The Bands of Summer

Here are ten hot, not-to-miss local acts

Why do summer and live music go together so well? Maybe because it's the best time to be in a band. Between the energy of outdoor shows and the throngs of tan-line-free hotties cheering the band members on, there's no better time to be on tour, so fans get overwhelmed with choices of great shows. Sure, you can go check out Pointfest, or any of the traveling circuses roaming the nation, but why not take a chance this summer and leave the beaten path to find some fresh faces right here in St. Louis? There's an overload of great bands now, so take advantage of the warm weather, call in sick to work and track down ten of the best out there.

Given that our fair city is the home of Uncle Tupelo and Nadine, you are required to attend at least one alt-country show this summer. While you can't go wrong with any of our bumper crop of great Americana bands, the Monads have a unique snotty charm that will get your pulse going. They eschew the ultra-traditionalist Appalachian stylings of most "cool" country acts in favor of absurd, irreverent two- or three-minute songs (sample title: "Oh, the Lactose Intolerance") that sound more like punk played on banjos than Willie Nelson. Their more serious tracks are just as appealing, though, like the epic "Dante's Inferno," which uses its sobbing fiddles to create a beautiful funeral march. Catch them at the "Will Rock for Food" benefit for their label, MapleHood Rekkids, on June 17 at the Richmond Heights VFW hall.

If you were to pick out St. Louis' most summery band, it would have to be the Baysayboos, with their prom outfits, Day-Glo horns, cheery vocal harmonies and casually catchy choruses. Part oldies station and part Looney Tunes chase music, the 'boos are sugary enough to stay lodged in your head but eccentric enough (who else would sing about the Boston Tea Party?) to force a grin. With a new, more psychedelically tinged album in the works and a string of dates (including one on May 27 at Dressel's Pub Above), they'll be everywhere while the weather is warm.

If you're looking to get out of the light and heat, though, check out Femme Fatality: a chilly, campily entertaining mash-up of goth, new wave and hip-hop -- everything great about the '80s rolled into one convenient package. So straight-faced that they're hilarious, the two Femmes (dubiously named Octavio Leto and Monanani Palermo, are pale-skinned, dress in Euro-trash black and sound like a goth kid who smokes a pack a day singing along with his favorite Nintendo game.

Despite the guys' imposing look and puzzling, morbid lyrics ("S-T-L: home of the body bag," goes a line from "Baby Girl"), their old-school Casio beats are perfect club fodder, especially when they seem like they're poking fun at themselves. And they have a buzz, too; less than a year after their inception, they'll be opening for Seattle dirt-rockers the Catheters at the Hi-Pointe on May 25. Don't miss a chance to see Femme Fatality live; like most of the new wave of synth pop, the songs are only half of the story. [Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this paragraph; please see end of article.]

Another band whose appeal goes beyond its songs is Missile Silo Suite. Suite's aggressive, sexual modern rock is nice and could hold its own against anything on the radio, but the band has a secret weapon in the form of vocalist Sarah Laak. Laak, a classically trained jazz singer, brings the benefit of her vocal experience to her material, which runs the gamut between the grungy grooves of Garbage and the bedroom-farce pop of early Liz Phair. Her range highlights the dramatic potential of Suite's work, and she can bring a ragged rock song to life with her emotional inflections. It doesn't hurt, either, that she's a natural star with the sort of charisma you can't take your eyes off. Like a stage actress, Laak commits herself to her material and could carry the rest of Suite on her back -- especially during the rare (but intriguing) acoustic performances that the band has been known to give.

Unlike Missile Silo Suite's vocal-driven rock, the members of St. Charles group Musicfor have nothing to say -- their band is strictly instrumental. Anyone left cold, though, by the expansiveness and superhuman scale of most instrumental rock (eleven-minute songs, anyone?) will find much to like in the more varied soundscapes of Musicfor's work. Switching between dense, snowy feedback, gently kinetic beats and power-pop hooks that cleanse the palate, Musicfor's music has an element of surprise that brings life to the tundra of vocal-free rock music. And in keeping with this element of surprise, the group's gigs always seem to fly just beneath the radar and show up at the very last minute, so keep your eyes peeled.

Just as loud as Musicfor, but far more song-oriented, are the local psychedelic-pop superstars in Dozemarypool. Their swirling, distortion-fried music is a combination of great British influences, from their gorgeous Beatlesque songwriting to the fuzzed-out, dreamy guitar work they coat the songs in, making them perhaps the perfect group to take cold medicine to. Pop has rarely been so noisily perfect, but after years of playing around, Dozemarypool is still the bridesmaid and rarely the bride. While the band usually pop ups on the opening spot of bills, it still manages to choose only the best to play with. The silver lining of all this, though, is that after opening for All Night Radio and Low Skies, among others, Dozemarypool is a sure indicator of bands that are worth your time and money.

If you need something short to jolt you after the lushness of Dozemarypool or Musicfor, the punchy Sex Robots might be just what you need. Sadly, they're neither libidinous nor robotic, but if you can overlook the false advertising, their poppy, propulsive punk works great on its own terms. The Robots shun the angst of modern radio punk and the mess of the Sex Pistols, preferring to zero in on catchier influences such as the Jam and Buzzcocks, and their songs bounce like rubber balls. As an added bonus, the young group does a great cover of "12XU," by '70s punk experimentalists Wire, which gives their repertoire an extra bit of edge.

On the other hand, the mysterious punk/folk collective the Whole Sick Crew doesn't need post-punk to add edge to its set. Edge is already built into the Crew's strange, haunting show, with its spooky sea shanties, whiskey-tinged dirges and members' tendencies to wander aimlessly through the audience like lost souls. Though the Whole Sick Crew gets slapped with the tag "pirate rock" for its vaguely eighteenth-century sensibility, the band sounds more like the atmosphere in an old film noir, especially as it continues to broaden its sound. With the band members' preference for offbeat, intimate venues like the City Museum and Dressel's Pub Above, their extensive concert schedule is like a trip through the city's oddest corners, too.

Finally, even though it's about a season too early for homecoming, two proud prodigal sons will be making their triumphant returns this summer. Bunnygrunt, a trio of college-rock superstars who were probably our best-known pop act in the pre-Nelly lull, has reformed after a breakup and web of side projects that you'd need a flowchart to track properly. The genius of Bunnygrunt (and what separates them from the scores of sugary independent pop groups out there) is that the band never drew any line in the sand between being catchy and being noisy. Cutesy "la-la-la"s coexist peacefully with prickly guitar blasts, as in the 'grunt's recent hyperactive cover of Joy Division's "She's Lost Control." Never has such a dark, spooky song sounded so much like pure pop.

Also, our latest MTV darlings, the north-county punk group Story of the Year, will be making a return of a different sort, headlining the Warped Tour on July 25 at the UMB Bank Pavilion. Earnest, soaring and flush with the pains and thrills of being young, the anthem "Until the Day I Die" (worryingly, one of three morbidly titled tracks on the band's debut, Page Avenue) has conquered punk circles nationwide, but this will be the emo superstars' first hometown gig since fame struck. What better way to celebrate summer than with an outdoor festival, and what better way to celebrate the increasingly vibrant St. Louis scene than by seeing the band who filmed their breakthrough video at our dingiest of dives, the Creepy Crawl?

Correction published 6/2/04: In the original version of this story, we erroneously referred to the members of Femme Fatality as "ladies" when, in fact, they are all male, all the time. The above version reflects the corrected text.

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