Concert review and set lists: Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers and Jon McLaughlin bring the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll to the Duck Room, Tuesday, November 29

Rock ‘n’ roll is what made Blueberry Hill famous, and Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers continued that tradition in spades Tuesday night at the Duck Room.

I was not familiar with opener Jon McLaughlin before this evening, but had a great amount of respect for him and his band by time they finished their first song, “Beating My Heart.” McLaughlin has a knack for writing catchy tunes that stick in your head without wearing out their welcome. His backing band was extremely tight, and although they were playing relatively simple parts, the amount of talent among the group was obvious.

Watching the group playing together, the first thing that sprang to mind was how much they made me think of John Mayer in their technical ability. Mayer is good at crafting fantastic pop tunes, but when taken out of that genre the guy wails on guitar. Like Mayer, McLaughlin and company perform finely-honed pieces of pop perfection in a satisfying way. The way they work together, I get the feeling that if they were each given four bars and told to go crazy the results would be fantastic.

The quality of the music, the talent of the band and McLaughlin’s warm conversational tone between songs made for a great start to the evening. The only thing that bothered me about the set were that the guitars were buried a little too deep into the mix and were hard to hear.

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers came out to thunderous applause and immediately jumped into “Fourth of July.” The Sixers had no problem rocking the rafters of the Duck Room, playing the country-tinged rock they’re known for. The band members were constantly switching up instruments and traveling around the stage, even marching out into the crowd to perform an acoustic version of “Shady Esperanto and the Young Hearts” in the middle of the audience.

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A musician without armor: An interview with Crooked Fingers’ Eric Bachmann

Claire Wolff

Eric Bachmann is best known to many as the frontman of ’90s indie-rock iconoclasts Archers of Loaf. While that band found more popularity than Crooked Fingers have as of yet, Bachmann’s work with Crooked Fingers has eclipsed that of his former group in artistic vision and execution.

As the driving force behind Crooked Fingers and it’s only consistent member, Bachmann’s music has bounded about so restlessly that the only elements unifying each record are peerless emotional resonance and his rich, melancholy voice.

I spoke to Bachmann recently before a Crooked Fingers’ gig in Milwaukee at the famed Cactus Club. (The band is on tour in support of their new record “Breaks in the Armor,” but routing prevented a St. Louis date.) The tiny venue lacked a green room, so we found some space away from the crowd by moving to its basement, where Bachmann perched on a keg of beer near the furnace while I procured the only chair in sight.

Many musicians are eager to pay lip service to the idea of artistic purity, but Bachmann’s gentle, humble and passionate tone belie this virtue that so many of his peers lack. He made it clear that while he’s thankful for every day that he’s able to play music on stage, he’d be just as content to practice his craft far from the madding crowd. We’re lucky that he has, at least for now, chosen the former path.

Chris Bay: Crooked Fingers is a project that’s essentially driven by your artistic vision, so why do you brand it as Crooked Fingers and not use your own name?

Eric Bachmann: I’ve done several records as Crooked Fingers and only one under my name. I think the reason I did it under the Crooked Fingers moniker the first time is because I didn’t like the idea of calling it my name. I don’t like the idea of putting my name on a t-shirt. A band name is just more creative. My grandfather passed away when I was coming up with that band in the late ’90s and I wanted to name it after him. That was his CB handle; he was a truck driver. So that just kind of happened. It was serendipitous with the timing and I decided to call it that. If that hadn’t happened and I couldn’t come up with a better name I might’ve just called it Eric Bachmann.

The last few albums have featured female vocalists very prominently, and not just as background vocalists but in duets and as the main vocalist on a few songs. When you’re writing do you think about a song being geared toward a female vocalist and who might actually sing it?

Absolutely. I don’t like the sound of my voice. It’s not like I dislike it, it’s just that I like to hear other people sing more than I like to hear myself sing. Maybe most people are that way, I don’t know. The songs on the previous record, “Forfeit/Fortune,” those were all B-sides that didn’t make it onto albums that I thought were too good to be put on a B-side compilation. So I just re-recorded them, and when I was re-recording that record I thought, man, I should just have women sing all of these. Of course, I didn’t do it. I sang a lot of it myself. But I do think about that. I do want to make that kind of record at some point in my life, where you just write it and you let other people sing it. So I do think of that. And it’s really not in your control. I don’t write the song in that direction, I’m just writing the song and it happens to come to you a certain way.

