Concert review: Portugal. The Man (with the Lonely Forest and Union Tree Review) psych out the Pageant, Sunday, April 29

Portugal. The Man at the Pageant. St. Louis. April 29, 2012.

Abby Gillardi

Last night, St. Louis hosted Portugal. The Man on its first major headlining tour. But this was no normal tour. Its sponsor, Jägermeister, was everywhere, complete with a DJ spinning for the set-changes and the all-important Jäger girls strutting about the Pageant in tight leather, handing out freebies and other swag.

St. Louis’s own Union Tree Review opened the evening with a studied set that featured muted trumpet, violin and a post-rock, indie feel, like Cursive with a spritz of Cymbals Eat Guitars. Union Tree Review’s interest in sweeping dynamic shifts and bombastic drops worked well with lead-singer Tawaine Noah’s vocals, which, even though a bit strained, reminded me of younger, more angsty Ben Gibbard.

From Anacortes, Wash., the Lonely Forest churned out poppy, shoe-gaze rock. Their care and precision was impressive and lent their set a certain professional feel that Union Tree Review’s performance lacked. I noted a light tinge of Jimmy Eat World during “Turn Off This Song and Go Outside,” from 2011′s “Arrows.”

Portugal. The Man appeared on a stage full of atomic-like lighting elements that were also strung up and anchored from the center of the ceiling above the pit. The strings of lights with a bobble housing LEDs looked like swimming lane buoys ripper from a J Crew advert. As the first chords of “All Your Light (Times Like These),” from 2011′s “In the Mountain in the Cloud,” the buoy-looking lights glowed with psychedelic greens and blues. John Gourley’s vocals rang out, clear and high-pitched, as they elegantly drifted from a falsetto to a chanted chorus.

“The Woods,” from 2009′s “The Satanic Santanist,” featured lilting guitar and spaced-out keys. Sadly, the stage remained dark for the majority of the set — the only light illuminating the band came from the trippy, glowing installations, which caused a bit of a disconnect, as they obscured the audience’s sightlines preventing a clear look at the band.

“Work All Day” had the audience dancing and jiving throughout venue. The tempo ran fast compared to the album version, but the song did not suffer from the faster treatment, instead, it allowed the annunciation of the rapid-fire chorus lyrics to stand out.

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Concert review and set list: Florence + the Machine (with Blood Orange) fills the Peabody Opera House with high drama, Sunday, April 29

Florence + the Machine at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis, April 29, 2012

Jarred Gastreich

Louder than sirens, louder than bells: An enthralled crowd worshipped at the altar of Florence + the Machine in the drizzly Sunday twilight.

The crowd trickled in to the sounds of Blood Orange (although many of us didn’t know that; the artist didn’t introduce himself until the last song), an unlikely opening act: a single human being surrounded by scads of machines (Mac-generated beats, effects pedals and a projector screen upon which cut-and-pasted scenes from “Grease 2″ and “Felicity” played on a loop) that were perhaps designed to make you forget that he was either blatantly remixing or channeling the band we were all there to see. He sounded like a mashup of Prince, Seal, and Imogen Heap, or maybe the disputed love child of all three. On to Florence!

Her entrance was as theatrical as you would expect: arms spread wide as sparkling lights illuminated the folds of a sheer black cloak –something an elf queen, or perhaps a Victoria’s Secret model from the 1970s, would wear. She descended the stairs with force, almost moth-like as she spun and skipped across the stage, flaming of hair and bare of foot. A dewy, wooded meadow might have been a more appropriate venue — or at least an outdoor festival, to which she alluded after opening with “Only If For A Night”: “Can you all stand up? It’s quite odd to be playing when you are sitting down, it’s like we’re at the cinema.” Still, the Peabody was well suited to F + M. Every spotlight, every note was on point; rafters, though not visible, were shaken. The set list was heavy on the latest material from the wildly popular “Ceremonials”; however, whenever there were twinklings of harp notes from “Lungs” songs, the masses collectively swooned with something akin to religious ecstasy.

