In our line of work, Johnson and I have had the opportunity to build rapport with a wide variety of personalities in the St. Louis area. That Saturday night, those connections helped us procure backstage access to the Nelly and friends' fundraising show benefiting the Vatterott College Scholarship Fund. I felt like this could be a great opportunity for a different and more in-depth concert review, but the chain of events that led up to the green light put us dangerously behind schedule.
As we came up on the back side of the venue, we spotted Murphy Lee sliding out of his Jeep with slotted eyes cutting through his thick rimmed glasses and a bottle of merlot wine under his arm. I noticed his unmistakable green aura as he came over to greet us. "Man, you're always tired." I said. "You need a nap?" He laughed as he swapped the wine under his other arm to execute handshakes. "Nah bro, I'm cool. Follow me." Johnson and I walked through the yellow tape and security towards a tired old metal staircase that lead to a side of the Pageant seldom seen outside of those in the entertainment circle.
We entered to a bustling scene of artists, press and crew alike scrambling around relatively tight quarters, either getting from one place to another or grabbing a bite to eat in the L'Ecole Culinaire catering corner. I walked in slow motion through the raging currents of flesh and fashion and took in the atmosphere; namely looking at the hidden Joe Edwards celeb photographs that have found their home away from public eyes.
My mind was distracted by an attractive young woman with flowing blonde hair and just a hint of exposed midriff through her outrageous black outfit as she tried to figure out to which trash bin her empty plastic bottle belonged. "Which one does it go in?" She asked as she hovered the bottle back and forth over the two bins. "Take your pick," I said with a grin and a touch of mysticism inspired by my recent gig in Chicago. "Choose your own destiny." She tossed her trash into the left bin, which to the trained eye could tell was the proper recycling receptacle. We traded glances as she went her way and we went ours out towards the main venue to see what all the buzz was about booming from the other side of the wall.
Exiting stage left we entered a sea of people waiting for the next act. A sweaty man presenting himself like a late 1970s Bernie Mac in flannel and a brown fedora hat juggled multiple drinks in one hand and stood tall as he introduced the next act, Karmin. "Great," I leaned over to Johnson: "We missed the first four acts. There's no review here. I'm doomed. I don't even know who the hell Karmin is." Johnson chuckled as she and her flamboyant keyboard player took the stage along with the rest of her posse, "She's kind of blowing up right now. Wait a minute--!" His voice hesitated with momentary excitement. "Isn't she the girl that was talking to you backstage?" I squinted to catch a closer look and took the time to study her bare midriff. "Could have been, who knows," I said. "She is definitely wearing the same kind of MC Hammer get up though."
As hundreds of women screamed to the sounds of the American pop duo, my bones began to ache and my mind began to reel. As if things couldn't get worse, a heartbreaking moment of deafening silence cut through the music as I checked my phone in the back of the venue. One of my best friends informed me of the news that Bob Reuter had passed away that very same day in some terrible accident. There was no excuse; all obligations were postponed for a toast in the appropriately named Halo Bar. A shot of Kentucky whiskey and a glass of St. Louis brew were raised to a fellow photographer, an incredible musician and a St. Louis legend.
It was hard to believe that it was only just a few weeks prior that I had photographed one of his last performances at the Big Muddy Records Fish Fry. As the sold-out crowd carried on and partied down, the city gently wept for the loss of a scratchy soul as she comes to realize that one thing is certain -- Fridays will never be the same.
Johnson and I returned to Karmin's final song and Top 40 radio hit, "Brokenhearted," which suddenly made it clear to those who were blissfully ignorant to the pop scene who exactly was playing. The talent left the stage and the emcee returned with three more drinks, a handkerchief to wipe the sweat and instructions to entertain the crowd for a few more minutes until Nelly and the 'Tics took the stage.
Finally the larger-than-life St. Louis icon rocked the Pageant and ignited the crowd with hits from throughout the years, from "Country Grammar" to his new hit single, "Hey Porsche." A powerful light show was projected behind him and his crew as the party was bumping in full force. Nelly threw the spotlight over to Murphy Lee who has been working on his own solo material as of late, and showcased his own new big collaboration with singer Josh Golden, "Up and Down Love." The night continued on in a celebration of a successful fundraiser for Vatterott, and the mass of the new fully inebriated party people attested to that.
After the strong set by Nelly and the Lunatics, DJ Black Guy finished off the night in the Halo bar for the twerkers and the tweakers. It was a great end to an otherwise melancholy night as I paid off my $60 tab for five drinks and returned home to somehow come up with a concert review.
All photos by Mike Gualdoni.