It was already after 9pm, the first band was playing, and I stood staring impotently at a guest list that didn't have my name upon it. Vital minutes were lost as I combed through my phone, looking for the contact information of the publicity person who had asked me out to cover the headliners. Perhaps it was the heavy camera bag, or the noticeable limp I had acquired at a soccer match just hours before, but the door man took pity on me and ushered Kate and me in despite my apparent lack of credentials. Thank you door man.
I hadn't much more than unpacked my camera when the sole musician on the stage announced that he had only one song left. This means I haven't much to report concerning Ben Allen, or his overtly earnest Christian-leaning acoustic singer/songwriter fare. In fact it wasn't until days afterwards that I learned Allen is the vocalist for More Like Georgia – the band scheduled, but unable, to begin the evening. All apologies to you Ben, we'll try again another time.
When Allen left the stage at 9:30 (after playing only a five-song set, if the list he left on stage can be trusted), the six members of Kansas City's Spirit is the Spirit began a painfully long soundcheck. Sadly, after sitting through a process that set levels for the trumpet, trombone, drum kit, keyboard, each guitar, ancillary drum, shaker, and microphone, the band were sent offstage to wait until the prescribed 10:00 start time. I sat on the floor, sweating, and thanking my lucky stars that the bar provides an easily accessible source of water for its patrons.
I first saw Spirit is the Spirit when the band kicked off The Middle of the Map Fest back in April. That performance was strikingly similar to the one on this evening, right down to the incense, the guitar solo-face of its frontman, the hippie girls up front, and the plunging neckline and Birkenstocks of its lead guitarist. I try never to write about a band after one performance, but now that I've two under my belt, let's give this a shot.
Spirt is the Spirit is an indie rock band with a penchant for the expansive. This can manifest itself as grandiose chamber pop compositions (vocalist Austen Malone's vocals lend a Shearwater-esque quality to the band), percussion-heavy West African-influenced danceable indie pop (third guitarist Noah Compo frequently provides second percussion alongside new drummer Wayne Zimmerman), or sprawling psychedelic jam band experiences that recall Rusted Root more than any band should be comfortable with. While I'm not a fan of this final vision of the band, the results of the others linger somewhere between good and brilliant depending on how closely each song adheres to its inspirations.
While it's obvious that the band has musical proficiency, it's unclear if it's members can enthuse a live audience. Sadly, even when the music bounces and the crowd sways, the sextet never raises its energy level above the subdued. Intense red lights and incense hang heavy and lazy over the stage in an attempt to emphasize the spiritual element of the band's music, but the resulting haze precludes the audience from exploding along with the equally important lively rhythms and crisp pop phrasings. And it's that dichotomy of spirit versus body, and the baggage of unnecessary cerebral investment required to enjoy the band, that keeps me from declaring complete fandom.
After the band's short set (again only six songs and 35 minutes), the six members of Spirit is the Spirit handed the stage to the eleven members of Portland, Oregon's Typhoon. Thankfully the majority of the soundcheck had already been accomplished earlier in the evening and the assemblage was able to begin its set on time at 11:00. I emailed the promoter, letting him know I was at the club, and ready to be wowed by the band.
Typhoon is the creation of vocalist/guitarist Kyle Morton, though the carefully composed pop is realised by a band that varies in size seemingly based more on the available acreage on stage than any instrumental need. On this tour Typhoon was eleven members strong, featuring Morton along with two violinists, two trumpeters, two drummers (who sat behind separate kits facing one another), a bassist, a guitarist, a gal playing handbells, and one final gentlemen playing glockenspiel and other percussion.
While the band might well be called an orchestra, many of the players merely doubled the lines of others, thus creating a full sound, but not necessarily a complexly orchestrated one. But that isn't a bad thing; the richness the band brings to a staid pop formula is impressive. There's still a lot to hear in Typhoon's music, and you needn't dig deep to find something to enjoy. The band's music washes over you in comfortable ways, ways that would create nearly the same impact if it were just Morton's voice and an acoustic guitar and not a stage full of musicians. Touchstones are evident in the band's music, but it deftly avoids sounding too much like Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire, or Wye Oak despite being an easy sell to fans of any of those three acts.
Unfortunately, and contrary to my expectations, Typhoon's performance was disappointingly flat. There was no movement on stage, no interaction between band members, nor did Morton connect with the audience. Although the players did muster the strength to push through a relatively lively final number, until that point, each band member looked positively beaten and unable to smile. When Morton did address the audience in parting, he mistakenly thanked More Like Georgia who had not even performed. Truthfully, it was as if Typhoon decided that a Tuesday night in Kansas City would be sacrificed for the sake of the rest of the tour. Maybe it wasn't the promoter's oversight that left me off that list.