Monday, November 26, 2012

REVIEW: Japandroids, Swearin’ Nov. 20 at the Firebird

Three years after Vancouver, BC’s Japandroids arrived to pummel  the Billiken Club, the duo of guitarist/lead vox Brian King and drummer/vox David Prowse returned to St. Louis to burn down the Firebird.

I walked through the front door and into a dark, milky fog that made it impossible to see more than five feet in any direction. I could just make out the audience: several couples, a father and daughter team, but mostly men in that familiar 18-28 range. The thick air was hotter than Satan’s taint and humid as Florida swampland…which was actually a welcome respite from the fall chill of St. Louis waiting just outside the door.

Japandroids brought along Brooklyn/Pittsburgh pop-punk outfit Swearin’ as their openers. The four piece strolled on stage well after their supposed start time, but whatever—no one in the audience seemed to care about the wait. They kicked off with “What a Dump,” from their 2011 cassette with the same name and, as one might hope from a pair of singers who also date, Allison Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride share vocal and guitar duties well together. It was apparent Crutchfield is more reserved than Gilbride (who resembles Ben Folds in all aspects of attire and physical traits), but she bites, too. “Kenosha,” off 2012’s self-titled LP, is a damned good kiss-off to an ex-lover, and Crutchfield brought the right brass to the refrain, “I hope you like Kenosha so much you stay there.” I feel you, girl.

Gilbride sings in a bratty tone that never turns cacophonous. He sounds like a lovable little brother who insists on tagging along as the older kids roam the town. The two singers work in dissimilar tones and keys from one another, so their back-and-forth lead vocals propelled their double-digit opening set along swiftly—I'll be damned if it wasn't the swiftest 40 minutes I've ever experienced.

Japandroids' Brian King soundchecked with that signature Canadian vernacular: “EH, EH, EH, EH!” he hollered into the mic. The pretty redhead-in-a-bottle next to me took pictures of King with her phone. “I’ve got to get a picture of that face!,” she said breathlessly. Indeed, King looked like a dapper Highness of Rock N’ Roll Frivolity with his white button-down and flattering black jeans. But it was his stage banter, improvised when Prowse busted his kick pedal before the band even got through their first song, that won the night: he told jokes. JOKES. “Why don’t hipsters make good lovers?" he asked the crowd. "They lost their seven inches.” “Why don’t lobsters share? ...They’re shellfish.” Bless his charming, charming soul.

Pedal fixed, and King having stolen the hearts of everyone hot-blooded female in the room, Japandroids got wild—as promised. They hurled themselves into “Adrenaline Nightshift,” King’s veins raised and visible in his taut forearms, and Prowse endangering every nerve leading to his cranium with his violent head thrashing.

Japandroids went feral. King threw his “you”s to the crowd during “Art Czars,” pointing at a different face with every pronoun. The guitar riff from “Hearts Sweat” (from 2009’s Post-Nothing) somersaulted over Prowse’s sinuous drumwork and sounded dangerous, like thunder in a black sky. Prowse's strong voice led “Rockers East Vancouver," and King kept his promise to "dance my fucking ass off!" Mosh pits stormed and passed during the 17-song set. "This is a fucking jam, if you know what I mean," said King by way of introducing their version of Mclusky's "To Hell with Good Intentions." He challenged the crowd to “keep up,” but no one could match King’s frenetics. Didn't stop us trying though, and the whole night felt like a late-entry highlight of the year. When King asked if they wanted “two or three” more songs, every hand was raised with four to ten fingers raised.

Adrenaline Nightshift
Fire’s Highway
Art Czar’s
The Boys Are Leaving Town
The Nights of Wine and Roses
Rockers East Vancouver
Younger Us
Heart Sweats
Wet Hair
Evil’s Sway
The House That Heaven Built
Continuous Thunder
To Hell With Good Intentions (Mclusky cover)
Young Hearts Spark Fire
For the Love of Ivy (Gun Club cover)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Delta Spirit w/ JEFF the Brotherhood at the Pageant

Check out new photos by Micah Mickles of Delta Spirit with JEFF the Brotherhood at the Pageant. Click here for the full set.
Delta Spirit, photo Micah Mickles 

JEFF the Brotherhood, photo Micah Mickles

Thursday, November 15, 2012

REVIEW: Regina Spektor, The Pageant 11/8

Regina Spektor, Only Son 
Thursday, November 8
The Pageant

Regina Spektor graced St. Louis with her ever-adorable presence in support of her recent studio release, What We Saw From the Cheap Seats on Thursday, November 8. Without having any overly elaborate set-up or production, she and her modest 3-piece back-up band wowed a sold-out crowd at The Pageant. Opening for Spektor was Only Son, the moniker of singer/songwriter Jack Dishel, who also happens to be Spektor’s husband. Pretty adorable, right?
Photo by Micah Mickles

Dishel lived up to his stage name by going solo on this tour (though he does frequently play with some back-up musicians, who can be found on the recent Only Son album Searchlight). He came out and played a heartfelt and intimate opening song, then paused to introduce his “band”: a lone iPod, glowing on the stool beside him. Dishel’s stage presence remained awkwardly charming throughout, and his dark, curly white-guy ‘fro and leather jacket made him look a little like a young Bob Dylan. Even when he pulled out an occasional (well-received) quip, he came off as a pretty shy, soft-spoken fellow. His only weakness was probably his “band”—while they were totally spot-on musically and it all sounded great (I mean, it damn well better), there was just some sort of element or chemistry that was lacking on those songs. There were even a couple of songs where his guitar was so well-mixed with the iPod, he might very well have had his volume down, and we’d never be any the wiser. His solo songs were awesome, though. He mentioned mid-set that the last time he’d played in STL, it was at the Creepy Crawl. There was a cheer from the crowd, though mostly from folks over 21. He plugged the video for his last song of the set by telling us to go watch it because he pisses off Macaulay Culkin in it. Hell, I’m sold—Dishel seemed like a cool guy and, iPod aside, he really is a great musician and songwriter.

