–by Nicholas Stahl
What happened to Spring? Rolling up to the bar dripping with sweat is not how anyone likes to appear when first greeting people for the evening. Regardless, I attempted to wipe my brow and continued past the crowd outside, stopping only for the doorman. Muffled sounds alluded that Dry Bonnet was getting ready to play in the basement. There were no intentions of missing a second of their set. Once successfully proving that I am of legal age to enjoy music, or drink, whichever brings one to the Taproom, I rushed downstairs just in time for the first song. Stepping off the last stair, my feet hit that basement floor and my senses were immediately ambushed. Ears became flooded with an incredible mix of distortion, delay and drums. At the same time, my body’s self-cooling techniques began an epic battle with my glasses, further aided by the stuffy nature of basements. Disorientation was not necessarily a disappointment. I spent a few moments attempting not to bob my head or tap my feet, just so I could wipe away the condensation from my lenses and put in my ear plugs… “Oh man… I totally forgot my ear plugs,” I thought to myself. Well, sorry ears. Finally, I adjusted to the conditions just in time to defend myself from the onslaught coming from the performers.
Dry Bonnet was loud, but the best kind of loud. You either chose to be a part of the experience or were going to be bombarded with the music if you didn’t. The energy was incredible. Dry Bonnet always appears to be having such a great time while playing their songs. I can tell just how proud each one of those dudes is to be collaborating with their friends. The chanting of “whooooah”s and “oooooohhhhhh”s echoed through the tiny space, catching the attention of nearly every ear in the room. The band pounded out the notes. At one point the kick drum resembled Laura Dern in Jurassic Park, struggling to hold the door shut as the raptors relentlessly forced entry.
Dry Bonnet’s melodies, combined with their radiating energy, create an atmosphere that often leads to inner struggle. The discourse between intensity and the urges to dance confused the crowd. Should we be dancing or punching each other in the teeth? Since this was by no means a hardcore show, I chose to keep my hands to myself, mostly. Not particularly knowing how to dance, I swayed and bounced like inexperienced tightrope walker, carefully dodging the other audience members. Thankfully I was able to keep my balance just long enough to survive the entire set. Honestly, I don’t think I would have minded if Dry Bonnet continued; even if that meant ending up on the ground. I heard the fall is the best part.
Once Dry Bonnet was finished, the crowd dispersed and spilled out onto the smoking patio, a.k.a. the basement steps. I chose to wander upstairs to the domain of non smokers/pool players. Before I could even settle in, guitars could be heard from the depths once again. I quickly gathered my belongings and made my way back downstairs. Mouthbreathers were about to begin. The set change over was extremely quick. This, paired with my near genius-like ability of observation, led me to the conclusion that the bands were sharing gear. It makes sense. I mean, they share a bunch of members too. I would try and explain it all to you but I think even I would get confused. The ones who played in multiple bands, played multiple instruments, and it was incredible. Shows where bands share gear/members always seem to have a different feel. Everyone is there to play together. It doesn’t matter who has the best gear, the songs and the people are what take precedence.
The crowd had pushed in closer, surrounding the band, leaving just enough room for the bass player to float out in front of the band. In response, the band pumped out waves of sound as the bass player began to jump towards the low ceiling. He nearly hit his head every time. Closer and closer to the ceiling, he resembled a child in a wave pool. Attempting to time his leaps just right, he could avoid being buried by the sound and retaliate with ferocious bass lines. In a strange turn of events, the band stopped unexpectedly after just a few songs. Energy in the room flipped like a switch. They appeared to be having a great time, but needed to call this one short. Regardless of the shock involved in such a short set, Lawrence loves Mouthbreathers and anxiously awaits their next rowdy punk rock dance party.
Everyone seemed to quickly get over the confusion of the last set and prepared for Rooftop Vigilantes. I have seen Rooftop countless times since moving to Lawrence years ago. This was my first time seeing them play in the Taproom basement. The low ceilings and excited crowd added to the enjoyment of the entire experience. Some of my favorite shows in Lawrence have been at the Taproom. Trust me, this has nothing to do with the sound… it is a basement, but it doesn’t seem to matter. When a band is playing on the floor with their fans, opposed to on a stage above their fans, the set feels so much more intimate. Interactions between musician and audience member are enhanced as if close proximity is a musical aphrodisiac.
Between songs, jokes or friendly heckles were tossed back and fourth. At one point Rooftop prefaced their slower song, which is only slow in direct comparison to their super quick tempos in every other song, “We are going to play a slower one now. You might think it’s kinda pussy, so we are gonna dedicate it to MCA, so if you don’t like it, you are an asshole.” The crowd cheered as we all tried to pay a little respect to the late great Beastie Boy, Adam Yauch, who had passed earlier that day. They finished up their set with a few more quick yet solid tracks. After all the madness had ceased, the bands and friends mingled expressing gratitude that everyone was there for the same reason, live shows in Lawrence rule.
A night that could have been filled with drunk students prematurely celebrating the end of the semester by getting belligerent in public, was rounded out quite nicely by the community feel that is so often associated with close-quarters venues. This was reinforced by the family-like relationship those three bands have. Rooftop Vigilantes, Mouthbreathers, and Dry Bonnet represent a division of the Lawrence punk scene that continues to impress. I look forward to any upcoming events with these bands individually, but I will not miss any events in which these bands collaborate.
The ride home was nerve-racking, avoiding Tennessee Street like it was the central outbreak point of the zombie apocalypse. Finally making it home, I could see the aftermath of parties throughout my neighborhood, all of which seemed to be free of any broken bottles. The next morning I awoke to the sounds of shattering glass on the cement. I peered out my window to see two young children picking up bottles left in front yards and hurling them toward the ground. The boys quickly ran from the splash of sharp glass that rebounded off the sidewalk. Those two party animals in training represented the energy of the previous night. Punk is full of tension, excitement and angst. The release of these things through music is beautiful. Hopefully those kids grow up to be musicians, finding a way to harness the exhilaration of smashing bottles and turning it into an explosion of sound. I don’t condone breaking bottles, or anything, really. Let’s face it, breaking bottles is fun. It would be rather surprising to me if any member of those three bands told you different. Don’t break bottles, start a punk band.
–by Nicholas Stahl