Concert review and set list: JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound (with the Pinstripes and Bailiff) shake up Off Broadway, Sunday, December 30

Sneaking onto stage and straight into the set list without any warning, JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound shook a few middle fingers at 2012 before we all shook our asses off.

JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, via Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, got it together around 2007. Since then, they’ve proven to crowd after crowd where the baton that such legends as James Brown and Booker T and the MG’s have held now resides. With a rotating cast that includes a brass section and a myriad of supporting musicians, JC Brooks, Billy Bungeroth, Kevin Marks, Andy Rosenstein and Ben Taylor successfully played snake charmer to their suddenly-not-still St. Louis fans.

After a low-key opener, “Want More” marked the start of the sweat. The title cut off the latest album, deservedly so, shows the band at its best. Everyone hits their trademark strengths: bass slinking between frets, drums pounding out the dance steps, falsetto backup vocals hitting repeat and the guitar swaying with JC’s impromptu persuasions. The set, a gift to the fans, allowed a few sneak peeks at the current roster attempting to make it to the next wax pressing. “Rouse Yourself,” one such newbie, made for a truly provocative performance. Recalling Sam Cooke’s fine discography, the track both laments a current, better-left-unsaid state of affairs, while highlighting the positive facts that we can still work with.

Prior to the Uptown Sound’s workout, Bailiff provided some introspection. Thanking the familiar faces from Chicago in the crowd — the three piece also hails from the Windy City — Bailiff brooded and impeccably slid between the songs of their euphoric set. Their melodies reigned supreme, sounding like the soundtrack to a favorite dream. “When I Leave You Will Stay,” a sing-along to wrap the set, truly deserves some radio rotation.

The Pinstripes, together since high school — nine years by drummer John Bertke’s count — proved another bright spot on a stellar Off Broadway night. With a three-piece brass section up front, the guys carved out a menacing personal manifesto; reaffirming that whatever your desire, fight, dance or love, you needn’t look any further. The rest of the set — sans even a violent gesture — created what the dedicated skankers up front already faced: an infectious, irresistible bounce.

However, this was the Uptown Sound’s night. “I Got High,” and the incredible stretch it started, served as one long collective highlight. The immaculate re-imagining of Jeff Tweedy’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” came next, before “75 Years of Art Sex” got its own re-imagining. The band effortlessly switched between Moby’s “Natural Blues” chorus — “Ain’t nobody know my troubles but god” — and a quick dip into Peggy Lee’s “Fever” before bringing it all home.

However, it was the completely unanticipated, and in-hindsight, desperately desired, cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” in which Brooks and the Uptown Sound distilled their eloquent message. Playing the cover straight, as they are rarely want to do, JC might’ve even found a dynamic enough foil in Mr. Bowie himself. Coming back out for their encore, the band flashed a few genuine smiles that rivaled the elation the crowd felt.

JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound set list:

Married for a Week
Want More
Rouse Yourself
I Got High
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
I Can See Everything
75 Years of Art Sex
Let’s Dance (David Bowie cover)

Everything Will Be Fine
Baltimore Is the New Brooklyn

Best of 2012 on Positive Vibrations This Saturday night Dec. 29th

Join Professor Skank this Saturday night for the Best Reggae of 2012, Positive Vibes style. No countdown, just two hours of the best reggae released in the past year. Most of the music will be from his Top 10 list (found at including tracks from Clinton Fearon, Reemah, Bambu Station, Ras Batch, Rocky Dawuni, Jimmy Cliff, Groundation, U-Roy, Macka B and Mark Wonder, as well as tunes from Stylee Wood, Dubtonic Kru, Midnite, Morgan Heritage and Sierra Leone’s Reggae All Stars. Best of 2012 from 9-11 pm this Saturday night Dec. 29th on “Positive Vibrations.” Check it.

Concert review: El Monstero greets the apocalypse with Pink Floyd at the Pageant, Friday, December 21

With 17 bandmates in place and a set-up rivaling anything I’ve seen at the Pageant, Mark Thomas Quinn rode his podium over 30 feet above the sold-out and bustling mass before El Monstero proceeded to expand the meaning of the word “spectacle.”

