Mike Gualdoni's Posts


Mike Gualdoni's Photo I'm a volunteer music writer for KDHX.

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Concert review: A crumptacular night of music with Major Lazer at the Pageant, Thursday, March 21

Major Lazer at the Pageant. Photo by Louis Kwok.

The bros sporting their headache-inducing shirts, the raver girls wearing their psychedelic furry boots and suburban youth with their pasty faces occupied the compact mosh pit at the Pageant. It was going to be an interesting night. Making its debut performance in St. Louis, Major Lazer was determined to get everybody in the joint jumping and at least one girl to p-pop on a handstand.

More often than not, rave-type concerts such as these all start the same way. A drawn-out, two-hour DJ set building up to the main event. Usually such DJs are a good warm up, but after the first 30 minutes the repetition and monotony of worn-out songs start slowing down time and drawing out the night. If time was already slowed down for you in the first place then you’re golden, but if you’re stone-cold sober or down to your last dollar for cocktails you’re in for a long night.

The one thing that made Thursday night’s opening DJ set a worthy ritual is that it built anticipation for the real show — the one that brought everyone together. This excruciating suspense for the music, the dancing and the wild stage performances was even more intense in those final moments after the opener left the stage empty for the headliner. As the house lights were finally cut and a loud roar from the audience filled the darkness, the roller coaster teetered on the peak of a plummet before the ride to follow.

Major Lazer is known for it’s over the top productions, whether it be its music videos or its live performance. The night was set off in this spirit with a comic book-style cinematic display depicting Mr Lazer himself launching off into space to “Free the Universe” in a nod to the group’s latest release and current tour. Finally, after an evening of waiting and a cartoon short, the curtains fell and Diplo, Walshy Fire and Jillionaire took the stage accompanied by their seductive Rastafarian booty dancer as they handed out vuvuzelas and prepared the crowd for a night of insanity.

The floor practically began warping under the stress as the full three tiers of the Pageant were assaulted by the hundreds of bodies suddenly jumping in unison to the bombastic beats. Lazer played through a good variety of tracks as well as some new material including a “Harlem Shake” remix that made for yet another hilarious YouTube video. A jubilant, South African-style song brought an interesting flavor to the venue as the vuvuzelas blasted as arms and legs moved on their own to the sounds. And of course the old standby, “Pon de Floor,” had things going a bit crazy.

The stage performance was absolute sensory overload coupled with the music. A DJ climbed around on all the equipment as another rolled through the crowd in a giant bubble while the other blasted confetti guns through the thick fog and intricate light show that provided a fitting otherworldly party atmosphere. While they were occupied commanding the stage, the DJs also interacted with the crowd. They weren’t afraid of rewinding and restarting a track if they didn’t think the crowd was crazy enough on the drop. They encouraged the audience to take off and spin around an article of clothing, resulting in a dizzying display of twirling t-shirts that practically propelled the crunked-out crowd off the ground.

At one point, the show turned into amateur hour when the stage was suddenly full of girls from the crowd proudly shaking what their mothers gave them. The strange spectacle and incredible energy went non stop throughout the night in a musically driven rave on a level that is rarely witnessed around these parts.

After a generous three-song encore, Major Lazer retired its set and the sweat-drenched party people slowly filed out to the relief of the cold St. Louis night, mostly in a haze of what had actually transpired that night. Many will try to explain to others what happened, only to miss the essence entirely. It was something that just had to be seen to believe.

Concert review: Caveman (with Computer Magic) brings the east coast to the no coast for a night of electro pop at the Old Rock House, Friday, March 8

Caveman at the Old Rock House. Photo by Mike Gualdoni.

The Old Rock House seemed calm towards the beginning of the night, with just enough people to fill the outer booths of the lower level. As the night went on, however, the venue slowly filled up for the two bands that brought their indie New York sounds to St. Louis.

