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KC Psychfest: Day One Wrap-Up

Nestled within the confines of the Strawberry Hill neighborhood in Kansas City, KS, the FOKL Center flourishes in a space marked with little more than the four letters which make its namesake. Formerly the Tienda Latina market, the large display windows that face the street at its corner perch give a view of the precarious intersection at 7th and Central, a crossing which I found out that night is the antithesis of pedestrian friendly. Inside the building, the floors remain tiled with the featureless squares of vinyl that once provided footing for those acquiring their weekly groceries. These days, the floors support the traipsing, dancing, and stomping influenced by frequent art installations and live music performances.

The idea of a music festival in its basest form is daunting to all parties involved. The bands are kept on a tight schedule of loading and unloading heavy amps and road cases filled with who knows how many pedals, wires and gear, perpetually waiting for their brief moment to give what crowd there is little more than a sampling of their work, then tirelessly haul that same equipment back out to their van. The venue and those volunteering to keep things on track are constantly kept on their feet by unexpected malfunctions throughout the course of the night, and deserve commending for keeping their sanity intact through it all. Lastly, the audience themselves are inundated with a variety of musical choices, asking themselves if they should see band A, B, or sometimes C, D, or E.

The first ever Kansas City Psychfest made a good choice in staggering the musical acts so that while one is playing on the ground level, a band is setting up in a second performing area in the basement. In theory, when the first band finishes, the second band begins playing minutes later, providing an almost seamless night of music. There really is no better way to have a dozen artists play in the same building in one evening, but when put in practice the difficult task is given of deciding whose set you should break from to take a piss, get some fresh air, or grab a bite to eat.

The evening of music was kicked off at 7:00 with Thee Devotion performing upstairs. The local five-piece with an affinity for fuzzed-out ’60s and ’70s funk (with a nod toward The Sonics), white pants, frilled shirts, and platforms just released a new record and played some of it that evening. Davin Watne spent half the set with a pastel-colored guitar around his shoulder, and the other half peacocking around his performing area, all while giving a surprisingly on-point falsetto, wherein the stories were about ladies, sexiness, and other things one would expect from the kind of music they play. Such a performance was ultimately lost on a small, motionless crowd that wasn’t yet prepared for that kind of energy.

The duo that followed contrasted as much with the previous act as the dark basement from which the sounds emitted did with the luminosity of the light sculpture in the room above. Delaney Moore and Sterling Holman performed a set of improvisational drone as Twofaced, each settled adjacent from each other in the corner of the room. Ropes of intertwining red and blue light lay at their feet, providing the only other glimmer in the room barring the projector immersing the corner in fragmented images and video displays. The forms dancing on the walls were not so much influenced by the sounds coming from Holman’s guitar and Moore’s table of gadgets, but the aimless movements created a haphazard kinship with the wandering intonation they produced. The project has recorded together, but at this time none of it has been made public.

Upstairs, Brandon Knocke stood alone behind a case piled high with keyed instruments, eyes ceaselessly darting from one piece to another while everything above his waist instinctively bobbed in rhythm with the synth-heavy electronic music he creates as Discoverer. The tracks Knocke displayed began as sharp, bare-boned beats with a few sequencer knob turns, then were gradually piled upon until the initial raw beat was only an undercurrent to often soaring panoramas of groove conscious streaks that gnawed at a vintage aesthetic. Discoverer’s last output was 2010’s Build a Base, but a brand new album is expected to be released later this year. Knocke can also be seen and heard as one half of Parts of Speech, whose approach to ’80s centric synth pop is strewn with sleazy fuzz and overdubs.

