The Riverfront Times hosted its annual Showcase STL on June 16-17, a weekend of mostly local and a few national acts that essentially took over the Grove neighborhood.
Saturday turned out to be the best day of the showcase. The 10 hours of jam-packed music was solely dedicated to local musicians, and nine Grove venues and businesses took part in the festivities.
As we parked and walked east through the Grove, music was emanating from all directions, almost giving off a Frenchmen Street-type vibe—with the heat and humidity to match. Peeking into windows of the Taha’a Twisted Tiki Bar or the Gramophone or the Handle Bar, we could see the crowds reveling with drinks and absorbing some of the best sounds the local music scene has to offer.
Our main stop was The Gramophone on Saturday night. The Fade, a rockin’ four-piece, squeezed into the allotted performance space between two doors along a bank of windows to play a 45-minute relentless set.
The foursome, made-up of Ryan Spriggs (vocal/guitar), Christopher Bachmann (guitar), Devon Kirsch (bass) and Anne Stevenson (drums), played one of the most complete sounding live sets I’ve heard from a local band in a while. The band proclaims their sound can, “…vary from dreamy pop-rock to driving 60’s inspired rock and anything in between.”
"In" The Fade
Agreed. That’s about as good of a description of a rock band in 2018 as you’ll get… and The Fade didn’t disappoint. Their first three tunes of an eight-song setlist were titled, “BULLETS,” “Time Capsule” and “Stealing the Moon.” The head-nodding numbers set the bar high for the bands that followed.
Full disclosure, we had to leave the Gramophone to run down to the Ready Room to catch Half Waif and Japanese Breakfast. So, we missed The Fade’s last two songs.
sorry, not sorry
Our next catch was Sorry, Scout back at the Gramophone. They are a punky, gritty indie rock band and, much like The Fade, they were a little too big for the confines of the Gramophone.
The energy that Sorry, Scout brought during their set is the same kind of presence you’d expect from a $25 ticket headliner at a larger music venue.
Lead vocalist Randi Whitaker is a fire-breather on the mike and lead guitarist Nate Jones (former Kentucky Knife Fight guitarist) shreds bluesy rock riffs effortlessly. The rhythm section in bassist Dave Anson and drummer Zack Shultz brings it all together; placing a firm grip on their southern fried Americana take on indie rock.
A Chemical Composition
Up next in the evening’s relentless flow of band after band was Kid Scientist. The double-synth, psychedelic lounge quintet is a laid-back bunch. On this night, they seemed to be bordering on “happy to be here” and “having a fun time.” Neither is to be taken negatively, it’s just the way a self-described electro lounge five piece is supposed to come off.
Joe Taylor and Audrey Morris share vocal and keyboard responsibilities. Rounding out this mini orchestra is Dave Moore (Drums), Kevin Neumann (Bass), David Newmann (Percussion, Trumpet) and Morris—when she’s not playing keys she can be seen on accordion and on additional percussion.
The cohesiveness of the group is directly reflected by their chemistry, exchanging friendly smiles as often as the band switches genres from song to song. Taking a look at their press photos and Facebook posts, one would think they aren’t to be taken seriously, but after taking in a live show—you’ll quickly find a fun group making great music.
The RFT Music Showcase marched into Sunday with bands starting at 3 p.m. Unlike Saturday night, the last day of the showcase was deflating. Let’s forget the near 100-degree heat index, as most of the venues with outdoor stages had easy access to quick air-conditioned relief. But, it was Father’s Day. It was Sunday. And the RFT decided to pit two national acts against local bands.
Even with the family-oriented obstacles of Father's Day and near-empty venues, bands like Mathias and the Pirates took the 6 p.m. slot on the outdoor stage at the Atomic Cowboy and gave one of the best performances of the weekend. Having Mathias and his buccaneers bring it live is no surprise—they’re one of the most solid local acts STL has to offer.
Pirate jokes aside, they were a perfect fit for this day and brought a much need adrenalin injection to the 40-50 people joining their brand of funky soulful hip-hop on that lazy Sunday evening in the Grove.
rhythm & Brews: Mad keys
The next stop was Gezellig—a rather peculiar choice of venue—to catch the next act. Let’s get this out the way first: there is absolutely nothing wrong with Gezellig, one of the newer establishments in the Grove. They serve some of most eclectic brews in the city, and you have the option of shopping at the 30-foot wide wall of beer coolers to purchase beers to enjoy at the establishment, or grab and go to enjoy somewhere else.
But, it’s just that: a small beer hall, not a music venue. Mad Keys, popular St. Louis producer Brandon McCadney’s project, had the honor of squeezing into the space there, playing in between the beer cooler and the store’s merchandise area. McCadney teamed up with longtime music pioneer and bassist extraordinaire Donald Williams and drummer Christopher Whited for a groovy, jazzy Erykah Badu meets Sade meets the Roots sound (minus the vocals and sousaphone).
