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Concert review: Unlikey duet of masters Béla Fleck and Chick Corea brings the Touhill crowd to its feet, Saturday, March 23

Béla Fleck and Chick Corea at the Touhill. Photo by Wil Wander.

The crowd filled the lobby of the Touhill Performing Arts Center in waves, pouring down the stairs in a cascade of diversity.

Easily spanning over seven decades of age disparity and donning attire ranging from flannel and tie-dye to evening dresses and three-piece suits, the eager patrons mingled their way through the sounds of the Jazz St. Louis All-Stars to take their place in the ever growing line at the concession stand. This came as little surprise as this unusual combination of musicians was bound to stir up fans from all walks of life.

Béla Fleck‘s career most closely reflects the variety of cultures in attendance that night as the innovative banjo player has garnered Grammy nominations in more categories than any other performer in the history of music, diving into the realms of country, jazz and pop. Perhaps best known for leading his band Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, including the now celebrated bassist Victor Wooten, Fleck has generated an infectious love the of the banjo that continues to inspire young musicians and impress the masters.

Joining Fleck on stage was Chick Corea, one the aforementioned masters of the jazz world. Performing and recording with Miles Davis during his early career and leading a number of bands including the eminent fusion act Return to Forever, Corea has been active in the scene for over 50 years and has continually helped progress the roll of the piano in modern jazz. He has also become well accustomed to the fading duet format, recording and performing with contemporary Herbie Hancock and rising phenom Hiromi Uehara among other notables.

After a generous and excited introduction from Jazz St. Louis’ Gene Dobbs Bradford, the performers took the stage to an instant uproar from the near capacity crowd. Making a humorous spectacle out of the simple actions of sitting down and setting up the sheet music, the duet soon began with one of Corea’s compositions, “Señorita.” This choice set the tone for the night well, as it demonstrated many of the best aspects of the duet form including many call and responses, unified riffs and syncopated grooves. Fleck’s feet generally illustrated the mood of each segment, staying still when trying to support Corea’s lead parts, tapping one foot on his own leads and bouncing them both during the most natural jams.

The duet treated the crowd to two lengthy sets full of twists and surprises. Often the initial style of the song disappeared into a natural flow of form and design. The pair mixed the sounds of straight-forward jazz, blues, funk, bluegrass, folk and a little dabble of rock and country at times, taking the audience on a journey through the depths of music. They largely tackled their own compositions, but included the Stevie Wonder ballad “Overjoyed,” regarded by Wonder as a “new standard” in a conversation recollected by Corea. Throughout their sets, most songs ended with Corea standing quickly from his bench with the appearance of accomplishment; the duo received countless standing ovations throughout the night in response.

Humor made a constant appearance throughout the night as both performers were rather comfortable on the microphone between songs. They made jokes about the unintelligible song names the other came up with, and Fleck poked fun at a song titled “Waltz for Abby,” which was written for his wife, who he teased may be an axe murderer. There were even times when one musician would go off into such a frenzy of notes that the other would simply sit and stare, offering single notes and chords with a smirk and look of amazement in accompaniment. While not their first time appearing as a duet, the two performers seemed to have a chemistry built on mutual respect and the other’s reputation, both honored and amazed to share the stage together.

They closed the night with a two-song encore, adding a substantial treat to the night and demonstrating their chemistry vividly as they attacked even the speediest phrases in unison and sometimes finished each others’ riffs, sounding not like a duet but a single, four-handed creature. Perhaps a few Flecktones fans were taken back by the jazzier format of the night, but not a person left without a look of astonishment and admiration.

Concert review and set lists: Tea Leaf Green and Tumbleweed Wanderers blossom at the Firebird, Thursday, February 14

Tea Leaf Green at Firebird. Photo by Wil Wander.

On Valentine’s Day in St. Louis, a Galactic show at the Pageant offered competition for music fans’ affections, but Tea Leaf Green still drew a healthy crowd of loyal supporters and date-nighters to the Firebird.

