Top Five: Shows of 2017

I went to a shit ton of shows last year.  Because I’m a soon-to-be-graduated graduate student with teaching and course pressure, I unfortunately lacked the drive and, well, simple energy to write out reviews.  The passion just wasn’t there.  I got…myself to feed, damnit!  Now it’s back. So, sorry, but not sorry.

Okay, time for a more coherent lead.  I attended and indulged mostly metal shows last year with the exception of Loufest (a trust fund Coachella clone) a couple indie rock/electronic shows, a post-punk show — speaking of which, we probably should’ve warned Ian McCulloch of notorious, trash smelling St. Louis summers — and started off 2018 with the radical punk extravaganza, Propogandhi.  Fuck the border!

Have a taste of my experiences and enjoy your vicarious skimming because here is a list of my top five shows (in no specific order). Oh, and disclaimer — I guess — I’m employing full bias, because people apparently care about that shit.

Gojira

These guys tour.  A lot.  I saw them twice last year, once at Indianapolis’ Egyptian Room with Opeth and the Devin Townsend Project, the second at Pops, supported by Code Orange (meh) and Torche (cool stoner dudes).  Unfortunately, I was unable to jump into the Indy pit.  Not to mention I was the only person headbanging.  That was just a generally unfortunate experience (I’ll get into why during the Devin Townsend Project fanboysturbation).  The Pops show, on the other hand…Let’s just say my ankle still pops and I still find sticky shit in random places.  Yeah, Pops is gross, but perfect for an explosive metal atmosphere.  Wall of Death, circle pit, St. Louis had it going!  What a show.  What an experience.   Also, the post-Code Orange karate was kept to a minimum.  St. Louis metalheads, I salute you.

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Find me this shirt in an XXL.  I need it.  Also, go to a Havok show.

Gorguts

This was my first show at Fubar STL and it certainly won’t be the last.  The beer is cheap, the stage close and intimate, if a little sticky (apparently that’s a trend in St. Louis). If you attend a Fubar show, pay the ten bucks for parking in the lot across the street. The, um, guard(?) is a super nice and friendly guy who knows St. Louis, in and out, and will get you woke.  Back on topic.  The pit was brutal.  And I’ve been in a Slayer pit.  At 270 plus, I was thrown around like MDMA at an EDM festival.  +1,000 points for the analogy/acronym/alliteration combo.  Gorguts played an extensive set, including cuts from The Erosion of Sanity, the avant garde bomb, Obscura, before closing with a full rendition of the 30+ minute epic, Pleiades Dust.  Just…holy shit.  Luc Lemay is so fucking cool.  I’m just going to leave it at that.

Amon Amarth

What do you get when you mix viking-themed melodeath, booze, drinking horns, and…Colombia, Missouri?  Closure.  Wait…wha??  I look at this show as a kind of personal redemption.  My first experience with the bearded Swedes occurred during a particularly hectic semester of graduate school.  At some point, right before “Guardians of Asgard,” I decided to leave early to finish an essay.  Yeah.  The things I will do for an opportunity-spare Masters degree.  Life decision rant aside, let me just say that Amon Amarth live performances are the definition of tastefully excessive showmanship, complete with smoke, giant phallic hammers (yep, went there), fireworks, topping it all off with a horned-helmet drum platform design (pun intended).  Definitely one of the best live metal acts out there.  Raise your horns!

By the way, the Viking horned helmet is a myth.  Jus’ sayin.

 

Devin Townsend Project

As previously stated, I saw DTP twice last year.  I’m gonna rant a little on The Egyptian Room real quick.  To those who scheduled stage times, please start future shows at the scheduled time.  I drove five hours, almost got stuck overnight on the highway due to a horrendous semi/car wreck (yeah, I know, super inconvenienced. My condolences to those involved in the wreck), and showed up at the scheduled DTP showtime.  And, of course, I missed almost the entire show because DTP started almost an hour early.  So yeah, fuck that place.

