Friends, the Lawrence music scene is an absolute thrill to experience on a weekly basis. It really feels like there’s something for everyone here, with all genres of music making consistent appearances in our venues. COVID threw everyone in the region a few curveballs, thanks to regular spikes at the top of the year and in the Summer. But it isn’t hard to find where the magic happened. Here is, in our professional opinion, the top ten most badass things we saw in local acts in 2022.
Editor’s note: There were a lot of very good shows this year, but we’re only covering the ones that thrilled and bewildered us, earning a spot on the badass list. So… take it with a grain of salt.
10. Captain Howdy and the Sunset Serenaders
We’re not going to lie, the last couple of years have been rough for emerging bands. The pandemic put a halt to all things live music, and that included any potential creation of local bands from the college scene. Even in the year after the shutdown, new bands weren’t forming. Now, finally, over the last few months, we’re seeing bands emerge from the college scene. At the top of that list is Captain Howdy & The Sunset Serenaders.
When they played as part of a stacked local lineup at The Bottleneck in August, you could immediately feel the energy in the room change. The crowd was over the top and filled with that young energy we’ve been missing from shows in Lawrence over the course of the pandemic. Every musician in that band is outrageous. They can effortlessly play their guitar parts while flailing around with the confidence and recklessness that only a college student can get away with. By the end of the set, they were dogpiling each other. It was an absolute delight to watch a band embody the very nature of youthfulness.
9. Everyone who fought for reproductive rights
Kind of annoyed that we’re at this point, but here we go. 2022 was a burning dumpster fire for reproductive rights. Roe v. Wade was overturned just in time for PRIDE, and the Summer soon became a very political one. We’re going to raise a virtual toast to every musician, venue, and promoter who, instead of throwing their hands in the air and giving up, rolled up their sleeves and got to work.
What we ended up seeing were local musicians using their platforms to advocate for women’s rights, raise money for various agencies, and do everything they could to get voters out to protect abortion rights in Kansas. Ripples of Reproduction was one such event where some of the bigger heavy hitters (such as Frogpond and Kawehi) lent their talents to the cause. Lawrence has always been a community founded on activism, a blue oasis in a red state, and that sentiment isn’t just reflected by our music scene, it’s supported by it.
8. Cuee recording a video right after top surgery
Cuee never ceases to amaze us because every time we say “that’s it, no more Cuee stories, we’ve covered him too much,” he goes and does something like this.
The Lawrence rapper has always been an open book when it comes to his identity, struggles, and triumphs as a trans man. In return, Lawrence has thrown plenty of love his way, so it’s no wonder that every little accomplishment feels like a reason to celebrate.
Early this Summer, Cuee went straight from the stage at Lawrence PRIDE to the operating table where he finally fulfilled one of his biggest goals in his journey: top surgery. Two weeks post-op, he decided to celebrate with a music video showing celebrating this final major step in his journey. He hit the streets of Lawrence for “Man Now,” where he celebrates the body he was always meant to show off. You’ll see some familiar landmarks, including The Bottleneck and even the banners that showcase his image as part of the local eXplore Lawrence tourism campaign. But most importantly, you see his surgery scars, proudly out on display. On a local level, Cuee has used his music as a vehicle to pave roads for trans visibility. We’re just going to have to get used to the feeling that we’ll never know what’s coming next from this unpredictable fella.
LYXE is really having a hell of a year. If you need any proof, just head to their live shows. This is where fans happily crowd around the band, dancing to their tunes, in high enough numbers that they can pretty much play once a month in Lawrence and will always have a guaranteed audience.
The trio– comprised of frontman Ryan Wise (of The Sluts fame), bassist AJ Knudson, and drummer Jimmy Girod– have been flooding the scene with new-wave inspired melodies and a bit of a garage rock fetish. This has given a COVID-weary crowd the permission and freedom to loosen up at their shows and dive in head first to unapologetic feel-good vibes that tend to explode from their show. Lawrence loves this band and it shows (did you see the local burlesque performer who performed to one of their songs?). Thanks to the current generation’s 90’s fetish, the trio could soon find themselves as one of the powerhouses of the local indie scene.
6. Serene Fiend’s release show
In all our years of covering local music, we don’t think we’ve ever seen the Replay part with their weekend night DJs in favor of a local band. But Serene Fiend works in mysterious ways.
Local doe-eyed goth Joel Bonner, the man behind Serene Fiend, is one of those musicians who put just as much effort into the live show as they do their music. For Serene Fiend, these things go hand-in-hand. These aren’t so much concerts as they are experiences, and he left it all on the floor in late August.
Bonner convinced the Replay to let him hold his dark and brooding live show outside, filling the dance floor with strobes, fog, and crunchy synths. It really walloped the crowd, and they responded with heavy dancing and thrashing about. We salute you, Serene Fiend. How you convinced the Replay to trade in their insanely popular dance floor for this show, we’ll never know.
