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Saturday November 12th, 2022 at Farewell in Kansas City, MO
Drifter, Hot Corpse, & Tenant

I suspect my concertgoing experience is quite different from what most people envision live music to be. There are no daylong queues with Ticketmaster months before the event. No convenience fees or entertainment district recovery tariffs. No "big night out" energy or pregaming. No metal detectors or barricades at the venues. Generally, there's a band playing that I've never even heard of. Frequently, all the bands are locals. Attendance numbers sometimes don't exceed the number of musicians in the bands. And last week's opener could be this week’s headliner or vice versa. There’s no room for egos in these small clubs. What most would see as odd aberrations are my norm, and most were applicable to this cool November night at Farewell.

Tenant opened the night at 8:20, also known as "when it felt about right." It began with guitarist Thomas Lane lifting and dropping a reverb pedal from a makeshift table littered with his assorted noise makers. Its coil crashed and echoed in analog distress. He repeated it a few times as if it were a bell tolling a death – or maybe one signifying the start of a fight. It was both. The first song highlighted the band's curious sludge. It's not slow and penetrating, but rather primal and invigorating. Lane's riffs were pure Iommi, and the song was accented by the climbing bass of Ashton Pipitone and hurled forward by Drew Loyd's drumming. As usual, vocalist Luke Illiff paced the crowd in front of the stage during the song. He doubled over delivering his blackened screeches, he leaned back when they turned to howls. He gets into the faces of the audiences. My interactions with him off stage have all been entirely civilized and friendly, yet he still frightens me when performing. When he got too close to one audience member, the fan pushed Illiff back to the center of the room. Illiff spun quickly and grabbed the fan by the neck. He'd repeat this later with another fan. Thankfully he didn't kill this one, as the victim was his bandmate from his black metal project, Sarin Reaper. We nearly had our own Euronymous moment. As the set continued, the band mixed more of that black metal into its cauldron, resulting in several high intensity headbanging songs. One of which spurred a small push pit that lasted no more than 25 or 30 seconds – dancing is difficult with Illiff's microphone cord stretched across the pit. That microphone is important though, as Tenant has a political agenda. Or rather an agenda against politics and the institutions of power that they protect. Landlords are a central target, and often the focus of Illiff's invectives that are spewed between songs atop of Lane's noises and washes. The combination of his throaty rasp, the extraneous noise, and my firmly entrenched ear plugs always prevents me from catching it all, but I know he advocates for murder. I wonder if he'd come lift my landlord by the neck if I asked politely.

Hot Corpse from St. Louis were up next. Per my catalog of likelihoods, I'd never heard of the band. I suspect most of the audience of about 40 hadn't either. But by the end of the band's 25-minute set, I can't imagine any of them aren't looking forward to its return. The quartet lines up as guitarists Michael Highfill and Nick Muckerman, bassist Derek Rife, drummer Josh Skibar, and untethered vocalist Erik Wandersee. The band is hardcore with some metalcore splendor. Wandersee screamed and screeched to songs dotted with chugging riffs, and the audience responded appropriately by erupting into a sea of two steppers. The band set up on the floor, not the stage. It's something every hardcore band did in the early '90s and something that, as a frequent sound guy, annoyed the hell out of me. Now it annoys me as a photographer who eschews flashes. I dodged swinging arms and kicking legs attempting to track Wandersee as he hurried about the unlit room. He's a photographer's dream – from his aviator sunglasses, to his cop mustache, down to an open leopard print coat that revealed his bare chest covered in tattoos, and ending with his straightlaced Docs that disappeared smartly into skinny jeans. He grasped the microphone and a wad of its cord in his left hand, always looking like he was ready to land a punch with his right. I didn't get one good photograph of him. And I tried. I tried so hard that I never figured out the roles of the guitarists or how their interplay worked, or what sort of rhythm section supported the chaos that exploded at Farewell that night. The set ended with Wandersee telling the audience to buy merch from the local bands, suggesting that everyone had kids to feed. If not kids, then cats. Or maybe just plants. And then ultimately deciding that everyone just needs money to live. Hot Corpse didn't have any music for sale, but it is touring with some pretty rad shirts to tide its new fans over. Let's hope we don't have to wait too long.

Farewell was busy – certainly more fans than performers on this occasion. Mostly dudes. Most in battle vests or leather jackets. If everyone wasn't so young and fresh, it might have been intimidating. A show at Farewell may not have much in common with a night at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, but it's just as safe.

The evening concluded with Drifter. The Farewell stage wasn't designed to accommodate the amount of gear employed by this three-piece, so only drummer Joel Denton played on the stage, while bassist Dean Edington and guitarist Brodie Belt were relegated to the floor. The crowd circled around the band tightly. Heads nodded, and even banged, but there was no dancing during Drifter. The band's sound is vast and immersive, combining slow compositions that bubble with a turmoil that barely reaches the surface, to epic compositions of suffocating metal, to short blasts of intense galloping ferocity. The set started slow and quiet. Edington dominates these types of compositions, building layers of noise, adding keyboards, providing clean yet barely audible vocals, and paving the way for the gradual introductions of both Belt and Denton. When he switches to bass, the game is on. Songs then begin a descent into an inescapable black hole that stretches compositions past the eight-minute mark and imbues them with incredible weight. Here guitar riffs and leads dominate, rhythms crash against the audience, and Edington's vocals devolve to indistinguishable grunts. Several times during the set, both Belt and Edington took on percussive duties – Belt with a small kit of floor toms and cymbals, and Edington with electronic pads. Drifter then takes on a fourth identity, one of primal tribalism recalling not only Neurosis and Crash Worship but the current crop of Nordic shamanic folk acts such as Wardruna or Heilung. This is how the band chose to end the night. Afterwards the crowd blinked, took a breath, and then gave Drifter the applause that was held for most of its monolithic set.

As I packed up my camera bag, I thought about what drew me into this world. Why it was important to me to be able to clasp the sweaty hand of a performer after they finish their set, why I needed to dodge the aimless punches of dancers as I cross the pit, or why I get such joy from the puff of air escaping the port hole of a kick drum. And honestly, I don't know. But I know a concert needs to be visceral to make sense to me, and I've never felt that from any seat at the T-Mobile Center.