By Kris Wernowsky
By Chaz Kangas
By Joseph Hess
By Julie Seabaugh
By Mike Appelstein
By Rachel Brodsky
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
As 2012 draws to a close, publications nationwide are indulging in retrospection, publishing lists of bests and worsts and every little thing that falls in between. This practice serves not only as an enjoyable and informative way to fill the time, but also as a great big appreciation to the people responsible for bringing us the music that moves us.
There is plenty to be remembered this year. It was a year marked by adventure for local musicians, many of whom set up tours and made trips out of town with noteworthy frequency in the last twelve months. It was a year of loss as well, with some of our city's beloved players — David Peaston, Tim Mize, Jon Ashline and others — exiting to enter that great big greenroom in the sky.
Though of course the date is just a number, and the many-headed beast that is St. Louis music heads into the new year with as much steam as ever. We eagerly await long-labored recordings from the likes of Pretty Little Empire and the soon-to-be ten-year-old So Many Dynamos. The venue landscape, as always, is shifting — rumors abound about every warehouse big enough to hold a stage and a bar. KDHX (88.1 FM), which made the news quite a bit in this, its 25th year, figures to do so again, with a move upward into a huge new space in Grand Center.
But it will invariably be the things we can't see coming that will mean the most to us over the next twelve flips through the calendar. The bricks of this city have long ago settled, but those who inhabit them seem to grow more restless and creative by the day. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's look back at the events that made 2012 so memorable in the local music scene.
—Daniel Hill and Kiernan Maletsky
1/10: Twenty-two-year-old Swedish producer Avicii sells out the Pageant.
Second week sometime: Doom Town completes a triumphant trip to the Continent. Hauntingly catchy St. Louis punk band Doom Town returns from a three-week European adventure. The tour takes Doom Town through Scandinavia, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the Czech Republic and serves as an appropriate beginning for a year that will see out-of-town jaunts from many St. Louis artists and bands. —Daniel Hill
1/28: Darin Gray comes home. Local avant-garde bassist Darin Gray makes his first in-town appearance in four years at the Kranzberg Arts Center to kick off his tour with international drum menace Chris Corsano. Living St. Louis sax legend Dave Stone chips in on a downright frightening free-improvisation performance. —Ryan Wasoba
2/1: David Peaston passes away at the age of 54. In the last years of his life, gospel and R&B singer David Peaston — son of St. Louis gospel matriarch Martha Bass and brother to Fontella — fought, sang and recorded through the diabetes that took both his legs and, ultimately, his life. His voice was titanic, a colossally high tenor that lifted songs like "Two Wrongs (Don't Make It Right)" and "Can I?" to the top of the Billboard R&B charts in the late '80s and early '90s. He was blessed with a great gift; we are blessed to still have his music. —Roy Kasten
2/15: A River City monster is born. Demonlover demonstrably impacts the weirdness quotient of downtown St. Louis with its loud, hilarious, tuneful debut: an act the trio would build upon over the course of a tumultuous year. —Kiernan Maletsky
2/22: Jane's Addiction kicks off a U.S. tour at the Pageant.
