Music as it occurs live and in person is one of the most remarkable experiences a human can be faced with. Listening to something through your headphones will never be the same as letting the music wash over your the very essence of your being and using all of your senses to interact with this entirely tangible aura. Of course, this magical state of being can be quickly soured by cellphone-clutching kids with the attention spans of goldfish. But the show on the night of November 12th at the Eighth Street Taproom in Lawrence was not going to be one of those buzz-killing experiences.
It was my first time in the Taproom and to say I was impressed would be an understatement. The concert venue portion of this quaint Lawrence bar is in the basement, down a dimly lit set of stairs with a single red light above the door. On the other side of this door is a small, even more dimly lit room awash in red light. The ceiling is hardly above the average person’s head and is painted pitch black, like the floors, the walls, and the furniture. In the center of this shadowy space was the “stage” if you could even call it that. The performers were merely elevated above their audience by the depth of a thin rug and the only thing signifying the beginning or end of the stage was the edge of the rug itself. With no physical barriers between the performers and the audience, it was surely the most intimate space I’ve ever witnessed a concert in. Behind the stage was a large, rather abstract painting flanked on either side by glimmering gold streamers. The combination of the red lights, shimmering streamers, and bizarre artwork reminded me intensely of the “bucket-of-blood” scene from Stephen King’s original Carrie.
The first band to take the stage (or more accurately, the rug) was The Conquerors, a psych-rock group from KCMO. Dressed in a turtleneck and sporting a pretty legitimate bowl cut, the lead singer’s resemblance to the Beatles was hardly coincidental and entirely hilarious, if not also rather fitting to their sound. This is not to say The Conquerors sound exactly like the Beatles, but they channel a similar, psychedelic vibe that’s appropriately supplemented with a tinge of southern blues. By the start of their set, a number of people had made their way into the basement and were beginning to move to the music.
CS Luxem was second on the bill and played a phenomenally enthralling set. Lead vocalist Christopher Luxem’s echoey voice had the audience drawn closer to the front. Dramatic ups and downs in tempo combined with furious guitar strumming and drum beating had people dancing merrily with friends and strangers alike. This was something I have rarely witnessed before; people dancing in step with the music together as if in a ballroom instead of the usual display of nonsensical gyration.
As the third act of the night took the stage, however, it became clear rather quickly that nonsensical gyration would most certainly not be contained. Lawrence space-punk-rock duo, Arc Flash, took the night well past the tipping point, and all hell broke loose as they furiously slung space sludge at the eager and pleasantly intoxicated crowd. Some members of this now madly moshing mob donned holographic glasses and stared off through the scarlet light, presumably enjoying the effects of some possibly potent psychedelic elixirs. It was as if the furious guitar plucking and maddening beating of the drums bottled up in this small substructure was causing a tear to form in the very fabric of space and time. Faces were dripping as the awesome heat emitted by these two space creatures was threatening to melt the flesh right off of our skulls. If you think this is hyperbole, than you’ve never properly experienced Arc Flash.
As the final echoes faded into the infinite abyss of space, reality was haphazardly stitched back together as concert goers tried to gather themselves for the final act of the night. It was past 1:00 in the morning on a weeknight, but no one was about to leave. A rather hodgepodge group of humans took the stage for the final set of the night. This fantastic three piece of paradoxical people was Kansas City’s very own Shy Boys. For such tall people who should have presumably deep voices, their vocals reached up and out of the basement. Their no-coast crooning harmonies and simple surf-rock strummings brought everyone in attendance to head bobbing bliss. As the ocean’s waves rise and fall, so did the sonic aura of that night. The sweet sounds of the Beach Boys-esque “Notion” washed over the crowd and crashed down in climactic fashion as Shy Boys took the basement down another notch. As the surreal sounds of the evening drew near their despairingly inevitable end, the crowd was treated to the steady thumpings of “Is This Who You Are.” Harmonious serenades and foot-tapping melodies left the crowd drunkenly dizzy in the most delightful way. As Shy Boys concluded the night with an effervescent encore, I couldn’t help but think to myself how spectacular would it be if Manhattan could play host to a bill as perfectly filled with talent as this one? Then again, who’s to say it can’t?