There is a particular music blogger in the area who obsesses with set times – more specifically about the times at which sets start. As an OCD concertgoer with a similar obsession (regular readers will note that most Too Much Rock show accounts highlight this bit of datum), this show was an exercise in frustration. In fact, for a period of time I wasn't sure if it was ever going to start. I've come to believe that Lawrence music venues are unaware of the hours between 5am and Noon, as its entire clientele has the leisure of sleeping during those hours. Sadly, I live in the real world of Kansas City, where those hours are reserved for what I like to call "Getting Shit Done."™ We have a compatibility issue.
Kate and I entered the Jackpot at 9:45 to find the opening band's gear already assembled on the stage. A cursory Google of the band's name returned no information, but from the equipment on stage, it appeared that The Sluts would be a guitar and drum duo. This deduction wouldn't be confirmed until 10:30 when guitarist/vocalist Ryan Wise climbed onto the stage followed by drummer Kris Dover. After a ten-minute why-wasn't-this-done-sooner soundcheck, friends and family packed the area in front of the stage for the twosome.
This was The Sluts inaugural performance, a 35-minute crash of grungy '90s alternative rock struck headlong by raw, bluesy garage rock. As I generally abhor the former, and can merely tolerate the latter, it was quickly obvious to me that this band wasn't going to be my new local favourite. Thankfully Wise does excellent things with his voice. His strained scream is pleasantly familiar, without being immediately comparable to any particular performer. His guitar work is built on big bluesy guitar riffs with no intricacy and nothing you could really call a solo. The drumming was steady and disappointingly simple. In the rare moment when Wise backed off to give an opening to Dover, the drummer never seized the opportunity for a fill or a bit of flash.
The friendly crowd, however, was definitely not bothered by this fact; friends pumped their fists, and family members enjoyed cheering for "More Sluts!" But why? Wise didn't address – or even acknowledge – the audience once. Furthermore, I found it distracting to hear dirty Cramps-esque rock and the band's cover of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" coming from a bearded indie rock kid in crisp jeans. There is just no credibility there. But compositions that I found to be clumsy and oafish, others must have found big and dangerous. I'll be curious to watch audiences choose sides as the band begins to perform regularly.
If I had trouble finding information about "The Sluts," finding information about a band named "Bo Jackson" proved twice as difficult. Aside from knowing the band contained several members of The Appleseed Cast (bassist Nate Whitman and guitarist Aaron Pillar), I came into the show with no preconceptions.
Bo Jackson, it turns out, is a local instrumental five piece built on two guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards. The band's sound is, to be delicate, chaotic. In fact, the heavily processed guitar work of Aaron Pillar sounded as if it were playing an entirely different song from this rest of the band throughout the first several compositions. Although the third song (despite the presence of a setlist, my numbering and nomenclature is entirely arbitrary as there were few breaks between pieces, no interaction with the audience, and little indication of song) found a bit of groove, most of the set was a hodgepodge of free jazz, dense post rock, inaudible samples, and static feedback. The braver members of the audience gave themselves over to the band's entropy, but most moved to the back of the club, while The Slut's family members simply left. At 12:10, and after 25 minutes, the band also called it quits, whereupon its members thanked the audience and quickly cleared the stage.
Based on the published set times, I figured that the show was running behind schedule, but in truth, everything was timing perfectly to The Jackpot's secret plan. After Bo Jackson, the headliner's fans rushed to the edge of the stage. Soon, they moved from leaning on the speakers, to sitting on them, to checking their phones, and eventually they drifted away as stage sat silent. It wasn't until exactly 12:30 (as if scheduled that way) that the Australian headliners joined their instruments on stage.
An Horse is an indie rock, emo-leaning, power pop-influenced, female-fronted duo led by vocalist/guitarist Kate Cooper and completed by the drumming and backing vocals of Damon Cox. In May the band played the cavernous Beaumont Club in Kansas City, at which time I asserted that of the band's dynamic sound would be better served by playing another venue. This is that other venue. Not only did the band's rich sound fill the club, the duo (particularly Cooper) were able to make personal connections with fans and tour-won local friends (particularly those from The Appleseed Cast). In fact, there were several quick but humorous one-on-one conversations that happened throughout the evening. This interaction proved easy as the audience had dwindled to only twenty patrons within sight. But twenty sang along to every song, cheered vociferously, and provided enough energy to the band to keep the show electric.
Of course the whole 55-minute set wasn't spent joking with the audience, the duo also managed about a dozen songs that pulsed and pushed forward quicker and bolder than their recorded counterparts. The loss of snapping pop and vocal sheen was a fair trade for a buzzing guitar that enveloped the room, and drums that punched you in the face. Even when Cooper played a 3/4 scale acoustic guitar, the sound still provided a emphatic jolt. Sadly, from my vantage point just off stage, Copper's vocals were often lost in a mix that came more from the monitors than the house sound system. Sadly I got the version lacking the PA's boost, where Cooper sounded as small as she actually is – particularly during a cover of The Jealous Sound's "Abandon! Abandon!" that lacked the gusto of the original. Maybe I should have rethought my vantage point.
As soon as the band finished its set, Cooper was mobbed by fans (particularly the adoring gals in the audience). It took her several minutes to make it to merch area in the front of the room. I pondered the cutesy "KC/DC" t-shirt for a moment, but a long line and a early alarm clock dissuaded me. Instead, I pushed the door open into a cloud of hipsters smoking, and eventually into cleaner cool night air. It's 1:30am, there's an hour drive back to Kansas City, and my alarm is set for 6am. The bright side? At least we weren't at The Replay, their show was still going strong as I pointed my car east and headed us for home.