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Thursday December 7th, 2023 at Minibar in Kansas City, MO
Violenteer, Still Ill, & RxGhost

Photographers are picky about stage lighting. While good lighting can make shooting a bad band a delight, bad lighting can make photographing a good band frustrating. Our needs are generally at odds with the club owners. For example, the lights are kept dim at Minibar to provide just the right amount of shadow for sitting at a table, enjoying a drink, and talking with someone about a film or complaining about street closures. Upstairs, in the Disaster Room, where bands play, it is dark. Too dark to find your drink if you set it down, so people don't – they just toss them back. The shadows are dark enough to allow conversations about murdering landlords and hatching plans to commit insurance fraud. It's the perfect room for bands and fans that thrive in shadows.

RxGhost likes it dark. Darker than dark actually. "Good luck finding them on the stage" dark. "Give up on that dropped guitar pick" dark. The now-quintet features the vocals and guitar of Josh Thomas, the guitars of James Capps and Jeremiah James, the bass of Chris Snead, and the drums of Justin Brooks. James is a new member, he's "only practiced with the band once" new. I understand he joined the band after Capps announced his attention to leave, but then stuck around after he enticed Capps to stay. I agree with James, it is an interesting proposition. Without much time to write parts for a third guitar, James sometimes clumsily echoed Capps' leads, sometimes mimicked Thomas' rhythm adding depth, occasionally went off script, coloring with distortion and noise, and in rare cases, shifted to keyboards providing new foundational washes and hums. The latter two could mean good things for the live band. RxGhost is new, and anything could happen, but thus far, the live incarnation of band has been a good indie rock band with shoegaze intent. With the added volume and texture James can afford the band, those aspirations are in reach. I love the snapping rhythm section already in place, I adore Thomas' vocals that move from lazy to huge, and there are songs with hook and drive, but if the three guitars find their bearings, RxGhost is a terrifying sonic force. If you get a chance, go to hear them. Chances are you won't be able to see them, though.

Still Ill is another band on the edge of something bigger. And another band recently bolstered by a new member. It's the project of Ricky Reyes whom you've seen in bands for twenty years or more. He favors a loud guitar with that classic, full and grumpy Kansas City sound. In Still Ill he also offers more nuanced leads, gauzy twinkles that somehow make it out above the sludge. His vocals tend back to the bombastic, as he delivers long phrases with an abused and anguished throat. He's joined by a rhythm section of bassist Dom Zappia and drummer Kyle Herrenkohl. Zappia is reliable but interesting. Herrenkohl plays it similarly straightforward and strong. There's thought to his patterns, but they're certainly hammered over the finish line. Newest member Jen Kean (guitar and vocals) adds a different texture. In the opener she contributed a subtle jangle to the composition, something that spoke to the origin of the band's name. In other songs she carries the weight of the song, allowing Reyes the opportunity to color freely with effects pedals and leads. A lot of the set was new. No false starts, but several that ended with unrehearsed smatterings that put smiles on the faces of the band. Smiles barely visible under the dim red stage lights, but smiles all the same. Good things are coming.

Violenteer headlined the night. The foursome brought their own lights but still preferred dark corners and shadows. They're another band with dirty deeds to hammer out no doubt. They're also another band who has added a pivotal member recently. This Omaha quartet was founded by brothers Randy and Barry Cotton. They both play bass. Sometimes their basses even sound like basses. Sometimes they sound like guitars, offering leads and solos from high on their instruments' necks. Drummer Corey Thumann works with them to find grooves. Sometimes they lock in for extended intervals, sometimes they align for shifting and mutating lines in odd time signatures. It's not entirely like the Chicago math rock bands of the '90s, but not entirely dissimilar either. What's different is the fourth member, vocalist Steve Tulipana. One day I'll ask the Kansas City stalwart how he happened to join an instrumental trio from Omaha, but for now I'm happy to hear his vocals nestled into musical crannies or adding new confident layers. Sometimes the vocals are spoken and buried in effects, sometimes they enter the chaotic realm of David Yow, and sometimes they're big and float over the compositions. And sometimes Tulipana is quiet and lets the band do its work in the dark corners while fans nod in appreciation.

The show ended just before 11pm, leaving everyone plenty of time to carry out their newly-plotted crimes, or maybe to go downstairs and discuss the night's minacious bands over a slow drink. Minibar is a lousy place to photograph a band, but it's a good place to experience one. That's probably what keeps me coming back. That and the various and sundry misdeeds that I still need to plan out.