TOP SHOWS OF 2014: PART I – Media/Industry
December 30, 2014
This year, as in some years past, we asked musicians, fans, writers, and other members of the St. Louis community to share their thoughts on the very best live music they witnessed over the last twelve months, in our city or elsewhere. The diverse responses we received were often heartfelt, funny, and entertaining. We’ve included links to each of our contributors’ band pages, Twitter handles, and/or personal websites; show them some love.
Jandek at St. Louis University (March 21)
I still can’t believe he played here. Jandek spent the first quarter-century of his career as a recluse, making album after album of primitive, detuned blues on his own Corwood Industries label. Even after several dozen concerts over the past decade, there’s still a mystique about him. At the Billiken Club, he performed a 90-minute set with local experimental musicians Joseph Hess and Matty Coonfield. The three of them alternated between guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. In his trademark black hat and suit, drawling out his self-reflective lyrics, he could pass for Leonard Cohen’s weird cousin. What was truly unexpected, however, was the addition of Houston musician Sheila Smith to the live band. Scampering around the stage, wailing in a Lydia Lunch-esque voice, laying on her keyboards and blatantly flirting with Jandek, she brought a cheerful element – almost threateningly so – to a performance that most of us probably expected to be heavy and mournful. One of the most confusing performances I’ve ever seen. Also one of the best.
Mavis Staples at Sheldon Concert Hall (October 24)
Inspired by Greg Kot’s I’ll Take You There biography, I spent the first few months of 2014 listening to Staple Singers’ 1950s and 1960s gospel recordings and very little else. Lead singer Mavis Staples never stopped singing, of course, and is currently making some of the best records of her half-century career with producer Jeff Tweedy. It was an honor to see her live. Still capable of her trademark raspy wail, Mavis performed a career-spanning set, encompassing both hits like “I’ll Take You There” and “Freedom’s Highway” to her more recent One True Vine material. She even brought along sister Yvonne Staples, who provided occasional background vocals throughout the set.
Nots at CBGB (November 11)
I happened to catch them in their hometown of Memphis this summer opening up for The Clean, and was blown away by their energy. Both live and on their debut LP, We Are Nots, they draw inspiration from early-1980s post-punk, but they play it with a relentlessness more in line with their Goner Records contemporaries. At CBGB, they played a joyfully chaotic set. Guitarist Natalie Hoffmann and drummer Charlotte Watson never stopped thrashing about; keyboardist Alexandra Eastburn added violent synth in the vein of Pere Ubu’s Allen Ravenstine; and bassist Madison Farmer held down a rumbly, melodic undertone. Probably the most fun band I saw all year.
Also: Angel Olsen at Off Broadway; Bruiser Queen’s record release party at Off Broadway; Matt Harnish’s Pink Guitar at the RFT Music Showcase (an all-Fall set); Schwervon! at Euclid Records on Record Store Day; Neutral Milk Hotel at the Pageant, with Middle Class Fashion in the Halo Bar immediately afterward.
Jim Utz is the Marketing and Events Director at Vintage Vinyl.
Favorite out of town shows:
- Blondie – Brazos Hall, Austin, TX (March 13)
- Lydia Lunch’s Retrovirus w/ We Are Hex – The Back Door, Bloomington, IN (June 24)
- Fleetwood Mac – Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN (October 21)
Favorite shows – 65 & over artists division:
- Roky Erickson – The Firebird, St. Louis (February 1)
- Cher – Scottrade Center, St. Louis (June 4)
- Chuck Berry – Duck Room, St. Louis (September 17)
Favorite shows – 50 & over punks division:
- The Buzzcocks – The Rave, Milwaukee, WI (September 12)
- The Avengers – Gilman St., Berkelely, CA (November 7?)
- Negative Approach – Fubar, St. Louis (November 3?)
Favorite shows – 45 & under artists division:
- Ex Hex – The Firebird, St. Louis (March 17)
- Jeremy Messersmith – Off Broadway, St. Louis (June 17)
- Apache Relay – The Gramophone, St. Louis (September 23)
Favorite metal shows:
- Destruction – Fubar, St. Louis (March 24)
- SubRosa – Fubar, St. Louis (July 28)
- The Skull – Fubar, St. Louis (December 17)
Favorite country shows:
- Carlene Carter – Wood House, St. Louis (September 21)
- Kacey Musgraves – Gillioz Theatre, Springfield, MO (September 26)
- Rosanne Cash – The Sheldon, St. Louis (November 20)
Favorite 3 instore performances:
- Hurray For The Riff Raff – Vintage Vinyl (February 25)
- Valerie June – Vintage Vinyl (March 2)
- Ume – Vintage Vinyl (March 23)
Kelsey McClure is a woman about town the founder of Comedy in the Lou in St. Louis, MO.
1) Space Capone at The Old Demo:
It was my first shift at The Demo. I made enough money to replace the ass that I danced off. I was dubbed “Tiny Dancer Jr.” for my moves behind the bar.
