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mattstuttler's Photo I'm a volunteer music writer and music lover in St. Louis

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Concert review: Delta Spirit, JEFF the Brotherhood and Fidlar roll out the rock at the Pageant, Thursday, November 15

Fidlar opened the night to a thinly gathered crowd. While super tight and fun to watch, I just couldn’t get over their similarity to Jay Reatard’s entire back catalogue.

I’m not one to judge a band based on its influences, but there seems to be so many bands out there right now that sound like Wavves — it’s dispiriting. Fidlar did one up the aforementioned slacker kings by favoring a more punkish yelling in several songs versus the lazy slurring vocal delivery. I think I would have given Fidlar more of a chance had I seen them in a dive bar or a basement, where the energy can really be felt and numbers don’t matter. That being said, the band’s expression of adolescent rage seared the few who ventured into the Pageant‘s pit. The band seems to be playing what they want and not getting too hung up about how it turns out, so good for them.

I’ve been listening to JEFF the Brotherhood virtually nonstop for the past year. Blending the sound of Weezer’s “Blue Album” and Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” the brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall still forge a sound of their own. Falling somewhere between a goofy, eternal party spirit, and a fuzzy-eyed blur, JEFF the Brotherhood always sounds like its having a good time. Utilizing a three-stringed guitar in front of a mountain of Emperor cabs, vocalist/guitarist Jake manages to make powerful tones that would be difficult for even three guitars to accomplish.

The Nashville duo opened with the crunchy two-chord riffage of “Hey Friend” from last year’s “We Are the Champions.” Given the largeness of its arena-ready songs, the band didn’t feel terribly out of place in the hugeness of the Pageant. Playing an equal number of selections from their most recent “Hypnotic Nights” and “We Are the Champions,” the group stuck true to performing what its fans wanted to hear, even including “Noo Sixties” from 2006′s “Castle Storm” album. I’ll definitely be present the next time JEFF the Brotherhood — one of the best live bands out there right now — rolls into town.

I really wish I could have caught the headliner, Delta Spirit, back before it broke. I don’t believe a band can be said to sell out anymore — especially given the mess that is the music business and the inescapable presence of music pirating — but a certain rock-star attitude comes at a price. I’m a big fan of Delta Spirit’s recorded material, which is solid roots/indie rock that stands out above the pack of ’70s rock revivalists. Live, the band tells a different story.

Delta Spirit performed effortlessly tight versions of its studio work, but the light show and the band’s presence killed the mood for me. Lead man Matthew Vasquez constantly demanded crowd participation, throwing his arms up for applause and asking for the audience to clap along. The result was something a little too freakishly close to a Coldplay concert — and that includes the ego stroking on stage. Delta Spirit’s set was definitely the full-show experience, what with the room filling up out of nowhere. (Though I have to wonder: How can so many people reconcile buying a ticket and skipping out on a solid, full bill?)

In the end, a 50-foot-tall backdrop with the band’s name emblazoned across it and a light show that obscures every musician sans the lead vocalist is not my idea of a good time. Maybe it’s just not my scene, and maybe I’m being elitist and completely out of touch with what most people want from a rock show — and the crowd at the Pageant clearly loved the headliner’s set — but I’d rather see a good band like Delta Spirit not try so hard and just play music.

Concert review: Off!, the Spits and Double Negative blast through Fubar, Thursday, November 1 / Katie Hovland

To be quite honest, I’m not really sure what happened last night at Fubar. A couple of really fast and hard bands played, a bunch of sweaty people moshed and most everyone seemed a bit wasted.

Standing in the very back of the crowd, trying to crane my neck and peer over the writhing, black-clad masses, was the closest I came to seeing any of the bands perform. Finding it impossible to push forward in the crowd and fearing a set of broken glasses had I tried too hard, I resigned myself to the bar to gather what I could from the deafening sounds emerging from the opposite end of the venue.

