Midwest Mayhem – Critic’s Pick

KDHX logo
Midwest Mayhem
by Jaime Lees

Aside from knowing that you’ve contributed to the greatest radio station on Earth, one of the other perks of donating to KDHX is access to this – consistently one of the best parties of the year. The station hosts the Midwest Mayhem as a thank-you to listeners, who will pack every of the City Museum for this celebration of independent radio. At this event, music is quite literally around every corner, with bands and performers jammed into every delightful little nook in the building. Expect performances from musicians that are as diverse as the programming on KDHX, ranging from blues to pop to rap.

Worth it: You can also buy tickets at the door for $20, which is a small price to pay for so many local favorites including Tef Poe, the Union Electric, So Many Dynamos, Funky Butt Brass Band and Middle Class Fashion.

Forty Years into Her Career, Patti Smith is Still Bewitching: Review and Setlist 5/5/13

PattiSmithPower
Forty Years into Her Career, Patti Smith is Still Bewitching: Review and Setlist
Jaime Lees

Patti Smith
Contemporary Art Museum
May 5, 2013

It’s an emotional thing, seeing Patti Smith. I’ve seen her perform a bunch of times, and every time I’m shocked by my own intense reaction. I know that I usually get all sentimental and weepy when she starts singing, but this time I was blinking away tears as soon as I saw her face.

Why does this happen? It’s weird; I’m not usually so sappy. I think it was a combination of many factors: the small room was crowded but cozy, the audience was humming with excitement, I was flanked by great friends and, well, she was right there. As far as I’m concerned, this woman is nothing short of a goddess. I can think of no other person who has been so equally and immeasurably important to both rock music and the written word, and those are the two things that I love the most. And something about her touches me so deeply that I can barely even acknowledge it without feeling freaked out.

She’s nearly 40 years into her career, but Smith is still bewitching. She clearly knows about her singular power to enchant and she worked her little rocker-poet-goddess-shaman thing all night. She entered the room to great applause and flashed her famously sweet, yet mischievous smile. Her performance was a combination concert and poetry reading and Smith slides easily between the two formats. It is here that you can witness the interconnectedness of her work: she can read a poem, tell a story about it and then sing a song she’s written about the subject.

Smith was joined onstage by her long time bandmates and trusted collaborators, Tony Shanahan and Lenny Kaye. Kaye played guitar and Shanahan accompanied her on guitar, bass and piano. Both men stood quietly and respectfully as she read from a few of her books and also sang backup during songs as needed. The amount of talent on that stage was overwhelming when all three played and sang together — I consider myself lucky that I had a hand to hold as Shanahan pounded out the first dramatic notes of “Pissing in a River.”

It wasn’t all heavy stuff, though. Smith kept the mood light between songs with her funny stories and easygoing nature. At one point she stepped back from the microphone, made a funny face and then returned to ask, “You ever have one of those burps that won’t come out?”

Smith’s performance also included numerous compliments to St. Louis. She referenced our own William Burroughs multiple times, commented our buildings (“This city has beautiful architecture. It’s the kind of architecture that reoccurs in your dreams”) and she improvised a little STL love at the beginning of “My Blakean Year.” (“The tour bus pulled into St. Louie / Where I was thinkin’ of William / And the Courtesy Diner…”)

Smith ended the night with “People Have the Power” and dedicated the song to her “late and great husband, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith” of the MC5. She said that they ended up working on the song together after he walked up her one day at home and said, “Patricia, people have the power. Write it.”

At some point during the show, my friend leaned into my ear and whispered this: “You know what’s great about her? She’s humble. And she doesn’t have to be.” Yes. Exactly. She doesn’t have to be humble at all. But it sure is nice. Smith stayed after the show to autograph books and records.

