Theodore/Doom Town/Andrew Bryant; May 20, 2011; Off Broadway
Having only seen Theodore at Twangfest and at woefully under-attended shows in my basement, I had no idea how popular they really were. “You should see us at Off Broadway,” multi-instrumentalist JJ told me once, “we’re like rock stars there.” Now that’s incentive. I have fond memories of Off Broadway. Despite having been to St Louis many times, I’d only been here once, many years ago (2005) to see Chris Mills open for Andrew Bird. I didn’t know Chris at all then, but surprisingly he recognized me and gave me a copy of the yet un-released Wall to Wall Sessions. It would be hard to beat that night, but I was super excited to see Theodore after nearly a year.
I was also excited to pick up my record carrying case hand built by JJ filled with “Theo treasures,” a collection of items contributed by the band members. Mine contained an eclectic assortment, everything from the Kiss 45 “Shout It Out Loud,” its distinctive Casablanca label triggering fond childhood memories, to a doorknob. While charming, I am not quite sure what to do with my treasures should I ever want to actually use the case. All this, plus a test pressing and the actual record, were my reward for a Kickstarter project they had initiated to fund the release of their new 10” record Blood Signs, which their label wasn’t all that keen on putting out. The 10” record is essentially the equivalent of the CD EP, and I am (quite vocally) not a fan of the EP (too short, annoyingly so), but I am a fan of Theodore, so I was in. The songs on Blood Signs are at once familiar and new. “Engine No. 9,” a barn burning rocker, and “All I Ask“ are staples in the live sets, while other songs like “Blues Don’t Murder Me” were brand new.
Theodore has gotten louder and more intriguingly experimental since I first met them. That first set a few years back at the Duck Room was quiet yet intense, though “too mellow” a friend claimed. Andy spent most of his time playing upright bass, only switching to banjo occasionally and only tapping his saw skills on a song or two. Tonight found him on his knees for most of the set, the easier to switch between instruments, including a toy piano and a saw that is now amplified by running it through a direct input. Lead singer Justin Kinkel-Schuster also spends more time on the ground, the power of the music landing him flat on his back on more than one occasion. There’s a lot of the Theodore I met still there, but there’s also a lot more noise. Don’t get me wrong, both bands are pretty amazing.
Theodore has played many shows with Andrew Bryant and camaraderie has developed between them. They were his backing band for most of his set and he helped them out on keyboards for theirs. Bryant has a similar style, darkly emotional yet catchy. His distinctive voice pairs well with Justin’s and their work together was very complimentary. On the other hand, middle band Doom Town was a bit of a shock. Raucous and loud, they seemed out of place with the poignancy of the other bands. Still, their incongruity made for a pallet cleansing.
While it was awesome to see Theodore at Off Broadway, at the end of the night I decided I didn’t need to see them there to be convinced of their status, they’ve always been rock stars to me.