Hot Summer Music

Your guide to St. Louis music — from now till Labor Day.

 "Summer's ready/Summer is ready when you are. "

—The Breeders, "Saints"

Let's be clear on something: There isn't much difference between the type of musicians who tour St. Louis during the summer and those who visit the rest of the year.

Some performing bands — like metallic prog-geeks Tool, who play a sold-out Scottrade Center show on Friday, June 20 — are coming because routing finally worked in our favor. But others, such as the Fray, OK Go, Ben Folds and Ted Nugent, are veritable regulars at venues around town. (In fact, the Fray sold out the Pageant three times last year.)

Even if the sounds swirling around town are familiar, there is something different and exhilarating about experiencing the music of summer. For one thing, sitting on a patio, listening to a band and sipping on a beer isn't the exercise in sheer lunacy it is during winter's endless chill.

Also, the notion out-of-towners hold about St. Louis — that everyone in the city drives around blasting Nelly hits — is proven true daily. At least around RFT headquarters in the Loop, the number of people testing the volume controls on their car stereos increases exponentially.

St. Louis' creativity blooms in summer, particularly when it unfurls its many outdoor shows at the Arch grounds, farmers' markets or outside the Missouri History Museum — to name just a few places. Area traditions also abound: Trekking out to Maryland Heights to see a show at RiverportŠ I mean the UMB Bank Pavilion, er, the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, or taking the family downtown for Fair St. LouisŠum, River Splash, er, nope, make that Live on the Levee.

While there's quite a lot of music we don't have room to cover — not owing to quality, but to space considerations — the list of summer shows announced so far is impressive. a "I sincerely miss those heavy metal bands / I used to go see on the Landing in the summer" — Wilco, "Heavy Metal Drummer"

Summer is intrinsically nostalgic, an ideal time to glorify and reminisce about idyllic scenes from the past: running barefoot, catching fireflies, eating ice cream for dinner.

Plenty of concerts embody this tendency to look back, beginning with the eighth annual Rib America Festival. The four-day event takes place this weekend from Friday, May 25, through Monday, May 28, at Soldiers Memorial Plaza and features a veritable who's-who of oldies-radio greats.

Highlights will include grrl-power champion Pat Benatar (performing with husband Neil Giraldo), funk-master Morris Day, cowbell-loving rockers Blue Öyster Cult and blues legend Buddy Guy.

The party continues with disco-soul men Kool & the Gang, who live up to their song "Jungle Boogie" by headlining the Saint Louis Zoo's annual Zootopia on Saturday, June 16. And when comely former Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell stops by the Pageant on Memorial Day, he'll perform selections by his grunge supergroup Temple of the Dog, nü-rockers Audioslave and Soundgarden (flannel-tastic!) — as well as songs from his new solo record, Carry On.

But it's the Scottrade Center that hosts perhaps the most anticipated concert of the summer on Monday, July 2: the St. Louis date of the Police's much-ballyhooed reunion tour. The trio morphed from a raucous punk band into a sophisticated act that smartly utilized reggae, jazz and world-music influences, before fracturing after the release of 1983's multi-platinum Synchronicity.

After twenty-some years apart, the band — singer/bassist Sting, guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland — put aside their differences long enough to reconcile for a world tour.

"This is a band that was very popular, and they broke up way too early," says longtime KSHE (94.7 FM) DJ Favazz. "I think people, with a situation like that, they just go, 'Well, you know, man, twenty years ago, I liked them, but I never saw them, and boy I'd like to see them now.'

"Quite frankly, when the musicianship is there, for a band like the Police, that stuff doesn't tend to go away. Those are three great musicians and their skills have probably not diminished in twenty years."

Canadian prog-rock kingpins Rush are another group that's kept its incredible chops — and reputation — intact. Rush performs at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Friday, August 24, in support of a vibrant-sounding new album, Snakes & Arrows. The song "Far Cry" is in rotation on KSHE.

"They're still viable," Favazz says. "They're a band that just has never stopped. The new song is probably the best thing they've put out in ten years. It's pretty stripped-down; it's not over-produced.

"They have a strong base anyway in St. Louis. This is one of their big cities in the United States. The band has gotten older, we've gotten older, and if they're still making some good music, why not go see them?"

Favazz is not quite as ready to vouch for the holy triumvirate of hair metal — Poison, Ratt and White Lion — landing at the Verizon Amphitheater on Thursday, August 2. The first band is trumpeting POISON'D!, an album of cover songs by luminaries such as David Bowie, the Cars and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

Still, he notes that Poison and Def Leppard, which released its own covers album (Yeah!) last year, are savvy enough to avoid the washed-up stigma with creative packaging. For instance, Def Leppard sold out the UMB Bank Pavilion last year with Journey, a Lou favorite. This year the British arena-rockers will celebrate the July 4 holiday with Styx (a St. Louis staple) at the same venue. By bringing sure-fire draws along, bands ensure that fans get more bang for their concert-ticket buck.

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