Listening Post

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POINT PARADE: You can thank, or blame, alt-rock station The Point (105.7 FM) for an impressive number of local breakouts in the past half-decade. From the occasionally inspired din of Gravity Kills to the flavor-of-the-month mediocrity of Radio Iodine and Stir to the station's current fave, Mesh, the Point has nudged several bands in the direction of the big time, even if most never arrived there.

They've done it nonstop since their inception, and nearly every rock band of note in the area, except for the ones who wouldn't be caught dead on one, has appeared on one of the five previous Pointessential collections of local music. No. 6 was just released, featuring 39 bands on a double CD. It's a nice snapshot of one big corner of the St. Louis rock scene, even if it is a roller coaster of inspiration and lack thereof.

Because of the sheer volume of bands — again, give the compilers a big round of applause for being so (relatively) inclusive — the following windsprint through the release will be divided into two parts: Disc 1 will be examined this issue, disc 2 the next. Here we go. Put on your seatbelt. Disc 1, in order:

Is there anything more frightening than a Matchbox 20 wannabe band? Good God — if you're gonna steal from someone, at least have the good taste to steal from someone like Tom Jones. Mesh sounds like Matchbox 20 — middle-of-the-road, take-no-chances, release-all-prisoners dude-rock, and that ain't good. That's bad.... Bland ska from Fat Cactus: "Leave me alone, leave me alone, just let me wear my Hawaiian shirt/Leave me alone, leave me alone, why you gotta be such a jerk?" No, there's no accounting for taste, but when your rebel signifier of choice is a Hawaiian shirt, maybe you need a good talking-to. Pump some energy into that horn section, pump more energy into the song. Bury fourth (or are we still in third?) wave ska: Leave them alone.... It's got a good beat, and you can dance to it. From the subharmonic bass to the bumpy electronic beats, Bellyfeel is at least hopping on this year's bandwagon rather than last year's. The megaphone-vocal effect is kinda tired, though. Three-and-a-half stars.... Larissa Dalle moan and hum at a snail's pace through "Downstairs Inside," but they're creating music with a minimalist vision, a synthetic mumble in the dark. Darkness that manages to shine.... Ashtray is a country band. They play "alternative country," and "Country Mile" is a bitter, vindictive love/hate song about naked tripping girls. Has there ever been a bad song about naked tripping girls? Uh, no. Unless Mesh has one.

There's a reason MU330 is considered one of the best ska-punk bands in the country. If "best ska-punk" is an oxymoron, so be it, but "Stick It" has so much hard energy that genre names are meaningless. Great song.... Jerk with the 5 Deadly Venoms. Just when you think you're lost in the maze of guitarland, a light appears and a hard melody splatters your sorry ass. Aces.... By far the stupidest band name ever, bar none, is Trip El Ecks (XXX). Are all eight people in this band happy with the decision they made? If not, one of them should speak up. If so, well then, how can we trust them with our ears? The song title is nearly obsolete: "In the Year 2000." The mix of hip-hop and rock is dangerous, but somehow the dumb-band-name band hits it on the dot. And with so much working against them.... Wait. Is this Mesh again? Is it Kansas? No, it's Mayflower Jones. More money rock, let's-see-if-we-can-appeal-to-the-bottom-of-the-barrel music. They've succeeded in doing just that.

Bent have been playing around town forever; half the group used to be in Ultraman. Didn't even know they were still gigging. Fortunately, much of the pop in their pop-punk sound has been abandoned, and the rock remains.... What, you think any critic in his right mind would say anything bad about Dogfight? I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid. They could kick my ass, and probably have. This is great hard hard hard punk.... Wandering astray from the feedback twang, Stillwater are still, and maybe always will be, at least a bit derivative of that one band, but they can write a muscular rock song that turns at all the right corners.... Were a razor blade handy, it'd be very tempting to physically remove all evidence of Seven Against from this collection. Sounds like bad Spin Doctors (a redundancy, of course).... Treading way too close to jam-band status, occasionally breaching the border, the Rabies have found a great punk melody, and they jump on its back and ride it throughout. Congratulations. If it weren't for the melody, this song, "Skip," would die a quick death, but it's strong enough to withstand the intense pressure of failure that surrounds it.

