It seems like I've been to one long Records with Merritt show over the past six weeks. Work has me in and out of town very quickly these days, and, by luck or the devil's design, there's always a show at Merritt when I'm in. Maybe there's just always a show at Merritt. I've been tempted to lump all these shows together and write one grandiose zine about the sect of KC DIY that books, attends, buys, and celebrates regional indie rock. It's legit. Its full of interesting people (that I don't know), with colorful hair, and curious but deliberate fashion choices. They're tight knit and fiercely supportive of each other. And it's one of the best things about Kansas City's music scene today.
I must confess that I'm confused on why this faction packs their shows into the smallest of record stores — a record store that doesn't seem to celebrate indie rock or DIY in any appreciable way. I'm not saying Records with Merritt isn't supportive of this crew, or of Kansas City in general — just that the store is clean and austere. This is your father's record store, and, in many cases, it's stocked with your father's records rather than the cassettes, stickers, patches, and zines that are sold (or given) by the scene. But there is no El Torreon or Art Space or Sandbox (or Gee Coffee or Fusebox or Daily Grind) anymore. And the houses that opened their basements all summer seem to be in winter hibernation. And Marion Merritt rolls out the red carpet for the kids. And bless her soul for doing it.
The night begins at 8:25 or so. Otherwise known as 8:00 sharp. Employer opens the show. The band is led by Hopyard Mathison. That's not his name, but I've heard him called that even when he's not on stage. He's an excellent songwriter. Impressively so. He's also a bit of a mess. Everyone in this scene seems to be barely getting by, and Hopyard is no exception. I don't know him, but I worry about him. Employer is currently playing as a three piece with Morgan Greenwood drumming and Joshua King playing bass. Hopyard refers to them as "the employees," in keeping with the band's name. He tells me that his work force will vary from show to show, but these two have been steady for the only three full-band Employer performances so far. Future employees will need to be nimble as Hopyard's emotive indie rock is full of subtle changes — not post hardcore hit-you-over-the-head stops and time changes and false endings, but intricate moments. There are histrionics, but Hopyard saves those sputtering explosions for effect. His moderation pays off. He's recorded an album. Maybe it's on cassette, maybe it's only digital. Because of this, some of the audience knows the words. I know some of the words, and so I mouth them quietly to myself as I try to navigate the very crowded record store hoping in vain to find an unrestricted sightline to frame my photographs. But any line my camera finds infringes on someone else's view, so for most of the half hour performance, my camera stays down and out of sight. The set ends with "Plants and Danimals" — the track that leads off the album, and the audience's favorite. It's my favorite too.
The audience breaks into small pods when the lights come up between bands. It's not too cold outside so there are several pods outside. They are the smokers, and there are a lot of them.
Infinite Me begins at 9:15. The band is from Minneapolis, but they're treated like locals. They've played in Kansas City before. They've probably played this record store before. This is definitely post hardcore. It's dense. And while there's no air in the band's compositions, the second guitarist — the one with a coffin case full of effects pedals — provides flowery accent bits that counter the constant sawing from the other guitarist. The other guitarist is also the vocalist. His vocals are raw. Not rough, but he wears his heart openly. Okay. It's emo. The band is definitely emo. The quartet is tight but there isn't a lot of energy. Maybe the space is too small. Maybe it's too sterile. Maybe that's just how the band operates.
Infinite Me choses to play in the dark. The headliner would too. This is bad if you're a guy holding a camera. I'm a tourist in this scene, but the camera is my visa. Without it, I'm exposed. In a dark room, I'm vestigial.
At 10:00 Kansas City's Via Luna begins. The crowd has dwindled a bit since Employer, but the small room is still uncomfortably full. Fans stand up front, a foot, maybe two, from the band. Most are friends of the headliner. It's tight-knit scene, but Via Luna only has one foot here. The other foot is anchored to the traditional music venues in town — ones where patrons pay at the door and IDs are checked, and bringing in your own beverage is strictly verboten.
Via Luna have been absent for four months, holed up recording a new EP scheduled for release in late Spring. Still, most of the set is culled from the band's two previous discs. The band's instrumental rock isn't revolutionary, though it's hard to pin them to a single progenitor. Finger taps and sinewy guitar leads come from both Greg Backer and Chris Gordon. The rhythm section of bassist Blain Bridges and drummer Mike McDonough drop polyrhythm and whip-turn math rock just as often as wide open passages that recall post rock of even sprawling progressive rock. There are no vocals, but there is still a lot going on. The band's closer, an untitled new song slated for the new EP, shows signs of restraint and an embrace of the open space. It's a promising outlier. The audience listens intently, nodding appropriately, and the nerdiest of the lot attempt to count time, hands tapping on legs. There are a lot of women present — not a majority, but more than we've been told to expect at a show where guitar wizardry and slide rule percussion figure prominently. I'm proud of this scene.
The show ends with applause, congratulations, and the reintegration of bands and fans. I instigate light conversation with a few, testing the limits of my visa. It appears to carry enough weight, or maybe it is wholly unnecessary and this is my scene too. Maybe. I hope so.