A last-minute cancellation from The Whiffs created an even-more-last-minute opening for Folkicide. Replacing a garage-tested power pop band with a trying anti-folk artist isn't exactly a like-for-like replacement, but one can't complain when it's a free show at a record store. Besides, I remember my parents telling me that they once bought tickets to see Sly & the Family Stone, only to have the promoter replace that band with Blue Oyster Cult when the original headliner cancelled. So there's that. But this isn't a story about Sylvester Stewart or how the umlaut became part of the metal zeitgeist. This is a story about a city and a record store opening its doors to two very odd bands on a Friday night.
At 7:15 (after meeting the requirement of being fashionably late) a duo incarnation of Folkicide kicked off the night with a half hour set of anti-folk. The pair's songs were heavy on syncopation and characterized by the quickly strummed guitar of Burnie Booth and the positively sawn viola of Roshelle Pekarek. Booth's lyrics are rapid fire, each barely making it out of his mouth before the next begins. Few tell a straightforward tale, most are awfully oblique, and the rest seem to have been chosen purely for their sound in some Dylan-esque homage. Booth's vocals jump through multiple registers to almost comedic effect, but when he's at his deepest, and the strumming slows from its frenetic pace, the project recalls Calvin Johnson's solo work. Generally, however, there are no analogs for Folkicide. Having (somehow) never seen the act before, I'm not willing to say I understand the odd world that Booth shares with his small fanatical audience, but as he paced the floor, shouting into the room without the need for any amplification, it became clear that he has an almost ecclesiastical plan, and from my vantage point, it appeared both the Mills Record Company staff and its patrons are primed for conversion.
Every town needs an art college. Without the Kansas City Art Institute, the KC DIY punk scene would just be drunk punks in battle jackets, breaking chairs to prove they that are the toughest motherfucker in the basement. An art college in your town guarantees that your basements will also be populated by high kids in clothes they designed, dreaming up the craziest shit. Neither alone gets you very far, but when you mix the two, well, then you've got something. While the four members of Salty aren't a direct assemblage of those stereotypes, it's that scene that allows a band like this to exist — and more importantly, allows it to mature. On this night, Salty stepped out of that noisy DIY basement scene that has nurtured it for the last year to release its debut album — a brilliant cassette titled Preservation Blues.
So, KC basements, what have you wrought? Well, Salty is a rough around the edges punk band full of post-punk ideas and new wave hooks. The band is defined by frontman Jonathan Brokaw — he's anxious, quick-witted, prone to quick bursts of laughter, and blessed with the mouth of a sailor. His dichotomies are echoed in the band, whose players seem to have little in common with each other. For months I've tried to figure out how it works, and my only breakthrough is to admit that it just does. Jesslay Huh's fingered basslines walk all over the fret — they're not funky, but, yeah, they are. Drummer Ethan Eckert barely keeps a beat, but instead strings fills together from the opening moment to the last. Sometimes he's on, and sometimes he's not. On this night it was spot on, all the while waving his arms about, making funny faces, and bedeviling Brokaw from the back of the stage. Zach Turner's synthesizer does a lot of things for the band. Sometimes its candy — only adding interest or hook — sometimes it carries the melody, but it always sounds like a spaceship landing in your backyard. And then there is Brokaw. While occasionally jagged or, less often, ferocious, his guitar is generally just the glue that keeps songs from falling apart. His vocals, however, are a highlight. And like Booth before him, they change from song to song — from the nasal whine of Pete Shelley to the quick hiccup of Leonard Graves Phillips to the stilted camp of Stan Ridgway, Brokaw samples them all.
But Brokaw isn't yet a confident frontman. His vocals are often unsure, and his banter can turn pointlessly base to mask his stage fright. For Brokaw there's a fine line between sober and scared, and wasted and off the rails. This early show skewed towards the former, highlighted by an unscripted humorous battle between the frontman and his band as they elongated the ending of every song as if the song were the band's finale at Madison Square Garden. Between songs Brokaw plugged the new album, hawked band merch (including key chains and custom-screened paper cook's hats), confessed he wasn't right in the head, and advised the audience to "smoke weed every day." Those last two may be related.
As the band ended it set, Brokaw commanded the audience to give him money (presumably for merchandise) and then to "get the fuck out," adding "seriously, we have to be out of here in seven minutes." Mills Record Company is happy to support Kansas City's up-and-comers, but no one wants to work overtime.