Instant feedback at Play:stl

| Music Editor

Last weekend’s PLAY:stl festival on the Loop democratized music.

The three-day event may not bring in national acts like LouFest, nor does it book many of the area’s most established acts, a la The Riverfront Times Music Showcase. Instead, the festival gives a lot of up-and-comers a chance to be heard.

The result is instant feedback, and it challenges the musicians to rock out all the harder. Though venues like the Duck Room and Cicero’s hosted acts that fans specifically came to see, most of PLAY:stl’s shows featured lesser-known acts in bars that could be heard from the street or on the street itself. Audiophiles hear a band tearing it up and listen as long as the musicians can hold their attention.

Sometimes the pairings of musicians to crowds didn’t work out, such as when hip-hopper Nato Caliph played Riddles on Thursday night. Off campus, we forget that Thursdrunk, er, Thursday, isn’t officially recognized as part of the weekend, and it showed when Caliph tried in vain to pump up the white-haired bar regulars. It really didn’t matter that he put on a good show; the experience was frustrating on both sides of the stage.

Other times, though, the system worked. Brandt’s booked a lot of loud bands—loud like hear-them-from-a-block-away loud—who probably attracted a lot of listeners just because they were so audible. The Morleys and Red Collar both put on great all-ages shows, with entire families with children rocking out to The Morleys, and an enthusiastic crowd of middle-aged fans cheering on Red Collar. The situation at Riddles improved too, with a more receptive crowd at Nite Owl’s show on Friday.

Meanwhile, Chipotle managed to cram some singer-songwriters in the area between the back door and the trashcan, playing free shows all weekend to enthusiastic (if slightly confused) crowds.

Bands took to the street as well. (the) Fracture Suit kicked off Saturday’s shows at noon in the market area next to Market Pub House, and their pop/rock/jazz (just imagine Incubus circa 1999) drew in listeners who were out shopping or eating lunch.

On the other hand, there were acts that people actually intended to see at Cicero’s and the Duck Room. Thom Donovan might have been the best, his alt/indie/blues rock full of throw-your-head-back-and-rock moments. Tera Melos also put on a great show at Cicero’s, switching between atmospheric melodies and hardcore punk, jarring their listeners but adroitly maneuvering the stylistic changes.

If you want to be able to say you saw them before they got big, make sure to check out the up-and-coming musicians at the fifth annual PLAY:stl festival next year.

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