Concert review: Eisley (with Merriment) keeps it all in the family at Off Broadway, Thursday, July 12

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Christie Dupree, little sister to the three Eisley sisters, and her brothers Collin and Weston Dupree, who together form Merriment, brought to Off Broadway‘s stage a set of tunes countrified, ornate and dreamy.

The band stood as a satisfying acoustic counterpart to Eisley, another band of Duprees. After a night of hearing all four Dupree sisters sing, it is easy to see why they are in the music business. “Through the Rough,” from the 2012 EP of the same name, played out as a haunting lilt with shades of country strife and clean pedal tones. When Weston’s drums dropped after the song’s opening, crisp guitar and palm-muted acoustic bled into a delightful swirl.

Merriment closed their set with the distortion-less “Rewind,” which featured uptempo drum clicks and Christie’s clean, soaring vocals. The girl did not miss a note, even the higher ones that often marked the end of her many heart-wary phrases, like “Takes more than luck to find a love like that.” The retro-rockabilly vibe of many of Christie’s tunes complemented Eisley with a diminished and un-affected set.

Eisley, the five-member band of Duprees, took the stage with “Smarter” from 2011′s “The Valley.” With a left arm full of tattoos, Sherri broke into the song’s woodsy power-punk opener, before Stacy King (nee Dupree) took over with a trebly microphone effect on her vocals. “I’m smarter than you think,” she declared. On “Lights Out,” from 2012′s “Deep Space” EP, cousin Garron’s bass accents folded under the whirling chorus and the vocal interplay between King and Sherri with resonant power.

King started into “The Valley” as Weston banged on a hi-hat. The song, concerned with falling in love just to fail to see “everything as right,” popped with a darkened surfer vibe and plenty of crystalline “Oh, oh’s.” I was struck by the number of people clutching cell phone cameras and recorders instead of simply blissing out to the music. “Better Love” offered up indulgent interplay between King and Sherri, who alternated vocals with sisterly understanding: “Make me a better love. Make me better love.” Sherri’s words often stood out as the biting “fuck-you” sentiments, whereas King’s embraced the romantic side, her vocals often distilling heartache and sadness into natural settings with a mystical — and emotionally evasive — mood.

“Marvelous Things” was laid-back, yet deeply concerned about staying, say, with a lover under the moonlight. The song provided a serene scaling chorus that featured both sisters singing in well-timed unison. Someone shouted, “I love you guys!” as Sherri sang about magical things that “give [her] the creeps.”

“Laugh it Off,” “Watch it Die,” and “Please” found Eisley in the middle of their set with a raft of tunes rife with existential quest. During “Sad,” dubbed as a “bitter love song” by Sherri, the microphones cut out, leaving the girls mute as their instruments bled over the crowd with a vocal-less power. Soon, the issue was resolved as “Oxygen Mask,” “I Could Be There for You” and “Mr Moon” sparked dancing and cheers.

The crowd sang along with Sherri on “I Wasn’t Prepared,” from 2005′s “Room Noises” until Sherri stopped and declared, “You guys sound awesome.” King dropped a fine piano solo as Sherri poured a “come back to me my darling” sentiment into the microphone. “Ambulance” featured King on vocals in the emotional space of being felled by a busted relationship. “Golly Sandra” allowed Eisley to step out of their normal hard-hitting punk grooves with a little country-style a la younger sister Christie.

“Deep Space” marked the end of Eisley’s set, a warm bass buzz trailing the band off stage, followed by the audience insisting on a two-song encore. On “192 Days,” Chauntelle stood with an acoustic as King and Sherri sang about “preserve[ing] the memory of you and me and our love.” “I Wish” finished things out and, compared to its power-house studio counterpart, satisfied in a quiet, sparkling way.

Eisley’s final two songs were much sweeter than the majority of Eisley’s set, as if the stylistically-different tunes might support a side project for the sisters. I hope to see more of this kind of work from Eisley, who prove they can harness both angst-riddled girl power-punk and emotional, western-style love songs with ease and skill.

Album review: Fiona Apple’s ‘The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw & Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do’

Fiona Apple
“The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw & Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do”
Epic
 
Seven years after releasing her last album, Fiona Apple has returned with a familiarly dark, introspective album full of heady rhythm and scraps of autobiographical allegory.
 
Known henceforth as “The Idler Wheel” (because come on), this latest release is as intrepid as the industry has come to expect from Apple, who defies convention in terms of voice, style and appearance not because it is necessarily in her nature to rebel, but because she remains determined to make absolutely clear her intentions and ability.
 
