Video preview: An Under Cover Weekend 6, September 7 and 8 at the Firebird

Once again, we find ourselves at the time of year that everyone loves: An Under Cover Weekend, that magical pair of nights when some fine local artists in St. Louis put aside their own works to pay tribute to their idols.

Here is a small sample featuring some of the legends that will be covered at AUCW 6 (either the legend doing a cover, or another artist paying tribute to the legend), and a teaser for what we can expect to find at the Firebird on September 7 and 8. Check out the full lineup.

Depeche Mode covering “So Cruel” by U2

U2 started out as a rock band and embraced electronic music as time went on. The opposite holds true for Depeche Mode. The universal truth that good music remains good music when played by good musicians is proven in this track, where Depeche Mode takes “So Cruel” and transforms it from a soulful, up-tempo ballad into a synth-driven, droning meditation on love without losing any of the original feeling.

U2 covering Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”

Speaking of U2, they’ve been known to throw an occasional nod to the artists that came before them as well. Here is a clip of Bono and the crew covering the Ben E. King classic “Stand By Me.” Please note that this video is from 1987, way before Bono traded in his ridiculous hairdo for the ridiculous glasses.

The Killers covering “Romeo and Juliet” by Dire Straits

To be honest, I have not heard much of the Killers’ discography. My first and only encounter with their music was when “Human” was released and I was diagnosed with PTSD triggered by hearing it. That being said, I may have to find a therapist that specializes in irrational hatred in order to test the waters after hearing this cover of one of my favorite Dire Straits tracks. Brandon Flowers does a fine job of evoking Mark Knopfler’s mournful mumble in this excellent recreation of “Romeo and Juliet.”

Beck covering “I Only Have Eyes for You” by the Flamingos

Beck straddles the line between the bizarre and the unknown with his musical output and hasn’t released a single track that hasn’t been given a heaping helping of tender-loving care. When he decides to cover a classic, he pays the same attention to detail. Check out this cover of “I Only Have Eyes for You” by the Flamingos. I think Beck spent about a week finding the perfect combination of echo and reverb to recreate the overall tone of the original.

PJ Harvey and Björk covering “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones

Polly Jean has always been known for her harder edge, much like the Rolling Stones before her. Here is some video footage of Ms. Harvey covering “Satisfaction” with Björk at her side. In case you aren’t able to recognize her unless she’s dressed up like a kindergarten art project, swan or something that Walt Disney threw up on, Björk is the one playing the keys.

Oasis covering Slade’s “Cum on Feel the Noize”

There is no doubt that some of you will recognize this track as mid-’80s MTV staple “Cum On Feel the Noize,” as performed by Quiet Riot. That track itself was a cover of a song originally performed by Slade, a British band that was part of a new wave of British heavy metal that swept the world in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Here the Gallagher brothers show off their love of British metal, whether they’re singing it or beating each other over the head with folding chairs made of it.

Aerosmith covering the Beatles’ “I’m Down”

Aerosmith is well known for its cover of the Beatles’ hit “Come Together,” but rather than take the easy way out I decided to plumb the depths of YouTube to find something else. After several minutes of mouse clicks, I managed to find something worth posting. Here is Steven Tyler doing a damn impressive imitation of Paul McCartney in “I’m Down,” one of the Beatles’ earlier tracks.

Michael Jackson covering Bobby Day’s “Rockin’ Robin”

Michael Jackson is one of those artists that other people cover, but he doesn’t do much covering of his own. I did manage to find MJ and his siblings covering the Bobby Day oldie “Rockin’ Robin,” which is always a fun tune. In case you were expecting older Michael, here he is doing a cover of the late, great James Brown.

ABBA covering “Pick a Bale of Cotton,” “On Top of Old Smokey”, and “Midnight Special”

ABBA seems to be another one of those groups with a prolific discography that gets covered by bands from every genre but never has covered anyone else. That is not a correct assumption, however, as they recorded a single track for a German charity album in 1975. If you couldn’t consider your life complete without hearing Anni-Frid and Agnetha singing traditional American folk songs, you can now die happy after hearing them belt out this bizarre medley.

