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.
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.
Saturday night at the RecordBar one could find a motley crew of Kansas City music lovers, listeners, and performers. It was not just another bill of local bands on this night, but a celebration honoring local radio personality Michael Byars’ 50th birthday. Byars, an announcer and coordinator for NPR satellite station KCUR, also runs local music podcast The Mailbox, with frequent contributor and music guru Chris Haghirian. The guest of honor seemed to be in good company, as the whole of the venue was filled with people in high spirits, laughing, drinking and cavorting about between bands, and Byars was rarely spotted without a drink in hand. A testament to the man’s dedication and influence, he received toast after toast from those that took the stage before and during performances.
Deco Auto began their set shortly before 10:00 and played an all too short 30 minute set of sugary sweet power-pop. The trio has only been performing together for about a year and have yet to even record a demo, but they have already built a steady reputation on a foundation of well-written hooks by guitarist/vocalist Steven Garcia. When I caught up with Garcia afterward, he admitted that he was raised on the timeless anthems of the Ramones, so he plays pop because it is what he knows. After seeing the band once previously shortly after forming, the rhythm section of Tracy Flowers and Michelle Bacon have become a tightly meshed companion with Garcia, playing a rigid melodic punk that is at once brand new and recalls the best eras of pop music that relied on simple harmonies and nothing more.
American Catastrophe, for lack of a better description, are the only thing imaginable when one is asked to picture Nick Cave playing apocalyptic country. In their 40 minute set, the band displayed a range of depth and gloom greater than many in our city these days, and seated front man Shaun Hamontree bellows into his old broadcast microphone with a force that can take an entire room’s attention in mere seconds. Hamontree has been playing Great Depression influenced Gothic Americana with multi-instrumentalist Terrence Moore since the experimental late ’90s band The Black Water, and their fusion of talents has only grown in the last decade. Add to that the bass work of eclectic musician (and host for the night) Amy Farrand and the sound becomes a booming timbre and an aural experience one must encounter first hand.
Local legends the Pedaljets began shortly before midnight and played a set largely made up of new songs. This is good news, as the band’s last release came out in 1989. Whether they like it or not, the Pedaljets are a part of regional music history, infamously destructing in the midst of being courted by a few larger labels of the day. In the early-mid ’90s, singer/guitarist Mike Allmayer found respite with drummer Rob Morrow in the MCA-released Grither, and the Pedaljets’ self-titled sophomore release and ultimate swan song had new life breathed into it in 2007 when it was re-mixed and re-issued. Rumors have been aplenty in recent months concerning if and when a new album will see the light of day, but as yet there is no definitive answer. In any case, the band seems to have mellowed in recent years, opting for a much poppier, but no less fetching cadence than was present in the occasionally abrasive sounds of the band’s first two releases from their youth.
Closing out the night was a reunion from local slowcore merchants The String and Return. The group has played a handful of times in recent years, but their most recent output is quickly nearing the decade mark in age. By this late into the night (or early into the morning, since it was just before 1:00 at the time they struck the first chords), the crowd had quieted down to a dull roar and seemed to be in admiration of the melodic, somber lull displayed from the gents on stage. The ebb and flow of music that came from the corner of the room over the course of the evening ranged from poppy to melancholy, and from baby-faced to new classic, but the general theme stayed fairly jubilant for the celebration at hand. If the toasts given were any indication, the guest of honor likely can’t remember much through the haze of the evening, and may very well still be nursing a hangover. Happy birthday, Michael Byars, and thanks for caring about what goes on in this town.
This review originally appeared on Lost in Reviews.