You can’t say 2019 wasn’t without a few surprises! This was a year full of changes. We gained a new venue (hello, Kaw Valley Public House!), The Granada bought the Bottleneck, and a few more businesses got run out of town (smell ya later, Jimmy’s Egg). It’s been one hell of a ride Downtown (and in North Lawrence), and as the decade comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on what thrilled and exhilarated us. We’re not just talking musical acts that were impressive. No, this is a list for the parts of the music scene that agitated and left everyone in a frenzy. Here are, according to I Heart Local Music’s staff, the Top Ten Most Badass Things we saw in the Lawrence music scene this year.

Asmo / Photo by Fally Afani

10. Asmo

All hail Asmo: The Dark Prince of the Kansas City goths.

Every now and then, someone really, truly takes a stab at art. Over the Summer, Asmo killed it.

If you’ve been active in the Lawrence music scene, then Asmo is a familiar face. You’ve likely seen him playing bass with Vibralux. But his solo work is where he really gets to shine as an artist. When he opened for My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult in June, he made sure his Lawrence debut was an unforgettable one. Every single song was thought out as a performance, with no two alike and each feeling like an experience. Though he began the set with a mask, he eventually revealed his doe-eyes, revealing an Edward Scissor Hands-esque expression, but with far more confidence. Think of famed David Bowie vampire film “The Hunger,” if it were presented as a live show.

Asmo / Photo by Fally Afani

He enhanced his thickly-layered synths and throbbing bass with various incarnations of a light show (flames, synthetic lights, etc.). But the most eye-catching displays of light where when two corset-clad goth gals appeared in chastity belts and proceeded to grind them down. Sparks flew everywhere! You thought “Surely, SOMETHING’S going to catch on fire!” But it didn’t! Shit, just our pants caught on fire, the display was so alluring and hot! And if you doubted the authenticity of these two industrialists (who OBVIOUSLY aced their shop class in school), there was the smell. Every time they went to town grinding down the metal down on their pelvic areas, you could smell it. A burning that hung heavy in the air so long you could taste it. That made this show a treat for all the senses.

I don’t know what Kansas City did to deserve such an extravagant and effective display of artistry, but Lawrence deserves to be seething with jealousy right now. We’re biting our nails (and grinding our belts) until Asmo returns.

The Black Creatures / Photo by Fally Afani

9. The Black Creatures

Something tells us Lawrence is going to go hard for The Black Creatures this year.

You’ve seen them pop up at the Replay occasionally over the past year. Together, the sci-fi themed dark pop duo can do it all.

Sporting a superb energy and a vocalist who uses every inch of the stage that’s available to her, they exuded charm and had a knack for keeping the audience’s gaze fixated on their every move. This was a dance of opposites— they could rap and croon, you heard delicate keys but also throbbing bass hits. Altogether, with a backdrop of jazz-infused hip-hop, they have an unforgettable (and deliciously intimidating) stage presence that will take the scene by storm in 2020.

You can see them in the new year on January 2 at the Replay with Bad Alaskan and Collidescope (this is a can’t-miss show for January).

They Watch Us From The Moon / Photo by Fally Afani

8. They Watch Us From The Moon

If you love metal but wish it was a little more celestial, then you might enjoy Lawrence’s newest space-themed band.

Not every band knows how to give em the old razzle dazzle, but They Watch Us From The Moon (still the best band name in Lawrence) make a compelling case.

The space rockers have been luring in Lawrence audiences over the past few months with a flair for the theatrics. Fans have been eager to take in this exceptionally loud and sludgy band because their songs are often accompanied by a narrative. Every member dresses like they’re going to war, but IN SPACE. Big boots, robot arms, cloaks, and even a laser gun are all part of their battle attire. They look like space warriors who have seen some shit. Heavy on the guitar solos and wailing psych-infused vocals, the band also dabbles with theremins from time to time (for those extra pew-pew moments!).

Nerd bonus: The band puts out their own comic book starring their own members. You can pick it up at their shows, and see how their songs play into the storyline.

Radkey / Photo by Fally Afani

7. Radkey at the Bottleneck

Radkey play a lot of good shows, but this was a great one.

