Something about a new year starting seems to get the music and arts worlds vibrating, and there's tons of new stuff going on! But before all the sugar, some bitter news:
In Memorium: I'm sad to report that Montez Coleman, St. Louis' premiere jazz drummer and one of the true gentle giants in the city's music scene, has passed away at age 48. He played with everyone in the city, it seemed like, and the tributes to his playing and personality have been pouring in. I talked with Tony Barbata, a formidable drummer in his own right, who used to go see him play at the Ritz way back when he was in an organ trio with Rick Haydon and Reggie Thomas. "He was just a monster player — and always smiling," Barbata says. "Musically, he just oozed style, and I can't think of anyone that swings like he did." Barbata later studied under Tez at SIUE. "Before I met him he was a celebrity to me, the best jazz drummer in town hands down," he says. "He was the first-call dude for all the jazz shit. He was very much a pillar and a mentor to the young Black players in town." As much as St. Louis loses with his death, Tez Coleman's character, charisma and style will always be St. Louis' gain; his music is etched into the soul of the city.
Whoa Now: Brian McClelland has been lighting up STL's stages for years in Tight Pants Syndrome, Middle Class Fashion and even as David Bowie for a little while there, but his greatest musical achievement, by my count, was You're Under Attack, a flashing pop gem he created in 2013 under the name Whoa Thunder. That band has had a variety of lineups over the years but only a couple more singles to add to the stack — until now. Whoa Thunder has just released a fantastic new song, "Stars & Space Junk," that glows with '80s pop radiation. It's the first track off of a new EP that the band is planning to release this spring. It's a doozy, from the Turkish guitar lick opener to the radio-friendly production to the lyrics, which seem to be from the perspective of a (space?) vampire. Maybe that's why one of the verses is in Romanian! Even better news is that ace guitarist John Horton, most recently of the Bottle Rockets, has joined Whoa Thunder's roster, meaning that you should start scanning the horizon now for show dates cos this is going to be amazing. Oh, and tune into KDHX, where "Stars & Space Junk" is getting plenty of love.
S-O-S Now: If you've been to the St. Louis Sound exhibit at the Missouri History Museum recently, you've spent some time at a glass case devoted to The Welders, a smart-ass, photogenic all-female punk band that was rocking the city in 1975. Back then their live show had quite a buzz and so they recorded an EP ... that somehow never actually came out. BDR Records put out a killer 7" a while back, but that was it for The Welders — until last year, when Rerun Records decided to put out an LP version of their album at long last. This being something of a legendary mystery, the vinyl sold out before it was even released, so kudos to you if you got a copy. But! It looks like they may try to get another pressing going because the demand has been so high. First, though, the records have to actually get to the label. Pandemic backups kept delaying the delivery, and just last week, Rerun announced that the albums got seized by customs in Detroit. When will we finally get to spin "Debutantes in Bondage" on vinyl as originally intended? Stay tuned!
Spring Forward: Though he has rightfully achieved worldwide renown for his fiddle skills, the fact is that Kevin Buckley is also a truly superlative songwriter and thoughtful pop craftsman who records and performs under the name Grace Basement. Those albums number among STL's finest releases, where pained emotional nuance is captured within crystalline song structures glorified by satisfyingly strong hooks. For Big Spring, his first album since 2018's excellent AOR rocker Mississippi Nights, Buckley has decided to drop the band name and call the project by his own name. Big Spring is due out February 22, and Buckley will be celebrating with a record release show that night at the Sheldon.
The Play's the Thing: The pandemic put the kibosh on the entire arts world, but it has been especially hard for the theater, which relies on the intimacy of live performance. Various attempts at Zoom events were tried, but none (at least to me) held a candle to the real deal. This month, Upstream Theater is diving back into performance mode with Iphigenia in Splott. Splott is a town in Wales, where Effie has been going fully off the rails on a bender of epic proportions, which would be sad if she wasn't so wickedly funny about it. It's a wild one-woman monologue full of fury, detail and some deadly funny bits. The play runs January 21-February 6 at the Marcelle Theatre, with both proof of vaccine and masks required.