Nicole Atkins and The Black Sea / We Are Warm / Animal Empty @ the Firebird, St. Louis

Pictures and words by Duane Clawson
I’m going to start this article a little pissed off.  Not by the bands of the evening, their music, the sound, or the lighting of the venue.  What grinds my gears is the fact that local venues set ridiculously low prices to see not one, not two, but three bands, one of which is a national touring act and no one shows up.   I don’t know if people are lacking in a sense of adventure or they are just too lazy to leave the house.  People it just makes me mad to see such a poor turnout for good live music at a cheap price.  I will now climb down from my soapbox and dive into the main portion of our music dissection.  

First onstage was a real local treat from St. Louis, Animal Empty.  If I were to pin down Animal Empty’s sound, I would tell you to put on a Doors CD while simultaneously listening to the Dresden Dolls.  I would also tell you out of all the local bands I’ve seen this year, this one appears to have the most talent and potential for a bright future.  A multi-instrument assault led by the vocals of the sultry, gravel-throated Ali Ruby.  Animal Empty employs a vast array of instruments to deliver their musical charm include a cello, trumpet, and yes, even a trash can and lid were all used during their forty-minute set.  One of the standout songs from Animal Empty’s all too short set was “Right Outside”, a song with a haunting keyboard arrangement and a demonstration of this bands musical ability.  One song Animal Empty did not play on this night was “Teaching the Dead”, a song that showcases Ali’s strong vocals and a perfect blend of this bands various instruments.  If decide to leave the house and check out Animal Empty, they’ll give you a free CD.

The next band to grace the Firebird’s stage was We Are Warm.  I said to Aaron, the bass player from Animal Empty, during We Are Warm’s set, “they sound like Drive by Truckers with a cello”.  That’s right.   One night, two cellos, three bands.  Who would have thunk it?  We Are Warm did employ the cello for every song, in a good way.  We Are Warm started their musical journeys in Chicago and San Diego before deciding to base their operation in St. Louis; glad they chose the latter.  As I previously mentioned, I would put We Are Warm into the new southern rock category.  Not entirely noticeable, but absent on this night was their keyboard player.   I found the cello to be mixed really well during the bands set at times almost sounding like a second guitar.  We Are Warm opened their set with “Touching the Stars with Sedona”, a song that tells you, ‘through its laid back attitude, this band has spent time in California’.  As they progressed through their repertoire of songs, I found the band’s music had an extremely hypnotizing effect.  A song to check out by We Are Warm is “Baby Stay Alive”, which is full of love, peace, and chicken grease and all around good vibes.

The main attraction of the evening was Nicole Atkins and the Black Sea.  Very seldom am I star struck but Nicole and her band did me in.  Nicole’s tight vocals and the bands even tighter musicianship made me a fan.  Nicole and the band have unfortunately only had moderate success but I would guess they are not far from blowing it wide open.  Nicole has a very engaging stage presence with large amounts of audience interaction between songs.   As I stated in my opening lines, it is very disappointing that bands like this can’t have more support.  NABS started off with “Heavy Boots”, a down-tempo tune but Nicole’s voice keeps you interested.  “Cry Cry Cry” from the band’s latest effort, Mondo Amore, made the small crowd at the Firebird take notice with its catchy chorus and Motown-inspired guitar riffs.  Next in the set came a musical gem from the past when NABS covered “Vitamin C”, an original from the 70’s band Can.  After “Party’s Over”, NABS launched into one of my favorites from Mondo Amore, “This Is For Love”, which starts with a drum beat that is straight from Motown.  As the song progresses, Nicole’s rhythm guitar is joined by the top notch slide guitar work of Irina Yalkowsky.   All combined this song builds to a powerful crescendo that really gets your attention.  “Hotel Plaster” was up next, complete with Irina’s surf rock guitar stylings.  NABS made sure to include the chant along “Brooklyn’s on Fire” before winding down the evening with  “My Baby Don’t Lie”, another song which showcases Irina’s slide work.  “My Baby Don’t Lie” has the vibe of the collaboration between Jack White and Loretta Lynn and “Vultures” is a rollercoaster ride of musical highs and lows, which eventually glides back to where it started.  NABS chose to end the night with “The Tower”, which throws all caution to the wind.  Nicole’s begging and pleading vocals are the perfect complement to Irina’s gondola ride inspired guitar riffs. 

For more on Nicole Atkins and the Black Sea visit their website and their music can be found on iTunes.   I wish everyone could have the privileges I have of meeting up and coming local bands, and mingling with their families and friends.  I briefly chatted with the mother of Mike Craft, Animal Empty’s drummer before and after their set.  If you could have seen the pride in this woman, pride in the fact I was mentioning her son’s band in this article.  You would then see why there is such a need to support local music.  It’s a big world out there people, get out there and explore it.  Pictures of the show are below:

Animal Empty
 We Are Warm

Nicole Atkins and the Black Sea

Contributed by Duane Clawson
Nicole Atkins and The Black Sea / We Are Warm / Animal Empty @ the Firebird, St. Louis Nicole Atkins and The Black Sea / We Are Warm / Animal Empty @ the Firebird, St. Louis Reviewed by Scott Rowe, Editor on August 10, 2011 Rating: 5
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