Originally published on KDHX.org
Lee Bains III is a Southern rock ‘n’ roll rebel with a cause.
He might not have a specific mission yet; more like a spiritual catharsis. Better living through blasting Southern rock music. His only visual cues to the South are a dingy blue trucker’s cap and a whole lot of working-class angst. Socially progressive yet hailing from a Southern state with one of the most complicated racial histories, Bains doesn’t seem to be interested in learning how to be polite; only fair. His music is an American flag in distress, with powerful hooks and intellectual lyrics that are about actual events taking place in the world. That’s a difficult thing to do most of the time, let alone do well. And Bains seems to have gotten the hang of it on his latest Sub Pop release, “Dereconstructed,” a subtle nod to the Southern Reconstruction era which Alabama underwent during the end of the Civil War.
I had assumed that Off Broadway would be packed with a great bill like this. Unfortunately, there were only a small handful of devotees to witness the thrashing. But it was enough for the bands to kick the tires and light the fires.
Boreal Hills started the show off with their spazzed-out fuzz rock. Well on their way to becoming serious contenders for the next big thing, they put on a wicked show. And loud. Oh so loud. Lead guitarist Karl Frank runs a bass amp through a guitar amp and still doesn’t feel like he’s loud enough. “I just want to hook up more amps together,” he smiles. You need two sets of earplugs for this band; two for each ear. And for lack of a more technical term, that’s totally badass.
Adam Lucz beats away on drums, helping to hold Frank’s guitar riffs together and keep them from spinning out of control. The music come across as psyche grunge, as though Kurt Vile were suddenly tired of being so deep and groovy and suddenly became Kurt Cobain. There’s less cool-kid togetherness, more agnostic beat-downs, all painstakingly thrust before the barrel of a gun and made to dance. The duo jammed through several songs from their two EPs and left a void for Tok to fill. A great rock band to keep your eyes on — look them up on Bandcamp.com
Tok took the stage next and took off like a rocket. Like they always do. The 2013 Best Rock Band (according to the Riverfront Times) has been showing St. Louis a good time for 20 years. Classic-rock hooks with meaty distortion and rollicking, MC5-inspired swagge that few other local acts have the ability or the stamina to compete with. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Lead guitarist Bryan Basler and bassist Matt Basler are brothers in arms, literally and musically — their hilarious stage banter and comfortable playing abilities complement each other and work to the advantage of the hard-rock sound they’ve created. Tight knit rock ‘n’ roll with screaming hooks that comes off like the Whigs. “Nothing feels right, nothing feels right,” Matt screams. Feels right to the crowd here. Matt literally tore through his bass guitar, ripping a string, while he tried to maintain his part to finish the song. I thought that might be the end of them. In true southern hospitality, Glory Fires bassist Adam Williamson came rushing up and offered to lend a bass or restring. But Matt had a second bass guitar at the ready, with a smile. If you’ve been doing this as long as they have, you learn some standard things. Maybe that was number seven in the list of things every band should do.
When Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires took the stage, it was every man for himself. The small crowd had grown slightly in size, but they had also grown braver, as they moved toward the front.
I have to admit, the entire night, I was falling in love with all of the drummers from these bands. Every one of them played heavy and tight. Ultimately, it was a close race, but Glory Fires’ drummer Blake Williamson won out. Maybe it was that mop of hair that he flung back and forth in true animal fashion. Lead guitarist Eric Wallace soloed where he could, adding higher lines and harmonies to Bains’ III rhythm playing, while Adam Williamson held the low end on bass. Everything came together very well. The music was a Southern-tinged punk ‘n’ roll, with a cross to bear. Bains is a southpaw Springsteen, adorned in classic white t-shirt, denim jeans and trucker cap, singing politically-infused songs about his complicated relationship with the history of the south and the love of his hometown. He let out a wild howl that would have made Roger Daltrey proud and plowed into his Gibson SG. Listening to them, I’m reminded of bands like the Gaslight Anthem, that have somehow been able to write modern songs without losing the ability to look and listen to the past. Their geographic inspirations might be different, but the outlook is the same.
Set highlights included “We Dare Defend Our Rights,” “What’s Good Is Gone” and “There’s a Bomb in Gilead.” Bains’ played so hard he rocked his hat right off and didn’t bother to look for it again. Towards the end of the set, he would take a few moments to actually comment on what some of his songs were about. Everyone got quiet to listen. He even made a few comments regarding how troubled he was by the death of Michael Brown and the resulting Ferguson riots.
“If one person’s rights get trampled, all of our rights get trampled,” he preached. Fans were listening. The band ended the set with an awe-inspiring, Southern punk anthem of “Dirt Track,” singing “Keep on working — keep it on the dirt track.” No doubt Bains III and The Glory Fires will work their asses off until you’ve heard what they have to say.