COMUSIC REVIEW: Hooten Hallers 45 Release Party @ Off Broadway in St. Louis

Okay it’s the 14th of September and I found myself in the St. Louis area this weekend for work related reasons. While I know a couple of people and have relatives in the area I also wonder what else is going on as the days approach. In my research I come across  news that Columbia’s own the Hooten Hallers will be having a release party for their new 45 RPM record at Off Broadway in St. Louis. Needing something to do Friday night, I decide to head over there and see what things were like. Here’s a brief example of the artists who played and the atmosphere there.

 

Doormat and Littel Rachel starting off the night.

St. Louis; Doormat and Little Rachel played first. Their old timey blues with male/female vocals and an electrified dobro style guitar was a blend of both old blues and jazz as well as some originals. Intimate, even a little tinny (a metal bodied guitar will do that), the duo had a swing feel and made the most of their brief set to play something that seems a world away but will fit the tenor of the night better than some would expect.

Jack Grelle and the Johnson Family bringing the honky tonk to us.

 

After several missed opportunities I finally get to chance one time local Jack Grelle’s latest project – Jack Grelle and the Johnson Family playing live. Ranging from five to seven people, the band transforms Grelle’s old timey folk country songs into stone country tracks one would find on a jukebox at a honky tonk. Full of pedal steel guitar and tales of life, loss, and people you wish would get lost Grelle and company were largely acoustic, even mixing in a bit of Western Swing into the sound that’s rooted somewhere between Austin and Bakersfield as much as the Midwest. Those familiar with Grelle’s previous solo work will be pleased with this fleshing out of his sound.

Bugchaser taking the night somewhere completely different.

Bugchaser veered things into a complete different path. Their music was high energy space rock (for lack of a better term) built of dual drums and dual keyboards as much as spaced out or fuzzed our guitar. Driving and high energy their songs walk more of a punk or garage feel than the roots music of the earlier acts. Still, the chaos was less of a contrast than one would think.

The tension in the crowd grew as Hooten Hallers came on to play. As you may have guessed, their nasty, stripped down blues rock tore the house down. Delivered with an intensity that neared vintage punk at times, John and Andy fed off the crowd’s energy and gave it right back with some greasy guitars and primal drumming that hit the spot like an after bars late night diner breakfast. Tight, energy draining and aggressive, this turned out to be one of the best shows I’d ever seen by them, I was expecting a lot and I wasn’t disappointed.

Hooten Hallers taking the night over.

And with that it ended. As last call hit we ventured out into the autumn air and various plans (ranging from parties to sleep – depending on the person). Regardless, this was one of those events that I needed to witness.

CoMusic Review : SPECTRAVOX and THE UNFASHIONABLES @ The Blue Note

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THE UNFASHIONABLES IN ACTION.

The previous week to ten days had brought about a number of changes to Columbia. Recent rains cooled the temperature down temporarily. However,it also marks the change of seasons in all but weather and name as the arrival of students to the town basically ends Summer in preparation of the new school year. As a result, August 20th became a jump start of what’s going on in terms of shows with an upsurge not all that often found during the laid back. languid summer months. With that in mind, I went over to the Blue Note to see what was going on and check out a couple of bands.

Starting things off for the evening was a rare performance from The Unfashionables. The local quartet began things on a slightly unexpected note with a semi lush song that hinted at dance music with a feel similar to Roxy Music. From there, however, the band quickly shifted into a set of uptempo rock that’s one part 90s era alternative rock, one part power pop with a sprinkling a heartland rock over the top. What emerged is a set of music that was radio friendly yet still walked the thin line between the arena and the alternative ennui the band members cut their teeth on. While some of their shows in the past have been mixed, the band utilized the size of the Blue Note’s stage to their advantage and gave off a high energy vibe with stage moves aimed for a larger stage. This was the best show I’d seen from this band who need to perform more often if they can keep this level of live show up.

Spectravox had the middle slot of the night and had a lot to live up to. Tackling songs from their two CDs,the band’s affable take on melodic pop rock owes as much to commercial new wave and stadium rock as to indie or power pop. With mildly overdriven guitars as a driving force, the band’s quirky songs came across decently enough but faltered slightly at this show in part due to the band they followed on the bill. The highlight was the few songs when frontman Sam Botts strapped on his Explorer and upped the crunch level a bit for a dual guitar melodic rock sound that added an edge the band needed. Melodic, and a bit humorous at times, Spectravox’ music walks a tightrope that is either too melodic for underground rock fans or too quirky for mainstream rock fans at times. However, the people on the floor got it and had a good time which is what matters when a band plays for the most part.

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SAM AND BO OF SPECTRAVOX

Unfortunately, due to another situation I had to check out that night, I wasn’t able to see the headlining set from local part 80s cover band Disengaged. Thus, I cannot comment on their set but hopefully will get a chance to see them somewhere down the road and check them out for myself.

As I left the Note for other parts of Columbia, I took in the warm weather and the semi chaos that’s part of life in a college town. Between the new students beginning to get their footing in a situation that cna be both exciting and frightening at the same time (we’ve all been there) and the general letting off of steam before the start of the fall semester the following Monday, there was a lot going on after a summer that was slower than some of us expected. Thus is the circle of life in a town like Columbia and the return to the feel that makes it what it is.

