This year LouFest moved to The Muny parking lot from its original home -- the central fields of Forest Park -- due to construction. The new space gave the festival a decidedly different feel and flavor. Organizers played up a carnival feeling on the site with a Ferris wheel, hot air balloon, and quadruple-decker lounge (dubbed "Cabanaland"). Market Square, LouFest's offering of local makers selling wares, was set up in the style of a midway with a ceiling a parasols, while the new Fizz & Folly section of the festival was a salute to the birth of the cocktail party (begun in St. Louis in 1917).

While headliners Cage the Elephant and Snoop Dogg may have been a draw for the large crowds, it was the duck walk down memory lane that stole the show with the Hail! Hail! Chuck Berry tribute concert. The band was comprised of acclaimed local musicians including Big Mike Aguirre, David Grelle, Kevin Bowers, Andy Coco, and the Funky Butt Brass Band horn section with a who's who of talent dropping in to pay their respects. First up was St. Louis's own Pokey LaFarge who handed in twang-tinged renditions of "Maybellene" and "Teenage Wedding." 

Special guest Valarie June took the stage with a retro-soul versions "I Want to Be Your Driver" and "Memphis," literally letting her hair down and dancing to beat the band. David Grelle of The Feed on keyboard and Cory Henry on organ were standouts with dueling solos that lent a funky feel to the festivities. The Funky Butt Brass Band horn section of Ben Reese, Aaron Chandler, and Adam Hucke brought the heat with blazing interpretations of the Chuck Berry classics. Also joining in the party were Britt and Alex of Spoon, Huey Lewis (with a scorching harmonica), members of Cage the Elephant, and Charles Berry, Jr. with Charles Berry III.

The performance at Hail! Hail! Chuck Berry that brought down the house was that of Captain Kirk Douglas (The Roots). His renditions of "Reelin' and Rockin'" and "Roll Over Beethoven" were the apex of the tribute concert and got the crowd in a frenzy.

Earlier in the day, Huey Lewis & the News had a similar effect, whipping up a dance party on the parking lot that served as the Enterprise Stage field. The band members were decked out in suits with Huey Lewis giving a SoCal vibe in his jeans and button-down shirt. They came out strong with the "Heart of Rock 'n' Roll," giving a special St. Louis shoutout among the other cities of the lyrics and drawing a roar from the crowd. They didn't let up from there and kept the tempo up with a slew of other hits, including "If This Is It," "New Drug," "Step by Step," and "Power of Love." Lewis thanked the audience for coming out to hear songs about past escapades and shouted, "Let's make this a night to remember!" 

LouFest also featured some fresh faces and new tunes with Middle Kids out of Sydney, Australia. They're a female-fronted four-piece rock outfit with their first full-length album on the way, and Middle Kids took the opportunity to showcase that new music to an enthusiast young audience.

Taking the stage right before sunset, Spoon presented a mix of singles from their latest album "Hot Thoughts" and popular favorites from the past. The crowd seemed particularly primed to hear "I Turn My Camera On" from the band's classic Gimme Fiction album. Lead singer Britt Daniel obliged, slinking around the stage in a black denim outfit with a large silver longhorn belt buckle.

Earlier in the day, those able to bounce between Hippo Campus and Jonny P enjoyed a delightful mix of indie pop and neo-soul, respectively. Hip hop artists Mvstermind and Mathias & the Pirates entertained the early crowds. Mathias & the Pirates were a particular standout, performing rousing renditions of past singles "Brettanomyces" and "The Panic Button." The former featured special guest star 18 and Counting (Stan Chisholm) who thanked the crowd for getting up early to catch the set. Included in that set were also some new music from a forthcoming album due out this December.

Whether there for the old or the new, LouFest Day 1 delivered a satisfying mix.

To see Dustin Winter's photos from the first day, click on the image below. 

LouFest Day 1: Saturday, September 9, 2017

 

Alejandro Rose-Garcia, a.k.a. Shakey Graves, is a scratchy-throated and often cowboy-hatted troubadour by way of Austin, Texas. Last Wednesday, a soggy evening couldn't keep a throng of whooping and hollering St. Louis revelers from piling into Delmar Hall for his sold-out performance -- a third of which was just Mr. S. Graves singing his guts out with nothing but a six-string and a kick drum. This one-man show is what he's famous for and perhaps the best reason to see him live (although Shakey Graves + band is also a damn good time). 

David Ramirez, another singing Texan who's gone it alone on the road for years, kicked the evening off with a set of his introspective folk. He's been commended for being brave enough to write and sing about deeply personal things like family, his feelings, and heartbreak--but this is a traveling singer-songwriter's bread and butter. Ramirez is interesting because his lyrics are personal, yes, but also straightforward where others obfuscate behind stories or characters. Having grown up a Southern Baptist myself, I was tickled by Ramirez's take on "Communion": "Drinking out of little plastic cups / They told me it was wine / But it was really just grape juice." 

Then Rose-Garcia took the stage by himself, a lone behatted figure, standing amidst as-yet unused instruments, looking for all the world like the rambling gentleman from Texas he either plays or simply is, Shakey Graves. The man himself is short in stature and an undeniable charmer. His wisecracking onstage persona is belied by the content of much of his material -- songs of lust, heartbreak, unrequited love give way to murder, ghosts, and all manner of devilry. He began with "Word of Mouth," a song I've only heard from one of his earlier live recordings, but apparently one that everyone knew. It's a gentle little ditty, punctuated by his heel against a drum and zils, gradually building into a full-throated allegory about drugs, success, and guns, at the end of which the Devil himself appears to offer some advice. 

The full band didn't join him until he'd played several songs by himself and talked a while, easygoing and picking at his guitar the whole time, seeming for just a moment like he must have a decade ago, unknown yet with a certain something, a throwback to an earlier era. Although he's clearly at home as a solo artist, he and his band know each other like the back of their hands. It's trust of the sort that can only come from logging many hours on the road together, an instinct earned after late nights and bleary mornings in towns where you don't know anyone. The set was a well-oiled machine, a tour through his old stuff, his old stuff just released on vinyl for the first time, his critically acclaimed and best-known material from And The War Came ("Dearly Departed" was clearly a fan favorite, with the crowd filling in for Esme Patterson on the "oooh-ooohs"), and new stuff from his February pay-what-you-can release, The Man From Taured

The highlight of the three-song encore was a Bruce Springsteen cover, where Rose-Garcia was joined by Ramirez in a twangified version of "Darkness on the Edge of Town." I would have never pegged Shakey Graves, or at least the Shakey Graves crowd, as a fan of the Boss. But who isn't? The similarities between the down-and-out characters of a Springsteen song and the whiskey-soaked, Tex-Mex spirit world that Shakey Graves has created for his are no more apparent than in this tune. "I'll be there on time and I'll pay the cost / For wanting things that can only be found / In the darkness on the edge of town." With that, the gentleman from Texas shouldered his guitar and walked off the stage. 

Click the image below to see all of Karl Beck's photos of David Ramirez and Shakey Graves at Delmar Hall.

Shakey Graves (with David Ramirez) at Delmar Hall, August 16,2017

 

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

 

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

 

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. 

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