Best St. Louis Shows of 2011: Part Three

van-down-by-the-river.jpg
Photo by Nick Schnelle
Show in a Van Down by the River, November 16

November 16th was chilly this year, as November 16ths in St. Louis tend to be. Rain was tentatively in the forecast, and a quick glance to the cloud-covered skies served only as confirmation of our local weather forecasters' suspicions. In an unassuming riverside field in North St. Louis's industrial district, a handful of disheveled punks crowded around a van -- a 1989 Ford Clubwagon, to be precise -- and a gas-powered generator. The impending rain was the sole subject of concerned conversation.

"Fuck it, we're doing the show anyway." Gus Theodorow, singer of local punk band Who Fucking Cares?, owner of Clubwagon and generator, and booker of hilarious shows-in-a-van-down-by-the-river, is unconcerned about Mother Nature's wrath. This show must go on.

In a move that would draw the knowing contempt of fictional motivational speaker Matt Foley, five St. Louis punk bands (WFC?, Shaved Women, Overdoser, Masculine Journey and Goat Bris) are preparing to play a show. Inside a van. Down by the river.

The hours that followed were surreal in their absurdity. The kind of fun had at this show simply shouldn't be allowed, and frankly isn't. Every car that pulled up drew the stares of everyone in attendance -- a group of 40 or so rowdy punks -- ready to beat feet at the first sight of the five-oh. Beer was consumed openly and competitively, fueling the anarchic fervor of the masses. Someone had dumped a bunch of couches nearby, and it wasn't long before the crowd had them in a pile, ablaze. The wind from the riverfront whipped through the field in such a way that it pushed the flames to the two and three story range, alleviating the night's briskness with face-meltingly high temperatures.

Did I mention the bands played inside the van? Of course I did, but it warrants repeating. Even the drums were within, making playing them a daunting task of bumped elbows and a lack of headroom (disclosure: this writer plays drums in Overdoser. In order to alleviate any conflict of interest, I'll simply encourage you not to check us out. We're awful, simply awful; don't waste your time.) The fact that people were rocking the vehicle back and forth, jumping on its roof and whipping it with chains didn't make anything easier.

Initially, the show was intended as a viking-style funeral for the aforementioned aging van, which had recently reached a state of obsoletion by way of replacement. Gus had the stated intention to light the van on fire and push it into the river, presumably sans VIN numbers, as soon as the last band was done playing. Midway into the night, however, a few things became all too clear. This was fun -- really fun. There is no overhead to play outside. No clubs to pay, no promoter bullshit. In a DIY punk setting this could be made to work. Most punk houses and DIY spaces generally have a countdown from the moment they start hosting shows to the moment the city demands they stop, and it never happens at a convenient time. Just ask recently-shuttered Cranky Yellow. Vans on the other hand are specifically designed to be mobile, and the Northside industrial area is vast enough to make for a hard-to-hit moving target.

At the end of the night, rather than sending it on its final ride to Valhalla, Gus got behind the wheel and drove home -- just as the raindrops began to fall on the dying embers of the couch fire. There will be more van shows, as soon as the weather warms up again. They will be virtually unadvertised, due to their illicit nature -- this is an "ask a punk" situation -- but they will occur, as this locals-only show was just too damn cool to not subject on some unsuspecting out-of-towners. Lets just hope the rain (and the engine) hold out long enough.

Oh Shit Moment: Couch fire grows wildly out of control, fast and is "tamed" by the drunken crowd by being whipped with a fifteen-foot long thickass chain.

Highlight: See above.

--Daniel Hill


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