The night kicked off with an experimental electronic band that provided an almost vintage sci-fi movie vibe to the venue. Usually a four-piece band, Computer Magic played as a duo made up of Danielle Johnson on vocals and keyboard with Ignacio Rivas Bixio playing drums in place of the usual Chris Egan, who unfortunately had to miss the tour after an allergic reaction to hot dogs. The two artists combined created a sound of modern electro pop with just enough of a touch of the ’80s era that would have had the dance floor in motion if the set was a little later and the blood alcohol content of the crowd was a tad higher.

Computer Magic made for an enjoyable warmer to start things up. Johnson stood behind her keyboard, Boss pedal and Macbook system composing the dreamy, toe-tapping tunes as Bixio beat the drums equipped with his bold white headphones on his head and tall white russian by his side, half full by the end of the set. After breaking down their set up and refilling their drinks, they joined the audience in the waiting game for the headliners.

After a little bit of down time, Caveman suddenly occupied the stage. The five piece from Brooklyn was performing for the first time in St. Louis, and the now packed venue gave the musicians a warm riverboat welcome as their synth heavy sounds filled the room. Caveman front man Matthew Iwanusa playfully caught a drumstick bounced off the ground and yelled into the crowd, “We don’t only play music!” Their carefree stage presence matched the chill, sometimes soothing, sometimes haunting east-coast indie rock sounds that poured out from their instruments. Guitarist James Carbonetti and bassist Jeff Berrall were very much a team, feeding off each other’s energy as they created the framework of the music along with keyboardist Sam Hopkins and drummer Stefan Marolachakis.

The band’s talent truly shined when Iwanusa set down his white guitar with the body bearing a bucking Cowboy for a pair of drumsticks. The double drum songs brought about a new level of intensity, with beats so powerful that the drum sticks were used upside down to prevent breakage. This element of the show was most apparent during the incredible play through of the song, “Easy Water,” as the hypnotic bass and commanding tribal drums, combined with the droning lyrics, took the crowd out of its element and lulled them collectively into a trancelike state that most people can only acquire by the use of less than legal substances and chemicals. It was truly a pivotal moment of the show.

If you didn’t know it before the concert, Caveman was sure to make it known that its newest album is just around the corner, being released on April 2. With the impressive debut, “Coco Beware,” behind them, time will tell if the new, self-titled album can continue to improve upon its new-wave sound, or fall to the fate of mediocrity that so many bands succumb to after a debut hit record.

Caveman left the audience wanting more as they left the stage and ventured out into the Friday night and a following off day in St. Louis, hopefully to enjoy some of the finer things this city has to offer like Cherokee Street or toasted raviolis. The two NYC bands marked St. Louis as their midway point from New York to Texas, eventually landing and performing in South by Southwest. That is, however, if they can make it through their upcoming gig at the Hi Ho Lounge in New Orleans without losing any more band members to Bourbon Street or hot dog allergies.

Concert review: Gaelic Storm pours down Irish whiskey-soaked tunes on the Pageant, Friday, February 15

gaelicstorm.com

When Gaelic Storm hit the Pageant on Friday night, the Guinness and Jameson reserves were strained in ways the bartenders likely had not seen the likes of since the great Whiskey War Festival of 2012.

It was a mixed crowd and a packed house for the Celtic band from Santa Monica and the room was already buzzing before the show started. Green dresses and fire red beards were scattered amongst the ticket holders that all seemed to be accompanied by that heavy vibe that somebody was ready to smash a table or a bar stool in the name of a good time.

Native Irishman and sometimes barkeeper Patrick Murphy took the stage along with the cosmopolitan crew known as Gaelic Storm. The band consists of Steve Twigger, a self-taught guitarist hailing from England, the bagpiper and Irish whistle player from Canada Pete Purvis, the beautiful and talented fiddler player from Michigan Kiana Weber and the drummer from Bakersfield Ryan Lacey. Together they formed a force of nature that had the crowd stomping and clapping along to grand tales sung to the timeless Celtic style that has been fermenting over hundreds of years. Luke Kelly would have raised his glass in praise.

