For this rock 'n' roll mama, there was no better way to close out the holiday weekend than a musical nostalgia trip to the days of my misspent youth with a band that really defined the era for me. The Cult emerged from the UK's post-punk scene, breaking big in the US in 1985 after the release of its second album, Love. The album featured 10 near-perfect tunes, ranging from gritty and heavy to dark and brooding, combining elements of punk and classic rock with a modern edge that held intense appeal to the American teenager.
The core of The Cult's sound was, and remains, the haunting vocals and charismatic presence of lead singer Ian Astbury, paired with the distinctive wail of Billy Duffy's lead guitar. The two are the band's songwriters and only original members remaining, joined currently by drummer John Tempesta (who has been with the band for more than a decade), along with touring bassist Grant Fitzpatrick and keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Damon Fox.
The Pageant was filled with a fairly decent sized crowd for a Mother's Day Sunday night -- mostly folks over 40, unsurprisingly. Entering the stage to tribal music and chanting, The Cult kicked things off with "Wildflower," the heavy first cut from their 1987 Rick Rubin-produced album Electric. Remaining true to their raw, garage rock aesthetic, the band opted for stripped-down staging with only basic lighting and no banners or graphics, save for a flower image on the bass drum head -- the cover art for their most recent album, Hidden City.
Clad in black jeans, a black t-shirt, boots and a leather jacket, eyes shielded by sunglasses, Astbury quickly proved that his powerful voice hasn't changed much with the years. Throughout the night, he seemed to waver between gratitude (repeating "Thank you, kindly" after every song) and saltiness -- pausing to razz audience members for texting during the show and not standing up enough in the balcony, remarking, "What, is that -- your fucking exercise for the year? C'mon!"
The band worked through about an hour and a half of material, the majority from their trifecta of hit '80s albums: Love, Electric and Sonic Temple, with a few newer tunes sprinkled in.
Classics "Rain" and "Love" were early crowd-pleasers. "Lil' Devil" featured a lengthy and scorching guitar solo from Duffy as Astbury danced around the stage banging a tambourine. More recent tunes including trippy "Birds of Paradise" and "Honey From a Knife," along with the dark and heavy "Gone," felt like a bit of a mid-set lull.
The band regained footing toward the end of the show with a run of hard-hitting classics that got most of the crowd on its feet, starting with "Sweet Soul Sister" and "Fire Woman," both from the "Sonic Temple" album. They closed with a pair of tunes from Love, starting with "Phoenix," one of the album's deeper tracks that highlighted Duffy's full-throttle shredding as well as a scorching drum solo by Tempesta. Nostalgia reigned during set ender "She Sells Sanctuary," the band's earliest hit and arguably one of the best rock songs of the '80s -- the crowd eating it up as they pumped fists in the air and sang along to every word.
As the rest of band exited the stage, Astbury hung back for a moment to sign an album handed to him by a fan down front. "I'm only doing this because it's a record," he said. After a quick moment, the full band returned for a powerful encore of two hits from Electric -- "Peace Dog" and "Love Removal Machine."
Though I never saw them perform during their heyday, I've had the pleasure of seeing The Cult live several times over the past 10 years, and they never disappoint. While their more recent albums haven't produced the hits they once did, Astbury and Duffy continue to write and record quality tunes and perform with nearly the same level of energy and skill they did more than 30 years ago.
On April 21, Loudon Wainwright III produced an (almost) one-man family show at The Sheldon Concert Hall. He kicked off the evening with a quick rumination on his relationship with his kids before launching into a spirited rendition of "Donations" -- a song that plaintively begs a non-family member to be an emergency contact and keep your remains upon death. Wainwright later told the audience they were in for "kind of a family show tonight."
Further into the set, Wainwright mused, "My dad is in the show tonight." He shared that his father wrote the longstanding column "The View from Here" for LIFE Magazine and that since his passing in 1998, "I'm getting along better with my father." Ruminations on fatherhood abounded with a performance of "Half Fist" (about his grandfather, "the first Loudon") and a spoken word performance of his one of his father's LIFE Magazine articles. Repeating patters of parenthood and childhood were woven throughout the performance that night.
