I watched until the glorious end as Indiana put down number one ranked Michigan. Sadly a flurry of fouls (why wont college basketball fix this?) sent the game sliding past 10pm, forcing me to arrive at Record Bar as opener Gentleman Savage completed its second number. Apologies to Gentleman Savage, but a successful IU season trumps most everyone for us Hoosiers.
Gentleman Savage is a Kansas City quartet currently culled to a trio after losing its keyboard player to career aspirations and pursuit of adult stability. While the band hunts for a new player with no such ties to reality, the remaining members have discovered that with the psychedelic swirl of keyboards removed, Gentleman Savage is a big rock band. While the fingered bass of Kyle Anthony was felt throughout the band's set, the band's songs were built on the rich guitar work of frontman Holden Simpson. With a full compliment of pedals to provide texture, Gentleman Savage soared like stadium rockers Muse. On the rare occasion that Simpson would dabble on keyboards, the deep atmosphere of the band shone even brighter. Drummer Nick Talley stayed out of the way for the most part, providing support but no flash. Although I only caught twenty minutes of the band's set, I think I like this less-adorned version of the band just fine.
At 11:00 the four members of Lawrence, Kansas's The Dead Girls prepared to take the stage in celebration of their new album Fade In/Fade Out(self released, 2013). As microphones were checked, the band's devoted audience pushed forward, packing the area in front of the stage. While the band was not the headliner – this is the band the crowd had come to see.
While I've covered The Dead Girls nearly a dozen times over the last few years, this show was different in that it was built entirely from new material. While not an in-order run-through of the entire album, the 40-minute set still waned and waxed in much the same way, allowing the powerful pop of "Never Erased" to roar one moment, while "Sing it Soft" lulled the crowd sweetly the next. The latter even dismissed the band's bash-happy rhythm section (bassist Nick Colby and drummer Eric Melin), leaving the stage to the suddenly genteel vocalist/guitarist Cameron Hawk and vocalist/guitarist JoJo Longbottom. This more introspective element is something new for the band. And while both Longbottom's and Hawk's guitars still screamed in unison through rockers like "The Beast Inside," other songs found the guitarists playing off of each other, offering up countermelodies accented by effects pedals previously unheard. Melin insists this maturity is nothing new (he's right, many songs on the album were debuted live years ago), but the number of mid-tempo songs and ballads does colour the band's live set quite differently. Of course the band's audience isn't concerned about the taxonomical precision of the band – that's something for writers, booking agents, and publicity companies to worry about. Audiences are only interested in good songs and a good show – both of which The Dead Girls always offer.
If anyone has been in the Kansas City music scene as long as the members of The Dead Girls, it is the core line-up of The Casket Lottery. Although The Casket Lottery lay dormant from 2006-2012, the one-time trio has returned with a expanded five-piece lineup and a new album (Real Fear, No Sleep, 2012). And just as the band used to pack the all-ages venues in the late '90s, the band continues to draw kids with Xs markered onto their hands. These exuberant fans quickly displaced the wizened fans of earlier acts, lining the stage at the earliest opportunity, and holding that ground until nearly 1am. While the "Kansas City Sound" may not be as tightly definable as it once was, its progeny are still alive and adored by a younger generation.
The Casket Lottery is defined by the throaty scream and impossibly loud guitar of Nathan Ellis. While the band has added guitarist Brent Windler since its halcyon days, this new guitar generally doubles that of Ellis, ensuring the biggest, most enveloping sound imaginable. Bassist Stacy Hilt provides a similar backing scream, as well as a round bass sound that is felt in your chest as much as heard. He spoke little, although when an insistent audience member repeatedly asked Hilt to take his shirt off, he, much to the amusement of the audience, dryly quipped "My wife doesn't even want to see that." Nathan Richardson continues to be a manic drummer, providing propulsion engineered to tear songs apart rather than provide them a steady foundation. Whether by design or a side effect of my location in the club, the work of new keyboardist Nick Siegel added few noticeable flourishes. His chiming elements and sturdy atmospheric chords seldom cut through the band's current focus on full, organic compositions, and were unnecessary in the jerky, stop-on-a-dime compositions that marked the band's early career.
As the set drew to a close, Ellis gave the audience a choice, "Do you want to hear a new song or an old song?" The response was overwhelming and expected. After a request from an audience member, the band launched into the angular "On the Air" from its 2003 EP Smoke and Mirrors (Second Nature Recordings). Dynamics figure heavily into this song, with picked guitar and clean vocals soon exploding into a cathartic cacophony of noise. This juxtaposition has resonated with audiences for fifteen years, and based on the kids lining the front of the stage, shows no sign of letting up.
After the set I said hello to old friends, picked up some details from the performing bands, and then headed for the door. On the way out the doorman stopped me to talk about the upcoming Sporting Kansas City season. Oh right, that's coming up soon. So I'd like to apologise now to all the bands whose opening numbers I'll miss due to sport. Sorry. Really.