The two-set, two-and-a-half hour show was a classic Celtic celebration of life, music and drinking. The only thing missing was the haggis. The bagpipe and the accordion blared through the strings and blended into Murphy’s heavily accented lyrics for an experience that brought you straight to a pub in southern Ireland. A definite highlight of the show was the phenomenal extended instrumental duel between Purvis’ bagpipe and Weber’s fiddle that had the audience cheering on their favorite player. The talent behind each of the musicians was palpable, a true joy to behold, and the show’s energy stayed consistent — there was no slowing down.

Between songs and whiskey shots, Murphy, like most Irishmen after a pint or five, would entertain the crowd with ramblings and tirades of stories past and Irish culture. One story, which he claimed to be the truest lie he’s ever told, involved the memorable time that Russell Crowe punched him in the face after being told to put out his cigarette at the pub Murphy was managing in Santa Monica. The story was eventually told in song that had people singing along and tossing off quotes for Russell Crowe, “the Gladiator,” in a prime example of how involved the crowd was with the performance.

As time passed and the end was knowingly around the corner, Gaelic Storm played its final tune, “Tear Upon the Rose.” Murphy took his bows along with the rest of the squad and yelled into the microphone, “We’ll be at the bar!” The drummer continued to jam away as the rest of the band exited stage left and disappeared into the crowd. The pit was occupied by a group of jolly folks doing their best Irish jig to the galloping sounds of percussion until Murphy’s voice boomed yet again. The musicians were in fact at the bar — on the bar to be precise. Their real finale was played with the four on the bar and the drummer back on the stage in a display that the Pageant has surely rarely seen. It was a fitting end for a show of this raucous flavor.

The rest of the night is mostly a blur of sharing shots with friends and drinking with a band that was more than happy to share drinks as well. Memories might be faded and jumbled the morning after, but the ticket stub and the bruises are all the reminders that are needed of the good times that were had.

Concert review: Deadstring Brothers (with the Dock Ellis Band and the Bengsons) provide some soul, some country and something completely different at Plush, Friday, February 1

Deadstring Brothers at Plush. Photo by Mike Gualdoni.

“This is gonna be awesome when the guitar gets plugged back in!” Abigail Bengson shouted with a smile on her face during a slight hiccup during the Bengsons‘ set.

Despite this minor setback, they put on an incredible set at Plush on Friday. While the venue never quite had to worry about reaching the maximum occupancy limit, that didn’t stop a trio of traveling bands — including the Dock Ellis Band and headliners Deadstring Brothers — from putting on a show.

Those who did attend the Plush festivities were treated to two opening bands with a touch of twang and a charming performance style. The first 50 patrons were also treated to a free Stag beer that would be eventually added to the newly christened wall of Stags growing on the right side of the main bar.

The headliners hailing from Detroit capped off the night with some slick slide guitar that would leave any exile excited to be alive. Deadstring Brothers played their hour-long set with a less than commanding stage presence, but with their Mick Jagger-esque vocals and early ’70s Rolling Stones sound, there was no need to be showy.

The five-piece band brought the willing from their seats to the front of the stage with its alternative country feel. The patrons seemed to enjoy a little bit of spinning and sliding on the dance floor. The Brothers played the night out with a song dedicated to bassist Jeff Cullum’s future ex-wife, the room thanked California for her wine — not to mention St. Louis for its Stag — and the show came to an end.

Before Deadstring Brothers took the stage, the Dock Ellis Band seized its moment. The St. Louis country band made it apparent why Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton had been playing on the PA system throughout the night, and brought to the stage the classic sound of old country mixed with a bit of off-color comedy. Tunes such as “Get That Pregnant Woman Another Beer” and “Dumpster Baby” had the onlookers cautiously cutting up as they tossed their empties into the Stag bin.

