Stacey Willmering's Posts

Stacey Willmering's Photo I'm a volunteer music writer living in St. Louis.

Latest Playlist

Concert review: Rock ‘n’ roll excitement with Grace Potter and the Nocturals and Langhorne Slim and the Law at the Pageant, Thursday, January 10

Grace Potter at the Pageant. Photo by Sam Africano.

If Thursday night’s rock show at the Pageant — featuring Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Langhorne Slim and the Law — offers any indication of what this year’s concerts will bring, it’s going to be a fun year.

Langhorne Slim and the Law, a band that has frequented the KDHX studios over the years, kicked off the night with the song, “Bad Luck.” The energy spawned by this salutation was just a precursor to the music they were about to shell out. The band’s 11-song set included several highlights from the 2012 album, “The Way We Move.”

Off stage, singer and songwriter Langhorne Slim personally comes across as having a mellow, peaceful disposition. On stage, however, he is quite the entertainer. His unforgettable performance as a singer and guitar player owes to his physical animation, commitment to every lyric and engagement with the audience. More than once, he sat on the ledge of center stage to get up close and personal with the fans who were packed into the open floor area. I wouldn’t exactly say he dances on stage; rather, he jumps around, leans into the rhythm, kneels down on his knees to deliver his chords and lyrics, and occasionally shakes his head with fiery vocal deliverance. His voice ranges from a graveled desperation to a smooth comfort; the sincerity is present in every word of every song. He experiences the music and gives 110% to the audience. Langhorne Slim’s presentation was nothing short of cool and entertaining.

Band members Malachi DeLorenzo (drums), David Moore (banjo, keys) and Jeff Ratner (bass) all gave a solid performance and offered equally impressive highlights. The keyboard parts shone on “Fire” and “The Way We Move,” while the banjo and upright bass stole the spotlight on “Someday.” The set did include a couple of slower, quieter songs which accentuated Langhorne Slim’s vocal ability, but the majority of the band’s performance was lively and upbeat. Several times they moved into outstanding jam sessions that made the crowd go wild. I thought the banjo strings were going to snap at any second. They nailed the picking work. The set concluded with “Past Lives,” an engaging, interpersonal exploration, leaving us with the final repeated lyrics, “I ain’t dead anymore.” No, Langhorne Slim and the Law certainly is not dead.

Headliner Grace Potter and the Nocturnals brought a high-powered rock ‘n’ roll performance, which perhaps pleasantly surprised portions of the ticket holders. I noticed a few attendees’ expressions when they quickly discovered what a bad-ass Grace Potter is. She embodies the female rock-star persona. She is beautiful with exceptional taste in style and fashion (hence the sparkly jacket, leather skirt and heels last night). Her voice is gorgeous and holds exceptional stamina, all the while she switches between acoustic guitar, Flying-V electric guitar, tambourine and keyboard. She validates every rock song with hair-whipping and dance moves, which she eventually performed barefoot. I have insufficient words to describe how amazing she is.

The band opened with “Paris (Ooh La La)” featuring three electric guitars. The energy in the room progressed, fueled by the Nocturnals’ unending prowess. The band — Potter (vocals, guitar, tambourine, keyboard), Matt Burr (drums), Scott Tournet (guitar, bass) and Benny Yurco (guitar, bass) played about 16 songs from various albums. A few to mention include “Turntable,” “Mastemind,” Ah, Mary,” “Stop the Bus” and “The Divide.” The reeling lead-ins, multiple guitar collaborations and timing with the professional lighting were only a few reasons why this was a terrific show.

Other highlights: Potter crawled across the stage in a feline motion to meet the low-lying guitar players for a dramatic entrance; the strung light bulbs enchanted the room during the chorus of radio hit “Stars”; the bluesy call and answer between the electric guitar and Potter’s voice; a brief but impressive harmonica appearance; and, finally, a great acoustic guitar solo by Benny Yurco.

The encore was everything an encore should be: A cover of Heart’s “Crazy on You,” followed by earlier tune, “Apologies” and the grand finale, the title track of their latest record, “The Lion The Beast The Beat,” an incredible adrenaline rush to close out the night.

Concert review: Dave Matthews Band and Brandi Carlile win over St. Louis at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, Wednesday, July 11

Brandi Carlile at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in St. Louis. July 11, 2012.

Brandi Carlile at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. Photo by Jarred Gastreich.

This is why we go to concerts. We want to put our hands in the air, sing along to our favorite songs and be astounded by the extended jam sessions that embellish those familiar tunes. Brandi Carlile and the Dave Matthews Band owned the night and validated why we gather by the thousands to move and sway in one giant, collective groove.

The show at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater kicked off with Dave Matthews himself casually walking out on stage and talking with the crowd about trivial things such as ear wax. He was funny and engaging, and the point of his initial appearance was to thank the audience and then warmly introduce the opening act, Brandi Carlile, whom he described as “a beautiful person.”

