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: 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: Twenty One Pilots (with New Politics) crash land at the Firebird, Wednesday, February 13

facebook.com/twentyonepilots / Amy Gibson

It was a surreal experience walking up to the Firebird at 7:15 p.m. to find a line of 200 people waiting outside to get in. The Twenty One Pilots show started at 7:30 p.m. — the earliest start time for a show I’ve ever been to — and the place was absolutely packed.

I’ve been to sold out shows at the Firebird before, but at this one, everyone seemed to be pushed up as close as possible to the stage, which made it seem a lot fuller than when a portion of the crowd is hanging out by the bar. For a lot of the night, I couldn’t move, but then there were other times when everyone seemed to jump in perfect unison and find pockets to throw their arms up in the air through.

Twenty One Pilots play a mangling of genres, with a bit of rap, a pinch of synths, some pianos and a ton of drums. I spent a good 10 minutes trying to think of who they sound like and searching the Internet for comparisons, but I really couldn’t find any that I agreed with. Many of the reviews I read described the band as “schizoid-pop,” if you have any idea what that would sound like.

After the show, I spent some time thinking about why we go to concerts. Obviously, it’s because we like the music, but the primary reason is to be entertained. I’ve been to concerts before where I didn’t necessarily like the music, but it came across in such a way that it was exciting to watch and I was glad to be hearing it. Twenty One Pilots are one of those bands. There’s so much to see that the music sometimes became secondary, almost like a soundtrack to the performance. That definitely isn’t how all concerts should be, but sometimes it works.

Before Twenty One Pilots came New Politics, a three-piece from Copenhagen, Denmark. They reminded me of Rage Against the Machine, partially for musical reasons but mostly just because of the political angst that ran through their lyrics. Half their songs were about starting revolutions. The set seemed like Occupy the Firebird.

During the third song, when frontman David Boyd asked the crowd to open up a circle, the floor became like a mosh pit without the moshers. He jumped down from the stage to break dance amidst the people. The move showed he was really performing for the crowd instead of just in front of us.

Twenty One Pilots actually exceeded my expectations in many ways, especially in the smart organization of the set. The biggest surprise came when they broke into their biggest single, “Holding Onto You,” only about 15 minutes into the show. I worried they’d just go downhill from there, but to follow it they covered Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It,” which I think is the only song that wouldn’t have been a downer to hear next.

In addition to acrobatics, like lots of jumping and handstands, a big part of a Twenty One Pilots show is the costumes they wear, full-body skeleton onesies for the first song, “Ode to Sleep,” and later bank-robber style ski masks for a few songs. By the encore, frontman Tyler Joseph was shirtless.

The Firebird’s stage is pretty small, and Twenty One Pilots were limited in some ways with what they could do, so they followed New Politics’ lead and took to the floor. For the encore, the packed crowd opened up again into a circle, probably about 15 feet in diameter, and the band carried three snare drums onto the floor. Joseph and drummer Josh Dun led a 300-plus-person drum circle inside the Firebird. The way the two jumped around the drums, hitting drumsticks against each other, felt almost spiritual, despite the theatrics.

I think if you’re going to listen to Twenty One Pilots, it has to be live. On their recorded album, “Vessel,” you don’t get the same energy and franticness of their concerts. Their live show is the kind that you need to keep thinking about for a while afterwards to make sure you didn’t forget anything (and admittedly, I probably did).

It’s the kind of show that leaves a mark, both in the form of crazy memories and bruises from crashing into the crowd around you.

Concert review: Rock ‘n’ roll excitement with Grace Potter and the Nocturals and Langhorne Slim and the Law at the Pageant, Thursday, January 10

Grace Potter at the Pageant. Photo by Sam Africano.

If Thursday night’s rock show at the Pageant — featuring Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Langhorne Slim and the Law — offers any indication of what this year’s concerts will bring, it’s going to be a fun year.

Langhorne Slim and the Law, a band that has frequented the KDHX studios over the years, kicked off the night with the song, “Bad Luck.” The energy spawned by this salutation was just a precursor to the music they were about to shell out. The band’s 11-song set included several highlights from the 2012 album, “The Way We Move.”

Off stage, singer and songwriter Langhorne Slim personally comes across as having a mellow, peaceful disposition. On stage, however, he is quite the entertainer. His unforgettable performance as a singer and guitar player owes to his physical animation, commitment to every lyric and engagement with the audience. More than once, he sat on the ledge of center stage to get up close and personal with the fans who were packed into the open floor area. I wouldn’t exactly say he dances on stage; rather, he jumps around, leans into the rhythm, kneels down on his knees to deliver his chords and lyrics, and occasionally shakes his head with fiery vocal deliverance. His voice ranges from a graveled desperation to a smooth comfort; the sincerity is present in every word of every song. He experiences the music and gives 110% to the audience. Langhorne Slim’s presentation was nothing short of cool and entertaining.

Band members Malachi DeLorenzo (drums), David Moore (banjo, keys) and Jeff Ratner (bass) all gave a solid performance and offered equally impressive highlights. The keyboard parts shone on “Fire” and “The Way We Move,” while the banjo and upright bass stole the spotlight on “Someday.” The set did include a couple of slower, quieter songs which accentuated Langhorne Slim’s vocal ability, but the majority of the band’s performance was lively and upbeat. Several times they moved into outstanding jam sessions that made the crowd go wild. I thought the banjo strings were going to snap at any second. They nailed the picking work. The set concluded with “Past Lives,” an engaging, interpersonal exploration, leaving us with the final repeated lyrics, “I ain’t dead anymore.” No, Langhorne Slim and the Law certainly is not dead.

Headliner Grace Potter and the Nocturnals brought a high-powered rock ‘n’ roll performance, which perhaps pleasantly surprised portions of the ticket holders. I noticed a few attendees’ expressions when they quickly discovered what a bad-ass Grace Potter is. She embodies the female rock-star persona. She is beautiful with exceptional taste in style and fashion (hence the sparkly jacket, leather skirt and heels last night). Her voice is gorgeous and holds exceptional stamina, all the while she switches between acoustic guitar, Flying-V electric guitar, tambourine and keyboard. She validates every rock song with hair-whipping and dance moves, which she eventually performed barefoot. I have insufficient words to describe how amazing she is.

The band opened with “Paris (Ooh La La)” featuring three electric guitars. The energy in the room progressed, fueled by the Nocturnals’ unending prowess. The band — Potter (vocals, guitar, tambourine, keyboard), Matt Burr (drums), Scott Tournet (guitar, bass) and Benny Yurco (guitar, bass) played about 16 songs from various albums. A few to mention include “Turntable,” “Mastemind,” Ah, Mary,” “Stop the Bus” and “The Divide.” The reeling lead-ins, multiple guitar collaborations and timing with the professional lighting were only a few reasons why this was a terrific show.

Other highlights: Potter crawled across the stage in a feline motion to meet the low-lying guitar players for a dramatic entrance; the strung light bulbs enchanted the room during the chorus of radio hit “Stars”; the bluesy call and answer between the electric guitar and Potter’s voice; a brief but impressive harmonica appearance; and, finally, a great acoustic guitar solo by Benny Yurco.

The encore was everything an encore should be: A cover of Heart’s “Crazy on You,” followed by earlier tune, “Apologies” and the grand finale, the title track of their latest record, “The Lion The Beast The Beat,” an incredible adrenaline rush to close out the night.

Concert review: The Supersuckers (with Fat Tramp Food Stamp and Ded Bugs) raise a little hell at the Firebird, Saturday, November 17

flickr.com/photos/seanbirm/8180328895 / Sean Birmingham

With dark sunglasses, a darker 10-gallon, a couple of Guy Fawkes-inspired beards and plenty of “rock ‘n’ roll about rock,” the Supersuckers reasserted their self-declared title of “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world” at the Firebird.

