We devote our first installment of Radar Station (under the new Randall-less regime) to the Slammies showcase, the annual marathon of St. Louis music celebrating every genre from hip-hop to surf rock, from punk rock to folk-pop, from blues to experimental. The showcase was as exhausting as it was exciting, as frustrating as it was satisfying, as long as it was, well, very fucking long (so long, in fact, that we can't even cover the thing in one column). In 11 hours, we saw 14 separate performances and missed almost three times as many.
Cloister performed first, from the Market in the Loop stage, and played their dissonant, pretty guitar-and-computer rock as the skies glowered like a Pink Floyd album cover and the rain began to fall. They began with a brilliant, twisted, perfectly deadpan cover of the Stones' "Torn and Frayed," a genius move that scored them untold Radar Station points. Producer/engineer Chris Deckard ran sound competently and inventively, making Cloister sound as good as any band playing outdoors near a major thoroughfare could possibly sound.
Rocket Park opened the main stage in full '70s-pimp regalia, cranking out punchy, melodic quirk-pop with an occasional proggish gesture, a smidgen of glam. Their version of "Suffragette City" (a song dear to Radar Station's heart) was fast and raunchy -- perhaps a tad frathouse/anthemic in places, but it definitely rocked. Blueberry, whose performance at the second stage was rained out, squeezed in a couple of songs as Rocket Park were moving their equipment offstage. She sang fervently, explosively, joyfully, and when that putz emcee John Pertzborn made the lame joke about her being an "angry young woman," we cringed and hoped no one was under the impression that Radar Station had anything to do with his role as officiant.
Tomorrow's Caveman went on next, with a brash and filthy set of Nuggets-inspired garage-rock, dosed up with a heavy shot of psychedelia courtesy of guitarist Mike DeLeon and his many vintage pedals. Singer Ray James is a charismatic, surprisingly soulful vocalist, with a winning habit of thrusting out his privates (at the recent Rooster Lollipop pajama party, he performed in his underwear, eliciting many a giggle and swoon).
Drift and Robynn Ragland played at the same time, so we divided our time between the two stages. Ragland, who seemed to have a cold, sounded a bit more nasal and cloying than usual, but she won the crowd over with her competent alt-rock and general adorableness, so what does it matter what we Radar Station sourballs thought? We clearly can't appreciate talent or whatever it is these days that earns one the opening slot on an Oasis/Black Crowes bill and airplay on The River. One local wag calls Drift "5,000 Maniacs," an unkind but not entirely off-base description. Yeah, Drift's songs owe a debt to Natalie Merchant et al., but they exhibit a higher-than-average degree of musicianship; plus, singer/songwriter/rhythm guitarist Brandy Johnson has a lovely, supple alto, much less affected than Merchant's and certainly one of the strongest in town. It also doesn't hurt that she bears a faint resemblance to Radar Station's official heroine, Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Rodeo Soul, we announced theatrically to anyone who would listen, should dump the band-democracy shtick and let the best songwriter (that would be Josh Wiese) supply and sing no less than 90 percent of their material. The rest of the guys are advised to content themselves with the fate of sidemen, in the distinguished company of Bill Wyman, John Entwistle and Ringo Starr. Every once in a while, they can throw in their little "Boris the Spider" or whatever, but for the good of the band, let that suffice. That said, Rodeo Soul played their noisy, twang-tinged pop-rock with impressive skill and enthusiasm. When they locked into a groove, they held our attention -- no mean feat, under the circumstances.
After five hours of Slammies, our ears were drowsy and irritable, unable to endure any more strumming, emoting, pontificating or rocking out. We took a quick break, nursed our blisters and headed to the Halo Bar, where Grandpa's Ghost (winners in the Best Uncategorizable/Eclectic category) were about to perform. Jockeying for space and air, we paused to admire the svelte torso of Highway Matrons percussionist, Fishin' With Dynamite host, bar owner and quintessential gender-fucker Fred Friction, clad in a ladies' tube top (do they make any other kind?). Then Grandpa's Ghost made beautiful noise for a half-hour. Ben Hanna sings like Neil Young and shares his mentor's love of arcane stonerisms, fitful squalls of symphonic feedback and biting, magisterial leads that go on for minutes at a time without seeming aimless or sloppy. The audience -- largely composed of music writers, record-store guys and other musicians -- was hushed and reverential (admittedly, paying attention is usually the only option during a Grandpa's Ghost performance, because the volume's usually set at "earsplitting"). Detractors liken Grandpa's Ghost to a jam band -- youch! -- and complain they're wanking around, naked-emperor-like. We at Radar Station can only shake our head sadly and resign ourselves to the fact that we cannot enlarge these narrow minds, no matter how liberally we throw around words such as "transcendent" and "sublime" and "cathartic," no matter how many times we mention that the Village Voice praised them once. Next week: Slammies, Part 2.