TOP SHOWS OF 2012: Part II

Welcome back 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 (in Part III 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.

Part I, from yesterday, can be found here.

Photographer Corey Woodruff

Corey Woodruff: My name is Corey and I make photos and music for a living. You can see one of these things at

1. Every Time I Die, The Chariot – The Firebird, December 14
Absolute mayhem from the first note. The sold-out crowd waged war against the stage all night long, encouraged to stage dive by the bands. At one point I counted 7 audience members on stage–2 more than the band. The highlight of the show was Stephen Harrison of The Chariot playing guitar while hanging upside down from the Firebird’s rafters. Total chaos of the best kind.

2. The Flaming Lips – Loufest, August 26
I’d never seen the band live but only two minutes into their set I succumbed to the rapturous vibe of the crowd and just went with it. Folks talk about “positive vibes” and the like but this was the real deal–I was grinning the entire time.

3. My Morning Jacket – Forecastle Festival (Louisville, KY), July 14
An always stellar live act, MMJ closed the second day of the three day festival with a 2+ hour set in front of a very appreciative hometown crowd. I only wish I had been able to stay for the end of the set but my body was broken after a full day of festivities in the Kentucky sun.

Firebird-er Jamie Ellis

Jamie Ellis: I’m a bartender at The Firebird, lover of all things Sanrio, and just completed my 8th year as a resident of St. Louis.

1. M83, I Break Horses – The Pageant, May 2
One of those “sold out” one-floor shows where they opened up the balcony. I snagged great seats with friends, shared food, and mostly sat on the edge of my seat with mouth agape. Morgan Kibby and the creature from the “Midnight City” single were scene stealers. Worth mentioning that I Break Horses made a lot of new fans that night.

2. The Melvins – The Firebird, May 3
This was one of those nights where I felt 15-year-old me high five my current self. The music was loud, the room was packed, and they were as heavy as fuck. After the show I got to spend 10 minutes geeking out about art with Dale Crover. I don’t mind meeting my idols when they are totally nice guys.

3. Peelander Z – The Firebird, March 7
I get a little squirrely when I think about this band. There is just so much to see and hear and FEEL. That night was close as I’ve ever come to spontaneous combustion. Peelander Red played while hanging upside down from the rafters! During “Mad Tiger” I started to feel so overwhelmed with happiness that I cried.

Honorable Mentions:
Die Antwoord – The Pageant, October 18
I wasn’t sure if the Midwest could appreciate this sort of weirdness. The crowd was weirder and waaaaay into it.

Orgy – Brewskeez Sports Bar West, March 2
I’m always up for a good spectacle. The now infamous Shattermask were one of the dozen or so openers.

Mindless Self Indulgence – Pop’s, March 20
Just never gets old. Pentagrams! Kittens! People moshing like it’s the 90s!

VNV Nation – The Firebird, March 3
These guys should be playing to stadiums full of screaming fans.

Photographer Louis Kwok

Louis Kwok: Louis runs the photo-centric musicVSman when not reading comics or eating pizza.

1. Fucked Up – The Firebird, April 8
After missing their last stop in town in 2011, I assumed I would never get the chance to see the Toronto hardcore band once hiatus/breakup rumors started swirling around. Thankfully, Damian Abraham and crew made it back to STL at least one more time. I’m usually that guy who likes his personal space at shows and quietly watches, but this was the one show where I was shouting along and pumping my fist without abandon (or at least compared to my generally reserved state). You haven’t lived until you get a hug from a topless sweaty Damian Abraham.

2. Purity Ring – The Firebird, August 27
This show featured the worst crowd experience I’ve had all year and yet it was my second favorite show, which is probably a testament about how amazing the duo’s performance was. Their album Shrines is probably one of my favorite albums of the year, but throw in Purity Ring’s awesome lighting rig that was synched to Corin Roddick’s drum station and you have a winner. Oh, and this show sold out the same night that the Flaming Lips closed LouFest? Good job, St. Louis.

3. Tenacious D – Vintage Vinyl, July 23
Somehow Vintage Vinyl managed to land the duo for a brief in-store performance prior to their sold-out show later that evening at the Pageant. Getting a high-five from Jack Black definitely made this a memorable one.

Creed Martyr and Music Fan John Simon

John Simon: Possible  future lead singer in yet-to-be-formed-band called Cuckold Johnny and The Divorcees. Co-organizer Creed4MS. Two time contest runner-up. Culinary school drop-out. Ailment sufferer.

