Matt Fernandes's Posts

Matt Fernandes's Photo I'm a veteran journalist in St. Louis and a volunteer KDHX music writer.

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Concert review and set list: Jeff Mangum ignites a revival at the Sheldon Concert Hall, Wednesday, January 16

Last night Neutral Milk Hotel‘s Jeff Mangum helped usher in a new century of live music at the Sheldon. His performance embraced the venue’s tradition of blending the spiritual with the musical.

A sold-out crowd buzzed in anticipation during the eight o’clock hour, some taking in a hushed set by the warm up band Tall Firs while others milled about the Sheldon lobby.

At about nine, the lights dimmed and Mangum walked onto the stage. After a brief pause of recognition, the crowd erupted, issuing a thundering reception for the man who last played here in February 1998. That was the same month — nay, the same week — that NMH’s second and final album, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” was released.

Strumming the first notes of “Two-Headed Boy,” Mangum quickly drew the crowd into his strange musical universe, weaving his stories and punctuating them with his trademark vocal runs — often less than pretty, but always on key.

From there, Mangum launched into his odyssey, “King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1, 2 & 3,” spitting onstage after completing the marathon of a song.

Mangum soldiered on with his acoustic-guitar arsenal, following up “Carrot Flowers” with “”Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone” and “Engine.” His energy and connection with his fans begged the proposition: “Imagine this guy around the campfire at your annual Carlyle Lake trip!”

Sound-wise, the normally pristine venue endured problems throughout the night. The sound system squawked and fed back throughout the set. Mangum’s vocals were unacceptably tinny through the house speakers, especially given the Sheldon’s high standards.

Even still, Mangum’s stage presence shone through as he encouraged the crowd to sing along, and perhaps move closer to the stage to get a better look.

At this point, a rush to the stage ensued with denizens moving down to stage level and sitting Indian style onstage and off. Mangum rewarded the chaotic mess with “Holland, 1945.” From here on out it was a revival scene, complete with crowd generated backing vocals and foot stomps.

The new configuration in the hall swayed when Mangum played his great waltz, “Oh Comely.” They cheered wildly when, in falsetto, Mangum executed the song’s crescendo, authored so long ago.

This Sheldon show was important for several reasons. It was a key stop on Mangum’s first ever nationwide solo tour. It was Mangum’s first performance here since playing the Galaxy in 1998. It was the first time many younger NMH devotees got to hear their favorite songwriter sing his song. And, finally, it was freaking Jeff Mangum playing the freaking Sheldon Concert Hall.

The crowd reaction was out of control. But still, I couldn’t help wishing for a multi-instrumentalist to color Mangum’s spare acoustic tunes. A horn here or an accordion there would have propelled this enthusiastic crowd into the stratosphere.

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Concert review: Stars please Plush party, Friday, October 5

Montreal’s Stars made a return visit to St. Louis last night, this time at the fun restaurant/bar/venue/hangout that is Plush.

The Midtown venue felt a little cramped for Stars, who previously played here a few years back in an open field at Washington University and at the Pageant in 2008.

I think the main issue in terms of sight lines are the two huge beams in the middle of the dance floor. I suppose the owners can’t do much about this other than pushing the bar further back to allow for more floor room.
I went into the show not expecting too much, as the band’s last two albums were a little uneven. Stars had hit their stride with two stellar mid-2000s records, “Set Yourself on Fire” (2004) and “In Our Bedroom After the War” (2007).

After squirming and straining to see all of the band members throughout their 90-minute set, I emerged from Plush re-energized about the band and ready to give their new album, “The North,” a fighting chance to remain on my iTunes for the long haul.

The band kicked things off with “The Theory of Relativity,” also the first track from the new album. It featured some old-school Stars synth lines as well as a Human League-like electronic beat. The song set the tone for what would prove to be an upbeat night of music overall.

Stars stuck with new material at the start, including “A Song is a Weapon,” to generally favorable responses. Then the quintet laid down “Ageless Beauty,” an iconic indie-rock song that helped define the 2000s for many fans electronic-rock music. Funny thing is, the band decided to go lo-fi and play this and many other tunes as guitar rockers. I thought it was a nice twist. At times, it sounded like Guided By Voices had stuck around at Plush for another week to play a special Stars tribute show.

