See You in St Louis: The 5 Reasons St. Louis Surprised Me as a Wonderful Little Haven

There was a period of time where I was spontaneously adventuring from one city to another in relatively quick succession. For the most part, my expectations were kept to a minimum or almost non-existent. St. Louis Minnesota is one such place. I almost didn’t even go. It was my journey up to Chicago that I was anticipating, with St Louis being a maybe-maybe not deviation.

What I ended up seeing was one of the best little adventures on that entire road trip, and one that earned St. Louis as an underrated gem of the kind of-Midwest I guess. After the passing of Chuck Berry in 2017, an artist I would argue may be the only name to survive in 200 years from what we call “rock,” I thought it worth a revisit to this underappreciated haven.

Below is a rundown of the top 5 places and things that surprised me about St. Louis. All of the above places have a mini story to them that make them memorable, entrancing, and welcoming for individuals looking to knock a visit to St. Louis off their bucket list. If St. Louis is not on your radar, it has the potential to be, with expansive vistas, a refreshing environment, and a music subculture worth a second look.

The Delmar Loop

There is an assortment of information on the Delmar Loop online. While looking up information for this piece, I went to the official website, and it says it is down. And then I was done.

On a serious note, the Delmar Loop is an acclaimed road (not necessarily the Loop) that runs through a major Western portion of the city. The Loop may be considered the “main area” of St. Louis- the downtown if you will. It includes the best restaurants, the best atmosphere, and all the many little attractions that draw people to the city in the first place.

Walk the loop. It is mandatory.

The Delmar Loop has captivating music venue called the Pageant, where I happened to see punk-pop group Kaiser Chiefs. Great little show, though the band self-deprecated their way towards some extra points. Maybe 100 people were there. It was a Tuesday.

The Loop is also notable for having what I determined to be three distinct classifications. The middle of the loop is the threshold of fun. The big theaters and main areas of excitement are here. Further down will turn into the auxiliary shops and interests. But, going down in the other direction (what I believe is South) will bring you over a small bridge. Once the bridge is crossed, the entire tone shifts. The neighborhood switches. As far as St. Louis has come (or not, depending on your view) the gentrification is real and hardly subtle. I asked a passing couple their thoughts on living in St. Louis, and they said it’s expensive in this area (this was near the Delmar Loop), but as long as you live above Union, you will be fine.

The conversation was a not-so-subtle reminder of cultural dynamics, something that knowing and understanding is only the first step.

2. The Central Park

My journey to the Delmar Loop was fraught with parking battles, a common theme in travel if you have a pesky car with you. But, I managed to snag parking next to what St. Louis calls Forest Park. While looking up details for this piece, I was shocked to find Forest Park as big as it is. I have seen a few central city parks, including the Central Park, but St. Louis has a truly gorgeous park right outside the Delmar Loop. It is an impressive spectacle.

Visit Forest Park and indulge in being away and seeing something new.

Join the runners. Don’t try to park at the Loop. Park here and walk. It will be a remarkable little mini-journey. Don’t try to find solid parking at the Loop and do not get caught up in the nightmare that is parking. Yes, there are many people in the world. Just soak in the place. Forest Park offers some much-needed solace.

3. The Ready Room and a Date with of Montreal

The next day, after the Kaiser Chiefs show and my trip to the Loop, I went to The Ready Room. The Ready Room in St. Louis is hardly ready to open, let alone host a band. But, they made due. The venue is behind a small record store that still tried to sell used Mariah Carey vinyl for $15. The show was of Montreal, who did what they do oh so well. If you have never seen this band, please do, for it is a visual tour-de-force that I won’t even try to explain in words. I write for a living, and it is beyond me. I shall leave a picture for you to puzzle over.

The treat of the evening was Icky Blossoms, the opening band, who had this surreal mixture of grime and dancehall that worked splendidly.

Go see a band you kind of know

When traveling, it could be a great benefit to see a show you are only passively familiar with. You get to experience the band in a place you have never been. It adds context and richness to your travels. Perhaps hold judgment on The Ready Room.

