Tyler Williamson's Posts


Tyler Williamson's Photo I'm a volunteer music writer for KDHX.

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Festival review: SXSW 2013 comes to a crescendo with Jim James, Green Day, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, Twangfest Day Parties, Heartless Bastards, Frankie Faye, FIDLAR, Ozomatli, Vampire Weekend and a softball triumph, March 15-16

Tyler Williamson

With only two earnest SXSW Music nights left, and an overstuffed head of unforgettable memories and music, I set out with a now insatiable appetite for more. More venues, more music, more Austin, as much as possible, as much as I could live; the unfortunate end to the sheer dreamlike sequence I’d been savoring was looming.

Offering by far the best views of Austin’s skyline, thousands joined at the Auditorium Shores Stage for Jim James’ brand of freak-rock-R&B. James contented himself and the crowd by thoroughly jamming on his stunningly beautiful mahogany Gibson Flying-V. Even if not catching a show at the venue, a must-do in Austin is to take a walk from the Shores stage across the 1st Street Bridge at sunset: unmistakably breathtaking.

Lucky enough, after failing to come up with tickets through any drawings, my brother and I took the time to check out Austin City Limits. Twenty minutes later, minimal shenanigans necessary, the regal interior of Austin City Limits welcomed us. Green Day, coming out to the Western-defining whistle of Ennio Morricone’s “Good, Bad and the Ugly” theme, kicked off a two-hour set. Flying through newer stuff to start, the band went all the way back to “1039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours” — the collecton of EPs marking their Lookout! Record’s debut from 1991, pre-Tre Cool’s joining the band — to play “Disappearing Boy.”

Billie Joe Armstrong, recently having completed a rehab bit, actually seemed to carry even more intensity; the direction of it now accurately aligned the only difference for the frontman. The band galvanized its inhuman work ethic to once-in-a-lifetime results for a couple of Ohio kids who weaned themselves off mom ‘n’ dad’s picks with “Welcome to Paradise.” Accomplishing at least the same for a string of crowd members that were brought on stage, Green Day’s exponential desire to please proved a constant. The first fan brought on stage got an Armstrong lip lock while the last enthusiastically led the crowd into saving him from his lie about knowing the third verse to “Longview” — they all, save for the already entertainingly overjoyed sign language translator, took their rightful stage dive. “Burnout” and “King for a Day,” respectively a personal first live and a set staple, also made for highlights in a show that included “Sweet Child O Mine,” “Hey Jude” and “Highway to Hell.”

A quick stop at the Belmont for another Eagles of Death Metal show, before catching the tail end of JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound at the Tap Room at Six, was too enticing not to make. Mike Dirnt and Jason White, the man that officially made Green Day a quartet, coincidentally also helped themselves to the post-punk soul. The quite-humble Mike ended up taking our picture. Admitting fan status of JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, he filled us in on having put them on their guest list for the show hours before. The meeting of a childhood hero, his instantly welcoming conversation and the utter “Holy shit” factor combined to keep me from sleeping that night.

Having already reserved Saturday for KDHX’s own Twangfest day parties, the shows became the theme of the final day. Held at the incomparable Broken Spoke — an enjoyable hearkening back to farmhouse dance halls, it features two stages, a dusty, empty “Tourist Trap,” a troth in the men’s restroom, and a sign warning that there’s “No Standing on the Dance Floor.”

Laura Cantrell’s gentle voice carried the place through the two-stepping it had been itching for while honoring her personal hero, the first woman to top the U.S. Country Billboard charts, Kitty Wells. Better yet, this even afforded the opportunity for our editor, Roy Kasten, to prove that his dancing skills far surpass mine. [Editor's note: Given Kasten's moves, that's not saying much.]

Pokey LaFarge, to close out a stellar set that had the dance floor jumping, decided he needed to be closer to the crowd. Quickly moving his band (much expanded beyond the South City Three) to the middle of the boot-scooters, the guys wrapped KDHX’s excellent day party by leaving their own mark on the renowned “Best Honky-Tonk in Texas.”

