Fifty posts. It’s been a long road to get here, and there were times I thought the day would never come. But here we are! I thought I would use this special occasion to discuss one of my favorite bands to ever come out of the Kansas City music scene: none other than that which was known as the Revolvers.
This is a band I hold dear to my local music heart, so much so that it would be out of my character were I to go one chance without heckling the former members for a possible reunion (before you get your hopes up, it has been all but confirmed as downright implausible). There have been times when I’ve gone weeks at a time with having their lone full-length on repeat in my car, singing along to every single word as though I were rehearsing for KC music karaoke. Now that I write that out, it doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.
The core of the Revolvers was vocalist Justin Petosa, guitarist Mike Alexander and bassist Chris Wagner. The three essentially grew up together, and formed a band in the mid ’90s as a youthful outlet to play Ramones-driven pop-punk with a lyrical prowess that elevated above many of the more popular bands of that era. In the years they were an active band, the Revolvers seemed to have gone through an average of one drummer a year, the previous one leaving typically for no more than artistic differences or conflicts of scheduling.
Though they experienced the same hardships and tour mishaps that any band venturing out on the road is bound to confront, they stayed a frequent name in the local music scene until early in the 21st century, when after the release of their self-titled debut CD (and two self-released 7 inches before that) they slowly sputtered out and eventually stopped playing shows altogether. By the time the members parted ways, it was difficult for a conversation to be had among them.
All things eventually pass, and with time, conversations were had once more, and friendships grew more strong than they had been in the years prior. Justin decided to bow out of music, leaving a gaping hole in the hearts of teenage-minded punks yearning for songs about girls, love and the eventual sorrow that comes from a broken relationship.
Mike, who before the Revolvers played in the Breakups, joined the final incarnation of the (at this point no longer ska) Gadjits before they became the Architects, in which he was the guitarist until parting ways to pursue other career interests, which led to he and Wagner forming Hipshot Killer in a reclamation of vigor and revival of their punk roots. In the interim, Alexander also performs with bands that play country (Starhaven Rounders), Irish rock (Blarney Stoned), and Americana (John Velghe and the Prodigal Sons).
Chris Wagner’s musical output beyond the Revolvers has included in part the previously mentioned Hipshot Killer and Prodigal Sons (wherein he performs bass), Velghe’s earlier project the Mendoza Lie (as a guitarist), the abrasive and metallic Hundred Years War (whose Jason Hall was also in The Secret Club with Wagner), indie rockers Jackie Carol (with members of The Casket Lottery, The Believe It or Nots, and Proudentall), and The Glitter Kicks (featuring a post-Frogpond Tawni Freeland, music producer extraordinaire Ed Rose, and a rotating drummer including Kliph Scurlock of Slackjaw, Craig Haning of Moaning Lisa, and Chris Tolle of The Creature Comforts).
As mentioned, the band went through a variety of drummers, but on recording had Thomas Becker on the first 7 inch. Becker was serving duty in multiple up-and-coming bands in the area, including Nuclear Family and the earliest version of The Get Up Kids, but dropped them all to attend college in California. The second 7 inch and full-length featured drumming by Jon Paul aka Buddy Lush of the Buddy Lush Phenomenon, Sin City Disciples, and The Big Iron.
Enough with the word vomit. Now we get to the point: free stuff. Below, you can find a link to download each of the Revolvers releases, ripped to the best of my current capabilities. Listen, enjoy, and share with your friends a band worth celebrating. And if you see the guys out at a bar some night, try not to heckle them too much.
Album: She’s Out Of Your Life 7″ – download here
Label: Locket Love Records
Release Year: 1996
Side A: She’s Out of Your Life / Never Said
Side B: Christmas Eve in June / Anjali
A forefront of melodic, classic pop-punk with hints of the ’60s pop the band leans toward in later recordings.
Album: Marley 7″ – download here
Label: Locket Love Records
Release Year: 1996
Side A: Marley / Marrianna
Side B: Ten Seconds Then / Far Between
You can hear the punk shell slowly begin to crack, giving way to a more musically-geared sound.
Album: Revolvers CD – download here
Label: Locket Love Records
Release Year: 1999
Track Listing: All I Want to Know / Better Off Alone / There’s a Heart / Devotional / Marley / Annie / The Only One / Not Really Blue / New Depression / Standin’ Sadly / Torch / The Angel’s Share
The band’s final output, a much better production quality that features a fully fleshed out sound that is at once punk and pop, and better showcases the songwriting ability of both Justin and Mike. The album is a complex layer cake of melancholy, anger, hope, and a general malaise toward the growing up that one must eventually accept. The band’s style ranges from fast, straight to the point power-punk, to downtrodden, emotionally dejected songs that border on country. It’s a damned shame if you don’t grab this right now.
