Concert review: The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band (with Jimbo Mathus and Alvin Youngblood Hart) gained supporters for his revolution at the Old Rock House on Thursday, March 7

Gathering up its generals for an all-out assault on the ears of the masses, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band added Jimbo Mathus and Alvin Youngblood Hart to the ranks of the Big Damn Blues Revolution.

Taking the stage at the Old Rock House clad in camouflage pants and a black and white plaid shirt, Grammy award-winning blues master Alvin Youngblood Hart quickly tuned his resonator guitar and poured out his soul. Playing in the fingerpicking style of Charley Patton and Son House, Hart translates his life experiences into music and becomes the song rather than playing it.

Hart played a 45 minute set of his own tunes and a few Charley Patton covers, switching between his resonator guitar, a 12-string acoustic, and what looked like a Danelectro ’56 Pro between songs. His slide runs over the strings with the ease and precision that only comes with time and love. I don’t know if he was using any pedals to color his tone, but the low end was thick and greasy while the high end was razor sharp, which is just about as good as you can get for playing electric blues.

The first time I realized exactly what people meant by ‘feeling the blues’ was when I saw John Hammond, Jr. open for David Lindley a few years back. Hart’s set brought back that same understanding, that it is something to be felt, not just heard. I was taken aback enough that when I approached him after the show, all I could say was “Thank you” over and over again. I’m sure he thinks I’m a bit soft in the head, but it was his playing that put me in that condition.

Jimbo Mathus was the next on the bill accompanied by his band the Tri-State Coalition. Probably best known as the guitarist for the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Mathus left his swing style behind for the blues in the late ’90s and hasn’t looked back since. His stage persona reminded me of a mix between Chris Barron of the Spin Doctors and St. Louis’ favorite murder balladeer, Fred Friction.
Mathus’s set consisted of 45 minutes of tracks from his new album “White Buffalo” and a few older cuts, along with a few Charley Patton tunes. The Tri-County Coalition is a quartet consisting of Matt Pierce on the Telecaster, Terrence Bishop playing bass, Eric Carlton on keyboards and accordion and Ryan Rogers on the drums.

Musically, the band was spot on the entire night. I especially noticed that Terrance Bishop was playing sparse bass lines while the rest of the band was in full swing, which complimented the songs worlds more than if he’d been playing a hundred notes a minute. Matt Pierce was no slouch either. I still don’t know how he was making some of those pedal steel licks come out of his Telecaster without stomping on a mess of pedals.

Mathus himself is no slouch on the guitar, playing with the same fingerstyle technique as Hart and Peyton. His songs were full of tongue-in-cheek humor and a hint of sadness, which was often overshadowed by the mid-tempo pace the band was keeping. The harder rocking “White Buffalo” was a notable change in pace, one that I would have liked to have seen in some of the other songs. While they sound great at a jogging pace, there was some serious power on stage when they cranked it up a notch.

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band was the next up, bounding on stage as the crowd roared with excitement. The Rev grabbed his resonator guitar and flashed his ear to ear grin to the crowd before ripping into the first song of the evening.

Reverend Peyton is one of those guitar players who is so masterful at his craft that you really have no concept of how difficult the style in which he plays really is. After a few songs, he stopped to explain that he plays country blues or rural blues, which is a dying art “because it’s hard to do.” He explained further, stating that in country blues the thumb of the picking hand plays the bass while the fingers play the lead and melody parts. To give an example that everyone would understand, he then proceeded to play both the bass and lead horn parts of Henry Mancini’s theme to the T.V. show “Peter Gunn” at the same time. Peyton is known for “showing off” as he calls it, and whether it is the display tonight or his playing “Dixie” and “Yankee Doodle” at the same time, it is something that needs to be seen to be believed.

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Concert review: The Royal Southern Brotherhood deals a rock ‘n’ blues royal flush at the Old Rock House, Sunday, February 17

Jerry Moran Native Orleanian LLC

Outside the windows that illuminate stage left of the Old Rock House, a train rolled forward with slow determination over the dark Mississippi to a destination unknown. The Arch rose up in the background as the Royal Southern Brotherhood took the stage and the crowd gave them a warm, enthusiastic welcome.