Man. That boy can wail. His music sounds also make me feel kind of funny.
2) Garth Brooks at The Edward Jones Dome:
In 2005, I listed Blink 182, Bright Eyes, Garth Brooks, The Backstreet Boys, and Janis Joplin as my Top 5 Bands when I filled out the application form to join Hickman High School’s “School of Rock” club. I didn’t necessarily think they were the best bands in the world, they were just the bands that meant the most to me and fill me with those things call “memories.” As of December 4, 2014, only one of my top 5 remains unseen and it’s because she’s dead.
3) Royal Canoe at The New Demo:
I get a little sad when I go into the new Demo because I was a casualty of the “Noise War” with the neighbors. I ain’t mad ‘dough because now I get to enjoy shows from the front of the bar as opposed to behind it.
So the Royal Canoe story goes…heard a record, liked it, decided to see it live, wasn’t sure if I should go out because I was having a shitty day, decided to not be such a pussy and go see rock ‘n roll and I did and it was good.
1. The Blind Eyes Break Up — 3/15/14, Off Broadway
Is it better to burn out or fade away? The Blind Eyes did neither; they simply called it an amicable day after seven good years, three solid releases and a satchel-full of quick, nervy pop songs. They closed out the night, and presumably their career, with “Hold Down the Fort,” a song about perseverance in the face of decay. That night, it sounded like a torch being passed. But to whom? St. Louis hasn’t had many bands as good as the Blind Eyes, so we’ll see who picks up the mantle.
2. Gillian & Dave stage an old-fashioned revue — 6/25/14, the Sheldon Concert Hall
When Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings aren’t touring under Welch’s name and behind her albums, the duo gives Rawlings center-stage under the banner of the Dave Rawlings Machine. Rawlings is a fair singer but a lights-out guitarist, marking their songs with fleet-fingered solos that are every bit as dexterous and challenging as any jazzbo. It turns out he’s a gracious host as well — he and Welch shared the stage with former Old Crow Medicine Show member Willie Watson and mandolin player John Paul Jones, who played bass once upon a time for a little four-piece called Led Zeppelin. Opening with John Hartford’s “Turn Your Radio On” was a nice nod to the U. City son, and the rest of the set touched on the duo’s endless curiosity with American songcraft (at least until they indulged in a little British songcraft, care of Led Zep’s “Going to California,” which was stunning).
3. Dependable indie-rock elder statesmen play the Pageant — 9/20/14 (Spoon) and 11/10/14 (New Pornographers)
Ambling into my middle-30s leaves me little time and even less concern for chasing trends or keeping score of indie rock’s vagaries (to wit: are saxophone solos still A Thing? I really don’t know). It doesn’t hurt that two of the bands that emboldened my love for the form made solid albums in 2014 and played vibrant, status-solidifying sets at the Pageant this fall. Spoon hadn’t played St. Louis since 2007, so opening with “Small Stakes” from 2002’s Kill the Moonlight was a wonderful whiplash, and Britt Daniel’s unassailable, unflappable attitude delivered the band’s sharp-cornered songs. The New Pornographers make time for St. Louis on every tour, but having its three key players — A.C. Newman, Neko Case and Dan Bejar — in tow was a special occasion. The eternally mercurial Bejar took the lead on what felt like a record number of songs compared to his recent outings with the band; my ticket price was redeemed by “Testament to Youth in Verse” alone. Loving these bands probably brands me as a dude of a certain age; so be it.
Oh man, I saw so much great live music this year. It’s my favorite thing to do and it’s kind of my job, so I’m a lucky lass. As HBIC of HaikuLou.com, I’m part of a team that documents and reviews a decent amount of shows in St. Louis. We’ve been haiku-ing since 2011 and at the end of each year I like to look back on the shows we’ve covered and remember my favorites:
Demonlover with Eric Hall outside Bank Projects, 07/27/14
I still don’t know what in the heck I witnessed here. Technically, it was just local musicians making some sounds on a folding table in a parking lot, but it was one of the most magical musical things I’ve ever seen. At some point a neighborhood kid took over the microphone and jumped into a free-form jam so perfectly that I’m still not convinced that they all hadn’t practiced it together first.
The Breeders at Off Broadway, 09/02/14
I’m a forever fan of anything Breeders related, so this was an easy choice for me. The show was a little disorganized and my friend said he felt like he was sitting in on a band practice, but I didn’t mind. That’s just how the Breeders roll and I love them for it. But what I didn’t quite expect was to be so taken so immediately with the new songs. They were great. One of them was super stoner rock-riffic and I caught myself straight-up deep, slow headbanging.
The Phonocaptors at Plush, 10/10/14
I think of Jason Hutto as a brother, and sometimes I forget that I love his music just as much as I love him. This was his farewell show (he recently moved to Texas) and this set was kind of a retrospective of his songs over the years. As he rolled through amazing song after amazing song, I thought about how I’d been watching him play since I was a kid and how lucky I was to have his songs as the awesome rock and roll soundtrack always playing in the background of my little life. I raised my glass and sang along.
