TOP SHOWS OF 2012: Part I
Welcome to IWTAS’ Annual Top Shows post series. For the third year in a row, we asked our friends in and around the St. Louis music scene to write about their favorite live music experiences over the past 365 days (and at the end of the series, we tack on our own musings). As usual, those who contributed to the series were eloquent, generous, and insightful with their commentary; we wholeheartedly thank each of them for participating.
Kenny Hofmeister: Hi there. My name is Kenny and I am the marketing/promotions director at The Firebird. I enjoy writing emails, college radio, playing the drums in Brainstems, and angering the bar staff at The Firebird by making a mess out of the coffee machine. I hate Spotify ads and back-tapping. Here are some of my favorite shows from 2012, in chronological order.
1. Freakin’ Weekend III – Nashville, March 7 – 10
Nashville’s Dead knows how to throw a party. This time around, they enlisted the help of JEFF The Brotherhood, The Men, D. Watusi, and the god-damn Traditional Fools, and the result was an unholy mess of a long weekend, all sweaty bodies and beer slung and bashed out garage rock. Can’t wait till next year.
2. Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees – The Empty Bottle, July 24 and 25
Back-to-back nights of psychedelic carnage. I had bruised a rib the week before and could barely move by night two, BUT IT DIDN’T MATTER. Thee Oh Sees are the best live band, and Ty Segall is the rock and roll president of the world.
3. Dan Deacon – The Firebird, September 2
Never, ever miss a chance to see Dan Deacon live. His new record (America) is very good, but seeing it performed live is an experience like no other. The last 15 minutes, in which he and his ensemble performed the USA Suite, was the most musically transcendent moment of 2012 for me and the other 500 folks at the Firebird.
Useless Eaters – CBGB, June 14
Seth Sutton is rock and roll vice-president of the world, which this show demonstrated thoroughly.
Purity Ring – Firebird, August 26
Good music, great live show. The AV component of their concert was unparalleled this year.
Swans – Firebird, October 23
Brutal and beautiful. Breautiful?
Jaime Lees: Jaime Lees writes about music and stuff and things and whatnots.
1. Useless Eaters, The Funs, Brainstems – CBGB, June 14
I was absolutely blown away by Useless Eaters. Best band I’ve seen in a long time.
2. Sex Robots, Bunnygrunt, The Ottomen, Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship – Mangia, August 4
I think I actually jumped up and down during the entire Sex Robots set. Toddler-like glee.
3. Magic City, Demonlover, CaveofswordS, TOPS – Mushmaus, October 2
If I could, I would marry both Magic City and Demonlover. Hot threesome action forever.
Nate Burrell: Nate is a music photographer based here in the fine city of St Louis. Enjoy his work here: beforetheblink.com
(In no particular order…just 3 memorable shows)
1. The Electric Lady Studios party – SXSW – March 15
This was one of the cooler experiences I’ve gotten to see or shoot, without question. It was a party/showcase during SXSW, but it was totally off the beaten path; outside of the city, a wine-soaked bus ride to get to the middle of nowhere…and then I found myself wandering about a makeshift outdoor venue space listening to music at Willie Nelson’s ranch in Luck, TX. Rhett Miller was singing and sweating and shouting in the 1-room church house venue. Gary Clark Jr. played the big stage and laid it on thick until the late night could no longer contain his sound. Father John Misty captivated the crowd with a seated performance that was as sharp as any set of tunes I’ve seen all year. Arum Rae and White Dress howled up at the moon with their country-style rock and roll, and Blitzen Trapper put it in the Red with a blazing set.
2. The Corin Tucker Band – The Firebird – October 4
With a vocal prowess as commanding and resonant as any in music today, Corin Tucker and her band put on a uniquely memorable performance for their St Louis fanbase. With Tucker standing center stage wailing on her guitar, and being backed by a tight crew that includes the phenomenal drumming from Sara Lund, they unleashed an extremely gritty set of songs that had me completely frozen where I stood. Not only did their sound and rock n roll style bite you from the first note, the band also presented themselves with top shelf class like I’ve never seen. It was one of those shows where you could literally feel the energy being exchanged back and forth from the crowd to the stage. At the end of it all, after the amps were turned off and the lights came on, they stepped off stage and shared birthday cake with all of the folks who paid to share a Thursday evening with them. It was pretty badass to say the least.
