It is at times a bit disheartening to walk into a venue and be one of a meager number of people in the building that is neither performing nor part of the staff. It’s hard not to internally bemoan the state of local music when even on a night of mild weather, no stragglers wander in out of sheer curiosity. Of course, energy can be better spent on things that don’t involve griping about the attendance to a weeknight show, but it is still interesting to wonder how things would transpire had the room been filled to capacity.
Lawrence trio Muscle Worship opened to an almost empty house with the same veracity I witnessed when the band’s volume quite literally made things fall off the walls at a now defunct record and second-hand clothing store. For thirty minutes, the trio of Sean Bergman, Billy Ning and Nathan Wilder basted the room with meticulously arranged, obliquely analytical rock music. Though perhaps not quite as experimental as the acts to follow, the band was no less complex in their delivery, albeit Bergman’s shouted vocals were stifled as a result of their insistence of playing as loud as they possibly could. The bulk of the set consisted of songs from the first EP (“Gone Before Dagon,” “Jesus vs the Lord”) and other releases already available, but two new songs made an appearance from the trio’s upcoming full-length debut, and were nothing if not complementary to the sound upon which the band has built.
Kansas City native Justin Wright began performing under the moniker Expo ’70 as an experimental outlet while living in California, and brought his project with him upon returning to the area. Wright’s output of droning and atmospheric soundscapes is staggering, especially as someone whose band is almost always nothing more than a floor full of effects pedals, an amp and a guitar. Recently, Wright has been playing with Aaron Osbourne (Monta at Odds) and Mike Vera, a move that only works to amplify the celestial Kraut-inspired work Expo is often known for and delves that much deeper into avant-garde compositions, replete with a looming disquietude and seemingly erratic plucking of strings. Don’t get used to the lineup just yet, though. Once the trio is finished playing a few upcoming regional shows and festivals, Wright will be back out on his own.
The last act of the night further continued the rule of three, but with the addition of the Pontiak trio being of blood relation. Lain, Van and Jennings Carney are not only brothers of the beard, but also by birth. The band call Virginia home, and on their multiple albums and EPs over the last seven years have touched on influences as arcane as Olympia drone purveyors Earth, to as obvious as psych, prog and stoner rock trailblazers like Tony Iommi. The trio played the majority of their newest release, Echo Ono (including the quite raging album opener “Lions of Least”), and so the 50-minute set was very much grounded in an ethos of organic, American psych-rock with rare instances of pedal work and noodling during soaring acid rock interludes. Banter was neither present nor necessary, in its place even more ear-splitting noise reminiscent of the forefathers of heavy metal.
I hate to be that guy, but you missed out on one hell of a show, Kansas City.
Nerd talk: Although Muscle Worship has had a relatively short life thus far, only having been around since 2009, Sean Bergman and Billy Ning have been playing music together for over a decade. Before the release of their debut full-length in 2000, Bergman joined as second guitarist in Proudentall, in which Ning was playing bass. The band was fronted by Matt Dunehoo, who would go on to lend his voice and guitar to Doris Henson and Baby Teardrops. After Proudentall ran its course, Ning and Bergman formed Volara with Paul Ackerman (Giants Chair, The Farewell Bend) and Brandon Akin (Panel Donor). Muscle Worship drummer Nathan Wilder currently plays in both Ad Astra Arkestra and The Appleseed Cast.
Justin Wright has been evolving as a musician since he was in a high school band called Restrain, a band that was more or less straight edge hardcore, and was fronted by Sean Ingram before he later formed Coalesce. When Wright moved to Boston in the late ’90s, he threw in a few months of practice time with a group of guys led by Aaron Turner. Once he moved on, the group eventually became well-known metal band ISIS. After Boston, Wright moved to Los Angeles, where he joined Living Science Foundation, who had a release on the Kansas City label Second Nature Recordings. Wright now resides back in KC, where he runs the Sonic Meditations label and releases other mind-expanding sounds from local projects like Umberto, Sounding the Deep, and Breathing Flowers.
