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.
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.
Rise & Scream, a brand new politically-inspired art and musical festival, made its debut last Saturday night at 2720 Cherokee. A benefit for the International Institute — a fantastic local organization which helps immigrants adjust to the country and the St. Louis area — the event included music on two stages as well as art installations.
The show was organized by Vincent Saletto, who described the genesis of the festival as a direct response to the nomination and subsequent election of Donald Trump among whose campaign promises were plans to build a border wall between the US and Mexico and to ban Muslims from entering the US. Feeling compelled to take action locally in opposition to Trump's policy plans, Saletto decided to organize an event. Signs of the Trump Resistance included Vincent's "RESISTL" T-shirt and the decidedly anti-Trump artworks on display.
A not-that-cold Saturday evening had Cherokee Street buzzing with St. Louis' coolest young crowd. Signs outside the show invited people to stop in to see 19 bands for the $10, with all of the proceeds going to the International Institute. Inside, 2720 Cherokee was put to excellent use with music stages upstairs and downstairs. The upper level had a laid-back vibe as attendees chatted, looked at art displays, and checked out the view over Cherokee. Video games were also available at the "barcade" area aka RKDE. Downstairs at the main stage was a more typical concert setup. Both stages had great views for everyone.
Running from 3pm until 1am, the line-up was expansive. Vincent described the booking as basically a collection of his favorite local bands, not to mention his own band called Giant Monsters on the Horizon.
While I was there, I caught a number of highlights: Final Veil created a unique combination by pairing a drum-and-electric guitar arrangement with belly dancers. Five-piece rock band Town Cars got the crowd moving upstairs with catchy rock songs. Precog was one of the few out-of-town bands, visiting from Nashville. After taking the stage with a rather dark and imposing presence, the band produced surprisingly melodic, vocally driven synth-rock. Giant Monsters on the Horizon, described by Vincent's wife as "spooky spooky stompy stompy," filled the lower level with industrial, yet intricate, electronica that provided an appropriate soundtrack for the Trumpocalypse.
The last set of the evening I was able to catch was electro-pop, darkwave outfit CaveofswordS. They created a wonderfully layered sound with smooth, dreamy vocals floating above keyboard and bass. I wish I could have stayed for Hylidae and Seashine who followed into the later hours.
Look for Rise & Scream 2018. In the meantime, the International Institute will doubtlessly put the funds raised at the event to noble use.
Click below to see Karl's photos of a number of acts in the event, including CaveofswordS, Town Cars, PreCog, Suzie Cue, Giant Monsters on the Horizon and others.
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.
When the "Great Migration Tour: Celebrating the Sounds of Mississippi, Chicago and St. Louis" hit the Legends Room stage at the National Blues Museum, it brought Black History Month to life. The concerts of February 24 and 25 performed by renowned blues artist and educator, Fernando Jones, Marquise "The Prodigy" Knox and 2016 Grammy award nominee Vasti Jackson paid tribute to the Delta blues while capturing its present day musical evolution.
The roots of the blues will always be tied to a system that enslaved and transported more than 12 million West Africans to the Americas. As Vasti Jackson told the Friday night audience, "It's the same boat, different ports, the same cultural and musical traditions that became the blues here influenced the reggae, samba, and conga beats of other countries." The soul and culture of a people that created the Delta Blues would evolve and be popularized by the Great Migration.
The migration of more than 6 million African Americans between 1900-1970 from the rural south to northern and western urban areas has been called the largest and most rapid mass internal movements in history. NBM Internal Affairs Director, Jacqueline Dace, cites discrimination and poverty as the drivers: "After Reconstruction and with the establishment of Jim Crow Laws, blacks found themselves in an environment that was not only detrimental to their economic advances, it was also detrimental to their lives."
The shift was dramatic. African American population outside the south rose from 10 percent in 1910 to 50 percent in 1970. In that same period, African Americans rose from 6.4 percent of the St. Louis population to 40.9 percent. The two big migratory waves (1900-1930 and 1940-1970) coincide with the two waves of urbanization of blues music.
