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Ladies’ Night

A local showcase at the Hurricane brings out four female-fronted bands.

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The problem with a lot of events and magazine spreads devoted to Women Who Rock! is the underlying prejudice that a woman rocking is somehow novel.

There's no question that the music industry remains male-dominated, from the guys in suits to the guys at the mic. And that's reflected on the radio, on TV and in print. But don't let the legions of dude rockers fool you. Women everywhere shred, scream, beat drums, pound keyboards and sing in the name of rock and roll.

Our own little scene is rife with examples. Four of them performed at the Hurricane last Saturday.

Officially, the event was Femme Fatale Night. But I'm not sure that anyone besides me and organizer and performer Abigail Murphy knew that. Femme Fatale Night is the name she used in a press release, but I didn't see it on any posters. Nor did anyone onstage ever mention it.

In fact, I didn't hear a single performer point out that women fronted all four of the night's acts. That's good. Discerning listeners don't care who's cradling the guitar, as long as that person can play. And all of the musicians — male and female — at the Hurricane could do that, in spite of the distracting hip-hop beats bleeding in from the patio.

The first band of the night, the Waiting List, managed to play without a drummer. "Just imagine his drum parts, because they're not really there," announced charismatic singer and guitarist Jenny Carr.

I'd seen Carr play bass in another local female-fronted band, Lights and Siren, but this was the first time I'd seen her take the lead. She's good at it. She's a smiley performer who brims with confidence even when she acts self-deprecating. Carr prefaced several songs with the warning that things could get "a little iffy." But even without the backbone of the drums, most of her indie-folk rocked, especially when her big alto got gravelly.

Like the rest of the frontwomen to follow, Carr was flanked by men. Carr, her guitarist and her bassist sang three-part harmony, and at one point mocked the intruding outdoor beats, with the bass player beat-boxing through a ballad that devolved into a cover of Arrested Development's "Mr. Wendel."

The beats weren't as much of a problem for the next woman to take the stage.

The Waiting List live at the Record Bar, filmed by Sunnye Bales:
The Waiting List - Live @ Record Bar, KC

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Talented, attractive and authoritative, Poradova frontwoman Sarahjill Bricker is the kind of singer who can make everything else disappear. She had the crowd's full attention with her soundcheck: a rapid-fire bark of "Check! Check! Check!" followed by a strum-along to a Pixies song that happened to be playing through the PA.

Whereas other performers just stared in helpless frustration at the entry through which the offending hip-hop streamed all night, Bricker shouted, "Shut the door!" and someone scrambled to do it.

Backed by a rotating cast of two guitarists and a couple of drummers, Bricker played keyboard and acoustic guitar. Her blues-tinged notes slid all over the scale in a way that evoked Tori Amos. The end of the set included a rocked-out rendition of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" and the Pixies song that Bricker teased us with earlier, "Where Is My Mind."

Having to follow that would intimidate any self-respecting musician, and next-in-line Abigail Murphy did appear tense during her band's prolonged setup. But she had other reasons to be nervous.

Murphy organized this show not just to celebrate rock sisterhood but also to reintroduce herself to the Kansas City scene. The formerly solo folk pixie was playing out for the first time with a band. Judging by her set, she's going for a vibe that's more power-pop yet is still driven by her heartfelt lyrics and keyboard melodies. Unfortunately, the band often drowned out her voice.

As the show's organizer, Murphy also should have arranged for her band to perform last. Much of the crowd dispersed by the time Travoltron took the stage. The young band does the now cliché retro-new-wave-dance-rock thing, heavy on the synth and bass.

I would have dismissed them on the singer chick's poor showing alone — her voice was consistently flat, and she was boring to watch. But I couldn't help feeling bad that Travoltron waited around all night at a well-attended show to perform for almost no one.

Because don't all rockers — boys and girls alike — just wanna be heard?

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