Dolly Parton's "Pure & Simple" concert on Saturday night started with a three piece ensemble welcoming her to the stage with an a cappella rendition of "Hello Dolly." The singing stopped shortly after she appeared center stage, looking like an angelic rainbow-tasseled and glitter-clad cowgirl.
The 70 year old country music legend was nothing less than a powerhouse. Her warm, approachable energy was immediately clear during the first song, as she complemented someone in the front row on their choice of handbag. It is very easy to believe that performing is what she was born to do. Her voice was powerful and is almost completely unchanged by time. Between songs she walked us through the story of her life, starting with her meager beginnings growing up in the Smokey Mountains of East Tennessee with eleven siblings all under the roof of a one-room cabin. Her playful story-telling is as captivating as her singing, and the mastery of nine different instruments that she played throughout the evening.
Although Scottrade is nowhere near the size of a small venue, it had a certain intimacy about it. The set design was very clean and minimalistic. There were no complex light shows, explosions, jumbo screens or projected graphics. There were only five sheer white curtains draped from the ceiling. The only visual spectacle on stage was Dolly herself. She explained that her signature look mimics the "town trollop" that she idolized as a little girl. Her grandfather, a pentecostal preacher, encouraged her to dress more modestly and to wear less makeup. He asked her, "Don't you want to go to heaven?" Dolly replied, "Yeah, but do I have to look like hell to get there?"
The show was definitely a trip down memory lane for the slightly less than inter-generational crowd, with Parton playing only two songs from the tour's namesake album that will be released on August 19. Although most of the crowd was old enough to recognize the Benny Hill theme she played on a tiny rhinestone-studded saxophone, there was defiantly an observable diversity in the audience. There were grandmas bouncing around like teenage girls, grown men in full Dolly costume, and fans of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds singing along to every word; who else but Dolly could bring together such a crowd? She has the ability to create space for all to unite through music, without labels or judgement, so it wasn't surprising to see many different demographics represented.
Parton spoke briefly about the presidential election in a lighthearted manner saying that whoever wins will need a great deal of prayer. She joked that she had considered running herself and that she's got the hair for it, "It's huuuuuuge!"
If you missed out and didn't see Dolly at the Scottrade Center, don't worry. With 43 albums to her credit, and 12 headlining tours including this one, (which was her biggest in 25 years with over 60 dates in the US and Canada,) this Queen of Country shows no signs of slowing down. Undoubtedly, she will continue to perform, will inspire fans new and old, and will unapologetically be Dolly for years to come.
Photos by Monica Mileur
"Pure & Simple"
"Why'd You Come in Here Lookin' Like That?"
"My Tennessee Mountain Home"
"Coat of Many Colors"
"Smokey Mountain Memories"
"Rocky Top"/"Yakety Sax"
"Banks of the Ohio"
Medley: "American Pie"/"If I Had a Hammer"/"Blowin' in the Wind"/"Dust in the Wind"/"The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down"
"I'll Fly Away"
"Baby I'm Burning"/"Girl On Fire"
"Outside Your Door"
"The Grass is Blue"
"Those Memories of You"
"Do I Ever Cross Your Mind"
"Here You Come Again"
"Two Doors Down"
"Islands in the Stream"
"9 to 5"
"I'll Always Love You"
"Hello God"/"He's Alive"
Here is where I got in trouble on Saturday. I was standing at the back wall of the Firebird, briskly tapping out some thoughts in the Notes app of my phone. As a too-frequent brilliant-idea-forgetter, I tend to take a lot of notes. I’d relocated to this particular spot in the club so that no one in the audience would be behind me, and—for reasons that will seem almost exasperatingly prescient in a moment—I’d actually even dimmed the brightness of my phone’s display before the show.
Here is what I was writing when I got in trouble on Saturday, basically verbatim:
Plague Vendor singer. Stage moves (what else to call them: surely he doesn’t move like this in real life?). A not un-mesmerizing combination of Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, and Kathleen Hanna. (I’m pretty sure I just saw him do the splits.) Or maybe it’s more like Mick Jagger plus Glenn Danzig. Does KC+MJack+KH=MJag+GD? Compared to this singer—violently lean, attractively all over place—everyone else in the world looks just a little more like Dave Attell by comparison.
