My night started out at the Beaumont Club, seeing the rhythmic “drum punk” collective Ad Astra Arkestra. In likely one of the most odd settings of the entire festival, the collaborative group on stage deserved a better backdrop and audience than the vastly unattended showcase in the stark vacuum of a venue for which they were given the opening slot. Numbering nearly a dozen members, the local group’s synergy was an undeniable force whose uncanny width and breadth of musical range was given a push toward visual absurdity. KC punk Mookie Ninjak served as the anti-hypeman, standing on stage drinking beer, playing with a cell phone, and generally embodying the same nonchalant attitude displayed by most of the crowd. By comparison, the eleven-piece Altos played at the same time to a packed Riot Room. Locale is key.
Venturing through Westport Coffeehouse down to their dark, carpeted basement is where I was able to witness a stripped-down version of The Caves. David Gaume and Elizabeth Bohannon were both out of the city/country, leaving only Andrew Ashby with an acoustic-electric guitar, and drummer Jacob Cardwell experimenting with other forms of percussion, hastened as they were with the somewhat last-minute set change. The duo played a short and ascetic set that borne upon the audience new songs from the next two (!) albums, and tunes from their debut EP with a naked melancholy akin to David Bazan. To reference my comment in the first paragraph, I could not have imagined seeing the two at any other place in town without coming across as inorganic and contrived.
After the crushing realization that I had missed all but the last 30 seconds of Capybara‘s set, I made my way over to Gusto with minutes to spare before the fantastic Ghosty began playing. I’m a bit embarrassed by this admission, but as a follower since 2005′s Grow Up or Sleep In, this was the very first time I had ever been able to coordinate my life to be in the same room while they were playing. I know, I know. And if that weren’t bad enough, front man Andrew Connor and I worked together for nearly two years. My being a terrible co-worker and local music fan aside, the trio of Connor with Billy Belzer on drums and Mike Nolte on bass splashed a remarkably lilting and shimmering pop against the Gusto’s dilapidated, century-old brick interior. Though much of the set contained songs written and recorded in the last three years, their delivery is as timeless as the classic (power)pop influences that drive the band to continually release some of the most profoundly impressive work this side of the Mississippi River.
Columbia, MO, indie rockers Believers drew me to the Riot Room later in the evening, and with me I dragged a few of my friends. The band performed well, and sounded adequate in the venue, but overall fell a bit flat compared to the great production quality of their recently released debut. In the thick of the casual conversations and clinking of pint glasses taking place all around the room, the complexities of the band’s sound was ultimately lost in a muddle of noise pollution. This resulted in the group’s otherwise immense creation being reduced to a pattering of drums and a yelp of inaudible lyrics. I ended up leaving their set early just so my first experience seeing them live wouldn’t be tainted by a distracted audience.
Back to Gusto, The ACB’s made the bar two-for-two on quality sets from established local acts. That this band also contains Ghosty’s Andrew Connor is inconsequential, as he only provides one part of the flourishing powerpop quartet led by the charming falsetto of Konnor Ervin. The setlist has not changed much in the three times I’ve seen them in the last six months (with “My Face” and “You Did It Once” among those being played), but the band continues to add more and more new songs to the list, and each one that is revealed has that much more rump-shaking funk than the last. The band surprised with an addition of the hit that never was by playing “Suzanne,” and “Be Professional,” the first single from the band’s sophomore effort. Even more surprising was the inclusion of a flared-up rendition of Matthew Sweet’s “Sick of Myself” in the latter half. I thought it impossible, but the new album may end up being even better than the last.
I chose Mission of Burma at the RecordBar to close out my second night, because who else could you really see after watching a band that first started playing together over thirty years ago? The Boston punk band formed in 1979 and played so extensively that they broke up in 1983 due to co-founder Roger Miller acquiring a nasty case of tinnitus. The band reformed in 2002 (with Shellac’s Bob Weston joining Miller, Clint Conley and Peter Prescott) and have been active since (releasing a new album this very year, in fact), but it goes without saying that almost every single person in the room was there to hear songs from Vs. and the Signals, Calls and Marches EP. The audience was not let down, as the band hammered through 70 minutes of brash post-punk that was easily a key influence for every other musician in the room that was not already on stage. The highlights? As if there were any other possibilities, the amusing “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver,” and a set closer of the punk classic “Academy Fight Song,” complete with the rather inebriated singing along by the audience.
This review was written for Lost in Reviews.
Maybe it was the drink specials, or maybe it was the end of the work week. It could have been because four-piece The ACB’s recently had a Daytrotter session go live, even though it was recorded on a stop in Chicago last summer. Just as well, it could have been that both The ACB’s and opener Fourth of July are something of local darlings to corporate alternative trash station 96.5 The Buzz when they are allowed the weekly two-hour respite from playing Jane’s Addiction and Muse to air up-and-comers in the local music scene. Regardless of the reason, I’ve never witnessed The Brick get as packed as it was the night that two of the area’s best acts took the same Kansas City stage to display material both new and old.
Brendan Hangauer’s Fourth of July began their set at about 10:35, stripped down to a four-piece, free of the horns and keys that frequent their recordings and live shows. Joining him on stage was his brother Patrick on bass, and another set of siblings in Brendan and Brian Costello on lead guitar and drums, respectively. At its peak, the band’s lineup has grown to six people, with additional contributors, and in the early days the project was started as an outlet for Brendan alone. The band played a 40-minute set, during which songs that are normally meandering and melodic in their recorded direction were given a different focus, taking on a faster-paced jangle pop vibe which perfectly synced into the evening and the energy of the crowd.
There was a noticeable lack of Katlyn Conroy and Adrienne Verhoeven on stage, both of whom provided an additional charm on the songs to which they contributed on the band’s most recent full-length, Before Our Hearts Explode! Songs that were played in their absence received a commendable fill-in from members present, while others (“Bad Dreams (Are Only Dreams)”) were omitted from the set entirely. The band’s time on stage was spent frequently shifting between songs from the most recent record (the hyper-catchy “Self Sabotage”) and the first full-length, Fourth of July on the Plains (“Purple Heart”), but always kept a fool-proof musical theme combination: drinking and girls. Furthermore, new songs were played from a record (produced by Chris Crisci) that is expected to drop in 2012, and the band is adamant it will be their best yet.
The ACB’s began their set at 11:40. Last time I encountered the quartet in a live music setting, they all were dressed in drag (complete with smeared lipstick) for the Ultimate Fakebook-hosted Halloween show at the Bottleneck last October. I’m sure they were all very thankful to be able to play without worrying about getting a stocking run, and lord knows those heels can be a pain in the ass. The set has not changed drastically since then, with much of it focusing on their lauded sophomore album Stona Rosa, though they threw in debut album opener “You Did It Once” to appease the crowd. There is no reasonable explanation as to how singer/guitarist Konnor Ervin can hit the falsetto notes he does, but that single feat instantly sets the band apart from most others in the area, not to mention the group’s inclination toward hit-makers of former times.
My single complaint about the set is the speed with which the band plays “My Face.” It is arguably the best song on Stona, and is likely one of my favorite locally-released tracks in recent years, and deserves the same patience when played live that it was given in the studio. That said, I still must praise the harmonization and vocal trade-offs that take place during the chorus and that the pace is kept steady, if not sped up a beat or two. Besides playing staples from the newest album such as “Italian Girls” and “I Wonder,” the band played some more recent efforts like “Feel Winter,” a song which also appeared on the previously mentioned Daytrotter session. There was also a brief 30 seconds where they played Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me,” and we are all better off for that not having lasted longer than it did, even if their tongues were placed firmly in cheeks at the time.
Nerd talk: While Brendan Hangauer has almost exclusively kept his songwriting under the Fourth of July moniker, the same can hardly be said for the rest of the band. As mentioned above, the newest album has voice contributions from both Adrienne Verhoeven and Cowboy Indian Bear‘s Katlyn Conroy. Conroy probably would have been in attendance had it not been for a prior engagement at The Bottleneck with her newest band La Guerre. Patrick Hangauer has not only collaborated with Verhoeven on her post-Anniversary project Dri (who have a surprising lack of crossover thrash songs), but also plays all instruments under his electronic alter-ego 1,000,000 Light Years. On that note, former FoJ guitarist Steve Swyers can be seen these days remixing and skewing others’ tracks under his Say My Name alias.
