TOP SHOWS OF 2015
January 2, 2016
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 shows they witnessed over the last twelve months, in our city or elsewhere. This year, as in years past, the responses we received were reminders of the talent and goodwill of music makers, facilitators, and supporters in STL and beyond. We’ve included links to each of our contributors’ band pages, Twitter handles, and/or personal websites; follow them for additional fun.
July 10, Off Broadway: Anne Tkach Tribute Show
A very emotional night, but the thing that struck me the most was at the very beginning of the evening. Adam Hesed came out with Anne’s standup bass to accompany Fred Friction. The sight of Adam holding, hugging, clutching, gripping, Anne’s bass was all anyone needed to see to understand what a devastating loss Adam has endured. I hadn’t really planned on taking any photos or doing any paintings, but the image of Adam playing the bass hit me to my core and I had to photograph him for a future painting. I think everyone still has a huge hole in their heart from the passing of Anne. We all miss her terribly. Despite that, we feel her presence every day. Magic City capped off the show with a stirring set. Sam [Meyer] came off the stage, and I grabbed him and hugged him for a good two minutes. He was covered in sweat, but I didn’t care.
September 19, Off Broadway: Idle Hour Club, The Jans Project, & Cave States
Having purchased the one and only (that I know of) release from Idle Hour Club (New Orleans) I was curious to see how it would translate live; I was not disappointed. Fronted by longtime St. Louis ex-pat James Weber Jr., the trio walked a delicate balancing act of amazement before succumbing to destruction. The band then picked up the pieces, put them back together, and proceeded to walk on water, again and again and again. As incredible as the recording is, it does not hold a candle to seeing IHC flesh out the songs in real time, and as if there is no tomorrow. Sandwiched in between opening and closing sets was The Jans Project. This was my first time seeing the group with their newer guitar player, and the two-guitar attack going on between them was chaotic beauty. The spoke their own language, sometimes together, sometimes against each other. It was a loud, melodic knot of electronic sounds that washed over my brain like a cool balm bringing calm to my over-warped mind. All the while, Steve Scariano and Jeffrey Evans held down the rhythm section with an instinctive mastery they only possess. Cave States opened the night. They were so damn smooth, my eyes glazed. I swear, they would slowly start a number kind of haggard, but when the whole band slipped in, you’d think you’d just hopped on a speed rail heading west with nothing but the wind under your feet. A great night.
November 25, The Firebird: Quief Quota
In the mid-aughts there was a beacon, a guiding light on South Grand known as Quief Quota. This amazing band put out two fabulous CDs that still sound fresh today and I was overjoyed (yes, overjoyed) when I found out about the reunion show they had planned for late this year. I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect, but the evening unfolded without a hitch. First up was the always enigmatic Eric Hall. As everyone knows, Eric has been performing his musical abstractions for well over a decade now and I’ve personally watched him morph from mounds of equipment and wires to just simply a computer and a few modulations at his disposal. He started off the night with some lovely fuzz and crackles that surprisingly brought in some bass and kept the bottom in place. The set was a perfect palate cleanser, setting everyone right for what was to come. Next came a newer band with which I was previously unfamiliar, Sugar Rags. Fronted by a flannel wearing, punked-out woman named Taylor, the band screeched its way into our hearts and helped keep the cheap booze flowing. Zak Marmalefsky came out right before QQ and was a the perfect primer, what with his electric piano and crooning vocals skewing ever so slightly. Finally, Quief Quota returned to their fans — and oh their fans were there — ready to sing and dance. They started off a little half strung, but by the middle of the first tune, they were getting as funky. “WHIPS, CHAINS and MONKEY BRAINS!!” we all scream-singed in a drunken blue light swirl of ecstasy. I had honestly forgotten how many songs I knew of theirs and how much I loved every one one of them. After each song, QQ would all switch instruments and we’d all climb onto the crazy roller coaster again. It was a carnival ride of highs and lows that never seemed to end. I can only hope Quief Quota does another one of these shows in the not-so-distanct future. One of the truly great St. Louis bands, ever.
May 27, The Pageant: St Vincent
It’s weird that this ended up as my favorite show of the year despite only being in the venue for the three songs I was able to shoot it. Probably my most anticipated concert of the year and Ms. Clark killed it.
May 4, Vintage Vinyl: Tweedy
I probably still don’t fully comprehend how big of a deal that was to have them play a private show at Vintage Vinyl, but was grateful to have been there.
October 24, Vintage Vinyl: Foxing
All the national buzz surrounding their second album really built up this in-store and it was great to see the record store packed with fans and friends ready to send off the band on their most recent tour.
Concert I most regret missing: Sleater-Kinney at The Pageant
[each list in chronological order]
Top 3 Shows I Never Thought I’d See:
February 17 in Louisville, KY, March 27 in St. Louis, & March 28, Kansas City – Fleetwood Mac (with Christine McVie!)
