In the wake of the destruction cause by the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma on May 20th, Kansas City's musical movers and shakers sprung into action, pulling together a six-band benefit concert and silent auction to raise money for care of the tornado's victims. They dubbed it "Rock for Relief." Between that initial tornado and the benefit, another tornado struck the outskirts of Oklahoma City, doubling the need for aid, and the organizers' resolve. Although I was scheduled to be out of town, my calendar suddenly opened up, allowing me to attend the concert held in the Power & Light Districts outdoor concert venue, KC Live! I wish I could have done more.
Kansas City's Ghost Town Heart opened the evening at 6:30, playing a twenty-minute set of hard rock drawn equally from the hair band era and the bluesier roadhouse aesthetic that came before it. Like the loyal fans they drew, the band members were a ragged bunch that looked like they'd partied away away the last thirty years at Sturgis. That is to say, long hair, tattoos, boots, and jeans were the order of the day. Vocalist Dave Steitz had pleasing gruffness to his voice, and the guitar work of both Dave Kuehn and George Chatterton was notable, but the five-string bass of Doug Clement was ham-fisted, and the basic drumming of Raymond Parker kept the beat but little else. The band closed its six-song set with the eponymous "Ghost Town Heart," then relinquished the stage to a parade of musicians young enough to be their kids. The contrast was that sharp.
The next grouping began with She's a Keeper just a bit after 7:00. While the band maintains a relatively high profile as a support act in the local bars, this was my first time seeing them. Unfortunately for me, the band was without cellist Kate Sopcich, possibly skewing my introduction to the act. What I did see was an alternative rock band unsure of its direction, and flirting around the edges of the recent acoustic music resurgence. Members changed instruments regularly, lead vocals switched between guitarists Colin Nelson and Zac Jurden, and while in one song drummer Fritz Hutchison played imaginative drum lines as bassist Elliott Phillips pushed his instrument to its highest registers, in the next, Hutchison would play banjo, providing only the familiar stomping kick drum percussion common to Mumford & Sons, Lumineers, and the like. Although disjointed, the audience remained engaged during the band's 30-minute set, tapping toes, and, in at least one case, dancing, bouncing, and spinning to the band's bright pop.
Not terribly far from She's a Keeper's musical wheelhouse lies Not a Planet. Alternative rock songs also form the core of this band's sound, with brief (particularly so when mandated by a shorter festival-length set list) forays into deep classic rock-era psychedelia. Frontman Nathan Corsi is an engaging performer, that although not particularly verbose, was able to connect to the audience without resulting to clichÃ©. But wearing a bowler hat barely containing his mass of curly black hair, a vest over his bare chest, tight pants tucked into flopping, untied combat boots, he couldn't have helped but grab the audience's attention. Thankfully his bluesy guitar licks. and a big soulful voice (that breaks in a pleasant Kevin Rowland-esque way), ensured that there was something to back up all that costumery. Backing vocals and harmonies were provided by both drummer Liam Sumnicht and bassist William Sturges, with the latter staring into space while he fingering the bass he wore high on his chest. During the entirety of band's 30-minute set, Sturges had the frightened look of someone high, trying to hold it together in front of a cop. I was amused.
Between acts, local alternative DJ Jeriney Fulcher hyped the audience, and attempted to raffle off small items donated by local businesses to limited success. She seems to serve this role frequently, and maybe someday I'll get past her job at a bland radio station, and embrace her real contributions to local music. Until then, however, blah, radio DJs are always so full of sunshine, its hard to take them seriously.
At 8:30 the stage was handed over to Antennas Up. This local four piece has been around for years, playing bouncing music to partying crowds all over the region, and occasionally venturing out further. I've never been a fan, and largely for the same reason I dislike DJs – something about frontman, vocalist, and bassist Kyle Akers seems too sunny, as if the band's show was focus-grouped and manufactured to scream "Hey, we're having a great time up here, and I hope you are too!" Still, the band may be wearing me down. Either my disdain for its electronics and gimmicks has softened, or Akers wasn't nearly as smarmy with his banter when outside under the setting sun, God, and everyone, but there was one very Oingo Boingo-like song in the band's set that I might just have liked. The rest of the audience, however, was paying my disinterest no mind, as they danced and sang along (particularly to "Lights Out" from 2012's self-released The Awkward Phase), moving toward the stage and eliminating the ten-foot gap between performers and audience that had existed all evening.
