Brutal Heat Halts Echo & the Bunnymen Concert in St. Louis Saturday

Looks cool, was hot. / photo by Jaime Lees

Brutal Heat Halts Echo & the Bunnymen Concert in St. Louis Saturday
By Jaime Lees
Mon, Jul 24, 2017

St. Louis’ brutal weekend heat was so bad, it took down a rockstar.

At the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre on Saturday night, the lead singer of Echo & the Bunnymen (and the subject of our music feature this week) was overcome by the heat and had to leave the stage.

Ian McCulloch gave it his best shot. Wearing his signature jacket despite the day’s record-setting 108-degree temperature, he pushed through at first — and even took sustenance from an oxygen mask. But finally the heat cut things short.

The day had been brutally, dangerously hot. Still, the Violent Femmes went on as scheduled, with the Bunnymen following closely behind after the sun went down.

Despite every bit of their human instincts telling them to avoid the outdoors, a shocking percentage of the audience still managed to show up for the outdoor concert, with the seated area appearing to be about half full. And though the crowd loved the Violent Femmes’ set, it’s likely that most of the audience was there primarily to see Echo & the Bunnymen — the band hasn’t played St. Louis in twenty years. (Their last gig here was a slot at Pointfest 1997 on another stupid-hot day at the same venue.)

The venue did everything it could to make sure that it didn’t have mass casualties on its hands. The amphitheatre was well-staffed, cooling stations were easy to find, misting fans were circulating and, most importantly, administration smartly waved the usual policy that limits guests to bringing in just one bottle of water. From the front gate to the stage barricades, every staff member we encountered was kind and helpful. (Not much could be done to improve the restrooms, however, which are always and forever people-baking cinderblock kilns.)

The Violent Femmes started right on time and seemed to tolerate the heat fairly well. At that point in the night it was overwhelmingly hot down in the closely packed front bowl of the audience. About halfway through their set my friend and I decamped for the slightly breezier air that was available near the outer edges available away from the crowd.

We returned to our seats in time for the Bunnymen. Their set started normally enough, with the entire amphitheatre going dark and then the stage glowing in their traditional style: plenty of smoke machines and dramatically backlit like the film version of an alien abduction.

The band took the stage, and all seemed well — stellar, even — until it suddenly wasn’t. McCulloch’s voice was strong and beautiful for the first half of their set but then it became clear that he was slipping. He abruptly stopped singing and said he had to exit for five minutes “to breathe,” but he came back sooner than that and resumed his duties.

Try as he might, McCulloch kept fading. His breathing between songs had become labored and shaky. A worried stagehand who had previously been busy throwing bottles of water out to the audience followed his movements closely after that, placing an IV bag of fluid just behind him on the drum riser.

The band had to pause two more times (once with McCulloch just stepping to the back corner of the stage to get aid from an oxygen mask) but try as he might, he couldn’t quite swing it under these awful conditions. We felt like we were about to witness a truly scary incident if McCulloch pushed himself any harder. It was time to stop.

A few attendees didn’t feel the same way, taking their complaints to Twitter to say that they were let down, wanted a refund, etc. But I think that if McCulloch hadn’t needed to leave the stage, nobody would’ve even known that the band’s set was shortened. They still managed to play for just about an hour and skipped over lesser-known songs on their planned setlist in favor of the radio hits that most of the audience had come to witness. And in the end, they only cut four songs total.

Many of the complaints I saw said that McCulloch should’ve removed his jacket and that would’ve helped him with tolerating the heat. Meh. Maybe. But I think it was his full-body singing style that did him in. That kind of dazzling vocal ability must require a shitload of breathing tricks and the humid air was thick and miserable to simply exist in, much less sing. Add to that the heat from the stage lights and it’s a miracle that the dude didn’t collapse immediately.

There were ambulances leaving from the back area of the venue as the show ended, but if one of those was for McCulloch, he did a good job of bouncing back, because he played Chicago last night as scheduled.

As I described the after-concert scene to a friend the next day: “The very reasonable Midwesterners filing past us after the show were all saying that McCulloch should’ve taken off his jacket if he was hot, but that would be like Gene Simmons performing in flip-flops. Completely unacceptable.”