While the two main bands might have had more local notoriety, the act that truly stole the show was a lesser-known folk duo from New York City. Shaun and Abigail Bengson met one day years ago playing in a pickup band and found themselves getting married two weeks later. As the Bengsons, they’ve been playing, teaching and learning together ever since.

After a brief technical issue when the guitar was accidentally unplugged at the beginning of the show, the couple didn’t miss a beat as they continued to entertain the crowd. They brought an incredibly fun and delightful performance to the stage as they excitedly jumped around during songs and shared swigs of water out of a gallon jug between them.

Their chemistry and genuine enjoyment of their art shined as they shared smiling glances to the sound of simple guitar chords and solo drum beats played behind their lyrics of life, love and the pursuit of music. The Bengsons’ lighthearted melodies provided a rare type of energy that enchanted the audience and reminded those present in the room that true love still exists in the world.

On top of touring and making music, the Bengsons are currently weaving together a rock opera called “Hundred Days,” which tells the story of two lovers who know that their time together is limited, and they’ve promised themselves to live their 100 days like an entire lifetime together. “Hundred Days” is set to be completed early 2014.

The evening at Plush was filled with a wide variety of entertainment that marked another successful night of music in St. Louis — and a successful night for the Stag wall.

Concert review: Railroad Earth (with WhiteWater Ramble) brings warm Americana sounds to the Pageant, Saturday, January 26

flickr.com/photos/spacecaptain/4590350285

“I look up at blue sky of perfect lost purity and feel the warp of wood of old America beneath me.” An influential passage from “October in the Railroad Earth,” written by Jack Kerouac, sums up the exultant vibe of Saturday night’s Railroad Earth show at the Pageant.

Folks from a variety of walks of life slowly filed into the Pageant with a contagious excitement for the entertainment to come. White collars, blue collars, old hippies and young hippies filled the venue with that certain pleasant energy that you can only find at a good folk show; where the small town ways of old take hold and everybody knows everybody and a new friend is just a glance away. Tall cans of PBR were raised in toast of life, stories and laughter were shared, and the outside world was forgotten for just a little while.

WhiteWater Ramble warmed up the crowd with a slew of stringed instruments and a drummer who kept a solid beat under the watchful eye of a giant psychedelic owl perched in the darkness on the wall behind them. The Colorado-based bluegrass band put on a lively show that sent much of the pit spinning into a swing dancing frenzy, taking them on a journey through extended jam sessions that included an intense battle of a pair fiddlers and a country-style guitar solo that could only be described as “epic” by the younger hippies and “totally awesome” by the older hippies.

Ramble’s powerful finish slowly built up like a locomotive and exploded into a good-old fashion hoedown. Upright bassist, Howard Montgomery, finished his final bars somehow standing atop his instrument, strumming away in a display that much of the audience, judging by the hoots and hollers, had likely never seen before. WhiteWater Ramble band took its final bows and received a boisterous applause, marking the end of the first act.

A concert intermission is always an interesting time to survey the crowd, especially after a set as powerful as one that had just transpired. People wandered around aimlessly, momentarily dazed and confused after the complete sensory overload was turned off like a light switch; the crowd finally realized that it needed to kill 30 minutes before their next dose of decibels. Some went off to procure more ale, others went to check on the Blues game, others reflected on the musical phenomena that had just taken place.

One group sat down in a circle in the middle of the pit with a cocktail placed on top of an illuminated cell phone, creating an almost campfire-like effect; an orange glow poured out from the glass and red stirring straw flames shot out from the top and made for a great way to pass the time waiting for the headliner.

Suddenly the lights dimmed, the fog machines raged and the air became a little more festive. An explosive roar of the crowd greeted the boys from New Jersey, Railroad Earth, as they took the stage. The Americana sound of some 27 collective strings — strung across a mandolin, banjo, acoustic guitar, violin and an upright base — accompanied imaginative lyrics and superb falsetto harmonies that reverberated throughout the now fully-packed Pageant.

