Josh Edwards of Bastard Squad. Photo by Jen Ruff. See below for a full photo gallery
Ritz Park is a small square of public land in South City sandwiched between Thai restaurant The King & I and Steve’s Hot Dogs on South Grand Blvd. Last Saturday night, the South Grand Community Improvement District (CID) held its first annual Halloween event, South Grand After Dark, featuring live music from two local bands: The Cult Sounds and Bastard Squad. Attendees from a variety of age groups, many dressed in Halloween attire, came to watch the performances while enjoying the ambiance of South City nightlife.
The evening began at 5:00PM with a DJ set by Donald Brazel, AKA DJ Damaged Don, a fixture of the St. Louis hardcore punk community. Brazel is owner of The Record Space, an independent music store located in Affton (8716 Gravois Road, 314-437-2727). Brazel is also the frontman of Bastard Squad, the second band that performed that night.
After Brazel’s DJ set, The Cult Sounds began playing at 6:00PM. This Webster Groves-based band plays a blend of goth rock, post-punk, and heavy metal which they dub “dark rock.” Lead songwriter Jordan Hageman studied film at Webster, while vocalist Bennett Huntley studied theater with an emphasis in design and technical study. Before playing music together, the members directed and starred in self-produced independent horror movies. They have played at a variety of St. Louis venues as both a supporting act and a headliner, most recently at The Heavy Anchor on October 14th.
The Cult Sounds began their set with a cover of The Cramps’ “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” before moving into material from their self-released 2021 album, Death of a Star. In keeping with their background in liberal arts, they are engaging and theatrical performers, wearing elaborate outfits inspired by glam rock and horror movies. Singer Huntley cites musicians like David Bowie and Marilyn Manson as primary influences on his vocals and stage presence. Lead guitarist Ryan McBride plays in a melodic style that seems equal parts goth rock and heavy metal, bringing to mind bands such as Mercyful Fate and The Sisters of Mercy. The band’s set included both punchy and up-tempo rockers like “13 Candles,” as well as slower, ballad-like songs inspired by Gothic country music, which lead songwriter Hageman credits as an inspiration. They have developed a significant following in St. Louis since their formation in fall 2018 – many attendees were wearing band merch purchased at previous events, and some singing along to their lyrics.
Fronted by vocalist Brazel, who performs under the alias Don Bastard, Bastard Squad is rounded out with veterans of many other area hardcore bands (Better Days, Breakmouth Annie, Twisted Media, etc.). Bastard Squad’s origins begin as far back as 1997, with the band undergoing many iterations and lineup changes over the past 25 years. They recently recruited a new drummer, Adam Gardner, who is a transplant from the famous Southern California punk scene that gave rise to bands such as Adolescents and Black Flag. Bastard Squad’s music pays homage to a variety of punk’s central figures and will sound familiar to anyone raised on the luminaries of the aforementioned California and New York hardcore scenes.
In addition to managing his store, Brazel also hosts live performances by local bands at the Record Space. He also operates an independent record label known simply as “The Record Label” which, in addition to Bastard Squad, has published releases by St. Louis bands such as The Lion’s Daughter and Fight Back Mountain, as well as the German band Spermbirds.
Attendees of the South Grand After Dark event expressed an enthusiasm both for the performances and the continued use of Ritz Park to host live music events. “I’m kind of like homeless… And this is one of the times where I can have my own, and I can come down here and be myself, and enjoy myself around a lot of individuals,” said Bruce Hamilton, a resident of South City. Steve Sax, a DJ for a local radio show, was impressed with the event setup: “I’ve been to Tower Grove Park a lot, but I’ve never seen Ritz Park over here. It sounded incredible; the acoustics here are really good.” Many of the other concertgoers remarked that local artists could benefit from the exposure of playing at future free events held at Ritz Park.
Rachel Witt, Executive Director of the South Grand CID and organizer of Tower Grove After Dark, viewed the event as a success. “This is our first year trying it out, so we were doing it on a grassroots budget to see how the turnout [was] and what the appeal is,” said Witt. “I would like for this to become an annual event that we’ll grow every year.” The South Grand CID regularly hosts live music and other events in Ritz Park, named for the Ritz Theater cinema, which operated on South Grand from 1910 through 1986.
Witt encouraged local artists to contact the South Grand CID directly if they are interested in performing at Ritz Park in the future. “I’m excited that we’re getting different kinds of bands performing here,” she said. “We always try to make sure that, throughout the whole lineup, we have different styles of bands performing. From R&B, to rap, to pop and rock, and heavy metal.” She also encouraged people to reach out to her to pitch ideas for the space or volunteer to help at upcoming events at Ritz Park.
Bastard Squad will be performing next on November 19th at South City bar San Loo (3211 Cherokee St, 314-696-2888) with El Gordo’s Revenge and The Nads, two St. Louis punk bands reuniting for their first show in over 20 years. The Cult Sounds will be playing at the Record Space on December 15th, along with other local bands, for a show celebrating the 4th anniversary of the store’s opening. Finally, Bastard Squad will be hosting the Bastard Squad Holiday Bizarre at Off Broadway on December 17th, which will feature performances by Bastard Squad as well as St. Louis bands Jay Coast, NITE FRVR, and Chainsaw Boyz. | David Von Nordheim