Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lizzie Weber: Your Favorite New Artist of 2014

By Kyle Kapper

“Possesses a commanding narrative voice, especially for a debut – Exudes Joni/Beirut/Idina Menzel – Exquisite arrangements, like sweeping through a magical land – Are the darker songs autobiographical?” Thus were the notes I scribbled down while listening to Lizzie Weber the album, leaving me utterly curious to learn the story of Lizzie Weber the person, whom I had never met.

Seated across from me at the back table of a narrow, deserted wine bar in her hometown of St. Louis, Ms. Weber graciously shared her remarkable tale with an inviting energy just shy of being eager.

She warmed her hands around a steaming cup of tea as she recalled how her passions for performing, writing, and acting were all born at Once, in a Chicago Theatre performance which clearly affects her still, five years later. Stirring her tea, she spoke wistfully of how she followed her heart, quit college, and, at the age of twenty, moved to LA to be an independent film actress.

“I was told that I wasn’t unique-looking enough,” she said. “I was told to dye my hair, to cut it, to lose weight. I was told to change everything about myself. After a while, it left me feeling just empty. That was when I really started writing intensely.”

After enduring two years of such objectification, Ms. Weber returned home to St. Louis, went back to school, and began crafting that intense writing into music, much of which appears on her eponymous debut. “Had I not had this musical outlet, I would have a very big chip on my shoulder,” she said. “It just made me realize that I would rather do something that I had more control over. I could control when I wanted to be creative. I could control when I wanted to perform out, play a show.”

Luckily for us, she’ll be doing just that with full-band shows on both sides of the album’s January 10 release. Check her out, and by the time the full interview excerpted above is published in Eleven, Ms. Weber may well be your favorite new artist of 2014, too.

Lizzie Weber celebrates her album release with shows at Off Broadway on December 26, Plush on January 3, and The Gramophone on January 31.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Cat, a Felon and a Shark Walk into a Bar…

The Fortnight Before Christmas w/ Cat Purse, Shark Dad, Ellen The Felon
Saturday, December 14, 9pm
The Heavy Anchor, 5226 Gravois

Tomorrow, a cat, a felon and a shark will walk into a bar. They won't say "Ouch." They won't groan about 1920s gambling laws. They won't be the punchline to any of those dumb jokes about different species ordering beers. The motley crew will simply play some damn good music. 
Talented as they are, Cat Purse, Ellen The Felon and Shark Dad all have something to prove during Saturday's "The Fortnight Before Christmas" at the Heavy Anchor (9 p.m., 5226 Gravois), which means that they'll be setting the bar instead of walking directly into it. Cat Purse, an Americana band led by Matt Champion, will test a fresh lineup and sound. Ellen The Felon's Ellen Cook continues her revved-up comeback from a health scare with a new album. And Shark Dad has that new-car smell, with former Orbz frontman Jason Robinson and company having played just one show so far. Those challenges don't deter any of these acts, though.
"Matt's infectious enthusiasm is pretty clear," Robinson attests. "When he says we'll put together a killer bill, he means it."

Though "Fortnight" will be the first time all three acts perform together, there are connections among the band members that go back years. Champion briefly played keyboards for Robinson's old band the Orbz, and former Orbz members Chris Luckett and Kenny Adelman now are part of Cat Purse, along with Scott Feller. And Cook and Robinson played one show at Cicero's together and were formally introduced to each other at the STL Loud Volume One release party.

"Langen Neubacher [of the Defeated County] introduced us. The first thing we did was try to scare Langen by having Ellen hide in an empty beer locker thing," Robinson says.

"That's right!" Cook remembers. "And we talked about doing a Zappa tribute, and your bandmates kept talking to me about synths and gear that I have no knowledge of. I'm not a very good gearhead."
This camaraderie and mutual admiration is why Champion brought Ellen the Felon and Shark Dad along for the ride in his Christmas sleigh. "I picked Shark Dad and Ellen because I like them as people and respect them as musicians," Champion says. "I do this for fun, and there is nothing more fun than playing shows with your friends."

The variety in the bands' musical styles certainly will be the centerpiece of tomorrow's festive show. Champion describes Cat Purse as "a bitter and angry version of the band America, or maybe Warren Zevon, Neil Young and the Pixies playing old Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings tunes." Shark Dad plays '50s-tinged garage rock under song titles like "Sorry, We Only Date Vampires." And you can hear a variety of influences in Ellen The Felon's distinctive piano wailings. "Ellen is a cabaret punk," Robinson says. "Like Joan Jett having a fight with Carole King."

For Champion, there's no question that all of the eager musicians on the bill will make a perfect Christmas gift for St. Louis. "Shark Dad's rawness and barely controlled chaos will knock a few folks over. Ellen and Matt [Reyland, aka The Mattronome, who plays drums in Ellen the Felon] will provide unexpected class and elegance to the trashcan rock and alt-countryish indie rock of the rest of us," Champion says. "I think the audience will be most surprised about the way Cat Purse sounds. It's a distinct departure from our original sound, and one that I think will keep developing in the future."
That future is bright for all three of these very driven acts. Over the past few months, Robinson has been releasing Shark Dad demos, and he's excited about his first new band since the Orbz called it quits in 2012. "I think for Shark Dad and me personally, it's time to really show off what I've been working on and time to re-introduce myself to the music scene," Robinson says. "This show in particular is a big, big showcase for what's been trapped in my head for a year and some change."

Cook already has garnered plenty of acclaim for Bang Bang Bang Ellen the Felon's debut album that was released this fall and promoted with a roller-skating party that St. Louis still is talking about. "It was a blast! The Skatium is easily one of the most underrated venues in Saint Louis," Cook says. "Everyone skated and drank. Everyone got a CD. It was perfect. I'm still glowing from that night."
And Champion, who briefly held down both the guitar and vocalist positions in Cat Purse before assembling the new lineup, is ready to start pumping out songs that listeners can keep forever. "We have a handful of tunes that are ready for prime time," Champion says. "I don't know how soon we'll get into the studio, but I definitely see some basement recordings surfacing before too long."

As for "The Fortnight Before Christmas" show, Champion isn't promising any lords-a-leaping or turtledoves. But he does suggest that audience members get ready to shout "Merry Christmas and happy new yeeeeear!" during an unexpected holiday cover. "We’re going to tear the roof off the sucker," Champion promises.

by Allison Babka

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Concert Photos: The Aokify America Tour at The Pageant

Steve Aoki, Waka Flocka and Borgore have been spreading their merry mayhem across the country on 2013's Aokify America Tour, and contributing photographer Bryan Sutter brought back some killer shots from their rowdy St. Louis show. Spolier: Aoki brought cake for the crowd. Check out the shots above.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Q&A with Robert DeLong

Robert DeLong at LouFest
Robert DeLong at LouFest 2013 — Photo by Jason Stoff

Recently, Eleven had a chance to catch up with Robert DeLong — you may remember his killer set from LouFest this year.

Eleven: You’ve been playing the festival circuit a lot this year. How’s that been treating you?

DeLong: Playing festivals is amazing! You get to expose your music to a whole slew of new kids that will (hopefully) spread the word, and you get to play on great sound systems.