Brandi Carlile is hardly a newcomer (her fifth album, “Bear Creek,” was released last month), and the musicians of her rock/alt-country Seattle band proved themselves as solid, well-polished performers. They opened with “Dreams,” a fast-paced rock song that successfully launched the excitement and momentum of the fully-packed Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. The band is comprised of Carlile (vocals and guitar), twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth (electric bass, electric/acoustic guitar) and recently added members Josh Neumann (cello, violin, mandolin) and Allison Miller on drums.

Carlile’s beautifully-powerful voice is graced with soul, projection and the ability to transition seamlessly from a low note to a high note within the same lyric. Sometimes live performances lack studio-smoothed singing that we grow accustomed to hearing on records. Brandi, however, nailed a hugely-varied vocal range. Several concert-goers near me commented on her amazing voice as she sang through “What Can I Say,” and then held her own for the more aggressive “Raise Hell.”

Equally remarkable were the tight three-part harmonies between Carlile and the Hanseroth twins. Their combined voices in key areas, especially during new song “Hard Way Home,” was truly enchanting. Her eight-song set was complete with the widely popular “The Story,” which delivered one of the night’s more entertaining electric guitar leads.

Dave Matthews reappeared and joined Brandi for an acoustic cover of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.” I’ve heard this covered by a few solo artists, but I favored last night’s duo; maybe because it was live, but even more so due to the blending of Dave and Brandi’s voices against the acoustic guitar. That was definitely one of the highlights of the evening.

Carlile was personable and talkative with the audience, and she was incredibly gracious and thanked St. Louis for their kindness towards her band. She was sweet, adorably dressed in her vest, blue neck tie and flat cap, and won over the crowd with her unpredictable set ending, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Everyone sang along at her request, and heck yes, we all head banged at that climactic moment. They finished out the song with an unruly rocked out reverence the song deserves. Overall, Carlile’s performance was incredible, complemented by a charming personality and an exceptional singing voice. The entire set was enjoyable and packed with cool guitar riffs, fantastic fiddle work and get-on-your-feet drums.

And then, of course, began the night’s headliner, the eclectic Dave Matthews Band (DMB). It had been about 10 years since I’d last seen the group perform, and I’m happy to say that his live show has not deteriorated or tarnished whatsoever. They opened with “Don’t Drink the Water” to a psyched-up crowd. The first part of the show was mostly older songs, later moving towards more recent material, many of which generated heartfelt audience sing-alongs and ardent jazzy / rock instrumentals. DMB has mastered stretching out jam sessions, the stuff music fans eat up; the audience was mesmerized by the musicianship. That’s partly due to the jaw-dropping solos by each supporting band member: Boyd Tinsley (violin), Carter Beauford (drums), Stefan Lessard (bass), Jeff Coffin (sax), Rashawn Ross (trumpet) and St. Louisan Tim Reynolds (electric guitar).

Other notable songs performed included “Proudest Monkey,” “Satellite,” “Shake Me Like A Monkey” and “Jimi Thing,” for which Dave offered, “I play this song ‘cuz I like it all the way.” “Crush” was preceded by the bassist playing the intro to Mumford & Son’s “The Cave”; this was my favorite moment of the set.

Ultimately, DMB’s show was fun: cool psychedelic lighting, a wide variety of songs to dance to or sit back and soak in and an overall feeling of celebrating happiness and peaceful existence through music.

One last thing: Holy Encore. Exiting the stage after an exhilarating “Ants Marching,” the band returned for an encore performance which began with “Star Spangled Banner” on bass leading into the entire band covering Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Awesome work: beginning acoustically in the likes of Dylan, and exploding into an electrified Jimi Hendrix likeness. Needless to say, DMB delivered one of the best shows I’ve seen this year, a show that was certainly accentuated by the talent of opener Brandi Carlile.

Concert review: The Hackensaw Boys, Rum Drum Ramblers and Lydia Loveless pack a wallop at the Duck Room, Saturday, March 3

Last night’s performances by Lydia Loveless, Rum Drum Ramblers and the Hackensaw Boys at the Duck Room were undoubtedly among the best I have seen in a while.

The venue itself is an ideal place to see musicians play; the up-close-and-personal atmosphere offers a memorable experience for audience members. The venue features exposed rafters, unfinished concrete floors, no windows and low lighting with an easily approachable stage. The layout feels as though everyone is hanging out in someone’s basement with the added bonus of live music.

The pre-show crowd began to filter down the stairs while, with eager anticipation, I took in the arrangement of the stage to admire the variety of banjos, guitars, upright basses and unexpected drum set, as bluegrass and old-time country music typically does not involve drums. Also providing foresight into the evening’s talent were the six microphones lined up across the front of the stage.