Lest you curl your lip at the ethereality of the Machine, let me remind you that it was not all fairy wings and flowing robes. Take “Rabbit Heart,” for instance: Florence, slightly aghast at the nobility of the venue, reminded us that “this song is for the ladies” and that we should subvert the poshness, the opera housey-ness, of the Peabody by hoisting girls on shoulders and shouting “RAISE IT UP! RAISE IT UP!” along with her black-clad backup crew. I tried to get my sister on my shoulders; she was having none of it, but girls all over the orchestra section started climbing on top of friends, seats, aisles, etc., much to the delight of Florence and the likely dismay of the Peabody Opera House staff.

The spiritualized wordplay of F + M’s soaring ballads, transposed against a backdrop of stained glass, lent an eerie, church-like texture to the performance. Florence herself is a willowy high priestess who at any time could be beamed up into outer space (“Cosmic Love”) or command legions of devotees to pray at her feet even as she declares, in anything but a mournful tone, “there’s no salvation for me now” (“Lover to Lover”). This hybrid of science fiction and mother earthiness is what makes F + M so arresting and her popular appeal somewhat of an enigma.

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Concert review: Ray Wylie Hubbard deals a royal blues flush at the Old Rock House, Saturday, April 28

Ray Wylie Hubbard at the Old Rock House in St. Louis, April 28, 2012

Roy Kasten

St. Louis music fans showed true dedication last night as heavy rain, hail, lightning and damaging winds couldn’t keep a solid crowd away from the Old Rock House to see legendary Texas-based singer and songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard.

On a night when a tent outside a bar in downtown St. Louis left one dead and 17 injured and tennis-ball-sized hail broke windshields across the region, Hubbard rained down a mix of country, folk and blues to warm up a mostly middle-aged audience, still wet and cold from the storm.

Unfortunately the severe weather kept me from arriving on time for the early 7 p.m. start. Why so early you ask? The venue had scheduled another event immediately following this KDHX-welcomed concert; one that incorporated a back drop of black and neon-green decorative snakes wrapped with what looked like metal dryer vents that extended from the stage to a light rig above. It was upon that backdrop that Hubbard — dressed in a long-sleeved black t-shirt over blue jeans with a stocking cap pulled down tight — took the stage in front of a large group loyal fans packing the venue to about three-quarters full.

On tour to support his new album “The Grifter’s Hymnal,” the prolific Oklahoma-born songwriter’s 11th album in the last 20 years, Hubbard performed several new songs including “Henhouse” (a tune he co-wrote with Hayes Carll), “Red Badge of Courage” (a dedication to troops in Afghanistan who listened to his music on recon missions) and “Count My Blessings” (a track inspired by fellow songwriter Slaid Cleaves’ “One Good Year”). With honest lyrics that speak to the hard-working American, Hubbard’s weathered voice gave credence to the stories and lyrical imagery he painted throughout his 40-plus years in music. Upon hearing his songs, one need not question that he’s lived through some hard times yet continued to persevere.

Throughout the 97-minute set, Hubbard switched between acoustic and electric guitar as he played a country and blues mix that had the audience moving and grooving. He would add flourishes of slide guitar and sometimes just keep the beat going with his thumb plucking the open strings. Accompanied onstage by the solid drumming of Rick Richards, Hubbard was in a relaxed, easygoing mood and seemed to have a great time interacting with the crowd. Richards — a spectacular timekeeper with a great bass drum foot and a simple set of snare, floor tom, bass drum and tambourine — provided a solid backbone while Hubbard sang, spun yarns and entertained.

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Concert review and set list: Social Distortion slows it down at Pop’s, Saturday, April 28

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Mike Ness seems tired, or maybe just bored. I saw him about this time last year at the Pageant and walked away thinking I had seen one of the greatest shows. But after last night’s Social Distortion show at Pop’s, I cruised back home over the bridge a little more than underwhelmed.
 
Social Distortion is currently rounded out by Johnny “2 Bags” Wickersham on guitar (who traded off guitar solos with Ness and looks just like the late and former Social D guitarist Dennis Dannel), Brent Harding on bass and David Hidalgo, Jr. on the drums. Hidalgo is the newest member of Social, joining in 2010, and deserves to be in the ranks of Chuck Biscuits and Derek O’Brien as a punk-rock drummer.

