When I learned that A Sunny Day in Glasgow was playing in Lawrence, I added the show to my calendar. I'm not sure why. This is a band whose name I had heard so many times (probably due to the efforts of its publicity company) that I just assumed that the show was a "must see." I'm susceptible like that I guess. On the drive out to Lawrence I confessed to Kate that I wasn't sure if I liked the band or not. Then I got to thinking, had I even heard the band?
A few weeks ago the person answering the phone at the Replay told me the first band would go on at 10pm. I foolishly believed him. When Kate and I walked through the front door just before 10:00, the bar was nearly as empty as the stage. Rather than slowly sip begrudged waters in the dark bar, or pour quarters into pinball machines that have never interested me, we opted to leave the club and return a bit closer to show time. When we returned at 11:00, the room was much livelier.
Opening the evening was Burger Kingdom, a local duo that drenched the small room in waves of rich shoegazing goodness. The band's enveloping music is built on a layer of processed guitar from Erik Moore, punctuated by the raw and aggressive drumming of Stephen Howard. While Howard's wild stick swinging may have no snap, he makes up for it in energy. Besides, being tight isn't what this band is about. Unfortunately, there was more – Moore sings. Or more accurately, he caterwauls in a high, embarrassing falsetto.
Although Moore announced "This is our last song" before beginning every number in the band's half hour set, he made sure to punctuate the actual conclusion by throwing his guitar into the drumkit. This sent the kit, and Howard with it, tumbling to the stage floor. Perhaps a grander finale than warranted?
As the Burger Kingdom jetsam was being removed from the stage, the six members of Philly's A Sunny Day in Glasgow began the process in reverse. In years past, a six-piece would have hardly fit in the tiny Replay – thank goodness for the last remodel and the corner stage it created. Even still, band leader and guitarist Ben Daniels was partially hidden in a corner behind a column. Drummer Adam Herndon and bassist Ryan Nemyer didn't fair much better, as both were obscured behind a wall of Annie Fredickson (vocals/keyboards), Jen Goma (vocals), and Josh Meakim (guitar/vocals). As always, stage monitors are a cumbersome luxury unavailable at the Replay, and this privation always has consequences – particularly for bands with multiple vocalists.
As this is a six-piece band lumped into the shoegaze genre, it wouldn't take much of a logical leap to expect an overpowering wall of sound to come from the stage. However, A Sunny Day in Glasgow prefer to be on the delicate side of the shoegaze genre known as dream pop. The band's songs are structured, short, up-tempo numbers highlighted by chiming guitars and the vocal interplay of Fredrickson and Goma. Fredrickson's keyboards and Daniels sequencer play minor accent roles in most songs, though Herndon's drums always seem to carry the material no matter how ethereal the voices and guitars become. As the evening progressed, the band presented one glistening pop song after another. It slowly became obvious that I had never heard this band before.
Daniel wrote and meticulously recorded the band's debut album in his bedroom, so it's not surprising that the songs are the band's focal point, nor is it surprising that the stage show is its weakness. After all, this touring version of the band is merely an ad hoc assemblage of players with only Daniels and Meakim its only permanent members. This fact led to a series of minor issues: The first, Fredrickson occasionally had trouble finding her vocal line in the live club setting. The second, no member was willing to step up and assume the frontperson duties. Third, there was little interaction between the players on stage. And finally, with the exception of the adorable manic dancing of Fredrickson, there just wasn't much of visual interest happening on the stage. Even though these are serious issues, I couldn't have been happier when the band crammed one fantastic pop song after another into its too-short 30-minute set.
The band abruptly ended its set without an encore or hurled instruments. Although I should have stopped by the band's merchandise table, I instead just packed up my cameras and quickly headed for the door, already mentally preparing myself for the late-night drive back to Kansas City. Kate’s and my effusive conversation on the way home was quite different than the cautious, hedging one we had a few hours early. We agreed that on our next drive to see the band, I will confidently tell Kate that A Sunny Day in Glasgow is great, and she will enthusiastically concur.