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Festival review: Diving into the ‘land of many bands’ at SXSW 2013 with Polyphonic Spree, Ra Ra Riot, JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, Tracorum, So Many Dynamos, Earl Sweatshirt, Richie Hawtin, Big K.R.I.T., Beach Fossils, A.Dd+, Eagles of Death Metal and more, March 12-13

facebook.com/eaglesofdeathmetal

In Austin, “live music capital of the world,” one will find music and a crowd no matter where he or she goes during SXSW: people line every street and bands wanting an extra show occupy sidewalks. Open bar windows let the sound spill out to make damn sure everybody knows there’s another gig to be enjoyed.

Lines forming a full work day in advance proved a regular sight, keeping even platinum badge-holders out of venues. Best piece of advice is to minimize waiting in line; one can easily walk in and out of bars as he or she pleases, finding gems and new favorites along the way.

Getting underway Tuesday, Hype Hotel provided the destination. Taking the stage a few minutes late, Ra Ra Riot’s baby faces belie that they’ve been inducing the head-nodding since 2006. Despite a low-key guitar throughout, the solos Milo Bonacci hit to wrap the show stole it.

The venue easily made its case for a daily stop; if not for music, then for the Taco Bell sponsored perks – free cool ranch Doritos tacos, anyone?

Afterwards, at Red 7 Patio, the aptly named Tim DeLaughter succinctly dubbed Austin in explaining the uniqueness of his band, “In the land of many bands, there is only one Polyphonic Spree.” Any doubters were persuaded by their cult-like flair, the pushing of the stage fire code capacity – impossible to see, let alone count all the members onstage – and the band’s coordinated muumuus that recycled your parents’ trendy couch patterns from the ’60s. Tim continued to delight, debuting songs off a soon-to-be released album with the help of a three-piece brass section and a six-piece choir, then celebrating the end of each song like a freshman walk-on hitting his first nationally televised three-pointer.

Continuing the trend of debuting new material, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound treated a mid-day Wednesday Barbarella crowd to tracks off of the upcoming third LP from Bloodshot, “Howl.” If reading this and not in the know, cancel any plans and be at Off Broadway on March 24 for the Chicago band’s return to St. Louis.

Lesson learned in an hour lost waiting for Kendrick – would later be told 1100 Warehouse’s Wednesday night had two stages, and most of the already at-capacity crowd turned their back to Youngblood Hawke in anticipation of the Compton prodigy – as showing at 7:50 p.m. only meant being the 200th person in line that wouldn’t get in for the 9 p.m. start.

Sweet southern-style lemonade was made of stumbling into San Francisco’s Tracorum. Lured into HandleBar by the pure energy of the lead guitar, hell-bent on getting the perfect squeal out of his devil-horned Gibson SG, the band would fit in nicely with the twangy side of Bob’s Scratchy Records on 88.1 KDHX. Old enough to appreciate and invoke Jerry Lee Lewis on the keys, the hellbilly foursome manifested youth via metal licks and nonstop roadhouse rock.

So Many Dynamos brought some St. Louis style to the packed and personal Valhalla. The thoroughly sweaty crowd fed off the sweatier band, particularly the nonstop bass bounce giving each genre-shifting jaunt all the cohesion it needed. Black Spade and the brass section having traveled with the band, the appreciation from and for the band manifested in the stage rigging shaking throughout.

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Festival review: Landing at SXSW 2013 and stumbling upon Jay Larson, Eric Tessmer Band, Lonesome G. and more, March 11-12

Photo by Roy Kasten

Armed with pens, notepads and, most motivating, the sense I’m well in over my head even before the trip to SXSW 2013 – thousands of bands, at dozens of venues, sprawling over six days and only a few square miles – the pure sense of Austin as Elysium is crossed with the inherent need to stay abreast of it all.

To say one is on edge does not compare to the head swimming involved in the week leading up to the event – reading that a projected 27,999 other people will arrive the same weekend won’t help the cause. Regardless, like the quality approach to anything, nothing would cure these ailments except the full-fledged grabbing ahold, gritting the teeth, and holding on tight.

