Too Much Rock
Pics+Video Podcasts Singles About
Saturday June 17th, 2023 at Replay Lounge in Lawrence, KS
Lizard Brain Trust, The Dreaded Laramie, & Headlight Rivals

It's not unusual for me to choose one concert over another based on its start time. What is odd is for me to pick the one that would get me to bed the latest. I knew the show at The Replay wouldn't start until about 10:30. That's obscene for a three-band bill. Or at least it would be unless I was rushing to the show directly from the Sporting KC match, whereupon the actual 10:20 start time was perfect.

The night started with Headlight Rivals – a nearly ten-year-running trio that are unmistakably from Manhattan, Kansas. The band is yet another honorable link in that area's chain of acts that dip into heartland rock as much as they do power pop. Ever wonder what happens when Material Issue and The Replacements come together? Are you a fan of Ultimate Fakebook and Truck Stop Love? I suspect the band's Eric Kleiner (vocals/guitar), Seven Black (bass/vocals), and Kris Kleiner (drums) are. Although the band set occasionally got mired in chugging rhythms, the ones where the hooks soared above the bar band basics were amazing. Both the opening and closing numbers ("You Don't Know" and "Dreams" respectively) hit me squarely in my power pop soul. The band's eight-song set included three songs I recognized from its 2019 album, but the rest were new, destined for a full-length that the band hopes to release in the fall through up-and-coming label Dumb Ghost. Kleiner explained the band had just returned from recording in Denver, so I think we're allowed to get our hopes up.

Nashville's The Dreaded Laramie then made its Lawrence debut. The fourpiece lines up as MC Cunningham (vocals, guitar), Zach Anderson (guitar), Drew Swisher (bass, vocals), and Andrew Mankin (drums). The band is smack dab in the middle of a three-month tour. They're frickin' professionals. They're also goofballs. The three members up front spent a lot of the set marching, dancing, kicking, rolling about the floor, and aping for the audience. Cunningham and Anderson play twin leads, often back to back. Swisher held his bass at eye level for half of the set, and grinned every minute of it. It was like an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba. Or seeing The Poster Children. Like the act before them, The Dreaded Laramie is some flavor of power pop – just colored with a bit of Nashville twang and spiced with some quirky indie rock. Cunningham is a smart lyricist offering biting social commentary underneath the band's poppy hooks. A cover of Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats" exemplified both the twang and the feminist message.

Throughout the night, dancers from the patio filtered through on their way to the bathrooms that are placed pleasantly next to the stage. Most go and then go, but The Dreaded Laramie managed to snare a few. When one group was about to head back outside, a gal shouted at her friends "Hold on, there's Hangman." And indeed there was. Anderson held a large pad of paper aloft while Cunningham took letter requests from the audience. It was chaotic and everyone participated, shouting letters until the bar arrived at the answer "Dust in the Wind (Kansas)." Well done Replay Lounge. Well done The Dreaded Laramie. Come back soon.

It was after midnight when Lizard Brain Trust began. Frontman Seth Chandler confessed to the sound engineer that he was starting to fade. Same. The band played as a trio with Aaron Swenson on keyboards and occasional guitar, and Colin Jones on bass. Drummer JP Redmon was unavailable so pre-programmed drums would have to do the trick. They did. And in fact, it was kind of fun with the lo-fi drums that were programmed with surprising number of fills and elements of chaos. Cameron Hawk is also in the band, though I'm not sure how often the now-Denverite contributes to the band's live shows. His influence is felt in the band's songs though – especially those where its indie rock gives way to power pop. There's no obvious twelve-string jangle, but like The Posies there's something in that churn that speaks to the roots of that genre. But make no mistake, the band is more rock than pop.

That lack of levity was mimicked by Chandler, who quickly killed the party atmosphere created by the previous act, when he dourly introduced songs about depression and Christo-fascists. After the show the band noted: "Our singer is actively working on being positive and upbeat while we play even though he says that 'everything is fucking bullshit.'" He may be on to something there, but that didn't keep two drunk patrons from burning up the dance floor, or the rest of the crowd seated around the room's perimeter from tapping toes to the positively funky "Feel Our Bones."

When all was sung and done, the band had played eleven songs in forty minutes. Most were taken from its conveniently titled 2022 debut, The David Christ Memorial Indoctrination Fund for the Cure, with two new numbers thrown in as well. It was now 1am, the night was over, the bar winding down, and Chandler was still unapologetically and humorously morose. I was happy to have caught three enjoyable acts, but as I faced that hour drive back to Kansas City, I did wonder if I had made the right decision.