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