On the flight in, one can meet just as many locals who’ve had their South by Southwest fill – “I’m just getting the hell away from all the traffic” — as those who are coming home for it – “I needed to be home for it.” All of them will recommend it and give advice — thanks Dallas-Love Field airport. One of them, with encouragement – ahem, the concept of free alcohol at a destination is powerful — will even offer a ride – thanks as well to Melissa.

Then, on the ride in, can one finally get the sense of what he or she is going to be a part of for the next week. One can find out why everyone keeps Austin weird; why SXSW is an institution at this point; why millions upon millions are spent; most importantly, how a single week can completely alter the course of a life. If potential is sought, nowhere else needs to be searched – how many bands, managers, journalists, wives, husbands, producers, studio executives, brands and apps have been found or broken at a SXSW?

Walking into the first party, Funny or Die’s at North Door, proved a surreal experience. Shiner Bock, on tap, for free, really? Yes, please. Comedian Jay Larson taking the time, carrying six beers, to hug a fan – “Come here and give me a hug…a gentle one, gentle hug” — and say thanks for showing up to the Funny Bone? Within a minute of arriving, I’ve already got the delirious smile plastered on my face, presumably for the week. Step outside for a blow of fresh air, only to stumble into Julian McCullough giving the gentlest of roasts to the smokers. Next stop, Friends bar for some Eric Tessmer Band. An excellent homage to Stevie Ray Vaughn, the doors were flooded when the bassist took approximately the most successful smoke break ever. Playing his bass in the street while pulling drags, the nearby Sixth Street crowd couldn’t pass it up anymore.

Finally, one hits a strange, albeit comfortable couch via AirBNB.com only to wake and realize free doesn’t mean consequences-less.

Luckily, there’s a Salt Lick for that. An expansive acreage – took longer to find the table and waitress than to wait for the food — of farmland and pounds upon pounds of smoked meat, it’ll drown the hangover and allow the distinction of sweating pork for the day. Highly recommended, they even deliver nationwide. Luckily, it uncovered another diamond in the rough, Lonesome G. Hitting banjo blues for the rest of the walking wounded; it was the type of soothing strumming that will release the guilt of debauchery past.

And then, finally, after the wrangling of all the bands and corresponding schedules for some semblance of a personal plan and an acclimation to the area, Tuesday the 12th arrives. SXSW Music begins in earnest. Wristbands become available. Rumors fly like crazy – time would tell on the rumored Prince, Justin Timberlake, and Deadmau5 – unannounced venues pop up – looking good Red Bull stage – and bands simply finding a way to fit Austin into the schedule – Smashing Pumpkins deciding they want in, Green Day marking an early post-rehab show, and even Eric Clapton with the Wallflowers, making sure his tour comes to town Sunday night.

Its not that anyone needs a wristband for enjoying SXSW, or even a badge; it’s not that anyone needed all these bands, but – as the late, great Dr. Gonzo said – once you get locked into a serious music festival, the tendency is to push it as far as one can. Nothing less would suffice for the festival that redefines the boundaries annually.

Concert review: Rakim (with Mask and Glove, the 12 to 6 Movement and Tef Poe) feels and shares the love at the Coliseum, Friday, March 8

facebook.com/rakimallah

Walking in to the sampled ad-infitum percussion of “Apache” and spotting Kangol complementing a Dookie rope chain, I’d arrived to a Coliseum full of hip-hop’s golden-era purists eagerly anticipating the presence of a living legend — William Michael Griffin Jr., aka Rakim.

With four other acts on the bill, patience was unfortunately not even remotely observed at times. Fortunately, DJ Nick Fury foreshadowed the night with the simplest of samples — a guttural delivery of the word “beast.” An impressive show-and-prove emerged from his throwback technical skills — all respect to Grand Wizard Theodore: DJ Nick Fury dropped scribbles, flares and orbits amidst the first checkmark on a DJ’s checklist, beat-matching on point. His counterpart, MC Brief, forming Mask & Glove, subsequently took the stage to showcase inspiring wordplay that even better accentuated his inability-to-be-winded delivery. Unfortunately, the crowd’s response to each song, the loudest by a pre-God MC, seemed to indicate its eradicating interest in the repetitive flow.

