"Summer's ready/Summer is ready when you are. "
The Breeders, "Saints"
Let's be clear on something: There isn't much difference between the type of musicians who tour St. Louis during the summer and those who visit the rest of the year.
Some performing bands like metallic prog-geeks Tool, who play a sold-out Scottrade Center show on Friday, June 20 are coming because routing finally worked in our favor. But others, such as the Fray, OK Go, Ben Folds and Ted Nugent, are veritable regulars at venues around town. (In fact, the Fray sold out the Pageant three times last year.)
Even if the sounds swirling around town are familiar, there is something different and exhilarating about experiencing the music of summer. For one thing, sitting on a patio, listening to a band and sipping on a beer isn't the exercise in sheer lunacy it is during winter's endless chill.
Also, the notion out-of-towners hold about St. Louis that everyone in the city drives around blasting Nelly hits is proven true daily. At least around RFT headquarters in the Loop, the number of people testing the volume controls on their car stereos increases exponentially.
St. Louis' creativity blooms in summer, particularly when it unfurls its many outdoor shows at the Arch grounds, farmers' markets or outside the Missouri History Museum to name just a few places. Area traditions also abound: Trekking out to Maryland Heights to see a show at Riverport I mean the UMB Bank Pavilion, er, the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, or taking the family downtown for Fair St. Louisum, River Splash, er, nope, make that Live on the Levee.
While there's quite a lot of music we don't have room to cover not owing to quality, but to space considerations the list of summer shows announced so far is impressive. a "I sincerely miss those heavy metal bands / I used to go see on the Landing in the summer" Wilco, "Heavy Metal Drummer"
Summer is intrinsically nostalgic, an ideal time to glorify and reminisce about idyllic scenes from the past: running barefoot, catching fireflies, eating ice cream for dinner.
Plenty of concerts embody this tendency to look back, beginning with the eighth annual Rib America Festival. The four-day event takes place this weekend from Friday, May 25, through Monday, May 28, at Soldiers Memorial Plaza and features a veritable who's-who of oldies-radio greats.
Highlights will include grrl-power champion Pat Benatar (performing with husband Neil Giraldo), funk-master Morris Day, cowbell-loving rockers Blue Öyster Cult and blues legend Buddy Guy.
The party continues with disco-soul men Kool & the Gang, who live up to their song "Jungle Boogie" by headlining the Saint Louis Zoo's annual Zootopia on Saturday, June 16. And when comely former Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell stops by the Pageant on Memorial Day, he'll perform selections by his grunge supergroup Temple of the Dog, nü-rockers Audioslave and Soundgarden (flannel-tastic!) as well as songs from his new solo record, Carry On.
But it's the Scottrade Center that hosts perhaps the most anticipated concert of the summer on Monday, July 2: the St. Louis date of the Police's much-ballyhooed reunion tour. The trio morphed from a raucous punk band into a sophisticated act that smartly utilized reggae, jazz and world-music influences, before fracturing after the release of 1983's multi-platinum Synchronicity.
After twenty-some years apart, the band singer/bassist Sting, guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland put aside their differences long enough to reconcile for a world tour.
"This is a band that was very popular, and they broke up way too early," says longtime KSHE (94.7 FM) DJ Favazz. "I think people, with a situation like that, they just go, 'Well, you know, man, twenty years ago, I liked them, but I never saw them, and boy I'd like to see them now.'
"Quite frankly, when the musicianship is there, for a band like the Police, that stuff doesn't tend to go away. Those are three great musicians and their skills have probably not diminished in twenty years."
Canadian prog-rock kingpins Rush are another group that's kept its incredible chops and reputation intact. Rush performs at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Friday, August 24, in support of a vibrant-sounding new album, Snakes & Arrows. The song "Far Cry" is in rotation on KSHE.
"They're still viable," Favazz says. "They're a band that just has never stopped. The new song is probably the best thing they've put out in ten years. It's pretty stripped-down; it's not over-produced.