When Six Percent took the stage, night had already settled in. Spotlights shone bright on the seven-piece band, and illuminated the artificial fog that wafted across the stage. Six Percent has a history with Kansas City longer than mine. I'm not sure when the band formed, when it broke up, or when it reformed, and how many members may be original, but I imagine you're not here for a history lesson anyway. Just know that the band's current incarnation is rowdy punk rock band heavy on melody, on metallic guitar leads, and brightened by two trombone players – the later of which pushing the band closer to Rocket From the Crypt than a "traditional" third-wave ska act.
The set began with an energetic street punk anthem that had everyone on stage – and a good portion of those in the audience – pumping their fists in the air. While the rest of the set wasn't able to maintain this initial explosion of energy, the band members did everything they could to keep the crowd energized. Vocalist Joel Friday spent as much time in the air as he did at the front of the stage, trombonists Josh Lawson and Dustin Clements surged back and forth sending their outstretched slides skyward, and lead guitarist Mike Mudry and bassist Kenny Saunders were always swapping places, with the former leaning back into searing guitar leads, while the latter stood on monitors, urging the crowd to action. Only guitarist Jason Matthews remained stationary, seemingly saddled with backing vocals on a stationary microphone. Between songs, Friday must have tossed out twenty t-shirts to the fans who lined the stage, all of which could be seen singing along to the band's cover of Weezer's "Say It Ain't So."
Although veteran sound engineers had kept the bands rolling smoothly all night, the formula broke down as Beautiful Bodies prepared for its set. For five minutes guitarist Thomas Becker paced the back of the stage, waiting for a sign from the unseen sound engineers, while, seemingly, those engineers waited for the arrival of vocalist Alicia Solombrino. Eventually Becker asked the engineers if they could begin, clearing the impasse, sending drummer Aaron Crawford (aided by sturdy backing tracks) in motion, triggering Solombrino's entrance, and the final band of the night.
For those unfamiliar with Beautiful Bodies, the band is a high energy rock act with equal dalliances into both punk and current indie rock electronic fascinations. Frontwoman Alicia Solombrino is a star, and despite some backbiting local protest, no one can tell her any differently. She spent the entirety of the set bouncing around the stage, stomping and marching, with one hand always outstretched to the crowd or waving in the air. Founding members Thomas Becker (guitar) and Luis Arana (bass) played their instruments wirelessly to allow movement without the risk of entanglement, however Solombrino preferred the long tether as it allowed her to whip it across the stage dramatically, or use it as an umbilical cord to guide her back to the stage after one of her many sojourns into the audience. Although I'm certain that her movements, and direct, casual conversation with the audience is a rehearsed act, under the bright lights and on a big stage, such a performance seems mandatory if not entirely natural.
Solobrino's overt sexuality might seem at odds with her legion of tween fans, but her charisma has inspired devotion similar to that of Dresden Dolls' Amanda Palmer. During the set she climbed down into the audience, sending a handful of young girls (all wearing Beautiful Bodies t-shirts) into fits. Later she'd invite an even younger girl on stage to dance with her, opening the floodgates for a dozen bouncing kids, each matching Solobrino's own energy.
While I never experience bands' young fanbases in the bars, this show also provided visibility to the other end of the spectrum when a senior citizen who (albeit in a low impact sort of way) danced throughout the band's entire set with anyone up for the challenge. For those that fall somewhere between 13 and 63, Beautiful Bodies has something for you too. Both Becker and Arana are vivacious performers and excellent musicians. Along with their live band (drummer Crawford and rhythm guitarist Michael Stout), the players ripped through the a set of tight songs, culminating with closer "You're a Risk" – a track that had everyone in front of the stage singing, regardless of their age. There's something to these outdoor festival-type shows that makes them more democratic than the tightly confined demographics present at a midnight bar show. And that openness may be the story of the night.
After Beautiful Bodies ended its set, I slipped home leaving the organizers to tally the money raised via donations, the door charge, raffles, and silent auctions. In the end the organizers hoped to donate nearly $10,000 to Heart to Heart International for their efforts to assist in Oklahoma. If you'd like to contribute, you can donate directly from the organization's website at http://www.hearttoheart.org/.