Some nights I imagine I am A&R for a record label back when record labels had artist development. I pack up my camera and head out to a club where young bands are developing a buzz. The Rino is a great place for this. I gladhand just enough to let the bands know I’m there, but otherwise fade into the wings, watching, taking my photos and notes. Then I return home to write up a report about what is happening in Kansas City for the Midwest Region Manager. Tonight, I’m off to see three bands for the first time, and you, dear reader, are my boss.
The evening began punctually at 8pm. The three-piece of The Distant Now was up first. Three dudes. Patchy beards. Long dark hair. Lanky. Glasses. They could be brothers, but they’re not. They’re guitarist Jacob E.chord (Eckhardt to the taxman), keyboardist Anson DeOrnery, and drummer Brandan Hoffman. You’ve seen some before in other bands. You’ve seen all of them at other shows. The band hasn’t been around long. In fact, The Distant Now only has two songs that they’ve written as a band. They played both (as the opener and the closer I believe) and then padded the half-hour set with five other songs from the players’ other projects. As such it’s hard to get a feel for what the band is or where it is going. There are short psych songs augmented by E.chord’s pedal board. There are long multi-movement prog suites colored by DeOrnery’s synthesized organ tones. There’s elements of jazz and indie throughout. Originality is hard to pull off, but the Distant Now is giving it a go. E.chord carried most of the vocals. Sometimes they’re a bit campy in that Peter Murphy or even Ziggy-era Bowie way. That’s fun. DeOrnery provided backing vocals throughout the night and took lead on a few. One was a bit iffy. He sounded better on the next. That must have been the closer. It had a solid piano ballad foundation elevated with phased guitar weaving in and out. Between songs E.chord chatted with the audience. DeOrnery chimed in. The set was relaxed and unpretentious. The audience, engaged and supportive. Time will tell where the band goes, but everyone should pay attention to find out.
The five members of Field Daze packed the stage. You’d have thought they also packed the club based on the volume of hoots, hollers, and shouts of “I love you” coming from the (mostly female) audience that packed against the stage. The band is led by guitarist and vocalist Dan Camino. I feel like I’m late to this game, as he already seems to be a local celebrity. He has other bands, solo projects, and handsome Gen Z looks. Throughout the night he slowly introduced the rest of the band: keyboardist Kyer Lasswell, lead guitarist Rodd Fenton, bassist and vocalist Brad Smith, and drummer Tracer Cauy. The set began with “Safe in My Head.” A brilliant slice of guitar pop and scheduled to be released soon as a single. The next two songs were similarly fantastic. Confusingly good. Where did they come from?!
Camino’s voice straddles the line between rock and pop. The band does too. Fenton’s chiming guitar leads are pure pop, while the rhythm section is driving and poised to explode. Several back-to-back slow songs in the middle of the eleven-song set could have zapped the energy in the small club, but instead fans pulled out their lit cell phones and waved them like they were at Glastonbury. During the rockers the band put on a show. Smith has the kicks. Fenton leans back into the licks. Camino introduced the final number (single “Helping Hotel”) with, “Are you ready to fucking dance because this is it!” That wasn’t a question, baby. When the song reached its climatic ending, Camino was all smiles. The audience called for more. Camino considered strapping his guitar back on, but instead just flashed a flirtatious smile and told the fans to come see them another time for more songs. We will.
Mellowphobia (often written as MellowPhobia) headlined the night. This project is another one where I’m late to the game. There’s backstory. Mellowphobia is the musical endeavor of Tillie Hall. She has released a few digital EPs and a couple of stand-alone singles during the band’s four-year history. A history that began in Pittsburgh but continues in Kansas City. For her live shows, she’s currently hooked up with the excellent rhythm section of Renee Huey (bass) and Jones Goldman (drums). Now we’re both caught up.
The set began with 2021 single “Jackal.” It’s modern guitar pop. What do we call music from around 2010? I dunno, but it’d fit right in with Phoenix and Foster the People. Bright, with subtle surf vibes that keep it smooth, countered with a guitar solo that was shockingly brazen. The new song that followed (one of four in the eight-song set) had a similarly aggressive solo that was executed well. I like Hall’s style. I also liked the style of Huey. She wore her bass high, played with her fingers, and added a little funk to the band’s sound. Just enough that the audience members could find the danceable beat. Hall wasn’t chatty. Between songs she thanked the other bands, introduced her own, and plugged a song or two, but otherwise stuck to the business at hand. That business kept her tethered to the microphone, only allowing her to step back between phrases, or when ripping a solo. Her eyes were closed much of the set. Her voice is low and steady with only the slightest edge to it. During closer and current single “Weekender” she pushed it to its limit, delivering some pleasant vocal fry that added energy to what is a great pop song.
Thirty minutes is all the audience got before the band members dissolved anonymously back into the crowd. I tracked a few down, provided them with ubiquitous Too Much Rock badges (where do they all go!), and thanked everyone for providing me with an enjoyable evening. But there was no time to linger – I had to get home and write up my report. You know my boss is anxious to hear about the next big thing in Kansas City.