The third and final night of the second annual Middle Of The Map Festival was coming to a close. I had no choice but to make it the most ambitious day possible. I flew solo most of the day, which gave me ample time to venue-hop and catch both local favorites and make some very surprising new discoveries. Just a short twelve hours after Mission of Burma ended their closing set at RecordBar, I was right back at the strip mall venue, sliding into a booth to drink overpriced mimosas during The Record Machine’s daytime label showcase.
If necessary, Minden could have forced an early sunrise with radiant indie-pop that is simultaneously glamorous and affably disheveled. Singer Casey Burge sashayed around stage in metallic spandex, and when I spotted two girls in the audience dressed in kind, I expected some audience participation during the band’s opulence advocating “Gold Standard,” but no– they were but ordinary hipsters. I had a bit of a realization during Minden’s set. The band is well on their way to greatness, and even have a potential for “household name” status. It’s just such a damned shame that they hit their ceiling in KC, and feel they must move away to Portland to prosper as musicians.
Next up for the day show was Katlyn Conroy’s newest project La Guerre (though she was formerly billed under her own name). Conroy on her own has an undeniably saccharine voice, and when those pipes are laid over the blithely uncomplicated rhythm of her own keyboard and a backing band, creates a wholesome naïvety that holds the key to the fluttering, electronic-based twee in which she prevails. Conroy also performed at the festival with Cowboy Indian Bear, a great Lawrence-based group that is only further enhanced by her contributions.
Maybe I had a little mimosa buzz by the time Akkilles gathered their arsenal of members to begin playing folksy, acoustic guitar led arias, but I wasn’t much of an audience of David Bennett’s when they began. The multi-layered pop was admirable, but I chose to bid my adieu to the RecordBar and head over to the day show happening at Riot Room, where Cherokee Rock Rifle were tearing up the patio stage. Frontman Dutch Humphrey is obnoxious, offensive, and sings abhorrent lyrics while holding his rifle-turned-mic stand out to the crowd with little subtlety as to it being a phallic symbol. The crowd loved it, and so did I. Dutch Humphrey supplies an unquestionable arrogance that makes a frontman worth watching, and the southern-fried rock n’ roll delivered by the rest of the band with respectably day-drunk precision imprints the groove on your skull for hours afterward.
Fast forward a few hours, and the evening shows are kicking off in succession all across Westport. Maps For Travelers opened up the Riot Room (inside, this time) and the crowd was already teeming with people excited for the bands to come. Most importantly, the band performing that very moment should not be ignored. The four guys on stage played until the sweat rolling down in their eyes blinded them, and then played even more. The influences of the band are a bit curious, but their live show is executed with the ferocity of a young(er) Hot Water Music and gives plenty of nods to the various projects of Walter Schreifels and Jonah Matranga in the process.
I saw The Casket Lottery perform in the exact same venue, almost to the exact day one year prior for last year’s festival. But the last time I really watched the band was just a few months shy of ten years ago, when I was completely infatuated with them in my youth and they were still touring on their Survival is For Cowards album. The Casket Lottery was a trio of Nathan Ellis, Stacy Hilt, and Nathan “Junior” Richardson back then, but these days (as in, on their forthcoming album) they have expanded to a five-piece that includes Brent Windler (Sons of Great Dane, Anakin) on second guitar, and Nick Siegel on keyboard. “Nostalgia” was without a doubt the word on the lips of all those in attendance, as the group cranked through old and new material alike as if they never missed out on those six or so years of not being an active band, and only aroused the appetite for things on the horizon in a comeback done so, so right.
Although Reflector released a split 7-inch with The Casket Lottery in 1999, the record only served as a crossroads for the two, as TCL had a sole EP at that point, and Reflector was on the eve of issuing their last recordings as a band. Performing only their second reunion in the last decade, guitarist Jared Scholz was joined by Harry Anderson on bass and Jacob Cardwell on drums to rehash old songs that while musically on point in their arithmetic, lacked the familiar near-squawk of Scholz, replaced instead with a softer crooning while exhibiting songs from Where Has All the Melody Gone? As noted by Scholz early on in the set, the last time they shared a stage with both The Casket Lottery and following act The Appleseed Cast was 14 years ago, at a Halloween party.
