(Disclaimer: I am an RFT writer who is covering some of these shows for the alt-weekly. However, I had nothing to do with the marketing or organization of this event. In fact, the marketing dept. may wish I was more biased after seeing my descriptions of some of the venues.)
Yes, it’s true, folks: St. Louis has a vibrant, original music community. We’re hardly Portland or Austin, but there’s been an exponential increase in local talent over these past few years, including an infrastructure of graphic designers, recording studios, loose-knit organizations, unique record stores and frequently-updated websites. The Riverfront Times Music Showcase isn’t necessarily the best way to get to know our indigenous local scene – some of the venues are inappropriate, and everyone’s so busy rushing around that there isn’t necessarily time to stop and chat. But for someone like me – who’s got work and familial obligations, but who would theoretically support this scene if only I had an easy way to get to know the local bands – it serves its purpose. Think of it as a compilation album rather than a lovingly handcrafted CD release.
I’ve been in St. Louis since 2003, but this was the first year I attended this all-day event. What follows is my quick recap of the bands I saw.
5:00 p.m: Dubb Nubb, Rue 13. A club with a tiny circular stage seemingly lifted from a strip bar. I’ve already expressed my admiration for Dubb Nubb in the previous post. They vaguely skirt the categories of “folk” and even “bluegrass,” with whoops and hollers to match. But it’s impossible to pick out any specific influences, which makes for an intriguing sound. Compared to their backyard show three days earlier, their Rue 13 performance was a little more self-conscious, but they made the most of it. The new songs still sounded great, and I was happy to hear “Pleasant Peninsula” from New Bones.
5:45 pm: Sleepy Kitty, RFT Outdoor Stage, 11th and Washington. It was a hot day – high about 97 degrees – but it had just started to cool down by the time I made it down to the RFT outdoor stage. Sleepy Kitty is one of the most promising new bands of the past couple of years, but this was my first time seeing them. They’re from Seattle and Affton respectively, but you won’t meet anyone who’s more enthusiastic about their adopted hometown. One of their new songs, for instance, is called “Riding With St. Louis.” As a fellow emigre, I believe that it sometimes takes an out-of-towner to see the potential of this city. Live, they’re much less twee than you’d expect from the name: drummer Evan Sult smacks his drums with Bonham-like power, and singer/guitarist Paige Brubeck alternates between power-chording and almost Frippertronic digital tricks. They went down well before a typically strange outdoor-free-festival crowd. I snuck into the VIP section and helped myself to the free sandwiches and bottled water.
7:00 pm: Cassie Morgan and the Lonely Pine, Copia Urban Winery. This is what I mean about “inappropriate” venues. Copia is an upscale winery. The moment we walked into the back room, we had menus thrust at us and were expected to order something. I didn’t like this kind of attitude at NYC’s Fez back in the ’90s and I still don’t. I ordered a cheap beer anyway and settled close to the stage to see this duo. “The Lonely Pine” is actually Beth Bombara, whom we’ll get back to later in this post. She plays a variety of instruments in this lineup, from maracas and floor tom to xylophone. At times she used a violin bow on her xylophone for a nice eerie sound. Meanwhile, Cassie Morgan plays heavily vibrato’d guitar and sings sad songs. The effect is somewhat like a David Lynch soundtrack, desolate and dirty. In the background, Cops played on TV. I pretended that Cassie and Beth were narrating desperate tales of petty criminals. Even amongst the din of restaurant patrons, it was an affecting performance.
8:15 pm: We’re Wolf, Flamingo Bowl. I had some time to kill, so I caught a few songs by local rapper Rockwell Knuckles before heading to the Flamingo Bowl. We’re Wolf and Dubb Nubb have played shows together, and it’s easy to hear the resemblance – both create somewhat twee, non-pro music that wouldn’t be out of place on K Records next to Mirah and Oklahoma Scramble. However, where DN incorporates odd humor and full-throated yelling into their performance, this duo comes across more like the Softies, much more introverted and shy. I only saw about half their set but was very impressed. I’d like to hear them stretch a little, though – most of the songs included unison vocals, and a few harmonies would round out what’s already an appealing sound. Looking forward to hearing them again.
8:40 pm: Morgan Nusbaum, Rosalita’s Cantina. I first met Morgan as the bassist of the 75s, one of the best bands to have come and gone in my time here. She’d been in bands before the 75s, and she’s continued with Bruiser Queen and solo material. Tonight she and BQ drummer Jason Potter rocked Rosalita’s patio, which was just beginning to swarm with typical Saturday night patrons. (Have I mentioned yet that Washington Ave. is a meat market on weekends?). At her best, Morgan comes across like a cross between Corin Tucker and Kristin Hersh, singing and screaming her way through vulnerable songs of hurt feelings with assertiveness and control. Good stuff.
9:30 pm: Beth Bombara, Lucas Park Grille. By now the meat market was fully open for business. I felt covered with a layer of grime after hours running around in hot weather and was beginning to feel the effects of almost no food all afternoon. (I’d long sweated out the two beers I drank.) Beth is truly one of the city’s hardest-working musicians, balancing two active band projects with recording and performing commitments. I’d seen her band at a KDHX-sponsored Alex Chilton tribute night, but this was the first time I’d seen their original set. I liked it a lot. Performing with a bassist, drummer and a pedal-steel player, she reminded me a lot of Brooklyn singer/songwriter Jennifer O’Connor, combining elements of blues, country and folk for an upbeat sound that ultimately transcends such pat classifications.
10:45 pm: Doom Town, Side Bar. I’d been looking forward to them most of all. Doom Town is probably the only band in STL history to cover Young Marble Giants (“Final Day,” I think), plus bassist Ashley Hohman runs a mixtape exchange and inducted the Welders into the collector-scum canon through her MRR interview. Live, they were exactly what I needed to revive my tired self. Picture the Wipers, Husker Du and early L.A. punk pureed in a blender, with male-female vocals that were part X, part domestic quarrel. The guitarist looks and sounds like he could have been in Jawbox circa ’91; the drummer could give any Black Flag timekeeper a run for his money with his powerful beats and fills. They played 13 songs in 25 minutes, including an amped-up cover of Dramarama’s “Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You),”; it was over just as I’d gotten a handle on things. I thought of seeing Bunnygrunt afterward, but was literally ready to pass out, so just wove past the many drunken revelers now crowding Washington, found my car and went home.
As I steered home, it occurred to me how draining it was to run from venue to venue. I always whine about SXSW when I see friends’ posts and tweets from the Austin fest, but if I was this exhausted after five hours, how could I possibly be expected to keep it up at SXSW for several days? By day #3, I’d probably be ordering in breakfast tacos and watching movies on demand. All the same, I’ll probably go to next year’s RFT Music Showcase – as a local-band crash course, it can’t be beat.