There is no better way to spend a summer evening than on the patio at Mockingbird Lounge. Show up on Wednesdays for Manor Records' Songbird Sessions and not only will you enjoy a view of the Kansas City skyline while you sip your libations and dive into a bowl of guacamole, but you'll also catch performances by local KC artists curated by the label and 90.9 The Bridge. That is unless it's raining. And then, well, we'll all have to move inside and try again.
At 8 o'clock organizer Shawn Crowley was setting up the PA system on the lounge's patio. He was emboldened by the rose-colored weather app on his phone. The sky told another story. Deep down, he knew, and was hedging his bets already. He admitted to the bartender that he wasn't going to set up the lights, "just in case." By the time performer Daniel Gum clambered onto the stool with his acoustic guitar, it was misting. "Maybe it's just that humid?" Crowley offered hopefully. He was really reaching, but we were all game to roll the dice, so after the neighbors' firecrackers went silent, the show began.
Gum's 2020 album, Thirteen, was one of my favorite albums of the year, but like all other artists during the pandemic, he had little opportunity to promote it and I had less opportunity to see him perform the songs live. I was thrilled to see him featured on the Songbird Sessions and further delighted when he announced his first set would be songs from that album. Gum's music is delicate. Comparisons to Nick Drake or Elliott Smith are easy and fair. His lyrics are intimate. There is life in each of the people Gum sings about. Names may change to throw the guilty off the scent, but each person and their story is honest. Song titles tell that intimacy — "Andrew," "Mary," "Sarah," & "Alice" were all played in this first set. Gum is a somewhat awkward performer in a most adorable way. He braced himself for "35 Years" — a song about his father (and himself) — promising the audience it wouldn't be an "all-dad set." The audience laughed imagining a set of their own conflicted dad songs. Keenly aware of the awkward silences between songs, Gum tried his hand at banter researched online. "Where is everyone from? San Jose? More like no way San Jose! I immediately regretted saying that." The first set ended as the rain settled in.
Gum, the PA, my soggy tortilla chips, and the audience moved inside for a second set comprised of unreleased material — a sort of test run before Gum heads into the studio this month to begin recording for his next release. While he says the resulting album likely won't be released until next summer, his new policy is to under promise and over deliver. So there's hope. The new material was as one might expect. More false starts. More do-overs. Gum confessed that he was comforted that the audience wouldn't be able to spot his mistakes, but then realized that shouting an expletive and starting a song over was likely a tell. Despite the rawness, the songs were wonderful. "Robert and I" (recently featured in an online Coop Session at "The Haunted Pool") was a strummed companion to the tracks on Thirteen. The same insightful character studies were applied to "Brother Shawn" and closer "Detroit." Another song was described as sounding like "Jack Johnson, but in a good way." I don't know how to process that. The set also included several covers including a nice take of The Beatles' "Julia." In a conversation with an audience member, Gum admitted that it wasn't quite the deep cut he thought it was, because "there are no deep cuts on the White Album."
At 10pm (which is a very nice time for a show to end) Gum set down his guitar, apologized that he forgot to bring the merch, and thanked the audience, the venue, and organizers. Hopefully Gum will continue to perform while he works in the studio. I'd like to see him again, as I can't imagine a better way to spend a summer (or fall or winter or spring) evening.