She said, "It's good to see you back in a bar band, baby." / I said, "It's great to see you're still in the bars." – The Hold Steady
There is considerable excitement in Kansas City nowadays. Civic pride is approaching historic levels fueled by progressive politics, construction projects, music and arts festivals, reclaimed blight, public transit groundbreakings and a host of other successes. But on a Friday night far from the glittering lights of the new champagne bar in resurging Westport, three hardworking bands were doing the dirty work in a bar with a long history in workaday Kansas City. There will be no headlines written about this show, the mayor will not opine on its merits, but this is the foundation on which Kansas City's renaissance will be built. This is simultaneously insignificant and vital.
It was a bit after 10pm when The Bad Ideas took the stage. Despite the band's three-or-so-year history, I hadn't caught the act live until a month ago, but suddenly I have seen it three times since. Is this female-fronted foursome the most entertaining band in Kansas City? Definitely, but probably not for the most obvious reasons.
The Bad Ideas is led by diminutive Breaka Dawn (whose real name I still do not know); she paces, she does back bends, she falls to the floor, she shouts at the audience. KC punk fixture and Bizarro World Ramones guitarist Britt Adair leans back with her big hollow body guitar, ripping through power chords and a lot of single-string melody lines. Her platinum hair is always impossibly teased, picking up the color of whatever stage lighting attempts to shine through it. Her flirtations with melody leave bassist Caitlin Curry to carry the heavy burden of not only fast punk rock, but more than a few post-punk-inspired change ups. Drummer George Magers (who at this show was lauded by Breaka Dawn for putting up with the synchronized menstrual cycles of his three female band mates) is equally up to the task, playing the steadying role with no fills or flash. Although the band's set list may have been identical to that performed the last few shows (including an apropos cover of Blatz's "Fuck Shit Up"), and the energy didn't compare to the band's awesome assault during the Center of the City Fest, the band was exceptionally tight. Is this a good trade off for a punk band? Maybe not, but it's nice to know that there are real chops lurking behind all that raw power. What makes this band the most entertaining act in Kansas City, however, was just beginning.
While not headlining, the night belonged to Kansas City's The Quivers, which was celebrating the release of its new album, Hot Young Mess. Fronted by the big voice and palpable joy of bassist Terra Peal, the band ran through the new album, and then tossed in a couple of old favorites to boot. Long-time fans will immediately notice that the always-do-ragged guitarist Abe Haddad has been replaced by Desmond Poirier. While Haddad will be missed in the band and throughout the KC scene (he is moving to Colorado), Poirier is an able replacement, and looks even better in the sharp suits worn by the band. Not only was he able to carry the songs forward, but he even took a few polite solos that the audience would have loved to have gone on longer. Despite the rockabilly style of the band (with just honest rock & roll at its core), not much is asked of Poirier as most of the emphasis is placed on the myriad of keyboard sounds provided by Todd Grantham. And although Grantham pulls off rather respectable lead vocals on a handful of tracks, competing with the big sound of Peal is folly. Her songs are clearly the band's best.
The dance floor stayed busy throughout The Quivers' set, though it was the gals of The Bad Ideas who really took control of the space. Regardless of the band playing, or the style of the music that it plays, these women are always at the front bouncing up and down and shaking their asses. At one point the threesome instigated a conga line that snaked around the front of the stage, pulling (literally) audience members into its ever-growing linkage. Peal smile broadly (as she did throughout most of the set) exclaiming, "This is why I fucking love you guys." Of course The Quivers are always an excellent soundtrack for a good time.
I'm a huge fan of Schwervon!, but as the duo loaded its gear onto the stage, I wondered how it could possibly compete with the searing set just delivered by The Quivers. Turns out the longstanding couple had no problems matching the earlier band's energy level, professionalism, or direct audience interaction. There's simply no way to oversell Schwervon.
In the age of instantaneous downloads and unlimited music streams it's pointless to spend time describing the sound of any band – especially one that I've devoted so much attention to over the last few years. Suffice it to say that the muscular guitar of Matt Roth melds perfectly with the spacious drumming of partner Nan Turner as the two build interesting, quirky, and yet honest, indie rock. And when music alone is simply not enough, the band interjects poetry and dance into its set. As has been the band's modus operandi for the past year or so, this set featured a new poem by Roth, and a companion interpretive modern dance performed by Turner. While most of Roth's poems are political (especially if you believe the personal is political), this one urged the audience to dance as if our freedoms and social well-being as a species depended upon it. As Turner began her dance in front of the stage, she was quickly ambushed by Breaka Dawn. Then the two, barely synchronized and fully improvised, continued their illustrative choreography together. Thankfully the content of Roth's poem made it clear that "there is no wrong way for an ass to move." When the Turner returned to her drum kit, the area in front of the stage reverted to an open dance floor – one that, once again, was dominated by the gals of The Bad Ideas. This is why The Bad Ideas are the most entertaining band in Kansas City – for not only what they bring to the stage, but what they bring to the area in front of the stage during every other act that plays.
The reunited Schwervon continued its set with "Truth Teller," the leadoff track from its 2012 album Courage, but nearly half of its set was devoted to new material. The most exciting of that lot was the performed-for-the-first-time track "Hourglass," with its power-pop push and New Wave energy. While Roth wasn't exactly sure where the inspiration for the song came from, it's an excellent addition to the Schwervon canon, and a sure sign that the duo has plenty of tricks still left in its bag. After closing with "Landlocked" from the Too Much Rock Singles Series, the band attempted to join the audience to "drink beer" (as Turner excitedly proclaimed). The audience, however, was having none of it, and the duo returned to their stations for one final track before being welcomed back into the congregation.
When not on stage, good musicians are audience members, band boosters, and PBR-fueled patrons of the arts. They are supporters during the boom and bust times, for the extraordinary bands as well as the merely earnest. Each of these bands – Schwervon, The Quivers, The Bad Ideas – exemplify that spirit and commitment. Having each of them around is a great boon for Kansas City, and each is more significant than any artisan whiskey bar or concert venue filled to capacity to welcome a national touring act. I'm happy to be a part of this everyday Kansas City, and excited about where we will take it. See you in the bars.