It was gorgeous, hinting at Fall weather Sunday, and if you walked through faux-stone entrance to the yard at Off Broadway, it might feel like you were crashing a family reunion. It'd have to be a family that loved booze, music, games and -- well, everyone else in the family. The Tower Groove Records collective put on an authentic South City carnival complete with home-prepared BBQ, St. Louis themed games, kissing booth, mawkish calliope music, Fred Friction dressed like a clown and Larry Bulawsky of Magic City slurring "Step right up..." into a baby megaphone. But this carnival also functioned as a showcase of and fundraiser for many of St. Louis' best, working bands, aka the Tower Groove collective.
Inevitably, and relevantly, the event and the collective itself have been compared to St. Louis musicians' past collective efforts, especially the Rooster Lollipop collective and its long-gone "Axes and Snackses" showcase. Hosted by the Way Out Club, that party also had games, a kissing booth and a bunch of bands playing that had come together to support each other and to make something edgy, lasting and important in St. Louis music. That was over a decade ago, and it didn't work out for reasons those involved could explain much better than I.
One critique of Rooster Lollipop though was that many of the bands sounded similar, shared the same musical sensibility and aesthetic. However, the 20 or so bands that played the Tower Groove carnival dotted the musical style spectrum -- most do not even fit into a genre. Also, there was no rigid sense of rank or entitlement among the bands despite the huge variance of recognition, age and length of career among them.
In many ways, what made Sunday so hopeful, fun and ultimately successful was the diversity: the always-great, pop defenders of Bunnygrunt (who opened the day), weird nearly-lost gems like the criminally underexposed, soul band Ransom Note (one of my favorite acts of the day) and Peck of Dirt, the mean hardcore power of Doom Town, the up-and-coming, big, digi-rock crush of Bug Chaser and veterans finally getting their due, Magic City.
The bands were split between an outdoor acoustic stage and the indoor venue, which kept people constantly buzzing around in a slipstream of great music. There were at least four generations of people present, all rocking to the music. During Catholic Guilt's patchwork acoustic "free jazz" set, guitarist/vocalist Nick Zengerling actually got the gaggle of youngsters in front of the stage to drum, sing and make duck sounds.
It was an exciting and momentous thing to see all the bands together, commingling, impressing the hell out of each other, pulling new tricks and inspired sets out of the charged air. Many bands, including Theodore and Magic City, played strictly new or updated songs, as if pointing to the future of their own bands and the record label.
Beyond a sense good timing and money-managing and communication and organization among these people involved with Tower Groove Records, what anyone at Off Broadway realized Sunday was that the bands are seriously good. They all played with fire in their bellies, yet there was never a moment where they took themselves too seriously.
The music is serious; the band members are just St. Louis people trying to do something right with what they've got.