Add one to the list of the great shows that have come through KC that you didn't show up for. It was a lot easier to feel good about the scene before El Torreon I'd go to the Bottleneck or the Hurricane and there would always be a pretty good crowd. However at El Torreon, no one just shows up. At El Torreon, each paying customer has made a conscious effort to check out the band playing no one is there for the booze, to hang out, or the DJ spinning later that night. Now I understand the motivation for the "We fuckin' rocked. Where were you?" stickers that I picked up at The Fusebox when I first moved here.
The String and Return made their inaugural visit to the El Torreon with what singer/guitarist Andrew Ashby described as a shaky show. I wouldn't have pegged it as shaky, but it was a stiff thirty-five minute set of low impact, quiet music that deviated little from its nearly comatose pace; the modus operandi of the band. What was unusual about the band's performance was how rigid they seemed; it was as if this was their first show after not practicing for a month. I would imagine it had more to do with this being the first show the band has ever played stone sober (again, according to Andrew).
With a lack of audience interaction (and lack of audience in general), and a performance that seemed half-hearted at best, this couldn't be counted as one of the bands career highlights, but it did introduce their mellow, atmospheric and utterly cohesive music to a new audience. The band played well and always plays well together with well written songs that are best experienced at high volumes while lounging on your living room couch (the one that came from grandma's house God rest her soul).
Appleton Wisconnsin sounds like an all-American town. I bet everything is clean, people have common sense, handshakes seal deals and lawyers are only there to draw up wills. You just know it can't be far from Garrison Keillor's Lake Woobegon. However every Mayberry has its Otis T. and Appleton's dirty secret of tension and discontent is The Transpire Ton.
The Transpire Ton write music that fuses the complex and mathematic sounds of Chicago (truly the Midwest's bastard point) with the thick emotional indie rock the rest of the heartland is known for. The band began with an instrumental that flowed in an comfortable way with swells in both tempo and volume that were reassuring more than jarring. However as the set continued, the genres continued to commix with hardcore in a way that although common seven years ago when the emo scene was born (shut up there was no emo scene around Embrace), has since moved far from vogue.
To further align themselves with the hardcore scene there were three solid vocals (with one supplying the obligatory wrenched screams of agony) and jumps that no self-loathing indie non-rocker would ever attempt. Of course the apropos finger tapping from the second guitarist was something neither camp has ever dealt in though would certainly impress the progressive-come-math crowd (oh wait that's just me there's no "crowd").
The band were comfortable on stage and joked frequently. I suppose there was no need to be nervous when at one point their audience had thinned to only the members of Sunday Flood and myself. As much as I would like to feel smug and superior about this, it's the band that suffers especially a high energy band that looked to feed off an audience that just wasn't there.
For Sunday Flood (also from Appleton) the crowd had returned to a pride-preserving level (aided when several members of The String and Return, well, returned from the neighborhood bar). My previous experience with Sunday Flood was somewhat limited but I thought I had remembered them to be an obvious emo band, with few surprises. Misrememberments abounded as the band's music was anything but casual.
Although that emo core is there, the scent of a crafty indie band is much stronger. Watching the stage show, I'd also be willing to wager that several members of the band have done time in a hardcore band as well. Their set was very solid though nearly too dependable with only a few songs that differentiated themselves (such as a delightfully mathy tune which they dedicated to The Transpire Ton). I was also a tad disappointed that they chose not to engage the audience much. Between songs the band tuned their instruments silently (and frequently) before returning to the microphone to begin another song; it was as if they vanished for forty seconds after each song.
Aside from that disjointment, probably caused by the big stage/small crowd misadventure presented by the El Torreon. I couldn't help but wonder how Cursive could play to 100 kids in the same hall and Sunday Flood could play to 20 when both speak to the same aesthetic so well. Maybe word hasn't gotten around yet to what a great live band Sunday Flood really is.