Half an hour after doors opened, Off Broadway was pressed for capacity. Droves of young St. Louisians buzzed about the venue and added an electric current of positive vibrations. They bore drinks in hand, mostly the free Schlafly provided by promoters Do314. They flitted around the venue, spoke to friends, acquaintances, people they did not know. Overheard: "It's a St. Louis music family reunion! You can quote me!" They were treading towards boorish benevolence at a steady pace.
Mic Boshans of Née and Humdrum began the record spin. He pulled from a stack of records, eyeing his choices with care prior to greeting them with the needle. His pragmatic choices were well received. Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" was followed by instrumental numbers with rattlesnake-shimmy percussion and bass that fluttered. Clayton Kunstel of headliners So Many Dynamos would spin next. His first choice? A brilliant segue into his band's and Née's sense of percussion-driven electro-pop: Chaka Khan's "I Feel For You." His propulsive choices added aural fuel to the liquor fire that brewed inside Off Broadway's patrons. So Many Dynamo's frontman Aaron Stovall jumped in, air drumming all the way to Prince's "I Wanna Be Your Lover."
The show marked two achievements for the two bands: 10 years of making music for So Many Dynamos and a 10" vinyl release of the "Finches EP" for Née. Appropriately, Née opened its set with "Spiders" from the celebratory EP. With David Beeman on guitar and adorned in an industrial-strength onesie, and Boshan on percussion, Née frontwoman Kristin Dennis moved in staccato breaks between her two synths. She popped her voice off with the whizz-bang of a Bop It toy. Her herky-jerky shoulder shrugs and hand gestures caused the black fur on the coat she was wearing to shake like a live animal. For a moment, it did look as though she were wearing a bear cub on stage. A rainbow strobe emphasized her dance moves, as if mirroring her limbs with every song.
The crowd boogied like separate atoms readying the abandonment of a greater mass. They turned and twisted in every which direction, never unified but caught by their own inhibitions. One young man spent most of the set with his back to Née wriggling his body around like a wet noodle. He ceased his loose gyrations during "Absolom," the first track from the "Hands of Thieves" release. Perhaps enraptured by the ethereal choir of voices backing Dennis, he appeared absorbed: A noodle resigned to blissed-out attention.
During "Let's Get Drunk and Kiss," a song the band recorded for KDHXmas 2012, an odd thing occurred: Normally eloquent friends began to spew gibberish as the night gained momentum. St. Louis natives adopted New Jersey accents. As with any good party, everyone seemed ready to abandon responsibility. Libations aplenty, we were buzzing before So Many Dynamos took the stage.
"That's, like, seven Go-Pros taped to a mic! That's why it is taking so long!" It was the best explanation I received for the wait between Née and So Many Dynamos' sets. True, there were about seven microscopic videocameras duct taped to a microphone stand in front of Stovall. Regardless, 20-or-so minutes feel like a lifetime when anticipation is so high. We are spoiled by So Many Dynamos. We come to expect a hootenanny that would make Bacchus red with shame. Hence the whines during the wait time: It hurts to want to dance so much.
As promised by our selective memories, So Many Dynamos slayed us all. They started with "Bed of Nails" off "When I Explode." There were kids in the crowd that sang songs word-for-word, from the beginning of the set until the end. I made sure to keep an eye on one with a blue-and-white stocking cap. He could not have been any older than 18 -- meaning he was still in single-digits when So Many Dynamos began their career. That should be a testament to their music's ability to transcend time. Through lineup changes and record-label splits, Stovall, Kunstel, guitarist Nathan Bernaix, and key player/guitarist Travis Lewis have been persistent in bringing percussion heavy nerd-pop to the masses. What do they have to show for it? The crowd was ravished by their songs, some of the best performers in and out of St. Louis donated their time to sing back-up and there was no greater proponent for dancing than Stovall going apeshit on a percussion block.
St. Louis ex-pat Jamie Finch, Née's Kristin Dennis, Chris Phillips of Bear Hive and Veto "Black Spade" Money of Hawthorne Headhunters played tambourines and acted cheerleaders for So Many Dynamos. Some time in the night -- prior to flying through "Analysis Paralysis" like they were attempting to penetrate the earth's atmosphere via sound -- Stovall had a question for Black Spade. He pushed his thick-rimmed glasses back over his cherubic visage -- which, journalistic integrity aside, I've come to appreciate on a non-objective level -- and piped, "Veto, why do you go by anything other than your real name?" In a drone so recognizable it could be a ringtone, Spade replied, "My old man smoked when he played chess, man."
From there on out, patrons abandoned rhythm and all-but left their appendages strewn around Off Broadway. Dancing gave way to a hypnotic free-for-all of joyous exultations and thrashes. Some moshed, some stood on chairs and some Ms. Finch had to teach to handclap they were so off cadence. There was a sense of pride for St. Louis' ability to come together without fear or negativity to congratulate Née's and So Many Dynamos' achievements. Nary a soul had come for anything less than a party.
As So Many Dynamos closed their set with "Search Party" and Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House," crowd members got hold of tambourines. When they were able to do something other than boogie, they rang them in perfect, unpracticed unison.
It was a set that no one wanted to end. When it did, we were stunned that Off Broadway was still standing.
So Many Dynamos set list:
Bed of Nails
In Every Direction
Matter of Fact
Let's Just See What Happens
We Vibrate, We Do
Saturday Night, Sunday Morning
Burning Down the House (Talking Heads)