Toward the middle of the show, the audience was treated to "Meet the Wainwrights!" -- a jingle for the Wainwright Family Alaskan Adventure. In 2015, Lucy Wainwright Roche (who opened the show and later accompanied Loudon on stage), organizing the family vacation tour as part of Roots on the Rails, a musical excursion that included Suzzy Roche, Sloan Wainwright, and Rufus Wainwright, in addition to Lucy and Loudon. A few songs later, Lucy returned to the stage to perform a duet about the new-comers to the Wainwright clan the "leaves and twigs of the family tree."
The penultimate songs were in honor of Loudon Wainwright's mother, including "White Winos" and "Homeless." The later is featured on his 2001 album Last Man on Earth, written after the passing of his mother. Wainwright then reminded the audience to "go home and take your meds!" and closed the main act with a rousing rendition of "My Meds" from 2012's Older Than My Old Man Now. With tongue darting and eyes glinting, Wainwright seemed to particularly relish these comedic works and performed them with gusto.
Returning to the stage with Lucy Roche Wainwright in tow, Loudon Wainwright closed the evening with two cover tunes "Love Hurts" and "At the End of a Long Lonely Day"; an apt final chapter of a confessional and emotional exploration of what it means to be a family.
On Saturday, April 1, 2017, 4 Hands Brewing presented its Sixth Annual Lupulin Carnival. This was the first year the carnival was held off the 4 Hands campus, and Union Station made an ideal setting with beer vendors stretching from the outdoor plaza through the West wing of the former mall space — transformed into a giant beer hall for the occasion. Lupulin was once again a sold-out affair and among the crowd, I met folks who had traveled in from Colorado and North Carolina to experience it.
This was my first Lupulin experience, and having previously checked out other marquee beer festivals in St. Louis, the Heritage Festival, Microfest, and— my personal favorite — Indihop, Lupulin offered a refreshing take on the festival model with a hybrid indoor-outdoors set-up and carnival rides, a line-up of shake-your-tail-feather bands, and an assortment of side show-style acts spreading merriment throughout the crowd. It helped that the St. Louis weather gods smiled on the event with lots of sunshine and temperatures requiring merely a light jacket.
Due to a snafu with an Uber driver and a lengthy line at the gate (the volunteers did a great job of keeping this moving), I arrived as Miss Jubilee was taking her bow. The first vendor I happened upon, wending my way through the crowd, was local favorite Urban Chestnut, and they served me up a Ku'damm Bock (a Berliner Weiss Bock with a tartness that pleased my sour beer-loving palette). After a lap around the beer hall, I noted Logboat Brewing and Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. boasted the longest lines. I determined to score an accessible sessional to enjoy while waiting in line for a rarer sampling.
Justin Harris and Ryan Griffin of the Hop Shop were on-hand, and I took the opportunity to get their recommendations. Ryan hipped me to Mikerphone Brewing's Smells Like Bean Spirit (a rich and savory Imperial Breakfast Stout) while Justin recommended Lagunitas' The Waldo Special Ale (unfortunately, the keg blew as the person in front of me requested it).
With what would prove to be my favorite IPA for the day (The Juice is Loose by Transient Artisan Ales) in hand, I ventured out in the sunny plaza and joined a crowd dancing to the funky sounds of The Grooveliner. As the revelers swayed and shook to the soul-tinged beats of the rhythm section, I overheard one jokingly exclaim, "What a terrible Saturday!"
Bumping into my neighbors Robin and Ryan, I learned there was no line for the carnival rides and ventured off that way. The view from the top of the Ferris Wheel was truly majestic with the skyline of St. Louis peeking up above the iconic architecture of Union Station. I'm also happy to report that riding a potato sack down a "Super Slide" seems to have lost none of its childhood magic.
