By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
Joe Edwards, owner of Blueberry Hill and the Tivoli Building, opened the grand Pageant ballroom, a venue just east of Skinker on Delmar that holds close to 2,000 people. It's a nearly perfect room and has already proved itself as a magnet for some of the country's top talent. A collaboration between Edwards and a company called Contemporary, owned by a bigger company called SFX, owned by the biggest company, Clear Channel, the Pageant is able to get this talent in part because of the power and influence this family of companies currently holds over the entire live-music industry. Chuck Berry christened the Pageant; also in the room that night was Johnnie Johnson, Chuck's first piano player on all those classic rock & roll hits. Toward the end of the year, Johnson sued Berry, claiming he had helped Berry pen the classic songs. It was a sad day in St. Louis music history. Johnson was the subject of a horrendous biography, Father of Rock & Roll, written by one Travis Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is the stepson of Johnson's "manager," George Turek (who referred Johnson to the lawyer who sued Berry), and the book was issued by Turek's vanity press, Thomas, Cooke. Fitzpatrick now calls himself a "rock historian." Please.
Nearby, Cicero's continues to book much live local music, bringing into the room jam bands, bluegrass bands and the occasional hip-hop or rock band. Across the street at Edwards' Blueberry Hill complex, two basement clubs bring in music. One of them, the Elvis Room, recently switched to an all-karaoke format. The Duck Room is good, booking music for the enjoyment of people ages 30-50. There will always be at least one electric guitar on that stage at all times.
When these bars close, the drunks head down to the Delmar Restaurant & Lounge, where they continue to drink until 3 a.m. Early on weekend evenings, the Delmar presents fantastic live postbop jazz, usually featuring saxophone player John Norment. Other venues around town that offer live local jazz are Troy's in Lafayette Square, Spruill's on North Jefferson Avenue, Bistro Europa on Washington Avenue and Mangia on South Grand Boulevard.
Continuing with a tour of the venue scene: The Side Door used to bring small rock bands to Midtown on Locust Street; not enough small-rock-band fans cared, so the place closed. Z, owned by the city's most popular cover band, Dr. Zhivegas, now occupies the club and restaurant. More people visited Z during its first month than the Side Door received in its entire existence. The Way Out Club moved from its Cherokee Street location to a bigger space at Jefferson and Gravois. It's great, though they need to hire a full-time sound person and get their sound up to par. Until then, the performing musicians will be frustrated. One of the former regulars of the Way Out, Fred Friction, is manning his own bar, Frederick's Music Lounge on Chippewa, which has turned into the best new rock-and-country club in the city. The place has live music five nights a week and is the hub of one of the most promising scenes in St. Louis right now. Frederick's has a bubble machine. When Fred turns it on, people laugh and try to keep the bubbles afloat.
The Hi-Pointe, Mississippi Nights, the Rocket Bar, the Firehouse, the Galaxy, Off Broadway and Three-1-Three, over in Belleville, all support local rock musicians by booking them. If you want to see a local blues band, you can go to Soulard or downtown, to BB's Jazz, Blues & Soups or a new club, the unfortunately named Beale on Broadway (St. Louis has its own blues tradition; why insult it by referencing Memphis'?). If you want punk rock, you gotta go to the Creepy Crawl.
The St. Louis dance and techno scene in the year 2000 was all right. If you want to hear a DJ, go downtown to Washington Avenue. Any number of clubs attempt to wrestle the almighty dollar from the pockets of the young and beautiful, but most seem to be only going through the motions; devoid of original ideas and therefore enthusiastic crowds, most of these clubs -- Tabu, Excape, Cheetah, Liquid, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and many other one-word-named rooms -- perpetually stand outside the door and wait rather than conjure up an original idea for a club.
The two exceptions to this unfortunate trend are Velvet and Lo; the former knows dance music and brings the best local (residents Rob Lemon and Justin King; Ken Dussold and Jeff Feller) and international talent to spin dance music -- usually progressive house and trance. Over the past year they've brought John Digweed, LTJ Bukem, Deepdish, Dave Aude, Paul Oakenfold and others; rumors of big-name talent slated for the spring are already floating about. Though Velvet's staff understandably desires to attract monied county folk to their club, they also work to bring the younger and hipper, and they deserve a round of applause for these efforts.
Lo, located at 15th Street and Washington Avenue, opened in 2000. It's a beautiful, tiny space with an Asian theme -- Chinese lanterns, a selection of teas and sakes. The sake will get you funny-drunk, and when the lanterns sway in the air while the electronic dance music is playing, you will no doubt feel very alive and happy. Wave to the DJ in the closet; he (or, occasionally, she) is pretty cramped back there.