Concert review: A crumptacular night of music with Major Lazer at the Pageant, Thursday, March 21

Major Lazer at the Pageant. Photo by Louis Kwok.

The bros sporting their headache-inducing shirts, the raver girls wearing their psychedelic furry boots and suburban youth with their pasty faces occupied the compact mosh pit at the Pageant. It was going to be an interesting night. Making its debut performance in St. Louis, Major Lazer was determined to get everybody in the joint jumping and at least one girl to p-pop on a handstand.

More often than not, rave-type concerts such as these all start the same way. A drawn-out, two-hour DJ set building up to the main event. Usually such DJs are a good warm up, but after the first 30 minutes the repetition and monotony of worn-out songs start slowing down time and drawing out the night. If time was already slowed down for you in the first place then you’re golden, but if you’re stone-cold sober or down to your last dollar for cocktails you’re in for a long night.

The one thing that made Thursday night’s opening DJ set a worthy ritual is that it built anticipation for the real show — the one that brought everyone together. This excruciating suspense for the music, the dancing and the wild stage performances was even more intense in those final moments after the opener left the stage empty for the headliner. As the house lights were finally cut and a loud roar from the audience filled the darkness, the roller coaster teetered on the peak of a plummet before the ride to follow.

Major Lazer is known for it’s over the top productions, whether it be its music videos or its live performance. The night was set off in this spirit with a comic book-style cinematic display depicting Mr Lazer himself launching off into space to “Free the Universe” in a nod to the group’s latest release and current tour. Finally, after an evening of waiting and a cartoon short, the curtains fell and Diplo, Walshy Fire and Jillionaire took the stage accompanied by their seductive Rastafarian booty dancer as they handed out vuvuzelas and prepared the crowd for a night of insanity.

The floor practically began warping under the stress as the full three tiers of the Pageant were assaulted by the hundreds of bodies suddenly jumping in unison to the bombastic beats. Lazer played through a good variety of tracks as well as some new material including a “Harlem Shake” remix that made for yet another hilarious YouTube video. A jubilant, South African-style song brought an interesting flavor to the venue as the vuvuzelas blasted as arms and legs moved on their own to the sounds. And of course the old standby, “Pon de Floor,” had things going a bit crazy.

The stage performance was absolute sensory overload coupled with the music. A DJ climbed around on all the equipment as another rolled through the crowd in a giant bubble while the other blasted confetti guns through the thick fog and intricate light show that provided a fitting otherworldly party atmosphere. While they were occupied commanding the stage, the DJs also interacted with the crowd. They weren’t afraid of rewinding and restarting a track if they didn’t think the crowd was crazy enough on the drop. They encouraged the audience to take off and spin around an article of clothing, resulting in a dizzying display of twirling t-shirts that practically propelled the crunked-out crowd off the ground.

At one point, the show turned into amateur hour when the stage was suddenly full of girls from the crowd proudly shaking what their mothers gave them. The strange spectacle and incredible energy went non stop throughout the night in a musically driven rave on a level that is rarely witnessed around these parts.

After a generous three-song encore, Major Lazer retired its set and the sweat-drenched party people slowly filed out to the relief of the cold St. Louis night, mostly in a haze of what had actually transpired that night. Many will try to explain to others what happened, only to miss the essence entirely. It was something that just had to be seen to believe.

Concert review: Tegan and Sara (with Diana) showcase new sound for a sellout crowd at the Pageant, Sunday, March 10

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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.

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Concert review: Yonder Mountain String Band (with the Deadly Gentlemen) jam the grass at the Pageant, Friday, March 8

Jeff Austin of Yonder Mountain String Band at the Pageant. Photo by Joe O'Toole

A haze descended over the audience as the lights rose over Yonder Mountain String Band on Friday evening at the Pageant. The night was filled with a groove that could be placed somewhere between the Grateful Dead and the classic bluegrass of Flatt and Scruggs, with country melodies and a musical muscle evident in jam-band circles. Dancers, drinks and bona-fide hippies took delight in all the sights and sounds.