3/7: Raekwon misses his own Washington University party. Following a lengthy period of uncertainty owing to several come-and-gone estimated arrival times, Washington University pulls the plug on its scheduled Raekwon show and issues everyone refunds. Fifteen minutes later the Wu-Tang Clan rapper arrives, disappointed and angry with the decision; the next day he plays a makeup show at Washington Avenue's Jive & Wail. —Daniel Hill
3/9: Radiohead dances its troubles away at the Scottrade Center. Radiohead brings great music, pretty lights and a transcendent set. Add in the feeling of connection with thousands of others in the same room, and this is what all stadium bands should aspire to accomplish. —Jaime Lees
Somewhere after that in March: Encapsulated Studios opens, expands and immediately kicks ass. Mike Jones and and his Maplewood-based I Hate Punk Rock Records expand their growing empire to include the new Encapsulated Studios. In addition to the state-of-the-art recording facility, Encapsulated houses affordable practice spaces for bands, an in-house screen-printing operation and lodging (including a kitchen) for out-of-towners on the road. The label itself gets a slight makeover as well, appropriately renaming itself Encapsulated Records. Local heroes like Fister (which RFT Music named Best Metal Band this year) and Better Days (this year's Best Punk Band) take advantage of Encapsulated's all-inclusive, fully DIY capabilities and work with the label on their releases. (DH)
4/20: Blank Space opens. Kaveh Razani, who is the sort of man who gets notes from strangers in coffee shops complimenting him on his conversational verve, brings his energy and open mind to the former home of curious curio shop Cranky Yellow. He and his collaborators will face miles of red tape, but they will also quickly develop a ground zero for cross-scene commingling. Walk in on a given night several months down the road, and you're equally likely to find a forum for rappers visiting from Africa or a punk-rock cassette-release show. (KM)
4/21: St. Louis has its biggest Record Store Day ever, again. Record Store Day has quickly become an internationally celebrated holiday, but our independent record stores are better than most. And this is the day that they get to prove it. Our locals know how to throw a party, with all-day entertainment including bands, DJs, discounts, snacks and free beer. This year, Vintage Vinyl, Euclid Records and Apop Records have people literally dancing in the streets all day. And the exclusives offered can't be beat. Record nerds and casual browsers alike are overwhelmed with options. Our record stores bring us a sense of community every single day, and this is our day to show some love in return. (JL)
4/23: Pokey LaFarge appears on Jack White's Blunderbuss, continuing his march toward world domination. That Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three would eventually open some dates for Jack White came as no surprise this year. LaFarge had already released a single on White's Third Man label. But actually appearing on a Jack White album (the loose, quirky, time-shifting track "I Guess I Should Go to Sleep" on Blunderbuss) was a major milestone, as was the coup de grit of landing an excellent version of Emmett Miller's "Lovesick Blues" on the September 23 episode of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, a show that was tailor-made for LaFarge's country-blues swing. And as long as we're tallying the accomplishments, throw in hundreds of shows in Europe and the States, the release of a live album, recording for a new long-player, a gig on the NPR-syndicated Mountain Stage program and a New Year's Eve show at the Ryman in Nashville with Old Crow Medicine Show — it all adds up to one hell of a year for one hell of a band. (RK)
4/26: Shattermask lead singer Brian Dotson is arrested on five counts of statutory rape and sodomy.
5/1: UK space rocker the Telescopes bring its genre-defining brand of dizzy intensity to the Firebird.
5/18 to 5/20: Tower Groove Records releases double vinyl album and parties all weekend. Tower Groove Records would rather not be known as a "label," which is understandable, as labels tend to be hierarchical power structures, and, when not, they tend to be someone's basement where records go to mold. Though barely a year old, the collective of musicians and music fans known as Tower Groove launched its first official release, a bewildering double-LP vinyl beast of all that's valiant and unvarnished about rock & roll in River City. There's fuzz rock (the Feed's "All That I Want") and sweet country pop (Beth Bombara's "All Along"), psych-rock (Tone Rodent's "The Other Side of Town") and chamber-doom (Peck of Dirt's "Making Mud Pie"), noise-noise (Catholic Guilt's "Bob From the Dock") and melodic metal (Maximum Effort's "S.I.R.P.O."), indie rock (Sleepy Kitty's cover of Pavement's "Box Elder") and ultra-lounge (Ransom Note's "Russian Blue"), fried county-folk (Fred Friction's "I'm Goin' Blind") and twee-punk (Bunnygrunt's "Debutantes in Bondage"). What could possibly hold all of this together? Friendship, mostly, and, sentimental as it sounds, a love of making music for and with friends — and then expanding that circle of friends with showcase after showcase, scheme after scheme. The most recent endeavor involves an old-school, subscription-based singles club, set to launch in January 2013. Each month the collective will send out a new split single from familiar names like Old Lights and Magic City and new faces such as Jungle Fire and Little Big Bangs. This anti-label clearly has ambition and soul built for the long haul. (RK)
5/27: Big Muddy Records hosts a chili cook off in the sweltering heat at Off Broadway.
