It is at times a bit disheartening to walk into a venue and be one of a meager number of people in the building that is neither performing nor part of the staff. It’s hard not to internally bemoan the state of local music when even on a night of mild weather, no stragglers wander in out of sheer curiosity. Of course, energy can be better spent on things that don’t involve griping about the attendance to a weeknight show, but it is still interesting to wonder how things would transpire had the room been filled to capacity.
Lawrence trio Muscle Worship opened to an almost empty house with the same veracity I witnessed when the band’s volume quite literally made things fall off the walls at a now defunct record and second-hand clothing store. For thirty minutes, the trio of Sean Bergman, Billy Ning and Nathan Wilder basted the room with meticulously arranged, obliquely analytical rock music. Though perhaps not quite as experimental as the acts to follow, the band was no less complex in their delivery, albeit Bergman’s shouted vocals were stifled as a result of their insistence of playing as loud as they possibly could. The bulk of the set consisted of songs from the first EP (“Gone Before Dagon,” “Jesus vs the Lord”) and other releases already available, but two new songs made an appearance from the trio’s upcoming full-length debut, and were nothing if not complementary to the sound upon which the band has built.
Kansas City native Justin Wright began performing under the moniker Expo ’70 as an experimental outlet while living in California, and brought his project with him upon returning to the area. Wright’s output of droning and atmospheric soundscapes is staggering, especially as someone whose band is almost always nothing more than a floor full of effects pedals, an amp and a guitar. Recently, Wright has been playing with Aaron Osbourne (Monta at Odds) and Mike Vera, a move that only works to amplify the celestial Kraut-inspired work Expo is often known for and delves that much deeper into avant-garde compositions, replete with a looming disquietude and seemingly erratic plucking of strings. Don’t get used to the lineup just yet, though. Once the trio is finished playing a few upcoming regional shows and festivals, Wright will be back out on his own.
The last act of the night further continued the rule of three, but with the addition of the Pontiak trio being of blood relation. Lain, Van and Jennings Carney are not only brothers of the beard, but also by birth. The band call Virginia home, and on their multiple albums and EPs over the last seven years have touched on influences as arcane as Olympia drone purveyors Earth, to as obvious as psych, prog and stoner rock trailblazers like Tony Iommi. The trio played the majority of their newest release, Echo Ono (including the quite raging album opener “Lions of Least”), and so the 50-minute set was very much grounded in an ethos of organic, American psych-rock with rare instances of pedal work and noodling during soaring acid rock interludes. Banter was neither present nor necessary, in its place even more ear-splitting noise reminiscent of the forefathers of heavy metal.
I hate to be that guy, but you missed out on one hell of a show, Kansas City.
Nerd talk: Although Muscle Worship has had a relatively short life thus far, only having been around since 2009, Sean Bergman and Billy Ning have been playing music together for over a decade. Before the release of their debut full-length in 2000, Bergman joined as second guitarist in Proudentall, in which Ning was playing bass. The band was fronted by Matt Dunehoo, who would go on to lend his voice and guitar to Doris Henson and Baby Teardrops. After Proudentall ran its course, Ning and Bergman formed Volara with Paul Ackerman (Giants Chair, The Farewell Bend) and Brandon Akin (Panel Donor). Muscle Worship drummer Nathan Wilder currently plays in both Ad Astra Arkestra and The Appleseed Cast.
Justin Wright has been evolving as a musician since he was in a high school band called Restrain, a band that was more or less straight edge hardcore, and was fronted by Sean Ingram before he later formed Coalesce. When Wright moved to Boston in the late ’90s, he threw in a few months of practice time with a group of guys led by Aaron Turner. Once he moved on, the group eventually became well-known metal band ISIS. After Boston, Wright moved to Los Angeles, where he joined Living Science Foundation, who had a release on the Kansas City label Second Nature Recordings. Wright now resides back in KC, where he runs the Sonic Meditations label and releases other mind-expanding sounds from local projects like Umberto, Sounding the Deep, and Breathing Flowers.
My night started out at the Beaumont Club, seeing the rhythmic “drum punk” collective Ad Astra Arkestra. In likely one of the most odd settings of the entire festival, the collaborative group on stage deserved a better backdrop and audience than the vastly unattended showcase in the stark vacuum of a venue for which they were given the opening slot. Numbering nearly a dozen members, the local group’s synergy was an undeniable force whose uncanny width and breadth of musical range was given a push toward visual absurdity. KC punk Mookie Ninjak served as the anti-hypeman, standing on stage drinking beer, playing with a cell phone, and generally embodying the same nonchalant attitude displayed by most of the crowd. By comparison, the eleven-piece Altos played at the same time to a packed Riot Room. Locale is key.
