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Tuesday April 19th, 2022 at miniBar in Kansas City, MO
Emmaline Twist, Blushing, & Letting Up Despite Great Faults

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Again, we're running behind so just quick words about a good show to ensure that the night isn't lost to time. Apologies.

Letting Up Despite Great Faults started at precisely 8:30. I like this Austin foursome's roll. The band's early work was decidedly indie pop, even twee. I liked that too. The band is touring on a new album that has a bit more heft to it – everyone is a shoegaze band nowadays, right? The set highlighted bits of both – from the bright and fey, to full-on JAMC noise. Frontman Mike Lee carried most of the vocal duties and his guitar jangled nicely. New arrival Annah Fisette provided backing vocals, occasional leads, and guitar with lots of effects. Bassist Kent Zambrana provided the dance moves, all the banter, and, in one song, a bassline and tone so Peter Hook I thought it must be a cover of a New Order song that I didn't know. Drummer Daniel Schmidt was quiet and tasteful at the back of the stage. Synth backing tracks came from somewhere unseen. I wish touring bands had budget for live keyboard players. Although the audience was still trickling in throughout the band's thirty-five-minute opening set, the foursome accomplished everything it should have – excellent songs, good vibe, and just enough intrigue to sell a copy or three of its new LP.

Austin compatriots Blushing were up next. This quartet was formed in the late aughts by guitarist Michelle Soto and bassist/vocalist Christina Carmona. The story is the gals' husbands (drummer Jacob Soto and guitarist Noe Carmona) joined later to fill out the sound. They may be just riding the coattails. The band's sound skews toward the dreamy end of shoegaze, with more structure and indie rock than filagree. Without sounding much like late-period Lush, the band follows a similar path. Christina Carmona is a solid performer, with an excellent voice, a nice stage presence, and plenty of movement that included a foray into the audience. Michelle Soto was an animal. So much motion. Hair whipping about. Backbends. Not sure how she found her way back to activate the dozens of effects pedals at her disposal. The duo exchanged smiles throughout the set. They were having fun. So was the audience. Although I'm not familiar enough with the band's catalog to call out a title, its closing number was huge and glorious. When the band comes through again, I want to be there. You'll want to be there too.

Locals Emmaline Twist capped the night. A nice finale really. More darkwave than the dream pop or shoegaze that kicked off the night, but just as many pedals and not without its beautiful moments. Meredith McGrade's low vocals were a big part of this shift. They are delivered without much effort, almost oozing out. They seep into the songs' crevices. Their stage presence is similarly restrained with banter more perfunctory than profound. Their close-eyed performance is overtaken by the band’s own hypnotic trance – an enchantment that also lulls the rest of the band.

Emmaline Twist doesn't employ backing tracks, but it's still not always apparent where the quintet's rich sound originates. McGrade's guitar supplies the leads, and Kristin Conkright's bass and Jonathan Knecht's drums provide a lively foundation, but that leaves two wild cards: the baritone guitar of Krysztof Nemeth and the synths of Alex Alexander. Their freedom allows songs to pull and skew in different directions adding interest to songs that otherwise carry the same tempo and atmosphere.

Like most bands weathering the pandemic, Emmaline Twist's set is in transition. The 45-minute performance began with current (digital preview) single "Drugs" and ended with the unreleased, yet frequent closer, "Empires." In the middle there were two other new songs ("Aspera" and "Avalanche") with the remaining five songs drawn from the band's 2018 album or its 2016 debut single. The biggest surprise wasn't the inclusion of the new songs, but the return of an older one – "Almost Blue." The song from Dissimulation is dangerously close to being poppy and features buoyant interplay between all the guitars. It served as a sort of callback to the night's earlier performances. But it was the aforementioned closer, "Empires," that highlighted the set for me. So that I might bask in the volume and expanse of the song, I set my camera aside, relocated to the back of the room, and removed my earplugs. While I had heard the song before, it never hit quite so hard. There's a rumor we may be hearing that one on vinyl soon, so save your nickels. It's not a song that you'll be able to appreciate on Spotify.