Last week we went over the top ten most badass things we saw in live music, but with touring bands. Today, we’re going over the wildest and best moments in live music from local acts. 2017 was a tough pill to swallow, and the local rockers, performers, and scenesters made it not only bearable, but downright exhilarating. Here, according to I Heart Local Music, are the top ten most badass things we saw from local bands in 2017.
Early in the year, Arc Flash decided to throw down hard. Their release show was Arc Flash at their Arc Flashiest. The band known for wild stage antics, heart-racing numbers, donning space suits, and holding a finesse for weirdness may very well have reached the height of their antics at their February release show. They pulled out all the stops for an already stuffed crowd and armed their fans with gadgets, lights, noisemakers, tambourines, and bubbles. The bubbles were everywhere, and somehow lasted nonstop through the end of the encore. Nobody was still, not even the drummer (who ditched the stool and instead balanced himself on an amp). The band eventually became one with the throbbing, pulsating monster formed by the audience— and for a few moments comprised of rapid, two-minute psych punk racers, everyone was on the same page.
Everything the crew of rappers and R&B crooners did this year has been a gift to the Lawrence music scene. Under alccalh’s masterful production, the team of crowd pleasers are perhaps the most precious commodity trend seekers can claim right now. Every show brought squealing fans, dance parties, and their A game. But perhaps what’s most relevant is the crew’s ability to stay on top of trends in a time that dangerously caters to nostalgia (blech) and stagnant sounds. Vivid Zebra is a well-oiled machine, and they put on the type of show that scoffs at set lists (because they’ve got it all on lock). Ricky Roosevelt’s rich baritone is the very definition of charisma, and Raymond (or Sweet Raymond, as the scene as started addressing him), has a voice that is all sex. This is the voice of sensuality and bad habits— and when he fires up his set, inhibitions go out to the window.
Also, shout out to Raymond’s Gnarly Davidson crop top at Field Day Fest.
Very rarely do we see more than one release show on these top ten lists, but Stone Grower’s release show was one for the books. This was less of a release show, and more of a local psych-rock festival. Every time we think Psych Rock is on the way out in Lawrence, all the bands reel it back in. We saw the best the state (not just the town) has to offer— Gnarly Davidson, Braingea, and JC and the Nuns were out in full psychedelic force while both Mystery Blood and Ghost Town Strays (who we’ve heard fans describe as Dick Dale on acid, but with masks!) proved that the Wichita rock scene is absolutely outstanding right now.
Oh shit guys, we said we’d keep KC off this list. But HighWesthus is pretty much an honorary Lawrecian at this point.
If you don’t like HighWesthus’ live shows, you are obviously a dummy who is allergic to fun. The man rolls hard, kicking up and dancing up a storm at his shows. He also released an album that was actually three albums in one. His tape release show at the Replay in August was, from start to finish, a high-octane performance that never once slowed down. His music is ahead of the trends, mixing classic sounds with stylish and modern lyrics, while his stage presence is a step away from the norm with local hip-hop shows. The energy that comes out of this guy had all the ladies sprinting to the front row, hands in the air with tussles shaking (and attitudes misbehaving). HighWesthus is a vivacious dancer that lured even the most timid concert-goer in with rapid movements, leaving nothing but a trail of smiles and applause.
Jesus Christ! No really, Jesus Christ. Onstage. With his posse of psychedelic nuns. This year, Lawrence joined his followers into this new, far out kingdom. JC and the Nuns is comprised of some of the greatest masterminds in the local psych rock scene. Featuring members of Stone Grower and Bloom (whose vocalist gives us the Jesus vibe anyway with that gorgeous mane), watching their groovy tunes could very well be a religious experience for you. Jesus’ Eddie Vedder-esque growls and screams will put the fear of God right back in you. But beyond the costumes and flair, this is psych rock at its rawest and most perfect. If you weren’t into the local psych rock scene before, you sure as hell (oops) are now. Go ahead. Let Jesus (and the Nuns) into your heart for a rocking good time.
Jesus will rise again in 2018 with their album release show in January.