Venturing through Westport Coffeehouse down to their dark, carpeted basement is where I was able to witness a stripped-down version of The Caves. David Gaume and Elizabeth Bohannon were both out of the city/country, leaving only Andrew Ashby with an acoustic-electric guitar, and drummer Jacob Cardwell experimenting with other forms of percussion, hastened as they were with the somewhat last-minute set change. The duo played a short and ascetic set that borne upon the audience new songs from the next two (!) albums, and tunes from their debut EP with a naked melancholy akin to David Bazan. To reference my comment in the first paragraph, I could not have imagined seeing the two at any other place in town without coming across as inorganic and contrived.
After the crushing realization that I had missed all but the last 30 seconds of Capybara‘s set, I made my way over to Gusto with minutes to spare before the fantastic Ghosty began playing. I’m a bit embarrassed by this admission, but as a follower since 2005’s Grow Up or Sleep In, this was the very first time I had ever been able to coordinate my life to be in the same room while they were playing. I know, I know. And if that weren’t bad enough, front man Andrew Connor and I worked together for nearly two years. My being a terrible co-worker and local music fan aside, the trio of Connor with Billy Belzer on drums and Mike Nolte on bass splashed a remarkably lilting and shimmering pop against the Gusto’s dilapidated, century-old brick interior. Though much of the set contained songs written and recorded in the last three years, their delivery is as timeless as the classic (power)pop influences that drive the band to continually release some of the most profoundly impressive work this side of the Mississippi River.
Columbia, MO, indie rockers Believers drew me to the Riot Room later in the evening, and with me I dragged a few of my friends. The band performed well, and sounded adequate in the venue, but overall fell a bit flat compared to the great production quality of their recently released debut. In the thick of the casual conversations and clinking of pint glasses taking place all around the room, the complexities of the band’s sound was ultimately lost in a muddle of noise pollution. This resulted in the group’s otherwise immense creation being reduced to a pattering of drums and a yelp of inaudible lyrics. I ended up leaving their set early just so my first experience seeing them live wouldn’t be tainted by a distracted audience.
Back to Gusto, The ACB’s made the bar two-for-two on quality sets from established local acts. That this band also contains Ghosty’s Andrew Connor is inconsequential, as he only provides one part of the flourishing powerpop quartet led by the charming falsetto of Konnor Ervin. The setlist has not changed much in the three times I’ve seen them in the last six months (with “My Face” and “You Did It Once” among those being played), but the band continues to add more and more new songs to the list, and each one that is revealed has that much more rump-shaking funk than the last. The band surprised with an addition of the hit that never was by playing “Suzanne,” and “Be Professional,” the first single from the band’s sophomore effort. Even more surprising was the inclusion of a flared-up rendition of Matthew Sweet’s “Sick of Myself” in the latter half. I thought it impossible, but the new album may end up being even better than the last.
I chose Mission of Burma at the RecordBar to close out my second night, because who else could you really see after watching a band that first started playing together over thirty years ago? The Boston punk band formed in 1979 and played so extensively that they broke up in 1983 due to co-founder Roger Miller acquiring a nasty case of tinnitus. The band reformed in 2002 (with Shellac’s Bob Weston joining Miller, Clint Conley and Peter Prescott) and have been active since (releasing a new album this very year, in fact), but it goes without saying that almost every single person in the room was there to hear songs from Vs. and the Signals, Calls and Marches EP. The audience was not let down, as the band hammered through 70 minutes of brash post-punk that was easily a key influence for every other musician in the room that was not already on stage. The highlights? As if there were any other possibilities, the amusing “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver,” and a set closer of the punk classic “Academy Fight Song,” complete with the rather inebriated singing along by the audience.
This review was written for Lost in Reviews.
Hometown pride is a necessary thing in music sometimes. The phenomenon can be found across a variety of genres, and blues rock is no stranger. Even those not from the places they refer will typically write of the streets of Austin, the pawn shops of Memphis, or any number of dives across the Mid- and Southwest. Chuck Prophet is elated to call San Francisco his home, so much so that nearly the entirety of his newest album Temple Beautiful is a Cupid’s arrow shot directly into the heart of the Bay Area.
