It's hard not to feel like a cheerleader when writing about this past Sunday's Slammies Showcase -- to shake and dangle those pompons just the way we should, to jump on cue and smile and then flip-flop when the cheer is over. After all, The Riverfront Times paid for the damned thing. What are we gonna say -- that the showcase was a stupid idea and it was a Sunday wasted? That all the participating bands totally sucked and that we crawled into bed Sunday night worn out and disheartened?
Of course not. But we'd never say that -- not for fear of The Man cutting off our fingers at the knuckles; no one is pointing a gun at our head telling us to praise this beloved showcase. We could slam the Slammies if we wanted. Luckily, though, Sunday's Slammies Showcase wasn't a drag. It was something special: a totally inspired day of music that got that way not because some weekly newspaper did some legwork, rented some PAs and devoted some of its pricey advertising space to pumping up the fest's reputation on the music scene but because, given the opportunity to gather en masse and create something worthy, a bunch of musicians both invited and uninvited showed up in the University City Loop and burned down the fucking house. The Riverfront Times may have paid the bills, but the artists involved turned the Slammies into an event, one that we never anticipated would become the spectacle it did -- even though we humbly submit that the Powers That Be booked a pretty damned good bill.
Really, the Conformists and the Ruckus Crew turned it into an event. Both acts were nominated for Slammies (the Conformists in the Best Punk Band category, the Ruckus Crew for Best Hip-Hop Artist) but, for reasons of space, were not invited to perform on Sunday. That sucks, being nominated yet remaining uninvited. Rather than grumble and cuss (though they probably did some of that, too), both groups showed up and performed anyway. The Conformists rented (or, given their reputation, hot-wired) a flatbed truck, spray-painted "The Conformists" on it and powered their punk with a generator, jamming econo-style. They sabotaged the official event by pulling into Commerce Bank's west parking lot and cranking out their music. They then went mobile and drove up and down Delmar -- and, apparently, over to the Hi-Pointe -- making their own showcase parade.
The Ruckus Crew also jammed econo-style, with the aid of a megaphone and a wicked sense of humor. After performing a quickie set at Vintage Vinyl -- the great DJ K-9 graciously cut his set in half so that the Ruckus Crew could squeeze in some rhymes -- they cut to the street and started pumping themselves: rhyming into the megaphone, hailing passing cars on Delmar and giving everyone some good-natured guff. (To some sexy ladies passing in a car: "You like rap? Or do you like hip-hop?" No response from the car. "She probably likes Nelly.")
When you see 15 bands in eight hours, your critical capacities tend to weaken and ultimately collapse as all the extant notes and emotions melt into one long verse-chorus-verse-chorus-hook-chorus chaos, and only the white-hot moments remain. But these moments, relatively abundant, illustrated the extent to which the St. Louis music scene is in some small sense thriving.
Take the Star Death's electrifying set at Vintage Vinyl. Nominated in the Best Punk Band category (along with the aforementioned Conformists, the Red Squares, 13 After and Sullen), the band transcended the narrow tag of "punk," turning in a set that, despite the weak record-store PA, was a killer. A typical Star Death song gets straight to the point and, once there, does back flips and cartwheels, a bundle of magnetic energy that screams for attention not because of its volume but because of its internal imagination. Watching the Star Death play rock & roll is inspiring the way that watching any great band is: It's not just about the songs; it's about the feeling, and the Star Death always seems to be ready to explode with the simple joy of being onstage.
We heard a lot of grumbling about the fact that Sexicolor, with only one gig under their belt at the time of the nomination announcement, was honored in the Best New Band category even as other, more "deserving" bands went unacknowledged. But that's -- pardon the blue language -- hogwash. Judging from their (way, way too loud) performance at the Hi-Pointe, they deserved to be nominated not only in that category but in the Best Jam Band, Punk Band, Rhythm & Blues, Rock and Artist of the Year categories. Double guitars spewing distorto-rock as sturdy as Mitzie or Spitzie or Jill or whatever her name is and Jason's dueling charisma, Sexicolor just flat-out rocked.