Setlist:

– “Wing”
– “My Blakean Year”
– “Peaceable Kingdom”
– “Pissing in a River”
– “It’s a Dream” (Neil Young cover)
– “Because the Night”
– “Ghost Dance”
– “People Have the Power”

Bob Dylan – Critic’s Pick

Bob Dylan Jaimeville
Bob Dylan
7:00 p.m. April 23
Peabody Opera House
14th St. and Market St.
St. Louis, MO 63103

He’s the celebrated poet-laureate of rock and roll, but Bob Dylan’s credits extend beyond his trademark cadence and twisted wordsmith skills. With a career spanning five decades in the public eye, Dylan is king to not just his contemporaries, but nearly every singer-songwriter since. From scruffy underdog to lauded international pop icon, Dylan is more than just a simple protest musician who famously dared to “go electric” at a folk music festival; he’s the gold standard.
— By Jaime Lees

link: Riverfront Times

Healing Powers: Music therapy provides more than just entertainment for sick kids

Christy Merrell performs for a young fan.
Christy Merrell performs for a young fan.

Healing Powers: Music therapy provides more than just entertainment for sick kids
by Jaime Lees
Thursday, Mar 28 2013

St. Louis Children’s Hospital is both a happy and a scary place. Nobody wants to be there, but everybody is trying as hard as they can to make the best of whatever bad situation they’re faced with. Bold art sprouts off of the walls, structures are painted in bright colors and all of the furniture is low and child-friendly. Fresh “Get well soon!” balloons spring up every twenty feet or so, straining proudly from bundles of decorative neon ribbons.

Though kids feel welcome here, it is clearly still a hospital. Bald kids in wheelchairs draw in the art room, and babies in tented incubators are pushed down the hallway, with worried parents trailing close behind. Their brows are furrowed, and their eyes are distant with worry.

As the music therapist at the hospital, Christy Merrell explores the innate connection between the human brain and music and exploits this natural relationship for the benefit of patients. On one level or another, we all understand the healing power of music. Music is an essential part of the human experience. Sad songs comfort us when we’re feeling down, and happy songs make good times better. And sometimes it feels like one song can change your whole life, either though perfect timing or symbolic meaning.

Merrell’s work at the hospital is a continuous source of positivity in the lives of sick and injured children. She, along with her professor at Maryville University, developed and proposed the program to Children’s Hospital while she was still in graduate school. Seven years later, her music-therapy program is highly successful, but owing to lack of funding, Merrell remains the only such therapist on staff.

Undeterred by limited resources, Merrell radiates enthusiasm for her job and proudly shows off her “Tune Wagon” as she explains her craft. The Tune Wagon is a wheeled metal cart, filled with all types of instruments: small drums, tiny keyboards, bells, shakers and a couple of guitars. She has modified some of these tools for her patients with poor fine motor skills, adding velcro hand straps to drum mallets to make them easier to grasp.

We spoke with her in the hospital’s physical therapy room, and it was immediately easy to see why she does so well with patients: Her smiling face, bright eyes and sincere, easy nature are a welcome presence in a world full of machines, needles and confusion.

Jaime Lees: Tell me about music therapy.

Christy Merrell: Music therapy is the therapeutic use of music for non-musical goals. All of my goals are either psycho-social — if a kid is having a hard time coping within the hospital — or physical, like if they’re having a really hard time with endurance. So I do a lot of co-treatments with physical therapy, using music to help them learn how to walk again. We’ll look at their gait and see how we can make it more independent or how we can make it more functional using music. And slowly, once they get a more functional gait, we’ll pull that music away and see if the muscle memory sticks.

I’ve had kids that have come in for numerous neurological issues. Maybe they had a traumatic brain injury, or a stroke, or epilepsy, or a brain tumor, and they’ve lost some of their function, depending on where the tumor is in their brain. So I use music to help with not only endurance but with fine-motor skills. I’ll use guitar, or we’ll do scales with keyboards and pianos.

We’ll also do drumming to get them to a better range of motion—it just depends on which goal we’re looking at—and then I use music to help the patient achieve that goal.

How does music therapy help with memory?