First up, North Carolina hardcore punkers Double Negative growled out one minute-and-a-half song after another. Being mostly used to the mix I hear at indie-rock shows, the heavy bass drum and heavier vocals were both refreshing and oppressing. The band played no frills, old school hardcore with furious energy, inciting the first (but not even close to the last) crowd surfers to take flight.

Blasting fog and performing in front of a giant skull with strobe lights for eyes, Seattle’s the Spits felt just right. The band’s brand of Ramones-tinged garage punk was sandwiched in between two hardcore bands and gave the night a decent variety in heavy-punk sounds. I got the feeling the Spits are the type of crew to put out 7”s quite regularly; my assumption was validated when I checked the band’s back catalogue the next day. In a time when it seems garage rock is peeking its greasy head out of the basement and into the underground spotlight once again, it was sweet to see a band that seemed to have the formula down for quite a while. Squealing electric guitar, gang vocals and the occasional synth riff dominated the set.

Last to hit the stage, Off! thrashed out old-school hardcore with a get-in-get-out mentality. Playing short and fast songs – most had no more than a single verse and chorus — the Los Angeles band held up to the hype.

Featuring Keith Morris, former vocalist for punk mega-gods Black Flag and the similarly iconic Circle Jerks, Off! fit well with FUBAR’s vibe. The walls were plastered with old Fugazi and Ultraman flyers, the lights were dim and the toilet overflowed. Combine that with the fuck-it-all attitude of Off!, and it was almost like a night straight from the early ’80s. The show had a number of facets that I’ve been missing of late. First off, the bands kept between-song banter to a minimum. With the exception of Morris (his wisdom on politics and war were fascinating), the bands just churned out song after song with reckless abandon, leaving no time to flex their egos. The level of intensity from the crowd was awesome, from crowd surfers to older guys getting into the pit. Best of all, the night was void of any pretension. Most everyone there acted like they wanted to be there and to have a good time — and not really care about much else.

It was well worth dipping into a scene I don’t usually get a chance to observe. So here’s to the three tenets of punk rock: short, fast and loud.

Concert review: Tomorrow’s sounds of Cherokee Street today with Demonlover, TOPS, Magic City and CaveofswordS at Mushmaus, Tuesday, October 2

Catching a show on the artistically fertile but sometimes shadowy Cherokee Street is always an unpredictable experience. A new gallery or venue seems to pop up every couple of months, replacing the empty carcass of a similarly creative but now defunct loft space.

That being said, scores of people in the Cherokee district are laying the groundwork for one of the most exciting music communities in the Midwest. Mushmaus, one of the newest spots on the strip, sported a common sight in the area: an empty, dusty storefront for an entrance. The second floor served as a venue. It’s a giant room with a kitchen on one end (with beer I was told I was welcomed to in the fridge) and nothing else but an empty expanse divided by movable, white gallery walls.

Local electronic duo CaveofswordS (Sunyatta and Kevin McDermott) were first up, playing in front of projected images of skulls and Windows 95-era screensaver optical illusions. Complemented finely by the visual overload, CaveofswordS delivered brooding, synth-driven pop. The duo ran the gamut of electronic influences, recalling traces of Suicide up to Zola Jesus. Gloomy and haunting, CaveofswordS would be my pick for a soundtrack to an evening gazing through the Hubble telescope. The invigorating, accessible chemistry between Sunyatta’s vocals and Kevin’s guitar made the music feel incredibly close, while maintaining an astronomical hugeness and density in the dark, electronic sound waves.

Set up on the opposite side of the room, Magic City performed uninhibited rock ‘n’ roll. Churning with organ and inclined towards psychedelic rock, the quintet chorused sweaty licks and lines with unabashed honesty. Watching Magic City is like watching a skeleton reanimate: pieces of flesh from each member’s instrument — from JJ Hamon’s effects-laden shredding to Larry Bulawsky’s vocal shuddering — fly off as the crowd looks on with terrified but rapt attention. The natural reverb from the room worked in favor of the band, echoing and filling each space with a ghoulish presence. The unfinished interior and walls of Mushmaus also helped give the entire night a feeling of closeness, regardless of how much open space existed between bands and the crowd.

