When erudite indie rocker John Vanderslice played Saint Louis University's Billiken Club last May (which was a few months before the release of his latest album, Emerald City), a very special thing happened. During the encore, he led his band and the entire audience outside into the courtyard for a spare, acoustic rendition of "Nikki Oh Nikki."
Such joyful spontaneity and enthusiasm marks Vanderslice's conversational style; he's known as one of the nicest people in indie rock for a reason. And his effusive excitement for music and touring extends toward his feelings about last year's St. Louis gig.
"We love that club, man," he says, calling from a recent tour stop in Boston. "When we were routing this tour, I just told my booking agent, 'Man, just get us back to Billiken Club.' We really loved playing that place. The vibe at the show was so cool — I remember very clearly talking to people in the crowd during the show. That's a really good sign, when people are so engaged that they want to converse with you while you're up on the stage."
In honor of Vanderslice's return to the same venue — and because we already discussed the nuts and bolts of City in last year's feature — we decided to do something a bit different: We asked him make a mix of his favorite spring jams. Vanderslice came up with a better term for what he chose — "hopeful weather jams" — even though his choices aren't necessarily what one might expect.
"I was hoping that a lot of these songs would be hopeful lyrically, but of course that's not the way that the world goes, and that's not why people write songs," he says. "Most of these songs have morbid lyrics, but they're hopeful sounding, so you can drive around and be deluded that there's real positivity. But you know what's weird — it makes me feel good!"
1. Evangelicals, "Bloodstream" (2008's The Evening Descends)
We're going to start it out with something new. You know this band Evangelicals, they're on Dead Oceans? I love this album. It's actually the last song on the record.
2. Modest Mouse, "Bury Me With It" (2004's Good News for People Who Love Bad News)
[This] is such a funny song. Especially for musicians, because there's that line: "Fans they come, fans they go/But God, I love that rock & roll/Life handed me a paycheck/And I said, 'We worked harder than this, bury me with it.'" I laugh every time I hear that song. It is the darkest, most flippant look at life, you know?
3. Lil' Wayne, "Put Some Keys On That" (2007's mixtape, Da Drought 3)
It's just one of those wonderful, stream-of-consciousness, boastful, hilarious [songs]. I mean, this guy is so fucking funny, I just cannot believe the stuff that he says. And if there's any kind of attitude I wish I could bring into my own music, it would be, like, just to be Lil' Wayne. That would be the vibe. [laughs] It would never work, but I admire the tone of his writing so much. And it's such an antidote to this fucking suburban, boring, cloistered, white-picket-fence stuff. It makes me want to drive on people's lawns, you know what I mean? And do donuts. [laughs]
4. Radiohead, "Reckoner" (2007's In Rainbows)
It's such a beautiful, beautiful song, how it develops and builds, and the bass comes in, and everything's a little bit staggered, and it keeps pushing and pushing for five minutes. Such a cool song.
5. LCD Soundsystem, "North American Scum" (2007's Sound of Silver)
Such a cool vibe and energy on that song. The first time I heard it was when I was with Peter Hughes from the Mountain Goats. He has a convertible car. We were driving from one show to another, and we were in his car and I remember our tour van was right next to us. He put that song on and the top was down, it was really sunny, it was last spring. We passed my tour van with my band in it, and we waved at them, and we were listening to that song. I'll really never forget that moment. Of course, that car is so much faster than the van, we [made it to the club] like an hour before [they got there]. [laughs]
6. Bowerbirds, "Dark Horse" (2007's Hymns for a Dark Horse)
A beautiful, beautiful song. We toured with them last year, and I really, really want to tour with those guys again. I love the bands that we tour with, I always pick stuff that I listen to on my own and that I want to hear every night. That was a band we all went out and watched every night before we played. They were just a really, really amazing band to watch.
7. Clipse, "Hello New World" (2006's Hell Hath No Fury)
It's a Neptunes-produced album, so the percussion and the drums and the sampling and the loops is so interesting and so propulsive and powerful. I remember the first time I heard "Grindin'," which is the earlier Clipse single that came out and got a lot of radio play. I just thought, "Who the fuck is this? This is badass!" Of course it was another song about selling crack, so. [laughs]
8. Of Montreal, "Cato as a Pun" (2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?)
A great, geat album. I had been following them since [1999's] The Gay Parade. And you know, there's a fatigue when you follow a band that long. It's like when you're listening to your best friend talk at a party, you're just like, "Whatever, I've heard this guy for twenty years, why do I need to sit on the edge of my seat?" [laughs] But this record was so different. It was such an interesting departure, and lyrically it was so gutsy. I mean, fuck, it's one of the most directly autobiographical and just raw records to come out in the past couple years. I really, really got into that album.
9. The Game, "Put You on the Game" (2005's The Documentary)
After that, another song about selling crack, "Put You on the Game." It's a Timbaland production, it's one of those club jams [laughs] that you want to play after your set. I think we actually did play this after our set for a couple weeks on tour once, because we always have these dance parties and stuff — which mostly don't ever take off, but sometimes they do. So of course that song reminds me of that a little bit.
10. Mountain Goats, "Autoclave" (2008's Heretic Pride)
I worked on that song, and Annie from St. Vincent is on that song, and Franklin Bruno, so many good musicians on that song. When I hear that, it brings me back to the session and making that record. It was such a cool, interesting experience, that it ties in a lot of things that have happened in my life in the past five years.
11. Big Tymers, "I'll Take You There" (2003's Big Money Heavy Weights)
It's another classic club jam. It's so rhythmically interesting, and it just absolutely swings. These guys are really, really good rappers. It has a couple of interesting guests — Petey Pablo is on it, and Joi. These are really, really cool rappers.
9 p.m. Wednesday, April 16. Billiken Club, in the Busch Student Center on the campus of Saint Louis University, 20 North Grand Boulevard. Free. 314-977-2020.