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Friday, 10 January 2014 15:20

Best of 2013: Top 11 concerts in St. Louis (jazz, hip-hip and urban edition)

Gregory Porter at Jazz at the Bistro Gregory Porter at Jazz at the Bistro Wil Wander
Written by Wil Wander
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This past year, my concert schedule started with a frantic pace, but then unfortunately dwindled away a bit due to increasing limitations on time and finances.

I hope, as time goes on, I can regain the active calendar I started, but regardless of limitations, I have and will continue to attend all of my favorites and the greats when they come to town. I don't think I could dare call any of the shows I attended a bad experience; however, of the 30 or so that I still made it to, here were my favorites and most memorable nights.

Gregory Porter at Jazz at the Bistro, January 8

While I've always appreciated the classic female jazz singers, namely Nina and Billie, the vocal side of jazz hasn't really drawn me in until I heard Porter's track "1960 What?" at a season preview at the Bistro. Instantly drawn to him, I immediately purchased my tickets and was not disappointed. There's something about his presence on stage and his lack of classical training that separates him from the pack. I was glad to see him get some attention at the Grammys this year as well as amazing crowds at the Bistro

Wax Tailor's Dusty Rainbow Experience (ft. Mattic & Charlotte Savary with Sam Lachoy ft. Raz Simone, DJ Zev and DJ Needles) at the Demo STL, February 2

I sometimes get a little pessimistic about my chances of seeing many of the international acts I love without immense amount of traveling, so I was thrilled to see that Wax Tailor was coming to town (and then a KDHX in-studio as well). Beyond the amazement of the day, the show that night was truly an experience of music and video. The whole set played like a scripted film and the only possible complaint is that JC didn't bring the full family of musicians involved in his European tours.

Dessa (ft. Aby Wolf with Farout & DJ Mahf and Mathias & the Pirates) at the Firebird, March 11 and July 30

Dessa had an incredibly busy year of touring, going on leg after leg of tours in what seemed to span over a 12 month period with very little break. Twice during this run, she came to the Firebird, once before the release of "Parts of Speech" and once after, both times featuring a full band to back her up. I was thrilled to have her come to town leading a band, which appealed to my taste in music more than her visit with Doomtree last year. It was great to see the growth from her older work, now covered by the band, to the new album that was designed with live band in mind. In addition, Aby Wolf twice stunned the crowd with her own music as well as beautifully accompanying Dessa's performances. Once again, I had the added bonus of friends opening these shows on the local side.

Sound Tribe Sector 9 with Maserati at the Pageant, March 14

Anyone that knows me knows that while I love music produced by any number of different methods, ultimately, I appreciate nothing more than an act that performs their music live, particularly in genres filled with sequencing software and DJ mixes. STS9 has long since been innovators in the world of live produced electronic music and their sound has always evolved with it. They continue to impress with each tour and each album.

Joe Sample Trio at Jazz at the Bistro, March 29

After the Jazz Crusaders had to cancel their show at the Touhill a few years ago, I thought I had missed my chance to see Joe Sample play, but like many times before, the Bistro surprised me with its ability to draw such a world class talent into their intimate listening room. In addition to a style that's as easy to follow as it is impressive, Sample was an incredible story teller and the night was filled with laughter. It also included Joe's son, Nick Sample, who showed talent and promise for the future of the Sample name.

Widespread Panic at Peabody Opera House, April 10

Widespread Panic may hold a special place in my life as potentially my first real introduction to independent music and the tour driven band experience. While I cannot tally nearly as many shows as a good number of my friends, I've been fortunate enough to catch them over a span of 12 years and see how their music and shows have evolved. This time, the visual elements had taken a big step up and I was treated to some of the finest seats in the house. Their sets never repeat and never disappoint, and they're an easy selection for repeated appearances on this year-end list.

Anat Cohen and Matt Wilson at Jazz at the Bistro, April 18

I often find myself with interesting choices among the season's line-up at the Bistro. I try to choose a favorite or two, add some more from my bucket list of the greats and then select a few shows that would be entirely new to me. This was one of the latter and was one of the more fun shows I've attended at the Bistro. The co-leaders were as bright and cheerful as they were talented, and they selected some very worthy musicians to back them up as well. It also spawned a further investigation into the contrabass and the use of the C-extension.

The Soul Rebels Brass Band at the Old Rock House, May 23

I remember this being a frustrating night with a disappointing crowd, but that was in no way connected to the band on stage. The genuine NOLA brass band format is hard to resist when done well, and the Rebs were certainly up to the task. They blended some rapped verse in with their set, as well as throwing some amazing covers into the mix. Perhaps the crowning achievement was getting a lackluster crowd to break out and join each other on the dance floor.

The Polish Ambassador (ft. Liminus Visuals with Wildlight and Quasar Camp) at 2720 Cherokee Performing Arts Center, October 10

This show was unquestionably the most fun show of the year. It had probably been less than two months since someone suggested that I check out TPA's music, so I was still in that exciting novelty phase, perhaps the best time to first catch an artist. In addition to the joyful energy that flows through his blend of styles, he was joined by songwriter and vocalist Ayla Nereo to present a set from their side project, Wildlight, which complemented the night with a level of artistic depth. The opening DJ set also didn't disappoint, setting up the evening well.

Pete Rock & CL Smooth (with Camp Lo, Mathias, the Vaporz and DJ Needles) at 2720 Cherokee Performing Arts Center, October 20

As soon as I heard about this show, it instantly became my most-anticipated hip-hop show in years. The headliners are easily the most influential act the evolution of hip-hop that I devote my time to. Short of the reincarnation of J Dilla himself, no other show could bring back the golden age better than this one. Plus, a couple of friends got to open up for their idols and that's always a plus.

Illphonics at the Krantzberg Arts Center, December 27

I was very excited when I heard about Illphonics doing an unplugged set and immediately hoped to catch this show, but alas, it was an early set on a Friday night, a time that I am most certainly working. Changing shifts at the last minute, I was ecstatic that I could make it to this show and it didn't disappoint in the slightest. The members in the band have grown substantially as individual musicians and and songwriters as well as a unit. St. Louis' premier, live-band hip-hop act has reached a level that our city can be proud of and this set was not one to be missed.

All photos by Wil Wander.

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