*deep breath* Okay, here we go.
Kansas City's High Dive Records celebrated its 10th anniversary with a two-day ten-band showcase at Record Bar. Audiences saw bands that are active, some who have been long-dormant, and others that had dissolved but reformed just to celebrate the evening. Too Much Rock was able to make the first night of the extravaganza, but some fans made both nights. Those fans are still on bed rest but will likely recover.
The night began promptly at 7pm with The Creepy Jingles. It'd been months since I saw the local quartet. My bad. In my absence, there have been two big changes. First, the band has subbed out their lead guitarist. Wills Van Doorn now joins frontwoman Jocelyn Nixon (vocals/guitar/keyboads), Andrew Woody (bass), and Nick Robertson (drums).
Van Doorn's leads are just as strong as his predecessor, and his backing vocals are transformative. Second, the foursome is playing an all-new set of songs. With only one sampling, it seems that the new material is tighter and more focused. Edging on power pop. I like these songs. I like them a lot.
Iowa's Greg Wheeler & the Poly Mall Cops followed. In the past I've sung the praises of various bands that push right up to the brink of chaos but never fall in. Well, this trio uses that line as a starting point. The band's live set is a frenzied punk explosion where every member (vocalist/guitar Greg Wheeler, bassist/vocalist Jill McLain-Meister, and drummer Eric Hutchison) race from start to finish. Wheeler goes heavy on the reverb befitting the garage rocker he is. His guitar solos are chaotic and disjointed until sly melodies slowly reveal themselves. "Waste Away" was downright poppy. Closer "Slowly Erasing You" was the perfect balance of rhythmic propulsion and melody. After the set was over the shirtless Hutchison sat at behind his kit, breathing heavy in an effort to recover from his sprint.
When the first band started at 7pm, fans only littered the room. By 8:30 both the room and the patio were packed. Ten minutes later when The ACBs started, the room was wall-to-wall bodies.
The ACBs haven't played a show in years. Sure, frontman Konnor Ervin still plays out, and does it with a backing band that is basically The ACBs, but a bona fide ACBs performance featuring Bryan McGuire (bass), Ross Brown (keyboards), and Kyle Rausch (drums) was an event. Ervin was in a good mood, smiling and joking with his bandmates and the friendly audience. After the first song he noted things still felt "loosey-goosey," and when the band began getting assaulted with requests, he put them off explaining the set was neither old stuff nor new stuff, but rather, "middle stuff that no one likes as much." Based on the way the audience was bouncing, singing along, and holding cell phones aloft to record video, I suspect they liked these songs plenty. The band is light guitar pop. Smart and comforting. And then there's that bass. I forgot how wonderful McGuire's bass lines were. The funky "Love Yeah" still sounds monumental ten years on.
An hour later, another band made its long-awaited returned to the stage. Arc Flash is the project of guitarist/vocalist James Thomblison. Well, one of his many projects. While the size and personnel involved in the band varied regularly, for this reunion he was joined on stage by drummer Nick Fredrickson and a mysterious bassist. It's a line-up that Thomblison expects to stick. The band's set was noisy and urgent. Punk with heavy influences from art rock, psych, space rock, and fistfuls of consciousness-altering substances. Lights that had been steady for the previous performances now they quickly pulsed attempting to meet the band's sonic output. Thomblison's playing was rife with atonal leads and deconstructed chords all played despite his right arm dangling out of a sling. Fredrickson's drumming was primal, playing a small kit with no rack toms. Our mystery player was a madman on stage, lunging back and forth in bare feet, attacking his bass more than playing it. He wore a full-face ski mask that was only lifted to shoot snot rockets at the stage. Thomblison's processed vocals were often indecipherable, but he did pause between songs for small bits of banter such as this ominous warning: "This song is a curse I wrote against someone. I won't tell you who … but it worked." The set ended with a riot, when a dozen friends in ski masks rushed the stage to add pounding percussion to a long finale that left Thomblison lying on the stage floor. It was a grand finale, but there was one more act.
Shy Boys drew the unenviable task of headlining the night. In the previous three and a half hours the audience had already seen everything it wanted. It had already danced and sang and enjoyed the pandemonium of live music. It had seen great sets from current obsessions as well as the return of favorites thought lost. What could Shy Boys offer? Frontman Collin Rausch thought the same thing as he took the stage, first complimenting the other acts and then mockingly damning High Dive Records' Jeff McCoy for scheduling the band in the final slot. And then the band played, proving that they deserved its spot at the top of the bill.
The band's music is subdued – sunny and listless, basking in the warmth of golden harmonies and sneaky melodies. The Beach Boys are a frequent touchstone for the act, though it's the early 1970s version of the Californians after they shed their youth and all the external pressures that had been placed upon them. Along with Rausch's vocals and guitar, the live band featured brother Kyle Rausch (drums), Ross Brown (acoustic guitar), Konnor Ervin (bass), and Kyle Little (guitar). It’s a line up not far from The ACBs. Over the last dozen years a handful of other acts have also been assembled around this core. It's an Elephant 6-styled family, and it defined the predominant "Kansas City Sound" for much of the last decade.
In the set's peppiest moments, the packed audience danced and during the laconic songs it swayed and sang along. The act's performance, like its songs, was loose and breezy. Between numbers its members talked amongst themselves, finalizing plans for its apparently fluid setlist. And Rausch addressed the audience too, ending the 40-minute set, and first night of the party, by coercing up Jeff McCoy on stage to take the bow he deserved for pulling the night, and this scene, together. McCoy tried to duck the spotlight, confessing he prefers to remain in the background, and thus only stayed on stage long enough to thank everyone for coming, and to ask them to return the following evening and continue the party. Many of them did and Too Much Rock wishes them all a speedy recovery.