The purpose of Riot on the Plaza is simply to get some names out there that may have otherwise been overlooked, both from today and from years past. This blog is just a place where I can nerd out about bands I enjoy, and I hope you enjoy it as well.
Greg has written 77 posts for Riot on the Plaza

Deco Auto debut album available today

deco smallPower-pop is for lovers! Kansas City’s own hopeless romantics, Deco Auto, released their debut full-length today (known among the masses as Valentine’s Day), and it is available over on Bandcamp.

Let me begin by discussing the album artwork for The Curse of Deco Auto. Were I to stumble across a CD copy of this in a record store bin in Anywhere, USA, I would know exactly what it is: alternative power-punk with a late ’90s, decidedly Midwestern tilt. Perhaps something from Chicago, Detroit, or one of the other cities that seemed to dominate the sound during the era. It’s a simple cover, but one packed with nostalgia. It brings to the surface quickly fading memories of the simplicity of youth, of a willingness to attend virtually any show just to have something to do, of having good hair but questionable hairstyles. Of having more hair in general.

A handful of the songs on Curse have been making appearances at Deco performances since the band first formed in early 2011, and it’s interesting to witness the degree to which each has been further fleshed out or trimmed and restructured for a proper release, thanks to engineer/drummer Pat Tomek. A veteran of Kansas City music, Tomek is most notable as a founding member of The Rainmakers and frequent collaborator with Howard Iceberg & The Titanics. It’s absolutely worth noting, however, that he also has roots in power-pop, having played with the Secrets*, whose “It’s Your Heart Tonight” single is one of the better installations on what is already a near-flawless Titan! Records discography.

Tomek joins Tracy Flowers in the rhythm section, who in addition to being a founding member, provides harmony vocals throughout the release (and lead vocals on two others – go girl!). Flowers previously provided bass and vocal duties in The Straight Ups, a musically A.D.D. band whose members frequently traded instruments and played a pretty wide range of the rock spectrum. The drummer was Michelle Bacon (née O’Brien), who would go on to be a founding member of Deco, before bowing out in favor of playing in approximately thirty other bands at the same time.

Bringing in the lead, the ever youthful, the possibly immortal, Steven Garcia on guitar and vocals. Garcia is originally from the Saint Joseph area, but moved out to Fort Collins, Colorado, in the early ’90s and became a founding member of Armchair Martian with fellow St. Joe ex-pat Jon Snodgrass. Upon Garcia leaving, he would be replaced by Chad Price (All … no, ALL!), also originally from the Kansas City area, before the two would go on to form the well-received Drag the River. After Armchair, Garcia formed Knee Jerk Reaction, a straight ahead pop-punk band by all accounts, immaturity and all. Upon the band dissolving, Garcia would move back to the Kansas City area and, a few years later, start what was to become Deco Auto.

So now that we’re back to the present, let’s talk about the album. Opener “One of a Million” is in the group of older songs in the band’s repertoire to which I referred earlier, the chorus of which still has that familiar punch of Tracy’s “Ah ha!,” though the guitar is considerably more crunchy than I recall from the earlier days. Up next is “Frozen Tears,” a slower, sadder (non-ballad) song, showing a little more range in both vocals. There’s a spot where a chord is struck and left to float in the air while Tomek plays something akin to the “Be My Baby” beat, and I can’t help but think of “The Angels’ Share,” the closing track on the Revolvers‘ lone album (whose New Year’s Eve reunion show Deco was supposed to play). No accusations of riff lifting, they’re both just damn good songs.

“The Introduction” is the first of two tracks on which Garcia steps back and lets Tracy take over the vocals. It’s a quick, three-minute romp into the poppy territory in which the band specializes before three-chord anthems like “Such a Bother” and “The Silent Ones” pull the album along until the instrumental, surf-tinged “Deco Stomp” serves as a Shadowy Men-esque segue into the latter third of the album. “Play Along” sees Garcia toying with the idea of a guitar solo, which may have been granted a longer appearance were it not for the song’s length (the shortest on the album), but which is a welcome addition regardless. “Empty Gestures” displays the trio’s methodical approach to slower, downbeat songs, and album closer “Turning Down” is once again led by the vocals of Tracy – who, forgive the trope, reminds me quite a bit of Tawni Freeland on the track.

You can stream or download the album below. And you definitely should.

Riot Recommends: Kevin Greenspon with High Diving Ponies @ FOKL

flierThe end of the year is quickly edging closer and closer, and with it comes a few final opportunities to unglue yourself from the couch, brush the Cheetos® dust off your sweatpants, and get out to see some live music performed by a few of the more intriguing local acts the city currently has to offer. Read on, fellow layabout, I urge you to make the drive out to Strawberry Hill on Dec. 3 for this one.

KC native Ben Straus opens the night, performing under his YYU moniker (listen here), a project that primarily uses ambient tape loops with chopped and echo-laden vocals, and a variety of sampled instruments strewn about to create some art that is increasingly being talked about.

Next up, High Diving Ponies (listen here) come out of hibernation to play songs from their recently released cassette Face Blindness, as well as a handful of new ones. I’ve written about the band here previously, but their live show is a cathartic wall of noise borrowing elements of shoegaze, indie rock, and grunge from the last two decades. Also, they don’t play often.

Big Waves of Pretty (listen here) hail from Madison, WI, and encompass a variety a sounds, some of which fall into the reverb-drenched sound you’d expect with a lineup such as this. The majority of their work is simply upbeat and occasionally fuzzed-out pop songs. LA native Kevin Greenspon (listen here) closes out the night with more droning, ambient tape loops and sprawling arrangements that combine various facets of experimental sub-genres.

Doors are at 8pm, cover is five bones. Bring extra cash to spend on records, cassettes, and such.

In Memoriam: Josh Betterton

joshI didn’t know Josh Betterton well. We weren’t friends, I never sat next to him on a bar stool, and I couldn’t tell you his middle name. But I met the man on a dozen occasions and logged hours of conversation with him in our natural habitat: the record store. The first conversation we ever had began how I’m sure many of his introductions did, by talking about his DRI and Flipper neck tattoos. Over the months and years, I would occasionally run into him in the basement of Prospero’s, where we would exchange stories, talk about punk rock and records, and lament the closing of Recycled Sounds and the state of record stores in KC at the time. He didn’t know a stranger, and he proclaimed his views in an endearingly brash manner. He once regaled me with a story of how he was banned for life from a well-known Oklahoma City record store and venue after chastising the owner for selling Skrewdriver bootlegs. After about an hour of conversation, we would shake hands and part ways. I don’t think there was a single time I saw him outside of a music shop.

Earlier this month, Josh passed suddenly. The details are hazy, and I probably wouldn’t post more info here out of respect even if I knew. His family has set up a memorial fund to help pay for the funeral and other related expenses. If you knew Josh, or you shared some laughs and memories like I did, please consider donating.

Betterton fronted the long-running KC punk band Hopeless Destroyers, a group who outlasted many of the venues at which they performed (El Torreon, The Anchor, and the Sleeper Cellar, among others). Prior to living in Kansas City, he and his brother Justin grew up in Oklahoma City, where Josh fronted a few punk bands in the early ’90s like Blaster (who played great, Queers-inspired pop-punk) and the Real Ones (who released a 7″ that enjoys a space in my record collection). Both brothers moved to KC around the turn of the decade, where Josh’s primary musical focus was Hopeless Destroyers and Justin has played in such notable punk staples as Olsen Terror, Dark Ages and Anxiety Attack, and presently hosts the KC DIY radio show on KKFI 90.1fm with Jordan Carr (Dark Ages, Alert! Alert!).

New Schwervon! single to be released on Too Much Rock

It’s been nearly a year since my last post, so I guess you can consider this a second coming. Or third … or fourth. I lost count long ago.

Since my last post, there’s been a sea change of bands come and go, many artists have moved away for college and/or adulthood, well-respected musicians have been lost, various live music fundraisers have occurred, up-and-coming area music festivals have been executed, another music festival was unceremoniously canceled, a few old crows found some success in getting the band back together, a trio of young brothers have found their own success across the pond, and a great new record store has opened just a few drunken stumbles from the center of the music nightlife in Westport. In addition to that, a fucking slew of incredible releases have come out on one format or another from the hard-working and talented folks who call Kansas City and Lawrence their home. I’ll get to those in another post.

Unlike the artists who left us in their rear-view mirrors, Schwervon! packed up and made the move from New York City to KC on April 5 of last year. The date is important because they played their inaugural local show as the first band at that year’s Middle of the Map Fest the very same day. Prior to jumping time zones, Matt Roth and Nan Turner had been recording and releasing their stripped down drums and guitar weirdo pop for over a decade, often self-releasing the tunes through Matt’s Olive Juice Music collective. Brief nerd moment: Matt is originally from the area, and was in the band Dracomagnet back in the early ’90s with Darren Welch (The Hearers and In the Pines).

Local music critic Sid Sowder is even more peripatetic than the band, having lived in Indianapolis, Boston, Chicago, and Kansas City over the last 20 years while not only documenting the local music culture through his website Too Much Rock, but at times participating himself by heading up Urinine Records. The label would go on to release nearly two dozen titles, including music from The Hillary Step, The Believe It or Nots, The Capsules, and Namelessnumberheadman. I fondly recall the days from my youth as an (even more) awkward high schooler in the early ’00s, just discovering local music. I would spend hours reading through and gawking at his immense list of show recounts dating back to 1997. By proxy, he is at least partly responsible for my love of the Kansas City and Lawrence music scenes, and possibly the reason this very blog even exists. Credit where credit is due, brother.

schwervon singleUsing the TMR moniker as a label name, Sid has decided to inject himself back into the cycle of perpetually losing money by formulating an idea whereby he presses 500 limited edition singles for a band and gives every single copy to them for disposal at their will. The details are this:

1) Sid chooses local act. Band picks A-side (original), Sid picks B-side (cover)
2) Label covers licensing and manufacturing for 500 copies of a 45rpm single
3) ????
4) No profit. All copies go to the band. Repeat.

The first single in the series is from Schwervon!, and features their song “Landlocked” on the A-side, and a cover the The Raincoats’ “Off Duty Trip” on the B-side. “Landlocked” is the first song the band recorded after moving to the area, and a fitting submission with which to kick off the series. “Off Duty Trip” captures a similar minimalist, post-punk feel that the 1979 original had, with a little anti-folk spin. You can stream the A-side here, but you’ll have to wait to hear the B-side until the single gets released this Tuesday, Nov. 12.

The band is scheduled to play an in-store release show at Mills Record Company once they return from their Euro tour late this month. Keep an eye out for the next two singles in the series, coming early next year and on Record Store Day. Each single will be a one time press, so once they’re gone … they’re gone for good.

In Review: The Year 2012

Hello there! As you can tell from the glaring vacancy between the last post and this one, I haven’t really written much in the last six months. It’s a new year, and with that I’d like to continue to entertain the twelve three people that read this website. I haven’t really been able to make the time for writing, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t kept my ears open for great things happening in our fair city. There was such a considerable amount of good music to come out of the metro that I find it difficult to cut the selections down to a top five or ten. With that, I present you with Riot On The Plaza’s ABCs of 2012, a few dozen bands with great releases, many of which went largely unnoticed.

A is for Anakin, who released an astounding space-rock debut, instantly aligning themselves with the likes of HUM, Shiner, and Failure. The band recorded and released Random Accessed Memories before even playing their first public performance.

B is for Black On Black, a raging hardcore punk trio so humble they don’t even want to charge you for a download of Help Yourself, the LFK band’s six-track debut. Take a listen to “No Good So Far” above.

C is for CVLTS, edging themselves into the #1 spot with the internationally released Realiser, an aural oddity rife with tape loops, improvisation, and drastic mood changes. Hear “Wamego Fluff” above.

D is for Droves, who are the uncomfortable pitch blackness to the warm glow in which Soft Lighting allows the listener to bask. Bryan Cox and Michael Protzmann collaborated on an EP released last year. Listen to “Belial” above.

E is for Expo ’70, the perpetually recording project of Justin Wright. Beguiled Entropy pushes the number of his releases to the area of around fifty, and “Mark of the Rising Mantis” exemplifies what I like best about his music: a feeling of hopelessly drifting through space.

F is for Fiat, a fusion trio who blend classical, jazz, and rock together to form a very different kind of beast for the local music scene. The group released Returns over the summer, not so much an EP as a “bundle” of songs that stand on their own.

G is for Ghosty, who continue to please with well-crafted pop rooted in the ’60s and ’70s. “Joy In My Sorrow” is only one of the many stand-out tracks available on their self-titled release.

H is for High Diving Ponies, whose summer release of Suspended in Liquid received an unjustly quiet response from others in the area. The band will be releasing a split double cassette with Rooftop Vigilantes in the coming weeks.

I is for Is It Is, a band that shares with the High Diving Ponies a guitarist in James Capps, who also provides the vocals for the oblique shoegaze present on their debut, Hollyhocks.

J is for John Velghe and The Prodigal Sons, who at their fullest are comprised of nearly a dozen immensely talented musicians from the metro area. “Bloodline” is the first track on Don’t Let Me Stay to prominently feature a horn section.

K is for Katlyn Conroy, who released the three track sampling of Savannah > Jacksonville during the summer under her performing moniker of La Guerre. Listen to closing track “Lights Go Out” above.

L is for Lazy, an ever-evolving and always entertaining group of Kansas Citians who set fire to any semblance of their former selves with the release of Obsession, nine songs of filthy sounding lo-fi punk.

M is for Minden, who left us all in the dust by moving to Portland on the eve of releasing their debut full-length, Exotic Cakes. It was written and recorded here in KC, so as far as I’m concerned this little glam pop gem still deserves inclusion.

N is for No Class, who released their sophomore LP on Canada’s Deranged Records over the summer. Keine Klasse II piles more anger on the band’s already wholesale pissed off hardcore punk.

O is for Osiris-1, the name under which glitchy hip-hop producer Rick Mauna releases many of his recordings. This untitled album was recorded with inspiration from his then still in utero child.

P is for Power and Light, a Euro-inspired synth pop collaboration between Nathan Readey and Ghosty’s Andrew Connor from which I hope to hear much more than a three song EP in 2013.

Q is for The Quivers, an unabashedly retro rock band that draws from the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, pop, and motown. The track above is from the band’s debut EP.

R is for The Roseline, the ongoing project of Colin Halliburton and one of the best alt-country acts the metro has seen since Buffalo Saints dissolved. Vast As Sky is the third and likely most expansive album the band has released to date.

S is for Soft Lighting, the ’80s-influenced synth project of Bryan Cox. Slow Motion Silhouettes took me by complete surprise, and on multiple occasions it could be heard blaring from my car’s stereo while I was driving around at night. It’s that kind of record, I guess.

T is for Thee Water MoccaSins, a local supergroup of sorts, who self-released their towering debut From the Rivers of Missouri and the Banks of Fear and currently only get around to playing shows when Billy Smith is back in town from his current home of NYC.

U is for UMBERTO, Matt Hill’s monstrous creation that made a return to form last year with the release of Night Has a Thousand Screams, a score which was made to coincide with a 1982 horror film.

V is for Vital Forms, whose breadth of sound on their demo EP ranges from dark electronic beats with complementary vocals, to the chunky riffed dream pop you can hear in the track above.

W is for The What Gives, who will appear on this list regardless of their not being an active band in over a decade. Futureman Records dug up some unreleased sessions from the Lawrence lo-fi indie rock/pop group and finally let it be heard by the public.

And in lieu of an X, Y, or Z, I will post a list of honorable mentions:

Capybara‘s Dave Drusky, Coke Weed X‘s self-titled debut, Discoverer‘s Tunnels, Dry Bonnet‘s Seeds EP, Gemini Revolution‘s self-titled effort, Jorge Arana Trio‘s Mapache, Levon Realms‘ Other Time Period, Loss Leader‘s First Assembly, Mouthbreathers‘ Die Alone single, Prevrat‘s Intelligent Discontent, Radar Defender‘s Satellites and Airports, Sundiver‘s Vicious EP, and Surroundher‘s triple CD debut.

I hope you take the time to check out the bands above, they all deserve a listen. What are a few I’m looking forward to in the year ahead?

New ones from The ACB’s, The Dead Girls, and Fourth of July, and the debuts of Bloodbirds, The Conquerors, Radkey, and Shy Boys.

