There's a feeling at shows by the band Fourth of July. It doesn't seem far from home, but it's a bit unfamiliar for a rock gig. It's like all the highlights of the pool parties, cookouts and late drunken nights from that one really great summer four or eight — or 17 or 28 — years ago, condensed into a 12-song rock show. Where does it come from?
Nobody's wearing a cheerleader costume. Nobody's playing glockenspiel or trying to be cute in a twee, indie-pop way. Nobody's being serious either, though you wouldn't say that lead-singer guy whanging away on the beat-up Stratocaster looks particularly sunny. He's so deadpan.
And Fourth of July is so, like, fun.
Fourth of July is a brand-new band out of Lawrence. On Tuesday, its debut album, Fourth of July on the Plains, came out nationwide on Lawrence-based label Range Life Records.
As of this writing, I've seen no reviews of the CD and no MySpace ads that feature the band. Very few locals (despite a March 22 story in the Pitch) know who the hell these kids are.
But when the Fourth plays, people get the idea.
For only $2 at the door, a good crowd assembled last Saturday night at the Bottleneck for the band's official CD-release party with opening act the Roseline.
Present were all four of the Hangauer brothers — Brendan, Patrick, Zach and Kelly — the guys behind Range Life and members of most of the label's bands. Three of them are in Fourth of July. Brendan is the lead singer and songwriter; Patrick plays bass; and Kelly, the youngest, plays keyboards and trumpet. Zach, the eldest, handles the business side.
The four brothers are as narrow and wiry as saplings, complete with either long hair or scruffy beards (or both) at the top for foliage. That night, as if attempting to look literally halfway dressed up, Brendan wore black slacks with black-leather Beatles boots and an old Opryland baseball shirt with a dark smudge on it near the bottom in front.
It was a look befitting his songwriting philosophy, which seems to embrace giving up trying to look or come off a certain way and just have fun. After all, the guy doesn't change the tone of his guitar once during the band's set — it's just that clean, Fender jangle the whole way through.
Led by the warm, sweet voices and charming onstage personalities of Colin Halliburton and Julia Peterson, the Roseline played a transporting set of songs in the untwangy country vein. With the vocal harmonies, the awe-inspiring chops of guitarist and pedal steel picker Nate Hofer and keyboardist Ehren Starks, the Roseline was set to make the Fourth of July look downright scrappy.
So much the better.
By the time the Fourth was all set up, the dance floor had filled, mostly with girls in cute, well-coordinated outfits. This is coming-of-age rock for kids old enough to drink. By God, they were going to dance to it, from the first jubilant drum riff of album and set opener "Be Careful."
Backup singer and tambourine whacker Adrianne Verhoeven stepped up as leader of the rally, bopping and shaking. She shouted into the mic in a hoarse, youthful voice that sounded like a kid who'd been yelling too much at softball practice. With tanned skin, jeans, jean vest and bright blond hair, she couldn't have looked more summery than if she'd been shaking a catcher's mitt with bells on it.
The band's secret weapon, however, is undoubtedly lead guitarist Steve "Say My Name" Swyers. At shows, he stands quietly to one side, rattling off shimmering, melodic lines that recall the days when guitar solos used to get kids dancing, not stop them dead in their tracks (man, fuck the '90s).
The band played On the Plains from back to front, almost every song offering something memorable — the sing-along in "Long Gone," the signature dry humor of "The Faint" (She danced to the Faint one night/And I was forced to watch), the soaring finale of Pimps in Paris.
The hard work of writing fun, catchy songs being done, this band is ready to win friends and influence jaded indie music fans with sloppy-but-confident, don't-give-a-shit live shows.
Because why wait until the concert's over to start the fireworks?