The Royals winning in the World Series, Sid intentionally showing up late for a concert, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and The Ramones sharing a bill at a 75-person capacity venue. The world has turned upside down. It must be Halloween.
By the time the last pitch was thrown it was nearly 10:30, and the five-piece Ramones tribute band called "Rockets to Russia" was already a few songs into its set. Though calling Rockets to Russia a tribute band may be a bit of a stretch – sure the area musicians that make up the band were wearing leather jackets, but this band doesn't attempt to ape the streamlined sheen of Ramones or approximate the band's distinct visuals. Instead, the quintet prefers to carry only the spirit of Joey and his cohorts forward. Neither of the band's gruff co-vocalists (Cody Blanchard and CJ Wilson both of The Uncouth) sound a bit like Joey, leaving songs rough and punk, and downplaying the bright pop elements that always managed to shine through in the original Ramones tracks. But this is the way the rowdy Vandals crowd wanted it, and it rewarded the band by singing and dancing with sloshing plastic cups of beer held high. So no, Rockets to Russia aren't a tribute band – that would take too much work – they're just a good time.
Nearly a half hour passed while the audience awaited the arrival of Motorhead – or rather Murderhead, Kansas City's up-close-and-personal equivalent. The band is lead by Dan Johnson who had the voice, the facial hair, the aviators, the long locks, and the open shirt of Lemmy Kilmister but lacked the rattling Rickenbacker, and the I-thought-would-have-been-obvious signature mole. As someone who has (confession:) never been a Motorhead fan, I can't speak to how truly the local trio reproduced the band's sound, though the chops of Alex Hahn – the band's long-haired, possibly-a-wizard guitarist certainly had me convinced. In a long 50-minute set, both the heavy groove of "No Class," and the reckless abandon of "The Hammer" nearly had me converted to the Cult of Lemmy, but then the dragging "Dead Men Tell No Tales" lost me (along with most of the crowd). And although a meta performance of "R.A.M.O.N.E.S." featuring CJ Wilson on drunken vocals and half-remembered lyrics was raucous fun, it stood in contrast to the obvious impact Motorhead had (or has) on the band. Hopefully this wasn't a one-time-only affair and Johnson can approximate that hideous hideous mole.
Musicians, being largely nocturnal creatures, didn't seem to mind the 40-minute gap between acts. I, however, was caught in the dissonance created by a tired body and an active mind. Not knowing what else to do, I headed to the bar for something to level me out. Ah the sweet bite of Barritt's ginger beer in an ice-cold can. As I sat on the stone wall that edges the club's small patio, I sipped and surveyed the crowd. My favorite were a trio of women who had become Gene, Paul and Peter. I wondered where Ace was. Ace was always my favorite. Idly I wondered if I could find some duct tape to become The Spaceman and join the fun.
At 12:40 the instrumental "Ides of March" served as a heavy metal bugle, calling everyone back inside for Maiden KC. What followed was a seventeen-song, 90-minute set that was an absolute pleasure for Iron Maiden fans current and past – and probably for those who had never paid any attention to the genre-defining English power metal band at all. With three terribly technical guitars providing plenty of solos, frontman Brett Scott's tremendous range (and revealing spandex), and a tight rhythm section that held everything together through epic compositions and driving hits, Maiden KC were thrill from start to finish. I was surprised by how many songs I was able to sing (or scream) along to given that I last listened to the band in 1986, yet the words to "Run to the Hills," "Where Eagles Dare, "The Trooper," "Flight of Icarus," and especially "Number of the Beast" were somehow (for better or worse) still etched into my brain. But I wasn't alone. Aside from the obvious metalheads who had come just for this band, the crowd was filled with punks shouting along to "Aces High," "2 Minutes to Midnight," and "Wasted Years." There were even several women in the back singing along with every word. Wait, girls like Iron Maiden? If I had known that in 1986 it would have changed everything.
Scott's spandex, bullet belt, and spiked gauntlets aside, the band made no effort to be Iron Maiden. In fact, the Iron Maiden shirts of various vintages wore by the entire band (save guitarist Chris Ashlock whose Thin Lizzy shirt stood in contrast) instead marked each member as "just" a fan. And while Scott tried his hand at Dickinson's Midlands accent a time or two, the audience wasn't interested in anyone taking this night too seriously. Wisely Scott abandoned the charade returning to the accent for only occasional comedic effect.
Maiden KC began wrapping up its set with an extended version of "Running Free" that pitted one side of the audience against the other in a sing off. Sure it was nearly 2am, and everyone was drunk as a skunk, but the way Scott worked the room was impressive nonetheless. After a finale of "Hallowed Be Thy Name" and a (scripted) encore of "Iron Maiden," the band called it quits, refusing my earnest request for "Revelations." Normally I'm ready for a band to wrap up after a half hour, and moaning if I'm not back in bed by 1am, but there I stood at 2:15 after 90 minutes of Maiden KC, hollering for more. Yep, it must be Halloween.