I’ve never seen a bad show at the Eighth Street Taproom in Lawrence. After the show on Tuesday, April 5th, that statement still stands. My hearing, however, does not. It’s an aggressive and loud environment. That’s half the charm of the Taproom, really. The bands are always great, but it’s the atmosphere that keeps me coming back. For those of you who aren’t familiar, The Taproom is located a block off of Mass Street in Lawrence, tucked away nicely off the beaten path. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Auntie Mae’s here in MHK, if not something even more magically grungy and dark. Upstairs, there is a pool table and a hodgepodge of strange pool-related plaques, downstairs there is an empty, black void under a low ceiling with some sound equipment tucked in a nook at the center of the room. Red lights hang from the ceiling, painting everything in a strange crimson glow. There’s no stage, just a few rugs with some amplifiers on them and a few raggedy microphone stands. Gold streamers hang in the backdrop next to peculiar paintings. Thirty or forty kids wearing dark and tattered clothing gathered close to the front, some obviously high, many more were genuinely buzzed. Everyone was enjoying themselves. This is the way music was meant to be experienced.
Three bands were on the bill tonight, two of which I had never seen nor heard of before, the third being a couple of friends of mine you may know yourself. Philadelphia’s Kississippi got things started off right with a pummeling tune. The lead singer’s vocal mic was down too low to really hear most of the first track and there was plenty of squealing feedback, much as there always is during the first song of a set in this dank basement bar on Eighth Street. It all worked itself out quickly and the band fell into a rhythm. The crowd hadn’t all arrived yet, but those who were in attendance were treated to a charming and smooth set. Sure, there were plenty of Taproom mishaps with feedback and volume levels, but there was nothing you could fault the performers for. They played a solid opening set, getting the audience to bob and sway to their east-coast brand of swoon-pop. The bass seemed to lead the way with pounding beats, the drums were loud and furious. I felt recharged. I forgot all of my stresses and anxieties in life and enjoyed the music.
Next up was Woozy, a fun little trio out of New Orleans. For their first song, much of the same technical difficulties occurred, but no one seemed to care. Properly sound-checking is next to impossible in a venue like the Taproom. By this time the audience had grown considerably, and the feeling in the air was more electric and alive. Well, it was as alive as it could have been for a very late Tuesday night. Woozy’s unique style of experimental post-punk rock had the crowd ensnared in their charm. Their instrumentation was also different, utilizing two guitars and a drum kit with no bass. Employing an array of effects pedals, the two guitars shimmered and shook through the whole set, taking bits from metal here and some from shoegaze and emo there. Starts and stops and total u-turns had the audience leaning closer and nodding deeper as the basement seemed to sink inwards. Incredible crescendos of fuzz rose high into the air before crashing back against the audience again and again. Male and female vocalists harmonized and sang in rounds. This was love at first listen. Woozy owned the night. So much so, the crowd begged for an encore, something I had never seen for a non-headlining band.
The night was still far from being over. As we drifted past 1:00am, two tired looking young men put together their set. This is a duo I’ve seen before. In fact, I have probably seen Arc Flash more times than any other band. They’re local legends who play hundreds of shows a year across Lawrence, Kansas City, and occasionally even Manhattan. They had just gotten back into town after a tour spanning all the way from South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Normally, James plays guitar and his bandmate Mark plays drums. No one else usually accompanies them during their sets, but tonight was different. Mark uses a worn out kit with busted cymbals, and at the show before, he had sliced his hand open on one of the jagged edges. Five stitches and a homemade cast later, he wasn’t about to give up. With the help of four friends and two kits, he hammered out a slowed down, three-limbed set. By the middle of their set, most of the crowd had wandered back upstairs and out into the night, but I couldn’t stop watching. Painful as it was, they limped through their usually blistering set and thanked those who were still in attendance. It wasn’t quite the same Arc Flash most of us know and love, but it was an impressive show of stamina and resilience. Not even four drummers plus other various members of the audience could reproduce what was lost with Mark’s right hand, but it was still a joy to watch. If you have ever watched an Arc Flash performance all the way to the end, you know there will always be a big finish. This time, half of the dwindling crowd jumped up with Mark and hammered away on the drums, trying to supplement the three-limbed legend, while James literally screamed into his guitar, which created a terrifying, space creature-esque squeal. It was worth staying until the end, just as it always is. If you ever get the chance to see any of these three bands, I highly recommend it. I wouldn’t have necessarily paired them all together, but it was a fun and engaging show throughout. It was good to see Mark back home again, even if he was a little more impaired than he wanted to be. Moral of the story, just because you’re one limb down doesn’t mean you can’t put on one hell of a performance.