A little more time reserved for the golden-era in-between sets allowed the crowd to realize they still knew every word to LL Cool J’s “I’m Bad.” Immediately following, “Paul Revere” got the club bouncing more. Regardless, it was apparent the crowd was becoming unresponsive in its single-minded anticipation. Essentially, it was thoroughly strange to have a Beastie Boys cut get such a raucous response, only to have another trio, similarly pigmented, loudly booed before having even let a bar loose from their lips. 12 to 6 Movement, not impressed themselves, actually had the trappings of a talented group. Thoroughly more enjoyable by simple virtue of the constantly interchanging voice, the group’s three members occupied radically different parts of the MC spectrum. Whether planned or not, the set ended swiftly after two songs.

Unceremoniously tasked with damage control — made worse by yet another false Rakim introduction — Tef Poe took to the turbulent stage center. “I ain’t those white boys,” his attempt at quieting a now restless, still-booing crowd, took the obvious, completely worthless assessment to an inexplicably dark corner.

Encouragingly, everyone got back to the music at hand relatively quickly. Easily enough, as Tef cut off the first song of a two-song set to get into the blast of braggadocio “Coming Outta Missouri.” Poe, fueled by his newly replenished need to prove, blessed the crowd by laying waste to the signature cut. The crowd, recognizing his 106 and Park Freestyle Friday champ pedigree, finally seemed to exhale.

If anything was left in doubt, the mere presence of the individual William Michael Griffin Jr. instills the utmost faith. Having read about the way certain individuals can simply take the air out of a room, I’ve personally never been taken aback to such an extent: The timelessness, the accolades, the sheer body of work, the utter single-handed evolving of a genre into its modern day, two-decades strong iteration, all at once, live and within reach. He took the stage and with it, every ounce of attention the Coliseum had. “How to Emcee” — by the legend who literally taught all your favorite rappers, and everyone on down to their favorite rapper’s rappers, the vitality of the art — blared as he arrived onstage. Feeling welcomed, Rakim shook nearly every hand in the front row.

Heavy on the classics, the set regularly had the crowd finishing lines. As if Rakim weren’t already appreciative enough, the crowd recited entire verses — both opening stanzas of “Move the Crowd” and “Paid in Full” — back to the best to ever do it. Soaking it in, Rakim kept his eyes closed and the mic open to the mass on the floor. Paying respect to his short stint with Interscope — wishful thinking allowed, a rekindling of the Dr. Dre partnership — he even hit the memorable yet elusive guest verses from “Addictive” and “The Watcher 2″ that set the template for modern-day Andre 3000. Approximately 40 minutes in, Rakim reassured, “The show’s just getting started.”

The aforementioned “Paid in Full” kicked off a supreme highlight reel, as it was followed by the debut album classic’s “I Know You Got Soul” and “I Ain’t No Joke.” Thoroughly feeling every bit of the euphoria he planted decades ago amongst the Mound City collective, he promised he wouldn’t let it be years before he came back again.

Wrapping up, he hit the staple that he wrote at 18 years old, the a cappella “Follow the Leader.” As wholly consuming and humbling as the man and the performance were, Rakim took a solid 40 minutes to get off and back stage — 40 minutes spent making sure every outstretched hand was shook, every camera had a picture taken and every word spoken heard; he regularly bowed his head to put the speaker’s mouth in his ear.

With his bodyguard, host and various staff urging him, Rakim finally acquiesced and disappeared with one last flourish of love, letting everyone know he felt every bit we ever gave him.

Concert review and set lists: Passion Pit (with Matt & Kim and Icona Pop) party and dance all night at Peabody Opera House, Tuesday, February 26

Passion Pit at the Peabody. Photo by Louis Kwok.

On a night three of the most danceable rising acts in pop shared a single auditorium, the crowd spurned its seats in favor of returning the elation billowing off the stage. Passion Pit, with an immaculate set from Matt & Kim, ended St. Louis’ February with a unique high point.

