Concert review: The Avett Brothers sound right at home at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, Saturday, September 29

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It was hard to keep track of who was who when the Avett Brothers played the Fabulous Fox Theatre on Saturday night.

The confusion came partially from the fact that half the band has shoulder-length hair that from far away looks the same, but mostly was caused by how often they switched instruments and rotated in and out of the stage. Seth and Scott Avett (the only two members that were actually born Avetts) rotated between the piano, guitars and a banjo primarily. Bob Crawford spent most of his time on the bass, but also sang and picked a guitar. With each instrument change came a change of who was on stage, from just one member at points, to all five at others (also in the Avett Brothers are Joe Kwon, who plays the cello, and drummer Jacob Edwards). The rotation kept things exciting and unpredictable. You rarely knew what song was coming next. The show was like putting your iPod on shuffle and waiting to see what popped up.

Bathed in blue, pink and purple lights, the band took the stage at just after 8 p.m. dressed in blue jeans with big belt buckles and plaid shirts. From the very beginning, they were incredibly appreciative of the supportive audience. Seth and Scott took the time to thank the crowd between each song — and they seemed to really mean it. Some songs were emotional and chilling — an early on, stripped-down rendition of “Murder in the City,” for example — and others were just plain-old exciting — “Kick Drum Heart,” especially.

“Laundry Room” ended with what could only be described as a folk jam session. A highlight of the nearly two minute breakdown was Joe Kwon — the Steve Aoki of folk music — playing his cello with more passion and energy than I’d ever see a cellist play with before.

There was good variety of new and old songs, with at least one or two from almost all of the Avett Brothers’ seven full-length albums. Some of the newer ones though sounded the most spectacular, especially “The Once and Future Carpenter,” the lead single from the band’s newest release, “The Carpenter.” The live version had more excitement and flare than the calmer, recorded release. Both are moving and beautifully harmonized, but the live version brought out a sense of vigor that the album track doesn’t have.

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Concert review: The Raveonettes hold capacity crowd spellbound at the Firebird, Friday, September 28

The Raveonettes at the Firebird. Photo by Nate Burrell.

If the Raveonettes were an insect, they would be a spindly black widow spider in a cloudy forest.

You would be so mesmerized by the spider’s delicately spun web that you would not notice as it wound around and around you, wrapping your body in layers of sticky mesh until, dazed as if waking from a strange dream, you would find yourself ensnared and about to be consumed whole.

Through a haze of machine-generated fog so thick you could choke on it, the eerie duo (plus a touring drummer) piled on the dark, the inky-black and the gloom, punctuated at times by jangly, Cramps-esque rockabilly riffs and drum line beats. On Friday night the Firebird was coated in distortion, and the two touring drummers squared off to deliver a thick wall of sound that you could almost swallow.

The band’s set was heavy on material from its two most recent records, “Observator” and the aptly-titled “Raven in the Grave” — two releases that have chronicled guitarist Sune Rose Wagner’s life with a major depressive disorder. While the Raveonettes have always made music fit for a teen vampire soap opera, the mood and lyrical content of most of their new material is especially riddled with angst.

“Recharge and Revolt,” the set opener, saw the duo fully embracing the inner Cure that all self-respecting bands who dress mostly in black surely possess. “I don’t wanna be young and cold,” Wagner sang plaintively during the (also) aptly-titled “Young and Cold.” There was one “from the vaults” as Sharin Foo introduced it: “Attack of the Ghost Riders,” which generated near hysteria.

However, much of the night felt like a comedown, although the amplifiers were none the worse for wear — less of a gentle descent and more like a blistering hangover, with enough strobe lights to induce a seizure.

“Dead Sound” proved an exception, a love song for people wearing thick eyeliner, as was the be-boppy “Aly, Walk with Me” (delivered during the encore). The band kept banter to a minimum, one or two polite “thank you”s and the occasional side consultation in Danish. “Secret Danish language,” Foo explained. (Foo is Christina Aguilera’s counterpart on Denmark’s version of the TV show “The Voice,” by the way, proving once again that Denmark’s version of everything is way cooler than ours.)

