The bar's promoters call it "Mistake Mondays," and mistakes would be made.
At 10:30 the frontman of KC's Witch Jail was still sitting at the bar, nursing a sore throat with a medicinal whiskey (self prescribed). I'm unsure if the alcohol helped Guy Slimey's voice, but it always does wonders for his hip-shifting, twisting, dance moves once he's on stage. On this night its effects continued without check, and we weren't too many songs in before he took off his sport coat (a trend followed by the rest of his generally natty band) and was writhing on the floor, microphone twisted around his neck, everything drenched in reverb. As Slimey struggled, eyes hidden by obligatory dark sunglasses, the rest of his band continued on blithely, providing the spooky psychobilly and vaguely gothic punk that the band does so well. Only this night they didn't do it so well. It was loose. Too loose. Sure this band has to breathe – even swing – but it also has to occasionally lunge at the listener's jugular. Without that attack, the audience doesn't know that it's often being toyed with, and being toyed with while Witch Jail's Suzy Bones guitar picks out its deep echoey refrain is a wonderful feeling. But even on an off night, the one-two punch of openers "Do the Shoplift" and "Trash Night" are impossible to ignore, and the band certainly got my attention when it followed that duo by debuting new track "Under the Volcano." That song has now grown the band's live set to eight songs and 25 minutes of noir thrills. This however was only the start to a very odd evening.
At 11:15 the fresh-faced members of local punk & roll quartet The Drippies were in no hurry to set up their equipment, and the clock continued to tick. When things were set, the band opened with a quick '77-styled kick to the head in the form of theme song "Drippies Way" sending vocalist Noah Hayes careening around the "stage." When local blogger Aaron Rhodes ran up to the microphone to join in the refrain, Hayes sent him flying back to the periphery and out of the viewfinder of my camera. This is punk rock, after all. Hayes's snotty vocals accurately recall Johnny Rotten's disdainful best ("No Feelings," natch), but it's the smoking guitar leads from Bennett Weaver that elevate this band to an entirely different plane. One that doesn't need the shock of Hayes rolling about the concrete floor in bouts of self-immolation, barely able to get an audible word to his microphone, but rather one that (with a little polish that the band would absolutely hate) has the same promise of '77 chart toppers like The Rezillos or The Undertones. But whatever pop elements I may hear in the band are likely mine alone, because in a short five or six song set list that lasted only ten minutes there was little time for anyone to join me in my daydream about the band that could be.
Nearly an hour passed between bands. The pool tournament that had raged behind me wrapped up leaving the tables for the amateurs, those who had to work in the morning left and were replaced by a new crowd, likely fresh from their shifts in service industry jobs, while a dozen fans stuck around, anxiously milling about for the evening's final act. At 12:20 those fans were punished for their perseverance.
Lil Toughies' long set was defined by the drunken swagger of frontman Jonathan Brokaw. Despite the late hour, the threesome insisted on a soundcheck, eliciting groans from the "just play" DIY punk rock audience. Brokaw was having none of it, and cheekily demanded respect, citing the four prior performances the band had under its belt. He'd later deal with a heckler, shouting, "Who the fuck do you think you are? We're the Lil Toughies, motherfucker!" His antics led the audience on an exhaustive roller coaster ride that went from novel, to tiresome, to surreal, rendering the fractured, experimental punk performed by the band largely immaterial. Without consequence, a drum machine provided lo-fi beats while its master Zach Turner (seen earlier as the drummer in Witch Jail) coaxed bleeps from a synthesizer housed in an old suitcase. Simultaneously bassist Andrew Erdrich overworked his bass playing every note without regard to meter or measure. And Brokaw's guitar (before he abandoned it entirely) let loose a collection of fast power chords similarly unaffected by time signatures or the activities of his bandmates. Only once did the trio seem to arrive at the same spot at the same time, delivering a coherent mid-tempo punk numbered called "I Don't Wanna." My patience was wearing thin, and the hecklers got louder as the band headed toward its grand finale.
The trio's last act started with an exchange where Brokaw repeatedly demanded a heckler play his guitar, and when things escalated, Brokaw had to be physically restrained by his bandmates. Let me say this: Jonathan Brokaw is not intimidating. And that is when things started to shift for me. After a noisy chaotic song, not dissimilar from the previous 25 minutes, Brokaw set down his guitar (to fuzz and feedback) and began to frantically run about the stage. Spotting the bar's tiger art, Brokaw then spiraled into a 15-minute free form musical exorcism that borrowed heavily from both Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" and Dio's "Holy Diver," but with a lot more meowing than I remember in either song. The band played on behind him. As the clock ticked to 1am, someone from the bar came onto the stage whispering something into Brokaw's ear. Brokaw announced, "He wants fifteen more minutes." He didn't. But now I was laughing. What else could happen?
So, we're back where we started with "Mistake Mondays." By my count I witnessed at least a dozen awkward missteps, but I wonder how many of these the bands would like to recall. What is the harm in mistakes and ideas that reveal themselves to be errors? No children or animals were harmed, liver damage wont be evident for years, and I hear Brokaw still made it to work the next day. So let's have a toast for the punk rockers, let's have a toast for the drunkards, let's have a toast for the mistakes, every one of them that I know.