MID-MO MAGIC: You can only scream so loud for so long before you go hoarse or get bored and move on to another cause, and bellows have been heard from this quarter about once a year now for the past three in response to new recordings by the Incontinentals, of Columbia, Mo. Alas, the band has yet to appear on David Letterman, get signed to Warner Bros. or even record a "professional"-sounding demo. They just languish in Columbia, their music shining while their "career" coasts or, closer to the truth, stalls. Whose fault is it? Theirs, maybe? Yours, for not heeding the advice of writers who know what they're talking about?
Probably theirs, actually; they don't really seem like go-getters, at least from afar. A conversation with lead singer Mike Messner confirms a respectable indifference: "I'm not hung up on getting a record contract so much," he says from his home in Columbia, "because everything on the radio sucks. I'm more interested in just making up good songs, and if we just play them to 20 or 30 people and they like them, that's fine."
Their lyrics don't dispute this, either. The Incontinentals' stab at igniting a new dance craze doesn't describe a step that's likelyto rival the Mashed Potato: "Do the Disappointment, Disappointment tonight/Dance like you know that nothing you do/will ever turn out right." The kids, they won't dig that one.
"Do the Disappointment" is from the Incontinentals' third CD, Yacht Club Favorites, another underproduced, organic ace of a record. Two guitars, bass and drum drive the band's lethargic style, one that, though peppered with twang, sounds less like a country band than like Kansas post-punk band the Embarrassment on 'ludes. They write songs about evasive ladies, humble underachievers ("Assistant Manager") and small-town dudes ("He drives a beat-up Chevrolet/with a redesigned front fender/and it's not hard to coax him/to go out on a bender/He'll strut himself across the quad/or have a drink out on the veranda/To some he is George Clooney/but to me he's George Costanza.")
That lyric, from their song "Champagne Supernover," is a perfect window on their verbal philosophy; as on their previous releases, they pepper their sad-sack descriptions with dry humor; they always sound, both musically and lyrically, aching and nearly defeated, on the verge of breakdown, somehow managing to muster enough energy to push out one more small jab.
Alas, things are changing for the band. Says Messner, "We got one guy (guitarist Dwight Douglas) who wants to hang it up, but he's not quitting until we find somebody else. He's tired of driving three or four hours to play for 15 people, and he just turned 33 and he wants to think about other things." And it's an extremely painful blow; Douglas is a fantastic, imaginative guitarist whose confident solos and melodic asides drive the songs in strange but wholly logical directions. His decision, ironically, centered on a recent attempt at hitting the road more often. "We don't tour enough," says Messner, "or really, at all -- we only do two days in a row. We're really not widely known, and there's a guy in town, he books shows at Shattered here in town, and he started doing stuff for us and was getting us a bunch of shows. And that's when Dwight realized he didn't want to do it. So we kinda killed ourselves, I guess."
The Incontinentals are recording one more record with Douglas on guitar, though -- something to look forward to. Criminally, only a few people in the world know about the band. They are great, andyou should see them. Really. And buy their CDs; if you like intelligent, dry wit, twangy rock and humble desperation, the Incontinentals are the shit. They're per-forming Friday, June 18 at the Hi-Pointe. Go. (RR)
BOUNTIFUL BUTLER: The St. Louis-based MaxJazz label is going all-out for the release of its latest CD, Blues in the City, by vocalist LaVerne Butler. On the June 8 release date, Butler and her band opened an engagement at the famed Birdland jazz club in New York City, and dates are also lined up at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., and clubs in Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston and Butler's hometown of Shreveport, La.
But the most impressive part of Butler's tour (from both a logistical and a marketing perspective) is right here in St. Louis, where she's scheduled to perform five times in four days at four different venues June 17-20. On Thursday, June 17, Butler opens her string of St. Louis performances at Turvey's on the Green, followed by Friday- and Saturday-night performances at the Backstage Bistro, a 4 p.m.-8 p.m. Sunday concert at the Grand Marais Club House in Centerville, Ill., and a final concert later that night at the Delmar Restaurant & Lounge.
Each of the evening events is hosted by a different radio station (KZJZ-FM on Thursday, KMOX-AM on Friday, Majic 105 FM on Saturday and KDHX-FM on Sunday). It's a great way to expose Butler's appealing blend of jazz, blues and R&B to several audience segments -- and, with luck, garner some impressive sales of her new CD as well. Admission to all four of the night concerts is only $5, and for $15 you get admission plus a copy of Blues in the City. Butler will be backed at all performances by pianist Bruce Barth and St. Louisans Rob Block on guitar, Dan Eubanks on bass and Montez Coleman on drums. (TP)
SWOOP SCOOP: Moving forward, pushed back, moving forward, more setbacks. If you've been wondering what's been up with One Fell Swoop, a band that, over the last two years, had found some momentum, a steady fan base, even a gig at Farm Aid and a European distribution deal but who've recently trimmed back their local performances, here's part of the story.
This spring the band returned from three-and-a-half weeks of touring in Europe, where they played everywhere from 500-seat halls to Bavarian line-dance bars, only to lose their longtime drummer, Spencer Marquardt. Songwriter/guitarist John Wendland, singer/keyboardist Cheryl Stryker and multi-instrumentalist/writer Andy Ploof are the only remaining original members. About a year ago, bassist Dade Farrar left the band; after six months of hunting, Swoop recently settled on veteran upright player and ex-Geyer Street Sheik Mike Tiefenbrun. "He's very good at laying down a soulful groove, what you would hear on classic soul tunes," Wendland says. "Mike comes from more of a jazz background," Ploof says, "and on the slower songs he's a bit more intricate."
To complete the rhythm section, Swoop has turned to ex-New Patrons drummer Sean Anglin. "Sean plays a lot like Spencer," Ploof says, "but he's more interested in other percussion, rhythm instruments like shakers and hand drums, which lends itself to the quieter numbers." Anglin's first show with Swoop came last week with the band's coup of an appearance on Michael Feldman's NPR variety show Whad'Ya Know? If you'd like to catch up with Swoop's new lineup, the next few weeks present some good opportunities: They'll be at The Stagger Inn on Saturday, June 19; the Sheldon on Tuesday, June 22; Webster Days on Saturday, July 3; and the Focal Point on Friday, July 16. (RK)
Contributors: Roy Kasten, Terry Perkins, Randall Roberts