The New Pornographers have been around for as long as I've been alive, yet somehow our paths didn't cross until earlier this year with the announcement of their seventh album, Whiteout Conditions. Hell, I even crossed paths with member Dan Bejar's solo project Destroyer before figuring out that the New Pornographers were a thing. However, I'm well in the loop now with the band's long history, which showed in the best way possible seeing them live last weekend at Delmar Hall.

Before I get into into the New Pornographers' set, let's talk about their opener, Ought. Ought are one of my favorite bands working today and in my opinion, the best band out of this most recent post-punk revival. I had already seen them live previously at a small show at the now-defunct Demo and they were just as tight now as they were then as their set, despite some technical issues, kicked the show off perfectly. 

They opened with a brand new song which right away had me swaying, as this was one of three new tracks from their upcoming third album (which is currently in the works). Compared to their previous two albums, the new songs are less dissonant than their work on Sun Coming Down, but not quite as peppy as More Than Any Other Day, and overall, see the band finding a unique identity as despite my love for those two albums mentioned, they do drown in their influences occasionally (most notably The Fall and Talking Heads). However with these new tracks, there's definitely something special happening here that I'm excited to see expanded on in the studio. 

The rest of the set was a mix of songs from their first two albums that sounded great, but had some technical issues throughout on Darcy's end as there were some bits of feedback during one of the songs and solid portion of the set his vocals were tuned down too low. Being right in the front it didn't quite affect my experience too much, but for people in the back I can imagine those technical issues hindered their experience more. Still, the band pulled off a great set as it almost felt like a passing of the torch from some of indie rock's most notable veterans to some of the best indie rock has to offer today.

About 20 minutes after Ought's set ended, the stage changes were complete for the New Pornographers. The venue's lights went dark again and two light setups emitting from the band's keyboard stands on opposite sides of the stage flipped on, as A.C. Newman and company walked on and kicked their set off with "Moves," the opening track off their 2010 album Together and a perfect way to get things going. 

Then they went through songs old and new, including "High Ticket Attractions," off their latest Whiteout Conditions, "The Laws Have Changed" off Electric Version and "Sing Me Spanish Techno" off Twin Cinema. It should be noted that missing in action from this show were two of the band's most notable members, Neko Case and Dan Bejar. Case wasn't able to play this leg of the tour due to personal projects (with violinist and singer Simi Stone, who's toured with the band for two years, essentially taking her place). And for Bejar, he was also missing from Whiteout Conditions as he was hard at work on a new Destroyer record (the recently announced ken). 

Now these missing members might seem like setbacks on the surface, but you wouldn't be able to tell from the band's set as they glided through some of their greatest hits like "Champions of Red Wine" and deep cuts like "Testament to Youth in Verse" with no issue. This is a band that's been around for a while and has every step of their show down to a tee without it coming off as robotic. The band's personal brand of power pop still sounds as lively and as passionate as ever, even with the band showing their age. 

After ending off their set with "Mass Romantic" from their debut of the same name, the band came back out for an encore to play the title track from Brill Bruisers and "The Bleeding Heart Show" from Twin Cinema. Overall, the band played a great set that struck ground between their newer, more synth driven style, to their older, more indie rock roots. For most bands who somehow make it two decades into their career, it's easy to get lazy and just play what you know, but the New Pornographers aren't that quick to doze off, as it seems the band will always be finding new sounds to complete their always evolving power pop perfection puzzle. 

Click below to see all of Ben Mudd's photos of Ought and the New Pornographers at Delmar Hall.

The New Pornographers (with Ought) at Delmar Hall, August 13, 2017

 

In over 55 years of recording with the most celebrated names in jazz history, Herbie Hancock's musical story has developed into a legend of epic proportions. Currently working on his forty-second studio album on top of nearly 150 appearances in a supporting role, he's been recognized for his technical skills from day one. He has since become a constant driving force in the genre with a keen ear for the cutting edge of style and technology. With a hand-selected line-up of fellow innovators at his side, Herbie Hancock offered a fortunate audience a taste of his fruitful history and a glimpse to the emerging trends on the jazz horizon.

The crowds spanned the generations and spilled onto Grand Avenue on a pleasantly mild August night, eager to find their seats among a nearly full house at Powell Hall. The ample stage, normally home to the St. Louis Symphony, dwarfed the array of keys, strings and drums at the forefront. The anticipation and conversational murmur rose until the lights cued an immediate silence. After a brief introduction from Gene Dobbs Bradford, Executive Director of Jazz St. Louis, the band took the stage to a warm welcome that overflowed into the evening's first standing ovation at sight of Herbie Hancock.