This show seemed to indicate that the legendary Ian McCulloch would rather drop dead than dim his personal style. And I, for one, have nothing but respect for that. Shine on, Mac. See you next time. (Hopefully indoors.)

St. Louis weather and Ian McCulloch: both super hot. / photo by Jaime Lees

link: Riverfront Times

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Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch Is an International Treasure

photo by Roger Sargent

Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch Is an International Treasure
By Jaime Lees

Ian McCulloch does not disappoint. Known for being highly quotable and wickedly mouthy, the lead singer and songwriter of Echo & the Bunnymen is as humorous as he is brilliant. He’s a natural charmer and, strangely, harder to find than Jimmy Hoffa. But after weeks of running into dead ends while trying to track him down, the man known as “Mac” is on the other end of the line, full of hilarious insight.

The Liverpool native’s whip-smart quips are delivered with a Scouse accent so thick that his punchlines would often be indecipherable without context. (When he says “Bunnymen” it frequently sounds like he’s saying “boogeyman.”) McCulloch says his comedic skills and habit of talking himself up are uniquely Liverpool traits — think John Lennon’s sharp sarcasm and notorious bravado.

“We have this defensive, attacking way of doing things in Liverpool, and we’re always taking the piss,” McCulloch explains. “But making someone laugh their head off? I get more from that than the crowds clattering after songs. To see me brother’s face streaming with laughter tears — him or anyone else — and I’ll be laughing meself. I’m me own court jester.”

Far from the moody, brooding demeanor that you might expect from someone who rarely removes his heavily tinted sunglasses, McCulloch is delightfully warm and buoyant. His conversation is sprinkled with dead-accurate vocal impressions of David Bowie (his long-time hero), Iggy Pop, Gary Oldman and Lemmy Kilmister. (Mac says with reverence: “I can’t do Lou [Reed]. I just don’t have the spite.”)

McCulloch has every reason to be upbeat. Echo & the Bunnymen is well into a second stretch in the spotlight. Formed in 1978, the group released five albums before McCulloch walked away in the late 1980s. McCulloch and legendary original Bunnyman guitarist Will Sergeant joined up again for a short-lived side band called Electrafixion in 1994 before finally reclaiming the Bunnymen name in 1997. Since then the group has released another six albums, with a new one due out next year. The band also signed to major label BMG in June and is co-headlining a summer tour — coming to Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre on July 22 — with the Violent Femmes.

While many of the other bands that found success during the era of ’80s new-wave were dorky or avuncular, the Bunnymen were perceived as sultry sex shamans who had come to steal your girlfriend away for a mystical magic carpet ride. The Bunnymen expanded on the sounds that were expected for their genre, and released pointy post-punk songs including “The Cutter” and “Rescue,” but also sweeping, cinematic masterpieces like “The Killing Moon” and “Ocean Rain.” Their sheer grandness was unrivaled in magnitude.

McCulloch agrees with that assessment. In fact, he is known for asserting that his band is the greatest in the world and cheekily insisting that the Bunnymen did everything first and did everything best. His old habit of constant self-aggrandizing in the press has been famously adopted by Liam Gallagher of Oasis, a similarity that hasn’t gone unnoticed by McCulloch himself. He laughs at the comparison.

“I like Liam. I think he’s good. He always has been good. I like his thing. Someone showed me his tweets, and to have that front, I think it’s fantastic,” McCulloch says. “But on stage he’s never smiled. I used to do that, too. You come on stage and no one understands why you have a bit of an attitude. And maybe I didn’t understand. It’s just easier, probably, than being nice. He’s funny, you know, but maybe Liam could also say that [funny stuff] on stage. As a joke.” (One can readily imagine the twinkle in McCulloch’s eye as he delivers this expertly restrained condescension.)

But McCulloch will always have more than a couple of things to hang over Gallagher’s head. First of all, he had already perfected the outerwear-as-fashion-statement thing before young Gallagher even grew into his unibrow. But most importantly: that voice.

McCulloch’s expressive, shockingly clear singing voice is his greatest asset. Over the years, his lush purr has deepened, giving him the ability to sing with a velvety, panty-dropping richness.