5/29: Having signed to the venerable Prosthetic Records last year, local metallic hardcore band Everything Went Black keeps the momentum going with an eleven-date tour with Cleveland hardcore legend Ringworm.
6/8 to 6/10: The Pulse Festival debuts at Old Rock House. Forget the big names selling out the Pageant — the surest sign of the vitality of electronic dance music in St. Louis arrives in and around Old Rock House, where local promoter Amin Mohabbat works with the venue to bring two stages full of local, national and international bass purveyors to the surprisingly robust crowd.
6/14: CBGB is forever changed by Useless Eaters. It's always a dirty, smoky, proudly disgusting bar, but now it's a dirty, smoky proudly disgusting bar that hosts the Useless Eaters. The band takes the stage, and the chaos begins immediately. Though packed in tight, the audience can't help but to jump around to the sweet garage-rock sounds. This isn't some "Nuggets" shit, though. And it isn't full Goner, either. It's better. From Nashville via Memphis, Useless Eaters is fronted by a sweet kid named Seth Sutton who is in his early twenties. He's rumored to be a Jay Reatard protégé, but his skill has far surpassed his teacher. He writes music that is driving and catchy and built for bopping, and he gives us one of the surprise best shows of the year. It's fast and surreal and hazy and sweaty, and it feels like falling in love. Many of south city's not-easily-swayed musicians are in attendance, and the merchandise table is swarmed five seconds after the last note is played. Useless Eaters records with Ty Segall, tours extensively and a bunch of other cool stuff, but nothing else could possibly be as good as it is on this night in this dirty, smoky, proudly disgusting bar. (JL)
7/14: KDHX and Off Broadway pay tribute to Woody Guthrie with a 100th Birthday Party featuring some of St. Louis' best songwriters.
7/20ish: David Yow bartends. David Yow is best known as the wildest, most reckless lead singer since Iggy Pop. As the invincible frontman of Scratch Acid and the Jesus Lizard, he flips, falls, screams and bleeds onstage. As a "guest bartender," he shows the same kind of fearlessness. Sure, his bartending skills are questionable. He's rarely actually behind the bar. He takes a sip of your drink. He pours one for himself first. He doesn't turn down any shot, at all. Ever. He's in town on official business (to work on a baseball documentary), but he denies it. He spends the entire night patiently listening to drunken fan-boys, making attempts to bond with them over favorite music that they have in common. He doesn't talk about his bands, but continuously acts humble when told that one of his shows changed someone's life. He flops around, posing for pictures, getting his dick out and grabbing anyone and everyone and making out with them. He is sloshed and swaying and overly touchy and everything you would ever hope for him to be — with the possible exception of seeming like a dude who might piss his pants at any moment. He's the living, breathing embodiment of rock & roll. (JL)
7/21: The Queen Diva, Big Freedia, brings New Orleans Bounce music to the Firebird.
7/31: Pig Slop closes. If a night at Pig Slop Studios felt like a house party, that's because it basically was one. Conceived as a live-work space for visual artists, this huge, ramshackle Cherokee Street space (right above the old Globe Drugs) was home to both local acts like Little Big Bangs and Sleepy Kitty, and touring acts like Chain and the Gang and Japanther. Despite frequent changes in membership, Pig Slop had an impressive two-year run before finally packing it in at the end of July. The space lives on, however, as mushmaus, a similarly minded DIY gallery that also puts on rock shows occasionally. —Mike Appelstein
8/1: Nico Leone Leaves KDHX. KDHX is not a single-minded organization, but there is no single person more responsible for the growth and engagement of the station over the last decade-plus than Nico Leone. He accepts a serious promotion to head across Missouri, but his impact on St. Louis won't fade any time soon. (KM)
8/9 to 8/12: Open Highway Music Festival stretches out at Off Broadway. St. Louis already has Twangfest, so what do we need another summertime roots, rock and renegade festival for? Turns out, we need it for the fine, gritty music of bands like Will Hoge, the Turnpike Troubadours, William Elliott Whitmore, the Bottle Rockets, Rough Shop and Ben Nichols of Lucero, all of whom kicked off the first year of this annual event. Produced by Steve Pohlman (owner of Off Broadway) and John Henry (a veteran St. Louis roots rocker), the four-night event was loud, loose and lovingly welcomed by "red dirt music" diggers and fans of back-to-basics rock & roll and Americana. Well-oiled performances by Whitmore and St. Louis' the Bottle Rockets and a solid turnout set a high bar for next year, but the cagey organizers should be up to the task. (RK)
8/15: Loop institution the Delmar Lounge closes with one last blowout that lasts until 4:47 a.m.
8/18: St. Louis punk loses one of its best champions. Tim Mize, who spent fourteen years alongside Matt Meyers behind the helm of KDHX's bygone punk-based radio show, the Super Fun Happy Hour, dies suddenly of a massive stroke at the age of 45. In the late '80s, Mize was also the frontman of the much-loved hardcore band Laffinstock, whose chronology makes its members early local pioneers in the genre. A hero in death, Mize is an organ donor, and many of his organs find new homes. (DH)
8/22: South-city institution Stag Nite heads downtown. El Leñador has just crystallized as the unlikely heart of the south-city music scene. Its impossibly eclectic identity (Homemade Mexican food! A mural of the Alps! Christmas lights year-round!) and like-minded calendar make it the surest bet to blow the minds of your out-of-town friends. But internal disagreements between management and bartender/talent buyer/St. Louis legend Johnny Vegas and permitting issues with the city force the venue's flagship weekly show to relocate to the Crack Fox. (KM)
9/1 to 9/2: Downtown's Big Muddy Blues Festival stares down the remnants of Hurricane Isaac and comes away with one of its most successful years ever.
9/8: Blueberry Hill celebrates 40 years on Delmar Boulevard. Once upon a time there was a young entrepreneur named Joe Edwards who took a chance on a restaurant and bar at 6504 Delmar Boulevard. The year was 1972, and the rebirth of St. Louis' greatest strip was decades away — a rebirth that would not have been possible without Blueberry Hill's existence. It is now a tourist destination and still one of the most consistent pubs in town. To celebrate its fortieth birthday the club screened vintage footage of its grand opening, hosted karaoke down in the Duck Room and awarded prizes for costumes and fan-sung videos of "Blueberry Hill." (RK)
9/8: Plush is the starting point for the Brave New World of collective FarFetched. The FarFetched Collective is a diverse community formed by Damon Davis of Scripts 'N Screwz, which includes (but is not limited to) prolific producer Adult Fur, electro-folk abstractor Black James, barely legal beatmaker Remi Sorbet and rapper/DJ/visual artist 18andCounting. The collective hosts the Brave New World concert at Plush, a monster of a show and a physical manifestation of Davis and crew's forward-thinking and genre-crossing ideology. For Brave New World, FarFetched's already genre-sprawling roster is joined by dance drone duo Ou Où, lo-fi songsmith Mikey Wehling and the Reverbs and moody trip-hop act CaveofswordS among many others. In previous years, such an event would be unprecedented in this city, but the FarFetched showcase is just one example of the collaborative spirit that defines St. Louis in 2012. The open-door atmosphere common to hip-hop and jazz circles is infiltrating the often insular structures of rock bands. Groups like Old Lights and the Union Electric have nuclei of core members with lineups that constantly shift and rotate, making each one more of a miniature collective than a rock band. Local heavyweights So Many Dynamos and Kentucky Knife Fight increasingly invite guest musicians onstage for shows, adding both depth and danger to their performances. Members of Dynamos are crucially involved in the St. Louis Arts Project (SLAP), whose 2012 conference highlight is a mass improvisation by the area's electronic music masters. Tef Poe and Rockwell Knuckles, two forces behind hip-hop collective the Force, each drop solid mixtapes heavy on featured artists. Adult Fur (a.k.a. Ryan McNeely) makes a cameo on Poe's War Machine 2 and produces a chunk of Rockwell's Take Me to Your Leader; McNeely also releases RÁN, an album featuring tracks remixed by pop siren Née, Trifekta and noise guru Eric Hall among others. Hall assembled the most vast collaborative work in St. Louis this year (and possibly any year) with the Site/Sound project at Laumeier Sculpture Park. Hall brought together more than 70 local noise, folk, rock, classical, hip-hop, pop, electronic and metal artists to provide companion pieces to the park's artworks. Site/Sound, Brave New World, SLAP and innumerable other musical collaborations not only bring attention to the wealth of creativity and talent in this underdog city, they make the divisions so often drawn between musicians of different genres and communities seem insignificant in the process. (RW)
9/16: Lee Fields and the Expressions shows St. Louis what true soul is at Lola.