An inter-generational crowd, some there to see opening act Melody’s Echo Chamber and others old enough to have purchased a Jesus and Mary Chain record when records didn’t come with an MP3 download, chattered and swilled during the set, but were completely mesmerized by “Dead Sound” and exultant over “Love in a Trashcan.”

For continuing to evolve through a fog of personal difficulties and after basically establishing the imitable fuzzed-out girl group sonic zeitgeist of recent years, the Raveonettes get five pentagram-shaped stars.

Concert review and set list: Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three (with Colonel Ford) rock back the clock at Off Broadway, Friday, September 28

Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three. Photo by Kate McDaniel.

A strong scent of PBR and hair pomade filled Off Broadway this Friday night in late September as a packed house of St. Louisans showed a side that time will not allow us to forget.

Hometown heroes Colonel Ford and Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three brought that old-timey feeling via a show that spanned over 80 years of music — connecting the past, the present and the future.

Opener Colonel Ford took stage studded in cowboy boots and blue jeans and provided the excited crowd with an hour’s worth of well-done, clean-cut country music. Armed with two guitars, an upright bass and drums, the band delivered a fine mixture of covers and originals. These country connoisseurs sifted their way through timeless tunes done by the likes of Buck Owens and Charlie Feathers and gave all in attendance an especially beautiful four minutes with a cover of the great country standard, “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke.”

Throughout the hour the band sent the crowd swaying and foot tapping into a sense of longing nostalgia that turned the venue into a hazy, smoke-filled honky tonk somewhere down in Texas. Colonel Ford came in and did what all great openers do — play great music and warm the crowd for the night’s main event. Their Hank Williams-era songs with a honky-tonk approach proved to be just what Off Broadway needed to start the night off right.

Between the break a feeling of restlessness and excitement began to move throughout the sold-out crowd. The venue became a collection of sounds: glasses clanked in the back, George Jones played over the speakers and countless murmurs and chatter dedicated to the iconic young men set to take stage any moment.

Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three walked coolly on stage to the soundtrack of screams and cheers that only a hometown crowd could offer. After a quick soundcheck and introduction, Pokey and the boys got down to business, starting their set with a Fred Rose dance number entitled, “The Devil Ain’t Lazy.”

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Concert review: Bug Chaser, Volcanoes, Ou Où and Jack Buck go crazy (folks!) at Bad Dog Bar and Grill, Friday, September 28

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I was pretty stoked to see that Jack Buck, the mathy hardcore locals named after the late sportscaster, would be opening up the insanely solid lineup at Bad Dog Bar and Grill on Friday night.

To use a couple phrases lifted from the Buck’s Wikipedia page: “I don’t believe what I just saw!” “Go crazy folks, go crazy!” and “Pardon me while I stand up to applaud.”

Jack Buck gnarled out riff-heavy, technically meandering licks in the vein of Converge or Dillinger Escape Plan. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a band of this particular leaning, and it reminded me why I was ever into the sound at all. More musically intelligent than primal hardcore and metal bands but still maintaining that intensity underneath their shells, the band broke out viscerally searing jam after jam. Breakdowns were performed with a get-in-get-out mentality — none of that tough-guy-posing, ridiculously-drawn-out shit a lot of the more mainstream metal kids are playing these days. Plus, the band totes a pretty sick wood-carved case for its first 7″ record on the merch table.

Fresh off a show with Moon Duo at the Firebird the night before, Ou Où brought the emphasis on song structure down while bringing the eeriness level way up. I’ve had the chance to catch them live before, but this night the duo invited a burlesque-esque dancer on stage — clearly for the purpose of tripping me out. The dancer bizarrely wandered about, getting lost in staring at the lights, just as the crowd was similarly getting lost in the hypnotic layers of the sound. Patrick Weston twisted and twirled knobs behind his two-tiered equipment stand as Travis Bursik punched and pulsed samples and beats from his wooden electronic pulpit.

Both members shared looping duties with a vast arsenal of electronic goods, weaving a continuous tune. Watching Weston and Bursik reminded of 1950s footage of scientists pulling and patching chords in those huge, room-size IBM computers. Alternatively abrasive and gloomy, Ou Où fit right in with the overall heaviness of the night — despite being the only electronic act.

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Concert review: Glen Hansard sustains all notes at the Pageant, Tuesday, September 25

Glen Hansard at the Pageant. Photo by Abby Gillardi.

Maybe you fell in love with the Glen Hansard busking on a street corner in Dublin, wearing a bedraggled broken coat, strumming on a well-worn, hole-y, broken guitar, wailing about his miserable broken heart.

Or maybe you fell in love with the broken-guitar slinging, broken-heart crooning, broken-coat donning characters Hansard has played on the big screen (“Once,” 2007; “The Commitments,” 1991). Or maybe you are one of the few who joined the Glen Hansard love affair from the now-broken Frames or Swell Season days. Regardless, those broken bits are all Glen Hansard, one and the same.

His 2012 release “Rhythm and Repose” at first listen, or even after several solid tries, sounds, well, a bit broken. Without his co-star, Markéta Irglová, or even the backup harmonizers the “Commitmentettes,” Glen Hansard sounds alone. “Alone” in all connotations — both lonely and lacking. Indeed, the lyrics of his entire repertoire seem to center on loneliness, sadness, heartbreak — “this gift is waiting to be found.” Ouch.

There is something painfully exquisite about two former lovers lamenting their mutual lost love for one another in the most beautiful of harmonies (of course we’re all thinking of the achingly, lovely harmonizing of Hansard and Irglova — “you call, then I’ll come running.” But when one of those lovers keeps crooning, maintaining that lament, while his partner has not just moved on, but also ceased all such lamenting over that same lost love, that is more painful than exquisite: “When your mind’s made up, there’s no point trying to change it.”

And “Rhythm and Repose” has a touch of that painfulness: no one harmonizing and no one filling the void of that broken heart that is the subject of nearly every song on the album. That guy can hold a high note, for sure, but he can also keep up a broken heart far longer than anyone I’ve met.

On Tuesday night at the Pageant, however, Glen Hansard filled that void of someone or something missing. True, he lamented and mewled over his broken heart. Yes, he created a palpable sadness that made me mourn lost lovers that ordinarily wouldn’t warrant even a second thought. But the single, lonely, aching crooner was not alone last night.

Between the crowd joining in (at times from the sheer compulsion to throw our harmonizing hats into the mutual-lament ring, and at other times from Hansard instructing us to chime in — “you melodize there, there, there” or “just remember – long enough / strong enough” — and his 10-piece backup orchestra (complete with former Levon Helm bandmates), Hansard was a solid, complete, dare I say fulfilled, entity. His melodies crescendoed in the most — yes painfully — exquisite of ways, his street-smart humor a la Grafton Street infused some needed levity, and his two hours and 20 minutes of music-making left absolutely no holes.

With this mix of elements, there was no void, there was no lack. On this night in St. Louis there was nothing broken.

Glen Hansard took the stage at 9:15 p.m. and played a 20-plus song set (it was impossible to keep track, with many songs devolving into several-part medleys), including singing original music from old and new albums plus the two most famous duets from “Once.” He covered not just Levon Helm and his self-proclaimed idol Bob Dylan, but also a bit of Otis Redding, a touch of Chuck Berry and even a moment of Willy Wonka. He bantered, he danced, he pounded the no-longer hole-y guitar, he laughed, he charmed, he fucking rocked it.

Still I wonder whether Glen Hansard — solo man/solo artist — can sustain. But I also believe that given the right accompaniment — whether that is a lover, an orchestra, a group of back-up singers, a hit Broadway spinoff, or even the Band — the Glen Hansard cohort will continue to reverberate — musically and emotionally.

And if it all works out, you might just see me or hear from me . . . We can do anything. . . Where your heart is strong.

