Cornmeal cooks at 2720 Cherokee

Cherokee Street is often spoken about as a sort of hipster central in St. Louis, a street on the cusp of some kind of post-modern meta-ironic conspicuous self-consciousness, sort of like Bedford in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the mid ‘90s. But this ain’t New York and this ain’t Brooklyn, and that ain’t a bad thing. As the audience of five hundred or so (on a Monday!) milled about before the start of the show, and bearded South City dads rocked their babies while a mixed crowd of young, old, and in-betweens took turns around the bar for a drink or on the sidewalk burning up a smoke, and for the first time since I’ve been back to St. Louis, I saw Cherokee street as something past the cusp and perhaps even justifying the Bedford allusions, while at the same time thankfully real, mixed, approachable and genuinely St. Louis, for whatever that’s worth.

I visited 2720 Cherokee on invite from the owners, the “Loyal” Family, Josh Grigaitis and his sister Abbie to celebrate their Grand Opening last Monday. When Abbie had described the venue to me as an Art/Concert Space, I had expected a tiny space– a dilapidated re-purposed storefront with a few chairs, a bookshelf and a couch maybe and a makeshift stage, but instead the nondescript storefront gave into a warehouse sized area that seemed open and intimate at the same time, sparsely decorated but not without style. The space is always part of the show, and as I watched Cornmeal take the stage and a few hands clear the area of chairs to make room for a dance floor, I knew I was in for a good time in a good place.

Cornmeal plays blue grass in jam-style, but their jams aren’t spacey Phish white-outs or rambling Deadhead off-trail excursions. These mid-song ventures are well-planned and well-executed, and they never feel self-congratulatory or extraneous. They jam with a respect for each other and for the audience, and most importantly when they jammed out, the crowd never stopped moving their feet and never had a single moment in which a twirl was interrupted with a “am i the only one dancing?” look. Kris Nowak on vocals sang confidently with a backyard-in-the-summer voice that when combined with the distant harmonies of a singing while fiddle-bowing Allie Kral felt just like a pair of blue grass crooners should– without rush, without worry, with just the right amount of flourish. The band really shined in moments in which the tempo slowed and sank into a contemplative and mournful fiddle, such as in the track “When The World Gets You Down” or when the band all rose up in round harmony on the conclusion of “River Gap”; and that’s when you know they are the real deal, and you may stop for a moment from your dancing, but not to look to see if you are the only one still dancing, but to soak-up the sight of a band that works so hard to have so much fun and knows exactly what they are doing.

Members of the local and nationally famous band Spur and the Unknowns to sit in on Time Warp Radio

Spur of the Moments LP with 4 tracks off the original and more from the bands vaults.

After last Friday’s very successful co-host program with one of the first DJs to play rock music on the FM dial, Steve Rosen…I’m pleased to announce that at 6:30 a.m. Central this Friday, July 2,  2 members of the former popular local band “the SPUR/Unknowns” will be joining me in the KDHX studio. That’s right, both Steve Bratzke (guitar) and Rick Willard (vocals, bass) will be sitting in during Time Warp Radio with their new re-issue “Spur of the Moments” (4 tracks from the original LP and rare cuts from the vaults). The disc is available now on Drag City Records. The band’s original LP “Spur of the Moment” is presently selling for over $300 a copy!

Spur A. the palace in Belleville

The Spur/Unknowns were a part of the 60′s and 70′s music scene and played shows with many notable acts, including the Grateful Dead, The Byrds, Cream, Bob Seeger, The Rascals, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Vanilla Fudge, and more. Of course they also played at the Castaway, Rainy Daze and all the famous local spots. The band’s local favorite track was “Don’t Ever Trust a Women” which received lots of FM air play. The band’s manager was the infamous Prince Knight. Rick is going to bring in a clean copy of “Don’t Ever Trust a Women” as mine is pretty worn out! I don’t know if we will be able to coax him into singing it live.

Please tune in and say hi to the guys. It’s going to be a total gas!

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Brave Combo shakes up the Gramophone

A Beatle Bob spotting in St. Louis means one of two things: he is either coming from a show or on his way to one. Last Thursday, Beatle Bob shuffled down Taylor Ave on his way to the Grove’s the Gramophone, complete in his legendary plaid jacket despite the one-hundred-degree heat. That night, Bob was going to see Brave Combo, a Grammy-awarded band from Denton, Texas that is just as eclectic as the iconic St. Louis music fan himself. These five guys are aptly named — a mash-up of styles and content, often starting an old standard like Peggy Lee’s Fever in lazy wedding singer style and then exploding into a rock-fueled madness. They defy simple categorization and beg for hyphenated hybrids– Mariachi-Funk? Polka-Rock? Gypsy-Pop-Blues? It didn’t seem to matter to the mix of die-hards and newcomers on the dance floor, and those newcomers, perhaps skeptical of polka at first, found themselves rockin’ out to a honky tonk version of Hokey Pokey that brought the roof down and made the whole joint “shake it all about.”

