RFT Music Showcase demonstrates strong St. Louis Music Scene
After moving their offices in the 1990's from the Shell Building downtown to the University City Loop the Riverfront Times also moved their celebration of the St. Louis music scene to Delmar. However, the venue changed last year back to the paper's old stomping grounds near Washington Avenue. Change is good as getting another vibrant part of town into the mix is better for the city. While both U-City and Wash Ave. have both had resurgences in the past 10-15 years, the St. Louis music scene has flourished under the current D.I.Y. work ethic of bands wanting to get their music heard yet staying realistic in the scope. Such is the nature of the music industry in the 2010's.
As someone with an eager ear to the local music scene, I was lucky enough to be contacted by Entertainment St. Louis to play the role of stage manager for the RFT Music Showcase and help facilitate the bands getting in an out of a venue on a busy Saturday night. Charged with running The Side Bar (1317 Washington Avenue) scheduled for a rock lineup I eagerly jumped at the chance to see some great local bands, make some more contacts around town, drink some beer and have some fun. Since I didn't get to jump around up and down Washington Ave., here's my recap from my night.
Opening the night at 7 p.m. The Conformists hit the stage with their angular indie/post punk rock. Formed over 10 years ago, the band, fronted by vocalist Mike Benker, played a performance art type set of songs to a small audience up front. About 15-20 people came to see the band as things hadn't quite hit yet at such an early hour of the evening. The quartet of singer, guitar, bass, and drums typically play small venues around town that cater to the indie rock contingent. The band had a dry wit on stage and the gig seemed almost like a rehearsal at times. The Conformists recorded their last couple of albums with the legendary producer/performer Steve Albini (Big Black, Shellac) and sponsored a Shellac date at the Collinsville VFW Hall a few years ago attended by all of the contributors here at 3 Minute Record. I bought a vinyl copy of their latest album so I'll try to work in a review soon.
By 8:15 when The Blind Eyes took the stage the bar was full and teeming to hear the band play songs from their new record "With A Bang, "which is scheduled for a Saturday, June 11 release party at Off Broadway. The trio played an upbeat set of their original power pop/rock songs gaining energy from the room. Riding high from the local acolades and buzz about their music, the band seems poised to take things to the next level, but that would likely mean less chances for St. Louis to see them live and more for other cities. Their set featured rich harmonies from vocalist/guitarist Seth Porter and bassist/vocalist Kevin Schneider and solid beats from drummer Matt Picker. I have a feeling their show this Saturday will be well attended and a lot of fun. A review of their new album is coming as soon as I receive my copy from the band.
Hailing from South City, LucaBrasi, a group of regulars from the scene forming about 4 years ago, took the stage right on time for their 9:30 slot. Even though the band had, by far, the most gear of any act at the bar all night, but with their years of experience the band took this in stride making things run smoothly logistically. Their mix of rock and hard rock was well received by their fans who came out, but unfortuately much of the audience for the Blind Eyes had moved on by this point. With two albums of original songs under their belt, this veteran quintet of vocals, guitar, bass, drums and keys provides a full rock sound with each member taking his place in the mix. Though I expected a harder sound going in, LucaBrasi quickly set me straight and I enjoyed the sound completely.
As the LucaBrasi set rolled on, the bar started to fill with a normal Saturday night Washington Ave. crowd. This typical patrons including local residents and bachelorette parties moved through in tight dresses, tanned orange skin and heels, mixing with music loving twenty something's typically used to hanging on the South side. As a sidenote, in between sets all night the house played rock/alternative hits from the 1990's like a radio station that might hit the dial in the next five years.
Next, St. Louis trio, Doom Town were on the schedule for the 10:45 slot at the Side Bar. The group, playing a style reminiscent of the early Minneapolis punk rock scene and even dishing out a cover of the Replacements classic "I Will Follow," gave a high energy set for the smallish audience of Cherokee Street regulars there to catch the performance. This is a D.I.Y. type group releasing music on cassette, booking shows and writing 'zines as part of a strong movement in South City to create their niche in the music scene. Ashley Hohman, on bass and vocals, was without Ben Smith so a member of the Humanoids filled in seamlessly.
The final act of the evening were the punk rock quartet, The Haddonfields. Running a little early at this point, the band went on a little before the schedule midnight playing their hearts out to adoring fans. Their label, I Hate Punk Rock Records, allows free downloads so check them out for yourself. Nearing the end of the set the band brought out a milk crate filled with cans of silly string prompting fans to throughly cover the band, the stage and themselves making for a funny and fitting end to the night.
With my shift over at approximately 12:30, I ended my evening meeting some new friends at LOLA to catch Fresh Air play their 1:15 a.m. slot to close the night. This sextet incorporates soul, funk and hip hop into an infectious groove that gets anybody shaking their ass. Built around a guitar player with soul that can solo effortlessly, a drummer that sings and lays down a great beat, and a horn section of sax and a trumpet player who stylizes, the band adds keys and percussion to fill out the sound. A good soul style bass guitar player would fill out the bottom, but a slap player would overwhelm and the vibe would get lost. Normally, not something I would have picked off a list I can unequivocally say that they made the night! I will make it a point to see these guys groove again very soon.
Overall, the evening at the Side Bar went quite smoothly as each of the five bands were helpful wanting to get in and out of the venue easily and in a timely fashion. A quick, yet manageable 30-minute turnaround eased the strain of getting bands on and off stage, but ran the schedule into the wee hours. These musicians like music more than most as they take the time to home their craft and get up and play for an audience. But they also like to see other bands perform and not get bogged down by a bad experience trying to play their music.