Most independent bands only brush through the Midwest on tour, usually stopping in Chicago before moving onto bigger cities, so I couldn’t believe when Run River North decided to stop in St. Louis.
Run River North came to my neck of the woods last August as part of their headline tour around sixteen U.S. cities. In between New York City and Madison, Wisconsin, came their show in the ‘Lou. They played at a venue called Off Broadway; one of many, many concert dives in the city. Off Broadway features a full bar (where I ran into singer Alex Hwang before the show and took a selfie), a tiny stage about a foot and a half off the floor, and a small balcony for people to sit with their drinks while escaping the raging mosh pit of thirty rocking out on the floor. These tiny rock clubs make St. Louis one of the best cities for local concerts because people can stand two feet away from the band. And standing two feet away from Run River North was awesome.
The six band members — Alex Hwang, Joe Chun, Daniel Chae, Sally Kang, Jennifer Rim, and John Chong — came out on stage and immediately launched into “Monsters Calling Home,” kicking off an amazing show. They had solid vocals and harmonized with each other and the instruments to sound just as great live as on their album; a rare feat in today’s auto-tuned world. They jumped around the stage, talked to the audience, shared the stories that inspired songs, and looked like they genuinely had a good time. Some of them weren’t wearing shoes, which entertained me, though at Off Broadway they probably should have kept them on. Run River North played their entire album, a cover, and an exclusive song off the vinyl edition, full of energy despite their jet lag after flying into STL earlier that morning after playing a concert in LA.
Run River North joined Kollaboration Star 2014 at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre on November 15. Not only does Run River North consider LA home, but they also know their way around a Kollaboration show. They performed at Kollaboration LA in 2011 under their previous name, Monsters Calling Home. The band met in their church after Hwang wrote the song “Monsters Calling Home” and passed it around to the others members to perform with him. Once Kollaboration LA came up, they auditioned and became the city finalists for Kollaboration Los Angeles 2011.
Though the band did not win that year, they didn’t let the loss get to them, and Monsters Calling Home continued on. In 2012 they caught Honda’s attention for a “Fight to Keep” music video shot entirely in the band’s Hondas, and gained over 200,000 views. The car company called the band in September 2012 to perform for Honda executives, but on arrival at the venue, the band was told the concert was cancelled.
Instead, the band was booked to play on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Cameras captured the band’s surprised and touching reaction, and on Oct. 26, 2012, Monsters Calling Home made their television debut. Unfortunately, after “Jimmy Kimmel,” the major record labels previously interested in the band decided to move on. Not letting another letdown defeat the group, they decided to focus on songwriting and building a local fan base in between part-time jobs and continuing school. They sold out the famous LA concert club the Troubadour by the time CEO Terry McBride of the Canadian label Nettwerk, who also signed the band fun., called and offered to sign Monsters Calling Home.
Just before releasing their debut album, Monsters Calling Home announced a name change partly in response to indie band Of Monsters and Men’s recent success with “Little Talks.” Then on February 25, 2014, Run River North debuted their first album of the same name, “Run River North.”
“[The new name] describes the different ranges of our music,” Kang, the keyboardist, explained in a June 2014 interview with Audrey Magazine. “From being laid-back and letting our harmonies shine through, like in ‘Growing Up,’ which represents the steady flow of a river, to being as crazy and loud and thrashing as some of our other tracks that are a little more rock-ish, which portrays a rushing river.”
Wishing the best to an incredible band, and thanking them for visiting many smaller and often overlooked cities including my hometown St. Louis, where I was able to catch one of my favorite live performances ever.
Photos courtesy of Run River North and John Xiaomeng Zhang.