Two stagehands held two microphone stands cabled together and wrapped in white Christmas lights in the air over the heads of MuteMath’s members.
Drummer Darren King and lead vocalist Paul Meany followed Cárdenas, enshrined like monks in the string of lights as the entire procession walked through the audience and down the main Pageant walkway toward the stage. The crowd cheered as King let loose an grand fill on a snare drum hanging around his neck. The march was underway. The epic, 27-song MuteMath set was about to begin.
Earlier in the evening, Canon Blue offered the Pageant a great set of indie-folktronica. Lead singer and guitarist Daniel James helmed the band with prestige and precision during “Indian Summer (Des Moines).” The song featured a breezy violin sample that sounded vaguely Pan-Asian. The group gave it their all, but didn’t stir the audience as much as I’m sure they would have liked. Their harmonies were not mixed correctly and occasionally James’ lyrics were lost to overripe drumming.
Soon after MuteMath’s “home team” entrance, Meany leapt on stage to ambience blaring over the speakers, as the band quickly got set. King grabbed a roll of duct tape and tapped his headphones to his head with a flourish: under the chin and over the top of his head, like a recently abused dental patient from the old West.
The stutter drums of “Odd Soul” skittered from King’s sticks as Meany leaned into the Black-Keys-meets-Jack-White vibe of the track. The chorus soared as Meany sang, “I’m an odd soul!” The crowd lifted their hands and dropped them in time with King’s manic drumming. The man can drop a sick fill.
MuteMath transferred seamlessly into “Prytania” from 2011′s “Odd Soul.” The tune loomed full of chugging drums and Cárdenas’ bass accents. Guitarist Todd Gummerman spun in place as King drummed bathed in blue light. After the song, Meany checked the audience, and the audience hooted back happily. “Blood Pressure” and “Spotlight” were presented as a suite that unwound sweetly from MuteMath’s collective fingertips. The instrumentation was spot on, even though the mix didn’t favor Meany’s vocals as clearly as I had hoped.
Concert review: A Twin Cities triple bill with Polica, Marijuana Deathsquads and Total Fucking Blood at the Old Rock House, Monday, February 27
The only constant of the night was the drumming.
Most good rock drummers have to be in shape similar to that of competitive athletes. Whereas the majority of drummers and athletes only deliver once a night, one of Poliça’s two drummers cycled through three performances of varying styles for the drum-heavy bands of Total Fucking Blood, Marijuana Deathsquads and Poliça.
With a name like Total Fucking Blood one should rightly not expect ambiance or beauty. They should expect guttural screams piercing the indiscernible trash and thrash mayhem of guitar and bass strumming. A few of their songs were as quick and brutal as a high speed car wreck on an icy Russian highway. Occasionally they broke off into bent guitar solos that sounded eerily similar to the piercing feedback emitted when you put your head too close to someone that has hearing aids.
After the brutal onslaught of blood, the PA resumed playing cuts from the Clash’s “Combat Rock.”
Had I not watched Marijuana Deathsquads set up and turn on their assorted equipment on a table in front of the stage, I would have missed the seamless transition from old to new. The two drum sets, multiple processors and a MacBook Pro were wielded by the members of Poliça plus two others. The dueling drummers created not just rhythms but rolling melodies over which the four MCs chirped and chanted bent call outs. As a former cube monkey, I understand it can be difficult to get inspired while managing a digital screen, but not a lot of excitement emanated from the Deathsquad. Surely they are aptly named like their Blood brethren.
The two drum sets remained onstage for Poliça. A bass and vocalist Channy Leneagh bookended the sets. Unlike Deathsquad’s delivery, Channy’s voice was less distorted and piped out a fuller sound to go along with her stage presence. She rolled out her vocals over a chorus pedal and a little reverb with her eyes closed and her third eye on the totemic drumming cadence.
Like the land between the Twin Cities (Poliça’s home turf) and St. Louis, Poliça covered a lot of ground. From the barren plains to scintillating city skyscrapers, Channy’s voice wafted over the broken wall of sound like an ephemeral ghost. After pounding the skins all night, hopefully Poliça’s beat keepers have skin left on their hands to continue on with the tour.
The shortest month wraps up, and our bonus day is quite busy.
Monday, February 27
Due to a scheduling issue, the Cowboy Ryan show at El Leñador (3124 Cherokee) has morphed into Monday Night Raw where musicians who haven’t practiced together will play songs they can agree on. Appearing will be bluegrass/folk act the Lulus, folkies the Griddle Kids and Chris Baricevic (Alley Ghost) along with whoever joins the jam.
This is free (21+) and starts after 9. Smoke-free.
Tuesday, February 28
Tuesday’s Drag the River and Trigger 5 show at Firebird was cancelled. DtR got a $$$ gig as openers for Big Head Todd and the Monsters.