The attire ranged from jeans and Grateful Dead t-shirts to sport jackets and sweaters and even included a few party dresses and finer hats as the diversity of the crowd reflected the diversity of sounds on stage. Whether looking to rock, jam, groove or just dance, the show was sure to deliver.

Tumbleweed Wanderers opened the evening and complemented the headliners’ style well. Based just across the bay from Tea Leaf Green’s San Francisco home, the Oakland ensemble blends the sounds of soul, folk and rock into an eclectic groove. Dressed with a disregard for uniformity, each member of the five man group offered their own flavor to the mix through an assortment of instruments. With three vocalists, each song offered its own style and opportunities for deeper harmonies.

The band’s set featured a selection of original compositions based in the roots of jam style music, and was capped off with a soulful cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me.” Still relatively new to the scene, the band and its set provided a good foundation for concert jams and studio albums, but the confidence to experiment and explore seemed to lack at times while the solos often proved that each musician was more than capable of doing so. It would be great to see these guys again in a couple years as they will likely blossom and reach the level of groups like the headliners.

As the set break let-up, the crowd quickly began to vie for position at the front of the stage and had filled in quite densely. Josh Clark stepped to the mic and began with a simple, Simpsons inspired introduction, “We’re Tea Leaf Green and we choo-choo choose you.” By the end of the opening song and jam session, the entire crowd had gathered tightly in front of the stage, leaving all of the other sections of the venue eerily empty. The total number of fans may have been just off their pull last summer, but it felt like a full house to everyone in the pit.

Without releasing any new material, Tea Leaf Green tours extensively with a different feel and sound in each show so that even the most dedicated fan never has the same concert experience twice, even if they were to repeat songs. This show had a different feel from the last as they opened with many of their high energy tunes before exploring the other depths of their sound mid-set and building back to a few favorites at the end.

While each and every member of the band is worthy of praise and attention, it was the bands cohesion that stood out. Josh Clark and Trevor Garrod often started the songs with their individual vocal styles, but the jams highlighted everyone, even during the solos. For those unfamiliar with Tea Leaf Green, one of the most distinctive aspects of the act is the drumming duo of McMillan and Scott Rager who demonstrate the bands cohesion with every rhythm, neither ever dominating with rhythms over accents. As veterans, they’ve become a prototypical assembly of musicians and a role model to others in the scene.

Often it was the break-down segments and introductions that stood out in the set, but perhaps the most distinctive moment was a two song segment featuring an acoustic trio set-up. Reed Mathis and Josh Clark put down their electric bass and guitar for the organic alternatives, while Garrod picked up a banjo and joined the others center stage. The three played and sang huddled around a single microphone as they played “Stick to the Shadows” and “I Believe,” which pulled the slowly spreading crowd back to the front again.

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Concert review: Wax Tailor takes the Demo on a journey of music, video and imagination, Saturday, February 2

Wax Tailor at the Demo. Photo by Wil Wander.

The Demo, the newly redesigned venue where the Fox Hole has long lived at the Atomic Cowboy, started to fill particularly early on Saturday night for a rare appearance by Wax Tailor.

The crowd gradually saturated the area around the bar as DJ Needles treated them to a mix of mostly hip-hop staples with a few deep bass electronic instrumentals to balance the sound. By the time DJ Zev took over, the floor space was beginning to be at a premium. Moving untouched was impossible.

Zev opened with a short set of popular songs in a mash style that was hit or miss with the tastes of the diverse crowd, but they all came around when Sam Lachow and Raz Simone took the stage. The Seattle partnership produced a genuinely pleasing sound with mellow flows and opened with a selection of tracks that featured jazz samples and instrumental production. They all seemed to have an ear for the music and a sense of showmanship that connected well with most of the crowd, though others craved a little more depth from the lyrical content and over-all composition. Nevertheless, the crowd filled in thickly and was well primed for the long awaited headliners.

