Friday, March 27, 2009

Concert Review: Future Clouds & Radar

go to

In a city that has only the faintest hint of a music scene with a functioning pulse - though locals still like to boast that the blues originated in St. Louis - and very few quirky concert venues, Off Broadway is one of this town's more unique and reliable places to see a show. It gives off a cool and comfortable vibe, like a neighborhood bar that cross-dresses in concert venue clothes. Pictures of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson giving that most famous of salutes line its brick walls, a mounted antelope head rests above an old time cigarette machine in a venue that's exclusively non-smoking now, various miscellany from the Lemp brewery is scattered throughout, and the sinks in the men's bathroom are stained with a black liquid that, while hinting at something far more sinister, only adds to the charm. A few rows of folding chairs are included almost as an afterthought, while the upstairs section offers a perfect view of the stage below for those concertgoers who'd prefer to avoid the pit and the urchins that swarm there.

My brother and I arrived early enough to catch the tail end of Future Clouds & Radar's sound check. With plenty of time to kill after this minor invasion of band privacy, it was enjoyable just soaking in Off Broadway's aesthetic and engaging in conversation ranging from which artist has the most obnoxious fans (Dylan, and it's not debatable) to deep-seeded childhood fears of being sodomized by the Knights of Columbus (it never happened). As this talk deteriorated we expected people to filter as the show's start time grew closer, but no one really did. Even after second opening act The O's wrapped up, the place was far too empty.

Blame it on the fact that it was a Thursday and that there are few places on earth as miserable as St. Louis in February - if you don't like gray punctuated with occasional bursts of lighter gray, leave now - but the show was, and this is being generous, sparsely attended. Yet those who stayed away missed their chance to see a band that, if there's any justice in the music world, will eventually outgrow the confines of such venues. Drawing heavily from their truly underrated and death-heavy 2008 album Peoria, Future Clouds & Radar played an energetic set that emphasized tight arrangements over the instrumental meanderings and studio effects of both Peoria and their self-titled debut album. Sure, lead singer Robert Harrison sounds eerily like that other band that had a Harrison in it, but in a live setting this similarity was far less pronounced. The atmospheric "Epcot View" featured nice harmonies and emphasized keyboards more than its album version, while "18 Months" was chaotic and heavy with distortion; one dancing fan, still clad in his suit and clutching his beer bottle like a life raft, punctuated with the latter song with some groin-splitting high kicks. Other songs more clearly revealed the melodies that are sometimes buried amid the studio tinkering, especially "Mummified," "The Mortal" and "Drugstore Bust."

Though Harrison may still be best known for his work with previous project Cotton Mather - at least judging from the applause that greeted Kon Tiki track and concert closer "Homefront Cameo" - Future Clouds & Radar seem to be flying under the, well, radar. The band's performance Thursday night was an intriguing showcase in how songs that incorporate studio enhancements and mix musical genres are translated in a live environment. Without exception the songs benefited from this focus, with the band playing a lively set of songs. For those in attendance it was every bit as good as the under appreciated Peoria, and, even better, allowed listeners to hear its songs in a different context. Still it's a shame more people didn't stop by to hear it, the gray St. Louis February be damned. One can't help but think that the "antipathy island" mentioned in "The Mortal" could serve as a fitting summation for the band's tour stop here.

No comments: