Returning home to play your home town is one of the greatest honors for musicians who take off for the big city. That is exactly what Lola Toben of Lola & The Kickbacks got to do this last weekend. Delmar Hall was filled with faces old and new for the singer, who played the same venue the previous year. This time it was to debut her new EP which was available for the first time that night at the merch booth. To help celebrate she brought along Brian Owens and the Deacons of Soul, as well as Malena Smith.
Malena opened up the night with a short set of original songs and covers. The local songstress classifies her sound as inspired by other Jazz vocalists like Norah Jones and Billie Holiday. At first impression Malena is quiet and modest. It was hard to believe that someone so small had a voice as big as she did. Her performance was intimate and felt like coffee house performance, with her seated on a stool at the front of the stage. Brian Owens, a mentor to the young songwriter, described Malena as having a unique presence that will continue to grow and develop into something really special. Along with her were two band members on keys and guitar. The highlight of her performance was a cover of Bill Wither’s Ain’t No Sunshine, which she made completely her own. Over the course of the set you can see her grow in confidence, with her radiant smile warming the performance throughout. You can check out her music here.
By the time Brian Owens took the stage the crowd was vibrating with energy. With his full band on stage setting the energy, a duo of backup vocalists welcomes you to the Soul of Ferguson. Recently as the three year anniversary of the shooting of Mike Brown passed, a lot of local attention has been put back onto the community of Ferguson. Owens is a longtime resident of Ferguson, and channeled a lot of his experiences with the city into recent album the Soul of Ferguson. The album is not about the recent tragedy, but is full of stories of life and love among the people he holds dearest. “It is the longest I have taken on a record to date, from start to finish within almost 2 years of time. It was a joy to be able to wrestle with my own creativity,” says Owens about the creation of the album.
As a performer Brian is completely compelling, giving the same full force soul and energy to each and every song. Music flows through him like it is his purpose, which is best demonstrated by his effortless yet wide vocal range. His positive energy radiates to the crowd, bringing a sense of unity and a whole lot of fun to the room. While there were a range of extremely talented musicians on stage, it was a special treat to see him perform with Adam Maness. The pianist usually stays pretty true to his roots in Jazz, which we recently experienced during his Summer residence at Thurman’s in Shaw. His performance on Saturday was funky and loose, feeding off the high energy of the rest of the group.
Brian Owen’s and the Deacons of Soul bring back those old school feelings that are hard to find these days in the local music scene. It is no surprise that Brian captures that feel, with a great influence from his father Thomas Owens, who is known to perform alongside his son from time to time. Brian ended his performance with a crowd participation performance of This Little Light of Mine, leaving the crowd singing “Let it Shine, Let it Shine…” long after his exit. A night with Brian Owen’s is the perfect date night for any couple looking to get down, or simply for anyone who loves some classically good music. You can catch them this weekend at the Saint Louis Worlds Faire Heritage Festival in Forest Park. They take to the main stage at 3:30 PM this Sunday, August 20th.
As it was time for the main event, two large disco balls were raised above the stage, adding a glittering display of lights along the walls of Delmar Hall. Similar to Brian Owens, Lola took the stage with a full band, referred to as the Kickbacks. Taking the stage with Lola was her younger brother as well as her husband Bryan, who announced her entry onstage. Lola walked out wearing a pink sequined butterfly top that glittered among the disco balls. The singer is the definition of small but mighty, with a powerhouse voice and some full glitter pumps, she breaks the expectations of her size. Lola as a performer has the energy and spunk of pop stars like Meghan Trainor, and the soul of Motown divas like Diana Ross.
While Lola has been out in Los Angeles performing and working behind the scenes in the industry, she truly has her roots in Saint Louis. Not only did she graduate from Webster University but she also has experience working with Nelly’s Extreme Institute here in town. She definitely evokes the glamour of LA, but you can tell her music still brings back feelings of home. The evening’s music included the songs from her new EP, but also a full force cover of Rolling on the River that got the crowd moving. Our personal favorite was her latest single Tired of Waiting, which blends lyrical and smooth verses with a powerful and soulful chorus. Her songs have a sense of familiarity while also managing to sound new and unexpected.
To wrap up the celebration the crowd was treated to a trio performance from Owens, Malena and Lola of the Bill Withers classic Lean on Me. It was the perfect way to wrap up an amazing night of music, with an unmeasurable amount of talent on stage for one song. We were left feeling a strong sense of hopefulness and togetherness, and good feelings about what St. Louis has to offer. If you missed out on this amazing double bill performance you can check out Lola’s music on Spotify.
More photos from the show: