Tenement Ruth, Grace Basement and Magnolia Summer
RFT Music Awards Showcase - June 2
As I look back on the year and the shows I have taken in, I keep coming back to the RFT Music Awards Showcase. With all the bands and friends that played throughout the day and evening, there was an hour or so of marathon show witnessing as I bounced from venue to venue to catch Union Electric, Sleepy Kitty, Tok and Bruiser Queen. In the same amount of time it would take to catch an opening act and part of the headliner, I took in (at least most of the sets) of some of my favorite local acts, all of which were headliners!
Bonus concert: With three days left in the year of 2012, I happened to experience El Monstero for the first time! Year after year this super group of local musicians -- including Jimmy Griffin, Mark Thomas Quinn, Bryan Greene and John Pessoni among others -- put on a show dedicated to the music of Pink Floyd that was completely amazing! Costumes, fireworks, ballerinas, pole dancers, circus performers and lasers -- along with the performance of the music as good if not better than the original band. It's hard to keep in mind that this full-blown extravaganza is put on by local talent. Definitely my favorite show of the year!
Solo, Old Lights and Cassie Morgan and the Lonely Pine
Nada Surf at Old Rock House - June 25
The first and only other time I've seen Nada Surf was when I was 18. They've been one of my favorite bands ever since, and I was nervous to see them again, 10 years later. But they didn't disappoint. Melodic, yet rocking as ever, Nada Surf brought me back to my younger days while giving me hope for where they're headed. The set was engaging; Matthew Caws voice really pulled me in. Man, I love that voice. The songs off their new album were good, but the golden moment was when they played my three favorite songs for their encore.
Kentucky Knife Fight and Yankee Racers
Joe Pug at Off Broadway - November 12
In 2012 I saw numerous mind-altering concerts and missed just as many (I would guess that the Maps & Atlases/So Many Dynamos, Glossary/Blind Eyes or the Great Grandfathers shows would have been in the running for my most memorable shows). The concert that made the biggest impact on me was the November 12 Joe Pug show at Off Broadway. I heard Joe Pug for the first time in March when he performed right before my band Kentucky Knife Fight at SXSW; I was immediately converted. I unexpectedly heard him again at the Kerrville Folk Festival in June and knew I would not miss him the next time he came to St. Louis. Listening to Joe in November, I was totally engaged in his performance and wondered, if he's this amazing, how insanely good is Springsteen?! I suggest starting with his song "Hymn #35." My next favorite show was Fucked Up/Shaved Woman/Modern Man. That show fucking wailed.
Sean Allen Canan
Stickley & Canan and the Hatrick
Phish at Chaifetz Arena - August 28
Phish was a big part of my childhood. In high school and early in college, I committed to traveling around the midwest in vans/VW buses much to the dismay of my parents (and grades). Keep in mind that this was the '90s. No cell phones, Billy Clinton on sax, cheap gas, etc. I must've seen them 30 times back in those days.
However, like most folks, you get older, tastes evolve. By the time I was out of college and in my own band (Bockman's Euphio), I no longer had much of a place for the Vermont 4. They held a permanent residence in Nostalgiaville. So all these years later, Phish rolls into town. As soon as we get to the arena, the old feelings flood back. I dunno if it was the anticipation or the dozens of friends from hundreds of miles around outside the venue, but it felt like 1998 all over again. Grilled cheese and Sammy Smiths were even being sold in the parking lot!
Just before the show began, I struck up a conversation with a group of KSHE-listening older fellas. Obviously their first Phish show. I told them I hoped to hear a bunch of '80s Phish and it pretty much blew their minds. "Phish was a band in the '80s!? I never knew…." Then the band came on and rolled out an entire first set of classic '80s quirkiness. Vacuum cleaner solo, Zappa cover, etc. They are simply the goofiest and most technically gifted band to fill any arena in the world. In between sets, I turned back to the fellas and said, "'80s Phish for the win!" Ahh Nostalgiaville. Now if only I could ditch this cell phone.
For some reason, the idea persists that great music can only be made post-sundown, served up with requisite rounds of bourbon and beer. Wholly untrue. As this show compellingly and emphatically proved, the difference between a.m. and p.m. can be indistinguishable.