After the crew painstakingly hauled out and arranged Regina Spektor’s huge, shining, gorgeous Steinway piano, Spektor walked directly out to center stage and took hold of the microphone. Her first lyrics, on “Ain’t No Cover,” were sung a cappella, and the only sound in all the Pageant, besides her hauntingly beautiful, grandiose voice, was her index finger gently tapping on the microphone. Spektor then took her seat at the piano, and her backing musicians joined her onstage. They had a pretty simple set-up: a cellist and keyboard player seated downstage from Spektor, and a drummer tucked so far stage right and behind a clear drum shield that he was out of view from his side of the balcony. 

Five songs in, the band set into the instrumental opening to “Small Town Moon,” and Spektor opened her mouth to start singing but stopped all at once. In her shy, demure speaking voice, she apologized for stopping the song, explaining sheepishly that she got freaked out by one photographer’s cameras up front, which was doing a “scary rapid-fire photo thing.” And you could tell she didn’t want to yell at anyone but rather make it seem like she was the one who was being inconvenient—it was all very sweet and humanizing, rather than what could have easily turned into a rock’n’roll asshole moment with words chosen less carefully. She modestly encouraged the photographers to please keep taking lots of pictures, but maybe not rapid fire, if they wouldn’t mind. The crowd all just wanted to give her a big hug—only Spektor could make a show glitch so sweet and endearing. 

She went old school for a couple songs, then returned to newer material. Midway through “Eet” she lost track of some lyrics (which I’d been warned was not uncommon for Spektor), but she laughed it off and jumped right back in without missing a beat on the piano. As that song concluded, she stood up from the piano to welcome Dishel back up, and they met center stage for a beautiful duet, “Call Them Brothers,” that can be found on Only Son’s album. “The Prayer,” which followed, was sung in its original Russian lyrics, and then Spektor made her way across the stage to a previously untouched keyboard to jump into “Dance Anthem of the ‘80s.” She returned to the Steinway for another handful or so of songs before ending a great set that touched a decent, though not overwhelming, expanse of her career. She and the band returned for a four-song encore, ending on “Samson,” one of her slower, more serious songs, and leaving the crowd charmed and pleased not only by Spektor’s gorgeous music, but by her quirky, girl-next-door stage presence.
By Suzie Gilb

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

REVIEW: Electric Six / Little Hurricane / Girls 2021

Tuesday, November 6 at the Firebird
“My people need a place to go,” says hyper-throated frontman Dick Valentine in one of Electric Six’s finer songs, “Down At McDonnellzz.” That place was the fabulous Firebird, the venue of choice for this band of misfit rock stars, which has become their de facto home when they come through the STL. This time through they brought Girls 2021 and Little Hurricane, two stellar groups whose dynamite opening sets were unfortunately timed, due to the proximity of both a national presidential election and the utterly palpable anticipation surrounding Electric 6’s set. That’s not to say that Girls 2021’s hyped-up indie rock and Little Hurricane’s boy/girl blues blasts didn't garner applause and audience response, but it was obvious to everyone that both the election and the headliner were making it hard for folks to concentrate.
When Dick Valentine took the stage, speaking in a perfectly reasonable voice, it took a moment to recognize him. Where was the bombastic character that he portrays on all of Electric Six’s impressive output—already at six albums, with a live record and another new album on the way? It wasn't until opener “Crazy Horses” blared out of the gate that Valentine's true voice was revealed.
Once the horses were out of the proverbial barn, Valentine growled, cackled, shouted and sang some of the most self-aware meta-rock tunes out there. From songs of bawdy behavior (“I Buy The Drugs”), rock n roll excess and general mayhem (“Danger! High Voltage”) and so on, Electric Six could be mistaken for indie rock’s Spinal Tap, if it weren’t for the fact that they seem tomean it. You get the feeling that the band might actually, for example, set fire to a Taco Bell or give out a P.O. box where you can request drugs from their lead singer. But around those self-aware, winking, ironic-or-not? lyrics are ironsided rock songs, so when the band drops into the shuffling keyboards of “Newark Airport Boogie,” you’re dancing and laughing simultaneously as Dick Valentine shouts, “Here’s the part where everybody breaks into song!” In the middle of a song. 
But the band doesn’t just do meta-commentary; it has its fair share of shock-value moments too. “She’s White” would make The Darkness blush, despite not being actually vulgar.  Even if it’s not autobiographical, “I Buy The Drugs” probably makes the cops check Dick extra careful when they pull the band over. That’s to say nothing of their biggest hit, “Gay Bar,” which culminates with the lyric, “I’ve got something to put in you / at the gay bar.” Ew.
It says something about Electric Six's sense of humor that they not only say what they say, but that the audience gets pulled into the band's rock n roll reality. This conversion happens courtesy of sheer hard work on the part of drummer Percussion World, keyboard slayer Tait Nucleus? (sic),  guitarists Johnny Nischal and The Colonel, and bassist Smorgasbord (who also gets the coffee, apparently). The band behind Valentine’s bluster backs it up with classic rock guitars and keyboards tuned to make you dance. Basic four-on-the-floor rock in a setting like the Firebird would sound kind of out of place—the ‘Bird is mostly known as a place for freak-folk, indie hip-hop, metal and all flavors of out-there music—but the regal rock legacy that precedes Electric Six is almost a show unto itself.
 The crowd was full of first-timers and lifers both, with each taking in the spectacle and getting their dancing orders from Dick, The “Dance Commander.” The set was peppered with semi-hits (“Gay Bar”, “High Voltage”) and obscure cuts including new songs (one of which I believe was called “I Am A Song!”) from their new album. This was the band’s 4th time to the Firebird in 2 years and the end of their current tour in support of their last record “Zodiac” before working on the new album. Such a tireless treadmill of productivity would destroy lesser bands but this is Electric 6 we’re talking about. They’ve built themselves a castle in the ever-shifting sands of fickle indie rock and the thing they do is just keep building new foundations, stacking their ouvre higher and higher until such a towering series of albums and shows and songs is their legacy in and of itself. It can take a toll. What many in the crowd may not have been aware of, was that guitarist The Colonel was heading on to other projects leaving the leads in the hands of the estimable Da Ve. But with such a fiery frontman and a deep deck of players, his absence was barely noticed. The show, after all, must go on.
by Jason Robinson

