|Born and raised in St. Louis, I've just recently returned to my home town after a few years spent wandering around the Midwest from Milwaukee to Chicago. I enjoy listening and writing about all kinds of music, but I especially love the numerous rock subgenres including classic, indie and alt country. I also have a soft spot for past and present incarnations of eighties synth pop, but really who doesn't.|
The Pageant may not be the ideal space for musical duos and trios with stripped down acoustic arrangements, but last night’s Civil Wars show proved that even a bigger venue can be transformed into a setting for an intimate musical experience.
Part of this was due to the type of fans drawn to the Civil Wars. The sold-out crowd for this KDHX-welcomed show seemed to connect with the music in close personal ways, enthusiastically embracing the musicians and their work. Building these types of relationships with the music imparts the live setting with a palpable energy even when the majority of the music is of the quieter variety. Although both groups work on a small scale utilizing simple arrangements of guitar, ukulele and piano, their vocal dynamism and strength kept opening act the Staves and especially the Civil Wars from becoming overwhelmed by the space.
The Staves are a charming trio of British sisters with a lovely knack for vocal harmony. It is decidedly difficult to not be wholly enchanted by Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor. Just one week into their first tour in the States, the group is unabashedly excited to be in the country playing alongside the Civil Wars. Between the soft beauty of their gently moving music and their humorous observations of American regional vocabulary, the Staves were immensely entertaining and proved to be a perfect complement to both the music and on stage repartee of the headliners.
Working in a fairly traditional vein of folk rock, the Staves bring captivating warmth to their music. Songs build around the interplay of the three singers voices with basic but pretty guitar and ukulele accompaniment. There is a touch of whimsy to their music which elevates what also seems to be work deeply rooted in the personal. There is something very satisfying about watching three singers interact on stage to produce beautiful harmonies which you can only experience in concert. Highlights from the set include “Mexico” and “Icarus,” both songs from their new EP, “Mexico.” I think it is safe to say the Staves gained quite a St. Louis following last night.
Setting the stage with delicate vocal work and thoughtful narrative pieces the openers made it easy for the Civil Wars to plug directly into the emotional engagement of a crowd that was ready to bask in the aching beauty of Joy Williams and John Paul White’s music. The group themselves seemed a little surprised at the eager response. Coming out of Nashville, the group straddles the line between country and folk with a little bluesy kick thrown in for good measure. Together for just under a couple of years the Civil Wars are enjoying a fair amount of popularity and watching them live it is not hard to see why.
If there was ever a band perfectly suited to set the mood for a night of (slightly off-kilter) Hitchcockian suspense, punctuated with romantic intrigue, it may just be Sleepy Kitty.
The mild weather and bustling city setting also worked to set a properly dynamic mood. Really it is not hard to get drawn into the intoxicating pull of impeccably-crafted cinema showcasing impossibly beautiful people in gorgeous clothes running around the French Riviera. Sleepy Kitty is adept at harnessing and refashioning the retro chic aesthetic cultivated by pop musicians of the ’50s and ’60s. Although Hitchcock’s films aren’t normally thrown in with the pop scene, the auteur paired well with the duo’s catchy yet knowingly twisted pop punk revisions.
Paige Brubeck and Evan Sult played a lively mix of original tunes as well as wide ranging covers of everything from Pavement to the Beatles. Brubeck’s typically amazing voice work was highlighted on the bands hypnotic take on the classic “Summertime.” Deconstructing the Beatle’s peppy “I Saw Her Standing There” yielded a sultry, trippy but still danceable number the band calls “Seventeen.” Sleepy Kitty closed with a couple of lovely tunes from their latest album, “Infinity City.” It seemed that the crowd would have been happy to listen to the whole album; such was the atmosphere of conviviality developed over the course of two sets with Sleepy Kitty.
Grand center offered a relaxed venue to spend a summer night outside soaking in some culture, especially with the Fox and other majestic buildings looking on benevolently. Even if you don’t live anywhere near that area it felt like a small neighborhood gathering — if only for those few hours.
KDHX is a proud presenter of Thursdays at the Intersection. Join us for the finale on August 25, with Miss Jubilee and the Humdingers, followed by a screening of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
Concert review: Rockabilly thrills with Wanda Jackson and Dexromweber Duo at Blueberry Hill Duck Room, Sunday, March 27
Last Sunday, the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill hosted a night of top-notch rock & roll with a formidable lineup of what some would consider, certainly the crowd packed into the cavernous Duck room, a couple of musical icons on the bill.
