Saturday November 11th, 2000 at The El Torreon in Kansas City,
National Fire Theory, Non Stop 3, The Vespers, & The Falling
This show began a month or so ago with me sitting in my oversized lazy boy in the living room reviewing records. I had The Vespers demo EP in the changer and I must have gone through the disc four or five times in sequence, then visited portions of each song separately that many times again. Vanessa was sitting at her desk working on homework and unexpectedly offered up her opinion on the band. This doesn't happen often, so I listened. Turns out she's the band's biggest, most secretest fan. I offered to book the band locally so she could see them, she picked out a date on her day-timer and the rest was pretty easy.
We arrived at the club a little before 6:30 on a cold fall night. The sky had been sort of spitting for half the day but really it wasn't raining and we were still a long way off from sleet. Brian and Alison had just kicked on the furnace and together we sat in a booth directly underneath the vent. Bands began showing up shortly afterwards and each loaded their gear somewhere behind the stage. When The Falling showed up however there was no band. According to Tyler McDaniel the rest of his band had stayed home in Tennessee as slaves to drugs and grrlfriends. He'd later tell the audience that those guys weren't going to be in the band anymore.
A little after 8pm Tyler climbed on stage and let Brian mic him. With just his acoustic guitar, a couple of microphones and a quick wit, he introduced himself to the crowd with an abbreviated version of the sob story he told me earlier. It seems this poor misguided soul left Nashville two weeks ago with a few pairs of shorts, a couple of t-shirts, a friend, and unbounded optimism. After the first show of the tour he made an unscheduled stop at an emergency room and followed that with a costly visit to the pharmacy. Now that he was traveling lighter (who wants a fat wallet?) it was up through Indiana and into the upper midwest where he encountered snow. So now there's an unexpected trip to a thrift store for a hat, coat and thermal underwear. Of course the warm clothing wouldn't have been so crucial if the heat would have worked in his car. This story (along with the story about the rest of his band, and the normal stories about unattended and cancelled shows) was relayed to the audience piece by piece between solemn, serious songs. Most songs were introduced with lines like "I wrote this song about an ex-grrlfriend who was a pathological liar" or "this one is about a grrlfriend who cheated on me... a lot." Despite these down-on-your-luck tales that would have choked up the homeless guys who hang around the El Torreon parking lot, the show was surprisingly funny, engaging and completely enjoyable. Although in this stripped-down incarnation The Falling resembled any number of singer/songwriters in the indie scene (I heard Pedro The Lion mentioned by a few patrons), the show couldn't have been more personal and honest. Tyler was such a likable guy that even if his music stunk I had a feeling I would have been happy to have him play.
As his performance was winding to an end I was called out for a special tribute of sorts. I'm currently laying the foundation for a Journey tribute album and once Tyler heard of it he immediately started jockeying for a spot. In an effort to grease my palm, the entire audience (of really no more than 25 or so) were treated to a sparce, heart-felt version of Lights. I'm not sure if it was magical, but Steve Perry never sang with so much emotion (maybe at five foot tall Perry just couldn't fit that much emotion inside of him). Tyler closed with a song he explained was written on a late spring day, the kind where the sky is blue and the clouds are white, and you're driving alone. What followed was a truly gut-wrenching song of great dynamics that ended with a howl. Alison (a woman who it must be said is in a band named Sister Mary Rotten Crotch) whispered in my ear that she wanted to go up on stage and give him a hug. I just mused that if spring days bring this man to write a song like this, it's a good thing he doesn't live somewhere that has a winter.
A small stream of remarkably hip kids ascended upon the decidedly un-hip El Torreon near the end of The Falling's set. To reward them for their timeliness, The Vespers quickly walked on stage still wearing their heavy winter coats, picked up the instruments that were waiting there and began their set. The bouncy light songs seemed to miss a little of their bounce, and although the band said they had a good time and wanted to play El Torreon again, I wasn't sure I believed them. The cold, dark and rather lack-luster club didn't seem to work well with their cute indie-pop personas. Maybe they're just a Bottleneck band after all.
Even if the band weren't terribly excited about the show, the audience of friends who had assembled for them was. The generally stoic indie-rock head-nods were nearly transmuted into actual dancing as the band made their way through a set of lo-fi sunshine. True to her title as the band's secret number one fan, Vanessa stood in the back and quietly and in her own way, enjoyed the show.
Like the fans of The Vespers before them, the fans of Columbia Missouri's Non Stop 3 seemed to arrive as one solid pack. Nearly a dozen clean cut kids in Tommy Hilfiger jeans and tucked in shirts paid their $6 and gathered in a small pod on the right side of the stage just far enough to be safe just close enough to be dangerous. The band wasted no time in beginning their set and hurriedly launched into their first song without so much as a "are you ready?" to the soundman or an acknowledgement to the crowd. They knew they needed to change the mood of the show and accomplished their goal masterfully.
Non Stop 3 are a punk band with slight pop leanings. They owe a great deal (if not too much) to the both the irreverence and the awkward crushability of Blink 182 and Greenday. Their songs are quick and lively and their stage show animated and rehearsed too rehearsed for The Vespers and their fans who began filling out of the club almost immediately. One told me snidely it was because he "didn't like their [Non Stop 3's] dance moves."
In truth, they weren't as much dance moves as the choreographed interplay between the guitarist and bassist (both of which wearing cordless microphones). However it wasn't shoegazing and while the polished Columbia band's show was too much for some members of the audience, it did perk up Alison's attention who had spent The Vespers' set watching Xena Warrior Princess on a tiny 3" television screen John had brought in to monitor the (imagined) worsening weather. At first I enjoyed the band's energy, their jumps and acrobatics, but when bassist Stephen Parshall skipped through the audience while continuing to play his bass, it was obvious he had gone too far. Cordless microphones are just a little on the wanky side.
Local headliners National Fire Theory were up next to make their debut at El Torreon. Although the band (more or less) enjoyed a long running but moderate success as The Sunshine Vandals, the club had nearly emptied by the time the band began their set. I expected the band to be a good match with Non Stop 3, however NFT were much further along the dissidence axis than I was lead to believe. Maybe that explains why the band spent Non Stop 3's set sitting backstage instead of watching. In fact Non Stop 3 were the only band to catch all the other acts that night. That folks is called professionalism.
So somewhere nearing 11:00 NFT began their set with an instrumental song that seemed to be a heavy-handed amalgamation of all popular indie rock. This song, and the ones which followed, moved quickly building to obvious crescendos and expected (though satisfying) releases. Most were thick with both guitars playing the same part; both playing very loudly through Peavy amplifiers. There seemed to be little layering, and few leads although I always heard an obvious lead melody in my head. The band banged and crashed and ultimately crooned in a somewhat poppy emo fashion only occasionally inviting the rest of the band to add backing vocals.
It seemed as though the band were accomplishing their objective in a most efficient and mitigated manner. Like this concert were the result of daily practices that lasted for hours and years of "industry experience" and thousands of dollars in targeted market research. I found it hard to really ascertain the spirit behind the band and particularly singer/guitarist Timbo Gutschenritte who struck me as either callous or arrogant or both throughout the night.
Unfortunately during the first song of their set Vanessa had begun pulling on my coat sleeve beginning the ritual of her pleading to go and me stalling. We both knew it would eventually result in us leaving the show early, so during the band's sixth song I left the club and was unable to see if the band could redeem themselves. I'll try again as the offending attitude may just stem from a band with no cred making a move into a closed local genre. Maybe the chip on their shoulder is really about having something to prove. I'll give them another chance on another night when Vanessa is already at home asleep.