It must have felt good being Kristeen Young last night at the Pageant. Kinda. There she stood -- in a fugly, Bjork-esque bubble suit and clunky high heels -- the long suffering, under-appreciated avant-diva of the St. Louis underground past, on a stage five times bigger than anything she ever played when she was a club-circuit mainstay in the late ´90s.
In the five years since Young left St. Louis for New York, she’s had a run of deserved good fortune: Tony Visconti productions; a duet with David Bowie; and, the most fruitful, the affections of legendary Brit song stylist Morrissey, who signed her to a record deal and took her on road with him. Last night the tour stopped in St. Louis (on Morrissey’s birthday, no less). Young had the opportunity to perform for a hometown which was always frustratingly ambivalent to her talents.
You always had to respect Young for her devotion to her craft in the face of us nonplussed Midwesterners. Back then, she’d play for a few dozen and treat it as though it were Wembley Stadium. She’d arrive a superstar, sit down at the keyboard and spill her guts to a half-dozen half-drunks at the Hi-Pointe who didn’t know Kate Bush from Kate Smith. A huge presence with very loud and occasionally shrieky emotions, Young baffled most – and annoyed the rest -- of us.
So if last night felt like vindication for Young – Morrissey has very refined taste, after all -- it was short lived, because she faced a similarly indifferent crowd at the Pageant. It must have been frustrating. Her voice has grown stronger, her presence is as commanding as ever, and the bigger space afforded her the ability to break free of the keyboard and prowl the stage. She’s a professional now, but St. Louis didn’t seem to care. Her act was received politely, but without the overwhelming enthusiasm offered to hometown heroes Son Volt or Wilco. And there were detractors: A guy next to me said rather loudly and with great anger during her performance, “God, I wish she would shut the fuck up.”
Yes, amidst 1,000 fawning Morrissey-heads were the 50-odd Young fans who have followed her trajectory. And the recent rise of Melodrama Rock (see Xiu Xiu and Patrick Wolf) could well find Young a larger audience. But last night the odds were against her – it’s a tough gig, opening for an icon -- and though her performance was impressive, her international pedigree seems not to have impressed St. Louisians once again.
To wit, here's a YouTube clip: