For the second Friday in a row, I found myself at Revolution Records for a benefit concert. This one came together to raise money for KC Community Bail Fund. The organization uses donations to provide bail money and services to impoverished people whole would otherwise await trial in jail. Individuals held in pre-trial detention often lose jobs, educational opportunities, housing, and custody of their children, only deepening the cycle of poverty. Because of this, bail reform is vital, but until that is accomplished, the KC Community Bail Fund is a godsend. Now, on with the show.
Kansas City's Thonggag is a lot of things, and frontwoman Olive Cooke is not afraid of sharing them all. Joined by best friend and bassist Maret Cissner, the duo played a set of old songs and new songs. They played songs previously released by Cooke's solo project and songs planned for Thonggag's upcoming album. There were experimental songs and straightforward pop songs. Anguished songs of pain and silly joyful ones. Ones where Cooke positively shredded on electric guitar and ones where she plunked on a toy piano. There were songs where the two player's instruments mingled and meshed, and others where Cissner adlibbed or set down her metal-AF bass entirely. Some songs were well developed, others were seemingly only fragments to be nurtured into something bigger later. "Eight Eyes" straddles the seemingly impossible gulf between the wide-eyed, psych-pop of Syd Barrett and the fingerpicking of Midwestern emo, before adding in power chords just for good measure. Lyrics are key whether they are earnest treatises about the importance of letting yourself rest, or light-hearted stanzas about discovering (despite some pretty major red flags) that your boyfriend is a vampire. Although Cooke was responsible for banter (often merely adding, "This is fun," at each song's conclusion), Cissner did come to the microphone to explain the nature of the benefit and pointed everyone in the packed record store to the various tables with donated items and services up for bid. The final song was one of the shredders. At the end, Cooke lay on the floor using a vibrator as an EBow to great effect – just, not, you know, its greatest effect.
Between bands I walked the room, bidding on several of the items being auctioned off. Somehow everything got changed over during my tour of the shop, despite the enormous pedalboards utilized by the second act, Big Fat Cow.
Big Fat Cow is a horrible name, and the least of its sins might be that another band in the scene is called Big Fat Cat and I'm forever getting them mixed up. It's the sort of name that is a placeholder that sticks around too long, and eventually haunts its creator. In this case, the creator is Noah Cassity. On the band's recent debut album, Glutton for Punishment, he plays all instruments. It’s a scratchy, lo-fi affair that bears little resemblance to the composed and accomplished songs he delivered with help from Kole Waters on lead guitar, Alex May on bass, and Matt Chipman on drums. The quartet opened with an upbeat number that was as Americana – or even country rock – as it was indie. The second song was a quieter meandering number where Waters added both extreme tremolo picking and big David Gilmour-esque bending leads throughout the song. The third was expansive desert rock delivered with plenty of twang. In the song, Waters' guitar and effects delivered a convincing approximation of a pedal steel, except when he opted to kick the delay pedal and create the chiming adornments most often found in emo. After that song, Cassity asked the audience to listen to The Flying Burrito Brothers and dedicated the song to Gram Parsons. And the band's six-song set continued much the same way – each song anchored in some sort of roots music, rife with three-part harmonies, and then expanded with elements borrowed from other musical adventures. The finale took the biggest leap, with Cassity channeling his best Conor Oberst, the band building a big Mike Mogis soundscape, and the audience joining in for the song's expletive-punctuated refrain. A band this good shouldn’t get saddled with a name this bad, but if Cassity sticks with it, you're just going to have to tell your friends that you're going to see Big Fat Cow, and wince while you do it.
There were fifty or so fans in the store when Big Fat Cow played. It was crowded. I suspect the middle-aged ones recording the entire show on their phones were relatives, at least I hope so – I don't need any competition in my age bracket. A few vanished as the clock approached 10, but most stuck around to see the headliners.
Dreamist's core has been playing together since 2015. In those seven years, its members have learned each other's strengths, to anticipate one another's moves, and to build on each other. And they've developed lasting friendships. I've written about the band recently and little has changed. Songs are still long with multiple movements. The band is still emo, though its restraint and lack of twinkling and tapping filigree might push it into post-rock territory. There's also bursts of energy. Bursts that inspired lead guitarist Elisha Ruhman to thrash about in the small space. I ducked a couple of times. I'm not sure if his headstock was going to hit me, but I wasn't going to take any chances. The rhythm section of Jacob Kingsley (bass/synth) and Mitri McCawley (drums) doled out that energy, determining when the reappearing guitarist and vocalist Kole Waters would pick through strange arpeggios or strum softly through augmented chords, and when he should stomp on a pedal and saw through roaring chords. Waters' voice sounded best he was loud. In the quiet parts, in the monitor-less record store, things sometimes got dicey. Between songs he offered earnest love for his bandmates, calling out each of their talents, and praising their other musical projects. He also warned that the band was going to take a break from live shows in January to finally finish the band's debut album. It's certainly one you'll want to watch for.
After the show I thanked bands, said goodbyes to friends, and checked my bids one last time. I wouldn't find out until the following day that I had won several hand-dipped candles donated by Clay and Wick. Thank you to them, and all the other businesses and individuals who donated goods and services. In total the benefit raised $1169 for KC Community Bail Fund. If you'd like to donate to the fund, you can visit https://donorbox.org/bail-fund-contributions.