The holidays fouled everything up in the brightest and coziest sort of way. Unfortunately, this show is a casualty of that merriment, and I've only vague recollections of the night and my meager notes to go on. Knowing that, we should make this quick.
At 8:00 every spot on the worn leather couches was claimed and plastic chairs were pulled from the stacks at the back of the bar. When those were gone, the young and spry sat cross-legged on the floor and the old and stiff stood in the back. Everyone faced the creased white screen that hung against the stage wall as the projector started. Moreso than the bands that would follow, the crowd had assembled to see the premiere of Men Like You – a short film written and produced by Brandon Phillips. The film, like the song it visualizes, is a warning to both the Harvey Weinsteins of the world and to their enablers. It's set on a theatre stage, features plenty of Bob Fosse-styled dance, and may not end well for one predatory producer. After the film ended, there were minutes of applause for the dancers, actors, and other creatives involved that were sprinkled throughout the room for the debut. Surely the film will be available for streaming soon, so keep your eyes open.
The majority of the crowd had cleared out before Moon 17 began its set at 9:00. This industrial dance project is the effort of Zack Hames who has been part of the KC music scene for a decade or more – sometimes on stage, sometimes behind a mixing board. The short five or six-song set recalled the very early '90s with pointed percussive attacks and melodious pop-friendly synths. Fans often hear Pretty Hate Machine-esque influences or the sci-fi sheen of John Carpenter, but the built-for-the-dance-floor stomps of Nitzer Ebb are also ever-present. Hames wore an engineer's jumpsuit as he danced and flailed about behind his rig. At times he played electric guitar though it seldom cut through the thick compositions. From my post at the front of the stage, the vocals Hames shouted into the microphone were also inaudible. When either did pierce the veil, they added a post-punk chaos to the affair. Since Moon 17's debut three weeks earlier, the live show has been tightened up in every manner – synchronized pulsing lights illuminated Hames and the clouds of fog that enveloped the stage, and racks of gear were revisited for quicker set up, reliability, and tear down. Hames is now ready to take this project to stages across the region, and you should be there to welcome him.
The maximalism of Moon 17's stage show was followed by the minimalism of Brandon Phillips and his Mensa Deathsquad project. With just a laptop and a microphone stand to hang on, Phillips set out to entertain the small crowd, starting with a new cut called "Suffer." For nearly 45 minutes, Phillips emoted behind microphone stand, singing truths while accompanied by slinky beats and surging tracks – all just barely too dirty for new wave. In fact, hook-heavy set highlight "Chin Up, Eyes Wide Open" would fit on any new romantic playlist. But Phillips is a voracious musical connoisseur, and his songs incorporate elements from many different genres. In particular, the echoing percussion of "You Will Hear Thunder" added a tasty glam element. In past Mensa Deathsquad performances, Phillips' stage show leaned on the safe familiarity of an electric guitar, but not any longer. As the early post-punk elements of the project have waned, and the pure disco energy increased, Phillips stage show has done the same. For this performance he spent the set dancing, shedding his pashmina and unzipping his hoodie as the night heated up.
The small crowd didn't exactly call for stage banter, so instead Phillips built connections with individuals – often without the aid of a microphone – explaining there were no rules on how the night had to proceed. Noting that pauses were possible, if we just wanted to talk. While the audience didn't open up (or dance or move much), Phillips shared his own thoughts between songs, talking about the love he has for his friends, and discussing the personal importance of several of his songs. A less experienced performer might have messed that up, but Phillips has been doing this for 25 years, and he knew exactly what he wanted from the evening. And I hope the audience realized that it was lucky to get it.