Editor's Note: The end of 2012 is upon us, so we thought we'd put a cap on things by sharing some of our personal favorite shows, albums, events and general shenanigans. Join us as we indulge in some navel-gazing!
Despite what you may presume from the headline, I don't intend for this to be an "Oh man, I was there and you weren't" piece at all. Even with as bitter and cynical as we citizens of St. Louis can be sometimes, it's important to remember that we really are completely blessed when it comes to the music scene, in terms of shows both local and national. The people that run our city's venues genuinely bust their asses, with the goal being less to pack the house every night than it is to offer all parties involved -- fans and bands alike -- a memorable experience. In keeping, smaller acts with less draw are welcomed with open arms by many promoters in St. Louis, and with that abundance comes the impossibility of seeing every interesting concert that may show up on your radar.
So yeah, I get it. You probably missed most of these shows. In some instances that's okay, but at the same time: What were you thinking? Consider this an ode to all those shows that slipped through the cracks, but were certainly no less memorable than any sold-out affair over the past year.
6. Nato Coles, Matt Harnish and Googolplexia at a House Party on Minnesota Ave. - July 21, 2012: Pretty much everyone in St. Louis -- minus twenty or thirty people -- missed this show. You would have to have spent 2012 hanging out with a certain far-reaching circle of fun-havin' degenerates to have even known about it, but the fact that it was in a poorly maintained living room with a two-bit sound rig didn't take away from the quality tunes. Rob Severson's one-man-band Googolplexia opened the evening in the way that only he is capable of: by harnessing and crystallizing the general awkwardness that comes with staring at a kind-of goofy dude wearing a headset and playing a ukulele. Or an accordion. Or, barking his own primitive take on beat-boxing - take your pick. Nato Coles of Minneapolis, who usually brings his Blue Diamond Band with him, worked through a rousing set of sing-along pub rock, but it was Bunnygrunt's Matt Harnish, also flying solo, who turned in the best half hour of the night. I don't recall any Bunnygrunt songs, but I do remember a handful of covers and a few originals. It was every bit as fun as a Bunnygrunt show, and, if nothing else, even more hilarious. The bright pink, tiny acoustic guitar and the koozie-wrapped bottle of wine Harnish was sipping on throughout the set pretty much summed the experience up.
5. Sea & Cake and Matthew Friedberger at Luminary Arts - October 28: This show drew more people than any of the other shows mentioned here, but it was still nowhere near as full as a Sea & Cake show should be, damn it. We're talking about the auditory gurus who I'm told are from Chicago, even though the songs sound as if they were recorded on a breezy island far away from the middle of America. Considering the band's strong affiliation with Tortoise and how synth-heavy some of Sea & Cake's albums sound, it was refreshing to see four dudes covering such a wide array of sounds with only guitars, drums and an assortment of pedals. Matthew Friedberger, one half of the brother-sister duo Fiery Furnaces, opened. His solo work was in the same vein as the Furnaces experimental synth-pop, only way less poppy and way more experimental. Five minutes into his set I thought to myself, "This noise is almost seizure inducing." Then, I shit you not, twenty minutes later a dude had a seizure five feet away from me, fell over and took out part of the merch table. He completely froze up on the ground for a minute, eventually came to as a few of us stood over him, then popped up and rushed out. I still think about that dude and hope he was alright, but then there's also a weird part of me that thinks it was probably some Andy Kaufman-style ruse on the part of Friedberger.
4. Bobby Bare, Jr. and Eef Barzelay at Off Broadway - August 16: I planned on including this show on the list even before I went to their more recent December 13th show, which actually had a more respectable turnout (though it was still under-attended considering both songwriters' ability to craft fragile, beautiful folk gems). Nonetheless, Bobby and Eef's August show seemed like an odd pairing at the time, and even after a repeat performance it still does. Bare Jr., the wandering minstrel from Tennessee who comes from historic honky-tonk lineage, is known for his songs of debauchery and self-destruction. Barzelay, meanwhile, is an Israeli-born self-proclaimed "Nice Jewish boy from New Jersey," who cut his teeth fronting the buttoned-up, twang tinged indie band Clem Snide. The two complimented each other wonderfully and it's a shame not enough folks in St. Louis got to appreciate it.
Polica 3. Polica at Old Rock House - February 27: I'm not quite sure what it will take for St. Louis to get hip to Polica (pronounced Poe-Lisa). The band's February show at Old Rock House was its second St. Louis show in four months; neither of which saw much of a turnout. It made no difference to Polica though, as the quartet eased through its electro R&B dance party as though the room was packed. Singer Channy Leaneagh's body and airy voice contorted around the band's dialed-in, experimental indie-funk groove. This band has been selling out shows all over the globe - hopefully, it's only a matter of time before that happens here.
2. Tim Barry and Jenny Owen Youngs at Off Broadway - May 9: Barry is by no means a poor man's Bruce Springsteen. He does, however, offer the closest thing to a life-affirming concert experience possible for those who can't afford to shill out eighty bucks for a Boss ticket. Barry did just that when he showed up to Off Broadway back in May -- his excellent new album, 40 Miler, had just dropped and Tim was eager to share his songs, new and old. Anyone familiar with Barry's live show knows that he really embraces intimacy and the human element, so much so that he usually hops off the stage and performs much of his set without any mics. True to form, Barry performed his whole show on the floor of Off Broadway, with roughly twenty people huddled around him, singing along almost as loud as Barry himself. You could tell the songs meant just as much to those folks as they do to the songwriter himself. After an hour of songs and stories, Barry invited everyone outside and performed a hushed encore on the patio. When I left, I remember feeling like I just left a religious ceremony or a self-help workshop.
1. Crooked Fingers and John Vanderslice at Off Broadway - November 11: 2012 saw the unlikely resurgence of seminal '90s indie noisemakers Archers of Loaf. Singer/guitarist Erich Bachmann got the band back together after a thirteen-year hiatus for some reunion touring to coincide with the reissue of four of its albums. Late 2011 also saw the release of a new Crooked Fingers album, Bachmann's main outlet since Archers of Loaf hung it up. All of that in mind, one would think Bachmann's stock would be high going into the Crooked Fingers show at Off Broadway in November. Not the case. The venue was hardly 1/3 full of people, however, it was overflowing with circling, effervescent sonic bliss. While Crooked Finger's newest album, Breaks in the Armor, has somewhat of a minimalist vibe, the live show was anything but. Bachmann & Co. layered guitars, loops, samples, keyboards and swirling vocals (male and female) and churned out one of the most memorable shows of the year. The band even played a couple Archers of Loaf songs ("White Trash Heroes", "Chumming the Ocean" to wit) for good measure. In short, just like the others on this list, you should be very sorry you missed this one.
Please remember, as we enter this new year, that excellent shows come through St. Louis constantly; it is a fool's game in this town to only attend the well-attended. Maybe in 2013 you don't make these same mistakes, eh?