“Every Single Night” begins the album in reverse, if that makes sense, with a mashup of a hushed lullaby and a full-throated, chanting bedtime prayer. The verses themselves sound simple enough to be Apple fiddling around at her piano, half-forming words and trying out the high sweetness possible in her voice.
 
In “Daredevil,” the lyric “Don’t let me ruin me / I may need a chaperone” repeats over constricted percussion that sounds like a slightly-crooked roulette wheel. It’s not just Apple’s lyrics that describe the chances she’s likely to take, and the title isn’t just a clever name. Apple has always been very concerned with composition, with how the nuts and bolts of a song reflect the sometimes anomalous ideas in her head. This means she’s either hyper self-aware or hyper self-confident, or perhaps an extremely fortunate combination of the two that drives a person to write love songs filled with crashing piano, foreboding bass drum and the stops and starts that no one else in their right mind would put in a ballad. For Apple, though, and really anyone else who knows so certainly what they are doing (Amanda Palmer, maybe, or Tori Amos), it works.
 
“The Idler Wheel” is not meant to be easy to listen to; it’s not difficult to enjoy, but Apple’s playing is still very much influenced by jazz and its unconventional rhythms. Also, her phrasing can be twisty and at times delightfully clever. The first line of “Werewolf” is “I would liken you to a werewolf the way you left me for dead,” and although this could be word nerd hopefulness on my part, I dearly hope that the play on liken/lycan(thrope) wasn’t unintentional. Also, I wonder if her voice on “Werewolf” was purposefully the opposite of vulpine, instead innocently soft and tricky with its disguise.
 
Apple does not sing comfortably. She spits, she growls, she propels her voice from her throat like a beast, lurid, bellicose and furious, sometimes breaking apart the formalities of words and expanding into vocal exercises. “Daredevil” and “Periphery” in particular are showcases for the eccentricities of her voice, just as songs like “Left Alone” and, again, “Periphery” seem like opportunities for Apple to stretch her hands across the keys for deep, rolling scales and other instrumental experiments. “Periphery” closes with a boot-scrape effect that doesn’t do much for the body of the song, although it seems like one of those aural quirks chosen by Thom Yorke because he just likes the sound of it (see: “Myxomatosis,” because there’s no other reason to repeat the name of a disease that kills off rabbit colonies en masse).
 
Apple’s early debut in the industry (she released her first album, “Tidal,” in 1996 when she was just 19) and tendency to take several years to release albums has earned her the unfair expectation that the next album, no matter how far apart from her first, will be somehow more grown up than the last, more complicated, insightful and preternaturally brilliant. It’s worth pointing out that while Apple was once touted as a child prodigy, she never really made a child’s version of music. Her earlier lyrics are admittedly of a singer-songwriter sort, but so was everything in the mid-’90s, and hers were at least more sophisticated than anything Taylor Swift is going to come up with. Apple’s musicianship and sagacious attitude made her more of an ingénue, and while some of her youthful self-righteousness and bravura has worn away, she still sounds very much like the adult she may have always been.
 

Concert review and set list: Santigold delivers totally tubular set at the Pageant, Tuesday, June 12

flickr.com/photos/eastendescapades/7166619537 / Lauren H.

Santigold is a proud child of the ’80s. Her genre-jumping songs are thoroughly modern. Yet they usually carry an ’80s element, whether it’s the Goth rock of Siouxsie and the Banshees or the electronic new wave of Devo or the punk rock of Bad Brains.

She even sported an ’80s look upon entering the stage last night at the Pageant, wearing a bright yellow floral patterned vest and shorts with teal tassels of yarn on the sleeves. Her dancers wore sunglasses and stone-cold expressions that contrasted with their mad dancing skills as the band opened with the hyperactive “Go!,” her first single from her new album, “Master of My Make Believe.” They even shook pom-poms at one point.

The dancers proved to be quite inspiring as many women I talked to ached to be up there doing the same. This was probably because the moves, while effective, were all quite simple — the kind of moves that would make one say, “Hey, I could do that!”

After “Go!” worked the near-capacity crowd into a tizzy, Santigold and her three backing musicians settled into a trio of hits from her stellar 2008 self-titled debut album. Her dancers air-pounded sledgehammers to a cool effect during “L.E.S Artistes.” Seeing Santigold and her dancers move during “Say Aha” brought to mind Jane Fonda circa 1982. Of course, that song would make anyone want to jazzercise.

Costume changes occurred early and often — those costumes and dance moves may not always make a whole lot of sense, but they’re usually entertaining.

