Too Much Rock
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Friday June 5th, 2009 at Crosstown Station in Kansas City, MO
Dead Girls, Softee, The Sexy Accident, Audiovox, & Tambourine Club
JoJo Longbottom of Dead Girls
Sarah Anderson of Softee
Pat Padgett of The Sexy Accident
Martin Bush of Audiovox
Bryan Lamanno of Tambourine Club
[more photos]
[linked Softee video]
[linked Dead Girls video]

While we weren't exactly running late, we weren't the pathologically early that I prefer either. While I stayed back to chain my scooter to a pole, I shooed Katie toward the venue door. $10 gets you five bands and a raffle ticket. Still getting ID'd at 37 was a service the doorman threw in for free. The doors opened at 7:00 and it was already 7:45. If the 70 Facebook RSVPs could be trusted, the show should have been pretty full. After hurrying Katie through the winding hallway leading to the stage, I realised (once again) that my punctual compulsion never serves me well at rock shows.

As I had never been to Crosstown Station before, I used the time I'd normally spend sitting on the stage, holding down my vantage point, to instead study the club. Crosstown is all one room, big and open with exposed wood beams 30 or so feet above a terraced floor dotted with tables. The long bar sits at the entrance with an attached kitchen at the ready with the standard fried appetizer fare. The stage is on the far end of the room; it is both deep and wide, with a concealed opening in the back to allow bands to easily load gear in and out. Rows of lights and hanging speakers all indicated that this club was built to be a premiere show space. But for whom? The room seems too small to generate the sort of revenue required to keep a club like this in the black.

True to the flyers, the evening began at 8:00 with local three-piece Tambourine Club. The band is fronted by guitarist/vocalist Bryan Lamanno with Andrew Twenter on drums and backing vocals, and Ricky Jones swapping between an electronically-processed Rhodes bass piano and a standard electric bass guitar. Depending on Jones's position, the band's music falls into one of two categories. When playing keyboards, the band's sound was a full, or even muddy, re-envisioning of late 80s college rock bands. REM came to mind several times when Tambourine Club dabbled ever-so-slightly into Americana territory. Although Lamanno's voice doesn't recall Stipe's, it does sound very similar to that of Dan Stuart from 80s cowpunk pioneers Green On Red. This was a good thing. When Jones switched to his bass guitar, there was definitely more bounce. And when Lamanno got around to some quick strumming on the last two songs, this bounce finally made the band sound a bit indie pop. After a quick set the band packed its gear back into exquisite road cases and that was that.

Between acts a local webcaster from Kansas City called Popfreeradio spun tunes. While I had hoped I'd hear darling tracks from indie pop bands, the MP3Js held true to their moniker, and the evening was largely pop free. I can't ever remember being so happy to hear that Flaming Lips track before, but there you go.

It was about 9:00 when the duo of Audiovox began its set. I'm unfamiliar with the history of these Kansas City transplants, but I do expect to watch its future bloom. Martin Bush provides vocals, keyboards, guitar, and all the sequencing and programming for the band, leaving Brad Chancellor to handle live drums. The band is decidedly electronic, and would play well alongside The Postal Service and other laptop pop bands. However when Bush plays guitar instead of keyboards, the rock persona of the band quickly becomes apparent. These guitar songs are poppy, bending both 90s and 2000s alternative rock effectively. For better and worse, it's as if Audiovox are a post-emo version of The Gin Blossoms.

While Tambourine Club requested the lights be kept low during its set, all bets were off for Audiovox. Every cannon and strobe in the house flashed and pulsed to the echoing synthesizer tones. Bush's voice was drenched in reverb and delay, masking what is a normally clean voice that reminds me, again, of Ben Gibbard's. And although the audience remained at the back of the club for the opening band, a dozen or more of Audiovox's fans crept forward for its set. Chancellor seemed already accustomed to the spotlight, and was more than a little fussy about the live sound on stage leaving a sour taste in both Katie's and my mouths. After only a 25-minute leave-them-wanting-more set, the band wrapped things up to make way for The Sexy Accident.

The Sexy Accident is a foursome of awfully nice, delightfully dorky boys from Kansas City. Throughout the late 90s I received a demo a day from bands trading in this same hooky, upbeat, loose, indie pop rock. While all of it is good, few bands (Fountains of Wayne, Harvey Danger) move past the "we're playing Springfest in the quad this year!" level of success. Of course the band has its fans – and a few of them came forward to dance – but most of the band's cheering section only shouted goodwill from the tables in the back of the room. Now, as The Sexy Accident prepares to self-release its third proper album, it's obvious that these thirty-something guys are too old to be still be playing the dorms, waiting for that big break. The good news is that the band is aware of all this. In fact I think they're okay with it.

