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Scott Allen's Photo I'm a music lover and music blogger in St. Louis. Read more of my writing at my Blogspot.

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Concert review: Henry Rollins speaks his mind and heart at the Pageant, Saturday, March 24 / Maura Lanahan

Punk-rock icon turned wordsmith Henry Rollins summed up his set of spoken word material perfectly himself last night. Stating that he was, “Like a 33 1/3 RPM record playing at 78 RPM,” Rollins advised, “I try to squeeze eight hours of material into four and a half.”

Dressed in his traditional black t-shirt and pants and armed with only a microphone, Rollins, without much lead in or introduction, took the stage at the Pageant promptly at 8 p.m. and proceeded to jump head first into the proverbial mosh pit with his rapid-fire speech and held the seated crowd’s attention rapt for the next two hours and forty-five minutes. While the thought of watching someone on stage speak for that long without a break or music may make some cringe, the fact was Rollins’ machine-gun-like delivery made the evening fly by is impressive – especially for this reviewer who stood in the back for the entire show.

At 51, the former lead singer of seminal punk band Black Flag is funny, self-effacing and practically an open book. His constantly changing material only gets better with time and age as Rollins becomes more knowledgeable about the world. He advised that he spends much of the year on the road speaking to audiences: “Being at home is not interesting to me. I don’t like being off tour or going to the grocery store.” He stays busy with these spoken-word performances, film or television projects, a recent affiliation with the National Geographic channel and doing work for various non-profit organizations. He referred to himself not as a workaholic, but as a “work slut.”

Rollins started the evening with a discussion of his background of learning American history from disinterested athletic coaches at a naval prep high school in Washington, D.C. in the late ’70s. This set the tone for the evening as he related that this stunted his knowledge of the subject in his younger days, but as he grew older he took it upon himself to study and gained a large admiration for the subject — especially Abraham Lincoln.

To illustrate his point he referenced Lincoln’s “Speech to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois” given on January 27, 1838, just before the young politician turned 29 years old and over two full decades before he led the country during the Civil War. Recalling Lincoln’s words through part memorization and part paraphrase, he advised that Lincoln’s words “Speaks to America now.” Rollins continued by reiterating Lincoln’s sentiments, “America’s biggest danger does not come from abroad, but from America itself.”

The heavy preface allowed Rollins to give the audience his thoughts on the current state of American politics and the Republican race for a 2012 presidential nominee and continued as an undercurrent of his stories traveling around the world later in the set. With the state of current events, Rollins was able to rely on his thoughts about the candidates in a humorous tone while making the point that these are the type of leaders who are going to ruin America from within.

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Concert review: A tour-tested Delta Spirit (with Waters) comes up rock ‘n’ roll aces at the Old Rock House, Tuesday, March 20

Delta Spirit at the Old Rock House in St. Louis, March 20, 2012

Kate McDaniel

When the buzz surrounding a band is in the air the electricity is palpable. Last night at the Old Rock House, high excitement ensued as Delta Spirit had the St. Louis audience thoroughly humming in unison.

Last summer Delta Spirit opened for My Morning Jacket at the Pageant giving them entry to a whole new group of fans. As their third self-titled album hit the street within the last week, the 25-35 year old St. Louis fan base knew what was up and came out to support the band on this headlining date. Evidenced by the audience crowding on to the floor as the band was about to take the stage, leaving the middle and rear sections of the venue sparser. The smokers, lounging outside on the patio furniture, crowded around side doors to the patio just off the floor to get a good view and enjoy the evening.

As the San Diego-based group began their set around 9:20 p.m., they started with “Empty House,” the lead track of their new album. Fresh off their trip to Austin for SXSW and playing only their second show of the tour, the band was bathed in incandescent light from their brand new light rig. The display contains four large black triangles in the form of a larger overall triangle with large round lights mounted down each leg of the triangles. The band’s back lit setup gave warmth to the stage and stood in stark contrast to venue’s own house set up of LED lights.

