Will Kyle's Posts
|I'm a volunteer KDHX music writer, full-time music lover, poet and graduate student at the University of Missouri St. Louis.|
Concert review: Tegan and Sara (with Diana) showcase new sound for a sellout crowd at the Pageant, Sunday, March 10
Female vocals, samples, blips, clicks, beats, love-lorn milieus, melodies and musical formations familiar, yet different — as if filtered through the air waves of a ’70s and early ’80s radio station — played for the ears and eyes of a sold-out crowd at the Pageant for headliners Tegan and Sara.
Helmed by Carmen Elle’s heavenly and wispy vocals, Toronto’s up-and-comping Diana offered the ebbing crowd a taste of chill-wave pop — think Blondie with twisted nobs and a head full of ludes. Consisting of notable players such as Kieran Adams, Joseph Shabason (Destroyer) and Paul Mathew (Hidden Cameras), Diana stood out as a project to keep an eye on.
“Born Again” rumbled and pulsed with a summer feel dappled with melancholy. The “Ba-doo, ba-doo” vocals propelled the song toward its chorus, setting nice contrast to the scoping electronics and synth. The band’s willingness to experiment — mashing genres and aesthetics — was a pleasure to witness.
“Perpetual Surrender” glowed with warm synth, thick ’80s bass and dark backing vocals. The drop and sudden return of the bass and drums transformed the tune from a sleepy confessional into a danced-charged head-bobber. A juicy saxophone erupted halfway through and transported me to a palm laden beach where lovers languished as waves lapped at a distant waxy sun. There was an undeniable “Surrender” to the track: dulcet, sweet and completely liberating.
After Diana and a set break, Tegan and Sara emerged from the darkness as Tommy James & the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now” played over the house speakers. The cheers and screams subsided and “Back In Your Head” from 2007′s “The Con” spilled forth with muted guitar and syncopated singing.
The song’s keyboard melody enveloped the venue, adding a majesty to the song’s declarative tone. “Walking With a Ghost” reminded the audience of Tegan and Sara’s old sound, featuring slices of razor wire guitar matched with crystalline soprano “Ooos.”
Soon, Tegan and Sara dove into new material from 2013′s slightly controversial “Heartthrob.” “I Was a Fool,” sparkled with a John Hughes-inspired, shoe-gaze, teenage-locker-door-slam-and-walk-down-the-hallway-slow-motion mentality. Think I’m wrong? Take a gander at the album’s cover art (with its air-brushed, photo-collage design). At the age of 30, Tegan and Sara have reinvented themselves with a new sound, making “fools” out of no one.
“I’m Not Your Hero” married Tegan and Sara’s old sound–the duo’s whiplash vocal delivery and tight melodies pulled taught over emotional sentiment–with the modern zeitgeist of poppy synth and hooks. Listening to the tune produced a bit of cognitive dissonance, but the good kind. It felt akin to having one foot in two different decades, as one might straddle states when standing at the United Sates’ famed Four Corners.
Concert review: Kentucky Knife Fight (with Pretty Little Empire and the Ladybirds) release new album to a packed house at Off Broadway on Saturday, March 2
First, let us get the obvious out the way: I love Kentucky Knife Fight and I’m not the only one. The St. Louis band receives plenty of press from local media and beyond, so why do we need another Kentucky Knife Fight concert review?
Well, it is because the band fucking rocks, as does its new record, “Hush Hush,” which was released this Saturday to an Off Broadway packed with adoring fans, family, whiskey swillers, balcony perchers, PBR tippers, hipsters and bar-rock aficionados. Lead singer Jason Holler and company performed at top form; it could not have been a better night to be a Kentucky Knife Fight fan.
St. Louis’ Pretty Little Empire opened the evening promptly and brought a set of tunes that warmed the crowd as more fans trickled in pairs and threes. Soon, the floor at Off Broadway was obscured, with people standing shoulder to shoulder, watching the flush-faced lead singer/acoustic guitarist Justin Johnson as he belted out the shimmering melancholy of his well-crafted tunes.
During “You Can’t Have It All,” from 2010′s “Reason and Rooms,” lead guitarist William Godfred pulled glowing tones from his distorted guitar, which created a glimmering bed of melody to complement Johnson’s David Byrne-influenced singing.
