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Chris Sewell's Photo I'm a freelance journalist who enjoys live shows and independent press. Find me on Facebook.

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Concert review: Wilco and Nick Lowe explore the full range of their songs at the Peabody Opera House, Tuesday, October 4

Nate Burrell

The Peabody Opera House opened its doors just this past weekend. The renovated theatre is fashioned much like a traditional opera house with its ornate décor and marble floors throughout. One might expect the ballet or the latest production run of “Phantom” or “West Side Story” to have commenced the venue’s fall season. Instead, we got something much better: Wilco.

In this hyper-information age, with the instantaneous variety of the iTunes store downloads and Netflix instant streams, attention spans are short and options are more than plentiful. iPod playlists are more favorable than listening to the latest album releases in their entirety. But having experienced the engaging two-hour set that Wilco delivered Tuesday evening, you caught just a glimpse into the huge catalog of material that this band has amassed.

The show began with a solo performance by producer, songwriter and recording artist Nick Lowe. Lowe is most well-known for hit “Cruel to Be Kind,” as well as having written the popular Elvis Costello song “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” Lowe played these two tracks last night, as well as a cover of Costello’s “Alison.” It was a very well-received set as the audience seemed familiar with Lowe’s music. Lowe reminds you a bit of Leonard Cohen at times with his straight-forward delivery and his narrative lyrics. It really was a pleasure to see Lowe open; so often opening artists feel more like a drag than a bonus for eager showgoers.

After a brief intermission, WIlco came out just after 8:40 p.m. and hardly stopped playing until 11 p.m.. Jeff Tweedy & Co. took the stage to an indigo lighting that made everything really shimmer with an icy appearance. The crowd, who sold out this show in 25 minutes when tickets went on sale, stood up to greet the band with rousing applause and remained standing throughout most of the show.

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Concert review: My Morning Jacket supercharges the Pageant, Tuesday, August 2

My Morning Jacket by Ben Yung / Ben Yung

Jim James and My Morning Jacket had us in their collective grip from the first note last night — and they never let us go. This was one of those rare shows where everything felt just right and we were all reminded of the transformative power of live music.

It was an effortless, energizing and draining two-and-a-half hour set the band performed with hardly a water break to speak of. Front man Jim James disregarded the St. Louis summer heat, sporting a three-quarters-length dress coat and wearing, a la Flavor Flav, a colorful LED-lit sampler around his neck on several songs.

The show began with the intensity of a heavy metal act as James sauntered between stage left and stage right, engaging everyone that he could — just as he did all evening long. At times James channeled bits of Jim Morrison with his carefree and charismatic stage presence, his long hair and beard obscuring much of his face. Other times James seemed to invoke Robert Plant, Eddie Vedder and, on some of the folksier tunes, bits of Roy Orbison or Johnny Cash. But by the end of the night, you realized James was channeling nothing more than himself.

My Morning Jacket covered nearly the entire popular music spectrum over the duration of their set, showcasing an abundance of loud, ’70s-inspired rock guitar and acoustic-folk tunes that displayed their Southern roots. The band also worked in a wealth of keyboard, piano and digital sampling that was within the Pink Floyd realm of sonic experimentation. MMJ’s genre-hopping was near seamless as the set moved along nicely, offering several shifts in mood that never felt stark or out of rhythm.

There were a handful of times throughout the night where you thought, “This has to be the set closer,” as James wailed and thrived on a rotation of guitars, including semi-hollows, acoustics and even a Flying V on a few tunes. But the show seemed like it would never end as the guitar tech would come out and hand the band yet another guitar. Fellow guitarist Carl Broemel lit up the fretboard throughout the night as well, alternating between electrics and playing a fair amount of lap steel as well as some saxophone. (Read a pre-show interview with Broemel here.)

The band’s jamming went on at times for five to 10 minutes. Sometimes one couldn’t tell for just how long; the energy and enthusiasm the band displayed was so mesmerizing. My Morning Jacket led by example, having so much fun that the Pageant crowd couldn’t resist joining in, dancing and fist-pumping and head-bobbing all night long.

To complement their sound (and to note: this was one of the best sounding shows I have heard at the Pageant), My Morning jacket had a stylish and modern stage production. The lighting cast strong violet, magenta and indigo hues across the band. Golden spotlights frequently rained down from the rafters and blinding strobes shot up from the floor. The backdrop consisted of four LED screens that shifted through images of apparent psilocybin influence to static images with an outer-space feel.

A six-song encore ended the evening as it began to edge closer to the midnight hour. Included in the encore was the band’s current buzz song, “Still Holding on to Black Metal.” James set up the performance of this one by telling a lengthy story about his experience earlier in the day at the City Museum. He had mentioned earlier in the night his ties to St. Louis, as half of his family is originally from the area.