Early in the set Vasquez, appreciative of the crowd’s early energy, said, “It’s great to be back in St. Louis.” He continued by pointing out a 6 or 7-year-old girl in attendance calling her the “cutest girl in the audience — she is so cute. Every song is for you tonight.” The girl, sitting on the shoulders of her dad near the sound board, beamed as she clapped along to the songs.

Vasquez’s warm, singular-sounding voice meshes well with the music the band creates. Luckily, the electric piano of Kelly Winrich was high in the mix to counter the guitar tones of Vasquez and William McLaren. Drummer Brandon Young plays with a wild, loose abandon of a lead instrument that only works as Jon Jameson’s bass holds things together.

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Album review: Lucero gets deep into Memphis soul with ‘Women & Work’

“Women & Work”

With their latest studio record, “Women & Work,” the alt-country rockers known as Lucero have managed to harness fully the music of their hometown to make their most Memphis-sounding record yet.

The album, their second consecutive project recorded at Ardent Studios with producer Ted Hutt, presents the musicians at their polished best. In an interview last fall singer Ben Nichols told me that the group had “stumbled” into their last record “1372 Overton Park.” Here, the prior experience the band received recording at the historic studio completes the transition from a country band with punk roots to a rock outfit brimming with soul.

The title track begins with Rick Steff (piano/organ) providing rock ‘n’ roll boogie-woogie piano and some Chuck Berry-style guitar that harkens back to all those songs recorded across town at Sun Studios more than a half century ago. Yet, Nichols’ lyrics bring the song back to a modern punk-rock reality with the line, “The women and the work and the booze in between. Got ya puking in the aisles and smashing TVs.”

Newer styles, not previously found in Lucero’s repertoire, further enhance the quality of these songs. Though filled with elaborate instrumentation and warmth, the band still retains a raw feel. For example, “Juniper” is a bluesy stomp whereas the band goes full-on soul for “Who You Waiting On?” complete with a Booker T.-esque B-3 organ from Steff. Not just content to add horns to the sound with Memphis professionals Jim Spake and Scott Thompson, the outstanding background vocals from “the Ho-Moans” — aka Susan Marshall and Reba Russell — offer further proof that Lucero is comfortable with the Memphis sound.

Nichols’ songwriting continues a theme to incorporate chasing love, pining for lost loves and the ever present references to having some cocktails. Not until the album closer, “Go Easy,” do the lyrics feature a protagonist that has the girl, but even then it’s tenuous as the opening line indicates, “Hold on, darling hold on. A storm is coming on. I’ll keep you safe.” With the background vocals, mournful horns and piano included, this track takes on a deep spiritual quality.

Lucero manages to slip back into their old sound for “I Can’t Stand To Leave You” and “When I Was Young,” songs with picked guitar chords and pedal-steel flourishes that could easily find a home on the band’s previous albums “That Much Farther West” or “Nobody’s Darlings.”

Steff’s boogie-woogie piano returns for “Like Lightning,” the most upbeat track on the album — a sure barn-burner in a live setting. Nichols belts his signature raspy vocals as he sings about chasing after the girl he’s head-over-heels for: “She’s got a kiss like a thunderbolt. Electric lips that shock me to the bone.”

Die hard fans of “1372 Overton Park” may lament the ratio of rockers to weepers, but what the band gave up in fury only earned them depth with a sound that suits their experience level. Like a new tattoo, they now wear the sound of their hometown proudly.

Concert review and set list: Hayes Carll makes good on his debut at the Sheldon Concert Hall, Sunday, March 18

Late in his set, Hayes Carll gave his appreciation to the audience as he said, “Thanks for coming out on a Sunday night especially after the official Super Bowl of drinking yesterday.”

From the way he looked and sounded at times, it seemed Carll had scored a touchdown or two himself on St. Patrick’s Day.