“All I Know” burst at the seams thanks to the tight drumming of Evan O’Neal and Godfred’s scoping guitar-sparkle. During the chorus, Johnson sang, “‘Cause I know what it’s like to feel alone,” just before a huge cymbal crash and wall of sound from the rest of the band. Pretty Little Empire left the stage after a quality set that pleased the hometown crowd.
The Ladybirds, which could be referred to as Kentucky Knife Fight’s Louisville, Ky. sister band, took the stage after Pretty Little Empire and rocked a set that included elements such as the glittering sequins of lead singer Sarah Teeple’s flowing mini dress, a tiny tambourine, a tattered jean jacket, a gold-sparkle bass, a leather jacket, a shirtless Brett Holsclaw on drums, mutton chops on dual keyboards and enough traditional-greaser-punk-rock-doo-wop to rocket regional pomade stock prices into the stratosphere.
With the exception of a few slow numbers, which Teeple dedicated to “all the dirty birdies” in the crowd, The Ladybird’s set was relentless, raucous and energetic. The five-piece band crashed through “Lights Out,” “Shimmy Shimmy Dang,” “She’s Alright,” Billy, Billy, Billy,” and “Hum De Dum” as head-banging, jiving and swing-dancing fans struggled to keep up. The band’s stamina was as impressive as their rocking late-night-diner-style tunes.
Concert review: Man Man (with Murder by Death and Damion Suomi) gets weird with a wild crowd at the Firebird, Monday, February 18
Typically performing as Damion Suomi and the Minor Prophets, Suomi unleashed a stack of songs that showcased his solo-acoustic ability. “City on a Hill,” a Cash-fueled, state-by-state roll-call, culminated in a satisfying drop where Suomi sang, “Fuck it, Ian roll another and we’ll be on our way.”
“Burn the Pain” inspected the station of emotional compromise by way of a moon-lit gothic mystique. Suomi warmed the crowd well, slamming PBRs between songs. “Camel,” “Sunday Morning” and a cover of Blitzen Trapper’s “Furr” finished off Suomi’s set with a flourish, though I felt the cover seemed unnecessary given the high-quality of Suomi’s songs.
After a quick set change, Murder By Death appeared on stage. Small-framed, but big-voiced lead-singer/guitarist, Adam Turla, opened the set with the quick spiritual, “Kentucky Bourbon,” from 2010′s “Good Morning, Magpie.” The song slid into “As Long as There Is Whiskey in the World” aflame with an old-world Pogues feel. Sarah Balliet sawed heartily on her cello, creating a vibrant array of sounds that moved the song from crest to trough to well and back.
“On the Dark Streets Below,” opened with the provision, “Slow down girl, you’ll feel much better in the end,” before bleeding into cello plucking and vibrant trumpet. Turla informed the audience that earlier in the day, the band’s van had gotten broken into by thugs, its sound guy had to go to the hospital — “For some fucked-up spider bite” — and, finally, that its normal multi-instrumentalist, Scott Brackett, was home in Indiana enduring face surgery. Yikes! Nonetheless, Murder By Death’s professionalism, perseverance and poise was only surpassed by an expert performance.
Murder By Death blazed through its set, which included the rustic, gypsy wobble of “You Don’t Miss Twice (When You’re Shaving With a Knife),” “No Oath No Spell,” performed as a serenade, the drunk ramble of “Rumbrave,” the somber “My Hill,” “Lost River,” “Brother,” the Doo-Wop-ing “Spring Break 1899″ and “I’m Coming Home.” As the set slid by, the crowd continued to tipple beers, sloshing suds over the floor and slipping in the hoppy puddles.
After Murder By Death, the stage was completely broken down and rebuilt. Man Man‘s eclectic and complex stage set-up (read spectacle) took about 30 minutes to set up. The band stood on stage twisting knobs, connecting cables, situating keyboards, setting up flowers, blocks, props and strobing LED light elements. During this time, the crowd spiraled further into a boozy delirium, apparently drunk enough to plunk down the requisite twenty dollars for a kitschy, mustachioed alien mask Man Man pushed at its merchandise table. As the band filed on stage wearing all black, I thought I had somehow stepped on a skunk, but it turned out to be a couple burning a jay to my left.
Concert review: Jukebox the Ghost (with Matt Pond and the Lighthouse and the Whaler) let pianos lead the way at the Firebird, Friday, February 15
The Lighthouse and the Whaler’s Michael LoPresti (wearing a sweet bandana) opened the five-piece’s set with “This is an Adventure” from the 2012 release of the same name. LoPresti’s nasally-twee delivery was supported by frenetic mandolin work and violin from his backing multi-instrumentalists.