Among the three musicians that make up the Jorge Arana Trio exists decades of experience in crafting fast-paced compositions with erratic time signatures. As a founding member of Pixel Panda, Arana is no stranger to the precision required in constant time changes, though with the Trio he is able to venture into avant-garde jazz experimentation. Most songs may feature a calculated mashing of keys or a meticulously plucked guitar, backed with bass and drums played with accuracy just as severe. Violinist Chaski Zapata joined mid-set to further accentuate the sheer veracity one can achieve through adherence to training. Final side note: it’s a bit odd that Jorge would play immediately after Discoverer, as Trio drummer Josh Enyart played with Knocke in the band Latin, which also contained Evan from Minden, and John from Sundiver, but I digress.

It was around 9:00 when my body reminded me I was going on over eight hours with nothing but an afternoon espresso as fuel, recently ingested beer trying to start a cage match in my stomach notwithstanding. As I mentioned above, the single downfall of nonstop live music is making the decision to skip out on a band to nourish oneself. By no fault of their own, Restless Breed ended up being that band, though had my hands not been shaking I undoubtedly would have enjoyed their set. In the few minutes for which I was able to stick around, I was enthralled by a trio versed in the kind of traditional psychedelic rock made popular by Vangelis years before his “Chariots of Fire” days. Under layers of woozy, synthesized programming by Tom Romero was a straightforward style displaying a fundamental example of exemplary songwriting.

After grabbing some questionable street tacos from a little place down the road and nearly getting hit by a car (full disclosure: it was my fault) I walked back into the basement with but a single thought in my mind. I hate smoke machines. Better yet… I abhor them, I loathe them, I unequivocally revile their very existence. As much as I wanted to stay in the room while Yam played, I got pushed out by a rapidly forming sinus headache and watched from afar. It was already proven earlier in the evening, but one need not encompass all things psychedelic in order to be welcomed into the fold of artists calling the venue home over the next few nights. While the trio displayed an unmistakable talent with composition synchronicity, an assumption of Will Christie’s influences would better lie on someone else, though their roots are assuredly planted in rhythmic eccentricity.

At the risk of sounding as though I’m giving one of the evening’s bands a bad review, Box the Compass played an overall adequate set of unmemorable rock needlessly pushing an expansion of time and space neither remarkable nor necessary. I understand that may sound overly critical, but had this band’s position been switched with Thee Devotion, the floor would have been a mess of drunken bohemians shaking their asses instead of a littered few with barely a head nodding along anywhere in the room. I only have this single, short set by which to judge the quartet, but the addition of vocals did not save them from the doom of sounding like anything more than a culture hungry band in any number of rock bars across the city. Furthermore, I can find no online presence of the group to seek out the possibility of giving them the second chance they deserve.

Following a trip down the wooden stairs to the basement, I encountered something very surprising. It wasn’t what I was hearing, though David Williams’ Sounding the Deep is wholly transcendental. I was taken aback by what I was not hearing. The exhaustive chatter of audience members during a subdued performance was nowhere to be found. In a cobweb-ridden basement with leaking pipes and spray painted walls I had found respite, and a near metaphysical experience with music that relied as much on the concrete walls for amplification as it did the delicately drifting hands that wrought the sounds from a guitar. The atmosphere was made further cerebral with padded drumsticks at times tapping a snare and gong, and an upright bass being slowly grazed with the bow of a man who looked as though he could crush me with his bare hands.

One of the many highlights of the evening was the fantastic Monta At Odds. Delaney and Dedric Moore have nurtured the project for the better part of a decade and continually expand their sonic horizons by adding or removing elements of jazz, funk, soul, dub, and an audible penchant for combing through endless boxes of long forgotten records. Depending on how the light catches them, they could be paying tribute in their own way to Ennio Morricone, or forging their own path through expansive creations that twist and turn through moods like a stereophonic bipolar. I’m unfortunately not familiar with the extent of their discography, but every note of their performance was a thrill, and I look forward to my next chance of seeing them.

Brock Potucek was nowhere to be found, so a planned performance from South Bitch Diet was replaced by the only half hour in the evening without any kind of music. In his absence, the next band to perform was Lawrence performance art weirdos Metatone. The group is headed up by J Ashley Miller, a local artist and contributing member of the prolific SSION, as well as Pewep in the Formats, and are just as quirky as anything else he has been involved in. Behind the elevated pitch of Miller’s voice and the syncopated plucking of his guitar was a group of musicians (including Mark Smeltzer playing a homemade, one-stringed fiddle) making the experience uniquely odd, and entirely undefinable in the placement of their sound. Metatone was equal parts indie pop, calypso, and folk, the result of which had the floor visibly bowing with each jump of the crowd in reaction to their animated set.

After spending the time that South Bitch Diet would have been playing making programming changes on a variety of sequencers, CVLTS began a droning set that was effectively cut short due to bass amp troubles. During their appearance, Josh Thomas remained kneeling on the rug that covered the corner of the basement, adjusting ambient tape loops and knobs to further heighten the intensity of the sound scape. Using his guitar through a floor full of pedals, Thomas provided a despondent tension that worked in opposition to the sensations released from the tapes. Nearby, Gaurav Bashyakarla had pushed two benches together to form a makeshift stand for his equipment, eliciting a piercing buzz through the air that idly glided until the eventual amplifier issues began the countdown to the piece finishing. I sat on the ground in front of Thomas, and once the sounds faded into a close, he looked up and shrugged, saying “That’s it.”

The final band to perform that night was the esteemed Mr. Marco‚Äôs V7, a group whose talent and vitality have made the band (and members) mainstays in the KC music scene for longer than I care to count. Marco Pascolini’s contributions to local music (Expassionates) are vast, but so are bassist Johnny Hamil’s (Pamper the Madman), and drummer Kent Burnham (many jazz, zydeco and rock bands), but all are outshined by the force of nature that is Mike Stover (Cher UK). Throughout the set, Stover would trade back and forth among a theremin, a mandolin, and a lap steel guitar as necessary, but the first two were the most prevalent. V7 is another band that defies definition, and anything you could label them as wouldn’t do justice to the extent that their sound reaches, though there were a few mentions of Captain Beefheart during their set. I was fighting sleep by the time they closed the night at nearly 2:00, but I’m very thankful I stuck it out to see the impossibly fast “Sweet 5,” followed by a bossa nova set closer.

Huge thanks to Leah O’Connor for stepping in and taking some amazing pictures. Check out the rest of her shots from the evening here.

Middle Of The Map: Day One Wrap-Up

To anyone in attendance, the first night of Kansas City’s second annual Middle Of The Map Festival is on the books as a success. From my standpoint, I couldn’t have been dragged away from the RecordBar to see anyone else but those that were on the lineup. Laziness and wearing the most awful choice in walking shoes attribute to that as well.

I arrived fairly early to the venue, not sure if I should have expected a mass of people and a line down the parking lot. Entering the building shortly after 6, only a handful of people were peppered around, the usual crowd size for a poorly populated show or a trivia night. A current of excitement was permeating the air, stimulating the scattered bodies awaiting the opening band. The close to a never-ending workweek was near, and with it, the cathartic release made possible only by live music.

Brand new (as in, that day) KC import duo Schwervon! opened right on time at 7:00 with bubbly powerpop hinting toward garage without the distinctive schtick that so often comes with a membership of two. Drummer Nan Turner and guitarist Matt Roth faced each other while playing, connecting eyes while their vocal harmonies complemented over bare bones jangly riffs and simplistic drum beats. The former New Yorkers played a 30 minute set that started the night on a high note.

After a quick set change, the first in a series of local music veterans took the stage, as Cher UK opened with “Disaster,” the closing track from the band’s 1993 debut She’s A Weird Little Snack. Immediately following this was “Ba Ba Ba Ba,” a track from the band’s last release to date (from 2000). The set jumped around the bulk of their discography, and spanned the multiple punk influences that came from member changes, though it focused heavily on the previously mentioned releases. From the last full-length, Texas Vacation, the band performed “Retrofeeliac” and the speedy “One Nation,” dedicated to the GOP by grey-haired front man Mike McCoy with the same exuberance with which it appears on recording.

