The past is back with a vengeance, and that’s not such a bad thing. Billed as 105.7 The Point’s Killoween Freakshow, the St. Louis-based industrial alternative band, Gravity Kills, was back from the dead for a one-time reunion, supported by other local/regional bands, to pack The Pageant on Friday, October 28th.
Opening the show was the October, an Illinois-based duo (with a couple guest musicians added for the live show). Having more in common with the great UK bands of the 80s and early 90s than their other two-man, Land-of-Lincoln peers, Local H, what the October’s got going on appears to be working for them.
At the same time they’re pulling all the tricks out of the New Wave/alternative closet, these guys are authentic; there’s no put-on, Green Day-style fake Brit accents here (‘though they do have the hairstyles down-pat). Lead singer, Dustin Burnett (also playing guitar, bass and keyboards on the album), is more than competent in the vocal department. With a voice that sits on a slightly gravely, alto platform and occasionally soars to angelic high notes, Burnett covers all necessary bases for swooning girls, danceable pop, and Cure-friendly coolness. Reminiscent of bands like the Church and old Radiohead, the October’s solid, dark-edged pop songs could possibly only be improved with some backing vocals. Is there a producer in the house?
The October’s shimmering, Flock of Seagulls-style guitar nicely coalesces with the modern, alternative vocals and lyrics. This group seems to pull out the best things about 1980s music: the post-punk urgency and the electronic pop spaciness—minus the camp and the cheese. After they laid down their musical foundation for us at the show, it was more than appropriate that they launched into a note-for-note faithful cover of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me.” To close the set, Dustin lifted his guitar to his face and played with his teeth. But this was not the fast, frantic, Jimi Hendrix stuff: his version was…transcendent.
Lifting that British mood and sound up out of the 80s and into the next decade, more in the likes of the Verve, Radiohead and Coldplay, was the next band, the St. Louis trio, Lapush. Lead singer/guitarist Thom Donovan’s haunting, heartfelt and seductive delivery, paired with smart, poetic prose, conjures some extraordinarily beautiful moments, especially in songs like, “Quit You Now,” and “Aurora,” –these are songs that leave you hungry and aching someplace deep and unnamed.
The tight, supportive, steady beat of Lapush’s bassist, Kevin Bachmann, and drummer, Brett Voelker, propel every tune at a heartbeat-familiar pace that is never monotonous, overbearing, or overdone. In fact, Voelker is one drummer that every solid pop band yearns for: a skins-man who behaves himself. He plays in a way to best complement each song, versus ending every tune with a show-offy roll and crash of cymbals. A welcome relief. Rounding out Lapush’s percussion was a nice fill of loops and electronics; enough to spice up each song without taking over. What started as a hypnotic dream blended into the bigger guitar rock of their new song, “Get Up,” a tune that flaunts an awesome fuzz on Bachmann’s bass, and guitar so catchy it was impossible to keep still. Finishing off with their great track, “Tout Le Monde,” the band that had entered the stage with an Oasis-like aura now exited sounding more like the Jesus and Mary Chain. Wow. Make no mistake about it: both the October and Lapush are great alt-pop bands headed for great things, and late-comers missed out big-time.
The Pageant is often known (by this writer, anyway) for it’s fantastic filler music between sets, and this evening was no exception. We heard Pitchshifter, God Lives Underwater, Local H, the Sex Pistols and Stabbing Westward, to name just a few. [ed.--Who picks out this stuff? And more importantly: Will they burn me a mix CD?]
When Tobi Kai and the Strays took their place under the lights to Team America’s hysterical anthem, “America, Fuck Yeah!” things looked promising. A hot Asian punk grrrl and a team of hefty, rockabilly-haired boy scouts (if that’s what their matching uniforms were…we can’t quite be sure) stormed the stage and promised to mix up the mood considerably.
