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Concert review: Shifting the gears of genre with Black Girls, Scarlet Tanager and Demon Lover at the Heavy Anchor, Monday, June 11
Set up on the floor of the venue instead of the stage, openers Demon Lover distributed its freshly-minted spazz tunes throughout the room. A trio of ex-members of Theodore, the band took the experimental edge from its former band and jumped off the other side.
The performance was more akin to a freak sideshow, replete with brass and electronic noise machines. Covering “Crazy” by Patsy Cline, front man/bassist/trumpeter Andy Lashier channeled a creepier Stephen Malkmus with distorted, lightly-crooned vocals while J.J. Hamon, the band’s guitarist/trombonist/keyboardist, played twangy, surf-rock lines. Three-fourths through the song, Demon Lover paused then crashed into a thrashing punk-noise barrage with drummer Sam Meyer playing one of the gnarliest blast beats I’ve ever heard. “Fishy” — which on the recorded version is started by a xylophone — began with members of the band and audience meowing the opening melody like a cat.
At that point, I knew Demon Lover was a new type of animal in the St. Louis music scene — a beast with fine breeding due to the music veterans in the band and one not easily pinned down. Demon Lover’s performance possessed a calculated “offness,” with Lashier sounding like a giggly Tom Waits leading the pack. Masters of dynamics, some tunes took Dick Dale-style guitar riffs turned punk while others hauntingly seemed grounded in ’30s swing numbers. Demon Lover managed to create a gloom with scratchy synthesizers only to break it with brassy outbursts.
Next up, indie-pop family band Scarlet Tanager took the stage. A sextet made up of a cross section of family members and old friends, the group performed shimmering, clap-along tunes under summery rock songs. Somewhere in between a sweeter Cults and a less gimmicky Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, the band has a vibe all its own.
Scarlet Tanager is like a summer car ride with windows down with a cigarette in hand — calming, unbridled and open. Lead vocalist Susan Logsdon dreamy, hazy-eyed vocal melodies occasionally erupted in group vocal and audience participatory claps. Logsdon sang songs of devotion seemingly devoid of any form of contempt, perhaps due to the apparent lust for life the band showcased.
Trumpeter/guitarist Michael Logsdon (who is married to vocalist Susan) raised his hands in the air as he danced, conjuring a fiery preacher with a bright smile on his face. Many of the songs were gospel tinged, not only through stomp clap cheeriness but also through the occasional biblically-seasoned lyrics. Guitarist Josh Shepherd performed smooth rock ‘n’ roll leads side by side with wife Jordan Shepherd’s upbeat keyboard jingles. Bassist Dustin Kent produced catchy hummable riffs, well-complementing the occasional three electric-guitar caroling. In an era where so many bands seem drugged out or cynical, Scarlet Tanager’s bright sing-along tunes are a refreshing sound.
Concert review: The Cave Singers (with Bo and the Locomotive) preach a folk-rock revolution at the Gramophone, Wednesday, April 18
Bo and the Locomotive started the night off at the Gramophone with a swinging, mostly instrumental tune. From song one, I realized that the tall, guitar-wielding Bo Bulawsky and his band aren’t into rushing a melody.
The band stylistically tiptoes around the edge of early 2000s indie rock and earnest Midwestern folk. Recently named number one in Paste magazine’s “Top 10 Missouri Bands You Should Know,” the St. Louis locals had a lot to live up to. True to their reputation, Bo and the Locomotive did not disappoint my first chance to catch their live set.
The power of Bo and the Locomotive comes through in the voice and songwriting of Bulawsky. His broken-heart crooning and spacious song structuring serves to bring a listener close, before breaking out of the gloom with energetically rocking outros. Atmospheric and lyrically painful, “I’m Not Your House” found Bulawsky drawling through his declaration whilst his band held him up with well-placed swells. “Darling” showed the band’s inclination towards rainy reverb pop. Stand out sing-a-long “On My Way” purveyed the band’s vocal layering, strengthened by many voices offstage joining in. The simple progression of the song served to further accentuate the ability of the band to juice every ounce of power from each chord.