We’ll often use music for memory recall. I’ve had kids that weren’t able to orient or tell you where they were. I’ll ask their parents or caregivers to tell me a song that they used to sing all of the time. Then I’ll play that song on my guitar or off of an iPod and sometimes they start singing — it’s almost automatic. You can see their face light up, and you can see that something is working in the brain, and then they’ll start singing. And it’s a really cool thing to witness. It’s the greatest job in the world, I think.

What is school for music therapy like?

I look at it as a triple major. You have a lot of psychology and family psychology. There’s a lot of classes on child development and working with kids with special needs or autism. That’s on top of your music theory, your private lessons.

When I started there were not a lot of music therapists that worked in a medical setting. And then here, I had to go through all the interviews and stuff, and then I basically started the program. I’ve been here for seven years now. It’s just me. But eventually we’ll probably add on as maybe we get more grant funding.

Is it a matter of resources?

Well, I think it’s a matter of finding people who want to donate to the hospital through our foundation. So it’s all done through donations from people that want to endow my program, or that want to give something back, which is really cool.

In a sense, the worst part of the job is losing patients. But cancer doesn’t define them. Or, the brain injury doesn’t define who they are. So I try to, just for that moment, allow them just to be a kid. And to give them choices. And to give them as much normalization to their day as I possibly can, and help them with those therapy goals, to get them to be more independent and to get them able to go home. And it’s really cool.

It’s awesome that I get to witness some of the amazing things that these kids do. Like, the progress. I love it. And progress can be defined in many different ways; it could be a kid that has a new diagnosis of neuroblastoma, or some type of cancer, or finally being able to say the word “cancer.” So I do a lot of songwriting with the kids, too. It’s a good way to get them to express themselves, and it gives them the feeling like they have ownership and control and power over something. And then they can start understanding and get into a better place of dealing with it.

Did you ever have any kids that found some musical talent that they didn’t know that they had previously?

Yeah, there have been quite a few. This one kid, Joe, came in — he had a form of Leukemia. We’d hang out, and I’d play my guitar, and we’d write songs and stuff. I got him really into the Beatles. And then he really started wanting to play his own. So his family went out and got him a guitar and he’d come in and say, “I heard this really great new band, Black Sabbath. Have you heard of them?” [Laughs] It was hilarious. He really wanted to learn some of those songs, so I taught him some basic chords. And the next time I saw him, he had it all. It was amazing. The kid had perfect pitch. And he could improv like nobody I’d ever seen before. So, he was awesome.

But, unfortunately, he passed away. And I played at his funeral. It was very emotional, but you do get attached to the kids. When I was putting together a memory collection for their family to play at the wake, I found this song he’d written where he was kind of telling all of us that he was going to be OK. So through music he was able to express himself, not only in the moment, but also in a deeper way.

Sometimes he would get really anxious, and ask, “Am I going to die today?” And I was like, “Well, it’s not likely, but someday, yeah. I’m going to die someday. It’s kind of the circle of life, buddy.” And he’d laugh and roll his eyes and say, “You’re so cheesy.”

I’ll never forget this: One day we were going for a procedure and they were going to give him some anesthesia. He asked the anesthesiologist what they were going to give him and when the anesthesiologist said Propofol, he started singing Michael Jackson! [Laughs]

I love this kid!

I know, right? He had a really good sense of humor. Very dry but brilliant. I would’ve really loved to see what he would’ve done with music, because I’m really sure he would’ve been amazing.

Donations for St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s music-therapy program may be sent to:
Child Life, Music Therapy
St. Louis Children’s Hospital
1 Children’s Place/St. Louis, MO 63110

link: Riverfront Times

Ten Songs For Hating On Stupid Idiot Valentine’s Day

Ten Songs For Hating On Stupid Idiot Valentine’s Day
By Jaime Lees
Wed., Feb. 13 2013

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, y’all. It’s time to hate on all of this love bullshit and have sex with people that you don’t even like.

But what music should accompany your dirty deeds or heartbroken feelings?