The set opened with a largely new experience entitled "Overture," a lengthy piece that was broken into three distinct sections, subtly changing with new styles and moods. It began with a progression of arrhythmic tones and aural textures, slowly gathered by drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and ultimately brought to a melody from Terrace Martin on the alto saxophone, who then offered a rather cheerful solo before relinquishing the spotlight to the band's inimitable leader. Hancock's solo offered a demonstration of his technical abilities that surely quelled any doubts from critics in the room, while still playful enough to please the casual listener, moving from syncopated rhythms and juggled phrases to a funky groove that fully engaged the audience.

As the opening number progressed, the audience took advantage of every rest to voice their constant approval. The second section displayed the beauty of the grand piano, with Hancock in the spotlight throughout the movement, before guitarist Lionel Loueke took the helm for the final segment. Loueke's part blended three elements, a rhythm of oral taps and clicks, a percussive and staccato part on his guitar and a strong vocal effect that mimicked the sound of an electrified choir singing melodic African chants. It soon developed into a full band funk jam and Hancock offered a keyboard solo that was rich with pitch bends and chuckles before finishing the piece on the grand piano, one of countless times he changed fluidly between the two.

Once the extensive opening number concluded and its due uproar had subsided, Herbie Hancock addressed the crowd. He recalled his early days supporting Donald Byrd in St. Louis, now a half century in the past, with a youthful energy he summoned from the memory. With jokes aplenty, he honored each of the band members with a lengthy introduction that included both their histories and personal significance to Hancock himself. For those who were able to enjoy his 2012 performance at the Touhill Performing Arts Center, the lineup featured familiar faces from James Genus on bass, as well as Loueke on guitar, who has also made four night appearances at Jazz at the Bistro as both a band leader and special guest.

At the far right side of the stage, Terrace Martin's role surpassed that of his saxophone, adding a pair of keyboards that included a vocoder that made many appearances in the harmonies of the night. In addition to his musicianship, Martin is also an accomplished producer, recognized for his work across a number of genres as well as taking the helm of Hancock's upcoming release. Vinnie Colaiuta, encapsulated by a rack of drums and cymbals the size of a small sedan, sat atop his throne in the rear of the arrangement and remained a constant driving force with his endless selection of riffs and rhythms.

As the set progressed, each song offered a distinctive approach and innumerable opportunities for each of the musicians to stand out. "Actual Proof" was reminiscent of the Head Hunters style and era, including a lengthy solo from Hancock, broken down with Loueke and Martin withdrawn to the side, and time to spotlight Genus and Colaiuta's prowess. They continued with another selection from the '70s, "Come Running to Me," but with a highly effected and electrified tone. Brandishing a headset, Hancock provided the vocal lead through a vocoder, backed by Martin in a similar flavor, while Loueke flaunted the spectrum of instrument tones available through his effects set-up. The next selection was another new piece entitled "Secret Source," allowing many of the musicians to exchange licks in playful duels and bringing Hancock to his feet with his iconic, white keytar.

For the finale, the band turned to one of the most classic tunes from Herbie Hancock's bountiful repertoire, "Cantaloupe Island." Terrace Martin lead the melody with his alto and offered one of his most notable solos of the evening, while Hancock's time in the spotlight embraced a joyful mood, enchanting the entire theater into a state of delight. He reintroduced the each member of the band with accompanying demonstrations of their individual abilities before they closed the set to another standing ovation.

The crowd remained on their feet throughout the relatively brief period before the band returned to the stage. James Genus silenced the applause with a deeply funky bass line and the musicians enthusiastically reclaimed their places at center stage, Hancock armed again with the keytar a stage hand had not so surreptitiously removed during the finale. From the Head Hunters album, "Chameleon" kept the crowd out of their seats and even moved some feet as the funk groove jammed on in a series of playful exchanges between performers. While youthful beyond his years throughout the entire night, the star now found himself bouncing up and down on the stage with an incendiary jubilation, igniting the already exuberant crowd into a final uproar of approval before the final farewell.

Click below to see all of Doug Tull's photos from the evening's performance.

Herbie Hancock at Powell Hall, August 10, 2017

Forget the Twitter attacks on The Strokes, forget blogs about what blue jeans make one's butt look best. Forget the coziness with and eventual covers of Taylor Swift's 1989, which actually has Adams making a few good renditions of some of her tunes. Forget the claims on the part of Julian Casablancas that Ryan doled out heroin to the band, which set The Strokes back quite a bit. Forget the decade-or-so-old bitchy phone call to Jim Rogatis demanding that Ryan Adams be above criticism. And there's much more you're going to have to forget in order to simply watch Ryan and Co. put on another phenomenal show which they absolutely did last Tuesday at the Pageant.  