After taking a shot of whiskey with the band to kick off the set closer, Bulawsky proclaimed in a new song that “if the grass is greener, I don’t see in color.” This battle for attaining hopefulness runs through Bulawksy’s lyrics and noticeably affects the mood of his songs. That doesn’t mean the music is in the least bit of a downer — it’s the opposite. Bulawksy’s attempt to free himself from past issues onstage produces an extra layer of connection with the audience. Whether that’s shown through the band’s penchant for catchy lines or hiding the pain with energetic stage personas, it works.
“We’re on a mission from God,” the Cave Singers front man Pete Quirk announced halfway through their rollicking electric folk set. Throughout the night, the Cave Singers gave off a ’60s spiritualist vibe. With Eastern instrumental sampling and the presence of plenty of alternative percussion (bongos, tambourines, and even a washboard made an appearance), their set felt more like a communal celebration than a concert.
Within that, the three Seattle music scene veterans radiated showmanship. Guitarist Derek Fudesco (formerly of Pretty Girls Make Graves and Murder City Devils) fingerpicks riffs that sound like they appeared in a vision during an all-night front-porch jam. A little bit of the blues found its way into the veins of Fudesco for “No Prosecution If We Bail.” Drummer Marty Lund provided rhythms meant for stomping along to, which is exactly what the audience did on the conveniently wooden floors of the Gramophone.
Most of the set consisted of songs off their most recent album “No Witch,” like “All Land Crabs and Divinity Ghosts” and “Clever Creatures.” A smiling Quirk danced about while preaching his lyrics: “Send me away in this evening sun/on a boat of my branches in the world’s dark hum.” “Swim Club,” in contrast, sounded like it was coming through an old radio, gracefully complimented by Quirk’s guitar work. “Seeds of Night” off 2007′s “Invitation Songs” gently rolled off of Fudesco’s hollow body guitar.
After performing a 12-song set, the Cave Singers reclaimed the stage for two more, closing with “Dancing on Our Graves.” The crowd approved, whooping, clapping and stomping to the marching beat of the closer. With the enthusiasm of those offstage and the mythical quality of the Cave Singers on stage, the performance could have easily taken place in a barn 50 years ago.
Just as Quirk had announced, the night had a spiritual quality set to music. Bo and the Locomotive’s bitter musings through fairly open folk rock contrasted the Cave Singer’s cheerful rootsy rock in the best way. While Bulawsky exorcised his demons out on stage, Quirk ran from his with a wink and a rebel yell.
Palace plays like an indie band on their way to Broadway. With post-angst four-part harmonies and themed live shows, the St. Louis locals energetically perform pop somewhere in between Queen and Fun.
Recently I had a chance to chat with the band — who will be performing at Back to Rockville: A Tribute to R.E.M. and 88.1 KDHX Benefit on April 27 at Off Broadway — on a variety of subjects.
True to their refreshing, youthful sound, lead singer Matt Kavanagh explains why the band claims to sound like your childhood. Drummer Danny Hill relates how Palace formed as a family of musicians. Vocalists Jamie Finch and Sydney Scott discuss what goes into planning a birthday-themed CD release show, while new members Benjamin Koenig and Phil Grooms offer their own perspectives on how Palace operates.
Matt Stuttler: How did Palace form?
Danny Hill: It started with me and Matt. Basically we had several projects going on right after high school, just trying to get a start with music. You know, just learning, going through the steps of being immature musicians and not really knowing how to approach the local scene. Even the industry in general — we just didn’t really know much about it. We knew we loved music and that’s what we wanted to do, which is why [Matt] quit going to school and I didn’t go at all. That’s basically how it started. We just wouldn’t quit. We’ve gone through so many musicians changes; so many people have been involved in our projects.