“Venice,” a breathy love song, found LoPresti crooning, “Why don’t we fall in love?” On “Little Vessels” LoPresti taught the audience the song’s “woah-o-oh” chorus, asking them to sing it back, which they did after some goading. While the band’s folky, pop-outlook was refreshing and the players all put forth an impressive effort, the Lighthouse and the Whaler didn’t do much to differentiate themselves form the legions of bandana-wearing, “woah-oh-oh-ing,” modern indie-rockers.
Matt Pond, having recently ditched the PA from his name in favor of a solo career, played a colorful, uptempo set that ran the gamut between his new work from 2013′s “The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hands,” and his prolific eight-record back catalogue of “PA” tunes.
Pond opened with the jangly and fall-sun-dappled “Halloween” from 2005′s “Several Arrows Later.” The song shined with cello, twinkling piano and Pond’s characteristic relationship-based introspection. “KC” from 2004′s “Emblems” impressed with a catchy, stair-stepping pre-chorus and lyrics based in seasonal change, candle flame and loss. “From Debris” rocked with heavy drums, piano accents and Pond’s lilting, whisper-soft vocals: “From debris you and me could start something.”
At this point in the set, Pond moved into songs from 2013′s “The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hands.” The new sound represents a change for Pond who, after having broken his leg on tour last year, made a record fans could really groove-out to.
Yet another “Woah-o-oh” chorus somehow managed to stand out on “Let Me Live,” while “Love to Get Used” served up break-neck hammer-ons, fusing Pond’s old sound and his new, poppy direction as the tune moved from verse to chorus and back again. Pond rounded out his set with fan-favorite “New Hampshire” and the ephemeral “Wild Girl.”
Jukebox the Ghost, appeared before a banner draped on the back wall of the Firebird that depicted the band’s logo — a childish picture of a ghost with stick arms and googly eyes. Pianist and vocalist Ben Thornewill said a quick hello before guitarist/vocalist Tommy Siegel picked into the muted guitar of “Oh, Emily” from 2012′s “Safe Travels.” Jesse Kristin’s drumming was bombastic and chest rattling. The song served as apology to a girl for breaking her heart. “At Last” found Thornewill scaling up and down his piano, offering a ballad about a boy falling for a girl and doing his best to win her.
Geographer (with ON AN ON and the Sun and the Sea) maps out worlds of sound at the Firebird, Tuesday, January 22
The Sun and the Sea, a five-piece, emo-influenced synth band, opened the night at the Firebird with a short set of tunes which included “Waves” and “Valiant” from 2012′s “Vega.” “Valiant” came off as drippy, with the droll emotional sentiment, “You are the one, what am I to do?”
“Almost Home” pulsed with wall-of-sound, careening guitars and an interesting ambient element. I wondered at the three guitarists all blaring the same three chords during “One by One” and grew bewildered by the redundancy. The Sun and the Sea quit the stage after a tune that sounded like Cold Play mashed up with the Script, sadly awash in poorly harmonized falsetto work.
Chicago/Minneapolis-based ON AN ON (formed by members of Scattered Trees) appeared on stage for a messy, drawn out sound check. Vocalist and synth player Alissa Ricci looked unhappy with her vocal mix and soon let the Firebird’s sound operator know it. I felt bad for the guy; Ricci’s eyes glinted with the fire of frustration; a lipstick-smeared toothpick dangled from her lips.
Lead singer and guitarist Nate Eiesland strummed into “The Hunter” from “Give In” (due out in late January). Eiesland sang into a de-tuned/robotic secondary microphone duct-taped to his main microphone. This may have been responsible for Ricci’s initial sound frustration. Still, the song featured excellent background “Ahh-ahhs” from both Ricci and bassist/singer Ryne Estwing.
“War Is Gone” provided 10 tons of effect-based bells and whistles and a Mario Kart twinkle, but still managed to seem a tad lifeless. During “All the Horses,” the band projected a Burton-esque nightmare spiral on the back wall of the Firebird that distracted from the song’s manic dynamics.
