Power-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.
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.
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.