Eleven: There’s a real melodicism to your music that I don’t always hear in EDM – do you try to make sure your stuff comes across as songs, not tracks?

DeLong: Most of these songs were written in a more indie songwriter environment, and then transplanted into EDM styles. I am always a big fan of any song that has a melodic element I can attach myself to, so I naturally write that way.

Eleven: Nice. Where did your interest in analog/digital manipulation – Wii remotes, joysticks, etc – come from?

DeLong: Nerding out alone in dark rooms, surfing the web and finding what people had been messing around with in their own dark rooms, and then taking those ideas and trying to make them accessible. Something like that.

Eleven: Do any bands really have your attention these days?

DeLong: Definitely. I like Ghost Beach, Cigarette Barbies, Smallpools, Bigtime Drugparty, and Frank’s Kitchensauce.

Eleven: Last one – what’s the strangest thing in your touring suitcase?

DeLong: Gold Bond.

Eleven: I think any festival enthusiast in the Midwest understands that one.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

What's Happening This Weekend? Oct 3rd-6th

The baseball game schedule is out and it's all day games!  That means everyone will be a good mood after the Cards take out the Buccos when they hit the streets at night and check out everything going on this weekend in the bars and clubs.   Here are our best choices for the weekend

Thursday October 4th, 2013

If you are downtown after the game, hit up the Thaxton Speakeasy for Prohibition Thursdays and live like Nucky Thompson for a night with Miss Jubilee. Make sure to check the Thaxton's website for the password!

Deets: 9pm-1:30am
           $5 cover (reduced to $3 with password)

Friday October 5th, 2013

The Lonely Biscuits with iLLPHONiCS and Search Parties

Let's face it, live hip hop can be very hit or miss.  It's can be a tough genre to pull off live. BUT - one thing that always makes it work is dismissing the DJ for the night and backing the MCs with a real live band playing actual real live instruments.  Friday at the Gramophone, there will be not one, but three hip hop acts that take this approach, headlined by Nashville's The Lonely Biscuits.

Deets: Doors 8pm, show 8:30 at The Gramophone
           $10 in advance, $12 at the door

Saturday October 6th, 2013

Grovefest 2013! 

It's seriously one of the best street festivals in the city. It gets better every year and this year features a bunch of really great St. Louis artists, starting at the top with Tef Poe & Downstereo.

Deets: 2p-11pm

Concert Photos: AFI at The Pageant, 09.18.2013

AFI swung through The Pageant a few weeks ago, and tireless Eleven photographer Angela Vincent was there to capture the show — and the energy in the air. Check out a few shots from the night here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Concert Photos: Rancid at The Pageant, 09.16.2013

Rancid, longtime California punk rockers, stopped here in St. Louis to rock The Pageant to its foundation. Louis Kwok was there for Eleven Music Magazine — check out his photos here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Concert Photos: Zedd at The Pageant, 09.15.2013

Ismael Valenzuela, Eleven photographer, got some great shots at Zedd's Clarity tour when it came to The Pageant earlier this month — check 'em out here.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Redbirds are back in the Playoffs!

And for better or worse, this town is sure to be obsessed for the next month (we hope!)

A couple years ago, as the playoffs were just getting starting, Sam Bush, a huge Cardinal fan himself, played a free show in Post Office Square before his show at the Sheldon that night.  It turned into a impromptu pep rally that was way cooler than whatever they did in Kiener Plaza.  Here is his song tribute the best shortstop of them all, #1 in your programs, Ozzie Smith

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Day One in The Sun - LouFest is back!

Photo: Jason Stoff
Day one of the new, bigger and better LouFest went by in a flash.  If you ask the promoters of the festival, they will tell you that in addition to bigger acts and a much bigger footprint, what they were most excited about was the way the days have been programmed. The day played through like a well thought out mixtape.  Like Space Capone leading straight into Fitz & The Tantrums and Jim James stripping his sound down at the end of his set and segueing perfectly into Wilco to end the opening the day. 

For the first time, it’s impossible to see all the bands playing – and that can be a good thing and a bad thing of course.  It gives festival goers options, not into one band?  Don’t worry, there’s someone who you maybe haven’t seen blowing minds on the other stage.  But the Main Stage still features it’s acts unopposed, so the biggest bands can still demand all of your attention. 

The day started with St. Louis favorites Kentucky Knife Fight playing the cozy BMI Stage, the smallest – but most comfortable – stage of the three.  Under the shade of two large trees, the band tore up their opening set, bringing more heat that the noon-day St. Louis sun.  

Kentucky Knife Fight's Jason Holler and Jason Koenig
Photo: Jason Stoff

Those two trees made the BMI a popular place (as did its easy access to the Schlafly “Brewtopia”) and the stage was loaded with great bands, like Chicago’s Wild Belles and a duo of Nashville bands, the afore mentioned Space Capone and their friends Modoc, both of whom seemed genuinely excited to be playing St. Louis for the first time.   These were also the first real conflicts of the day, with Robert DeLong on the Forest Park Stage at the same time as Modoc and Ra Ra Riot going against Space Capone. 

Space Capone
Photo: Jason Stoff

The funk started around 3:30 on the BMI stage with the Disco of Space Capone, but Fitz & The Tantrums kicked it up another notch on the Bud Light Stage an hour later.  This is what festivals are about.  The middle of the day, the crowd having swelled to it’s full potential and everyone inside the fences dancing, singing and moving together to that power pop soul that Micheal Fitzpatrick and his Tantrums do so well. 
Michael Fitzpatrick
Photo: Jason Stoff
Toro y Moi on the Forest Park stage drew most of the crowd away from the main stage and served as the perfect appetizer to the National.

The National may just be the perfect band at sunset.   And it was also the first sign that LouFest has grown quite a bit.  In the past years, The National would be the exact band that would be closing out the festival and here they were, playing in the daylight hours.

The National's Matt Berninger
Photo: Jarred Gastrich

Once the sun went down and light sprinkle came from the clouds, finally cooling everyone off, Jim James took to the Forest Park stage and promptly showed everyone why he is one of the last true rock stars around today.  With his trademark Flying V set on a stand at the front of the stage, seemingly yearning for a rock god to crack out a power chord, James wowed the crowd with the material from his latest solo effort.  

Jim James
Photo: Jason Stoff

And just as a St. Louis band had started off the day, another “almost, kinda, sorta, really is” St. Louis band, Wilco closed it out.  Sometimes it’s said that Jeff Tweedy avoids St. Louis or doesn’t like playing here.  It’s said that maybe he runs from his past sometimes.  That was certainly not the case at LouFest.  His area roots were well apparent.  From the setlist with St. Louis-heavy songs like the Uncle Tupelo-era “New Madrid” to “Casino Queen” and the ubiquitous “Heavy Metal Drummer”, Tweedy wasn’t shying away at all from his past.  The most poignant moment of the day, and probably the whole weekend was when Tweedy dedicated “Born Alone” to St. Louis’ own Bob Reuter and to his own brother, who passed away just days before the festival.  It was clearly a tough week for Tweedy and he used the music, as so many do, as catharsis. 

