Thorny Crown

A visit to either of the Black Thorn Pub's locations will top off a fun South Side evening

The Black Thorn Pub -- the RFT's pick for "Best Place to See Rock Chicks Working" in the 2001 "Best of St. Louis" issue -- recently opened a second location, where these same rock chicks, along with select rock dudes, will actually, um, rock. Visit the original tavern (3735 Wyoming St., in the Tower Grove South neighborhood) and you'll find Sunyatta Marshall (Fred's Variety Group), Bruk Longbottom (Ouija) and Marcia Pandolfi (the Fantasy Four) sloshing draft and slinging pizza; check out the new space (5800 Gravois Ave., in the Bevo Mill environs), and you just might find one of these charismatic dames wielding a guitar and a microphone in the refinished basement-cum-music club.

The Black Thorn's auxiliary branch has been dubbed "Black Thorn at the Lemmons" in honor of the former tenant, Lemmons Restaurant, whose gorgeous '50s-era neon sign still adorns the two-story brick building. "We couldn't bear to get rid of it," says Marshall, who will book all the bands. The restaurant opened for business last month and will host live music Thursday-Saturday nights, beginning on Feb. 9 with the Red Squares and the Bad Folk. Upcoming shows include Los Flamencos on Feb. 14; LoFreq and the Electric on Feb. 15; and Fred's Variety Group, Ouija and the Fantasy Four (the "pizza bands," Marshall cracks) on Feb. 16.

Marshall estimates that the club is about the size of Blueberry Hill's Elvis Room. "It has a really low ceiling, so the stage is going to be kind of an issue," she says. "I mean, I can touch the ceiling, and I'm only 5-foot-5. I'm sure we'll at least do a drum riser, but it'd be kind of awful to make tall people have to sit or something."

Despite the close quarters -- shades of the old Cicero's, God rest its soul! -- the performance space offers some real perks for bands. "There's actually an elevator when you come in," Marshall says enthusiastically. "It takes you 5 feet from the stage, so there's no loading equipment up and down the stairs!" St. Louis Music is supplying a new PA system, and a consortium of local musicians is taking measures to ensure that the sound is as glitch-free as possible.

"It's wonderful to have a new venue; we're really excited," Marshall gushes. "The music upstairs in the restaurant is going to be the music [owner Dave DiFani] likes; you might hear Jimmy Buffett. But downstairs we'll have all kinds of stuff -- Tomorrow's Caveman, the Phonocaptors, the Highway Matrons and out-of-town bands." Although relatively new to the booking business, Marshall has great taste and a genuine commitment to original music. She plans to let headlining bands choose their openers, and her many contacts in the St. Louis music scene will help her round out the schedule.

The Black Thorn at the Lemmons is a boon not only for fans of local music but for the Bevo neighborhood, which, despite a recent influx of Bosnian immigrants, isn't exactly hopping after dark. DiFani spent close to a year securing the building, which was vacant for years, saddled with liens acquired by an unscrupulous previous owner. We're thrilled that DiFani's given the venerable establishment a second chance, and we hope local music fans show up in droves. Radar Station can't recall a time when St. Louis has had so many nightclubs -- and this competition will, with any luck, make for a vibrant scene.

Though cynics might argue that there are only so many prospective patrons to go around, Marshall believes the new nightspot will help, rather than hurt, other area venues. "We're talking about doing a wristband-type thing with Frederick's Music Lounge and the Famous Bar where one $7.50 wristband will get you into all three clubs," she says. With ingenious marketing strategies such as that, maybe South St. Louis will become the cultural mecca it deserves to be.

In addition to the inaugural concert at the Black Thorn at Lemmons, several other promising musical events are taking place on Feb. 9. Fans of New Orleans party music can start their Mardi Gras revelry early with a concert by Gumbohead at the Broadway Oyster Bar right after the Grand Parade. The show, which kicks off at 4 p.m. and goes until 8 p.m., will feature rousing, well-executed covers of Big Easy favorites by the likes of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Professor Longhair, the Neville Brothers and Dr. John.

Also that evening, Cobalt Blue, one of vocalist Rebecca Ryan's projects, celebrates the release of a new CD, Work Song, at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room. A collection of atmospheric folk songs with hypnotic trip-hop touches, Work Song is a pleasant, sometimes inspired take on modern adult-contemporary rock -- imagine a punchier Beth Orton or a less catatonic Mazzy Star. Sharing the bill are Brandy Johnson and the Julia Sets.

And last but not least, the Phonocaptors bring their monstrous garage-rock stylings to Frederick's Music Lounge on Feb. 9. The band dissolved a couple of years ago when founding members Jason Hutto and Scooter Hermes hooked up with Spitzie Q. West to form Sexicolor. After that supergroup's demise, Hutto and Hermes decided to resurrect the Phonocaptors with the help of the most recent Sexicolor bassist, Love Hog veteran Keith Voegele.

All told, it's a goddamn embarrassment of riches this Saturday night. You'll have to decide for yourself which of these excellent bands deserves your patronage; just don't let us catch you bitching about the lameness of the local music scene. With so many venues and so many bands, all the scene lacks is people to support it. Haul your ass off the couch and see what you're missing.

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