After manning his merch booth most of the night, Eddie Spaghetti, the leader of the group, took his rightful spot front and center of the stage, insisting everyone “Gather ’round, we’re here to rock the house.”

Sure enough, the leather and denim of the crowd quickly took over the monopoly that the canvas-shoed had enjoyed amongst the front few rows, as the Supersuckers launched into a trademark high-octane set. “Rock Your Ass” provided one of ample opportunities for “Metal” Marty, playing one of three on-stage Les Pauls, to launch into a solo invoking the frenetic tone of Allen Collins. When presented with birthday present offers, Marty, since they were obviously providing the rock ‘n’ roll, requested the first two of the timeless yet constantly updated “wine, women and song” indulgence — albeit in a manner befit to a group named after a porn trope.

Eddie’s cowboy hat resembled devil horns the more the night went on, as it became clear that the Supersuckers would provide the theme music for nights of debauchery. The crowd understood it similarly, as the band’s simultaneous raising of signature gold-top guitars marked the escorting out for a few of the more rambunctious fans. “Pretty Fucked Up,” an excellent but tidy setlist staple, and “Supersucker Drive-By Blues,” a reminder built to ease the listener back into normalcy, served as high points.

Fat Tramp Food Stamp proved promising as soon as Chum, the overalls-wearing lead singer, brought his own bongos to the stage. Shortly thereafter, the bassist, Brandon Shrum, turned out to be the most proficient R&B player in the building while the backup vocalist picked up at least four different instruments. Regardless, the crowd swayed appropriately to the endearing tone as Chum reassured that “she plays whatever (she kindly) feels like.” Expecting to hear straight-forward country alt-rock, one instead gets a nuanced band that hangs in the head like a wisp of smoke in the air.

Ded Bugs, taking the stage as if they just finished a marathon session of “Anvil: The Story of Anvil,” was backed by dive-bombs, distortion and a love of feedback. Playing songs with titles like “Who Will Save Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Ded Bugs collectively showed an utter abundance of talent, yet never allowed anything to be as important as being loud. Even better, the three non-drummers, when trading off vocal duties, slightly traded styles, and the band fluctuated from the heyday of CGBG’s to strip club baroque with each song.

Concert review: Delta Spirit, JEFF the Brotherhood and Fidlar roll out the rock at the Pageant, Thursday, November 15

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Fidlar opened the night to a thinly gathered crowd. While super tight and fun to watch, I just couldn’t get over their similarity to Jay Reatard’s entire back catalogue.

I’m not one to judge a band based on its influences, but there seems to be so many bands out there right now that sound like Wavves — it’s dispiriting. Fidlar did one up the aforementioned slacker kings by favoring a more punkish yelling in several songs versus the lazy slurring vocal delivery. I think I would have given Fidlar more of a chance had I seen them in a dive bar or a basement, where the energy can really be felt and numbers don’t matter. That being said, the band’s expression of adolescent rage seared the few who ventured into the Pageant‘s pit. The band seems to be playing what they want and not getting too hung up about how it turns out, so good for them.

I’ve been listening to JEFF the Brotherhood virtually nonstop for the past year. Blending the sound of Weezer’s “Blue Album” and Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” the brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall still forge a sound of their own. Falling somewhere between a goofy, eternal party spirit, and a fuzzy-eyed blur, JEFF the Brotherhood always sounds like its having a good time. Utilizing a three-stringed guitar in front of a mountain of Emperor cabs, vocalist/guitarist Jake manages to make powerful tones that would be difficult for even three guitars to accomplish.