I’ve used my decades-long experience as an expert soundtrack-chooser to bring you this highly-recommended list of tunes to get you through this most terrible and torturous of holidays. I tapped ten of my all-time favorite artists for inspiration. Here you go:

The Ronettes – “Is This What I Get For Loving You?
Key lyric: “It’s such a cruel world to be alone in”
When in doubt, turn to the classics. The Ronettes’ “Is This What I Get For Loving You?” is not just one of the best anti-love songs ever, it might be the best anti-love song ever. The Spector girl-group harmonies make the heart shrivel in unmeasurable proportions. Lyrics like “And now I’m so afraid I’m losing you” bring us all right back to our worst, most heartbreaking moments.

The Cardigans – “And Then You Kissed Me II
Key lyric: “I tell you now like I told you before: Love is a powerful force”
My favorite Cardigans album is Gran Turismo, but it does not reflect the depth of the Swedish band’s love-hating. For that, you need to bust out SuperExtraGravity. “Losing a Friend” and “I Need Some Fine Wine (And You, You Need to be Nicer)” are for hatin’, but give “And Then You Kissed Me II” a spin. With lines like “Your name used to taste so sweet / Then you beat the love right out of me” it is bitter until the end.

Iggy Pop – “Some Weird Sin
Key lyric: “Some weird sin / Just to relax me”
Forget making love. You just want to get laid. You want to give in to all of your worst desires and just get f-u-c-k-e-d. If you don’t have a sexy little thing and you just want to go to the bar and then pick up some one-night-only, then this is your song. If things get too straight, you can’t bear it and you are searching for some weird sin, son. Hopefully it’s weird enough that you forget this whole ugly day. This song comes on, and Good Lord, it is time to bang.

Sex Robots – “We’re Thru!
Key lyric: “My girlfriend’s in therapy / I did too many dog shit things”
St. Louis band Sex Robots always gets right to the point. The songs are short and oh-so-sweet and this song blasts though all of those negative, crushed emotions with simple honesty. (“I think she’s beautiful she thinks I’m sliiiiiime!”)

AA Bondy – “A Slow Parade
Key lyric: “Tide will bring and tide will take / Find another horse to break”
He’s not very well known, but this singer-songwriter single-handedly renewed my faith in new music some years back. His songs always remind us that all good love can go bad, and that all bad love can make you weaker.

Patti Smith – “Pissing in a River
Key lyric: “What more can I give you, to make this thing grow? / Don’t turn your back now, I’m talking to you”
One of her most depressing performances, the poet Smith embraces the full emotion and the weird power that one can find in heartbreak.

Teenage Fanclub – “Mellow Doubt
Key lyric: “I’m in trouble / And I know it / What I’m feeling / I can’t show it / But these feelings / Don’t go away”
Grand Prix is a emotional ride of an album, and “Mellow Doubt” is the song that you want if you’re feeling heartbroken. The song captures that miserable, regretful feeling perfectly. Think: driving in the cold winter rain with the windows up while an old lover is packing up your shit at their house.

R.E.M. – “Country Feedback
Key Lyric: “You wear me out / You. Wear. Me. Out.”
R.E.M. was a band that was about feelings. This track off of one of the bands darkest albums, Out of Time, is slow and tentative and tiptoeing, much like an elongated breakup. (“It’s crazy what you could’ve had”) The song is sad, even gut-wrenching, and all of the obtuse lyrical dances that R.E.M. was known for are cast away in favor of a pure expression of grieving.

Beach Boys – “God Only Knows
Key lyric: “If you should ever leave me… the world could show nothing to me / So what good would living do me?”
A deep song with conflicting messages, wrapped up in a beautiful package. Completely parallel, emotion-wise, with “Wouldn’t it Be Nice?” Brian Wilson is a genius.

Otis Redding – “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)
Key lyric: “You are tired and your love is growing cold / My love is growing stronger, as our affair grows old”
An anti-love song list wouldn’t be complete without him, so we look to the king of heartbreak, Otis Redding. Otis always understands. I want to find the woman who made him so sad and bash in her face.

link: Riverfront Times

Ten Songs To Get Busy To On Valentine’s Day

Ten Songs To Get Busy To On Valentine’s Day
By Jaime Lees
Wed., Feb. 13 2013

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, y’all. It’s time to get all up in your significant other or your someone special.