"They have a strong base anyway in St. Louis. This is one of their big cities in the United States. The band has gotten older, we've gotten older, and if they're still making some good music, why not go see them?"
Favazz is not quite as ready to vouch for the holy triumvirate of hair metal Poison, Ratt and White Lion landing at the Verizon Amphitheater on Thursday, August 2. The first band is trumpeting POISON'D!, an album of cover songs by luminaries such as David Bowie, the Cars and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
Still, he notes that Poison and Def Leppard, which released its own covers album (Yeah!) last year, are savvy enough to avoid the washed-up stigma with creative packaging. For instance, Def Leppard sold out the UMB Bank Pavilion last year with Journey, a Lou favorite. This year the British arena-rockers will celebrate the July 4 holiday with Styx (a St. Louis staple) at the same venue. By bringing sure-fire draws along, bands ensure that fans get more bang for their concert-ticket buck.
The Arch (106.5 FM) is counting on this theory to bolster its High School Reunion concert at the Scottrade Center on Sunday, July 29. Playing off the city's obsession with high school pedigree, the concert contains a little something for a variety of ages regardless of whether you related more to The Breakfast Club or Empire Records.
Headlined by Texas roadhouse rockers ZZ Top, the bill also features the New Cars (with vocalist Todd Rundgren), and feisty femme Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders. Reunited rockabillies Stray Cats will also be there, along with pure-pop janglers Gin Blossoms (Admit it: You still know all the words to "Hey Jealousy" and "Found Out About You.")
"When you look at this lineup, it's a great lineup you just don't get to see typically on a summer tour," says Sammy Simpson, director of marketing for Bonneville St. Louis. "That's what makes it so exciting, the variety-show aspect."
So, what exactly is the appeal of tours featuring reunited bands?
It's the "the superstar element," explains Simpson. "You see that with a lot of the bands Billy Joel was just here, Rod Stewart was just here. A lot of those bands are on the road because they're great artists. You've just got these superstar bands that people really want to see."
KSHE's Favazz offers another explanation for the public's enduring fascination with reunited bands.
"I hate to say nostalgia," he says. "[But these tours are] taking people back and making them feel youthful, or bringing back some nice memories for them or something like that. That's the only way to look at it, really. If it makes people happy for a couple of hours and takes them back to when they wore mullets and big bells, then who am I to say that's a bad thing?" a "It's been a long hot summer/Let's go undercover/Don't try too hard to think...don't think at all" U2, "Staring at the Sun"
Anyone who's gotten a wicked sunburn while sitting on the lawn at Riverpo....er, the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, or while seeing a show on the concrete parking lot at Pop's, appreciates what a relief it is to find a sliver of shade.
Thankfully, a good number of musicians pre-emptively book their shows indoors. Interpol plays the Pageant on Wednesday, August 1. Our Love to Admire, the band's major-label debut, arrives July 10 and judging from first single, "The Heinrich Maneuver" (which bizarrely resembles late-'80s R.E.M.), things are as grayscale as ever for the mope-punks.
Alt-country chanteuse Lucinda Williams performs at the Pageant on Sunday, July 15, an anticipated show even if critical reception for the new West was largely lukewarm.
The Sheldon Concert Hall, too, presents two fine shows suitable for beating the heat: jazz legend Dave Brubeck on Sunday, June 3, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young/Buffalo Springfield member Stephen Stills on Tuesday, June 26.
Then there's the regal Beyoncé (with soulful eye-candy Robin Thicke) and badass American Idol rock-chick Kelly Clarkson, who perform at the Scottrade Center on Sunday, July 8, and Friday, July 27, respectively.
Not to be outdone, love-her-or-hate-her pop tart Fergie plays a special show at the Pageant on Monday, June 11, in conjunction with Verizon. And ravey DJ fave Tiësto drops by Dante's for a set on Tuesday, July 24.
However, save for atmospheric hard-rockers the Deftones who headline the Pageant on Tuesday, June 19 heavier acts (maybe because of their often-younger fan base) prefer playing outside.