3. The New Pornographers
Sometimes it’s as simple as seeing three of your favorite acts play your favorite songs to a passionate fanbase at The Pageant. I’ve been dying to see Beck since I was a child and Odelay rocked my world. To this day, it’s in my top 5 favorite albums ever, so hearing Beck not only play its hits but deep cuts like “Minus” and “Novocane” put a giant grin on my face. I’d seen Spoon and The New Pornographers before, but both of their respective shows this year were the best performances of theirs that I witnessed.
Honorable mentions in no particular order:
Daniel Rossen at Mercy Lounge in Nashville – One of the few songwriters who can overcome my general dislike of solo performances.
Tristen and Middle Class Fashion at Off Broadway – Old favorites may win the day, but I was stunned by the talent of this Nashville via Chicagoland pop musician and her crack band. She has some killer hooks delivered by a great raspy voice and a crack band. Apparently she’s been working with David Beeman at Native Sound Studio, and I can’t wait to hear what they come up with. I was less shocked by Middle Class Fashion’s new material, but only because they’ve set a standard of excellence.
White Reaper at Firebird – Another act I’d not heard of who turned out to be a wonderful surprise. I came to see new local quartet Hell Night, who put on a walloping set of post-punk hardcore, and found these Louisville kids to be right up my alley. They play punchy garage rock in the Ty Segall/Jay Reatard mode. It’s no wonder Polyvinyl signed them.
Bruiser Queen’s CD Release Party at Off Broadway – BQ always make their shows parties with their raucous rock and fun stage presence, but their space-age outfits, donation of glow sticks to the crowd and special guest performers put this particular concert over the top.
Electric Six at Firebird – My band got to open for one of my favorite groups ever. Of course it will show up on this list.
Tok at El Lenador – This show was supposed to be the first at the new Livery, but the place hadn’t opened yet. It was a trip to see a group at El Lenador again, and it proved to be a perfect fit for Tok’s righteous loud rock.
Tilts at Firebird – Speaking of righteous loud rock, these guys always bring it. One St. Louis show a year is not enough!
Bass Drum of Death at The Demo – Super underrated group. Maybe they just have too normal of a sound for a music culture where every critic is looking for something to hang a new buzzword on? Whatever the case, they make ass-kicking rock with good harmonies and the guitars sound so good in person. Local trio Without Hazard, themselves very underrated, played a great opening set, too. (Full disclosure: I liked Without Hazard enough to make one of their members join my band.)
Hiss Golden Messenger at Orange County Social Club (Carrboro, NC) – July 14
This show was part of the Merge 25 festival, celebrating the Merge label’s 25th anniversary in its hometown. This show took place in the afternoon, and was meant to be a small, low-key show featuring some of the label’s smaller artists that was a bit auxiliary to the fest’s stacked nighttime lineup.
Forecasted storms moved the set from OCSC’s back lot indoors to its tiny bar space. But the July heat never broke and the rain never came, so we were all packed in with the AC failing to keep up, and bodies so tight that moving through the room was difficult, and getting to the bar impossible. This discomfort just heightened the intensity of the soulful Americana that leapt from from the fingers and vocal chords of Michael Taylor and his band, which included William Tyler, at least one member of Megafaun, and a host of other Triangle music scene veterans.
You have to understand that Hiss Golden Messenger was then a new-to-me band that put out my favorite record of the year, and seeing these songs performed live for the first time at the height of my love for them, in this setting, was as perfect a face-to-face meeting as could be hoped for.
Centro-matic at Off Broadway – December 16
Centro-matic’s last show ever in St. Louis. I can’t say that I’ve been seeing Centro-matic live since the ’90s like some folks can, but I can say that I’ve seen them more than almost any other band in the years since first seeing them live in 2007 at the Tap Room as part of Twangfest 11. That 2007 show lead in a roundabout way to my involvement with Twangfest and KDHX, and to me eventually booking Centro-matic to play at Twangfest 18 in June of this year.
Between that 2007 show and this one, I saw a lot of great Centro-matic shows, and I’ve never seen the band play a set that was anything less than solidly good. That’s one of the characteristics of this hard-working band: It’s always had its head down with a workingman’s attitude, making deceptively complex rock with startling consistency.
Anyway, this was the band’s St. Louis stop on its farewell tour, and it was amazing. Something over two hours and three encores after the band started, it left the Off Broadway stage for the last time, having left everything out on it. Goodbye, Centro-matic. St. Louis loves you.
Spoon at The Pageant – September 20
There weren’t any extenuating circumstances that made this a great show. The band wasn’t breaking up, the weather was pretty normal. Spoon simply put on an energetic, flawless performance, proving again that despite the fact that they’re often thought of as a studio band, they have serious live performance chops.
COMING SOON: Parts II and III (Fans/Photogs and Musicians!) of IWTAS’ Top Shows of 2014 series.