1. James McMurtry – The Duck Room, November 8
Two nights removed from the election, the crowd in the basement of Blueberry Hill was in for a treat. Lots of Carhardts and starched shirts. Lots of older, middle-aged mustachioed men. But some “English major-y” looking folks too. The art of songwriting was being demonstrated by a master craftsman. They flocked together to listen to the Zappa-eyed, Texas bard. The bar sold out of Lone Stars about halfway through the set and there was plenty of whiskey on the floor to slip around in. Everyone in the audience was excited to hear “Choctaw Bingo”  but some of them may have actually been the characters from the song (there were at least four potential Uncle Laytons in my 5 foot radius). “You Can’t Make It Here Anymore” was a an emotionally poignant final word to the merciful end of the lengthy political rigmarole the country had just been subjected to. He brought it. Either side of the aisle, everyone seemed ready to put differences aside, swig beer and dance like white people. After the show the man of illustrious lineage sat at the merch table and on my way out, I was lucky enough to completely embarrass myself by having the phrase “You are so wonderful” drunkenly dribble out of my stupid, stupid mouth as I shook his hand. I felt really cool as I walked back upstairs.

2. Creed – The Pageant, May 26
In all conceivable respects, this concert has no business being even considered for this list, much less selected as one of my top three. It disparages all the other really great acts I did see this year (My Morning Jacket, Wilco, White Denim, Cory Chisel, Jon Hardy, Jason Isbel, The Walkmen, Ryan Adams, The Wooden Sky…) to summon the memories of my night with Stapp and Co. But despite all my obvious reservations I have to include it. It was one of the most memorable concert going experiences I have ever had. I learned so much about the human condition, not just from  the band and audience inside The Pageant that night, but from the events leading up to the concert. My good friend, Tony Cerame and I used the show to raise money The Gateway Chapter of the MS Society. We got creative in our efforts and we were met with overwhelming support, not only from our immediate friends and family but from strangers. Many shared a laugh with us or offered us their sympathies, and many contributed to the fundraising effort we made. The concert itself started with two opening acts that presented themselves both audibly and ocularly, as total diarrhea. These bands might be cool if you are 15, have a Limp Bizkit tattoo, work at an interstate highway off-ramp fast food restaurant and you spent your nights smoking menthols, drinking Four Loko (un-ironically), giving hickeys and trying to put your fingers in any/everything… and also, you’re full of rage and John Cena is your favorite actor of all time. Then came Creed. Oh boy. Did I fail to mention that Tony and I were obligated to remain 100% sober throughout this entire $hit show? Well… we were sober. Not too many others were. Not the chic down front who touched Stapp’s arm and rubbed his sweat on her crotch during one of his countless acts of penitence at the edge of the stage to allow his adoring crowd the opportunity to touch him. This pituitary lackwit was totally deified. This piece of self-righteous, Florida trash was being idolized by a bunch of hoople heads. His band, the cultural equivalent of The American Gladiators, was blasting away behind him with their triple-necked guitars and chinstrap beards. Each screen-pressed t-shirt tighter than the last, patronizingly tossing guitar picks and drum sticks out to the crowd. Stapp treated us to some a-cappella serenades, there was a lot of “motioning to the heavens” and a whole bunch of muscles. There is no questioning the bands commitment to produce volume. Nor was there any doubt about whether or not the fans forgot the words to any of the songs. This is what I eventually found endearing. Not the band, but the experience. I have been going to so many concerts lately where petulant little “hipsturds” stand as far away from the stage as possible with crossed-arms, trying so hard to appear to not care, scoffing at someone who revels in the opportunity to enjoy the live show by dancing of bobbing their head. It was refreshing to see everyone KSHEing out all over the dang place. Quite simply, it rocked. No one got wise to Tony and I publicly making fun of every last person inside that suck shack, and we left without getting beat up. After the show, a bartender heard about our sacrifice and bought us each a shot of Crown… which we each happily and hastily took to our respective domes. For this reason I have chosen the goddamned Creed show as one of my favorite from 2012.

3. Lou Fest 2012 – Forest Park,  August 25 and 26
The third installment of Lou Fest gets my final nod. It was hotter than 20 buttcracks, the arid skies that hadn’t so much as threatened precipitation for 3 months deposited “all of the year’s rain” on top of Forest Park, I ate several tacos, and I drank enough Pearl Vodka to make Dan McLaughlin piss hisself. It had all the right elements. LouFest is getting ready to put on its big boy pants next summer and the level of intimacy will be undoubtedly compromised for in order to provide the hoards with a bevy of new, cool stuff. That aside, there was a lot of great music on display this year. I had high expectations for the bands I really wanted to see and each one stood tall. Dawes and Dr. Dog had the rain to contend with but think they both persevered. Seeing Son Volt on stage and hearing the famously bashful Jay Farrar sing, clad in all black,  was an indulgence I certainly did not take for granted. Little Barrie exceeded all of the impossibly ridiculous hype I had heard leading up to the show. I was a little to “into my cups” to appreciate the set that Dinosaur Jr. performed. The same could be said for Phantogram, too. I don’t remember. Girl Talk was like what I assume it feels like to be inside of Kanye West’s weird–ass brain. The Flaming Lips were f*cking bonkers. Like having drunken intercourse with Rainbow Bright after huffin’ bath salts while you are wearing Sketchers Shape-Ups. I’m glad the Festival will be getting more national notoriety and will bring bigger acts and more of them to town. It is certainly a step in the right direction and promises to be very exciting. But it’s not as though these first three years had the slots filled with low-hanging fruit. It’s been a very well-produced weekend and it has gotten better every year. I am excited for next year’s “coming out”  but I’m also a little pensive and sentimental about changing the recipe of a quality product. Also, I’m the kind of asshole who always says, “Yeah, I guess (insert whatever it is you are excited about) is cool, but I know of something way cooler. Let me tell you about it.”

Photographer Jamie Dee

I am Jamie Dee. I love live music and I love photography.

(In chronological order)

1. The Cave Singers, Bo & The Locomotive – The Gramophone, April 18
The Cave Singers are so awesome. BATL played two new songs, one of which has become a new favorite. And the venue was a good size for the not sold out show. The audience-boot-beat stomping along added to the intimacy; the connections were bouncing off from stage to crowd to stage. They are genuine and nice people and their music is energetic and raw and alive.

2. Pretty Little Empire, Scarlet Tanager – Off Broadway, May 5
PLE had taken 6+ months off to tour/record/recover from knee surgery. So it had been a while. How do you even describe the way that the band goes crazy and transports elsewhere? The sweat dripping, the strings breaking, Justin fucking Johnson, the way that Evan drums like a madman, and the serious instrument/musician shuffle. And the songs are just so good. So real. You have to see it to understand it, I believe.

3. Fiona Apple – Peabody Opera House, July 14
Oh, Fiona. I’ve loved her since I was twelve. Although the Peabody is luxurious, I wish I could have seen her somewhere where I could have squeezed into the front row, as per usual. Or I wish they would have at least rotated the piano halfway through, as I was too far over on the wrong side. But the show was still wonderful. I love her for her complex oddities and awesome stage freakouts, all nervousness and fiddling with glasses.

4. First Aid Kit – The Firebird, October 11
Wow. What a beautiful show (not bringing up the horrifying mic failure situation). The Swedish sisters’ vocals and harmonies pierced all of our souls. In my opinion, the sound of their music is one of the most beautiful sounds that you can hear. I feel privileged that I was able to see them in a smaller venue. They are so young, but wisdom is in their music and I cannot wait to see where their music goes and grows.

5. Jump Starts – Off Broadway, November 10
This was their sophomore album release show. What an awesome album by awesome musicians. I listen to it over and over again. Justin and Sarah were extra excited and happy to play and it showed. They awkward rock so well together. Their shows are tight and fun. Their music is honest. Just like them.

Writer and Musician Bob McMahon

Bob McMahon: Bob is a freelancer who writes once every blue moon for Riverfront Times, mostly in the music section. He is also a musician who writes songs for and plays guitar and drums in Other People (tentative name, link coming soon), drums in LB Johnson and the Cosmos (the full band incarnation), timpani in the Maryville Symphony, and whatever Stray Dog Theatre wants him to play when they need him for a musical. He does all of this to support his true passion of working at Loy-Lange Box Company.