El Monstero, difficult to define in the first place, is a collection of dedicated musicians, each with numerous band credits to their name — many Urge fans made their presence known during the introductions — that holds down an annual block of shows at the Pageant around Christmas. The difference: These are Pink Floyd tribute shows. These are El Monstero’s signature, for 14 consecutive years and regularly selling out each one.

Without an opener, the supergroup carved out a wide swath of Pink Floyd’s discography — the opening medley captured some of the pre-”Dark Side of the Moon” gem, “Meddle.” The first half of the show was largely built around Roger Water’s thesis, “The Wall.”

Fully included were multiple classic scenes from the film to the delight of everyone, especially those who’ve made a lopsided trade for a chocolate Snak-Pak in the interest of avoiding Salisbury steak. The opening, an excellent vision of character Pink’s delusional fascist concert, replete with a horsewhip, knee-high boots and the El Monstero stasi — armed only with spotlights tonight — elicited a borderline unsettling feeling. It was only amplified by the fact that so many moving parts truly commanded attention.

“Another Brick in the Wall” allowed the few who hadn’t completely been entranced yet the opportunity, as the stark contrasts of the night began. Lasers, built to approximate the calm of a lake, were interrupted by enough pyrotechnics to put a WWE headliners entrance to shame. “Young Lust” allowed a specific, professional group their exotic turn at the forefront, as well as at symmetrical poles adorning either end of the stage. While a ballet dancer temporarily afforded a reprieve to the mothers in attendance, a pig on stilts resembling Rich Uncle Pennybags corrupted the pole shortly thereafter, and marked the start of the industry evisceration, “Have a Cigar.” Advice to future attendees: Secure a spot in the pit before this happens.

After the break, El Monstero got back into its full tilt with an immaculate performance of “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” The crowd’s astonishment at aerial contortionist Meg, donning diamonds herself, was palpable. Dave Farver’s table top saxophone solo from the first tier faithfully brought it home.

The second half of the show heavily featured a start-to-finish recreation of the touchstone album “The Dark Side of the Moon.” Emphasizing the signature crunch of each riff and that unparalleled longing for another that Pink Floyd conveys, El Monstero nailed every bit. “Us and Them,” and “Breathe,” were particularly well-received. Special consideration goes out to the three ladies who belted out “The Great Gig in the Sky.” As anticipated a moment in the night as any, the applause rose as soon as they were seen leaving their perch against the set background. Ms. Tandra Williams, once arriving at her rightful place front and center with a microphone, quickly made any other thought obsolete.

A short encore allowed the band to circle back to the few necessities that hadn’t been done yet, and allowed “Wish You Were Here” to easily become a favorite of “Night One,” as guitarist Jimmy Griffin described this night, the only show scheduled before the Mayan apocalypse. After ending on “Comfortably Numb,” the band afforded fans one more memory, adding a shower of pyrotechnics before making the night’s final exit from the stage.

El Monstero: Pigocalypse continues at the Pageant through December 29, 2012.

Concert review: Local H (with Animal Empty) almost starts a holiday riot at the Firebird, Friday, December 21

Animal Empty opened the raucous evening at the Firebird with a gothic set of tunes helmed by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, Ali Ruby. The four-piece band slid from heavy post-rock verses to jams that featured a light Latin influence, which Ruby accentuated with nice trumpet work.

“Goodbye” grew from an acoustic jangle to a lilting confession from the raspy-throated Ruby. Drummer Mike Craft flooded the room with well-timed floor-tom rolls. The song deftly mixed the sounds of Our Lady Peace, “Ugly Organ-era”-Cursive and modern post-rock female vocal elements.

“The Flood (Sensual Centaur)” scaled with a tight, near-math-rock drum rhythm. Alec Frisch’s guitar rang layered with the perfect level of distortion, while next to him, Aaron Cajilig bobbed along on bass, as Ruby breathed the song’s chorus like an incantation.

After Animal Empty left the stage, Local H‘s mastermind, Scott Lucas, appeared strumming immediately into “Waves” from 2012′s “Hallelujah! I’m a Bum.” The song built on a wall-of-sound guitar drone with dreamy vocals, which Lucas sang as he quickly plugged in the bass pickup on his modified guitar. Amazing that such a small thing allows Local H to remain a duo.

