By Drew Ailes
By Mabel Suen
By Drew Ailes
By Joseph Hess and Mabel Suen
By Kenny Snarzyk
By Dave Geeting
By David Thorpe
By Ben Westhoff
From a 78-year-old member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to a twenty-something turntablist, the nominees for the 2004 Riverfront Times Music Awards span age and style -- the one thing they have in common is that they're all from this old city by the river. Everything else is up for grabs. In fact, some people would argue that some of these artists don't even make music. Those people are wrong. If you're one of those people who thinks that rap isn't music, or discordant art rock isn't music, or anything else on this list isn't music, then do yourself a favor. When you go to the Awards Showcase this Sunday (and you are going), don't just go see your favorite band. That's safe. Don't be safe on Sunday. Check out some metal, some reggae, some jazz -- whatever it is that you've been avoiding for the last 364 days. The showcase is more than the sum of its bands -- it's a chance to see (and hear) that despite the patchwork nature of the city, despite the geographic and cultural lines that separate us, St. Louis has a great (singular) music scene. For one day, it's all good. -- Jordan Harper
Contributors: Mike Appelstein, Erik Alan Carlson, Paul Friswold, John Goddard, Guy Gray, Jordan Harper, Roy Kasten, Dean C. Minderman, Jess Minnen, Travis Petersen, Steve Pick, Christian Schaeffer, Jason Toon, Taylor Upchurch
Best Blues Johnnie JohnsonLiving a comeback story that's the stuff of a Hollywood film (or at least a TV movie-of-the-week), Johnnie Johnson has become one of St. Louis' most beloved musical icons. As the piano player on many of Chuck Berry's hits, Johnson played a pivotal role in early rock history, and his blues-drenched riffs helped serve as musical inspiration for Berry's songwriting. Rediscovered late in his career, the soft-spoken piano man has released several noteworthy albums of his own, backed by such luminaries as Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Bob Weir on record and in concert, and he's earned a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Rondo's Blues DeluxeA compelling vocalist and masterful showman, Rondo Leewright first earned the attention of St. Louis blues fans as a member of the Soulard Blues Band. The subsequent formation of Rondo's Blues Deluxe solidified his reputation as a soulful singer who could work just about any crowd into a frenzy. During the '80s and '90s his band became one of the most popular acts in local blues clubs, with its third album, Shack Pappy's, earning favorable attention from blues fans around the world. After taking a break from music for a while, Rondo recently returned with a new model of Blues Deluxe, and listeners have warmly welcomed the big-voiced blues belter back into action. 9 p.m., Delmar Lounge
Bennie SmithLet's say it's 1944, you're in Chicago, and Muddy Waters has a nightly gig in a little club downtown. You'd be there, even if you had to sell your soul for the cab fare. But the fact is you're in St. Louis, it's 2004, and the blues pouring out of Soulard mostly sounds like a I-IV-V exercise so futile you can't even call it nostalgia. And then there's Bennie Smith. Two or three nights a week, and most notably at his Wednesday night sessions at the Venice Café, Smith and his band somehow manage to make the blues sound alive, exhilarating, even a little dangerous. Whether covering Howlin' Wolf or Elmore James, "Stand By Me" or "Mystery Train," the speed and muscle of Smith's guitar playing -- his strangely chosen but beautifully harmonizing chord strums, his mischievous, acrobatic leads -- has no peer in this city, or anywhere else for that matter. 9:40 p.m., 609
Soulard Blues BandA longtime favorite of RFTMusic Awards voters, the Soulard Blues Band is also one of St. Louis' longest-lived musical acts. Led by bassist Art Dwyer, the SBB helped to revive the local blues-club scene in the late '70s and early '80s and has remained a popular attraction for more than 25 years, recording eight albums and touring the United States and Europe. Though the band's personnel has changed frequently over the years -- with alumni going on to form many bands of their own -- the SBB's heady brew of blues, soul, funk and swing now seems as integral to St. Louis as the neighborhood that gave it its name. 7 p.m., 609
Henry TownsendThe most important living pre-war bluesman, Henry Townsend casts a formidable shadow over the history of the blues, but outside of a few manic collectors his music remains underappreciated, even rarely heard. Jay Farrar may be savvy enough to cover one of his signature songs, "Cairo Blues" (which Townsend learned from early mentor Henry Spaulding), but don't expect Jack White and the new blues revivalists to give the man his props. Townsend is most often remembered as a fellow traveler of Robert Johnson, Robert Nighthawk, Roosevelt Sykes and Sonny Boy Williamson; he should also be remembered as one of the blues' most gifted and original improvisers: The snap and bite of his country-blues guitar, the rugged bounce of his piano and the eerie sweetness of his voice are his and his alone. At 94 years old, Townsend may be well past his performing and recording prime, but his mark on St. Louis blues endures.
Best Punk Corbeta CorbataIn the earliest days, when men cowered in darkness before the despot Reagan, the gods in their infinite wisdom created hardcore punk. "Let there be fast, monotonous rhythms," they spake. "Yea, let no man violate the impenetrable wall of guitar." And so it was, and men rejoiced. But a tribe of blasphemers and heretics defied the holy order. With unspeakable names like Nomeansno and the Butthole Surfers, they perverted hardcore with bizarre rhythmic changes and melodies that bespeak a deep spiritual corruption. Corbeta Corbata kneels before this profane altar. Its "music" sows confusion and doubt among the hardcore faithful. Be warned: open your ears to Corbeta Corbata, and these licentious apostates will defile the punk purity of your soul. 10 p.m., Delmar Lounge
Dead CelebritiesPunk rock has been co-opted into so many different styles that it's impossible to keep track without a flowchart based on a series of Byzantine algebraic equations. It seems as though every new punk-leaning band wants to add a klezmer or other trendy 'archaic' instrument, sing lyrics about their love for the works of Rilke and generally be way too self-important. It's at times like these that the charms of the Dead Celebrities, category winners two years running, become apparent. They're not emo, screamo, extremo, schemo, or whatever the next mutation is. The DCs are just punk rock, and while they weren't together in the '80s, their simple and straightforward sound would have fit in perfectly then. With energetic songs about girls, fun, etc., the Dead Celebrities are a welcome relief from both the overbearing and the overly complex. 11 p.m., Delmar Lounge
In Medias Res
At last year's RFTMusic Awards, In Medias Res played its jerky, lithe brand of punk at the festival's outdoor stage and, oddly enough, fit right in alongside the adult-contemporary and reggae bands sharing the stage. The band was clearly comfortable taking its act out of the basement and giving its sound some room to breathe, and those in attendance (many of whom were waiting for Nadine or Javier Mendoza to take the stage) could be seen bobbing right along. In Medias Res plays a sort of gutbucket punk rock that can be at once sloppy and danceable, and judging by its 2002 seven-inch, the band can switch gears effortlessly, from aggro to dance-punk to instrumental. Expect good things from the upcoming full-length.