This Bloody Mary morning began with the Brothers Lazaroff, who kicked off the brunch session with a couple of tracks from their recent release, "Science Won"; the set offered a shining example of what's right about St. Louis music. They provided the perfect rhythmic ingredient for the morning.
Kevin Gordon took that ingredient and built a feast. One of my favorite writers and performers, Kevin tunnels into the grit, pain and honesty of southern imagery and delivers it through haunting open tunings. Accompanied by his long-time rhythm section of Ron Eoff and Paul Griffith, with Joe McMahan on guitar, Gordon put on a veritable tonal workshop of beautifully dark, droning chordal vamps that were just mesmerizing and memorable -- particularly against a bright sky.
Avery Sunshine at Lola - June 21
My most memorable show was opening up for Avery Sunshine at Lola this year. I was already aware of who she was by seeing her video on VH1 and I LOVED HER! So to be on the same bill with her was amazing. We both did acoustic sets playing keys (something I rarely do!). It got me out of my comfort zone. The memory was not the playing but the conversation before the show. She was such a genuine loving person and she really encouraged me to play more. By the time the conversation was over, we were both in tears. Two women, single parents, pianists who love this music -- priceless!
Derobert & the Half-Truths at Lola - October 6
In 2007 the G.E.D. Soul label out of Nashville, Tenn. came on the scene with a 7" by the Gips, the label's house band at the time. This was the first of many releases from the independent label that would go on to capture the hearts of funk and soul lovers around the world.
In 2012 the label brought the heavy hitting R&B/soul act and label kingpin Derobert & the Half-Truths to the stage at Lola.
The Half-Truths had first ventured to St. Louis in 2011 -- well documented by KDHX -- for a three-song instudio performance that included the heart-wrenching tune "Swear I'm Not A Fool" from the 2010 full-length album "Soul in a Digital World."
On this night they would play in front of what was sure to be the largest crowd St. Louis had offered to date. Lead singer Dee Adams (aka Derobert) came dressed to impress looking like a throwback from the glory days of the '60s soul scene. While his band mates the Half-Truths were rocking black Puma jump suits with white trim and may have been able to pass as members of the German Olympic water polo squad.
The band took the stage after I was fortunate enough to bust a few 7" singles on the decks. Warming up the crowd was great, but it was time to sit back and take in what would be a memorable performance.
The Half-Truths' sound has been compared to that of the J.B.'s. The razor-sharp soul sounds are a product of Nick DeVan (drums), Dave Singleton (bass), Andrew Mueller (guitar), Austin Little (trombone) and Mark Spain (sax). Though I was never able to see the J.B.'s, the comparison seems very appropriate.
All in all Derobert & the Half-Truths burned through 120 minutes of nearly all original material in front of a happy-footed crowd pushing 150 plus. Whether it was the eternally optimistic messages from Derobert between tunes or the sometimes cruel, love-sick tales played out through song, Derobert & the Half-Truths get it right on every level. Do yourself a favor St. Louis. Don't sleep on the little soul label that could from Nashville and look out for the 2013 sophomore full-length release from Derobert & the Half-Truths.
Phish at Chaifetz Arena - August 28
It was a breath of fresh air, albeit a smoky freshness, to experience Phish in a smaller, indoor venue like the Chaifetz. The "phans" (as Phish fans call themselves) were riled, the sound was clear, the lights were popping and the band came to throw down. Setting the tone for the evening, they opened with a face-melting classic and continued to crescendo through the set list with one epic after another. Each jam had all the right notes with an extensive dynamic range, proving that the band was in the zone. The lighting design corresponded perfectly with the ebb and flow of the music, keeping the euphoric phans slobbering. Not only was this my favorite Phish show to date, some say it was their best show of the 2012 tour. Stage banter to note: Before Jon Fishman's vacuum solo, Trey Anastasio introduced him as "The John Coltrane of the vacuum cleaner."
It wasn't their best show, cuz that hasn't happened yet. And it happens each time they play. It wasn't their weirdest show either, for the same reasons. Just a two-piece this night, Andy and JJ set up two keyboards facing each other in the middle of the room, and everyone circled 'round. They wore funny shirts and sang through telephones and synchronized their sipping of beers, none of which added to or distracted from the music they pulled from heaven without seeming to even realize they were doing it. It was high art done low-brow. It was no big deal and it was amazing and it's why they're my favorite band in St Louis.