The banner on the DJ table was decorated with the tour logo and read “Wax Tailor: The Dusty Rainbow Experience”; it could not have been more aptly titled. Based off the 2012 album “Dusty Rainbow From the Dark,” the entire show flowed together with a mix of music and video that took the audience on a journey with this magnificent French act. The album itself features a narrative of a young boy and his record player. That story of a voyage into his imagination was also featured in the performance.

The show included the majority of the tracks from the album, tastefully mixed with selections from previous albums. Each track was accompanied by its own custom video, many using footage from the original music videos, but usually with adaptations to mesh with the live mixing element of the show. Beyond the narration of the album, the video experience showed the child aging and beginning his own family, adding a beautiful conclusion to the story.

Wax Tailor is primarily the alias of Jean-Christophe “JC” Le Saoût, but is never simply the producer-DJ. Throughout the course four studio albums, dozens of vocal and instrumental musicians have been featured, and many of them involved in the tours. Typically, there is a full band, but for this tour, two of the most cherished vocalists in the Wax Tailor family handled the workload. JC stayed on top of a very active DJ mix full of scratches, loops and samples while hosting the entire experience.

Charlotte Savary handled the majority of the melodic and ethereal style vocals for the night. Possibly the most featured vocalist throughout the Wax Tailor discography, she sings with a delicate touch that is both jazzy and soulful, and undeniably enchanting. In addition to tracks she’s traditionally featured in, she masterfully handled songs originally featuring Jennifer Charles, Sara Genn and Ali Harter, drawing from their individual styles to mix with her own. Savary further connected with the audience with a natural stage presence that came out as she danced and interacted with the other performers.

In addition to the sweet sounds, Wax Tailor often built the energy back up with tracks that featured a skilled lyricist and performer, Daryl Parks. Known as Mattic, Parks energizes the crowd without relying heavily on hype, but rather uses clearly delivered flows, poignant lyrics and an inherent charisma to keep things moving. Like Savary, he went beyond the parts he recorded on the albums and handled verses by other performers such as Akua Naru, Elzhi, and A State of Mind (ASM). Even with these talented vocalists, the show included recorded verses as well, but all mixed live and delivered with the videos and narratives to fit the experience.

After the set, JC returned to the stage donning a KDHX t-shirt to perform an encore of two fan favorites from past albums before relinquishing the stage to DJ Needles and local hip-hop crew 18andCounting who performed for those seeking extended thrills on a snowy night.

Concert review and set list: Dave Holland captains a captivating quintet at Jazz at the Bistro, Wednesday, January 30

Dave Holland at Jazz at the Bistro. Photo by Wil Wander.

Despite a half-empty room, the chatter filled Jazz at the Bistro with an energy thick enough to feel as patrons moved slowly to their seats.

Those that had stayed from the first set made proclamations and promises of transcendental experiences to each new face that entered the room. It was obvious that an authentic legend and master was in the building. Dave Holland would soon prove his reputation as both a musician and band leader by directing this quintessential quintet.

Holland emerged to the world of jazz in no subtle manner as he was a stable member of Miles Davis’ band for the span of five years and nine albums including the eminent “Bitches Brew.” He’s performed and recorded with many of the other great names in jazz throughout his career and began to lead his own bands when he was just 25. Now, with over 40 years of experience in his role, Holland leads a truly superior quintet that has settled down in St. Louis for a four-night stay.

Even before the music started, the presence of a vibraphone and marimba at the side of the stage suggested an escape from a standard arrangement. Steve Nelson, a band leader and composer himself, manned these giant, chromatic percussion instruments with athleticism. While he featured the vibraphone, he would seamlessly turn 180 degrees for a quick, single bar riff on the marimba before turning back, and often shuffled his feet to reach the highest and lowest bars. His solo during “Cosmosis” featured fluid streams of cascading riffs as he bounced with the rhythms, but it was his dexterity with the mallets that truly stood out as magnificent, seemingly able to hit four octaves simultaneously to create vibrantly dynamic chords.

