I'll call this one The Whiffs' Album Release Show or The Night That I Gave Everyone in Lawrence COVID.
I made a day of it, heading to Lawrence early for a trip down Mass Ave. Records at Love Garden. Books at Raven. A burger and fries at Casbah. And then, after it got dark and I had already poked my head into every shop on the strip, a hot drink and a good book at La Prima Tazza. At 9 o'clock I walked to Eighth Street Tap Room where I was quickly rebuked by a worker who told me the show wasn't until 10. So I waited outside, stealing a spot on The Sandbar's patio, and wrangling each passerby that I knew for quick conversations on a lovely spring night. Eventually the main bar started emptying into the basement and I followed the lot into that windowless, cozy crypt of liquor.
At 10pm Jackoffs started a soundcheck. It was an R&B number that recalled mod's first go-round. I hadn't seen the band before, but that's not how I had them pegged from the flyers that regularly find me on Instagram. It made sense though – a mod band would provide a nice link to the rest of the acts on the bill. Satisfied, I settled in between the jukebox and the merch table, sprawling my backpack open and pulling out my camera to capture the rockin' trio. But it was a ruse. The band aren't disciples of Small Faces, but rather a punk band building its own sound with breakneck tempos (from drummer Jacob Smith), wiry guitar (from vocalist Jack Goodrich), and active bass (from Jack LaGue). Smith has an amazing scream, and the energy of the trio was overwhelming. The band played five or six songs in a blistering eleven-minute set that included all new material save "Scratch N' Sniff" pulled from its Prime Specimen album released only six months ago. The young band is in a hurry so grab on now and hold tight.
I stayed in the basement during the long break between acts, sipping my water, and leaning in close to friends as we shouted our conversations over the loud music.
By 11:00 the youth of Jackoffs was replaced by the experience of The Harrisonics. The band is led by namesake vocalist and guitarist Jon Harrison – a fixture in the Lawrence music scene for thirty-five years. He's appeared in all sorts of bands from power pop to country to surf and beyond. The Harrisonics reflect each of those experiences, such that even in the most straightforward power pop songs, Harrison's guitar solos recall the bluesy wail of The Yardbirds more than the tight rabbit punches of The Knack. The band is rounded out by bassist Bryan Anderson and drummer Bret Dillingham. Each took a turn or two on lead vocals when not contributing to the band's pretty harmonies.
The trio's long fourteen-song set was highlighted by its brilliant power pop songs, rounded by solid rock & roll, and punctuated with a couple of late covers, including a telling of Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide World" that had the audience singing along. The cover and set surrounding it were loose, jovial affairs. Harrison and Dillingham weren't always in sync, restarts were common, lyrics were posted on mic stands as cheats, and the trio joked with the audience quite a bit. At the Eighth Street Tap Room, the band plays on the floor immediately in front of the fans, who often must duck a guitar or bass when crossing over to the bar or restrooms. It's a tight communal venue, and I was in the middle of it all trying to snap photographs.
Between bands, I slipped to the back of the room where I found a chair. It was midnight and I was tired. I had been to the doctor early that morning and gotten a booster shot of my shingles vaccine. I was starting to feel the effects as my body battled the antigen.
Then it was time for The Whiffs. The headliner threw this party to celebrate the release of its new album – the long-awaited Scratch 'N' Sniff courtesy of Dig! Records. As a result, the thirteen-song setlist featured eleven cuts from the album, and only dipped back to the band's second album for a couple of fan favorites. While the album is new, the songs are not. Local audiences have seen the quartet perform some of these songs for five years, and as such there was plenty of dancing and singing from the crowd that had now pushed even closer the band. Only inches separated the audience from the microphones that lined the front of the stage, yet still I tried to slip into the gap to photograph the action as guitarist Rory Cameron, bassist Zach Campbell, and guitarist Joey Rubbish each provided lead vocals in turn, and backing vocal harmonies throughout. I wasn't very successful, and I had no better luck photographing drummer Jake Cardwell who was shielded by the wall of guitarists. As such I slipped to the side of the room and stood on a bench in hopes of catching a better vantage point. But soon I felt woozy. Soon everything was cloudy. My recollection of the show after the third song is fuzzy.
I recall that the band ended its set with "Verlaine," just as it does on the album. The song is like a post-credits scene in a Marvel movie, hinting at what's next for the band. Less skinny tie power pop, less jangly guitars, more art rock. While a two-song encore had been planned, the band skipped the addendum and ended the night where it was. I was thankful and packed up my camera quickly, avoiding my friends as my hands began shaking. The walk to my car was cold and I was halfway to Kansas City before I stopped shivering. I took my temperature before turning out the light. Nearly 102°.
For the next few days I lay on the couch, suspecting that I was battling the vaccine – my body tends to do that. But then I took a COVID test and tested positive. My first bout with the virus. I thought back to all the places I had been that Friday, all the friends I had talked to, the bands that I faced, and the fans whose shoulders I looked over. It was only small consolation that I had been wearing a new mask. So Lawrence, I'm sorry that I spread COVID throughout your town. And to The Whiffs, sorry I don't remember much of your show. Someone let me know, were they any good?