There’s a first time for everything and that includes guesting as a flutist with indie synthpop band St. Lucia.
I first met Jean-Philip Grobler, the lead singer and writer behind St. Lucia, when he made a guest appearance of his own singing “Ready For It” with my band, RAC, at Webster Hall in NYC during our 2014 spring tour. I wasn’t too familiar with his music at the time; I just thought, “whoa, this guy can sing.” I listened to St. Lucia’s debut album When The Night throughout the rest of the tour and was just totally enamored by their sound. My favorite track in particular is “Wait For Love“, in which the influence of Jean’s roots in South Africa is particularly prominent with the percussion styling and instrumentation.
Since then, Jean and his wife and bandmate Patti Beranek performed as guest vocalists with RAC several more times and later the two bands did a mini-tour together leading up to Coachella 2015. It was then I got to meet the rest of the band and finally see them play live. Their sound and energy on stage was even more infectious than in the recordings.
St. Lucia’s recent headline tour took them through my home city of Portland. A few weeks before the show I got a message from Jean asking if I still played flute, and if so, would I like to join them for a song in Portland? Are you kidding me? It was funny timing because just the day before I had been playing around with the flute for the first time in a while, with plans to incorporate it into some newer tracks of my own. All signs pointed to flute!
The day of the concert I met the band at the venue, Wonder Ballroom, for sound check. Their set up was complex, to say the least. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a modern pop band with so many instruments on stage. Upstage Nicky Paul and Dustin Kaufman commanded their respective synthesizer and percussion battle stations. Jean took center stage on lead vocals and a plethora of guitars, including a mint green Fender beauty, flanked by Ross Pryce on guitar and bass and and Patti on synthesizers and all kinds of percussion including wind chimes and a gong.
We ran through the song I’d be playing on, “Love Somebody,” a few times. I enjoyed seeing how the band worked together. They had been on the road for several weeks so they were especially in sync with each other, but even so they would still work on tweaking things here and there, making sure they were doing everything they could to elevate their sound. It didn’t strike me until the rehearsal how incredibly rhythmically driven their music is. When there are so many elements on the stage, it has to be. Generally when I listen to music, I tend to pay the most attention to the melody and chord structure. Those aspects of St. Lucia’s music shone especially because of how clean and precise their delivery was. Case in point, Jean was quick to point out that a triplet I was playing was actually supposed to be syncopated 16ths. Eek. Yes sir!
That night the venue quickly filled to capacity as the show was completely sold out. I waited backstage with the band as they ran through vocal warm ups and joked around, shaking out any last minute jitters before hitting the stage. Just before showtime, I rushed out to the little side stage monitor nook to meet my husband and friends and watch the beginning of the set. As soon as the lights dimmed the audience went absolutely bonkers. St. Lucia took the stage and returned that fiery energy right back into the crowd. It was magic. They were total rock stars. After the first few songs I headed backstage to make sure I had everything ready.
It was funny being all dressed up and warming up with my flute as it had been so long. The only setting I’d played it in before was concert band in school, so it brought back some long forgotten memories of dressing up in Concert Black and filing out in a proper line onto the stage. This performance allowed for a little more flare- I wore my favorite woven gold Ace & Jig ensemble with some combat boots and my entrance onstage would involve ducking under various light fixtures and dancing/skirting my way around cables and synthesizers while acting totally cool about it.
Jean, having fun with his new wireless mic, had ventured out into the crowd and somehow managed to dance and sing while having countless selfies taken with fans. I went up to the perfectly positioned flute mic and did my thing. The song is sort of this slow, sexy, moody jam and the crowd totally dug it. There’s an instrumental section where we all ascended up a scale as the music swelled and became more intense up to the very highest note. So steamy! After that there was a small break, then the band went right back into an instrumental version of the chorus. I didn’t play there so I danced along, flute in hand, and tried not to be a dork. Everyone onstage was grooving in their own little zone so I just went with it. I sang along in the final chorus before going into the last solo bit, trailing off toward the end. Jean introduced me as the crowd was applauding. I gave a little wave, and in true fourth grade band concert fashion, I took a little bow too. Old habits die hard.
I loved this night. It was so fun sharing the stage with St. Lucia even if for a moment and taking something I knew only in a traditional sense and putting it in an unexpected setting.
Credit to André Anjos for the awesome photos! See the rest here.