Concert Review: Blonde Redhead | 2.27.24, Delmar Hall (with photo gallery)

Photo of Blonde Redhead by Bryan J. Sutter

It has been over a decade since avant-garde indie rockers Blonde Redhead played St. Louis. Their 2012 show at The Pageant was, by all accounts imparted to myself, an absolute banger, albeit a bit under-attended. They were unfortunately among a small handful of notable acts that year who played to much smaller crowds here than they should have. I had always felt there was sort of karmic debt that needed to be repaid with that one. Turns out, I was not the only one that possibly felt that way.

Indie musician Squirrel Flower, AKA Ella O’Conner Willams, started off the evening at Delmar Hall with a lovely solo set. She had just finished up a tour with her band, which included a recent stop at Blueberry Hill. Even though the crowd was filtering in as she performed, her presence was so arresting that it was surprisingly quiet. This stillness was lighted by the enthusiastic pop she received from the room between songs. Amazingly, there were no loud conversations about banal bullshit between individuals holding their beers to their chest like it was a puppy named after their favorite programming language, which always seems to happen during performances like the one we were experiencing. Fussing with my camera bag felt like I was popping bubble wrap. We may have been there for Blonde Redhead, but for this period of time the stage belonged to her.

Speaking with a few folks after Squirrel Flower’s set, we all took turns gushing about what we just witnessed, but generally agreed that some of the songs, despite some very nice guitar work, felt like they were missing something without the full band. That being said, “Alley Light,” off her new record Tomorrow’s Fire, gave me chills. It’s the sort of somber, pensive song Bruce Springsteen would have written in his early days if he had come from Ohio and had a sick stick ‘n poke of a cicada. It’s an all-timer, for sure. I won’t be missing Squirrel Flower the next time she rolls through St. Louis, and you shouldn’t either.

Blonde Redhead started off their set with “Falling Man” off their excellent 2004 album Misery Is a Butterfly. From that moment, it was like the air in the venue changed. I have always thought of Blonde Redhead as one of those bands where if you were to walk into a space and hear one of their songs playing, and even if you didn’t know it was Blonde Redhead or didn’t even know of the existence of a band with that name, you would automatically think, “Oh, I’m somewhere cool.”

Revisiting their catalog prior to this show, I was reminded that if Blonde Redhead are not the originators of certain sounds and motifs within their realm of indie music, they are among the masters of such elements. Some of their songs feel like they are a part of a larger narrative, and as listeners we are only privy to this one part, and are left to infer a deeper subtext through our own imaginations. Other songs feel like a self-contained thesis or idea, to be studied like an old oil painting. To see songs like “Snowman” and “Bipolar” performed live, and to feel a wonderful charge of energy between the band and audience, was truly a lovely experience. I don’t think I’ve seen the dance floor at Delmar Hall so densely packed for a show that wasn’t sold out.

The setlist, as one might imagine, favored their newest record, 2023’s Sit Down For Dinner. Though it’s Blonde Redhead’s first new album in almost a decade, it feels like such a natural progression from their last few releases and is, to put it briefly, a very enjoyable bit of music. There were times during their performance where things felt almost cinematic, particularly during new songs like “Melody Experiment” and the previously mentioned “Snowman.” Everything just felt right under the dark and moody stage lights and your humble narrator, a card-carrying cynic, was reminded just how powerful live music can be. I’ll go as far as to say that Blonde Redhead didn’t just put on one of the best sets I’ve seen in Delmar Hall, but that they were arguably the best I’ve ever heard a band sound in that room. The in-house and touring audio engineers deserve kudos for their role in this achievement. No element sounded muddy or too harsh in the mix. Even when wearing earplugs, vocals were clear and crisp and the drums sounded tight and balanced, while guitars and keys came across focused but lively.

Yes, you could say the vibes, and the mix, were immaculate.

The trio finished off their set with a powerful performance of “23,” off the 2007 record of the same name. The encores consisted of “Not For Me,” “Kiss Her Kiss Her,” and “Rest of Her Life” off of Sit Down. As Kazu handed the last setlist to a cluster of eager hands in the crowd, I felt a bit sad knowing that the night was actually over, but just before leaving the stage, she stopped and blew the crowd a kiss. I realized then to find joy in that we all got to experience something so sublime, and that perhaps the debt was finally paid. | Bryan J. Sutter

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