“I don’t hear a lot of voices that stop you in your tracks, like mine,” McCulloch rightfully brags. “And it’s gonna get better. I’m still holding it together. But I find it hard to listen to the old stuff ’cause it’s like, that’s not me there. Now when I sing I just want to sound as real as possible.

“Sometimes when you’re younger, you kind of use your voice as a disguise — when you’re an eighteen-year-old trying to sound deep and poetic,” he continues. “Most of the songs that I can’t do, it’s because of that. That’s not to take away from all of the people — there are fans who like songs that I like the least.”

Though audiences might hold tightly to older songs, McCulloch’s newer music is easily among his best — more modern tracks such as “Nothing Lasts Forever,” “Rust” and “History Chimes” are well on their way to becoming future classics.

For as much as he boasts about his skills, though, McCulloch still ducks compliments. When presented with a list of his accomplishments, he quickly attempts to dilute their importance by interrupting with, “And I’m good at table tennis! But only one game and it depends on how many serves. I play meself and I’m still ahead.”

And when the long interview is coming to a close, McCulloch stays true to his off-stage hobby: cracking up anyone who will listen.

“Any doubts about content, make it up,” he says. “I don’t mind, as long as you don’t misquote you.”

link: Riverfront Times

Dumb Dude from the Dickies Ruins Last Few Minutes of Lackluster Career

The Dickies / Wikimedia / Bobby Rio

Dumb Dude from the Dickies Ruins Last Few Minutes of Lackluster Career
By Jaime Lees
Thu, Jul 6, 2017

The short version of the story is this: Ancient punks the Dickies were on the Warped tour as some sort of senior outreach program and a couple of women who were a part of the touring party made signs to protest their set, which had been full of sexist statements, predatory remarks about children and general assholery.

The women moved to the barricade at the front of the audience (apparently an easy thing to do since the Dickies have so few fans) and threw their signs at singer/antagonist Leonard Graves Phillips. He then unleashed a fully predictable rant against the women, calling them cunts, attacking their looks and urging the audience to shout them down. (You must watch the video clip to witness the full vitriol.)

This is happening all over the place these days, it seems. Old white dudes say bullshit, then get caught saying bullshit and get even more testy, and then other men step up and defend them in the name of free speech. And in this case, other men also defended them because they’re known for being “punks” and punks don’t follow “rules.”

Okay, fine. But let’s not pretend that an old white dude ranting and acting like a sexist idiot is in any way revolutionary or anti-establishment. In fact, it’s totally status quo and boring, just like the music of the Dickies.

It seems as though any woman who disagrees with a man is automatically accused of being a fat, ugly, cunt, bitch, slut, whore. These men drop every standard played-out insult to women and then wrap themselves in an American flag and claim to be untouchable. But our free speech laws exist to attempt to protect those of us with bigger mouths from legal prosecution, not from public opinion. And it seems that those most likely to call others “snowflakes” are actually the ones who can’t handle the heat.

And what about the women’s right to free speech? Do protesters not have free speech, too? It must go both ways. Phillips spotted the protesters, then encouraged a mob of his fans to help him verbally attack them, totally proving their entire point while suppressing their free speech. Let’s be serious, these were a couple of young women at a venue containing thousands of drunken men amped up on booze and misogyny — they didn’t have microphones and a crowd to back them up. They weren’t going to win the argument in the moment, at least.

But if Phillips wanted them to be powerless, he should’ve ignored them. Instead his little baby tantrum gave their message more reach than they would’ve found otherwise and made him look like an ass in the process. Then other men of questionable pedigree just couldn’t stop themselves from jumping in to defend their bro because a couple of woman with protest signs is an affront to all of worldwide male dominance, apparently.

Former Queens of the Stone age bassist and full-time turd Nick Oliveri posted to Facebook what is presumed to be a defense of the Dickies because he says that he celebrates that rock and roll is “criminal” and “dangerous.” But the last I checked it was that dude who was criminal and dangerous. Or, at least that’s what a swat team thought during an hours-long standoff at his house where he was holding his abused girlfriend hostage. (He was apparently kicked out of QOTSA a decade before this incident for the same type of behavior.) If violent dumbasses like Nick Oliveri are sticking up for you, you’re on the wrong side of history.

