Top Shows of 2011: Musicians
This first post is from St. Louis musicians and the shows that inspired them. Enjoy Melinda and Travis’ explanation of the same concert, Evan’s crazy Halloween night, and shows so good they made Stephen think about quitting music
Melinda Cooper plays bass, drums, and guitar for The Union Electric, Celia’s Big Rock Band and Town Cars.
Sebadoh at Off Broadway - 4/2/11
I would have paid $50 to see them in a crappy venue, but to get to see them at Off Broadway? For whatever under $50 amount it was? Even better. They played everything. And they played everything fast and hard. This show was one big manic superfan freak out after another. Seriously, any time you get to stand in front of the stage and sing/yell along with the band and several of your closest friends is, of course, always going to be the best show ever.
Bottoms Up Blues Gang’s 10th Anniversary Party at Venice Café – 8/20/11
BUBG is always a good time and Venice is surreal on a regular night. This combination on this night in particular was so.much.fun. Nobody cared that it was about 130 degrees Fahrenheit outside or about the jam packed-ness. There was a major Muppet Show vibe in the place. There were hipsters, bluesers, bikers, old couples, young couples, random Cardinals fans who wandered in – there was even a baby in a pair of big blue headphones up front. Some people were so into it they were using their 12” of room to “dance”, which was more along the lines of bumping into strangers while hugging. BUBG brought it, too. Jeremy and Kari were gussied up and gorgeous, perfectly on, and looked like they were having a total blast with a host of guest musicians ready to hop in and out of the set all night. I love this band.
Gillian Welch at The Pageant – 9/3/11
It was another 130 degree night. No power, no drinks, no air-conditioning…no kidding, it was really awesome. I got to sit with some dear friends whom I never get to see, got to hear great music and funny stories from Welch and Rawlings, and was part of a huge sing-a-long that got me all weepy. Then there was also the Bombara Bonus in the Halo Bar after the show which came complete with lights and a/c. Turns out I’d been in a big dark room with a bunch of pals all night and didn’t even know it. We spent the rest of the night singing along with Beth and recapping the unbelievable show we’d seen an hour earlier. I don’t mean to come off sounding this sappy about it, but it really was the shit.
Travis Bursik is one half of experimental electronic band Ou Où (http://ouou.bandcamp.com/) and one half of DJ duo Dub Wand. He likes bands that have the good sense to break up when they need to, and thinks second encores are embarrassing for everyone.
Benoit Pioulard, A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Ken Camden at Off Broadway – 11/5/2011
Three Kranky Records artists joined forces for a rare and woefully underattended show at Off Broadway. It was Benoit Pioulard’s first show in St. Louis and likely his last as he’s moving to Europe. His beautiful, delicate songs float atop a sea of Basinski-style tape loops and rippling echo. Last year’s “Lasted” is Pioulard’s most graceful and refined work so far, though I remember saying that about the album before that as well as the album before that. Sweeping, ecstatic performances from solo guitar player Ken Camden and string-and-drone group AWVftS helped create a lovely, memorable evening.
Disappears, .e at Billiken Club – 5/5/2011
Disappears is a band for people that think songs with three chords are too flashy. Featuring Brian Case (ex-90 Day Men) and Steve Shelley (from that one band), Disappears played their emphatic motorik garage rock with punch and clarity. Formed in 2008, they already have two singles, a live album, and two (soon to be three) records under their belt. They had just released their second album in January 2011 and were already playing new material, including a cover of Suicide’s “Radiation.” They make your favorite band look downright lazy by comparison.
Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson at Fox – 3/9/2011
Being able to see either Merle Haggard or Kris Kristofferson is rare enough, but to see them perform together was not an opportunity to be missed. Although Kristofferson was nursing a sore throat and a weak voice, the two singers drew from their fifty year catalogs and played just about everything you would want them to play. My wife was moved to tears when they closed with “Pancho and Lefty,” and it was as satisfying an experience as, well, as satisfying as hearing Merle Haggard close with “Pancho and Lefty.”
Sebadoh, Richard Buckner, Colour Revolt at Off Broadway – 4/2/2011
This year, the classic Sebadoh lineup reunited and proved that they still got it! By it, I mean their reputation as spoiled, petulant jerks. Seriously, what a bunch of babies. It was impossible to reconcile the Lou Barlow that sang his embarrassing and earnest teen poetry anthems with the Lou Barlow that berated the crowd and threatened to stop the show unless someone brought him some goddamn duct tape right goddamn now. Subtlety was never their strong point, and over the past fifteen years they’ve aged like fine whine. They dicked around through the rest of their set, taking their sweet time to tune, cast sidelong looks at each other and mutter under their breath. Richard Buckner performed a tasteful and solid opening set, but his efforts were no match for the extended temper tantrum that followed.