Jeff Tweedy
Photo: Jason Stoff
It all ended too soon, maybe one day LouFest can convince the city that going past 10pm on a weekend is perfectly reasonable. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

LouFest Preview: An Interview with The Mowgli’s

An eight-on-one interview moves fast, trust me. It’s late on a Saturday afternoon at Lollapalooza, and I’m talking to the California pop-rock-indie collective The Mowgli’s. We’re keeping our conversation short and sweet – everyone, myself included, is excited to check out one of the last Postal Service gigs on the other end of the Lolla grounds.

Katie Earl stresses that the band’s goal is simple: they want to make people feel good. “We want to write about love and positivity,” she says. To wit, their major label debut (2013’s Waiting for the Dawn) is chock full of breezy melodies, sunny tones, and a youthful vibrance that could only come from eight Californians with on a mission. It’s light, happy and uplifting stuff, and the band goes as far as I ask about the challenges of getting an eight-piece band together to do anything, let alone tour, and they laugh – it’s obvious that it’s a struggle, but they insist their commitment pulls it together. “We all come at it with the same passion,” says Michael Vincze. “We sacrifice to make it happen, and we make it work. At one point, we had ten members!” As you’d hope, the band’s live sound is as big and bright as their lineup – songs burst with vocal harmonies at their core; they ebb and flow while remaining bouncy.

The band has been on a tear over the past year, playing all sorts of national festivals (LouFest included) alongside smaller gigs. Michael points out that The Mowgli’s have actually organized their own festivals with friends. The California CA, as they call themselves, reminds me of The Elephant 6 Recording Company – bands that shared members, recorded with each other, and worked on their sound in a tightly-knit community of likeminded musicians. The Mowgli’s are creating their own scene, and so far, it’s working out well for them.

Jason Stoff
Photo: Jason Stoff

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

LouFest Preview: An Interview With Wild Cub

"We wanted to make a record that you could discover and rediscover, hopefully liking new and different songs over time."

I'm sitting in Lollapalooza's cozy media tent, talking to Wild Cub's Keegan DeWitt about their debut album, Youth. "It's a blank slate of a record, down to the packaging -- we didn't even put our individual names on it. We really wanted listeners to discover it themselves." Band member and producer Dabney Morris adds that the band re-recorded several of Youth's songs many times over. "There was nothing wrong with the songs, or how we'd recorded them, but they didn't fit in with the record in a way we wanted them to."

Indeed, while Youth is a long listen teeming with 80's inspired new wave and dark hooks, each song feels considered and sequenced so the music fits together extremely well as a record. DeWitt says they wanted to make something like Badly Drawn Boy, where length adds depth and longevity. The band self-released Youth, and DeWitt says it's been interesting to watch people discover it. "It's been in waves. Lots of people will hear about it, then it'll slow down, then pick up again."

"We're thinking about writing something shorter for the next one, though," he adds with a good natured smile.

Wild Cub has been playing everything from small clubs to festivals lately -- they played The Firebird before they'd recorded Youth -- but the band is looking forward to LouFest in September. I ask how they've enjoyed the festival circuit lately, and he explains that it's fun, but they've got less time to hang out. "We did Bonnaroo a while ago, and got to be there for the whole thing. Now, we just kind of bump into bands randomly, like when we were at Hangout Festival and came across Dirty Projectors."

As far as St. Louis and LouFest goes, DeWitt says Wild Cub is excited to be coming back. "We're excited to be playing for a larger crowd -- we were a really young band when we were through St. Louis last," DeWitt explains.

Jason Stoff
Photo: Bryan Sutter

LouFest Preview: An Interview with Brick + Mortar

Big -- yeah, we go for big."

That's John Tacon, half of the rock duo Brick + Mortar, describing the band's sound. His bandmate and singer, Brandon Asraf, adds, "That's really the only kind of music we know how to make together. We do this stuff in our own bubble."

Brick + Mortar's new record, Bangs, sounds huge -- think of Hot Hot Heat's wonderful angles and edges, filtered through a musical diet of hip-hop drumming and hardcore. Amazingly, it's also hooky and accessible, coloring the songs with layered background vocals and instrumentation. Credit Asraf's jazz theory education and Tacon's hardcore roots, plus their mutual admiration for hip-hop.

As I talk to Brick + Mortar, I'm reminded of an anecdote about U2 -- they played what they played because they didn't know how to play anything else. Of course, Brick + Mortar sounds nothing like U2, but the idea that they their sound is a direct result of the two band members working in each other's range is met with agreement. Asraf adds "We didn't listen to a ton of bands before we started playing instrumentals together at, like, 14. And once we did, we listened to a lot of the same stuff while driving to and from shows. It wasn't until a few years ago (2008) that we started Brick + Mortar. We wanted to see if we could write songs -- songs with lyrics, you know?"

I ask if the New Jersey-based band has any experience playing in St. Louis, and Asraf says they have -- they opened for Jimmy Eat World a few nights ago at The Pageant. "That was great, because it was our second time playing with them. One of our first big shows was with those guys in New Jersey, and we got a bad review -- it praised John, but hated me. It was nice to be able to play with J.E.W. again and, you know, show them how far we've come."

As our discussion drifts to Lollapalooza, LouFest and beyond, Asraf offers his reasons for enjoying the festival atmosphere. "It's an environment where everyone has elected to come hear music. That's awesome -- everyone is ready to embrace this universe they've stepped into." He says that a band has to work hard to win over a crowd in a venue -- it's a familiar environment, so the band has to win over the crowd. "Here, it's a different mindset. The crowd is really excited, and so are we."

 Jason Stoff
Photo: Bryan Sutter

Monday, August 5, 2013

It All Connects - Day 3 at Lollapalooza

The sunscreen I brought is not doing the trick. This morning I'm lobster man, red in the face and hurting, the least of problems given my bruises and blisters for the past two days. But the show must go on, so I reapply and hustle my way to the El .

 Once again the grounds of Lollapalooza are far mare sedate then when I left them, but I enter the gate to the unexpected sounds of a killer guitar of a cover of “Girlfriend” by Matthew Sweet, being performed by School of Rock, the early openers at the kids stage. It's there, at a stage full of earnest hard rocking teens that this weary dad remembered how, when I was a teen, Matthew Sweet was a Demi God.  And here I am seeing some teens reveling in his music, just like I used to.  

Reveling is what I've got in mind today too - finding the next obsession, the next up and comer and bashing out some words to hopefully capture their essence. 

First stop, a recommendation from Eleven's Bryan Sutter, O'Brother, an Atlanta-based band whose surging dirge and fuzz, three guitar prog-metal blow out was a bracing opening to the day. Yes, there was heavy metal hair whipping, yes, they added half time breakdowns, but above all that was this post-punk playful attitude and chiming Muse-style guitars and vocals that whipsawed between raw and graceful. Heavy and pretty. Shades of Soundgarden, perhaps?

YAWN had a lot in common with Vampire Weekend, by which I mean youthful, bright songs with off kilter beats, flamenco guitar and other world music influences.  The comparisons ended there, however,  because YAWN  also dropped in dance beats and ethereal keyboards. The resulting mix was somewhere near a Tropicalia band doing late period Modest Mouse. 