Presented by PNC Arts Alive and 88.1 KDHX, the Sheldon Concert Hall welcomed the Texas singer-songwriter and his band. Carll took the stage just before 9 p.m. alone with his acoustic guitar to begin a 100-minute show of his outstanding original country and folk material.

Even though the stage was set up for a full band, Carll advised that he was starting out solo to pace himself throughout the evening. “Live Free or Die,” a funny song about prisoners stamping license plates in New Hampshire from his first album “Flowers and Liquor,” was quickly followed by the melancholy “Grateful for Christmas.” This statement prefaced the rest of the show as he drank a lot of water and the vocals stayed slightly buried in the mix. Though, as a consummate performer, Carll powered through any difficulty he may have been experiencing to put on a solid performance.

When the band took the stage for “Hard out Here” from his latest record, “KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories),” the venue transformed from a quiet folk club to full on country honky tonk. The only things missing to make the transformation of the venerable hall complete were a bar in the back and some neon beer signs hanging on the walls. Carll proceeded to chide guitar player Scott Davis and bass player Cody Phillips on their matching shirts dubbing them the “Gingham Twins,” a reference to the “Glimmer Twins” moniker of Rolling Stones’ leaders Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

A two-fer from his 2008 break out record “Trouble in Mind” followed in the form of a couple of mid-tempo numbers, “It’s A Shame” and “Beaumont.” However, the former lacked the harmonies and Carll seemed to struggle to hit some notes. Outwardly, the audience ignored any negatives as the music remained strong and well-executed all evening.

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Concert review and set list: The Del Fuegos scorch the Old Rock House, Thursday, March 1

Had any unsuspecting music fan walked in for the Del Fuegos performance at the Old Rock House on Thursday night they wouldn’t have had any inkling that the band they had paid to see had not played regularly together in 25 years.

This is the type of reunion show that music fans ache to see: four guys that put aside their differences to play music together for the fans and not a mailed-in performance for the cash grab. These shows are especially sweet for a fan like me who has owned the band’s four studio records for a long time, but never got a chance to see them live.

The four original members — Dan Zanes on guitar with his brother Warren on lead guitar, Tom Lloyd on bass and Woody Giessmann on drums — are taking the chance to get out on the road and give it another shot with a tour of the towns that received them best all those years ago.

Zanes acknowledged from the microphone that they are an oldies act at this point: “We may be an oldies band, but you’re an oldies audience, but we’re only going to play a 90 percent oldies set.” No one in the smallish audience seemed to care. The band ripped through three-minute songs about love and loss as the fans, mostly in there 40s and 50s, came to see the songs they remembered. For their effort, the boys from Boston delivered the goods with both great chops and good cheer.

Pulling material almost exclusively from their first two albums, “The Longest Day” and “Boston, Mass.,” the Del Fuegos played a tight 90-minute set of their soulful, roots-rock material that demonstrated these guys are complete professionals. Dan Zanes took the center position singing and dancing with his guitar as his brother Warren Zanes, to his right, added spot-on guitar solos, while Lloyd and Giessmann held down the back beat with more roll than rock.

From the opening notes of the perfectly chosen opener “Sound of our Town,” the band had the crowd excited and ready for some nostalgia. The dance floor started to fill with women twirling around in their dresses like a younger version of Stevie Nicks. Zanes acknowledged the dancers and advised that St. Louis was a progressive stop for the band. Zanes praised the crowd up front: “This is our first tour in over 20 years and first time we’ve had dancers before we had to start begging.” He continued by saying he hoped that the show would see “men dancing comfortably by themselves.” By the end of the show, he had that wish fulfilled.

Early in the set, the Zanes brothers got into a little brotherly tête-à-tête on stage, alluding to their longtime differences in Dan Zanes’ lion share of the songwriting on Del Fuegos albums. Dan announced his brother Warren wrote the next song and that he had albums for sale in the back as well. Warren chimed in to advise that prior to the tour he wondered if he would have a mic this time and was “it going to be turned on?”