Matt Kavanagh: Different genre changes. We finally got to Palace, where we’re at now. We’re sticking with this, we have a formula that works. For me, personally, I got an unbiased opinion from somebody about “Treetop Lover,” one of our songs. She had an unbiased opinion about western music and she just came up to me and said, “I love this song.” She’s Japanese. I was like “Okay, if she likes this music just for face value, then I’m going to run with this.” Ever since then, it’s kind of been like that.
I know Danny and Matt have played in bands in St. Louis in the past. Have you other guys been involved in other past bands?
Sydney Scott: I was actually in their band when it was Crash! That was three years ago. Just for a short amount of time, I guess it was around six months.
DH: We worked on one song for six months (laughs).
SS: One song. (laughs) That was my start. That’s when I met Matt and Dan.
MK: That was 2008.
Jamie Finch: Around that same time I was singing in Say Panther. That’s when I first met Danny. I remember him coming to Say Panther shows, then knowing he was playing in Crash. Kind of a funny thing, here four years later we play music together.
Phil Grooms: I come from a very different, other wing as far as bands are concerned. I came from the emo scene in St. Louis, which was really big for a while after Story of the Year and all that. So I played in a band called Farewell. Then I found these guys, and they let me in.
JF: Phil and I have had some unsuccessful attempts at projects in the past. We’ve known each other close to 10 years at this point. It’s good to finally be doing something together that works now.
BK: This is my first major musical project, I’d say. Music has been a passion of mine for over a decade, and I’ve always like dug really deep into the instruments. There’s something instinctual to my outlook to music and I think it’s brought me to Palace. It’s been really cool.
DH: It’s been great having Phil and Ben join recently.
JF: Two new people in two months.
Concert review: LouFest announces 2012 lineup while the Blind Eyes and Morning Teleportation rock, at Plush, Tuesday, April 3
In its third year, LouFest is quite possibly the summit of live indie music in St. Louis. Drawing just-left-of-center acts from the past 30 years and showcasing local and national up-and-coming bands, LouFest has become something of a landmark in the Midwest.
Opening with the titular track from 2011′s “With A Bang,” the Blind Eyes brought out feel-good rock with a lightheartedness about it. Fresh from their recent first ever South by Southwest performance at the KDHX-sponsored Twangfest, the Blind Eyes showed why their hometown of St. Louis is so crazed about them.
Their lightly distorted guitars and chug-along bass lines reminded me a bit of good ’90s alternative rock. Other times, I felt a We Are Scientists or the Strokes vibe from their accessible brand of upbeat pop. The band played a currently untitled new song that blasted their harmonies and guitars into the crowd. This being my first time catching the local legends, I found that I was most into how every Blind Eyes song felt like it could be a single. Between the catchy drumming and hummable choruses, the Blind Eyes are a sight (and sound) I’m sure I’ll return to for an awesome live experience once again.
Throughout the night, pictures from LouFest 2011 streamed across a screen while Mark Lewis DJed. His set of ’70s and ’80s punk tunes and the occasional disco number kept the room vibrant in between the festivities of the night.
Announced via a video between bands, the LouFest Lineup thrilled the attendees of the show. Headliners the Flaming Lips will be an awesome sight on a sweaty summer St. Louis night while co headliner Girl Talk will surely turn the fields of Forest Park into a contagious party. Hometown heroes Son Volt alongside veteran noise rockers Dinosaur Jr. and folk-influenced rockers Dr. Dog should make for a killer freakout. Classy synth-pop act Phantogram, garage-heads Hacienda and R&B-influenced hip-hop twosome THEESatisfaction promise to chill out the late August sun. The gently rolling indie rock of Dawes and the quirky pop of semi-locals Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin should appeal to a wide audience, as should Little Barrie, Cotton Mathers, King Tuff and St. Louis bands Sleepy Kitty and the Pernikoff Brothers.