PREVIEW: Delta Spirit, JEFF the Brotherhood, & FIDLAR

Thursday, November 15 at The Pageant

Working at a record store, there’s so much music constantly streaming in that it can be hard to choose what to try out next, and after seeing their name plastered around the shop for the last few months, there was something that initially put me off about Delta Spirit. So I only recently found my way to the band’s self-titled third record, and it turns out it’s really great. At its core, San Diego’s Delta Spirit is a rock band: they have a knack for catchy songs, loud guitars, a pair of rumbling drumsets, and the occasional keyboard crisping the edges. They aren’t just another run-of-the-mill band with forgettable songs: Matthew Vasquez’s soulful voice is the key ingredient in the band, shading from hard rocker to gentle crooner in a matter of a few tracks. Their fuzzed-up Americana is further set apart by the creative application of two-drummer percussion. Sometimes wonderfully simple, as on heartfelt single “California,” the rhythms get much more complex and dynamic on hard-grooving songs like “Otherside,” all banged out with utter precision. Their Pageant set, topping a bill with bong-rattling party-rockers JEFF the Brotherhood and L.A. punks Fidlar, should bring some depth to the night, including some tender songs, a few ironsided sing-alongs, and mostly lots of crazy dancing. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Jump Starting A New Record

The duo of Justin Johnson (of Pretty Little Empire) and Sarah Ross, The Jump Starts, officially released their latest album, What Hides Inside last night at Off Broadway and they brought all their friends from the record to help them.  The infectious music got the crowd moving as the band kept it loose and fun, which was the intent.  Johnson can get intense with his vocals and Ross’ lighter attitude and singing is a great contrast to that, on the album and certainly live. Running through all the songs from the record as well as a couple tunes from their first album, Ready, Set, Go, the band and the audience had a blast.  Check out some photos from the show and the setlist below.

1. Always Alone
2. How Long Did You Know?
3. Stop Guessing
4. Carryin' On (w/Jay Lewis)
5. Written On The Water (w/ Jay Lewis & Curt Brewer)
6. There You Are (w/Curt Brewer)
7. Lord Who Knows? (w/Curt Brewer)
8. Lie In Your Bed
9. Love You The Same
10. You Better
11. Don't Need Much (w/Melinda Cooper)
12. What Hides Inside (w/Melinda Cooper)
13. Stuck (w/Melinda Cooper & Ryan Albritton)
14. Last Time (w/Melinda  & Will Godfred)
15. Long Way Home
16. Long Walk Home
17. Daydream Believer (The Monkees cover)

18. Come Home, Come Home

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Matt & Kim at the Pageant, November 4

Check out photos by Micah Mickles from the Matt & Kim show at the Pageant. Click here to see the full set. 

Photos shot for ELEVEN by Micah Mickles

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sharon Van Etten, Damien Jurado, Indian Blanket

Monday November 5th
The Firebird

Sharon Van Etten is one of those singer-songwriters who can craft a tender song and belt it out in just the most perfectly sad and heartbreaking way. Her newest record, Tramp, was released earlier this year on Jagjaguwar, and features Aaron Dessner of The National manning the mixing board. Van Etten's folk sensibilities are honed with a sharpened edge of rock dynamics, creating introspective songs of pure splendor. Even if all the instruments and vigorous production on Trampare stripped away, the vocal tracks that remain are stunning, layered into flawless harmonies, including Van Etten's own voice and sometimes featuring guests like Beirut’s Zach Condon and Jenn Wasner from Wye Oak. It’s pure poetry on every song, and appropriate for the change in weather, as her songs make you see your breath on a cold night.

Van Etten will be leaving the audience at the Firebird astounded on Monday night, along with label mate Damien Jurado. He’s been around the indie scene since 1995, building a large discography of 11 LPs and numerous singles and EPs. Jurado has released one hell of a record this year, merging his normal folksiness with a tinge of psychedelic to form his best album yet, Maraqopa. His voice is soft and warm, strong but still somehow frail, complimenting the gorgeousness of his words that share personal and emotional details.
Make sure you get to the venue early for the set from local folk rockers Indian Blanket. They’re just hitting the local scene, and are quickly becoming the go-to support for folk-themed rock bands. Earlier this year they opened for First Aid Kit, and have been collaborating with that band of late. Indian Blanket does our city proud by bringing such a strong STL presence to an already stellar lineup.
by Jack Probst 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Starfucker, Onuinu / Tuesday, October 30 / The Blue Note, Columbia, MO

