After several virtual-only years necessitated by the pandemic, The Midwest Music Foundation was able to return to Record Bar for its fifteenth annual Apocalypse Meow benefit. Apocalypse Meow raises money for Abby's Fund which provides grants to Kansas City-area musicians to help pay for medical care or other expenses related to health concerns. The group also facilitates access to free medical care through partnerships with The Rock Docs (physicians from University of Kansas Medical Center), UMKC Dental School, and others. There is not a more important non-profit working for Kansas City musicians, nor a more important benefit concert in Kansas City all year. On a night featuring a wealth of excellent concerts around town, Apocalypse Meow stood out as the one not only providing a vital service for the scene, but also as a celebration for the entirety of the Kansas City music community. Too Much Rock is happy to provide support for the event and for Midwest Music Foundation.
The night began at 7pm when emcee Mark Manning (of KKFI's Wednesday MidDay Medley) took the stage. Throughout the night he'd introduce acts, explain the work of the Midwest Music Foundation, tear up when discussing founder Abigail Henderson's impact on the music community, and was even a brave boy allowing a physician from The Rock Docs to give him both his COVID booster shot and his seasonal flu vaccine on stage. He'd follow those shots with one of tequila to complete what he called "the trifecta." He started by introducing Eddie Moore.
If not for my involvement in Apocalypse Meow I'd never have heard of Eddie Moore. That's on me though, as he's been spotlighted by local arts organizations such as The Charlotte Street Foundation and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art for a decade. He also sits on the board of The Midwest Music Foundation. Although he frequently leads We the People – a genre-spanning group that incorporates strong jazz and hip hop elements – for this performance, the classically trained musician was supported by drummer Ryan Lee. The duo delivered a 25-minute opening set of songs that included both Moore's solo compositions as well as live improvised numbers. Most songs began with a small idea – a chord progression that Moore found interesting or a single tone that stumbled to another that he curiously explored. Jazz always appears to be succession of happy accidents, but as the saying goes, you must know the rules to break them, and Moore knows the rules. For most of the set he played electric piano with his right hand, while creating fuzzed out bass lines on a Moog with his left. Occasionally he'd lean down to change a setting on the sequencer or laptop that sat near his feet. Moore played with his eyes closed most of the set, allowing his head to bob when he found himself enjoying a tasty groove – especially when the Moog took over for bending leads that pushed the duo into fusion territory. In most cases, their compositions developed slowly. This gave drummer Ryan Lee plenty of room to push into for flourishes, but his was a roll of accent not definition. The seated audience talked quietly through the set, placing Moore in a liminal role that both welcomed the audience in, and escorted them to the next phase of the night.
MellowPhobia is the alternative rock project of Tillie Hall, and it might just be the next big thing – the crowd certainly thought so. Sure, the mostly older audience stayed seated, but their wild hoots and hollers filled the room. This engagement fed Hall's confidence, kicking off a delicious cycle that showcased her stage presence. Whether she was stepping away from her microphone stand to thrash her guitar about, calling out "Kansas City" to energize the crowd as songs hit their apexes, or trotting out a "Record Bar I'm going to need your help with this next one," Hall was on fire. It's quite a gamble for a smallish room, but it worked, and Hall got the help she wanted. Especially on closer "Weekender," where the audience was singing the earworm chorus of "What are you afraid of?" just as loudly as Hall herself. And why wouldn't they? MellowPhobia's songs are built from proven alternative rock building blocks that were forged in the 1990s and reached their polished peak in the 2010s. Hall's guitar rings wonderfully, her leads are tasty, and her vocals have amazing versatility – something highlighted in opener "Jackal." And thanks to excellent mixing, all of the above floated just above the buoyant pop rhythms provided by drummer Jones Goldman and bassist Mark Koch. The band has released two digital EPs and several digital singles, but it seems primed to take the next step. If this show is any indication, there will be lots of people watching.
Between acts, Rhonda Lyne (Executive Director) and Sondra Freeman (Director of Promotions and Artist Relations) of the Midwest Music Foundation came to the stage to stress the importance of the benefit for Abby's Fund, highlighting that the organization has successfully given hundreds of thousands of dollars to area musicians in need. And just as importantly, to draw the raffle tickets for various donated items like gift cards, concert tickets, and even a guitar donated by Tito's Handmade Vodka. Everyone likes to win, and when you lose for a good cause, it doesn't hurt much.