As the set continued, Robin Eubanks stood out among the quintet, often taking the lead melodies and the widest selection of solos. They were all well merited as he handled his trombone with both finesse and agility, milking the slide for drawn out, slurred segments and even matching the speed of a drum-roll with a frenzy of tongue taps not often found in the bass register. He worked very well with Mark Turner on the saxophones, who stands in for Chris Potter on this tour. The two didn’t behave like a horn section, but rather played off each other and the band much like a piano duet. They would bounce riffs back and forth, and at times would seem to finish each others’ phrases and even improvise in syncopation.

The backline of the quintet was composed of Holland on his short bodied, double bass and Nate Smith on drums. Holland proves to be one of the more modest band leaders touring today. Showing his experience and wisdom, he rarely took a solo or assumed an attention grabbing style, but he was always playing something that fit the song beautifully while continually defying expectations. Smith filled a similar role, often locked on with other members of the band, accentuating the rhythms perfectly with well selected tones from the drumset and a high-energy style.

As a quintet, they meshed with a well established familiarity with each other and the song selections, which were largely cheerful in mood throughout the set. While Dave Holland may be the master, every bit of the show was a group effort. Every musician’s part was necessary to create the sound and the flow of each piece, which further demonstrated Holland’s prowess as a leader. He remains a treasure in the world of jazz and a role model to all who play a note.

Set list (including composer):

Looking Up (Eubanks)
Cosmosis (Holland)
The Sum of All Parts (Eubanks)
Go Fly a Kite (Nelson)
The Eyes Have It (Holland)

The Bad Plus continues a January tradition at Jazz at the Bistro, Wednesday, January 16

The Bad Plus at Jazz at the Bistro. Photo by Wil Wander.

“January has officially arrived because the Bad Plus is in St. Louis,” remarked Jazz at the Bistro‘s Bob Bennett as he introduced the trio on this, their seventh annual stay at the prized listening room.

By the time the band finishes its current four-night stint, the Minnesota-based crew will have shared 56 different sets with their fans and supporters in our fair city, and we just can’t get enough. This year’s tour is packed with new material from the recent studio album “Made Possible,” as well as classic favorites and legendary covers, all in the Bad Plus’ unmatched avant-garde style.

Bassist Reid Anderson emceed the evening, seasoning the mood with barrage of wryly humorous, improvised anecdotes. Delivered with a friendly placidity that resembled the late Mr. Rogers, these stories and introductions stirred the audience (and his bandmates) into a slow-building chuckle each time he took the microphone. Most notably, they connected everyone in the room together into a single mood and mindset and seemed to mirror the design and even thought process of the music. It’s not only the sounds that turn a concert into an experience and there are few that demonstrate that with more proficiency than Reid Anderson.

While the spoken excursions were more than enjoyable, this was a jazz show after all, so the gentlemen played a little music while they were there. Their sets often include a handful of covers, but this time they elected to go almost entirely original, largely from the new album, but also reaching as far back to their 2003 release “These Are the Vistas” for the finale. Dave King started the evening on the drum set with a fast and fierce introduction to “Cheney Piñata,” but the song soon settled as Ethan Iverson joined with a cheerful, major-key part on the piano and Anderson evened out the rhythm on bass.

The early songs served as an introduction to their style and individual talents, just in case there were any first time attendees. Anderson may take the spotlight with a microphone in his hand, but while standing next to a bass, his style is far more about finesse and wisdom. With their regular voyages into the world of experimental sound and rhythm, his bass lines offer a backbone of stability for the band and audience alike. Often, it’s one beautifully selected note that diverges from the expected, but Anderson seems to know exactly what needs to be done and precisely when, and then even more precisely disregard that thought entirely for just that moment.

