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Howard Iceberg is Kansas City's rock shaman


It's a Friday night, late March. A cold black wind blows up what feels like a deserted Main Street, but inside Davey's Uptown Ramblers Club, a happily inebriated crowd is bouncing to the sunny, Cali-dreamy pop of Steve Poltz and his band. Poltz, wearing a plaid shirt, buttoned-up vest and stingy-brim fedora, is known for co-writing Jewel's loping 1995 hit "You Were Meant for Me," but the end of tonight's set is considerably jammier than that, provoking primal moves from the woo-hooing blondes up front.

Poltz and his band are the evening's openers, but they draw the night's biggest crowd. When Poltz finishes his set, a few of the sloshy girls decide to stick around for the second act: Kansas City's Howard Iceberg and the Titanics.

The only thematic consistency between these two bands are the lead singers' vests and hats. But where Poltz wears his like a Lilith Fair interloper, Iceberg looks like an Orthodox rock-and-roll elder.

His Titanics are some of this city's most esteemed musicians.

On drums: Pat Tomek, of the legendary Rainmakers.

On bass: Scott Easterday, moonlighting from his own band, the Expassionates. Easterday also led an eponymous band in the 1990s and later was a member of Mongol Beach Party.

On lead guitar: Gary Paredes, who has played with Iceberg for more than 20 years. With his vaguely Ron Wood-like haircut, skinny black jeans and untucked white tuxedo shirt, Paredes looks as if he does, as Iceberg puts it, "know the entire vocabulary of rock-and-roll guitar."

Also on guitar is Dan Mesh, a former sideman for Holler and Mike Ireland. Mesh, who has played at the Grand Ole Opry, is the quintessential rhythm guitarist, making no attempt to draw attention to himself. But he's mesmerizing anyway, thanks to his Greek-statue face.

These guys are classics. And though they're playing in front of a thinned-out crowd at a small club in a midsized Midwestern city on a forlorn Friday night, they make an enormous sound.

It's centered on Iceberg's voice, a rusty faucet.

Even when Iceberg lubes it with Jägermeister, that voice is grainy and searching.

He plays his guitar flat, like a dobro, even though he's standing. And he's chewing gum.

Such eccentricities fade to the background when one of Iceberg's songs takes control of a room. That's obvious as soon as the first one gets going.

"I Think About You" is a basic lost-love song with a simple refrain: You don't even know that I'm alive/Oh, but me, I think about you/All the time. Easterday, who exudes a sad-man stage presence, doesn't have a singing part, but he's mouthing the words anyway, as though taking solace for his own broken heart.

Three songs later, a couple of Poltz's remaining fans take advantage of the wide-open dance floor for a two-woman Bus Stop during the angry "A Love That Doesn't Die." (Iceberg and his Titanics inspire strange random dancing. A few weeks later, during one of Iceberg's songs at a Haiti benefit at Crosstown Station, a middle-aged woman who has spent the evening listening to a Rolling Stones cover band will hit the concrete floor for some break-dancing spins in her white capri pants.)

The buzz from "A Love That Doesn't Die" fades, and Iceberg introduces the next song.

"It used to be called 'The Kansas City Waltz,'" he says. "But it's not in three-quarter time and it doesn't mention Kansas City. So now it's called 'Victim of Rock and Roll.'"

Howard Iceberg estimates that he has written 800 songs. He says not all of them are good, but a growing number of Kansas City musicians disagree.

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