I wonder if, when writing about a band, the author should follow the style of the band itself. If writing about progressive rock should the author use pointlessly grand, dense, flowery, and ostentatious language? When writing about rap is word play and a percussive cadence a necessity? And what if I'm writing about punk? Specifically, Kansas City's drugged-up art school punk? I imagine language should be kept short and sharp, with occasionally diversions that mean little, yet set the mood. We'll see if I am up to the challenge.
The bill began mostly on time with Drugs & Attics. The trio began a five-band, all-local bill with a half hour of mostly original material (there was a generally-true cover of "Teenage Kicks" that appeared sometime after the twentieth minute). The band is punk, but also garage, and even a bit of soul, the latter of which was well-served by the frontman's strained vocals and dapper suit and tie. That costume was mostly mimicked by the rest of the band, though like a game of telephone, by the time the message made it back to his drummer, the smart look was replaced by a ragged blazer and the classic tux-print tee-shirt. But this guy was the interesting one. He struggled to keep up during the band's speediest songs, and couldn't seem to keep his aviator sunglasses from falling off even during the ballads. There was something smarmy about him. Something that said "drug dealer." I want to know more.
Fifteen minutes passed as Phantom Head set up. This may or may not have been the band's first show, as information about the new trio is scarce. Two members come from Burial Teen (a now-defunct band with more promise than longevity, it seems), and there are similarities. Phantom Head, however, is dirtier. Positively filthy, in fact. It was 30 minutes of sludgy songs, distorted instruments, and tortured vocals moaned at the audience. It wasn't until the final song when bassist Carrie Thomas provided a sharp vocal retort that my interest was piqued. But it was over by then.
Then it was twenty more minutes before The Gorlons took the stage. And the area beside the stage. Brothers (if not twins) Ross Taylor Murphy and Conner Dupre Murphy (what does it say about a musician when he chooses to share his middle name?) cannot be more than 25 years old, but both were committed to the shaggy-haired, post-hippie, agitated-yippie vest with no shirt, proto-punk '70s image. Garage rock. Definitely. With organ hits coming from curiously offstage keyboardist Seth Goodwin. Was there room for him on stage, maybe, but his look and steady mannerisms were worlds away from the rest of the band's. Maybe that's why he was set apart. Ross Taylor Murphy's vocals were overshadowed by a shiner that threated to close his left eye entirely. "I'd like to thank my roommate who punched me in the face this morning," he offered in the way of an explanation. This is the sort of life he leads. His brother was not given a microphone, and instead earned his keep offering solo after solo as the band's half-hour set continued on. The fast songs recalled The Standells. Enough that I wish the band would have played "Dirty Water" or maybe skipped to "96 Tears" when that keyboard did its best Farfisa impression. When the tempo slowed a bit, mod undertones shone through. I don't understand this band, but I like it.
The audience turned over in the twenty minutes that separated The Gorlons and Wet Ones that followed. The long hairs and beards disappeared. A few street punks showed up, and the art punks that stayed were drunk and full of angst. Wet Ones are the latest gathering of musicians who could previously be found throwing empty beer cans at their audiences while on stage as All Blood, Wayne Pain and the Shit Stains, Mouthbreathers, and other bands I might have seen if I were part of KC's flourishing and insular basement show scene. The band's short twenty-minute set started sleazy and then layered in violence once the band's drummer moved forward to take over guitar and vocal duties. The audience responded appropriately, pushing, moshing, and sending by-standers tumbling to the ground. Wet Ones isn't for the meek.
Wet Ones set scared away all but the committed – those committed to seeing headliner Lazy, and those committed to drinking at the bar and ignoring the happenings on stage. That isn't to say the seasoned bar rabble didn't make their way to the stage on occasion to rate the fracas, push dancers back into the middle of it, and then wander off unimpressed.
At 12:20 Lazy gave up working with the soundman, and began its set. This is punk rock, not everything needs to be perfect. Only this time, it needed to be better than it was. Lazy is a post-punk band, off kilter and arty, but not in the prescribed way that Gang of Four or Wire played it in 1979. More like how Wire went off the rails. The guitar and vocal interaction between Brock Potucek and Sarica Douglas is key to the band, but Potucek's microphone wasn't working, or maybe it was his monitor, or maybe it was the mains who tumbled to the ground bending cables and connectors during a particularly unexpected audience surge. Harling's has not entirely punk-proofed the club. That is to say, all the sound equipment is shit, but due to the multi-purpose nature of the room, it has never been strapped immobile.
The audio troubles sent Potucek through his own seven stages of grief: first unaware, then confusion, recognition, anger, apathy, and DIY as he stole Douglas's microphone toward the end of the set. That's only six? Punk rock, baby. Potucek's vocal absence was not the only problem with the sound – everything was muddy, buried, and lost in the house mix, resulting in a 40-minute set with no teeth. Well, first a 25-minute set, then an agreement to play a few more, then an agreement to play a few more, and then an agreement to play a few more until the bar's 1am curfew had been met. Despite the atrocious sound, the band's fans were begging for more as they lurched about in front of the stage, occasionally tumbling onto it at the feet of Douglas. Despite her librarian-chic heels, pencil skirt, ruffled blouse and enormous beehive (with immaculate spit curls), Douglas never dropped a strum as she kicked the fans back into the audience where they belonged. Each time there was a sneer and a smile; Douglas was enjoying the game.
I'm sure not what song the band ultimately ended on. Lazy has released a dozen singles and split singles in the last year, and keeping up with them all has been impossible. Or maybe the set ended with something from the band's new album. Wondering, I reached out to the band's label (Moniker Records) to asked when I might get an advance copy. The response came quickly: "Hey there, not sure yet. They still need to send us the record!" That's the cassette-hawking Kansas City art-punk scene in a nutshell – a day late, a dollar short, and always just beyond my grasp.