Over the past few years, I’ve learned that I must schedule random activities. In theory, messy new experiences should just be a part of life. I think it’s important to enjoy the chance of new places, new situations, new people. Or maybe you stumble onto something bigger. Mind expanded. Horizons broadened. But those encounters don’t happen organically for me much anymore. Routine and comfort often win the day. So as counterintuitive as it sounds, I have to schedule randomness into my life. And while I still never seem to have the grand adventures that I feel I should, small flutters are easy to incorporate. In this case I wagered my night on four bands that I’d never seen before. No real risk. All the potential in the world.
The Green House basement was already full when I opened the door. The band already on the rug that is the stage. I slipped in as meekly as I could and planted myself on the floor to avoid blocking anyone’s view. While I didn’t arrive early enough to secure my normal spot with the premiere photography angle, I did arrive just in time for Junkyard Royalty to kick off its opening number. The band had been on my to-see list for a while. Video clips have confused me. What genre is this band? How are the band’s fans so zealous? Why do they play three shows a week? Is this band with no social media presence and only spotty demos on Soundcloud somehow big? I wanted answers, but I got none. So I’ll make some up. The band is frontperson Richie Rich. The rest of the band has been an evolving assemblage. Rich is an amazing frontperson. Bouncing and dancing and emoting and connecting with her audience. Effortlessly. And she has a voice. I wasn’t expecting that. The demos online bear no resemblance to the band live. The live quintet is indie rock. Big and interesting. Muddy, chaotic, and unrehearsed. The sort of band that a producer would clean up to make amazing or ruin. The band has an anthem, and although it’s unreleased, everyone in the basement knows the words. And they all scream them. Especially the ladies. And it’s awesome. For the final two songs Rich strapped on a guitar and stood trapped behind the microphone stand. Those songs traded urgency and swagger for twinkling shoegaze. Good songs, but not worth the price. It’ll be a few more shows before I can get the answers I want. A few more before I’m ready to scream along. I look forward to both happening.
Springfield’s Honest Sleep followed. More mystery. More randomness. The fourpiece is led by vocalist and bassist Alex Ricci and backed by guitarists Phil Greenaway and Zach Griffin, with Preston Rohr on drums. While Ricci now lives in Arkansas, the band still resides in Springfield, fitting in practices when it can. The band is emo. The sort of emo pop that ruled the 2000s. There’s little anguish and a lot of pop punk. A cover of Green Day’s “She” cemented it. Three vocalists. Ricci right on top of me, but I couldn’t hear him. I could I heard the audience behind me though. They knew the words. Especially to “brother” and “head in the clouds,” both from the band’s new EP released (digitally) only two days before. The fans sang. And danced. And kneed me in the back a lot. For the (ridiculously-emo titled) “i’ll never take for granted the things i see in my dreams,” Ricci asked for everyone to take out the cell phones and let their lights illuminate the room. The Green House lighting tech (yes, really) cut the stage lights and the band performed under the shaking white pinpoints of cell phones. As the song transitioned into the next, phones went back in pockets, and the stage lights returned. Green House is some next level basement show magic.
Between acts I’d learn a good portion of the audience had travelled from Springfield for the show. One gal spent most of the set punching her open hand, vaping, looking menacingly, and threatening a crowd kill. They raise ‘em up rough in the Ozarks. On the other end of the spectrum, I overheard one girl tell her friends that after the show she was going to need some down time, and then she suggested, “Let’s all take an edible, watch Watership Down, and cry.” Holy fuck that’s emo!
The Springfield contingent continued their energetic ways as their hometown homies Catalina began their set. Still emo, but less pop than their tour partners. More indie rock, with shoegaze pouring from the band’s big pedal boards. Catalina is led by vocalist/guitarist Lennon Rauhoff. He’s joined by Zach Griffin pulling double duty on guitar, additional guitarist Spencer Tice, bassist Patrick Sweet, and drummer Maguire Kelly. Five dudes wedged into the basement corner didn’t leave much room for dancing, not that Sweet didn’t give it a go. The set ran from early skeletal numbers like “Sinking in Seattle” to big driving ones such as “Whiplash” from the band’s 2022 Evergreen EP, to brand new song ideas “Patience” and “I’ll Wait.” The audience knew most of the words and nailed the “A-Woah-Oh-Ooh” backing vocals when Rauhoff cued the crowd. After snapping a few pics from my nest on the ground, I moved about the room to find the optimal view and the optimal sound. Earplugs out, I listened intently, though never found the mix I was looking for. It felt good though. Unknown but still familiar. During my quest, I peered in at the sound (and video and light) booth. Serious work going on in there. Like I said, next level.
It was hot in the Green House basement. Condensation from water pipes and air conditioning ducts dripped on our heads. My camera lens fogged up. Between acts, the basement emptied into the cooler night. I followed for air and was surprised to find several dozen people hanging about that I’m sure I hadn’t seen in the basement. The party was evidently outside. So I went back inside and claimed the primo photography spot. One can’t live on random alone. Only a tiny girl in a short red skirt and giant spiked boots remained inside. Earlier she told someone she just got her first guitar, and she hoped to be as good as him someday. He told her it would take a lot of time and money. I hope she gets so much better than him.
Midwest Telegram headlined the night. Or at least some version of the band did. As with the opener, I had questions. Largely around the line-up. Every photo and every video I saw had some different assemblage of players. Every review and interview I read had a different story from a different member. On this night the band was fronted by vocalist/guitarist Miles Luce. Maybe this isn’t normal? Earlier in the day Luce indicated another band member wasn’t going to be able to make it, so instead they’d just play through three amps. They delighted in their impishness. But before you decide Luce is a monster, know they passed out ear plugs before the set.
Luce’s guitar was indeed loud, but that was where the consistency ended. Their playing ranged from cloying, clean picked emo passages to explosions of neck-bending noise delivered without thought to time or tempo. The sort of playing one would expect from a second (or even third) guitarist in a fuller band. Luce just made do. When they broke an E string near the end of the set, Luce just continued onward. The limited instrumentation exposed Luce’s voice. It was high, strained, and pitchy. Par for the emo course. Entirely enjoyable. But Midwest Telegram wasn’t just Miles Luce. They were loaned a drummer for the set (“Tate” from Piss Kinks), and, after procuring a bass from the Green House stash, the band was further bolstered by Aubrey Scott. Tate played it straightforward. Often hard and fast. Scott didn’t play it at all – their bass was never plugged in. Instead, they swayed and danced and occasionally strummed the five-string loaner that was missing its D string. Luce never mentioned the pantomime.
By now, the audience had thinned. The members of the other bands were nowhere to be found. The Springfield riot crew, gone. No one danced. No one knew all the words to the seven songs that made up Midwest Telegram’s set. And as far as I could tell none of the songs came from the band’s sole release, a 2021 self-titled EP. Even the band’s latest (digital) single wasn’t played. It’s obvious that changes are underway for this band, but I don’t know what they are. Instead of answers, I’ve ended up with so many more questions.
The show ended kindly. No calls for an encore. A suitable crowd remained to hurl congratulations at Luce and his crew. After I packed up my camera bag, I offered a pin to the photographer I hadn’t met before. You know, to say no hard feelings for stealing my spot. Or maybe to thank him for making me wander around more than usual, looking for just the right vantage. The night wasn’t mind expanding, but my safe little wager definitely paid off.