Murder City Players
First, a little disclosure: I've been Murder City Players' sound guy since '87 or so. The origins of this long-running act go back to the 1983 dissolution of the then-popular Felons (check
to get a glimpse of the origins of that band). The years since have seen the band release several well-received recordings, back such Jamaican luminaries as the Itals, U-Roy and Leonard Dillon (a.k.a. The Ethiopian) and open for countless others. Through numerous personnel changes, the vocal stylings of Mark Condellire and "Prince" Phillip McKenzie and the keyboards of founding member Jeff Schneider remain constant. The current ten-piece line-up, which features a full horn section, has recently added a new twist to its act by backing "all-star" vocalists from other St. Louis reggae bands in an annual packed-to-the-gills Marleyfest bash at the Duck Room. (TC)

Yard Squad
If you're going to catch Yard Squad live, you'd best make it to one of their occasional shows at Viva. This St. Louis band spreads its musical message far and wide with trips to Tennessee, Colorado, Ohio and frequent stops at Chicago's famed Wild Hare club. Yard Squad was founded in the early '90s and draws its inspiration from Jamaican heavyweights such as Black Uhuru, Third World and Burning Spear. The backing is both sparse and tight: Bassist Art Richards and drummer Thomas Flowers (who has been gigging recently with MCP) lay the foundation, while keyboard player Karl Acon and guitarist Dave Clark add the melodic elements. There are many talented vocalists in the Yard Squad family — Karly "Roots" McRoberts, Desirea "Songbird" Dobbins, Claudell the Ambassador and Psyche Southwell — each of whom adds a unique flavor. A taste of this band's originals is available on its MySpace page; a full-length release is in the works. (TC)

Best Rock Band

The Bureau
Despite significant lineup shifts in the past few months — to the tune of a new guitarist and drummer — dark-wave rockers the Bureau remain one of the city's most compelling bands. Charismatic frontman Mike Cracchiolo's sardonic wit and deadpan humor echoes that of the Long Winters' John Roderick (a hero of his), but he's completely serious when it comes to writing quality Bureau songs. The quartet's upcoming full-length debut features liquid basslines, zig-zagging synths and killer pop hooks; just try to forget the haunted-mansion keyboards and Colin Hay-goes-goth vocals of "Stalingrad" or the jackknifing post-punk guitars snaking through "Cabin Pressure." (AZ)
Cicero's, 8 p.m.

Finn's Motel
For all of the vitality within the St. Louis rock scene, nagging questions of originality just won't go away. But seemingly from out of nowhere, Finn's Motel released Escape Velocity, an album cool enough to earn attention from Magnet and fresh enough to dispel lead singer and songwriter Joe Thebeau's power-pop past. The band makes indie guitar and keyboard rock with brains and heart, shifting its rhythms effortlessly and lifting its hooks on every chorus. Song titles like "Eero Saarinen" and "Dramamine for Engine 3" may suggest solipsistic geek-rock, but their sound quivers with inspired pop life. (RK)
Halo Bar, 9:30 p.m.

Riddle of Steel
Riddle of Steel knows rock — and not just of the naturally occurring monument variety. (One of its MySpace photos shows the trio mugging for the camera in front of Stonehenge; cue this booklet's second snarky Spinal Tap reference.) Tours in Europe and plenty of out-of-town gigs domestically — fans include post-rock legend J. Robbins, and the band is huge in Tampa, Florida — have helped Riddle of Steel coalesce into a sonic tour de force. Think Queens of the Stone Age's stoner-muck crossed with devil-horns-worthy Van Halen chestnuts. (AZ)

Team Tomato
We're having a bit of a venue crisis lately. Clubs keep shutting down, and they say it's hard for local bands to find a good place to play. Right? Well, Team Tomato doesn't seem to be feeling the crunch. The quartet appears to be busier than ever and is playing its own brand of dynamic alternative rock all over town. So what makes Team Tomato so special? Well, it has lavish drum solos, the indie-country elements of late-'80s R.E.M., the catchy guitar hooks of Nirvana, killer Beck covers — and it plays enchantingly layered melodies with style, bitches. Try to keep up. (JL)
Halo Bar, 10:30 p.m.

Walkie Talkie U.S.A.
A super-group of sorts, Walkie Talkie U.S.A. features present and former members of Nadine, Red Eyed Driver and the Phonocaptors. Together they communicate on multiple frequencies: proggy, Stooge-y, glammy, heavy — but mostly massively loud. Singer and songwriter Jason Hutto has the rock stance; legs akimbo, he could straddle all the Marshall stacks onstage. Plenty of those, and plenty of power chords channeled through tricky changes that never obliterate the melodies drawn out by Bryan Hoskins' freakishly high harmony vocals. (RK)
Delmar Restaurant & Lounge, 1 a.m.

Best Vocalist

Kevin Butterfield
With deep family roots in Missouri country, Kevin Butterfield carries on the tradition of Show-Me State-born singers such as Ferlin Husky, Porter Wagoner and Wynn Stewart — and he does so without even trying. With his shaved head and angled jaw, he looks more like the poli-sci graduate student he is than a country balladeer. As leader of the Linemen, the city's stone-cold, hillbilly-deluxe band, or as a regular solo performer at Iron Barley, his tone is always pure country heartache. (RK)
Riddle's Penultimate Café & Wine Bar, 11 p.m.

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