Santah / Army Navy / Pretty Little Empire @ The Firebird, St. Louis, MO

Pictures and words by Duane Clawson 
Okay, off to another weird, wacky, wonderful show at the Firebird.  There are things at the Firebird that happen nowhere else on the planet.  For starters, on this Wednesday night, as many nights before the audience started positioning themselves in half circle about 15 feet from the stage.  Now mind you, there is nothing preventing the audience from coming closer to the stage.  Then as usual, the band onstage encourages forward momentum and everyone steps toward the stage.   Pretty Little Empire was the band that encouraged forward momentum on this night.  It was a pleasure to finally hear what the rest of St. Louis has been buzzing about.  Pretty Little Empire covers a vast array of musical genres, flavors of country, folk, rock, and an occasional punk-rock guitar riff makes this band a cut above the rest in the St. Louis music scene.

Pretty Little Empire is Justin Johnson (acoustic guitar and vocals), William Godfred (lead guitar), Evan O’Neal (drums) and Wade Durbin (bass).   Formed in 2008 out of the ashes of the St. Louis-based band Kang Rhee, PLE has quickly banged out two albums.  In 2009 PLE released their debut album, “Sweet Sweet Hands”, and then released “Reasons and Rooms” in 2010.  Justin Johnson’s voice at times could be mistaken for Chris Isaak’s.  PLE’s scary good harmonies and honed musicianship seem to have produced quite a following in St. Louis.  In my research of PLE, I came across an interview in which Wade Durbin was asked what Pretty Little Empire means, a question he had no answer for.  I think I may have an answer.  PLE is slowly but surely building their own pretty little musical empire in St. Louis.

When the band Army Navy signed on as a support act with Santah, I’m sure they did not know much their support would be needed.  I will relay a story later which defines the term support act.  Army Navy is an indie rock band from L.A. but I found out this band also has some St. Louis ties.  Drummer Douglas Randall is from St. Charles, a suburb of St. Louis and had family members present in the Firebird audience.  Army Navy has been tagged with the label of power pop, yes maybe, but in an 80’s kind of way.  Myself being a child of the 80s, heard a strong resemblance to Modern English.  More on Army Navy can be found on their Facebook page.

Santah, the headliner of the evening had just begun a mini tour of 25 dates, with St. Louis being the opening night.  The band was not starting the tour well as their trusty van nicknamed HAP, had puked on them in Indiana.  All of the band’s gear and merchandise were in the van.  So as I mentioned earlier it may have been a blessing to be touring with Army Navy as the members of Santah now had to use Army Navy’s instruments.  Lead singer and guitarist Stanton McConnell relayed this story and apologized in advance to the Firebird audience for any mishaps that may occur throughout their set.  Now with all this ugliness going on, Santah managed themselves and their music like true professionals and made the best of a bad situation.  The day before the current tour began Santah performed an excellent Daytrotter sessions set that can be found here and which is also an excellent representation of the band’s live sound. Santah’s groove is pure Midwest, as it should be for a band that calls Illinois home.

When searching Santah on Amazon, you get the “see related items” section names like Bon Iver, City and Colour, and Explosions in the Sky pop up, all good comparisons to Santah’s brand of music.  Songs that beg for your attention from this band are “Neighbors and Cousins” and “Chips of Paint”.  I asked Santah’s lead guitarist Vivian McConnell for a setlist and she said she would have to transpose it from a cell phone.  She wrote the setlist on a page from the band’s mailing list notebook, on the top of the page there was a picture of a bunch of grapes and below the pic of the grapes there is a saying, “This is one of those moments where neatness counts”.  I would say that line serves as a dual reminder to those writing their mailing address and also to the band on how to approach the music.   On this night in St. Louis, Santah followed those words of wisdom perfectly.  I would like to thank Santah’s PR team SolidPR for allowing me to cover the show and as always the Firebird for their hospitality.  Pictures of the show are below:

Pretty Little Empire
 Army Navy
Contributed by Duane Clawson
Santah / Army Navy / Pretty Little Empire @ The Firebird, St. Louis, MO Santah / Army Navy / Pretty Little Empire @ The Firebird, St. Louis, MO Reviewed by Scott Rowe, Editor on October 12, 2011 Rating: 5
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