Before the quartet started, the crowd pledged, “I solemnly swear to spread the word that St. Louis rocks the blues.” We were now anointed into the brotherhood and ready to enjoy the talents of Devon Allman (guitar, vocals), Cyril Neville (vocals, percussion), Yonrico Scott (drums), Charlie Wooten (bass) and Mike Zito (guitar, vocals). Labeled as a “super group,” Royal Southern Brotherhood is built on the individual talents of each of these formidable artists, not simply the history their famous names carry. And while they each claim different places as their homes, local roots were strong on that stage, too.

Mike Zito is from St. Louis and rightfully proud of it. Before the music started, Zito took a picture of the crowd and told us repeatedly that it was great to be home. He also revealed to us that Devon Allman, son of Greg Allman, has roots in St. Charles so they “must be doing something right up there” he said, to laughter from the crowd.

The crowd exuded appreciation, awe and even a little selfish ownership. The show started with “Fired Up,” the second track from the band’s self-titled release. On this uptempo, upbeat rock song the percussion really shined under the masterful hands of Neville. The Caribbean vibe made it feel like you were seeing them at a summer music festival, if you could successfully suspend February’s cold reality.

Neville’s inner showman came out during “Moonlight over the Mississippi.” He was the consummate bluesman as he sang from the gut about getting back to his woman. Charlie Wooten’s bass took over and the deep, round plunk, plunk of the notes gave sound to each footstep along the banks of the river. The group did several covers, including “Melissa.” Zito and Allman’s guitars came together and harmonized so beautifully during this song that you almost wished they would unplug and play quietly for awhile.

Zito and Allman took turns on vocals. Allman opened the show with his band, also comprised of several local talents and really warmed up the crowd. In his opening set, he gave the audience a taste of the Southern rock sound that’s in his DNA. While Allman’s voice is forceful, yet smooth, Zito’s is rougher around the edges. Those edges make his voice interesting and a nice foil to Allman’s.

Two Grammy winners stood on the stage, and Yonrico Scott was one of them (Neville, the other). During a break, each band member did a solo and left the stage to Scott who really gave us all he had. He played with a mischievous grin on his face, like he was having the best time in the world and didn’t ever want to stop. His beats called out to the crowd and we called back. It was just one of many examples of the sincere connection between these performers and their audience. If there was one theme that united this performance, it was that feeling of happiness and joy. It hung in the air, from the first song in the opening set to the last note of the night.

As Cyril Neville told us, “I’m feeling the love, St. Louis.”

Concert review: Nikki Hill burns bright at the Blues City Deli, Thursday, January 17 / Cryrolfe Photography

Faithful followers of rock ‘n’ roll packed in for Nikki Hill at the Blues City Deli, and they brought their dancing shoes.

With barely enough room to unwrap a sandwich, fans of all ages shuffled through the restaurant and headed towards a compact stage where Nikki Hill, nicknamed the “Southern Fireball,” kept the coals hot. It was a good day to know the twist.

Standing at Hill’s side for two high-energy sets was her husband and fellow co-owner of Deep Fryed Records, Matt Hill, who played hotrod riffs on a pair of beaten-up electric guitars. Rounding out the grooves were local rhythmists Joe Meyer and Sal Ruelas on drums and bass.

A recent St. Louis transplant, Nikki Hill moved from her home state of North Carolina in 2011. There, her musical upbringing had its beginnings in a church choir, and she would later develop her distinctly sharp vocal style, one that recalls the soul of R&B singers such as Etta James and is spiked with the gritty energy of rockers including Little Richard.

“As you can see, Little Richard is a big inspiration to me,” the tattoo sleeved, headscarf-wearing singer told the audience before launching into a lively version of “Slippin’ and Slidin’.” Richards’ “The Girl Can’t Help It” had already been played earlier, and “Rip It Up” was still to come — along with several other explosive covers including Otis Redding’s “Shout Bamalama.” The group also performed originals including those from Hill’s self-titled EP, which features the tracks “I Got A Man” and “Strapped to the Beat.”