A few bands were disappointing. Honeytribe's Devon Allman rhymes "would" with "could," "should" and "good" way too often when he ought to be rhyming it with something less obvious (actually, he'd be best served if he remained silent and let his music do the talking). The Brand New Broken Homes, through no fault of their own, failed to live up to expectations suggesting that they somehow resemble the late, great New York band Television. They don't, and the songs they performed were way too wobbly to support the melodies. And -- hell, somebody needs to say it -- Sullen is a good rock band that would do quite well if only guitarist/harmonist Shanna Kiel would sing more. As it stands, the band shines when she sings but often falls flat when the burden falls on Justin Slazinik. He wears his influences on his sleeve -- Cobain, Frank Black, Verbena's Scott Bondy -- and though he can successfully replicate those sounds, seldom does he improve on them. Either that, or maybe he should just go all falsetto all the time. Once he discovers his own voice instead of relying on his influences', the possibilities, well, they're endless.
Picking the day's shining moment is tough; we saw 15 acts, meaning that we missed 35 others. In addition to the Star Death and Sexicolor, other pearls include Charlie Chan on the turntables at Vintage Vinyl, going all deconstructo on us, scratching with his fingers, nose, belly and butt. The David Stone/Eric Markowitz Trio at Brandt's was heavenly, as usual. Were Stone and Markowitz doing this stuff in Chicago, they'd be sitting on the top of the perch. Stone's gilded tone seems to speak directly to Markowitz's bass, a bass that can whisper as well as it can holler. Out of Order overcame the massive -- and baffling -- obstacle of having no DAT or CD player at the Red Sea (really, what is up with that club?) and succeeded in throwing a pared-down party consisting of a live drummer keeping the beat while the group spit out their single "Work Som'n, Twurk Som'n"; a few ladies in the crowd provided the "Let me hit it, can I hit it!" refrain.
We were most bowled over, though, by the set turned in by Static Circus later in the evening at Cicero's. The most unclassifiably adventuresome band in the city right now, the Circus has transformed itself into a weird amalgam of groove-based funk, nonlame fusion and semifree jazz. The recent addition of keyboardist Gino Pellarin has done wonders for Static Circus' sound; his noisy excursions serve as an anchor that frees everyone in the band to roam a bit more.
The most interesting reflection on St. Louis music 2000 wasn't even anything Slammies-related, though. It happened on Friday night, when at two clubs bands who weren't nominated for awards ripped through sets: Jive Turkey at the Galaxy, Colony at the Duck Room. Jive Turkey turned in one of the tightest, funkiest sets of real-deal, true-blue hip-hop we've ever seen, local or otherwise: six members -- bass, percussion, trombone, Fender Rhodes, guitar and two phenomenal emcees (Scatterbrain and Ryan C.) conjuring the spirit of all things rhythmic. Across town, Colony spat out their engaging Midwestern Brit-pop, replete with a light show worthy of Kiel Center. The two acts served as both slap in the face and reassurance -- a slap because, despite the occasional know-it-all 'tude we exude, we obviously don't know jack; reassurance because, hell, 50 great and good bands converged on one Sunday, and the music overflowed so much that we were equally, if not a bit more so, transfixed by two that didn't participate.
Anyone who says St. Louis music isn't happening is clueless. One snapshot weekend serves as a reminder of this. What more do you want?
CORRECTIONS: In the Slammies Showcase guide, we suggested that hip-hop/funk band Fat Monkey had called it quits. They haven't, though they are on "hiatus." Also in the Slammies guide, we said that Intellect Emcee was the "leader" of the Midwest Avengers. The Avengers are five emcees, all equally in charge of the proceedings.
QUICKIES: On Saturday, May 13, artists involved with the Suite 16 compilation of work by local female singer/songwriters will converge on the Grandel Theatre in the Grand Center district to celebrate the discs release. More about the disc later.... Glory for Champions a fantastic emoesque guitar band featuring Jason House of Pave the Rocket, Eric Abert of the great Ring, Cicada and Mark Heinz of Fragile Porelain Mice gigs at Mississippi Nights. Its a rare opportunity to see a band that deserves the Nights huge sound system, and no doubt Glory will take advantage of it.... And finally, if you wanna see one of the best trumpet players this region has ever produced, Russell Gunn is coming back to town to showcase his heavenly horn at the Sheldon on Friday, May 12. He tore down the Fox Theatre a few weeks back when he performed with DAngelo, and heres hoping hell keep that momentum going.
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