The PubesWhat many of today's punk-rock bands lack is the snotty, rebellious attitude that originally made the music exciting. The Pubes have attitude in spades, and it's captured in the half-sung, half-shouted vocals; the sloppy squeal of the guitars; and the woefully underused practice of killing a song before it has a chance to get old -- like around the two-minute mark. The immediate reference point for Pubes' sound is the melodic East Coast hardcore of the Bouncing Souls and their ilk, but this band packs a lot of Midwestern muscle as well. This is music to piss your parents off with, and the Pubes seem like they're having a lot of fun making it. 2:30 p.m., Market in the Loop Outdoor Stage
The SpidersPunk guys getting their panties in a bunch over blink-182 or whatever other band is ruining punk's good name: What a waste of time. What do you care what thirteen-year-old MTV watchers think about the state of punk? Let them have their sugary rock -- we have the Spiders. A three-man demolition derby disguised as a band, the Spiders are to blink-182 what a napalm enema is to three-ply Charmin. Drop your cares on the way to the show, or get prepared to have them impacted permanently into your brain from your exploding eardrums. The Spiders have got the kind of energy we're pissed that Libya sold to North Korea. 10 p.m., Hi-Pointe
Best Singer/Songwriter Matt Ahearn"I just realized that I can't sing," goes a chorus on Matt Ahearn's new album, Juke Box Grave. The lyric is a lie. Ahearn may not have the spectacular range and vibrato of, say, Mariah Carey, but play a track from both artists for a friend, and they'll pick Ahearn as the real voice. (If they don't, get a new friend.) His voice sounds like he ripped it from an older man's throat, jamming it down his own gullet so it would match the weight of his music. Whether strumming a guitar at an open-mic night or backed by a band, Ahearn's songs sound like they bubble from deep out of him. If he can't sing, no one can.
Larissa DalleLarissa Dalle is tough, smart, beautiful, and she sings like a nightingale (It's about time her co-conspirator in the Wormwood Scrubs, Jason Rook, put that ring on her finger. Congrats!). She's been goth, country and goth-country since electrifying the scene in the early '90s with the dark-synth styling of Collaborateur, but whatever label you decide to give her, Dalle's PR team (the wooly Rook) recently opined that her nomination in the singer-songwriter category is a misnomer. True enough, she hasn't played solo in a while, but she sings and writes songs like Dolly Parton casts a shadow. Her love of beagles may have earned her a few points too. Jay FarrarPart of the problem with being acclaimed as a legend or genius or groundbreaker is that you have to keep proving it over and over again. The Belleville native's place in the alt-country canon is secure because of the legacies of Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt, but lately Farrar has been trying his darnedest to show the world what lies beneath that melodic mutter.
So far, so good: Last year's Terroir Bluessurprised plenty of cynics, and now Farrar is releasing Stone, Steel and Bright Lights on June 8 as part of a smattering of recently recorded live material with backup band Canyon. The early returns look promising.
Chris JohnsonChris Johnson would be better known if his voice wasn't such an irascible instrument, if his guitar work wasn't so taut and fraught with the densest blues, if his songs didn't cut so damn deeply. His brand of acoustic folk isn't easy listening, but then neither is the best of Townes Van Zandt or Bob Dylan, the two masters whose lessons he has absorbed. Though he occasionally appears with a barely electrified combo called Pye-Dog, you're more likely to hear the wail and pine of his harmonica and the stomp of his boot heel when he performs solo at coffee shops or Frederick's Music Lounge. And though he's been writing and performing in St. Louis for about a decade, he keeps getting better, as anyone who has heard his recent, heart-crushing song "Down in Lemay" will tell you.
Bob ReuterIn 1984, Bob Reuter gave up the brutal art of drinking and took to the more brutal art of songwriting. He'd be dead now if he hadn't; so too would a fair portion of St. Louis's musical culture. Rowdy, country-inflected groups like Pitchfork, Bad Folk and the Round-ups owe Reuter's seminal, two-years-retired band, Kamikaze Cowboy, more than they realize. And anyone who stands on a St. Louis stage with a guitar and a song has his brusque, uncompromising but generous lyrics to live up to. Reuter's newest band, Palookaville, has managed to reveal ever more about his obsessions: how class is a bitch, how love is as inevitable as sin, how the blues cannot be killed, and how there may yet be transcendence in this struggle with the daily mire we call living.
Best Roots/Americana The Bottle RocketsDon't hold the qualifier "roots" against them: The Bottle Rockets are a rock band, as influential and as misunderstood as any St. Louis band in the past ten years. Outlaw wannabes and Tupelo nostalgists might get off on the revved-up twang of "Lonely Cowboy" or the head-banging riffs of "Radar Gun" -- and who could blame them? But the heart of the Bottle Rockets beats just a little deeper, in the sound and spirit of their stories: the joys and despairs of small-town work and life, the unpretentious beauty revealed by the most sentimental emotions, and the melodies you can hum all day and never exhaust. Add to that the craft of the pop song -- "Gravity Fails" and "Perfect Far Away" for starters -- and you have, quite simply, one of the great American rock bands.
Fred's Variety GroupThe combination of strong songs and strong souls never fails. This year sees FVG's third consecutive nomination for an RFT music award, so you know they rank somewhere near Chuck Berry. On last year's full-length, Bells and Buzzers, singer-songwriters Mark Stephens, Sherman S. Sherman and Sunyatta Marshall show us where the "variety" comes from, but it's the ballads sung by Marshall that steal the show. The strength and accuracy of the 27-year-old prodigy's voice have always been there, but her command of its temperance has grown steadily since those wonder years of belting it out on the Burrito Brothers' patio when the U. City Loop was young. Whether it's a sea shanty or a honky-tonk holler, Fred's Variety Group delivers real life in song with passion and maturity. 7 p.m., Halo Bar
The Highway MatronsYou can stomp your fuzz pedals till your guitar sounds like a kamikaze engine seconds from impact, assault your crummy drum kit -- taking special pleasure in slashing up the cymbals -- till your sticks are splinters and your snare is a crumpled piñata, flog your bass till your subscriptions to Circus and Revolver expire, and scream over it all till heaven itself reconsiders this whole rock & roll thing. You still won't sound like the Highway Matrons, this city's most deliriously, most blasphemously chaotic band. Lurching between exhilarating pop and total breakdown, hooky guitar licks and apoplectic noise, the Matrons manage to cohere on the strength of their songs -- their fusion of twisted humor, cathartic anger and genuinely sweet lyricism. 11 p.m., Halo Bar
Magnolia SummerMagnolia Summer has made a name for itself by not toeing the line, mixing drum machines into Americana songs and using a violin to carry a rock & roll melody. There's a moment in the opening of "Pushing the Needle Too Hard," the opening track on Magnolia Summer's debut, Levers and Pulleys, where some keening, spectral sound -- a sonically modified human voice, or perhaps a soaring guitar note -- leaves the ground and flies away, only to land at the song's end. It's a fitting way to start a record that has so many moments that are at once earthy and transcendental. 7 p.m., Cicero's
PitchforkFormed in 2002 (and named after the farming implement, presumably, not the snooty indie magazine), Pitchfork brings a high-octane country sound with regularity to Frederick's, Dressel's and the Way Out Club. The members of Pitchfork are purveyors of hootenannies, plain and simple. In a world largely bereft of box-socials and short on shindigs, it's good to know hootenannies are still on the market. Any outfit whose singer goes by the stage name of Skeeter carries the mark of authenticity, and proudly.
