Bars exist to make money. Sometimes I forget this. Bars make money by selling alcohol. And the longer you're in the bar, the more you'll buy. Bars owners have learned that live music brings in patrons, and holds them in the bar for the longest. Thus, bars book bands. If the bar could make more money by promoting knitting circles, there would be no live music. I am reminded of this fact each time I rush away from my friends to make a published 10pm start time, only to stand dumbly by an unlit stage until 10:45 when the first band actually begins. The bar doesn't mind my frustration, because for every Sid, there are five other patrons who sidle up to the bar to spend a 45 minutes of money. I don't mind bars as a business (as I said, without them, there would be no live music), I just dislike the trickery of publishing a start time that was never meant to be followed. Can't bars make their money without lying to their customers? But you've come here to read about an evening of bands, not read my thoughts on the state of live music in a down capitalist economy, so I've become just as hypocritical as The Riot Room now. So, here's what you came for:
At 10:45 the five tumbled young men of Kansas City's In the Grove began their set. The audience was instantly enveloped by a dense three-guitar sound ripe with swampy undercurrents. The excessive use of a fog machine must have been a conscious metaphor for the band's murky compositions that drip with grunge and nineties nostalgia. Vocalist Shelby Wiest certainly looked the part of Kurt Cobain with his long shaggy hair, stubbled muzzle, faded jeans and hooded sweatshirt. His vocals are delivered in long howls. The band's music is raw, a bit angry, but more impotent than aggressive. Although the band profess a number of progressive elements in its list of influences, those grand or angular elements never pierce the bands flanneled armour. Furthermore, the band never mentions Alice in Chains as an influence, but that aural similarity is readily apparent. There are occasional guitar solos, though the solos never break the mould, or even break up the constant slab of heavy rock that the band has locked in on. Similarly all the guitarists had large racks of effects pedals, but yet no guitar was ever able to separate itself from the band's churning, laboured music. That isn't to say the band isn't talented, or that its songs do not have potential, or that it doesn't have fans (as clearly it does), it is merely to say that the band has put all of its energy into reliving a moment in time. Unfortunately for me, it is a moment that I never found interesting.
After a half-hour set from In The Grove, the stage was cleared for Oklahoma City's Traindodge. Although this regional band has played Kansas City innumerable times, the promoters felt it best to leave a local headliner, and sandwich a touring act in the middle. This, incidentally, was a move that both I and Traindodge, heartily agreed with. There is nothing more embarrassing than a touring band playing at 1am to an empty room.
Traindodge is, perhaps, the most Kansas City band to not actually come from Kansas City. There is nothing mysterious about that fact as vocalist/guitarist Jason Smith is all too quick to admit that his band was profoundly influenced by Season to Risk, Molly McGuire, Shiner, and the other Kansas City stalwarts present in 1996 when Traindodge was founded. As such there is a dense, yet surprisingly heady, swirling nature to the bands music. However, because Traindodge is a three-piece, there is a necessary deviation from the atmospheric wall of guitar squall sacrosanct to the Kansas City Sound. Instead, Traindodge is nimble. Traindodge is mathy. And, at least on the new material, dare I say, even progressive.
Although the audience thinned out during Traindodge's set, a quick census of the audience would suggest that the band has no casual fans. Each audience member watched intently as Jason Smith's hands summoned ever changing guitar riffs, or as drummer Rob Smith ever-so-casually slipped in bonus hits in what was already complicated time signatures. The bass work (provided by Ross Lewis who was filling in for founder Chris Allen) was complicated and demanding, yet never visible. Unseen keyboards (triggered by Rob Smith) highlighted many of the band's compositions.
As one might expect of a band that has been together for as many years, its newer songs can sound markedly different from its earlier material. In the case of Traindodge, an obvious progressive rock (specifically Rush) influence has surfaced on recent albums. This direction was highlighted by a trio of songs from the latest album, played as a suite in the middle of the band's set. Later, the band chose to close its set in a different direction by playing an older tune entitled "United Skeletons." This is a large complicated track with a brutal section that uncharacteristically brings all instruments together for a pounding groove. Both the band's dedicated fans, as well as the curious onlookers, found common ground there.
It was already approaching 1am when local headliner Waiting for Signal began its soundcheck. Vocalist/guitarist Gene Abramov worked to push the process along, eschewing any special monitor mixes. He was anxious to play.
If Traindodge had mutated the Kansas City Sound, Waiting for Signal has merely carried it forward in time. This quartet is loud, it is dense, there are soaring guitars, and nearly every element of the band's sound harkens back to Kansas City's bombastic indie rock days. There is no sense that band is aping its heroes, it is merely continuing their legacy. Abramov's voice is low and clear, almost gothic. It's nearly as big as Abramov himself. Drummer Levi Winegar (once the full-time drummer, now only filling in until a new drummer can be found) is a focused player. There are no smiles as he plays nor does he seem at ease. His fresh face shows the concentration needed to bring the complex, yet organic rhythms to life. This is quite opposite from the bearded and tattooed bassist, Brent Kastler. Bass lines travel all over Waiting for Signals songs, and Kastler is similarly all over the stage, ripping his bass back and forth, and jumping into the air. Sweat and emotion fall from his face. Backing vocals seem to be ripped from somewhere deeper within. Abramov's guitar joins that of Ryan Bates to form delightful dissonance, though Bates's guitar frequently chimes leads, or climbs to lyrical heights. No where did the band's sound come together better than in closer "Sign of the Times" from its new EP.
It was 1:30am when the feedback settled on the band's nine-song set. There was no time for (nor really any reason for) an encore. Abramov instead promised the still-substantial audience that the band would soon be out in the bar, ready to continue the party. Knowing it was well past my bedtime, I skipped the party, and instead drove home with that odd stillness that afflicts one after prolonged exposure to wonderfully loud rock. Even with the unnecessary delay, it was a great night for music.