Hard Rock doesn't always rock so hard

Half Japanese Grog Shop, 1765 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights with Speaker/Cranker and Hilo

10 p.m., Sunday, February 6



Gary's Ulcer: The first local band to play the Hard Rock. - Walter  Novak
Gary's Ulcer: The first local band to play the Hard Rock.

On January 25, Gary's Ulcer became the first local band to perform at the Hard Rock Café in Tower City, joining national acts such as Smash Mouth and Sammy Hagar, both of whom have appeared at the theme restaurant in the past. Gary's Ulcer, which played a mix of originals and covers (including "Bad Reputation," "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone," and Bad Religion's "21st Century Digital Boy"), was squeezed onto a small stage flanked by large plastic bottles of Jim Beam, the show's official sponsor. Pam Matouser, known as the "Jim Beam Girl," was on hand to distribute T-shirts and tickets for free shots, which Soundbites graciously accepted.

"I think it's warm and quaint," Operations Manager Ed Ripepi said of the close quarters. "Obviously, we're not going to have smash-your-head, drop-dead bands, but we'll have something that's good for everybody, whether you want a cup of coffee, a hot chocolate, or a martini. We can do it all. If you go to some of the other Hard Rocks, they're just big and stark."

In keeping with the "something for everyone" approach of the show, Gary's Ulcer, which takes its name from singer Gary Brenders's drinking habits, played a mellow set, and with the exception of the guys smoking pot in the men's bathroom, the crowd was particularly tame. The Hard Rock has also booked the Jolly Rancher tour, which will include up-and-coming national acts such as Peter Searcy and Neve, for March.

On the heels of his Internet-only album Strangers on a Refrain, Smithereens singer Pat DiNizio has embarked on a 60-city acoustic living-room tour. DiNizio took a nontraditional approach to booking the shows -- he sent an e-mail to friends and fans, and offered to play their backyards and living rooms if they could sell 100 tickets. He said he initially met a woman through a fund-raising organization called B.E.A.M. (Benefiting Emerging Artists in Music) -- yes, it's another Jim Beam thing -- who had put together a "word-of-mouth tour" and asked if he could borrow the term. DiNizio promises to play requests, and set lists have included Smithereens hits such as "Only a Memory," "House That We Used to Live In," and "Girl Like You," as well as covers by artists as wide-ranging as Buddy Holly (who was one of DiNizio's initial inspirations), Black Sabbath, and Alice Cooper.

"These are some of the most enjoyable shows I've done," DiNizio said by phone from his home in New Jersey. "You're getting a concert where you are witnessing a concert in someone's house or living room, and it's an entirely different environment. They're highly interactive experiences. The audience determines what the set list will be, and I play as long as they'll have me. Anyone can come up and sing whenever they want. It's a considerably different experience than one might find in a club atmosphere. It's all about bridging that gap between the performer and audience. Being onstage was never something I felt entirely comfortable with -- it felt strange, but I did the best I could with it."

DiNizio, who is running for state senate in New Jersey on the Reform Party bill (Youngstown's Vic Rubenstein is his political analyst), will be playing a word-of-mouth show on February 8 at Get Hep Swing's Slavic Village studio (5939 Broadway). At $25, tickets are a bit steep, but include a tour T-shirt and refreshments. For more information, consult DiNizio's website (

The Grammy Awards seldom champion artists who truly deserve recognition -- but in the case of Canton native Macy Gray, who was nominated for Best New Artist (along with decidedly lesser talents Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears), the accolades are appropriate. By combining the sassiness of Eartha Kitt with the soulful delivery of Aretha Franklin, Gray's debut, last year's On How Life Is, has put her in the same league with crossover successes like Lauryn Hill and Me'Shell N'degeOcello. While Gray, who attended USC, was discovered at an L.A. coffeehouse, her show on February 7 at the Odeon will be a homecoming of sorts, especially since her parents still live in Canton.

The 12th Annual Folk Alliance Conference will kick off with a concert on Wednesday, February 9, at the Music Hall in the Cleveland Convention Center. Acts on the bill include Richie Havens, the Cassidys, the Campbell Brothers, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Connie Kaldor, Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, and the Limeliters. The show starts at 7:30 and tickets are $20. The conference itself, which will commence on Thursday, February 10, with a series of workshops, seminars, and performances (most of which are open only to registrants), runs through February 13. As a way of acknowledging Cleveland's ethnic diversity, the conference will showcase Northeast Ohio's Eastern and Central European music as well as what a press release describes as "the Midwest's tradition of Old Time music and song." In addition, Doc Watson, Dewy Balfa, and Edith Fowke all will receive Lifetime Achievement Awards at a private luncheon.

While walk-up registration is $390, single-day registration is available for $190. If neither of those options is within your budget, organizers have promised that each night will include a series of "privately sponsored showcases" taking place at conference hotels and "in various nooks and crannies in Cleveland." In the spirit of the working-class folk tradition, Soundbites advises snooping around the convention center for impromptu performances if you can't cough up the cash for registration. For more information, consult the Folk Alliance website (

Tenor saxophonist Charles Gayle has had to cancel his tour, including a February 7 show at the Grog Shop, because he strained himself while moving a piano. Knitting Factory Records, Gayle's label, didn't know if the tour would be rescheduled, but Soundbites hopes Cleveland will be included if it is -- the eccentric Gayle, who also plays bass clarinet and piano, is one of the more adventurous jazz artists out there. -- Jeff Niesel

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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