There is much to be said about Americana music as a means by which to reveal an allegory. The true beauty lying therein comes from the narration administered by generations of story-tellers, woven into the accompaniments provided. The path one must take to attain the status of a celebrated raconteur is often wrought with years of relentless touring and can ultimately be joined by misfortunes of substance abuse, strained relationships, and ostracization from the general public. Those few that reach the zenith of a lauded career are either gifted by luck or have a past haunted by the tribulations that give them the voice by which they earned their keep.
While Kansas City singer-songwriter John Velghe may not have many looming skeletons in his closet to speak of, the man has given decades of his life writing and performing for rooms across the country. It would be experiences had during these formative years that provided Velghe the articulation that culminates with an outstanding ensemble on his new LP, Don’t Let Me Stay.
In the first line of album opener “Time Bomb,” Velghe asks in a self-imposed drawl, “Could you blame me if I don’t trust pretty faces?” followed later by a proposal to allow the imagined former lover to whom he speaks the ability to tell a story which he never wants revealed. The basis of the entire song lies in that single sentence, but Velghe’s conversational writing style expands it into a nearly four-minute-long piece that gives the listener insight to the direction the album’s sound will be driven. Velghe’s portraiture is given further depth by the voices of Kirsten Paludan, guitarist Mike Alexander and bassist Chris Wagner, whose vocals braid together through the entire album and are strengthened by drummer “Go-Go” Ray Pollard providing the metronome by which the album retains its pace.
“Blood Line” begins with a purposeful false start before picking up to a marching beat of a repetitive snare and kick with a guitar providing the only cushioning. Piece by piece the instruments begin to fill in, and at each new measure another layer is added to the vocals. The sound explodes once the chorus is reached, as we are brought the first noticeable taste of the three-piece horn section from Hermon Mehari, Mike Walker, and Sam Hughes. It is at this very moment that Don’t Let Me Stay becomes more than an alt-country or Americana record, and begins to brazenly reveal flashes of the Big Star and Replacements influences that drove Velghe to begin creating music in the first place.
Not to be outdone with a mere nod toward that on which he was reared, the A-side is given closure with an acoustic song titled “Iron Skin,” whose echoing haunt immediately conjures thoughts of Big Star’s “Thirteen,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary this very year. Later in the album there is an additional salute to Alex Chilton with “Owe My Soul,” a play on words from Big Star’s “O My Soul.” Velghe sends out one final love letter to the most musically prosperous city in the south with “Austin (you sorta stole my heart).” Austin is a city that has been kind to Velghe in his previous endeavors, to the effect that he is something of a protegé of roots rocker Alejandro Escovedo, and will be playing a SXSW showcase with him this year.
The 12 tracks on Don’t Let Me Stay coil around the intricacies that are possible when the investment into your work comes at a level of detail so concentrated that instruments are removed and added even though the change may be wholly unnoticed by a large number of the listeners. Mike Alexander trades in a guitar for a mandolin on “Stage Inside the Main,” and there also exists the inclusion of James Mitchell, Whitney Williamson and Catherine Root as an understated string section on a handful of tracks. That brings the count to 11 well-versed musicians that lend their talents to the release, creating a patchwork of backgrounds and an amalgam of sounds on an album that would do well to be in any local music fan’s rotation. If Velghe thinks his hands were “meant for telling three-minute lies,” then consider this review an investment in deceit.
Entering the RecordBar around 10:00 last Friday, one could not walk through the narrows without rubbing shoulders amid those throughout. The venue was particularly crowded for an all-local lineup, though as the night raged on, the audience noticeably waned from a college-aged demographic to a weekend warrior vibe. As though it were filled with drunken Cinderellas, the place all but cleared by midnight, save for some table or booth clusters and a pack of patrons standing near the patio door.The night opened at 10:05, as The Sawyers launched into a 40 minute set of No Depression alt-country lifted from the altar of Tweedy and Farrar, with some elements of honky-tonk thrown in for good measure. The band is led by local songwriter John Greiner, and is backed by Chad Rex on guitar. Rex fronts The Victorstands and previously played in Colorado’s own No Depression purveyors Armchair Martian with St. Joseph, MO, natives Jon Snodgrass and Steven Garcia, the latter of whom now plays in KC powerpop trio Deco Auto. Betse Ellis of The Wilders played the fiddle at stage right, and Chris Wagner (most recently of punk trio Hipshot Killer) filled in for the group’s recently departed bassist. Jonathan Kraft, a sound engineer who has spent time with SSION, and in another life, played with Florida screamo band Kite Flying Society served as the drummer. That was a mouthful, but I thought it necessary to document how varied the backgrounds are of the five members that shared the stage.
Over the duration of the band’s time on stage there was very little audience interaction. I don’t require a story when watching a band play live — and there are many artists that don’t really know when to shut up and play — but at the close, I was left wondering if there exists a tangible album that could be purchased, and remained without answer as nothing of the kind was mentioned.
