There's something special about seeing your local band reach new milestones. But it's often a long and hard road to see those moments come to fruition.
When you start playing music, whether that be with a band or as a solo act, you, of course, have aspirations of making it big. However, in 2023 those days of having an A&R rep from the big record label see you are all but gone. So you have to temper those expectations. For many, simply having a solid contingency of fans and consistently touring is enough.
Today for many smaller touring acts, you need to put in twice the amount of work to see recognition. Twice the amount of money, marketing, knowing the right people, and still, you just need a bit of luck.
For Carriers frontman and figurehead Curt Kiser, that's all been part of the recipe for their success thus far. From seeing him perform at a small lifted stage at Findlay Market during BLINK, I was one of the lucky ones to see the band in its infancy. For those there, it was impossible not to see the potential of their music.
Kiser's songwriting was profoundly personal and unapologetically him. Touching on personal struggle, his faith, and his longing for a deeper understanding of the human condition. His vocal delivery was reminiscent of Tom Petty and Mark Knopfler, with the reverb and atmospheric vocals of Adam Granduciel of The War On Drugs. The music was genuinely Midwestern. Many artists today are taking influence from the Heartland Synth Rock sound. However, only some have the credentials that Kiser and his bandmates have, as they are truly Midwestern and proud to be from Cincinnati.
Now, in 2023 Kiser has had a banner year for his career. In just this year, Kiser has signed to Brassland Records, the new record label started by Cincinnati natives and members of The National's Aaron and Bryce Dessner, then been featured on multiple tracks of The National's recent release, First Two Pages of Frankenstein, where is credited on those tracks.
He has also been working on a follow-up to his superb debut Now Is The Time For Loving Me, Yourself & Everyone Else; with his follow-up, Kiser is back in the studio with a collaborative partner and The National's Drummer Bryan Devendorf. Kiser has also tapped The War On Drugs Bass Player Dave Hartley and Afghan Whigs Bass Player and producer of Kiser's debut, John Curley, for help on the second record. Even as a cherry on top, The National has also used Kiser's music to walk out on stage in the past year.
So if Kiser thought this would be the biggest year of his career thus far, he hadn't factored in opening for Band of Horses at the historic Cincinnati music venue Bogart's in Clifton.
Once having signed to Brassland, Kiser's music was a bit more accessible to bigger named acts, and through the passing along of his music, Band of Horses became fans. A month before getting ready to play, Bogart's Ben Bridwell and company asked for some suggestions to open and, by happenstance, found that Carriers, the band they all had recently become fans of, was from Cincinnati. Kiser jumped at the opportunity after asking if they would be interested in opening.
Having seen Carriers and Kiser's solo performances multiple times, I wondered how their performance would translate to a larger stage. I knew their sound would be perfect for the venue as their music is really meant for some of the biggest stages in the world. Their sound is vast, atmospheric and has the potential to become larger than life with the right setting. However, still being a small act, stages like this can be intimidating, especially if you have such an emotional connection to the venue as Kiser and Company are from Cincinnati.
However, Carriers had home field advantage at this show. With a nearly sold-out crowd already packed in for Carriers set, many fans were there for Carriers. Band of Horses was simply an added bonus.
As the band took the stage, Kiser, who is often a much more reserved person on stage, seemed hyped and elated by the size of the audience. He truly looked ready for the performance and knew that he needed to try and fit as many songs as they could in a matter of 30 minutes. A simple greeting to the crowd and acknowledgment that they were from Cincinnati would suffice, and they were off running.
To add to the pressure, Carriers would be performing their own sort of Time Fades Away set. Time Fades Away is arguably Neil Young's most famous live record, as much of the setlist he played during the performance was unrecorded songs. Kiser and company would do the same; out of the six songs they played, all of them would be unreleased music. A gamble for many, but if you're confident in your work and know it's good, it's really not that big of a leap.
Now because I, too, haven't heard these songs and haven't had the proper time to spend with the music, I'd be doing a disservice to dissect any of these songs. So instead, I will be giving more of a play-by-play and highlights from their performance. (More to come when Carriers begin to release their new music)
Carriers kicked off the show with "Hold Tight," a tune where Kiser played acoustic guitar. The tune had a bit more of a rustic feel to it, but I think it allowed Kiser to really show the song's strong bones.