Decked out in his now standard fedora, black suspenders and high-waist trousers, Ness and company took the smoky and antique trinket-adorned stage to Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” (it was the version with Johnny Winter). Of course, Ness made the dramatic appearance and bowed. Why the hell he doesn’t just get a punk rock gig in Vegas is beyond me. The classic blues song faded out and finally Mike Ness’ distinct Les Paul rang out the opening chords of “Bad Luck” and performed by far the most energetic song of the band’s set.

Social Distortion sounded fine for the first half of their set or so, ripping through those confessional hindsight rockers that Ness has come to master and even indulge in at times. Fan favorites like “Story of my Life,” “Sick Boy” and “I Was Wrong” reminded me of why I love Social Distortion so damn much. (And, yes, “Social Distortion!” replaced “self destruction” during the “I Was Wrong” chorus much to my pleasure and anyone else who has seen/heard that song live.) Mike Ness seems to know what we go through at our lowest points and how we feel in our moments of redemption. He captures those bittersweet sentiments perfectly in his songs.
 
However, as much as I love this band, it wasn’t too long into their rather brief set that I felt something was askew with the band. An organ/keyboard player graced the stage, and appeared to walk off stage as much as he played inaudible parts during the songs. But that wasn’t it. Something wasn’t right; the show just was not building up any momentum. There were moments when the musicians would be talking amongst each other and the venue was completely silent save for conversations regarding whiskey sours and leather jackets.
 
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Concert review: Jeffrey Foucault impresses a seated Off Broadway, Thursday, April 26

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Part John Prine, part Dylan, part lonely cowboy swilling whiskey out on a moonlit prairie, Jeffrey Foucault has a chameleonic sound. This quality enhances the troubadour’s grace and emboldens the emotional power of the music.

Many of Foucault’s moving ballads are concerned with introspection and love lost, often couched in the loneliness of travel. “Starlight and Static,” from 2011′s “Horse Latitudes,” washed over the crowd at Off Broadway with tight hammer-ons and dulcet picking. Foucault’s voice stood alone, unlike on the studio version, lending the song new-found power and humanity.

“Pretty Girl in a Small Town” conjured Tom Petty vibes, as well as heartache elusively playing the edge of fiery expression, an effect conjured in all of the evening’s songs, performed stripped-down, solo and subdued. No drums, no bass, no keys — no back up anything — just a guitar and Foucault’s pure, north-country drawl.

“Ghost Repeater,” from the 2006 album of the same title, suggested Steve Earle crossed with Drive-By Truckers. The zydeco accordion featured on the studio version was absent here, which, again, lent the song a certain satisfying emotional resonance.

“Goners Most,” full of crystalline moments concerned with death and dreaming, brought the quiet warmth of Foucault’s voice to the forefront. The man is a poet, for he made “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” new again simply by adding a “for” before each phrase. An interlude lulled the audience with a delicate mood as light as crêpe paper. Before anyone knew it, Foucault’s fingertip released a final hammer-on and the instrumental melted into the nothingness of silence.

As Foucault neared the end of his set, he offered up the most satisfying version of “Passerines” I have ever heard — studio or otherwise. Again, the pedal steel and backup vocals of the album version were appropriately absent. “Nothing I Wouldn’t Do,” from 2010′s “Cold Satellite,” told the story of a man who would do anything for his woman, but Foucault made the well-worn idea new by layering the scene with details of the landscape, which he then masterfully conflated with his love.

“Train to Jackson” depicted the artist weary from travel and seeking advice from an elder: “I took a name, I found a range where my voice can make no sound. I met a man that told me son, ‘I can see you’re on the run, and if you tell me where you’re going, I’ll tell you where you’re bound.’” The notion of being “bound” for a location during a journey is one thing, but Foucault enriches the notion by suggesting how humans can be, in-fact, “bound” by travel.