McCoy moved to Austin without ever officially retiring the band, and his return visits are usually graced with a show or two, though he has also stayed on the local music radar with the conceptual one-off Black Rabbits and country band Wood Roses. A new Cher EP is to be expected eventually, though little more than a few support shows will occur in conjunction with its release. The all too short 40 minutes the band performed was capped off by a few of their most potent power-punk anthems: “Kibbles ‘n’ Bitz,” “College Song,” and “Motocaster.” Here’s to hoping that new album is a priority for the group.

Metal stalwarts The Esoteric started their set late, the first of two taking place that would prove to be plagued by bass cabinet issues. I racked my brain during their reunion set to figure out how long it had been since I’d seen the band perform, and came up with the answer of roughly a decade (looking into it after, it’s been just under 8 years — and was at the El Torreon, no less). The band, like Cher UK before them, and the one that would follow immediately after, only play the occasional show every few years, the members’ lives filled with other music projects and interests.

Likely as a way to poke fun at the band as they were in their existence, Stevie Cruz came out wearing a mop-top wig, a hairstyle similar to what he had in his pre-Hammerlord days. The five members chugged through a deafening set, covering ground from a small amount of the early, vitriolic noise they played in the beginning, to the open chord, breakdown-friendly metallic hardcore with which they gained their popularity. This notoriety nabbed them a spot on the roster of Prosthetic Records, through which they released their final two albums, With the Sureness of Sleepwalking and Subverter.

By the time Season to Risk began, the RecordBar was shoulder-to-shoulder with people aggressively enjoying the band. While perhaps there was no all out moshing happening, a fair amount of close range shoving (which equated more to a small unison of people surging in one direction at once) and even a lone crowd surfer appeared. Steve Tulipana worked the room, often standing on the monitors at front or hanging from the projector installed in the ceiling, leaning over to yell at the audience through his microphone. As with most of the bands that evening, their setlist spanned across most of their discography, with key songs and former hits like “Mine Eyes” and “Snakes” getting the most audience reactions.

The band’s lineup was fleshed out by founding member and guitarist Duane Trower, David Silver on drums (a longtime player, but one of over ten drummers that have worked with the group), and Wade Williamson, who joined the band shortly before their final album was released over a decade ago. The night featured a special guest in bassist Josh Newton, who played on the band’s acclaimed post-major label foray Men Are Robots, Monkeys Win and has seen success in other nationally touring bands since. Final thought: my sinuses were thankful that the band decided to forgo the use of a smoke machine this time around.

The last band to perform on the RecordBar stage that night was from none other than Molly McGuire. It had been over a decade since the band performed together, when founder Jason Blackmore got the itch to piece the band back together and record some old songs for proper release. This led to an eventual series of live reunion shows, starting in California and ending in Blackmore’s former home of KC. The original lineup has remained intact, with Ray Jankowski on bass and Jason Gerken on drums, and rotating guitar spots from Scott McMillian, Seth Harty, and Toby Lawrence, each performing on songs from the era in which they were a member.

Though the rest of the band remained silent, Blackmore was audibly overjoyed to be able to perform songs that had been written 20 years earlier, and to be able to share the stage with who he described as some of his best friends. Set highlights include all of the songs that were written before their major label release Lime, including the great opener of “Sick,” followed by “With Passion,” both being the lead-in tracks on the far superior (and far grungier) debut album, Sisters Of. Molly is a band I was too young to have ever witnessed firsthand, but I’m glad I was given a chance to remedy this and hear songs performed live that I’ve been listening to for the last ten years.

This review was written for Lost in Reviews.

