Friday, March 30, 2012

Franz Nicolay, Kepi Ghoulie, Kevin Seconds @ The Firebird

Ghoulie. Not my photo and not from STL.
Franz Nicolay, Kepi Ghoulie, and Kevin Seconds have never been in a band together. They are three friends on a combined solo tour. This unique combination made for a very interesting show.

Riley James, a St. Louis local, was the opener. Armed with just his acoustic guitar and his voice, he had a classic, singer-songwriter quality about him. He played several originals as well as a wonderful cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Used Cars."

Playing in no particular order, Franz Nicolay (of The Hold Steady) was the first of the three to perform. He alternated between acoustic guitar, banjo, and accordion. His lyrics were very eloquent and carefully chosen. This attitude was reflected in his clothes: nice suit, no tie, black fedora. Nicolay made a point of talking about each song before he played it, giving the audience a better sense of its meaning.

Kepi Ghoulie (of The Groovie Ghoulies) is known for his style of acoustic punk and fun, simple lyrics. This provided a strong contrast from Nicolay's performance. Kevin Seconds also accompanied Kepi with a very small drum set of just one tom and snare. After a three song medley, Kepi let the audience decide the set list. "Come on, what do you guys wanna hear?" Being in St. Louis, he felt obligated to play tribute to Chuck Berry by playing "Memphis, Tennessee." Later on, he was joined by Franz on accordion. The whole set was fast, loud, and acoustic.

Kevin Seconds (of 7 Seconds) was somewhere in between Nicolay and Ghoulie in regards to complexity. He was accompanied by both of them; Ghoulie on drums and Nicolay on accordion and banjo. His big vocals filled the room. Like Kepi, he took many audience requests. Of the three of them, it seemed that Kevin's songs were able to emotionally connect with the audience the most.

A very enjoyable acoustic evening with three very different artists. Although the room was filled with about twenty-five people, they treated it like an arena rock show and gave it their very best.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lost In The Trees - A Church That Fits Our Needs

Lost In The Trees, one of my favorite bands from the past year, just made their third official release, A Church That Fits Our Needs. The band is known for combining folk and classical to create something truly unique. I frequently cite it as Bob Dylan meets Lord of the Rings. Which makes sense because singer/songwriter Ari Picker has a degree in film scores from Berkeley.

Their new album is a bit darker than 2010's All Alone In An Empty House. That's fine with me, however. They've continued to add more instruments to their library of sound, creating a sonic jungle of noise. This is the kind of music that lets you just close your eyes, and envision the story that's being told.

The soft vocals fit nicely with the orchestra as well as the guitar. All of this fits very nicely with the inventive drums. The creative beats remind me of more recent Radiohead material. Not because the two sound similar, but because they're both strange and unusual. 

Let's talk about album artwork. I like talking about album artwork. This artwork is very simple without feeling obvious. A close observer will also notice that the subject of this photo is the same woman from the cover of All Alone In An Empty House. This helps to tie the two albums together. It's a symbol that the band has changed without forgetting their sound.

Certain elements of "Golden Eyelids" remind me of the twister scene in The Wizard of Oz. "Icy River" is an incredibly dark and beautiful song with so many layers I get lost in it. "This Dead Bird Is Beautiful" is a slow song with a lovely piano, and falsetto, female vocals that scream into the distance.

This being their third release, Lost In The Trees has made it past the dreaded sophomore slump. Let's hope that this seals their place in the world of independent, interesting music.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Radiohead @ Scottrade Center

A photo taken earlier in the tour.
Other Lives delivered a solid opening performance. It wasn't stunning, but it was very good.  Their dark folk-rock sound is rather unique which made for a more interesting opener. They played about eight songs from their newest album, Tamer Animals, and then they were done. Because of the arrangement of their stage, I couldn't really see what most of them were doing. Like Radiohead, they had six members including two percussionists.

Finally, they took the stage. Radiohead. They opened with "Bloom" off their most recent album, The King of Limbs. Although they didn't always sound exactly like on the album, they did sound fantastic. Johnny, Ed, and Thom were changing guitars about every song to fit the unique feel of each tune. I had heard that Radiohead doesn't care to play many older songs and this is somewhat true. However, the third song was "Airbag" from 1997's hit album, OK Computer. When playing "Karma Police," a crowd favorite, Thom sang "this is what you get when you forget the words." They didn't play anything from before 1997 which meant no "Sulk" and no "Creep." They did play seven of the eight songs from The King of Limbs, "Codex" being the odd one out.

Halfway through the main set, the band played "an obscure song" called "The Amazing Sounds of Orgy." They also played "Identikit," a new unreleased track, and "The Daily Mail," a non-album single released in the past year. They played two encores. The first encore began with "Give Up The Ghost" played by just Thom and Johnny. The layered vocals and dark subject-matter made it one of the most beautiful performances of the evening. The second encore ended with "Idioteque," a stunning and somewhat unexpected choice for a closer song.

When bands are big enough to sell out stadiums like this, it's expected that they have some kind of a light show. In Radiohead fashion, they had something that was simple and complex at the same time. They had a wall of screen behind them and twelve floating square screens above them. The screens moved into different positions between songs and had live video of each band member.

In my mind, Radiohead is one of the best and most creative bands ever. They write songs that connect with us and move us. They write songs that don't sound like anything else. With all of these things as expectations, they didn't disappoint at all.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Jackknife Powerbomb @ The Firebird

The first thing you'll notice about Jackknife Powerbomb is their stage presence. As soon as they walk on stage, all members of the band take on a different, dangerous persona. Each musician approaches this differently either by a 'power stance', being visibly angry, or spitting frequently. The second thing you notice is the loud, furious sound coming out of their amps.

They're essentially a metal band but that doesn't really describe their sound. It's an epic, fast, tight, riff-driven breed of heavy rock.  The closest comparison would be Kyuss, the band that sort of evolved into Queens of the Stone Age. The vocals are mostly growly and rough. In the opening song, the vocals were shouted in one-syllable bursts. The singer, Paul, frequently reminded the audience that each song was called "Karate Bikini," the name of the band playing after them.

"Staring at the Face of God" built up until it seemed to fall apart and then came back even stronger. The closer, "Explosions in the Sky," was a complete anthem with several powerful riffs. The lead-guitarist, Mike, rolled out a few gritty jams.

Although they don't have any recorded material, there was some talk after the show about recording an album soon. Let's hope they do.