Eagles of Death Metal singer Jesse Hughes also got in on the action in a post on Instagram saying, in part, “rock ‘n’ roll is about saying whatever the fuck you want!!!!!! Especially if it’s offensive to people Who are weak cowardly and can’t stand for anyone else to be free !!!!sticks and stones, my friends,sticks and stones!!!….., and PS a safe zone is a place that exists in your home not at the place you voluntarily drive to and walk into and sit in an audience of that exists in a public place…..”

It seems as though Mr. Mustache would actually welcome “safe zones” of any variety in public places since a large chunk of his audience was slaughtered in Paris a couple of years back. Still, it’s hard to take any exclamation-point-rich rant that Hughes posts at face value because he’s clearly a traumatized victim of terror. (Remember when he suggested that the venue’s own security was in on the attack and then had to check his own statement? Prayers for this lost little guy.)

And some moron with Guy Fieri hair named “Noodles” from the Offspring also piped up on Instagram, saying that the Dickies have long been one of his favorite bands (that explains so much) and that “I honestly don’t see how anyone could seriously take offense from anything they do or say.” I mean, ol’ Gnudz has a really good point there. Who knew that anybody was even listening to what the Dickies had to say?

Anyway, I’m no enemy of free speech, so I say please, please pass this fool the microphone always. It’s best to know where we all stand when it comes to idiocy and knee jerk sexism. But if you want to hear a bumbling geriatric crackpot talk nonsense, you’ll have to watch some news about our “President” because the Dickies aren’t booked for any future Warped Tour dates and their other tour dates abroad are being canceled by promoters over their “misogyny and bullying.” Sad!

Later, skaters.

link: Riverfront Times

Oh Snap, Corey Feldman’s Band Is Coming to the Lake of the Ozarks

Actual photo of Corey Feldman at the Lake of the Ozarks. (Not really, though.)

Oh Snap, Corey Feldman’s Band Is Coming to the Lake of the Ozarks
By Jaime Lees
Jun 5, 2017

The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Prince on the Superbowl halftime show. The Live Aid broadcasts. Some televised musical performances seem to capture the attention of the public in a special way. And when viewers are moved by the same act at the same time, they often feel a sort of universal connection to others through their television screens.

This was also true of Corey Feldman’s legendary 2016 performance on the Today show. Not everyone saw his performance of the ’80s movie star’s song “Go 4 It” live, but a huge amount of Americans with an internet connection saw clips of his performance within 24 hours. It united viewers with one big, “Wow, Corey. WTF?”

While being introduced by a then-yet-to-be-disgraced Billy Bush, the Today host seems to know what’s about to happen. The hosts had clearly been tipped off that something abnormal is about to go down. Feldman then takes the stage and gives what is surely one of the most interesting morning show performances in recent memory.

Viewers were quick to make fun of what they felt was Feldman’s amateurish, art school presentation. But for those who had been following Feldman’s musical development over the years, this performance was completely in line with his past appearances. He is entirely sincere about his musical output and was apparently devastated when audiences received him as a joke.

Feldman had been trying to find money to release the album he was promoting, Angelic 2 the Core, for ten years. It was his fifth album and had 22 tracks, all with a Feldman writing credit except for the last song, a cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.”

He seemed to treat this album as his baby and would do anything to get it released. Last summer he even organized an Indiegogo campaign with the goal of raising $105,000 for these purposes. He raised not quite $15,000, but still managed to get the album out to the public. Personally, I donated at the $10 level so he’d post an Instagram photo for my bestie Kelly, who has had an unwavering crush on him since she was a kid. True to his promise, Feldman delivered for me and for hundreds of other donors just as asked (early, even) and he made Kelly’s life complete.

Corey Feldman making dreams come true.

Feldman is touring this summer and though there is no St. Louis show announced yet (cross fingers), there is going to be a tour stop on July 6th at Shady Gators at the Lake of the Ozarks. This seems like the perfect fit, right? An audience of leftover Fourth of July binge drinkers and Feldman’s unique show mingling together in a cajun restaurant / venue?

