Last Saturday, on a shutdown stretch of 10th Street in sunny Lawrence, Kansas, the Replay Lounge hosted Spring Into Summer, a daylong concert performance of five bands on a big black stage. A modest crowd assembled around 4 p.m. and paced themselves on the keg beer and grilled foods; a contingent of cheapskates, or the merely curious, stood sectioned off by the waist-high Pabst Blue Ribbon security rope on the public sidewalk. A couple of Port-a-Pottys stood in the corner like ugly people do, and were mostly ignored, as ugly people often are.
For much of the Recessionists' set, this reviewer seemed to "make eyes" over a great distance with one of this band's several female vocalists, removing his sunglasses just a little to watch them (her) do running man finger-snaps, the "Stop!" hand signal, and intone the lead and background lines and "ooh-ah's" of certain classic girl-group, R&B, and boogie numbers. The guys on horns joked with each other between their parts, while the stage-right guitar player grooved to the rhythms of his own universe. A male vocalist took the mic for several songs and sang convincingly high, as the other 10 members of the Recessionists understatedly made their way through the set, compensating for a paucity of showmanship with a completely solid sonic offering. As the set ended, a disembodied voice commanded them to play more. "We don't know anymore!" said the girl with the eyes, before climbing down from the stage and walking immediately and directly toward your reviewer, apparently to meet he whose face stood out from all the faces in the crowd, and who, with quickened pulse, did the palm-breath-check thing, and who was standing, it was soon revealed, next to a group of her friends, whom she greeted and chatted with before leaving.
The sting of unspeakable romantic failure was soon salved by the Hips, who play guitar/bass/drums/keys pop music of a sexless but still compelling variety - a mostly safe space for the lovelorn, in that their first song dealt heavily with the concept of peaches. The pleasure of the Hips wasn't so much in the energy or musicianship of this live performance, but in the unfolding of songs written to last - the inversion of Rock Fest, if you will. The final product is pretty much what agnostic critics (such as your reviewer) would call strictly "pop rock," but with a vestige of the vocal and lyrical weirdness from the keyboardist/guitarist's former outfit, Drakkar Sauna. The Zombies-era keyboard dabbled over the chords of a mildly distorted guitar, and a sometimes sweet falsetto that was doubled among singers would dip into a burlier register, as part of a bridge that would build up to choral melodies of blissful architecture. As if to toy with the emotions of your reviewer, who had at this point mostly recovered from the last hour's tragedy of errors, the Hips sailed through a more straightforward, rawer version of the Silver Apples' "Program," whose chorus repeats the somehow heartbreaking line, "The flame is its own reflection."
Energy finally came to the stage in the form of the four-piece Approach, who let everyone know right away that the energy had indeed finally come to the stage. He warned the crowd of what might happen; soon enough the rapper/singer/lyrical vortex was off the elevated stage, pacing the oil stains of 10th Street, spitting commands for the crowd to raise hands, to move around, while chest-reverberating bass blasted from the 15-foot speaker towers. A song or two into the set, Approach asked the keyboardists and DJ to stop playing, then start again, while he freestyled on the situation at hand: members of the crowd, where they sat on what day, and what for. Midway through the somewhat dark but still ass-shakable set, he called for a break and took leave of the stage with his keyboardists, while DJ G Train spun a mix of Digital Underground/Tupac/et al. and scratched records in accordance with the most strongly worded clauses of the Mix Master Code.
As Fourth of July began to provide the soundtrack to the evening's sunset, a lonely hippie lady began to dance with herself. Fittingly, Brendan Hangauer sang the images of love in the tone reserved for loneliness, playing songs that would (and probably do) work as stand-alone singer-songwriter fare, but are augmented in emotion by guitar, drums and the finger-walk of florid bass lines. Some of their self-described newer material broke the mood into something more fun, less reminiscent of your reviewer's personal existential misery. The sound of suffering is replaced by aggression and a dash of irreverence. An older song, "Self Sabotage," got downright whimsical, with its "la la las" and jangly guitar work, and then many of the people, who'd been standing around for a few hours already, hands on a beer or a hip or in a pocket, moved their feet and swayed with the formerly lonely hippie lady.
If the thesis of music-as-redemptive-of-loneliness needs any more supportive material, a trove of irrefutable evidence is found in a Hearts of Darkness performance. The Afro-beat jamboree played, sang and danced for a crowd that was much larger and much more physical than the whole night thus far. People young and old, black and white, pretty and insufferably hideous (your reviewer), danced and clapped and swayed to musical textures nearly impossible to dislike. Horns slid simple phrases over syncopated bongo beats, while the rapper dude wore a Chiefs hanky as a shroud (at times) and dropped M.F. bombs while busting rhymes. Twin-voiced singers reminded us to "get [our] shit together" - and they sounded like they meant it. The moments twisted, creeped and exploded along; never was there one for stillness: Everyone onstage and off moved around, feeling the joy they projected at others and for others to be simple and pure, intensely felt and, most importantly, requited.