Only two kinds of people. Those sick puppies who find joy in the winter holidays expanding like the NHL season, and sane people. The wack jobs who pre-set the all-Christmas radio station, and sane people.  Thanksgiving Day tree decorators, Black Friday campers, Cyber Monday employee fraudsters, elf-on-a-shelf tableau-ists, lighthouse candlepower home-lighters, all of these barmy nutters, I say. . . .  and normal, well-adjusted people, like me.

In such a polarized world, how can mankind possibly achieve the peace that Christmas promises? You do as I and hundreds of other St. Louisans did on Friday, Dec. 15, when we followed a glistening star (could have been the Arch's aircraft warning light; some of us had hit the frankincense already) journeying from St. Louis's 160 or so micro-kingdoms to the humble beauty of Off Broadway where, behold, awaiting us on stage: The Funky Butt Brass Band. Performing with special musical guests on the first of two sold-out nights, in its ninth annual Holiday Brasstravaganza, the Funky Butt Brass Band united Grinches and givers, Scrooges and sweater enthusiasts, Burgermeister Meisterburgers and wiggy Uncle Drosselmeyers, transforming the red-staters and the green-staters into one joyful, carol-belting mass of holiday happiness.

As it happens to all of us during the holiday season, the band had bulked up, adding to its usual six piece lineup Dave Grelle on keys, Derick Tramel on baritone sax, Ben Reece on alto sax, and Matt Henry on percussion. They came out swinging with a horn-heavy "Carol of the Bells," popping the audience in the chest as only a brass band can, and moved deftly into the raunchy blues tune "I'll Be Your Santa Baby," Aaron Chandler on vocals. "O Holy Night" rolled out as a second-line funeral dirge until drummer Ron Sikes "cut the body loose" with a hiccupy drumline into a funky take on "Deck the Halls" which swung somehow (and awesomely) into "O Come All Ye Faithful," featuring a fine sousaphone solo (naturally) by Cody Henry. The band moved the crowd to fever pitch with a New Orleans-traditional style rendering of "Christmas in New Orleans", sung by guitarist Tim Halpin with ripping solos by trumpeter Adam Hucke and trombonist Aaron Chandler before introducing the first guest of the evening, Big Mike Aguirre.

Funky Butt's newest release, "A Funky Butt Family Christmas," features all of the guests who performed on Dec. 15 and a few more. It's pretty certain that "Every Day is Like a Holiday," a William Bell soul classic that Aguirre led off with Friday night, will make everyone's holiday playlist. Phil Wright joined Aguirre next to sweep sweet harmonic licks over "Blue Christmas" and to punctuate special guest Bob Bennett's version of "Backdoor Santa." Next, blues guitarist Al Holliday joined the band for a crowd sing-along of Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas from the Family" before moving to the keys to accompany the Sleepy Rubies' Emily Wallace in "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Wallace has a powerful, soulful voice and exquisite phrasing, and when she finished the Mariah Carey classics "All I Want for Christmas is You" and "Baby, Please Come Home," I would have traded my last candy cane for one more tune. Not to worry, though, the night was just getting started. Dave Grelle's keyboards led the band in a funked up version of the Nutcracker march before Brian Owens joined the band for a consummately groovy treatment of "Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer." Owens' perfect pitch and Maurice White-like soul falsetto on Stevie Wonder's "Heaven Help Us All" made for an exquisite crescendo to the first set.  

In the second set, the band demonstrated its Latin chops with "Feliz Navidad" before Adam Hucke set his trumpet aside to sing Tom Petty's "Christmas All Over Again." Special guest Roland Johnson joined the band for a James Brown-like treatment of "Merry Christmas, Baby," and after a few other grooved-up holiday classics the band headed for home for an all-guest-in finale, "Because It's Christmas", a Funky Butt original. With the crowd cheering for more, they closed down the night with a three-song encore of “Last Christmas,” “Christmas In Hollis” and their traditional finale, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”.  

For all of those sane, normal, well-adjusted people in the audience that night, all of those modest, non-melodramatic, non-hysterical holiday makers. . . . well, they say their hearts grew three sizes that evening and all because of the Funky Butt Brass Band and their holiday revue. 


Click below to see all of Monica Mileur's photos of the evening.

9th Annual Holiday Brasstavaganza at Off Broadway, December 15, 2017.

If the packed-to-the-brim dance floor at The Pageant Tuesday night is any indication, New Orleans natives The Revivalists are enjoying a "moment," right now. The band, which blends elements of rock, soul, funk, alternative and pop, driven by tight compositions and the compelling vocals and stage presence of front man David Shaw, has worked the tour circuit for years, frequently playing music festivals and venues across the country. 