At this point, Riot Room was quickly filling in with those awaiting venue headliners Coalesce and Fucked Up. I chose to forgo the lingering stench of beard sweat, and ran over to Firefly to catch Fourth of July play to a modestly sized audience. The brothers Hangauer (Brendan and Patrick) provided the guitar and bass, while the brothers Costello (Brendan and Brian) furnished an additional guitar and the drums necessary to fuel Brendan Hangauer’s creative outlet. The crowd was small, but the number of mouths in the audience that knew every word to every song (even those yet to be released) were far greater than any other band at the festival thus far. The quartet sounded impeccable, and their jaunty pop clattering off the lavish furniture of the speakeasy was not entirely disjointed from the scenery.
I dipped out of Firefly a bit early to catch my second wind with an espresso (after the day show, it was a wonder I was still standing), and passing the vast swaths of festival goers lined up outside the Beaumont and Riot Room only further affirmed my decision to head down into the chambered depths of the Union to catch the remainder of The Devil‘s set. The Lawrence quartet of Mike Teeter, Natale Collar, and Sara McManus is led by Taylor Triano, and pummeled out a filthy, stoner rock answer to the question “what would Janis Joplin sound like today?” — part performance art-punk, part unforgiving noise rock.
The Oklahoma by way of Lawrence band Mansion wreaked a towering ruination of doom metal upon the audience with a face-liquefying decibel surely outlawed across much of the country. Almost entirely instrumental, the songs were time-traversing expansions of momentum with a metronomic backbone rhythm the only thing keeping the audience from devolving into throat-tearing creatures straight from the pages of a Lovecraft novel. Whether they played one forty-minute song or ten four-minute incantations, I have no idea, but their opus could soundtrack the apocalypse.
While others were drinking the kool-aid of festival hype bands, Cleveland’s mr. Gnome were creating a fan for life in what amounted to little more than a dreary cavity carved into the basement of an old Midtown building. Through the entirety of the weekend, I watched bands that varied from pretty good to great, to even some old standby favorites, but this duo pushed sound from their speakers fit for an orchestra of musicians, and seemingly with little effort. Nicole Barille’s technique was a spastic array of hummingbird-paced guitar strumming culminating in a medley of genres and influences, and drummer/pianist Sam Meister’s work behind the kit was so robot-esque in its accuracy it’s a wonder he didn’t exhaust himself halfway through the set. I’m kicking myself not for watching them, but for even considering the possibility.
The second group of Oklahomans to climb behind the guard rails that create the makeshift stage at the Union, Broncho played a set covering most of their debut album Can’t Get Past the Lips. The band left the room a sweltering mess of sticky bodies after laying out a sound akin to The Stooges, The Exploding Hearts, and leagues of other punk bands with era-defining attitudes from the ’70s, ’80s and today. Frontman Ryan Lindsey can also be seen as part of Starlight Mints, and joined the defunct OK band Cheyenne after their album was released by The Record Machine, whose owner Nathan Reusch curated the entire festival.
Phantom Family Halo brought their traditional stoner psych in from Brooklyn, and played an ultimately forgettable set that was doomed from the start, crammed between two of the better bands of the night. The band took a backseat to most of the room’s conversations at the time, and with every other venue having already closed their night out by that time, it was inevitable that the crowds would gather and the overflow would begin to gradually fill the room. Which it did, for a short while.
Acid Mothers Temple began at 2:00 in the morning. Had they started at their planned start time of 1:30, they may have gotten an extended set, but due to city regulations, the sound was cut off after only 40 minutes, so that the place could be vacant by 3. In the short time the Japanese psych saints played, I stood on top of someone’s road case (sorry) that was tucked away in a cement support pillar’s corner, and closed my eyes for most of the set. Not because I was tired, but because the band’s free-form space prog was a sensorial trip for the mind and body, and removing one of the senses was the only way to heighten that of one that was more important at that time.
I spoke with the band’s road manager/translator after the place had been cleared out, and he confessed that although the prints available for the tour stated it was to be the last tour, the reality was it is only their last tour of 2012. Well played.
