thing I’ll hear all weekend,” said Easton following one of McGill’s newer songs, which claims “Love’s worst day is always better than hate.” Easton strummed his guitar, then looked at the sound guy. “Can you make me as loud as him? And as tall?”

The Ponys | I’d heard the name but (this is embarrassing) got them confused with Pony Up!, a female-fronted group from Canada. The Ponys are a Chicago foursome, richly textured and dense, more noise-infused indie-rock and post-punk than shiny, happy pop. Don’t miss them when they open for Sleater-Kinney in October.

French Kicks | I remembered enjoying The Trial of the Century, French Kicks’ last full-length, when it was released last year. When I saw they were playing the festival, I dug it up and listened again, and again. The songs were just as good live (though the venue was the coldest I have ever been to. Ever). With his look-at-me posturing and stiff-legged dancing, Josh Wise is a captivating frontman. The band’s harmonies are something to behold, as are their instrument swaps and lead vocal changes. And don’t forget Wise’s beautiful falsetto.

Miranda Sound | We discovered this Columbus, Ohio four-piece three years ago at MMS; it’s only fitting we catch them each year at the festival. This year, they were relegated to Jillian’s, a game room/trendy bar downtown, which meant we had to leave the Songwriters’ showcase early, fly downtown, garage park, and dodge traffic—and we still missed the beginning of their set. They have such a passionate, high-energy performance; we enjoyed every minute. Why won’t someone sign them already?

Longwave | This was my first Longwave show, so in that respect, it was fabulous. Singer-songwriter Steve Schlitz—small and skinny with a shock of curly hair—enunciates precisely as he sings. Unfortunately, he wasn’t feeling well, which meant he said little and the band didn’t return for its planned encore (I stole a peek at the set list). More memorable, though, was the chance to speak with Schlitz, who’s not only intelligent and talented, but down-to-earth and funny, too.

Hockey Night | There was a lot of hype surrounding this band. Hype, as we know, isn’t always a good thing. In the case of Hockey Night, though, it was. They’re kind of a hybrid of Modest Mouse, Pavement, and the Velvet Underground, with two drummers, two bassists, and some uncategorizable brand of rhythm-heavy geek rock going on. Paul Sprangers is a kind of back-porch preacher: a bit whiny, a bit sing-song, with a healthy dose of proselytizing: “You want peace right now/give the voice back to the people.”

Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s | Every time we see this band—and, trust me, I catch them every opportunity I get—they get better. Seriously. It didn’t matter that singer-songwriter-boy genius Richard Edwards was ill, which he told us in between complaining about his “fucking piece of shit guitar” (which he later smashed in contempt). I’m a big fan of characters in song lyrics, people whom you can understand and empathize with. Edwards captures that desperate, unstable, volatile, self-medicated persona so well. The nonstandard instrumentation—besides the usuals, there’s keyboards, cello, trumpet, and an additional percussionist—makes Margot exponentially more than just an indie-rock group.

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