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Friday, 26 April 2013 08:15

Concert review: Matt Costa (with the Blank Tapes and Samuel Fickie) helps usher in spring sun at the Firebird, Wednesday, April 25

Concert review: Matt Costa (with the Blank Tapes and Samuel Fickie) helps usher in spring sun at the Firebird, Wednesday, April 25
Written by Will Kyle

Samuel Fickie opened with a set of introspective tunes full of romantic import. His tone was lovelorn with sparkling bits of darkened humor complete with elements of local St. Louis insight twisted atop.

"St. Louis, Misery" and "Twister" brought the Midwest into powerful and painful relief as Fickie slid his careful fingers over the frets of his guitar with passion and warmth. His set was over too soon and the Firebird stood hushed, stunned by the performance.

The Blank Tapes' Matt Adams sauntered on stage with a notable Southern Californian gravitas to his gate. As soon as his three-piece band began "Don't Ever Get Old," from the group's upcoming release "Vacation," the crowd grooved on the band's shiny Kinks-esque melodies and sun-dappled beauty.

The trio churned through a satisfying, yet all-too-short set that included a handful of songs from "Vacation" and a few as-yet-unreleased tunes. Highlights included "Holy Roller," "Don't Take it From Me," and my favorite, "1,000 Leather Tassels."

The song was satisfyingly apropos of the group's dress -- each wore a different style of leather jacket, with drummer Pearl Charles sporting a playful set of rubber goulashes and a pink, nearly-polka-dotted diaphanous dress. She stomped her boots on the stage as she hammered on the two drums positioned before her with a charismatic, "thump-ba-dump" rhythm, providing scintillating compliment to Adams' signature drawl.

The three-piece closed with "Driving Out of My Mind," which shimmered with a Californian sparkle and a revivalist spirit reminiscent of a coffeehouse Kings of Leon. After the song, the Blank Tapes grabbed their beers, gear and headed for the merchandise table to jaw with friends and fans; Adams selling his fantastic artwork (once upon a time featured in MAD Magazine) and music with a smile and a cool confidence.

Along with the sound technicians, Matt Costa's four-piece band began setting up the stage for the skateboarder-turned-indie-musician's set. The crowd hummed with anticipation as a few (what I'm guessing were) SLU drunken college kids ambled around the venue. One girl in particular spilled a cup of water across the merchandise table and danced in her dorky beret like a loon looking for a straightjacket.

The scene was awkward, to say the least, as the Firebird's door guy scolded the girl's boyfriend saying, "You need to keep an eye on her, man," to which the boyfriend slurred in replied, "Yeah, I don't know what that was." I laughed to myself, knowing exactly what "that" was: one drunk playing down the drunkenness of a fellow drunk. Ah, good times! Isn't it funny how youth and liquor can simultaneously mix in the most fantastic and saddening of ways?

Costa slipped around the crowd gate I was leaning on and offered me a nice "Hello" as if he knew me, which was heartwarming, speaking to the man's character. In a tweed sport coat topped off with a corsage and a pair of tight pants, Costa walked on stage to cheers. He plopped down before his Korg piano, keying into "Mr. Pitiful" from 2008's "Unfamiliar Faces." Costa's thin fingers danced across the piano, not flubbing in the slightest as he scaled up and down the glimmering white keys.

Pedal-steel player Jason Kardong teased out dulcet tones on "Lovely You" from Costa's 2013 self-titled record. The record, produced by Tony Doogan of Mogwai and Belle and Sebastian fame and supported by a host of notable Scottish musicians, further explores the '60s interest that 2010's "Mobile Chateau" half-heartedly unearthed.

Causing some derision amongst fans, Costa's newest effort at times suggests a sunny Dylan, a shady Nick Drake surrounded by Roy Orbison-inspired instrumentation. I like the new record -- it's more focused than "Mobile Chateau," but misses the playful and whimsical folk attitude fans so adored in Costa's earlier "Songs We Sing" and "Unfamiliar Faces."

Speaking of those records, Costa offered up a nice sampling of material featured therein much to the pleasure of his Firebird fans. "Behind the Moon" elicited whoops, howls and cheers from the energetic crowd as it built from cacophony, while "Sunshine" and "Astair" found Costa and his four-piece band assembled at the front of the stage, unplugged and delightfully raw.

"Shotgun" and "Clipped Wings," from Costa's self-titled work, impressed with bombast and insight, full of captivating imagery and metaphor that featured allusions to playing cards, rainy nights and broken hearts.

Costa wound down his set with new single "Good Times," "Sweet Rose," "Witchcraft," "Silver Sea" and "Golden Cathedrals." The night was sweet and cozy, punctuated by an embarrassing row of drunkenness, laughter, copious plaid, fedoras and newsboy's caps, pea coats, Costa's green sweater vest and lots of sun-kissed instrumentation. By the night's end, Costa had ushered spring into St. Louis with form, grace and style.

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