Ethan Iverson’s parts offer a similar touch. While many would expect the piano to be at the forefront of a trio with a bass and drum set, like Anderson, he proves to be quite cunning at balancing an established and relatively predictable groove with intense deviations and a peppering of piercing chords. His play was very peaceful and even resembled a ballad at times, while at other times, his fingers would scurry up and down the octaves in a flurry of bebop like riffs, even pulling him off the bench to crouch at the high end of the house piano. Regardless of his moments of intensity, his expression remains serene throughout the performance as if exhaling the music slowly after a deep breath.

However, anyone that’s seen a single performance of this trio knows that Dave King personifies the band’s sound above the others. Virtually a source of perpetual energy, the drummer plays as if every performance is a joyful out-of-body experience. King not only pulls from a bottomless pit rhythms and variations but expertly expands a simple drum kit’s sound with some truly creative methods. Often mid-song, he would constantly switch between brushes, mallets and both ends of the drum sticks, as well as striking a variety of points on the rims and sides of the drums and cymbals.

During “Sing for a Silver Dollar,” the entire trio experimented with various sounds as Iverson played the inside of the piano and Anderson brushed his palm up and down the strings of his bass. However, it’s King’s ingenuity that is without comparison as he forcefully scraped the blunt end of his drumsticks across his muted cymbals and even brought out a number of children’s toys. Most notably was the guest appearance of two E.T. walkie-talkies that used variations of feedback in conjunction with the acoustics of the floor tom to create the desired sound.

Perhaps it was at this moment that the musicians best defined who they are. They are the unparalleled, the avant-garde and the masterfully wise; they are the Bad Plus.

Concert review: Gregory Porter serves up soul and groove at Jazz at the Bistro, Sunday, January 6

Gregory Porter at Jazz at the Bistro. Photo by Wil Wander.

Joined by a well-crafted quartet, Gregory Porter has been dropping jaws around the world since his well-received debut album “Water” was released in 2010.

While the modern jazz scene is often dominated by the most finely educated musicians, Porter’s path included a football scholarship to San Diego State University. When a shoulder injury extinguished his hopes for a career in athletics, the world of music serendipitously received this soulful baritone, and after appearances at the world’s finest jazz havens, including the North Sea Jazz Festival and Jazz at Lincoln Center, the entire globe is quickly becoming aware of his rare vocal gift. On a seemingly perpetual tour since his 2012 album “Be Good,” Porter came to St. Louis for a delightful four-night stay at Jazz at the Bistro.

The quartet included the same line-up that recorded the recent album and did plenty to impress the crowd on their own. For the 9:30 p.m. set on Sunday, they took the stage without their vocalist to open up with an instrumental piece and set the tone for the evening. While there were no weak members of the group, Yosuke Sato seemed to lead the crew on his alto sax, delivering masterful solos on almost every song. The introductory piece showed off his speed and deep arsenal of licks in a quick, bebop style. But as the show progressed, he continued to amaze the crowd with demonstrations of finesse and a masterfully light touch. Beyond his pure skill and capabilities, Sato had a strong connection to the music, which spread throughout the crowd during his groovy and melodic-styled solo during a slightly up-tempo performance of “On My Way to Harlem.”

Also included in the cast were pianist Chip Crawford, bassist Aaron James and drummer Emanuel Harrold; each offered their own influence on the performance. Like Sato, Crawford was fairly active with solos and varied the style just as much, all accompanied by a bright, childlike facial expression. His solo during “1960 What?” brought an immediate uproar of applause as he reached inside the Bistro’s piano with his left hand while jamming out a broken chord rhythm with his right. Harrold also took a couple solos to shine, working from a simple drum set-up, but was highlighted by his selection of cymbals, manicured with drilled holes and electrical tape and all played with a very deliberate touch. James’ part on the bass was perhaps easy to overlook, but not at all insignificant. While he never soloed or had a lead part in any song, his bass lines gave each song a stable foundation that allowed the others to be more free. It was clear he loved plucking every note of his parts.

