John Vanderslice | 5.02-03.07

If performers are good, everyone should leave feeling good. Personally, I believe that if performers are great, everyone should leave feeling changed, feeling like they're a part of something bigger.


05.02.07 | Billiken Club, St. Louis

The Billiken Club has never seen a show like this. There was expert musicianship, funny banter, great surprises, and an intimate feeling. It was one of those nights where the small crowd leaves with smiles on their faces, knowing that they've seen something special.

St. Vincent was easily one of the best opening acts I've ever seen for any band. The one-woman show of 23-year-old Dallas native Annie Clark (member of the Polyphonic Spree and former touring partner for Sufjan Stevens), St. Vincent really stunning performance. I had heard a lot of buzz about her on blogs, but I was not prepared for the show at all. The songs ranged from light guitar ballads to really rocking numbers. With guitar in hand and a stomp box for percussion, Clark really enthralled a crowd like few acts I've seen. She was innocent, but dangerous; cute, but wild; playful, but serious. She giddily chatted with the crowd and played tunes whose subjects ranged from marriage to murder. Her songs were all beautiful, most of them from her upcoming July debut Marry Me. It was one of those shows that left me speechless. At one point while talking to the crowd, she claimed St. Louis to be very similar to Dallas. She joked, "We're practically neighbors…we're like family…I love you?" Well, I think the crowd kind of fell in love with her, too. She's opening for the Arcade Fire a few times in May. She's one of the only solo artists I could see holding their own supporting them.

After that performance, it would have been easy for John Vanderslice to come off as unimpressive. This, though, was not the case. Currently touring as a duo with a drummer (who also played keyboard), Vanderslice played an energetic, charming concert. His set featured songs from his whole catalog, with a few previews from his next release. The whole time, he was cracking jokes or telling funny stories. During "Exodus Damage," he played the second verse twice without realizing it (a "bonus verse"), prompting him to tell a story about seeing Bob Dylan tell the same story during a concert. It's hard not to appreciate Vanderslice after seeing him live; he really appreciates his fans and shows it in concert. After a solo acoustic performance of "Dear Sarah Shu," an audience member asked hi what the song was about. This led into a heartfelt story about him growing tired of music and getting through a bad place in life.

The real treats, though, were toward the end of the set. An audience member had emailed him, asking if he could play mandolin and sing. Vanderslice called the guy on stage to play mandolin on "White Plains" and sing "Letters to the East Coast." Both of these songs were beautifully done. After this, he invited Clark back onstage to play bass for a few fun songs. For his last number, Vanderslice announced that he would play outside ("so you guys can smoke and listen to music"). The crowd marched out and circled around Vanderslice, Clark, and the drummer. They played a pretty acoustic song while the crowd stood in disbelief, smiles wide. Afterwards, he told the crowd not to leave, but to stay and have some drinks and a dance party with him. It was one of those rare, intimate, genuine shows.

Throughout the show, Vanderslice kept saying that it was one of the best shows they've had on the tour. I was wouldn't doubt it. He seems like the kind of guy who goes out to breakfast with his fans and plays wiffle ball with them in the afternoon. He and St. Vincent and played a great show that gave people something to talk about the next morning. | Pete Wissinger


05.03.07 | Randy Bacon Gallery, Springfield

Instantly, you can sense that there's something very organic about John Vanderslice. His modest demeanor, smallish frame, poor posture, and beaming sincerity create a feeling of ease for those around him. He's almost as famous for his down-to-earth approachability as he is for his musical craft and talent, which in hindsight, makes aspects of this memorable spring evening seem fittingly (and pleasantly) planned.

At the start of it all, Vanderslice took the stage with his guitar while Dave Douglas sat down at the drum kit. With various pedals, synthesizers and effects equipment, the two men were set to wage veritable electronic warfare in the middle of photographer Randy Bacon's spacious yet intimate gallery.

The set was a mix of songs from Vanderslice's last four albums, including five tracks from his most recent release, 2005's Pixel Revolt (Barsuk). He offered up a handful of new songs and mentioned that he finally has a new album on the horizon, though it won't release until next January.

Highlights from the night included "Exodus Damage" which feels like a long, straight drive through the desert at night, and begins with the offbeat lyrics, "I'll see you next fall/ At another gun show…" Another crowd favorite, "Trance Manual" won everyone over with its slow drums, lazy bass and the melodic metaphors as Vanderslice calls out, "Come to me now/ You are warming weather…"

Douglas left the stage while Vanderslice flew solo on a couple songs, including "Greyhound" from 2002's Life and Death of an American Fourtracker, which felt like a tiny, effortless anthem as the words echoed above my head, over and over, "Tell me what to fight for…"

The drums returned for "Radiant With Terror," and pushed through with a perpetual momentum that was loud and unforgiving. Annie Clark (St. Vincent) sat in with a bass guitar on "My Old Flame" and "Do You Remember?" before the audience participation portion of the evening began.

Vanderslice announced that he needed a lot of backup singers for the next song, and about a dozen people from the audience made their way onto stage to help with vocals on "Me and My 424."

For the last song of the night, he explained that he wanted to go outside and play a song in the street. Douglas took the bass drum, Vanderslice took an acoustic guitar, and Clark came along to sing harmony as the whole audience crowded in, creating a full, close circle surrounding the three of them.

"See, isn't this cool?" Vanderslice said. "People driving by think we're in a cult."

The group, 75-ish proud, came to a hush as the three of them began to play. Cigarette smoke rose up toward the day-old full moon, entirely obscured by clouds. Sirens wailed in the distance, far enough away so as not to disrupt the moment, and then before we knew it, the line between spectator and performer was completely obliterated, and we were all just people standing in the road, and it was over.

It's clear that Vanderslice is much more than a musician. He's a storyteller and a poet, and I believe he's the kind of performer who wants to give his audience more than just music. He creates events for people—experiences that are not soon forgotten. If performers are good, everyone should leave feeling good. Personally, I believe that if performers are great, everyone should leave feeling changed, feeling like they're a part of something bigger. | Mandy Jordan

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