(Words by Andrew Scavotto; photos by Annie Zaleski)
After devoting a significant amount of time to exploring local music in 2008, moreso than in years past, I've decided to end the year by blogging about my favorite moments. This isn't necessarily a list of my favorite shows -- rather, it's a list of the moments during which I enjoyed music the most during 2008.
(Shame Club, August 2008)
It should be noted that this is the perspective of a fan, not a critic, meaning that this blog is not a critical summary or "best of" analysis. In fact, there are several great local bands that I didn't even see this year, so this list is not even close to being comprehensive or authoritative. I also missed some key shows (the Riddle of Steel finale, So Many Dynamos doing Weezer, reunion shows that I haven't been around long enough to understand), so I'm simply listing the moments that I happened to enjoy the most. Let me know what I missed and tell me about your favorite moments from 2008.
Full disclosure: I have worked professionally with a few of the artists listed below and I planned this year's Lot festival. Regardless, you can trust that everything on this list was included simply because I thought it rocked and was awesome, not because of any self and/or company interest. [Editor's note: I can vouch for that.]
My favorite moments of 2008....
(Alvin Jett at Midwest Mayhem)
1) Alvin Jett and Phat noiZ , "Hey Joe" at BB's, December 12, 2008
I will always associate the late Bennie Smith with my appreciation for local music. He's my all-time favorite performer, and I'll never forget how much I enjoyed his Saturday night set-closer at BB's: an epic, ten-minute rendition of "Hey Joe" that fused blues, rock and classic soul in a fashion that will never be duplicated.
So when I realized that Alvin Jett and Phat noiZ (my new favorite blues band) had launched into "Hey Joe" before last call at BB's a few weeks ago, I immediately stopped my conversation, moved to the front of the room and enjoyed what was, intended or not, a moving tribute to Bennie's late-night tradition. While the passing of Bennie and other legends such as Henry Townsend has (justifiably) provoked many to wonder about the future of the blues in St. Louis, moments like this are encouraging.
2) So Many Dynamos' spontaneous collision with the Funky Butt Brass Band, The City Museum, May 22, 2008.
This year's KDHX Midwest Mayhem festival was a surreal, funhouse-style showcase of St. Louis' musical diversity. Reggae, blues, hip hop, rock, funk, roots, country, zydeco, burlesque, whatever -- it was all on display, spread throughout the City Museum and jam-packed into a festival format that was at times overstimulating (in a good way). At the end of the night, So Many Dynamos tore into an inspired set before a crowded room on the City Museum's lower level.
So Many Dynamos vocalist Aaron Stovall at SXSW:
At the same time, The Funky Butt Brass Band mobilized a brass/drum procession on the museum's upper level. The parade made its way downstairs and the horn-wielding revelers ended up right in front of So Many Dynamos, creating a spontaneous, cacophonous musical mash-up that for a few seconds, actually sounded kind of awesome. At a minimum, this was a crowd-thrilling, party-enhancing moment that symbolized what Midwest Mayhem was all about: celebrating the diversity of music in St. Louis.
3) The Bureau as David Bowie, The Bluebird, September 12, 2008
This year's Under Cover Weekend(s) at the Bluebird produced enough great moments for an entire list, as the event expanded into a two-weekend extravaganza, with each night devoted to music from a specific decade ('60s, '70s, '80s, '90s). Undercover Weekend is hugely entertaining because it challenges local bands to be creative with the presentation of an iconic artist's music, either by providing their own interpretations of classic songs or by "getting in character" and closely covering the subject artist.
With its '80s night set of David Bowie covers, the Bureau executed the latter concept perfectly. Front man Mike Cracchiolo's reverence for Bowie was palpable during the band's inspired set of classics such as "Heroes" and "Under Pressure," which closed down a night that featured the Monads as Devo, Magnolia Summer as the Replacements, Robb Steele as RUN-DMC and Fattback as Huey Lewis and the News. This was an excellent match and although it was the last time I would ever see the Bureau, I suspect it won't be the last time I'll see Cracchiolo in character as David Bowie.
The Hibernauts, "Same Old Song":
4) The Hibernauts as the Four Tops, The Bluebird, September 5, 2008
While Bowie was a natural fit for The Bureau, indie-rockers the Hibernauts opted for a makeover during Under Cover Weekend, going as the Four Tops and performing on '60s Night. The formula was simple -- pick one of the most popular, revered bands of all time, pack the house and deliver the classic, timeless hits that everyone knows and loves. The Hibernauts executed the tribute perfectly, and everyone in the room sang along as the band rocked all of The Four Tops' essentials, including "Baby I Need Your Loving," "I Can't Help Myself" and "Reach Out." Seriously, who doesn't love those tunes? Good times, indeed.
5) Gentleman Auction House, "If I'm the First to Go", The Bluebird, July 5, 2008
What used to be a standard set-closer for Gentleman Auction House is now reserved for special occasions that demand an encore, such as the band's release party for Alphabet Graveyard, its first full-length album on Emergency Umbrella Records. For a band known for its tireless energy and dynamic stage presence, "If I'm the First to Go" provides the perfect catharsis. The song ends with the members of the band dropping their instruments and banging on drums, the floor and/or whatever they can find in a frenzied percussion outro. It's an absolute show-stopper, and it worked perfectly as an exclamation point to the CD release party, providing a final release of energy on what was clearly a meaningful night for the band.
(Dave Grelle, the Feed at Midwest Mayhem)
6) Jimmy Griffin with The Feed, covering Sonic Youth's "100%," The Duck Room, November 26, 2008.
Although the Feed have proven that they don't need a guitar to rock, I've always wondered how an axe would sound in the mix. Enter local rock star Jimmy Griffin (ex-Nadine, the Incurables), who joined the Feed for three songs during a Thanksgiving eve set at the Duck Room. When Griffin took the stage I expected some Hendrix (which they eventually did), but was pleasantly surprised when the band tore into Sonic Youth's "100%," a distorted, dripping-with-sleaze noise-rock anthem that provided an excellent outlet for this loud, unconventional fusion.
7) The Monads, The Market in the Loop, June 1, 2008
Every year, the RFT Music Showcase turns me into the proverbial headless chicken, as I tend to spend the day hustling around the Loop and catching about ten to fifteen minutes of every band's set. While this practice results in a great day generally, it also leaves me lacking specific memories. This year, however, I couldn't tear myself away from the Monads' set in the Loop Market -- a raucous, energetic performance that was fueled by the crowd's energy and participation. The area was packed, the Monads were inspired and both the band and its audience doused one another with water during the show's climax, a spontaneous development that made perfect sense on a sweltering day.
8) Jon Hardy and the Public - "Rosalita," Off Broadway, December 12, 2008
With its momentum shifts, marathon arrangement and seemingly endless lyrical outpour, Bruce Springsteen's "Rosalita" cannot be an easy song to cover. It's a high-risk selection, so I was impressed when Jon Hardy and the Public nailed it in front of a packed house at Off Broadway on December 12. Without question, a Springsteen epic provides an ideal showcase for the vocal chops of frontman Jon Hardy, who many believe is the most talented rock vocalist in St. Louis.
If I told you that during '70s night at Undercover Weekend, The Dock Ellis Band showed up glammed-out in makeup, toting a homemade guillotine, and proceeded to slice and destroy items such as toy snakes, fake skulls and real watermelons on stage -- while rocking out cover versions of classic such as "School's Out" in a freakishly inspired and well-presented tribute to Alice Cooper -- you might not believe me. So I'll just show you the photos. This was a total circus -- see below.