After the first song, you could tell Kiser and the rest of the band, like any great athlete or performer, would rise to the occasion. This was a different side of Kiser that I had yet to see on stage. He was personable, animated at times, and filled with confidence. Much like the band's musical mentors, The National, Kiser seemed to almost be taking from the Matt Berninger book of being a frontman. Be passionate, be emotional, be physical at times, and be captivating.
This really began to come out during their performance of "Better Now," a song that felt like it was growing off the themes from their first record. The tune seemingly grew on the personal struggles and growth of Kiser and his unrelenting positivity toward adversity.
There's a lot of '80s U2 in Kiser's writing. The tug and pull of his faith, personal growth, the aspirations for something more, and the daily battles that all humans face. Now I'm not saying that Carriers are going to be making their own The Joshua Tree. However, these are the ingredients to some of my personal favorite music and music that can appeal to a mass audience.
My favorite performance from the set came during "Mixed Emotions," Kiser dedicated the song to his mother, who was in the audience that evening along with the rest of his family. Kiser's exposition to the song was that his mother asked, "Are you going to play my song?" with Kiser responding, "Well, it's my song," an undeniably endearing moment that gave fans a look at Kiser's personality and that Midwest charm the band has.
Ironically the tune is about Kiser and his band's van being robbed after a show in Chicago. An all too common story for small traveling bands and, for many, would be a death sentence to their career, as for most, just too much of a financial battle to climb back up. However, with help from fans and friends, Carriers was able to bounce back. The song again highlighted Kiser's ability to convey his struggles through his songwriting and show that his coping mechanism can create beautiful music. This is similar to many prolific writers, the Jeff Tweedy's of the world, who can quite literally make a song out of anything.
The performance was also by far my favorite of the band's so far because of how they meshed with Kiser's songwriting. Long-time friend and collaborator Cory Palvinac brings such a necessary element to Kiser's music; his guitar-playing style is clearly rooted in the more Cosmic Country side. Palvinac, a great singer-songwriter in his own right, performs under the name ZOO and releases his own music as well. That music highlights his ability to use slide guitar and country elements to again make his own hazed-out fuzzy atmospheric country music. Those sounds were on full display at Bogarts with Carriers. This a sign that Kiser trusts Palvinac and his musical opinion, and I think it could make for some incredible music.
It's too early for me to really tell, but it almost seems like Carriers are blending their Heartland Rock, Country-folk influences, and adding a dash of Yacht Rock to some of their music, in the best way. There were these almost luxurious sounds coming from the stage Saturday that were reminiscent of Crosby, Stills, and Nash and even the Grateful Dead's late '80s work.
The performance, although all too short, was impactful. The crowd roared for a fairly small and still unknown act, sure a chunk of the audience may have been there to see them that evening; however, I heard so many new fans leaving Bogarts that evening and that Carriers merch line was busy, it seemed.
Bogart's may be long past the days of being the home for the biggest touring acts in the country, but it is still a huge stepping stone for up-and-coming acts, and that evening, they got to be home to a Cincinnati band. There was truly something special about that, and the second Carriers ended, the crowd was buzzing. I cannot honestly say that too often anymore; so many fans have taken that opening slot of the show for granted. That's the time for them to talk, get a merch of the headliner, grab a beer, and walk around but not last Saturday. This audience was captivated and left wanting more.
Carriers are just beginning to touch their new levels of success, and that's something special to be able to witness. And if you wonder if the fame may get to Kiser's head, then you'd be dead wrong. As the evening went on, Band of Horses gave three shout-outs to Carriers, the biggest coming from the band's lead guitar player, who stopped to show to simply scream, "Carriers!"
After that moment, I ran into Kiser, leaving the bathroom. Like a kid who just met his favorite ball player, Kiser was on cloud nine saying, "Did you hear them shout us out! It was fucking awesome!" Nevermind the fact that he and his band is slated to play The National's Homecoming Festival next month or the fact that they are almost certainly going to be receiving national recognition soon from outlets like Pitchfork and Rolling Stone, no that simple shout out by a band he admired was everything to him. A testament to how grounded Kiser is and how much he truly appreciates the support and love from this community.
As the show came to an end, you could find Kiser still handing out his merch, talking to fans, and signing autographs; he was there till the very end, soaking up every moment of this evening. As they most certainly grow in popularity, this performance will be a chapter in his career, and fans there that evening were lucky enough to witness that.
Carriers will be performing in Cincinnati again next month at Homecoming Fest, and you can check out their music, along with Palvinac's solo work, under ZOO, where you stream music.