Grass Widow | The Langaleers The Vault, Farmington, MO June 5, 2012
Sometimes showgoing throws you a curve ball. I drove an hour and a half to Farmington with the intent of catching Grass Widow, a great Bay Area trio who's touring on the strength of a fine new CD, Internal Logic. Mission accomplished in that regard. But I also arrived just in time to witness the death throes of a high-quality club.
The Vault is located within an old refurbished factory, renamed the Business Arts Center and located in a bucolic small-town neighborhood. Across the street, two young children were chasing each around their front lawn, shrieking with delight, while their pet cat frolicked in the background. Inside, the Vault shared retail territory with an art gallery, a tattoo parlor and an Italian restaurant. The space itself had a counter that served food and beer, some tables and chairs, and a professional-quality stage and sound system. This was no basement venue: considerable work and money had obviously gone into this venture.
I'd tell you to check it out for yourself, or encourage you to book a show if you're in a band. Unfortunately, those are not options. The Vault is closing in less than two weeks.
According to Tim Smith, who owns and operates The Vault with wife Kerry, they just haven't been doing enough business to cover rent and expenses. Both of them were rather emotional about it, and weren't really sure what they were going to do next. (One possibility: a move to St. Louis, where Tim once worked at such venerated spaces as the Galaxy and Creepy Crawl.)
Looking around at the small crowd, which ranged from middle-aged ladies to young kids, I could relate to their disappointment. It's hard enough to keep an arts venue going in a cultural oasis like New York or San Francisco, let alone Farmington. Yet, consider what it must have meant for the Saint Francois County youth to have such a resource. I grew up in the middle of New Jersey, half an hour away from the nearest college town; what I wouldn't have given to have charitable adults open up a space like this. That certainly would havebeen even truer had I come from southern Missouri. Add in the fact that employees will have to be let go, in a town where there's probably not much work, and it added a layer of melancholy to the whole night.
And what was I there to see? A band whose set list included a song called "Disappearing Industries."
First, though, Festus four-piece the Langaleers played. The band brought free cookies and brownies for the crowd (and didn't scrimp either; the cookies came from St. Louis Bread Company). Musically, they were four college-aged kids playing straightforward Stones/Replacements rock 'n roll. The lead guitarist was perfectly capable of shredding, metallic guitar solos, but was more interesting when he wandered into more out-there territory a la Crazy Horse. The highlight was a fine cover of Credence Clearwater Revival's "Green River." After the set, I picked up some cookies for the drive home.
Grass Widow played a short but concise set. Opening for the Raincoats in Chicago last year, they were impressive but a little too clinical and distant. Tonight, however, the performance really highlighted each member's musical strengths, including interlocking bass/guitar parts, lavish three-part harmonies, and melodic gems barbed with post-punk dissonance. The set was heavy on Internal Logic material, with only two songs from their earlier days ("Tattoo" and "Lulu's Lips"). There were no songs at all from 2010's Past Time, which by all reports was written during an emotional time the band would rather not revisit. Also within the set: a faithful cover of Wire's "Mannequin," and a version of the Nerves' "Walking Out on Love" so altered that it took me half the song to recognize it. Whereas the original version was a rough power-pop gem, Grass Widow stripped it down to a staccato bass line and rebuilt it from there, transposing the verse and chorus in the process. Even though I couldn't help but wish for a longer set, it was well worth the trip.
After the first couple of songs, bassist Hannah Lew expressed disappointment at the Vault's closing, and encouraged the patrons to continue making music. Then again, rock clubs aren't always meant to last forever. Even a short-lived space can have long-term effects. The Roxy, that petri dish of London punk, only lasted sixteen months, and it was only truly influential for the first three or four of those months. In that spirit, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the Vault's patrons, brought together by its ephemeral time inside the Business Arts Center, are inspired enough by the Smiths' example to get together and devise their own creative projects.
Critic's Notebook: Although Grass Widow skipped St. Louis on its last two tours, guitarist Raven Mahon said that they actually played locally at Shangri-La four years ago. Anyone attend?
Set list: Milo Minute Tattoo Disappearing Industries Whistling in The Dark Lulu's Lips Walking Out on Love (Nerves cover) Goldilocks Zone Spock on Muni Mannequin (Wire cover)