Also deserving of mention: some of the best gig posters in the business. Seriously, go to www.pitchforkcountry.com and give them a look. We'll wait.
Best Rock Chuck BerryForty-nine years ago, Chuck Berry recorded "Maybelline," and the rest is history. Without this record and the string of masterpieces which followed it -- "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Johnny B. Goode," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," etc., etc. -- rock & roll would have followed an entirely different developmental path. Berry crafted exquisitely evocative and insightful descriptions out of the everyday speech of ordinary Americans. He created many of the basic riffs that would be used as starting points by most every rocker who picked up a guitar in his wake, from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols and beyond. He was a no-brainer first-ballot choice for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And he still plays once a month, like clockwork, at the Duck Room.
DozemarypoolIt's not like the members of Dozemarypool never come up with new material. But it does seem as though they like to tinker with the old songs every few months. Over the last couple of years, Dozemarypool has recorded several demo CDs, and songs have stretched and become more mysterious every time. The imaginations of guitarist Ryan Stoutenborough; his brother, drummer Andy Stoutenborough; and bassist Keith Mangles never run dry. Start with hypnotic washes of guitar over a pummeling drumbeat and a furiously steady bass line, and see how many different ideas can be generated. For those curious about the name, by the way, Dozemary Pool is the legendary last resting place of King Arthur's sword, Excalibur. 11 p.m., Duck Room
Julia SetsIf it's true that God loves a working man, then the Lord must have a soft spot for the folks in the Julia Sets. Over the past few years, James Weber and Co. have tirelessly and cheerfully released album after album to some positive local acclaim, but they have yet to catch many ears outside of St. Louis. The stakes are high for the June release of Yes-Wave, the most coherent and cleanest Julia Sets record to date. The new album is more hook-heavy, while leaving room for Weber's meandering guitar, and the band has achieved the perfect mix of sonic invention and solid songcraft. 12 a.m., Delmar Lounge
The Love ExpertsThere there now, music fan, stay calm and note, if you have yet to, that the Love Experts, also known as the Bee's Knees to more St. Louis rock critics than not, have recorded a new album. I'll wait until you've stopped cheering to continue.... Yes, that's right, the second coming of the Rolling Stones is back in rare form: playing gigs, promoting a record, satisfying the salivating masses and leaving rooms charged with an electricity that is anything other than static, conveying the kind of relative dynamism so uncommon in a city that sports as many average bands as potholes. Yet from the pool of mediocre cess otherwise known as rock & roll, the Love Experts rise again -- rejuvenated, perfected, ready. You may resume cheering. 5:30 p.m., Market in the Loop Outdoor Stage
Riddle of SteelIf there's any question in your mind about the future of rock & roll, pick up a copy of Riddle of Steel's latest offering, Python. Pop it into a stereo with a subwoofer and play it at full volume. If your soul isn't immediately shaken from your body, you'll hear why the critics are using terms like visceral, refined, multifaceted and involved to describe the band. ROS exemplifies all the power, majesty and pure emotional resonance that hard rock was designed to convey, surprising and schooling you at every inventive turn of melody. Exciting, refreshing and intelligent, Riddle of Steel could possibly be the best hard-rock band on the planet. 8 p.m., Hi-Pointe
Best Pop The BaysayboosThe past year has brought a few changes to local rock orchestra the Baysayboos, both in the band's lineup and general ethos. The band has moved away from some of the more obtuse avant-gardisms of its infancy toward more straightforward, buoyant pop numbers. The inclusion of violin, trombone and saxophone has always made the 'boos stand out, and this seven-piece is able to juggle myriad sounds and textures without losing focus too often. Mixing music theory and inherent melodic sensibilities, the band has found a place of their own among St. Louis' punk, rock and jazz acts. 9 p.m., Halo Bar
BunnygruntIn the 1990s, Bunnygrunt carved an international niche for itself as St. Louis' best-known indie-pop emissary. After a few years in hibernation, the band has returned in a big way. Within the past six months alone, Bunnygrunt has had a song placed in the film Bad Santa, released a twenty-song collection of rare and unreleased material called In the Valley of Lonesome Phil, recruited new bassist Lauren Trull, and recorded three new songs with Mario Viele of Roadhouse Tunes. As is evident from the comeback shows the band's played so far, Bunnygrunt has lost none of the lovable, tuneful and slightly shambolic approach that made it semi-famous. It won't be long before the world rediscovers Bunnygrunt; catch the band locally while you can. 10 p.m., Halo Bar
The Maxtone FourAt the heart of all pop, from Justin Timberlake to the Flaming Lips, are hooks, and the Maxtone Four have more hooks than your hall closet. Listening to the band live, you might be fooled into thinking it's a cover band playing songs that you can't quite remember -- the Four's songs are part of that never-ending river of catchy rock that gets tagged with different genre titles every few years but really never changes at its heart. It's pop. It makes you smile, gets jammed in your head and comes back out in a hum. And the Maxtone Four are crafting that simple, joyous sound as well as anyone in St. Louis right now.
The Mega HurtsWith less than half a dozen shows under their collective belts, the Mega Hurts have already emerged as one of St. Louis' most promising new bands. Like an unholy cross between the Muffs and Thee Headcoatees, these three gals and one guy specialize in sweet-but-tough pop songs with a garage-rock edge. Lead vocalists/guitarists Karen and Cory harmonize like punk Shangri-Las, while drummer Jason pounds away with Animal-like abandon. As the Mega Hurts have yet to release a record, you'll have to catch a live show to hear such crowd-pleasing songs as "He's So Mod." Exercise caution, though, or you may find your heart broken by set's end. 8 p.m., Halo Bar
Javier MendozaThe defending champion returns. The Javier Mendoza Band was crowned RFT's Best Pop Band of 2003, and in case that doesn't constitute a good year on its own, how many of your favorite artists have recorded a Live at Blueberry Hill album? Having long ago charmed females from Wash. U. to Belleville with his soccer-chic good looks, Mendoza has even received airplay recently on MTV's The Real World, which is as much exposure a non-fictitious artist can hope for on that channel. Cross your fingers as the members of the JMB hit the Southeast this fall -- they may return to find that they've become bigger than ranch dressing.
Willie AkinsSt. Louis' reigning heavyweight champion of the tenor saxophone, Willie Akins is an old-school jazzman equally at home burning his way through high-speed bebop changes or caressing a languid ballad with a burnished tone and a lyrical sense of melody. Though his ability equals or exceeds that of many players with national reputations, Akins has been almost criminally under-recorded, releasing his sole CD as a leader a few years back. The talented tenor man may be a well-kept secret to outsiders, but thanks to his regular weekly gigs at Spruill's and elsewhere, local jazz aficionados and the many aspiring young musicians Akins has mentored know him as both a fine player and a generous, classy gentleman.
Hamiet BluiettThe baritone sax just isn't supposed to be able to play that high. The long horn produces a deep, powerful rumble of sound, and most great players can coax a luscious smooth tone for ballads. While staying in the low registers, Bluiett is at least as incandescent as anybody who's ever played the baritone. But he has extended his reach all the way up to tones normally reserved for soprano sax without giving up either power or control. Bluiett's improvisations have been consistently revelatory, from his days with Charles Mingus to his many projects as a leader to his role in the World Saxophone Quartet. He has returned for the nonce to the St. Louis area he called home in the late '60s, and we are all the luckier for it.
Jeff Lash TrioVibraphonist Jeff Lash and his trio have established a niche based on a distinctive repertoire and an approach that emphasizes arrangements and ensemble playing over extended solos. The band's "alt-jazz" aesthetic finds it incorporating cover songs from the likes of Nirvana and Black Sabbath, paralleling currently popular young performers such as the Bad Plus and Brad Mehldau, who have also mined the rock vein in search of songs to interpret through a jazz framework. However apt the comparisons, Lash's musical enthusiasms are indeed very much his own, and his band adds a refreshing variety to the St. Louis jazz scene. 8 p.m., Delmar Lounge
Dave StoneRegular gigs at venues such as Mangia Italiano and the Delmar Lounge have made Dave Stone one of the favorite local jazz musicians of many younger listeners in our town and helped him to win several RFT Music Awards in years past. Though the saxophonist earned his initial reputation as a fire-breathing free improviser, as Stone has matured he's developed an increasing mastery of more traditional jazz styles as well. Stone's usual trio instrumentation of sax, bass and drums provides him and his musicians with plenty of musical freedom but also places most of the ensemble's harmonic and melodic responsibility on the leader -- a challenge that the resourceful Stone meets head-on and passes with flying colors. 11 p.m., 609
Reggie ThomasAn impressive technical player, sensitive accompanist and probing soloist, Reggie Thomas is something of a rarity among jazz keyboardists, because he plays both piano and organ equally well. Whether he's fronting his organ trio OGD, working with his vocalist wife Mardra in their jazz ensemble or backing a monster soloist like Hamiet Bluiett, Thomas brings serious chops, soul, intelligence and a knowledge of the jazz tradition to whatever he does. With his job as associate professor of music at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville occupying much of his time, Thomas may not gig as frequently as some other local players -- but when he does, he's always worth hearing, regardless of the musical context. 7 p.m., Delmar Lounge
Best Hard Rock/Metal
HarkoninIts name an alternate spelling of Harkonnen, the evil clan of planet-dominators in Frank Herbert's classic Dune, the black-metal band Harkonin...but need we go on? You can probably already hear the double-kickdrum assault and harsh vocals that've been destroying the eardrums of metal fans all over the Lou. Sci-fi and fantasy references are to black metal what luxury cars are to rap-album covers -- signifiers to let you know what's inside. And what's inside Harkonin is ass-kicking: raw rock that thrills while it beats you all to hell. You have been warned. 5 p.m., Hi-Pointe
Killjoy4FunListed on stoner-rock fan pages across the United States, Killjoy4Fun is the preeminent local act for those who like their metal heavy, hard and over the top. Song titles such as "Warpaint" and "Drawn and Quartered" tell listeners what they're in for -- an assault. As Playback magazine contributor John Kujawski has observed, the tension onstage at Killjoy's live shows is palpable, not only between band and audience and among the band members themselves, but between the band members and their instruments, which they beat to a pulp song after song, letting the audience breathe a sigh of relief between attacks as the bandmates retune their guitars mid-set. With a sound somewhere between Black Sabbath and Alice in Chains, Killjoy4Fun hits slow, steady and hard. [Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this capsule; please see end of article.]
6:30 p.m., Market in the Loop Outdoor Stage
LoFreqIf you need your rock hot, rowdy, greasy or sweaty, LoFreq delivers it all. Hard at work on a new full-length with ex-Butthole Surfer Jeff Pinkus in the producer's chair, these resilient sons of the south side have maintained a strong, steady presence on the dirt/stoner rock circuit here and nationwide. Need extra-low-tuned guitars growling butt-riffs at obscene volumes for the next ramming session with your porn-star mate? LoFreq is there for you. Need a good, solid cowbell to tell you when the spankings should commence? LoFreq will see you through, then pack you a bong hit and fry up a striped-bass sandwich to complement your postcoital cuddle.
The Saw Is FamilyWhere have all the weirdos gone? It seems as if rock bands just roll out of a factory, all wanting to be the next whatever-is-selling-at-the-moment. In recent memory, waves of hair-metal drones crashed into the high tide of Pearl Jam clones, followed by rap-metal mooks and then the trust-fund rock of Strokes wannabes -- an endless, turgid churning of bands lacking any real individuality. Not so with The Saw Is Family. Best described as art-damaged psycho-punk served with a potentially lethal dose of spacey noise trash and gonzo theatricality, the Saw serves as the eccentric yang to the bland yin of Modern Rock with such songs as "Corporate Worm Guts" and "Thicker Than Electric Peanut Butter."
Shame ClubShame Club has been together for four years now, four blissful years of the best hard rock in St. Louis. No other local act commands the stage with the same hedonistic dominance; no band comes close to reaching that pinnacle of permeable guitar work that soaks through walls, skin and various other membranes. In Shame Club's own sarcastic and brilliantly undermining words, its rock is a cross between Slayer and NPR. The band manages to be loud, hard, sickeningly likable -- and smart. SC's songs make crowds thrash and dance, bang and scream, without being dumb and without pandering to the sensibilities of the loving scenesters who follow them around to dark bars and cramped clubs in hopes that when their ear drums finally blow, it will be at a Shame Club show. 9 p.m., Hi-Pointe
The Civil TonesIt's still a free country, which means you have a choice: Listen to critics who describe the Civil Tones as "wonky," "crazy-far-out," "spooky/cheesy freak-show music," or just listen to the damn band. And try to keep from dancing while you do it. Instrumental soul music is the Civil Tones' first calling: the beefy, organ-driven tradition of Booker T. & the MG's and the Bar-Kays, and if a little surf and more than a little jazz slip in, don't mistake it for cocktail-sippery. Lounges are not funky; the band's latest record, Vodka and Peroxide, is: creamy and bouncy Hammond B3 beds, raunchy and wah-wahed guitar lines, and a rhythm section that swings and grinds like a bootleg bar on the outskirts of Memphis. They be impeccable musicians, but the only thing civil about them is their name.
