2011 saw more new bands and festivals than you can shake a stick at. We launched the site in the Spring, and since then have been overwhelmed with the remarkable performances that came our way. Here’s a list of the most memorable shows we saw in Lawrence this year.
Editor’s note: Click on each number to view the full article, complete with photos & videos from the shows.
On a cold, rainy and just miserable Monday night in November, the Jackpot nearly filled to capacity to watch Merrill Garbus and company fill our ears with shrills, impressive and complicated beats, and a knockout performance.
With war paint striped across her face, Garbus lead the Jackpot crowd with her loops and battle cries while the crowd chanted back to her demands. This show was actually rescheduled after she cancelled earlier in the year; and as evidenced by the fan reaction, it was well worth the wait.
There was no greater surprise this year than seeing a band just knock it out of the park at their very first show.
In September The Sluts played to a crowd of less than 20 people ahead of An Horse at the Jackpot. The Sluts are everything you could ask for in a rock band. They’re screamy, noisy and completely unapologetic. The most fascinating part of the performance is frontman Ryan Wise’s growly and incredibly unique vocals. What’s even more impressive is that the duo haven’t been spotted in other bands in Lawrence. This is a completely fresh and marvelous new sound for the area.
There really isn’t anything quite like seeing a bunch of grown men dressed as bananas rocking out to some hardcore southern rock onstage. This was a show that kicked off Halloween weekend in Lawrence, with nearly every musician in all three bands in costume (as was most of the crowd). After seeing both Quiet Corral and Cowboy Indian Bear play smaller stages all summer, it was refreshing to see the local maestros have the freedom to perform as wildly as they wanted on a large stage with a fantastic sound system. It really invigorated their sound.
Cowboy Indian Bear debuted an unbelievable amount of new songs off their upcoming record that night. One has to love Quiet Corral for filling a venue with nothing but the most wonderful and excitable fans. They seem to have a knack for that. Perhaps it’s because of the percussion party they bring to the show (watch the teddy bear drummer go nuts towards the end):
October brought us one of the most well-respected electronic acts in the world. Anders Trentemøller is such a striking electronic music producer, I couldn’t believe more people were not at the Liberty Hall show. This was certainly one of the more remarkable stage sets I’ve ever seen, complete with fences that rose out of the ground and entrancing images on the screens. The light show was simply bedazzling, even bringing a collective “Whoa!” from the audience at one point.
The show provided dance music for every type of dancer, and every single person on stage played an incredible role. This was a group of musicians who abandoned recorded noises in favor of real live music on real live instruments. It wasn’t uncommon to see Trentemøller with one hand on a moog synthesizer and another hand banging a cymbal (instead of pushing buttons on a drum machine). This was the most “live electronic” sound you could get out of a band, and (as an electronic music lover) it’s a show that I’ll never forget.
It didn’t take long for local garage rockers Mouthbreathers to impress the pants off of me. They wasted no time showing how fast and hard they could play, and within 30 seconds people started appearing out of nowhere to surround the stage and rock out in awe of the set. Every member of this band had a very controlled intensity about them, which left you intrigued and often begging for more. The musicians played fast and hard, yet it still felt like they had an even crazier rocker waiting to bust out.
No Joy is a delicious shoegaze band that I just can’t get enough of. I rarely get to see women who can ACTUALLY play guitar, and these women shred while splitting their time between crooning into the mic and hunching over their guitars. Don’t expect to ever see their faces. The ladies are full of attitude and you won’t seen anything but their wild manes flipping all over the place.
On a beautiful night in June, the Granada gave us one of my favorite shows of the year. This almost made it to the #1 spot on my list because the lineup was so diverse and mind-blowing. Hush Hush was a crazy, scantily-clad man who bounced around in a red cape and giant gold necklace while singing into a mic over a machine. The buzz surrounding Smith Westerns was still incredibly high, and the band still acted incredibly unaware of their immense talent. The young, doe-eyed rockers provided irresistible choruses over wailing guitars, and charmed the pants off of the crowd.
But it was Yeasayer who blew us all away. Their Middle Eastern-toned music drew in a packed crowd who danced the entire night away. There wasn’t a still body in the house, and the crowd went wild every second of the show. This was definitely the concert of the summer. The photo gallery from the show is definitely worth checking out.
There really is no band that will make you feel as dirty as The Hips. One a steamy night in April, they brought their upbeat tunes and sexual tension to the Jackpot. The brand new band, comprised of members of Fourth of July and Drakkar Sauna, spit out one filthy sexual innuendo after another. Every song is like a riddle you have to figure out, buried within the type of love letter teenagers pass to each other in class. The songs are full of cheeky lyrics such as “we would horse around with each other, and probably end up under the covers.” It won’t be long before the ladies are throwing their panties at the stage whenever The Hips play.
