Friday October 27th, 2000 at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS
Shiner, Lafayette, & The Casket Lottery
The most important thing to note about this show is the magnanimous event which occurred during my drive to Lawrence. There I was on I-435 heading around to K-10 when I was passed by a beige Lexus SUV with Wisconsin plates. That isn't the odd part. The peculiarity was that as the behemoth vehicle changed lanes in front of me I noticed two rather large TV screens staring back at me. Being the TV junkie that I am, I sped up and followed the Lexus closely in hopes I could watch a little while I drove. Now I'm familiar with the 80's excess which placed small TVs in conversion vans to keep the kiddies occupied on the cross country trips, but this was two big (well comparatively) TV screens, one behind both the driver and passenger seats, one for each of the unknowingly spoiled children who were riding in the ultimate luxury to see their grandmother four states over. It just boggles the mind.
I arrived in Lawrence just as my Roger Miller CD hit Kansas City Star and evidently during Friday night cruisers' rush hour. A side street, a quick parking job at Borders, and into the club for the second night in a row. I had hoped to catch up with Danielle to thank her for the kind words said about this site, and luckily enough I spotted her and Keanon (he's the easy one to spot) back on a pool table. After essentially inviting myself into the game, I called winner and eventually bested that winner in a most bizarre match of missed elementary shots on my part and made impossible ones from Keanon.
Despite Shiner's soundcheck only a half hour earlier, the vigilant soundman (Casey) felt it necessary to check opener The Casket Lottery's levels for a painful fifteen minutes. All the while Danielle and I stood in front of the stage making small talk over the thud thud thud of a floor tom. The band looked just as antsy and when given the option to begin then or wait ten minutes they quickly accepted the former and began their set.
The band has spent the past few days (long days I'm told) recording for a new album with Ed Rose at Red House Studios. The show seemed to back that fact up. As bassist Stacy Hilt noted late in their set, the brand new songs came off flawlessly, while the older ones frequently contained a missed cue or fudged tempo. The players themselves seemed tired and there wasn't the amount of movement the band (and particularly vocalist/guitarist Nathan Ellis) typically displays.
However those downsides were totally forgiven when the band debuted three or four wonderful songs. The songs are intelligent and heartfelt with hooks that don't trivialize them. Their duel heartfelt vocals weren't overused as in the earlier material, but instead the melody and rhythm spoke the mood and emotion well. In these new songs Hilt's bass lines seemed to be more adventurous and he played them confidently. Following, those bass parts figured more prominently into the songs. Drummer Junior (Nathan XXXXX) also seems to have been practicing and the drum lines are much more interesting than the standard fare he was once accused of limiting himself to. Undeniably The Casket Lottery is an incredible band that Kansas City (and Lawrence) simply takes for granted.
There was another long soundcheck before relative newcomers Lafayette were able to begin their set. Although the band haven't promoted themselves well (they have no website, no mailing list etc...), a buzz has started, and it's that buzz that landed them this opening slot. Even though the band has played mostly hardcore shows (possibly due to a friendship with a prominent local hardcore promoter), their fan base seems to be as eclectic as their musical influences. As I stood up front taking pictures, a blonde "woo girl" in a Jayhawks T-shirt asked me why no one danced to the band. I mean, this is indie rock, duh? She later explained that she was a "relation" of the band's manager. Manager? Maybe a new hire to help the band increase its visibility. Let's hope, as all-too-often manager translates to friend who can't play guitar and knows nothing about a the music industry.
Normally it's a safe bet to fear any band whose bass player plays any bass with more than four strings or a fretless bass Lafayette's bass player plays both. Normally when a band opens their set with a guitarist finger tapping on a Charvel, you know you're safe to run an errand Lafayette opened with both guitarists finger tapping in unison. Normally when a drummer sets up his kit with any sort of variation it's an indication that you're in store for some ego Lafayette's kick drum pointed upward at a 40º angle. Normally when a band brings their own projection show you know someone's jealous older brother couldn't play guitar Lafayette brought a show beginning with trippy morphing orbs. You know that for a band to overcome deficits like these, they better kick unholy ass Lafayette did.
A fan of theirs described them to me as Sunny Day Real Estate meets Rush at a Phish concert. Those sort of descriptions are always silly, but this one is strangely appropriate. Their music is adventurous, moody and explorative without being overly technical or formulaic. The guitars worked flawlessly together, neither one playing a complete part, each simply playing their part in a larger composed musical vision. The bass and drums played together so well that in the more aggressive parts of the set, even Getty Lee and Neil Peart would be jealous. Quite an impressive young band to watch.
I thought Shiner might be hard pressed to top Lafayette but with hundreds (if not thousands) of nights spent on stages in far-away clubs, Shiner were really in no danger of being shown up. Shiner are consummate professionals with a dynamic frontman in vocalist/guitarist Allen Epley who makes comfortable contact with the audience. Not only did Shiner help create the dense Kansas City sound, but they brought it to the world. Neither Kansas City nor Shiner could not have a better ambassador.
The band played a mix of brand new songs, ones from the current album, and old favourites giving everyone a little of what they came for. Although Epley introduced a section of their set as "a string of the hits" it was really the newer songs that brought the most energy and interest, with the older songs coming across a little flat and a little dated. The newer songs however were awe inspiring. There is more flare all around, more variation, better song writing and just more interest.
The band's reinvention is partly due to the contributions of its new members who have found their contributing roles. Guitarist Josh Newton alone has pumped life, energy, and danger into a band that many felt had seen it's best days. The band is arguably the best they've ever been and that has to excite every Shiner fan.
The band ended their set with an unfortunate no-win situation. In what was to be their second-to-last song of the night Epley broke a string. Knowing it would be anti-climatic to pause the show while he changed the string, only to come back and play one more song, he simply said goodnight to the audience. The fans however continued to cheer and ultimately the band decided to go back out, change the string and play their final song. However the bartender then turned the house music on and the audience started to walk away. At that point Epley again decided that the band was done for the night and put a confusing end to a wonderful show.
A quick footnote: I parked along the back side of the Border's lot, those spots that are marked "No Parking Midnight to 6am". Well I figured that the cops never ticketed anyone who parked there since I had parked there so many times before, well they do. At 12:30am. $20 worth.