Moaning Lisa‘s gig on Saturday, June 30, at the Pyro Room, which had been on the calendar for weeks, figured to be a typical weekend show, with a decent crowd and an upbeat atmosphere. However, two days before the concert, ML frontman David George heard a bit of news that made him envision a fiery, riotous scene — and not just because The Pornhuskers had just been added to the bill. Pyro, the promising venue that made downtown a live-music destination in the past four months, had abruptly changed owners and formats. (Bought by a former owner of Balanca’s, it will now be a gay bar.) That scrapped July plans for performances by such buzz groups as The Sadies and The White Stripes and made Moaning Lisa the Room’s last headliner.
Performing in front of a packed house (word spread instantly about the club’s impending demise), George expected rowdiness but escaped with only nagging disappointment and mild nausea. “It wasn’t as wild and crazy as I thought it was going to be,” he says with a sigh. “I tried to get some people to tear up some stuff, but all we got was a ceiling tile to fall down.” The removed tile displaced a dead mouse, which a helpful audience member positioned on one of the band’s stage lights. “I left it there, thinking, ‘I’m not going to touch the thing,’ but the heat from the light cooked it and it started stinking,” George recalls.
The Pyro Room’s last night left many area music fans feeling ill at ease, and not only because of the toxic fumes emanating from rodents in the midst of cremation. Longtime followers of the scene are used to all-ages venues’ closing their doors without warning, but the loss of a legit 21-and-over establishment just weeks after industrial godfather Foetus played to a capacity crowd provided a shock to the system.
If there wasn’t much crying and gnashing of teeth at the Pyro’s last show, it was only because so many of its patrons were still in the crush phase — still courting the club without making an exclusive commitment. “It’s so new and too fresh to get really choked up about it,” George says. “A lot of people reacted like ‘There goes another place in Kansas City — typical.’ But I don’t think people were in a riotous mood, or that it even affected them that much. They think something else is going to come up.”
That something else is apparently located just a block away. The Pub has been booking bands since 1999, showcasing the talents of premiere local acts such as Parlay, The Gadjits and Rex Hobart, but with her other project closed, the Pyro Room’s former owner, Sheri Parr, has much more energy to devote to converting the lunch spot into a weekend live-music fixture. “The death of the Pyro is going to benefit live music downtown more than it ever could have if it had remained open,” former Pyro manager Lance Barton claims. “Money from the sale of the Pyro is going into The Pub. Sheri believes in downtown, and everything she does will be downtown.”
The Pyro’s brain trust (Barton, Parr and booking agent Tony Davis) plans to import the defunct venue’s premium sound system into The Pub and construct a stage to give the space more of a rock-club feel. It won’t match the custom-fit allure of Pyro, the only area venue to use a bi-level design to separate music fans from the meat-market crowd, but Barton says starting over in the new space was the only option. “It was never a choice to keep it open,” he says. “When it comes down to it, she just could not allow one bar to sabotage both of her downtown projects.”
Also, Pyro attracted a suburban crowd, something downtown’s drinking holes, for all their neighborhood-hangout charm, don’t often accomplish. “The Pyro brought a crowd downtown that hadn’t been coming downtown, and they came to see good live music,” Barton says.
On the flip sides of the same coins, though, the Pyro’s far-out musical selections and outside-of-the-nightlife-district location contributed to its economic malaise. “You don’t get the traffic like you do in a midtown club,” George says. “And at midweek shows, you didn’t get your support of people going out to see bands.
Barton offers hard numbers to support George’s theory. “Mad Trucker Gone Mad played to three people,” he says, citing one of “dozens” of examples when quality groups played to an empty house on a weeknight.
Financially, Parr might not have had much of a choice but to sell, but that knowledge didn’t make the transaction an easy one. “I was really excited about the energy that was going in there, especially right after the Foetus show,” she says. “It was a hard decision to make as fast as it went, but it was the right decision for me.”
As Parr says, the sale was a quick one — spanning about ten days from beginning to end — which resulted in a string of last-minute notices. The members of Moaning Lisa might have been anxious to learn of the suddenly historic nature of their upcoming show, but their emotional reaction couldn’t compare to those of Pyro’s incensed employees, who were informed on Thursday that the upcoming weekend would be the club’s last hurrah. Barton says they had the option to cross over to The Pub, but all declined that offer.
“A lot of people are really sad, and the employees were not very happy,” Parr says, “but I’ve had a lot of responses like ‘I saw a really cool show down there; thank you. I wish it could have continued.'”
“Godsmack meets Rage Against the Machine meets Creed“: If this hypothetical combination seems like an experiment gone horribly wrong, then Shiver, the group that supposedly possesses this post-grunge/rap-metal DNA, might not hop your bunny. Still, for those who think this combo sounds promising — and those strong enough to cheer the successes of area acts regardless of their personal musical tastes — this Kansas City-based band offers reason to rejoice. Coming fast on the heels of Explosion 9‘s participation in Ernie Ball’s Battle of the Bands, Shiver’s selection as a contender for the Jim Beam Rock Band Search marks another victory for a previously unheralded outfit.
“We heard about the contest through a radio ad on [KQRC 98.9] The Rock,” recalls guitarist Jason Nokes, giving a rare assist to a station local musicians often criticize for not playing Kansas City-spawned discs. Given that three of its members live in Kansas, Shiver opted to enter that state’s region, which might have earned it a tougher draw. Jim Beam classifies Kansas as a Northwest state, meaning Shiver has to take on a representative from the still-fertile band-breeding ground of Seattle. The group also faces a hometown favorite when it squares off with a Denver representative at the regional finals at that city’s Hard Rock Cafe on Thursday, July 19, but favoritism shouldn’t be an issue.
“The judging is based on musicianship, songwriting, appearance and marketability,” recites Nokes, who views these criteria as a welcome change after having competed unsuccessfully in an America’s Pub Battle of the Bands that considered crowd response all-important. “It’s nice to be judged on what you’re doing. I guess even if you get booed off the stage, you still have a chance.”