Concert review and set list: Eric Hutchinson (with Avalanche City) makes a connection at the Firebird, Wednesday, June 20

Abby Gillardi

Well past the scheduled 7:30 p.m. door time, a line of people waiting to enter the Eric Hutchinson show snaked around the edge of the Firebird and overflowed into the parking lot.

As the line slowly filed inside the club from the outside, the New Zealand folksters of Avalanche City played their opening set to an attentive audience.

Most floorspace in the Firebird was taken up by people standing shoulder-to-shoulder when Eric Hutchinson and his band took the stage and kicked off the show with “Living in the Afterlife,” from Hutchinson’s newest album, “Moving Up Living Down,” released this April.

Hutchinson switched between his acoustic and electric guitars almost as often as he switched from playing songs from “Moving Up Living Down” and 2007′s “Sounds Like This,” much to the audience’s satisfaction. His older, lightly-plucked, intelligent pop songs struck a nostalgic chord with seasoned fans while Hutchinson’s newer tracks were bountiful in sound and style with nods to the soul that sustained the ’70s and song structures from ’50s and ’60s rock ‘n’ roll.

On “You Don’t Have to Believe Me,” it was evident that Eric Hutchinson has always played soulful music. With prominent organ sounds and a deeply-grooved bass line, Hutchinson’s rarely raspy tenor vocals went beyond the parameters that one might suspect of a young man with a guitar. Even without the horn section heard on the record, the song did not lack a full sound.

It has been a while since Eric Hutchinson played in St. Louis. During “Oh!,” he did a bit of lyric improvisation when he sang that he “went to a party on Blueberry Hill,” earning himself a few extra, though already plentiful, cheers and woo’s coming from the audience.

The energy resonating between both the audience and Hutchinson was sustained through his 16-song set, with both sides engaged in a friendly rivalry of who’s happier to be at the Firebird, regardless of what side of the stage they were on.

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Concert review and set list: Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs and Donald Fagen wow crowd as the Dukes of September at the Fabulous Fox, Wednesday, June 20

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The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue kicked off its summer tour last night at the Fox, reviving the sounds of 1970s AM radio created by the group’s three principals, Boz Scaggs, Donald Fagen (Steely Dan) and hometowner Michael McDonald (Doobie Brothers).

The trio played in a music-in-the-round style, each singer drawing from their sizable catalogs while adding some key covers that inspired them early in their careers.

The large and talented backing band took the stage and set the night’s tone launching into James Brown’s “People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul.” The three titans of the night entered the stage to a standing ovation.

Fagen took the reins as emcee of the night, which was ironic given his struggles with stage fright early in his career. McDonald was placed at center stage but didn’t have as much crowd interaction as I would have expected. Fagen, however, did a great job engaging the crowd and moving the show along.

After McDonald sang backup on the Isley Brothers’ “That Lady,” Fagen introduced the Ferguson, Mo.-native and the crowd went nuts. McDonald’s first song on lead vocals was the horntastic Arthur Conley song, “Sweet Soul Music.”

McDonald boasts a long history of providing enthusiastic backing vocals dating back to his days with Steely Dan. But when this U-City Walk of Fame inductee is singing lead, it makes you feel like you’re drinking the expensive wine.

Next up was McDonald’s smooth groove, “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near).” McDonald, 60, labored through the high notes, yet it was still surreal to watch him sing this live. With the impossibly-elevated notes the song requires, the 1982 Michael McDonald perhaps set the bar too high for his future self. No matter though. Like many of his songs, McDonald had plenty of real estate to ad-lib and pull off many surprises.

McDonald’s powerful voice blew fans’ hair and drinks back like a 1979 Maxell ad, but Scaggs was the sleeper hit of this night.

Whether he was singing Muddy Waters’ “Same Thing” blues or his own “Lowdown,” Scaggs enraptured the crowd and shockingly garnered more and bigger standing ovations than McDonald. Overall, his steady voice has held up the best among the three, and he let his rootsy musical tastes do the talking.

