by Blair Stiles
Here we are again. The weekend has succeeded in melting into Monday, and An Under Cover Weekend is embedded in lore until next September. The annual event, which draws sold-out crowds to the Firebird each year has left us until next September. An Under Cover Weekend 7 showcased the technical prowess of bands like the Feed and the Incurables, and the simple beauty of Scarlet Tanagers' harmonies. It gave Bredon Jones of Last To Show First To Go reason to flex vocal muscles he wasn't even sure he had. It also gave rise to a new guard who will satisfy St. Louis' stomach pains for another show-stopping act like Via Dove, who after five cycles bid AUCW adieu.
Here is a recap of AUCW's ten acts who sang, strummed, and showed off their talent as some of the most famous and respected musicians known.
NIGHT ONE: FRIDAY
Band Most Likely to Confuse People Who Buy Its EP: Bluefish is not a jazz band. It is a four-piece of young, intrepid gents who concoct calculated indie-pop numbers immersed in shaky moog-like synth and throaty open-hearted vocals...none of which were present in its thirty minutes as the Rat Pack. Brad Baker slid onto the stage in a three-piece suit colored like coffee that's been drowned by cream and sugar. His voice was lacquered with the mischievous swing of Guys and Dolls' Sky Masterson as the added brass section emoted with all the tender nuances of big band cordiality. Bluefish took a chance on covering an act outside its comfort zone, and the risk paid off. The 180-degree difference between Bluefish's resting position and the Rat Pack's persuasive, Golden Globe-hijacking charm was in dispose. When "Everybody Loves Somebody" kicked in, its cumbersome bass and drum wag in tow, the audience swung right-to-left with the rhythm and crooned along with Bluefish.
Search Parties as Arcade Fire. Video courtesy of GrahamandSteve.
Please Come Back Next Year: Search Parties performed as Arcade Fire. I am just going to let you all know, I am not an Arcade Fire fan. I became attached to "No Cars Go" in my formative years as a music consumer and was never able to recapture the instant adoration I felt for "that song in other Arcade Fire numbers. Search Parties is an ambitious band rife with talent and an ear for the sublime. Its live sets reach glittering, snow-capped heights of polyphonic serenity. About two minutes into "We Used To Wait" any doubt I had over my enjoyment of Arcade Fire washed away. "We Used To Wait" is wonderfully idiosyncratic with emphasized syllabic resonance on words that act as capstones to sentences. "Wait" became "Wah-ait," and in that brief clip the monosyllabic became two and utterly inescapable. Arcade Fire fans danced and sang audaciously with Elliot Pearson during "Wake Up" as percussionist Alex Petrone was given support by bandmate Dylan Doughty and Danny Blaies of Brother Lee and the Leather Jackals to manifest a sound akin to an enormous boulder somersaulting downhill into a town made of precious metals.
Let's Not and Deny We Karaoke'd: Compared to Bluefish and Search Parties' sets, which were propelled by chance and an obvious love of the bands they covered, the Defeated County's Mamas and the Papas set seemed like a parody. Irene Ellen and Langen Neubacher pranced around the stage and caterwauled in an uncomfortable, starving cat kind of way, that made one nearby audience member question their levels of intoxication. The set served to illustrate why it is imperative for bands at AUCW to pick acts they dig that will challenge them. Defeated County did not appear to try too hard to perform well. While they looked like they were enjoying themselves, the apparent ease caused the set to come across as amateur. The result was a disappointing, karaoke-esque rendition of "California Dreaming" and "Monday, Monday" as well as other Mamas and the Papas favorites by a band that is normally capable of so much more.
Dots Not Feathers performing as Queen. Video courtesy of GrahamandSteve.
