by Jason Harper
I'm not sure whether it was Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler arriving in their limo to a gaggle of paparazzi outside of the Riot Room or if it was seeing Kurt Loder interviewing T-Pain on the roof of McCoy's, but somewhere between those two sightings -- but two incidents within a major-media-filled, celebrity-packed evening -- I realized, Man, the Pitch Music Showcase has gotten sorta big.
Then I realized someone had slipped peyote into Hefeweizen.
South By Southwest it ain't. And you'll see exponentially more concertgoers packed into the Sprint Center when New Jersey acts such as the Jonas Bros. or Bruce Springsteen come to town than you will over the course of our annual, night-long all-local fiesta in Westport. But for people who follow the Kansas City-Lawrence music scene it's a must-rock night.
This year's lineup boasted 28 acts from a lot of the 16 different genres represented on the 2009 Pitch Music Awards ballot. They played at the Beaumont Club, McCoy's, the Foundry and the inside and outside stages at the Riot Room. And I saw almost all of them.
This meant that I spent most of the night hoofing it from one venue to the other, catching only a few minutes of a band's set before moving on. In terms of pure enjoyment, this is not the way to do the showcase. The way to do the P.M.S. is to have a favorite couple of acts whose sets you plan your drinking around so that you catch your faves and then get exposed to some stuff that's new to you while you sink into intoxication and simultaneously rise in revelment. The people, for example, who danced their asses off to Nomathmatics during the DJ duo's long and merciless conquest of the Riot Room DJ stage did it right: They came out to pay their $5 and dance the night away. Any given one probably had more fun than I did, but then again, they probably missed out on the scalp-harvesting metal of Hammerlord or the magical confluence of hip-hop and jazz that happened during Mark Lowrey's set when local MC Sephiroth joined in for a chorus or two (I've got video here).
I can do little more than list the acts I saw and, in the same move, apologize to those I didn't. In not-exact order, I saw the Kansas City Bear Fighters, Howard Iceberg and the Titanics, Oriole Post, SeedLove, Max Justus, Mark Lowrey, Reach, Antennas Up, the Rich Boys, James Christos, Nomathmatics, Softee, Cowboy Indian Bear, Hammerlord, Waiting for Signal, Roman Numerals, the Irietions, Thunder Eagle, Adam Lee & the Dead Horse Sound Company and the tail end of Pet Comfort. It was a feast of samples.
But I will venture to describe the tastiest moments -- the bands I lingered for because they were either new to me or killing it exceptionally well. I'll have you know, however, that all the bands I saw put on sharp, high-energy performances. Whether it was Cowboy Indian Bear playing for a packed McCoy's or Antennas Up in front of a small crowd at the big ol' Beaumont, all bands gave it their all. Marty Hillard, frontman for the Lawrence-based Cowboy Indian Bear, wrote me afterward saying that it's the best KC show he's played since May.
Now, for a more detailed buffet experience, check out Crystal's review of the action at McCoy's and Berry's rundown of the rock at the Beaumont. But for what it's worth, here are the group's who pushed my night over the edge.
The Kansas City Bear Fighters: This feels a bit redundant, Crystal having described them so well in her report, but these guys really do offer something you won't get anywhere else: jaunty, 1920s-style, ragtime-bluegrass songs about horror movie themes. "Zombiepolitan," if you will. A friend compared lead singer and guitarist Quinn McCue to British skiffler Lonnie Donegan , but McCue's got a voice closer in pitch to, oh, Blossom Dearie. It's the same kind of novelty kick I got from listening to the Squirrel Nut Zippers in high school, but fortunately the KCBFs aren't connected to any sort of retro craze. Take a look at this video, by John Kreicbergs, who captured other bands, too.