Some of Portland, OR’s best electro-pop bands ascended on The Blue Note in Columbia last night, and it was definitely worth the road trip. Starfucker, or spelled in the “safe for work” way of STRFKR, are touring to warm up for the release of a new album on Polyvinyl Records at the beginning of 2013. It’s a bit of a surprise that St. Louis was passed on this tour, as this show would have easily fit had it been held at The Luminary or Firebird, though the college town crowd in Columbia helped to fill up the venue on a Tuesday night. 
The night began with Onuinu, the moniker of Dorian Duvall, whose album Mirror Gazer was released this past September on Bladen County Records. Duvall’s music is self-described as Disco-Hop, mashing together two genres into a warbled and danceable groove that sounds like somebody melted a bunch of warped old 12 inch singles together. Onuinu is currently touring as a two-piece, with most of the backing tracks prerecorded versions from the record, over which Duvall sang while playing both guitar and synthesizers, and his hoodie-wearing friend triggered the tracks and added more synth. 
The gold in Duvall’s arsenal is his voice: soaked in reverb, his blissful tones help to humanize the retro electronics into a syrupy mix, which, with more work, could be performed as one continuous, nonstop set. Tracks like “Always Awkward,” “A Step in the Right Direction” and “ Happy House” sounded even bigger than the versions on Mirror Gazer, and would feel right at home spun by a DJ in a nightclub. The crowd was slow to catch on as they first shuffled in, but by the end of Onuinu’s set a few more costumed patrons were bobbing their heads around to the repetitive, bass-heavy beats.
Starfucker took the stage around 10:15 in front of what looked like a giant Lite Brite, which projected simplistic visuals for each song. Images of Bart Simpson, the Death Star, and Luigi from Mario Kart popped up in super pixelated form, among colorful patterns and shapes reminiscent of late-'80s Windows maze screensavers. The set began with a few early tracks from their 2008 self-titled record, including their break-out song “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second” that got the crowd into it right away. While the vocals on some Starfucker songs tend to play second fiddle to the music on their records, there were times during the show when lyrics were almost unrecognizable because of how far back mastermind Joshua Hodges' vocals were placed in the mix. It was unclear if this was intentional or a problem with the sound mix. 
Starfucker has crafted a flawless blend of electronic dance music with experimental pop sensibilities that not only makes for amazing records, but also transmits another energetic, pulsating beast in concert. There were moments so intense—brought on from the layers of up to three synthesizers, drums felt deep in the chest, and calculated measures from bass and guitars—but the most mind-blowing part of the show was the transition from an impressive version of “Julius,” the first single from last year’s Reptilians, into an incredible new track. I didn't catch the name of the song, but the main synth part was psychotic and frightening, like something on a John Carpenter soundtrack, while also maintaining a groovy bass line and playful guitars. Somehow it managed to stay both incredibly dark and funky at the same time, and was an exciting taste of what’s to come from the band next year. 
The set covered a full spectrum of all of Starfucker’s best tracks, even throwing in a crazy, super-upbeat version of “Boy Toy” from the Jupiter EP that ended in distorted chaos. After a brief break, the band got right into the encore with a crowd-pleasing “Bury Us Alive,” garnering the biggest cheer of the night—that is, until they broke into their version of Cindy Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” And the bros back by the bar were right when they shouted for “German Love” as the last song to end the night. The whole crowd sang along, and kept it up after the band popped offstage, and we all danced our way out onto the street. 
Starfucker plays like a well-oiled machine, pumping out dance hits and electro-pop perfection on every song. They may only become as huge as a name like Starfucker allows, but they are not to be missed when they play anywhere within driving distance from our town.
by Jack Probst

Monday, October 29, 2012


Saturday, October 28 at Plush

You know it's a party when Catwoman and Ryan Gosling show up—not the real Ryan Gosling (or the real Catwoman for that matter), but a reasonable facsimile. It's the Halloween show season, and it's time for people to get dressed up as fictional characters and go to shows. Seattle's Minus The Bear showed up to the party as a rock band, though everyone knows they're a dance-pop group with better guitars. Omaha's Cursive showed up as a sensitive indie rock group, but everyone knows they're a post-Fugazi post-hardcore punk/singer-songwriter fusion of confessional, confrontational songs.
San Antonio's Girl In A Coma came as a three-girl punk band, but everyone knows they're a sleek mix of rockabilly and classic rock, with the occasional touch of Smithsy beauty.

Not that the bands were really in costume, but much like the music behind them, it spoke a lot to expectation versus reality. The narrative threads that tie the bands together can be boiled down to this: we all go through our own versions of hell, and we can all relate because the experiences are so universal.

Up first, fighting the PA at times for clarity, was Girl In A Coma, the newest of the three bands in terms of existence. But the type of brutal/pretty push/pull power-pop or pop-punk they do so well has been around long enough for people to get the idea. Lead singer and guitarist Nina Diaz's right arm is emblazoned with a tattoo of a Telecaster, broadcasting her love with both music and her role in this band. You have to be in love, to make songs that are so purely hopeful and unironic as "Hope" and "Adjust" from their newest album, Exit Signs and All The Rest. Fueled by a bad-ass rhythm sectionJenn Alva on bass and Phanie Diaz, Nina's sister, on drums—Girl In A Coma pick their favorite punk tropes, apply their own favorite—Morrissey, Joan Jett, Patsy Cline—and create a rattling indie rock that seduces and destroys.

Second on the roster are aging former Fugazi-style punks Cursive. Actually, calling Tim Kasher a punk is like calling Morrissey some depressed guy. Kasher is the lead singer and creative force behind Cursive, and what he and the band do is take broad emotional concepts—disillusionment, disappointment, anger, fear, pain—and write them in the sky in blood.  Their albums deal in varying degrees of autobiographical lyrical content, tackling suburban alienation ("Happy Hollow"), growing up and finding out life isn't a fairy tale ("The Ugly Organ"), and marital discord ("Domestica"). Painful subjects, and seemingly not ripe for the singalong treatment, but that's Cursive's specialty. Crowd-response favorites included the pure unadultered angst of "Rise Up! Rise Up!," and the sickly, self-deprecating "Art Is Hard."  The set featured some great cuts from a wide swath of their albums, which happily included "The Radiator Hums"—quite possibly the finest song ever written about divorce, from their 2000 album "Domestica." Cursive has undergone major style shifts from album to album, adding and subtracting horn sections, violins and keyboards over the course of the past five records, but somehow all of these myriad flourishes were covered by touring multi-instrumentalist Patrick Newbery, who played trumpet, organ and pretty much anything and everything. That allegiance to the sounds created in the records tells you all you need to know about Cursive’s dedication to their fans—they recreated even the dissonant violin/cello bursts of “Gentleman Caller,” because they know the song calls for it and the fans expect it. Kasher was even appreciative of the surroundings, pausing for a moment during their dozen-song set to take in the view from the stage of the nearly sold-out Plush. “Nice establishment you’ve got here,” he said. For a band that deals in the languishing death of the American Dream (evidenced by their set-closing “Dorothy At Forty”), they seemed genuinely surprised both by the crowd’s size and its tenacity.

