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Friday February 23rd, 2024 at Minibar in Kansas City, MO
New Obsessions, RxGhost, Milkwave, & Bryce Vz

Before the bands started, when The Minibar was still just a dark, empty, superterranean cave, I talked to the show organizer. Or rather we shouted at each other over the odd selections played at great volume over the PA. We yelled ourselves hoarse with plenty of repeating as we pondered the music industry. Specifically, we wondered what roles labels play, who buys records and how they find out about them, if spending your way onto influencers' playlists is what passes for promotion, and if having thousands of listeners in Indonesia really means anything if your friends don't show up to see your band play on a Friday night in your hometown. He seemed nervous.

The night began early with Bryce Vz. If there's one thing more dangerous than a dude with an acoustic guitar, it's a dude with an acoustic guitar missing the rest of his band. The dude in question is Bryce Veazey. His missing band, Amble Haunt. Solo, he's a homey singer/songwriter with a slight warming drawl. He strummed through long and developed songs, generally playing to the rhythm, and slipping in only an occasional lead. The metaphorical spotlight (this is the Minibar after all) was bright, and Veazey seemed unduly exposed on the stage. Still, he was chatty with the small audience, explaining which songs came from the band's current EP, and which are scheduled for the forthcoming LP. While I never fell for Bryce Vz, he did enough to make me wonder what Amble Haunt might sound like. I'll report back once I find out.

Wichita three-piece Milkwave followed. The band isn't new, but this was the act's Kansas City debut. It started with some head scratching. The band called everyone to the front of the stage, then vanished for six minutes. When they returned, bassist Matthew Wiseman began a rambling introduction where he encouraged the audience to "be assholes." He was then quickly corrected (if not scolded!) by vocalist Annie Palmer who suggested that being assholes was the exact opposite of the band's mission. The band hadn't played a note and I was already lost. Thankfully drummer Brandon LaBarge soon delivered a busy beat and the band charged into what they do. It's alt-rock. Mostly. Honestly it was sort of hard to tell after only one serving – even if it was a jumbo-sized 40-minute opening salvo. Wiseman's bass was heavy with plenty of strummed fifths to fatten up the sound. LaBarge's drumming was unpredictable but omnipresent. One song relished explosive snare fills, another toyed with snapping disco punk, and the next disappeared in mushy double bass. Palmers' voice was clear and cut through any din the duo could muster – even when Wiseman chimed in with his own distorted rock vocals that either overlapped or traded lines with Palmer's. The band announced one song was B-52s inspired. I hadn't discerned that kitschy joy, but I'm sure I had heard pleasurable Blondie moments at least once during the set. The band closed with a number that blended "Heartbeats" by The Knife and "Oblivion" by Grimes. Wiseman explained it was to give unfamiliar audiences a song everyone knew and could sing along to. I didn't know either. Maybe I missed those playlists when they dropped.

By 9:00 the bar was comfortably full, answering another one of the pre-show concerns. RxGhost is still in its introductory phase, but I have somehow caught most of its gigs. The last one I saw debuted Jeremiah James (Elevator Division, Redder Moon) on third guitar. This one found him playing bass six instead. The change was revelatory, allowing the quintet to dance across the full aural spectrum without stepping on each other's toes, whether delivering dense shoegaze, textured alt rock, bounding Britpop, or aloof slacker indie rock. Most of the songs started thin, built to brilliance, and then ended in sloppy chaos after a span of only a couple of minutes. It was as if the band was in a hurry to show you its genius, but then was immediately distracted by a need to share its next great idea. Luckily there are great ideas, and curiously they came from the entire lineup, including James, vocalist/guitarist Josh Thomas, lead guitarist James Capps, bassist, Chris Snead, and drummer Justin Brooks. In every song, at least one of the players offered a captivating line or phrase that merits a repeat listen and appreciation. The band has just released a limited-edition lathe-cut single featuring "Candle" b/w "In a Mitten" to help fans on that mission. I noticed that, by the end of the night, most of the records were claimed, so that answers another of the night's questions.

Between acts, the crowd pushed toward the stage, anticipating the headliner. I suspect I've seen the room fuller, but I've never seen the area immediately in front of the stage this packed. Maybe New Obsessions' star is rising. If so, it's about time. The local band is the project of vocalist/guitarist Jorge Arana. It's a darkwave endeavor straddling lines between gothic rock, no wave, and post-punk. Percussion and baroque harpsicord filigree come from backing tracks. Generally, the bass does too, but on this night, brother Luis Arana provided the low end. He also provided visuals as he danced and spun and teetered, all anonymized by a beak-heavy bird mask. His wobble was made even more dizzying by the pulsing floor lights that strobed and shifted in rough synchronization to the band's tunes. Jorge Arana's guitar was shrill, cold, and full of jagged edges. It's not a forgiving tone. His low voice was buried by the backing tracks and largely intelligible after the effects. It's not always this way, but on this night it was. His uniform, however, was as it always is – a white face, a white neck ruff, a black tank top, and black jeans. The audience was elated by the set that contained both old (yet still unreleased) and new songs. A few danced, more swayed, everyone cheered. Cheered enough to get the band to return to the stage for an unscripted encore.

The set ended somewhere around 11pm. Maybe that's early for a Friday night, but as is my way, I still packed up my camera gear quickly and made a beeline for the door. I probably should have stopped to follow up with the promoter, to see if he felt any of our pre-show questions were answered, but I didn't. So, I'll take a stab at it. I still don't know what labels are for in 2024 or if playlists work, but if you're in a good band, your hometown will come out on a Friday night and they'll buy your record at the merch table. It's not going to make you a rich or a superstar, but hopefully playing music with your friends can make you happy for a few hours. I know watching you do it makes me happy.