You can thank Rob Gillaspie for this fantastic bill. As he tells it, he asked both Schwervon and Deco Auto to play alongside his Witch Jail simply because he was a fan of each. He didn't suspect either would agree, but both did. Pleasantly stunned, he forgot to communicate or even consider the running order until an hour or two before the show. While just about any order would have worked for these three local acts, ultimately the bill would be played according to band longevity, though somehow I suspect that this stacking was the result of happenstance rather than union seniority.
This sorting meant that Witch Jail would begin the night. This spooky foursome plays a lot, plays anywhere, and plays with anyone. Whether it's a basement bill with the DIY punk rock kids, a bar with the indie rock crowd, or an afternoon show for children, the band fits. Rob Gillaspie (or vocalist Guy Slimey when on stage) makes it work. He's amiable. He's done his time in bands. And he's a loveable sot that everyone wants to take care of. This must have been how he snared his lovely wife Emily Filley, or, as she becomes on show nights, baritone guitarist Suzy Bones. She takes some time to warm to you. Maybe it's that way for the rest of the band too. Guitarist Eddie Morphine and newcomer drummer Matt Ratt are quiet sorts. One stage they seldom move from the darkened corners, and none seem to want to be anywhere near the microphone. Slimey, on the other hand, comes alive when handed a mic. He's a showman full of twists and crawls, waving arms, and general gymnastics. Fans can count on a slow striptease as Slimey sweats through his jacket and ruffled tuxedo shirt. On most nights he hits the ground with nearly every song, rolling and writhing while his spooky reverb-soaked vocals entrance the audience. But not on this night. On this night Slimey wasn't feeling well. And since there were no Rolaids to be found, he attempted to spell relief with B-E-E-R. Cheap beer. Stag. In the history of rock & roll, that has never worked well for indigestion. The result was a subdued set where the band's short horror-themed songs were spooky and full of atmospheric twang, but lacked their normal energy. Sadly, no one fears a toothless vampire, and Witch Jail's 25-minute set didn't have the usual bite.
After a short turn, Kansas City's Deco Auto took to the stage. The trio began its half-hour set with instrumental "Deco Stomp" from 2014's self-released The Curse of Deco Auto, and stuck to that release only sprinkling in a few older tracks from its first EP, and two new tracks that might have just been the highlight of the set. Energy is key for this pop/rock trio, and the audience was well fed by (suddenly) active stage lights, guitarist Steven Garcia's power chords and rock-god jumps, and Pat Tomek's active drums (Tomek was especially Moon-esque during fan-favorite "I Shouldn't Know"). With catchy songs that often skew toward the skinny-tie era of power-pop, the band hits all the right notes whether the song is sung by bassist Tracy Flowers, by Garcia, or by both. But it's when that polish fades, and Garcia's guitar gets noisy and angry, that the band really gets interesting. Those new songs may just be the band's best yet.
Schwervon put its headlining spot to good use, playing a 45-minute set that included eleven songs with all the accoutrements (more on those in a bit). The set began with "One of These Days" from the band's 2009 album Poseur. In some circles, this may be a classic cut, a fan favorite, or at least a trip down memory lane, but since the duo that comprises Schwervon did not bring the band to Kansas City until years later, early cuts like this might as well be new tracks entirely. This left-field opener only set the stage for a setlist that spoke more to the band's whims than promoting a new release or even road-testing new material. Schwervon's performances are always intimate affairs, and this one would be no different.
Guitarist Matt Roth and drummer (and partner) Nan Turner make small talk between songs – sometimes the intended audience is the assembled crowd, sometimes it's merely each other. Roth is sheepishly cerebral, often prompting him to back up and explain a joke or reference. In Roth's case, this absurdity only adds to the joke. Turner's banter is direct and biting. On this night, farts seemed to be an uncomfortable (for Roth) theme that Turner prolonged ("Be comfortable with your body." "Let 'er rip" she says). This relationship also permeates the band's music. There is give and take in any two-piece, but more often than not, it's the combination that matters. Turner's snapping drums and Roth's bombastic guitar each push and pull, but shared vocals flow comfortably between them. While Roth's yelps and Turner's brutalist rap often serve as punctuation, on this night the duo's vocals were particularly delicate, most noticeable during closer "Flaming Dragonfly," a 2007 track recently reinterpreted for 2014's Broken Teeth (Haymaker Records) release. The version played this night rested somewhere between the song's two tellings, in line with the setlist's reflective nature.
As always, the band paused for a poem that Roth penned earlier in the day (this one rather circularly about the need for everyone to write more poetry – even if it's on a cell phone during a band's performance) accompanied by an impromptu interpretive dance by Turner. With tap shoes on and joined by Tracey Flowers and Breaka Dawn (from area band Bad Ideas), Turner invaded the audience for this short kinetically-expressed excursion. Another musical break came as the band honored birthday boy Pat Tomek, who not only drums for Deco Auto, but also for both Roth's and Turner's solo projects. While cake and candles were present, this break in the action served mainly as an opportunity to put on conical paper party hats which the band wore for its final numbers, making the finale, in Nan's words, "more festive."
At the end of every show I hustle my gear back into my bag, sliding every lens and accessory back into its customized pocket, and make a run for the door. At bigger shows I'm often part of a crush for the exit, but at this show, not only was I not part of a stampede, my 12:30 exit seemed positively premature. The Brick was still full of friends, birthday celebrants, and the promise of cake and another rowdy rendition of "Happy Birthday to You." While weeks before, Rob Gillaspie was unsure if either of the other bands would play a show with his band, now it was a given that Witch Jail would all stay for the continued festivities. This is why these bands play music, and why everyone comes out to support them. This isn't really about rock & roll, it's about community, and everyone is welcome.