9/18: LouFest joins with a major music-festival-production company. After three years of steady growth, St. Louis' indie-music festival gets a boost from C3 Presents, the organization responsible for Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. The partnership between the Austin-based company and the small St. Louis founding contingent will allow for more stages and a wider appeal in 2013. (KM)
10/6: Eric Hall commissions 81 songs by St. Louis artists to correspond to the art on display at the Laumeier Sculpture Park. The exhibition, called Site/Sound, opens this day.
10/9: Jimmy Tebeau is finally sentenced. Jimmy Tebeau, bassist of local Grateful Dead tribute band the Schwag and organizer of Schwagstock, pleads guilty to the charge of "maintaining a drug-involved premise." After a five-year investigation into the extra-curricular activities of Schwagstock, Tebeau is sentenced to 30 months in the clink, fined $50,000 and forced to abandon Camp Zoe, the 350-acre plot in Shannon County where he hosts the annual festival. Tebeau was far from the only musician who found himself in court this year — Nelly's tour bus would be detained in Texas the day after Tebeau's sentencing, for one thing.
Brian Keith Dotson might be the most infamous local music criminal of 2012. The singer of nu-metal band Shattermask is arrested for multiple charges of statutory rape and sodomy in April, but only after a few days dodging the police while his face graces CrimeStoppers billboards. The Dotson fiasco is so notorious that it overshadows the arrest of Martin Evanick six months later. The drummer, who dresses like a clown when playing with Collinsville Cookie Monster metal band the Core of Your Nightmares, is held without bond for charges of producing child pornography. The rest of Evanick's band shuns him, Shattermask breaks up, and Nelly lashes out at his now ex-bodyguard via Twitter. However, Jimmy Tebeau's supporters never turn on him; the evening of his sentencing, he is given a de facto farewell party at the Old Rock House, where he plays onstage alongside the Jerry Garcia Band, smiling wide even after his legal fate is sealed. (RW)
10/10: Nelly's tour bus is detained in Texas with 36 bags of heroin, ten pounds of marijuana and a loaded gun. Crew member Brian Keith Jones claims ownership of all of it and is arrested.
10/11: The Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries turns 100. The most perfect-sounding venue in St. Louis celebrates its 100th season with some of its biggest names, including the Magnetic Fields, Carolina Chocolate Drops and Nick Lowe. But on this night, the space is overtaken by traditions closer in age to the building. A gala attracts three or more generations of devotees, who sip wine in the lobby at intermission and talk about the specific magic of the Sheldon: The opera singer warming her audience while snow visibly fell in the windows behind her, the string quartet who held them breathless, the country artist whose every strum of her acoustic guitar rang crystalline through the hall. (KM)
10/14: Happy 25th B-Day, KDHX. Local independent radio station KDHX hit the quarter-century milestone this year, with more depth than any 25-year-old should rightly have. In 1987 the station's owner, the Double Helix Corporation, planted itself in the very center of St. Louis and began blasting culturally rich, significant musical gems. It wasn't surprising when listeners proudly began saying, "Oh, that KDHX. That kid is going somewhere."
"I've been everywhere, man," KDHX might say. Rockabilly. Blues. '80s electro-pop. Ska. Old- school R&B. When you eschew listening to the iWhatever and instead tune your radio dial to 88.1 FM, you realize that KDHX has grown into one of the finest independent radio stations in the country, shaped by the hard lessons of Johnny Cash, Lightnin' Hopkins and Elvis Costello. Those lessons don't simply exist in radiowaves, though. From local music festivals to arts-advocacy programs to an army of station volunteers, KDHX brings music and independent thought to the people in ways that command attention.
KDHX is planning to trade its cramped Tower Grove East digs for a renovated building in the heart of midtown. Having earned its cultural importance over the past two-plus decades, the station will this spring be part of music's cool crowd that includes the Fox Theatre and Powell Hall. Most 25-year-olds aren't ready for that kind of responsibility. Then again, most 25-year-olds haven't lived as KDHX has. —Allison Babka
11/1: Every punk in town heads to Fubar to pay homage to Keith Morris and OFF!
11/5: The Luminary Center for the Arts holds its last concert on Reber Place. The Luminary Center for the Arts hosts indie rapper WHY? as the final installment of its 2012 Elevator Music Series, which brought Van Dyke Parks, Shabazz Palaces, Cloud Nothings and School of Seven Bells to the venue throughout the year. The WHY? show is not only the season finale, it is the last concert at Luminary's current location, an adequate but sterile room in a renovated convent near Tower Grove Park. The nonprofit art center's co-founding, co-directing, cohabiting couple, Brea and James McAnally (to whom RFT awarded MasterMind Awards in 2011), makes public plans to purchase and renovate a building on Cherokee Street. They launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000 for the move, receive an outpouring of local support and crush their goal by two grand. But not everybody is pleased with the McAnallys' plan to move into the building occupied by DIY space Pig Slop. Despite the drama, the Luminary triumphed in September, signing a lease on three consecutive buildings on Cherokee. The Luminary Center for the Arts v2.0 plans to open in spring 2013. (RW)
11/11: Vegetarian, pothead and pop-genius Paul McCartney says F.U. to time. Apparently, this is just what Sir Paul does (three-hour shows, no breaks, 30 plus songs, eyebrow-searing fireworks, face plants, raging guitar solos, silly light shows), but he hasn't done in it St. Louis in something close to forever. McCartney and his lean, learned band own a rink-to-rafter-packed Scottrade Center with a set directed at fans who may never get to see him again. Beatles songs dominated — with "Helter Skelter," "Paperback Writer" and a roaring "Back in the U.S.S.R." among the highlights — and at the age of 70, he can still deliver them with the boundless joy that defies his years. (RK)
11/12: Scremin' Mee-Mees drummer Jon Ashline dies. After ten years with bone marrow cancer, Jon Ashline of long-defunct local duo the Screamin' Mee-Mees, passes away. Ashline's legacy includes dozens of sloppily recorded cassettes of stream-of-consciousness punk tunes that found a cult following with worldwide collectors of outsider music. (RW)
11/15: R. Kelly ignites the Fox Theatre. R. Kelly brings his absurd, hypersexual R&B to the Fox Theatre for a booty-shaking, crotch-groping, jaw-dropping performance. (RW)
11/16: The Fortune Teller Bar reopens on Cherokee Street, reinvented from its long-gone original incarnation, and immediately becomes a gathering place for everyone from south-city music-scene fixtures to those who've called Cherokee home for decades.
Late in the month: Liam Christy lights out for Spain. The finest flamenco guitarist in St. Louis, and one of our city's purest musicians, Liam Christy bids farewell — at least for the next six months to a year — as he heads to Madrid, Spain, to hone his craft and live la vida flamenca. (RK)