Time for more local bands to reunite
Not everything went perfectly smooth during Sunday’s reunion of The Embarrassment at Liberty Hall. But what the Wichita band lacked in precision after a 17-year hiatus, it more than made up for in amplifying good vibes.
Lawrence underground faves The Mortal Micronotz also took the stage for a handful of songs after a two-decade hiatus. This delighted a crowd disproportionately filled with musicians that included notables as Freedy Johnston, Grant Hart and Kliph Scurlock of The Flaming Lips.
All this reunionizing (reunionization?) got me thinking about the superb bands I’ve been fortunate to witness in my 23 years of living in Lawrence. So here’s my list of local and regional acts that I’d love to see get back together for an Embarrassment-style reunion:
The Lawrence group that ruled the late ’80s/early ’90s scene was as provocative as its name. In the pre-grunge era there really wasn’t a tailor-made genre for a band that was incredibly heavy without being metal, and whose lyrics dealt with social and political issues rather than girls and cars. Not to mention the fact Kill Whitey was fronted by a girl – Kim Czarnopys – the terra cotta-haired siren whose voice was tougher than any guy’s in the city.
The main Lawrence predecessor to the eccentric indie artists that now adorn KJHK’s play list, Zoom was just plain weird. The quartet’s 1993 swan song, “Helium Octipede,” represented one of the strongest local albums of the decade – a tight package of orchestrated guitar plots and atypical rhythms. The highlight was “Letter From Allan,” which featured lyrics taken verbatim from a noise complaint note posted by a neighbor at the band’s practice space.
The Homestead Grays
Before Chuck Mead found fame in Nashville as BR549’s ringleader, he was a mainstay in Lawrence with The Homestead Grays. Named for one of the premier Negro Leagues baseball teams of yesteryear, the Grays delivered rural rock tunes laced with country influences before the whole retro country thing was cool.
From 1996-2003, Lawrence’s Anniversary toured the world, released two great records and endured a heaping dose of melodrama. The group’s sound evolved from being an indie spin on ’80s synth-pop to a full-fledged songwriting powerhouse, courtesy of the dual lead visions of guitarists/singers Josh Berwanger and Justin Roelofs. The ensemble’s 2002 single, “Sweet Marie,” represents one of the pinnacles of locally penned tunes.
Sin City Disciples
It’s hard to recall a better live band than KCMO’s Sin City Disciples. Led by the perpetually shirtless, tattooed, harmonica-puffing Ernie Locke, the act’s frenzied performances provided a sweaty descent into a hard rock/blues abyss. Although never landing a national record deal, Sin City was as renowned in this area as any platinum-selling MTV artist.
What regional band has featured a lineup built around a percussionist and a Chapman Stick player? Only Altered Media, a Lawrence group whose masterful grooves kept it from getting too close to the edge of progressive rock. (And yes, that was an intentional Yes reference.) Although the mid-’80s fivesome could flawlessly pull off eccentric covers like King Crimson’s “Elephant Talk,” its original material was equally epic.
The Kansas City Art Institute-bred act helped spearhead the lounge-rock revival with its hipster mix of jazz-pop and space-age bachelor pad music. As quirky as the quartet’s live shows were, its marketing skills were on a whole different plane. This was the only band of its era to sell prepackaged action figures of each distinctive group member. (Trivia: Guitarist Archer Prewitt went on to be a member of Chicago’s The Sea and Cake.)
Formed by frontman Danny Pound and some fellow Topeka schoolmates when they were 16, Vitreous Humor was among the best of the angular alt-rock acts to haunt the clubs of Lawrence during the ’90s heyday. The group had a mesmerizing live intensity, bolstered by the fact that the four members would always set up right next to each other no matter how big a stage they were on.
Others to consider: Slackjaw, Mongol Beach Party, The Clocks, Danger Bob, Get Smart, Outhouse, Frogpond, Paw, The Answer, Ultimate Fakebook