Hop Along / La Guerre - Live in Kansas City (Cover Artwork)

Hop Along / La Guerre

Live in Kansas City (2016)

live show

While I was heading down to the Riot Room in my hometown of Kansas City to catch Hop Along for the first time, it struck me that, despite being very excited to see the band perform the songs I'd come to love over the last year, I was even more excited just to watch Frances Quinlan sing. I've been avoiding YouTube so that the first time I watched her I could be there in the moment. This is not to give short shrift to her band (more on them later) but it's been a while since someone's singing has moved me as much as Quinlan's does on Hop Along's two LPs.

First things first, however. I arrived a few songs into La Guerre's set, having missed Doby Watson completely (apologies). La Guerre is a newer band from Lawrence, KS formed by Katlyn Conroy, who most recently played in an indie band called Cowboy Indian Bear. La Guerre's sound is very much in the vein of more modern, keyboard driven singer-songwriters like Julia Holter and Chelsea Wolfe. While not matching the ethereal grace of the former or the gothic menace of the latter, they still write some good songs with very memorable melodies. All in all, a nice opening act with a good following, and a band I'll definitely keep an eye on in the future.

Frances Quinlan came out first and played "Some Grace" unaccompanied, as the area from the stage back to the bar filled up with up folks as excited as I was. The rest of the band joined her on stage as the last note rang out and the band proceeded to play virtually every song off of their first two albums. Hop Along has been touring fairly consistently since Painted Shut was released, and it shows, with the band effortlessly playing off of each other the entire night. Mark Quinlan is a great drummer with an instinct for how best to complement his sister's songs. He and Tyler Long's bass playing really drove the songs beautifully; a very underrated rhythm section that supports the songs' emotional contrasts without drawing attention to themselves. In counterpoint to Frances's almost robotic, insistent rhythm guitar playing (she rarely bent her wrist at all, using her elbow to drive her hand), lead guitarist Joe Reinhart's high clusters of notes (sometimes fingerpicked) danced around the notes Frances was singing.

And, oh that singing. Frances often turns away from the mic and sings with closed eyes and gritted teeth, as if afraid of what she might let out, before unleashing it completely. She has one of those rare voices that can leap up and down the register, go soft and loud seemingly simultaneously, all the while searching for a note she knows is out there if she just pushes a little harder. My only very minor quibble would be the order of the set list. The enthusiastic crowd lost their minds during "Tibetan Pop Stars" about two thirds of the way through, with almost every young woman in attendance pressed up front shouting along and, as a result of that catharsis, the last third of the show seemed to struggle to regain that momentum. All in all, it was an amazing set by one of the best bands currently playing and recording and if they come to your town, you don't want to miss them.