Yeah, They Rocked the Fuck Out of Us: Coming off the heels of two memorable turns as Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, Dots Not Feathers had to kill Queen. DNF took no prisoners and hammed, hollered and jived its way to Queen-style mayhem in checkered spandex and matching mustaches. Keyboardist Katie Brooking strut around the stage like a rooster to open the set with "We Will Rock You." The Queen concert anthem served to hype up everyone in the Firebird. The applause was so deafening throughout any quiet break during a song that it was almost impossible to hear the bicycle bells scattered throughout the crowd during "Bicycle Race."
Ryan Myers and Jessica Haley each had their turn as lead vocalists. Haley practiced an upper register that appeared to love Freddie Mercury's idiosyncratic runs and pliable range. Myers gussied up his vocals on "We Are The Champions" to a ribald, operatic degree that stirred up the audience into a frenzy. Patrons of the Firebird cheered voraciously before, during and after Baier's solos -- each flawless, including "Killer Queen" which Ryan Wasoba, who would perform on night two quipped, "Couldn't sound anymore Queen THAN Queen." The response for DNF was so fervent with excitement and appreciation that when Baier and Brooking crossed the parking lot to carry their instruments to their cars, people standing outside applauded and cat-called while patting each member on the back. It was like watching a champion NBA team walk back to the locker room post-title celebration as their fans hang down from the rafters to high-five and congratulate them on their victory.
Band Most Likely to Get Glitter in its Eyes: As T-Rex, the Incurables, equipped with the formidable Jordan Heimburger on guitar, slithered and spat with the same discordant aggression that shrouds T. Rex's legacy. The Incurables slathered on eye liner, both soulless black and disco glitter, to embody the true meaning of "20th Century Boy." The band sounded ferocious. Jimmy Griffin's warble mimicked Marc Bolan's strange tremble that eschewed vocal protocol of rock from that era. The Incurables man-handled those songs with palpable comfort. So comfy were they that they tore through their set, the last of the night, with so much technical wizardry that it was hard to tell if they were ever off. Both the Incurables and Dots Not Feathers were able to grasp its chance in the spotlight with aggrandized choices hued in difficulty. You would think it would cause night two's acts to take a step back. Instead, night two was equally steeped in skill: making prowess AUCW 7's theme.
Ryan Wasoba & Foxing as Neutral Milk Hotel. Video courtesy of GrahamandSteve.
The Tear-Jerker: Ryan Wasoba does not have to be anyone but Ryan Wasoba. He has made his mark in St. Louis through his indelible work with math-rock heart stoppers So Many Dynamos, writing educational accounts of music history with equal parts dense intelligence and snide commentary and producing well-rounded work for St. Louis bands like Bear Hive and Foxing. The latter Wasoba worked to reproduce the sensitive, beloved sound of Neutral Milk Hotel. Jeff Magnum wrote Aeroplane Over the Sea to channel the grief he experienced after reading The Diary of Anne Frank. Aeroplane is centered on death and aches in every second of its sonic life. This despair was not jettisoned by Wasoba in favor of conducting a crowd-pleasing set. Wasoba and Foxing stayed true to the despair. The crowd responded as a taciturn mess of AUCW night one performers and patrons. During "Holland 1945," Firebird owner Mike Cracchiolo joined Foxing's Connor Murphy on brass, picking up the trombone to Murphy's trumpet. "Holland 1945" sprang a visceral reaction on the crowd. People bobbed and sang along to themselves. "Two-Headed Boy" choked me up, causing me to flair my nostrils in that ugly, reflexive way to stop any tears from protruding. Wasoba kept with the chord structure, never daring to add any flair or unnecessary panache to a song sewn together with turbulent guitar patches and vocals that claw at hope's door and echo the sound of ephemeral malaise. Wasoba knows how to write songs that stay on playlists for years. He knows how to write songs so quintessential to St. Louis' musical vernacular that bands name themselves after them. He also knows a good song, and when it is imperative to play that song the way its owner intended it.
Scarlet Tanager as The Beach Boys. Video courtesy of GrahamandSteve.