Swinging through town on its way down south, Montreal band TOPS swirled together glittering, subdued dance numbers. The band appeared and sounded like kids from the ’90s that should have come up in the British music scene of the ’80s. The cops had shown up right before their set to shut the show down, but TOPS insisted they would perform at a lower level. This meant a toned-down volume from the drum kit and guitars, but it definitely didn’t mean less of an experience. Beautiful and contemplative, TOPS elicited an almost cult-like fascination. It was hard not to admire every little guitar hook or the seamless execution. The band sounded like a heavy cloud pushing down from above, keeping my limbs moving but helplessly looking starry-eyed out beyond the stage and honing in on the forlorn pop sound.

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‘We’re a fun sort of mess’ An interview with Demonlover

Photo by Suzie Gilb

When St. Louis noisy-folk provocateurs Theodore broke up a year ago, Demonlover and Water Liars rose from the shards and refracted their old mainstay’s vibe in new directions.

While Water Liars stuck to more of an indie-folk hook, Demonlover fell off the stage and rolled around in spazz surf punk.

I caught up with Demonlover vocalist and bassist Andy Lashier over the phone from his hometown in Iowa, where he’s been spending some time recovering from an illness. Multi-instrumentalist JJ Hamon took a few minutes over the phone sharing his perspective while on the road in Kansas City for a gig with for another fine St. Louis musician, Beth Bombara.

Catch Demonlover on October 2 at Mushmaus on Cherokee Street, where they’ll be playing with Magic City (featuring Hamon and Meyer of Demonlover), electronic super duo CaveofswordS and touring hazy rockers TOPS.

Matt Stuttler: How did Demonlover get together?

Andy Lashier: It was like we were playing in this other band [Theodore] and it was kind of falling apart, and we played this one show at the Jefferson Warehouse. I booked a show with some Iowa City acts that I really liked, and some people flaked out on it, but I really didn’t want to cancel the show. So we got there and I was like “Fuck it, let’s just sort of wing it.” I was really excited. It was nerve-racking because we had no idea what we were going to do. We ended up just goofing around and it was kind of rad.

That was the first show, then we were like let’s keep doing this. I was pretty sure it would be cool if we just kept working on it. It sucks, right after that Matt Pace quit. He plays in Rats & People [Motion Picture Orchestra] and just didn’t have time for it, but the other two dudes, Sam Myer and JJ Hamon, decided to keep doing it.

How is Demonlover different from other bands and projects you’ve been involved with?

JJ Hamon: I think we’re pretty good. I mean, we’re all serious about music, but we’re not serious about like getting on stage and being very “Oh, we are ominous” or “Oh, we have this over-riding mood of everything sucks” or “We are a rock band, we will rock you” you know. We’re a fun sort of mess.

Lashier: It’s a lot more fun, I don’t think anybody is afraid to screw up. Basically with that first show, it was like we’re going to screw up, so just get used to the idea of it and just keep fuckin’ playing, you know? I think at least at the outset we wanted to do some weird instrumentals, and throw some pop songs in here and there. Since then, some of the pop songs have taken over for the live shows. I don’t know if it’s the response to them or just how fun they are to play.

Also, with improvisation, I’m not an improvisation dude. It was kind of like, “Okay, we’re going to play this song and it’s going to go on for a while, then once somebody else does something different, you just go with it” — which gives you the right frame of mind for a live show. I hate to see bandmates look at each other when they fuck up. I think not caring about any of that, people respond to that really well. The energy just goes a lot better.

I would say that’s different — definitely the types of songs we sing and play. It’s still just getting started. I’m kind of sick of people talking like, “Oh, we have so many different influences.” When I hear a type of song, I want to make it sound a lot like that. I’m not trying to mix it with other things all at once. I like to get it a little closer to the way songs sounded in old cinematic shit and just throw like a 20-second-long death thrash shit in there. You know, just see what happens. It’s so fun. I mean, I won’t say it’s paid off, but it’s definitely paid off in smiles.

