Every day I receive dozens of new music recommendations, mostly from strangers paid to tell me what's good, in hopes that I'll tell other strangers. It's all a shell game, and I'm not sure it's doing anyone any good. I'm not even sure if it's making anyone any money, but I'm certain that if it is, it's not the artists that we're all busy telling each other about.
Of course, the disembodied endorsements generally miss the mark. Those strangers are exactly that — they can't know my tastes, but even if they could, there's no incentive for them to care, when it's just as easy to send a publicity blast to 400 random names on a purchased list, as it is to twelve expected-to-be-receptive ones. But sometimes this removed recommendation works. Maybe it's a song that the influencer of influencers shouldn't have even bothered to tell me about based on a big data review of my spending habits, but none-the-less speaks to me on that day. Similarly, this unfamiliar hawker comes free of baggage, untainted by my own knowledge of that person's tastes and the scene they are a part of. If your metal friend tells you a band is great, you've already applied some filter. If metal isn't your thing, that recommendation carries less importance. In these blind recommendations, there are no filters.
This is all a longwinded way of telling you that I'm not sure who told me about Sorority Noise, but I'm certain it was someone who didn't know my musical tastes, and whom I didn't associated with the emo revival scene. And to that stranger, I am thankful.
Much to my amazement, the first band took the stage at 7:30pm just as the promoter had promised me earlier in the day. This is something to write home about. Sadisfied were up first. They're local (from Eudora, Kansas — a rural something somewhere between Kansas City and Lawrence), young, and still in the heavy growth phase. The band is led by the guitar and backing vocals of Easton Kewley, with vocalist/bassist Dylan Monahan close on his left, and drummer Tristan Yarnall completing the trio. The band's set was emo-by-the-numbers with sharp dynamics, anguished second vocals, emotional (occasionally self-loathing) lyrics, and a song dedication to a friend (presumably) who had just taken his life the weekend before. This fourth (revival) wave of emo includes all the lessons learned from earlier waves, including aggressive post-hardcore, screamo explosions, and introspective elements, while also highlighting finger tapped guitar bits that seem unique to this incarnation — I don't understand where that came from, but it does add a nice twinkle to the sound. Sadisfied may have played larger venues, but I got the impression that this was their biggest show. And despite a few false starts, the crowd was enormously receptive. Was it stocked with ringer family and fans, or did it win over an audience primed for the sound it delivers admirably? I've no idea, but the screams from the audience packed against the stage were real, and I look forward to hearing where the band goes.
If truth be known, for months I thought of this as the Obsessives show. The band's 2017 self-title album on Lame-O Records is destined for my year end "best of" list, and single "Surfer Rosa" is about as hook-filled as an indie rock song can be. When this show was first announced, I was giddy. However, as I stood in front of the stage, watching a five-piece version of the band hurriedly set up, it occurred to me that songs created by a duo in a studio were going to sound very different on this stage.
The touring version of The Obsessives is led by progenitors Nick Bairatchnyi (vocals and bass) and Jackson Mansfield (guitar and vocals), with support from second guitarist Andrew Wilson, keyboardist/third guitarist Jess Sands, and drummer Jordan Krimpston. Sadly, this amalgam of musicians never seemed to gel. No matter where I moved in the room, the sound was always disjointed and muddy, melodies were hard to decipher, and Bairatchnyi's leads were buried. Only the songs with monster riffs (such as the aforementioned "Surfer Rosa") really cut through the din. I don't recall any banter with the audience, as the band moved quickly from one track to the other — determined to pack 31 minutes of music into the 30 it had been allotted. The quintet closed its set with "Bored" from the band's 2015 debut Heck No, Nancy (Near Mint Records). The song created an effective bridge linking its current indie rock aesthetic to its decidedly more emo past, and to that of the rest of the bill.
The night continued with Mat Kerekes. Kerekes was, and continues to be, a mystery to me. Before the show, I learned that he fronts the (often categorized as) post-grunge band Citizen, and he credits Third Eye Blind for his songwriting style. Neither fact filled me with optimism. As his live band (another five piece!) began setting up on the stage, my trepidation only increased.
Despite the simple singer/songwriter genesis of Kerekes' songs, his live band was surprisingly successful in translating this material for the bar stage. The key was simplicity — the bass player followed the acoustic guitar, playing only the root of each chord, the drummer merely kept time, and the keyboardist purposely filled in the gaps. Only the occasional twinkling of an electric guitar shone past Kerekes's own voice and acoustic guitar. The sound engineer molded the five players into a full, rounded pop sound that enveloped the club nicely. In the moments where Kerekes voice swelled to a scream, the band waxed accordingly, but even these moments couldn't stir the crowd, who spent the entire set standing with arms crossed, attentive, but unswayed.
The final act of the evening was Sorority Noise. There's no point in including a long bio for the act, as I'm the one late to this bandwagon, and chances are, because you're reading this, you're a bigger fan than I am. The band is fronted by vocalist and guitarist Cameron Boucher with assistance from sideman Adam Ackerman (guitars/keyboards/backing vocals), bassist Ryan McKenna, and drummer Charlie Singer. Based purely on the amount of gear that the band had back-lined before doors had opened, the tech readied at the side of the stage, the custom light show (and operator) it had brought on tour, and the laminates worn by its members, the foursome had come to rock. Except, as Boucher confessed before the first number, he was ill. After promising to do the best that he could, the band exploded into its first number. Ackerman was all over the small stage, lights were flashing, guitars were held aloft and let to ring, and the song closed in a percussive triumph befitting a finale. In some ways, it was. Neither the band nor the audience matched that early peak, despite a sweaty fanbase that shouted every word to every song, jumped, pushed and jostled in a small, unwelcome pit, and pumped their fists to every syllable uttered by Boucher in the songs' oversized choruses. There were audience favorites, and moments that introduced extra frenzy into the club (one severe enough that the band stopped the show to tell one guy to calm down), but my lack of familiarity means the setlist specifics are now lost to time.
After an understandably abbreviated set, the quartet retreated backstage, while the audience called for more. Tipped by the lighting tech, I knew to expect a return, and when the band did resurface, Boucher explained that there would be two more songs and then he was going straight to bed. Boucher then allowed the set to end with a whimper, offering up "Queen Anne's Lace" from 2014's Forgettable (Flower Girl Records) as the finale, because "it's easy on me, and I don't have to move a lot."
So, there we have it — a show I shouldn't have gone to, headlined by a band I shouldn't have liked, set into motion by a stranger. Sometimes it takes a bolt of lightning to get me to leave the safe space of my own echo chamber, and I'm not proud of that. So come on strangers, keep making those recommendations. Let's see where you take me next.