Thursday morning music news: Scott Weiland looks for work, Michael Nesmith looks down the road and Van Cliburn, Cleotha Staples and Magic Slim pass on

The incomparable Van Cliburn has died at age 78.

Don’t mess with Pope Emeritus.

Google isn’t just sitting around while Spotify takes over the known musicverse.

The saga of Pussy Riot continues, with a few signs of reprieve.

Richard Street of the Temptations has died at the age of 70.

Nine Inch Nails map out reunion tour plans.

Not to be outdone, Michael Nesmith plans to hit the road for the first time in over 20 years.

$350K will buy you the house where “Born to Run” was written.

The Guardian UK pays homage to the late, very great Cleotha Staples.

What was Leonard Cohen doing in 1986? Making a cameo on “Miami Vice” for starters.

By the numbers alone, the recording industry is doing all right.

Leave it to the Coen Brothers to bring Marcus Mumford and Justin Timberlake together.

What do you get when you combine Aimee Mann and Ted Leo? #BOTH.

The Stone Temple Pilots have canned Scott Weiland. Mr. Weiland begs to differ.

Stereogum shares the first single from Yeah Yeah Yeah’s new album.

NPR’s First Listen hits the mother lode with previews of new albums by Youth Lagoon, Josh Ritter, Bajofondo and James Marshall Hendrix.

The “nice life” of David Bowie continues with 1) a new single and 2) smooches and cuddles from Tilda Swinton. Watch.

Big Brother has nothing on the Copyright Alert System.

Blues legend Magic Slim has died at the age of 75.

Iggy Pop picks a fight with Billy Corgan.

This is why I love Flavorwire.

And this is why I love the BBC.

Concert review and set lists: Passion Pit (with Matt & Kim and Icona Pop) party and dance all night at Peabody Opera House, Tuesday, February 26

Passion Pit at the Peabody. Photo by Louis Kwok.

On a night three of the most danceable rising acts in pop shared a single auditorium, the crowd spurned its seats in favor of returning the elation billowing off the stage. Passion Pit, with an immaculate set from Matt & Kim, ended St. Louis’ February with a unique high point.

Icona Pop, a Swedish club duo, may be best known for “I Love It,” a signature hit, not to mention a theme song for a terrible television show. Regardless, the two were transfixed on the dancing they instigated with a collective of fans at the corner of the stage. After the domineering set, the gracious Swedes stuck around for pictures and a couple autographs for the early showing set.

The young crowd was late to show, but, from the orchestra pit to the seats touching the ceiling, everyone was standing and dancing through the night from the moment Matt & Kim’s entrance music started. Sounding like the best hip-hop song GirlTalk could’ve produced — or perhaps showcasing Matt’s chops at mashup production — it effectively set the stage for the next hour.
Via their own overabundance of spirit, the group sent a bouncing, organic energy throughout the building, turning the Peabody Opera House into the best house party of the month.

As ADD-riddled as the set and setlist was, featuring everything from M&K staples to Alice Deejay to a by-the-decades trip through hip-hop, the couple from Brooklyn never lost a trace of their genuine exhilaration. Matt took time to note both his standard for whenever he plays St. Louis – making sure Nelly is on the guest list – and the VIP of the night: Kim’s ass. Ms. Schifino proved deserving of the VIP (or VIA in this case) status during a “Harlem Shake” dance break, as she took to the center of the stage to lead the brouhaha — a nod to the group’s excellent viral video, where its fans are the focal point. Kim stole every second she could, apart from smiling, to beat the drums from atop the kit or to dance next to them.

After hitting longtime favorite “Daylight,” Kim finally let sheer exuberance carry her off the stage and through the center aisle for some personal thanks — set to G.O.O.D. Music’s “Mercy.”

