Top Shows of 2011: Media

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[show_avatar align=left avatar_size=62] Welcome to our annual Top Shows series. We asked local musicians, media folk, and our fearless readers to submit their top 3 concerts of 2011. The only requirement for these submissions was that the show must have happened in 2011. With this unifying detail you can read about the diverse shows that St. Louisans get to attend.

Christian Schaeffer has been a contributing music writer for the Riverfront Times since 2002. He hosts the live-in-studio program Collector’s Edition on KDHX (88.1 FM) and plays piano in the Dive Poets (

1. Elvis Costello & the Imposters at The Pageant – 7/1/2011
This might seem like an easy number-one pick since my musical universe has revolved around Elvis Costello since I was 17. But even fanboys can spot when something special takes place, and the “Spectacular Spinning Songbook” show was just that. By leaving the setlist to the hands of fate (and of a few lucky fans who got to spin the big game show wheel to which song titles were attached), Costello proved that he has mastered rock & roll’s conventions so thoroughly that he and his band can throw out the playbook and make magic on the spot. Eddie Vedder even popped in to sing the Who’s “Substitute,” which was a nice moment even if you blame Vedder for being the growl that launched a thousand Scott Stapps.

2. Sade at Scottrade Center – 7/28/2011
Given that Sade records appear with comet-spotting rarity, to say nothing of full-scale tours, this was pretty easily the most anticipated show of the summer. Lead singer Sade Adu may very well be an alien goddess sent from a far sexier planet, with her effortlessly stunning voice and ageless visage making her a slow-jam enigma for almost 30 years. The instrumentalists in Sade were likewise perfect at this midsummer show, with note-for-note recreations of their soft-touch R&B hits. Any time you can be in the same room as Sade commits to “Is It A Crime” — in which she reminds us that her love is wider than Victoria Lake, taller than the Empire State — drop everything and return the love.

3. Centro-matic & Sarah Jaffe at Off Broadway – 7/5/2011
St. Louis is regularly blessed with visits from Denton, Texas’ Centro-matic, and in the ten years I’ve been seeing this foursome play, they’ve never once phoned it in or been anything less than a charming, loud rock band. This year’s “Candidate Waltz” is their best record in 7 or 8 years, so this summer’s show had the benefit of fine new material played alongside old favorites like “Huge in Every City” and “The Mighty Midshipman.” But if Centro-matic was dependably great, the show stands out as my first introduction to fellow Dentonian (Dentonite?) Sarah Jaffe, whose songs manage to be emotionally harrowing while being coolly delivered. Still waiting for her “Clementine” to become the anthem is so deserves to be.


Chris Bay – KDHX DJ and music writer.

My top three concerts of 2011 fit within a definitive theme: Shows from bands that I have long been a big fan of but which I have never previously had the chance to see play live. There’s something magical in the kind of anticipation involved with such a show.

1. Crooked Fingers at Cactus Club, Milwaukee, WI – 11/12/2011
2. Superchunk at Raleigh City Plaza, Raleigh, NC – 9/10/2011
3. The Hold Steady at LouFest, St. Louis, MO – 8/27/2011


Jason Stoff is the photographer and editor of, a photoblog dedicated to exploring intersections of the musical and visual.

1. Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band at Off Broadway – 7/22/11
If there was a hotter show in St. Louis this year, the venue couldn’t have survived. Ritter and his crew returned to Off Broadway for the first time since 2009, and delivered a performance that cut through humidity and sweat to move each and every audience member. Few artists can bring a St. Louis crowd to absolute, awed silence, but Ritter managed it (twice). It’s a shame that his growing popularity will likely necessitate larger venues in the future, because there’s something about the proximity to the band’s good-natured chops that brings out the best in a crowd.

2. Beirut at The Pageant – 10/6/2011
Zachary Condon is, I think, the best kind of gypsy musician — the kind that enchants you with sound sculpted of pure, vibrant colors, tugs at your heartstrings with gorgeous music, and leaves you satisfied but somehow longing for more. Beirut’s show at The Pageant wasn’t all things to all people, but it was finely distilled beauty for those willing to be entranced.

3. St. Vincent at The Old Rock House – 10/9/2011
For my money, there weren’t any records released in 2011 that topped Annie Clark’s “Strange Mercy.” As a live band, St. Vincent is an odd amalgam — equal parts metal guitar riffs, experimental free-jazz structures, and pop hooks — with a dash of pathos thrown in for good measure. The sold-out Old Rock House crowd couldn’t get enough, and as I stumbled out into the St. Louis night after the show, there was a sense that we’d all just shared something rare and special.


Kiernan Maletsky is the Riverfront Times Music Editor. He moved to St. Louis in April and likes it here. He spends lots of time working on

1. Magic City Les Animaux Épouvantables Release Show at El Leñador – 7/23/2011
As it happens at most of the best shows and none of the rest, I was too caught up in it to remember much detail. It was more packed than I’d ever seen El Leñador and I was fighting toward the front. You could feel a current. I bought the marbled vinyl and a t-shirt and got a candle and a large sticker of an animal made out of stars for free. Everyone was feeling congratulatory afterward.

