Concert review: Kentucky Knife Fight (with Pretty Little Empire and the Ladybirds) release new album to a packed house at Off Broadway on Saturday, March 2
First, let us get the obvious out the way: I love Kentucky Knife Fight and I’m not the only one. The St. Louis band receives plenty of press from local media and beyond, so why do we need another Kentucky Knife Fight concert review?
Well, it is because the band fucking rocks, as does its new record, “Hush Hush,” which was released this Saturday to an Off Broadway packed with adoring fans, family, whiskey swillers, balcony perchers, PBR tippers, hipsters and bar-rock aficionados. Lead singer Jason Holler and company performed at top form; it could not have been a better night to be a Kentucky Knife Fight fan.
St. Louis’ Pretty Little Empire opened the evening promptly and brought a set of tunes that warmed the crowd as more fans trickled in pairs and threes. Soon, the floor at Off Broadway was obscured, with people standing shoulder to shoulder, watching the flush-faced lead singer/acoustic guitarist Justin Johnson as he belted out the shimmering melancholy of his well-crafted tunes.
During “You Can’t Have It All,” from 2010′s “Reason and Rooms,” lead guitarist William Godfred pulled glowing tones from his distorted guitar, which created a glimmering bed of melody to complement Johnson’s David Byrne-influenced singing.
“All I Know” burst at the seams thanks to the tight drumming of Evan O’Neal and Godfred’s scoping guitar-sparkle. During the chorus, Johnson sang, “‘Cause I know what it’s like to feel alone,” just before a huge cymbal crash and wall of sound from the rest of the band. Pretty Little Empire left the stage after a quality set that pleased the hometown crowd.
The Ladybirds, which could be referred to as Kentucky Knife Fight’s Louisville, Ky. sister band, took the stage after Pretty Little Empire and rocked a set that included elements such as the glittering sequins of lead singer Sarah Teeple’s flowing mini dress, a tiny tambourine, a tattered jean jacket, a gold-sparkle bass, a leather jacket, a shirtless Brett Holsclaw on drums, mutton chops on dual keyboards and enough traditional-greaser-punk-rock-doo-wop to rocket regional pomade stock prices into the stratosphere.
With the exception of a few slow numbers, which Teeple dedicated to “all the dirty birdies” in the crowd, The Ladybird’s set was relentless, raucous and energetic. The five-piece band crashed through “Lights Out,” “Shimmy Shimmy Dang,” “She’s Alright,” Billy, Billy, Billy,” and “Hum De Dum” as head-banging, jiving and swing-dancing fans struggled to keep up. The band’s stamina was as impressive as their rocking late-night-diner-style tunes.
As singer Jason Holler, multi-instrumentalist Curt Brewer and the rest of Kentucky Knife Fight filed on stage, Off Broadway lit up like a synaptic pathway in Einstein’s brain. Never have I heard such a roar of appreciation escape the communal sound-holes of a crowd gathered at the venue.
I would like to note that while Kentucky Knife Fight released “Hush Hush” officially at Saturday’s show, the band streamed the record for free a few days before on a website called Tunespeak, a social-media-integrated website that puts Myspace and all others to shame. Additionally, Kentucky Knife Fight ran a contest on the site alongside the free stream, which allowed fans to earn points, by viewing photos, videos and listening to the new tunes.
Though I didn’t win, I loved participating in the contest, earning points by playing KKF songs and surfing the site. Point is, keep an eye on Tunespeak — developed by St. Louis musicians Tom and Rick Pernikoff — the site has the makings to become the best new interactive, social-media platform vital to garnering online fan interest.
During the show, Kentucky Knife Fight expertly blended tracks from “Hush Hush” with time-tested staples such as “Herschel Walker, “Wild Irish Rose,” “Dream So Sweet” and “Always a Bride, Never a Bride.” The band even expanded their sound with saxophone and trumpet on “Bad Blood” and violin and cello on “Father” and “Paper Flowers One,” all of which are featured on “Hush Hush.” The effect was exceptionally professional and exciting as the St. Louis-boys-made-good took their sound to a new level.
Between songs, champagne bottles popped, beers were raised and cheers echoed through the venue. It was a treat to watch Kentucky Knife Fight play the entirety of “Hush Hush.” As always, James Baker’s drums were spot on and Jason Koenig’s bass performance supported the band’s raw, gothic power.
Not a soul wanted the set to come to a close, but “Sex Crimes” marked the end of Kentucky Knife Fight’s set. The players returned for their classic religio-moonshine-laced “Got My Heaven” for their encore. The crowd sang along with Holler as he crooned, “Got my heaven, right here, right here, well I got my heaven right here.”
I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Holler and the rest of the band: I, along with every other member of the audience was happy to experience a little slice of Kentucky Knife Fight’s brand of a drunken, bohemian and secular heaven. I mean, who could ask for more?