Best Of 2005

No director in the region can fill a proscenium arch quite like Fred Sternfeld, and his staging of the brawny musical Ragtime was a prime example of his talents. Painting a tapestry of lives and songs derived from the E.L. Doctorow novel, this production turned the enormous stage at the Tri-C Eastern Campus into early 1900s New York, where three families struggle to make sense of a changing city crowded with immigrants, bigots, and hucksters. Ably assisted by music director David Williams and choreographer Martin Céspedes, Sternfeld mastered the sweep of events while polishing every small moment until it gleamed. In a splendid cast, Kyle Primous simmered with dangerous sexuality as Coalhouse Walker Jr., and his rendition of "Wheels of a Dream" was dazzling. Marc Moritz, as Jewish arrival Tateh, was a fascinating mixture of self-deprecation and naked ambition. Backed by a strong orchestra, the heartfelt music explored this vast emotional landscape - especially a cross-cultural duet between Tateh and Maggie Stahl-Wirfel (playing Mother) as they shared feelings about "Our Children."
Xtreme Radio - that's "extreme" with an X, and you can't fake that shit - is Cleveland's kind of modern-rock station: heavy on the Foo Fighters and Audioslave, followed by more Audioslave and some Foo Fighters. But the Xtreme team isn't afraid to push the envelope. In addition to hard rock, WXTM-FM 92.3 throws in a healthy mix from arty to tough, spinning indie rockers Modest Mouse and rockabilly-blues kings Social Distortion. And occasionally, they'll try out material like the latest single from alt-rhymer Atmosphere. Regular specialty programs showcase X's depth. On Wednesdays, 92.3's UnderXposed goes easy, playing new-wave '80s revivalists like Interpol, Muse, and the Bravery. On Saturdays, That Damn Punk Show gets you ready for next summer's Warped Tour. And every Sunday, the Metal Show unleashes the wolves, blaring metal from old-school Metallica to rippers like Mastodon. Hot funk, cool punk; even if it's old junk, it's still rock and roll to 92.3.
WENZ is the best steady source for hip-hop on the FM dial - not that it has much competition. Whether it's midnight or 6 a.m., Z jocks spin 50 Cent, Foxy Brown, Missy Elliott, Destiny's Child, and even a little Gwen Stefani (for all the Hollaback Girls out there). Between tunes, the city's hottest mixmasters drop up-to-the-minute news from the hip-hop world, and they always have an ear to the ground. Z107.9 pumps blazin' hip-hop and R&B, not just on the FM dial and the web, but in clubs across the city. The Z crew also keeps the beats flowing at the House of Blues, OH10, Club 727, Club Kaos, Metropolis, Mirage on the Water, and Modä. So if you and your boys want a gritty night out rocking your Rocawear, chances are you'll cross paths with WENZ. Any questions about who runs the game?
Talk to any disc jockey for more than three minutes, and there's a 70 percent chance he'll use this phrase: "Cleveland is a classic-rock town." And no local radio station plays a purer mix of classic rock than WNCX 98.5. No Green Day. No mandatory Metallica. No stepdad-rock. Just the same favorites you (or your dad) were listening to in 1985. In addition to a steady flow of Zeppelin and Floyd, 'NCX digs deep into its vault, regularly throwing a bone to Todd Rundgren fans or dusting off obscure tunes like late-era Deep Purple (Perfect Strangers might be the best reunion album ever). And while maybe we don't need to hear "Train Kept A-Rollin'" six times a day, if it keeps Nickelback out of the rotation, bring it on.
From Tori Amos to Warren Zevon, 91.3 is everything FM radio should be, but seldom is. Member-supported and commercial-free, the Summit County station is at once unpredictable and familiar - you're never far away from an old favorite or a new love. No other station provides such a tasty serving of rock's recommended daily allowance: hip, mainstream hits (Weezer and Coldplay), classic alternative (Crowded House, R.E.M.), local artists (singer-songwriter Ryan Humbert and roots band Roger Hoover and the Whiskeyhounds), and new music you won't hear anywhere else (siren Madeleine Peyroux and singer-songwriter Alana Davis). Nights and weekends, specialty shows take over for hours at a time, from reggae to polka - the Celtic-themed The Hibernian Connection has been known to juxtapose classic rocker Donnie Iris with Irish punks the Dropkick Murphys. Can't pick up the Akron station on the North Shore? Listen live, through the website.
