RADIO WAVES: The late 1970s saw one of the great weirdo-pop explosions of all time. Punk and new wave weren't just about the handful of bands that became stars; the real backbone of the whole mess were the nobodies, the no-hopers who maybe managed to get one single out before fading into the grimy mists of scumbag legend.
Every Tuesday night between midnight and 2 a.m., Jason Rerun's Scene of the Crime show on KDHX (88.1 FM) spills this gunk all over an unsuspecting public. For every familiar Ramones or Iggy tune, you'll get five or six lost masterpieces like the Simpletones' "I Like Drugs." Rerun's tastes are properly ecumenical, taking in anything from Devo to Blitz, with one rule: nothing recorded after, say, 1985.
"There's only a handful of bands going now that I really like," says Rerun, "and so much good obscure old stuff that people don't know anything about." It's a welcome message indeed in these days of professional punk outfits with more merchandise than inspiration. Rerun, a native of Appleton, Wis., has been into '70s punk since he was 12 years old. His selection of some 2,200 LPs keeps the playlist pretty well mixed up. And if you like what you hear on the show, keep your eyes peeled for the Pits, Rerun's band, which Scene of the Crime co-conspirator Christian Hott describes as "very staccato."
Can't afford those pricey imported punk-rarities compilations? Just turn on your radio at midnight Tuesday, and have some blank tapes ready. (JT)
BEAUTIFUL MESS: There must be a blue moon on Saturday, May 8: Cicero's has booked three of the most innovative bands in St. Louis on a weekend night (read: not sentenced to a Tuesday death). Admit it: You're going out anyway; you can always sleep away your Sunday, dreaming lazily of the beautiful music you were so lucky to catch the evening before. So turn yourselves on to the computer, electronics and gitbox-and-drums stylings by witnessing some of the most inventive musicians in the area and prove that booking creative St. Louis music is not so risky after all.
Brain Transplant, the ever-evolving love story between geek Chris Smentkowski and his personal computer, Pong, reminds us that the future is the present with extremely pleasing aural experiments ranging from dreamy minimalist cyberpop to intense sound collage with complex rhythm patterns (read: crazy shit, serious beats). This appearance is a must-see, because live performances have been few (two) and far between (last Halloween?).
If the names Dazzling Killmen, You Fantastic!, Man Igno, Dirt Dick and Pound of Flesh mean absolutely anything to you, check out Phut, whose members are drawn from those bands. Tim Garrigan, Nathan Warren and Jeremy Brantlinger relentlessly crank out skillful, clever rock, a meticulously drawn, psychically transmitted blueprint of a beautiful mess, impossibly structured and oddly psychedelic. And they're cute, to boot.
Rounding out the bill is Panicsville, the sometimes offensive sonic spectacle of infamous Nihilist Records dictator Andy Ortmann. As far as recordings go, this project has always been the sum of its parts, incorporating many talented people into the program and becoming progressively more interesting musically (aside from the occasional shock tactics that Ortmann has yet to outgrow). Live, Panicsville is an unpredictable exhibit of froufrou collectible keyboards and, if you are lucky, a little dog-and-pony show. (RD)
DIRT DEATH: Free Dirt is calling it quits after (gasp!) five years, two CDs and monthly gigs at the Way Out Club on Cherokee. The band's final performance will be at the Way Out on Saturday, May 8. Originally lumped in (and rightly so, at least at the start) with the plethora of bands that formed in the wake of the success of Uncle Tupelo, Free Dirt dug deeper than the countless wannabes and quite obviously drew their inspiration from an entire world of loose guitar rock: At times they struck the eternal Crazy Horse chord of steady, focused riffage; at other times they got much grimier, recalling the fantastic Aussie band Beasts of Bourbon at their crankiest. It's a damn shame Richard Byrne isn't here to write them a more poetic obit; he praised them to no end during their life as a band. No word on future plans for the members, though guitarist Tom Buescher is gigging with Fran, which features Erin Gulley of Johnny Magnet and Merv Schrock of the Deep Perswaysion Orchestra. (RR)