Maybe Corey’s angels will visit Party Cove and everything. See you there.

link: Riverfront Times

You Can See Jon Hamm Right Here in St. Louis for $25

photo via AMC TV

You Can See Jon Hamm Right Here in St. Louis for $25
By Jaime Lees
Wed, May 31, 2017

For us locals, the coolest thing about Jon Hamm is that you might just see him anywhere around St. Louis. He’s a frequent visitor to his hometown, one who’s been spotted all over the city, from the Central West End to Tower Grove Park.

He also lovingly reps us when out of state, forever rocking a tattered Cardinals hat or t-shirt in paparazzi photos. Jon Hamm loves St. Louis, and St. Louis loves Jon Hamm even more than it loves the St. Lunatic. (Maybe.)

It’s entirely possible to catch ol’ Hammy at the library, too, and that’s one sighting you can be sure to enjoy soon … if you’re willing to ante up, that is. Hamm is coming to the St. Louis County Library’s Lindbergh location on Saturday, July 22, for an event where he will “discuss his local roots and storytelling through film and television performance with Curtis Sittenfeld, bestselling author of Prep, soon to be a new comedy series from HBO.”

The event page makes sure to note that there will be no meet-and-greet with Mr. Hamm, so you’ll just have to flirt with your eyes from the audience. But get to the event early; maybe your imaginary boyfriend will be roaming around and you might drool upon him.

And the worst that can happen is that you get to take in the majesty that is the St. Louis public library system. Did you know that they have books there and that they let you borrow them for free? Crazy. You can research anything from anacondas to zippers.

Get your tickets here, or check out the event’s Facebook’s page. Tickets are $25 and include, yes, a commemorative poster.

link: Riverfront Times

Ann Wilson Fights Back Family Heartache to Press On with Her Solo Career

photo by Jess Griffin

Ann Wilson Fights Back Family Heartache to Press On with Her Solo Career
By Jaime Lees
8 p.m. Sunday, May 28. River City Casino & Hotel, 777 River City Casino Boulevard. $49.50 to $89.50.

Ann Wilson is wrong. There is no way around it. Just minutes into a recent conversation over the phone in advance of her performance in St. Louis, the long-time lead singer of Heart makes a statement that is just totally and completely inaccurate.

In response to a compliment of her singing abilities, she modestly demurs and says, “You know, I think that sometimes I’m better than others. But I really don’t feel comfortable going around saying ‘I am the greatest!’ when I’m not the Muhammad Ali of singers, for sure.”

The thing is, Wilson is the Muhammad Ali of singers. She’s the Serena Williams of singers. She’s the Wayne Gretzky of singers. In fact, her voice is so universally revered, so deeply treasured and historically important, that it would be fully appropriate to say that Muhammad Ali was the Ann Wilson of boxing.

Wilson carries within her the standard to which all strong female singers are held. She is it; her voice is the ultimate. It’s the kind of voice that can’t be taught or even imitated without great effort. But for her, it seems at once powerful and effortless. A gift.

After much prodding, the voice behind legendary mega-hits such as “Barracuda,” “Alone” and “What About Love” finally concedes some innate skill. After all, she must be aware that her voice is irrefutably the greatest, because she has heard others sing and she is objectively better.

At the suggestion, Wilson laughs.

“Yeah, when I hear a lot of people sing, the complaint I have — and something that I take really seriously for my own self — is just not trying to be any way,” she explains. “Not trying to copy anything. Just being authentic, you know? Whatever it is that I sound like that day, hopefully it’s great and I can light it up with my spirit.”

Her spirit is something that she has had to rely on lately. Wilson is currently in a time of turmoil and adjustment. Heart, the groundbreaking band she has co-piloted with her sister Nancy Wilson since 1974, is on indefinite hiatus after a family dust-up. The story goes that Ann’s husband of two years, Dean Wetter, physically assaulted Nancy’s then-sixteen-year-old sons while Heart was on stage last August. Wetter was charged and pled guilty to two counts of assault.