Neil Young covering Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me”

Neil Young chooses his covers carefully, and this pick was not a difficult one for me. Taking up residence on the first track of the second side of “After the Gold Rush” is Young’s take on the Don Gibson classic “Oh Lonesome Me.” Young’s voice is full of the sorrow that can only be produced by a lonely heart in this one.

Simon and Garfunkel covering Jackson C. Frank’s “Blues Run the Game”

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel had a wealth of original songs and usually stuck to their own material. On “Wednesday, 3 A.M.” they did cover “Blues Run the Game” which was written by Jackson C. Frank. I was either going to choose this track or their version of the Cyrkle hit “Red Rubber Ball,” but I wasn’t sure if a songwriter singing a song he co-wrote but never recorded really counted as a cover.

‘Hell Broke Luce’: a new music video by Tom Waits

I wasn’t surprised at the utter disappointment many media outlets expressed when the much hyped August 7 finally arrived revealing, not a tour announcement, but rather the release of a music video for “Hell Broke Luce,” the battle march from 2011′s “Bad As Me” by Tom Waits.

But what does “live up to the hype” even mean?

I like the idea of an artist sending cryptic messages of pirates and sharks to media outlets, regardless of the big reveal.

The video, directed by Matt Mahurin, brilliantly matches the aggressive song with the lingering, surrealist imagery of Waits marching through a battlefield, pulling a house by rope.

Advisory: this video contains profanity and awesomeness.

Top 10 My Morning Jacket songs / Danny Clinch

With My Morning Jacket visiting St. Louis with Band of Horses, I thought it was a good time to put together my top 10 favorite My Morning Jacket songs. Bring your headphones and get ready to rock for the band’s show at the Peabody on August 8.

10. “Librarian” (“Evil Urges,” 2008) – A beautiful song. “Take off those glasses and let down your hair for me.” Oh, and James uses the term “interweb” in a song. How could this not be on the list?

9. “Xmas Curtain” (“At Dawn,” 2001) – I certainly don’t think of this when December 25 rolls around, but it’s a beautiful and haunting song. Great for the other 364 days each year.

8. “Lowdown” (“At Dawn,” 2001) – It’s difficult for me to make a top 10 MMJ songs without including several from this album. A great song about convincing her that you won’t hurt her like she’s been hurt in her past relationships. “So, love dawg, can’t you see? That you only have to dance with me …”

7. “Dancefloors” (“It Still Moves,” 2003) – A road song. But what makes this song wonderful is the mix of styles. From the honky-tonk piano to the ’70s/’80s southern-rock sound to the slow bass line into the horns. This song has more lives than a litter of kittens.

6. “Gideon” (“Z,” 2005) – “Truly, truly we have become / Hated and feared for something that we don’t want / Listen, listen. Most of us believe that this is wrong.” I have to believe this song refers in some way to the Iraq War and James’ stand against it. Regardless, a great song.

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Theatre Review: ‘Death Tax’ at the Humana Festival

Quincy Tyler Bernstine as Nurse Tina and Danielle Skraastad as Maxine in "Death Tax"

“Death Tax” by Lucas Hnath
Directed by Ken Rus Schmoll
Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville
Through April 1, 2012

View Chuck Lavazzi and Joan Lipkin’s video blog

The synopsis: “Maxine is rich. Maxine is dying. Maxine thinks Nurse Tina is trying to kill her. When the patient confronts her caretaker, her accusations have unforeseen—and irrevocable—consequences, in this tightly-wound thriller about money, power and the value of a human life.”

Like many of the plays we saw at the Humana Festival, “Death Tax” could stand a bit of trimming, but even in its current form it has a dramatic power that can’t be denied, demonstrating forcibly the corrupting effects of money and power—and, for that matter, of want and powerlessness. It also raises disturbing questions: as medical science advances, will we become a race divided between those who can purchase virtual immortality and those who can’t? And what will that mean? “Death Tax” suggests the answers might not be pleasant.