The bros were back as the EDM crowd gathered early for Stratus, a more recognizable style of tension/release electronica, close to Chemical Brothers / Crystal Method live sets in terms of cresting and riding only to slam into the floor with hip hop vocal samples punctuating as the mix folds in, bass swirling and synths squalling. the missing link between big beat, acid house and EDM.

Chilean band ASTRO brought an aborigine flair to their world music melange, an attempt to bring joyous pop to a set that didn't quite click with me. Something about the music felt flat, like attempting to blend that many disparate elements had somehow backfired. 

Well, as I sometimes say, they can't all be winners. A modest crowd would seem to disagree with me, so let's chalk that one up to me being a crank.

Wild Belle, one of the bands with Wild in their name, brought a sweet 60s girl group vibe with ska guitars, vibrant horns, cool vocal harmonies and a dash of ragga/dancehall flavor. Some songs ramped up the tempo, and had a more rock attitude  but it remains one of the most chill sets of the weekend.

Nightmare and the Cat kicked out some wavy surf guitar, cresting bass lines and new wave wavering vocals custom made for the end credits of a forgotten John Hughes flick. The set that followed dug into a huge grab bag of influences, grim jagged rock guitars, smooth pop vocalizing, frantic dynamic shifts and a general willingness to try anything. on paper this sounds chaotic, but it all works somehow. 

Almost like a warmup for The Cure set later today is the 80s inspired Wild Nothing. Amid airy synths, Robert Smith guitars, and basically British new wave everything, you could still hear the band trying to bring their own flavor to the whole affair. Not that there's anything wrong with mining the past for your sound, since they do it without the gloomy atmosphere that is sometimes a by product of that era. 

Angel Haze had other, nastier ideas, spitting venomous in-your-face hip hop over slabs of UK grime drums and jet engine bass. What emerged with a gumbo of  EDM, bounce, trap, Top 40 pop and deeply personal backpacker hip-hop. When she asked if we liked it, the answer was obviously yes. Here in the early afternoon, we were met with one killer package of personal, engaging rap, club ready instrumentals and some wild experimental moments.

After a brief rest and an ill-advised snack of White Castle, I joined up with fellow Eleven contributor Bryan Sutter and hoofed it to Baroness. On the way, we compared war stories and silly gripes and cracked each other up with dueling Rip Taylor impressions. 

Before Baroness, I caught the last few minutes of Alex Clare, British electro wizard, whose backing band included a goddamn keytar. Clare and his EDM/pop style was an interesting mix, especially his hit "Too Close,” which sounded appropriately massive and drew a huge reaction from the crowd. And then, he did the big rock star move of dropping the vocal to let the crowd sing. They gladly obliged, of course.

Bearded prog metal band Baroness lead a blistering, anthemic set of sharp tunes, making a hearty mess of shifting time signatures, bludgeoning bass and the occasional moment of beauty amidst it all. The effect was like getting trapped in a Frank Frezetta painting, where you are a buff wizard and there's babes and dragons. See also The Sword.

Walking to Tegan and Sara, it occurred to me that the Nirvana reference in part 1 could have been a subliminal reminder to catch Wavves, the antidote to todays 80s worshiping lineup. People believe (wrongly, I'm told) that Nirvana was the death knell for 80s hair metal and synth pop.   

But over on the Red Bull stage,  the dream of the 80s was alive with twin sisters Tegan and Sara, as they partied to the beats and keys of their new album Heartthrob. Just  like last night's Postal Service set, the sisters Quinn wove dance pop out of sorrow, here with a emphasis on more interplay between the various stages of their career, which includes melodic folk, indie pop, pop rock and the lyrical poignancy that ties it together. In one of the funnier moments Tegan told a story early about their first Lollapalooza set in 2005, where Sara got heat stroke and couldn't finish. Thankfully, this time the weather was more forgiving and the set that followed delivered on their promise to make it up to us.

Covering ground had certainly been the plan, and cover I did in the way to Wavves, the stoner punk band whose sloppy elegance and lot fi records sounded like Green Day in a live setting. This is not a dig, by the way, in my humble opinion, “Dookie”-era Green Day was a band was at the top of their game. Wavves performed a fast and tight set with just enough Buzzcocks (“Freak Me Out”, in particular) to satisfy my jones for power pop/pop punk. Even slower songs were performed with a go-for-broke fearlessness that impressed. 

I stuck with the rockers and hit up The Vaccines, whose album "What Do You Expect From The Vaccines?" was a power pop masterpiece, precisely because the Wavves energy was infectious. (Get it? Infectious? Vaccines? Ok, no more Red Bull for this guy).

The Vaccines were preceded by Two Door Cinema Club, a pop-leaning dance-rock crew with some sharp guitar work. The celebratory, frantic grooves reminded me of the earlier work of Minus The Bear.

The Vaccines themselves were a mad deconstruction of 50s pop via punk and grunge, which made the while affair a mess of Jesus And Mary Chain minus the sludge. 

It's something of a shock that I enjoyed Grizzly Bear's set, since my opinion off the band was not that high. But after hearing the fusillade of sweet pop sounds and driving insistent instrumentation, I became a believer.  By the time their biggest hit “Two Weeks” dropped, they had win me over. 

Next up, on the recommendation of my follow ELEVEN revelers, I caught Major Lazer. I liked their albums, but, like Grizzly Bear, something about the raucous live show kept me rapt. The blustery wobble and dirty beats made for a delirious experience, not to mention righteous party anthems which turned a sedate crowd into a screaming mass of devotees. Something here, maybe it was the nature of the weekend, maybe it was the cocktail hour, maybe I was just ready to be moved, I felt geeky and turned out. Swarming bass and freaky friends and a stage show that brought out the dancing maniacs sure enough made me get why the band is universally beloved. It's a controlled chaos, an ass-shaking good time and a show worth catching when you can. 

The sky threatened to drop some rain, just as Beach House reached the apex of their set, a delicate house of cards with swooping female vocals and nearly trip-hop backdrop, supplemented by the clean, bright guitars and on, point beats. 

Thankfully, the weather held off the deluge long enough for them to wash over the crowd on a blissed out wave. Their set ended with then saying it was their first and last Lollapalooza, which I'm sure is just a joke, right?

Remember on night 1 (and parts of night 2) when I talked about my inner goth? That inner goth was the reason I stuck near the side of the park clearly marked The Cure.  The Cure have been a constant in my musical tastes since my proper introduction to their material by my friend, and former bandmate, Ken. He showed me the “Staring at the Sand/Staring at the Sea” compilation and certain key tracks off “Wish” and my obsession began.

So obviously, The Cure were on my must-see list. Tonight, as in previous nights, I was not disappointed. They managed a near pitch-perfect recreation of the British post-new-wave-goth that they pretty much created out of nothing twenty plus years ago.

 Robert Smith, of course, brought his usual stoic freakishness, all wild hair and lipstick and throaty vocal delivery. As the hazy keyboards enveloped him and the turned up bass played an elegiac version of “Plainsong”, it was almost enough to transport me to the passenger seat of a Ford Taurus that barely ran as Ken would play “Disintegration” over and over until I got it, really got it. 

In this place, the past and the future became two opposing forces, whose tidal pull were hard to resist.