Compared to a much more relaxed, seated set at Venice Cafe earlier in the month, Matt and Nikki Hill turned up the heat for the Blues City audience on Thursday and seemed to have fun doing it. Between songs, Matt turned to his reflection in the window and began to comb his greaser hair; Nikki gave a wink to the audience. “You see what I have to deal with?” She later grabbed his bottle of Abita Purple Haze and took a sip. “What’s mine is mine, and what’s his is mine,” she said with a smile.

The crowd was hanging on Ms. Hill’s every word and included members who had already had her on their radars following one of the singer’s past performances at the Deli’s weekly music event, the Thursday Night House Party. “I see a lot of familiar faces out there,” Hill said in between songs. “This is my Blues City crew.”

Hill later said that her group would be doing a lot of touring during the coming year, and stressed the importance of St. Louis’ music scene, and of Blues City Deli as a venue.

“Soon there will come a time when you won’t be able to squeeze in here,” she said. Audience members’ heads swiveled to register the wall-to-wall human traffic. That time is now.

‘We’re in the throes of a new folk revival’ An interview with Ryan Spearman

Sara Finke

Ryan Spearman is many things in many musical moods, but all his roles show a passion for setting the spark of innovation to the good tinder of tradition.

A singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, band leader, solo artist and teacher, Spearman was born and raised in St. Peters, Mo. and after a stint in Colorado with the band High on the Hog, he’s continued to make his home and his music in St. Louis.

When Spearman and Pokey LaFarge take the stage at the Sheldon Concert Hall on Friday, November 30 for the Folk School Grand Celebration, they’ll be doing what comes naturally — making music the old-time way – and while they’ll make it look easy, it most certainly isn’t. It takes years of hard work to play country, blues, folk and swing as well as they do.

I met Spearman for coffee to get a preview of the Sheldon show and to catch up on his current musical endeavors.

Roy Kasten: When did you first meet Pokey?

Ryan Spearman: The first time I met Pokey was when I moved back into the city about four years ago. I had just come back from Colorado and I had been living out in the country in Herman [Mo.] for two years. I’d been hearing about Pokey but hadn’t seen him. I caught him at BB’s, and a mutual friend introduced us. Pokey knew who I was, he knew my history. Our musical paths had been crossing for a while. He’d seen my band [High on the Hog] before.

After that I’d see him every once in a while and we’d talk about our mutual musical histories, but we’d never played together until last year at the Sheldon for the 10 year anniversary for the Folk School.

The idea was to get the two of us to just play together. We’d been talking about. I thought it would be fun and people would enjoy it. With Pokey being so busy we don’t get to practice much. He’ll come to town and we’ll spend six hours and then he’ll be gone. This year we’ve had one eight-hour session so far.

Did you feel like you had a shared base of musical knowledge? Did you know the same tunes?

Yeah. What Pokey does on stage and what I do on stage, it seems disparate to the average listener, but we both have similar musical histories, what we’re into and the different types of music we play. That’s the other reason we wanted to get together. Pokey will do stuff that I play and I’ll do more what he plays. Last year we had him on the mandolin. Our interests are similar and our experience with country blues and old time music, and then Pokey’s recent obsession with country swing — I had just been getting into the same kind of stuff in Colorado.

At this point, it’s a perverse challenge, to see if we can put together a set and make it interesting, and make it sound good.

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Concert review: Nick Waterhouse (with Allah-Lahs) brings down the house at Plush, Friday, September 28 / Matthew Reamer

The towering glass double doors at Plush which separate the music venue from the restaurant offered an entrance to a time machine. Everything appeared to be normal, but as the canned sounds of classic R&B and rock ‘n’ roll poured from the speakers above, a gradual, hypnotic wash began to fall over all within earshot.

As Los Angeles-based Allah-Lahs began to take their positions beneath the blue and gold stage lights, the entire transportation was still easing into full effect. The four skinny, denim-clad members of the group launched into their set with a vibe invoking the spirit of mid-career Tom Petty.

