Each band has its own special relationship and secret handshake with that sound though. Another thing links them: they're all really confident, good bands.
With typical who-gives-a-fuck bravado and youthful ebullience, Little Big Bangs bursted into the first songs of the night at the Heavy Anchor with an audience of about five people. The Big Bangs members write some really good songs, but watch them play live and you get to experience something unique and contradictory: they fuck up pretty often, yet they give the impression that they've been around forever. It's a jangly swagger that lives in great rock bands -- there are no mistakes, it's rock 'n' roll. Lucy Doughtery and Ryan Macias and Eric Boschen all yelled lyrics over one another, a guitar launched into a song prematurely, an amp went out, who cares. When these guys looked unsure, they still smiled, most of the time looking at drummer Drew Gowran (the rock solid core of their live show) to hold it down, which he does. And they do.
Hellshovel played next, and it was a nice switch from the full-on fuzz and spit of the Big Bangs to this quieter, drugged-out sound from Montreal. It was the best set of the night. Through their command of dynamics, Hellshovel's songs and ideas got through to the crowd (and by now, it was a crowd) most successfully, like an electric current. Each song was fairly predictable in structure -- something like double-lead riff-intro, verse, chorus, riff-bridge, verse, chorus, done -- but this may have lent to the crowd's big, lovey response.
Like a million great bands that don't deserve it, Hellshovel is frequently lumped into the garage-rock genre, but they share way more blood with Moby Grape than the 13th Floor Elevators. Each song is propelled by truly great riffwork, Jeff Clark's vocals are right on, and Bloodshot Bill's drums are great in that they just showcase how great Dox Grillo's and Clark's riffwork is.
Greece's Acid Baby Jesus delivered the biggest, rocking sound of the night, but something about it all was kinda unremarkable. Their songs limbed out from singer Noda's cool, trebly vocals and the bassist's solid grooving lines. After the reigned-in sound of Hellshovel, Acid Baby Jesus's frayed-edge songs felt a little lost in the echo chamber that is the Heavy Anchor. That said, people loved it and danced their asses off. I was glad to see St. Louis warm up the room so well for these faraway dudes.
Demonlover, the phenomenon, played next -- the only band of the night to neglect the tall stage for the floor. Something separates Demonlover from the other bands that played this evening (and pretty much from any band I've ever seen) that I can only explain as the band's constant action toward redefining band-music and what a "band" is. Add to this Demonlover's weird, perfect sense of timing as St. Louis audiences are ready for something completely fresh and strange.
Enter Andy Lashier, the sneakily overpowering personality/philosopher behind the band, omni-melodic-instrumentalist wizard JJ Hamon, and the sheer exuberant drum-power of Sam Meyer. The sound is spread way out, allowing great strange territory to open up for Lashier's more detached Rick Danko-esque vocal explorations (in English, French, yelling, whatever). This, and the unstoppable drumming, are really the only constant sonic elements song-to-song, show-to-show. Last night the band released its first recorded material, a full-length cassette tape, but no one should be surprised if nothing they played live sounds like what's on the tape.
Example: Meyer and Lashier suddenly move from silence into a real, deep reggae groove; Hamon smiles, nods, says, "Yeah!"; you think you're joining them in a song, it's building; the song fades, they stop; do they know what they're doing?; then, right back into the reggae groove, Lashier singing his lyrics over it (maybe they're totally ad-libbed?); the song lasts about a minute, then it's abandoned. Then a song in which Hamon and Lashier each let their guitars hang while they switch between multiple keyboards, Lashier bringing a trumpet out of nowhere, playing a few lines, then just handing it off to the closest person, which was me.
Then, a new song begins tight, exact, rehearsed, sounding like a song -- I've heard this one before, it's "Tequila Mockingbird." Right when you're comfortable, space opens, Lashier looks a little confused -- or is he just acting? -- and "Tequila Mockingbird" becomes the country standard "Crazy." It's Demonlover's "Crazy" now though, simultaneously rocking, reluctant, and feeling unsafe. The set, and all of its sets, are singular in that the band gives you a sense of involvement -- you're watching them become a band; you're making them a band every time.