The night started out the Boston’s Deadly Gentlemen, a band with musical chops that stand up with to its contemporaries. The Deadly Gentlemen features Greg Liszt on banjo, Stash Wyslouch on guitar, Mike Barnett on fiddle, Dominick Leslie on mandolin and Sam Grisman on double bass — each took a turn stepping up to the mic. At first the strength of the Deadly Gentlemen might seem to be its musicianship, but their use of vocal orchestration is key. This unconventional use of vocal harmonies involves an acrobatic bouncing of voices that blend to add emphasis on phrases, melodies and lyrical content.

The band played a mixture of originals and covers: “Let It Bleed” by the Rolling Stones and “Touch of Grey” by the Grateful Dead. The strength of the band’s songwriting is study in diversity; from the country-esque “Moonshiner,” the almost punk-influenced “Police” (which seemed to evoke Black Flag’s “Police Story”) and the bluegrass burner of “Old Barns.” The latter skewed the Irish and Scottish influences of bluegrass for Middle Eastern phrasing that popped up every so often in the melody lines played by Mike Barnett and Dominick Leslie.

With a quick gander at the stage one would automatically assume that Yonder Mountain String Band plays typical bluegrass; after all, mandolin, banjo, guitar and bass are the band’s instruments. When the band kicked into its first song it was evident that this was more than just a bluegrass show. Yonder Mountain String Band has a sound that creates a jam-band groove with traditional string-band instrumentation that bands like the Grateful Dead, Phish and the String Cheese Incident have dabbled in; but those bands have not taken full advantage of the sounds’ power. This quartet from Nederland, Col. — made up of Jeff Austin on mandolin, Ben Kaufman on bass, Adam Aijala on guitar and Dave Johnston on banjo (each member taking turns fronting the band vocally) — brought an energy to the stage that is as reminiscent of Led Zeppelin as it is Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder.

The Yonder Mountain String Band blasted through two sets at the Pageant and brought the crowd to a frenzy its improvisational muscle. The night was highlighted with songs that ranged from humorous romps to the pull of lonesome heart strings. The diversity in the performance is evident in the songs. The band barreled through songs like “Half Moon Rising” and “How ‘Bout You?” which showcased a focused pop sensibility.

These songs were offset with traditional bluegrass instrumentals along with the fun Germanic romp of “Polka on a Banjo” and the seafaring bluegrass shanty of “Boatman’s Dance.” Despite the diversity of the songs stylistically each song blended perfectly to create a set that was consistent and fluid. As Yonder Mountain String Band played the atmosphere inside the Pageant was more akin to that of a house party with a friend’s band jamming in the background rather than that of a large-scale rock show complete with lights and a high performance P.A.

At the end of the night it was about the songs and the musicianship that both the Deadly Gentlemen and Yonder Mountain String Band brought to the stage. These elements created an atmosphere that primed the audience members to take themselves away from the day-to-day obstacles of life and to just have a good time with drink, dance and great music.

While the Yonder Mountain String band is rooted in traditions of acoustic music, it is the spirit of the San Francisco dance bands (the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane) that gives new life to its roots.

Concert review: Imagine Dragons (with Atlas Genius and Nico Vega) ride the waves of success at the Pageant, Wednesday, March 6

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If you’re not familiar with Imagine Dragons, then you probably don’t listen to commercial radio or have a 16-year-old child.

Each year a few bands burst into alternative-rock stardom (think the Black Keys, Young the Giant and Phoenix in 2011, for example) and Imagine Dragons were one of those bands in 2012. There’s a relatively routine pattern, where a band makes music for a while to little notice, a catchy single gets on the radio, they headline a tour around the world, and maybe even include a sold-out stop at the Pageant, and so on. Playing the Pageant, or other venues of its size, seems to be right around the tipping point where a band can either keep ruling the alt-rock world (as the Black Keys are doing), fade away for a while and build anticipation for a new record (as Phoenix are doing) or just kind of disappear all together (as Young the Giant did).

The catchy Imagine Dragons song you’d hear on the radio is “It’s Time,” a throttling arena rock jam full of claps and drum kicks. They have a few others that are gaining traction, notably a song called “Demons,” about overcoming hardships in a relationship and another called “Radioactive,” about realizing your place in the bigger world.