After a few lazy strums, the vocals kicked in. The band seemed to be an alter-incarnation of Petty himself. Allah-Lahs demonstrated a loyal discipleship to this familiar and beloved sound. Single-noted riffs reverberating amidst slow strums of the guitar backed by easy sounding surf-influenced rhythms loosened the grooving joints of the crowd. Anticipation grew as Waterhouse could be spotted roaming throughout the audience.

In contrast to the laid-back fashion of Allah-Lahs, Nick Waterhouse stepped on stage along with his band, the Tarots, commanding applause and attention. The stage was quickly flooded as the band burst into non-album track, “Money.” This alluring sonic time warp drew in those mingling around the room. Faces in the crowd glowed blue as smiles spread in adoration of the group’s timeless talent.

Moving directly into “Say I Wanna Know,” the crowd began to sing along as audience members began syncing with their dancing partners. As Waterhouse wailed on his sunburst, hollow-bodied electric guitar, the sounds traveling through the curly white instrument cable reached the amps with enough soulful swagger to incite a riot a little over a half century ago.

The sound of Waterhouse and his crew is most aptly explained by their debut record’s title, “Time’s All Gone.” Rock, swing, blues, soul: This is one act whose genius translates equally well to music lovers of all stripes. Though he bears a resemblance to Buddy Holly physically, perhaps the closest musical comparison would be Elvis. However, this is what Elvis may have sounded like if he overcame his impulsive gluttony and returned with a focused fury (and a bad ass saxophonist) to reeducate the souls of rock ‘n’ roll.

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Concert review and set list: Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three (with Colonel Ford) rock back the clock at Off Broadway, Friday, September 28

Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three. Photo by Kate McDaniel.

A strong scent of PBR and hair pomade filled Off Broadway this Friday night in late September as a packed house of St. Louisans showed a side that time will not allow us to forget.

Hometown heroes Colonel Ford and Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three brought that old-timey feeling via a show that spanned over 80 years of music — connecting the past, the present and the future.

Opener Colonel Ford took stage studded in cowboy boots and blue jeans and provided the excited crowd with an hour’s worth of well-done, clean-cut country music. Armed with two guitars, an upright bass and drums, the band delivered a fine mixture of covers and originals. These country connoisseurs sifted their way through timeless tunes done by the likes of Buck Owens and Charlie Feathers and gave all in attendance an especially beautiful four minutes with a cover of the great country standard, “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke.”

Throughout the hour the band sent the crowd swaying and foot tapping into a sense of longing nostalgia that turned the venue into a hazy, smoke-filled honky tonk somewhere down in Texas. Colonel Ford came in and did what all great openers do — play great music and warm the crowd for the night’s main event. Their Hank Williams-era songs with a honky-tonk approach proved to be just what Off Broadway needed to start the night off right.

Between the break a feeling of restlessness and excitement began to move throughout the sold-out crowd. The venue became a collection of sounds: glasses clanked in the back, George Jones played over the speakers and countless murmurs and chatter dedicated to the iconic young men set to take stage any moment.

Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three walked coolly on stage to the soundtrack of screams and cheers that only a hometown crowd could offer. After a quick soundcheck and introduction, Pokey and the boys got down to business, starting their set with a Fred Rose dance number entitled, “The Devil Ain’t Lazy.”

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Concert review: Johnny Winter roars at the Wildey Theatre, Wednesday, September 12

At the Wildey Theatre on Wednesday night, Johnny Winter took the stage and proved without a doubt that rocking is in the soul of a person and doesn’t depend on age.

Winter has definitely not let anything get in the way of living up to his guitar hero status. He and his brother Edgar have been playing rock and blues since their early teens. Edgar went off in the direction of rock while Johnny has always had a greater focus on the blues. While growing up in Beaumont, Texas, Johnny taught himself electric slide blues by listening to Elmore James and Muddy Waters and other blues greats. He was able to play with B.B. King at the age of only 17 and has since been a principal player in keeping the blues alive.