This was their first turn headlining The Pageant, with its previous local shows in smaller rooms. The band was originally scheduled to play a USO benefit concert in September at the venue that was canceled at the last minute due to worries over local protests taking place at the time. Judging by the turnout, their audience has grown exponentially over the past couple years with some of the catchier tunes from their popular 2015 album "Men Amongst Mountains" getting mainstream radio play, rising up the Billboard charts and even being featured in TV commercials. 

Supporting act Muddy Magnolias were everything an opener should be -- firing up the eager crowd with hard driving rock and roll infused with a whole lot of soul. Lead singer Jessy Wilson is a powerhouse of energy, enthusiasm and pure joy, her stunning voice soaring over the crowd as she belted the first notes of "Cold in the South." 

The performance was even more impressive considering that, as Wilson noted, this was her first show without her best friend and group co-founder Kallie North, who recently departed the band and touring life to focus on other interests. She graciously thanked fans for their support as she took her place in the spotlight solo rather than as a duo, pouring her emotions into "Down by the Riverside" and injecting it with a sublime mid-song teaser of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'." 

Muddy Magnolias proved a hard act to follow, but The Revivalists were up to the task, jumping right in with the synthesizer-driven "Bulletproof." A stage bump out allowed Shaw to get close and work the crowd right from the start. Donning a Rage Against the Machine t-shirt, his mop of wild curls in a ponytail atop his head, Shaw wailed "We're gonna make it now," as standout saxophone player Rob Ingraham unleashed his first impressive solo of the evening.

The Revivalists have only gotten tighter and more polished since their early St. Louis tour stops. Shaw noted that the band has played here a lot over the years, reminiscing about Broadway Oyster Bar shows in which the seven-piece was stacked up on the tiny stage. Ingraham jumped in, joking, "I played an entire show on Zack's shoulders once."

With so many members and instruments, The Revivalists certainly thrived on The Pageant's larger stage, which allowed them to spread out more fully within their individual solos. As always, pedal steel virtuoso Ed Williams, prominently stationed on stage left, took things to another level, standing up and leaning the instrument forward as he utilized a variety of techniques and effects to produce his unique range of tones that are key to The Revivalists' signature sound.

Bassist George Gekas brought the funk, while drummer Andrew Campanelli nailed the rhythm with assistance from percussionist PJ Howard. Lead guitarist Zack Feinberg roamed the wide stage as he riffed off Williams and Shaw, making his own magical solos look effortless. Multi-talented trumpet player/keyboardist Michael Girardot jumped atop amps and cabinets at times, riling the crowd and enjoying the view as he alternated between his instruments.

Highlights of the nearly two-hour set included favorites from the band's three full-length albums and one EP. Upbeat tunes like funky "Stand Up," full-throttle jam "All in the Family" and the band's first single, "Criminal," had fans on the packed dance floor jumping up and down. Girardot pounded the keys during obligatory Chuck Berry tribute "Johnny B. Goode" in a solo that would have made the late Johnnie Johnson proud, while Feinberg nailed the signature Berry riffs.  

Emotive set-ender "Soul Fight" got the crowd singing along and featured a beautiful trumpet solo by Girardot, followed by an equally impressive sax solo by Ingraham. The Revivalists saved their recent hit "Wish I Knew You" for the encore, along with sultry groove "Gold To Glass." 

The real treat, however, came as the band launched into the instantly recognizable opening riffs of Tom Petty's "Refugee." Shaw seemed to channel Petty's voice as Feinberg impressively shredded once again and Girardot heavily fingered the keyboard, leaving the crowd cheering as they took final bows. When fans turned to head for the doors, however, they were given another surprise as The Revivalists returned for a second encore, this time paying tribute to the late Gregg Allman with his classic "Midnight Rider."

The Revivalists always put on a high-energy show and seem to have a great time doing it. Having paid their dues, they appear to be on the verge of breaking big, which makes an intimate performance like this one even sweeter. 

Click below to see all of Karl Beck's photos of the evening


The Revivalists with Muddy Magnolias at The Pageant on December 4, 2017

The Turnpike Troubadours altar-called an almost sold-out crowd of true believers last at The Pageant on November 15, further cementing their position as one of St. Louis's favorite alt-country acts (Red Dirt, Outlaw, Texas Country--it's all ball bearings nowadays). I caught the concert down in the pit packed tightly amongst the snake handlers, speakers-in-tongues and other fanatically faithful, a jubilant, boozy choir belting out all the verses and refrains of every song, just like your churchy gran who never needs a hymnal. Even songs from the Troubadours outstanding fifth album "A Long Way From Your Heart" released less than a month ago, you ask? Damn skippy.

The Turnpike Troubadours come by their St. Louis fan base honestly. As it is with most alt country acts active today, Uncle Tupelo is carved deeply in the trunk of the Troubadours' family tree. More recently, the Troubadours found an unlikely tastemaker in Cardinals' first baseman, Matt Carpenter, a long-time fan who often uses as his walk-up song the Troubadours' amped-up rendition of "Long Hot Summer Day," written by, you guessed it, St. Louis music legend John Hartford.