1. Future of the Left – Cicero’s, November 23
This wasn’t even close. I’ve been dying to see these guys since I wrapped my head around their masterpiece Travels With Myself And Another three years ago, and they lived up to my sky-high expectations. The quartet’s mixture of jerky post-punk, down-tuned heavy rock and punk tempos are great on record but are built for a live show. And you know how some people like Aretha Franklin or Frank Sinatra are born to sing? Frontman Andy Falkous is born to yell. He has the perfect voice for this music and he backs it up with savagely hilarious lyrics. Future of the Left can outwit you, and then kick your ass. They certainly did that at this show. Add in good opening sets from The Humanoids and The Livers (first show in over a year!) and you have the cherry on top of the best show of the year.

2. Screaming Females – El Leñador, August 2
After spending good portions of 2009 to 2011 going out of my way to see bands I hadn’t seen or sometimes even heard before, I got a bit burned out on “discovering” acts this year. This show reminded me why I shouldn’t stop looking. I had a few friends recommend this group and a cursory spotify listen to their new album convinced me to go, but I was in no way prepared for the rocking that would commence. The transformation of Marissa Paternoster from the nonchalant girl running the merch booth to shredding banshee was stunning. The trio has an incredible stage presence (or floor presence for El Leñador I guess) and Paternoster is a monster of a guitarist, carving out bitchin’ leads with a perfect distorted but not too dirty tone. Screaming Females is seven years old and their latest album is their fifth. Hopefully their star will keep rising and more squares like me won’t wait to “discover” them.

3. Bald Eagle – Mojo’s (Columbia, MO), November 10
I didn’t realize how much I missed these guys until they came back. Bald Eagle was one of my favorite Columbia groups when I went to Mizzou. They play pummeling hard rock with lots of screaming, intertwining guitar parts and twin leads. Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes are apparently a good reference point. Anyway, I hadn’t seen them since 2008 and this was their first show in Columbia since they broke up in 2009 (they did a warm-up gig in Kansas City a week or two before this). They didn’t miss a step, and neither did their loyal fans. It was also fantastic to hear two “new” songs that they never released before they called it quits. Let’s hope this reunion lasts.

Honorable Mentions:

Fiona Apple – Peabody Opera House, July 14
Julie did a good job of breaking this down so I don’t have too much to add. I will say that I did like that Apple and her band tweaked a few small aspects of songs in ways that generally make sense only for the stage. The show was a half a year ago so the only example I can remember was in “Every Single Night” where the “braaay-eee-ay-eee-ay-eee-ay-A-aaaain” part got a distorted power-chord from the guitarist and sixteenth-notes on a hi-hat that alternated between being open and closed. My bias toward smaller shows and all the annoying “We love you, Fionas!” kept this from my top 3.

Guided By Voices – Plush, September 22
Everything I expected. Great drunk fun and Pollard proved that it is possible to be a legendary everyman, provided you’re a genius songwriter. This really should be in the top 3, but a few dumb things kept it from being so:

– Trying to eat upstairs before the show led to me staying upstairs for the beginning of it and all the good sight lines had been taken by then.
– Some jackass whose idea of dancing was staggering/leaning on me.
– Too many new songs I didn’t know. There were actually a lot of good ones, but they weren’t what I was there to hear. Which is fine, because artists don’t exist to do whatever I want them to, and GBV is a reborn band, not an act trotting out the hits on reunion tour.

Political Scientist and Live Music Superfan Lori Lamprich

Lori Lamprich: Lori (@el_lamprich on Twitter) is a political scientist by day, and a committed rock and roller by night. One large serving of country, a heaping tablespoon of folk, a liberal dash of blues, a sprinkle of punk, a pinch of classic rock. Stir until frothy.

2012 was a pretty excellent year for shows in St. Louis. I agonized for a long while, first with a list of 14 top shows. I got to 4 and I could not narrow anymore. Too much awesome. So here are my top 3 shows and a most honorable mention.

1. Frank Turner – Off Broadway, February 22
I had only started listening to Frank Turner about a month before this show. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. He name dropped Freddy Mercury in the first song (“Eulogy”), he had the crowd singing and swaying along by the third (“If I Ever Stray”),  he made all of us tattooed fans feel cool when he played a new song (“Tattoos”). I think I had a religious moment when he got the whole crowd singing about how there’s no god (“Glory Hallelujah”). And when he ended the set with a cover of Queen’s “Somebody to Love” I already knew this show would be making an appearance on this, my list of top shows of the year. And it was only February!

2. Jason Isbell, Ryan Adams – Peabody Opera House, January 31
First and foremost, if you haven’t been to the Peabody yet, you are missing out. I have been to my share of venues, and to date, the Peabody has the absolute best sound quality and acoustics I have ever heard anywhere. And I can’t really think of anything better than hearing two amazing songwriters playing solo sets in such a fabulous setting. Hearing songs like “Alabama Pines” and “My Winding Wheel” in that place is chill-inducing.