As one of the region’s most thrilling and recognizable bands, the trio of brothers have spent the last decade became a favorite (if not the favorite) in the area rock scene. They’re one of the bands that made it big. They constantly tour the world, they’ve popped up in a commercial, and (most important of all) they keep it real. You can see them on a festival stage overseas, but they’ll also hit up the Bottleneck every now and then (like they did in March). For those unaware, Radkey looooooooves the Bottleneck—  to them, it’s a tried and true rock venue.

Radkey / Photo by Fally Afani

We’ve yet to see a band so precisely utilize their space on the stage. Most groups take quite a while setting up, checking all the pedals and levels. Not Radkey… these guys storm the stage, plug in, and get to work in the blink of an eye. They’re well-rehearsed, and it shows. A band with just three members could easily be swallowed by the stage. But Dee, Isaiah, and Solomon use it to their advantage. All that space allows for sprinting, thrusts, and leaps into the air. It’s no wonder their fans lose their shit any time they step away from the mic. Just the contorting flexibility they tend to flaunt while shredding and blazing through their solos is a sight to behold… and because this is a punk band (and punk songs tend to pass quickly), the transitions between throwing down onstage and hitting up the mic move seamlessly and effortlessly.

Split Lip Rayfield / Photo by Fally Afani

6. Split Lip at Lucia

Who the hell green-lit the Split Lip show at Lucia?! Are you trying to get us killed?? Everyone KNOWS Split Lips fans show up by the hundreds, yet here the fuck we are, inside the cozy little venue that can house a couple of hundred people at best. We damn near brought a can of oxygen with us.

To give you an idea of how it felt to go to Split Lip Rayfield’s barn-burner-of-a-show this Summer, more than 800 people RSVP’d to a venue with not even half of that capacity.

It was a tale of two celebrations. For Lucia, it was celebrating three years as a successful venue and popular watering hole in Downtown Lawrence (an impressive feat of its own considering the revolving door of new businesses that skyrocketing rent keeps out). For everyone else, it was a pre-Winfield party (we all know how rowdy Winfield fans get).

Attendance was damn near mandatory at the surprise pop-up show at Lucia. People showed up early, wearing little more than sundresses and a pair of flip flops. They knew it was going to get crowdy (crowded and rowdy), as well as a little moist.

There were no openers, just Split Lip. With speeds so thrilling on the frets, the band plowed through no less than 25 songs. If you stand up close, you can see dust flying off of gas-tank-bassist Jeff Eaton’s fingers and dissolving in the air. Though they all take turns on the mic for vocals, fans tend to love it when they all lean into the middle mic to harmonize.

You can watch a clip from the night below. No, there’s nothing wrong with the video. It’s not sped up. They really are that fast (it’s hard to believe that some songs clock in at around one minute).

Cuee with Glass Bandit / Photo by Fally Afani

5. Cuee with Glass Bandit at PRIDE

Last year, Lawrence dipped its toes in the water for PRIDE month. This year, it cannonballed.

It’s easy to see that LFK has been wanting to celebrate its queer residents for a while. This year, PRIDE for the Masses grew so large, it had to be moved to the Granada. The event was free and all ages, so Lawrence showed up in big numbers. They were treated to thrilling drag performances from area performers, as well as an exciting set from Wick and the Tricks.

But Cuee stole the show when he debuted with Glass Bandit. Somewhere along the way, he traded a DJ for a live band and knocked it out of the park. This decision made Cuee’s songs a thousand times more robust, and the place just exploded. Everyone was dancing. Your mother was dancing, and it felt like the stage was on fire. Cuee had to yell so loudly, his voice nearly gave out. Here’s the moment Cuee stormed the stage with Glass Bandit:

Unfit Wives / Photo by John Knepper

4. Unfit Wives

Bluegrass rules the Lawrence music landscape right now, and one of the bands you have to thank for that is Unfit Wives.

Along with the birth of Kaw Valley Public House, Unfit Wives made sure the genre had a banner year—  nobody had a better 2019 than Unfit Wives. They went from debuting in front of a modest crowd at Frank’s to dealing with an RSVP list of 600 people in a 200-some-capacity venue within just a few months. By the end of the year, they had gained enough status where they could be one of those bands that played every week, a faux pas for local bands unless you have the chops to back it up (and they did).

