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
Mutabaruka, the Star Death and Narvel Felts, three acts that would seem, on the face of things, completely incongruous in the same clause, have at least two things in common: They're all playing in St. Louis this week, and they're all exemplary representatives of their respective genres. Mutabaruka (supported by the Skool Band) is headlining Club Viva! on Friday, Aug. 31, after an opening set by local reggae favorites Yard Squad. Mutabaruka, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, chants politically charged Afrocentric poetry over hypnotic dub rhythms. A dedicated but idiosyncratic Rastafarian, Mutabaruka (n Allen Hope) refuses to eat meat, smoke marijuana, denigrate women or wear shoes (the spiritual basis of this last principle remains unclear to us, but it does seem worth noting). Dancehall might dominate the reggae charts, but Mutabaruka refuses to abandon his unique calling for trendier fare. "Before the advent of dancehall music, reggae was a music that was uplifting," he explains. "The artists used to address global problems, but over the past 10 years that has really diminished." Not for Mutabaruka, whose fierce, no-holds-barred recordings have been banned from the government-controlled radio stations of his homeland: "Music is a very powerful tool. If you're not using that tool for the upliftment of the race, then you should be crucified." (Radar Station's sentiments exactly!) The first reggae artist to perform at Lollapalooza (a dubious honor, perhaps), Mutabaruka is, if not the best-known of reggae artists, certainly one of the most important. Among his many fans are Adam Yauch (of the Beastie Boys), Sean Lennon, Wesley Snipes and Danny Glover; his musical collaborators include reggae legends Sly Dunbar, Dennis Brown, Sugar Minott, Marcia Griffiths and Ini Kamoze.
On Saturday, Sept. 1, at the Way Out Club, the Star Death -- who are equally militant in their politics, although their chosen genre is arty hardcore, not dub poetry -- celebrate the release of their new 7-inch single "Feministica" on local label Bert Dax's Cavalcade of Stars, founded by RFT contributor and Julia Sets bassist Matt Harnish. Riveting, funky and brutal, "Feministica" is the best song the Star Death have released to date; we're thrilled that they'll have such a cool product to push when they're on the road with the Butchies.
Also on Saturday, rock & roll great andMissouri native Narvel Felts performs at Mississippi Nights, as part of the "Dirty Ernie's Grease Ball" bill. According to one local devotee, Felts will surely put on an astonishing, unforgettable show: "He's a peel-the-paint-off-the-walls, multioctave belter the likes of which is simply and sadly unknown anymore. It's small exaggeration to say that this is a chance to see a Roy Orbison/Gene Pitney-type vocalist who is still, remarkably, at the peak of his powers." This is the first St. Louis appearance for Felts in nearly 30 years; don't miss the opportunity to see him if you're a fan of gorgeous singing and classic songcraft.
Radar Station has oft advised St. Louis bands, "Don't mess with the majors, for they will fuck you." If Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, two of our area's most critically acclaimed rock exports, can't make it work with their corporate overlords (Warner Bros. and Reprise, respectively), chances are it won't work out for you, either. Not if you're interested in such niceties as artist development and creative freedom, in any case, and not if you have the teensiest qualm about whoring yourselves to the lowest common denominator. Alas, Radar Station can make like Cassandra forever, but it won't stop starry-eyed aspiring rockers from abasing themselves before industry sleazebags. When Radar Station last discussed modern-rock slickies Just Add Water, they were currying favor with the majors [RFT, Feb. 7]. Guess what? They're still pitching woo to the suits: According to singer/guitarist Steve Waller, JAW will perform at the Arlene Grocery in NYC on Oct. 3 as part of a showcase for Elektra, MCA, RCA and Columbia: "Right now, we're just hoping that one of the labels likes what they see and hear. We've worked really hard to get where we are and are just trying to take it to the next level." Radar Station wishes Waller and his bandmates luck in their reckless dance with the devil and sincerely hopes they don't end up bankrupt and bitter. Admittedly, JAW's brand of radio-ready commercial alt-rock isn't our cup of joe, but it apparently wows 'em in certain quarters. Steven, of Dupo, Ill., makes the following entry in their Web-site guestbook: "i hardly ever list [sic] to alternitive [sic] but when i heard urs [sic] i couldn't stop." Samantha, from Chesterfield, describes JAW's music as "awesome!!" and declares herself the band's No. 1 fan. If you think your tastes correspond more closely with Steven's and Samantha's than with Radar Station's, by all means check out JAW's all-ages show at Mississippi Nights on Friday, Aug. 31, at Mississippi Nights. The concert will be hosted by Ken Williams (of 101.1 FM The River); one lucky attendee will leave with a new Fender Stratocaster, courtesy of sponsor Mars Music.
Another band on the verge of corporate hackdom, Mesh recently signed a deal with The Label, a record company founded by The Firm (could we make this shit up?). They recently flew to LA to shoot a video for their first single, "Maybe Tomorrow," a moody power ballad with studiously intense vocals and a Creed-like feel. Post-Dispatch music scribe Kevin Johnson predicts that Mesh will be "the next big thing in rock to make it outside St. Louis." But if they "make it," what then?