Thursday February 14th, 2002 at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS
Sean Na Na, Mates of State, & The Appleseed Cast

Sean Na Na Sean Na Na Mates of State The Appleseed Cast [more]

Oh it's been weeks since the show and the memory has all but faded. I said I'd write a little something about it to one person and now they're pressing me. So, here we are...

Valentines Day at the Bottleneck. There weren't red paper heart streamers and no one was selling roses. You couldn't see love in the air and there weren't couples staring longingly at each other across a glass of Shiner Bock.None of the bands really mentioned it, or if they did it was veiled and in passing. Maybe bars know that people in bars on Valentines Day just don't want to be reminded of the holiday they aren't participating in.

Although it's a holiday I protest, I know better than to ignore it. Which leads to a pretty sticky situation when two months in advance you see a show announced with Mates of State and Sean Na Na. And Sean Na Na and Mates of State are two of your favourite new bands. And it's Valentines Day.And you're trying to woo someone.And that someone doesn't care for your music at all. Well it's like Black Flag sang: "My girlfriend asked me which one I like better -- I hope the answer don't upset her."

So without roses, without candlelit dinners, and without fanfare we arrived at the club. Although I was told to expect an early show time, the show, of course, started around 10:30 as always. There were certainly a respectable number of fans in attendance initially, however that number would swell to a throng by the time Mates of States played, and ultimate constrict to only a few score by the time Sean Na Na completed their set. For opener The Appleseed Cast however there was room to move around the front of the stage, although never without standing in a fellow concertgoers line of sight. I apologize now.

I've seen The Appleseed Cast far too many times to say anything fresh and insightful about them.Generally each show consists of the same richly textured emotional and dense rock. Slow and thoughtful with even their releases being controlled and choreographed. Although the band is generally removed and professional about their set, it does feel sincere. Saying anymore about the band or this short set would just be repetition.

Repetition be damned when it comes to the Mates of State. Although it seems like only yesterday that the band played their triumphant return to Kansas City set at El Torreon, it was in fact 3 months prior. Since November, their latest CD (Our Constant Concern released January '02 on Polyvinyl), has been released, the band has shot to the top of the college radio charts, and their new label has taken the band to locales and magazine lobbies they had never seen before. The past three months here seem so uneventful; maybe it's best the band did get out.

Just as I did in November, I perched myself on the side of the stage in a somewhat conspicuous locale.From my supreme vantage point I saw many of those same storylines repeated: keyboardist/vocalist Kori Gardner and drummer/vocalist Jason Hammel played despite lacking monitors, they shared communicative glances, and continued their casual and relaxed nature in what really can't be described as a performance as much as simply playing. It's as if the band were warped back to a black and white film where the socialite in the fantastic beaded gown begs the suave man in the smart tux to play her something on the piano that sits in the middle of a surreal Manhattan apartment. Is this parlor music for the new millennium?

Oh, and then there were the fans; grrls stood up front singing along to every song and with cheap cameras they sparingly snapped photos that will adorn mirrors and shoe boxes.As each song began a visual clue of recognition cued the retrieval of pens and paper from backpacks -- the necessary tools to record the playlist. Will this journalism find it's way to a thin paper zine sold for fifty cents at Prospero's Books, a diary, a livejournal site, no where?

As I alluded to above, the hundreds of fans Mates of State packed against the front of the stage weren't inclined to stick around for Sean Na Na. Sure some of this flight can be attributed to the night's "school night" status, but I heard more than one person coyly ask their friend "Who is Sean Na Na?" Although I was sure I could answer that question in a million ways before Sean Tilman began his set, afterwards I wasn't so sure.

Sean Na Na was Sean Tilman.His personal triumphs and failures with love and drugs and life became songs of poignant and compelling beauty. Armed with his acoustic guitar, a devilish pop sensibility and little more, Sean Tilman became Sean Na Na.His first tour added a wry keyboardist named Lucky Jeremy who naively plucked out Sean's melodies on a beaten Fender Rhodes.They had no idea what they created or how it touched me. Flash forward another year and add in a full-time drummer. Another year has passed since then and the threesome have become a foursome, Lucky Jeremy's piano is now a digital keyboard, and Sean Tilman's acoustic guitar has been replaced by an electric.Now even I have to ask, "Who is Sean Na Na?"

On the band's latest recording (My Majesty released in February '02 on French Kiss Records) Sean Na Na is a power pop band. Sean has tried to recreate the energy on stage and has, sadly, chosen to bring more power than pop. The enveloping magic I love and had anticipated for two months was lost to rumbling bass and raucous power chords. When I asked the band to play my favourite song I was flatly told, "We don't know that one yet."

At that point I realized the curse of Valentines Day. It seems as those most holiday barflies have come to protest something or forget it.On Valentines Day surely most enter the bar with a broken heart or at least a lonely one. Although I entered in high spirits, the curse found me and when I left The Bottleneck, my heart hung heavy with the loss of my Sean Na Na. Only a tray full of donuts can cure a hurt like that and so I left the bar and pointed my car towards Dunkin' Donuts.