Ahem, DTP at the Ready Room? Hell yeah.  If Amon Amarth are the masters of tasteful excess, Devin Townsend holds the PhD.  Fuck, I really need to tone down the academic puns.  If I were to summarize the show in two songs, I’d have to say, “Deadhead” and “March of the Poozers.”  “Deadhead” put the crowd into a meditative, emotional trance, while “March of the Poozers” brought out laughter and smiles; that, my friends, is all you need to know.  At one point you will cry, the next roll your eyes as the  comedian/metalhead/singer/guitar virtuoso moves through his extensive, non-genre specific discography.  What else can you expect from the guy who shat in Steve Vai’s guitar case? I guess you could call him…

*puts on glasses

**pauses

…a shit show.

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Explosions in the Sky

There’s something about this band’s sound that stands out from the typical quiet intro –> loud climax postrock standard.  No lyrics.  Completely instrumental.  That’s pretty typical, is it not? But, unlike, let’s say Mogwai or Canadian anarchists, Godspeed You! Black Emperor — who have their groundbreaking postrock foundations, don’t get me wrong — Explosions in the Sky is somewhat accessible.  And by accessible, I mean instantaneously engaging.  I’m not discrediting Godspeed, but ya gotta be in a specific, fuck the world mood to listen to them, ya know?

During their St. Louis stop at the Pageant, Explosions in the Sky thrust listeners through waves of emotive passages, accented and emoted through an impressive light show and charismatic-but-silent stage presence.  Okay, you know what? Stop here.  Go to Youtube.  Type in “Your Hand In Mine.” Now, imagine that shit being played in a concert hall, while you enjoy a couple drinks.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Return of the Gangsta, Thanksta…The Gorge, Seven)Suns and Cleric (Live Review)

After an extended break due to graduate school, teaching and writing academic things (woo!), I have decided to return to the game…of unpaid, thankless blogging.  Such competition.  Much fun.  Okay, bad meme and misconstrued references aside, I’m glad to be back.  These past couple years have been filled with concerts and various musical adventures, so strap in! It’s going to be…a ride.

Skateboarder

Because apparently we’re about to go punk.  And that means skateboarding images! Because I’m one of those “damn millennials.”

I’m going to call these past couple years, at least from my super relevant perspective, the United States era of sludgy, grimy and depressing as shit doom, funeral doom, and stoner metal.  Pallbearer, Bell Witch (Mirror Reaper is album of the decade, change my mind), Mastodon, Sleep (new tour!) and all those masturbatory Black Sabbath startups…each have pulled, or continue to pull, the boundaries of metaldom back to its slow, riff driven blues and stoner roots.  Specifically, in St. Louis, there is an interesting development of punk attitude and grungy, working class, almost Birmingham-esque live trend, providing a widening space for road warriors Weedeater, Corrosion of Conformity, Eyehategod, Black Label Society and, most recently, Pallbearer.  Because, when the levee breaks…

Okay, so, in this scene, where does the jazz, the technicality, the Djent! belong?  Apparently in the St. Louis, Cherokee coffee house, Foam.

“What a transition!” — Nobody

I had the pleasure of attending the Cleric headlining tour, opened by tech metallers, The Gorge, and string quartet, Seven) Suns, at the Foam coffee house in St. Louis.  That’s right,  a coffee house.  Metal and hipsters.  Fuck yeah!  The venue is intimate — I couldn’t think of a better word for small — and run by some fabulous baristas/bartenders.  I only wish I got their names.  Poor journalism on my part, but oh well.  What’s important is the beers were cheap, the coffee hot, and the atmosphere warm, inviting.  Perfect for some twisted, weird ass metal.

Disclaimer: A major label needs to sign The Gorge.  Seriously.  If some Nuclear Blast intern is looking for some mobility, here’s a tip: put The Gorge on the executive’s table and drop that fucking mic in your new office space.