“Death Tax” unfolds mostly as a series of monologues with a few duet scenes, and provides one of the great monstrous characters of the stage in the character of Maxine. She ruthlessly manipulates everyone around her: Nurse Tina (who is not, in fact, trying to kill her), Tina’s boss Todd, Maxine’s daughter, and even, in a chilling final scene, a social worker and Maxine’s grandson. She uses money and later guilt as weapons to prolong her life, destroying many others in the process. Like “Sunset Boulevard”, this is an American horror story without the supernatural.

The cast is tremendous. Judith Roberts is a nearly demonic figure as she rages, cajoles, wheedles and generally screws over everyone around her. Quincy Tyler Bernstine carries off the very different roles of Nurse Tina and the social worker with great skill, as does T. J. Kenneally as Todd and the grandson. Danielle Skraastad has only one major scene as the daughter, but she makes it her own.

As is the case with many Humana Festival shows, “Death Tax” has relatively modest technical demands, so it should be well within the reach of not only regional companies but smaller theatres as well. It has political and moral implications that deserve attention.

Join in the discussion on Twitter with the #hf36 hash tag and follow me @clavazzi. Look for Joan Lipkin’s reviews at The Vital Voice.

Theatre Review: ‘Oh, Gastronomy’ at the Humana Festival

The cast of "Oh, Gastronomy" live it up

“Oh, Gastronomy” by Michael Golamco, Carson Kreitzer, Steve Moulds, Tanya Saracho and Matt Schatz
Directed by Amy Attaway
Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville
Through April 1, 2012

View Chuck Lavazzi and Joan Lipkin’s video blog

The synopsis: “Food, that most delicious human unifier, is rife with contradiction. It can signal both comfort and compulsion, imply both nourishment and deprivation, and make your mouth water—or your stomach turn. Get ready to dig in, as five hungry playwrights join forces with twenty-two ravenous Acting Apprentices to serve up the pleasures—and paradoxes—of food.”

“Oh, Gastronomy” is a snappy collection of 28 short plays (and more than a few songs) all dealing with food, family, and friends.  Most are comic, a few moving, and all completely entertaining.  The program stars the company’s young interns, and they certainly shine here as their characters find love, companionship, camaraderie, and a really killer fudge recipe (the results of which were available in the lobby after the show).

There are too many performers to list individually here and, of course, too many plays to make it possible for me to go into detail on each one.  Some of my favorites were: “Ordering: Memories” in which customers at a restaurant order slices of their past from the menu; “The Family Feast”, which called to mind the massive holiday dinners with my “logical family” (to quote Mrs. Madrigal); and “The Mix”, in which both that tasty fudge and a relationship is cooked up.  Others probably had their highlights, but the bottom line is that the show was tremendous fun to watch and, I think, to perform as well.

Join in the discussion on Twitter with the #hf36 hash tag and follow me @clavazzi. Look for Joan Lipkin’s reviews at The Vital Voice.

Theatre Review: ‘Eat Your Heart Out’ at the Humana Festival

Kate Eastwood Norris as Nance and Alex Moggridge as Tom in "Eat Your Heart Out"

“Eat Your Heart Out” by Courtney Baron
Directed by Adam Greenfield
Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville
Through April 1, 2012

View Chuck Lavazzi and Joan Lipkin’s video blog.

The synopsis: “Alice and Gabe are desperate to adopt a child. Nance, a single mom just starting to date, struggles to connect with her teenage daughter Evie. And Evie wishes her best friend Colin could fall for her rather than just trying to fix things. With both humor and aching insight, these lives are woven together in a tale of parental hopes and fears, and of hearts consumed by longing.”

Courtney Baron’s “Eat Your Heart Out” starts as a fast-paced and somewhat superficial comedy but eventually turns into something much more serious and even tragic. It’s a show that begins with a series of declarations but ends with a question. Adam Greenfield’s direction is crisp and brisk—perhaps a bit too much so, resulting an a rapid-fire exchange of dialog that might be more appropriate for video than live theatre. Still, it’s a play and a production that provided much fodder for discussion in the bar afterwards and ultimately deals with very real issues of pain, rejection, and the difficulty of real-world love, even if it does sometimes feel more like the unfinished first act of a more substantial work.