The CrazyBeatsFor some, the rockabilly subculture is to contemporary rock & roll what Civil War re-enactment is to current affairs. Still, the cats and kitties who practice the moves and delight in the fashion of the '50s might be on to something. If you can't actually relive the past, you can't exhaust it either. And bands like the CrazyBeats prove that the original soul of early rock & roll -- the irresistible rhythmic swing -- affords too much pleasure to resign to history books. Fronted by rockabilly DJ Al Swacker, the band, featuring Craig Petty on take-off guitar, Ryan "Tiger" O'Connor on bass and Dirty Ernie on drums (alter-egos are cool), the CrazyBeats emphasize that swing with laid-back swagger and well-honed skill. 8 p.m., Duck Room
Ring, CicadaThough they've added vocals to a smattering of songs, Ring, Cicada are still mostly known for their instrumental work. Ring, Cicada's genre is hard to categorize -- it probably falls under the category of post-rock, whatever that means -- but it's easy to say what the band does well: mixing punk and metal edge with progressive adventurousness. The four-piece group is incredibly tight on record but even more impressive live. With a rock-solid rhythm section holding the anchor, the dueling guitarists aim for the sky, their metallic, interlocking lines spiderwebbing across the synapses like a really good hit of some drug that dulls the senses and enhances them at the same time. Who needs talk when you can make guitars speak? 8 p.m., Cicero's
The 7 Shot ScreamersAny band can have some measure of success in a local rockabilly scene: Get the clothes and the hair just right, play a few well-chosen covers and a few originals that sound like carbon copies of those covers. The 7 Shot Screamers are a success, and they definitely have the clothes and the hair just right, but they've avoided the pigeonhole. Winning fans outside of the insular scene by adding glam and punk influences to their solid rockabilly base, the Screamers also bank on their incendiary live show to win over new converts. The group does play a well-chosen cover here or there but, despite its background, this band is an original. 10 p.m., Duck Room
The Trip DaddysWhy do the Trip Daddys capture -- year after year -- the loyalty of St. Louis rockers from across the genre continuum? Because they know the difference between remaining true to the original spirit of rockabilly and being stuck in a rut of stale re-creations. They're not fixated on sounding exactly like an ersatz Johnny Burnette or Gene Vincent, complete with authentic '50s dust on the mics. Instead, they channel the spirit of the drag strip and the gin joint with fearsome tempos, wild vocals and, of course, Craig Straubinger's crazy-ass guitar solos. The Daddys have owned the rockabilly scene for ages now, and their unhinged abandon in pursuit of pure rock thrills shows no signs of abating. 7 p.m., Main Outdoor Stage
Best Garage Rock
The CripplersOften, calling something "dependable" is a backhanded compliment -- a dependable car isn't flashy enough to be called anything else. The Cripplers are the most dependable garage-rock band in St. Louis, but in this case that word isn't just empty praise. Around before the millennium turned, these guys have ruled the scene for some time with their gritty, grimy guitars and unique dual-vocal attack. Trimming the fat from its sound over that time, what we have now is St. Louis' own answer to the New Bomb Turks -- a no-frills rock band playing in a style that's been around forever but, when played this well, will never get old. 11 p.m., Hi-Pointe
The ElectricA typical song by the Electric begins with that most basic unit of rock & roll: the riff. It's not an ordinary riff, either -- it's the kind of slick, back-to-basics, Chuck Berry riff that Marc Bolan of T. Rex would rise from the grave to steal. Then come the pounding drums, often augmented by a laudable amount of cowbell or tambourine. The bass drives the song forward. The vocals come in like Elvis gargling broken glass and at the chorus the song explodes in a gang of chants. At 1:53 the song ends, but worry not: These four glam-garage guys have tunes to spare. 7 p.m., Duck Room
Gentlemen CallersThis isn't your dad's garage rock. This is your garage rock, the kind you wish you could have played in your garage, and probably tried to. Bassist Kevin Schneider, guitarist/organist Mike Young, drummer Matt Picker and guitarist Mike Virag play their instruments like a rumble between the Jets and the Sharks, a tangle of youth that looks and sounds wonderfully jilted, with licks that make for worn vinyl and dirty sheets. Blending the sound of a prom circa 1985 with sharp and tinny British blues, the fans of the Callers rejoice to hear that the band has an album due soon and are ready to make born-again rockers out of the rest of us. Let the conversion begin. 9 p.m., Duck Room
The PhonocaptorsThere are three sides to the rock & roll triangle that is the Phonocaptors. Wild man Scott Hermes pounds the drums with reckless abandon, powering the relentless groove. Keith Voegele holds down the bottom end, playing a furious bass that stays locked into Hermes' rhythms without ever missing a chance to contribute a neat melodic run. Though the three always play lined up even on the stage, Jason Hutto is the frontman, the charismatic guitarist with a seemingly endless arsenal of electrifying riffs and humbucking leads. Hutto is the singer and chief songwriter, though the background vocals of Hermes and Voegele add pop luster to the mix. Put them all together, and you've got passionate, exciting and, most importantly, catchy rock & roll brilliance. 12 a.m., Halo Bar
Tomorrow's CavemanAs its name would indicate, Tomorrow's Caveman is the most primitive of St. Louis' garage-rock entourage -- any one of its songs would fit in perfectly in the Nuggets boxed set between the Seeds and the Sonics. Though the elements of Caveman's sound are exceedingly retro -- Kinks power chords and psychedelic guitar solos abound -- they are put together in a way that, while it would have worked well in the past, still sounds good today. Rumor has it that the boys are breaking up soon, though they have a final album in the works, so try to catch them before they retreat into Tomorrow's Cave.
Best Reggae/World Music
AshakaBy day, Linval Thomas teaches high-school Spanish in Belleville, Illinois, but at night the Kingston, Jamaica, native becomes the roots-reggae wizard Ashaka. Formerly known as the Prodigal, Ashaka writes and sings pure, classic reggae, the sort of stuff you hear cover bands aping endlessly. His stellar backing band flawlessly executes creative, all-original arrangements such as "Unite," the single from Ashaka's forthcoming album, Reggae Jamaica(Reggae Belleville wouldn't fly). See this act live and you'll ask yourself: Who knew we had this caliber of reggae artist in the bi-state area?