The psychedelic owl came to life in an incredible multicolor light show that had the mural shifting hues endlessly; the display provided an incredible stage show along with the music. Andy Goessling’s banjo skills stood out the most amongst the lineup of gifted musicians, with fingers of fury plucking away woes and worries as the six-piece band merged individual talents. Railroad Earth’s songs ranged from a smooth, gentle sound that had the audience swaying, to ferocious newgrass melodies that energized fans; we could feel it from the bottom of our souls.

The sounds kept the audience moving and cheering late into the night until the final song was played, and the good thing came to an end. The audience members left that night with smiles on their faces and a great buzz from the show.

Concert review: Romero Lubambo and Peter Martin bring Brazilian ballads and Louisiana licks to the Sheldon Concert Hall, Thursday, December 13

Peter Martin and Romero Lubambo at the Sheldon. Photo by Mike Gualdoni.

On a cold winter’s night, the soothing sounds of Brazilian finger-style guitar and festive New Orleans jazz warmed up St. Louis as Peter Martin returned to the Sheldon with friend Romero Lubambo for a memorable merger of two different yet soulful flavors of music.

Martin and Lubambo were welcomed to the Sheldon Concert Hall with a hearty round of applause as they took their places on the American bandstand. Before the music began, the two introduced themselves and led a natural conversation that allowed the audience to get to know the duo. The guitarist, originally hailing from Rio de Janeiro, and the St. Louis native pianist, who spent much of his 20s soaking in the culture in New Orleans, have been long performing together, learning each other’s styles and teaching each other much more. The two told stories and cracked jokes at each other’s expense in a display of genuine connection that only two close friends can have — their banter had the audience laughing out loud. That feeling of connection became even more apparent as they began speaking with their other voices.

The concert opened with a fierce Brazilian jazz number composed by Lubambo himself. The reflection from the stage light off his guitar danced around the wall as he swayed with the energy of the song, totally enveloped in the music. Rapid fire finger picks plucked seamlessly up and down the neck of the guitar accompanied by the powerful sounds from the Steinway & Sons piano as the two artists fed off each other’s creative energy, trading glances and joyous expressions. Their synchronicity and vitality received roars of applause after every improvisational solo by Lubambo, who nonchalantly and calmly scratched his nose between parts. It seemed the audience let out a collective sigh from the adrenaline rush after the song reached its climax — and the night was only beginning.

While Lubambo brought his bossanova style from his homeland, Martin shared his love for New Orleans style jazz. The electric guitar replaced the acoustic for some commanding jazz licks that marked the change of scenery from the warm beaches of Rio de Janeiro to the party cove that is Bourbon Street. Martin rose and fell in his seat with the notes as he rediscovered his days living in the Big Easy, with many members of the audience doing the same in their seats. Through the jovial melody, one could almost imagine a colorful parade marching through the streets with confetti in the air and smiles on faces, celebrating the universal and uniting sounds of music. Lubambo’s strings were able to keep up with Martin’s keys with ease in a sound that very much contrasted its Brazilian counterpart, but at the same time shared its vivacious vibe.
The alternation between styles continued through the night, with more natural conversation and the two teasing each other in between. The night was highlighted by a tranquil number entitled “Song for Kaya” — inspired by the news of the birth of Lubambo’s niece that left a woman in the audience softly weeping — which featured a brilliant moment of improv and spontaneity when Martin began strumming the piano strings with a guitar pick for a flamenco-style guitar piece. A touching rendition of “In Your Own Sweet Way,” played in memoriam of the late great David Brubeck, offered another standout performance.

The two hour set seemed to go by much too quickly as the pair played their encore and took their final bows. The audience buzzed with excitement after the standing ovation as they filed out of the hall after such a display of musical mastery. It is not too often St. Louis gets the chance to see such a diverse pair of skilled musicians perform such a rich range of tunes, but Romero Lubambo and Peter Martin delivered.