The final tally for the weekend concluded with 25 bands having been watched, seven venues attended, a boundless number of beers resting in my belly, and a revolting number of sleep hours lost. Don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what’s in store for year three.
This review was written for Lost in Reviews.
Lawrence multi-instrumentalist Jordan Geiger’s Hospital Ships project has been steadily growing in popularity over the last few months, thanks in part to their May 5th coverage as NPR’s Song of the Day, complete with a back-handed compliment to the Lawrence music scene in the lede. It was not the first time Geiger’s work had been heard by NPR listeners, however, as they featured the title track from 2008’s Oh, Ramona more than two years prior, and yet another song in its week of release. Geiger’s popularity in local music stems back to the Jagjaguwar-signed Minus Story and his turn in Larry natives (and label mates) The Appleseed Cast as well as Cast frontman Chris Crisci’s side project Old Canes. He also served as one-time trumpet player in the Austin-based Shearwater, who recruited Hospital Ships as an opener on their cross-country tour in spring 2010.
All of the hype not undue, Hospital Ships plan to release their new record, Lonely Twin, on June 7th, serving as the band’s sophomore effort for Graveface Records. Already getting comparisons to Jason Lytle, Ben Gibbard and Conor Oberst (the last two of which are often tossed around carelessly and attached to most any solo musician these days), Lonely Twin will serve as a jumping off point for Geiger and company to tour the country yet again. Geiger posted on the band’s Twitter account that they are booking the entire tour themselves, and are asking for any help possible (email: email@example.com), and in another update said if anyone wished to PayPal him $10 (same e-mail address), he would supply the sender with a download of the new album and donate the money to the ongoing Joplin relief effort.
The 12-track release is currently up for pre-order at Graveface and is available on vinyl, CD, and as a digital download. The vinyl features a bonus track, was pressed on two different color combinations (one only available to label club members), comes with an 11×17 poster and is limited to a first run of only 250 copies. Ordering a physical copy of the release on either format will get you an instant download, plus a bonus download of Lonely Twin Lo-Fi. Check out the pre-order and details here.
Kansas City musician Casey Burge has been more than a continual blip on my music radar since I was but a teenager. From his work in the late, lamented Lawrence indie rock band Kelpie, who boasted an arsenal of musicians from other area favorites like The Appleseed Cast, Buffalo Saints and Larryville expats Cavaliers, to his collaboration with Jim Button in the Button Band, Burge’s musical craft has matured in the public eye for nearly a decade. I had all but forgotten about the man when he re-emerged recently in Minden, a quartet being billed as some sort of indie rock supergroup, whether by the band’s consent or not. Having gotten a chance to see the band perform their style of multiple decade-spanning indie-pop live at Riot Room as part of the Middle of the Map Fest, I can attest to their larger than life sound and eagerly look forward to their output in the future. But I digress, this post is about the man, not the band.
Unbeknownst to myself, Burge was still recording pop gems in his bedroom throughout the late ‘oughts, and they were not made public until early this year when local cassette label Overland Shark released a limited run, 20-track tape of his work from late 2007-early 2008, titled Universal Fun. Though simply recorded through a computer microphone, the heart of every song is encased in soaring bittersweet pop melodies, most of which last under 90 seconds and either fade out without a real conclusion or end in an odd, almost saddening guitar strum, a scrapped demo track of a fully fleshed song that will probably never exist. And yet, as the bright yellow cover would subtly suggest, the sunny simplicities of those songs gave new and old listeners a view into what Burge was shifting toward, a sound that would soon break out into the aforementioned Minden, and yet another solo release.
Triumph was recorded between February and May of 2011, and shows a decidedly more coherent creation process in the instrumentation and recording, gaining that much more stability from the drum machine Burge employed for the release. Instead of an assorted spread of minimalistic acoustic pop, the nine track release is as robust as a lo-fi album can be, giving nods to the annals of pop anti-heroes from the last four plus decades. Two of the tracks from this release were re-recorded as Minden for their upcoming 7″ on The Record Machine, and plans are for a coinciding release week with the cassette I currently speak of. In the meantime, go check it out for yourself right here, and pre-order the cassette while you’re at it.