Icona Pop, a Swedish club duo, may be best known for “I Love It,” a signature hit, not to mention a theme song for a terrible television show. Regardless, the two were transfixed on the dancing they instigated with a collective of fans at the corner of the stage. After the domineering set, the gracious Swedes stuck around for pictures and a couple autographs for the early showing set.

The young crowd was late to show, but, from the orchestra pit to the seats touching the ceiling, everyone was standing and dancing through the night from the moment Matt & Kim’s entrance music started. Sounding like the best hip-hop song GirlTalk could’ve produced — or perhaps showcasing Matt’s chops at mashup production — it effectively set the stage for the next hour.
Via their own overabundance of spirit, the group sent a bouncing, organic energy throughout the building, turning the Peabody Opera House into the best house party of the month.

As ADD-riddled as the set and setlist was, featuring everything from M&K staples to Alice Deejay to a by-the-decades trip through hip-hop, the couple from Brooklyn never lost a trace of their genuine exhilaration. Matt took time to note both his standard for whenever he plays St. Louis – making sure Nelly is on the guest list – and the VIP of the night: Kim’s ass. Ms. Schifino proved deserving of the VIP (or VIA in this case) status during a “Harlem Shake” dance break, as she took to the center of the stage to lead the brouhaha — a nod to the group’s excellent viral video, where its fans are the focal point. Kim stole every second she could, apart from smiling, to beat the drums from atop the kit or to dance next to them.

After hitting longtime favorite “Daylight,” Kim finally let sheer exuberance carry her off the stage and through the center aisle for some personal thanks — set to G.O.O.D. Music’s “Mercy.”

Another intermission later, the crowd was left to the dark with white balloons dotting the stage. As the Berklee guys — plus an Emerson attendee in Michael Angelakos — took to the stage, the crowd instantly regained its spark. Exploding into the set, “I’ll Be Alright” allowed the band to put the crowd where it wanted it — upfront. The intro had a raw, even apocalyptic force. From there, Angelakos, lead vocals and keys, stomped on each inch of the stage while his four bandmates — Ian Hultquist on guitar and keys, Xander Singh on synth, Jeff Apruzzese on bass and keys, and Nate Donmeyer on drums — smiled awkwardly and shared laughs. Michael himself impressed thoroughly: a fresh and appreciated departure from the studio recordings was as simple as leaving a majority of the lead mic effects off.

“Take a Walk” — a track that, judging by the crowd’s reaction, proved to be the most anticipated of the night — was accompanied by bubbles sprawling from either end of the stage. Having earned them, Angelakos surrendered vocal duties to the ready and willing crowd. Lifting the mic stand a few rows deep above the orchestra pit, the fans indulged him.

Matt & Kim set list:

Block After Block
Let Me Clear My Throat (Snippet) (DJ Kool Cover)
Overexposed
Cameras / Move Bitch (Ludacris Cover)
Better off Alone (Alice Deejay Cover)
Let’s Go / Dance (Ass) (Big Sean Cover)
Now
Good Ol’ Fashioned Nightmare
Dance Break — Harlem Shake
The Next Episode (Dr. Dre Cover)
Good for Great
Daylight

Passion Pit set list:

I’ll Be Alright
The Reeling
Carried Away
Moth’s Wings
Love Is Greed
It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy
American Blood
To Kingdom Come
Constant Conversations
Take a Walk
Cry Like a Ghost
Eyes as Candles
Make Light
Mirrored Sea
Sleepyhead

Encore:
Little Secrets

Concert review and set list: Meshuggah (with Animals as Leaders) galvanize metal fans at Pop’s, Saturday, February 23

facebook.com/meshuggah

Single file, in darkness, Meshuggah, the titans of metal and originators of djent, seized the stage; en masse, in black, the crowd was baptized.

Open and honest apology for both not seeing Intronaut and therefore for not covering them — Pop’s listed showtime was 8 p.m., unfortunately if one happened to think that was when the actual show started, he or she walked into the venue with Animals as Leaders already onstage and Intronaut done for the night.

