As the line slowly filed inside the club from the outside, the New Zealand folksters of Avalanche City played their opening set to an attentive audience.
Most floorspace in the Firebird was taken up by people standing shoulder-to-shoulder when Eric Hutchinson and his band took the stage and kicked off the show with "Living in the Afterlife," from Hutchinson's newest album, "Moving Up Living Down," released this April.
Hutchinson switched between his acoustic and electric guitars almost as often as he switched from playing songs from "Moving Up Living Down" and 2007's "Sounds Like This," much to the audience's satisfaction. His older, lightly-plucked, intelligent pop songs struck a nostalgic chord with seasoned fans while Hutchinson's newer tracks were bountiful in sound and style with nods to the soul that sustained the '70s and song structures from '50s and '60s rock 'n' roll.
On "You Don't Have to Believe Me," it was evident that Eric Hutchinson has always played soulful music. With prominent organ sounds and a deeply-grooved bass line, Hutchinson's rarely raspy tenor vocals went beyond the parameters that one might suspect of a young man with a guitar. Even without the horn section heard on the record, the song did not lack a full sound.
It has been a while since Eric Hutchinson played in St. Louis. During "Oh!," he did a bit of lyric improvisation when he sang that he "went to a party on Blueberry Hill," earning himself a few extra, though already plentiful, cheers and woo's coming from the audience.
The energy resonating between both the audience and Hutchinson was sustained through his 16-song set, with both sides engaged in a friendly rivalry of who's happier to be at the Firebird, regardless of what side of the stage they were on.
Taking a quick break from his original work, Hutchinson delivered the never obligatory but almost always entertaining cover card twice when he played his rendition of Sublime's "Santeria" and later "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" -- most of the audience couldn't resist singing along to the Beatles cover.
The crowd that filled the Firebird was very reciprocating, clapping at every beat and rhythm that called for it and there was almost a singing back by at least some in the audience during the majority of Hutchinson's set, so much so that during his performance of "Breakdown More" he remarked that the song "is way better when people listen to it" rather than sing along. "It's scientific fact," he joked.
For that tune, a slow-tempo-ed and warm acoustic love song, Hutchinson went solo on stage and showcased his honeyed, breathy vocals when he sang, "I can't write my words/When I ain't got you/I can't sing my song/When my strings won't tune."
Hutchinson sparingly bantered to the audience between songs, and when he did, it was to ask the audience how they were and butter them up for the next number. Closing out his set with the punchy, piano-driven "OK, It's Alright With Me," Hutchinson, with band in tow, said his thank yous and goodbyes and left the stage, which was not "alright" with the audience.
Most of the crowd stayed in its place after Hutchinson exited the stage, and it was only after a couple of minutes of waiting and the sprouting of an "Eric H.!" chant that Hutchinson and his band reappeared, playing a much-anticipated encore.
It could be argued that Hutchinson's set would have been incomplete without his encore performance of "Rock 'n' Roll," a poppy audience favorite off of "Sounds Like," and "The Basement," which sounds like it could be a B-side track for a more rock 'n' roll "Hairspray" production. "I'm going down to the basement," he sang. "'Cause I really wanna rock 'n' roll."
When Hutchinson left the stage for the last time, it was safe to say that everyone was rocking and rolling with him.
Living in the Afterlife
All Over Now
You Don't Have to Believe Me
Talk is Cheap
The People I Know
Watching You Watch Him
Santeria (Sublime cover)
Back to Where I Was
???/Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (Beatles cover)
OK, It's Alright With Me
Rock 'n' Roll