Amy Faerber's Posts
|I'm a volunteer music writer for KDHX.|
Concert review: The Royal Southern Brotherhood deals a rock ‘n’ blues royal flush at the Old Rock House, Sunday, February 17
Outside the windows that illuminate stage left of the Old Rock House, a train rolled forward with slow determination over the dark Mississippi to a destination unknown. The Arch rose up in the background as the Royal Southern Brotherhood took the stage and the crowd gave them a warm, enthusiastic welcome.
Before the quartet started, the crowd pledged, “I solemnly swear to spread the word that St. Louis rocks the blues.” We were now anointed into the brotherhood and ready to enjoy the talents of Devon Allman (guitar, vocals), Cyril Neville (vocals, percussion), Yonrico Scott (drums), Charlie Wooten (bass) and Mike Zito (guitar, vocals). Labeled as a “super group,” Royal Southern Brotherhood is built on the individual talents of each of these formidable artists, not simply the history their famous names carry. And while they each claim different places as their homes, local roots were strong on that stage, too.
Mike Zito is from St. Louis and rightfully proud of it. Before the music started, Zito took a picture of the crowd and told us repeatedly that it was great to be home. He also revealed to us that Devon Allman, son of Greg Allman, has roots in St. Charles so they “must be doing something right up there” he said, to laughter from the crowd.
The crowd exuded appreciation, awe and even a little selfish ownership. The show started with “Fired Up,” the second track from the band’s self-titled release. On this uptempo, upbeat rock song the percussion really shined under the masterful hands of Neville. The Caribbean vibe made it feel like you were seeing them at a summer music festival, if you could successfully suspend February’s cold reality.
Neville’s inner showman came out during “Moonlight over the Mississippi.” He was the consummate bluesman as he sang from the gut about getting back to his woman. Charlie Wooten’s bass took over and the deep, round plunk, plunk of the notes gave sound to each footstep along the banks of the river. The group did several covers, including “Melissa.” Zito and Allman’s guitars came together and harmonized so beautifully during this song that you almost wished they would unplug and play quietly for awhile.
Zito and Allman took turns on vocals. Allman opened the show with his band, also comprised of several local talents and really warmed up the crowd. In his opening set, he gave the audience a taste of the Southern rock sound that’s in his DNA. While Allman’s voice is forceful, yet smooth, Zito’s is rougher around the edges. Those edges make his voice interesting and a nice foil to Allman’s.
Two Grammy winners stood on the stage, and Yonrico Scott was one of them (Neville, the other). During a break, each band member did a solo and left the stage to Scott who really gave us all he had. He played with a mischievous grin on his face, like he was having the best time in the world and didn’t ever want to stop. His beats called out to the crowd and we called back. It was just one of many examples of the sincere connection between these performers and their audience. If there was one theme that united this performance, it was that feeling of happiness and joy. It hung in the air, from the first song in the opening set to the last note of the night.
As Cyril Neville told us, “I’m feeling the love, St. Louis.”
Concert review: Second time is the charm for Yellow Ostrich (with Samuel Fickie and Strand of Oaks) at the Gramophone, Wednesday, November 7
Braced against the chilly night, standing under the glow of neon lights, we waited for the doors at the Gramophone to open. In front of me stood a devoted fan with a “Ghost” — as in the newest album from headliner Yellow Ostrich — held nonchalantly in his hands.
As the staff inside the club hurriedly prepared for the show, we could hear the sound check and knew immediately we were in for a great night.
Yellow Ostrich — composed of Alex Schaaf, Michael Tapper and Jon Natchez — visited St. Louis this past summer as the opener for Los Campesinos. Schaaf mentioned that previous appearance several times during the set, and people clapped in appreciation of Yellow Ostrich’s second booking here in St. Louis. I won’t compare the two shows here because there really isn’t much they had in common (other than the obvious). The first was at Plush and the band opened. Last night, on the Gramophone’s cramped yet inviting stage, Yellow Ostrich was the one everyone had come to see. Maybe the band felt the confidence that came with the promotion, but I don’t think it needed the boost.
If there is one theme that ran through Yellow Ostrich’s set, other than the undeniable fact that its members are all very skilled musicians, it would be that all of their songs are layered and interesting while still being just really fun to listen to.
This interplay shown through on “Elephant King,” which started out simply with Schaaf’s beautiful voice, then, after he declared, “You can’t take my kingdom away from me,” Natchez and Tapper joined in and created the sounds of battle. Tapper pounded on the drums, giving the song momentum and a heartbeat. Natchez worked his magic behind a table crowded with keyboards and other devices. A multi-instrumentalist, Natchez has also worked with the Antlers and Beirut. When a little something extra is needed, he brings it. Whether irregular and haunting tones that mimic undersea chatter during “Whale” or through the low, windy notes of the clarinet on “Hold On,” his additions accentuate the fine vocals and percussion offered by Schaaf and Tapper.
