Wildey Theatre hosts varied local acts shedding spotlight on original music scene [Live Review]
New ventures always present a challenge at the beginning, yet the newly renovated Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville hosted five local music groups with various styles on Saturday night with relative ease.
Upon arrival at the theatre, walking up North Main Street, visitors will notice the lighted marquee makes a big impression. Stairstep letters spell out the theatre's nom de plume just above the event advertising space. Neon light tubes ring the edges, while light bulbs line the underside of the marquee brightly illuminating the sidewalk.
Entering the front doors into the lobby theatre patrons are greeted with memorabilia, old photographs and posters from years past and a schedule for future events. Though not a true historical restoration, but more of an 21st-century update, the beautiful 102-year-old theatre allows for a warm experience even though some of the historical charm may have been brushed away. For instance, the lobby features easy access to the completely renovated bathrooms that feature new tile, sinks and faucets for a very clean and inviting look. Thankfully on this particular stifling evening, the air conditioning blew cold for a comfortable experience away from the recent spell of brutally hot weather in the St. Louis region.
The friendly staff greeted me warmly at the concession stand where I purchased my ticket for the show (though it was possible to purchase online too) and I made my way into the theatre's main space. Inside, the seating area is divided into two areas - floor and balcony. Both areas offer brand new movie theatre style seats with comfortable cushions and black plastic arm rests with cup holders.
One of the bonuses of the theatre is the Encore Wine Bar attached to the theatre and accessible from both the lobby and the street. The bar has a nice selection of speciality beers and domestics as well as a nice wine list. The bar is small, yet warm and inviting with dark woods that still gave off a new smell. Very little decoration covered the walls, but a nod to the building's past perched high on its own spot - an old movie camera from the projection booth. The best part is that they allow you to take the drinks into the theatre, albeit in a plastic cup, but I appreciated that ability greatly.
Settling into my seat near the rear of the auditorium, I realized I had missed the majority of the set by the Vanilla Beans, arriving just as they finished their last song. Next up on the evening's schedule was an acoustic set performed by Robin Bettonville Hileman of Rock Hill Academy. Seated toward the front of the deep stage, Hileman showcased several of her original songs on acoustic guitar. Her slow tempo folk songs mostly dealt with the positive or negative aspects of love and relationships. Demonstrating a professional demeanor on stage as she advised the audience of each song title and her inspiration for writing the piece. Her guitar playing was light and airy and the lyrics poetic.
As first full band of the evening, Belleview took the middle slot and got the rock portion of the evening rolling just after 9 p.m. The quintet based in Edwardsville displayed their concept influenced songs from their recent album, Fountains, based on themes from the Battlestar Galactica series. The band showcased their well-developed three-part harmonies nicely, but sacrificed overall instrument volume to achieve the mix. Therefore, the band seemed quiet and hearing the guitars of Brennan Stamps and Jamal McLaughlin was difficult especially the solos. Though it was easier to hear the drums of Justin McLaughlin and bass of Josh Steinmann, the set lacked some punch due the volume limitation. Choosing not to force the sound issue the band took the high road and performed well.
Explosive Space Modulator, a rock trio from Edwardsville followed after a quick changeover. The group turned up their amps a bit, but the vocals didn't rise above the mix getting lost in the music. A few songs in vocalist/Guitarist Shae Hileman admitted, "I didn't know what to expect after the first couple of acts. I hope you're enjoying it." To which the crowd applauded that indeed they did. During this set I made my way upstairs to the balcony to check out the sight lines from the upper reaches of the venue. I'm happy to report there is not a bad seat in the house even in the back row.
For those not old enough to know the band's name refers to the atomic age '50s Warner Bros. cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny and Marvin the Martian always trying to blow up the Earth with his "Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator" device. The music displayed some of those spacey elements as Hileman's guitar tone thickly crunched through his half stack and effects applied to the bass guitar gave the instrument more than just an anchoring bottom end. The band was tight because they could hear their instruments though unfortunately sacrificed vocals for the cause.
The evening ended with a performance from St. Louis based group the Highway Companion. Playing a mix of covers by Lucero, Drive-By Truckers and Bruce Springsteen with their original music from their recent album, the band demonstrated their Americana/Country rock sound perfectly. Opening appropriately with the Lucero song "Across the River," vocalist/guitarist Patrick Baum advised that the band was "Trying to play as much country stuff as we know. We didn't want to blow the roof off the place." Brothers Josh and Jake Delaloye held down the rhythm section as Adam Barr added keys. At one point Barr had to unplug and go direct to be heard at all.
One suggestion for the venue for future concerts must be mentioned. Running the sound through the speakers made for movies is not compatible for live music. While the monitors on stage were fine for the performers to hear themselves, the audience needs to be presented with sound via a stack of speakers on each side of the stage pushing sound from the front rather than the small speakers attached to the walls.
More than one performer remarked about how the room felt tomblike during parts of the evening, but the crowd was very quiet and kept conversations to a minimum most of the night. The experience may have been brought together better by the use of a true Master of Ceremonies, but McLaughlin pulled off the duties as event organizer competently as he made sure to thank everyone for taking the chance to take part in the event.
The set lists for all performers are listed below. Unless noted all songs are the original music of the performer.
Robin Bettonville Hileman set list
Meant to Be
Far and Free
Belleview set list
We Have Arrived
Eye in the Sky (Alan Parsons Project cover)
Strange to Think of It
Exogenesis (Life Here)
The World In View
Explosive Space Modulator set list
The Destroying Angel
Don't Know Yet
Is What It Is
Lunar Tide Cycle
Mountain of Maybes
Myself and Me (Judge Nothing cover)
The Highway Companion set list
Across the River (Lucero cover)
Greedy (brand new song)
Outfit (Drive By Truckers cover)
Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Make Me Work (album track)
? (album track) abandoned due to sound issues
Tears Don't Matter Much (Lucero cover)
- Foot In The Door - Support Local Music at the Wildey Theatre [Preview] (3minuterecord.wordpress.com)