At 9:30, Record Bar was in a state of transition. The opening act was on stage; however, the house lights were still lit. The doorman was taking money, but the band who played the early show was still packing up its equipment. There couldn't have been a dozen patrons in the audience, and most of the headlining acts were nowhere to be found. The atmosphere in Record Bar felt like anything but a festive Friday night. Nevertheless, it was 9:30 and in an effort to keep on schedule, the opening act, The Lonelyhearts, was forced into action
Although the two members of San Francisco-bred The Lonelyhearts now reside in different cities, the magic of the Internet has allowed them to continue to create their realist urban folk and tour it across the country. Both keyboardist Andre Perry and guitarist John Lindenbaum take turns with lead vocals, though it's their (electronically enhanced) blended vocals that really take centre stage. Throughout the set Perry offered deep, rattling bass lines with his left hand, while offering note-y melody lines with his right. Sadly these melodies often suffered under the gimmicky weight of keyboard synthesiser presets like "harpsichord" and "pipe organ." The picked twelve-string guitar of Lindenbaum rung brightly, high in the mix, flirting at the edges of melody for most of the set, and only truly demanding attention in the driving closer "Queen City of the Lakes" taken from the band's latest album Years in the Great Interior (Maximum Ames Records, 2013).
Throughout the night, the sound engineer kept one eye on the sound levels, and another on the clock. He halted bands that threatened to go over, and herded others to the stage at their scheduled time. The military regimen wasn't terribly rock & roll, but was music to my OCD ears. It was not surprising then that the second act, Omaha's Twinsmith, began its set at 10:15 – precisely as scheduled.
Twinsmith is an indie rock four-piece led by guitarist/vocalist Jordan Smith, backed by guitarist/keyboardist Matt Regner, bassist Bill Sharp, and drummer Oliver Morgan. Smith's vocal delivery ran the gamut from shouts to a high falsetto, with plenty of stylised yelps for emphasis. These changing dynamics wreaked havoc with the sound system, sending the microphone into fits of overload with each emphatic shift Smith made. The two guitarists typically mirrored each other, allowing Smith to solo without consequence. More interesting, however, were the jagged edges created by a single guitar when Regner moved to keyboards. As with the opening act, the clean formulas that dominated the majority of the set were melted away by a burning finale that erupted in joyful fits of noise. Whether this is a nightly occurrence, or if the band were simply celebrating the last night of a two-week tour, I can't say. I do know, however, that it was more fun than the polite songs styled from the indie rock playbook that defined most of this Omaha band's set.
Between acts I was accosted by The Capsules' Julie Shields. She was speaking quickly and staring off into space – I know her well enough to recognize when her mind is blow. "Ryan [Newton] and Steve [Kretsinger] are both here!" she blurted out. "This is the first time that we [the members of Shallow] have all been in the same room since..." Well, since she didn't know when. Maybe since that band's dissolution in the late '90s. Later in the evening the band members reconnected, talking freely, devoid of any of the suspected awkwardness and baggage had forestalled this meeting for years. "If we would known they would be here, maybe we could have played something," Julie mused, still staring widely. "Yeah, that would've been great," I barely offered in return. As Julie hurried off to set up for the band's set, I began scheming.
Throughout the years there have been a number of bands that have been awarded honorary local status. Most of them gained their title by constantly touring through the area, others by appropriating the local sound, but The Capsules have maintained their club membership by never leaving the area for too long. Despite moving to South Carolina and now Texas, the Kansas-born band has returned to the area several times, re-establishing itself each stint before shipping off again. While The Capsules currently reside in Dallas, this show was a certain sort of homecoming.
The Capsules began its set at 11:00 (exactly) with the pulsing "Across the Sky" from its 2013 album Northern Lights & Southern Skies (Vespera Records). By the end of the nine-song, 40-minute set, the trio would play three more songs from that album, one from 2004's Someone for Everyone, a delightfully subdued cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," and three unreleased songs – one of which was written only a week prior and specifically for this homecoming. While the airy dream pop of the band's early career has recently been traded in for busy electronic and synthpop trappings, the core elements of the band's sound transcend this shift. Julie Shields' vocals remained as high and glossy as ever, and the subtle, picked notes of her guitar were still occasional breadcrumbs dropped to guide listeners. The bass of Jason Shields still ushered songs forward while the electronic flourishes he triggered still washed warmly over the audience. The percussion of Kevin Trevino (both live and pre-programmed) was consistently inventive with no two songs sharing the same pattern, yet all of them a clinic on perfect timing. The band ended its set with its newest song, entitled "The End." The song was a big swirling ode to My Bloody Valentine that was pleasantly rough around the edges. The imperfections embarrassed Julie Shields, but Trevino was thrilled to pound away at his kit, untethered by click tracks. On any other night, this would have been a satisfying finale. But we had one more band to go.
The members of Kansas City's Hidden Pictures took their time setting up, and then slipped out for another drink before reassembling on stage. Although this broke the sound engineer's grip on the the schedule, both knew whatever time remained was up to Hidden Pictures to use as it saw fit anyway. And the band had decided to play it loose and casual with the small audience that remained. From the rollicking banter shared by frontman Richard Gintowt and ukulele player Claire Adams, to Gintowt's vocal ad libs, to Adams's leaps during new single "Sister Wife," to the impromptu jazz jam provided by bassist Chad Toney and drummer Lennon Bone to fill in the empty spaces, the band was obviously having fun, and that spread to the audience.
Although Too Much Rock has covered Hidden Pictures more than any other act, the band's ever-changing lineup makes every show different. And while there were no new faces on stage this night, the foursome's newfound familiarity with each other and the material is a development that is now paying dividends. Dismissed are the early songs from the band's pristine pop period, each replaced with new songs written specifically with a quartet in mind. Even the four songs that have survived from the band's last full length (Rainbow Records, Golden Sound Records, 2012) have been each rearranged for the current lineup. Curiously these holdovers were all performed in a final lump that completed the band's nine-song, 40-minute set. But it's more than the band's songs and new arrangements which have come together – the players are simply more familiar with each other and the material. Although Bone (the quartet's latest addition) still played with restraint, Adams was able to leap about the stage, daringly arriving at the microphone just in time to deliver her supporting vocals. The nerves and intense focus that were so visible months ago have been erased, finally releasing the musicians and relaxing the songs. And while the setlist may not have highlighted my favourite Hidden Pictures songs, the performance was certainly one of the most enjoyable in years.
The band completed its set on the edge of closing time with the returning house lights answering any question of an encore. Looking about the lit up club I noted that the opening acts had already left, leaving only the headliners and the familiar faces of friends. While I did my best to engage each in conversation, the bar was closed, and everyone seemed anxious to start their Friday night in earnest. So with miniBar in mind, everyone slipped out the door preparing to welcome the weekend.