It was a great night of music and, as show openers Delta Spirit indicated, a real treat to be part of the My Morning Jacket tour. Delta Spirit kicked off the show with a spirited performance that meshed well with the main act. Front man Matthew Vasquez was giving it his all as Delta Spirit tried their best to upstage the headliners.

But that goal was unattainable. My Morning Jacket lit up the Pageant and provided an unwavering electricity — the kind of energy that few rock bands can sustain so well.

Concert review: Fleet Foxes skip pretension and focus on songs at the Pageant, Tuesday, July 19

Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes at the Pageant, July 19, 2011

Dustin Winter

Steamy summer nights in St. Louis bring many images to mind: baseball games, Budweiser, melted ice cream, sweat and sold-out, indie, neo-folk shows. OK, perhaps the last bit is a little more uncommon but this was reality for last night at the Pageant.

Few bands in the indie scene have had more buzz than Fleet Foxes, who are in the midst of a highly successful tour for their latest record Helplessness Blues. In something as ever-changing and amorphous as today’s music scene, the consistent praise this band has gotten leads one to believe that maybe they are actually here to stay.

Fleet Foxes play fairly straight-forward folk inspired tunes, but they play them well and with their own style. Their sound is more reminiscent of a band such as Iron and Wine than it is Bob Dylan, but lead vocalist and songwriter Robin Pecknold’s delivery gives the group their own distinguished sound. The band’s three-part vocal harmonies are what listeners come to know well, and they came with strong voices to the Pageant for their first headlining gig in St. Louis.

The show kicked off with opener Alela Diane & Wild Divine. Her sound is somewhere loosely in the alt-country realm of Neko Case with a bit more Nashville to her style. Her songs come across as heartfelt and are played with much ease and humility as she seemed genuinely gracious to be on stage performing. At one point during the set, she sheepishly introduced her band which included her father on guitar and husband on bass. The band was a well-paired, effective opener for Fleet Foxes, successfully setting the tone for the remainder of the night.

There were no flashing strobe lights, no fog or bright colors and certainly not a U2 rotating claw of a stage when Fleet Foxes made their low-key entrance. The sextet took the stage to begin what would be an unassuming, demure yet passionate 19-song set. Things got underway with “The Cascades” from Helplessness Blues, a strolling instrumental that felt appropriate as a show opener. The momentum picked up quickly with the building “Grown Ocean” which had things in full-swing. The subtleties of the band’s layered arrangements really shined as their vocals rang clearly in unison and the instrumentation settled in nicely over the house PA.

The first half of the set was largely comprised of new material. There was little pretention to the evening, but there was a great abundance of musical talent as the band put to good use the mandolin, fiddle and harmonium. Pecknold was engaging all evening; Skyler Skjelset switched between electric, acoustic and mandolin; Casey Wescott and Morgan Henderson switched among instruments all night as well; Christian Wargo and Joshua Tillman filled in on bass and drums respectively, as well as filling out the trademark three-part vocal harmonies with Pecknold.

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Concert review: Arcade Fire and the National make their own kind of arena rock at Scottrade Center, Thursday, April 21

The National

Editor’s note: This will be the first of two reviews of last night’s concert with Arcade Fire and the National. Stay tuned for Will Kyle’s take later this afternoon.

It’s rare to see a dual billing of dynamic rock bands in the current musical climate. The mega tours of previous decades seem fewer and farther between, but last night’s patrons of the Scottrade Center were in for a treat. While bands like the National and Arcade Fire don’t quite possess the same household familiarity as, say, Guns ‘n’ Roses or Metallica, fans of the indie scene were more than familiar.

It was an early start to the evening as the National took the stage at 7 p.m. I think this early start time may have confused many concert-goers as the venue was only perhaps 30% full when the band’s opening number “Start a War” kicked in. By no means are the National a band meant for arena rock, but the band managed to pull it off quite well.

Baritone-voiced front man Matt Berninger was entertaining throughout the set, joking between songs about how exactly it was that he injured his foot (a kitten bite, then an orangutan, later a scorpion). The National’s sound filled the venue nicely as the mix was balanced amongst the chiming and distorted guitars, rhythmic percussion and the two-man horn section. It was a great 60-minute set with highlights of “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and an excellent performance of “Mr. November” that had Berninger out in the crowd (for the second time) with soundmen in tow to carry his mic cable. He walked through the Scottrade’s general admission section, back past the soundboard and up into the seats to visit with the crowd as he sang. It was a spectacle that got a standing ovation that the National truly deserved.

After a 30-40 minute intermission, the lights dimmed again for the main act. The setup was a retro fitting that fashioned the stage to appear similar to that of an old drive-in movie theater. Three large screens were placed above the stage and a large projection screen behind the drummer. “The Arcade Fire Presents” was featured on one screen and “The Suburbs” on the other as the lights dimmed and a short introductory film played.

