The powers that be at SXSW have finally confirmed what we've been saying for months now: The St. Louis music scene is hopping again. Five local bands snagged official showcase slots this year, and two others are joining the day-party fray in Austin. Even better, the strong Lou contingent is wildly diverse proving to the rest of the world that our city has more to offer than third-generation Nelly or Uncle Tupelo clones.
Waterloo (www.myspace.com/waterloomusic): Even though Waterloo head honcho Mark Ray moved to Portland, Oregon, last year, he still considers St. Louis his home which makes sense when listening to last year's Out of the Woods, whose breezy rustic jangle and warm piano can only come from the uniquely endless Missouri summer. Ray's voice possesses the languid sweetness of Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger, which is a good match for Woods' material; its light is often tempered by a darker undercurrent of loss and longing, intangible wistfulness and introspection that gives the album resonant emotional depth.
Finn's Motel (www.myspace.com/finnsmotel): Like kindred spirits the Love Experts locally and Guided by Voices, Superchunk and the Replacements nationally Joe Thebeau of Finn's Motel values keen pop hooks, fuzzy chords and a fine melody over most everything else. Witness last year's Escape Velocity, the debut Finn's Motel record that smudged together power-pop, '80s college-rock thrash and Nuggets-styled garage rock without sounding quirky or derivative. (Just ask the indie bible Magnet magazine, which wrote a nice piece on the group.)
Prisonshake (www.scatrecords.com/ps .htm): Prisonshake hasn't played many live shows in the recent past, so this gig at SXSW (on a bill with legendary Aussies Hoodoo Gurus, no less) is quite a treat. The increased activity coincides with Prisonshake's soon-to-be-released Year of the Donk, a 2xLP/2xCD featuring material dating from 1995 to the present. "It's a bent record chock-full of the various rockings that we do, from the vicious to the sublime," imparts Prisonshake guitarist Robert Griffin. "There's everything from a one-minute vocal/piano duet to a twelve-minute hard rock/psych/skronk epic with another song trapped inside of it. It is a complete world of its own and the language spoken is rock, Prisonshake dialect. We seek a transcendent state of rock beauty but there's a little something broken in everything, and surprises all along the way."
7 Shot Screamers (www.myspace.com /7shotscreamers): Morrissey's given local punk-a-billy hotshots 7 Shot Screamers his stamp of approval. X's Exene Cervenka used three Screamers for her backing band on the last Original Sinners tour. And the quartet managed to snag an opening slot on April's Nekromantix CD-release shows in California. This all thanks to hard work, constant touring and albums such as last year's In Wonderland. As radio-friendly and catchy as anything on a major label, Wonderland brings to mind Social Distortion, the Clash and Stray Cats.
Magnolia Summer (www.myspace.com /magnoliasummer): Magnolia Summer's 2006 album From Driveways' Lost View is the soundtrack to kicking around with friends on a still summer day, pondering the meaning of life. Acoustic guitars bleed into rougher electric riffs, while sparkling percussion and piano swirl in the background, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of early Wilco or R.E.M.'s mysticism. (And when I had my heart broken last year, I turned time and time again to the yearning "Once in Awhile" a song with misty piano, keening rootsy chords and Chris Grabau's nostalgic croon for comfort.)
Gentleman Auction House (www.myspace .com/gentlemanauctionhouse): All seven members of Gentleman Auction House are regularly seen hanging out en masse at shows, a sign of unity that underscores the collective, collaborative nature of the band. Its well-received The Rules Were Handed Down EP is full of blissful, well-orchestrated piano-pop indebted to Broken Social Scene, Architecture in Helsinki and countless UK twee-heads (the horn-heavy "A Hospital or Heaven," especially, rivals Belle and Sebastian for indie supremacy). Live is where the band's nuances emerge, however: Rhythms sturm-and-drone like Sonic Youth, chords crash a bit like the Pixies and the entire band collapses into a raucous, joyous, yelping celebration.
The Daybreak Boys (www.myspace.com /thedaybreakboysband): Although the Daybreak Boys in concert are as indie-rock ragged as the Strokes, their studio output is far closer to kicky dance-punk ("The Game") or New Order-inspired synthpop (the sublime "Her"). Vocalist Ryan Sears wails like Muse's Matt Bellamy, albeit without the latter's histronics, as bassist Steve Factor and drummer Kevin Bowers ably match his emoting.