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Tuesday September 5th, 2023 at Minibar in Kansas City, MO
Doubledrag, Blushing, & Emmaline Twist

I'm a homer. There's no side like a home side. No band like a local band. So, I support the locals. Over and over again. That's not exactly the recipe for a thriving music website with broad appeal, but it's the only thing that makes sense to me. Maybe it's even useful to others as a snapshot of one small corner of the KC music scene. You should feel free to skip about until you find something useful. And I'll try not to bore you with the same observations I've written about local bands dozen times before. Fair enough?

This was my lucky thirteenth time seeing Emmaline Twist. To be honest, not much has changed from the first time I saw the band six years ago. It was also at the Minibar. The stage was in a different place, but it was still poorly lit. The band headlined that night, while it would open this night. Back then the band was only a quartet rather than the quintet that it is today, but its set was not dramatically different. It's been a slow evolution for the gloomy post-punk band. Tonight's set was thirty-minutes and seven songs – several very old ones, a handful of songs that have been part of the band's setlist for the last two years, and one debut. Bassist Kristin Conkright suggested that the audience hit the merch table to allow the band to release new music. Rumor is that an album's worth of songs are already recorded and ready to go. Her request was about the only banter we heard from the band. Guitarist Krysztof Nemeth chimed in a bit, shouting from his station in the shadows. Vocalist/guitarist Meredith McGrade then suggested that they were the one person who shouldn't have a microphone. Not true. Their steady and low voice is a necessary piece of the band's sound along with the active bass, an occasional chiming guitar, filling guitar drones and keyboard swells (from Alex Alexander), and drums (from Jonathan Knecht) that maintain the band's steady pace. There's no complicated rhythms, no dramatic tempo shifts, no explosions of volume from stomped pedals. Shoegaze may be a big enough tent to include Emmaline Twist, but despite the band's predeliction for effects pedals and texture, it avoids most of the genre's trappings. If that disappoints you, stick around.

Sandwiched in the middle of the bill was Austin's Blushing. Frontwoman Christina Carmona announced it was the band's fifth time playing Kansas City. It was the third time I'd caught the act in the last year. They're not locals, but surely they earned the key to the city by now. Or at least to the Minibar green room. Cormona's bass is joined by the guitar of Michelle Soto. As I've written before, they're the show. There's hops and thrashes and falls to the floor and backbends and fun smiles. If you can avert your gaze, then turn it to guitarist Noe Carmona. His movement was bigger and bolder than I had previously seen him perform. He's not a berserker, but it was obvious that he was feeling it as he tore through the noisy chords that created the sonic blanket that engulfed the room. The band balances dream pop and shoegaze well, and it's Carmona who pushes the volume and chaos required for the latter. Drummer Jacob Soto is a switch hitter – sometimes swinging wildly, other times holding a tight Brit-pop inspired rhythm with only his snare and high hat. For the final song, all the stops were pulled out, the band's pop elements were tamped down, and a wall of noise was erected on its remains. The band wasn't providing the grand finale that night, but it sure cut loose like it was.

The night ended with Doubledrag. The Kansas City quartet has a history, but like so many bands started in the late 2010s, it is one bifurcated by COVID, and is only now starting to regain the momentum lost. The front of the stage was a wall of three long-haired dudes wearing glasses and guitars – Ian Dobyns at center stage and identical twins Mark and Shaun Penechar flanking him. They all had microphones hidden somewhere under their locks. The back of the stage was a wall of big amps surrounding drummer McQuiston Bowes. The band opts for in-ear monitors in an effort to hear any nuance in their instruments. The rest of us are SOL. With earplugs lodged deep into my ears, I had trouble distinguishing song's melodies or even chord changes. I only heard volume and power. I asked my friend next to me and he confessed he couldn't find the song in the cacophony. So I moved to the back of the room and pulled out my earplugs, but it was still no good. Until I started to find it. The pacing between songs varied. A few soaring riffs climbed above the din. Overlapping vocal melodies were identifiable. Sometimes they were rough. The band had trouble hearing themselves, and apologized to the sound engineer for being loud. But they weren't sorry. That volume is vital to the band's blending of noise and shoegaze. And while it took me a bit to find the art, the large audience had already lost itself in the band's transcendent volume. I suspect it's easy to appreciate the animal of the band, but I'm determined to find its calculating brain. Luckily for me, I'll get my chance when I see them again. And then again and again.