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Wednesday June 28th, 2023 at Record Bar in Kansas City, MO
Pallbearer, Low Forest, & Drifter

I'm sure most people go to a concert to see the headlining act. And I'll concede that some are likely unaware of the opening bands entirely. I even hear tell that some monsters even skip the openers on purpose, but hopefully that's just an urban legend. And yes, sometimes it is the headliner that draws me out, but just as often it's the local opener that I've come to see. I've said it many times, the best bands in the world are your friends' bands. It was with that spirit and little knowledge that got me to the Record Bar early.

At exactly 8:00, the three members of Lawrence's Drifter began their short set. I've written plenty about the band lately, but a good band always deserves a few more good words. The band is fronted by Dean Edington who provides roaring vocals, bass, and the electronic wizardry that bolsters the band's songs or howls between them. Guitarist Brodie Belt is a different sort of conjurer. His guitar builds worlds. Slow and sustained notes that ring blithely, and heavy chords that growl menacingly. Drifter's world is complex. Belt also provides secondary percussion alongside fulltime beater Joel Denton. He too knows how to thunder or tread lightly as needed. The band incorporates lots of genres and describing them requires using a "post" qualifier. But slow and heavy says doom, and that nomenclature works fine based on the rest of the bill. Songs stretch – the band's half-hour set was only four songs – as they move through different cycles and structures. The audience was primed for just such an experience, and as the band's set continued, it drew more and more of them to the front of the stage. I eavesdropped as two concertgoers next to me reveled in Belt's tone. Based on the size of his pedal board, it's a complicated recipe. While the band is suffocatingly and ecstatically loud in smaller venues, its sound didn't quiet envelop the larger Record Bar the same way. Edington later confided something was off, and maybe I did notice a rare moment of trepidation in the third song when pieces didn't seem to sync like they always had before, but mostly the band sounded like the band – mighty and graceful, massive and intimate.

Low Forest were up next. This was my first glimpse at the new project led by local vocalist and guitarist Josh King. The live band was completed by Cayden Hunter's lead guitar, the bass of Alex Dunn, and the drums of Keith Howell. Together the quartet recreated highlights of the project's new album Extrovert – a set of songs that split the difference between psychedelia and doom. Progressive doom is probably a genre, and Low Forest probably belongs there. The band's songs are open, often languid affairs leaving room for every instrument, whether it's the pinging five-string bass of Dunn, the bright, pervasive, and processed leads of Hunter, or the clean vocals of King. I watched closely as King switched from guitar to bass VI several times during the set. Bass VI seems to be the rage with guitarists in Kansas City suddenly. I also looked hard at Hunter's guitar. I heard Stratocaster, but I saw Jazzmaster. His tone was often cutting and angular, starkly contrasting the rounded deeper tones delivered by King and either of his instruments. Later I found myself scouring the stage to find a bowed cello tone that I finally discovered emanating from Dunn's massive pedal board that rivaled the two guitarists in the band. They each had their own tricks, leaving me never quite sure what I was hearing or where it was coming from. The audience of admirers, however, knew what they liked, and shouted praise throughout half-hour set. But it wasn't until the finale that the band hooked me, playing a song in non-standard tuning with a calmer lead tone that allowed it to nestle alongside the rhythm guitar and bass. The result was a fat, Sunny Day Real Estate-like wall of comforting noise that I found immensely satisfying.

Headlining the night was Pallbearer. I'll confess that before the show my knowledge of the band was paper thin. I didn't know much more than the one-word signifier "doom," and the vague notion that they were unbearably heavy in a Sunn O))) sort of way. I understood that the band were formed a dozen years ago in the South, and recalled that I'd seen a handful of albums from the band when thumbing through stacks of vinyl. During the band's exhaustive 80-minute set, I'd test those preconceptions.

Thankfully my most basic supposition about the band was correct (definitely not a given) – Pallbearer was indeed a four-piece playing slow and heavy music rich in feedback. Doom. Although I came expecting long, droning songs with indeterminable beginnings and endings, much of the band's set was more focused. Post-grunge elements with commercial rock radio appeal colored many of the band's shorter songs. Interesting, and sometimes even tricky, progressive elements also slipped in. Some were sparse, others rich and full. Now I understood all the Opeth shirts in the crowd. I was certainly wrong about the Sunn O))) comparison.

The band is led by Brett Campbell, whose clean vocals and guitar provided much of the sonic flair. Joseph Rowland added bass and more vocals (occasionally lead ones), while Devin Holt contributed guitar and Mark Lierly, drums. The band's performance was subdued. There was no bassist skipping across the stage with wireless gear, no flamboyant guitar solos, no Christ-like poses above the audience at the edge of the stage. Campbell didn’t scream, "Kansas City let me hear you!" nor did he command that the audience "Get the f*ck up!" As I recall, the audience didn’t do much more than nod in awe throughout the set. Some heads were banged. Devil horns were thrown in the biggest moments.

Campbell was frustrated with the stage sound through most of the set, but the house sound was enjoyably vast – certainly full enough to bury the surprisingly large crowd that had come for a Wednesday night show. Midway through the set Campbell announced, "We're going to play a bunch of long songs now if that's cool." It was. It was also cool that the band played several new songs that it is currently in the studio recording. It will be their fifth release – their first coming eleven years ago. I wasn't too far off. The new ones seemed more dynamic, or at least they gave Lierly more to do. Several songs ("Foreigner" and "Worlds Apart") sent Campbell's vocals soaring skyward and even introduced unexpected vibrato. That had me hoping for a Rush cover. Early Rush. I didn't get it, of course, but a boy can dream.

The band ended the night just before 11pm. Eight songs played. No encore. Campbell announced that the band hadn't played Kansas City in a long time but were now anxious to return. Maybe it was a bit of showmanship, but for a band from Little Rock (does that meet your definition of the South?), Kansas City is an easy six-hour drive. When the band does make it back to Kansas City, maybe they'll be the reason I show up. And if they do, I'll be armed with a little more information about them.