Wearing his iconic headwear and a smile that seemed wider than his face, Gregory Porter appeared to start singing before he even stepped up to the microphone. Towering above the crowds, he demonstrated a remarkable feel for using distance and direction to precisely create his desired tone and intensity, sometimes standing as far as four feet from the microphone as he did. Additionally, Porter wasn’t afraid to dabble with a few methods and styles that might be considered taboo to many of his vocalist peers, including emphasizing and holding selected consonant sounds and cracking his voice momentarily. This all contributed to the inimitable performance the Porter served the crowd.

While the show favored songs from the newer album including performances of “God Bless the Child,” “Imitation of Life,” “The Way You Want to Live” and a finale of the title track “Be Good,” in addition to “On My Way to Harlem,” the most notable performance of the night was unarguably “1960 What?,” from the album “Water.” After having a little bit of extra fun during the introduction, the band started the main verse with a little less tempo than the original, but the energy built quickly. It included a call and return segment that had the entire audience singing back to him, a rarity in this listening room. As the song developed into a hard groove jam, crowd members along the walls and in the back began to stand and dance, while the rest rocked back and forth in their chairs, filling the room with a symphony of snaps, claps and foot stomps in what became venue-wide jam session.

The show concluded with a couple more soulful and smooth songs to calm the sizzling crowd, leaving the audience in a state of blissful elation as Porter and the quartet descended the stage. Never retreating to the green room, the band took the time for a final meet and greet before their stay at the Bistro was finished. While a return seems more than likely, everyone is sure to remember the first time Gregory Porter came to Jazz at the Bistro.

Concert review: Downtown gets up with Camp Lo’s Uptown Saturday Night at Lola, Saturday, December 15

Camp Lo at Lola. Photo by Wil Wander.

On Saturday night Lola was bustling and full of life long before the music started. People came in dressed to impress with nostalgic late ’90s style and quickly scattered around the club, filling every available seat shortly after doors opened at nine.

For many in the audience, this was a night 15 years in the making, and this slightly aging crowd regained their youthful spirit amid a buzz of anxious chatter.

DJ Mahf opened up the show with a one-hour DJ set blending many popular new tracks with a fair helping of ’90s flavor. The crowd was strangely unfamiliar with the local DJ, but all were quickly enamored with his skill and track selection which included favorites like the Digable Planets’ “Rebirth of the Slick (Cool Like That)” and the quintessential Souls of Mischief cut, “93 ‘Til Infinity.” By the end of his set, much of the crowd had already started to migrate to the front and vie for standing position.

Mahf was joined by Indyground compatriot and Kansas City emcee Steddy P to kick off the word-slinging portion of the show. The two have toured extensively together throughout the past year to promote numerous releases from the label including the recent While You Were Sleeping 2: End of the World Party. Steddy P came hard, leading with a selection of bangers to hype up the crowd with a mid-set, two-track feature from Farout. The crowd responded more notably to the tracks that were built from chill grooves and resembled the headliners’ classic style than the vigorous and powerful songs that dominated the set, but they were certainly energized and appreciative of the twosome’s ability to get the party moving.

After a brief hiatus, Mahf dropped the first Camp Lo track and the crowd fell silent for a brief moment of realization before erupting in cheers and screams. The Bronx duo made an entrance from the 14th Street doorway, each decked out in a nice coat, scarf, and fedora combination. They took their stances side by side on stage and immediately started the show. It was set to be a memorable night as Geechi Suede and Sonny Cheeba were going to perform their highly acclaimed debut album Uptown Saturday Night in its entirety as they have throughout the year to commemorate the 15 year anniversary of its release. Many in the audience knew all the words to every track, while most knew at least some of the words and screamed them out at every opportunity.

The small stage was confined by DJ set-ups on either side and didn’t allow for much movement, but the veterans remained lively from their stable stances on stage. After performing the album for a decade and a half, the two emcees have mastered their delivery and flawlessly performed without a single noticeable slip of the tongue, despite the toothpick in Cheeba’s mouth. Mahf had the honor of backing them up from the tables and meshed well, tactfully handling the cuts and the tempo changes track to track, each one resulting in instant cheers from the crowd. They performed each track from the album, obviously with the featured emcees removed, and made a brief announcement of some upcoming releases with producers Ski Beatz and Pete Rock. After a quick thank you and a final track from the album, they relinquished the stage as quickly as they took it.