Fan-favorite, “Everybody’s Famous,” marked the close of Foucault’s show. Electric and eclectic like a Califone tune, the song built dynamically with stuttering, palm-muted guitar and Foucault’s clement lyrics. At this point, a rudimentary understanding of Foucault’s true power set in; I realized I was connected to something larger, something real. There we all were, enraptured by Foucault’s music, growing more captivated each passing moment. In this whizzing, digital age, achieving such real connection is an invaluable gift.

Concert review: Baroness loves St. Louis, and the feeling is mutual at the Firebird, Thursday, April 26

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I’m still blown away by this show. In fact, I’m not even here. I’m not even typing this. I’m still standing at the Firebird, trapped in the world of Baroness, a world stark and desolate, lavish and beautiful.

Baroness is John Baizley on lead vocals and guitar, Peter Adams on guitar and vocals, Allen Blickle on drums and Matt Maggioni on bass. They are touring in support of their newest offering, and I use that word quite specifically, a double disk titled “Yellow and Green” set to be released on July 17 through Relapse Records. Following on the heels of the “Red Album” and the “Blue Record,” this new double disk will likely be presented to fans just as the show was last night: as an offering, as an experience. Get ready.

The crowd that traveled from far and near to see Baroness Thursday night at the Firebird was as you might expect them to be: a large mass of black clad, pale, stringy haired dudes with T-shirts advertising the other metal bands they listen to. And the vibe was also as you’d expect at a metal show: mosh pit, agro, lots of head banging. But there was something else: There was a lotta love in that room. It rose as high as the mountain of amps that framed the stage. It was as plentiful as the guitars and black T-shirts. It was as beautiful as the posters for sale at the merch table.

Somebody once told me that listening to music via MP3 or CD forms a tragedy for our ears. Sounds are distorted and rounded off, creating flat blended beige nothing. The opposite of that came out of the throbbing speakers at the Firebird. Intense is the best way to describe bassist Matt Maggioni. He looked like a thing possessed, rocking back and forth on stage as if at any moment the sheer force of sound would hurdle him into the crowd. Peter Baizley practically flirted with all of us unabashedly, tempting us with his vocals and wide, wide eyes looking out to make sure we were all enjoying the music as much as he was. His deep, forceful voice was complimented perfectly by Peter Adams. And Allen Blickle, well, this is how drums should always sound and it made me almost vow to only hear music live (or on the radio). Almost.

Drums do not sound like this when they come pre-packaged in downloadable form. There were moments when the guitars and bass would sort of step back and it sounded like the whole drum kit got pushed off a cliff and was hitting every rock on the way down. Boom, boom, boom, boom. And then, almost as if it were a rescue mission, the other guys would come back in and give us all they had.

From the “Blue Record” we got “A Horse Called Golgotha” and “Jake Leg.” From the “Red Album” we got “Isak” and “The Birthing.” Baroness closed with the last track on the “Red Album,” “Grad,” which probably got the best response from the already frenzied and delirious crowd. No encore, only a heartfelt thank you delivered to us humbly by Baizley. He proclaimed this the best show they’ve ever had in St. Louis and invited fans to come up and say hi after the show, told us not to be strangers.

Being a stranger after this show was impossible. There’s something really unexplainable about the connection made between music and audience at a live show, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. But last night, what was even more powerful was the love between Baroness and the music. I really sincerely hope that these guys don’t wait two years to tour again because that’s just too long to wait for a show this good.

Correction: The review originally stated that “Rays on Pinion” was the final song of the set. The final song was “Grad.”

‘It’s kind of divine reverb’ An interview with Ray Wylie Hubbard

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Ray Wylie Hubbard‘s latest record, “The Grifter’s Hymnal,” has been in constant rotation in my truck for the past week. Living with it as I did, many questions arose, and I was lucky enough to be able to run them by the esteemed Mr. Hubbard recently via phone from his front porch in Texas.

Matt Sorrell: In the song “New Year’s Eve at the Gates of Hell,” you say you pawned a 1959 Gibson ES-335. True?