The harmonies from lead singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell shone through the noise like a beacon, as they usually do. Millan and Campbell traded off lead and harmony, high and low, guitar and toy-Casio-wind-instrument-thing to stunning effect. They literally leaned on each other throughout the show when one needed help from the other.

A few songs fell flat, such as the yacht rock-ish (in a bad way) title track from the new record. Also “Do You Want To Die Together?” came off as a darkly bizarre Roy Orbison-meets-”Glee” show tune that eluded me a bit. But they usually would bounce back with shots of adrenaline, like when they played the disco-inspired “We Don’t Want Your Body,” from their 2010 album, “The Five Ghosts.” Millan and Campbell sung and danced in a way that would have made Barry, Robin and Maurice proud.

Campbell ran through Smiths verses to open a few songs, including verses of “Unhappy Birthday” to open “Your Ex-lover Is Dead” and “Reel Around The Fountain” to open “Take Me to the Riot.” The latter song was easily the highlight of the night, igniting the crowd to a near riot. It didn’t rival the chaos seen at Turner Field after the Cardinals beat the Braves, but it was invigorating nonetheless.

Another highlight was “Elevator Love Letter,” an odd song that is nondescript at the start, but gets better and better as it goes along. As the early Stars hit is ending, you find yourself singing along and wishing it would keep going.

One of the night’s final songs was the infectious crowd-pleaser “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It.” A better (and simpler) title could have been “Ode to New Order.” I closed my eyes during the song and I actually believed I was at a New Order concert for a minute — actually kind of great, given I’ve never been to a New Order show.

Before singing one last a cappella song with Millan, Campbell announced that he would soon transform into DJ Dirty Kimono for an after-party at the venue, which sounded fun. Unfortunately, I had to bounce.

Concert review: Metric more than measures up at the Pageant, Tuesday, October 2 / Justin Broadbent

Toronto’s Metric is a rare band that can bring a lot of different kinds of music fans together — I often marvel at the variety of pro-Metric people just in my own circle of friends.

Beginning its show at the Pageant with a dramatic synth intro, Metric ratcheted up the anticipation levels in the buzzing, nearly sold-out crowd. As singer Emily Haines would sing later, they could “feel it in their bones.”

Upon entering the stage, the Juno award-winning quartet launched into “Artificial Nocturne,” also the first song off the excellent new album “Synthetica.” It was a slow burn that eventually kicked into a big-time rocker, a perfect way to bring the crowd into the groove. Metric would prove to keep the crowd extremely engaged throughout its lengthy set.

Next, the band rocked its biggest new hit “Youth Without Youth” that sent the pit into the stratosphere. With lyrics like, “We played Rubber Soul with a razor blade behind the church,” the song epitomizes Hains’ style of recognizing rock history while pushing the rock envelope into new directions. It’s a dense track with wailing guitars, sinister vocals and explosive drums and bass lines — and the crowd ate it up.

Though the show wasn’t a sellout, it was clear the St. Louis audience relished this rare visit from Metric, which first got going way back in 1998. That was a time when the phrase “Canadian rock” brought to mind images of Rush and Loverboy, not Arcade Fire and fellow Pageant vet Feist. Longtime local Metric fans only had brief Lilith Fair appearances and a show at the old Creepy Crawl to hold onto until this show, and it was clear that they were not going to miss a song on this night.

On “Speed the Collapse,” also new, the band took the crowd on a journey, showing its progressive side. “Dreams So Real” featured yet another side of the band that Kristeen Young fans would appreciate. On it, Haines performed spoken-word style vocals while working some avant garde magic on her synthesizer setup. It seemed that the show was going to be a live performance of the whole new album, which would have been fine by most in the crowd.

The band finally dipped into its respectable catalog with “Empty,” off its second album, 2005′s “Live It Out.” What started out as a simple ballad suddenly transformed mid-song into an epic, distorted-guitar rocker that can stand up with the best of Radiohead’s live output. The lyric, “Shake your head, it’s empty,” was sung for only the one chorus, but it was surely stuck in the minds of many patrons the next day.

