By Roy Kasten
By Kris Wernowsky
By Chaz Kangas
By Joseph Hess
By Julie Seabaugh
By Mike Appelstein
By Rachel Brodsky
By Kelsey McClure
Despite an under-promoted, online-only album release and a dearth of live performances, the reclusive Knuckles still managed to make waves in the local scene simply because he's so damn good. On his debut solo album Northside Phenomenon, Rockwell describes his style: "I remember when I found my flow, it was soulful yet oh so rock and roll, with a touch of folk singing." Add a whole lot of Tupac, a hint of the Beatles and lyrics that are as introspective and clever as they are gritty, and you get Rockwell Knuckles. (KH)
These days every emcee that owns a laptop and a pirated copy of ProTools thinks he's a "rapper/producer." For most people it's a recipe for disaster. Luckily for us, Vandalyzm isn't most people. The University City native is St. Louis' answer to Kanye West: He's as adept at crafting dope beats as he is at writing rhymes. Van shows off his double-threat skills on his debut album, Megatron Majorz, which features a slew of guest appearances by members of his critically acclaimed clique, the Justus League. (KH)
In life, we go through a lot of individual struggles that build character; that's the sort of thing that defines my music," says emcee Gotta Be Karim, encapsulating both the street credibility and widespread appeal of his raps. In "Swagger Back" his voice crackles, whines and flows over hustling lyrics; like Biggie, the softened consonants and syllables of GBK's loose, smoothly effusive rhymes restrain his frenzied stage presence and generate addictive tension. (KW)
Blueberry Hill's Elvis Room, 9 p.m.
Best Reggae Band
In his review of Dub Kitchen's recent set at KDHX's Midwest Mayhem, the RFT's Christian Schaeffer succinctly defined the appeal of the dub-reggae stalwarts. "The seven-person incarnation of the band played soothing, danceable reggae that mixed good cheer with political awareness. The real revelation was Charlie Halleron's trombone playing, which gave a brassy resonance to the syncopated guitar strokes and bottomless bass lines." (AZ)
Brandt's, 10 p.m.
Russ Rankin (as DJ Ranx) soothes bar-weary ears late Friday night/early Saturday morning on KDHX (88.1 FM) with two hours of dub reggae. Naturally, his laid-back band Dubtronix – whose bread-and-butter is playing genial covers sets — was a natural fit to play one of this year's first Harvest Sessions at the Tower Grove Farmer's Market, where Ranx filled out Dubtronix's, er, ranks with a solid bass-guitar-drum backing lineup. (AZ)
Attribute Murder City Players' longevity – the band turned an impressive 25 years old this year – to its chameleonic nature. The ten-piece switches between ska, dancehall and straightforward reggae (and any and all variations in between) with ease and fluidity, driven by co-vocalists Mark Condellire and "Prince Phillip" McKenzie and a vibrant horn section. (AZ)
The diverse backgrounds of Yard Squad's core members no doubt inspire the group's soulful, peaceful roots reggae. Along with a rotating cast of vocalists, the scene stalwarts feature Caribbean native Art Richards on bass, Jamaica-born keyboardist Dane Cole and drummer Thomas Fowler, who happens to be legally blind after complications from surgery. Yard Squad's nearly fifteen-year career got a recent boost with the news that it landed an upcoming tour with Peter Tosh's son, a jaunt billed as Tosh 1 and The Stepping Razor Crew. (AZ)
Best Rock Band
Solely based on appearances, Victoria is one of the unlikeliest trios in the city. Spark plug drummer Steve Andrews sports tattoos up and down his arms, while lanky bassist Chad Rogers favors thrift-store finery and singer/guitarist David Moore looks like an archetypal rock star in the vein of Robert Plant. But by referencing Aerosmith, Pearl Jam and Led Zeppelin (along with modern cats Kings of Leon), the trio's musical chemistry makes any surface differences disappear — from the first incendiary riff to the last sweaty groove. (AZ)
The Incurables' live show is always a good reminder of why it helps when a band's musicians have a more than rudimentary knowledge of their instruments and know how to complement each other as a group. Featuring the songs, guitar and voice of St. Louis music scene veteran Jimmy Griffin —and a supporting cast that is more or less a who's who of the local rock scene over the past fifteen years — the group brings a straightforward, no-nonsense rock show filled with catchy choruses and spot-on harmonies. Comparisons include Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, but Griffin and Co. have the range to bring plenty of heaviness to the table — and it's this attention to dynamics that really captures the audience. (SM)
Pi, 11 p.m.
Riddle of Steel's rhythm section — bassist Jimmy Vavak and drummer Rob Smith — is forever locked in like a heated game of Tetris, while vocalist Andrew Elstner has one of the most unique voices in town; his nonchalant vocals are as silvery-metallic as Failure's Ken Andrews in places and as menacing as QOTSA's Josh Homme in others. Throw in this year's classic rock-leaning 1985 (an album that manages to avoid sounding stale or derivative) and it's always time to throw your devil horns up – way up – in celebration of this trio. (AZ)