Before Imagine Dragons could perform for the packed house, however, Nico Vega and Atlas Genius did their best to warm up the crowd.

Nico Vega, a quartet from Los Angeles, lined the stage with gasoline barrels that vocalist Aja Volkman spent much of the set standing on — barefoot I might add. The band came close to achieving the grungy, Kills-esque sound you could tell it wanted, but seemed to be missing the chemistry and fire that makes punk work. Atlas Genius, all the way from Australia, played a polished, 40-minute set. The sound was straightforward and clean and caught the attention of the crowd, especially during its final and best-known song, “Trojans.”

Imagine Dragons, with only one full length album, a 40-minute-long tour de force called “Night Visions,” were a bit limited on what they could play. They started with some of their lesser-known songs, which sounded pretty rough. A friend who calls Imagine Dragons one of his two favorite bands leaned over to me about 10 minutes into the set and whispered, “They sound a lot better on the album.” I could not agree more. The balance seemed off, the drumming sounded clunky and the sound as a whole didn’t recreate the vocal-driven, arena rock of “Night Visions.”

Trees with spotlights hanging from them, almost like beehives, and two massive bass drums filled the stage. One of the drums, probably about five feet in diameter, stood just about as tall or taller (stand included) than each of the band members who played it.

For the first half of the set, my favorite moments came when the entire band wasn’t involved. During a song called “Thirty Lives” vocalist Dan Reynolds, bathed in blues and whites from the beehive lights behind him, sang with just a guitar to accompany him. Later, Ben McKee channeled his inner Les Claypool for a bass solo. It wasn’t until “Rocks,” a bonus track from the album, that I really appreciated the band as a whole.

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Concert review: Gaelic Storm pours down Irish whiskey-soaked tunes on the Pageant, Friday, February 15

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When Gaelic Storm hit the Pageant on Friday night, the Guinness and Jameson reserves were strained in ways the bartenders likely had not seen the likes of since the great Whiskey War Festival of 2012.

It was a mixed crowd and a packed house for the Celtic band from Santa Monica and the room was already buzzing before the show started. Green dresses and fire red beards were scattered amongst the ticket holders that all seemed to be accompanied by that heavy vibe that somebody was ready to smash a table or a bar stool in the name of a good time.

Native Irishman and sometimes barkeeper Patrick Murphy took the stage along with the cosmopolitan crew known as Gaelic Storm. The band consists of Steve Twigger, a self-taught guitarist hailing from England, the bagpiper and Irish whistle player from Canada Pete Purvis, the beautiful and talented fiddler player from Michigan Kiana Weber and the drummer from Bakersfield Ryan Lacey. Together they formed a force of nature that had the crowd stomping and clapping along to grand tales sung to the timeless Celtic style that has been fermenting over hundreds of years. Luke Kelly would have raised his glass in praise.

The two-set, two-and-a-half hour show was a classic Celtic celebration of life, music and drinking. The only thing missing was the haggis. The bagpipe and the accordion blared through the strings and blended into Murphy’s heavily accented lyrics for an experience that brought you straight to a pub in southern Ireland. A definite highlight of the show was the phenomenal extended instrumental duel between Purvis’ bagpipe and Weber’s fiddle that had the audience cheering on their favorite player. The talent behind each of the musicians was palpable, a true joy to behold, and the show’s energy stayed consistent — there was no slowing down.

Between songs and whiskey shots, Murphy, like most Irishmen after a pint or five, would entertain the crowd with ramblings and tirades of stories past and Irish culture. One story, which he claimed to be the truest lie he’s ever told, involved the memorable time that Russell Crowe punched him in the face after being told to put out his cigarette at the pub Murphy was managing in Santa Monica. The story was eventually told in song that had people singing along and tossing off quotes for Russell Crowe, “the Gladiator,” in a prime example of how involved the crowd was with the performance.

As time passed and the end was knowingly around the corner, Gaelic Storm played its final tune, “Tear Upon the Rose.” Murphy took his bows along with the rest of the squad and yelled into the microphone, “We’ll be at the bar!” The drummer continued to jam away as the rest of the band exited stage left and disappeared into the crowd. The pit was occupied by a group of jolly folks doing their best Irish jig to the galloping sounds of percussion until Murphy’s voice boomed yet again. The musicians were in fact at the bar — on the bar to be precise. Their real finale was played with the four on the bar and the drummer back on the stage in a display that the Pageant has surely rarely seen. It was a fitting end for a show of this raucous flavor.