After the announcement, Morning Teleportation of Bowling Green, Ky. roared out some psychedelically-inclined indie rock. With lead vocals delivered with a dizzying pace and an equally speedy outpouring from their instruments, Morning Teleportation jammed well together. A friend mentioned that the band had performed on the David Letterman show a week prior, further piquing my interest in their performance. As their set continued and the sweatiness of the members increased, the band steered out of straight indie rock into dancy-er, guitar-tapping territory.
I was surprised by the technical prowess of Morning Teleportation’s members, but exceptionally psyched to hear how much the band’s keyboards and synthesizers were featured. It was refreshing to hear a keyboard as a lead instrument, giving the funkier half of the set a certain authenticity. Consistently changing time signatures and thrashing heavily during extended outros, Morning Teleportation definitely held up well throughout their fairly-long set.
Concert review: Ben Kweller (with the Dig and Sleeper Agent) keeps youthfulness bubbling at Off Broadway, Friday, March 30
New Yorkers the Dig took the stage first with laid-back rock ‘n’ roll. Singers David Baldwin and Emile Mosseri switched up lead vocal duty, allowing a nice mix of songwriting to be displayed from each. Mosseri thrashed about the stage while playing bass, giving the set a burst of passion. Their set had a nice pace, and even with the short set I caught, I feel like they’re a band I could see again live in a couple months.
Next up, Sleeper Agent (Bowling Green, Ky.) crammed their six members onto the crowded stage. More poppy than the previous act, Sleeper Agent featured dueling male and female lead vocals. Watching the long hair swinging from every member, I realized that they would make the perfect cast for an episode of “That 2000′s Show.” Touching on garage rock and Top 40 radio pop, Sleeper Agent rounded the bases on what “it” bands consist of. There was something about Sleeper Agent that I couldn’t quite connect with, but maybe that comes with a second listen.
Yelling the lines “You got to scream at the top of your lungs” from the opening track of his most recent album “Go Fly a Kite,” Ben Kweller and band dug straight into their performance. “I Need You Back” from “On My Way” (2004) was up next, with all three members of Kweller’s backing band taking to their microphones to really fill out the song.
His older material felt dirtier live, which came as no surprise. “The Rules,” also from “On My Way,” showcased the classic pop rock sound Kweller lived off of until his 2009 country twanged “Changing Horses.” Barreling through song after song without pausing too long between songs, Kweller and his band displayed their professionalism.
Kweller at the age of 30 still looks like a teenager with his long curls. With over 16 releases as a solo artist, he kept a nice mix of old and new material circulating through the night. “I Don’t Know Why” felt like it had been pepped up with a little style, followed by his 2002 Billboard #29 hit “Wasted & Ready.”
For “Gossip” off “Go Fly a Kite,” Kweller took to the keys to serenade while the rest of the band left the stage. Full band once again, “Falling” and “Out the Door” shook like boot-stomping music, prompting the audience to clap along. “Full Circle” found Kweller jauntily leaning towards classic country once again, complimented by the forgiving proclamation “Don’t judge anyone because everybody comes full circle/I’ve come full circle.”
Donning an acoustic and standing alone on stage, Kweller performed the titular track from “On My Way” without dropping the excitement buzzing around the set. Dylan-esque with his storytelling lyrics, Kweller’s persona of a troubadour worked with his style of poppy sun-tinged indie rock.
Throughout the rest of the set, Kweller and his band performed four tunes off “Sha Sha” (2002) as well as “Fight” from “Changing Horses,” which stood out as the best live song of the night, with rousing barroom piano and bouncing guitar sheen.
Amidst cries for an encore and chants of “Kweller! Kweller!” Ben retook the stage to play “Commerce, TX” and “Penny on the Train Track” with his band. Kweller complimented the crowd, saying “You guys party hard. Last time I came around with just an acoustic guitar, and you guys still partied hard. We will always come back to St. Louis.”
Concert review: YACHT sails through the synth-pop at Plush, with Née and Jeffrey Jerusalem, Thursday, March 1
Last night’s lineup at Plush was synthesizer and pop-hook heavy, performed with a playfulness straight from the ’80s.