2. Theodore and Adult Fur at the Crack Fox – 10/13/2011
Someday very soon, all the pieces will fall into place at an Adult Fur show and all the air will rush out of everybody’s lungs. In mid-October we had a projector that never showed up, Eric Hall tending a welcoming bar and Theodore violently forging a gem. Worth the burning eyeballs and shortened laundry cycle every trip to the Crack Fox brings with it.

3. tUnE-yArDs at Off Broadway – 11/8/2011
Bring a towel to wipe off the slobber when you follow this link:


Louis Kwok runs the photo-centric concert blog, musicVSman, the perfect escape from his mundane office day job.

1. St. Vincent at Old Rock House – 10/6/2011 – Goodness gracious. The only thing that wasn’t perfect about that night was that I wasn’t able to get Annie Clark to sign my copy of Strange Mercy.

2. Doomtree at Kanrocksas – 8/5/2011 – The first-time festival held a lot of big acts (Eminem, Flaming Lips, Muse, Black Keys), but it was the Minneapolis hip-hop conglomerate that came out of nowhere to completely bum rush the crowd and deliver one of the most energetic performances that weekend.

3. Beirut at The Pageant – 10/9/2011 – Beirut’s generous full-set shooting photo policy made it  tempting to keep shooting, but it wasn’t long before I plopped down in a seat in the balcony to just relax and enjoy Beirut’s amazing performance.


Nate Burrell:  music photographer and regular contributor for KDHX.  Personal website:

1: Taj Mahal at Roots ‘N Blues ‘N BBQ – 9/9/2011 — I may be biased on this, since he’s my favorite living musician, but to see an artist with 40 years experience who still owns the skill, dexterity, and energy as I’d expect he’d have had in the beginning is just mind blowing.  I’ve always been really drawn to how he shows interest in and respect to the various styles he was influenced by – from the Texas country blues stuff to traditional African folk stuff, hints of Caribbean style rhythms and what not….just badass. And he’ll sing and shout and sweat and wail like he’s never going to get to do it again.

2: Lauryn Hill at The Pageant – 1/16/2011 — Having heard the stories of her timepiece precision in being late to her own shows, she held true to form, but it was well worth it.  She was an absolute soul woman.  A band leader.  A conductor. A teacher. A flat out fine performer.  I was absolutely amazed at how sharp she was and how she seemed to be completely entranced in the moment.  And the huge backing band she had was stellar just the same.  I left the show and was floored by how good it was.

3: Gillian Welch at The Pageant – 9/3/2011 — This was one of those shows where I think I’ll look back one day and be like “…Damn, I was lucky to see that.”  Amazing song craft that is brought to a whole different life and feel when performed live…simply beautiful.  Ms. Welch pouring out all kinds of shades of emotion and honesty, while being accompanied by David Rawlings and his masterful ownership of the guitar… together creating layers of harmony that is nearly impossible to replicate.  It was also really neat to see a seated show at the Pageant and to have a sold out audience be 100% attentive to and appreciative of what was going on – fitting, to say the least.


Jaime Lees is a music writer. She likes rock and roll. And poodles.

Sex Robots, Bunnygrunt, Bassamp & Dano at El Lenador – 10/24/2011
I’ve probably seen Bunnygrunt hundreds of times (like, literally) and I’m always happy about it each dang time. Bunnygrunt is one of my favorite bands ever, but on this night I was at El Lenador to see the Sex Robots. And I’ll tell you what, I was ready to chuck a full can of Stag at the Grunt. Get off the stage, jerks! Me want Sex Bots! I was super excited about the show that whole day. Well, really, that whole month. Like, bring me a fainting couch excited. Beatlemania excited. It was gross.

So, Sex Robots played. And they were great. They were better than ever. Yes, I say that every time, but every time it’s still true. I rarely feel as blissful as I do in the middle of a Sex Robots show. We all sang along all night, my insane level of worship was validated and people who hadn’t seen them before became instant fans. If at all possible, I beg you: see this band. Amazing.

Tennis System at Firebird – 9/25/2011
A friend in DC sent me a link to this DC/LA band who were playing St. Louis because he thought that I’d like them. I almost didn’t even check them out, but then peeped their website and their biography read: “If My Bloody Valentine & Sonic Youth had a baby with The Kinks it would be named Tennis System.” I though, “Pfft! They freakin’ wish!” and then I listened – mostly of out spite – just to prove them wrong in my own mind. But I’ll be damned if that bio wasn’t spot on.

The band was scheduled to play at Pig Slop, but that got all messed up and the Firebird was kind enough to add them to their schedule on the same night as Sleepy Sun. Their sound was thick but inviting. Strong, but pretty. Wide and yet somehow contained. The new record (Teenagers) is great, but the band is even better live. And the more I listen the more I’m convinced that they might be my favorite discovery of 2011.

