I think it's the coil, because I can't find a short. But something is keeping my T5 from getting any spark. No spark = no start. I was about to call it quits for the night when several people walked down the driveway. Kate tells me we have a new neighbor, and that she looks familiar, like she might be in a band. So initially I thought the neighbor was coming to pay me a visit. Neighborly. Then, in a timid voice, the stranger said "I think we're playing a show here tonight." Ah. Someone from Lemuria. I shut the garage door, washed my hands, hopped on a running bike, and led the band to Art Closet.
The show was scheduled to start at 8:00. Being a weekday all-ages show, I thought venue manager Alex would keep a tight ship. But when 8:00 came and went, I asked what the sound curfew was. "I really don't have one," he answered. This wasn't good news for anyone counting on a good night's sleep.
It was 8:30 when the duo of Jacob Garver and Cadie Cowden began its set. Each is a solo artist, though this night the pair combined as Luka Magnotta (unfortunately named for a murderer that sparked an international manhunt). The set was split between Garver's songs written on acoustic guitar and delivered with a folk punk fervor, and those written by Cowden that favored introspection over effusive demonstration. Cowden played acoustic on her own tracks, while contributing backing vocals, melodica, and tambourine to Garver's. Although the band's short set, my efforts to dial in camera settings, and a general unfamiliarity with the musicians and their mission, all combined to ensure that I'd have no critical insights to share, the fifteen patrons in the audience (skewing heavily towards friends) were happy to hear each performersÕ songs fleshed out by the cooperative effort. I understand that only one song was written by the duo for Luka Magnotta, but I'm unsure if this is the start of something bigger and formal, or merely a fun pairing created for the evening. Either way, these are names I tucked into the back of my brain, expecting to run across each of them again.
I passed the disturbingly long time between sets outside sitting on the hood of someone's faded red Grand Am with Nick Spacek and Lemuria's Max Gregor. For a half hour we traded stories about touring, the merits of various cities, and the bands we've seen. Between anecdotes more painful than boastful, I watched several girls who had been inside for the opening act get in their separate cars and leave. It appears that Cowden has a fan base that is loyal yet singular in its devotion. Or maybe, like me, they were anxious to escape the hot, windowless club (actually nothing more than a tile-lined storage room in the back of a pizza joint), and enjoy the picturesque early summer evening. As if to demonstrate that very point, when noise began to emanate from within the club, Spacek moaned that he didn't have the motivation to follow me back into the stuffy room for the next act.
Inside, I discovered the noise was coming from Caroline, a two-piece punk band built on the vocals and guitar of Ever Morales, and the drums and backing vocals of Robbie Valluri. While I must admit that I had no previous experience with the band or its young musicians, I was left with a few quick impressions. The first, Morales is a timid front man not prepared to command a room – even a friendly one. Although Valluri flailed and shouted with enthusiasm (barely needing his microphone to be heard), Morales was unable to lose himself in his own music. The audience, unfortunately, only mimicked his ennui. And second, the band doesn't fit into any particular school or punk subgenre. Instead the band's taxonomy is earned only by playing fast, simple, and loud music. This lack of strict adherence to a subgenre was refreshing at times, but the sonic variation often felt more like the symptom of a new band not yet able to refine its sound, than that of a mature band fully digesting its influences. Caroline is a band thatÕs best days are clearly ahead of them.
Again I retreated to the cool confines of the night air and conversation between sets, and again after a long delay, it was the sounds of a band that called for my return. This time it would be a local hardcore act.
See It Through is a new band to me, and based on the boyish faces of its five members, likely new to everyone. The band recalls traditional Midwestern hardcore with tinges of New York tough guy thrown in. Front man Damian Escobar worked the room, shouting into a clutched microphone, cringing in emotional anguish, finger pointing, and dancing and kicking the audience back to the walls. Despite his calls to action, the audience were largely static. Guitarist Doug Ball provided backing vocals, smoothing out the barked efforts of Escobar, and sharing duties with fellow guitarist Nick Esteban. The rhythm section of drummer Ty Aston and bassist Sheldon Kuhlman were curiously low key, the latter especially so, even appearing to be sleepy and stoned – although I may have been reading something into his tie-died shirt.