My first time seeing a show at Plush, I was impressed by the sheer size of the venue/restaurant. The vibe was right for the show with sleek decorations, upstairs and downstairs bars and plenty of space to get down.
Opening performer Jeffrey Jerusalem swirled synth notes over backing tracks pounding with new-wave beats. The Portland-based artist danced back and forth between a set of floor toms and his synth station, occasionally adding vocals. Sometimes 8-bit video game samples would appear in a tune, with Mario-like coin clips and Casio handclaps. Jerusalem opened his last song with a snippet of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys before launching into a glitch dance number.
While his set wasn’t too far removed from a London Calling DJ at times, his monster mash-ish vocals and his mastery of electronic programming made him stand out. To close his solid performance, Jerusalem bleeped out samples reminiscent of a boss battle on the first Nintendo gaming system.
Née started off its party of a set with vigor. Performing catchy, distorted synth riffs over dance beat heavy jams, the St. Louis locals jostled the audience into a frenzy. Most everyone in the venue rhythmically tapped something, whether it was the floor with their feet or a finger on their knee. The cowbell made several appearances, which got that ’80s synth pop rolling once again.
Singer Kristin Dennis, front woman for the band, mentioned that she had just gotten out of surgery two days ago. She didn’t let any shadow of that show, performing her love and heartbreak songs with youthful energy. Née announced an EP would be coming out in the next few months, with one track (“Pretty Girls”) already posted on Bandcamp.
One of the new tracks performed live featured hard bass drum hits, hook heavy licks and more ambient synths. The band masterfully mixed anthemic pop (think the Naked and the Famous) and more low key, vocal spotlighting tunes (think Zola Jesus). After seeing them in the larger setting of Plush, I could easily see Née riding the indie synth wave right up to the crest. Née possesses all the right elements for the rise. With a front woman all sauce and gold in Dennis, and band members David Beeman, Michael Boshans and Lex Herbert sounded right with their chord hits and high energy beats. Solid songwriting reigns over the Née team, displaying an incredible live show alongside smooth recordings for the headphones.
Concert review: This Will Destroy You (with Amen Dunes, John LaMonica and Key Grip) stretch out at the Firebird, Tuesday, January 31
Due to my inability to navigate downtown well, I was only able to catch the last twelve minutes of Key Grip’s set. Vocals were scarce from the band, but when present reminded me a bit of Thom Yorke. The brightest moments in the song came from an occasional explosion of noisy keyboards. The tune never seemed to wander much away from its root notes, but the audience already gathered swayed metronomically with the droning beats.
Next up, John LaMonica out of Lawrence, Kan. helmed a solo electronic set. Relying heavily on vocal effects and tracks played from his laptop, LaMonica performed multi-layered glitch songs. I was expecting more of a singer-songwriter set, but instead LaMonica was more akin to a DJ with all original material. His music was chilled out, in rare moments rising and breaking off to leave a trailing, effects-laden vocal loop. A few of LaMonica’s tracks dabbled with hip-hop beats, while others felt right at home with bands such as Washed Out or Baths. The repetitious and differing levels of intensity felt cathartic live, but I feel LaMonica’s might suit me better coming through a pair of headphones.
When I came back indoors from enjoying the awesome evening weather, Amen Dunes had taken the stage. I immediately started humming along to the first song, although I had never heard it before that moment. A two piece out of New York, the band left me searching my mind all night for a similar artist. Amen Dune’s music has a certain familiarity to it, always just on the edge of bursting out from under echoing waves. Utilizing only a guitarist/vocalist and a drummer, the band touched on cheery psychedelia and repressed pop. Frontman Damon McMahon used his voice to blend in with his wonderfully drawn-out chord progressions. The drummer’s parts were more atmospheric than driving, which worked well with the band’s vibe. Absorbing the tunes created a kind of a body buzz, just a few steps away from a stoner-rock show.