But what music should accompany your dirty deeds or love-struck feelings?

I’ve used my decades-long experience as an expert soundtrack-chooser to bring you this highly-recommended list of tunes to get you feeling lovey and freeee-kay. I tapped ten of my all-time favorite artists for inspiration. Here you go:

The Ronettes – “Be My Baby
Key lyric: “I’ll make you happy, baby, just wait and see / For every kiss you give me, I’ll give you three”
When in doubt, turn to the classics. The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” is not just one of the best love songs ever, it might be the best song ever. The Spector girl-group harmonies make the heart swell in unmeasurable proportions. Lyrics like “The night we met I knew I needed you so” bring us all right back to our best, most hopeful moments.

The Cardigans – “And Then You Kissed Me
Key lyric: “It hit me like never before / That love is a powerful force”
My favorite Cardigans album is Gran Turismo, but it does not reflect the height of the Swedish band’s lovey-dovey-ness. For that, you need to bust out Long Gone Before Daylight. “For What It’s Worth” and You’re the Storm” are for lovin’, but give “And Then You Kissed Me” a spin. With lines like “My heart overfloods,” it is super-duper smoochy squishy.

Iggy Pop – “Sixteen
Key lyric: “Show you my explosion, sweet sixteen”
Forget making love. You just want to get laid. You want to give in to all of your worst desires and just get f-u-c-k-e-d. If you have a sexy little thing and you just want to go out to the bar and then get down and dirty, try out this naughty little number. You will both cream your jeans to lines like “Body and soul / I go crazy.” (Bonus points for lyrical nod to “leather boots.” Mmm-hmm.) This song comes on, and Good Lord, it is time to bang.

Sex Robots – “Think I’m In Love
Key lyric: “I think I’m in love / I think I’m in la la la-la la la la la la la-la la la la la la-la-la la la la la la-la la la la love”
St. Louis band Sex Robots always gets right to the point. The songs are short and oh-so-sweet and this song blasts through all of those nervous, crushy emotions with simple honesty. (“I feel so outta my miiiiind!”)

AA Bondy – “There’s a Reason
Key lyric: “The love that’s tearing you down / Is the love that will turn you around / Say it is so”
He’s not very well known, but this singer-songwriter single-handedly renewed my faith in new music some years back. His songs always remind us that all bad love can go good, and that all good love can make you stronger.

Patti Smith – “Because the Night
Key lyric: “Love is an angel disguised as lust / Here in our bed until the morning comes”
One of her most uplifting performances, the poet Smith embraces the full emotion and the weird power that one can find in love.

Teenage Fanclub – “Sparky’s Dream
Key lyric: “If she lived in space, man / I’d build a plane”
Grand Prix is an emotional ride of an album, and “Sparky’s Dream” is the song that you want if you’re feeling like you’re in love. It song captures that buoyant, effervescent feeling perfectly. Think: driving in the warm summer sunshine with the windows down while a new lover is at your side singing along.

R.E.M. – “At My Most Beautiful
Key lyric: “At my most beautiful / I count your eyelashes… secretly”
R.E.M. was a band that was about feelings. This track off of one of the bands sunniest albums, Up, is slow and tentative and bashful, much like young love. (“I read bad poetry into your machine / I save your messages just to hear your voice”) The song is bashful, even tender, and all of the obtuse lyrical dances that R.E.M. was known for are cast away in favor of a pure expression of romance.

Beach Boys – “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?
Key lyric: “Maybe if we thinkandwishandhopeandpray it might come true”
A deep song with conflicting messages, wrapped up in a beautiful package. Completely parallel, emotion-wise, with “God Only Knows.” Brian Wilson is a genius.

