The Tea Club/Bent Knee/Thank You Scientist @ Fubar in St. Louis – 11/14/19
Review by Natalie Ross
The first thing I ever heard about Fubar was that five people had been shot right outside the venue three years ago. That didn’t deter me, since if I never went anywhere that people were shot in St. Louis, then I’d probably never leave the house. And while I still haven’t been shot there—yet—Fubar has consistently lived up to its name.
This visit was no exception. I arrived a few minutes past doors, because it was 36 degrees and I wasn’t too keen to stand outside in the cold. I proceeded to wait outside for about thirty minutes anyway, since that was when doors actually opened. So the evening was already off to a great start. Fortunately, it got better once I got through the doors. Everyone made a bee line to the bar at the back of the venue, so it was easy for me to claim my spot right in front of the stage. Being only 5’2”, if I’m not in front, I may as well not even be there.
I immediately spotted a girl who looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her until she approached me and asked whether I had been to the Kamelot concert back in October (I had). I guess wearing my ProgPower shirt was a dead giveaway. She joined me at the front of the stage, and we chatted about all the bands we were planning to see, and about how thrilled we were for next year’s ProgPower—especially meeting our long-time idol Roy Khan. We were extra excited to talk about it, since it’s not all that common to run into people who enjoy power and prog metal, especially in St. Louis where there is not a big metal scene and bands often end up at, well…Fubar.
If you’ve never been to Fubar, let me explain the weirdest part of this venue: there are two rooms, so two bands can play simultaneously. The problem is that the rooms aren’t very soundproof. Only one side of the venue has a door at all—the other just has a curtain. And people are always going in and out of the door. On this particular occasion, there were some very loud and aggressive metal bands playing on the other side of the venue, and the fact that their raging guitars dominated all the quieter moments became the running gag of the evening.
First up was The Tea Club. I’ll be honest—I wasn’t that excited about the opening bands going in. I had listened to them and enjoyed them well enough, but they weren’t really my type of music. I was blown away by them on stage. Dan McGowan’s vocals were mesmerizingly gorgeous, especially given Fubar’s questionable track record on sound quality. I kept getting distracted by Joe Dorsey really feeling the music on the keyboard, though. Usually, I’m so excited by the headliner that I want the openers to be done as soon as possible, but The Tea Club’s set felt way too short, especially since they finished strong with a real headbanger. I was impressed enough that I begged bassist Jamie Wolff for one of the picks he had dramatically thrown down on the stage and evidently forgotten; he gladly handed it to me, looking a bit surprised that I even wanted it.
Bent Knee was up next, and I was already excited by the fact that there were two women and a violin in the band. Especially since one of those women was on the bass, and let me tell you, it had never occurred to me just how large a bass actually is until I saw that it was almost as tall as she was. The energy this band brought to the stage was unreal. Guitarist Ben Levin leapt around the stage so much that I spent half the performance anxiously waiting for him to eat it and bring half the band down with him, but he miraculously remained on his feet. Although the other band members weren’t quite as frenetic as he was, they were all clearly having a wonderful time, and based on the comments I heard from the crowd around me, so was the audience. Courtney Swain’s vocals were incredible, and the only thing I wished was that I could hear the violin better (it was not an electric violin, so it often got drowned out). The bands next door even had the decency to be between sets during the quiet moments, so all in all, everything was shaping up for an incredible show.
By the time they left the stage, I was pumped up for Thank You Scientist. I had first heard of them at the ProgPower USA announcement in September, and I had immediately fallen in love with their fun and eclectic sound. The fact that they had a saxophone, a trumpet, and a violin in their band appealed heavily to my inner band nerd. This would also be the night where I learned that an electric clarinet even existed, which was my instrument of choice back in high school band, minus the electric part.
Here’s the other thing about Fubar: there is no backstage. Even the stage itself is low to the ground, and there’s no rail between it and the audience, just a small platform that everyone uses to rest their drinks on and sit between acts. So when a band’s about to go on, you can usually spot them just standing off to the side trying to be inconspicuous. It erases a lot of separation between you and the band; it’s up close and personal and intimate, and that’s the one thing I love about shows at Fubar. There’s no other place where I can get as close to the show as I do here.
Thank You Scientist’s performance was straight up mind-blowing. It was one thing to listen to complicated riffs being coordinated between the trumpet and saxophone on their recorded music, where they’d have infinite opportunities to redo it if they mess up. It was another thing to watch it done live, where no such allowance existed. They absolutely nailed it. And while their musical performance was no less than stellar, the truly memorable part of the experience was their incredible sense of humor over the less-than-optimal situation with the band next door’s music invading all the quieter moments.
Whether it was drummer Joe Fadem cracking jokes about whether they should go with “their tempo or our tempo,” saxophonist Sam Greenfield head-banging it to the other band’s music instead of their own, guitarist Tom Monda repeatedly cracking up during the performance, or vocalist Salvatore Marrano regaling us with tales of other less-than-optimal experiences the band had had (such as arriving to a venue one night for a show and the venue was closed, so they did crack in the parking lot and lamented their life choices—it wasn’t actually crack, by the way. It was just pot.), they turned what could have been a frustrating intrusion into their music into a hilarious running gag.
They ended their show with their new cover of Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time.” At the conclusion of the song was a dramatic pause. And predictably, during that pause, the angry riffs of the neighboring band’s music dominated the silence, prompting the entire crowd and the band to laugh. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate conclusion to such a fun and, at times, ridiculous evening, but I can tell you this: I doubt their next years’ performance at ProgPower USA will be quite as memorable.