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Thursday July 28th, 2022 at The Replay Lounge in Lawrence, KS
Straight White Teeth, Heidi Gluck, & Blanky

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For me it was a lifetime ago. Seeing a friend while walking across campus on my way to class. Planning to hang out later. And then making that telephone call at 10pm to actually meet up and start what would be a long night. A night that would often bleed into morning. The Replay Lounge has been that spot for students and recent grads for years. Bands (and/or DJs) start at 10pm. A time when most people I know now have settled in. A time when no sane person would think of beginning their night. Oh, to be young and ridiculous. But in the past few years The Replay has expanded its reach with what it (tellingly) describes as “matinees.” Skewed by the late-night bar’s normal hours, this translates to shows that start just after 6pm and wrap up just past 9. An “early” show. One that is just right for someone of a certain age.

It was 6:25 when Anthony Cunard took the stage as Blanky. Blanky is a project that has mutated and shifted through its four years of existence with players coming and going, styles being embraced and abandoned. A new incarnation of the band will debut in August, but today Blanky is Cunard. Cunard, his clanging National guitar, and his mustache. Blanky’s set drew from old and new songs with more than a few being small-scale versions of full band compositions. Of these, Cunard told the audience, “A lot of these songs have drums and bass and keyboards,” so they’d have to “use your imaginations.” But that wasn’t necessary. The sparse songs played were quite fulfilling on their own.

Cunard has a deep round voice. The bass-baritone of Neil Diamond comes to mind. And whatever you think of Diamond’s songs, that comparison is a compliment. His voice was juxtaposed with his crashing guitar played through a comically small amp. He plays with a sharp plucking attack that gives way to a menacing howl sculpted by a tremolo bar. Pluck-and-clang is usually something I associate with a banjo, not an electric guitar. The band’s inventive songs were generally structured, though calling them pop might be a stretch. Most moved languidly at a deliberate pace. Several neared the indie folk of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and that Drag City ilk, several went off the rails in enjoyable freakouts of pedal-augmented noise that recalled the dank surrealism of Bardo Pond.

The audience began to fill in during Cunard’s set. Ten fans became 40. But Cunard didn’t alter his performance. His stage banter was limited. The names of the songs played, and their inspirations remained a mystery. Maybe he mentioned the merch table and the shirts and cassettes he was hawking. He stayed close to the microphone through most of the set, pacing slightly when vocals weren’t necessary, but there was no effort for showmanship. No guitar hero faces. No skipping about the stage. His music did all the work. Similarly, he looked like he had just come from work at a garage – name patch on his work shirt and all. I wondered if his worn brogues were steel-toed. I wondered when I’d see Blanky again, and if the full band version would be just as striking.

Golden hour bathed the stage with its buttery glow just as Heidi Gluck began setting up. Temperate evenings on the Replay patio are simply divine. Five minutes later, Gluck plugged in her silver Gretsch electric guitar, and did something I hadn’t seen her do before…she introduced her teenage son Ollie Cash. Together the duo began with a cover of the Michael Nesmith-penned “Some of Shelly’s Blues.” Cash’s tumbling fingerpicking, his mother’s vocals and melodic lead. While Cash only joined Gluck for the one song, she teased that he would be back “some other time.” He took a cute bow as leaving the stage. He’s tall and talented and still a kid.

The next portion of Gluck’s set was a roller coaster of new and old songs played on her electric guitar. Saddling a genre on Gluck is difficult. Folk without flower, rage without volume, pain with resilience. Both definitely country and definitely not. Her lyrics often focus on relationships – mostly those that have gone sour – and the expectations that people (including Gluck) have hoisted upon her. The songs are well composed and poppier than the indie folk of Bill Callahan or Damien Jurardo, but they’re all cousins. Her voice is strong, controlled, and vulnerable in all the right ways. Seldom does she reach full voice but when she does, it’s amazing. It may be at its best when she dips into a deep alto. I can’t say enough good things.