Lydia Loveless opened the show with a beautiful singing voice that filled the room. Her defiant, tell-it-like-it-is lyrics are accompanied by her acoustic rhythm guitar and some upright bass played by Ben Lamb. Lamb rocked the bass, alternating between picking the strings while thrashing his long hair around, or using the bow to glide across notes for a smoother sound.

Loveless opened with “Always Lose,” and held the audience’s attention with her commanding voice through the rest of her unfortunately short set, including “Jesus Was a Wino” and ending with “Crazy.” Lydia is young but has the perspective of someone much older; her punk-country sound has limitless potential.

The next act was local band Rum Drum Ramblers. Their presence ignited the crowd and quickly boosted the energy in the room. The three-piece band wowed the audience with performances on the harmonica, washboard, upright bass, guitar and percussion. Their refreshing Delta blues musical style brought a feel of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street directly to St. Louis. It is exciting to see young talent unafraid to create this style of music and pour immense amounts of enthusiasm and soul into each song. The final song, “I Got Mine,” featured a guest appearance by St. Louis’s Pokey LaFarge. This collaboration generated a booming crowd response and was fun to watch.

And finally, the headliners from Virginia, the Hackensaw Boys: This sextet featured the usual bluegrass instruments, all played exceptionally well with flawless timing. The band performed over 20 songs without taking a break, and the momentum never slowed, in fact, it only increased as the show went on.

Each of the six band members sang either lead or harmony, and the instrumental talent was evenly distributed as well. Except for the fiddle player: He played with such animation and intensity, it was impossible to steer your attention away from the passion in his performance. Also notable was the quick and seamless handling of a broken guitar string; the rest of the band interacted with audience in a fun and personable way while also playing random beats while the string was quickly repaired.

The entire show was organized, flowed well and the music was addicting and fun with a highly responsive crowd. I cannot name a poorly-played song, but a few highlights include “Keep It Simple,” “Flora,” “Alabama Shamrock” and “Smilin’ Must Mean Something.”

In the end, the Hackensaw Boys left the crowd wanting more and deserve to have their photo on the wall at Blueberry Hill.

Album review: Ani DiFranco marches forward with ‘¿Which Side Are You On?’

Ani DiFranco
“¿Which Side Are You On?”
Righteous Babe

After four years without releasing a studio album, Ani DiFranco has returned with a matured songwriting craft, audacious lyrics and a challenge for pragmatic political and social change.

Since 1990, DiFranco has independently released over 20 albums and manages to sell out venues across the globe. Her style of music cannot be clearly defined; its borders are blurred somewhere within folk, indie, rock, soul — and specks of everything else. The greatest constant is her unwavering lyrical ability. She neither sugarcoats nor minimizes truths, yet she has a softer, poetic side depicting songs of love, leisure, acceptance and universal equality.

Her latest album, “¿Which Side Are You On?,” is comprised of 12 songs, all written by DiFranco. Her acoustic guitar playing is somewhat less aggressive than it has been previously. The first track, “Life Boat,” primes the audience with a slow, mellow sound. In passing, portions of the album could be described as musically monotonous or repetitive, but a closer look reveals the calmer, relaxed guitar work creates a nice backdrop for well-written, poignant lyrics. Do not be misled: true to Ani DiFranco’s form, other tracks, such as “Promiscuity”, “Splinter,” and “Mariachi” provide striking instrumentation and upbeat melodies. Healthy portions of an electric guitar add edge and mildly abrasive vigor when needed. Also, her life’s added perspectives as a mother and a maturing woman shine through on tracks such as “Albacore,” conveying her individual reality and what she believes the world could evolve to become.

The highlight of this album is the title track, “¿Which Side Are You On?” Originally written by Florence Reece in 1931, this song has been revisited by scores of artists over its 80 year lifetime, and it has resonated among activists for decades. Folk artist Pete Seeger, along with his banjo, performed a well-known version of “Which Side Are You On?” in the ’60s. DiFranco has supplied this tune with new life, reenergizing it with updated lyrics, yet her version holds the song’s soul and history intact by featuring Seeger on the banjo and background vocals.

The percussion ensemble only increases the classic song’s vitality, motivating the message even further. The snare drum in particular correlates with battlefield marches and patriotic references, fitting for this track. DiFranco has transformed this song into a fresh call to action. Her vocals were given a slight echo effect, which provides listeners with a sense they are presently witnessing her leading a crowd, microphone in hand, aimed to motivate the masses for justifiable action and positive change. She addresses the government, average workers, banks, consumers, men, women and voters of all types to reclaim the meaning of citizenship and what it’s worth.

Altogether, “¿Which Side Are You On?” pushes boundaries, accentuates affirmation and entertains musically — a pleasant return by Ani DiFranco.

Ani DiFranco: ¿Which Side Are You On? by ThatEricAlper