Limbeck, with John Ralston and the Jen Say Kwahs
Saturday, February 16
The Jackpot Music Hall
By GREG FRANKLIN
Walking into a club wringing water from your pants is never a good start to an evening. Torrential downpours, we thank you for providing crops and lush greenery for us (oh, and I suppose drinking water is pretty alright too), but c'mon...you've never given us a "rain day" from work or school. Thankfully, in Lawrence, Kansas on a Saturday night, a couple great bands could make this man forget about wet pants and relish in some well-crafted rock and roll.
Lawrence's Jen Say Kwahs opened up, and were a bit of a strange addition to the bill, which was by no means a bad thing. Having seen Limbeck more than a few times, I was expecting some sort of singer/songwriter/alt-country thing (typically what bookers match them up with) and was therefore not looking forward to the requisite a scruffy, bearded dude with acoustic guitar singing stripped-down songs about whiskey and girls. Instead, the Jen Say Kwahs came on as a really full-sounding quartet, with great vocal harmonies and confident playing, dropping hooky song after hooky song but never staying in the same stylistic vein.
Elements of the Saddle Creek influence (Cursive especially) and some of the noisy jubilance of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah showed through, but more exciting were those moments that hit Yo La Tengo dual-guitar transcendence; also the last song ("All Hearts Restored"), which built off a sparse tremolo-soaked riff and sorrowful lap steel and transformed mid-way into a Calexico-like shuffle. It was a captivating way to end the set, and a nice transition back into the alt-countryfied world of Limbeck.
Limbeck guitarist Patrick Carrie. Photo by Greg Franklin.
Click More for more.
I have a theory that, aside from Tom Petty and orange juice, Florida hasn't ever produced anything good. (I sit the fence on my opinion of Disney World.) Florida's track record for musical crimes against the world -- Korn! N'Sync! Backstreet Boys! Dashboard Confessional! -- makes it hard to give anyone from the most phallic state in the US a fighting chance.
John Ralston came out of the gate all smiles and friendliness and dropped a competent enough set of tunes at the attentive Jackpot audience, but it just never got past mildly interesting or exciting. Maybe my problem is knowing that Ralston has toured with one of the aforementioned musical crimes (namely, Dashboard Confessional), and all I could envision during his set was a bunch of completely self-awareness-lacking 15 year old girls staring at the band all pie-eyed, thinking about downloading one of his songs as a ringtone.
Maybe it was the nasal, just-gravelly-enough-to-be-rough voice that just never seemed to sit right on top of the music. Maybe it was just that the band's playing and presentation was a little too "professional musician" for my tastes. Maybe I secretly wanted to see that scruffy, bearded, whiskey-obsessed acoustic dude playing and was bummed out that my expectations weren't met. I don't really know what it was, but Ralston's set never struck any sort of notable territory for me.
Limbeck shows are always a fun circus, a crowd of familiar, friendly faces. Having recorded three records out at Black Lodge Studio in Eudora, and having spent a good 75 percent of their time out on the road for the past seven or so years, Limbeck might as well be native to Lawrence, and the band's shows bring out a lot of those people who have gotten to know the group over the past few years (in the interest of full disclosure, I am one of those people). So, for those who have been attending their shows for a while, the event itself is a bit of a family reunion.
Limbeck crowds are also a funny mish-mash of random people. With the kind of bands the group has toured with (the All American Rejects, New Found Glory, the Format), you get the random "Hot Topic emo kid" contingent, but because of the influences and actual heart of the band's sound ('60s California pop and country rock), you get the weathered alt-country crowd as well. It's an interesting juxtaposition, for sure, to see a 16 year old kid standing next to a grizzled, grain-belt regular.
Adding to the strange family reunion vibe of the show, the band surprised a lot of folks with a setlist dominated by 2003's Hi, Everything's Great, the record that introduced quite a few people to the band. What it lacked in balloons, party hats and cake, the band more than made up for in a high-energy display of what researchers may look back upon one day as "quintessential American bar rock" -- no samples, no light show, no makeup, no props, no frills. In a world full of excess, Limbeck's strength is in its straight-forwardness.
Robb MacLean played acoustic guitar and sang songs about traveling across the US in a van; about the party after the show last night and the hangover today; about the people and places seen along the way; about stopping to take pictures of sunsets, rivers, and monuments on the side of the road to prove that "I was there."
Patrick Carrie chimed in on the harmonies, and dropped a lesson in tasteful, non-wanky guitar licks to the crowd. Justin Entsminger and Jon Phillip bopped around and provided a warm, bouncy backbone to it all.
We in the crowd drank our beers, cheered to the moments in the songs that we had memories and connections to, hugged those people that we don't see nearly enough, and smiled as we walked out of the Jackpot and back into the rain.