It's a sad truth that the best shows get the least devotion from Too Much Rock. It starts with good intentions – I don't want to quickly dash off something about a wonderful gig – so I put it off until I have enough time to give it the focus it deserves. Of course, I never have that time and instead I find myself two weeks later sharing little more than my notes about the show. I'll never learn.
Heidi Phillips took the stage at The Ship at 7:45. I really like this room and I should see more shows here. I may need to shift my tastes more toward Americana to do that, but it's probably worth swearing an allegiance to acoustic guitars to be surrounded by all that calming wood. Phillips doesn't play many solo shows and was transparent that she wasn't sure how to do this one. It started with acoustic guitar, continued to electric (featuring a looper pedal that she had just began playing with), and completed with an acoustic coda. She played nine songs, most of which came from her alt rock project Frogpond that originated in the '90s. That band's big rock songs stripped down to their bare power chords felt as incomplete as one would expect, and Phillips joked about this, noting the harmony vocals really made the song, but it was okay because she could hear them in her head. She hoped we could too, and I'm sure the diehard audience members seen mouthing the words did. Thankfully, "Abilene" from her 2004 Abileen project, required no imagination to enjoy. Its success might have been the acoustic guitar, or it might have been Phillips' raspy voice, all warm and wonderful. Her voice doesn't do big things often, but it proved capable when she belted out "Soulless" from Frogpond's 2021 reunion album TimeThief. Phillips has no solo shows scheduled, but Frogpond has a number of upcoming gigs in the region, so check out that calendar.
The ornate promotional poster for the gig billed the next act as Chase Horseman. So, when Horseman took the stage alongside drummer Ian Dobyns and bassist Sky Cowdry – rather than as a solo artist – I was delighted. I couldn't remember when I last saw Horseman with a band, so I was excited for the breadth the trio could create. The first song rang out from Horseman's twelve-string guitar, joining power pop with a southern ease reminiscent of Dwight Twilley's best work. Backing vocals from Dobyns and Cowdry elevated everything. I loved it. Horseman soon swapped guitars, delving into their stark material that pinged from torch songs to outright laments. They apologized for some of the intense subject matter, noting that being transexual informs all their work, and that now is not an easy time to be trans – especially in Missouri. Their honesty continued as they recalled when headliner Heidi Gluck fired them years ago, and how that released them to regroup and find a better place. Horseman was happy to be invited to play such a special night, and it was particularly fitting then that the half-hour set concluded with "Sleep Slow, Dream Sweet" from a 2019 EP that originally featured Gluck. The newness of the trio, compounded with a short six-song set ranging from new songs to those that Horseman has been living with for a decade, meant the set never found steady footing. Still, a selection of fine singles is nothing to sneeze at, so until this trio creates an identity of its own, that's what you'll find on Horseman's Bandcamp page.
The night was billed as a release party of Heidi Lynne Gluck's new album Migrate or Die, but Gluck makes her own rules and chose to start her set with "Pony Show" – the title track from her previous album released in 2016. And why not? I've seen Gluck perform a dozen times (or more, let's not count) in the last five years but each has been a solo affair with Gluck playing either electric guitar or electric piano. The Americana-leaning "Pony Show" needs a band to unleash its power, and it was good to hear it announce itself and roam free across the stage powered by the backing band that consisted of Hannah Novaria (backing vocals), Braden Young (electric guitar, backing vocals), Michelle Bacon (bass), Jeff Stolz (drums), and Bradley McKellip (lap steel). What was good for "Pony Show" was also good for the songs that make up Migrate or Die. Audiences have watched those songs grow and gestate for years at solo performances, and now each song had a chance to flower – not only under Gluck's round, enveloping voice and composed strums, but also thanks to a clean and commanding electric tone from Young that made me think of Glen Campbell's golden era, rich harmonies from Novaria that served as an extension of Gluck's own voice rather than weaseling their way to the spotlight, and the lap guitar of McKellip that added the haunting throughline that tied every instrument together atop the steadying rhythm section. It's a fine band and they were playing fine songs.
Gluck's 80+ minute set did get around to performing the songs of Migrate or Die, eventually playing nine of the album's ten tracks. The long setlist also featured five from Pony Show, along with one from the even earlier The Only Girl in the Room EP. Like the solo shows, Gluck spent half the set with her guitar, another half behind her piano. In both cases she appeared surrounded by a rich assortment of pink and white flowers and twinkling lights, both of which climbed across the stage and up her microphone stand, lifting the whole affair.
My notes tell me that night's version of "Severance" was amazing and powerful, basking in a full arrangement that I'd never heard it afforded or imagined it could have. That "Skyscraper" felt diminished, sharing the piano melody with guitar in exchange for fillagree as it does on the album. I wrote that I preferred the version Gluck performs with 95 Sweetbird, but to be honest, there's not much that I prefer more than that band performing that song, so that's a hill impossible to crest. The highlight of the night may have been when Chance Horseman returned to the stage and the duo performed a quiet version of Cheap Trick's "Surrender," each tenderly playing guitar, and intimately sharing a microphone. It was a special moment in a special performance, I just wish I had taken the time to tell you more about it.