July 31, Ryman Auditorium (Nashville) – Dolly Parton
October 25, Scottrade Center – Stevie Wonder
Top 3 Double Bill Shows:
March 20, U.S. Cellular Coliseum (Bloomington, IL) – Heart & Joan Jett
April 3, Vic Theatre (Chicago) – Father John Misty & King Tuff
September 8, The Pageant – Motorhead & Saxon
Top 3 Instore Performances at Vintage Vinyl:
May 4 – Tweedy
June 15 – Le Butcherettes
September 29 – Calexico
Top 3 Shows (70 & Up Division):
May 15, Starlight Amphitheater (Kansas City) – Willie Nelson, opening for Beck
June 27, Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City) – Rolling Stones
July 7, Fox Theatre – John Fogerty
Top 3 Shows (Americana/Country):
February 3, Old Rock House – Sturgill Simpson
September 24, Ryman Auditorium (Nashville) – Kacey Musgraves
November 5, The Pageant – The Mavericks
Top 3 Shows (40 & Up Division):
June 3, The Scene (Kansas City) & June 9, Beachland Ballroom (Cleveland) – Girlschool
August 27,The Firebird – Babes In Toyland
October 30,The Firebird – Acid King
July 15, The Firebird: Sage Francis
Sage Francis took the Firebird stage with a no-frills set up that would only add to the genuine feel of his performance. I was hypnotized from his first line on. Lyrics varied around topics such as politics and love vs. lust, but my favorite moments in his songs were about the day-to-day, seemingly mundane details of life. He rapped about spending months in isolation at home, debating whether the trouble of cooking for one is worth the hassle, and about the panic and worry of taking his sick cat to the vet. In “The Best of Times”, SF took us through anxiety-ridden experiences from his childhood, ending with the reassuring line: “…when you think you’ve got it all figured out and everything collapses, trust me kid, it’s not the end of the world.” Then he walked into the crowd and gave every single one of us a hug.
August 9, Old Rock House: Rasputina
There’s no other band quite like Rasputina. Melora Creager is a delightfully quirky genius/badass. I was thrilled to see that they were touring again, and the Old Rock House was acoustically a great venue to host them. Along with their standard two cello setup, they performed with a keyboardist/percussionist who created the beats to each song live by using a looping pedal to layer beatboxing along with simple percussive instruments. The band sounded full and dynamic. It was raining pretty heavily outside, creating this cozy vibe that was only briefly broken when an audience member yelled out a song request. Melora looked out into the crowd, simply said nope, and continued on. Badass.
May 27, The Pageant: St. Vincent
I’m embarrassed to say that this was my first time seeing St. Vincent. I’d spent the past few years being annoyed with myself for missing the opportunity to see her at more intimate venues (The Firebird in 2009 and The Old Rock House in 2011), and when I found out she was coming to town with the Black Keys in 2014, I just couldn’t get excited about sitting in the nosebleed section of Scottrade. Her Pageant show ended up being, hands down, my favorite show of the year, and well worth the years of waiting. She tore through her set, roughly handling her guitar and moving around like she was being controlled by an other-worldly force. Songs from the record that I hadn’t completely loved suddenly made total sense, and songs I’d already loved seemed to explode. Standouts included “Severed Crossed Fingers” and “Strange Mercy”, but really everything was extraordinary.
January 16, The Ready Room: Twin Forks
Twin Forks is the new project from former Dashboard Confessional and Further Seems Forever frontman, Chris Carrabba. With that in mind, Twin Forks sounds nothing like these bands. This band takes that folky, rootsy, stomp-clap-HEY! sound that already has kind of run its course and breathes new, original life into it. Every single song on their self-titled debut is single-worthy. I caught the band supporting Jukebox The Ghost at The Ready Room on January 16 and they easily stole the show. Carrabba, at 40 years old, commands the audience and has an anecdote for almost every song. The songs from their album take on new life in the live setting with more opportunity for crowd participation and drummer Shawn Zorn taking some liberties with his parts. The band commanded attention whilst on stage and once the set was over, took to the merch booth to shake hands and sign autographs. A big highlight of the night was near the end of the evening when a young boy, in attendance with his parents, told Chris that he had wanted to hear Dashboard’s classic, “Hands Down” (which was absent from the set that night). Carrabba grabbed an acoustic guitar and belted it out at the merch booth with a crowd of about 50 all huddled around singing at the top of their lungs.
January 27, The Demo: Saint Motel
I discovered Saint Motel when they opened for Arctic Monkeys at The Pageant in February of 2014. I had never seen an audience respond to an opening act with such vigor the way they did with Saint Motel, and once you see them live, you’ll understand. On January 27th, they returned to STL for the first time since their Arctic Monkeys gig. The Demo, filled with roughly 120 people, was one big dance party from the second the band took the stage. Saint Motel has a great indie rock sound mixed with keys and horns to give a certain calypso, almost island-y, undertone. The 6-piece band crammed on to the small stage at The Demo and railed out a high-energy, upbeat set that was nothing short of perfection. Not one person was standing still in that venue that night.
October 30, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra: Back To The Future
Does this count as a concert or a movie? Both! The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra handled the task of performing the score for Back To The Future while the movie played on the big screen above the orchestra, and let me tell you, they NAILED it! The evening started off on a fun note as fans filed past the Delorean parked outside, into Powell Symphony Hall dressed mostly in normal attire, but some super-fans came decked out in full costume as Marty McFly and Doc Brown, receiving smiles, laughter and high-fives from other patrons. To the audience’s surprise, BTTF co-writer and U. City native, Bob Gale came out to open the evening with a quick hello and a few anecdotes about how he came to write the film. Once the movie started, there was a nostalgic excitement in the air and the SLSO absolutely blew everyone’s socks off. There were many points during the evening where I had to remind myself that there was a live orchestra playing and that the music wasn’t coming from the movie itself. I was torn on whether to focus on the film or the world-class musicians on stage. The evening wrapped with two standing-ovations from the audience and excited chatter and discussion from all who attended. If you’re looking for a reason to go to the symphony, find one of these movie nights and get to Powell!
1. February 14, Off Broadway: Cory Chisel & Langhorne Slim
Two of my favorite songwriters, solo and acoustic at Off Broadway. It was Valentine’s Day and they rented a red convertible and drove up from Nashville together and played a killer set with each other and separately. Both are incredibly dynamic artists and it was a rare event to see them together, solo. So much charisma and depth. Special, special night!
2. July 2, Frontier Park in St. Charles: The Bottle Rockets
This one was special to me because it was the first rock and roll show that my wife and I took our son to. The Bottle Rockets are one of the best rock bands out there and it was special to see them so close to our home with my family for the first time. They played a great set and it sounded terrific outdoors.
3. September 13, LouFest: The Avett Brothers
My wife and I love this band so much that we named our son Avett. It was the most beautiful day of the year, and it seems like every year Loufest is run so well. Such a nice event. So, it was great seeing the Avett Brothers on such a weather and location-perfect day. AB played a great set list, and we will remember this one for a long, long time.
1. September 11-13, Douglas Park (Chicago): Riot Fest
From the beginning of the weekend through the last show on Sunday, Riot Fest won me over yet again. Each year that I go is consistently the most fun weekend of music I see all year. It’s a marathon for 3 days. From Friday morning through late Sunday night, everything outside of Riot Fest dissipates and the only thing that matters is live music (and tasty food). The redesigned layout in their new home in Douglas Park made the fest much more traversable than before, which meant less time wandering from stage to stage and more time watching bands put their hearts on the line.
One of my favorite moments was watching St. Louis’ Foxing throw it down in front of a large crowd on Sunday. This crew knows what they’re doing, and it’s exciting to watch them gain more and more traction around the country.
My favorite sets were Alexisonfire, American Nightmare, Direct Hit!, Fidlar, Knuckle Puck, Thrice, The Movielife, Foxing, Against Me!, Mariachi El Bronx, and Alvvays. Even without seeing the lineup for 2016, I know I’ll be back.
2. November 24, The Firebird: Modern Baseball, PUP, Jeff Rosenstock, & Tiny Moving Parts
The atmosphere for this whole show was something else. As everyone packed into the sold out room, the excitement began to grow, and you could feel the room more and more as the night went on. Songs were sung, pits were moshed, laughs were had, covers were played, guitars were shredded, voices were lost.
3. October 26, The Ready Room: Deafheaven
The visceral energy that Deafheaven brings to the table every night is infectious. After releasing one of my favorite records of the year, New Bermuda, Deafheaven brought a very passionate crowd together. There’s something special about watching this band do their thing. As loud and as rowdy as it gets, you always come out feeling refreshed. And isn’t that what we’re all seeking in a live show?
Top 3 Not-in-STL Shows (Rock/Pop/Americana, etc):
1. July 31, Ryman Auditorium (Nashville) – Dolly Parton
Dolly has been on my bucket list for years, and seeing her at the Ryman, my very favorite venue, was a dream.
2. November 11, Ryman Auditorium – Sufjan Stevens
I had lucked into amazing seats and it was part of a whole trip with my very sweet mom. We both cried at different points during the show.
3. April 3, The Vic (Chicago) – Father John Misty
This was my first time seeing Father John Misty this year, and while I was excited, his performance blew my mind and set off a rabid fandom for me this year, kind of in spite of my self.
Top 3 STL Shows (Rock/Pop/Americana):
1. November 5, The Pageant – Mavericks
I loved the Mavericks when I saw them last year at the Pageant, and this year they returned on my birthday. I got so excited and danced so much I repeatedly ran into a friend’s poor wife and had people come up to me for days saying that they had seen me having a great time. They are just so great!.
2. May 28, Fox Theatre – Father John Misty
I got to see Father John Misty 4 times this year, and while this set was the shortest since he opened for Alabama Shakes, it was excellent.
