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Thursday November 17th, 2022 at Record Bar in Kansas City, MO
Scout Gillett, The Whiffs, Blanky, & Magic Marty

It'd been unseasonably cold for a week and the city's music fans were starting to feel stir crazy riding it out at home. By Thursday night everyone was ready to go out. There were lots of options, but there's no club cozier or warmer than Record Bar. Just before 7:30 I pushed through the velvet curtains, paid my $15, and claimed my regular table closest to the stage. Four band bills are a lot, so I brought a book to while away the time between acts.

But there weren't four bands. I figured that out when Magic Marty turned out not to be a band, but rather a magician performing as Magic Marty. Okay, I'm game. For 25 minutes, Marty worked the crowd with sleight of hand and physical feats. Audience members were pulled up to pick cards, pull threads through tear ducts, or (in my case) provide a dollar bill that although burnt like flash paper one moment, would rematerialize in a kiwi later. The room enjoyed the show – and not only because a good portion seemed to be related to Marty. It was fun, and I'm all for more cabaret elements in my rock shows. Does anyone know what Mr. Laupin and the former Mrs. Laupin are up to?

At 8:15 Anthony Cunard took the stage joined by veteran musicians Atticus VonHolten on bass and Jacob E.chord (Jacob Eckhardt) on drums. This is the latest in a long string of lineups for the band Blanky. Common to them all is Cunard's twangy and caustic guitar that constantly wavers under the spell of his tremolo bar. His vocals are relaxed, buried in reverb, and occasionally drawl toward alt country comfort. But the band is noisy and loose – nineties slacker on Matador Records loose. Further out – when compositions stretch, and the guitar provides waves of texture – you can taste the peyote and hear the echoes of Bardo Pond. Tempos are slow, and the drums often plodding. The bass follows along, only carrying the melody on moments when Cunard's long leads would otherwise derail the song entirely. Those leads would define final number "Idles on the Wall." Like most cuts in the band's seven-song, 35-minute set it's a new one – so new that it's not even on the band's upcoming Blood Harmony cassette due December 15th on Manor Records. Hopefully we'll be hearing about a launch party for that cassette soon.

My book didn't leave my bag between bands or at any point in the night. Instead, I found myself surrounded by overstimulated friends who were happy for human contact. I tried my best to play the role of human.

The Whiffs were up next. Over the band's six-year career the power-pop quartet has played hundreds of shows and toured internationally, including several gigs where the band was precise, professional, and sober. This was not one of those shows. Instead, the foursome played an unbuttoned set that highlighted songs from its upcoming third album – an album that has been promised for years, but now has a set release date in February 2023. The new songs are like the old ones, and that’s exactly what the doctor ordered. Whether the vocals are provided by Rory Cameron (twelve-string guitar), Joey Rubs (lead guitar), or Zach Campbell (bass) the result is the same – short songs that coo more than growl, are rife with irresistible hooks, filled with ringing guitars, guided by the snappy drums from Jake Cardwell, and chockablock with cloying backing vocals meant for the whole crowd to sing. Sure, the beater on the bass pedal died in one song, Campbell forgot lyrics in another, and Cameron may have played half of a song in the wrong key, but all that is immaterial when you're having a great time. And The Whiffs are always a great time.

Visiting your hometown is fraught with emotion. Even if you return as the conquering hero, it's exhausting, and slinking back as a failure is even worse. Luckily Scout Gillett came back to Kansas City as the former, with a new band, a new record, and lots of accolades earned in her new NYC home. Sure, this was just one date (stretched to two at the last minute) in the middle of a national tour, but it was a red-letter day for both Gillett and the wide network of family and friends who turned out for the show. Gillett made the most of it, delivering an eleven-song set largely pulled from her new album No Roof No Floor. It's an album full of songs that split the difference between indie folk and Americana, but when played with her touring band, the material simply feel rock. There were no fiddles, steel guitars, or even acoustic guitars on stage, instead Gillett played a Gibson SG, and backed herself with a touring trio that featured guitarist Godfrey Furchtgott, bassist Ted Jamison, and drummer Chris Stanikowsky. Kansas City-based keyboardist Bud Nicholas joined the touring act for much of the set, keeping up well despite his limited practice time with the band (basically a haphazard soundcheck).

The set began with "Lonesome Dove" from the new album. Four more from that album followed before a trio of new songs were introduced. "Cherry Blossoms" from the latter group was particularly interesting as it elevated the lonesome and intense elements present in much of Gillett's music into what I'll call prairie gothic. Her voice grew and took on interesting new shapes in the song. After that trio, the band announced "Crooked," noting that it had never played the song together before. Gillett teased the audience as she strummed into the song, quipping "It's a ballad, so everyone needs to shut up." The set ended with the album's standout track "Signal" before the band returned for audience-demanded encore "Blur" – a song that appeared as a demo bonus track on the cassette version of Gillett's first EP.

Gillett worked the friendly audience throughout the set, deftly making the most of her downhome "aw shucks" persona. She was tickled by the shouts of support from audience, thrilled to see her mother and other family members pressed up against the stage, and happy to be back home. When she proudly announced that she was from "Missourah," the crowd exploded. Although Gillett's career is still in its ascendency, the show was warm homecoming and a bit of a victory lap for a local kid done good.

After the set I looked for my friends, but most had already left. I suspect they peaked early, out of practice after a week indoors. So I packed up my camera, dodged Gillett's crowd that was still going strong, and slipped out of the cozy confines of the club into the cold.