Adams opened with a few tunes from his latest album, Prisoner. This statement could be non-true, given that Adams is as unstoppably prolific as Robert Pollard, both artists putting out albums the way the rest of us measure the amount of showers we may have taken. The first song, "Do You Still Love Me?" could be a calling-out to his ex-wife, an estranged lover, what have you. The jangling and bright mid-tempo guitars feature Mr. Adams asking the question we've all asked after a breakup or life-shattering schism between A & B.  Prisoner, like so many of Ryan's albums, finds this listener more and more open to what it is he's doing, making, singing. It's cool to preemptively write off such a public figure and performer like Adams, given a laundry list of public faux pas, but when he moved into "Give Me Something Good," I was utterly won over. Homeboy's got pipes and plays the guitar and he knows he's still got it. The crowd -- I think music is somewhat measured democratically -- was extremely attentive to each lick, note, song, and Adams for the most part just thanked them and moved on to song after song that held the majority spellbound. I only wished the band and the mix had been louder, and I mean this as a compliment to all of them. I was in a mood, right after the first song, to be annihilated by a wall of the band and that voice we all have grown to love.  

From "To Be Young..." to the close of the show, we were treated to a great sampling of "alt-country," "indie rock," and what Adams has always done best, "rock 'n' roll."  Simply put, he visibly and sonically puts everything he has into his shows. This wasn't my first proverbial rodeo with Ryan's performances, given I have travelled to Nashville and other places in the past to see him. I will only add that this was my favorite performance out of a slew of concerts of his, and perhaps his recently found sobriety has something to do with this. I don't know. I do know that my friend and I both went in very skeptically and came out with huge grins and ears not ringing quite hard enough. Forget all of this and go back through his catalog of great albums of which there are many. Ryan Adams picked so many tunes from such a wide, deep and lifelong devotion to his craft, that there is nothing to find fault in him other than what he's probably thought himself. I loved last Tuesday, though Wednesday came hard at 6 a.m.  It was worth it, well worth it, and the memories of Adams' performance were paying me double the next morning. 

Click the image below for Dustin Winter's photos of Rhyan adams and opener Jillian Jaqueline.

Ryan Adams (with Jillian Jaqueline) at the Pageant, August 1, 2017

 

Jeff Rosenstock has a unique spotlight on him right now. With former bands The Arrogant Sons of Bitches and Bomb the Music Industry!, Rosenstock evaded the music industry as much as possible by self-releasing all his own material for free, playing cheap all-ages shows, and generally playing by the DIY rulebook to near perfection. But now as a solo act, Rosenstock's career has never seen grander heights with multiple releases on the popular independent label SideOneDummy records (including last year's WORRY.), sold out shows throughout the country, and most recently, a set at the Pitchfork Music Festival back in July. 

If you read my previous article on the festival, you'll know that Rosenstock's set was my favorite one of the entire weekend. Despite being in the massive Union Park, Rosenstock and his band made me feel like I was at the greatest, crappiest basement venue I've ever been to. You could feel the electricity in that crowd as they hanged onto every word and note from Rosenstock and his band. But we're not going to be talking about Pitchfork Music Festival again as recently, Rosenstock stopped by Blueberry Hill's Duck Room with Laura Stephenson and local opener Thor Axe.

To briefly describe Thor Axe's set, I'll illustrate it as a question: what if the band that made the Power Rangers theme song was an actual band? If that sounds awesome to you, you'll probably love Thor Axe -- however, I wasn't as impressed. While all the members of the band are technically competent, I didn't really get any kind of emotional response out of their music, and if you're on a bill with Laura Stevenson and Jeff Rosenstock, that's not good. Maybe at a different show I'd enjoy this act more, but it didn't really set the night up correctly. 

On the other hand though, Stevenson is the perfect lead-in for Rosenstock as not only do her punk tunes about depression match Rosenstock's overall vibe, two members from Rosenstock's band, bassist John Domenici and drummer Kevin Higuchi, also play as Stevenson's backing band providing an amazing rhythm section to Stevenson's guitar and vocal work. Sadly though, compared to when I saw her back in July at Chicago's Beat Kitchen, the Duck Room crowd wasn't quite into her as I could hear plenty of people talking through her set. It wasn't really until Rosenstock came out and backed up on guitar for a few songs with Stevenson that the crowd quieted down, which is a little depressing. Despite this, Stevenson gave her all for another great set (and another reminder that I really gotta dig into her discography). 