Last but certainly not least is Seattle's Minus The Bear. It's really hard, as someone who writes about music, to classify exactly what Minus The Bear is. Are they a dance-rock band with better guitars? Are they a rock band with danceable songs? Who got their peanut butter in my chocolate? Whatever you want to call them, they serve up memorably funky tunes and the crowd on hand at Plush knew all the complicated grooves, including those few brand-new tunes from their just-released full-length, Infinity Overhead. But the classics still ruled: "Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse," from their 2002 debut Highly Refined Pirates (besides being the best song title Minus The Bear has ever come up with), is definitely their most popular tune, which is why it was kind of shocking that they dropped it so early in the set. 

Regardless of sub-genre classifications and marginalia, the crowd that showed up for Minus The Bear was there to party. If one had forgotten that the show preceded Halloween by a few scant days, one could be mistaken in thinking the show was a mini-ComiCon worth of nerdy extroverts who just came to have a good time. The band was obviously the main attraction within this set of three big bands, standing at the corner of Synth-Pop Ave and Indie Rock Boulevard, and eliciting both non-stop dancing and non-stop smiles among the amassed faithful. The immediacy of their songs encourages a blissful loss of self, so the whole set is a solicitation to submerge oneself in drinks, nostalgia and the mundane details of our shared lives. In response, the audience fervor for the band is almost at the level of jam-band devotion, eliciting shout-along sing-offs and the fevered dancing mostly seen at Schwagstock. Plush briefly became the fairgrounds for a carnival of celebration; there was even a wandering waitress serving ice cream cones and French fries, as well as a pair of beachballs flung into the air at the show's climax, putting the cherry on top of the carnival-like celebratory atmosphere. Band and crowd reached perfect synergy, letting loose like the end of the world was approaching. And who knows, it just might have been, though the celebrating crowd at Plush would have been hard-pressed to acknowledge that the world outside even existed.

by Jason Robinson

A.C. Newman tonight at the Duck Room

I first heard the songs of A.C. Newman in the background of a telephone call when I was in high school. Across telephone wires and though the receiver, there was a sound that was both familiar and brand new at the same time. These were the sounds of the first New Pornographers record, Mass Romantic. I was so ecstatic and elated that I went out to my local record store and bought the CD the next day. Flash forward to 2012: The New Pornographers hit album five album two years ago, and Carl (A.C.) Newman has just released his fabulous and personal third solo record, Shut Down the Streets. One of the great things about his work as a solo performer is that his songwriting is always consistent, no matter what name he performs under or who he’s playing with. Expect the majority of the catchy songs played at the Duck Room to be culled from the new album, as well as some of the memorable tracks from Get Guilty and The Slow Wonder. This time around, Carl will be joined by a full band of touring musicians: Paul Rigby on guitar, Megan Bradfield on bass, Nick Kinsey on drums (on loan from Elvis Perkins in Dearland), Chris Miller on flute and clarinet, and Zach Tenorio-Miller on keyboards.

Opening the show is Omaha-based The Mynabirds, fronted by the memorable Laura Burhenn, formerly of the short-lived Georgie James. Their second album, the politically themed Generals, was released on Saddle Creek earlier this year. Get there early, because this is one powerful band that you will not want to miss.
by Jack Probst

Thursday, October 25, 2012

PREVIEW: Sunday Night At The Opera With Primus

Huey Lewis once said “Hey we’re just another San Francisco band that just wants to play music” – or something like that.  Primus is too.  More than 25 years into their career they have dodged labels and reinvented themselves so often that they truly reflect the influences of the Bay Area that produced them.  One of Les Claypool’s feet is stomping in thrash and hardcore while the other floats somewhere above and around the trippy psychedelic sound the spawned the 60’s Bay Area sound.  Sometimes Primus wants to plant their foot in your head and sometimes they want to blow it off clean your shoulders.    Claypool himself is a half mad carnival barker and virtuoso bass player.   Larry LeLonde is the laid back guitar player and foil to Les’ manic act.  Jay Lane is the latest (and indeed, original) in a line of drummers all who pounded a wicked backbeat while they tried to keep up with Les. 

Sunday night, they are bringing the latest incarnation of their circus to The Peabody Opera House and this one is a doozy.   With the Blues sitting this fall out, Primus is sure to rattle the building next door like Blues fans would in a game seven against the Red Wings.   But that’s not all!  They are also bringing a 3D screen show and quadraphonic sound that is sure to lift the building like a 1969 Grateful Dead show would have.   It’s going to produce two solid sets of hand banging and hippie twirling – with 3D glasses!

Primus playing last year at Bonnaroo. In 2D

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

L.A. Brings the Mountain to Mohammed

Make the drive to catch Little Red Lung!

Little Red Lung / Dubb Nubb / Dustin Hamman / Wooden Burial Ground
October 26
The Dome, Ashland MO

Little Red Lung is a four-piece outfit from Los Angeles, CA. On October 26, they’re coming to The Dome in Ashland, MO—135 miles west of STL on I-70, just south of Columbia—to rock your face. Little Red Lung was started by singer and keyboardist Zoe-Ruth Erwin in 2007. She has gathered consummate musicians around her to craft a unique, dramatic and often eerie sound. With a marked originality that cuts through an often superficial L.A. scene, their self-titled album may be the West Coast’s best of 2012. 