Animals as Leaders, not just an excuse to let Tosin Abasi play, spent the night showing off. Melodically adventurous, it was the band’s adherence to technical superiority that progressively won over the crowd with each track. Tosin’s monstrous amalgamation of intertwined pick-sweeps and fingertapping overwhelmed, but the eerie similarity to Pink Floyd — if one could avoid distortion while cranking their rpm — was the appreciated undertone. Tosin took time for a history lesson, letting the fans know that Pop’s actually served as the venue for the band’s third show ever. He then thanked the packed-house crowd, and made way for — his words — “the Lords of Metal.”

Backing up the moniker instantly, Meshuggah thrust into “Swarm.”

The Pop’s audience was graced with Jens Kidman, who had been recovering from the flu and wasn’t sure he’d be able to perform. Kidman spent the night shredding his throat to keep pace with the three guitarists on stage. He took a second towards the end of the show to both thank the crowd and remark on his lack of enjoyment at being cardboard — a cutout of the frontman adorned the stage in his tour absences.

In contrast to the constant menance of Kidman, the four making up the rest of the group — Fredrik Thordendal on lead guitar, Tomas Haake leaving no remnants of a drum kit, Mårten Hagström on rhythm guitar, and Dick Lövgren on bass — remained relatively faceless behind mounds of hair and mountains of talent. Of course, it only helped to prove the utter lack of ego the band collectively shares. In addition to the guys relatively shirking credit the most technical of fans give them — Mårten Hagström admitted years ago, “We’ve never really been into the odd time signatures…Everything we do is based around a 4/4 core…we arrange parts differently around that center” — the band took about five minutes offstage during a two-hour performance. Considering most couldn’t physically stand being in the pit for five consecutive minutes, impressive simply starts the superlatives.

Sign the crowd did it right: Pop’s security outlining the mosh pit as Meshuggah’s set started.

Setlist:

Swarm
Combustion
Transfixion
ObZen
Behind the Sun
Do Not Look Down
The Hurt That Finds You First
I Am Colossus
Catch 33
Shed
Bleed
Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion
Straws Pulled at Random
New Millennium Cyanide Christ
Dancers to a Discordant System

Concert review: A packed Sheldon Concert Hall gets carried away by Bucky Pizzarelli and Denise Thimes, Friday, February 15

flickr.com/photos/loureiro/6038665502 / Eduardo Loureiro

At 87 years young, Bucky Pizzarelli, along with St. Louis’ Denise Thimes, ad-libbed his way through two hours of infectious swing and a five-minute standing ovation before relinquishing the stage back to the Sheldon.

Bucky, his white-shirt distinguishing him as leader on the night from the all-black ensembles of the quintet, has been a major figure in the music industry for his entire adult life. Mr. Pizzarelli, after starting professionally at 17 and working his way onto “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, found himself regularly touring with Benny Goodman. He even shares the distinction of being invited to perform at the White House — twice for Reagan and once for Bill Clinton.

Having performed for George W. Bush and Queen Elizabeth II herself, Denise Thimes proved a flawless accomplice for this “Be My Valentine” bill. Consistently compared to the legends such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, the singer also cites her father, St. Louis radio personality and BBQ restaurateur Lou “Fatha” Thimes, among her biggest influences.

Playing his signature guitar, the Benedetto Bucky Pizzarelli Signature seven-string, the musician set another high mark for the intimate Sheldon Concert Hall. It was jazz in the purest, with simple nods instigating solos and solos finding entire new directions for each timeless composition. Damrius Hicks, the trio’s standout drummer, took the plunge first before making his case for star status the rest of the night. Relentless, it felt as if his sheer exuberance would swallow the stage whole at any moment; he pushed his playing further and further, as if his parents were coming out to the garage to shut him down for the night.

The night’s muse also made her presence known rather immediately. Wordless, Denise prompted three rounds of boisterous applause for the band during her walk to the microphone. Speaking on behalf of the musicians, Denise put it simply, “Proud to be St. Louisans, nothing better than the Sheldon.” Making the impossible possible, Denise embodied yet another legend, Nina Simone, for the highlight of the night, “I Want a Little Sugar in my Bowl.” With the band taking a second to indulge in our adulation at the end, the smartest woman in the crowd loudly requested a repeat. Indulging the fans, the set on stage hit a more raucous reprise.

