Originally published on KDHX.org
The last time Chicago’s Wild Belle was in St. Louis was during LouFest 2013. Unfortunately, I could not attend, as I was too busy head banging to Jim James solos at the opposite stage.
But I’m glad I forwent that show in order to see them in a smaller venue like the Old Rock House. For one thing, I was closer to the stage, but it was also a much more intimate show for both band and audience alike.
Los Angeles band Caught a Ghost opened the show but their performance was lackluster. Trying to emulate hard working groups like Vintage Trouble, but without the acrobatic musicianship, lead singer Jesse Nolan’s energy was simply not present on the stage. The band’s neo-soul sounds too much like Fitz and the Tantrums’ little brother, and Nolan even tries to sport a similar fashion style. His singing capabilities were boring and, as he performed, I couldn’t help but be reminded of someone replicating the motions of a home workout video. No charisma or personality. As a result, the performance was fairly flat.
The only rock star in the band was the bass player, using occasional walking bass lines to great effect for the funk. Keys and horns could be heard but not seen. Probably because all the side parts had been previously recorded and were played during the band’s performance. Caught a Ghost has a new record out and have had success with songs appearing on current television shows. To be fair, they are fine dance songs, but it sounds like they’re trying to party like some year that’s already happened. It’s feel good funk that wants to live on the radio. They tried to hold out a soulful strut as best they could before Wild Belle packed the floor, but nobody seemed interested.
After an absurd amount of setup time, the band finally decided to take the stage. The delay gave fans more time to pack the place in, and by the time they started, you couldn’t move a muscle without bumping into someone.
The band was suffering from some technical problems and the sound was terrible right from the start. It was unclear if it was the venue or the band’s issue, but it took a few songs for the kinks to be worked out.
Singer Natalie Bergman mystically snaked across the stage during the set. Her sultry, Eartha Kitt-like vocals are a perfect match for the slow, dub-style reggae beats that set the dance floor on fire. But it’s also her Blondie-like sex appeal that seems unmatched. Bathed in the stage’s red lights, she has a simple, yet commanding presence, imitating island life. Her voice squeaks and slips by in the bedroom floor, begging you to come back.
Sibling Elliot Bergman played keys, guitar and bass sax. He even picked up an electric marimba and sang a song of his own. The solo sax was a generous sound that electrified the audience as soon as he picked it up.
The drumming was the only weak point of the band. With so much space in the reggae-infused tracks, there was room for beats to be playful and exciting, as opposed to textbook. But that didn’t detract from the excitement that the band brought. By the time they played their main single, “Love Like This,” the crowd became a slow-moving ocean wave to a dangerous, cool-kid reggae for a new generation. “That’s my favorite song of ours to sing,” Natalie laughed.
Since it was the last stop on their tour before they take a break and head back to their native hometown, they shared a few new songs from an upcoming album before performing an encore because the fans refused to leave. I was one of them. The next time Wild Belle is in town there won’t be any other show around as far as this reviewer is concerned.