This Summer, Lawrence was handsomely rewarded with one of the most LFK events of the year thanks to a diverse lineup of local giants. The Granada, along with Eleven Productions, blocked off Mass Street for a massive, free outdoor show for the masses. The Get Up Kids, who at that point were long overdue for a Lawrence show, put their international touring on hold and headlined the big event. They were joined by local viral (and extremely talented one-woman act) superstar Kawehi, as well as up-and-coming songwriters Lily Pryor and Iris Hyde. By the time The Get Up Kids took the stage just before dusk, the entire block between 10th and 11th streets was filled to the brim and positively buzzing. The band dug into all their gems, heavy on explosive and raw emotion, powered by an energy that has yet to be matched by bands in their peer group. It felt like one big LFK lovefest, and was the very example of how to throw a block party.
This was the biggest Field Day Fest for Lawrence, featuring more than 100 bands from Lawrence, Kansas City, Topeka, and the surrounding regions scattered at venues throughout Downtown Lawrence. The festival featured soft crooners like Crystal Rose and downright hot messes (we mean that endearingly) like Vibralux, who threw Courtney Love-esque temper tantrums onstage, surrounded by Barbie Dolls, goth boots, and plenty of drag. Vibralux downright had one of the best sets of the entire weekend, as did the entire Datura Records showcase (which featured the liveliest names in hip-hop, including Approach and Sheven). Jaenki was a pure-bliss, whimsical getaway from the business of the festival, and The Phantastics got the dance party started.
But it was Gnarly Davidson who stole the show with a heavy-metal headbanger to close out the second night of the festival. If you didn’t get punched in the jaw, you were probably doing it wrong. This is where festival-goers came to lose their shit. Bassist Sam Gunnerson was the main culprit, sporting an onstage persona that has become a bit of a chaos commander, constantly rallying the troops into mayhem. One glance at the audience showed hippies, punk rockers, and hip-hop heads all smashing together in hysteric unity. It was like the United Colors of Benetton, fueled by uppers and booze.
The entire festival closed out with a rager from Nancy Boys. Which, speaking of…
Nancy Boys couldn’t have had better timing when they decided to step into the scene back in March. Never mind that the debut of these feral wolves was one of the most anticipated events at the Replay in months… the punks in town had reason to be riled up. The scene was in an uproar after one of their own was jumped and violently beaten the night before (supposedly by a white supremacist). This was the second time that week a rocker had been jumped downtown by a white supremacist, so the punks were out in force for Nancy Boys’ introduction to Lawrence music scene. They were there to flex their muscles and do what irritates white supremacists the most: exist as hard and loudmouthed as they could.
From the get go, bodies were flying, fists were flailing, and knees were kicking. But it was when the singer, a favorite amongst the local punks, mentioned the attack that the crowd really lost it. A random punk was tossed into our gear, preventing us from getting appropriate photos the rest of the night. If there was ever a time for Nancy Boys to make their big debut, this was it— and they could be the channel that strengthens an already tightly-bonded scene at at time when punks need solidarity (and protection) the most.
This unruly shit was their first song.
The hardcore band’s sets are famously short. They average about ten minutes, and you better believe every one of those minutes is the best moment of your life. When they closed out Field Day Fest in July, festival-goers spilled out of every venue and piled into the Jackpot for what would be, by far, the most chaotic event of the week. The madmen went right to work, and absolutely destroyed the place. The band didn’t even pause between songs, the tunes just slammed into each other as hard as the lunatics in the crowd. The venue had to turn the lights on and kick everyone out! When’s the last time you remember that happening at the Jackpot? Like every other notable Nancy Boys show, the fans drank it up to the very last drop, leaving on an incredible high, drenched in sweat and chaos.
Lawrence has been itching for a really good, all-ages DIY venue for punk shows— and this Summer it finally got one.
In late August, White Schoolhouse (or as we like to call it, Fancy Outhouse North) launched the first in a series of thrilling, heart-racing basement punk shows (curated by Petri Productions). This particular event coincided with the eclipse, and showed a large eclipse decoration hanging behind the bands in the basement.