Ray Wylie Hubbard: No, you can’t believe everything on that record! Actually, it was a ’56 Stratocaster, but it just didn’t rhyme. That was really kind of a metaphor for all of the guitars I’ve lost. I tell my wife I don’t want a Porsche or a younger girlfriend. I want all of these guitars I used to have.

Is the whole story relayed in “Mother Blues” autobiographical?

Pretty much all of it is true. My wife Judy was the door girl and checked IDs at Mother Blues when she was 16. I didn’t really know her at the time — I used to come in the back door. It was a great, funky little club in Dallas. Like I say in the song, Lightnin’ Hopkins played there, and Freddie King and Mance Lipscomb. After the club would close there’d be poker games upstairs and the girls from the strip clubs would come over and it was a party till dawn. I did meet an old girl there and we went around together, and she ended up going to Hollywood, and I met Judy again 23 years ago and we had our son Lucas. He plays guitar and he’s got that gold top Les Paul.

Is that the guitar Lucas plays on the record?

Yeah, that’s him on “Coricidin Bottle,” “Red Badge of Courage” and “Mother Blues.”

A lot of the record seems to be about you looking back and going over some of your decisions, good and bad. How do you feel about Lucas starting to play and go out on the road?

Well, I’m very grateful to share the stage with him. He says, “I play the music for free, but you gotta pay me to ride in the van with you and a bunch of old guys.” He’s in school now, doing really well, and I’m proud of him. I’m not pressuring him or anything. It’s still just fun for him. I’m just letting him see what happens. Like I say in the song ["Mother Blues"], I don’t know if he’s gonna hang his life on a guitar or not. I’m very proud of him.

Is he playing with you when you come to St. Louis?

No, he’s got finals. It’s just gonna be me and [drummer/percussionist] Rick Richards. That’s what I’ve been doing lately. It’s just the two of us. Lucas will be traveling with me this summer, and Rick will be going out with Joe Walsh on some summer dates, so I’m gonna lose my sense of time.

The songs on this record lend themselves to all sorts of arrangements. A duo would work really well I imagine.

I’m kind of at that age where I get the gig and then get the band. All of the songs were pretty much written with an acoustic guitar, and then we got in the studio and just kinda saw what happened with them.

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Thursday morning music news: Tricky talks up ‘Maxinquaye,’ the Beach Boys spin off new single and Chris Ethridge and Levon Helm pass on

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Musicians remember the late, great Levon Helm. Memorial services will be held today in Woodstock, N.Y.

Enough with the rumors and innuendo already: The Avalanches really do have a new mixtape.

RIP Chris Ethridge, founding member of the Flying Burrito Brothers.

Together again: Conor Oberst’s punk band Desaparecidos.

Brendan Benson chats with Paste about his new album and record label.

KDHX DJ Michael Kuelker talks to Cedella Marley about “Marley,” the movie, and more.

Tricky talks to the Guardian about “Maxinquaye.”

Listen to the new single by the Beach Boys.

Grooveshark is taking it from all sides. CEO Sam Tarantino fires back.

Flavorwire puts together a list of 10 essential bluegrass artists.

Whatever energy supplements Jack White is on, I’ll take a case. The new “Lone Ranger” film, featuring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer, will be scored by Mr. White himself.

Amy Carter once wrote a letter to the Ramones. Really.

Take some drugs and watch the new Cornershop video featuring Izzy Lindqwister.

The Beatles first show in the U.S. was thought to be lost. It’s not, and it’s getting the big screen treatment.

This week in WTF features Santigold covering “Proud Mary.”

Want J Dilla’s record collection? All 7K discs can be yours, but you’ll have to make the trip to Detroit.

Animal Collective, Deerhunter and Lightning Bolt lend their video support to French DIY joint Grrrnd Zero.

The strange, sad death of Men at Work’s Greg Ham.

What would Hieronymous Bosch say upon hearing Slayer’s “Reign of Blood”? Probably nothing like this.

Watch Beirut perform “Santa Fe” on the Tonight Show.

Cher wants you to buy her key to the city of Adelaide. The city of Adelaide wants Cher to GTFO.

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