Set up on the floor of the venue instead of the stage, openers Demon Lover distributed its freshly-minted spazz tunes throughout the room. A trio of ex-members of Theodore, the band took the experimental edge from its former band and jumped off the other side.
The performance was more akin to a freak sideshow, replete with brass and electronic noise machines. Covering "Crazy" by Patsy Cline, front man/bassist/trumpeter Andy Lashier channeled a creepier Stephen Malkmus with distorted, lightly-crooned vocals while J.J. Hamon, the band's guitarist/trombonist/keyboardist, played twangy, surf-rock lines. Three-fourths through the song, Demon Lover paused then crashed into a thrashing punk-noise barrage with drummer Sam Meyer playing one of the gnarliest blast beats I've ever heard. "Fishy" -- which on the recorded version is started by a xylophone -- began with members of the band and audience meowing the opening melody like a cat.
At that point, I knew Demon Lover was a new type of animal in the St. Louis music scene -- a beast with fine breeding due to the music veterans in the band and one not easily pinned down. Demon Lover's performance possessed a calculated "offness," with Lashier sounding like a giggly Tom Waits leading the pack. Masters of dynamics, some tunes took Dick Dale-style guitar riffs turned punk while others hauntingly seemed grounded in '30s swing numbers. Demon Lover managed to create a gloom with scratchy synthesizers only to break it with brassy outbursts.
Next up, indie-pop family band Scarlet Tanager took the stage. A sextet made up of a cross section of family members and old friends, the group performed shimmering, clap-along tunes under summery rock songs. Somewhere in between a sweeter Cults and a less gimmicky Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, the band has a vibe all its own.
Scarlet Tanager is like a summer car ride with windows down with a cigarette in hand -- calming, unbridled and open. Lead vocalist Susan Logsdon dreamy, hazy-eyed vocal melodies occasionally erupted in group vocal and audience participatory claps. Logsdon sang songs of devotion seemingly devoid of any form of contempt, perhaps due to the apparent lust for life the band showcased.
Trumpeter/guitarist Michael Logsdon (who is married to vocalist Susan) raised his hands in the air as he danced, conjuring a fiery preacher with a bright smile on his face. Many of the songs were gospel tinged, not only through stomp clap cheeriness but also through the occasional biblically-seasoned lyrics. Guitarist Josh Shepherd performed smooth rock 'n' roll leads side by side with wife Jordan Shepherd's upbeat keyboard jingles. Bassist Dustin Kent produced catchy hummable riffs, well-complementing the occasional three electric-guitar caroling. In an era where so many bands seem drugged out or cynical, Scarlet Tanager's bright sing-along tunes are a refreshing sound.
In between bands, Mikey Wehling of Mike Wehling and the Reverbs DJ'd vinyl from his personal collection. His sets gave an insightful glimpse into his own musical influences, playing everything from light electronic rock to punk to funk.
Last time through town, the Richmond, Va. band Black Girls opened for indie folksters the Head and the Heart, which was enough to create a buzz for the show. Pre-show I had read about how the band gives off a sexual aura, which was manifested through vocalist Drew Gillihan's performance. It was as if Marvin Gaye was fronting Surfer Blood or a similar, soulful indie rock band. Playing many songs name checking southern states ("South Carolina," "Florida"), Black Girls wore their heritage in the form of their sweat-drenched rock. Occasionally, dancy songs with lyrics about dancing would pop up, channeling Modest Mouse with more groove-based synth and bass parts.
The quintet had a certain seediness musically, properly summed up by a quote from vocalist Gillihan that they were "southern for groovy." Midway through the set, drummer Stephen Farris broke his snare drum, leading the venue owner to lend him a snare that was adorning the top of the stage. The cool thing about Black Girls is that they could quite easily live a double life. With enough chops to make a killing as a classic-rock band, the group instead chooses to hit the indie-rock circuit with surf-glam reverberations.
The Heavy Anchor, with its aquatically-themed art and dive-bar atmosphere, was the perfect host to such a gathering of musicians. The stylistic contrast between Demon Lover and Scarlet Tanager didn't ruffle the feathers of either bands' draw, instead properly introducing one set of fans to the other. Black Girl's willingness to keep the dance floor hot and bring the south to the Midwest really made the night a whirlwind of genre changes.