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Concert review and set list: Los Lobos still very much in the hunt at the Sheldon Concert Hall, Sunday, February 26

Los Lobos at the Sheldon Concert Hall, February 26, 2012

Roy Kasten

As the audience roared and gave Los Lobos a standing ovation, guitarist Cesar Rosas joked, “You know we’re Los Lobos? Not Los Lonely Boys right?” The St. Louis crowd, fully aware of who they were about to see, were genuinely thrilled and the air filled with electricity.

The band from East L.A. performed this KDHX-welcomed concert of eclectic roots-based material inside the intimate space of the Sheldon Concert Hall, the 700-plus-seat venue in Grand Center. My friend, a first timer to the venue, turned to me within 90 seconds of the start of the set and exclaimed, “This place is awesome! It’s like a church devoted to music.”

For over two hours the sextet performed a career-spanning set that allowed the middle-aged audience of long-time fans to embrace leaving their comfort zone. They sang along, loudly clapped to the beat and danced in their seats to the blues-based rock and cumbias. At times the dancing spilling into the aisles as the room let its collective hair down.

The group, wearing a uniform look of black shirts over blue jeans, filled the small stage with their array of stringed instruments, drums and equipment. The left-handed Rosas (guitar), sporting his trademark black Ray Ban sunglasses, held down stage right as his long-time band mates Conrad Lozano (bass), Louie Perez (guitar), David Hidalgo (guitar) and Steve Berlin (keys/sax/flute) fanned out to his left. Joining them was the happiest drummer on the planet, Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez. With his youthful exuberance and charm on top of his fantastic ability, the percussionist provided the band a jolt of adrenaline throughout the night.

An upbeat tempo began the evening as the band bookended their career with “Will the Wolf Survive” and followed with “Yo Canto” from their latest album, “Tin Can Trust.” Creating the appropriate mix, Hidalgo then slowed the tempo down with the sorrowful, “When the Circus Comes” from “Kiko” and the ’70s era Dylan-esque title track from “Tin Can Trust.”

A few songs in to the set, Hidalgo advised, “I hope it’s not too loud. Like folk music for the hearing impaired.” The crowd reacted positively as the energy in the room demanded more volume. The band provided as they played their cover of “I Wan’na be like You (The Monkey Song)” from Disney’s “The Jungle Book.” Prior to the intermission the crowd respectfully remained seated, but this was no stodgy folk show. The music demanded you get out of your seat and dance — and many did.

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Concert review: Craig Finn (with Mount Moriah) holds forth, solo and steady at Off Broadway, Friday, February 10

Craig Finn at Off Broadway in St. Louis, February 10, 2012

Nate Burrell

Wouldn’t you just know it? A cold blast of winter finally arrived in St. Louis yesterday just as native Minnesotan Craig Finn rolled into town to play Off Broadway.

At least our unpredictable weather made the 40-year-old feel right at home.

While the cold front left blustery temperatures and overnight snow, the temperature inside the club warmed up the crowded venue as a room full of Hold Steady fans settled in for this KDHX-welcomed show.

North Carolina-based Mount Moriah opened the laid-back evening of country and folk-infused rock. Fronted by the breathy, reserved vocalist and guitarist Heather McEntire, the band played a mixture of slow and mid-tempo grooves.

For the first three songs the band held the rapt attention of the audience, but after a couple of drinks the crowd was ready for bigger things. In fact, I give the audience credit for making it that long before the discussions ensued. Though their recorded material matches up well with other artists on the folky-side of indie rock, the band lacked depth live to fully translate their sound. By the time the group got to the engaging secular gospel of “Lament” late in the set, it was too late. Overall, the performance suffered from the band’s execution and the disparity of McEntire’s mumbled delivery with Finn’s articulate style.