Is there a calculated plan as to why you don’t play that often?

Lashier: For the most part the people that like us have just been people who have gone to a show. We played a bunch of shows at El Leñador all in a row, and that was kind of for fun. We have all this shit recorded, but we haven’t really put it out. The only people who know about us are our friends and people that have come to shows. For the most part people who have come to shows have come back for another show so that’s been pretty cool.

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Concert review: Bug Chaser, Volcanoes, Ou Où and Jack Buck go crazy (folks!) at Bad Dog Bar and Grill, Friday, September 28

I was pretty stoked to see that Jack Buck, the mathy hardcore locals named after the late sportscaster, would be opening up the insanely solid lineup at Bad Dog Bar and Grill on Friday night.

To use a couple phrases lifted from the Buck’s Wikipedia page: “I don’t believe what I just saw!” “Go crazy folks, go crazy!” and “Pardon me while I stand up to applaud.”

Jack Buck gnarled out riff-heavy, technically meandering licks in the vein of Converge or Dillinger Escape Plan. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a band of this particular leaning, and it reminded me why I was ever into the sound at all. More musically intelligent than primal hardcore and metal bands but still maintaining that intensity underneath their shells, the band broke out viscerally searing jam after jam. Breakdowns were performed with a get-in-get-out mentality — none of that tough-guy-posing, ridiculously-drawn-out shit a lot of the more mainstream metal kids are playing these days. Plus, the band totes a pretty sick wood-carved case for its first 7″ record on the merch table.

Fresh off a show with Moon Duo at the Firebird the night before, Ou Où brought the emphasis on song structure down while bringing the eeriness level way up. I’ve had the chance to catch them live before, but this night the duo invited a burlesque-esque dancer on stage — clearly for the purpose of tripping me out. The dancer bizarrely wandered about, getting lost in staring at the lights, just as the crowd was similarly getting lost in the hypnotic layers of the sound. Patrick Weston twisted and twirled knobs behind his two-tiered equipment stand as Travis Bursik punched and pulsed samples and beats from his wooden electronic pulpit.

Both members shared looping duties with a vast arsenal of electronic goods, weaving a continuous tune. Watching Weston and Bursik reminded of 1950s footage of scientists pulling and patching chords in those huge, room-size IBM computers. Alternatively abrasive and gloomy, Ou Où fit right in with the overall heaviness of the night — despite being the only electronic act.

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‘A sense of thankfulness’ An interview with Jon Hardy

St. Louis blue-collared rocker Jon Hardy fell out of a tree a little under a year ago this month. This month also marks Hardy and his band the Public’s return to the stage since the accident.

The band will appear at Off Broadway on August 17 with Hemmingbirds and Jon Bonham & Friends. In this interview, Hardy discusses the future of the band, what keeps him from hanging up his guitar and his musical study habits.

Matt Stuttler: You’ve been off the radar for a bit. What’s been going on?

Jon Hardy: Well, we played LouFest last summer at the end of August and were about to play a Stevie Wonder tribute show through KDHX at Off Broadway. Right before that, I had an accident. I wound up falling out of a tree, broke my back and had some damage to my head. So, I was certainly out of commission for a couple weeks. Then I wound up in a pretty restrictive back brace for three months, just recovering. The band didn’t really do anything from September until most of December.

I believe it was in early November, a buddy of ours who has a studio in Chicago and has been working with us came down. His name is Benjamin Balcom. He came down, and he and I spent a couple days just working through some real rough ideas for songs, song sketches, some ideas I’d been recording for a while on my own. Then in the end of December, we started rehearsing again. We played some of the songs we already had, and then for most of the spring, we’ve been kind of experimenting with new stuff, new material, new ideas.