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Concert review and set list: Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs and Donald Fagen wow crowd as the Dukes of September at the Fabulous Fox, Wednesday, June 20

The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue kicked off its summer tour last night at the Fox, reviving the sounds of 1970s AM radio created by the group’s three principals, Boz Scaggs, Donald Fagen (Steely Dan) and hometowner Michael McDonald (Doobie Brothers).

The trio played in a music-in-the-round style, each singer drawing from their sizable catalogs while adding some key covers that inspired them early in their careers.

The large and talented backing band took the stage and set the night’s tone launching into James Brown’s “People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul.” The three titans of the night entered the stage to a standing ovation.

Fagen took the reins as emcee of the night, which was ironic given his struggles with stage fright early in his career. McDonald was placed at center stage but didn’t have as much crowd interaction as I would have expected. Fagen, however, did a great job engaging the crowd and moving the show along.

After McDonald sang backup on the Isley Brothers’ “That Lady,” Fagen introduced the Ferguson, Mo.-native and the crowd went nuts. McDonald’s first song on lead vocals was the horntastic Arthur Conley song, “Sweet Soul Music.”

McDonald boasts a long history of providing enthusiastic backing vocals dating back to his days with Steely Dan. But when this U-City Walk of Fame inductee is singing lead, it makes you feel like you’re drinking the expensive wine.

Next up was McDonald’s smooth groove, “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near).” McDonald, 60, labored through the high notes, yet it was still surreal to watch him sing this live. With the impossibly-elevated notes the song requires, the 1982 Michael McDonald perhaps set the bar too high for his future self. No matter though. Like many of his songs, McDonald had plenty of real estate to ad-lib and pull off many surprises.

McDonald’s powerful voice blew fans’ hair and drinks back like a 1979 Maxell ad, but Scaggs was the sleeper hit of this night.

Whether he was singing Muddy Waters’ “Same Thing” blues or his own “Lowdown,” Scaggs enraptured the crowd and shockingly garnered more and bigger standing ovations than McDonald. Overall, his steady voice has held up the best among the three, and he let his rootsy musical tastes do the talking.

The tour’s professional backing band deserves a shout out, made up of guitar extraordinaire Jon Herington, two female background singers, three horn players, a funky bass player (Freddie Washington) and a top notch drummer (Shannon Forrest). An extra keyboard player joined a full-frontal piano assault with McDonald on another keyboard and Fagen on a baby grand. Scaggs rounded out the group on guitar.

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Concert review and set list: Santigold delivers totally tubular set at the Pageant, Tuesday, June 12 / Lauren H.

Santigold is a proud child of the ’80s. Her genre-jumping songs are thoroughly modern. Yet they usually carry an ’80s element, whether it’s the Goth rock of Siouxsie and the Banshees or the electronic new wave of Devo or the punk rock of Bad Brains.

She even sported an ’80s look upon entering the stage last night at the Pageant, wearing a bright yellow floral patterned vest and shorts with teal tassels of yarn on the sleeves. Her dancers wore sunglasses and stone-cold expressions that contrasted with their mad dancing skills as the band opened with the hyperactive “Go!,” her first single from her new album, “Master of My Make Believe.” They even shook pom-poms at one point.

The dancers proved to be quite inspiring as many women I talked to ached to be up there doing the same. This was probably because the moves, while effective, were all quite simple — the kind of moves that would make one say, “Hey, I could do that!”

After “Go!” worked the near-capacity crowd into a tizzy, Santigold and her three backing musicians settled into a trio of hits from her stellar 2008 self-titled debut album. Her dancers air-pounded sledgehammers to a cool effect during “L.E.S Artistes.” Seeing Santigold and her dancers move during “Say Aha” brought to mind Jane Fonda circa 1982. Of course, that song would make anyone want to jazzercise.

Costume changes occurred early and often — those costumes and dance moves may not always make a whole lot of sense, but they’re usually entertaining.

Her stage set was sparse — just a “Jimmy Fallon Show”-esque curtain in the background. This was the opposite of the last time she was here, where a huge gaudy boom box served as a backdrop and corporate signage for Bacardi was everywhere.

Santigold’s sense of humor and playfulness was on display throughout the show, especially when a big, white horsey lumbered onto center stage to dance while the backup dancers cowgirled it up and swung lassos. (Was that I’ll Have Another in his second career perhaps?) Santi’s humor also could be found at the merch table where she appeared as a businessman (among other costumes) on the cover of her new album.

