To anyone in attendance, the first night of Kansas City’s second annual Middle Of The Map Festival is on the books as a success. From my standpoint, I couldn’t have been dragged away from the RecordBar to see anyone else but those that were on the lineup. Laziness and wearing the most awful choice in walking shoes attribute to that as well.
I arrived fairly early to the venue, not sure if I should have expected a mass of people and a line down the parking lot. Entering the building shortly after 6, only a handful of people were peppered around, the usual crowd size for a poorly populated show or a trivia night. A current of excitement was permeating the air, stimulating the scattered bodies awaiting the opening band. The close to a never-ending workweek was near, and with it, the cathartic release made possible only by live music.
Brand new (as in, that day) KC import duo Schwervon! opened right on time at 7:00 with bubbly powerpop hinting toward garage without the distinctive schtick that so often comes with a membership of two. Drummer Nan Turner and guitarist Matt Roth faced each other while playing, connecting eyes while their vocal harmonies complemented over bare bones jangly riffs and simplistic drum beats. The former New Yorkers played a 30 minute set that started the night on a high note.
After a quick set change, the first in a series of local music veterans took the stage, as Cher UK opened with “Disaster,” the closing track from the band’s 1993 debut She’s A Weird Little Snack. Immediately following this was “Ba Ba Ba Ba,” a track from the band’s last release to date (from 2000). The set jumped around the bulk of their discography, and spanned the multiple punk influences that came from member changes, though it focused heavily on the previously mentioned releases. From the last full-length, Texas Vacation, the band performed “Retrofeeliac” and the speedy “One Nation,” dedicated to the GOP by grey-haired front man Mike McCoy with the same exuberance with which it appears on recording.
McCoy moved to Austin without ever officially retiring the band, and his return visits are usually graced with a show or two, though he has also stayed on the local music radar with the conceptual one-off Black Rabbits and country band Wood Roses. A new Cher EP is to be expected eventually, though little more than a few support shows will occur in conjunction with its release. The all too short 40 minutes the band performed was capped off by a few of their most potent power-punk anthems: “Kibbles ‘n’ Bitz,” “College Song,” and “Motocaster.” Here’s to hoping that new album is a priority for the group.
Metal stalwarts The Esoteric started their set late, the first of two taking place that would prove to be plagued by bass cabinet issues. I racked my brain during their reunion set to figure out how long it had been since I’d seen the band perform, and came up with the answer of roughly a decade (looking into it after, it’s been just under 8 years — and was at the El Torreon, no less). The band, like Cher UK before them, and the one that would follow immediately after, only play the occasional show every few years, the members’ lives filled with other music projects and interests.
Likely as a way to poke fun at the band as they were in their existence, Stevie Cruz came out wearing a mop-top wig, a hairstyle similar to what he had in his pre-Hammerlord days. The five members chugged through a deafening set, covering ground from a small amount of the early, vitriolic noise they played in the beginning, to the open chord, breakdown-friendly metallic hardcore with which they gained their popularity. This notoriety nabbed them a spot on the roster of Prosthetic Records, through which they released their final two albums, With the Sureness of Sleepwalking and Subverter.
By the time Season to Risk began, the RecordBar was shoulder-to-shoulder with people aggressively enjoying the band. While perhaps there was no all out moshing happening, a fair amount of close range shoving (which equated more to a small unison of people surging in one direction at once) and even a lone crowd surfer appeared. Steve Tulipana worked the room, often standing on the monitors at front or hanging from the projector installed in the ceiling, leaning over to yell at the audience through his microphone. As with most of the bands that evening, their setlist spanned across most of their discography, with key songs and former hits like “Mine Eyes” and “Snakes” getting the most audience reactions.
The band’s lineup was fleshed out by founding member and guitarist Duane Trower, David Silver on drums (a longtime player, but one of over ten drummers that have worked with the group), and Wade Williamson, who joined the band shortly before their final album was released over a decade ago. The night featured a special guest in bassist Josh Newton, who played on the band’s acclaimed post-major label foray Men Are Robots, Monkeys Win and has seen success in other nationally touring bands since. Final thought: my sinuses were thankful that the band decided to forgo the use of a smoke machine this time around.
The last band to perform on the RecordBar stage that night was from none other than Molly McGuire. It had been over a decade since the band performed together, when founder Jason Blackmore got the itch to piece the band back together and record some old songs for proper release. This led to an eventual series of live reunion shows, starting in California and ending in Blackmore’s former home of KC. The original lineup has remained intact, with Ray Jankowski on bass and Jason Gerken on drums, and rotating guitar spots from Scott McMillian, Seth Harty, and Toby Lawrence, each performing on songs from the era in which they were a member.
