Two weeks ago, we published an interview with The Gotobeds Eli Kasan, who said live music doesn’t need to be seeing a band playing their records perfectly or without honest errors, I caught of a couple of shows that week that reminded me of his words, and what makes live music so fascinating. The first show was the mess (in a good way) that the stunning Marissa Nadler put on at The EARL. That Thursday, the best thing going in Mississippi, Water Liars, returned to The EARL in East Atlanta Village with a new lineup, and a new take on songs from their three albums they’ve released so far, in addition to a sneak peak at a few new songs.
In the past, Water Liars were a duo led by songwriter/lead vocalist, Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster (guitar), and Andrew Bryant (vocals/drums). The band expanded into a three piece with GR Robinson on bass when they released their last self titled album via Fat Possum in 2014, one of our favorite records that year. While on the surface you could call Water Liars a folk or maybe alt country band, what with Justin’s heart wrenching lyrics and very slight twang to his clear, astonishing vocals backed by Andrew’s haunting voice, but the band has always had a little edge to it, a slight punk aesthetic. Sure you can hear it on their records, but live is where you’d get the full scope of what this band is doing, and just how loud this “folk” band can get. Water Liars have always been a band that can do a lot with a little. Their sound is expansive live. When they played The EARL in the past, if you walked up towards the back doors before walking into the stage area where the band was playing, you probably wouldn’t think it was just a three piece band playing inside. I know in the multiple times I’ve caught Water Liars live over the last few years, I’ve left each show with an even higher appreciation for their music.
To get an idea of the talent that exists in Water Liars, consider both Justin and Andrew’s solo material. In the midst of the small tour Water Liars just went on as a band, Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster is prepping his solo debut album Constant Stranger, set to be released September 30th via Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum Records. In advance of the record, Justin has released two singles so far: “Headed South” and the newly released “Laid Low” (and currently on tour with Julien Baker), which shows off Justin’s weary, yet warm and romantic songwriting. The two singles so far are stellar, and seems to point to Justin’s solo album being one of the year’s best albums, much like Andrew Bryant’s solo album This Is The Life last year. The early 2015 release sat near the top of our Best Albums of 2015 list throughout the year, finishing as our #3 favorite record of 2015. Bryant has released 6 solo albums over time, and listening through his material, it’s obvious why Justin and Andrew make such a perfect team together.
While Water Liars are working through the behind the scenes processes to properly put out their next record, releasing solo records along the way, the band is still tinkering and growing. On this latest tour, and at The EARL that night, the band unveiled a new 5 piece lineup with Andrew Bryant moving from drums to the frontline on guitar, and adding Len Clark on drums and Kell Kellum on pedal steel. The new 5 piece showed another layer to their already expansive, going from 1 guitar player, to up to three guitars going at one time when Kell would switch from pedal steel to guitar. And it was a sight to see and hear.
While a few new songs were being mixed into the setlist, these mostly were the same songs that I’ve come to know from their records, yet, here they were live as a 5 piece showing off new and interesting sides of songs I already loved. Besides, like Eli from The Gotobeds said, why would I want to get out of my house and hear a band play exactly like the record I could just put on myself? Ok, I’d probably still go see Water Liars regardless, but it’s always good to get something new and interesting.
Having Kell on pedal steel added another element to their live sound, that perfectly wraps itself around the band’s songs. But the stand out of the night had to be Andrew’s move to guitar. This added a whole other layer that was never there before, with Andrew providing a screeching, experimental post punk element to the band’s songs. Sure Justin’s vocals and songwriting still stand at the forefront, the added lineup does nothing to mask that, but the extra element of two to three guitars made the band louder and bigger than ever before. As the band plowed through on songs like “Cannibal”, “I Want Blood”, and “Tolling Bells”, you realized this was a true rock ‘n’ roll band, and one of the best band’s going today.
With the new lineup intact, this doesn’t mean Water Liars are setting aside some of the slower tunes that can melt a hole right through your heart. Songs like “Linens” and Justin playing a solo “Let it Breathe” made their way into the set, sounding as fantastic as ever. This show at The EARL said a lot about how great Water Liars are as a band, and that the future is just as exciting, if not more than the past.
With the show at The EARL over, Water Liars headed to Macon for Bragg Jam to end out their tour, but not before making a pit stop back in Atlanta, playing a private gig at Grocery On Home on Sunday. If you’ve never been to a show at the Grocery, it’s completely worth it. What was an old small Grocery store in Grant Park, has been turned into a small, intimate performance space by owner Matt Arnett with a very small stage in the front corner, surrounded by chairs, couches, and a picnic style table in the back where patrons can bring their own food and drink. Grocery On Home is a listening room like Eddie’s Attic where attendees are actually there for the music (well maybe not a few people busy eating and catching up at the table in the back with loud whispers), quite when the the artists are performing on stage, taking in every little detail. While these shows have limited capacity, patrons able to attend are simply asked to donate $25 in cash that goes directly to the artists. It’s a great place to discover something new, or see an artist in a more intimate session, a win win for all involved, and a totally different experience than seeing a show at The EARL where Water Liars had played the Thursday before.
When I saw Water Liars was going to play at the Grocery, I immediately jumped on the list. It wasn’t until the week of when I actually thought about the fact that I would be seeing the same band in a span of a few days. Of course I didn’t think a second more about it, I knew these at least would be somewhat different sets, the beauty of live music! But when I found out that Water Liars had become a 5 piece, the question then became, what would they do at Grocery On Home? 5 is way too many fit on the actual small built in stage there. And you know, they like to rock pretty loud. With two new members, you can’t be sure that they have even practiced for a setting like this.
At Grocery On Home, the band had Justin set up on the stage with the drums behind him, and the other three sitting in chairs and on the stage below. The band played some of the same songs they had played at The EARL a few nights before. Songs such as “Linens” became particularly gorgeous versions with the pace slowed down. There were still plenty of hints throughout the night of the rock ‘n’ roll band we saw at The EARL, with Andrew giving small, quick throttles throughout. Some of the setlist was taken from some of the already more slowed down tunes from the records, seeing songs like “Swannanoa” live in this setting made seeing this second show so worth it. The star of the new lineup in this setting had to be Kell Kellum on pedal steel. While he may have been hidden behind Andrew, his playing was front and center as he stuck only to pedal steel with this set. Without the band rocking as loud in this set, Kell’s pedal steel was brought alive and gave Water Liars a new element.
While being a 5 piece lineup is still very new to Water Liars, the band sounded as tight as ever. Two Water Liars shows in just a few days, two very different shows, both different from their records, live music wins again. And so does Water Liars. For now, I’ll sit patiently waiting for their next record, while putting Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster’s solo debut on repeat as soon as it’s released. The future is bright for these guys.