The Nashville duo opened with the crunchy two-chord riffage of “Hey Friend” from last year’s “We Are the Champions.” Given the largeness of its arena-ready songs, the band didn’t feel terribly out of place in the hugeness of the Pageant. Playing an equal number of selections from their most recent “Hypnotic Nights” and “We Are the Champions,” the group stuck true to performing what its fans wanted to hear, even including “Noo Sixties” from 2006′s “Castle Storm” album. I’ll definitely be present the next time JEFF the Brotherhood — one of the best live bands out there right now — rolls into town.

I really wish I could have caught the headliner, Delta Spirit, back before it broke. I don’t believe a band can be said to sell out anymore — especially given the mess that is the music business and the inescapable presence of music pirating — but a certain rock-star attitude comes at a price. I’m a big fan of Delta Spirit’s recorded material, which is solid roots/indie rock that stands out above the pack of ’70s rock revivalists. Live, the band tells a different story.

Delta Spirit performed effortlessly tight versions of its studio work, but the light show and the band’s presence killed the mood for me. Lead man Matthew Vasquez constantly demanded crowd participation, throwing his arms up for applause and asking for the audience to clap along. The result was something a little too freakishly close to a Coldplay concert — and that includes the ego stroking on stage. Delta Spirit’s set was definitely the full-show experience, what with the room filling up out of nowhere. (Though I have to wonder: How can so many people reconcile buying a ticket and skipping out on a solid, full bill?)

In the end, a 50-foot-tall backdrop with the band’s name emblazoned across it and a light show that obscures every musician sans the lead vocalist is not my idea of a good time. Maybe it’s just not my scene, and maybe I’m being elitist and completely out of touch with what most people want from a rock show — and the crowd at the Pageant clearly loved the headliner’s set — but I’d rather see a good band like Delta Spirit not try so hard and just play music.

Concert review and set list: Aimee Mann (with Ted Leo) gently rocks a seated crowd at the Pageant, Tuesday, November 13

Aimee Mann at the Pageant. Photo by Kate McDaniel.

A solo Ted Leo opened the evening at the Pageant with a quiver of power-pop tunes.

“Bleeding Powers” found Leo stretching his vocals to excellent effect, the song reminiscent in mood, like a Springsteen tune. Leo sang, “And the road leads somewhere, but it’s yet to your door.” He played his electric guitar as if the rest of his band, the Pharmacists, were behind him on stage. The artist’s skill and swagger precluded the need for them.

“Coleen,” an ode to the typical girl that everyone knows, jangled and twinkled beneath the Pageant’s lights. After the song, Leo tuned his guitar in silence, noting how awkward tuning alone on stage is. “A Bottle of Buckie” opened with fingerpicked guitar before it slipped into palm-muted work. Leo’s deft lyrics danced over the bed of guitar as the troubadour hit the falsetto accents of the song’s chorus.

“One Polaroid a Day” was altered to fit Leo’s solo modality. The song, though less hushed and sultry than on the record, was nonetheless satisfying with its imagery focused on a controlling woman. Leo proclaimed “The Toro and the Toreador” to be his “Stairway to Heaven,” and I agreed. The tune enthralled the audience and built to a distorted peak wrapped around with careful lyrics.

After a set change, Aimee Mann appeared with her five-piece band, including a keyboard/guitarist, a keyboardist, a drummer and Mann’s producer/bassist Paul Bryan. After a quick hello, the leather-clad Mann jumped into “Disappeared” from 2012′s “Charmer.” The song, one of my favorites from the new effort, seemed to hover above the crowd like an evening sky, gaining bright definition as Mann deftly layered a pre-chorus atop a gorgeous chorus.

“Gumby” was full of country-moon power and nostalgia, telling the story of a mother stretched too thin, needing to call her daughter. Again, Mann’s stacking of pre-chorus hooks enraptured the crowd. “Labrador,” the single from “Charmer,” offered up a “Free Fallin’”-type power-chug, complete with Mann’s signature lilt and a serene bed of starry keys.