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Did I mention this was at a coffee house? Look at that face…

I’ve been following The Gorge for about a year now.  I saw them open for Weedeater back in, I believe, August 2017.  I’m too lazy to look so just take my word for it.  The Gorge adds some melody to the djenty meshuggah framework, all the while maintaining a jazz-conscious feel for groove.  Their live performance is cathartic, culminated in politically-driven and emotionally jarring lyrics.  I mean, their album art for Thousand Year Fire is a drawing of the Cahokia Mounds!  How else to bring attention to the voices of a colonized and destroyed culture than through some djenty, emotionally jarring metal? So, in a postcolonial perspective, besides the album being written and performed by a juxtaposed personality of bearded and clean cut white dudes, The Gorge brings some cultural and political significance to the table.  Told ya I’ve been in academia for a hot minute.  Don’t be surprised when I go there, metal bros.

String quartet, Seven)Suns, added discomfort to this cathartic atmosphere.  One of my biggest complaints regarding the venue is the layout.  There is no “stage,” but who can blame em? It’s a coffee house. However, it’s kinda hard to see the performers, especially when the audience, including myself, are mostly around or over six feet tall.

A toast for the short folks and those who would rather sit at the bar! 

String quartet, Seven)Suns has worked with Dillinger Escape Plan, and have an energetic live presence, breaking dissonant and melodic runs with passionate grunts that do not feel out of place or forced.  Each string could be heard, and I’m not gonna lie, I have a soft spot for the cello.  Its sound is just too damn beautiful for its own good.  If I were to describe Seven)Suns’ stage presence, it would be creepy.  Beautifully unsettling.  A nice transition from The Gorge’s brutality into Cleric’s…I don’t even know.

I’m not gonna lie, I only started listening to Cleric earlier in the day.  I heard their name cast around in internet forums of the most obscure and pretentious sort, but, as usual, I cast them into a general, maybe later part of my brain.  But, Fuck, was I blown away.  As soon as Larry Kawartowitz set up his fucking obnoxiously large china symbol, I knew the room was in for an experience.  Drum lord, Lars Ulrich, would faint at the sight of that behemoth.

I can hardly describe Cleric’s sound.  A little Gorguts here; a little Frank Zappa there.  And a large helping of general holy shittery that is just Cleric.  Keyboardist, vocalist, second base, guitarist — pretty much everythingist — Nick Schellenberger took full advantage of the space.  His dual microphone rig and passionate stage presence brought even the sound guy (mustachio’d, dressed, roller bladed, and fuzzy hat guy, you the best) to the front, headbanging and bouncing.  This band is tight, folks.  Think of a metaphor for tight and Cleric will shatter it with two synchronized doom chords.  The bass (Daniel Kennedy) and lead/rhythm guitarist (Matt Hollenberg) were synched perfectly with the drums, casting aside count downs in favor of good ol’ fashioned, felt nonverbal communication.  And, punctuating the evening, Cleric played an extremely emotive rendition of, I believe, “The Treme,” a nine minute piece transitioning from technical what the fuckery to an existential sense of doom.  Incredible work from everyone involved.

Again, this venue creates and maintains community.  The openers, the staff, the small, but passionate crowd, were caught in Cleric’s strange, chaotic apocalypse.  Check out their groundbreaking underground album, Regressions sometime for a general feel before the record goes out of print.  Also, make a trip to Foam if you find yourself in the neighborhood.

Next week:  Weedeater (Round Two)

Final Verdict:  I’m done assessing shit.  Just take what you want from the review.  The venue was accommodating.  The show was kick ass.  

 

 

 

 

Live Review: Earth, Wind and Fire/Chicago Heart and Soul Tour 2015

St. Louis got plenty of soul, heart, and shattered ear drums from Earth, Wind & Fire/Chicago’s August 31 performance at the Maryland Heights Hollywood Casino Amphitheater.

