After, Caroline Smith left the stage, Horse Feathers set up their instruments: a cello, a violin, drums and an acoustic guitar. Lead singer and guitarist Justin Ringle, popped off the stage and ordered a PBR from the bar, returned to the stage, said, "Hello," and began the set with "Belly of June" from the recently released Thistled Spring on Kill Rock Stars. The song built to an unruly shimmer with excellent use of dynamics and drums. Catherine Odell's cello warmly intimated rhythmic twists and turns as Nathan Crocket's violin cut through Ringle's hushed vocals like a hot knife through butter. The balance struck between quiet and loud, subdued and explosive held the audience enraptured.
"Dustbowl" featured a driving banjo line, brushed drums, and finger plucked violin. Horse Feathers started "Mother's Sick" from utter silence -- one could hear the crinkle of a Chex Mix bag being plundered behind the bar -- and slowly ramped into a beautiful tapestry of bow-seared cello and perfectly plucked, accented violin. Ringle's voice stood hushed and ornate like an old salt whispering prayers to the wet hull of a sinking ship.
Title track, "Thistled Spring" started off as quietly as "Mother's Sick," and forwent the piano found on the studio version for a violin-centric sound, which allowed the melancholy of the song to bubble to the surface. Ringle unwound Gothic words, "A blossom that's bloomed, in a house that's a tomb, trapped in the rhododendron fumes," as the audience fell into a reverent swoon.
The set picked up steam on "Helen," with its acoustic hammer-ons, call and response vocals, and saccharine violin. No one dared to break the quiet reverie of Horse Feathers as the song slipped under Off Broadway's big red curtain, and out onto Lemp to dance the muggy, St. Louis night.
Nathan Crocket whipped out the singing saw on "Cascades" to pack an eerie power into the front end of the tune. Fan favorite, "Curs in the Weeds" featured Justin stomping on a tambourine in time with the drums as the violin and cello gathered momentum and exploded like a geyser for the song's heartfelt chorus.
The room echoed with applause when Ringle began "The Drought." The violin swerved in like a semi passing a Jetta on the highway and Ringle's warm rasp guided the marching chorus, "And it's not the same life, here the morning's like a knife and the river's been bone dry where the day is not fond of light." Drummer Matt Morgan brought the thunder and fleshed out the dynamics in a new and impressive manner, independent of the studio version.
The set continued with "Starving Robbins," and the guitar driven, "Heathen's Kiss," which also employed wagon-wheel violin and dusty cello. Horse Feathers left the stage and returned with "Falling Off the Roof" from 2006's Words Are Dead, as their single-song encore. The cello and violin led the way as Ringle took quick, vocal stabs at the microphone. Ringle plucked out the song's banjo-esque pre-chorus, before the band dropped into a head bobbing, drum-led, two-time stomp. Off Broadway stood hushed and wide-eyed as their legs bowed beneath them. One patron smashed a shot of rail whiskey in appreciation as the song culminated in a Southern Gothic stride.
Once the song concluded, Horse Feathers thanked the audience again and quietly left the stage. Patrons filed out of the venue and into the warm night and Justin Ringle headed to the back porch seeking reprieve from the drive to Kentucky lurking on next day's horizon. He happily talked to fans, smoked cigarettes and signed a few autographs. St. Louis was sad to see the quartet pack up and go, but if we're lucky, Ringle might write a somber, yet uplifting tune about the oppressive St. Louis heat.