Another intermission later, the crowd was left to the dark with white balloons dotting the stage. As the Berklee guys — plus an Emerson attendee in Michael Angelakos — took to the stage, the crowd instantly regained its spark. Exploding into the set, “I’ll Be Alright” allowed the band to put the crowd where it wanted it — upfront. The intro had a raw, even apocalyptic force. From there, Angelakos, lead vocals and keys, stomped on each inch of the stage while his four bandmates — Ian Hultquist on guitar and keys, Xander Singh on synth, Jeff Apruzzese on bass and keys, and Nate Donmeyer on drums — smiled awkwardly and shared laughs. Michael himself impressed thoroughly: a fresh and appreciated departure from the studio recordings was as simple as leaving a majority of the lead mic effects off.

“Take a Walk” — a track that, judging by the crowd’s reaction, proved to be the most anticipated of the night — was accompanied by bubbles sprawling from either end of the stage. Having earned them, Angelakos surrendered vocal duties to the ready and willing crowd. Lifting the mic stand a few rows deep above the orchestra pit, the fans indulged him.

Matt & Kim set list:

Block After Block
Let Me Clear My Throat (Snippet) (DJ Kool Cover)
Cameras / Move Bitch (Ludacris Cover)
Better off Alone (Alice Deejay Cover)
Let’s Go / Dance (Ass) (Big Sean Cover)
Good Ol’ Fashioned Nightmare
Dance Break — Harlem Shake
The Next Episode (Dr. Dre Cover)
Good for Great

Passion Pit set list:

I’ll Be Alright
The Reeling
Carried Away
Moth’s Wings
Love Is Greed
It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy
American Blood
To Kingdom Come
Constant Conversations
Take a Walk
Cry Like a Ghost
Eyes as Candles
Make Light
Mirrored Sea

Little Secrets

Album review: Thao & the Get Down Stay Down reconvene over unconventional ground on ‘We the Common’

“We the Common”
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down
Ribbon Music

Thao Nguyen formed the basis of Thao & the Get Down Stay Down around 2004 with drummer Willis Thompson in Falls Church, Va., later picking up (and, since then, dropping) musicians Adam Thompson and Frank Stewart and relocating the duo’s efforts to San Francisco.

Nguyen has cited Lilith Fair as an influence on her early career, and that folksy, singer-songwriter character — simple chords, baby-soft voices cooing Oberlin-ish poetical lyrics such as “baffle a skeleton dry” — is most detectable on songs like “We the Common (for Valerie Bolden)” and “Kindness Be Conceived,” featuring Joanna Newsom.

Since releasing her first album, 2008′s “We Brave Bee Stings and All,” Nguyen has given herself over to the thrill of experimentation. She’s still an admirer of uncomplicated chords and moody tones, but presents them in an unorthodox way that’s less of a precise arrangement than it is a messy assemblage. This is neo-tribal indie folk, I guess the Internet is calling it, and it’s only been expanded from 2011′s partnership with Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn (“Thao and Mirah”).

“We the Common” is an unpredictable, dangerously catchy album that’s caused me to wake up with one song or another in my head for more than a week now. It swings, it dives, it scratches all of these funny little itches that come out of nowhere. I truly cannot get these songs out of my mind, which is understandable on one hand because I’m the one reviewing it, but also they’re really good songs.

Wily and brazen, they careen all over the map (if one was written in the first place), and Thao & the Get Down Stay Down employ barrages of horns, chimes, and backing tracks that sometimes do little but breathe into vintage microphones. “City” starts off like an early Red Hot Chili Peppers B-side, and the psychedelic guitar screech in “Move” leads the ear in one direction while it’s follow-up, “Clouds For Brains,” is an unsettling dirge as seductive as the witch beckoning you into her candy house.

I’m particularly hooked on “The Feeling Kind,” a getting-ready-for-a-night-out kind of track that, with its thumping beat and jazzy horns, sounds like a New Orleans funeral march up Sesame Street. “Human Heart” is another sax-heavy track with retro influences that tip just so into “Age of Ice,” a closer with a blues guitar riff lazing behind the verse.

The vocals do sometimes over rely on the flattened distortion that’s steadily becoming the Auto-Tune of the indie-music world. This effect paired with atonal yelps and untuned strings brings to mind (accurately or not) the cringe-worthy trope of a video populated by bokeh-obscured white girls wearing feathered headdresses. However, more of “We the Common” resists this unwelcome image than not, and the album is best when it gets out of its head and back to a libertine disregard for convention.

