Too Much Rock
Pics+Video Podcasts Singles About
Friday April 12th, 2024 at Replay Lounge in Lawrence, KS
Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy, & Liney Blu

I sing the Replay matinee. You should head to Lawrence a little early to wonder Mass Street. Get a book at The Raven. Get a 7" at Love Garden. Maybe a Mothra plushie at recently-expanded 1313 Mockingbird Lane. And then you can slip over to Replay Lounge to sit in a booth with a ginger beer and watch bands play as the sun slips behind the buildings. What could be better?

Liney Blu started the night off. Sometimes they play with a backing rhythm section, sometimes it's just Blu and their acoustic guitar. This was one of the latter. Their set was maybe six or seven songs including a couple of covers. Finger picked, plucked, and strummed. Mostly cowboy chords except for (ironically) the interesting jazz chords played in the song about longing to be a cowboy. Fahey-styled wizardry isn't necessary for these songs – they just need heart, and they have that. From what I gathered during a short 24-minute set, Blu's songs are mostly about love and yearning. The theme even carried over to the cover of "Folsam Prison Blues" that closed the set. Blu's telling initially hued close to the original before stepping out a bit after the first chorus. You gotta be brave to step out on Johnny Cash, but that's Liney Blu in a nutshell.

By 7:00 the sun was getting low, and my ginger brew was now only a lime floating in water. I poked at it with a straw while Jona focused on catching Pokemon. I've had her explain it to me a million times, but I still don't get it and I know she's tired of explaining it me. The patio wasn't crowded, but it had filled in a bit over the last half hour. Patrons in the back, their kids running around in front of the stage or drawing on the cement with stubs of sidewalk chalk. This is an early link in a long chain of warm Friday evenings that residents of Lawrence will spend on the Replay Lounge this summer.

Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy have been around a long time. Willis has had decades to figure out what his band is all about, but I'm still guessing. The band straddles genres. All of them. This is good news for audiences. First, decide which genre you like, second find it somewhere in the band's sound, and lastly, fall in love. For me the kernel that stole my heart is the band's nods to the unnamed pre-indie, post-post-punk sound that the American underground created in the mid '80s. You'll hear something entirely different. I promise.

Willis sings and plays guitar – typically rhythm guitar but that can change from song to song. His voice is both soulful and insistent. It's the blue-eyed bastard child of Van Morrison and Roger Miller (the Mission of Burma one). His vocals and guitar are the root of the band's songs. Sometimes he does them on acoustic without his Erratic Cowboys. It takes a strong song to be pared down to its bones and still survive. Willis has those songs. But they're better with his band – especially with lead guitarist Bradley McKellip. He's the best sideman in the city. Maybe the whole galaxy. During one song his solo earned applause and a call out from Willis. It was long and lyrical and a little aggressive. Sometimes his guitar growls. In another song (a new one) his solo was twitchy, recalling Adrian Belew's work with Bowie. In that one bassist Eric Binkley delivered an atypically funky bass line. His fingered bass always cuts through, but this one was special. The quartet is completed by drummer Austin Sinkler. He's a heads-up player constantly scanning the stage. He may not be directing, but he makes sure it coalesces.

The band's long 85-minute set covered all the bases, from those kept in the back of the cupboard to brand new debuts, and from plaintive laments to howling paroxysms. This ensured every fan got to hear whatever it is they love about the band. And that schism is sizeable as some of the audience has been following the band for years, while others were very new fans such as the adorable bounding toddler who jumped through much of the set, rushed to take the stage at one point, and even slid off her diaper instantly creating a link between Wil Tillis and Tom Jones that I had not ever considered.

By the end of the set the red stage lights had come on completing the transition from Friday afternoon to Friday night. Afterwards families surely headed home for baths and bedtimes, the college kids started their bar crawls down Mass, and I slipped into Fat Shack for some very hot french fries to complete my very good matinee at Replay.