Concert review: Peter Frampton comes alive (and then some) at the Peabody Opera House, Friday, March 30

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A sold-out crowd packed the Peabody Opera House on a lovely spring Friday night to see if a rock legend still had the chops.

Peter Frampton, 62, is touring in celebration of his multi-platinum 1976 masterpiece, “Frampton Comes Alive!” The double-live album, which spent 10 weeks at number one on the Billboard charts, is still one of the best-selling live albums of all time. “Frampton Comes Alive 35!” tour publicity promised the original album performed in its entirety “plus highlights from the rest of his Grammy-winning career.”

Over the course of nearly three hours, Frampton proved that he did, indeed, still have the chops. Though his long, curly locks have been replaced with a balding and grey head and he has, as the song says, “lines on my face,” his soulful voice is still very much intact, and his guitar skills have only gotten stronger. Taking the stage to a standing ovation, Frampton stood, axe in hand as photographs of his younger self bled in and out on a large screen behind him while he launched into the opening notes of “Something’s Happening.”

Throughout the set, which covered “Frampton Comes Alive!” in its entirety as promised (but in a different order so as not to be too predictable), Frampton played several guitars including a very special one, he explained, that had been lost for nearly 35 years. The 1954 Gibson Les Paul, which had disappeared in the crash of a cargo plane carrying all of his band’s instruments, was recently found on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao and restored. As he shredded on the instrument, photographs of him playing it back in the day flashed across the screen.

The simplicity of the stage setup and the intimacy of the grandly-restored Peabody Opera House, which in its own 1970s heyday hosted acts including the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, David Bowie, the Eagles, Billy Joel and Jeff Beck among others, gave the show a time-machine effect. Bantering easily with the audience he paused to pay respect to the venue, noting “We’ve played a lot of places on this ‘Me Comes Alive’ tour, but this is just a fantastic theater!”

Moving into “Lines on My Face,” Frampton’s passion poured through his voice and fingertips, building into an elegant crescendo that ended with an explosive yet seemingly effortless guitar solo. After crowd-pleaser “Show Me the Way,” he teased, “Now we’re on Side 2,” and mused about the number of fans who have told him how many “seeds they’ve cleaned” on the double-album.

He strapped on an acoustic guitar for solo versions of “It’s a Plain Shame,” “Wind of Change” and “All I Wanna Be (Is By Your Side).” He then took a moment to “introduce” the other very special guitar — one of only 25 made to celebrate Buddy Holly and given to him by Holly’s wife Maria Elena. He explained that it was built to be just like the one Holly had written most of his great songs on, and even included one fret from his original guitar. He then graced the audience with a cover of Holly’s “Peggy Sue.”

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Concert review: Ben Kweller (with the Dig and Sleeper Agent) keeps youthfulness bubbling at Off Broadway, Friday, March 30

Ben Kweller at Off Broadway in St. Louis, March 30, 2012

Abby Gillardi

Ben Kweller and a rocking backing band kept a Friday night show at Off Broadway lighthearted and full of pop hooks.

New Yorkers the Dig took the stage first with laid-back rock ‘n’ roll. Singers David Baldwin and Emile Mosseri switched up lead vocal duty, allowing a nice mix of songwriting to be displayed from each. Mosseri thrashed about the stage while playing bass, giving the set a burst of passion. Their set had a nice pace, and even with the short set I caught, I feel like they’re a band I could see again live in a couple months.

Next up, Sleeper Agent (Bowling Green, Ky.) crammed their six members onto the crowded stage. More poppy than the previous act, Sleeper Agent featured dueling male and female lead vocals. Watching the long hair swinging from every member, I realized that they would make the perfect cast for an episode of “That 2000′s Show.” Touching on garage rock and Top 40 radio pop, Sleeper Agent rounded the bases on what “it” bands consist of. There was something about Sleeper Agent that I couldn’t quite connect with, but maybe that comes with a second listen.

Yelling the lines “You got to scream at the top of your lungs” from the opening track of his most recent album “Go Fly a Kite,” Ben Kweller and band dug straight into their performance. “I Need You Back” from “On My Way” (2004) was up next, with all three members of Kweller’s backing band taking to their microphones to really fill out the song.

