The El Torreon music venue is still in a soft opening period. The money raised during last year's Kickstarter campaign hasn't yet been put to use, leaving the venue half formed with limited lights, a limited sound system with no monitors, and (on this night) limited heat. To make matters worse, there is a great deal of confusion concerning El Torreon's connection with the (possibly homophobic) church it shares a facility with. Still, it was First Friday, New Year hangovers had mostly worn off, and El Torreon, like even the city's most casual venues, was ready for live music.
Opening the evening was Kansas City's SeaKings. This young four-piece recalls Kansas City's emo heyday, with strong dynamics, twinkling atmosphere and heartfelt vocals. I'm certain The Appleseed Cast serves as an appropriate touchstone. The band played a 35-minute set, including four new songs being groomed for a recording session scheduled for the following day. The best of the four was "Kowloon," with its complicated drumming, and active bass work carrying the day. Other songs depended more heavily on the guitar work of Spencer White and Jered Martin, who shared their duties, each climbing, ringing, or chiming out accompaniment while the other carried rhythmic responsibilities. Honest-to-goodness guitar leads were rare, but there were a few – one even highlighting the one-handed finger-tapping skills of Martin. Rounding out the band's sound was White's lead vocals. Although tentative at times, and particularly so during the new tracks, during "The Big Chill" from the band's 2014 self-titled, self-released debut album, he really let loose, giving the audience a taste of the band's potential.
After a quick break, the married duo of Coed Pageant took the stage. The band has recently located to Arizona after a stint in the Midwest, but drummer Gretchen Bergstrand, in particular, was very happy to be back in familiar and friendly terrain. The band's short set was built on the hushed vocals and hard-picked acoustic guitar of Bradley Bergstrand, with his partner providing backing vocals, simple percussion from a padded kick drum and snare, as well as the bright ping of glockenspiel. The band's music is certainly folk of some flavor, thoughtful and often slow, but rising to occasional energetic peaks. The rich production of the band's current EP (2014's self-released Drag) is abandoned when the band performs live, stressing the songs' anti-folk elements instead. Still, "Schoolyard Town" from that EP was mesmerizing, wowing the silent and attentive crowd, pleasing the fans they drew, and making new fans of the other performing bands.
Kansas City's The Family Bed served as the headlining act, continuing a short streak of guitar and drum duos. But while the instruments may have been the same, the realization was completely different. Carving its own path through the emo, screamo, punk, and indie rock landscape, the multi-instrumental duo of Hilltop Panoli (aka Logan Walker) and Hopyard Mathison (aka Dekota Trogdon) is prone to fits of chaos, screaming, cursing, and generally losing its shit. Panoli's vocals were often harsh and painful (particularly early in the set), yet able to give way to refinement on the rare occasions he allowed it. His guitar, however, was always rude. During his time behind the drum kit, he proved to be just as energetic and raw. Mathison was similarly inclined, though a tad more composed. His vocals tended to be quieter, and the songs he led more composed and less chaotic. This schism carried through to the audience as well – some of which retreated to the back of the large room to explore elsewhere on their mobile phones, while others remained up front, bending and jerking in an attempt to follow the band. Reminiscent of Coed Pageant before them, The Family Bed's current release (a 2014 self-titled, and self-released, album) features rich production and subtleties lost in the live setting. And also like the band before them, even without nuance, the band's best songs – such as closer "Underwater Now Pt. IV" – still shone through.
The show ended somewhere around 10:15 (which is wonderful in every way) allowing me time to visit with friends, as well as attempt to clear up some of the church-related controversy with club manager Arin Gilbert. Although Gilbert is a member of the congregation, he notes that El Torreon is a distinct legal entity, and quips that the two only share a bathroom. He further separates himself from the controversy, stating that he doesn't know the church's stance on homosexuality, but stresses that whatever it may be, it is irrelevant to El Torreon. He's obviously weary of the questions, and ultimately ended our conversation by stating that he's trying to bring good music to the club, and if people want to show up, that's fine, and if they don't, that's fine too. While the politics of the club's landlord may come into play, I do imagine good, inclusive booking – and a little heat – will go a lot further in deciding if music fans and bands will embrace El Torreon.