There’s a feeling, a goal, all music listeners, or might I say appreciators, reach for when listening to a musical performance.  Some go for a good time of easy listening, others to get drunk and lose themselves to whatever debauchery that might unfold. I go to concerts — and listen to music in general — for the off chance that the performer will either:

1.  Give me goosebumps.

2.  Force me to jump up and actually participate.  *Those that know me know this is more important.

Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago’s Heart and Soul Tour stop in St. Louis achieved both of these goals. EWF, in particular, brought the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater to its feet.  And, when your audience’s bed time average is 9:00, that’s saying something.  Jokes aside, since this was a co-headliner tour, I’m going to split this review into two sections.  Like hell if I’m going to bring them out together; that was a disaster in itself.

Yikes, spoiler alert!

Earth, Wind & Fire

From the get go, Ralph Johnson, Verdine White, Phillip Bailey and company brought out everything Earth, Wind & Fire were — and are currently — known for.  People came to dance.  And dance they did, grooving to hits and so on and so forth.  I could go on and on with a track by track review, but why do that when I can analyze the technical nonsense? You know, the performance itself!

Stage wise, there was a lot going on: stage screens, psychedelic/Egyptian graphics, horns, multiple drum kits.  When overused, such an abundance of showmanship threatens disenchantment; however, the flash never took away from the tracks, only heightened them.  For instance, “Reasons” commanded full attention to Bailey’s soul crushing falsetto.  With just the right touch of atmospheric stars on the jumbotrons, his high reaches — because, let’s face it, that’s what we were all waiting for — burst through with maximum impact.  Beautiful, simply beautiful.  Remember what I said about goosebumps?

Each member brought energy to the table, contrary to the following act, but we’ll get to that in a moment.  As soon as “In The Stone[‘s]” horns throttled the venue’s speakers, a spotlight shone on the silver tree that is Verdine White.  Nothing, not Chicago, not even Earth and Wind could bring attention away from Earth’s rumble.  Did I just make that up?  Either way, Verdine is one of the more underrated bassists out there.  Sure, he’s not the most versatile or virtuostic soloist, but hits “September,” “Boogie Wonderland,” and most definitely, “Fantasy” would sound like Eagle’s outtakes without White’s defining groove.  There was enough synchronized spinning, dancing, horn blares, harmonies, and sequins to please even the dullest eye.  Shit, that was probably me.

Fun.  That’s how I will define Earth, Wind & Fire’s set.  By the time “Let’s Groove” thumped along, the whole amphitheater was on its feet.  I haven’t seen that much excitement at that venue since…well, Iron Maiden.  Okay, gotta move on!

Chicago

And then…there was Chicago. I enjoy the occasional “25 or 6 to 4,” whatever the hell that means, and “Saturday In the Park” every once in a while.  However, I can only get enough of the horn gimmick before I start to roll my eyes.  And Lord, did Chicago jam their horns down the audience’s throat. Damn, and they played their “inspiration” love songs? Double damn!  Trombonist, James Pankow was pretty freakin’ awesome, though.  I mean, who doesn’t want to see a trombonist center stage, ripping away like a lead guitarist? If any of EWF’s energy translated into Chicago’s set, Pankow delivered through his sways, fist pumps, and general fun loving stage presence. Chicago sat comfortably in their hit catalog, performing a wide array of balladry and face slapping rock anthems, while firmly holding a more intimate, less showy atmosphere.  In this regard, the band brought full attention to their music, creating room for improvisation and complexity to their already complex repertoire.  They even displayed a heavier sound, courtesy of guitarist Keith Howland.