Claire Wolff

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Concert review: Katt Williams brings outlaw comedy to the Chaifetz Arena, Friday, November 25

As I hustled through Grand Center towards the Chaifetz Arena last night, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Katt Williams, the pint-sized but irrepressible comedian who was visiting St. Louis with his Outlawz of Comedy tour.
Williams had made news of the unwanted (TMZ) kind last week with a bizarre story about a shoplifting accusation at Best Buy (not charged) and the reduction of custody of his daughter. In short, it sounded like a rough week for him.
The sold-out crowd erupted as he entered the stage. Wearing a huge, pimpin’, furry white coat, a candy cane tie and a black knit hat, Williams ignited the crowd, who had waited through an hour’s delay at the start simply by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen,” in that nasally voice of his. Williams’ voice is an acquired taste — I remember it took me a while to adjust to it the first time I saw a video of him doing standup.
Williams started by thanking white people for voting for Barack Obama, joking about the one-page-long presidential manual that likely greeted Obama upon arrival that stated, “Don’t get killed.”
Williams paced the stage back and forth for the entire hour, stopping at center stage to deliver especially funny lines like, “[African Americans]were in a recession before there was a recession. When the stock market crashed, not one black person noticed!” He was fidgety to an extreme, but I couldn’t remember if this was any different from his disposition in past shows I’ve seen on TV. (Probably not.)
Williams bit on the end of the world and how different religions would fare was hilarious, as was his take on Herman Cain. “On behalf of all n—dom, let me say that I am embarrassed that this guy showed up out of nowhere — I’ll even use a white person’s term: I am just flabbergasted!”
Beyond using the N-word in record-shattering fashion in his shows, Williams is not especially controversial. His material is strong but not exactly revolutionary. It’s his outrageous delivery that has him selling out arenas and leaving fans happy 20 years into his career.

Concert photos: Harry Nilsson tribute at Off Broadway, Saturday, November 26

It was a memorable night Saturday at the Off Broadway as local musicians and fans gathered to raise many glasses and pay tribute to influential singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson.

First off, I love love love what Off Broadway owner Steve Pohlman has done with the venue recently, taking out the space-eating bar that was always hard to access due to the stool sitters. Though I’ll miss the saloon vibe that the hardwood bar provided, I love the sleek new feel of the club — and the extra room for sure.

There were many highlights with great performances by Theodore, Ransom Note, Dock Ellis Band and others performing hits like “One,” “1941″ and “Without You,” which was the performance highlight of the night. Singer and Off Broadway stalwart Johnny Vegas rocked it as well late in the show. Regrettably, nobody chose to take on “Everybody’s Talkin’” or “Good Old Desk,” but maybe next time.

My highlight of the night was watching Nilsson’s animated feature, “The Point,” as the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra performed the score onstage. Sherman S. Sherman narrated wonderfully, breaking into some great accents throughout. It was pure 1970s gold and I didn’t want it to end.

Concert review: Ha Ha Tonka stomps back to St. Louis and the Firebird, Friday, November 25

Ben Mudd

Call the sound of Ha Ha Tonka folky indie rock; call it Southern rock; call it Ozark-steeped-blues-rock. What the labels don’t convey is the band’s sense of raw power and four-part harmonies. On Friday night, Ha Ha Tonka broke out the harmony and more.

The crowd at the Firebird stood tall with smiling home-state pride for the West Plains, Mo. boys. On “St. Nicks On the Fourth In a Fervor,” from 2007′s “Buckle in the Bible Belt,” front man and guitarist Brian Roberts reveled in the bluesy, guitar-spun, train-in-the-night-vibe as guitarist and mandolinist Brett Anderson provided bright, sunny harmony to the head basher. Bassist and bass vocalist Luke Long leaned in close and sang the baritone part of the harmony with a crooked grin.

“Caney Mountain” brought the Missouri regional flavor to the forefront as the swirl of Anderson’s mandolin conjured the Ozarks with power and forewarning like an unhinged blend of Murder By Death and Kings of Leon. The foreboding tune would have had the Ozark Mountain Daredevils in thrall. When the instrumentation cut out toward the end of the track, the band broke into church-style a cappella singing: “High shine sequin buckle in the bible belt.”

Ha Ha Tonka stormed through “Problem Solver,” “Jesusita,” and “Death of a Decade.” The band folded mid-state mountain grace into the dulcet sounds of indie rock. Each song featured the literary tinge of narrative and emotive power: “I was just about the change.” Drummer Lennon Bone hammered out massive rolls and fills as Roberts hyped the crowd.