Dry Bonnet EP available online, cassettes on the way

Lawrence garage rock quartet Dry Bonnet have been playing shows in and around their hometown for the last year, frequently sharing the stage with The Conquerors, Mouthbreathers, and other locals that make an otherwise throwback sound completely their own. Outside of the band, the members keep busy with projects like The Roseline (a band in which both Tyler Brown and Seth Wiese play), Sex Tapes (in which Ben Kimball plays with members of The Spook Lights, Fag Cop, and The Spread Eagles), and Rooftop Vigilantes (another band in which Wiese performs). It should be mentioned that drummer Nic Kotlinski performed in the late, great Coat Party as well. The four songs contained on the Seeds EP are original to the release, though prior to this the band’s only other output was a submission to Replay Records’ Cheap Beer compilation, wherein they shared a slab of wax with most of the other bands mentioned in this paragraph.

Stream the EP below, and keep your eyes out for a cassette in the next month or so.

The Casket Lottery debut new track, 7-inch preorder

Earlier this week, I missed out on seeing The Casket Lottery play their first non-festival KC show since their decision to be an active band once more. I caught the group back in spring as part of the Middle Of The Map Festival (their second year as a performer) which happened to be at the same venue they played on July 8th with Anakin and In the Grove. I forgot how quickly time has passed since then, as the band’s new label No Sleep Records just posted the pre-order for the band’s new 7″ record (with multiple colors for the nerds). The Door EP features the title track on one side, with “My Father’s Son” as a b-side. The EP is a precursor to the upcoming full-length, Real Fear.

Any who were familiar with the band in their former life will note that there has been not much change in their sound since the last release nearly a decade ago. The songs still ride heavily on the bass of Stacy Hilt, drums of Nathan “Junior” Richardson and the miraculously un-aging vocals of Nathan Ellis, but with a revamped lineup the founders are now joined by Brent Windler (Anakin) on second guitar, and Nick Siegel on keyboard. You can stream the a-side and title track from The Door below.

Radar Defender release first single from new LP

For two excruciatingly long years I have waited for new music from Lawrence fuzz-pop group Radar Defender. It was some time in 2010 when their Sleep Dreaming Mammal EP completely took me by surprise, and now the trio of Scott Burr, Austin Snell and Tyler Snell (all of whom previously played together in Aqua-Symphonics) are on the eve of releasing one of my most anticipated albums of the year in a matter of weeks.

The first single from the new full-length Satellites and Airports is “Animal,” an unsurprisingly buoyant song that channels less Kim Deal and more Matt Suggs in the lo-fi heydays of Butterglory. Check out the stream below.

Soft Lighting debut new EP, music video

My interest in local composer Bryan Cox has been steadily growing since the beginning of the year. It’s not enough that his ’80s-centric sleazefest Soft Lighting has released Slow Motion Silhouettes, one of the most catchy albums of its type in recent memory, but on the side he also fronts New Savages (click here for a download). New Savages as a band stand on their own to create more concentrated and energetic grooves in opposition to the gently flowing, mood-oriented tunes he himself creates, the end result of which is the perfect soundtrack to a summer night drive — I’ve proven this theory on multiple occasions.

Cox has spent the time since SMS dropped recording new material, but in the meantime only releasing scant remixes of others’ work (Suicide, Brothertiger). Now just a few days into a sweltering July, Soft Lighting gives us a new five-song EP under the title Glamour Shots, with a video in tow. The new songs don’t depart much from the full-length, but much of the EP has a washed out sound, making the beats at times more aloof than the vibrancy with which Silhouettes packs its punch. Below, watch the video for “So Good,” from the new EP. The video isn’t quite NSFW, but it contains things like caressing, dudes kissing, neon lights, and other things that will freak out the squares.

06/28: Dads / Shy Boys / High Diving Ponies @ Riot Room

I’ve spent more than enough ink (or pixels, rather) going on pointless diatribes about the poor turnout at the venues I frequent. It’s a pointless battle, that much is clear — but I’ve had an epiphany that it’s no longer about the quantity of people, but the quality. It’s a goddamned shame when I’m one of eight people in a room watching a band who is neither bar staff nor a member of another band, but if those other seven people give those performing their undivided attention and a little respect, I’d gladly take that over the alternative. Even if one of those people is experiencing a paranoid high and demands I start referring to him as Gary in lieu of his actual name, and another wants to talk at great length about government conspiracies between bands.

