Friday August 25th, 2000 at The El Torreon in Kansas City MO
Kill Creek, Small Brown Bike, Casket Lottery, Eulcid, Waxwing, Dustin of The Higher Burning Fire, & Rocky Votolato
I envisioned the night as a 120 degree endurance test. The sort of test that one might go through on a nearly deserted desert island to win a million dollars from Regis of Kathy Lee. Kansas City had been hit with a three or four day stretch with daily temperatures that crested the 100 degree mark and there were like three more forecasted before a general cooling trend should bring the city down to a chilly 92 degrees. Relief in sight? Maybe, but not tonight. Seven bands set to play in a glorified garage in a span of only four hours with an anticipated audience of over 200 indie rockers. It's hard to imagine I'd be at many shows if they all faced these same hurdles, but I figured this one would be worth it.
The evening began a modest fifteen minutes late with Rocky Votolato of Waxwing. Several dozen audience members stood in the admittedly not-as-hot-as-I-predicted room and witnessed twenty or so minutes of acoustic rock. His low voice was full and overshadowed the light guitar work. Songs moved along mostly as a predictable clip with a few [expected] unexpected shifts. The songs reminded me of Geoff Farina's (Karate) solo stuff but certainly not so obviously introspective. He was certainly enjoyable and if that genre strikes you then I recommend Rocky without hesitation.
Rocky was followed by Dustin of The Higher Burning Fire. Originally the full band (with their ever-changing line-up) was scheduled to play but due to a last minute (undisclosed) issue, Dustin ran the show himself. Although his easy strumming and effective voice worked well, it wasn't enough to capture the attention of the fidgety audience. To be fair it'd be hard to keep an audience whose taste's walk the line between indie, emo and hardcore interested in a second acoustic set no matter who was strumming the guitar.
Eulcid fell victim to Topeka rush hour traffic (I guess there are more than tractors in Kansas) and as a result Seattle's Waxwing would be the first band of the evening. Night seemed to fall quick as the clubs lights were brought down and Waxwing's dedicated light guy went to work presenting a moody (if not always dramatic) setting for the band's wrenching music. Their songs are sculpted as much as written and present variety without any effort. They have an accessible quality and when I squinted I could almost hear them on commercial radio of course that is only in my head.
Their already thick sound came to a climax during a cover of Prince's When Doves Cry. The earlier swirls and moderate swells became a solid background of beautiful noise that created a not only served as a base for the lyrics but propelled the full song out at the audience. The cover itself was nothing spectacular, the band however, is.
During the second song of Waxwing's encore the duct taped and stickered van belonging to Eulcid (not Euclid as the flyers stated) pulled into the El Torreon parking lot. With only a minute's notice and with the help of a speeding unloading crew the band were ushered on stage.
If their entrance was hectic, their set was breakneck. The drummer played (overplayed?) the hell out of his kit as rolls and fills were the norm and on the rare occasion you could catch him playing only time, it was still explosive with both sticks striking together for emphasis upon emphasis. Although occasionally over-shadowing the rest of the band, he was probably worthy of the attention.
Owing much to the frantic San Diego scene the vocalist pushed his words out in intelligible screams while his guitar was frequently reduced to feedback, noises and nuances rather than chords and certainly more than notes. The bass player seemed to follow the same cue with an aggressive Karp-like rumble.
Their short set of short songs didn't seem to impress the audience (certainly not in the way that Waxwing had) although a core seemed to rally latch on to the band's powerful, heady and loud music.
The audience drifted back in for The Casket Lottery who opened their set on an unexpected, nearly pop-punk note. Their set seemed to consist of largely newer material including songs from their new 7". Keeping up with the discography of a two year old band shouldn't be this tough, but TCL are prolific and their output is astonishing consistent.
Their songs never sacrifice musicianship or song structure for emotion luckily the band always seems to take care of both with breaks that are entirely unexpected leaving a momentary silence before filling it with Nathan's dead-on unaccompanied vocals. As usual the band was tight and hit every dynamic wonderfully (though always preferring the VERY LOUD option). The Casket Lottery is solid and that is nearly all that needs to be said.
Michigan's Small Brown Bike set up quickly and unostentatiously announced their name to the near empty room before pummeling into a forceful rock song that shook off any emo sweetness that may be been left by the previous bands. It was obvious that SBB meant business and the business at hand seemed to center on running through a set of new songs before heading into a local studio to record them.
Their music is rich and layered with bass lines that seem to bubble up through the waves of dual guitar and dual vocals. The guitars chug and occasionally scream out in hammered solos that could easily fit into any metal band, but somehow when all of the band's ingredients combine, it's aggressive, but far from metal.
The band seems to have a lock on their sound, which is both a good and bad thing. The same pounding drums and crashing cymbals seem to enter in the same place, and the bass and guitar drive many of their songs the same direction. And while many may say don't change it if it ain't broken, the repetition wore quickly on me and by the time they ended a short set, I was ready for another band.
Unfortunately that next band took over a half hour to set up and consequently set my patience wearing thin. Factor in the ever-sufferable heat, a clock that told me I would soon have been up for twenty hours and an unpaid post guarding the snack bar for half the evening, and I was ready to go home (of course I couldn't as that would leave the snack bar fully exposed to looters). Kill Creek just didn't stand much of chance of impressing me.
Of course it wasn't but three notes into their first song that a wash of joy came over me and I was glad I hadn't left (like I really could have done that anyway). The songs are tried but not tired leaving a hint of nostalgia on your tongue but not so much for times gone past but for a music that has. An intelligent pop song that rocks in entirely its own way is hard to find.
Kill Creek had not played an all-ages show in Kansas City in recent memory and the audience showed it. The crowd throughout the night was a little older than usual although for headliners Kill Creek, the kids vanished entirely. Worry not, the thinning audience was augmented by a late crowd of early 30 something men wearing khaki Docker shorts and golf shirts. I'm sure they all have stories about seeing Kill Creek in 1993, but on this night most of their conversations (that I caught anyway) centered around the lack of alcohol in the club and how silly it might be that I was sitting behind a counter selling Charm Pops. Okay so there is one thing we can agree on.
Unlike the band's previous outing at The Bottleneck, tonight there was no crowd of drunken revelers to cheer the return of their band, and following Kill Creek seemed less at home. Actually they seemed more like a group of guys from work that you might watch the Chiefs game with rather than the rock stars you want to idolize. I suppose that's all reality, but the crowd continued to thin until only a couple dozen friends, fans and well wishers remained.
Maybe the novelty is over and now Kill Creek must start attracting a new generation of fans. I do wonder if they have it in them, or if they might just parade their wonderful back catalog out ever three years. I imagine it is easier to get the old fans excited every three years than it is to get them excited three weekends in a row. Dear God please don't let Kill Creek be the Steve Miller of my generation.