According to their website, the Water Liars were supposed to be going to SXSW. Given the hectic nature of my time in Austin I couldn’t be guaranteed that I would see them, so I made the trip to Chicago to see them at Schubas. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a huge sacrifice, I go to Chicago all the time, but for some reason there was no 6 am Megabus the next day, and it was a work night. I had no idea why they would cancel the hugely popular and chronically late route, but that meant that if I wanted to get back to work before noon I would have to take the Van Galder from O’Hare. And that meant, gasp, paying full price. I tell you all that to illustrate how much I wanted to see the Water Liars. It was a good call, because as it turned out the Water Liars didn’t go to SXSW after all.
I was a huge fan of Justin Kinkel-Schuster’s first band Theodore, and heartbroken when they disintegrated. I loved those boys with their crazy collection of instruments and brilliant songs. Luckily, the Water Liars, initially just the duo of Kinkel-Schuster and drummer Andrew Bryant, and now including bassist GR Robinson, have proven to be a worthy follow-up. The first record was good, but last year’s Wyoming was an outright revelation. I could listen to the stunning “Linens” a hundred times a day and never grow tired of that song or his voice. The record ended up in my number one spot despite Josh Rouse’s triumphant return on the infectious Happiness Waltz, and Ha Ha Tonka’s smartly mature Lessons. Water Liars stopped in Madison on their first tour, but have skipped it on subsequent tours, which breaks my heart. They had just released their self-titled third record just days before the Chicago show, and I was happy to pick up a copy.
I took a later bus thinking the show didn’t start till ten (I still swear that’s what the website said initially). The bus was late and I ended up missing the opener, the likeable Gunshy. Disappointing, but I was just glad I didn’t miss any of the headliner, especially since they never like to play very long. The set was a mix of songs from the new and previous record. Highlights from Wyoming included the previously mentioned “Linens,” which had been reworked into a version as equally awesome as that on the record, and the achingly dark “Sucker.” I haven’t picked a favorite song from the new record yet, but the propulsive “I Want Blood” or the luminous “Swannanoa” are certainly in the running. Kinkel-Schuster, always charmingly awkward onstage, seemed overwhelmed by the applause that followed every song, and to be fair this was the biggest and most enthusiastic crowd I’d seen at a Liars show yet. “We had some T-shirts a few days ago, but we sold them all to some idiots a few cities back,” he joked. He may not be ready to admit that they have a devoted following, but as someone who happily spent seven hours roundtrip on a bus for a fifty minute show, I can tell you they do.