DubtronixDub started more as a style of recording than a method of playing live, with madmen like Lee "Scratch" Perry digging deep into their ganja-addled minds and recording whatever came out. But any reggae act that feels that deep, dark current under the music can get dubby any time it wants. The members of Dubtronix know that current. They ought to, with DJ Ranx of KDHX's awesome Dub Mixture playing guitar for them. You may not know anything about Jah, Haile Selassie or any of the other cultural icons that move the heart of reggae. But listening to Dubtronix, you'll feel the love. 3:30 p.m., Market in the Loop Outdoor Stage
Farshid EtnikoLed by the mercurial guitarist Farshid Soltanshahi, Farshid Etniko lays claim to a sprawling and astonishing range of musical cultures: Latin-American, Afro-Caribbean, Spanish, Persian -- even the nomadic soul of gypsy folk traditions. But this isn't International Music for the NPR set. The stormy rhythms of percussionist Ali Soltanshahi, drummer John Hale and bassist Timothy Duggan will jam your ass off, while Sandy Weltman traces the bluesier edges of jazz on electric mandolin and harmonica. They tackle Wayne Shorter, Django Reinhardt and Santana with intensity and dexterity and rewrite the world-music rules with every improvisation.
GumboheadGiven that our city is home to one of the largest Mardi Gras celebrations outside New Orleans, it's no big surprise that St. Louisans have a taste for Louisiana music, too. Gumbohead feeds that appetite with a tasty stew of covers that mixes zydeco favorites with funk and R&B classics originally recorded by the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Huey "Piano" Smith, Professor Longhair and other Crescent City legends. If you don't have the time or the cash to actually take a trip "way down the Mississippi, down to New Orleans," Gumbohead's tight ensemble sound, shrewd song selection and good-time party vibe can provide the next best thing. 2 p.m., Main Outdoor Stage
Murder City PlayersSince 1983 the full-force, ten-piece reggae/ska/dancehall assault unit known as the Murder City Players has delighted (and created) reggae fans in the Lou. Mixing a diverse array of covers and originals in their live sets, the members of MCP are practically professors of Jamaican music. The band's personnel have also backed such international luminaries as the Itals, the Ethiopian and Daddy U-Roy in the studio and in live performances, so it's fair to say they've earned their doctorates. MCP took the crown in this category last year and, with the sort of popularity they enjoy locally, they're sure to give the competition a run for its money again.
ChingyTrying to avoid Chingy songs over the last year would be like trying to run away from oxygen: You could do it, but at what price? From the bouncy "Right Thurr" through the massive "Holidae In" to the softer "One Call Away," Chingy ruled the charts and moved huge amounts of his debut album, Jackpot. But more importantly, he proved that a St. Louis rapper outside of Nelly's camp could hit big, making us more than a one-trick pony in the national hip-hop scene.
Jia DavisJia Davis rebuilt himself this year, rising from the ashes of Bits N Pieces (the group he formed with his now-deceased brother Katt), to release one of the best local hip-hop albums, Experienced(released on local label F5). While the album does recall the politically charged songs of Bits N Pieces' heyday, it also showcases the work of a changed man dealing with a different world. A mix of soul-searching and laid-back party tracks, Experienced shows that, at least for one smooth-flowing rapper, there is life after death. 10 p.m., Elvis Room
J-KwonTurning eighteen the same week his debut album, Hood Hop, dropped onto the nation, J-Kwon is the fresh-faced new guard of St. Louis rap. And it's all based on "Tipsy," a monster of a song with a beat (courtesy of local producers the Trackboyz) that pins you down while J-Kwon's languid flow washes over you. The song has moved from the strip clubs to Busch Stadium, where the tune warms up the crowd for Jim Edmond's at-bats. I can think of no better metaphor for the success of St. Louis rap.
Murphy LeeIt probably took Murphy Lee about ten seconds to come up with the name of his debut album, Murphy's Law. The album took a little longer, with care-crafted beats and lyrics about Thunder Cats, spicy chips and tin foil bouncing with the music. "Shake Ya Tailfeather" was a summer soundtrack that wouldn't quit, but the lesser hit "Luv Me Baby" is the real showcase of Murph's talents: humor, an easygoing flow and a warm persona that may not have the fireworks-flash of his St. Lunatic homeboy Nelly, but is still charming in a skoolboy way.
NellyNelly took some hits with protests against his thug hydrator Pimp Juice and his naked-ladies-included "Tip Drill" video. Oh well, it's nothing another nomination in the RFT Music Awards can't fix. Resting on his laurels while fellow St. Lunatic Murphy Lee stepped up, Nelly still exudes all-star status and is still the name that first comes up when discussing the St. Louis scene. With a new album ready to drop, Nelly looks poised to rake in another bundle of cash and pump up St. Louis yet again.
CORE ProjectWhen was the last time you pissed in a urinal bearing a CORE Project sticker? Yesterday, probably, if you took a leak at almost any club, bar or casual restaurant in St. Louis. Or Illinois. Or Iowa. Or Minnesota. Three years ago a few kids from Webster Groves became CORE Project and plastered themselves onto the local scene with a unique blend of hip-hop and organic rock. Their renown outgrew the phase of infamous property defacers when they joined Nelly and the St. Lunatics on tour; suddenly CORE Project became a band people had heard rather than heard of. The acquisition of keyboardist Dave Grelle adds a dark layer of synth to the seven-man troupe, a complementary base to the Project's acidic groove. 5 p.m., Main Outdoor Stage
The Hot House SessionsThe modern definition of a hothouse is a space kept warm enough to grow equatorial plants and ripen tropical fruit. Of course, if you ask Shakespeare, a hothouse is a less-than-subtle code for a brothel. Someone needs to shake hands with the genius behind the name Hot House Sessions, because the group's Afro-house is exactly how a tropical brothel would sound -- full of ripe horns and beats dripping with sweat. Sprouting from the jazzy house beats of DJ Alexis, who is individually nominated in the Club DJ category, the Hot House Sessions fertilize the local dance scene with turntables, trumpet, vibes and percussion. Forget the botany of desire; this is the botany of dance. 9 p.m., Cicero's
Jake's LegWhen Jake's Leg began performing the music of the Grateful Dead back in the late '70s, the phrase "jam band" was not part of the musical lexicon, and the Dead themselves couldn't have been less fashionable in a pop-music scene where disco and prog rock were in the process of being routed by punk and new wave. More than 25 years later, vocalist/guitarist and group founder Randy Furrer and his bandmates now look positively prescient, as the Dead's music has not only endured but has spawned a whole universe of bands inspired by its hippie ethos and eclectic, improvisational style. Through it all, the Leg has remained true to its original musical mission while developing an exceptionally loyal fan base.