The trio did an amazing job of establishing a groove that made you look past the fact that they were essentially playing in the beer section of Schnucks. Williams’s intricate bass accompaniment and Whited’s soft cocktail drum infusion—reminiscent of Elvin Jones or Max Roach—complimented McCadney’s “mad keys” beautifully. I truly hope that this trio continues to play out together or, at the very least, puts down a few tracks to enjoy digitally.
Hip. Hop. Headbangers
Next stop was next door at the Ready Room, which joined in on the fun after being unable to participate in the showcase on Saturday. And after seeing what I saw, they probably wished they hadn’t joined in.
The Midwest Avengers, the longtime, evolving hip-hop artists who infuse heavy metal into their sound in a Judgment Night soundtrack sort of way, have been a fixture on the STL local scene for 25 years. The six-piece rap rockers filling the stage was in sharp contrast to the Ready Room, which was near empty (we think they may have been added to the lineup late?).
The lack of a crowd didn’t stop this sextet from completely rocking the Ready Room. They shredded their way through their self-described set of “headbanger hip-hop.” Joe Caratachea was relentless on guitar, much like Scott Ian (Anthrax) or Vernon Reid (Living Colour). The two-head emcee outfit of So'n'So (James Coleman) and BC (John Harrington) are a well-oiled machine.
These two hip-hop marshals can hold their own, no matter what instrumentation they choose to back their verses. They are a throwback to a day of hip-hop that laid the foundation of what hip-hop and rap have come to be today.
I then checked out one of the national acts on the schedule: Guided By Voices on the outdoor stage at the Atomic Cowboy. GBV have been around since 1983, and their line-up changes over the past 35 years rival that of any other rock band in history.
Who wants to run down to the Ready Room and catch some dirty rap after a punk rock show? Apparently, only 25-30 people.
Brooke Candy took the stage at the Ready Room with her drummer to little fanfare, but the few people to gather in front of the stage were passionate fans. Candy walked on stage, took off her flip-flops and presented herself in a red, silk, Chinese inspired pajamas and matching red-leather bondage mask that had “Brooke” bejeweled on one side and “Candy” on the other.
Onstage, Brooke Candy was pure spectacle. Her rapping, straight from the technique pages of Lil’ Kim and on the same hand, she makes Lil’ Kim’s infamous, irreverent behavior look like a southern Baptist Sunday school bible class lesson. Candy and Cardi B are torn from the same cloth—both spent time as strippers before finding fame on the mike.
When she wasn’t complaining about the wireless mike or the fact that there was a three-foot gap made by a barricade separating her and the fans, Candy impressively ripped off rapid-fire verses track after track—despite the fact that she couldn’t hear herself due to the sound problems.
There’s a lot to dissect when talking about Brooke Candy, but perhaps the dialogue should be, why was she brought onto the RFT showcase line-up to begin with? Or why wasn’t she booked to perform on Saturday night, rather than Sunday? There are a lot questions after experiencing the 2018 Showcase.
Dirty Rap with Candy
With founding member and lead vocalist Robert Pollard anchoring the quintet, they rocked the Grove. Watching the white-haired Pollard jump-kick his way through punk rock tunes was awe-inspiring.
GBV’s heavy sound pushed the sound system at the Atomic Cowboy to the brink. The vocals within 40 feet of the stage were hard to make out, but farther back behind the bar you could hear a clearer, more balanced sound.
GBV fans filled most of the space at the outdoor stage for the best crowd of the day—perhaps the weekend.
On paper, the event is eye-popping and exciting; it’s the biggest music showcase St. Louis has seen since the MRMF (Midwest Regional Music Festival) shutdown in 1999 when, coincidentally, the New Times bought the RFT. In person, it was both “feel good moment” and “extreme let down.”
After such a successful Saturday evening, the Sunday portion of the showcase in urban festival form spawned a “who planned this” reaction. Whether it was Father’s Day or it was too hot or it was just apathy, hopefully the lessons learned in hindsight make it obvious that this showcase should have started Friday night and ended Saturday night.
It’s also obvious that there were just too many bands, not enough music venues (was the Monocle, which has a great, intimate space invited to the party?) and some hard-to-perform in spaces.
The fanfare and excitement were never generated to the level it should have been. Should this event have been promoted differently or in more places? Would a different weekend have worked better? Should radio stations have been more involved in getting the word out? Hopefully next year’s showcase firms up and restructures—if not for the fans then for the bands.
Sorry we missed You
Here are a few bands we really wanted to check out but will try to track down soon:
Hope & Therapy
The Maness Brothers
The Potomac Accord
photos & text • Cory Weaver