Up next were Electric Lungs. While the quartet has been active in the KC scene for ten years, they've never settled on a genre. During any given song one might peg the band as pop punk or indie rock or Balkan alternative rock. And that's before frontman Tripp Kirby trades in his guitar for a banjo! The through line, however, is simply fun. It's a party when The Electric Lungs play, and no one knows that more than local celebrity "Ricardo," who showed up in his typical outfit of short shorts, fanny pack, and inappropriate shirt to dance the entirety of the band's set. Keyboardist Jason Ulanet danced too. He wiggled and squirmed behind his keyboard like a toddler about to pee himself. But it's not Ulanet's dancing, but rather his pounding piano or staccato hits on the upbeats that put his stamp on the band's music. The foursome is rounded out by Marc Bollinger's bass and the relentless drumming of Eric Jones. Kirby has a strong voice, and during one of the banjo songs he really let it rip. Maybe he should have considered a pivot when the "Stomp Clap Hey!" genre was burning up the charts. Or maybe the band is just happy to bring the party to whatever KC bar or outdoor BBQ will have it.
After more raffles, the night continued with recent transplant Pure XTC. This buzzworthy project of Taylor Hughes was born from a dark time in New York City but is now flourishing into something bright and celebratory. While Kansas City can't take all the credit for this flowering, Hughes has found joy in the city quickly. During her set she explained that she's frequently asked by friends back in New York what the Kansas City music scene is like. She tells them it isn't a music scene; rather, it's a music community. The fact that she's chosen to embed herself in that community, and is already giving back to it by playing this benefit for Apocalypse Meow, says a lot about both Kansas City and Hughes.
Hughes took the stage armed with an electric guitar processed through a lot of effects pedals and a backing track that contained punchy electronic drums, slinky synth bass lines, and plenty of highly produced keyboard washes. She also brought abstract but synchronized video to be projected behind her 25-minute electro-pop set. She's a pro performer – casual and conversational with the audience, skilled enough to tell the stories that need to be told, and gracious enough to share the spotlight with Midwest Music Foundation and each of the sponsors that she called out during her set. Although often pinned behind the microphone with her guitar, instrumental breaks allowed her to step up to the edge of the stage that was now lined with fans. Other times she's stayed behind the mic, let the guitar drop, and lead the audience with overhead claps. In current single "Get Lost," she eschewed guitar entirely and moved about the stage deftly. Yet, for as strong as her performance was, on the initial songs her vocals were sometimes mumbled, monotone, and unsure. Thankfully once the monitors were dialed in, the audience was given the vibrance heard on the singles. Although short, her set contained brand new songs like finale "Shed My Skin" from her forthcoming EP of the same name, alongside songs dating back to the project's 2018 inception such as "Old Wounds" – the latter of which she humorously referred to as from "the Hot Topic Taylor." While the project’s future surely lies in the less brooding electro-pop of the new material, it was nice to get context from the project's roots. It's also nice to know its future lies in Kansas City.
While Pure XTC is new to Apocalypse Meow, the rest of the night would be given to traditions – the first of which was signaled by the arrival of Amy Ferrand on the stage for the annual toast to Abigail Henderson. Amy's words always take the form of a meandering journey that is both fueled and derailed by alcohol and emotion. After that, the closing act brought Chris Meck to the stage. Meck was Henderson's husband, frequent musical collaborator, and the co-founder of the Midwest Music Foundation. On this night he'd play the role of sideman for the final act.
Nathan Corsi can always be counted on for a solid rock & roll band. You just can't count on what it will be called. This time it's Nathan Corsi and My Atomic Daydream. The quartet is built around the voice and guitar of Corsi, the lead guitar of Chris Meck, the bass and backing vocals of Benjamin Hart, & the drums of Tom Hudson. They're a bar band with an extensive resume, and they carry everything both good and bad about that. Corsi writes excellent songs. There aren't big pop hooks, but rather wry ones that draw the listener in slowly. He writes picked guitar melodies that you find yourself humming and wondering about the next day. This project's songs have a solid foundation in the blues, with Meck's soloes driving that point home. And while most of the set was upbeat, the band wasn't opposed to a torch song when it kept the audience swaying or holding their phones aloft to replicate the lighters of old. Midway through the band's set a new crowd entered the Record Bar – club hoppers unaware of the benefit, just looking for live music, drinks, and a good time. This younger crowd stood (and occasionally danced) up front, providing a fresh new energy to the night. Longtime journeyman Hart fed on that energy, putting on an animated performance, even if the rest of his bandmates remained more stoic in their approach. At the end, glasses were raised for any number of reasons and the benefit show was over.
If you'd like to donate to the Midwest Music Foundation you can do that directly on its website. The Midwest Music Foundation has also organized an auction of donated goods and services to benefit Abby's Fund. Items can be bid on via the website until November 22, 2022. Might I suggest bidding on a package containing all ten Too Much Rock singles including several in rare colorways or that have been sold out entirely for years. And finally, artists who need financial support to battle a physical or mental illness, or just need preventative medical care, should also click on the link, learn more, and apply for a grant. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Let's keep our community healthy.