The night was a wild card. It really could have ended up many different ways. With a large group of musicians all getting together, a ton of people and the frenzied feeling of being just a few days before Christmas there was a lot going on at The First Ward. The Voodoo Babies, Alice and Drew Ames all gathered to play and the audience came out in droves to pack the small bar early in the evening.
The night before, the rowdy one-two punch of Missouri Homegrown and Jerkface filled The First Ward to a level that rivaled Scruffy & The Janitors album release show. Both of those night were outdone by the crowd that showed up to see this show on December 22nd. It seemed like a bit of a family affair as everybody knew everybody, buckets of bottles of beer adorned the tables like centerpieces at Thanksgiving dinner and people were in high spirits.
The VooDoo Babies were already making noise when I showed up and the crowd of mostly seated people were eating up what they were serving. The band had seven members on this night and they were all shoved up against the classic brick wall in the bar. The band’s focal points were bassist/singer Bill Hoffman and guitarist/singer Phil Vandel; those two would be the culprits to take on most of the songs although others would get their chances sing as well. The band was rounded out by keyboards, drums, saxophone, trumpet and congas. Each instrument would get solo parts throughout the evening as they ran through many well known songs, changing them up to allow for the individual solos. The band was having a ton of fun, admitting that they hadn’t practiced much their set could have fell apart but the adrenaline from a big, excited crowd brought out the best in the group of well seasoned musicians.
Bill Hoffman would take on songs like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and have a ton of fun with it. Phil Vandel would take advantage of an opportunity to show off his skills on lead guitar and look like he was having as much fun playing music as I’ve ever seen. A cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River” was a nice addition to the set and was undoubtedly one of the high points. The crowd was crazy for the band, many people would try to dance but the place was so packed the dancefloor was pretty much wherever you could find room to move without running into anyone. The VooDoo Babies set would end with Vandel and the saxophonist rushing through the crowd to the back corner of the room to do alternating solos before bringing the song to an abrupt halt.
The annual reunion of the band Alice would be up next. St. Joseph’s drummer for about 18 different bands, Bobby Floyd would be joined by old bandmates Erika Pontius Foulk and daughter of VooDoo Babies member Bill Hoffman, Rachel Hoffman, whose return to town for the holidays has allowed a reunion show for the last couple years. They, like The VooDoo Babies, would be light on practice time going into the show. They would appear a little tense at first but loosen up and get back in their old groove as the set wore on.
Floyd would get to sing his song “Spies & Spiders” from Alice’s St. Joseph relic album Curiouser, but the rest of the time it was the two female vocalists each singing. Hoffman and Foulk would switch off not only vocal responsibilities but instruments as well; interchanging between guitar and bass and even switching positions on stage. With the two female singers the band definitely has a vibe similar to Luscious Jackson and The Breeders.
Drew Ames would take the stage next with a set filled with melodic pop-rock songs. He would be backed by Bobby Floyd on drums (of course) and Marcus Words on bass. He would give a logical nod to the Beatles by doing “Don’t Let Me Down / She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” during his set. Ames would fill his time on stage by pounding out reggae fueled pop songs.
After the Ames set, The VooDoo Babies would return to the stage to jam some more. The crowd had dwindled in the early morning hours but several people still remained. They would do a killer version of “Get Back” (the second time I’ve seen a band do the song justice in 3 days) and also throw in “Mustang Sally.” The band would do a good job on “Mustang Sally” but some songs shouldn’t be covered by anybody… ever.
Each band would actually do two sets, I would miss some of the early music but catch the bulk of the evening’s festivities. In the end the night that could have unraveled at any time turned out to be a great success. After back to back packed nights the staff at the First Ward had to be exhausted, the “oldest saloon west of the Mississippi” is the hot new place to be in town since its reopening. If they keep getting shows like the Missouri Homegrown/Jerface and VooDoo Babies/Alice it will be the place to be for quite a while to come.