By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
The show will be a joyous but somewhat bittersweet affair, as Waterloo vocalist-songwriter Mark Ray has plans to move with his family to Portland, Oregon, in the coming months because of a job. Waterloo isn't breaking up Ray has an abundance of home studio equipment and the band frequently takes long breaks anyway while he writes tunes but the group's shows will become even rarer occurrences in town.
"I have to be honest, I love St. Louis, because I grew up here," Ray says. "You know, part of my whole identity and even the music I've created is sort of linked intrinsically to the haziness of these summers. I hate it when I'm miserable in it, but I love it because I love the atmosphere of it. There's just something about the Midwest."
Woods oddly enough often replicates the feeling of having sunshine beat down on one's face, with its lush layers of warm guitar, melodic piano and Ray's dusky vocals. The honeyed jangle of highlight "Light in the Doorway" conjures Robyn Hitchcock, although there's a distinctive psychedelic bent to the snaky electric riffs of "Chain of Lakes."
But as with the best R.E.M. albums, the disc's light is often tempered by a darker undercurrent of loss and longing intangible wistfulness and introspection that gives Woods resonant emotional depth.
"I came into this record and I had more confidence," Ray says. "I made sure there were lots of songs to pick from. I took my time writing; I think we had 25 songs we felt really good about. Then, I brought the guys in."
While Ray spent eight months alone doing overdubs on the record, he cites an intensely creative weekend last September at his basement studio during which he and bandmates Chris Grabau, John Baldus and Dave Nelson tracked a staggering sixteen songs as a particularly "magical" three days.
"I was blown away with how good the vibe was," Ray says. "I think that comes through on the record."
Those attending the Waterloo show are in for a special treat: Steve Rauner and Adam Reichmann, late of critical darlings Nadine, will open.
"I've been friends with those guys for over ten years," Ray says. "One of the very first Waterloo shows was with these guys at the Sheldon. That means a lot to me that those guys are doing that with me."
As for what Reichmann and Rauner plan to play, the former says the duo prefers to keep things casual.
"We're going to do a couple old things, a few new things something borrowed, something blue," Reichmann laughs. "[It'll be] more stripped down. We'll try to make it interesting, though. I think we're going to try to get Mark [Ray] to play as much stuff as we can, get him on the Wurlitzer, so it's not the Indigo Guys."
Nadine fans can also take heart: The pair has been writing songs since the group broke up, which means new music is a distinct possibility.
"We're sketching out the next direction for us to go in," Reichmann says. "We're giving ourselves a lot of time to experiment with things. We really wanted to come up with something that was totally offensive and weird, we wanted to alienate people." He laughs. "But I don't know if it's really in our nature to do that."
Speaking of rock shows at new venues, A to Z snagged a sneak peek at the new and improved Creepy Crawl (3524 Washington Boulevard; 314-621-9333), which stages its first show on Friday, June 30. The club, whose capacity will jump to roughly 500, finally received its liquor license from the city on Monday, June 19 (a 3 a.m. license remains pending; for now the new location closes at 1:30 a.m.).
Owner Jeff Parks says to "look for a cleaned-up Creepy Crawl" and he isn't kidding. One enters through the main door (which already has a black-and-white Creepy awning above it) into a spacious lobby that will hold a juice/water bar. Walk down a sloping corridor, and there's the larger main room, with dark green walls and wood accents. The bar is directly to the left; the larger stage sits farther back, dead-center under a black wall festooned with "Creepy Crawl" lettered in blood-red. (And women can rest easy: The bathrooms do have actual stalls and doors.)
"I think people will be more receptive coming to Grand Center than downtown," Parks says. "We're really fortunate we found the spot we did."
It'll be a battle for the club to shake its reputation as a dirty punk club for teenagers, but those who dismissed the venue years ago are advised to give the new location a chance. Parks promises nightly removal of stickers and graffiti and says Clear Channel has even expressed interest in booking shows there. However one feels about that company, this could mean a higher caliber of concerts for St. Louis in the future and A to Z can't argue with that.