Are these the most brilliant notes ever? Probably not. Did I bang all of this out with my thumbs in response to a performance that I was actually enjoying, even though Plague’s Vendor’s music itself doesn’t totally do it for me? You betcha. Is this how I actually write? Yes, unfortunately.
Here is what I was not doing when I got in trouble on Saturday. During one song, the singer of Plague Vendor, Brandon Blaine, had coaxed the audience into crouching low to the floor as the music got quieter. I had not personally crouched, however, assuming that this interaction was optional. This was the point at which point Blaine called out from the stage: “Who’s that guy with the cell phone? What are you doing? Don’t you know where you are?” It was me. I gave a little wave of my phone to him, screen-side, and crouched down, eager to know where this knee-bendingly important group adventure was headed. Then the music kicked back in, and Blaine jumped off the stage—looking a little like the Nike Air Jordan logo—and the rest of us stood up again.
Here is what I was writing when I got in trouble for the second time, also basically verbatim:
We all crouched down to the floor and then got back up. It felt like when you’re at your aunt’s second wedding, and the house band is playing Otis Day’s “Shout” and brings everyone down to the floor for “getting a little bit softer now, etc.” Not sure what we just gained by this, collectively. And plus I just got in trouble.
So yes, even after the initial admonishment, I’d continued to use my phone to take notes, for which Blaine called me out again after the song ended: “That guy is back on his phone? Really?! There’s no Pokemon here, bro!” (Full disclosure: he may not have actually said “bro” at the end, but it just kind of felt that way to me—either way, an antagonizingly masculine inflection for sure.) I waved my phone at him again in recognition, which I assumed was our “thing” now.
Before I got in trouble, I’d written a note that said: Mike Patton. That Blaine reminded me, if only even fractionally, of the charismatic genius weirdo behind Faith No More seemed like a pretty generous comparison to which I could give a little more consideration once I got home with my notes. After I got in trouble, though, I wrote: Donald Trump. That Blaine sought to prescribe a single, monolithic way for the audience to experience his short time on stage seemed unnecessarily authoritarian. That he was unwilling to tolerate an averted gaze or a potentially divided attention seemed kind of needy. That he used his position of power to specifically call out and chastise a single audience member made him seem at least a little like a bully.
I would love to be able to take back and disavow all of the nice things I’d initially written about Blaine, but that’s not how notes work. Notes accumulate and compound, adding up. Notes don’t want you to erase them, but rather to let them reveal.
Before the whole thing with Plague Vendor, here is what I’d written about local favorites Bruiser Queen, who opened the show. These notes, for which I did not get in trouble, are also transcribed here pretty much verbatim, because I want to call attention to the spirit of inclusivity that I had been feeling up to that point:
BQ remind me of a band playing at a high school dance in a mainstream '80s movie. In those scenes, you get the sense of that band is, like, the best band in that school, well-liked by the widest possible assortment of tastemakers, burnouts, mathletes, and weirdos. They are for everyone.
The already very good Bruiser Queen just keep getting better, and their set had several great new songs and absolutely no filler. I had been really having a good time.
After the whole thing with Plague Vendor, who played second, we finally got to see White Lung. Tearing through tracks from Sorry, Deep Fantasy, and Paradise, frontwoman Mish Barber-Way navigated rock-and-roll theatricality and hardcore ethos, diminishing the need for a difference between the two. Guitarist Kenneth William inhabited the upper registers of his instrument with a restless accuracy, creating an urgent architecture of cascading notes. Drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou played unimpeachably, at once stead and fast.
White Lung’s set drew largely from their newest record, Paradise (Domino, 2016), which is one of the strongest and most unexpectedly listenable albums of the year. Embracing both an expanded sonic scope and a calculated de-escalation of the throat-shedding vocals of their earlier work, Paradise adapts White Lung’s energy to new ends. Their anger and aggression has become more beautiful now, precise, verging on perfect, as though they have learned that scathing incision is best made with a scalpel, not a kitchen knife.
I didn’t take many notes during White Lung’s set, despite wanting to. Maybe I was worried that getting back on my phone would seem like a kind of vaguely political position—a low-level civil disobedience, when in fact I actually consider it a high-level crutch. Maybe I started to worry less about memory, and more about the moment. Maybe Plague Vendor won. Or maybe I just did what I wanted—notes or not. I’m tempted to posit the latter; White Lung is uncommonly empowering.