The Fumes – the Post Ironic album

People who have spent a fair amount of time in the Columbia music scene are likely familiar with Lou Nevins. Over the years he has made his mark in bands ranging from the prog punk fretless bass and drums duo Arpad Leen to his current stint with garage-y hard rockers Monte Carlos to his time in the indie pop meets heartland rock band Malone. While these projects have gained him a following amongst those of us who are willing to dig and find cool music in this town, Nevins had tricks up his sleeve that many local music lifers weren’t that aware of. I realized this recently when I learned of The Fumes – a mostly solo project that somehow released three projects online that somehow totally evaded my notice. Having my curiosity piqued I decided to check out their latest release – the Post Ironic album.

Opening with “This Is Gonna Hurt,” a largely acoustic based lo-fi blues song that comes across with both setting the vibe for the release and projecting a swagger that suggests that there may be more lying beneath the surface. While the blues plays a large role here musically, there seems to be an indie rock lens that filters it as they go into funkier domains on “Drag Strip 2000” and the lo-fi dance vibe of “Can You Feel Me.” While Monte Carlos guitarist Anthony Zager handles guitar work on several tracks, this is mostly Nevins’ show as he takes us on a sonic journey that seems to have synths and drum machines taking some capacity (which would be unthinkable in his other bands). More indie and dance based than his other projects, the Fumes’ music emerges harnesses some of the vibe of his other bands but addresses the new for a hybrid that’s part lo-fi bluesy grit, part indie swagger, and part dance music from the gutter. All of it makes for an album that revealing that Nevins does have more up his creative sleeve than many of us expected (which, as someone who’s seen many of his bands over the years, says a lot).

Whether The Fumes will ever play live is hard to say. Nevins is usually busy with several different bands so adding the Fumes and what that would entail (adding extra musicians? Looping?) to his schedule may be unlikely. You may have to go online to find this (to the best of my knowledge, you can only get it on the band’s bandcamp page) but the Post Ironic album remains an interesting listen that’s worth the few minutes it may take to search for it.

CoMusic Live Review: Boreal Hills, Task Force, Alex White @ Eastside Tavern

Saturday July 25. Summer officially kicked in a few days back amidst the dying cicada population and a temporary energy shift in Columbia from collegiate hub via its multiple colleges) to a strange place that’s both a combination of cowtown and mid sized city (it is the 5th largest city in Missouri) while truly not really being either. At this point Saturday nights are relatively quiet which leads people to wonder what’s up. However, tonight would be a little different as a rare live show at Eastside Tavern would attest as Boreal Hills would play one of their last shows before moving from Como.

Let’s start from the beginning of the night. The first performer was newcomer Alex White. Coming up on stage with only his ukulele, White performed a set of folk leaning indie pop that had a disarming simplicity within his set. With a somewhat dry sense of humor, his songs varied from personal tales to dogs and cats to life in general and a cover of “St. James Infirmary.” While there were the occasional stumbles (a flubbed note here and there – which all musicians have dealt with at some point or another) and a little bit of sloppiness, White managed to keep the crowd at Eastside relatively quiet throughout the set (a hard thing for acoustic performers to do in any situation, much less Eastside). At first I wasn’t quite sure about him, but the last few songs had a spirit to them that showed the artist Alex White has the potential to be. It will be interesting to see how White’s music evolves and seasons as he gets more shows under his belt.

Okay, for full disclosure, it’s not exactly a secret that I’m a big fan of Task Force, so when I heard they were on the bill it was a big reason why I showed up. The fivesome didn’t disappoint as they tore through a short sharp shock set of avant punk often having loud fast power chord fueled ragers collide with elements of experimental music and funk. The band’s penchant for fast, passionate songs that explore the society around them in both personal and political ways was in full effect with the subtlety of a grenade going off in your face. Tonight the band was rough around the edges and even chaotic on occasion, but that’s always been part of the band’s charm. Task Force has managed to get some well deserved props in their year and a half together and this night helped cement it even in the face of the occasional tech hurdle (Nate had an issue with a pedal, if memory serves me correctly). It will be interesting to see what happens with Task Force with time.

Then there’s the reason for the night – what was to be one of the last shows Boreal Hills will play in Columbia as a local band. The guitar and drums duo’s music has always seemed to be between two poles. On one hand, they can throw down riff laden hard rock jams with a vintage feel that seems to lie somewhere between early metal ala Sabbath or Blue Cheer and the prog punk twists of No Means No. The other pole is a garage rock that borders on indie in a lot of ways. While the band knows how to skate between the two extremes, their penchant for relatively lengthy solos/riffs and jams take center in both. The early part of their set was in the more metal leaning with the band driving home aggressive riffs and a rhythm that cemented them into a pure adrenalin force. It was near the end with more the garage rock/indie stuff that Carl and Tom appear slightly out of their comfort zone. Regardless, the crowd still reacted favorably to it which is a huge part of the show and had a band is received. Sadly, it will be sad to see Boreal Hills head off to other pastures. Here’s hoping they stick it out and we get to see what paths they take in the future

And with the last chords of Boreal Hills Saturday night was brought to a close as bar tabs were paid and people ventured out into the cooler than usual weather. It was a bittersweet night as we witnessed the beginning of the end of one band’s ties to this town while enjoying another artist taking root here. However, as we ventured out towards our next moves, it was another example of the dynamics that a college town in summer can be like.

Boreal Hills in action