Despite any number of complaints, the St. Louis music scene is nothing if not resilient. Break-ups, shuttered venues and various other setbacks haven't stopped exciting music from cropping up everywhere even if you have to search a little harder to find it.
What's interesting to me, though, is that the youngest musicians in town tend to see possibilities instead of roadblocks. They approach their craft with a uniformly positive attitude, perhaps because they don't carry the baggage of St. Louis being seen as a second-rate town or because they refuse to accept that subpar tag. Take local quirk-rockers Jumbling Towers, who are curating a monthly night of (for lack of a better term) local indie rock at Cicero's (6691 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-862-0009) beginning Thursday, January 4.
"It's all about community, I guess you could say," Jumbling Towers bassist-vocalist Nate Drexler says about the aim of the night. "People call it ‘scene' or whatever. [But] it's not just about scene; it's not about every band that sounds the same."
The lineup for the first night of the series is first-rate and cohesive, as it features Thankful Tree (myspace.com/thankfultree); danceable, melodic keyboard-heads Berlin Whale and Say Panther; and spazz-rock headliners So Many Dynamos (who packed their show at the Billiken Club at Saint Louis University last month). But according to Drexler, getting these concerts off the ground wasn't easy.
At first, he had trouble even getting a response from Cicero's about playing a gig there. (This despite Jumbling Towers thinking that the Loop staple was the coolest venue in town.) Drexler didn't give up, however and this perseverance eventually paid off.
"I wrote [the club's booker] this long e-mail, really laid it out, and was like, ‘Listen, this is what I have in mind, and I promise you it will do well if I can get the bands that I think I can get,'" Drexler recalls. "‘Here's a list of bands.' [The booker] finally wrote back and was like, ‘This sounds kind of cool. What did you have in mind?'" Drexler responded with requests one day per month when the band could "mix it up any way we want" with an all-ages show and the booker green-lit the night.
In a way, these shows are a logical extension of the basement gigs that Jumbling Towers and a crew of like-minded, goal-oriented groups which also included Say Panther and Berlin Whale first held for friends and devoted fans. What these concerts lacked in attendance, they made up for in enthusiasm.
"We had a whole lot of fun together, and we all had fans that liked each other's bands," Drexler remembers. "It was a random first show in the basement, and when I got home I can remember e-mailing one person from every band and being like, ‘That was so cool.'
"Everyone liked each other in the whole building, and everyone liked each other's bands, and everyone liked each other as people. You can't really re-create that, but you can try. It's good for your own band, to be a part of something that could potentially grow into something big."
Jumbling Towers itself is poised to have a big year, starting with the release of its first album in the coming weeks. (Mark the calendars for its CD-release party at the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center (3301 Lemp Avenue; 314-771-1096) on Friday, February 16.) Thanks to a post on the well-respected MP3 blog Fluxblog (www.fluxblog.org) in September 2006, the group has started to earn some national attention for its tunes (myspace.com/jumblingtowers).
As to what we can expect from the full-length, Drexler wants it to capture their live sound reverb and all and their penchant for the off-kilter.
"You can expect a really good amount of pop mixed with some avant-garde ways of showing pop," he says. "I think the vocals are coolest part on this album. They're very enchanting. They'll draw people to listen more."
Indeed, Joe DeBoer's precise vocals one part English headmaster, one-part German cabaret performer stand out handily on a few tracks Drexler leaked me from the new album. But his eerie affectations fit seamlessly with the group's bewitching music; in a nod to the production values of Talking Heads and the Pixies' Surfer Rosa (both big influences), noisy but melodic guitars dance nimbly with music-box-like keyboards and percussion, resulting in an atmosphere not unlike the Smiths' most abstract moments, or theatrical performers such as Klaus Nomi (or even Bowie).