When a local music scene is healthy, there's room for everyone from DIY basement punks to stadium-filling pop royalty, for subtle and sincere coffee shop troubadours to high-energy hip hop performers, for the dinosaur acts taking their greatest hits around one more time for nostalgic fans, and even for the weekend cover bands providing familiar soundtracks for a revelous night out. They're all linked in a myriad of sometimes-muddied ways, but they're each vital to maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Today Kansas City isn't excelling – the list of lost venues is heartbreaking – but it's keeping its head above water in a time of rough seas. One reason is Minibar. It serves as a gateway venue for live music, bringing up local bands up, allowing niche scenes to flourish, and by giving touring bands a foothold in the area. This Thursday-night gig exemplified what Minibar does.
The night began with Lake Love. I'd caught the bits of the local band's live show several times, but always at basement venues or record stores. The Minibar stage is low, dark, and crammed in a corner but it's (literally) a step up. And it has monitors. Lake Love is built both on and for vibes. It's Kansas City-styled indie pop, meaning it's got some breezy surf resting under pop structures and understated hooks. But it's not overt – you've got to feel it. To let it overtake you. If that sounds sensual, it's probably apt.
The band is led by the guitar and vocals of Jarrett Dietz. They cut a striking figure with long, coifed pink hair, a dark mustache, and the tightest crop top to cap their slight frame. They're handsome and blog-ready. Dietz generally played the leads and added the twinkle, while guitarist Ezra Whitaker chimed in with most of the solos. Whitaker also sung shaky leads on a couple of songs. And he does the talking for the quartet: introducing songs, plugging the band's most recent digital singles, and thanking the necessary people. In the center of the stage is bassist Cullen Cearnal. He's a tall man in a long cardigan. A lot of his playing is fast and lightly fingered, adding an interesting, largely noteless foundation to the mix. Other times he serves melodies, even tapping up his fretboard to deliver the notes. His bass was connected to his effects pedals with a long cable, yet he mostly bopped around in a small circle, looking down allowing his long hair to cover his face. Shoegaze indeed. Drummer Stephen Mayernik was invisible in a different way, keeping songs on track, adding bounce, but never stealing focus.
After the band's set I had several Minibar regulars ask me about the quartet. The bar crowd is learning about Lake Love. The Minibar Petri dish is doing its job. I can feel our scene growing.
The night continued with Seashine from St. Louis. The band was new to me, though I was told it played a stage at the enormous Boulevardia festival in town last summer. Still, this set at Minibar appeared to be the regional band's first foray into the Kansas City scene. Singer and guitarist Demi Haynes fronted the band. Her vocals were quiet, delivered reservedly without flourishes or stage theatrics. Generally, her guitar carried the rhythm, though it sometimes slipped that responsibility to add sparkle to the band's blissed out dream pop. That was rare though, most of the ornamental ecstasy instead came from guitarist Kate Hayes. Armed with a Squier Jaguar, she created the comforting washes and effects that defined the band's set. The two guitars were capped by the big dynamics of a rhythm section comprised of Paul Rieger (bass) and Bill Hudgins (drums). Rieger's full tone rumbled above the gossamer guitars while Hudgins hard-hitting drums cut through them sharply. This dynamic was unexpected – maybe even a bit jarring – but ultimately enjoyable.
Between songs the room was silent. Eventually Haynes looked up and muttering "tuning" to break the stillness. Better banter came later when Haynes announced that the band is "finally" working on its debut album and pointed the audience to a three-song live set on streaming services (and Bandcamp) in the meanwhile. But that was really it. There wasn't much chat. There weren't really performances. Only in the final song – one with a big My Bloody Valentine enormity – did Haynes finally step away from her microphone and lay into her guitar resulting in a delightfully enveloping finale.
The night was capped by Austin band Blushing. A year ago, the band played Minibar opening for Emmaline Twist, but it has since graduated to a headlining act. That's how things are supposed to work – touring bands get footing opening for larger locals, then progress to a headlining act where they can support new locals. Packaged tours without local bands are incomplete – it's nice when they come through, but they don't grow the local musical biome.
Canonically, Blushing is shoegaze. As required, each of the songs in the band's eight-song setlist was haunted by dreamy textures and washes, as well as grounded by a dynamic rhythm section that wrestled spirits back to the corporeal dance floor. But if the shoegaze name originates from bands staring at their shoes, focused more on effects pedals than the audience, then Blushing fails that test.
Christina Carmona is at the center of the band's show. She's a charismatic frontwoman with the ability to authentically connect with the audience. During the set, her breathy vocals pushed over the ringing and swirling songs as she danced and writhed with her bass. To her right was Michelle Soto. Soto moved non-stop as her guitar provided melodies and leads. By the second song she was already playing on the stage floor, contorted into an impressive backbend. By the third, Carmona had joined her on the deck. The two communicated through the set telepathically. When their eyes met for a fraction of a second, they'd spoken their plan. Shared smiles acknowledged the fun the other is having. The quartet is completed by their spouses. Guitarist Noe Carmona added the washes, controlling thick waves of enveloping tone with his tremolo bar. Drummer Jacob Soto pushed the tempo. The band doesn't do languid soundscapes, instead it played pacy three or four-minute structured pop songs, each setting aside room for explosions of volume and eddies of sonic exploration. And each was performed delightfully under the pale pulsing lights of the club.
The set ended just after 11pm with Christina Carmona professing her love for Minibar and for Kansas City audiences. The band also announced it would return to the club in September, in what is another sign that the venue is serving the scene. I'll be back for Blushing in September, and I'll be back to the Minibar a dozen times before then, seeing whatever acts are given the opportunity to step onto that small stage in the dim corner of the upstairs bar.