Wednesday, February 29
Tonight’s Stag Nite at El Leñador offers a full roster. Country and country/folk/rock sounds from the Red-Headed Strangers. Bellingham, WA’s Robert Sarazin Blake plays an energetic style of folk that has a punk ethos (he’s once again doing several shows around town in the next few days – more on those later). Fuzzed-out, folk-ish rock from the Union Electric. Acoustic country/folk sounds from the powerfully-voiced Irene Allen-Sullivan.
I assume this’ll start more 9-ish than the frequent 10-ish, so plan accordingly. $5 gets you in (21+), with $1 Stag cans until midnight. Smoke-free.
Brooklyn folk trio Pearl and the Beard play at the Gramophone (4243 Manchester), with support from indie-pop acts Palace and Bo and the Locomotive, starting at 9. Cover is $5, with 3 more for 18-20. Smoke-free.
Tonight’s Live Music with Fred Friction at Smash Bar (1405 Washington) features the long-absent Miles of Wire. It’s hard to say what they’ll be like, sound- or personnel-wise, but they had an intriguing rock style before they faded from the scene. Opening are the Hobosexuals, a side project of some members of the Campfire Club; I haven’t heard them.
This starts around 10, with no cover (21+). There is food available. I’ve been told that smoking is allowed here, so I probably won’t be hitting these shows unless I’m off the next day. The late start means a late end and bedtime, which doesn’t need to be exacerbated by a late shower…
Your humble servant,
Concert review and set list: Los Lobos still very much in the hunt at the Sheldon Concert Hall, Sunday, February 26
As the audience roared and gave Los Lobos a standing ovation, guitarist Cesar Rosas joked, “You know we’re Los Lobos? Not Los Lonely Boys right?” The St. Louis crowd, fully aware of who they were about to see, were genuinely thrilled and the air filled with electricity.
The band from East L.A. performed this KDHX-welcomed concert of eclectic roots-based material inside the intimate space of the Sheldon Concert Hall, the 700-plus-seat venue in Grand Center. My friend, a first timer to the venue, turned to me within 90 seconds of the start of the set and exclaimed, “This place is awesome! It’s like a church devoted to music.”
For over two hours the sextet performed a career-spanning set that allowed the middle-aged audience of long-time fans to embrace leaving their comfort zone. They sang along, loudly clapped to the beat and danced in their seats to the blues-based rock and cumbias. At times the dancing spilling into the aisles as the room let its collective hair down.
The group, wearing a uniform look of black shirts over blue jeans, filled the small stage with their array of stringed instruments, drums and equipment. The left-handed Rosas (guitar), sporting his trademark black Ray Ban sunglasses, held down stage right as his long-time band mates Conrad Lozano (bass), Louie Perez (guitar), David Hidalgo (guitar) and Steve Berlin (keys/sax/flute) fanned out to his left. Joining them was the happiest drummer on the planet, Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez. With his youthful exuberance and charm on top of his fantastic ability, the percussionist provided the band a jolt of adrenaline throughout the night.
An upbeat tempo began the evening as the band bookended their career with “Will the Wolf Survive” and followed with “Yo Canto” from their latest album, “Tin Can Trust.” Creating the appropriate mix, Hidalgo then slowed the tempo down with the sorrowful, “When the Circus Comes” from “Kiko” and the ’70s era Dylan-esque title track from “Tin Can Trust.”
A few songs in to the set, Hidalgo advised, “I hope it’s not too loud. Like folk music for the hearing impaired.” The crowd reacted positively as the energy in the room demanded more volume. The band provided as they played their cover of “I Wan’na be like You (The Monkey Song)” from Disney’s “The Jungle Book.” Prior to the intermission the crowd respectfully remained seated, but this was no stodgy folk show. The music demanded you get out of your seat and dance — and many did.
In the middle of a tour for “Odd Soul,” the four-piece band blends ’70s flair with searing drums, pop vocals, manic crescendos and sharp-as-nails guitar work.
MuteMath is always ready to surprise with wild stage antics and swagger; its show this Tuesday at the Pageant should be no exception. I recently interviewed drummer Darren King by phone about growing up in a small town in Missouri, his work with other artists’ remixes and MuteMath’s approach to performing on stage.
Will Kyle: So you are originally from Missouri?
Darren King: Marshfield, Missouri, born and raised.
You were there till you were how old?
Marshfield sounds like one of those towns that has a Walmart, a high school and a courthouse and that’s it, right?
Yup, and a Sonic.
How did growing up in a small town affect you musically? Did you start playing when you were there?
I played in the high school marching band and I went to church in Springfield [Missouri]. They allowed me to play drums there and be pretty exuberant and didn’t try to stifle me. I recently realized they always let me play the drums really loudly and really poorly. They were always supportive, because I think they could tell I was passionate about it.