3. The Flaming Lips – LouFest Night 2 – August 26
Although not my favorite band by any means, I have to say that The Flaming Lips put on one of the best shows around. It’s a completely well planned and thought out spectacle with confetti canons, dozens of people pulled from the crowd to dance on stage, laser lights, huge clouds of smoke, and all the while Wayne Coyne absolutely dominating the stage. The band’s sound initially seems to get lost in all of the chaos going on when they start the show, but after the smoke cleared, they put on a whale of a show for their fans. It was a true headlining performance, and walking away from it, I remember looking back and seeing nothing but a sea of people with smiling faces. It was a fitting end to our city’s two day music festival.
Travis Bursik: Travis plays music in the St. Louis duo Ou Où and has many other interests. He is a well read and humorous human, and an all-around decent guy. Travis did not write this bio, but trust us, these are the facts.
1. Future Islands, Dope Body, Talk Normal – Off Broadway, November 16
I wasn’t sure how good the turnout would be for this show. Future Islands is a favorite within my group of friends, and while we knew we’d be there dancing our gooses loose, we wanted the band to get a good turnout. Brooklyn’s Talk Normal had recently put out their “Sunshine” LP and opened with a sparse, tense set that sounded very Downtown ’81 in its 99 Records heyday. The venue had filled by the time Dope Body came out, and they played an ugly set of wild abandon, recalling local dudes Jack Buck and Bug Chaser. It was wonderful. By the time Future Islands came on, the place was packed. They’re not the sexiest band in the world, and singer Sam Herring looks like an undercooked Seth McFarlane, but once the music starts, Herring transforms. His eyes go wild and he stalks the stage. He broods, pushes Yorick’s invisible skull into the crowd, bewails his lost loves and the inevitability of the death. We just danced and stamped as if on a grave. At some point my friend Robert showed up and gave out tequila shots to strangers. It all made perfect sense.
2. Prince Rama, Psychic Ills, Kid Counselor – 2720 Cherokee (Upstairs), March 21
I barely made it to this show. It was a Wednesday and my friend Jake was opening for a band I had kinda heard of. I missed his set, and caught Psychic Ills set with about seven other people, each spread out around 2720′s cavernous top floor. I ordered another beer in order to make the credit card minimum and had planned to watch enough of Prince Rama’s set to get the gist of it and finish my drink. Then, something magical happened. The Larson sisters, who famously spent part of their youth in a Florida Hare Krishna commune, opened up their third eye and light poured into the venue. Their songs, which borrow liberally from Eastern mysticism (all of it), are mesmerizing ragas of ecstatic vocals, synths and roto-toms. It was transcendent. The set ended with the two performing a floor routine to a prerecorded pop song from their “Top Ten Hits of the End of the World” album. Steve & Graham have a video of it somewhere on Youtube, but unless you were there in that room and had pushed through to the seventh layer of existence, its significance will be lost on you.
3. CaveofswordS, U.S. English, Zapcone MSG, That one band whose name no one can pronounce – Floating Labs, January 20
Full disclosure, my band opened this show. 2012 saw the demise of Floating Labs, which was one of the absolute best venues in town. I feel very fortunate to not only have seen a bunch of awesome shows there, but to play there as well. This was a harrowing evening; the entire city had been crippled by an ice storm. My wife, friend and I had shown up to the venue early to set up. As soon as we pulled off of Broadway, our underpowered Corolla slid a full block past the entrance to the venue. As soon as we got turned around, we watched Brea and James from U.S. English slide past us. I was worried about making it back up the hill after the show, and was half resigned to a winter spent living in Floating Labs.
Once we got into the parking lot, we faced the problem of loading in. Kevin Harris had already emptied about four bags of salt on the long, inclined driveway that led down to the venue, and it barely made a dent. I carried my equipment one inch at a time down to F’Labs. I’m not ashamed to say I bit it a few times, carefully twisting my body so that my spine or head absorbed the fall rather than my gear. I reasoned that I could play with a bruised rib, but not a smashed sampler.
CaveofswordS was also set to play that night, and Kevin and Sunyatta were literally unable to get their gear inside. My band doesn’t use amps, but CoS does, and trying to maneuver them down the incline was impossible. They were set to cancel when a kind gentleman with a truck (who was probably enjoying a rare evening of not being asked to move something with his truck) was asked to move something with his truck. Thanks to his generosity, they were able to play.
At this point, we were all ready to simply play for one another, but then people started showing up. Lots of them. Zapcone MSG put on an amazing, quadrophonic set, and James from U.S. English played a solo set. By the time the show was over, the place was packed, and all of the traffic in the parking lot and on the ramp had melted the ice. We all made it home without incident. It was my first and last time playing F’Labs, and one of the most memorable shows of my band’s short career.