Ozzfest, headlined by aging Ozzy Osbourne, returns to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Monday, August 6. Diverse support acts range from Eurovision hard-rock goofballs Lordi and electroplated rockers Static-X to the Nick Oliveri (ex-Queens of the Stone Age) project Mondo Generator and brutal metalheads Lamb of God.
The punk-rock festival Warped Tour, long a summertime staple for Hot Topic shoppers from Chesterfield to Clayton, has just as impressive a lineup even if it is light on the heritage punk bands this year. (Bad Religion is the marquee act.) Still, the Tuesday, August 14, date at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater has a particularly strong lineup of national groups. Big names include neo-prog scientists Coheed and Cambria, femme-fronted punk-poppers Paramore, party-starting Irish-punks Flogging Molly and pop-punk survivors New Found Glory.
There's also punkabilly hellcats Tiger Army, underrated pop-metal troupe Sum 41, sugar-pop sister act Meg & Dia, and consciousness-raising rappers P.O.S. and K-OS. Local heroes Ludo and So They Say also perform. a "Carnival came by my town today/Bright lights from giant wheels/Fall on the alleyways/And I'm here by my door, waiting for you" The Cardigans, "Carnival"
In 1904 the St. Louis World's Fair reportedly introduced ice cream cones and Dr Pepper to a mass audience. Starting in 1981 the V.P. Fair (later called Fair St. Louis) treated July 4 revelers to artists such as the Beach Boys, the Neville Brothers and Kenny Rogers, while incorporating many of the trappings found at a county fair.
But times change, and the entity known as Fair St. Louis no longer features carnival rides and arts and crafts. Now, due largely to the success of 2004's River Splash a widely lauded event that booked such performers as Lyle Lovett, the B-52's and Liz Phair the multi-day Independence Day extravaganza has evolved into Live on the Levee, a showcase of national and local music.
"People get a little teary-eyed when you talk about doing away with Fair St. Louis, because it is a big part of St. Louis history," says Missy Slay, who was the executive director of the inaugural Live on the Levee in 2005. "But all good things evolve and evolve into something even better."
Indeed, the success of the first edition Slay says they averaged 20,000 people a night during the three-night trial run of shows spurred a merger of ideas and resources between Fair St. Louis and the civic organization Celebrate St. Louis (which Slay headed) in 2006 and beyond.
"We got together with Fair St. Louis and said, 'Look, we both have the same mission and that is to bring people downtown to showcase the renaissance taking place in downtown St. Louis,'" Slay says.
The lineup of the 2007 edition of Live on the Levee definitely shows improvement over its first two years.
Need proof? Appearing are pop princess Cyndi Lauper (Wednesday, July 4), country music matriarch Emmylou Harris (Saturday, July 7), Earth-mother hippie Ani DiFranco (Friday, July 20), singer-songwriter Pete Yorn (Saturday, July 21), reggae faves Steel Pulse (Friday, July 27) and funky soul-man Musiq Soulchild (Saturday, July 28).
"The model that we like to use or, at least, that I use I use the River Splash model in this," says Levee co-booker Sam Foxman. "I was totally keyed up for a diverse schedule. People in St. Louis like that kind of programming, they like a lot of different genres.
"But it's diverse enough so people come out for three or four [of the shows]. That's what happened with River Splash, and that's what I think will happen this year." "Summer's here, the light is raising/Hopes and dragonflies/....I won't pine for what could have been I'm preoccupied!/Summer turns to high" R.E.M., "Summer Turns to High"
The city's favorite pastime isn't baseball, but rather complaining about what concert tours and bands don't, haven't and never will come to St. Louis. Forgotten among all this griping are all of the exciting, up-and-coming acts that do drop by even in summer.
For some of these shows, earplugs are a must. Whip-smart grrl-punks Be Your Own Pet play Off Broadway on Monday, May 28, while Led Zeppelin-bombastic rockers Earl Greyhound drop by Lemmons on Saturday, June 9.