Local H’s other member, drummer Brian St. Clair, sat on the other side of the stage with a double-stack amp pointing directly at him and his drum set. He adjusted his gloves and sweatbands, took a drink of whiskey and charged to life as Lucas cranked into “Cold Manor.” Weezer contrails mingled with up-beat pop-rock, Lucas subverting both with his snarky, judgmental style.

As a form of punctuation, Lucas spit on the floor kicking out the chords to “Bound to the Floor” from 1996′s “As Good As Dead.” The crowd screamed the lyrics back at Lucas, “Born to be down…” I reveled in the ’90s glory of the tune, which back then, taught me the word “copacetic,” and now conjures memories of plastic beer cups and mud sailing through the air of some long-lost PointFest.

The social commentary that Lucas builds into Local H’s stood strong. “They Saved Reagan’s Brain” featured Lucas howling catchy “o-o-o’s” then singing, “There is no use running with the Chinese coming and I don’t want to see this world burn no more.” The still pertinent, “All the Kids are Right,” from 1998′s “Pack Up the Cats,” sparkled with its sage lyrics, “All the kids they hold a grudge, their minds are logged onto the net.”

“Everyone Alive” from “What Ever Happened To P.J. Soles?” hammered hard with Foo Fighters overtones and call/response from the audience. “Night Flight To Paris,” shaded toward grunge-metal, while “Feed a Fever” rocked with a barroom swagger, similar to something the Hold Steady might attempt.

“Another February” stood-out as an excellent angry punk-balled, offering massive guitar and drum drops. “Hands on the Bible” from “Here Comes the Zoo,” shuffled and accentuated the fact that the world didn’t end in 2012.

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All Aboard for Fun Times: St. Louis show highlights for 12/21-12/23

All Aboard for Fun Times Train

Several last-minute gifts of music before a couple of silent nights — all assuming the Mayans were wrong, of course.

Friday, December 21

The Last Show on Earth
Bo and the Locomotive / Magic City / Pretty Little Empire / Old Lights / Yankee Racers
Off Broadway 3509 Lemp 6:30 door/7 start $5 advance/8 door (+3 under 21 – all-ages) Smoke-free

Five fine acts convene to usher in the End Times.

Bo and the Locomotive play emotive rock with pop and folk touches (frontman Bo Bulawsky is the son of Magic City leader Larry).

Powerful rock with a dark vibe from the fabulous Magic City.

Folk-ish rock sounds that run from mellow to manic from Pretty Little Empire.

Sophisticated, popish rock, with great vocals, from Old Lights.

Yankee Racers is a project of Curt Brewer (Kentucky Knife Fight, Old Lights) and Chicago’s Nathan Jatcko offering tasteful, folk-tinged pop-rock.

Perhaps in anticipation of the End Times, the annual Brian Henneman solo show at Iron Barley (5510 Virginia), which usually takes place on Christmas night, moves to tonight at 11 p.m.

Cover is $10 (I assume 21+). This is a very intimate space; arrive early if want to find a good spot.

Saturday, December 22

Lookout Joe — the laid-back country cover band formed by Brian Henneman and Kip Loui when Diesel Island drummer Mark Ortmann relocated (making shows by the latter infrequent) — will play an even mellower set at Focal Point (2720 Sutton), going unplugged for the night.

This starts at 8 p.m., with a $10 cover (all-ages). Smoke-free.

7 Shot Screamers / Doom Town / Lonesome Cowboy Ryan and His Dried-up Teardrops
Firebird 2706 Olive 8:30 door/9 start $10 (+3 18-20) Smoke-free

Singer Mike Leahy comes in from L.A. for a visit, allowing 7 Shot Screamers to perform their potent blend of punk and rockabilly sounds again.

A blend of punk and hard rock from Doom Town.

Lonesome Cowboy Ryan and His Dried-up Teardrops are the South City Three (without Pokey LaFarge), dishing out some old-school honky tonk.

Schlafly Tap Room (2100 Locust) hosts a show headlined by smooth soul masters Ransom Note, joined by one-man kook-rock act Horsey Drawers and rockers Popular Mechanics.

This starts at 9 p.m. and is free (all-ages, but minors must be with an adult). Smoke-free.