3. March 27, Scottrade Center – Fleetwood Mac
I love Christine McVie, so her reunion with the band put this over the top for me.
Top 3 “Biggest Surprise” Shows:
1. July 7, Fox Theatre – John Fogerty
I had never really been that into CCR, but my husband Jim insisted that this was a must see. I loved it!
2. December 6, The Ready Room – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
I had heard Nathaniel Rateliff’s earlier albums because they’d been recommended to me based on my love of The Staves. I’d passed on seeing him every time he came to town though because I was always too tired/had been out too much that week/wasn’t in the mood for sleepier music. I always reasoned that he’d be back and it wouldn’t sell out. Boy was I wrong on the latter. It ended up being one of the best shows of the year for me and made me love his latest album even more.
3. February 3, Old Rock House – Sturgill Simpson
I had heard he was great live, but it was even better than I expected.
Top 3 Classical/Opera/Musicals Shows:
1. September 15, Lucca, Italy – Le Donne di Puccini (Alessandra Rossi, Riccardo Buoncristiani, Diego Fiorini) at the Pucchini e la sua Lucca Festival.
Lucca is the birthplace of the opera composer Giancomo Puccini, and they have a festival of daily evening concerts in a gorgeous old church that is also an archaeological site with prior churches being seen through holes in the floor. Our program featured arias by the women of Puccini. The music was gorgeous, the singers were tremendous, and the sound in the church was incredible. This was one of the highlights of my year.
2. June 28, Opera Theater St. Louis (Loretto Hilton Theater – La Rondine (Puccini)
I saw this show twice, with the latter time being because I wanted to hear “Bevo al tu fresco sorriso” live a second time. I was gifted a front row center seat by a very generous woman and got goose bumps over and over. The opera festival is always a huge highlight of my year and this show was a huge hit with me.
3. October 23, Third Baptist Church – Brent Johnson recital
Brent is one of my best friends, but he also happens to be a tremendous organist. As part of Third Baptist’s Friday Pipes series, he played a recital for a half hour during lunch time, which was delightful and impressive.
Top 3 “Honorable Mention” Shows:
1. September 24, Ryman Auditorium – Kacey Musgraves
We were out of town when Kacey played the Pageant, so we went to see her in Nashville. I love her new album and it was wonderful to hear the new songs live.
2. May 27, Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City) – The Rolling Stones
I really enjoy the Rolling Stones and it was a great time seeing them with my parents (the people that introduced me to them) and Jim (the biggest fan I know).
3. May 4, The Pageant – Wilco
Wilco is always great, and this was no exception.
1) May 3, The Demo: Wolf Alice
Wolf Alice have developed a bit of a buzz in their native England for their shoegazery sound, which falls somewhere between Lush and Velocity GIrl, with occasional forays into Sonic Youth-style breakdowns or shouted choruses. This was their first American tour, and they were clearly thrilled to be here despite the light turnout.
2) June 18, Uptown Theater (Kansas City): Belle & Sebastian with Courtney Barnett
Belle & Sebastian always puts on a great show, and this was no exception. I was not sold on the more dancy stuff on Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, but this show sold me. What made this show a must, however, was the chance to see Courtney Barnett. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit was probably my favorite album this year. I’m not alone in that opinion given the way she’s dominated the music press’ Top 10 lists. She’s never played St. Louis, and this is the only show on Belle & Sebastian’s tour where she was the opener. Performing for an audience that knew her work, her songs were twice as powerful live as on record.
3) August 8, Foam: Frankie Cosmos, Girlpool, & Posture
A sold-out show as the summer started to fade. Posture played their last show before two-thirds of them scattered to college. Hopefully they’ll play again; any band savvy enough to cover Suburban Lawns’ “Janitor,” as they did on the Never Knows Best cassette, is bound to greater things. Girlpool’s neat trick is mixing minimal guitar/bass instrumentation with shouted vocals, like the Softies gone ‘90s emo. I liked them just fine, but the real revelation was how great Frankie Cosmos was. Performing songs from 2014’s Zentropy and as-yet-unreleased material, Greta and the Maine Brothers played a smart, off-kilter kind of indiepop. Songs slowed down, sped up and stopped at will, and Greta has a real ear for simple melody. Every single song was great, and the St. Louis audience was unusually responsive. Bonus: Dubb Nubb busking on Cherokee Street before the show.
Also: Scharpling and Wurster, Third Man Records (Nashville); Waxahatchee and Weyes Blood, Off Broadway; Dengue Fever and Whoa Thunder, The Firebird; Town Cars’ current three-guitar live lineup, The Firebird; Schwervon!, Foam.
