Known or not, opening acts are an integral part of the concert-going experience, occasionally outperforming the top billed act in hopes of becoming your new favorite band.
Here are my favorite six opening acts of 2011, in no particular order.
Sara Swenson - A singer-songwriter hailing from Kansas City, Sara is blessed with a talent for writing songs from the soul and playing them without losing anything in the translation. Her set at the Old Rock House this year was one of those occasions where there was nothing but pure and sincere emotion in the room, and one of the few that I still remember as vividly as when I experienced it.
Dead Kenny Gs - A maniacal free-jazz fusion trio consisting of saxophonist Skerik, percussionist Mike Dillon and bassist Brad Houser, the DKGs opened for Primus at the Pageant in May. Tearing through a set of intricate free-jazz romps with an overly strong punk rock influence, they sounded like a blend of "Roxy and Elsewhere" era Frank Zappa and the Dead Kennedys. I'm convinced that the reason Primus sounded so lackluster that night was because they had to follow this spectacle of musical prowess.
Murder City Players - There really isn't anything I can say about St. Louis' own reggae superstars that hasn't been said before. Top-notch playing, catchy tunes and good times are in abundance anywhere they play. When you see Murder City Players on a bill, you know you'll be moving and grooving from the second they hit the stage until the last note leaves the speakers.
Pernikoff Brothers - Another native St. Louis band, these guys filled in the opening spot for G. Love and Special Sauce when Belle Brigade had to cancel due to transportation issues. Their pop/rock tunes are well crafted, full of lush harmonies and bombastic rock star power. The sound and energy coming off the stage from this power trio rivaled bands twice their size and goes to show what good musicians can do when they're living their dream.
Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band – When I first heard Reverend Peyton start playing last April I had to do a double take. The finger-style slide guitar that the Rev was playing was phenomenal. The stage antics of his wife Breezy on the washboard and cousin Aaron on the drums and five-gallon bucket were hilarious, most notably the Jimi Hendrix-esque flaming washboard stunt near the end of the set. I spent most of the time they were playing with my jaw on the table, not fully believing that those three were the only ones playing the sounds that were coming off the stage.
Robb Steele - The last thing I expected to see at the MU330 reunion show in June was an old-school rap group. Local boys Robb Steele hit the stage with beats provided by an MP3 player and put on one of the most fun and entertaining sets I've seen. That set was memorable enough that when I ask my friend who was with me that night how a band that I missed seeing was, she usually replies with "They were good, but they're no Robb Steele."