(Thanks to recording fiend Jeff Regan for an mp3 of “Wet Vac.”)
Friday night’s thunder and light show again flummoxed University City’s storm and sanitary systems. As drains backed up and the tide rose across the floor of Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room, I remembered that Nora O’Connor had the perfect song for the occasion in her catalogue: her cover of Tom Waits’ “Looks Like I’m Up Shit Creek Again.”
It wasn’t needed, because she and the rest of the crowd on the third night of Twangfest 15 listened in delight as headliner Robbie Fulks riffed twice on improvised songs.
As fans in sandals and flip flops sloshed in an inch or so of stinky water, Fulks and O’Connor battled a wet vac droning what Fulks judged to be middle-E and inspired what we’ll call “Wet Vac”:
“While the water came into the club/ the wet vac worked very hard./ Twangfest would not be ruined by the water/ so we diverted it into someone’s back yard./ While the rain in St. Louis couldn’t stop the Twangfest when they brought the wet vac out/And to the sound of the wet vac E/ all the (unintelligible) got to scream and shout/ (shouting) WET VAC … WET VAC … WET VAC … wet vac.”
Later, Fulks improvised the more involved “The Duck Room’s Goin’ Down.”
The wait was more than worth it. Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis dazzled in a rare performance together Thursday night, their songs simultaneously reaching out to the head, the heart and the gut.
Headlining the second night of Twangfest 15 at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room, Mr. and Mrs. Robison, backed by Will Dupuy on bass and Geoff Queen on pedal steel and guitar, offered 20 tunes over an hour and 20 minutes.
The set list mined the catalogues of each to good effect. But what made the night extra special was a handful of new duets that the couple unveiled, hinting of a career merger after about two decades of individual success.
It’s simply criminal that their mixture of country, pop and folk isn’t played on radio here, with the notable exception of Twangfest sponsor KDHX (88.1 FM). From the opening notes of “Sweet Sundown” to the closing masterpiece “Angry All the Time,” Robison and Willis displayed the honesty and simplicity that makes great songwriting.
“Doesn’t anyone care about truth anymore?” roots rocker Hayes Carll asked Wednesday night at the Pageant, then answered his own question: “Maybe that’s what songs are for.”
That lyric, from the wonderfully titled “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart,” closed out Carll’s encore and the opening night of Twangfest 15 at the Pageant, and a lot of what came before it from Carll and Elizabeth Cook had a lot to do with truth, broken hearts and, yes, bad livers.
Both artists are veterans of St. Louis’ roots music festival. Cook was making her third visit, Carll his second. But Carll’s represented a huge career leap from three years ago, when he opened for the Old 97’s at the same venue.
This time, fronting a full band led by guitarist Scott Davis, Carll was talkative, funny and charming, both in song and between them. He played 10 of the 12 songs from his new CD “KAMG YOYO,” military slang for “kiss my ass guys, you’re on your own.”
Carll and band brought out the CD’s stunning musical variety, from the rock of “Stomp and Holler” to the Irish-folk of “Bottle in My Hand” to the classic country sound of “Chances Are.”
The following post is an unedited version of my report for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which ran in a shorter form on Monday, June 9, 2008.
June 15, 2008
By Barry Gilbert
The Waco Brothers, an irreverent band of post-punk, country-leaning Brits from Chicago, and Ha Ha Tonka, young tradition-minded rockers from the Ozarks, closed out the four-night Twangfest 12 in style Saturday [June 7, 2008] at Off Broadway.
St. Louis’ not-for-profit, roots music festival came full circle with the Wacos, who inaugurated the series at Off Broadway in 1997.
— Review of Day 1: Chuck Prophet, Centro-Matic, the Butchers and the Builders
— Review of Day 2: The Gourds, the Dynamites featuring Charles Walker, the Deadstring Brothers
— Review of Day 3: The Old 97’s, Hayes Carll, Miles of Wire, I Love Math
— Review of Day 4: The Waco Brothers, Ha Ha Tonka, the everybodyfields, Caleb Travers
Clad in a variety of black Western shirts, the Wacos played for an hour and 45 minutes and tore through 20 songs, a set list that would have been longer if not for the Wacos’ nonstop onstage banter that ranged from British sexual practices to U.S. politics, with numerous checkpoints in between.