The Cure slayed us there, by drawing us in with glorious guitar, the catalogue of hits and deep cuts and compilation-only tunes as numerous as one could ask for. Hell, they played most of their best album “Disintegration” as well as "Wrong Number", “100 Years " and so many more. Amid all that, we sat, or at least I sat, enraptured in the goth wonder of it all. 

Think of it, here stands a band older than nearly all the others (save New Order) and it's their set that draws us to a close. Their classic post-punk pre-new-wave is the bridge between the 80s and 90s and a fitting cap on tonights worship of the past. It's almost appropriate that there's chill in the air as the festival ends, the cold hand of death (or its less sinister cousin, change), always there, waiting.

The line that rings out at me, grim as out is, from "More Than This", in it Smith says  “'s the price way pay for happiness." After all, isn't that the whole sum of our weekend? We made sacrifices, took time off from work, drove a long way, left our families, paid money and made all kinds if concessions to be here, sharing this moment. And it was worth it. At least, I think it was.

And then of course the lyrics to “Disintegration” itself, noting how things always end. 

But then, at last, the finale, "Love Cats", as silly and bizarre a moment as one could wish for.
As the last notes of "Love Cats" rang out, I said a solemn goodbye to my second favorite city and hobbled to my train on bruised and blistered feet, thankful for the reprieve, but sad that it was over.

Tonight we came together, tomorrow we fall apart. Ain't that just like life.

-Jason Robinson

Sunday, August 4, 2013

There and Back Again - Day 2 Of Lollapolooza

As the day starts, I'm far worse off now than I was, a combination of sunburn, foot blisters and general fatigue have forced me to be even more selective with the amount of walking and/or running I do. 

This is all the fault of a shampoo company. 

Let me explain. 

Yesterday, amidst the already chaotic day of seeing as many bands as humanly possible (see also this post –, I decided, against my better judgement, to trek to an “exclusive” invite-only party happening in a hotel across town. Trouble was, as I'm trying to keep this trip from ruining my personal finances, I decided to walk. Normally, this would not be an issue, but somewhere in my head I confused North and South State Street and walked for nearly 6 blocks in the wrong direction before realizing it. After that mishap – and an hour plus of walking time wasted – I found myself in a room with well-coifed supermodels trying to  sell shampoo. I don't really know why I decided to try my luck at fitting in at this party, but the sight of me, in cargo shorts and a “How's My Blogging?” t-shirt, dirty and partially sunburned, was likely not something that the elite at this party were too keen on.

That misstep cost me the opportunity to cover about 3 bands and made me feel entirely too foolish, not to mention the blisters and the sunburn and the whatnot. 

Today, I said to myself, is going to be different. 

At 11am, I find Lollapalooza in a much milder state than when I left it. At closing last night, a teeming mass of sunburned drunk deliriously happy (and likely stoned) people swarmed the train stations, nearby drug stores and bars, creating a crushing mess. 

This morning, the crowd was a touch less brostep and more the vast variety you'd expect. 

On a side note, there was still this weird habit of stuffed animals (or in some cases printed out faces of minor internet memes like Honey Boo Boo or Grumpy Cat)  on sticks, which I first took to be a sign of HERE'S WHERE THE DRUGS ARE advertising. It was only later that I realized that it was a way for friends not to lose their group in the crowd. Pretty smart, if you really think about it. If you lose your friends in the growing crowd, just look for the minion from “Despicable Me” or the huge face of John Stamos. 

Kicking off the day in a very Woodstock-friendly fashion was the Americana by way of classic riff n roll rock, AM gold in a universe where AM gold also includes Tom Petty sounds of The Wheeler Brothers. it seemed a fitting change from yesterday's sonic assault, a gradual wading in like walking into a cold pool in a hot day. Even though dark lyrics about leaving no witnesses snuck their way in, their sound was so sunny and energetic that I'm pretty sure very few noticed. Their falsetto on their cover of Jackson Fives "One More Chance” really wowed me.

The big news at this point in the day was a report that blog darling experimental noise/hip-hop band Death Grips had been cut from the festival. Investigation via some online sources and other media people in attendance revealed that at an official after party, Death Grips simply did not show up. Fans of the band destroyed their equipment, and the festival lineup was changed, adding in snowboarder Shawn Whites band Bad Things in their slot. 

The weather continued to be excellent during a cursory walk around the festival grounds, on the way to see PUJOL, a band whose last release, UNITED STATES OF BEING (saddle creek), was a leave in your stereo on repeat disc. After dedicating their set to "BDSM lizard people" (the silly artwork on their backdrop), they blasted into a ferocious, sometimes silly, version of The Replacements-indebted Indie rock, complete with wicked guitar licks. The Nashville based band kept it silly between songs, announcing that one was "from the soundtrack to the movie Blues Brothers 2012". These dudes were clearly having fun and managed to sound lockstep tight and off the cuff, no easy feat in the hurry up and wait atmosphere of the festival. So far, one of the best sets by a smaller band, based on charm and chops.

I wandered into another resurgence taking place across the park PLANET HEMP ripped live hip hop with a Rage Against The Machine quality live band behind them, dropping science in English and Spanish, a nice reminder that rap rock, while usually not remembered fondly, can still be done well. In that short set, I could pick out traces of Plastillina Mosh, Shootyz Groove, early 311, Rage Against The Machine, Limp Bizkit  and many others. But as the band tore into Zepplin song “The Ocean”, which Beastie Boys infamously sampled on their first album, it became clear who the influence really was. PLANET HEMP was a nice unexpected treat,  given their proximity to 90s influenced PUJOL and REIGNWOLF, the jet black noise shredding reverb vocaled rocker

REIGNWOLF took the stage as a solo act, ripping blues rock and stomping a bass drum. He then settled behind a fill kit and drummed with one have and played slick guitar riffs with the other, another unexpected treat. Then the rest of the band took the stage and what was already an intense death groove got heavier. Sludge blues metal, think Wolfmother but better, think Queens of the Stone Age, but slightly less controlled. And neither Wolfmother nor Queens of the Stone Age would have ever covered Fleetwood Mac. Their blistering version of “The Chain” straight up ruled, as it captured the original menace of the song with just a guitar and bass drum.

Around this time, I also heard Azalea Banks was dropping out of tonight's show, citing a throat infection. Which would make two years in a row. This last minute cancellation made the already embattled Grove stage go through some serious lineup changes.

Ah, the choices began to get harder as the 4 o'clock hour swung around – do I catch a rare set by funky soul legend and heir to James Brown's cape Charles Bradley or Lou Fest artist and goth-tinged new wave Wild Cub? Today, the funk won out. 

To the strident horns of the Menahan Street Band, out comes newly minted Daptones recording artist Charles Bradley. With a husky rasp of a voice and spot on, but minimal, dancing, Bradley had certainly earned his James Brown comparison. Easily the funkiest set of the weekend, probably due to the sick live backing band. When Charles screamed turn thus mother out, they were more then happy to toss horn runs, drums snapping on the one and subtlely soulful guitar with a dash of organ flair in the mix. 