4. The Record Store, Vintage Vinyl

Chuck Berry was obsessed with sex. Seriously. His best-charting single is about masturbation or, more particularly, playing with his ding-a-ling, which is the same thing- I think. Anyways, the aforementioned Delmar Loop holds a lot of little nuggets, but one attracted the most of my attention (attracted? Is it that sex thing again?) I love record stores. I love the smell (sometimes). I love digging around and finding the traits that make up each respective store. Vintage Vinyl is a top-tier record store. It is one of the best I have been to in the country. Here, I stocked up on Wilco, buying almost their entire LP collection. I also nabbed a later release by The Juliana Theory. The record store is a bit dirty, but not like the “give it your best shot” basement-dwelling record stores that still have price stickers from 1973 and everything is priced at the register. Vintage Vinyl is certainly vintage, but it’s not obsolete and you won’t get the feeling like you stepped in a wormhole. Chuck Berry would approve.

5. The Arch

The gateway Arch in St. Louis is the de-facto icon of the city. Yes, anyone who has any passing knowledge of St Louis will be familiar with the large McDonald’s-esque arch that welcomes visitors to the city.

Its inclusion here is both a no-brainer and a puzzler. The arch is, in itself, a great big status symbol for a city that could use it. It’s the architectural version of a dick-measuring contest. But, context helps. I was driving for hours, seemingly endlessly, and was driving across an expanse of the United States that include a part of Kentucky (which is a miserable cesspool, if you happened to not know- sorry for my lack of tact). The arch appears first, before any of the skyscrapers, and it was gorgeous. The sun floated right above the arch. The highway where I first saw the arch actually peaked, as if I was cresting over the top of a hill. So, there I was, driving for months (maybe) through Kentucky, where I was introduced to St. Louis by a magnificent and awe-inspiring arch of impressive, um, length. It remains possibly the best introduction to any city.

Blink 182 “California” Review

5/10Nostalgia should be a facade we grow out of. Most of us can admit Return of the Jedi kind of sucks, even though we saw it at the impressionable age of 13-ish. Blink 182 is a nostalgia band in a sense, so they face the seemingly insurmountable problem of making music in 2016 and trying to appease a dedicated fanbase.

It is not nostalgia that makes California a bland, derivative, turd of a record. 2011’s Neighborhoods is a post- self/titled record from Blink 182 as well, and it was an accomplished and daring adventure with some of the band’s best material to date. No. California is mostly bad because the band mines some small moments from their past material but dulls the effect. The “whoa whoa” chants of ‘She’s Out of Her Mind” are in service of one hell of a generic tune. As a matter of fact, there are a whole lot of “whoa whoas” here. The hook of “Left Alone” is built on it. What it shows is not an appreciation for the nostalgic yesteryear. It shows laziness, particularly since we saw so much superior songwriting from the band before. It is not as if they aren’t capable of elevating far beyond this thing.

The band vies for some adolescent fantasizing again, particularly in “Kings of the Weekend” and the non-song “Built This Pool.” Late-album cuts like “Rabbit Hole” are a carbon copy of the worst from Enema, except without the snarky fun and addictive hookwriting.

The band does add a little dimension. “Los Angeles” is borderline punk/metal in its chorus. But, there certainly isn’t enough there to save the record or help ease the blandness of the previous four songs. “San Diego” may be the most thrilling hook here, though it does resort to that samey “big chorus, simple verse.” With that said, where is the creative drumwork here? There’s certainly nothing as immediately impressive in the instrumentation as “Hearts All Gone”s metallic sheen or “Always”‘s wonderful build-up.

One of the biggest problems here is not necessarily the absence of Tom Delonge specifically, but the absence of a second distinguishable vocalist. Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio (a perfectly fine band in their own right) is an acceptable vocalist. But, he sounds too similar to Mark Hoppus to make the two-vocalist dynamic relevant at all. The distinctive voice of Delonge was charming, and added an extra layer to the band’s material of the past. No matter what you think of Delonge as a vocalist, it was welcoming to hear the two frontmen trade verses and songs for the simple act if disparity. It took me five listens to even realize Matt was on “Bored to Death”- a song almost numbingly mundane if you couldn’t hear the echoes of a great song lurking beneath the surface.

California is not an outright failure. The trio are competent enough to make a listenable record. The problem is how unremarkably straightforward Californa ends up being- a runthrough of some major beats- a poor imitiation and recycling of ideas done far better only a few years earlier. The album doesn’t have a lot of creative hooks. The lyrics are derivative at best. The vocalists are tired and sound too similiar to be engaging. When this is all stripped out, what’s left is a shell of an album- one that is listenable because these guys have an idea what they are doing. They just can’t inspire more.

