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Clashing with the Titans

Kansas City bands proudly stand up against U2 — and a few other interlopers.


Let's say you're a member of an up-and-coming Kansas City-based group, one with a couple of EPs and some touring experience under its belt. Looking for a late-in-the-year showcase gig, you spot Tuesday, November 27, and savor the possibility. Everyone will be back from holiday travel -- check. People who recently have gorged themselves on leftovers and ditched their visiting relatives will be looking for an excuse to party and release the tension they've accumulated -- bonus. Suburban touristy types will be out in abundance gawking at the Plaza Lights and might feel inclined to spend an entertaining night in the big scary city -- sign the contract, already. But then the big-time concert announcements come: Slayer, King Crimson, Linkin Park and then, bam, U2. Suddenly, National Fire Theory's slot at The Hurricane doesn't look so prime anymore.

It's really not that bad to go head-to-head against Slayer unless the competition is a speed-soloing contest or some sort of blasphem-o-rama. For a local pop-punk group playing the same night that the Angels of Death descend upon the city, attendance shouldn't really suffer. (True Slayer fans don't really check out other bands -- they only emerge from their caskets/use up their precious parole time on their idol's concert dates.) The same goes for King Crimson -- its fans won't interrupt their killer games of Dungeons and Dragons unless a group uses quarter-tone tunings, 7/8 time signatures and/or a plus-three healing staff. National Fire Theory's compositions aren't mere three-chord wonders (and the "Theory" part of its name might intrigue the prog nation), but the high-art set might scoff at its lowbrow use of catchy, accessible melodies.

However, going up against Linkin Park, a rap/metal group that's in touch with its sensitive side, could be tough, especially when its opening act (turntablists X-Ecutioners) is capable all by itself of attracting the hipster crowd that frequents live-rock haunts. And opposing U2, a veritable stadium-filler that all sorts of music lovers have appreciated at some point, is an unenviable task for any area outfit.

National Fire Theory also played October 21, matching up against a punk superbill (Sick of It All/Dropkick Murphys/Tiger Army) and the mighty Tool. Given that it's the only group that's had to clash with the titans on both of these big-city nights, National Fire Theory might seem cursed, a perennial winner of a Shirley Jackson-variety lottery. But its affable manager, Gooch, disagrees, offering a pragmatic take on the group's twice-lightning-struck fate. "Touring bands are only here at certain times, but there will be other opportunities to see us perform," he reasons. "Not that we don't want everyone to be at our shows, but we understand that everyone has to go see whoever's in town."

"We're so very fortunate to have a following that would miss a favorite national act to help support us," adds the group's lead guitarist, Jon Wessel. "We have kids who come to shows with homemade NFT shirts that obviously took a lot of time and effort to make, and that sort of devotion/admiration/dedication means a lot to me personally." (Fans already holding a ticket to one of those other November 27 shows, take note -- NFT plays next on December 8 with Ultimate Fakebook at The Hurricane, where the group will have new, professionally printed T-shirts on hand.)

While NFT drew a decent crowd in October, kill.pop, a group on the same bill that bears a much stronger resemblance to Tool, saw its support shrivel. "A lot of people who wanted to see us that night were at the Tool show; but how many times does a show in Lawrence conflict with a show in Kansas City, or a show at The Bottleneck with a show at The Replay?" asks bassist Brent Kinder. "That's pretty much just the business."

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