The rest of the night is mostly a blur of sharing shots with friends and drinking with a band that was more than happy to share drinks as well. Memories might be faded and jumbled the morning after, but the ticket stub and the bruises are all the reminders that are needed of the good times that were had.

Concert review: Galactic (with Latyrx) gives Valentine’s Day a funky New Orleans kiss at the Pageant, Thursday, February 14

Corey Glover of Galactic at the Pageant. Photo by Amy Burger.

Valentine’s Day may be the day of love and romance, but for those in attendance at the Pageant on Thursday, it was a night to get funky, with or without a partner.

New Orleans’ own funk/jazz fusion jam band Galactic heated up the night with a no-holds-barred, two-hour set that started out high energy and never waned for a moment.

Before they took the stage, however, alternative hip-hop masters Latyrx got everyone’s hearts thumping with the dynamic, rapid-fire deliveries of Lateef the Truth Speaker (Lateef Daumont) and Lyrics Born (Tsutomu “Tom” Shimura), veterans of the San Francisco Bay-Area hip-hop scene. The duo bounced lyrics off each other in perfect sync, backed by a live drummer and DJ Shadow on the “wheels of steel,” old school scratching from dual turntables. They featured material from their new album, “Disconnection,” including “Gorgeous Spirits (Aye, Let’s Go!)” as well as a few songs from Lyrics Born’s previous solo efforts, including politically charged “The Last Trumpet.”

The crowd was somewhat sparse and hesitant at the beginning of their 45-minute set, but by the end of it, the main floor of the Pageant began to fill in nicely and the audience was getting into it, pumping fists in the air and calling out lyrics on cue.

Then it was time for the real magic to happen. Galactic took the stage around 9:30 p.m., leading off with an instrumental jam highlighting solos of each member, proving immediately that this group is a true collaboration, each bringing an unmistakable element to its sound. Over the years, the core quintet of guitarist Jeff Raines, bassist Robert Mercurio, drummer Stanton Moore, keyboardist/Hammond organist Richard Vogel and saxophone/harmonica player Ben Ellman have been joined by a rotating series of guest vocalists and musicians. The current lineup is sweetened by the addition of two Coreys — standout trombone player Corey Henry (of the Rebirth Brass Band) and legendary rock vocalist Corey Glover (of Living Colour).

Along with its rotating musicians, the band’s sound has evolved over the years to go beyond classic New Orleans funk and embrace other musical elements from hip-hop to jazz and even more recently, electronica. But funk is clearly the core, and there was plenty of it at Thursday night’s show. Unlike many bands that would place them more in the background, the horns take center stage at a Galactic show, and Ellman and Henry have perfect chemistry, eagerly sharing their deserved place in the spotlight.

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Concert review and set list: Umphrey’s McGee (with the Mike Dillon Band) jam all night long at the Pageant, Saturday, February 9

Umphrey's McGee at the Pageant. Photo by Caroline Philippone.

Celebrating its 15th year together, Umphrey’s McGee (with the Mike Dillon Band) got the crowd at the Pageant moving and grooving with a great set of progressive rock-steeped jamming.

Opening the show was New Orleans vibraphonist/percussionist Mike Dillon with his band, which consists of Carly Meyers on trombone, Adam Gertner on the drums and Cliff Hines on bass synth. To call the set energetic would be a disservice to the band. The crowd was moving nonstop from the opening barrage of vibraphone notes to the end of the last tune, primarily because the quartet played the set straight through without taking more than a few seconds’ break between tunes.

Mike Dillon is one of those performers that almost becomes one with the music. There isn’t a single moment that he isn’t acting like a mad scientist creating sounds from his vibraphone, abusing the percussion setup at his side, or dropping to the floor to make his tabla sound like an army of drummers.