After a brief sojourn to the nearby drug store for a diet soda and some baby powder (don't ask), The band I was most interested to see live was coming up...  Matt and Kim. Their two pronged electro pop attack of keyboards and drums had set audiences ablaze at shows in STL, so seeing this set was a must. And they did not disappoint. In between snippets of Salt N Peppa (“Push It”) Chicago's favorite son Kanye West (“N****'s in Paris”) and Ace Hood (“Bughatti”) came a shirt throwing, sweaty dancing, Animal from “The Muppets” drumming, hair whipping frenzy of weekend-ready party anthems. Matt and Kim sit at that intersection of pop and indie that is infectious as it is memorable. Even in their quiet moments, they really knew how to draw maximum fun out of the crowd

Local Natives, whose youthful charm and jangling blare can over their lyrical content, still made a pretty spectacle of three part vocal harmonies and playful dynamic indie pop. A willing and cheerful crowd certainly thought so too. 

After a much needed rest (and after downing a few Red Bull), I marched out into the party zone clearly marked Bauuer. Elevated stage area? You bet. Bros with t-shirts that read “BEAST MODE”? Oh yeah. Someone in the crowd asking if I've seen his friend Molly? Count on it. 

Bauuer,  mostly known for a snippet of his tune "Harlem shake" via viral video, still goes all-out for the live show. You've probably seen dozens of variations on people spazzing out to “Harlem Shake” and think, like I did, that corresponding minimalist party clips tell you everything you need to know. And you'd be right. Which is not really a bad thing. If you enjoy hard partying trap and EDM head bangers with no trace of subtlety, but a healthy addiction to pop hooks, then step right up. The assembled throng went hard in the paint for this barely visible proto super star. 

Going from trap/EDM to Ellie Goulding was a natural transition, given her top 40 status and vocal acrobatics, but, alas, my aching feet demanded I sit still for a moment, so instead, I opted for the country fried southern rock Eric Church served up. 

And I'm glad I did. I don't care much for modern country – most of the stuff Shania and her ilk churn out sounds way too much like pop music to my taste. Eric Church, for what it's worth, doesn't do modern country. He does a country-tinged version of pretty much every other form of rock under the sun.  Hell, he even plugged a Metallica riff into divorce anthem, "I'm Gettin' Stoned." If you can  think Aerosmith by way of Garth Brooks, with a sharp wit and stadium ready sing along songs, you're halfway there. Even classic Merle-style boozer "Jack Daniels" got the rock turned up a few notches. 

It's really only appropriate that right then, I had a mean hankering for a beer and wound up getting one. It's even more appropriate that right then and there was when I heard of the passing of KDHX DJ and legendary photographer, musican and storyteller Bob Rueter. As the sun started setting over Grant Park and I watched Eric Church take some young'uns to school about what Americana can really mean, I tipped one out to Bob. I barely knew him, but so large was his presence in the scene that I couldn't help but feel a sense of loss.  

While a beer was what hit the spot, what I really wanted to do was catch more bands.

Again, the risk vs reward effect came into play. Do I see The National, a deft indie crew with influences vast and a sound that'd be hard to nail down, but which lies somewhere in the gap between post-punk and alt-country, or Heartless Bastards, a garage rock band whose fiery lead singer has a vocal delivery just a hair or two short of Marianne Faithfull? 

This time the prize went to The National, whose indie meets whatever aesthetic certainly fit with the lineups thus far, drawing the listener in with hooky guitar work, steam of consciousness lyrics and moody atmospherics. Jason Stoff, fellow Eleven traveler, pointed put the fragile banging balancing act that the band puts into every song, teetering just on the brink of chaos, but never tipping over. A magic trick that they employ to fascinating effect

The bathroom lines have grown untenable at this point and that beer is an unwelcome visitor that must be expelled, so the wait begins. Although the line of dudes straight pissing on the fence would indicate that the festival has just turned the corner. Surely lawless anarchy can only follow.

On a weird, sorta inside side note : The dude in the Shellac shirt just confused the living hell out of me. Why is he here? What possible band does he want to see? 

I pondering this and other questions as I listened to Kendrick Lamar do his smooth and funky R&b/rap, making good on the early support of mentor Dr. Dre and the legacy of 90s stars like Next and Bel Biv Devoe. Kendrick might not be a Michael Bevins, but who is? 

I ventured out a bit to the Grove stage, a nice vantage point for a rapidly setting sun, to catch HAIM. A rock n roll corollary to Chekov's Gun, a theory that posits that any time a gun appears on stage it must be fired by the end, is what I'll call Robinson's Drum – a stage with that many drums must be ready for action. And action I got as HAIM went H.A.M. in a show of fury and fiery classic rock in the vein of Heart, complete with guitar heroism and delicate harmonies framing an urgent whole. Guitars in hand, the girls of HAIM added percussion and keyboards to their already layered sound, in a perfectly choreographed regiment, not discounting their vocal dexterity – trading lines between three vocalists – which was also dizzying.

A prefect compliment to Kendrick Lamar and his smooth range of rap/r&b was Supreme Cuts whose crowd was significantly less than is expected this time of night. What they lacked there, they made up with slick laptop beats and solid rapping, tight inter-band interplay and oversize personalities. Despite the hammer pants, they sounded closer to their contemporaries like J. Cole, a smooth combo of Prince falsetto, pop rap verbiage and grimy beats, laced with just a touch of classic R&B. 

As the sky finally darkened and a small chill passed through the crowd, making me wish for a hoodie, despite the scorching afternoon, The Postal Service took the stage. A one-off side project of DNTEL's Jimmy Tamborello and Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard had, ten years ago, turned into a geniune phenomenon. Their spirited, genius performance showed that, despite the announcement earlier in the day about this show being one of their last, that they cane to play and play hard. Opening with track 1 side 1 of their only album, “GIVE UP”,  they brought a note for note performance of the best of electronic Indie pop, the rare IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) album that also managed to produce some huge, amazing singles, chock full of Gibbard's signature literate melancholy. Along for the ride was special guest and Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis, who appeared on a good number of songs on the album. 

There, in the rapidly cooling night,  sorrow and dance combined. The band, dancing and playing with abandon, seemed to be enjoying their send off in righteous style,  even when switching from bass to drums mid song.  Gibbard, Tamborello and company filled the entire sonic space, layering delicate electronic chords, sweet vocal harmonies and live instrumentation. Rarely have songs about isolation, sadness, paranoia, breakups and the rest seemed so with dancing to out singing along with. The self professed band from nowhere made a lot of people in attendance feel united in dance. 

Right then, I thought of my wife. She has been very understanding about this whole trip, up to and including hearing my gab on about it nonstop for weeks. And this band is her favorite band. Possibly of all time, short of Ani DiFranco. 

So maybe it was that, and maybe it was the fact that I won't get to share this with her – or anyone else. But somehow, in that moment, I understood the Nirvana lyric “I miss the comfort in being sad.” I think that's the whole appeal of The Postal Service in general, if you really think about it. While we all share these dark feelings, what can we do but dance it out and express them?

Fire works exploding at the end of (and during) the set hammered the joy and sadness combo home. 

As we the lucky few (though few might be giving it some generosity, given that there's so many of us) made the pilgrimage back home or to the next party spot, I thought to myself, that was insanity, this is madness, this isn't even over yet. Tomorrow we rise early and do this again.

Except for you, Bob Rueter, tomorrow, you finally get to rest.