MadahoochiMadahoochi has a stranglehold on Monday nights at Cicero's, taking a different opener under its wing each week, and the band's toured as far away as Utah. They even emerged victorious from a Cicero's Battle of the Jam Bands as a last-minute replacement last fall, as if the establishment had sent in some ringers to make sure the title stayed in-house. Bassist Beto Moreno, drummer Joe Winze and key-pusher Shawn Hartung can lay down a surprisingly thick groove, but the spotlight really belongs to guitarist and lead songwriter Scott Rockwood, he of the interminable ponytail and impressive chops. 10 p.m., Cicero's
Urban Jazz NaturalsIf UJN were a food, that food would be raspberry ganache licked from the torso of a lover, then shared in a kiss on a vibrating bed. The zesty sounds created by this collective include sprinklings of drum-n-bass, jazz, soul and house, all wrapped in the sort of charisma and versatility that only seasoned, professional musicians exude effortlessly. Nothing said this better for the band than its 2002 performance of "Everybody Here Wants You" at a local Jeff Buckley tribute concert. And if you've never seen a one-woman horn section, you'll thrill to the downright badass-ness of Dawn Weber's spirited stage presence. The Urban Jazz Naturals are one of a few progressive, danceable jazz acts in town, and they are indeed naturals. 11 p.m., Cicero's
The ConformistsBack in 2000, the Conformists were a force massed on the outer edge of whatever the St. Louis music scene was pretending to be at the time. They were loud and abrasive and repetitive and angry, part of no club or clique or movement. They stood alone, smashing forward toward something only they could sense. Five years later, they stand on the other edge of the St. Louis music scene, still on the outside, still chasing the intangible, leaving every other band in their wake. They are still loud and abrasive and repetitive and angry, but now they know quiet and soft and complex, too. 6 p.m., Hi-Pointe
Grandpa's GhostGrandpa's Ghost has been winning the Eclectic/Uncatgorizable RFT award since the last glacier passed through here. Ben Hanna and his project/ collective, named after an episode of Amazing Stories, are the 800-pound gorilla in this category, so much so that their name on the ballot reads like a sign that says, "Abandon Hope, All Ye Nominated Here." There's a reason Grandpa's Ghost always wins: They're really freaking good. Hanna has a knack for writing beautiful, elegiac songs and then assembling unique musicians to play them. Will they win again? It's anyone's guess, but suffice to say the bookies aren't offering very good odds against them.
Grand UlenaIf you expect music journalists to chew bands up into easily digested terms and feed it back to you like a mother bird to her young, then Grand Ulena creates some sort of jazz-math-noise skronk. But to reduce the music to these terms doesn't even begin to convey the amount of information found in Grand Ulena's songs. The shit is dense, and Grand Ulena brings new meaning to the term "power trio." The band's debut, Gateway to Dignity, leaves listeners gasping for air, while its follow-up EP, Neosho, allows a brief surfacing before being thrust back under a deluge of carefully orchestrated catastrophes and cacophonies. Both releases show the range of this band and its dedication to musical exploration, and St. Louis is a better place for having birthed such colossal music.
The Whole Sick CrewLast year, the Whole Sick Crew won for Best New Artist and accepted it in a truly anarchistic fashion. This year, seeing as the band doesn't qualify for that one anymore, it has ended up in Eclectic/Uncategorizable. Since winning last year, things have changed for the band. Its lineup has had some fluctuation, and the whole crew got sick of the "pirate rock" gimmick, so they dropped it in favor of a darker, more expansive sound, and by all accounts it has served them well. Still all acoustic and shambolic, the members describe themselves as "folk if you're lenient, punk if you're imaginative" and that fits, but what it doesn't tell you is that over the past year they have become a quite good at what they do. 3 pm, Main Outdoor Stage
YowieThe ferocious Yowie injects psychic-squirrel tag teams into your brain for wrestling matches, bends you over and beats your ass unmercifully with beaver tails soaked in stinging nettle juice. If you've ever had too much coffee and weren't sure whether you were euphoric or nauseated, you may have an idea of what to expect from the quizzically tuned dual guitars and pneumatic lurch-and-linger drums of these hyper-aggro tonal shit-disturbers. Do not venture into a Yowie set on any psychedelic unless you like the idea of mumbling random numbers to yourself until the day you die. 4:30 p.m., Market in the Loop Outdoor Stage
Best Hip-Hop DJ
B-WiseMost artists deplore the idea of getting stuck in a genre. "We are unique unto ourselves!" they declare, right before starting a set that sounds like every other set from bands in their genres. B-Wise is different. He may be a hip-hopper at heart, but he's not afraid to drip drops of jungle and other slices of electronica into his set. Some artists are easy to classify, but B-Wise won't get pinned down.
Charlie ChanUnless Charlie Chan has cloned himself, he must be the hardest-working man in hip-hop. On the radio, at Beat Fest, at nearly every club in town -- Chan spins so often that it seems that he's laying down tracks everywhere but in your kitchen (oh, wait, he's doing that next week). Equally comfortable meshing old-school classics, underground gems and current St. Louis hits, Chan is a workhorse, more concerned with the movement of asses on the dance floor than with flashy turntablist skills. And from the club to your kitchen, those asses move to Chan's unstoppable beats. 9 p.m., Elvis Room
ClockworkDo turntablists name their styles like kung-fu masters? If they don't, may we suggest that they do -- and that DJ Clockwork's Tiger Style is very good. Some folks lay back in the cut and let the music speak for itself, but Clockwork scratches your friggin' eyes out Tiger Style! The dexterity with which the man lays waste to wax is a thing to behold, whether on disc or, even better, live in the flesh. Just be warned -- there's no defense.