The tour’s professional backing band deserves a shout out, made up of guitar extraordinaire Jon Herington, two female background singers, three horn players, a funky bass player (Freddie Washington) and a top notch drummer (Shannon Forrest). An extra keyboard player joined a full-frontal piano assault with McDonald on another keyboard and Fagen on a baby grand. Scaggs rounded out the group on guitar.

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Thursday morning music news: Fiona Apple covers Sir Paul, Morrissey hits the road and David Lowery puts the smack into the down(load)

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In Toronto, a stage for Radiohead collapsed, killing the band’s drum tech and injuring three.

RIP music writer Chris Neal.

Frank Zappa’s estate inks deal to reissue 60 albums from the mad genius’ catalogue.

If Keith Olbermann were here, Stevie Wonder’s nephew would surely be the Worst Person in the World.

Runner up this week would have to be Pearl Jam’s manager.

The Wackest Person in the World? That would be the guy who filed a handwritten law suit against Jay-Z.

Madonna’s tour rider is like the box set of “Entourage.”

Wilco has announced a show in Columbia, Mo.: September 16, on Ninth Street.

Immensely-talented jazz musician Abram Wilson has died at the age of 38.

Fiona Apple slays on Fallon. Watch.

PopMatters ranks the top 10 female punk bands.

Live Nation is exchanging tweets for tickets.

The Quietus meditates on Can’s “Lost Tapes.”

Bloc Party is really excited about its new songs. Watch four of them, live in Glasgow.

David Lowery vs. Emily White. Not a fair fight.

SF Weekly weighs in with some more reasons to buy music.

Lenny Kaye reviews the second posthumous album from his friend Joey Ramone.

Patti Smith guest DJs on NPR’s All Songs Considered.

Reverb counts down its contenders for indie jam of the Summer 2012.

I’m all for the open Internet, but ripping crappy bitrate songs from YouTube is silly, so good riddance.

The Tower Records Archive Project is live and quite amazing.

Flavorwire looks at some cool collaborations between authors and musicians.

The new Amanda Palmer track is like a black hole of anti-Dresden Dolls matter.

Morrissey sets US tour; alas, no stop in St. Louis scheduled.

Green Gartside of Scritti Politti gives Sandy Denny her due.

This Belgian DJ is certifiable — and very sleepy.

Concert review: The Dirt Daubers and the Rum Drum Ramblers throw down country blues at the Old Rock House, Tuesday, June 19

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St. Louis’ own Rum Drum Ramblers — featuring Joey Glynn on bass and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Koenig, both of Pokey LaFarge’s South City Three — appeared early Tuesday night before a mostly-empty Old Rock House.

Lead singer and guitarist Mat Wilson exploded into “Jack and Tom,” as Glynn thumped away on his bass, his thick chops framing a smile.

Koenig fitted himself with his magic washboard for “Mean Scene,” the title track from the Ramblers’ most recent record. Wilson slid up the neck of his guitar to create hi-pitched squeaks that accented the clicks, dings and scrapes from Koenig’s board. Wilson’s vocals were clean and crisp and appropriately bluesy, almost like a Tom Sawyer-era river-city troubadour doing his best G Love impression. “Nothing New” showcased Koenig scatting with a tinny effect applied to his microphone. Koenig then unleashed a slick harmonica solo before a transition back into scatting.

As the show progressed, the Rum Drum Ramblers invited a baritone saxophonist on stage to help with “Sure Sign.” The long bass notes filled out the tune and mingled with Glynn’s bass adding notes of exhilaration.

Next, the Ramblers invited Kansas City’s Little Rachel up for two songs, “New Ms. Rhythm in Town” and “Each Day,” both originals by Rachel, the vibe more big band meets soul than the Rum Drum Ramblers’ usual style. The Rum Drum Ramblers finished out with “Bumblebees” and “I Got Mine” which had the legendary (and well-known St. Louisan) Daniel whirling in pure dancing ecstasy like an outed black swan.

