Rayland Baxter w/ Liz Cooper & Friko
Reviewed and Photographed by Kevin Rolfe
When it was announced that Rayland Baxter would be playing The Commonwealth Room in Salt Lake City, there was no doubt that it would be a sold out show. Baxter is well liked here and it’s also been a while since he’s made a stop in Utah. Of course, we all know how the COVID-19 Pandemic put live music and touring to a halt. So that was an obvious reason why we hadn’t seen Rayland in a while. The other was he was working on an album. In 2022 Rayland Baxter released If I Were A Butterfly. So not only were we finally going to see Rayland Baxter perform live again, but we were going to get to hear some of these songs performed for the first time in Salt Lake City.
Friko opened the night. The Commonwealth Room was already pretty full and the majority of the audience was really attentive. You don’t always get that for the opening band. The trio powered through a handful of songs and after everyone they received a generous applause. I really like their sound. Fritz has a really cool Indie Rock style mixed in with some throwback sounds. There were times they almost sounded punk and others where there was a sixties british invasion sound. I really enjoyed it. All eyes were on frontman Niko Kapetan. His voice and his presence drew the crowd in. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot of people from that night looking for their music on streaming services.
Next up was Liz Cooper. She added to the momentum Friko started. Think, L7, The Breeders, Veruca Salt, and maybe even Souxie & The Banshees rolled into one. I don’t love comparing bands but I kept getting those vibes throughout the set. I love the Alternative Rock style that Liz and her band produced. The crowd was now packed in and many of them were rocking out to Cooper’s songs. A line that made me laugh was when Lize told people her real name was “Biz Cooper” and proceeded to tell the audience about the merch table in the lobby.
Cooper’s voice had a softness to it, but the music was hard and heavy. It was a cool and interesting mix. I enjoyed seeing her later in the evening at said mech table talking to fans. The openers were so different in style from each other and also what Rayland plays. But they set an amazing tone and I really loved the musical diversity in the lineup.
As the crew started doing their work to get things set up for Rayland Baxter and his band, I noticed an interesting layout. It was impossible not to notice the amazing leg lamp from the holiday classic, A Christmas Story. There was a chair set up with an ottoman in front of it. A number of guitars were set up near the chair. I had never seen Rayland Baxter before this show so I thought, maybe he always performs like this. It wasn’t until the lights lowered I saw Rayland being helped to the chair by his band. He had a cast on his right foot and leg.
Come to find out that Baxter broke his leg earlier that day. When I saw him walking out I figured it had to have happened earlier in the week and he was now used to performing this way. Nope. He told the story of riding a timber sled (a bike with skis) and the bike stopping but his legs continued which caused the break. He now joins the likes of Dave Grohl and Axl Rose as artists who continued to perform with a broken leg. Just like those rock stars, Rayland Baxter was up to the challenge. As Baxter sat in his chair he sang out, “The show must go on!” to a cheering crowd.
Rayland propped his leg up on the ottoman, strapped on his guitar and the show did go on. He opened the show with “Strange American Dream” from the album Wide Awake. The song has such a great groove. The jam-packed audience was still able to find space to sway to the music. I was immediately impressed with the band. Not only did they seem to love being up there and playing this great music, but they played so tightly together. I’m sure there was some aspect of the day’s earlier events that could have thrown them off their game. But from my vantage point, I didn’t notice anything.
Baxter let the rest of the band take a “smoke break” as he called it. They left the stage and he played a few songs solo. He played the title track off of the new album, “If I Were A Butterfly” and “Buckwheat” sharing after the song that his dad’s nickname ws Buckwheat. The new songs fit right in with the rest of his catalog.
I was really impressed with this crowd for the most part. Sometimes when the dynamics of a show are altered it can affect a crowd. But Rayland Baxter having to sit through the whole show didn’t seem to change the energy or excitement from this audience. They were a little chatty at times. And one time Baxter had to call them out on it. He did so in the most brilliant Rayland Baxter way. Rayland was in the middle of “Olivia” of all songs and just sort of paused in the middle as the chatter had reached an annoying peak. He said, “I just don’t want them to have to talk over this song. It must be an inconvenience. Yall let me know when I can start again.”
The room went absolutely silent. It was mildly awkward, but mostly an awesome way to handle a really annoying situation. I couldn’t have loved it more. Sure enough, he jumped right into “Olivia” and the crowd cheered. By the time the song ended, it was as if the mild “situation” had never happened. And despite the occasional chit-chat and little hiccup, the audience was clearly into the show and so excited to have Rayland back in town.
The rest of the band came back and they played “Rubberband Man”. Rayland told us that they recorded If I Were A Butterfly in an old rubberband factory, hence the name of the song. Baxter covered a Mac Miller song. I believe it was, “Small Worlds”. It was a heartfelt performance of an artist gone way too soon.
It was hard to believe but the show was coming to an end. The set flew by! Rayland Baxter finished with “Hey Larocco” and due to the circumstances of his leg, he stayed on stage and played “Cassanova” rather than leaving and coming back for an encore. I remember at the time hoping he wouldn’t try to go through the whole, leave the stage and come back, with his leg being how it is. So I’m glad he stayed. He thanked the audience for coming and selling out the show. He apologized for taking so long to come back. I think by the way the audience approved of him being there and appreciated him taking the stage despite a broken leg, Rayland Baxter will be back in Utah before we know it. Hopefully he’ll skip the timber sled next time!