To be sure: Tobi Kai has the looks; with her long black hair and longer legs, big black boots, micro-mini and red panties. But her flat Courtney Love-ish voice (without Courtney’s passion) and the band’s done-before sound made the first song old before it was complete. “Didn’t they just play this song?” my companion asked after the third or fourth tune. The lyrics were laughably bad and the performance Spinal Tap-worthy, which would have been great if they weren’t taking themselves seriously. Tobi Kai and the Strays is pure schlock—starring Ms. Kai using a mic as a vibrator, gyrating, sliding her crotch up and down the mic stand, and bantering about how much she likes to fuck—still, it was enough to keep the mostly male, twenty-something crowd cheering her on. The act was transparent, obvious, slimy, and lacking all heart—more albumen than album-worthy. The best thing we can say about Tobi Kai and the Strays is this is not the worst band we have ever seen, and they’ve got a great future on the East side.
After the roadies disinfected the stage, the lights went down and the energy rose for the main attraction: Gravity Kills.
It was quite a contrast to the plain white bed sheets the band played against for their first live show at the long-gone nightclub, the Other World, in 1995. This time, Gravity Kills was presented from behind a giant, elegantly-gathered, cream silk curtain. The curtain was slowly raised to reveal an awesome Halloween set: a gargoyle mountain, with sharp, flashing white lights from above, like a stormy night. It was refreshing, too, to see the old lineup together: lead singer Jeff Scheel as lean, mean, blond and gorgeous as ever; guitarist Matt Dudenhoeffer and drummer Kurt Kerns looking shorter of hair and more grown-up; and keyboardist-bassist Doug Firley still wearing his trademark fur hat, and humping, climbing and slamming on that moving keyboard like a gorilla in heat.
Opening with “Blame,” singer Jeff greeted the crowd mid-song with, “What’s up, Motherfuckers?” (We’d be called by this pet name approximately 10,000 times over the course of the evening) With his theatric leaps, posturing and one-man mosh-pit, Scheel seemed to be having an exceedingly good time. Singing through a vintage mic, the vocals were album-perfect, although a little buried in the sound mix. By the third (and GK’s best-known) song, “Guilty,” Jeff’s shirt was off and he resumed the throne as mid-90s industrial sex symbol—of the Midwest, anyway.
“At the risk of sounding like a big pussy, thank you guys for coming out,” he said. (How tender!)
While it’s still fun to hear, today Gravity Kills’ music sounds dated. They were princes in an era when Nine Inch Nails was king, but while NIN has evolved and grown (albeit not by much), Gravity Kills will forever be a part of the 90s. Having split up a few years back due to the triple-whammy of industry bullying and personal/professional conflicts, this night the band sounded tight despite their past hardships.
The audience was seriously into the show, some dressed up for Halloween and others…well, who could tell? The Goth/industrial/old school punk look never really died (unfortunately) and that was more evident this evening than ever.
When the lights went down, Scheel’s vintage mic lit up, like a flashlight in the face from a night at summer camp. It cast an evil glow as he sang his tales of angst, surrounded in violet blue. This light show was to be commended, truly capturing and bolstering the excitement of the music and the fun of the Halloween season. Between songs, Scheel reflected on the band’s long history and some of their big past shows, “…at Riverport, or UMB Bank Pavilion…hey man, it’s corporate rock, what the hell…” But with all the movie soundtracks and video games that made Gravity Kills, they can’t complain about corporate rock too much.
While the rest of the band took a break, Jeff picked up an acoustic guitar and did a fine cover of Depeche Mode’s, “Personal Jesus,” before the band crept back onstage to join in and finish it up, hard and proper. The song, “Down,” with the chorus, “What’s left of you” was a definite high point, with Jeff’s voice at its strongest that evening. The first closer before the encore, “Alive,” reminded us that, even if the band is no longer alive, their music is—at least for this night. The encore was “Enough,” and for this crowd, it was not enough—but this was a one-time gig and it would have to do. At least until the DVD comes out next year.
Photo by Shane Calhoon