The Hibernauts, Ideal Free Distribution and Museum Mutters: Saturday Night Special, with bonus Apples in Stereo sighting

[edited with an added paragraph, noon Sunday]

I first suspected that the Hibernauts' CD release show at Off Broadway was packed as I was driving up Lemp, and saw that the parked cars stretched nearly bumper-to-bumper to the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center -- which is a solid three or four blocks away.

"Nah," I said to myself. "It's just my eyes playing tricks on me."

But as I got closer to the venue, my bad eyes weren't deceiving me: I was lucky to grab a spot near Off Broadway (thanks, newfound parallel parking skills!), since the venue was packed. And not just normal-crowded. Like, I've never seen the venue so crammed full of people before -- a sentiment echoed by several people I talked to.

Now, all of this was to celebrate the release of Periodic Fable, which I wrote about here (and posted sound clips here). I've seen the Hibernauts a few times before, but this time was by far the best. Whether due to an enthusiastic crowd -- everyone in the front few rows was dancing and singing along to the lyrics -- or pure adrenaline, the nattily-dressed band (dress shirts and dress pants, natch) never sounded better. In fact, the quartet seemed like it would be the perfect prom band for an '80s teen movie, playing danceable indie-pop for a dramatic conclusion or eventful resolution scenes.

Drummer Brett Ramsey was in fine form tonight, pounding out beats like a maniac -- sometimes while smoking at the same time. Tom McArthur -- who I was remiss in mentioning sings on a bunch of the new songs, and quite well at that -- lent some thoughtful, softer vocals, to counter Jack Stevens' forceful tones. And Bill Vehige's basslines really shine live, when he and Ramsey lock into place to form a dynamite rhythm section. Bands live or die by their rhythm section -- and the Hibernauts' is one of the best in the city.

The band played most of Fable; and these tunes came alive, not losing their unique pop structure, but reclaiming energy by feeding off the crowd. (Steve "One More Time" Kozel from Gentleman Auction House even hopped up on stage at one point to sing some lyrics.) Plenty of rock-god poses were struck; a few shots were drank.

We were even treated to an encore of the band dancing. In semi-unison. To some electro-funk song. (It wasn't giving OK Go a run for their treadmill money, but I'd rank it up there with rad wedding-reception dancing.) Anyone who wants to scoff and sneer at the local music being produced right now, well -- the Hibernauts gig tonight proved that it's one of the best bands in the city, making some of the most exciting, challenging music around.

I was almost overcome with happiness seeing how many people were there, especially with so much going on last night. And lest the haters come out of the woodwork, consider this: After the show I chatted with Billy Schuh of Foundry Field Recordings/Emergency Umbrella Records. (I am so sad I missed seeing them; please come back soon!) He commented a few times (without me prompting him, har) about the music-community cohesion he saw on display last night -- and how great it was. Schuh was particularly happy that FFR played with two other bands -- including Gentleman Auction House -- that were sonically compatible. I gather it's been a long time coming in St. Louis local music when out-of-towners were able to happen upon a great local bill. So chew on that!

Before Hibernauting, I cruised to Lemmons to check out the Museum Mutters and Ideal Free Distribution (who I was excited to check out, based on recommendations from a local blog and blog commenters). Again with the weirdness; as I was walking from my car I ran into...Robert Schneider from Apples in Stereo, who I had met briefly at SXSW this year.

"Aren't you in Apples in Stereo?" I asked, confused.

He said yes; turns out his wife is in Ideal Free Distribution. We talked about XTC for a bit, seeing as how IDF -- which shares a label, Happy Happy Birthday to Me, with Bunnygrunt -- is often compared to that band. Various family members and band members (the outfit had seven or eight people onstage, and drove in from Lexington, Kentucky) showed up soon after, so I went to get my pizza on.

Despite having not played for over a year, the collective was great. Summery indie-pop with plenty of rich harmonies (one can't go wrong with tons of "ba-ba-ba"'s in a chorus) and sunny keyboards, maracas and fuzzed-out riffs. The sound was rather awful, unfortunately, rendering the vocals way too quiet under the music. But I bought one of the band's CDs, and it's Kinks/Zombies (and yes, Apples in Stereo/XTC) influences rang true.

Museum Mutters, a.k.a. the new-ish band of RFT contributor James Weber, opened. I was excited, since video and audio made 'em sound more ragged than an old flannel shirt worn by members of the Replacements. And indeed, the group showed a ton of promise. (The fourth song played particularly caught my ear; James, what is/was that? Damn. A perfect gem.) About a third of the set was a little too rough around the edges and felt sort of boring, but Weber's pure voice aligned perfectly with Erik Seaver's prominent basslines for the entire time; think R.E.M. ca. the ringing rock of Reckoning (say that five times fast) with, yes, a ton of Westerbergian ca. Tim/Pleased to Meet Me heart-on-sleeve storytelling.

Like many of my favorite bands, the emotional atmosphere and impact was greater than individual songs; during and after the set, I had a sudden urge to start consuming whiskey, or to hop in my car and start driving on the freeway, with no aim in mind. (I did neither.) The Museum Mutters' songs had aching loneliness at their core, a palpable longing for something or someone, that was completely authentic and true. The songs came from the heart -- which is why I'm curious to hear what they'll come up with next.

-- Annie Zaleski