Bear Claws and Burnt Sugar—Gouge Away @ The Donut Whole 03/07/19 Wichita, KS
Words and photos by Ken Jobe (@booksofjobe)
The first sign that hardcore band Gouge Away’s show in Wichita wasn’t going to be run of the mill—it was originally supposed to be at a church, so it was already somewhat atypical—was a Facebook notification twenty minutes after the scheduled start time saying that the show had been pushed back over an hour. The reason for the postponement (and eventual venue change) turned out to be rather unexpected.
Due to what was apparently a clerical error that went unnoticed by the show’s promoter, the church had been inadvertently booked for the right day but the wrong month. When the bands arrived to begin unloading their equipment, they were met by a gaggle of girl scouts selling Thin Mints, Samoas, and Tagalongs. Equally confused, parents and punks tried to figure out what was going on (as well as the punks picking up some cookies in the meantime). Then a second Facebook notification went out: “Location change—The Donut Whole!”
For the uninitiated, The Donut Whole is, as the name implies, a small donut shop as well as veritable Wichita landmark, complete with enormous rooster on its roof. It also doubles as a music venue for local bands and singer/songwriters, so it actually made more sense than it might seem to turn to them in a pinch. And so, after what one would assume was a semi-frantic phone call from the promoter, the show was back on at the new locale a few miles away.
None of this, however, phased the folks in Gouge Away. At this point it’s hard to imagine what could possibly phase a band who has crisscrossed the country several times over in the past few months in support of their excellent sophomore album, Burnt Sugar, released last September on one of the best independent labels around, Deathwish, Inc.
By their own admission, along with higher profile stints opening for the likes of Daughters and Russian Circles, this tour has seen the band play to as few as 20 people in someone’s garage in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and almost as few at a small club in Oklahoma City just a few weeks before. The crowd at The Donut Whole exceeded that, but not by much. Lesser bands with inflated egos might be contemptuous of such gigs, but contemptuous couldn’t be farther from Gouge Away’s style.
Gracious, humble and polite beyond reproach, it’s almost hard to believe these four unassuming individuals can produce such visceral, extraordinary music together. But that they do, and for approximately 45 minutes or so, playing mostly songs off of Burnt Sugar and a song or two off their also-fantastic debut, ,Dies, they absolutely killed that donut shop.
The band could have easily phoned this one in, but the fact that they didn’t speaks volumes to their work ethic. Singer Christina Michelle poured her heart into her vocals; the guitar interplay between Mick Ford and Dylan Downey was as clean and crisp as it is on the album as they were clearly rocking out (Mick was definitely the most stationary person in the band, though whether or not it was by choice was unclear, as he didn’t have much room to move around); and the rhythm section of Tyler Forsythe on bass and Tommy Cantwell on drums was tight and sounded fantastic. Put it all together and they sounded so amazing that you temporarily forgot that if you wanted to you could squeeze past Mick and make your way to the counter to get an apple fritter and a cup of hot cocoa.
Two other bands from out of town (No Thanks from Omaha, and New York’s Wait and Shackle, who were gigging their way to SXSW) played abbreviated sets to make sure everyone got stage time, with two local bands (Not Cops and the gloriously-named Kiss 2) closing the night with a “battle set”: the drummers placed their kits nose to nose, and both bands took the stage (not that there’s a stage per se at The Donut Whole, but you get the idea). They proceeded to alternate, each band playing a song apiece until closing time—a closing time which, by the way, was graciously extended by The Donut Whole management to allow the bands to squeeze in as many songs as they could.
On paper, not much with this show went right: The venue was changed at the last minute. The PA went out intermittently. The lighting is not meant for live music, as it’s meant for…well, a donut shop. Turnout wasn’t great, and depending on who you ask it wasn’t even good. But here’s the thing—it was still an awesome night, because no one really cared about any of that stuff. Every time the PA went out, somebody fixed it. Couldn’t do anything about the lighting, but that only mattered to the person trying to take photos (*raises hand*). Nobody had a problem with the change in location, because they just wanted to support the bands. And the bands themselves made it clear they greatly appreciated each and every person who showed up that night.
During Gouge Away’s set, Christina emphatically thanked everyone for rolling with the punches and coming to the new location, a sentiment she echoed after the show. “It’s so cool everyone still came even after the show was moved here,” she said, as she and the rest of the band shivered in the frigid Kansas air to which the Floridians were painfully unaccustomed.
The irony was that everyone in attendance was just as grateful to Gouge Away for gracing Wichita with their presence and not thinking they’re too good to play a town that many bands skip. It’s one of the things that makes an up and coming band playing your town so rewarding: they’re glad you showed up, and you’re glad they came. It’s a total win-win.
This may be the last time Gouge Away plays garages and donut shops for crowds in the double digits, so if you missed it, you missed out on something one-of-a-kind, and something truly special. Catch them on their next swing through the states with La Dispute and Slow Mass starting in April, because after that these types of shows will only become more and more rare.