A big show full of country, country-rock, rockabilly and more roots styles occurs at the Way Out Club (2525 S. Jefferson), with Butcher Holler, Reverend Whiskey Richard & The Holy Rollers, The BOB Band and Reverend Matt providing the sounds.

This starts around 9 p.m., with a $7 cover (21+ only). Smoke-free.

Carriage House offers rock with a Velvet Underground-meets-Crazy Horse vibe at Mangia Italiano (3145 S. Grand) starting around 11.

This is free (21+ only) and smoke-free.

Sunday, December 23

Rum Drum Ramblers / Chicago Blues Angels / The Hobosexuals
Off Broadway 3509 Lemp 7 door/7:30 start $5 advance/8 door (+3 under 21 – all-ages) Smoke-free

Vintage jazz/blues sounds from Rum Drum Ramblers, who release a new single this evening.

Chicago Blues Angels play a mix of vintage rock, rockabilly and blues. A country/folk blend from the Hobosexuals.

Your humble servant,

Dick Caveat

Thursday morning music news: Big Boi gets Grinchy, Mac Lethal gets angry and Willie Ackerman passes on

KDHX kicks of its year-end roundups with big lists of top spins, DJ top 10 albums, songs of the year and more.

The Magnolia Avenue Studios have been jumping, with new sessions from Cory Chisel, Middle Class Fashion and Ellis Paul streaming now.

The second volume of KDHXmas, a furiously festive compilation of St. Louis (and beyond) artists doing original and classic holiday tunes, is out.

Big Boi reading “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”? Yes. Watch.

If reports are to be believed, Charles Mingus made the greatest eggnog ever.

Don’t get your hopes up for a Nirvana reunion any time soon.

Norton Records’ warehouse was hit hard by superstorm Sandy. Yo La Tengo to the rescue.

After the tragedy at Newtown, Conn., U.S. radio isn’t so keen on Ke$ha’s “Die Young.”

Interwebs sensation Mac Lethal cuts an excellent takedown of the Westboro Baptist Church. Watch.

Billboard looks back at a “tumultuous year” in the music biz.

Frank Ocean’s deadbeat dad is shaking him down for $1 million.

One of the finest drummers in Nashville, Willie Ackerman, has died at the age of 73.

Get a sneak preview of the forthcoming Flaming Lips concert film. Trailer very much NSFW.

One of the greatest rock collections ever, “Nuggets,” has turned 40. Lenny Kaye looks back on his handiwork.

The dance music experts at Resident Advisor weigh in with their 50 favorite tracks of the year.

The world doesn’t need another zombie TV show, but if it must have one, it should have a soundtrack by Mogwai.

Michael Hall tells the epic story of “Trigger,” the legendary guitar of Willie Nelson.

The LA Times shares a playlist for the end of the world.

Just who is PSY and how did he come to be the king of the pop world? The Stool Pigeon knows.

The New York Times profiles the great Eddie Palmieri.

This is not an Onion headline: Man arrested for stealing a Miley Cyrus sex doll.

Concert review: Downtown gets up with Camp Lo’s Uptown Saturday Night at Lola, Saturday, December 15

Camp Lo at Lola. Photo by Wil Wander.

On Saturday night Lola was bustling and full of life long before the music started. People came in dressed to impress with nostalgic late ’90s style and quickly scattered around the club, filling every available seat shortly after doors opened at nine.

For many in the audience, this was a night 15 years in the making, and this slightly aging crowd regained their youthful spirit amid a buzz of anxious chatter.

DJ Mahf opened up the show with a one-hour DJ set blending many popular new tracks with a fair helping of ’90s flavor. The crowd was strangely unfamiliar with the local DJ, but all were quickly enamored with his skill and track selection which included favorites like the Digable Planets’ “Rebirth of the Slick (Cool Like That)” and the quintessential Souls of Mischief cut, “93 ‘Til Infinity.” By the end of his set, much of the crowd had already started to migrate to the front and vie for standing position.

