Spirit of St. Louis Marathon
Soldier's Memorial (start & finish)
Take this as a mild digression.
The night prior to the biggest local marathon yet, I was up 'til almost 3 a.m., due to unruly neighbors. I was set to volunteer the next morning, loading my PA gear onto a parking lot along the course at an early post. So the extra hours of non-sleep weren't appreciated. The root problem, of course, was a simple lack of civility, of courtesy.
Not a problem at the race, just a few hours later. Marathoners are almost ridiculously courteous. At close to the 26-mile mark, well after the 5-hour point of race day, I applauded a runner. He looked back at me, and since I was wearing a volunteer t-shirt, he thanked me. I mean, c'mon! That's just too cool. Everyone, everywhere, smiling, cheering, clapping, rooting on other average citizens as they took to the streets of St. Louis City and County.
You can check the marathon's comprehensive website for the specifics on who won and how many raced. But it says here that the best part of the day is simple kindness and pure emotion. It's a beautiful day.
"Phylum Silica" compilation
Hieu Nguyen and Matt Snell began Ascetic Records earlier this year and the early legend of the label seems to indicate a sensible naming arrangement: Nguyen moved home and saved his money to start the label. His exercise in restraint has blossomed with a handful of early releases, including this 15-song foray into the side currents of St. Louis.
The disc, as a whole, leans towards the emo side of things, with several of the bands regulars at clubs such as the Rocket Bar and Creepy Crawl. And, as any comp, this one's a mixed affair, depending on your own tastes and largely dependent on your ability to handle young white guys singing pained lyrics that are just-this-close to audible.
Of the tracks that really distinguish themselves from the pack are Julia Sets with "Big Star," Shelby's "Uncertainty," Picture Book of Saints' "Throw it Away," and Trans-Lux with the refreshingly straight-ahead "Broken English." The best of the lot, though, is from the band that Nguyen (drums) and Snell (guitars) work in, The Movement. Their "Ambulance" would already be set apart by simply having a woman vocalist, the very capable Betsy Maher. But there's just something a bit special about the cut. While the duo's desire to create "scene" is admirable, the peasant's wisdom here suggests that they concentrate on pushing their efforts first and foremost.
Saturday, October 6
Would-be attendees were outside hoping for miracles, just after the start of Wilco's sold-out gig at the Pageant, which drew an audience 20 times bigger than the shows that Jeff Tweedy played down the block at Cicero's Basement Bar a decade ago. But that's just irony for oldsters, who still hold out the hope that Tweedy and former songwriting partner Jay Farrar will patch up their rift for just one more go-round at the old Uncle Tupelo.
On this evening, the stripped-down Wilco (sans Jay Bennett) moved through a bunch of tracks from recent vintage, including a good portion of "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," currently available only through download on the band's website. The set was breezy, but didn't take on much passion from the back of the room until the first encore, when the group zipped through four tracks with a bit more body, including sing-alongs on "Outtasite (Outta Mind)" and "Passenger Side," which had much of the audience participating.
Nothing wrong with a pure radio hook. In fact, with Wilco, I wouldn't mind a few more.
The Aluminum Group
The Delmar Restaurant & Lounge
Tuesday, October 16
Unquestionably one of the most intriguing concerts of the past year, the Aluminum Group put on a surprisingly lean performance at the Delmar. Brothers Frank (keyboards and vocals) and John (guitar and vocals) Navin were there, along with a taciturn bass player. The promised "full band" didn't materialize, but that's not to suggest that the group's records couldn't be summed up live; instead of the dense, guest-laden outings that they put on disc, they simplified the songs and arrangements, leaning heavily upon their crystalline harmonies.
Telling stories between each song, the pair (especially John) regaled the enthusiastic audience with stories about how each came to pass, sort of a VH-1 "Storytellers" in real life. The sometimes hilarious banter was spotted with some really quirky moments, the pair squabbling like an old, married couple, more so than brothers. Amusing.
Playing songs from their recent album "Pelo" (Hefty Records), the pair also debuted a number of works from their album-in-progress, "Happyness." Able to blend genres with a relative ease, the pair touched on their dancey elements, with Frank's hilarious battle with his sequencer prefacing each song. Live, though, they seemed to have folk and even torch songs as touchstones. These were gentle tunes, often reduced to the barest of necessities: two beautiful voices, spare guitar, bass and keys.
Before giving way to chatter, the crowd sat transfixed, at first by the wacky storytelling, and then by the vocals, which were mesmerizing. For the first three songs of the set, you could've heard a pin drop. It'd be interesting to hear what the Chicago duo would sound like with a full ensemble. As it was, it was a warm and fascinating introduction to their sound, their wacky stage presence only adding to the show.
TAG Show: Art 12
Saturday, October 20
The smell of frying bacon filled the room as artist Scott Pondrum set up a backyard barbecue in the middle of the Art Loft's common room. Several dozen people milled along the edges of the space, avoiding the thick slabs of grass and a nearby installation of halved eggshells, which had taken at least a minor hit. In the front of the room, two digital DJs twiddled knobs and emitted waves of feedback.
Apparently, this was the last TAG show at the space, after curators Edward Reynolds and Chris Gustave decided to move the shows around in 2002, true to the original name of TAG: Traveling Artist's Group. At times, the dozen shows suffered from a mild sameness, with some of the artists recurring month after month. But the overall idea of a free, monthly show with a minimum of fussiness seemed a good formula for this bunch, with a number of talented artists on display over the past year: Jenna Bauer, Rosa Maria Arenas, Catherine Cathers, Tim Mancinas, Lance Gibler, Michael Paradise, and on and on.
Frederick's Music Lounge, 4454 Chippewa
Thursdays, 9 p.m.-1 a.m.
It takes exactly two weeks to figure out who the regulars are at this popular weekly open mic for acoustic and sedate electric music. You can spot those regulars quickly. Sometimes, they head down the steep front stairwell, then immediately head towards the sign-up sheet to slot themselves. Other times, they just hang in a corner of the room, waiting 'til just the right moment to bum-rush the stage, adding their own "oohs" and "ahhs" to some country hit of yesterday.
At times, the humor value can be front and center, such as when a couple musicians get started on a tune and realize that "just jamming" isn't their forte. The crowd, though made up heavily of musicians, is pretty cool about letting moments like that slide. Other times, a single vocalist can go and mesmerize the crowd with a simple tune, played alone. It's never the same night twice and, like Forrest Gump would say... well, you know the quote already.
A bit cyclical, the Noiseday night begun just prior to the death of the club's founder, Frederick Boettcher has gone through real periods of popularity during its year-plus run. Some nights, it's a bit slow, though you're pretty likely to run into a good-sized crowd around 11. As a night of hearing transcendent music, well, it can happen. As a night of cheap people-watching, it's pretty much unparalleled locally.
"Emotional Rescue" with Cat Pick
Monday, 8-10 p.m.
KDHX 88.1 FM
For enthusiasts of indie rock and pop, Cat Pick's "Emotional Rescue" is a worthwhile two hours on Monday nights, with a broad range of current acts played, along with a few choice blasts from the past. In addition to plenty of national and international acts, Pick's a champion of local talent, with quite a few area bands playing live in Studio B over the course of time. Like any really good show on community radio, at some point during the set you're likely to pick up the phone, dial and ask about what you're hearing.