Concert review: Marco Benevento and Mike Dillon jazz up the Old Rock House on Wednesday, September 26

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Taking the Old Rock House stage with his backing band, a group featuring three-fourths of New Orleans funksters Yojimbo, Mike Dillon immediately tore into a few tracks from his newest album “Urn.”

The first thing that jumped to mind was how much the band sounded like the “Shiny Beast”-era Captain Beefheart and I immediately knew this set wasn’t going to be long enough.

Dillon spent the evening jumping back and forth between his electric vibraphone, glockenspiel and percussion rig containing bongos, a cowbell and a snare drum. When he kicks his playing into high gear, it’s like watching that scene in the “Matrix” where Neo starts dodging gunfire on the roof. You see him going to town but you don’t know how he can move so fast and still make each note clear and distinct. Chris Hines used his guitar as a controller for his bass synth, making sounds that ranged from the funky space bass of Bootsy Collins to an imitation of Optimus Prime during a moment of severe gastrointestinal distress.

Drummer Adam Gerstner held the time perfectly, matching Dillon’s frenetic start-and stop-tempo adjustments with flair, almost making it look easy. Carly Meyers rounded out the group whirling and twirling like a dervish when she wasn’t playing the glockenspiel alongside Dillon or wailing away on her trombone. Tonight I learned that the trombone is the sexiest instrument ever made when it’s in the hands of someone possessed by the music being created on stage.

Once you get out to the fringes of jazz where it starts to blend in with other genres of music you end up with a word salad of terms to describe the music. While it might be tempting to throw out “avant-jazz,” “funk-punk fusion” or any other myriad of hyphenated words, the only true way to describe the sounds coming off the stage is Mike Dillon.

Along with the new material, the band played a few tracks from Dillon’s other projects, including his hip-hop alter-ego MC Silver Ice. I can say that where the hip-hop stuff was good, the band really shone when they were playing the more avant-garde leaning pieces. “I Saw George Porter, Jr. Play Punk Rock with My Friend Skerik at the Jam Cruise” from the Mike Dillon’s “Go-Go Jungle” album “Rock Star Bench Press” was my favorite song of the evening, with the band playing some of the hardest punk this side of 924 Gilman Street. “I’m Gonna Find $100 on the Ground” from the Hairy Apes BMX album “Expatriape” was also a stand out, as was the bouncy rhythm of “Ding Dong the Party Is Over” from the new Mike Dillon album “Urn.”

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Concert review: Tennis serves up sparkling dream pop at Off Broadway, Thursday, September 27

Tennis at Off Broadway. Photo by Ben Mudd.

“I don’t know what I’m doing up here,” giggled Tennis‘ Alaina Moore behind a shock of Pantene-commercial hair, after an effusive thank you to old friends and opening act Making Movies.

But it sure didn’t seem that way. Wispy of stature, Moore softly swayed in time to guitarist/husband Patrick Riley’s gentle surf guitar, spreading her pitch-perfect lullaby soprano like butter over the similarly swaying, enraptured, tipsy masses at Off Broadway. This after Tennis had broken into a set of shimmering indie pop, led off by “It All Feels the Same” and a mix of the old (“South Carolina”) the new (a yet-to-be-recorded song) the borrowed (“Guiding Light,” a Television cover) and the blue (“Robin”).

The boys in the band solemnly played their instruments while Moore occasionally addressed the crowd in her meltingly smooth teen-dream croon—a-speaking voice that’s just as pleasing as her singing one, practically made for bedtime story-reading. Everything she says is delivered liltingly, soft but not shy; perfect for the sunny-but-serious dream pop for which the Denver band is (rightfully) becoming well known. Riley’s lo-fi guitar sound, ranging from the twangy (“Vegas”) to the twinkly (“Deep in the Woods”) complements Moore’s sugarcoated soprano and church-choir piano.

The band seemed genuinely happy with their warm reception: “You guys have been awesome spectators, thank you for making our night special.” One lucky lady had “Petition” dedicated to her, prefaced this way by Moore: “This song is for the girl in the bathroom who said she felt like she was dressed for a Taylor Swift concert.” (Better than being dressed for a Lady Gaga concert?)

As Tennis worked its way through most of its latest record, “Young and Old,” neither the crowd nor the band seemed quite ready to quit by curtain draw time. “Is it OK if we just play a few more?” Moore sweetly offered, before drummer James Barone kicked into the jumpy “High Road” before the sound guys could say no. Who could refuse her, anyway?

‘The highest musical honor I’ve been lucky to experience’ An interview with Will Johnson

Photo by Matt Pence.

Will Johnson‘s never been stingy with his art. From his work with Centro-matic, South San Gabriel and Monsters of Folk, to producing and playing on albums by other artists, to painting portraits of baseball players, “prolific” barely describes the Missouri-born artist.

This year he’s been even more visible. First he released and toured with New Multitudes, the Woody Guthrie tribute project that also includes Jay Farrar, Yim Yames and Anders Parker. Six months later, he’s back on the road with Parker in support of his new solo album, “Scorpion.” He’ll be playing songs from both albums, and much more, with Parker at Off Broadway on September 29.

I talked to Johnson the morning after the tour’s opening show in Mobile, Ala. He was once again busy with an endeavor that will keep him on the road; we chatted from a waiting room while he was having the tour van’s oil changed.

Robin Wheeler: How did “Scorpion” and “New Multitudes” influence each other?

Will Johnson: The “Scorpion” record was predominantly written in the studio. It was a real front-of-the-brain exercise over the course of five days. With the exception of three songs, my bandmate from Centro-matic, Matt Pence, and I worked for five days, just trying to really capture this certain chapter in our musical lives.

The difference would be that the the “Scorpion” stuff was my own material and my own lyrics, and the Woody thing was something I’d never done, which is write music to someone else’s lyrics. However, the similarities between the two would be that the songwriting structures and the songs themselves came together very quickly — in an almost automatic way.

It’s a little hard to explain, but the timing was just right. The weather was right. Something as simple as the weather can influence something like that for me. That was the case in both of those particular records. All those recordings were around for a long time before we got a chance to release them. It took a good number of years to get the Woody record to a place where we were ready to show it to the world. And it took a little while after recording ["Scorpion"], though I recorded it really fast, I put it on the shelf for a few years just because there were some other releases to make room for and I didn’t want it to encroach upon the breath that those releases need to breathe, and the touring and all that stuff.

Can you tell me what it was like for you to go through the Guthrie archives and have the experience of adding music to his words?

It’s incredibly humbling. It really re-calibrated me in a lot of ways. To say it’s an honor sounds flimsy, but it is the highest musical honor I’ve been lucky to experience. To have a glimpse at Woody’s writings and notes, and math problems in the margins, and his drive until the very end of his life, when it was evident that his faculties were fading. His handwriting was so shaky toward the end, but that voice — that fire that burned within him — really burned until the very end. You can see physical evidence by looking over those pages he wrote at any and all costs. He wrote until the very end. To see evidence of that — we hear about it when we research Woody Guthrie — but to have an opportunity to look over those pages made it even more intense and real, to get a feel for the kind of energy and fortitude that he possessed until his last day. That inevitably carried over to making the recordings, without a doubt.

What kind of shift did you have to make in your songwriting to work with his lyrics?

Starting from the start, Jay Farrar sent me 17 pages of lyrics in a mailer. When I opened them up I went up to my little apartment, and I was looking at them on the walk. Then I got to my apartment, spread them out and really looked at them. This is going to sound kind of cryptic, but I waited for those songs to kind of jump out. I think they speak for themselves in such a powerful manner, just looking over the written word. It’s very realistic to hear music in your head when you’re looking at lyrics. When I was looking over those lyrics I was really looking closely for that, seeing if one or two or three would start singing back at me, if I could hear the cadence and hear the tempo, the velocity for lack of a better word.

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