3.  Gaslight Anthem – Firebird, July 13
The venue may have been a bit small for this band. It was sweltering hot in the middle of summer. The show had sold out, the line to get in the door was long and the crowd was a bit testy. But between the amazing energy of a band that was only a few dates into their North American tour and Brian Fallon’s “Chatty Cathy” stage banter, everyone seemed to forget the total lack of breathing room and the rivers of sweat trickling down and collectively embrace the evening. I went back to see these guys at Pop’s this month, and while it was a thoroughly enjoyable show, it just didn’t smell like body odor and love like that night 5 months earlier.

Most Honorable Mention:

Twangfest – Duck Room, June 9th
Anytime you can get Langhorne Slim, Kasey Anderson, and Ha Ha Tonka to rock the shit out of a basement, you have a party of epic proportions on your hands. Major kudos the the KDXK Twangfest team for booking one hell of a bill for the whole festival, and this one night in particular. If there is a heaven it will most definitely include down and dirty twang, crowds of music lovers, and beer.

Musician and Tower Groover Matt Frederick

Matt Frederick: Matt is a member of Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra and pulls less than his weight as part of Tower Groove Records. He is an attorney at law by training more so than by temperament.

This past year I had the good fortune to experience dozens of inspiring musical performances.  Here are three shows that come to my mind and about which I am, hopefully, sufficiently able to write a paragraph each.  (Be forewarned: I’m not a very good dancer, either.)

1. Gruff Rhys: An Investigative Concert – Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, August 12
Part conversational memoir, part historical research project, part travelogue, and part art-as-process piece, Gruff Rhys’ American Interior came to CAM on a sleepy Sunday evening in August. Oh yeah … Kliph Scurlock of the Flaming Lips, by request of his friend Rhys, drove to St. Louis from his home in Lawrence, KS to make a surprise appearance on the drum kit. You know how it is — just a couple of friends who hadn’t seen each other for a while getting together to hang out and jam and whatnot. “After” the show, Rhys, guitar in hand like the Pied Piper of Hamelin with his flute, serenaded the audience out of the front doors of CAM and extended the concert outside on the sidewalk for another thirty minutes or so for anyone who wanted to hang out more…which was pretty much everyone. It was too lovely of a night, and it had been a while since the conversation was so good. While I don’t like to use the words “best” or “top” when speaking or writing about art, this 2012 show inspired me deeply both as a musician and as an audience member. This show reinvigorated me.

2. Demonlover, Black James, Escalade, Kisser – The Heavy Anchor, November 30
Each previously on a long performance hiatus, Black James and Demonlover came home to a packed yet intimately friendly house at The Heavy Anchor. Insofar as the 2012 release I’m A Miracle represents a breaking-out of the conventional strictures of the “freak folk” genre label that has been ascribed to Jennifer McDaniel’s previous work, her November performance at The Heavy Anchor manifested it: McDaniel’s strong, nuanced and spectral vocals nestled atop warehouse-rave-worthy dance jams and interluded with brooding, richly-layered psychedelic sound collage. As Black James has eschewed the trademark electric banjo for the beat-maker and the sampler, McDaniel’s uniquely forward-looking explication of the legacy of “old, weird America” continues to be as vital as ever. While I don’t like to use the words “best” or “top” when speaking or writing about art, this local 2012 show was, for me, the most consequential. I’m a believer.

3. Dubb Nubb, Little Big Bangs, Peck of Dirt – Off Broadway, December 18
Dubb Nubb is a youthful and winsome folk trio of sisters, but don’t dare pigeonhole them as “precious.” Following the heavy shambolism of Peck of Dirt and preceding the to-the-wall frenzy of Little Big Bangs, the Rainey sisters more than held their own at a free Thursday evening show at Off Broadway. Underpinning Dubb Nubb’s impossibly-large-sounding spare instrumentation and impossibly-lush-sounding two-part harmonies there has developed a confident and measured ferocity in their live performances. At Off Broadway, the trio promised new releases in 2013, and I can’t wait to hear how the attitude of their live performance translates to the forthcoming recordings. While I don’t like to use the words “best” or “top” when speaking or writing about art, this local 2012 show was, for me, the show that made me most excited about new local music in the new year. The kids are alright.

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