The Dex Romweber Duo has plenty of street cred including, like Wanda Jackson, the patronage of Jack White. Hitting that sweet spot with a nice bluesy sadness, but still rocking hard at all the right times (and in all the right ways) the brother and sister are skilled musicians working comfortably in a medium they’ve been shaping to their whims for years. Dex has a knack for plying his voice to great effect. It can be a deep growl or a silky baritone, reminiscent of Johnny Cash, as needed. The crowd seemed to enjoy what he was throwing down and were happy to groove along with Dex swimming in the depths of his lows and reveling in the sweet pain of poisonous love. The duo provided an easy entry into the retro rock atmosphere permeating the night while priming the audience for Wanda Jackson’s more spirited take on similar themes and genres.
Jackson certainly did not disappoint. It was truly a pleasure to watch one of the first and feistiest ladies of rockabilly (really it’s hard to place Wanda Jackson in just one category) work her magic. She exudes a certain warmth and winning charm (almost a school girlish innocence and exuberance — it was not hard to imagine Jackson singing her heart out as a teenager and forgetting to get paid, as she recalled during the show, because she was just having too much fun to think about trivial things such as a paycheck).
And she can still growl with the best of them.
All of this and more is what Jackson brought to her live show. You just can’t beat that eager and inviting energy inherent to rockabilly music and Jackson fully embodies that vibe, at turns party girl, jilted, yet never completely naive lover, seductress albeit a sweetly chaste one, gospel singer and straight up rock & roller. I felt giddy listening to Jackson relive memories from her early days playing the Ozark Jubilee and dating a young Elvis Presley. Every song Jackson sang was infused with sometimes 50 years worth of memories.
As her backing band, the High Dollars provided all of the basic foundational elements in an efficiently rocking fashion leaving most of the critical spaces open for Jackson to fill with her dynamic vocal presence. Jackson performed a nice mix of tunes sticking mostly with her older hits such as “Fujiyama Mama,” but also throwing in some of the best numbers from her latest release, The Party Ain’t Over. The crowd was drinking her in as she traveled the course of her career spending a little time in the country & western scene, working her way through Elvis and Chuck Berry, even sneaking in some heartfelt gospel before bringing the house down with “Let’s Have a Party” (technically more Elvis, but one indelibly marked as a signature Wanda Jackson tune).
Perhaps I was simply swept up in Jackson’s historical significance as a pioneering female musician, but damn if she doesn’t put on a good show.
In October 2011, Andrea of Radio Rio will celebrate her 10-year anniversary at 88.1 KDHX. Upon her arrival in St. Louis, Andrea brought her small but lovingly cultivated collection of Brazilian CDs and her sharp musical wit to an eager public. Since then Andrea has persevered as a much needed guide to the thrilling and sensual world of Brazilian music satisfying an itch many St. Louisans didn’t even know they had. Andrea was happy to chat about her own musical journeys and finding and treasuring her Brazilian niche.
Liz Taylor: It’s interesting that right when you got here you started your radio show. What was the impetus? Had you always wanted to do something like this?
Andrea: Yeah. Music, and I bet this is true for just about everyone who does a show at KDHX — well I don’t want to speak for everybody, but it’s my guess, that we’re all those kind of music nerds who’ve been like that since middle school or high school. Always the one making mixed tapes for all of your friends and your parents — trying to change people’s musical tastes. Trying to tell them what they should be listening to. You know that kind of thing. In New Jersey there was a state college where my dad taught and me and one of my friends attempted to do a college show when we were in high school. But that failed miserably. They would just let us in that room and we didn’t know what we were doing and you could only hear it from probably 50 yards from the college. But in Chicago, my friend Rick started Dusty Groove America, which at the beginning of the internet age, mid to late ’90s, he was a big Chicago DJ and avid music collector and had an amazing collection. He and his friend JP started selling their records out of their basement and it took off from there. They founded Dusty Groove and I was one of the first employees there, and one of their specialties was Brazilian music. So my couple of years there was where I got my education.
That’s where you found your niche.
It was one of those things that when we started listening to all that, it was mainly kind of Tropicalia stuff, stuff from the late 60′s early 70′s. Everybody in the store, we were just like, why doesn’t the rest of the world know about this music? This is some of the most amazing stuff I’ve ever heard. So it just kind of clicked from there. And I always knew about Bossa nova and my parents had some of those records. But so I had this good education in Chicago and then showed up here.
Have you always been a collector of music working on amassing a library?
Yeah. And it was the Beatles, the first thing that I really had to have absolutely everything. I had to have every American version, every English version of every record. I grew up in New Jersey so I would go to the Meadowland’s Beatlefest every year and actually do the collector thing. Save up my allowance and buy collectibles.
So it was your first musical passion.
