14th annual festival closes out at the Duck Room


By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


June 14, 2010

Photo by Barry Gilbert
Warner E. Hodges (left) and Jason Ringenberg of Jason & the Scorchers

Jason & the Scorchers lived up to their name Saturday night, burning down Blueberry Hill's Duck Room to close the final night of Twangfest 14, St. Louis' four-night roots music festival.

Front man Jason Ringenberg and guitar hero Warner E. Hodges ripped through the Scorchers' 25-year songbook, mixing in new songs from the band's first studio CD in 14 years, "Halcyon Times, " and proving that a lifetime achievement award for live performance two years ago was not just a nod to the past.

With a new, rock-hard rhythm section of Al Collins (Stacey Collins Band) on bass and Mauro Magellan (Georgia Satellites, Homemade Sin) on drums, the Scorchers were fully engaged. The flamboyant and frenetic Ringenberg, dressed in sparkles and fringe, smiled broadly as he abused his microphone stand and careened across the stage. Hodges, long hair flying, married power-chord bombast with a Southern rock sensibility, with no obvious effort.

On Friday night, the Detroit Cobras brought garage rock and soul to the Duck Room, preceded by Those Darlins' take on country punk and J.C. Brooks' homage to R&B and funk. Headliners on Wednesday and Thursday included Ray Wylie Hubbard, Blue Rodeo and Big Smith. The pioneering Scorchers, who fused country and punk in Nashville, Tenn., in the early '80s, hit the new songs right from the top. They opened with "Mona Lee, " a song indistinguishable in spirit and pace from the classics that followed, including "Shop It Around" and "Absolutely Sweet Marie." The Scorchers needed to be on top of their game, because they followed Ozark rockers Ha Ha Tonka, who continue

to grow as performers. Led by singer Brian Roberts and Brett Anderson on keyboards and guitars, the band is all about dynamics, alternately acoustic and electric, measured and manic, often in the same song.

But Ha Ha Tonka goes further, playing with obvious joy, and adding unpredictable melodies and rhythms, literate lyrics and exquisite four-part harmonies when bassist Lucas Long and drummer Lennon Bone step up to the mike for a capella numbers such as "Hangman."

Opening on Saturday was Magnolia Mountain of Cincinnati, an eight-person band featuring singer-songwriter Mark Utley and guitarist David Rhodes Brown. The band's acoustic-based amalgamation of country, rock and bluegrass was well played and enthusiastically received.

Friday night's show was an adventure in extremes, from volume to professionalism.

Opening was J.C. Brooks and his Uptown Sound, with the young man from Chicago backed by a six-member show band including two horns, keys, bass, guitar and drums. Dressed in a sharp blue suit with black shirt, Brooks channeled Otis Redding while his nattily dressed band - vests, ties, jackets and piano-gloss shoes - channeled the James Brown Band.

It was a soulful and funky performance, marked by Brooks' interaction with the audience and exhortations to dance, for which the dynamic Brooks led by example.

Standout songs included the originals "Berry Please, " introduced by Brooks as a "prayer to the god of Motown" and label founder Berry Gordy, and "Beat of Our Own Drum" from the band's new CD, and a ripping cover of Wilco's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart."

At the other extreme was Those Darlins, three young women from Murfreesboro, Tenn., whose punk side obliterated the country roots they displayed on their debut album. Clearly, the CD was no preparation for the live show.

Kelley, Nikki and Jessi Darlin (identically adopted surnames like the Ramones, get it?), along with a drummer and guitarist, took the stage dressed in hospital gowns, presumably a nod to Nikki's broken arm. But as their blood alcohol levels rose, their musicianship fell. They were loud without purpose and sloppy without shame, and lost a majority of the audience - maybe because they came off as insincere kids playing at punk rock, not punk rockers emotionally invested in the music.

The evening's soul was reclaimed by the headlining Detroit Cobras, a powerhouse garage rock band fronted by singer Rachel Nagy that mines mostly obscure gems from old R&B, rock and pop. But the Cobras have the talent to make these songs their own. The band rocks - led by guitarist Joey Mazzola - and Nagy is a presence. But their performance, while professional and enjoyable, was oddly disengaged, as if they were playing for one another, rather than the crowd.