Music » Music Stories

Chew on This

Chefs and musicians collaborate on a delicious piece of performance art


One subject that's sure to send Radar Station into paroxysms of righteous indignation is the proliferation of restaurants that use music as decoration -- too often, "classical" is code for "class up the joint." (Yeah, as if that flute concerto chirping away in the background is really gonna make us forget we're in a gussied-up fast-food franchise, eating a soggy, overpriced assembly-line sandwich that tastes like its paper wrapping.) This shameful perversion is, to Radar Station's delicate ears, far more depressing than actual Muzak, which, to its credit, doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is: a blandly pleasant backdrop. Having transformed the achievements of Europe's great composers into innocuous audio wallpaper -- something that soothes and flatters but never challenges -- restaurateurs deserve a good share of the blame for the moribund state of classical music.

O poor dead white European men! Better to rot away in respectable obscurity than to serenade sandwich-chompers.

Yeah, yeah, we know -- who's the snob here? If people want to enjoy some piped-in symphonic pastiche while lingering over their cappuccinos, if a little Mozart improves their digestive efforts, who are we to stand in the way? Besides, Chris Deckard's given us reason to believe that our one-woman crusade to bring glorious, unpretentious silence to dining establishments everywhere might be a tad, well, overzealous. Maybe there's a place for music and mastication after all.

On April 20, at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Deckard presents In Spite of Sustenance, a collaborative performance-art installation featuring five chefs, five composers, five courses and five diners. The premise is elegantly simple: Chefs Byron Smith of Hot Locust, Frazer Cameron of Frazer's Traveling Brown Bag, Jamey Tochtrop of Wild Flower, Steve Gontram of Harvest and Tara Lansangan of La Chef each prepared a dish for a five-course meal. Next, the composers and bands -- Grandpa's Ghost, Western Robot, the Conformists, Eric Hall and Phallus Challice -- ate their assigned courses and wrote songs inspired by them. The compositions were recorded and put on a CD, which will be played during the event.

At the actual performance, five diners -- including the unimaginably hilarious combo of professional glutton Joe Pollack and erstwhile RFT food critic Jill Posey-Smith -- eat each course to the accompaniment of its associated song while the rest of us watch. The sight of Pollack slurping lobster bisque while a Conformists song -- a sinister whispered dirge about a stalker -- blares from the speakers is surely reason enough to go. Audio wallpaper, indeed! In Spite of Sustenance starts at 7:30 p.m. sharp. See for more information.

On April 18, KSLU (St. Louis University's radio station) and KDHX (88.1 FM) co-host "An Evening of Elvis" at the Billiken Club in the Busch Memorial Center, on the campus of St. Louis University. The event kicks off with a preview spin of Elvis Costello's brilliant new CD, When I Was Cruel, which won't be officially released until April 23. After the album is played in its entirety, Tommy Kavanaugh and the Distractions, Prune, Richard Imposter (of the Imposters), Tony Renner, Jenny Kavanaugh, Geoff Kessell and Devin Triplett will perform cover versions of some of their favorite songs from Costello's peerless catalog.

The NYC-based noise collective Avey Tare and Panda Bear brings its winsome sonic squalor to the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center on April 20. Deemed "the best reason to scratch one's head" in the Village Voice's "Best of NYC 2001," the arty outfit baffles and delights in equal measure. The concert, which includes sets by Dave Stone, Chris Smentkowski and the Darin Gray Duo, begins at 9:30 p.m. or as soon as In Spite of Sustenance concludes. (Nice tag-team scheduling, guys!)

Local jazz stalwarts Jon Thomas and Friends celebrate the release of their new CD, Green With Passion, at the Sheldon on April 23. Thomas' sinuous double-bass lines anchor this collection of original compositions, the second record from the solid, straight-ahead combo. In addition to a live performance by the band, the event features a catered reception, poetry, interpretive dance, visual art by C'babi Bayoc, a musical set by the Project Orchestra and a video documentary by Jason King. Tickets are available by phone at 314-367-5131 or at Vintage Vinyl, the Delmar Restaurant (where Jon Thomas and Friends perform every Friday night), Sweetie Pie's Restaurant and Genesis Coffee House.

On April 20 and 21, more than 40 bands -- from the glitzy neopsych of Neptune Crush to the party-friendly funk of Unstable Tina, from the feedback-soaked skronk of Cenozoic to the sweet quirk-pop of Hotel Faux Pas -- perform at the second annual International Soapbox Festival. The ambitious DiMBy production takes place at various venues in the Soulard neighborhood and boasts a dizzying array of entertainment choices: Along with all the live music, attendees can check out drum circles, poetry recitals, juggling, storytelling, high-school debates, interfaith engagement ceremonies and miniature golf. Whew! Just thinking about it makes us tired. Chances are, though, least one of your favorite local bands is on the massive bill -- and a portion of the proceeds goes to charity.

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