October 3, Off Broadway: Cassie Morgan, Fog Lights, Beth Bombara, Sarah Jane & the Blue Notes, Ellen “the Felon” Cook at Off Broadway (Bobbing for Dogs: A Stray Rescue Benefit & Bob Dylan Tribute)
As concert-goers perused a silent auction and met new four-legged friends on the patio, five of St. Louis’ finest acts spent their Saturday night onstage in support of another local bulwark, Stray Rescue. The occasion shined a light on the music scene’s generosity – the bands and venue all donated their time and talents – and also offered a unique opportunity to hear their take on Mr. Dylan’s catalog. Ellen the Felon paused her spicy hors-d’oeuvre for a luscious “Lay Lady Lay”; Sarah Jane crooned a fresh reading (literally) of “My Back Pages”; and Beth Bombara sang a bluesy “Blind Willie McTell” like no one else can. Cassie Morgan’s own songwriting often echoes Dylan, making her a particularly special addition to the benefit, and Fog Lights’ closer, “Boots of Spanish Leather”, perfectly sealed the early autumn evening.
May 11, Fox Theatre: Bob Dylan
While St. Louis honored Dylan, Dylan honored Sinatra, reconnoitering the American Songbook with the sentimentality it once possessed. “I don’t see myself as covering these songs in any way,” Dylan told Rolling Stone. “They’ve been covered enough. Buried, as a matter a fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave.” It’s been a long while since Dylan’s singing has been described as pretty, but it was exactly that during his uncovering of Autumn Leaves and Stay with Me. The bard’s renewed elegance may finally put to rest the never-ending debate over whether his wolfman-grit was a put-on all along, but regardless, Bob was exactly as he’s always been that night at the Fox: different than you expected, and undefinably cool.
February 7, Lindenwood’s J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts – Bernadette Peters
Long considered the Sinatra of Sondheim, Bernadette Peters commanded the stage with her timeless pizzazz. Between a sizzling potpourri of showstoppers, which included a brothel-romp transformation of “There is Nothing Like a Dame” and a to-the-rafters delivery of “Send in the Clowns,” came the effervescent wit Peters sharpened with the likes of Woody Allen, Carol Burnett, and Mel Brooks. Bringing my highlight reel full-circle, Peters closed with “Kramer’s Song”, a tribute both to the annual abandoned-animal adoption event Peters founded with Mary Tyler Moore, as well as to Kramer himself, one of the three shelter dogs Peters herself adopted, and who passed on a few years ago. At the end of a night in which she channeled some of the theatre’s greatest characters from “Gypsy,” “Company,” and “Sweeney Todd,” Bernadette Peters brought the show home in the truest sense of the word.
For the first time I’m living away from the Saint Louis music scene, so my own bands’ shows have been fewer and farther between. My show-going is not a near-nightly occurrence anymore either. Nevertheless, I thought of over a dozen great shows I made it to this year despite some distance. Here are three favorites:
July 12, Wood House Concert: Mekons
I ran into two other frequent concert-goers Don Hollenbeck and Rick Wood at the Duck Room when Robbie Fulks was playing early this summer. That show gets an honorable mention but that night I found out that Rick would be hosting the Mekons at his house concert series the following month. Mekons have been one of my favorite bands in the years since I first heard them. The live show featured a full eight-piece line-up including Sally Timms and Jon Langford, two of the group’s rotating front-people with notable solo careers as well. Notable sidemen such as Lu Edmonds and Rico Bell also packed onto the ‘stage’ at the corner of the living room. They played two sets which spanned their thirty-plus years’ worth of recorded material. A rare opportunity that I’m glad I got to see and hear.
October 21, Lincoln Hall (Chicago): The Ex with Ken Vandermark
Another of my favorite bands over the last fifteen years performed close enough to St Louis. Another KDHX DJ, Bobee Sweet and I made the trip to Chicago for this one. I hadn’t seen The Ex since they replaced their long-time singer and lyric writer G.W. Sok but the band hasn’t lost their intensity at all. Like the Mekons, they also have a thirty-year back catalog behind them but The Ex played brand new material most of the night and nothing older than the last few years. Improvisational saxophone player Ken Vandermark joined the entire set and demonstrated the incredible flexibility of the band’s playing and collaborative music. Chirp radio has posted some live video of this show if you’re curious.
December 13, The Ready Room: Royal Thunder, opening for The Sword
A late entry bumped the third selection I had originally made. I’ve seen Royal Thunder three times now and on each occasion they’ve stolen the show from their headlining act (sorry guys). The band’s latest release is called Crooked Doors and it’s a good enough album. On my first listen I didn’t think it was quite as good as their previous one, but the live show is a different story. The band gets better each time I see them and songwriter Mlny Parsonz has a great voice for metal as well as the group’s more subdued material.
More Rakel here: http://themaydayorchestra.bandcamp.com/, http://kdhx.org/play/radio-shows/mystery-train
September 3, The Firebird: Cayetana
September 12, LouFest: Strand of Oaks
October 7, Off Broaway: Bully
As the years have passed, I don’t go to as many shows as I used to. Work and personal responsibilities take up more time and more priority than dark nights in half-empty clubs (as they should, at some point in our lives).
