It was hard to deny the love the Summer Set’s fans have for the band—the true measure for any live show.
The Ready Room, St. Louis
After hearing about the passing of Prince, I wasn’t sure I had the emotional wherewithal to go see the Summer Set at The Ready Room. Do reviewers get time off for the passing of musical icons? But after contemplation, I thought Prince would want it this way: Go enjoy live music and live life.
This being my first visit to the Ready Room, I wasn’t quite sure to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. The venue is exactly what a music venue should be: two rooms, one with a bar, and the other just a big space for music lovers to congregate. The fact that the bar had the Blues game on was icing on the cake.
As I surveyed the crowd, I thought I may have taken a dip into the fountain of youth one too many times. This crowd was young. Not Millennial young—I don’t think this generation even has a name yet; they were just youth. These kids reminded me of my generation as we huddled together—sans cell phones back then—waiting for the band to take the stage. They had a crazy amount of energy buzzing all around them, as they were anxious to see the Summer Set.
In between sets, the house DJ played nothing but Prince. At first, I was saddened by this, then excited, then brought to tears. As the PA clicked off each of his hits, my emotional psyche felt like a punching bag. Tracks like “The Beautiful Ones,” “Darling Nikki,” and “Little Red Corvette” made me channel my inner M’Lynn—at Shelby’s funeral—asking, “Will these kids ever know how wonderful Prince truly was?”
Emotions stuffed deep inside, I was excited to see the Summer Set, of whom I have become a recent fan. Having featured them in my weekly column, Five for Friday, I was intrigued by their fresh sound and contagious energy.
As each band member took the stage, I was floored when percussionist, Jess Bowen took her seat behind the drums. I wanted to run around and shake the youth, yelling, “There’s a girl drummer! Do you see the girl drummer? There’s a girl drummer!” Back in my day, female drummers were a rarity in a male-dominated band. In fact, aside from Karen Carpenter, I can’t think of one band that wasn’t an all-girl group, such as the Go-Go’s or Vixen, with a female drummer. Maybe the youth of the world are on to something, because Ms. Bowen turned in a performance that absolutely blew my mind.
The Summer Set’s 19 song, 2-hour-plus set was highly satisfying. While the majority of the songs were similar in nature, the crowd lapped up every ounce of energy lead singer Brian Dales doled out. Dales had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand as he tore through the band’s discography.
The appeal of the Summer Set’s music is also its drawback: It’s safe. Each of the songs is mid- to upbeat tempo with pleasant lyrics and a highly polished sound. While each one is enjoyable, there is no sense of danger, no chance that anything can go horribly awry or unexpectedly spectacular. Then again, their target audience is not a 40-year-old gay man; it is the youth of the world, and the kids in the St. Louis crowd were losing their mind on every song. There was so much interpretative dancing and jumping up and down, it was hard to deny the love the Summer Set’s fans have for the band—the true measure for any live show.
There were a few songs that stood out as exemplary. The keyboard sample from the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” made “Figure Me Out” shine; “Maybe Tonight” had really interesting chord progressions, as well a ton of passion; “Change Your Mind” worked the crowd up into a lather; and “Legendary” was clearly an emotional high point of the night, both for the band and the fans.
Every time I go to a concert, I look to see if a band plays the hits and offers me something new, as well as how the band interacts with the crowd. The Summer Set checked off all these boxes and more by impressing me with their talent, their passion, and their professionalism. For such a young-ish band, they appear to be old pros with nothing but a bright future ahead. ｜Jim Ryan