Going into the show, I had some concerns as to how This Will Destroy You‘s studio albums would translate live. Their particular brand of sweeping post rock is the type of music I would usually put on to wind down for the night or write a paper. This Will Destroy You demolished those concerns upon launching into their first song “A Three Legged Workhorse,” which is also the first track off their first self-titled release. Bass rumbles and savage tom thuds reverberated throughout the room, encapsulating the venue before dropping into drowsy, airy openness. The two guitarists worked together magnificently, with a seated guitarist playing long, held notes as the other controlled dynamics with delayed tremolo picking.
Samantha Crain is a traveling soul. Whether touring with her band the Midnight Shivers or lending her voice to another band’s recording (Small Houses, Night Reports), Crain will most likely be passing through your town.
Blending folk and indie rock, Crain’s music is made for taking on the road. I caught up with her as she was preparing for a state-side and international tour. We talked about her new John Vanderslice-produced release “A Simple Jungle,” vinyl records, her penchant for name dropping towns and other topics.
Matt Stuttler: What are you looking forward to on your upcoming international tour?
Samantha Crain: I’m only going to be over [in Europe] for about a week. I’m revisiting a lot of cities I went to back in November, but I am looking forward to playing in Paris. I’ve never played in Paris before. Also, I’m opening for a band that I’ve toured with before called First Aid Kit. They’re good friends of mine, so it’ll be priceless to spend some time with them, kind of hang out with them.
You’re playing at Off Broadway next week. Have you played there in the past?
Yeah, probably five or six times I think. We usually play at Off Broadway when we come through St. Louis. It’s a great venue. We’ve always been treated really well. It’s a nice size and a good sound. I like playing there.
What’s been your favorite St. Louis show you’ve played?
One of the most unique ones I can think of is last winter. We opened for Langhorne Slim and Bobby Bare Jr. It was such a cloudy night because our car had broken down on the way in, actually. We were trying to get towed into St. Louis. We had someone come pick us up, and we literally rushed into the venue and straight on to the stage and started playing. The night was really crazy, but it ended up being a really fun show. We couldn’t even get the whole band up on stage because we got there so late, but it was me and this guy that plays fiddle with me. Everyone seemed to like it and was really generous that we were kind of doing things different because of the circumstances.
You just released a 7 inch called “A Simple Jungle” a little over a week ago produced by John Vanderslice. What was it like working with him?
It was really great. He’s actually probably the nicest person on the planet. (Laughs) If you can’t get along with John, something’s probably wrong with you. I can’t imagine anyone not being able to get along with him. He really is kind of a genius as far as like analogue recording goes. There’s not a computer [for recording] in his studio. Everything is done analogue tape and he really knows what he’s doing with that. He’s got a studio out in San Francisco called Tiny Telephone. A lot of really great bands have recorded there. He’s like a complete joy to work with. We’re actually going to do the next full length with him producing. We’re kind of in talks about when we’re going to do that so it’ll probably be recorded this summer. We liked the project so much we just wanted to work with him again so he’ll be producing the full length too.
So you released “A Simple Jungle” online and as a 7″. Why did you decide to release it on vinyl?
I really wanted to do a 7″. That was the whole point of doing it. That was the point of the two songs, I wanted them to be released on a 7″ vinyl.
On the topic of vinyl, what’s your own personal favorite record?
I probably have kind of a tie. The two that get played the most at my house are “Déjà Vu” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and the Paul Simon self-titled record.
Why did you name the release “A Simple Jungle”?
It’s a combination of the two names of the songs that are on the 7″. A lot of times when a single comes out, the name of the single is just the name of the side-A song. When I was doing the 7″, I didn’t necessarily think one song was more important than the other. We liked both of them a lot so instead of naming it the song that was side-A we just named it a combination of the two songs. Side A is a song called “It’s Simple” and then side-B is a song called “Cadwell Jungle.”