CrucialWhile DJ Crucial moves between St. Louis and Detroit, he is still a, ahem, crucial part of the St. Louis hip-hop scene. His collaborations with artists such as Hi-Fidel, J-Toth from Hoth and Serengeti are testament to his ability to deliver solidly produced albums despite working with wildly different material. In addition to being a talented DJ and an all-around nice guy, Crucial is one of the founders of F5 records, a local hip-hop label that puts out a wide array of (mostly) local talent. 7 p.m., Elvis Room
NeedlesWhile Danger Mouse got all the credit for mashing up the White Album with Jay-Z's Black Album, there were dozens of other Jay-Z mashes this year. One of the best came from DJ Needles, who slid smooth beats under Hova's lyrics to great effect. But you don't need a national act attached to notice Needles -- he's a stalwart member of the hip-hop scene, rocking parties in person and on tape wherever you look. 8 p.m., Elvis Room
Best Club DJ
Alexis"House" has become somewhat of a curse word among electronica enthusiasts, who have grown used to associations between house music and the latest remix of a trashy pop song over a perverted Latin beat that thumps with as much rhythm as a jackhammer. Luckily there are still pillars of the genre, such as DJ Alexis, who tirelessly reminds St. Louis party- and club-goers that house music can be so much more. Alexis fills her sets with obscenely large helpings of funk, soul and acid jazz, mixing rhythms, beats and vocal hooks. You may start out just tapping your feet, but beware -- Alexis' assault is scarcely detectable until you find yourself shaking in the middle of a sweaty throng on the dance floor. 11 p.m., Pin-Up Bowl
Flex BoogieFlex has been playing out for over three years, holding down residencies at several clubs in the process, including the Upstairs Lounge and Atomic Cowboy. He's been known to skillfully mix many different styles, including some hard house and downtempo, but these days his gigs focus on hip-hop and hard breaks or, as he refers to it, "strictly underground." Flex tosses in a popular hit or two from time to time as well. "It's always a remix, though," he says, "and we lose people sometimes just because it's a little unfamiliar." True fans of good beats, however, know that Flex Boogie always brings quality taste to the tables. 7 p.m., Pin-Up Bowl
ProppapappaMay we make a bad pun? Of course we may: Proppapappa knows the proppa way to work a crowd. Ouch. But true: With heavy beats and a catlike intuition (if a cat understood the politics of dancing the way it understood killing small, cute things), Proppapappa made an unwieldy name for himself in the Lou by pleasing mobs of dancers. Get your dancing shoes on and head for Pin-Up Bowl to get moved, proppaly. Ouch again. 8 p.m., Pin-Up Bowl
Steve-O90 percent of life is showing up, as Woody Allen said. DJ Steve-O shows up all over the place, laying house beats behind him like you leave footprints. He's a favorite of RFT voters, and for good reason: He's been a party planner for years, and they're looking to party. 9 p.m., Pin-Up Bowl
Cory ThomasHis eyes can read a dance floor, and his ears know what beats will take it all to the next level. People who've seen him spin at Lo or other local clubs know the beats will fall like plaster from a collapsing ceiling...hey, is the ceiling collapsing? Naw, that's just the thunder of the crowd enraptured by a good thing. 10 p.m., Pin-Up Bowl
Fontella BassRaised in the church and schooled in the blues, Fontella Bass has also made a mark in pop, soul and jazz with hits such as "Don't Mess Up A Good Thing" and the ubiquitous "Rescue Me" and her work with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. After stepping away from music to raise her family, Bass began her comeback during the '90s in the familiar world of gospel music; more recently she has begun recording and performing secular material again, too. Though infrequent, recent local appearances such as last year's concert at the Sheldon benefiting the Blues Mission Fund indicate that Bass is still in fine voice, offering the promise of more memorable music yet to come from this legendary diva.
CoultrainYou can call Coultrain a lot of things. You can call him gospel-influenced -- his voice has the fire of the church. You can call him a funk artist, or an R&B artist -- his music has elements of both, the sounds of Sly and the Family Stone creeping in alongside other influences, such as Stevie Wonder. You can call his music "soul." Just don't call him "neo-soul," or "nü-soul," or whatever other silly hyphenated label is being bandied about today, because Coultrain is different -- his music doesn't have the lifeless polish or the thin, radio-friendly sound so common among today's supposed soul revivalists. Call him what you will -- but chances are that once you hear him, you'll lack the words to call him anything.
Kim MassieKim Massie was built to sing the way Shaquille O'Neal was built to play basketball: She has the build, the throat, the lungs and the heart to make her a natural. And anybody who's heard her rip through "Strange Fruit" or purr her way through "Easy" knows that she's nurtured her nature to peak condition and can handle any mood or genre that comes her way. With the Solid Senders backing her up, expect a slam dunk of a set. 4 p.m., Main Outdoor Stage
Renee SmithHer Web site calls her the "Queen of St. Louis Soul," and we're not one to argue. Smith wields her massive voice deftly, like a kung-fu master with a giant mace. And you best not stand in the way when the woman's at work -- she might destroy you while remaking a classic like "The Thrill is Gone" or "Mustang Sally." We might not be too keen on royalty in this country, but we like this queen just fine. 8:20 p.m., 609
Soul TydeAre they hip-hop? Are they R&B? Yes. They're also massive, with almost as many members as the Polyphonic Spree, without the disquieting sheen of insanity. But the music rolls out in one big wave, wrapping up the audience in a solid groove. The rappers, singers and musicians crowd the stage; the crowd has to work pretty hard to have half the party that the Tyde is having. Bandy about quibbles about genres if you wish, but please do it outside. We're having fun in here.
Best New Artist
The HailmarysNot to be confused with the all-girl, proudly lesbian band from San Francisco, St. Louis' Hailmarys are a new pure-punk group that has played an incredible amount of shows in a short time and is still reeling from a recent CD-release party. Featuring former members of Ultraman, Jonny Hyperdrive and about a million other bands, the 'Marys may be new, but they are in no way inexperienced, and with the band members having honed their skills in other acts before, their live show is nothing short of a professional punk-rock experience. 6 p.m., Main Outdoor Stage
The Mega HurtsSee Best Pop.
Rough ShopOne Fell Swoop was a St. Louis musical treasure for several years, and then it was over. But John Wendland and Andy Ploof, two of the three mainstays in that band, have returned with a new lineup and new songs. Mike Tiefenbrun and Sean Anglin remain from the end of the Swoop era to play bass and drums, respectively. Nate Dahm adds keyboard colors, and Anne Tkach, from Nadine and Bad Folk, among other projects, sings and plays guitar. Wendland and Ploof are playing way more electric guitar than they did in the old days, which befits a turn from the strictly rootsy, country-based material to a more eclectic, sometimes pop-rock oriented sound. Longtime fans can take comfort in the fact that the mandolins and acoustic guitars are still around when necessary.
Sex RobotsSometimes punk rock is made by kids just learning their instruments as they make a lot of noise and jump around. Sometimes punk rock is made by skilled instrumentalists discovering how much fun they can have simplifying things, making a lot of noise and jumping around. The Sex Robots are the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups of punk, with guitarist/vocalist Mario Viele acting as the trained chocolate to the self-taught peanut butter of bassist Tracey John Morrissey and drummer Maysam Attaran. Their originals go by in a blaze of furious riffing, banging and shouting, and they win extra points for covering Wire's "12XU" in their live sets. 7 p.m., Hi-Pointe
Syntax ErrorThere are 10 types of people in the world -- those who understand binary and those who don't. With its song "01011000011011010000101110011," Syntax Error certainly does. This band makes the sounds that make synthetics rock, machine squeals and electro-rhythms dictating robot dreams. Rerun, Terminal Ann and Chet Offensive reproduce a sort of retro-futuristic punk that wouldn't sound out of place next to bands like the Causey Way, but without all the pseudo-religion, or early Devo, only with way more actual rock. Mechanically precise, Syntax Error is what your electronic house appliances will be listening to when they finally revolt.
Correction published 6/30/04: In the original version of this piece, the description of Killjoy4Fun included observations about the band's live performances based on a description by Playback magazine contributor John Kujawski, whom we failed to credit. TheRFT regrets the omission -- as well as the fact that we neglected to spell the band's name as1singleword. The above version reflects the corrected text.