This was my first experience being in a movie theatre for a concert. The Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville, Ill. is a blast from the past with popcorn and soda available at the concession stand on the way to your seat. On this evening, Samantha Fish from Kansas City took the opening slot. She can play guitar with as much fervor as she can belt out soulful blues with her commanding voice, which belies her physical stature. She certainly helped get the night started in a blaze, kicking her shoes off as she urged the crowd to keep up with her guitar playing. She ended her set with her song “Runaway” — a fast groove that won over the house immediately.

Johnny Winter took the stage with the haste and deliberation you would expect from most 68 year olds, but as soon as he started playing his guitar and singing there was a transformation: A wall of guitar hit me and I was floored by how hard he could still rock. Winter opened his set with his rendition of “Johnny B. Goode” then followed it up with “Good Morning Little School Girl” and “Got My Mojo Workin’.” When he played “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” the audience intensified their cheers and the song went into an extended jam during which Johnny traded solos with the rhythm guitar player, playing a medley of rock tunes in the process. This brought the house to its feet in an ovation.

To my horror, as Winter and the band filed of the stage, I realized that he had not yet played a single song with a slide. A couple of minutes passed, and the crowed began to chant “Johnny, Johnny…” The legend reemerged, carrying his Gibson Firebird, which had also been missing from the act up to this point, and dived right into “Dust My Broom.” There is nothing like hearing Johnny Winter play slide; I was certainly far from disappointed as he ran the pipe down the neck of the Firebird making it scream and howl.

Johnny finished the night by playing Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” before again proceeding off stage at the same pace he had taken the stage. It’s not often that one gets to experience a blues legend, let alone a blues legend in a movie theatre. There is no substitute for the real thing when it comes to the blues — and Johnny Winter is most definitely one of the all time greats.

Concert review and set list: Chris Robinson Brotherhood unleashes psychedelic freak rock on the Pageant, Saturday, August 18 / John Margaretten

Anyone who showed up at the Pageant Saturday night hoping to hear a rehashing of the Black Crowes‘ greatest hits from the band’s former frontman, Chris Robinson, was probably disappointed.

But those who showed up to hear the fresh sound of a new chapter in Robinson’s career were pleased to see that the concert more than lived up to expectations.

With a sound more akin to the Grateful Dead than the Black Crowes, Chris Robinson Brotherhood defines its music as “Psychedelic filling in a Folk Blues pie.” That’s a pretty perfect description. Starting promptly at 8 p.m., CRB began a three-hour musical journey with two complete sets of its special blend of Southern-tinged psychedelic blues-rock.

Though the band bears his name, Robinson isn’t the only one with an impressive musical resume. He brought with him Black Crowes keyboardist Adam MacDougall. Standout guitarist Neal Casal has a successful solo career as well as a long stint with Ryan Adams and the Cardinals. Drummer George Sluppick, a Memphis native, earned his chops on Beale Street and has played with the likes of B.B. King, Albert King and Carl Perkins, as well as a five-year stint with Jacksonville, Fla. blues-rock band J.J. Grey and Mofro; and bassist Mark “Muddy” Dutton was a member of hard-rock band L.A. Guns.

The fact that they never came near a Black Crowes song is a clear sign that Robinson has moved on to greener pastures. The more mellow, peaceful tone of CRB’s music could be an indication of his own more relaxed attitude, free from his long-tumultuous professional and personal relationship with his brother, guitarist Rich Robinson.

The band played most of the songs on its just-released album “Big Moon Ritual,” particularly in the first set. Lengthy, Dead-like jam “Tulsa Yesterday,” featured one of the evening’s numerous guitar solos by Casal, seeming to channel Jerry Garcia himself at times with his sound. Other mellow hippie jams from the album included “Star or Stone” and “One Hundred Days of Rain.”

The band gave a nod to the obvious influence with a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha,” and also did a groovy cover of the Three Dog Night song “Never Been to Spain.” Tunes from Robinson’s solo album “New Earth Mud,” were also woven throughout, including the hard-edged “Mother of Stone” and heavy ballad “Train Robbers,” on which his signature, soulful vocals simply shined.

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