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Sunday April 28th, 2024 at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS
Cheekface, & Yungatita

A Sunday night all-ages gig, with no locals on the bill, in a college town with finals looming meant the Bottleneck was either going to be empty or packed and I had no idea which. I arrived early just in case, found a seat, and then opened a not-nearly-as-smutty-as-the-cover-promised paperback from 1952 and waited to find out. But before the headliner could pack 'em in (or not), there would be Yungatita.

Yungatita is the musical project of LA interdisciplinary artist Valentina Zapata. Actually, Zapata is Yungatita. Or maybe Zapata becomes Yungatita when they walk on stage. I'm not sure about that either. In the studio (or the bedroom) the project is loaded with synth touches and sequenced beats. Smart minds haven't figured out how to categorize the band high energy pop rock. Maybe we just call it alternative and move on. Live the band has more guts. More rock. You get to name that one. Zapata sings. They're spunky. They provide sharp screams that become shrill. They jump from side to side whenever the microphone doesn't require their attention. They also play guitar and keyboards. Sometimes in the same song. But Zapata doesn't have to do it all, they have help from Gil Simo (guitar/keyboards), Ernie Gutierrez (lead guitar), David Lopez (bass), and Taylor Hecocks (drums). Like Zapata, Simo and Lopez were active on stage, providing the sort of energy a young DIY band has when they're on tour. Willing it to happen. Gutierrez was more focused. Pedals sometimes turned his guitar into a keyboard. Sometimes it was his lead that provided the hook. Even after a long 38-minute opening set I never figured the band out. So many sounds, so many styles, so much to embrace and digest. That's the way it is with new music, isn't it?

Between acts I returned to my book. It still lacked debauchery, and I knew I shouldn't expect any from the headliner. Cheekface write lyrics that are witty and dry and anxious, they dive deep into social awkwardness, society's collapse, pop culture, and noodles, but, as far as I know, they avoid lascivious post-war pulp. In fact, I don't believe anything heaves in Cheekface songs, though I could be wrong because there are a lot of lyrics in Cheekface songs. It's practically prose. Spoken and delivered by frontman Greg Katz without reverb or effects. They're observational Ted Talks, looking both inward and outward, all set to a funky rhythm. As all Ted Talks should be.

The band's set began mimicking Stop Making Sense. Slowly members took the stage, adding their parts to opener "Next to Me (Yo Guy Version)" allowing it to grow to maturity. At the center of the stage is Katz. He's an amiable frontman. He's nerdy and approachable. Sincere. Probably trustworthy. He may be a Labrador. So when he and bassist Amanda Tannen asked the audience to line dance, it oblidged. And no one in the packed Bottleneck stopped dancing for the entire 75-minute set. Those funky rhythms from Tanner and drummer Mark Edwards made sure of it. As did the cowbell of multi-instrumentalist A.J. "Alex" Johnson. You've never heard more cowbell in a set. Never. His keyboard only provided accents, as did the guitar of Katz. Sure, he stepped forward to play a solo in "Grad School" and in "Life in a Bag," but those moments were rare. Rare enough that he checked with the audience to see if guitar solos were legal in the state before siccing his fingers on his Telecaster. For "Don't Stop Believing" (no relation) that guitar alone supported Katz. This stripped version of the act recalled similarly literate and wordsome folky Jeffrey Lewis. During these moments, The Bottleneck audience proved it was a double threat by singing along to every one of the 21 songs in the band's setlist. Nothing new. No covers (unless you count the bits of Hall & Oates that find their way into "Largest Muscle.") But all four of the band's albums were represented and the audience had memorized them all. And they smiled. I can't recall ever seeing an audience enjoy a show so much. Just shameless, unadulterated, and conspicuous joy. While not salacious smut sold during the Korean War, Cheekface did prove that it had magnetism. Maybe I should read less and go to more Cheekface shows.