It was hard to pick exceptional songs the way the crowd’s energy level remained sky-high all night. However, songs like “Fame” “Creator” and “Shove It” proved to be especially roof-raising. Santigold’s vocal range was put to the test on “Anne.” She passed with flying colors.

During the encore, she played her Spank Rock collab song “B.O.O.T.A.Y.,” which was cool, though not as crowd-pleasing as when she played the Cure’s “Killing an Arab” last time she was here. The crowd was ready for a second encore but it was not to be.

Though it took her until she was in her 30s, everyone at the show last night sure seemed glad Santi White gave up her A&R job to become a full-time rock star. She may never graduate to playing arenas due to her all around mainstream-repelling freakiness. Judging from a lyric from my favorite new Santigold song — “We don’t want the fame” — maybe she’s totally fine with that.

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Concert review and setlist: Kelly Clarkson (with Matt Nathanson) puts on vocal clinic at the Fabulous Fox, Friday, March 16

Louis Kwok

Touring on her latest album, “Stronger,” Texan Kelly Clarkson put on a stunning vocal clinic Friday night at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis.

Released in October, the record has garnered her usual high success and will surely continue to produce hit singles this year.

The original 2002 American Idol has enjoyed more staying power than the rest, consistently charting hit records while collecting a broad fan base. As a pop star, she’s proven to be less predictable, less dramatic and less auto-tuned than the rest.

Even so, haters have always followed Clarkson, criticizing everything from her sexual orientation to her weight.

Clarkson took the criticism head on Friday night before taking the stage. As the sold-out crowd buzzed in anticipation, faux tabloid headlines were projected on a transparent curtain, flashing words like “Single,” “Failure” and, especially, “Fat.”

When she hit the stage and launched into “Darkside,” she didn’t look fat or unsuccessful to me. In fact, I’d be shocked if she’s still single. Guiding a rapturous crowd through a diverse set of rock, gospel, soul and pop, Clarkson’s show in a sense was a big middle finger to the critics.

Judging from her music selection, Clarkson could rightly be called a record collector nerd who happens to be a pop megastar. Her anthems pay the bills, but Clarkson seemed most energized pulling off ballads and offbeat covers.

After dazzling the crowd with rockers like “Since U Been Gone” and “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” Clarkson and her crack band changed gears with a dark, industrial version of Florence and the Machine’s “Heavy In Your Arms.” It was the first of many surprises during the night.

Huddling together at the front of the stage, the band played a prolonged and engaging acoustic set. With their informal, living-room-jam setup, the band could have been playing at the Venice Café, complete with their eclectic, sticker-laden upright piano.

All the while, Clarkson displayed astonishing vocal range and power.

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The top 10 Jane’s Addiction songs

Jane’s Addiction‘s February 22 show at the Pageant is an excellent opportunity for longtime St. Louis fans to see the band in an intimate setting.

A second show would be ideal for those fans who didn’t buy tickets quickly enough, but there’s no sign of that happening.

Jane’s, arguably the first mainstream “alternative rock” band, last played here in 2003 when they headlined the KPNT HoHo Show at the Savvis Center. According to a Post-Dispatch reviewer, “nearly a third depart[ed] following Deftones’ set and a steady stream of folk exit[ed] while they played.”

This month’s show should be a different story. The Wednesday night show sold out very quickly and the excitement over the show is evidenced in the eBay and StubHub resale prices.

Here are my top 10 Jane’s Addiction songs, with some thoughts on each.

1. “Ted, Just Admit It…” (from “Nothing’s Shocking,” 1988)

This song, along with “Summertime Rolls,” is Jane’s Addiction — epic, hard-hitting, lyrically provocative and full of twists. In my neck of the woods, “Nothing’s Shocking” was the soundtrack to the summer of 1989. When played at parties, it was truly a no-hater zone — skaters, metalheads, goths and Britpop fans were equally thrilled at Jane’s bad-assedness. Mainstream pop fans had no idea who they were.

2. “Ocean Size” (from “Nothing’s Shocking,” 1988)

Elegant and rip-roaring at the same time, I’ve logged more hours on this song playing air guitar, drums, bass and vocals than any other song, no contest.