But I would still go to these summer programs away from New Jersey and I’d meet kids from all over the country and I’d never heard of the Violent Femmes, I was so late on that stuff that when I heard it I was like, this is amazing, but it was so old school to everybody else. I’m always a little late.
Just so you come to it eventually right?
Yeah, then I get obsessed with it. It’s kind of fun at the same time it’s embarrassing.
But I like that feeling, that even if you’re late, it’s sort of your own personal discovery of something. It’s a very personal experience and you get really wrapped up in it. Even if there is outside context you may be missing. It’s still nice to have that little moment with your band.
Yeah, and I think for me I love thinking about evolution, any kind of evolution, and just how we got to a certain musical point. You discover that later and then so many other things make sense — “Oh I see what this band, which I already really liked, what they were doing. They couldn’t have done this without these people.” I like filling in those pieces that everybody else has already known about. Yes of course this band is ripping off this band. But then I like when all of those pieces fall into place of how we got to where we are.
The Party Ain’t Over
For her latest album, The Party Ain’t Over, Wanda Jackson, the first lady or queen of rockabilly (depending on who you ask), sets out to push her work into the 21st century. To that end, she’s enlisted the help of Jack White. White proves a nice complement to Jackson and introduces some much needed rough edges to what could have been an overly polished collection of standard rockabilly fare.
“Shakin’ All Over” wallows in a reverb heavy groove of sulky enjoyment, capturing with a sharper precision than even the original the thrilling pulse of romantic and erotic excitement. Jackson is credited with bringing a sexier image to the country scene of the ’50s and she certainly retains the ability to communicate an appealing sexual charge despite her later forays into the more sedate and chaste world of gospel (musically and ideologically speaking). The main source of this pull is an unnervingly innocent purr which still sounds clear and fresh despite a fair amount of vocal mileage.
For proof, look no further than her version of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m no Good.” Although it would be a bit of a stretch to say she improves upon the original, Jackson does seem to come into her own within the salty framework provided by Winehouse’s bruised lyrics and irresistible beats. White rightly pushes Jackson towards the sort of soul revival pop perfected by Winehouse, which provides a newer ground for Jackson to roam around, stretching her rockabilly sensibilities. The album slumps slightly in the back half when the numbers hew perhaps too closely to straightforward, though always well-executed covers.
The best moments of The Party Ain’t Over come when Jackson, with the guiding hand of White, really digs into her signature sound and lets her voice reach down into scratchy depths, then pulling back with just the right amount of sweetness. It’s a heady mix and works surprisingly well on everything from Bob Dylan to Elvis retreads. White’s biggest accomplishment is amplifying and clarifying the essential Wanda Jacksoness.
Ultimately, The Party Ain’t Over encapsulates the various incarnations of Jackson’s career past and present. She covers everything from gospel and soul to, of course, her signature mix of rock & roll and country & western classics. Through it all Jackson sustains her inimitable musical persona of feisty playfulness found at the core of rockabilly. Hopefully the party won’t be over anytime soon.
Wanda Jackson performs in St. Louis at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room on March 27.
Concert review: Rocky Votolato, Ha Ha Tonka and Casey Reeves provoke (gently) at Off Broadway, Tuesday, November 9
It seems odd to describe an evening as “gentle” which includes a stomping interlude of quasi-southern rock, but that feeling dominates when recalling the night spent with Casey Reeves, Ha Ha Tonka and Rocky Votolato at Off Broadway.
Each act presented a facet of the eminently familiar indie-rock spectrum, while still finding spaces to insert some unique voices into the mix. Especially with the music of Reeves and Votolato, there is a great deal of comfort to be found in their quiet, stripped down almost folksy aesthetic. Nothing shockingly new, but well done all around.
Casey Reeves opened the night with an unimposing set of quietly ingratiating tunes. Accompanied on keyboard by Zach Gorsuch, and often incorporating harmonica, Reeves was a little hard put to distinguish himself from what followed, especially Votolato, but he was able to reward listeners with some lovely moments of raw emotionality. He also worked well as a musical counterpart to his fellow Midwesterners, Ha Ha Tonka.
The growing crowd perked up considerably when Ha Ha Tonka took the stage. I’m not sure who was more excited by the evening. The band was certainly happy to be playing to a home crowd again after weeks on the road. The group’s obvious pleasure infused the set with a wonderful energy and worked well with its signature blend of loud, boisterous Southern rock laced with indie undertones (or perhaps it is the other way around). I can’t say how well this sound translates when recorded or rather without the small but eager group of fans there to provide enthusiastic feedback. I was so caught up in the interplay between band and listeners that the real details of the music were largely eclipsed. Good fun all the same.
