Best Of 2001

Dear John:

It's hard to believe we've been together for 25 years. Most DJs are lucky if their careers last that long, but somehow you've managed to remain not just employed but employed by the same station for the whole run. Sure, there was that brief suspension when your foray into political satire bombed (no pun intended), but that's just a spicy footnote to an otherwise distinguished career. You probably laugh about that now, because you've always been able to laugh at yourself. Remember "E. Jack Ulette?" Like most St. Louisans, you don't take yourself too seriously. That's why you're so good at what you do: Pick a record, play a record, talk about the record. But as the big corporations buy up radio stations and shuffle DJs faster than they shuffle formats (wait for it), each new DJ tries so hard to create a persona or a lifestyle or cult of personality that listeners can identify with that radio now sounds as if it's staffed by used-car hucksters. They could all take a lesson from you. You've made a career of being yourself. Congratulations, and thanks for 25 years of rock. John Ulett, you are today's "Lone Classic."

Previous Winners

Gone are the days, at least for now, in Washington Avenue clubland when competition for high-profile DJs meant that we freaks could hear cool house -- and, less frequently, techno and drum & bass -- nearly every weekend. Sadly, now we're punished with no-names clogging up the decks downtown, spinning commercial trance and pop, at least in the spaces that call themselves "dance clubs" (Tangerine and Lo, neither of which is truly a dance club, spin great stuff, but they don't count here; neither has a dance floor). Of the true big-deal dance clubs, only one still books and cares: That's Velvet, which has weathered countless storms in the past year, including unnecessary police scrutiny for operating a "rave venue," the current Washington Avenue construction and the weekly near-riot emanating from Kaos across the street. The folks at Velvet are celebrating their sixth anniversary this month, and that's a long time for any club. But there's a reason they're the veterans: They know their house music and constantly strive to bring top-notch talent to town, and they know the best local selectors and consistently provide an arena for our homeboys and girls to showcase their stuff. Now if only a few of the nearby numbskulls would step up and offer some competition, Washington Avenue could thrive with quality, not dreck.
Gone are the days, at least for now, in Washington Avenue clubland when competition for high-profile DJs meant that we freaks could hear cool house -- and, less frequently, techno and drum & bass -- nearly every weekend. Sadly, now we're punished with no-names clogging up the decks downtown, spinning commercial trance and pop, at least in the spaces that call themselves "dance clubs" (Tangerine and Lo, neither of which is truly a dance club, spin great stuff, but they don't count here; neither has a dance floor). Of the true big-deal dance clubs, only one still books and cares: That's Velvet, which has weathered countless storms in the past year, including unnecessary police scrutiny for operating a "rave venue," the current Washington Avenue construction and the weekly near-riot emanating from Kaos across the street. The folks at Velvet are celebrating their sixth anniversary this month, and that's a long time for any club. But there's a reason they're the veterans: They know their house music and constantly strive to bring top-notch talent to town, and they know the best local selectors and consistently provide an arena for our homeboys and girls to showcase their stuff. Now if only a few of the nearby numbskulls would step up and offer some competition, Washington Avenue could thrive with quality, not dreck.
In an era when every schmuck with a 2000 VW Bug and a pair of Adidas digs in the crates for old vinyl and thinks he's goddamn DJ Shadow, the timing is perfect to take it back -- er, take it back, then forward -- to the middle school. Inspired by the bedroom-based pause-tape phenomenon perfected by low-budget hip-hop heads for years, Tape takes it to the stage (you suckers) armed with dual cassette decks, a mixer, headphones, an itchy pause-button finger and a Case Logic filled with gold. At any given performance at the Upstairs Lounge, you might hear Eric B. and Rakim's "Juice," followed by an immaculately cued-up "Shout at the Devil." Also in the mix, swimming in an ocean of hiss and mid-range EQ, you might hear Art of Noise, Cameo or Led Zeppelin. Don't worry: Tape's flawless execution, manic energy and bizarre choice of format save him from the trap of predictable yuk-yuk genre-bending. This is pure idiotic ingenuity that must be heard to be believed.
