Thursday December 5th, 2002 at El Torreon in Kansas City, MO
Coalesce Theta The James Dean Trio & Keo Kyen

Coalesce Theta The James Dean Trio Keo Kyen [more]

Feeling equal parts brave and stupid, I strode out to my driveway determined ride take my scooter to the show. Bundled in two jackets, gloves, a ridiculous purple scarf, and a full-face helmet, I couldn’t have felt more disconnected from the machine or the sub-freezing temperature of the evening air. Once she started, and I was rolling, and the helmet’s visor lost the fog created by my hot, frustrated breath, things got better. Within fifteen minutes I was inside of El Torreon, and shedding layers of clothing in a privileged corner of the club.

Kao Kytn began at eight o’clock as the sharpied schedule on the soundboard promised. Although my knowledge of the band is thin, I assume they’re a fairly new addition to the metal-no-hardcore-no-metal set, as the band in its entirety seemed tentative and awkward. The vocalist seemed particularly confused as he paced the stage, unsure of himself, or how to engage the audience. On occasion, as if reminded by an internal voice, a member of the band would “hip check” another, often sending both of them tumbling to the ground in a lump of contrived enthusiasm. Musically the band was not nearly as memorable; the band’s musical mix was straight from the instructions on the box: two parts chunking straightforward rhythm, one part screamed inaudible vocals. The only bright spot came from the second guitarist, who abandoned his guitar for vocals after breaking a string near the end of the band’s thirty-minute set. Every muscle and vessel in his body constricted as he shouted his vocals and writhed up from the floor of the stage. This kid has some demons to exorcise, and pain is always fun for the audience to watch.

The James Dean Trio is similarly unknown, although their name has popped up in interesting circles for the last month or so. The band began their set with an anomalous composition of slow intricacy filled with unbelievable percussion. Where has this drummer been all my life? After this quick introduction, the band elevated into a powerful set focused on crashing vim and thrashing hardcore.

With three guitars (plus bass guitar of course), I’ve come to expect some layer of redundancy. My experience is that guitarist number three is a friend whom the band just couldn’t stand to dismiss. Rules and exceptions go hand in hand, and The James Dean Trio made excellent use of their trio of ax-ists. Aside from the bashing power-chords, we were provided with wheedled and winding guitar candy (think Snapcase) and even some metallic flavour and flare. Of course this left the band’s diminutive singer lost in the glorious cacophony despite his best-screamed efforts.

With this stew of pensive aggression, the band should fit easily into the house show scene ala When Good Robots Go Bad or even slide their way into more traditional shows alongside A Storied Northwest or Salt the Earth. More shows can only be a good thing for the band and for Kansas City.

Although I have made certain assumptions about the opening acts, I have had some sense of security in those notions. With Theta, all bets are off; everything you read from this point forward could be entirely made up. I imagine this as the band’s first gig, and scored due to a personal connection to the headliner. Stylistically there just weren’t many comparisons to be made, there had to be another (possibly more genuine) reason for the pairing.

While Theta doesn’t lend itself to description easily, one comparison continued to inhabit my mind as I watched: Elliot. With atmospheric, somewhat wandering, guitar lines, billowy, sustained supporting keyboard, and elongated vocals dripping with emotion, the band seemed to sample freely from all genres and arrive in a new, sparsely inhabited one. Unlike the evening’s previous bands, Theta seemed to disengage from the audience. There was no impassioned screaming, no falling to the floor, no band member running into another. The band performed their music, and then the band left the stage.

The final (if not only) band of the evening was cut from an entirely different cloth. With seemingly little effort, Coalesce took the stage with impulse, aggression and confidence. The band has been on hundreds of stages from the smallest living room non-stage to the largest music halls. Over those years, they have learned how to put on a show, and it was immediately apparent… even if it wasn’t real. Despite the impossible combination of speed, grace, power, and composition the band displayed, vocalist Sean Ingram informed the crowd he just couldn’t feel it. How could the same man, who had spent half of the set lying on the stage in a fetal position with the microphone cord wrapped around his neck, growling out in agony, not be “feeling it?”

Although Ingram may not have felt it, the appreciative audience did. Unlike earlier in the night when the audience (led by Special Kid Brett) bounced into each other with a learned machismo, Coalesce’s audience was spellbound and motionless. And although the audience heard their favourite songs, the songs they’ve heard in headphones over and over, there were no sing-a-longs. Coalesce moves too quickly; they’re too tricky for mere mortals to keep up with.

After a short set and a single-song encore, the show ended and I bound myself tightly against the cold. Despite Coalesce’s polished and ingenious blending of genres, I was never really involved in the show, I never felt a part of what they were doing, and thus it was easy to walk out the door while others milled about, stunned. Maybe, like Ingram, I just wasn’t “feeling it”, or maybe the “it” is just something that speaks to you or doesn’t. Despite of my lack of investment, I am still able to recognize the ultimate props due to Coalesce for their earned success in a genre they’ve subverted, if not outright created.