Even though Finn has consciously removed himself from the comfort zone of the Hold Steady he is clearly having fun on this solo tour. Smiling throughout the evening, whatever trepidation he had in the early stages of performing the songs live has slipped back into the familiar feeling of playing before an audience. With a relaxed demeanor Finn and his band played the full complement of material from his new solo album “Clear Heart Full Eyes” plus some unreleased tracks.

After taking the stage, Finn acknowledged the audience advising that, “We’re gonna play a bunch of depressing songs that are gonna bum you the fuck out.” He retained his demonstrative delivery and waved his hands in his usual storytelling fashion throughout the 90-minute set. However, the show was not your typical sweaty, drunk fest with beer flying toward band as their loud energy emanates from the stage. Rather these solo songs are sparsely, loosely played but still retaining a professional quality, which benefits from a solid group of players.

The subdued 17-song set led off appropriately with the slow album opener “Apollo Bay,” the longest song on the record. Throughout the set Finn mostly let his lyrics tell the stories, but he did add quick asides and anecdotes between songs, further adding color.

On the record the reserved production relegated “No Future” to a muted studio track; a respectable decision as it better fits with the other acoustic-based selections. Yet, in the live setting, the song took on an upbeat rock tone that engaged the crowd and kept the set varied. As with his lyrics for the Hold Steady, Finn continues to demonstrate he’s a big music fan at heart, evidenced by lines like “Good old Freddy Mercury is the only guy that advises me,” and “The best advice that I’ve ever gotten was from Johnny Rotten. He said God Save the Queen. He said no future for you. No future for me.”

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Concert review and set list: Todd Snider (with Ashleigh Flynn) roams across the American landscape at the Sheldon, Friday, January 13

Last night, halfway through his set, Todd Snider asked the audience to request songs. Loud calls rained down directed at the stage.

Humbly, he exclaimed, “Man, thanks for knowing all this shit,” as if he’s still amazed he’s made it this far.

Per his customary entrance to Quincy Jones’ “The Streetbeater” — aka the “Sanford & Son” theme — a barefoot Snider took the wood stage at the Sheldon Concert Hall revved up to play for the waiting audience. Dressed in a green plaid shirt, vest and large tie over brown khaki pants, he sported a floppy brown hat pulled down tight. Armed with only his black Epiphone acoustic guitar, occasional harmonica and voice, he stood alone in the 100-year-old hall to present his craft.

Last evening was the second show for the Sheldon Sessions, a concert series co-presented by KDHX along with a generous grant from PNC Art Alive. With the announcement last night that Hayes Carll will fill the third slot in the series, the idea of welcoming singer-songwriters into the gorgeous acoustics of the Sheldon is superb. The intimate space allows both the artist and their fans to feel a closeness that most other venues can hardly offer.

As Snider relayed earlier this week in my interview, his new album, “Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables,” is not due out until early March. Therefore, Snider took the opportunity to play an evenly-mixed overview of his catalog and highlight tracks from nearly every studio album. However, the focus on arguably his best album, “East Nashville Skyline,” was noticeable.

While the atmosphere was not as raucous as a club date, Snider still had the crowd engaged, singing along with his well-known songs and laughing at his stories. Part of that could have been the prim and proper feel of the old hall, and possibly the freezing temperatures outside, but mostly the 30 to 50-year-old audience welcomed Snider warmly. Responding in kind, Snider advised, “I’m having a good time,” but made no bones that the venue he played the last time was far from his favorite as he exclaimed, “Fuck that place.”

Starting with the lighthearted “Beer Run,” Snider got things rolling with an upbeat number in contrast to the folk of the opener Ashleigh Flynn. As he started to play, he spoke about how often he has to perform the song. Snider said, “Would you believe my friends think I’m sick of this song? That could not be farther from the truth. It’s my favorite fucking one! I could sing it every day for 15 years … if I had to.” Like a good bartender, Snider became a mixologist; he transitioned into “Age Like Wine” during the middle and reprised “Beer Run” again at the end.

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