Six years ago when The Rino opened, I wondered if it was going to fill a void, splinter a scene, or create one. I had no idea. I don't think its creators knew either. In the beginning it thankfully pulled a few shows away from the cramped confines of Merritt Records – especially those featuring emo and mathrock. Later it helped coalesce a scene of alternative pop acts working their way up the venue food chain. Small pop punk bands also found support at the club, and I became a regular. Occasionally a larger touring act floated through (The Lillingtons pushed the venue to its limits in 2018 and came back for more in 2019) but mostly the venue has served as a proving ground for local bands. Some even take their first steps at one of the open mic nights hosted by the club every Monday through Wednesday. Today lots of things happen in the building including comedy and Sunday church services. There's lots of reasons to come to The Rino, but on this night, I showed up to see a local band just waking up from a multi-year nap. Or maybe to get a burger from the Leafeater vegan restaurant that shares the building with the venue. Both. I came for both.
I was wiping the sauce out of my beard when I learned that Strange Relic would play instead of the announced Gutter Buds. I'm not aware of the band's history, but I did see that the act was a quartet when it recorded its (digital-only) Dungeon Daze debut album last fall, but for this performance it was a trio. Strange Relic is fronted by Jacob Arthur who provides vocals, keyboards, and bass – never simultaneously but in turn. Jordan NeSmith plays either guitar or bass as required. Nathan Kilkenney now plays drums as well as taking a turn or two at lead vocals. The band's 25-minute set was loose and fun, with occasional moments of high energy that spurred two members of the audience to create their own mosh pit. Musically the band were as much rock as punk rock, and drifted further afield when keyboards became the spotlight. Just where the band might drift to is an open question, so we should all keep an eye out and report back as more information becomes available.
The Blast Monkeys followed only ten minutes later. The band is a duo featuring vocalist and guitarist Scott Vick and drummer Kyle Chambers. Its members are probably in their early 20s, and I suspect they formed the band sometime in the early '90s. They're from the small exurban city outside of Kansas City called Tonganoxie where they grew up surfing and skating near the Venice Beach boardwalk. Vick sings with the local dialect also employed by Blink-182's Tom DeLonge. Unable to find a bassist with suitably long blond hair, the duo has gone it alone. I may have gotten a few things wrong there, so let's just say that The Blast Monkeys are a pop punk band. A classic pop-punk band.
The band's shows are defined by its goofy and chatty banter as much as its music. The duo are friends who play off one another and are happy to interact with the audience. Blast Monkeys shows are fun. Musically the band is powered by Chambers. At the Rino, his active drums with plenty of fills were pounded out on the borrowed kit, pushing songs forward quickly and sometimes dangerously. Vick's guitar work was generally power chords shifting up and down the neck, though there were moments when picked arpeggios added emotional depth, minor chords built tension, or tempos slowed to provide a stomping breakdown, but those moments were the aberrations. Mostly the band delivered 30 minutes of bouncing pop punk that made the audience dance like Riff Randall and sent Vick tumbling to his knees, bending his low-top Chucks into unnatural positions.
Between songs the dancing kids hydrated. One more band to come. One last dance.
Company Retreat headlined the night. The band grew out of earlier act Bent Left six or seven years ago, then quickly rushed out an excellent album followed by a couple of quality EPs. But the quartet has been quiet for the last three or four years. At least one member no longer lives in Kansas City. I'm sure all of them have real jobs. Probably wives and kids. Who has time for punk rock with a mortgage? That's why I was surprised to see them pop up on The Rino's show calendar. Turns out they've been secretly active the whole time.
Bluntly, Company Retreat play punk rock – simple three chord, bouncing energy, Screeching Weasel-brand punk rock. The band is fronted by bassist/vocalist William Malott. He's a jocular frontman that always seems happy to be on stage with his friends. He was especially so after the act's recent sabbatical. Drummer Josh Nelson provides lots of backing vocals and occasionally lead ones too. From his post at the back of the stage he interceded with quips and jabs directed at his bandmates. There's lots of in-jokes. They're kind of goofy in their unmatched Hawaiian shirts. Guitarists Brad Schauffler and Jeff Speak add the muscle that moves the band past pop punk as well as the melodies that sing like power pop. A good band to listen to on your headphones, and a great one to dance to. But the audience knew that – not just our Energizer Bunny teens, but the band's 30-something fans as well. The party was on.
Throughout the band's 35-minute set, drums galloped, guitars soared, urgent vocals were spit, and lush backing harmonies soothed. The band's thirteen-song setlist included fan favorites as well as several fresh debuts from a forthcoming album that the band announced at the show. It seems that Company Retreat hasn't been idle at all, and despite geographic differences, it has recorded a new album that'll be released… soon? Malott only offered an exaggerated shrug to the inquiring audience. He also teased that there will also be more shows, but when and where is up in the air. Let's hope the band will be back in Kansas City soon, and if they are, I'm sure they'll find a welcoming stage at The Rino. And a vegan burger. Both a stage and a burger. And fries. Also fries.