5. Belle and the Vertigo Waves
Back in April, Belle & The Vertigo Waves stole the show at the Replay.
What a thrilling set! This is everything you want in a rock band– they had energy! Charisma! And a great rapport with the crowd. This was the type of rock outfit where they made instant fans out of newcomers. They sounded like they belonged smack dab in the middle of the “Scott Pilgrim” soundtrack. The vocalist alone is a wild experience, and the guitarists had the chops to back them up. We can’t recommend them enough. You should run, not walk, to the next Belle & The Vertigo Waves set.
4. The absolute gayness of the ABBA show
Full disclosure: this was an “I Heart Local Music Presents” event.
In April, the Bottleneck briefly transformed from your regular old rock-and-roll venue to a volcano of squeals, cheers, dancing, glitter, and sing-alongs thanks to a mutual love of Sweden’s greatest musical export, ABBA.
I Heart Local Music hosted the tribute to ABBA and mothers with the help of Unfit Wives, Bad Alaskan, Maria the Mexican, Party Party (with Katlyn Conroy), and drag queens Ms. Eda Bull and Rose Champagne. The bands, comprised of musicians who are also mothers, played ABBA covers while the drag queens did the “Mama Mia” versions.
The crowd (comprised of Fernandos, Chiquititas, and everyone in between) danced so hard to the covers, but it wasn’t until the drag queens did their numbers that we were worried the floor might cave in. When we tell you the sing-a-longs were tremendous! And the fashion! We saw so many sequins, you would have though a disco ball exploded in there. Velour, flower-power-prints, and sparkles dotted everyone in the audience.
We give this show a rating of five out of five Dancing Queens.
During the Fall, we got to experience a Jackoffs show a couple of times and are convinced that they are the funnest band to come out of the scene this year. Every time they play a show, they absolutely tear the house down.
The pandemic put a bit of a pause on rowdy, youthful, punk acts– but they’re starting to emerge this year. Leading the charge is this out-of-their-wits trio, who conjure up all the fun the crowd could muster (and then some). Jackoffs have already been a big hit in the house show circuit (it is I Heart Local Music’s policy to not identify homes that host house shows in order to keep landlords from retaliating… sorry Toilet Bowl), and in recent months they’ve been hitting the venues downtown.
They end every set just wrecking their gear, slamming it into the ground (and slamming their bodies into the ground), pounding guitars on the ceiling, and flailing off into oblivion. Jackoffs are Lawrence’s newest can’t-miss band.
2. Manor Fest’s new talent
It seems like every year, there’s some sort of local festival featuring strictly local talent (RIP, Field Day Fest). This year, it was Manor Recrods’ turn to showcase the locals.
What we got in return was a glimpse into what can happens when unruly bands get organized under the same umbrella. A wide array of bands took the stages at the Gaslight, The Bottleneck, Taproom, and the Replay. But it was Dunes Day’s set that stood out the most to us. They’re energetic, fresh, very good at what they do, and woke that audience the hell up. Sets like the ones from Dunes Day and Pale Tongue signaled a grand exodus of dream pop (oh thank God, we are so sick of dream pop) and a welcoming of something more physical.
1. The Salvation Choir
If you have a dream, Lawrence is the place where you can make it happen. How else would you explain the magic that erupted when The Salvation Choir took on the daunting task of playing a show right after KU made it to the Final Four back in March. Don’t worry, if there’s any band that can raise their voices above the madness of basketball, it’s The Salvation Choir.
There are so many members in The Salvation Choir, it will forever baffle us how they fit all of them on that tiny stage on the Replay patio back in March. We were told that the audio engineer used every single cable the Replay had to pull this off. The band, comprised of a very talented and very large family, consisted of aunties, sisters, uncles, cousins, and children. The Congolese and Tanzanian band is based in Kansas City and performs in Swahili. Right before they fired up their set, one of the lead vocalists addressed the massive crowd packed into the Replay and yelled in her thick accent “Raise your hand if you are happy!” Then, she pointed to random members of the audience, and (Oprah style) would yell “Are you happy! Are YOU happy?!” A half second later, the band fired up their set to an incredible noise.
We guarantee you could hear this band from every corner of Mass Street. They raised their voices so high, and brought us along with them. The Salvation Choir exudes joy, they are the absolute biggest source of joy. The bar was full of sports fans, old punks, young punks, and a few country fans, but at that moment, everyone felt like family, everyone was dancing. The audience was so fixated on the stage– you almost forgot there had been a game on if not for all the KU shirts dully contrasting against the excitement of The Salvation Choir’s bright attire.
It’s hard to compete with a basketball win, especially one that sends the team to the Final Four (and eventually the Championship) and fans flooding into the streets. But The Salvation Choir achieved such a feat, accomplishing what most bands strive for. They proved that you can do anything in Lawrence, and it’s satisfying to see it happen to musicians who put their entire hearts into it.