Travelocity Probably Booked Forty Flights from STL to California After This Set: Scarlet Tanager is no stranger to melodious arrangements and picture perfect harmonies. The choice of covering the Beach Boys was blanketed in, "Well, DUH." It was obvious from the beginning, with leis draped around mic stands and audience members and cut-out surfboards lining the back of the stage, that Scarlet Tanager made itself at home in Brian Wilson's back catalog. They even brought the beach to STL with inflatable tri-color balls for the audience to play with. Even with the visual stimuli, the Beach Boys' breezy arrangements, as played by Scarlet Tanager, were cozier than pulling a down comforter out of a just-finished drying cycle. The buzzer went off during "Don't Worry Baby" with Susan Logsden melting the crowd into a wobbly mess of grilled cheese. The audience melted further when Scarlet Tanager skipped into "Wouldn't It Be Nice." The opening chords, on record created by an effect traced mandoguitar (look it up), were presented on guitar on Saturday with matching tone. Yeah, it was nice. Very nice, indeed.
Arrest Me, Please: "EVERYBODY, THE POLICE ARE HERE!!" shouted Michael Tomko as he introduced Last To Show First To Go. Instead of imbuing fear into the crowd, because we are all pretty wise to Tomko's clever schemes, a Bredon Jones-led LTSFTG broke into "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." LTSFTG played a set devoid of showmanship that was relentlessly exact in its precision. Jones was able to sing Sting's Caribbean-drenched high notes beautifully, but it did not come without some doubt, "I was worried we would have to change keys -- it's higher than I normally sing. But, I realized if I sang as loud as I could, I could sing those notes," admitted Jones during Via Dove's INXS set, where he could still be heard singing in those same keys. "King of Pain" was anchored by Mike Cracchiolo's return to the stage, this time on lead vocals and bass, as Jay Lewis took to the cello. "Roxanne" gave rise to an uproarious sing along with every crowd member belting for Roxanne's freedom.
CHOOSE LIFE: The Feed's Wham/George Michaels set was so much to take in. Band members were decked out in "GAY OK," "CHOOSE LIFE," and "GO-GO" printed shirts. Saxophonist Ben Reese dressed as The Sexy Sax Man of viral video fame, complete with mullet and head band, and blasted through "Careless Whisper." Lead singer Dave Grelle left the stage after "Careless Whisper" to adorn himself in Michaels' attire. Once he pounded back onstage with a leather jacket, faded blue jeans, and sunglasses on, the transformation between Wham! era Michaels and his solo career was complete, and "Faith" was next on the setlist. Grelle proceeded to purr through Michael's solo numbers, opting to make "Freedom! '90" explode with cool. It did not hurt that Via Dove's Andy Shadburne guested on vocals, helping to provide the gospel flair that made "Freedom! '90" a standout during the Feed's set.
A Proper Good-Bye: It was Via Dove's last night as an AUCW performer. After five years with performances as the Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, AC/DC, Aerosmith and, lastly, INXS, Via Dove said its farewell. Thankfully, it was not before kicking some serious ass. Andy Shadburne prowled around the stage embodying a series of critters both nefarious and sexy. His best moment was climbing up on Firebird's sofas and crouching down like a bird of prey to sing "What You Need" before hopping off to glide across dance floor. Shadburne's feet, and vocals, know no boundaries. Shadburne's long been touted as St. Louis' quintessential frontman. His old-school bravado heralded showmen of the past. Michael Tomko's crunchy guitar solo provided the texture, and Funky Butt Brass Band's wails created an even more exuberant ten-song set. Via Dove's past and present AUCW choices play well into their particular gifts, and it will be a shame to not see them inhabit another performer for AUCW. But, smart choices equal legend status, and it will be forever until we stop talking about the impact Via Dove has had on AUCW. Always ballsy and prone to going ballistic, Via Dove's swan song was a fantastic anchoring leg in its AUCW odyssey.
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