When Too Much Rock first started, I used to hear complaints from people expecting traditional concert reviews. They’d grouse that I missed important nuances, or, more generally, that my recorded observations were irrelevant to the bands on stage. It was as true then as it is now. I’m a lousy reviewer because I often find the activities off stage just as worthy as the performances on them. Who attends a show, or even where that show is, sometimes is the interesting part of a gig. Sometimes the “when” is important too. Sunday night crowds are always tentative. There’s always a better angel sitting on their collective shoulder warning of an impending Monday. Some may ignore it, but ignoring a problem isn’t the same as not having one. It effects the tides.
The night began promptly at 8pm with The Utilitarians. The new band of veteran musicians lines up as Theresa Scott on vocals, Chris Tady on guitar, Jack Boyd on bass, and William Guilfoyle on drums. If you’ve been around Kansas City for a long time, those names will mean something to you. Maybe you know Scott from her time fronting Pamper the Madman. Good lord that was 30 years ago. The quartet have taken a lifetime of influences and built a sound that might be describe as pub rock. It’s rock & roll, it’s full of hooks, it’s got an edge, and it has tap dancing. Scott fronts the band and wears the tap shoes. She’s peppy and bounces around like a cheerleader with some high kicks to drive home that point. She’s also a campy performer who often elongates vocals lines with a Johnny Rotten-esque sneer. In one song (“Cheryl”) she goes full voice, and that’s we find out she’s got pipes as well. Tady has an elastic face that mugs for the audience. There’s something Hanna-Barbera about him. He provides backing vocals and some fun guitar solos that punch in and punch out deftly. Boyd’s bass work is varied, with the big bouncing lines coming across the best. There’s plenty of room in the band’s compositions for him to shine as Guilfoyle is a (pardon the pun) utilitarian drummer who plays head down and focuses on keeping the beat. Both Guilfoyle and Boyd find time to contribute backing vocals on occasion. In combination, the band and its songs are playful and fun with an assuredness that recalls late period X or The Mekons – just often less aggressive than the former, and less funky than the latter. I believe the joyful performance was just as fun for the band as it was for the audience.
Between bands there were a few faces buried in cell phones, but there were many more that spent the break visiting with friends. There was conviviality. Some community to go with the “scene.” While I had brought my laptop so I could continue editing photos from the previous night’s gig, I felt inspired to close it and instead chat with the other photographer in the club. Some rock shows are chaotic affairs full of danger and possibility. This one felt calm and assured. Curious. Sunday night.
When Red Kate took the stage, frontman L. Ron Drunkard (aka Shawn Saving) attempted to up the energy level. More attendees came forward. One reveler danced. The band opened with a new song, and although its set included many cuts from its nearly fifteen-year back catalog, it favored new material from an upcoming album that has been teased for over a year. If it’s not the pandemic, it’s the supply chain. Generally, the new songs are more expansive than the straightforward pub rock that defined the band’s early career. This could be because Savings is surrounded by a different supporting cast now. Guitarist Shaun Hamontree spent much of the set facing his amplifiers, delivering subtle leads, and sculpting tones with his whammy bar. On the other side of the stage, guitarist Chris Kinsley sawed away at constantly moving power chords that were only interrupted for quick solos – something he does exceptionally well in his own band, Arson Class. Longstanding drummer Andrew Whelan was a rocket who played few fills on the small kit provided by the headliner.
The band’s fourteen song set was broken up into three groupings, each with its own identity. The first portion surveyed what the tight band is capable of, the middle punched it up with energetic rock & roll, while the final went for the jugular. As a longtime fan, I was happy to hear the return of the positively poppy “Pink Sweater,” the mosh-worthy monster of “I Got a Gun,” the dark and roiling post-punk of “No Solution,” and the shout-along pro-labor instruction manual “Shut It Down.” Sometimes you can forget just how wonderful a band is when you see them all the time. Don’t do that. Red Kate is amazing.
Boston’s Moving Targets were up next. I stumbled into the band in the very early ‘90s when Taang! Records would send CDs out to my paper zine for review. How cost ineffective must that have been? A CD and shipping and all the time and cost to package it just so a dumb kid could write a few sentences that 40 people might read. But here I am thirty years later, still evangelizing the trio. Maybe Taang! were playing the long game? But in all those years I never saw the band live. And while the touring band isn’t exactly the classic line up (if such a thing even exists, as the rhythm section differed album by album), frontman Kenny Chambers has surrounded himself with fine players in bassist Yves Thibault and drummer Emilien Catalano. Together the trio is touring with a broad setlist that covers the band’s classic period as well as its surprisingly enjoyable second act albums. This is a show I’d been waiting for.
If I had expectations of the show, they were immediately met. Vocalist/guitarist Kenny Chambers was greyer than the black and white 8x10 glossy that showed up in my po box all those years ago, and not nearly as wiry, but was still all the musician that he ever was. The band’s set was built on the nameless genre that graduated from hardcore punk and foretold the rise of alternative rock. It’s the American indie that Husker Du, Mission of Burma, and Minutemen all played in, and the one that REM picked up and ran with. Chambers’ sung vocal lines were melodic with just a little rougher strained push than they might have had years ago. His guitar generally churns (Bob Mould), with jagged incursions punctuating moments (Roger Miller) appearing in several of the songs. There were few leads, but there was always room for solos. In those moments the buoyant bass of Thibault continued the melody while Catalano always insured the rugged backbone remained steady.
Chambers wasn’t chatty between songs. The audience got no song introductions or behind-the-scenes stories of song origins. In fact, Chambers’ own energy matched that of the crowd. Not merely subdued, but also expressing a sort of oneness with the crowd of peers. When he thanked the audience, it felt both genuine and sincere. The energy on the other side of the stage was quite different. Bassist Yves Thibault bounced and pogoed and jabbed and thrashed and spun about with his bass more than I’ve seen any player on a stage that size. More than half of my photos captured him in midair. Between songs he frequently had to unplug his bass and untangle the cord. If ever there was a man who deserved a wireless rig, it was him. GoFundMe?
The band shifted into its planned two-song all-covers encore with only a passing mention. Soon the trio was in the middle of TSOL’s “Sounds of Laughter” and quickly after into “Takin’ a Ride” originally by The Replacements. The latter was offered as a sort of a conciliation prize for not playing audience request “Take This Ride.” Catalano seemed unsure of the ‘Mats cover, warning “I make no promises about this one.” He need not have worried as it was a wonderful telling of the song that recast it expertly into the realm of Moving Targets. After that the band set down their instruments, shut down their amps, and began to walk away. The audience called for more. Convinced, the band returned to their posts, and with a shrug, began the third cover in its current arsenal – an expansive jamming version of “Youth of America” by The Wipers. The eight-minute version allowed Chambers to stretch out and sow his oats while his smiling rhythm section watched him for musical clues.
It was 11:00 when the last tones died out. Some of the audience had already left in deference to those better angels. Some were already too far gone – this last category would include the dancer who mooned Moving Targets (in appreciation?) during their set. Most, like me, settled tabs, said goodbye to friends, and were happy to have put a tidy bow on a good weekend.