8:00 PM; St. Louis, MO; Old Rock House; Basil Hayden, neat.
After some illegal turns down the labyrinthine one-ways of downtown St. Louis, I reach the Old Rock House, a venue that claims, “Our customers are able to come here right from the office or right off their couch, any night of the week, and get great music, great drinks, and a great meal. Ultimately, they create their own experience; the energy and the very nature of this venue allows people to do just that.” Given the ludicrously low turnout for He’s My Brother She’s My Sister, this adage has never been truer.
8:04 PM; Scarlet Tanager
When the opening act, Scarlet Tanager, takes the stage, the staggering crowd of 30+ hardly moves a muscle, excepting a teenaged hippie who wouldn’t stop staring at my yellow legal pad. Then, they begin to play. What emanates is a culinary baroque-folk pop for which Arcade Fire would slaughter rabbits. The gentle childish vocals of their stunningly-blonde front woman, Susan Logsdon, rests easily on eclectic instrumentation as they break into their lullaby, “Baby Bunting.” They appear to have a nuanced sense of musical humor, as well, placing a power-ballad, hair metal solo smack dab in the middle of the song; as if it wasn’t sappy enough. They are delightfully awkward, lacking any talent for banter, clumsily segueing between their beautiful songs. Still, Susan and the band seem to have a talent for making you enamored with them; like the type of band with whom you wouldn’t be afraid to lose your virginity. At this point, I realized I hadn’t taken my eyes off of Susan the entire time. Feeling like a creep-stain, I took notice of the talent surrounding her, especially multi-instrumentalist Michael Logsdon. It’s just not a folk-rock show until someone uses a toy piano as a drunken percussion instrument (Bukowski would be proud).
8:47 PM; Jameson and Coke.
“Maps” comes on the stereo. Several teenagers squeal. A woman comments, “It’s so empty.”
9:01 PM; He’s My Brother She’s My Sister
A tap dancer in a short jumper stands atop a bass drum with an apprehensive gaze. A janitorial, purple-pants-clad Keith Richards gawks at the audience with a toothy grin. In the back, a fat Ryan Gosling prepares his pedal rig with quiet precision. Finally, the cool kids arrive on stage, clad in striped pants, (Brother), and a low-V blouse (Sister); the glittering red Epiphone is just a bonus. The tiny audience, made up mostly comped tickets, assembles. With folksy fury, they tear into “Crazy as Hell.” An electric magic lies somewhere between the incestuous harmonies, gently intense percussion, and loosely strummed arrangements. A young photographer in skinny jeans and Adidas stumbles into me, spilling my whiskey in the process. I find myself particularly enamored with the tap dancer, eagerly tip-toeing rhythms below while carefully smashing a bass and snare drum with timpani mallets, occasionally relishing in a cacophonous cymbal crash. Her expression is that of a child, delighted and frightened that she has been allowed to make this much noise. The guitarist seems equally entranced, occasionally breaking his deadpan stare with the audience to steal a glance.
After a thunderous round of songs, (Sister) closes off her introduction of the band with,
SISTER: “…and we are a family.”
BROTHER: “Some of the time.”
SISTER: “All of the time.”
BROTHER: “Oh yea. Forgot.”
The effortless humor continues as middle-aged man, Dave, clad in Levis and a tucked-in black dress shirt is encouraged to dance on stage with an LED hula-hoop.
BROTHER: “Don’t worry. Come on up. We’re all accepting. Just don’t fuck up.”
It becomes very clear just how casual this show has become without the pressure of a large adoring fan-base. Still, when they reached the near silent breakdown of “How’m I gonna get back home,” the crowd is hanging on their every note, erupting in catharsis when the percussion kicks back to eleven.
The night comes to a close as they introduce their last song, “Tales that I Tell.” An older gentlemen in a plaid shirt yells out, “I’ve heard it,” his long, gray locks shaking in excitement.
BROTHER: “Somebody has heard it. That’s a good sign. (sigh) That’s a start.”
(Brother) proceeds to take a long swig of whiskey, clumsily knocking the glass as he attempts to set it back down on the amp.
SISTER: “You ready, Rob?”
BROTHER: “I just spilled whiskey all over my guitar.”
SISTER: “You’re drunk.”
At the end of night, I am left with a bittersweet feeling of melancholy over HMBSMS. There’s an effortlessness and sincerity to their songwriting that is simply sublime, a rare trait among 20-something folk musicians. A band so musically tight and visually interesting should have no trouble selling out a midrange venue in the Midwest. I log onto Facebook to find 20-somethings posting raving posts about finally watching “Never Say Never” on Netflix.
And HMBSMS can’t afford a tour bus.
Buy their album. See them live. They deserve it. YOU deserve it. We need it.