The Turnpike Troubadours are fronted by Evan Felker (vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonica) who writes most of the band's music, collaborating occasionally with long-time bandmate RC Edwards (vocals, bass, guitar). Felker's lyrics emanate from his small-town Oklahoma roots and are deeply narrative even when a song is not strictly a ballad. A loose cast of characters that appears throughout lyrics on the band's five albums move through scenes of rural poverty, heartbreak, hard luck, extreme weather, hell-raisin' and fierce love.

The set list Wednesday night tipped slightly to the Troubadour's second and third albums, "Diamonds and Gasoline" and "Goodbye Normal Street", but the crowd's response to the show opener "The Housefire", from the most recent album, and songs like "The Bird Hunters" from the band's eponymous 2015 album suggested that Troubadour fans are fast-tracking newer tunes onto their classic lists. After the opening song, the band featured five straight songs from "Diamonds and Gasoline" ramping up the tempo from the paean to strong women "Every Girl" to the raver "Shreveport." Guitarist Ryan Englesman traded licks with fiddler, Kyle Nix, pedal steel man and accordionist, Hank Early, and Felker on harmonica. The second half of the show blended songs from the two recent albums with favorites from "Goodbye Normal Street". The band played most of the songs from "A Long Way From Your Heart" and I heard a maturing of the band's artistry. Some of this has to do with the addition of Hank Early and his pedal steel as a permanent member of the band, but more is attributable to the deepening confidence of a band that has stayed true to itself for over 12 years. Of course, the Troubadours closed with an ecstatic benediction, "Good Lord, Lorrie" and "Long Hot Summer Day", any Troubadour fan's desert island duo.

In my review of the California Honeydrops show a month ago, I wrote about the power of music to create a sense of shared intimacy amongst crowds of virtual strangers. This effect was in even greater evidence last night as we stood at the bar. Guy standing next to us shared how he'd taken a cab directly from Lambert Field to a Troubadours' show two years ago after concluding a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Down in the pit, a shy boy from Washington, MO, wearing a trucker hat unironically, blushed when my friend cradled his head so she could shout a question into his ear: "Where you boys from?" Not to be outdone, a young woman nearby saw my friend struggling to remove her gloves. She grabbed my friend's arm gently and helped her out, finger by finger, with her teeth. Praise the Lord.

Click below to see all of Tim Farmer's photos of the evening.

Turnpike Troubadours, Pageant Nov 2017 472

From the opening chords of Free Falling to the Last Dance with Mary Jane some four hours later the spirit of Tom Petty inhabited Off Broadway to the delight of a sold out crowd on Wednesday, November 15.

The occasion was Learning to Fly: A Tribute to Tom Petty, a Twangfest concert that brought to the stage dozens of the area's best musicians to play their way through Petty's extensive and beloved catalogue. Roy Kasten - Twangfest volunteer and DJ of Feel Like Going Home on KDHX - booked the show and said Petty's death this past October lead him to reflect on the Florida-born singer-songwriter's legacy.

"When you actually go through the list of great Tom Petty songs - the hits and the best songs - he's really the closest thing that we had to Chuck Berry," Kasten said. "He wrote songs that were that universal, that catchy. ... It's the distillation of rock n' roll in a three-minute song."

Among the many local artists taking the stage few were as familiar with Petty's songs than PettyCash Junction, a local cover band fronted by Jimmy Griffin. The group led an impromptu eulogy in the form of Petty's "Room at the Top" and walked off to the "hey-hey-heys" of "Born a Rebel." Griffin later told the story of his own awkward interaction with Petty backstage years ago, and said Petty's music has a certain enduring magic.

"There are so many people that love Tom Petty music, and we've been seeing this since his unfortunate passing," Griffin said. "I have loved (Petty) since I was a kid. ... The first time I heard 'Refugee' - and I liked Kiss and Aerosmith back then - but I still got it. ...There's a beauty in the simplicity of what he does."

The concert also provided opportunities for collaboration. St. Louis songstress Beth Bombara took the stage with Essential Knots and other friends. The players traded instruments and vocal duties throughout a lively set that found Bombara playing everything from organ to harmonica. She also reflected on the longevity of Petty's career.

"When I was in my music-discovery stage I was into Wildflowers, you know, the early '90s stuff was what I first gravitated towards," Bombara said, "and then you start digging deeper and you discover all these other amazing songs and this great career of songwriting."

In his lifetime Petty released some 20 albums, 13 of them with the iconic Heartbreakers by his side. He joined the likes of Bob Dylan and George Harrison as a Travelling Wilbury, and he was inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

"I think this is one of the better tribute nights we've ever done - probably the best," Kasten said. "You know, you can listen to his music, and you can sing along in the car when a song comes on the radio. But when you're in a room with a whole bunch of other Tom Petty fans and hearing bands pour their hearts out it just makes it really special."