-Jason Robinson

Saturday, August 3, 2013

LOLLAPALOOZA 2013 Day 1 - A Wild Running Around Featuring Jason Robinson

It sounded like the perfect plan: leave the KDHX studios at 1am and drive all night to Chicago, arriving at my crash spot with time to spare before picking up my badge and beginning coverage of Lollapalooza. As usual, the best-laid plans did as they are wont to do and before you know it, I've blown through a toll booth, gotten lost in the Art District and, of course, gotten soaked in the unexpected torrential downpour. 
The beginnings of the trip were likely just a fluke, a narrative red herring to make me appreciate the rest of the trip, since I was in for one of the best music festival lineups in the Midwest. Over the next three days, I will see legendary new-wave pop band New Order, industrial bohemoths Nine Inch Nails, goth godfathers The Cure, indie-pop's wunderkind The Postal Service and dozens more bands whose names I can't even remember right now. 140+ bands on 7 stages over 3 days, 12 hours a day. Like everyone else on the Eleven staff, I have my “must-see” list, I have some outliers whose records really moved me and I have the dark horse, come-from-nowhere bands whose names are the only indication I have of their quality. Yes, I know these bands are eminantly Googleable, but for the moment, I'm going to let the festival spirit guide me. I recall a few bands whose existence was a mystery to me until happening upon them at other such festivals: the two-girl hip-hop attack of Thee Satisfaction at LouFest, bludgeoning L7-style glam metal goddesses Betty Blowtorch at a Warped Tour and also at the same Warped Tour a hyperbolic rapper who goes by the name Glue. The point is, no amount of preparation can prevent sudden downpours or traffic jams, and the same holds true for which bands will make a mark on a festival-goer. There are just some moments you can't prepare for and that's exactly why we're here. 

DAY 1!

The day is particularly beautiful for a Chicago summer. Despite a few moments of light rain, the weather is near perfect.

There seems to be an EDM theme running through the first day of Lollapalooza, starting with the first group I encountered, Brite Lite Brites, a house-by-way-of-big-beat version featuring a glorious female singer who managed to captivate a small but appreciative audience early in the festivities. The next stop was Robert DeLonge, a future LouFest performer, whose version of EDM was quite different: using vocal loops and some live percussion, he was able to impart a heartfelt, funky human element that EDM is often missing. The crowd, though still nowhere near its eventual mass, reacted quite well, creating pulsing waves of movement with each new bleat and squawk. When he sings “did I make you fucking dance?” the answer is a fist-in-the-sky HELL YEAH!

I was less impressed with The Neighborhood, whose sound and live show left a lot to be desired. They were a full-throated Coldplay/Snow Patrol style mid-tempo AOR band, but the reception from the crowd was quite good, so maybe the fault doesn't lie with the players but with my taste in particular.

My taste also includes a huge love of '90s R&B; from TLC to Next to ABC and back, I love it all. Which is why British chanteuse Emile Sande hit all the right buttons for me: classic-sounding R&B with a live backing band, which sometimes would ramp into a devious breakbeat ala British electropop. 

On a similar if not same page was D-Pryde, whose throwback '90s hip-hop was anchored by even more classy production. Imagine if Will Smith wasn't shy about writing songs about real things rather than just playing up his roles in movies. That was precisely the comparison this warranted: DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, like the TV shows and the movie roles never happened. Classic feel-good positive hip-hop.

One of the groups that was an unknown to me before this trip was girl-girl duo Deap Vally. Despite their ridiculously spelled name, they flat out ruled. Two-woman guitar/drums blasts with shades of Zeppelin. Blues-influenced two-piece bands are nothing new—see also Pack A.D., Black Keys, etc.—but rarely does their singer have as much gusto and talent as was on display here. A sleeper hit, in my book.

The rain started and stopped just in time for Swedish metal band GHOST B.C., whose sound doesn't owe to black metal screamers as it does to their contemporaries System of a Down or, hell, even Dio. Theirs is a brand of metal more melodic in its focus and more operatic in its vocal delivery. Thus far, one of the heaviest bands – so loud and heavy that you could hear them clear across Grant Park, which is no easy feat.

Bricks and Mortar, another upcoming LouFest performer, requested a shout-along near the end of their set and they sure got it. The ragga-influenced beats-and-keys duo brought a funky focus to their Matt and Kim hyperactive bash-and-pop. Drums were truly front and center, a crushing storm amidst the fractured beauty, and the last song, “Bangs,” was fuzzed-out bass heaven. 

Early in the day at such an event, it's a mad scramble to get from one stage to the next to the next to the next, then back again, trying to catch at least a part of everything—especially since most of it is so brand new. I don't really want to miss anything, for fear I'll miss out on something I really wanted to see but didn't yet know I really wanted to see. 

So it was for most of the day, and the picks above really reflect that. But once the 5pm hour hits, the really difficult decisions loom: a choice must be made between several established bands that I'm already a fan of and determine which one I actually like more. Do I pick the blues-metal of Queens Of The Stone Age, whose new album “...Like Clockwork” is a continuation of their already stellar catalogue? Or do I go for a rare live performance by a sorta-reunited New Order, the band born from the ashes of the ne-plus-ultra bands I loved as a teen? For me, the inner goth won out, as it tends to, and he demanded New Order. I think we made the right choice. 

Before New Order could take the stage, Imagine Dragons had to finish and, despite my irritation at their new single “Radioactive,” they brought a huge crowd and kept them satisfied. Even I, in my stone-hearted abstinence, found myself saying, “Well, I like THIS one.” Their rise is quite unique—my travelling companions tell me that not more than a year ago these same guys had a hard time filling the Firebird. That type of meteoric rise is noteworthy at very least, right? I don't have many notes on them as I was still trying to rectify the image I had of them from their single and how the songs sounded in a live setting. 

If the theme of the day was dance music, well: New Order has made some of the fiercest, most popular dance tunes to come from Tony Wilson's Factory label. They stormed the stage and slayed with a combination of classic tracks and some deeper cuts. Despite their aging appearances, New Order really made the night for me. Hearing those classic tunes—“Bizarre Love Triangle”!—in a live setting made them all that much more special. After all these years, these tunes, which are so dear to me, are lovingly reproduced and almost curated like a museum display by their original creators. But the real icing on the cake was the final two songs of their set, which were, to my surprise, Joy Division tunes. My personal favorite, “Transmission,” and the biggest JD hit “Love Will Tear Us Apart” brought the massive crowd together in a singalong of epic proportions that I'm sure Ian would have loved. As the last line of “Transmission”—"dance dance dance to the radio"—rang out, the dubstep/trap duo Flux Pavilion next door threatened to drown them out. But then came "Love Will Tear Us Apart." And the screens behind them read “FOREVER JOY DIVISION.” If that doesn't make you wanna cry, you have no heart. 

Some part of choosing your battles on festivals like these is also knowing when to leave. After New Order, I made my way to the stage where industrial legends Nine Inch Nails were to play. Before NIN would take the stage, the band opposite them needed to finish their set. And who would that be but blunted EDM-aping remix artists Lance Herbstrong. Despite their stoner-baiting name, the delivered a glorious set of weird electro-rock jams, with live guitar and funky onstage video installations. Although their set consisted mostly of their new album Meth Breakfast, they did sneak a few surprises in, not the least of which was an inspired Bloc Party remix.