The Rich Boys: This band has had a revolving lineup over the past year, the only founding members being guitarist Mike Wild and the obnoxious-yet-endearing Mitch Rich. Guitarist Matt Klein, who joined after the big shakeup that leveled the original lineup, has been in it to win it, it seems, but the Boys have been struggling to establish a solid roster for well over a year. Well, they should hang on to what they got now, because they rocked like howler monkeys at the showcase. The Rich Boys have ditched their Ramones-basic early sound in favor of a beefier, more Stooges-influenced bombast, and it's working. At the same time, I get the sense that the group's confidence in itself is shaky. Maybe it didn't help that Rich was nominated for Best Frontman in the awards, as if that somehow disses the band. Whatever -- we at The Pitch weren't even sure who was in the band at the time we were drawing up the ballot. These guys need to accept that they rock, that some people love 'em and some hate 'em and get to the business of being a kickaass, full-time rock and roll band. End sermon.
James Christos I'll be brief here because with the Anarchy Tour Diary being hosted on this blog and everything, people are going to think Christos and I are related somehow or he's paying me for publicity. That's bull hockey; I'm just a fan. And I was happy to see on showcase night that as Christos, PL and Rockwell's group live show continues to get stronger, their fan base actually grows. Supporting cats like 'Stos (or the Rich Boys or Bear Fighters or whohaveyou) can get frustrating -- no matter how hard you believe in these little guys, people just don't care. Why? Because it's not on their favorite hipsterfuck blog or, if they're more mainstream, the goddamn radio. I've been to several Christos shows this year, and last Thursday I saw more new faces shouting out Revolution! more enthusiastically during the drop in "Opus 14 (Revolution)" than ever before. In the middle of the set, Crossroads Music Fest mastermind Bill Sundahl turned to me and said, "How can I get a hold of this guy?"
Adam Lee and the Dead Horse Sound Company: Adam Lee and Johnny Kenepaske wound down the night at McCoy's for only about a dozen souls. Had the throngs who turned out for Cowboy Indian and Softee stuck around, it would've been a clap-along-stomp-along honky tonk barroom jambo for the ages. Instead, with just us twelve or so drunkards swaying to and fro -- and, when the songs ended, leaning back slowly and wobbly and yelling woooooo! -- it felt more like a homey serenade. You'll not find two more affable, humble and gentlemanly lads than Adam and Johnny. Their songs are so good and their stage presence so impressive, they wouldn't need fame in order to begin acting like too-good-for-you jerks right now if they wanted to. But that's the exact opposite of what they're about. They're about making good music, putting on a quality performance, being gracious to anyone who comes out and investing their whole lives into their profession. That's it! That's what they are -- professsionals! I'm glad these guys are here. Listeners wanted.
Other great moments...
Nomathmatics' totally out-of-this-world dance party: Seriously, it was like a play about what happens to the brain when beats, booze and maybe a little something extra collide. These guys know how to turn a party into an e-x-p-e-r-i-e-n-c-e.
The already-mentioned freestyle jam with Mark Lowrey's crew of jazzers (including Zach Albetta, Pat Conway and Miguel "Mambo" DeLeon) and 'Toon on vocals.
Women getting their tits out for Thunder Eagle, or so I am told. I was down front for about two songs of the Eagle's screaming set, and I didn't notice any bared bosoms, but apparently that was going on somewhere in the rock chaos. I really did enjoy the sounds issuing from the stage in tight, powerful, furious waves, and I'm wondering when Thunder Eagle is finally gonna put out a record.
Oriole Post drawing a huge crowd for its early evening set. Fans of Jenny Lewis and the Dixie Chicks alike should check out Rachel Bonar and her rootsy colleagues.
This dude handing me free Schlafly.
Well, shucks. There were many more great moments last Thursday. Peruse this blog for more videos, photos, and reviews, and be sure to get your tickets for the Pitch Music Awards ceremony, the mother of all awards shows, this Sunday, August 16, at the Uptown, featuring performances by the Pedaljets, Stik Figa, Making Movies and London Transit. Thanks to everyone -- all the bands, venues, sponsors and fans -- for making the showcase a success. Support local music, dammit!