Without my notes, though, what I maybe remember most is that after this all-ages show, I was standing in the merch line behind a girl and her companion, who may have been her older brother or her youngish dad. The girl’s nascent edginess was offset by her age-appropriate braces, and I got the sense that this show was a big deal to her. Behind the table, Mish Barber-Way from White Lung was chatting with fans, taking shirts out of boxes, recommending sizes. (“This one might run kinda big—you definitely need the Small.”) The girl was nervous about meeting Barber-Way, which she explained to her companion. I think I heard her say “kind of my hero” (with which I kind of agree, personally). At the front of the line, the girl and the singer spoke for a minute, and after some initial gushing, Barber-Way came out from behind the table to pose for a photo, taken by the companion with his phone. When it was my turn, I bought a black White Lung t-shirt without saying much—newly committed, at least for the moment, to going unnoticed.
Disclaimer: I don't run down touring musicians who work their heart out and perform live in front of hundreds of people, so take the title with a grain of salt. It was a "mixed" concert because the Jayhawks themselves are a mixed and varied crew. First of all, they are hard to describe usually falling somewhere in between "alt-county" to "pop-folk." Also, they have been around since the 80s but have taken long hiatuses between records and tours, so it's hard to say they've been consistent. Finally, there are some songs you will just love ("Blue," "Let the Critics Wonder," "Two Angels")--songs that evoke some of the best of Dylan, Neil Young and Wilco--then there are a whole bunch of songs that are, well, not as notable or lovable.
One thing that you can say about the Jayhawks is their outsized influence on the scene. Since they began touring and playing live they've been a favorite of record shops and independent radio stations. They are credited with strongly influencing Uncle Tupelo and others. They also have a modest fan base who seem to be perfectly in line with their evolving sound. Last night's Pageant performance had a dance floor and people swaying and moving but the concert was set up for seats and clearly geared towards the causal listener. I did test my feet to the beat when they let loose with guitars and harmonica, seemingly off-script and jammy on a few great numbers. I wish there had been more of it, although my date and I danced through many songs, there were some that left us tapping our feet and hoping for more.
Although I found the show a bit of a mixed bag, I have to say I really like the recent album, Paging Mr. Proust, partially because it is so different from their previous releases. On a recent interview promoting the album, Gary Louris (guitar and vocals) speaks as if to preemptively handle critical attacks that the Jayhawks have abandoned their signature sound for something more poppy, "There are things on the record that are shockingly not what people think of the Jayhawks but they are." The album is good. It's experimental, a bit grungy, and yes, definitely more of a pop approach. Definitely worth putting on the Sunday morning Spotify list, buying in vinyl or downloading for your collection.
This review for what it's worth, wouldn't be complete without a huge shoutout to Folk Uke, Cathy Guthrie and Amy Nelson, who opened for the Jayhawks. Not to be confused with Garfunkel and Oates, this duo nonetheless takes a very similar approach with very funny results: "I gave a BJ to a DJ, (and now I'm a radio star)" and their latest runaway hit, courtesy of Netflix's Orange Is The New Black, "Motherfucker got fucked up ('cause he got in the way)," a song that forms into a giant ear worm that basically makes you chuckle all day long.
Photos by John Taylor
The Stage at KDHX was the perfect intimate foil for Kevin Gordon and his band when they took the stage Friday. It was an unseasonably cool July night as a cold front moved into St. Louis and inside, the venue planned for a typical humid night but the mix of hot coffee, cold beer and bourbon from the Magnolia Cafe retained the city's typical summer atmosphere. Gordon has been through St. Louis a number of times with his swampy songwriting and troubadour style consisting of his songs, a vintage Gibson hollow body and a Fender amp, this time he brought a few friends that made the room sweat. The venues intimate nature led to a night that was more of a family reunion or a living room show which created a looseness that fit his Louisiana upbringing. Gordon has spent the past 20 years living in East Nashville but it is evident that his formative years in Monroe, Louisiana left a lasting impression evident on his new album Long Time Gone.