Otis Redding – “That’s How Strong My Love Is
Key lyric: “I’ll be the rainbow after the tears are gone / Wrap you in my colors and keep you warm”
A love song list wouldn’t be complete without him, so we look to the king of love, Otis Redding. Otis always understands. I want to find the woman who made him so happy and send her some flowers.

link: Riverfront Times

Seven Local Artists to Watch in 2013

Syna So Pro
Syna So Pro

2012 was a big year for St. Louis music; by many accounts the local scene is more vital and vibrant than it has been in years. Optimism and back-patting can feel foreign to St. Louisans, with our notorious proclivity toward self-deprecation, but lately our music scene deserves it and then some. In keeping, here are seven St. Louis bands and artists that deserve your attention in 2013.

Demonlover: Demonlover feels like an experiment that has grown bigger than its creators. When the band first started out it was more like a loose collective with many different in-and-out members, but when people this talented come together things just start to happen. What the group has settled into now is a reflection of all that is good in St. Louis, culminating in an experimental rock band with big beats and country and jazz leanings. Demonlover is unique in that it manages to be ragingly psychedelic while still venturing into the world of sturdy alt-twang. Whatever the formula, audiences are responding, and the band seems to gain multitudes of fans with every performance, always providing something new. It might be a new song or an interesting cover or even just a silly costume or two, but don’t confuse the group with a gimmick band: Sam Meyer, JJ Hamon and Andy Lashier are real musicians making real music. They just happen to be funny, too. This is the real deal, and though the Demonlover guys might not take themselves very seriously, we certainly do. — Jaime Lees

Syna So Pro: Syrhea Conaway advertises herself as a “one-woman musical enigma,” and that description couldn’t be more accurate. Though technically a one-person band, Conaway’s methods of looping and echoing make her feel more like a ten-person show. Her primary weapon is her voice, and she puts her greatest instrument through a series of modifications that layer the lyrics and make her songs feel robust. Stringed instruments and numerous electronic devices allow Conaway’s songs to build and peak, resulting in a wide, lush performance. The lack of any other distracting musicians on the stage gives this sound artist full command of the audience’s attention. Syna So Pro is experimental, but not so experimental that it is hard to follow. Her songs are structurally interesting and, well, just plain pretty, and her live shows are always passionate and captivating. —Jaime Lees

– five others here

link: Riverfront Times
link: Demonlover
link: Syna So Pro

Bush – Critic’s Pick

Bush - JAIMEVILLE.COM
Bush
7 p.m. Thursday, December 6.
Pop’s Nightclub, 401 Monsanto Avenue, Sauget, Illinois.
By Jaime Lees Thursday, Dec 6 2012

For most people, the band Bush means one thing: Gavin Rossdale. With his good looks, sexy widow’s peak and famous marriage to the hyperactive she-beast hiccup machine that we call Gwen Stefani, Mr. Rossdale has been sucking up all of the attention since his band’s debut album, Sixteen Stone, was released in late 1994. There was a serious backlash against the band at the time — the Bush boys were viewed as inauthentic English opportunists who tried to profit off of the last gasps of grunge. But the music wasn’t really all that bad. (Remember Crash Test Dummies? That was bad.) If you were at all aware of alternative music in the mid-’90s, like it or not, Bush was a part of your life. Embrace the memories.

Proposal: Can we get back into debating what bands are and aren’t posers? That was fun.

link: Riverfront Times

Future of the Left


Future of the Left
8:30 p.m. Friday, November 23. Cicero’s, 6691 Delmar Boulevard, University City.
By Jaime Lees Thursday, Nov 22 2012

Though celebrated as the modern equivalent of the Fall, Future of the Left is slightly less geometric and far more invitingly schizophrenic. Its songs are unpredictable, veering from clunky, sneering mania into refined alterna-noise, all while maintaining hooks and a dark sense of humor. The lyrics can be cuttingly honest and wry but sharply observant, earning Future of the Left high praise as the Bill Hicks of bands. Featuring members of Million Dead, Strange News From Another Star and underground indie-hero Mclusky, the Cardiff-based quartet tours the United States every few years, bringing with it a commandingly loud and tight show.

Bonus: The opening bands are local favorites the Humanoids and the Livers.

link: Riverfront Times