Her stage set was sparse — just a “Jimmy Fallon Show”-esque curtain in the background. This was the opposite of the last time she was here, where a huge gaudy boom box served as a backdrop and corporate signage for Bacardi was everywhere.

Santigold’s sense of humor and playfulness was on display throughout the show, especially when a big, white horsey lumbered onto center stage to dance while the backup dancers cowgirled it up and swung lassos. (Was that I’ll Have Another in his second career perhaps?) Santi’s humor also could be found at the merch table where she appeared as a businessman (among other costumes) on the cover of her new album.

It was hard to pick exceptional songs the way the crowd’s energy level remained sky-high all night. However, songs like “Fame” “Creator” and “Shove It” proved to be especially roof-raising. Santigold’s vocal range was put to the test on “Anne.” She passed with flying colors.

During the encore, she played her Spank Rock collab song “B.O.O.T.A.Y.,” which was cool, though not as crowd-pleasing as when she played the Cure’s “Killing an Arab” last time she was here. The crowd was ready for a second encore but it was not to be.

Though it took her until she was in her 30s, everyone at the show last night sure seemed glad Santi White gave up her A&R job to become a full-time rock star. She may never graduate to playing arenas due to her all around mainstream-repelling freakiness. Judging from a lyric from my favorite new Santigold song — “We don’t want the fame” — maybe she’s totally fine with that.

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Album review: ‘The Only Place’ isn’t the sunniest place for Best Coast

Best Coast
“The Only Place”
Mexican Summer

On Best Coast’s second album “The Only Place,” singer-songwriter Bethany Cosentino’s ultra-polished voice gives the power to L.A.-based power pop duo Best Coast, and, stripped of the fuzzy lo-fi quality of their last album, sometimes sounds a little too perfect for a band with a retro California/slacker reputation.

As on 2010′s debut full-length album “Crazy For You,” uncomplicated lyrics about the sun, doing what you want and relationships are delivered with multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno’s surf guitars to create a “fuck it, guys, let’s just hang out” attitude. Best Coast are unabashed lovers of the laid-back lifestyle that West Coast living is advertised to provide, although on this year’s “The Only Place,” there is evidence of a little more time, a little more care, and slicker production value from producer Jon Brion as well as an upgraded recording venue, Capitol Records’ Studio B.

Half of “The Only Place” is filled with ’60s-inspired melodies, while the other half is a combination of this and ’90s disaffected girl group rock. The title track is a mid-summer festival party tune and fan letter to the band’s home state, all rapid-fire simple rhymes and beachy layered guitars. It begins the album on a supremely easygoing note, segueing into “Why I Cry” and “My Life,” similarly upbeat expressions of detached girly angst.

The retro fandom begins later, as “How They Want Me To Be” is exemplary of Best Coast’s fondness for doo-wop harmonies, and the chord progressions of “Better Girl” are nostalgic for the first country-and-western crossovers of the ’70s. Cosentino and Bruno seem to approach the sounds they reference with a casual enjoyment rather than a dedicated scholarship, preferring to stick to short syllables and easy warmth that can be coupled with almost any structure.

While “The Only Place” is more technically precise than “Crazy For You,” unfortunately, it doesn’t have the magic of the debut album’s standouts, namely the wistful “Boyfriend” and the rough-but-dreamy “When I’m With You.” At best, “Crazy For You” and fewer parts of “The Only Place” affect a sweet frivolousness; at worst, this style on the new album has been re-branded as puerile laziness, using recycled fills and songwriting that’s gone beyond train of thought into stoners trying to rhyme something with “orange.” These cases include tracks “No One Like You” and “Dreaming My Life Away,” both dully repetitive, as well as the derivative quality of some songs to repeat earlier tracks on the album, albeit at mildly different tempos and with a few subbed lyrics.

The smoothed edges and Cosentino’s edge-of-chanteuse voice sound nice, but “The Only Place” doesn’t come close to getting an A for effort. Best Coast is going to have to try a lot harder than this if they actually want to grow up someday. I realize that this may be the antithesis of their whole deal, but if they’re willing to go this far with their California worship, they would do well to remember that the patron saints of California rock ‘n’ roll got serious about songwriting eventually, and it was this buckling down that still lets them get away with “Kokomo.”

Concert review and setlist: Kelly Clarkson (with Matt Nathanson) puts on vocal clinic at the Fabulous Fox, Friday, March 16

Louis Kwok

Touring on her latest album, “Stronger,” Texan Kelly Clarkson put on a stunning vocal clinic Friday night at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis.

Released in October, the record has garnered her usual high success and will surely continue to produce hit singles this year.