Gordon and his band casually came to the stage signaling a laid back night that was fun for everyone. The entrance of drummer Paul Griffith coming through the wrong door truly set the mood: "Ladies and gentleman, Paul Griffith on drums. We are glad he could make it, he had to do some special exercises and we are glad he could get those done," said Gordon. Sitting down a behind the kit the band launched into "Burning the Church House Down." Griffith, a fellow Louisiana native, laid back into the groove matching Gordon's guitar and songs. Guitarist Joe McMahan, originally from New Haven, Missouri, laid into a solo that was equal parts Nashville smooth and blues cool. The dichotomy between Gordon and McMahan's guitar playing was on display with Gordon attacking the guitar with visceral intent. "Tearing it Down" McMahan took that heart-on-his-sleeve style and let loose a barrage of stream-of-consciousness flurry of reverb drenched notes.
"We picked this guy up off the side of the road," said Gordon. "Actually it is a pleasure to have him here to night, it has been a while since we played with him. He just finished playing with Webb Wilder, on bass, Tom Comet." Comet served as both locking in the groove with Griffith, giving a solid grounding for Gordon and McMahan, and acting as adjunct music director. Gordon looking over at Comet's notes to see what song was next, sometimes Gordon switching it up mid-set.
Before intermission Gordon decided to make a last minute change, "Just because we are going to Illinois tomorrow, or tonight, this song seems appropriate," then the band launched into a raucous version of "Illinois 5AM." This left the audience ready for the second set but also gave them a chance to breathe, chat and shower Gordon and his band with compliments. The intimacy of the Stage was the reason both artist and audience shared a few drinks and hung out like they were at a backyard BBQ, the only thing missing was the humidity and someone's uncle manning the grill.
Once the band came back, they were a little looser and ready to play. Opening the second set with "Casino Road" Griffith laid down a Louisiana shuffle with Comet falling deep in the pocket leaving Gordon and McMahan to explore the song from a lyrical and musical stand point. This vibe would carry through the set in songs like "Church on Time" and "Gloryland." The latter of the two Gordon said, "Unfortunately it is just as relevant now as when I wrote it." Instead of taking the song to a dark place of sorrow when performed solo the band of Comet, McMahan and Griffith played a version that extracted an anger and disbelief of the world around us. That intensity continued as they surprised the audience with a rockabilly rendition of Hank Williams "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It," which segued perfectly into "Good Rocking Tonight." "That was my attempt to pay tribute to the great Scotty Moore who just passed away," announced Gordon.
"Colfax" from the album Gloryland has become one of Gordon's most ambitious and emblematic songs that recounts a different time and place. It is the story of being a member of a Southern high school marching band led by an African American director, Mr. Minifield, and his stoic confrontation with members of the Ku Klux Klan who appear in protest to the band director's position. The song contains Gordon's sense of humor but played, as an ensemble, the band takes on the character of Mr. Minifield as he keeps marching:
Looking straight ahead
Like there was somewhere better
He was going
But this was the only goddamned way to get there.
The band feverishly took on the bravery of the character pushing the audience into a hypnotic trance in which we all have find courage in the face of adversity and keep marching through some of the bullshit life throws our way.
After a romp through "24 Diamonds" and "One I Love" to lighten the mood and leave the audience on an upswing, Gordon and band left the stage. In true customary fashion the audience wanted one more song. Being that this was a laid back night Gordon seemed surprised and a bit unprepared to come back. "We weren't really prepared for another song," Gordon mused bewilderedly and asked for a suggestion. A few voice chimed in when some called out for "Deuce and a Quarter." "Alright, let's do that. This song was cut by Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana for the album All the Kings Men. It is out of print but you can search for it on YouTube. You'll find my version, their version and one that is a different song, not mine, just take my word for it." They launched in the country rocker that typified the looseness of the night. Those that came out of the Friday before the Fourth of July were treated to a great American songwriter with a great band having fun and playing a few songs.
All too often, St. Louis is overlooked by touring musicians from near and far, leaving the music fan limited in their options as their favorites drift by at a distance. For the dedicated, this can sometimes mean a short road trip and a weekend away, but when the Parisian electro-swing septet Caravan Palace came to Chicago last Saturday, the excitement of a packed house spilled across the globe in a live-streaming event. House of Blues Chicago was a welcoming host to this all-ages event.
The experience began with the venue itself, nestled in the shadow of Chicago's famous Marina Towers. The doors opened even before the early 6:30 time printed on the tickets, but the line of eager young fans, dressed in an array of retro fashions that occasionally glanced off the desired swing era chic, stretched down N. Dearborn St. nearly to the river and was bustling in excitement. Despite the franchise tag, the building had a classically formal design, dressed in velvet and wood molding and surrounded by art in many forms. High above the floor, the room extended with two balconies, graced with traditional opera boxes on either side and a wide mural depicting religious unity across the top of the stage. While the performance would be shared with the world, the character of the venue belonged only to the ticket holders.
