A couple of weeks ago, Radar Station caught three excellent local bands, all on the same night at the same place. As unusual as this might seem in itself, the truly remarkable thing was that the venue -- Mississippi Nights, approximate capacity 1,000 -- was damn near packed. Out on the dance floor, it was straight-up High School Confidential, with hundreds of teenagers erupting into fits of pogo-dancing, crowd-surfing and other quaint expressions of pubescent enthusiasm. Seated at tables toward the back were hundreds of thirty- and fortysomethings, whom we took to be parents and chaperones. Making the huge turnout still more amazing, none of the bands on the roster -- the 12 Gauge Blues (who took the stage so early we missed them), the Reactions, Julia Sets and the Floating City -- gets much, if any, local radio airplay, and, aside from Julia Sets, none of them gets much press, either.
Give 'em time. The Reactions, a so-cute-you-could-just-die trio of Crestwood high-school students, got together only last year. The three wear matching striped T-shirts and, according to our sources, are always accompanied by their parents when they play 21-and-over clubs. Factor in a singing drummer with floppy hair and big dorky glasses, and you've got all the ingredients for a John Hughes movie -- except that the Reactions aren't merely adorable, they rock like a Detroit garage in 1968, or like the White Stripes with a better drummer, or like a nonalcoholic Replacements. Singing drummer Jake Alspach (have we mentioned how much we love singing drummers?) has an astonishing blues-infused growl -- what he lacks in range, he more than makes up for in confidence and charisma. And the songs? Well, they're all about girls and feelings and being man enough to say you're sorry and other tortured-teen emotion stuff that sounds primitive and hokey on paper but is actually the heart of Saturday night, pal.
Like the Reactions, the Floating City is also a relatively new band -- and, judging from the members' appearance, also quite young, though probably out of high school. Aside from those minor details, however, the two groups don't have much in common. Instead of striped T-shirts, the members of the Floating City favor ties, cardigans and sweater vests. Instead of short, simple teenage-horndog anthems, the Floating City delivers exquisitely drawn-out contrapuntal constructions with lots of fancy flourishes (the bass player often uses a bow). Thanks to the very Thom Yorke-ish stylings of singer/pianist/guitarist Gareth Schumacher (even his name is fancy!), they've got a definite midperiod-Radiohead influence working for (or against?) them. The Floating City's songs reward close attention, and, to the band's credit, the audience seemed totally game for the experience, quieting down for the hushed dramatic parts and whooping it up during the clamorous thrash sessions. The Floating City's new EP, King Bear Frightened Child, recorded with producer extraordinaire Chris Deckard, recently made the number-two slot on the Vintage Vinyl sales charts.
Every silver lining has a cloud, though: Julia Sets, who sounded better than ever when they played after the Reactions and before the Floating City, no longer boast the low-end mojo of RFT contributor and all-around tastemaker Matt Harnish, who played his last gig with the band that evening. Singer/guitarist James Weber Jr. and drummer Kris Boettigheimer will forge on as a duo. Two new Julia Sets CDs, Songs of Protest and Steel Rails Under Thundering Skies, are slated for release sometime in 2003.
On a brighter note, the Reactions and the Floating City will perform together again on Wednesday, January 22, at the Hi-Pointe. For more information on either band, check out their respective pages on the always-invaluable St. Louis Punk Page (www.stlpunk.com).
All the hot rock at the Mississippi Nights showcase got us thinking: What other great new local music don't we know about yet? Because we're lazy but not complacent, we're inaugurating the Radar Station essay contest. In 500 words or less, describe what aspect of the St. Louis music scene (performer, band, DJ, club night, you name it) floats your particular boat. Make sure to say why, and be specific -- and please don't write about your own little project, because we can detect the unholy stank of press-kit-ese from a mile away. There are no actual prizes, unfortunately, but the cleverest respondents will enjoy the intangible favors that accompany a mention in Radar Station. Be forewarned that we reserve the right to quote you, and we may or may not fix your shitty spelling, depending on how nice we feel. The deadline's February 5, so start typing!