Anyone can tell you that being cool is all about not caring whether or not you are, and when Thao & The Get Down Stay Down keeps their approach to their material cavalier, the result is a devastating left hook wrapped in a velvet glove; injuries forgiven, the memory lingering, and something to tell your friends about.

Concert review and set list: Meshuggah (with Animals as Leaders) galvanize metal fans at Pop’s, Saturday, February 23

Single file, in darkness, Meshuggah, the titans of metal and originators of djent, seized the stage; en masse, in black, the crowd was baptized.

Open and honest apology for both not seeing Intronaut and therefore for not covering them — Pop’s listed showtime was 8 p.m., unfortunately if one happened to think that was when the actual show started, he or she walked into the venue with Animals as Leaders already onstage and Intronaut done for the night.

Animals as Leaders, not just an excuse to let Tosin Abasi play, spent the night showing off. Melodically adventurous, it was the band’s adherence to technical superiority that progressively won over the crowd with each track. Tosin’s monstrous amalgamation of intertwined pick-sweeps and fingertapping overwhelmed, but the eerie similarity to Pink Floyd — if one could avoid distortion while cranking their rpm — was the appreciated undertone. Tosin took time for a history lesson, letting the fans know that Pop’s actually served as the venue for the band’s third show ever. He then thanked the packed-house crowd, and made way for — his words — “the Lords of Metal.”

Backing up the moniker instantly, Meshuggah thrust into “Swarm.”

The Pop’s audience was graced with Jens Kidman, who had been recovering from the flu and wasn’t sure he’d be able to perform. Kidman spent the night shredding his throat to keep pace with the three guitarists on stage. He took a second towards the end of the show to both thank the crowd and remark on his lack of enjoyment at being cardboard — a cutout of the frontman adorned the stage in his tour absences.

In contrast to the constant menance of Kidman, the four making up the rest of the group — Fredrik Thordendal on lead guitar, Tomas Haake leaving no remnants of a drum kit, Mårten Hagström on rhythm guitar, and Dick Lövgren on bass — remained relatively faceless behind mounds of hair and mountains of talent. Of course, it only helped to prove the utter lack of ego the band collectively shares. In addition to the guys relatively shirking credit the most technical of fans give them — Mårten Hagström admitted years ago, “We’ve never really been into the odd time signatures…Everything we do is based around a 4/4 core…we arrange parts differently around that center” — the band took about five minutes offstage during a two-hour performance. Considering most couldn’t physically stand being in the pit for five consecutive minutes, impressive simply starts the superlatives.

Sign the crowd did it right: Pop’s security outlining the mosh pit as Meshuggah’s set started.


Behind the Sun
Do Not Look Down
The Hurt That Finds You First
I Am Colossus
Catch 33
Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion
Straws Pulled at Random
New Millennium Cyanide Christ
Dancers to a Discordant System

Concert review: Willie Akins and the Montez Coleman Group define the sound of St. Louis at Jazz at the Bistro, Saturday, February 23

Montez Coleman. Photo by Esther Cidoncha.

The “late” set at Jazz at the Bistro starts at 9:30 p.m., about the time other jazz clubs are getting ready to open.

The Bistro does call itself a listening room — not a club — a place where besides a few aspiring players and Webster jazz students, the listeners are what the jazz demographic has become over the years: people interested in what they call culture, dressed on the conservative side, listening quietly, one glass of red deep, and sometimes a little tired.

And there’s Willie Akins, one of the greatest active tenor players of his generation, sitting wide and stately in a small chair onstage, his eyes deep and distant. He and the band surrounding him represent all that is real and good in St. Louis jazz — no-bullshit, solid stuff, rooted in the blues.

It’s a multi-generational and undeniably great band made up of elite, St. louis-grown (though not all-born) players: co-leader and drummer Montez Coleman, bassist Bob DeBoo (who you can see every Friday night playing at Mangia with the Dave Stone Trio), vibraphonist Peter Schlamb, and guitarist Eric Slaughter. With Akins blowing the sole horn in the group, the sound is spaced-out and dynamic, not so different from the musical effect of a trio.