All this to say, as the outings become fewer, I’ve thought a lot about why even I go to shows. My conclusion is that music as a whole for me is both highly experiential and highly personal. I’ve seen previously unknown-to-me opening acts that have bowled me over, and many of those memories and songs have stuck with me more than the times that I’ve seen a sold-out show from a long-time favorite in a big theater. (That said, Wilco’s show at the Pageant this year narrowly missed this list.)
More than being the most amazing musical performances that I witnessed this year, these three shows illustrate this realization about my relationship with live music. Each is an act that I had a powerful first-time experience with, seeing them play their first show in St. Louis to a meager crowd. I bought their records from the merch table, went back to see them again and again, watched them mature as musicians and people, and in some cases, saw them finally begin to receive the attention I always felt they deserved.
With Bully and Strand of Oaks, those first experiences came in years prior, and I have missed only one St. Louis show from each band in the ensuing years. I’ve travelled hundreds of miles to see them play in other cities, and now they’re now playing to good crowds in St. Louis, and getting much-deserved love from fans and critics on a national level. Seeing them play in St. Louis this year was an affirmation of why going to shows is still important to me.
Cayetana played their first St. Louis show at the Firebird in September, and I went to hear them “sight unseen” based on a friend’s recommendation. They’re still at the beginning of their journey, and the next time they play here I hope that all 20 of the people that were at that show come back, and that they bring their friends. This is how we do it. This is how we support musicians that we believe in, that we know have the ability to provide experiences that elevate us and reenforce our relationship with music.
My advice to you in 2016: Don’t commit to seeing more shows than you did in 2015. Instead, understand what it is about these experiences that you love, and work to make each show fulfill those needs that much more. Go see a show by yourself. Go see a show based on an enthusiastic recommendation from a friend. Recommend your favorite new band to your friends. If you like a band, buy their records or merch from them after the show, especially if they were the opener, or if it’s clear that the ticket sales are barely going to cover gas to the next town. After all, you want them to come back, right?
3. July 31, Lollapalooza (Chicago): Paul McCartney
I had regretted wholeheartedly not purchasing tickets to see this guy in St. Louis last year, so when an opportunity came up to see him at Lollapalooza, I jumped at it.
The situation was less than ideal; in fact, my friend and I got split up right before Paul’s set, because he wanted another beer and needed to urinate. Also, it was clear that not everyone in the audience was truly there to see Sir Paul. But with the master lefty onstage gazing at the Chicago skyline during sunset, it wasn’t hard to get past whatever broski was trying to get in front of you, because you could tell Paul was having fun.
He blasted through dozens of greats spanning his entire career and even played a George song (a plaintive version of “Something” with a ukulele intro) and a John song (the expertly executed “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” — my personal highlight of the show).
After the show, I found my friend. We were both hungry, half-drunk, and tired, but we didn’t care. Paul reigns.
2. May 4, The Pageant and Vintage Vinyl: Wilco & Tweedy
As an employee of Vintage Vinyl, I was lucky enough to witness not only the Tweedy instore at Vintage Vinyl, but also the sound check. The store had won a promotional contest put on by Tweedy’s people, which awarded the store with the best window display an instore performance by Tweedy. Needless to say, Vintage’s display rocked, and we won. It was really cool to see Jeff Tweedy play with his son, in that intimate kind of setting. Glenn Kotche and John Stirratt were both there.
Later that day, Wilco played a sold out show at the Pageant. If I had to tally how many times I’ve seen Wilco, this one would be either 7 or 8. What’s so great about Wilco is that the last two concerts I’ve seen have been the BEST ONES (also LouFest 2013). I would attribute this to the fact that throughout Wilco’s first four albums, the band’s lineup fluctuated drastically. Since then, however, they’ve been gradually tightening up around core players Glenn Kotche (drums) and John Stirratt (bass).
My friend and I were able to slink into what was quite possibly the best spot to watch the show from, on one of the platforms eye-level to the stage. It was really quite magical, hearing the band perfect songs like “Jesus, Etc.” and “Handshake Drugs”; songs that are slowly becoming rock and roll standards.
Go see Wilco any chance you get. There’s nothing more to say.
1. April 25, Middle of the Map Fest (Kansas City): Peelander-Z, Peter Hook & The Light
When my band, iLLPHONiCS, was booked for the Middle of the Map Fest I had no idea how great of a time I would end up having that weekend. My Saturday night started by checking out the bassist of Joy Division, Peter Hook, and his band, The Light. I had anticipated a few Joy Division cuts, but in no way did I envision the performance of BOTH of their classic albums, in their ENTIRETY. I kept getting more and more satisfied as the next song came along. As a bit of an audio snob, I’ve always noticed the limitations in the sound of those Joy Division records, so to hear those songs played live through a modern PA system was a real revelation as to the pure power and emotion of those songs. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to experience the work of Joy Division: a once in a lifetime opportunity.
