The Builders & the Butchers
The annual Americana bacchanal known as Twangfest kicked off last night at the Schlafly Tap Room by offering a thumbnail sketch of what keeps the festival vital twelve years on: roots music in some of its many incarnations, from mangled folk to ear-bleeding rock to smartly tailored pop.
, a five-piece from Portland, Oregon, started the night with a set of manic strumming and banjo-abetted dirges. A good deal of the band's verve came compliments of a sweatband-wearing auxiliary member who enthusiastically banged on a deconstructed drum kit between taking trumpet solos and laying down piano parts. At times his trumpet recalled the mariachi flair of Calexico, and at other times sounded like a Civil War bugle. The set ended with some obligatory audience participation, as lead singer Ryan Sollee passed out tambourines and maracas while shouting through a cardboard megaphone. Call it cheerleader-folk.
As with last year's Twangfest kick-off, Texas foursome Centro-matic played the night's best set. I can't claim impartiality on this one – there are few bands I'd rather see live than Centro-matic, and the mix of loud, clear guitars and canyon-deep drumming always seems to melt like Provel over a St. Louis crowd.
The Centro-matic set began with a thunderous ''The Mighty Midshipman'' from 2003's Love You Just the Same, and the song selection included old favorites and a few new tunes from the just-released Dual Hawks. The sound mix was pretty awful in the Tap Room's upstairs venue – it was hard to make out singer Will Johnson's words from either the front or the back of the room – but for a band that excels at laying down thick coats of sound, the muddiness wasn't entirely a bad thing. Plus, Johnson could sing ''Flashes and Cables'' through a soggy toilet-paper tube and it would be transcendent. Long-time fans got a treat with the gem ''Huge in Every City,'' and the set ended with the slight heartbreak of ''Without You.''
After the show, Johnson promised me that Centro-matic would return to town every month so long as it coincided with a Cardinals home stand. Jump on it, concert promoters.
Blame it on the post-Centro-matic comedown or the copious amounts of Schlafly Köslch (is there a better summertime beer out there?), but the closing set by Chuck Prophet struck me as merely okay. His songs are poppy and layered, and rely heavily on twangy slide guitar, while a female keyboardist offers nice harmonies along with organ and piano flourishes. I've been told that Prophet is a great songwriter, but unfortunately, the sound mix only gave me a vague outline of his songs. As a guitarist, though, Prophet is a treat to watch, as he puts his cream-colored Telecaster through its paces with plenty of string-bending and fleet picking.
Twangfest continues tonight at the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill with the Gourds, Charles Walker & the Dynamites, and the Deadstring Brothers. Click here for a full schedule.
- Christian Schaeffer