Any reservations about the script do not, however, extend to the performers, all of whom were fine.  Kate Eastwood Norris is all edgy energy as Nance and while Alex Moggridge’s Tom was a bit bland, that appears to be exactly what the script calls for.  Sarah Grodsky showed a heartbreaking vulnerability as Evie.  Jordan Brodess brought out all the pain and flip attitude of Colin.  Kate Arrington and Mike DiSalvo was a great team as the increasingly desperate Alice and Gabe, whom Nance treats with far less sympathy than they seem to deserve.

Upon reflection, I’m not sure that “Eat Your Heart Out” is quite ready for prime time yet.  As it stands, the characters aren’t as fully realized as they could be and something really needs to be done with that ending.  Still, it shows promise, and that’s part of what Humana is about.

Join in the discussion on Twitter with the #hf36 hash tag and follow me @clavazzi.  Look for Joan Lipkin’s reviews at The Vital Voice.

Video Premiere: Pretty Little Empire’s ‘All I Know’

Pretty Little Empire - "All I Know" Video

Video still by Joseph Fitzgerald

Pretty Little Empire is a force in the St. Louis music scene. The affable quartet’s sophomore release “Reasons and Rooms” was one of the best locally-produced records of 2010, and their inspired, rock-solid live sets have only been getting better over time, with no bound in sight.

The band is currently hard at work on LP number three, with recording taking place at Cherokee Street’s Native Sound studio. While we wait to hear what they’re cooking up, perched at the edge of the seat, they have been kind enough to temper our thirst by releasing a video for their non-album cut “All I Know.” The song has been a staple of their live shows and was released in 2011 on the “STL LOUD Vol. 2″ compilation.

This burning, mysterious track is a keeper, and it gets proper visual treatment thanks to a few of the band’s talented friends. I recommend that you experience it with headphones on, video set to full screen.

Michael Dauphin’s top 10 tracks of 2011 (video playlist edition)

Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. Photo by Nate Burrell.

While 2011 certainly provided plenty of top-shelf records, I want to do KDHX readers a solid, and as opposed to you running out and buying every album I mention, like I know you certainly would, I put together a cheat sheet of some of my favorite songs. That way, you can save your hard-earned cash, and bypass seeking out the complete albums, in favor of just buying the individual tracks. 

In the end, you get a serviceable mix of killer tunes from 2011, you save a couple bucks — and maybe donate those extra bucks to KDHX — and everybody wins. And heck, who knows, maybe one of these songs will motivate you to go and buy the whole album. So the artist wins, too. Everybody wins!

Happy holidays, friends.

“Ache With Me” – Against Me!: Perhaps one of the most subdued tunes so far outta Gainesville’s rock ‘n’roll punkers. Tom Gabel trades in his topical, guttural growl for a breezy stroll as a wallflower. A welcomed departure with excellent results.

“Black Hills” – Gardens & Villa: This track comes from one of the most underrated albums from 2011. Anchored by layered synths, bells and vibraphone chimes ring along as Chris Lynch hits Prince-like high notes. Commingling textures of plush, orchestral indie and pure pop melody, “Black Hills” showcases all of G&V’s strengths packed into three romantic minutes.

“Black Betty and the Moon” – Horrible Crowes: Gaslight Anthem singer, Brian Fallon, is an undeniable talent. If you don’t dig his music, you have to at least hand it to the guy for his passion. He also wears his influences boldly on his sleeve. With Horrible Crowes, Fallon channels the spirits of Tom Waits, Greg Dulli and, of course, Bruce Springsteen.

“Blue Tip” – The Cars: Like all great songs by the Cars, you can tell this is one of its songs within the first few seconds. The muted chug and beepy-boopy melody instantly has you grabbing for your shades bobbing your head. Ric Ocasek is back, and new wave music has finally been put back in its place. It’s no wonder why the Strokes were thinking about hanging it up.

“The Bump” – Deer Tick: With enough jangle and slop to make the ‘Mats jealous, 2011 saw Deer Tick come through with its finest album yet. “The Bump” harnesses everything the band does best: fucking off with reckless disregard for anything except providing a rock ‘n’ roll party.

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