For those who are unfamiliar with the event, local acts pick a band to cover and throw together a set of songs that they will either perform as a note-for-note tribute or rework in their own style.
The first act on the bill for night one was Bluefish, who eschewed its usual indie-folk sound to adopt the musical styling of the Rat Pack. Making such a drastic genre change is often difficult, but as we discovered about 30 seconds into "Luck Be a Lady" that was not going to be an issue for this group. Everything was spot on, from the jazzy brass section to the crooning vocals.
The set consisted of classic tunes that any lounge act in Vegas would have in its repertoire. "You Make Me Feel So Young" and "Too Close for Comfort" were straight off the Strip and the backing vocals from the horn section on "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime" were fantastic. The rhythm section and guitar were as tight as time, which really made for a swinging set. Their rendition of "Ain't That A Kick in the Head" was good enough to make me set aside my feelings about that particular song after roaming "Mojave Wasteland in Fallout: New Vegas" for more than a few hours.
Search Parties was the next group to take the stage, covering the works of Arcade Fire. I was not familiar with Arcade Fire going into this show, so I really can't judge how well the songs were covered. I can say without a doubt that if Search Parties plays their own songs even a fraction as well as they played this set, they are my new favorite local act. They also made me add their source material to my 'must listen' list, which makes for a double whammy of great new things to discover.
Judging from the audience reaction to the set, I can safely assume that their Arcade Fire impersonation was as impeccable as their playing. The crowd was singing along with the entire set and several people mentioned that they were almost playing the songs note-for-note.
The Defeated County took us back in time for the next set, taking the form of the Mamas and the Papas. It was difficult to tell whether they were reworking the tunes in their own style or playing them straight. The only tip-off was Glenn Burleigh's fantastic pedal-steel playing, which sounded as if it should have been present in the source material.
Much like the Mamas and the Papas, the highlight of seeing the Defeated County perform is the vocal harmonies. Irene Allen and Langen Neubacher are a perfect pair when they're singing together and each sound just as good when performing solo. The rest of the band nailed the 60's folk scene vibe perfectly, from the clothing to the laid-back groove of the songs themselves.
The fourth act of the night was Dots Not Feathers performing as Queen, an ambitious choice to say the least. They played the songs as straight as you can without Freddie Mercury's tremendous stage presence and vocal range and did a pretty good job of it, judging from the crowd response.
Musically speaking, everything was tight. Stephen Baier's guitar solos were right on par with Brian May. The keys and drumming were fantastic and there was not a single head in the place that wasn't bobbing along with the bass intro to "Another One Bites the Dust." The ensemble chorus that joined the group for "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Somebody to Love" was fantastic as well. For some reason, I really wasn't feeling the set though. I don't know exactly what it was, it just didn't grab me. I can go ahead and say that it is something with me though, since they had the biggest crowd response of the evening, complete with thunderous applause in the parking lot when they started to haul their gear out after the set.
The show closer was the Incurables taking the form of T. Rex. Singer and guitarist Jimmy Griffin is no stranger to anyone who has an ear close to the St. Louis music scene, and I expected a top shelf performance when I heard he was bringing the band to close out the night. I got everything I expected and more.
I didn't think I was very familiar with T. Rex until I found myself recognizing just about every tune that was played. The set was a trip back to the '70s and sounded as if someone hooked up a record player to the PA and threw on some old vinyl to reminisce. The harmony backing vocals were angelic, the instruments were perfect and Griffin was channeling Marc Bolan as if he were performing a séance. The set was grimy proto-punk rock perfection and the only way I would have had a better experience is if they had finished the set with "Bang a Gong (Get It On)."
After a great opening night for AUCW, the stage is set for night two. The bar was set high and I look forward to seeing the Saturday night lineup do their best to surpass it.