It was time for sustenance and Lupulin Carnival's food truck row served up many tempting offerings. Farmtruk won out with a Pork Burger featuring a cheese sauce made with 4 Hand's newly released Warhammer. It made for the perfect hearty lunch to fuel more dancing as Hazard to ya Booty took the stage. Their special brand of sexually-suggestive funk with rock and hip-hop highlights proved irresistible to the assembled audience, even drawing in fire-lit hula hooper who wowed the crowd with her pyrotechnic acrobatics.
Back to the beer hall, I found IPAs running the gamut from mildly hoppy (Earthbound's Meteor IPA) to the extremely hop-forward (18th Street Brewing's Twisted Doom). After a quick IPA break that led to the discovery of Blackberry Farm's Classic Saisson (a delightfully effervescent beer with earthy fruit notes), I grabbed 4 Hand's new Warhammer in the nick of time — getting the last pour before service stopped at 4 p.m.
Joined by assorted members of bands from earlier in the line-up, Funky Butt Brass Band led a second-line through the beer hall out to the performance stage to kick of a revelatory celebration of brass-inflected jazz tunes, rock, soul, and R&B classics. If there's been a finer Saturday afternoon in St. Louis, I have yet to experience it. Lupulin Carnival is primed to become a don't-miss annual tradition.
Click the image below to see all of Bill Motchan's photos from the event.
Eight years and three LPs into their career, Los Angeles' Local Natives have reached a solid and stable rung, filling mid-size clubs and playing late-afternoon festival sets to enthusiastic fans. At the Blue Note in Columbia, MO last Tuesday night, they were clearly in stride as a polished, engaging band that's benefitted from years of hard work.
Local Natives' setlist was relatively evenly divided among their three studio albums, with a slight emphasis on tracks from their latest, 2016's Sunlit Youth. And while that record was somewhat subdued compared to Gorilla Manor and Hummingbird -- pulsing live drums gave way to drum machines, and thundering riffs to ebbing ruminations -- their performance tended to cast the newer songs in the light of the old. To my ears, this was a welcomed sonic coloration. The driving rhythms of songs like "Dark Days" and "Villainy," kept in the background on Sunlit Youth, surged to the surface on-stage, propelling and framing lead singer Taylor Rice's high, wispy phrasings.
Highlights of the set included songs both old and new. Crowd favorites "Heavy Feet," "Breakers," and "Airplanes," performed in close proximity mid-set, were the energetic core of the set. "Dark Days" and "Colombia" were presented in stripped-down arrangements that carefully and effectively guiding the energy of the show, pulling the crowd along. The latter, a near eponym to the show's location, started as a duo, but ended with all members on-stage, bringing swift momentum to the closing sequence of songs.
Little Scream opened the show, performing a strong set of songs primarily drawn from 2016's Cult Following. While that record featured extensive personnel and production -- a star-studded list of 20 musicians contributed, with Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Perry masterfully producing -- Little Scream consisted on this night of just four players. Set up front-stage with Local Native's gear situated just behind, Laurel Sprengelmeyer drove the performance with her silky, soulful, and funky vocals, often overcoming a muddy sound mix by sheer force of will. The alternative and more traditionally rock-based performances of the songs from Cult Following had their emotional core intact. The Prince-like production of that record melted off to reveal tunes that were nearly as potent in this more ragged and organic package.
As JJ Grey told the story on Thursday night at The Pageant, the seeds of the Southern Soul Assembly concept were sowed as he was en route to Wal-Mart one day near his home in North Florida. He recalled, "My manager called me up and said, you've been talking about doing this songwriters tour for a while. What if we got Anders Osborne to do it?' I said, 'Yeah!' And then he said, 'What if we got Luther Dickinson?' and I said, 'Hell yeah!' And then he said 'What if I got Marc Broussard?' and I was like, 'If you get all those guys, it's on!'"