Chicago's Inverse Universe had the honor of opening the show. The duo of Tyler Thompson and Adam Stephens mixed live drums and guitar with sample driven production. Largely focused on creating music deeper than two musicians can offer live, they delivered a groovable final product that was well received by the young crowd. They built their set well, increasing the energy as they progressed and received a particularly explosive reception to a track that blended samples of Dr. Dre and Marvin Gaye.
Anticipation climaxed between acts as the venue's playlist of jazz tunes suddenly dropped and the stage went black. The familiar sound of Caravan Palace's "Comics" and the introductory sample loop slowly filled the air, until light exposed the band at the first drop of the beat. The stage offered ample open space at the center, accommodating a variety of active instrumentalists, vocalists and even dancing as the night moved on. At the back right of the stage, Mighty Mezz and his arsenal of DJ equipment stood atop a low platform, fronted by a large neon light shaped like "<I°_°I>," the visual title to their 2015 album, referred to as "Robot Face." The rest of the instruments surrounded the stage in a squared off horseshoe, and the team of multi-instrumentalists would do their share of running from point to point.
Looking to ignite the crowd early, they moved quickly to "Lone Digger," the most popular track from the new album, and vocalist Colotis Zoé's first chance to shine. Principally the center of attention, Zoé made a number of wardrobe changes throughout the set, coordinated with a well-polished stage show. Her vocals ranged from swingy jazz in the likes of Billie and Ella to fast and frantic hip-hop rhymes and she displayed the persona to match. Late in the set, a little burlesque flavor entered the show as she teased other bandmates from a stool and enticed the crowd with little swings of the hip that made her skirt pop up in back. "Tattoos," another popular track finished the set, culminating with Zoé and Mighty Mezz showing off their swing dancing skills.
Caravan Palace's distinctive electro-swing style sounds like it could have been simply created using samples and DJ techniques but, in fact, is created by a team of musicians with talents across many instruments. Chapi was often at the forefront with the clarinet and baritone sax, never more prominently than the driving sax riff of "Wonderland," and boasting the ability to be nimble on his feet as well as across the keys of the clumsy horn. He was often joined in the open stage by Hugues Peyen, whose contributions included the violin and picking up the microphone for a number of rapid-fire scat sessions.
Peyen also joined the barrage of synthesizers at the left of the stage. This area was Charles Delaporte's home and playground for the show, offering not only synthesizers but also a stand-up style, electric contrabass that drove many of the jazzier moments of the set. Arnaud Vial played a similar role on the guitar and a computer based instrument of his own at the right of the stage. The crème de la crème of this backline team was Paul-Marie Barbier who managed to gain the spotlight with his instrumental prowess alone. Often running around every section of the stage, he was the sole provider of the piano and keyboard, as well as an electric vibraphone where he offered a few solos during the show.
The set featured a majority of their most recent releases but didn't neglect their earlier work by any measure and included a cover of Lead Belly's "Black Betty," prompting the crowd to sing along with the chorus. While not often singing, the crowd was regularly prompted to clap along and to jump for the most exciting moments, a request that thoroughly shook the floors of the entire building. They concluded with a two-song encore, opening with "Star Scat," from their 2008 eponymous release that featured Mighty Mezz using autotune to create a deeply funky scat riff before "Brotherswing," a song released on the same album concluded in a danceable fashion.
While the venue holds 1,000 and was nearly full, Yahoo Music offered a live stream of the show on loop for the next 24 hours, available and promoted to a much larger crowd. Quick glances to the stream showed a production equal to the performance in its excellence. While nothing can replace the live experience, even fans stuck in St. Louis were able to enjoy the French band for the excitement of their U.S. tour. Blending yesterday's big band swing with today's technology and urban styles, Caravan Palace creates an unmatched performance to be enjoyed in whatever means available.
Setlist: Comics, Lone Digger, Suzy, Midnight, Wonderland, Clash, Je m'amuse, 12 Juin 3049, Wonda, Black Betty, Jolie Coquine, Aftermath, Tattoos / Encore: Star Scat, Brotherswing