By Bob McMahon
By Allison Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
The theme for the evening -- and, with luck, the year -- is simple and exciting: "New Bar, New Bands," and the event has all the ingredients of a watershed St. Louis rock moment, one that's threatened only by idiots jinxing the thing by uttering the word "watershed." In any case, though, new digs = new context, and new context = new sounds: The Way Out Club, the best rock bar in the city, has moved, and its debut at the new location this weekend features three new local bands: Sexicolor, Shiny Tim and Thee Noble Gases UK.
These three bands consist of former members of the following bands: the Phonocaptors, Johnny Magnet, Hippie Crack Gastank, Bunny-grunt, the Tics, the See Thrus, Tiger Mountain, Drunks with Guns, Fruitcake, the Deadbeats, the Beatles, CSN&Y and probably a half-dozen others we've lost track of.
"Big whoop," you say. "They're all involved in that incestuous Way Out scene that gets way more print space than it deserves." Well, besides being a bit rude, you're also way off base. The strategic realignment of members is more than a simple act of wife-swapping; the recombinations and flip-flops are wonderfully arousing.
A quick rundown/incentive program: Shiny Tim features Marcia Pandolfi from the often-wonderful Tics; the unsung hero of St. Louis rock, Mike DeLeon, on guitar, from the always great Drunks with Guns and Fruitcake; Mike Stuvland, formerly of the occasionally great Deadbeats; and drummer/brother Dan Stuvland, he of the stony faced Charlie Watt school of drumming (and one time Johnny Magnet drummer).
Thee Noble Gases UK features Karen Stephens, ex of Bunnygrunt; Tony Renner, ex of Tiger Mountain; and Jerry Green, ex of Hippie Crack Gastank. Word is this is a "space-rock" band, but those are just two words that we don't put much stock in, though it is true that the Gases, like Renner's former band Tiger Mountain, are an improv band. Now, this is dangerous territory, free improv rock, and just as often as it succeeded in Tiger Mountain, it failed. But they always found new and creative ways to fail, and when they succeeded, they were an epiphany.
As long as we're jinxing things, we may as well toss some bats' wings on Sexicolor, featuring former Johnny Magnet singer Spitzie West, former Phonocaptors Jason Hutto and Scooter Hermes, and ex-Gastanker Mark Eberhardt. The simple combination of two rock stars onstage at once -- West and Hutto -- is beguiling enough, but that combined with the fact that said rock stars have, in their former bands, banged out some of the most solid and impressive St. Louis Rock rock of the '90s, is cause for giddy anticipation (or heartbreaking letdown; remember Damn Yankees?). The reality, though, is that both Johnny Magnet and the Phonocaptors at times hit the three-piece brick wall (both bands comprised bass, guitar, drums) and could have used a second guitarist to fill some of the empty spaces. That Spitzie and Hutto are remedying this problem together is perfect.
The new Way Out Club itself is bigger and better; you can fit at least a dozen Kiel Centers inside the bathroom stalls alone. The layout is similar to the former space: two parallel rooms -- one for drinking, one for drinking and watching bands. The major difference between old and new is the specifics of the bigger: bigger music room with a bigger, higher stage; longer bar -- we think co-owner Bob Putnam said it was 36 feet long or something; bigger paneling -- blond and beautiful -- combined with turquoise paint, covers the walls. The crack pipe discovered above the ceiling tile was huge, and as it was tossed into the gigantic trash can it made the neighborhood rumble. The only potential drawback to the layout is the same one that plagued the Cherokee space: Even though it's two rooms, it works like one: If the band onstage sucks, too bad for you; you can't escape it, regardless of where you are in the club. You have to scream to hold a conversation, and that you're screaming over bad music makes it even more abrasive. But this is a rock club, and if you don't feel like screaming, maybe you shouldn't be in a goddamn rock club in the first place.
The Way Out Club, Mach II, celebrates its grand opening with this potentially remarkable gig on Friday, March 3. The club is located at 2525 S. Jefferson, due north of the intersection of Jefferson, Gravois and Sidney.
GRAY GARDEN: Darin Gray has had a very interesting year. In addition to being a regular member of Chicago composer Jim O'Rourke's band, he's traveled to perform at the Knitting Factory in New York City, where he played with his constant improv partner Loren MazzaCane Connors as part of Connors' 50th-birthday celebration. At that particular gig, he ended up playing with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, DJ Olive and Ikue Mori, formerly of the late, great No Wave band DNA. "We broke up into trios," he says, "with me, Kim Gordon and Ikue. One of my favorites was with this guy Misha Feigin. He's a Russian improviser/guitarist. He's really fucking cool. He sings in Russian -- it's really demented and totally great."
Gray toured the states with Stereolab as part of O'Rourke's band, and leaves next month on a tour of Japan to continue, where they will tour with Papa M (featuring David Pajo, ex of Stereolab, ex of Slint) and Nobukazu Takemura. O'Rourke and Gray will then continue on alone, performing improvised gigs.
Of course Gray can't buy a show in St. Louis, as a result of a lack of depth in booking circles these days; he gets flown to New York City to play but doesn't get his phone calls returned in his hometown. It's a shame that the only gigs he can get for him and phenomenal guitarist MazzaCane Connors are as openers. But that's better than nothing, and the two, who released the stunning bass-and-guitar-duet album The Lost Mariner last year, are gigging Friday, March 3, at the Rocket Bar. They open for Season to Risk and Pave the Rocket. Not that Connors/Gray have anything in common with either of those bands; where the two headliners scream in unison, C&G whisper while they wander, and the result is profound beauty. This show should be gorgeous and deserves your undivided attention. Get there early, say around 9 p.m.
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