ON AN ON rolled out a cover of Hot Chip’s “Boy From School,” which jived with its original music, but also seemed to overshadow it. The group concluded with the excellent “Ghosts” and “Every Song,” which along with “The Hunter,” stood tall as the evening’s high points, inhabiting a set that in the end felt a bit unfocused, but was nonetheless satisfying.
Geographer‘s Michael Deni strode on stage wearing a puffy, black designer jacket with his signature, unkempt hair flopping near the venue’s ceiling. Cello and synth player Nathan Blaz readied a myriad of blinking machines posited at his feet. Drummer Brian Ostreicher cracked his knuckles and slipped on a pair of headphones that would provide the backing samples for the evening’s tunes.
Concert review: Local H (with Animal Empty) almost starts a holiday riot at the Firebird, Friday, December 21
Animal Empty opened the raucous evening at the Firebird with a gothic set of tunes helmed by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, Ali Ruby. The four-piece band slid from heavy post-rock verses to jams that featured a light Latin influence, which Ruby accentuated with nice trumpet work.
“Goodbye” grew from an acoustic jangle to a lilting confession from the raspy-throated Ruby. Drummer Mike Craft flooded the room with well-timed floor-tom rolls. The song deftly mixed the sounds of Our Lady Peace, “Ugly Organ-era”-Cursive and modern post-rock female vocal elements.
“The Flood (Sensual Centaur)” scaled with a tight, near-math-rock drum rhythm. Alec Frisch’s guitar rang layered with the perfect level of distortion, while next to him, Aaron Cajilig bobbed along on bass, as Ruby breathed the song’s chorus like an incantation.
After Animal Empty left the stage, Local H‘s mastermind, Scott Lucas, appeared strumming immediately into “Waves” from 2012′s “Hallelujah! I’m a Bum.” The song built on a wall-of-sound guitar drone with dreamy vocals, which Lucas sang as he quickly plugged in the bass pickup on his modified guitar. Amazing that such a small thing allows Local H to remain a duo.
Local H’s other member, drummer Brian St. Clair, sat on the other side of the stage with a double-stack amp pointing directly at him and his drum set. He adjusted his gloves and sweatbands, took a drink of whiskey and charged to life as Lucas cranked into “Cold Manor.” Weezer contrails mingled with up-beat pop-rock, Lucas subverting both with his snarky, judgmental style.
As a form of punctuation, Lucas spit on the floor kicking out the chords to “Bound to the Floor” from 1996′s “As Good As Dead.” The crowd screamed the lyrics back at Lucas, “Born to be down…” I reveled in the ’90s glory of the tune, which back then, taught me the word “copacetic,” and now conjures memories of plastic beer cups and mud sailing through the air of some long-lost PointFest.
The social commentary that Lucas builds into Local H’s stood strong. “They Saved Reagan’s Brain” featured Lucas howling catchy “o-o-o’s” then singing, “There is no use running with the Chinese coming and I don’t want to see this world burn no more.” The still pertinent, “All the Kids are Right,” from 1998′s “Pack Up the Cats,” sparkled with its sage lyrics, “All the kids they hold a grudge, their minds are logged onto the net.”
“Everyone Alive” from “What Ever Happened To P.J. Soles?” hammered hard with Foo Fighters overtones and call/response from the audience. “Night Flight To Paris,” shaded toward grunge-metal, while “Feed a Fever” rocked with a barroom swagger, similar to something the Hold Steady might attempt.
“Another February” stood-out as an excellent angry punk-balled, offering massive guitar and drum drops. “Hands on the Bible” from “Here Comes the Zoo,” shuffled and accentuated the fact that the world didn’t end in 2012.
Concert review: Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons (with Derek Hoke and Tim Gebauer) balance introspection with barroom rock, elicit nudity at Off Broadway, Friday, December 14
St. Louis native and legend Tim Gebauer opened with a three-piece band, including an electric guitarist and a female keyboard player. With ties to Sleepy Kitty and a personal desire to not venture too far out into the world of live music, the bearded Gebauer stood respectfully before the crowd offering morose, semi-fantastical ballads about love, loss and the gaps where life painfully slips in between the two.
A song that featured Gebauer lamenting, “To meet her” caught my ear with its attention to imagistic detail and experiential understanding of human life. Another track, during which Gebauer belted, “I wish I were underwater,” neared the pop idiom, but never overstepped the intimate boundary between quality, genre-work and cliché.