Ted Leo appeared on stage along side Mann to perform the duet “Living a Lie,” which on “Charmer” features the Shins’ James Mercer. Leo hit every high note with Mercer’s ease, and I’ll admit, I enjoyed Leo’s live singing more than Mercer’s record-side.

“Charmer” returned the set to Mann’s mid-tempo rock, and before the song, Mann declared, “Ready for us to gently rock you again?” The song featured a devilish hook of infectious vocal “o-o-o-ooo’s” mixing with spacey ’70s keys and guitar. “That’s Just What You Are” conjured the Indigo Girls, while “Ray” brought the tempo and tone down before building it back up with a full-band chorus.

Mann went solo for her suite of songs from Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia.” “Save Me” was performed acoustically, Mann’s vocals doing all the heavy lifting. The audience was captured as Mann sang, “If you could save me from the ranks of the freaks who suspect they could never love anyone.” On “Wise Up” delicate keys led the way as Mann spun the song’s heart-wrenching chorus, “It’s not going to stop until you wise up.” Harry Nilsson’s Beatles-influenced “One” unwound with stabs of organ and Bryan’s backing vocals, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever know.”

“Slip and Roll” again found Mann building brilliant pre-choruses and folding them into hooky choruses. Mann closed her set with “Goodbye Caroline” and “It’s Not Safe,” dealing each song’s emotional tone with experience and craft, making us feel what she must have felt when she originally crafted each one.

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Concert review: The Fresh & Onlys rock short and sweet at the Firebird, Friday, November 2

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My favorite thing to do when I get to a show early is people watch, and, with three openers before the Fresh & Onlys took the stage at the Firebird on Friday night, I had a lot of time to survey the crowd.

The turnout was small so I could get a good look at almost everyone: the guy with the fedora, plaid shirt and denim jacket; the girl with bangs and pigtails; the probably six-foot-four giant in a raincoat.

After opening sets by Admirals, Troubadour Dali and Swayback, the Fresh & Onlys took the stage. Plaid shirt and denim jacket guy was on bass, pigtail girl played keyboard and the giant was drumming. That’s show intimacy at it’s finest. The person who held the restroom door open for me during a set break took the stage an hour later.

Throughout the night, I kept seeing members of the four bands on the bill wandering throughout the venue and working the merch table. During Troubadour Dali’s set, I may have even been standing next to one of the band member’s parents. If not, they were just two incredibly cool 60-somethings who liked rocked music and rum and cokes and hugged the whole band after the set.

At around 11:15 p.m., the Fresh & Onlys took the stage with guitarist Wymond Miles humming what sounded like “Surfin’ Bird” to test his microphone. The band opened with “Secret Walls,” and “20 Days and 20 Nights” before introducing itself. Frontman Tim Cohen asked the crowd to form the shape of an arch, because they “came from San Francisco [and] didn’t get to see the Arch.” A few people shuffled around, but the crowd of about 100 mostly just laughed.

“Waterfall” came about 15 minutes into the set. It sounded straight from the album, a testament to the band’s musical skill but also the authenticity and rawness of the recorded version. “Waterfall” and “Secret Walls” were some of the only songs played that are not on the bands’ newest release, “Long Slow Dance,” or “LSD” as Cohen said we should call it.

“No Regard” was dreamy and emotional. Cohen’s leg did a little twitch as he sang, and he really seemed to feel the lyrics of the song.

“Presence of Mind” and “Yes or No,” both of which came near the end of the set, sounded more rhythmic than some Fresh & Onlys music and got even the bearded men in leather jackets dancing, a fun sight to watch. The show, even though it included almost 15 songs, seemed short, probably because almost all of the songs played lasted less than three minutes. Although I would have liked a longer show, the short songs came off incredibly well live — brevity kept the pace of the set moving.

When the show came to an end, the audience cheered, the band said its thank you’s, and then left the stage to return to wandering about the crowd and standing by the merch table.

It was as if nothing had happened, as if they hadn’t just played an hour of spectacular music.

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