Prophet has been a boomerang of musical force for over 25 years, his craft taking him across the world and back, and into the studio with musicians as varied as Warren Zevon and Cake. His roots have always been firmly planted in the world of blues, but his songwriting effortlessly jumps from a salute to the early days of lip-curling punk, a subtle nod to ’70s arena rockers, a nudge in the direction of ’60s pop, and a hat-tip to power chord ambassadors The Kinks. Throw on any of his albums and you’ll be greeted with a concoction of decade-spanning sounds blended together in hour-long assortments.
Local fledgling bluegrass sextet The Grisly Hand kicked off the night shortly before 9:00, and in a brief pause after their opening song, audience members could be heard frantically trying to remove their jaws from the floor. The band unquestionably gave Prophet a run for his money with an animated half-hour set that bounded back and forth among the band’s currently humble discography. Accompanying Lauren Krum’s extraordinarily immense voice was guitarist Jimmy Fitzner, whose vocal style both contrasted with Krum’s and provided a proper stylistic companion, and his banter between songs gave enough levity to keep the crowd attentive.
Bassist Johnny Nichols, guitarist Ben Summers, and fiddler Kian Byrne all contributed vocals throughout the set in varying amounts, and Matt Richey backed up the group on drums. In a blur of limbs and swinging guitar necks, the band reached some moments of unequivocal unity during the set, with all players on stage perfectly in sync in unintentional choreography. It was genuinely fascinating to the only two senses that mattered at the time.
By the time Chuck Prophet was joined on stage by his band The Mission Express at 9:45, there was already a vacuum-sealed crowd packed tightly in front, eagerly awaiting the 100-minute set. With only a foot-wide path leading to each of the bars, anyone expecting to stand in front of the stage was out of luck. Greeted by drunken cheers and the kind of heckling you would expect to hear only at a place like Davey’s, Prophet and company quickly jumped into an opening set filled with numbers from the last two decades.
“Storm Across the Sea” got things moving with one of many slide guitar songs that were played that evening, underscoring guitarist James DePrato’s ability to keep up with Prophet’s frequent veering off in a story or guitar solo. The set covered much of the newest release, with “Castro Halloween,” “The Left Hand and the Right Hand,” “Willy Mays Is Up at Bat,” “White Night, Big City” and the title track among those. Prophet’s dedication of “White Night” to late gay rights activist Harvey Milk was met with a room so quiet a pin could be heard landing on the concrete floor.
Keyboardist (and spouse to the leading man) Stephanie Finch provided two of the highlights of the set with her vocal contribution to Temple‘s “Little Girl, Little Boy” and a spiced-up version of “Tina Goodbye,” the opening track to Finch’s 2010 debut Cry Tomorrow. Additional highlights were the covers of Alex Chilton’s “Bangkok,” and an irony-free version of Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen.” The encore of “Always a Friend” (co-written by Alejandro Escovedo) was followed by the quirky “You Did,” the only song in history that poses the question of who did, exactly, put the boom in the boom-boom-shaka-laka?
This is the second time I have seen Prophet, and both times it has been at a reasonably filled Davey’s Uptown. After seeing a knock-out set twice in a row, I must pose a question I heard others in the venue asking that night — why the hell isn’t this guy more popular?
Nerd talk: Grisly Hand’s Jimmy Fitzner honed his voice in the late ’90s working-class punk band Tanka Ray. Their 2002 album …And So I Abide will continue to be one of my all-time local favorites, and it comes highly recommended. After Tanka Ray broke up, Fitzner went on to play in the short-lived Dead Dora, then formed Grisly Hand with Lauren Krum, Johnny Nichols and Chas Snyder, who was also a member of Tanka Ray. Nichols played in the ska revival band The Uprights, who deserve their own post on this blog at some point, and will get it in due time. Nichols and Fitzner also play in the psyched-out “drum punk” supergroup Ad Astra Arkestra, with former GH member Mike Tuley. Kian Byrne, in addition to being a recently inducted member of his father’s band The Elders, plays in soul/ska/riddim band The New Riddim, and joining him is the Uprights’ Dan Loftus.
Matt Richey plays in minimalist country band The Blessed Broke, and lo-fi throwback pop band Dead Voices, whose frontman David Regnier also plays with Krum as Ruddy Swain. Ben Summers probably has the most complex music history of all members, having been in multiple punk bands that played basements across the city but never recorded anything. A few of his bands worth noting are U.S. Americans, Anne Emergency! (who went by An Emergency! early on), The Controlled, and Kill Brochtune, not to mention currently performing his own written material.
This review was written for Lost in Reviews. All photos taken by the talented Matt Cook.
