Saturday September 30th, 2000 at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS
Low, The Winter Blanket, The Capsules

Low Low The Winter Blanket The Capsules [more]

I'm getting really comfortable speeding into Lawrence. My average time from driveway to Mass Ave is something like 33 minutes and the odometer says that's 35 miles. That's a pretty good average speed when you count in all the stop lights I have to navigate on my route to the interstate. I think next year the Taurus wagon and I might make our way back to Indy for a qualifying run.

I got to the club around 9:40 where I was met by a zillion folks that knew me, whom I didn't quite remember meeting before. I felt like a celebrity, and these are my people. None of the folks which chatted me up had any idea what to expect from the opening bands but no one seemed to care either – Low was draw enough.

More bands than you'd imagine make their stage debut before a large crowd. Due to some inside connection a band has a chance to get on a big show and decides ready or not, this is just too big of an opportunity to let pass. I'm sure it a similar story brought The Capsules to the stage for their first show, opening for Low. Although vocalist/guitarist Julie Shields admitted she was nervous, the band was definitely ready to play. Each and every dynamic was perfect and the band moved together flawlessly. Even treacherous devices like samplers went off without a hitch, due in part to the band's top notch equipment.

For the Kansas City old-timers, seeing The Capsules was a sort of comfortable homecoming as band members Julie and Jason Shields not only comprise the majority of local space rock luminaries Shallow (who are on an extended hiatus as another member is living in Los Angeles), but continue that musical vision. Obviously Julie Sheild's signature high, airy voice is accented along delicate guitar work, a bass that holds the melody and various effects and samples that complete the sound. Drumming for the duo is Kevin Trevino who was minimal, flowing and always appropriate.

An honest question might be why isn't this band Shallow? I suppose only the members of Shallow can answer that question, but The Capsules would seem to be a logical progression from Shallow's alternative inspired trancy pop to The Capsules' more indie inspired noir pop. Regardless of what they call themselves, I'm glad they're back.

Although The Winter Blanket were on tour with pals Low, for most of the audience they were simply the second unknown band of the night. This foursome from the quad cities of Illinois seemed to be led by vocalist/guitarist Doug Miller whose picked acoustic guitar and sparse vocals often comprised the whole of the band's slow and somber music.

Like Low, The Winter Blanket's stock is in excellent song craft and emotional lyrics that are vague enough to be always true and always real enough to mean something deep. The band also has learned to swell and recede organically – growing from near silence to full rich tones in the most natural of ways. Miller's voice too followed this same path from resignation to anguish within a single song. Backing vocals from Stephanie Noble are sure to cement the Low comparison, however the two bands utilize the second female voice in entirely different ways. Miller and Noble's vocals generally take turns on one side of a dialog, never blending and seldom even coinciding.

The Winter Blanket ultimately are as their name suggests – comforting, warm and enveloping, especially when you are most vulnerable. If you find yourself lying on a bed next to an open window on many cool clouded days this fall, you'd do well to have a copy of the band's CD playing on your stereo.

The sellout crowd predicted for the show never happened although several hundred fans (and a few dozen who were evidently not) did make an appearance. And for the beginning of Low's set, they moved to the front of the stage. As the audience waited for Low to begin, I listened to the conversations around me. Someone was explaining to her boyfriend that Low was like Elliot Smith (evidently his only frame of reference) only ten times slower. Another explained to a friend that they didn't need to leave much space up front as no one really dances to Low. I guess that explains why I kept getting pushed by the folks that I swayed into during the set.

In reality Low was pure magic. Alan Sparhawk's vocals were beautiful and direct and his guitar work compelling. Zak Sally's bass was warm and encompassed the room. Mimi Parker's vocals blended perfectly with Sparhawk's and together their voices created a secondary tone that had an almost other-worldly drone. Finally her minimalist drum work was simply mesmerizing. Although her kit consisted of only a snare, a single tom and a cymbal, by playing with every combination of brushes, sticks and mallets, she was able create a unique sound (if not always a unique rhythm) for each song.

As the band's set stretched from 30 to 45 minutes the area in front of the stage started to thin out, and as their set approached 60 minutes, the passive observers lost interested and began to talk... loudly. During the band's final song (before their encore) the talking became so annoying that I turned around and flashed a photo of the chatty trio. My rather obvious act failed to alert the threesome and they continued until several members of the audience "shushed" and shamed them.

For their encore the band played a minor and melancholy version of Little Surfer Girl then polled the audience to learn their final song. The band rejected Do You Know How to Waltz on the grounds that they had "already been pretty loud" that night, although I have to believe that the song's seventeen minute duration probably had more to do with them deciding not to play it. They did however accept someone's suggestion of Two-Step... with one catch. The requestor was told he had to come stand on the stage while the band played. Sparhawk gave specific instructions that the fan shouldn't do anything weird and even though people were talking, that was fine and that he should ignore them.

For those who surrendered themselves to Low, the show was completely satisfying. For those whose internal clocks wouldn't allow them to slow to Low's pace or simply chose to focus on other matters, I'm sure the band was nothing more than background music for a night at the bar. Truly it's a case of a show being exactly what you make of it.