I know shockingly little about new music. And that's no false modesty. I look at the top 40 songs in the country and I couldn't hum one. I don't even recognize most of the artists. Maybe that's just part of getting old. Maybe it's because the musical universe is broader than ever. Either way, my friends find this fact incredulous. They note that all I do is music. That I see live music three or four nights a week. That most weeks I buy seven new albums to dissect on the podcast. That I'm always holed up in some coffee shop writing about music. And they're right. But it's not THAT music. I'm woefully ignorant of popular music trends, and instead, I'm hyperfixated on the local bands that I orbit. Even then, even in the small Kansas City scene of just punk-adjacent DIY bands, there are dozens of bands I've never seen and surely countless that I've never heard of. But I love a challenge, so it was off to Revolution Records for three new-to-me acts.
I arrived at the record store's monthly First Friday showcase a little late. Pink Phase was already into its second song. The band is a local trio. Instrumental. Young and uninterested taxonomical purity tests. Iona Dewalt plays guitar. She utilizes a big pedal board that adds space rock touches. With no vocals there better be plenty of lyrical leads, and there are. And Dewalt can solo too. She has fast and sure fingers and is fun to watch. Funner still when she contributes keyboards with her left hand while maintaining her strum with her right. Leland Williams II plays bass. He's an active player, moving about his fretboard, conspicuously contributing to the band's sound – especially as they veer into alt rock territory. Bailey Keling plays drums, offering the trio both a solid base and countless fills and fillagree in every measure. Her ornate playing is perfect for the trio and is particularly effective when Dewalt plays broken chords, sending the band skittering into indie rock or even emo terrain. The project has just self-released its debut EP (digitally) and I picked it up after the show. I also made note of its February 10th headlining set at Farewell on my calendar.
I've been a bit of a curmudgeon in the past when it comes to bad band names. My disdain is particularly rich knowing I once played around town in a band called "(all things) State Fair." Still, I just can't abide "Daffy in the Bikini Zone." The wacky band is the long-running project of Julian Dubinsky. He plays guitar and hollers. Currently he's backed by Luke Martin on bass and Jolson Roberts on drums. Another trio. The band started with an instrumental cover. Sure, it attracts an audience (not that anyone in the small record store could have missed the loud band), but it sets the stage. This is now the sort of band you must be. Adorned in a straw hat and kimono, Dubinsky seemed fine with that. He plays a lot of power chords. There are leads and there are solos as well. The band’s songs are short, two-minute affairs that should appeal to anyone drinking beer at a roadhouse where you can throw peanut shells on the floor. A bit alternative, a bit post-grunge, but still drenched in ham-fisted bluesy rock & roll. By the end of the long 25-minute set things got even heavier. In the movie that Daffy soundtracks, the villain has left the tavern and is now driving his motorcycle down a dark tree-lined two-lane highway. It's shot from behind so you can see the Foghat patch on the back of his denim vest. He's up to no good.
When I arrived two hours earlier, Revolution Records was impressively, impassably packed. For a while the curious came and went, maintaining some stasis. It was only at the end of each set that the room noticeably thinned as supportive friends and parents slipped out, their duty fulfilled. For some of them, other Friday night actives beckoned, but for others, the main event was yet to come – a headline set commemorating the release of Hollowed’s debut album, Hymns for a Deaf God. The album is eight imposing songs and 52 minutes long, and the trio vowed to play it all in order.
Hollowed is fronted by bassist Joe Yoksh. His fun and casual banter made him easy to like. The band’s lyrics, however, were anything but lighthearted – they were often depressive cries of loneliness, desperation, and dark ideation, consistent with the album’s title. Yoksh delivered the band’s petition in a variety of styles, from clean singing to blackened screeches to unintelligible puked death intonations with plenty of tongue action. But mostly he just growled from the back of his throat. His bass work was complicated, and he often climbed high up the neck of his five-string to deliver chords. He watched his fingers to ensure correct placement. Drummer Aryton Salvato was metal. Double pass pedal, two floor toms, and a sick China cymbal that accented the ugliness, metal. His work was seldom straightforward timekeeping. He was good. He probably teaches. Guitarist Mason Armstrong shifted between two guitars – first a Fender Jazzmaster that cut into the compositions with surgical leads, and then a Les Paul clone that growled and roared riffs. He shied away from the audience, facing a borrowed amplifier, ensuring his tones were just right.
For over an hour, those building blocks were assembled and reassembled to deliver the band's debut. At least one song had never been played in its entirety before. Most songs were long, multi-movement affairs with moments of delicate post-metal bliss juxtaposed with roiling, complicated progressive metal or speedy, brutal technical death. Yoksh attempted to mosh into the audience during the first song, surely panicking the employees who stood behind the glass counter. The audience didn't reciprocate – their energy level was set to nodding appreciation. But it was legit. Even after 40 minutes, when Yoksh announced the band still had two songs left that would total another twenty minutes, the audience remained ride or die. "Hell yeah," called out one audience member.
I stayed until the end – alongside the friends, the dutiful parents, and the record store staff. I took pictures and videos and jotted down notes so that these small moments in Kansas City's music history wouldn't be lost. These are the bands and venues and scenes that I embrace, and the ones I happily give my time to. It feels like a good investment, and I can't imagine I'd get a similar return if I devoted my time to any of the bands on the charts. So to my pub trivia friends, I apologize, but I will always be useless in the popular music category, no matter how much my life revolves around music.