The show closed with “Marathon Runner.” The song stood out for me when I saw them this summer and it stood out again. Though Schaaf’s voice rings out confident and clear, this certainty belies lyrics which describe a struggle and search for meaning in life; it’s something we all face. This struggle was evident in the offerings of the two openers, as well.
Samuel Fickie kicked off the night and treated the audience to tender guitar picking and even more tender lyrics which alternated between funny and just plain painful. Of course, love can be both and such was his theme, delivered in witty lyrics. Strand of Oaks — featuring vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist Tim Showalter — bridged the stripped down singer-songwriter performance which preceded him and the complicated and adorned music of Yellow Ostrich. Showalter’s voice echoed Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses in that it has the same far away, airy quality. That voice was a wonderful complement to the music he made, making it even darker and more melancholy.
While it’s said that the third time is a charm, the musicians of Yellow Ostrich need no added charm should they come through town again. And hopefully, they will.
Concert review: At the Luminary Center for the Arts, the Sea and Cake (with Matthew Friedberger) proves it has nothing to prove, Sunday, October 28
Under dim yellow lights an expectant yet sedate crowd stood waiting. Cans of cold beer and cups of hot tea were set carefully aside as the quartet quietly took the stage and the audience came closer. After a quick and humble hello, the Sea and Cake began to play.
Since the release of its first album in 1994, this jazz-influenced indie-rock group made up of Sam Prekop, Archer Prewitt, John McEntire and Eric Claridge has been assembling intricate and, at times, surprisingly heavy compositions for their devoted fans.
The Luminary Center for the Arts provided the stage for this stop on a tour in support of the band’s latest release, “Runner.” Prekop’s airy vocals bled into the music, giving the impression that they were meant to complement it, rather than dominate. Prewitt chimed in at different times and even provided the lead vocals on a few songs, but his main contribution was on guitar. McEntire, also of the band Tortoise, mastered the drums and Doug McCombs filled in for Eric Claridge on bass.
For the first few songs, the four stood calmly on stage, playing oh so seriously. Breaks between songs were silent, devoid of banter with the crowd or introductions of band members. The backdrop was a blank, gray movie screen. Blue lights focused on the four as they played, unwavering.
All of this stark, blank seriousness made the music even more vibrant, interesting and engaging. Almost from the very beginning I had the urge to close my eyes to listen so I could better absorb all the layers and nuance. During the middle of the set, Prekop strummed quickly to produce a metallic ping, ping, ping that sounded like rain drops. Prewitt made the sound of waves during another song and while the rest of the band maintained their staid presence, he suddenly jumped to life as if he was one of those child’s toys where pressing the bottom loosens the string that connects the limbs to the body perched on top, making the arms and legs wilt and contort. McEntire’s skill on his wood-paneled drum kit was highlighted during the last song which had a very Radiohead-like quality to it, incorporating synthesizer and pre-recorded sounds with more organic, spontaneous instrumentation.
After insistent and urgent clapping and cheering from the audience, the band came back out and played a few more. Throughout the show, the lyrics were difficult to discern which could have been intentional, but the sound in the room could have been the culprit. It was similarly difficult to hear the lyrics of opener Matthew Friedberger, one half of the duo known as the Fiery Furnaces. Friedberger came on stage and shared that he wanted to tell us a 40-minute ghost story. And tell us he did, though I’m not certain I understood it.
True to his word, he performed for 40 minutes, without a break, during which time he shot back and forth between two keyboards, making stops in between to talk or sing his tale.
The Sea and Cake — its name inspired by a song called “The C in Cake” by Gastr del Sol — was a pleasure to experience. There was a confidence and certainty conveyed in the music that made me feel like I was in the presence of skilled and passionate musicians. They simply enjoy making music with nothing to prove — because after releasing eight albums and performing shows like this one, there’s no need to prove anything.
Concert review: Balkan Beat Box mashes up all manner of sounds at the Old Rock House, Sunday, June 3
Gypsy punk. Electronica. Hip hop. World Music. Not since listening to a random Manu Dibango CD — left behind by an old roommate when he moved — have I ventured into the esoteric and somewhat intimidating genre of world music.
Sometimes it’s hard to listen outside the box when there are so many good things right here. And thankfully, Balkan Beat Box was right here in St. Louis last night.
So, with limited exposure and peaked curiosity I set my course for the Old Rock House. At the core of Balkan Beat Box are three talented and diverse musicians: Tamir Muskat (percussion), Ori Kaplan (sax), and Tomer Yosef (lead vocals, percussion). For last night’s show this trinity doubled to become a sextet, with bass, guitar and a second sax joining the mix. There was also clarinet, tambourine, two drum kits, spaceship laser sounds, a whistle, cowbell, some inspirational words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and maracas. The stage was barely big enough to contain all of Balkan Beat Box’s musical ambition.
