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.
There are few active bands in the region that have committed to churning out a respectably sized discography in the shortest amount of time possible as much as the High Diving Ponies. The band, in its current incarnation, caught my attention early last year by announcing their plans to release not one, or two, but three albums in the year of 2010. Their agenda was pushed into motion with the release of the 10-track Fractals in Heat, a fuzzed out, reverb heavy and, yes, probably substance-enhanced work that was equal parts grunge and shoegaze, a comfort zone giving just as much credence to Sonic Youth’s Evol as the pure wall-of-noise segments present in My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless.
The counterpart release to Fractals proper was the same album, mixed by Tim Goodwillie (GOODWILLIES), skewing the levels and creating a feeling the album is either being listened to through a slow-running blender, or the sound is vibrating off the walls of a steel grain bin. Listening to either release, you would expect that the currently played album is how it was meant to be heard, the preference is really in the hands of the audience. As quickly as the first two were made public, a third album was released. This one, titled Casino Economy, showed temperament on the band’s part, demonstrating a much more restrained approach to what was once just an onslaught of reverb. What could easily have been confused as an attempt to cover up a lack of songwriting skills in previous releases, was now stripped down just a little to reveal that underneath all of the noise there was real talent present.
Frontman Josh Thomas is no stranger to the use of reverb and noise as an artificial instrument. Prior to the existence of HDP, Thomas fronted Spidermums, a band similar not only in sound, but in the delivery of their physical product, using stenciled black sleeves to house each of their two CD-R releases (the last of which featured drumming from Gaurav Bashyaklarla of CVLTS), a trend that continued on with the Ponies. You could say that the change was more in name only than in sound, but with a new name came a new lineup, eliminating a cast that had largely been a part of Thomas’ endeavor previous to the ‘Mums, the straight ahead grunge outfit Bodisartha. The band garnered a bit of attention in the mid ‘oughts, and could be frequently found on the lineup at one of midtown KC’s shortest-lived but most documented haunts, The Sleeper Cellar.
Back to the present, and not to be outdone by… themselves, the self-described “danger pop” band released yet another album in November of 2010. Broken Sunbather would prove to be both a continuation of Thomas’ decision to focus on more of the intricacies that were often overlooked in some of his previous work, and a harkening back to the raw, out-of-tune fuzz rock they had built their reputation upon. Many of the nine tracks present on Sunbather had been tossed around in demo form by the band for most of the year, a few even appearing on a live recording the band posted online from a Recordbar show they played earlier that spring.
Little was heard from HDP for a few months. Their Twitter account was updated frequently, but mostly either updated the followers on what ever band Josh was recording/mastering (the previously mentioned CVLTS, as well as Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk) or was limited to a one-line anecdote about drugs or a cryptic allusion to the thoughts taking place in his head at that particular moment. The occasional live performance announcement or a passing remark about a 7 inch would be made from time to time, vinyl had been mentioned as a possible format since the band’s conception, though cassettes were a frequent medium as well. As spring arrived, the discussion of a new analog release was steadily increasing, when last week, the news was out. The band plans to release the lathe-cut Pain Pills 7 inch in mid-June, and its run is limited to a mere 33 copies. They have posted a link where the EP can be downloaded for free. As far as getting your hands on a copy of the 7 inch, well I guess you’ll just have to check back in here after the band announces a release show.
Bonus: download Spidermums’ fantastic cover of The Amps’ “Bragging Party” right here.