This spacing also allowed each member ample room to open up and find the grooves in their solos. They started with a busy Victor Feldman tune (didn’t catch the name) that Schlamb carried with his brainy, more-is-more approach to the vibes — angular showers of notes punctuated by weird rests and sudden chordal counter-melodies. The crowd got into it.

Next, the group shifted fluidly into a funky Yusef Lateef tune called “Nubian Lady.” Coleman settled way deep in the backbeat, sometimes stretching the straightforward 4/4 groove to its extreme limits and driving it home with lightning handwork. Here, it became clear that the rhythmic chops of Coleman and DeBoo were at least as important to each tune as Akins’ solid swing. Slaughter, who’s made a name for himself playing with Bobby Womack and the O’Jays as much as in jazz, complemented this and every tune of the night was his jabby rhythmic riffwork.

On Errol Garner’s ballad, “Dreaming Over You,” Mr. Akins found his best solo of the night. Akins seems to favor the roominess of more straightforward compositions for soloing, which allow his dry, bluesy tone to resonate, his strong harmonic ideas to take shape even over Schlamb’s sometimes meandering vibes-accompaniment. I could finally confirm the critics’ comparisons of Akins to Coltrane in that he is a comfortable master-balladeer. Coleman and Schlamb put down there sticks, allowing DeBoo’s tender, tune-closing solo to hang soulful over the room.

During the last few tunes, Montez Coleman invited various buddies onstage to sit in, including an incredible, ambidextrous, 15-year-old drummer named Christian McGhee. What the set lost in momentum, it gained in making the room more friendly and loose.

All the players, foremost Mr. Akins, are humble men and great teachers, perhaps the two most valuable and respected aspects of great jazzmen: the elite who welcome everyone onstage, no room for stuffiness.

Concert review: Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder roll through St. Louis and the Sheldon Concert Hall, Friday, February 22

That high lonesome sound floated through the Sheldon Concert Hall Friday night as Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder took the stage.

Bluegrass, played with a spirit and energy that transcends genre, is at the heart of what Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder does. The songs and musicianship elevated the performance to something beyond expectations. This ability has made Ricky Skaggs a time-honored musician, whether he is playing straight-ahead country or his brand of Bill Monroe-inspired bluegrass.

“We are all here because of bluegrass,” with those words Skaggs and his band kicked into a powerhouse of an opening. The night was rife with the modern sound of bluegrass and tributes to those that have passed on. It was a night that was about those that laid the foundation — Monroe, Scruggs and Watson — while also being about the present and future of bluegrass. The band mixed tradition with sounds that have been coming from the jam-grass circles as well as the pop-influenced sounds of Mumford & Sons.

Since putting down his signature purple Telecaster nearly 20 years ago and rekindling his love for the mandolin, Skaggs has become one of the top bluegrass musicians, singers and songwriters, a musician who knows the traditions as well as what is happening now. He puts his unique voice to this genre just as he did over 30 years ago with his debut album “Waitin’ For the Sun to Shine.” He is a musician and songwriter that does not tire of looking forward. You can hear it in his voice, a voice that is equally at home with classics like “Uncle Pen” and “Tennessee Stud” and newer compositions like “You Can’t Hurt Ham,” “Music to My Ears” and “Can’t Shake Jesus” — all played at the Sheldon on Friday night.

The band itself is the power behind Skaggs’ incredible voice, songwriting and mandolin talent. It is the band that roots itself in tradition with inspiration from jazz — and keeping that band rooted is bassist Scott Mulvahill, a musician who adds a jazz-meets-Appalachian swing that seems to be missing in other acts.

Andy Leftwich and Cody Kilby (fiddle and guitar) are the virtuosos. They provide the instrumental voice (outside that of Skaggs mandolin) that, much as with Mulvahill, has a certain root in jazz. This was exemplified when the band kicked into the Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt song “Minor Swing.” Each of them took turns and showed that the music they play has more than the Appalachian Mountains as its base.

