Wednesday April 26th, 2000 at Davey’s Uptown in Kansas City, MO
The Hillary Step, The String and Return & Haloshifter

The scene opens with three bands sitting in a small lit bar at 9pm. They’re cussing the bar for changing the start time from 9pm to 11pm. The bands all agree that 11pm is too late to start a show, especially on a week night, and especially when three bands are playing. The club had told headliners The Hillary Step to go on at 1:30am and after doing a little math vocalist/guitarist Brad Hodgson predicted he will be calling in sick the next day making this gig a pay-to-play affair. Taking matters into their own hands, the three bands agree to compress their sets and Haloshifter will further contribute by starting off a little before 11pm. Now with the stage set, I yawned prepared for Davey’s to rock me (all night).

Haloshifter have not only refined the sound since their first outings two months earlier, but their set has grown considerably as well. They weren’t as noisy or reckless as I remembered, but rather restrained and in control. Bassist Jared Jones & drummer J. Hall makes sure things run steadily though J. seldom commits to a pattern for more than a minute - rhythms do change in the songs, but mostly J. adds and removes drums loosening and tightening his hold on the music, not changing its direction entirely. And although both guitarists take their turn at supportive rhythm duties, both have a genius of their own. Jon Ferguson specializes in intricate, gripping and bright picked lines while Keanon Liggatt colours with noise brilliantly.

Although both Haloshifter and The Hillary Step sprung from Grovel, Haloshifter’s focus on thick textures and raw emotion makes them the heir to the throne which Grovel never really had. It isn’t the same band though, thanks to J. things are more complicated than they ever were before and with only two guitars, Keanon and Jon have learned to open things up a bit as well. As each show passes, this band will continue to impress audiences and amass fans.

The String and Return set up quickly and began their long set of shoegazing indie rock. Although the members of the band were lively between songs there was no motion on stage, in fact vocalist/guitarist Andrew Ashby only lifted his head to sing, and then his eyes were closed as he sang high, softly & somewhat removed from himself.

With three guitars (and occasional keyboards) the band’s music is strong on textures without resorting to an easy, overbearing thick sound. The guitarists have mastered minimalism and learned how to play in and out of the other guitar lines so well, that they don’t produce three guitar parts, but rather one very thorough one. Ultimately, however, the bit that binds the band is Mike Myers’ drumming. He is able to play his entire kit without overplaying it and the band makes his drum lines as an integral part of their music.

Medical Warning: The band’s music is definitely not for those with ADD, as they are slow to develop, and cover little ground once they do. All of that is fine, you just need to slow to The String and Return’s pace, and it will all make sense for you.

The Hillary Step were the evening’s headliners and although I doubted their celebrity status, they quickly proved me wrong. This was only their third show with newly added guitarist Greg Franklin (ex-The Believe It Or Nots), but already he is assimilating to the band and many of the bruises encountered in the first set only days earlier, were remarkably already cleared. The Hillary Step’s music is so intricate and mapped out, adding another guitar to these songs must be an exceptionally hard task. The new arrangements are surprisingly nice.

The band opened with two songs from their first demo. The first, Asleep Before the End, has been altered in such a way that now I can’t hear the song as it was first recorded anymore. Greg plays a repetitive and winding guitar line over the top of the verses that works in opposition to Brad’s. The two lines make several passes at each other in a sort of love/hate relationship which we can hope is a sign of things to come.

Danny Mac completed the night’s trio of excellent drummers, and as usual the guy is impressive. His style is jazzy and hard hitting with near constant fills and rolls and unmatched cymbal work. Even more than the earlier bands, The Hillary Step’s songs are built around this drumming.

The band played seven songs (two from the demo, one newer single, and four from their CD The Second Time Means Nothing) and then tried to duck out at 1:30am. And although the audience had slimmed out to under 25 folks, it was ripe with musicians who called out for an encore (a first according to Brad). The band obliged with Damn The Luck to which a startled Greg interjected that he had never played the song with the band. It was with that sloppy, straight-forward rocker that the band closed.