Last night was the kick-off concert for the annual bacchanal known as Twangfest. Now in its eleventh year, Twangfest continues to bring together many of this country’s best-loved and up-and-coming roots, rock and pop acts (you can read more about the festival’s origins in this story the RFT published last year). The festival began last night at the Schlafly Tap Room and will continue through Saturday night at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room; click here for a full schedule of performers.
I just missed the opening set by William Elliott Whitmore but caught Backyard Tire Fire, who played an enjoyable if forgettable set of slide-guitar driven roots-rock. The bulk of the crowd was more intent on seeing Centro-matic, a four-piece from Denton, Texas, whose powerhouse live shows have made them a St. Louis favorite. Will Johnson leads the band with his high, quavering voice and cryptic lyrics, while his bandmates back him up with smart, expressive guitar rock.
Opening with the forlorn “Love You Just the Same,” the band cast a lonesome pall over the crowd before setting them ablaze with a booming “The Mighty Midshipman.” The band stuck to mostly up-tempo numbers, using a two-guitar formula that moved pianist Scott Danbom to bass and bassist Mark Hedman to second guitar. Hedman’s guitar gave Johnson some room to unleash a few gritty solos, most of which he played while balancing on one foot, moving and swaying in a Telecaster-induced reverie.
The band mainly played tracks from its last two albums (Love You Just the Same and Fort Recovery) while showcasing a few songs from the just-released Operation Motorcide EP. By the time Centro-matic kicked into “Flashes and Cables,” much of the crowd had joined Johnson for the wordless vocal refrain, sending choruses of “ba ba da da dum” up to the Tap Room’s rafters.
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