The original 2002 American Idol has enjoyed more staying power than the rest, consistently charting hit records while collecting a broad fan base. As a pop star, she’s proven to be less predictable, less dramatic and less auto-tuned than the rest.

Even so, haters have always followed Clarkson, criticizing everything from her sexual orientation to her weight.

Clarkson took the criticism head on Friday night before taking the stage. As the sold-out crowd buzzed in anticipation, faux tabloid headlines were projected on a transparent curtain, flashing words like “Single,” “Failure” and, especially, “Fat.”

When she hit the stage and launched into “Darkside,” she didn’t look fat or unsuccessful to me. In fact, I’d be shocked if she’s still single. Guiding a rapturous crowd through a diverse set of rock, gospel, soul and pop, Clarkson’s show in a sense was a big middle finger to the critics.

Judging from her music selection, Clarkson could rightly be called a record collector nerd who happens to be a pop megastar. Her anthems pay the bills, but Clarkson seemed most energized pulling off ballads and offbeat covers.

After dazzling the crowd with rockers like “Since U Been Gone” and “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” Clarkson and her crack band changed gears with a dark, industrial version of Florence and the Machine’s “Heavy In Your Arms.” It was the first of many surprises during the night.

Huddling together at the front of the stage, the band played a prolonged and engaging acoustic set. With their informal, living-room-jam setup, the band could have been playing at the Venice Café, complete with their eclectic, sticker-laden upright piano.

All the while, Clarkson displayed astonishing vocal range and power.

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Concert review: Pomegranates (with Men Working in Trees, Library Voices and the Lighthouse and the Whaler) return fully ripe to the Firebird, Sunday, March 11

Pomegranates at the Firebird in St. Louis, March 11, 2012

Pomegranates at the Firebird. Photo by Jamie DeVillez.

On the way to SXSW, a slew of bands stopped by the Firebird to sow some new spring seeds and leave some tasty arils. Pomegranates headlined an artsy-rock heavy lineup of bands local, national and Canadian.

Possibly tuning up longer than they had time to play, I watched Men Working in Trees working on instruments that used to be trees. When finally tuned, they pumped out bright indie pop with rude-boy walking bass lines, which would held portent for the night. About midway through the set the lead singer regretted not having any “things” at the merch booth. Having “things” is very important to the economic part of being a band. Not only does it get you additional money, but it also gets you renown. It’s what makes the record turn.

However, “things” contrast with consumerism moderne where you pare down a CD collection, vinyl, photographs, notebooks and relationships into a single device. Anytime you can follow your brain on a path like that, there’s some good music underscoring it. So, in that sense, they were almost a religious experience.

After the locals the seven-piece ensemble that is Library Voices took the over the stage. On their way to SXSW from Canada, St. Louis was the furthest south they had ever ventured. Despite not playing any ska at all they somehow got the crowd skanking. Yes, that reads skanking and should
be interpreted as skanking hard. Even the guy with the five-toed Vibram shoes kept going after getting goose-stepped on.

The Lighthouse and the Whaler were next in line to inherit the stage and running-man crowd. It has to be difficult to create resplendently-soaring music on top of a driving beat when you have two violins. The Ohioans somehow did so. Next to the drummer sat an additional floor tom, snare and tambourine. These were steadily wielded with the speed of propellers. Stable melodies took residence like Venice over a mercurial foundation of rhythm.

It was hard to tell if the crowd had gotten smaller or if everyone was just standing closer together by the time Pomegranates took the stage. Cute may not be the right word to describe Pomegranates, but it’s the first word that comes to mind when you see their adorable boyish faces
and pink guitar. Their looks did not betray their sound, but they did belie the amount of power Pomegranates can breed. Though the crowd was small, the energy was plentiful. By encore time, the venue stunk of a 20-year-old locker room.

Heavy on reverb and retro, Pomegranates brought cassettes as one of their “things” that were available for only a limited time. But then again, isn’t everything only available for a limited time?

See more photos from the show.

Concert review: Blind Pilot’s ‘We are the Tide’ tour rolls into St. Louis with style, at Plush, Friday, March 2

Blind Pilot at Plush in St. Louis, March 2, 2012

Meghan McGlynn

Why do I even care what a few strangers from Kentucky think of a St. Louis crowd? Why would it bother me when one of them tells me about the Blind Pilot show they attended earlier in the tour at Headliners in Louisville?

Or why would I care that the Louisville crowd had quieted down so obediently during the encore of “Three Rounds and a Sound” that the only noises besides the unplugged band and Israel Nebeker’s sincere voice was the clink of the bartender as he dropped ice into a glass? I’ll never understand why someone shouts “f&%*ing Frat Boy Shut Up!” while trying to get another person to quiet down, but I do know one sure way to silence a few loud talkers — sing louder.

Which I’m proud to say is exactly what a packed house full of rapt music lovers did at Plush in St. Louis on Friday night. Mr. Louisville, you keep quiet, ’cause this rowdy St. Louis crowd knows how to party, and apparently, how to join in on a sing-along.

Beyond the touching encore, there were many great moments in this KDHX-welcomed show: such as when Dave Jorgensen played trumpet for “I Buried a Bone” or Kati Claborn pulled out the dulcimer, or Israel set up a pump organ for “New York,” the final track on their latest album, “We Are the Tide,” and a perfect example of just how earnest their songwriting can get. The ancient-looking organ breathed with the song, exhaling sounds digital organs only approximate.

I have no song favorite: the eponymous “We Are the Tide” became an instant road-trip repeat on a recent drive to Memphis; “The Colored Night” is an all-day-you-must-hum-if-you-can’t-sing-along kind of song; and their opener “Keep Her Right” gave Israel a crush-worthiness that leant Blind Pilot an appeal much wider than just the beard-and-belly set which can dominate the folk music scene.

If you’ve never heard of Blind Pilot, then I’ll take full credit here and now. Go Spotify them as soon as you can, because they just might be your next favorite band.

Wait. Do something even more odd, actually go to a record store and buy the CD, so this fantastic band of six from Portland can keep filling their straight-up awesome blue vintage ’71 Crown tour bus with gas and keep playing great shows. That’s right: How does a six-piece band lugging a pump organ from venue-to-venue and city-to-city travel? The blue bus is a kitsch mobile of the highest order. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t run on recycled cooking oil and happy thoughts. But of course, you can’t travel to a place where only real feelings happen and everyone plays banjos and dulcimers in a commercial luxury coach bus.

But I digress. I’m fawning over them a little, and clearly, I have a man crush on this band (perhaps not as enamored as my girlfriend when she first saw Israel take the stage), but it’s not like I drove all the way to Louisville to see a band.

Still, you probably get my point: Blind Pilot is worth the trip, because Blind Pilot is a band that’s going places.

‘Keeping each other on our toes’ An interview with drummer Darren King of MuteMath

facebook.com/mutemath

With an album released last October and a new video for the single “Allies” recently posted, MuteMath has set its sights on St. Louis for a show at the Pageant.

In the middle of a tour for “Odd Soul,” the four-piece band blends ’70s flair with searing drums, pop vocals, manic crescendos and sharp-as-nails guitar work.

MuteMath is always ready to surprise with wild stage antics and swagger; its show this Tuesday at the Pageant should be no exception. I recently interviewed drummer Darren King by phone about growing up in a small town in Missouri, his work with other artists’ remixes and MuteMath’s approach to performing on stage.

Will Kyle: So you are originally from Missouri?

Darren King: Marshfield, Missouri, born and raised.

You were there till you were how old?

Eighteen.

Marshfield sounds like one of those towns that has a Walmart, a high school and a courthouse and that’s it, right?

Yup, and a Sonic.

How did growing up in a small town affect you musically? Did you start playing when you were there?

I played in the high school marching band and I went to church in Springfield [Missouri]. They allowed me to play drums there and be pretty exuberant and didn’t try to stifle me. I recently realized they always let me play the drums really loudly and really poorly. They were always supportive, because I think they could tell I was passionate about it.

I also had a lot of time alone. I was an outsider, a weird kid, and quiet. So I had a lot of time alone to practice. I had an Australian Shepherd as a pet. When I got home from school I had a dog to greet and my first Pearl drum set I could just hit. I got a lot of stuff out of my system that way.

Besides playing with the church, when did you get in your first band?

My first band was called “Fish Gate.” I was also in a band called “Sunday Grunge,” all Christian-type bands. One of them had a lead singer, a girl; I had a big crush on her. I quit the band because I thought we shouldn’t be in a band and date. We didn’t end up dating, but we’re good friends now. I loved those opportunities to play in little coffee houses growing up.

My best friend John was a drummer too and inspired me greatly. We would always challenge each other musically, trading licks and fills. We always kept each other on our toes.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

As a kid, I originally wanted to be a Disney animator, and then I wanted to be Michael Jordan. I got these five basketballs, but they were of no use to me, as I was horrible, no matter how hard I tried. One day, I aired the basketballs up to different pitches and started drumming along on them with my feet. I realized I ought to be a drummer

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