Yet, somehow the Old Rock House was the perfect place for them despite a cramped stage jam packed with instruments and people. Balkan Beat Box’s influences are as widely varied as the tools of their trade; throughout the course of the hour and a half they shared with us we heard traditional instrumentals, reggae, hip hop, punk and mash-ups of all of the above.
The show began under a halo of red lights. The first two songs were definitely reggae or dub influenced but had faster backbeats which got the audience up and dancing from the first note. Ori Kaplan and his fellow saxophonist gave us more traditional sounding instrumentals. While I’m not knowledgeable enough to pinpoint a geographic origin with confidence, it sounded to me like the group’s Israeli and Mediterranean roots were showing through on those.
As the show progressed, the music got faster and gutsier and the lights followed suit, flashing in time. Tomer Yosef revealed his love of hip hop and gave the audience his flow in a song dedicated to an Air Alaska flight attendant named “Miss Paranoia.” He even channeled Zach de la Rocha on the song “Political Fuck,” which was really the only song all night that was less upbeat and more intense. Yosef called out to the audience frequently, asking us to come closer to the stage, urging us to clap our hands, dance and join them.
Seeing Balkan Beat Box was like going to a street party where the atmosphere is relaxed and the sole point of the whole affair is to dance and have a good time, as simple as that sounds. I often found myself closing my eyes and picturing different landscapes: a beach under the stars, a backyard with lights strung over a grassy dance floor, an alley where music echoes out of the windows above and bounces between the buildings.
During a frenzied three-song encore, people freed themselves of purses, shoes and drinks so they could dance. Couples took each other’s hands and spun around while a hula hoopstress entertained us all on the patio outside. People spontaneously hugged each other, and there was a sense of celebration and joy. It seemed like the band was having just as good a time as the audience, especially during the encore.
If BBB’s mission is to bring traditional, less familiar sounds to a wider audience by blending them with more modern hip hop and electronic rhythms, mission accomplished. This show was just fun, period.
Concert review: Baroness loves St. Louis, and the feeling is mutual at the Firebird, Thursday, April 26
I’m still blown away by this show. In fact, I’m not even here. I’m not even typing this. I’m still standing at the Firebird, trapped in the world of Baroness, a world stark and desolate, lavish and beautiful.
Baroness is John Baizley on lead vocals and guitar, Peter Adams on guitar and vocals, Allen Blickle on drums and Matt Maggioni on bass. They are touring in support of their newest offering, and I use that word quite specifically, a double disk titled “Yellow and Green” set to be released on July 17 through Relapse Records. Following on the heels of the “Red Album” and the “Blue Record,” this new double disk will likely be presented to fans just as the show was last night: as an offering, as an experience. Get ready.
The crowd that traveled from far and near to see Baroness Thursday night at the Firebird was as you might expect them to be: a large mass of black clad, pale, stringy haired dudes with T-shirts advertising the other metal bands they listen to. And the vibe was also as you’d expect at a metal show: mosh pit, agro, lots of head banging. But there was something else: There was a lotta love in that room. It rose as high as the mountain of amps that framed the stage. It was as plentiful as the guitars and black T-shirts. It was as beautiful as the posters for sale at the merch table.
Somebody once told me that listening to music via MP3 or CD forms a tragedy for our ears. Sounds are distorted and rounded off, creating flat blended beige nothing. The opposite of that came out of the throbbing speakers at the Firebird. Intense is the best way to describe bassist Matt Maggioni. He looked like a thing possessed, rocking back and forth on stage as if at any moment the sheer force of sound would hurdle him into the crowd. Peter Baizley practically flirted with all of us unabashedly, tempting us with his vocals and wide, wide eyes looking out to make sure we were all enjoying the music as much as he was. His deep, forceful voice was complimented perfectly by Peter Adams. And Allen Blickle, well, this is how drums should always sound and it made me almost vow to only hear music live (or on the radio). Almost.
Drums do not sound like this when they come pre-packaged in downloadable form. There were moments when the guitars and bass would sort of step back and it sounded like the whole drum kit got pushed off a cliff and was hitting every rock on the way down. Boom, boom, boom, boom. And then, almost as if it were a rescue mission, the other guys would come back in and give us all they had.
From the “Blue Record” we got “A Horse Called Golgotha” and “Jake Leg.” From the “Red Album” we got “Isak” and “The Birthing.” Baroness closed with the last track on the “Red Album,” “Grad,” which probably got the best response from the already frenzied and delirious crowd. No encore, only a heartfelt thank you delivered to us humbly by Baizley. He proclaimed this the best show they’ve ever had in St. Louis and invited fans to come up and say hi after the show, told us not to be strangers.
