Royal Trux @ The Hi-Pointe
Cash Money @ The Side Door
St. Louis, Missouri

Royal Trux makes the kind of music Keith Richards heard after he'd gone unconscious: The future passed — part senseless, part dead. It can be a sloppy, pathetic and sometimes interesting nod scene. The band's albums have always been distinct; but they bring no real joy. I think that's the point: Life sucks, then you shoot up.

Or you just share the agony. So last Saturday night Jennifer Herrema filled the nearly empty Hi-Pointe with her haggard howls and Neil Haggerty shoe-gazed his Rolling Stones hallucinations right into the ground. Perhaps the duo spent themselves recording the ambitious but silly “Sweet Sixteen,” their second major label release, and performing is just too much to ask.

But the band managed to open the show with a good, raggy song, singing “rock'n'roll is here to stay,” and somehow played for about a half an hour, filling the short set with songs from the new album. Haggerty and Herrema's pulses were syrupy despite the countless intravenous thinnings they've endured and they made no attempt to even fake interest in being here.

“Don't Try Too Hard” summed the scene well, but “I'm Looking Through You” was a great repetitious assault. The band neglected to play the older material that brought it critical adoration, and a Trux set lacking the masterful “Junkie Nurse” and “Shockwave Rider” feels empty.

Heroin heroine Herrema sings like a bar fight and smokes like a factory and, dang, it can be irritating. Haggerty left most of the screeching to her while he jammed with the band, which included a keyboard player handling bassline duties and a drummer with no bass drum. The four trudged through a depressing set that was evocative and personal, but boring.

Headliners the Cretins also featured four members and by the midway point of the band's set it had reduced the crowd to about the same number.

Playing an incredibly generic style of blurry-wristed happy-core, the band seemed to be stuck in the skating '80s. The singer bragged that the band featured former members of the Queers, but that didn't help things out. Trapped in a seventeen-year-old state of mind, the performance was animated (cheesy synchronized jumps and hardcore guitar stances) but the music went nowhere.

Asking the dwindling crowd if they were bored, most answered with a sigh of “Yes,” and the singer replied with, “Well, we are too.” It was the perfect cue to leave.

Downtown at the Side Door, Pave the Rocket had just closed the “Guide to Fast Living 2” showcase show and were clearing the stage to make way for Cash Money's midnight set. The Chicago duo (just a guitar and a three piece drum set) launched right into its searing white-blues-wail and it sounded and smelled like something was burning.

Something was: Bacon. So as former God and Texas guitarist John Humphrey served up sleazy grooves and crack drummer Scott Giampino kept atomic time, the scene was enveloped in the appropriate aroma of cooking swine.

The band claims most if its inspirations from old blues and country but certainly owe some kind of debt to the similarly-staffed Hairy Patt Band and the hyper Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. “Damn Damn Damn,” from the band's debut album “Black Hearts and Broken Wills,” was a dark criminal tale and fit right in with the cowboy hats, hankies and faux-Southern vibe.

But the vibe got a bit old after a while — most of the songs relied too much on volume, fuzz and drawling growls. The full sound the two men created was impressive, but Cash Money would have been well-off to have taken a few more hints from one of its heroes, Mr. John R. Cash, and let things get sparse once in a while.

The inspired set did end the evening on a much better note than it started. Cash Money's black-eyed rock'n'roll felt natural and alive. It upstaged Royal Trux's 'deader living through chemistry' and outshined the Cretins' lack of personality. But none of the bands displayed much in the way of progression; and as more aim their sights backward to music's bright past, tomorrow just gets darker. The Rolling Stones, the Descendents and Bill Montgomery have contributed their lasting efforts — and it can be good to hear today's interpretations of that — but it would be nice to see the future happen someday.

By The Billy Keaggy | Originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 1997i am