I found out later that MaxEff singer Zeng informed his band, "OK, guys. There's gonna be a guy, during our set, he's gonna wear a white robe and say nice things to everyone." Also, Ryan Koenig and Ashley Hohman handed out special punch; when asked as to its ingredients, they replied, "I was not told." I feel that these individual facts reveal, overall, what an amazing show this was.
Bonus concert: Jack White at Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa, Okla. - October 12. I rode there with a friend after work at 2 p.m. on a Friday, so I missed openers Pokey LaFarge & the South City Three. However, empirical evidence suggests that they played an amazing set as always. Jack White, the only national act to make any best-of list of mine ever, rocked. He rocked my face. He rocked the packed crowd's collective face. He possibly rocked the faces of people walking by on the street outside.
And one more: Tower Groove Records Fall Informal - October 20. Playing on a set erected that day in the street outside of Apop Records on Cherokee Street, TGR's lineup continued to show that DIY is more fun than any fest that takes two years to book and 1,000 hours to plan.
Honorable Mention: Big Muddy Chili Cookoff at Off Broadway on May 27
Pretty Little Empire and Jump Starts
An Under Cover Weekend 6, Night 2 at the Firebird - September 8
An Under Cover Weekend Night 2 was one of my favorite shows of 2012. I am not a huge fan of cover bands, but this is such a fun event. So many great local bands come together to put on fantastic renditions of their favorite artists. The audience at the Firebird was packed with other local bands who were not on the bill that night, and I saw plenty of familiar faces. The energy level of the crowd was high the entire night because the lineup worked perfectly: It started out with Arthur and the Librarian's great take on Simon & Garfunkel and ended with Via Dove cranking out the hits of Aerosmith. I've seen these bands play their own music, but that night I had no trouble watching them morph into bands I grew up listening to. It was a blast.
Vintage Trouble at Lola - May 19
They describe the recipe for powerhouse as a cup of fascinating and a pint of "Get the hell out of here." This was my first time becoming acquainted with Vintage Trouble's work; they were the opening act for Van Hunt early spring of the year at Lola. That show, I watched them standing next to a great amount of their own followers in amazement. Later I found out they'd come back in two months and I would be opening up for them. On May 19, 2012 Vintage Trouble headlined a returning set to Lola with a performance level more potent than the first. Lead singer Ty Taylor displayed vocal flare with flawless performing energy, drawing the audience closer with every tune. He danced circles on and off the stage, even on top of bar tables. I caught Ty doing a spin move while wrapping his body in the mic cord, then reverse spinning himself out of the cords. While band members Nalle Colt (guitar) Richard Danielson (drums) and bassist Rick Barrio Dill sang backup vocals and played a rock 'n' soul blend of songs off their album "The Bomb Shelter Sessions." I loved how their show engaged the audience as if they were part of the jam session. They even invited up St.Louis' well-known musicians Lamar Harris and Christopher McBride, adding trombone and saxophone to their ensemble for a tune. Vintage Trouble left a rich impression on that entire room, defining organic greatness.
The High Dives and Diesel Island
Shovels & Rope at Off Broadway - May 19
Consisting of the husband and wife team of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, the duo played its own Carolina-based minimalist version of Americana roots-rock, whatever that means in 2012. Two-person bands seem all the rage these days, but Shovels & Rope stand out for their ability to take rock, country and folk elements and mold them into something fresh and appealing without the self-conscious trappings that tend to mire acts working similar turf. And Cary Ann Hearst is a star.
The dB's at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room - November 17
When I found out the dB's were playing the Duck room, I only knew of their renowned and current release "Falling off the Sky," but I loved the new album and was anxious to hear them live. That night, from first note to last, they lived up to expectations. Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple had an enthusiastic crowd singing classics and new songs alike. They sealed the deal for show of the year with a perfect rendition of "Lonely Is as Lonely Does."