Yet, it is in this heavier sound that I was left wondering if Chicago’s creative drive reached a crossroads.  I hate to single out anyone, but Keith Howland’s shreddery and abrasiveness made absolutely no musical sense whatsoever.  Why? Why noodle away to “You’re the Inspiration” like it’s — expletive coming! — a Van Halen fuck track? “Inspiration” is for lovemaking, not beer, cigarettes, and hotels.  Is that a song? Not to mention Howland’s sound level ascended with each track.  By the time Chicago monster, “25 or 6 to 4” started, the guitar sound reached painful levels, ultimately detracting from the overall sound because, instead of dancing, the audience members were holding their ears.  Let me put it this way.  Chicago and EWF both appeared on stage to close out the night with their most famous hits.  I could hear two things:

1. Horns

2. Howland’s Goddamn guitar

This is inexcusable when there’s 20+ performers on stage. Overall, Chicago’s strategy originally adopted a “calm before the storm” approach.  Yet, guitar led Chicago — yeah, kind of an oxymoron — brought too much storm on an already flooded audience.

Verdict

It’s pretty crazy that I can say the loudest concert I’ve been to is Chicago.  Either way, solid performances from all involved.  Although Earth, Wind & Fire commanded the evening, Chicago provided enough musical exploration — kudos, drum and percussion soloists! — to keep the audience’s interest peeked for the encore.  Hell, I’ll admit it.  The horns were pretty cool afterall.

Okay, I can’t help asking again.  Who shreds to Chicago songs? I’m making this a written rule.  Unless it’s “25 or 6 to 4” you just don’t shred to Chicago songs.

EARTH, WIND & FIRE RATING: 5/5

CHICAGO RATING: 2.5/5

OVERALL:  3.5/5

Disclaimer:  All rights, content, and properties of header image belong to its owner.  Image found at http://banksartscentre.com/event/chicago-the-band-earth-wind-fire/.  All rights, content, and properties of body image 1 belong to its owner.  Image found at http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/earth-wind-fire-liverpool-arena-7214417.  All rights, content, and properties of body image 2 belong to its owner.  Image found at http://music.newcity.com/2011/08/23/old-days-the-band-chicago-returns-to-ravinia-properly-matured/. I have, in no way, used said images for profit.

Live Review: Steely Dan – Rockabye Gollie Angel Tour 2015

Steely Dan brought their trademark groove to the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater, complete with an impressive setlist and phenomenal backing cast.

I don’t know how many times I had to explain jazz fusion this week. It’s simple:  jazz fused with other genres, usually rock, or metal.  You’d be surprised with the scope of bands utilizing such a musical approach, sometimes subtly, other times throwing the in-itself mega genre right at listener’s faces.  Steely Dan, minus “Reelin’ in the Years” (more on that, in a minute) falls into the latter category, but don’t let that alter your perception just yet.  What separates Steely Dan and their ensemble of horns, guitars, singers, and cute, little, trumpet keyboards from bands like prog juggernaut, King Crimson, is groove.  These guys had it.  These guys still have it. And, boy, let me tell you, St. Louis felt Steely Dan’s groove on Wednesday, July 27.

I’ll admit it, I was a little on edge going into this venue.  Hollywood Casino Amphitheater — locally termed “shitty parking, shitty odors, shitty bugs,” among the locals — has reputedly poor sound production.  This was evident through Elvis Costello’s set.  Just look at his setup.

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As a neutral Costello listener already, the aging hipster-Dylan failed to catch my attention.  Musically, the band explored many interesting topics and instrumentals, but between the sound quality and generally poor vocal performance, there was an air of discomfort surrounding the venue.  And not the, “The people here are going crazy,” kind of discomfort.  Yikes, did I mention the sound was bad? I know it’s an honor to follow a musical inspiration, but Costello and The Imposters fell victim to the dreaded opening sound guy, complete with inaudible guitars, overzealous vocal volume.  And let’s be honest here, that was a mistake in itself.  Such a talented and respected musician deserves more. Reviews From the Other Side, unfortunately, can not justify the hype.