Ha Ha Tonka and Rocky Votolato seem to have developed a nice symbiotic relationship as they shared stage time in various combinations. Lennon Bone looked especially comfortable with Votolato providing backing on the drums for a good chunk of the set. Even so, switching from the raucous beats of the good old Missouri boys to the softer more thoughtful ballads of Votolato was a bit of an awkward shift. It did not take long though to join Votolato in the melodic groove he fashions. He is a confident songwriter, exploring what could be well-worn subjects such as religion and love from a subtly complex if a touch wary perspective. Votolato knows how to wring emotional resonance from the threadbare elements of his music. It is always a pleasure to watch musicians thoroughly inhabit a medium to the extent that they deliver both excellent genre standards and work that messes about with the boundaries of song craft. Perhaps “gently provoking” would be a better way to describe the evening.
Of Montreal’s tenth album, False Priest, rattles with dark energy that shivers from fatalistic undertones reminiscent of Bowie at his oddest and perhaps even a touch of the Cure. Over the course of its past musical output, Of Montreal has evolved an intricately layered sound. False Priest presents a fleeter production with some harder edges, but retains the familiar mixture of upbeat melancholia.
Helmed by provocateur extraordinaire Kevin Barnes, the old pros have infused their typically dense sound with a decidedly strange sci-fi-like, post-apocalyptic thematic landscape. Yet even when Barnes’ lyrics evoke feelings of sadness and despair, you can’t help but get pulled into a joyful state by the irresistible, synthy dance beats. The combo of “Sex Karma” and “Girl Named Hello” is a particularly seductive pairing. As with past outings, the band’s music is sexy in surprising ways. Songs such as “Like A Tourist,” which discuss both “unicorns eating baby meat” and “female erection” in almost the same breath, seem like a discordant impossibility, but Barnes makes it work by wrapping it all in a beautiful melody. For all their narrative complexity a number of the tracks include refrains you can slip into easily for a spirited sing-along. Other highlights include a couple of nicely utilized guest turns by Janelle Monáe and Solange Knowles.
Even the quieter moments leave you with a number of lyrical and sonic strands to untangle. At the same time, certain stretches of the album produce a sort of restlessness leaving one yearning for the more riotous highs of early stunners “I Feel Ya’ Strutter” or “Godly Intersex.”
The key for Barnes and company seems to be striking the right balance between the diverse array of musical elements and the rambling stream-of-consciousness qualities of Barnes’ lyrics. A couple of the later numbers sink a little beneath the press of collected emotional weight, but remain compelling nonetheless. False Priest represents yet another leg on the pleasantly disorienting journey so lovingly proffered by of Montreal.
Of Montreal performs at the Pageant on October 21, 2010. Janelle Monáe opens.
of Montreal – “Coquet Coquette”
For those of you who don’t know, Sunday was Jeff Tweedy day in St. Louis. Local devotees gathered in Forest Park to mark the momentous occasion and celebrate with a day full of diverse music and good beer. Judging from reports of the first day at LouFest the crowd and vibe seemed fairly equivalent for day two — even if festival-goers were looking a wee bit more sunburned and stiff from all the time spent rocking in the park. It was an interesting scene to be sure. Hipsters mingled with hippies and there were plenty of adorable little kids on hand to twirl ecstatically to the raucous sounds of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and back up Jeff Tweedy on the harmonica.
A big part of the pleasure came simply from taking advantage of one of our most important community resources, Forest Park. There’s something about the shared experience of soaking up sun and music in equal measure to create a nice feeling of camaraderie, however tentative. Obviously this isn’t a new concept, but it’s always refreshing to encounter the phenomenon personally.
Sadly, I missed all but the last five minutes of Kim Massie. She seemed to be getting a good response from the small crowd who were happy to make requests when needed. Magnolia Summer followed Massie with a nice set tailored to the hometown crowd. Although lead singer Chris Grabau’s voice was eclipsed at times by the large backing band, the group was able to find a steady groove on the faster songs. The Funky Butt Brass Band made another appearance at LouFest – the band backed up So Many Dynamos on Saturday — joining Magnolia Summer at the end of its set.
Carolina Chocolate Drops offered up their gifts as virtuoso musicians and storytellers/music historians. Perhaps the most fascinating piece of information shared was a brief discussion tracing the musical through lines from early string band styles to current forms of hip hop and rap, a proto hip hop as it were. Beyond their extensive knowledge and obvious love for their musical niche, the Carolina Chocolate Drops know how to play a wicked jam. I’m now a believer that nothing elicits such a happy response as the sight and sound of a well-played jug. Other highlights include, Rhiannon Giddens fiddle-heavy cover of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style.”