Friday July 19th, 2002 at The Next Space in Kansas City, MO
Bratmobile, Gravy Train, The Hawnay Troof, The Washdown, & TrophyWives

Bratmobile Gravy Train!!!! The Washdown TrophyWives [more]

This show may be somewhat seminal in the history of KC. Not that it was a fantastic show or that something awful or wonderful happened at it. In fact it has absolutely nothing to do with the performances. The item of note is how this show came to be. And how it is that Jason Hyken of Evolve Productions booked this show at the Next Space.

Taking things back, Jason is a local promoter of some reputation for bringing in jam bands into The Grand Emporium and other 21+ bars about town. His connection with the musical underground of house shows is somewhat limited. Okay let’s be honest, he’s the booking equivalent of a narc and for the kids that this matters to, it is a big deal.

Jason initially attempted to book this show at The Rainbow Dungeon and (in the version of the history that I collected and assembled from all the sources) got tacit approval from the residents. Later they decided not to do the show and Jason shifted the show with only a week or two’s notice to The Next Space.

To add more background, The Next Space is largely an open room available as an unofficial community center in the Crossroads Arts District downtown. It flies below the radar of "club" and is simply a "room" where political organizing occurs, documentary and homemade films are projected, and where underground bands that wish to stay that way play. A "legitimate" promoter using this space to bring in touring acts targeted at a decidedly more commercial audience is a precedent which has made some members of the scene uneasy.

With all the baggage in tow, I wasn’t sure whom I’d find at the club when I arrived at 7:30 for an 8pm start time. Would it be the regular Next Space crowd of young revolutionaries (be they political or musical deconstructionists) or would a $10 door price keep them away? In thinking about the show I wondered if a $5 door wouldn’t draw twice as many people and make a better show than a handful of the $10 "elite." It didn’t really matter, because at 7:30, only the bands were milling about the front of the building and the Lookout!-provided poster now proclaimed an 8:30 start time. To further frustrate the punctual, it wasn’t long before Hyken was toying with a 9pm start time.

The issue at hand wasn’t one of a start time too early to get the fans out, but rather one of his audience. The hip twenty-something indie crowd that attend $10 shows from touring bands don’t show up for openers. They planned to be late, and if the show started at 11pm they’d still show up at midnight. Holding the show off wasn’t going to do anything but bore me and give the bands more time to curse the multitude of things bands curse in their hurry-up-and-wait touring lives.

A little after 8:30 I planted a bug in Hyken’s ear and he had Anna Cole of TrophyWives gather the rest of her band to begin. Even before the band plugged in their instruments I had some misgivings: First, I had seen the band years back and at the time they were less than enthralling. Second, there had been numerous line-up changes since those days and only two members remain — only one on his original instrument. Finally, bands that toil in local obscurity for years typically do so for a reason. Although I tried to put those trepidations into the background and enjoy the show, the band hit me with the cardinal sin right off the bat — vocalist Anna Cole began complaining about the small audience.

From where I sat I counted 12 people in the room whose stares were fixed on the band as they presented a slurry of pop and rock. Twelve people who had given up time in their lives wasn’t good enough for Cole and she made sure we all knew about it. A few nights before I saw Wretch Like Me (a touring band on a large indie label) play at the Hurricane. There were six people watching them. They rocked their asses off for the audience without letting out a peep concerning the small showing. Just a tip for you Cole: if you want more people to show up, don’t whine to the anti-crowd, wow them.

Egos and expectations aside, this incarnation of TrophyWives are much more focused than previous ones. Although guitarist Steve Hittner’s ultrafuzzed guitar still seems out of place, it was, at least, consistent. Song structures were fairly simple pop songs played with some intensity and Cole eventually seemed to get into the set. Each song is comprised of a completely unrecognizable buzzing guitar, a bass that holds the melody, simple rapid drumming on a small kit (kick, floor tom, piccolo snare, high hat, and three cymbals). In total it seldom worked for me although I may have just had a sour taste in my mouth.

Afterwards Dana told me the band were much better than a lot of the bands I drag her to. So maybe this is the band for those who (like Dana) didn’t care for Giant’s Chair, The Casket Lottery, or To Conquer. I decided to ride over to the gas station and get some water and get the taste out of my mouth.

Upon my return little had changed: The Washdown were still setting up, most everyone was sitting outside, and the kids from The Rainbow Dungeon had still not paid to go inside and actually see the show. I sat against the wall with my water and Dana sighed "one down, three to go."

The Washdown (formerly known as The Dead America) are a five-piece of mixed metaphors from Florida. Pulling in equal parts garage, 60s pop, and punk they create a sound that is instantly accessible, eminently danceable, and thoroughly enjoyable. Although certainly timeless in its appeal, the more-the-passing resemblance to other back-to-basics rockers like The Strokes and The White Stripes is unmistakable. Let’s hope Lookout! Records is just continuing a love founded by The Smugglers and not attempting to cash in on the sound du jour.

The Washdown’s twenty-minute sampler set was followed by a thirty-minute break while Gravy Train set up. When The Faint or namelessnumberheadman take so long to set up their multitudes of digital devices it’s annoying. When Gravy Train spent an equally indeterminable amount of time to set up a keyboard and a handful of microphones, its inexcusable. What’s the slow down folks?

