Homegrown singer Beth Bombara pulled the ripcord on the show. She's been working her magic for several years, and she's grown a lot as an artist. After her first few songs, some might wonder why she wasn't billed higher in the lineup. It can be a brave thing accepting the opening slot, especially when you're making music as good as she is. But Bombara is in it for the long game. The music is Americana gold, a more Midwestern version of Hurray for the Riff Raff, with less of a graveyard, NOLA feel. The music is haunted and ethereal without being see-through.
Bombara is clearly one of the harder-working singer-songwriters on the local scene, with her folk-infused harmonies and semi-smokey voice, that recalls a rootsy Diana Krall on the lone prairie. The girl is on track to sell out the Peabody one day. You heard it here first. Her small quartet packed quite a punch to get the night started. Double bass player, husband Kit Hamon, was my favorite musician; he occasionally sang harmony but also used a rickshaw suitcase kickdrum to add the bottom beat to the songs. The band gave a great show, and Bombara expressed how happy she was to be a part of it al, before making way for the other acts. But if you ask me, she could've played all night. I wouldn't have minded.
The follow-up act was the pixie-like Tristen; she held an oversized guitar and smiled with well-deep dimples. She performed a kind of jangly, synth-pop, with feathered drumming, viola bass and an '80s flair. The girl can sing, and does so in a softer, higher register, that is angelic, yet dangerous. Donning an oversized, white linen sport coat, as though she is performing the walk of shame from a previous evening with a gentleman caller, she and her band brought a pleasant but inspiring sound to the show.
Despite the band's homebase in Nashville, Tennesee, it did not immediately sound like something you would expect from that part of the country. Especially as Tristen moved from playing an oversized semi-hollowbody in favor of playing a synthesizer instead. But that was ultimately a good thing. St. Louis showed great support as more of the crowd piled in and more people got moving. They should've been here for Bombara, I said to myself as I ordered another Makers.
The third act of the night was Someone Still Loves You Boris Yelstin. SSLYBY. There, that's better. What can I say, guys? You had me at hello. A KDHX DJ remarked to me at the bar that this group is "the greatest little pop band that could." And he couldn't be more right. SSLYBY has been rocking for over a decade now and has really come into its own -- as only a few regional bands have. The band as the touring stamina and creative staying power that is so fleeting for most acts. I first saw them at the burgeoning LouFest festival in 2012 and was ever blown away then. It was a sugary pop feast, pumped through a candied heart of power-chord progressions and sing-along anthems.
SSLYBY made some of my favorite sounds of the evening, the local underdog band of the day, that maybe you haven't seen yet, but odds are, you have a friend who know someone who went to school with a member of the band, as they hail from nearby Springfield, Missouri.
They kicked off their set and the crowd was immediately entranced. Their happiness seemed mainlined. Pure aural joy. They don't play particularly hard, or fast and loose, but they have fun. And that's one of the most attractive qualities of a band these days; their ability to clearly enjoy what they're doing, because they really love doing it. It's just nice shiny, pop in a fun-loving garageband package. The songs brought a romantic kind of pop that locks eyes with you across the room, creeps your Instagram feed and leaves you wondering "What if?" The melodies are vaguely Beatles-esque with just a little more reflective teenage punk, in the sense of a slightly-less earnest Jimmy Eat World. They sound young, without necessarily looking it. Equally at ease rocking fast paced jams or more bouncy rhythms.
SSLYBY is an egalitarian group, as the lead singer and drummer switched places before second guitar player took a turn on singing. They played a handful of classics, a cover of Nirvana's "Molly's Lips," as well as a couple of new compositions, much to the delight of the eager crowd, who called for more and the band delivered: a fun cover of Blur's "Song 2," that fired up the crowd even more.
The evening naturally closed out with a packed house to the moody rock tunes of Centro-matic, a stalwart in the indie scene. These guys are the real deal. A quartet of veterans with a gift for writing and rocking, powered by melody and subterfuge, the group was a brilliant way to end the penultimate evening of Twangfest 18.
With a Texas-drawl that uses and masks many different influences, blending them all together into a unique panache of trucker rock that puts the South in Southpaw. The band has nuances of Texas-styled alt-rock, lots of reverb, and what could be called country if country knifed someone in the alley. And it does does that. At times, Centro-matic reminded me of a better version of the Constantines.
At times bombastic, the band's entire set was a soundtrack for a great road trip to a faraway destination. They were equally at home in driving rock, homestead ballads and a cover of the Cars' "My Best Friend's Girl." It was truly a set that no one wanted to end.