Bilal at 2720 Cherokee - December 13
On December 13, 2012 at 2720 Cherokee, I got to witness one of my musical heroes conquer the stage like there was no tomorrow! Bilal's vocal range alone traveled from St. Louis to Mars and his performance was MIND BLOWING! By the time he finished -- and that was after hitting us with two more joints as an encore -- I was in an Alex Mack-like puddle!
My Morning Jacket at Peabody Opera House - August 8
My Morning Jacket at Peabody Opera House was my favorite show of 2012. That band is ferocious. I'll never forget the spectacle that was a caped Jim James jumping up and down in front of an exploding light show while screaming the "Wordless Chorus." Unbelievable. Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses) said it best after joining MMJ for a song that night in St. Louis: "This is the greatest band in the world."
P.S. I shot this video from the second row that night.
The Blind Eyes
Nick Lowe at the Sheldon Concert Hall - September 26
I'll confess that a concert featuring nothing but a man and his acoustic guitar is a hard sell for me. I guess I'm just a sucker for bands. When the man is Nick Lowe though, I'm sold. It doesn't hurt that he has a wonderfully clear singing voice and an impossibly light touch on the guitar, but mostly, he has a career's worth of immaculately crafted songs upon which to rely. The entire evening was full of little lyrical gems, sweet melodies, funny stories and a sense of Lowe's absolute comfort in his own skin. With so many of Lowe's contemporaries attempting to squeeze into their rock pants to slog away at their hits for another summer, it was refreshing to see an artist welcome his advancing age in top form with grace and humor.
The Walkmen at Plush - June 28
Hamilton Leithauser is a household name at the Rooneys. So when we heard he was coming to Plush, we bought my mom a ticket to her very first Walkmen show. We snuck into the balcony of Plush for soundcheck and were treated to 10 variations on Maroon 5's "This Love." Still, I loved this show because it was the first time I heard Hamilton's evolution from a screaming banshee ("In the New Year") to a modern crooner ("Line by Line"). Hamilton's one of my favorite singers -- not because of his beautiful voice, but because of his range, honesty and ability to make you feel something. Hamilton's voice has aged as gracefully as his songwriting, complementing the band's development from a bunch of young dudes to men with wives and kids. And my mom finally witnessed the frenzied rock songs we'd been playing her for years. "I just love that little drummer! He's so bouncy!" she shrieked after "Blue as Your Blood."
My brother travels for work and has caught the Walkmen all over the world. Before a show, he'll buy them a round of drinks -- to which Hamilton throws him an indifferent nod...but it only makes you more mysterious, Hamilton. It only makes us love you more.
Letter to Memphis
Dear Creek at the Gramophone - August 5
Despite great temptation to go in several different directions here, I'll instead bear witness to the band Dear Creek -- music conservatory students with just as much heart and soul as brains and chops. They are fronted by a spark-plug gal with a powerhouse voice, backed by an equally impressive rhythm section. And they write songs far more grizzled than their early 20s age would lead you to believe. I would consider most of them to be among the most proficient musicians at his or her respective instrument that I have ever heard, yet amazingly, their sum was greater than their parts. Unfortunately, there was a lot going on that night, and most of St. Louis missed it.
Grover Stewart Jr.
SuperHero Killer, Soul Alliance and Brothers Lazaroff
The Right Now at Off Broadway - October 6
My band SuperHero Killer opened for the Right Now out of Chicago at Off Broadway. They were awesome! This band was tight; the melodies were awesome and the grooves were solid. The entire band was extremely humble and down to earth. To Stefanie and the boys: I'm proud of you guys. Keep funk'n!
This show was a night I keep returning to when describing what a vibrant music scene should look like in St. Louis. From the unconventional industrial space of Mushmaus to the round-robin band setup, everything felt right about this show. Free beer in the fridge, bands getting sweaty without an ounce of pretentiousness, and the absence of a stage should be essential ingredients to every show. Demonlover and Magic City tore it up with some of the most jubilantly ungenrefiable rock 'n' roll I've ever heard. TOPS and CaveofswordS shared hazy-eyed, sparsely layered pop. A memorable moment of the night came right before TOPS came on, when I was sharing a cigarette with a local kid barely old enough to do so. The police had just shown up to shut down the show when he remarked something along the lines of "There's a lot rougher stuff going on down the street, but the cops respond to this call because they won't be shot at."