The Offspring ‘Days Go By’ Review

cooltext131529618670615Every music fan has that band they adored when they were young; puberty was just around the next turn or already amidst your daily troubles. You were easily influenced, grabbing for something to attach to. For me, these days involved Limp Bizkit, Eminem, System of a Down ‘Toxicity’ era, bouts of Donkey Kong on the Game Boy Color, and maybe a little surface punk rock.

Among all this was a small Californian group called The Offspring. Their slew of albums remained in constant rotation in my room. The opening spoken word piece of “Smash.” The 9-minute closer of “Americana” in ‘Pay the Man.’ Hell, even the times I stood on top of my bed rocking out to “Beheaded” from their debut self-titled. I can’t listen to any of their older albums without recalling Pokemon, homework, and those bygone eras of a kid (me) who didn’t know shit about anything except every word of ‘the Offspring’s Americana album.

I think we all have this band. A new record from The Offspring post-2002 isn’t really a huge deal, on a wide social scale. Their recent output has been less than stellar, to say the least. 2003′s Splinter was fun but short and unremarkable.

And then 2008 saw Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace, which was just a mixed pot of mediocre attempts to warm to an older sound and cheesy pop ballads that caused nausea. I don’t want to remember Kristy, Are You Doing OK? anytime soon and hopefully this will be the last mention of that song ever in history. So I am in a precarious place. I can’t pretend I don’t have a self-sustained history with the group. Their albums, to me, are legendary. I see a new album by a nostalgic-infused band from my youth, and I just have that sinking feeling that they will just disappoint again. But I feel guilty. They ALREADY gave me so much?

Days Go By is much much better than I would have thought hearing a few songs leading up to the release. Lead single and title track Days Go By is by-the-books alt-rock, sounding more like a buried track 8 Foo Fighters song than old school California punk rock. The second single, Cruisin California (Bumpin in my Truck) is just ridiculously awful. You get the slight impression that the Offspring are parodying top 40 pop music, yet the song is so out of touch and obnoxiously foolish they only really end up parodying themselves.

Yet, listening through the album, my heart fluttered. It rose. My intertwined nostalgic attachments to The Offspring felt, well, satisfied. Lead track The Future is Now opens the album up well, sounding similar to The Offspring in the late-90′s. They retain some classic punk-rock aesthetics here with Dividing By Zero, a short blast of punk rock ethos towards the end of the album. Sounds a bit like All I Want, which is pure punk- if it was on the radio, of course.

There is a cheesy ballad here (oh gawd) in the form of All I Have Left
is You. It’s silly and dumb, but actually quite harmless and boasts a
steady little harmony and hook that actually sticks as opposed to
infuriates. For modern day attempts to reach radio appeal, there
could be much worse.
Perhaps the most interesting inclusion is a song called Dirty Magic.
For long-time Offspring fans, and those who heard their old material,
it is a re-release and re-recording of the track from their second
album Ignition. This time around, it’s heavier and cleaner, and uses
this odd guitar tone. I can’t possibly listen to it without hearing the
song I’ve grown accustomed to, and it sets a potentially dangerous
precedent of bands re-recording songs and releasing them on a new
album. The problem I have with Dirty Magic is that it didn’t need to
exist in this new form.

Oc Guns is actually a really bizarre little song that uses this old
school hip-hop esque drum pattern and bass line, and classical
instrumentation, making for one of the most dynamic and interesting
songs from the band in the last decade. All in all, Days Go By is their best album in 12 years. It offers a dash of experimentation, a dash of balladry like their recent output, and brief inclusions of punk rock songs that would fit in comfortably midcareer.

Everyone who is into music has that band or artist that they
just attached to in youth. For me, that is The Offspring. Now when
those artists go decades into their career, and still release music, you
tend to just look at it unfavorably. With that nostalgia self-contained in
their older material, it is also a bit fresh to hear a band from youth still
moving forward and retaining a semblance of what made you love
them in the first place. From The Offspring, and any band that is in
this position for someone, that is really the best you can expect. On
comparison’s sake, the new music will almost always lose. But as you
remove yourself from that logic and train of thought, you find
something charming and likable here, even if you aren’t twelve and
recalling the best of a band’s heyday.