I can see why the Talking Head’s David Byrne had these guys as his wedding band, since they combine inter-generational appeal with musical chutzpah. At one point, I swear founder and lead guitarist Carl Finch busted out the words to Aqua Teen Hunger Force rap-style over guitar-riffs and polka swing, but it was there and gone, a brief burst of musical inventiveness and tongue-in-cheek pop culture reverence. Highlights: a two-flutes-at-one-time performance by band member Jeffrey Barnes, and the song Bumble Bee, a Brave Combo original off their 2004 LP Let’s Kiss. Polka made cool? Brave Combo takes it off the shelf and off the hook.

Long Songs on the Interstate 7/2/10

This Friday on the Interstate, tune in for 2 hours of Long Songs from 10am to noon. I define a long song as any tune between 6 and 15 minutes in length (can’t do any longer than that due to required station breaks). If you would like to make a request, send me an e-mail to Interstate@kdhx.org

I have a couple of suprises up my sleeve, including 2 acts never before heard on the program. Here’s a hint: one of them was featured often on my previous show “Medication”, and the other died 29 years ago. Tune in to find out what the hell I’m talking about…

Kick off your Independence Day weekend with a ride on the Interstate this Friday at 10am!

Harvest Sessions 2010 all through the summer

There’s no better place to spend a Saturday morning in St. Louis than the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market. And every other Saturday through the summer and fall, you can enjoy a free concert from a St. Louis artist, courtesy of 88.1 KDHX and the Whitaker Foundation. The concerts take place at the West Pool Pavilion at the market. This week’s artist is Half Knots, featuring members of Colonel Ford, Nadine and Wagon.

Music runs from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Get the full schedule at KDHX. And here’s a video from the last Harvest Sessions with Michael Jonas and Wayward Mountaineers. See you at Harvest Sessions this Saturday!

Please Give: An Intensely Potent Drama

Please Give is a film very about living, breathing and dying in New York City. The plot revolves around two families and one soon to be empty apartment.

Andra is 91 and in the twilight of her life. The apartment she owns is in a cramped Manhattan building filled with neighbors eager to get their hands on more space. She raised her two granddaughters, Mary and Rebecca, who live in the building and help care for her. This is no easy task as Andra is mean spirited and cantankerous. Her youngest granddaughter, Rebecca, is her main caregiver. She visits with her and checks in on her regularly while Mary stays at a distance. Alex and Kate live next to Audra with their daughter Abby. Kate and Alex own their own antique furniture business and acquire most of their inventory by buying furniture from the families of the recently deceased and then marking them up for resale. The couple, desperate to add space, have purchased Andra’s apartment before her death. This makes things awkward when the two families get together to celebrate Andra’s birthday.

Kate (played were perfect pitch by Catherine Keener) is a character struggling with the ethics of her business and the materialism of her world. Kate is obsessed with helping people and oftentimes gives money to random street people believing them to be homeless. Kate also suffers from a malaise in her family life. She is always at odds with Abby and the passion in her marriage is gone. Alex (played with a creepy shrugged solider obliviousness by Oliver Platt) is so self centered that he becomes oblivious to her problems.

Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) is a shyish, single woman who goes through a regimented life without surprise. She cares for Andra and lives with Mary (Amanda Peet) who is everything she is not, compassionate, warm and friendly.  Mary is a tour de force of anger and resentment. Damaged from her last relationship, Mary works in a spa, which just happens to be near the shop where the new girlfriend of her ex works. She often looks in on her to see what her ex could see in his new girlfriend that is different from herself.

The drama ratchets up after Andra passes. Her passing accelerates Kate’s desire to reignite her life. She realizes she must find a way to connect with her daughter and rectify her issues about her profession while keeping her marriage intact. Andra’s passing gives Rebecca the freedom to date the handsome son of a client she has interest in. Things become even more intense between Alex and Mary as both of them come to terms with how they deal with relationships.

In Please Give, the apartment serves as a metaphor for space and personal freedom. Kate and Alex covet the apartment to give literal new dimensions to their living space. While Mary sees the Andra’s apartment as closure for her tenuous relationship with her grandmother. Rebecca sees it as an opportunity to move on with her life. Andra’s death and the subsequent sale of her apartment force each of the characters to become a better person in a city where poverty, homelessness, and sadness are always outside their doorstep.

The cast is terrific and works well together. The dynamic between Keener and Platt propels most of the tension in the film. Platt does a great job of being uncaringly sleazy while Keener’s inner brooding and yearning give Kate layers. The relationship between Mary and Rebecca is completely different. They are always battling and bickering. As actors, Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet couldn’t more different in technique. Nonetheless, they balance each other out well onscreen. Hall is quiet and mopish in the early part of the film, awakening and become more alive in the second half. Peet portrays Mary’s damage really well by making her edgy, mean and generally unlikable until she slowly opens up as the film progresses. She gives mary a quiet rage that festers and grows as the film progresses.

The result is a drama that unfolds very much like a theater production. The plot is ripe with tense personal struggles and characters that must change to defeat personal demons. It also has the staging and pitch of a play in that the camera shots always are tightly framed within spaces.  Although the screenplay is terrific the real joy of seeing Please Give lies in watching these actors sink their teeth into these characters to make them come alive.

While not the most upbeat film of the year, Please Give is a solid drama that relies on well-crafted dialogue and character development. Despite taking a while to get to the end watching it unfold is worth the journey.

At The Tivoli from 6/10.2010

www.landmarktheatres.com

1967 underground KSHE DJ to sit in with Mark Hyken

That’s right, on Friday, June 25, 5-7 a.m., original, 1967,  pre-format “cowboy FM” DJ Steve Rosen will be visiting 88.1 KDHX to sit in with Mark Hyken on Time Warp Radio. We will play some jazz, blues, rock, and more from back in the early cowboy days of format-free, non-corporate radio. I’m sure Steve will have some great stories to tell. Become our friends on Facebook whenever you like. Although the program is on 5-7 a.m. on Fridays, it can still be podcasted for 2 weeks afterwards. Steve will gladly take your phone calls during the program at 314-664-3688.

Steve Rosen behind the mic at KSHE in 1967

Mark Hyken behind the mic of Time Warp Radio on KDHX

A red letter day for Eugene Onegin

Image courtesy of Opera Theatre St. Louis

Opera Theatre St. Louis’ production of Eugene Onegin is an intensely powerful production. The company has taken Tchaikovsky’s lyric opera (based on a novel in verse by Pushkin) and given us a tantalizing anti-hero in Eugene Onegin. Onegin is a great character because his many layers give him a rough edge not seen in many traditional operas.

When Eugene Onegin visits a country estate with his friend Lensky a chance meeting with the young Tatiana becomes more than he bargains for. Tatiana, a hopeless romantic, falls head over heals for Onegin and pours her heart out to him in lengthy prose. Onegin chastises her for writing such a letter and spurns her, explaining that a lesser man would manipulate her emotions against her for selfish purposes.

Lensky’s fiancé Olga is the sister of Tatiana. Lensky’s heart burns for her and he will stop at nothing to protect her. They have a classic romance that seems perfect, until Lensky invites Onegin to a ball. Onegin, not content to be one of the crowd, looks down on the proceedings and decides to get revenge on Lensky for bringing him to such a blasé event by flirting and dancing with Olga. Oblivious that this is a joke, Lensky becomes enraged and feels dishonored by his friend. The situation spirals out of control and climaxes with a duel. The following morning cooler heads do not prevail and as a matter of honor Onegin kills Lensky.

Broken and shattered by what he has done Onegin flees abroad and travels across Europe. Six years pass and he returns to St. Petersburg where his friend, Prince Gremin has invited him to a ball. He sees Tatiana again, who is now with the much older Gremin. This time it is Onegin who becomes enraptured and realizes that he has missed out on something special. Onegin turns the tables and pours out his emotions to her, pleading with her to leave Gremin. This confrontation brings things to a head as Tatiana and Onegin meet one final time.

Opera Theatre’s production is lead by a trio of incredible performers. Christopher Magiera is an astounding baritone who captures the essence of Onegin in his OTSL debut. He gives Onegin a terrific blend of aloofness and turmoil that makes him believable in the part. Although Onegin is not a very nice guy , Magiera’s performance compels us to watch.

Sean Panikkar is dynamic as Lensky. He works well with Magiera and his voice is simply fantastic. His solos are extraordinary and his raw presence onstage gives Lensky a dynamic mix of sorrow, rage and jealousy that serves as the catalyst for much of the drama in the first two acts. Panikkar’s performance builds on his scene stealing turn in his OTSL debut last year in Ghosts of Versailles.

Also debuting on stage is Dina Kuznetsova as Tatiana. She has an amazing voice and matches up well with two male heavyweights, Magiera and Panikkar. As Tatiana matures as a character Kuznetsova makes this transition believable by giving her poise and providing subtle nuances in her performance that make the character develop seamlessly. Kuznetsova gives the audience a strong willed female lead that is agonized in her heart but determined in spirit.

Opera Theatre’s production of Eugene Onegin is twisting and turning tale of rejection, longing, love and humility perfectly seasoned with an outstanding score and a minimalist set that ideally frames the drama onstage. The ensemble may be the tightest of the season thanks to the performances of the lead actors. This perfect gives the audience a complete opera where everyone is on top of their game, resulting in one of the most solid and enthralling productions of recent years.

Performances are at the Loretto-Hilton Center (130 Edgar Road)

Performance Schedule: June 10 and 25 at 8 p.m., June 27 at 7 p.m. and June 19 and 23  at 1p.m.

For more information visit Opera Theatre St. Louis.

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