Being a stranger after this show was impossible. There’s something really unexplainable about the connection made between music and audience at a live show, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. But last night, what was even more powerful was the love between Baroness and the music. I really sincerely hope that these guys don’t wait two years to tour again because that’s just too long to wait for a show this good.
Correction: The review originally stated that “Rays on Pinion” was the final song of the set. The final song was “Grad.”
Concert review: Sharon Van Etten and the War on Drugs get up close and personal at the Luminary, Saturday, March 31
After all was heard and done though, my memories of last night’s show will be dominated by Van Etten’s voice, both smoky and clear, always confident and honest. In the middle of a tour promoting her third album, “Tramp,” she brought some friends along — Mr. Doug Keith played bass, Ms. Heather Woods Broderick lent her voice and a deft hand on the guitar and drummer, and Mr. Zeke Hutchins gave us thunder.
Dreamy. This is my initial gut reaction to the sound of the War on Drugs, who began the show over an hour later than originally announced. This is not to say that dreamy means light. Definitely not. There were moments when it sounded like the guitar was at one end of the tunnel and it was sending heavy notes bouncing and careening toward the other end. There were also marathon interludes where each instrument would stand its ground then graciously back off for its neighbor to come to the forefront. Their set was comprised of little mini epics; a cover of the Water Boys was very well received by the crowd.
Andrew Granduciel’s voice has been described as Springsteenesque but Dylan’s cadence came through more to me. But maybe the harmonica had something to do with that. The band’s closer was a long, winding, tug of warm featuring a lone trumpet which was both melancholy and hopeful, a perfect segue to co-headliner Sharon Van Etten.
Van Etten is like that cool friend who moves away after high school and does some really awesome shit, shit that she always said she’d do, then comes back for a long weekend visit and is exactly the same cool friend you remember, only with better stories. She bantered with the crowd between songs, easily engaging in whatever random conversation happened to materialize. One guy in the audience persisted in asking both War on Drugs and Sharon Van Etten what type of cheese they were. War on Drug’s lead singer, Adam Granduciel, played along announcing that he’d be gouda, but pronouncing it ‘how-da’ for extra, dramatic effect. Sharon’s response? Anything funky. Or dill havarti.
The room smelled like cigarettes, perfume and cold air. The pre-concert hum of the Old Rock House crowd, waiting on Bass Drum of Death, was punctuated by a guy telling the girl next to me that he was actually, right then, in the middle of composing a blues ballad. Really now? She sipped her drink, politely.
Then the band came through the small crowd, hopped on stage and gave everyone, this girl in particular, the relief they’d been waiting for.
Almost at the exact moment headliner Bass Drum of Death played its first note the sound guy, ever devoted to his board, stepped out for a smoke. A sign of confidence in how things would sound, or indifference to the show? My vote is for indifference because that’s how I felt at the end, too.
Guitar, bass and drums. Simple. The crowd responded within three seconds, whooping, raising glasses of beer in the air. There were moments of exuberance like this but they were few in the hour-long set. The band is, in a nutshell, what every fucked middle schooler wants to be when they grow up. Thrashing around on stage, strangling their guitars, banging their heads. Their sound is tight and loud. Their sound is chaotic and brave. Their performance was boring.
I hate coming to this conclusion because in my mind, it’s quite hard for a show to be boring. There’s an enormous amount of energy that’s generated when an audience and a band collide during a live performance. There’s an exchange of understanding that what’s about to happen is singular. When that musician on stage looks out at the audience that is an invitation.
Last night at Old Rock House in an odd, yet perfect space that invitation was not extended. Perhaps it was lost in the mail somewhere between here and Mississippi? I’m not saying that the music wasn’t great, it really was. At times fast, with nice bass underneath the intricate guitar, overlaid with some really smooth echoing vocal effects that complimented the rough guitar and unrelenting drums. Each of the musicians did their part in making a really great musical whole: the bass surged forward at times, shaking things up, while the lead guitar was pleasantly loud and scratchy when it needed to be and the drums kept it all together. Lead singer John Barrett even let out a nice little scream or two that jolted the zombie-like audience out of their beer bottles and brought the show back to life. But it wasn’t enough.
Last night there was no exchange. At least, none that I perceived. The highlights included a Ramones cover that closed the show and a chick who yelled a marriage proposal to the lead singer. At least she didn’t yell “Freebird.” Though as clichéd as that is, I can’t help but smile thinking about it.
I’ve always thought of myself as a sound person as opposed to lyrics person. But last night I discovered that without the connection you get to make during a live show, sound just isn’t enough. The performance was static. With their heads down, Bass Drum of Death played. Maybe this was a part of the act? If so, it didn’t resonate with me. Would I go out and buy Bass Drum of Death’s newest album? Hell yes. Am I going to go out of my way to see them live again? Probably not.