In 2010, Erwin brought Little Red Lung to play with Dubb Nubb at Foam in St. Louis and The Hair Hole in Columbia, MO, but they haven't been back in Missouri since. She wrote a lot of the album in East Tennessee, and sees a real difference between musical cultures. In a recent interview at the L.A. Art Walk, she shared her excitement to play again in the Midwest.

“In L.A., a lot of bands have the same type of tone because they’re all influenced by each other and because all the bands know each other too," she said. "Touring through the South and the Midwest, I feel like there is a lot more originality to the bands. Everyone out there isn’t just striving to just be a star, which a lot of people are doing here. People out there are really creating.”

Though they aren’t preoccupied with image, the band definitely has a look. Erwin’s photography background lends itself to extravagant costume and striking lighting for their promo pics and album cover. Their songs are theatrical, often begging for video footage (check out their video for 50 Fingers”). The entire project is written, recorded, and mixed by the band. They’ve also been booking all of their own tours. “We’re not the kind of people who are going to wait around for somebody to come and help us out,” says guitarist Ali Nikou.
Still from "50 Fingers" directed by Sarah Sitkin

“I think if you’re determined enough as a group of people, you can do promotional stuff on your own—if everyone puts in a lot of work," Erwin say. "The thing is, it is a lot of work. So if you’re booking a tour and sending out press stuff, you barely have time to rehearse, so it’s not like you have time to work on your songs or write new ones. It’s almost like you have to choose what your priorities are.”

Though they live a couple thousand miles away, Little Red Lung doesn't lack for Missouri connections: Erwin produced two albums for Columbia/STL band Dubb Nubb (see Eleven's feature on Dubb Nubb in the September '12 issue), as well as a compilation album called Feels Like Coming Home on Special Passenger Records. This will be their first time playing at The Dome, a one-of-a-kind, dome-shaped venue that has been running since 2009. As the home of Columbia’s Hooten Hallers, the space has been centered around their shows and friends for many years, but has recently taken on a more active role in the local music scene. Five dogs roam the property, bands are welcome to crash, partake of the food, and enjoy the secluded grounds. In recent months, the Dome has played host to Paper Bird, CS Luxem, Paleo, Children Of Spy, Cloud Dog and more. 

The bill is packed for the Ashland show: Little Red Lung will be reunited with Dubb Nubb, and both Dustin Hamman of Run On Sentence and Wooden Indian Burial Ground will be playing as well. 

After playing in Missouri, Little Red Lung plans to move south toward Knoxville, TN. They’ll be recording at Live and Breathing, a portable studio that records, videos, and edits concerts in unconventional locations. Then they’ll return home to record more. “We have another full-length album in our pockets," says drummer John Broeckel. "We’re champing at the bit.”

When in California, Little Red Lung records at Blastermaster Productions, owned and managed by Nikou. “It’s convenient to have your own place,” Nikou says. “We're able to get everything the way we want it. So if it’s not an awesome album, there is no one to blame but us.”

If you live anywhere near Ashland and miss this show, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.

by Nelda Kerr

Monday, October 22, 2012

Smashing Pumpkins / Chaifetz Arena / October 18

Since the days when they ruled the '90s, Billy Corgan has been the face and voice of The Smashing Pumpkins—and the guy notorious for obliterating any pre-conceived notions of what the band is supposed to sound like and play like. They've veered from a basement-dwelling My Bloody Valentine-worshipping band to one of radio's premiere pop/rock groups, to electro pomp and back again. Musically and lyrically, Smashing Pumpkins are in love with love. As in, 90% of their new material references, describes or desires that specific state of being.

But when it comes down to it, some things are better with hate. The Smashing Pumpkins begins and ends with Billy Corgan, whose bristling anger supercharges the band's best material, as he deftly strokes that fine line between commercial success and artistic purity. That confrontational, combative spirit was alive and well when Corgan brought an all-new crew of players to Chaifetz Arena last Wednesday in support of new Smashing Pumpkins album Oceania, but so was that deep desire to love and be loved. Corgan wants his audience to fully appreciate his newest band's newest music, but he knows that the love for his band is based on, and heavily biased toward, the work gone by. He loves to be loved, and he hates to have to prove himself again—it's a push and pull that actually makes for an enthralling performance.

Corgan's perverse streak started with the set list: rather than tuck new, unfamiliar songs between comfortable, familiar hits from the back catalog, the Pumpkins opted to perform the entire new album top-to-bottom. There are awesome moments spread throughout Oceania—"Panopticon" is a particular delight, and "Wildflowers" was a surprise in its grace.  But Oceania was not what drew thousands of kids weaned on '90s nostalgia, and the crowd barely registered the first hour of the set. Or it could be that the audience, present company included, was distracted by the much-lauded video mapping happening behind the band. An enormous sphere suspended behind Byrne's drums wobbled and warped with fractured video noise that featured CGI human faces, what looked like seismograph readings, some vague allusions to Joy Division's "Unknown Pleasures" album cover, and occasional flashes of bright, beautiful art. 

And to be honest, even the Pumpkins seemed not to find much pleasure in the heavy lifting of the album, getting the job done but rarely breaking out. Though Corgan did acknowledge the crowd with a few "thank you"s there was little to no banter, no playful execution. Neither band nor crowd knew what to do with each other. Wisely, as soon as the last notes of "Wildflower" rang out, Corgan and company dropped into a blistering cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity," a space-age ode to the loneliness of being the first (and maybe last) of your kind that fits seamlessly into Corgan's personal navel-gazing oeuvre.

Once the Oceania set concluded, something strange happened: actual fun. As the songs grew familiar to the crowd, the new lineup proved themselves not just capable professionals, but insanely talented players. Guitarist Jeff "the shredder" Schroeder should be given an honorary pass into Rock n' Roll Valhalla just for his his sheer balls-to-the-wall guitar banter with Corgan. Guitar solos started flying, some of the bigger hits from the '90s began to make their appearance, and it seemed like all involved let loose, stretched out and had some real kicks. Schroeder and Corgan traded riffs and took turns shredding just for kicks. Bassist Nicole Fiorentino mostly played silent, making the hypnotic rhythm speak for her, which she held down admirably, doing both heavy and languid in equal measure. Drummer Mike Byrne was a piledriver, delivering the thunderous assault on the drumset required by both the new songs and former Pumpkin Jimmy Chamberlain's extremely complex, unrelenting, tom-heavy passages.

