Theodore is Standing on the Brink
A couple of friends and I resolved to not waste what was a sunny and cloudless day in the city, and had burned down the afternoon on the Royale’s patio, drinking high ABV beer and discussing family dynamics, potential slap fights between local celebrities, and, occasionally, music. When one member of our group wearily departed for work, my buddy and I continued downtown on the suggestion of another purveyor of all things local, musical, and outside.
We made it for the end of local math/psych rock act Spelling Bee, who are interesting and engaging in their own right, and with whom I hope to spend more time soon.
Theodore, the notable St. Louis-based quartet that I would be remiss to pigeonhole as simply folk or rock or Americana, set up as the sun began to retire. The crowd was respectable – a diverse mix of families on picnic blankets, skinny, nonchalant twenty-somethings, and joggers stopping to rest in the fading half-light.
The Luminary Center for the Arts sponsored the performance, and Theodore played in the shadows of a large installment piece by B.J. Vogt called “A Human Geology”. While the setting itself was pretty stunning, especially for the center of downtown St. Louis, the Luminary’s setup pulled the band far from the audience, physically speaking. This is an important consideration, as Theodore plays the kind of music you want to get close to. The group’s aptly titled third release from February of this year, “Hold You Like a Lover,” was well-received and, rather unflinchingly, explores the consequences of our sloppiest mistakes in life and love.
Both live and on records, singer and guitarist Justin Kinkel-Schuster’s voice sporadically trembles and quakes along with the high points of songs, but don’t mistake his intriguing tonality for weakness or timidity. Theodore’s trumpet/banjo/accordion-infused brand of twang rock might remind you of the time(s) you hung around the bar too late and ended up telling a relative stranger your greatest triumphs and most staggering defeats. The brass on “Half Pint,” a track featured on the 2010 release mentioned earlier, leads the listener hazily, unassumingly even, into what will be revealed as a clever, beat-driven admonition regarding the self-destructive behaviors of which we’re all capable. “Breakin’ in, breakin’ in’s harder than you think/ when you’ve had one or two little last drinks/ I can see how you’d get tired of me…” Kinkel-Schuster belts unapologetically on the song.
Perhaps what sets Theodore apart from many other independent bands is their willingness to delve into those insecure, dark little corners of the mind in a way that doesn’t feel threatening. Despite the “This is some serious shit” feel of of their lyrics, group cohesion and compositions so obviously full of talent and creativity push us, as listeners, into the deep end when we least expect it. But here’s the great thing – once we’re there, we’re swimming rather than drowning.
While performing last weekend for the Luminary, the band attempted a semi-coordinated, rock ‘n roll-style ending to a particular song which fizzled and faded based on apparent miscues among members. Endearing themselves to the audience, Kinkel-Schuster ambled back to the microphone and chuckled, “Worst rock band ever.”
Nothing could be farther from the truth.