BY IAN HRABE
At any given moment there might have been 20 people inside the Jackpot, which seemed absolutely bizarre given that it was a Saturday night.
"You guys played great, despite the fact that this place is empty," I told Fortuning guitarist Drew Gibson after he got off stage. He just shrugged and said he had a great time and that it didn't really matter if anyone was there or not. "It really wasn't any different than when we played to 500 people when we opened for Tilly and the Wall," he said.
Each band shared that mentality, and it ended up being one of the best local shows I'd seen in a while.
The most promising attribute of scene newcomer Whitney Flinn (who, according to MySpace, occasionally contributes to Hospital Ships) is that she can play the harp. I don't want that to sound like a backhanded compliment, because I think anyone that can play the harp can do pretty much anything they want (because goddamn, that shit looks hard to play).
She rarely missed a note, and when she did she covered it up with plenty of charm. She clearly has a penchant for Joanna Newsom (which is unavoidable with the harp and all), but her vocals recall a certain female singer-songwriter that I just couldn't pinpoint. Her voice isn't trained, which is ultimately makes her songs so listenable.
Granted, her 40-minute set was a little too long and most of the songs sounded the same. My favorite was one about "a doorman at the Replay Lounge" whose chorus prominently featured the image of a bottle of Old Overholt. Hence, the subject matter of her songs was typically about Lawrence life, and though she's a little rocky right now, her way around melody is promising, and in time I think she has the capability to become a fine songstress.
Fortuning has been constantly evolving since their inception last fall. Their current incarnation has replaced the janky old drum machine with a live floor tom and bass drum, and vocalist Sarica Douglas now sings through a vocal processor half the time (which does wonders). Where their Art pop was once thin, it's now much more fleshed out (although they're not nearly as adorable as they used to be).
Frontman Brock Potucek seems to inhabit the spirit of David Byrne (he even bears a striking resemlance to the man) though he doesn't quite have the pipes. The selling point of Fortuning, in my opinion, is Gibson's guitar work. As opposed to the reverb and distortion-heavy sound he achieves with the help of a suitcase full of pedals in Baby Birds Don't Drink Milk, here his guitar is adorned only with some light reverb and has a very clean, surfy, and almost tropical sound (reminiscent of Abe Vigoda). Though Potucek and Gibson's original plan with Fortuning was to remain together for one year before breaking up, I think they've realized that their potential is worth breaking the rules.
Halfway through Naomi What?'s set, I realized that they would make the perfect wedding band for an indie-rock couple. The group is comprised of Zach Campbell (Rooftop Vigilantes, Bandit Teeth, Blood on the Wall), Charley Downey (Bandit Teeth) and Justin Parr (the dude who usually works the sound at the Jackpot), and they have a schtick: they're pretty much a cover band. But an awesome cover band, mind you, with, at any given moment, one person on acoustic guitar, one on snare, and one on a stand-up bass drum.
Highlights included Del Shannon's "Runaway" (which featured Campbell whistling the clavioline keyboard part), the Modern Lovers' "Government Center," the Violent Femmes' "Good Feeling" and "Tonight You Belong to Me," the version from The Jerk.
Their covers of Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You in the End" and Simon & Garfunkel's "The Only Living Boy in New York" both sounded like they were learned that afternoon and hadn't quite been mastered yet. Unlike the last time I saw them, there were no Guided by Voices covers (which was a crying shame) but they did play a handful of originals.
Campbell is pretty much the Bob Pollard of Lawrence (which makes sense once I tell you that he and Downey play in a GBV cover band) with a little bit of Blake Schwarzenbach thrown in. Had anyone been at the venue, I'm sure they would have had a great time.
Ultimately, as I was writing this, I found myself using the words "potential" and "promising" for all three bands before editing most of them out for the sake of not being redundant. Whitney Flinn just needs a little more time and an indie-rock solo project name (she stated that it would be Hooves and Beak) and she's set. Fortuning just keep getting better and better, despite the fact that I'm pretty sure most people will write them off as overly pretentious hipsters. Naomi What?, on the other hand, are pretty much the most lovable band in Lawrence that hardly anyone has seen. God willing, they will act on the promising potential of their originals and move out of side-project territory and into the big leagues.