Even Corgan, notoriously tight-lipped regarding stage banter, loosened up and cracked jokes at the expense of our town's beloved baseball team. He wound up taking a swing at former Cardinal Albert Pujols that had the crowd howling: "I have a friend in crisis," he joked. "He keeps asking 'Did I do the right thing?'" He even made the bold assertion that, while he was a Cubs fan, he figured Detroit would beat us in the World Series. Near the end, the normally cagey Corgan admitted that he was finally having fun.

Admitting that, in front of fans who paid thirty bucks or more to hear classic Smashing Pumpkins hits and who were instead dragged through a new album that not even the band seemed to enjoy much—that is a ballsy move.

The set order post-"Oceania" was a mixed bag of deep cuts, B-sides and a scant selection of hits. The Bowie cover was followed by the harrowing rape-anthem "XYU" ("I was lonely and she was crazy"), itself a deep cut from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It was followed by the charming Ted Bundy vibe of the violin-driven "Disarm." Two more Mellon Collie hits appeared afterward, including a drivingly sincere version of "Tonight Tonight" and a newly retro-fitted "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," which seethed and burned with that classic Pumpkins energy. Corgan took a moment to take a shot at himself during the introduction to  extended B-side "A Song For A Son," dedicating it to his father and calling himself an indiscretion that his mother never forgave his father for. Another self-loathing anthem, "Zero" ("God is empty / just like me"), came right after. Byrne's drums crackled at the intro to "Cherub Rock," which gave the perfect coda to the set, setting up expectations for more of the same driving rhythm. Instead, the band checked out for a few minutes, and came back to the thundering stomp of "Ava Adore," the biggest hit from an admitted flop of an album. The encore also included another shred-off between Corgan and Schroeder that built higher and higher and culminated in a crowd-teasing taste of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," before the two cracked up and continued forward. The final song in the encore was the sorta-hit "Muzzle," also from Mellon Collie. "Muzzle"'s autobiographical lyrics were a fitting cap for the evening: "Have you ever heard the words I'm singing in these songs?" he sings. "It's for the girl I've loved all along." Beneath all that anger and spitfire, "I can hear the silence of the world," he says.

Or maybe just the silence of the critics.

Because it wasn't the critics who packed the floor area of Chaifetz and lovingly embraced The Smashing Pumpkins: it was the crowd, packed to the gills with both '90s nostalgia seekers and Pumpkins die-hards, some of whom had been singing every last word of every obscure cut. They were all flashed a broad smile, thrown guitar picks and given loads of attention from Billy before he finally sauntered offstage, having played his own version of the perfect rock star for another couple of hours.

In the end, as ever, Billy Corgan is Billy Corgan and you're not. Despite all his rage, he still loves being in this band, he still loves making new songs for you to enjoy. He still loves love.

by Jason Robinson
photos by Corey Woodruff

PREVIEW>> Mason Jennings at Old Rock House

Thursday October 25
Old Rock House

With more than ten releases to his name over the past fifteen years, pop-folk wanderer Mason Jennings has documented his own gradual maturation into that reflective state that so often brings out the best in singer-songwriters. His advocates are notable songwriters as well: Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock released Jennings’Boneclouds on his Glacial Pace label, and in 2008 Jack Johnson signed Jennings to his own Brushfire Records. Though mysterious narratives of medieval swordsmen and magical wells harken to Jennings’ previous work, his latest album, Minnesota, replaces his once-pervasive political statements with more intimate priorities: his wife and children. Painfully candid lyrics reveal episodes of intense darkness: two-thirds of the closing track is just Jennings repeating “no relief” over and over, and in “Wake Up” the songwriter begs his loved ones to stick with him as he tries to better himself: “So I went to a shrink and he said to me / Just don’t drink when you’re nervous, that’s the key / I said OK, that sounds fine / I didn’t tell him I was nervous all the time.”

Jennings’ lyrics are as unguarded as they are artful, and he takes full advantage of his long writing history to carefully bare his feelings here. The close environs of Old Rock House’s excellent Listening Room Series will be an ideal setting to catch every confession, especially since he’ll be likely to revisit earlier gems by himself and others—most notably “The Times They Are A-Changin’” or “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” both of which are prominently featured on the extraordinary I’m Not There soundtrack.

by Kyle Kapper 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Rugged Chuggers Blow Through Town

Old 97's / The Travoltas / Rhett Miller
Tuesday October 16
The Pageant

It is now a trend to play an album front-to-back on a significant anniversary. In the last 30 days, at least three bands have toured through St. Louis with a classic album in tow: Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend," Smoking Popes' "Born to Quit," and now Old 97's, with a vinyl re-issue of their 1997 album "Too Far To Care."

While in theory, this approach could lead to stale setlists and a listless audience, neither of those were present Tuesday night at The Pageant, where a modest but rabid crowd devoured nearly two hours of tunes and boo'ed the house lights when they inevitably came on. The Pageant may not have been the right size for this show—attendance was slim compared to capacity—but the performance still felt intimate. Most of that has to do with the charm and swagger of one Stuart Ransom Miller II, better known as Rhett Miller, better known as lead singer of Texas band The Old 97's.

