Blessid Union of Souls
Starship featuring Mickey Thomas
9:30 p.m. Sept. 16 at Christ the King Oktoberfest, starshipcontrol.com.
The calendars state that fall, by equinox standards, is a week away. But with the season generally acknowledged to begin after Labor Day, the most vibrant and popular autumnal celebrations are now at hand.
In terms of fall music in an outdoor community atmosphere, few events compare to the Christ the King Oktoberfest. For two days, it transforms what is essentially a residential neighborhood into a carnival zone. The juxtaposition of those settings is never more keenly felt than when the Oktoberfest’s headlining concerts take the stage each evening. Imagine driving a few blocks or, in some cases, walking out your front door and experiencing performances by Alejandro Ecovedo, Justin Townes Earle, The Fixx, John Waite, The Smithereens, Sam Bush, The BoDeans, Ralph Stanley and more. Those are some of the past attractions that have helped make Oktoberfest an event like no other.
This year’s program maintains the event’s preference in recent years to book veteran pop acts. Topping the bill will be Cincinnati’s Blessid Union of Souls, a longstanding pop brigade that made major waves in the wake of grunge’s takeover of rock radio with the shimmering 1995 pop affirmation “I Believe” and again with the more elemental pop charge of 1999’s “Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me for Me).” Both songs, and the tunes from the six studio albums that Blessid Union of Souls has issued over the past two decades, sport the lead vocals of Eliot Sloan, a singer who efficiently uses R&B accents for the band’s upbeat pop and rock material.
The current Blessid Union of Souls lineup sports an especially welcome addition. On drums — and, on occasion, mandolin — is Chris Arduser. A mainstay of the Cincinnati music scene, Arduser is a member of the longstanding power trio Psychodots and its sometimes quartet expansion as The Bears with guitar giant Adrian Belew. He also fronts his own folkish tribe, The Graveblankets, and has released a series of exemplary solo albums. He is featured prominently on the newest Blessid Union of Souls album, the 2014 concert CD/DVD chronicle “Live at Never on Sunday.”
Then on Saturday, Starship featuring Mickey Thomas headlines.
Starship has an especially curious history. The group’s beginnings date back to Jefferson Starship, which itself was an offshoot of the famed psychedelic San Francisco band Jefferson Airplane. Having scored a major 1976 radio hit with the Southern rock-inclined Elvin Bishop Group (“Fooled Around and Fell in Love”), the Georgia-born Thomas was recruited by Jefferson Starship after the exits of mainstay vocalists Grace Slick and Marty Balin. His first — and, from a critical standpoint, finest — album with the band was 1979’s “Freedom at Point Zero.” Thomas helped toughen the band’s growing pop preferences for the hit guitar-rock single “Jane.” But as the ’80s were ushered in and the band abridged its name to simply Starship, pop returned in a big way with the radio hits “We Built this City” and “Sara.” Slick was back on board for both tunes, which came from one of the band’s biggest-selling albums, 1985’s “Knee Deep in the Hoopla.”
“By the time 1985 rolled around, we needed to again reinvent the band,” Thomas said before a 2014 concert at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville. “We wanted to try a new way of producing and making records with a lot of songs that were really different stylistically. We knew if we achieved what we wanted to achieve, we were going get a lot of backlash because the idea was to have a real strong radio presence. Hit singles were what we were purposely trying to create with Knee Deep in the Hoopla. And it worked. But then came the whole thing about selling out and ‘Whatever happened to the idealism of the Jefferson Airplane?’ Our whole idea was just to take the band in a fresh new direction. We didn’t look at it as selling out. It was just a fun experience.”
While Thomas released an album of new Starship tunes in 2013 titled “Loveless Fascination,” his concerts continue to lean heavily on the band’s ’70s and ’80s hits, a few nods to the Jefferson Airplane and even an Elvin Bishop-era song or two.
Here is the complete two-night live music lineup for this year’s Christ the King Oktoberfest. All performances are free.