Bands and artists contributing to Learning to Fly included (in order of appearance):

The Sleepy Rubies / John Henry

Grace Basement

The Lettuce Heads

Adam Reichmann

Tom (Town) Cars

Whoa Thunder

The Brothers Lazaroff

Beth Bombara / Essential Knots / Stacey Winter

PettyCash Junction

Karate Bikini

Shooting with Annie

Click below to see all of Colin E. Suchland’s photos of the evening.

Learning to Fly: A Tribute to Tom Petty at Off Broadway November 15, 2017


There's nothing quite like heading out to a good concert on a warm summer night, but when the days get short and the weather gets brisk, it can be quite a challenge finding the motivation to leave the confines of your home. On a blustery Thursday evening, even the promise of seeing Hoops, one of my favorite bands in the last two years, seemed a little un-alluring from the protection of my warm bed. It's a good thing I gathered up the motivation to venture out into the cold, though, because Hoops's jangly indie-rock sensibilities were a welcome and much needed dose of sunshine amidst the darkening bleakness of November.

Although Hoops is relatively young, having made their debut two years ago, the band has carved out their own space in the jangly, warm-toned indie rock sphere ruled by the likes of Real Estate and DIIV. Originally conceived as the solo project of lead vocalist Drew Auscherman, Hoops has developed an addictive dream-pop sound that seems much better suited to a Malibu beach house than Bloomington, Indiana, where the band first got its start. This year's release, Routines, is the band's first full-length album and a singularly strong "official" debut. Without sacrificing the deft songwriting that makes them so remarkable, Hoops has cleaned up the sunny guitar melodies and '70s kitsch of their first three tapes with the added benefit of higher production value. (And don't worry, lo-fi fans, Hoops's delightfully crackly tape haze hasn't been sacrificed either.) With a release as strong as Routines, Hoops won't be leaving the indie-rock spotlight anytime soon. 

The night opens with local band À Bientôt, a self-labeled "Midwest punk" group (according to their Facebook page). Their set is a veritable grab-bag, and they demonstrate a definite knack for genre-bending: they can leap from folksy Americana to screamed punk to zesty '80s synth-pop within three songs as if it were nothing. The musical gymnastics that it takes to navigate so many disparate sounds are definitely impressive, but the experience is pretty confusing and lacks the cohesion that would've made it memorable.

When the five members Hoops take to the stage, I'm struck by one thing: I've seen my fair share of suburban white guy bands, but in their straight-fit pants, loose T-shirts and dad hats, Hoops strikes me as an exceptional case. (My snarky concert companion agrees, balking at the keyboardist's business-casual leather loafers, dress pants, and turtleneck sweater: "This is the whitest damn thing I've ever seen.") When the opening bass line for "Sun's Out" starts, though, all joking take the backseat. Live, Hoops has a seriously hypnotic effect: perhaps it's the kaleidoscopic guitar melodies that fall perfectly in place like pieces of a puzzle. Perhaps it's the intangible, bittersweet quality of their songwriting, which somehow feels melancholy and sunny at the same time -- "Maybe in the sunlight / Maybe when the moon's right / I can never be the one you want." The warmth of their sound reminds me of the sunny, beachy-sounding sensibilities of TOPS and Tennis. (Once again, my snarky companion echoes my thoughts. "Is this just male TOPS?" he asks me, only half-joking.) As the set progresses, I'm impressed by the sheer level of control that Hoops has over their sound and their balance -- not an easy feat for so young a band. A song like "Rules," which involve some pretty intricate guitar harmonies during the bridge, poses the threat of sounding messy, but their delivery onstage is flawless. "Benjals," the instrumental track from Routines, is an even greater feat: a groovy guitar ditty in six-six time, it's a testament to the undeniable musical prowess of the band -- a rare thing to find in the shoegaze/dream-pop spheres, where generous use of distortion and fuzz often negate the need for technical precision.

I think the most endearing thing about Hoops's set is not their talent, as great as they are: it's seeing the offhand, almost unceremonious way they carry themselves onstage. Auscherman's campy cover of Neil Young's "Lotta Love" is hilariously heartfelt, complete with a groovy two-step: "Can you tell I love doing karaoke?" he asks the audience after the song ends. The spaces in between songs are punctuated with snatches of absent-minded guitar playing, especially the introductory riff in Yes's "Roundabout," which the entire band improvs for about two seconds before moving on. At some point during a transition between songs, there's a burp and "'scuse me" from somewhere onstage. Hoops strikes me as cool in a completely genuine, uncontrived way. The stage doesn't faze them; their music doesn't faze them; their reputation doesn't faze them. They formed this band to make some good tunes, and by god, they're going to do it. 

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