Kristi Addis: Music captured my heart in the 7th grade, and I’ve had no greater love of anything since. I’d rather go to a million shows than have a single material possession. I still buy CDs because of the thrill I get reading the liner notes. I buy records because I love their sound echoing through the rooms of my house. I see live music because it cures all that ails me. (You can find Kristi here: www.twitter.com/kristiaddis).
This year it has again been so tough to narrow down my top three shows of 2012. I feel so lucky to live in St. Louis and to be part of such an amazing group of super fans. I hope we continue to get all the shows that make this decision harder every year! Without further ado, here they are:
1. Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls – Off Broadway, February 21
I’m biased because this guy is actually my friend, but I truly believe that despite my personal bias, this was THE best show of 2012. This guy pulled me out of an alleyway in Leeds, England in 2007 and brought me into a sold out show. That night I watched this guy I’d just met capture an audience. The windows fogged up and the room came to life. He did the same thing for us in St. Louis this year. The floor at Off Broadway shook. Beers were spilled and merrily drank. The hangover the next day was a tell-tale sign of the fun that was had and the hoarseness of my voice was a testament to how many great sing-a-longs the crowd participated in. If you’ve not had the pleasure of seeing Frank play, please do yourself a favor and do it quick, before he’s playing arena gigs! I will see him every time I get the chance, because it’s that special.
2. The Gaslight Anthem – The Firebird, July 13
I had the fortune of seeing The Gaslight Anthem twice this year, making it the 4th and 5th time I’ve seen them. The night they played the Firebird on a sweaty July night was a truly memorable one. That room was more packed than I’d ever seen it. Frontman Brian Fallon seemed to have more fun than ever before. His smile was infectious. You just couldn’t help but to join him in having the time of your life that night. It might be the very last chance to see them in such a small venue, as their new album seems to be launching them into the mainstream super spotlight. I feel lucky to have been there to sing along. Oh and don’t forget the cover of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”…freaking epic!
3. Deer Tick – The Firebird, May 16
Again, a very packed Firebird, putting the new A/C to the test! I think this was my most anticipated show of 2012, because it felt like Deer Tick had skipped over St. Louis for quite some time. It felt like all of Frontman John McCauley’s projects had skipped over us actually. I was longing for that raspy voice. I was longing for the ridiculousness a Deer Tick show brings with it. And they did not disappoint. It may not have been their most memorable show in St. Louis, but it certainly fits right in line. They slaughtered the crowd with their energy and tore down the house with a cover of Beastie Boys’ “Fight For Your Right,” shortly after Adam Yauch’s death. If you want to party, these are the guys you always want to party with. I anticipate their return yet again and will make sure to have my party pants on!
Andrew Bird – The Pageant, March 22: Most Beautiful Show of 2012
Langhorne Slim – Twangfest @ The Duck Room, June 8: Best Banjo of 2012
William Elliott Whitmore – Off Broadway, August 10: Best Whisky Shots of 2012
Josh Ritter – Plush, July 21: Best Beer Getting Spilled on My Head But Still Having a Blast of 2012
Billy Bragg – Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, June 23: Best Bucket List Show of ALL TIME
Sarah Berkowitz: Sarah spends her days as the Do-er of Stuff (aka Content Manager and ticket-giver-outer) of Do314.com - the best website in town to find out about all the cool events and concerts happening in STL every day of the week. By night, catch her out at a venue for a show, local brewery sipping delicious brew, or chatting people up in a South City haunt. She lives to hear about all the cool stuff people around St. Louis are up to, so don’t be shy if you see her out!
In order of appearance, no particular order otherwise:
1. Otherlives (Firebird Presents) – Gramophone, February 7
2. Yacht – Plush, March 1
3. Rubblebucket (ORH Presents) – Gramophone, March 20
4. The Walkmen – Plush, June 28
5. Pokey LaFarge – Art Hill, June 12
6. Santigold, Nee – Pageant, June 12
7. Big Freedia & The Divas (Knuckle Rumbler Presents) – Firebird, July 21
8. Purity Ring – Firebird, August 26
9. Bear Hive, Palace, Adult Fur, aTm (Do314 Presents) – Off Broadway, October 31
10. Numerous festival sets during LouFest (St. Louis), SXSW, and Fun Fun Fun Fest (both in Austin, TX) – too many to choose a favorite! But for the record, each festival is pretty great in its own right. I highly recommend checking any and all of them out.
Check back soon for TOP SHOWS OF 2012: Part II!!!