The LIVERS, Bunnygrunt at DJ Lil’ Daddy Reba McEntire (Eric Hall) at El Lenador – 2/11/2011
This shit was my birthday show! And it really was my favorite show of the year. These three are my favorites (that’s why I asked them to play at my party, duh) and they provided non-stop awesome all night. The lovely Johnny Vegas let me have the show at El Lenador and provided Warm Jets USA’s Jason Hutto as an extra bartender. Thank goodness for that, because my damn birthday show was crowded all night with both friends and strangers. (And they were thirsty. Very, very thirsty.)

I’ve already covered how much I love Bunnygrunt, but they gave this show a little extra: playing all dressed up in their finest sparkles, boas, leather and shorty shorts. And they learned The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” and played it for me! I might have cried a little. The LIVERS haven’t played out much lately, but when they do it’s always amazing. This A/V combo rock show must be seen to be believed. The guys in the band are my friends and they made me a special birthday video. Heart explosions, I tell ya. And DJ Lil’ Daddy Reba McEntire kept the party bumpin’ between bands and late into the night. His mash-up jammers are mind-blowing and he got all the pretty girls to dance. Many “Oh, shiiiit! This is my cut!” moments happened. I wanted it to go on forever.


Bryan J. Sutter has been the venue photographer for The Firebird here in Saint Louis, Missouri for the last two years. In that time he’s shot an embarrassingly large amount of shows and rubbed elbows with more than a few of your indie rock sacred cows. No big deal. Bryan enjoys the finer things in life, as long as whiskey is involved. URL:

The Antlers at The Firebird – 6/10/2011
I shot The Antlers back in 2009 at Play:STL and was really, really impressed. Hospice is as amazing and smart as it is a huge, emotionally draining bummer. While I am not so familiar with their latest release, Burst Apart, this did not stop me from being super excited about them coming back.

What I remember most about the evening was standing in the back of the room and watching the band finish their final song. The lights dimmed, the band walked off stage, right into the greenroom, the tried and true set up for an encore. In short time the band returned, looking slightly refreshed and fully embracing the cheers of the capacity crowd. There were 3 songs in the encore, the only one that matters in this narrative was the 1st, “Two.”

“Two” is not a happy song. Some would call it a strange choice to start off an encore but The Antlers aren’t exactly a band with neon tank tops on Warped Tour. Doesn’t hurt that it’s probably still their biggest song. It’s a track that fucks you up, not unlike pulling a muscle in your shoulder that you never knew existed. It can stick you real good, but also comes off as wondrous and beautiful, if anything, for letting recognizing your own emotional capacity. The crowd was fixated, frontman Peter Silberman’s words hung like clouds, punctuated and weighted with Michael Lerner’s steady beat. Some folks were crying.

We were happy sad together.

JEFF The Brotherhood at The Gargoyle – 2/26/2011
For whatever reason, St. Louis is still sleeping on JEFF. Though, it seems on the mark that the flagship act from the most prolific scene going on right now (Nashville), widespread praise from both indie and mainstream outlets, and two amazing LPs would be good for about 30-40 people in Saint Louis.

But here’s the deal: when you got 30-40 people in a gross college venue who know what’s up, things aren’t so bad. In fact, they can be pretty awesome. Having your friends smuggle in contraband helps, too. The room ended up feeling pretty intimate and so close to a gnarly basement show that you might have caught yourself once or twice looking for the dude in the red hat to give your $5 to.

JEFF were on it and not far into their set the vibe was really starting to come together. They played all their hits, plus some tunes from their then-unreleased album We Are The Champions (I was fortunate enough to get a leak from a Nashville friend so I already knew the words) and singer/guitarist Jake even made crowd surfing in 2011 not look lame. My photos weren’t too shabby, either.

Oh, and fellow Nashville natives Diarrhea Planet opened the night and they are not only awesome but once tricked Pitchfork into reporting that they were going on tour with Weezer, which is still fucking funny.

An Under Cover Weekend 5: Night 1 at The Firebird – 9/9/2011
Disclosure: I was involved in some promotional materials for AUCW5.

AUCW is fun. Plain and simple. Get a grouping of local bands, get them to play covers but not in a depressing sports bar kind of way, and then you sell alcohol. Everyone wins.

Night 2 was slick, don’t get me wrong, but night 1 of AUCW always seems to hit a little harder. There is still a sense of surprise in the air and the excitement keeps peaking. For the sake of space I’ll say that every band showed off their hard work. Highlights included: Tight Pants Syndrome vs. Paper Dolls as ELO and their awesome light show, Dots Not Feathers as Stevie Wonder and Union Tree Review as Marvin Gaye breaking out some very period correct clothing (extra brownie points go to Tawaine from UTR and his ruffled shirt), Bo and the Locomotive nailing the vibe of Cake ever so well, and the wigged awesomeness of Via Dove as AC/DC. Among all this you see cross-genre interactions and budding friendships among people and musicians who may not normally interact with one another. How is that not awesome?

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