However, it was Bucky whose lighthearted fingerprints were all over the show. From making his bandmates repeatedly laugh at the utter audacity of his improvisations, to the child-like joy that washed over his face in response to the crowd, it was clear there wasn’t a place he’d rather be. He even cupped his hands and yelled to preempt the cover of “Sing Sing Sing” with a little tongue-in-cheek, “The next one you all know, so sing along.”

Showcasing the theme of the night, the group took the classic well off the beaten path, earning one of many thoroughly merited, full-house standing ovations.

Comedy review: Judah Friedlander (with Kelsey McClure and Sean O’Brien) delivers champion set at the Firebird, Friday, February 8

facebook.com/JudahWorldChamp

Judah Friedlander — donning a custom, Aurebesh-script “World Champion” hat — brought both his laid-back brand of stand-up and an old-school Imo’s pizza party to the Firebird for a rare winter performance.

Kelsey McClure — a part-time KDHX employee — in self-described “denim, more denim and feminist boots,” opened the show. Crossing sex, religion and motherly blame, McClure quickly showed how a night of comedy often means no pulled punches. Her advice on being picky with what goes in one’s mouth hit rather hilariously though, as her quick set came to a close. On another note, her interview with Judah Friedlander in the Riverfront Times offers an enjoyable read on comedy and the stand-up process.

Sean O’Brien, host of the excellent local podcast “Tackling Tough Issues,” came on next. He quickly endeared himself with the eloquent and efficient self-deprecating opener, “I need to stop being such a little bitch.” Obviously used to the stage — Sean emcees the St. Louis Funny Bone regularly — the consistent enthusiasm buoyed the set while Sean recounted that every stereotype about car salesmen is accurate.

Then the World Champ arrived onstage.

While most know him from the recently defunct “30 Rock,” his IMDB affords a nostalgic trip through the past 13 years in film. Hitting a memorable cameo in most, Judah has worked tirelessly — he started standup in ’89 — to carve out a niche for himself. Keeping the list short, Judah appeared in “Wet Hot American Summer,” “Zoolander,” “Meet the Parents,” “American Splendor,” “The Wrestler “and even the animated film “Rio.” Bonus points for those who have thrown a ticket in a volunteer cop’s face a la Friedlander in “How High.”

Regardless, having worked with Mickey Rourke, Eddie Murphy, Paul Giamatti and Ben Stiller, it was only Alec Baldwin who wasn’t spared in Friedlander’s routine. “He’s only 3’6″,” Judah deadpanned halfway through the killer performance. One-upping Sean’s approach, Judah actually opened by complementing the applause received during his stroll to the stage. Having put the audience in his back pocket in approximately 30 seconds, he spent the majority of the night trumping the crowd’s comments and his own jokes with aplomb.

Requesting comments and questions from everyone in attendance, Friedlander shows a prodigious ability to riff rather than a structure a set. Focusing on his recent decision to run for President of the United States — apparently an eventual move — the comic filled the fans in on his Presidential platform. On gun control: “The answer is karate, dude, fists don’t run out of fingers.”

However, his paradigm-shifting approach to foreign policy elicited the most raucous laughs of the night. First, by Friedlander’s own genius — “I will unblur all Japanese porn” — and a second time by the question posed, in all-seriousness, from the bar side of the Firebird: “How would you deal with Stalin?”

Friedlander came across as a thoroughly down-to-Earth guy, only kicking out the frontrow couple after the rest of the Firebird set unanimously voted them out, as well as nodding to the venue itself for having a Galaga rig. Before taking off from the stage, Judah invited the entire crowd to the 5 Imo’s pizzas he bought. In as much a co-sign as refutation of Jimmy Kimmel’s national proclamation, Judah declared it “the greatest and shittiest pizza.”

Furthering the invite, he welcomed the faithful to kick it with him over the pizza before an eponymous sex party. One last time, making sure everyone left satisfied, he asked, “Anymore questions about the presidential platform, karate or my dick?”

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