The 2002 RFT Music Awards Showcase

The name has changed, but the song remains the same

Over the past 11 years, the RFT Music Awards has undergone some structural and procedural changes, not to mention a sudden -- and loudly lamented -- name change. Back in the old days, we used to calculate second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-place winners, often to hilarious effect, as when Uncle Tupelo earned the dubious honor of being the third-best country band in St. Louis. (Who could blame them for including that howler on fliers?) We don't do that anymore, partly because it's a lot of trouble and partly because it's, well, kind of a backhanded compliment. In the end, we can't deny that it's a popularity contest, like all democratic elections, but there's no sense rubbing people's faces in the sordid competitive aspects when there's so much to celebrate.

It's easy to get wrapped up in the whole winner/loser drama, but for us the best thing about the Awards Formerly Known as the Slammies is the showcase phase of it, an 11-hour music marathon that amply demonstrates the fecundity of the St. Louis scene. Though we stuck them in sometimes arbitrary categories, the 50-plus acts and -- we hope! -- not-officially-sanctioned flatbed crashers and sidewalk buskers become, in the context of the showcase, something more than the sum of their multitudinous parts. It's just a slice of the local music scene, of course, but it's a big slice, one that includes all the world's major genres and more than a few of its minor ones. The RFT Music Award showcase might be just a microcosm of the St. Louis scene, but it manages to capture its surprising variety -- from the crunk-and-disorderly Da Hole 9 to the multiculti fusion of Sepantha, from the stoner sludgecore of Lo-Freq to the fey glam-pop of Tripstar, from the propulsive vibe of DJ Alexis to the disorienting sonic onslaught of the Conformists, from rockabilly to trip-hop to hip-hop to free jazz.

As a glimpse of the schedule demonstrates, it's impossible for one person to catch more than a tiny fraction of all the performances -- by sunset, five or six different acts will all be performing at any given time, in various venues scattered throughout the Loop. (And, despite what all the ads suggest, it's not just the University City Loop -- three of the participating venues are located in the city of St. Louis.) Despite the convenient proximity of the clubs, it's still not humanly possible to be in more than one place at one time. Worrying about all the great stuff you're missing is counterproductive, and plotting a strategy is an exercise in frustration. Here's our plan: We're gonna wander around aimlessly and see what happens, seek out surprises until we're so exhausted and disoriented (and, quite possibly, inebriated) that we have to plunk our asses down on a stool somewhere. For those who prefer a bit more guidance, here are the RFT music staff's capsule profiles.

Streetside Records Outdoor Stage (All Ages)
2 p.m.: On their early fliers, the Dead Celebrities used the DC Comics insignia as their logo. That tells you what you need to know about their approach to punk rock: no arty angst or political posturing here. As the numerous comic-book/video-game references on their excellent Web site attest, the Celebs believe firmly in punk rock as junky, sarcastic fun. Sometimes, as on the song "Dead Celebrities," they crank out pounding Poison Idea-style aggression; other times they opt for more Oi!-influenced fare, as on "X-Ray Eyes." (The latter song tells an unidentified consort, "I just wanna see you in your underwear.") Gang shouts, power chords and quick tempos abound, and the sneering guitar breaks sound as if they just jumped off an early Black Flag record. If you need more explanation than that, you probably won't like the Dead Celebrities.

2:45 p.m.: The winner in the Singer/Songwriter category for the past two years, Blueberry is a performer like no other, serving up a compelling blend of punkish anger and folky idealism that's much, much more interesting than it sounds. Weirder than Ani and smarter than Jewel, Blueberry takes the singer/songwriter shtick out of the coffeehouses and into the streets, infusing the age-old guitar-strumming-troubadour routine with furious post-punk skronk. Her last solo CD, Journal of the Galaxies and Stars From St. Louis, is a wildly ambitious sonic manifesto, a strange amalgam of confessional poetry, political diatribe and metaphysical rumination. Solo or fronting her incandescent art-punk band, the Star Death, she's a force of fucking nature, a savage, rapturous, singular visionary. Ignore her at your peril.

3 p.m. If This Is Spin&ulm;al Tap director Rob Reiner ever decided to make a faux documentary on glam rock, Tripstar could stand in as stunt doubles. Despite layers of mascara, the roar of messianic guitars, sugary and soaring melodies and one of St. Louis's most instantly recognizable lead singers (Bryan Hoskins, whose piercing range makes Jeff Buckley seem like a basso profundo), the four-piece isn't nearly as slick as, say Colony, and their Pink Floyd psychedelic edge, from sometimes inscrutably impressionistic lyrics to tripped-out guitar pedal and vocal effects, separates them from other local rock-stars-in-training. "Loserville" and "State of Grace," from their most recent CD, At the Instar Motel, show what they can do with hooks, and once the band's members get over the understandable desire to be rock stars, they may grow in the direction of their genuine strengths: tersely melodic, well-harmonized pop/rock.

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