PURE POWER FOR TWANGFEST 11 PEOPLE
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Sunday, June 10,
Published online at STLtoday
Mike Gent (left) and Pete Donnelly of the Figgs headline the final night
of Twangfest 11. | Barry Gilbert
|Twangfest met St.
Louis electricity needs, at least for Saturday
night, harnessing the energy of three very different rock
n roll bands plus the emotional power of a
country-folk singer to close out the 11th
edition of the citys roots-music festival.
Mike Gent and the Figgs, who had backed up Graham Parker the night before, headlined Saturdays show at Blueberry Hills Duck Room and lived up to their introduction as one of the worlds best live bands.
They also met the challenge of following to the stage St. Louis favorite Chuck Cleaver and his hot band Wussy, featuring singer-songwriter Lisa Walker.
How the Figgs could be that good and remain only a cult favorite after 20 years is a mystery. Formed in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., they have eight albums under their own banner plus three more with Parker.
Guitarist Gent, bassist Pete Donnelly and drummer Pete Hayes may be known as a power pop trio, but that label is best turned around to put the emphasis where it belongs: The Figgs are a pop power trio.
The Figgs ride the blistering guitar of Gent, whose playing incorporates a myriad of influences but sounds like nobody else. With Gent and Donnelly sharing lead vocals, the band split its set between old favorites and tracks from their most recent CD, Follow Jean Through the Sea, scoring early with the title cut, Jumping Again and Hobble Skirt in Erie.
Then it was into the catalogue for songs, as Gent put it, from the 1900s: the Kinks-ish Simon & Simone, the ballad Please Hold On and the raucous Gonna Get Out, featuring a fiery bass solo from Donnelly. Other winners included the Stonesy Back to Being, and City Loft Home.
|Wussy, from Cincinnati,
started off almost too strong, overpowering Walkers
vocals. But the band quickly settled into a powerful
groove over the drumming of Dawn Burman and the bass of
Mark Messerly, who also chipped in on keyboards,
harmonica and xylophone.
You knew Wussy would be aggressive when Burman broke a drumstick on the first downbeat of the set and the same happened later to Messerly playing xylophone.
The relatively new band played several tunes from its only CD, Funeral Dress (2005), including Conversation Lags and the title song, as well as road-tested songs that will be on a new Wussy CD in August. One of those, The Sun Giant Says Hey, featured Messerly playing a melodic riff on the high strings of the bass that ordinarily would be done on guitar.
Chuck Cleaver, Dawn Burman and Lisa Walker of Wussy. | Barry Gilbert
|Cleaver, whose twisted and
beloved ex-band the Ass Ponys played Twangfest in 2001,
turned his plaintive voice to the fine song
Airborne (why the world goes round is
hard to say) and the ballad Dont Leave
Just Now. A highlight for Walker was the stark
Yellow Cotton Dress.
Most surprising cover of the night went to Wussy as well: Nazareths Hair of the Dog.
Slaid Cleaves. | Barry Gilbert
|The classy Cleaves, also
a 2001 Twangfest veteran, played with stellar support
from Michael Connors on acoustic guitar, Eleanor Whitmore
on fiddle and mandolin, and Ivan Brown on electric bass.
Two songs into his set Drinkin Days and his classic country weeper Horseshoe Lounge Cleaves also unleashed the festivals best line, without a trace of bitterness or irony:
I was talking to my mother today, and she asked me how my little music career was going. I said, Mom Im opening for Wussy tonight!
Cleaves, who drew one of the biggest crowds of the evening, wove a spell with his gentle character studies of lovers and losers, including Last of the V-8s, Broke Down,
The centerpiece of Cleaves set was two songs that served as eulogies for friends. Don Walser, a Western-swing legend who died in September, was remembered in the yodel-rich Rolling Stone From Texas, from Cleaves covers CD Unsung.
Wishbones and the down-and-outers prayer for One Good Year.
|The second was the epic horseracing saga Quick As Dreams, written for Helen Luther, the widow of old-time jockey Tommy Luther whom Cleaves read about in Laura Hillenbrands book Seabiscuit. Cleaves and band turned off their amps and stepped away from their microphones for the piece, focusing attention on the lyrics.|
|Opening the night was the
High Strung, a trio of childhood pals from Detroit who
unleashed an attack of garage rock meets power pop so
aggressive that they were in danger of racing ahead of
Highlights of the set by singer-guitarist Josh Malerman, drummer Derek Berk and bassist Chad Stocker included Maybe Youre Coming Down With It; the ballad N/C; Anything Goes, featuring the inventive Stocker on an impressive bass solo; and Rimbaud/Rambo a song about the only two options in one mans life.
Malermans near-falsetto voice is a different but effective instrument, and he and Stocker harmonize well.
They just need to ease the pedal off the metal now and then and take a breath.
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