Friday, March 5, 2010

The Bands @ Return of the Byrne: Three Fried Chamber Players

Return of the Byrne: A St. Louis Fundraiser for Burn Your Bookes at the Schalfly Tap Room is only a few days away. (Thursday, March 11 at 7 p.m.)

In the lead up to the gig, we'll have a look at the bands who'll be playing
. Today it's Three Fried Chamber Players. (And see update below for rectification of vital omission of Roy Kasten...)

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At the risk of being immodest, I'm going to say that Washington University in St. Louis did a really good thing for the local music scene in the late 1980s when it plucked out a couple of applications to its English department and Writing program.

Yes, I was in that group of Wash. U students. Lured by the chance to study with Howard Nemerov, Don Finkel and (the criminally underrated) John Morris. Ended up running away to join the circus that was the Performing Arts Department and winning the first A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival with my first play, Untangling Ava. And moonlighting with The Riverfront Times as a music writer. (And now Don Finkel's son Tom Finkel edits RFT...)

Like I say, immodesty reigns here. I think I had a positive impact overall -- at least in St. Louis' music scene. In a John the Baptist way. Preaching hellfire and brimstone and alt country. Splashing water 'pon the believers. The Jagermeister and beer-sticky sneakers era.

But a couple other Wash U Englishers of my era have also cast big shadows. For instance, Theresa Everline was in Duncker Hall in that era, and eventually became one of the sharpest writers and editors at the RFT before embarking on a wide-ranging freelance career.

Two others have left even bigger footprints in the Lou itself. Dan Durcholz is one of the city's most successful rock writers. After cutting his teeth at The Riverfront Times, Dan's gone on to freelance at pretty much any rock publication and major newspaper that's worth taking seriously (Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Billboard, St. Louis Post-Dispatch) and has a radio gig on KMOX-AM. He's also co-written a book on Neil Young -- Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History -- which will hit stores in mid-May and which you can pre-order from Amazon here. (Dan was also kind enough to interview me about Return of the Byrne the other day in STL.Today.)

Which brings us to the Wash U English student who's left the biggest footprint on the Lou: Chris King. He's done so musically, yes, with bands including Enormous Richard, Eleanor Roosevelt, Three Fried Men -- and the amazing Poetry Scores project. (Next score: New Missouri Poet Laureate David Clewell.)

But Chris' influence ranges wider and deeper than even the deep waters of St. Louis music. He is of course the editor of The St. Louis American -- which afflicts the politically comfortable and powerful leaders of the city and also garners awards by the armful. And his blog, Confluence City, is a good a guide to the artistic pulse of the city as you'll get from a single blog.

More important, Chris has made a home in St. Louis and been an incredibly positive force in the city's cultural and political life. If anyone comes to mind when I think of Chris, it's the legendary late 19th and early 20th Century St. Louis editor William Marion Reedy. As a journalist and talent scout in his magazine, The Mirror, Reedy kept Mound City at the forefront of the nation's cultural scene -- writing sharp political analysis as he was discovering and/or nurturing literary talent including Theodore Dreiser, Ezra Pound, Vachel Lindsay, Amy Lowell, Edgar Lee Masters, Zoe Akins and Sara Teasdale.

Chris straddles the same worlds of politics and culture with Reedyesque vigor, wit and brilliance. So I was incredible honored that he agreed to organize a set for Return of the Byrne under the name "Three Fried Chamber Players" -- recruiting the amazing Heidi Dean (vocals/guitar); Tim McAvin (percussion) drum ; Josh Weinstein (double bass); Adam Long, (cello); and Dave Melson, (mandolin) to open the benefit at 7 p.m. sharp.

Chris sent along an e-mail (below) that links up this ad hoc combo with his past endeavors and gives you a bit of a preview. He's right that we've gotten pretty tight via social media the past year or so. It's going to be wonderful to see (and hear) this latest sonic experiment!

Chris writes:

I have been back in touch with Richard Byrne over the past year, thanks to social media.

We knew each other through multiple connections when he lived in St Louis - we were both Wash U grad students who became RFT reporters when Ray Hartmann owned the paper - but I've actually come to feel closer to Richard by following his much more recent work as a writer and reader.

I really loved the production Taffety Punk Theatre did of one act of his new play, Burn Your Bookes, when he posted it on social media; and when he said he was coming to St Louis to stage a benefit band show for the production, I really wanted to contribute.

Richard knew my music from my first band, Enormous Richard, which was getting its start when he was migrating from the RFT music critic to its media critic. I have done a few things with music since those days, but had nothing going when this opportunity arose, so I decided to put something together.

My most recent working band was Three Fried Men, so I tried to revive that, but when our most recent electric guitar wasn't available and we ended up with an all-acoustic lineup, I decided to change the name to Three Fried Chamber Players, which I thought might make people expect something more sedate.

Actually, I first floated the name as an excuse to sit down while I played guitar, but in rehearsal I have enjoyed standing up while I play, and the other songleader Heidi Dean stands as she plays, so maybe the name is moot, but it's our name (at least for this gig) and we are sticking to it.

The band: Tim McAvin, a guitar and keyboard player playing a primitive drum set for us; Josh Weinstein, on double bass; Adam Long, on cello; Dave Melson, a bassist playing mandolin for us; and Heidi Dean and myself, both playing acoustic guitar and singing their own songs, though not at the same time. Our 10-song set for the benefit is split equally between Heidi songs and my songs.

A disinterested observer, the artist Jeff Miller, who came to our most recent practice on Monday walked around the circle of the band as he left, thanking people for the music and issuing very classy, brief notes of praise to each of us. Here is what he said:

To Tim (primitive drums): raw
To Josh (double bass): rock solid
To Dave (mandolin): crisp
To Adam (cello): ebullient
To Heidi (vocals, guitar): a dozen birds just let out of a cage
To me (vocals, guitar): Daniel Johnston who is not going over the cliff.

That sounds about right at this point.

Update: Chris King reminds me: "Don't forget, Tony Margherita passed through WU English just before we did, and another peer of ours left arguably the biggest impression on the STL music scene if only because he keeps making it: producer Roy Kasten."

Ugh. I hate failing memory. Roy's been huge. One word: Twangfest. And, yes, he was a Dunckerite, though we did not hang out much in that era... I think I was well into theatreland (aka Escape from the Writing Program) by the time I got to know him. I had thrown over Duncker for the Drama Studio.

And I didn't even delve into Single Point of Light. Oy vey.

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(Image is cover of Enormous Richard's first record, Enormous Richard Answers All Your Questions.)

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