TOP SHOWS OF 2014: PART II – Musicians
December 31, 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.
Katie Lindhorst, Middle Class Fashion
1) Riot Fest – Chicago, IL (September 12-14)
Absolute mud-covered bliss for three days straight.
As September 12th rolled around, I stood in the rain and listened to Pussy Riot members Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina, Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin, and Bust Magazine founder and writer Marcelle Karp talk about how punk rock fueled their lives and creative pursuits. The inspiration was infectious; I couldn’t stop smiling for hours.
The rain from the day before turned Riot Fest into a giant mud puddle. It was hilarious and messy, but the 13th totally topped the 12th when Die Antwoord, Metric, and The Flaming Lips put on three of the best live performances I’ve ever heard and seen. Certainly more energy, raging, sweating, and dancing mushrooms than I’d ever experienced.
When I thought Riot Fest couldn’t get better, the ground was once again solid, and the weekend ended on the 14th with performances by The Hold Steady, Tegan and Sara, Primus, and The Cure. The most boss weekend of my life. My boots are still caked with mud.
2) Phantogram with TEEN – The Pageant (April 8)
I’d never heard of TEEN before they started their set. They had me hooked instantly. The hypnotic rhythms, dreamy vocals, and rocking grooves had me asking the people around who the hell these girls were. Then they kicked in to their track “Not For Long”, and I was in love. I knew I’d found a new personal favorite.
Phantogram came on stage with a vengeance and a substantial amount of synthesizers and strobe lights. Oh yeah, and bass. Lots and lots of bass. Needless to say my pants had been danced off by the end of the evening.
My bias toward rocking gals that play can a synth may have had an influence on how fantastic I remember the night being. One thing is for sure – both groups dominate synth-driven, groovy tunes.
3) Sleepy Kitty with Bailiff – Off Broadway (January 18)
Singing along to “Batman: The Ride” is great. Really freaking great. When you’re at home alone, in the car, at work, in front of friends and family. It doesn’t matter. It’s so much fun. Singing along with Sleepy Kitty at the Projection Room CD Release will not be topped.
The opening band of the evening was Bailiff, from Chicago, IL. They were the real deal. I was blown away by their performance. Never having seen them or heard any of their songs, I went home with Josh Siegel’s guitar lick from “In the Reverie” stuck in my head. I got home and immediately downloaded all of their album, Red Balloon.
Sleepy Kitty took the stage, and the cram-packed crowd at Off Broadway lit up with excitement. Every track on Projection Room is a winner. That night I was so proud of St. Louis and the sensational amount of creativity and talent we host, I was beaming.
P.S. SK puts on a wicked party.
Various artists, Undercurrent at Schlafly Tap Room (all year)
2014 was the year of the weirdo show series: NNN Cook’s Bruxism, Mr. Ben’s NOISE and Joe Hess and Mabel Suen’s Undercurrent being the most notable. Work and other obligations kept me from most of the former two, but I attended as many of the Undercurrent shows as I could. Joe would ask bands, then record them and give the tape out at the following month’s show. Ou Où was asked to play the first one, and we were joined on stage by Nate Larson and Chris Phillips from Yugen, Alex Cunningham and Jake Leech. Burrowss played its last show, Stonechat played as their alter-ego BACCO, Catholic Guilt played while draped in blankets, and The Jerk performed a set based on Steve Martin samples that the tape duplicator refused to dub out of fear of copyright infringement. The rest of the year covered everything from spoken word to free jazz to stand-up comedy to folk and rock and hip hop and noise and everything in between. Chizmo.tv supplied freaky visuals and the vibez were always spot-on. The shows were free, the tapes were free and the beer was good and cold. It was pretty much ideal.
Bitchin Bajas, Circuit des Yeux, & Ghost Ice at Plush (December 10)
This is the second time that Bitchin Bajas and Circuit des Yeux came through town in 2014. I missed their first show at APOP and was determined not to miss this one, too. Bajas, now a three piece, is a love note to the last sixty years of experimental music and minimalist composition. I came expecting them to be great, and they were. What really made the night was the set of Haley Fohr’s Circuit des Yeux. Mark Willey compared her to Scott Walker, which is a pretty tall order, but damn if he wasn’t right. Her age and slight frame belied the huge bellow contained within. That voice, core-shaking and deeply resonant, filled her songs with a power and dread that flattened me. I was wholly unprepared and took it right on the chin. Hyperbole aside, it was the single greatest performance I saw this year.
