Friday, January 25, 2013

Your weekend is booked

St. Louis, sometimes you knock me out.

Have you heard about InFest STL yet? It's a two-day festival at 2720 on Cherokee Street focused on indie music. 2720's not necessarily the first venue I think of when I think of indie rock—and that's one reason this festival is such a pleasing surprise. The lineup on both days is totally legit, packed full of bands I've been wanting to see play together. Kudos to the team who put this thing together, and I'm looking forward to checking it out.

Here's the list of bands for tomorrow. There are two stages, upstairs and down, so there are a metric ton of acts:

3:20pm Burrowss
4:20pm Union Electric
5:20pm Send Money
6:20pm Music Embryo
7:20pm HUMDRUM
8:20pm Kid Scientist
9:20pm The Pass
10:20pm it!
11:20pm The Reverbs
12:20am Justin Torres' Loop Project

3pm Le' Ponds
4pm Eric Hall
5pm Dream Fox
6pm Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship
7pm Pretty Little Empire
8pm Sinfinis
9pm Ocean Rivals
10pm Franco-Hill
11pm 18andCounting
12am Goodness Gracious

See what I mean?! A couple of notes:
- Kid Scientist wrote and performed a rock opera last year. They're ambitious folks.
- Eric Hall is one of my favorite geniuses, instrumentally or otherwise.
- Ocean Rivals has some new songs. At last! Their first album, "Summer's Dogs," stands as one of my favorite STL albums of the last couple years, so new songs is very good news.
- If you haven't seen Franco-Hill yet, prepare to be impressed. The drummer has a casual mastery of his instrument that is inspiring, and the guitar/computer interface of the other guy is just killer. Thanks to Alexis for turning me onto them.
- Union Electric's been on a tear again, working up new songs and working towards some new releases.
- Pretty Little Empire has an EP in their back pocket that is going to make waves in 2013, just you wait.

I'll post Day Two tomorrow, but for now I suggest you come meet us down at 2720 and dance along to the celebration!

REVIEW: Jeff Mangum and Tall Firs at the Sheldon, January 16

Slipping into my questionably legal parking spot, little green machine previewing the night's musical fare at high volume, I pull past a couple of fellas a few years younger than me. They all give me a thumbs up. I give it right back, not caring if it was meant sarcastically. There's no room for sarcasm tonight. Tonight is for merriment, and for the singing of songs: in less than an hour, Jeff Mangum, lead singer and principal songwriter of Neutral Milk Hotel, will be taking the stage at the acoustically stunning Sheldon Concert Hall. I hurry to the big front doors. Inside, a cornucopia of good-looking twenty- and thirty-somethings in their best flannel shirts and smart-looking glasses fill the bar area. The lights flicker to let us know that the opener, Oregon-based duo Tall Firs, is about to go on.

Tall Firs' songs combine the quieter moments in Sonic Youth's or Thurston Moore's catalog with hints of Bon Iver's folkiness, salted with a bit of Bruce Springsteen's grit. The crowd is here for someone else entirely, but the band holds its own with delicate, nostalgic songs. "We passed a lot of billboards and one said there was only one road to salvation," said Tall Fir Aaron Mullan, implying that maybe we were there to give it to them for the drive through God's country. Sleep deprived, I didn't expect their emanating wave of sullen electro-folk to hit me so hard. I float into a few waking dreams as they play their lullabies, and rouse 40 minutes later with Mullan's declaration: "This one is completely different, in that it's not all filled with metaphors for death." Hunh. Could've fooled me.

After a restless, charged intermission, Jeff Mangum steps onstage with an unassuming hello to the crowd. With green military cap atop long brown hair and beard, gray jeans and a Cosby sweater, he looks the part of an indie-rock Jesus—an effect not lessened when he commences the show with one of his masterworks, "Two Headed Boy Part I." The effect is so powerful it’s bittersweet, because "Two Headed Boy" was the first song I ever heard from Neutral Milk Hotel, and I realize as it starts that I'd been counting on the set building up to that crowning moment. Instead, I and everyone else in the completely packed house are brought straight to the heart of the music, thrilling to a cherished favorite song.

As that song ends, Mangum pauses to put us all at ease, giving us permission to sing along with him. Revelation! The Sheldon is a venerable venue for an intimate performance, and we started under its influence. But with Mangum's blessing, we're free to react to these songs in person the way we do at home, joyfully giving our best impression of people trying to lose our voices to such favorites as "The King of Carrot Flowers" and "Holland, 1945." Together we plow through most of The Aeroplane Over the Sea, with a few nods to debut album On Avery Island, and one or two recently released box-set rarities such as "O, Sister."  Four songs in, Mangum lets us know that we're welcome to come closer, to hang out with him up front and on the stage itself. The crowd's bravery grows as the night progresses, with Mangum playing the part of singing summer counselor around the campfire. He leads the squeaky wheels with the right dose of grease and indifference when someone gets out of line. The long night only becomes more intimate and more cozy, until finally the crowd, fully emboldened by the encore of "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," sings in a therapeutic bloodletting of some 800 heart muscles.