Ha Ha Tonka gathered around the microphones and bled out the four-part harmonies of “Hangman” as the crowd crooned along. Long’s bass vocals shone as Roberts led the charge with pipes that could stop a semi in its tracks.

The quiet hum of Anderson’s electric guitar created a contemplative mood on “Pendergast Machine.” Roberts’ vocals reminded the audience, “You don’t know your own strength.” The romantic “Lonely Fortunes” featured the return of Anderson’s mandolin as Roberts apologized to the audience, “I’m so sorry, I forgot myself, I should have asked for help. You say that’s okay and that you know we’ve got it made, so I know we’ve got it made.” With such versatility, for musical forms both young and old, Ha Ha Tonka does seem to have it made.

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Concert review: King Khan and Bloodshot Bill, aka Tandoori Knights, keep the skillets good and greasy at Off Broadway, Friday, November 25

Roy Kasten

“Earplugs at the bar,” said the guy working the door. I couldn’t hear him, because Magic City opened with a set so blisteringly loud you could hear it a block away. Fans of Primus, check them out.

The crowd poured in to Off Broadway just as Bloodshot Bill — fresh out of Montreal following a five-year travel ban to the U.S. — took the stage with little more than his striped pajamas, cigar box guitar and kick drum. As he growled and snorted and hiccuped through a set heavy on the trash and heavier on the hillbilly, the audience began sweating and Bill’s impeccably greased pompadour melted into strings around his eyes.

After a couple of his own and a few Ding-Dongs numbers, he appraised the writhing bodies in front of him and decided St. Louis was ready for a call-and-response experiment. “Tattle Tale” followed, with Bloodshot Bill picking and stomping and the rest of us shouting back, “TATTLE TALE!” at the chorus.

It’s hard to believe so many sounds can come from just one guy. I don’t know how to describe his vocals other than barnyard with a dusting of the late and great Charlie Feathers. Rhythm guitar with that bright rockabilly twang and punches of high hat reached into every last dusty corner of the room, loosening shirt collars and coaxing in the smokers from outside. I read somewhere that Bloodshot Bill could be related to Elvis — had Elvis been born in Trinidad with Tabasco sauce running through his veins. I doubt Bloodshot Bill is well-behaved enough to warrant that comparison — even the King’s gyrating looked kind of demure next to Bill’s unholy howling and increasingly unintelligible between-song banter with the crowd. The house was sufficiently brought down with a cover of the Hank Williams cover of “I Saw The Light,” demanded by a guy in a cowboy hat. Whew! Hail Hail rock ‘n’ roll.

Sparkling of turban and glittering of vestment, King Khan affected a royal entrance with the similarly bedazzled Bloodshot Bill, plus a drummer and sunglasses-sporting gentleman on the upright bass, who immediately shouted for more sound. The four Knights began thundering through “Roam the Land” while monitors buzzed and the crowd, good and liquored, swayed and snapped.

With a bass you could feel in your throat, Bloodshot Bill squealed through most of the tracks on the Tandoori Knights’ album, “Curry Up” (Norton Records). “Books and Ribs” — “because sometimes you’re readin’ and you decide you need some ribs” — is an ode to the erudite and the finger-lickin’ good. “Bucketful” came ripping through Bill’s lungs as King Khan’s familiar tenor dropped low to back. Guitars were proffered to crowd members who obligingly licked. The upright bass was held aloft and then swung onto the floor as kids with flailing sneakers and dripping PBRs encircled the bassist, sunglasses and cool perfectly intact, never missing a beat.

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‘Most of these songs today suck’ An interview with Kinky Friedman

Kinky Friedman has said that “only Jews and cowboys can wear their hats indoors. Try to be one or the other.” And Kinky should know.

Not only is he both Jewish and a cowboy, but he wears a lot of hats. A country singer, humorist, mystery writer and former politician, he even has his own line of cigars. Friedman is, in his own words, “multi-talented.”

I had the chance to talk to Friedman recently, and he spoke at length on a variety of topics including country music, the sorry state of American politics and his “Hanukkah Tour,” which he will bring to Off Broadway on December 2. He answers his phone, “Start talking.”

Kris Embry: If I’m not mistaken it was your birthday yesterday [November 1]? Is that correct?

Kinky Friedman: Don’t remind me. I’m 67 though I read at the 69-year-old level.

Well, happy birthday, anyway. I have to admit I thought of you mainly as a writer. But you began your career primarily as a musician. Is that still your first love?