After providing the Lawrence area with ten phenomenal years of stupendous rock shows, Eleven Productions rewarded the scene with one mind-blowing night. They went all out with a massive birthday celebration that spanned six venues and featured 40 bands on 11/11/11.
The mini-festival of rock started early, and by the time Ricky Fitts took the stage at the Jackpot, the crowd was massive and rowdy. Garage rockers filled the Replay, chiptune madmen ruled the Bottleneck, and hard rockers nearly destroyed the Jackpot. A lot of local favorites (like Fourth of July and Suzannah Johannes) entranced the Taproom, Murder By Death and Matt Pryor both packed the Granada for their shows, and even Love Garden opened their doors to some acoustic acts.
The night also served as a fond farewell to BaioWolf. The raunchy and over-caffeinated duo went out with a bang as they played every single venue on the bill for their final show(s). They even joined JabberJosh at the Jackpot for a very special “ironic” rendition of a Limp Bizkit song, which left everyone equal parts excited and uncomfortable (watch the madness erupt at 1:37):
The moment the first band started playing at Spring Into Summer Fest in May, tornado sirens went off. It was a sign of immense things to come that night. A funnel cloud never appeared, but a storm (complete with terrifying lightning) swirled over Fourth of July as they played for an excited and aroused crowd. It is exactly that kind of electricity that filled the air the entire night when bands like Hospital Ships, Drakkar Sauna, and Old Canes played.
Some of the best rockers in town shared stages at both the Replay and the Jackpot. Mansion and Major Games rocked our souls while storm warnings flickered on the television screens at the venues. Earlier in the evening, Hospital Ships’ Jordan Geiger leaned into the mic and said “I’m glad a tornado didn’t hit this because, aside from being dead, all my favorite bands would be gone as well.” But judging by the massive display of support for Lawrence’s finest, I think it’ll take more than a tornado to knock out this top-notch music scene.
1. Middle of the Map Fest
Day 1 and Day 2
I wanted to keep this list strictly about Lawrence shows, but Middle of the Map fest was such a proud day for the Lawrence AND Kansas City music scenes, it simply couldn’t go unnoticed. Half of Lawrence was at this event anyway.
Middle of the Map was such a force to reckon with. It was probably the only show in the area that could bring together local bands, new bands and reunited bands. The festival even brought out the elusive Daniel Johnston, who may as well be considered underground royalty.
On a beautiful (and stormy) Spring night in April, dozens of acts took over the stages of the Record Bar, the Riot Room and the Beaumont Club. All venues were within a city block of each other in Kansas City’s Westport. Minden was a novice band at the time comprised of several veterans, including Casey Burge (of Kelpie fame). A Lull, of Chicago, mesmerized the audience with their captivating dual-drummer performance, and the recently reunited Casket Lottery rocked the Riot Room while a lightning storm raged outside. This was a weekend where you could see Spirit is the Spirit then turn around and see Two Door Cinema Club; or perhaps you preferred taking in a Roman Numerals set before heading over to see The Raveonettes fill the Record Bar to capacity.
But there was no greater pairing of local bands with famous faces than the moment Capybara joined Daniel Johnston onstage. Just a year earlier, I had watched Capybara play a very self-conscious show at the Bottleneck where they nervously made fun of themselves. Fast forward to Middle of the Map Fest, where they not only put on an absolutely stunning performance, but they didn’t miss a single beat when they served as Johnston’s backup band. They played beautifully for the legendary musician, whose hands shook while he sang, his voice cracking and wrought with emotion. The magic moment melted our hearts, which swelled with immense pride for Capybara. This was a beautiful, once in a lifetime event, and we were all a part of it. This was a tremendous, emotional and passionate moment for Kansas City, and I couldn’t help but notice people leaving the venue a little weepy eyed.
I don’t know how they put on a local festival at local venues featuring local bands paired with the musical heroes of our generation, but Middle of the Map nailed it. Years from now we’ll all be telling our children about this show, and how the famous and the fabulous shared stages with our friends and neighbors while lightning and rain ruled the sky. It’s a story that should evoke bands and promoters in the area and let them know that thrilling nights like this really can happen. Middle of the Map was an awe-inspiring moment that set an example for the local music community, and for that we should be eternally grateful.
Editor’s pick: Top performance of the year goes to Cowboy Indian Bear playing “Stranger’s Heart” at Middle of the Map Fest. This was a brand new song from the band at the time, and the haunting performance left a sort of eerie sensuality in the air. The band has been fine-tuning their sultry songs to the point where it can drive one mad, and this specific performance is one that will haunt me forever.