Open Spaces

Venues are closing, but others are stepping up.

A couple of weeks ago, A to Z ventured downtown to the upstairs stage at the Schlafly Tap Room (2100 Locust Street; 314-241-2337) to see a show with Ghost in Light, the Bureau and out-of-towners the Roman Numerals. She'd seen bands play there before at various benefits and events and always thought the fabulous sound, panoramic city views and general classiness of the joint all added up to one of the better concert venues in town.

This particular show certainly lived up to expectations musically, but also atmospherically. A diverse crowd of friends, curiosity-seekers and musicians — and the twinkling buildings outside — made for a pleasant, inspiring experience.

A to Z fervently hopes that the Tap Room picks up the slack for some of the venues that have closed in the last year (the Hi-Pointe, Frederick's Music Lounge, the Gearbox) and starts booking even more shows pairing locals with touring acts. But the night also made her ponder the unorthodox venues in town, which are all the more vital now that so many clubs have closed in the last year.

An obvious, long-standing place to see bands perform — for free, no less — is Vintage Vinyl (6610 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-721-4096). In recent months the record store has hosted performances by artists that aren't playing public gigs elsewhere at night: Bettie Serveert, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Brazil, Spitalfield and Alexi Murdoch, to name a few.

The rash of touring acts performing at Vintage Vinyl in lieu of a club — along with the staggering number of in-stores the store holds per week — made A to Z start to wonder if the current club climate in town was affecting the Loop staple. Was it just her imagination that the record store seemed busier with in-stores than in past years? And, if so, was it because of the closing clubs in town?

Vintage Vinyl promotions manager Jim Utz confirms that the volume of in-stores is up about 20 percent from what they usually present in a year, but that it's not really due to venue turmoil.

"Bands (and labels) are starting to really try to maximize the promotional opportunities that are available to a band when they are in a city while on tour," Utz says. "There have been over a dozen in-stores this year that we've seen a band arrive here, do an in-store then drive off to do a session at KDHX and then from there to their gig at the venue. These things can be some of the best free advertising for a band.

"Also, we have our own PA, so costs are minimal to do these events for the label and for us."

Even more interesting, Utz says that artists don't hesitate to approach Vintage Vinyl and ask to perform. For instance, Josh Ritter wanted to play a full gig at the store the night before he opened for Jamie Cullum at the Pageant in September, while Bettie Serveert and Spitalfield also pitched in-store gigs.

"Reluctance to in-stores usually came from the label and band management," Utz explains. "A lot of them feel like they have to be present to make sure that everything goes right. By doing close to 100 in-stores a year for the past seven to eight years, we've developed a reputation among labels, bands and promoters that the in-stores are low maintenance and minimal (if any) cost to them, and that they don't need to be here to make it happen."

In light of the number of out-of-town bands that approach A to Z looking for help booking a show in town — and the number of groups that aren't even sure where they can play in St. Louis — it's clear that other venues in town could learn a lot from Vintage Vinyl's visibility, reliability and approachable nature. It's not often one hears about bands going out of their way to play in St. Louis, and it's a trend she'd like to see more clubs help encourage.

Speaking of newish venues, the expansion of Mangia Italiano (3145 South Grand Boulevard; 314-664-8585) — complete with a bigger stage — has certainly been a boon to those bands who perform there. In fact, this Saturday, October 21, come on down and catch Ring, Cicada at 10:30 p.m., followed by the Pat Sajak Assassins, the skronking no-wave/post-punk sextet who are releasing a new album, Soundtracks for Superheroes. Admission is free, although you must be 21 to enter.

(Oh, and shameless self-promotion: A to Z often does the DJ thing on Tuesday nights at Mangia with friends, starting at 11 p.m. or so. Come on out for some mid-week drinks and fabulous tunes.)

Finally, A to Z would be remiss if she didn't encourage people to head out to the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center (3301 Lemp Avenue; 314-771-1096) from Friday, October 20, through Sunday, October 22, for their third-annual NoiseFest. Tickets for each show are just $5, and attendees are guaranteed to catch the best noise/art/experimental/whatever acts the Midwest has to offer. Catch all of the fest's information at www .lemp-arts.org/nf.php.

 
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