I would be a fool to hunt down and post every local show happening in the coming months. The metro area is experiencing a musical boom, and has been for the past few years, so I suppose limiting myself in the amount of shows I post here is both good and bad. Good that there are so many choices, but bad in that I don’t wish to show preferential treatment against those I choose to exclude. These days, most local events are pretty easy to track via the bands, venues or promoters participating in them, so if you miss out on something you only have yourself to blame.
CANCELED: The September 29th Unwritten Law show at The Beaumont Club has been canceled, likely due to co-headliner The Ataris inexplicably dropping off the bill. The show previously had three KC bands in support, including Hipshot Killer, Bent Left, and Le Grand. Hipshot Killer is one of the best melodic punk bands to come out of KC in a long time. If you haven’t already, you can pick up the band’s debut 12 inch at Vinyl Renaissance on 39th Street. For the tech savvy, a digital version can be purchased from their bandcamp here. Bent Left has been a mainstay in the local punk scene for the better part of a decade, and has many politically-charged albums and EPs which can be purchased either through local stores or directly from the band. Le Grand, while not my bag, probably has a built-in fanbase with high schoolers who love auto-tuned and frankly generic pseudo-punk and/or radio-friendly “screamo.” Not trying to put baby in a corner or anything, but I have to call it like I hear it.
09/23: Kansas City via Chicago (or vice versa) space rockers The Life and Times are heading up an event at Crosstown Station for those who want to punish their eardrums (in a good way, of course). Not only will this be one of the venue’s last shows before their untimely demise of being turned into an urban church, but it will be one of only two times the headliner will make an appearance in our town before the end of the year (the other being an opening slot on the 11/04 HUM show at recordBar). Opening the Crosstown show will be thirty-something favorites Dirtnap (Are they together? Are they split up?), Larryville newcomer indie-pop sensations Cowboy Indian Bear, and Cherokee Rock Rifle, a hard-rockin’, hard-drinkin’, hard-sexin’ foursome with only one release under their belt, but a steadily growing local following due to the charisma of bar tending front man Nathaniel “Dutch” Humphrey.
10/01: Crosstown Station will be saying it’s goodbyes with a final live music show on October 1st. The list of names on the bill is long, not the least of which is a rare reunion from Giants Chair, co-creators of a ’90s indie rock sub-genre lovingly referred to by some as the “Kansas City sound” (shared in part with Molly McGuire, Shiner, et al). Also performing as part of the festivities will be Be/Non (the ever-changing sounds of the prolific Brodie Rush), Thee Water Moccasins (a side project of Roman Numerals), Minden (new project from members of Kelpie), Olivetti Letter (a brand spankin’ new band with members of To Conquer, Season to Risk, Doris Henson, and many others), Olympic Size (a mostly one-off project between members of Doris Henson, The Belles, and Roman Numerals that still pop up for an occasional gig), local jazz outfit Diverse (who often team up with other local musicians to pay tribute to past influences), and the synth-heavy sounds of Parts of Speech. Other unannounced and unbilled (Major Games) special guests are expected to appear, and if you are free that evening, you would be wise to attend.
10/15: Kansas City label The Record Machine is releasing a new split 7 inch between locals Soft Reeds and Minden, and The Brick will serve as host to their record release on October 15th. Also opening will be TRM newcomers Deadringers. The event will be 21+, and the cover will probably be $7. Even if the flier says $5, bring $7, as the venue in question has a history of magically increasing their cover charges the evening of the show. Hear Deadringers’ single publicly released demo track here, and while we’re on the topic of TRM, go here to stream and purchase the debut LP from Ad Astra Arkesta. New releases (and coinciding release shows) can be expected from Capybara and Max Justus before the end of the year as well. If 2010 treated The Record Machine well, and 2011 has placed them in a local spotlight, it will be interesting to see what 2012 has in store for the label.
10/25: Last but not least, Season to Risk will be playing a very unexpected second gig this October, opening for the once great Helmet (or, as they have become since reuniting, Page Hamilton & Co) at Riot Room. Locals Waiting For Signal will be rounding out what is currently only a three band bill, sure to give at least some in the crowd a migraine due to either S2R’s smoke machine, or the deafening wall of noise coming from much of the lineup. Helmet has reportedly been playing a respectable amount of their older material, covering a lot of songs from Betty, Aftertaste, Meantime, and Strap It On. But, as is to be expected, at least part of their set will involve some of their newer, inferior songs as well. Season to Risk revealed before their first show of 2011 last month that they have now written two new songs as an inactive band. There is hardly any chance they will ever be recorded, so if you want to hear them, you know what you need to do.