I go to shows for many reasons. I might go to see bands I like, or to support people I love, or maybe to just to get out of the house. I could go to support an interesting project, or to see a popular band that excites everyone else, or maybe because I just can't wrap my head around some specific micro scene that confuses me. Too Much Rock regulars know where this one is going.
Jake Murta's rig was set up in the middle of the room with cords and cables dutifully taped down to meet OSHA standards. The stack included a laptop, a mixer, DJ pad, and a host of the flashing, glowing, button-riddled samplers and controllers that I always misidentify. I should ask someone to explain to me how that stuff all works and how a sequencer and grid controller differ. Until then, I'll just shrug and say Murta was generating some harsh noise that made people coming into the door plug their ears. Welcome to Full Clips Emptied from Columbia, MO. The noise soon splintered in a million directions, incorporating some traditional DJ elements, sculpted sound collage, and hip hop. When Murta rapped, it was over chill beats often accented by sampled trumpet and bits of Nina Simone. Those moments recalled an easy West Coast G-funk, and the lyrics were rife with the expected bravado. Although Murta worked the room with plenty of swagger, he couldn't get the audience to sing along to the "never lead no rat to your cheese" refrain or the chants of "f*ck the police." Opening slots are like that sometimes.
Big Water played next. The first time I saw the band I wasn't sure what I was seeing, so taking a second look seemed prudent. The band is led by drummer Matt Perrin. He provides vocals and a steady stream of comedic banter. Sometimes his repartee between songs lasted longer than the songs themselves. The songs, after all, are typically short blasts of noise that draw equally from both the indie rock of the late ‘80s and 90s, and from any post-‘80s balls-out hardcore. Perrin just called it rock music. Perrin is fun to watch – he plays with wild motion, often raising his arms high between strokes, letting the audience anticipate his crashing hits. His long hair flies with every downbeat. He screams and shrieks into the headset microphone attached to his face. The guitar work of Stephen Pellerito is discordant and contains sharp jabs that add further punctuation to the din. On this night, bassist Morgan "Punch" Mabrey kept his back to the audience, facing Perrin, providing a foundation, and taking friendly fire from Perrin when the samples that lead many songs weren't started in a timely manner. After a second bite, I'm still not sure I understand what the band is about, but I know it's loud, propulsive, complicated, the kids like to move to it, and it's hard to photograph.
Then it was Columbia MO's Littered With Arrows for a short and intense set. It began with five members crammed onto the small stage: guitarists Zakery Williams and Hayden Jenson on either side, bassist Marielle Carlos in the middle, drummer Chris Kalogeris at the rear, and Avery Whiting standing center stage holding her microphone. And then it got loud, tight and crunchy. There's probably a host of modern bands I could compare them to, but they're not bands I know. Drums skittered broadly, guitars carried constant riffs, heavy and churning, while five-string bass charged forward. Hints of black metal mixed with hardcore while tempos remained in check – sometimes easing toward sludge. Earth Crisis. It reminded me of Earth Crisis, okay? For the first song, Whiting shouted into the microphone, nearly stationary, stuck between the rest of the band. When the song was over, the guest vocalist passed the microphone to Will Tuckly. For the remainder of the set, Tuckly never set foot on the stage – instead he circled the audience, rolled about the floor in anguish, and provoked the edges of the crowd as dancers crashed across the pit. My camera attempted to follow him around the dark club, keeping me from digesting everything the five-piece had to offer, but I'm sure they'll be back through Kansas City soon, and I'll have a second helping when that happens.
The night ended with Kansas City's Nerver. Although I'd seen the act before, I'm still cautious of its intent. Something is sinister about the band. For one thing, it has added a second guitarist since I saw it last. With Dakota Hollenbeck (ex-Altered Beast), Nerver has become a quartet. Sure, it's only one more member, but where will it stop? Is the band assembling an army? The thought makes me nervous. Also, the band is singular in its worship of volume. That stridency serves as both the means and the ends. The audience was complicit in whatever the band has planned. Despite setting up on the floor in front of the stage, the audience quickly began to rage. Moving fast, crashing into each other. After a song or two, bassist Evan Little asked for the lights to be turned on, noting that he was just guessing what he was playing in the dark. Sometimes that kills a crowd. It didn't. They kept right on slamming. Now the gig just looked like a DIY hardcore show at an Elk's club or a rented VFW hall.
If Nerver were a straightforward hardcore band, that setting would be expected. But Nerver is not without its complications. During the set, Little's gruff vocals competed with the fast fingers of guitarists Jake Melech and Hollenbeck as they delivered unrelenting and crushing riffs. In the tiny crevices there were leads, and probably solos, but if they were there, they were smothered under the band's weight. Interestingly, Mat Shanahan's drums didn't push the band, or attempt compete by playing ceaseless blast beats, but instead he added splashes of color over those defining and roiling guitars. I guess it is Little's bass that is tasked with holding it all together. The resulting jumble was still hardcore, but it was also metal and also noise.
As Nerver finished, I wondered if placing the band, or any of the bands, into neat taxonomical boxes might be impossible. Or maybe I just need to show up again to unpack the layers one more time. I guess that's one more reason I might go to a show, because I'm stubborn.