3. “Been Caught Stealing” (from “Ritual de lo Habitual,” 1990)

From the opening barks, this whimsical track is a non-stop dance party.

4. “Mountain Song” (from “Nothing’s Shocking,” 1988)

Good memory: Watching singer Perry Farrell, bassist Mike Watt and the rest of Porno for Pyros blow the roof off of Mississippi Nights in 1996, playing this song as its encore. Not-so-good memory: At Lollapalooza 2009, Band of Horses inexplicably played over their end time on the opposite stage, drowning out some of this song and the entirety of “Up the Beach.” I like Band of Horses, but disrupting the festival owner’s Sunday night headlining set? Epic FAIL.

5. “Three Days” (from “Ritual de lo Habitual,” 1990)

Seeing this progressive rock-style song live is nothing less than a religious experience for many. This and other B-side songs on Ritual are thought to be about Farrell’s deceased friend Xiola Blue, who died of a heroin overdose in 1987 while still a teenager.

6. “Whores” (from S/T, 1987)

This is the ultimate early JA song, encompassing their unique blend of punk and metal. Lyrically, it set the tone for Farrell’s lifelong fascination with the beauty of society’s underbelly.

7. “Jane Says” (from “Nothing’s Shocking,” 1988)

The song is uber-repetitive, yet mesmerizing and classic — much like what “How Soon is Now?” did for the Smiths.

8. “Just Because” (from “Strays,” 2003)

This explosive single, their most successful hit yet, was a highlight of JA’s first ‘comeback’ album. The song helped introduce the band to legions of younger fans, many of whom had no idea just how much their tastes were shaped by Jane’s.

9. “Superhero” (from “Strays,” 2003)

Do I like this song simply because it’s been pounded into my head as the theme to HBO’s “Entourage”? Maybe, but it’s a cool jam that’s even better when you listen to the full version.

10. “Underground” (from “The Great Escape Artist,” 2011)

This is classic Jane’s, as guitar god Dave Navarro shreds on guitar, tweaking out many cool effects. Farrell’s voice doesn’t show much sign of age. Their latest album got mixed reviews, but I think it’s a good, if not great, effort.

That being said, I hope Farrell is smart enough not to play this entire album at the Pageant. This hungry St. Louis crowd is going to want classic Jane’s addiction songs and lots of them.

Concert review: Trey Songz gets hot in herre and in the Fabulous Fox, Sunday, February 12 Mikey Hennessy

When Trey Songz is on tour it’s Valentine’s Day every day. When the tour is actually during Valentine’s season?

Let’s just say that the mush was running down the Fox Theatre aisles all night long.

The R&B singer brought his “Anticipation 2our” to the Fabulous Fox on Sunday night, playing to a full house heavy on single ladies who didn’t seem to mind that they were missing the Grammies.

The Virginia native is touring on a couple of popular mixtapes, “Anticipation I & II,” and is gearing up for a new full-length later this year. He is also reportedly working on a movie, having been cast in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D.”

Rapper Big Sean got the party started with a set of crotch-grabbing hip hop. The crowd was anything but indifferent to this opener, shouting lyrics and dancing to the young rapper’s hits like “I Get Money,” “I Do It” and “The World Is Mine.” His biggest hit, “Dance (A$$),” featured a slammin’ old school beat. DJ Mo Beatz’ displayed amazing scratching skills throughout.

After an intermission, Trey Songz rose to an elevated stage on a mechanical riser wearing shades and looking like a young Ray Charles. The high-tech backdrop looked expensive, beaming various lasers, videos and other cool images throughout the night. Songz captivated the crowd singing fan favorites, such as “Be Where You Are,” “Scratchin’ Me Up” and “Neighbors Know My Name.” “Don’t Judge” was an extremely challenging song and Songz came up huge, stretching his voice in all kinds of directions. He undeniably has one of the best voices in R&B.

On “Bomb” Songz led a call and response session with the crowd that had decibel levels through the roof. Other sexually-charged highlights included “Sex Ain’t Better Than Love” and “Can’t Be Friends.” Through it all, Songz played to his female fan base, tempting and teasing them in various states of disrobement. On “Jupiter,” Songz ratcheted the romance still further higher, egging his female fans to imagine a tryst with him.

And then things got flat out weird.

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