Well it seems the slow down was The Hawnay Troof and his laptop computer. With a three song sing-a-long set ala Har Mar Superstar, The Hawnay Troof entertained the audience with witty (despite themselves) raps and calls featuring lyrics about sex, sex, oh and sex. How can you resist songs like "Who likes to Fuck (we like to fuck)" and "If you like to dry hump prepare to be dumped"?

And just as The Hawnay Troof had taken his stuffed short-shorts and monitor humping set as far as it could go, he collected the praise do to him ("Give it up for me!") and stepped to the side of the stage allowing his impromptu backing dancers to become Gravy Train.

Gravy Train is the inevitable combination of artists, intellectuals, and dissatisfied punks that coalesce in every scene. Normally it’s based around a house, and normally from kids who work to remove all aspect of idle time from their lives. In a never-ending combination of project bands, every once in a while something sticks and something part performance art, part socio-political commentary, and incidentally musical is born. Although these bands seldom reach touring status, when they do it’s a rag-tag group of whoever can quit their job to join in and do whatever it is they do.

Gravy Train came to Kansas City with synchronized dance moves of simulated sex, mile-a-minute raps perpetrating posterity, a keyboard with a singular sound played with minimal skill, and a magnanimous front woman known as Chunx. Warmed up by The Hawnay Troof, the crowd hollered, groaned, and ground to Oakland’s Gravy Train.

Although the band’s razor-tongued verbal battle royale "(You Made) Me Gay" was the highlight of the show, they opted to end with an ill-conceived, yet genuine, cover of Bratmobile’s "Cool Schmool". Throughout the evening the band recruited dancers from the audience, however for the final song the participation crested bringing Allison Wolfe of Bratmobile on stage along with her trademark aerobic bounce.

The hippest of indie kids could now be seen milling about the building, or more importantly the sidewalk in front of the "club". Interestingly enough two open doors on either side of the stage provided a view equal to, if not better than, the view afforded to the paying customers. The sound outside was similarly as good (or rather muddled) as inside. Finally the outside temperature was ten degrees more bearable than the inside temperature (which hovered about 100 F). Toss in a $10 door and the fact it is cooler to be seen outside a show than it is to be seen inside a show, and you’ll understand why the forty people inside were matched by another forty outside.

As we all waited for Bratmobile to take the makeshift stage, I listened to bits of conversations going around about me. Joan Jett seemed to be a particularly hot topic as I caught her urban legends from several different pods and even listened to plans for a structurally sound necklace to be made from a Joan Jett guitar pick. Most disheartening were the conversations dissing Kansas City, particularly on this night that boosted over five excellent shows within two miles. Maybe these were travelers (I heard a couple had come down from Iowa) who weren’t aware of their surroundings or how the Crossroads Arts District is only now coming alive after years of abandoned warehouse status. Or maybe they had no idea the silent streets they sat on were only miles from the packed streets of Westport. Kansas City isn’t San Francisco (which seemed to be the city to hold up in example in these conversations), but I’ve lived in towns much worse. Either spend some time making it better, shut up and enjoy other people’s scene building efforts, or move. It’s pretty simple.

Although there was little pretense when Bratmobile took the stage, it was obvious they were the only name on the pierced tongues of the audience. Vocalist Allison Wolfe stepped behind the microphone and owned the audience from that instant and the predominately female audience seemed to rally around her. The dichotomy, of course, is that guitarist Erin Smith and drummer Molly Neuman went nearly unnoticed. Each seemed to deal with this differently throughout the set, with Smith seemingly enjoying the absurdity and joy of it all while Neuman seemed to be annoyed and bothered by the ordeal. Neuman worked to push the set forward with a "just play" when Wolfe demanding to know what changed with her vocals. In what was an oddly assertive (to put it mildly) episode she fired at the soundman "Did you change anything? Don’t lie to me." Okay…

The band ran through a high-energy half-hour set of eight or nine songs from their four releases. Regardless of each song’s pedigree they all seemed to garner the same glowing support from the audience. The first several rows celebrated by dancing while the unsure simply watched with swaying craned necks. Each of Bratmobile’s songs are obvious dance numbers in a seldom danceable genre. That completely infectious bounce has always set them apart from their early contemporaries such as Bikini Kill and Heaven’s To Betsy. Although their more recent material may be more refined (certainly Smith has become a better guitarist) there is still a pure and simple element to their music and a pleasing naiveté (although after ten years this is surely affected) that puts Bratmobile’s music at everyone’s grasp.

The set and show ended with both The Hawnay Troof and the members of Gravy Train joining Bratmobile on stage for a knock down, kick line, version of "Panik." When the song was over, the performers left the stage and that was it. Although Wolfe entered drew my ire with comments like "So this is Kansas City on a Friday night?", she came up even by not holding off for a planned encore.

Like the rest of the touring bands, Bratmobile seemed honest and, often, that meant jagged edges and burrs that pricked me. I suppose that’s the danger and beauty of a DIY show in a room that isn’t a club. Jason Hyken seemed to recognize that beauty as well and on my way out he proclaimed, "I like this place; it’s just people hanging out and watching a show." Maybe Hyken isn’t the interloper some have pegged him for, maybe he’s a convert.