The Dirt Daubers, a trio from Paducah, Ky., appeared with Koenig supporting on drums and fiddle. After a few searing, barn-burner tracks, the Dirt Daubers — with speed to be seen to believe — offered up an old Dock Boggs tune, “Sugar Baby,” covered on the band’s self-titled 2009 record. Jessica Wilkes played her mandolin with skill and grace, while lead singer and banjo player J.D. Wilkes sang in his best sectarian country-preacher voice. The man’s presence is oddly reminiscent of an Americanized version of Flogging Molly’s Dave King.

Jessica took over singing on “Be Not Afraid” from “Wake Up, Sinners.” J.D. shuffled along on his harmonica and, during the most frenetic parts, threw his free hand up to give the audience a rousing taste of “Jazz hands.”

The traditional folk song “Cindy” stood tall as a pleasure and a surprise. I love that the Rum Drum Ramblers and the Dirt Daubers both offered a few traditional songs to keep the retrospective angle as much alive as each of the band’s forward progress, and to pay tribute to their roots. Yes, the revival is happening — not enough of this in American music these days.

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Album review: The Tallest Man on Earth stretches out subtly on ‘There’s No Leaving Now’

The Tallest Man on Earth
“There’s No Leaving Now”
Dead Oceans

On “There’s No Leaving Now,” Kristian Matsson, aka the Tallest Man Earth, makes it sonically clear that what you hear is what you get.

His voice may be eerily akin to that of a young Bob Dylan, but that’s where the comparison ends. You won’t find any songs with political statements or social critiques from Matsson.

Setting the album in motion, “To Just Grow Away” draws on jangling keyboards, muffled drums and acoustic guitar, which barely leave an imprint as Matsson’s somber voice takes up the rest of the space. The musical backdrop is befitting; his lyrics are never drowned out. The song seems to be about reaching contentment after a vague sense of struggle: “With a rain to help a river/But a river’s so hard to please/But I’ve grown to see the diamond/Thrown in just for me.”

Vague lyrics can have the tendency to be mundane at times, but Matsson makes them work without boring listeners. This may be because his lyrics are somewhere between poetry and traditional song structures. Whatever the combination, it’s appealing more often than not. “1904″ centers around a group of people who “shook the Earth in 1904″ without any further elaboration. “1904″ seems a bit more amplified, which is welcome amongst an album of muted acoustic guitars and soft accompaniment.

And even though there’s no immediate topical meaning, it’s hard to avoid singing along with Matsson’s pleasantly-nasal bridge: “And when the night is young but the bridge is sung/Something passing by I was sure/And the only one you can tell it to/Well, it’s the only one that ever knows.”

The Tallest Man on Earth exchanges his guitar for a piano on the album’s title track, a slower ballad that reminds listeners that Matsson doesn’t always sound like Bob Dylan — and that’s not a bad thing. His focus remains on a plateau of compromise between instrumentation and vocals, a balance Matsson handles so well.

As far as themes go, “There’s No Leaving Now” finds Matsson stuck in a kind of rut, notable when he sings, “Still you’re trying, but there’s no leaving now.” The tone strays from the dominant mood of the album, but it is a welcome diversion nonetheless.

Taken as a whole, “There’s No Leaving Now” is a sign of growth beyond Matsson’s 2010 release, “The Wild Hunt.” The open-tuned guitar picking is refined, Matsson’s voice is unwavering in tone, and while the instrumentation on the album may echo his previous recordings, the arrangements are executed well.

On “Bright Lanterns,” Matsson employs both acoustic and whistling, electric guitars that create a rich sound with a country and western subtlety. His imagery of “clear blue waking skies/And memories of gold on the run/Flying around” reinforce that sound. It is refreshing to hear just enough variation of styles on “There’s No Leaving Now.” As a result, the Tallest Man on Earth, measuring but 5′ 7″, is never overshadowed.

Electro-pop rockers Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship collaborate with artists and fans for ‘THE Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship Comic Book!!’