The rest of the band gives just as good as Mike does. Adam beats his kit like a man possessed, almost to the point of losing his glasses. When Carly isn’t making some of the most brash trombone sounds I’ve ever heard, she’s matching Mike note for note on the xylophone or running through the crowd blowing a whistle and dancing with the audience. Cliff plays a bass synth using his guitar as a controller, which is a unique sight in and of itself. There were a few times when he was pushing enough bass through the PA speakers that it felt like they turned on the air conditioning.

The group ran through a collection of tunes from Dillon’s past projects Billy Goat and Mike Dillon’s Go-Go Jungle as well as songs from their most recent album. Often bizarre and always energetic, this group is nothing but smiles and laughter from start to finish. They come across as a group of friends having fun; there didn’t appear to be any work going on while they were plying their trade.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should let you know that I have become friends with the group since I reviewed this band back in September of 2012 when it opened for Marco Benevento. In fact, my band opened for Adam and Carly’s funk band Yojimbo last month. Since my view of the performance may be biased, I had a control subject to compare my observations. I brought a friend to the show who always ends up punching me in the arm when she really gets into the music. The Mike Dillon Band’s 45-minute set was a five-puncher, which is one of the larger beatings I’ve taken in the name of music writing.

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Concert review and set list: Dark Star Orchestra burns bright at the Pageant, Thursday, February 7

Dark Star Orchestra at the Pageant. Photo by Brad Blackburn.

Dark Star Orchestra, recreating the Grateful Dead‘s night at Augusta, Maine in ’84, wore its jam cover-band crown well at the Pageant.

Notching 2,200 shows over 15 years, the band prides itself on “raising the Dead.” Whether it’s faithfully adapting a specific night from the Grateful Dead’s 30 years of touring or cherry-picking from the Dead’s catalogue for a custom set, DSO’s attention to detail allows the audience to blissfully sway the night away.

Unfortunately, my dad, a certified Deadhead who has collected every “Dick’s Picks,” “Road Trips,” and “Dave’s Picks,” didn’t have a story about sneaking into the original show to be redone for the Pageant — the Grateful Dead’s night at the Augusta Civic Center on October 12, 1984 coincided with my big brother’s fourth birthday. With the crowd who showed to Delmar on Thursday night, sporting everything from baby bottles to canes, everyone left with a new tale to tell.

Any pacifiers present weren’t EDM props. Multiple strollers were seen amongst the tie-dyed mass, with moms bottle feeding to the tune of the groove. A few of the ladies were old enough to have been my dad’s parents, but they got up and dipped a hip, proving that age doesn’t apply to a show like this. Of course, all the so-called dancing from the writhing mass of a pit proved that inhibitions definitely don’t apply to hippies.

After ordering a double Jameson — sincere thanks bartender, as you literally doled out a whole glass of it instead — and repeating the eternal mantra, “Long hair, don’t care,” I gradually found myself also participating in the most passive-aggressive of dance-offs.

Only so much fun can be poked at such an enjoyable crowd. With claims of how far they’d driven to dance, “excuse me” regularly heard around the bar and friendly introductions from all corners, the crowd was clearly compose of honest and excellent fans.

Such fans deserved the true-to-form performance put on by Dark Star Orchestra. The band’s eagerness to play kept spilling over into awesome little solos and interludes between each track. Particularly of note was the longer, well-planned drum solo. While technically incorporating two drummers, who both expertly utilized the hand-drum kits, the live syncopation marked one of several high points in the show.

“Good Lovin’,” a cover of the Young Rascals ’66 number-one hit single and the start of the encore, offered another high point as the keys got the entire place swinging. Tied together by the afghan backdrop that seemed to complement everyone’s ensemble under the kaleidoscopic lights, the crowd couldn’t get enough of this incarnation of “Uncle John’s Band.”

Set list (courtesy of Darkstarorchestra.net):

Feel Like a Stranger
It Must Have Been the Roses
On the Road Again
Jack-A-Roe
It’s All Over Now
Cumberland Blues
The Music Never Stopped 
Intermission
Cold Rain and Snow
Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance > Don’t Need Love > Uncle John’s Band > Drums > Space > Playing in the Band Reprise > Uncle John’s Band > Morning Dew 
Encore
Good Lovin’
Alligator > Going Down the Road Feeling Bad

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