Nine Inch Nails. What is there left to say about Trent Reznor and his dark legacy of industrial angst? Plenty more, by the looks of things. The stage show has always been a dash of alchemy: some songs when presented live don't have the sturm and drang that they do on a heavily produced album, so re-workings happen constantly. But the ebb and flow of those changes—playing old material straight, adding in new songs that haven't been released, throwing a glimmer of KISS-esque spectacle—seems to make the show much more worthwhile. 

Reznor and company exploded onto the stage with a brand-new song from the upcoming album “Hesitation Marks,” an as-yet-unidentified song about being a mindless drone, a “copy of a copy of a copy.” (This brings up a weird parallel, since Chuck Palahnuik, author of Fight Club, has intimated throughout the years that Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral were the soundtrack to his writing that particular novel, well, now Palahnuik has one of his lines from Fight Club woven into a song by Nine Inch Nails. Funny how that works.) 

From there, the set veered wildly into both new and familiar territory—the tension/release of “March of the Pigs” was particularly brutal—while still feeling fresh and new.

Which one could interpret as being another theme for the day.  After all, without Trent Reznor's chart-topping ode to sex and self-loathing “Closer,” and New Order's bass-driven melancholia “Blue Monday,” would guys like Flux Pavilion et al still exist?

In looking at electronic music's future, it would seem we have to keep an eye on its past as well.

The Killers

Photos by Bryan Sutter and Jason Stoff

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pokey LaFarge & Co. Pop Up At The Mud House

The news broke on Facebook and Twitter Monday afternoon that Pokey LaFarge & his band would be playing a free surprise show somewhere in St. Louis the following day.  After all kinds of conjecture and rumors, from Off Broadway to The Lemp Brewery and beyond, finally on Tuesday morning the Tweet went out revealing the show would be out back at The Mud House on Cherokee St.  Perfect!

Treating it like an "open rehearsal,"  as Pokey said, the short show served as a warm up for the band before they head south to Austin as part of an official South by Southwest showcase this weekend.   It was also a chance for many in St. Louis to see the two newest members of the band, Chloe Feoranzo on Clarinet and TJ Muller on Trumpet.  They joined the original South City Three, Adam Hoskins, Ryan Koenig and Joey Glyn.

Eleven photographer Lee Kuehner snapped off a few photos from yesterday, enjoy!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

New letter from Eric Williger

The Eleven Letters page has been blowing up lately with comments relating to a couple of letters submitted by Eric Williger. The first, "Caught up in the hipster fads of yesteryear" (Dec '12/Jan '13), included a response by me inviting Williger to contribute to the magazine. His submission, which I titled "What's Gone Wrong with the St. Louis Music Culture" (a direct quote from within the piece) turned out to be less article than artifact, in that it discussed the musician Angel Olsen but also covered various opinions about STL's music community. That piece generated a lot of conversation on Facebook and several responses in letter form, which we published in the March issue of the magazine.

Below is a "clarification" that Williger asked me to run. The quote he refers to is from the second submission.
- Evan Sult, editor

I'd like to not be mistaken for trying to revise or even defend my prior writing ("Caught up in the hipster fads of yesteryear," Dec '12/Jan '13, "What's Gone Wrong with the St. Louis Music Culture," Feb '13), but there is one point from my piece in the February issue that I feel has been principally and commonly misunderstood, and I would like to release a clarification.  Here's the quote: "[...]a large part of this problem is that a lot of the music that is lauded by the local music press--and that is rewarded by larger audiences--is boring. A lot of it is what you might call 'adult contemporary rock.' Many of the biggest bands are hellbent on copying stuff like Wilco, Pavement, The National--bands whose influence should be long dead. There's plenty of funk, soul, blues, ska, reggae, jazz, and other dead genres. But the thing that unites all of it is how incredibly, obnoxiously, depressingly derivative it is."

The misinterpretation that I've seen from this is that people feel that I am saying that it is the responsibility of the bands to make music that I, personally, find to be "interesting." This isn't the case at all. As the top line there suggests, it's the fault of music press for lauding acts out of laziness when the band's primary accomplishment is sounding very much like another band. I am very possibly in the minority here, but I'd much rather hear someone talking about an artist that is pushing boundaries unsuccessfully than hear someone talk about an artist that is living within the set boundaries comfortably.

 The people who seemed to be most offended were members of bands or acts who felt like they were making music for the fun of it, rather than to appease some "higher power" or get famous. Of course, I have no issue with that. Make the music you want to make. Please, if anything, do that. But it is not the place of the music press to praise you just because you are relatively competent on your instruments and you fit easily into the booking schedule of clubs that tend to have really awful bands as headliners.

My point here is that I was taking no jabs at any bands  or musicians--those that aspire for fame as well as those who couldn't care less. It was strictly a comment about the music press, and all those people that contribute in non-musical ways to the atmosphere of the "local music scene" wherein people should feel creatively free.

 I would also like to take this opportunity to say, on the public record, that I did not come up with the title for the piece in the February issue. Had I titled it, it would've likely been something boring, like, "Angel Olsen as a case-study in the failings of the St. Louis' music scene," which would've gotten far fewer of you to read it. I worry that the melodramatic title that the piece received led some to color it as a very negative laundry list of problems, whereas I saw it as a relatively positive piece.

 Eric Williger

REVIEW: Samantha Crain and Indian Blanket, Tuesday, February 19 The Gramophone

Restlessness is a torment best faced with a smile. Thus is the lesson proffered by Samantha Crain, the Oklahoma-based Americanarian whose spirited sermon resonated through the Gramophone Tuesday night. “I feel like I lived here at some point,” she said with a sly grin. “I probably did.”

The lively evening celebrated the release of Ms. Crain’s new album, Kid Face, the latest roadmap to the feisty folksinger’s unending quest to find a muse that will help her escape her hometown. Graciously treating the packed crowd to several of her new tunes, Ms. Crain’s wondrously commanding voice rose up over the band’s Wurlitzer keys and cigar-box guitar as she left no rootsy cornerstone unturned.

Highlights abounded, from the sweepingly beautiful title track from Kid Face to the Frisco-jam “Equinox” to the fervent “Devils in Boston.” Ms. Crain explained how the latter is actually a geographical misnomer—New York City is even too large syllabically—and song after song, she proved herself the latest in the Sooner State’s long tradition of wordsmithery. “I’m almost young this year, now that I’m older,” she crooned in the dusty blues-infused “Paint.” Somewhere, Woody nods.

Earlier in the night, reclusive St. Louisian Joe Andert made a rare appearance as the crowd warmed up beneath Indian Blanket’s masterfully woven aural tapestry. Layered strings, each with its own purpose, entwined in plateaus of anticipation until the band allowed itself resolution, always in an unexpected direction. Andert displayed a sharp folksinger’s ear for entering each song just before the audience expected it and then turning the rhythm on its head once they caught up with him. Indian Blanket flaunted boundless creativity throughout in a set that culminated fittingly in a cover of “Moonshiner,” the woefully wily lament penned by one of Woody’s best students. 
Kyle Kapper