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When they’re not performing as Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship, a St. Louis electro-pop duo, Corey Goodman and Christopher Eilers read comic books. They’ve played at Star Clipper as part of Free Comic Day and even explored how deep comic book dedication runs in “I Like Marvel, You Like DC,” a tale of two lovebirds caught in the middle of an American comics rivalry.

Now, Superfun Yeah Yeah will have its own comic book.

Along with hanging out at Star Clipper and simply enjoying comic books, Goodman and Eilers have also received artwork from people at their shows, and so the idea of making a Superfun Yeah Yeah Comic Book materialized accordingly.

“Different people have talked to us over the last year or so or drawn cool pictures of us, and just mentioned it would be cool if we did something like that,” Goodman states. “So I just thought that this would be a way to do something awesome and different.”

Though plan specifics are still in the works, the comic book will be around 80 pages and include artwork and stories from different artists. So far, there’s not a theme for the book, but the band wants to give artists as much freedom as possible while still being an active part of the process.

“There’s probably not going to be much of theme, besides us being in it,” Goodman says. “But it’s probably going to be short, little comics. Some people might do a couple of pages and others might do ten pages or something like that.”

Nearly every aspect of the comic book is collaborative, from art and plot lines to funding, which was something that Goodman and Eilers think is important.

“We wanna work with [the artists] as much as possible because it’s fun, it’s cool,” Eilers explains. “We love comics, and it’s awesome to see the process.”

Andy Kluthe

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Imagination Fuels Opera Theatres’ Alice In Wonderland

Although Alice In Wonderland is not as old as more traditional operas (it premiered in 2007), staging it is nonetheless a challenging endeavor. For starters it is never easy to tinker with a classic, in this case the novels of Lewis Carroll which have entetainened children and adults for generations. Creating the imaginary worlds created by Carroll into a visual staged medium is simply daunting.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis took all of this into consideration when they decided to stage Alice In Wonderland as the finale for their current season, Luckily Stage Director James  Robinson has left no stone unturned in making a libretto by David Henry Hwang and Unsik Chin sizzle and pop.

To make this happen a few key ingredients were added for seasoning. First, the company commissioned a new orchestration for the opera. Second they held nothing back in designing cosutmes for the production, allowing James Schuette to cloak the characters in bold styles. Finally Robinson assembled an amazing cast led by Ashley Emerson (who was dazzling in last season’s Daughter of The Regiment) as Alice.

Despite her demure stature Emerson is a powerhouse. Simply put, the production is built around her. Her Aice is inquisitive, rational and not afraid to speak up. By giving Alice some gumption Emerson has made this familiar character fresh. Her solos are amongst this opera season’s best moments.

Interestingly, despite Emerson’s epic presence, the success of Alice In Wondeland is its ensemble. There definitely is safety in numbers as the troop pulls all of the stops for a magical production. Joining Emerson is  Aubrey Allicock who shines as the Mad Hatter. Soprano Julie Makerov, making her OTSL debut, is a delightfully ruthless Queen of Hearts. Tracy Dahl’s performance as The Cheshire Cat is also first rate.  David Trudgen successfully pulls double duty as the White Rabbit and the March Hare with great panache.

Nothing is left to chance as the lines between set piece and stage presentation are blurred thanks to some imaginative stage design work from Allen Moyer. Almost everything featured on stage has multiple uses, further adding to the suspension of reality prevelent in the opera.

Underscoring the great sets and lavish costumes is the use of film as a medium for passing time, depicting motion emphasizing the utter strangeness of Wonderland. Film is projected as a backdrop throughout most of the performance, lending both a luminosity and density to the visual presentation.

In fact the imaginative nature of Alice In Wonderland itself allows the production team and ensemble to get carried away and take things to a bolder and brighter place not offored in more traditional operas. They are obviously relishing the opportunity.