At the beginning of summer/end of spring, we changed gears and started moving back toward polishing up two songs that we tracked up in Chicago in the spring of 2011. Right now we’re on schedule to go back up to Chicago the week after we play at Off Broadway and re-track those songs and hopefully have some kind of package to release in the early fall.

Since the accident, has your perspective on performing music changed at all?

I think so. It hasn’t happened yet, so it’s a little hard to say.

Do you have a different mindset going into it then?

I think there’s going to be more of the mindset we’ve kind of been developing for a while. For me personally I think there will be more of a sense of thankfulness and just not taking any show for granted and making sure we’re doing the best we’re capable of doing every time we get up there.

I’ve read a little about your upbringing and your connections to spirituality. What role would you say that spirituality plays in your songwriting process?

I think that’s a difficult question to answer, even for me. For me it’s hard to know exactly how things move from what I believe about the world, people and God, how that winds up translating into songs in a way that’s easy to define or talk about.

It’s just kind of part of you.

Yeah, I mean I think it’s something that’s changing. I think with songs after I get a little distance from them, maybe from the time once they get recorded, once there’s some distance I can look back and see some things that I would say are explicit connections. That’s something I feel like I’m even trying to get a handle on myself, because it’s something I want to be careful about. I don’t want to assume that I’m entirely capable of quickly and easily translating beliefs into songs for people to listen to. Though I feel like that’s something I’m trying to figure out, how does this work.

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Concert review: mewithoutYou, Kevin Devine and Buried Beds cover all the bases at Off Broadway, Sunday, July 15

Philadelphia band Buried Beds started the night off at Off Broadway with poppy fervor. The five piece featured headliner mewithoutYou‘s drummer Rickie Mazzotta, who held down the skins with booming intensity.

Male/female vocals from guitarist Brandon Beaver and organist/guitarist Eliza Jones gave the performance a dramatic undertone. Violinist Hallie Sianni’s plucking and bowing kept Buried Beds from indulging too much in the sugary sheen pop side of their songs or getting too ominously dark. The same can be said for bassist Tom Mallon’s gritty tone. I kept getting a happy Cursive vibe, or a tamed-down tUnE-yArDs approach from Jones. Overall, the band embodied an early 2000s indie pop sound purveying intricately complex instrumentation and melodious, introspective crooning. This being the first time I’d heard the band, I was unable to get too close to the lyrics. That being said, if Buried Beds were singing about something they were pissed about, they did it with a smile on their face.

My initial introduction to second act Kevin Devine came through my high-school years in the early 2000s, spent pouring every page of Alternative Press and devotedly scanning the front page of the punk message board I had really gotten into Devine’s album “Brother’s Blood” a couple years back and was expecting a full band to be on stage with him, but instead found Devine strumming an acoustic vulnerably.

This aesthetic worked rather well for his brand of Neil Young fronting Brand New tunes, as confessional and visceral as either act. Preceded by an in-store performance at Vintage Vinyl, Devine’s set drew on a great part of his catalogue, including new song “Luxembourg” and the stand-out “Brother’s Blood.” Brought out late in the set, Devine’s intimate, grizzled voice over the stripped-down acoustic “Brother’s Blood” caused the crowd to erupt with applause any time there was a brief silent moment in the song.

Performing the politically-searing “The Burning City Smoking” off of 2006′s “Put Your Ghost to Rest,” Devine talked about the importance of Woody Guthrie and proceeded to dedicate the song to his memory. The lyrics from “The Burning City Smoking” properly reflect Guthrie’s talent for seeing America for what it is with “Forty million refugees with no place on this earth to call their home/One for every aimless graduate with nothing else to show for it but loans/And those of us who make our mark use someone else’s blood/Our western stain won’t wash away, it won’t vanish in the flood.”

I’m not usually into solo acoustic acts, but Devine’s performance totally won me over. His willingness to put himself out there and sing what seems to be on the hearts of many from the Millennial Generation showed his true colors. If the cost of the latest Iraq war had a soundtrack, it could easily be from Kevin Devine’s lips.

