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Sunday March 13th, 2022 at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS
Dearly Somber, Waveform, & Flooding

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Only time for a quick recap here. Let's see what I can get down before I forget it all. It'll be important to remember the time I went to a respectable show.

At 8:00 The Bottleneck looked a little sleepy. I'm not sure there were twenty people in the whole club. I grabbed a cup of water, placed my camera bag on the stage, and took a seat on the bleachers. More clubs should have bleachers, by the way. Brilliant. I wasn't sure what order the bands would play that night, or when music would kick off. Answers (or partial answers anyway) came quickly as the three members of Lawrence's Flooding walked up the stairs to the large stage. Without a word, the band began its set. It was loud. So very loud. Rose Brown's guitar created deafening washes of sculpted sound, Cole Billings's bass sent sonic waves through the room, and behind them both, drummer Zach Cunningham held the map ensuring that no one got lost. Together the trio walked valleys of gently-picked, dreamy shoegaze, climbed mountains of explosive noise, and tiptoed gracefully at a cliff's edge of catharsis. Brown's vocals were largely buried during this trip and her lyrics unintelligible – she likes it that way. Only when she screams does her voice truly cut through the din. Is that in one song? Maybe two? And then there's the one where Billings screams. You can hear him then. But the band is not interested in playing with microphones. They were three or four songs into their 35-minute set before any of them addressed the audience at all. Or tried to, anyway. Billings' attempted banter was thoroughly drowned by Brown's guitar. She gave it a second shot herself just before the finale "Gomez." That's the one I told you about where Billings screams. It's marvelous.

Connecticut's Waveform (stylized as waveform*) were up next. The band is the product of Jarrett Denner and Don Poppa – both of which play guitar, sing, and write. A sort of two bands-in-one situation. They're young, but they've been doing this for a long time. Joining the duo on tour is bassist Sarah Widmann and drummer Avery Kaplan. Together they navigate the band's shifting sounds. One version of Waveform (Poppa's) is loud and full. There's a definitely '90s slacker indie rock feel. Pitch is unimportant, vibe is everything. Denner's version of the band is more subdued. It's shoegaze bordering on slowcore (if that’s a subgenre that still means anything), but there are moments of explosion even in these songs. Also, I recall hints of alt country slipped into the set somewhere, although I don't remember exactly where. Maybe I'm just thinking of opener "Favorite Song" with its gloriously slow pacing and "Fade into You"-styled slide guitar.

Waveform's live show was restrained. Even during the biggest climaxes there was little movement – and even then, that came from Widmann. But this wasn't the sort of show that includes a "show." Continuing the precedence set forth by the openers, neither of our vocalists were terribly chatty – in fact, I only recall Poppa speaking once when he noted the previous song was new. The 25 members of the audience also maintained the semi-circle formation created during the opening set, with just a few more dancers and few more head bobbers this time around.

Headlining the night was Dearly Somber from Chicago. For continuity's sake the band is also the product of a songwriter (vocalist/guitarist Sebastian Sabatin) augmented by a cast of touring musicians. For this go around it was Nick Gonzalez on bass, Matt Weyandt on keyboards and guitar, and Mike Higgins on drums. All able musicians I'm sure, but none were asked to shine, or even provide backing vocals in their roles as hired hands. Of course there's no doubt that Higgins's drumming was a welcome upgrade to the tinny computer drums that dominate Dearly Somber's recordings. So, let's dig into the songs, not the performers. Sabatin's compositions are bedroom affairs with plenty of picked arpeggios and hushed, nearly whispered lyrics. His songs are gentle, but most have big crescendos as well – the three acts were certainly coordinated in that respect. One such moment of intensity prompted three members of the audience to bump into each other creating the happiest giggling mosh pit ever. Sabatin did break the established pattern by telling riddles (yes riddles) during the exhaustive tuning breaks that bookended each of the eight songs in the band's 30-minute set. That got me thinking.

Riddles made sense here – this was a wholesome all-ages show with plenty of shy musicians and polite audience members. There was nothing menacing or violent or offensive or chaotic about this show. There were no drunken shenanigans. No danger of taking a stray elbow in the giggle pit. Still, Sabatin did manage to frighten me: before playing a note, he solicited the audience for Chapstick, and to my shock, a tube was handed up to him. Without concern he swiped his lips with it and then handed it back to the obliging audience member. That makes him the COVID-equivalent of G.G. Allin.

The show ended at a 10:30; there were no shouts for an encore, the house lights came up quickly, and the small audience dutifully lined up at the merch tables. I said my goodbyes to the bands and walked back to my car without smelling like cigarette smoke, without wet spots created by spilled beer, and at a respectable hour. Could this be the new me?