After a quick thanks for joining him, Mangum quickly but politely departs to escape a torrent of fanboys and girls eager for an autograph, guitar pick or half-drunk bottle of water. Among the seats and in the bar, everyone seems to be hugging everyone else. Ok fine—I get caught up in it a bit too, but it was an unbelievable show, and we shared it together, these songs previously sung only to the dashboards of our cars and the deaf ears of our neighbors in traffic. We were the Neutral Milk Hotel choir for this evening, and our pleasure is evident as we head for the door. Those billboards leading to St. Louis must've known something about the show ahead. Maybe a good show can't cure all the ills of the world, but when a few hundred St. Louisans sang with Jeff Mangum, we found all the salvation we needed.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

REVIEW: Father John Misty & Magic Trick Jan. 8 at Firebird

photo by Maximilla Lukacs 
Let us talk about Father John Misty—he of the gyrations and animal noises, the Vegas caricatures and the effortless confidence, renowned as much for his online dance clips as his granulated, handsome voice.
Misty walked onstage to an eager audience. “Oh, this is going to be too easy,” he chuckled. Yeah, it probably was. But the crowd's attention spurred on Misty’s candor. However self-indulgent his performances are, it pays to remember that Father John Misty, née Joshua Tillman, has a voice that levels the folk genre and arrives with a highly calibrated backing band.

In the set’s opener, “Fun Times in Babylon,” to a packed crowd enthralled into silence, Misty strolled around The Firebird stage, reveling in the steadiness and rustic quality of his own voice. However wistful, though, it soaks up attention.

Misty played the crowd as his true instrument. Pausing before the last stanza in "Look Out Hollywood Here I Come," he hushed the crowd with a single finger to his lips, bent his six-foot frame down to scoop up his trusty tambourine, slapped it once so it rang into the heavy silence, waited for the laugh, and swung back into the song with the panache of a '70s lounge singer.

The two gentlemen on either side of me exchanged glances. “I’m in love with him,” one confessed. The other nodded.

Misty, live and in the flesh, lives up to every video of him captured online. With karaoke dramatics, sudden dance steps, and ad-libbed lyrics, his performance unfolds as much between the songs as during them. He got his first belly laughs when he held his O'Fallon IPA aloft, read the label's boast about a 2008 prize, and ran a quick vocal sketch: "Do you think this beer ever gets drunk and walks around the bar?" he wondered. "Like, 'Back in 2008 I was the best beer in St. Louis! Those were the days…'" He described his old days of waking up on the couch all too often to the endless loop of a Lord of the Rings DVD menu, then later introduced his band in terms of Lord of the Rings characters, introducing the crowd to Gimli on guitar ("well, it's the axe," he said, gesturing at the instrument), Gollum lurking behind the keys…

Misty's touring crew was top notch, especially former Ambulance LTD guitarist Benji Lysaght. While care-taking the original versions, the band added additional voicings, filling out Misty's already ardent aesthetics with their own hidden inspirations. Under their power, “I’m Writing a Novel” had the swing of a '60s surf-pop number, with a new added background riff that bumped elbows with The Monkee’s “I’m a Believer.” Lysaght added a layer of authoritative distortion to “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" while maintaining the song’s necromanical roots.

With the band secured, Misty has room to throw himself around the stage. He dances with abandon, like a white girl trying to be sexy, swinging his hips left and right like a biological imperative. In his previous solo work—billing himself as J. Tillman—he was less cowboy disco than his current work, and lacking any of Misty's dramatic flair. As Tillman he could sing just as beautifully, but as Father John Misty he expresses himself in a way that suggests interpretive dance. He can certainly put on a show.

The two-song encore began with “I Love You, Honeybear,” in which he explicitly refers to his days as J. Tillman, Misty performed with just Lysaght on guitar, then crooned his way into Canned Heat’s “On the Road Again.” His dance moves reappeared: hands thrown above his head, Misty threw himself to his knees repeatedly, shaking his head like he was trying to feel his brain hit the walls of his skull.

I've never seen anything like it.

Fun Times in Babylon
Only Son of the Ladiesman
Nancy From Now On
I’m Writing a Novel
Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2
Sally Hatchet
Well, You Can Do It Without Me
Now I’m Learning to Love the War
Tee Pees 1-12
Everyman Needs a Companion
Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
I Love You, Honeybear
On the Road Again (Canned Heat cover)