On the suggestion of a friend, I made it a priority to catch St. Louis' Foxing at the 2015 edition of Riot fest.
The idea that something tasty could come out of St. Louis in this day and age intrigued me to the point that I was almost looking forward to being disappointed. What I saw was uber-nerd Conor Murphy lead a barely legal seven-piece through a set steaming with rambunctious passion, astute musicianship and nervy spontaneity. There may have been bigger names on the bill ( well, Ice Cube, Gwen Stefani and Modest Mouse ) but, in retrospect, Foxing is the band that I HAD to see, even if I didn't know it at the time.
Now it's two years later and the band has released a full-length ( Dealing, in 2015 ) as well as a current single ( a cover of Dido's "White Flag" ); I finally caught up with the band again, topping an overstuffed bill at The Double Door on Dec. 16. Did my memory play tricks on me and were they "all that," or were they merely hot at Riot Fest but stale now? After a few false starts and hurdles, I got my answer.
The Reptilian opened the show with a clanking set of noise rock that was downright brutal to my untutored ears. There was a reprieve from all the sonic violence from Chicago band Island of Misfit Toys, who kept whipping out one welcome surprise after another. With Anthony Sanders on vocals, the band had a knack for unexpectedly buffeting his nakedly confessional ballads with seven-part harmonies while turning those seemingly simple songs inside out. Then Michigan's Tiny Moving Parts popped that balloon and tore through a hardcore punk set which immediately ignited a slam-dancing/body-surfing frenzy. I'm cool with those activities, just so long as I know when they are coming and this time I didn't.
By the time Foxing actually got on stage, I was shell-shocked and batteredbut it was still worth it. Opening the set with "Dealing," I instantly recalled why I loved this band in the first place.
At its core, Foxing is really an art band, but the eight members work incredibly hard at obscuring the fact. Touching on jazz, pop and punk through a sound graced with melancholy, the overall effect is precise and low key. Never mind that guitarist Rick Sampson kept throwing himself in minute tornado spins as he ripped ornate solos, it all fit together seamlessly. Murphy, who can best be described as a debonair nerd, ties the whole thing together with his plain, pleading voice and front man clumsiness. Tumbling gently through a set that included "Three on a Match," "Dead Bee, part 2," "Weave" and "The Magdalene," Murphy kept the night graceful, sublime and engaging. After the varied barrage before it, Foxing's set was beguiling, enchanting, and even ( dare I say it ) magical.
As if that was not sweetly surprising enough, my expectations for Shemekia Copeland's Christmas Blues Show went up in flames the moment she walked onstage at City Winery on Dec. 18. I was not wrong for thinking that the diva would work her way through a set of overused holiday chestnuts while stamping them with her style, but she clearly had other ideas.
Looking very pregnant ( she had a high old time being naughty with that ), she ripped through a hard-edged set of the gritty blues that made her famous. "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?" Not tonight, sucker...
Opening her set with "Lemon Pie," Copeland set the standard for the night by constantly stopping the show. "Devil's Hand," "Outskirts of Love," "Can't Let Go" and "The Other Woman" were infused with grit, snap and sass and Copeland's band( Arthur Neilson and Ken Scandlyn on guitars, Kevin Jenkins on bass, and Robin Gould III on drums ) refused to back down. She did tip her hat to the holidays by cracking "This song is certainly NOT appropriate for a pregnant lady...," before tearing into a naughty "Stay A Little Longer, Santa."
For me, Copeland's rip through "It's 2 AM" was worth waiting for, but she outdid herself again. She introduced "Somebody Else's Jesus" by saying "This song is about those folks who love the Lord and Jesusbut hate everybody else." And if that weren't enough, she brought up guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks and harpist Billy Branch to partner on a trio of songs topped with "Bring it On Home to Me." The near-SRO crowd ate it up and the night was clearly a triumph to last a while. ( This was Copeland's last performance until after she gives birth. ) It was only fitting that she closed the set with an unplugged reading of "Beat Up Guitar," accompanied by Neilson.
Heads up: Mike Maimone and Mutts headline at Lincoln Hall on Dec. 29 while JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound ring in the new year at Emporium Arcade on Dec. 31. Genderfluid rocker Ezra Furman and his Boyfriends hit Lincoln Hall on Jan. 12 as part of The Tomorrow Never Know festival.