I'm from the Lou and I'm Proud

Radar Station retraces its steps through the Riverfront Times Music Showcase

Jun 9, 2004 at 4:00 am
The Riverfront Times Music Showcase has come and gone yet again, leaving us worn out and happy, quite postcoital, as if we all have just made it with the city, and we're hoping it'll call us in the morning.

Maybe you didn't see nineteen bands over eleven hours like I did (and sticking to the sexual metaphor, that makes me Sting), but if you had, your day probably went a lot like this:

One of the things that makes the music industry so much fun is the fact that two in the afternoon is considered outrageously early. It's at this ungodly hour that you drag yourself out of bed and hit the Delmar Loop for the first band of the day, Gumbohead. To your sleepy head, Gumbohead is a cup of chicory coffee. The band puts out a blast of Cajun sounds, with an accordion player, saxophonist and washboard-strummer rounding out the guitar/bass/drum combo. This group has fans, too (at least you hope that the woman wearing the large crab-shape hat is a fan).

If Gumbohead is a cup of coffee, then The Pubes are mainlined meth. Lead singer Peat Henry's eyes bulge as the band lays down the primitive but poppy punk they're known for. They might be in the concrete courtyard outside Racanelli's, but Henry rocks like he's double-live at Budokan, even running through the crowd to straddle the friendly German statue Grosser PfuBrub.

If you're expansive in your definitions, you could call the Whole Sick Crew punk as well: The band's manic energy is as raw as anything else out there. But its mandolin-and-banjo Americana would go down smooth for fans of O Brother, Where Art Thou? The Main Outdoor Stage is a great place to see the Crew, whose songs of love and loss on the high seas bring passersby to a dead stop in the street, and you can see the alternative universe where they're the Nirvana of pirate-alternative.

Speaking of alternatives, the sweet, slow reggae of Dubtronix gets you thinking about altered states. While the musicians play some familiar tunes ("No Woman, No Cry," "54-46 Was My Number"), they don't play them in a familiar way. Their sound is great, too, with the drummer laying down dubby, echoing beats as if he had a little Lee Perry hiding in his snare.

You snap out of your eerie reverie to cross the street again for the Solid Senders, who warm up with Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon" before welcoming Kim Massie to the stage. That woman can sing, and sing she does, even pulling one lucky fella onto the stage for an up-close-and-personal serenade.

Of all the odd musical juxtapositions you encounter throughout the day, none is more jarring than the switch from Kim Massie's sweet soul to the head-banging horror of Harkonin. Although seeing a black-metal group like Harkonin during the day is kind of like seeing a bald eagle in a swimming pool, the band fights off the light and delivers a monster set.

With their black-leather wristbands sprouting spikes and lead singer Jason Barron spouting sandpaper vocals, Harkonin won't be invited to play any church picnics. You hear later that Barron's young son took the mic on the last song, and that he was awesome, but you have to leave (you won't see an entire set until nine that night) so you can catch the Love Experts.

And you're glad you did. These guys playing together are as rare and precious as a flawless diamond. Hearing their polished, catchy rock, you can't believe that these guys never rose to the top over the years. With echoes of XTC and R.E.M. in their sound, maybe they should have chosen a shorter name. That's all you can think of.

The Hailmarys popped out of a very hip time capsule and onto the Main Stage with a classic rock & roll sneer: "Do you guys like rock? 'Cause that's all we brought." And how. The Hailmarys play that kind of dirty gutter rock that sounds like it's being sung with an English accent, even if it's not.

You bounce back to the second stage yet again to catch Killjoy 4 Fun. They sound like Alice in Chains if Layne Staley decided to not be dead and then decided to kick ass. That gets you to seven o'clock with more clubs opening their doors. You catch the Electric, admiring as always their insane brand of low-down, dirty rock. Frontman Jason Triefenbach, in overalls and a bowler, has the gritty charisma of a country-bred Ian Svenonius, and St. Louis could use more of the pure showmanship that Triefenbach displays.

Some people would tell you that a DJ is the exact opposite of rock & roll charisma -- but you've seen DJ Crucial in the Elvis Room. He decimated tracks, rebuilding them with scratches and tempo changes, dropping in Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. And then he mixed and scratched behind his back. It was exhilarating, and you learned that you still know every word to "Mama Said Knock You Out."

On your way out of the Elvis Room, you check on the Trip Daddys on the Main Stage (same as they ever were, and that's a good thing) before heading to Cicero's for the instrumental (but definitely not surf or rockabilly) heaviness of Ring, Cicada. You think Edgar Winters' "Frankenstein" on Ecstasy, or Tortoise with a chip on its shoulder. You think it's pretty good, but you manage to tear yourself away so you can trek down Delmar to the Halo Bar in time to see the Mega Hurts.

The Hurts have mad buzz in this town, and it's easy to see why. Their brand of pop is sugary and acidic, like strong lemonade. You're reminded that the Go-Go's started as a punk band, and you actually stay for the end of their set and wait for the Baysayboos. St. Louis pop doesn't come any bouncier or chaotic than the 'boos, even though they dress like hall monitors. Not that you can see them; you weren't blessed with the gift of height, and in the packed bar you have to take the word of freelancer Steve Pick (who stole your tallness before you were even born, the bastard) that they've taken the stage.

The scene at Pin-Up Bowl is more conductive to the height-impaired. Folks are sitting, chatting, drinking and digging the sounds of DJ Proppapappa. You take a seat, have a beer, and it's feeling good. Another? Sure, why not? It's been a long day. And before you know it the hour slips away and DJ Cory Thomas takes over without you noticing and then -- yikes, is that the time?

Fortunately, you get to 609 in time to get the tonic that is Dave Stone's saxophone. The crowds are winding down, and Stone's blowing some stuff that's downtempo without being that placid, sticky stuff known as "cool jazz." You're starting to come down from your music high.

But at the Delmar Lounge, the Julia Sets bring you right back up. Frontman James Weber opens up with a cover of "Born to Run" before the Sets bring out some of their shiniest tunes -- their new record is a doozy.

But everything must end, even a music showcase. You head out into the night, which has some strange quality to it -- silence.

Did you miss the Showcase (for shame!), or can you just not get enough local music? Never fear, we've got more. The Riverfront Times Music Awards party is Tuesday, June 15, at the Schlafly Tap Room. Not only will you learn who the fine people of St. Louis picked as the best of the best, you'll get to look at the winners and point. And you'll get performances from Ashaka, Rondo's Blues Deluxe, LoFreq, the Trip Daddys and the Southside Rock Explosion, a veritable St. Lou supergroup with members of the Electric, Sex Robots, Phonocaptors and Bottle Rockets. And of course, Radar Station himself will be there to clap politely. Shouldn't you do the same?