Scott Joplin and W.C. Handy urbanized the sound while women like STL's Victoria Spivey popularized the blues by dominating the 1920s record charts during the first wave. Male migrants led the second wave as Muddy Waters electrified the sound and fellow artists like Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and St. Louis' Henry Townsend, Oliver Sain and others crafted their versions of the blues. The artists of the Great Migration Tour reflect this history.
Fernando Jones, the son of parents with Mississippi roots, grew up on Chicago's south side, learned to play guitar at the age of four and has been in the business for more than 30 years. He is often called the "Renaissance Man" because of his extensive resume that includes: performer, producer, writer, artist, film, and education. His education efforts run from kids to college.
New generation bluesman and STL native, Marquise Knox, who says, "the blues was passed to me through the blood," has family ties to Grenada, Miss. and Big George Brock (Mississippi migrant) and Bennie Smith. Brock, Smith, Henry Townsend and B.B. King all helped school Knox in the blues.
Vasti Jackson, born into a family of fiddle, harp and guitar players, never left Mississippi and now resides in Hattiesburg. He is a highly sought after performer and producer with 40 years of professional experience and an encyclopedic knowledge of music and blues history. He says his recent Grammy loss was still a win because he was on stage with his friend Bobby Rush when he won for Porcupine Meat. Jackson, who helped make that album, laughs and says, "I couldn't lose. I was competing against myself."
Jackson, Jones, and Henry Townsend's son, Alonzo, were part of a Saturday discussion panel moderated by Jacqueline Dace. In discussing the evolution and future of the blues Fernando Jones said the situation is "unhealthy because the blues genre has failed to grow ... the Grammys only recognizes two categories." All agreed that too many bands play from a limited old catalogue and Townsend noted that often the giants like his father "didn't want to do anything to change the style." Jackson said it was also about labeling and promoters "locked into the imagery of old black men and bad old days."
The need for variety, younger players and people in the industry were key issues. Fernando Jones believes to connect to kids "you have to make it free, accessible and mobile. . . rent a bus, provide lesson plans for teachers." He has been living these words for 27 years with his Blues Kids Foundation and Fernando Jones' Blues Camp International for kids 12-18 which is free. The National Blues Museum will host a June 15-17 camp.
Alonzo Townsend believes he is a "torchbearer for the blues and his father's legacy, but my job is to interpret for a new generation." He does that through the Blues in the Schools Program that has reached over 5,000 young people. He wants to kids to play and instrument or find something that inspires them so that they can have a skill "that no one can ever take away from you."
Vasti Jackson want kids to see the opportunities in "the strategic alliance of industries in music -- set design, construction, lighting, sound engineers, computer programming, technology, food, catering, promotion." Townsend agreed and says he uses his own story as an example for kids: "I'm not a stage musician, but I was interested in the service side of the business promotion, management and food service."
The late February shows spoke to the issues raised in the discussion panel.
Fernando Jones, a man of slick suits and clean licks, opened with a "Oil and Water" from his Synesthesia album. The extended song, which opens with some slick guitar driven modern blues, puts the evolution of the blues on display as it takes on a jazzy edge in extended riffs with six string bassist of Felton Crews. There was more of the same to be found through his set and closing number "Just When I."
Marquise Knox played a set that showcased the new and paid homage to the old. He opened with his show stopping powerful voice and guitar riffs for the first few numbers. Then the harmonica came out for some extended work that spoke to more traditional blues. The Delta was fully on stage when Knox changed keys brought out the slide guitar and sat down for some traditional blues. His close, "I'm a Bluesman" brought us back to the present and the crowd to its feet.
Vasti Jackson opened with a resonator guitar and selections from his Grammy nominated traditional blues album, The Soul of Jimmy Rodgers. He mixed his artistry with history telling us, "I'm not a blues museum, I'm a blues man" and why the music needs to evolve. He showed the audience what he meant as he shifted to his searing electric guitar, tearing through the audience, and bringing the house down as he channeled Prince on his rendition of Purple Rain.