His older material felt dirtier live, which came as no surprise. “The Rules,” also from “On My Way,” showcased the classic pop rock sound Kweller lived off of until his 2009 country twanged “Changing Horses.” Barreling through song after song without pausing too long between songs, Kweller and his band displayed their professionalism.

Kweller at the age of 30 still looks like a teenager with his long curls. With over 16 releases as a solo artist, he kept a nice mix of old and new material circulating through the night. “I Don’t Know Why” felt like it had been pepped up with a little style, followed by his 2002 Billboard #29 hit “Wasted & Ready.”

For “Gossip” off “Go Fly a Kite,” Kweller took to the keys to serenade while the rest of the band left the stage. Full band once again, “Falling” and “Out the Door” shook like boot-stomping music, prompting the audience to clap along. “Full Circle” found Kweller jauntily leaning towards classic country once again, complimented by the forgiving proclamation “Don’t judge anyone because everybody comes full circle/I’ve come full circle.”

Donning an acoustic and standing alone on stage, Kweller performed the titular track from “On My Way” without dropping the excitement buzzing around the set. Dylan-esque with his storytelling lyrics, Kweller’s persona of a troubadour worked with his style of poppy sun-tinged indie rock.

Throughout the rest of the set, Kweller and his band performed four tunes off “Sha Sha” (2002) as well as “Fight” from “Changing Horses,” which stood out as the best live song of the night, with rousing barroom piano and bouncing guitar sheen.

Amidst cries for an encore and chants of “Kweller! Kweller!” Ben retook the stage to play “Commerce, TX” and “Penny on the Train Track” with his band. Kweller complimented the crowd, saying “You guys party hard. Last time I came around with just an acoustic guitar, and you guys still partied hard. We will always come back to St. Louis.”

Cabaret capsule: Donna Weinsting and Lara Buck Antolik are bold, bawdy, blonde and funny at the Kranzberg March 30 and 31, 2012

Donna Weinsting and Lara Buck Antolik: “Bold, Bawdy, Blonde and Funny”
The Presenters Dolan at The Kranzberg Center
March 30 and 31, 2012

[Full disclosure: I have worked on stage with Donna Weinsting in the past.]

The title of Donna Weinsting and Lara Buck Antolik’s new cabaret show for The Presenters Dolan also turns out to be a respectable capsule review of the evening. All right, maybe it’s not really all that bawdy, but these two have bold and funny nailed—to say nothing of entertaining. And if they were any more blonde the audience would need shades.

Musically, the show is a solid mix of standards and less well-known tunes. Some of the former include the opening duet of Harold Arlen’s “Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home” (from “St. Louis Woman”, appropriately), Ms. Antolik’s R-rated version of Irving Berlin’s “You’d Be Surprised”, and Ms. Weinsting’s now rather famous “I Could Have Danced All Night”, which serves as a the basis for a hilarious story about a teenaged battle with a Playtex Living Girdle.

Less familiar songs include “Say Lara (Lara With an ‘A’)”—Ms. Antolik’s parody version of “Say Liza (Liza with a ‘Z’)”—and Sondheim’s “More” (from “Dick Tracy”), which makes for a solid closing number. There’s also “Middle Class”, a parody version of Kander and Ebb’s “Class”, that allows the performers to take some shots at the 1%.

Both Ms. Weinsting and Ms. Antolik are stand-up comics as well as singers, so there are plenty of laughs along the way. Ms. Antolik even manages the neat trick of pulling off a trio of her trademark political impersonations (of Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi), without alienating half of the audience. In our current poisonous political climate, that’s impressive.

Pianist Greg Schweizer’s arrangements fit these two talented women like the elegant black dresses they wear and Tim Schall’s direction gives the evening a good flow and shape. The political material feels a bit shoehorned into the rest of the show, but that doesn’t make it any less funny.

There’s one more performance of “Bold, Bawdy, Blonde and Funny” on Saturday, March 31, at 8 PM. For more information, visit licketytix.com

Concert review: Béla Fleck and the Flecktones reunite at the Sheldon, Thursday, March 29

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The lights dimmed to darkness in the Sheldon Concert Hall to signal the Flecktones making their way to the stage. A moment of quiet settled in.

