Lotuspool Records is the only label that still mails Too Much Rock unsolicited CDs. Once or twice a year I open my mailbox to find a manilla envelope containing a new CD along with a one sheet explaining whatever high concept prompted the release. It's nice. And it transports me back to the early '90s when I was a music director at a college radio station. Every day I'd visit the PO box and leave with one of those plastic Postal Service tubs full of CDs. Some were wonderful gems that I added to the station's music library, but most were radio-edits of "Been Caught Stealing" – Warner Bros sent me three copies of that a week for months. For an entire summer, I tricked a pawnshop into taking hundreds of these unwanted radio singles for $1 each. They eventually caught on, but not before I had made enough money to buy a DAT machine. You have no idea how odd the early '90s were. But Chris Garibaldi does, because he was there too. And tonight, he handpicked a few of Lotuspool's artists to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the label he co-founded.
June Henry started the evening at the positively civilized time of 6:15. Henry doesn't remember 30 years ago. Or twenty years ago for that matter. June Henry is Generation Z, a Tik Tok phenom, the former keyboardist of LK Ultra, and a wonderfully entertaining solo musician. Armed with an acoustic guitar strummed with abandon, Henry delivered a 30-minute opening set that laid themself bare as much as it was humorous. Henry's songs are short – most barely cresting the minute mark – but pack a punch. The hit might be a visceral one delivered bluntly and spurred from feelings of teenage angst and alienation, or it might be a more cerebral one illustrated by a brilliant metaphor landed perfectly. Between songs, Henry treated the audience to tidbits about their writing process. One was written the day before. A number were written in the last few weeks inspired by "a breakup that went poorly." One ("Baby Taxidermy Fox") was proudly introduced as the first dis track they ever wrote, but its impact was somewhat softened when Henry sheepishly admitted the tender song that followed was also about the same person. Near the end of the set Henry announced, "I need to play one where I play a little slower because my arm is getting tired." The finger-picked "Chemtrails" followed. Henry confessed it was written during the early pandemic, but that the audience shouldn't worry, as Henry isn’t really a prepper. But if they were, they offered, they'd be better than the ones on the TLC program, whose bunkers were "all function no form." The lone cover in the set was "Western Union" (originally by SoundCloud rappers ECCO2K, Thaiboy Digital, & Bladee). It came with a story about someone who hated Henry's version so much that they created an account on Discord to impersonate them, say racist things, and (hopefully) stop this version from going viral. If those words mean nothing to you, that's okay, you're just old.
After Henry had completed their set, Chris Garibaldi took the stage to welcome the crowd, and to announce that he would be paying for everyone's drinks that night. That's a way to make friends and influence people. He also asked folks to pick up the June Henry CD that was released on Lotuspool (under the name August Henry), while echoing Henry's own concerns that there were boxes full of those CDs littering basements and garages. That's a good idea, but if you want to keep up with Henry, you'll need to follow their Tik Tok, YouTube, and Spotify. The latter includes a short bio that reads: "trying not 2 fail college, the more u stream the less motivation I have to pursue my education." So choose wisely.
When we next saw Chris Garibaldi he was on the stage with his band, Suneaters. Suneaters are an act of many influences and few cares. The band's thirteen song set ranged from proto punk to prog rock, hitting every roots, indie, and alt rock stop in between. The set was a lot like my freeform college radio station all those years ago. Most of the songs are sung by bassist Scott Hartley who plays a such a pretty Rickenbacker that he stared down at it all evening. Chris Garibaldi (as alternate personality Chris Lost) sings as well. Garibaldi and fellow guitarist Michael Judd both have made huge investments in pedal boards, and they're determined to get their money's worth. This meant each song would get its own tone and solos would get still another. And every song, regardless of genre, had a solo. Sometimes two. Hartley had his own impressive board, and was in on the contest as well. I'm not sure which player was responsible for what sounded like a gurgling brook, but it wasn't necessary. The keyboard effect, however, was well played, and did have me scouring the stage for the hidden organ until I caught on. Drummer Nick Carroll had no effects pedals but I'm sure there's some R&D money being spent on that issue now. As a concession, he did get to sing a song (a rootsy cover that I didn't recognize), as did former drummer Chris Cardwell who guested with the band for "Come Alone" from 2019 album Suneaters III: Unfathomable Darkness.
Throughout the set Garibaldi and his mates joked together on the stage, reminiscing about the band's history, or any topic really. After riffing on the recent passing of Gallagher, the quartet realized June Henry's crowd likely had no idea who the comedian was. A quick hand poll of the audience confirmed their suspicions, sending the band off to the next song. The set ended with "Devil Dog" from the band's new album Suneaters IV: Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fingers. It's a blues inflected rock & roll number that Santana might have made if he worked with Built to Spill and not Rob Thomas. If that sounds good to you, hit the Lotuspool website where you can stream it for free. Or talk to Garibaldi, he might just send a CD to your mailbox.
There was a 45-minute delay between bands. A lot of the crowd cleared out. June Henry's friends had places to be seen on a Friday night. Suneaters' fans had dinner reservations. Neither crowd could be plied by free alcohol. What remained was a cozy audience, seated, lit by the dancing light of the disco ball, and ready for the headliner.
At 8:30, Heidi Gluck was still battling with the soundman. It was a fight that she, the soundman, and the audience all lost. It'd have been unbearable if not for the ad hoc morsel of Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" played during the ordeal. Do you think it's possible to trick her into covering another song for Too Much Rock? Eventually Gluck got something close to what she wanted, and the set commenced. New song "Don't Save a Dance 4 Me" began the series, closely followed by two more new songs, all played on the piano. Then it was three songs from the Lotuspool-released 2016 album Pony Show in recognition of the night. Gluck was conversational, noting that she was initially upset that she didn’t put together a full band to play the show, but then sarcastically added that she was at least accompanied by the constant percussive pings of the venue’s four pinball machines. The set continued with "My Diary." The song is written from the perspective of her rather embarrassing anthropomorphic diary. She's been playing it for months and it's been fun to chart both her and the audience's relationship with the song – particularly with the stanza where she sings the word "Diarrhea." This time she paused after that line and cringed while the audience filled the room with laughter. It's the sort of moment in a songwriter's life when they weigh the risk of a song becoming a hit, knowing that line will be with them forever. Like most of the set up to that point, the song featured lots of piano with rolling bass chords and plenty of bouncing right-hand melody. It feels very Harry Nilsson to me. But that changed for the final three songs, beginning with "Ocean." The song is dark with sparse accompaniment. "Planes Fly Low" continues the trend veering into Americana (Canadiana?) territory. During finale, "Severance," Gluck closed her eyes, and pounded on keyboard, rocking slightly through the repetition of the chorus. The audience hooted its pleasure. Afterwards I talked to Gluck to make sure she was alright. She was fit as a fiddle and as gracious as always.
In the '90s I'd have left the Replay looking for a house party. Or maybe just skated home the long way, hitting all the smooth parking lots and unattended garages on the way. Now, however, I knew I should hurry home. I wanted to get my video online before bed and I was already starting to fade. I looked around to say goodbye to Chris Garibaldi and thank him for the party, but I couldn't locate him. Maybe he was already home with his feet up, or maybe he was high up in Lotuspool Towers scouring Soundcloud for the next artist, working to ensure the label's legacy lives on for another 30 years.