As if the night couldn’t get any better, we went to see Peelander-Z (a motley crew of Japanese “punks”) on pure recommendation alone. I hadn’t heard a note of their music beforehand, and it didn’t matter. Peelander-Z is something to witness in the flesh. It’s kind of hard to describe: thrilling, ecstatic, hilarious, and inviting. It was a multi-conceptual performance that had the audience riveted from start to finish. Whether it was the guitar player running through the audience or the background vocalist holding up signs (that displayed song titles like “Mad Tiger” and “So Many Mike”) and encouraging crowd participation. Peelander-Z is something that truly needs to be seen to be believe. It encapsulated everything that a public performance has the potential to be, interactive, high-energy, and FUN.
October 25, Scottrade Center: Stevie Wonder
FANTASTIC, AMAZING, MIND-BLOWING (but instantly disqualified from this list due to my positioning in, literally, the last row).
Not counting the surprise birthday show thrown for me by my awesome girlfriend…
1. May 27, The Pageant: St. Vincent
2. April 24, The Pageant: Sleater-Kinney
3. May 6, The Pageant: Kaiser Chiefs
4. September 25, Undercover Weekend at The Firebird: Karate Bikini with Brian McClelland as David Bowie
5. December 1, The Demo: Baroness
(It might be ranked higher if I was more familiar with their music.)
3. June 1, The Pageant: Tame Impala
This was my first time seeing Tame Impala and having been obsessed with their Lonerism record, I was very excited. At this point their record, Currents, was not released but there were a few singles out that I was very familiar with. I was waiting with a child-like glow in my eye before their set started. TI’s guitar techs came out on stage in white lab coats to soundcheck everything and for someone who’s really nerdy about guitar effects and such, that was hilarious. From the start of their set, I was blown away. Every note was perfect and Kevin Parker’s voice was great, with or without the vocal effects he’s known to use. While their stage presence left something to be desired, it was hard to notice with the very trippy visuals they had projected on them and the wall behind them. Which, depending on what drugs you were on, made for a great performance.
2. July 17, The Ready Room: Desaparecidos
This is a band I’d been waiting to see for such a long time. I was turned onto them when I was in junior high when I heard the song “Greater Omaha” in a skateboarding compilation video, for a company who’s name escapes me. So, being that it was the early days of online music piracy, I decided to browse Napster (or whatever software was the popular one at the time) to find this great song. To my surprise, there was a whole album (2002’s Read Music/Speak Spanish) of these songs! Unfortunately, after being mildly-obsessed with the band for a couple of months, I then found out that they were no longer making music together. That was the worst feeling. Fast forward about 12 years, I see that Desaparecidos has reunited and are putting out a new record called Payola. I had to be there. The show was everything I wanted it to be. The old songs sounded great and nostalgic. The new songs had that same raw energy and it seemed like they all genuinely were enjoying themselves on stage. Singing those words at the top my lungs with a few friends and a lot of strangers, was just a sweaty, smelly mess. I loved every second of it.
1. March 25, Marathon Music Works (Nashville): Father John Misty
This was about the easiest ranking I’ve done of anything in my life. I haven’t been enamored with an artist like this in a long time. Tillman’s songs are dark, catchy, self-loathing, and very cynical. This was my 2nd time seeing Tillman & co. I decided to drive down to Nashville with a few friends to see him because, although he was coming through STL later that spring, I thought I’d rather see him headline another show than pay for expensive tickets to see him open for a band that I’m not crazy about. They started up with the title track from the fantastic record, I Love You, Honeybear and FJM immediately had the audience in the palm of his hand. He’s such a showman and you can feel him putting everything he’s got into the performance. Behind the band hung his giant “No Photography” neon sign, which not everyone was abiding by. Having only two records out, Tillman and the band played every single song. While it didn’t leave me as breathless as seeing his sold-out show at the Firebird a few years ago, it was still fantastic and I’m happy that the band is getting to play bigger and bigger places. They deserve it.
1. July 19, Off Broadway: Humming House with The Good Deeds:
This show was just full of so much positive energy. Humming House puts on a really inspired and spirited live show, and the vibes the band gave off seemed to permeate the whole venue. People were (gasp!) dancing. It was awesome. It was also the first time I saw The Good Deeds (formerly Ian McGowan and the Good Deeds), who’ve become one of my favorite local bands. So many vocal harmonies the whole night. Impossible not to sing/clap along.
2. May 28, Fox Theatre: Alabama Shakes with Father John Misty
Still coming down from this one. A gorgeously presented show at a gorgeous venue. Brittany Howard is such a force of nature and she just keeps getting better. It’s hard to believe someone with that much soul and insightful songwriting is in their twenties. The band was tight, with sweet tones and vocal harmonies that could make you cry. Father John Misty’s opening set was really strong, too. He has an undeniable swagger to him and his dramatics really fit in well on the Fox stage.
3. February 14, Off Broadway: Cory Chisel and Langhorne Slim
Double troubadour bill! I had first seen Cory Chisel at the first LouFest back in 2010 and I had a feeling that wasn’t the last I’d see of him. He’s pretty much the ultimate serenader. Both him and Langhorne Slim were solo acoustic but the room was full of music and it really showcased the strength of both musicians’ songwriting.