Justin Moses stood on the right side of the stage in a stoic manner, looking as if he were a banjo-plucking version of John Entwistle. He took his solos quietly and played banjo inspired by Earl Scruggs. A quick little smirk would come across his face when he knew that he killed a lick.

But the heart and soul of Kentucky Thunder comes from that of Eddie Faris and Paul Brewster. Faris holding down the harmonic structure on rhythm guitar as the band trades licks; he also adds that middle harmony. Brewster, in contrast, is a voice to be reckoned with. He possesses a full-bodied tenor that makes for the perfect harmonist as well as a lead vocalist. His voice has a country soul, power, and heartbreak that makes it perfect for both bluegrass and country. It was exemplified when he was given the vocal spotlight to sing the classic “Kentucky Waltz.”

The night was filled with many of the works that Skaggs and his band have been doing over the course of the past two decades. For long-time fans it was good to hear that Skaggs has not forgotten about his past — a past that includes some of the best country music submitted to tape.

Just before the encore he gave the crowd the treat of “Highway 40 Blues,” one of Skaggs’ biggest hits, and “Uncle Pen”; both songs have endured due to their roots in the traditions of country and bluegrass.

Concert review: Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (with Cross Examination, ThorHammer, and the Basement) thrash and bash at the Firebird on Wednesday, February 20

Ponce de Leon may not have found the fountain of youth, but hardcore-thrash crossover band Dirty Rotten Imbeciles proved that spending 30 years in the thrash zone is the next best thing.

The Basement opened the night at the Firebird with a 30 minute set of pop-punk that aimed for Rancid but ended up at Green Day. The vocals were in the Tim Armstrong/Lars Frederiksen wheelhouse; they weren’t half bad. The guitar sounded great and their rhythm section propelled the songs along fairly well.

The set was not without problems. I don’t know if they were having an off night, but there seemed to be a lot of issues with forgotten lyrics and songs abruptly ending in trainwrecks. There were enough clunky endings that D.R.I. bassist Harald Oimoen shouted some advice from the merch booth in the form of “Work on your endings, guys!”

My main complaint was that the whole “punk” schtick was not coming across the way I think the band thought it was. Being a punk is more than buying some Manic Panic and a denim vest and saying “fuck” every other word. I don’t remember Dez Cadena or Glenn Danzig explain away forgotten lyrics or sloppy endings by saying “I forgot the lyrics. So what? This is punk rock.” If you have to tell someone that you’re a punk, you aren’t a punk.

I know I’m coming across a bit harsh here, but my point is this: Don’t try to mimic other bands or copy styles. Find your own thing and do it. There is nothing more punk than making your own path, so blaze that trail instead of trying to copy someone else. The effort is well worth the payoff in the long run.

Next to hit the stage was ThorHammer, and hit the stage they did. ThorHammer is one of those bands I want to hate because they play lightning-fast, complex riffs so effortlessly that I feel like a lesser primate when I pick up my guitar. However, once the riffer madness starts, I can’t help but love what I’m hearing.

The band’s entire set was loud heavy riffs and wailing leads underpinned by a rhythm section well-versed in laying down slabs of rock. Everyone was playing double-time without hiding sloppy playing behind mountains of distortion or overly high volume. They almost sounded like an over-caffeinated Exodus.

When I lived in New Jersey, I had this neighbor with a Pomeranian that would chase the neighborhood cats all over the street yelping and growling. That dog was a bad ass and was nothing to mess with, much like the vocals that were being shouted out over the music. The vocals were perfectly matched to the music and sounded great. The drummer looked like Gandalf beating the hell out of his kit, and there is nothing more suited to metal than a wizard, right?

While I was doing some research after the show, I read that this was the last show with this lineup and that two members were leaving. This was my first time seeing ThorHammer, and I sincerely hope they find new members to fill the vacant spots. Their set tonight was a prime example of how good metal should be played.