Yes, there was a weird crowd in the room for the start of local ‘danger pop’ stalwarts High Diving Ponies. In the back, a group of college-aged girls inexplicably garbed in cocktail dresses began peddling sample shots of a new liquor (which was swill) to the people scattered about the room. On stage, Josh Thomas crooned morosely through wet vocal processing while hitting chords on his powder blue Stratocaster, his hair covering most of his face for the duration of the set. James Capps provided additional guitar effects, frequently pushing up his glasses and leaning down to adjust the pedals at his feet between moments of refrained thrashing. Alheim Amador remained poised behind Capps, standing statuesque save for the movement from his hands to give the necessary pulse through which the much more animated Justin Brooks finds alliance as the drummer. Brooks plays effortlessly behind the kit, offering up technically driven syncopated rhythms while making unintentionally humorous facial expressions in the process.

The set was in part made up of songs from the Ponies’ most recent release, Suspended in Liquid (album opener “Ersatz” has also been a recent set opener), though material across the band’s discography appeared throughout. Thomas has an often employed quiet-loud-quiet vocal technique he has been using since the days of Bodisartha and Spidermums, which he applies to the chorus of many songs in a strained, purposely off-key yelp that is washed over with effects in a conscious salutation to early ’90s grunge and the seminal underground counterculture with which it came. HDP is not a grunge band, just like they are not a shoegaze band, or an indie rock band, though all three of those subgenres have given the quartet the influences by which they define themselves. Although they are still honeymooning on their newest album (released about six weeks ago), the group has never been one for patience — a new album can likely be expected by the time the weather gets to be below the triple digits we are currently experiencing.

Prior to the show, I was puzzled at the billing of a mysterious and presumably local band called Shy Guys. I can appreciate the reference, but hoped there was some kind of confusion as there was already a KC band with a very similar name. At the very least, I hoped that the band would live up to the nerdiness their moniker would suggest. I was relieved and elated upon seeing Konnor Ervin enter through the door to the side of the stage, which confirmed the band performing tonight would in fact be the Shy Boys. The trio recently changed their name from The I’ms, and this would be their first performance using the new name, not to mention only their third or fourth time performing these songs in public under any name. Ervin joins Kyle Rausch (with whom he also plays in The ACB’s) and his brother Collin Rausch, with whom Kyle played in The Abracadabras at the same time Konnor’s Dr. Woo morphed into the first lineup of The ACB’s.

Full disclosure, I’ve been not-so-privately geeking on Shy Boys for more than a few months now, and to be effectively surprised with a performance from them completely made my night. Amid the occasional set troubles (Collin’s vocal volume being the primary issue) the trio placidly soft-rocked their way through a set of charming indie-pop (“Keeps Me On My Toes,” “Justine,” “Bully Fight”) with an ear placed securely in the ’60s, all three contributing to the harmonization of the vocals. The members played musical chairs with their instruments, with Kyle and Konnor frequently trading between drums and bass — it should also be noted that Konnor has only recently had a cast removed from his wrist and forearm. I had the rare occurrence of getting the giddy spine tingles felt only when experiencing something special, and though Kyle told me after their set that they are still trying to find their sound, what ever they are doing sure as hell works.

Omaha quartet Dads closed out the night with thirty minutes of brash, distorted garage-punk fueled by a wurlitzer and the vigor of youth. From what I could tell, almost the entirety of the set consisted of tracks from the band’s lone album, An Evening with Dads. Alek Erickson (bass) and Vince Franco (guitar) traded off vocals during the set, each of them wildly howling their words into the microphones while exerting a constant force of tightly packed powerpunk anthems into two-minute bursts. While Erickson played most of the set with his glasses resting on the tip of his nose, occasionally convulsing in spurts of energy, Franco would retort at his turn by sneering his lips against the mic, locking it in place with his mouth and forcing a mid-pitched bark of the lyrics from his gut. Behind them, a bespectacled Max Larson unassumingly bashed away on his kit, while Alexandra Hotchkiss played a keyboard which rested barely two feet off the ground on top of an amp for the entirety of their time on stage. The band was done before midnight, which is a rarity for the venue.

Hey! Before you go away, you might want to check out the bands that I’ve been ranting about on this page. Check out the streams below.

Shy Boys – ‘Strange’ mp3 download

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