On Halloween, I saw a friend of mine I hadn't seen in about a year and a half. We narrowly missed each other in St. Louis, Brooklyn, Berlin, Hamburg, Vienna, and probably a few other places, too. It was at this sudden convergence that he told me that he was about to leave the country and go back to Berlin – but before that, he was going to be playing a show in my current hometown of St. Louis. It turns out another friend of mine would be performing as well, and the whole thing was arranged and promoted by yet another friend of mine. Hence, this will be an undeniably biased review – but what can I do? I'm a musician and many (if not most) of my friends are as well, so it is inevitable that I'll see concerts based at least partially on personal interest rather than pure musical interest. I want to be up-front about this potential conflict of interest, but it's not going to stop me! So here goes:
Artists: hereafterthis / The Everest Ruin / Ian Fisher / Dots Not Feathers
Venue: The Focal Point
Location: Maplewood, Missouri
Date: November 7, 2010
hereafterthis would appear to be primarily the work of one man named Jeremy. He sang in a melodious swoon along with his acoustic guitar and piano chords. He seemed to prefer his guitar and mostly let guests (including the promoter, Ben Majchrzak) take a second chair at the keyboard. His stylings and structures aren't the most complex, but he kept my attention with his solid voice. Excepting a few forgivable flubs, the performance was great. Download a few songs here.
The Everest Ruin is really and truly just one man, Josh King, and tonight it was just him and his Chinese guitar. He's a tricky one, because most of the focus is on his clever lyrics, although underneath his sly voice is a mean set of acoustic riffs and chords. He sings about the glory of Missouri, the dangers of Facebook in the modern world, his advice from years ago to Ben concerning his love interest, and so on and so forth. Being "in" on some of his jokes is great, but even outside of the insider knowledge, the stories are hilarious. And the guitarwork never slows down behind it all. He's got a bandcamp page with a studio recording of one of the songs he played on this night, and supposedly he's got an album due out soon.
Ian Fisher shares my love of Germany, Austria, Berlin, Vienna, traveling in general, and playing the guitar. Thing is, he's better than I at the lattermost, but when he performs songs about certain ideas and places, it's eerily familiar. It's been years since I've seen him perform and yet he still possesses the same vitality and passion. He asked the audience for some suggestions, so I called out "Candles for Elvis". I think I had heard him perform the song years ago, before he'd recorded it, but my memory is weak sometimes, and hearing him perform it so powerfully on this night felt like some sort of strange mission had just been completed. I'd always liked the lyrics, and I finally caught the story that accompanies them: upon viewing the BBC World News homepage one day, Ian was confronted with two images, side by side. One showed thousands mourning the deaths of countless victims of an earthquake in Peru, and the other showed thousands mourning the death of Elvis Presley thirty years prior. The song was written from the perspective of a somewhat unlikeable man who cares far more for the one man over the masses.
Before I could shout my next request, someone else asked for precisely what I had in mind: "VIE", which hits home especially hard for me, since I can remember just like yesterday the day when I took the S-Bahn to the Vienna airport to head back to the USA. And he played several other solid songs before a guitar string broke and he left the stage. The point is, Ian rocked. I don't know how he does it, but he takes repeated folk-style progressions and adds so much emotion and energy that it's hard not to be swept under. Good luck in Berlin, man. (Check out his Myspace and iTunes page to hear his stuff.)
Dots Not Feathers, the so-to-speak headliners, were the only true "band". A five-piece with a rotating set of string and keyboard instruments, these guys knew how to throw down some solid harmonies. Keeping an acoustic feel, they traded vocal parts as they swapped around instruments to keep their melodies lively. I was a bit confused by what the one song featuring a bass guitar was doing, but generally the instruments did meld together in a cohesive sort of beauty. Something about them reminds of a significantly less deranged Pere Ubu. That's a good thing, I think. (Here's their Myspace.)
Incredibly fun night. Yes, I just gave an A+. He deserves it. This was a really cool event, and the mood was just right.
Overall score: A