There’s a lot to love about Unfit Wives. Their harmonizing, their furiously fast fiddler, their trash tack— the fever is high. This is one of the few bands that can get away with yelling “Damn That Man!” several times over onstage, only to be met generously with applause. They play hard, they play fast— and sometimes, their fingers bleed. They have helped define the nature of bluegrass shows in Lawrence. The new bluegrass fan is no longer seen as a drunk and surly hillbilly. It’s all good vibes and laid back demeanors.

If you want to catch them one more time during their banner year, they’ll be playing a New Year’s Eve show in Emporia.

DFITD / Photo by Fally Afani

3. DFITD’s drummer putting everyone to shame

Remember when every drummer in the scene got flexed on by a teen girl? You should have seen the bewilderment at the Replay that October night. 15 year-old Delaney Jaster stole the show with her expert drumming skills for the band DFITD (pronounced: defeated).

It was all eyes on her as she just destroyed during the band’s set. In addition to nonstop stick tricks (so much twirling!), the songs allowed for several drum solos that built up the momentum. We glanced around to read the room, and Everyone had their phones out in astonishment, and it was clear they were impressed just as much as they were seething with jealousy. We heard one audience member half-jest “I don’t appreciate being flexed on by a 15 year-old girl.”

 

SLAW / Photo by Fally Afani

2. The birth of SLAW

You’re driving through the desert at 100 mph. The sky is green. The mountains are on fire. You look over to see who’s in your passenger seat: it’s Satan. You’re both on drugs. And what’s on the radio? It’s SLAW.

Somewhere between Lemmy and Metallica is SLAW. The band, featuring Gnarly Davidson’s Sam Gunnerson and Mitch Jones, along with SONA’s Bobby Reeves, debuted the vicious sound over the Fall. Listening to SLAW makes you grow chest hair on the spot– fuck that, it makes you grow KNUCLE hair. Listening to SLAW means you know Kung Fu. Fuck, man. One time Chuck Norris listened to SLAW and starting whimpering in fear. When Liam Neeson found his daughter in “Taken?” He was listening to SLAW. SLAW is the only gauntlet capable of holding the infinity stones. If Thor’s hammer had a soundtrack, it would be SLAW. SLAW is three hot speeds and a whole lot of cock, and it’s here to fuck you up. Everyone, bow down to SLAW.

Final Girl and the Monsters / Photo by Fally Afani

1. Final Girl and the Monsters

It was a good run. A good, intense, bloody fucking disgusting run.

Though Final Girl and the Monsters called it a night earlier this year, the disturbing images from their shows live on— hold onto your butts, and get the barf bag ready, it’s a doozy.

The Topeka-based gore-horror-themed punks made an unforgettable debut at Field Day Fest this year. The theatrics were overflowing with violent imagery. They threw a severed head around in the same way one would throw a beach ball at a music festival. They doused their fans in blood, they slipped in blood, and they probably swallowed a little blood.

But what really got the audience foaming at the mouth at their shows this year was when they threw a Trump doll into the audience. It took all but a few seconds for the blood-doused fans to dismember the puppet on the spot. When it burst open, hundreds of condoms spilled onto the floor. Art.

Final Girl and the Monsters fans / Photo by Fally Afani

Things spiraled from there when they hit up the Bottleneck a few weeks later. It was the condoms, really, that made the mess. At some point in the night, long after they had covered the stage equipment with big blue tarps, they pulled “intestines” out of one of their fans, leaving a mess of sausage-link-esque-blood-filled condoms everywhere. A couple of songs later, they’d warn “Oh, this is a bloody one.” Oh, the previous numbers weren’t?… and would you believe it, that statement made fans actually sprint towards the front. Man, Topeka bands are wild. By the end of the night, one of the guitarists said “There’s so much blood in my mouth.” Understatement of the year.

Thank you, Final Girl and the Monsters, for bringing Lawrence back down to Earth just when we were getting a little too fancy with our dream pop bands. Your insatiable appetite for shock ability to risk it all for art is the reason you’re the #1 most badass thing we saw in Lawrence this year.

 

Honorable mentions: