Where do my responsibilities lie here? If no one attends a show am I required to pour extra effort into recounting the night for those that missed out, or should I assume that poor attendance is a sign of general disinterest and move on quickly? Generally, I'm pretty good at taking a hint, but sometimes you just have to double down for an artist you believe in — even if it means shouting into the void.
The night began later than advertised. New owner or old, The Jackpot is the worst offender of this particularly egregious sin. I checked the website; it said eight o'clock. I called the bar; the voice on the phone said, "eight to eight thirty". I texted the bands; they said a little after eight. I refused to believe it, yet I still sped the hour across I-70, suffering the tolls to honor the thrice-corroborated lie. When I arrived at 8:30, the performers were sitting outside on the small patio. There was no doorman to take my $5 cover. I asked the barman if he wanted my money. He asked what time it was, and then thought maybe someone would start collecting soon. No one ever did. At the end of the night I would hand the headliner $10, feeling guilty both for not paying the cover, and for the embarrassingly small turn out.
A little after 9pm, Karima Walker climbed onto the new Jackpot stage. It is a little cleaner and a little smaller than the old one, but looking around the club, nothing has materially changed since the bar changed owners some months back. Soon, Walker stood behind a keyboard, cloaked in photography-destroying darkness, with a sheet hung at the back of the stage to act as a makeshift screen for Walker's video projections. The set began with little fanfare, and ran for the next 25 minutes with no audience interaction. Experimental songs melded together, asynchronous video projections straddled compositions, and the small audience of six or seven watched without a clue as to when one song ended and their applause might be warranted. Walker's music had elements of the singer/songwriter fare, but only as it might be experienced in a Lynchian dream sequence, or a peyote-fueled desert hallucination. Synthesized loops created a percussion-less base for Walker, who soon layered her own looped vocals over and over to build small, but dense, compositions. For the final song, Walker added finger-picked electric guitar, shifting the set into more familiar territory, but just as this began capturing the audience, her set was over.
By 9:30 the bar has picked up a few more patrons — unfortunately none of them had come to see the bands, but rather to avail themselves of the pool table. These billiard revelers were able to successfully ignore the show happening 40 feet away from them; the opposite, however, would not be true.
There was no set change before the headliner; Owen Ashworth simply claimed the position behind the keyboard stand, surveyed the audience, and was ready to go. While Ashworth has performed as Advance Base for the last five years, for ten years before that he was known as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. All this experience allowed the solo performer to quickly read The Jackpot, decide to play to the familiar faces, attempt to ignore the clanking of pool balls, slip out quickly, and write off this tour stop in Kansas as a loss. This was unfortunate for those in attendance, but even more disappointing for those that will likely not get a chance to see the band in the future due to the city's poor showing.
Why does it matter? To be honest, it isn't Ashworth's musical composition or instrumental prowess that makes Advance Base notable. Most of his compositions are built on simple backing tracks — not far from the presets of his earlier Casiotone moniker. The songs are augmented by chords Ashworth forcefully bangs into his piano-mimicking keyboards, and accented by the squelching otherworldliness of the Omnichord. Ashworth's vocal delivery is dry and flat, ensuring that his lyrics remain the focus. Thankfully, Ashworth is a brilliant lyricist. His songs tell the small stories of life, often focusing on the intimate loneliness, depression, and confusion of living. His characters are confessional, but never histrionic. While it's logical to ascribe these heavy emotions to Ashworth himself, his narrators are often so specifically different, signaling that Advance Base is more than an emo confessional. On records, this separation is further highlighted by guest (typically female) vocalists, but for this performance, Ashworth was alone on stage, telling each story as his own.
Unfortunately for those seeing Advance Base for the first time, the short set may have precluded all but the quickest of studies from recognizing these details. Furthermore, the short set was also likely to disappoint the longstanding fans who found their favorite songs skipped. One friend not willing to take her chances took matters into her own hands, whispering her request directly to Ashworth. He obliged, resurrecting "I Love Creedence" from Casiotone's 2006 high water mark Etiquette (Tomlab Records), delivering the evening's highlight.
But almost as if mimicking Walker's set earlier, just as Advance Base's set built to a climax, it ended. Fans thanked the artists, looked politely at the merchandise, but then filtered out into the evening. Ashworth and Walker packed up quickly, leaving Kansas with a departing tweet that read, "It feels good to drive away." That's a hint that can't be missed.