Finally, Rosenstock and the rest of his band came out for their set and kicked things off with WORRY. opener "We Begged 2 Explode." While it starts off slow, it's intensity builds up and up setting the tone perfectly for the rest of the night. This leads right into "Pash Rash", the second song on WORRY. which much like "Explode" starts off slow with an acoustic guitar, but quickly kicks into high gear with the full band moving the pit into a frenzy. It can't be stated enough how much control Rosenstock has over his crowd as he can easily move the crowd into hysteria just as easily as he can trigger an existential crisis. 

And he continued this throughout with various cuts from WORRY. and his previous album We Cool? which are some of the best documents about depression, existentialism, friendship, love, and how terrible capitalism is. Rosenstock was incredibly humble and caring throughout the night, making sure the crowd was safe, thanking various venues throughout St. Louis for booking and supporting him over the years, giving love to his band members and more. Specifically, he gave a lot of love to Dan Potthast, the band's keyboardist/guitarist whose hometown is St. Louis. During the encore, Rosenstock and his band gave the floor to Potthast to play a song with his original band, MU330, which he formed in St. Louis. 

If this review doesn't already make it obvious enough, if you get the chance to see Jeff Rosenstock, go for it. He's been one of the nicest and hardest working people in punk music in the past one or two decades who simply loves his fans on a passionate and genuine level. His songs simultaneously make me want to lie on the floor and weep but also run around in the streets screaming every lyric. It's already hard enough for an artist to make me want to do both of those things separately, so for someone to do those things to me at the same time? It's insane. He's one of my favorite musicians currently and if he isn't one of yours, go fix that immediately as you're missing out on a future legend. 

  

Love, broken hearts, the South and, oh yeah, lots of whiskey. The classic country themes thrive in the pores of each Chris Stapleton song with only slight modernizations found in guitar-wrangling and slick, soulful grooves. 

Dressed in black and hiding under a cowboy hat, Stapleton walked on stage this past Saturday as if he were walking to his regular perch at the bar. Without accompaniment, the explosive songwriter plugged in and hammered out the bluesy wash of "Might as Well Get Stoned" for an opener. Belting out the sparse chords and lyrics of the first verse solo, he established an intimate yet absolutely invigorating presence for the night. 

The ass-kickin' country continued with Stapleton punishing his guitar as it screamed and pleaded on "Nobody to Blame." As he switched to acoustic, the minimalist band (bass, drums and Mrs. Stapleton on backup vocals) segued into a more introspective "Broken Halos." Calling to mind the universal and bittersweet chords and melodies of U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" or Springsteen's "Atlantic City," "Broken Halo" is the kind of song you know and love before you even hear it. And on the simple marquee-lit stage, the song and sentiment seemed no less important and uplifting.

Swapping guitars like I was swapping beer cans, the country-fried set found Stapleton easy within the many facets of his music. Whether ripping blues solos ("Hard Livin'"), screaming in distress ("I Was Wrong") or serenading his wife ("Whisky and You" and "More of You"), the towering frontman made sure to include a variety of songs for "hillbillies and the hippies" alike. Songs of vulnerability ceded to ballads of sweltering frustrations as Stapleton maintained the essence that haunts the highs and lows of country music. 

One of the many things that separate Stapleton from the pack is the aggressive yet fluid guitar playing. He picks out memorable melodies, hits grimace-inducing highs and even pulled the staccato one-chord buzz-saw solo. The guitarist showcased his SRV-inspired soloing via "Sometimes I Cry," "Second to Know," culminating in the extraordinary and soulful "I Was Wrong." Only his soulful screams (on par with Janis Joplin!) are as expressive as his guitar playing. Stapleton stepped out of the country comfort zone with these songs, laying down a stylish and groove-oriented sheen more akin to Otis Redding than Tim McGraw. 

Such is the essence of Stapleton; used to hiding behind the veneer of songwriting credits, he encompasses as many moods as he does characters and genres. But rather than emphasizing this, or even showing awareness, he naturally jumps from Skynyrd covers to modern country classics such as "Traveler" or "Parachute" without batting an eye. But in true country fashion he concluded the night with "Tennessee Whiskey" and declared that it was indeed time to go drink some whiskey.

Opening acts Margo Price and Brent Cobb were a real treat to hear as well. Cobb presented gentle guitar arpeggios and the type of songs that make you want explore outdoors. Whereas Price livened up the crowd with energetic country tunes that wouldn't sound out of place in the sixties.

With minimal rockstar posturing or attitudes and exuding humility and professionalism, these artists exhibit a certain selflessness and humility not likely to be found at many sold-out shows. 

To see all of Karl Beck's photos of the evening's performances, click on the image below.

Chris Stapleton (with Brent Cobb and Margo Price) at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, August 5, 2017

Stay Involved on Social Media