The band came out to a large crowd response as the film began to wind down and the intro to “Ready to Start,” an upbeat rock number from the band’s Grammy-winning The Suburbs kicked in. It was a great song to open with and following-up with the fan-favorite “Rebellion (Lies)” from 2004′s Funeral made for a fast start to the evening.

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Concert review: A steamy spring night with the Raveonettes and Tamaryn at the Firebird, Friday, April 8

Sharin Foo of the Raveonettes at Firebird

Photo by Kate McDaniel

It’s only the beginning of April but St. Louis saw the hottest show of the year last night at the Firebird. This was due not only to the solid performances by Tamaryn and the Raveonettes, but mostly due to the sauna-like conditions at the venue (which is without the modern invention of air conditioning). Despite the conditions, the crowd pressed on and a “sold out” notice was posted on the door by the time the bands hit the stage.

Up first was the atmospheric shoe gazing of New Zealand artist Tamaryn (the singer and band name). Tamaryn’s sound resides firmly within the vein of previous shoegaze and dream pop artists, blending elements similar to those of Cocteau Twins, the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine. And the band does it well, creating a swell of mood and atmosphere within the delayed-echoes of the ambient guitar work and the lush vocals.

It was a warm half-hour wait while the stage was prepped for the Raveonettes. Much of the crowd took to the street outside the venue for a fresh air reprieve. Crowd back in tow, the Danish duo of Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo — who collectively form the now New York City-based Raveonettes — took the stage. They had two additional musicians with them, one a standing drummer playing an electronic drum kit (as well as guitar on the opening number) and another guitarist who also played drums at times and triggered electronic samples depending on the song.

The Raveonettes have recently put out a new record Raven in the Grave and they performed a wealth of new material over the 75-minute set. The band was close to breaking up before making the album, searching for a new muse and inspiration, which they surely found. The new songs came across nicely with the combination of electronic sequences and live instruments forming a congruent blend. There seemed to be some issues with the on-stage mix as the band requested adjustments at the board throughout the night, but the house mix sounded just fine.

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Concert review: Queens of the Stone Age breaks the sound barrier at the Pageant, Tuesday, April 5

Anyone in need of a jump start to their week was in luck Tuesday night at the Pageant. Queens of the Stone Age played a loud, abrasive and relentless 90-minute set that was an onslaught to the senses. Whatever noise ordinance University City has in place was undoubtedly shattered as QOTSA cranked it loud and then louder, and simply refused to stop.

“Regular John” got the night started, the first of the 12 numbers they would play as the band performed the totality of its little-known 1998 self-titled debut album. A thick wall of dense distortion was created by the three guitarists and was sustained throughout the night. The Pageant’s P.A surely pushed close to the red.

“I wasn’t feeling too well, but now that I see all of you I think I’ll just get drunk,” said formidable front man Josh Homme as QOTSA launched into “Avon.”

This was an intense show from the start. While the material seemed unfamiliar to the majority of the crowd—few people danced or sung along—it still seemed to be well received as fists pumped and all eyes were on the stage. The house mix seemed to settle during “If Only,” one of the more melodic songs of the set.

QOTSA are one of the few contemporary hard rock bands that seem genuine and authentic. There are lots of pretenders out there on mainstream radio, but this band performs with the confidence and panache of musicians who really get it, and it showed in the performance.

The quintet continued to bring it hard: Homme’s statuesque form sauntering around the stage, bassist Michael Shuman seeming to thrive in his euphoric world of distortion and drummer Joey Castillo dead-on with military snare drumming and the absolute precision of a seasoned veteran.

Lights dangled from all around the stage and at varying heights, surrounding the band in a sea of what looked like large wind chimes. The lights came to life a few songs in, producing an illuminated icicle type effect as “Walking on the Sidewalk” kicked in.

“I get it, you guys don’t like to dance. You like to watch, like voyeurs,” quipped Homme at the unknowing audience as they launched into “How to Handle a Rope.” The commentary seemed to pump some life into the crowd as more bodies flailed to the pulsing of one of the night’s heaviest songs.

QOTSA’s early material relies much more heavily on the down-tuned and distorted guitar riffs than their more recent songs. The band has not lost any of that early edge, but they have grown and expanded the variety of instrumentation in their music. While some of the hooks that fans have come to know were missing from these 12-songs, it was a vivid introduction to the backbone of the unbridled rock that has simply evolved with each album.

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Concert review: Interpol looks back to find rock at the Pageant, Friday, February 11

Interpol at the Pageant

Nate Burrell

It was 2002 and the buzz was strong surrounding the release of Turn on the Bright Lights, the debut LP from the stylish NYC rock musicians Interpol. The sound was a blend of something fresh yet also highly nostalgic of post-punk predecessors; fans and critics alike gave this album much praise.