Singer and guitarist Jesse Kates fronts this band on weekends, during the week he has a real job, a receding hairline, a wife, a kid, boundless energy and few illusions. His voice isn't strong – in fact too many songs are nearly spoken. As a frontman, he's a likeable everyman. Unfortunately there is no flash or energy in that. Lead guitarist Chad Toney chimed in nicely throughout the bulk of the band's material, and even helped provide the churning or ethereal moments in the aberrant darker numbers. The rhythm section of bassist Pat Padgett and drummer Daniel Torrence can be credited with playing their roles admirably.

The band closed with a new song entitled "I Tried Again" that will lead off its upcoming album. The song is a straightforward emo pop affair we could have heard from Jimmy Eat World or even The Get Up Kids ten years ago. The song is good – in fact they are all good – but it continues to play to the band's moniker: if there were ever to be anything sexy about this band, it would be purely accidental.

Although The Sexy Accident finished at 10:15, it was 45 minutes before the next band took the stage. Whether this fail can be pinned on the organiser (who noted bands would go on at the top of the hour) or the band, I'm not sure. I only know it was disheartening to count the passing minutes while staring at an empty stage waiting for Softee to begin.

Of any of the bands that played this kick off of The Indie Pop Alliance, only Softee met my strict reading of the genre. This all-girl foursome is a purveyor of sugary pop with just enough tart guitar licks to keep songs from becoming saccharine. The band's live sound is lo-fi, a little sloppy, and is custom tailored for the K or Sarah Records set. When the band really gets going, listeners will find glorious hints of Kansas City's Lushbox or Tuscadero. In short, this band might have been created just for me.

Sarah Anderson fronts the band, contributing her soft and sweet vocals as well as a deliberate bass line. Steph Allen strums a ringing Rickenbacker as well as providing backing vocals along with drummer Mimi Mangrum. And although keyboardist Flora Chang also provides cello on occasion, on this night she stood stiff and stationary behind her keyboards.

As I contemplated how many Softee shows I might attend in the future, I examined the audience to see who might have been similarly smitten. A dozen or more fans stood or danced at the front of the stage. Most of them could be categorised as "adoring" though a few might have progressed to "creepy." I wondered if I could avoid the latter.

50 minutes after the band started, it closed its set with a sadly uninspired retelling of The Yardbirds' "For Your Love." While the song has great power pop potential (remember the Possum Dixon cover?), Softee's arrangement dragged on nearly two minutes too long, offered little pep, and was in a key that was just below Anderson's vocal register. It's always sad when a great set ends on a low note.

Of course Softee may have viewed this performance only as a live rehearsal and a great chance to play fun material. Club attendance had dropped steadily since its peak around 9pm, and by the time the headliner took the stage a bit after midnight, the club consisted of a few patrons bellied up to the bar, the members of the other bands sitting back at tables, and about 11 fans standing up front by the stage. While this may have been a bit disheartening to other bands, the headlining veterans of Dead Girls took it all in stride.

Dead Girls (for those who aren't locals) are a Kansas City foursome built from the guitarists/vocalists of Podstar and the rhythm section of Ultimate Fakebook. The band is a textbook definition of power pop, and like others in the genre, owes everything to Cheap Trick and Big Star. The band holds no delusions there.

For 50 minutes this foursome owned the stage, exuding enough energy to feed a packed arena, but all the while still maintaining a laid back and informal atmosphere completely appropriate for the dozen appreciative fans standing up front. It's obvious that every member of the band simply loves making music, but the playful smiles drummer Eric Melin shared with bassist Nick Colby are undeniably infectious.

The band follows a simple formula: rhythm guitars cradle listeners before handing off the focus to razor sharp hammered leads that urge the audience to action. Occasionally the band inserts a choppy rhythm as to evince its love for of 80s alternative acts such as The Replacements or The Pixies. All the while Colby's bass lines climb adventurously, providing much more than the expected low-end support. Guitarists JoJo Longbottom and Cameron Hawk share vocal duties, swapping the lead responsibilities on a song-by-song basis, but always providing harmonious backing vocals when not given the spotlight. The band may not have invented this sound, but they are so adroit at reproducing it that it feels like they own it.

The band closed with "Out of Earshot" – the title track from the band's forthcoming album. During the song, Colby and Longbottom lined the front of the stage displaying their best rock poses, they played back-to-back, each pushing the other to see how low the duo could stand, Colby looped his bass around Hawk and continued to play it while effectively giving a bear hug, there were great cymbal crashes, and a big pounding finish suitable for the inaugural show of The Indie Pop Alliance. Too bad only two-dozen people witnessed it.

When it was all over, show organiser Jesse Kates completed the raffle that had run throughout the evening. With so few paying patrons remaining, Katie and I were nearly guaranteed to win. Our time came at the final draw of the night, when we were rewarded with the grand prize – a CD and t-shirt from each of the evening's acts. I guess getting to the club early pays off after all.

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