Wednesday November 1st, 2000 at the Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS
Elliot, The Jazz June, & A Storied Northwest
I like short shows. See I work full time and there is usually some 8am meeting I need to be at. That means I have to get on the 7:15 express bus, which puts my alarm clock at 6am. When a Lawrence show ends at 1:45 that puts me home to Kansas City around 2:30 and that leaves only three and a half hours of sleep. That's just not enough. The good news is all this work brings me money which is important for the next related thought.
When I was a kid if there weren't four bands playing a show, I felt cheated. That's normally because I had just driven three hours to see the show and spent $4 to get into the show. Way back then, $4 was nearly two hours of work after taxes. Shows had to be long then and if they lasted all night, that was great. I mean I didn't have anywhere I needed to be the next morning anyway.
So when flyers initially listed only Elliot and The Jazz June I was thrilled. It doesn't take much for me to get my $6 worth from a show... two bands will do it. I'd much rather have the needed sleep than a third band. However Ryan's Palm Pilot had listed a third, dashing my hopes of dozing. We figured it must be a third touring partner or some lucky accident for another touring act as we hadn't heard of the band before. We never even consider the fact that A Storied Northwest could be a local band. Of course they were.
A Storied Northwest are a new three piece that are trying to carve out their niche in the busy Kansas City indie rock landscape. This isn't exactly LA but competition is going to be tight and the band seems to have very little going for them at this point. Their long set and longer songs highlighted the same guitar rhythms, the same mid-tempo meter and few dynamics. Vocalist/guitarist Nick Cline seemed both unsure of his voice and his playing as he pulled tight to the same patterns in each. When his guitar parts did involve more divisive intricacies he watched his fingers closely and shook his head on missed notes. Bassist Jeff Stephens was a little more original and assured as he flailed away on a semi-hollowbody Charvel. Justin Tricomi's drumming was well, drumming. Although the band have less than a half dozen shows under their belt, they'll soon need to make the tough decisions about the band's direction. Let's hope they make the right ones.
I'm sure I can be forgiven for having not heard A Storied Northwest, but the fact that I had never heard The Jazz June is not so easily dismissed. All the better however because seeing and hearing a great band for the first time is quite a thrill. Again The Jazz June are indie rock although this five piece is more rock than not. Songs had a strong structure with real choruses and verses with the ability to flow from start to finish effortlessly. The hooks are strong, but not obvious (or unfortunately, terribly memorable).
With three guitars (each with very different tonalities) the band is careful not to bury the listener with contrary guitar lines, however the band may have taken that too far. I spent the first three songs staring first at Tim Holland's guitar and then at the house PA. I see he's playing something, but I just don't hear it. Generally his guitar added finishing touches however when he moved to keyboards he'd play long chords providing a base to the songs. Curious. Bryan gassler seemed to play the role of grumpy musician. He seemed impatient with the band and more interested in the mechanical nature of his guitar leads than any spirit of composition the band may share. The rest of the band seemed to be, well the band. None of which stood out, all of which played a contributing role and proved the "total vs. the sum of the parts" axiom. Does this band rise heads above all other indie rockers? Probably not, but they're better than most, and I'll be sure to see them again.
I hadn't seen Elliot since their early days, but I knew they had gone through some sound changes. I also knew that their label was billing their new album as "post indie rock." Of course I had no idea what that meant. Well, in what I assume was a disappointment to the hardcore kids at the show, it meant a joining emo with lush space rock in what amounts to a return to the My Bloody Valentine era of alternative rock.
The band played softly over sampled strings and synthesizer with vocalist/guitarist Chris Higdon providing lovely elongated vocal lines and occasional guitar melody. Years of experience has made Higdon an excellent frontman and he was able to simultaneously command the audience's awed attention, and speak to them personally and without pretense. Guitarist Benny Clark played delay and wah-wah pedals that happened to be hooked up to a guitar although they really could have been hooked up to the spokes of a slow moving bicycle and the sound couldn't have changed much. Although his guitar work from song to song was certainly similar it was always fitting and he was both passionate about his playing and technically savvy enough to sculpt the sounds he wanted.
After over a month on the road and only four dates between Kansas City and their home in Louisville, you might have expected to find the band tired and sloppy, however the band were tight and inspired. They seemed genuinely happy with the very small crowd and eager to return to Lawrence. If Elliot are able to attract the new fans to go with their new sound, I'm sure next time the club will be as packed as it should have been on this night.