Day three of Lincoln Exposed had something fun in store for all those gauging their age off of third party milestones. KZUM is turning 40 and if you knew about its start, you’re old! Alas, not all is lost, just another reason to celebrate.
However, the seven hour night the Bourbon theatre had in store for me felt less like a birthday and more like a holiday.
Jack Hotel, 6 p.m.
The folk-country-blues band, comprised of musicians Günter Voelker, Joe Salvati, Josh Rector and Kim Taruc started off the night on a brilliant note. The four-piece ensemble included an upright bass, guitars, a mandolin and violin, and an acoustic guitarist that only used slide techniques. The best way I could describe the sound of Jack Hotel is old-timey-bluegrass-grimy-country. Jack Hotel brings a new sound to a classic form of storytelling country songs, with space for modern, progressive tones.
A refreshing voice to the country genre, Jack Hotel incorporates the country drawl and twang in a tasteful manner, with moderation on both sides, and a gentle falsetto to hold it all together. “Can a Poor Boy Get to Heaven,” or so the chorus goes, has an early 20th century lyrical style with references to the River Jordan and other notable biblical places. That, as well as the rest of the songs, has a comforting, down-home twang that seems to breathe out of Jack Hotel’s all stringed instruments.
For the beginning of a night full of music, Jack Hotel set the mood straight.
Emily Bass & the Near Miracle 7:30 p.m.
Powerhouse vocalist Emily Bass took to the mic next with a stage full of musicians and singers. Influenced by Carole King, Bass strongly played her keyboard and masterfully controlled her powerful vocals that paired up with the band’s intense sound. Throughout the show, Bass played the keys while manipulating the instruments around her through a quasi-conductor style, excitedly jumping during large hits in the music, and gradually moving more emphatically as intensity built in the songs.
While the set as a whole felt strongly like a complete big band, Bass chose to start the set with an a cappella only song accompanied by vocals from Erin Miles, Hanna Bendler and Jessica Brauer. The song, which repeated the verse, “Don’t stop going ‘til the dishes get done”, honed in on the homey, Nebraskan feel Bass and bandmates presented.
Bass, while commanding the stage with her fantastic, soulful vocals, generously made time for each instrumentalist. At one point she’d gesture for a couple players to stop and point to Mitchell Benson, who’d shred the bass to pieces, or lean over to their special guest, Tommy Van Den Berg, who’d lay in a thick trombone solo. The music would break down in between lyrics which gave time for sax player Stan Reitz and drummer Jeremy Beahm to strut their stuff, along with designated soloing time.
Emily Bass and the Near Miracles filled the theatre to the brim with sound, energy and joyous excitement. I thought the end of their set was merely an intermission before the second half of their performance because time had melted into big jazz band magic. Like the rest of the night, Emily Bass and the Near Miracles easily could have been performing their own, two hour set, and I would have been gleefully happy.
Evan Bartels & the Stoney Lonesomes, 9 p.m.
Evan Bartels & the Stoney Lonesomes were third on the main stage of the Bourbon, and before they played their first note, the venue was packed full. My first reaction to hearing Evan Bartel’s & the Stoney Lonesomes was, why is this the first time I’m hearing them? My second reaction: these guys know what they’re doing; like a more raw and passionate Mumford and Sons.
It was evident the word had spread about Bartel’s distinct sound. There was no grey space and no empty sound in his songs, which kept me attentive and satisfied. The songs, an even mix of folk and rock, with hints of blues interwoven in the technique, passion and overall emotion the band portrays, offered up an exquisitely entertaining experience. Like Bass, the strict control of Bartels’ vocals allowed him to accentuate notes far across octaves, hitting every note with crystal clear accuracy.
The seasoned band casually kept their songs tight, with a driving force keeping me on the edge while my body instinctively moved with the music.
Bartels has a voice that I patiently waited to hear through the slower, passionate parts of each song. Bartels’ wavered in and out of singing and screaming during the songs; he wore his heart on his guitar.
Mesonjixx, 10:30 p.m.
The experimental art project, Mesonjixx, headed by Mary Elizabeth Lawson, is not a show to miss. I’d heard of Mesonjixx before and with the praise that I’d heard of their performances; my hopes and expectations were at a high. I was not disappointed.
Surrounded by Myles Jasnowski on guitar, Nate Asad on keys, John Evans on drums and James Fleege on bass, Lawson felt the groove, invited us to be a part of the music and sang intimate, personal songs while using her skilled voice like an instrument.
The most prevalent aspect of Mesonjixx is the group’s ability to organically jam on stage while Lawson occasionally repeated either a series of verses or the same few words over with different tones, melodies or emotion. Mesonjixx makes repetition in songs novel and innovative instead of boring and unoriginal.
I adored Mesonjixx’s ability to incorporate an authentic feel to the practiced stage performance, as though they were jamming in their home, with close friends a couple beers, enjoying every second of it.
Along with an array of songs about love for others and herself, Lawson commented on the song, “My Body” before singing, a song about body positivity and loving oneself wholly. Like other songs the band played, it started on a slow jam that picked up for a quick, disco-funk feel, which kept my tired body awake and alive, dancing along to the beat.
Even dancing, I would be caught off guard by this always groovy band’s tricks up their sleeves, with key and tempo changes, and every other change the musicians were able to incorporate in the amalgamation of sound. That may be the focus of Mesonjixx. Lawson said towards the end of the set that the band name came from an amalgamation of her three names.
A Ferocious Jungle Cat, 12 a.m.
A Ferocious Jungle Cat, if that isn’t already fun to say, played one of the most fun shows I’ve seen at the Bourbon. With sounds and jams like Vulfpeck, but with more variation and inclusions of different genres including rap, A Ferocious Jungle Cat inhabited their self-proclaimed genre, Nebraskan thunderfunk.
With Myles Jasnowski, also of Mesonjixx, on vocals and lead guitar, the band resonated the same groovy skills of the previous show. Though they put their focus heavily on the instrumentals with Mike Masin on the synth, Ian Fleming on trombone, Will Harman on vocals and bass, Cal Harman on vocals and drums, and Ariel Sinha on vocals and percussion respectively. While the instruments took over everyone’s body, Will Harman and Jasnowski’s vocals smoothly settled on top of the jams like powdered sugar on a beignet; savory goodness.
Finally, no one could withhold a good dance session. With fog machines, lights on stage, and a wholesome cohesiveness of instruments and vocals, A Ferocious Jungle Cat beckoned people to the dance floor with songs, “Dance”, “Feed the Vibe”, and “Everything is Fine”.
I wouldn’t have known they played separate songs if it weren’t for listening to the band’s bandcamp page after the fact. Save for a couple songs, the band played straight through their tunes, only leaving space in between to make a request for the crowd to clap or sing along to a chorus, or to introduce a performer for a solo.
It was genius to put all these bands together, especially for me who stayed to see all the sets play out. Each band complimented the next with their own sound that kept a fresh feeling when the next band took the stage. With congratulations to KZUM’s 40th birthday by all of the bands, there’s a reason the radio station still going strong: KZUM knows music.