Patrick and Brendan’s brother Kelly still contributes to the band at times they require horns, keys, or additional vocal harmonies. Kelly has also worked with the Costello brothers in Save the Whales, an experimental Lawrence group whose permanent lineup is about as murky as Fourth of July’s; and White Flight, former Anniversary frontman (and ex-FoJ drummer) Justin Roelofs’ love letter to the extraterrestrial plane of existence for which he yearns. It should also be noted that Lawrence label Range Life Records has released output from most of the bands that you see listed in this section of the story thus far. If your mind has not yet melted, there is also former lead guitarist Andrew Connor, who miraculously juggles his time between Ghosty, Power and Light, and The ACB’s.
By comparison, the direct family tree of The ACB’s may not be quite as complex, but there is still some interesting blood lines that tie in with Kansas City music. About a year ago, Konnor Ervin formed a Belle & Sebastian and late ’60s psych-influenced pop band called The I’ms with Kyle Rausch and his brother Collin. One listen to the debut ACB’s album and one can instantly and correctly presume they were influenced by Cheap Trick. The sounds were not unfounded, as both Kyle and Collin were previously a part of rock/powerpop band The Abracadabras, which paid tribute to the ’70s powerhouse bands like T Rex, though to speak in more recent terms, both the Abras and the ACB’s could be compared at least in part to the sounds of Supergrass. Alternately, Kyle and Collin’s cousin Kasey Rausch has been a well-respected musician in the local bluegrass and Americana music scene for well over a decade.
This will be my first installment in a weekly series of posts chronicling area bands and artists offering direct music downloads either for free or for a small fee (no more than $5). Releases included will typically be those that have been available for more than a few months, or albums from artists that are buzz-worthy but aren’t yet ready for their own dedicated post. There is a not-so-subtle theme in this one, see if you can catch on. And here we go…
The Caves – Fives Songs With… EP (2010) – First up is KC alt/indie-pop quartet The Caves, founded by Andrew Ashby and Jake Cardwell of The Belles (Ashby is also known for The String & Return), along with David Gaumé of The Stella Link. The band has been around for the better part of a decade, when they finally got a chance to release their first EP, and recruited Elizabeth Bohannon into the fold to play keys and lend a backing voice to the band’s previously all-Ashby vocals. The band plans for this to be the first in a series of three EPs, but there have been no updates on the status of future recordings. Download Five Songs for $5.
Hidden Pictures – Synchronized Sleeping (2011) – Next is Lawrence by-way-of Kansas City indie-pop group Hidden Pictures. The band has been the project of Richard Gintowt and Michelle Gaumé Sanders since its conception, and has featured a veritable who’s who of local musicians who have contributed for a short time then moved on to create something else. This album alone features the talent of four different bass players, three drummers, a cellist, a viola, trombone, and a saxophone. This album can be downloaded for only $5 and features six bonus tracks, the unreleased EP of Gintowt’s previous band, OK Jones.
Ghosty – Team Up Again EP (2010) – Ghosty has hit the rare distinction for a still-active local band, as this year marks the 10 year anniversary of the band’s first EP, though just like Hidden Pictures, it serves as Andrew Connor’s musical baby in that he has been the only constant through its lifespan. The band was formed when the Sioux Falls, SD, native met Richard Gintowt while attending KU, though Gintowt left the band early on to form OK Jones. Both pop heavyweights in their own right, Connor’s influences from Alex Chilton and The Beach Boys are much more apparent. This, and two others at the link, are available for free.
The ACB’s – Stona Rosa (2011) – Stona Rosa serves as the sophomore release from Kansas City’s The ACB’s. Their self-titled debut, itself a respectable mimic of In Color-era Cheap Trick with additional nods to Big Star and Badfinger, was completely obliterated when the group resurfaced in late 2010. Now with Andrew Connor’s Midas touch in tow, the band returned as a powerpop juggernaut, arguably releasing one of the best local albums of 2011, and sealing their position as one of the bands to watch over the next few years. The release is offered as pay what you want, but can be had for free if you wish.
Bonus: Billy Belzer – You Shouldn’t Have (2011) – If you’ve been keeping up, that links The Caves to Hidden Pictures through siblings, Hidden Pictures to Ghosty via college alum, and Ghosty to The ACB’s through Andrew Connor’s propensity to lend his talent to half a dozen bands at any given time. The family tree ends there for today, but as a bonus I am including frequent Ghosty contributor Billy Belzer’s solo debut, a release bringing in the talent of many area musicians, including, you guessed it, Andrew Connor. Connor and Belzer are also in Mary Fortune with Ghosty artist (and Connor’s wife) Liz Connor. Get the EP for $5.