If there's a counterpoint to the angry, juvenile ranting that infects morning radio in Cleveland, it's the sultry Midwest twang of Rebecca Wilde. This adorable brunette can be heard every weekday on Q104's Wilde and Fee in the Morning, dishing dirt on Hollywood for Celebrities: Uncensored or daring listeners to come to the studio for a quick makeout session. She met her current beau during one such contest - much to the chagrin of Vertical Horizon guitarists Keith Kane and Matt Scannell, who serenaded her during a recent acoustic set. A native of Detroit, Wilde was hired by Q104 in 2001. She paid her dues as an afternoon DJ until 2003, when she became Danny Czekalinski's new co-host for the popular morning program, replacing Carole Chandler. After Czekalinski left in 2004, Wilde got top billing in a market dominated by alpha-male personalities. Since then, she's moonlighted as an American Idol correspondent for Fox 8 and an entertainment reporter for Channel 5. She's cute as a button, with an '80s punk-rock edge - and we live for her raspy laugh.
As the "sick, sick mind behind 669," Craig Callander helms the most scatological show on the Cleveland airwaves. Otherwise known as Dr. Lance Underpants and Sweet Ass Sassafrass, Callander comes with a nonstop barrage of oddball in-studio guests (everyone from the Insane Clown Posse to Cleveland furniture czar Marc Brown) and humor as black and sticky as an oil spill. In between blasting everything from vintage punk to Tiny Tim, Callander fields calls from naked Puerto Rican chicks, cops, and dudes pretending to be robots named Zeldar. During a recent show (his program airs Saturday mornings from 1 to 4 a.m.), Callander attempted to encapsulate the mirth and misanthropy that is 669. "Let's sum it up with a few adjectives," he began. "Obviously, it's musky. It's helpful, inflammatory, swollen, subliminal, special - like short-bus special. It's Dee Sniderish and Judas Priestly. Understandable? Not so much."
Cleveland offered plenty of promising new bands this year, but Between Home and Serenity is the best. Like something primal and mythological, the city's screamo kings emerged fully formed. BHAS immediately became a top draw at venues like the Pirate's Cove, soon graduating to the Agora Theater (and not to the small room). The band has nearly 30,000 friends at the emo web portal, and the downloads are steadily translating into sales for the band's debut album, Power Weapons in the Complex. The disc was mixed by Dave Holman, who has worked with big-name acts like Third Eye Blind and No Doubt. The resulting work sounds as polished as that of any band you'll see featured in Alternative Press this year. Meet the cover boys for 2006.
Pundits said that with an awkward name like 15 60 75, the group also known as the Numbers Band would never go anywhere. They were right - and wrong: 35 years after its inception, the group is still based in Akron. But it's also toured the world, and it's never stopped playing. The art-blues combo prefigured the world-famous Akron-Kent new-wave scene, and it's evolved into a jazz-influenced juggernaut. For its 35th year, the area's longest-running group reissued two of its classic albums; Jimmy Bell's Still in Town, the band's 1976 live debut, now features a new mix and liner notes from Cleveland expatriate Dave Thomas (who sang in a couple little bands called Pere Ubu and Rocket From the Tombs). The long-awaited reissue of 1992's Hotwire features some of the esoteric band's more accessible fan favorites, such as "Sucker Punch," "Somebody Shot Him," and "Hotwire." The festivities culminated in a 35th-anniversary concert at the Kent Stage, featuring a massive performance that included a stageful of past and present members.
Let's get one thing out of the way: He's not Howard Stern. Like the King of All Media, Rover often straddles the line of good taste, such as when he had dads try to identify their daughter's orgasms on Father's Day. But while comparisons with Stern are inevitable, Rover has his feet firmly grounded in Cleveland. Since debuting in March 2003, he's become a local hero to his many fans, who never tire of telling him that Cleveland loves him — an utterance so common, it's been shorthanded to CLY. This year brought a new syndication deal, and with Stern set to go to Sirius satellite radio, Rover is positioned to capture a broad swath of the young male demographic. Rover may not be the king, but he's quite a prince.
Every Uncle Scratch show is a rough-and-tumble rockabilly revival. The true believers in the band will do whatever it takes to save your ever-rockin' soul, even if they have to screw you silly to do it. (Give "I Banged a Sinner" a spin, if you think we're making this up.) The band's concerts aren't like most rock shows. For starters, it avoids the usual conventions - like performing on a stage. "Stages are for pussy bands," drummer Brother Ed told Scene. If they play a club like Peabody's, the members of Uncle Scratch are more likely to set up their gear in the hallway outside the men's room. And by "gear," we don't mean traditional instruments. Ed uses an iron milk crate for a cymbal, and he's proven that cardboard boxes make a perfectly adequate bass drum. Brother Ant delivers his vox through a bullhorn, at a volume that could scare the devil out of Linda Blair. It all adds up to more than just a great live show - it's a religious experience.
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