Though the rest of the band remained silent, Blackmore was audibly overjoyed to be able to perform songs that had been written 20 years earlier, and to be able to share the stage with who he described as some of his best friends. Set highlights include all of the songs that were written before their major label release Lime, including the great opener of “Sick,” followed by “With Passion,” both being the lead-in tracks on the far superior (and far grungier) debut album, Sisters Of. Molly is a band I was too young to have ever witnessed firsthand, but I’m glad I was given a chance to remedy this and hear songs performed live that I’ve been listening to for the last ten years.
This review was written for Lost in Reviews.
This won’t be news to anyone who already follows the local music announcements that have been building in anticipation of this year’s Middle of the Map festival, but Kansas City’s own Molly McGuire will be reuniting for what is currently being billed as a one-off show. The band’s recently successful kickstarter campaign also means we can expect a new album from them in the near future, and on vinyl to boot. Joining Molly onstage will be a Men Are Monkeys, Robots Win era Season to Risk (meaning they will have Shiner‘s Josh Newton in tow), a reunion from The Esoteric (no word on whether this will be career-spanning, or focus on their earlier, more experimental sounds), and an opening slot from the never-quite-broken-up Cher UK.
Molly McGuire has not played live in over a decade, and were a mainstay at venues like The Hurricane (now Riot Room). As the band ran its natural course, the members’ musical interests began to skew in varying directions. The band Gunfighter was started as a side-project, but after the Epic Records-released (and Ken Andrews-produced) Molly album Lime, what was once a hobby band gradually pulled in all of front man Jason Blackmore’s focus. Upon Gunfighter becoming his primary concern, Blackmore moved to California to begin anew, with a fresh take on his songwriting. The band, like any other, ran its natural course through various lineup changes and eventually sputtered out quietly with a death rattle few were paying attention to at that point.
Blackmore then experimented with the mercifully short-lived Kingdom of Snakes, a quartet which garnered Molly, S2R and Shiner drummer Jason Gerken, and featured two members from the nu-metal band Nothingface. Let us all take a moment of silence to appreciate the quickness with which that project ended. Blackmore still resides in California to this day, and began talking with his former band mates about an album which they were never able to record and release, and what the chances would be anyone would still care. If the kickstarter is any indication (pulling in almost $6,500 with a $5,000 goal), the people are anxiously awaiting the new material.
The show is scheduled for April 5th at the RecordBar, and is slated to be a kickoff, of sorts, for the festival. The first 500 MOTM ticket purchasers are guaranteed entry (not that the venue holds that many) and it is first come, first served after that.
Kansas City’s Actors&Actresses has a sound that far surpasses what one would expect from just three people. The trio have steadily built a national fan base thanks to their label The Mylene Sheath (Gifts From Enola, Junius, Giants) with which they have worked for most of their existence. The label released the band’s latest studio output, 2009’s Arrows (recorded at Eudora’s Black Lodge with David Gaume of The Stella Link), though they most recently re-issued the band’s 2005 debut EP, We Love Our Enemy (recorded at HUM frontman Matt Talbot’s studio with the great Paul Malinowski of Shiner). With the recording details listed above, I think one can surmise that the band is largely influenced by a sonically driven, spaced out rock that has been championed by the likes of Failure, HUM, and Shiner, among others.
While those who are looking forward to brand new A&A tracks will have to wait a bit longer, their take on HUM’s “Aphids” can be found on the recently released tribute compilation to the aforementioned, Songs of Farewell and Departure. Locals Anakin and The Esoteric are featured on the album as well, performing “I’d Like Your Hair Long” and “Iron Clad Lou,” respectively. Author side note, I’m confused as to why no band attempted a re-imagining of “Diffuse,” a top 3 favorite of mine from the band. But perhaps this is for the best, lest it be tainted by a group who should not even be included in the first place (ahem, Funeral For a Friend).
On Friday, September 23rd, The Mylene Sheath will begin accepting pre-orders for ARC: Arrows Remix Compilation, a 14-track (digital) or 8-track (vinyl) remix and reinterpretation album, featuring various artists de- and re-constructing songs from the band’s 2009 album. A few of the artists featured include Philip Jamieson of Caspian (under the guise The Atlas Ladder), Will Benoit of Constants (using the name New Rochelle Rotary Club), Arms & Sleepers, and other artists who may have crossed paths with the label in the past. Only 207 copies of this release will be available on vinyl, and only part of that will be available for pre-order from the label. If you want to get in on this, either get your mouse finger ready or track down one of the members of the band.
Additional nerd note: in 1993, HUM’s “Diffuse” appeared on a compilation CD released by Lawrence label Lotus Pool, titled Feast of the Sybarites. The compilation was populated primarily by Midwestern bands, including local artists Howard Iceberg and the Titanics, Sufferbus, Kill Creek, Rise, Panel Donor and Zoom. The last two bands on that list had releases through the label around that time as well. The compilation is worth seeking out for fans of local music.