It was after 10:15 by the time See It Through completed its set. While I'm one to watch the clock in all cases, I was keenly aware of the time spent between bands on this evening. Let me back up a week and I can explain why:
A week before the show I noticed that Lemuria were out on tour, but had no Kansas City date. I'm always upset when a band skips Kansas City, but after a close examination of their tour routing, I took this slight personally. I discovered that the band had a date in St. Louis on Wednesday, and one in Denver on Friday, and in between the two, they had a day off. A day that the band would use to drive THROUGH Kansas City but not stop to play. Feeling that this was an affront to the KC scene, I, like any good netizen, took my beef to the band via Twitter. To the band's credit, someone replied saying Lemuria would be happy to play KC if I would set up a show. Now asked to put up or shut up, I surveyed the clubs, discovering this Art Closet show to be the best bet. While it didn't seem to fit the band's profile exactly, I did sell the gig to the band by promising that everyone would be tucked into bed before midnight, and would be fresh as daisies the next morning for the long drive to Denver. Looking at the clock, I now began to feel the shame of an unintentional bait and switch.
As Fero Lux took the stage at 10:45, I glanced over at the members of Lemuria. They weren't scowling at me, so I felt reasonably sure they were still happy to be on the bill despite the early van call that awaited them. But if Lemuria were okay with the situation, Fero Lux front man Victor Skamiera was effusive. In fact he was positively giddy that Lemuria was playing, and couldn't have been happier that his band had been knocked from its headlining perch. As soon as he got the microphone he excitedly recounted the moment he received the Facebook email notifying everyone that Lemuria had been added to the show. Further elaborating that he needing to double check just to make sure it wasn't a joke. Later his entire band would pose for photographs with Lemuria, then post them to their Facebook page, captioning one "Nerding out with our new pals." Adorable.
When the music began, it was apparent that Fero Lux would ably continue the arc of the evening, offering an even harder, more intense, and more professional version of the previous acts. With lights now dimmed, the five members of the band ran about the room, jumping off speaker cabinets, wrenching instruments and stomping on each downbeat. Skamiera delivery told the story of nearly-shredded vocal cords that only took soothing breaks between songs to urge the audience into motion (while also reminding them to respect the artwork on the walls). This time the requests for dancers were heeded, sending See It Through's Escobar and a handful of other like-minded patrons into a frenzy. One of dancing minions was a tiny blonde girl whose swinging hand nailed me as I crouched to take a photograph. She seemed mortified to have hit me, so I milked it for all it was worth, backing up cartoonishly whenever she came near.
Despite a short set from Fero Lux, it was 11:30 when Lemuria took the stage. When the band were first added to the bill, the promoter described them as "punk." Later that description was hedged as "indie/punk." I wondered if the members of this indie/punk band, currently in the midst of a theatre tour, would tolerate a venue with no greenroom, stage, or monitors, and only a single sad bulb to serve as lighting. I wondered if they could hold the attention of the crowd, or how their performance might possibly compete with the histrionics of the band that preceded them. I wondered if they would be insulted to play to only 25 people. Turns out, I'm a moron. Lemuria were born for this, outshining the earlier acts, interacting with the crowd flawlessly, and proving they've a never-ending supply of punk points.
The band started off with "Brilliant Dancer" from its current album The Distance is So Big (Bridge Nine Records, 2013). The audience knew all the words, and sang the chorus louder than vocalist/guitarist Sheena Ozzella. Ozzella was flattered, explaining that her voice was leaving her, and that the help was appreciated. The audience more than chipped in throughout the band's 40-minute set, with one fan going as far as to take over a microphone to sing lead on a requested track that Ozzella felt was beyond her current abilities. Drummer Alex Kerns provided his fair share of vocals as well, carrying lead on a number of tracks, while bassist Max Gregor proffered his backing vocals as needed. While Ozzella may have lacked some vocal range, her guitar ripped through the band's melodies without hesitation. Everything about Lemuria set was propulsive, energetic, and joyous.
Suddenly there were no questions; Lemuria was in its element playing on the concrete floor of Art Closet to only 25 kids. In fact, I wondered how the band even plays on its currently tour where big venues make personal connections impossible, and the band's status as an opening act mean audiences text during their set, biding their time until the headliner takes the stage. That's not the way I ever want to see Lemuria. This is how Lemuria should be seen.
After the band's set, its members chatted with fans, sold (and gave away) merchandise, and posed for photographs for another 45 minutes while slowly packing up its gear. They needed to be on the road by 7am to make it to Denver to catch up with its tour, but no one seemed bothered by the late hour.
Finally, after all the lights were extinguished, the doors all locked, and all the Instagrams posted, I led the band back to my driveway where the evening started. Inside I pointed them to guest rooms, cramped couches, and carpeted floors. Sure the band's sound may be "indie/punk" but its ethos is entirely punk, and its sincerity and rectitude are beyond reproach. Kansas City couldn't have been a profitable stop for the band, yet I still hope it includes us next time around, and I hope to see each of the same 25 people there again, singing along.