The band came back strong in 2004 with Antics, and then its first major label release on Capitol in 2007 with Our Love to Admire. Interpol had hit its peak in popularity, the sound more studio polished and garnering much in the way of commercial radio play and even some air time on MTV.

Fast-forward to present day and Interpol is touring in support of its fourth studio LP, simply titled Interpol. This was a return for the rockers to Matador records but not a commercial departure, as they are slotted to open for the fourth leg of U2′s 360 tour this year which is stopping in at Busch Stadium in July. Their new record has received very mixed reviews. So how would this new material come across live?

Things got off to a slow start Friday night at the Pageant. Opening act School of Seven Bells, an electronic-rock trio, was set to go on at 8 p.m.8:15 p.m. but came out closer to 8:30 p.m. The group hit the stage without much bang, standing around for nearly 5 minutes to a background of ambient guitar noise before launching into a 25-minute + set. SVIIB’s mix of live instrumentation and sequences just never blended quite right, and overall it felt like a band that was much more comfortable in the studio environment rather than out in front of a live audience.

The opener left the stage before the clock struck 9 and the roadies came out to prepare the stage for Interpol. Another 35 minutes passed with the house lights on and music playing over the P.A. before the lights finally dimmed. The main act took the stage behind a thick layer of fog and strong blue lights bathing the crowd.

Interpol got things started with a new track, “Success,” a reverb-heavy, atmospheric song that started out slow but built tension as it went along. After the slow start to the evening, coming out with something up-tempo would have been nice, but the audience seemed responsive, happy just to have the band on stage.

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Concert review: Ben Folds delights a sold-out Pageant, Sunday, January 30

Ben Folds at the Pageant

Nate Burrell

It was a packed house on Sunday evening, and for those who are prone to showing up fashionably late, you may have missed the opening number. Ben Folds and his band came out promptly before the 9 o’ clock hour even struck. They hit the stage with the enthusiasm of a high school football squad breaking through the team banner, parading around the stage with their fists in the air, doing push-ups and jumping around the drum riser in tongue-in-cheek mock enthusiasm. The moment was goofy, playful and silly — themes that would resonate throughout the duration of their 2-and-a-half hour performance at the Pageant.

The crowd laughed and cheered, the antics concluding with Ben Folds shaking his butt at the audience and then repeatedly bouncing his piano stool against the keys of his Baldwin like a circus performer.

This was trademark Ben Folds: not taking himself too seriously and infusing a good dose of humor into the night. After working out a bit more of his spastic energy, Ben took a seat at the piano with his backing band in tow — a drummer, bassist, acoustic guitarist/percussionist and a keyboardist/horn player — and began what would be an often entertaining, relentlessly enthusiastic evening that spanned 20+ songs.

Things began with “Levi Johnston’s Blues” and “Doc Pomus” off the new record, Lonely Avenue. The band was tight as was to be expected with a veteran performer of Ben Fold’s caliber, though the energy that their introduction incited did seem to wane substantially with the choice of opening songs. This ebb-and-flow of energy seemed consistent throughout the evening as there were several changes in the show’s format.

The array of emotions was quite varied during the first half of the show, from the silly absurdity of the band’s cover of Ke$ha’s “Sleazy” to the heartfelt and touching performance of “Cologne”. As the show picked up pace and finally settled in, things suddenly came to a screeching halt. For 10-15 minutes—though it felt much longer—Ben Folds directed the crowd with video cameras and sing-a-long instructions for a YouTube video they produce for each of their shows.

The crowd participated and were mostly willing and enthusiastic participants, even chiding a few potential hecklers who seemed restless at the interruption.

After the prolonged delay, things kicked back in full-swing with an energetic performance of the upbeat tune “Effington.”

This energy didn’t last long, however, as the band left the stage and Ben launched into a handful of low-key solo numbers. Most of the songs were old requests of Ben Folds Five songs and were well-received by the audience. It was a strange shift in mood, though, with this start-and-stop sort of energy, which ultimately prevented the show from ever really finding one consistent flow.

After a handful of songs featuring just Ben and his piano, the band reformed and they launched right into “Annie Waits.” This was an obvious crowd favorite that gave those in attendance a chance to unleash some of their pent up excitement as much dancing ensued. The show hit a nice peak as a pleasing trio of high-energy songs followed including “Hiroshima,” “Zak and Sara,” and “You Don’t Know Me.”

It was a delightful evening for Ben Folds fanatics and the crowd seemed pleased to the end (the show ended with a two song encore of “Philosophy” and “Kate”). It was a diverse crowd on hand of all ages, though the appeal of Ben Folds to the evasive yet lucrative frat boy market was surprising.

Ben Folds brought to St. Louis a refreshing change of pace from the seriousness and brooding of much modern music, and he did so with the casual delivery of a seasoned veteran.

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