A couple of whoops rang out, an audience member yelled, “God Bless Earl Scruggs!” and Béla Fleck was off in a flurry of rolling picking on the banjo. Soon Howard Levy followed and the rest of the Flecktones joined in, beginning their set in an exciting whirl.

The Flecktones are a six-time Grammy-winning band — and a many more time nominee. Their original music continues to evolve around the talent of ever-changing members. The current band is comprised of the original Flecktone members who have not toured together since 1992. Béla Fleck is a prodigious banjo player as well as the band leader. Victor Wooten is the renowned bassist whose ability to play expressive and technically challenging parts has made him a bass hero to musicians globally. Roy “Futureman” Wooten plays an instrument of his own design: the drumitar, which in essence comprises all of the group’s percussion. Howard Levy, who has returned to the group after an almost 20-year hiatus, is on piano and harmonica.

The Flecktones followed the opening number with a beautifully melodious song allowing for bit of release from the tensely engaging introduction, and then their odd-time signature song “Life in Eleven,” which is in different 11-count time signatures. Of course this might only be noted by frustrated musicians trying to count it since the song is aesthetically pleasing as well as the 2011 Grammy Award winner for Best Instrumental Composition. It is definitely one of my favorites.

Victor Wooten amazed the audience with a performance on bass and loop pedal. At this point in our culture looping is no longer a novel product; overdubbing dates back several decades. So what Wooten was performing was well understood by the audience, yet remained a fresh component of the performance overall. Wooten composed a medley of songs and his own improvisations; at one point we were surprised with the bass line to the theme music of the movie “Shaft.” Later in the performance he played each note in a melody, delayed by the time for the overdub loop to come full circle, adding a single note to the previous each time around. All during Wooten’s solo performance I felt in awe of how technically challenging yet musically satisfying the performance was. His ability to push the boundaries of the possible with his performance and keep it feeling musical was inspiring.

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Concert review: Young the Giant (with Grouplove) marches forward while looking back, at the Pageant, Thursday, March 29

Young the Giant at the Pageant. Photo by Abby Gillardi.

Young the Giant at the Pageant. Photo by Abby Gillardi.

The Delmar Metro parking lots surrounding the Pageant were stuffed with cars. I guess this is what the MTV Music Awards will do for a band like Young the Giant‘s attendance.

But on this evening, an indignant funk hung in the air amidst grumbles and sighs. It quickly became apparent that everyone was frustrated with the Pageant’s red tape and nit-pickery in regards to the implementation of entrance/exit procedures (I got patted down twice), location-based drink rules and strict start/curfew times.

What can be said? Indeed, there are minors and large crowds to deal with — state rules and regulations abound (I get it), but there comes a point when too much exercised control and imposition make the Pageant feel like a police state. Who wants to live (much less witness a show) in such a place, even one with perfect sight lines and acoustics?

Bitching aside, openers, Grouplove, certainly brought the love. With their signature brand of psychedelic, love-laced indie tunes, Grouplove had the Pageant dancing and shimmying. The California group shot through “Colours” and “Tongue Tied” with surprising radio fidelity. They impressed the audience and sparked proper excitement about their upcoming headlining tour.

Young the Giant appeared on stage and exploded into the sun-sleepy “I Got,” from the band’s 2011 self-titled debut. Lead singer and egregious tambourine over-user, Sameer Gadhia, unleashed a soaring sustained note toward the end of the third chorus. “Guns Out” featured mashed-up, distorted guitar from guitarist Jacob Tilley. Drummer François Comtois’ snare clicks were crisp and clear.

“Shake My Hand” was a tune from when Young the Giant used to be referred to as the Jakes. The audience happily ate up the throwback, snare-drum-led, indie rambler. Bassist Payam Doostzadeh thumped along with ebullient power as second guitarist Eric Cannata chugged out distortion that harkened back to Modest Mouse’s work on “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.”

This is what Young the Giant does so well. They inhabit a comfortable generic space where they can mimic the sounds of other acts. While this speaks to the band’s extreme talent and versatility, it also betrays a slight lack of focus, a certain vanilla aspect, that while well-produced and well-played, can at times feel devoid of fizzy freshness.

