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Thursday June 29th, 2023 at White Schoolhouse in Lawrence, KS
Sweeping Promises, New Obsessions, & Thimastr

It's unfortunate, but this show fell to the bottom of a big pile of concerts that I needed to write about. It shouldn't have – certainly not if I cared about hits, as the headliner comes with plenty of buzz and its associated clicks – but sometimes something sours me on a show, and I just don't feel like revisiting it. So, here's a short recap. Just enough to stand for my memory when my internal recollections have all drained away.

I had time to kill so I took the country roads out to Lawrence. Sun out. Convertible down. When I arrived, the White Schoolhouse was a flurry of activity. Tents going up. Bands soundchecking on the back deck. I read in the car, talked to a stranger, and attempted to repair the busted camp chair that I had serendipitously left in my trunk. When I was satisfied, I walked to the lawn that stretches out behind the venue with my janky chair in tow. My wad-of-tape repair job would earn me a participation trophy at best.

A 7:10, locals Thimastr took the stage. Or rather the northern half of the venue's outdoor wooden deck. Although intuitive, I'll share that the band's name is pronounced as "thighmaster" – which was its moniker until a change was necessitated earlier this year. The band is a bit of a mystery. On this night, a five-piece puzzle, though there may have been more of them in the past. There's little about the band online, and what is there is woefully outdated. And just to be sure confusion reigns, the players generally use pseudonyms. Is yesterday's vocalist "Max Lock" now "Jordan" and does "Jordan" have a last name? These are riddles for another time, as I promised this would be short. The band is surfy with some twangy guitars. In the fastest moments, the quintet might be called garage. The simple drum kit, played by a standing percussionist, helped cement those associations. Throughout the set, reverb-soaked lead vocals cooed with backing vocals coming and going, earning frustration from the band and bafflement from the sound engineers as they swapped microphones, cables, and the like looking for a remedy. And when the microphone wasn't cutting out, it was a guitar misfiring. The set of unreleased songs was titillating, but the band asked me not to dwell too much on the performance. They felt it substandard and asked for it not to be shared. I thought it was perfect for a summer afternoon in the hot sun. We evidently have different standards.

An hour later, New Obsessions was up. This was the strangest patio booking of all time. New Obsessions is the work of Jorge Arana. It's a darkwave project built on dangerous shadows, fog machines, pulsing strobe lights, and the ability of its heavily costumed frontman to appear menacingly out of the darkness. Not much of that applies to a sunny outdoor gig where heat indexes still hovered near 100°. But Arana was undaunted, taking the stage with the customary white and black grease paint that obscures his face, the broad Elizabethan ruff that covers his neck, and the all-black uniform that completes the striking look. He joked that although his immobile face didn't show it, he was happy to be there. I watched morbidly to see if he would melt before his half-hour set was over. Arana's performance offered live vocals that were low and unintelligible in the mix, and a squirrely guitar prone to atonal winding diversions. A backing track added simple pounding percussion, throbbing bass, and assorted other elements such as haunted harpsicord reeling out of control. It's a lot, but when combined with his theatrical performance, it's just what audiences need. During the set, Arana frequently shook his head as if he was battling demons or at least trying to free his thoughts from the cobwebs that hindered them. During several of the instrumental breaks he raised a contorted hand skyward as if he were eulogizing poor Yorick. But instead of that hand coming out of the fog as it often does, it appeared in front of a blue sky dotted with soap bubbles blown from the revelers soaking in the kiddie pools just offstage.

The sun had set, but long shadows still tickled the stage when Sweeping Promises began. This is where brevity kicks in. Normally I'd provide lengthy exposition about the gallivanting band that recently decided to make Lawrence its home. I'd add a thorough examination of the critics' quick embrace of the band and its relationship with stalwart taste-maker Sub Pop. And I'd probably include a discussion of the band's anticipated second album Good Living Is Coming For You – an album set for release the following day, and the impetus for this gathering. But something played hob with my mind, and instead I'll just offer this:

The band is the duo of Lira Mondal (vocals/bass) and Caufield Schnug (guitar) with live assistance from drummer Spenser Gralla. Mondal was impossibly friendly and gracious, thanking the audience, the other performers, and the promoters throughout the night. Even thanking the sound engineers as they continued their battle with microphones and power circuits. Her vocals, however, were powerful at a minimum, and more often full of impressive growls, screams, and groans. Schnug's guitar was a jagged explosion of funky post-punk venom. His tone borrowed from Andy Gill and a rusty gate suffering through a windstorm. It was clear he wasn't steering the ship, but instead leaving those responsibilities to the bounding bass and cursory drumming. The thirteen-song setlist favored the new album, but also included a handful of previously released songs, alongside one that has yet to find an official outlet.

As night set in, a small string of lights glowed above the band, providing some festivity if not much illumination. By my count, 140 people watched the show – many studying the band from the crowded deck, some seated on blankets on the lawn, others while dancing in the grass under the moonlight. Many forever blowing bubbles.

Again, there is much more that could, and should, be said, but I've done all I can for now. The band's schedule will keep them in everyone else's backyard for the remainder for 2023, but I'll still hope for an odd local show between outings, as I'd like to give this one another go.