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Tuesday June 12th, 2018 at Record Bar in Kansas City, MO
The Coathangers, & Salty

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KC's Salty took the stage at 9:13. It was memorably 9:13 because frontman Jonathan Brokaw told the audience that the band "technically" had two minutes before it had to go on, and he'd like to spend that time sharing anecdotes with the crowd. After realizing he had no stories to tell, the set began.

Salty is a challenging band. Not only is Brokaw an abrasive frontman whose banter riles and antagonizes, but the band that he has assembled is disjointed and seemingly built from spare parts. Brokaw's aim is decidedly post-punk with wiry guitar lines and yelping vocals, however drummer Ethan Eckert's complicated patterns are most often heard in progressive metal. The melange also includes the jam band-esque fingered bass of Jesslay Huh, and the no-wave synthesized squalls of Zach Turner. What comes out of the meat grinder is simultaneously post-punk, new wave, and experimental. Aware of the adversity it offers, the band started with "Perfect Angels" from its forthcoming second album. It's the band's most accessible song, and rightfully brought a curious crowd of 25 patrons toward the stage. The quartet's 35-minute set continued to draw heavily from that expected album, only including a few tracks from its well-received 2017 cassette, Preservation Blues. As the night continued, the musical freakouts became more common, the rhythm section seemed to slide in different directions, and technical issues mounted. Brokaw, however, continued to bait the eager audience, suggesting at one point the band had twenty more songs before it would turn the stage over to the headliners. Immediately afterwards, I watched as several members of the crowd moved to the back of the room, unaware that only three songs remained. The set ended with fan-favorite "Do the Choice!" — a track that speaks to the band's most obvious influence, and the likely inspiration for The Coathangers' summation of its opener's set: "It's like Devo meets weirder Devo." Maybe I should have just led with that and saved you a lot of reading.

I don't like writing about a band after only seeing them once. There's just too much information coming in for me to adequately collect, process, and recount anything specific. And although I've been listening to the band's recorded output for years, this was my first experience seeing The Coathangers live. As expected my senses were overloaded by the new experience. I've not got many details to share.

The Atlanta-based trio always sticks in my head as a sunny California surf act. At its most affable moments, the band creates breezy pop songs with nice melodies not far from Best Coast. More often the band dispenses with the niceties and offers a bit more bite. Live, the band let its dirty south roots show, giving the audience some downright trashy garage rock with shouted vocals. Some of this variation can be explained by band's three members and the lead vocals each of them offers. Guitarist Julia Kugel (Crook Kid Coathanger) is most likely to be found behind the microphone. Her vocals sit between the baby doll cooing of bassist Meredith Franco (Minnie Coathanger) and the gruff roars of Stephanie Luke (Rusty Coathanger). But regardless of who led, the trio's vocal harmonies rang perfectly clear. At first.

As the band's long eighteen-song set continued, the hot club seemed to shrink. It grew darker, more intimate, and the band remade it as their own starting from the stage outward. Garage rock slowly devolved into muddy and nasty punk rock. Any cooing that remained was only to disguise the switch blade hidden behind the ladies' backs. New track "Stranger Danger" highlighted the growing bizarreness, with its twangy guitar, otherworldly vocals, and simple percussion. Fans of early Witch Jail would have felt right at home. As the set continued down the rabbit hole, there were confusing shouts from the stage of "Take your shirt off!" One vested man in the crowd obliged, followed shortly by several women in the crowd, and then by Kugel and Franco on stage. Soon pants were off too, and the area in front of the stage was transformed into an underwear-only dance club. A little sultry. A little celebratory.

As the set winded its way toward a sweaty conclusion, I lost track of the musicians. Instruments were swapped several times, providing everyone with a turn on guitar until, suddenly, no one was on guitar at all. This configuration freed Kugel to roam the stage — microphone in one hand, dog toy turned noisemaker in the other — for "Squeeki Tiki" from 2016's Nosebleed Weekend (Suicide Squeeze Records). This righteous kiss-off to an ex-lover recalls the insistent riot grrrl pluck of Bratmobile — an element of the band that is always present, but seldom bubbles to the top. The audience loved this eruption, shouting the refrain of "You can have it / I don't want this shit / It's just a bad memory of what I did."

Despite calls from the still half-naked audience, the band didn't return for an encore. Setlists (written on the back of Styrofoam plates) were pilfered from the stage by zealous fans, pants were put back on, and the lights came back up. The small sweaty club that The Coathangers' created slowly returned to the familiar recordBar, ultimately allowing Tuesday-night reality to take hold, urging the audience toward home and work the next morning.