Last night was a late night, and this morning started very early. These (sadly) related facts will colour everything you read about this show. I've warned you.
Like many shows I go to, the seeds for this night were planted months ago when one of the bands' publicists emailed me. I generally listen to every band I'm mailed about (a task that takes no less than a half hour a day), but a band playing in Kansas City always receives special attention. On most days my efforts are rewarded by a limp derivative neo-shoegaze bedroom project based out of Brooklyn, or a high-gloss post-punk revival band from Los Angeles, but occasionally I get lucky. Discovering the gutsy pop punk of Big Eyes was a welcome reward. On that late summer day I added the show on my calendar, putting "TBA" as the location just as it appeared in the email. And that's how it stayed for months.
A week before the show I looked at the band's website, and after noting the unwavering presence of "TBA" I started to ask around. Those hipper than I tracked down the openers and a venue: "Autoworks." Eventually it was determined that in town. More investigation revealed that several shows have been scheduled at the body shop. Noting the location and the all-ages nature of the venue, I supposed the show would be early. Maybe a 7pm show that would allow me to plenty of time before my 5am alarm, and 7am flight. The day of the show I learned that the first band was scheduled to start at 9pm, leaving me to make the not-so-hard decision between punk rock and sleep.
Just before 9pm, Kate and I parked on Southwest Boulevard just south of the Crossroads Arts District, then walked through the open bay doors of the garage. Someone (presumably the promoter) was cleaning up from a meal likely cooked for the touring acts, while visibly worn band members carried amplifiers and guitar cases in under unflattering fluorescent lights. It didn't look promising. We waited until after 9:30 then stepped into the garage's waiting room to ask someone behind the counter when the show was scheduled to start. He suggested 9:30, and then shrugged off my protest that it was already after 9:30. "Why?" he asked. "Are you waiting for someone?" "No," I told him, "I've got a flight at 7am." He just laughed.
Disheartened, Kate and I left the garage to explore the new hot dog joint that just opened across the street. Although closed, the plastic menu erected for the drive thru lane listed a vegetarian brat. Kate promised to ask them the vegan questions later in the week. Having wasted all the time we could there, we returned to the garage in time for another pod of punks on bikes to arrive. As they started to chain up their bikes, one asked "Are we just going to chain them?" prompting another to enthusiastically offer "Do you want to make a bike sculpture?" "Yes!" the first replied earnestly and eagerly. And so they stacked their bikes in the middle of the wide pavement, offering them as art.
A 9:49 the first sounds of guitar began rang out from the garage, sending Kate and I scurrying inside for local three-piece Nature Boys. The band is a curious mix of melodic California punk rock with insistent drumming that I would probably identify as "d-beat" if I were still remotely punk. Sadly I haven't been able to don that mantle for 20 years, and my old leather jacket hangs at the back of the closet in a spare room, intentionally segregated from my life. Anyway, both guitarist Danny Fisher and bassist Suzanne Hogan share vocal duties, with Fisher usually carrying a lead that Hogan overlaps pleasantly. Since his buzzing guitar joins the constant flailing of Aaron Rommel's drums, it's Hogan's bass that stands out. She takes a solo in several songs, but when I point my camera at her, she shies from the attention. The band plays a 24-minute set. I've not shot a punk show in a long time.
There's no urgency as Nature Boys removes its gear from greasy spot on the floor that has been designated the stage, being sure to leave the drum rug in place for the next band. After a 25-minute break joyously streamlined by the lack of monitors, California's Audacity started its first song. There's little banter during the set, but what there is comes from the genuinely enthusiastic vocalist Matt Schmalfeld. Schmalfeld also handles most of the guitar solos, leaving fellow vocalist/guitarist Kyle Gibson to carry rhythm duties alongside bassist Cameron Crowe (no, not that Cameron Crowe) and drummer Thomas Alvarez. Although decidedly punk rock with screamed vocals, there is plenty of melody, guitar interplay, and nuanced drum work in the band's 22-minute set. In its most gentle moments, Audacity can remind you of why you liked that first Weezer album so much.
Since Audacity could play alongside most any band at any bar in town without raising an eye, spotting the differences between this punk rock audience and the indie rock audiences that I usually encounter proved to be an interesting sociological study. Though there were a few studded jean jackets and crust patches present, no one had bondage pants, liberty spikes, or ripped fishnets. This wasn't a Punk Rock show. In fact, aside from a more colourful audience (mostly realized by long zany socks) and a few dirty faces, the outward differences between this DIY punk rock clan, the indie barfly set, and the fixie-riding hipsters were few. And while all three share a love of bicycles and cheap, warm beer drunk from a paper bag, there are differences. First, this crowd dances – not all of them, but some of them. No one ever dances at indie rock shows. Second, although the audience quickly dissolved into clumps of cliques between acts, when the band played, the audience was interested – no one was there just to be seen, just to get drunk, or just to hook up. This, obviously, is not the case at your average indie rock gig. Further research is necessary.
In the fifteen-minute gap between acts, Audacity clears the stage, and touring partners Big Eyes sets up its gear. After stepping over to the small PA to adjust the volume of her microphone, Kate Eldridge introduces her (now) Seattle-based band, then rips into "Pretend to Care" from 2011's superb Hard Life (Don Giovanni Records). In an all-too-short 22-minute set, the band highlights both its pop sensibilities and its punk urgency in equal portions, while Eldridge's raspy vocals recall Joan Jett, or better yet, Kim Shattuck of The Muffs. Again, there is little said during the set, and except for the moments when Eldridge steps back for one of her searing guitar leads, little motion. Bassist Chris Costalupes is a good bassist - but lets be clear, his job is to support, and his contributions are appropriately subdued, as is the bouncing drum work of Dillan Lazzareschi. The band's eight-song setlist features several songs from its LP, as well as tracks from assorted singles and splits, including the infectious, yet lovelorn, "I Don't Care About Friday Night."
Having seen the band I came for, I eyed the clock wearily, counting the hours on one hand until I'd have to be awake again. Kate's incessant yawning provided no encouragement. Still I soldiered on.
At 11:53 Kansas City's Lazy begins its headlining set. I rush around to capture a few different camera angles, before I become lost in frontman Brock Potucek's post-punk guitar work. While guitarist Sarica Douglas saws away at power chords to his left, Potucek is curiously angular. I'm mesmerized, and as a result totally ignore both bassist Zach Van Benthusen and drummer Billy Belzer. Were they even playing? It isn't until I glimpse the band's thirteen-song setlist that I'm shocked back to sober reality. With each song stretching several minutes past the short punk bursts that I expected, I recalculate when the set might end. After doing the math, my stomach sinks. I can't stick around; I have to go home.
So I snapped my last shot (of the disheartening setlist itself), left my calling card on the bassist's amplifier, promised to see the band again, then stepped away from the show, packing my gear on the toolbox of an absent mechanic. Kate and I wondered how long the garage will do shows, ultimately deciding that they will continue until either neighbours complain (though the open bays at both ends of the body shop illustrate this that isn't concern to the promoters), or someone steals an expensive tool. Both are bound to happen even in the insular KC DIY community.
On the way out of the garage, I stopped Big Eye's Kate Eldridge to buy the band's split single with Audacity, and then used the change to pay the doorman the $10 cover charge for Kate and myself. By then it was well after Midnight, and I didn't even need a whole hand to calculate how much sleep I would be getting before my flight. I was sure it was worth it then, but, now, well, let me sleep on it.