So it was as the collective billed as "Southern Soul Assembly: Southern Songwriters in the Round" took the stage, sitting on stools in a semi-circle and taking turns baring their musical souls for two full hours. These four seasoned musicians are so ideally suited to each other; it's a wonder they haven't gathered in this formation until recent years -- though their bands have shared tour bills and festival dates in the past. Osborne and Dickinson's band, North Mississippi Allstars, even collaborated on an album and tour in 2015 under the moniker NMO.
The format of Southern Soul Assembly, with each artist moving down the line and taking a turn in the spotlight to perform one of their songs accompanied by the others, worked well to provide a diverse sampling of tunes and share their individual strengths. Broussard took the first pass, lending his soulful voice to a cover of Frankie Miller's "Baton Rouge," as Dickinson and Grey backed him up on the bass and harmonica respectively.
Grey then took his first turn and dove in headfirst with a stripped down version of "Lochloosa," his quintessential ode to his Florida roots, with Dickinson plucking on mandolin. Without the backing of his full band, Mofro, Grey's voice absolutely soared as the song built to its crescendo, his eyes closed and his face fraught with emotion, before ending to fervent applause.
Osborne treated fans to a soft, introspective new song called "Tomorrow is Another Day" from his forthcoming album. He gently plucked his acoustic guitar, leaving the bulk of expression to his voice and poetic lyrics, "Why am I human / I feel more like a tree / Here in my own skin / I can't be who I want to be."
Finally, it was Dickinson's turn to highlight his hill country blues with the somber and heavy song he wrote about watching the horror of Hurricane Katrina titled "Highwater (Soldier)," as Grey helped out on harmonica and Broussard kept a beat on maracas and a homemade cardboard box "drum." Though he may be the weakest vocalist of the group, he makes up for it with his instrumental proficiency, deftly rotating between electric guitar, bass, mandolin and even a homemade two-string coffee can guitar.
The foursome continued in this format for several more rounds, all of them digging a bit deeper on each turn. Osborne earned the evening's first standing ovation, channeling early Van Morrison with the soulful "Coming Down." As he rocked back and forth, clutching his guitar and pouring his heart out, Dickinson provided support on the mandolin. When the audience rose, Osborne was taken aback and got choked up, pausing in gratitude to wipe the tears from his eyes.
Dickinson brought out a special local guest, the esteemed Reverend Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, to lend his heavenly voice to gospel classic "Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won't Do)" as Grey kept a soft beat on the tambourine. Dickinson slipped in a quick Chuck Berry riff toward the end in a nod to the St. Louis legend's recent passing.
Fans of Grey were moved by his performance of another favorite, "Brighter Days," singing along at the end. Osborne provided another transcendent moment with a furious acoustic guitar solo during "Peace." Broussard, Grey and Osborne joined forces with Dickinson to close out the main set with gospel-influenced North Mississippi Allstars tune "Up Over Yonder."
An encore mini-set allowed for one more round. This time, Osborne took the first turn, pausing to crank up his amp for the down and dirty blues groove of "Move Back to Mississippi." Dickinson backed him up on slide guitar, briefly striding to the front of the stage to take a Chuck Berry stance in one more moment of tribute.
Dickinson then continued to show his slide mastery on a song he penned for friends and others in the military, "Mojo Mojo," working some dreamy solos with an echo pedal effect as Osborne supported on rhythm guitar.
Broussard got vulnerable with the lovely ode to an ex, "Let me Leave While I Can," proving again his astounding vocal and songwriting talents. Grey then officially capped off the night with another stirring and spiritual number, "The Sun is Shining Down," standing to deliver the lyrics like a Sunday Sermon as he sang, "Glory, glory, Hallelujah; I'm alive and I'm feeling fine."
By stripping things down to their voices and basic instrumentation, these four tremendous artists provided what felt like a rare and special opportunity to experience some of these great songs in their purest forms with the highest level of emotional connection. Opening themselves up in this way reminded us, if only for a couple of hours, of the simple joy and beauty that can still exist in today's crazy and complicated world.