Derek Hoke brought St. Louis a traditional, Nashville-infused set. On “Gone Gone Gone” Hoke replaced record-side keys with well-executed, distorted guitar. Likewise, “Mean Mama” was “meaner” than its record counterpart. Playing with Hoke, Mark Roberts, ex-standup-bass player of the Dirt Daubers, shaded from slap-bluegrass to a more careful and studied style, telling me personally his own playing is “tighter” when playing with Hoke.
Overall, Hoke’s show was delivered appropriately more up-beat and booze-addled than his the straight, Nashville-style of his recordings, with spurs, streetlights and waterfalls of tremolo. Most of the songs, such as “Lonely Street” and “Cumberland Blues,” were improved by the barroom treatment.
Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, who oddly also feature a “daughter,” Adriel Harris, unleashed a set of Southern-ized folk rock tunes intimate and full of romantic bombast. In addition to Harris, Chisel brought a three-piece band, which rocked along with the duo on most of the evening’s tunes.
“This Is How It Goes,” from 2012′s “Old Believers,” bounded through American-pop vespers with Harris’ melty backing vocals. “I’ve Been Accused” found Chisel plucking his guitar and singing, “I’ve been accused of loving you for so long now that I can see where I went wrong.”
Chisel’s vocal timbre and rock-star swagger was so impressive that one woman leapt on stage, turned and flashed the audience her light-pink nipples. Here, I must claim a personal Off Broadway first. Boobs! It took a second for Chisel to regain composure, laughing as he started up the next song.
“Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors Vol. 1″ will make you proud to be, too — of being American and a Missourian.
Initiated by the Missouri Humanities Council and the Warriors Arts Alliance, the anthology consists of literature collected from all over America, edited by Susan Swartwout and published by Southeast Missouri State University Press. This collection of narratives and poetry is written by living men and women who have served in the military, taking us into the heart of the matter of our wars.
Yes, our wars, wars we civilians may try to deny — I’m thinking of Vietnam and other recent unpopular wars — and yet which belong to us all as Americans, wars we must own, must invite into our minds, so as to heal and unify as a nation. If, as Franz Kafka wrote, a book should be “the axe for the frozen sea within us,” “Proud to Be…” has both mighty heft and a fine edge.
The collection recalls the best of American war writing. There’s a loud echo of Randall Jarrell’s famous “Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” in Jonah E. Krause’s “53 Alpha,” wherein we ride with the ensconced gunner atop the truck grinding through Baghdad.
Like the narrator of “The Great Gatsby,” Nick Carraway, who returns to the Midwest from World War I feeling like it is “the ragged edge of the universe,” in “Proud to Be…” the Vietnam vet, of Jay Harden’s “Between Wives,” speaks to us decades after his war, carrying yet the unmistakable “heavy boots” of spirit: “Now I live in my pajamas, a solitary recluse in my house in the company of familiar, buckling depression and a cold computer screen.” Conversely, the anthology also features great humor and the warmth of camaraderie.
The young soldier of “The Red Badge of Courage,” who shakes his fist at the indifferent sun, is reborn in the stargazing soldiers of Levi Bollinger’s “Distant Seitz”: “But we, under the arc of those trajectories,/stare above at the same smattering of/heavenly beauties in divine parade/that has smiled lightly down on millennia/of Mesopotamian bloodshed.”
Here, too, in “Proud to Be…” grows another branch of the tradition of American war literature, the feminine voice, the modern role of woman, who must negotiate additional and different terms of military service. Lauren K. Johnson’s “The Soldier’s Two-Step” details the woman’s “Dancing between two worlds; her/partner the cold barrel of a/gun, music the hollow tones of war and hollow, cheerful voices on/the phone. This is the melody of loneliness.”
Many of the contributions to this anthology seek to depict the chasm between civilian and military life, to show the great divide and perhaps to shorten the distance between these two worlds. In the detailing of loneliness, loss, incomprehension, filth and alienation of war, such narrative and verse shock us into some measure of understanding, perhaps budding profound awareness, of what our men and women went through and must face when they come home.
“Proud to Be…” opens us to experience war in personal ways rarely delivered through expected media channels. It is a vital first volume, one that makes me not only proud to be an American, but a Missouri-American.
Join a host of veteran writers as they read their work from “Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors” at the anthology’s release event hosted by the St. Louis Poetry Center at the Focal Point on Tuesday, November 27 at 7:30 pm.