Water Liars Off Broadway: Friday, February 24 Vintage Vinyl: Tuesday, February 28
"So calm on the surface, but down there, everything's just eating the hell out of everything else." --Barry Hannah, on bodies of water.
Justin Kinkel-Schuster writes sentences that end in periods. He does not exclaim, even when he is revealing, marveling, confessing or falling. He tends not to ask questions in his lyrics, either.
In Water Liars, he and Mississippi's Andrew Bryant deliver these sentences in weary melody and harmony. Periodically, Kinkel-Schuster kicks the distortion pedal attached to his guitar and Bryant raises his drumsticks above his head and they dunk you under to see all that violence Barry Hannah is referring to.
This band got its name from Hannah's most famous short story, and it's not an idle reference. For one, he spent much of his life living in Oxford, Mississippi, somewhat near Pittsboro, where Bryant lives now and where Water Liars' debut, Phantom Limb, was recorded over a weekend on something of a whim last year. Hannah also reinvented Southern prose and earned reverence for his hard-working sentences about the hard-living who inhabit the region. Water Liars the story deals with love and lies and judgement, themes found on the record as well.
Hannah was a professor at Ole Miss, and Bryant has worn the University's hat at both St. Louis shows plus the KDHX (88.1 FM) in-studio this week.
On Friday -- the official album release show -- Fred Friction and Bob Reuter's Alley Ghost topped the bill. Fred took the stage in a white shirt that draped off his shoulders and a white tie and played a slow toast to the seedy underbelly. Reuter and his exceptional band -- Mat Wilson on lead guitar, Chris Powers on upright bass and Maysam Attaran on drums and vocals -- kicked through a set of lean rock & roll. They'll release an album called Born There later this spring on Big Muddy records.
Water Liars walked on stage with virtually nothing. Kinkel-Schuster had one guitar with few effects and Bryant brought two pairs of sticks and two drinks up with him. Neither is much interested in adding complication of any kind.
The band played the record straight through, with a Hasil Adkins cover comfortably tucked in just before "On the Day," which closes the album in devastating fashion. The 150-odd person crowd listened thoughtfully. These songs aren't sing-alongs just yet, but they will be. Kinkel-Schuster thanked the crowd, tipped the hat to Fred and Bob and he and Bryant headed out to the balcony for a smoke. Yesterday -- the official album release date -- Water Liars played in the back of Vintage Vinyl to the happy-hour gaggle of shoppers and friends. Schlafly was giving away beer and the record was displayed in professional packaging on both vinyl and CD by the registers. Kinkel-Schuster and Bryant kept it short, cutting out several of the middle tracks from Phantom Limb and replacing the Hasil Adkins cover with "Stand By Me," which I'm guessing will be a handy thing to have in their back pocket on the tour they'll start this week in front of crowds mostly unfamiliar with the band.
Maybe the crowds will be waiting for them soon. With national distribution and a solid push from label Misra, these affecting songs have a chance to be widely heard. But you never know, and for now the goal is just to have them be heard at all. As Kinkel-Schuster said to our friends at I Went to a Show about what's next: "Trying to make it work and pay the dues, if not the rent."
The pre-show conversation turned to barbeque at Off Broadway on Friday night. Bryant recommends the pulled pork at his hometown BBQ joint in Mississippi. Kinkel-Schuster says the way to go here in St. Louis is Pappy's and that you should just go ahead and get the ribs. If you find something good, stop looking.