Psychedelia at the Firebird

By Caleb Duda, Fall 2012

“Uh, this microphone is electrocuting me,” said Tone Rodent front man Adam Watkins, taking a step back. “We’re Tone Rodent.” The music started and I was greeted with a wall of sound as the night continued.

St. Louis has had good shows aplenty lately and this was no exception.

The show was at the Firebird in St. Louis, Mo. on Sept. 27.

Tone Rodent’s members come from different musical tastes and backgrounds, which gives it a very unique sound. It even shows up in their stage presence. I found my eyes darting from person to person, seeing how they would factor in to each song.

(Read my interview with lead vocalist Adam Watkins here.)

I thoroughly enjoyed both listening and seeing these guys perform. The lead vocalist and East Central art instructor Adam Watkins would shut his eyes and drift around the microphone while strumming on his guitar, consumed with the music. In fact all of the members of Tone Rodent were visibly passionate about their music.

Their songs were a blend of many sounds, and they have a definite sense of completeness. Each was filled with pounding drums from Adam Dick; reverb filtration, wailing and flowing guitars from Watkins and Jeff Robtoy; thumping bass from Matty Coonfield; dreamy, drone-like synth from Mark Early and contrasting vocals. The latter was especially good in my book, and was accomplished with singers each having different vocal ranges, including Ashley Hohman.

The highlight for me was my personal favorite song of theirs, “Amen.” It started with a steady strum of the guitar, faint high-pitched synthesizer and droning vocals. It got more and more tense as it progressed, adding in the bass after a few seconds. The rest of the band jumped in, the vocals becoming more coarse and loud. I found myself completely caught up in the song, swaying and bobbing with the music.

The opening act was a local hardcore punk group called Braining. They weren’t my taste, but I will say they do have skilled guitarists with fast hands. They had a good stage presence and energy.

Ambient electronic duo Ou Où took the stage, carrying out a table loaded with an impressive amount of electronics. The band is made up of Travis Bursik and Patrick Weston. After a quick sound check, they set out to work. They began to weave complex harmonies and rhythms together. It was a wonder to hear.

The music at first listen was all over the place, one sound over here, another over there. On the surface it sounded like auditory chaos. But then, a few more sounds were added and like magic, everything flowed together in beautiful harmony. This continued with each song. Each was being built sound by sound.

I had a hard time not focusing on every little sound coming from the speakers. I was excited for every little piece because all I could think was, ‘How are they going to fit that one in?’

Watching Ou Où work was like watching a painter paint. They were in perpetual motion, always tweaking a dial, looping a melody or creating a beat that rattled my teeth. They’re just as fun to watch as they are to listen to. The art of their music is as much in the assembly as it is in the finished product.

The final act was the headliner Moon Duo. Moon Duo is a fusion of my two favorite types of music, Indie Rock and Electronic. They’re another duo, consisting of a synthesizer and keyboard and a guitarist. Throughout the show the band had a projector running, lighting up the stage, and splaying a psychedelic visual display show on the wall behind them.

They had a very dreamlike feel to all of their songs. Muted fast-paced drums, thick reverb on the vocals, and droning synth and guitars all had me lost in the music, carelessly swaying and dancing. The visual display on the screen held me mesmerized as well. It was like flipping through a Rorschach test.

I particularly enjoyed their latest single, “Sleepwalker.” Listening to the driving guitar and drums, I couldn’t help but dance a little bit.

I left the show with my hands full of merchandise from all the bands I’d discovered. I really enjoyed the show all in all and I recommend checking out all of the artists if they pique your interest.

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