It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock 'n' roll. – AC/DC
About fifteen years ago The Pub became The Brick. The Pub was working class and shabby, in a quiet part of an empty downtown. In the years that followed, the neighborhood has changed, but The Brick hasn't budged. Instead the bar and its offerings have remained as solid as its name – providing quality food for the lunch crowd, and cheap drinks for them after work. Despite a greater focus on live music, the venue doesn't attract hot touring acts, and seldom hosts the city's elite bands. This night the bill wasn't much different than any other night – some local bands getting started, and a Midwestern touring act trying to make a name for itself. There's no glamour in The Brick.
At 10:15 local openers the Lil Toughies took the stage. It was only three days earlier that I had written about the trio's spectacularly drunken deconstructionist headlining set at The Blind Tiger, and this weighed heavily on frontman Jonathan Brokaw. So much so that before this show he confided to me that the band would do better. I had unwittingly inserted myself into the story, and not being George Plimpton, I feared for the worst.
Initially Brokaw was true to his pledge, and the threesome's performance was markedly different than what I had seen before. In this new setting I saw that the band's percussive songs depend on upon each guitarist landing lockstep with the band's sequenced drums. Any deviation (such as the entire previous set) resulted in unwanted chaos, which would overshadow the intentional anarchy of Zach Turner's synthesizer work – work that lies just north of a random chiptuned Speak & Spell, and south of the rigid repetition of an 8-bit Nintendo soundtrack. The tighter performance was appreciated by its fans (several of whom I recognized from the previous gig) who spent a good portion of the set dancing. Yes, honest to goodness dancing, and to an opener! Unfortunately, the band's focus on its musical performance had the unwanted side effect of silencing Brokaw's genuinely hilarious banter. In fact, he noted early on, "I normally have things to say and everyone laughs," but on this night his nerves got the better of him, and I couldn't help but worry that I broke him. I just hope that I'm wrong, and that my own sense of ego has invented this culpability.
Up next were locals Sneaky Creeps. Although the band has been around for five years and nearly as many releases, I had only seen the band once before, and that was nearly two years ago. Based on my notes from that show, other than the introduction of bassist Ian Tepple, not much has changed. The band's music is still solidly based on garage rock, but with multiple writers and lead vocalists (drummer Max Crutcher and rhythm guitarist Andy Erdrich), each song varies as they incorporate hints of modern and breezy (but not cloying) indie pop, '90s slacker indie rock, or even raging punk. That last category held my favorite songs, with the one-minute long "D.M.T. N.Y." from the band's 2014 album Negative Space (self-released) serving as my personal highlight.
The night continued with Cincinnati's Leggy. Like the band before them, Leggy is more-or-less a garage rock band though its colorings are more '90s alt rock with immeasurable amounts of fuzz applied over the top to obscure it all. If the band's tone wasn't dirty enough, squalls of feedback also rung throughout the set despite the soundman's best attempts to corral the noise. Only when vocalist and guitarist Veronique Allaer screamed, did it really cut through the din. Those were the best moments. Although the band was 600 miles from home, Allaer spoke of a special kinship to Kansas (before quickly noting that she knew that she was in Missouri). No one could doubt her sincerity, as the trio seems to stop by every few months, and were currently touring with borrowed Kansan Mark Osman on drums. I'll look forward to the band's next tour, and hope for a little cleaner sound.
There was a short turn around as the two women of Leggy handed over the stage to Arc Flash guitarist James Thomblison and his sizeable collection of effects pedals. Just as Andy Erdrich pulled double duty in the evening's first two bands, Mark Osman now stayed on stage to drum the double header. Together the two form a curious duo that creates something immediately recognizable, yet quite unique. Bits of psych, math rock, indie rock, and noise are born from a combination of Thombilson's heavily processed winding guitar, his impossibly distorted records, and the tight drumming of Mark Osman. For much of the set Osman focused his energies on his snare and hi-hat, creating a simple beat built for dancing. And dance they did. While only a dozen fans remained until the bitter 1AM end, the band kept them all dancing.
As the band finished its set, the venue didn't bring up the house lights or begin pumping music through the PA. There was no backstage or waiting tour bus that the band could be led to by flashlight, nor any roadies to pack up the stage for them. There never is. This is The Brick. There is a stage for bands who want to play music, and, when the lunch tables are moved, room for more fans than those bands could hope to draw. There is no glamour at The Brick, and I suspect that is just fine by its patrons.
Rock and Roll Sighting: Joel Nanos of Element Recording.