Some Fine Moments from 2011
There’s something about a show at El Lenador that lends itself to legend. For some dumb reason or other, Sleepy Kitty’s never even played there yet, but not for lack of love.
Halloween weekend was a crazy one for shows—we must have seen ten bands in the span of that seemingly endless stretch of costumes and cold snap. Monday night, though, the actual Halloween night, was the winner. We started out at the Firebird watching Mates of State, who were tearing it up with her dressed up as a cop and the rest of the band as her prisoners…. But we’d heard tell that Little Big Bangs were doing their version of the Velvet Underground at El Lenador, so despite the comforts of the Firebird we headed back to Cherokee. The crowd looked amazing, but the real story was the fucked-up spectacle of a confused and excited Little Big Bangs on stage. Their versions of “Head Held High,” “Inside Your Heart,” “Run Run Run” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties” were so electric and crazy, it felt more like I imagine a Velvet Underground show would have felt than if they actually sounded like VU. Which they didn’t, really. They sounded like the thing I like inside Velvet Underground songs, that tweaky gnashing nervous energy sizzling right through the chords. It felt like a real thing.
There were so many good shows this year! tUnE-yArDs blew my mind wide open at Off Broadway, So Many Dynamos and MSIF transformed Foam into a sweaty dance club, the Black Angels swept in on the tails of a dozen tornado warnings at Old Rock House, and one of our favorite bands from Chicago or anywhere else, Bailiff, opened for JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound at Off Broadway and claimed the room for their own (they’ll be back soon—don’t miss them). We got to open for Deerhoof at the Luminary! In the waning minutes of the year, Blind Eyes and Kentucky Knife Fight combined forces to make the new year timeless.
But even so… the sound I hear in the back of my mind goes “Buh-bub-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh Bunnygrunt!” Warm Jets USA had just killed a set of other people’s songs to celebrate the release of their own new album. We’d been catching them every time we could, but the only cover we recognized this time was their blazing version of “Loveless.” Every song was a new flash of recognition that made me understand their roots a little better. I don’t remember if Googlplexia was a part of that show, but as far as I care it was because I always picture Rob in a smoking jacket and wireless mic weaving his way through that room singing some Frenchy thing or other. But the end of the night was the amazing thing. Bunnygrunt fired through their reliably super-excellent set of songs and kicked into an end-of-night jam that grew further and further out of control, til a guy probably everyone in the room knew but me picked up an abandoned mic and started his weird little band-name chant. It got big, then bigger, then bigger, then he got sort of nudged out of the way…but he came back with a whispered version of the chant while the band played on and half the crowd joined in on percussion, and it’s that irrepressible chant that Paige and I have been repeating to each other at odd moments through the rest of the year.
Another musical moment I’m thankful to’ve seen arrived via 2720. We caught the promising sound of a good band through the wall, so we checked it out and sure enough it was the Chicago band Cave, who we’d been hearing about but hadn’t gotten a proper listen to. Their set was good and we were enjoying it, but then they started into a piece that felt so damn perfect it was like I’d been waiting to hear it for years. The rhythms all curled around themselves in curving spirals and the patterns pinwheeled all around my head and it just went on and on and I couldn’t get enough. They’re a good band, but at the moment they are primarily the shepherds of this one perfect song, this 14-minute musical M C Escher trick, which they knew enough to call “This Is the Best.” I respectfully agree.
I’m sure, quite sure, that we heard and saw (and played) other moments as fine as these in 2011, but I’ve never been a keeper of lists, so I must rely on the flashes of light in the darkness. To 2011, to 2012—chin chin!
1) Fleet Foxes at The Pageant – 7/19/2011
Being entirely truthful, Fleet Foxes is my favorite band in the world. Still, as giddy as I was, even I had enough sense to understand I was watching a truly transcendent performance.
2) St. Vincent at Old Rock House – 10/6/11
Simultaneously made me fall in love and quit music in one fell swoop.
3) Old Lights Like Strangers Release Show at Off Broadway – 7/15/2011
Simultaneously made me fall in love and quit music in one fell swoop. And getting to see the always impressive and jovial folks in the Blind Eyes solidified my deep adoration of this show. I left Off Broadway craving to go home and practice.