I also had a lot of time alone. I was an outsider, a weird kid, and quiet. So I had a lot of time alone to practice. I had an Australian Shepherd as a pet. When I got home from school I had a dog to greet and my first Pearl drum set I could just hit. I got a lot of stuff out of my system that way.
Besides playing with the church, when did you get in your first band?
My first band was called “Fish Gate.” I was also in a band called “Sunday Grunge,” all Christian-type bands. One of them had a lead singer, a girl; I had a big crush on her. I quit the band because I thought we shouldn’t be in a band and date. We didn’t end up dating, but we’re good friends now. I loved those opportunities to play in little coffee houses growing up.
My best friend John was a drummer too and inspired me greatly. We would always challenge each other musically, trading licks and fills. We always kept each other on our toes.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
As a kid, I originally wanted to be a Disney animator, and then I wanted to be Michael Jordan. I got these five basketballs, but they were of no use to me, as I was horrible, no matter how hard I tried. One day, I aired the basketballs up to different pitches and started drumming along on them with my feet. I realized I ought to be a drummer
Concert review: Grunge, hard core and art rock fuse with O’Brother and Junius at the Firebird, Saturday, February 25
Clad in Cobainesque red and black plaid, Tanner Merritt, lead singer of O’Brother, stood before a crowd of leather-wearing, hard-art-rock aficionados and pushed his falsetto voice into the microphone.
The opening of “Machines, Pt. 1″ unfolded and long-haired bassist Anton Dang pulled off righteous licks with amazing ease. His brother, Johnny Dang (with a similar mane), stole in with blinding guitar squeal as drummer Michael Martens built fill upon fill.
But before the headliners took the Firebird stage, Junius warmed up with a thick set of progressive, post-hardcore fare. The four-piece band brought the noise, blending wild guitar tones with thundering drums and hardcore singing. The smiling audience closed in and wondered how such a small band could be so loud, the sane among them pushing earplugs and balled-up, makeshift napkins into their ears.
O’Brother’s “Machines, Pt. 2,” from 2011′s “Garden Window” rose quietly from the fuzzed guitar carnage and the dual-drumming of Martens and fill-in guitarist Kyle Coleman (pausing from his guitar duties to crash a pair of stand-alone floor toms). The crowd lifted their beers and sang along to the quiet overture before the drums broke like a tidal wave, washing everything away.
Fan-favorite “The Great Release,” from 2009′s “The Death of Day,” bled out like an early Radiohead tune, shouted out by Merritt: “Swallow them down, it burns like fire. Your words are the Devil’s machine. Keep your breath, you’re leaking lies.”
The crowd devoured the mash-up of grunge and heavy, progressive post-hardcore. The feeling continued through the up-tempo “Lo.” The drums rocked the floor as they built toward the chorus like a six-stroke engine on fire. But I recall a cowbell in the background on the studio version.
On “Sputnik” Merritt achieved a Puddle of Mudd mixed with Brand New sensibility. Anton Dang swiped his hair through the air like a metal-head during the drop-time section. Toward the end, Merritt’s scream buckled the track like a railroad spike and propelled the venue toward an epic finish.
The introspective “Easy Talk (Open Your Mouth)” slid along with soaring falsettos from Merritt. The song held like a figure in the air as clean guitar folded around crashing drums. After the track, Merritt admitted to feeling sick, “I can’t sing for shit,” and told the crowd to expect a shortened set, just nine songs. The crowd mostly understood, with the exception of the douche in the corner who yelled, “Play more!”
O’Brother slipped into “Ascension.” Finger-picked, clean guitar gave way to palm-muting and floor-tom domination that worked together to give the track its foretold ascending feel. “Poison!” rolled out like a heathen’s battle cry, conjuring nail-spiked maces and war-painted faces as Merritt’s digital delay drenched vocals warbled, anticipating the impending murderous drop.
O’Brother closed its set with “Lay Down.” Merritt whispered the first part of the chorus before boldly shouting the solidifying statement of their most recent album: “I’ll lay down and grow right beneath your garden window.”
The crowd cheered wildly and clapped O’Brother off the stage for a beer and a handshake.
I’ve got a healthy array of choices Friday and Saturday. It appears most venues ceded Sunday to Oscar Mania, but a few options exist:
Friday, February 24
Jefferson Warehouse (2501 S. Jefferson) hosts Re/pressed: A Print Show and Dance Party!, a show/sale from printmakers in the Art Department of SIU-Edwardsville, running 7-1. Music starts at 8, with hard-to-characterize rock sounds from Accelerando and punk from The Cuban Missiles, along with a DJ spin. $4 gets you in (21+). Smoke-free.
