2002 Riverfront Times Music Award Winners

Your verdict is in: Check out St. Louis’ favorite local musicians.

The origins of Tripstar date from 1998, when Donny Besancenez and Hoskins first started working on songs in an acoustic vein. They formed the Salvation Army Band, a name they were soon advised was owned by the Salvation Army. The new name, Instar, fared no better (a Boston band claimed it), and they settled on the free and clear (for now) Tripstar. With its evocations of pychedelia, glam/pop, and Alex Chilton's old band, the name suits their sound. "We wanted to make it really songwriting-oriented," Besancenez says, "somewhat pop, somewhat artsy, and not get pigeonholed too much."

Since their debut album, they've added a new rhythm section, comprising Derek Bayer and Phil Wheeler, and have begun plotting a follow-up record. Here's hoping Tripstar keeps looking for inventive ways out of any and all pigeonholes, pop or otherwise. (RK)

Tomorrow's Caveman
Best Garage

After Beatlemania and before Altamont, thousands of snotty kids all across America bought cheap guitars, sneaked a couple beers past the old man and tried to score with chicks by playing testoterone-fueled Rolling Stones knockoffs at the local pizza joint. These were kids who knew in their hearts that they were never gonna write a song as good as the Beatles' but, just maybe, they could get as much girlie action as Mick Jagger.

It's this mixture of innocence and impudence that's kept music fans fascinated with this period of rock's history, as dozens of CDs of garage-band unknowns (most notably Rhino's massive four-CD Nuggets set and Crypt Records' amazing Teenage Shutdown series) will attest. Seemingly having leaped from one of these collections and onto a stage near you, Tomorrow's Caveman recalls the days of these original garage-band punks in all their recklessly fab (fabulously reckless?) glory. Formed a couple of years ago after the breakup of the equally garage-a-rific Geargrinders, Tomorrow's Caveman's pedigree is impeccable, with members having also served time in psychedelic weirdos Fruitcake and legendary St. Louis dirge-punks Drunks With Guns. Their recently released debut CD, Tomorrow's Caveman Today, finds the band touching on all aspects of good '60s rock, with hints of surf, psychedelia, frathouse soul, Kinks-inspired rawness and Sonics-style snarl. Fortunately, rather than just being a mishmash of influences, the band melds all these ideas into a single sound -- decidedly retro, of course, but not slavishly imitative of any one band.

Most important, Tomorrow's Caveman can convincingly rave things up live. Lead singer Ray James is pelvis-thrustingly perfect, and guitarist Mike DeLeon (who also hosts the fantastic psych/rock/bizarro Mindfield program on KDHX-FM on Tuesday nights) lets loose waves of wah-pedal-fueled weirdness. Guitarist Tim Lohmann, bassist Steve Marquee and hard-pounding drummer Hank Ver Plank complete the lineup. The group occasionally dons caveman-style fur vests and bone necklaces in concert, making them look as if they're getting ready to star as the "rock band" in an episode of Bewitched. For St Louis' best garage band, there could be no higher compliment. (MH)

Sullen
Best Hard Rock

Honestly, has hard rock ever been more boring than it is right now? Hundreds of pounds of tattooed, face-pierced and dookie-braided thug-lites who hate their parents and star in million-dollar videos whine about their lives while driving lowriders and riding strippers -- except for the members of Creed, who worry about Jesus and steadfastly beat to death metaphors that would get laughed out of a high-school poetry magazine. Is this the best the grunge revolution could inspire? Creed? Nickleback? Layne Staley didn't OD -- he was bored to death by his bastard offspring.

Just when you're ready to write off the whole ugly business and start an alt-country/klezmer combo, along comes Sullen. Even better, along comes Sullen and they win in the Best Hard Rock category! So the people really do know more than the critics and the music biz give them credit for. Sullen understands the idea of big guitars (and by big guitars, we're talking Pacific Northwest-sized guitars, which is two sizes up from "grande"), but even better, the group understands and embraces the concept of melody. Their recent ten-song CD Demos is littered with well-crafted, intelligent, catchy songs that rock balls-out (no offense, Shanna). Sullen is not caught up in ironic grad-student rock poses; not tongue-in-cheek or full of smug disdain for its predecessors. Guitarist/vocalists Justin Slazinik and Shanna Kiel have a genuine, honest love for stomping on a fuzz pedal and burying the needle in the red, but they know you'd better have a plenty sharp hook to hold all that howl down, and more often than not they deliver. Their dual, slightly off-kilter vocal style and "now we're quiet/now we're loud" guitar clusters beg for the sort of sweaty pogo-ing and shout/sing-along that can only be satisfied by an outdoor festival crowd. They take their rock plenty seriously, but not so seriously that they won't blast out an affectionate drive-by cover of "God Only Knows" or challenge each other to wrestle for band supremacy during a show. And how can you not love a band that argues about whether they're recording with the same eight-track used by the Beach Boys or the Rolling Stones, then include the argument on their CD?

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