The 1900s | 03.29.08

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The seven-person band electrified the crowd with their rich, textural psychedelic pop, layering guitars, keyboards, drums and strings with perfect boy-girl harmonies.

 

The Billiken Club, St. Louis

In their nearly-matching blue dresses, diminutive redheads Caroline Donovan and Jeanine O’Toole could have easily been mistaken for students attending The Billiken Club Bene-Fest on a Saturday night, benefiting the not-for-profit creative organization The Urban Studio. But I recognized them instantly as members of The 1900s. I was lucky enough to catch their amazing performance at Lollapalooza last summer. Friendly and charming, Donovan and O’Toole chatted with me about the band as they signed my copy of their first full-length CD Cold & Kind. I thanked them, grabbed a cold Schlafly bottle and found a good spot in the dark and steamy room to watch the show.

After a quick sound check, the seven-person band electrified the crowd with their rich, textural psychedelic pop, layering guitars, keyboards, drums and strings with perfect boy-girl harmonies. "Medium Way," one of my favorite tracks, was early in the set. As it built to its brilliant, swirling crescendo, I couldn’t help but smile. This is a band that isn’t too cool to have fun.

"We’d like to know where the party is tonight!" O’Toole declared, to which someone enthusiastically replied, "Room 109!" Thing is, I can totally picture The 1900s crowding into a dorm room for an impromptu jam session. My friend Gerry agreed. He said they’d be perfect at a party because they’re so upbeat, with a New Pornographers vibe. After the show, violinist Andra Kulans told me the band had only just upgraded to reserving two rooms instead of one when traveling, so they’re no strangers to tight quarters. Good thing, too, because the stage could barely hold them.

"It’s like an igloo up here," joked O’Toole. "Thanks, college," she continued, "thanks for coming up. This is really fun, so hang out. Let’s dance." We obliged, as The 1900s launched into the head-bobbing, hip-shaking "Two Ways." O’Toole played her tambourine with exaggerated precision, then briefly jumped out into the swaying mass of students before returning to the stage for the song’s end. The band had to break down quickly to make way for indie rockers British Sea Power. Then it was off to the merchandise table to talk to new fans, sign autographs and sell hand-screened T-shirts.

I asked Donovan which member leads the band, to which she replied, "No one’s in charge. It’s anarchy!" But when asked the same question, violinist Andra Kulans told me it’s Edward Anderson’s band, the lead guitarist and singer. Donovan attributed song-writing to Anderson, but added that they all contribute. It’s difficult to manage a group of their size, but somehow, they make it work with twice-a-week practices and a sophomore effort soon to be underway.

When she’s not performing, Kulans teaches violin. She laughed as she told me they all plan to continue with their day jobs, but I’m not convinced. Sure, it must be a grind hitting all the small clubs and venues across the country, trying to drum up the kind of support and admiration the band enjoys in hometown Chicago. But if they continue to put on the kind of shows they treated St. Louis to on a rainy Saturday night, stardom seems imminent. | Rebecca Reardon

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