Like all resolutions, mine only lasted a few months. I pledged to attend random shows at random venues where I knew none of the bands, but with only so much free time, and with so many good bands in Kansas City, I've found myself seeing the same dozen acts again and again. While this embarrassment of riches doesn't broaden my horizons as much as my resolution intended, it does guarantee a solid outing. Besides, I'm often regaled with opening acts unfamiliar to me, or given a bit of surprise by headliners with shifting lineups and new material. I got it all on this night.
The night began just after 10pm with Heidi Gluck. While initially billed as Heidi and the Kicking Heels, this was emphatically Gluck solo. After years of supporting other acts (Some Girls, Pieces, Only Children, Berwanger), she's decided to step into the spotlight and speak her mind. For 35 minutes, Gluck strummed, picked, and clawed at her guitar, singing song after song about love lost, disillusionment, and stifling inequality in relationships. While her high voice remained composed (never raw nor jagged) as she sang, after playing the final tumbling notes of each song, her eyes went glassy, and her lips quivered. She was visibly shaken, almost embarrassed as she thanked the audience for its applause. I'll avoid airing dirty laundry, but it was obvious that Gluck is working to heal wounds that are still very fresh. Unfortunately the recovery process wasn't helped by a noisy audience that talked through most of her set. At first Gluck acknowledged the audience's inattentiveness by noting "This may not be the best song to eat hot dogs to," but she later escalated to an acerbic "How are your hot dogs? Are they good?" It wasn't until Gluck played a song about Joan Baez (a fact she repeated emphatically when the audience failed to grasp the gravitas which was intended) that she found her voice, singing then with more volume and a hint of anger. She ended her set with a descriptive tale of a failed relationship, recalling better times that were "not all bad, like it is now." Afterwards Gluck thanked the audience, thanked the headliner for having her out, and promised that "sunnier" acts would follow.
Kansas City's Rooms without Windows began its set right on schedule, bringing a bit of that promised sunshine with them. This new five piece rock outfit was fronted by the ebullient Elsa Rae who belted out the band's lyrics with a clean strong voice, judiciously sprinkling in solid, punk-approved screams. Between each song she smiled and laughed freely, attempting to dedicate each song to a different woman in the audience in honour of International Women's Day. Before its short 25-minute set was over, the band members' mothers in attendance got a shout out, as did "the sexy bartender," and even ex-girlfriends, "because they're women too."
While Rae's bubbly personality sat front and centre, other band members each carried a contributing load. The guitar of Corey Vitt (formerly the bassist of Hidden Pictures) set the tone for each song, playing churning and grating post-punk chords in one song, and chiming notes in the next. He also provided a needed energetic boost, moving about his small section of the crowded stage. The keyboards of Hanna Smith were the base in most of the band's songs, allowing bassist Chris Turner the opportunity to punctuate compositions rather than carry them. The drumming of Chris Brower kept a strict beat – a focus that showed in the stern, concentrated frown he wore while playing. This was my first time seeing the band, so in keeping with lessons painfully learned, I'll save any real commentary until I've some insight to share. I do, however, look forward to that second helping.
At exactly the stroke of Midnight, headliners Hidden Pictures took the stage. Although this local Richard Gintowt-lead pop mainstay has endured an ever-changing line-up through most of its five-year existence, this show featured the current complete lineup for the first time in months. In total, Gintowt was joined by longstanding keyboardist Nate Holt, drummer Cameron Hawk (also of The Dead Girls), new bassist Chad Toney, and the ukulele and backing vocals of Claire Adams (also of Appropriate Grammar). Adams is the band's most recent edition, brought in to provide backing vocals after the departure of glockenspiel player Michelle Gaume Sanders. As a bonus, her sharply plucked ukulele also bolstered the band's live sound, almost like adding a lead guitar (albeit in an awkward register).
A ukulele, however, is no substitute for the sharp ping of a glockenspiel, and so the band has turned the corner on most of its early material, sadly putting to bed fan favourites like "Anne Apparently." Instead, this five piece focused on an eleven-song set that featured six songs from the project's current album (2012's Rainbow Records), along with five unreleased songs – many of which performed for the first time. These new songs continue the band's rock trajectory, casting aside the cutesy elements found in its first recordings, for a fuller, driving sound. Gintowt's new lyrics are still playful, although they reveal that he, like Gluck, is dealing with his own wounds. This is evidenced by working song titles like "I'll Date Me And You Date You" and "Firm Way to Say Goodbye." Gintowt expects to release these songs on the first of two Hidden Pictures albums planned for 2013, but it's not all good news for local Hidden Pictures fans – Gintowt revealed that he has plans to relocated to San Francisco in November of this year.
As has been the his entire career, Gintowt was a humble, self-effacing frontman, comfortable in front of his audience of thirty-or-so seated fans. He offered the band's latest CD to the audience in exchange for "five dollars, ten dollars, wedding pictures, anything really – it's a barter thing." He then dropped the bar even lower, winking that the band would never know if someone took a CD from the open guitar case that sat in front of the stage. Hawk continues to be an animated drummer, holding his sticks above his head at every opportunity, singing along without a microphone, and dripping with perspiration by the end of the second song. Adams, conversely, was not entirely comfortable with her new position. Her eyes were fixated on Gintowt, looking for musical clues and cues that would prompt her to action. Although an established performer (this was actually her second performance of the night!), she looked scared, and only occasionally lost herself to some inspired pogoing.
The band ended its thirty-five minute set with the short pop blast of "Boyfriend A.D.D." Scattered calls for an encore were quickly dismissed with a smile while Gintowt stepped off the stage. How many more times Kansas City audiences will see this band is a mystery, which brings us back to my tunnel-visioned dedication to the city's established bands – you never know when it will be your last chance to see your favourite band. Don't miss a show.