The Mynabirds | 07.01.12

mynabirdsLike modern tribal battle hymns, one can nearly imagine dancing around a campfire in a celebration geared toward amping you up to go kick some ass in the world.


The Firebird, St. Louis

Contrary to my prediction, the entire city of St. Louis did not transform into a giant molten puddle of steel and tar by Sunday night. So, despite the evil thermometer reading, several of us still persevered in venturing out of our temperature-controlled environments to enjoy a night of music at Firebird. For parched souls, this lineup was as cool and refreshing as a gulp of iced-down beer. (I think they gave us all a little buzz, too.)

The first band to kick off the evening was Great Isaac, locals out of South City. The group is young, only together about a year, but shows real promise in its interesting compositions. Their style of banjo-infused folk definitely gives them up as Mumford & Sons fans, and I was especially impressed by the vocals of keyboardist Nick Ebeling, who really belted out some beautiful tones in their final number. I truly believe that the band would be better off letting lead singer Steve Lickenbrock focus on his considerable guitar skills, and allowing Ebeling to take on a larger role when it comes to vocals. I also think the addition of a female vocalist would add even more dynamism to their sound. It’s always great to see young, new bands so eager to get a foot in the door of the local music scene, and I often think how difficult this stage of the game is, when you are mostly playing to family and a few friends. When the doors first open, no one is up front and you end up playing to a ring of people clinging to the back of the house. All of that wide-open space can be intimidating, and these guys were playing their hearts out to fill it. I think they did a respectable job, and I hope to hear more from them in the future.

For me, the sweet surprise of the evening was the second act, Arthur and the Librarian, whose members are split between St. Louis and Chicago. On their Facebook page, they list their influences as “hot toddys, fur coats and Amish fireplaces,” which could not be more perfect, since they just give me a cozy feeling of fullness. God knows the last thing I thought I would want in the middle of this hundred-degree furnace we now call our city was coziness, but indeed, I did. I can always tell when I’m really falling for a new band because of the perma grin plastered on my face as they play. My friend Alyssa turned to me and said, “The keyboards are really winning tonight,” and yes, yes they were. For me, though, it was all about the vocals. Arthur Gregory Crittenden and Aubrey Howard have wicked vocal chemistry. During the performance, it came out that we were lucky to have Aubrey singing in front of us at all, as there was a terrible fire that consumed the Chicago building she lived in just the week before. I admire the fact that she kept her commitment to the gig and sang her sweet heart out. I just read that they will be taking part in this year’s Undercover Weekend, which makes me look forward to it all the more.

Up next was Omaha’s Icky Blossoms, formed by guitarist/vocalist Derek Pressnall, member of a favorite band of mine, Tilly and the Wall. Prior to the show, I listened to a few tracks and really enjoyed “Babes” and “Perfect Vision,” and anticipated really loving their set. Unfortunately, it was all a bit too much: too much strobe, too much distortion, and far too loud. I understand that they really wanted to create a dance party, but these things distracted from their considerable musicianship. They create multi-layered, truly distinctive blends of electronica, synth, and bass-heavy pop-rock that definitely makes you want to move your body. Unfortunately, in a venue where the ceilings are low and it’s difficult to create such a large sound, by not toning it down a bit, the only place I wanted to move my body was as far away from the speakers as possible. For me, it detracted from a show that I think would’ve been really terrific. Singer Sarah Bohling is a chameleon, at one moment childlike and innocent, and the next a tough chica you do not want to mess with. Guitarist Nick Fackler’s fun energy is contagious, and plays like it literally charges his batteries.

Before we go any further, you, dear reader, should know that The Mynabirds’ 2012 release Generals has secured itself firmly into my beating heart. It is, for certain, among my top-five favorite albums of the year…no matter that we still have six months to go. Laura Burhenn’s intention was to make a “modern day protest album,” which could have led to a preachy collection of lamentations about the horrible state of our union. Instead, her warm-as-whisky voice, coupled with percussive heavy, uplifiting compostions and inspirational lyrics, is a call for all of us to strive for something better. Like modern tribal battle hymns, one can nearly imagine dancing around a campfire in a celebration geared toward amping you up to go kick some ass in the world.

Donned in a white batwing romper and a faux fox head on top of her own, she led with the opener on the album “Karma Debt,” and then belted out the stirring “Wolf Mother.” The performance was heavy on selections from the new album, but it was great to hear “Numbers Don’t Lie” from the previous LP included in the set. She repeatedly thanked the crowd for coming out on a Sunday night, saying that, since it was the penultimate performance of their tour, they were ready to have a good time, and so, “It’s Sunday, but it’s our Thursday night.” She also commented on it being their first time in St. Louis, and complimented the city on having such a supportive blogging community and radio stations.

A standout in the performance was “Mightier than the Sword,” a ballad filled with encouragement that builds and soars in the loveliest way. I love to watch performers get lost in their respective parts and forget the audience, which is exactly what happened during this song. Speaking of performers, Burhenn is accompanied on this tour by one hell of a backing vocalist, Rebecca Marie Miller. I notice she recently got a Kickstarter project funded and I am really looking forward to hearing the results of that.

The only tarnish on the night was the fact that the headliners were somewhat rushed offstage. I don’t see the sense in having three opening acts, especially on a Sunday night. The crowd was clamoring for more, but you can’t stop the clock from ticking. After playing “Generals,” The Mynabirds were joined onstage by members of Icky Blossoms for a rowdy, foot-stomping good time to the beats of “Body of Work.” It was a perfect ending for an uplifting night with what I consider to be some of the best and most inspiring lyrics on the album: “Freedom is what you do with what/ with what’s been done to you.” The Mynabirds have called out for their generals and I think we’re all ready to lead the charge…just as soon as it cools off a little. | Janet Rhoads

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