In an era when every schmuck with a 2000 VW Bug and a pair of Adidas digs in the crates for old vinyl and thinks he's goddamn DJ Shadow, the timing is perfect to take it back -- er, take it back, then forward -- to the middle school. Inspired by the bedroom-based pause-tape phenomenon perfected by low-budget hip-hop heads for years, Tape takes it to the stage (you suckers) armed with dual cassette decks, a mixer, headphones, an itchy pause-button finger and a Case Logic filled with gold. At any given performance at the Upstairs Lounge, you might hear Eric B. and Rakim's "Juice," followed by an immaculately cued-up "Shout at the Devil." Also in the mix, swimming in an ocean of hiss and mid-range EQ, you might hear Art of Noise, Cameo or Led Zeppelin. Don't worry: Tape's flawless execution, manic energy and bizarre choice of format save him from the trap of predictable yuk-yuk genre-bending. This is pure idiotic ingenuity that must be heard to be believed.
The (Mostly) Harmless Theatre has produced just two full-scale shows, Defying Gravity and Fuddy Meers (as well as an evening of 10-minute plays), but both displayed polished, mature and professional work worth watching. The ambitious company is under the artistic direction of Robert Neblett, who seems intent on going out on an artistic limb, not just to shock (as many companies think they must) but to stimulate and provoke. The other big newcomer in town, the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, also gets a nod for its first production, the outdoor presentation of Romeo and Juliet at Forest Park, which proved a crowd- and critic-pleaser and an indication of more great summer evenings to come.
The always tasteful Diamond went truly upscale this year, installing a members-only section dubbed the Diamond Room that features a so-called data port, which is essentially a soundproof glass booth featuring a small desk and phone jacks so you can get your e-mails out and call the boss to assure him you're actually hard at work. This is a brilliant concept and enough to earn the Diamond top honors, even without the mounted -- meaning stuffed -- lion, superthick carpets and extra-large chairs with exaggerated armrests designed specifically for lap dances. Although we've never sampled the kitchen's wares, the menu looks promising, if a bit pricey. For those who insist on the very best, management promises it will, given sufficient notice, prepare any dish you fancy, from barbecued quail tongue to toasted eel. The liquor and cigar selections are by far the largest and best in the region. In terms of aesthetics and athleticism, the talent is a touch above what you see at other local clubs, and there always seem to be more dancers on duty at the Diamond than elsewhere. This club has its limits -- if you want omigod raw-and-raunchy, head to Roxy's in Brooklyn or PT's in Centreville. The cover you pay at the Diamond will also get you into those clubs, and vice versa.
This category used to be called Best Play Seen in St. Louis, the implication being that a local production probably wouldn't be the best. This year, we're picking two bests, one imported and one homegrown, not comparing but acknowledging them as different, noncompeting creatures. In this first category, the big event of the year was the stop at the Fox by the Tony Award-winning Death of a Salesman, starring Brian Dennehy. It deserved all the praise heaped upon it and gave St. Louisans a chance to see several great performances in a historic production of a still-vital play. Another notable visitor was the SITI Company's War of the Worlds, part of the Edison Theatre's Ovations! Series, which was as ambitious and as multifaceted as its subject, Orson Welles.
Newcomers to St. Louis probably don't know that before Loop master builder Joe Edwards renovated the Tivoli, it had fallen into a ghastly state of disrepair. The last days before its doors were boarded up made for hardy cinematic excursions. If it was raining outside the theater, it was raining inside, too. If it was cold outside, it was best to wear a heavy parka throughout the feature presentation. So for those with a sense of history, the Tivoli today is an extreme before-and-after shot -- much more compelling than those hideous "health" ads in the Post-Dispatch. Shiny golden and silvery gewgaws all around, plush arena seats, even a cozy little court in the lobby with tables and chairs to sit and munch and jabber with other cinephiles -- it sure beats shivering in the dark while confronting some obscure, bleak German flick. The personality traits of the staff are sometimes more entertaining than the films, combining adorably hip and surly with sincerely sweet and pleasant. They serve up a damn fine all-beef hotdog to go with those obscure, bleak German flicks, which you now watch without your coat.
The (Mostly) Harmless Theatre has produced just two full-scale shows, Defying Gravity and Fuddy Meers (as well as an evening of 10-minute plays), but both displayed polished, mature and professional work worth watching. The ambitious company is under the artistic direction of Robert Neblett, who seems intent on going out on an artistic limb, not just to shock (as many companies think they must) but to stimulate and provoke. The other big newcomer in town, the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, also gets a nod for its first production, the outdoor presentation of Romeo and Juliet at Forest Park, which proved a crowd- and critic-pleaser and an indication of more great summer evenings to come.