That’s enough complaining.  Steely Dan practically jumped on the stage, and given both their age and the venue’s reputation, it was hard not to be inherently impressed.  The lights were unimpressive, but who attends a jazz fusion show for the effects and fireworks?  No, this is a musically complex outfit.  As pretentious as this sounds, to understand Steely Dan, listeners need to focus on the intricacies, crescendos, and transitions of Fagen and Becker’s expansive back catalog.  Steely Dan is, in no way, a “smoke a joint, drink a twelve pack, and go crazy” kind of band.  As Becker would probably put it, they’re a “glass of wine and have makeup sex” kind of experience. Lights and effects would detract from that experience.  So, how’s that for practical argument?

I’m getting the scowl, better move on.

Steely Dan opened with two seminal numbers, “Black Cow,” and evening highlight, “Aja.”  Immediately, the amphitheater adopted a nightclub atmosphere, the horns and general setup somewhat resembling a big band rig, Fagen sulking to the right, Becker smoothing away to the left.  Smooth.  If the band could be summed in one word, it would be smooth.  “Black Cow,” with its  groovy rhythm and heavy accents, moved the audience, not exactly pulling limbs from seats, but making heads sway involuntarily.  When attention is brought on a performance with such minimal provocation, it’s a magical feeling to witness.

Then, the opening melody of “Aja” struck the audience’s nerve.  Goosebumps all around.  The instrumental following Fagen’s suspenseful verse-chorus was the highlight of the night, assaulting listeners with images of China and uncertainty. When stripped to its core, the driving force behind Fagen’s key-trumpet and Becker’s guitar is their newfound drummer’s graceful attack.  Becker himself labeled him as “The best drummer of his generation.” And besides Young Guy, I couldn’t, for the love of God, remember the guy’s name.  However, the drum solo interludes — you know, the parts where everything goes crazy for a mint — were absolutely jawdropping, not to mention the lighting guy realized he had to wake up.  All around, the instrumental highlighted each member’s repertoire.  I could spend this whole piece discussing “Aja,” but that wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the band’s set.

Transitions. I’ll always think of Steely Dan as the masters of transition.  See what I did there?  The jazz genre explores multiple avenues and various emotions throughout its millions of creations.  To make these sections, improvisations, and mood shifts work, transitions must flow seamlessly, without risking disillusionment from the listener.  Awkwardness is a jazz piece’s downfall.  Pretty much all of Aja, “Reelin’ in the Years,” “Black Friday,” “Babylon Sisters,” hell, their whole damn setlist employed perfectly executed transitions.  Even the band’s setlist moved between tracks flawlessly. When taking in the scope of Steely Dan’s 19 performances — don’t forget the improvisations — it’s hard not to fall asleep.  Yet, musicianship and transition kept the audience’s interest.  Because they’re smooth, damnit!

My only complaint is Donald Fagen’s voice.  Again, perhaps a mixing or health issue — you have to take a vocalist’s excuse with a grain of salt — but Fagen commonly adopted the vocalist, pull-away-during high-notes-to-feign-passion, trope throughout his performances.  Sure, age is a bitch and touring wears out the vocal chords.  However, amplifying the band’s background singers to mask Fagen’s struggles served as more of a distraction than if the guy actually attempted some of his more difficult lines. Either way, the overall, instrumental performance far outweighed Fagen’s minor, vocal wear and tear.  You get off this time, Fagen!

Believe me, that sounded cooler out loud.

Steely Dan proved once again the impact and importance of the jazz fusion movement during their Rockabye Gollie Angel Tour stop in St. Louis.  The parking, bugs, and strange odors were worth it after all.  Great show, through and through.

RATING: 4.5/5

Disclaimer:  All rights, property, and content of the header image belong to its owner.  Image found at http://thekey.xpn.org/2015/02/12/steely-dan-elvis-costello-playing-susquehanna-bank-center-august-3rd/.  All rights, property, and content of body image 2 belong to its owner.  Image found at http://www.daytoncitypaper.com/dukes-of-september/. I have, in no way, used said images for profit.