The Vaporz took over the music for the remainder of the night, mixing a combination of DJs with a little bit of hype and delivering a set true to the classic elements of hip-hop. The crowd remained too thick to move to even to the bar or bathroom, but people were still fighting their way in to catch the aftermath of the great night. Camp Lo’s performance was brief but straight to the point and performed with expertise and the crowd was anything but disappointed.

Concert review: Spose leads a squad of Maine attractions at Fubar, Tuesday, December 4

Spose at Fubar. Photo by Wil Wander.

Perhaps it was simply an early show on a Tuesday or perhaps there just wasn’t enough exposure and promotion, but St. Louis did not show up to support Spose and the others from Preposterously Dank Entertainment. The low turnout was certainly not for a lack of talented performers.

A crowd of less than 20 assembled in the main performance room at Fubar as the performers took advantage of the small numbers to mingle before the show. Over half of the attendants traveled hours from distances as far as Dallas to join these southern Maine based artists in their first St. Louis performance, the furthest southwest they’ve ever toured. Despite the small attendance, every eye was locked on stage, every head bobbed on a spring and there was an abundance of hands carelessly waving in the air as the P-Dank family shared its unique hip-hop blend.

The performance was opened up with Ock Cousteau, a newer project featuring two members of the Educated Advocates crew. It teamed up emcee Mike B with DJ/emcee Jay Caron, who handled the DJ mix throughout the entire show. The pair had starkly different energy levels on stage, as Mike B bounced around as he delivered his peppered flow and Jay more commonly maintained a power-stance, punctuating his verses with intense facial expressions. Despite this difference, they meshed well together and had a clear chemistry as they doled out amusing lyrics over funky production.

Cam Groves followed with an impressively manicured set, building from downtempo grooves ripe with elements of soul to a more lively style, all accompanied by a traditionally styled flow. He drew the crowd in, nearly colliding with the front row as he often took positions at the very front of the stage in a variety of stances and poses. Set highlights included a sweet track that featured Kristina Kentigian on the hook, a magnetic narration piece, and a freestyle segment that wasn’t at all fearful to venture into double-time pace. A long time friend and collaborator with Spose, his set felt more like a second headliner than an opening spot.

Ryan Peters, best known as Spose, was far from alone when he took the stage. Cam Groves and Jay Caron each stayed on stage in support roles as Kentigian was welcomed back to the stage to be featured throughout the set. His style mocks the music industry, at times blending poppy elements and ironic use of gimmicks over a foundation of rock-flavored hip-hop. Sarcasm and satire are frequent in his lyrics, addressing the challenges of making it despite being a free-thinking individual from the corner of the country.

He opened his set with “Gee Willikers” and “Can’t Get There From Here,” two singles that well represent his style and message. Like Groves, he performed very intimately with the crowd, hopping from the stage a number of times and often remaining within an arm’s reach of the front row. The entire P-Dank group was involved in the liveliest set of the evening, leading the crowd in claps and backing them up on the call and response segments, including repeating a list of Spose’s favorite obscenities amongst cheers and laughter. At one point, Peters invited everyone in the crowd to “do something stupid,” and proceeded to dance in a goofy manner while the crowd joined with their own absurd moves.

After all the hilarity, Spose brought meaning back to the set with his later song selections, including a narrative about overcoming bullying called “Jimmy!” and closing with “Knocking On Wood,” which addressed the complaints of the privileged and taking things for granted. Throughout his set, the crowd crammed further and further forward until they were jumping and dancing shoulder to shoulder within the front five feet of the nearly empty room.

Spose proved to not only be a clever lyricist and musician, but a veteran and expert performer, sparing no effort due to the small crowd. This may have been one of the greatest shows that St. Louis simply did not attend.

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