The weather prognosticators had foretold of snow; the first snow of the season. Despite my eager scanning, there were no flakes spotted during Katie’s and my drive down to the Czar Bar – just sprinkles and a heavy, expectant feeling in the air. Although I hoped for snow (the first few snows of the season are magical), I couldn't help worrying about how the weather might affect the turn out for The Chinese Stars' first show in Kansas City. Thankfully Kansas City residents are not timid, and the Czar Bar was already full of warmth and life when we arrived.
Although the show was scheduled to begin at 9:00, local opening act The Pixel Panda was told several times to hold off, or to go have another drink. Once the band had gone as far as to introduce itself and count off its opening number before things were put to halt. So it was no surprise that both the audience and the band seemed a little wary when vocalist Do-Yun Kim climbed back onto the stage at 9:55 and announced his intention to begin. Thankfully this time it stuck, and the band launched into a half-hour set of noisy, remotely-mathy, and chaotic indie rock. The songs were built upon winding and repeating rhythms created by the short bass runs of Luis Arana and the visceral jagged guitar strumming of Jorge Arana. Drummer Josh Enyart was quick, fierce, focused, and shirtless. Sadly, from my stage-side vantage point I was unable to hear Kim's vocals – were they delivered in the excited, half-spoken, half-screamed way they sound on the band's recorded work? If so, it would have marked the only excitement of the band's set. Although Kim did make a sojourn off of the stage and into the audience, and even attempted a head stand at one point, there was very little energy in The Pixel Panda's performance, and what energy was created, died between songs as the stage sat silent and without a frontman. In fact, Kim was so reluctant to address the audience (an audience I might add that was full of camera-toting friends and fans), that Enyart felt compelled to emcee the show from his unamplified position at the back of the stage behind the drum kit. Combine this with several false starts created when the band attempted to play brand new material, and the result is a flat performance.
Playing the role of the forgotten middle child was Providence, RI's Sensitive Hearts. The band has yet to record, but has already been welcomed to the recently-launched Anchor Brain label that has already released recordings by Providence bands Six Finger Satellite and The Chinese Stars. Aside from geography, there are few similarities between the drum and keyboard duo of Sensitive Hearts and their labelmates.
Sensitive Hearts is a multi-media, probably too arty, high-concept project created by Luke Boggia who plays drums, sings, and dabbles in electronic wizardry, and Ashleigh Carraway who provides keyboards and additional vocals. The duo began its set with a ten minute video featuring a matronly Carraway offering kitschy, out-dated romantic advice for women. It came complete with video dos and don'ts segments featuring a bewigged Boggia. At the video's conclusion, the duo returned to the stage for a short set that could have been randomly generated by a pair of circuit bent Nintendos. Boggia provided the bulk of the vocals, with Carraway chiming in when she wasn't too busy dancing. All the while various evolving videos resembling 8-bit screen-savers were projected behind (and upon) the band. Just as I was beginning to decipher the song structures, find the danceable blipcore beats, and compose the appropriate hate mail in my head, the band's polite 15-minute set was over.
Although The Pixel Panda had done its duty by drawing out the locals, by 11:00 the majority of the audience had turned for home anticipating early alarm clocks. When the headliner began its set at 11:40 it was to a considerably smaller crowd than had greeted the earlier acts. Those that remained, however, were more than pumped to see a band they were already fans of.
The Chinese Stars is a four-piece indie rock band that is easy to recognise but difficult to describe. Eric Paul delivers his vocals in a smug, affected whine over a post-punk rhythm section featuring moustachioed and mirror sunglassed drummer Craig Kureck and the mulletous V. Von Ricci on bass (both electric and synthesized) while Paul Vieira wrings powerful screeches and cries from his electric guitars. While there is a certain commonality with the disco punk revival bands, the levels of noise, chaos, and technical proficiency really place the band in a category all its own.
The band had all house lights turned off for its set, and instead relied on its own pulsing yellow lights set out about the stage. Paul paced anxiously, tugging at his head and tee shirt while emoting into the microphone. I've seen the band when he was more loquacious, but on this night he was simply dialled in. And although Kureck provided some flash from behind the drum kit, the remainder of the foursome stayed focused on the complicated task at hand. As if to pick up the slack, the eight megafans in the audience danced and gesticulated wildly in front of the stage. After 35 minutes of this carnival, the band ended the night with the wiry "Girls of Las Vegas." Paul left the stage as the instruments continued to howl with feedback, and although the lights never came up, the show was over. After making sure the band had crash space, Katie and I slipped out the door into the night. The empty streets may have been a little wet, but there was definitely no snow.