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Friday May 7th, 2021 at Lemonade Park in Kansas City, MO
Kianna White, The Creepy Jingles, & Monta At Odds
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It was still daylight when Monta at Odds took the stage. Nothing about the band's vibe says sunny day, but the audience was there, sitting at picnic tables and on folding camp chairs, ready. So, at just after seven o'clock, the band began its 40-minute set.

There are no easy answers with Monta at Odds. First, the band's line up is fluid, with featured players popping up occasionally, and then never leaving. Other musicians appear on the band's myriad records but never on stage. Could this be the start of a cult? Will Kansas City finally have its own Polyphonic Spree? If so, it started on this night with a six-piece consisting of Dedric Moore, Lucas Behrens, Mikal Shapiro, Teri Quinn, Krysztof Nemeth, & Matthew Heinrich. Second, the band has a lot of utility players. Synth, bass, and guitar duties were shared by a number of cult members. Vocals similarly shifted between Shapiro, Quinn, and Moore. And often some assemblage of all three. Finally, the band's sound can only be judged by its oeuvre rather than any particular song. Space rock, new wave, and goth are all ingredients. Sometimes one will protrude jarringly, as if it didn't get mixed in before baking, but generally Monta at Odd is a thing rather than a collection of things.

The band opened with a Tones on Tail cover. If you know, you know. New songs from the band's forthcoming album dominated the set. New inductee Teri Quinn sang a fair number of those, including current (digital) single "When I'm Gone." It sounded good. Vocals on a cover of New Order's "Perfect Kiss" didn't fare as well. It took a while before Quinn's and Shapiro's voices were able to blend, but the duo (and the sound guy) had sorted by the end of the set. The icy new wave reworking of Shapiro's own track, "Everybody's Baby," was particularly nice. Rumor is it's being worked out in the studio for release after the next album. Idle hands are the devil's workshop.

The sun had already fallen behind the buildings that create the canyon of Lemonade Park when The Creepy Jingles began, but it was not yet dark. This band also has some nuance. The set began in the garage with a lo-fi surf appeal. There's some jangle when frontwoman Jocelyn Nixon plays her big semi hollowbody guitar. There's even some power pop. The leads and solos from guitarist Travis McKenzie are tight and I suspect he knows his way around a Badfinger song. Rhythm section Nick Robertson (drums) and newcomer Andrew Woody (bass and backing vocals) held things down amiable and Woody's energy on stage was welcome. Then, halfway through the 45-minute set, there came a shift. Nixon moved to keyboards. This set of songs are more composed; they're still Brian Wilson, but it's 1966 Beach Boys, not 1962. Her vocals are front and center, and they can be an acquired taste. I suggest you put in the effort. I also suggest you keep an eye out for the band's forthcoming record so you can jam out to the psych-leaning "Conundrum and Bass." It might just break everything wide open for this band.

Lemonade Park begin operating last fall to keep us all sane and to keep a few workers employed. This season there are some changes: better bar, better lights, fewer masks. While that last one worries me, the venue does what it can to provide sanitizer and keep those walking around masked up. There were lots of people walking around. Lots of them coming and going throughout the night. But after Creepy Jingles finished, there were definitely more going. It was chilly. A little after 9pm. And Lemonade Park started to clear out. The headliner was up next.

Kianna White is now a solo artist. I always suspected that was the case with previous band Yes You Are, but the billing now confirms it. This makes sense. Pop stars aren't part of bands. At least not for long. The change manifests itself in ways both big and small. There's the backing band. Some are Yes You Are holdovers — notably songwriter husband Jared White on acoustic guitar and backing vocals, but also utility man Jacob Temeyer on both keys and electric guitar. Some are new ringers. Bassist Michelle Bacon is the zero flash, 100% on bassist in 1/3 of the bands in town. I don't know how many she drums in, but it's veteran Cale Parks that takes care of the drums here. Park's own band Aloha was favorite of mine, but he's popped up in Joan of Arc, Passion Pit, Yeasayer, and countless other bands. I watched him work from the side of the stage next to drum empresario Jake Cardwell. Jake was attempting to watch the Royals game on his phone, but Parks kept stealing his focus. During a run down at first base, Cardwell jabbed me in the ribs to comment on Parks' "feel." This rhythm section is calculated for a tighter sound. Sleeker. One with sheen. That's where the even bigger change comes in.

Although White isn't exactly in the Katy Perry or Kesha mold, she has made a palpable effort to create chart-friendly pop. And there's reason to believe she'll succeed. Yes You Are had great success with licensing its material, including landing a song in a national Pepsi ad that played during Superbowl 2019 as well as other high profile events. The song-writing nucleus of White and White are always writing for pitches. They've got an ear to what the public wants. It was one of those songs that found new life as "Chiefs Kingdom Comin'" — an effortless earworm that was inescapable in both the 2019 and 2020 Kansas City Chiefs' playoff runs. So why was Lemonade Park so quiet?

I suspect it's that White's fans don't know where to find her. Not only has the name of the band changed, but the former Kianna Alarid has embraced her married name Kianna White. While the pandemic has been a fine time for reinvention, the reintroductions have yet to take place. And Lemonade Park? Well, it's tucked into the West Bottoms in a parking lot. It's an AstroTurf-covered oasis, but maybe one spread by word of mouth. White's fans need billboards and even then, do they stray far from entertainment centers like Power & Light? Is it odd to think the band has poor attendance at Lemonade Park, but would pack a party at KC Live? Maybe not.

So enough of the suppositions, what did the audience actually get? A 40-minute set of pop on an outdoor rock stage that suffered from bad translation and an impassionate mix. Specifically, Jared White's acoustic guitar never sat right and instead leveled everything in its path. Very little made it out of that sonic swamp. Pleasant exceptions came when Temeyer's chiming guitar provided an ethereal top note that echoed throughout the venue. Or when Parks' drumming was allowed to be an active focal point, pulsing, pushing songs forward. It took an exceptionally hot microphone and everything White had to free her voice from the quicksand, effectively removing most of the nuance from her performance. New single "All Alone with Everything" survived more or less intact, but previous single "Homecoming Queen" lost the carefully constructed studio atmosphere and dynamics. Beyond those two, I don't have many details as there were plenty of songs that I didn't recognize. I tried to scribble notes for each song, but one merely says, "new wave country?" My notes are useless.

Sadly, the mix wasn't our only wart. I was disappointed to find the high energy stage performances that White has been known for since her days in Tilly & the Wall have been curtailed. Too often, she was anchored to the stage in order to reach a foot pedal to trigger vocals effects or backing tracks. Furthermore, that foot pedal kept White looking down, allowing her hair to cascade over her face, hiding her from the already distanced audience. While we didn't get much dancing, White remains a conversational frontwoman, genuinely interacting with the audience using skills honed during her years in the DIY scene. Just after 10pm, the set ended without an encore and White apologized to the crowd that someone had forgotten the Slim Jims that she would otherwise be throwing out to the crowd. This left me wondering about what kind of venue Lemonade Park is, who is successful on that stage, and what snack foods audiences would like hurled at them. I'll take my answer off the air.

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