Simple Mary's Diary are a rock band, there's no denying, and they're quite a good one, even if they lack any spirit of adventure whatsoever. "Magnetic Baby" rocks in that classic-grunge way.... Ninekiller offers us a little NYC travelogue, drops down some righteous clichés — "I'd cross the world for you, baby" — spices them with echo and a decent melody, coasts until they get tired, then comes home.... Light a fire under the collective ass of Supercrush. They need it. There's something there, something engaging, but it's smoldering. Rock. Alt-rock. Point rock. Rock.... Note to rock band Slapdash: It's dangerous to begin a song with the lyric "Bored out of my mind." Critics, always looking for the easy way out — and usually finding it — feed on such temptation.... For some mysterious reason — curses! — I ended up on Not Waving But Drowning's e-mail list and have been subjected to form-letter badgering ever since. Ended up hating them without ever hearing them. Though they rival Trip El Ecks (XXX) in the band-name department, their music is raucous and crazy-tight, somewhere near early Hüsker Dü and Black Flag — damn good schizophrenic punk. Disc 2 next week. (RR)

HEAR NONE, EITHER: The Murder City Players are reggae classicists, recalling the vibe of '70s Jamaica in all its glory; there's a reason they're consistently voted the best St. Louis reggae band in the annual Slammies (other than, obviously, the rather light competition in the field). On their new CD, the beautifully packaged, wonderfully recorded Speak No Evil (Nighthawk), you can hear the sound: "Wine and Come Up" recalls the classic riff of Burning Spear's "Marcus Garvey," and from there they hit the Itals, the Maytals and kindred groups, providing a flowing groove throughout. The Players lack the soaring harmonies of said influences but more than make up for it with the musical rhythm.

Their recent step backward in history to hit rocksteady and ska tones, on the surface, seems like a ploy to get the attention of the kids. But who's to blame them? If they can finesse the sound — and they obviously can; they're the best ska band in town, too — why shouldn't they step up the pace a little bit? You can help them celebrate the release of Speak No Evil at the Duck Room on Friday, July 9. (RR)

STRING-BAND STING: Recently overheard at a bluegrass festival: "What's the difference between a fiddle tune and a machine gun? The machine gun usually stops after 50 rounds." If that bad joke strikes you as all too true, then check out All I've Got's Done Gone, a new collection of old-time string-band music from three exceptional Midwesterners: Rhys Jones, Jeff Miller and Jim Nelson. For years the three have been drifting from dance to dance, festival to festival, and their first CD documents their fast, bluesy sound. Jones, a 25-year-old Chicagoan, is as good a young fiddler as you'll ever hear: His tone is sweet, his strokes sure and compulsively rhythmic.

"Rhys literally grew up sleeping under the stage where people were playing," Nelson says. "It's second nature to him." St. Louisans Miller and Nelson (who played with the not-quite-notorious Volo Bogtrotters) push Jones' fiddling with percussive banjo frailing and bass-note-rich guitar.

Drawing on the breadth of the American fiddle-tune tradition and crediting sources and tunings in the liner notes, Jones, Miller and Nelson pay homage to some under-appreciated fiddlers, especially Doc Roberts and Ed Haley (the latter has recently been championed by John Hartford). All I've Got's Done Gone also marks the first release on Vigortone, a new label headed by Miller and Nelson. "We started with this project," Nelson says, "and there will also be an Ill-Mo Boys CD (by Nelson's band featuring Geoff Seitz and Curtis Buckhannon) coming out next month. I've also got some field recordings we're interested in, music by a fiddler named Clyde Davenport from Jamestown, Tenn." All I've Got's Done Gone is a good reminder that the old-time music is very much alive, if not likely to appear on your local Borders listening station. Look for it at Music Folk and Vintage Vinyl. All the spunk, skill and imagination of the classic string-band sound are here. (RK)

Contributors: Roy Kasten, Randall Roberts

Send all local tapes, tips, discs and detritus to Randall Roberts, The Riverfront Times, 6358 Delmar Blvd., Suite 200, St. Louis, MO 63130. [email protected].

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