Keir Neuringer, NNN Cook, John Beabout, Hall/Hess Duo at BANK Projects (May 21)
I hadn’t planned on going to this show, but it was a Wednesday and had a bad case of street feet. I hadn’t seen Eric Hall and Joe Hess play together, and I hadn’t seen NNN Cook in a while. I didn’t know anything about the touring act other than he was from Philadelphia and played the saxophone. I thought I might be able to slip out if I wasn’t into it. I got there late and missed most of John’s set. NNN Cook began setting up and had an armful of portable speakers, a dozen tape players and small cymbals that were attached to motorized mallets. His set was quiet and built up in the tiniest increments, a process-based minimalism that transfixed the room. Keir played next and was promoting a record written after the death of his mother. His playing showed incredible range, sensitivity and inventiveness, shifting from multi-timbre drone to a ululating mourn. Going into it, I wasn’t sure how compelling a set of solo saxophone could be, but the show was moving and heartfelt. I was happy to be proved so wrong.
Fielded, Ou Où, & Skull’s Mind at The Luminary (August 29)
This was my band’s last show, though we didn’t want to make a big deal about it. We had finished our fourth record, Ou Ng, and came to the conclusion that we had finished the project. I’ve always been impatient with bands that stay together longer than they should. It’d be hypocritical to stray from that ideology with my own band. Ou Ng was the culmination of everything we were trying to accomplish with the project and we figured we’d quit while we were ahead. I’ve been to enough “last shows” to know that they’re disproportionately attended. When Glass Teeth played their last show at the Heavy Anchor, the place was packed and the band was visibly confused. “Who are all you people? Where the hell have you been?” We gave out a bunch of tapes and got to play with our friends one last time. Most of those tapes were probably tossed into the backseat where they’re sliding around and getting stepped on. Jeremy Kannapell and Joe Raglani played as Skull’s Mind. There were Porsche posters and they kept repeating “Baby girl” over and over. It went on a long time. I remember Jeremy was wearing this green and black striped shirt that kept strobing as he moved. Fielded closed the show and Lindsay Powell played a strong and confident set. She had some demos from a forthcoming record and my wife listens to them constantly. Everyone was pretty crushed out after she played. It was a fitting ending after a five year run and I left the venue feeling like it was the last day of school.
SAMA DAMS at Foam (November 1)
This Portland trio really rocked my world. It’s just one of those bands where I was thinking, “I can’t believe these cats are playing in my club, on a tiny stage, just 8 feet from my face.” Beautiful melodies, rad beats, sweet textures. For fans of Alt J, Radiohead, and other innovative melodic “indie-rock”.
The perfect band to commemorate the changing of hands at Foam: http://youtu.be/gjAmSrEBn2M
Mirah at Off Broadway (October 6)
This one was marked on my calendar for several months out. I’ve been a Mirah fan for well over ten years at this point. I first saw her playing solo in a musty basement venue called The Muff Dive. She was incredible then, and she only seems to get better with age. I’ve seen her at least 5 times since, and this performance stood out as the best. This was due in no small part to her band being really on point. I was particularly excited to see Corey Vogel behind the kit. I knew him first as Julia Holter’s drummer and later found out, he’s a session player or established member of several weird bands I dig. He’s a real innovator and was a perfect fit for that tour with Mirah.
They played a really good mix of songs spanning most of her career. They covered many of my old favorites and turned me on to the new record for sure. Mirah’s song writing is timeless and her voice sounds like a sweet lullaby ushering me home. I can’t help but shed a tear (or several) at most of her shows. When she plays just the right song at just the right time, it’s a powerful thing.
Kishi Bashi and Why? at Radio Radio in Indianapolis (April 3)
I got the scoop on this show ahead of time through one of my favorite record labels, Indianapolis-based Joyful Noise Recordings. When I heard that two of my favorite bands were playing at such a small venue (the very same venue that I had played with Humdrum when I was in Indy), I immediately decided I was going to take a road trip for this one. Bussman’s Holiday kicked off the show followed by a stereo-typically incredible set from Kishi Bashi. Then Why? brought the house down! These are two of the best bands on the road today. Kishi Bashi’s voice and virtuoso violin playing are simply breathtaking, and surprisingly, it’s even better when bolstered by his band.