Author note: I’d like to apologize to those reading this as a casual music follower. What you are about to see in the next two paragraphs is nothing short of conspiratorial six degrees of Kevin Bacon nerding out. If you can’t keep up, feel free to skip through it. I won’t take offense.
John Velghe (née Evans, as the man took his matrilineal surname for the stage to stand apart from the other musically inclined Evans’ in the area, of which there are apparently many) was joined on stage by the full-band form of The Prodigal Sons. Tonight, this included Mike Alexander, who as of this writing plays punk with Hipshot Killer, country with Starhaven Rounders, and Irish rock with Blarney Stoned. Alexander has done everything short of playing the part of Neil Schon in a Journey tribute band. Wait, what’s that? Oh, he has totally done that as well, and will undoubtedly be forming a new band by the time you finish reading this sentence. Chris Wagner pulled a double shift on bass, and in addition to playing with Alexander in a band now mentioned twice (not to mention the Revolvers), provided the rhythm section for Velghe in The Mendoza Lie, a post-Famous FM/Saint Jude band that had a backbone provided by Dan Dumit, who is still billed as a drummer for the Sons, though he did not make an appearance on this night. “Go-Go Ray” Pollard sat behind the kit, and is a nationally recognized performer who has served as the touring drummer for a few major label bands which, if mentioned, would sully the anticipation that you as a reader have surely built about this lineup.
But wait, there’s more. On trombone was Mike Walker, who played in the well-received, though tragically defunct Olympic Size (with Wade Williamson and Kirsten Paludan, both of whom play in Alexander’s Starhaven Rounders) as well as The Maytags, a “neo-dub explosion” led by Zach Phillips of the Architects and The Gadjits, of which Alexander was also a part for some time. On saxophone was the illustrious Sam Hughes, also seen as part of the seven-piece horn ensemble in Afrobeat jazz sensation Hearts of Darkness. Additionally, Hughes was in good company with Walker as a five-piece horn section on the most recent release by The Hearers, a country-spanning membership whose horn section can also be seen in various pairings in the jumpin’ and swingin’ Grand Marquis, roots reggae group The New Riddim, soul revival band The Good Foot, and almost any other act in town requiring some brass. Last, but certainly not least was the talented Hermon Mehari on trumpet, who moonlights in the Diverse trio, playing compositions that pay homage to the 18th & Vine sound that put Kansas City on the proverbial jazz map long ago.
Whew. Now that I have that out of the way, let us continue with the live performance. The band played an hour-long set that alternated from the full lineup that I made a passing reference to above, to an electric four-piece with the addition of Betse Ellis lending her fiddle and vocals. I spoke with Velghe briefly before they began hauling their gear up on stage, at which point he acknowledged his twenty year musical crush on Ms. Ellis, so for her to contribute those talents to a few songs (“Assume the Ground”) from his upcoming full-length, Don’t Let Me Stay (to be released on Lakeshore Records, the label that brought us The Belles‘ Omertà), must be a thrill. The set meandered very little from a full-bodied country-tinged Americana rock with strong horn presence (“Blood Line”), but the instrument changes were plenty.
Acoustic guitars and mandolins replaced electric Telecasters and hollow-bodies for portions of the set (“Stage Inside the Main”), and near the end, the full band took the stage once again for what Velghe referred to as a part of the set in which they will be playing some songs in the key of Paul. Following this, he plucked the opening notes to The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait,” which they played at the Sonic Spectrum tribute series for the ‘Mats at the same venue nearly a year ago. The lone song that saw Velghe without a guitar around his shoulder was a set closer of The Jam’s “Town Called Malice,” which brought a little less excitement from the crowd than one would think, but it was a fitting end to a very energetic, if instrumentally attention deficit set.
Whether by choice or by chance, the lineup thus far had built up to a swelling climax that could have potentially come crashing down if someone closed the night and was not prepared to hand the crowd their asses on a plate of rock (don’t let that imagery slip past you). Lucky for the audience, Katy Guillen (of The B’Dinas) took the stage and dished out a three-course meal of ass (already regretting that metaphor) and Go-Go Ray was there to serve as the second musician of the night to pull in some overtime. Taking a look at the two of them on stage, an obvious reaction would be to assume you are about to hear something of the White Stripes or Black Keys variety, both two-piece bands who built their reputation out of playing stripped-down blues rock in their own, weird ways. Well, you would have been wrong to assume that, and should be ashamed of yourself.
The reality is that the assumption is not a complete fallacy, but the sheer force with which Katy and Go-Go exerted sound as a two-piece, with Ray given the chance to show off on extended drum fills, and Guillen slinging out fast-paced blues riffs while the two kept in perfect stride with one another was something impressive. The two jammed a full 45 minutes until the house lights came up and the bar was ready to start kicking people out into the cold, and then they played one more song even after that. The two-piece is expected to release an album in late March, and a new one from Guillen’s full rock band is due out in the near future as well.