The best shows are the ones that you didn't know you needed. Maybe you end up at a gig with a friend who dragged you along. Maybe it's due to a blind recommendation of a promoter or publicist. Maybe you just felt like going out. Somewhere. Anywhere. Maybe it's a Twitter poll that tells instructs you to see a gauzy pop band from London that you are lukewarm on at best. Rather than argue with wisdom of my Twitter followers, I contacted the band's publicist and booked my ticket.
The night opened promptly at 8pm with London four-piece Inheaven. The band was a mystery to me, but thankfully, surprise was my ally tonight. The quartet introduced themselves to the packed club with a short 30-minute set of swirling indie rock that didn't land far from The Jesus and Mary Chain. Bucking current trends, Inheaven's two guitars were front and center, moving beyond robust and into glam territory — a theme only reinforced by the leather-from-head-to-toe outfit of bassist and vocalist Chloe Little, and the eye makeup of showy frontman and guitarist James Taylor. After the set, I picked up a copy of the band's 2017 debut, Sweet Dreams Baby (PIAS Recordings), and hoped to be just as wowed at home as I was at the club.
Midwestern crowds are generally polite, and a packed room is never really packed. But this got close. Maybe it was the reduced space caused by copious amounts of touring support (stage hands, lighting techs, sound techs) that made it seem so busy. Maybe the underage crowd doesn't have the same personal space requirements. Whatever the reason, it was tight, so for the thirty minutes between acts no one moved — they couldn't.
Pale Waves is a band of curiosities and dichotomies. It is signed to a small indie label in the UK. It has only recorded a half-dozen tracks. It has made videos for each of those tracks. The band tours in an enormous bus pulling a trailer full of gear. It brings a large crew to manage the stage, sound, and lights. It's played Kansas City (Kansas City!) twice in the past few months. Those facts just don't add up when measured by traditional music industry gauges. What gives? Furthermore, frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie (vocals and guitar) favors the exaggerated pancake makeup, raccoon eyes, and black mop of hair that we saw from Robert Smith in the '80s (though she's much better at the black lipstick than he was at his red.) Her drummer Ciara Doran shares a similar aesthetic. Although guitarist Hugo Silvani and bassist Charlie Wood aren't nearly as conspicuous, the casual observer would expect something dark and gothic from the foursome. The casual observer would be wrong.
In true Millennial disregard of homogeneity, the band's music is airy pop, ethereal, and dance-y. There was a bounce to nearly every song in the short nine-song set, with contrast coming from a few moody ballads where keyboards took the place of the stringed instruments. Doran's drums (both electronic and acoustic) were simple, providing a platform for Baron-Gracie's lyrics of love, longing, and loss. If I were better at picking out lyrics, I might blush at her honesty. Over the course of the band's 40-minute set, Baron-Gracie mentioned the terrifying age of eighteen (a song written when she was eighteen, a song about being eighteen, etc.) several times. She's young (24), but her audience at the recordBar was even younger — most bearing an "X" on their hands signifying they weren't old enough to drink. They were, however, excited. Cries of "I love you" were hurled at the band throughout the evening, and each time Baron-Gracie would dance (somewhere between a robot and a marionette), hoots from the audience would eclipse the sound coming from the stage. And it was infectious. A live audience, flashing lights, a pop band playing real instruments — it was all legitimately wonderful.
Although I walked into the show under Twitter's duress, this was a gig I needed to see. I needed to discover an opener that was a loud rock band, honest and heady. I needed to see that a headliner I suspected of being nothing more than a slick pop venture was a real band, engaging with fans, and lifting them up. I didn't know I needed this, but I did. Good job Twitter. What's next?