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Encore: The Finns will reunite, again

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: When The Finns recently opened for Pale Divine at a high-profile show at The Pageant, it wasn’t as if the group was some last-second add-on. Instead, the band re-formed after a direct request from the headliners, bringing together two of the acts that helped define the original music scene of St. Louis in the late ‘80s and early/mid ‘90s. Both groups were headlining then, frequently holding down slots at the popular music clubs of the Laclede’s Landing, where each built a good following.

While Pale Divine coalesced as high school students at the City’s Visual and Performing Arts High School, The Finns barnstormed into St. Louis from Jefferson County, where they, too, were young friends wanting to turn their love of power-pop into a real career. Their enduring friendships wound up key to making a reformation possible.

Finns Drummer Steven Lord’s upfront in saying that, “I really wasn't too keen on the idea of a reunion show, initially. It had nothing to do with my relationships with my former band mates; all of us have remained friends. I just never liked the idea of reunion shows in general. However, after some coaxing from my wife, Aurora, I warmed up to the idea and realized it might turn out to be a good time. The Finns got together at Joe (Thebeau’s) place one evening and, right out of the box, we played quite nicely.”

He adds that there was a certain pressure in the experience. But it dissipated quickly.

“I think after that first song, everyone breathed a sigh of relief, since the show had been booked before we had even played a note,” he says. “Those few rehearsals turned out to be a great time and the show was fantastic. We played well and got to hang with a lot of people from the ‘old crowd’ that we hadn't seen in years. Again, a fantastic time!”

Thebeau agrees with Lord’s assessments, reminding himself that before the group began rehearsing in the basement studio of his Affton home, he was among those worried about a reformation.

“I would say that it took a little talking,” he said. “We’d discussed doing this before, but, for some reason, I didn’t want to do it for a long time. So Jon (Ackley) and Steve, especially, were surprised that I wanted to.”

Well, they did it.

And now they’re going to do it again, this time on Nov. 30, with another bright light among their contemporaries, The Treeweasels. The show will take place at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room, which old heads will remember as the site of Cicero’s Basement Bar. There, both groups were well-known entities, who’ve become longtime friends and collaborators.

We’ll talk about that gig in U. City in a moment. But first, we’ll bounced back to Jeff Co in the ‘80s.

Same faces, different combinations

Joe Thebeau and Bill Drennan, both guitar players and songwriters, wound up in cover bands together, around the time they finished high school. Together with drummer Lord and bassist Jonny (Bitch) Ackley, the group became known as the Finns Brothers. The band was serious in establishing a following in St. Louis, doing all the right things along the way. They released cassettes, sent out demo tapes, played the “right” opening slots, secured booking and management support and basically did all they could to become a full-time band.

When the time seemed right to take things to another level, Drennan decided that the road wasn’t for him, ceding his role in the group to another young guitarist from their area, DeSoto’s Matt Meyer. The re-energized group continued recording and rebranded themselves The Finns. In time, Lord left the group and drummer and songwriter A. Michael Collins succeeded him. And somewhere in all that, the band even morphed away from its power pop roots, with a short-live, one-album run as Psychviolet.

Thebeau laughs openly when we begin the discussing the who-what-where components of all this, saying “I’m terrible with chronological order. The person who’s the best journalist in the band is Matt. He can tell you things to the exact day. Once, we were having a conversation about dates and he actually produced a couple of journal pages he’d kept. Holy cow!”

Like a number of bands from a past era, the group has started to fill in the digital world with some of their original catalog. Several of their recordings are available on a bandcamp page that looks back at their different lineups.

Thebeau even suggest that the tapes were helpful during the group’s recent return, which featured a lineup that’d never played together before, as he was joined on guitar by both Drennan and Meyer, along with a rhythm section of Lord and Ackley.

“I can tell you this: as soon as everyone was in the same room together, we were fine,” he says. “These are guys that are musicians, who all kept up their chops. Bill teaches at Visual and Performing Arts. Steve teaches lessons out of his house. Jon plays a lot of gigs; not all on bass, but it wasn’t a stretch for him to get it all back on bass. Matt teaches and records and does all the stuff he does. It was just a matter of remembering how the songs go. ‘I think the intro’s longer.’ ‘Well, let’s put on the CD.’ There’ no argument when all the stuff’s recorded. If anything, we changed some things where the recording was wrong and now we were able to do it the right way.

“It was completely gratifying, there’s no other word for it. It was very fun to see people you hadn’t seen in 10-plus years. And it was interesting to remember songs that are older than my kids. It’s one thing for us to remember them, but the audience remembered, too.”

Asked if there were moments when he looked out into the crowd, specifically ID-ing an old friend or co-worker, Thebeau tells a funny story, relating the modern way of doing things to the past.

“Oh, yeah,” he says. “It happened a bunch of times. For almost every person out there, I could put together how I remembered them. Like, ‘From Kennedy’s in 1990.’ It was a weird kind of flashback, but, at the same time, it’s exactly what I would’ve expected.

“I don’t want to sound sarcastic, but it’s funny because I knew exactly who would be there. I could’ve made out the list of names. Hey, man, The Finns had a mailing list when we were at our busiest. This is pre-internet and we’d print up labels on a dot matrix printer. Once a month, we’d put out a flyer of a couple paragraphs, telling people about all the shows we were playing. And, after a while, you’d know all the names. I even know where they used to live!”

A time for thanks

Thebeau says the group was at The Pageant, talking to co-owner and booking agent Pat Hagin, who handled the latter role at the old Mississippi Nights. He also books the Duck Room.

“We were standing around after Pale Divine played and got talking to Pat,” Thebeau says. “The idea of playing the Duck Room hadn’t occurred to me.”

In making the connection, the band members and the room were able to match schedules on one of biggest weekends for club going. The Saturday after Thanksgiving will allow some old friends to be in town, including, The Finns hope, Collins. If he’s able to make it, they hope he’ll be able to play at least part of the set with them. Also key for Thebeau is that the group plays with a reuniting Treeweasels.

The mainstays of that group, guitarist EJ Fitch and Scott Roever, have formed a new band, Soma Jet Set. They’ve also held intermittent, one-night comebacks with the ‘Weasels, a punk-country band that shared many stages with The Finns back in the day. Thebeau, though claiming to not be great with memories, recalls that the band’s once split a cassette release night at The Factory on the Landing, when The Finns were offering up their linchpin “Hello, Mr. Jenkins” and The Treeweasels debuted with “Head Cheese & Blood Sausage.”

For a band that once did this in essentially full-time mode, it’s interesting to think that The Finns can downshift so severely today, piecing together a high-quality show with limited interaction.

“We’re not doing anything specific, prep-wise,” Thebeau says. “It shouldn’t be that difficult. We had three rehearsals for the first one and the last one was just about repetition. I did have to print up some lyrics, remembering the words from some third verse. But as soon as we started playing, it worked.”

“Naturally, we asked ourselves if we wanted to do another show,” Lord writes. “And, naturally, the answer was ‘yes.’ And we’ll do it like we did before: by having a good time with friends.”

About this series

For the past two-decades-and-change, Thomas Crone has covered alternative music and culture in St. Louis for the St. Louis Beacon, Riverfront Times, Post-Dispatch and St. Louis magazine, along with a host of smaller, deceased titles like Jet Lag, 15 Minutes and his own zines Silver Tray and 52nd City. He's co-produced the music documentaries "Old Dog, New Trick" and "The Pride of St. Louis," along with several shorts. He's currently pre-producing the web series "Half Order Fried Rice," while teaching media writing at Webster University. And a lot of his memorabilia is available to the public at www.silvertrayonline.com/

The "Second Set" series highlights known and unknown stories of St. Louis musicians, deejays, promoters and gadflies. Each week's edition will showcase artists, albums and songs that collectively make up a fascinating Midwestern musical culture, one filled with both major successes and vexing could-have-beens. Combining personal recollections with interviews of the principals, these articles will put into context the people, recordings and venues that have informed St. Louis' recent rock'n'roll and pop music.

"Encores" follow in the spirit of the earlier series as Crone and The Beacon roll out an ebook that developed from Second Set. Read Second Set columns.