Concert review: Elsinore (with Scarlet Tanager and Santah) charge through the Firebird, Friday, August 19


Even though the door was closed to the Firebird when I arrived Friday night, I could hear the excitement as St. Louis’ Scarlet Tanager took the stage.

My introduction to the band was watching their off-the-wall puppet video for their bouncy single, “Tumbleweed.” I was surprised when I saw actual people playing on stage and not the cast of some defunct “Nick Jr.” show. The six-piece band had the presence of a self-possessed posse, with lead vocalist Susan Logsdon as the gang’s leader. Logsdon chirped in front of an animated band that backed her with jubilant exclamations and harmonies.

I was impressed by the band’s chemistry; they threw curveballs with their percussion, notably a marching band bass drum that formed the centerpiece for at least half the set. The music, with its twee-pop sensibilities, was full of energy, and by the end of a Patsy Cline cover (which reminded me of my own adventures at Twangfest 2011), Logsdon bashfully admitted, “That one always takes my breath away.”

Chicago’s Santah had one of the better light shows I’ve seen at the Firebird. Not that anything special was added to the venue’s array of colored lights hanging behind the band. The colors just seemed to fade in and out at the right times while the five-piece navigated through their songs. The lights shone brightest when the two guitarists, vocalists and siblings, Stanton and Vivian McConnell, blended their voices in an elegant, off-kilter manner, sounding like a soulful country duo. Stanton assumed frontman duties; his wildness came through during the jams as he turned to face drummer Steve Plock.

Certain aspects of the set, however, came off listless and contrived: A few songs sent some of the crowd off the floor, and in the middle of “Neighbors and Cousins” Stanton gave a cringe-worthy sermon about having nothing to lose vs. having something to lose. But the best moments came when the band was locked in on brief yet punctuating guitar solos by Stanton; those brought some welcome rock catharsis.

After Elsinore‘s first song, “Chemicals,” I was pissed. The Champagne-Urbana quartet had the audacity to open with one of its catchiest tunes. I had the chorus stuck in my head the rest of the show. Elsinore managed that trick again as they closed with their ultimate sing-a-long, “Yes Yes Yes.”

Guitarist and lead vocalist Ryan Groff is among the better singers I’ve seen live. The dude has a range that vacillates between choirboy to coffee-shop crooner. He even did a decent Ian Curtis impression during the first verse of “Love Will Tear Us Apart (Elsinore Remix).” My suspicion that he could make it as a solo artist was affirmed when a friend said, “I don’t see the band, I only see the singer.” Not that the other members in Elsinore weren’t talented; Groff just has the kind of voice that displaces everything else. At times, such as the slow-spin breakdown during “The General,” I felt like I was watching Groff sing at a temple rather than a bar. It’s rare to see performances by rock bands where the singer sounds as good as the recorded versions of their songs, and sometimes even better.

The other notable part of Elsinore’s set was how beautifully each song took off galloping during the catchiest bits, then, led by drummer David Pride, the songs would almost completely disintegrate before building back up to the hammering choruses.

At the conclusion of Elsinore’s affirmation anthem (and the soundtrack to Kohl’s latest commercial), the crowd, led by spirited dancers that had been trying to upstage the band all night, was chanting, “Yes!”

The crowd wanted an encore; the band might not have been prepared for it. Elsinore sheepishly waved to the crowd and headed to their merch table. For me, this simple denial was another highlight. I was able to drive home and begin the process of getting the chorus to “Chemicals” out of my head. Maybe some dubstep would cure me.