Yes, but I’m ambivalent about performing, about being a country singer. And anybody who uses the word ambivalent should never have been a country singer in the first place. But yeah, this is something that is dear to my heart, doing a solo tour like this. And it’s also the curse of being multi-talented. That never helps. I’m going to do a reading from the book, “Heroes of a Texas Childhood,” which is the latest, and we’ll have that book available as well. And of course there’ll be the music, the songs, then we’ll dabble in some politics. That was a great crowd last time at Off Broadway. I don’t remember when that was, but back a ways ago.

So you’re not touring with a band?

No, this will be solo.

You’ve certainly toured around a lot in the past. Do you still enjoy being on the road doing this sort of thing?

I do, and that’s why I’m doing this. That’s why the “Hanukkah Tour” is happening. And of course it’s a financial pleasure touring solo. I noticed Kristofferson just did a solo tour, and really that’s what you want. You want to be able to hear him sing “Me and Bobby McGee” by himself. You know, we don’t need some hot mandolin player from Los Angeles with him. That’s not very important. And I find the songs really hold up. “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” tells us a lot about what’s happened to our country in terms of political correctness.

Right. Well, I saw the picture advertising the show. It looks like it’s going to be a pretty orthodox affair.

(Laughs) I suppose, yeah. We will have those posters available, too. And, of course, I will sign anything but bad legislation. So, a very nice gift for Hanukkah or Christmas.

A couple of your nonfiction books feature cartoons by John Callahan, who is a very funny cartoonist. How did you end up working with him?

John was an old friend of mine, and John was bugled to Jesus, I think last year.

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All Aboard for Fun Times: St. Louis show highlights for November 25-27

All Aboard for Fun Times Train

Happy Thanksgiving, readers! I suppose it’s appropriate there’s an overabundance of options for this extended holiday period, when gluttony reigns supreme:
Friday, November 25
The annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Craft Show at Third Degree Glass Factory (5200 Delmar) runs today through Sunday, offering a nice opportunity to get unique items for yourself or others while supporting local artisans, and dodging big box madness in the process. As always, there’s a music component; I don’t have time to detail it, but there are several acts that have achieved the non-prestigious AAfFT stamp of approval, along with DJ spins. And it’s a KDHX-welcomed event as well.

Tandoori Knights / Magic City
Off Broadway 3509 Lemp 8:30-11:30 $12 (+2 under 21) Smoke-free
TK is one of several projects that keep Berlin’s Arish Ahmad Khan, aka King Khan, busy; in this case, he’s teamed up with Montreal’s (where AAK originated, as well; November has been Canadian Month at OB!) Bloodshot Bill, an awesome one-man rockabilly act who was transfixing at one of the Green Bay ’50s music fests with his possessed-by-pomaded-demons performance. Together, they create a sound that mashes together rockabilly, garage rock, psychedelic and soul sounds. Roy Kasten has a chat with King Khan for the RFT. Powerful rock, with a somber vibe, from MC, who open the show.

Ha Ha Tonka / Tommy and the High Pilots / Kentucky Knife Fight
Firebird 2706 Olive   8:45-12:30   $12 advance/14 door (all ages) Smoke-free
Springfield Mo.’s HHT play a rootsy style of rock with country and gospel touches, all with abundant energy and passion. Santa Barbara’s TatHP play jangly, catchy pop-rock. Intense rock, seasoned with a dash of twang, from KKF.

The UnMutuals / Devil Baby Freakshow / Tok
The Crack Fox   1114 Olive   9-1   $?   Smoking, moderate to heavy
This weekend is the second anniversary celebration for this club, and they kick if off with a show including TU and DBF, two of many music-related activities involving venue stalwart Al Swacker. TU find enough free time between members’ other projects for a show, offering hard rock with a loud, snotty punk sensibility. DBF (I think they’ve been quiet for a while, as well) also deliver solid rock with a punk edge. T has a heavy, hard sound that borders on metal, tempered by a more melodic sense than is usual for that genre.
I can’t give you a definite time or a price for this (also celebrating two years of insufficient attention to detail on their various websites).
Prairie Rehab / Rodeo Soul / Butcher Holler
Schlafly Tap Room   2100 Locust 9-12 Free   Smoke-free

Tasty mellow country sounds from PR, who don’t play out a lot. I thought the name RS sounded vaguely familiar; they were active for a few years until 2001, and are at it again. I don’t know what they’ll sound like. BH offer high-powered country, rock and rockabilly tunes.
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