Upon pulling into the dirt road leading to the space, revelers were greeted with a large sign that read “Punk Show Here,” courtesy the local art supply store Wonder Fair. The owner of the local record store, Love Garden, donned a neon yellow vest and directed traffic. This was truly a community effort.
Inside was a who’s who of the local scene. The humidity was as thick as the political tension that hung in the air throughout 2017, and that was reflected in each of the sets provided by the musicians. At a time when we, as a people, are most vulnerable, Ebony Tusks provided the type of music the becomes our rallying cry, while Warm Bodies encouraged us to embrace our panic. The singer had a full, public (intentional) meltdown and threw a tantrum ALL over that venue, slamming herself on the ground with ear-piercing shrieks.
Downtown Boys, out of Rhode Island, continued the politically-charged sentiments of the night with songs that addressed our role in the world and responsibility to mankind. This band brought the party, you guys. There was jumping! Sax! Punk! Dancing! Everything you could ask for at a wild punk show (except for a pit) was there. Despite the sweltering basement temperates and eventual roaring storm outside, scenesters young and old remained planted in that space to fully embrace the party.
Throughout the venue’s shows, like the Halloween get-down and the Puerto Rico Benefit, White Schoolhouse has remained a raucous, crashing success. It joins the ranks of Decade and Haunted Kitchen in the movement that’s putting DIY shows in Lawrence in the spotlight. We anticipate phenomenal success for the North Lawrence space throughout 2018.
1. Every single musician who stuck it to Donald Trump
Like, WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING. Are we in the Upside Down? We used to avoid commenting on politics, but this is 2017. Politics and the arts go hand-in-hand. The 2017 political landscape was so beyond fucked, with rapists and Nazis attempting to run the place. Hell froze over, except it didn’t. It got warmer. Polar Bears starved to death. We’re about to lose everything that’s good and holy regarding health care, the internet, and just our overall sanity.
But musicians in Lawrence fought the fuck back.
It started in January with a fundraiser for the Kansas Progress Institute to fight the Koch brothers, where some of the biggest names in local music (La Guerre, Arc Flash, CS Luxem, etc.) donated their talents and time. Then, Truckstop Honeymoon debuted a trash-talking bluegrass tune to diss the Governor of Kansas. Later on, local acts donated their Bandcamp earnings to the ACLU. This Spring, the Train Park played host to a women’s solidarity event with female-fronted performers. Over the Summer, at Live On Mass (which made it to #5 on this list), Making Movies unfurled a large banner reading “WE ARE ALL IMMIGRANTS.” “I’m not ashamed to be a Latino!” the band’s frontman, Enrique Chi, declared. “I’m not ashamed to be an immigrant! I’m not ashamed to be an immigrant in this country!” He then gave “a middle finger to Mr. Trump.”
But perhaps the title of King, with regards to sticking it to the political administration, belongs to THE TurdKing, Stiff Middle Fingers’ Travis Arey. This exceptionally cruel display against women, immigrants, and overall U.S. population agitated the band more than usual. On Inauguration Day, he dressed up like Trump in an oversized suit and drank from a jug of “piss” onstage and dubbed their performance “The G-O-PEE-PEE Party.” He wore a sign that read “Impeach Me.” At every show they had in 2017, they dedicated all their most hateful songs (especially ones with the words “Fuck You” in them) to the President. This Fall, he traveled to Washington, D.C., and mooned the Vice President. That’s dedication.
So here’s to you, LFK. Here’s to not taking it sitting down, here’s to fighting back, and here’s to standing on the right side of history. When our grandchildren read their history books (or, rather, online articles) this is what they’re going to remember. They’re going to see La Guerre’s anti-Trump shirt, they’re going to see how much cash-strapped musicians like Joel Bonner and the guys in MaceMouth donated to the ACLU through song, they’re going to hear Making Movies’ voices ringing loud and clear for immigrants, they’re going to see Stitch81Classic helping women take a day off to strike, they’re going to see Travis’ butt.
Three out of the five writers at I Heart Local Music are direct descendants of immigrants, and most of our contributors are women. So from the bottom of our hearts, thank you.
Now get out there into 2018 and make trouble.