Center Of The City Fest offers punk alternative to MOTM

Spring is in the air, Kansas City! All over town, the trees are fighting to bud, and the midtown crackheads are beginning to bloom, shuffling up and down Broadway without direction. Each night that passes will see more and more people flooding out onto the sidewalks in front of crowded bars and venues offering a spot for music fans to dwell and catch up with friends over beers. In less than a month, Westport will be a mass of asymmetrical haircuts, tight jeans, denim jackets, and PBR cans as far as the eye can see. The second year of the Middle Of The Map Festival is upon us, bringing in over 80 bands from around the city and across the world, and the sounds that will be heard around the central hub will vary from electronic pop, to any variety of indie rock, to the occasional thrashy metallic hardcore band.

What you may not hear, though, is a large assortment of punk rock. Outside the additions of touring bands like Mission of Burma and Fucked Up, or local weirdos like Cher U.K., the inclusion of punk is wholly non-existent in the festival. This did not go unnoticed by the local punk scene, and a few members of the community pulled together their friends to put on what they have cheekily dubbed the Center Of The City Festival. The two-day, 21+ event will be held the nights of April 6-7 at The News Room (3740 Broadway) and will provide a shelter for those who wish to avoid the festivities occurring just south, while still getting their fill of live music (though you can still expect to see just as many asymmetrical haircuts, tight jeans, denim jackets and PBR cans).The schedule is below, with links to music. Keep up with any changes that may happen here:

Friday, April 6th:
07:30 The Rackatees (Lawrence)
08:15 Smash The State! (KC)
09:00 Dead Ven (KC)
09:45 Bent Left (KC)
10:30 Iron Guts Kelly (Lawrence)
11:15 The Alerts (KC/Lawrence)
12:00 Red Kate (KC)
12:45 Dismantle The Virus (Lawrence)

Saturday, April 7th:
07:30 The Bad Ideas (KC)
08:15 Brutally Frank (Joplin, MO)
09:00 Hipshot Killer (KC)
09:45 Death Valley Wolfriders (KC)
10:30 They Stay Dead (Oklahoma City)
11:15 Bombs Over Broadway (KC)
12:00 Pizza Party Massacre (KC)

Molly McGuire to Reunite at Middle of the Map

This won’t be news to anyone who already follows the local music announcements that have been building in anticipation of this year’s Middle of the Map festival, but Kansas City’s own Molly McGuire will be reuniting for what is currently being billed as a one-off show. The band’s recently successful kickstarter campaign also means we can expect a new album from them in the near future, and on vinyl to boot. Joining Molly onstage will be a Men Are Monkeys, Robots Win era Season to Risk (meaning they will have Shiner‘s Josh Newton in tow), a reunion from The Esoteric (no word on whether this will be career-spanning, or focus on their earlier, more experimental sounds), and an opening slot from the never-quite-broken-up Cher UK.

Molly McGuire has not played live in over a decade, and were a mainstay at venues like The Hurricane (now Riot Room). As the band ran its natural course, the members’ musical interests began to skew in varying directions. The band Gunfighter was started as a side-project, but after the Epic Records-released (and Ken Andrews-produced) Molly album Lime, what was once a hobby band gradually pulled in all of front man Jason Blackmore’s focus. Upon Gunfighter becoming his primary concern, Blackmore moved to California to begin anew, with a fresh take on his songwriting. The band, like any other, ran its natural course through various lineup changes and eventually sputtered out quietly with a death rattle few were paying attention to at that point.

Blackmore then experimented with the mercifully short-lived Kingdom of Snakes, a quartet which garnered Molly, S2R and Shiner drummer Jason Gerken, and featured two members from the nu-metal band Nothingface. Let us all take a moment of silence to appreciate the quickness with which that project ended. Blackmore still resides in California to this day, and began talking with his former band mates about an album which they were never able to record and release, and what the chances would be anyone would still care. If the kickstarter is any indication (pulling in almost $6,500 with a $5,000 goal), the people are anxiously awaiting the new material.

The show is scheduled for April 5th at the RecordBar, and is slated to be a kickoff, of sorts, for the festival. The first 500 MOTM ticket purchasers are guaranteed entry (not that the venue holds that many) and it is first come, first served after that.

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