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‘The first batch of honey’ An interview with singer-songwriter Denison Witmer

facebook.com/denisonwitmer / Ethan Luck

Hot off his newest release “The Ones Who Wait,” Denison Witmer brings introspective, acoustic indie-folk to St. Louis’ the Firebird on Saturday, March 31 in support of William Fitzsimmons.

Humble arrangements and subdued melodies abound. Witmer’s quiet, oft-fingerpicked, confessionals delicately shuffle, sway and linger in your heart. The man is no different. With an eye for thoughtful self-study and journaling, Witmer conjures American life with a certain shaded contrast as he draws the listener into his soulful world. I recently interviewed Witmer by phone about his upbringing, songwriting philosophy, new recording studio and love for whiskey.

Will Kyle: Where did you grow up?

Denison Witmer: I grew up about 90 miles west of Philadelphia, in an area called Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It’s famous for being Amish country, but I grew up Mennonite.

Do you still practice?

Yes and no. I always tell people being Mennonite is kind of like being an ethnicity. You’re Mennonite forever. I think Mennonites and Jews share a lot of the same feelings when it comes to cultural ties. My friends who are Jewish here in Philly say, “Yeah, I’m Jewish, but non-practicing.”

Do you find that your Mennonite heritage creeps into your music?

Of course, it’s responsible for shaping my worldview. I really love the Mennonite church for the missions they seek out. They don’t try to Americanize people. Instead, they give power to the powerless. That’s their whole mission, to enable and empower people. That really resonates with me on a political level and on a spiritual level.

Music seems to have that empowerment aspect too, it helps people make sense of their world.

Right. Music has helped me through many phases of my life. It is kind of magical, because you’re creating something out of nothing. You create a melody you hear in your head and it can cast a spell on people. Since I have taken so much from music in my life, I feel it is my responsibility to give back in some way. Fortunately, I’m in a place where I get to do that and that’s something I don’t take for granted.

When you sit down to write a song, do you have a preconceived idea in mind or do you just start tinkering and follow the muse?

I’d say 80 percent of the time, I play the acoustic guitar and something will start to take shape, so I’ll work a melody on top of that. From there, I like to ad-lib lyrics. I always believed in seeing what comes out of me.

Usually, my favorite songs are ones that come about in an extemporaneous way. It’s kind of like things rise to the surface. That’s when I can focus in and try to work the rest of the song out. Music is also a journaling process for me, writing down my own personal epiphanies in some way, expressing my own worldview.

Past that, I don’t pretend to have it figured out or pretend to be the type of person who thinks my epiphanies are more special than everyone else’s. I pride myself on being a book between books on a shelf. We all have a story to tell, but in a sense, it’s nice to be just part of the library, I mean, it’s nice to simply be one among many stories.

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Concert review: Kevin Seconds, Kepi Ghoulie and Franz Nicolay play the Firebird like a patio jam, Thursday, March 29

flickr.com/photos/manicphotographydani/5018926015 / Dani Palmer

Punk-rock icon Kevin Seconds has always said the main intention with his music was to play extremely melodic songs extremely fast. Thirty or so years later, the tempo has slowed down, but Seconds’ songs and vocals have blossomed as witnessed Thursday night at the Firebird.

I devour anything that deals remotely with hardcore punk rock. Discovering certain band’s influences, or favorite TV shows (“General Hospital” seemed especially popular among punks) isn’t unusual for me. Sometimes that can lead to very scary things — TSOL’s stint with hair metal for example — but every now and then I stumble upon and open some surprising doors. It’s especially great to see a punk rocker continue doing cool shit that doesn’t exclusively deal with their past fame, or lack of it in most cases, I guess.

Enter Kevin Seconds, seminal hardcore vocalist for Reno’s 7 Seconds. Despite his hardcore and alternative rock past, he has since carved out a decent niche for himself as a pop-punky folk singer — although that wouldn’t necessarily be apparent at last night’s show at the Firebird. He might draw a sparse crowd but it’s a devoted and loving sparse crowd. Being at this show made me think he might ask someone from the crowd to come onto stage with him and his pals to strum on the guitar to “Heavy Metal Jock” or something. And that’s not too far from the truth.