CaveofswordS / bulletPOP! / Tight Pants Syndrome
Schlafly Tap Room 2100 Locust 9-12 Free Smoke-free
No issues searching for these bands on the Interwebs! C is a new-ish spousal duo of Sunyatta and Kevin McDermott, who may be joined by others. I haven’t heard them yet. Catchy, driving punk-pop-rock from b!, with a vibe sometimes reminiscent of Rezillos and early Blondie. Sugar-sweet pop-rock from TPS (their Chevy Music Showcase profile commercial is scheduled to run on KMOV over this weekend).
Water Liars / Alley Ghost / Fred Friction
Off Broadway 3509 Lemp 9-12:30 $7 (+3 under 21) Smoke-free
This is the local debut for WL, a duo of former Theodore frontman Justin Kinkel-Schuster and Andrew Bryant, a rural Mississippi multi-instrumentalist who had collaborated with him and T prior to their dissolution. Stream the album Phantom Limb at KDHX.org and check out Christian Schaeffer’s review at the RFT. AG offers the songs of Bob Reuter with a passionate, rough-at-the-edges mix of rock, blues and folk. Heartfelt, booze-soaked ballads from FF.
Another edition of the Girlfight! series, showcasing female or female-focused acts, occurs at Firebird (2706 Olive) at 9. This time offers rockabilly sounds with powerful vocals from the Molly Simms-fronted Bible Belt Sinners, blues-tinged rock from Jedi Nighties and solo folk sounds from Langen Neubacher. This costs $7, with an additional 3 for those 20-under. Smoke-free.
Saturday, February 25
The Lettuce Heads
Stone Spiral Coffee & Curios 2500 Sutton 8-10 Donation (all ages) Smoke-free
TLH offer quirky, pop-ish rock, with something to please folks ranging from toe-tappers to music nerds. No hard liquor here, but beer, wine and a variety of non-alcoholic choices are offered, and a small menu is available.
Atomic Cowboy (4140 Manchester) hosts a bash to honor Johnny Cash (I hope it honors him - another tribute I attended here a while back was pretty much of a mess), who would’ve turned 80 on the February 26. Twang-ified acts Trigger 5, Butcher Holler, the Twains and Reverend Matt will perform, hosted by Al Swacker, who will also DJ between sets.
In addition to the music, there’ll be a Ring of (bon)Fire outside at the fire pit, a release of black balloons at midnight, and a sale/show of art inspired by the Man in Black from Tom Huck’s Evil Prints.
Speaking of black – patrons dressed exclusively in it receive a drink ticket good for a PBR or Jack Daniel’s shot.
This starts at 8 (live music at 9), with a $5 cover (21+). Smoke-free (and hopefully free of bass-thumping techno/club music bleeding from the main room into the venue side; that would be a nice change from prior visits!).
Picking favorite tunes by Guy Clark is more an exercise in what to leave out, rather than what to include. The songwriting legend is entering his seventh decade, still at the top of his game.
He’s got new knees, plays homemade guitars and has that road-weary voice that blends perfectly with his wonderful observations on life. Guy, accompanied by sideman extraordinaire, Verlon Thompson will grace us with his presence three times in the near future: February 29 at the Old Rock House in St. Louis, March 4 at Richardet Floor Covering in Perryville, Mo. and September 12 at Wildwood Springs Lodge in Steelville, Mo.
Five — it could have been 10 — of my favorite songs come from Guy’s masterpiece “Old No. 1″ — in my opinion the best debut album ever. Guy was already 34 when he released this gem, and a lot of his friends were already doing his songs. The album would have been amazing with just Guy and his guitar, but add Emmylou and Sammi Smith’s vocals, future stars Rodney Crowell and Steve Earle, guitar wizards Chip and Reggie Young, piano player David Briggs, Mickey Raphael on harmonica and master fiddle player Johnny Gimble, and you have an instant classic.
1. “Desperados Waiting for a Train” Of all the songs Guy has had covered he says his favorite is character actor Slim Pickins’ version of this song.
2. “Texas 1947″ Vivid recollections of Guy’s childhood.
3. “Like a Coat From the Cold” There might be better love songs, but I’ve never heard them, especially when sung with Emmylou.
4. “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” How can you not include this one when Guy often mentions that it’s his favorite song, about “10 seconds in a woman’s life.”
5. “Let It Roll” As a music fan you know how you have those magical moments. One of mine would be with Guy from years ago at the Sheldon Concert Hall. He stepped forward and off-mic recited this classic. I’ve never heard anything more emotional or a room that quiet.
Usually when a debut album is so fine the followup is disappointing. Not so with Guy Clark. “Texas Cooking” again included a stellar cast and was almost as good. I could have included more songs from it on my list, but I just picked one.
6. “The Last Gunfighter Ballad” Guy was really proud and honored when this modern-day western ballad became the title song to a Johnny Cash album.
7. “Randall Knife” Guy’s emotional tribute to his father first appeared on 1983′s “Better Days.” A lot of people sing better than he does, but nobody recites a song like Guy.