CELTIC CONCERTS: A tionol is an informal gathering of traditional Irish musicians, where virtuosos and apprentices teach and challenge each other. For three days -- Friday-Sunday, May 7-9, the Mississippi River Celtic Festival will draw on the spirit of the tionol, presenting workshops and concerts all day and all night at such far-ranging venues as the Focal Point, Washington University's Edison Theatre, McGurk's, Seamus McDaniel's, the St. Louis Brewery Tap Room and Christian Brothers High School. On Saturday, the Edison Theatre will host some extraordinary local and out-of-town musicians, including Paddy Keenan, Martin Hayes, Larry Nugent, Grey Larsen, Julie Henigan, Tim Britton, Al Purcell and Michael Cooney. Cooney was the onetime leader and pipe player of the Fightin' Molly McGuires, St. Louis' most thrilling (if short-lived) Irish ensemble -- also featuring Tom Hall, Pat Egan and Dave Landreth -- and their reunion at Hammerstone's on Wednesday, May 5, is reason enough to attend. For more information, visit the festival Web site at www.skep.com/tionol/index.htm. (RK)
OUT ON HIGHWAY 61: U.S. Highway 61, a road referenced in the famous Dylan tune, is also the route many blues musicians followed from the Mississippi Delta to Memphis, St. Louis and points north. And although 61 is better known locally as Lindbergh Boulevard, it still has a strong blues connection. That's because it runs by Generations, located at the corner of Lindbergh and Watson. The 200-seat club has been presenting top blues musicians such as Son Seals, Deborah Coleman, Tommy Castro, Long John Hunter and Debbie Davies for the past year, plus roots/rock artists like Maria Muldaur and jazz musician Bobby Shew. No, Johnny Richard, who books both national acts and local entertainment at Generations, isn't crazy, although many friends told him a blues and roots/rock club in the county just wouldn't work. "Everyone told me I was nuts to bring national artists -- especially blues musicians -- to the county," Richard recalls. "They told me I was taking the music out of its natural territory, but I thought there was a whole new audience for the music here, and that's turned out to be true. It's been a struggle at times, but now we've established a consistent schedule of national acts on Sundays and Tuesdays. By bringing in music on those nights, we're avoiding a lot of competition from other concerts."
The primary appeal of Generations, Richard says, is the intimate atmosphere, coupled with great sound and sight lines. "I was working here as a DJ," he says, "and I always thought the setup was perfect for live concerts. It's intimate, but it has a great stage, as well as four levels of seating that make it easy to see and hear a band no matter where you're sitting. We also had a great $40,000 sound system installed. So when I had the opportunity to book all the entertainment at Generations, it seemed that bringing national acts in to this setting was the way to go." Upcoming May concerts at Generations include Guitar Shorty on the 11th, blues saxman Eddie Shaw on the 16th, Maria Muldaur on the 18th, Kenny Rankin on the 23rd, Dave Matthews guitarist Tim Reynolds on the 24th and Bernard Allison on the 25th. (TP)
BOUNCE OBIT: I first saw Roger Troutman being carried on a throne from the back of the Arena floor through the crowd to the stage. It was 1981, and Troutman's band, Zapp, was opening for Parliament-Funkadelic in the Old Barn. Zapp, which included three other brothers Troutman (Larry, Lester and Terry), was riding high on a brilliant hit single, "More Bounce to the Ounce." The song established the Zapp (and later solo Roger) modus operandi: thick, reverb-drenched drum and bass grooves, insistent chicken-scratching guitar chords and a vocoder-disguised vocal track that sounded like a 1950s impression of a talking computer. It was a powerful shtick that took the Zapp and Roger through "Dance Floor (Part 1)," "I Can Make You Dance" and a funky remake of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine."
Trends changed, and the novelty effect wore off, so the second time I saw Zapp, they were playing at the old Mississippi Nights (when the club was half its current size), near the end of 1985. You'd think that an artist who'd known the glories of arenas would just run through the motions in front of a crowd a fraction of the size he'd previously entertained. But I remember that night as one of the greatest experiences of my life. Zapp played all the hits; the audience danced and sang along. But Zapp also played blues, and soul, and gospel, and a little jazz. Roger Troutman and his brothers displayed an aptitude for and a knowledge of virtually every stream of black music to that time. It was exhilarating, a history lesson that hit you right in the ass.
Zapp was booked to play Mississippi Nights in a few weeks. I was thinking of checking them out, to see whether they still had that joie de vivre they'd shown 14 years ago. Then I heard the frightening news that Larry Troutman is suspected of killing brother Roger and then himself. The Zapp story is over. The hits remain, though, collected in fine style on Zapp and Roger's Greatest Hits, but we will never again experience the fun they could deliver in person. (SP)
Contributors: Rachel Doughty, Roy Kasten, Terry Perkins, Steve Pick, Randall Roberts, Jason Toon.