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.
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.
Maybe it was the drink specials, or maybe it was the end of the work week. It could have been because four-piece The ACB’s recently had a Daytrotter session go live, even though it was recorded on a stop in Chicago last summer. Just as well, it could have been that both The ACB’s and opener Fourth of July are something of local darlings to corporate alternative trash station 96.5 The Buzz when they are allowed the weekly two-hour respite from playing Jane’s Addiction and Muse to air up-and-comers in the local music scene. Regardless of the reason, I’ve never witnessed The Brick get as packed as it was the night that two of the area’s best acts took the same Kansas City stage to display material both new and old.
Brendan Hangauer’s Fourth of July began their set at about 10:35, stripped down to a four-piece, free of the horns and keys that frequent their recordings and live shows. Joining him on stage was his brother Patrick on bass, and another set of siblings in Brendan and Brian Costello on lead guitar and drums, respectively. At its peak, the band’s lineup has grown to six people, with additional contributors, and in the early days the project was started as an outlet for Brendan alone. The band played a 40-minute set, during which songs that are normally meandering and melodic in their recorded direction were given a different focus, taking on a faster-paced jangle pop vibe which perfectly synced into the evening and the energy of the crowd.
There was a noticeable lack of Katlyn Conroy and Adrienne Verhoeven on stage, both of whom provided an additional charm on the songs to which they contributed on the band’s most recent full-length, Before Our Hearts Explode! Songs that were played in their absence received a commendable fill-in from members present, while others (“Bad Dreams (Are Only Dreams)”) were omitted from the set entirely. The band’s time on stage was spent frequently shifting between songs from the most recent record (the hyper-catchy “Self Sabotage”) and the first full-length, Fourth of July on the Plains (“Purple Heart”), but always kept a fool-proof musical theme combination: drinking and girls. Furthermore, new songs were played from a record (produced by Chris Crisci) that is expected to drop in 2012, and the band is adamant it will be their best yet.
The ACB’s began their set at 11:40. Last time I encountered the quartet in a live music setting, they all were dressed in drag (complete with smeared lipstick) for the Ultimate Fakebook-hosted Halloween show at the Bottleneck last October. I’m sure they were all very thankful to be able to play without worrying about getting a stocking run, and lord knows those heels can be a pain in the ass. The set has not changed drastically since then, with much of it focusing on their lauded sophomore album Stona Rosa, though they threw in debut album opener “You Did It Once” to appease the crowd. There is no reasonable explanation as to how singer/guitarist Konnor Ervin can hit the falsetto notes he does, but that single feat instantly sets the band apart from most others in the area, not to mention the group’s inclination toward hit-makers of former times.
My single complaint about the set is the speed with which the band plays “My Face.” It is arguably the best song on Stona, and is likely one of my favorite locally-released tracks in recent years, and deserves the same patience when played live that it was given in the studio. That said, I still must praise the harmonization and vocal trade-offs that take place during the chorus and that the pace is kept steady, if not sped up a beat or two. Besides playing staples from the newest album such as “Italian Girls” and “I Wonder,” the band played some more recent efforts like “Feel Winter,” a song which also appeared on the previously mentioned Daytrotter session. There was also a brief 30 seconds where they played Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me,” and we are all better off for that not having lasted longer than it did, even if their tongues were placed firmly in cheeks at the time.
Nerd talk: While Brendan Hangauer has almost exclusively kept his songwriting under the Fourth of July moniker, the same can hardly be said for the rest of the band. As mentioned above, the newest album has voice contributions from both Adrienne Verhoeven and Cowboy Indian Bear‘s Katlyn Conroy. Conroy probably would have been in attendance had it not been for a prior engagement at The Bottleneck with her newest band La Guerre. Patrick Hangauer has not only collaborated with Verhoeven on her post-Anniversary project Dri (who have a surprising lack of crossover thrash songs), but also plays all instruments under his electronic alter-ego 1,000,000 Light Years. On that note, former FoJ guitarist Steve Swyers can be seen these days remixing and skewing others’ tracks under his Say My Name alias.
Patrick and Brendan’s brother Kelly still contributes to the band at times they require horns, keys, or additional vocal harmonies. Kelly has also worked with the Costello brothers in Save the Whales, an experimental Lawrence group whose permanent lineup is about as murky as Fourth of July’s; and White Flight, former Anniversary frontman (and ex-FoJ drummer) Justin Roelofs’ love letter to the extraterrestrial plane of existence for which he yearns. It should also be noted that Lawrence label Range Life Records has released output from most of the bands that you see listed in this section of the story thus far. If your mind has not yet melted, there is also former lead guitarist Andrew Connor, who miraculously juggles his time between Ghosty, Power and Light, and The ACB’s.
By comparison, the direct family tree of The ACB’s may not be quite as complex, but there is still some interesting blood lines that tie in with Kansas City music. About a year ago, Konnor Ervin formed a Belle & Sebastian and late ’60s psych-influenced pop band called The I’ms with Kyle Rausch and his brother Collin. One listen to the debut ACB’s album and one can instantly and correctly presume they were influenced by Cheap Trick. The sounds were not unfounded, as both Kyle and Collin were previously a part of rock/powerpop band The Abracadabras, which paid tribute to the ’70s powerhouse bands like T Rex, though to speak in more recent terms, both the Abras and the ACB’s could be compared at least in part to the sounds of Supergrass. Alternately, Kyle and Collin’s cousin Kasey Rausch has been a well-respected musician in the local bluegrass and Americana music scene for well over a decade.