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Veruca Salt Return, Rekindle and Re-Kick Ass at the Firebird

Originally published on KDHX.org

The dream of the ’90s is alive in St. Louis. The newly-revived Veruca Salt returned to the Gateway City during its North American reunion tour to relive the time that was and foreshadow good times to come.

If you were of age in 1994, the heyday of the grunge movement and its subsequent demise, you should remember the catch-heavy wet-dream known as Veruca Salt and its mega-hit, “Seether.” In the fall of ’94, it was everywhere.

It was an incredible year for new music. This was during the birth of the Alternative Nation in America. Soundgarden. Green Day. Weezer. The list goes on. Many acts we thought wouldn’t be around anymore are still hustling today.

There were only a handful of girl-fronted rock bands at the time. Angelfish, L7, Luscious Jackson, Liz Phair and Hole all had high-rated releases that year. But Veruca Salt were one of the few debuts, an original female counterppoint to dying grunge and male-domincated alt-rock. Named after the Roald Dahl character and composed of guitarists/singers Nina Gordon and Louise Post (a St. Louis native), Jim Shapiro on drums and Steve Lacks on bass, the band formed in Chicago in the early ’90s and rose quickly in the ranks of alt-rock.

But the rise was just as quick as the fall, and it only took a mere two albums before a schism surfaced between Gordon and Post, resulting in Gordon’s decision to strike out solo and leaving Post to maintain the band under the original moniker as best she could, with frequent lineup and label changes.

Groups that would follow with albums shortly thereafter, like Elastica or Juliana Hatfield, kept up the girl-rock mantle. But even those, both known for having strong female leads, did not maintain a steady pace or even a lasting one. Many fizzled out fairly quickly.

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Twenty years after the release of Veruca Salt’s debut album, “American Thighs,” Post and Gordon have finally reunited, rekindled and are now re-kicking ass on stage with the original lineup. Nina has been quoted as saying, “For now, let’s just say this: hatchets buried, axes exhumed.” The group released a new song on a special 10-inch vinyl for Record Store Day, while simultaneously announcing a new tour and forthcoming record. Last night, they confirmed that the new record is finished. The crowd went apeshit.

We’ve witnessed several reunion tours of bands from our days of youth and yore. Which leaves me convinced that maybe Kurt Cobain committed suicide in order to escape the embarrassment of a Nirvana reunion tour in his mid-50s. The Breeders and Mazzy Star are just a few of the recent acts to attempt a comeback. And it was the latter’s announcement at Coachella 2012 that spurred Gordon to reconnect with Post and begin the arduous process of making amends and getting their act together (so to speak).

Flash forward to Sunday night. The Firebird. The tour has been selling out, and the band is back on the buzz list, as everyone is excited to hear old favorites and can’t wait to get their hands on a new record. If the new singles are any indication, the girls still got it.

Portland, Oregon-based Battleme opened the show right on time and on the right note: with loud, fast no-holds barred rock. I couldn’t think of a better opener. Band leader and ex-Lions frontman Matt Drenik rocked with a purpose. Like he was on a mission. Watching him strut about and swing his guitar, one could have easily mistaken that Battleme was the headliner. Infused with as much charisma and intention as the best alterna-rock while maintaining a Pixies vibe, the band blazed through several songs that were a proper appetizer to the main course. After two albums and a handful of EPs, Drenik can take some of the best, most ethereal riffs and transport them with a swaggering atmosphere of intense proportions, with booming drums and low-end bass. The band played several songs from its new album, “Future Runs Magnetic,” as well as some older gems. One song I was looking forward to hearing was Drenik’s haunting cover of “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” which was featured on Season 3 of “Sons of Anarchy” a few years back. But the sort of buzzy, rock ‘n’ roll influences they brought to the stage were solid and seamless.

When Veruca Salt took the stage, the crowd was smelly, excited, and joined at the hip, ready to travel back in time. The band kicked off its set with “Get Back,” the first track from “American Thighs.” “The more you want it/The less you’re gonna get back,” Gordon sang — an apropos metaphor for the band’s diminished run years ago. This time though, it was as though we wanted it so much, there was no stopping it. Which meant a sold-out show and an eager crowd ready to sing along to the entire album.

The band is older now, settling into their mid-40s with children and far away lives. Gordon and Post looked beatific. Radiant. Continuously smiling at the crowd and, at times, each other. It was the smile of incredulous joy. We’re here. We’re back. Why did we ever give this up? Shapiro and Lack are definitely solid, making their part almost seem too easy. Lack was very cool, almost unattached but happy to be there while Shapiro showed a little more excitement at being back on stage. The girls played dual Gibson SGs, plowed through Orange and Vox amplifiers. As soon as the crunch-fuzz hooks were dealt, the lyrics were laced with harmony. It was like they never left.

Their second song was the new single “It’s Holy,” which started off with the secret to the VS sound: Post and Gordon’s mellifluous vocal harmonies that hold throughout every lyric of every song. It’s a gimmick that has become their signature characteristic and one that fans never seem to tire of. “Spiderman 79” was when the crowd really got motivated, singing along right back to the stage. They even played two songs from the now out-of-print “Blow It Out Your Ass, It’s Veruca Salt” EP, which was released after their first album to tide fans over til the second. Post occasionally reminisced about being in St. Louis again. “I love the humidity here, I miss it,” she smiled.

“Kiss Me Til It Bleeds” made an appearance, a tune penned from Gordon’s solo album, followed shortly by “Seether” and the entire crowd became one big tidal wave of iPhones and headbanging. But I was glad to see they didn’t end the set with that.

The encore brought about hits from their second and final album together, “Volcano Girls” and “Victrola.” I couldn’t help but smile the entire time. These albums were part of my high-school soundtrack. They ended the show with the song “Earthcrosser,” singing “I hear the ocean/I hear the crowds.” A perfect thank you note to the diehard fans who sold out the Firebird.

By the end of the show, amidst ringing walk-off feedback, Gordon continued strumming her chords slowly, Post put down her Gibson SG and proffered a heartfelt thank you into the microphone, before stepping behind Gordon and hugging her. It was as though that thank you wasn’t meant for the crowd, but for Gordon herself. A thank you for the best thing that’s ever happened to them. Reigniting their band and, ultimately, their friendship.

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