Why? played the hits. They had me pumping my first and rapping/singing along. Lead singer/MC Joni Wolf is a smart, self aware, poet, with mad flow and a strange wit. His lyrics are naked and self effacing and they strike to the heart. And then there’s the band, led by Josiah, Joni’s wickedly multi-talented brother holding down drums, vibes, vocals, and auxiliary percussion simultaneously. The rest of the band is fleshed out with bass, keys, and a second drummer that make these cats one of the best hip hop bands I’ve ever seen. They’re hella tight, dynamic, and innovative, the perfect backdrop for Joni’s flow.
Kishi Bashi and Why? might seem like an odd pairing (melodic indie-pop and innovative hip-hop), but it worked brilliantly for this guy. I got to see two of my favorite bands in a venue that either of them could have sold out alone. I felt quite pleased to have been let in on the secret.
Langen Neubacher, The Defeated County
Roky Erikson at The Firebird
It’s always great to get a chance to see a legend live…it’s freaking amazing when you’re four feet from the stage and the legend you are watching seems just as excited as you are. Every time one of Roky’s band members did a solo or anything impressive he seemed just as delighted and surprised as every member of the audience. Black Rebel Motor Cycle club wasn’t so bad either!!!
Fog Lights, Rags n Bones, Crazy XXX Girlfriend, Miss Molly Simms and The Klose Encounters at Off Broadway
I’ll admit to being biased in the sense that I helped book this show, but I don’t think anyone else there would argue with me that this was one killer local show! The bands were booked as part of a series Off Broadway sponsors that is dedicated to getting amazing, already established local musicians (like the lovely Miss Molly and Justin Johnson of Fog Lights and Pretty Little Empire) blended in with brand new bands that haven’t yet had a chance to play out much. But you’d never know that any of these guys were new to the stage! In particular Crazy XXX Girlfriend, a rock n’ roll burlesque band, nearly brought the house down. I actually had to intervene and lecture someone for trying to get naked on stage!
The Pat Sajak Assassins CD release with Tennis Lesson and The Leads at The Heavy Anchor
The Pat Sajak Assassins have been making their unique breed of experimental rock music since the days of STLpunk, but their newest line up and record has elevated their already great sound to new levels. Tennis Lesson, featuring Tazu Marshall, who recorded the CD, and a rare performance by The Leads only made the night even better.
Jenn Malzone, Middle Class Fashion
1. Home Body at Foam 6/27/14
The lighting was warm and low, and we crowded around the sweatband-wearing glitter clad singer Haley Morgan of Homebody. We leaned forward and hung onto her every word, the beat pounding in our chests. You couldn’t be in that room and not be moving. Think of Peaches, but with a steady pulse that never hurries, and vocal effects causing Morgan’s pitch to modulate in swoopy circles around the melody. Often those vocal effects can translate into robotic, but in this case, she was too passionate to let that to happen. This two-piece band is from Denver, and I’m really hoping they’ll come back to Foam to recreate that night.
2. Ume at Vintage Vinyl & the Firebird (March 23)
Melinda and I ended up in the Loop during Ume’s in-store at Vintage Vinyl, so we stopped in and got to see this band for the first time. Lauren LL was a force, even while playing in the fluorescent-lit sedate record store atmosphere. She killed guitar riff after guitar riff, throwing her hair around and jumping like a doll possessed by the spirit of rock. A little girl stood at the front watching her, transfixed. I went to see Ume that night at the Firebird, already knowing it was going to be amazing. And it was.
3. TEEN at the Firebird (August 30)
It’s really weird describing a band as soft grunge pop mixed with 90s R&B, but that’s how TEEN fits into my brain. I’d recently discovered this band four months earlier, when they’d opened for Phantogram at the Pageant. Their stage setup is very much in the direction my band is working toward, so it was great to get to see them play a second time in the more intimate setting of the Firebird. I stood at the front in full music geek mode, taking note of how they handled their samples and what gear they were using. Three of the four members are sisters, which makes for great musical chemistry. All four of them possess this cool but friendly confidence when performing. I didn’t stay for headlining band, Islands. Nothing personal, but after seeing TEEN, all I could think about was running home and playing my keyboard.
Mikey Wehling, The Reverbs
Outkast at LouFest: dream set.
Mac DeMarco at Old Rock House: solo set, awesome.
Sleepy Kitty/The Reverbs at Public Media Commons Grand Opening: one of my fave gigs ever.
Check out Part I of our Top Shows of 2014 series here.