St. Louis' own the Highway Companion started off the evening. Rock songs, drinking songs and original alt-country made for a pretty kick-ass set. There was the rock side, with bass and drums reverberating in the audience's belly. The vibrant keyboard notes were layered alongside electric guitars. "Damage" began with an enticing cymbal intro, and led into nice guitar work and lyrics of fear of another broken heart.
The band's drinking songs drew a smile to those who could relate, and the lyrics of lost love and pain were well-delivered by goose bump-inducing vocals. Some songs delivered just a straight shot of the truth: "Johnny Walker never said shit that made me cry." "Currents" and "The Bottom" further illustrated the polished musicianship and strong vocal impact. The band was also personable with the crowd, with funny stories and jokes offered by the lead singer.
The next performer was singer-songwriter, Nathan Reich: one man, one acoustic guitar, and one captivating singing voice. He opened with "Heart of Mine," a peaceful melody with exceptional guitar picking and smooth, almost therapeutic vocals. The hustle of the room stilled, the audience hushed and Reich had the silent and unbroken attention of the entire venue, with the song's ending followed by a roar of applause. His six-song set maintained that connection with the audience. The lyrics were introspective and engaging -- "what used to be your pain has now become mine..." -- and the accompanying guitar was soft but mesmerizing. After a few of these calming tunes, Reich said, "Now that I'm done playing rock songs…," which snapped the crowd out of silence for a good laugh. He chatted about the Arch, as this was his first visit to St. Louis. Then he completed his set with "Sweet Isolation" and "Somewhere in Colorado."
The third band of the evening was local act Old Lights. They picked up the tempo and got the crowd moving with an almost beach-rock sound. The vocals were a bit difficult to hear (my apologies for not catching song titles). The crowd loved the set, which displayed cross-generational styles; a fog machine added to the fun time and had many people dancing. Old Lights' set concluded with heavy guitar distortion and a progressive energy to welcome in the headlining act.
Which brings us to Langhorne Slim and the Law. Slim was in St. Louis just a few months ago when he opened for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Sunday's performance was different; being the headliner allowed the band greater time and room to show more of its personality.
Slim played a mix of old and new songs, and his "friend to everyone" personality shone through more on this stage. He often spoke to the audience, took requests and on occasion would jokingly change a word or two of a lyric. Slim is known for his stage presence. He jumped up and stood with one foot on the bass drum, the other on a nearby amp. Without skipping a chord, he'd fall to his knees with his guitar being played vertically in the air. He dances and shakes his head around, often losing his rounded fedora hat. His brown boots stomp around and kick and swerve; his gold necklace caught the light and sparkled with his animations.
The set list included over 20 songs, notably "Bad Luck," "Restless," "Let it Flow" and "I Found My Heart," to name just a few. Langhorne Slim and the Law have taken common instruments -- guitar, drums, stand-up bass, keys and banjo -- and have created an uncommon sound. The music conveys the good vibes of peace and a human connection and understanding of the gift of love and the pain of loss. Slim is an eyeful on stage with his entertaining presence, but his guitar playing should not be overlooked.
The show balanced a full band rocking out as well as Slim singing solo with his guitar. He is gracious, welcoming, and made a point to thank and compliment the opening bands as well as the audience in sharing a special Easter evening together.