By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
It's hard not to feel like a cheerleader when writing about this past Sunday's Slammies Showcase -- to shake and dangle those pompons just the way we should, to jump on cue and smile and then flip-flop when the cheer is over. After all, The Riverfront Times paid for the damned thing. What are we gonna say -- that the showcase was a stupid idea and it was a Sunday wasted? That all the participating bands totally sucked and that we crawled into bed Sunday night worn out and disheartened?
Of course not. But we'd never say that -- not for fear of The Man cutting off our fingers at the knuckles; no one is pointing a gun at our head telling us to praise this beloved showcase. We could slam the Slammies if we wanted. Luckily, though, Sunday's Slammies Showcase wasn't a drag. It was something special: a totally inspired day of music that got that way not because some weekly newspaper did some legwork, rented some PAs and devoted some of its pricey advertising space to pumping up the fest's reputation on the music scene but because, given the opportunity to gather en masse and create something worthy, a bunch of musicians both invited and uninvited showed up in the University City Loop and burned down the fucking house. The Riverfront Times may have paid the bills, but the artists involved turned the Slammies into an event, one that we never anticipated would become the spectacle it did -- even though we humbly submit that the Powers That Be booked a pretty damned good bill.
Really, the Conformists and the Ruckus Crew turned it into an event. Both acts were nominated for Slammies (the Conformists in the Best Punk Band category, the Ruckus Crew for Best Hip-Hop Artist) but, for reasons of space, were not invited to perform on Sunday. That sucks, being nominated yet remaining uninvited. Rather than grumble and cuss (though they probably did some of that, too), both groups showed up and performed anyway. The Conformists rented (or, given their reputation, hot-wired) a flatbed truck, spray-painted "The Conformists" on it and powered their punk with a generator, jamming econo-style. They sabotaged the official event by pulling into Commerce Bank's west parking lot and cranking out their music. They then went mobile and drove up and down Delmar -- and, apparently, over to the Hi-Pointe -- making their own showcase parade.
The Ruckus Crew also jammed econo-style, with the aid of a megaphone and a wicked sense of humor. After performing a quickie set at Vintage Vinyl -- the great DJ K-9 graciously cut his set in half so that the Ruckus Crew could squeeze in some rhymes -- they cut to the street and started pumping themselves: rhyming into the megaphone, hailing passing cars on Delmar and giving everyone some good-natured guff. (To some sexy ladies passing in a car: "You like rap? Or do you like hip-hop?" No response from the car. "She probably likes Nelly.")
When you see 15 bands in eight hours, your critical capacities tend to weaken and ultimately collapse as all the extant notes and emotions melt into one long verse-chorus-verse-chorus-hook-chorus chaos, and only the white-hot moments remain. But these moments, relatively abundant, illustrated the extent to which the St. Louis music scene is in some small sense thriving.
Take the Star Death's electrifying set at Vintage Vinyl. Nominated in the Best Punk Band category (along with the aforementioned Conformists, the Red Squares, 13 After and Sullen), the band transcended the narrow tag of "punk," turning in a set that, despite the weak record-store PA, was a killer. A typical Star Death song gets straight to the point and, once there, does back flips and cartwheels, a bundle of magnetic energy that screams for attention not because of its volume but because of its internal imagination. Watching the Star Death play rock & roll is inspiring the way that watching any great band is: It's not just about the songs; it's about the feeling, and the Star Death always seems to be ready to explode with the simple joy of being onstage.
We heard a lot of grumbling about the fact that Sexicolor, with only one gig under their belt at the time of the nomination announcement, was honored in the Best New Band category even as other, more "deserving" bands went unacknowledged. But that's -- pardon the blue language -- hogwash. Judging from their (way, way too loud) performance at the Hi-Pointe, they deserved to be nominated not only in that category but in the Best Jam Band, Punk Band, Rhythm & Blues, Rock and Artist of the Year categories. Double guitars spewing distorto-rock as sturdy as Mitzie or Spitzie or Jill or whatever her name is and Jason's dueling charisma, Sexicolor just flat-out rocked.
A few bands were disappointing. Honeytribe's Devon Allman rhymes "would" with "could," "should" and "good" way too often when he ought to be rhyming it with something less obvious (actually, he'd be best served if he remained silent and let his music do the talking). The Brand New Broken Homes, through no fault of their own, failed to live up to expectations suggesting that they somehow resemble the late, great New York band Television. They don't, and the songs they performed were way too wobbly to support the melodies. And -- hell, somebody needs to say it -- Sullen is a good rock band that would do quite well if only guitarist/harmonist Shanna Kiel would sing more. As it stands, the band shines when she sings but often falls flat when the burden falls on Justin Slazinik. He wears his influences on his sleeve -- Cobain, Frank Black, Verbena's Scott Bondy -- and though he can successfully replicate those sounds, seldom does he improve on them. Either that, or maybe he should just go all falsetto all the time. Once he discovers his own voice instead of relying on his influences', the possibilities, well, they're endless.