the unofficial uncle tupelo archives 

Songwriters to Display Their Wares Dec. 28

Steve Pick

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 22, 1988

Shakespeare said, ''The play's the thing,'' but that was because he was a playwright. Had he put ''Hamlet'' to music, he might have said, ''The song's the thing.'' Since he didn't, and since the phrase was still up for grabs, ''The Song's the Thing'' has become the name for an event at the Great Grizzly Bear Dec. 28.

Rock music fans are not used to hearing songs performed solo. Band arrangements tend to fill up lots of space, and create the big sounds that make rock so hard to ignore. But, at the bottom of that sound is the root without which the music cannot live, the song itself. All the brilliant arrangement skills in the world cannot fix a weak song, and, more to the point, a great song can easily survive without much arrangement at all.

Six St. Louis songwriters - technically seven, because two of them work together - who ordinarily write for rock bands will perform some of their best material stripped of all instrumentation save acoustic guitar. This will be an opportunity to focus on the songwriting technique of each writer. But, it will also be a musical event worth hearing for the quality of the performances.

''The Song's the Thing'' is the brainchild of Bob Reuter, who's one of the performers. The songwriters chosen for this first event are not the winners of a contest or the result of an exhaustive search. They are admittedly culled from the ranks of musicians Reuter knows well.

Each of these writers, however, does have considerable talent. All work in differing styles, but each loves a good melody, and each takes great care in constructing his songs.

The six acts are:

Steve Carosello is the songwriter for the Love Experts, a band that has yet to play in public. Carosello has been writing songs for many years, however. He says his material encompasses a wide variety of musical styles, and he intends to play some that don't fit the context of his band.

Tony Fafoglia is the singer and one of two lead guitarists for The Dagos, probably the most exciting local rock band of 1988. Fafoglia's prowess on guitar, and the sheer power of his band's musicianship, may sometimes overshadow the unforgettable hooks and inventive structures of his songs.

Kip Loui has had trouble putting a band together since he returned to St. Louis two years ago, but he hasn't stopped writing songs. Loui's material shows the influence of 1960s' pop icons such as the Beatles or the Beau Brummels, with a twinge of country creeping in now and again. His greatest strength is his ability to come up with sometimes delightful and always hummable melodies.

Reuter has been in and out of bands and styles of music for 20 years, but his melodic gift and storytelling ability have stayed the same. Recently, he has been working solo or as a duo with Loui. His music these days is often country, but he hasn't lost his pop sense of song construction, nor his rock 'n' roll edge.

Mike Stuvland is the lead guitarist and chief songwriter for 60 Hz Hm. Stuvland writes very strong melodies and clever, insightful lyrics in a variety of styles. His songs could show the influence of the Beatles, Buck Owens, or Burt Bacharach, but they are always clearly in his own voice.

Uncle Tupelo is an unusual band in that it was conceived as being both electric and acoustic. When the trio is plugged in, the high energy of the performance is infectious. When they play acoustically, the still-budding songwriting skills of Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy are revealed in pure form. These two see a direct line between Hank Williams, Neil Young and Soul Asylum, and their material makes sense of that line.

The concert will be a fundraiser for KDHX-FM.

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