Live music in Kansas City is back in full swing, and thanks to the unofficial venues, there's more options than ever before. Of course, that means FOMO rears its ugly head just about every night of the week. But on Saturday night, it was serious – there were three separate klaxon-worthy events that I couldn't imagine missing. Pained, I picked the one that was least like to be replicated again – a rock & roll tour package featuring LA glitter queen Suzi Moon and Baltimore sleaze boys Ravagers. Like really, when is Kansas City going to see something that good again? When I asked Suzanne if she wanted to go, she immediately started planning her outfit. She understood the momentous nature of the show perfectly.
At 9:29 we stood in the loud and dim miniBar talking with Steven Garcia. In the middle of my fascinating (I presume) story, he cut me off, motioned to his band, and stepped onto the stage. He's not rude, he's punctual. Deco Auto has been in hibernation mode for the last few years while it waited out the pandemic. Like the rest of us, I guess the band got tired of waiting. While the band is always fronted by the vocals and guitar of Steven Garcia, he has historically employed two entirely different rhythm sections based on availability. On this night those two worlds merged, and Deco Auto debuted as a four-piece featuring the full Garcia, Keith Howell (drums), and Marc Bollinger (bass) version of the band, plus the addition of an un-bassed Tracy Flowers on vocals from the other. This quartet played a quick set nine-song set of tracks pulled from its "too pop for the punks" ten-year catalog. Though on this night, the in-your-face drumming of Howell, combined with the aggressively-fingered bass of Bollinger, definitely made its case to the punks. Freed from her normal bass duties, Flowers nailed her backing vocals, and commanded the stage when given the lead (including the band's cover of The Nerves' "Hanging on the Telephone.") Still, Garcia was the frontman, and his banter was entertaining, even as he stomached the (probably) well-meaning heckles from a drunken audience member. Sharing the stage with an additional performer did pen Garcia in a bit however, and for the first time I can remember, he completed the set without his glasses flying off while sawing away during one of the band's big power chord-fueled choruses. Maybe he didn't want to show up the next act. Of course, there wasn’t much chance of that.
Baltimore’s Ravagers are a no-frills rock band like few others today. As a result, the quartet draws comparisons to bands from all sorts of disparate genres and eras, but the truth is it’s just rock & roll – aggressive and loud and a bit dangerous but with enough hooks to create dancing feet and impassioned singalongs. And that’s just what happened. The audience of disparate punks and rockers approached the stage cautiously, but when big singles "White Widow" and "Shake the Reaper" were played, the audience was singing along. A few were even dancing – including Suzi Moon, who showed up during "…Reaper" with an enormous plastic scythe that (she says) she just happened to find in the club. For those that don’t dance, there was plenty of muscle in the band’s performance, excellent backing vocals, and a good bit of stage flash including campy moments that had frontman and guitarist Alex Hagan, lead guitarist Matt Gabs, and bassist Curt Schmelz working their best Sunset Strip-era synchronized guitar moves. Even without his bandmates, Hagen had plenty of camp, aping for my camera with Kevin DuBrow-esque crazy eyes whenever he felt the lens’ presence. But despite the long hair, leather, and bandanas, this wasn’t a throwback to the overwrought, ego-filled arena rock shows of my youth – this was just four guys (completed by drummer Ray Peters) stepping onto a small stage in a small bar and delivering a solid 45 minutes of fast and visceral rock & roll on a Saturday night. And hot damn was it good.
Between acts the Ravagers banner that hung behind the stage was removed to reveal a Suzi Moon one. Before the gig I wasn’t sure who the headliner would be, but my preferences led me to refer to the show as the Ravagers gig. I was wrong. And Suzi Moon proved me so.
The three members of Suzi Moon’s touring band began the headlining set at 11:30. Drew Champion on guitar, Patti Bo on bass, and Sean Peterson on drums. Seconds turned to minutes which felt like hours while waiting for Moon to make her entrance. Glittery boots, sheer clothing revealing black under things, and plenty of chains hanging from her leather bondage belt. She wore her guitar low. Lower than just about anyone I’d ever seen. Could her picking hand even reach the high E string?
The quartet began its fourteen-song set with the unreleased title track from its forthcoming album Dumb & In Luv. It’s a gem, but the audience couldn’t sing along. That’s a shame because the band’s sweet spot is where high-energy punk meets catchy-as-hell pop that’s perfect for such things. Does that make the band pop-punk? Not in any modern sense, though Ramones-core fans are sure to have an ally in Moon. Particularly those that idolized Johnny, his brash approach to music, and his love of downstroked barre chords. Besides, the audience would get its sing-along in the very next song with "Special Place in Hell" from the band’s 2021 debut single. "There is a special place in Hell / For you, for you, for you / And it’s with me." By the end of the band’s fourteen-song set, the quartet had played all six previously released songs, and provided an enormous appetizer for the forthcoming album. For many acts this would be problematic – few audiences come out for just the new stuff – but that wasn’t an issue on this night. Not only were the new songs immediately catchy, but Moon’s performance was utterly captivating.
Superficially, Suzi Moon is selling sex from center stage. And it's hot. Most performers would have a hard time upstaging a sequined thong, strappy bra, and black elbow-length fringed gloves, but Moon did it. With ease. With constant audience interaction. With so much eye contact. With so many smiles. With trips into the audience. And not just quick forays, but entire songs where she camped out in the crowd with her mic stand intentionally placed to ensure she remained in the spotlight. Then there were other times when the guitar was dropped and tambourine became her focus, or the one time when tambourine duty was hoisted on an audience member who quickly submitted to his new role. Moon gave it her all, and her dye-blonde bob was a soaked mop by the fourth song. And just in case the audience wasn't generate enough of its own sweat, Moon splashed the audience with water for good measure.
Halfway through the set, Moon left the stage allowing the remaining threesome to deliver an instrumental number that blurred the lines between surf, rockabilly, and country. As Cry Baby said, "...something hillbilly, something colored, something my daddy would have loved." With Moon away, the musical prowess of these scene veterans was on full display. The band is tight. And when Suzi returned wearing even less, they made her sound as good as she looked.
After returning to the stage, Moon's banter became more intimate as the audience dwindled to only 25 or 30. Those that remained pushed closer to the stage. Very close. In this half of the set, the band tore through a few more new ones, as well as all three songs from its latest single including the aggressive title track, "Animal." Bo beat the hell out of his bass on that one and it served as a fitting closer. Afterward, Moon quickly disappeared from the stage amid weak calls for an encore. It was late. The crowd had thinned. And we had already gotten our minds blown. Still, Moon returned to the stage, acknowledged that encores are "a bit pretentious," and then guided her band through "Nothin' to Me" before leaving the stage one final time. But she didn't stay out of sight long, soon she was in the audience, hugging fans, passing out buttons, and whispering rumors about a return visit in October. If that's the case, Kansas City has another momentous occasion to look forward to, and I'll know to call this one a Suzi Moon show.