Gluck introduced a few songs, but mostly just told the audience if the song was new or old. It wasn’t long before she realized that was the extent of her banter, but she shrugged it off, telling the audience, “This is who I am.” After a chilling performance of 2016’s “Jumping Vows,” Gluck spotted Hannah Novaria in the audience. Novaria played drums with Gluck during that era, so Gluck cautiously called out to her, asking, “You wouldn’t want to sing would you?” Novaria gamely bounded up on stage without reservation. Together the duo then played the tenderest of kiss-off songs “One of Us Should Go” from the 2015 EP The Only Girl in the Room. Afterwards Gluck would spot her bassist from that era (Michelle Bacon) in the audience as well. This was a theme. Dozens of friends had come out to see and support Gluck. Friends, fellow musicians, neighbors. Many of them with children in tow. The Replay patio served as a front porch, and the friendly townsfolk all stopped by to say hello on their evening strolls.

After a half dozen songs on electric guitar, Gluck moved to her electric piano for a similarly haphazard set of new and old material. When playing piano her songs are even poppier, but from pop’s Tin Pan Alley era. On “Better Home and Gardens,” Gluck sings of frustration and domestic malaise over a melody so perfect one would swear it was a stolen standard. In a new song about her anthropomorphic diary, the piano line is almost cartoonishly pat. The matched lyrics are not as silly as they seem. Listeners are just going to have to deal with Gluck blithely singing the word “diarrhea.” Of that song, Gluck stated that it was currently unreleased, just saved as a file on her computer. She promised that someday it will be pressed to physical media, then sarcastically added “so it can live in my garage.” True and inexcusable.

Things had shifted by the time Straight White Teeth’s Patrick McGuire took the stage. The neighborhood that had come to support Gluck had left to manage baths and bedtimes. The sun had dropped behind the buildings and taken its buttery glow with it. Stage lights were turned on, coloring McGuire (and the small table which housed his sampler and laptop) red and then green and then yellow in unexpected intervals. While the patio was full, it was full of the sort of clientele that frequent bars in college towns. We were at a different show now. And the vibe was off.

Patrick McGuire was nervous. Today was his first day at a new school. His Stright White Teeth project had just relocated to Kansas City, and he was anxious to impress his new classmates. During the mic check he dropped a “Hello Kansas City” then sheepishly corrected himself. He didn’t laugh nervously afterwards, but I’ll pretend he did. McGuire's music is indie. He’s a singer and a guitarist and with the help of a laptop providing backing tracks (a lot of piano, but anything up to full orchestration was fair game), he builds broad songs that don’t live far from performers like Phoebe Bridgers or Hayden. Is Sad Boi Indie a thing? The project used to skew toward shoegaze, but in the past few years those elements have dropped off and finger-picked acoustic guitar now reigns. His voice is pinched and tight and a bit affected. Not unpleasant, but not natural. Between songs McGuire gave hints as to the origin of songs. Most, it seems, sprung from a bad breakup. You could feel the emotion in his voice when he spoke about the songs, less when he sang them. I’m no psychologist but he seems to be dealing with a lot.

Several songs in, one of the patrons began to dance. She was out of place at a show where everyone was seated, but she was feeling her night. Feeling the beer in her hand. Maybe feeling the music. It was strange, but any performer who has ever played a stage has dealt with something similar. Despite his tightly closed eyes, McGuire was undone by her presense. Immediately after finishing the song, while backing tracks still played and guitar chords still rang, he blurted out “I just have to ask, is this part of some Tik Tok challenge where you dance hard to the most sad bastard music you can find?” Ouch. Immediately he tried to walk it back, but it just stayed awkward, and McGuire didn’t talk for a while.

McGuire drew his setlist largely from his new (and third) album, Intimacy Coordinator. Included in that mix was a sparce cover of Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms” and a haunting orchestrated cover of “What a Wonderful World.” The later recalling Morrissey’s turn on “Moon River.” Both recorded due to a connection with his ex. Later McGuire introduced “Lifeguard” as “a real dark one.” He’s right. On the album it is a piano dirge akin to “Rocket Boy” from Jets to Brazil with similar vocal treatment. Live he performed it on acoustic guitar, devoid of any diluting backing tracks. It’s a good song. And heavy as promised. I’m not sure anyone was prepared.

His set closed with 2017 single “Lifetime.” For this track, McGuire set down his guitar and played the small keyboard of his sampler. A backing track provided a full rhythm track and female backing vocals. This (relatively) bouncy composition recalled a lot of contemporary indie artists and their flirtation with R&B. The song is enjoyable, but seemingly a lifetime ago for McGuire. Let's hope some of those Midwestern neighborhood vibes do him some good.