First, Rhett Miller is a handsome man—I'm just putting that out there, because we all know it's true and we're all thinking it. This fine evening found Mr. Miller pulling double duty in one night, as the release date of Miller's most recent solo album, The Dreamer, conveniently coincides with the "Too Far to Care" reissue. As lead singer and main songwriter of Old 97's, a four-piece alt country outfit known for its fiery live performances, he's a bristling country-fried crooner with punk energy to spare. As Rhett Miller, solo artist, he's a touch more sensitive and vulnerable. But such a balancing act can take its toll, as was evidenced by his gasping, howling closer at the end of a marathon set .

Miller's solo set was very short at a mere 25 minutes, but it was enough to display a side of Miller the Old 97's crowd may not have been as familiar with. St. Louis singer-songwriter Amy K. joined Miller for a duet on "Firefly," and  she nearly stole the show. After the song, as Miller tore into set finale "The Wreck of the Old 97," she was visible on the side of the stage, taking pictures likely eliciting jealous rage in the ladies in attendance. 

"Too Far to Care" is the Old 97's third record, and it's the Mos Eisley of alt-country albums. It's a honky-tonk filled with meth-addled losers, love-sick junkies and all manner of downer characters, strung out on pills or booze and looking for love in all the wrong places. Opener "Timebomb" sets the tone for both the album and the live set: classic country turned fierce by playing heavier and faster and turning up some pedals. This is a band that clearly loves to tour. Murry Hammond, bassist extraordinaire, holds down the thumping oomph of an upright bass with aplomb and lends occasional vocals, as on "W. Texas Teardrops." Rhett Miller is a whirlwind of energy, sweating and spitting and stomping and strumming like his life depends on it. Ken Bethea is the ace in the hole, tearing country and punk a new one with fierce electric leads that have become the Old 97's stock in trade. The coal-fired engine behind the kit is drummer Philip Peeples, whose chugging thud of percussion keeps the songs on their tracks, if only just. 

The setlist was long: all fifteen tracks of "Too Far to Care," plus an additional twelve songs of material from their other albums, and a three-song encore on top of that (for those playing along at home that's 30 songs.) Such a massive set, one would imagine, would include some slower songs or duds. Not so in this case. Even when the set slowed just enough to nail the Merle Haggard gem "Mama Tried," and the marriage-proposal anthem "Question," it felt less like the train was losing speed and more like it was rounding a bend to rev back up on the straightaway. 

Such a tight and well-structured set didn't leave much room for banter, but what there was came off funny and touching. Like any savvy leading man, Miller knew to wish the Cardinals luck, though he added that, as a Texan, his heart lies with the Rangers, and promptly launched into "A State of Texas." He also took a moment before "Nightclub" to reminisce about the old Cicero's, where the band recorded a live set way back in '96. "I still have this scar on my head," he said wryly, recalling the notoriously low ceilings of Cicero's old location.

"Too Far to Care" may've debuted in the head-cracking basements of America, but the Old 97's are able to celebrate its anniversary at the Pageant: seems like this train's tracks are still headed in the right direction.

by Jason Robinson

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Big Payoff

Band of Skulls / Ponderosa
Monday, October 15
Old Rock House

God save a touring band. There are nights when you play to a handful of people, thankful that you have one of the most fun jobs ever, but really wishing you had a few more people there to make it feel less like work. Those nights are hard. They make the tour almost not worth it, a real ego-killer. You pack up your gear hoping against hope that next time it'll be better.

Ponderosa arrives in St. Louis from their home in Atlanta, GA, and referred at one point to playing here to exactly four people their last time out. Happily, this was much closer to that hoped-for night, as there were plenty of St. Louisans out to catch the early band. Ponderosa is a study in strange mashups that wouldn't work on paper—lead guitarist Kris Sampson draped himself in what looked like an Afghan rug, while the rest of his band leaned into hipster or rockabilly costuming. The music blended AM radio vocal harmonies with Ian Moore/Nick Lowe-style songcraft and washes of very loud surf guitar. Despite the strange-sounding combinations, the best songs recalled a heady mix of Kings of Leon's early work and Band of Horses, which points to great things in their future.

By the time Band of Skulls stepped up onstage, the Monday night crowd had closed on about 150 souls—not a bad turnout for a Southampton, UK band whose main successes have been a pair of stellar rock albums (Baby Darling Doll Face Honey from 2009 and 2012's Sweet Sour), touring with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and appearing in the background of numerous video games, movies and TV shows.

Despite the Cardinals playoffs displayed on every TV in the Old Rock House, and their own tale of a tiny STL crowd back in the day, lead singer/guitarist Russell Marsden and bassist/vocalist Emma Richardson had the crowd well in their hands as the lights came on. The band is known for being "alternative," though one wonders if that means anything anymore. What they really are is a small band with a big sound, full force blues-rock that stomps and sways and crunches in all the right places. It's the kind of alchemical mixture of heavy and pop that brings to mind the southern rock traditions of archetypal rock n' roll distilled by current practitioners like Band of Horses and Kings of Leon.

Marsden certainly was aware of all rock n' roll traditions, stomping around the stage with his long hair, beard and Gretsch guitars while blazing through some impressive playing. All this while the rest of the band—Richardson and drummer Matt Hayward—played it cool and kept the beat alive. Their songs were greeted with huge cheers from the audience. Highlights include "The Devil Takes Care of His Own" and the new single "You Ain't Pretty But You Got It Goin' On," as well as "Friends" and "Fires." But "I Know What I Am" got some of the loudest response, likely due to its near ubiquity three years ago. From TV's "Friday Night Lights" and "Degrassi : The Next Generation" to videogames like "MLB 10 : The Show" and "Guitar Hero : Warriors of Rock," this song was everywhere.

And, like all of Band of Skulls' music, there's good reason. Their songs and records are streamlined American-sounding rock grab bags that constantly surprise and delight with both elegant simplicity and a deeper, darker undercurrent. This should play well with fans of fellow UKers MUSE, whose tour Band of Skulls jumps on starting this spring—and who are going to continue turning up in droves for this kind of music, hopefully banishing Band of Skulls' single-digit crowds for good.

by Jason Robinson