No one wants to play a show the first week of January. It's a dark, freezing, and generally lousy time of the year where everyone's motivation is low. Furthermore, touring bands won't touch Kansas City for most of January. They've all heard stories of blizzards on I-70 which wreck tours and vans. So, it was nice when three local bands made the effort to come out and add some merriment to the otherwise desolate sonic pallet of the coldest month.
The night started with Kool 100s. They're now regulars on the Too Much Rock pages. The band plays fast. John Larsen right hand is a blur as he strums, drummer Ike Ah-Loe is capricious and unpredictable, and bassist Sam Leimer must be the one that holds it together somehow. It's punk. Midwestern punk that's loose and ironic with wicked sense of humor hidden just underneath the chaos. Their cowpunk only shines when they slow, and they don't slow often. The band's instrumentals are frequent and short. They make no time for leads, much less solos. Somewhere in the middle of the set Larsen was forced to swap his guitar for one from another band. He was amazed at how well it played, noting "I've got to get a nice guitar someday." Throughout the set his banter was easy and free: thank you for coming out, tip your bartenders, can't wait to see the next bands. The band played eleven songs in 21 minutes with a good portion of them unreleased. There is an authenticity and persistence to this band that's impossible not to admire.
The Minibar is a small club. Even if there are only 25 patrons in the club, it feels all right. That’s about the level of all right the club felt.
Kissy Fit from Lawrence was up next. The trio has been at it since May, building a sound from disparate parts and ideas, playing a few shows, recording a couple of demos, but not yet making their big public outing. This wasn’t it, but it’s surely coming. The band’s 38-minute set covered a lot of ground. One song was colored with Joshua Duringer’s open chords and jangle, others he shredded with a prog fusion flair. Most songs were long and open, with atmospheres aided by Duringer’s pedal board. Some were rife with repetition and false endings that bassist Doug Long navigated with stoic skill. At first glance, drummer Adam Kinsch seemed to be just keeping time and crashing his cymbals, but then I tried counting his beats. Not every composition in the seven-song set was in an odd time signature, but enough were to make my head spin. Duringer also added occasional vocals – or maybe "utterances" is a better word – to the stew. They came as short phrases offered sparingly that were usually lost to the mix. The band is still in its editing and refinement phase, but when it finds the right mixture, it's coming out party is going to be a big one.
There was a half-hour gap between bands. Enough time for me to finish the Sunday New York Times puzzle and for the three members of Hexicharmed to set up their gear. It was the third trio of the night. Was this planned? The band has a history that stretches back to the middle of the last decade, but I'm not familiar with the particulars. I do know that on this night Josh Slocum (vocals/guitar) fronted the band, with material support from Spencer Bergman (bass) and Ben Chambers (drums). What genre the band might embrace, however, is still a mystery. Some of the set was jangly and alternative, some was straight up pop punk, and some was weighed down under big riffs built from shifting power chords. Maybe it was all just rock. Slocum's vocals were sparse and delivered with a cadence that was nearly spoken. Pedals colored most songs. Solos and leads were frequent. This left little room for Bergman or Chambers. Both, however, were happy to chime in with banter. When Slocum announced that the audience may recognize the next two songs, Chambers drolly retorted, "Not the way we play them." Drummers have the best timing. The trio then played "I Fought the Law," blending elements of every different version you've ever heard, including a little bit of Jello Biafra's warble. Then came a haphazard version of "Just Like Heaven" that leaned more Dinosaur Jr. than The Cure. Mostly, it seemed constructed to appease its fans and continue the revelry. Those fans did not disappoint, and spent the entire 46-minute set crowding the edge of the stage, dancing, hollering, and trading quips with the band.
When it was over, it really wasn't. I packed up and slipped out quickly but most of the small audience were happy to continue the night, visiting with friends, drinking, and shouting about their dad's dick pics as I exited the club. Who knows how long the celebration continued, but I do know that the gaiety was due to three local bands who braved the long Minibar stairs on a dark January night.