Mr. Seconds brought along with him on this tour a couple mates, the mysterious and old-timey Franz Nicolay (best known as ex-piano player for the Hold Steady). Nicolay is an extraordinary multi-instrumentalist, performing with the banjo, guitar and accordion, who might fit in somewhere between Tom Waits and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Following Nicolay was the goofy Kepi Ghoulie (formerly of the Groovie Ghoulies), who plays kiddy acoustic punk rock for grown-ass people. Fun, sure, but a little over the top. Ghoulie was accompanied by headliner Seconds on drums, giving the performance a bit more of a rock band-type of feel. His enthusiasm was appreciated but ran thin.

When Kevin Seconds took the stage (damn near midnight, believe me Gramps was pissed, and by Gramps, I mean me) I was surprised at the fun and beyond-relaxed feel to the show. This performance seemed more like hanging with some friends and playing music than a national tour. Seconds has traded his punky shaved head in for a fuzzy and graying beard, his skinhead suspenders for baggy fatigues, his anti-Reagan rants for themes of love and friendship. Not to mention the mere physical transformation since his younger days.

But the man, the legend, is still belting out amazing songs. And this dude can sing! He sounded like a wizened 20-year-old pop-punker, and I couldn’t help but to compare him to Motion City Soundtrack’s Justin Pierre. His right-hand man Kepi Ghoulie sat in on the make shift drum kit, pumping out basic beats and chiming in on vocals as needed, sans microphone. Seconds wandered through his extensive catalog not discriminating between old and new while surveying the fans for requests and telling a fun story about how he was called a rock star for doing a two-date tour with the Dead Kennedys back in 1981. He hasn’t much concerned himself if someone calls him a rock star since.

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Concert review: Katchafire (with the Common Kings) does just that at the Firebird, Wednesday, March 28

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The Firebird never smelled so skunky. Door guys scuttled around like roaches trying to bust concertgoers who were bold enough to burn one down directly before the stage. The timid among us were content enough to huddle in close for free smells.

The Common Kings didn’t seem to mind one bit. Their California brand of fusion dub and reggae fueled the stickless and seedless dreams of their friends and toked-out fans. K-Nova sat in with the Common Kings for a few tracks. His raspy, rap-drenched drawl brought everyone to their feet to spread the love with gyrating hips. After K-Nova left the stage, the Common Kings took the Firebird on a mix-tape odyssey, featuring dubbed-out versions of Michael Jackson, LMFAO and Gym Class Heroes. Some of the abridged versions did not work as well as others, but the frenetic pace at which Common Kings slipped into each new suite was impressive.

An eight-piece from New Zealand, Katchafire set up its stage as the audience gathered around. Wafts of herb smoke clung to my clothes. The wondrous stinky-sweet smell emanated from all around me. Lead singer and guitarist Logan Bell offered a quick hello and began “On The Road,” from Katchafire’s 2011 record of the same title. The song sauntered over the heads of the audience like a stoned put-put golf player. Light accents of crisp guitar layered over Tere Ngarua’s thick bass notes were green heaven. Grenville Bell unleashed a searing, “In The Heat of the Night”-esque guitar solo.

“Love Letter” from 2007′s “Say What You’re Thinking” was layered with Marley harmonies, “You got to try-yi-yi-yi-yi,” and heady, bouncy synthesizer. The soulful tune made me understand how Katchafire grew so easily grew from their roots as a Marley cover band.

“Irie” featured a darker tone for which Logan’s vocals were spot on. The song featured a sensual “Exodus” vibe and metaphors for sex couched in metaphors for rolling joints. The horn section blew up during “Frisk Me Down” from 2005′s “Slow Burning.” Jamey Ferguson rocked the saxophone, while an unnamed trumpet player puffed his cheeks to great affect as Logan blended the sounds of Marley and Ben Harper. The song soldiered around the Firebird as the audience bent their knees and leaned into the track.

On “Who You With” Katchafire continued their effortless weed-love metaphors. The urban feel of sunny keys and dispositions flowed into rich harmonies from percussionist Leon Davey, who pattered happily on his bongos.

“Giddy Up,” from 2003′s “Revival” rang sweetly with saxophone and guitar solos as Logan asked the ladies to “get up and ride with me.” Fan-favorite “Seriously” from “Say What You’re Thinking” featured wah-wah guitar and distorted bass. Davey chanted the vocals like a priest delivering a rite during the song’s extended chorus.

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