Sound Checks

Fair St. Louis, featuring a bunch of mediocre pop artists and a couple of halfway-decent ones Saturday-Monday, July 3-5; St. Louis riverfront

Fair St. Louis strives to be a family-friendly event, so it'd probably be too much for music fans to expect something with a little edge to it, at least when it comes to the main-stage concerts. This year's shows are like yellow stripes -- straight down the middle of the road-- with appearances by Hootie and the Blowfish, the Little River Band, Tracy Byrd, Dionne Warwick, the Temptations and Wynonna.

Hootie, of course, was a VH-1 fave in the days of Cracked Rear View, a copy of which was issued to each and every American home and which spawned high-fiving frat anthems like "Hold My Hand" and "Only Wanna Be With You." Recent albums Fairweather Johnson and Musical Chairs have brought them back to earth in a way that some might see as humbling but that the band apparently views with no small sense of relief. "The big myth is that we wanted to be huge in the first place," vocalist/guitarist Darius Rucker told the audience at the Guinness Fleadh Festival in Chicago several weeks ago. "We were always in it just to play good music."

And the truth is, you can't hold an act responsible for its audience, however annoying they may be. And Hootie is, in fact, the Little Bar Band That Could. As if to prove it, they peppered their set at the Fleadh with some very unusual covers, including the Stone Temple Pilots' "Interstate Love Song," the Georgia Satellites' "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" and -- swear to God -- Lauryn Hill's "Doo Wop (That Thing)." The point is, they aim to please. (And when you're in those Fair St. Louis Porta Potties, you aim, too, please.)

The Little River Band is a considerably weaker choice, which is saying something. After all, their heyday is darn near a quarter-century ago, and even when they were producing hits like "Lonesome Loser," "It's a Long Way There," "Help Is on the Way" and "Reminiscing," the Aussie band was already horribly out of step with the times. These days they're mostly on the casino and oldies circuits, and the LRB has undergone considerable lineup changes. It's a tossup whether they'll still be able to hit those high harmonies without slot machines chiming in the background.

The closing day's double bill of country acts has a little bite in that it at least offers some contrast. On the one hand, there's new-traditionalist Tracy Byrd, who strives to keep his music close to country's honky-tonk roots on songs like "Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous" and "Watermelon Crawl." On the other hand, there's Wynonna, whose show rocks hard and is glitzy enough for one of the main rooms in Vegas. Still, why ask Wy? In musical terms, the first and third days at Fair St. Louis seem somewhat worthwhile. And hey, they're free. (DD)

Dave Davies with the Wingnuts
Wednesday, July 7; Duck Room

It's been more than six years since the Kinks performed in St. Louis -- or anywhere in America. Since then, the group has only released a 1995 live-in-studio recording, To the Bone, featuring performances of many of the classic tunes made famous by the Kinks since the heyday of the British Invasion in 1964. These days, the Kinks seem to be on a lengthy hiatus, with no immediate plans for new recordings or tours.

Instead, the primary focus of Kinks-related musical activity recently has been solo performances. Over the past few years, Ray Davies has presented live shows combining readings from his memoir, X-Ray, with acoustic performances of Kinks tunes.

Now Dave Davies, the guitar player who created all those famous Kinks riffs, is also out on tour, but he's not just following in big brother Ray's footsteps. Sure, he also wrote an autobiography (Kink, released in 1996), and the sibling rivalry between the Davies brothers is the stuff of rock legend. But as Dave said during a recent phone interview, this tour is driven primarily by his love of performing his music.

"I did a few solo dates in early 1997 in the LA area when my book, Kink, was first released," says Davies, speaking from a Holiday Inn in Albany, N.Y., before a show. "I live there part of the time, even though I feel that my real home will always be London. I really enjoyed it, and I've gone out on several tours since then."

Unlike Ray Davies' "Storyteller" shows, Dave doesn't do readings from his book, preferring to concentrate on music with the help of his backing band. And working with his band in intimate club settings is especially appealing to Davies. "I think it's great," he explains. "It gives me a chance to experiment a bit; the pressure's off and I can have a bit of fun, and you can have a better rapport with the crowd."

Informed that he'll be playing at the Duck Room -- named for Chuck Berry's famed duck walk -- Davies responds, "It'll be a real privilege for me to play that room, since it's named after him. I hope he comes to the show. I'll do 'Beautiful Delilah' or something that he inspired." (For the uninitiated, that tune -- a raw blast of guitar fury -- was the initial cut on the first Kinks album back in '64.) You can expect plenty of other Kinks classics, especially those tunes written by Dave Davies, when his "Kink Kronikles" tour hits St. Louis. (TP)

Contributors: Daniel Durchholz, Terry Perkins

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