Highly touted and bizarrely emo-friendly, Southern-fried rockers Maylene & the Sons of Disaster perform at Pop's on Sunday, July 15, and country-punks the Blasters return to Beale on Broadway on Friday, August 3.
Thanks to Blueberry Hill's Duck Room, the caliber of singer-songwriters passing through is also high. Singer Ike Reilly lands a plum Thursday night (June 21) gig with a full band, the Assassination, in support of this year's We Belong To the Staggering Evening.
That same venue warmly welcomes back some other familiar faces: Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano (Thursday, May 31) and down-home rockers Cracker (Thursday, July 5) and some beloved cult figures. Of particular note are sad-sack indie-troubadours the National (Monday, June 11), literate folk-poet Jonatha Brooke (Wednesday, June 20) and Radiohead-meets-Jeff Buckley act Ours (Friday, June 22).
On the buzz-worthy tip are brittle, post-Kraut-punks Electrelane, who hit the Creepy Crawl on Thursday, June 7. Scottish post-punks the Cinematics and spiky dance-punks the Photo Atlas open for new-wave lamers the Bravery at Pop's on Wednesday, June 20. And neo-shoegazing rockers People Noise performs at the Lucas School House (Thursday, May 31) and the Ground Floor in Belleville (Friday, June 8).
Before heading to the metro east that same night, drop by the Pageant, where Bay Area psych-blues-rock duo Two Gallants performs before Primus-member-turned-jam-band-god Les Claypool. a
"Spending warm summer days indoors/ Writing frightening verse/To a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg" The Smiths, "Ask"
It always blows my mind when people say that they're bored in St. Louis. In my case, there's almost too much to do and not enough hours in the day for the bands and shows I'd like (or need) to see. Along with the regular docket of shows at normal venues, summer in St. Louis features some special events.
Ex-New Kids on the Block heartthrob Jordan Knight headlines Pridefest on Saturday, June 23 (although sorry, guys, he's married with kids). Twangy bad-boy Bobby Bare Jr. and ex-Jason and the Scorchers frontman Jason Ringenberg are confirmed for Schlaffenfest on Friday and Saturday, August 3 and 4, at the Schlafly Tap Room.
Speaking of alt-country, the eleventh-annual Twangfest snagged some quality talent this year: beloved alt-country act Centro-matic (Wednesday, June 6, at the Schlafly Tap Room), singer-songwriter Tim Easton (Thursday, June 7, at the Duck Room), power-pop legend Graham Parker (Duck Room, Friday, June 8) and power-pop underdogs the Figgs (Duck Room, Saturday, June 9).
KDHX (88.1 FM) and the Whittaker Foundation, meanwhile, will co-present the Harvest Sessions early every Saturday morning, from 10 a.m. until noon at the Tower Grove Farmers' Market. Dedicated largely to local music, the sessions will also include a kid-friendly show once a month, as well as a day devoted to international music once a month.
"We've been looking for a while now for a way to present music in a non-traditional venue, to make it more accessible to families," says KDHX radio station manager Nico Leone. "We found a great venue to present music that will enhance the atmosphere of the market and provide great exposure for local artists."
But of course, just as these markets eventually run out of seasonal fresh produce to sell, the summer concert scene wanes as the school year beckons. The only constant seems to be Gayle Foehner, who tickles the ragtime ivories outside of the Tivoli Theatre and the RFT's windows until well into the chilly fall.
August, though, isn't completely devoid of good shows. Touring folksy faves Jackopierce perform at the Voodoo Lounge at Harrah's Casino in Maryland Heights on Thursday, August 23. Raucous rockers the Detroit Cobras slither into the Creepy Crawl on Monday, August 27.
Pop's has already booked the Reverend Horton Heat (with ooky-spooky indie-rockers Murder by Death) for Saturday, August 18, and hard-working Chicago punks Rise Against for Tuesday, August 28.
Paul Weller, in his post-Jam band the Style Council, once sang, "I once stood proud, now I feel so small/(I don't know whether to laugh or cry)/The long hot summer just passed me by."
With this guide, here's hoping that Weller's prophecy doesn't come true.