LouFest ReviewFest: Empires, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Cherub

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Headhunter's dream, this one. - Steve Truesdell
Steve Truesdell
Headhunter's dream, this one.

By Nick Horn

Another LouFest is in the history books! With 40-some acts converging on St. Louis' Forest Park for the two-day festival, St. Louis' music fans had plenty to keep them singing and dancing throughout this past weekend.

RFT Music sent several operatives into the field, tasked with watching and listening and cataloging and reviewing the festivities for you, dear readers. Click here to see our full coverage!

Empires at LouFest. - Bryan Sutter
Bryan Sutter
Empires at LouFest.


Things have been going well for Empires. Fresh off a Letterman performance in support of the its latest EP, How Good Does it Feel, the band is gearing up to release a new full-length entitled Orphan on September 23, just before heading south for a pair of early-October Austin City Limits dates. In the midst of all that, the Chicago quartet was kind enough to grace St. Louis with its presence for the second time this year. No stranger to St. Louis's smaller rock clubs, Empires was most recently in town back in March to perform at the 200-capacity Demo alongside local group Tidal Volume.

Of course, the setting for this weekend's performance was a little different than that last stop in town. It might have been reasonable to anticipate Empires' music feeling awkward and a little out of place in broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon. Reasonable, but wrong. In fact, the band's particular brand of anthemic, synth-accented pop-rock came across as tailor-made for the festival/stadium atmosphere.

Drummer Mike Robinson, guitarists Max Steger and Tom Conrad, frontman Sean Van Vleet and touring bassist Julio Tavarez (who also helped out with synthesizers and backing vocals) sauntered onstage about ten minutes after their-scheduled start-time and promptly got to work treating the crowd to a set of new songs from the yet-to-be-released album, squeezing eight into an only 35-minute set.

The straightforwardness of Empires' set -- composed almost exclusively of easily danceable, mid-tempo rockers -- made for a great way to ease into the festival's second day. Though the setlist was made up entirely of new material, the meticulously crafted songs gave a strong impression of familiarity, melding the sonic muscle of '90s alt-rock with the heartbreaking sentimentality of '80s new wave -- all the while retaining the nostalgic comfort of both. There were no surprises to be found here, but everything was in its place.

If you're looking for intellectual rock music, Empires is not for you. If, on the other hand, you enjoy simple, emotive pop tunes played powerfully, Empires may be right up your alley. The band's concise, uncluttered songs were impeccably well-rehearsed and sounded perfectly at home projected through the massive system.

If today's performance was any indication, Empires is far from the peak of its ascent into mainstream rock recognition.

Continue to the next page for more.

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