Cross Examination only played a total of about 20 minutes, but they were the most fun 20 minutes of the entire evening. The last thing I expected to see was an act that seemed more grindcore than thrash and didn’t apologize for a damn second of it. The music reminded me a little of Discordance Axis, without the douchebag pompousness. The liner notes from DA’s Jouhou album made me want to punch them in the throat. Cross Examination’s vibe made me want to buy them beer.

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Concert review: Everything that rises must cohere with Samantha Crain and Indian Blanket at the Gramophone, Tuesday, February 19

Samantha Crain at the Gramophone. Photo by Kate McDaniel.

The greatest foe of the musicians who played Tuesday night at the Gramophone was the slew of libations administered by the bartenders.

The onslaught of conversational lubricants gave the Gramophone a noisy bar air. With their movements circumscribed by size of the club, it seemed patrons were being ushered by their instincts to the bar. They were like bees to blossomed flowers.

As the crowd imbibed, their chatter grew and eventually drowned out opener Indian Blanket. The St. Louis outfit was difficult to hear anywhere in the bar. What could be heard of singer/guitarist Joe Andert’s vocals came across as desperate jabs that created pockets of comprehensible vocals through the crowd’s din. When Andert sang, “I can’t hear you anymore,” it felt timelier and had more perceived direction than any other sparsely audible lyric. He would get his chance to be heard when he joined Samantha Crain midway though her set for a spell. It was a lovely gesture, and Andert took the opportunity to sing beautifully and give the audience a taste of what the had opted to miss. To hear Indian Blanket play to a room that appreciated its cello and fiddle scoured-folk would be the equivalent to a daydream. Half-tactile, half-lucid dream and wholly wanted.

As suspected, the crowd piped down for Oklahoma’s Samantha Crain. She and an assembly of talented backing musicians moved around the stage during sound check with diffused smiles. Outside the solitude of a vocal booth, Crain’s music lights a fire within its own belly. Songs off her latest album, “Kid Face” are linear and have a less apparent melodic edge than when translated live. “Somewhere All the Time” ripened into a fruitful jam the moment Crain sang and the backing band bopped along to Anne Lillis’ drum work. Lillis reined in her unblemished percussion on every song. Kyle Reid’s ethereal lap steel guitar echoed Crain’s insatiable wanderlust. Each musician’s awareness of the role they were asked to play gave Crain room to be a frontwoman; she was never outshone for more than a blink of an eye.

Indeed, if the audience had closed its eyes during “Equinox” off “You (Understood)” they would have missed John Calvin Abney’s olympian bid for the 2016 Men’s Gymnastics Team. He became so enthralled behind the Wurlitzer that he, in a great show of charm and ironic athleticism, fell backwards off the stage and stayed on his feet with his seat in-hand. He looked more like a child in the throes of amusement when he came back on the stage. He peered across the stage at guitarist Kyle Reid with his eyes the size of flying saucers and his mouth wide enough to fit one of Reid’s homemade cigar box guitars. Thankfully, when everyone but Crain and Calvin left the stage for the engaged pair to perform together, his bottom was firmly planted behind the Wurlitzer.

Crain’s adept backing band was supported by Crain’s ability to let them ad lib. Wurlitzer wizard and guitarist Abney soloed on his guitar the last 10 seconds of the song with the kind of bottled energy we have come to realize in shaken soda products. Daniel Foulks, on fiddle, and Penny Hill, on bass, were mixed so well that when necessary, their instruments took precedence over Crain’s vocal delivery. It was a treat to hone in on members of Crain’s band to hear them interpret “Kid Face.” Each intrigued the listener with their obvious skill. The level of musicianship and camaraderie displayed refreshed any stale notions that live shows are an amalgamation of calculated practice. Each member, Crain included, was so content to play that they each introduced to the mix a different style of grout that made the whole cohere.

To wit, Crain gives the band a skeleton set list that rearranges like Tetris. She judges the crowd’s reactions and mood and will huddle the band up and instruct them to play a song that fits. It is up to the band to be prepared for this, and with every change, anticipate and play regardless of surprise. It is a brave way to play a show and is a conspicuous hint towards the level of excellence Crain and company have attained together.

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