His plea deal was strict: 364 days in jail suspended in favor of probation, with restitution to be paid, no contact with drugs or alcohol, zero contact with his nephews and required counseling.While the accusations were serious, Wilson has downplayed the assault in the press, insisting that the incident was “overblown” and something that could’ve been worked through in a family meeting without getting the police involved. (The tour did continue for twenty more gigs after the incident, with the sisters keeping separate dressing rooms and interaction at a minimum.)

Wilson’s public defensiveness on behalf of her husband, though, set off alarm bells amongst long-time Heart fans. Wilson said that her husband was “complex” and a misunderstood “zen warrior” who was “provoked” into violence against the children. Many Heart followers thought that she seemed to apologize for Wetter just a bit too much, and were dismayed that she appeared to side with her husband over her sister and nephews.

We didn’t ask Wilson about her husband during our interview, but she brought him up multiple times. She spoke of their relationship frequently, describing their time together as an innocently blissful and fruitful adventure. Wetter has been touring with Wilson, and when they’re on the road they live together on her bus. The pair stays at campgrounds instead of sleeping in hotels.

‘”The pressures of traveling are really offset by being out under the trees at night, and sitting outside and looking at the stars and the moon and everything after a show out in the woods,” Wilson says. “We can have ultimate freedom and we can look in each other’s eyes and just be all lovey-dovey and look at the moon. It’s blessed, you know, terribly.”And when they’re at home, home is now in Florida. They’ve moved away from Seattle, the physical and spiritual home of Heart.

“My husband is from Seattle, too, and he convinced me that it’s cold and wet and lonely up there, and it really is!” she says. “We wanted to go someplace warm with great weather, big water and, you know, make it happen. I don’t think people in Seattle think it’s true yet. I think they’re still thinking that I’ve taken leave of my senses and I’ll be back. But…”

She trails off, implying that her near future is not to be based in the soggy Pacific northwest.This, more than anything, makes fans think that Heart is well and truly over. For her part, Wilson is moving full steam ahead and has given no indication that she’s counting on a business reconciliation with her sister. Wilson is touring on her own, finishing songs for an upcoming EP, and has booked a series of show dates where she sings not only Heart songs but also cover songs (which are all greatly improved by her voice, no doubt).

And though it appears as though Wilson is in the middle of a struggle between her marriage unit and her family unit, she is still driven and productive. Sometime soon she might have to do the unthinkable: choose between Heart and her heart. But for now, she is resilient and always eager to perform, even under stress.

“When you have hard things happen in your personal life and then you go up on stage, you know, you get through it,” she says. “Sometimes that can bring really amazing, soulful things, and sometimes it’s just living hell. Because you really want to be in the moment on stage, and you don’t want to be fretting about something else — you have to be present. So thank goodness those times don’t happen often, but when they do, there’s almost nothing harder.”

And maybe these hard times will serve to inspire something even bigger for Wilson. As she said in her Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction speech in 2013, “Aren’t the sweetest parts of music sometimes about what’s wrong?”

Riverfront Times

Prince, Was That U in St. Charles This Past Weekend?

Princemobile

Prince, Was That U in St. Charles This Past Weekend?
By Jaime Lees
Wed, May 17, 2017

Hey, Prince. We miss U, your Purpleness. U wouldn’t believe what’s been happening since U returned to your home planet. We’ve all been praying 4 U 2 return and 2 bring us all back un2 the joy fantastic.

But just between U and I, did U drop in 4 a visit recently? Because my friend saw your regal ride the other day. I’m not sure why U felt the need to make a pilgrimage to the Longhorn Steakhouse in St. Charles, but U work in mysterious ways. Did U drop in for some Midwestern chain restaurant realness on your way 2 cosmic bowling? (That’s how I imagine that U usually spend your Saturday nights — rolling consecutive strikes under a blacklight in high heeled bowling shoes.)

Or maybe it wasn’t U? Maybe it was one of your representatives. U know, like how the real Santa sends surrogate Santas out 2 malls during the holidays 2 report back 2 him in the North Pole?

If so, please provide us with an introduction 2 your deputy. We are determined 2 find out their identity and 2 ask them all about their Princemobile and their passion for purple.

Readers, have U spied this magic carpet? It appears 2 be a Polaris Slingshot. If U know the owner, drop a line 2 us at Prince4RFT@gmail.com.

link: Riverfront Times