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Sunday, 31 July 2011 15:13

Concert review: Bo and the Locomotive and Union Tree Review double CD release party, with Pretty Little Empire and Oil Boom at the Firebird, Saturday, July 30

Concert review: Bo and the Locomotive and Union Tree Review double CD release party, with Pretty Little Empire and Oil Boom at the Firebird, Saturday, July 30 Abby Gillardi
Written by Kenji Yoshinobu

High fives and raised drinks abounded at the Firebird on Saturday night. The occasion for the celebratory conduct was the dual album release show for St. Louis indie rock bands, Bo and the Locomotive and Union Tree Review.

It was my first time seeing the two groups, but from the looks of things both had brought a following of devoted fans and friends to party with them.

A few of those friends included fellow St. Louis indie rock band Pretty Little Empire. Right off the bat the four-piece demonstrated that every member had solid singing abilities as they harmonized before collapsing into a maelstrom of drumming and strumming. The vibe had the makings of both a spirited hoedown and an energetic punk show, with lead vocalist Justin Johnson's acoustic guitar anchoring each song. Lead guitarist William Godfred's tricked-out Telecaster arbitrarily sent the band into space orbit grabbing the attention of the restless early crowd. As the set came to a close, Pretty Little Empire's charisma seemed to peak -- on "You Can't Have It All" Johnson's vocals swayed between pleading and maniacal while he attempted to strum an out of body experience.

"We come from an area that is also brick," stated Oil Boom vocalist Brian Whitten. Two songs deep into the set (and even more drinks deep into the night), Whitten and his band from Dallas seemed less indie rock and more dive-bar rock. Of all the bands on the ticket, Oil Boom was the loudest, with multi-instrumentalist Sam Wade's arsenal of effect pedals warping his keyboard at opportune times. Whitten, who looked like he had come straight from a casual Friday at the office, made for an animated front man, batting at imaginary fires on his button down's sleeves and karate kicking the air at the conclusion of songs. His piercing vocals recalled both classic horror movie monsters and Billy Idol. The rambunctious set from Oil Boom was a good contrast to the more emotionally driven music of the other bands.

As the bar television played the action classic, "Break Point," Bo Bulawsky launched into his set with the Locomotive. Bulawsky's stage presence was reserved, yet he playfully interacted with the audience with an endearing force. During his first song, Bulawsky entered the crowd to sing a verse with the excitement for the release of his debut album "On My Way" apparent.

With the occasional prop of his glasses, Bulawksy dipped and dived with his guitar through his set; his nasally vocals seemed most salient to the performance. Many lyrics like "I left the forest to be with tourists" drew cheers from the audience and even more drinks were raised to Bulawsky's delight.

Members of the Union Tree Review joined Bulawksy for his last song, but only after giving Bulawksy a pie to the face. Through the remnants of whipped cream, Bulawsky turned the Firebird into a dance party with a rendition of Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA" featuring background dancing from the Union Tree. Bulawsky quickly segued into his "real" last song, which seemed all the more grand with two bands backing the elated singer. He walked off the stage on cloud nine.

Due to some technical difficulties earlier on, the Union Tree Review took the blue-lit stage well past their slated time. Despite the delay, the audience had not thinned and there was an eruption of excitement when the band took the stage. Like Bo and the Locomotive, the six-piece was celebrating its first official album release of "Death and Other Forms of Relaxation." The band, fresh from backing Bo, jived nicely with an audience that was spirited enough to sing and clap along.

Singer Tawaine Noah was obviously psyched but able to channel his emotions into passionate performances, belting his vocals on springy legs. On "You Are Living," which featured light offerings from the trumpet and violin players, the group conveyed its affection for the new material. Each member seemed totally engulfed by the otherworldly experience. Halfway through the set the Union Tree Review, patrons at their own party, offered "ten more songs," while the sleepy sound engineer gave the host an objectionable look.

But the audience had no objections, relishing in the delicate melodies and the anthemic "whoas" and "ahs" that often converged into rapturous percussive buildups led by drummer Matt Strom. The show concluded with the band graciously thanking people for coming and buoyantly exiting, most likely headed to the after party. It's safe to say it was a good night for the burgeoning indie rock scene in St. Louis.

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