Mahf was joined by Indyground compatriot and Kansas City emcee Steddy P to kick off the word-slinging portion of the show. The two have toured extensively together throughout the past year to promote numerous releases from the label including the recent While You Were Sleeping 2: End of the World Party. Steddy P came hard, leading with a selection of bangers to hype up the crowd with a mid-set, two-track feature from Farout. The crowd responded more notably to the tracks that were built from chill grooves and resembled the headliners’ classic style than the vigorous and powerful songs that dominated the set, but they were certainly energized and appreciative of the twosome’s ability to get the party moving.

After a brief hiatus, Mahf dropped the first Camp Lo track and the crowd fell silent for a brief moment of realization before erupting in cheers and screams. The Bronx duo made an entrance from the 14th Street doorway, each decked out in a nice coat, scarf, and fedora combination. They took their stances side by side on stage and immediately started the show. It was set to be a memorable night as Geechi Suede and Sonny Cheeba were going to perform their highly acclaimed debut album Uptown Saturday Night in its entirety as they have throughout the year to commemorate the 15 year anniversary of its release. Many in the audience knew all the words to every track, while most knew at least some of the words and screamed them out at every opportunity.

The small stage was confined by DJ set-ups on either side and didn’t allow for much movement, but the veterans remained lively from their stable stances on stage. After performing the album for a decade and a half, the two emcees have mastered their delivery and flawlessly performed without a single noticeable slip of the tongue, despite the toothpick in Cheeba’s mouth. Mahf had the honor of backing them up from the tables and meshed well, tactfully handling the cuts and the tempo changes track to track, each one resulting in instant cheers from the crowd. They performed each track from the album, obviously with the featured emcees removed, and made a brief announcement of some upcoming releases with producers Ski Beatz and Pete Rock. After a quick thank you and a final track from the album, they relinquished the stage as quickly as they took it.

The Vaporz took over the music for the remainder of the night, mixing a combination of DJs with a little bit of hype and delivering a set true to the classic elements of hip-hop. The crowd remained too thick to move to even to the bar or bathroom, but people were still fighting their way in to catch the aftermath of the great night. Camp Lo’s performance was brief but straight to the point and performed with expertise and the crowd was anything but disappointed.

Concert review: Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons (with Derek Hoke and Tim Gebauer) balance introspection with barroom rock, elicit nudity at Off Broadway, Friday, December 14

St. Louis native and legend Tim Gebauer opened with a three-piece band, including an electric guitarist and a female keyboard player. With ties to Sleepy Kitty and a personal desire to not venture too far out into the world of live music, the bearded Gebauer stood respectfully before the crowd offering morose, semi-fantastical ballads about love, loss and the gaps where life painfully slips in between the two.

A song that featured Gebauer lamenting, “To meet her” caught my ear with its attention to imagistic detail and experiential understanding of human life. Another track, during which Gebauer belted, “I wish I were underwater,” neared the pop idiom, but never overstepped the intimate boundary between quality, genre-work and cliché.

Derek Hoke brought St. Louis a traditional, Nashville-infused set. On “Gone Gone Gone” Hoke replaced record-side keys with well-executed, distorted guitar. Likewise, “Mean Mama” was “meaner” than its record counterpart. Playing with Hoke, Mark Roberts, ex-standup-bass player of the Dirt Daubers, shaded from slap-bluegrass to a more careful and studied style, telling me personally his own playing is “tighter” when playing with Hoke.

Overall, Hoke’s show was delivered appropriately more up-beat and booze-addled than his the straight, Nashville-style of his recordings, with spurs, streetlights and waterfalls of tremolo. Most of the songs, such as “Lonely Street” and “Cumberland Blues,” were improved by the barroom treatment.

Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, who oddly also feature a “daughter,” Adriel Harris, unleashed a set of Southern-ized folk rock tunes intimate and full of romantic bombast. In addition to Harris, Chisel brought a three-piece band, which rocked along with the duo on most of the evening’s tunes.

“This Is How It Goes,” from 2012′s “Old Believers,” bounded through American-pop vespers with Harris’ melty backing vocals. “I’ve Been Accused” found Chisel plucking his guitar and singing, “I’ve been accused of loving you for so long now that I can see where I went wrong.”

Chisel’s vocal timbre and rock-star swagger was so impressive that one woman leapt on stage, turned and flashed the audience her light-pink nipples. Here, I must claim a personal Off Broadway first. Boobs! It took a second for Chisel to regain composure, laughing as he started up the next song.

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