September 13, Downtown STL: Murphy Lee at the Rams Pep Rally
Back in March I bought tickets to Murphy Lee play at the Ready Room, but he dropped off the show. I was left sad and thirsty for some Murph Derrty action. My prayers were answered later in the year when Mr. Lee was scheduled to play outside before the Rams season opener. I tagged along with my football-loving tailgate-having dude friends. I’d never seen a pro football game before, but I’d do anything for my future husband Murphy Lee. The actual game was whatever, but I did weirdly enjoy eating hummus in a parking lot– it was like my own anthropological study of North American sportsball rituals. Then things got even more fun when Murphy took the stage. Let me tell you, my boy took the microphone and he just immediately owned that stage and every person in the plaza. Even the (otherwise robotic) Rams cheerleaders seemed like they were into it. Murph’s delivery is top-notch and his flow is so delightfully familiar. The man is a pro and he always gives me the warm fuzzies.
August 27, The Firebird: Babes in Toyland
I was so worried that this show wouldn’t happen. I saw a Babes in Toyland show on Valentine’s Day Eve in London in 2001, but it was just Kat Bjelland with a backing band playing Babes songs. This tour was going to be the full original band. I was stoked. Just the thought of seeing Lori Barbero play in person was enough to make me nearly shake with excitement. I’d scored a bucket list interview with Bjelland [http://www.riverfronttimes.com/stlouis/rise-of-the-nemesisters/Content?oid=2983726] and my story was in the process of publishing when the band announced that original bassist Maureen Herman was going to be replaced on the tour. Our show in St. Louis would be the first show with new bassist Clara Salyer. My days before the show were spent chanting “Don’t cancel. Don’t cancel. Don’t cancel.” They didn’t. And they were amazing. Salyer killed it and the songs sounded so fantastic (and so magically true to album versions) that I felt like I was dreaming.
July 10, Off Broadway: Wild and Blue: A Tribute to Anne Tkach
It still doesn’t seem real that we lost Anne. Sometimes it just feels like I haven’t seen her in a while, but other days it hits hard out of nowhere. This musical memorial service really was the perfect tribute to Anne’s spirit. All of Anne’s bandmates, friends and comrades over the years showed up and the performers managed not only to play through the pain but to channel all of their grieving and turn it into something beautiful. Fred Friction, The Skekses, Sole Loan, Peck of Dirt, Ransom Note, The Good Griefs, Rough Shop, Magic City, Hazeldine, the dudes from Nadine: they were all heroes that night. The sight of Adam Hesed and Jason Hutto playing next to each other and literally leaning on each other for strength will never leave my memory. Friends are the family you choose. We all chose Anne.
Three Honorable Mentions:
May 4, The Ready Room: TV on the Radio at the Ready Room
November 25, The Firebird: Quief Quota
All date, Anywhere ever: The Humanoids
October 7, The Pageant: Father John Misty
After two sold-out shows at the Firebird on previous tours and an opening gig at the Fox warming the stage for the Alabama Shakes, Father John Misty finally got the cabaret show he deserved at his Pageant debut. Credit red velvet curtain or the shadow-enhancing light design, but Josh Tillman looked at times like he was leading a stage show instead of an indie rock concert. Theatricality has always been part and parcel of the FJM mystique, but when paired with the searing material from this years I Love You, Honeybear — like the pounding, relentlessly self-negating “The Ideal Husband” — the effect was wonderfully disorienting.
October 25, Scottrade Center: Stevie Wonder
You would think that there would be few surprises in a show designed to play through, in order, the magnificent Songs in the Key of Life double album. But what I loved about Stevie’s show — his first in STL in about 30 years — was how discursive and personal it was. A lesser act would plow through the setlist, but his diversions (an impassioned call for peace in our region at the show’s opening, a memorial for two grieving sons’ late mother before the epic “As”) elevated an already top-tier show. (Side question: does Nelly have a permanent dressing room at Scottrade just for “Hot in Herre” drop-ins? He did the same thing a month before at Taylor Swift’s show.)
July 10, Off Broadway: Wild & Blue: A Tribute to Anne Tkach
Lots has been said about the passing of Anne Tkach, who died far too young and far too shockingly this spring. But that doesn’t mean we should stop talking about her — her presence, spirit, musicality and grace. This tribute show, filled with bands she had played in, only underlined her contributions locally. But it was a performance of “Whiskey in the Jar” by her old bandmates in Hazeldine — joined by beloved STL expat Jason Hutto on guitar — that summoned the revelry and bond that live music can, at its best, make manifest.
THANKS, ST. LOUIS MUSIC FANS AND FRIENDS, FOR A GREAT 2015. WE’LL SEE YOU AT SOME MORE GREAT SHOWS THIS YEAR!
— Jess and the rest of IWTAS