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Friday September 8th, 2023 at Lemonade Park in Kansas City, MO
Lemonade Social: LYXE, Static Phantoms, Dress Warm, & Surf Wax

The Lemonade Social is a fun little music festival curated by local music label The Record Machine. Just one venue. Just one stage. Over two days. This year the festival fell on the perfect weekend as Kansas City was getting its first taste of fall. So perfect, in fact, that I might have come without any regard to who the performers were, just to sit under a tree on my comfy camp chair, listen to bands, and read a book as cool evenings made their return.

The music began a bit after 7:30 with Surf Wax. This quartet started five years ago in Springfield, Missouri, but now calls Kansas City home. Its set was built on an even poppier version of the sound that defined Kansas City in the 2010s – light guitar pop that is breezy and surfy with just a little jangle and a modicum of rough-edged DIY impishness. The band is led by Cooper Kelley. He's a jovial frontman who not only chatted with the audience in the breaks between songs, but often in the middle of the songs too. His vocals moved from a clean pop delivery to a hardy rock rasp when he pushed them louder and harder than they might want to go. His rhythm guitar was drenched in reverb, laying a foundation for the twangy leads of Dan Camino. While Camino sings lead his own band, he only provided occasional backing vocals for Surf Wax. The low end was held by Mackenzie Ballew on five-string bass and drummer Chaney Butner. Ballew remained inconspicuous while Butner liked to crash around when he got the chance. Most of the material was light and fun but Kelley's savage introduction to "Ceo" left the audience agasp. "And this is a diss track about the cold-hearted b*tch that broke my heart," he began before starting a jangly song with a slight Latin beat. Woah surfer, chill out!

Between acts, I read my book under a tree as the sun set. It was just as nice as I had imagined it would be.

Dress Warm are from Austin. The band usually plays live as a quintet but were making do as a quartet on this night, as lead guitarist Logan Krupovage opted for Disney World over our Lemonade Social. As always, Brandon Price plays guitar and provides most of the lead vocals, though bassist Trevor Stovall managed a turn or two on lead vocals as well. On this night, keyboardist and pedal steel player Nick Venn stood in ably for the band’s lead guitarist, while Archer Hasbany played drums. The band’s set mixed tracks from its two EPs with new songs that the band plans to take into the studio in October. None of the songs strayed far from that of the opening act, instead Dress Warm just nudged the breezy elements all the way to twangy, creating something that teased at folk rock. Most of the band’s songs were woven with strong guitar melodies, bubbly basslines, and a twinkling guitar. There was no trumpet in the band, but I had the curious feeling that there should be. Maybe I was hearing the holes left by the missing keyboards? If so, that says something impressive about the band’s compositions and the smart balance within. Midset a loud “pop” on stage signaled a problem, and soon it was discovered that Venn’s amp had blown a speaker. “Don’t worry about it,” instructed someone from stage, it’s just like having a fuzz pedal now. And the so the set continued through missing members, blown speakers/bonus fuzz pedals, and guitars that wouldn’t stay in tune. Nothing can stop this band, so keep an eye out and you’ll be able to watch its ascension.

After two easygoing pop acts, the duo of Static Phantoms forced a turn toward the left of the dial. Specifically, toward the late ‘80s and the post punk synthpop of New Order. Backing tracks offer electronic percussion as well as a synthesizer bed that either shifts gracefully or pulses through arpeggios. Keyboardist Dedric Moore manages those buttons, as well as adding in live keyboard lines that can hum with sustain or bounce with melody. Krysztof Nemeth adds baritone guitar that either delivers dreamy filagree or commands the melody. He also provides vocals. They’re a work in progress, but they landed better any other gig I’d seen – just don’t ask him to rummage around in the top end of his register much. A small effects box mounted to his microphone stand allows him to adjust reverb, echo, and who knows what else to achieve the rounded tones he’s after. If there’s any question about the role of vocals in the band, just refer to Nemeth’s comments made in a break between songs, “My microphone keeps cutting out, but I’m going to pretend like everything’s okay. It’s just texture.” Texture is important, but thankfully songcraft and melody play a big role and keep songs from floating off into the ether.

Between bands I retreated to my arboreal oasis only to find it spoiled. I had inadvertently chosen a spot was between the portapotties and the weed smokers, and both were now in full bloom. That witches brew is something I cannot recommend. I decided to move up to watch the final act.

LYXE is a Lawrence, Kansas trio that sounds like whatever you want them to sound like. Pop, indie rock, new wave, post-punk, and modern electropop all go in a blender and what comes out is different to every set of ears. The band’s varied song structures and disparate moods intentionally muddy the water. If there’s anything consistent, then it’s the use of big hooks and strong, slick melodies. Ryan Wise fronts the band. His guitar can tick nervously, growl bluntly, or provide delicate washes. His voice is often forced, delivered with the sort of puked affectation that has fallen out of favor. In new song “Sad Surfer,” however, he relaxed his throat, creating a lazy delivery that was Westerburg-ian bliss. Jimmy Girod and AJ Knudson play drums and bass respectively. They’re propulsive players, often pushing into that post-punk revival beat that owned the start of the millennium.

Throughout the evening, fans had come and gone as their friends and cohorts played. LYXE were the definitive draw of night one though, pulling more fans to the front of the stage than any of the other acts. Wise addressed the fans a few times and joked along with his bandmates even more. I’m not sure who he was talking to when he checked the time and decided it was “time for more tequila shots.” Of course, that didn’t happen. Lemonade Park is seldom that sort of raucous venue – I’ve never seen trays of shots delivered to the stage like you might in a small sweaty club. I’ve never seen fans crowd the stage and jump and dance like they’re wont to do in confined indoor spaces – but Lemonade Park is a lovely place to see a show, watch the sunset over historic buildings, and enjoy a perfect night out. Especially if you catch that first weekend of fall.

Coverage of Day 2 of the festivals continues here.