There is no mistake about it, this is an opera of experimentation served up with lots of surreal frosting. Mounting a contemporary opera of this nature was a bit of a gamble for OTSL. Despite the stunning visuals, gorgeous songs and innovative staging it is obvious that the company did not have much wiggle room for error. The fact that everything goes in perfect syncopation without a hitch is really something special. Everything in this very technical show is perfectly timed and executed.

There couldn’t be a better closing opera for Opera Theatre of St. Louis to showcase its wares, Alice is Wonderland is a fun romp from some fine young talent while taking the craft of set design to a whole new level. The opera is fueled by a rising starlet surround by a cast of virtuosos that push the envelope every night in an effort to maintain OTSL’s reputation for innovation.

Everyone likes to feel like a kid again and explore the unlimited realms of the imagination.  Alice In Wonderland affords audiences that treat while maintaining the childlike inquisitiveness of Carroll’s original work.  Thanks to Opera Theatre Of St. Louis, the onstage world of Alice In Wonderland is a showstopper in every sense of the word, It  never relents in delivering two hours of nonstop frolic, fear and fun for the child in all of us.

Here are the performance dates and times for Alice In Wonderland.

Wednesday, June 13 , 8:00 pm

Friday, June 15,  8:00 pm

Sunday, June 17,  7:00 pm

Tuesday, June 19,  1:00 pm

Thursday, June 21 , 8:00 pm

All performance s are held at the Browning Mainstage at the  Loretto-Hilton Center.

For more information visit http://www.opera-stl.org

88.1 KDHX DJ Spotlight: Josh Weinstein of All Soul, No Borders

Photo by Roy Kasten

“All Soul, No Borders” is weekly proof of why Josh Weinstein is sometimes described as a musical holy man and shaman.

Every Sunday, 10 p.m.-midnight Central, Josh plays what I would describe as a record, historical or otherwise, of what great musicians were saying from many places, at many times, and from many perspectives. This results in what could be described as very much like getting a soul recharge for the low, low price of paying attention. Josh has honed the skill of finding the commonalities between what musicians are saying; as a result, there isn’t a single genre, era or time that could be associated with what is played on his show.

If you listen, Josh will play it — where “it” is something you needed to hear.

In this email exchange he and I discussed the finer points of programming music on KDHX and why music makes life worth living.

Jared Corgan: Would you say that you first approach your show’s music analytically then aesthetically or some other method? How does that work?

Josh Weinstein: No, I do not analyze the music first. Just as I don’t initially approach a beautiful sunset analytically. I take it in as it is. I let it affect me how it will. I try not to bring any expectations to it. That’s a good way for me to experience what it is and what it does to me on different levels. Of course, there’s an intellectual level, too. That’s a different state of listening for me.

How long have you been a volunteer with KDHX and how much of that time have you been a DJ?

I have been a volunteer at KDHX since the spring or summer of 2000. I became a DJ in the fall of that year.

How would you describe yourself as a person outside of the role of DJ?

Here’s someone else’s description of myself on and off air: “Hey you know that I truly meant the things I said about you on the show — I think you are a musical holy man and I feel I learn just being around you and picking up on what spills off — as a human being you are just as flawed as the rest of us but as a musical shaman I really believe you might even be able to heal.” (recent email from KDHX DJ Bob Reuter.)

So, let’s just go with “flawed.”

What do you want your audience to take away or get from your shows?

Firstly, I’m grateful that there is an audience. This reinforces my belief that there is a need here for The Music. What I want is for this need to be satisfied. I hope that it does for you what it does for me. Has your ear ever been so thirsty that you cupped and aimed it at a source to get as much in as possible? That happens to me sometimes. I’ll try to really get inside the sound of a ride cymbal, for example. I just noticed it again yesterday at an outdoor concert at Laumeier Sculpture Park. I was listening to Thollem McDonas, Arrington de Dionyso, and Eric Hall and I realized I had my hand around my outer ear and my head cocked to the side. Then I visualized/experienced my ear as a deep void being filled with the sound waves. This felt so good. It was like a metaphysical itch being scratched. Or my brain being massaged. I want to rub your brain.

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