Not to be overly melodramatic about headliner mewithoutYou, but this was literally the band that got me seriously into music. I remember hearing their first album “A to B Life” in the back of a van when I was 13, instantly flipping my perception of how personal and compelling music could really be.

Since then, I’ve caught the band in every possible live setting. From the circus tents of the recently defunct Cornerstone Festival in rural Illinois to a somewhat shady bar/venue in Charlotte, N.C., I’ve followed the band as they evolved from post-hardcore leaning screamers to folk-rock evangelists. Central to the band’s sound and live show is vocalist Aaron Weiss. His style of scream singing spawned a number of copycat bands in recent years, but I have yet to hear a songwriter who can mimic his hyper-literate lyrics.

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‘There is nothing wrong with rocking out really hard’ An interview with Volcanoes

If you put your ear to hot cement in a middle of a 100 degree plus St. Louis afternoon, you may get a glimpse into the sound of Volcanoes erupting.

The sweaty noise rock produced by the two piece of Jon Ryan and Eric Peters rumbles with an eerie franticness, two stepping between punk and indie dance rock.

I caught up with the group a few weeks before they’re set to open for Cloud Nothings at the Luminary Arts Center on July 16. In this interview, Ryan and Peters chat about tour horror stories, the evolution of their sound and why you should be there front row to catch them with Cloud Nothings.

Matt Stuttler: What’s so huge about a Volcanoes show?

Eric Peters: Our amps! (laughs). In the beginning stages of the band we were talking about what we wanted to do. We weren’t exactly sure what we wanted to do, but we knew we wanted to make music that was really huge. It’s funny you said “huge” because that’s exactly our goal, to be huge.

Jon Ryan: It’s like our favorite word.

Huge in what way specifically?

JR: Just huge in general. Huge can be used as an adjective, in place of like “awesome” or “rad.” You can be like, “This is huge.”

EP: But in terms of Volcanoes, there’s only two of us. We really had to think of ways to fill out our sound. We were really interested in that wall of sound, which is why a lot of times you’ll see Jon just lay a chord out on the keyboard and continue playing bass. That chord will just ring out under everything. Obviously, the loudness contributes to the hugeness of our sound. The heart of our live show is the energy we put into it, and I’ve noticed that’s one of the big things people have noticed.

JR: When we were recording our music video, we had to play in sync with our recording. We kind of realized we play everything 20 BPM [beats per minute] faster when we play live. It just kind of flows naturally that live we play everything faster and more energetic.

EP: I’ve been told since I was a kid that I have a lot of energy, and I think that really translates on stage. We both just get really pumped up to play our music, and we just have a lot of fun. I think people can tell we’re having fun, so that’s why they’re going to have fun. I recently tweeted from Volcanoes [Twitter] “Can we all please just agree that there is nothing wrong with rocking out really hard.” I just feel like with some of the stuff I’ve been seeing, I feel like some people look down on it now.

What have you seen change since you started the band? How long have you been a band?

JR: A year and a half. We started out with the goal of mixing dubstep and rock into a genre we invented called “dubcore.” We started off trying to do this electronic, kind of dirty rock.

EP: But with still some “womps” in there, you know? [Makes dubstep bass drop noises.]

JR: So we started off doing that in our dorm room. We didn’t really have a feeling how it would translate on a stage. Then we kind of realized it would be pretty difficult to push that electronic stuff as hard as we wanted to. For electronic sounding music, you need a different sounding drum kit, you know? Like a huge kick drum and stuff that really isn’t practical at a small venue.

EP: We just wanted live drums too.

JR: Since then, we realized we really couldn’t pull that off the way we wanted to, so we’ve kind of moved towards more of a straight-forward rock, with a live drum kit. We still have electronic instrumentals, but it’s less dubstep inspired. It’s more just rock ‘n’ roll.

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